Eighteen months ago, with the girls out of home and on their feet, and recognising that the marriage had long been a joint venture without passion or significant goodwill, now having little purpose, really being nothing more than a straitjacket housing the two of them, the Boyettes separated. It was mostly Dan’s idea. Eileen didn’t give a shit. This was her firmly stated opinion, except when she was drunk. Which perhaps occurred more often, and occasionally on weeknights, but not anything to worry about.
Dan’s dream was to escape, to root around in the neglected parts of himself, to renew the old Boyette singular and whole and fully-formed, to abscond from the decades of being a husband, one half of a financial and parental partnership. He took leave, bought an old ute and threw a swag in the back, headed up to New South Wales and the Blue Mountains, where he spent a night by a river in a camping ground, whistling and chirping to himself as he built a fire from foraged wood, then doused it and shivered in his tent for six hours. The next day he checked into a hotel and headed down Katoomba St, playing chess with strangers and drinking too much coffee. He did the same thing the next day, and the next, waking up with night sweats wondering where the hell he was and what he had done. In the morning he went out and gazed at the Three Sisters. He bought a guidebook and walked a lot of bush, saw a lot of nature, returned to the town and gabbled at the tourists and townspeople. A chess player sold him some mushies and he tried the camping ground again, watching great creatures roar out of the fire, leering and spitting at him. He roared and spat back, dancing around them, cheering as the ranger vanquished them with buckets from the river, meekly submitting to a scolding and accepting the several cups of tea and a blanket as it all came crashing down on him. When he recovered he drove to Sydney, traded in the ute for a new Peugeot and meandered back along the southern coast to Melbourne.
It was six in the evening on a Saturday, three weeks to the day, Eileen pouring herself a tonic with long fingers of gin when he apologetically let himself in, she shivering at the key in the lock and straightening her back. He said I hope you don’t mind if I… and she shrugged, she asked what did you find? and he frowned, what do you mean? She shook her head, lifting the remote and flicking on the evening news. He shuffled into one of the kids' bedrooms and began to unpack and that was that. He didn’t think to ask what she’d been up to and she didn’t say much to him at all for a while. They threw themselves into work, she as a partner in a small architecture firm working mostly from home these days, he a top figure in a company that built and managed nursing homes. It went on this way, Dan usually working late or eating out. Once he came home tipsy, Eileen was already drunk and he ended up in the conjugal bed again; a week and barely any discussion later it happened again, this time the two of them draining a few bottles of wine as he cooked dinner and they watched telly together. In the morning Dan woke first and Eileen watched him getting dressed out of one eye, then declared I’m going to my sister’s and he didn’t see her for a month. Within a day of her return, she had maneuvered him out of the house. He took a few essentials to a motel a couple of suburbs away. They met for breakfast or lunch on neutral ground most weekends, and talked about how busy they were.
Joseph | 8 Oct 2010
I’m good thanks. You might’ve heard I’m living by myself now, in a loft above my office in the dusty heart of Collingwood, where I feel oddly at home for an Essendon supporter. My goldfish are in the kitchen and I have a pair of quail out back, pecking at a creaky chicken-wire aviary I built one Saturday afternoon.
Life and I are actually in furious agreement these days. It’s almost embarrassing. I want of nothing so much as a little more time.
So I don’t think of you that often, and when I do I wonder why. I must admit I don’t read books like I used to. I hardly ever write at all. Perhaps it’s true that my life was once richer, that these greys would have once seemed black or white. But certainly it was a greater torture, those valleys were abysmal and there seemed to be a lot more rain back then. I can’t imagine my old bones are up for that again.
Well of course not. But Harrow and Murk and Reed and Stipp, they flicked through the water and pock-pocked at the air until one bad winter, when I buried all of them under the magnolias at the back of the yard. The quails built nests in pea straw and gave me speckled eggs for Sunday omelettes, then grew old and perished and were replaced by more, who pecked each other mercilessly and roamed under the grape vine and the cumquat tree through the warm summer months before they were taken by cats. At least I didn’t have to bury them, in my unassuming funerary courtyard — nor old Nick, the rickety Italian shoemaker who tended his vast Carringbush orchard next door, until in that cavernous two-storey cave he coughed and spluttered his last lonely night.
I miss old Nick, who spent most of his life in the place next door. Who I hardly met but once — standing waiting on Christmas day for a taxi to take him to his wife’s hospital bed. She never came back. He wasn’t there next Christmas. I miss my quails and my religious fish, whose religion ultimately and misguidedly was me. I miss Cafe Dreams, where once you could obtain the finest kebabs in Collingwood, but whose business model was fundamentally unsound. Everyone misses Hieronymus the turtle, now splashing madly in the waters of our new place.
I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve thrown up here. I’ve lived and loved and cheered here, been shattered here, been reduced to constituent parts and recomposed here. Have leaned against the walls and muttered to myself here, thrown my arms around kindred spirits here, donated grand and stern lectures about things of very little importance, built things here in meditative silence, things that might define me, or might not. My old bones have acquiesced to all of it.
There are seven of us who gave this place a soul. Two have said goodbye, with less pomposity than this. One I wish had had a better chance, but you move on. New and better things.
Tomorrow we’ll drink and slap the walls and look back over our shoulders and give the old place one last look then close the door for give or take the last time. It’s nothing, just a place a few doors down from John Wren’s old tote and a stone’s throw from pub rock’s old Tote. Nothing, not a place I ever owned, though for a moment there I came pretty close; whose owner will sell it for a shiny dime and give it back to the ‘bush, never to be the same.
It’s just a place where I lived once, for a while. You keep moving, on to new and better things.
Joseph | 28 Jan 2010
Superfluities of box hedge.
The utility of the good china.
Tiles anywhere outside a bathroom.
Unconventional approaches to storing cookware.
Being asked to sit with my back to a window or door.
The arc of a door's swing vis-à-vis the edge of the bed.
Spectral malignancies generated by other people's tastes in rugs and runners, even after these have been removed from the scene of the crime.
Hairline distinctions between collecting dachshund ornaments and becoming one of those nutty middle-aged ladies who hordes things that look like chickens.
The propinquity of basic furnishings and vertical perimeters (you know, things being up against walls — what I called 'abutment' when I declared "The fact is, I just love abutment").
Inconsistencies in the logic used to explain why we'd have more than two of any item of cutlery or crockery (during which debate I was reasonably accused of emotional blackmail and divested of all moral standing in these matters).
Joseph | 18 Dec 2009
You know, if I could go back fifteen years, to before I was properly accountable for my actions, I would tell my sixteen year old self three things. Don't be too careful about making promises, don't be too careless about making apologies, and carry on.
Joseph | 15 Jul 2009
I have to make a confession. I am somewhat cantankerous. Now I know this will be surprising coming from one of such a sunny disposition, like discovering that Father Christmas isn't real. And sure, like anyone I'm animated by romance, good cheer, fine beer, intelligent conversation, and oxford commas. But mostly I'm burning with unbridled rage for inanimate objects and abstract concepts, and not infrequently, humans.
For a while now I have been documenting these furious obsessions on Twitter. But we all know that Twitter doesn't scale, and it surely doesn't scale to my intermittent infernos of pique.
So I have built a tool. I call it What's Annoying Joseph. Colloquially it is known as The Fuck Off List, or FOL. Check in occasionally to commune with my spiteful side. You can even subscribe to the RSS feed for regular and pithy servings of bile.
Joseph | 17 Jun 2009
I'm back in the United States of America, seven months to the day since my last visit. The first time it took me thirty years. The flight was 23 hours long. All durations are interminable in some way or another.
If you enjoyed American Diary, I humbly present American Diary II: L Train to Brooklyn. You know what they say about sequels.
Joseph | 27 Oct 2008
Written for The Business Spectator, where it may appear in edited form.
The first debate brings to an end the silly season in every US Presidential election year. The trash-talking at the weigh-in is finally concluded, and the boxers are called to engage. 60 million citizens tune in, some clutching their tickets, some waiting for particular key assurances, some just wanting a winner to be declared. The climactic denouement to the election cycle is begun.
This debate was supposed to be on foreign policy. There was a rare consensus a week ago between the candidates — McCain hoped begin with his undeniable strong suit, and Obama was happy to have the focus narrow on domestic issues in October. Then, a crisis on Wall St intervened, and suddenly McCain wanted out. He ‘suspended’ his campaign, called on his opponent to do likewise, postponed the debate, and charged to Washington. Of course, his ads continued to air, his running mate was actually more talkative to the press, he himself held numerous TV interviews, and posed for photographers on Pennsylvania Avenue. Other than failing to appear on Letterman, and almost dodging this debate, it’s difficult to determine what was actually suspended.
But this was supposed to be his night, and though his pre-conditions (a word to which we’ll return) for enjoining the debate were not met, it surprised few when some hours beforehand he confirmed his attendance. He needed to: having consistently tracked several points behind in the polls since the start of the summer — short-lived bounces in dramatic news cycles notwithstanding — and after trampling across the delicate bailout negotiations in Washington yesterday, this was his big opportunity to lay a claim on the presidency, debating in the area of his clearest advantage.
So how did he do? Okay, given that the topic took a while to arrive. This debate was inevitably hijacked by the financial crisis. Almost half of it was consumed by the pressing economic questions. The candidates were invited to stake out a position on the bailout, and neither exactly did. Obama put forward some constraints on the release of federal funds, arguing for greater regulation, declaiming the economic management of the Bush administration and tying McCain to it by his voting record, and cautioning against golden parachutes for executives while Main St was hurting. McCain said “sure, I’ll vote for a measure,” but what was the measure? He meandered into populist pastures, attacking the rising trend in Congressional earmarks, which while politically sensitive have a very doubtful link to the causes of the country’s economic plight. When the topic is a US$700 billion subsidisation of Wall St, it seems naively disproportionate to be railing against a $3 million earmark for the study of bear DNA in Montana.
Somehow from this extended diversion into earmarking, a productive discussion of tax policy was salvaged. Obama reiterated the middle-class support he intended by his taxation reform, and goaded McCain into an unabashed defence of his proposed $300 billion in tax incentives to business. They traded the first direct blows (“Ask him about his definition of ‘rich’,” McCain muttered without elaborating), with Obama appearing to score most of the points. Asked to explain how the $700 billion would affect near-term budgets, McCain delivered a startlingly specific proposal: a ‘spending freeze’ on all government programs other than defence, veteran’s aid and legal entitlements. Obama’s answer was more equivocal — some budgetary expenditures would have to be delayed until this investment delivered returns.
Renewable forms of energy exercised much of the candidates thoughts on the future of the economy. After the home foreclosure signs, the ‘pain at the pump’ is the presaging symbol of economic concerns in this election year, and Obama in particular spoke at length on the promotion of these industries. McCain underlined his opposition to ethanol subsidies — in doing so perhaps ceding the swinging mid-western cornfields of Iowa — and his newfound embrace of off-shore drilling. Before the Republican refrain of ‘Drill baby drill’ could get a real airing however, Obama brought it into stark relief. America has 3% of the world’s oil reserves, and consumes 25% of the world’s production. “We can’t drill our way out of this problem,” he announced.
Oil was the unifying, understated theme of the debate that followed, which was the debate McCain originally wanted: foreign policy. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Georgia dominated the discussion; other areas of particular American interest — Israel, North Korea, Latin America — drew only tangential remarks. Cuba went unmentioned, and though China’s emerging influence was addressed in the context of America’s ballooning debt, the wider implications of that relationship were largely ignored.
McCain claimed Iraq and the success of the surge, and Obama sought to emphasise the centrality of Afghanistan in America’s attempts to curb terrorist activity — that Bin Laden had not been ‘captured and killed’, that Iraq had been a misadventure, that Pakistan was a recalcitrant ally in controlling Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Here the candidates each found the slogans for which this debate will likely be remembered. McCain began sentence after sentence with “What my opponent doesn’t understand...”, underscoring the perceived experience gap effectively. Obama took McCain to task for supporting the Iraq war: “You were wrong. You were wrong. You were wrong.” Probably the hardest hit and the best sound-bite.
Though at times irritable, it was a substantive discussion. McCain was nuanced in describing the ground situation in Waziristan, north-west Pakistan, where local leaders had largely ‘inter-married’ with terrorist organisations. Turning the tables, he managed to portray his opponent as too gung-ho about American intervention in the region. Arguments over the Georgian crisis were not as varied as they were fierce: McCain’s support for Georgia was blunt, and he perceived that the Ukraine might ultimately be the real epicentre of the ongoing tensions among the former Soviet states. “An aggressive Russia is a threat,” declared Obama, one that demands “a sharp international response.” But the United States needed to avoid a Cold War mentality, to recognise some shared aims — particularly the management of nuclear armaments, which should not find their way into terrorist hands. You don’t look into the eye of Russia and try to find its soul, he said. McCain was incendiary: “I’ve looked into Putin’s eyes and seen three letters: KGB.”
On the handling of ‘rogue states’, specifically Iran, the answers revolved around a willingness to sit down and commence some level of negotiating. It all hung on the distinction between ‘pre-conditions’ and ‘preparation’. The Republican saw any presidential contact with rogue states that was made without pre-conditions as legitimising. The Democrat argued that a lot of low-level preparation would necessarily precede any meeting between heads of state, but that imposing US will before agreeing to commence discussions was ineffectual. This is perhaps the most substantial ideological distinction on foreign policy posture between the candidates, and the debate grew heated over Henry Kissinger’s views on the matter, but it’s unclear whether it’s a vote-swinger. Americans tend to let their President assume whatever stance he thinks befits the international situation. But McCain’s play is narrowly directed at Florida’s pro-Israel Jews, and Obama is making a more blanket appeal to common-sense. It’s likely to be a wash.
One of the surprising aspects of this debate, and of post-debate commentary, is how substantive it has been. Appearance and ‘electability’ assessments took a back seat. The height disparity was voided by camera angles, both men wore bad ties, McCain in particular struggled with eye contact, and wore no flag pin on his lapel. Obama had a habit of grinning at McCain’s criticisms that may have been ill-advised. US presidential debates are commonly processed this way: often the analysis that emerges, that propels the media narrative forward through October, concerns demeanour. And this debate was not completely high-minded, there was squabbling over voting records, and glossing over important issues. Nonetheless, after a week at the circus, this was a business-like rendevous.
The initial reactions were mixed. Trading markets like InTrade and Iowa Electronic Markets awarded points differently and barely significantly. The CBS News post-debate poll gave it to Obama by 18 points — 22 points on economic issues, but McCain claimed a six-point edge on Iraq policy. Commentators sat on the fence, declaring a ‘tie’ and a ‘draw’. This is probably how it will be received by the voters. But the question remains for McCain: after a bad ten days, does playing to a no-result on his home turf work in his favour, given his persistent gap in the polls? It’s hard to see how.
Joseph | 27 Sep 2008
(Taxi for one from Brunswick — $13 + $7 tip.)
1 stubby of Coopers Green, 1 magnanimous stubby of Melbourne Bitter for the guy talking to you when I arrived — $9.50
2 x Mountain Goat Hightail — $16
2 x Mountain Goat Hightail — $16
1 Mountain Goat Hightail, 1 glass water — $8.50
2 glasses the Pinot Noir, sorry I'm afraid we are out, okay the Burges Shiraz, there is also the Cab Sauv, that doesn't have a glass price, it is the same sir, very well the Cab Sauv... ahem... you know it is cheaper by the bottle if you are intending to stay around sir, 2 glasses please, no problem — $15
1 small mushroom pizza, 1 small bocconcini pizza, token gratuity — $18.50
Copy of The Saturday Age (woohoo) — $2.40
2 bananas — $1
Soy latte — $3.50
2 hour Zone 1 full fare — $3.50
Raspberry jam, spiced apple and rhubarb relish, 1 rhubarb & cream tart — $12
Sticky malt sourdough loaf, fruit sourdough loaf with caraway seeds — $13
Bottle of Limoncello — $15
Persian Fetta in a tin, goats' cheese medallions in a jar — $26.50
Call goes through to voicemail — $0.30
1 longneck Coopers Green, 1 longneck Coopers Red — $9.50
Taxi for one to Sydney Road — $15? No tip; rather, a tale worth telling.
5 SMS messages, $0.50
4 SMS messages, $0.40
Taxi — $15?
1 bottle The Wanderer 2007 Pinot Noir (tab collected by Inventive Labs)
Hayfever tablets, 4 x Kleenex tissue packets, 1 misc — $33
(Avoided purchasing Eastern Longneck turtle — note to accountant: saved $125)
(More narrowly avoided purchasing 2 seahorses and tank — note to accountant: saved further $380)
Half dozen long red chillies, hunk of ginger, hunk of red ginger, 6 birds-eye chillies, paper bag of button mushrooms, paper bag of portobello mushrooms, 6 sprigs basil, tub of cherry tomatoes, paper bag of baby spinach — $15, give or take
Tub of giant green olives, spoonful of green olives stuffed with fetta, tub of mascarpone figs — $8 dollars exactly
Ball of buffalo mozzarella, large wedge of Watsonia cheddar — $12
1 bag crostoli — $3
20 slices of sopressa, 20 slices of salami, 1 round of black pudding — $18
Mildly disapproving looks from vegetarian party, shrug from unrepentant carnivore — on the house
$0. This is remarkable.
Bottle of pasta sauce, sixpack of Razorback Red Ale, wafer biscuits, bottle of champagne — $39
Then, I suppose to the great relief of Mr Bretherton CPA, we put our wallets away. Sometimes I feel sorry for accountants, whose receipts are this slender window.
Joseph | 17 Sep 2008
Speaking of those United States, the latest edition of Meanjin appears on the streets tomorrow, and carries an essay I wrote back in May on the presidential election. It's called 'Even in Kansas' — ostensibly a review of Don Watson's recent book on America.
Here's a snippet from near the end of the piece:
Part of the enthusiasm derives from the slate of candidates: the studious former First Lady and a visionary African-American, competing for the right to take on the decorated former prisoner of war. Of course there are plenty of citizens caught up in the Hollywood storyline. But greater energy stems from the sense that a series of fault-lines that have increasingly divided the country are being sealed over by this campaign, that the fortresses of the red-state/blue-state years, which by 2004 seemed like a sectarian cold war, are crumbling in fits and starts. McCain and Obama are tussling over independent voters, taking a different tack to the Rovian philosophy of energising the base, and both could lay some claim to post-partisan political outlooks, if the term weren’t mostly meaningless in an active Western democracy. McCain, in fact, has had to back-pedal from his monicker as a maverick, to prove his Republican heart, and he will have to wear the charge of Bush Mk II from Democratic campaigners, though it’s not entirely a fair one. Obama has a surer base, although he too has to mend the rifts of an arduous primary season. His proclivities lie in reconciliation, even to the detriment of his political fortune, as when in January he found himself under pressure in Reno, Nevada, for telling a newspaper’s editorial board that “the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time” and that “Reagan changed the trajectory of America... in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” They were reasonable, even illuminating observations, but Hillary, campaigning to a more traditional wisdom, turned them to her advantage.
The entire edition is exceptional — my part the least of it — and I'm excited that with Sophie Cunningham at the helm, Meanjin seems to be turning a corner.
Joseph | 31 Aug 2008
Introducing 'These United States' — a Melbourne Writers' Festival panel discussion with Dennis Altman, Don Watson and Philip Gourevitch last Friday night — Peter Clarke noted with a glint in his eye that Hurricane Gustav is scheduled to crash into New Orleans around the time President Bush will give his speech at the Republican Convention. The audience chortled merrily.
It's important to get this right. You can say that the United States exercises undue influence over Australia's actions on the world stage. You can say that Australian culture is unreasonably dominated by tablets handed down from that foreign mount. I think it's vital that you say these things, that they're not said enough.
They weren't said much on Friday night. When a man like Philip Gourevitch (with whose oeuvre I'm only vaguely familiar) is launching repeatedly into an impassioned defence of his nation's role in the world, against a string of barbs and unironic comparisons with China — you have to realise that your taunts have become extreme, if not idiotic. Absolutely, wish for freedom from our cultural and political fawning. But don't relish schadenfreude.
Joseph | 31 Aug 2008