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21 Mar

Yesterday I did something a bit out of character, I applauded an act of war by US-led forces against a country in the Middle-East.

I’ve long been opposed to the Iraq War respectfully disagreeing with some that it was anything other than a resource grab and an exercise is maintaining and extending hegemony in the region. I haven’t changed my mind about that. Still to those Iraq War supporters who point out that Saddam Hussein is dead and gone because of the war I can only say, yes. And to anyone who asks how else could you rid the world of such an belligerent arsehole I have no suggestions.

I’ve been critical of the Obama administration for not stepping right in, right away and supporting the various revolutions in the Middle-East from the start. Obama chose standard realpolitik caution. Word has it that the US Secretary of State has even given clandestine support to the Saudi initiatives to crush the move for democracy in Bahrain. Shameful.

But when an obvious sultanic nutbag like Gaddafi starts bombing his own people it seems pretty clear that the request to the world to impose a no-fly zone around Libya to stop this, to at least let the Libyan people have a chance, should be granted. Over the week-end, finally, it was. According to Kevin Rudd the United Nations Security Council took a month to make the decision finally. His tone says it, and I agree, that that is far too slow a response. But at least there was a response and now Gaddafi’s days are numbered.


After the neoconservative policies deployed by the Bush administration the balance of power in the Middle East has been, well, unbalanced. Obama’s more urbane, conciliatory style came as a relief to the intelligentsia of the world but his policies could not waver much from Bush’s. After three years under Obama US forces are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. He can’t get out. He must stay and fight. The courtiers in the Bush administration, those who truly designed and pushed that government’s foreign policy, knew that whomsoever replaced them would be forced to carry on their policies regardless their inclinations. It was just too hard not to.

I don’t like any of this. But, unpleasant as it is, I have to face certain facts. Authoritarian regimes are hard to get rid of peacefully. The relatively ordered transference of power in Cairo and Tunis is exceptional. Other uprisings in the region are more likely to be met with the iron fist response we have seen in Libya and Bahrain. And so when it happened I found myself willing the Obama administration to join in, to pursue the neoconservative policy of spreading democracy by force and glad when he finally did so.

Funny old world innit.



4 Feb


Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L’étendard sanglant est levé


Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils et vos compagnes


Que veut cette horde d’esclaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves,
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés


Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!



25 Nov

“The Night”, 1918-19
Max Beckmann (1884-1950)

It was a long time before anyone heard a thing in the place. One of those life’s pauses incalculable in retrospect that take seconds to pass. When the silence was finally broken it was the sound of a chair scraping. Who’s no-one cared to contemplate.

“Well that’s different,” Gij said finally. Nervous giggle. “You think he’s alright? Maybe someone should go after him.

“Leave him alone” said Heidi. “You know he’s never lost a game in here?” she addressed the stranger adding a sarcastic ‘Barry’.

“No.”, said the stranger, “I know he owes me two-hundred and fifty bucks.”

“Well there’s the door,” Heidi pointed.

The stranger leaned back in his seat as if to rise.

“I wouldn’t go out there mate”, said Gij, “Claude’s hard, you’ll regret it.”

“I wasn’t going to,” said the stranger.

The door opened and Claude walked in, quiet. The stranger looked up at him as he walked over and stood above him. There was a beat or two when nothing was said and then Claude inhaled taking out his wallet, withdrawing two hundred-dollar notes and a fifty. “Good game,” he said, handing over the notes, no feeling, . “Nice trick with the clock, have to watch that.” The stranger took the notes and didn’t say anything.

“Another drink mate?” said Zach. “Let’s have a round of shots on me.”

“Shots? Nah.” Claude said. “I reckon it’s homeways for me now. Might stay in for a while.” He bent down, pulled his backpack over his shoulder, turned and walked to the door, leaving without making a sound.

“Let’s have a round of shots.” Zach reiterated without much enthusiasm still reaching for the bottle. He set five short glasses on the bar and filled them to the lip with with Sherman T Cooper. They crowded ’round them, looking at each other over as if for permission. Together they knocked them back. Zach poured again.

“Gotta say that was different”, he said.

“Yeah.” Gij’s chorus, “That was wicked! I never thought I’d see anyone beat Claude.”

“His pride will be wound,” said the guy in the beret, his first words all night. His voice was squeaky. “I ham Milič.” He held his hand out to the stranger who took it indifferently. “Do you know the work of Arshille Gorky. I ham off his School.” He reached in and withdrew a shabby, dirt-stained envelope from his coat and started putting A5 cards on the table. They were hand-painted abstract shapes in blue and red. “Is original work,” said Milič, “I sell. Five dollar.”

The stranger sipped some more bourbon and took one of the cards, flipped it over, inspecting it as if for engine trouble. “Yeah alright”, he said. He handed over five bucks and the guy in the beret ordered another beer hastily swallowing his second free bourbon. The stranger downed his bourbon. “Interesting night.”

“You know Claude really has never lost a game,” Heidi said. “He’s a serious guy. He used to be on the docks, yeah?” He could bury you.

“That a fact?” asked the stranger.

“Yeah, that’s a fact.”

“You a friend of his?”

“I see him in here most nights.”

“You fuck him?”

“You could become really unpopular here pretty fast.. ‘Barry'”

“Yeah. Figures,” the stranger said as if that was his story so far. “You have a pen?” he asked Gij.

“Yeah” she gave him one.

“You didn’t answer the question,” said the stranger, writing. “You fuck him?”

“I’ll fuck you in a minute,” Heidi snapped, holding up her glass. “With the broken end of this!”

“Ooo wee; hard birch ain’t cha?”

“Try it fuckface. I didn’t like you one bit when you walked in here and I like you a whole lot less now. Go and look for fresh necks to bite somewhere else, ‘ey? Everyone here’s bled out already”

“Easy sister,” said Zach softly.

“Fuck off Zach! The dude’s a showpony, Class-A – Arsehole!”

“You fuckin’ him as well?” said the stranger.

“Oi!” Zach’s turn to get irate, “This is my bar pal. Drink up and just fuck off, okay. We don’t want it to get ugly do we.”

“Got ugly a long time before I arrived didn’t it,” said the stranger.

“What’s your problem arsehole,” Heidi’s composure long gone. “You come in here and I’m not interested so you’ve gotta be a total prick, you’ve got problems.”

“You? Be serious for a minute.”

“Right.” Zach cuts in, “Drink it and out. You’ve got 60 seconds.”

“Plenty of time,” the stranger emptied his glass and stood up. He walked over to the bar and slipped the beret guy’s card into Gij’s hand, went back to his seat and picked up his coat. Zach looked at Gij nervously, she was glued to whatever the stranger had written on the back of the card. The stranger put his coat on and tossed some coins on the bar by way of a tip. He slipped a twenty dollar note to the guy with the beret. “Like your stuff, comes in handy. I’ll have another four.” The guy with the beret took out his grubby envelope and started to place the stuff on the bar. “Any four, ” said the stranger. “The first four – there.” He picked four up and walked to the door slipping out past a crowd of kids coming in.

Suddenly the place was an explosion of noise. “Zach!” cried the leader of the new crew.


“Zach, Zach, Zach,” the chorus of funsters went. We want beer Zach.

“Beer? Sure. Gij?” said Zach, putting on his best fake party grin. “Gij?” Gij didn’t look up from the card. And she was reaching for her bag, her coat. “Gij we got customers,” Zach was taking beret guy’s money and handing him a beer. The funsters were all at the bar, rowdy, oblivious to whatever pain was being felt in the room. “Gij?”

Gij looked at Zach finally, briefly. She shrugged and tilted her head. Her eyes full of pity and resignation. “I gotta go.”

“The place just filled up! You’re working.” Zach’s tone said he didn’t really care about the customers. He struggled to keep the desperate edge off the tone in his voice.

“Yeah?” Gij said sadly, “Yeah. I’ve been thinking it’s time I… y’know. Moved on.” She headed for the door.

“You leave and you do move on,” said Zach.

“Yeah well….” Gij was out the door already waving wait for me down the street.

It was quiet then. The funsters had turned sombre. Heidi just gazed at the record collection her eyes misted over with something long ignored but never quite gone. Zach just stared at his boots. The guy in the beret sucked at his beer twitchy, checking out the kids for possible art-loving marks. Zach snapped out of it, shrugged. The shrug was more like a sob. He walked over to the turntable and flipped down a record from the shelf, out the plastic sleeve, on the rubber wheel: the tune opened – the appregio riff of “Gimme Shelter”. Ominous Then he counted the kids at the bar – six.

He set up ten shot glasses and brought down the cheaper whiskey bottle. Ten glasses, one each and two for him. Charlie Watt’s drums started in, Bill Wyman’s bass. The music drowned all feeling in the room save that of the need to move to a beat. The Blue Ruin, two o’ clock in the morning. Just another night in their weathered lives. Some places they probably tell the story about the guy they never saw again, but not here.


18 Nov



“What do I call ya?” Claude said, setting up the board.

The stranger smiled as if about to tell his favourite joke. He said, “Call me the Kid.”

“The Kid? Bullshit! What’s your name?”

The stranger nodded in Heidi’s direction. “She says she doesn’t wanna know it. Just trying to be considerate.”

“Uh-uh. Not ‘The Kid’ yeah?”, Claude shook his head, serious. “Can’t stand dickhead names like that. Years of ’em. Had a gutful of ’em. Years.”

“C’arn Claude,” Heidi cut in. “You’re every night in a bar serviced by Gidget Moondoggie.” The Stranger suppressed a laugh.

“Gij gets away with it. She’s young and stupid and drop dead. And we call her Gij. This bloke here? Nuh.”

“Sorry if you don’t like the name mate.” said the Stranger. “I just don’t have much imagination.”

“Hah!” Heidi went back to her drink.

Drinks were ordered, and the game began with the stranger winning the toss. He picked black. The drinks arrived while the players set up their defense formations. Diagonal pawns each.

“Right,” Claude said. “You’re name’s Barry”,

“Barry it is,” the affable reply.

Fifteen minutes later the battle swinging and blood drawn. Alongside the board stood two black bishops, a rook, sundry pawns and a knight. All black. Three white pawns, and two white members of the major arcana stood on the other side. ‘Barry’ had two empty whiskey glasses keeping them company. A third glass, full, sat next to the bunch.

“Have you lost yet?” said Heidi.

“No.” said ‘Barry’.

“Well let me know when it happens.”

There was a long pause as the new fish contemplated the spread on the board. It resembled an ambush. Claude moved his bishop. One step away from checkmate. It seemed over. ‘Barry’ looked up at Claude and said, “I think we should play the rest of the game by the clock, say 15 seconds?”

Claude didn’t respond, he just looked at the guy as if he was bound for self-destruction and there was nothing no-one could do about it, what a waste etcetera.

“You do have a clock yeah?”

“Yeah. I don’t use it in here,” Claude said. “My friend’d use up all his time by the second move.”

“Well? Is there a problem?”

Claude reach down and unzipped the side pocket of the backpack sitting by his feet. He took out the small double-clock and wound it for 15 seconds. He put it down. “Your move,” he said. He clicked the clock, ticking. The stranger looked at the board… 1,2,3,4,5 6 seconds; he moved some innocuous pawn nowhere. Click. Claude moves his Queen, Knight 5 check. Click. ‘Barry’ draws a forgotten rook out of some cluster of disaster on the 5th row and collects Claude’s queen!

Click, silence.

Claude’s game tocks out – 1 second,2. Three, four, five.. He moved his rook. ‘Barry’s’ knight took his bishop. Another pause 8,9,10. Claude brought out his other rook awkwardly positioning it for a strike it wouldn’t have time to make. ‘Barry’ did the same. Claude moved the knight close in, check. Four seconds left for the stranger; Claude, six. But he was stumped. The seconds bled out – three, two. He moved his king, it was all he could do. One second left for Claude. ‘Barry moved his rook to a position where it would be taken by either of two pawns. But it was check. Claude had one move left, and only two choices. ‘Barry’ still had time. There was some kind of feeling in the place, then, like in a big house where wars are declared; like the first visit to a loved one who’s terminal.

Claude sat like a rock, eyes on his king. The clocked buzzed. Time out. And for a moment everything was still as morning. And the next thing anyone knew the chess clock was exploding to fragments on the wall behind the stranger and Claude had woken up the city you never knew a man could roar ’til you heard it. And then Claude stood up like off to a job he hates and marched thru the door, closing it gently behind him.

Concludes next week.


11 Nov


Heidi threw her head back to laugh and you could see her beautiful milk-white throat. Gij couldn’t tell whether there was mockery in the mirth. “Did you ever change your name Heidi?” she asked.

“Nooooo!” Heidi shook her head emphatically as if it were a preposterous assertion and drained the rest of her Long Island Iced Tea wrattling the ice cubed water to request another. The night was parched, decalescent. Heidi felt the booze but her voice was always sharp. “Why would I change my name to ‘Heidi’?” Gij bore Heidi the timid respect of the fundamentally groundless for one who has perfected the art of keeping poker faces.

“I like Heidi, I think it’s a cool name.”

A cleaning truck passed by, throbbing hot light flickers thru the raindrops onto the blue walls. It was hammering now. On this night, she drank gin. The rain’s machine-gun thump became suddenly loud as the door opened. The man was a stranger, you could tell. He’d never been in the bar before but he’d been in others. It was his way by family and friends. Temporary and intense relations on a strictly first-name basis. In many bars, many people told stories about the guy they never saw again.

“Here’s a man who lives a life of danger, everywhere he goes, he stays – a stranger. Howdy stranger, mind if I smoke?”, Heidi mumbled this and then lit the fat Gitane waiting in the right-hand corner of her mouth without waiting for a response. The stranger sat next to her. Heidi raised her eyes to heaven and it was Zach alone who caught it, he smiled, tried to catch Heidi’s eyes but they were looking at the blue wall like a woman who just received bad news in test results. Zach’s smile sank slowly back into the mask he wore as Gij sauntered up to the stranger to take his order, giving him her dangerous kitten stare steadily. Zach’s face sank at the corners, his eyes washed with rejection.

“Hi.” Gij started wiping the bar, “what would you like?”

The stranger had a pale face and dark eyes of course, they always do. His hair was a chestnut brown made darker, slick from the rain. His lips were just this side of masculine and the eyes were were both innocent and evil. He spoke, soft and low but something in it threatened. It had some kind of accent, could’ve been from anywhere. Hasn’t decided yet, it said.

Gij wiped his edge of the bar, taking care not put the wet rag anywhere near Heidi. She bent forward slowing down across the stranger’s torso to the other. This practically obliged her targets to look down the front of her shirt. She liked to catch their eyes in the act and sometimes she’d smile, sometimes she’d drag the guy over broken glass. But when she looked up tonight the stranger was looking at Heidi.

“May I have a light?”

Heidi didn’t look at him she just reached over the bowl of Blue Ruin matchbooks and tossed one in front of him. Her Zippo lay on her cigarettes.

“Wet, isn’t it?” said the stranger to no-one in particular. He waved a finger at Gij who’d wiped her sulking way back in Zach’s direction. He caught her eye and ordered beer without speaking, lit a cigarette and sat smoking. The beer came and he passed over a large note using courtesy as a weapon. His ‘thank-you’ put others at his disposal and came them at bay. He turned around to the silent chess game behind.


Zach put another record on, Masgani’s Callaveria rustica. He poured himself a drink and sat watching the turntable. Gij started to clean the glasses. Nothing else moved except the white knight from the board, the drops of water on the window. The stranger’s eyes were fixed on the pieces. Claude had cleared the white pieces from the board. Only a few remained like scattered Spartans.

The guy with the beret hunkered down over the board examining the pieces as if about to draw them. He breathed in slow and held the air, adjusting his headgear, his head coming to rest as he contemplated the inevitable defeat like a puzzle that could be solved with adequate concentration. The stranger walked his beer over to the chess table and sat down uninvited.

“You should lay the king to rest, it’s over”

“He never gives up,” said Claude, his face budged into what might’ve been a grin if it had been allowed to live. The guy in the beret said nothing.

“Fancy a game after?”

If Claude heard you wouldn’t know. Heidi let a chuckle escape, it was too late to grab it and put it back in its place. The stranger turned to her.

“He’s good?”

“Yeah, no-one ever wins”

“I don’t mind losing.”

“Yeah I can tell.”

The stranger laughed, “I don’t think life is a game to be won or lost. I think it’s a series of experiences. I try and have interesting experiences.”

“What are you doing here then?”

“Hard aren’t you,” the stranger snapped back as if well-rehearsed, “the type that’s always hard on the outside”.

“And on the inside, even harder.” She lifted the toothpicked olives from her cocktail glass and drew them off with her teeth.

The guy in the beret moved his bishop across the board, check. Claude swept it off with an unseen knight. He still had his knights. The guy in the beret inhaled again and went back to meditation. The stranger moved back to his place at the bar and finished the beer, putting it down and searching for eye contact with Gij who was busy lifting Zach out of his sulk.

“Why are you here, then?” the stranger said. “So boring.”

“I didn’t say it was boring. It’s just not interesting but I like it here. I like its unreality.”


“Yeah, we’re not real people, we’re just characters in some hack screenwriter’s notes. The decor is mythological. And we’re all merely cliches.”

“I’m a cliche?”

“The original cliche, a strange man walks into a bar,” she stubbed out her cigarette. “Whatever you do don’t tell us your name. It’ll ruin it.”

“Maybe I should, I wouldn’t be a cliche then.”

“Oh yes you would,” she lit another. “The worst kind of cliche, the lonely guy who hasn’t anything better to do with his time or money then get drunk.”

“Harder on the inside ey?”


The stranger took out his wallet and drew out five $50 notes. He stood and walked over to the chess game. The guy in the beret still hadn’t moved. With precise decision he laid out the bills one by one. “These say I beat you next game.”



9 Nov

There’s a blogger somewhere in America, Emily. She writes:

When I was eight years old, Twin Towers were attacked. This tragedy shattered my young mind to pieces. I was a little girl who did not understand why the same bad men who killed so many people in New York wouldn’t come to my town in Texas and hurt me too. I began to suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. I wouldn’t eat or drink without being forced. I wouldn’t go outside and play with my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to cross the street to get the mail in the good neighborhood where I lived. I couldn’t sleep at night.

Emily grew up in a Christian home she tells us. I wonder how she feels about Muslims. There’s no loud references to coming Jihad on her site. She tells us that she turned away from God and despite this she found herself doing the Lord’s work. God was using her, she said. She goes to Africa to help out somehow. She has trouble sleeping still. But she’s reconciled, regained her faith. She has no doubt; she knows that God works with her and thru her.

Somewhere else, another American also knows there is a God. He supports the Park51 project. This is the infamous ‘ground zero mosque’ which is actually nothing of the kind. The site is near but not on the site of the collapsed World Trade centre towers. This is significant. Actually on the site would be an unbearable slap-in-the-face, obviously. Regardless the attitudes of Muslims world-wide to the ideology and activities of Usama bin Laden and his followers, to build a mosque on the site of so many deaths perpetrated in the name of Islam is a symbol of victory. A mosque near the site could be a symbol of tolerance. What better response by a great pluralist democracy to Jihadist intolerance than to have a large mosque where American muslims pray?


It’s not only a mosque; the proposal is for a community centre which includes a large mosque. Its supporters maintain that it’s intended to facilitate peaceful co-existence among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Originally it was to be called “Cordoba House” after the relatively tolerant Islamic Iberian caliphate. Naturally there’s controversy. The inevitable Jihadwatch-watch rebuttal takes the ‘liberal’ point of view, as I have, telling us that the Taliban want the project scrapped because of opposition. The argument is that banning the mosque helps the enemy.

What follows is the by now wearily familiar rhetorical war where facts are merely optional instruments in the service of some higher truth defined as unquestioned loyalty to God and the armies blessed by same. These blend seemlessly with the egos of whomsoever casts an opinion. JihadWatch, for example, likes to repeatedly post a photograph of Park51’s owner Sharif El-Gamal that casts him in the dodgiest light possible without being blatantly Berian. There’s guilt by association, a Muslim blogger name of Aziz Poonawalla is, apparently, “the kind of man who posts obscene photoshops about his ideological opponents”. They’re both Muslim right? What else do you need?

I tried one of the links which apparently substantiates this claim. It doesn’t. And it’s just more blogwar. If Poonawalla engages in such slander or unreason I wouldn’t know. Seems pretty civilized to me. It’s not that I’m taking one side against the other. I’m inclined to duck out the door in the event of a barroom brawl. If people wanna punch each other’s heads in fine. But leave me out of it. Unless I’m in it.

What God is he, writes laws of peace and clothes them in a tempest? Jews, Christians and Muslims all tell me that their faith is about peace and love and here I am in a 21st century city writing on 21st century technology for a 21st century publication medium and I find I’m worried about, of all things, a religious war!! The secular West lumps these troublemakers under the heading ‘monotheism’ and we see the rise of the anti-theist movement led by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who should know better, but don’t, I’d say because their ability to reasonhas been blitzed by their anger at the obstinate hostility of the agents of religious faith. Abrahamic religious faith in particular. Of course, elsewhere, the view that the world would’ve been better off without monotheism has been expressed with much less heat.

The traditional alternative, in the West, to the Abrahamic ethos has been that of the Greco-Roman world in particular Stoicism as articulated by Epictitus, Aurelius and Seneca; the ethics of Aristotle. From Machiavelli to Nietzsche, the proto-modern world is stuffed with philosophers who have fetishized Athens and Rome. This counter-tradition, as adherents know, has certain advantages over the Judeo-Christian tradition. Principle among this, as Nietzsche’s Geneology of Morals argues, is the difference in moral architecture.

In the Abrahamic faiths the universe is the site of a battleground between the forces of good and evil. History is a process of conflict between these forces that leads to an inevitable final battle which lays waste to the whole shebang. In Athens and Rome good was a path of moderation between extremes. In the former virtue is held to be the opposite of the nefarious: we are good because we are not them. Virtue comes by virtue of being and believing. The latter holds that virtue is an accomplishment. Its aim is to cultivate a self capable of enjoying life without over-indulging in its pleasure or giving in to depravity: emotions are mastered by reason.

I, myself, conceive of morality in this fashion. God writes laws of peace and the followers of God slaughter each other over the fine print. It’s crazy man. The pictures on this post are of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, now the Mezquita Cathedral. When the Catholics took back Spain they converted the infidel’s blasphemy into a house of God. And before that the Moors built a house of God on the site of the infidel’s blasphemy: the Visigoth St Vincent’s. Before that it was a pagan temple to what god I wouldn’t know. But you get the picture.

Over time you see it. As we change, our ideas of God or gods change. In pagan times God didn’t cause wars your god’s worth was adjudged by your success or failure in war. Then came the one true God and the laws of peace and people started using it as an excuse to bust skulls big time! Well, they tell me, it’s written. It’s written in the Talmud an eye for an eye. It’s been written ever since. Hitchens and Dawkins write it too. We are good. They are bad. Why? Because of what they believe. It’s written.

Personally I’ve never felt the touch of God in the words. I guess I’m a pagan throwback, Catholic naturally, I always found the images spoke more clearly. But still they were simply images as the Bible is simply stories. There’s nothing spiritually profound necessarily especially as they’ve been in the service of so much hatred. (And always it’s they that hate). But in a mosque, in a cathedral, in a Buddhist temple, a synagogue, on land held sacred by Aboriginal people – yeah. A temple has no hatred.



4 Nov



The guy who owned the place, Zack: the girlfriend half his age. She liked his stories of St Kilda back in the days when Roland S Howard and Mick Harvey were in a band; cocaine with James Freud (wanker). She liked his sense of humour. But she was growing weary of his fast greying skin, his weary spirit, his breathing in the mornings. The heavy weight of a life throttled by pleasure. Business Wednesday to Monday was good. Too good. Wall to wall wankers. Art crowd, hospitality people Wednesdays, Thursdays. Weekends crawled with yuppies from public relations snake-pits, magazines that ate the souls of their readers. Mondays the worst: undergraduates from the education precinct. Tuesday nights he liked. It was Tuesday tonight.

The girlfriend’s name was Gidget Moondoggie. No shit! She was born Tanya Parsoe but she changed it October before last. Her 18th birthday present to herself she tells the story. She liked to undulate her ivory statue arse at Zack when they were at it and use her name to coo with. Fuck me moon doggy. The pure pornography of feigned innocence. Zack was old enough to’ve had his sexual development warped by religion not pornography. She was the swan song of his wilderness and the petty humiliations and vacant romantic nonsense were a reasonable price to pay.

Gij, everyone called her Gij. She knew they would. At work Gij always wore the uniform: black jeans, black T-shirt, canvas shoes: black, white or red. When she wasn’t working she held court. The Blue Ruin princess. Her courtiers were all impeccable retro-designer drones. Her clique of sexy chicks assorted stylistically as to avoid direct competition and foster team spirit. Like the Spice Girls if Courtney Love was in them. No-one competed with her highness.

She was the reason her crew counted on table service when everyone else had to go to the bar. She was the reason that Gentle Tom the massive Maori door bastard would kick a six-figure coke-addled money-bleeding lush in the arse hard enough to send him to Sydney if it pleased her to shower the guy with insults deadly enough to make the blood drown his brains in anger. It pleased her more when he returned the favour with interest and got the boot for dessert.

Tonight there was no need to please the Infidel. Bill Withers piped from the tubes just below the staccato raindrops on the window. Dancing light against the glass cut across by the indigo silhouette painted on the outside. A pair of figures, male and female: he – a stretched out dude with a 50s quiff, crepes n’ drapes; she – all curves and tattoos. High heels and frills that shot out across her thighs forming an arrow that pointed to it. Heidi swayed slightly to the bass guitar’s little dance with the bongos. She got to swinging a little. This was one kind of song she really liked. A suicide song impossible to stay still for. She got to swinging a bit more. “Zach,” she says in that rare feminine deep tobacco-coated voice. “Turn this up.”

So Zach turns it up. Zach lets Gij get away with mass slaughter but he listens to Heidi. Zach and Heidi… well no-one talks about it. No-one knows about it. Zach’s oldest friends come in sometime by jet from other cities on the network. If they know her you can’t tell. Whatever happened was over a long time before Zach opened The Blue Ruin. Sometimes Heidi released some cryptic fragment of transient background imagery: That was Zach’s Carl Perkins psychabilly phase. Suede boots, paisley ties really wide. Zach never said anything about Heidi. Gij was afraid of Heidi. For one thing Heidi was the only person apart from Zach around that knew her real name was Tanya. Heidi was the one who set her straight.

“Gidget,” Heidi always called her Gidget, “The way to change your name is to change it. It doesn’t matter what your license says. It’s what you say it is that counts. Don’t give people a choice unless you want them to have one.” Gij never told anyone after that. Once her sister came in for a night and insisted on calling her Tanya stepping up the volume each time she did. They haven’t spoken since.

Heidi thought the name was stupid but had to give her marks for bombastic audacity if not taste. “It’s a name you don’t forget,” she says. “But the further north you get past 22 the more stupid it gonna sound. Just sayin’.”

“Oh. I worked that out ages ago.”


“Yeah, I’m going to change my name to something else for my 21st. I have a short-list.”