Saturday, June 22, 2013
36) At the Cafe of the Fool's Nemesis.
He stared into space, stoned, lost to his surroundings, lost in thought. Where had it all gone wrong? When he was born, the low station he’d been born into? When he hit puberty and found his sexuality aberrant, his personality disordered? When he crash-landed in Sydney, choosing the wrong city to operate from, a city rigidly class conscious and cruel? No matter, he couldn’t afford regrets, he tried to let go of his grudges, it would only drive him further into madness and dysfunction.
He snapped to attention, aware a garrulous fool was asking him a question, hoping to impress him with a rambling story about what a hipster he was. Arthur knew he didn’t really rate when, in the middle of his reply, his vacuous companion looked over his shoulder to see if anyone more glamorous had come through the door of the Piccolo Bar Cafe. He gave up, Hell indeed was the need for other people, and they didn’t give a fuck, wasting one’s time, gazing fixedly into their own narcissistic projections; he wondered why he bothered, no one seemed to have anything really interesting to say.
Can a few words in the right place save someone’s life, or change History, by inspiring a different course of action and thus defying fate? He cynically didn’t think so. He knew he wouldn’t have listened if someone had said to him not long after his arrival in this convict city, “Leave Sydney now, it’s not the city for you, go overseas, you’d stand a better chance of being recognised as a happening artist!” He had persevered for he felt a burning desire to prove something to the country that had bred and fucked him. He ordered a café latte from Vitto, the grungy Italian barrista, maitre’d and carnie-barker for this Café on Desolation Row, and he thought of Godfry and his shocking story, that not even Mother Theresa could’ve averted, with all her pious prayers and words of wisdom.
Arthur and Vitto agreed that Godfry was one of the best looking, hunkiest of men they’d ever clapped eyes on, good natured and masculine, alluring and athletic. Arthur remembered the night he’d sat at this very table with young Godfry, smoking a joint in bonhomie, before the shit came down. If only he’d spoken up and said what he truly thought, he might have helped avoid a lot of angst. Nobody was listening, what to do? Godfry had inherited the Cafe Bread and Circuses from his Uncle Ozzie but he was only nineteen and had grander ambitions, too young and silly to take charge of a Second Reality Cafe. Whereupon his father, Joe Pollenta, stood in the breach and tried to run the Cafe for him, keeping old Vittorio on as front man and star attraction.
Joe was dying slowly from prostate cancer and was in no fit state to handle or humor the rag-tag, freaky crew that frequented the Kitty-Litter Café. He particularly hated drug dealers and addicts, loudly bemoaning the Welfare State that supported them, forever trying to rouse the dazed Kings Cross Businessmen’s Association into cleaning up Roslyn Street of all its suspect denizens. Joe’s own daughter had been a long-time heroin abuser and had dragged him to the end of his tether; after all the wheedling and stealing he could only ban her from his presence, and blame drugs for all that was wrong with the world. His rancor built until he took to carrying a gun and waving it at would be drug interlopers, frothing at the mouth, scaring them off, for awhile, and scaring most of his fainthearted customers as well.
All the excitement was doing poor Joe in, arse on fire he called in the cavalry and hired a Security Firm to visit the Cafe three-hourly to check all was quiet on the battle-front. Whenever trouble exploded, the Security Guards came after the event, making of themselves an added nuisance by glowering at the innocent potheads cowering over their coffees. Joe badgered the Police into harassing the area’s vagrants off the scene, any Bohemian type got questioned and searched, and the Café regulars couldn’t talk their subversive bullshit or smoke their ganja in a relaxed and civilized manner. As a last resort, when some down and out junkie proved particularly tenacious at clinging to a table or shooting up in the dungeon toilets, he called in his burly son, Godfry, to beat the shit out of the recalcitrant. There was much muttering and moaning of shock-horror from his peacenik patrons who had to witness the degrading spectacle of humans reduced to punching bags. The Café was devolving into a zombie-plagued wasteland, not like the Golden days when Ozzie ran everything smoothly, and the place was a haven for artistes and intellectuals.
The mutinous mutterings against Joe wound down and the regulars stuck to their perches, for they belonged nowhere else. Vitto endured every calamitous brouhaha, ignoring the blandishments and threats thrown his way by the never-ending stream of seductive hoods, coping with Joe’s cranky peccadilloes and the cacophony of abuse and demands from the Café patrons. Joe had been a Security Guard himself for twenty years and dreamed of his son going one rung higher and becoming a Policeman, the epitome of a respectable career in his eyes. Godfry should have settled for the Sacred Weed Cafe; with pot dealing on the side it was a hip, viable business, but why be a small time crim, he thought, when you could get into the big-time and get a Doctorate in Crookedness simply by joining the Police Force. He was smart enough to realize he could amass greater wealth under the cover of a Cop, a legalised, protected criminal as it were.
Thus Godfry and his father’s dreams vaguely coincided, though Joe would turn to stone if he knew the eventual outcome. That night when they sat at the table together, as he passed the joint, Godfry told Arthur that he was applying to the Police Academy to be a Cop. Arthur should have strongly emphasised, “No, don’t do it! You’ll make your family miserable, destroy your youth and bring on ruination for all. Everyone will hate you and disown you. You are inviting disaster and damnation!” Instead Arthur said nothing, he just mouthed platitudes like “Everyone’s gotta do what they gotta do” and “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be”, toking on the spliff, smiling enigmatically, for he hated Pigs and hoped never to know one. What to do? Godfry had a date with his Kismet.
While most people derided Joe as a mean old dork who wouldn’t even give Vitto a Christmas bonus, Arthur still liked him, for he was a stalwart old bastard, straight forward and upright, gruffly naïve for all his conservative, narrow-minded views. Poor Honest Joe died of cancer within the year and Godfry went on to become an outstanding Police Officer who tried to corner the franchise on party drugs for the inner-city ravers, running his whole operation from the Bondi Junction Police Station. His partner was a steroid-addicted fellow cop by the name of Johnny Stompano, not too smart, but as an over-muscled body-builder, could stomp on anyone who got in their way. Together they hustled the Sydney-city clubs and ware-house raves, the gyms and beach-side cafes, selling Ecstasy tablets, marihuana, Acid, Speed, cocaine and steroids by the plane-load, and, devil may care, they sampled too much of their own wares. It all got away from them, blew up in their faces, and try-hard Old Joe rolled over in his grave.
Urban Myth would have it that Godfry’s courier, a naïve French guy, also sampled the goods he was carrying, taking copious amounts of Ecstasy and Acid on a three-day binge, till in the end he didn’t know which planet he was on. He tried to do a runner with all the contraband but Godfry and partner were on the trail and soon caught up with him, for there was no way they were gonna let this French wanker rip them off. They cornered the tripping Frenchman at dawn on Bondi Beach, he blathered on idiotically and was about to give the game away to anybody with ears to listen, slashing a butter-knife at the demonic cops’ advancing upon him. They wanted their drugs back and they wanted him to shut the fuck up! But he kept on babbling, waving the knife in their faces, he was in Lala land with the fairies and ogres were about to devour him.
A crowd gathered to watch as the pressure mounted up, Godfry and Johnny the Stomper both shaking their Service revolvers at the Frenchman, screaming for him to put down his weapon. The group hysteria ballooned, the maniac tripper jerked about like a robot in shock, the Cop’s fury flared white-hot, and the onlookers screeched. Godfry was drug-addled himself, lost in the heat of the moment, there was no way out, the fucker wouldn’t shut his goddamned, thieving mouth and chill out! Rave! Rave! Rave! Blam! Blam! Blam! They shot him dead.
The ensuing scandal shook the Halls of Piggery to their dungeons. While Godfry was hauled over the coals and indicted for murder, his partner fled to New Zealand where he eventually hung himself in his hotel room from the shame of it all. The outrageous details of their drug business were revealed at the Inquest, and it was mooted that their tentacles of corruption spread far and wide in the Emerald City. Johnny Stompano committed suicide over the mortification he had caused his good Italian family but he should’ve braved it out because after many years of investigation and sub-trials, like every other cop ever accused of anything, Godfry got acquitted of manslaughter. As a Police Officer who had suffered a stressful situation in the line of duty, he was allowed to get away with anything, cops being masters of mayhem. To this day his name is whispered ingloriously amongst the cognoscenti of deadbeat Café society and the stupid mug must hang his head in regret that he never took on the Dumb Luck Café where he could’ve led a laid back life, Prince of the Potheads, lording it over the hordes of damp-squids and bandage-queens.
If only Arthur had tried to talk him out of the Pig idea but he couldn’t have influenced such a destiny, he was hard put to organise his own affairs, waking life was like a dream in which one tried to wrest control and provide direction while a hurricane raged about one’s head. Swimming in a torrent of chaos, distracted, it was a miracle he stayed afloat and it was a hell of a job to get focused. All was in flux, the Café shimmering, its collective particles colliding, scintillating, as if experiencing the flashback of a psychedelic hallucination, life-forms rushing by like in a time-lapsed film, the light strobing, darker, fainter, until the Café Time Machine disappeared and Arthur passed out, too stoned to care any more
Before cranky, upright Joe Pollenta died, fed up with all the malicious dramas, he tried to sell the Lifeboat For Losers Café but there were no takers, it was too much trouble and quackery for most businessmen's taste. In fear that he’d have no reason for living if he was booted from his galley-post, Vitto mortgaged his apartment to raise the money Joe hankered for and thus, in his old age, Vitto had finally become the owner of the establishment he’d slaved in for forty years.
Vitto had humored, outwitted and cajoled the druggies for the longest time and they were unable to drag him down so easily, and while the Ship of Fools Café felt like it was sinking into a morass of self-indulgent mind-obliteration, it was full steam ahead as far as the Old Queen was concerned. Night after calamitous night, Arthur jived to all the Café’s shamanic gigs with Vitto as the old Berdache, nights like a cave-man’s seance attracting restless spirits with a never-ending variation on absurdity, a freak-show wherein Vitto was the Mother of all Monsters. Movie stars, non-stars and monstars patronized the Vampyres’ Crypt Café over the years, Vitto welcoming them in like a camp Count Yorga, and if he were asked who was the Crown Prince of Monsters he would unreservedly shriek “Arthur Farthing!” and cross himself, for he was still a good Catholic, lapses notwithstanding, and Arthur was a child of Lucifer.
Arthur had worked hard to be the accomplished monster he was, he’d studied under Grand Masters in Divine Foolishness, and nobody could crack a ribald triple entendre, a salacious witticism, a scathing curse, faster than he. He often had Vitto lamenting his victimisation because he couldn’t get the joke, he had no sense of humor about himself, moaning like a mock-turtle, “Oh why don’t you cunts leave me fucking alone? Why are you always putting shit on me!” Arthur treated the Café like a stand-up comedy club with Vitto as the straight man, and he milked the silly old poof for every laugh he could get. The passing crowd lapped it up like it was a twisted Laurel and Hardy born again show.
Vitto loved to waffle on, making grandiloquent pronouncements about obscure, meaningless Hollywood movies and Arthur would tear him to shreds by making up ridiculous titles like “Splendour in the Arse” starring Arnie Shwartzbugger and Dolly Farton. The bad joke would suck the silly queen in for awhile, mulling over the conjured-up, sordid movie scenarios, then he would suddenly realise his third leg was being yanked and he would hiss, “ Is nothing sacred in your fucking universe, Arthur?”
Vitto loved to dish out the crap but couldn’t take it, so it was with mischievous pleasure that Arthur constantly teased the old Fairy, and anyone else who wanted to join in the banter. To Arthur, Reality was a Divine Comedy of Horrors; laughter made the sadness bearable, if he didn’t laugh, he would cry, like Jimmie Dean at the police station, Beauty could only laugh in the face of the Beast. The very mention of that long dead film-star would suck Vitto into the movie histrionics further, mooning and ballyhooing, as if he were drowning in a bottomless muck-pit of Hollywood detritus. Movies, shmovies, he went on and on about them like a scratched gramaphone record, lamenting the passing of the “Golden Years”, “they don’t make stars like they used to” and "where has all the glamour gone?" He was a fan of Mussolini, pre World War Two in mindset and he couldn’t swing with the pop culture of today. The rest of the peanut gallery joined in on the litany to the gods of the silver screen and Arthur found plenty of dumb opinions to crack apart with bad jokes.
Arthur felt fearless, he had been through a thousand levels of Heaven and Hell, been called every fag-cunt under the sun, sat with the mighty and the humble, won a few accolades and suffered many kicks in the arse, and nothing seemed to really phase him any more. Life was short and shy boys got left without a dance. Toking down deep on his joint, Arthur reminisced into his cup of café latte on how it had been a long, bloody hard road to attain his kind of resilience, confidence and humour. He’d lived through much to become a monster freak and was determined to make subversive use of it, the sacred cow of celebrity-mad Sydney needing badly to be satirised. Ever the horny satyr he determined to be the satirist to do it.
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.