Short Friction

Writing to entertain and to stimulate thought

Gordon’s diary – I

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Up early today, couldn’t sleep. Got up and watched this “Benny Hinn” guy on Channel 10. Surprised they let such obvious scammers on tv. He said if I sent $10,000 he would put my name in his private jet and pray for me when he’s flying. Well, better odds than lotto I suppose.

Was thinking maybe I should look into this line of work. Been needing something since the parking ticket gig fell apart.

Did some googling. Decided I’d do better to set myself up as end-time prophet than faith-healer, given the current social climate of end-of-the-world-to-global-warming panic. I thought this Ronald Weinland fellow was on the right track. He’s been predicting for some years now nuclear attacks on the US by next month and the end of the world in 2011 (he’s even published some books!). His timeline ends too soon. Tough for him: his income’s about to dry up. I’ll learn from that mistake: never set dates.

Benny Hinn operates by being huge. Do a gig of 50,000 and if just 1% of people are convinced to give $1,000, you have a taking of half-a-million. Weinland operates small. Even so, if he can convince just 500 people the end is coming and to sell up their assets and give him the money plus 10% of their ongoing income, he should have a cashflow well over a million annually. I could live with that.

I’ll follow his progress for a while to see what works, then see if I can set myself up with a similar gig.

More on Ronald Weinland: Ronald Weinland biography


Written by shortfriction

08/07/2009 at 16:23

Help from the wall

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In all my years of policing, I had never come across this kind of punk before. The usual punk I come across is a wannabe-somebody graffiti vandal, less than 5’5″, hiding their spotty face behind a dark fleece hoody. Of course there are older punks, but I never come across them: Their greater age doesn’t just give them greater “skilz”, but greater invisibility. My usual punk makes a pretty poor effort at not being seen, but this pair were hopeless. They were trying so hard to be inconspicuous, but doing such an amateur job, that I felt embarrassed for them. To me it seemed like every passer-by must be staring at them. The bloke was wearing a pair of oversized black pants and a black wool coat so big on him that he looked like he’d had his head shrunk by New Guinean cannibals. He’d turned up the collar – I’m supposing because he was thinking he could hide behind it. The girl was wearing black parachute pants and a navy blue puffy jacket, too long in the arms, that was clearly slowing down her work with the paintbrush. Mind you, she was slow enough already – each time her brush neared the mortar between bricks she would slow her stroke right down, stop, breathe, talk to herself, then continue her stroke over the mortar and into the next brick.

This pair of punks was fascinating to watch. I suggested to my partner that we needed to keep an eye on them to collect evidence before charging them, and we moved to where we could watch them unseen.

While the girl worked with a paintbrush, the bloke was squatting down, watching her, glancing around nervously and checking his watch every couple of seconds. He also looked like he was reciting some kind of mantra to himself the whole time. He had a spray paint can on the ground next to him. I’d seen him shake it before she started her work, but then he just sat it there and did nothing with it. Maybe he was mentally working through the ethics of what they were doing. I would have assumed they were both flipped out on drugs except they both obviously lacked the street knowledge to even know how to ingest a drug, let alone source and purchase them.

Eventually the bloke took one last look at his watch, made one more visual survey of their surroundings and then grabbed his can, stood up and started making his mark on the wall. Predictably, his paint had already started to settle in the can and he couldn’t get an even finish out of it. He clearly wasn’t willing to give it another shake, and by the time he’d managed to tilt the can in such a way as to get a reasonable spread of colour, the girl had nearly finished her piece.

It was interesting contrast, his half-completed stick-man to her vignette of a grassy green hill and blue sky. She finished up by painting a “window” around her scene with another can of black spray-paint, and then adding some words.

The whole while they were doing this, the pair of them were quite obviously becoming increasingly agitated. Their glances around them became increasingly frequent and, at one point I got ready to give chase because they took one long look at each other and seemed to silently agree to abandon their little project. But, just as I was ready to leap out after them, they seemed to resolve to continue, and finished their work.

As soon as they started putting their equipment back into the black backpacks they had brought with them, my partner and I strode across the street and made our arrest. Having watched them all that time, it somehow didn’t surprise me that they didn’t even try to run. Instead they both looked dreadfully embarrassed and apologetic. I actually found myself feeling sorry for them. But, the law is the law, and my dedication to upholding it overrode my sense of pity.

We photographed their little piece of “art” to accompany the charges. They had added to a previously existing piece of vandalism, but were insistent that the original work was not their own and they couldn’t be charged for it. Given today’s performance, I had no trouble believing them, because I know they would have been caught the first time.

Help did come (Click image for actual location)

Help did come (Click image for story with original graffiti)

Written by shortfriction

21/06/2009 at 14:55

Sandra’s date

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I can’t believe how long I spent getting dressed for the evening. Normally I don’t fall within that stupid girlie stereotype of taking hours to get dressed, deliberating over the smallest detail. But I was feeling fragile. My first date with Wayne had gone so well… I’d felt we could really relate to each other, and that seemed like a bad sign. I mean: I felt we could really relate to each other — like in the “he’s perfect for me” kind of way that I so hate other people talking about. I’ve always been the cynic who thinks other people are just fooling themselves when they say that (and inevitably it turns out that they are). So I felt like my sense of the perfection of this person was really only a sign of how utterly foolish I myself had become. I felt that the slightest mistake could mess it up forever — hair worn wrong, wrong shoes, wrong skirt… or if I said the wrong thing — it would be over, and I would have to face that terrible admission that I’d been wrong in the first place. I would have to convince myself Wayne was, in fact, a total loser. That, of course, is the only way to cope with a failed relationship — vilify the other person, say, “Why didn’t I see how arrogant and malicious he was to begin with,” and pretend you’d been blind and now suddenly you can see, and that… that is why it didn’t work out. Not because you were stupid enough to not give him the chance to give you his genuine apology after he made some little mistake.

So I’m going off on a tangential rant here. Excuse me. My point is to give you an idea of why I was so paranoid about getting everything right. I gave myself three hours to get ready before I needed to meet him at the train station, and that almost wasn’t enough. But I managed, somehow. Perhaps it was worth it, too. In the end I wore my pin-stripe pants (I decided to ride my bike to the station, so a skirt was out of the question), a simple top, just a touch of make-up and left my hair out. Simple as it may have been, it seemed to hit Wayne like a brick. His jaw actually dropped, momentarily. I thought that was something that only happened in tacky romance-comedies. He regained his composure quite quickly, though, and we settled down to a comfortable conversation about some of the graffiti adorning the station. He had been particularly disturbed by some graffiti promoting “Critical Mass” — a bunch of cyclists who periodically take over city and suburban streets and tell the cars they can rack off for a while so the cyclists can make some point or other. The graffiti said, “Cars smell funny! Support Critical Mass! 100 cities can’t be wrong!”

Wayne said this had been puzzling him while he’d waited for me. He wanted to know what 100 cities weren’t wrong about, and why it was they couldn’t be wrong. I said it must be that 100 cities had Critical Mass operating in some form, to which he responded that if that were the case, 100 cities could very well be wrong… in fact, almost certainly had to be wrong if one were to reason purely by number. If 100 cities can’t be wrong, surely 101 cities can’t be wrong either. In fact, given that any number, x, of cities can’t be wrong, we could safely assume that x+1 cities must also be right. By this reasoning, if 100 cities can’t be wrong, we could say that the 100 cities with Critical Mass are, indeed, right. But, we have a problem. Assuming there at least 200 cities in the world, if only 100 have Critical Mass that leaves at least 100 without. That means the cities without Critical Mass are also right. It would be a safe assumption that more cities don’t have Critical Mass than do, and should we on the basis of being a majority give them the benefit of the doubt? If we were to do that, we would have to admit that 100 cities were indeed wrong… but if we instead say those cities without Critical Mass are wrong, we are still having to say 100 cities (and more) were wrong. Wayne’s conclusion was that the graffiti was wrong to begin with. 100 cities can easily be wrong.

“People shouldn’t be allowed to paint misleading graffiti like that where just any old fool could read it and not have the intelligence to pick the flaw in reasoning,” Wayne told me. “It’s worse than false advertising. People really believe graffiti.”

I reminded him that people weren’t allowed to paint misleading graffiti like that, and in fact, weren’t allowed to paint graffiti at all. This seemed to comfort him, somewhat. But he did contend that he liked graffiti, and it would be a real shame if nobody broke the law, at least in that respect.

We were still discussing some of our favourite graffiti when the train arrived. Wayne said one of his favourites was one that said, “Legalise it rally: March 23, city square.” He liked it because one could never tell whether it was more than a year old or not, and the graffitier hadn’t bothered to include a year. I still think my favourite is one I saw many years ago, around the time of the Gulf War: “Give blood… join the army.”

I told Wayne about my graffiti experience during my ride to meet him at the station. On my way to the Upfield bike path I saw a piece of graffiti off Sydney road near the Brunswick tram depot. It was a simple, black stick figure painted on a bright yellow wall. The figure was crying pale blue tears, standing under a brief verse:

In one dark night
I lost all my love
please help me wall

Please help me wall

Please help me wall (click image for actual location)

“I don’t think I have quite the passion for graffiti that you seem to,” I admitted to Wayne, “But I have to say I felt compelled to respond to this one. I wanted someone to provide some reply to suggest that the wall somehow had helped.”

Wayne nodded, “I know that one,” he said. “and I’ve felt the same – if I could ever bring myself to graffiti the first thing I would want to do is provide a response to that.”

We had to change trains in the city. Since the second was a late train going out of the city, it contained many inebriated individuals. One rugged looking gentleman sitting across from us had fallen asleep, VB stubby in hand, and obviously had forgotten he was on a train and not at home in his flat. The train was pretty noisy, particularly around corners. Now and then, when the train bumped or groaned loudly, the man would roll his head in frustration and thump the side of the carriage wildly with his arm. “Shuudup! Shuddup! I’m tryna sleep here!”

Further up the train, a man with bright red hair was fascinated by the same sounds that were so upsetting the other man. He was trying to imitate them. He particularly enjoyed the beeping of the train doors. At each station, he would try to replicate the sound by whistle. Across from him, a naïve young couple looked concerned for their safety.

Our destination was Wayne’s idea. I liked it very much for its simplicity. We were going out to a park he knew that was sheltered from the intrusive lights of the city. He had brought a little gas camping heater and a picnic basket so we could eat, talk and look at the stars. The night had turned out perfectly clear for the occasion and, sitting on the train, I couldn’t wait. Wayne continued talking, now about his vision of a future where all governments were privatised, and ethnicity was a function of one’s employer, not physical location or race. As much as I liked listening, I was starting to feel several nights running of late shifts at work catching up with me. Finally, I couldn’t help myself. All I could hear was the pleasant rhythm of his voice, as I lost grasp of the content. I fell asleep on his shoulder, listening to him talk. He didn’t mind.

Written by shortfriction

02/06/2009 at 13:00

Posted in Fiction, Sandra, Wayne

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Wayne’s OCD

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Wayne finds he is developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder from his shaving cream can.

It all began harmlessly enough. Wayne had finished preparing the water to shave one morning, and was reaching for the shaving cream can when he noticed the legend printed around the top in thick, black letters: “Shake well before using”. Wayne thought this rather strange, but gave the can a vigorous shake nevertheless, then left it on the sink while he went off and found something else to do for half an hour.

Wayne went into the bathroom early the next morning to shake the can so it would be ready by the time he wanted to shave. Later, as he washed his hair in the shower, he wondered to himself exactly how long before using the shaving cream he should shake it. Was half an hour enough? Maybe whatever strange chemical processes were triggered by shaking the can would not be finished in just half an hour. Maybe they needed an hour. Maybe a day. When he got out of the shower, he shook the can again so it would be ready for him to shave the next day. That, he thought, should definitely constitute “well before”.

The next morning, putting on his deodorant, Wayne read the instructions. They just said, “shake well,” but Wayne figured it would be better to be safe than sorry. He was beginning to develop a vague sense that if he didn’t shake his shaving cream at least a day before using it something terrible might happen — like the can would explode or something. Maybe it would be the same for his deodorant. Not willing to risk it, he gave it a good shake before putting it back in his cupboard. An image formed in his mind of him running, screaming, to the nearest source of water while flames streamed from his armpits. He tried to shake away the thought, but it stuck with him for the rest of the day.

Now, during his Maths lecture, Wayne finds the image of the flaming armpits returning to him. He tries to concentrate on what the lecturer is saying, but to no avail. He has enough trouble concentrating on what he says at the best of times. Suddenly he finds the word “hairspray” has entered his head for no reason. Added to the image of flaming armpits is a ferocious ball of fire encompassing his head. Wayne wonders if he remembered to shake his shaving cream can this morning. How could he forget? But he feels he will be filled with a terrible dread the next time he shaves.

As soon as he gets home, Wayne runs agitatedly around his house looking for every pressurised, shakeable can he can find. Hairspray, Mortein, oven-cleaner, his housemates’ deodorant, an ancient can of WD-40 and a nearly empty can of spray-paint hiding in the back shed. His housemates are puzzled, but not entirely astonished. He is known to do inexplicable things.

Only when he has convinced himself that there is not a single unshaken can left in the house is he able to relax and do other things. Still, he occasionally stops what he is doing and mentally goes through the house, making sure he has left nothing unshaken. He figures if he shakes everything each day, then if he happens to need to use it say, a week later, he will be sure to have shaken it long enough beforehand.

Wayne never counted on the horrors a supermarket could offer for his rapidly developing problem.

Written by shortfriction

01/06/2009 at 19:55

The parking inspector

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Gordon is a parking inspector. This is what he tells people. Well, actually, Gordon tells people many things, depending on the circumstances, and what will get the most positive results for him. But when he is putting tickets on illegally parked cars, this is what he tells people — “I am a parking inspector,” he says, “and parking in a clearway like that at peak-hour is really going to cost you.” If the person he is addressing in these circumstances is the owner of the offending vehicle, or at least intimately connected with it in some way (more often than not the latter are the more desperate — sons and daughters get very worried about earning their parents very expensive parking violations), they will generally respond in one of several fashions. Gordon has noticed that in this increasingly fast-paced, self-serving age, verbal insults and physical aggression are on the rise. Many an individual has attempted to evoke an air of superiority over the slight figure of Gordon. Due to the rather complex and tentative nature of Gordon’s position, he is often quite willing to listen to such lines of reasoning and at least reduce, if not withdraw altogether, the fine in question. He actually gets a kind of satisfaction out of doing this, because he knows the individual’s successful threatening of an officer of the law will lead to an inflated confidence and future attempts at attempting the same trick. But given that in those instances they will actually be threatening a fully authorised officer, they will no doubt be in for a rather unpleasant surprise when the full force of the law is mercilessly applied to them.

The other strategy, becoming progressively less common, is the weeping tale of woe. Gordon has heard some very good ones, and plans to pad out his already ample income with a published collection at some later date.

“Well now, doesn’t that just finish off a particularly awful day nicely! You know… oh, you probably don’t care — I bet you hear this all the time — but… well, the strangest thing happened to me today. See, I was driving down Royal Parade there [points] and the traffic’s pretty slow like it often is at Mothers-and-Children rush-hour on a rainy Friday — so I’ve got time to look around a bit, see. So I’m looking out the window and there’s this old guy on the footway by the park there [points] and he’s just bent over the grass vomiting his guts up! Well, of course he’s holding a brown paper bag and he’s got that scruffy look about him — sure I try not to be judgmental but we all jump to conclusions, and what would you think if you saw a scruffy old beggar with a brown paper bag puking his guts in the middle of the day in the rain next to a bike track?…”

Intense stare is directed at Gordon. “Well now,” says Gordon after deliberately allowing the pause, just to annoy this desperate fellow, “I’d think, ‘There’s a poor dopey drunk!’”

“Ex-actly. So that’s what I think of course. But traffic’s stopped now and I’ve been watching the codger for a couple-a minutes and he’s still there puking away and… well, I figured I should just see if I can do something for him, right? So the traffic starts moving and I get to here and I park the car here across this driveway — hey I know as well as you do no-one ever uses this driveway except when there’s a footy game on — so I park here and I walk back to the guy and he’s stopped puking for the moment but still looking pretty sick in the face — you know how a person gets to looking real ill around the eyes, y’know? [Hand vaguely waves around the face in an attempt to indicate illness around the eyes, whatever that is.] So I go to the guy and I say, ‘Can I help you mate?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, see, I’s been picking these mushrooms, and I ate some to see if they’s okay… and —’ … and you know the old codger just starts laughing here when he tells me this … ‘and they’s obviously not.’ So they guy just starts laughing uncontrollably now, and he falls on the ground and his bag splits open and all these … these toadstools spill out, and the old fella’s on the ground and he’s kinda writhing — like you’d think only happens in movies and what-not, and he’s flippin’ about on the ground and he starts saying that he wishes the pixies would stop tickling him, or something, because it’s making it very difficult for him to tell me his car’s the one parked just back there [points vaguely] and here are his keys and could I drive him just down the road to the hospital to get his stomach pumped — he’d drive himself only he’d have trouble with the pixies tickling him and all the giant cane-toads on the road and his judgement not being what it was and him thinking he’d probably have an accident swerving around one of them, especially the really big critter he could see down by the Ladies’ college smoking pot and singing songs from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. I try to get him to go in my car, but he says it looks set to swallow him whole and never spit him up, so he’ll only go if I drive him in his car — which of course I do, and I don’t even think about that I’m parked illegally… and I take him to the hospital and then at emergency they ask me all these questions like who is the guy, and where does he live and stuff… and I don’t know, only they don’t seem to understand that. And the guy’s no help because by this time he’s crawling on the floor looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — you know — following those parallel coloured stripes they put on the floor in Emergency so people know exactly where to go without thinking about it. Not that it really works — I mean, who knows what colour to follow? You’ve gotta walk for hours just to find a sign that tells you what each colour even means. Anyway, I ended up having to stay there like, an hour, and then I gets back here and you, ya’ piece of work, are here giving me a ticket. Great lotta thanks I get for being a good Sumerian.”

“Samaritan. … Yeah, killer of a story, that. Look, don’t worry about it, the old guy will be just fine. You just make sure you pay your fine here, and you’ll be just fine, too.” Then Gordon will pat the disbelieving desperado on the shoulder and walk away with an official-looking swagger. This is how he operates: Listen. Nod. Act sympathetic while actually being a ruthless scoundrel.

Gordon’s scam works like this: He issues parking tickets. He issues them properly — only where a genuine violation has been made, and never to government cars, police cars, or anyone else who might happen to notice these aren’t the official sort of parking tickets that are issued by official sorts of people.

Gordon has arranged a tricky system involving credit-, cheque- or direct-transfer-only payments of parking violations into his Swiss bank account. People who get parking tickets are generally so upset by the whole experience that the last thing they would consider is that it could be a fraud. People will create every other possible scenario to deny this ticket was deserved — they were only there for a second, they weren’t really parked illegally, it just sort of looked that way, they didn’t deserve a ticket because it was a genuine misunderstanding… whatever. But they would generally pay up while maintaining this firmly held belief that it was all a big mistake. Little did they know that if their ticket was from Gordon it was worse than a mistake — it was a deliberate deception. And so far, a deception that was paying very well. Gordon pretty much had the beats of the “genuine article” parking inspectors worked out. With Victorian parking fines often exceeding $100 for a single offence, Gordon could make a pretty packet handing out fines along some obscure permit zone that the real police rarely bothered with. On a particularly good day he could make as much as five grand.

Written by shortfriction

01/06/2009 at 14:33