Thursday, June 07, 2012

Absent without leave

I must apologise sincerely to the members of the Workers Party for cancelling, at an unacceptably late hour, my appearance at the Socialism 2012 conference they held last weekend in Wellington. I wasn't kept away from the Windy City by a lack of desire to discuss pre-capitalist societies and the problems of Marxist theory with the Workers Party and its guests, but by a sudden and nasty escalation of the nerve pain which has troubled me ever since I smashed my arm into several pieces more than a decade ago. I feel wretched about letting you down, comrades.

I've been on light duties for the most of the past few weeks, but the indefatigable Paul Janman hasn't let my enfeebled state impede work on the documentary I am helping him make about the Great South Road. After I'd called off a planned night-time expedition, explaining that if I wasn't fit enough to talk about Althusser over cups of tea in a fuggy Wellington seminar room then I could hardly manage to ride down South Auckland's wind tunnel waving a camera out a car window, Paul turned up at my house with Uruguyan coffee and stacks of CDs. I emerged from the bed-tomb I had improvised on the living room couch, and thanked Paul for bringing me some music to listen to during my recuperation; he replied by telling me to pull myself together, and to begin recording some voiceovers for the scores of hours of "raw footage" he had shot on safaris down the Great South Road. "Raw footage is like raw sewage" he told me, drawing on his experience as a sometime employee of the Waste Management Department of the Auckland City Council. "It has to be sifted and purified."
Paul watched as I slotted the first of his discs into a DVD player which had just gratefully spat out my copy of John Boorman's Zardoz. I pressed play, and flakes of white light blew over the screen. I began to fiddle with a knob of our decrepit telly, thinking that it must be misfiring again, but Paul told me to stay my hand. "It's supposed to look like that" he explained. "It's shot in infra-red." I squinted, and realised that the white light had only partially obscured a half-empty caryard and a crowded food bar.

"This is the way Fallujah and Kabul look like to invaders, in the twenty-first century" Paul explained. "This is the light that the best rifles offer. This is the light that terrorists and freedom fighters die in." "Fair enough" I replied, "but back in 1863 the 65th Regiment just used lamplight, didn't it?" Paul was unimpressed. "I thought you wanted to mix up eras" he said, "to let time run wild while space is restricted. I told you about Fellini's Roma, where some gladiators from Nero's era share the back of a troop truck with some blokes in khaki...but don't worry, I've left other stretches of the road pitch black. Anyway, what we want is a bit of narration. Throw some anecdotes and poems into that recorder, and make them rhyme with the images, if you can see them. You don't have to leave the couch. Hell, you can even hide under that duvet and read."

Here's a text from my first book To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps which I've lightly revised and tried to match with some of Paul's footage. Most of the nasty stuff in it comes from the stories that used to be broadcast in my Seventh Form Common Room. I hope they weren't true.

Now it seemed to be unrolling metre by metre in front of him, like an unfamiliar hallway late at night, when you're scared to turn a light on and wake your hosts, and instead walk slowly into the dark, peering down at your silent slippered feet. Above the road a large sign approached, blurring as it got bigger. Suddenly, as he was about to pass it, the words swam into focus, and he read CONIFER GROVE 200M. He swore, but when the next sign appeared in the distance he didn't even bother to squint. He realised he didn't want to turn off. He reasoned that there was only a finite number of possibilities, of possible encounters and actions, in one suburb. He could drive to a late night bar, drink some more bourbon and cokes there, perhaps chat up a middle-aged trophy wife on a tottering stool, more likely sit alone and watch strobe lights dancing on the black floor. He could stop at a Burger King or KFC, and observe squeaky-clean boy racers pulling up in their mothers' Hondas to refuel. He could drive down dark quiet streets and fields to a beach, and park under a row of Norfolk pines, and watch the dark hull of a Ford Fairmont rocking between empty carparks, and perhaps linger long enough to see a girl spill out of the car's back door, pull her panties up under her skirt, and turn and swear and stagger away, rubbing tears into her makeup. He could follow the pines until they turned into a seawall and a disused sewage pipe, then turn left, away from the silent water, and creep up one of the driveways that rise off each waterfront street, then crouch in some convenient bushes until a dog stopped barking, or a light was quenched, and it was safe to stumble across the lawn toward a groundfloor window the heat had prised open. What would he do, once he got inside? How would he know if the house was hers, was his? He knew she lived somewhere in the south, somewhere close to the sea. He would look for something blunt, like the alarm clock she had kept beside the bed - something that would knock her out without hurting her. Something that would give him time, time to make a black coffee, to tell the story to himself. He had hit her with that clock before, when she was about to surprise him with the girl from across the road. He had kicked that bitch out the back door, then dragged his wife from their bedroom to the lounge's long couch. When she woke up she accepted his story, or seemed to, in spite of the bruise, because of the bruise. But he hated the idea of turning off. He loved this road. As long as he stayed on this road that might go on forever the number of possible actions could be considered infinite, and he had command of them all. He remembered again his grandfather’s house, how he'd stayed there once, when his mother had dropped him there in the middle of the night, after her last fight with his father. His grandfather had sent him off to a small room at the end of the hall, but he couldn't sleep, no, he didn't want to sleep, and he'd walked up and down the hall in his grandfather's old slippers, passing each door slowly, not daring to turn the handle, fearful of what might be inside, of what might not be inside. He'd resolved to visit each room in the morning, but his mother woke him very early and took him away, and he never visited that house again. He suddenly realised he was driving far too fast. He was sweeping past one car then another: first a Fairmont, then a Ford Escort, then a Mercedes. A Mercedes! He smiled when its owner showed her annoyance by sounding her horn and shouting something out the window. How much was he doing? This old bomb had trouble getting past a tonne, even on the Bombay Hills with a tail wind! He looked at the speedometer: 25 KMS. Quite illogically he leaned on the brake, and saw the speed drop to 15 KMS. He realised that the Escort and the Mercedes had passed him. Looking into the distance, he could see tail lights that probably belonged to the Mercedes, turning off to the left. Now another driver was passing him, honking her horn as she did so. With a sudden twist of the steering wheel he pulled over to the side of the road, where weeds grew amongst loose gravel. He sat there for a long time, watching pairs of tail lights pass him and slowly disappear.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Blogger Joel Cosgrove said...

Yeah, we missed you Scott.
Oh well. Annette got fogged in as well. So that made for an interesting session.
In actual fact, it was quite good. jaredp Phillips spoke on historical socialist perspectives on Tino Rangatiratanga.

8:38 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Ha! I think the Fellini film I mentioned is actually 'intervista' - highly recommended. The rest of this blog is completely true, if you're willing to be flexible.

10:33 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

I was looking forward to the talk too, but as Joel said, despite both speakers unable to appear, and quite a crowd ready and waiting, Jared managed to pull off an interesting session describing the Workers Party's internal debates over the years. As I am a bit obsessed with conferences and how to do them, I will write a full review of the weekend (or at least teh bits I got to) in a week or so, after I have finished a very long essay.

10:55 am  
Blogger Richard said...

No good re that arm Maps, when did that happen? I recall you saying you were in a car accident years ago. Bryony Jagger was and although she composed music (she put my The Red to music) she cant even listen to music I think.

Interesting poem, does het "savagery" of parts of it reflect maybe the dark side of NZ, that is for example, the huge socio-economic (including education, inequalities, health education and mental health) problems we have not only in such places as South Auckland but also even in the "better" suburbs? One could travel through any streets of any country and find suffering of many kinds in people of any economic level. Of course inequalities in NZ and he legacy of the NZ Wars (and other events in our history) have affected our heritage and indeed the way things are right now.

For a long time in NZ we have had one of the highest youth suicide rates. Every day a murder or some act of violence is discussed or dealt with. Children are molested and mistreated and so on... (as the are in all countries on this earth, sadly); but of course this the worst of our lives, there are also the fact that most people lead pretty good lives most times.

And I don't think we re in especially "difficult" times ..the Ancient Romans also thought that or some in ancient Greece etc...very often people think we are in the worst times.

I was just talking to some Jehovah's Witnesses...usually nice people (as the were, the Mormons I find harder to deal with as they are lie record stuck in groove when they talk about religion, the JWs seem to be prepared to at least have some ideas...and look at history as far as they see it) but they are trying to convince themselves of the entire truth...but they try to argue for God etc by "logic" and then to refute evolution, whereas if their "faith" was strong enough evolution or the argument from design (true or not, it can be shown to be dubious) wouldn't trouble them.

Meanwhile, prophecies or not, "What is to be done."!?

12:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wot the hell is Uruguyan coffee????

12:41 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:07 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - just reading some interviews with Terry Eagleton whose 'Literary Theory: an Introduction' I found very enlightening about 1992 or so, although Jack murmured darkly, on seeing my book and hearing my story of returning a more recent rather abstruse one to a book shop unread, when he was here once, that "all that is (somewhat?) out of date" - and in the interviews he mentions various books and his interest in politics and philosophy and Althusser...(and Gramsci etc)...

(Also - I haven't read all the interviews but I see he mentions E. P. Thompson. (and Derrida!)

Was Althusser the one who killed his wife?

1:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uruguyan coffee = horsepiss, freshed up

3:24 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Damn blast and botheration that Sykes didn't make it either, and thank goodness for Jared's white knight act! I look forward to your report Mark, and I'd love to see a transcript of Jared's talk too.

Richard: central sensitisation is the name of the syndrome. You probably remember me knocking round (literally) with my arm in slings early in the you recognise one of the stories in 'Road' from your old worksite?

7:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I don't have clear memory of you in a all seems so long now! I can remember (some of) what happened in the 50s or 60s or 70s more clearly! Memory is selective of course. I recall you now mention it. I probably wasn't very sympathetic but I certainly kicked up a fuss when I broke my leg!

I don't recognize the place you mean although before I bought house in 1975 or so we looked at buying a new house in Conifer Grove. I worked a lot in Wiri and around Papatoetoe, Manurewa, Manukau etc then I bought house in Cockle Bay. Before that I was at the Otahuhu Lie Depot and went allaround the place including right out to Beachlands and or Howick, but also East Tamaki...
...later I worked from Quay Street and we would go all around Auckland and of often to the Otahuhu Power Station as well as Meremere.

I did wonder if you had reworked Chris Brown's story though as I thought you'd written The Road sometime ago..I thought of that as I read it first then dismissed it! I was going past some "Chorus" workers today and got talking and this bloke knew Chris Brown. he left the Post Office (1985)when it became Telecom and started a cable trenching company.

Chris was normally not so crazy! His main fault was to "get on my(or other's )case...

8:24 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh well there's the story also of how I lost two cable pairs! WE ad a big job putting in what are called PCM Repeaters or regenerators and I had to start each day at 5am or so...spend all morning pumping out manholes...sometimes the pumps would give out...[a long story!]

And the one about Chris nearly getting shot by the armed offenders!

And Kaio Rivers telling some big shot boss to go into a corner n piss his paints when he tried to butter Kaio up!!

I am musing on doing a novel and possibly short stores so I have a lot but please don't steal too many of my ideas Maps!!

There are, however, some advantages in having lived to 64!! One has a lot of useless information that might be turned into stories!!

8:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are sickos out there...and fucks...

8:48 pm  
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