Monday, June 25, 2007

Uncut: sociopaths


We all have dark sides. Oh yes, even me.

Hard to imagine, I know, given the joy and happiness I spread each week from the confines of this very page.

But I do and some days I wake up I wonder why I bothered. And there are others, the really dark days, when I wake up and I wonder if I’m really me, or that other bloke, the one who thinks he’s Tony Soprano, a sociopath, a tyrant, a man who has a need to get his way no matter what it takes.

All of us occasionally hanker for absolute power, like when the people down the road, for example, rip out the native garden and plant palms, or, even worse, lawn.

Obviously there are a few things working against me being Big Tony, size for a start, me being a weasel man and Tony a massive brute who lumbers around his house sending nearby Richter scales crazy in anticipation of a major quake.

For those of you not sure who I’m talking about, Tony is the Mob Boss in The Sopranos, an American TV series, a good one, one of the best ever and, I know, I can hear your voice: “No way, American TV is crap.”

Hang on, don’t forget MASH and I Dream of Jeannie. All right, sorry, you’re right, I don’t dream of Jeannie, never did, but there was time when my dad did and I had to put up with it.

This month it all came to an end, The Sopranos, not here, but over there, in the US of A, it won’t finish here until it starts.

I’m not going to tell you how it ends, even though I know, even though I haven’t seen it yet, because it’s not pleasant and I don’t want to upset those folk who look to Tony Soprano for inspiration.

As I might have suggested, I’m one of them.

You’re probably thinking: You? Yes, me and I’m not alone.

There are others who enjoy dressing like Tony, all in black, with dark glasses and then walking around as though ready to whack anyone who looks at them before they look at them.

For some of us it doesn’t come natural, we have to work at it, acquire it.

Take Carl “Baby Face” Williams, well, they have taken him and now he’s doing the time because he ordered the taking of around 29 people who gave up their lives so photographers and journalists could make daily Soprano references.

He took out all those people because he didn’t like the way they looked at him and because he’s a Melbourne gangland leader and that’s what gangland leaders do when they have the power.

Then there’s Antonios “Fat Tony” Mokbel, recently nabbed in Athens sitting in a cafĂ©.

Fat Tony ran an organised crime network called “The Company”, which is funny, not funny ha ha, because back in Sicily, before we were born, around 400BC there was bloke called Dionysius they called The Tyrant of Syracuse.

So what?

Good question.

Who helped him become all powerful in his home town and further his dream of conquering all of Sicily and defeating that island’s greatest enemy of the day, Carthage?

A secret organisation called, guess what, “The Company”.

Everything changes and everything stays the same.

Like Carl Williams, Dionysius could be seen in all the papers, on the telly, smiling, laughing, charming journos, holding small children, or walking beside fabulous looking women like butter would sit in his mouth forever.

Then there’s Stalin, Big Joe, whose mum said he was the most sensitive of small boys who loved flowers and once cried over spilt milk.

Joe didn’t muck about when he took people out and the average historical punter reckons about 20 million lost their lives to Joe-led purges.

Of all the things their mums said about these sociopaths and psychopaths, kind to animals, played with dolls, very sensitive, one thing they never said was: “Had a good old laugh at himself.”

And that’s why, when we wake up on the dark side embracing Tony Soprano, the first thing we must do is grab a notebook and write it all down.

There, I’m done, now I can get back to sleep.

Uncut: airports


Airports, well, you can’t leave home by air without one and many decades ago you could find me living in one for weeks, waiting for flights that came and went without me.

Not anymore. These days I book a flight, depart, arrive, complete my tasks, depart again and return. Too easy.

Back then chaos was my preferred lifestyle and airports my home base.

I had no need for visas, onward tickets, ready cash, credit cards, or any visible means of support.

This often led to detention by authorities and a couple of stints in airport lockups.

But I do love a good wait in an airport lounge and a chance to view the chaos along with the assorted fashions, religions, cultures, shapes and shoe sizes.

That last long weekend, for example, on the Friday, I spent most of the afternoon and evening in a lounge.

At first I was there on my own business, flying to Palm City (Geraldton), returning, picking up an American friend and heading back to see her off on the first stage of her return to New York.

My flight north was characterised by my fellow passenger, a financial advisor, who swore vehemently that Kevin Rudd’s Labor would destroy civilisation as we knew it and then declared he chastised large numbers of his clients for investing in stocks that enhanced global warming.

In the evening we arrived to find a classic airport departure lounge, one packed with nervous, anxious travellers, eager to get on board, to leave, to say goodbye, to get home, to find someone old, someone new, someone one they were looking for who they hoped they would never find.

Angela, our American friend, was a classic.

As we loaded her five large items into the car, along with two smaller bags, we warned her that there were baggage limits, but she remained convinced there was no such thing and we wondered if it was because she was American.

Angela is an academic, a person who knows everything about everything she needs to know, but nothing about anything else, like fresh fruit, fridges, parking, electrical equipment, or water.

Apart from the occasional flood, power blackout and crockery catastrophes, she was a lot of fun around the house and insisted on buying more items than she broke and responding to our Aussie jibbing with hysterical laughter and apologies: “I’m sorry. It’s because I’m American.”

At Perth Airport we found the longest queue available and settled in for the night.

I’m not one for silent queuing and so quickly began a conversation with the chap behind who informed me, almost immediately, that he was “Darius,from Iran and, you know, Ahmadinejad is not as bad as portrayed by the Western media. Also, he will not be President of Iran next time, because nobody likes him”.

He also said he was flying to Brisbane with three cans of beer in his bag and was determined to become one of us because he loved Australia.

Then someone with a loud voice declared Brisbane was waiting and all those on flight Q-whatever should break ranks and run.

The last we saw of Darius was his laughing face yelling: “Are there really more girls in Brisbane?”

Not one to be left high and dry by the departure of an old friend, I turned to the next person and asked where she was going.

“I’m going to Melbourne, to the footy,” she said.

“Are they all, with you?” I asked, nodding at the 400 lined up behind her.

She laughed and our conversation ended because the loud voice took over again to inform all people flying to Melbourne that their plane was boarding.

Angela took it all in her stride and walked calmly to the flight attendant who broke out in a sweat when I said, no, there this was not the luggage of three people, just one, an American.

Twenty minutes and $480 later Angela, stumbled towards her plane with more luggage than the baggage handlers and I remembered why I spent 30 hours in a Dutch prison, because the authorities deemed I had no luggage, although I was more than happy with my sack containing one pair of underpants, a typewriter, a toothbrush, a roll of carbon paper and a copy of the Guardian Weekly.

Back then, chaos had a certain naivety.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Uncut: apples


I’m waiting for them. They are usually here by June, the tree ripened granny smiths.

My farming brother and his overworked wife pick them, pack them and ship them, via their children, the university student and the scientist.

One year, around June, when I headed back to Israel to visit old friends, ex-wives and fast changing communities, I asked if I could take apples. The Israeli Embassy official said yes. So I did.

My brother found six of the biggest, yellowest, juiciest looking grannies you can imagine and I packed them in the middle of my case.

When we arrived at Danny’s house, north of Tel Aviv, I unpacked the six, showed him one, found a knife, cut it into neat quarters and asked him what he thought: “You know, Jonathon, when we worked together in the kibbutz, I thought the apples we grew were the finest, but you have proved me wrong, and I hate you for it.”

Then we laughed. And ate another one.

In an ideal world there would be peace in the Middle East and I would drive the long drive I know so well, down South West Highway, through Pinjarra, Harvey, Waroona, Dardanup, Donnybrook, Balingup and Greenbushes and pick the yellowing grannies myself.

And in another ideal world I would live there, under the trees, where I was born, raised and where I will be buried when my time ends.

My mother, who has now joined my father up high on the hill that overlooks the town, once confirmed that her favourite memories centred on our orchard life, back in the days when the entire family picked, packed and shipped.

Back then our Grandfather Roy made the apple boxes with jarrah slats and a rhythmic union of hammer and nail. He stood, bent over his workbench, a mouth full of nails and a hammer that seemed less wood and metal, more skin and bone extensions of his arm.

In the tiny shed built in one corner of our thirty acres of apples, peaches and plums, the family worked like Trojans, laughed like hyenas and exhausted themselves so folk in the Mother Country, England, could eat the very best apple that ever was and ever will be.

Mum and Gran were the packers and, boy, could they pack.

Into the box went the tray and in fluid movements you had to watch carefully to see, they brought an apple and a slip of tissue paper together, wrapped one in the other, and slotted each one into a vacant bed.

Before each grab for tissue they would lick their fingers and the youngest of us would sit spellbound, trying to catch a fault. I never saw one: finger lick, tissue, apple, wrap, box; finger lick, tissue, apple, wrap, box.

We couldn’t sit for long because somebody had to bring in the apples, and the some bodies employed were always us, the boys.

Early pickings were a hard slog, but the late run was a feast, because there is no finer apple on this planet, or any other planet I have been to, than the tree ripened granny smith. I would start one end, pick and eat, pick and eat, pick and eat, until my body screamed: “No more eating, stick with the picking.” And sometimes it would let me know in the traditional way a body does when it has too much of something.

But the memory that lingers clearest is of the day dad drove over a younger brother’s head.

It was early pickings, dad took a corner a little tight between two rows, the brother fell of the back of the tractor and under the trailer wheel. This was one time we thanked God for a lack of rain and the soft, powdery soil that allowed the brother’s head to sink under the wheel and come back up almost the same.

There were bruises and some swelling, but after mum had applied her legendary date and walnut cake poultice it soon went down and we all laughed our heads off until the neighbour’s cows went home.

Ah, the memories, and each and every year I sink my teeth into a Bridgetown tree-ripened granny, they flood back.

Every year but this one. Where are they, the student and scientist? Why have they forsaken me?

Uncut: Growth hormones


Before I start, let me make it quite clear, no human growth hormones were used in the preparation of this column.

In addition, following the regular testing that all columnists on this paper must undergo, no evidence was found of any growth hormones normally used to enhance the performances or recoveries of horses, greyhounds, or racing pigeons.

In fact, nothing was used in the preparation of this column other than the two fingers on my left hand, the three on my right and the lump on my shoulders.

At one point I broke off for a small cup of coffee, made excellently and expertly by the neighbour who brought it over after I had assisted her husband in bringing down a palm tree.

This was a joyous job. There is no finer sight in the suburban garden than the recently-brought-down palm. Apart from, that is, the recently burnt-to-a-cinder palm or the disappearing-to-the-nearby-tip-on-the-back-of-a-truck palm.

All right, I don’t like palms and I take it seriously.

The palm is a tropical tree and, forgive me if global warming is moving faster than I am paying attention, most places where the palm is planted in this great state of ours are a long way from the tropics, sub-tropics or Bremer Bay.

Peter, not his real name, attacked one side of the palm with a tomahawk he had nicked from my shed, while I attacked the other side with a large axe I had bought in the local hardware shop.

After we returned to our respective sides of the fence I continued to work on a stump that has stumped me for a month and while swinging my axe in typical manly fashion, like I knew what I was doing and this was the most important task I would ever undertake, I crunched my hand between it and one of the pointy bits.

It hurt like hell. I screamed like I was in hell. Peter and Penelope, not her real name, did not appear over the fence to ask if I was ok.

The first thought that came to me was: I have ruined a perfectly good hand and the only way I will be able to reduce the ever expanding swelling and complete next week’s column is if I find some human growth hormones to speed up the recovery.

But this would never happen, because if there is one thing my addled brain does not need it is more medication and my body has long preferred fresh air and home grown garlic.

Eventually, like a lot of men I know who are in pain, I fell onto the settee and watched a perfectly healthy band of fit young men run onto a football field, fall over a ball, run into each other and two hours later return to their shed with their heads low and their faces showing a pain much deeper than mine.

I refer, of course, to the Dockers.

Now, I know about the rumours, each and every one of them is false and clearly started by columnists working for other papers, or politicians who were not mentioned last week.

Let me say once again, categorically, I have never taken illegal substances, parked illegally, worked in a fast food joint, trespassed, or even jay-walked, to assist in the production of this column.

All right, just the once, there was the time I left the keys in my car for 24 hours just to give me a topic, an idea, a starter, but once I got started, everything else was as factual as it can be in this modern world of spin, turn, twist and backflip.

Before I leave you, let me say that I understand the need for growth hormones, especially if you must constantly parade yourself in public, on film, or television, or there is someone at home who thinks your personality will be improved by massive doses of testosterone.

There is no need for that in our house. Or next door at Peter and Penelope’s.

And, rest assured, you have my word, no human growth hormones have been smuggled into this paper to endanger the equilibrium or health of the reader.

So please, read on.