Lessons in Native Fauna

I read this story at a Penguin Plays Rough storytelling event held in The Rocks by Word Travels. Old Yeller was beaming down with his big face, trying to kill us all, but it was grand.

Intellectually I think we all know that Australia is trying to kill us.  People overseas know Australia as the place where crocodiles fight sharks in the water, and if you manage to escape them, there’s a horde of spiders waiting on the shore, weaving webs of silk and lies. People overseas get the danger – it’s why they liked Steve Irwin so much. They saw him as a perfectly rational response to our death-trap of a nation. They think that kangaroos hop down George Street with an unholy cocktail of crocodiles and Taipan’s hiding in their pouches, and only Steve Irwin had the guts to wrestle them into submission and send them back out into the desert.

Us locals know that the kangaroo death brigade is hyperbole. In fact the majority of Australian’s are fairly lax about the ever-present spectre of painful death that hangs over us. Every summer the news is filled with stories about the aggressive Funnel Webs living in our kitchen, or the Redbacks in our toilets, or the sharks in our paddling pools – but it’s always something that happens to a friend of a friend. We are careless. Australia is deadly, but Australia is also patient. It waits for your guard to be down, before it strikes, like a Cassowary going for your eyes.

 

sharkpool

My story begins at a time when my guard was down so far, that people who are clinically dead have been known to have more peripheral awareness. It was the perfect time for Australia to punish me. I was in that magical state of half-being known as university break. I was minding my parents house and by extension, looking after their pets. A glorious month where my responsibilities were so few, that watching a documentary on sloths could fill me with anxiety. I was so lazy, that instead of making a sandwich, I would sit in front of the fridge and eat all the component parts separately. My bar job had recently cut my shifts to four hours a week, for the ultra-legal reason of ‘not wanting to work with a fag’. I had to feed my cat twice a day. This was my life.

On this particular day I was doing season six of my epic Buffy re-watching marathon. It was around midday and I’d been watching since breakfast the previous day. I was naked, curled in a nest of junk food and wine bottles. At some drunken point the previous night, I’d put on a cape made from a bed sheet and hooked my sword on to a belt that hung from my bare waist. I was borderline psychotic, not really able to understand that I wasn’t some kind of terribly plotted character from the Buffy universe.

As I watched and stewed in my own awfulness, I heard a strange bumping sound coming from up the stairs. I paused the DVD, and listened as it continued. My first thought: it’s my parents, coming home from their holiday early. I, their 22-year-old son is naked, wearing a cape and has a sword strapped to him.  Why couldn’t they just catch me injecting heroin like normal kids? But that thought was thankfully dismissed, when I realised my mum probably wasn’t yowling and hissing. The sound of struggle continued, and I had an inkling of what it could be. My cat, Lily, was rescued from the local graveyard, where she probably survived by killing vampires. As a sign of her affection to me, she loved to leave headless birds or defenestrated rats on my pillow. Maybe she had some poor native creature in her talons and was dragging it up the stairs for me.

I finally got off the couch, ready to rescue a cute lorikeet or possum baby or something, only to be confronted by the sight of my cat dragging a fully grown brown snake behind it. Brown Snakes are only the SECOND most venomous land snake, so at least there’s that. The snake was writhing furiously, trying to escape from my cat’s jaws. Lily looked wide eyed and panicked, as if she had literally bitten off more than she could chew, or as the other popular saying goes, ‘had a live brown snake in her mouth’. She struggled for a few more moments, and then looked me in the eyes and let it go.

The Brown Snake reared up and started lunging at Lily with horrifying speed. This was it – this was my moment of testing, the instance where Australia throws something horrible at you and decides whether you deserve to live or die. My reaction, I believe, can only be put down to the 40 straight hours of Buffy I’d been watching, the sleeplessness and also, let’s not forget the fairly considerable level of inebriation. Because as that huge fucking snake bared its fangs and struck at my cat, I unsheathed my sword, and chopped its goddamn head off.

Well – I tried to. Due to ‘the law’ my sword, an authentic Omani cavalry blade, was blunted. So when I hit the snake, with my best, two-handed blow, it kind of just launched it across the room into the kitchen, where it hit the wall with a splat. I might not have beheaded it, but I did cut fairly deep, and it proceeded to lie there and slowly bleed out in a huge puddle.

Now, let’s all move past the fact that this is my one moment of heroism and despite looking ludicrous, wang flopping obscenely beneath my cape and all, this was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done, or ever will, in my life. Let’s move past it, because what I did after it is really fucking weird.

I was suddenly hit by a giant wave of adrenalin. Despite the snake being really dead, the adrenalin also bought a bunch of fear. I became obscurely terrified that someone would know what I had done. I had to hide the body! So I scooped up the still bleeding reptile, stuffed it into an empty Oreo box and chucked it into the next-door neighbours yard. I then attempted to clean up snake blood using windex and paper towel, a practice I don’t recommend to anybody. If any of you are thinking of committing a murder, you probably don’t want someone with this degree of poise helping you dispose of the body. But after the fear died down, and the pigs were unable to track the notorious ‘snake-in-a-box’ case back to me, I realised something marvellous.  Australia tested me, and in the face of danger I proved that I could be mildly effective. I could survive whatever this enormous danger-island sent my way, survive and then panic absurdly afterwards. Thanks, Australia.

My first jacket (Or the time I went to the Arctic and burnt things)

I read this at The National Young Writers Festival 2013 as part of the ‘First Time for Everything Event’ which was maybe my highlight of the festival? Who knows.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my time on this moist round planetary mass that we affectionately refer to as ‘Earth’ or sometimes ‘The fantastic spinning volcano orb’, it’s that everyone has a weakness.  A weakness that we can identify and exploit for business reasons.  Now I’m not talking exclusively about Limpy Joe and his shattered femur – sometimes a person’s weakness is less obvious, and less awesomely accessorised by a sword-cane. A weakness can be a soft spot for corn-based foods, a hatred of tight hats perhaps. For me, it’s a psychotic desire to own pretty jackets. You’re probably saying ‘plenty of people like jackets, just the other day I wore a jacket to work, Patrick, you’re a fool, I won’t stand for this, I won’t stand for the beautiful lies coming out of your vile yet enticing face-hole.’ And you have a point, my pompous hypothetical friend. Lots of people wear jackets – it’s one of the top five established garments. Number one is pant. But few people lose their entire shit immediately when confronted by jackets like I do. I am normally a mildly fiscally responsible person, due to never having much in the way of fiscals, but I have, and probably will again, spend every dime I own on a neatly turned lapel, leaving me without the ability to pay the rent or feed my cry hole.

This all started when I was eighteen, and on a jaunt in the city with some of my new university friends. Everything was fresh and startling, and I was enamoured by catching public transport and drinking midday beers and feeling fresh spring breezes on my stupid innocent face and also having friends for the first time ever. We spent the day browsing shops in Newtown, and at one point wandered into a place called Gallery Serpentine, which was full of elaborate Victorian era goth frocks. At this point in time I earned my coin by folding cardboard boxes in the loading dock of Target Miranda, and assiduously trying not to get involved in the crime ring that operated from it. Money was not a plentiful thing in my life, the cardboard box folding industry being a skilful job with few rewards. So it was with great surprise that I walked out of that shop fifteen minutes later with a beautiful Victorian Priest’s coat that had cost me five hundred dollars.  It was a full length jacket, which flared out slightly at the hips, with a high collar. If you can’t visualise it, think of what Professor Snape wears in the popular Harry Potter movies. Now you also know what I dress up as for Halloween every year.

But at that point, suddenly deprived of my ability to pay for basic essentials, I had to somehow validate my impulse purchase. Since I already knew there was a vast dearth of Victorian weddings for me to officiate any time in the near future, and since I also possessed a flagrant inability to travel back in time, this meant I now simply had to wear my ridiculously formal coat everywhere. Starting with my very first university house party on the upcoming Friday night. I felt there was certain symmetry to wearing my first expensive article of clothing to my first ever house party, proving that I had no idea what the word symmetry means.

partty

The party was at a sharehouse nicknamed ‘Gaynor’, a clever reference to the fact that it was a house on ‘Gaynor Avenue’. Gaynor was the quintessential sharehouse – large sprawling rooms in various states of decay, rumours of a ghost, a certain odour, a tobacco stained roof. Once I spilled an entire bottle of red wine onto the carpet, and when I came back with some paper towel, I couldn’t find the stain. The carpet was… thirsty. It was the kind of house where once I went over and one of the hosts was super excited about a roast dinner he was cooking. The whole place smelled amazing, as he’d been slow roasting all the meats and vegetables in the oven for the majority of the day. Finally that night, we all crowded around in anticipation as he opened the oven and pulled forth the tray, only to discover that somehow, in a mystery unsolved to this day, a basketball had melted over the top of the roast, ruining the entire meal.

But none of this had happened yet. It was my first house party, and I entered it dressed like a scary penguin, armed with two bottles of Passion Pop. Immediately I discovered one of the greater faults in my long list of ‘why it is a stupid idea to wear a $500 jacket to a house party’. And that was the fact I was terrified of getting it dirty. Someone reeled towards me, splashing red goon with wild abandon. A giant naked man, smeared head-to-toe with blue facepaint tried to hug me. Later on I held my friend Jimmy’s hand as he peed in the middle of a freeway, and managed to avoid him getting run over by a truck, or worse, wee-wee on my coat. I soon lost all sight of having fun, and instead viewed the party as an elaborate scheme to ruin my coat. I was like a mama bear, protecting her baby bear that she really couldn’t afford in the first place.

As you have predicted by my sneaky ‘smoking gun’ writing technique, I later drank those bottles of Passion Pop. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t hold my alcohol – eh, I can’t even lie. I’ve never been able to hold my alcohol. I got spectacularly drunk. And the majority of the rest of the night comes mostly from corroborated sources, who delight in telling this story over and over and over.

At some point, it became increasingly obvious due to the large line of people with giant inflated bladders, that somebody had locked themselves in the bathroom. After a bunch of hollering and knocking, it was decided to knock the door down. This was unsuccessful.  Then my friend Willis was taken outside and boosted through the window, ignoring its protective layer of glass. Once Willis dodged the razor sharp panes and extricated himself from the sink, he discovered the bathroom had been transformed into a place of rare horror. Judging from the descriptions, it sounded like someone had gone to great pains to vomit on every surface available. The floor, the walls, the mirror, the toothbrushes. That someone was me, and I was passed out in the bathtub.

There are people at parties, who no matter how drunk they get are still great forces of organisation and sanity. One of these people decided they had to get me out of my vomity clothes. My shirt came off, as did my shoes, but when they got to my pants, they discovered I possess a kind of unconscious kicking instinct. In the face of such stout opposition, they very rightly gave up, leaving me facedown, half naked in a bathtub in the middle of winter, junk exposed, unconscious.

Now this is where things begin to get weird, and where I begin to remember stuff again. I woke up, and I was cold. I was shivering violently, my face pressed against something icy and white. I raised my head as much as I could, and saw only whiteness stretching out infinitely in front of me. With all the sexy power of hindsight, I now realise I was simply looking at more bath, but in my inebriated state, I decided that what I was looking at was the vast snowy wastes of the arctic, or perhaps the Antarctic, I couldn’t remember the difference. How did I get in the Arctic? Why was I naked? Why did everything smell of bile? These are all excellent questions that I didn’t bother to think about due to my fear of dying from hypothermia. Now what happens next I can’t justify with any sort of logic, but I can only ask, what would you do if you were suddenly dying in the arctic? A little bit of empathy, please. Because with great difficulty, I managed to find a lighter in my pocket, and proceeded to set my own hair on fire. It wouldn’t catch – so twisting my body around, I saw my saviour hanging on the wall – a roll of toilet paper. Let’s ignore the incongruity of toilet paper hanging in the arctic – let’s ignore it, because I have already set it on fire. It quickly spread to a pile of magazines and gross urine splattered books and old toilet rolls. The fire might not have generated enough warmth to save my life, but it did create enough smoke to alert the rest of the party who then came in and rescued me, or as they saw it, stop the drunken psychopath from setting things on fire.

thearctic

The next morning I glumly helped mop up the vomit, sweep up the shattered glass, scrub the burn marks from the wall and help re-screw the door onto its hinges, and amongst all the devastation and filth, untouched and pristine in a neatly folded pile, was my jacket. My stupid, beautiful, jacket.

NYWF 2013: The most wonderful time of the year.

I love NYWF. And so does Shalane.

I love NYWF. And so does Shalane.

 

Hello jerks and jerkettes,

Just a quick note to say that if you are coming to TINA or the National Young Writers Festival this long weekend, there are plenty of times where you can come and see me do some sort of thing. Really, I’ve kind of over-committed, it’s a bit dumb. Let’s break this down:

Thursday 3rd October:

Launch Launchpad

Relaunching The Sturgeon General along with a whole bunch of quality publications, I will be saying a thing and then introducing Jack Vening and his talented mouth-words to speak at ye.

Friday 4th October:

Sick As

I will be reading a story about being sick with some other writers, I hear on good authority someone is writing about sperm. I am writing about spiders.

First Time for Everything

I am super excited about this one, I’m reading a story with some absolutely hilarious people. They are:  Ben Jenkins, Tom Ballard, Jessica Alice, Seaton Kay-Smith, Alexandra Neill, Dan Ilic, Patrick Kelly, and Nick Sun. God damn this is going to be good.

Saturday 5th October

Too Close For Comfort

A panel where I am talking about collaborating on artistic projects with someone who I collaborate in the bedroom with, if you know what I mean. Actually our desks are in the bedroom too, so that is where all the collaboration tends to happen. Collaboration. Cahoots. We should use cahoots more often.

Sunday 6th October

Funnies Workshop

In this workshop, me and Sexy Tales Comedy regular Daniel East try to teach some tips about how to write comedy. It may or may not involve us laughing at our own jokes and high-fiving each other. Most of the slots for this are already booked up, but you can email them by following the link.

Late Night Reading: Good Neighbours

I loved the Late Night Readings at the last two NYWF’s, so it’s great to be involved again. I will read out some sort of thing.

Please come and say hi to me, I am sometimes awkward and standoffish, but that’s because I am probably just scared of you looming over me, and you just need to bend down and let me sniff your fingers and then I’ll be your friend.