THE DANGERS OF SECOND HAND CITIZENS

It has been thought, up until now, that the 7th. Cavalry were committing a cruel and heartless genocide against the Americans Indians. An evil act. Not true. And we can’t believe that of the good guys, otherwise, where would we be? And good people are never confused about who they are. As anyone who knew him will testify, General George Armstrong Custer was a concerned citizen above all else. It has even been suggested by various world famous psychics that, in a previous life, at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the nameless man in the crowd that started the chant, “Crucify him!…Crucify him!” was indeed the spirit of Custer again, our eternal concerned citizen.

In fact you can trace Custer’s previous lives quite easily through history. He triggered the French Revolution by spreading the lie that Marie Antoinette, when informed that most of the people in the street didn’t have bread to eat, responded with “Well let them eat cake.” Not the first time someone has been misquoted for political agendas, and certainly not the last. But let’s not blame Custer, our spiritual Everyman. He was just a concerned citizen doing what he thought was best for all.

The truth about the demise of the American Red Indians is this, and you’re reading it here for the first time, they were killed by a whole bevy of concerned citizens, concerned that the Indians penchant for sending out smoke signals was harmful to the health of non-smokers. Yep, that incredibly dangerous and toxic second-hand smoke theory. Of course it’s never been proven that anyone has ever died of second-hand smoke inhalation, well not unless they have lived their whole life in the smokers room at Hong Kong Airport, that is. But that’s beside the facts. In fact, facts confirm that concerned citizens throughout history have been more dangerous than second-hand smoke.

I remember when I lived in L. A and I was standing outside a restaurant on Main Street, Santa Monica, having a cigarette on the pavement, when a woman jogger saw me and started coughing about 20 metres away from me and continued to do so right until she passed and in doing so made the effort to put both her hands in front of her nose and mouth in case smoke from my cigarette changed course and veered into her breathing orifices. I watched this pantomime with bemused fascination for sometime before yelling out to her, “You are so concerned about your lungs, yet you choose to live in Los Angeles?…Oh, have a nice day!”

I shouldn’t have been angry at her. She was just a concerned citizen. And the product of a long line of concerned citizens. Just as the Klu Klux Klan will tell you they’re just a gathering of concerned citizens. Being aware of this trait, I am now, myself, very concerned when people around me get concerned. I have mental pictures of me hanging from a tree for the amusement of a mob of concerned citizens, or a judge washing his hands and sealing my fate rather than stand up to a crowd of angry and concerned citizens. Or having the cavalry run me off my land and turning to see my home in flames, and my family killed. Or what is left of them. But hey, the culprits weren’t blood thirsty killers they were concerned men who had families and homes of their own.

I have lived through the Civil Rights liberation (allegedly), Women’s Liberation (allegedly), Gay Rights Liberation (allegedly) etc. So, I’m using this forum to announce that I am starting the Smokers Liberation Movement. And at this stage we have not ruled out using violence to get our message accepted. Especially if we haven’t had a cigarette in a while. No longer will we be shunned as second class citizens. Banished from restaurants (even outdoor restaurants), bars, beaches, within 20 miles of a school, football stadiums (and fuck, do you need a smoke when your team is losing!), and planes. Trust me, if I’m on a plane and we’re going down? I’m lighting up. Fuck the fine.

We are told, in no uncertain terms, to go and stand in the rain if we want a smoke, or go up a dark alley (I once said to a waiter who instructed me to do so, “You must’ve misheard me, I don’t want to shoot up, just want a cigarette.”)

It even screws up personal relationships with people, because you are no longer a person, you are a “smoker” and in most cases that makes you as popular as Donald Trump at Hillary Clinton’a Birthday Party.

Even signs seem to scream at you. WARNING – SMOKING NOT ALLOWED!

They even give us our ridiculously priced (in Australia anyway) lethal weapon in packets displaying some of the most horrific images of gangrene feet, diseased black lungs. etc., etc., etc. These images are enough to traumatise you into 20 years of therapy. I now order the “Smoking may harm your pregnancy” – thinking at my age getting pregnant might be the lesser of the illustrated horrors.

One night a woman turned to me in a crowd and said, “You smell of cigarettes!” To which I replied, “And you smell of rudeness.”

I shouldn’t have blamed her. She was just a concerned citizen.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

sketch by Frank Howson

 

 

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REMEMBERING

It was one of those days neither here nor there in the life of Felix Appleton. He had experienced the dizzying heights and the devastating plummets of a life lived in the circus ring of the performing arts. He was often praised as a born performer but wasn’t sure of the truth in that. He hadn’t sprung from the womb singing and uttering funny one-liners. Perhaps his screaming was in tune? He didn’t know and was not about to reinvent his life for the joy of some hungry reporter. If he had a talent to amuse, it had come from pain and the ability to live with it. He used to say, “Show me an artist who hasn’t suffered, and I’ll show you a phoney.”

He was born in a public hospital and taken home in a taxi to a single-fronted weatherboard house in a street not many people walked down. It was in this small modest home that he got to know his parents, both workers who had struggled for their existence and carried the scars of their battles and defeats on their faces as proudly as old soldiers displayed their medals. They smiled with sad faces.and their eyes brimmed with the waters of a joy that’d rarely found the opportunity to flow. Felix instantly fell in love with them and knew he’d found the right home. His parents were that dying breed called good people. Yes, they were tremendously flawed if one was to appoint a critic to write a cold and detached review of their lives, but that critic would’ve missed the value entirely. Like the first critics to review “Citizen Kane” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they would’ve been dismissed as “irrelevant,” “a misstep,” a disaster of epic proportions.” But what do critics know? Because of deadlines they have to rush to judgement and, more times than not, in their haste they miss the point. The true worth of something is judged in time and weighed by the impact it leaves behind in all those changed by having experienced it.

Thus Felix was nurtured through his first steps into this world by two unsung national treasures. He inherited from them the gifts to love with all the loyalty of the poor; the joy in giving away his last coin, cigarette or piece of advice to someone in greater need; the strength to stand by your friend through their mistakes, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. For who among us is not flawed when day is done. As long as there is no meanness in it, all is forgiven. Like the Irish mantra, “No fear, no spite, no envy.”

Oh, and never show your enemies you’re hurting. No one should be
rewarded for their dark actions.

So it was from this environment that Felix went forth into the world. His parents had taken him to Luna Park, and the circus, and to Hollywood movies many times. He had grown to love the lights and the laughter and the collective tears of a reinvented world so much so that he joined it. “Hi diddle-ee dee an actor’s life for me.” He became an actor and acted out all the emotions he had experienced in his little childhood home – all the anger, the heartache, and the humour that can be found in any awkward situation that Life can throw at one.

Felix was praised for his talent to wring insight from any character he portrayed. Was he born with this gift? No, he was born into it. And how could it be called a gift when it comes at such a cost?

He never developed an arrogant ego, for his parents had clothed him in humility. He never cut down a rival due to envy, for he was sure that person’s journey had been as difficult as his. And he never said goodbye to any friend (whether it be man, woman or child) without tagging it with the words “I love you” for he had learnt that in this life we are never guaranteed of seeing that person again.

Felix was now an old man who kept to himself. He hated few things in Life but moving was one of them. It always signalled the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. And as such he not only found it physically exhausting but emotionally draining. He was hoping this last move would be his last. Not that he was morbid. Far from it. He saw a joke in everything, and put that down to the Irish blood from his mother’s side. The ability to get through even the darkest defeat with a funny line. He thought one shouldn’t take this life too seriously, after all, it’s just a long elongated dream. And dreams come and go. He was just about through this dream and hoped he’d performed as well as he could, given the extraordinary circumstances that had occasionally rained on him. And that he’d given more than he’d taken from this world, for he understood that there was a delicate balance to everything and most of the problems in this world are caused by man’s ego arrogantly tampering with that balance. He’d learnt to let it be. To leave affairs of the heart well enough alone. To respect what you don’t understand. And to do no one any purposeful harm.

When he looked back at his life he was now able to smile at not only the good parts but also the bad. For out of every disaster he had learned a huge lesson. And from great lessons learned comes great wisdom. Yes, if there is a God, he thought, he’s a very clever bastard.

Felix didn’t know if he’d be remembered. It didn’t much matter because he’d be dead. And so would all those whose opinions meant something to him. Anyway, who wants a whole bunch of strangers talking about you and dissecting you after you’re gone, and getting it all wrong?

Still, he hoped, if there was another dimension or heaven or universe one goes to, he’d still be able to remember his parents. They were good people. They had given him valuable parts of themselves. And they were worth remembering.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

SORRY FOR NOT SEEING YOU

Sorry for not seeing you but your beauty blinded me to who you really are. With each feature vying for attention it is easy to lose focus as to where perfection ends and heaven begins. Perhaps your beauty just confirms that there is such a thing as heaven, as well as the painful realisation that it will be denied to us on this earth. God allows us to make fools of ourselves in your presence by uttering the wrong word killing every perfect moment, and our chance to have had you. For the way to Him must truly be paved by our humility.

I have walked with wise men and none told how to handle you. Perhaps they were wise enough to know that such a thing cannot be handled as that would reduce it to the grubby conversations of hungry men. Like knowing dissipates the magic from a Houdini trick. But perhaps the truth to why they never prepared me for you was because you had broken them too on their journey to wisdom, stopping only briefly in bitterness – the platform on which we must all kill time, frantically searching the night for any sign of approaching light, waiting for a train that never comes.

I check my ticket stub and notice that I will be seated in carriage D with all the sad men. Old before their time, wearied to exhaustion from striving too hard and too long to have it all.

Why didn’t my mother warn me that I would always end up alone and that my mission in life was not to have love, but to write about it?

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

 

 

THE SEX LIVES OF MONKEYS

I wish you could’ve caught me in my prime. I cared. If you’d known me then you may have stayed. But I ripped my heart out and gave it to others. And they never returned it. Proving they didn’t have one of their own.

Like many young male idiots I was driven by sex to destinations unknown. Then one day I grew up to realise that a lot of energy is expended on so little in return. Kings have abdicated their kingdoms, presidents have lost their power, and mere mortals have squandered their wealth, their homes, their families, their reputations, their sanity – for what? Sexual relief in the arms of someone you will lose along with everything else you held so dear. It’s a funny little game isn’t it? But if it grants you a brief solace in a mad world I won’t be throwing the first stone. Or the last.

There are those who gain power by being desired. For a time, until gravity ends their reign. I no longer play the game so I can objectively appreciate their performance for what it is.

“It done been beaten outta me, masta, and you can have your heavyweight crown back while I lay on this canvas and block the sun from my eyes.”

It seems the path to God is through defeat and humility. So having all our childish dreams killed one by one is ultimately good for us. Is that how it works?

There are those of us who evolve, painfully, past this. But all wisdom comes at a cost. Those who resist it are forevermore locked in a futile dance finding comfort in the all too familiar steps but haunted by the sad drum beat realisation that it all means nothing and nobody really cares anymore.

In fact you may as well be speaking about the sex lives of monkeys for all anybody cares.

I was reluctantly and violently thrust into this world. Welcomed into this cold unfriendly place with huffs and puffs and blood and screaming. I didn’t ask for all this fuss and, if the truth be known, have spent most of this life looking for an exit door. At parties or events I never say goodbye. I like to just slip away. Like my mother before me. No prolonged goodbyes or grand farewells. No fuss.

When my time comes and the lights dim on whatever this was, I may look around with the excited expectancy of a child on Christmas morn, to see if you’re there. Of course, you won’t be. But it’s okay as you have hardened my heart to disappointment. I guess that was the lesson you brought me. All is forgiven. All is forgiven. For it was hard to be wise and in love at the same time, wasn’t it? Let’s just say we played our parts well in this fucked scenario written and conceived by a higher power when they were drunk. The plot had its holes and we fell through most of them and landed, arguably, as better people. Broken, but better. Maybe we will meet again on another stage and realise that everything that went before was just a rehearsal and that this time we’ll get it right, performing without masks or baggage or ego or all those things that got in the way of who we really were.

“What if you could have any woman in the world but you only wanted one and without her Life wasn’t much good anymore?”

Well buddy, to put it bluntly, you’re fucked. Humbled, but fucked. But come on in the water’s fine and you’ll find most of us here. Trapped in the stilted delusional conversations about something and someone that wasn’t real. You’ll find that your mind has worked overtime adapting what really happened to something you can vaguely live with. Repairing the stab wounds to your heart, and back, and ensuring that you only remember the good parts from a movie that at the time proved to be unsatisfactory and a time waster, but has grown in stature through repeated viewing. If you allow your mind to rewrite too much you will eventually cross over into insanity from whence there is no return. So forget your troubles come on get happy and join all the sad old men at the far end of the alley. We have no families anymore other than the family of man. No one seeks anything in our eyes and in return we search for nothing in theirs. Accept the truth and you are free of the chains that bind us to this groundhog existence. Being alone will not kill you. Being lonely will. And all that uncashed joy you held in reserve for that mirror partner that never came, try and spend it finding small joys in the simplest of things. A cup of coffee, a conversation with an old loyal friend, the smile from a child, an act of kindness, a sunny day, and a pretty young woman that you want nothing from other than her faith that are one of the good guys.

Yes, all is forgiven. But take the time to forgive yourself too. You owe it to your mind and your spirit to do that.

And as for that delusional movie that you keep replaying in your mind? In reality it wasn’t that good. Tape over it.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

painting by Frank Howson

THE DREAM IS OVER

So many battles I've had to fight alone. Betrayed by those I loved
the most, they were also the ones I had been fighting for. The
weariness of this realisation makes you weak at the knees and 
yet you must continue to fight or else the duplicity of their 
motives will win the day. You become hollow inside, not by cancer, 
but by the fact that something deep and magical and life enhancing 
has closed down never again to be reignited. You feel lighter as 
you inch closer to death. All that remains on most days is a shell. 
This is when you are called upon to become an actor and give
'em what they want. A performance. A great performance because it 
is so convincing most people think you still function and have risen 
above the hurt and damage of the shadow people. But then again, your 
life, or what's left of it, hangs on the thread of your ability to 
push on through the small talk and darkness of "What if...?" without 
puking on someone's expensive shoes. So many amongst us are asleep 
at the wheel and do not understand or care about what is at stake. 
Love is a distraction. Pain is the only honest constant and it has 
become your friend. You cannot be hurt anymore, which is 
disappointing to a lot of women. You cannot be brought down any 
further, which is crushing to many men. You cannot be bought, 
because there is nothing you need. You cannot be humiliated 
anymore, which is pleasing to God. For now all layers of bullshit 
and make-believe have been ripped away. You are free now. God 
almighty, free at last! You once had a dream too. But now you 
have awakened to see the game for what it is. Nothing can scare 
you now. You are impenetrable. This makes you frightening to those 
who only operate by spreading fear amongst us. And at the dawn of 
our demise you are noticeably at peace. And powerful again.


(c) Frank Howson 2017

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Once I saved 
While others played
I came fresh faced
In a suit of blue
Sacrificed on the altar 
Of others' agendas
Sent scurrying to find
Things that were never there
Was given love
Only to have it taken away
Was made to laugh
Until I cried
A man of peace
Hardened enough to kill
I always went crazy
In the final reel
"Since I lost my baby"
Is all I play
On every jukebox
That I find
In this burnt out wasteland
Of broken hearts
Paperback dreams
Second hand lives
Mercy murders
The billboards tell the truth
There's nothin' down here worth savin'
We've filled our lives with shit
Auctioned off paradise
And gambled away the money
The writers get degraded
And then ignored
They're resented for knowing too much
About what makes things tick
Now there's a lonely kid
Livin' on the street
With dreams of makin' it big
But little does he know
He's already dead
Dead to the world
Dead on arrival
At the feet of the paedophiles
And the worshippers of Satan
Who shape shift
Into human beings
Regret is my supper
For turning my face away
From all the horrors I have witnessed
That killed me
Piece by piece
Believing politicians
That didn't even believe themselves
Until it was too late

(c) Frank Howson 2017





 

ST. KILDA

I was born in St.Kilda
Lived most of my life here 
Travelled the world searching for what was
Probably already found
And like the prodigal son I returned
My face lined with lessons learned
To the only place that ever felt to me like home
My childhood was spent in Fawkner Street
It was for a time my whole world
Among our neighbours were ordinary battlers
Sly grog salesmen
Gamblers
and gangsters
Public enemy Number one
Norm Bradshaw nicknamed The Beast for good reason
Lived there
When he wasn't on the run
So did his in-laws The Shannons
and our next door neighbour, the Aussie equivalent of Bonnie Parker - 
Pretty Dulcie
Colourful big-hearted contradictory characters
I remember the night that several rival gangsters
Kicked in Pretty Dulcie's front door and walked down her corridor 
Spraying gun shots
One stray bullet came through our wall
and if it'd been a little further to the left
Somebody else would be standing here today
The 6 o'clock swill at the Barkly Hotel
Produced enough colourful characters and street poetry
To fill a thousand pulp fiction novels
There was no better grounding to be a writer or an actor
Than to stand on the corner of Fawkner Street and Barkly
at sunset
And watch the cavalcade of originals spew out onto the street
and wander home in what seemed like a slow motion drunkard's dance
Two steps to the left, three to the right
Mr. & Mrs. Kilpatrick owned the corner Milk Bar
And were the moral guardians of the neighbourhood
If you were having a poor week
They'd give you supplies and keep a tab
You survived on your word and good name
In those days people trusted each other
My father worked for the St. Kilda Foreshore for over 30 years
His little office was under the biggest dip in Luna Park's Scenic Railway
and he looked after all the beaches as well as the O'Donnell Gardens
The latter was where a lot of my boyhood was spent 
Playing while he worked
In my mind recreating Sherwood Forest, the Alamo and every John Wayne movie
Hiding in the bushes, climbing trees, attacking the cavalry
Developing an imagination
Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Davy Crockett and Spiderman
I fought beside them
Blood brothers every one
We used to save the world before each day was done
My mum worked across the road at Candy Corner
To me, in my memory, still the best lolly shop in the world bar none
And my dad, during the summer months
Would work a second job at night
Running the ferris wheel at the sideshows to the right of the Palais
My first public appearance was on the stage of the St. Kilda Town Hall
at the age of seven, performing "Give My Regards To Broadway"
Although to us, Broadway may as well have been the moon
Years later my father actually died in an ambulance outside the Town Hall
It was a fitting place for him to leave this world
For you see, our world was St. Kilda
It was engraved in our hearts
Everyone I have mentioned, other than me
Have gone now
They are ghosts that haunt these streets
and boulevards and beaches
You hear their faraway laughter on the wind
and see their outlines in the mist of dawn
The spiritual guardians of a place that was every bit as unique
as Times Square, or Soho, or Wanchai
Every weekend people from all over Melbourne would jump a tram
Or a train and come to St. Kilda
To see the freaks, hear the music, eat the exotic European food, 
Rub shoulders with the ten most wanted
Poke fun at the bohemians 
Sneak a guilty sidewards glance at the painted ladies
Eat the cakes of a thousand calories
And parade along the promenade with someone special
Please, for sake of all those ghosts,
Don't let the soul of St. Kilda die
Atmosphere can't be planned or created
It is a magic
Like stardust from the Gods
And once it's gone
It's gone
It can't be explained
And it can't be fabricated
It's not a trick of Houdini
There is no recipe
It can't be reduced to something mortals can understand
But at the heart of it there is a truth
People don't come to experience a strip mall
Even if it has been exquisitely designed
They come to experience Life 
That to me is St. Kilda
And our Art
Tells the world who we are
What we think
And where we come from
And like Davy Crockett at the Alamo
I'll defend that till the end

(c) 2017

(Speech delivered at the opening of the St. Kilda Arts Crawl 
September 21, 2017.)