fatman Find the clues!

Friday, June 29, 2007

1,001 Things To Do With A Cadaver

Let's say you have access to a whole lot of dead bodies. It doesn't matter why. You've just stumbled upon a whole...bunch of them. They are just there. Clogging up the driveway or something, just slowly decomposing. A collection of skin, muscles, limbs, eroding to bacteria as the days go by, organs liquefying, hair and nails and teeth falling out. Do you call the local Council and ask them to arrange a bulldozer to remove these corpses? Do you shed a tear and wish them better luck in the next life? Or do you, like controversial anatomist Gunther von Hagens, decide to make them into works of art before putrefaction sets in?

Gunther von Hagens: Bringing Sexy back!

If seeing skinned humans isn't your thing maybe von Hagens' 'Discover the Human Body' exhibition isn't for you since there are a lot of flayed bodies on show. However there are an increasing number of people who can sit through autopsy videos while munching happily on pop tarts, thanks to shows like C.S.I. that have so desensitised us to the horrors of seeing homicide victims with their guts splayed all over the shop, that teenagers can often tell us what sort of bullets were used to murder someone with by the exit wounds on the body. In my opinion Dr von Hagens displays all the symptoms of the kind of guys who jack off to crime scene photos...but that may have a lot to do with my prejudices on German people in general.

'Aztec priests used to dance around in the flayed skins of victims in fertility ceremonies for their god Xipec Totec. Tell me those dudes didn't know how to throw a bitchin' party!', I say, a little too loudly on the bus. I mention this to Rohani, who has agreed to come along to this thing. She and I had been talking about skinning dead people last Sunday and it seemed only right to watch it done by professionals. Rohani reads the brochure for the Exhibition and mentions some facts about it, 'It says here that there are "...approximately 160 authentic organs, "orgen configurations" (hyuk, hyuk) and a broad collection of whole-body plastinates-"'
'What's a "plasternates"?'
'Corpsy things. Preserved using the...um...plastinisating procedure.'
'-"offers an unprecedented view of the human body." Do you think there'll be a corpse of a pregnant woman with the baby still inside her? How cool would that be!'

Luke Skywalker was happy resting in the gut of a Tauntuan

The other passengers on the bus stare nervously at each other and edge away, ever so slightly, from Rohani and I. One reason that these folks might have been desperately looking at the outside scenery was that they had no idea where we were heading and may have mistook us for cannibals on the way to the morgue for a bit of brunch. Another reason was they had heard of the 'Discover the Human Body' Exhibition and had heard some of the uncomfortable rumours that surrounded it: namely that Dr. von Hagens used the bodies of executed Chinese criminals. These hurtful, baseless allegations that the eccentric German was buying the corpses of political prisoners such as the Falun Gong (Chinese for: 'Please harvest my organs') by the wagonload hasn't dampened Dr. von Hagens' childlike enthusiasm for his morbid little hobby. Though he has responded publicly to his critics. "Ziss is und outrageous accusation!", replied von Hagens in a press interview, "Vere do these people get off ut saying zese thinks? All my victims..(what's the proper vord?)...subjects gave their bodies willingly. Because they luff. They havink vision. They are luffers of art!"

We step off the bus filled with worried passengers and make our way to the Showgrounds, where the exhibition is taking place. Tickets bought, we go inside....to a pretty lame spectacle. There is fake, plastic vine on the wall. Enya is playing at a low volume in the background. A skinless athlete is in the centre of the room, dead, yet playing basketball. 'Words fail me,' I mention to Rohani who is grinning as she glances around the room.
'I feel like a kid in an abattoir!' she gushes.

Soon we are glancing around at various body parts that have been placed around the edges of the room in glass containers. Most of the display cases have bad descriptions of what these things are followed by a diagram of the body part and (what are presumably) 'WARNING: DO NOT TOUCH!'-type signs written in Korean. Misspelling is rife with most of the exhibits. We stare at shrivelled up bits of liver and think about beef jerky.

Rohani and I come to one of the main exhibits: Skin Man. It is a fleshless guy who is holding his folded skin in one hand, like a matador holding aloft his cape. I stare at- what to my untrained eyes -looked just like a prison tattoo of a knife on his wrist. Rohani reads the description offered out aloud. 'How bad is this? "The skin. This covers your body and prevents your organs from falling to the floor." Well...duh!'

Skinless in Seattle

The rest of the day is spent looking at skeletons riding bicycles, looking at circulatory systems, trying not to bump into kids who were running around while their parents chased them, saying things like, 'Come on Jeremy! Put down that gall bladder right NOW young man!'

Now, I did enjoy myself since I don't often see partly formed children with spina bifida floating around in formaldehyde on a Saturday. But speaking as someone who laid down $23 for an entrance fee, I think the least von Hagens could do would be to supply us with a hobo to bisect on the way out.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Censorship is a Dirty Word

The world has slowly been corrupted by humourless people. Politicians, legal professionals, Boards of Directors, generally anyone who owns a yacht, have been chipping away at the very essence of humanity for a long time. In their staunch belief that things work better in a sterile environment they have put a lot of restrictions on how we conduct our day-to-day activities. Which may be fine in a theoretical sense but when you put it into practise...well, its just plain annoying.

I am talking about spam filters.

For reasons too boring to get into here I had been after some speaker equipment and a microphone for a client. I'd asked for a quote from a stereo hire place and was getting peeved off that I hadn't received a reply. Unbeknownst to me they had sent a quote three days previously and I hadn't got it in my inbox because of our company's overenthusiastic spam filters. Searching through the emails that had been herded into cyber-quarantine I saw scores of unreceived resumes alongside the three day old quote. No wonder we didn't have many replies for that ad we placed a fortnight ago.

I mentioned this to my friend Free Beer yesterday and he said, Oh yeah that happened at my old company as well. I said, That must have been a colossal pain-in-the-ass. It sure was, he mentioned gravely, it meant we couldn't conduct business in a productive way.

Say you're dealing with a Thai company (which they were). You send them an email and you never get a reply. You send another email later on the week and it also disappears. It disappears because the effing spam filters will filter anything with the word 'porn' in it. Now, how many Thai folks have names that have the word 'porn' in it?

'Heaps,' says Free Beer, 'It's like "John". A really common name.*'

Now we've got this company that won't accept any emails that comes from Nattaporn, Patsaporn or Porntip because the dumbfuck spam filter thinks its protecting the delicate eyes of 40-year old, ex-army, Financial Directors from donkey shows.

Not only that, but what they realised in Free Beer's old company is that the Australian branch swore a lot. Constantly. In nearly every email. They needed to vent their rage on a daily basis so they can conduct their business productively.

'If you need to call someone a fucking idiot because they were, indeed, a fucking idiot, the company shouldn't restrict you.'
'Hear hear,' I say in consent, 'You yell, you get it out of your system and then you get back to work.'
'That's right. Say we have a guy called "Bert" who is in charge of shipping. One day, because "Bert" is suffering from senile dementia or he's a raging alcoholic who gets smashed on gimlets during lunch breaks or just for the effing sake of it, "Bert" sends a shipment of...I don't know...medical equipment to Outer Mongolia. A whole bunch of colposcopes that costs an average of 3,000 bucks a piece. An office memo will surely surface within seconds of the mistake being discovered asking "Bert" why Mongolian goat herders are using specialist equipment that are usually used in finding cervical cancer as fence posts.'
'With spam filters the office memo will sound like something straight out of Ned Flanders land. "Did you know that funny, friendly old Bert made an oopsy that will cost the company thousands and thousands of dollars? Golly! Wowsers! etc".'
'Exactly. What you want to say is: "Bert, the felching, child molester is set to be fired in the most exciting way possible. We will be hurling his useless ass, screaming, off the top floor of the building. Afterwards we shall feed his remains to savage dogs and set fire to all of his worldly possessions. For the more enthusiastic of you, you are more than welcome to hunt down the rest of his family and destroy them to ensure that no one from his genetic line will walk the planet. All Welcome!".'

Productivity went down by 30% in Free Beer's company (I think he's talking horseshit here, but its his story so I'll bite my tongue on this one) until someone found an interesting loophole in the spam filter.

'The Grizzled Old Prospector method,' he tells me triumphantly.
'Whu...?' I ask, because I'm only half-listening.
'Someone discovered that the spam filter wouldn't recognise foul language from the 1880s. So everyone started to email each other like a grizzled old prospector.'

Soon, Free Beer and his colleagues were sending messages to each other that were along the lines of "Did you know what that varmint Mattherson did to my milk?"
"I hear that blasphemous heathen drank the rest of it and didn't replace it."
"Dangnammit! I'll find that treacherous cur and invite him to a duel in the car park. That blackhearted vulture will see what happens when he crosses me!"

'It was for a while,' agreed Free Beer, 'but then eventually someone from IT decided that it might just be easier to allow the Australians to swear normally and everyone went back to cussing at each other and downloading pictures from Cats That Look Like Hitler.com.'

*Probably more like "Elizabeth" since it's a female name. Which goes to show that you shouldn't ask Free Beer for information ever.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Jake of Hearts

My homeless situation continues. Which isn't to say I wake up from lying in between doorways with random dogs urinating on me or that I've been officially labelled a 'vagrant' by the Council (In which case kindly policemen would take me in, let me sleep in one of their drunk tanks and nudge me awake with their batons come morning). No- I'm living in a Backpackers once again.

Ah, the Backpacker life! Sleeping with all your worldly possessions strapped to your body, keeping a machete under ones pillow, having to listen to skinheads masturbating through the night,arm wrestling Dutch guys in order to watch your favourite TV show (One Tree Hill. How do they keep the stories so fresh?). Wonderful.

Currently my roommates are J.P. the Canadian (the French kind) who makes his living by selling...things, a 40-year old Japanese guy who has decided after four decades to see what the rest of the world looks like, Pablo the tattooist who kind of looks like he's stumbled out of a heavy metal concert and wants to bite the heads off nuns (though after 3 seconds of talking to him you realise that he's quite friendly, more like a Buddhist than a mass murderer) and Jake.

Roommates in Backpackers tend to exist solely as a pair of legs jutting out from a bed who steal your shampoo and pornos when you are at work. For me anyway. As much as I enjoy interacting with other human beings, after weeks of meeting Germans who stay for a single night you stop asking people their stories, interesting as they might actually be. The only reason I know J.P. is because he's been there for as long as I have, maybe longer, and Pablo is a living, breathing work of art.

I wake up one day to find that there now resides a person called Jake in our humble room. He and Pablo were having a discussion about the new tattoo on the small of his (Jake's) back earlier that day. It was strange and intricate with all kinds of crazy symbols hidden within. Unfortunately it was stretching his skin in new and painful ways and so Pablo went off to find some cream (Pegapanthenol) for it. 'Give me a look,' I say to inspect it properly. Jake turns and shows me. 'Interesting.'
'Yeah man, I got it last night.'
'Cool,' I yawn, 'where?'
'Here man. In this room.'
I put two and two together. 'Oh, Pablo gave you the tattoo?'
'Pablo. The only guy in this hostel who is a tattoo artist.'
'Yeah. Him. Pablo.'

We lapse into silence. He then says, 'I got something for you.' What the...? This from a guy I have barely spoken to. Is it drugs?
'It's not drugs,' says Jake as he rummages through his belongings. Eventually he locates it in the pocket of his jacket- a playing card. A Queen of Hearts.
'What's this?' I ask, genuinely baffled.
'Queen of Hearts man. May you find her one day.'

My mind is not used to this kind of behaviour. I'm used to encounters where two men will argue about rugby and one of them will end up dead in a ditch somewhere.

'...er...thanks.' I look at the card. Its a standard, shitty playing card that costs about two dollars for a deck that you can buy from a service station. I wonder if I struck him as someone who looks especially like a side show reject who can only find girlfriends who charge by the hour or if he keeps a whole deck of these and gives them to everyone he meets. Either answer wouldn't have surprised me.

'Funny,' I muse as I wave the card about, 'but this is kind of the reason I'm here.'
'In this Backpackers?'
'In this Backpackers. In this country.'
'Where were you before that?'
'In Estonia. Specifically an Estonian Backpackers. I'd just finished my Trans-Siberian Railway journey and sort of gravitated towards there, by way of Frank Zappa's head in Lithuania.'
'Ah, Estonia! Estonian women are the most beautiful in the world.'
'Hm. And what brings you here?'

Jake recounts his story in bits and pieces. I gather he was living happily in a forest for seven years with his fiancee at the time. They break up. He makes the mistake of looking at Russian dating sites ('Russian women! They are the most beautiful in the world.') where he finds his soul-mate who asked for a measly $1,500 so that she can find passage across the seas to his arms. Needless to say, he writes the cheque, she cashes it and is never heard from again. He makes his way back into civilisation where he eventually met a German lass. Two days ago.

'...and over here,' he continues as he arches his back, exposing his fresh tattoo 'is her initials. Underneath the infinity symbol.'
'That's quite a story dude.'
'Yeah. Anyway, I'm going to study German and find this chick. She lives in Stuttgart.'
'I hear their Porches are lovely at this time of the year.'
''Suppose so.'
'Has she left already?'
He shakes his head, 'Nah, leaves on Wednesday. I'd call her but I think she stole my mobile.'


'The...love of your life steals your heart and your mobile and you're going to frickin' Stuttgart to find her?'
'I know. Crazy huh?'
I shrug my shoulders. 'Cherchez la femme. They make us all do crazy shit through no fault of their own. All I can say is: To thine own self be true.'

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Made out of the Pubic Hair of Migratory Elephants

As Yawn has pointed out I'm a bit of a Wikipedia whore. When I'm after some basic information fast I turn straight away to that on-line encyclopedia. Can't remember which dates in 1945 when Dresden got bombed? I turn to Wikipedia. Which was the gay Teletubby? I consult the Wiki. What where the specific yo-yo tricks that Abbie Hoffman, author of Steal This Book, did during a court session in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee that deemed him being in Contempt of Court? How on Earth should I know? But Wiki definitely would.

My forays into this cyber pool of knowledge are not undertaken without a pinch of salt. Cretins are free to edit the shit out of it. Vandalism runs rife. But it is this incompleteness that attracts me to it. And so it is when I was told about one of the most frequently vandalised pages that I took a backwards step and said, 'Say what?'

Is it Nazism that is the most vandalised page? Apartheid? Christianity? Abortion? Euthanasia? Apparently not. The page that is one of THE most vandalised?


Poor, innocent cheese[1].

Who the frick would bother editing cheese?

In an effort to understand the situation a little better I consulted my friend Dr Pollard, Cheese Scientist. Now, unlike most people that I make up in a feeble attempt to appear more interesting, I actually do know this guy. We lunch every once in a while and discuss our favourite Simpsons episode (the Monorail one) or My Name is Earl. When I talk about him to people I say, 'Have I ever told you about Dr Pollard? He's very cultured.' Which is a cheese-related joke that seldom gets laughs. I sometimes say, '...he's matured nicely over the years.' as a substitute joke but this usually gets less laughs that the first one so I use it only when I really want to impress chicks.

He greets me outside his work. These days he's slumming it in the world of yogurt instead of cheese but he keeps abreast of new development in the cheese sciences. For instance, he introduced me to Cheddar Vision before it got famous.

Over lunch we talk aimlessly about a few things before I broach the cheese topic. 'I was watching a horrible TV quiz show last night where in one segment of the show the contestant had to name as many elements on the periodic table as possible,' I begin.
'Uh-huh,' he replies,'How many could you come up with?'
'A few.'
'How many?'
'Well, I was watching the show with Cousin Jesse so he helped me out a bit.'
'How many?' he asked persistently.
I paused before I answered. 'Zinc,' I replied, blushing slightly.
'That's it?'
'Well, there was that Simpsons episode where they...'
'The "Imagine the World without Zinc" episode you mean?'
'"Come back Zinc!"'
'Heh heh,' I laugh weakly.
'Come on man! You're better than that.'
'OK wise guy. How many elements can you name?' I ask testily.
'By atomic mass, melting point of, boiling point of, The ones that Plato knew about, the ones known by Arabian chemist Jabir ibn-Hayyan, The Robert Boyle era, by symbol, the ionisation energies, the unstable ones? You want me to list all this stuff that I keep in my head?'
'...er...yes?' I say weakly.
'Pffft. I'd know at least a half dozen!' he proclaims triumphantly. Smug bastard.

It turned out that Dr Pollard was amazed that cheese was such an interest to so many people. He'd not turned to the 'cheese' section of Wikipedia since he was an authority of the topic. We shook hands and he left to go back to work, puzzled as I was with this strange knowledge.

[1] Well, that and Nagorno-Karabakh

Friday, June 01, 2007

I Be An Retarded (a post about musical tastes)

While accountants test keyboards for drool resistance, comedians duck thrown tomatoes, plastic surgeons suck fat out of the thighs of obese billionaires, Pro-Life people set abortion clinics ablaze we waste our existence in the least creative way possible- in a seedy bar somewhere. We are drinking and singing and talking too loudly as usual. Strange bets are made. Attempts at dancing result in broken furniture. Attempts at repairing furniture result in dancing. Expect hangovers tomorrow.

It's not that my group of friends don't try to fit into the quote-unquote real world. But how can we join the rest of civilisation in, oh I don't know, a book club or something when the only books we've ever read are by ex-SAS guys who recount their experiences in the Gulf War? Would you want to spend time with us discussing the works of Milan Kundera whilst listening to Mahler? I didn't think so. We, the unwashed masses, drink in horrible places and strike up conversations with guys called Mungo so you folk can talk about Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy' over a bottle of red.

St.Jerome's is an ideal place for the likes of us. Located down Caledonian Lane, truly one of the worst smelling dank alleys your nose have ever been assaulted by, it remains a great meeting place (since it shuts at midnight) for small groups of alcoholics in Melbourne. Although these days suits crawl through the venue on Fridays and Sundays the rest of the week remains relatively unscathed. There's only six types of beer to choose from, no variety in spirits and you may have to use a milk crate for seating. Its a perfect place to yell insults at your friends, especially if they don't share the same music tastes as you do.

'How could you like Sigue Sigue Sputnik's Love Missile F1-11?'
'How could you not?'
'Let's not even get into your obsession with A-Ha.'
'No. Let's. Let's do it. Let's discuss my obsession with A-Ha. Right here and right now ya crude prick!'

(Brief Interlude as Just What I Needed by the Cars plays in the background)

'...as I was saying...'
'Oh shit. We cannot still be discussing this.'

Musical tastes are a weird one. What makes one person fond of the London Symphony Orchestra and Pink but abhor hip hop? Why will one person sing I Left My Sperm In a Fag Named Cisco quite happily but not a Ramones tune? It can divide friendships and send husbands to sleep on couches if the wrong things are said too often. And most of it is out of our control, so deeply encoded in our DNA are these feelings, entangled with the genetic code that makes some of us left-handed or trombone players or even left-handed trombone players. It's just a part of us. Because of what was playing on the radio when we were young.

The past comes crashing into my consciousness like burly firemen breaking through a wall. Suddenly its the '80s again. Wrinkly old leather-faced Regan rules the Americas. That bold guy with the ink-splotched head is the Russian head honcho. The Berlin Wall is still up. Happy pants are in. "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." was a global anthem. Max Headroom told us to buy Coke.

I am going through puberty again. My voice is like a musical instrument suddenly out of tune. There's a taller, hairier version of me struggling to escape the confines of my skin. Masturbating is still a new hobby. I am feigning learning difficulties for cheap laughs. I am an attention-deprived kid. A kid who pretends he's feigning learning difficulties in order to avoid being persecuted for being an idiot. The radio plays Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Morris Minor and the Majors, De La Soul, Queen, Bon Jovi. Years later, when we are adults who buy albums (or, let's face it, assholes who download music) we find ourselves gravitating towards some artists who others find repulsive. Somewhere deep within we are still the same little villains who wish violence upon our teachers who gave us bad marks because of our learning difficulties. And we listen to crap.

In the present day, in St.Jerome's, the musical debate continues between Nik and Chris (my Russian travelling companions), Mark, Russ, Cole and myself. 'Have the Rolling Stones killed,' I say to Nik, 'Seriously.'
'Take that back!' says He of the Bulging Belly.
'They were great. They aren't anymore. I'm kind of disappointed they didn't die a fiery death in a horrific plane crash.'
'Yeah but Keef. Keef is cool. He snorted the group-up remains of his own father with some coke. That's Rock'n'Roll!' insists Nik making the 'devil sign' with his hands.

We come to a compromise.

'You're a dickhead.'
'Fuck you!'

Just then a miracle happens. A song that unites the two factions. Is it? It couldn't be. It is!

'S-Express!' we all squeal in delight. Life is good again. Nik gives me a thumbs up- all is forgiven. I lean over and rub his belly for luck.