The melancholy new patriot wants to be alone.
This is the story of his smithereens.
Around twelve, Patriot often wakes to empty his allergic bladder. This evening is no different. Let’s study the relief that he achieves in the quotidian.
Swollen, vein-threaded thighs carry him stomping callously across the thin carpet of the bedroom to the rug-lined hallway that connects to the laundry; there the toilet is; the soft balls of his feet direct him where to step in the dark.
Feet can only report so much to this fool. A discarded pig’s ear chew snack for the dog is bunched up at rug’s end.
Direct hit. It does not cut, but does topple him.
Patriot collapses sideways, inwardly into the doorjamb.
We keep him awake with a door-chapped mouth. We best delight in this, the first sleepless night of the melancholy new patriot’s adult life. Relief cut short. That’s a pity.
Manly Beach and stretches upon stretches of cool sand. The unsteady clouds of spring. He’s crushing an energy drink. This season provides the quietest time to pace the foreshore to and fro. Globules of jelly spot the salt and pepper sands tousled with twigs and seaweed from a recent storm. The melancholy new patriot sucks mouthfuls of a hard-fought solipsism. He loves his time alone on the coast, a kind of apogee in an otherwise unseen drift.
Not even a single beach fisher to disturb him today. Otherwise, same pavement, same grit skipping across his toes stingingly. Over the rise, the long beach. A landscape of slung bluebottles among strewn vegetable life. Look at that quiet chaos, he thinks.
He gasps the remains of the tart drink and clears his throat. Smacks his right cheek a few times; rubs an eye. He crushes the can, pushes all his stress into the can’s waist, the stubborn steel tube slowly contorting until it totally gives under his pressure, curling up in between his fingers, making some trash hologram as it does, a kind of concave projection of his grip strength.
However elegant an impression of his force the twisted metal makes, he’s not satisfied with the frustrated expenditure. The muscles haven’t had much relief. And take a look at this mess! he reckons. Man of appetite, I am, he smirks. Expenditure. He pokes his chin forward and in, like a bristling pigeon.
This time, satisfaction. A glimpse of himself flashes in the reflection of one of the Hiluxes there in the parking lot lining the foreshore in this inevitable interval before bringing two hands together to annihilate the force effigy that has become the energy drink can. Yes, there it is. Minimised. And there, the clavicle, the chest, red-brown, just over-scalded; the hard look, I’ve got it, he muses. For Patriot, the reverse aura to that scoop of the stony chest exposes just how premeditated the nature of his efforts has been. In other words, there is a tanning limit that he has crossed, a boundary he has willingly transgressed; he has taxed himself and he looks like it.
The melancholy new patriot would say that he looks like he gives a shit. Patriot consults both impresses at either side of his lips. Yes, he still gives the impression of a man militantly self-conscious of impression. Impressed by impression. Impression of being impressed by the impression of the impression of being impressed with impression. Ah!
I love a sunburnt selfhood, he ponders. Good, he thinks. Bloody good, he thinks, yes, very good, he thinks. What more could I possibly accomplish, he wonders. Has a little laugh to himself. Alright, time to spit, he decides.
Decisively he spits.
He’s prouder of his appearance than anyone that he knows, now that he thinks about it. I give a shit, you know, he considers.
He loves that he’s proud that he cares more than anyone he knows and he loves that. He loves that he’s proud that he cares more than anyone he knows and he loves that he loves that he’s proud that he cares more than anyone he knows and he loves that he loves that. Brown for a calendar year without a single spray.
the wind changes direction; cumulus bustle
Time for annihilation, he thinks, returning to his immediater objects. The cabbage tree palms pronounce that bright cheering manifold clap they make when wind kicks up – clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap – as the new patriot milks the last frustrations of his soul from the prone slag of the distorted can.
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.
Patriot catches a glimpse of the setting of his hair in the car window as he walks the paving tiles impressed in the lawn towards his front door. Mid-afternoon. Too early for any noise. He’ll be inside before the kookaburras kick up. Neck craned, step after step along the paving he makes a panning shot of his hard brow. Quiet all about the suburb.
– slam! –
His temple strikes a tile. Interval. The temple goes wet. He looks up at his shoe. A half-eaten banana, tightly smeared across the sneaker. He raises himself quickly in the hope that no one has seen this throbbing mortification.
But we saw it, didn’t we.
The brow he wipes stings, but he soon learns that the wound is just a scratch. More blood on the tile than on his head now.
Bimbo, his German shepherd, greets him at the screen door licking his jeans and the droplets of banana through the grating. Lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick. She’s thrilled, even overwhelmed to see him. Patriot’s eyes sweeten to be greeted so loyally at such a routine time of return.
[each underline is equivalent to one finger tapping of a smooth hardwood café-style table with the Patriot’s index finger, mezzo forte]
‘You get that in a fight?’
‘Nah. It’s nothing’
‘So as I was saying, it’s hard to be a bloke these days’
‘Just hard to be a bloke. No one’s got respect for the values of a bloke no more’
‘No respect, you know. To be honest – and look, you didn’t hear this from me ––’
‘Nah, of course’
‘To be honest, I wouldn’t even go to the gym if I thought the other bloke respected who I was deep down’
‘I hate that expression “deep down”. How else can I say it.’ Pause. He sips. ‘Deep down, you can’t expect any respect for the values of a bloke from another bloke’
‘And I’m not even talking about Dad’s values or Grandad’s values. You know, digger-values. Stuff like that. Respect that, YES. Don’t get me wrong. But that’s not it’
‘Respect the valour stuff, yes, I do, I get it. Don’t get me wrong. But today’s missing values aren’t even those values. I just mean respecting you as a bloke.’
‘As a bloke’
‘As a man! And that’s where these Patriots Front blokes have nailed it. Listen: I’ve got no taste for their Nazi stuff, o’course. Gestures. Ideas. Can hardly have an opinion about Jews if I’ve never met one! You get what I’m saying!’
‘Just the values. There’s where the Patriots are on to something. I’m getting a look in for a bit of stirring, to be sure, but also because I’ve got bigger hopes. I don’t see a fool like Cottrell lasting long. He’s right for the moment, but too dumb. Figure of the times in that respect, but don’t get me started. Anyway, the fed-up crew like us are a much bigger group, mate, serious. Look. It didn’t take me much to find fellowship, fellow respect, with you, now did it?’
‘That’s what I’m talking about! This is what we – listen to me, we! – are building. Have I had something like that in the ten years before I joined? No way mate. Manly 2009 was the thing. Just blokes that feel the same, enjoying the togetherness of that. Of being Aussie. Simple as that. See, that’s where I’m different from the dudes that are going to St Kilda. I’m not in it for all that internet stuff. A lot of the dudes like me that are coming down from New South Wales or Queensland are. Just shows you how serious I am, you see, because I’m not in it for that. They’re hardening themselves in person because they don’t get satisfaction from their fights on Facebook. They’re looking to toughen their hurt self-image, mate. But I’m just fine with me’self! Look, my worldview is as simple as this, and sign off on this and you’ll be keen to join one way or another, I reckon – if I can’t trust another Aussie bloke to see me as a bloke, how can I trust the Vietnamese, the Indian, or even the Japanese to respect me?’
‘Yep. You’ve nailed it’
‘Most of the self-denying and humble types that listened to the music I listened to and hung out with the same crew as me became addicts. Weakness has a destination and I’ve seen it. The few straight-forward blokes in my crew have no values now, they were the ones that became crazy ambitious, with rich folks pressuring them. You know what, the rich ones, jet skis aside – ah, you know I don’t mind a jet ski – they’re all divorced already! What does that tell you? Myself, and the few self-improvers, as I like to call them, the ones that gave a shit, we’re the ones with good kids in school and working marriages. We’re the ones giving our kids a future. Everyone else is piking on their responsibilities. Look, I’m forty next year and my twelve-year-old goes to high school soon. Who’s filling these schools with good kids? Types like me, and the few self-improvers of my old crew that didn’t get sucked in by money, you see.’
‘Now what does that tell you?’
‘Look: a minority of hard-workers is breeding the future of Australia. Everyone else can’t hack it; they either don’t want it, they ruin it, or they’re outside it. None of these blokes are made for pa tri mo ny.’
‘Patrimony; male heritage, male order, dynasty. Now if these families are breaking down across the country, what kind of nation does all this add up to?’
‘Nothingness, mate. Crowded, undirected chaos. And if I can’t trust blokes from my old crew to respect my values of a strong family, strong kids, strong financial education from birth, strong consciousness of where you came from, strong sense of your roots and the customs of where you’re born, how can I trust the environmentalist who takes the land from the pastoralist, the pacifist that riffs on peace every other second, or the vegetarian who threatens to take the meat from our children’s mouths. It’s all of a piece, mate. No wonder a party like the Greens can stand for all these things at once. That’s no bloody accident, when you think about it’
‘You’ve nailed it’
‘So, before the Patriots, it was always the National Party for me. But what have they really got to say for suburban blokes – battlers, don’t get me wrong – like me, but suburb-based, who have to continue to suffer the frontline of these corruptions? We are the frontline. Look: I never cared about the country hats. That’s not my thing. I’m a Sydney boy. The Party’s a joke now anyway, what with whatshisname. And you know why I never supported Pauline – she’s too fucken dumb. I’m not dumb enough to support a Pauline Hanson. If you can’t say properly what it is I’m thinking, then how can I vote for you? Latham, I can get behind. But he’s all talk. What kind of role-model does he offer to our sons? The heart of it is the struggle of a well-meaning patriot. These Patriots, a Patriots Front, even if they are led by blokes who’ve fallen off the rails a bit, actually have a collective feeling. That’s where I can look the other cheek, you see. Pauline’s just another representative but join the Patriots and you’ll actually get involved! Blokes like me have been waiting for the Patriots. They make more sense than the Nationals and the Paulines combined.
‘Look, I know the precedents. Pauline’s halfway there, but she’s got no ideas. I saw more in 2009 on the beach than in a hundred speeches by her. What has she learnt in Parliament the last couple decades but how to rort the system? She’s as bad as the rest. I don’t like being embarrassed, Mark. So, Patriots are the way, mate’ – Patriot presses his lips together, leans back, scratches the back of his head – ‘and I’ve worked out the difference through some hard thinking, self-reflection, and self-bloody-improvement. You’ve not studied the problems like I have. No one has. Sometimes I think the Patriots have been waiting for someone like me. A mind! But anyway. We’re all just passionate Aussies. At heart, you and me, we’re very much the same, and I can feel that’
– and that’s when the melancholy new patriot reaches for Mark’s thin grey arm, squeezing the sensitive flesh near the armpit that sags even on a thin man like Patriot’s companion; Mark inhales big, exhales a smile –
‘even if I grew up a bit more fortunate than you, you know. Different school. But same school district. We could have been real mates long ago, right! Brothers! You know. So I had to wear a uniform and you didn’t. So what. We talk the same! Right? That’s the difference between the soft days and the hard. I was always the give-a-shit type. But there’s a fellowship growing now, across districts and divisions. That’s how these blokes put it, and I’m in agreeance. Fellowship of common values. And you’ve got to be in it to win it’
‘Got to be in it to win it’
‘Got to be in it to win it, right!’
‘Got to be in it to win it!’
‘Am I right? Got to be in it to win it!’
Kai and Ari pass by with schooners and give the melancholy new patriot a nod. Kai, Ari, Patriot says, raising his glass. Everyone in the pub is wearing high-vis, actually, including the new patriot and frail-looking Mark sunk into his burgundy-cushioned pine armchair. Kai and Ari return to a group by the pool table, away from the TV.
‘I love the Kiwi blokes, you know. They’re the hardest pick-packers we have. It was the same when I was on the floor.’
‘I might be up in the office now, but the setting’s much the same and the smoko’s still where the action is; we all share it, even the non-smokers, like me, and the girls; we’re all there. And the Kiwis are still the best of ‘em’
– Mark pipes up a little bit –
‘You mean you like Kiwis the best?’ Mark’s confused.
‘Yep. First of all, values. Those Māori blokes have the values. Good dads all of them. Ari’s got three kids, mate. Great dads’
‘And we know what the other’s thinking. They look at me and think, “if I do a good job, the depot supervisor’s going to give me the best shifts and look out for me.” And what do you know it, I do. I talk about my wife and kids, they talk about their wife and kids; they talk about their car, I talk about my car. We’re all good. Not a single anxiety when I’m in their company. Fellowship. Not to mention you wouldn’t mess with Kai either, now would you!’
‘And you know what, many of these dudes are serious Christians. They wouldn’t let it on to you. There’s the thing. I respect that. I’m no religious man. But these Kiwis have got religion and I admire that. I admire that they’ve got something so powerful that I haven’t got. I reckon they’re ahead of us, actually. Don’t get me wrong. I know the Māoris have their tribalism. That’s why their country’s lagging behind us, I reckon. But the smart ones that come here must be the best bloody people in the world. Religion. Values. Power. Mate, I admire those Kiwis and they’re bloody loyal to me’
‘They understand me too. That’s what I mean. You don’t see Māori blokes signing up to Patriots, of course, but they would if a Māori bloke took the helm. That’s the thing. Big strong blokes looking after their families, being what they are to look after their families and the values which keep those families together in times when a dollar just can’t be relied on. They don’t need the Patriots, that’s the thing. They’ve really got it, these Māori blokes. I’d trust a Māori prime minister of Australia before I’d trust an American one or a Pommie. No question in my mind. We’re just much more alike, Kiwis and Australians. You won’t hear a Māori bloke talking himself up’
‘These Kiwis come to Australia for the cash. Don’t get me wrong. But that’s not really why they stay. They’re here to make strong families and communities. And they just want to have a beer without being disturbed’
‘Where do most of my staff go for Christmas? Bali. Bloody Indonesia. These Kiwis always go home for the Christmas break, of course. See: values. Look, since we got federated, white Aussies have got no motherland, no home. We’re not at home here. I mean, we’ve got houses, we’ve made homes, got a bit of the land beneath. And we’ve got to make stronger homes, don’t get me wrong. But the country ain’t ours. We’ve got to make strong homes because Australia was never ours. Again, the Patriots have helped me understand this. When they say ‘blood and soil’ that’s when I think back to Federation. I did alright in history at school, you see. That is, this: we never went far enough in making this place our home. That’s our situation. Time to go to extremes, before we lose everything. It all starts as a riot. Just look what they’ve already done to Australia Day since we arced up. You don’t have to look at the stars to get it, mate’
‘We never went far enough. I never went far enough. I’m no different and I know it. Just an Aussie trying to improve! That’s the point of organising, Mark. To improve. To get strong’
‘See, that’s why I hate those activists so bloody much. They call us racists because they know it’s the best weapon to discredit us. No one wants to be a racist. I don’t want to be a racist! And I’m out there trying to show them that loving your country, loving your home, doesn’t make you racist. You’ve just got to make a better tribe’
‘The coppers get us. They’re alright, you know. They put on that they’re playing fair, but, being the protectors of order, they’ll always put us peaceful protestors first. So don’t worry about security on the day’
‘Do you really think that a cop is going to look at a bloke in pink or rainbow, or a chick with a bongo, and take them seriously?’
‘That’s the thing about a rainbow: it’s a mirage that promises you gold, wherever you look at it from. And no mirage lasts very long. Cheers to that, Marky-Mark!’
Ari and Kai are returning to the bar for fresh ones. A grey and green swarm of high-vis rocking back and forth in the corner of the pub, under the TV, prod each other, play-fight each other.
One bloke tests the other by slapping his cheek. Once. Twice. Three times. Then, the bloke being slapped turns purple, rams his open palm into the slapper’s throat, pushes the slapper backward and off his toes with some jostling.
Short-lived melee – the mate to his left pats him on the shoulder, says ‘yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep’, ‘nup, NAH’, ‘yep, we’re all good now, aren’t we’.
He’s the biggest, the patter, and it’s immediately all over.
Ari leans back on the bar as Kai makes banter with the bartender who’s pouring their schooners. Ari’s taking a hard look at the swarm and their depreciating bustle over in the nook. The grey swarm harden into place as Ari ponders them as they have a silent moment to let the tension out of the preceding tussle. It’s quiet but for the commentating on the game. The slapped bloke makes a weird stretching motion. Rocks on the balls of his toes. Let’s his hips relax. Says, ‘yeh, fuck’. Takes a swallow of beer. Checks his phone. Then he looks up, up at Ari looking at him.
You couldn’t call the correspondence happening between them much of anything. ‘Sizing each other up’ would be hyperbolic. But there is an animal search for redemption taking place in the slapped bloke’s changeable, intoxicated mood that draws him into the suggestive and partly grotesque facial expressions he now makes towards the stone-calm Ari.
Ari’s stupendous calm is obviously being felt as an affront by the slapped one. But then that animal search makes a sophisticated compass; the slapped one, however bloated and calloused, strong and hard in a middling, comparatively mediocre sort of way he might be, feels the fifteen or twenty kilo difference between him and calm Ari like a red light. Nothing starts there.
These moments are peculiar. Should this be one of those when the swarm rallies in consensus with the hurt animal, probability suggests that a face-off of shirtfronting and intimidation would certainly, and a fight could possibly, happen. Being one of those moments when the unredeemed enjoys no favour with the swarm, weight differentials matter a lot.
The slapped bloke weakly turns to sip what turns out to be an empty glass. He watches TV.
‘Enough of the rainbow,’ the new patriot cheers Mark again. Mark’s empty, starts pretending to look for some cash in his pockets. ‘I’ll get you another. Don’t worry. Put your hands away. But only if you come to Melbourne, alright’
– Mark slaps the same place on Patriot’s left arm that Patriot squeezed on Mark’s –
‘Hey. Now, you know what happens when you unify all the colours of the rainbow, don’t you,’ Patriot smiles as he rises, staring suggestively at Mark, raising an empty, frothy glass.
A pile of TAB tickets lies beneath Patriot’s next move.
– Slip! –
Patriot falls sideways, and his knee bends beneath him, twisting slightly, such that his old rugby injury twinges.
Unfortunately for us, nothing gives!
Too many blokes to cry out, Patriot baulks the scream. Still, the maw opens to his overdry inner mouth screaming voicelessly. Mark’s twiddling his thumbs, so he sees nothing of the fall.
The grey swarm do see. They nudge and laugh, silently, weirdly voiceless. It was as if the preceding events were some near-miss that they didn’t want to bring back onto themselves again by engaging in another form of intimidation, mockery, or any other sort.
Patriot regains his composure. No beer spilt. It was empty after all. Patriot makes a charming, public smile as he stands. But no-one is looking at him. Only Patriot looks hard at himself. He is a portrait of unsolicited pride viewed through some pocked, cracked windshield of a cogito.
Even with the murmuring assembly, even with the running commentaries of the TVs, even with the clinking of glasses and the slapping of hands on tables, as is usual, evening is sounded by the commandments of the kookaburras arranged about the nearby coppice of gum trees, and it’s loud enough that, should you listen from within the glass-enclosed pub, their chorus would alert you. They laugh and they laugh.
Hope that the melancholy new patriot is their sport.
Image: Stephen Mitchell / Flickr
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