“Fuck, its hard work being a normie” he said solemnly. “All of the daytime is spent inside four walls, earning money to pay rent for four walls at night time, only to avoid living a life inside four walls!” He fumbled for his lighter, single Marlboro Red drawn slowly from the drab green generic packets that they had started selling them in. His soft hands slid back and forth up his legs, trying to find where the lighter had gone.
As he sipped his single malt scotch, he tried to avoid getting ash on his girlfriend’s laptop.
“But what are our options? We revert to a life of hiding things that aren’t ours in the front of our pants, in order to sell them to people who can’t or won’t take the risk of hiding things in their own pants themselves? A life lived not knowing where the rent is going to come from, where a Friday is exactly the same as a Monday? Where you only live for today and the problems and wars of another become so much less significant than the twenty-dollar piece of steak and a bottle of imported Vodka you just walked out of the store without paying for? They are, but the utopian construct of a bygone era, you would do well to imagine it with its hair slicked back with margarine, and washed down the toilet like last nights party..”
I sat back and reclined in my seat; I could tell he was on a roll.
“We could forgo all the niceties of the modern age and share a squat with a forty something Heroin addict named Donald who can’t remember the last time he called his mother? Or we wake up at the same time everyday, and walk into a building to make someone else more money than they pay us? Our options these days are, how should I say, fucking limited.”
His opinions on life were jaded and cynical at the best of times, but that’s why I liked him. The Jam’s Going Underground played at a moderate volume in the background, fading in and out of earshot above the sound of his bellowing and preaching.
He remembered where he had placed his lighter, as he took a deep sigh and slid another cigarette from its coffin. He shook them as if it would make more of them appear in the near empty packet, took a step back from his drink and as he calmly lit up, stared me right in the eyes.
“The weekend warriors who kid themselves they aren’t junkies, they are the worst.”
His stare wavered as he took a long draw on his cigarette.
“But what am I to know? I’ve been there, done that AND bought the t-shirt. But I was never raised to know otherwise. The two distinct worlds I can see living in tandem only exist because I’ve been a happy minion of both. What if they were only manufactured by my psyche, as I tried to rationalize the life I was living at the time? The truth is I cannot, and will not, ever know. But if I were to try and explain this bipolarity to someone else, how can I expect him or her to interpret it the same way I do? You know what I mean don’t you?”
I nodded, but I didn’t.
“Of course you understand, because you’re one of us. One of the chosen few.”
He burped loudly and unashamedly. I could smell a combination of the greasy aftermath of what he considered food and expensive scotch, lingering in the air between us.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but misery is the kindest mistress you can keep. If nothing can make you more happier than to be sad, the happy moments mean so much more, right?”
The self-destructiveness of his being was overwhelming. The next thing he would probably try telling me would be something about God. I reached for my glass and tried to finish my drink as fast as I could. He wouldn’t give a shit that I had to go to work the next day. He would more than likely pull out some highly illegal object soon, in a feeble attempt to rile a response from me. I was used to this from him. Last time we were in this same situation, he pulled out a bunch of war medals and a semi automatic handgun from underneath his bed and tried to get me to go down to the river and shoot fish with him.
“Remember when I used to hang out at the bus station? And just wait until I saw a face I knew? That was my life. I used to just wait until someone who had a life different to mine would walk past, and I would stick to them like glue. I would try to live a few hours of their life, because that was all I had. No job, no car, no girlfriend, just other people’s fucking lives. And I can tell you one thing, people have boring fucking lives.”
He filled my glass for me. I really needed to go, and I think he could tell.
“But in turn, I became a bit of a Pied Piper myself. I remember when you used to follow me, following other people. Now THAT’S a trip! You used to bump into me, remember? Or I’d bump into you, same same, and we would go wandering around together!”
I stared at my now full glass, wondering how long it would be until the next train.
“Yes.. That is true.”
“Now, the kids these days, they just follow people on Twitter. They don’t get their hands fucking dirty! They just read about what another halfwit kid thinks about the latest meal deal they are selling down the chicken shop.. They couldn’t give a fuck about getting lost somewhere..”
The scotch had definitely taken its effect, as he had now gotten up out of his chair and was now parading around the room shirtless.
“Get lost you should, how about that? You should fuck off, I’ve got to write my next piece for the blog and I’ve got no fucking material, what good is it for me to just sit here drunk talking to you? I’ve got to spread the good word of our saving father, the Government!”
He stood on the table, feet sweeping playing cards and rolling papers to the floor.
“We are the youth, and we are getting older! One day we will be able to stand behind the podium and tell YOU what YOU have done wrong and who to hate next! We will stand proudly under the one flag, united! And then there will come the people who grew up next to us, oblivious to our world, standing in the podium next to us, telling us that it is in fact WE that are wrong! And so forth we will tumble, in eternal chaos, cowardly placing faith in the fact that the newest hash tag trending on Twitter will somehow distract you! The true meaning of propaganda is not to tell you a version of the truth my friend, but to make you so disinterested in the truth that your apathy overwhelms you! And when your apathy cannot get any stronger, that is the moment, that is the moment your smartphone tells you to vote for us!”
I slowly packed my bag and got up to leave.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, yes?!” he said, still standing on the table.
I nodded briefly as I closed the door.
I can't read books anymore. I can't read anything longer than a few pages before my eyes start scanning for key words and the climaxes in paragraphs and dialogue.
I had learnt to read when I was three years old, and my favourite book as an eight year old boy was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In my third year of primary school I used to sit at lunchtime with two Vegemite sandwiches and the Guide to Psychology. I remember telling the girls who wanted to play kiss chasey I was busy.
But somewhere between absorbing 1984 and Brave New World, I just couldn't be fucked anymore. The attention span of modern man has been reduced to four second Snapchat stories and blatantly biased, one sided infographics. My mind will wander, even as I write this, and it goes back and forth to paragraphs and jots down anecdotes, inserting where it sees fit.
My girlfriend suggested the reason I struggle with reading is that my mind has been tainted with life experience. I cannot lose myself in the imagination of another due to the realities and responsibilities of my own. This is a Catch 22, as I obnoxiously expect people to be able to read my work, but I cannot read others.
I can't believe I'm the only writer who has had their mind numbed by the modern age. Are we all just writing stories, painting trains and acting for an audience of others who are just as empty as us, or at least appear to be? Does our own perceived importance in the cult of the personality outweigh the things we yearn to master?
Reality TV as we know it was born in 1992, and heaven help anyone who was born after that.
I took today off work to be able to write a few things. I came down to the coffee shop under my apartment, in a futile attempt to be able to cohesively relay my ideas. But after my third long black, staring at the beautiful people, all I can think about is rolling another cigarette and taking a shit.
I used to sit in bars to write instead, because to be fair, the idea of the writer in a coffee shop is a cliché. The raw honesty of an alcoholic talking to another alcoholic is something that you don't get when surrounded by gluten free raisin toast and feta avocado smash.
Roald Dahl used to be able to go to work, get home, eat some sort of sardine, make himself a cup of tea and write for two hours every night. I get home from work, endlessly scroll through Instagram, listen absentmindedly to pay TV and think about how I have to get up for work the next day.
People tend to want to brag about an achievement. And there is nothing wrong with wanting recognition for something you aspire to do. But at what point does the ability to boast about something, rather than the goal you are aiming for, become the sole motivator for undertaking the goal in the first instance?
All I can think of is being fourteen, sitting in the city library watching a VHS copy of Style Wars with some friends, being able to relate to doodling on the paper, or being there and bombing it. Back then in Perth, we had the one writers bench in the middle of town. If you were a writer, regardless if you just scratched windows occasionally or if you painted pieces every night, you'd go sit there while your photos developed, tried to sell acquired electronics to other writers and in general just hang out. We did however have the luxury of having one graffiti shop masquerading as an automotive paint store. If you saw a piece that wasn't painted with a chisel, you knew they had gotten the paint from Monty's. The community was very small. And in some ways, the styles that were born of that era reflected that. There were two handstyles, the "junkie" handstyle or the artfag handstyle. If you had mastered both, you were a king. You could always tell just from looking at a tag when someone was from the Fremantle line or if they were from the Midland line.
But like everything, the scene changes. You either move with the times or get left behind. The saying "You're not old school, you're just getting older" comes to mind. Herald the rise of the internet, social media and the Perth Rail Unit's mind maps of who was lining out who, and who got arrested together.
You didn't have to sit at a bench to see photos, hell, you didn't even have to be in the same city as them to see something that was done the night before. It got harder to tell where someone was from, everyone had seen Dirty Handz 2 or Area 08. You could tell who was in a crew together just by looking at their top eight friends. The cliquey element of graffiti, which was always there, got a lot more apparent and lines were drawn.
But it helped in other ways. Like a piece with seven hundred arrows, connections you couldn't see became tangible. If you wanted a new stainer recipe, jump on the internet. Need an interstate hookup for your next welfare cheque sponsored tour? Jump on the internet. Want to work out the freight timetables? You didn't have to sit in a frosty cold bush worried about getting bitten by a rent-a-dog, just Google a civilian rail devotee forum and troll for content. A new breed evolved. Graffiti had become a more mainstream concept and had attracted people that were otherwise not inclined to participate. Graffiti had always been a contact sport, but now the people watching from the sidelines had every opportunity to become players. Which again, isn't a completely bad thing.
Which brings us back to motivations. When did the flick of a piece, whether it's posted to Instagram or not, become more important than the piece itself? At what stage did passing your blackbook around become less collating styles, and more collecting autographs? The Id, the Ego and the Super-ego, conflicting ideas of self, style, anti style, box cutters, Nike Tailwinds, North Face jackets and foil lined booster bags all lead one to a conclusion.
If you don't click like, we've got beef.