Monday, 26 May 2014

Wild Horses (Excerpt) from 'Ways To Fall'

Intro to Wild Horses from 'Ways To Fall'

Mr Jacobson was our Grade Six teacher. And to put it delicately, he was rather work-shy. To put it bluntly, he was a slack bastard.
      He was absent at least once a week; and on the days that he did manage to make it in he often knocked off at lunchtime (in fact for a while there you could practically set your watch by the sight of his souped-up Falcon zooming out of the car park at 1pm).
      His whole-day absences were usually covered by one of a small cadre of emergency teachers; and apart from the occasional mean-spirited taunt (we dubbed one teacher ‘Blinky Bill’ and openly/stupidly mocked him for a facial tic that was, in truth, barely perceivable) our behaviour was generally respectful on these occasions.
      On the days that Mr Jacobson pulled his lunchtime escape routine, it often fell upon Mr Eamon, the latest in a long line of vice principles (for some reason our school got through them like The Fonz got through girlfriends), to take our class. In stark contrast to his mostly domineering predecessors – a rogue’s gallery of sadistic tyrants, borderline psychotics, and thunderous cretins – Emu (as he was popularly known) was meek, mild, completely ineffectual, and permanently disengaged from the world around him. On the rare occasion that he attempted speech he was largely incoherent.

A typical afternoon with Emu had him silently enter the room, head straight to the blackboard, and proceed to give an astonishingly detailed rendering of a native plant. Say what you like about him as an educator (and I’d have said he was diabolically bad) but he was a superlative drawer. It was in this context that his melancholic persona (as well as his preposterous Salvador Dali moustache) started to make sense. Here was a man who’d missed his calling in life; and the regret this caused obviously weighed heavily upon him. Emu was a natural artist; and he had about as much business being a primary school teacher as Darth Vader had being an ethics professor.
      The tacit implication during these classes was that we were meant to copy Emu’s sublime sketches as best we could and then add them to our growing collections. I almost always passed on this, preferring to engage in often-heated debate with Neale O’Loughlin (who sat a desk in front of me) over who was the coolest member of the rock group Kiss.
      On this topic there was one thing on which we were in total agreement; and that was that it was a two-horse race between the nominally demonic bassist Gene Simmons and lead guitarist ‘Space’ Ace Frehley. (As the band’s self-styled ‘romantic prince’ (or something) lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley may have been a favourite with the girls in our class, but he was always a bit too fey in our estimation; and drumming ‘cat’ Peter Criss didn’t spark much interest on either side of the gender divide.)
      Neale, firmly in the Simmons camp, couldn’t accept that someone (i.e. me) could fail to be thoroughly impressed by a grown man in kabuki make-up and six-inch heels whose main artistic achievement seemed to be that he’d mastered the profoundly useless art of spitting blood and breathing fire at the same time. Gene’s whole ‘God of Thunder’ persona seemed to function as a joke that he’d constructed but wasn’t in on; there just wasn’t room for that kind of self-analysis in his world. With Ace however, there was an obvious existential torment that no amount of make-up could hide.
      Musically, they seemed worlds apart too. Ace played stinging emotion-drenched lead lines and, when they let him, sang with an unaffected plaintive voice; whilst Gene generally played bass with all the wanton abandon of a chartered accountant and sang with an absurdly contrived gruffness that was about as menacing as the Cookie Monster (but was on the whole less tuneful). 
      Occasionally Neale would drift off-topic and mention other artists, but this was usually only in the service of underlining the latest assertion in his ongoing campaign to canonise Gene. One such tangential manoeuvre saw Neale claiming that Alice Cooper’s quasi-aggressive vocal performance on ‘School’s Out’ was a “complete rip-off” of Gene’s vocal on ‘Rock’n’Roll All Nite’. When I pointed out the glaring chronological impediment to this argument (i.e. ‘School’s Out’ actually pre-dated ‘Rock n Roll All Nite’ by a good three years) all hell (sort of) broke loose.
      “That’s crap,” he snapped.
      “No it’s not,” I said.
      “Okay smartarse,” he raged. “Let’s go to the library right now and check.”
      “What’s in the library?”
      “A book called ‘Chart Hits of the Seventies’,” he said.
      “Never heard of it.”
      “It’s new,” he said.
      The appearance of such a lowbrow tome in our library would have been completely without precedent – it was a well-established fact that the music section was the exclusive domain of books with titles like ‘Instruments of the Orchestra’ and ‘The Violin Through The Ages’ – and as such, I was deeply sceptical of his claim. Also, the supposed title reeked of hasty fabrication (i.e. it was unlikely that any publishing house, however mismanaged, would release a book called ‘Chart Hits of the Seventies’ before the decade in question had ended).
      Still, the suggestion that we go to the library mid-class had me intrigued.
      “Just walk out of the room and go to the library?” I said.
      This represented a new frontier. In the past I’d only really been found guilty of minor indiscretions that were almost all related to un-sanctioned talking. Leaving a class whilst under the supervision of the vice-principle was my ticket to the big time.
      It was decided that we needed some accomplices. First up was Michael Russell.
      “Piss off,” he said as we walked towards him.
      “You don’t know what we want,” Neale said.
      “I know it’ll be stupid,” Michael said.
      “We’re gonna leave the room and go to the library,” I said, revealing that his prediction of stupidity, whilst accurate, didn’t tell the whole story; our plan was also pointless, ill-considered, and almost certain to end in ignominy.
      “Piss off,” he said (again), as he turned his attention back to the football scene he was drawing (even a stickler for correct protocol like Michael had long since abandoned the idea of copying Emu’s sketches).
(Although not a gifted artist by any stretch, Michael had, through sheer persistence and bloody-mindedness, produced a large folio of these sketches. They essentially depicted the same scene each time: in the foreground a Carlton footballer – who usually bore a striking resemblance to Michael himself – marking a ball whilst standing on the head of a hapless Richmond opponent; in the background a sea of small circles representing a massive crowd and a scoreboard showing an improbable/impossible score line (i.e. Carlton 30-0-180, Richmond 0-0-0).)
      Damon Wilson and Adrian Gallon were recruited – neither of whom needed any convincing at all – and we headed for the door.
      At approximately 2.05pm we walked out of the classroom without so much as a sideways glance from Emu (who was just putting the finishing touches on another near-masterpiece).
Damon was all for stopping at the audio-visual room en-route to the library, as he was keen to utilise the recently acquired state-of-the-art video camera.
      “We should record a message!” he said.    
      This idea was deemed unworkable in almost every respect given that a) the door to the AV room was right in the sightline of the principal’s secretary, and b) she was a bitter old busybody who would have had no hesitation in leaving her post to enquire as to why a bunch of over-privileged, under-disciplined, self-satisfied arsewits were pissing around with thousands of dollars worth of equipment with no teacher in sight, and c) she would report her findings to the principle who would almost certainly administer corporal punishment (he’d given ‘the strap’ many times, and on far flimsier pretexts than this) and d) even if we managed to go unseen, surely it was apparent to even the least mentally nimble of felons that leaving behind recorded footage of one’s misdeeds was monumentally ill-advised.

We moved silently toward our destination: all soft steps, furtive glances, and careful avoidance of the small percentage of teachers we considered to have potentially problematic levels of alertness and mental acuity; and then slinked into the library virtually unnoticed. 
      Unsurprisingly there was no book called ‘Charts of the Seventies’ on the shelves.
      “Someone must have borrowed it,” Neale said, obviously still keen to keep up the desperate charade. This announcement – delivered with the dead-eyed conviction of one well practiced at the art of deception – was somewhat undercut by the fact that you couldn’t actually borrow books from our library (in a way the whole library was a ‘permanent collection’).
      “Borrowed it?” I said.
      The (minor) commotion somehow piqued the interest of the head librarian and she made her way toward us.
      “What are you doing in here?” she asked.
Neale was quick to assure her that our presence had been fully sanctioned by Emu.
      “Mr Eamon sent us to look up a book on plants,” he explained.
This was wildly untrue (obviously), but it did have the major advantage of least being plausible.
      “Okay, well can you keep it down please, I’m teaching a class,” she said, not even bothering to ask why we were a considerable distance from the – I’m assuming rarely patronised – ‘Flora’ section.
      “Sure,” Neale and I said in unison.
In stark contrast to the carefully plotted exercise in stealth that was our trip to the library, the trip back to the classroom was a shambolic free-for-all marked by ineptitude: we had somehow managed to split into two groups; and outrageous folly: when Neale and I passed the elderly Mr Moreland’s room Neale had thought it appropriate to let fly with several crudely formulated and profanity-laden epithets alluding to Mr Moreland’s apparently many and varied character flaws. (Christ knows what brand of idiocy Adrian and Damon had been getting up to in the meantime.)

Somehow we all seemed to make back at the same time. Then, just as we were about to walk back into the room, Adrian had an inspired idea.
      “We should all link arms and high kick past the door,” he said. Now this I suspect had not just occurred to him out of the blue; there was a definite context at work here: For as long as I could remember there’d been a poster of the Radio City Music Hall dance troupe The Rockettes on the wall in the film and television room; and on it The Rockettes were striking the very pose that Adrian was advocating.
      As we hot stepped it across the floor I caught a glimpse of Emu looking at us with a resignation that I found more than a little distressing.
      “No, that’s enough,” I said, when it was suggested that we go back the other way.
Us leaving the room mid-class had effectively sounded the death knell for any self-respect that Mr Eames had left, and I saw no reason to keep dancing on his grave.