Saturday, April 30, 2011

They ruin your life

 Man, I wish I had a buck for every time a heated political argument amongst long-time friends was silenced with phrases such as, "Well that's all very well and good for you, but I've got kids, and I need to think about their future".

Compared with the majority of my peers, I was a bit of a late bloomer in the Family Expansion Department, and it always pissed me off when the same people who I'd grown-up with in the outer suburbs, who I'd gone to school with, who I'd rebelled against familial and social stereotypes with, who I'd moved into inner-city doss houses with, who I'd drank in the same inner-city pubs with, and with whom I'd debated politics and popular culture, would suddenly (coinciding with marriage, offspring and an exodus back to the Outer East) execute a complete 180 and change their age-old lines of argument and values in favour of bog-standard, Channel 9-like conservatism.

This particularly hit home to me about ten years ago when one of my friends who had pursued many social and environmental causes over the years (including a two-year stint being abused by errant teenagers while inside the Wilderness Society's koala costume) informed us all during one of his rare nights-off from familial duties, that he would be voting Liberal in the forth-coming federal election because only 'The Libs' were offering to extend the Eastern Freeway!

Of course, this ridiculous misunderstanding of state versus federal political responsibility was immediately and enthusiastically leapt upon by our gathering, and before long, this once politically-savvy and proud crusader for human and animal rights informed us that we all needed to grow-up and take some responsibility for ourselves if we ever expected to live in homes without cracked walls and warped floor boards.  He added that neither of us had any significant life experience upon which to make informed decisions about future generations, and until we did, we should keep our naive political opinions to ourselves.

Of course this aggressive challenge would never do, and the conversation became increasingly heated before it concluded with my old friend jumping to his feet, gathering his coat and letting fly with, "Until you guys have kids, and have to think about their future education and employment opportunities, you'll never have any idea about the political and economic realities of the Australian electorate".  Following which he stormed out of the pub.

So that's it, hey?  Kids change everything ... or is it just that the kids were the factor which 'forced' him back to his politically-affiliated, geographical roots?  Isn't it telling how your life circumstances can dramatically alter your values and beliefs?

It's true.  We all know the cliche of the mate who's out with you and your other mates six nights a week, getting drunk and trying to pick-up women, until on one rare occasion he happens to be successful with the latter and immediately his drinking pursuits are replaced by rom-coms and flower shows, and his mates never see him again.  Clearly that guy's circumstances changed his views on what was important; his priorities had altered from his mates and beer in favour of companionship, love or at the very least, getting his end away on a regular basis.

I can relate to this a little (well, not that last bit, obviously).  I used to be right into outdoor packsports, and nature and wildlife conservation; for a good while I much preferred heading off into the bush with everything I needed for a few days and sitting alone on a rock all afternoon contemplaying myself and my surroundings, rather than attending garden parties and making polite small talk with friends and their new girlfriends.

When I finally did meet the love of my life, my rugged, outdoor pursuits were promptly replaced with rather more sedate, beachside loitering, and before long, I was no longer pining for the deep solitude of the remote wilderness.  So it would indeed seem as though chicks change everything!

Interestingly, in those days of being a vocal advocate for wilderness protection, I harboured a visceral hatred for zoos.  I recall being physically ill once while visiting the zoo with my nephew, and watching in horror at the dilapidated, Victorian-era surroundings that the seals had to parade around in before crowds of jeering, screaming children.

I stayed away for many years after this, and only recently returned to the zoo with my son, Hambones, thanks to one of these annual subscriptions which allow you to visit as often as you like.  I have to admit, I love it!  I find the enclosures much more respectful of the animals than I remembered, and as long as I don't think too hard about the climactic differences between a Bengal Tiger's natural habitat and Melbourne in May, I usually come away feeling OK about the experience.

So I guess it's not quite that cut and dried.  Is it chicks?  Or as stated by my friend of old, perhaps it really is kids who change everything.

In my newfound enthusiasm for caged and tethered wildlife, which has seen me visit the zoo about three times a week since we got the membership pass (gotta get me money's worth – my notorious tight-arsedness is one entrenched value I suspect is never going to change), I decided to take Hambones along to the Adelaide zoo over Easter, and there found myself almost winded by what I saw.  Clearly my decade or so of avoiding the zoo was time enough for the Melbourne zoo management to get their stuff together towards a more humane approach to caring and providing for their animals such that I am no longer horrified by what I encounter.

Not so the Adelaide zoo, at which some of the exhibits appear not to have changed very much since families ventured-forth on Sunday afternoons in top-hats, tails, bonnets and holding sticks with which to poke the frightened animals through the bars of the minute cages.  This place was terrible!  A real throw-back to a bygone era in which there was absolutely no ambiguity over who was the real king of the jungle.

To look at Adelaide zoo on its own, I would again advocate for the abolishment of such institutions throughout the world.  However I also understand the work that better zoos, such as Melbourne's, are doing to protect endangered species, and to educate the community about the factors which threaten their survival, and importantly, what can be done to address these.  I think zoos have their place, but standards need to be developed and adhered to.  And Adelaide, you certainly do not cut the grade!

What all this has taught me is that using kids, or partners, or indeed any other life circumstance as an excuse for changing your long held values and beliefs is nothing other than a selfish, ignorant and lazy sell-out.

I am working on a new bumper sticker, which at the moment goes something like this; "I have a wife, and a child, and I live where I want, and I believe in protecting human and animal rights, promoting social justice, and protecting the environment for my children's children's future".  The only catch is that I'd have to completely sell-out and buy a Merc with a bumper bar big enough to stick it on.

South Australia: A Brilliant Blend (of Dickensian animal rights and modern-day admission prices).  Pic:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Psss ... you chasin'?

Melbourne Air Traffic Control must have pricked up their radars recently with the number of unregistered, airborne objects appearing above the city's inner north.  It seems we can't turn a corner around here at the moment without seeing pairs of running shoes, laces tied together, hanging from the power-lines.

I've never quite understood what this is all about; in my day, the odd occurrence would likely have been the result of a weedy, unpopular kid with new sneakers having wandered across the path of the neighbourhood toughs; the latter having seen fit to take advantage of the former's lowly social status by forcibly removing the offending footwear before an audience of admiring sycophants, and launching it to the heavens.

But this could never be the explanation for the modern-day appearance of these 'pedal stalactites' all over our suburb.  For starters, the sheer volume of hanging shoes would mean that there were too many unpopular youths to make up a critical mass of social strata such that there wouldn't be anyone left over to rule.  Furthermore, the local toughs would have had to outsource their bullying responsibilities to independent contractors in order to meet the necessary quotas for juvenile public ridicule, and the current government requirements for meeting basic safety standards for commercial contractors would be beyond the means of most 12-15 year olds.  So there has to be another explanation for this urban phenomenon.

A friend of mine suggested that hanging shoes were a sign that drugs were sold in the adjacent house.  Indeed, a quick scan of the innernet suggests this to be a common belief in many parts of the world, but it's not clear to me whether the intention of the shoes would be for the dealers to advertise their location, or whether it was the doing of neighbourhood vigilante-types trying to expose these 'undesirables' to law enforcement authorities.

But I am afraid this all sounds pretty implausible.  While I don't hold the Victorian Police in particularly high esteem, if the hanging shoes were a signal to prospective buyers, I do think the cops are at least capable of using Google to discover this, and subsequently initiating the biggest round-up of illicit drugs since Nancy Regan sat down to play Risk with Ron, and landed Afghanistan, Burma, Thailand and Colombia in the opening round.

The local, anti-drug vigilante option also doesn't sound too plausible given they have proven in the past that a limited grasp of the English language and a can of red spray paint works effectively enough.

And let's face it, if hanging shoes were a signal, either to the lazy, fat, donut-grease-stained coppers, or to people out chasing a score, then the vast number of these signals would indicate that every second person in my locale would be off their head on coke, smack, weed and meth, at any time of the day or night; my hood would be like Southeast Los Angeles during the annual LAPD Picnic – everyday!

There has to be another explanation, and I'm all ears.  What I did find interesting today, though, was a particular pair of hanging shoes.  I have mentioned before how people around here are just that little bit too cool, and that they like to stand-out by making an alternative, unique statement.  Well, just around the corner from my home, hanging from the power lines is a pair of shoes much like all the rest, except this is a pair of lace-less, slip-on shoes, and someone has gone to great effort to sew some string to each one, before launching them over the wire.  Perhaps it is a sign from a drug dealer trying to market their product as being something different from that sold at five or six other houses on the street.  No doubt by December, it'll be flashing Christmas tree lights contributing the next breakthrough in the urban drug advertising war.

"Hey, anyone know where I can get some drugs around here?" Pic:

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Horror, The Horror

It's so hard to remain young and funky when you've got kids; the cool, hip pubs and bars which you once habitually frequented, although just as geographically close to you as they'd been but a year or so ago, seem completely inaccessible these days. 

It's not enough that caring for and raising a child keeps you tied to the home in terms of being there to watch over them through waking and sleeping, but even when you do have the opportunity for a free night away, you're completely knackered from the day's responsibilities such that you know it's gonna take chemicals a damn sight stronger than mere alcohol to even get you into the front bar, let alone on the dance floor ... and that's when the allure of half a DVD movie and an early night is just too good to pass-up.

The only consolation to the passing of your misspent youth is that your fellow offenders of yore, ensconced as they are in their own breeding programs, are experiencing the exact same social  isolation and troubling passage of time as you.  And like you, they are just as happy to let one Saturday night after another pass on by without so much as setting foot out their front door.

But there's something about our culture which demands that at Christmas time, one makes an effort ... kids or no.  The problem, though, is where can a bunch of people, once famous for their selectivity towards cutting-edge venues and significant staying power possibly get together and maintain their hip and groovy status?

The answer is ... no where!

And so, a couple of weeks before last Christmas, in a determined effort to get together somewhere that was both kid friendly and licensed, we all bit the bullet and descended upon the 'dining room' of an inner-city hotel, complete with pokies and bar maids wearing the mandatory, low-cut bodices and push-up bras that any self-respecting, red-blooded, TAB-going Aussie male would expect from someone pouring his $2-Happy Hour pots.

We were the first of our group to arrive, and had to wait in the front bar for 10 minutes until the dining room was opened.  It was here the realisation dawned that this wasn't the kind of place one was wont to frequent in one's wilder days; there were four men at the bar, each wearing Christmas break-up Santa hats and were very, very drunk.  They were all speaking at the same time; their different conversations creating a loud moan that seemed to buzz around the bar and, as if by telepathy, would come together in unison to utter the phrase "f@*king c@nts", before heading off again on murmured, indecipherable tangents.  It was kind of like this,

Drunk Man #1:  "Murmer murmer murmer murmer    - f@*king c@nts -     murmer murmer murmer".
Drunk Man #2   "Whah blah whah blah whah blah    - f@*king c@nts -     whah blah whah blah".
Drunk Man #3:  "Wang wang wang wang wang       - f@*king c@nts -     wang wang wang wang".
Drunk Man #4:  "Yarda yarda yarda yarda yarda      - f@*king c@nts -     yarda yarda yarda yarda".

So, not quite the kind of place we cool, funkmeisters would once have sought-out for a drink, and not quite what one might have had in mind for one's child.  Still, the dining room looked like it might be a little more civilised, so we surreptitiously slipped in, and hid in a dark corner until the booking Nazi was ready to throw open the doors.

Within five minutes, the place was packed with large groups of pre-Christmas revellers ... and their kids.  At every table, there were as many high chairs as there were seats.  We could tell by everyone else's assured movements that we were clearly the only newbies in the place; as we tentatively sought-out our table and tried to work out whether we were yet allowed to sit, we saw other couples stride-in with great purpose and resolve, and once inside, without even making eye contact, the acid-wash jeaned man would head to the bar while the peroxide blond, pink-spangled boob-tubed woman would dump their kids at the indoor playground and proceed to the table where she would fidget anxiously in anticipation of the impending delivery of her bourbon and coke (by the industrious Mr Acidwash) – all this executed with brilliant timing and precision.

Hang-on a minute, Donkey!  Did you just try to slip something by us, and think we wouldn't notice?  An indoor playground ... in a pub?!

Heh heh ... yes, I was getting to that.  One of the things that makes this place kid friendly is that it has an indoor playground [ie: a place you can dump the kids while you get schickered].  This is quite an elaborate set-up, completely sealed-off from the dining room with glass that, while not great for ventilation, does allow one to keep an eye on one's offspring while downing one's pre-Christmas beers and Bundy chasers.

Our friends all arrived, and with similarly haunted looks, we sat down with our kids to order dinner.  This was our next shock, and the second string in this venue's kid friendly bow.  Y'see, it wasn't just the indoor playground that had this place buzzing at 5.10 on a Tuesday evening, there was also the sentence in big, bold, red letters staring back at me when I picked-up the menu, "Kids eat for free!".  Uh oh!

Yes that's right.  Kids are able to select - for free - from a menu of deep-fried goodies, PLUS get a free 'red-lemonade', PLUS a free 'frog-in-a-[red]-pond' desert.  "Sure, it's not the most nutritious feed in the world for a growing body and mind, but hey, it is great value and...", I was suddenly warming to the whole experience, "with the money we save on Hambones' meal, we could try our luck on the pokies".

Hang-on, did I just say that?  Or did I just think that ... blimey, what's happening to me?

So, brushing aside a strange, unexplained, nagging feeling of alarm in the pit of my stomach, the kids ate for free, and we ate our own, larger but equally deep-fried slabs of meat with sides of deep fried potatoes and bright-green, oily garnish.  I was feeling thoroughly ill myself by the time Hambones'd downed his red lemonade and jelly, but it was only fair to let him have another run around the indoor playground with the other kids before we headed home.

As I followed him in to take-up our group's supervisory post (our revolving, continuous presence in the 'fish bowl' constituting the only adults to visit the room all evening), I was nearly struck down by the visceral wave which hit me in the senses as soon as we opened the hermetically-sealed door.  It was at this time when I came to understand the instinctive unease which had been gnawing at me since I first laid eyes on the words, "Kids eat for free!"

Because the thing about kids is that if you feed them high-fat food prepared in bulk, in conditions of questionable hygiene, and you combine this with immediate, post-ingested physical activity in a humid, poorly-ventilated room, one of three things are likely to occur; i) they will vomit, ii) they will shit themselves, or iii) they will vomit and shit themselves.

And another thing about kids is that if you feed them red food colouring (in lemonade and jelly) and you send them into a humid, poorly-ventilated room with brightly-coloured plastic play equipment and rubber floors, they will go nuts; run around and scream at the top of their high soprano little voice boxes.

And another thing about kids is that if they have been fed red food colouring, and been sent into a humid, poorly-ventilated room with brightly-coloured plastic play equipment and rubber floors, and they are going nuts, it won't be long before these kids start pushing, hitting, punching and biting each other like little savages.

And another thing about wild little savages who have been force-fed artificial stimulants and placed inside a glass prison to fend for themselves while the prison guards go off duty to immerse themselves in cheap liquor, is that like any group of beings fighting for their survival, they will factionalise; with the biggest, strongest inmates asserting their dominance, and surrounding themselves with flunkies through which to inflict real, physical pain on the weakest individuals sharing their cell.

So with my sauce-enveloped, fat-saturated meat products sitting rather precariously just above my liver, I entered into this maelstrom of writhing, screeching, vomit- and shit-reeking madness, and physically shuddered as I witnessed two bigger boys beating the absolute living daylights out of a much smaller child, and an older girl clothes-lining other kids in the neck as they were pushed down the slide by one of her accomplices.  In one corner, a little boy was curled-up in the foetal position, screaming as another boy unwrapped foil from a dozen, soft cubes of butter he'd misappropriated from the dining room, and was smearing them in his victim's hair, while in another, a little girl {demonstrating how her sense of taste was inversely proportional to that of her parents for bringing her here] was throwing faecal matter leaked from her bulging nappy at the flat-screen TV belching-out vintage Britney Speares music videos at megasonic volume.

Needless to say Hambones and I didn't last too long in there; by the time we'd dragged him out of that horrendous glasshouse and bundled him into the car, Colour 123 had expended its influence and he'd fallen into one of those post-party hypoglycaemic comas which make it almost impossible to pry a child from a car seat at the other end.  Never-mind coming down from ecstasy a couple of days later, this night of chemical inducement took our wee one a week to recover from.  OK, it was Christmas – a special occasion, and we got to meet up with our old friends ... but everyone else in that hell-hole were regulars.  Given the time it took for Hambones to 'come down' from his trip, these other kids must spend their whole week like brain-dead zombies, before doing it all again, and again, and again.

The experience has definitely placed mortal fear deep into my heart.  My next trip to the pub will therefore be with Hambones and his mates, aged 18 ... and we'll be going somewhere cool.  I just hope I'll still be able to squeeze into my drainpipes.

Under the influence of artificial stimulants, it's only a short jump from indoor playground to juvenile offender. Pic