The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.
It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.
We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.
I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.
He aged within the silences of our stilted conversation. His eyes were those of a man who’d seen his kingdoms fall and the survival mechanisms of such pain had turned him into a statue. Although he was outwardly pleasant and patient there was no one there. He was a ghost haunted by himself but chained to a place that had been familiar in his real life. I wondered if like other theories of ghostlore he was doomed to act out his past mistakes over and over again until they revealed something he hadn’t known before. And replayed to the incessant drumbeat of “If only I’d done this. If only I’d done that. If only…If only…
The dark circles beneath his eyes told me he didn’t sleep much and that the night was rarely his friend. To him there was no morning, afternoon or evening only awake time and dozing time.
It was those eyes that still haunt me to this day. They told me they knew the secrets of this life and that the knowing of such things begats a penalty far beyond any pain most humans experience.
He said his best writing came to him at 3am which was God’s favourite time to speak through us, when the night is still and the silence is that of eternity. The world at momentary peace with itself and you feel you can hear God’s breath within the comforting embrace of darkness. Such were the fleetingly magic moments when inspiration struck him.
He felt he was no longer a person, but a vessel. He had worn himself out in his search for a lasting kind of love and knew now that it was not written as part of his destiny. Hence he no longer sought it for it only carried disappointment in its train. and such disappointment sometimes took years to wash away. A penalty for those who cared too deeply. Furthermore he now feared he no longer contained the capacity to feel the emotions of normal people, and wondered why God had spared him and taken so many others. Sometimes it crossed his mind that the lucky ones died young, still hopeful with dreams intact. He mused that perhaps that old saying was true, “God calls home first those he loves the most.”
These days he liked to walk in the rain. It made him feel something.
From the mansions of sadness
To the bums on the street
From the highways of loneliness
To the halls of defeat
I’ve watched your ascendance
The road I never took
Girl, you’ve come a long way
On a smile and a look
From the poolside of stardom
To the kids on the run
From the mountains of compassion
To the things never done
I’ve watched your progression
With an assassin’s eye
I could have been there too
But my heart doesn’t lie
There are stars in cars on every corner of this town
You’re gonna need a lot of help
When you finally come down
You’re slept with the Caesars
And you’ve dined with the Czars
But none of them told you why
This prison has no bars
From the towers of power
To a broken man’s plea
From the face on the magazine
To the girl you used to be
I’m waiting for some answers
Beneath the falling stars
Wish I could’ve warned you
This prison has no bars
He came with love in his heart for every living thing. His innocence had been untouched and his light force shone so bright that crowds gathered to see him but, more importantly, to feel his warmth. By gazing upon him they were somehow changed. “Was this the Messiah?” they mumbled to each other in hushed tones lest they be deemed blasphemous by some. For some can find darkness in every hope, every wish, every prayer.
And when this man spoke it brought some to their knees, others to tears. It was as if the calmness in his voice could heal every hurt and fear that had weighed them down and they were now somehow lighter.
The taking away of such anguish even brought back sight to the blind. As if all they had needed was to believe in something and were being granted the ability to see the world anew. Men who had walked too many lonely dead end loveless roads and were now crippled, found that they could walk again. And after those first awkward unsure steps they inched closer and closer to him growing more confident and accepted with each one until they were in his arms, and the safety and strength of unconditional love made them sob for the joy of each precious moment. Time that they had, until now, misinterpreted and cursed for their burdens, and wasted, was now rediscovered and rejoiced over. All things were possible again.
In his face they saw no judgement, no impatience, no pity, only love. And his love became contagious among the people and they sang his praises.
He had not come to destroy the Romans, or hand out weapons, or preach hate. He was here to give meaning to our lives. What was the meaning of life? Love. For love opens the door to joy. And its light extinguishes all shadows.
But there were those, the shadow people, who were angered by us learning the meaning of existence and saw that this teaching could undermine their power over us. For they ruled by fear and threats, both of which were rendered insignificant when the masses walked proudly in the sun again unchained from their own mental limitations.
So they arrested this man, this dangerous man, beat him, whipped him, ridiculed him and his suffering, and sentenced him to an agonising death for the crime of telling us to love and forgive each other.
And in his final conscious moments he forgave those who had plotted his death, and the ignorant who had killed him. To this day it remains the greatest triumph of the human spirit.
Perhaps he was drawing evil into the light so that the world could recognise its face?
One of my earliest memories was of Johnny Wheeler volunteering to take me to the barber for my first haircut. At that stage I had long golden curls that were my Mum’s pride and joy. Johnny took me to his mate Carl the Barber and gave instructions to the stylist. This was quite an adventure for me. I wasn’t used to leaving St. Kilda. Well, certainly not in such a grand manner, like the passenger seat of Johnny’s MG convertible, with the hood down, and travelling all the way to the wilds of Carlton.
The next thing I remember is returning home and my mother shrieking when she saw my shaved head. I looked like an inmate of Auschwitz. Such was Johnny’s sense of humour. My mum ran Johnny out the house screaming, “And don’t come back!” Instantly followed by the slamming of our front door. I remember it being a particularly cold winter that year.
Fortunately Johnny didn’t take my mother’s words to heart and did come back. How could you not forgive him? He was Johnny. He was part of our family.
Another trick Johnny took great delight in was walking behind me and at the most inappropriate moment stepping on the back of my heel, causing me to step out of my shoe, and fall over. I was known as Shoeless Frank for some years as I stumbled around St. Kilda. Johnny was very well aware that, even for my young age, I had a very large vocabulary of swear words and that each incident would be met with me giving him a spray of abuse that’d make a sailor blush. They say in comedy, timing is everything. Well Johnny would perform this shoe trick every time we passed a priest or a nun. As a result, I think I’ve had my soul prayed for by more priests and nuns than anyone in history.
What bonded Johnny and I later on was our mutual love of music. Well, obsession. All the classics. Sinatra, Lennon, The Stones, Kristofferson, Elvis….When we talked about the King we were not discussing British royalty. There was only one King.
When he was running the nightclub Silvers he gave me a job there as a dee jay. Probably because he knew I’d play all the records he loved. It was a golden time. Johnny was at the peak of his game, and there was no better night club manager than him. No matter how packed the place was, and it was the hottest spot in town at that time, Johnny could always find his friends a table. He was genius at it.
Later on, when he was managing the Weathercock in Carlton, I visited him one day for a drink and met my future wife. Still, I held no grudges against Johnny.
Y’know, Johnny once said to me, during a bad patch in my life, it doesn’t matter that you get knocked down, the mark of a man is that you get up again. “You may count to seven over me, but never ten.” They were the final words of Les Darcy and no one took them more to heart than Johnny Wheeler. He lived them.
You see, Johnny was a fighter. He’d fought title holder George Bracken in the featherweight division and had gone the distance. But his greatest bout was his last few years where he took all the punishment Life could throw and – to the astonishment of us all – kept getting up. He was an inspiration to me and I’m sure to all of us that had the privilege to call him friend.
Forget all this global warming stuff, the world will be a colder place without this man.