Thursday, January 15, 2009

Life is lived in the mind. You are where your head is at. If that means watching Bicentennial man, well...



It's a funny thing I realised today in the mental thinking gap between saying the words pasta salad and actually getting some pasta salad in the new chicken shop today. My home town in Scotland was largely designed to be a new town, as Mum would call it a "Glasgow Overspill", a developmental dream full of industry and excitement. And it was until the money ran out and it went to shit, now being full of men in Rangers tops wandering around chewing gum and looking disdainfully at anyone who might be too big for their boots. And now I live in Kingston, which has similar aspirations, which redevelops and changes the shops and has fancy things put in like underground car parks - if the money ran out, who knows, maybe it's liveability will descend to the same level and a chewing gum pathway will line the streets of ambition. Of course, the funny thing about Kingston is that there's piles of shops springing up all over the place, and yet at 10 in the morning when the world is working, there's no one at all, perfect for the solitary wanderer to potter around with Yelle on the IPOD, undisturbed by cars doing left turns in front of me or joggers getting on the front foot as they smugly pass me at 10ks an hour. On certain days, and this is perfect for me, you can walk for ages and not see a soul at this time of the day, maybe some people shuffling about the bus stop or the odd disinterested surly teen enjoying the dying days of summer, but largely, I live in a vastly disconnected singular and selfish world. These walks really don't ever inspire melancholy or discontent that I don't return home to a wife or kids or even someone to care for like my aunty did with my Gran - nor do I reflect on my life and plan to run into the welcoming arms of the first social group I could find just to have friends. Of course, any desire to become a parent and increase my responsibilities generally dies whenever I'm in a queue with a small loud child either in front or behind me, the child either over or underparented, struck with a firm hand or completely ignored, given no chocolate or all the chocolate in the world...I simply can't decide which of those parenting styles so oft on display I would take, so I take the third option, of just eating the chocolate myself...

The Video store, incidentally, is a Video City. This is significant for Tasmanians because when they moved into Tasmania, accompanied by a horrific ad campaign involving a Max Headroom a like in sunglasses, a girl dressed like Snow White and Amiga produced graphics, they produced the death of the Mom and Pop video store on the North West Coast. Intriguingly, with far more space and more video choice, a Video City always feels like the last word in loneliness to me for some reason. I know why this is, it's the car park. When my girlfriend playing netball player would, well, play netball - and it's only today I realised I was making that obituary error of reducing quite a complex person to a single characteristic - I would sometimes kick cans in the cold air of the Moonah Video City car Park, which was across the road from her venue, with other lost jobless bogans, talking in uncommunicative don't ask don't tell grunts, sometimes swapping cigarettes or stories of how the man didn't understand us. Sometimes I'd wander around the video shop, simply because it was a store where it never felt like anyone would ask any questions, you could be distinctly scruffy and poor looking and look at nothing but the back cover of an 80s wrestling movie all day long until the end of your life and the staff would still be too busy stocktaking the packets of Starburst to care. I'm sure that car park isn't so big, but in that particular unemployed nuclear winter it seemed vast and empty and the size of a football field, but it also could feel like the end of the world, so vast it swallowed up all prospects, and sometimes you would swear the cute girl returning a copy of a highly priced new movie would pity you as she exited Daddys car. I remember once, just as I waved to my girlfriend as she approached with an uncharacteristic post game smile, for she was a terrible loser just to expand her a little bit beyond a three sentence summation, a fight broke out next to my legs. I can't remember if it was security against a shoplifter, or just two Moonah bogans battling over a can of coke, but it was a pathetic fight, weak and inept, two guys rolling around slapping thin air and each other, bouncing off car park tyres, at which point someone, and it would have been funny if it was my girlfriend, made some kind of comment about not wanting those kind of people around here. To this day I don't know who said it, I didn't pick it up, and there's a very real chance it was my conscience, but I was very much, in quotes, those kind of people, aimless, disenfranchised, unemployable and self pitying. It didn't inspire a change in me at all though, the lesson didn't sink in for a while longer, but it was learned in time or else I could still be there for all I know. My girlfriend whenever she picked me up would sing the Video Citys theme slogan, Good Times, to me in some sort of ironic singing coded message style, but then in the latter days of our flickering out relationship, I would return the favour by singing I Will Always Love You, in what I hoped would be a similarly ironic code, but I suspect she believed it, which really was like rain on your wedding day....

I have no such problems today, not with all the middle class home owning security ten years of drudgery can offer. I can stride into any video store I want, confident in the knowledge that my DVD rental card is all good. Of course, at this time of the morning, although the car park is far less spacious in Kingston as opposed to Moonah, the loneliness can come back as, if not an acid flashback, maybe a Starburst one. This is entirely because there are only two people in a giant overdeveloped corporate video shack, me and the video geek behind the counter. It may be a little bit the geek calling the nerd a dork (like pots and kettles but with more D&D) for me to call him a dork when I've barely woken up and am rocking a look you can only describe as flight cancelled, but we'll roll with it. He's intently watching that Robin Williams film where a robot becomes a human and I disturb him to get a new video card, which leads to several seconds of awkward shuffling where I suspect he's looking at me but really listening to the TV behind him. For all I know I've just woken him up from a nap. Certainly a Robin Williams film could do that for you. He laminates me a card, and luckily given our mutual looks at this time of the morning, he doesn't invite me to play chess. I hate to say this, but he could easily be robbed, since he seems perpetually vulnerable and distracted by the unfolding movie saga of the robot and the humanity. Luckily as a concession to modernity, you can no longer see into the video shop since they frosted up the windows, which means shifty men can get porn without people peering in judgementally. When I shut down my IPOD due to a flat battery, or maybe it's just the way Yelle sings, I notice there's one of the more obscure Radiohead albums playing, not even the hits but one of the more elongated indulgent album tracks which screams despair even more than picking up a copy of Dan Akroyds Loose Cannons, on DVD no less, by careless mistake. I realise this is now like stepping into the geeks own idiosyncratic personally set up bedroom. He's free to put on the movies he wants, eat the lollies he wants with a casual disdain when he wants, and put on the despairing atmospheric air sucking out the room music he wants, and in return, all he has to put up with is the odd visit from a just out of bed dork like me, in a pair of Aviator sunglasses that are fooling nobody, making him use the laminating machine for 5ive minutes a day and blowing all their cool by not getting something classy or thoughtful from the video store but Iron Man because, like my Dad, I need movies where things blow up. Or something. And when I leave, I'm sure he feels like I used to when my Mum, in her own loose cannons do your homework period, would finally leave my room after a ten minute disturbance slash rummage slash nose around, and I put my own headphones on and enjoy the peace and quiet. His world is restored when I finally leave. I leave him eating a chunk of a Diary Milk, and taking in one of Williams more impassioned speeches, something about mentality or what it means to be human...if it is watching Robin Williams films then I worry...

There's no such reflection time though for Ashleigh, my intermittently friendly checkout girl. She's stressed out, although I'm also stressed out, from walking three steps behind a mother daughter punch up. A girl who is likely to have a, quote, sexy picture on her Myspace in a desperate hope that someone finds her attractive, with a pair of thick glasses, a cotton tracksuit, and a pair of headphones the size of the ark, has just punched her mother instictively on the arm for something that I'm not sure about. Not unreasonably, her mother has just given her a dead arm, and that's the end of bogan theatre for the day. I'm taken for a moment by one of those rather sad conversations a balding single male will sometimes have with the Wendys girl as she mixes him a shake, one where how was your day somehow gets translated in his hairy ears as please have sex with me now and he gets a smirk on his face bigger than his...anyway, as with my own checkout experience, the sheer volume of people pouring in, relatively, is enough to drive even the best greeter insane. Ashleighs particular bugbear, for what it's worth, as she stands in a black chunky knit sweater, all ringlets and affected discontent, is people paying with an EFTPOS card, especially galling on the express aisle where you imagine people pay for 2wo dollar twenty five cans of Red Bull on Visa and have it declined. The worst thing of course is theres nothing you can do to personalise a checkout, no escape route, no Radiohead tapes or free Starburst lollies. Ashleigh, for that's what her badge says, has a worn out early 30something face, chunky hips and absolutely no time for anyone. There's something encapsulating and poetic about the way she says have a great day though. Later, when I get my ham and cheese squares (which aren't square) from Bakers Delight, the girl there, a peppy girl with attitude that gets her gratitude, wishes me a good day, I suspect she means it, like a girl in school who would blow into her hand and send good luck dust across the class (maybe that was just us). Ashleigh patently means nothing of the sort, her idea of courtesy is remembering that she scanned the Aero chocolate mousse twice, and having the good grace to fix it. When she says have a great day, the words are almost caustic, but that would credit her with the emotional powers to come up with caustic as a selected vibe. Instead, she's staring at a fixed point directly behind me, and she continues staring at that point by the time the next customer, an eager beaver Asian woman on the borderline of 15teen items if you include a clear over purchase of gum infraction clearing waving not just an Eftpos card, but gasp, a frequent shopper card, I suspect that Ashleigh is already counting down the minutes, maybe even the seconds, until she can flee, fix her ringlets, and crash into whatever space she can where there are no humans around, especially not ones listening to Yelle or yelling at her about the state of the cardswipe machine...

I suspect you know, in another world, we could have been blissfully happy together...

7 comments:

the projectivist said...

i suspect you just like Yelle for the shorts. they're tiny.
i made it to about 2.34 when the electro drum bit clicked in, and had to turn it off.

Doc said...

"...but I was very much, in quotes, those kind of people, aimless, disenfranchised, unemployable and self pitying. It didn't inspire a change in me at all though." Me too.

I love the way you paint such a picture with your writing. You have taken a day off and transformed your morning shopping into a fan-effing-tastic character study; The video store clerk, the ex-girlfriend that was never meant to be, down to Ashleigh, the heartless cog in the local grocery machine.

I am blown away.

Doc

Miles McClagan said...

Yelle are bit of a tough sell. Even I get annoyed by them 1/2 the time, I have to be in the right mood. Amour De Sol is their most normal song, and lyrically even French people don't get it. On certain days though, I get a bit obsessed, and turn it up really loud...I couldn't wear shorts like that mind...

Thanks mate, I appreciate anyone taking the time to read these days and not poking around for Jodie low photos...I don't think I take days off anymore, I'm always looking around for new material! As for Ashleigh, I wonder what her life is like, if that's her or it was just the day...

sparsely kate said...

I used to work in supermarkets and this brings back oh, so many memories. Retail is a life-destroying industry. Get out while you can my friend!!

Great post...I enjoyed it very much :)

Miles McClagan said...

It's bloody awful working in a supermarket isn't it? All those people, never ending, abusive OAPs, middle aged housewives fussing about the amount of lollies in a stocktake...if it wasn't for the trolley boy gig, I'd have gone mad!

Baino said...

Don't start me on kids. Apparently (according to my son) after 3 hours at Questacon I deserve a Nobel Prize for raising two children. Plus a kid hit me on the Darling Harbour ferry because she was angry with her Dad . .what's that all about? They have ham and cheese squares at Baker's Delight? Another masterpiece of observation Miley

Miles McClagan said...

They have them down here, they are super delicious. Massively fattening, but delicious. I couldn't raise kids. As I've said before, I couldn't look after sea monkeys...why did the kid hit you?My Mum would have hit her back...