FRACTAL CITY Series II Episode 3: THE USERS AND THE GIVERS

“Now that, ladies and gentlemen,” says bar manager Herm, as he puts the empty glasses on the table, straightens his waistcoat, puts his hands on his hips, and looks out of the window, “that is a peanut pretending to be a cashew.”

The regulars, including Joey who’s half the age of most of them, gather at the window to see what Herm is looking at. It is late on an early Autumn afternoon, and wobbling down the footpath on a rickety old bike that looks to have been too hurriedly repainted black – perhaps as if to disguise its previous identity – is a well-known local figure; sitting erect, head held high and trying to show all the regal airs and authority of the Governor-General, he is barking at the homeless sprawled on the ground before him, to make way for his presence. His hair, facial stubble and appearance looking uncannily similar to a celebrity chef whose name graces the Business/First Class cuisine served on a national airline, he is just another quirky character passing by Fractal City’s Senior Citizens Kinetic Investments Network Terminals (SCKINT) centre. But then the 9 or so pints purchased on his yet-to-be-paid tab, over the hill at the Club, start to take their toll: as if in triple-slow motion, both he and the bike slip from perpendicular to horizontal. Behind the triple glazed window, the onlookers can’t hear the commotion. But they can see arms, legs and wheels poking out of the upturned wheelie rubbish bins, and several bags of been-on-the-shelf-too-long, half-priced Woolies hot roast chickens, and bags of half-priced buns, slip out of the bike’s panniers onto the grotty footpath.

“Oh yeah, him,” says one of the regulars.

Another: “Hey, is he still selling his signature ‘triple smoked baguette poulet’ down on the Waterfront?”

Someone answers: “Nah, I heard he got the flick from that place. They say he’s been in some hot water lately. But I dunno for sure. You know how people talk at the Club. I believe he’s now pretending to be a dog lover and hanging around that popular joint up the road, wanting to rename it the Dobermann Pinschers Bar.”

An old timer: “Well, he won’t be getting up to any mischief around here. Those blokes from Black-Houlihans Security Group” – he nods at the leather-clad cyclists lounging around outside the SCKINT entrance on their fully refurbished dragstar and chopper bikes – “would soon drive him and his old bike right outta town.”

Herm is now back behind the bar and is meticulously wiping down the benches and beer taps. As usual, with his impeccable presentation and professional approach, he is the very essence of a high-class barman who would be be more at home creating cocktails in the Sofitel Paris le Faubourg, or perhaps the exotic Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Siem Reap.

“Let me tell you folk a story of when I was a kid,” says Herm. The regulars eagerly gather closer to the bar, so the mesmerising noises from the SCKINT’s “investment terminals” machines fade into the background. Even Joey’s girlfriend, Epiphany, places an “in use” placard on her machine and joins Joey at the bar for the story.

Herm begins …

A long time ago, in the bush far far away, up on the northern border rivers, I had an aunt who married a local farmer. He was a kindly man, a simple country man, who worked very hard from before sun up to after sun down, tending to his various flock and bountiful orchards.

One day, while the Farmer was trying to find out what had been stealing from his walnut grove, he stumbled on a stray goose gobbling the choicest fruit from the strawberry patch down in the creek glen. Being a man of the land and all, Farmer didn’t like to see animals hungry and homeless, so he took the goose in and placed it in the chook yard. After all, he reasoned, it’s better to have a goose among the chickens than a snake or a fox. As is the wont of farm folk, he decided to name the creature after where it was found, down in the glen – so it became known simply as the Glen Goose.

Over time, as these creatures are known to do, Glen Goose started to take control of the chook yard. Even the irritatingly noisy Greco bantam was soon relegated to the background as Glen Goose “ran the roost”.

Farmer wasn’t too fazed at first. But Glen Goose just got noisier, angrier and bossier. Most days were spent over at the apple orchard, slowly getting smashed by eating the fermenting fallen apples under the trees. Then Glen Goose would come back to the chook pen and cause a huge stir, urging on the old chooks to misbehave and peck at the heels of the caring, benevolent Farmer as he tried to feed them and clean up after them.

But the Farmer would just shrug and put up with it. Life on the land isn’t easy, anyway. However, Glen Goose wasn’t satisfied with being boss of the chooks. He liked to “collect” things. He started to hang around the farm house, peering through the open kitchen window and trying to sneak into the kitchen at every opportunity. Now, this did not sit well with Mrs Farmer. Coincidentally, things began to disappear: freshly cleaned trout from the fridge; pineapples from the pantry, and so on.

When her best set of carving knives vanished one day, Mrs Farmer was furious. Rightly or wrongly, there was only one suspect. It looked like Glen’s Goose was cooked, as they say. But fortuitously a friendly old geezer down the road just happened to “stumble” on the knives and they were returned. All was forgiven. But not forgotten.

Trying to earn an extra quid – and to appear tourism savvy – Farmer started a “farmgate produce” business. Mrs Farmer offered for sale jars of her regionally famous green tomato relish; baskets of field mushies; punnets of strawberries; boxes of apples and so on. Glen Goose zeroed in on all this new activity, and started to annoy the visitors by rummaging through their bags and possessions, irresistably drawn to shiny gold trinkets and things. Then, when Farmer was busy explaining to a busload of Chinese tourists, the finer aspects of growing chillies with tomatoes, Glen Goose helped himself to the artisan goats meat sausages sizzling on the barbecue – he just up and took over control of that barbecue as if it was all his own. Do you reckon Farmer was pissed off…

Banished briefly to the paddocks as punishment, Glen Goose put on a show of outrage. Following an all-day session on the fermenting apples, he would poke his beak throught the fence and gate, squawking to the old chooks to jump over and join him on the outside. Okay, the chooks may be better known for sharp claws than sharp minds, but they weren’t stupid. Why give up a regular, routine existence for the promise of a wild goose chase? Farmer, as usual, would just look sadly at Glen Goose, shrug his shoulders, and get on with his farm work.

From the moment Glen Goose was allowed back inside the chook pen, he was flat out agitating. He would honk, bark, cackle; he would smack the old chooks over the head with his wings; he would chase any visitors; he would viciously bite Farmer’s legs; the situation was becoming intolerable.

Every day, Glen Goose would get tanked on the fermented apples and then poke his beak into a hole he had opened in a huge hession bag full of lime powder in the farm shed. His pointy beak and fat little face all smothered with the lime powder, his eyes all wild and the color of cerise, his wings spread menacingly, Glen Goose would exhort the chooks to rise up and overthrow Farmer in a coop coup.

That was it. Farmer had had enough. He went to the wood shed, came back with an axe, and chopped off the head of Glen Goose. They all ate well that night, including the chooks. And that was the end of that.

“Wow what a good story, Herm,” says a regular. They all nod in agreement, and then wordlessly return to drowning their daily sorrows in cold beer and memories of their own past glories. Joey and Epiphany go back to her “investment terminal” machine. An annoyingly loud, raspy Aussie-Greek voice from somewhere among the banks of whirring, ringing machines, calls out: “Hey, what happened to that bag of lime powder?”

***

The two Marketing/Publicity account executives step out of the entrance to MMedia Tower, struggling in high heels and both with one hand clutching an iPad and the other desperately holding onto their hair bun in the precinct’s notorious wind tunnel.

“God, how on Earth am I expected to market this?” asks the platinum blonde. The more senior, and much taller, redhead has a more pressing problem: “Oh My God, my 5 o’clock shadow is starting to show. Did you bring your L’Oreal compact, you know the Super-Blendable?”

Blonde: “Yeah love, it’s in the car. Look, I just don’t know how I can make this idea fly. I mean, you know, this is seriously ‘off’. This Pic Editor is weird.”

Redhead: “Oh darling, yes I know. A conversation with an MMedia editorial executive is about as deep as the shallow end of the toddlers’ pool. Oh my god, look at my hair – I’m going to have to buy one of those divine Miranda white hair bun covers.”

Blonde: “Tell me about it! But, seriously, how am I supposed to package this: The ‘Black Label Digital Motion Membership Package’ with exclusive digital access to the Pic Editor’s own collection of motorsport fatalities in pics and video on NewsMachina. God, the Pic Editor even boasted to me, how he’d spent years collecting and curating his own gallery of motorsport crashes and deaths. Darling, is that sick or what? I almost threw up my free lunch kimchi…”

Redhead: “Darling, yes, ewwwww. How hideous. Who’d be a sponsorship partner in that? Perhaps try a ‘soft opening’ to the campaign, in stink ink, and see how the metrics stack up. I mean, you know, of all the issues and opportunities to promote, what with Food Corp and Escape Corp and Fashion Corp and all of these really serious social media trend setters, why this obsession with car racing. And morgue pics. Hideous. If circulation and PayTV are crashing that bad, can’t they push the Government into another little war? There must be heaps of little places we can bomb overseas. And we still have that boots-on-the-ground marketing stencil, we could deploy in a flash. That’d give the CEO his bonus.

Redhead continues: “Darling, if it’s any consolation, next week I have to scope the entire MMedia strategy for the ‘mea culpa understanding’ on the Manus Island debacle. I so need a full body exfoliation. And look at my hair. I have a volunteer shift at the LBQTI Centre tonight, AND my partner starts footy training. God, this job will be the death of me.”

***

It’s 8.45am on the second Tuesday of the month, and dozens and dozens of homeless have gathered in the unseasonally chilly Autumn morning outside the old mission church near the top of Fractal Hill. Like clockwork, the same as every month, their “saviour” pulls up in his old second-hand car. The mob forms a kind of orderly disorderliness: the druggies’ hissing and spitting subsides; the Tourette syndrome sufferers stop abusing passing motorists; supermarket trollies overloaded with “acquired” goods are parked out of the way.

With the car door open, Saviour begins dispensing his largesse: exactly 5 cigarettes each to every person in attendance. Saviour has been doing this ever since he struck good fortune all those years ago. Himself living on the streets at the time, he was poking around the overgrowth and rubbish next to a train station at a neighboring suburb when he discovered a container full of money – rolls of notes mostly in large denominations. As all on the streets knew, there was a good chance – an exceedingly good chance – one could arguably assert that it was almost a known fact – that ownership of the “stash” might be traced back to a nearby pizza joint that specialised in a special line of “organic” home delivery pizzas, long before organic was fashionable. Apparently, the oregano was quite special and expensive to source.

Anyway, Saviour, being no drongo, handed in his “find” to the local constabulary. Under the glare of the accompanying media publicity about the remarkable find, the police were careful – not so common back then – to keep the cash safe under lock and key. No legitimate owner came forward (though many tried, someone even claiming to be Dr Who said he accidently dropped the container out of his TARDIS) and, after the allotted time had expired, the money legitimately became the property of Saviour. It is said that Saviour, using his nous honed by years of living on the streets, went back to the same spot and found a second container of cash…

Now, at 8.45 in the morning on the second Tuesday of every month, Saviour returns to the mission church in his old, dented, battered and scratched car, and shares some of his good fortune with the homeless, hopeless, helpless and downtrodden. It is a scene not unlike one that played out two thousand years ago on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. That occasion reportedly involved the dispensing of loaves and fishes; today’s requirement is tobacco cigarettes. High above them, mounted atop a dominating tower, a statue of Christ of St Fractal looks benevolently down upon them…

***

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