Monday, June 25, 2007

riding shotgun with jesus

i am large.  i contain multitudes.
- walt whitman

and did i say i was a time bomb?
- public enemy

1. byron bay
I USED TO live in lismore in northern new south wales.  towns in that part of the world are odd.  why?  i'm glad you asked. 

towns there are odd because there's an odd emulsion of cultures there, holding one another in suspension but never quite mixing.  why?  i'm glad you asked!


about thirty-five years ago there was a big hippy festival in nimbin called the aquarius festival.  before the festival, nimbin was dairy and banana country.  anyway: a bunch of the hippies stayed.  some of them pooled money and bought up land, big chunks of it sometimes, along the creeked valleys around there which are, frankly, fucking gorgeous: all densely twisted hills like the hills in my imagination of scotland.  and everything grows on everything cos it's subtropical.  odd.

but why is that odd?  i'm.. well, i'm still glad you asked.  gladdish, anyways.  but don't push your fucking luck, mmkay?

well, i was born in adelaide, in the south bit of mainland australia.  south australia is mostly desert but for a tiny strip of fertile land along the coast,  that's where everyone in south australia lives, pretty much.  even though it's wetter than the desert there it's still a bit of work getting things to grow, so it makes my brain go all funny when i'm somewhere where you hafta try and stop things growing on top of each other.  i don't just mean trees, either, cos there are fungi that want to grow on your armpits and they're trying to get into your pants, too.

anyway, there i was up in northern new south wales.  kids up there change their names for fun, like kids down here change their hair.  they have names like 'fraggle' or 'sprinkle' or 'orryelle' or 'crow' or 'red john'.  well, red john's not that odd a name i guess.  he wrote a funny song about the whole phenomenon.  it was to the tune of 'walk on the wild side'  it was all like: 

 'hey sunlight, didn't you used to be called.. sharon?
 hey bluetongue, didn't you used to be called.. darren?'


anyway: i'm distracted.

start again:

1. byron bay
ONE TIME I was in byron bay hitchhiking back to lismore where i lived.  byron bay has nice beaches but it's expensive.  lismore's cheaper but it's weird.  it floods there, because they built it on a floodplain and cut down all the trees.

this van pulled up.  it was like a mini-bus.  there were about five guys in there.  they had beards.

i hopped in.  i was in the back.  there was a man on either side of me.  one put his arm around my shoulder.

 'uh oh,' i thought.

 'so, what you guys been up to?' i said.  i was making a connection.  i figured maybe if i made a connection they wouldn't sodomise me and then cut me up and leave me in a shallow grave somewhere.

 'oh, we've just been in byron bay trying to convert people to christianity,' they said.

 'hahaha!' i said.

 'hahaha!' they said back.  actually, they didn't.  actually, i was the only one saying 'hahaha!'  actually, they were looking at me kindly and with a lil concern.  i believe they were noticing the god-shaped hole in the centre of my chest.  they got to work.

 'now,' said the one with his arm around my shoulders, 'life's pretty hard, wouldn't you say?"

 'aw, i don't know about that,' i said.  'i think it depends.'

they weren't expecting this response.  they shifted in their seats.

reader: we went back and forth for a little bit there.  finally i said. 'hey!  this is my turn-off!'  i wasn't being all playmate of the month (turn-offs: beards, conversion to christianity) but was instead pointing out that our paths were lo! about to diverge.  they were going one way and i was about to go another.  the fork, in short, had been reached.

our time together ended with them calling out the door, 'anyway, two thousand years ago a man called jesus christ talked about why life is so hard!  read the bible!'

'kthxbye!' i called back as they drove off bearded but disappointed into the rest of creation.  i had three things: a little bag, a stick, and a bedroll.  i stood by the turn-off and waited.

2. fifteen feet high
THIS OTHER TIME, years before that actually, i was hitchhiking with my sister.  sheesh we were young!  i would have been 19 probably.

this car pulled up.  the driver opened the door.  he had a beard.  seemed friendly enough so we jumped in.  it was a ute, and there was a bunch of stuff in the back.

 'where you headed?' i said.

 'oh, i'm going in to adelaide to give a talk about carnivorous plants,' he said.  i looked at him for a little while.

 'i grow carnivorous plants, see,' he said.  'that's what's in the back.  actually, i've just realised i left some stuff at my place.  do you mind if we detour?'

 'not at all,' i said.  'it is, after all, your car.'

so off we went, driving toward the home he shared with, gentle reader, an awful lot of carnivorous plants.  he didn't live too far from there, maybe a quarter of an hour away.  one thing about hitchhiking is you hafta be patient.  that was part of the appeal for me in those days, actually.  i liked it that i had no real control over how long it would take me to get somewhere, and that i was utterly dependent on the kindness of others to do so.  it stops you being arrogant and trash-talking about humanity like it's so easy to do.

you know: you think twice about saying what a stupid pack of cunts the australian people are when they've ferried you across the country.  that's what i liked about it.  plus it was just so obvious that getting all het up wouldn't speed the process any.  if anything, it slows you down.

has it been fifteen minutes yet?  i guess not but this is story time, not lived time.  as long as i've made some time pass it can stand in for the longer time that actually passed in the journey i'm describing, the time it takes to drive a little ute over cloud-shadows and through cuts made in hills, hills where things fight each other for the chance to grow.  it's a kind of metaphor for real time, a bit like they use in cooking shows.

we pulled up at his place.  i got out to straighten my legs.  on the roof was painted 'JESUS SAVES': in capitals just like that and in letters fifteen feet high.

there were shadows on the letters from the same clouds that shadowed the road.  i guess these letters were a road leading somewhere.


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