October 16, 2008

“I’m raw as a monkey’s arse. It’s facking dripping hot in here. Carla… Carla… get to the damn water cooler.”

Thursday September 23rd 2010. 8am. Park Hyatt hotel, Melbourne CBD.

There’d be a couple of hundred jaded and long drawn out faces awaiting Layla’s latest installment. Yawn, full-on. Hastily arranged, these men and women of the media got told by their bosses to “just get down there”.

As we’ve heard, one particularly notable attendee is restless and agitated. Yes, this is so Callo. However, him spake the crude truth. As always. Melbourne is indeed going through a hot spell and the hair on the arms of those present still singes from Melbourne’s morning burn. Hmmm, now that’s a thought. My big thick black hairs and Carla’s comforting fawn downy ones. If I blew on them, she’d be soothed, she’d be happy. No, Callo, no.

Let Callo do some more grumbling and counter grumbling.

The air con could blow a bit harder… nah, not going to happen. The heel of the carbon footprint is grinding down on the city. Driven demented from thirst? Well tough mate. There’s widespread drought in rural Victoria. Unseemly for the city mob to complain… unless… unless… shoulder to shoulder with the faaaarming community… in beseeching the Victorian state government to give a dam or two.

Also, this room is far too full. There are perfectly good dark sheds down in Docklands that could accommodate this crowd in a cooler environment but no… these things are always cramped CBD affairs.

No-one is fooled by this whinging. No. Everyone knows that this fellow’s grouchy demeanour is self-inflicted. Many were there, not four hours ago, cheering as he boisterously cleaned up the tail end of a whiskey bottle. Now, the spirit seeps through like acid – turning insides into an enraging inferno and the face florid – as if badly sunburnt. Ow sunburnt – not an option for Callo. It’s no longer a beloved Australian attribute – for the country or its citizens. I zinc we have to fall into line with the sunscreen policy and not fall foul of the hole in the ozone.

A bluff nearly always succeeds… if performed aggressively enough on people who have too much to lose to chance calling you on it. So, let’s vociferously blame this inflammation on the hostile conditions and the incompetence of these minging underlings.

Oh, poor Michael ‘Callo’ Callaghan swelters and his neighbours get to know all about his discomfort. Colleagues… immediately call for the hotel to do something with the air con for God’s sake and then clear the queue so that Carla can hurry back with the water.

As usual, the bluff holds up. Let the record show a need for improvement on the part of the catering premises and the necessity for temps to demonstrate a far higher degree of urgency and proactivity. Signed Callo and the other fellows. But Callo’s enough.

Yes, Lord Callo can gripe without reference to those doing it tough in the bush because he’s top peck. Not only the most senior “Age” journalist but, as of 2008, an Australian Living National Treasure. Sank you, sank you all very much. What’s that mate? Congrats? Onya? Good on me? Aw yeah.

But, aw mate, these cheeks could toast marshmallows. I’m crook as fuck.

“Johno. Johno. I’m off to the dunny. Tell her not to start without me. What’s that? How the fuck would I know what’s it’s all about. Yeah, yeah, she would have told me but I was probably distracted. Been on other things lately. Been busy. Try it some time.”

Goodness. What’s happened to Callo in these last five years? That fun-loving, cuddly and somewhat prudish personality that so wholly embraced the dark, dreamy Parkin in that packed Horsham pub; he’s turned into a crabby, abusive dickhead.

This cubicle is a refuge. So good to click the door closed. A bunker. Fortified and concealing, not sandy like in golf. Couldn’t stand any grit on my skin right now.

Callo drops his kacks and hunkers down on the white plastic seat. What a relief. He feels that pent-up blood pressure loosen and lower. It needs to; he is steadying himself to have another assault on it. He squeezes his muscles taut. And out she pops. Aww man. Arpeggio. And a flattened second. Them people who’ve never experienced a humdinger hangover on three hours kip… what do they know about struggle? It’s called living The Scream mate. And they’ll never experience the delicate exhilaration of the recovery. Poor sods.

That’s a lie. I’m fucked. Not much more than a brittle husk. I’ve become an embarrassment to my profession. The awards. Been given so many. I’m sure they were hoping I’d retire gracefully. But no, positively reinforced, Callo keeps fronting up. My fucking editor at The Age! Poor fuck. How awkward. Finds it too hard to get rid of his ‘institution’. Instead, sticks my claptrap in a standalone section with CALLO writ large… so there can be no misunderstanding.

All gone stale. Look, I know I’m better than this.

Will they remember me as a lovely person who, for much of my career, has been, if not ground-breakingly brilliant, as least well-meaning, affable and eager to please?

“Callo was especially beloved of the genteel, intellectual set who patronize much of the artistic community. Like a tart with a heart, he was a journo with a learno. He never knocked up a news story… no, he was an educator, an interpreter. He could be trusted because he believed in truth, love and justice. Embodied them.

To those who say his portfolio of work was a little peculiar and hard to pin down; that his sports columns were steeped in political and social commentary whereas his political and cultural articles were laced with sporting analogies; that he not only moved the goalposts but made them huge as well. We say look, he was arty-farty and proud of it. What’s wrong with romantic endeavour? A little bit of magic thinking motivates us all.

Let me tell all you nay-sayers that Callo was a giant cultural warrior… at the vanguard of the zeitgeist that kicked rotten John Howard out on his arse and ushered in the healthy Rudd administration. Callo wanted us to feel good. And that’s good.”

Errant nonsense. I know what they’re saying about me now that my back is turned.

“Crazy mess of a man about the place Thursday. Persecuted and ailed by every fucking thing. Likely he’s no benefit to creation. When he becomes frenzied, he makes our position nervous.

Caricature of a brazen comic, pure laugh-childish sweat. He’s a rubber bellied blob of alcohol, fume-staining friendship with bullshit. He’ll sniff sly ways to shake his arse to others in public conveniences. The fat bastard has us all hung up with his dribbling, squirming life.”

Yeah Callo, that’s the type of language your fellow journos commonly engage in alright. Not. Callo, youuuu idiot.

I was better than this. Most ardent desire was to raise up noble stories of the battlers that live at the maaaargins. Yeah, the maaaargins maaaate. Sought to engender respect for the little man in the big end of town mate… and in them organs of government mate.

More likely used the disenfranchised as a vehicle to achieve some fame for myself. Making their shitty lives a proxy to cover my shy pride. Like an actor hiding their personality behind more interesting others’.

This drinking has to stop. There’s been far too many days like this. But these are my days now. Haven’t seen her in… best part of a year. Why didn’t Layla tell me about this assembly? She should have told me. Didn’t need a taxi-driver banging on my door. She’s abandoned me.

In the beginning I had such a healthy relationship with Layla, with the world, with myself. Woke up each morning animated. I’d get on some plane or train with Layla and her entourage and we’d eat, chat, play games and tease each other. She’d romp home in her next staggering achievement and I’d write down the experience faithfully and, I think, very beautifully. I wanted to share my reaction to Layla’s wondrous adventure with everyone. I flowed fearlessly and honestly. Not at all sycophantic. Okay, maybe a little bit in awe… loving awe mind.

I mean I told it as I saw it. You see, mostly, I felt like her dad. She’s still a young girl. Giddy, quite impetuous. Not a deep thinker. When we talked I felt very, very close to her but when I watched her interact in media interviews or when she focused at the start of an event she was a stranger. Wrote a lot about this dichotomy. Got a lot of derogatory comments over my description of her ‘stranger’ part. They said I was some sort of a sports orientalist. Layla never said that. Never pulled me up on any of my work. Although, even I accept some of it wasn’t flattering to the beautiful girl.

Layla – Approaching the Heavy Hologram

When she was about to perform you could wave and yell at her and never get a glimmer of recognition. Instead, you got the angry swaying detachment of a roused elephant. Watching her was exhilarating. Like being ringside at a prize fight. All the tense fear with no risk of harm.

Get a close up on those eyes. In shadow, they appear to be surrounded by scales. Reptilian. Cold, cruel, ancient. Or, if the sun hits, gleaming like the sweaty brushed coat of a brown horse. Observing this elephant-horse-lizard amalgam, I am alive and terrified with anticipation.

Then she’d win and girly joy would explode across that disarmingly attractive face again.”

That was my time and all the atoms in the universe seemed to respond positively to me. Met and married my Jinghua and we gave birth to David. Completely fulfilling. And the reputation I built writing about our inscrutable modern marvel should have topped it off. But like my father once told me, I don’t have the character… don’t have it in me… to cope with the spotlight. I don’t know how to be a leader. That’s what they asked me to become. A thought leader… a role model. No, I just wanted to talk about my feelings. I didn’t want to manage my feelings.

She’s a genuine leader. I’ve never met anyone with such confidence. You’d think, watching her cavort around, that she is naïve and inexperienced… open to manipulation and needing protection. Her ridiculous Pippy delusion! But she’s not. Quite the opposite. When complicated situations arise she immediately and fearlessly gathers the players around her, gets to the heart of the matter and thrashes out a way forward. And she’s not soft either. Sometimes the resolution is severe. Says she refined her negotiation skills during her poker period. I desperately wanted that skill… that strength. I’ve tried to copy her style. Without success. I learned how to thrash but not to cash.

Always so many things to do. So many unfinished tasks. It’s frenetic. Worrying. And, oh man, I’ve got to put aside some time for stuff. If I hadn’t received so much success… so many accolades… I never would have felt powerful enough to have behaved so high and mightily to precious Jinghua.

“She became increasingly selfish, self-obsessed and aggressive. One night, I squeezed behind her as she cut a cooked chook (harder to say than to do). In fact, I may have brushed a buttock in passing. Her arm, and the knife with it, flew back and gashed my arm very badly and I think intentionally. I immediately fell to the ground in shock. The blood pumped out. I folded my other arm on top of it to stop it spurting. I expected her to rush off and get me a wet towel or anything to help me. She didn’t. She just said ‘what the fuck were you doing behind me’. I realized then that she had descended so far into her gluttonous and narcissistic dungeon that she could not be rehabilitated. I’m well shot of her.”

It Takes One To Know One – Michael “Callo” Callaghan, an autobiography.

Ouch. Sickening. Not sure we’ll ever get that one back. And David… my dear boy. I’ve stuffed you up as well. Overcome with your childish exuberance, your unconditional innocent love, I panged to protect you and see you right. Cried at the thought of it and meant it at the time. Neglected it when it involved making an effort.

Callo’s soul howled. It wanted out of there.

Am I bad? Ruled by my base instincts? I think I am. I’ve spent my life trying to hide my warped nature behind a façade of respectability and social concern.

It’s quite the status symbol to be so closely associated to the almighty and ravishing Horsham houri, isn’t it? I’m addicted to it. Protective of it. More than happy to have it augmented by speculative embellishment. Like it was a mite naughty not to have dispelled rumours of a sugar daddy relationship. Tut tut. Inappropriate.

But Layla, you could have cut that short. You should have reprimanded me but instead, when they asked, you teased me by saying:

“Oh I’m always happy to have Callo in my inner sanctum.”

Can you believe it? That’s not helpful; it’s seductive. Maybe my creative consonants told a story she was only too happy to have heard. No. No. I’m full of shit. I’m the dependent one. I fed my addiction by ‘chancing upon her’ at bars and nightclubs in Southbank or even joining her for a flutter in the casino. She’d shout me a drink and join me for a gargle – because she’s good, she’s just a magnificent person. And me, well, nothing more avant garde than an elderly bohemian getting pissed with the most ornamental celebrity on the planet.

And where am I now?

Gets worse. That time when Layla was invited to a special million dollar decathlon event in Paris. Of course she won, set records in everything. The usual. We celebrated her win and I took the tipsy tigress back to her hotel room where she promptly fell asleep on the couch.

In a blue silk dress deep-smelling of musk. Looking like whisked cream with brown topping, her deep smooth skin cuddled the light. That’s when I let go. I was too afraid to touch in case she woke up but had an overwhelming desire to indulge myself… to not conform. Superstitiously examined the immediate area in case Pippy was real and might pop out and murder me.

My eyes pillaged every inch of her. I breathed and grunted for a span of minutes before shuffling off to the bathroom to release my carnal instinct. I ejaculated into my palm and smeared semen on my face, under my nose and behind my ears. Wrung the remaining dollop into my wrists and hands, went back out and stood over her like a gorilla. I felt powerful enough to pat her forehead leaving a sticky spot. I left.

Mortifying. How can I ever again have any self-respect? If anyone knew what I’ve done… what I really am. I don’t deserve to be treated decently. Everything has gone wrong since then. When I’m normal and not a pervert I try to be very courteous… to make it up to her. But when we’re alone at a table or a bar I get overtaken and my deviancy stares right back at me egging me on.

Yeah, I basked in this girl’s light and warmth for too long and got sunburnt. Now, I’m flakey. I’m too old for all this. Never could keep up with her voracious partying appetite either. My liver is shot and my heart is on the blink. And now she’s gone walkabout. She’s cut-back on her high-octane lifestyle but I, Callo, remained fettered to my worst habits and excesses. God help me.

Look, maybe its good I’ve never told anyone about my dark desires or my one faux pas. I can draw a line through it. Start with a clean slate at guilt zero. I will be better than this.

Oh man, tell you what… feeling a hell of a lot better now. It’s true; a good dump gets rid of a lot of shit. Aaaah. Lovely job. Right, think it’s time to drag my arse back to see what she’s up to.

What’s that commotion? Fuck, someone’s getting into the next cubicle. Jeez, I bet my stench would kill a brown dog on a chain. Damn toxic. Do I hurry up and hope I get out before he flushes or do I sit him out? I’m not a proper man. A real man is proud to leave his mark.

“Hallo there Callo.“

Guess who. Callo jerked back and there she was. On her elbows. Looking down from the next cubicle. Hmmmm. Bizarre.

“What the hell are you doing in here? C’mon Layla, strut your stuff. We’ve been stuck out there like a lorry load of sheep for over an hour.”

[Cheeky Layla]:
“I was told this is where all the big lads hang out.”

Look love, your luxurious henna’d locks camouflage seamlessly into this soft restroom environment but you are frigging hopeless at telling jokes. I mean, only you could get away with being so uncreative in the genre.

[Callo, solemnly]:
“That’s right. It is indeed Layls. They were here five minutes ago but they scarpered when they saw me come swinging by. You might still catch them if you hurry. But why would you?”

Callo smugly sways side to side on his plastic seat… with sticky skin.

[Layla, haha-ing]:
“Come on you. I want you to be out there with me.

I’m giving it away Callo.”

[Callo, staggered]:
“No shit! You’re quitting?”

“Yep. Straight up. I’m gonna be an activist with the one worlders. I’ll still need you to spruik what we do.”

See, she needs me.

“Will I have to give up drinking? I’ve heard you’ve given that away too.”

[Layla, viewing him quizzically before retorting]:
“Why would you? You look so good on it.”

[Callo, self-importantly]:
“I’ll get back to you.”

[Layla, amused]:
“Suit yourself then.”

“Okay, okay. I’m in. No more free runs for you though. I’m an objective journalist you know.”

“Oh I’m aware of your many fine qualities. And, Callo, when you get back, please say thanks to your mate Johno. He must admire you a lot. The fuss he kicked up. Held us up for ten minutes. Come on now. Hurry. Clean yourself up or do you need me to wipe your arse too?”



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