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Saturday, 7 July 2018

I’m a stupid fascist: a meditation on male entitlement

This blogpost started amid thoughts provoked by the death of the two children of John Edwards, the Normanhurst financial planner who on Thursday night used pistols to shoot them dead. The bodies of the teenagers, a boy and a girl, were found in a home in Hull Road, West Pennant Hills. I lived on Boyd Avenue, just around the corner from that house, between October 2001 and December 2005.

It is a quiet area that is located right next to busy Pennant Hills Road, which serves as a conduit for through traffic moving between the M2 and the F3. This road is full of cars that rumble along the thoroughfare at all hours of the day and night. Hull Road runs off it down a hill. Off that runs Dean Street, off which runs Boyd Avenue.

The house I lived in was unkempt and the front yard was always full of uncut grass that was untidy. In the three-bedroom house I lived with several men who had mental illnesses. We spent most of the day inside and on occasion one of us would walk up the street to the Coles on the corner where the shopping centre is, behind the secondary school. I would take a backpack I had bought to Sydney University’s Fisher Library  and fill it up with borrowed books every week or so, so that I could learn more about Jane Austen, whose last novel, ‘Persuasion’, had been in the bedroom of my cousin in the house her father still lived in in Beecroft, just down the road. Uncle Geoff had asked the Northern Area Health Service to find me accommodation after I had returned from Japan one day just before the jets hit the Twin Towers. He had put me up in his house for three weeks.

The men in the house on Boyd Avenue were generally untidy in their domestic habits and the kitchen was often a mess. Dried rings from coffee cups and beer glasses stained the glass top of the coffee table in the living room. Some of the men would hear voices because they suffered from schizophrenia. They might be up late at night walking around the living room talking to themselves. On occasion, we would sit out the back in the garden, which led down to a public park separated from the property by a wire fence, and talk. I finally got my shit together while living in that house and got a job doing technical writing for the University of Sydney.

On weekends, I had the habit of walking to Hornsby through the back streets of Pennant Hills and Normanhurst. There was a big Borders bookshop in the Westfield there that I would visit to buy books to read. As a treat I would eat sushi that I bought at a small kiosk in the food court. After I got a job, I would catch a bus on Pennant Hills Road just near the corner of Hull Road. There was a young woman with a cognitive deficit who also caught the same bus as me at the same time each weekday. She spoke to me once, commenting on the rucksack that I used, one mum had given me, saying that it looked like a woman’s bag.

So I could visualise the house where the bodies of the two teenagers were found. The clean dark there in the absence of movement off the main road. The quiet. The peace. Shot to pieces by a man with a grudge. How could you bring yourself to kill your children, regardless of how frustrated you had become with the legal process surrounding custody of your children?

Yesterday I went to see an exhibition of the works, mainly made on bark with natural pigments, of an Aboriginal artist, at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Rocks. Afterward I went to a café on the main drag and had some lunch. A shepherd’s pie, ships and salad. I also ordered some camomile tea. After eating, I went to the register to pay and I asked if EFTPOS was ok. It was fine, the young man behind the counter told me, and showed me where on the point-of-sale machine the paywave card was to be placed. I held the transaction card with its chip over the machine for a moment and waited for the display to tell me the transaction had been completed. While I was standing there looking down the young man asked me if I wanted a receipt of the transaction. I said nothing, intent on the display, which showed that the machine was still processing the request that had been put through. Then he asked me the same question again, using precisely the same words. This time, I said, “No,” and then I saw that the display showed that the transaction was successful. Sometimes you have to put in your PIN with these transactions.

The whole process reminded me how men feel entitled in their lives. If it had been a female staffer taking my money, she would not have asked a second time if I wanted a receipt, but would have waited until I responded to her first enquiry. Men get impatient and feel entitled to ask a second time if you don’t respond in a way that satisfies them. I find that women are more patient, as a general rule.

On this occasion I had reason to be grateful for this feeling of entitlement, however. After I had paid and had started to turn toward the door of the shop, the man behind the counter pointed at his top lip and said, “You’ve still got something on your moustache.” With a fluid motion, he scooped up a couple of serviettes from a stack on the counter near him and passed them to me as I stood there nonplussed. I wiped my face as I walked out of the store, and put the used serviettes in the pocket of my jacket on the street, where I turned south, walking home.

The problem really comes down to my own obduracy. I am a stupid fascist. I need things to go in order. So I was prepared to tell the sales clerk that I didn’t need a receipt after (but not before) the paywave transaction had gone through. I needed the sequence of events to go in its preordained order before I would open my mouth to speak.

Order is something that Japanese children are taught from an early age. “Jumban!” a Japanese mother might tell her child when some snacks are put out on the table for the kids to eat. It means “Wait your turn!” as much as it means “The correct order”, and people there are meticulous about observing the social niceties. Politeness is morality in Japan, where “Meiwaku kakenai you ni” (“Don’t make trouble for someone else”) is a mantra often repeated for the benefit of the young. I only wish I was more flexible. But I am stupid.

Proof of my stupidity is my inability to follow complex narratives in stories published online. I am a fan of Greg Jericho and usually give his stories a go in the Guardian, but he tends to go too fast for stupid old me. Andrew Elder, the business analyst who frequently takes the media to task on his blog (‘Politically Homeless’), is a writer of a completely different class from me. His sinuous sentences, in which he turns the material at hand to the purpose of reaching his eventual goal, are almost too sophisticated for a dullard like me to follow. So the experience I had with the sales clerk in the Rocks was not without precedent. In fact it was typical of me that I could not at the same time watch the point-of-sale machine and reply to a direct question.

Flirtation has always been completely beyond me. I have never hurt anyone though. I am a physical coward and abhor violence of any kind.

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