Mixed Business

1 June 2014
The speaker is…


Reliable as anyone I’ve known,
Bob Arnold is the kind of man for whom life works
because (please excuse my sentimental aphorisms)
he loves life’s work; he’s lucky too, since he makes
his luck: wife, two girls, an extended back/
extended up weatherboard, the briskest walk
from Dennis station, a mum and dad further up
the Hurstbridge line.
He’s never said so
but unlike me he’s never let his parents down.
Can’t you hear mine? Why turn out yet another teacher
for the state and why then did you quit?
Why’d you marry whom you did then let
your marriage rot?
Or why in my own phrase
That lack of any focus?
Not that I would mention it,
but when you respect their aptitude, their nous
and clearly their results, when a man does plenty
and it’s all success, a friend like Bob will focus
for you: which dictum Bob need never know
also applied to Beetle.
Let’s say someone walks by/
walks into any spot that’s yours along the strip
at three or four or five pm and Yes you get it
today I’ll score! Let’s further say that this is how
that world of Beetle starts, as one windy, warm
late August afternoon I was at his place and
this girl was there: just past attractive,
just starting to age (as his or anybody’s taster-lady
should be). Sure, with a few days left of
hanging back I still felt detached, with though
that growing ‘edge’, my ‘edge’ which told me
Want what’s offered, take what’s offered.
Your deal mightn’t enter many listings but
your dealer will. If this girl dies (and she
may die) your man won’t even care:
for this is Beetle and isn’t he your man?

I had, I have my still and centred love
of self-respect (rules as still may save me)
where though lay any self-respect in that?
Where it was to be regained of course, that swiftest,
simplest way, the Beetle way.
Those days it seemed
like every second staff room (that’s where I’d been
a year before) let alone every spot along the strip
had one of us at least: happy-go-usey, slightly sad,
making and remaking us ever so slightly sadder,
My wife had never cared for me and sadder,
and so she quit. I’ll always hate her.
She and the boy friend though, I bought them out,
aiming to live alone, which dispensing with the lot
our lot (furnishings, white goods) I did,
enjoying all that propped my pride in minimal living.
Next-to-last off the carpets came, paring me to floorboards
(with a front room facing Lygon Street opposite the cemetery)
and my invalid pension. So I shrugged,
put my place on the market and finished each few days
with silent wails to some distant god
hating it, hating her for that little twerp I was,
so that I would catch, I had to catch the bus
to Clifton Hill and then wait for the Beetle tram.
Until that summer’s day I saw the man who sent me there:
Big Mike on the strip announcing ‘Beetle’s? Don’t exist.’
And I’d be best advised it never had.
Except it had.
And I thought of us: retailers, clientele, those stickybeaks-for-now,
as kids jostling in line with Skunk, Keno, Des ʾnʻ St-st-stu
at Mother Beetle’s tuckshop, big-noting sure,
though most days more big-noter wacky than big-noter paranoid:
like Skunk announcing ‘Wanna join the army so I can give
the officers head!’
‘Well,’ Big Mike sneers, ‘somewhat possible
isn’t it? If he can get away from Beetle. How can he but?’
Not with the quiz-master himself
(our one with all questions, answers, prizes) reminding both how
hadn’t he been Capʾn Midnight’s two-i-c? and how
‘…for a year whilst we were flogging his little bags oʻ joy,
the olʻ Midnight, wasn’t he the Pope!’
Well, Beetle taunted, weren’t our wishes always jelling, jelling,
to be part of such pedigree? Some Reservoir back street?
Never for our Capʾn! Which made me wonder
why indeed for our Beetle? Not that I need ask,
since this is what Beetle ultimately does:
forces you to imagine. I know I must.
This sure is useless bastard weather…and near midnight,
stone-bored with these past two days of northerlies
Des ʾnʻ Stu watch wogs on Elwood Beach wrap up their soccer.
And even if tomorrow’s Sunday, Sunday can be work for some
like Des ʾnʻ Stu: sitting it out, staring at videos, listening yet again
to Beetle and agreeing with him how Dæmon’s been
a very stupid boy. Tonight but, they’ve credit enough with which
to hit the Crystal Palace, to choose and pay (which gets as innocent
as they shall ever be).

In some place which though boarded-up
may have passed for a milk bar, through all the rich,
twenty minute glug of video trailer voice-overs, he’s been phoning
this useless bastard summer Sunday. Welcome to Beetle’s,
for when he’s finished his calls and orders ‘Kill it!’
his boys understand their choice. Beetle or the feature? What choice?
Not when he’s chosen how this afternoon they’re getting Dæmon round
just so these very stupid, very stoned and very minor dealers
(Beetle, Big Mike, Skunk, Keno, Des ʾnʻ Stu) propped by Beetle-rules
can kill him, correct kill him, Dæmon a thirteen year old
user-dobber-thief. Well that’s the Beetle option and if his boys
are out, right out of it enough, this will be done.

The kid’s brought in
and all is prime for Beetle versus Dæmon time, how:
‘It was you wasn’t it sent those fuckers round to bust us?’
‘Shit Beetle-mate, that wasn’t me!’

Which might be answered
Who then but? except everyone’s got so distracted by some boy,
some boy who’s hardly entered high school
calling their mate Beetle…Beetle-mate? Go on try believing it!
‘Hey Beetle-mate,’ Stu asks in nervy spite,
‘c-c-can’t we start the feature now?’

Dumb beyond useless-bastard-useless,
you never had the energy to fast-forward anything.
You’ve been superseded by this grand stoned silence, Beetle as thinker,
who pauses, once, twice and then orates.
‘He gets tied up,’ Beetle stands.
‘And gets put there…’
And where is there?
There, there, there!
Underneath underneath! Underneath where Beetle’s jumping!
‘Feed him dog meat, feed him dog shit, anyone of you
know any better?’ Of course they don’t. ‘And let it be wayout
right Des? Right Stu? And by
right I mean
so real-real wayout, beyond mere real wayout, this’ll be
Return to Wayout City and St-st-stu that’s not some video.
Correct Keno?’ Who always keeps on nodding ‘Correct, Skunk?
The day has now commenced and we are made for it!’

Not quite Big Mike. Earlier that arvo,
once he saw this Dæmon thing unfolding (as if he’d stay
around for that?) he left. They were mental. And either on it
or not today’s product sure was. Yep, on yer bike Big Mike
he told himself, shuffling like he was in some folk dance
sideways to the door On yer bike, we’re relocating.
And he had to since with all of his dealer’s skills and effort,
the product and the risks, obedience was the only other option.
‘I’ve taken such risks,’ Beetle would announce, ‘none will understand.’
Who then murders some prepubescent user so that him and
his Beetle gang of pro dealers, amateur killers get caught,
and for a few days’ worth of summer news they hog it.
(‘Off the record,’ a spokesman said, ‘the underworld is shamed.’)
And I knew them. But also knew myself:
that if it had been necessary I might have been there
that summer afternoon in Reservoir, it might’ve been me
shuffling an exit with Big Mike, or else with Des ʾnʻ Stu
giggling whilst we tried to dump the corpse
(sure hadn’t done that sort of thing before had they,
the things ol’ Beetz got you to do!).
For even through
that slow mania of the Beetle toll, people got to know each other,
cooperate. (‘J-j-jeez Beetz,’ Stu who thought he was funny
once gagged, ‘don’t give them ambos t-t-too much work.’
Wherever he’s been sent there’s plenty imitations starting.)
And truly he unites folk does our Beetle, so that when guilt,
actual proven guilt strides in presenting itself to sighs of joy,
with the bench contributing each decent, hard-working Aussie’s
two bob’s worth, oh Beetle just listen, even the very bludging,
the outright indecent are falling one-over-the-other, just to ensure
how banal you truly were. Or when it’s time for nostalgia to intervene
watch them queue to ask ‘The Beetle merchandise?’ Then answer
‘If you had ways to look at anything and we mean anything
(that philosophy, those manners, anything) all would end in hock
to Beetle. (Or if you had any luck some better class
of wholesaler.) I mean we had to survive. There was little like it.’
Me, I was fortunate. I could still promenade North Carlton
beaming to and marvelling at the Morton Bay Figs.
Beetle couldn’t own me that much, though he still required it known
Your thoughts are my thoughts and my thoughts are your thoughts which are
‘You’ll be forever Beetz the best there is.’

And it fits doesn’t it,
how when I heard that him and his losers were set for judgement
I knew that I’d be seeing him this final time.
And though I liked and trusted that idea, a witness seemed required:
this friend to whom I could announce: ‘Now you get it, don’t you?’
I’m who he’s been dealing with.’
The trial occurred into school vacation time so I asked Bob,
who as he had been painting rooms Ange permitted one day off,
gatekeeper Ange, the wife who took me for my husband’s pin-eyed
user friend, him on his invalid pension
. Let her,
she wasn’t to know that for all the headaches, all the heartaches
(why bother mentioning withdrawals?) R v. Beetle was the primest
vengeance show in town, my year’s grandest attraction.
We caught the train to Flagstaff which got me questioning
Just how many users train it to their dealers?
Unfair asking Bob of course, his problem if he wasn’t in our
Beetle club, though come, come Mr Arnold haven’t you gone teaching
spaced on your very own drug of choice? Most probably not.
Who on any ‘drug’ could be each student’s matey-favourite
yard duty martinet as you are?
One lunch hour then,
Bob is motioning to me: ‘See him grinning there in his long black coat
and big thick boots? Today’s E.T I’ll stand any bet is stoned…’
After which we commenced those Friday evenings when my wife and I,
Bob and Ange fronted bistros, though even then the Arnolds
must’ve guessed the bit, that little bit I’d be using Saturday
to get me through a day a night, another day and night of married life.
(I’ve seen her with the boyfriend once: at the Vic Market where
we gave each other a tiny nod Go on darling guess who that was…
my useless user ex!) And at the next bistro or the next,
just to annoy the spouse Big Mike got referenced in passing.
And that Big Mike? Bob knew him from La Trobe. On Bob ʾnʻ Mike terms?
‘Near enough. A Maoist once…a teacher once…’ hoping to be a junkie once;
any fad taking him to an edge, though hardly so ‘edge’ you couldn’t Oops,
easy-does-it
and adjust.
Anyone’s capable, just be nice if a touch desperate
and ask about in any suburb, any town (in any staffroom!)
‘Know where I can find myself a Beetle?’
Well now’s our final chance to find you a Beetle, Bob,
my chance to get my final taste of Beetle, him to cop
his final shot of me.
And as if I’d conjured, here came his look
that slightest pause part way between Well wadda ya know…
and Who is that prick, I think I know that prick, who is that prick?
Though when the judge, who doubtless knew less than one per cent of it
mentioned him by the name Ma and Pa Beetle gave their baby
Who? I briefly found myself asking Who? Oh yes yes yes
I used to buy from that deadshit once except that now
since anyone can deal he’s not being done for dealing and Beetz

I kept staring back, a prick enough to taunt him Beetz
not anyone can kill and weren’t you at very base camp case
all death?

So that was him?’
‘Was him once.’
‘Nice word once,’
said Bob.
Look Beetle, look Bob at what I was back then:
twenty nine, bound for divorce, a head-and-heartache prone
high school teacher who, one Thursday after work
approached a man I knew, that same Big Mike, who sent me out
to him, this charismatic squirt (squirtier than even me,
who’d hardly make Bob’s shoulders).
‘Yeah we’re Beetle.
What are we doing you for?’
I told him what. Who sent me then?
And as I answered, don’t say we ‘bonded’ though we did,
over Big Mike’s snigger producing, ever-ripening moustache,
there on a Reservoir back street where Beetle worked out of his shop front.
‘…so,’ I asked my dealer, ‘this was a milk bar once?’
‘Mixed business,’ he replied, ‘just like any day.’
And who was there that any day? Taster girl, another woman too,
one I later took for Dæmon’s mother, found within a year
wailing in some park.
Though by now I had a little bag inside
my jacket pocket and having survived that afternoon
I knew that I’d survive this little bag, this anything.
And I have.
For look at what’s evolved:
an even more prone, divorced, ex high school teacher of thirty two
trying his embarrassed ‘Thanks for coming.’
‘My pleasure,’ Bob replies.
Except for headaches I think I’d like to think I’m clean.
Lying down though which is often, my mind remains on her: my wife,
whose secrets forced me into mine. And I could blame that woman plenty,
who though would listen to the blame?
Even Bob, a friend who’s always heard me out would walk away.
I’ve seen him, down the other end of a park, playing with his kids,
and as we waved I knew his feeling in return:
There he goes, someone from then I’d rather wasn’t now.
And never say you’ve never felt that way…
driving through this heritage town who’s that limping relocated man?
Big Mike, one Interferon day to the next. That girl must be dead;
but for each Des, Stu, Keno, Skunk who wants to make some
living-or-dead effort? Hardly me. And Dæmon?
He was a kid on the news whose parents one, two, two and a half
decades back gave idiot name upon idiot name to their disposable offspring,
as if their Dæmon would grow into his generation’s Beetle.
Who just degenerated. For I’ve heard this,
someone’s required to wheelchair him, King Beetle-mate with Aussie flag
round and around the Z Division yard, this someone being recompensed
with product.
So it continues, my tick-off list of
Them them and them, those those and those till it will have happened
much too many years ago, and even these memories, our sour
and blighted memories, surely must need to cease.

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