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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Hungry, hungry hippies.

I'm on foot, passing the Wholefoods in Ashbury Avenue, Berkeley, when I stop to give a dollar bill to a girl who is standing on the footpath holding a ukelele and a cardboard sign with the words 'HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPIES' written on it.
The girl, who has her septum pierced, dread-locked hair and is wearing holed, filthy black and olive clothing, says thank you to me and smiles.
On the ground to her left lounge two young men on blankets and pillows and rolled up sleeping bags.
Around them are empty food containers, torn backpacks, items of clothing and dirty food bowls.
'Are you living on the footpath?' I ask them.
'Yes,' says one of the young men who smiles at me, showing off teeth plated with ochre coloured build up, 'it's cool,'
'Don't the cops come and move you,' I say to the young man while I stare down at his teeth and wonder what kind of implement a dentist would need to remove the build up.
'No,' says the other young man who is wearing a baseball cap from under which hair that looks like fat blond tarantula legs pokes out, 'as long as we stay on the footpath and don't go on the store property,'
'Woah,' I say, 'You are literally living between the Wholefoods and the road?'
'Yeh,' says the girl, strumming at her ukelele, 'But we're headed down to So-Cal soon, anyway,'
'Oh?' I say, 'Where to?'
'The Rainbow Festival,' says the young man with the intriguing teeth.
'Oh, lovely,' I say back to him, 'and what's that all about then?'
But I don't ever find out what the Rainbow Festival is about because just then a large and noisy truck passes and because my left ear is blocked with old wax, the young man's voice never reaches my right ear so I just stand there nodding my head and focusing on the interesting teeth behind his moving lips. 
'So when is it held?' I say after the truck has passed and I can hear again.
'We don't know,' he says, smiling up at me, 'maybe July, they, like, text us when they've decided,'
'Oh, right,' I say wondering if they plan on living on the footpath until July 2015, 'well, that's something to look forward to,'
'Yeh,' they all say, smiling at me.
'Well,' I say as I start to walk away, 'I hope that dollar helps,'
'Sure, man,' says the girl with the ukelele as the boys hold up their hands and wave and smile, 'it all helps.'



Go here-
spikyheart.com
tonilebusque.com





Thursday, 27 November 2014

Salinas

I’m at the Salinas Transit station sitting on a bench and waiting for the 12.15 bus to Monterey, when a young man walks over, sits down beside me and starts talking very loudly about needing to get himself to a hospital.
‘I need to get myself to a hospital,’ he says, ‘Because, you know, really I do not belong here,’
I’m looking down at my phone, looking up train timetables, so I look up from my phone and look over at the man, who is young and dark, stubbled and handsome and wearing a pair of jeans, a dark blue tee shirt and no shoes.
‘My mother’s in the hospital,’ he says to me, this time even louder, ‘So, I need to see my mother. I need to make a phone call,’
And then he goes quiet.
And I smile to myself.
And then, the young man, very softly he says to me, ‘I’m suicidal, so we’re talking suicide and maybe homicide,’
And then he screams - ‘Doesn’t anyone speak fucking ENGLISH here? I don’t fucking BELONG HERE, I don’t belong here in Chinatown,’
And, startled by this, I give a little involuntary shout and stop concentrating on my phone and look up from it and look around the Salinas Transit station.
There’s a curve of beige columns going nowhere.
There are bench seats, there is a blue sky, there are lonely buses parked and shadows cast in one long direction.
And Nobody is talking.
We are all stood far apart and everyone is looking away from me and the young man when suddenly he stands up and starts screaming about homicide and suicide and Chinatown again.
And then he takes off his dark blue tee shirt and throws it into the air and the throws his hands up in the air, as if he’s been running a race and is crossing a finishing line, victoriously
‘I’M A FUCKING CAUCASIAN MAN AND I AM LATINO,’ he screams, and then he goes down on his knees, as if he’s been felled by a bullet and still with his hands in the air screams out,  ‘NO DRUGS, NO WEAPONS, NO BOOOOOOOOOOZE, NO GANG AFFILIATION,’
Then, he stands up, walks to a rubbish bin, picks up the lid and waves it around in the air.
‘My mother is in the FUCKING HOSPITAL,’ he screams into the air, ‘I was there, with her, and I need to get out of this fucking town and see my MOTHER. I need to get out of CHINATOWN. DOESN’T ANYBODY SPEAK ENGLISH?’
And then he throws the rubbish bin lid hard onto the ground and screams ‘WE’RE TALKING SUICIDE HERE. WE’RE TALKING POTENTIAL HOMICIDE,’
Then he throws the rubbish bin lid, like a frisbee, into a column.
‘I spent the night here, I don’t belong here,’ he says picking up the rubbish bin lid and bashing the concrete floor of the Salinas Transit Station with it, ‘Someone call me a fucking AMBULANCE,’
And just then a police car arrives and a policeman gets out of it.
The policeman is fat and dressed in a dark blue uniform and the top of his head would be bald if it wasn’t for a ring of hair that starts just above his ears and goes down to touch his collar.
He is wearing a moustache and glasses and when the young man sees him he puts his hands up in the air and turns and does a little jig.
And while he dances the jig, his jeans, which are tied with a piece of white rope, start slipping down his legs and while this is happening the police officer is putting on blue surgical gloves.
‘I know you,’ says the police officer as he goes through the pockets of the dancing man.
‘Yeh, yeh,’ says the young man who is now speaking softly, ‘you know me. No drugs, no weapons, no booze, no gang affiliation,’
‘I’ll give you a ride to the hospital,’ says the policeman to the young man.
Yes,’ says the young man, ‘because, you know I don’t belong down here in Chinatown.’

Monday, 24 November 2014

The man with a torn and frayed fabric suitcase on wheels

It's approximately 8.30am.
A November Monday.
And being California, the sun is shining even if it is weak.
And, having just left a cafe called Renaissance, I'm standing on the corner of Shattuck and Essex avenues with a take away decaf soy latte for me in one hand and a regular latte for Sonya in the other
and I'm about the cross the street when a man, who is wearing a white fedora, a blue pin striped waistcoat, a white shirt, a blue tie, black trousers and spats and pulling a small torn and frayed fabric suitcase on wheels, stops at the pedestrian crossing and turns to me and squeals out - 'I really LOVE your hair,'
'Well,' I say, as I draw level with the man, 'I really LOVE your hat,'
'Hah,' he squeals back to me, letting go of the suitcase and raising his hands to slap his own cheeks, 'I really LOVE your accent,'
'Well,' I call back to him as I raise the 2 coffees slowly into the air, 'I really LOVE your whole look,'

'HAH' laughs the mans as he starts to cross the pedestrian crossing, 'Hah!'
And then, half way across the street, he turns and laughs and squeals at me to have a good day.
'And, HAH,' I call to him as I pass him, 'you too. You too.'

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Wholefoods

I'm walking from Oakland to Berkeley, along Telegraph Avenue, when I stop at a pedestrian crossing behind a man who is trying to wheel himself across the road in a wheelchair.
I stand behind him for a few moments and watch as he slides his hands back and forth across the top of the wheels of his chair, whilst at the same time pulling at the road with the soles of his shoes, trying to move himself forward.
Realising he is not going anywhere, I walk around and stand in front of him and ask him if he needs help.
'Hey,' I say to the man who has patchy ginger hair and ginger stubble and is wearing a matted blue fleece, filthy and ripped jeans and has the dirtiest fingernails, 'do you need some help?'
The man looks up at me and I can see from the way he looks at me that he is either drunk or perhaps has some kind of neurological issue.
He is thin and his cheeks look as if they are made of bruised porcelain that his been pushed at hard by an impatient thumb.
'Help me,' the man says in a voice that is weak but carries upon it a putrid and unpleasant odour, 'help me,'
'Yeh,' I say, 'no problem, okay. Pull your feet up and I'll push you off the road,'
I go back behind him and tell him to watch his feet and that I am going to start pushing.
'I'm going to push you now, so watch your feet,' I tell him and I start pushing him toward the other side of the road.
When we get there I lean down to him and say, 'okay? Alright now?'
The man, who I can now smell has been drinking, waves his hands about in the air drunkenly and then curls his finger in a way that indicates he wants me to hear him.
I move my face down closer so I can hear him above the traffic.
'Can you take me to a restaurant?' he asks me.
'Um,' I say, and start looking around for a restaurant, 'I can take you to get something to eat,'
'Yes, yes,' he says, 'I need help,'
I start looking up and down the street while the man continues to ask me for help.
Then, a young woman pushing a stroller with what look like toddler twins in it, comes toward me.
'Excuse me,' I say to the woman, 'I've come across this fellow in the wheelchair and I wonder if you know if there's anywhere to take him. Like a shelter or anywhere he can get help. He's asking for help,'
'Hmmmm,' says the woman, 'Um, I don't know. I think there's a shelter on Shattuk Avenue...but I don't think they just take people over night,'
'Oh,' I say, '....okay then,'
'Yeh,' says the woman, 'You know I've seen this guy around, he's around here a lot. You know, he's kind of drunk a lot,'
'Oh,' I say, 'okay, well he seems to be hungry and ill as well as drunk, so...thanks anyway,'
Then the woman leaves and an old black man comes up and stands beside the man in the wheelchair.
'Do you know him?' I say to the old man, 'do you know what I should do with him?'
The man who is extremely intoxicated and can hardly stand upright, begins talking to the man, calling him brother and telling him he will look after him.
Then, after a few moments, they high-5 each other and the man walks off.
'Help me,' says the man in the wheelchair again, 'please help me,'
I walk around to the front of the wheelchair again and ask him what help he needs.
He tells me he wants 4 dollars.
'I am taking you to Wholefoods,' I tell him, 'I'll get you a sandwich and a drink,'
'I like egg salad,' he tells me, and I walk back behind his chair and start to push him.
'Okay,' I say, 'I'll get you an egg salad sandwich from Wholefoods,'
Telegraph avenue is on a slight incline so by the time I get to Wholefoods I am sweating in my arm pits and on my forehead.
'Stop,' says the man, 'give me 4 dollars,'
'No,' I say to him, 'I am going to buy you an egg sandwich,'
'No, I want 5 dollars,' he tells me and I tell him no.
'I am getting you a sandwich,' I tell him, because I don't want him to buy alcohol.
'Okay then,' he says, as I begin to push him to the doorway of Wholefoods, 'a sandwich,'
Then, just as we get on to the path that crosses the Wholefoods carpark, the man asks me to stop.
'Wait,' he says, 'push me in here,'
I push him in behind what looks like a closed flower stand and the man, still sitting in his wheelchair, starts to take out his penis.
I turn away and watch the people coming across the Wholefoods carpark in the dusk.
They're all dressed nicely and are carrying sacks of organic food and getting into nice cars and I can feel that I am beginning to get annoyed.
When I hear the man say 'ready', I pull him out from behind the flower stand and push him to the doorway of Wholefoods.
'Okay, wait here' I say, 'I'll get you an egg salad sandwich...and a drink?'
'Yes,' she says, 'lovely,'
In the Wholefoods I am standing in front of the salad bar, choosing a sandwich, and I am listening to people talking on mobiles, talking about the salad, talking about quinoa and tabbouleh and everyone looks tidy and the shop sparkles like a Christmas evening and everyone looks clean while I feel myself getting angry.
After I find the egg salad sandwich I go over to the drink section and and look for some kind of drink for the man.
There is a girl there from Wholefoods, and she is pretty and young and blond and she is stocking the shelf with organic fruit juice and I say excuse me and I tell her about the man.
'Oh, yeh,' she says, 'I know that guy. He's usually drunk,'
'Um, okay,' I say, frowning at her, 'regardless of him being drunk, he's going to be hungry, too, so does Wholefoods have some kind of program where they could give leftover food to homeless people, like him. Like, you know, at the end of the day, like now, do you have anything that you could give him to take away, like some bread or something, things that haven't sold? Something you could package up and let him take away with him for later?'
'Um,' says the girl, 'hang on a second and I'll go and ask,'
I choose the drink and then go and stand behind the girl while she talks to the guy behind the pizza counter who is looking at her with his mouth hanging open.
Then I watch as he goes to speak to someone who is adding topping to pizza, and then as he comes back and looks down at the pizza and then as he shakes his head and then as the girl turns and walks back to me.
'Um, I guess,' she says, shaking her head, 'that it would have to be a no. I guess,'
'Okay,' I say, 'thanks,'
But it really isn't okay and by the time I get to the counter to pay, I am hateful.

At the front of the Wholefoods I stand in front of the man in the wheelchair and present him with his drink and his sandwich.
'Here we are,' I say, and put the drink and sandwich in his lap.
And then the man looks up at me and says thank you.
And then he holds up both of his hands, the same hands he has previously used to take his penis out and piss behind the flower stand.
But I lean down and let him take my hand in his hands, anyway, and he shakes it and says thank you to me.
And then I stand back up again and, very loudly, I tell the man in the wheelchair to take care of himself.
'Because, you know,' I say, even louder and more hateful still, so that the security guard and the people coming in and out of the Wholefoods can hear, 'I get the feeling that no one else in this country will.'


Go to my shop-
spikyheart.com
Or my website-
tonilebusque.com

Friday, 14 November 2014

Oliver

I'm sitting at a table at the outdoor cafe at Wholefoods in Berkeley, California, drinking a decaf coffee with soya milk, drawing people and smoking my e-cigarette, when a man stops, looks down at Sonya's dog Oliver, gives an airy squeal, sticks his hand out at the dog and cries out, 'Oh, my goodness me, he is the cutest dog I have ever seen,'

I look down at Oliver, who is a foster dog and was abused as a pup and has anxiety issues, to see that he is now reversing away from the excited man as fast as he can and pulling so hard on his lead that I think his little blond fox-style head might pop off.
'We have to be careful around him, he's very timid,' I tell the man, 'He was beaten when he was little so he has some issues...relating,'
'Oh yes,' whispers the man who has big brown eyes and is wearing a checked shirt, Caterpillar boots, a big brown beard and glasses, 'me too,'
Then he throws up his hands and laughs.
And I laugh too and then I look at him seriously and say-'Sorry, I shouldn't laugh that you were beaten when you were little. That's awful,'
'Oh' says the man, standing up and touching me on the arm, 'it was a long time ago. I'm over it,'
'Oh,' I say, 'so there's hope for Oliver, yet,'
The man laughs and squeals out an airy yes.
Then the man looks down at me, touching me again, this time on the shoulder, and asks me what Oliver's name is.
'Oliver,' I tell him.
And the man does another of his squeals again.
'Oh, my god,' he says, 'he so-o-o-o-o looks like an Oliver,'
Oliver is about calf height and blond and has a curled tail and red tips at the end of his hair.
His ears are over-sized for his body and his eyes are dark brown.
He has recently had his testicles removed and when he walks he goes on tiptoes.
'He's very good with my friend, Sonya,' I tell the man as we both stand there looking down at Oliver who is now beginning to relax, 'he rolls around on her like a cat,'
'Aw,' the man says, and then touches me on the shoulder again.
Then he kneels down again, holds his hand out toward Oliver, and Oliver comes toward the man's hand, doing a one step forward, two step back tentative tango.
Then, suddenly, Oliver stops yawns and goes into a downward dog.
'Look,' I say, 'that's how dogs relieve their anxiety and stress. They do downward dog,'
And at this the man gives another thrilled squeal.
'Oh, my god,' he says, reaching over and touching me on the knee and looking up at me, 'he is the cutest dog I have ever seen.'

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi

I'm at the Buddhist temple on Market Street, and it's after-service refreshment time in the kitchen and I'm almost back at my table, from the food counter, with a cup of tea and a plate of something called snickerdoodles, when the Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi smiles at me, looks down at my legs and tells me how much he likes my tattoos and all the colour on them.
'Oh,' he says, 'I like your tattoos and all the colour on your legs,'
So I say thank you and stop and and am about to start talking to him about the service when Maria, who I had sat next to during the service, and who is short and has long blond hair and a lot of makeup on and is from Spain, interrupts me and starts talking to the Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi instead.
'How you get,' she says, looking up at the Reverend, 'to be so happy all the time?'
At this the Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, who has grey hair and glasses and is wearing a pale blue shirt and used to be a dentist, tilts his head back and laughs.
'I look for the good things,' he says, looking down at Maria, 'I try to stay focused on only the good things I have in my life,'
'Oh,' says Maria who is holding a small styrofoam cup of assorted grapes and a plate of chocolate chip cookies and frowning as if the Reverend has just told her a giant piece of nonsense, 'it's not so easy every day,'
I don't say anything to this but I keep looking at Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, because I don't think he has really finished saying what he wants to say, and whatever he has to say I really want to hear.
'Well,' says the Reverend, who is still smiling and laughing, 'What I do is I just look for the things to say thank you to,'
And then, because the Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi is in the food line and probably wants to get some food, and I want to leave him alone so he can get it, I put my tea cup and plate down on the table, put my hand on the Reverends arm and say-'I am thankful for you today, Reverend.'
And the Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi tilts his head back and laughs.
And I laugh, too.
And then Maria and I go back to the table and sit down.
And then, while Maria tells me about her holiday to Japan and we eat our snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies and drink our green tea, I think about what the Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi has just said and I silently list all of the things I have that I can say thank you to.



Go to my shop-
spikyheart.com
Or my website-
tonilebusque.com



Friday, 7 November 2014

Texas

I'm in the ice cream shop, sitting in the office in the back when, seeing a man and a woman at the counter, I start walking to the front of the shop and call out hello.
'Hello,' I call to the man, who is standing directly in my line of sight, and who is shortish, quite fat and has a grey beard and grey hair and is wearing a faded ash-grey Hawaiian style shirt and combat shorts.
'Hello young lady,' he says.
'Did you just call me young lady,' I say to the man as I reach the counter.
'Yes, yes, I did,' the man says to me, 'aren't you a young lady?'
'Um,' I say, 'have a really good look at me and I think you'll find the answer is a no,'
The man laughs, and so does the woman, who is much shorter and standing next to him.
Then the man says-'Woah, looks like you spent the night in a tattoo parlour,'
And because I don't know what else to say I laugh and look down at myself and say-'It would have taken more than a night for all of this,'
Then, the woman, who has her hair cut in a blond bob and is wearing a dark blue tee shirt and mum-style Levi jeans, tells me that the man, who it will turn out is her husband, asks me where I am from.
'Melbourne,' I tell her, which is a lie.
And for a few minutes we talk about Melbourne, what's the best place to visit and at what time of the year and so on.
Then the man and woman ask to try ice cream flavours.
'You got banana,' says the man?
I tell him yes, we do have banana, and I dig in the banana ice cream tub with a tasting stick and hand it over to him and he tastes the banana and then tells me he will have that, in a single sugar cone.
I serve him up the single banana in a sugar cone and then the woman tells me she would like a mint chocolate chip.
'Why is the mint chocolate chip pink?' she asks me as I lean into the freezer to scoop the ice cream, 'shouldn't it be green?'
I have no real answer for her question so I make one up, telling her that due to a chemical change during the freezing process and contact with dairy product, there is an enzyme in this species of mint that turns pink, and that if she were to put this kind of mint in a container of milk in the freezer at home, she would find the same thing happening.
So then, after they have their ice creams in their hands, they stand in front of the counter eating them and we talk about where they are from.
'Dallas, Texas,' the man tells me.
'Oh,' I say, 'as soon as I hear the word Dallas, I get the theme tune from the TV show in my head and see the opening titles, that split screen thing, and then I see Southfork,'
The man and woman laugh.
Then the man starts to open his wallet.
'You know what kind of money we have down in Texas?' he says.
I don't say anything because he is already putting a Mexican 100 peso bill on the counter.
Then he laughs, but I don't because I think he might be attempting a racist joke and I do not want to encourage him.
Instead, I tell him what a beautiful colour the note is and what gorgeous art work it has on it.
'Yeh,' says the woman, 'every other country has beautiful money, except us. Our money is ugly,'
'Yeh,' says the man from Dallas, Texas, 'it might be ugly but everybody wants it,'
I am staring at the man now and getting annoyed and I start thinking, yes, a lot of people want a lot of things American, but like the money, a lot of the stuff they want is just ugly and overrated.
Then Krista, who has just come into the shop, and is standing to the left of the man, says that there's a lot of counterfeit US money in circulation.
'The secret service,' she says, 'apart from guarding the President, it's their job to travel the world and find and destroy counterfeit dollars,'
And then, while I turn my back on them to clean the ice cream scoops, these Americans talk about their money and various other American-themed topics.
Then, as I turn back to join them, the woman from Texas says, 'Hey, have you ever been to New Zealand?'
I tell the woman no, I have never been there and because I have no other information to offer on New Zealand, I tell her that the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is perhaps a bit like that between the US and Canada, a kind of friendly rivalry that we invent for no good reason but to have rivalry and pick on another country's accent.
'I know the French hate the Canadians,' the man from Texas says, 'and you wanna know why?'
I tell him yes, I would like to know why.
And he says- 'It's because like we got the African Americans, the Canadians got the French,'
Then the man and woman laugh.
And even though what he has said might get laughs in some places in Texas, here in California I do not find it funny so I just stand there looking at the man from Texas, and say nothing.

And I do not laugh.







Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Bruce

It's after the service and I'm standing outside the Buddhist temple in Market Street, San Diego, when Bruce comes up to me and says hello, shakes my hand and tells me it's good to see me again.
'Hey,' says Bruce, who has wooden Buddha beads around his neck and is wearing a pale blue Hawaiian style shirt, jeans and brown leather flip-flops, 'it's good do see you,'
'Hey,' I say back, 'oh, it's very good to see you, too,'
And then, because Bruce looks so happy, I tell him how happy he looks.
'Bruce,' I say, 'you look so happy, you look happier than last week,'
'I am happy,' he tells me, 'I've had a good week,'
Then, because last week when we had sat together for refreshments after the service, drinking green tea and eating rice and a Japanese salad, and Bruce had told me how much he works, I ask him some questions about his job.
'How's the job going?' I say, 'do you own the company?'
Bruce laughs and says no, he does not own the company, but he has worked there for 23 years and that he loves his job, which involves designing some kind of metal work.
'I love my job,' he says, 'I love going to work, I love the work I do,'
I tell him that's great.
'Yeh,' he says, 'so many people complain about their jobs. I want to ask them, "Hey, if you were hiring someone to do your job, would you hire someone like you? Someone who moans and complains all the time?"'
I start laughing and so does Bruce.
Then he tells me he loves the company he works for.
'I'm good at my job,' he says, 'and I like helping my company prosper, because they have been very good to me and I have prospered,'
I tell Bruce that this is a great way to look at life and work, and then we get on to the subject of chanting.
'I like how chanting feels,' I tell Bruce, 'like literally how it feels in your body,'
Bruce says he does too.
'It's like someone hit's you with a big tuning fork,' I say to Bruce while I pretend to hold a big tuning fork and hit him on the shoulder.
Bruce laughs.
'It's exactly right,' he says.
Then he asks me if I have a TV.
'Oh,' I say, 'is your show on today?'
Bruce's company is going to be featured on 'How It's Made' and I want to watch it.
'No,' Bruce says, 'but there's a show called CBS Sunday Morning and it has really great things on it. Like, this morning there was a segment on blind baseball players who use a sort of sonic ball that makes sounds,'
'I don't generally watch TV,' I tell him, 'American TV frightens me and makes me anxious,'
'Try this show,' he says and smiles, 'it will make you feel good. It's full of...goodness, really,'
I tell Bruce that I'll try to watch next Sunday and then he asks me how my trip to Los Angeles had been and I tell him that I had done some tattooing, and spent the evening in a strip club and I tell him about the train trip that goes partly along the ocean, and that at 7am the sun was coming up on one side of the train, over the bare hills, and that on the other side I could see, through the fog, the surfers out on the Pacific ocean, waiting for their waves.
'Ah,' says Bruce, 'you know that's the only other time I get some kind of peace in my head,'
And then he holds up his hand and starts waving it in front of his forehead.
'It's always going on up here,' he says, 'but not when surfing and not when chanting,'
And then we laugh.
And then we talk about the content of the service.
And then we talk about the priest.
And then we talk about new years eve celebration at the temple.
And then, because I am going out for lunch, I tell Bruce I have to get going.
But then we stand there in the Buddhist temple car park for a bit longer, me holding my bicycle, my helmet on my head, and Bruce swinging his car keys and smiling until even though I really want hug him, I just shake his hand and tell him that I liked his ideas on prosperity and that I hope I would see him next week.
'I hope I see you next week,' I say to Bruce.
'Yeh,' says Bruce as I get on my bicycle and get ready to cycle off, 'I hope I see you next week, too.'








Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hat

It's Friday night and I'm up front, working the ice cream counter, when in walks a short grey-haired older woman wearing glasses and a hat on her head.
I like her hat so I tell her.
'Ooh, I like that hat,' I say to the woman, who is looking down at the tubs of ice cream in the fridge, 'I like those badges you have on your hat,'
The woman looks up at me.
'Oh,' she says, 'yeh, it's a cute hat, isn't it!'
I tell her yes and then I ask her what flavour ice cream she would like.
'Um,' she says, 'I'd like a double scoop of Thai tea, and a double of chocolate chip,'
'Cup or cone?' I say.
'Cup,' she says and I turn to take an ice cream scoop and a polystyrene cup and then I lean into the ice cream freezer and start scooping from the tubs .
'I get ice cream once a week,' she tells me when I hand her her her cone, 'once a week on a Friday,'
'Oh,' I say, 'that's a nice routine,'
'Yeh,' she says, 'you wouldn't know it to look at me, but 14 years ago I was fat,'
'Oh?' I say.
'Yeh,' she says, 'I had surgery,'
'Woah,' I say, 'that's drastic,'
'Yeh,' she says, 'I lost 150 pounds,'
I tell her that being a foreigner, I'm not good with weight, and does she know how much that is in kilograms.
She says no, she does not know, but she looks over at Jeff, who is standing next to me, and says, 'Him. I lost one of him,'
At this I start laughing and so does she, and so does Jeff.
Then she puts down her ice cream, holds up her hand and shows how the surgery takes place.
'This is my stomach size,' she tells me, making a scissor motion half way up her hand.
I say woah again and then ask her why she had the surgery.
'I didn't want to be fat and 50,' she tells me, 'I couldn't get up the stairs without holding hand rails. My knees hurt,'
She says she didn't have diabetes but she was waiting for it.
'Fair play,' I tell her, 'if you felt bad,'
'You know, the doctor told me not to buy any new clothes,' she says, 'for the first year. But I did,'
Then she says she bought a sweater soon after surgery.
'I bought this red sweater,' she says, holding her hands at her waist as is if she is holding imaginary sleeves of an imaginary sweater, 'and you know, after only a few months, I could wrap the arms of that sweater around me once, and then twice,'
Then she tells me that's when she started buying second hand clothes.
'No new clothes, now,' she tells me, 'I got into the habit of buying second hand clothes when I got unfat, and I haven't gone back,'
I laugh at this and so does she.
Then she tells me eating out is an issue.
'It's an issue, because everywhere you eat,' she says, 'they give you enormous amounts,'
'Yeh,' right,' says Jeff, 'Once upon a time we were told to eat everything our plate, but in those days the plates were smaller and there wasn't that much on them,'
Then, while I go off to serve ice cream to other customers, the woman in the hat stands quietly at the counter eating the Thai tea and chocolate chip ice cream from her cup.
Then, when I have finished serving I turn back to her to talk to her again, but before I can speak, she holds up her spoon points it at me and says, 'Y'know what eating out in the USA is like?'
'No,' I tell her, 'what?'
'It's like being force-fed,' she says, looking right into my eyes and emphasising each syllable by stabbing at nothing with her spoon, 'like being force-fed.'



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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Phone

I’m on the 7.05am Amtrak
train from San Diego to Los Angeles and I’m looking out at the ocean, through bits and pieces of fog, when 2 seats back a man starts to talk, very loudly, into his phone.

‘It frikkin' sucks,’ he says, in a southern accent of some sort, ‘it was wasting my breath,’
The he goes quiet.
Then a moment later he starts saying how ‘fucked’ something feels.
‘Yeh, man,’ he says, ‘it just feels so fucked,’
Then he goes quiet again.
Then he starts talking about something organic.
‘Yeh, so I pick it up,’ he says, ‘and the guy goes, like, yeh, it’s organic. But I’m looking on the back of it and I can’t see it so I’m like, what the fuck ever,’
Then he goes quiet again.
Then he starts talking about being pissed off about things.
‘I’m pissed off,’ he says, ‘things have gotten kind of screwed up. All the notes were, ..were…were…’
Then he goes quiet again for a few moments.
Then he starts talking again.
‘Anyway..,’ he says.
And then he goes quiet again.
The he starts speaking again.
‘Yeh, it’s not,..’ he says.
Then there's quiet.
Then he starts again.
'There are three levels of presentation,' he says, 'and it's like...that's...that's...'
And then he stops talking.
The he starts talking.
‘It’s not open,’ it’s like…it’s, um…’
Then there’s another silence.
Then he starts talking about someone called Randy.
‘Randy, he’s like, Randy’s almost, like…he’s, uh…’
Then there’s silence for a few moments.
Then he laughs very loudly and says, ‘I’m watching the waves break,’
Then he shouts ‘huh?’
And then he laughs again and shouts-‘No, I’m watching the waves break. I’m on a train and I'm watching the waves break.’



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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Patrick

I'm in the ramen noodle place in North Park with Patrick and because Patrick, who is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops, and who smiles a lot and looks like a bit like a shambolic Richard Gere, was late, I've already finished eating my noodles but he hasn't, so while he eats and talks, I listen.
Firstly Patrick tells me about a woman he knows who lives across the street from where he lives, a woman who invites him over at night and then gets drunk and abuses him.
'I call her 'Drunk Annie', he tells me, 'because, well, quite literally she is always drunk,'
I laugh at this and then Patrick tells me he has never been a drinker and that he hates alcohol.
'You know how drinkers think they are so interesting after a drink?' I hate that,' he says, 'because they're NOT!'
Then he tells me about his living situation.
'I'm staying in, well, sort of a field, really, in a sort of...shed,' he tells me, 'behind a mates place. In Cranbourne,'
Cranbourne is an outer suburb of Melbourne, and it seems, that because of his age, Patrick hasn't been able to find a room to rent in the city.
'I show up at these places, you know, shared houses, and these women answer the door and they're all about 30 and they look at me as if I'm some old perv because I'm still looking for a shared house to live in at my age,'
I laugh at this too, and then, as Patrick lifts the bowl of ramen up to his face to eats more noodles with chopsticks, he tells me about his mother.
'I mean, you'd think,' he says, as a small section of ramen flips out of his mouth and lands on my knee, 'you'd have read at least ONE book in your bloody lifetime, but she's never bloody read anything,'
And then while I'm looking down at the bit of noodle on my knee and wondering what to do about it, Patrick tells me about his sister, who he is staying with.
'She's never cooked a bloody meal in her life,' he tells me, 'and there's no breakfast in the house and she lives on protein shakes and cigarettes,'
I laugh at this and then Patrick tells me about his brother.
'He still lives at home with my mum,'
Then Patrick tells me that he has no pension and no real home and is going back to Australia to no job.
'No job, no pension, no house,' he says, as we sit under an early evening's sun on a slate bench at a communal slate table at the noodle bar in North Park.
I say 'never mind, me too', and then Patrick tells me he went to film school.
'I went to film school,' he says, 'but I didn't finish. They kicked me out in my third year,'
I'm not surprised by this but I don't say that and then Patrick tells me he needs to get out of Cranbourne.
'It's not even really Cranbourne,' he tells me, 'it's about 15 minutes out of Cranbourne and it's only got one shop and a pub. It's fucking dismal,'
Then, when there's a break in his talk, I take my chance and tell Patrick that maybe he should use his film school skills and write a screenplay and write a film about a middle-aged man who lives in unsatisfactory circumstances in an outer Melbourne suburb, and that he could call it "Getting out of Cranny",'
He tells me that he still does sometimes make films, with his friend, Paul, a crane driver, but that Paul is unreliable and often drunk.
I suggest to Patrick he find another collaborator.
He laughs at this and tells me to shut-up.
'Shut-up, you're talking too much,' he says, 'and I'll never finish my noodles.'




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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Valerie

In the morning I go to Krakatoa, the hipster cafe in Golden Hill, to meet Valerie and we are sitting at a table outside, talking, when her breakfast, a plated chicken sandwich with what looks like a scoop of ice cream with bacon in it, comes.
'Jesus,' I say to Valerie, 'that looks like vanilla ice cream with bacon in it,'
'Hmm,' says Valerie, 'ice cream with swine,'
We laugh at this and Valerie lifts the top piece of bread from her sandwich and looks in.
Then she puts the bread back on and starts eating while I smoke my e-cigarette and drink my coffee and we talk about Ebola.
'I'm about as scared of that as I was of SARS and the KY2 virus and Isis,' says Valerie.
'And bird flu,' I say, 'remember when bird flu was going to kill us all?'
Then Valerie tells me you have more chance of being killed by a cop than getting Ebola.
'30,000 gun deaths a year,' I say, 'And it appears to me, that if you are a black man, you got way more chance of being killed by the cops than being killed by someone from Isis,'
'Yep,' says Valerie, 'And Isis won't kill me anyway. They're not interested in killing brown people. It's white people they're pissed off with,'
Then we talk about Valerie's online makeup business and then Valerie asks about my future.
'What's the plan for your future?' she says to me.
'I think I'll have to leave San Diego,' I tell her, 'and go somewhere, anywhere, and open a small appointment-only tattoo studio,'
'That's a good plan,' says Valerie who is still eating her chicken sandwich, 'vague, but at least it's a plan,'
Valerie then tells me about her friend in Pahoa who is a cosmetic tattooist with a tiny room which she rents out part-time to a massage therapist.
'She goes to Maui every few months,' Valerie tells me, 'for a couple of weeks and makes, like, thousands of dollars,'
I tell Valerie this is the kind of thing I would like to do, but without the going to Maui bit, and that it is time to sort out some kind of future for myself because I am terrified of a solitary old age where I am in bad health and financially compromised.
'I have to do something now,' I tell Valerie, 'I am terrified of dying old and alone and poor in a gutter with a goat licking my face,'
'If you die with a goat licking your face, you won't be alone,' says Valerie sticking her fork into the swine ice cream and smiling at me, 'You'll be with the goat.'





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Friday, 17 October 2014

A Girl Called Destiny

I am in the car, driving Downtown, with Stephanie, Pete, and a girl called Destiny, and in the boot of the car are salads and tuna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bottles of water that we are going to give out to the homeless people of San Diego.
'Okay, we are Team Awesome,' says Stephanie who has long brown hair and a big smile, and whose car, an Audi, we are in, 'and here are the rules for Team Awesome. We stay together, we don't engage in conversation, we don't wake people who are sleeping,'
Then Stephanie starts the car and tell us more rules, while at the same time, driving, laughing and shouting about pedestrians.
'Oops,' she says, 'I don't want to be an arsehole who runs over pedestrians, that would be so totally not cool,'
Then she yells at someone to get out of the way.
'Out of the way, areshole,' she says, and laughs and turns the corner.
Then she asks us what our names are, and we all call out our names again.
Pete says Pete, Destiny says Destiny, I say my name and the Stephanie says hers again.
Then Stephanie asks us all what we do.
Pete says he's an arborist and Stephanie says cool.
I tell Pete and Destiny and Stephanie what I do and everyone says 'cool', but we don't get around to what Destiny or Stephanie do because we haven't gone very far before Stephanie sees some homeless people and is parking the car and yelling 'WOOH', first stop, let's roll, let's rock out some SALADS,'
Then Stephanie tells us we have to hurry because we are parked in a disabled parking space and she is not disabled.
'Clearly,' says Stephanie, running on the spot while putting bottled water into a hessian shopping bag, 'I am NOT disabled, so we gotta, like totally roll on this one,'
For the next 10 minutes we walk from homeless person to homeless person offering the salad in polystyrene containers, the tuna sandwiches, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the bottles of water.
'You want some dog food?' says a woman a who has no teeth, and no dog that I can see, 'Someone gave me so much dog food,'
Stephanie smiles and laughs and says 'WOOP, no thanks, you hang on to it, we've got dog food' and walks on.
Then we go back to the car and, while we are driving around looking for more homeless people, Stephanie talks about how she's becoming Jewish because she's marrying a Jewish guy.
'I call it How to Become a Jew School,' she says, of the classes she is taking to convert to Judaism.
Then she tells us how expensive it is to become a Jew, $2.500 a year for temple fees, another $500 for ground fees, $250 for classes but that he fiance's father, who lives in Beverly Hills and is 'minted', is chipping in.
'You should see the temple,' Stephanie tells me and Phil and Destiny, 'it is BEAUTIFUL,'
Then, just as Stephanie is explaining the similarities between Buddhism and Judaism, and telling us that Jew school is on Thursdays so she won't be able to do the homeless food drop for 6 months while she becomes a Jew, sees some homeless people gathered at the side of a windowless convenience store, and parks the car.
I look out of the car window and see, on the footpath at the side of the convenience store, a very fat black woman in a white dress, sitting in a wheelchair.
In her white dress she is glowing under the light that drops on her from the one light on the street.
On the ground, in the shadow around her, people are lying on dirty piles of blankets.
On the corner there are more people standing around a rubbish bin.
'Wooh, let's rock those salads,' says Stephanie and me and Phil and Stephanie and Destiny get out of the car and cross the street and ask the people standing around the rubbish bin if they would like a salad.
Some say yes and we give them the salads.
Then I ask the woman in the wheelchair if she would like a salad.
'It's the only thing we have left now,' I tell her and she smiles, says yes, she would like a salad, and then says 'bless you,'
And then I offer a salad to a woman lying on the ground next to the woman in the wheelchair.
The woman on the ground says yes, she would like a salad, but she doesn't move to sit up so I put the salad on the ground next to her and she says 'bless you,' also.
It is night now, and except for the light falling from that one street lamp, it is all dark around us.
So we walk around, handing out the salads until all the salads are gone and then when we have no more salads we cross the street, get back into Stephanie's car, and me and Phil and Stephanie and Destiny go home.



spikyheart.com
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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Eclipse

It's 3.45am and I am standing in the middle of E Street looking up at the moon undergoing an eclipse, when Krista comes out, sits down on her porch and lights a cigarette.
'Is there anyone else out there in the street,' she calls out, 'further up the street?'
'No,' I tell her, though there are many lights on in the many apartments on the opposite side of the street, 'just me,'
'Are you getting some photos?' she asks and I tell her no, that my camera, which I am holding, doesn't have a long enough lens.
Then for a few moments I stand quietly and bare-footed on the asphalt looking up at the dimming moon until Krista calls out - 'Can you hear that dog?' and I call back yes
'That's an unfamiliar dog, I haven't heard that dog before,' she says, 'The neighbours must have a new dog,'
Krista is highly aware of dogs and has 2 of her own.
One, a long-haired Dachshund with an eating disorder, is called Murphy, and the other is Gwyn a terrier with wiry white hair and separation anxiety.
I'm still looking up at the moon when Krista comes over and stands in the middle of the road next to me.
'I can see why primitive people worshiped the moon,' I say to Krista, 'what a mystery it must have been when it suddenly turned red without explanation. They must have been terrified, they must have shit in their pants,'
Krista and I laugh for a bit and then, for a few moments we watch the moon, which now looks like it's been injected in its side with dirty orange juice.
But before the eclipse is complete, Krista crosses her arms and starts walking back toward her porch.
'Are you not going to watch it all?' I ask her.
'Meh,' she says, 'I've seen it all before,'
Then, at the gate that leads to the porch, she turns and calls to me to be careful.
'Watch out that someone doesn't come up behind you, and you know...,'
'No one's going to take my camera,' I tell her.
'They'll take you AND the camera. And watch out for the coyotes. If they'll eat a dog, they'll have a try at you.' she tells me, keen for me to fear, for my own safety, something.
Anything.





Friday, 10 October 2014

Dick Cheney

It's evening and I'm outside on the porch with Krista, who is smoking a cigarette, and I'm sitting on a chair and I've got my feet up on the ledge and I'm staring into a window of an apartment building across the street while I listen to Krista tell me what she's been watching on the the television.
'They were young kids,' she says, talking about a documentary she's just watched on the Vietnam war, 'and when they arrived back in this country, in their uniforms, people spat at them,'
'Yeh,' I say, 'nasty,'
'And there was this one guy,' she tells me, 'in the documentary, and he'd captured some Vietcong prisoner guy and they were supposed to take him on a plane, right, but instead this guy was like "he's not getting on a plane with my friends" and so he took his gun out and just shot him. And like, that's not right, right? But I don't know if I'd have let him on the fucking plane either, '
'That could have been Hunter,' I say, talking about a young man called Hunter, who is 19 and from Arkansas, and works in Krista's ice cream shop, 'a sweet young man who gets sent to a place he doesn't understand by people he doesn't know to kill people he doesn't know or understand,'
'You know,' says Krista, blowing her cigarette smoke off the porch and out into the dark, 'those fuckin' Republicans stickin' it to Obama for not sending troops in now, that evil bastard Cheney sticking his fuckin' head up again. He didn't go to war, right?'
'No,' I say, 'nor did Bush,'
'Right?' says Krista
Then Krista goes inside to get another cigarette and I stay outside and while I'm waiting for her I start wondering what happened to Condoleezza Rice.
'Whatever happened to Condoleezza Rice?' I ask Krista when she gets back with her cigarette.
'I don't know,' she says, 'but stupid Condi tried to get a job at Stanford and they booed her off campus,'
I start laughing.
'Seriously? I mean seriously, right?' says Krista, 'what an idiot. After all that evil shit she does with those bastards, she comes back to California...CALIFORNIA of ALL the places, and tries to get a job at Stanford? I mean, please! She'd have been better off at some university in North Carolina or Georgia,'
I start laughing again.
Then Krista starts in on what an evil bastard Dick Cheney is.
'That Dick Cheney,' she says, 'he's an evil fuckin' bastard. They didn't even vet him for Vice President. He didn't show any papers, he just slid into the White House like a snake,'
Then she talks about his ties to Haliburton and how he thinks the same rules that apply to normal people don't apply to him.
'I think he's a sociopath,' I say.
Krista says she doesn't know, but that him and George W. Bush should be charged with war crimes but that Obama would never do it.
'Those two, Bush and Cheney, and Rumsfeld, they should be charged with war crimes. And you know what,' she says, 'Obama won't do it, but you bet Hilary's got a few axes to grind over Whitewater and that whole Ken Starr fucking thing and all that impeachment bullshit,'
Then a couple of drunk guys walk past and one of them points to the sky and says-'Hey, dude, look, a meteor,' and Krista and I laugh as they pass.
And then Krista says - 'You know, even Fox News won't have Cheney on anymore, that's how low he's sunk. Not even those assholes at Fox News will touch him.'
I start laughing again.
'That bastard.' says Krista, shaking her head and blowing her cigarette smoke out into the dark, 'that evil fucking bastard.'





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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Stingray

I'm at Krakatoa, the hipster cafe in Golden Hill, drinking a decaf, iced, almond milk latte, when Krista tells me that Richard is sitting in the back.
Richard owns a company that sets up tours for rich American tourists who want to go Italy on holiday and I want to get his details for my ex girlfriend who wants to rent her castle to rich American tourists who want to go to Italy on holiday.
'Hi Richard,' I say, 'how are you?'
'Just got back from Kalani,' he says, 'you know Kalani, don't you?'
It takes me a moment to think what it is, but eventually I say yes, that I know what Kalani, whose tagline is 'Find yourself here' is.
It's a retreat on the big island of Hawaii.
'Was it nice?' I ask Richard, who has a mohawk-style haircut, smokes a lot and has a very big peaceful white hound, the sort of dog I imagine Jesus would have with him in heaven, if he was to have one.
'Did you go to the warm ponds?' I ask him.
Richard tells me no, because his wife got bitten by a stingray.
On the foot.
'Shit,' I say, 'that's bad luck,'
Then he begins to tell me how painful her foot was, that it was bandaged, that she could hardly walk.
I'm saying things like 'oh' and 'shit' and nodding my head, when suddenly, from next to me, a man with long grey hair and wire-rimmed purple sunglasses, like John Lennon might have worn, starts calling out about his friend who has been bitten by a stingray.
'My friend was bitten and she said that the pain was like no other pain, ever. She said it radiated up her leg. And it didn't seem to correspond with her heart beat. She said it was like being smashed in the leg by a sledgehammer,'
'A friend of mine was bitten on holiday in Cabo,' Richard calls back, 'He said the pain was like being hit with a sledgehammer, too, but in the testicles,'
At the word 'testicles', both Richard and the grey-haired man begin to laugh, long and hard.
'My friend said it was worse than childbirth,' calls the grey-haired man from my left.
'Yeh,' says Richard, who I then turn to look at again while he volleys his story back, 'giving birth while being smashed in the testicles with a sledgehammer,
Richard and they grey-haired man laugh long and hard again.
Feeling compelled to join in, and being Australian, I mention my only stingray story, which isn't even mine, but that of Steve Irwin's stingray barb through the heart.
But when I do there is silence.
So, to break the silence, I say - 'He was a bit of a tormentor of animals, did you ever see that photograph of him holding his baby under one arm while teasing a leaping alligator with a chicken?'
Then there's silence again until Richard breaks it by saying, 'yeh, well we shouldn't really talk about that,' as if I am giving away state secrets or talking about an ex girlfriend who has driven herself off a cliff.
And there's silence again until I ask Richard for his email address, put it into my phone, say thank you, and get on my bicycle to leave.
'Ride safe.' Richard calls out.
'I will,' I call back, waving and wondering.





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Sunday, 5 October 2014

God

It's about 8 am and Oona and I are getting coffee at the cafe when I notice that Will, who makes the coffee, has 'Jesus' tattooed on his wrist.
'So, you're into Jesus, then?' I say to him.
'Yes,' says Will, who looks just what I imagine Kevin Costner's full-lipped, slightly prettier brother might have looked like at 21, 'Jesus is my saviour and Lord,'
'Nice,' I say, 'good on you,'
Then he holds out his arm and shows me where he would like a tattoo of the Lion of Judah, and says 'I'm pretty sure I know what Miss Oona's views are, but what are your views on religion?'
'Well,' I say and let go of his wrist, 'I go to Quaker meetings, on occasion, because I find the peace in the room calming and the community of people mellow, and I like the calm inside the Buddhist temple in San Diego, but I'd say that humans have made up gods to really just comfort or punish themselves and each other,'
'So, why do you love your god?' I ask Will, who also has something from "Luke 9:23" tattooed below his bicep, and is now sitting at the window counter where his books and laptop are laid out, where he spends time, between making coffees, studying online for the seminary.
'I was a straight A student,' he tells me, 'playing sports, doing really well with my life, but there was something missing. I felt empty,'
'That's when you should have started taking drugs, like normal people,' I tell him.
Oona starts to laugh, and so does Will, and so do I, because I'm sort of joking.
Then Will starts quoting scripture and talking about sin.
And forgiveness.
And love.
And hell.
And I say, 'You think I'm going to hell, right, Will, because I am gay?'
Will's face tells me he is uncomfortable but eventually he says yes, I will be going to hell.
'So, even though you like me, we're smiling at each other and I have brought three 'Hope' wrist bands for your African charity and I am nice to my friends and on the whole, I am a goodly sort of person, according to you, because of how I am wired up biologically and emotionally, I am still going go to hell, which, in reality, if it existed, would be totally the worst, burning, miserable shithole anyone could ever, ever be sent AND it would be okay with you that I would be there FOREVER!'
Will, who is wearing his red baseball cap backwards and has glasses like Kevin Costner wore in JFK, thinks for a moment and then says- 'Yes, ma'am. Unless you accept salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ,'
'Then,' I tell Will, 'I think your religion is simply mean and all about power and scaring people,'

Then a guy who has come over and sat down near Will but has not been formally asked for his opinion, starts giving it.
He starts talking about how animals in the wild breed, how they have the parts necessary to procreate, how marriage is a sacred biblical covenant, that it's a sin to have sex outside of marriage and for non-breeding purposes and that it's unnatural and a sin for homosexuals to have sex at all.
On and on and on he goes with examples of the sexual habits of animals in the wild and how they have the right body parts to have the right kind of sex, insinuating what big trouble civilisation would be in if homosexuals took over and there was only ever gay sex allowed.
After a while I can't stand it anymore and, feeling as if my hair is on fire, I get up from my chair and ask him the questions- 'What about married couples who can't have children, or don't want to? What about people who like to have anal sex? What about blow jobs? What about cunnilingus? Should those all be banned because no one gets pregnant as a result?'
However, I do not wait for his answer.
Instead I go through the outdoor and stand on the footpath smoking my e-cigarette while Josh, the Baptist Pastor, who has overheard the conversation and followed me outside, starts talking to me.
He tells me he is sorry for the man inside, and that at his church he preaches love and tolerance and acceptance.
But after talking to Pastor Josh for quite some time, it becomes clear that he doesn't, because next he says- 'I know many people who used to live your lifestyle, but they have been saved and have married and live successful heterosexual lives, now,'
'Yes, but most likely because they've been terrified and bullied into it by their families, and religions like yours and really, truly, at their core,' I say, tapping him on the chest while he stands there holding his coffee and staring at me, 'they're STILL homosexual,'
'Yes,' says Josh, 'while many of them may still have those feelings, they have chosen, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to no longer live that lifestyle,'
'Dude,' I say, sucking and blowing hard on my e-cigarette, 'being a homo isn't a lifestyle choice. It's not like choosing loft living, or to be a hipster. It's not like adopting Buddhist principles or going on the Paleo diet or joining Crossift or being "green",'
Then Josh tells me he loves me and will pray for me, and then I tell him I find that condescending.
'It's not condescending,' he tells me, 'our congregation pray for each other all the time,'
'Yes, but you're not praying for me because I've got Leukemia or there was a fire in my barn and I lost all my cows. You're praying for me because you want me to be something other than what you and your bible think I should be. You think I am wrong, and perverse, and that I am bound for hell. And that,' I say to Josh, 'implies you pity and despise me at the same time as saying you love me,'
Then, suddenly, Oona is standing next to us and says that the man who was obsessed with animal sex has gone and would I like to come back inside.
I tell Oona yes and then I tell Josh that I have enjoyed our conversation and that I will visit him in his church next time I am here, but only if he will do me one small favour.
'Sure,' he says.
'Stop referring to who I am and what I do as a 'lifestyle choice.' I say, giving him a hug and leaving him outside on the footpath while I go back inside with Oona for some more coffee





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Friday, 3 October 2014

Back


I'm sitting in the airport in Alexandria, Louisiana, waiting for my plane to Houston, when a bearded man with vitiligo sitting next to me, who smells like he's been drinking some kind of alcohol with Coca Cola, asks me what my final destination is.
'I'm going to San Diego,' I tell him, 'what about you?'
'Uh, huh,' he tells me, 'me too,'
'Nice,' I say,' that's nice,'
Then, the man who is wearing shorts but no shoes, a Hawaiian shirt, a baseball cap, and holding a walking stick between his legs says, 'I ain't been back since 1975. I'm going to a friends wedding,'
'Oh, lovely,' I tell him, 'that's something rather exciting,'
'Hell,' he says, 'I'm so frikkin' nervous I got my pockets stuffed with Xanax,'
'Well,' be careful, 'I say laughing, you don't want to pass out at the wedding,'
He laughs and he says he'll be fine.
'I ain't been anywhere since I broke my back,' he tells me.
'Oh, shit,' I say, 'that's bad luck. How did that happen?'
'I was getting into bed,' he says.
I turn to him with a puzzled expression on my face and say, 'Getting into bed?"
'Yeh,' he says, holding his hand over his mouth and coughing gently for a bit, 'you know, I came flying in through the door to the bed, she went one way, and I went the other, and I crushed all my vertebrae,'
Then he stops talking and tilts his head back and runs his hand up under his neck.
'All of this was smashed in and I have had to learn to walk again 4 times in my life,'
'Fucking hell,' I say, turning to look at him, and frowning, 'what kind of life have you led?
'I got hit by a car recently, stop sign, woman went through a 4-way in a Jaguar at 60, broke my back,'
Then he tells me he hasn't worked in many many years because of his injuries.
'I used to work at Sea World,' he says, 'and pretty much any tourist attraction in the country, you name it. But now I can hardly get around in the day, I am so full of medication,'
'Well,' I say, just as our flight is called, would you like me to help you with your bag?'
'You know,' he says, ''I've partied with rock stars and billionaires, and I've woken up in gutters without a dollar in my pocket, and I'm about to go to a birthday party and a wedding of my old high school friend. It'll be either the FBI or the cops got me on Monday morning. So I'm good with my bag, but thank you for asking, ma'am.'
And, then, as I watch him barefoot and slightly drunk, drag his blue sack of wedding clothes toward the gate, I imagine it's 1979, and a much-younger, much handsomer naked him stands in a doorway preparing to sexually dive-bomb the woman that's lying waiting for him in his bed, both of them so carefree on booze and cocaine they're thinking this party will never end.





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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

United

I'm in the car with Oona, just having come out of Dollar General, when on my phone I see an an email from United Airlines asking me if my date to fly out of Louisiana, which is today, is flexible and If I'd be willing to take a later flight.
'Hello,' I say, when my call to United is answered, 'I'm phoning because I got an email from you asking if my dates are flexible,'
'Well,' says the woman from United after I tell her my flight details and she tells me how much she loves my accent, 'we can offer you a $250 voucher for you to take a later flight?'
'Really?' I say, 'you're not shitting me?'
'Yes, we'll offer you $250 to take a later flight,' says the woman, who sounds impaired by either a stroke or a potent anxiety medication, 'and you can use the 250 dollar voucher on any flight and it's redeemable,'
'Can I use it internationally, 'I say?
'You sure can,' says the woman, 'as long as it's used within one year.
I call out 'BITCHIN', you've made my day,' into the phone and the woman from United and I both start to laugh.
Then, when the woman tells me I will be delayed out of Houston, not Alexandria, Oona, who is driving, gets faux-upset and throws her bottle of water onto the floor.
'Well,' says the woman on the phone when I tell her about Oona's tantrum, 'I can fly you out tomorrow instead,'
'Really, you can do that?' I say.
'Sure can,' she says, laughing, 'I'm in charge, I can do ANYTHING I want,'
When I tell Oona I have the possibility of staying another day she says 'Do it, c'mon!'
Then, because the woman has started reading out flight possibilities for the following day, I put her on speaker phone.
'Take the 5pm flight,' says Oona, 'you're in no hurry,'
'Yeh,' says the woman on the phone, 'your friend wants to you stay, c'mon, have you got anything to rush back for?'
'No,' not really,' I say to the woman, 'I have a shop to empty and I'm getting divorced, but apart from that, nothing really,'
'Woah, tell me about it,' says the woman.
'Are you getting divorced, too?' I ask her.
'No,' she says, 'but my husband went into rehab this morning,'
'Shit,' I say, 'I'm sorry to hear that,'
'Yeh,' says the woman, her previously upbeat tone now sounding low, 'he's a good man, but I'm so tired of it. 8 years of not sleeping nights makes me too tired to chase my dreams in the day,'
I tell the woman again, that I am sorry to hear about her addict husband, and that what a nice woman she is for changing my flight, and for having put up with her addict husband for 8 years.
'You know what,' she says, 'I should just come on up there for a titty party. You two sound like fun,'
And then me and Oona and the woman from United all start laughing into and out of the speaker.
'We're in Louisiana,' I say to the woman from United, 'where are you?'
'I'm in Florida, but originally I'm from Little Rock,' the woman says, 'Arkansas,'
'Oh, where Bill Clinton is from,' I say.
'Yes,' says the woman, telling us about knowing Bill Clinton, about sitting around his table and being there when Chelsea was born.
'I know Hillary Rodham's brother real well,' she says, 'You think Hilary is going to run?'
'Well,' I say, 'she's everyone's golden child,'
'Nope,' says the woman, 'she ain't my golden child. In fact, you know what they call Hilary and Bill back in Little Rock, dontcha?'
'No,' I tell the woman from United, 'I don't,
'We call 'em Hillbilly,' she says.
And we all start laughing again.
'You should be on TV,' I say to the woman who then tells me she has a degree in Media and Broadcasting and that she has done some radio and that people tell her that even though she is currently a trainer for United, she could be a Joel Osteen or a Joyce Meyers.
Then, getting back to the point of the call, the woman asks me if I have decided what flight to take tomorrow.
'I can't decide,' I tell the woman, 'I find making decisions difficult. I go to the supermarket for groceries and come home confused, with just a bunch of bananas,'
'Take the time with your friend, stay there, take it easy, make the most of it. All you've got is today,' says the woman from United.
I tell her she is probably right, what have I got to lose and that I should spend the whole of tomorrow in Natchitoches with my friend Oona.
'You know,' says the woman, who is now on a roll, 'You got to learn to get what you want, know what you want. I know what I want and when I want it. I am the only person I know that can go to Ross on Christmas eve and find the perfect gift for everyone,'
Then she tells us how she loves shopping, and how her and her girlfriends go to California for shopping and that while her girlfriends spend hour after hour in the changing room, she's at the register ringing things up without even trying them on.
Then, just as the woman says -'You know what, I'm a Christian woman, and here's what I think about life', the call breaks up.
And Oona starts driving fast down dusty road, taking corners spinning dirt, trying to find us a spot where we can tune into the call.
However, by the time we find reception in front of the Baptist church and pull over, it's too late.
And me and Oona are left sitting disappointed in her car, wondering what wisdom was lost to us in that broken and garbled sermon on life from the woman from United.






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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Olivia

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It's evening, and I am reading something on my phone when Olivia, who is 9 years old, comes over to the edge of the blow up mattress on which I am laying and says-'Is it time to play psychiatrist?'
I look up from my phone at Olivia's happy and keen child face.
'Yes,' I tell her, 'but I warn you I have some big issues this evening,'
'YES,' Olivia says, throwing her hands up in the air and running into another room to get her psychiatrist hat.
The hat, a fedora with hounds-tooth pattern, is a feature of her portrayal of my psychiatrist, and when she puts it on her voice gets slightly deeper and she begins to say 'right' a lot.
'I am going to lie down for this session,' I tell her, 'because I am really sad tonight,'

Sitting on the sofa opposite me, Olivia picks up her pad and pen, crosses her legs and says-'Right, what seems to be your problem tonight?'
'I am depressed,' I tell her, 'I am really depressed,'
'Right,' she says, and writes a note on her pad, 'why are you depressed?'
'Well,' I say, 'um, as my psychiatrist you are supposed to tell ME why. That's what I pay you for,'
'But you're not paying me,' she shouts throwing her hands up.
'Yeh, okay, not in the game,' I shout back, 'but if this was real life I would be paying YOU,'
'Right, okay,' she says, in a frustrated tone, 'then, come on, why are you depressed?'
'You're a terrible psychiatrist,' I tell her, 'you take a mean tone with me. I think I should terminate our sessions,'
'Right,' she says picking up a roll of yellow crepe paper ribbon and tearing small pieces off it, 'I can now see that you're just sad,'
Then she starts to throw small torn pieces of paper at me.
'Right, ' she tells me, 'this is the sadness that is left over in you, little pieces of sadness in you and you know, you just need to vacuum them up out of your life,'
I start to laugh and she continues on, pacing around the room now, tearing and flinging more pieces of paper, explaining to me how I can sort myself out.
'You have crumbs of sadness in you, little crumbs, and you won't ever be happy until the little crumbs are all gone, you have to GET THOSE CRUMBS OUT OF YOU! Okay????!'
I am laughing now and telling her she is definitely fired as my psychiatrist to which she responds that it is now time to be my doctor.
I lay on the blow up mattress, my arms outstretched, laughing until she comes back into the room with 2 pieces of shelving that look like big plastic handles for something.
'CLEAR,' she shouts, rubbing the bottom of the handles together and then pounding them on to my chest in an attempt to resuscitate me.

Later, and long after Olivia has gone to bed, I wake up for a drink of water and, then, going into the the toilet and sitting down to wee, I notice a small piece of yellow crepe paper sadness stuck flat against my thigh.

And suddenly, and unexpectedly, I begin to cry.






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