Squawk Like a Chicken

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Some of us arrive at adulthood on our knees. Some of us turn that arrival into an elaborate knee slide, gliding on and on down the time corridor. I was twenty and already too jaded to turn down a completely random job offer to work in the Kookai store at Garden City, Booragoon. I had never been inside a Kookai before but a vague recollection of their windows had left a less than favourable impression on me. On my first day, behind the directional body con dresses and ominously oversized flower brooches, I saw unimaginable stacks of pastel teeshirts and sweaters. Yes, the contents of that store, as well as the people that both worked and shopped there, were really none of my business. But never being one with much of a game plan for cash flow, I couldn’t say no. I had certainly arrived, but where was I? Booragoon – affectionately known to Perth-ites as ‘Garbo’ or ‘Boogas’ – was already familiar to me from childhood. Boredom’s Valhalla. I’d hated it especially as a teen. Now I wonder, did the dreaminess of that boredom – embodied by that particular shopping centre, embodied perhaps by the entire city of Perth – actually impart an important psychic message, a crucial mystery that I have subsequently carried through life?

Shall I speak of carrying things through life? A very close friend disclosed some distressing details about her recent experiment with colonic irrigation. She described white globules of candida, small bugs that looked like silverfish but were probably worms. She spoke of the indignity of the procedure, and the emotion of its aftermath. She said that if a single word flashed before her after the experience, that single word was ‘sad.’ Was there a sense of loss, then? She thought about it. We talk about ‘losing our shit’ like it’s a bad thing, probably for a reason. We like to hold on to our shit just as much as we like to hold on to each other.

The folks down at the Kookai store probably weren’t my business, but of course I made friends and felt the odd bristle of non-friend. The girls had names like Nikki and Yasmin, Claudia (‘claud’ like ‘cloud’) and most likely a couple of Jesses. I was closest with the other oddity, a stoner from an equivalent northern suburb who pretended to make jewellery. Now I think of it this isn’t much of a distinction – they all seemed to pretend to make jewellery, one way or another. We would start the day by going out the back and changing into clothes from the shop floor, which we would wear during our shift and then quite brazenly return to the shop’s stock, our personal grime the final touch to a future sale. The back. Despite what Otto Weininger alleged about feminine immodesty I’ve never been comfortable undressing in front of women, particularly in normative settings like designated change rooms. I wondered whether I was into women or merely a pure pervert as I blushed at the sight of thin cotton underwear and bony backs. The back room stank of feet.

They drank hot lemon in water and took a session at the tanning salon in their lunch breaks. As I remember their salads and thin bottoms that single word, ‘sad,’ admittedly flashes before me. If we worked a full shift we barely saw daylight.

For many reasons unclear to me I will never forget Michelle Bongiorno, who began working at Kookai a few weeks after me. I was closer to several others there, but I remember only Michelle’s full name. I only remember her by her full name. She was curvy and petite, all smiles and dumb questions like a black headed Pamela Anderson. I enjoyed watching scores of her male admirers visit her at the store, she genuinely believing they were her friends, they genuinely believing they were in with a chance.

She had a boyfriend but she was a virgin. What a combo. She told me about him but the impression immediately slid away. She told me about her family, who despite the cheerful Italian name were Spanish. Her parents still had sex every day, leaving PVC costumes and inappropriate DVDs scattered through their suburban house. Everyone in her family enjoyed the same morning ritual of smoking a cigarette on the toilet.  It was pure insight, and she had a knack for detail to boot.

She drove me home, or I drove her home, after a late-night Thursday shift. As we sped along an off-ramp near West Perth she told me I was pretty. I still feel like an arsehole about my reply. ‘People always tell smart girls they’re pretty, and pretty girls that they’re smart.’ She sat for a silent, injured minute, either wincing from the rejected compliment or more likely, measuring for the first time all the times she’d been told she was smart. God I hope I didn’t smash what wasn’t even an illusion. She was smart. She’d just been a little beset by conventional hotness. Like so many green girls. She was easily as smart as me. Where the hell did I get off anyway, thinking I was so smart?

She was a helluva storyteller in any case. I’ll never really know for sure but my impression, if I can be so crassly general, is that while boys and men are all talk, women are pretty truthful in tales of sexual adventures. Their mode is usually a potent mix of confessional and how-to. There were gross stories from clubland, in Perth a particularly idiotic roll-call of mafia goons and football players. One of the girls told me about a four-way involving a club owner and a pool table, but that’s much too boring to recall here.

Michelle Bongiorno had the cracker. One morning she said she had to tell me about something that had happened the night before. It turned out she was of course only a virgin in the technical sense of the word, a la Clueless. I braced myself for a pedestrian third-base scenario. And then I was blown away. On a whim, she had grabbed her boyfriend’s cock, shoved it up her arse, and sat down on it. Hard. Michelle Bongiorno, the smiling virgin who was scared of penetration. ‘Then what did you do?’ I, impressed, disbelieving. ‘Then I squawked like a chicken.’

Today I walked around for at least an hour looking for a non-sushi lunch. I finally gave up when my hunger crashed, and wandered into the nearest sushi place. Fuck it, give me a brown rice teriyaki chicken. I ordered the chicken. The woman behind me, impatient, started to cluck. ‘Bok, boork, bok bok,’ she said, audible but under her breath. I looked at her. She stared into the sushi fridge. When I had paid I turned to look at her again, somehow offended by her unexpected utterance. She proceeded to order the unagi in perfect English.

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Otto Weininger

No comment on the following passage from Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, 120-121:

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It is very shortsighted of any one to consider the nurse as a proof of the sympathy of women, because it really implies the opposite. For a man could never stand the sight of the sufferings of the sick; he would suffer so intensely that he would be completely upset and incapable of lengthy attendance on them. Any one who has watched nursing sisters is astonished at their equanimity and “sweetness” even in the presence of most terrible death throes; and it is well that it is so, for man, who cannot stand suffering and death, would make a very bad nurse. A man would want to assuage the pain and ward off death; in a word, he would want to help; where there is nothing to be done he is better away; it is only then that nursing is justified and that woman offers herself for it. But it would be quite wrong to regard this capacity of women in an ethical aspect.

Here it may be said that for woman the problem of solitude and society does not exist. She is well adapted for social relations (as, for instance, those of a companion or sick- nurse), simply because for her there is no transition from solitude to society. In the case of a man, the choice between solitude and society is serious when it has to be made. The woman gives up no solitude when she nurses the sick, as she would have to do were she to deserve moral credit for her action; a woman is never in a condition of solitude, and knows neither the love of it nor the fear of it. The woman is always living in a condition of fusion with all the human beings she knows, even when she is alone; she is not a “monad,” for all monads are sharply marked off from other existences. Women have no definite inidividual limits; they are not unlimited in the sense that geniuses have no limits, being one with the whole world; they are unlimited only in the sense that they are not marked off from the common stock of mankind.

This sense of continuity with the rest of mankind is a sexual character of the female, and displays itself in the desire to touch, to be in contact with, the object of her pity; the mode in which her tenderness expresses itself is a kind of animal sense of contact. It shows the absence of the sharp line that separates one real personality from another. The woman does not respect the sorrow of her neighbour by silence; she tries to raise him from his grief by speech, feeling that she must be in physical, rather than spiritual, contact with him.

This diffused life, one of the most fundamental qualities of the female nature, is the cause of the impressibility of all women, their unreserved and shameless readiness to shed tears on the most ordinary occasion. It is not without reason that we associate wailing with women, and think little of a man who sheds tears in public. A woman weeps with those that weep and laughs with those that laugh – unless she herself is the cause of the laughter – so that the greater part of female sympathy is ready-made.

It is only women who demand pity from other people, who weep before them and claim their sympathy. This is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the psychical shamelessness of women. A woman provokes the compassion of strangers in order to weep with them and be able to pity herself more than she already does. It is not too much to say that even when a woman weeps alone she is weeping with those that she knows would pity her and so intensifying her self-pity by the thought of the pity of others. Self-pity is eminently a female characteristic; a woman will associate herself with others, make herself the object of pity for these others, and then at once, deeply stirred, begin to weep with them about herself, the poor thing. Perhaps nothing so stirs the feeling of shame in a man as to detect in himself the impulse towards this self-pity, this state of mind in which the subject becomes the object.

As Schopenhauer put it, female sympathy is a matter of sobbing and wailing on the slightest provocation, without the smallest attempt to control the emotion; on the other hand, all true sorrow, like true sympathy, just because it is real sorrow, must be reserved; no sorrow can really be so reserved as sympathy and love, for these make us most fully conscious of the limits of each personality. Love and its bashfulness will be considered later on; in the meantime let us be assured that in sympathy, in genuine masculine sympathy, there is always a strong feeling of reserve, a sense almost of guilt, because one’s friend is worse off than oneself, because I am not he, but a being separated from his being by extraneous circumstances. A man’s sympathy is the principle of individuality blushing for itself; and hence man’s sympathy is reserved whilst that of woman is aggressive.

The existence of modesty in women has been discussed already to a certain extent; I shall have more to say about it in relation with hysteria. But it is difficult to see how it can be maintained that this is a female virtue, if one reflect on the readiness with which women accept the habit of wearing low- necked dresses wherever custom prescribes it. A person is either modest or immodest, and modesty is not a quality which can be assumed or discarded from hour to hour.

Strong evidence of the want of modesty in woman is to be derived from the fact that women dress and undress in the presence of one another with the greatest freedom, whilst men try to avoid similar circumstances. Moreover, when women are alone together, they are very ready to discuss their physical qualities, especially with regard to their attractiveness for men; whilst men, practically without exception, avoid all notice of one another’s sexual characters.