Tuesday, January 28, 2014

51) Kissing With Bile.

  Arthur had come out as a homo to his teenage friends when he was seventeen in 1967 but on becoming a yogi he went back into the closet again for a few years. When he thought back over his life he realized it was at the “Up the Earth Confest” in 1977 in Canberra that he really came into his own. He’d noticed the Gay Liberation tent and met the two brave fellows extolling the virtues of an open homosexual life and thought, “If they can do it, so can I!” 

   At twenty-seven years of age, after all the sexual escapades he had toiled through, Arthur was still hesitant to come out and admit he was a homosexual. The general antipathy to ‘poofters’ was so great, the shame, the freakishness, the guilt, the pain, all of it an awful burden to carry, his mind was an ongoing hurricane of confusion and horror. But he was tired of all the hiding, lying, rutting in the dark and dirt, he wanted a chance at an open relationship, to find his one true love, maybe even get married and stop all this skulking around. He shyly stuttered to the gay freedom fighters that he thought he might be bi-sexual to which they giggled and said, “That just means you’ll end up buying it”. They encouraged him to relax and accept himself, to be courageous and enjoy what came naturally, and beaming open smiles, sent him on his way with some ray of hope shining on his future.

He gradually came out to all his friends and acquaintances, giving the “So what?” shrug to anyone’s raised eyebrows, he was what he was, like it or leave it, it even gave him ‘hard done by’ credentials amongst his fellow politicos for he was one of the oppressed minorities fighting for emancipation. Confirmed, elated, resigned to his homosexuality, Arthur declared it to the whole wide world and in 1978 he and three hundred others did the brazen thing and marched up Oxford Street chanting Gay Liberation slogans, for at that time homosexuality was still illegal, with blackmail, violence and jail sentences always threatening in the background. They marched in bellicose fashion to Taylor Square and Darlinghurst Police Station where a posse of cops baton charged and beat the shit out of them for their audacity, arresting many for public disorder. For once Arthur missed out on a punch in the ear-hole because he got trampled in the melee at the back of the crowd while he fiddled with a broken-down video camera.

Some years later, as the ‘Nineties loomed on the horizon, when gays and lesbians had finally won a safe zone for themselves in Darlinghurst, the progenitor of all things reactionary and regressive in Sydney, the wonderful Reverend Bile, the demagogic leader of the Festival of Darkness, led his own counter-liberation march up that same Oxford Street to Taylor’s Square, only they were protected by an army of cops. He storm-trooped at the head of a thousand zealous Christians and one-eyed nuns praying with hysterical fervor, waving bibles and lighted candles to keep Satan’s imps at bay. They were hell-bent on exorcizing the evil, decadent spirits of homosexuality and paganism from the Darlinghurst environs and all of them marched righteously in a militant phalanx, chins pushed forward in defiance, fists thrust out holding their flaming candles as if to torch the witches. 

The drone of mumbled hyms coming up the street was like the buzz of hornets swarming from a crushed nest, ominous back-beat to the collective shrieks of the vast gay crowd come to cheer the zealots off the stage. Poofs and dykes of all persuasions lined the gutters of Oxford Street screaming, “Bring on the lions!”and “Fuck off Satanists!” while the fanatical Christians winced and slogged on, as if through the muck of Hell, looking like they expected to be clawed by wildcats and sodomized by baboons at any moment.

As the Reverend Bile dragged his cross of righteousness up the Golden Mile, the mob of gays screamed pink-murder from the sidelines and became so riotous the ‘Gay Committee’ wheeled out a platoon of robotic Gay Marshals who ran about in a tizzy with red arm-bands like tourniquets on their upper arms cutting off the blood to their brains, trying to quell the hysteria and control their fellow fags. Arthur had stood grumbling and screeching amidst the tumultuous crowd for an hour and was growing bored and restless. He wandered out onto the road to catch a glimpse of the approaching cavalcade of black and white sour-pusses. An overweight, effeminate man, who in less polite circles would be called a fat queen, dressed in tight denim jeans and check-flannel shirt with requisite red arm-band of petty authority, rushed up to him and breathlessly squealed for him to get back on the footpath.

Arthur blew marijuana smoke in his face and told him to “Fuck-off” and the poor, plump fairy, swelling fit to burst his torn denims, lisped dire consequences if Arthur didn’t comply with an authorized Gay Marshal’s directives. Arthur tugged the red arm-band off the spluttering queen and tied it around his head, guerrilla warrior fashion and the terrified Marshal ran off to squeal his lament of humiliation to some black-leather-clad superiors who stood in a huddle outside the Oxford Hotel. Arthur saw their faces screw up in distaste and then peruse the crowd with narrow, piggy eyes looking for the culprit and he thought it prudent to melt back into the flailing morass of outraged poofs and dykes.

A handsome young man had witnessed the whole exchange and he clapped Arthur on the back and laughed whole-heartedly at the Marshal’s discomfort, whisking the red bandanna off Arthur’s head and waving it about in the air, hooting, “How I love a rebel!” The guy’s rugged good-looks, jovial nature and muscular build caught Arthur’s attention and he distracted himself with the adoration of masculine youth for awhile until the real action got abreast of them. They blathered on to each other about liberty and equality, rebellion and population control and Arthur couldn’t help but get sucked into the spunky guy’s bright mien. They both boiled with fury and contempt at the rotten guts of the Rev. Bile to insult and damn them on their home turf while Gay Marshals manipulated the oppressed masses into compliance. He swore at the Gay Marshals barking orders of restraint, then declared to his new mate that he’d like to do something really outrageous to put the wind up the medieval moral minority and the young man agreed it would be a thrill to somehow stick the finger to the uptight anti-fun brigade that was fast marching upon them.

Arthur flipped through his wish-list of fancied heroic acts and quickly lit upon his much dreamed of desire to kiss a young man in public, at that time an audacious, homo-erotic ‘no-no’, the denial of which freedom had always irked him and he knew that it made the strait-laced bigots cringe in nauseous disgust.

“Let’s jump in front of the bad Reverend’s posse and have a wicked pash, you know, like a kiss-in. That’ll shit them!” suggested Arthur in a mad moment of mischievous glee, only half seriously. But the young rascal took him at his foolhardy word and punched his fist into the air, “Yeah, let’s do it! A kiss-in, right in their face, too much, I’m with you!” He gave Arthur another of his cheerful slaps on the back, only this time it was more like a shove and it propelled him through the crowd towards the open road. Arthur thought himself quite the daring outsider with the incisive political critique and thus was willing to indulge in his fantasy of the gay rebel and go along with any hair-brained happening for the fun of it, especially if there was a good-looking guy to impress in the process. 

The Rev. Bile’s army of paranoid repressives stomped through the roaring gay melee with two cops on horses and a police car in the lead, the raving Reverend with the messianic complex marching directly behind the cruising car like a Nazi general protected behind his tank. Arthur and new-found compatriot hovered on the edge of the gutter as the Christians' perverse parade bulldozed its menacing way into their immediate foreground.

As the Pigs on horseback seemed about to trample upon them, not quite thinking clearly about what he was doing, Arthur clutched his mate in a locked embrace and fell between the horses to stumble in front of the oncoming police car. As the crowd reached a crescendo of shrieking and roaring, the two gay men kissed passionately, deliriously, blindly, the cop car continuing its slow stalk, nudging the gay rebels till they fell upon the bonnet still grappling in their fervent kiss. While the crowd screamed like a burning choir in Hell the two police horses reared up in dismay, one on either side of the ardent couple as they wriggled in symbolic lust on the front of the cop car that relentlessly trundled on. Photographer’s light-bulbs flashed and TV camera lights frazzled the twilight air, lighting up the mad, baroque tableau in sharp, vivid color and Arthur felt the diamond-white burst of exultation that he’d long been addicted to fountain out of the top of his head. The nonplussed Reverend cowered behind the police car wondering what all the fuss was about and, deciding he was missing out on the action, the news reporters scrambled in and pushed the jaw-locked Arthur and friend off the car’s bonnet and down into the irate Christian monsters' maw.

The newshounds smelled blood and, getting more carried away than Arthur, tried to shove him right up against the glowering Reverend, Arthur’s elbow actually giving the old curmudgeon’s belly a poke. The reporters went into a feeding frenzy, hurling the nasty smoochers about, using them like a bowling ball to knock over the Christian skittles, the black-robed Reverend as the kingpin copping most of the battering as the Gay multitude bawled bloodcurdling encouragement.

Almost oblivious of the grand tussle ensuing, Arthur finally opened one eye to peep at what was going on and all he could see was the scowling mug of the much-crucified Reverend, square-set jaw dropped in consternation, beady eyes stabbing daggers into Arthur’s heart. He then took in the rest of the maelstrom, the ugly sneering faces of the reporters, the seething, shrieking Gay throng, the murderous intent of the Cops, the mortified, trembling nuns, the television cameras drinking it in, and reality dawned, he realized what a “real fucking idiot” he was making of himself. Throughout the stunt he’d been waiting for the police to manhandle him off to the torture chambers but seconds turned to infinity, nobody wanted a martyr, and the cops just glared in hatred from a distance. 

He broke off his fierce clinch, the two of them bouncing apart like newly-born anti-particles and soon lost to each other in the explosive void. As the vulpine news-whores jostled him and the nuns into a tumult, Arthur caught a glimpse of his ephemeral paramour disappearing back into the turbulent sea of excitable homosexuals, giving one last glance and cryptic smile over his shoulder, waving a fond farewell with the red bandanna as he did so.

Arthur got pushed aside by the flow as the dogged Christian army advanced onto Taylor Square where the Reverend Bile shouted a hasty prayer of exorcism above the collective wail of seven thousand banshees, banishing Satan to his nether regions. Before the troubled gay mob could tear them to pieces the god-struck Reverend, face glowing like Moses, wrapped up his black mass and disbursed his humorless followers, the smug Christian soldiers traipsing off in protective groups down side-streets, the unhappy gays left to gape at each other in frustration.

Just as Arthur was coming to his senses a reporter inserted his churlish mug into his field of view, growling, “What was that all about?”
“What did it fucking look like, dipstick? It was the kiss of life!” snarled Arthur, the bad-arse punk.
“Looked pretty bloody stupid to me”, retorted the cynical hack.
“You just got nothing to fight for”, sneered Arthur as he shoved his way into the swarming gay horde, leaving the bemused media to wrestle it out with the remaining Christians and gays.

Walking away from the scene of his devilish prank, while many faces were grinning and admiring, there were also grimaces of displeasure and tight, razor smiles, as if a few uptight queens were fuming, “Who does this upstart little fag think he is, Cherie Guevera?” He spotted a clutch of Gay Marshals clucking and tut-tutting, throwing him poisonous looks of indignation at his grandstanding, scene-stealing, disobedient histrionics. He crept warily past the Oxford Hotel with its complimentary gang of Gay VIPs in black leather out front who, on spotting him tip-toeing in and out of the generic gay crowd, branded him a “trouble-making nobody” with their pinched and narrowed laser eyes, then turning away to scheme about which committee to take-over and how much money there was up for  grabs.

He soon became just another amorphous poof amongst many and he thought he’d gotten away with it, no cops were following, no gay critics crunched him under foot and his tomfooleries seemed forgotten. But ice along his spine told him he’d made some unforgiving enemies out there in the restless, hungry human swamp that swirled thick as quicksand down the golden mile of Oxford Street.

He hurried home and in his squat that night just happened to be watching the news when an item about the afternoon’s debacle flashed on. There, in noxious well-lit color, was his ugly, craggy bald head mashed fiercely into the handsome face of the young stranger, tossed about while sucking face in a sea of yowling, threshing bodies, the scowl of the Reverend Bile glowering down at them from the background like a bilious bad moon rising, police horses rearing on either side as if it was a Randolph Scott Western. Arthur cringed at the hideous disparity of old debauching young captured on live television for the world to see, including his uptight mother. At the same time he and his friends had a good laugh over the absurd melodrama and refreshing, frightful bad taste the prank presented. Arthur giggled with embarrassed titillation every time he thought of the “magic kiss” that scourged the compassionate Reverend Bile and his thousand vigilante nuns, but the image chased him down the years in imitation of the curse of Dracula, for every time Gay Lib got a mention on the idiot box they flashed up as illustration ‘Nosferatu’ Arthur sucking the life out of a nubile youth in broad daylight, and it gave him the willies.  

For seven years after the first Gay Pride march in 1978 Arthur’s deranged art was proudly displayed in the Mardi Gras Arts Festivals and he thought himself a contributing member of a flourishing, caring community. Yet as time wore on he knew he’d put his foot in the wrong orifices, naively and on purpose, for he started getting rebuffed from the commercializing “gay scene”, and he fantasized that somewhere in the future certain dark powers would surely try to destroy him. He imagined that from the Reverend Bile’s exorcism on he had become Public Enemy Number 7 for he got knocked back from the few Gay cultural events he dared apply for and harassed by cops whenever he came into their purview.

The final severing of blood-ties came when his much slaved over opus “Virgin Beasts”, that madcap attempt at making a cheap, camp movie, was rejected from the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 1992. At the test screening he’d taken his lead actor with him, Simon Reptile, who, being ill with AIDS, might not get another chance to see the only feature film he’d ever starred in. They had to cow-tow to a black-suited straight called Gerry Handbag who’d snaffled the job of Grand Film Inquisitor and unbeknownst to Arthur hated Simon’s guts, them having had a bitch-fight in a nightclub way back when. He was fucked before he begun, five minutes into the first reel she pronounced the film wasn’t good enough, then jumped up and marched out, Arthur and Simon could go die in the gutter. He flashed that there was now a vast amount of money and power up for grabs at the Gay Mardi Gras gravy train and many Machiavellian careerists had pushed their way to the trough, including heterosexuals like her.

For good, bitchy measure the one film print he owned got badly scratched at the test screening and she didn’t even bother to ring him with a “thanks but no thanks”, leaving him to collect his nasty film in ignominy at the back door of the Academy Twin Cinema. There seemed no place for funky home-grown, homo Art in the supposed locally inspired festival, and the Australian gay artists that made up the cast and crew of  “Virgin Beasts” could melt back into the trash-bin of history because the film wasn’t sanctioned by a Mafia-like ‘Committee’ or had millions of dollars in production costs to make it slick.

Maybe he was simply too gauche, Aussie Z-grade and cartoon iconoclastic to swallow for the upper-class culture-vultures that always settle greedily upon any happening event, gay or straight. His movie did not have gays moaning about being treated less than zero, there were enough such films, his effort was about world issues that he thought gays should be concerned about, racism, pollution, nuclear war, corruption, a homo’s ironic sensibility underlying its trashiness. Whatever his flaws and failures, he wrote the Gay Mardi Gras Committee a heart-rending letter of disappointment over his film’s rejection, and announced that, “Henceforth I’m handing in my “Gay” badge, I want no longer to be considered a member of your precious fraternity. Money, power and elitism are obviously the real ethos fueling your grand bowel movement and you can all go fuck each others' narcissistic faces!”

(Years later in 1996, after his film had won the “Trashiest Film in the World” award in France, he was invited to the Gay Film Festival but only because the festival director, Gayle, was a fair-minded, progressive lesbian and an old acquaintance of his, connections being everything in this world. They put it on at ten o’clock of a Monday morning and no one came except for seven of his friends but it was better than nothing and he loved Gayle forever after for doing it for him. Oh yeah, the animated artwork in VB represented an Atlantis-like under-sea fallen civilization with mermaids, dolphins and variegated sea-life. A year after its showing at the GLBT Film Fest the Sleaze Ball had as its theme, "Atlantis", the artwork very similar to Arthur's, but it wasn't him who got the lucrative job.)

He was particularly sad about “Virgin Beasts” rejection because it was the swan-song of Simon Reptile who soon lay dying from AIDS in St. Vincents Hospice and it meant a lot for his artistic reputation to have his last performance seen by the community he adored. One of the Mardi Gras Committee leaders even sat by his bed to commiserate with his imminent mortality but didn’t have the guts to tell him that his artistic endeavors, what he’d lived for, had been repudiated from the festival. Arthur now considered “Gay Community” to be a bullshit term, gays could be as competitive, as ruthless, as elitist, power-mad and money-hungry as any conservative, bigoted heterosexual. It’s true the “community” did much for homo human rights and the care of AIDS sufferers, but if you were nobody, ugly, unfuckable, unconnected, poor, you got trampled in the big rush to celebrity paradise.

The long, long travail that led to the backdoor of the cinema seems to have always involved Arthur getting trounced, ripped, raped and rejected and he had no excuse except to say, "That’s the human race as I found it, flawed and unfair, fame and fortune worshiped beyond any god or altruism. People will kill to get ahead then lie to say it isn’t so, it’s an old, old story: everyone wants the lead CREDITS."

Somehow Arthur stayed alive throughout the ongoing holocausts visited upon homosexuals in the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties, slogging on with his art, orgasmic and playing the fool. He avoided contracting AIDS by safe-sex practices, and he worked as a nurse in the AIDS ward of St. Vincents Hospice for several months and saw up close the horror and pain such a death incurred and, combing the hair of the corpses of young men to make them presentable to their wailing devastated families, he felt sick at heart, the life of a “gay” was hedged in by so many prejudices and dangers.
Yet he hoped to avoid becoming the classic unhappy Gay with suicide at the end of the rope waiting for him. He preferred to be an eternally laughing Zoofy, Zippie the Pinhead’s poofter brother, a fountain of mindless hilarity pouring out of his head, ever the libertarian, absurdist and mystified trickster. He saw the world as topsy-turvy, the baddies often turned out to be angels and the respected scions of society heinous villains; he was proud of his difference, it was good to be Queer.

And the Reverend Bile, voted into a State Parliament seat by a throng of reactionary bigots, would go on to be a partner in death with the Shooters’ Party and a good friend to casino moguls ripping off the hordes of gambling addicts. He also got to enjoy life with a young wife like some Biblical patriarch of old, a marriage of bliss he denied to gays, who could haunt the dark parks forever searching for love and acceptance, he didn't care about their suffering, the good Christian that he was. And Arthur, as one of the damned, had gone further in his sinning and dared challenge the gods, and a dark shadow spread its Satanic wings over his immediate future. How could a little man such as he escape the wrath of the gods?

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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

50) Callous Park.

To realize his cinematic obsessions, Arthur had to challenge the gods, perform the seven labors of Hercules and walk through the flames of Hell to put his inspired vision up on the silver screen. For a first feature, he’d need at least a million dollars and he knew no one who would give such a queer libertine as he this king’s ransom, he could trust only his artistic ingenuity to further his ambition. The powers-that-be in the Auz film bureaucracy mostly funded the famous, the connected, people from their own set; who they knew was all they knew, a gutter-snipe like him couldn’t even get seed money. Not that he didn’t try for he was outrageously determined and had punk attitude.

He confabulated a science fiction opera he tentatively called “No Love Lost”, a madcap, hospital drama involving nefarious heart-swaps and hallucinations of animated dolphins in a polluted water-world future and, with the script plus a few sketches, he approached the Features Production Fund at the Film Commissar with an application for pre-production development. To Arthur’s brattish fury his assessors told him he was full of shit, the script was overblown with disconnected nonsense and he should crawl away and forget about it. “We’re not into funding crazy punks who want to burn the world down!” sniffed a Yank, herself determined to crack the soft-cock Aussie film industry, her frizzy hair standing electrically on end as Arthur, rushing out the door, snarled back, “They knocked down the Eiffel Tower at the end of “The Great Race” and barns got burned in “The Long, Hot Summer”, does that make them prohibited?”

He was not one to give up his obsessions easily, especially on the advice of two dimwit hatchet wielders. He figured a smart way to garner the interest of the ‘powers that be’ would be to do the pre-production work off his own back, with scripted story board, shooting schedule, locations, prop lists and itemized budget all put together as a happening enterprise, and maybe ‘They” wouldn’t be able to resist the momentum he’d engendered. He knew he’d need to go into the hospital system to do research on procedures and props for his medical melodrama, so he decided to go back to nursing after fourteen years out of the field, and his wages would pay for his film’s pre-production needs. There was a huge hospital not far from Pyrmont Squats that seemed to be always desperate for nurses, the infamous Callous Park Mental Hospital and, almost crapping his pants, Arthur applied for part-time night duty inside its Gothic premises.

What he didn’t know was that he’d gotten quickly hired as a kind of cannon fodder to cop whatever mess was left behind by the regular night nurse who had fled the job temporarily, badly needing a break. Every week he was shunted to yet another devolving ward, seventy-seven doors on shock corridor, and in this way got to see up close all the variations on ‘horror-house’ that spread creepily across the vast harbor-side park-lands that was Callous Park Hospital. Half the reason he got moved on so often was that he didn’t get on with any of his fellow staff, they were either institutionalized, lazy crackpots or ambitious, sharp-faced ratshits, and Arthur in turn was considered an incompetent nincompoop and a smarmy wanker.

Nursing is a tough job, very few professional types are willing to deal with all the phlegm, blood and shit and psyche nursing is even more traumatic, the hapless nurse is expected to soak up endless bad behavior, insults, violence, all with a compassionate smile. They burn out quick, freeze over, chill out, and after many years in the field, give-up and don’t want to hear one more sob story. Though “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” really did it in for psyche nurses, as even cops had better reputations, in actuality it’s nurses who were copping most of the violence and sometimes they got turned into ice-cold ratshits in response, and it was Arthur’s queer kismet to find himself constantly paired off with the rattiest.

All fields in contemporary times are probably the same, cut throat competitive; fashion, music, film, finance, teaching, nursing, whatever, it’s a rat race with constant maneuvering for superior rank, cushy positions, overtime, more money, less work, power and kudos. As Arthur had discovered in his youth, a giant mental hospital can shelter many an idiosyncrasy yet he dared to venture within the treacherous labyrinth again, as if he had a talent for eternally slogging through muck.

He was started off in Admissions and, like any other deranged city-refugee, worked his way downwards through the many tiers of terror that were built into Callous Park. Admissions was where the city dumped its flipped out, broke down, torn apart unbeloved, those mad monsters whose families couldn’t cope, the smash-up stunt maestros the cops couldn’t deal with, the morose wrist slashers found by distraught strangers; there was nowhere else to take them and it was nurses who had to wear the worst of it. It had to be Arthur’s ongoing sour luck that his first boss nurse was a young, hefty lesbian with short, spiky blonde hair, one year out of grad school and inexperienced. She turned deaf ears and looked through him like painful glass no matter how much he warned her about the strange behavior of a new admission, a patient hanging out of his bed claiming he heard strange, scary sounds. Sure enough, this seven foot Polynesian went on the rampage, putting his fist through every window on the ward till his hands were minced to hamburger meat and it was left to Arthur to jump upon the maniac, wrench his arms from the shattered windows and shoot him in the arse with a tranquilizer.

The bitch boss blamed Arthur for the fiasco, somehow he’d brought it on with his brash, macho ways, and he got shoved next door to the acute flip-out ward. Most of the night's duty was spent sitting around gossiping, waiting for something to happen, Arthur always on his toes for when the mental furor exploded, putting in extra effort to calm down the distraught soul, mumbling continuous soothing monologues about “ Forget your troubles and breathe slow and easy”, with drugs as a last resort. Otherwise he was sketching away at his movie storyboard, blabbing about his Communications studies at the University of Technology and his hopes for an artist’s colorlful career, much to the annoyance of his fellow psyche nurses who were stuck in their jobs, going nowhere but the madhouse.

He soon found himself ensconced in the gloomy chronic schizos' ward with a charge nurse who’d been in the job for thirty years. He was earning a fortune in long service perks, ran a shop in the burbs during the day and liked to sleep all night at the hospital as his patients were mostly harmless simple-schizos who looked after themselves. Arthur, being an insomniac, stayed dead awake the entire night, squeaking in his chair, clattering dishes at the tea trolley, trundling back and forth restlessly, keeping his grouchy boss awake and getting on his nerves, the opposite of the deadhead dozing partner the old nut required. 

Thus he was moved deeper into the Gothic labyrinth, into the chronic, chronic psychos' section, the architecture like something out of a Dracula movie, a turreted sandstone fortress with creepy, silent bell tower from which a tribe of bats flapped deep into the night. While the mentally demolished slept like beasts of burden, Arthur kept watch with a young nurse who jumped at every sigh of the wind in the windows. Arthur couldn’t resist mentioning that the building felt haunted, it was all too eerie, to which the placid woman turned pale and whispered that the ward above them was indeed reputed to be haunted by some tortured ghost and for this very reason was left empty as nobody could bear to stay there for long.

At that moment they both looked up with fright and in chilled silence listened as a door above them creaked open and footsteps lightly thumped across the floor the entire length of the ward, another door scratched open and a desolate sigh wailed again at the windows. His sensitive companion turned white, eyes wide in alarm as Arthur pointed up and whispered, “There goes the ghost now, hear it, there’s not supposed to be anybody up there, this hellhole is really haunted!” The poor woman stopped breathing as she listened to more doors creak open and more footsteps shuffle from the shadows above her, and she looked like she was about to have a heart attack. “It’s a fucking ghost from all the years of abysmal pain this dump has handed out!” croaked Arthur, to which the young nurse collapsed back into her chair, giving him a grim look that said, “Don’t say another fucking word!” and she sat frozen and incommunicado for the rest of the interminable shift, waiting tensely for the warmth of dawn.

Deeper into the lair of the worm went Arthur and he found himself in the next ward along, for the chronic, chronic, chronic mentally challenged, virtual talking, walking vegetables who thankfully were all tucked in and asleep by the time he came on duty. Squeezed into an armchair in the tiny nursing station, he was sized up as possible permanent shotgun on the ‘dementia express', partner and companion for a stern, old matron who’d mothered the roomful of Quasimotos for many years. Sitting facing him, she asked Arthur many questions about his politics, religion and attitudes while clicking away at her knitting needles and nailing him with pinhead eyes, him blathering away about all his high-falutin opinions, trying to bullshit the old bag. It was kind of a cushy position, just sitting awake all night, the patients all snoring like white rhinos, if it wasn’t for her with her needling queries and beady eyes piercing him constantly.

After three nights he was on edge and uptight with the old gal, desperate to get out from under her gaze. At about two in the morning she seemed to be dozing over her knitting so he crept out to the back of the ward, to the toilets, to blow a joint and calm down from the anxiety of being stuck in a swamp of deranged flesh. He got very stoned, his mindset turned paranoid and hysterical, the very universe seemed to shift to another level, and as he tried to tip-toe back through the ward the sleeping cretins awoke, one by one, and called out in alarm, shouting imprecations, wailing misery and woe, the whole room waking and heaving out of bed in a maniacal hubbub. Arthur staggered around in their midst, trying to shoosh them, calm them down, placate their wrath, quieten the dump before the old hag of a charge nurse came out. All his flapping about was fruitless, they were having none of him, he was an alien caught trespassing in their midst and he felt like an alien, zonked in from another dimension, he just didn’t know how to deal with them and the uproar increased.

Out came the wise old matron and she took in the scene at a glance, Arthur cringing before a mob of irate Morlocks and, speaking only a few terse words, she got them all to quickly shuffle back to bed and instant sleep, as if she had a witch-doctor’s powers of persuasion. Arthur tried to shrug the debacle off as the usual antics of crazy loonies but the crafty old matron grilled him under her laser eyes, she read his aura and knew him for the fool he was and he was soon ejected from the cushy armchair, and he didn’t mind. He was delegated to possibly the lowest level of the Mental Underworld when he was stationed at the AIDS Cottage while the regular night gronk went on holiday. Here was incarcerated only one patient, a zombie like schizophrenic who had previously escaped out into the wider community and got himself screwed by some awful monster who gave him the AIDS virus and now he had to be guarded by a nurse twenty-four hours in a two-room bungalow to protect the public.

It seemed like the easiest of jobs; while the spooky geek slept in the bedroom, Arthur sat up all night in the living room reading books and writing hack reports. Only the walking-dead guy didn’t sleep, he got up every five minutes and wandered the cottage, urinating on everything, taking not a jot of notice of Arthur squawking directions in his ear. When the guy shuffled back to bed, Arthur would try to relax, flipping through the latest hot text, or dreamily sketching out his sci-fi opera, but suddenly he would look up and there would be the madman, hovering in a dark corner, staring vacantly at him, like some ancient curse returned from the grave. Arthur resorted to locking the door between the two rooms and only putting his head in every half hour to make sure the guy hadn’t hung himself, he was always creeping up and down, piddling all the way, and Arthur gave up herding him into the toilet.

The crunch came when he fell into a doze late one night and astrally tripped out, or whatever, because he suddenly found himself standing in the next room, the schizo’s bedroom, only he was in the schizo’s world, his mind-scape, another universe, empty, silent, chilling, like the deep void of outer space and inhabited entirely by one dark soul, who yearned for a caring soul-mate. Arthur freaked out and snapped back into his body, sitting dazed in the armchair in the living room. He jumped up in fright, hair like pinpricks, aghast at the alien entity that had seemed to seep into his mind. He saw that the door was locked yet still felt a compelling mental force dragging him asunder, to be swallowed up and lost in the void of the other room. He fought sleep all night, terrified to be whisked back into that desolate soul-scape, of biting winds and bleak shades of grey, empty hopes and no spark of lucid thoughts. His relief nurse arrived at dawn and discovered him chattering mindlessly in an armchair, piss dripping off all the furniture, the zombie sleeping in the bathtub, and he was disqualified from working any further shifts in the AIDS Cottage as he didn’t have the mettle for it.

Then he went from the brain surgery ward to the alcoholics co-operative house, from the returned soldiers hostel to the McKinnon drug rehabilitation clinic, and everywhere was a nightmare for him, the berserk, shit-covered patients the lighter part of the job. He couldn’t relate to the permanent staff, their maneuvering for more money, their gossip about family and staff, the new furniture they bought for their lounge-room, the barbeques they had on his days off which they expected him to attend and which he resolutely refused. He didn’t fit into the normal mating set-up, he didn’t fuck the female nurses and he was not man enough for the men, and he had delusions about being a movie star to boot. They all complained about him to the superviser, they didn’t want him back stuck in their tiny nursing station with them, he showed them up for the psycho drudges they were, always saying something that got their gall-bladder spitting, he was such a smart arse. There was an actual rock bottom to the pit of Callous Park, the geriatric wards down by the harbor where the poor and abandoned were sent to die, and that’s where Arthur made his last stand at nursing, for the dying are easier than the living to deal with.

There is possibly no worse place in the civilized world than a government run geriatric ward: with little money to make them habitable and few relatives to make complaints, they were purgatorial no-god’s waiting rooms for the half-alive and brainless, the spew-green/shit-brown d├ęcor grunged down to match the decrepit deaths, the burnt-out staff melding well with the broken furniture. On his first stint he was paired with a haggard old punkette named Annie, happily languishing in the dump for several years, who looked like she’d been getting into the morphine tincture, a huge bottle of the illicit liquid in the drug cabinet and ever so easy to top up with saline solution. She fussed about, pretending to be efficiently in control, but was actually at her wit’s end handling the needs of the demented patients and, mid-winter, Arthur found one old lady locked out on the icy verandah in her skimpy nightie because Annie the punk queen was furious with her repetitive wanderings. 

Arthur brought the poor old sod in from the cold but half an hour later found her locked outside again, dear get-your-gun Annie considering it Pavlovian therapy for obstinate waywardness. Arthur tried to humor the harridan and explain pleasantly that it just wasn’t on to torture the aged because they were senile but her face screwed up tighter with every word until he snapped and told her bluntly to lay off with the freezer treatment. For sure she complained about him and he was moved on, leaving her to quaff the morphine instead of giving it to the needy.

The next ward was even nastier, the in-charge nurse a burly, red-headed neo-Nazi brought out from England to fill in for the nursing shortage; they must’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel in their desperation to cover the lowest level of Purgatory in Oz. For the first few hours Arthur thought he got on with the guy magnificently, the two of them bullshitting each other about all their likes and dislikes, they had much in common and blabbed up a storm laughing about it all, and he thought maybe they’d bonded and he’d found a bearable, regular gig, for the oldies were manageable in their mad dying. It was towards dawn, when the Pommie thought he was sleeping, that Arthur sauntered out into the ward to eyeball that all was well with the sleeping gerries and inadvertently stumbled upon the thug nurse dragging an octogenarian down the corridor by his grey hair, really dragging hard as if the old Aussie was a bag of garbage. 

The brute had a twisted, ogrish snarl on his ruddy face and his piggy eyes popped when he saw that Arthur had witnessed it all, letting go of the old man’s hair, a few strands of it falling to the floor. When they sat back in the nursing station, Arthur quietly, firmly said, “If I ever see you do something like that again, you know I’ll have to report it and you’ll be up for assault. Please cool it!” The rest of the shift was spent in furious, creaky silence, though they sat knee to knee, Arthur couldn’t look the guy in the face again, and the pig must’ve rang in a complaint to the head nurse about his lax behavior as Arthur never saw that ward again and he was glad of it.

He did a tour of many more gerrie wards, there being a legion of dying, destitute Aussies with nowhere else to lay down their worn out bodies, and thankfully most of them were managed by sweet, caring old biddies who, though nattering endlessly about their home furnishings, Arthur found it a pleasure to work with. Still he managed to get on the wrong side of these mother hens, they would bleat on about how awful it was to die in a government hospital and asked Arthur if he didn’t feel terribly sorry for the oldies. “No, I don’t feel sorry for them, they’ve had their lives, death is a natural part of life’s cycle, I accept it. Sorrow is such a demeaning emotion, it belittles them, I’d rather feel compassion and give proper, objective nursing care.” “Yes, but you don’t feel sorry for them?” they prattled back, not getting his point. “No, I don’t feel sorry for them! I respect them!” grumped Arthur and from then on he was viewed as a heartless, cold fish.

Throughout all these ordeals of endless night duty in mental hell Arthur drew up the storyboard for his grand medical opera, wrote the proposal and prepared the budget, researching the nursing procedures required for surgery and looting the bins of hospital detritus for his props. When driving around the vast grounds he picked up heaps of discarded equipment for his sets and scouted the various klunky buildings for his external hospital shots and, over a year, was able to put together much of his pre-production package, using his hard-earned wages as finance. He did all this in the long hours of sitting about, between tranquilizing the rampaging nutters and wiping old shitty arses, and in general being an attentive, compassionate nurse full of common sense for most eventualities. But his compatriots would’ve preferred it if he’d slept and kept his mouth shut, for Arthur let all and sundry know he was not going to be stuck being a lousy nurse forever, he would one day be a movie star, and of course they thought he was mad as a hatter.

At last there came the day when he was called up to the Nursing Supervisor’s office to face a weedy, rash-faced gay guy who informed him that he was an incompetent nurse, just about every ward he’d worked on had made some objection to him, and his services were no longer required, they no longer needed cannon fodder such as he. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief and laughed in the pipsqueak’s uptight face, “You’re doing me a favor sacking me from this shit-hole! The dump is still back in medieval times when it comes to healing the sick, it’s more like a dungeon of torture, and those nice nurses who complained were just covering up for their own sadism and carelessness. I think I’ll take the lot of you to the Human Rights Commission, I kept a detailed journal of all the horrors! Oh, and you should hear what they say about you. They think you’re a spineless, useless, dickhead fag and they laugh about you in every nursing station right across Callous Park. Once again, thanks for saving my sanity and my soul, I’m out of here!”

He’d achieved what he’d set out to do and no longer needed them either, and years later was bemused to hear that the institutionalized torture palace was being dismantled to save the government money, the staff forced to scrape by in the real world and the poor lunatics dumped on the streets, many of them at Northcott Housing estate where Arthur lived. He carried on with his grand movie project, took his pre-production package back to the Film Commissar for consideration and, as if all the Bodhisatvas wanted to bless Arthur for his hard slog in Hell, ‘They’ gave him a small amount of money to begin his film, now titled “Virgin Beasts”.

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.