About four years ago my partner and I moved into a shitty apartment in a shitty suburb named Sutherland. Stained beige carpets crawled all the way to flakey white walls and the smell of old cigarettes and fried food wafted through the hallway like a depressing zephyr. I remember as I shifted a microwave up the long hallways, a bald goblin-man came out of his apartment, looked at me, inserted his hand down his pants and then whispered ‘Well, well, well…’
On one balcony overlooking the security door sat an overweight man in various Hawaiian shirts with two young, bored looking Vietnamese ladies. The first twenty times you saw this tableau was unremarkable – just some people chain smoking in gloomy silence, necking from bottles of five dollar goon. Until the startling realisation, somewhere around a year later, that you’ve never, ever looked up at that balcony and NOT seen them. Rain, scorching heat, the middle of the night or the early morning. Always there, never aging. As if someone had set up the worlds most depressing animatronic ride in a terrible theme park called Sutherland Land.
Below us was a lady we named ‘Shouty Mum’ who I’m sure I’ve written about before. We always knew Shouty Mum was awake due to the aforementioned shouting. She spent her time giving tirades against her two early primary school children, which consisted of topics like ‘I’ve never known anybody who touches their poo’ and ‘Food doesn’t go there!’
But all this was nothing compared to the realisation, the day after we’d moved all our belongings into this hell-hole, that the apartment was swarming with fleas. Now, our real estate agents, a shadowy corporation called ‘East West Alliance’ which was clearly a front for some kind of international crime syndicate (my money is on white slavery) dealt with our panicked pleas by hanging up on us. So it was up to us to fork out the money for pest control. But all that’s behind us now, a misadventure of youth that I can use to lecture other peoples children when they’re experiencing teenage misfortunes in the future, which I can only imagine will be robot acne. An upsetting period of time that I’ve left behind – that is until it followed me.
You know that one hot day that just happened in Sydney? Forty three degrees, bushfires, hot wind like someone forcing a packet of silicon gel down your throat? When I came home from work that night at around 9pm, and walked into my house which radiated trapped heat like a raft of boners, I had a tried and tested plan to get through the night. There would be no sleeping, I knew this. So it was going to be fantasy books and tall glasses of Hendricks and tonic and cucumber, built over so much ice. So after setting this all up, I sat on our sweaty leather couches, took a sip of my drink, and then freaked out as fleas attacked my neck. After running around in circles for a little bit, I realised that Sutherland had followed me. You can leave Sutherland Land, but Sutherland Land never leaves you.
The next day, I rose with the dawn from my moist bower and realised I had two options. I could collapse in a quivering ball of pity and terror, hoping the bloodsuckers couldn’t climb stairs into my bedroom. Or I could devise a plan of attack so ruthless and relentless that Nixon in the middle of the Vietnam war would have been like ‘Woah, dude, u srs?’ From research I discovered that the fleas had laid eggs in our couch, which had hatched all at once from the heat, mistaking it for the delicious comfort of being buried in a bison’s coat or something. So before I could do anything else, the couch had to go. It was a large three part leather monstrosity, inherited from Bridget’s grandparents. Heavy, sturdy and in various states of dilapidation. Unfortunately we had literally just missed the local free council cleanup, so I wasn’t able to put it out on the curb, lest I face a hefty dumping fine (which would probably be enforced due to all our nosy neighbours). The only other option was to put it out in our tiny back courtyard. However the problem my housemate Stephen and I discovered was that they didn’t fit through that door. It was also at this time that when try to maneuver a section, I caught a glimpse into a foam section and saw a horrifying eco-system of crawling fleas. They were attacking Stephens hands and my ankles. There could be no vacillation. Fifteen minutes later, I was now a man who possessed a crowbar and a mallet. I named them ‘Russell Crowbar’ and ‘Chris Hemsworth’ and used them to systematically dismantle our couches so we could put them outside.
It was hard work, a mixture of precision destruction and wanton violence. At one point I felt a pang of conscience – while the leather and foam was in fairly bad shape (and SWARMING WITH FLEAS LETS NOT FORGET THIS) the frame was so sturdy and well made. The Ikea furniture of today just can’t compete with the great slabs of hardwood and bolts of aged iron. It seemed such a shame to break it into kindling.
But then I opened up the largest couch slab and found a fully formed ants nest. I’m not talking about some ants – it was like looking into a glass ant farm, except without the safety and security of a glass wall. There were weird white drones and strange constructions made of dust. In the middle there was a huge Queen ant, strangely melded into the wall. I couldn’t quite face destroying all that, so I isolated it and put it outside to deal with later. As a strange aside, when I did finally deal with it, the nest had fully evacuated, leaving only the weird abandoned organic spires and the Queen, dead, with her head chewed off.
There were days of washing anything cloth from the loungeroom and vacuuming and chemical bombs. The couch was separated into its composite parts. I realised this was the closest I’ve ever been to dealing with a corpse, and as I skinned the leather and bagged the stuffing, crushed the sturdy frame with a mallet, I knew that I would probably be fairly decent at hiding a body.
The fleas were dead, my campaign waged with grim brutality. While I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the experience, I did come to appreciate two things. The first was my efficiency. I want to be the kind of person who when presented with a problem is able to smash it with cleverly named tools and shopping lists on my iPad and plans and stratagems. I don’t want to feel helpless beneath the relentless assault that is life. Which brings me to my second point – action. 2013 has been a dick-tornado of shitness. Deaths in the family and the slow, agonising, heart breaking onslaught of Alzheimers. The kind of inevitable sadness of age and circumstance. I went to stay with my parents at the worst of it, when one grandmother had died, and the other was in the process of being put in the dementia ward. My parents were so sad and tired, and I found that my only real function was mixing endless gin and tonics and pouring wine. When the people you love are in pain around you, you want to fix it. If only there was something for me to smash up and move away and bomb the shit out of. Instead it’s just about weathering it. Letting the horror happen and getting to the other side. But not with fleas. With fleas, I’m Genghis Khan baby.