Monday, August 12, 2013

44) In the Belly of Queen Victoria.

By the mid ‘Eighties Arthur had devolved into a true desperado,  hustling everybody he met for a break, virtually homeless in the squats and often starving. Nobody would give him a job, he couldn’t sell a painting or raise a budget for the grand movie in which he could make himself a star. He was too proud to scrabble for scraps off the floor at Paddy’s vegetable market, too paranoid to shoplift and too straight to be a drug dealer.

While he’d grown out of his psychedelic phase, the oncoming rush of the LSD trip too harsh for his paranoid sensitivities, for spiritual inspiration he did imbibe the occasional Goldtop mushroom whenever he went up to Nimbin Town, and thus he never did come back to earth. Add to this the oppression he had lived through due to his sexuality and it was easy to see why he was never going to settle down into steady, respectable employment and good citizenship. He was in a constant spin and smoked marijuana often, male leaf which he grew in pots on his squat roof, to quell the pain and relieve the depression his iniquitous life gave him.   

A side-effect of all this was intense insomnia, lying in his squalid bed thinking on and on about his mistakes, the beatings, the failures and the wrongs he’d suffered. One morning, restless and hungry, he went out into the city before dawn in a somnambulist fugue to wander the empty streets and peer in at the shop windows to contemplate luxury toys he could never have and expensive food he could not consume. It was outside McDonald’s restaurant at Town Hall Station that he went insane from the aromas wafting out at breakfast hour. He dreamed of heaped-up scrambled eggs, muffins and hash browns, to fill a bathtub with the crap and veritably bathe in it, but he didn’t have a cent in his pockets and could only drool in frustration.

He wandered on, forlorn, across the road to the Queen Victoria Building and cringed under Her imposing statue before the front entrance. He’d not noticed it before but behind the statue was a wishing well, full of glinting coins and he wished fervently for them. The coins were for charity and lay at the bottom of a pool protected by a grate. Arthur had a brainwave, and a quick try snaking his right arm in and out of the water confirmed that he could get his arm under the edge of the grate and scoop up the coins, for his own charity. It would be better, he reasoned, if he could get right in the basin, dive under the water so as to reach further and scoop up more coins. He would have to go around the corner to change out of his clothes, stash them and return with just his overcoat on over his undies. And on the spur of the moment, thinking of hot buttered muffins, he did it, snatching up a plastic bag on the way. 

He strode back to the wishing well, disrobed and jumped into the basin, taking a breath then diving under its freezing waters and squeezing his arm under the grate to shovel coins into the plastic bag. He had to come up for air often and dive again, merrily eyeballing his haul each time and determined to filch the whole cache. Just as he thought he had enough of the treasure, clutching the plastic bag, he peered up through the murky waters and hallucinated two wavering shadows looming over him. He rose up, the nightmarish vision gaining solidity as the waters parted, for when he broke the surface he found himself in the presence of two uniformed Security Guards standing over him, like Godzilla sea monsters.

Before they could grab him he emptied the bag of coins back into the well, then stood there dripping pathetically in his undies, sheepish and humiliated. The Security Guards hauled him out of the well and glared at him with scorn. What a sorry fellow he looked, semi-naked and wet, skinny and glum. Arthur dragged on his raggedy coat as they marched him through the front entrance and into the gloomy dark bowels of the Queen Victoria Building.

Leaving wet footprints on the nice black and white tiles, he was taken down to the basement to a Security cubicle and shoved onto a wooden chair facing a bank of video-monitors. The Guards guffawed and pointed at the screen showing the front entrance, Queen Victoria’s cursed statue and the dreaded wishing-well, artistically lit up like a theater piece. Damned video cameras, by the mid 1980’s they were ubiquitous, there would be no more sneaking around, for there were spying eyes in every nook and cranny, just like in the dystopian society of “1984”. 

They regaled Arthur with questions, “Why’d ya do it? It’s a shocking crime, stealing from a charity, Blind Children no less! What are ya, some kind of social freak? Getting around in ya undies, disgusting! What’s ya problem, are ya a mental case?” To which Arthur sullenly replied, “Why was I born at all?” They kept up the badgering, trying to solve the riddle of his pathetic existence. He was sick, “SICK, that’s it! Ya got AIDS! Aaagghhh, AIDS!” This was the era when AIDS had broken upon a fearful public and, to deadheads, gays were suspect and blameworthy.

“Have you got AIDS?” they kept asking him, Arthur keeping quiet, he had no interest in educating prejudiced yokels; to mean spirited people he was condemned which ever way he turned. He just gave a doleful, cryptic smirk, let the gronks think what they want, he had to worm his way out of this mess somehow.

Now they kept their distance, didn’t want to touch him, afraid he might bite them. They rang for the police and waited anxiously, squirming around the cubicle, they’d captured a plague-ridden zombie and wanted to be shat of him fast. Fuck, the police! Arthur had to come up with an award winning performance to escape this imbroglio. It came easy, he was a born actor, he shrunk in upon himself, hunched over dolefully, presenting as a leprous old Harold Steptoe-like figure under the gaze of displeasure from the Oink Oink brigade when they finally arrived. 

The Guards told the Pigs they had no case against Arthur because he had jettisoned the stolen coins back into the well and, as he was such a sorry-arsed AIDS-carrying fag, he should be gotten rid of post haste. Chilled to his soul, Arthur whined and muttered nihilist existentialism and anti-fascist diatribes, reinforcing their view of him as a nutcase, possibly rabid, and with much disgruntlement hustled him into the back of a Black Maria van, keeping him at arms length all the while. Arthur sniffled and cringed and wondered where in Hell they were taking him.

He could see himself in jail, then in Court, accused of robbing Charity. Uuuggghh! Such ignominy was hard to bear, still, what was one more burden on an already overladen donkey’s back, he was used to it, he’d overcome it, in fact he was a maestro at bearing up. The Pig van rumbled through the dawn streets of Sydney, Arthur apprehensive as to his destination, "Aumming" his mantra to center himself as he was tossed to and fro by the rough driving of the Oinkers. After an interminable tour of what seemed the underbelly of the city, up and down streets and around countless corners, him hanging on for dear life, wet and bedraggled, the van screeched to a halt in a back lane of Woolloomoolloo.

The back door of the van was ripped open and he was unceremoniously turned out onto the gutter’s edge, at some arcane Pig-shop, or so Arthur feared. But no, the Pigs shot off up the street without a word, abandoning him in the twilight silence of dawn.

The next thing he knew, he was being ushered into a building by a smug, staid social-worker type who tut-tutted about gay losers and the devil’s children. On seeing several crucifixes and a crew of ragged derelict men clamoring at a breakfast table, Arthur realized where he had been dumped. The Mathew Talbot Hostel for Homeless Men! Yeeha! He was saved. The cops had shown mercy after all. The good Christian worker blathered on and on about fallen humanity, trying to get Arthur dressed in their drab, institutional clothes, but he mumbled excuses about his own clothes being out in the alley and was permitted to go fetch them.

He rushed out into the clear, crisp morning air of freedom and off across the city of Sydney to retrieve his clothes from where he’d hidden them, for it was still early morning and there were few about to witness his antics. He then ran all the way back to his squat in Pyrmont, to tremble and rue his luck under the blankets of his rickety, lovely pauper’s bed. He thought of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment", things were bad but not that bad. Then he fell asleep, hungry and safe.

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.