Swordsman’s Glory’s Not So Glorious Retirement
June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
By Janus Qillemaning
March 17, 2014
A healthy pinch of trepidation would diffuse through anybody’s body as they coasted up the driveway of the sprawling home of a moneyed old bachelor with a taste for the grotesque; a tiny voice warning of dark things to come would not be unwarranted either.
It’s not an unimaginably long driveway, but every metre of it is a metre by which you can clearly sense yourself deviating further and further from the comforting arms of what the average person would call “normal.” It is untarred and ever so winding – the driveway – and is lined by (probably) gum trees that may or may not be dying or already dead. All that is certain is that they are leafless and a little scoliotic. The car is trailed by a parade of unsettled dust for a half kilometre or so and when I bring it to a halt outside a squat but broad house we – the car and I and the settling dust behind us – are met by the unassuming gaze of a lean old man in a fitting jumper and jeans: ‘I eased up on wearing black when Jobs’s get-up became iconic, so now I wear greys and tans and even patterned ones when I’m feeling a bit silly. But you can’t beat black on top and denim down below.’
Alan Saville is the kind of guy whose impressive wealth was probably acquired so modestly and legitimately that it could not be expressed in more extravagant a way than its being used to accrue a large collection of useless oddities. A retired small-business owner and a long-time “amateur” shares investor (an activity from which he has certainly not retired), Alan spends much of his free time sourcing, bidding for, paying for, and collecting objects that fascinate him as much as they repulse most. Not yet a tourist attraction – which Alan assures me it will never become – his expansive single storey abode which sits nestled on a 50 acre property named “Goorman’s Hive” located somewhere between inner Sydney and the Blue Mountains houses what must surely be one of the largest private collections of stuff this side of the equator.
‘It probably began with me collecting my own teeth,’ Alan tells me as we briefly sit to a black coffee for me and a green tea for him. ‘Now you can imagine how young I would have been when I started doing this, maybe four or five. There was no method to it initially, no reason, but I would just keep the teeth wrapped up in a tissue or in one of my father’s handkerchiefs for whatever reason, and then one day I sourced a jar my mother had washed and de-labelled for general use – it was an ex jam jar if I recall correctly – and I put the teeth in it, and by this time I had three or four less teeth in my mouth and enough in the jar to make a decent rattling sound. But I can vaguely remember the moment I realised that this hobby was more than something I just did to pass the time. We had family over one weekend and an older cousin of mine discovered the jar with its tiny white contents lying somewhere around the house and he vomited all over his shoes and my folks weren’t too pleased with me and my aunt and uncle weren’t too pleased with my cousin soiling his shoes or with the jar and its contents even though they didn’t say anything about it, but I remember looking at the tooth jar and getting a new kind of kick out of it. The value of it suddenly skyrocketed in my eyes, I was kind of proud of it, about what it could do to someone. Kudos to my parents for letting me keep the jar despite the obvious ickiness of it, but I completely understand why they put their collective foot down when I announced that I would branch out into collecting my siblings’ teeth as well. That was probably a bit much on my part.’
‘Some would say that what you’re doing is still a bit much,’ I offer, playing the role of hell’s advocate.
‘A bit much for who though?’ he responds with well hidden irritation. ‘You know, I think this may be the reason why I still do it; or at least one of the reasons I still collect all these blatant offenses to good taste. Bit childish, no?’
I refrain from commenting, using a mouthful of hot coffee as an excuse.
Over the years Alan has managed to amass a grotesquery of objects including everything from real shrunken heads and deformed foetuses, to authentic (he claims) nooses and injecting apparatus used for state-sanctioned executions carried out within the last half century. He even has a screening room for snuff films and other audio-visual material which would be best left undescribed. His latest acquisition, and the reason for which I ventured out to Mr Saville’s property, is Swordsman’s Glory, the contraption which has been described as a sex arcade game by its inventors but which caused one hell of a stir when it was successfully sold to an underground Sydney sex club after reputedly being rejected when pitched to Sexpo. It’s the contraption that was labelled the “rapist trainer” by some fervent detractors, which is probably the moniker that sufficiently raised Mr Saville’s interest in it: ‘humanity’s potential for darkness and depravity has always fascinated me, as well as anything that seems to trouble people deeply or take an axe to social norms. I don’t necessarily consider myself a dark person, just a curious one.’
‘With a few dollars to my name, yes.’
We enter a fairly spacious but musty room with high ceilings and a decidedly warehouse feel. Suffice to say, my neck hairs are quite erect.
‘This is the room where I keep objects I haven’t quite found a place for. It’s like a quarantine zone. Some of these things have been here for months.’
His eyes and attention are briefly drawn to a book bound in what seems to be rough pig-skin but which Alan informs me is cured human hide. The topic of the book seems to be cartography-oriented and by a layman’s guess the pages probably date back a century or two if not more. I’m assured by Alan that this and other such books would have been – at the time – fairly legal (if in bad taste) in that the skins would have been respectfully peeled from corpses belonging to universities which offered classes in anatomy and dissection and which had their own printing press. Alan decides to hold onto the book as he leads me to the item of the hour, Swordsman’s Glory.
It turns out that the little warehouse-cum-shed which houses the thing I have come to see contains, mixed in with all the weirdness, items as mundane as those that clutter the garages of the militantly non-eccentric. Boxes of…
“– oh, those just contain old kitchenware, pots, pans, plates…unusable really if only because I’m sure whatever you cook with them would taste of dust and cardboard and age however much you scrubbed.”
Many of the boxes it turns out contain his children’s old toys, which he retains for sentimental reasons. The fact that he has adult children and ex-wives works to unprickle my skin a great deal, and Alan Saville begins to come across as more of a charming hoarder than a twisted fetishist, the kind of assertion of mutual exclusivity one should always be careful not to make. Surrounded by these boxes, perhaps perversely, is an object hardly bigger than a pinball machine. What catches the eye first and foremost is the life-sized replica of a female’s body from the waist down as though it were a mannequin sawn in half; and, like a mannequin, little attention has been paid to detail and realism apart from size and general anthropometry. The hips are flexed to ninety degrees and so are the knees; it’s the position the lower half of one’s body is in when on all fours, the butt protruding somewhat and the knees hovering a good foot and a half off the floor. A medium-sized screen sits at the far end of the machine, presumably to display high scores and the like. Across one side of the contraption’s body is the title Swordsman’s Glory, scrawled in a disappointingly juvenile font similar to that in which titles like “Tekken” and “Mortal Kombat” are written. After we’ve both silently assessed the item for a good minute or two, Alan proceeds to explain its workings.
‘It’s a deviously assured piece of design if you think about it. Our lady’s bottom half actually turns on its horizontal axis like so –’
Alan grabs the calves – which he informs me are mostly plastic not fibreglass – and swivels the model 180 degrees such that its knees are up in the air and its – for want of a better word – gash sits out and in the open, not quite flapping in the breeze; to call it a vagina would be frankly insulting to vaginas. It’s also clear that little attention to detail has been paid to the intricacies of the vulva. One can only hope that gifting the poor mannequin with a clitoris at the very least was a consideration on the parts of the clearly male inventors.
‘What’s more extraordinary,’ Alan says with measured excitement, ‘is how the hips can be abducted, splayed open, up to thirty degrees,’ which he demonstrates for me with utmost care while kissing the model’s groin with his.
I can only assume that my disgust is already beginning to show because Alan decides to lament the fact that ingenuity of this sort could be put to such chauvinistic use. He says this while straddling the mannequin which now has its legs open wide, in waiting for a cock to be thrust inside it.
So what does the screen look like?
‘Well…I unfortunately don’t have a power point around here…so I can’t plug it in and show you what it looks like. But I have seen it and I wouldn’t call it the Swordsman’s strongest feature. I mean, it has the usual high scores and all that, but while a player is…playing…the screen has a point-of-view depiction of a woman’s face and the player has a choice of six or so ladies to choose from before they start the game. It’s live action actually, not animated, which is quite impressive because as far as I understand the responses of the virtual sex partner are directly related to how good or how poor a lover the player is.’
‘The guy,’ I say.
‘Pardon?’ he says.
‘You’ve been saying the player, but it seems to me that the player is always going to be male. Or were there any lesbian players?’
‘I don’t have any definite answers to that, but I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t or couldn’t have been lesbian players. I actually believe that cunnilingus is a mode of play. That’s all I know, but that’s a valid question.’
I can feel myself smile at this though I do not quite know why.
So why did he decide to spend $78000 on this thing?
Alan Saville stares for a moment before breaking into a laugh and playfully gesturing to the absurdity that is the Swordsman’s Glory as if to say “why the fuck would I not spend $78000 on this thing?’
Bernie Josiah Collins (or BJ) and Len Dolan do not seem to have been particularly stung by the furore, backlash or outright hate surrounding their creation.
As we sit down for coffee at a café half a minute’s walk from their temporary office/studio in Marrickville, BJ and Len are largely as one would expect them to appear, apart from the fact that they do not strike me as being dangerously undersexed men who guzzle down porn and are unable to converse somewhat naturally with women. They’re both approaching thirty and have receding hair lines to varying degrees but nonetheless have an air of early-twenties what with their mild fleet-mindedness. They’re also the kind of guys who absorb fashion trends without being overly aware of this and thus come across as unwittingly modish, which is probably a significant portion of males in inner west Sydney.
‘What did you think of it?’ Len asks.
I express my honest opinion and he does not seem too fazed. He simply says, ‘cool.’
‘Did you find it actively sexist though?’ BJ says, continuing the line of question that Len was perhaps to coy to press on with.
‘I generally ask the questions,’ I say with a smile, and so proceed to ask him if sexism must by needs be active in order for it to be unconscionable.
BJ consults his friend-partner with a glance and they both consider the question.
‘Well, no…’ begins BJ, ‘but I do think that active hate is a greater sin than passive hate.’
‘Like…can anti-Semites who sit quietly hating on Jews ever be comparable to Hitler and his goons? Sure, they’re terrible people too, but they don’t necessarily torture or kill, and maybe we need to accept that passive haters will always exist but that it’s kind of okay as long as they remain that way.’
Okay, but what about ideals? ‘Forget the practicalities,’ I say. ‘What about ideals and values and the upholding of these?’
Len pipes in after spending a minute cooling his coffee with his breath: ‘I totally disagree that Swordsman is sexist though. It says nothing about women, at least nothing that either of us intended for it so say; if it does, no one has properly explained to me what that is. Like…the game ranks guys based on how well they have sex…it’s guys competing to please the virtual woman better that other guys. I’d say that the game reduces men to objects just as much; it plays on the anxiety society places on us to be great lovers with large cocks.’
‘Just as much as what?’ I say.
The game reduces men to objects just as much as what?
‘Well…just as much as it may be perceived as reducing women to mannequins that are just expected to open their legs for men.’
So could the game be a social comment then?
BJ steps in: ‘Uh…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I don’t believe that social comments have to intentionally come out of the mouths of people to be real and valid; they can be implied in inanimate objects without anyone meaning for this to be the case. Maybe that could be true for Swordsman.’
Len says, ‘sure, that’s true, but I just don’t appreciate the whole sexism uproar crap. The game could be seen as sexist to men or women, depending on who you are. Actually, I remember some guys complaining about how much it plays on the perception of male sexuality being mindless and the idea that guys approach sex like sport, flexing their sex muscles and ranking their exploits and all that.’
‘Yeah,’ says BJ. ‘And there were quite a few gay guys who called it homophobic too.’
‘Yeah,’ echoes Len.
‘Well, I didn’t say it was only misogynistic,’ I say, to be a nuisance.
BJ smiles into his coffee and Len is a little taken aback. BJ asks me if he can smoke and I bid him be my guest.
I comment on the fact that they’ve just tightened the noose around their invention during the last few minutes. BJ states that the thing is already well and truly hung. He seems the more philosophical of the two whereas Len appear somewhat more attached to Swordsman’s Glory, more sensitive and defensive. Is it purely personality-related, or does the Swordsman’s ultimate failure have a greater meaning for this particular member of the design duo?
I ask the pair about the machine’s conception. Who came up with the idea and so on and so forth.
As it turns out and as could be expected with such an invention, Collins and Dolan, both studying industrial design in one shape or another, were “shooting the shit” one day when one of them – they claim to have forgotten who it was though I suspect Len Dolan is the most likely candidate – narrated to the other his experiences playing an online game in which getting his avatar to have sex with the avatars of other online players was the ultimate aim and in which points were awarded for sexual prowess and skill and for Game, or at least the virtual iterations of these. What commenced as two male friends in their mid-twenties joking about the absurdities of such a game morphed into two friends joking about the absurdities of a game in which a player engaged in simulated sexual activity much as they would brandishing a fake pistol while playing ‘Time Crisis’ at an arcade or hopping into a simulated rally car a few games down and turning the steering wheel wildly. As they joked and kidded, the frat boys and the industrial mavericks within them merged and mutated into sleazy geniuses and they that very day left whoever’s room they happened to be in with plans to design and build what they believed to be the first ever coitus simulator that judged sexual performance in a competitive context.
‘We never expected this to be anything more than a pet project which would at the very least get us attention for our originality or innovation or whatever,’ Len explains. ‘The sex aspect was kind of secondary, secondary in the sense that it wasn’t something we envisioned people getting off on, you know? We’re not like…pornographers. Sex just happened to be a there and we never thought too much about it.’
‘You’ve got to understand,’ says BJ, ‘that we – well, at least I – didn’t really expect to get past the “we’re sort of thinking about making this random thing but it probably won’t happen” stage. I never ever saw myself, saw us, actually building this thing, but by the time we were in fact actually building it we had completely overlooked all the social aspects because we could hardly believe that we had gotten from the stage of just fucking around with ideas to actually trying to study the anatomy of the vagina and how its sensation is mapped and researching different materials and circuitry and all that –’
‘– and where all the cum goes,’ pipes in Len, at which they both stumble into fits of laughter; not brash and extroverted laughter but rather a more inward, half-swallowed kind.
The cum was in fact to be collected in large condom-like films of non-latex plastic which would have been worn by the mannequin like a brief, with a large vaginal pocket that would line the appropriate space. The coital diaper would be spat out by the machine once payment had been received after which the player would then dress the mannequin, assume a position – either missionary-based or doggy-style – and begin fucking, watching the screen intently for points awarded for criteria such as rhythm, stamina, clitoral and G-spot stimulation, and even size (for which there is an inbuilt handicap system.)
Bernie explains: ‘We actually bounced around the idea of the virtual vagina being like a real one in that it would be cleaned out by its own juices or whatever. We were trying to figure out how it could constantly wash itself out so that the players could just use their own condoms and feel confident that they weren’t significantly touching swords by proxy. You can probably tell that we didn’t expect that Swordsman’s Glory would ever be used. Anywhere. We made it for us really.’
There is a very pregnant pause after which Len begins to snigger. BJ smiles. ‘As a creative challenge for us, not to get our rocks off.’
Who came up with the name?
‘Well,’ says BJ, ‘we’ve never be that satisfied with the name, but we didn’t have anything better to call it so we just went with something obvious and a bit cheesy. The “glory” part is a bit of a play on glory holes…even though it’s more a fleshlight than a glory hole.’
And did they consider the utter impracticalities of such a game, aside from all the social implications?
‘We kind of did,’ says Len, ‘but maybe too late? Like, obviously the impracticalities and health issues and social bullshit was why Sexpo was like “uh, no we’re not having this abomination in our show.” And which is why only one underground, pretty dirty sex club was like, “sure, whatever, how much?”’
How much did the sex club, Marquis Descending, pay for ownership of Swordsman’s Glory?
They consult one another once again. $12 000…? Something in that ball park..? In all earnestness though, how could they not know?
By this point our brunches have arrived and been devoured and round two of coffee commences without any reservations.
‘How shocked were you by the uproar?’
This question hangs in the air for quite some time.
‘I was probably mostly confused by the fact that this thing we’d basically made for fun and which was sitting in some dark room in an underground sex club where people fuck goats for all we know was suddenly a thing,’ Len says; ‘a thing that people were getting upset about, like…how the fuck do you even know it exists? Did you just happen to run into it while you were wiping the goat cum from your mouth?’
BJ extends a gentle ‘dude’ to his friend and business partner. I smile. I’m correct in thinking that Len is a little more sensitive about the matter than is BJ.
‘Sorry, I don’t mean to be such a foul mouth.’
No, not at all. So what’s next for the duo?
They are currently in the process of starting up a design and development firm which they hope will be a frontrunner in all things design and innovation, at least in Sydney to begin with though with enough grease and sweat it will have a global reach at some point in the future. They both agree that Swordsman’s Glory is not worth disowning or relegating to their respective skeleton closets though they pray every day to every conceivable deity that it does not end up becoming their ultimate legacy.
‘I thought it was kind of funny. But let me be plain and honest with you: I run a club who’s “come one, come all” policy stops just short of permitting murder or child molestation. Everything goes here, man, as long as it’s in the dark, as long as all parties involved gain some measure of satisfaction, and as long as everybody walks out with the exact number of body parts that they expected to walk out with. So, to summarise: I thought it was funny and unique, I figured some of my clients would be into it which some of them were, and I had the money to waste, so I wasted it.’
Arianna M, as she likes to be known, is the personification of an out-of-body experience. Seeing her and hearing her are strangely disjunctive and I find myself wondering, how does this husky and commanding voice emanate from so petite and pretty an entity who at the same time dresses like a ballerina who quit the stage to become a mechanic while retaining the delicate makeup and nimble grace. Think about it.
Sitting in Arianna’s office, one would have zero idea that they were in the control room of a hard-core sex club that caters for all sexual predilections and tastes from simple swinging to BDSM and most flavours of fetishism however extreme. Bestiality is one of the few partialities not permissible at Marquis Descending because (a) human-animal relationships tend to have a significantly skewed power dynamic and (b) even if both parties consented to sexual activity i.e. the dog were wagging its tail or sporting a moist pink boner, reason a still holds. A shelf standing against one wall in Arianna’s office houses neatly stacked folders and books, and two of the other walls are adorned – one each – by two cheap-looking Degas prints. No framed smiley pictures of hubby and the kids sitting askew on the table though, so I can be assured somewhat that this is not a David Lynch movie, which is exactly why it probably is a David Lynch movie.
‘I haven’t had sex in a week,’ Arianna says to me from the other end of the desk, leaning forward across it.
Uh…why would she tell me this?
‘Just so you realise I’m not a sex fiend, that I don’t have semen and pussy juice coming out my ears. Not to blow my own horn but I’m kind of gorgeous – as you can see – and I know what I’m doing most of the time, but I have standards, and standards aren’t always easily met. Sometimes I have to go a week before my standards and criteria are even close to being satisfied.’
‘So how did you get into this?’ I ask.
‘Into what, running a sex club? You know, I always wonder, “how do people get into insulation, or piping?” You’re driving down the road and you see these trucks with piping hanging off the back and on the side of the truck it says “Speedy Piping or Hunter Insulation or Someone and Sons.” How do they get into that? Anyway, with me…I’ve always worshipped sex and I think it’s as vital a part of a healthy, happy life as is twenty-one percent oxygen and regular bowels, and like a doctor or nurse who is there when you need pain relief or antibiotics or an enema, I’m here when you need to get off or feel sexy or feel good about yourself. I’m no less important than your cardiologist and I’m definitely more important than your shrink. As for why I actually decided to open this place? No idea. I just felt like it. Sorry.’
Arianna surprisingly goes on to ask me if she answered my question which she clearly knows she did not on account of the apology she offered a few seconds earlier.
‘So,’ I say, ‘tell me more about Swordsman’s Glory and how it landed up here.’
‘I get a lot of unsolicited shit from lots of people, you see, amateur pornstars and people who want to do exotic dances and whatever they think it is that we provide here. We’re not a strip club, and we’re not VideoSleazy. But when these two guys emailed me about this machine they’d made, I took a bit more notice. Firstly, it was novel — I’d never seen or heard of such a thing; secondly, they sent me a pretty long and detailed email which was a far cry from all the poorly written ones that say “here’s me and me niece fucking, hope you like, here’s me bank details, money please.” So we met up and they showed me the Swordsman and explained how it worked.’
‘And what did you think about it?’
‘I thought they were fucking insane and kind of creepy for even thinking to make such a thing, but brilliant at the same time. Look, sex is strongly subconscious and as a result it often has a hilarious side, so to run a sex club you need to see the funny side of sex, to appreciate the humour inherent in it. Their machine made me laugh, which put it in good stead.’
‘Did customers enjoy it? Did they offer any feedback?’
‘The funny thing about the Swordsman is that it was more the kind of machine you would find in a sex gym, if such a thing existed. As far as I know the virtual vagina didn’t simulate secretions or contract and relax like the real thing does, so I don’t imagine it was the kind of toy that people would rush to in order to get their rocks off. It was really a technique enhancer, and I think the clients who gravitated to it used it as a way to hone their penile dexterity, or even their finger or tongue skills…to a limited extent of course, granted the virtual vagina was not super-detailed anatomically and whatnot. You know how there’s scoring and ranking –?’
‘– well I’m not aware that my clients actually embraced the competitive aspect of it. It was all about personal bests I guess.’
And the hygiene issue?
Arianna M shrugs.
‘Are you aware,’ I ask, ‘that some people nicknamed it the “rapist trainer?” Was that one of the reasons you decided to offload it?’
‘I’m not that beholden to public opinion; I run a sex club. The problem was more that the machine was now tainted and doomed to just sit in the corner collecting lint and dust like an artefact. I’m not an antique collector. It was going to get offloaded sooner or later after shit hit the fan.’
As for it being called the “rapist trainer…?
‘Rapist trainer…hmmm. I don’t think I really want to comment on that.’
Not even a little?
‘I think it was an effective but unfairly inflammatory term. I don’t know many rapists. In fact I don’t know anyone at all who has confessed to or been convicted of rape, but I’d imagine that rapists don’t really give a damn about pleasuring their victims, which is kind of what you score points for when you fuck the machine.’
But the machine does dehumanise women. You’re fucking a machine with a pixelated personality that has no sovereignty and no say with regards to the acts it is about to be subjected to.
‘Well, I don’t believe blow-up dolls create rapists. Look, without being overly aggressive, I must say that I really don’t appreciate being placed in the position of having to defend that stupid, juvenile and somewhat depraved invention. I bought it on a whim, a regrettable whim, that’s all. But I also hate people getting so sensitive about something so benign.’
Understood, and no aggression perceived, though her claim that Swordsman’s Glory is benign is contestable.
There were some parties who slammed the Swordsman for practically alienating straight women and gay men. Thoughts?
‘I figured it was meant to [alienate straight women and gay men]; in the same way that tampons alienate straight men and lesbians. That’s a joke.’ I guess I mustn’t have smiled appropriately.
‘But honestly,’ Arianna continues, ‘I didn’t think it was logical to expect a sex toy to cater for all genders and sexualities. When it comes to that level of versatility you’ll never beat the vibrator. So I figured it was worth the purchase. Plus, something about the fact that Sexpo found it too risqué made it irresistible.’
‘Did Sexpo say that they found it too risqué? I ask.
‘Knowing Sexpo, they probably did. I’m kidding, I love Sexpo. I go every year. I should have season passes.’
‘So who brought Swordsman to who’s attention exactly?’
The business owner in Arianna comes out, finally: ‘I won’t go too much into the details, but a former staff member took issue with the machine and escalated things by contacting the press when they felt that I wasn’t doing enough to…get rid of the thing for which I had just paid fifteen thousand big ones. But I don’t blame them, and no, I didn’t fire them, they decided to part ways with the sex industry. I’ll be the first and last to admit that Swordsman is a ridiculous creation, that it was a ridiculous move on my part to even think of buying it and putting it in my club. But I did turn one hell of a profit selling it to some weirdo, god bless him.’
June 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
I got on me knees and looked in the cupboard under the sink. Mum said why would she keep them under the sink, they were in the next one over, behind all the pots and pans she abandoned when she got the Teflon non-stick ones. So I pulled all the plastic plates and bowls out from behind the pots and pans and stacked them up but mum said why did I put them on the bloody ground. Now she’d have to wash them again.
Dad said it said in The Advertiser that the Africans were dentists.
Mum said, ‘all of them?’
Dad said just the bloke was a dentist. ‘Got a wife and three kids it says here.’
Mum was scrubbing the plastic china with Palmolive and a sponge and I stood and watched because I thought I deserved it. Dad twisted his neck over the back of the sofa.
‘Em. Emily. Oi! The bloke’s a dentist, they can afford their own crap,’ he said but mum said that third world dentists weren’t like dentists here. That’s why they came to Australia. Besides, a church ladies group was behind the whole thing, just to make the Africans feel at home. And to add to their congregation she guessed. Said it wasn’t her idea, calling dibs on the new people. Just that she thought she didn’t want to waste decent dinnerware.
Dad said what about a garage sale, he’d been thinking about having a garage sale. Mum said that was another story, put the soap and the sponge back under the sink and said we might as well throw in the pots and pans too. Dad said what if we need them one day.
Mum said, ‘it’s not a gift, Roger, it’s just a bloody loan.’
We’re playing handball in the quad, me and the other retards, because that’s what they call us, the other kids, because they can’t be bothered talking to us. There’s ten squares crushed into the cement with chalk some dickhead nicked from roll call. Shetty’s in king, Trent the ranga’s in queen and I’m in jack but I think the ranga’s trying to get me out because he’s hitting all these low fast balls at me. It’s like everyone’s trying to get me out ‘cause they’re all hitting low fast balls at me. Brendan Carter’s just got out but he won’t get out and people are yelling at him, ‘get out of it!’ But Brendan’s saying ‘nah! Bullshit! Nah!’ throwing his arms around and pushing everyone away. But then the principal walks out of the office with one of the Africans mum was talking about. A boy. Brendan is so busy looking he gets shoved out of his square and everyone up to that square moves up one. Some of us are also looking at Mr Woz(niakiewicz) and the African boy. I’m one of the ones also looking.
Turns out he’s in me roll call, him and his sister. They look heaps like each other, not like twins, but they’ve got the same nose and lips sort of. And apparently their hair’s like carpet, at least his is. They sit right up front in front of Ms Jarra’s table, talking to each other so quiet you can’t hear them. You can’t even hear them say yeah when Ms Jarra says Tu-Too-Toondie? Where’s Toondie? Ne-Nu-Na-Nagozie? Maybe because she’s saying it wrong or maybe because they can’t understand Australian. But their names aren’t even Australian. A few names later Ms Jarra says Matthew, Matthew Rusk, and I say yeah. That’s the only thing I say the whole time because I’m up the back and no one is talking to me.
The African girl Nagozie ends up being mates with Bec Dunner and Kayla Redman and the other sluts but I don’t think she knows they’re the sluts. Toondie’s all over the place, hanging around with the boofheads that reckon they’re awesome-as and the careers lady’s weird son. I even see him talking to some of the cooler retards between class because he’s in the same classes as them, all the harder ones, like harder Science and harder English and yeah all the harder ones. After like a month the African kids don’t talk to each other as much ‘cause they’ve got their new mates. But it’s still a pretty quiet one for me, roll call, ‘cause I’m up the back and no one’s saying anything to me.
Dad’s back from the mine because I can hear him stomping his steel-cap boots outside the front door. I’m in the kitchen pouring some lime cordial because that’s all that’s left. Luce finished off the raspberry I reckon, and I can’t stand lime, but I can’t get enough of Cottees. I don’t know why but I sneak off to me room before dad comes in but I listen to him rumbling to mum about work as I sip me cordial and wait for me PlayStation to startup. But mum yells tea before it starts up.
We have lasagne for tea, the one we had for tea yest’y and the day before. Mum’s passing dad a massive plate when she says did he hear what the Africans did with all the stuff the church ladies rounded up for them. Dad says what and mum says the Africans said they didn’t need it because they had their own stuff coming by ship from South Africa and besides they were living in the Keenans’ old house on Colin street because the dad knows Mrs Keenan and she’s renting it out to them and it’s fully furnished and everything. Dad’s up for another plate after mum’s said all this. So I pass him the casserole dish.
‘Heard their boy’s in your year,’ dad says to me as he shovels lasagne with the cake scoop. I nod with me mouth full. Mum says do I know him and I say not really. But I seen him around.
Mum says, ‘don’t you want to invite him over? Show him your PlayStation?’
I stuff me face again when she says this and I think dad notices because he says ‘Matty’s not into inviting people over much, are you mate?’
‘Be good to know the new dentist in town,’ mum says into her plate. Dad says yeah, if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. Lucy isn’t saying anything. She never says much round the house, only when her mates are over, then she’s talking loud and acting like she’s king shit. Mum’s just drank some water and she’s picking her teeth with her tongue.
No one says anything for ages, and then mum says why don’t I take me bike and ride over to Colin street tomorrow and give them new people some cassette tapes or something, just a taste of real Aussie music and hospitality, maybe a bit of Farnsey for the grown-ups and a bit of INXS or Barnesy and maybe some of me own CDs. She says the boy is probably wanting to make some friends but I reckon she means me. Dad says what about some Troy Cassar-Daley but mum says they might not get it; what about all that Aussie rap I’m always playing in me room and I say um…like I don’t know, but I think she means The Herd.
Sweat’s running into me eyes it’s so hot. And every time I stop me bike at a stop sign the flies are all over me like those stars when a cartoon gets whacked in the head. Our town’s streets are wide like highways, and the sky’s blue like it didn’t want to be blue but was forced to be blue and now is like you wanted blue so here it is. The road’s so hot it’s like I’m looking through water and as I’m riding I’m wondering will he know who I am, will he remember. I’m thinking why did mum have to make me do this.
Once when I seen Toondie in the corridor at school I said how’s it going and he said ‘good and you?’ He sounded not how I expected him to sound. He didn’t sound that African. It was weird. Then once, he came over to where we retards eat lunch and play handball and he was sitting with Glen and Spandy Lachlan and they asked him did they have TV in Africa and he said yes like it was a stupid question and they asked him like what shows do they have and he shrugged and said the usual like The Simpsons and Buffy and CSI and Egoli and Carte Blanche and Jam Alley but I don’t know if he was making it up ‘cause I’ve never heard of them last ones. Then Toondie said he saw a dead roo on the road, are there heaps of them around town hopping down the streets and someone said nah it’s not like in South Africa with the lions and all that. Then Glen asked Toondie if he wanted to come to youth group on Frid’y (‘cause Glen and Spandy are churchies) and Toondie said he’ll think about it. I stopped listening in and kept eating me ham cheese mustard sambo. Then a tennis ball rolled up to me feet but I was too busy eating me sambo to pick it up and Bowdy said ‘Oi, Rusky! Rusky, you ugly cunt, chuck us the ball!’
So I turn into Colin street and keep an eye out for the Keenans’ house cause I seen it before. Looks pretty much the same now, just that the front lawn’s now sand. I ring the doorbell with me free hand. Toondie opens the door but not the flyscreen so I can’t see his face too good because of the glare. I say g’day and he says hello. I think he remembers who I am. I hold up me hand with the CDs and tapes and say just wondering if they wanted to have a listen to these, they can keep them for a bit if they want. He looks at the stuff in me hand and says no thanks, they’ll be fine. Then he slowly shuts the door but he doesn’t even touch the flyscreen because it’s already shut in me face.
‘Decent bloke. Got a bit of an accent on him. Good thing he doesn’t talk much.’
Dad had a pretty bad toothache the other night. Heard him from me bed yelling bloody fucking this and bloody fucking that and mum saying bloody fucking watch your language.
‘They’re arrogant,’ mum says as we watch Eddie McGuire trying to throw someone off the answer they’ve locked in: B, Bay of Pigs. She says they just walk in and act like they own the place. We’re just trying to make them feel at home. Dad says yeah. ‘Good dentist but. Fixed me tooth up.’
I’m on the floor with me back and me head against the hard chair arm. I say something about youth group on Frid’y night and dad’s like, you’re not a churchie now are ya. Mum’s like, let him. If you want to go you should go, Love. Like it’s me last hope of being cured of something, some disease.
‘Why don’t you go to the disco thingamajig with Luce, meet some real people?’ dad says, but I can’t dance for shit and I don’t want to do it with me sister.
So I turn up at the Uniting Church with me bike. The parking lot’s almost empty and there’s light coming from an open door. It’s almost eight but it’s like the sun doesn’t want to move from where it was at five and it feels like someone is breathing in me face it’s that stuffy and warm.
Spandy calls me Ruskie when I walk in. Ruskie’s what everyone calls me because they reckon I’m an idiot. There’s about eleven people and that’s about it. Eight kids and three grown-ups. Spandy’s dad says dig in, there’s plenty to go around so I stuff me face with lollies and pizza and weak-as cordial and pretend to listen to the churchy stuff. Toondie and Nagozie and their little brother I never seen before look how I reckon I looked when I fell asleep on CountryLink and missed me stop and ended up in Gunning. But the grown-ups are trying to get them into it, like it’s a matter of life or death. Because when they come to school to talk about God and stuff all the kids think it’s a bunch of shit even though they act good and pretend to listen.
We play games all night and eat sour worms and I’m drinking cordial like I’m me uncle Lance and Cottees stands for Tooheys.
When I’m chucking me plate in the kitchen Toondie’s getting a plastic cup so I ask him how’s he liking it here and he says it’s alright, then I say has he got a PlayStation and he says no and I say I’ve got one and he says cool. After games Mr Lachlan gives us a talk. Says Jesus says we should come to him with all our problems and that he wants to be our friend and that he’ll be the only friend we ever really need. But I reckon if Jesus was here he’d call me Ruskie and not talk to me ‘cause he’d reckon I was an idiot.
Maybe if people knew who he was they’d be sad and not just act it. I never seen him before but he sounds like he could of been one of us even though I never seen him or heard of him or remember him playing handball. The whole town’s going on about it but out of respect or something it’s not in The Advertiser. But I reckon one day they’ll have one of them notices in the back with all the birthdays and weddings and old people who died and hot country girls looking for love.
They say his nan saw something in a tree across the paddock and thought it was just a big branch that lightning had snapped that was just hanging on by the skin. After the coppers took him down they say his dad stayed up all night hacking down the tree with a chainsaw and his mum can’t walk past his bedroom without having a scream. Heard all this from mum ‘cause all dad can say is that it’s bloody disturbing just thinking about it.
Luce says I should of seen Mr Driscoll at assembly today, he was spewing, but in his quiet Mr Driscoll way, like he’s a bottle of coke that someone shook hard, and he said that this is a lesson for everyone, that we should look after one another and we should have respect for one another and compassion and this is a bloody disgrace. One of them boofhead bullies was having a guilty cry and Mrs Callaghan told him to go do it outside. I wish I’d been there to see him crying like a poofter but I went shithouse in me School Certificate last year so now I’m working at the sausage factory. Dead set, it doesn’t stink as bad as it makes the rest of the town stink.
‘Funeral’s Monday week,’ mum says to I don’t know who. She loves this kind of thing, the kind of thing she can shake her head at and wish she’d never heard. Me head’s in the fridge, so I don’t say anything. I just grab a bunch of seedless grapes and close the fridge door and am walking to me room when mum asks did I know him and I say the one who necked himself and she stops mashing potatoes and says what’s wrong with me, why would I say that.
I say, ‘never seen him. Maybe I seen him once.’ Me head’s down when I say it.
Mum’s looking at me funny and I wonder what she’s doing. It’s not like I’m sick or anything ‘cause that’s her sick face, the face she has on when I have the flu or gastro and am spewing me guts up.
The doorbell’s just rang and mum says go get it. She probably reckons it’s Luce come back from Nagozie’s house ‘cause they’re mates now. I been to their house once. They’ve got a new house and a pool and everything so we went for a swim but Toondie never come in because he doesn’t like water much. But I reckon he doesn’t like me much. I reckon his mum said I could come round just to be nice. Yeah, the swim was good but Nagozie kept saying I peed in the water. I don’t know how she knew, it was just a trickle.
Saw Toondie in IGA the other day but. Buying spinach for the old lady ‘cause I saw her parked in the car park waiting, and he nodded his head at me and walked past and I spent the next minute trying to figure out who he was nodding at until I figured that maybe it was me.
It’s not Luce at the door, it’s me old man in his orange Hi-Vis shirt and his Hard Yakka pants and his boots. He’s about to stomp when I open the door and he looks at me through the flyscreen and I say dad and he nods, still looking at me.
‘Thought you might be having a beer with the boys from work,’ he says through the flyscreen.
I say I didn’t feel like it and he just looks at me through the flyscreen with the sick face. His sick face is different to mum’s sick face but it’s dead-set his sick face and he’s looking at me with it.
That’s pretty much all he says. Then he looks down at his Blundstones and gets on with stomping the dirt out from under them.
Brief impression: “On Dangerous Ground”
June 3, 2014 § 2 Comments
Is the latter half of ‘On Dangerous Ground’ undone/done-in by the former, which is to say: has my being slightly underwhelmed by the romance and intrigue of the final forty minutes anything to do with the sense of breathless awe that I had when watching the film unfold in its strong, silent, semi-procedural way? A simple tonal shift is probably not reason enough to dismiss a vital portion of a film seeing as, in this one, the protagonist must undergo an inner softening similar to the way the movie itself seems to soften visually and with regards to pace and manner, taking on a more pastoral rhythm. I wouldn’t like to think that I value somewhat gritty matter-of-factness above romanticism and honest sentiment, at least not unequivocally.
I suppose the reason for my reactively lukewarm feelings towards ‘Casablanca’ and similar mainstream canonical “classics” from the Hollywood “golden age” is the fact that these films, which tend to be among the few “older” pictures that the general film-viewing public have seen, colour the way in which cinema from this period is widely perceived. Having spent a good deal of my university days wading through the file sharing networks through which my fellow dorm residents and I could access each other’s legally – cough – obtained movie collections, I can remember being struck by how often ‘Casablanca’ and co (‘co’ being other mainstream canonicals i.e The Magnificent Seven, The Wizard of Oz, It’s A Wonderful Life, West Side Story) were the only representatives of pre-1970s cinema on lists that almost suggested that the art form was invented in the mid-80s. So when the commonly held idea of a quintessential “golden age” film involves fast-talking-high-pants, swooning dames and swelling strings, soft-lighting, staginess or air thick with naiveté, it’s no great surprise. Of course, ‘Casablanca’ at times has a mildly tough edge to it, relatively speaking, but if I thought old-timey film romance was a little ‘cute’ after watching that sacred cow, then watching an alternative sacred cow – something like ‘Brief Encounter’ – made me think twice.
‘On Dangerous Ground’ opens with a shot that typifies the movie’s old-school modernism: a gun-in-holster is carried and fastened to a male cop’s body by his female better-half, quietly, without musical accompaniment, with understated gestures and few words, and this moment is repeated with several fellow coppers in a way that is haunting by way of its suggestions of impending doom, but in a way which also proves to be thematically indispensable. The visual demonstrativeness of Ray/Lupino’s very classical filmmaking is balanced out by a streak of naturalism in the performances and even in the dialogue at times, the result being that the movie looks and feels to me like a stylistic portrayal of an era that has its own peculiarities and rhythms, but which is by no means exponentially different to the one in which I exist; almost as if its otherness is only an artefact of cinematic representation. As the cops go about their business of catching a cop-killer there is a sense of simmering danger and intensity to the procedural sparseness with which the cop-catching business is captured, so much so that it renders the overbearing cheerlessness of present-day police procedurals tired and artless. But as world-worn detective Jim Wilson ventures out into snow-laden small-town USA, and especially once he encounters his eventual love interest Mary Malden, the movie takes on a quality one could consider to be more in keeping with what people expect of a film from the era of shimmering eyes and string swells.
Jim’s affection for Mary appears to be predicated on pity more than genuine attraction, and pity seems to be the means by which his misanthropy eases, but maybe this is an unfairly cynical assessment, more cynical perhaps than Jim himself. It is of course implied that Mary’s lack of distrust despite her being practically blind forces Jim to reconsider his own hard-hearted attitude towards humanity at large, but I wonder whether or not the film’s flirtations with sentimentality were an earnest change in tone on the part of the filmmakers, or if Ray, Lupino and company simply fell into certain stylistic rhythms which continue to misrepresent mainstream American cinema from that period as being invariably maudlin. But seeing as I’m loath to end a piece of writing about this wonderful film with the word ‘maudlin’, I shan’t.