Wednesday, September 26, 2007


1. invisible
i grew up in west hindmarsh. i've said this before. west hindmarsh is a semi-industrial suburb in adelaide. when i was little there was no library there. there was a bookmobile, though. it came around about once a fortnight. eventually we got a real library: the hindmarsh library. it got built in the row of buildings that held the roller-skating rink. years later the roller-skating rink would get turned into an asian-language cinema. howabout that.

i read a lot in those days. it was safer. when i was about six the big kid from the house behind ours told me, through the fence, that he'd shoot me with his bow and arrow if he ever saw me outside again, so i started coming straight home from school and going inside. we didn't have a tv so there wasn't much to do except read.

the hindmarsh library was great. after i'd read what i thought was interesting in the kids' section, i started wandering through the bit for grownups. i found a bunch of cool stuff there but there were two books that set me on fire and not just any fire but fire as pronounced by ian astbury: fi-yaaaaaaah! i kept borrowing them again and again.

the first was called how to build a flying saucer. this started off by showing you how to build the pyramids and raise the statues of easter island with neolithic technology. neat. chapter 4 was, as promised, how to build a flying saucer ('after so many amateurs have failed '). the other book i really liked was called levitation: what it is - how it works - how to do it. it went through a bunch of methods for levitating oneself. i only remember a couple. one involved kind of rocking in the full-lotus position and then launching yourself into the air for a fraction of a second. i agreed with the book's author that this was kind of lame.

another one involved learning to hold your breath for longer and longer times. somehow this made you lighter.. eventually.. i can't remember the details. according to the book, adepts could slow down their breathing and extend the pause between in-breath and out- to 45 minutes. i had a little go at this but didn't persist, didn't persist even though i had a genetic head-start: my dad and my grandfather could both hold their
(my grandparent's house had two wings and from above looked like a giant v: like a wake of birds rippling through the sky's surface.. there was a swimming pool there too, reflecting the sky.. my dad and my grandfather would sit on its bottom connected to the rest of the atmosphere only by a tiny umbilicus of bubbles from their noses..) breath for about 5 minutes.

2. demons, shit, shinola
my grandmother on the other hand was a psychiatrist who liked old-school sci-fi. she had a lot of books on transactional analysis and neuro-linguistic programming, which i enjoyed, and a whole lot of asimov and heinlen and arthur c.clarke.

lewis: w-what about ray bradbury?
martin (dismissively): i'm familiar with his work!

what she liked most of all, though, was books written by people without bodies. you know, archangels or beings from other dimensions who'd speak through ordinary everyday folks, say through automatic writing or something like that. she was not alone in this: lots of folks enjoy this kind of thing. but as it was pointed out to me years later, just cos someone doesn't have a body doesn't mean they know shit from shinola. this is good to remember if you ever get possessed by a demon.

demons talk tough like wwf wrestlers do and they act like they know everything and sometimes we give their words a little too much weight cos they don't have bodies. it's a lil spooky, see. they speak without being visible all the time and the only people we know like that are consciences and people on the other end of the phone. but: still: they may very well not know shit from shinola. sure they may have travelled through all kinds of dimensions and whatnot but don't let them fool you into thinking they know shit from shinola. why does it matter? well, the differences between shit and shinola are important. one is a by-product of the body's industry and the other is for shining your shoes. if you shine your shoes with shit they will smell bad and people will look at you funny. and if you pour shinola into the toilet it'll stick to the bowl and your housemates will be dark at you. if you've let a demon talk its way into your body and it blinds you to this crucial distinction, like, for instance, so:

YOU and THE DEMON are walking through a busy city. there is a SHOE-SHINE BOY perched on the kerb like a dirty bird.

SHOE-SHINE BOY: shine your shoes?

YOU: uh..

THE DEMON: yeah get 'em shined. you'll never get anywhere in life with dirty shoes.

YOU: uh.. ok.. but what's that he's shining them with?

THE DEMON: shinola.

YOU: are you sure? it smells funny..

THE DEMON: i know everything, remember? and that is definitely shinola. are very likely to regret it: shit all over your shoes and a very dirty toilet and dark-at-you housemates. not a recipe for fun times. so, y'know, be aware.

wait! i was meant to be talking about levitation!

anyway, the levitation book was by one steve richards. he had another one called invisibility: mastering the art of vanishing. o how i lusted after this book! one day i finally got to read it but it seemed kind of light-on after the levitation one which seemed waaay more authoritative. (i notice on amazon that steve richards has a new book. it's called
everything you will ever need to know to start driving a big truck. or maybe that's a different steve richards. i hope not.)

the upshot was, unfortunately, that i never learned invisibility from a book. i had to make up a spell instead. it only occurred to me after my friend steve said something. not steve richards. another steve.

3. the other, cooler, steve
i have a friend steve. when i met him he was called cool steve. he used to ride a motor scooter around drunk: kapow! you get the picture. later he gave the scooter away, but he didn't want to decide who was going to get it. instead, he asked friends if they wanted a scooter until he had a list of 20 people. when he had a list of 20 people he assigned each one a number and then rolled a 20-sided die. as it happened, baterz got the scooter, and immediately sold it.

this lil anecdote shows one of the things that was distinctive about steve for a few years there: exercising great control over process so as not to control outcomes. he was like the john cage of social engineering.

i wrote a song back then about cool steve. it was called 'cool steve'. it went like this:

cool steve.. when will you ever learn?

it was sung to the music for 'blue moon'. you repeated it until steve got embarrassed. later steve changed his name to 'snaky dancer'. i wrote a song about this, too:

i had a friend.. who changed his name.. who changed his name to 'snaky dancer'..

in between these names, steve changed his name to skysten. one time me and skysten were talking about having to ride somewhere without a helmet, or maybe without lights. i was saying i'd found the ride stressful. i'd been worried about getting stopped by police for riding without a helmet. (this kind of thing happens in australia. the one time i went to jail was directly related to riding a bike without a helmet. that's another story, though. quit trying to distract me!)

'well, in these situations i always make sure i don my cloak of invisibility-to-police,' said steve.

i thought on this for a bit. such a cloak seemed like a very good idea. why didn't i have a cloak like this? i was jealous and eventually ended up making up a little spell. it went like this:

i am invisible to police (or uninteresting at the very least)

my reasoning was this: all of us get distracted a whole bunch of times during the day, police officers included. all i was trying to organise with my little spell was for one of these moments to line up with the moment when i passed in front of a police officer's field of vision. i didn't much mind how. you know, they could just vague out for a second and think about what they wanted for dinner or something. it didn't seem like much to arrange. there are more important things in the world than cyclists without helmets, and that was a consideration in my favour too.

4. how well did it work?
i'm glad you asked. reader: it worked remarkably well. almost ridiculously well. police cars would drive straight past me all the time when i was riding without a helmet on. i'd look at them and they'd just be sailing by, their minds on something more important. it happened over and over and over. i began, in fact, to worry about what would happen if i had some kind of accident and wanted police assistance. would they notice me then? bleeding and/or broken?

anyway: paranoia aside: one time i was riding down a narrow laneway and noticed a police car behind me. the lane was so narrow they couldn't pass me. i was the only vehicle in front of them. if i kept riding they'd be trapped behind me all the way to the end of the street. i should have been obvious to them, in other words.

'uh oh,' i thought, 'this isn't going well.'

i figured the polite thing to do was hop off my bike and wander over to the police car sheepishly but i decided: fuck it: i'm not gonna just concede defeat. i'll wait for them to stop me. and they didn't: i rode all the way to the end of the lane while they crawled along behind me. would have taken about a minute. we got to the end of the laneway and then i turned left and they turned right and drove off into the rest of the world without me, thinking about something else.



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