I’m not your fancy restaurant type. I don’t need a waiter in a five thousand dollar suit, hovering over me with a hand-woven duck-feather tissue should I feel the need to expel the snot from my snout before I wolf down a bowl of poached whale eggs and roasted Spider monkey anus. I much prefer a cheese and salad sandwich from, let’s say, at a pinch, a fucking sandwich bar.
That being said, I do appreciate , even admire, good service and I’ve just returned from a sandwich bar where, I have to say, the service was nothing short of mesmerising.
The second I entered the place, a guy with cropped red hair and a cropped red goatee appeared from nowhere at my side. I assumed he was a customer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
‘What can we do for you today young man?’ he said. The kid was twenty. Twenty stone maybe (he was wearing a mumu), but still twenty. I looked over my shoulder thinking he must have been talking to some other young man, but alas he was referring to me, some twenty-two years his senior, without a hint of irony. Strangely though, just listening to him say ‘young man’, somehow made me feel like I was in fact, an actual young man.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Thank you. Er, I mean… I was just after a sandwich actually.’
‘Today our specials are marinated chicken, tofu salad and, if you like dessert, we’ve got chocolate mouse.’
‘Just kidding,’ he said. ‘That’s what I like to call it. But in actual fact, it’s chocolate mousse. 100% chocolate mousse. Zero per cent mouse. Yep. One hundred per cent mousse. Chocolate. We also have a vanilla mouse. Or, as you might know it, vanilla mousse.’
Fuck me if I didn’t almost forget why I was there in the first place.
‘Um… I think I just want a cheese and salad sandwich,’ I said.
‘What sort of bread do you want,’ he said . ‘We’ve got aosdfpoahpoahrpohaohfoad hfoapofao phrnpaouhpaohfpoadoivn.’ (I’ve never even heard of most of the words he said let alone realised they were breads, it was like he was speaking in tongues or something). ‘Or we have some pahporhfaoervbprhpaoehggvaonvpoharguhpruhgpa eurhpavpapu huabvpauhgpauh or just plain ol’ multi-grain if that floats your boat.’
‘Um, multi-grain, please,’ I said.
‘Now, with the salads, we consider this row ‘salad’,’ he said, pointing a row of steel boxes containing salad items, ‘And we’ll chuck in the lettuce for free. You like lettuce?’
‘Um, yeah, thanks.’
‘It’s free,’ he said. ‘Now if you’d just like to cast your eye over to our beverages area, we have a large range of cold liquids available for purchase, you might want to think about getting something to wash your sandwich down with.’
I cast my eye over the beverages area to see what was, essentially, a fridge you would see in any café anywhere in the western world.
‘Go on,’ he said. ‘Choose a beverage.’
I hadn’t planned on buying a drink but I really was starting to feel, I don’t know, kind of hypnotised by this bloke. Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself wandering like a zombie over to the fridge to choose a beverage.
‘Eating here?’ he said.
‘I think I’ll take away,’ I mumbled back.
He made the sandwich and he cut it in half and wrapped each half separately and put each half in its own bag.
‘I’ve just wrapped your cheese and salad sandwich in two separate halves and put them in two separate bags in case you change your mind and want to eat one here, and take the other one away.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, suddenly thinking I might decide to eat in after all. ‘I might sit over there if that’s okay.’
‘Of course it is,’ he smiled. ‘That’ll be $10.50.’ And he waved me in the direction of the cash register where an old Chinese couple stood waiting for my money. I handed them a twenty and they scoured through the till for my change. After about thirty seconds, they looked at the sandwich guy and one of them said: ‘No fifty cent pieces.’
He didn’t so much as walk over to the register as suddenly appear right next to the Chinese couple. ‘That’s okay,’ he beamed. ‘You can just use two twenty cents pieces, and a ten.’
And I literally, genuinely, thought: You are a fucking magician. We would have been totally and utterly fucked had you not come up with that solution. Fucking genius. And then I wandered zombie-like to my table and ate both halves of my sandwich while the magician sat down at the table opposite and smiled at me, but not once in a way that made me feel uncomfortable.
Then when I finished, he said ‘You finished?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’
And he grabbed the rubbish from my table and before I could blink he’d somehow put it in the bin and was sitting back at his table, smiling at me again, and not even in a way that made me think I had to leave.
But somehow I did leave, and I got home and I had to have a bit of a lie down. I swear I was actually hypnotised. Not even joking. All I wanted was a cheese and salad sandwich and somehow I ended up getting some sort of out of body experience.
I remember his last words to me as I left. ‘Come again,’ he said.
Yes. I will go again. I will. I will go and purchase another cheese and salad sandwich from that establishment. And more than likely I will also purchase a beverage to wash it down with. Partly, yes, because I am still hypnotised, but also, you know, because I like good service.
Got on the bus last night. It was empty. You beauty, I thought, because an empty bus is strangely a bit like a Zen temple. Yes there are rumbling engines, screaming gear changes, trembling doors and windows. But it’s so noisy, it becomes its own kind of silence. A place of retreat from the world. A place where one can just sit and lose themselves in the mechanical chaos. There are no dings, no slowing down, no interruptions. No people standing up the front counting out four dollars worth of five cent pieces for a ticket while the cold wind spews in through the open front doors. It’s like swimming through the city streets in the warm belly of a great whale. Inside an empty bus, I genuinely believe I can attain a higher level of spiritual enlightenment. I call it being a bus monk.
So there I was last night, lost happily in public transport bliss when toolbag decided to join me. Toolbag, unfortunately, was a public transport aethiest. He had no respect for the Zen experience. No respect for bus monks. When he stepped inside the temple, he was talking on his mobile phone and he was talking very loudly. What’s worse, he sat down, for some reason right on the seat in front of me and continued to talk very loudly. About rubbish. Complete rubbish. As in, if there was a dumpster out the back of his personal vocabulary supermarket, you could have rummaged around in there and found enough words to sustain a family of four for a month. I don’t really even know what he was talking about. Something to do with how it was far easier for the other person to drive and meet him at a particular place because it would take them ‘only about five minutes, rather than taking me nearly fifteen minutes’. Multi-tasking fucking bastard. Saving fifteen minutes of his life as the same time he was taking fifteen minutes from mine.
This sudden realisation, and the fact that it was now physically impossible for to remain in my bus-engine-roar induced state of blissful peace, was, to be honest, starting to get on my nerves a little, particularly as toolbag’s voice seemed to rise in inverse proportion to the diminishing ‘quality’ of rubbish he was spouting.
Then it happened. I suddenly had my mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore moment (truth be known, I have these about once a week, but each always one feels just as good as the first time). I took my mobile phone out of my pocket and started talking loudly into it, having a fake conversation. I pretended I was reciting a shopping list to someone. Every time this guy would stop talking and start trying to listen to the other person on his phone, I would shout out an item or two or three:
‘Sponge! We need a sponge!’
‘Fruit! Buy some Fruit!’
‘SAUSAGES! PORK ONES!’
‘NO, GET THEM FROM THE BUTCHER!’
‘AND GET SOME GLUE!’
‘I DON’T KNOW! THE STICKY KIND!’
‘ON THE BUS? I’M ONTHE BUS!!!!!!!!!’
‘GET TWO PACKETS! ONE FOR GEOFFREY!’
‘PEGS! NOT STOCKINGS. SINCE WHEN DOES GEOFFREY WEAR STOCKINGS?!!!’
But the guy didn’t take the hint. In fact he started talking even louder. Yelling, even. He wasn’t doing it aggressively, but it was as if he had been given license to now be as loud as he bloody well liked, because the other guy (me) on the bus was also on the phone being loud. And before you knew it, we were both yelling into our phones. Him: driving directions. Me: types of vegetables.
‘TURN LEFT AT THE ROUNDABOUT!!!!’
‘GO UP PAST THE SPORTS CLUB!’
‘RIGHT AT THE LIGHTS!’
‘ONIONS! NO!NO!NO! SPRING ONIONS!’
Then the bus driver – maybe in an attempt to drown us out, maybe in an attempt to join in the fun – decided to turn up his radio full bore. FULL FUCKING BORE. Yeah, he might have been trying to get into the spirit of things, but I did get the slightest of inklings that he was also trying to make a point of some sorts. I think it was the way the bus speakers were spewing out more static than they were actual music.
But, at the same time, there WAS just that little bit of actual music also making its way out of those shuddering speakers. There was a song in there somewhere, a classic song, not quite lost among the static. I could almost make out what it was. It was on the tips of my ears. And then suddenly, it hit me. I got it, as the engine roared and the gears screamed around us, and we yelled into our phones over that deafening radio.
Fuck it all.
The Sound of Silence.
So, I just got dropped off home by a serial killer. Well, I’m 99.99% sure he was a serial killer. I’ve only been 100% sure of someone having serial killing tendencies once. That was about twenty-two years ago when I hitchhiked on Norwood Parade because I was late for a kitchen handjob interview – sorry – kitchenhand job interview. As soon as I got into that guy’s car I could smell death, no shit. The guy couldn’t have screamed ‘I’M A FUCKING SERIAL KILLER’ more loudly than if he had tucked his cock between his legs and told me to put the fucking lotion in the fucking basket. I swear the only thing that saved me that day was the fact it was actually pique hour traffic and he couldn’t knock me out cold right then and there. I lasted four blocks before I made my excuse and went to get out of his car – but the doors wouldn’t open from the inside and there was no window winder. Thank fuck the window was already about three inches open. Call me Deborah Harry, but when we got to the next set of traffic lights, I squeezed my arm through the gap – nearly slicing it off in the process – and reached down, only just managing to flick the door handle and let myself out. The last words I heard him say were: ‘Stay, we’ll have fun!’ as he clawed at my hurriedly exiting arse.
So, you see, I’m reasonably tuned to the ways of serial killers. And when I got into the cab earlier, my I’m-about-to-be-serial-killed radar immediately went up. Something didn’t smell right, and it wasn’t just the remnants of the previous night’s back-seat vomiting machine. I was distracted, though, for a moment, by a tune on the radio. The cabbie was cranking out Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ – a mainstream normal classic song if there ever was one. Maybe I was misjudging the guy.
‘G’day,’ I said loudly and clearly, over the music. ‘How’s things mate?’
He didn’t answer. Just pulled way too swiftly out on to the road, tortured squealing tires and all.
It was actually seriously creepy being in that cab, for some reason. I have to say ordinarily, or, twenty-two years ago, I would have been feeling quite unsettled already. But, you see, people, I have a responsibility these days. I’m a writer of inane and pointless anecdotes. I can’t just go crumbling like a cookie at the first sign of potential genital mutilation. I can’t get weak at the knees thinking about a life of gimp confinement in a backyard shed. I can’t just shut up shop at the thought of sucking on a gun. I have a job to do.
I had a serial killer to irk.
‘You know,’ I said, jovially. ‘My favourite colour is yellow. No! Bright yellow! With pink polka dots! What’s yours?’
No answer. But strangely, Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ started playing again right from the start of the song. Was it a CD we were listening to? It reminded me of this sad old wanker I used to live next to, a complete and utter drunk who used to get loaded, and then at three in the morning, plug in his electric guitar so that he could play and sing TERRIBLY along to one of three songs:
2.Hit me Baby one more time (Britney Spears)
3.The theme from Friends – I’ll be there for you or whatever the fuck it’s called (The Rembrandts)
No shit, it was only ever those three fucking songs. And he’d always pull one of them out at three in the morning when he was off his face. I once went around to tell him to shut the fuck up, and he was so pissed he fell out of his doorway and passed out in front of me, so I just went in and turned off his amp and broke a guitar string.
So was our killer cabbie getting a little Tracy Chapman obsessed? Did he want to leave tonight or live and kill this way? I didn’t know. But I was getting bored thinking about it. I needed to spout some more completely random shit. See if I couldn’t get myself murdered on the way home.
‘Hey, have you seen that new add for kitty litter?’ I said. ‘Bloody annoying isn’t it?’
‘Actually, kittens are annoying anyway, aren’t they? Meow this, and meow that. Sometimes I could just strangle them.’
‘Do you ever feel like that?’ I chuckled. ‘Like you could strangle a kitten. Or a cat, for that matter? I mean, not seriously, but, you know?’
Not a peep.
‘Not much traffic tonight,’ I ventured.
‘Why would you say that?’ he scowled suddenly. ‘There’s lots of traffic.’
‘Is there? I didn’t think there was much at all considering it’s peak hour.’
He reached down suddenly and switched off the music. ‘Didn’t you hear me? There’s lots of traffic.’ Conversation, and music, apparently over.
Right at that point, a young bad-ass looking hipster started trying to merge into our lane, assuming my fifty-something year-old acned white cab driver wearing an obvious wig would gracefully submit to his young hipster vehicle’s advances. But young hipster couldn’t smell what I could. Killer didn’t panic, didn’t put his foot to the floor to try and outrun hipster. He just held his line, stared straight ahead. Hipster was gesturing and honking, verging on abusing, but Killer didn’t pay him an ounce of mind. Not a gram. The cars, I swear got within a millimetre of touching, but Killer refused to care. He just held his line until hipster nearly ran off the road, and was forced to slam on his brakes and retreat to our rear. We had won ‘chicken’ (the thing that human flesh apparently tastes like).
‘Wow!’ I said. ‘What an idiot that guy was.’
But Killer didn’t change his expression one iota. There was no joy, no anger, no sense of accomplishment at besting a fellow motorist. He just kept staring ahead with this cold, hard, purposeful stare.
‘You know,’ I said. ‘I can do this party trick where I make a bubble of saliva on my tongue and blow it out like a real bubble and it floats away in the air. Would you like to see that?’
‘Are you one of the people who enjoys eating all the chocolate out of a Neapolitan Ice-Cream container first? Or do you mix it up even with the Strawberry and Vanilla?’ Or do you just leave the Vanilla?’
‘Who’s better: Bieber or Boyle?’
Zilch. Nothing. Nada. Silence and smell.
Then suddenly, the cold reality struck me that, as much as I was amusing myself, I could actually be signing a future death warrant with my stupid random questions. And I was starting to think I didn’t want this guy to know where I live. Fuck. I had to work out a good drop-off plan. I shut the fuck up and sat there thinking furiously, while we nearly had about five accidents as he cut in front of cars, ran lights and swerved across lanes, all with not so much as raising an eyebrow, let alone a sweat.
‘Actually,’ I said. ‘You can drop me off down the road a bit if you like. I don’t have the whole fare, and I don’t mind walking the last bit.’
‘That’s okay,’ he said, and switched off the meter. ‘I can take you all the way home.’
‘No, really,’ I said. ‘It’s okay, I feel like a bit of a walk, actually.’
I was getting a tad worried, but I won’t bore you with the details.
Long story short: I got him to stop a few houses from mine, and then when I got out, I immediately dropped my bag to the footpath and started rummaging around inside, pretending to look for something. The very, very basic ‘plan’ was to pretend to rummage until he fucked off. But, jeez, he was taking his time. Then Tracy Chapman started up again:
“Living in a fast car…”
I held my nerve. I kept rummaging until eventually, several minutes later, he pulled away and disappeared around the corner, into the night.
Living in a fast car, eh?
Better than dying in one.
I was once involved in a musical project where we created an album of songs, with each song was entirely conceived from scratch, recorded and mixed in one day. There were no exceptions, and no serious preparation was allowed to be done on any song, other than one of us maybe already having a potential chord progression or lyric somewhere in the back of our minds. The resulting album was actually some of the most interesting and satisfying music I’ve ever been involved in making, because it really was an act of discovering, drawing out and then immediately capturing a fresh idea without killing it, or being able to overthink it in any way. The songs had to essentially exist as they were originally intended. They were cooked under pressure.
I think the technique and ‘craft’ behind writing these pieces is similar. I deliberately put pressure on myself to ‘finish’ each vignette in one session and one session only. It’s actually quite a hard thing to do, to be honest, because writers tend to strive towards perfection, where words are concerned. Anyway, I would sit down and bang each one out in an afternoon, and then leave them as they were, after having edited them as much as I could within that first and only particular writing session. This was partly because of time constraints associated with my other work, but also partly because I found that if I ever revisited and attempted to edit them, they lost their freshness, and their ‘magic’, if you like. They never quite hung together as well, once they had been messed with too much. They’re like spider webs: not always perfect, but yeah, they’ll do their job, catch a few flies. They won’t catch every one, or please everyone. Whatever. At least they are still hanging, and not stuck to the bottom of a broom somewhere, swept away in an unsuccessful editing fit.
And also, I’m just lazy…