A watchful blank page arches its back, thrusting, giving itself up to be taken by eternity, to be scrawled upon; here, and here, and there, black etches by a colluding semi conscious pen. Our story forms, informs and un-forms itself to the squeal, the gut wrenching grind, the slow, thunderous groan of metal upon metal (that all too repetitious back drop of inner Melbourne).
I like to watch trams. I watch the bug like antennae for a fleeting, exhilarating blue white ‘flack!’, the ignition of air-born spark. Then, abruptly, nothing. It is gone. At least I cannot see where it went. But that is me. You don’t know me. How can you? We’ve not been introduced. Met once or twice? Maybe. Not introduced, though, I would remember that. Perhaps crossed paths over a half-read newspaper (probably open to the sports page, or some back page entertainment fluff piece or something) and an expired MET card. You spoke to your friend and I to myself. We were so happy. None of it lasts.
How do you tell a tale? Autobiographically? Chronologically? Ontologically? I’m a great storyteller. Just wait and see. I tell fairy tales and laugh along with them: laugh long and loud. My head goes back, way back, and my jaw strains under the enormous weight of my teeth chattering. My Adam’s apple heaves back and forth like rolling hips in the throes of a great passion. My lips crack with my mouth opening at obtuse angles, and spit flies in all different directions. I am a ridiculous sight. I think I am revolting. I see in their eyes that most people think that I am revolting. I sustain myself on their disgust. I sustain myself in a permanent state of revolt.
I have discovered a discrepancy in time. That’s right ‘time’, that grand leveller of mounds and drinker of volatile cocktails. I, the common fumbler have discovered it, witnessed it in action and been conscious of the fact that I was subject to its rules. I am unaware of any one else winking and nodding in this way, so by that evidence I must be the first to do so. Alternatively, on the flip side, perhaps by being so conscious have I created it? Brought it into being by recognising it for what it is, and herewith, publicising my independent findings? Do I now have to go to some board of authority to register the idea or in some indelible media render my artistic impression? Can I bring it up at dinner parties as a verified and systemised, permissable and legitimate time zone? My time zone?
My theory is as follows: The subject enters the tram in the standard manner, and by doing so enters a time portal, lucid, totally fluid. Bells celebrate this entry and all entries following this one at irregular intervals. The bells in turn trigger a complex system of ropes and pulleys and more ropes that open these gates of time transcendence.
One cannot see with the naked eye the true function of the gate nor beyond it to chaos and madness, played out by fractured light particles in the form of athletic and synchronised dance routines. They use their spare time and energy to rehearse these intricate maneouvres during the period between midnight and early morn, when the trams return to their domiciles for a brief but rejuvenating snooze (I must apologise here to those readers whose parents have instilled in them the firm belief that trams are damned to work the tracks to eternity).
The trams that go ‘bump in the night’ do actually exist in the apparent world. This is the harmless mythical falsehood told by parents to errant children, usually in the vain hope that it might induce these children to return to parent approved activities before the ‘tram monsters’ come out. Not so for these demented sub-atomic cells who rehearse for the following day’s fated openings. They need not be so conscientious. After all their being too small to be viewed by the naked human eye and all that means that their jives, high kicks and groove moves are seen only by themselves. Perhaps this is the reason they train of a night time. To catch the eye of that spunky light particle with the Elvis sideburns, or the one that looks a bit like Jackie O? That is if sub atomic light particles have external visual perception or outrageous follcile fashion? What do we do during this extravaganza of the senses? We are oblivious, totally ignorant of the fact that we have stepped into a grand theatre of the senses, and have triggered the raising the curtain.
I am standing upon the rusty black-brown steel beams, lying parallel in concrete tracks filled with dirt and city grub. Have you stood on these fragile pairings, middle of the road staring down the line into vacant space, feeling the tremble and rumble of unseeable happening before you, mixed with those from behind you? These tramlines dissect a city. Split it or cut it into sections. You want to explore some suburbs, sit beside me, sharing a journey, pre-set by the powers that be, to the very conclusion of Melbournian being? You think it rigid, set in its ways? How much older it is than us both.
The tram spends its days somewhere between start and finish but you and I must be discretionary travellers. Look out its double glazed windows, its dust splattered external shell, the object turned subject by conglomerated advertising. You must alight the tram at your convenience, transcend its voyage. Complete your own by use of foot and crutch to take you the lanes and streets far from tram sight. The sky lays itself out before you expectant eyes. How is it then that clouds obscure the view? The very air we breathe to exist, the very substance we exhale to continue the breathing trend is the basic formation of clouds. O cruel irony! Our view of the world broken up and hidden from us by the product of our excellent existence.
Tram, the sometime orgasmic joy-filled screamer, trundles past indifferently today. I am disappointed. Its doors are characteristically clunky and I find myself thrown into an unexpected seat. The G-forces in this capsule of ageing technology and the dissembling wet brown linoleum leaves the old and the indecisive ‘nervous Nellie’s’ in no-mans land. Whether the captive starts the day face down in a muddy puddle or seated on a graffiti-decorated cushion throne is determined by the grip an individual has on their soles, the steadiness of their centre of gravity and ability to clutch at passing supports.
‘Have you your seat?’
’Squeeze in here.”
‘ ’Look! You have some mud on your slacks. Let it dry, you can brush it off later.'”
Everybody leaves a trace.
I hold an artificial stare out the window to avoid looking at the hulking hunched bulk of the METcard dispensing machine, skulking silently in the mid drift of this “City and Flinders St’ bound tram.
A burning sensation is raising a nasty rash on the back of my neck. That malevolent machine with the usual cruel sardonic look upon its small minded visual screen stares me down.
“Choose your ticket it sneers.
’Day pass?’ I query.
‘O no you may not my friend, indeed you cannot! Well you just have to fit all your tasks into one of these tickets that I offer. Here I’ll give you a two-hour ticket. Not so fast I am not done with you yet. Where do you go ? Zone 1? Zone 2 Hell? Zone 3? Now, we have nearly finished this transaction, a ticket for your passing. However, we have not agreed upon the price.
‘Get this over with, take your flesh.’
Gritted teeth see the coins through. The slot greedily receives all and I always find myself listening to the digestion.
’I hope you choke!’
My conscience demands this daily martyrdom. Damned by my own freedom.
One day not long ago, the scene was different. I, myself, am only just remembering this story that I am to relate. I was feeling good. This is rare.
‘Not today thanks METcard dispenser. You see I have foiled you today. You think that yours is the only tram around hereabouts?’ I said smugly extending my arm to indicate the suburbia about me, and the tracks upon which the tram ran.
’My card is in my pocket, but I choose not to bring it out. By validating it I validate you. So, no! My oversized bald friend. I have today surpassed you, you serve no further purpose to me. I have what you want but I opt to turn my back upon this convention. I spare you none of my thoughts. You deserve none.’
How I laughed. The spit went everywhere. I was totally revolting. I revolted myself.
‘I have today transcended you.’ I said once I regained control of my vocal chords. The words bubbled out of my mouth.
‘Triumph’, I thought.
Hmm, I see me a funny bespectacled man, a funny white straw hat wearing woman. Serious and authoritarian-looking the pair of them. See how they desire the ‘customers’? Hillside Tram employees. What vexations of the soul, and in my moment of struggle and victory! They do not come often. Even over inanimate objects. Victories that is.
I could keep the same victorious high-ground, but at the point that my decision became an issue, it is no longer the extrinsic that I gloried in. Things get serious in trams when you self-respect is on the line. My face was set. Fate awaited on me. Ball in my court and I was lining up a back-handed cross-court passing shot.
‘Good morning customers. We are from Hillside Trams. If yo have any questions about the service, please, do not hesitate to ask them as we move through the tram,’ the hat wearing woman said in a brisk no nonsense manner. They began to count ‘their clients’ aboard ‘their’ tram with accusing fingers. I had a bevy of questions all lined up.
’Why can’t you stop the squealing of the tram?”
‘ ’Why does the squealing increase when the tram changes direction?”
‘ ’Why do you think that you can measure a tram route using time as the only variable when it is so flawed a measurement tool?
‘ ’Why do I need to validate my life in you little green machine when I can do an excellent job myself?”
Various answers. Some more relevant that others. I have to admit, they were a little nonplussed when I told them that I had no intention of being ‘validated’ by them, when I said that anything that they might say about me would in no measure have any credibility, except in their own minds. Then I said that since they were wearing uniforms and name tags it was obvious that they were harbouring herd tendencies. I stated that only an authentic equal may judge another authentic individual.
“Based on these given facts we can extrapolate from them that you two have no means to validate or judge on any subject that I would be satisfied with, or have any use for.”
The man wearing the glasses emitted a small ‘oi!’ like noise.
The response contained some measure of what I will call aggravation, as I was told that they were the authorities and that they would have to ask me to leave their tram if I refused to validate my ticket.
‘What makes you authorities on any subject?’ I asked a little peevishly. Hours spent canoodling with green-yellow beasts and hassling old men? The hat wearing woman pointed to her name badge and her uniform. this was to be her answer to my question.
I lugged my rock upon my back. Bent and stooped as I was under its enormous weight, I took out the MET card and they helped me to validate it. Very kind of them. I could see that it was meaningless. Nevertheless to get to where I was going I needed the transport.
So there you have it. The page is spittle spattered. And old man riding the tram to its limits, the extremity of its parameters in order to witness, partake in the journey proffered. My story. The journey to the end of my soul, through the physical world. And when then? Back to its beginning. What is achieved? At least, time. I am an old man in a young body, and a young man in an old one.