Thursday, November 30, 2006

meditation piece


(written on the left hand wing mirror of taxi 1821 & intermittently visible during daylight hours)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

alcohol & nicotine

Bernardus' post over at Maelstrom reminds me I've been meaning for a while to say something here about addiction ... b-but what? The day before I went back driving this time, in July or whenever it was, I deliberately went and bought a packet of cigarettes. This after not smoking for the previous six months or so. Or only smoking casual OPs. Why? It was something to do, I now think, with a feeling of failure associated with going back on the road. This failure allowed me an excuse for self abuse, perhaps. Masked as indulgence in a pleasure. In the same way a disappointment, as much as a success, suggests alcohol as an agent towards, or away from, that emotion.

Chinese medicine associates diseases of the lungs with disappointment, of the liver, with anger. I remember saying this to my father once. He, a slave both to alcohol and nicotine for much of his adult life, gave me one of those bald looks that used to make the kids he taught quiver in their shoes. That's interesting, he said. Remarkably, he gave up both addictions towards the end. I was impressed by the fact that, when he stopped smoking, he left half-filled packets of Black & White, his last brand, lying around the house. He seemed to stop drinking with the same ease, observing, without fuss, the house rule in the old people's home he spent his final months in: a glass of sherry once a week on Wednesday mornings, otherwise, nada.

Like him, I've been a smoker and a drinker all my adult life. But recently, after a conversation with my son, I decided to experiment with not smoking while driving. The context for this was a desire to test my pathetic conviction that cigarettes helped to get me through a shift. Well ... guess what? The pains I suffer in my legs from long hours sitting at the wheel are about ten times less acute if I don't smoke through a shift. Call me naive, but I was so astonished I worked through a shift smoking to see if they got worse again. Yes, they did. It's the effect of cigarette smoke on the circulation I suppose. Furthermore, the headaches I vaguely ascribed to inhalation of exhaust fumes - they're not nearly as bad either. Plus, I sleep better without the artificial heart accelerant that cigarettes also are.

Now, alcohol. I'd been in the habit of having a few glasses of red wine after finishing a shift. When I say a few, I mean two or three. Half to three quarters of a bottle perhaps. Helped me sleep, I thought. Helped me wind down. After I stopped smoking on the job, I also tried not having these few relaxing glasses of wine. Again, the effects were immediate and obvious: better sleep, better digestion, feeling better when I woke up in the morning. I held to this regime until Monday night, when there was a bottle with a bit in it left over from the weekend. So I supped it that night with my supper. Well, d'uh. Though it was less than what I used to drink, I felt even more dreadful next morning.

Everyone knows, I guess, that when our habituation to the toxicity of the poisons we voluntarily take wears off a bit, they strike with greater force. Smoking and drinking, in other words, is like a kind of anti-fitness, the more we do it, the better we are at withstanding these toxicities. Recall John Birmingham writing in one of his books (the one about marijuana, I think): I wasn't fit, but I was piss fit. On the other hand, that urge to damage yourself through intoxication runs so deep as to be almost unexcavatable.

In my own case - and I'm not sure if this is general or not - I think it arises in part from a desire to hurt myself which, in turn, comes out of disappointment or shame or anger; but it isn't only that, because there's a pleasure in the effect as well, especially with alcohol. Tobacco is slightly different, because (recent experiments have convinced me) it only becomes pleasurable once you have managed to re-addict yourself. Another peculiarity is the relationship between these two drugs and stress. Both are seen as de-stressing agents and yet both in fact act to increase physical stress. The same might be said of anxiety: alcohol and nicotine, it seems to me, don't so much relieve anxiety as answer it with the physically induced anxiety their consumption brings.

So what am I saying ... ? Perhaps I'll keep away from the cigarettes for a while (it's hard for me to say forever), and I'll certainly refrain from alcohol on the days / nights I drive. But I don't think I'm quite ready yet to swear off it altogether. I'll probably continue to, as they say on the labels, enjoy wine in moderation: which means, of course, that I will also continue to stray onto the path of excess now and again.

PS The title comes from a Gary Clail song, the chorus of which goes: Like alcohol and nicotine / The truest lovers there's ever been ...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Little Johnny Jackboot

Saw John Howard last night. Was idling on the rank outside Chifley Tower when I noticed a gaggle of TV cameras opposite, on the corner of Phillip & Bent Streets. Didn't think much about it until, a few moments later, saw them backing up the street towards the entrance to the Wentworth Hotel, filming a lone figure striding towards them ... accompanied, at a distance of a few metres, by several slim young men in dark suits and trailed by a young woman. It's always a bit of a shock when you see in the flesh someone so familiar from media images. Rather more thickset, even bullish, than I imagined. A big head. Something strange about his body, as if the torso isn't properly articulated with the hips, making his walk seem a little ... parodic, perhaps. Like an animated leggo man. Couldn't help thinking about the Prime Ministerial penis tucked away in whatever kind of jocks he wears. And the Prime Ministerial goolies too. Because the walk spoke of power I suppose, of patriarchy too, of a kind of refusal to countenance opposition of any kind. Apparently he's bothered by the way cartoonists draw him as a little man, how he's known to many as Little Johnny; but I've always preferred the long version of that one, Little Johnny Jackboot. It was, in an (un)expectedly chilling fashion, amply confirmed in this sighting.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

halve your luck

Had a grant application turned down this week. The baleful letter was waiting for me when I returned from work Monday night. Means I will have to spend the summer driving, not writing - unless I can work out a routine that allows me to do both. Which I may have to do. Some projects fall apart when they are rejected, others gather strength. This is one of the latter, and I still feel the funding body - which shall remain nameless - should have supported it.

Their rejection form letter includes this curious advice: … projects that are funded have to fit into specific priorities. Projects that don't fit into the project funding priorities may still be very good ideas ... Huh? What specific priorities? Are applicants allowed to know their nature? How do they differ from the specific criteria we have to meet? Or are they the same? It would seem there is some impenetrable bureaucratic mysterium ... I got quite angry about this and drafted a letter but, on the timely advice of a friend, didn't send it.

It was peculiar how, when my light at the end of the tunnel went out, luck also deserted me. It suddenly became much harder to turn a buck, right when the bucks I turn are the only ones I'll get for a while. How cruel seeming ... I've never met a cabbie who didn't believe in luck, just as I've never met one who can explain how it works. You're lucky .... or you're not. That's it. And yet, in my own case, I notice that, if I'm lucky, I tend to feel that it is richly deserved, but if I'm unlucky, it seems unfair, malign, as abritrary as negative funding body decisions.

So I struggled through Tuesday and Wednesday, taking five and ten dollar rides here and there around town, working twice as hard and earning half as much as usual. Last night I was so far behind I thought I'd have to give up and go home when, outside the Sheraton on Elizabeth Street, I was hailed by a man who wanted to go to St. Ives, way up on the leafy North Shore, at least fifty dollars worth, maybe more. Enough, anyway, to make my pay in and still have a bit to spend over the weekend.

A South African. Businessman, late fifties or early sixties. Quite drunk. He told me where he was going, and also that I would have to take his baby-sitter home after dropping him off; then made a call on his mobile phone. Inveterate eavesdropper that I am, I soon realised he was talking either to his mistress or his girlfriend. Not just the flirtatiousness, the boasting too. You get a lot of this: men on their mobile phones boasting how much money they made that day. There's something about the gloating tone they use; something, paradoxically, mean about it. Something truly offensive. I guess most of us now know that the economic system we use rewards all that is base in human nature: experiencing the triumph of these qualities in raw, individual form day by day, or rather night by night, is one of the least happy parts of the job. I usually listen, forensically, for the detail; but this guy was so revolting I tuned out.

Well, we get to St. Ives, and he pays by credit card, and says I should add on fifteen bucks for the extension to the fare when I take Callum, the boy baby-sitter home. I did something I've not done before - I added on twenty instead of fifteen, pushing the fare over seventy dollars. He was drunk, he didn't want a receipt, and although there was a bad moment when he tried to sign the docket - the pen didn't work - I don't believe he noticed. Callum was a sweet young man, taking him up to St. Ives Chase added only six or seven bucks to the fare, so I was away with a decent tip. It was only a matter of five bucks, nothing to him, but, petty as it sounds, I was delighted to have ripped him off.

Of course I then got lost. I get lost every time I go to St. Ives which, by night, is a strangely sinister place, like the set for a horror movie: intermittent white light, dark trees, large, hidden houses, expensive cars hissing by to some midnight rendezvous. I always think Stephen King when I'm up there and perhaps that's why, unsettled, I get lost. And so, unaccountably, I turned down a radio job to Avalon, my hand hitting the Reject button before my mind had truly engaged with the information. Then the radio, as if in revenge, tried to bully me into doing a local job at Turramurra. Hell.

Got out of there eventually, the Pacific Highway was closed at Chatswood, a bad accident, so I fled down Fullers Road, through Ryde, to Five Dock and home ... still thinking about luck and what it is or isn't, what it does or doesn't do. If I'd accepted that hail on Bridge Street instead of pulling onto the Bent Street rank for a smoko ... ? If I hadn't gone up to the Caltex servo on Rose Bay looked for a fare that wasn't there ... ? If I'd lived my life differently ... ? Would I still be occupying this lowly station ... ?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

we listen to the radio ...

Could NOT do this job without the radio, it's my lifeline out of the phantasmagoria. For a while my default setting was FBI, 94.5 FM but they play too much Thrash, Rap & Hip Hop for my taste. When the testosterone overload kicked in I'd go across to 2MBS FM which, apart from a touch of Jazz & the ever reliable Stormy Monday, plays mostly Classical. Then I happened one afternoon to pick up a DJ from 99.3 FM - it might have been Johnny Deep himself - & he told me to try his station. I did, & I like it, but the signal is too weak & fades to crackle & hiss anywhere but the top of town & the lower North Shore. Now I've settled on the eclectic 2SER FM which, this week, as their featured album, has been playing the amazing C.W. Stoneking - check this guy out, he's extraordinary. A lot of music that I like, these days, is hard to source: Deep House, Trance, Drum & Bass, remixes of various kinds, often don't have proper credits or, if they do, prove more or less untraceable unless you're some kind of fanatic. My other preferences ... Reggae, Dub, Soul, Blues &, well, anything, really, if it sounds good. Another discovery this week: Joanna Newsom, who, when first heard, I thought was CocoRosie. An American, born in Nevada City, based in San Fran, only 24 years old. A harpist & proponent of a kind of music called Psych Folk. The psych folk are my folk ... she's definitely worth a listen. Now I'm trying to think of the name of the group that sang the song I've quoted from in the title. Not the Dixie Chicks' Long Time Gone but a tune by an English (I think) New Wave band from the late 1970s. I seem to recall hearing them one night in 1979 at the Hot Club in Philadelphia but their moniker ... escapes me ...

The song isn't Elvis Costello & the Attractions's Radio Radio either, though for a mo' I thought it might be. While on the subject, but, how about this?