I have long suspected my old aunts of having a screwball morbid streak in an Arsenic & Old Lace fashion, since every story they tell ends with a wretched death; but I’ve since realised that an incredible number of Shitsvilles have indeed died tragically, and that whenever history is viewed in its entirety the sunshine stories are few and far between, so you can’t blame them really; the wonder is that there is any glint of hope left in their old eyes. As we go through the address book looking for relatives we can sponge off, I have been forced to strike out half of the entries. To the woes of Nephew Roger (shot), Cousin Becky (eaten), Cousin Brunhilde (drowned) and Twin Brothers Alfonso & Beau (DTs, after they caught an infection fighting over a horse), we must add Uncle Arthur, who was crushed by rocks (“Rocks or stones, I can’t remember which…” says Aunt Tatiana), Uncle Branwell (laudanum poisoning or suicide), Uncle Evelyn (a General) who was shot in the back leading his troops in a drill, he had made such a tit of himself in camp, and my great-great-great Uncle Nicky who was artlessly deposed after sending 1700 Russian soldiers marching into war without boots. Untimely deaths must be a family tradition: indeed my own father will probably suffocate upside-down in a full-body cast having had all of his bones broken by the fabulous Las Vegas mafia; Mother will live forever (and that is another kind of tragedy) but her sister Rosemary, we must recall, was ended by a bear trap; meanwhile I can’t expect to go on making enemies with vegans the way I do and still live to a grand old age.
In spite of appearances I haven’t spent the last seven days in the parlour with my aunts eating teacake and clock biscuits: in fact I have been concerning myself overly with their real estate problems, as I do not intend to live the rest of my life with a triptych of antique aunts ensconced in Shitsville Ranch amongst the mid-century bric-a-brac. Even though I was the mayor and primary land holder of Shitsville, TX for a brief tenure, a girl of my age can’t reasonably be expected to know much about property law. And so short of going out to work, foregoing Scotch or oiling up my hog’s leg to hold up the mail train, I have been doing everything in my power to raise the money for a lawyer.
Yesterday I was desperate enough to ring my mother: I haven’t spoken to Mother since the same time last year. I opened the conversation with a neat reminder that Thursday would be my birthday, and she was full of some very Mother-like wisdom, namely: “I can’t reasonably be expected to remember your birthday years after the event… Truth be known I can barely remember the actual day of your birth, being as I was doped to the heights & the memory deeply repressed in the years after; it occurs to me now that I was barely there at your conception, and chances are good that the man you think of as your father wasn’t there at all.”
After I said, “Thank-you, Mother. I hate you,” and hung up, it occurred to me to ring the man I think of as my father: Archie Shitsville. He lives in Las Vegas, not just because it is a gambler’s paradise, tax haven and sort of elephant graveyard for fallen movie stars. But Archie could not come to the phone because he was on a roll (the bell boy said); days later there was a perceptibly maudlin return call with Archie pleading poverty in a gin-cracked voice that was slightly muffled due to him being face down in three foot of hot pink shagpile (it works like a mop head to soak up the sweat and tears). The Mafia were threatening to break one bone a day until they got their money, so he was no use and will be even less use in days to come sans an essential number of bones. Meantime Brooks has been over again stuffing every visible cranny of the house with sticks of dynamite, using far more charge than is strictly necessary I must say but apparently he can afford to be generous with council funds.
Now if you are wondering what happened to my many millions & glorious Deco villa with sixteen miles of pure aqua sea view, and why I couldn’t just let the aunts live there with me or sell some of my trinkets to pay the council rates, you should know that I have always subscribed to the theory that it’s better to sell your food and buy something to starve with and don’t intend to change my mind on that point this late in life. In any case last September my house was tragically incinerated along with my pet peacock Sebastian Gas (less tragically).
As you’ll know from being a dedicated reader of missshitsville, Sebastian was a serial- killing, finickitty bitch of a peacock. Anyway, it turned out that one of the many millions of small animals and birds which he mercilessly slaughtered was in fact a mythical phoenix. After the bloodbath Sebastian had dragged the corpse by its ankles into the atrium, where it lay prostrate for two days before bursting into flames (as a sign of rebirth) and eventually burned the house to the ground. When I finally found his charred remains after days of raking through the rubble and following the scent of Kentucky Fucked Chicken, Sebastian was a sight to see. Gleefully remarking thus, I got into a fuckload of trouble with a bunch of vegans & the RSPCA, who were freakishly unable to understand how anyone could openly rejoice in the accidental barbecue of an animal (obviously because they had never met Sebastian). The real point being I have nothing to pawn, even if I wanted to, not even a soul.
Brooks has of course returned to us today to overawe us with his personality and the scent of burnt plastics (and because Aunt Tatiana keeps inviting him & hopes to entrap him into marriage by stuffing him with teacake). The first day they met, Brooks informed me aunties that he would be purchasing their house for a dollar and made something of this point. “A dollar. A buck. One hundred cents. A single – golden – coin, ” said he, as if to clarify, while we stared at it on the table. Aunt Olga glared and Aunt Stacy sobbed and Aunt Tatiana swooned and started to fan herself with the nearest blue legal document to hand; but Brooks went on in a casual tone, as though it might interest us: “It’s only gold coloured, I’m afraid. They stopped making coins out of actual gold when someone high up finally realised that the metal used was of a greater value than the denomination of the coin itself. Why, when I was a boy,” (he was growing happy in his reminiscences) “Oh, about your age…” (he looked at Aunt Olga, who is 180, then at Tatiana, who is 170, then at Anastasia, who is 160) “Or maybe even younger still…” (gesturing with a handful of tea-cake at me, who is in the bloom of youth) “I was a paper boy! Yes! That’s right! Did you guess? Can you imagine? Me? A wee tike? A teeny lad? A diminutive Brooks – a trickle? He he he,” he giggled. It was unbecoming in a full grown man of his phrenological attributes.
Evidently he had stumbled onto another of his fondest conversation topics. “Every Saturday and Sunday without fail from 1962 to 1973 I cycled over town through snow and sleet for Mr. Forest, the pederast news agent, and for my trouble at the end of each day I got a new shining coin. Then the same night I would sit up in my room in the orphanage with a box of stinking poisons and a little blue fire to melt the coins down into their component metals, which I then sold on to the Gas & Electric Company. And that is how – And THUS –” Mr. Brooks said, correcting himself, and stretching his arms wide, and throwing his voice, as though to achieve a more impressive stance upon his plaid-clad spindle legs – “THUS I MADE MY FORTUNE BY TINY INCREMENTS!”
I pictured him in his suit stinking at school the next day and couldn’t imagine that he was very popular as a lad.
“School–schmool,” Mr. Brooks sniffed. “If you can get one dollar and 2 cents value out of a one dollar coin – that is one hundred and two cents for every one hundred – well, bankers will tell you that that is no joke. And nothing to sniff at. And better than a kick in the pants. Why, when I was your age…”
[Mercifully word processing will allow me to edit his speech from the tale.]
I asked him if there was any way he would consider not taking my aunts’ house, since they were so obviously old, old ladies and had been so generous to the community in their time.
“CERTAINLY NOT!” shouted Mr. Brooks. Then, “Preposterous!” He wiped his palms down the front of his suit to straighten his tie. He jerked at his wrists so a one-inch bit of yellow hounds-tooth shirt showed below the wash-free, iron-free cuff. Then he was calm again. He looked at each of my old aunts in turn and then he looked at me, as though he had forgotten what he was saying and he was coming up from somewhere underwater. There was a queer blue flame flickering at the back of his little eyes. If you were of a cynical nature you might think he was was figuring out how many cents he could sweat out of us.
“What a nice man,” said Aunt Tatiana, when he was gone. She was drooping over the arm of the couch. “It seems but yesterday that we met.” (It was yesterday.) “And now the house feels so empty without him…”
Something I’ve been pondering though the long white nights (high up in the hills on Shitsville Ranch) is to what extent Mr. Brooks’ semi-functional, anti-art dream of a pink, paved and stucco’d Utopia (Brooksview) in which morons are allowed to live as merrily as the Smurfs provided they pay their council rates on time and comply with parking restrictions (and the missionary zeal with which he would inflict this way of life on other people, selling it as something compliant with wanting the best for their ugly spawn) differs from the vision of my own mind’s eye [that’s a terrible expression] in which the worst habits and stupidities of humanity (religion, war, etc.) are contained in Nation-states (such as Queensland and Utah) and given free reign to annihilate themselves and their children. I look forward to the day at the end of all this Technological Pursuit when we’ll have finally achieved something like the Day of Slowness:
Without being told it was painted in 1937 [by Yves Tanguy], you would be hard pressed to know whether it depicts a post-Apocalyptic landscape where the new mutant life-forms still act out heroic narratives, or something like the questing ectoplasm from the beginning of the world. In fact, coming from the Surreal mind, it’s both. As any real estate developer knows, creation and destruction go together.
My Utopia (Shitsfield) is the twinned Technology-Nature vision of the Seventies; the houses would be Sci-fi living pods that would provide vile humans with everything they need, thus eliminating the desire to step outside of their gates and start telling each other what to do. Then the city streets would be able to reclaim some of the quiet and the green of the original world. So you can see our ideas are not that different – except that people like Mr. Brooks don’t hold much with green, running to Green being a natural and stunning remedy for many modern ills but difficult to patent & overcharge for unless you dress it up as some kind of Luxury Spa Retreat.
Mr. Brooks was thoughtful enough to return to us yesterday with a neat catalogue showing the four types of monstrous houses he was planning to build over our dead bodies. “These are all Architect-Designed,” said he. “As opposed to butcher-designed, which is more usual. There are four types, so you can choose one to fit your personality. Our idea of what constitutes a personality roughly corresponds to four different colours of laminate.”
Admittedly I was impressed by the grand number of personalities & colours the architects had managed to come up with between them. Usually functionality and human interests are discreetly dropped off from the bottom of the design brief. I used to work for the Hellmouth of Architecture & Design (TIMR) so I know all about it. The HR Manager was a vague, ergonomically minded yoga devotee, who eventually replaced me with a man named David whom she had met in her yoga class. Jane Doe was eternally drinking large quantities of Vanilla and Rooibos tea (which is packaged like tampons because it tastes like tampons) in order to offset a nervous breakdown, which came on inevitably due in no small part to the horror of working within an award-winning, architect-designed building, where the corridors led nowhere. (It had been thought prudent to install escalators instead of a second set of lifts, so one could spend 40 minutes a day travelling like the Jetsons between 10 storeys, in zig-zags of 55 degree angles, and then have to climb a staircase to the top level at the end of it all. Apparently Level 11 and Level 12 had been added on as an award-winning afterthought; the water from the air-conditioning leaked through the fluorescent lights.)
Besides council working and a hobbyist interest in suit exposition, you won’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Brooks considered himself a bit of a go-getting entrepreneur and had real estate interests and shares in Linoleum, Laminate and Asbestos companies; in fact the entire suburb had been marked by the council for redevelopment and Brooks’ company (Tricklewood) had the Bulldozing contract and an affiliated company (Rivertides) had the design contract and Industrial Waters Ltd. had the building contract. Brooks painted a word picture of Brooksville for us as he stuffed the council bastardy papers (in triplicate) back into his suitcase (which looked like a jerkin).
In Park Lane, Brooksville (all of the streets were named after places in Monopoly, and the street signs had plastic trelliswork decoration) the homes were as sweet and new and pink and clean as puppies’ tongues. The flowerbeds were made (of cellophane); the lawns stretched and yawned greenly, every tree had a white iron bench beneath it and a feed-tray for love-birds amongst the glossy leaves; the hexagons stamped in the concrete driveways were executed with a mathematical precision calculated to prevent weeds growing there, and on any given Tuesday, when Mother in the kitchen was up to her elbows stuffing a turkey, you would be able to stroll around the quiet and pleasant paved estate and see children playing X-box through the chink beneath the puffy pink curtains in the picture windows, by the serenely glowing and buzzing blue light of the television set.