Tuesday, March 29, 2016

64) Like a Replicant Dreaming of Freedom at the Chestnut Tree Cafe.



Arthur looked up and sensed that the fashionably dressed people around him were simulacra of Bohemian artists, somehow not real, mere projections of an all encompassing media; when he pulled the plug from the wall they would fade away like profiles on a computer screen. 

His disillusionment with contemporary life had continued into the 21st Century, where interactions were superficial unless it was with a government spy, who dug deep with a cutting smile. There was a pretense at caring for one’s fellow human beamed from all the technology crammed into every crevice and it really bugged him because you could die on the street and most would walk on by. Everything had a use-by date, friends and enemies included, not much had value except for that ten square feet of real estate which one had to spend an entire working life to pay for. All news and entertainment was blood-drenched to remind the workforce that peace was precarious; war against “The Other” played a major role in economic growth and everybody better watch their arses.

Arthur noticed the glazed eyes of the people near him and thought they behaved as if they were brainwashed, doing what they were told, work, breed, consume, shit, die, with the latest transient fashion hanging from their shoulders and stuck to their butts, faux feathers and reptile skin all the rage, it made them look like raptors. Thus industry flourished and profits grew, for the elite few who owned it all, the workers getting low pay as always, failing to get a better share of the fruits of their labor, for the Unions had been dismantled and jobs were hard to hang onto. Identity, heart, self-worth, attempts at fame and immortality were up for sale in a con-job virtual world while the actual world, the environment and the social, disintegrated.


Neo-liberal privatization was the new “State-sanctioned”, there was no public sector support for true innovation and social benefit, just what could make a profit. Creative individuality was crushed and mass hysteria raged across the planet, mobs of citizens could be conned into any foolishness by the all-persuasive media: meaningless conceptual art, vapid repetitive spectacle, ubiquitous phantasmal threats. 

He cringed as he imagined the social-fabric being woven of a cross between the Party Members of 1984 and the Replicants of a Bladerunner future: a privileged upper echelon obeying any crazed order from “The Great Leader” and helping to create the rules, lording it over the gronks, the underclass of slaves who worked for little to secure less, no jet-packs, no robot servants, no new anti-biotics, just the same old same old crap and disease; at war with the Replicants, cloned robots who’d broken free of their chains, rebelling against their lowly, impoverished status and wanting desperately to be fully human, to go beyond their shelf-life, willing to kill their creators and triumphantly take their place. 

Head-shots of Big Brother, the world’s number one Media Mogul, whom the peasants called “The Turd Doc”, frowned from the covers of magazines, wall-posters, laptops and the television set in the corner of the Orwellian Cafe. He was deathless, had ruled forever, perhaps his wealth had truly found him the elixir of extended life, something that didn’t apply to the plebs, they were doomed to short lives; it seemed as if there would never be change, humanity would always be a slave race, no global equality, ever beholden to a supreme leader. It reinforced Arthur’s paranoia, that there was no way of escape, no freedom to realize his potential, no encouragement to think clearly, to find a way to somewhere better.


He tore his gaze away from the television set, from the images of endless sports, piles of food, singing budgie talent quests, bovine home-renovation nests, serial-killer quiz shows and a thousand brands of the same toothpaste which clawed at his consciousness, attracting his thoughts like bugs to an ultra-violet sterilizer, Big Brother’s face flashing subliminal and continuous throughout.

He thought back forty years to when he’d first entered The Chestnut Tree Café and found his cozy seat in a corner, imagining he’d found a sanctuary for freaks and thus was safe. But surveillance even then was ubiquitous, CCTV cameras planted inside and out, and spies from the police and newspapers infiltrating, pretending to be punters. Those were the bad old days when love between those of the same sex was forbidden and smoking the sacred herb was ruthlessly prohibited. Arthur could only make secret signals to possible paramours and potheads across the room, swap proscribed books under the table instead of burning them in orgiastic public bonfires, and pass love-notes undetected, to meet outside somewhere for a quickie, and a spliff to relax before and after the sex. 


And if caught, it was off to mental hospitals and jails where one was bashed, raped, dehumanized, reduced to a blithering automaton willing to spout any nonsense in praise of The System. Nowadays gays were welcomed into the Fold, there were too many of them to exclude, and they were such great consumers and stylists, running with the herd without question. He was no longer a freak because of his sexuality, it was his cynical attitude, socialist politics and need to keep bucking "The System" that made him an outlaw.


One day even pot would be legitimized, first as a medicinal panacea to the dying, eventually as a recreational inebriate, there was too much money in it, in taxes for the State and profits for the entrepreneurs. Hard drugs were already on the menu for disaffected types, with shooting galleries, needle exchanges and Nazi methadone programs to control them and provide a willing army of entranced zombies to suck cocks and break rocks on the highways. Big Brother thundered daily how it was those damned Hippies who persevered in smoking ganjha, growing it in their backyard and resisting The Privatized State. As a human sheep-farm, Auz would be the last place in the world to cave in to the obvious benefits of a cannabis economy; the right-wing scumbags would milk all they could from petroleum products first. Whatever the economy he would remain disgruntled for he detested being a slave, working for a pittance at some soul-less number-crunching job.

He pulled his cap down lower upon his face hoping to hide his characteristics, the surveillance cameras were swiveling and a few of the plebs at the other tables had their laptop-cams pointed his way. Thank no god he’d left his cell-phone at home, at least THEY couldn’t track his movements and calls. And he’d stopped using his own laptop except for receiving the most rudimentary information from his libertarian activist mates, for his key-board action told THEM everything THEY needed to know about him, the use of his search-engine providing algorithms that could be fed back to him to mold his personality and control his desires and thoughts. He swiped a buzzing mosquito from the air as it hovered over him, it was probably a nano-camera looking for anything out of the ordinary. He was determined to be his own man, desperate not to give himself away, for it would mean brain-wipe for the “Matrix” factories at best, or worst, fed to the “Soylent” machine.


While long ago it had been drug-addicts and sexual deviants who had to be expunged from the body politic, the Thought Police had moved on to terrorists, jihadists and anarchists and they in turn had been annihilated or co-opted. Nowadays it was non-conformists in general that were in the Pigs sights, for terror came in many forms, graffiti artists, rappers, ravers, rockers, shop-lifters and computer hackers, all equally an affront to good citizenry; an obedient ant-colony society was the goal and anyone who even slightly strayed off the straight and narrow was suspect. Again, all for the high-lifestyle of a few to the detriment of the many. Oh how he dreamed of a truly egalitarian world where everyone had not just enough to survive but plenty of the things that made them happy, and all without destroying the biosphere.

The conformist mindset was bad enough but to Arthur the impossibility of the global set-up was also its irrationality; while the modern world was created by and dependent upon Science, Big Brother’s paradigm was anti-science, imbued with religion and superstition, to keep the masses muddle-headed Arthur supposed. Religion supposedly fostered a pseudo-humanism where everybody cheesily cared for everybody else, but in reality people lived by shredding the skin from the backs of whoever, in the name of capitalism and profit for the wealthy few. And to convince them to put up with their pathetic lot they were promised eternal heaven after their short, miserable lives. The Catholics were the worst, eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood at their public mumbo-jumbo spectacles, a true metaphor for how the toiling masses were living these days. And if you didn’t go down on your knees to such medieval ignorance you were branded a witch and burnt at the stake.


A flood of gloomy missives beamed down upon him from the giant video monitors: young, smooth faces gazing sternly and mouthing directives: "Snitch on anyone who looks deviant or old!" The over-population of the planet was the bug-bear of the age and terrible programs had to be employed to keep the numbers down and make life in the cities somewhat bearable. The elite who ran the world could probably live past two-hundred years but nobody was telling the facts about “The Chosen Ones.” The rule for the majority of society was no one should go beyond sixty, so as to give the younger generations some space and a chance to climb up the shit-heap. At the back of every hospital was a “euthanasia room” where an oldie’s favorite music was played while a hotshot was delivered by a smiling nurse; quite humane but still something Arthur hoped to avoid for a few years yet.

He had good genetics, and had practiced yoga since boyhood, and thus had not aged as badly as his fellows; his face still wrinkle-free, his posture straight, his walk brisk, he could fool any cursory glance thrown his way. He’d dyed his hair black, wore youthful clothes, and attempted to melt into the crowd but still kept his face shaded as staring into anybody’s eyes could give him away, and everybody was a snitch these days, for Big Brother was always right and must be obeyed at all cost.

 

He was considering making a break for it, gazing out the door of the Hunger Games Cafe to see if the road was clear. “Oh nohh!” he thought, “the nano-camera must've sent out a signal, here comes Monday K, (K for Kafka, Klu Klux Klan and Kellogs Korn Flakes), and I don’t  like Mondays!” Snitch extraordinaire, she was a failed television star, hungrier than a smack addict for elusive fame. She’d been on a daggy kids TV show for seven minutes, conning the children with saccharine platitudes into thinking the world was safe and everybody loved them. She’d been quickly sacked because she’d pushed the real star out of the way and hogged the camera’s limelight.

She’d never gotten over it, ever trying to crawl back into the public’s eye, no matter who she stood on. She crashed every stage and act she could, had meltdowns, threw tantrums, shoved her face in front of whatever headline-act the gig was billed for until she was hated by all whose paths she crossed.


Arthur had previously given her three chances, to be human and real: the first time was when he’d told her long ago he’d won the Freakzone Film contest in France, her flat face fell in a grimace, bile was on her tongue, she resented someone who’d done better than she, and she’d turned her back on him. Oh well, you can't please everyone.

The second time was when he was talking to a young man who ran a secret music/cabaret venue, much desired by underground artists, and was considering giving Arthur a spot on his illustrious stage. She’d sat nearby, eavesdropped on their conversation, quickly sidled up to the guy, batted her scraggy eyelashes at him, flashed her flat, bony chest for him to ogle, then whisked him to another table to try and wangle a show-biz deal for herself, leaving Arthur to eat her body odor. All's fair in love and war he surmised.

On the third affront Arthur gave up on her. He was receiving a check for $1000 for winning the Kings Cross Art Competition for subversive pamphlets and somehow she’d bulldozed the judging committee into being the one out front to give the prizes. As she presented Arthur with his money she hissed into the mike, “A thousand bucks, hmmppphhh! Haven’t we all received a check sometime in our lives?”

Arthur smiled tightly in response, “Yeah, well, you’ve only ever gotten a social security check!” She was a XXX bitch and here she was again, outside the Cafe Sunset Boulevard, waving a tacky video camera, for she was now the great “videographer”, about to conquer the Internet and tell tales to a gossip-hungry public.


She came in and sat with an old gay twerp, laughing loud and inappropriately at his every comment, laughter that grated on Arthur’s nerves, it was so over the top hysterical. All the while she surreptitiously tried to point her camera at Arthur, like some spy for Big Brother’s all-seeing eye. Arthur flipped and yelled, “Don’t aim that fucking camera at me or I’ll throw it in the gutter!” She kept pointing it like a witch’s wand. “Put that fucking camera away I said!”

“Oh, who’d want to film an ugly old fag like you anyway, Arthur?” she cackled.
“Fuck you, you flat-chested scrag, just keep it up and you’ll lose your precious piece of junk!” fumed uptight Artie.

She put her toy in her lap and sneered maliciously. Vitto tut tutted in dismay, being an incorrigible star-fucker, she was an old favorite of his, low-echelon has-been though she was, any monster looked good to him at his gutter level cabaret. Arthur marched out of the Body Snatcher’s Café and sat at an outside table to fume into his café latte.


He thought of all the fame-whores he’d met along the way, all trying to climb the pyramid of celebrity shit. And at the top of the shit heap, Big Brother, Media Mogul and overlord of the world who had possibly put a contract out on his life. Arthur thought back to that time thirty years previously, in 1985, when he was up for his big arts award at the Australian Film Institute. “The Thief of Sydney” was nominated for best animation and he’d gone to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel dressed as a punk matador to scandalize the culture vultures. As he was going into the venue, a pack of reporters from ‘The Daily Terror” newspaper asked him for an interview and photo but Artie, with his girlfriend Sylvia Saliva, gave them the finger and screamed, “Fuck off, ya yellow press dickheads!” to their utter shock.

He’d then marched inside to the ballroom and sat at the Cinderella table-settings with on-the-make movie stars, directors, producers, bureaucrats, industrialists, even an ex-prime minister, all slapping each other on the back with “In the club” conviviality. Every film up for nomination got a sound-bite presented large upon the dining-room wall to which the crowd paid full attention. Arthur’s moment came and some clever scallywag at the AFI had chosen the bit from his cartoon where a futuristic Big Brother-like wall video presented an announcement from “Turd Doc”, Emperor of Sydney. He said, “You Too Can Join Elite.” Arthur’s hero, “the Thief”, graffitied under the video-wall, “Krap!” and then a vicious robot dog burst from the pavement and tried to tear him to pieces.


The elite crowds’ collective jaw dropped, their eyeballs popped: what temerity this gutter-snipe from the streets had, to take the piss, lampooning Big Brother, right in their smug faces. Arthur smirked in return, it was his great artistic moment, having a David-like potshot at Goliath, but he knew his brilliant career was over before it could even begin. But what else could he do? He had to be honest and real, that was the duty of the artist as far as he was concerned. Fuck the Powers That Be, They’d never let him out of the gutter anyway.

His attention was drawn back into the conservative, neo-fascist third millennium by hearing his name called, “Arthur. Arthur.” He looked up and there was Vitto, standing in the Café doorway with the horrid Monday beside him and she was aiming her camera at him, getting a good shot of his face when he looked over, a supercilious grin on her mug. To Arthur she looked like she’d been hit in the face with a frying pan, such was her ugly, flat visage. And worse, she had the grimacing smile of a Gorgon that would turn the balls of Hercules to stone.


Beside her was Vitto, with his mischievous grin, helping his best girlfriend get her black-mail video footage, she’d use it some time in the future at a non-event to defame Arthur. She had only visited the café once every seven months for the last fourteen years, and even then begged for a free coffee, not what you’d call a regular supporter, unlike Arthur who’d spent 7 to 21 dollars there every day for 42 years and gone through sunshine and swamps with the old fairy-queen no matter the kicks in the arse he got for it. Some loyal friend Vitto was, thought Arthur as he drifted away, his shoulders hunched against the chilly winds of a merciless world.

He decided to give up on the Café Divergence and leave Vitto to the mercy of his clamorous friends, monsters of non-stars. One of whom wrote a musical about it and got Vitto rehearsing “Tales of the Piccolo” day in and day out for months till the poor old sod, at eighty years old, had a heart attack and needed a triple by-pass operation. The Café closed while he recuperated at home, it was an empty husk without him, somewhat akin to a tortoise shell without the tortoise, (he even looked like one.) If the Terminator Café was ever to open again, they would have to sit old Vitto in the very corner where Arthur used to ponder his travails, and keep the old bugger very still and quiet, otherwise he was likely to bust a valve.

Vitto did indeed return to that corner-seat, as yellow as his nicotine-stained photos of stars of yesteryear that used to cover the walls, his body was giving up on him and the good old Pick-Your-Low Cafe was on its last legs. His family had renovated the shop so that its funky old decor was sanitized and half the seating removed. With the old crowd dead and gone, and the 21st Century falling upon their heads, it was a brave new world, one that Arthur didn’t care much for and he’d be lucky if he survived it.


For Arthur, there was no other club, it was the last of the freakzones and, anyway, “any club that would have him he didn’t want to be a member of.” It was there, over the years, that he’d planned out his epic tome, “The 7 Lives of the Punk Poofy Cat”, not just an attempt at “liberation literature”, more specifically, it was gay liberation literature, as in the 21st century homos across the world still had an ongoing struggle to exist, find happiness and realize their potential. Especially fucked over were the old non-conformists, there was no safe haven for them, they were destined to be faggot fuel for the ever hungry power-stations. 

He had no family to support nor consuming desires to quench, he wasn’t interested in the compulsory sports pushed upon him, the cooking shows nor the home renovations, and he didn’t want to waste his entire precious life in being a wage slave; fifty per cent laboring in nursing homes, the houses of the dying, would be enough, the world of the living was what he desired to make his escape into, where intense euphoria could sweep his troubled soul away. He would dedicate most of his energy to art, knowledge and adventure, and would die dancing along the infinite highway with a song on his lips, hoping to find compassionate love in his heart, somewhere, fuck the Cafe Over the Rainbow.


Arthur was determined to break free, fly from the rusty cage of his freak’s comfort zone, and Vitto’s disloyalty and the café’s devolution gave him the excuse he was looking for. It had once been rock’n’roll when rock was dangerous and quirky, now rock’n’roll had been replaced by robotic machine-noise, and drinking a cup of coffee anonymously was a feat difficult to accomplish. He needed to continue his quest for enlightenment; the Naked Lunch Café had gone dark, the light extinguished. He determined to get lost on the road, disappear in the bigger world, dissolve into the dust.

       Or, surviving that, as the years drifted by, he would keep to himself in his own personal freakzone, his apartment at Northcott Housing Ghetto which he had turned into a laboratory, scouring the Internet for designs, building a time-machine from discarded junk found in the Estate's dumpsters. If Big Brother was truly watching, THEY would use it and gain the knowledge that THEY couldn't fuck with the future, the great masses of people of the world would swing it their way eventually, democracy always won out. 

 

He was also working on longevity pills for the common man, long-life non-toxic batteries and 100% efficient, cheap safe solar panels His individuality and non-conformism were the key to innovation, new ideas and daring experimentation. Oh, he was a very clever man, but THEY wanted to stop him, his inventions put an end to THEIR private ownership of the forces of production. But he would escape, into his own head if nowhere else, like the worm Ourouberos swallowing its own tail.

He was a space-cadet in a time-machine of his own devising, a crazy anarcho-mystic wanker in his cell, contemplating it ALL. The one thing he could appreciate about being a citizen of down under Auz was that maybe he could live out his life there if he hid well enough and kept to the shadows.  

Though Arthur was dirt poor and ignominious, another loser ready for the compost heap, his non-career as a renegade had made him feel real, with a purpose: a warrior in the righteous battle against tyranny, his heart worthy of his intelligence. It had been a huge buzz standing up to Big Brother and giving Him the finger, regardless of his eventual disappearance.






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.