Monday, December 20, 2004

On Vickerman's track

There is a dead possum by the track. He does not have the disassembled look of one that has been hit by a car. He could be sleeping. But you know when something is dead and you do not mistake it for sleeping.

I remember seeing a corpse in the street in Delhi, the day I arrived in India. It had been a dark man, a beggar. People walked around the body; no one was much concerned. Even I felt barely curious.

It is a story that astonishes and frightens my friends. When we sat outside S and G's house yesterday, I scandalised them by telling them that I outraged my mother by asking her what anal sex was when I was ten. I say outraged; of course, I mean mildly embarrassed, but that's hardly spicy enough for the story, so I add pepper.

My friends are not even bourgeois. They are what the working class would be if there still was a working class. G has an education of sorts but he is embarrassed that his eldest boy, J, is very clever -- embarrassed and proud mixed, I should say. G worked in sheet metal, as a foreman, a manager. S was some sort of office worker. She knew Mrs Zen from the legal firm they both worked at. I don't know what she did and I don't care. It's not interesting enough for her to want to tell me. D and M, who are also there, are not bourgeois either, although they live in a fairly big house on a piece of land. D is a salesman. He wouldn't strike you as the type. He has none of the shark about him. He needs to believe in his product. He is selling pool cleaners. He believes in them and it is working well. M is another office worker. She works for a union, but she could hardly be less sympathetic to the ethos of collectivism. She is mindlessly right wing, prudish despite her racy youth.

They bore me sometimes. I feel ashamed to say it. I don't feel I'm better than them. I am just in some ways more.

M has been to Egypt and other foreign parts, and yet she is a kneejerk racist. We are talking about boys wearing girls' clothes. M disapproves of the idea with a shudder. I am telling her how keen I was to do it when I was a kid. I say isn't it stupid how it is so hot here but men wear trousers. It's incredibly hot and humid in the summer and in other places like it all the men wear skirts. That's their culture, she says. When they come here they should do the culture and not impose their own. I say, well, when we came here, we not only imposed our culture but killed the people who didn't like it. M observes an embarrassed silence. She never learns anything from talking to me, and God knows why I insist on doing it. I just can't help myself.

She talks about people coming here, other cultures, foreigners, and I feel like slapping her repeatedly while shouting "I'm from another culture", "I'm a foreigner", "I'm from somewhere else, you stupid bitch, and what you say about them is true about me, I'm just not dark or yellow". M's husband is a New Zealander. Presumably they don't count as foreign either, so long as they're white. D is only a little bit Maori -- a sixteenth, I think, and he has none of the culture -- and you would only see it if you were looking for it.

You know what I mean, M says.

Well yes, I do. It's a problem of Australians that they feel that if you know what they mean, if you understand, then you can't really disapprove. They're not good at perspective.

I cannot stop long to look at the possum because I am wearing my plastic sandals and the track is alive with big ants. I do not often wear shoes here, especially in the summer, and I've learned to keep my toes clear of ants. Nearly all of them bite. The small house ants tickle but the bigger ants give a bite that will burn all morning. I continue up the track. It must have hit 30 degrees (and will get up to 34 in the heat of the day) and the air is infused with the smell of baked eucalyptus. I walk for a mile up and down the hill in Belmont Reserve -- which I am surprised to learn was once a pineapple reservation that since its abandonment has been recolonised by the bush, and now has been saved by the city with the levy we pay in our rates -- and out into a suburban development. It is hellish: treeless, soulless. There are no shops, no children playing in the street even though this is a holiday for them, no one walking except for a young couple with beach towels, which is odd, because there is nowhere to swim around there.


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