Monday, February 26, 2007
Arthur crash-landed in Auz and was instantly confronted with his ongoing horror-movie of a life. He arrived in the middle of the Gay Mardis Gras and, instead of the sea of brown faces of India, there was a swarm of poofs, from all over, of all shapes and sizes, yet strangely still looking alike, as if they had come off a conveyor-belt, a factory in the 'burbs pumping them out. It was like arriving on Mars and discovering he was one of the alien lifeforms, a twist on culture-shock.
Then he had to rush down to Melbourne, to the sea-side 'gerrie-town' of Rosebud where his mother had been hospitalized with a "urinary tract infection". She'd been found half-dead in her bed by her neighbors who'd noticed the mail piling up on her porch and climbed through the window. He was dismayed to find an old hag in her hospital bed, she'd reverted to a horror movie stereotype, "the bad mother", the sweet smiling old lady buried beneath a wreck of dementia. As a kid she'd taken him to see "Psycho" at the drive-in movies, only now, in his Gothic world, he wasn’t dressed as his mother wielding a butcher's knife, it was his mother about to kill him with her pathetic screeching. No wonder he’d run away to India all his life, it wasn’t just for the adventure, it was to escape the horror of his upbringing in twentieth century Auz.
Harsh language, but he was a pretty fucked-up guy. He’d been told he should "get over it, grow up, get on with life", very hard when psycho-crippled from birth. He’d made a career of hating everything, and everyone hating me, but how awful it is to realize even hs mother hated him, like hitting rock bottom. But that was just his paranoid cynicism, she’d put up with Hell for years because she loved him, now she was a demented shell and he had to have patience.
She stared vacantly into space, perhaps ruminating on her sad childhood in the 'Great Depression', but he reckoned maybe she was raking over all her mistakes, wondering if she hadn’t led a selfish life, actually caring for no one but herself. Awakening out of daze, the only thing she had to say to him was, "Go fetch my other two diamond rings from the house, someone might steal them."
He had to prepare her abode for her imminent discharge from the hospital, she had recovered from the fever and seemed OK. He marched up to her fibro house on the clifftop above the ocean and let himself in. He discovered a veritable Alladin's Cave of sweets, for toffees, chocolates and biscuits tumbled from every cupboard, were piled up on every surface and stashed in every nook and cranny, she'd been living on such junk for years with the occasional lunch down at the Rosebud Pub. For fluids all she drank was sludgy Nescafe 'double choc cappacinos', and booze, plenty of beer, whiskey and brandy bottles lying about. She had always been a bit of a lush, half the cause of all the domestic violence he’d experienced from infancy onwards, his father Frank being the other drunken half. No wonder she got a UTI, she took "death by chocolate" to its absurd conclusion.
In her failing old age she threw her rubbish straight to the floor, goopy sludge stuck to the boards all over, no dishes washed in months and the couch was filthy with leftover munchies. She'd given up on sleeping with sheets and didn't do her laundry, when her clothes got soiled she threw them in a heap and bought more down at the Op Shop. He had to pick up her shitty panties and throw them in the garbage, what an old grub he thought, uncharitably! His brother John, who had an even more jaundiced eye where she was concerned, swore she was always was a dirty scrag. This character assassination Arthur couldn't buy, he remembered their childhood home and it was always spotless. John was just siding with Frank’s constant grouch of her being a slut.
She had moaned interminably to them about her cruel step-mother who made her scrub the house till her knuckles bled, yet Arthur remembered how he also had to do half the housework through-out his childhood, for his 40 cents pocket money, the Protestant Work Ethic reinforced by a whack from an electric cord if he missed anything. He had always blamed his father for the terrors of his upbringing, feeling that women of the mid twentieth century were powerless and victimized, but as he cleaned up her mess a veil was lifted from his eyes, he saw her more clearly and realized she had been part of the problem, it takes two to tangle.
When his parents had their smash-the-house-up fistfights over money, it wasn't just his father who wouldn't give enough cash for housekeeping costs, his mother spent much of what she earned on herself, new dresses and drinking at the pub, for there was never any food in the cupboards. When she finally got home most of their dinners were cooked from cans and plastic packets, the bread was always stale and he went hungry through the days. When Frank called her a slut he shuddered at the injustice of the bullying but then freaked out the day a school friend told him he'd seen her getting out of a strange man's car after some heavy kissing.
Arthur sighed as he threw more trash in the bin, probably Frank was a lousy, boring lover and she just wanted a life. He wondered if maybe this was how everyone lived, putting up with banality, sneaking illicit kisses, bruising flesh in frustration, the plonk bottles piling up into a pyramid out the front of the flat. Their neighbors had abused him nastily as the child of booze-hounds and he’d flashed that all was not well in heterosexual wonderland, particularly his parents.
Now the poor old tart was 82 and it was obvious dementia had been setting in for a few years only nobody recognized it for she passed the mini-mental exams given, like "who and where are you." That night Arthur slept alone in her hot-box of a house, it howled in the wind and doors creaked open and closed of their own accord, his childhood fears rushed in and he became possessed of the thought the house was haunted by some old lady who'd died there previously, but it was only the ghost of his mother, haunting his psyche.
She was discharged prematurely, no psychiatric assessment done, the hospital glad to be rid of her no doubt; she's deaf, forever losing her hearing aid, and everyone has to shout stentorian directives into her left ear while she nods idiotically.
She was delivered to her front door in a taxi by a social-worker, and her freak of a son, dressed like a psychedelic punk, stood with open arms, ready to take her on. For the first day she was pleasant, even signed her bank account over to him so he could pay her bills and fill the house with nutritious food and drinks. But she refused to eat anything that was good for her, reaching for the sweets, declaring the fruit juice horrible, she only wanted the Nescafe sludge. He lost the plot and got a huge basket of chocolates and threw them on the floor in front of her, "This shit will kill you!"
With no insight she croaked, "Don't throw my chockies on the floor! What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
He got on the phone and rang innumerable community service groups trying to get her some home help, complaining to her G.P., begging Veteran Affairs to come to the rescue, moaning to the rest of his family, blah, blah, blah, on and on till she hovered over him shrieking like a harpie, "You're always on the bloody phone, get off the phone, you'll have to pay for those calls!"
Then she vacantly stared at the TV, she only got one channel, the worst, Channel 10, and Arthur offered to get a TV repair man in so she could watch her favorite, Channel 2 with all the old movies, it would cost $100 at the most. "I'm not paying $100 for the TV, leave it, it's OK, I like Channel 10!" To Arthur that would be worse than the Chinese water torture dripped on his eyeballs, inane TV personalities hissing like white noise. She carried on like this for the next few days, he was at his wits end and ready to put a pillow on her crabby face.
He did what he usual did when stressed, escaped to the Rosebud cinema to see Denzil Washington in "Deja Vu", Arthur bawling his eyes out all the way through the movie, an exciting action thriller but nothing to cry over, it was all his childhood traumas and the horror of his mother's predicament flooding out of him.
As a "homo", and a freak to boot, he'd long been disowned by the family, his queerness shone like a neon sign over his head, his parents tried to beat it out of him, the neighborhood kids bashed him up continuously, even his teachers at school gave him the strap too often for his own good, no wonder he had a wood-chip forest on his shoulder. The 1950's were a harsh era to grow up in, especially for the working class, with no idea how to treat children properly. At 9 months old my father couldn't handle Arthur crying and hit him so hard he fell off the bed and cut his head open, requiring stitches, stuff you can go to jail for nowadays. His mother couldn't handle two babies either, she only wanted to drink down the pub and flirt with her fellow gronks, eventually forced to abandon them for four years after Frank bashed her near to death.
When Arthur asked her why she bothered having kids, she replied, "It was the thing to do in those days." Typical dumb Het behaviour, have kids, torture them, then abandon them. There should be a law where Hets have to have a certificate proving their ability to raise children humanely, but it's only Homos who have prohibitions ruling over their ability to raise a "family” in Auz they’re not even allowed to marry.
Their mother walked out on them for the last time when he was sixteen, from then on he looked after himself but always visiting or ringing her weekly, for he still had a son's loyalty and regret for the travails of his mother. Yet in forty years his mother never once rang him or visited his abode, never asked, "Who are you? What is your life like? What are your interests? Do you need any help?" Maybe his queerness alienated her, his artistic sensibilities out of her ken, his freakiness too outlandish, she just didn't seem to care about him as a person.
He discovered she'd been sitting on a huge stash of cash, left over from his grandfather's estate, but in all his life she'd never offered him even a $100 nor had he ever asked her for anything. She preferred instead to drink and gamble, thousands chucked into poker-machines, her being a two-armed bandit, for she didn’t care too much about her grandchildren either, buying them cheap gifts, never taking them out anywhere. And they rarely get a mention from her, all she speaks about is Auzzie Rules football and her horrid black cat, the old witch! It infuriated Arthur, he was a psycho-mess, couldn't hold down a job, had the arse ripped out of his pants and the old bitch wanted to give the money to the rich dickhead who owned the Rosebud Pub and all the poker-machines. When she moaned about spending too much money told her to stick it up her arse. Fuck it was a cruel world!
Still, he also felt compassion for her, she’d probably had all the love and caring kicked out of her, as a child and as a married woman, and there just wasn’t much “caring” left, just a dazed numbness. He wouldn’t wish her life on anyone, certainly not himself, he’d ended up having a fabulous life, of adventure, knowledge and ecstasy, for he’d bolstered his heart and garnered his guts to go for it. Life as a physically healthy, 20th Century Aussie male had allowed him that chance and he grabbed it with both fists. And maybe he could dredge something out of this pit of human bondage.
With resentment and sorrow boiling up inside of him he left the movie-house and went back to her 'hot-house', considering if he shouldn’t euthanaise her and run away with her bank account, furthering his life of adventure. Rosebud is a seaside holiday town down on the Mornington Peninsula, very pretty with the sun off the water of the wide bay. As children they had spent many Christmas holidays there in the Fifties, very white trash/milk-toast/true-blue/dinky-di Auzzie. These days it was almost the last bastion of Auzziedom, the World War 2 set pushed to the edge to live out the last of their "white Auz policy" days.
As a child he was enamored of the creaky wooden barn of a movie theater facing the sea, they were showing Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lost World" but because he was too young he wasn't allowed in. The movie posters out front drove him to a frenzy of "Underworld desire" and for years it was the long sort after Holy Grail of forbidden cinema, a big let-down when he finally saw it, with rubber dinosaurs and plaster volcano, now Rosebud itself comes across as "the Lost World".
The town somehow reminded him of the Midwich Cuckoos, everyone seemed damned, a retirement town where the blue-rinse set ruled, with a mob of disability pensioners in support, cripples in wheelchairs, battered house-wives, Downs Syndrome children shepherded along by pale aunties. The Rosebud Pub, his ma's favorite haunt, was a huge red-brick monstrosity, the central room of which was a dedicated temple to gambling, a dreaded Poker-machine palace. He’d often gone searching for his mother there over the years and found it hard to distinguish her among the mob of blue-rinse old ladies throwing their money down the toilet, they all looked the same, little blue-haired Smurfs doing robotic, repetitive arm jerks in front of glittering Daleks. What madness! He’d have loved to rush in with a whip, like J.C. in the Temple, and chase them all out of the joint screaming, "Go look after your grandchildren!" He had to walk past the dump before climbing up to his mother's house and he shuddered at the criminal waste of money and lives.
When he asked the old harridan what nutritious eatables she desired from down the shops, all she wanted was an ice-cream. As he handed it to her she snatched it up and gobbled it greedily, like a five-year old child, infantile regression another symptom of dementia. He got back on the phone and tried to get help from the legion of community services available for a war veteran like her, but they all passed the buck, nobody could do anything, if she refused help it was her right, there was no proof that she was demented and unable to care for herself, we can all only wait till the next crisis developed.
She started yelling for him to get off the phone again, and how dare he come in and try to take over her life. She never did recognize him as a responsible son, now he’s the enemy, she had turned against him. She got right in his face and shrieked, "Get out, leave my house, fuck off, I don't need you!"
"Fuck you!" he screamed back, all his built-up resentments beamed from his blue-hot "Village of the Dammed" eyes. With a terrible, demonic gleam in her own evil blue eyes she hissed, "I'll call the police if you don't leave!" She meant it and it was at that moment he stopped loving his mother, for a few hours.
He locked himself into the spare-room and listened all night to her restlessly clatter back and forth, going thru all the drawers and cupboards repetitively. He thought of her awful defacto husband who she'd lived with for thirty years, her hating his guts for the last 20 of them. As monstrous a slob as he was, he'd actually kept her entropic downslide under control. In her paranoid deliriums she swore he still snuck into her house to steal her money. Till dawn he kept having visions of the guy’s ugly, greasy mug at his window, like from a zombie movie, fantasizing he'd come to murder her.
For 7 minutes there in the deep of the night Arthur planned on stealing her $100,000 stash, living the adventurous dream of a travelor for 7 years, on the run, giving up all he knew and loved in Auz, close to free for the end of his desperate life. It wasn't worth it, all his beloved friends abandoned; he just wasn’t the type to steal from anyone, especially his mother. It wasn’t in his moral universe, she could choke on her money. In the clear light of dawn he knew what he must do, arrange help for her from a distance, make sure she had enough in the house to last her a few weeks before help came, then walk away.
In the morning he went out to answer the phone and noticed the house full of smoke. He found a pot of sludge burning on the stove, and her back in bed curled up like a fetus. He rang her G.P. and informed him of the dangers, he threw her bank passbook on the floor with cash spilling out of it, picked up his bags and left her house forever, he hoped. He felt like he’d come through a ring of fire and had been cleansed. His thoughts whirled with feelings of loss but his gut instinct felt satisfied, he was high, almost nirvanic, he was getting her out of his system. Freudian explanations of a deviant's behavior are "too pat" according to ‘Scorsese on Scorsese’, but Arthur knew there were 7 levels to the pathology of his "freakiness." Yes, he was an out and out narcissistic wanker, but a screwball family sure didn't help any.
For all the fear and loathing he had come out of the desert strong, independent, resolute, though quirky, rebellious and anarchic, a solipcist loner, but hey, not everybody’s perfect.
When he got back to Sydney there was a call waiting for him on his answering machine, from the Rosebud Police, the old bitch did indeed call the cops on him, said he’d robbed her bank account. He rang them back but no one knew what he was talking about and as they haven't rung again he guessed they figured out she was as mad as a bag full of yowling cats, they're always being called to her house to solve some imbroglio she's got herself into. They must have seen the mess she'd been living in and called in a Volunteer Aged Care Service, something the legion of govt. bodies he’d contacted didn't think of doing.
Now his mother's case had been taken on by some kind, altruistic souls, they were the first to agree with him that she's got dementia and they're going to help him get her properly assessed and put into 'assisted care'. A load had been lifted from his back, he’d been quite distraught in Sydney, worrying the old witch might burn herself to death, with her black cat, a possibility too medieval even for his Gothic sensibilities.
And yes, there was still a child deep down inside him who loved his mother and tried to forgive all, she'd only been with him for ten years of his youth and in that time she did try her best, taking him to the doctors when he was sick, worrying herself to death when he ran away from home, catering to his obsessions like taking him often to the movies and buying him heaps of books for his birthday and Christmas. There were many nights when they watched saccharine '50s television together, him leaning against her nylon legs, comforted that for a short while he belonged somewhere and someone cared for him. The 1950s and '60s were a nightmare era for 'gays', they were put in mental hospitals and jails for 'sexual aberration' and grew up thinking they were the worst of villains, dirty, deviant, pathetic, monstrous.
Imagine what this would do a child's psyche. No wonder there's so many bitter, twisted old queens about, Arthur included, it was very hard to get over, very hard to be an optimistic, stable contributor to society. But he didn’t blame his mother for this, she also suffered from 'herd mentality', the very definition of what it is to be a "gronk", and as a lemming she will probably run over the cliff with all the others, and die demented. But she won't take him with her.
He had his own life to carry on with, dysfunctional, a pauper, daring and ebullient, he had hit heights his mother couldn't even dream of, he was like the 'Replicant' from "Bladerunner", the wondrous things he’d experienced. If it was the tortured upbringing that catapulted him into this world and made him what he was, a graduate with a PhD in Survival from the School of Hard Knocks, then he can even say he was eternally thankful to his mother for having him, may she rest in peace.
A year later, on New Year's Eve, just when he was ready to celebrate, he got the phone call telling him his mother had been found wandering miles from home, not knowing who or where she was, and he was asked to find her a nursing home pronto.
This flabbergasted him as he didn't have a clue as to where to put her or what paperwork to fill out. His control-freak brother had been organizing to get power-of-attorney over her, without informing Arthur, and was close to finalizing the paperwork for her affairs. So he didn't have to worry about the bureaucratic side of things too much but he had four sets of people henpecking him over the affair: the social worker and nurses at the Rosebud Hospital where she had been delivered, the Community Care Workers who had been on her case for the last few years, his brother and his interfering wife who thought they knew best, and his old friends from his teenage years who all had advice and theories about the psychological machinations behind his mother losing her wits.
Thus he was distracted and could hardly squeeze out a "happy new year" as they watched the fireworks over the Yarra River, him thinking of Goa and India and the trance parties he was missing out on.
Back to his mother's predicament, he went down to Rosebud to see what succor he could give her. Many suburbanites flock to Rosebud for the Christmas holidays and park their butts in tatty canvas tents in tea-tree scrub beside Port Phillip Bay, elbow to elbow right up to the edge of the highway, sucking in car exhaust and beer, desperate to be in a south seas paradise no doubt but barely surviving the urban sprawl of a big city. He found his mother staring into space in her hospital bed, lost to the world, but she instantly recognized him, like a mother hen knowing her own chick in a busy barnyard though she seemed to know nothing else.
She'd forgiven or forgotten their fight of two years ago and, relieved to not have to go through another shreiking temper storm, he was asked by the nursing staff to go to her house and fetch her personal things for she was delivered to the hospital in a night-dress and now wore only a paper surgery gown.
He trudged the backstreets of Rosebud only to find her house locked up like Fort Knox, no way in no matter how much he and his nephew scratched around the premises. Finally he simply broke a window and his nephew crawled in to allow him ingress. They ransacked her house looking for her private papers, War Veteran's Gold Card, Bank Book, toiletries, underwear, dressing gown, dresses, slippers, etc etc and carted it all back to her in the hospital. At last she was comfortable trudging to the toilet in fresh undies, slippers and voluminous bathrobe, and Arthur was again pressured to find her a bed in a nursing home ASAP. Many homes he rang wanted $250,000 as deposit, impossible for this working class pensioner.
He rang the Community Care Workers constantly to hassle them to assist in the search and in a few days they were able to find a place that required only $35000 deposit, a nice, friendly nursing home where she would be happy as she chilled out in No god's Waiting Room ready for the big flight to the Pearly Gates of Oblivion. Thus he left Rosebud, praying to that same phantom god that he never have to return to that seaside purgatory again.
His nephew admitted to his take-over-merchant brother, John, who was stewing in his backwoods bush-hut in Tasmania, that they’d broken into their mother’s house, and he flew into a rage.
"How dare you no-hopers trespass in her sacrosanct domain! What precious goods did you steal from her? I've a good mind to call the cops on you!"
No explanations of helping to make the demented old waif comfortable would placate him, he was itching to have some ridicule to hold over his wayward, irresponsible elder brother and it shocked Arthur to realize he'd held onto sibling resentments from early childhood, pissed off Arthur might have achieved greater renown than he and that his own kids enjoyed their uncle’s company as if they were best mates whereas they dreaded getting another straight-laced lecture from their father whenever they met.
Arthur rang him to ask why they couldn't both have power-of-attorney, "What's the problem?" and he flipped, spitting chips about Arthur being a vagabond before crashing the phone down on him. Arthurhad so many existential torments at this time and John was adding to them, no brotherly love there for all that he’d protected him throughout their childhood and, sadly, Arthur determined to never speak to him again. Even at their mother's eventual funereal he will have to be restrained from rushing up to him and smacking him in the chops.
He was relieved to return to Sydney, forswearing his romance of moving back to Melbourne, he was indeed done with that city forever, Sydney had long been his hometown and haunt, at least there was sunshine and cool rain there to lift one's spirits when zooming about on a pushbike, not the sleet or furnace of the south. Now he was back to limbo and sour-pussed over certain denizens of the underworld who he ran into at Kings Cross but anything was better than all the caterwauling over the family drama that was forever unfolding in Melbourne.