Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I of the Storm.

Wherever I roam just about everybody I talk to has a tale of woe to tell, from drug addictions to debts, relatives in trouble with the law to life-debilitating illnesses, so that for all my bi-polar highs and lows I know I’m OK in comparison, cruising along, no mind-bending dramas, a kind of still center in a raging tornado. Revolutions and massacres, earthquakes and tsunamis, reactor-meltdowns and human errors, the whole world cries out in distress yet somehow I carry on, meditating on AUM, my silent prayer for us all.

Everywhere I went in India trouble exploded with little input from me and now that I’ve returned home misfortunes abound in every direction I turn. ( And nogod help us with plutonium on the loose and radioactive winds and sea currents heading our way.)

At Northcott Housing Ghetto my next door neighbor, Cursula, is in a permanent tizzy, her new ICE-head boyfriend has an ongoing war with the old boyfriend, Bawl. She’d like to have one needy guy on each gi-normous breast but schitzo Mick won’t have it, in a jealous rage he flogged her till she looked like the Hulk then smashed all the windows at the back of her apartment. He was sent off to a psyche clinic for a week but on release she welcomed him back like the love of her life. Not to be outdone, Bawl showed up screaming about $50 she owed him and tried to kick her door in, then smashing her windows at the front and now she’s reduced to living in an airy, grungy cave. She’s like an emotional black-hole that sucks in anything in her orbit and never lets them go, a world of trash disappears over her sad-sack event horizon and hearts get infinitely crushed.

The police came every day for a week yammering outside her door, and mine, about how “things must change”, while Cursula, stoned to the eyeballs on smack and trussed up in bondage gear, her elephantine boobs spilling from her corset, ready to go to work at some god-awful S &M parlor, mumbled, “Yes, orificer, I’m trying hard. But men have fucked me all my life, I’m a sucker for punishment, poor little innocent me!”

On the other side of me sweet 90 year old Dolly is on her last legs, off to hospital every other day with leukemia, septic ulcers, crook back and old age, still sharp as a tack, anxious that the ICE-junkies may try to rob her, they’re always volunteering to come into her flat to “help” her. She’s survived 50 years in this concentration camp of a Housing Estate, cut the ribbon on the opening of the modernist working-class Utopia, had her portrait painted for its 50th anniversary, brought up her kids then her grandkids in a tiny 2 bedroom pressure-cooker and now at 90 has to run the gauntlet of junkies and nutters every day to get to her front door.

The war-zone effect is completed by the gay guys on the other side of Dolly, they fight like bull-terriers in a pit and shriek like the money crazed gamblers, filthy drunk, snapping and biting. The ugly husband got picked up at Kens Karate Klub sauna and in an argument with them long ago I begged Tony to return and throw him back in the jacuzzi. He earns plenty at a funereal parlor, is as ugly as a corpse and seems to resent the living. He doesn’t pay rent, hasn’t for 15 years, no one snitches on him living there, yet they’re suspected of stealing our electricity from the laundry, we’ve had to put new locks on our gauges, they’re the very definition of queens of mean.

There’s no use trying to escape up the Cross for a break from the heebie-jeebies as my curmudgeons’ club, the Piccolo café, Mecca for misfits and freaks’ oasis, is always a breaking storm-front. As I sat there sipping my latte and catching my breath I noticed Vitto staring into space with a miserable look on his face. I wondered if dementia wasn’t setting in, he’s been acting strange for a year, more uptight, more miserly, more money-grubbing, knitting, knitting, knitting endless scarves like Madame LaFarge at the Guillotine, then selling the scarves for $50 each and putting the money straight in the till. Or was it extreme fatigue that had him so downcast, he’s been working like a coolie for years, 12 hours days, 7 days a week, making coffee and meals, washing dishes, dusting, wiping, picking up cigarette butts, a whirling dervish at 76 years old. And not taking a wage, saying the café couldn’t afford to pay him.
He caught me watching him and looked away, a wimpy look of fear in his beady eyes. 

Whatever was bothering him he was keeping close to his chest as ever, in the 35 years I’ve known him he’s never told the truth, about his sex-life, his finances, his paranoia, the great familiarity between us has only bred contempt. But it was his own execution he was sitting at and he knew it, he must’ve gotten hints for months, thru the mail, over the phone, from conversation at the dinner table. His face crumpling at something somebody said, he replied, “I don’t even have a place to live in anymore.” When his apartment got sold to pay off the Piccolo’s debts I asked him seven times if this was what he wanted and he said, “Yes, I want to live with my family, I’m scared of dying alone.” It wasn’t my business to ask him any further details and what could I do if I didn’t like what I heard, throw a rock thru the cafe’s window?

At 5pm of a Friday evening, when most businesses shut up shop for the week, in walked the Taxman accompanied by two burly Security Guards and gave the Family a ”Winding Up of Business” notice, declaring they hadn’t paid their due taxes in many a month. Vitto didn’t even get time to snatch up his handbag and knitting, he and all his customers were escorted out onto the pavement and Security changed the lock on the door. Vitto was crestfallen, staring at the ground in shock, then weeping in a neighbor’s arms, after 50 years of hard work he’d been thrown on the street with not much to show for all his labors, his beloved lounge-room, the Piccolo, evaporating like the mirage of an oasis on a desert’s horizon.

He’s been ensconced at the Family domicile for a month now, knitting and reading his books on the “Golden Years of Hollywood”, quite depressed but naively hoping Gary Cooper might ride in from the range and save his ass. But it aint happening, onlookers say the Piccolo is gone forever, the Family are still in conference and shuffling papers but maybe they left it all too late for any deals or compromises, six months from now we’ll know more and I’ll write the eulogy more factually. That café was a legend and we all thought, after 60 years of operating, it would go out with a bang, but it’s gone without so much as a whimper, and what killed it we don’t know as nobody is telling the loyal customers anything.
But whispers, gossip and innuendo has it that incompetence and Machiavellian venality tore thru the dump like a hurricane and nobody could stop it, just watch and surf the chaos. I don't know the facts, to reiterate, it's not my business. Should I sing goodbye yellow-brick Pic, farewell Vitto the munchkin, hello Wicked Witch of the West? I myself, who always gravitated to the X-Men Café like metal to Magneto, feel as happy as a budgie freed from its cage, flying high into an infinite sky and way over the rainbow, hoping to avoid further existential trouble, stay calm, cool and collected in the I of the storm I carry about with me.

Now for the electrical storm scrambling my brain at the moment: I recently saw the documentary “Exit from the Gift-shop” about anarchic street artists and how fame eventually lured them to the cash-box. I’ve been a “street artist” for 35 years, even infamous for my graffiti, posters and wall murals, but I never got art-gallery support though I’ve lobbied entrepreneurs and curators to hang my work. In the end I stayed satisfied with all of Sydney being the walls of my gallery. It’s galling to see young artists of the last 10 years getting promoted for their banal decorations and copies of Banksy’s subversive irony. They and their curators are obtusely intellectual and safe, in reality fame-whore tripe-floggers like Mr. Brainwash, crawling up the shit-heap of millionaire crap collectors and here in sheep-farm, mining co Auz ever angling for State sanctioned govt. grants. How I love to stick the finger to the middle-class brats with their bullshit, radical street art and the wankers who promote them.

Recently I went along to the opening of a show called “Radical Print-making”, half the work arcane ass-wipes and tho, as ever, my life-long talent wasn’t on show, my name got mentioned over and over like I was some superstar of the Underground. I found it embarrassing and annoying as, repeat, I’m NEVER invited to show my work, anywhere, all doors got shut in my face. One of the artists approached me and asked, “What happened to you Toby? Ten years ago you were everywhere.” “I got busted for my anarchic art, tortured in a police cell and kept under house arrest for 3 years. This broke my spirit and I dropped out.” Her jaw dropped, she politely smiled and drifted away, “that guy’s got attitude.”

I remember way back when I was trying to get support for “Virgin Beasts” and, on rejecting me, a govt. arts flunky asked, “What have arms dealers got to do with whale-extinction?” Aussie bureaucracies, virtually the only funders of the arts, pay parasites well to fuck-off cutting artists, may they all rot in radioactive Hell. Another documentary I saw recently, “Into the Deep – Whaling and the World”, made those connections and added that Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” was a flop/failure on publication!!!!!!!

I’ll fade into the sunset soon and, FOR THE RECORD, after I’m gone and my work possibly discovered, (tho probably not, I don’t give a shit), don’t let any expert/curator/established artist bullshit that they helped me, repeat, for the last 20 years, since "Virgin Beasts" and my big bust, NOBODY helped me, except my fellow gutter-snipes. I got told to “exit thru the toilets”, (yeah yeah, the usual loser-artists’ paranoid song of woe.)

But I knew what I was doing, following my heart, dreaming the kind of art I respected, experiencing it as a lifestyle and not a career so I’m not gonna have any regrets. Even getting busted was part of the ART, my conceptual, performance and installation. (If you’re interested you can read an abridged history of my art in my next Blog.) I hardly have the spirit to create anymore as it only ends up encouraging the “art world”, all such money-grubbing rubbish and fame-whore elitism. What a bunch of useless wankers!

In the mean time I’ve gone out into the world and gotten a life and it’s been enormous fun, much better than scratching at the doors of some banal art gallery with a brief-case in my hand. This is the storm I carry about with me at the center of which I try to find peace in knowing who I am in this awesome whirling dervish Universe.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.