Friday, June 28, 2013

Even a Stopped Clock Tells the Right Time Twice a Day

Martin Mackenzie had saved up since the smoke break to look at the clock.  He’d been informed by the girl in the next cubicle if you looked at the clock too early time would ‘glue down.’ The girl had jotted ‘time will glue down’ in messy cursive on a post it note then stuck over the corner of his screen. She smelt good when she leant over stick it on, like she’d forgotten to wear deodorant but it didn’t matter. Martin had had a fierce crush on her ever since. His uncle told him smell is more important than sight for attraction. Which was obviously bullshit. Still, this girl smelt good. And she’d gone to the trouble to glue down his time. Martin thanked her with a smile and a thumbs up (a fucking thumbs up?) but didn’t get a chance to say anything because the Team Leader was hovering and his KPIs were down again. Just as well because he couldn’t think of anything witty or punny to say about the witty punny note. A good pun deserves another good pun. Which sounds like another thing his uncle would say but probably wasn’t. So the girl smiled back. You know how some people have expressive eyes? Well this girl had expressive teeth. Not bad teeth; expressive, like when she smiles you can immediately tell if she’s being sincere.  

The Acorn Patch (part one)

(2.45ish 2002ish)

The Acorn Patch was usually pretty empty in the mid afternoon on weekdays. Nobody really knew why it was called The Acorn Patch; all it had was some loping eucalypts and one of those plastic playgrounds that had begun to replace anything that could break a kid’s arm. The summer had dried the lawn down to spiky bristles and the bristles were worn away to sandy soil patches at the ends where kids played kick-to-kick. Still, Bayside residents called it The Acorn Patch all the same. The council even erected a big blue Acorn Patch sign to officialise the matter, as if to say ‘despite our sandy soil, we too can grow the big regal trees of the old world.’
It didn’t take long for the year eight Ruckus Boys from the middle school down street to deface the sign with cocks and tags. Ruckus loved The Acorn Patch. It was one of the few sanctioned places for cigarette headspins and foot-tasting beer. Stuff they were conditioning themselves to enjoy. On weekends, all going to plan, they’d scam money off their parents for a movie then take turns asking passersby to buy them a slab (ones with fast cars were the easiest to convince). The girls from the nearby sister school would often chip in for Lemon Ruskis and Passion Pop. If all went even further to plan, a few of the most Lynx-drenched of the Ruckus would get to make out with the girls to the tan-barky scrub behind the plastic playground. Ruckus would slobber on braces and fumble at the buttons of jeans. Then they'd smoke from crusted-up Powerade bongs and jump around on the play equipment they’d only recently outgrown; early onset nostalgia for and already misremembered childhood. They’d embellish and shriek with their newly broken voices then tackle each other to the ground.

Two of the lower ranking Ruckus, Martin Mackenzie and Neville Woodford had bailed on final period maths double and were hard at work defacing the only available space on the big blue sign. The higher ranking Ruckus had used most of the space but were at footy training and couldn’t finish the job.  
‘Sick’ declared Neville, adorning his tag with a looping star.
‘Dope,’ agreed Martin, standing back in appreciation. Neville had recently modified their textas for maximum staining impact. He’d learnt about the process online. You just needed to replace the easily-washable posca paint with a mixture of two parts Blacktop Stamping Ink and one part nail polish remover. It was easy. The website guaranteed that no amount of chemical scrubbing would ever remove the stains. The problem with harnessing such a powerful staining agent of course being if you got the stuff on your hands, which was inevitable, there was really no way of removing it until your skin cells died and replaced themselves. Also, if you got dizzy from the acetone and spilled the lethal mixture all over your mum’s sink – as Neville had done last night – there was no use in trying to hide or clean it. Neville had settled on pretending he was in fact trying to spruce up his mum’s porcelain with a new shade of dark blue marbling, an excuse that Mrs Woodford had actually believed (or pretended to believe... or [probably most likely] tricked herself into actually believing). This was further confirmation in Martin minds (as if he needed it) that Neville’s mum was cooler than Martin’s mum.
  ‘The spot?’ suggested Neville.
  ‘Yeah sick,’ agreed Martin, having sudden and silent reservations about Neville’s looping star.
The Spot was a clearing in the bushes near the back fence of the Acorn Patch. It was sheltered enough so that no one could see you but still close enough to the middle that you could see what was coming, which at the hours Neville and Mackenzie tended to hang out there was usually girls from the sister school cutting across the bristly grass on their way home. The Spot was their spot, they’d even kitted out with a milk crate each to sit on. Stashed under Neville’s crate was half-smoked packet of Dunhill Blues sealed in a Glad Sandwich bag that he’d stolen from his mum.
The early March heat was making their school shirts cling and their socks soggy and they were happy to be making their way to the shade. But when they got to The Spot they were met with an ugly surprise. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Martin ran around in a circle chasing the dog and its tattered monkey. The dog's monkey was called 'monkey'. He liked to imagine that the dog called the monkey 'monkey' too. The game was simply to run around and try and get the monkey from the dog. The dog would never release the t, only drop it teasingly on the ground for a moment then tearing off gleefully.
The dog destroyed every toy but Monkey. Monkey was tattered but largely intact. Sometimes the dog would suckle Monkey like it was it's mother. He had to stop hanging out in the park and playing with other people's dogs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sixteen Military Wives

‘Did you come?’ Martin Mackenzie asked peering up from between Phoebe Phoenix’s thighs. He knew she’d come. She’d writhed, jerked and dripped in all the appropriate ways but he asked her anyway. He was fully aware she was fed up with these sorts of questions. Still, he couldn't seem to help asking. Phoebe Phoenix threw her pillow at him and lay back panting. Martin caught it and unthinkingly went to wipe his mouth.
‘Don’t use my pillow you creep!’
‘Sorry’ Martin, unable to find anything else, picked his work shirt up from the floor and used that instead. He crawled across the bed with his erection pointed towards her. It occurred to him that he hadn't had sex or even masturbated in over 48 hours. This was an oversight. It didn't bode well for his lovemaking stamina. His penis and balls felt tingly with future embarrassment already. A new song came on Phoebe’s laptop speakers. It was The Decemberists. Martin didn’t care for The Decemberists. He’d tried to like them once but it didn’t work. Martin entered Phoebe Phoenix carefully. He wanted to last at least until the end of the song.  
‘Sixteen military wives.... Thirty two softy-focused brightly coloured eyes’
Martin clenched his eyes and focused on the polite nasal-folk. Each movement was thoughtful and slow, maybe too thoughtful and too slow. Could she even feel movements that were this thoughtful and slow? He opened his eyes to check. Phoebe Phoenix was looking up at him, concerned.
‘Are you ok?’ she panted ‘You look in pain.’
 ‘Yeah, I’m amazing. Totally amazing,’ Martin gasped. He jerked his head and checked the laptop on the desk.  The song had 4 minutes 37 seconds left. He shut his eyes. When he opened them again Phoebe Phoenix was looking up at him, almost giggling.
‘It’s ok if you want to come Martin.’
‘Cheer them on to their rivals.... Because America can, and America can’t say no’
‘It’s ok if you want to come’
‘Yeah, amazing, amazing.’
‘And the anchor person on TV goes La di’ (3 minutes 25 seconds)
‘Seriously Martin, I came just before. You’re going to be late for work.’   
Martin figured he was focusing 70 per cent of his attention on The Decemberists, 10 per cent on the pleasure surging though his body, and 20 per cent on Phoebe Phoenix. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was wide open showing her gappy teeth. Martin loved her gappy teeth. When they were on display like this it usually meant she was laughing at of his jokes or having sex with him. Her black hair was splayed on the pillow all over the place. She’d cut it into a bob last week. It didn’t suit her. He’d told her so thinking she’d find the honesty refreshing and attractive. She hadn't  He noticed a pubic hair that had wedged itself somewhere near his back left molar. He used his tongue to search for it. He now estimated 30 per cent of his attention was diverted to dislodging it.
‘Fifteen celebrity minds leading their fifteen sordid wretched chequered lives’ (2 minutes 35... no 34 seconds)
He was never that good at estimating ratios but he knew these percentages weren’t good. He’d gone to a lot of trouble to convince Phoebe Phoenix to have sex with him before work, knowing full well that morning sex kind of grossed her out. At least brush your teeth first, she’d said. Martin tried to tighten his interior muscles. This was a sure sign he was about to come. He thought about percentages again.
’15 percent...’ he found himself muttering against his will.    
‘What?’ Phoebe was visibly pissed.
‘What the fuck is 15 percent?’ Phoebe had stopped against his movements.
‘Nothing, don’t worry.’ Phoebe pushed him off her aggressively. He almost fell on the floor.
‘Is that how you’re rating this in your little head Martin? 15 fucking per cent?’ She yelled from the bathroom after she’d slammed the door.  
‘No Phoebe that not it at all! I love you.’ Phoebe turned on the shower. Martin finished himself off into some tissues.
‘And the anchor person on TV goes La di da de da di daaa... ’
Martin slammed the laptop shut

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Dave and I rode to the top of the hill in the park. It was a warm night and we were sore and sticky from the pedalling. It wasn't just the hill. We were sore and sticky from a night's work on our feet before the pedalling. The park's hill is always an extra physical challenge to be dealt with after the night's work is through. By the time we reach the top our conversation usually gives way to panting. No complaining though. There is no real desire to complain because the ride down is generally worth the general discomfort of the climb. Every night we are greeted at the top of the hill by a patient and vicious dog. It isn't a real dog. It's a fire hydrant that has some spray-painted splodges and looks like a vicious, very well-trained dog from the dimly lit distance. Dave pointed this out me one night. First I didn't see it. But after I saw it, I couldn't not see it and we'd sometimes imagine scenarios where the dog chases us down the the hill. I look forward to this dog silently acknowledging us we ride.
    This night Dave and I rode past the dog like usual and wound down the path towards the bottom of the hill, only this time Dave stopped about halfway. I braked to see what Dave was looking at. He was fascinated by a possum that had approached him.
     'Why isn't this possum terrified of me?' he asked. I shrugged. I didn't know.
     'If this were New Zealand this possum would be running for its life.' The possum looked at us and twitched its face. It was unafraid. Then it scurried off so we started riding again.
     'You guys are much more tolerant about most things but treat possums with contempt, why is that?' I asked.
     'Have you seen our possums?'
     'I have.' (New Zealand possums look like rabid bears compared to out little ring-tail guys.)'My cousin from Hawke's Bay was going to take me out possum shooting one time but it was raining too hard. I really wanted to shoot a gun but I'm not sure if I could've shot a possum.'
     'Fair enough,' agreed Dave. 'When I was a kid, we went out possum spotting for a school excursion, not shooting, spotting.'
     'Was it fun?' We stopped outside Dave's house while he continued his story.
     'It was traumatic. We all gathered around this guy's ute and once he'd spotted a possum he grabbed it from a tree from its tail, swung it around a few times then bashed its head against the side of the ute.' Dave mimed out the actions of the guy who'd pulverized the possum.
     'Holy shit!'
     'Yeah, all us city kids just sat there like this' Dave acted out an expression of childish disbelief.    
     'That's fucked up,' I said.
     'Yeah,' Dave said, walking down the alleyway to his house.
     'Are you working tomorrow?' I asked.
     'Yeah' he said. Then I rode home.

Next time we rode up the hill the vicious dog splodges had been removed. We were sad to see them go.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Porche and the Hobbler

I was running for the tram today (well, really it was more like a quickened hobble because an old back injury is bulging at my spine in a very ugly way). So yeah, I was hobbling at pretty good pace for the this tram. The tram was still some distance but I knew it was going to be a challenge to get there (you're horizons shrink when you're a hobbler.) The red man was red but I lurched onto the crossing anyway because it seemed safe enough and because dammit I'm crippled now! Normal pedestrian rules don't apply! All of a sudden a thirty-something wearing wrap-around shades screeches up to me in his shiny purple Porsche Boxter, says 'take your time, buddy, take your time', then speeds off. First I was bewildered, then I was like 'like fuck you yuppie scum! Come back here so I can yell something witty once I think of it!' THEN something strange happened. Sitting on the tram I realised something in his voice sounded too sincere to ignore. He wasn't just telling me to slow down to be a dick. He really meant it. He was advising me like some kind of strange, wealthy apparition in bad sunglasses. When you're a hobbler and someone driving a stupidly fast vehicle gently advises you to slow the fuck down maybe there's something to it. Or maybe I've been taking too many pain killers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to Write With Style by Kurt Vonnegut

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.
These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful --- ? And on and on.
Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead --- or, worse, they will stop reading you.
The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don't you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.
So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

1. Find a subject you care about
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way --- although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

2. Do not ramble, though
I won't ramble on about that.

3. Keep it simple
As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. "To be or not to be?" asks Shakespeare's Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story "Eveline" is this one: "She was tired." At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.
Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

4. Have guts to cut
It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

5. Sound like yourself
The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad's third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.
In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.
All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue.
I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

6. Say what you mean
I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable --- and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.
Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.

7. Pity the readers
They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don't really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school --- twelve long years.
So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify --- whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.
That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

8. For really detailed advice
For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I recommend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.
You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say.

In Sum:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers