My dad came to stay for what turned into quite a long seven days. The visit took place from last week to two days ago. During his visit I spent a lot of time in other rooms of the house he owns (that I rent, at a rate significantly lower than market price), and actually went to work a number of times when I wasn’t required to, just to sit somewhere quietly.
Have I told you about my dad? In terms of issues, that’s a lot of money in the bank right there: endless fodder for therapy, those proverbial problems with authority, a double helix of self-loathing and an inexplicable sense of destiny, and so on. And technically, or rather, literally, there’s a lot of money in the bank, my bank account, because I maintain a somewhat sentimental notion that I should remain connected to family.
In therapy the other day I was about to say a similar sentence. Something like: ‘I guess I keep putting up with this because I have this weird sentimental attachment to family.’ But instead of that sentence, I slipped: ‘I guess I probably have this weird sentimental attachment to money.’
My therapist had looked at what I’ve described to him previously as my rich-girl watch (flip!) as it slipped below my sleeve while I was mid-sentence, so when he called the Freudian slip (too easy, Oliver!) I claimed the slip was actually caused by his own slip, that caught gaze at that cute diamond face (Longines is entry level, not that big a deal!).
All digressions. I wasn’t expecting to remember things at that session, but I ended up remembering all kinds of perfectly appropriate therapy things: conflicting origin stories; the guilt felt, then and forever, at watching acts of violence against my mother, sister, uncle, fellow road users…; time in the military; time in prison; the fear that’s never really gone anywhere. I think of Beckett: it wasn’t the words that bothered me, it was the blows.
Somewhere in the session Oliver quoted Falstaff: discretion is the better part of valour. The exemplary rationalisation of the coward, or a reminder that only sociopaths are truly fearless? Look at the monsters (probably) that get the Victoria Cross, Oliver said. Valour. I thought about it. I wondered.
Violence is a funny thing. It’s worse to watch on than to experience it directly (I say this from direct experience). Yet the viewing of violence constitutes so much of what, once mediated, we consider entertaining.
I have never found my father’s violence entertaining. And I am so curious about whether it ever could be, if I wrote it down, if I somehow dislocated or detemporalised it.
Once my dad sat fuming at his desktop computer. I had just arrived, returned only a few minutes ago from another state to the first family home. He had not left his seat as I came in, but he turned as my younger sister, back then already an adult (but still living at home), passed on the way to her room. It was and I presume still is a very small house by modern Australian standards. I guess she must have picked me up from the airport, if he was already sitting there in that house. I dream about that house. I don’t remember anyone else in the scene.
‘You look so fat,’ he said, barely making eye contact with her but, as I said, turning from the computer screen. Here the scene fades. My sister either protested that she wasn’t, or that he should’t say she was, or a combination of the two. For whatever it’s worth, she’s not fat; she’s a size small – the next up from extra small. Whatever that’s worth. He could have said anything. It’s like a dream when I remember this scene. I am sitting now, somehow paralysed.
My sister made her closing remark and slammed her bedroom door. In a step that covered that entire open-plan living room, my dad reached said door, rammed it open with his shoulder, hollered about the way he ought to be spoken to, and began whacking my sister across the face. Maybe belting is a better word. It went for a few minutes. I am sitting now, somehow paralysed.
It all happened. I don’t remember anyone else in the scene. I’m not sure how the scene ended. Why don’t you stand up to him? I asked, I ask. Because discretion is the better part of valour. How convenient, I think now, as I remember the pile of our 1980s carpet.
There was one day last week when time spent with dad could no longer be avoided. I called his mobile phone; he was walking somewhere in the city with one of his old friends. I believe they met in a hostel for newly-arrived migrants in the late 1970s in Graylands, Perth. His friend gave me my first job – he once ran a Vietnamese bakery in a city bus station. He now runs a noodle shop in the Siberia of Melbourne, the Docklands.
I believe they had been bickering all day. We walked along Southbank, and once, a long time ago, I wrote in a poem about the places you only visit with visitors from out of town; I was probably thinking about Southbank. This city is full of border crossings: Princes Bridge, Spencer Street, Royal Parade, Hoddle Street. Never go to Richmond, they say. We passed families who were from other cities, all the mothers, for some reason, wearing their hair tightly pulled back in angry pony tails. So much forehead. What is this called? The Northland facelift? Bell Street demarcates another forbidden zone.
We ate a meal so tense that my son, exhausted, placed his head on the table and closed his eyes while the hot chips on his plate were still warm. The small talk could be described as the opposite of an Oblonsky (Anna Karenina) dinner party. ‘Which city do you prefer?’ I asked the friend. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ No, it doesn’t. But come! – the conversation must not know this. ‘Anywhere there is a casino.’ Somehow he began discoursing on the virtues of self-employment. ‘I do thing what I want, and if I want, when I want,’ he decreed. ‘If I want to watch movie, I watch movie.’ ‘What kind of movies do you like?’ I said, for some reason trying. ‘It doesn’t matter!’ he sighed, annoyed at me. My dad piped in to help (whom?): ‘if it has colour, sound, and moves, he’ll watch it.’ Quite.
The lonely walk of the class traitor may one day be immortalised by the southern stretch of the Yarra that runs from St. Kilda Road to the Crown Casino. We emerged from the restaurant (designed in the vernacular style of ‘design’ – vertical gardens, naked light fittings, a deejay booth next to the toilets that showed no sign of ever being used) and joined the council facelift wanderers. We discussed the possibility of seeing the columns at the Crown light up. My son would like them, I thought. We wandered among the tight ponytails, the parkers and backpacks and shorts and- and- and- and the city could have been on the other side of the continent. I have never seen these people before, I thought. We were no longer deciding whether to see the columns at Crown, we were part of the crowd now, and simply being in it meant our destiny was sealed. Go west. We were already there, the only decision left to us was which entrance to take. We used the main lobby, and I looked down at my poor-girl shoes, and I looked across at dad’s $10 Bossini pants.
We walked past a bar called The Waiting Room and I felt a surge of euphoria. A prostitute! A woman sat alone at a table with an expensive looking clutch tossed on the table. She wore all white. I thought of Johnno: ‘look at the bitches.’ Prostitution is so magical to writers. Why? Oh. Maybe I know why.
Someone recently said: ‘my body is a clock.’
After some time inside the ground floor of the complex (how time flies!) we found our way out. My son wanted to sit directly beneath the column. That boy is always trying to find the best place to sit and I really like this quality of his. The next family along was a single mother with her daughter. Both wore their hair in a tight ponytail. My dad and his friend stood against a restaurant wall, unaccountably aloof. The minutes to the hour dissolved and I saw the air above the column shimmer with gas. ‘It’s about to start,’ I told my son, who stood up and bounced on his feet. He spent the next three or four minutes squealing with each roar of flame.
I thought of my friend who loves the Beats and speaks of Moloch. Moloch! I thought the word, called the place its name, simultaneously enthralled by the sudden rush of heat and noise that came with the fire balls. Moloch! Money! Capitalism incarnate: the monster must be fed. I understand why people come here, I thought, even though I knew as I thought it that I was wrong. All that money! All that time. I thought of Herzog. All that money. Poor papa!
It’s fun. It’s entertaining.
But that’s not why.
The flames disappeared, leaving the gas to shimmer in the blue city night. ‘I guess that’s about done then,’ said another hard ponytail, ushering another kid back into the casino. People come to the Crown Casino because that’s a place where everything is already over; or rather, it’s a place about everything being over. To be over. To be done. Get it over with. Make it, then throw it away. At Crown, or any other place: it doesn’t matter. That’s about done then.