Monday, April 07, 2014

52) Under Northcott.

Under the auspices of the State Housing Department, Arthur was officially moved from Pyrmont Squats to the Northcott Housing Estate in Surry Hills, his very first, legitimate home at the ripe age of forty. He hoped it would be a fresh chance at normality for him, wherein his creativity could flower magnificently, not knowing he was going from the proverbial pan into the tempering fire.

1990 churned up mammoth historical events for insignificant souls to gape upon, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Ronnie Raygun and Capitalism had micro-waved the cold war and Soviet Russia was disintegrating, and here was Arthur transported to the basement of a colossal edifice he came to call Northcott Concentration Camp, built for the great cause of socialist housing for the working classes.

Vast, twenty-four floor squat towers, packed with bawling humanity, seemed to crush down upon him there in his basement flat, yet he was able to walk to his door from the roadway, no smelly, intimate elevators for him, his apartment was surrounded by wonderful gardens and his entire back-wall was a plate-glass window out of which he could watch the gum trees sway and the clouds drift by, and so he was happy, it was his own, personal space, at last.

He arranged the one bedroom as an animation studio and he slept in the living room, with all his equipment ranged round his queen-sized futon; in front of him the television riding shelves that held assorted art materials and music CDs, next to it a ghetto-blaster on top of his light table, then a large coffee-table covered in ashtrays, books, pens, notes, mugs, matches, vitamin E cream and other treasures. And on the phone stand with the phone was his computer, everything at hand so he wouldn’t have to jump up all the time. There was the miracle of hot water and his own bathroom to wallow in, he delighted in the comforts of civilization and yet disassociated from the swiveling eyes of his teeming neighbors, a multitude of dysfunctional, trashy lumpens and geriatric crones, all peering in at him so that he felt like he was living in a fish tank.


When the periodical eruptions of mayhem and murder got sorely into the public eye, the yellow press referred to Northcott as “loser’s shoebox tenements, full of crims, junkies and lunatics”, hinting at gentrification to solve the problem. The Housing Department monoliths were an island of poverty in a brewing sea of privileged wealth, glitzy apartment towers, mansions and five-star eateries taking over the previously Bohemian suburb of Surry Hills. In fact, a major proportion of the residents of Northcott Place were retired pensioners who’d worked their guts out for the country, laborers and office workers who liked to be in the middle of the city, and new immigrants who also worked like dogs to keep the metropolis functioning.

Taking up the nooks and crannies were the dole-bludgers, lay-abouts, the pill-heads, junkies and the petty-gangsters, a few giving strife to the many. Overall it was the endless supply of psychos wandering about the grounds that provided the most annoyance, for the tenement towers had become the dumping ground for all the shutdown mental hospitals, Housing Department officials turned into shrinks and the local community left to deal with the human breakdowns.

And the cast of characters could rival those of Dylan Thomas, each vegetating, sweating, squawking, dreaming, imploding within their two-room, subsidized shelter, every bang and curse echoing up the well of the gigantic brick structures so that all were privy to every pathetic drama.

Alice Bluebonnet, also at ground level, who haunted the pathways till midnight, bearer of bad news, shouting out the latest gossip with a foghorn like voice, she was the Town Crier of Doom. Actually, she was a he, cross-dressing in a daggy granny-frock and awful, fleshy stockings, she was once a Commonwealth Policeman who went mad on his beloved wife’s death and assumed her identity, hence the name of Alice.

       Dressed up in her psycho rags, he patrolled the grounds of Northcott, thinking he was still a policeman, at the age of seventy-seven trying to chase out intruders and getting heavy punches in the face from outraged louts for his efforts. On his auntie Alice cardigan he had pinned a huge badge claiming “Cops are Tops” and he was ever to be found lurking in the gardens, sometimes by Arthur’s window, spying on the comings and goings in his sexual outlaw’s den which Alice could then inform the front office of yet more heinous activities in their domain, and they were thoroughly sick of her/him.

“A man’s dead body found rotting in his flat, been there three weeks, the Police had to wear oxygen masks to dig him out of the floor!” she would croak as Arthur passed her on the footpath. Or she’d shout resoundingly, “An old pensioner threw himself off the twenty-first floor, couldn’t take it anymore, left his slippers behind, nobody left to care, I saw the body and the blood, I watched them hose it away.” He laughingly told her she was the harbinger of death and should get a loud speaker to warn them all of danger’s approach, though her foghorn voice didn’t need one. She would grunt and bellow back, “The old doctor up on the fourth floor was bashed to death, teenage thugs wanted to rob him, they caved in his skull and took his pension, the cops haven’t got a clue, it’s the third murder in the building this year.” It was half because of her input that Arthur gave Northcott Place it’s other name, “Murder Central”.

Also found often on the pathways was Scottish Jock, the salty sailor, retired from a hard life at sea, a jolly old chap who took constitutional walks with a walking stick and always had a smile on his sunburned face and a friendly hello for any passing stranger. He would sit in the sun with the other ancients and wistfully regale them with tales of ships and storms and the hardships of the Great Depression. With him would be craggy old Melba, presenting as another Alice, dressed up like Dizney’s “Alice in Wonderland”, only shriveled and wrinkled, grey hair instead of blonde, with the same blue hair ribbon and flounced skirt worn just above the knees. She was a conservative-voting reactionary, thought all junkies, bludgers and wogs should be lined up against the wall and shot, and would inevitably bleat out her right-wing sentiments on Arthur’s blundering into her outside his flat.

“Oh, them gays should be turfed out of Oxford street, they bring the whole place down, and what they get up to, oh it’s shocking, I’m afraid one of ‘em will come up to my flat and rape me, a good woman’s not safe on the streets these days.” She had treated Arthur with lemon-faced suspicion for years, then got familiar when she found out he was a geriatric nurse and would try to foist a conversation upon him, “Oh, those unionists, they’ll be the death of the country, always asking for more money, blocking traffic and beating up policemen, the bludgers should be whipped and tied.”

Arthur would give her a smarmy smile and edge around her withered Baby Jane form, usually with a witty comment that she would stupidly take for real. “Andrew Fleacock will straighten ‘em all out, he’s the strong leader we need in these wicked days of turmoil!” She would shuffle her feet and whine to his receding back, “Them Abbos went off again last night, oh it’s terrible how they fight, breaking windows and swearing awful abuse, black bastards, drunk as bandicoots, kept me awake for hours, the police came three times, something should be done about them, they should be carted back out to the bush!”

Another of the crony gang was Dolly Maguire, near neighbor to Arthur and, thankfully, one of the most beautiful souls he had ever met in his bitchy, bastard’s life, a true good neighbor who brought him hot meals when he was sick and daily asked after his welfare, he’d run seven miles for her too, it was cool to look out for each other. She had been a barmaid at the Elephant’s Foot Hotel up on Crown Street for thirty-five years and at eighty still had that charming, flirtatious bonhomie that barmaids are famous for; she had her hair styled weekly in a cherry-red bouffant, she was a grandmother to cops and a regular worshipper at the local Catholic Church, still Arthur loved her dearly.

Between her apartment and Arthur’s was the dreaded Eric the Viking, chronic schizophrenic, just barely able to look after himself and ensconced within the Housing Department by a charitable order of nuns, the cheaper alternative to incarceration behind bars. His flat was a take on “Bad Boy Bubby”, creepily empty except for a disgustingly dirty mattress on the rubbish strewn floor, grime and shit climbing the walls to head height like nightmarish finger-painted murals, the scummy kitchen like an overflowing warlock’s cauldron, the entire dungeon a cockroach haven. He got his rat’s nest renovated every two years, new stove etc, and the filth they scraped out of there was unbelievable, the poor cleaners retching and shaking their heads in dismay.

He walked as if half-paralyzed by his madness, his lanky, emaciated body bent almost double to the side as he lurched along, his twisted face hidden under long, stringy hair, he jabbered out of the corner of his mouth, mostly imprecations like “Go and get fucked, cunt!” He was the folkloric neighbor from Hell with Dolly as the neighbor from Heaven.

Every time Dolly had a visitor, such as her great grand-kids, the parish priest or the sweet old lady from upstairs, Eric would burst from his door, situated right next to her, and snarl foul abuse into their shocked faces. “Fuck off cunts, you dirty fucking bastards!” He put everyone off visiting her, making her life a misery, which she didn’t deserve after surviving fifty years in the joint. He attacked her physically a few times, even broken her arm once, and would’ve broken it again another time if Arthur’s mate hadn’t heard her screams and run to her rescue, pulling the berserker off.

Arthur had to tell Eric clearly that if he kept up the harassment of the dear woman he would get his face smashed in by a guy tougher than him, who can only beat up old ladies. The crazy-fuck wasn’t so mad he didn’t understand as he never did attack her again. He did carry on howling at the moon or cackling maniacally into the dark at all hours of the night, his insane laughter echoing around the cavernous buildings, it was eerie, spine-chilling, tormenting, causing Arthur to feel his was living in a version of Bedlam, the sinister lunatics about to devour him.

“Aaaaghhh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, hee hee hee hee hee, hoo, hoo, hoooooooowwwwlllllll, ha ha ha ha ha ha!” howled Eric over and over.

To cap off the madhouse effect, in the flat directly above Arthur lived a lame-brain he called Bella Lugosi, a useless old refugee from Eastern Europe with a metal plate in his head who’d somehow got foisted upon the Australian people to look after. His favorite past-time was to rob cemetery plots of their plastic flowers and bunch them up into jungle proportions upon his balcony, most of them falling in the wind and cluttering up Arthur’s balcony. He also stole grave-stones if he could carry them, small ones, children’s memorials, and tried to erect them amidst the tangle of plastic foliage and they fell with the flowers, able to crush a child in passing.

He had a little brown gum-nut of a head, not really big enough for a brain, seemed never to have heard of a garbage bin as he emptied bags of his refuse straight over the balcony and into Arthur’s place. When a bag of shit landed on Arthur’s head he lost his cool, ran upstairs and collared the idiot. Telling him vigorously not to throw his rubbish below, and giving him a good slap across the face to reinforce the message, the little goblin tried to hit back, holding up his walnut fists and pummeling the air, and Arthur had to bitch slap him one more time to get him to pay attention. All for naught, the trash continued to rain down, along with the used booze-bottles he tossed out and smashed against the opposite wall during his raucous piss-up parties with his Slavic buddies. Guttural gobbledy-gook was barked, curses got growled, ugly words detonated like dum-dum bullets from upstairs, it sounded like they were about to kill each other, which Arthur wished they would.

“Urrrk, glub glub, bok krump schrack, grrrhhh, bok bok bloooohh, scklunk, aggghhhh, plitzzzz, grok, yaahhhh”, real gronks’ lingo rumbling like tanks into Arthur’s rest, and he imagined they were reliving Stalin’s slaughtering of the peasants. To supplement his pension, the midget ghoul scratched up a living by dragging home old furniture he’d found on the streets and fixing them for resale, the sound of clanging and scraping, banging and sawing crawled across Arthur’s ceiling just when he was trying to relax, it threw him into fits of rage, he escaped the racket by dreaming up ways to kill the little horror and bury him in the Estate’s sumptuous gardens, maybe plant a few plastic flowers on top as camouflage.

On the other side of Arthur was a gay guy named Michael, another blessing in that he was sweet-natured, easy to talk to, a helper rather than a hassle. He regaled Arthur with hairy tales of working in the Middle East, the legion of gorgeous, dark guys he’d seduced, Arthur’s mouth watering until the lech added that he loved being fist-fucked, then all Artie’s sphincters clenched up, he didn’t want to know what went on next door.

Michael loved to work in the Estate’s gardens, was partly responsible for their great beauty and exotic diversity, and daily toiled with his hands in the dirt and his face in the brush. Then he was joined by a dyke with a mustache and a bloke’s cropped hair, who lived in a pair of khaki overalls and was a landscaping expert. At first she was a pleasant companion and avid helper, but soon became a vegetative tyrant, directing every branch, weed and blade of grass. They had a bitter falling out over a flower bed, he wanted pansies, she wanted butch cacti, he tried arguing and she beat the shit out of him.

He might’ve overlooked the beating to continue in the blissful peace of rummaging in the bushes but in a few days another argument erupted, she didn’t want him anywhere near her verdant precincts and bashed him up a second time. He called the Police and suddenly she was a distressed female, clutching at her throat and whining about big, bad men’s harassment, they wouldn’t believe that a woman had beaten up a man and told the silly poof to keep his distance from her. Banished from the paradise of his gardens, and terrified of another thumping from the Mustache, wimpy Michael, he who liked his sex extremely rough, lost the nerve to stay on at Northcott and arranged for a transfer, and Arthur feared the craven creature that might move in next.

He was kind of relieved when an acquaintance of his from the infamous Gunnery Squat chose the flat next door when she was up for a Government domicile, knowing he was there and hoping she’d found a new family she could be a part of. Cursula Dysoon was a very needy girl, demanding attention twenty-four seven, at his door at the most inappropriate moments, for a cup of vinegar, a cigarette, his stash of Valium, a bitch-rave counseling session. Even when he had a broken leg, for the two times she went to the shop for him, and got the wrong stuff, he had to get up a thousand times and hobble to the door to service her whining wants, eventually having to throw break-down, screaming fits at her to get her to give him a break.

Something had happened in her childhood, her daffy, hippie mother lost control, the daughter turned into a co-dependent poly-drug abuser, anything vaguely promising inebriation she gobbled up, alcohol, heroin, mostly pills, she loved to pop pills and stagger through the Twilight Zone. Cursula said it was the time they lived as actors at Old Sydney Town, the colonial theme park, that traumatized her. Her mother’s Jackeroo boyfriend had fondled her on a horse, in full colonial costume, while on parade, the costumed Aussie settlers waving their kerchiefs as the human drama rode past. Possibly it was the lack of a father that had driven her man-crazy, she got enslaved to the lousiest of bastards, had a child to one of the most drug-damaged of them, she was a doormat for dicks to wipe themselves upon. The majority of Arthur’s advice to her was, “Stand up for yourself, get some backbone, don’t be such a sad-sack!”

They were at a pub-rock gig and Arthur made the mistake of introducing her to his good mate, Bawl Vassal, a master guitarist. Recovering from a lifelong heroin addiction, he’d gone through God to straighten out, avoided the old crowd, worked in a nursing home, was clean and functioning well in the normal world. It had been a lonely travail and he was hungry for sex and Arthur stupidly mentioned that Cursula hadn’t had a fuck for years and he could have her if he wanted her, she was crazy for rock guitarists. The next thing Bawl had moved in with her, and for a few weeks screwed her brains to scrambled eggs, she bellowed like a water-buffalo being mounted by a rhinoceros, a stream of orgasmic clichés resounded from her windows till Arthur thought they were doing it in the backyard by his balcony, the groans were so loud. “Uuuhk, unk, ooff, ooff, ooff, God, God, oh Godddd, aaaghh, aaaghh, yes, yes, yes, yes, unk, unk, unk, shiiiiit, more, more, more, aaaagggghhhh, ooooooohhhhhh!”

Bawl was the kind of guy who liked to sit on the couch picking at his guitar while the wife created a nesting environment around him, cooking the meals, paying the bills and spreading her legs on demand. The problem with Cursula was that she happened to be a slovenly, dimwitted frump who threw her rubbish to the floor, let all the daily needs pile up on top of the shit and have stacks more tumbling from the crowded furniture, then drag in junk from the streets to add to the confusion, a maze of towering trash that Bawl sat in the middle of, plucking endlessly at his guitar-strings. He badgered her to desist from the garbage collecting or else they’d be buried alive under the collapsing trash mounds, but she suffered from brain-cell pollution and thought the junk was treasure, security against a shaky future.

She also craved non-stop affection and sex on tap, which after a few months was not forthcoming, Bawl squeezed dry, and she set up a constant lament about not being fucked enough for what it was costing her. She was resignedly in love with drugs, imbibing whatever she could lay her hands on and then really kick back, therefore Bawl fell back into them with her, and in attempts to get his dick up, she spent her life’s savings on boatloads of heroin, and they floundered in the slothful flat like two alley cats locked in a dumpster.

She wanted to include Arthur in on the drama, not only whining tirelessly when she could get a foot in the door, also leaving her front door open so he could hear every detail of the frightful fight she was having non-stop with Bawl. He’d growl, “You rotten, fucking bitch, you’re evil, you know that, you’re a fucking evil witch!”

“I was only asking you to put in for the rent, I don’t see why I have to listen to your rotten opinion of me,” she’d stammer, in an attempt at strength. “I’m sick of your fucking voice nagging, and your flabby face. You’re a stupid fucking cow, a nymphomaniac cunt, you should be locked up.”

“After all the money I’ve spent on you, you won’t even give me a hug. What about that fifty dollars last week, when you had to get high or go mad?” “That’s all you think about, money. You wanted to get stoned too, you fucking stupid cunt! You’ve fucked my life, I’ve wasted everything on a fucking cunt like you!”

“Oh, darling, I’m sorry. I’ve made some eggs and chips, do you want tomato sauce on them.” “Yeah, and bring ‘em on a plate, not still in the dirty, fucking pan like last time. You sure give me the shits, you know that?”
        “Yeah, yeah, my mother can’t handle me either. I need a pill, I think it’s gonna rain today.” Such banalities reverberated into Arthur’s lounge for him to gnash his teeth over, he rarely got a moment’s peace.

Up the other end of the basement was Tony the Tooth-fairy, a very gay Dentist’s receptionist and a barely recovered poly-drug abuser with only about two brain-cells left in his tizzy head, who had grown up as deprived kid in Northcott Place. As if preserved in pickles by fort-five, he was a lisping gossip-sister for all the old biddies in the block, doting especially on his darling Dolly. Over the years he went through several husbands, who were so fagged out and unimpressive Arthur hardly noticed their existence until the arrival of Dravid, a queer funeral director Tony had picked up in the sauna of Ken’s Karate Klub.

Dravid had the lugubrious, solemn face of his profession, a very hard, dried-up face that reminded one of a freeze-dried corpse. He drove a flash, black Holden utility truck that Arthur dubbed the “bat mobile” in which he carted the cadavers around and at night, after work, parked it in front of Arthur’s door, giving him the willies. He was gruffly rude to everyone he came cross, as if he saw them all as the walking dead, or blamed them for being alive, and became ever uptight with cheeky Arthur as he spotted the army of spunky guys that marched in and out of his flat.

       Gay husband and wife led a home-beautiful existence for endless years, their flat looked like something out of “The Women’s Weakly” magazine, and Artie groaned to himself, “This hubby was in for the duration, he must’ve liked the cheap rent!” They took over Arthur’s backyard as their personal gardening extravaganza, outdoing the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir, and they disallowed any intrusion into their domain, not a leaf was to be plucked or hole dug, the area was verboten on pain of a gay tongue-lashing. Arthur dared not lay his butt in the sun, from his ground-level balcony he could only watch them having high-tea in the luxuriant bushes like Lady Muck and consort.

Having to fuck Tony interminably must have been a torment as Dravid had an eye for any strange guy and soon struck up a flirtation with a young creep from upstairs called George, a squat little ogre in his early twenties who dressed like a Goth-punk, short spiky hair with multi-colored streaks, kohl blackened eyes, torn, satanic t-shirts, copious chains swinging from his neck and ripped jeans, ear and nipple rings, a right little horror. Puffed up like a steroid dwarf, he swaggered about the housing estate like a neo-Nazi black-shirt, declaring he was the representative for Building A and everybody better watch their step. He was a repressed Muscle Mary and looked like a punked-out ape which must’ve attracted Dravid for they were often to be seen bullshitting to each other near Arthur’s front door, Dravid hosing down the ‘bat mobile’ and George flashing his muscle tits, shirtless in the sun, and Arthur knew it was an incitement to a flip-out.

George began slipping illiterate notes under the tenant’s doors claiming, “I know yo’re pissin in the cornars and doin nasti dirti things and as bilding rep im gonna dob you in to the frunt orifis.” He was daily lurking in front of Arthur’s place, somewhat infatuated with the gay couple down the other end. He was a Gothic version of a macho-psycho who had it in for poofs, his modus operandi was to crack onto any desperate fag in the building, and when they touched him up, he’d ring for the police and put an AVO out on the molesting offenders. He’d gone through two hare-brained gays already and Dravid was obsession number three.

With his dick-in-formaldehyde personality, Dravid didn’t take any notice of George’s poisonous attitudes and kept up the slow seduction. As lubrication for his wiles, he got George to focus on Arthur’s hyperactive apartment, shit-stirring about zippy poofs getting away with running a non-stop orgy, there was even a slut of a girl living illegally with him. This was when Nicolette, Zombie Queen, was sojourning with Arthur for a respite, popping in and out of the door with her huge breasts bouncing in her torn punk get-up, she was quite an eyeful and George must’ve creamed his crusty pants in frustration.

He informed the front office that Arthur was running a backpacker’s hostel from his apartment and a stern eviction notice landed in the mail. Arthur was called back from a much needed holiday to handle the dilemma, telling the housing officials about George’s persecution of Building A and how he had designs on Arthur’s flat so he could be closer to the gay couple he was in love with.

Arthur announced he was a nurse for the mad and dying and at times needed relief from being under Northcott, then showed them George’s cryptic note about “pissin in the corners”; they’d heard enough and excused Arthur for having his friends stay over, in the future he should notify them.

Arthur rushed back to the basement and spotted George skulking by the garbage bins and he threatened the pint-sized Hulk with real black eyes if he kept up his spying and dobbing, and he could fuck off from the basement, he was nobody’s representative except maybe the other refugees from the loonie bin. The impish Goth was a quaking coward and he did indeed pull his head in, months later Arthur heard that he’d been seen with smacked-out eyes, had descended further into a drug-fiend moron and kept to his apartment in a heroin trance, to Arthur’s cynical relief.
Not before he had his much anticipated blue with Dravid, the fag had been sleazing onto Gorgeous George from day one and after the Gothic toad had lapped up enough of it, he got homo-nausea and lagged to the Housing Department about Tony and husband living illegally together, paying only a single pensioner’s rent. On receiving a terse, official letter of disapproval, the gay duo spewed their guts out on each other, so dumb they couldn’t pinpoint who to blame for their tight-wad impasse, and they zeroed in on their fellow gay, Arthur, who got more action than they could dream of, and they obsessed that the little satyro-maniac up the corridor was jealous of their domestic bliss and had dobbed them in.

When crossing the Estate park the next afternoon, Arthur saw the two of them sitting blithely on a bench, sweet as Batman and Robin. At first Tony smiled innocently as Arthur stormed over to them and hyper-ventilated, “Thanks for setting that little demon George onto me, he nearly fucked my life! All because your bath-house husband wanted to screw the monster!”

Tony spasmed with vitriol, “You fucking little cunt, it was you who dobbed us in for living together. You’re just a ugly, bald, old fag and we wouldn’t touch you with a shitty stick!”
 “Yeah, fuck off cunt!” put in Dravid.
“You pair of nasty, steam-ironed queens, your biggest punishment is that you’ve got each other! Why don’t you mind your own fucking business?”
“We don’t want to fuck George, we hate George and we hate you, you ugly arehole! Why the hell Dolly talks to you, we don’t know.”

Arthur was ropable, spitting out, “What a nerve, skimping on rent and pointing your shitty fingers at others! It was your wet dream George who dobbed you in, you brainless fuckwits, who else would bother? Oh, and Dolly hates you too! We both think you’re a twit and Dravid’s a mean, cheating, cold-hearted mother-fucker, he even ripped her on her husband’s funeral costs.”

They vomited antipathy in sync like evil Siamese twins, “Oh that old cunt, that dirt, rotten, old bitch, we hate her too, the fucking old floozie, after all we’ve done for her, Dolly can go and get fucked!”
 “What charming friends you are. Tony, why don’t you take Morgueman back to the sauna and throw him back in the fuck-pool, it was a bad fish you caught and the atmosphere here has deadened since you dragged him home!”

As the two of them hissy-fitted with outrage, blustering curses to the back of his head, he strode away, never to really have a kind word with them again. They wreaked vicious revenge on poor old Dolly, calling her “a two faced old whore and a dirty, old cunt” to her face, for a year hissing at her whenever they clapped eyes on her, leaving rubbish on her doorstep and tearing out the few plants they’d allowed her to plant outside her balcony. And she wore the campaign of terror resignedly, like a grand, old dame, almost a saint. A great-grandmother and pioneer of Northcott, she had overcome immense odds and endless oafs to reach eighty-four and had maintained her quiet dignity throughout. She never blamed Arthur for his stupid blurting, continuing to bring him snacks when she thought he was going without, and Arthur was heartily sorry he’d got her into the awful imbroglio, he just didn’t know that Tony, the Rotten Tooth-fairy, would be so mean to a such a wonderful, old woman.

Meanwhile, the Bau Haus monument to the workers’ housing paradise called Northcott Place lumbered along as a functioning anarchy, the pill-heads puking in the elevators, ravers tossing their furniture from high balconies, the Aboriginal enclave bursting into rowdy fights amid curses, screams and breaking glass, and vacant-eyed schizos standing on the pathways with their willies hanging out, pissing in oblivion. To think the Queen had blessed the dump in 1964 with a golden trowel poked into a pile of wet cement, crowds of peasants clapping in hope of better days to come.

In reality, the monstrous construction was plopped squarely upon Sydney’s first public cemetery, an ancient burial ground for all the agonized convicts and worked-to-death slaves, located out of sight up on a hill behind the newly founded colony at the Quay. They tried to relocate the graves, yet for Northcott’s entire history, it seemed, left-over ghosts welled up from their hidden sepulchers and undermined the dystopianist architecture, shredding the resident’s tranquility in passing, like the movie “Poltergeist” writ large. Sitting, dreaming in his underground apartment, Arthur often felt a spooky presence hovering in the corner of his eye.

When Arthur found a skinny, aged hippie crying piteously in the street, claiming she’d been punched to the ground and bag-snatched, he took her back to his apartment and tended to her wounds and gave her a nice cup of tea. When tear-away louts dumped their stolen cars in the car park that fronted Arthur’s flat and set them on fire, he stood in his doorway to watch in wonder as the peace of the night got torn apart by loud whooshes and kathumps when the car’s gas-tanks caught alight, tall columns of flames shooting up to the heavens like Biblical images of God.

When Bela Lugosi upstairs set his flat on fire by forgetting about the chips sizzling on the stove, Arthur stood below and prayed the little wart would suffocate in the clouds of smoke billowing from his hole, and seeing the dwarf’s hand flapping in the window before it fell back into the flames, he giggled with cruel mirth at the fact that the fucker was a goner for sure. The good neighbors broke the windows and stuck the spurting communal fire-hose through it, the door was kicked in and an attempt was made at rescue but the little devil couldn’t be located in all the chaos and it really did seem to be the end of him.

       The Fire Brigade came and doused the fire properly and an Ambulance carted poor Bela away, hopefully to the morgue winced Arthur as the doors shut on the sheet-covered trolley. But no, an hour later the cretin was back, squawking like an Orc, nothing could kill him, he flopped back into his sooty flat and lived like a gnome baking in a witch’s oven, his crap continuing to rain down upon Arthur’s head.

“Woman raped on the thirteenth floor!” yelled Alice, “junkie overdose in Building B, a man beat his wife on Clisdell street, the Police busted those pill-pushers in Building D, there’s been three muggings and seven burglaries this week, and you’re not allowed to film in here, it’s government property”, croaked the skinny old bag in his ridiculous granny frock as Arthur wandered past with a video camera.

He/she was ensconced behind the new wire-fencing that caged off the separate buildings and was the latest attempt at thwarting rampaging interlopers, very easy to climb over. Arthur was annoyed that she nitpicked him when the day before she had primly watched as thieves carted away his new refrigerator that his mate had delivered to his door, and he snapped, “Why don’t you just stay in your cage Alice and I’ll bring you some peanuts later!”

There was always someone screaming out on the pathways, but Arthur had learned not to go out and investigate, because of what came to be known as “The Great Surry Hills Massacre.”  It happened only three months after Arthur had moved in and was his quick education in the downside of Northcott Gardens. This mid-twenties punk guy had been smoldering in his shoe-box flat for months without anybody noticing the warning signs of reclusive secrecy, paranoid temper tantrums and outlandish get-up. Arthur had passed him on the footpath late one night, he was wearing combat gear and a terrorist’s balaclava pulled down over his face, his empty eyes glancing from cut-out peep-holes; he reminded Arthur of Jason from “Friday the Thirteenth”, he gave him such a fright.

      The psychic bomb exploded after the arrival of his step-sister from Europe, when she unwittingly stayed at his flat, for the lonely desperado fell in love with her and held her captive to his psychotic, sexual obsession. He raped her repeatedly and tied her up when he left the premises, for weeks she was imprisoned and tortured, the one time he allowed her out was to go to the   Bank to withdraw some money, him holding her by the elbow all the way to the ATM.

“Woman raped on the thirteenth floor!” yelled Alice, “junkie overdose in Building B, a man beat his wife on Clisdell street, the Police busted those pill-pushers in Building D, there’s been three muggings and seven burglaries this week, and you’re not allowed to film in here, it’s government property”, croaked the skinny old bag in his ridiculous granny frock as Arthur wandered past with a video camera.

He/she was ensconced behind the new wire-fencing that caged off the separate buildings and was the latest attempt at thwarting rampaging interlopers, very easy to climb over. Arthur was annoyed that she nitpicked him when the day before she had primly watched as thieves carted away his new refrigerator that his mate had delivered to his door, and he snapped, “Why don’t you just stay in your cage Alice and I’ll bring you some peanuts later!”
There was always someone screaming out on the pathways, but Arthur had learned not to go out and investigate, because of what came to be known as “The Great Surry Hills Massacre.”  It happened only three months after Arthur had moved in and was his quick education in the downside of Northcott Gardens. This mid-twenties punk guy had been smoldering in his shoe-box flat for months without anybody noticing the warning signs of reclusive secrecy, paranoid temper tantrums and outlandish get-up. Arthur had passed him on the footpath late one night, he was wearing combat gear and a terrorist’s balaclava pulled down over his face, his empty eyes glancing from cut-out peep-holes; he reminded Arthur of Jason from “Friday the Thirteenth”, he gave him such a fright.

The psychic bomb exploded after the arrival of his step-sister from Europe, when she unwittingly stayed at his flat, for the lonely desperado fell in love with her and held her captive to his psychotic, sexual obsession. He raped her repeatedly and tied her up when he left the premises, for weeks she was imprisoned and tortured, the one time he allowed her out was to go to the Bank to withdraw some money, him holding her by the elbow all the way to the ATM.

The tension and horror built up till the ghastly morning when Jason’s paranoia went into a landslide, wiping away Northcott’s battered innocence for good. The miracle for Arthur was that the night before the disaster, he’d gotten restless and zoomed off in his Kombie van with a mate to visit Nimbin Town way up on the North Coast, otherwise he might’ve rushed out of his front door to see what the commotion was about and got himself killed. They called in at the Tuntable Falls Commune for the night and in the common room Arthur spied the television set shimmering on top of the fridge with what looked like shots of Northcott Towers. Then he saw his neighbor Dolly being interviewed and he got the volume turned up and learned about the shocking massacre.

On coming out of his flat, ‘Jason’ was called a “dole-bludger” by a disgruntled neighbor, which sent him over the edge, he had a loaded shotgun at the ready and he ran back and got it, returning to the corridor to shoot his persecutor dead. In passing his flat he shot his hapless step-sister, then kicked in the front door of another neighbor and shot him where he sat innocently in his lounge-room. He then shot another resident in the stairwell, marching down into the gardens and shooting at the strollers on the pathways killing one and missing the others, shooting holes in the laundry windows instead. He came upon old Scottish Jock toddling up the footpath, aimed at his guts and pressed the trigger but nothing happened, the rifle was empty. But the shock of it all caused the poor old fellow to keel over and drop dead of a heart attack.

Bravely sporting his combat gear, the bastard ran back up to his flat to reload and by the time the Police were wailing on their way, he was able to jog from the Estate and into the city, shooting one more helpless geriatric on his way out. They caught him in a 7/11 convenience store trying to buy potato chips and he got umpteen years in jail for his mindless, murderous spree, and Northcott got a life of sadness and seven more distraught ghosts to haunt the enchanted gardens.

       Even when the distressed Asian woman scrabbled at his balcony in the middle of him watching a thriller on TV, shrieking about having just been mugged of her handbag, it was a mate that went out to help her, Arthur had had it with the relentless, turgid dramas of Northcott, the place could tumble around him, he wasn’t going out for anybody, he stayed put in his shell. A flat on the twenty-third floor went up in flames and the Fire Brigade had a towering inferno to tackle, elongated ladders swayed uselessly from metallic red trucks like cockroach antennas, unable to reach the heights, with vast streams of water sprayed upwards from hoses like giant anaconda snakes. Search lights fanned across the colossal brick behemoth and lighted it up like a Japanese sci-fi movie set, tiny people running about screaming, it was spectacular and Arthur couldn’t begrudge himself a thrilling look-see for this one.

“Princess Di is dead! Crushed in a car-crash in Paris, along with her wog boyfriend, the Pooperazzis chased her into a tunnel,” trumpeted ancient Alice, now past eighty and not able to wear the king-hit punches as well as she used to. “A druggie was murdered up on the fifteenth floor, cheated on a deal, had a bent spoon stuffed down his throat”, she croaked on and on, seeming to get grim satisfaction at being a witness to civilization’s downfall.

Bawl and Cursula remained at odds, neither supplying the other’s wants yet yoked to each other for want of anything better, the money had long run out and they were on a Bupramorhine program, swallowing a ghastly poison for a year to counteract the other ghastly poison they’d pickled themselves with. And streams of foul language continued to flow out their front door, “Fucking cunt! You are one nasty piece of work, you evil bitch!”

“Ohhhh, Paul, I only suggested vegemite instead of jam.”
“Ha ha ha ha, ah ha ha ha ha ha ha, ah haha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…’, cackled Eric eerily from his balcony, the mad hilarity reverberating loudly between the buildings and providing musical backdrop to the bawling lovers.

      The ceiling also shook with industrial activity, Bela Lugosi sounded like he was building Leggo World up there, the clangs, boings, rattles, scrapes, bangs and tinkles unfathomable, and an infernal tap tap tap tap, as if he were eternally laying down carpet, but there wasn’t that much carpet up there to tack. In the still of the night there’d be an almighty crashing thump, metallic in its after-clang, as if a huge brass bed had been dropped, then a weird sound like ball bearings rolling across concrete, repeated over and over. It was a mystery what Gumnut was up to: making functional metallic Bau Haus furniture for dysfunctional, cubist Bau Haus architecture?

Most infuriating was the sudden eruption of metallic grinding, like a giant dentist’s drill straight into the forebrain. “GRRRRWHRRRRHHHHRRRRRRRRRHEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRR!”

Maybe he really was an Orc and the crazy freak was trying to dig the metal plate out of his bald, brown noggin? Arthur put up with it for years, trying to mind his own business, have his own rock’n’roll rage if he wanted to, putting his music up loud. It was the teeth-clattering drilling and grinding at three a.m. that flipped him into an epileptic furor, he was going to deal with that little wog reject once and for all. He leaped up the stairs and ran to his door, which was open, only the wire-mesh security gate locked. Arthur clattered upon the metal bars and screamed for the imbecile to stop the noise or he’d break his arms.

Looking through the door, Arthur was surprised to see the mentally challenged twat perched in his double bed in his bedroom, a fluffy quilt pulled up to his chin, his little gum-nut head shaking with dismay, and Arthur couldn’t figure out how he could’ve gotten from his grinding machine into his comfy bed so quickly, and there were no metal objects in sight, anywhere.

Imagining he’d entered the Twilight Zone along with many another Northcott denizen, Arthur was puzzling over the irrational scene, keeping up a torrent of abuse from years of grudges while Bela hysterically waved his stunted arms about and pointed with a grimace to the corner flat next door. Arthur didn’t get his meaning and the quaking gnome kept jabbing his finger, “Not me, not me, him, himmmm...”, point, point, point with the finger and Arthur flashed that all this time it hadn’t been Bela making the clanging, the concrete-crunching, the ball-bearing rolling, the steel teeth-grinding, it was coming from the flat diagonal to Arthur’s ceiling, loud enough to penetrate all the flats above and below.

He eyed the noise-crim’s door, no security grill, starkly bare and psycho-grimy, a “Steven King” kind of door, and Arthur banged hard upon it with trepidation and fury mixed. What came to the door shocked even his hardened, experienced heart. The crapulous door swung open and on the grimy threshold stood a blown up, body-builder with micro-encephalic shaved head, toadstool white skin and tiny, pink ferret eyes, blinking rapidly as he took in a fuming Arthur.

“Are you the one making that infernal noise with the grinding metal? You’re not allowed to operate industrial machines in a Housing Department flat!”
“Vho are you?” he snarled in a thick Russian accent, “goy who plays ze loud guitar?”
“Never mind who I fucking am, you can’t grind metal at three in the morning! It’s the most abominable torture for us who live near you!”

The Mr.Universe Morlock puffed up his muscles like a venomous toad, and took a step forward, growling, “Leetle fukker, I can break yoo in tooo, I do vhat I vant!” He flexed his windbags up bigger and Arthur took a step backwards, this guy was dangerous, no easy bitch slapping like with Bela the Gumnut.

“You don’t scare me, you over-blown fuckwit, everybody in this building will sign a petition to get you kicked out! You’re not fucking allowed to drill metal in a housing apartment!”

       This monster was a real Orc, he puffed up even further, there seemed no limit to the swelling, like a hideous, giant bullfrog. He took another step forward, his balloon arms groping. “My bizness, my bizness. Fukk ooff!”

“Oh, fucking Hell, you’re what they’re dragging out from Russia these days and dumping here! Touch me and you’ll be shipped straight back to Siberia!” Pink eyes blinking rapidly, the pallid lump made a lunge for Arthur who ducked and jumped back a few more paces.

“You’ll get kicked out of here, you fucking Soviet discard!” screamed Arthur and would’ve possibly got his head torn off except he was very nimble on his feet. But at the very moment he was wondering if he could fell the weasel Goliath with one swift Wing-chun kick to the nuts, an old man on the floor above leaned over the railing and yelled, “Yes, we’ll get you kicked out of here if you keep making that terrible noise. Stop the dammed noise!” The frog’s-belly white ogre froze in mid-lunge, looked up at the frowning old codger and realized he did indeed have many complainants, and he mumbled Russian curses in irritation as he backed into the fetid darkness of his cave-man’s lair.

Arthur glanced up at the old boy and threw him a salute, and breathing out in deep relief, hurried back to the sanctuary of his own colorful apartment, terrified for months that somehow the Russian albino would exact revenge upon him. The noise did abate though, the clanging, banging and skull-crunching thumps reserved for daylight hours, and the metal-grinding only heard once in a doleful moon. A huge enclave of Russian émigrés had been ensconced at Northcott, they even had their own satellite dish beaming kitsch Russian television twenty-four hours a day. They were a mafia in the making and Arthur had to be careful not to rile them up, he’d already fought with one hunch-backed old Commie over catching the lift in Building D, the nasty, old bastard had pulled out a tiny pen-knife and taken a few jabs at Arthur with it.
It dawned on Arthur that Ferret-head upstairs was an obsessive weight-lifter, heaving away in the grotty dark, perhaps with his brain shrunk by steroids, and the ringing, metallic clangs were the gym equipment banging against each other, the roof-shaking crashes and strange ball-rattling noises were the dumb-bells being heavily dropped and rolled across a linoleum floor, the interminable tap-tap-tapping was him fixing various weights upon the bar, and all the drilling and grinding was him making his own, personal dumbbell set, as if he thought he was still in a Soviet worker’s paradise, gigantic Northcott towers fitting the bill. A year later, Arthur was sad to hear from booming Alice that the supportive old man from upstairs had been bashed to death on his front porch, the culprit(s) never tracked down.

There was an open ground attached to Northcott Place called Ward Park, like the backyard of a psychiatric ward, a grassy mire where the unsuspecting had to ward off attacks. On a sunny day Arthur found it pleasant to stretch out on the desiccated lawn, ignoring the loonie who was screaming paranoid abuse from his balcony, and blissfully unaware of the disgusting dog shit he was stretched out upon. The park belonged to the dog people, doleful eyes and mangy mugs matching their dogs, they drifted like doting imbeciles across the entire field calling out fond pet-names, following their better halves which ran free chasing squishy balls and pooping to their heart’s content. By its atrocious stink, Arthur discovered the glue-like dog-shit sunk  into his new jeans and was irremovable, his brain short-circuited on watching one of the dog-people stand happily by while his horrid beast pooped his guts out nearby.

In a shrill voice he called out to the old mongrel, “Why don’t you get your filthy dog to shit in your apartment, it’s as bad as you taking a shit out in the open, it’s so disgusting!”

The grizzled old fart turned purple-red, white blotches flared across his mottled skin where skin-cancers had been cut out and, with dire menace, he growled, “Shut ya mouth, ya fucking poof! Get out of the park if you don’t fucking like it!” The old sod then threw his dog’s sloppy rubber ball at Arthur’s head, canine saliva splashing across his face.

“You horrible fucking old dog, I suppose you like it when you sit in dogshit!” His mongrel mutt fetched the sodden ball and, frothing at the mouth, the outraged gerrie again threw it in Arthur’s face, it’s gooey filth nauseating him and he screamed, “You pathetic old cancer-head, I bet nobody loves you and you’ve only got the dog, you probably fuck it out of desperation!”

The dog-man screeched as if he’d had a bucket of cold water thrown upon him, stomping up and down, squeezing his slushy ball, dog-juice oozing between his white knuckles, then tossing the slop at Arthur in a blind fury, over and over, the stupid dog running backwards and forwards, Arthur ducking every rabid attempt and laughing into his scarred-up mug.

A white-trash, junkie scrag turned up with her man-eater sized dog, it immediately taking a dump on the lawn to her grim approval, while the Melanoma gronk hurried over to her and whoof-whoofed in her ear, and they both frowned in his direction, growling in indignation. “Oh no, not another dog-person who likes to shit in public! You look just like your dog!” Her grimace could’ve fried eggs, she hurried back into the red-brick trailer-park strung along Devonshire Street and quickly reappeared with her scaggy, thug boyfriend, her hissing and his fists clenched.
He ran over to Arthur and yelled, “Repeat what you said to my girlfriend about the dog.”

“Letting the dog shit everywhere is filth, it’s the same as people shitting in public”, stammered Arthur as he jumped up and stumbled backwards, the young lout coming after him and throwing punches. Arthur retreated quickly, facing the guy and blustering anti-dog invective, with a few “No good, junkie arseholes” thrown in to egg the guy on. Half Arthur’s age, he was way too fit and tough for him, and Arthur was heartily tired of smashing flesh and rolling in the gravel, too much effort for little reward, the two of them would shred each other and regret it.

    Putting up little resistance, he was set upon by the agro-prick and walloped in the face a few times, knocking him to his knees for the seven hundredth time in his life. He bounced back up and continued the verbal tirade, but running off as he did so, the matter could keep. He learned from this to never come between a dog-person and their dog, it was a killing affair. Arthur had visited a dog-person’s flat once and was shocked at the mess, what looked like dog hair mixed with shit was smeared over everything and stained the walls to crotch level.

He eventually came to understand the love of humanity for dogs, the gorgeous creatures are the best of animals for lonely people to get really close to, he just couldn’t handle the dirt that went with it. He even longed to have a dog of his own but he travelled too much and didn’t have the heart to leave his beloved doggie with a stranger. Perhaps when he was 70 and given up wandering he’d get himself a furry companion.

The mangy Northcott crowd might call him a daft, foul-mouthed smart-arse, and he’d agree with them, though he was pleased to note that in the ensuing months he saw the dog-people scooping up their poop and plopping it in plastic bags, prissily, as good Tidy Town people should.

There was one other dog-man who lurked in the park that got on Arthur’s nerves, a real squealing geek, and Arthur knew not to go near him, he took the rancid cake for surreal idiocy. He was another steroid queen, about forty, blonde and pudgy, got about in tiny singlets and sheer track pants thinking he was sexy, and he had three miniature terriers that terrorized the park and never got a moment’s respite from his fixated parenting. They were called Rita, Tina and Fritz and, in the middle of ear-bashing about their latest tricks in a loud nasal twang to any lonely old biddy foolish enough to ask after the welfare of his little wards, he would break off to yell in a piercing shriek, “Rita, get out of those bushes! Fritz, stop muckin’ about with the Great Dane, Tina, get back here you naughty girl, stop bothering the old lady! Rita, you little bitch, I’m gonna give it to you tonight! Tina, I said stop it, I’m gonna smack your bum! Fritz, you can’t screw the Great Dane!”

He never finished a conversation with anyone, yelping the ludicrous pet-names at the top of his lungs, the canine theatrics made him feel important, wanted, gave him a reason for living, he was quite mad and it was pathetic. There were certain days when he locked the triplets away and sun-baked on his lonesome, sprawled out in the middle of the park wearing a skimpy g-string for all to wince at on passing. His pudgy muscles drooped, his hideous crotch exposed, as if he was on offer to any taker, desperate for a deviant in the vast, passing crowd.

      Arthur shuddered on tripping over the prostrate, naked blob, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and the flaccid queen hated Arthur on sight too, sicking the pygmy devil dogs onto him whenever they met in the stairwell. The minnie-mutts led the queen around on three leashes, like a gay Ben Hur in a surreal chariot race, yapping up a commotion and biting at the tenants’ ankles, her snapping, “Rita, Tina, Fritz!”, she was an ordeal to confront and Arthur had to cringe his way past her.

Then there was manky Norman, up on the ninth floor, dressed like a deranged garden-gnome with long, scraggly beard, pointy cap and stained overcoat, he wore a sign on the lapel stating he was a “Pure Vegan”, mad as a hatter but couldn’t get a pension as he was too kooky to fill out the paperwork, preferring to lecture the Centrelink workers on the nerve of the government wanting to know a person’s personal details. He never emptied an ashtray or washed a dish, filled his flat with broken video gear and old newspapers, crammed his bathroom with more rubbish as he didn’t believe in bathing, declaring it encouraged mold.

A wicked pot head, he spent much of his dole on the green tranquilizer and fell years behind in his rent, getting called to the fearsome Housing Tribunal seven times, with an ongoing, silly rave and the promise of paying it back in dribs and drabs, he never got evicted, they knew him for the fruitcake he was and couldn’t throw him on the streets. He would knock on Arthur’s door when least wanted, offering to share a joint and rave about the finer points of community television, Arthur studying his grotty clothes and hairy, crusty mouth and rejecting the offer, having to be his rude self to get the creature to desist. Arthur didn’t need any more fuckwits in his life, especially smelly schizos.

The weird schizophrenic universe still managed to penetrate Arthur’s domain, water started seeping through the wall between his bedroom and that of Eric the Viking next door, then it welled up through the floor and turned the concrete to a swampy sludge. He called in the plumbers who dug up his bathroom and couldn’t find anything wrong, though it was noticeable how water leaked in streams from the front of Eric’s apartment. Yet whenever Eric got a spot inspection, after many complaints, his den was as dry as a bone, not a drop of water on the grimy floor. This went on for a year, a rank miasma issued from Arthur’s bedroom and he sank into the spongy concrete every time he went to the toilet, nobody could solve the mystery of the virgin spring, and it was ruining Arthur’s well-being.

He rang the Health Department and cried to a sympathetic officer that he was dying of jungle-rot and she must’ve put the wind up Northcott’s front office for a team of trouble-shooting bureaucrats rushed to the spot and held a blab-fest on ways to tackle the dilemma. For once, crafty Eric was unable to cover his mess and they found water trickling out of his foundations and, demanding entrance to his aggressively guarded crash-pad, discovered the zombie’s bath was overflowing, the tap left running, as ever. Arthur related the facts of living with Eric to them, how he howled and laughed like a hyena and disturbed a thousand people, and the housing officers nodded grimly, they’d deal with it.

    Arthur got a new linoleum floor and three months reduced rent. Eric got his bath torn out and a shower cubicle installed, and once a week a pair of community nurses called in and gave him a shot of slow-release, anti-psychotic drugs, his maniac laughter reduced to a quarter of its strength and his aggression appeased till he even said “Hello” when lurching past on his frequent peregrinations. And Dolly crossed herself in thanks, she was to get some peace at long last. It was Dolly who had cut the ribbon on the new Northcott Building back in1960, with her good character she had outlived a multitude of villains.

On a fine winter’s morning, Arthur was awakened by the clamor of the police, they were in the backyard yelling up at the building and he poked his head from his balcony to see what was going on. A skinny hoodlum was clinging to a ledge up on the third floor, threatening to jump, the cops trying to talk him down, a flurry of concerned blabbing belted back and forth while a platoon of cops stormed the building. Arthur greeted them outside his door and they wished him a jolly good day but warned him to stay inside his apartment. He went back to bed and assumed they’d succeeded in rescuing a poor suicide until foghorn Alice blared out the bad news from her cage on the footpath.

“He was a serial killer, murdered three poofs, had a fight with one boyfriend in Building B and cut his throat. Then ran over to your building, to his other boyfriend on the third floor, chopped him to bits, left the headless torso in the bath and threw the head down the garbage chute. He’s a suspect in the killing of another gay guy three months ago, they got him off the balcony, saved the bastard’s life. The Cops are on the job, you can say that!”

Apparently, Stan, the sturdy soldier who’d worked Northcott’s front office for twenty-one years, was asked to identify the body in the bathtub. Hacked up, without a head, it was a blood-curdling sight and poor Stan fainted in horror, carted away on a stretcher, he quit the job not long after and sued the Department of Housing for gross negligence, he’d had to handle a plethora of grisly scenarios in his pen-pushing career and he’d never been trained or counseled for a whit of it.

     Bela the Gumnut upstairs tried various money-making ventures in his empty days to give his cheap arse a lift, worst of all was the beehive on the balcony for free honey, a swarm of terror-bees fleeing the plastic flower jungle and zooming into everyone else’s apartment, Arthur himself getting a wicked sting in his ear-hole one night when he lay his head gently down to sleep. Lately the fool had resorted to lugging home truckloads of old cabbages, rescued from some lost veggie market’s dumpster and with an eye to making a killing in home-made borscht, he piled them up in the corridors, the backyard, the surrounding gardens, rotting and tripping up the tenants. Arthur imagined he’d been body-snatched and the cabbages were his replacement pods. 

Tony and Dravid made friends with Dolly again, the cold war had rankled their gossip circle, once again they cheerily warbled mindless drivel to her as if butter wouldn’t melt in their butts, and Dolly forgave them their insults, she wanted a general armistice between all parties down there in the basement for a tranquil, golden end of days, but Arthur never forgot their insulting behavior, and the steam-dried lovers and he continued with the nauseous smiles whenever they met.

Bawl and Cursula, after more obnoxious wrangles, came to an arrangement where Bawl got custody of their daughter, along with his parents, and went to live with them so the little girl had a safe and clean environment. Cursula was the worst mother on earth, while pretending to care with saccharine platitudes thrown about as if to fool anyone listening, actually couldn’t give a shit about the girl and was relieved to have her taken off her hands so she could wallow in drugs and garbage. Bawl brought her to visit her mother every few  weeks but the child was so horrified by her mother’s living conditions she wasn’t too keen to come often.

Whether Cursula ever got a fuck out of Bawl again, Arthur couldn’t have cared less, to his relief they definitely made a break of it with drugs and persevered in the Bupramorphine program, and became two reasonable human beings to deal with again. Bawl swore from then on he’d give her a wide berth and she got herself another boyfriend, a fellow substance-abuser, who often flipped when on a drug-rampage and attacked Arthur’s security door, nearly tearing it off its hinges.

Not too long after dolorously fog-horning the news of the hijacked planes knocking down the New York Towers, Alice Bluebonnet died, she’d reached her mid-eighties and was still game for a midnight tryst with prowlers, only she somehow contrived to fall through the wooden floor of her flat, breaking her legs and hips in the process. In hospital, she refused nourishment, determined her time was up, an end to scouring the gardens of Northcott Place for nefarious interlopers, Alice was off to join his beloved wife in “The Happy Hunting Grounds”.

    Her flat and place on the pavement was taken by a mentally challenged young woman who ran up and down calling out to her demons in a sing-song voice or wailing about being raped by the latest dickhead to think her jolly raving was a come-on. She yelled from her window, screamed from deep inside her flat, sang out on the pathways and clamored from behind the wire caged back-yards, a verbal diarrhea of nonsense, her joys, her pains shouted out in gospel sing-song, a non-stop opera from Hell right outside Arthur’s window.  

After years of pleading with the Order of Brown Nuns to put Eric the Viking Berserker in assisted care; they did so, and he disappeared, never to be seen again. In his place was put a sweet old lady named Sandy who was a relief compared to Eric, except for once a month she went on a terrible booze binge and then screamed the place down. As a drunken banshee she had it in for the gay couple, staggering down to their door waving a butter knife and screeching how she was going to cut their balls off.

One night Dravid chased her back up the verandah, she ran into Dolly’s flat and slammed the door in his face. He banged furiously on the door growling on about teaching old biddies a lesson they’d never forget. Arthur heard it all and his blood boiled, he poked his head out and snarled at Dravid, “You’re real brave standing over old ladies. Why don’t you have a go at me, that’d be a more fair fight?”

“Mind your own business!” he snapped and scurried back to his own flat. In the meantime Dolly had called the cops on him. When they showed up she told them the whole story, going back over the years of harassment, plus how two of her grandkids were also police. The cops went to Dravid and told him if they ever heard one peep about him annoying old women again he’d be out on his ear and into the slammer.

Dolly also pointed to Arthur’s flat and assured them, “That guy there is the only one that sticks up for us, he’s protected us many times and is the best neighbor I’ve ever had.” From that day on Arthur has imagined that the cops have given him a break, when called to the dump for some outrageous trespass they don’t hassle him like they used to. Nor when they catch him riding his bike unlawfully, they look him up on their computer, they read something then give him a surprised look and let him go all friendly like.

There had to come the sad day that dear old Dolly, at the age of 94, couldn’t cope anymore and had to go into a nursing home. Arthur visited her and commiserated with her mortality, and after only a year she died. At the Catholic Mass the family organized at St. Peter’s, situated right next to Northcott, the church she’d attended for fifty years, hundreds of residents attended to pay their last respects to the much loved lady, the real queen of the working-class housing paradise.

In the middle of the service that ugly undertaker, Dravid, like Boris Karloff in “The Body Snatchers”, barged his way onto the podium and led the procession in front of the coffin, pompously holding a brass  mace aloft, ahead of the priest swinging the incense, as he were the master of ceremonies. Dolly’s family, sitting up front, all clenched their jaws in dismay, but grimly kept their silence as they didn’t want to ruin the solemn occasion, but they knew the full sordid history of this “bad neighbor”. What a debacle for Dolly’s last testament, Arthur thought on hearing about it; thankfully he was away in India wandering the Himalayan by-ways, otherwise he might’ve collared the creep.

Life in the basement was never the same without Dolly, Arthur still saw her every morning when he went out his door, then realized the void that could never be filled by her demise. He missed her sorely, thought of her every day, with her kind gesture of always bringing him a snack when he was down and out and nobody else loved him. She would live forever in his heart as well as that of her family; he’d fore-grounded her in his painting of Northcott that the Sydney City Council bought and he hoped that in his small way she would thus be remembered. 

The flat she’d lived in for fifty-odd years, bringing her kids and grand-kids up in, was quickly cleaned out and handed to an old Russian gronk who never actually lived there. He would appear once a year to collect his mail and handle any officious paperwork, then disappear again, probably back to Russia. It’s a mystery how he got away with it, perhaps someone in the front office covering for him, and the gay couple down the end of the verandah seemed to be in on it as it was them handing his mail to him, all palsy-walsy.

And the grisly dramas played on, early one morning he was awakened by a loud knocking on his door, and falling out of bed he staggered to answer it, quickly wrapping a cotton dhoti around his naked waist. The door creaked open to reveal two cops, a terse, blond female and a wimpy, dark male at her broad shoulder, (déjà vu, such pairs must come off a conveyor belt as Arthur kept meeting them.) She took in his bare torso, the tattoos, the morning piss-fat bulging at his crotch, and smirked in shock. The tough blond recovered her cool and asked Arthur his name and birth-date, which really annoyed him; an innocent lamb he brusquely told her the bare facts, then she asked if he heard anything at two a.m. in the morning.

“No, I was awake and reading a book and I didn’t hear a thing. Why, what happened?”
“A young man’s dead body was found just beyond your stairwell there. Know anything about it?” she quizzed, chewing gum to come across as intimidating.
“Not another dead body? They rain down around here like frogs! Last night was quiet as a graveyard, not the usual brawling and cursing, not even a yelp. Dead quiet.”

“Thanks for your input, we’ll notify you if we have further questions”, she spat cynically out of the side of her mouth, the male pig “harrumphed” and they turned on their heels and strode off to their next interrogation. Later Arthur heard from a mate who was on the scene that a young guy from upstairs had come home drunk, and having locked himself out, had attempted to climb up on the balcony railing to scramble through a window, but slipped and fell three floors head-first onto the concrete paving. “Revenge of the poltergeist” mused Arthur, lounging back in his Bohemian basement den, “maybe we’re truly on cursed ground.”

     In the middle of this long series of crazy character-driven melodramas and tragedies, Arthur managed to create a comfortable art studio where he drew, painted and filmed the animation for his celluloid obsession, “Virgin Beasts”, and innumerable other cartoons, comics, posters and flyers. For awhile the place actually did allow him to flower, his art was bright, challenging and funky, and surviving the murders, the muggings, the mayhem, he was strong enough to maintain the happening work-space indefinitely and could’ve produced more wonderful stuff to boggle the brains of his fellow homo sapiens. 

     Except “The Father of all Fuckovers” intervened and changed his life-path, and it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t live in scummy, old Northcott Concentration Camp, where trouble brewed like shit in the municipal ponds. 

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.