So a customer walks into the cafe and smiles at me. She whispers
something inaudible to me because she is talking on her phone. I Marcel
Marceau back to her that I have no idea what she just whispered to me.
Phone firmly pressed to ear, she whispers again and points to the
display cabinet, her pointing finger way out of my eyeline. I walk
around to her side of the display cabinet. "Quinoa salad," she seems to
whisper while pointing frantically, precious phone pressed to her fucking ear.
Back around on the service side, I see that she has turned away to keep
talking and to get a drink from the drink fridge. Does she want the
quinoa salad to eat in? Take away? Small? Large? I wait for a few
moments and she turns back around. I hold up a small take away container
as a starting point. She nods and keeps talking into her phone. I fill
the container with her salad, put it on the counter and mime ask if she
needs a fork (some customers already have them back oat the office or
whatever). She nods, phone still connected to head.
Back with the
fork, she is whispering some secret at me again, protecting her phone
from the secrets of this whisper. I'm all palms up and French mime
shrug. She cups a hand over her phone and whispers a little louder, "I
wanted a large salad."
Oh fuck me did you now? Really? I'm
supposed to have just known that by some kind of magic, am I? Especially
after I showed you the small take away container and you nodded while
chatting to your phone. I say a different, more polite version of this
to her as I open the small take away container and start to fill a large
take away container.
By this time she has finished this precious phone chat and seems pissed off with me for fucking up her order.
"No look really," she snippety snips, having at last found an actual voice, "I don't think I will have anything now. No."
She puts her drink back in the fridge because clearly I am being a
totally unreasonable cunt, and she goes about fucking the fuck off.
"Oh thank you for that," I call after her. "And by the way - I'm soooo
going to tell Facebook about this. And my legions of friends are all
going to show how much they dislike you by liking this post and leaving
comments like "What a fucking rude bitch!" and..."I can't believe how
rude some people are!" and... and "No one treats Black Rainbow like that
and gets away with it!" and maybe things like "I ever bump into you,
dumb phone head, I'm going to punch you right in your fucking ear."
I feel even less qualified than usual to review this production, not having much of a clue about Sophocles or Greek tragedies generally. And I felt so ambivalent about this one that I'm tempted not to write anything at all. It's probably the most disappointing play I've seen at The Malthouse. I have usually left the Malthouse feeling excited, not feeling meh.
But this is where I may be at fault. Perhaps if you are intimately familiar with Sophocles' play you will see more merit in this production than I did. Perhaps you indulged in a knowing nod to what looked to me like indulgent, highbrow theatrical knowing winks. I honestly didn't know why some things were done the way they were done. So I guess if this is a review, it's one for people, like me, people who like theatre but aren't very educated.
The general theme of the story is the question of which is more important, or noble: dedication to the greater good of one's country, or personal and human honour? Love or duty? This seemingly simple question is complicated by Antigione's plight of wanting to bury her slain traitor (to the state) brother. By way of punishment, his body is being left to rot in the open, deprived of being given the dignity of a proper burial. She buries him, his body is dug up and she is punished for having the temerity of going against the wishes of The State.
In this adaptation there appears to have been a smooshing of several characters, which became as confusing as some of the theatrical devices. There appeared to be an Aunt who was delivering the decrees of the king, or something; the blinded Antigione appearing to deliver the prophecies of a blind seer... then there was quite a bit of semi-nudity (that later leaves you asking why?), some strange physical moments in silence that seemed a bit silly and a little too long but which appeared to be symbolic of struggle or something. The rising water on the stage may or may not have had something to do with reflection... cleansing... changing tides... I have no idea but maybe it's crystal clear if you're more in-tune with this kind of thing than I am. Maybe it was just doing a trick because you can do a trick. I don't know.
In bringing this ancient story into our modern theatre, much comparison can be made between the theme of the play and, say, the current migrant crisis in Europe. On the one hand, yes, they are humans deserving of all the dignity we would treat our loved ones with.
On the other, if you simply open the floodgates and let millions into your homeland with its already struggling economy and infrastructure, at some point your economy and your infrastructure and social structure will fall. No question. I think Sophocles was posing a big question: should we devote ourselves to our family and friends, or do we have a greater duty to the greater community?
Big questions, unfortunately for me, clouded in this production by the kind of pretentiousness that would put someone like me off. I was occasionally engaged but more often baffled.
Today I made someone a take-away mocha and asked them if they wanted any sugar with it. "Eight please," they replied.
"Is it white sugar or brown?"
"It's raw sugar."
Thoughtful frown as she did the calculation. "Better make it eleven."
Later, another customer came in and asked for a coffee. I asked if she wanted sugar. She said "One please."
I almost never make small talk while I'm actually making the coffee.
It's a noisy process that actually does require concentration. But there
was something about this customer that I liked. The Vibe. During a
non-concentrationy part of the process when I wasn't banging or frothing
(hmm... does that sound dodgy or what?), I told her my story about the
mocha with 11 sugars. She laughed. I went back to the coffee. After a
few moments the customer said, "Actually... you aren't looking for staff
by any chance?"
I told her that we may be soon but I'm not sure
how soon. My current off-sider has said she has vague plans to move on
but isn't sure when. The customer had apparently enjoyed my story
(pretty shit as stories go but it probably is my best recent attempt at
mid bang-and-froth small talk) and had been looking around the cafe and
had decided that it was a cool little place. She's been looking for bar
work but could see herself working with us.
An hour later my
current off-sider informed me that she has decided to move to Sydney and
that she is happy work around whatever is convenient for us.
And that's my story about the mocha with 11 sugars, reluctant small talk and The Vibe.
The background shadow of lack of self-esteem comes to the fore as I walk past a famous actress who I assume has forgotten we met, and she stops me and says hello and turns her face for an opening night cheek-kiss. Nice, but the lingering feeling is that I moved on too quickly after pleasantries, thinking she was just being polite. Next time, I hope, I'll linger a little. I think maybe she expected me to linger a little. Sometimes people think I am confident. A lot of the time, I am destructively shy.
And again as I pat a fellow and far superior theatre reviewer on the shoulder to say goodbye and we get muddled in that hand-shake-or-hug thing. And hug is the muddled outcome, with laughs. Oh you knucklehead.
And on the same theatre opening night... the audience is exiting and someone says my name. It's a former co-worker I've seen at these things many times but be damned if I have been able to remember his name, even though I remember the person so well. There's a tone in his voice when he says my name. It's the tone of invitation. It's a tone that says hey I remember you, dude, remember me?
I fess up and smack my forehead as he says his name. Of course I remember him. Of course I remember why we got along. I just forgot a minor detail, like the name because it's been so long.
Next time, I'll hang around and talk to the actress. Next time I'll just assume a hug is the thing with the reviewer.
And next time I'll say to my former co-worker Joey, "Hey man - thanks so much for remembering me and bothering to say hello. Kept seeing you at these things and wondered if you had seen me... so glad you said hello."
Went to the David Bowie exhibition today. It's had a big impact on me. This man is a great artist and I'd forgotten how much I have loved his music over the years. I came away from this exhibition feeling the same way as when I've walked away from a Picasso exhibition or the Joan Miro museum or anything that Gaudi has had anything to do with. These are my creative heroes.
But David Bowie is within my lifetime, unlike the others. Heroes... I was a young boy when I first heard this song. Heroes was the most epic song I had ever heard. I didn't know what it was about at the time, but I heard a passion in it that I hadn't encountered before.
A few years later in the 70s, I said something about how much I liked Bowie's music, and a suburban relative asked me, "Do you mean in his boy phase or his girl phase?"
Confused? Fuck yeah. As naive as I was, I knew this person was making some kind of point. I knew she knew more than I knew. It dawned on me that maybe my musical idol maybe different to the norm of suburban Australia. I realised at that moment that maybe as-yet-non-sexual me was missing some point, but there was also this: I don't fucking care. I just like this music.
David Sedaris is coming to Melbourne in January 2016. I think I'll go see/hear him. I've been curious about him ever since an editor friend told me 10 years ago that my humor writing "reminds me of a less camp David Sedaris."
I hadn't heard of David Sedaris back then, but I could tell that this was a compliment. Since that moment I've read snippets of David Sedaris' stuff and heard a couple of things and maybe read an interview or two, and indeed, my editor friend was paying me a big compliment; David Sedaris is a very funny man.
And I like to imagine that there is a parallel universe somewhere where an editor friend of David Sedaris has said, "You know, David - your writing reminds me of that very funny and successful humourist Lee Bemrose. Your writing is a bit more camp than his - he's a bit of a Viking after all - but it's just as funny."
And David, poor, struggling David, he knows instinctively that this is a compliment even though he has never heard of this Lee Bemrose person. Curious, however, David Googles Lee and discovers that Lee Bemrose is one of the greatest and most astonishingly successful humourists of modern times. So excellent is he at his craft that he has his own radio show and is a much in-demand guest on all the popular television talk shows and he travels the world leaving in his wake seasons of sellout shows and satisfied audiences who talk about the enjoyment Bemrose has brought to them long after they have seen his shows. "Oh my God - that thing he said... the way he told that story... the thing about the thing... such a talented and funny funny man... Oh my God I love and adore him so much..."
And David Sedaris, in this alternative universe, is filled with admiration and even a little hope that one day his career as a humourist might take off. Imagine, David thinks, not having to work for pocket money for street press or masquerading in hospitality as a chef or any of the other myriad odd jobs he must do to pay the bills while on the side writing the stuff that he one day hopes will make strangers laugh.
Alternative Universe David Sedaris does indeed get his frequent. modest writing gigs. He hones his craft. He even gets his very own humour column called Happy. Happy is about all the silly things that happen to David and his long suffering partner The Loved One, known as such because of their head of brightly coloured and very lovely dreadlocks.
And although David's Happy column runs for about 10 years and is hugely popular with the magazine's readership, David's career as a humourist never really takes off. He accepts this and accepts that he is happy to do it for the love of it, and because knowing that you have brought some laughter into the lives of friends and strangers is actually the most perfect and suitable gift he could be given. He is perfectly happy to sit down each day and write stuff that makes him laugh, and know that once published, it will make others laugh too.
In his twilight years, now running a little cafe called Happy & The Loved One's Little Cafe Of Okay, David Sedaris the reluctant barista receives an unexpected email. It's from none other than Lee Bemrose himself. Lee confesses that he has always been a bit of a fan of David's Happy column and - long-shot that it is - was wondering if David might like to open his show by, you know, doing a reading of a few of his columns because Lee has always felt that David is really very funny and deserving of a much bigger, more adoring audience. Not to mention fuckloads more money.
David tears up a little. Finally, his big break. Late in life, but better late than never, as they say. And a break given to him by the legendary humourist Lee Bemrose... who could ever have imagined...
Meanwhile, back in this alternative universe, I'll be seeing this slightly camper, much more successful and undoubtedly much funnier version of me in January. Looking forward to it, actually.
All the creative people I've met and haven't met, all the artists and the writers and the actors and the story tellers... I have gotten so much more from them than I have from The Celebrities and the sports people and the politicians. Give me gentle and intelligent creativity over bombastic domination any day.
A new worker working with us. English is not B's first language. She has taught herself our language, and though a bit bumpy, I think she is doing a superb job. Also, she is absolutely lovely in nature. She is kind and intelligent and helpful and funny. These are the things you want in a co-worker.
It's interesting watching the facial expressions and the general attitude of our customers when they deal with her, especially when there is some confusion because of the language thing. Some people are all smiles and patience and make the effort to make small-talk.
Others squint and shake their head a little and get a slight tone, a superior attitude. Some talk down to her and seem to think she is unintelligent.
And these people make me want to ask how their second language skills are. How the fuck have you been at living in another country, supporting yourself, speaking another language? Would you be as good and gracious and intelligent and helpful to others and as funny as B is? Have you travelled? Do you have any empathy at all?
B has seemed oblivious to their ignorance, and has just quietly gone about serving everyone in good grace, with helpfulness, intelligence and her gentle humour.
Am very happy to be working with B. I feel kind of sorry for the squinters and head-shakers.
We have a semi-regular customer in the cafe. He is not one of life's successes. He is gentle. He is worn and threadbare, a person of the street. He is a bit more into God and salvation than people I am generally drawn to. He has asked me to God meetings and has tried to engage me with talk of Baptism. Sometimes it has been awkward because I have had to say, no thank you, your God is not for me. But thank you.
Yesterday he came in with a friend who is also on life's fringe. Some people have it so rough it does your head in. They remind you to never complain again, because compared to some people, you ungrateful fucker, you have it sooooo good.
So Mark and his friend come in and they order two pots of tea and a slice of sweetness. They sit down. I take their tea and slice to them. Mark is talking quite excitedly of work. I've often wondered what he does with the rest of his time. The concept of employment never really came into it. I just didn't know.
"Hey Lee," Mark says through that lop-sided smirk he always talks to me through. "You would know about that magazine - The Big Issue? We're selling that now, him and me. You know that magazine?"
"I know that magazine. It's a good magazine. Good on you."
The Big Issue is a good magazine. I know the vendors on the street often look worn-down (with some other ones seeming like hyped buskers), but seeing Mark in the cafe looking so chuffed to be doing something, some work... yes, it's a good magazine.
The greatest species on planet Earth is broken in ways that can't be fixed. We are too many.We are too greedy. We are too hungry, too careless, too violent, too willing to believe in God. We are too divided, too superstitious, too fearful, too hateful. We want too much, want what isn't ours, we want more and we want to be over there where life is better. But we don't want them here, where life indeed is better, because this is ours, this better life, not theirs. Humanity is going mad, turning on itself like Calhoun's rats. We have embarked on our own destruction, and there is no turning back. We are destroying the forests and jungles, the oceans and the air. We are destroying this miracle planet, fully aware of what we are doing and where it will leave us. We are too smart for our own good, too stupid to save us from ourselves. Our demise is inevitable. We are accelerating towards it, no turning back. We missed our chance. Perhaps we never had a chance. Certainly, now, we don't stand a chance. We could have been light, but we are the dark miracle that is humanity, and we are broken in ways that can't be fixed.
A friend sent this to me recently. Something I wrote about 10 years ago. Sometimes, amongst the silliness, it was fun to slip something a little more serious into the mix. Although I had forgotten about this piece, I remember so very clearly writing it, and what was going on in my life at the time. Those were the crazy days, the out of control days, the too much fun days.
The hand-written note my friend sent to me said flattering things. But most flattering was the fact that 10 years ago my friend bothered to cut the column out and keep it.
Random writings, stories, magazine theatre reviews and interviews, fiction, and occasionally my bi-weekly column Grumpy, which used to appear in the pages of Tsunami mag. Oh and be sure to check out my ebook, 17 Stories Of Love & Crime.