If you go into the streets tonight. . . .

‘So we goin’ to the pub,’ Jim asked over the rim of his Tooheys New.

‘Yeah,’ I said, taking a swig of mine and meeting his gaze.  ‘Let’s go.’

‘All right, I’ll just pop next door and get my wallet,’ Robbie said.  He disappeared out the back door to jump the fence to his place, and climb its stairs.

Jim and I walked through the house and out the front door, deposited our empties in the yellow-lidded wheelie bin out the front and stepped out onto the road.

‘Bloody Palm Beach Pub hey?’

‘Yep,’ Jim agreed.  ‘Should be about as shit as usual.’

‘Wouldn’t have it any other way.’

‘Nope.’

We walked south a short distance along Jefferson Lane and listened to small surf breaking limply on Palm Beach’s shore.  We were gambling a hungover sleep-in on its quality being nothing we’d miss in the morning.  We took a right into 11th Avenue and stopped in front of Robbie’s place; a two storey, five unit block with his fronting 11th, backing on to Jim’s place and shouldering the not so busy Gold Coast Highway.  We introduced flaming tobacco to the night and, a little drunk, starting coarsely yet good naturedly encouraging Robbie to hurry up.

‘C’mon Rob, fuck’s sake!’ Jim roared up to the unit.

‘Yeah, Christ man we’re sobering up out here!’ I contributed.  We laughed and tried to convince each other a night at the Palmy Pub wouldn’t end up being 5am at a Surfers Paradise or Broadbeach bus stop, as it sometimes did.  It was warm, but we really were sobering up and keen to get moving.

‘The hell’s keepin’ you man!?’ Jim asked the darkness.

I took a drag and sniggered while exhaling.  Glancing to my right, I noticed a group of about 10, maybe 15 people in the beach carpark.  ‘Shit,’ I half-seriously thought, ‘group of people hanging around 11th on a Friday night: they’re probably up to no good.’  The group was walking toward us.  About four of the males had bandanas over their mouths.  I nudged Jim.  They walked up and the pack separated; the four bandana-clad men moved toward each of us.  One in front and the other walking behind, like hyenas moving to encircle a wounded animal.  One of them, all black curly hair and equally dark eyes wearing a red patch work handkerchief stepped forward eye-to-eye with me.  ‘Our friend says you pulled a knife on him,’ the fabric moved.

Fuck,’ I thought.  ‘Man, we didn’t do anything.’

‘That’s not what he said.’  Jim was at this time staring down a bald, serpentine eyed specimen, I noticed in a stolen glance.  The rest of the group – straight backed yet spectating boys and girls turned side-on – watched with indifferent and slightly hungry eyes.

Robbie came silently from his stairs, motioning for us to leave.  As I turned I saw Serpent swing right for Jim and miss; my eyes continued 180 degrees.

‘C’mon guys, let’s go to the pub and have a drink,’ I feebly reasoned, hearing glass smash behind me.  An intense pressure crushed my skull from the rear-right.

They ran across the highway without looking anywhere but straight ahead, for the modern day fortress of the service station.  Car horns heralded their passing before they reached its bug infested fluorescent lights.  Breathing heavily, they stopped, looked each other in their eyes and said at once: ‘Where’s Colin?’  They turned and saw what I could not feel: a limp figure being kicked and punched.  Unconscious, being picked up from the grass on the southern side of the avenue, and thrown into a street-sign pole.  They looked at each other again.

I could feel hands grasping frantically at my t-shirt and, feeling the pain in my head, instinctively threw myself from the ground like I was desperately trying to stand upright on a nine-foot wave about to throw me onto reef.  And bolted west across the highway briefly bathed in a passing van’s headlights and bellowing horn.  I ran half the next half-block then suddenly veered left, hoping for a fenceless side of the house I’d chosen, convinced they were behind me to finish the job.  I threw myself at the side gate but it might have been a Roman fort; I clutched at the top of its neighbour’s fence but could not get a grip.  Someone flew past in a blur of white, calling my name.  I found them both on the corner of 11th and Cypress Terrace, fixed on my approach.  As I reached them I felt my head with my right hand and it came down cold, covered in liquid – blood.

‘Jesus’, Jim stared at my hand.

‘I gotta get to the after hours clinic,’ I started running for it, six blocks away.

‘Stop!’ Robbie said while grabbing at my shoulder, stopping me as I reached Seventh Avenue.  So we walked there after they convinced me running would only speed the bleeding.  And it pumped across my shoulder in a sticky cold mess during the walk, all thought of what we’d escaped gone; all thought bent on reaching the clinic, and just how much blood I’d lost.

‘You’ll have to sit down and wait,’ the hateful repetetron behind the clinic’s reception said.

‘Fine,’ I said, conscious enough for anger, ‘I’ll just go off an’ die in the gutter.’  The door flew open

I called home when I got outside, and dad’s initial reaction was anger though eventually agreement he and mum should venture into the dark quagmire of Palm Beach’s night time CBD.  Repetetron decided upon second-thoughts the blood covering my back gave me priority over sniffling and coughing waiting-room dwellers and finally I found that local GP’s operating table and lay there fighting to keep night from falling on the faces hovering above me.

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Scrolling the Page – part one

IT’S difficult to remember when books were solely ink on pages arranged in numerical order and bound within hard or soft paper.  Indeed words did not exist to be electronically read until computers were invented, and even then not for pleasure or enlightenment – more likely military purposes.  It will in only a few years be impossible for 25 year olds to remember them being solely printed on paper.  Children of the touch-screen age will scornfully rebuke a comment from me to the effect I once had no choice but to read the news, my favourite book or magazine by purchasing it physically or by mail order, to be received by mail.  Another realisation: I’m old enough to have once not even been able to buy a book online and receive it by post, albeit only as a child or late-teen.  But it would be cynical to suggest anything’s really been lost, and I’m not going to patronise any literature-lover by explaining why.

Kesey may never have had a notion his works would be published electronically.

What of the positives?  I have never read an e-book and have no plans to purchase an e-reader in the near future (though my collection of books is starting to conflict with my desire not to locate them centrally).  I do have a smart phone and, man, there really is something kinda cool about being able to scroll and zoom with a deft touch of the fingers.  A little cold and distant but cool nonetheless; like something from the not too distant future.  And with the modern e-reader (as evidenced to me only by television) such a deft touch can not literally but virtually turn a page.  Don’t worry about losing your place when your little sibling grabs the reader out of your hand or you suddenly have to put it down: I’m betting they’ve got that sussed too.

Forget the front yard, and don't even think about the newsagent: the news is increasingly read online.

Compare this to the classic book.  It’s printed with ink, which I’m quite sure – but correct me if I’m wrong – is derived from oil.  Once again I won’t spell the negatives of this out to you.  And this non-renewable resource is printed on a renewable yet increasingly scarce or at least valuable resource, paper.  I doubt anyone is fool enough to feel guilty when they hold a few hundred grams of Kesey or Tolkien in their hands, but still, if you consider all the books there are. . . .  So an e-reader is electronic, which requires electricity, which is still predominantly created by fossil fuels.  And around and around we go.  So they both have their environmental drawbacks, unless the actual book or article is encouraging recycling or clean fuel, in which case it probably balances out.  I dunno.

It's tangible, it's sensual . . . it's dying?

Now indulge me for a second: I love the feel of a book, in addition to all its other benefits.  Watch someone in a bookshop with a new book.  They’ll pick it up, scrutinise it, turn it over, read the blurb, flip it open to the first page, or even the last, then buy it or not.  It doesn’t matter; they’ve already enjoyed looking down an unexplored path, if not decided to wander down it.  I love knowing that within such a small amount, really, of paper I can carry in one hand there’s an entire world masterfully crafted by another human being.  It doesn’t really matter the book was once a living thing, smeared with toxic liquid.  In some ways it makes it both more sensual and wicked.  Plus the paper ages, it yellows, it frays, distorts and even tears.  This gives it a human quality, something to relate to.  You just can’t get that with an e-book.

So it’s not really worth fighting against.  As much as I enjoyed saving up my $5 pocket money and every two weeks visiting the book-store and buying a $6 Goosebumps book by the terrifying R L Stine as a child – and two weeks in a row when the balance sorted itself out – future book loving children born tomorrow, or the day after, may never experience this joy.  They’ll enjoy a slightly different joy.  They’ll scroll down the screen of their computer or e-reader selecting their favourite author, title and genre without leaving their seat, instead of wandering amid the neon lights of a book retailer or musty deliciousness of a crammed second-hand book store.  God forbid the latter ever disappears.  The fact they don’t at all remember ink and paper combinations of their favourite story will be no real loss.  And for relics like me, sitting in a pub and talking to some poor young man or woman unfortunate enough to cross my path about the shelves-full of dusty paperbacks I still have, the knowledge they weren’t always only available electronically won’t be so bad.  It will be a joy I imagine each older generation shares: that things weren’t always as they are, but were not necessarily any worse for their primitiveness.