[Author’s Note: Originally written June 2015]
Leaning against the rail, his eyes wandered casually to an ANZ billboard above him. The slogan sat there. Live life the way you want it. One of those advertising statements that meant nothing because they can’t say what they want, Give us your money. It was good to know that three years of university had given him the ability to detect bullshit. He could’ve saved himself the money if he’d known that that would’ve been the only thing he’d retained from his course. Well, that and that small A4 piece of paper that hung in his apartment stating that he, Michael Alan Smith, had earned his Bachelor of Arts. In his head he responded with his major instantly. It was a reflex, sharpened for years when people at parties asked the same questions. He could quote the questions from memory.
What are you doing?
I’m a student.
Bachelor of Arts.
Media and Communication
Why Media and Communication?
Thought it’d be fun.
What are you hoping to do with that?
I don’t know.
Well, good luck finding a job.
Yeah, so everyone keeps saying.
His tram arrived. He hopped on, the thirty copies of his resume weighing his brief case down as he stood on the tram. Another unsuccessful day of handing out resumes was getting to him. Some vague arithmetic told him he was fighting for jobs that might not even exist. But he had get a job, didn’t he? That’s what you do. You go to university, you get a job, you get a house, a couple of kids, and die in your sleep at 70. His tram bumped and clanged past the stops. His tram journey took him past the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. He’d had a date there once. She was… alternative. Piercings in all sorts of places. The sex was great, and she was hot as all hell. He remembered the date, two, maybe three years ago.
Art is for Wankers, the white title card read. At first Mike thought the artwork in front of him was just a big empty canvas and he thought of the bastard artist who had the balls to sell a blank canvas. Must’ve fetched himself a tidy sum for nothing. As he moved around it he noticed how the light hit it. He read the description Art is for Wankers is a piece by artist Warren Wojciechowski. The artist spent many years collecting personal semen samples and then using a brush crafted this piece… Huh, so it was quite literal. Suddenly Mike was grateful that you weren’t allowed to touch the artworks. He envied the guy who decided to spend years masturbating and then selling it to a reputable Art Centre. He wondered if he could frame his old crusty socks and give them to the ACCA. He could call it something like Teenage Dreams. Some enigmatic title to make art critics sit there going What does it mean? He would say nothing to them and just smile, knowing that his years of fantasising about Scarlett Johannsson had paid off somehow.
“What you looking at?” his date Anna asked.
“A bit of artistic wank, to be frank” he said. “What I want to know is how he can get away with selling this”
“Art means doing things people have never done before, challenging what we believe about what came before” she told him.
“I always hated that idea. Art is the epitome of ‘I could’ve made that. I just didn’t’” he told her.
“Art is more than that. Art is…” she struggled with the words.
For someone who had a degree in Fine Art she sure didn’t seem to know what it was.
She took him by the hand and led him through the other art pieces. Though now he thought about it Art is for Wankers was very Jackson Pollack, just with different colouring. He had no idea if that was intentional. Who knew with modern art, at least with the classics, like the Mona Lisa, they stood the test of time. The first piece Anna showed him reminded him of Andy Warhol. He didn’t know much art but he knew Warhol. The Warhol like picture in front of him was called 1000 Monkeys at 1000 Typewriters and was less 1000 typewriters and more 16 monkeys at typewriters. One was smoking a cigarette, one had a pipe, and the monkey in the left corner was surrounded by cocaine. Anna pointed to that one.
“That’s Hunter S. Thompson” she said, followed by a chuckle.
He had no idea who Hunter S. Thompson was.
“Artists and their vices” she mentioned.
They moved onto the next piece, a mirror. He looked at the mirror and noticed he had a pimple on his cheek. He considered using the mirror to pop it but didn’t want the stuffed shirts poncing around the Art Centre looking at him. The sort of people who frequented art galleries in the middle of the day were either the sort of snobs who wouldn’t take kindly to his disaffection with the art or were trying to get into someone’s pants like he was at the moment. The last one she brought him too he enjoyed more than the esoteric art pieces they’d been viewing. It was called Art for the Plebs. The piece was a movie poster; a muscled model stood like Superman in the centre of the image. He wore a black shirt and aviator sunglasses. Explosions hung in the background and the big shiny title Art for the Plebs hung in front of the model. He didn’t know what a pleb was but he was sure he was one if he enjoyed this piece.
The tram jerked to a halt and picked up some passengers. Mike grabbed a spare seat next to a hipster writing in a notepad. The hipster looked like he had raided his grandfather’s wardrobe and added some colour to it. He peered over the hipster’s shoulder. He was writing some notes. He had a list of names. John Jones, Harry Johnson, Will Warren, Mike Smith. Some were crossed out. His name, Mike, was circled.
“Why do you have my name written down?” Mike asked the hipster.
The hipster looked at Mike. The hipster’s eyes were a steel blue. His eyes looked like he knew more than he gave on.
“It’s just a name mate. It’s a common name” the hipster grumbled at him.
“Why do you have the names?” Mike asked.
The hipster sighed.
“I’m a writer. I’m brainstorming.” he said.
“What have you written? Would I know it?” Mike asked.
“I’ve written many things. You wouldn’t know about them though” the hipster said.
“So you’re not a writer, you’re someone who writes.” Mike remarked.
The hipster swung his fist and hit Mike in the face.
“Welcome to Casa del Anna!” Anna announced.
She swung open the door to her tiny Brunswick apartment. It was less an apartment and more a single room. The tiny kitchen was at the back of the apartment. The only other door in the apartment led to the bathroom and in the centre of this 1 room apartment was a combined living room and bedroom. In place of a coffee table there was a couch bed spread out and placed in front of a 28-inch flat screen TV rested on a wooden table. Anna fell on the couch and removed her watch, placing it on the side table beside the couch. He noticed there were some esoteric art pieces hanging around the apartment.
“What did you think of the gallery?” she asked.
“It was sort of up itself” he told her.
“I mean apart from that” she said.
“Well, I don’t know” he said, shrugging.
“You must have an opinion on art. That’s what art does. It makes you think. Didn’t it make you think?” she asked.
“Can’t say it made me think, except about wank-ish modern art” he told her.
“Does that mean you agree with Wojciechowski?” she asked.
“Who’s that?” he asked her.
“The Art is for Wankers dude” she told him.
“Oh yeah, I guess I do” he admitted.
Mike opened his eyes. He felt dried blood under his nose. He was lying on the floor of the tram. The hipster looked down at him and offered his hand.
“Sorry about that. You hit a tender spot there, Mike. I’m not currently published” the hipster explained.
Mike let the hipster help him up and the two reeled as the tram continued on its course for the outer suburbs of Melbourne.
“On your way home, Mike?” the hipster asked, as they sat.
“Yeah. Share house, while I’m looking for work” Mike explained.
“Well, there are jobs out there if you spend enough time looking” the hipster said.
The comment comforted him. It was a nice change from the slew of usual responses he got about work.
“So what are you writing?” Mike asked.
Mike felt a rapport building between them.
“Well, it concerns a young man not unlike yourself. It’s like a think piece about modern society, like my unique view of the world” he explained.
Great, Mike thought, another wanker.
“Of course I can’t decide where to go from here. Mike, my protagonist, is travelling on a tram. The story floats through his memory and his perspective on the world as a recent Uni grad but my problem is that the tram has to stop somewhere right? What happens then?”
The tram was racing to the next stop. He knew he had to act quickly. The hipster, as he had called himself, rose and made a byway for the doorway.
“Where you going? You’re eager to get off” Mike noted, lunging after him.
“Art is for wankers” the hipster muttered as he lunged for the Emergency Stop lever.
The driver, compelled by foreign forces, slammed the brakes as all of the passengers of the tram held on tightly. All, except two of course. While the hipster eerily maintained his equilibrium, the same could not be said for poor Mike Arlington who was thrown into the air as if he had just entered zero G. The scene almost transpired in slow motion as 90 kilogram Mike was thrown towards the hipster. Damn, and they were building such a rapport. Mike’s limbs tried to clutch something, anything that would bring him back down. Mike was about to collide with the hipster. Mike went head first and went straight through the hipster, like some dodgy 1980s ghost effect. The next thing Mike found in front of him was an empty seat. He collided with the seat like a car colliding with a truck. His head crumpled like a car bonnet hitting a tree. The rest of his body crumpled in while he was still airborne. His legs began their descent first the rest of his body fell in a wave, ending in his shattered head sliding down the seat as the doors of the tram slid open and the driver exited his compartment to see what all the fuss was about.
Nearby, an aspiring author saw the still tram, stopped just short of its destination. He looked inside the open doors and saw the limp body of Mike Arlington. Mike in the papers the next day would have his death described as ‘a tragic accident’ and people would say that ‘he was seized by a fit of madness, talking to someone who wasn’t there, running to grab the emergency stop’. According to witnesses Mike was the cause of his own demise. The author looked at Mike’s discombobulated corpse, being drawn closer by a morbid fascination. As he approached he saw the driver step into view. A heavy set man with a buzz cut. The author got close enough to now be involved. The driver asked him if he knew the man.
“No. I just… he just fascinated me” the author said.
He felt like he knew the corpse. Like there was some sort of rapport between them. Maybe he was wrong though. Maybe this corpse was just some wanker. The author walked away. He had somewhere to be and couldn’t let some stranger’s death stop him from pitching his story to the publishing houses. He had a unique story to tell about the life of a guy fresh out of Uni. He had no idea how it ended. He knew how it started though.
Anna Beaumont was his in. He felt like a journalist chasing a lead. She sat at the café, reading a book and smoking a cigarette, like something out a French New Wave film. He sat down across from her. He would’ve loved sorely to be the hardboiled noir detective, and her the femme fatale but he possessed neither attitude nor dress sense of those classic detectives. He glanced at the menu, waiting for her to glance upwards. She did slowly, lowering her book, One Thousand Years of Solitude, and gazed unflinchingly at me. He suddenly felt like an ant under the peer of a microscope.
“You’re the author?” she asked.
“That’s what people call me” he stated.
“You wanted to write about Mike?” she asked.
“Yes” he said.
“Why? You should know he wasn’t horribly interesting” she told him.
“Well that’s the benefit of fiction. The rewriting.”
The hiss of steel of steel raised Mike’s head as he waited for his tram. A tram journey that would change his life…