Curb Your Enthusiasm

When Mum was reading my post about Steve Albini, she told me she thought that ‘Kill him. Amen’ might have referred to The Accordion Guy, and I was all ‘Oooh, him, yeah I can see that!’

After Mamie’s funeral most of the immediate family had lunch together, after which most people headed home. I decided to stay an extra night on the coast with Mum and Dad, because hey, I’d only managed to stain half the hotel pillows brown with hair dye the first night, and if I hadn’t stayed an extra night, I’d never have known what it was like to have to go, clad only in a towel, to my parents to tell them I couldn’t work out how to use the shower.

We were at a bit of a loss as to what to do and Mum was very drained, so we thought, why not go and find the  local wood-fired pizza place and have a nice, relaxed meal?

After passing shark attack-themed cafes in an otherwise impressive restaurant strip, we found the pizza place in one of those modern takes on a Colosseum type buildings. I was immediately impressed by the eight or so jumbo jars of Nutella they were using as decorations around the entrance. We were seated and scanning the menus when “it” started. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, Dad’s face went beet red, Mum started laughing nervously.

Our post-funeral relaxed meal had added accordion.

Someone had the brilliant idea that this small, enclosed room, where people would come to eat and chat would somehow lack the atmosphere that can only be provided by some old guy, pants hitched up practically to his throat, playing an accordion three feet from where we were all sitting.

We grimaced through loud, grating versions of ‘That’s Amore’, something from The Godfather soundtrack (because it was an pizza place, geddit?) and ‘Happy Birthday’. I sank lower and lower in my seat, knowing from experience that there was a very good chance we were going to have a Dad Scene, the scene where my Dad tells some poor waitress, who probably loves accordion, that he would rather pay the dude’s salary for the night to not play the accordion rather than sit here and listen to it while he tried to eat and she would laugh nervously and he would let her know that he wasn’t joking. This is the man who once told a girl at McDonald’s who tried to give him UHT milk for his tea that he would shoot a cow if it produced milk that tasted that bad.  

The grim look on the waitress’s face and the severity of her ponytail was pretty much all that stopped him I think, either that or the fact that I was practically hiding under my chair. I eagerly downed most of a glass of a hazelnut liqueur that was served with my mum’s dessert just to calm my nerves and as soon as we’d chowed down what happened to be really good pizza, we split like the bananaramas that we are.

Old Man Disease Part Deux

Today I had to go and see my angry, angry Russian woman doctor to get my blood pressure checked after three weeks on my meds. See how the first half of that sentence had potential to be sexy and then I brought it right back down to earth? Did you like that? Yeah you liked it.

Anyways, apparently the reading was a little too high for someone who’s been on meds as long as I have and the symptoms I’ve had I shouldn’t be getting, so I had to have a blood test and I have two appointments to have the pressure tested again and then another appointment to find out what it all means. Maybe I just have a really big, loving heart. Maybe that’s it. The headline will read, ’28-year-old Australian Woman Diagnosed as World’s Best Lover’.

The point of this all is that I hate giving blood. I can’t stand people even touching my veins and to add to the problem, every time I’ve given blood, it’s taken a really long time to hit a vein, so my blood pressure went from old man disease high to no-it’s-not-raining-outside-I-have-the-terror-sweats high. And then it went higher when she said ‘…for liver damage’.

And the nurse was on lunch.

Eventually I was seated and explaining to her that I find it hard and she looked at me and said ‘I’m good at this. It’s my thing’. I wanted to say, ‘I’m sure it is your thing. Of all the things you could have been born to be good at, I’m sure this is it for you, but I’m saying, my veins may not allow this to be your thing today’.

Instead, I thrust out my arm, held up her work by being unable to follow the simple ‘Relax!’ command, and, in her words, sprayed some blood. She was very cheerful about this and decided to give me a running commentary. ‘Okay, you’re spraying blood, it’s not flowing, but I’m not very far in yet…let’s…let’s just twist the needle a bit, let’s find a new course. There!’

At the word ‘twist’ I had bitter pre-vomit in my mouth.

And then it was over homeboys. She was right, apparently getting blood out is her thing. Now all that’s left to wonder about is how she discovered it was her thing. Hitting a vein is rarely accidental in my experience, rarely accidental.

Kill Him. Amen.

Just to set the scene, and put everyone’s minds at ease, I am writing this while I sit at my desk eating some chocolate chip cookies which have a very high chip to cookie ratio. I am alive.

A month or so ago, I suspected this was not going to be the case.

I first heard about Steve Albini when I read one of those ‘Here are the favourite albums of [insert name of famous musician]’, one of which was Big Black’s notorious, Songs About Fucking. It was probably in Rolling Stone. I was probably 13.

I always liked the cover of that album.

Around the same time, I happened to see a live clip of the band performing ‘Jordan, Minnesota’ and it suitably unnerved me.

Later I saw him in a tour doco about PJ Harvey, called Reeling, which I’ve never been able to track down again. Please turn your inner monologue to your best female British accent and imagine PJ Harvey saying, ‘This is Steve Albini. He likes to set his shoes on fire’. Then pan your inner mind camera to Steve Albini, who has just set his shoes on fire.

Then of course I naturally progressed to discovering Shellac and I do love me some Shellac, particularly 1000 Hurts, which is one of my favourites.

Last time I was staying at my parents’ farm, I borrowed my mum’s car and in it discovered a mixed CD I’d made. I cruised into town listening to Swans and Old Man Gloom, had a delightful dinner with some friends. It was a bitterly cold night, and very dark and silent by the time I needed to head back to the farm.

‘Prayer to God’ started playing just as I pulled off the highway. I came to the front gate of the property, cursing my parents for having cattle in the front paddock, which made it necessary for me to open and close two sets of gates in the cold.

I drove through the first set and jumped out, fumbling to get the gate closed as quickly as possible, fingers numb, teeth chattering.

From the car, where I’d left the door open, Steve was screaming ‘Kill him, fucking kill him, killing him already kill him. Just fucking kill him!’

I was suitably spooked. Then I heard it. A rustle. A very large rustle, close by, but out of range of the headlights. I froze. Whatever was making the rustle froze.

Steve’s screams intensified.

Until that point I had always assumed I would die by way of choking on a sausage while tripping over a sausage dog. I assumed people would always laugh and go ‘Oh that Julia! Remember when she tripped over a sausage dog and choked on a sausage?’ I assumed that given enough time people would add a little double entendre to the mix and nudge each other while they told the story and strained to remember what my face looked like, or how my voice sounded.

I never imagined I would have to fight for my life against some dark nemesis in the corner of my parents’ farm.

I could not move. I was freezing and frozen. Perhaps it’s the years of smoking, the binge drinking years or maybe my old man blood pressure disease, but my fight or flight instinct took a really long time to kick in. When it finally did, I was off running. I jumped in the car, screamed ‘Shut up, shut up!’ at Steve, forgot to take the handbrake off, turned the lights on high beam and floored it. Dust flew everywhere and as I sped towards the second set of gates, I imagined my mysterious foe running along behind my car.

The second gate, by way of poor design, needs you to put up at least two car lengths short in order to open it fully. I have never run so fast in my life, and I even went without my usual rigorous checks for fence spiders.

I screeched to a halt right outside my parents’ bedroom window, the high beams penetrating their blinds, the speakers of the car still pulsing loud, angry music into the otherwise silent country sky and I ran inside and shook off the heebie jeebies.

The next morning, feeling much more confident, I was telling the story to Mum. I was all ‘It sounded like it was at least a 12-foot tall military-trained attack bear, or maybe an errant Milat brother!’

She looked at me over her glasses and possibly over a newspaper. ‘Really? You were in the front paddock and you heard a russle in the corner? Did you ever think it might be the cattle next door?’

And no people, I clearly did not consider that, because how lame would it be to tell a story about how you’re so spooked by Steve Albini that you ran, screamed and almost cried at the sound of a cow standing up, on the other side of a fence?

The end.

and we, advancing in the sun.

My grandmother Mamie passed away on Friday morning, the last grandparent I had, my mum’s mum.

Despite having every reason to expected it, I don’t think I really did. She had a stroke right before Christmas, something no-one thought she’d survive, the odds were heavily stacked against her heath-wise, but she made it. Her mind was already ravaged with dementia, something that struck her just as my grandfather passed away, his own mind lost to what is a horrifically cruel disease. It should have been a new beginning for her, the burden of care lifted, instead she fought the rising fog of her own confusion.

After the stroke, she moved from the hospital back to her home, requiring a lot of care, and she stayed with us, soft skin, soft hair, always the gentlest eyes, but she started to slip away slowly. There were numerous scares, Mum making many drives to be with her, each time family rallying, preparing.

It happened so many times that on Thursday night, I guess I thought I’d wake up the next day and we’d again marvel at how much strength the human body has. Instead I woke to a phone call, just before my alarm went off, my heart pumping so loudly I could hear it, and I knew before I even answered that she’d gone.

She died in her sleep sometime between about 5:30am and 7am, just as the sun was coming up, and when she was found, she looked peaceful.

The last few days have been strange. My three other grandparents, Pete, Nan and Da all died suddenly and the grief was instant and furious, but this time it’s been sitting in my stomach for days, like a rock, making it hard to go to sleep and to swallow. I felt bad, like I wasn’t mourning properly and spent the entire weekend reading books I think I was hoping would provoke me to feel the shock I felt the other three times.

I realised today that it’s just different. She was my textbook sweet grandmother: she charmed us, always spoke to us like we were adults, indulged our interests and sugar needs. She was too good to suffer like she had and she’d told us she was ready. I can’t grieve the way I have before because I’m happy she’s free.

We spent so much time with her when we were kids. We lived in the same city for a while, and when Steph was sick and Mum and Dad were dealing with any number of long-distance hospital trips and medical emergencies, Mamie was there. I remember one Christmas when Steph was precariously close to the edge, and Mum and Dad had told us that it didn’t look like we’d be able to have Christmas, so Mamie took Mary and me to Sydney. I loved that she negotiated the city like a pro, having grown up there. She wasn’t like other grandparents I saw, she knew exactly where we needed to be, switching trains, moving through the crowds, and at last we arrived at David Jones, and stood, amazed at the sheer scale of the city and of the intricate, embellished Christmas window displays. When we got home, there was a Christmas tree set up for us. I’m not sure I ever told her how much it meant to have someone take us out of the centre of the storm and make something magical for us.

She and Da travelled a lot, and they returned once from America, armed with lots of Halloween decorations. One day she was babysitting me, and after brainstorming about what we could do for the day,  we went to great lengths to decorate their house with fake spiderwebs, and nasty looking plastic spiders. We made our hair grey to look like witches and waited with great anticipation for Da to come home. I was so little that I seriously expected him not to recognise us and would be terrified at the sudden appearance of two witches: a vaguely familiar one, and her minute counterpart. I couldn’t wait to scare him. Instead, he walked in, didn’t see us hiding beside the door, didn’t see or chose to ignore the elaborate mess of cotton and spiders and went into his office. I glanced incredulously at my fellow witch before we fell about laughing, a joke I don’t think Da was ever really in on. When we were kids, she was one of us, a peer, someone we could trust, an enabler of mischief.

She took us to the theatre, the Opera House, wrote beautiful cards, loved a vaguely blue joke or euphemism, all the while being extraordinarily classy. She got to meet the great-grandchild she wanted so badly, never really learnt how to use a CD player, though must take sole responsibility for introducing me to the soundtrack to Cats, which I like to sing loudly in the shower, and remains (sorry Mum, I have to include it) the only person I’ve ever heard use the phrase “wetty what not”.

I like what I’ve inhereted from her: a unsatiable sweet tooth, a love of whiskey, the growing inability to see three feet in front of me without glasses and a hatred of cooking. I will say though: her salted beans are still the only beans I’ve ever eaten willingly. I wish I’d inherited her sparkling, kind eyes, her patience and her extrodinary generosity.

She was the darling.

We will love you forever, our Mamie.

I’m having issues with reading.

It’s like a relationship. We’ve been together since I was four, we’ve moved houses, cities and even states together, but this year I am finding it frustrating. I can’t concentrate, it’s taking me a long time to finish books, I’m casting a book aside to take up reading a different one, only to cast that aside to take up reading yet another one.

At the moment I’m stuck in Infinite Jest. Hell, I’ve been stuck for months in this book, it seems to get longer the more I read. It’s a captivating, stimulating, deeply unsettling, frustrating book. It’s got imagery I never really wanted to picture, juxtaposed with characters I really care about and a conclusion I can’t even imagine yet.

I am determined to break my reading impasse. I’m spending this whole, glorious upcoming long weekend (when I’m not seeing Film Festival stuff, or planning the last two stops of my trip, or eating pho) with an old favourite, to see if I can’t make some headway.

I’m going to let some Helen Garner wash over me and have Monkey Grip, The First Stone and Joe Cinque’s Consolation lined up and waiting. If she can’t help me, no-one can.

“Tomorrow I’m go… zoo had sex” (Title copyright of Matt Lacey)

aka The Time I Saw Mad Monkeys Making Love at the Zoo.

To start I would like to say that I actually saw chimps making love at the zoo,  but I said monkeys so as to get a little bit of alliteration up in here, boneheads.

One of my favourite things is going to the zoo. I marvel at the lemurs in their fake desert environment, I squeal at the baby elephants, I shiver with excitement and fear at the Komodo dragon, and without fail turn to whomever I’m with and say ‘Did you know Sharon Stone’s ex-husband had his toe bitten off by one of those?!’ That story has never failed not to excite the person I’m with. For ten minutes afterwards I stand, slack-jawed and think about Joe Eszterhas, screenwriter of Basic Instinct, Showgirls and many other of those early-’90s weird danger-sex movies. You see, Joe wrote a memoir, Hollywood Animal which is amazing and he has a lot of dirt on Sharon Stone and he tells it all. Except how her ex-husband lost a toe to a Komodo Dragon. I’m starting to think I made that up.


Anyway, I was at the zoo and I heard some screams and I thought ‘Ooooh! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ and secretly hoped someone had thrown them a human treat, maybe the loud woman who’d been blocking my veiw in the venomous snake exhibit because she wanted to take a photo of a stone lizard. Which she thought was real.

Behind her writhed some of the world’s deadliest reptiles and she was busting a nut to capture forever what was clearly a display piece. I felt uneasy, surrounded by living throwbacks to the dinosaur-era as I came to the conclusion that evolution and the survival of the fittest appeared to have ceased working. I firmly believe it’s only a matter of time before giraffes are staring at us through perspex, laughing about how weird we look with our fake tans/breasts/hair/teeth.

The screams ringing in my ears, I took off swiftly, and found that the source of the very human-like cries actually came from behind the window of the chimp enclosure, which was in a dark, fake cave. I pushed a bunch of stupid little kids out of the way, so I could stand right up near the spot where one of the chimps had just hurled a handful of chimp poo. I couldn’t believe my luck, chimps throwing poo was something I thought would be confined to the movies for me, I never imagined I’d get to see it in real life!

Had I known what they were going to show me next, I probably would have reconsidered this bucket list item.

As people slowly drifted away, one of the chimps made eye contact with me and grinned. I knew that grin, I just couldn’t put my finger on it straight away. Turns out it was the weird chimp sex grin, which is a lot like the weird human sex grin and boy was there a lot of putting of fingers on various things after that.

As I stood agog, the chimp started swaying its hips in a circle, like some harbour cruise stripper,  all the while grinning maniacally. I chuckled nervously. ‘Look, eh he, the chimp’s dancing and grinning at me. Eh he… oh look, here comes another chimp, in reverse. What… wait, did that chimp just put its finger into the other chimp’s… oh my god it did‘.

I am going to spare you the foreplay details, only to say they were numerous and alarming and in the human world, illegal in at least three states to this day. It was worse than watching passionate Jane Austin-era kissing scenes from BBC documentaries while your parents are in the room. I was so flustered, I found myself saying things like ‘How uncouth! Those dirty little hairy people! Stop looking at me while you sniff that-, oh god don’t sniff that!’

Finally I found myself gently weeping up against the glass as two chimps did it doggy-style mere metres from my broken form, and never once did they look away or stop grinning at my with their ridiculously human-esque faces, a twinkle in their eye that clearly indicated that they somehow know that their human cousins only do it behind locked doors with the curtains pulled firmly closed in order to hide their shame.

I took these photos on my last visit to the zoo, where I was not forced into any kind of mixed species Eyes Wide Shut scenarios.