Monday, April 14, 2014

George Saunders: Ex Ayn Rand Guy

... They worked four weeks on and two weeks off and in the down time would be shuttled in helicopters to the nearest city, 40 minutes away, and then from there fly to Singapore.

“I’d been kind of an Ayn Rand guy before that,” he said. “And then you go to Asia and you see people who are genuinely poor and genuinely suffering and hadn’t gotten there by whining.” While on a break in Singapore, walking back to his hotel in the middle of the night, he stopped by an excavation site and “saw these shadows scuttling around in the hole. And then I realized the shadows were old women, working the night shift. Oh, I thought, Ayn Rand doesn’t quite account for this."

Saunders, George (2013-01-03). Tenth of December (Introduction: p. 2). BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING. Kindle Edition.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Truth of The Beauty of A Bloom Is That It Fades

In the Kamigata area they have a sort of tiered lunchbox they use for a single day when flower viewing. Upon returning, they throw them away, trampling them underfoot. The end is important in all things.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.

Kata, Phuket, after midnight...

Late decision in the tuk-tuk back from Patong: he would go back to the Luv-You Bar again after all. He asked the driver to drop him off at the bottom of the strip near his Kata Beach hotel (the hotel that wasn’t the hotel he thought he was making his booking at, but hey, it was a rushed job, for a spontaneous mid-week golf holiday [being single rocks] and the hotel was just next-door to the other). This meant three nights in a row now he would be talking to Noo. He knows the Rule of Three, hey fuck he wrote the rule, but he was powerless to stop himself (which is what the Ro3 is all about). It was late for this part of Phuket Island, about 1am, and he didn't really expect her to be still there, to have waited for him, even though she said she would. But if she was there, and not bar-fined, he would take her to his room for another 4am session. He wanted to hold her again, to look into her eyes as they made love. Maybe he could make her cum this time.

He could grab a few hours kip before his airport taxi came at 7am. He would sleep all weekend.

She was there, he saw her at the back, in one of the small yellow lounge chairs near the billiard table where he had played ten indifferent games of pool with her, or with Gap, the bar-manager who punched the air every-time Bruce made an error - it’s cultural, not rude, he had reasoned. She was squeezed in the chair with a Thai man about, how can you really tell, 30. He looked, let’s not kid, like a Thai hit-man - long-hair, deep eyes, thin lips, sprouts of a goatee, sun-lined face, and a dark shirt, in jeans and with shiny black boots. She did not notice Bruce as he stepped up to the bar, she was talking and laughing with the Thai man, yep, her boyfriend obviously, the one she said she didn’t have on the previous two nights. He paused. He tried to stop himself moving forward, to halt completely. He should have left quietly before she saw him, but what may have been merely tragedy slipped into farce when he found he could not leave and, despite a flash of awareness of his breaking all the laws he often had admonished others about, approached her chair.

Hoping against the hollow sense of his own human frailty, against everything he thought he knew well enough to overcome, his head spinning with the Thai music from the karaoke-player, he stepped closer, small steps. Eventually her eyes looked away from the man she was cuddling, they unglazed (she liked rum shooters) long enough for her to see him. She must have been trying to place him and then, presumably it clicked and she stood up, a bit shaky, from the chair from the hit-man, paused for balance, and then came towards him. He took her all in: triangular face, petite, a loosely crocheted top over a pink bra, belt-sized jeans shorts, bronzed skin (getting fairer, she hoped, with that skin bleacher she was shooting up each night in the bathroom) and he couldn’t move, couldn’t turn away away. And his face froze just below a smile and he said, Hello, and kicking himself later he added, I just came to say goodbye…

Which is not what he had really intended to say at all. The boyfriend, professionally slippery, had already slipped away, and Bruce saw too that no-one else in the bar was looking at him (he would imagine their bursts of laughter when he tried to sleep later), but their faces were down, away, focussed on other, suddenly fascinating, things.

Noo came right up to Bruce and put her arms around his neck and looked up. A very sad, what-have-I-done face, a look somewhere between feigned apology and feigned pity, a look that said I thought you were one of the ones who wouldn't fall in love, who only pretend to believe when I pretended to like you, but I was wrong (Beware The Ro3!), and she asked him to buy her a rum shooter. Pathetically, he nodded and indicated he would also have a beer he didn't want or need, and, here’s the kicker, he said again, I just came back to say goodbye.

I'm going back to Hong Kong tomorrow, he said and she looked even sadder as she saw 3000Baht slipping away with more plastic surgery and her boyfriend's motorbike repairs held off in the distance still, and she pouted her lower lip. Which must have done something inside her mouth because she slowly unwound her hands from his neck to tighten the stud in her tongue and she smiled, against the flow of Little Miss All-Forlorn, as she did this. But his confused mind was made up, probably, and he would leave now, now that all his dignity was shredded and burnt in offerings at the bar’s small shrine. He took his beer, drank most of the bitter razor-blades quickly, called for the check-bin, paid, then placed a 100baht note tenderly into her bra, making sure it was right against the nipple (he wondered later if those firm breasts were genuine, or part of a job-lot with the silicone nose-bridge she was so proud of), and he kissed her cheek again (it struck him that she hadn’t kissed him properly - only pecks - on the lips in all their time together) and somehow, not through courage, not through reason, almost accidentally, he managed to leave.

He cursed himself audibly for being the cliché he always mocked as he walked down the strip, crushed a 20Baht rose underfoot and, neither sober nor drunk but flushed and giddy, turned left at the quiet road to kick at stones and cans along the footpath and to fend off the occasional katoey on a scooter for the half-K back to his wrong hotel.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Can And Do Choose My Books By Their Covers.

If you go book browsing and see something you like but there are several different editions, do you take the cheapest one, or do you go for the more exotic and colourful one that will add colour, size and general variety to your bookshelves?

For example: Wes Anderson's new movie...

... has a dedication at the end to the writings of Stefan Zweig. Zweig is one of those early to mid 20th century writers who have been rediscovered of late (late 10 years or so) and make you wonder how many other exceptional writers are out there, their stars dimmed only by time and the lack of making it to school reading lists, who deserve to be cherished and read for all time but are lost in the seemingly exponentially growing flood of newer books and the screaming white noise of the best-sellers. As a Stanislaw Lem character pointed out in His Master's Voice "Today, in the flood of garbage, valuable publications must go under, because it is easier to find one worthwhile book among ten worthless than a thousand among a million."

Wes Anderson has no hesitation in admitting his indebtedness in this interview in the The Telegraph. Very impressed.

Several of the smaller presses (twee hipsters?) have done a sterling, sterling I say, job of bringing a lot of these literary needles out of the, um, literary haystacks, and thence to my jaded attention at last. They seem to have been publishing his English translation since the mid-noughties. Also Penguin have had an edition of his novella Chess out since only 2006 - which I read a few years ago as it was referenced in some other book about chess somewhere.

So there I am in Kinokuniya Singapore, killing time while a cheap leather worker fixes my expensive but friable Timberland belt, and having seen the movie last weekend, and having been perked up at the end of this pushing at an overdose of twee movie when that "Based On The Writings Of Stefan Zweig" dedication at the very end came up (my friend noted a change in my attitude) and I thought, Respect!, and therefore I had to grab another/all of his books then and there to read on next week's trip to Australia ("work" - am expecting maybe 6 hours face-time with customers over four days.)

But which editions to buy? There was a New York Review of Books copy of Journeys To The Past, but I had the NYRB copy of The Post Office Girl in my bag. NYRB books all look the same - a rectangle just above middle of the front, plain colour spine, fonts always the same. Cute when you only have a few spread here and there, but they are starting to create their own bloc European in my library, particularly in the Russian section (Victor Serge [unread], Andre Platinov [reading], Vasily Grossman [unread], Yuri Olesha [read]). Reminds me of the fields of Penguin orange that once were triumphant across the shelves when I was a beginner bibliophile.

So instead I chose two collections of his short stories/novellae from Pushkin Press (who have comprehensive list of alternative/forgotten/ignored geniuses as well): Letter from An Unknown Woman and Amok because the covers rock!

Cute, different, uncool, awesome, heh? Bound, as it were, to be great.

It's no quite the same as using the jockey's colours to bet on horses, but it's fun and breaks up the monotony.


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Eyebrows Have It

If you type "Electric hair trimmer Philips" into Google -> Images, you will not see the model I am about to talk about, but no matter. I'll paint words pictures around its ingenious construction and you'll get the true essence of its form.

It's an electric hair trimmer made by Philips.


Why, is that not enough? OK, it has a detachable comb, duh, but there is only one comb! Because with this model, and this is why I was trying to get a stock image for you, the bottom part of the handle is also a rotating switch which adjusts the setting for the hair length by varying the retraction of the curved spindle which is a key part of the comb, where it attaches itself by being inserted into, or invaginating, the body of trimmer. It does not have multiple combs, is my point. One comb, and by turning the bottom section around, it goes in or out. Setting goes up by threes.

The more recent model - a sliding comb adjuster! Must have!

I no longer use it to trim my head however. When I first bought it, I'd use the No 3 setting, go all over the skull, cropping, buzzing, several times. Down this side twice, that side twice, up the back, up the back again, around this ear, around that ear, at the temples and the few hairs left up top, once over all again, then I'd take the comb off and I'd guesstimate the area back at the neck and sweep down under my collar area to take all that zombieness away.

But of course I'd do an amateurishly crap job at it, always leave little tufts here and there, despite my most meticulous efforts. If I tied little bits of yellow or white ribbon to those tufts, I might look cute but instead they make me look like a klutz who doesn't even know how to drive an electric hair trimmer! Keep him away from important things, people! Like complicated medical devices!


There is $10 haircut salon/cupboard that I use now at the small shopping mall about 15-mins walk away from E@LGHQ. They do an excellent job, although I have issues with the lack of a symmetrical method of one of the ladies. She doesn't do exactly the same motions when she is doing my right side than she does on my left side. It's not a handed-ness thing, she just approaches the sides with a different pattern of trimming, a random technique. I'm always thinking that she's going to miss out on that little tuft of almost invisible hairs at my temple, just forward of my upper left ear. She nails it on the right side, but not the left. She comes close, but her strategy for the left side is asynchronous. She passes just near it, hovers above it, below it. Until finally, often on the last sweep across, she eventually clips the ones she has missed. It's just that I am sitting in the chair, nothing to do but think about this. I call it people watching. Not judging, watching.

Once a month, usually on a Saturday (Sunday might also be good), I buy a ciabatta at Cedele, have a hazelnut-choc spin and two wholemeal-raisin cookies at Spinellis, then get my hair-cut and day-dream about losing weight while the buzz of the hair trimmer white noise blurs away most of my other cares - except for haircut technique symmetry. Most other Saturdays (or Sundays), when I am in town, I buy a ciabatta, have a hazelnut-choc spin and two wholemeal-raisin cookies, and don't get a haircut, but maybe pop down for a massage at the local R&T-shop instead.

How was your weekend?

Thursday (yesterday now), I had a haircut because I had flown in from Bangkok on Saturday evening, and on Sunday had gone to watch Wes Anderson's new one, The Grande Hotel Bucharest (the fact that is was based on the writings of Stepan Zweig sent me back to The Post Office Girl , looking for resonances) and it had thrown my schedule. So I was working, ahem, from home, ahem. And that's why, today, I got my hair-cut.


You will be pleased to hear that I do use my own electric hair-trimmer, that money was not completely wasted, but only for my goatee (setting at No 6, once a fortnight is enough) and (once a month, after the hair-cut - not needed after the R&T) when I set out to tame the politician-like prominence of my bushy eyebrows...

So this afternoon, I did my overdue goatee, shook out all the trimmings, and I set the control at the bottom of hair-trimmer to No.12 - an adequate level to correctly balance the brow's bushiness between "gone-to-seed" and "youthfully trim" without appearing PR-advisorly sculpted - and I started on the left eyebrow. No need to look in the mirror...


At first there was the sound - like a large strip of velcro being ripped open. Then came the sensation of tugging, my eyebrow's skin being pulled across - this sensation should not happen, there was something WRONG...

NNNNOOOooooooo! I shut the cabinet door to look at the mirror...

I saw it then on the bathroom bench, right in front of me, the comb. I had detached it from the hair-trimmer to shake out my goatee hairs! I had not replaced it! OMFG! It was unmodulated clipper-teeth biting into my eyebrow! Setting 0!


Now you can be supercilious if you like, but I think this might turn out to be a crucial, positive, day in my life.

Not only do I know appear as if I was auditioning for the role of Grima Wormtongue in LOTR - played with such malign oleaginousness by Brad Dourif, who shaved off his eyebrows to appear more sinister (not dexter?) - but I can finally accept that something has been affecting my cognitive facilities.

Yes, it must be the meds! Drugs, medications, chemicals! Out with them. Rid my body of these "scientific" toxins in tablet form, these capsules of calamity and contra-indications. [Aside: it's the side-effects!]

I can't keep doing things like this to myself. Can't keep losing things, forgetting things like all the things I forget or lose. Names, faces, phones. Lost, forgotten. Those painkillers are killing me. It must be painful dear readers, for you to have observed this gradual (some might say precipitous - I was coming from a great height) decline in mental and physical dexterity (and sinistry. I am ambidextrous, I mean ambisinistrous.)

It must be the meds!


Sorry? What did you say?

That I have been blogging about my cognitive incompetencies, my inability to deal with inanimate objects or with WiFi connections, with my brazen obtuseness in trying to comprehend simple instructions on various mobile phone operating systems, that I have documented all these things in over 10 years of Expat-At-Large, from way back when? Way back before I found a competent, dogged and persistently experimental (avoid Cimbalta people - ciabatta is OK), but eventually successful neurologist who gave me all these meds and made the pain go away? Mostly. (Neuropathy, people, in case you have forgotten, of the feet. Worst kind of all - idiopathic.)

Really? I'd forgotten that.

Ah OK, so it's not just the meds. I've been a bumbling fool forever it seems. Yes, that's true. Those thoughts, those horrible memories do come to me, they come too often. And I cringe now, to think back on some of my foolish bumbles. Oh fuck yeah, I've done some clumsy and some stupid things.

But not many as clumsy and stupid as this...

Brad Dourif - separated at birth


Saturday, March 15, 2014

FB and E@L and Blog

A rough guess. Mmm, say, 97% of the crap E@L posts on Facebook he should be posting here. It's the stuff he USED to post here. (And LOOK, he using capital letters instead of the full suite of his HTML HTML HTML HTML HTML tools for astounding typographical legerdemain.) He once would have posted here.

For the life of E@L, he don't know why-y, but it's less and less frequently that he can get into the long-winded mode he preferred back when he was writing... here. Sometimes he'd sit down to start with some words floating out there - an idea, a feeling, a thought bubble, an article in the NYT - and then he'd think of the many hours it would take him to get his thoughts out of order, to make himself seem confused, and to wrest from the clarity of his expressions at least six types of ambiguity - id est, to the E@L rambles that you, his long-gone readers, once appreciated, or claimed to. He'd be up 'til 3 (it's only 1;15 now), rewriting, reposting, looking for funny pics.

Not to mention carefully going through the post to insert ellipses (is that possible?) and to mix up leeters like as ifm cuondt; ptye.


Fuck Facebook. It's ruined E@L's blog. Cut, paste, insert witticism, post, return, LIKE!


And ditto goes for any fiction stuff, or even any reworking of the Bruce / Expat-Angst / Gone-Troppo type material. He just can't start. He can't concentrate. [And fuck! About four devices just went *ping* because someone has made a move in WWF.]

It's all too big. There's so much effort that needs to be made, there's so little belief that whatever might come of it, it would matter at all, let alone that it will be any good or that anyone would care.

(No, that is not a plea for people to contradict E@L and say, "Oh, but we care!")

And there's seems to be so... little... time.


Ah, perhaps he'll stick to Facebook after all. Instant gratification. Epigrammatic, telegraphic.


Or perhaps this post is un cri de couer from the worn sleeve that... his damaged heart... from... Yep. Or maybe an ejaculation of intent from an erstwhile impotent soul, an afflatus of aspiration/inspiration, a clearing of the enthusiasm pipes...

So, he has a week in the middle of nowhere (Lampang, Thailand - yes! E@L's thoughts exactly), let's start again and see if we can't revive the philosophically ailing output of


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cyber-Posses and e-Lynchings

There's a viral thing going around Singapore that I would love to comment on less obliquely, either here or on FB, but I feel that my opinion on that matter, whatever it may be,.. hang on, I don't mean my opinion, I mean the fact that I, as a non-Singaporean living in Singapore might even HAVE an opinion about an issue that involves non-Singaporeans living in Singapore and might wish to express it safely in a polite public forum where reasoned debate could ensue (say, SammyBoy's Café), that I could expect a serious backlash - and not just being told to go back where I came from (Hey, I thought Aussies had the dibs on that phrase!) - from an island-full of self-righteously aggrieved citizens.

One could surmise from the evidence of the issue I am referring to, that there is a certain class of people who wouldn't even care to read, let alone attempt to understand what my opinion might be, should I have one, before attacking me and cutting me down to the size they think is appropriate (i.e. mincemeat?) for whatever opinion-crime they assume I have committed - but not just with an insult-exchanging "flame-war" as it used to be, but with real, life-impacting, personal, damage...

Read all about it... That woman who tweeted a poor-taste racist joke at the airport and was sacked by the time her plane landed...

If my comment got out, and was misinterpreted to be racist, or culturalist, or elitist, or post-colonialist, or pre-colonialist, or anything "-ist" by this type of people, then, pushing out their pique in a cascade of reTweeted or FB-shared comments could create enough ruckus (and not just on social media, but "real" media) so that their opinions on my less than 100% approved opinion could go Gangnam to a point that my employer would not be able to ignore it and they might feel they have to sack me - with all the enormous financial repercussions that might involve - home loans forfeited, hospital bills unpaid, Dropbox subscription expired (AIYEE, THE HORROR!), blah blah...

Not happy with that, those out for justice might, as they typically do, decide to attack, abuse and humiliate my family (yeah, even to the seventh son of the seventh son). Maybe they'd turn their attention to any of friends who'd stuck up for me (if they would be stupid enough to raise their heads in this Politically Correct environment), and then they'd hack into my computer and republish those embarrassing photos of me at my 50th birthday, the ones with the blue sparkly 50 sign stuck on my fat tummy and -- oh, those pics are already out there on FB!

And, you know, my opinion might have only been along the lines of, "Just chill guys," and/or "HTFU". But I have opted for the self-censor because I read on Facebook every second day exactly what happens to smart-arses on Facebook.

Because even such a timid comment as my typical ones might incense people further, for, as we know from recent experience, insults can be sort of homeopathic, in that the smaller the intended offensiveness of the comment or act, the greater will be its perceived offensiveness. This may extend to the point where, say, flashing your car's high-beam at the rear of a bad-driver is tantamount to declaring war. (See previous post)

This overreaction happens all the time - road rage being only one instance - because we are all wired to take a disproportionate offence at certain types of mild insults when they threaten certain aspects of our social expectations. Like when you feel you are being slightly cheated by a cunning taxi-driver taking an unusual route (and who might only be trying to avoid $4 ERP charge on your behalf), or being cheatingly slighted by your drunken life-partner at a social gathering where the morals are generally getting a bit lax and the lights are getting dim...


Seriously, free speech is being curtailed everywhere these days - here's me self-censoring! I certainly never expected to see that day! - and it's not (only) by the fascist governments and the despotic tyrants we typically point our quivering fingers at, but those cyber-posses of hyper-offendable "flesh-hunters" who troll the web-prairies looking for ways to destroy the lives of those others who might not be, to their unstated standards, perfect human beings all the time.

It's the somewhat peeved public on their iPads, not the evil overlords, not the Stasi, not the NSA, not KGB spies, not the minions of Big Brother. These are the ones keeping tabs on whatever we write, whatever we show, or whatever we think out loud in a brain-farted Tweet these days. And punishment is as swift as electrons and as profoundly justifiable as 140 characters can make it.


What has gone wrong? The PURPOSE of the internet used to be just that back in the good old days - it was built to offend and annoy people! That, and document collaboration, And porn. What? Has? Gone? Wrong?

"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.” Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.


The Wild West ain't got nothing on the e-lynchings of these days.


Saturday, January 04, 2014

Christmas With Mad Max

E@L is calmly driving out of the satellite town of Leopold towards its mother planet/city of Geelong (we are in Australia already!) on the morning of Christmas Eve. He stops, with a few other cars, as the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill turn red. There are three lanes for each direction at this intersection, the inner ones of each dedicated to a right turn. He is going straight on and is the front car in the middle lane. This would be the "fast lane" or overtaking lane, but here, still in the Leopold township, it is a 70km/h zone and this would not be an issue, you'd think.

About 500m or so further towards Geelong the township finishes, just after the Coles supermarket complex, the speed limit then becomes 90km/h. In this area, for about 5km, are the small hobby-farmers, or the toes-stuck-in real farmers; people who sell organic produce, like sacks of horse-shit and tubs of freshly laid, unwashed eggs, and who might have a few paddocks gone fallow for a few years, and a few where dumb-as-fuck Hereford cattle graze under the enormous high-tension electricity towers that feed Geelong's last remaining triple digit employer, the Alcoa aluminium smelter, out on a finger of land by the best harbour in the bay.

Out on "the main road," if E@L was on the inside or outside lane it might make a difference. If drivers were foolhardy enough to push too far over the limit they'd risk drawing attention to themselves especially during the heavy traffic-police presence on Christmas Eve. [Increased safety, or raising funds to pay for a police budget that has already been overspent?] But here, still at the lights, E@L doesn't think he has any particular irresponsibility to be a drag-racing petrol-head loon. Particularly as he is setting up the Bluetooth from the iPhone to the car while waiting there.

When the lights change to green he gently accelerates away (but that is not saying anything much) in his little Korean rental car because, hey, he is in no hurry and does not need to rush to jump out first, plus the phone just needs a little touch to connect - 'beep' and there it goes - The Fray.

The car in the slow lane on his left is going a little faster and is pulling away slightly from E@L. Big deal, we are still in the 70km/h zone. After about 150m however, another car, or a van in fact, comes up on his inside, in left lane, and hovers beside him. It presses urgently closer towards the car in front of it, dangerously close. This van does appear to be in a hurry, and now, with only half its length past E@L's car, it appears to be contemplating changing lanes! This would likely result in it pretty much sharing the same coordinates of space-time as E@L's car which can only happen it they are both Bosons, the Force-carrying Particles, but not possible when, as is the case, they are made of Fermions, a.k.a. matter (according to the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics.)

"Hey, hey," thinks E@L to this driver, "don't be a fuckwit - this universe works fine as it is!" But here it goes: The van's indicators flash on and almost immediately it starts to swing across towards him. He is forced to jam down on his brakes and drop back quickly as the van lurches into his lane, only avoiding the front of E@L's car by a meter or two, thanks to E@L's prescience and sharp braking and the way he cried out, "FFUUUCCCKKK!"

The driver of the van, obviously not 100% aware of, or not seriously caring about, the danger he just threw E@L into, puts his thick, hairy, deeply tattooed right arm out the window and effects a conciliatory wave. "Woah, you idiot," thinks E@L and automatically blinks his high beam once at the van, which is already prematurely accelerating away in anticipation of the upcoming higher speed limit. "Ha," thinks E@L as the light-beam, hardly a laser, hits the back of the van, "Take that!" 

But the van driver doesn't take it well. The waving hand that had been retracted, emerges again, this time with its middle finger raised. It seems this driver doesn't appreciate it being pointed out to him that he nearly killed someone a hundred meters back there.

Oh dear. While the physiological effects of his fright peaked early in one way - the hyper-reality of pure shock - now some other concerning signs are rising. His chest is tightening and his mouth is drying. He is angry and frustrated and a bit panicky. [E@L would like to point out that in this region (not on this road, but near Geelong) a few of the dramatic scenes from the first Mad Max movie were shot, back in the late 70's, and that the movie's ultimate road rage attitude still permeates the traffic culture round here. E@L once had a Geelong acquaintance who cheerfully told him that he always carried a small crowbar under his seat for resolving differences of opinion in these incidences of mild traffic-related personal losses of face.]

As the stream of traffic moves towards town, E@L is himself driving a little closer to 100 than to 90, perhaps because he is now so rigid with tension, and noting that the urgent need for speed that van had before is not that important after all, and E@L is catching up. Oops, did E@L say he was catching up? The van has moved back to the outer (left) lane again, and another set of traffic lights is coming up with E@L still in the right lane. E@L wonders how this will work out if the light turns red - there are two cars in front of the van and one in front of him.

What is the etiquette due to a person who flagrantly tried to kill you and then flipped the bird when you objected to this? He wonders if he should ignore the van (i.e the sensible thing), or if he should he stare hard at the driver with a tightly accusative, seriously affronted face (wrong) - but this is a matter of being a man or a mouse, right? He feels the tension continuing to rise in his chest - wonders if this is another heart attack in the making, or anger, or fear, or whatever - and stomach acid is pouring out prior to a possible confrontation. This could be a suicide decision. He has no perfect knowledge of who is driving this van: He has only seen an arm, a hand and several fingers (at least initially), although he is moderately certain that it is *not* someone's little old grandmother. 

His heart does falter a bit when [as you expected] the lights they are approaching turn red. Slowing down to come to a stop, E@L passes the van's driver window slowly and he foolishly decides to give the driver a look, blank but uncompromising! But the driver is already staring back at him (in anticipation of E@L staring in the first place of course), angry and sneering. He is a big man [as you also expected] with a face like an unscrubbed potato out of which glaring eyes spear hatred at E@L. He appears to be in his mid-forties, his long dark hair is thinning and wild, he has a scruffy beard, and wears a dark shirt. He has turned in his seat to better face E@L whom, in his meek little rental car, goes slowly past, towards a position just ahead of the van. 

E@L sighs deeply. Belches out his acid fumes. Great; The bad guys from Mad Max have all been reincarnated in the van driver.

When the traffic moves forward again, the van has become trapped behind some slower cars (they had better watch out!) and E@L is soon quite a few car lengths ahead of the van. He is able to move over into the left lane, the same as the van, and the speed limit is about to change again, down to 80km/h as the density of suburban industry increases.

He still feels an ache in his ribs and burning of acid, and he needs to let the incident fade away. He chants: little book of calm, little book of calm, trying not to think of the fucking idiot driver, trying to kill him and then getting angry at E@L for just a brief light-flash, little book of calm... Relax, breath out slowly, be calm. Oommmm... Thank god that's over. 

Until... another set of traffic lights turns red. [You expected this as well, right?] As E@L comes to a halt, he sees in his mirror that the van had already pulled out into the right lane again, now on E@L's driver side window. The van, a big van, monstrous, surely too big for this planet, snorting malignant fumes of an infernal internal combustion, approaches menacingly (Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear) and E@L assesses it will stop right next to him. Which it does.   

E@L notices only then that there is decal on the side of the van. It is a small notice promoting a motor-cycle repair service (no doubt provided by the evil driver). In a burst, it dawns on him that the dark shirt on the screaming driver is in fact a leather jacket, perhaps with a bikie group's denim colours on top. [Another quick bit of background for you: Geelong is known for its chronic and frequent motorcycle-gang-related violence, including several recent murders...]

The anger displayed on the bikie's sneering face earlier has only swelled since the last visual-only interaction - he seems to have been steaming up fury to unleash, scalding hot, against E@L. The wild hair and wild eyes are even crazier, his potato face gone to a bright Russet. Leaning over to his passenger-side window, he roughly rattles it down. E@L casually presses the button, once he finds it, on his door and his window slides down with a smooth electronic burr.  

E@L has a fair idea what Mad Max the spud-man is about say, so he instantly runs through a few of the witty responses he can make to the varieties of acerbic invective which are about to be spat from the mouth of this demon with severe anger management issues. Should he tell him to take his anger out on the wife and kids as he no doubt usually does? No. Should he tell him to learn to go fuck himself with various motor-cycle parts? No. Should he suggest that he file a police report if he feels he has been legally slighted by E@L's irrational following of the speed limit? Probably no, also.

So when the potty-mouthed bike-repairman lets fly - and he does most colourfully and effusively - E@L opts for a softly-softly, more passive than aggressive, approach.

"What?" he shrugs, with a slight suggestion of irony playing around his mouth. "What?" he shrugs again. (This is roughly what he meant by the shrug:  What are you so amazingly angry at *ME* for, all *I* did was blink my lights!... You don't scare me!)  

And this interaction goes on for the ages contained in an enormously relativistic three or four seconds, maybe two. 

And when the red-lights go green, as they must, E@L's sweaty fingers seek the window-up button, but before it rises, he looks at the potato-faced man and says loudly, in a voice as close to pleasant as he can manage, "And have a Merry Christmas..."

And so he drives away, satisfied that he will not necessarily be murdered before he gets home, and slightly smugger than he was a few seconds earlier, and also confident that the bikie van driver will have completely missed/ignored E@L's ironic point about Christmas Spirit. Or he'll be still sitting there dumbfounded. Or maybe humbled and apologetic at E@L's devastating implied criticism. Or maybe even angrier than ever at E@L's high-horse arrogant cockiness.

But, whatever, you know? E@L just wants to calm down, he wants the tension to dissipate, he wants to do his shopping - cereal for his mum, milk and bread for his sister, antacid (now required) and a AED for himself. He turns into the next (The Woolworths) supermarket car-park and was pleased to note that the van kept on going up the road towards town. And he sits for a minute in his parked car, breathing deeply, repeatedly and slightly shaking. And he feels for his pulse - he is alive, yes.

"I really didn't need that," he says, with a hand against his chest: in prayer or in defence, he isn't sure. 

Then he thinks: "I just bought a house in this town. Fuck."


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