Monday, November 24, 2008

Smiling always with a never fading serenity of countenance (in K-Mart or in Art)



There's a song out at the moment - not The Feminine Complex one soundtracking my watching of lowly Setanta Sports shows - something about being alive and how the singer was moping about the house until she picked up at a nightclub and there was a bitching dance track on , I think it's the new Izzy single - and I imagine it makes total sense in a nightclub, you know, power of redemption through music and all that. Where it seems immensely wrong is blasting over a tinny PA system in the middle of K-Mart at 1 in the afternoon, where it's feel good charms don't match up to being trapped in the middle of a pincer and pram movement round the DVD section just as someone does something to make the entire aisle smell terrible and a little kid arcs directly and unerringly into your lower leg. Alive? That's an ironic joke, tell that to the staff, they don't seem very alive. It's like at work sometimes when you are feeling horribly depressed and down and the radio starts playing Get The Party Started on a rainy Monday afternoon. The best thing about my local KMart these days is they've equipped the shelf fillers with flourescent yellow jackets as if they are about to go cycling in the dark or something, which is almost as alarming as the fact that today blue eye shadow girl was rocking a quite alarming pair of nerd glasses (meh, it's still blue eye shadow girl). Our KMart used to be beautifully disorganised, the DVDs assembled in some sort of surrealist jumble on a wooden table where by any random selection seemed was certain to be a Jim Carrey film, but now an efficiency expert has swept in and it's lost it's shambolic character. There used to be a girl who worked in there, a blonde characterless girl with an alarmingly sharp nose, who's primary function used to be minister of morale - it might just be happenstance and co-incidence, but on the very few occasions I went into the place, she always seemed to be telling some sort of acidic or slightly libellous joke to the shaven headed middle aged man who was supposed to remember cash could be exchanged for goods and services. As I'd stand impatiently armed with a fierce pout and no where else to go (I'd hope they didn't notice that), she'd calmly and casually finish her joke, and then turn on her Clarks issue soft shoes at which point the man behind the counter would finish a sandwich and then serve me while she went elsewhere to tell someone else the joke. Now, she's in charge of putting wrestling figures and soft toys on the shelf, and walks with the embittered air of the disconsolate nostalgia freak, furiously throwing the toys and wishing she could back to her old job, and sometimes it's just fun to watch her as she puts the trolley back in the stock room, reloads, and sees the glory days of her youth and her high fliration beams fade one Powderfinger song and one stacked trolley of board games at a time...

My school that I went to in Kilwinning wasn't exactly a glamorous school. It wasn't terrible, but it was kind of crumbling, there was a much exaggerated threat of inter religious violence, my diet for a month was three packets of M&Ms and a can of coke and no one really minded, and chancey characters with names like The Big Yin, Interscope, MacSexy and Sarah would freely sell drugs from underneath whichever giant block of concrete they could find to hind under. However what was good about it was, for the most part, the people would conjure up stoicism in the face of what could have actually been quite depressing circumstances. Kilwinning wasn't exactly Las Vegas, but on certain days it felt wonderful to be there when, say, someone would read a particularly outrageous story in English or would cheek the Maths teacher in a way that just didn't happen in Tasmania. I think the main thing I got out of Scotland, apart from losing my permatan, was that sense that even though you were ten, you were incredibly adult, and I liked that, something I really remember thinking when little eleven year old girls in pig tails were discussing oral sex and alcohol. That was the biggest adjustment I had to make when I was in Scotland - especially at school discos, which were a sort of Degrassi like experience compared to the more genteel world of Burnie where someone would hand crank a gramophone and play some sort of waltz and then everyone would get a packet of Twisties. In Scotland everything seemed like preperation for real life. The discos were inside a big assembly hall, and you would be ruthlessly assessed for pash (or winch as it were) suitability. I was completely off the ball though and thought that these events were for dancing and chatting, and so, with the lack of accumulated wisdom that all my twelve year old self had, I would get on down to the latest hits of James or whatever without realising that I should have been cultivating a much more enigmatic image while staying in the corner, buying bags of candy hearts from the DJ that he assured me were drugs, and maybe just deigning to speak every so often to comment that everything sucked. I was certainly dressed well enough, in my expensive Italian FILA boots, but clearly something was missing, an education of sorts, maybe some kind of life lesson, because my winching days never seemed to materialise in Scotland. The closest I ever got was with a girl called Nicola, a slightly nerdy but still pretty cute girl, but I blew it with some sort of terrible joke that she didn't get and then I had to cover the situation by saying that we had pashed...it was lucky I was moving away back to Tasmania by that point, because there were only so many dances in a circle I could ruin with my over enthusiasm...and to be honest, while I loved the place, there was part of me already thinking that if this was all there was in life, sorry Peggy Lee, I really shouldn't keep dancing nor break out the booze...mostly because the DJ sold me the booze and it turned out to be iced tea that smelled funny...

Art in Kilwinning was a subject you survived - our teacher was an alcoholic which from a school where the Chemistry teacher had a vision impairment wasn't so bad. He had a lot of rough days and behind on the shelf above his head were a number of empty and clean vodka bottles that he claimed were an installation. He would quite often nod off at his desk, and he had a ruddy red face and jet white (well jets aren't black if you think about it?) hair and a big wart on his cheek. One thing you couldn't fault was passion for art, which was big as his passion for concealing things in hip flasks. He was very firey if he was motivated, and I know that he was always angry at me because he thought I was good at art and wasn't trying, and then he found out I actually was rubbish and went on to other things. I did get an A off him once, but I didn't have the heart to tell him what he thought was a hippo was actually meant to be a rocket ship, and claimed it proudly. The days he was asleep the art room would descend into a biblical anarchy - mostly involving a student going to the toilet and coming back and sitting on their chair which in their absence would be covered in paint. My memory for a long time told me we drew a nude model, but then I remembered it was just some girl took her clothes off for something to do. Our teacher understandably sick of the disrespect he received would come in his tattered suit, judge the mood of the room and give up if he sensed any untimely rowdiness. I always remember that suit, a strangely stained number that spoke entirely through the streaks and marks, but I also know that no matter how his body or addiction failed him, or how hopeless the situation was trying to teach the classic painting styles to Kilwinnings future crack addicts and petty criminals, there was also dignity in him, and oddly, it was in his tie...it might sound stupid, but no matter how messed up his suit was, or how unkempt this hair, his tie was always straight and perfect...funny how that sticks in my mind...guess you have to focus on something in the midst of flying paintbrushes and sights out of the window that no blog should have to repeat...

It seemed as though we would just go one like this forever, on some sort of alcoholic rollercoaster where one day you got to paint and the next day you were lucky if you weren't covered in paint. One day though he came in with a briefcase, a new suit and a steely resolve. Even out smartest kid, a bit of a twat called Brendan with a smart mouth who was always pretending to be stoned when the strongest drug he ever had was a Halibut Orange, was moved to a blissful period of silence by this new man who had wandered in. His twelve steps were all in the direction of us, and eventually he pulled up a (thankfully not covered in paint) chair and eyeballed us. He looked like a televangelist to be honest, and I half expected that he was about to launch into that story about the butterfly and the fisherman that my parish priest in Penguin used to always go on about. Instead, he let out a deep mournful sigh and said absolutely nothing for five minutes. After five agonizing minutes, he loosened his perfect tie a little, looked out the window, and said something along the lines that he had disrespected his teacher at school, and then woke up one day realising that his teacher was right all along, he didn't know everything, and now here he was in the twilight of his life, rotting away, wondering where the time went. He then directly looked at one of us, all I know it wasn't me, and said that his job was to teach us to value our youth, and respect our futures, and he wouldn't let us piss it away on stupid pranks and fights and drugs. And with that, he pushed his chair back into position and began what actually quite a productive lesson. It was a genuinely moving speech, the subtext imparted that he didn't want us to feel regret like he did, the last battlecry on a worn out man with problems. However, as a moving speech, it was in the category of a eulogy, because for the rest of the year he never cared again, and was soon back to wearing the coat of a thousand stains. Of course, we didn't realise that at the time the potency of his words, but now, maybe more than ever, it's sort of resonating in my head, the eternal sin of regret, best expressed by an angry and confused alcoholic...expressed by the angry face of a girl who's seen better days at work...

And expressed by the fact that I still can't find any lamingtons in the shop...

8 comments:

JahTeh said...

Miles, I'm beginning to think you are three people or you're 150 years old because there seems to be a lot of life gone under your bridge.

K-mart's a bit behind in Tas, it's all bloody Christmas Carols and obnoxious kiddy toys over here. I can't believe they're still selling that horrible doll that takes in food at one end and excretes germ warfare at the other.

Charles Gramlich said...

Love the line about the strongest drug he'd ever had was an orange.

SuvvyGirl said...

The K Mart here got robbed on Sunday and none of the twits working had enough sense to push the little alarm button under the registers, so the robbers got away with over 7 grand.

squib said...

Oh I love the description of the art teacher

We had a wonderful crazy art teacher for a couple of years. Once he said to us, 'Put your left hand in the air. Now your right hand. OK you've all passed your art exam.'

the projectivist said...

i don't really get the point of those yellow jackets.

originally i had thought that it might allow customers to easily spot staff and have questions answered promptly.

but that is not the case because invariably when you ask what seems like a simple question, the shop assistant will look at you with a blank expression and then send you to the front desk.

i've now come to the conclusion that the yellow jackets are a safety precaution against frustrated customers. maybe they offer some protection from having things thrown at you?

Miles McClagan said...

No, I can assure you that I am but one 30 year old eedjit with a fair amount of wandering gone round...KMart is mostly behind where I work, the number one toy seems to be the ATARI Lynx...any opportunity...I did see that doll though, what is that about?

And it's absolutely true...he was always talking about his magical ability to survive being wasted...and it was just nonsense...

Our local KMARt has about two hundred and fifty staff and it'd be kind of hard for one group to rob it...mind you, I'm sure certain staff would show a cool head and push the button...not the grey headed lady who hates me though, she can bugger off...

You know though that there would be several kids in Burnie who would still have failed...

I have no idea what is going on in my local KMart...one person had casual clothes on, one had a yellow jacket, one had a black jacket (eh?) and one had a pinstripe suit...it was like some sort of zany clothes day...you might be right, or maybe KMart employees need to be spotted if the lights fail? I might ask tomorrow...

Baino said...

Aww my comment didn't save *insert witty comment here* (I don't do Kmart generally, can't stand the screaming toddlers and westy women) Yeh I'm a snob.

Miles McClagan said...

Well yesterday in KMart, they played Nik Kershaw, so they kinda won me back...