Supermarket solace

YOU might see supermarket shopping like a war-zone.  You’ve already fought for that elusive parking-space; negotiated through all of the local community’s freaks slow-walking, dragging screaming snot-nosed children around and not watching where they’re going through the shopping centre; and have found yourself in front of Coles or Woolworths’ blinding neon-signs.  Hideous pop-music plays from within like Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.  Uniformed staff profess to help and fellow shoppers would, you’d think, possess empathy under shared unfortunate circumstances.  But no.  From the moment you’re inside the supermarket you’re dodging little old ladies struggling to control their often broken trolleys, defending from over-zealous or bitterly-indifferent service staff and battling with yourself over prices and whether you really do need that bag of corn chips or block of chocolate.  Waging above this melee, of course, is Coles and Woolies’ duopolistic corporate war that keeps its management neurotic, its staff criminally overworked and prices – in both the short and long-term at the expense of mum and dad small businesses – down.

While this atavistic anarchy swirls among First Worlders not content enough with their lot to resist scouring the supermarkets like vultures for reduced for quick sale items, there’s another creature much less-savagely stalking supermarkets – the Zen Shopper.  Many checkout operators will tell you with a sigh how many people say to them they “only came in for one thing”, while loading more than 12 items onto the register’s conveyor belt.  Of course this is but a minor symptom of the phenomenon.  Unless you are a Zen Shopper you would have to deliberately slow your blurred race from the fresh produce section to the freezers to the checkout (and everything hastily in-between), and actively look for these people.  If you care to notice, Zen Shoppers are serenely scanning different types of dip for new or untried types.  They’re wandering languidly through the health and beauty section with glazed eyes because a song has come over the PA system that reminds them of a long-lost lover.  They’re ordering just a little bit each of artichokes, olives, feta cheese, semi-dried tomatoes, garlic prawns and smoked salmon from the deli, with much less urgency than their frustrated service assistant.  They are incomparable to any other entity within a literal war-zone.  Not United Nations vehicles or innocent bystanders.  Zen Shoppers exist in the alternate universe of the supermarket.  They are the happy ghosts of unfinished consumerist business.

Madness, I hear you say.  I work 50-60 hours a week and my highlight, in fact it’s a chore, outside those hours is certainly not shopping for basics, you expound.  What kind of person could possibly find solace in a supermarket?  You ignorantly deride.  As you likely do with this special breed of modern consumer, you’re missing the point.  Some have churches, others clubs, more still the comfort of their own homes in which to pass unproductive hours.  The Zen Shopper is not religious.  Even if not overtly consumerist, they’re more familiar with the idea of retail therapy over spiritual enlightenment.  The Zen Shopper could well be social, but perhaps her or his employment requires socialisation of which they grow tired by the end of the day.  Carrots and cereal neither judge nor argue.  The Zen Shopper doesn’t always feel comfortable in their own home for many reasons, especially within share-houses, that even the most militaristic market-goer can relate to.  The local supermarket can with regular patronage become a kind of half-way house between the public and the private, quite apart from the workplace (unless you’re unlucky or un-educated enough to work at a supermarket).  Nothing is quite real in a supermarket.  It’s a place of plastic and marketing and pop-music and feigned employee friendliness.  Why shouldn’t this provide comfort to someone who either feels themself a fraud or wishes for more delicious fakery in their life?

A minimalist pleasure, is Zen Shopping.  The supermarket is a refuge for these little-known people.  The broke, the battered, the isolated and bereft flow in and out of the supermarket in their hasty and warlike ways from day to day, week to week, for the duration of their adult lives.  But it’s just another form of work for these people; another stressful experience to add to those keeping them up at night and forever moving but never enjoying.  The Zen Shopper is at once a very basic and complicated human.  She or he might be just as, or more so, afflicted as the above.  The difference is the quite literally meditative state these creatures of the night or period just after work adopt when “inside”.  Is it so hard to understand? “Nothing is quite real in a supermarket”, I wrote above.  Is it then surprising many people mostly of substance descend into a state of little mental substance while inside a place of very little – forgive me – substance?  Work, relationships, household chores.  All three are occasionally and inevitably difficult; requiring a mental application which hardly ever compliments the other two.  Supermarket shopping, however.  Wear your heart on your sleeve, place your brain in your shopping basket and glide without care over the linoleum floor.  Reality can wait.

Splendour in the Mud 2012

HE was trying to dress his bottom half in the Byron Bay Tourist Village’s toilets at 4pm on Splendour in the Grass 2012’s official first day – Friday.  While grappling with his underwear only a wall stopped this half-naked man falling on me as I emerged from a toilet with a mud covered floor.  At least I hoped it was mud.

‘It’s alright,’ he said, seeming to scan the floor for a part of it that wasn’t spinning, ‘I’m just drunk.’

I stifled a smirk and said ‘That’s cool.  In fact that’s the best way to be under these circumstances.  I also plan on being drunk very soon.’

DZ Deathrays.

Only a couple of hours earlier Brisbane’s DZ Deathrays played such raucous tunes as No Sleep and, during their set, 15 minutes of rain and apparently even hail turned Splendour in the Grass into Splendour in the Mud for the duration of the weekend.  I was sheltering side-stage with other curious media and people who’d paid $700 for VIP tickets at the time.  The Gold Bar area through which side-stage was accessed also featured better toilets.  Naturally I didn’t discover this until the festival’s last day.  There’s something conflict-zone like about using a festival trough in the men’s toilets while standing in shin-deep mud.  Women needed to use the men’s much less used port-a-loos in order to avoid massive, alcohol and water-fuelled lines to their own facilities.  One woman screamed contemptuous abuse at a young man who’d decided to piss in the corner instead of waiting for space at a trough.  ‘Ok!  Ok!  I’ll stop just for you,’ he said, zipped up and left the toilet area.

Splendour in the Mud 2012.

Wicked Campers, P-Plater cars and even mobile homes could be seen everywhere during the approach to Byron on Thursday.  There was no sign of rain at this point and dry grass stretched in all directions within the festival site for those lucky or obsessive enough to have arrived early.  With no music other than DJs playing this night, the grounds seemed like a drunken rock star sleeping off a hangover and poised, at any moment, to wake, eat some Coco Pops or a bacteria infested kebab and launch into a vengeful, angry performance.  The Forum was playing a movie featuring folk-musicians Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, Mumford And Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show, called the Big Easy Express.  During the documentary about the three bands touring rail-side-stages on a vintage train from LA to New Orleans, one musician was heard to say he’d ‘never used my hands so much to walk’ while moving from carriage to carriage.  I returned to the tourist village at 9pm to drink Southern Comfort, read and get a good night’s sleep.  The central protagonist of One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Arcadio Buendia, died.  This caused so many flowers to rain mysteriously from the sky that shovels were needed to clear a path for his funeral procession.  The last few years of this town founder’s life were spent in a state of insanity, chained to a tree.

Mud submersible shoes.

I was accused of being insane or Victorian by a couple of middle-aged women after a swim in Byron’s freezing bay.  I am in fact both, but the swim was quite reasonably an excellent wake up, hangover cure and shower-substitute.  A beautiful blonde babe wearing a tartan skirt, sun hat with a long blue ribbon and showing prominent cleavage wandered through the tourist village.  There were tracksuits, cut-off denims, dresses, leggings, jumpers, flannelette shirts, singlets, leather jackets and vests; almost any conceivable type of fashion.  A decided lack of band t-shirts though, oddly.  There were also Teletubbies, Gumbys, Bio Suit Boys and people in random panda, possum and other animal suits, or onesies.  One girl wandering into the village while smoking a cigarette was wearing blue jeans, which reminded me of Lana Del Rey who was set to play one of her first and probably last Australian performances at the GW McLennan tent on Saturday.  And she did, while wearing a white bubble-skirted wedding dress and loitering in front of the stage barrier to greet fans who gazed so intently and numerically toward her it would not have been surprising if she had spontaneously combusted.  Gumboots were everywhere around the pairs of Vans and Converse I almost destroyed with mud, even before the almost Biblical though brief downpour.  A pair of women – one gumbooted, the other not – co-operated upon entering the festival over a drain.  ‘Let me use my gumboots,’ the first said, while insisting on carrying the second on her back in an entertaining display of same-sex chivalry.

Enormous sand patterns for some reason.

Thank God for the Gold Bar.  While the Supertop main stage’s Saloon Bar was 100 or more alcohol hungry punters-deep it was possible to pick up a couple of drinks from the VIP section with only minimal pushing and shoving with other media, minor celebrities and musicians.  It was enjoyable to stand there and listen to Spiderbait perform Buy Me A Pony (don’t you wanna be, a personality) while standing in the bar’s mud, which was just as deep as everywhere else, smoking, drinking and thinking ‘Yes, it’s damn good to be able to separate oneself from, if not necessarily far above, the masses’.  Gypsy And The Cat arguably deserve a mention as one of the best acts of the night.  I couldn’t help standing at the back of the tent, in order to easily flee back to the VIP area, with a stupid smile on my face as the crowd sang virtually the entirety of Jona Vark while the band needed only really to play their instruments.  An awful night’s sleep and alcohol abuse started to take their toll by this point, and both Kimbra and Jack White were regrettably not witnessed.  ‘Acid freaks beware,’ I thought, while staring at the 10m long and not quite as high literally-burning words: ‘Let’s Get Metaphysical.’  Apparently the work by Nicole Breedon of splendid.org.au was ‘part beacon, part Australian music reference, part proposition; an invitation to transcend the more visceral suggestions of its reference – to revel through the night as part of a unified collective unconscious some 30,000 punters strong’.  Whatever that means.  Considering the confusing and potentially maddening things beginning to unfold within, the skinny bloke in his late-teens being bailed up by a drug-sniffing dog outside may never know how lucky he was to perhaps not have made it inside in a chemically altered state.

WordWeb defines ‘metaphysical’ as: Highly abstract and overly theoretical. Let’s get it.

More smiles on Saturday to overhear this lecture from a girl to her boyfriend: ‘You said you weren’t going to do any drugs – now you’re off your head.’  Apparently a record couple of thousand punters were caught with drugs during Splendour 2012.  He could have argued he was among a misunderstood minority, if he’d not indeed been off his head.  Nicotine was a problem, too.  One disgruntled Gold Bar patron complained to me on Friday that he was forced to stand in the rain and smoke.  And a can of Johnnie Walker and Coke I was drinking barely survived when a drunken female reveller fell on me.  Her boyfriend seemed either scared I was angry or was himself angry I and my drink had gotten in her way.  Stimulants really are risky.  Natural substances were the way to go, in the form of Splendour’s increasingly foot-traffic-whipped mud.  One man in a wetsuit was prepared.  Others didn’t seem to mind what they were wearing before taking the plunge.  I and a mate became bored during Ben Harper’s Splendour performance of yesteryear and covered ourselves from head-to-toe with dark matter to the delight of those with cameras who egged us on.  After which my comrade reportedly noticed a bloke urinating not far from where we’d gone for a mud-swim.  Watching people trying to walk through it gave one the impression that the festival was taking place on a moist, high-gravity planet.

This article is becoming too long.  So, some lessons learned:

The (short bloke dressed as a) squirrel would ‘dance for us if we form a circle’, she said.  He did anyway, even though a semi-circle was the best we could achieve.  Gold Coast hip-hop, jazz, reggae, rock band Tijuana Cartel sent out a heart warming greeting to what they called the ‘fascist presence’.  ‘This is for the police out there,’ they said, before playing their song Rise Up.  I gave him a cigarette and he told me he loved me.  I didn’t return the emotion.  Not sure if he felt rejected.  The Wine Bar’s house shiraz was not as good as the pinot noir but either way it was the only place as warm as the Gold Bar due to heaters scattered within.  A man was drawing glorious patterns in a football-field sized part of Byron’s beach, another man walked his alpaca named Pedro through the streets and the second-hand bookshop opposite the Dendy Cinemas had mysteriously disappeared.  You can’t use the Virgin Fast Lane to access the Saloon Bar even when it’s deserted.  It will lead to an argument with staff who’ll quote ‘rules and regulations’, before you laugh and approach the bar anyway.  There’s to be no dancing in the side-stage area and joking with security that you want to dance will go over their heads.  Birds within your campsite will squeak and squawk all night instead of just at first light, possibly due to the amount of exhaled alcohol saturated carbon dioxide in the air.  You will feel smug when your VIP ticket means you don’t have to wait in line for as long as other people.  Police quoted in local media as saying Splendour should have a 1am lockout may have overlooked the fact that would mean it’s more likely festival goers will end up alcohol, drug and music crazed in the town’s clubs and pubs before their lockouts.  Govindas vegetarian food is the best and most competitively priced you’ll find in any festival.  I wouldn’t want to be ‘Rachel’: the girl who Bleeding Knees Club spent an entire song referring to as a slut.  You will meet people who stay in beach-side mansions during their Splendour experience but not envy them one little bit.  Blue King Brown’s singer spent five or 10 entire minutes railing against the injustice and shameless concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the world’s few, and said there’s a movement growing to change things.  And she was right.