I could have kissed Old Bluey as he swam under me like a blue Labrador of the sea. He was the second Groper I’d seen that day, and together they saved me.
I’d come to the sea to die. Well, not necessarily, but it was that kind of day if you like: the waves looking just a little too inviting, the rocks not as hard after a red wine lunch. Diving in to oblivion is the sort of thought that floats through your brain as you cross from Coogee to Gordon’s Bay on a certain kind of day.
You see, I’d received, a few hours earlier, the latest in a blitz of rejection slips. The most recent wasn’t even on paper, but rather a form email. It appeared that my detractors were getting lax in their rejection of me.
The odd rejection slip is one thing – all part of the game of being a writer really. However, in the last few weeks I’d had my latest play rejected three times, and now a poetry collective that had embraced me in the past had suddenly betrayed me over what I considered to be some of my best work ever.
Sure, it was written in ‘Jabbernoir’ - a new literary language a friend and I had invented whilst drinking dry white one summer night, but at the time it felt like the best of me, let alone the other dross that passed over their collective editorial desks. Not that I was bitter, just angry. Angry enough to kick the cat, swear at the light globe, and punch out a few of the cupboards in the kitchen. Angry enough to start drinking at midday.
I hit the cooking wine harder than a Mac truck making roadkill jerky. Then I ate all the food in the fridge, made a few abusive prank phone calls to friends, and then, as the goon started to go the way of my former friendships and writing career, thought ‘frig it, let’s hit the beach.’ It was either that or get a plane down to Melbourne to catch and kill my own editors, which, seeing as I’d just returned from there, was outside of my present budget and patience.
At one point, while drinking, I’d also begun to write said editors a letter. It went:
How dare you, you pustule of syphilitic cretins, you amalgamation of unnatural disasters. Why, you back-stabbing cat molesters wouldn’t know art if it grabbed you by the neck, pants’d you all, and then plugged you up the garden path with a rabidly lubricated Tabasco-soaked Renoir.
You seem to inelegantly forget that I am more than familiar with the quality of work in your anthologies, having deigned to appear in them, and at one point lowering myself to the level of performing at a launch along with the overrated retards that you generally publish. I can therefore say honestly that you know as well as I, if nothing else - which is entirely possible with the intense brain affliction from which you and your fellow editors obviously suffer - that my submission was by far the greatest work ever to cross the cliché-ridden desk of your undoubtedly homely receptionist, whose decision to resist your unwholesome advances has driven you to the alcohol and aeroplane glue abuse that could be the only explanation for your decision today.
This is the snotty strychnine-soaked coke straw that breaks this saint of a camel’s back over the barrel that I’ll soon pack your rat arse in before sending it sailing into Hades.
I hope you drown in your dead Aunt’s oily rot fluids. May all your generations be forcibly circumcised at thirty-four by a drunken moil with a rusty spork. May the kitty litter of your existence be forever soiled with the effluence of your lack of transparent indecision, pricks.
And while we’re at it, what’s with “this may not be a reflection on the quality of your work” crap? It ain’t exactly an endorsement of my work is it, you nit-riddled dicks?
You “regret” that my work has not been selected. Regret, regret? I’ll give you something to regret shit head.
I think I can say without fear of hyperbole that not since Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and bloody purges thereafter has such a display of fascistic injustice ever been… etc.
Luckily, for the future of my career, I decided I could never send it. Instead I would hit the beach.
The seashore is the best thing about living in Sydney, and this had been driven home to me the week before in Melbourne, when I’d attempted to go for a swim in that sickly and sad excuse for a beach known as St. Kilda. As I’d floated above the turgid green lifeless sea of Port Phillip Bay, the stench of death floating across the water, I earned a new respect for the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
I should point out here that the anger I was venting wasn’t really at the editors, producers and theatre directors from whose inner clique I’d been so recently rejected, but rather at I, myself, me, the sad excuse for an upright mammal that I was.
You see, at a certain point, after a certain number of rejection slips, over a certain number of years, you begin to consider that perhaps you’re just shit. Sure, I’d had my successes – countless performances or pieces and plays, including two at the Sydney Opera House, but today that all retreated from memory - as far as I was concerned, my entire life, from the moment I tore through the wall of Mrs Di Fonzo’s womb in the method of Julius Caesar, to the point at which I just drained that last drop of cooking goon from the baggy, had been nought but a litany of failures.
All I could see was the possibility that I was shit. At what point, however, does the artist concede that ‘this isn’t just a bad patch, this is incompetence, idiot!’? One more rejection? Four? Why not now and be done with it? Give in and, like the smoking ads say, just quit.
Okay then, let’s just say you’ve rung the Quit Line in your head, they’ve sent the package, and you’re over it, then what? Get a job in a bank? In a factory? Forget it, that was what I’d been running from my whole life – the fear that I would end up passing my life in one of the factories that lined the top of my childhood street like orange bricked pit-bulls, with their sad procession of labourers filing in and out of them all afternoon and morning, my Old Man included. I remember when I finished High School and was informed by my father that he’d lined me up an apprenticeship.
“You could be a boiler maker, just like me,” he said proudly in his deep Abruzzian accent as he puffed on a ‘Dunny-Hill.’
With the cruel coldness of adolescence I bitterly replied, “I’d rather have bowel cancer,” then moved to the inner-city.
I think he’s forgiven me, but my fear of the factory floor still persists.
“You’re never too old to end up there,” a flatmate once jokingly said. Little did he know how much I still believed it. So upon giving up as a writer, what then?
It was true that I still saw death as a better option than the factory, and with these nihilist nouns bouncing around my head I knew there was now no option but to return to the sea.
The sea, I knew from experience, would save me. I’d like to believe that it’s just for times such as this that the ocean exists, but that would too conceited, even for me. But on such a day a Sydneysider instinctively knows to wipe the tears from his thighs and jump into the invigorating and fish-filled waters off Gordon’s Bay, like a return to the salty womb, sans scissors.
So it was that on the last afternoon of Daylight Savings I wandered down from my Alexandria hovel, on to the 370 to Coogee, then across the cliffs toward the chip-crisp and baby blue sea. It’s a bit of a trot, but sweating’s all part of the cure you see.
Before long I was in the ocean, the cool brine making me feel sane again as I floated above that alien landscape of shells, cliffs, thick black-green seaweed and schools of fat fish. Then I saw my first Blue Groper of the day.
For those not familiar with this angel of fishes I should explain. The Blue Groper is like a fish made out of those soft rubbery night-lights you had as a child, glowing a cosy blue hue, two to three feet long - though legend has it they can grow up to 160cm or five feet - with the white teeth and reassuring temperament of a blind man’s sun-golden Labrador. I dare anyone to find me a friendlier fish, and don’t give me this ‘dolphin’ shit because basically they’re just tarts, not to mention mammals.
The way to play with a Groper, these friendly blue ghosts that haunt Clovelly Beach and Gordon’s Bay, is to swim slowly a few feet above them, occasionally diving down to overturn a rock that hasn’t been moved in years, so as to display its feast of shelled fish underneath, which the Groper will happily eat with many a ‘clumpsh, flcrumplesh’ of his large, loose, smiling jaw.
As I watched the big blue sea Labrador crunch its mouth at me I felt as though I was in another world, already dead in a sense, but more importantly, in a world without factories.
I noticed the Groper uncharacteristically had a familiar with it – a little orange-finned number with a plump body and dark physique: perhaps its sidekick. Then, out from under a nearby underwater cliff face, a large blue figure appeared. It was another Groper. Big Old Bluey: the most ancient of his breed. There were fears for some time that he’d been speared, after some dickhead climbed out of the water at Clovelly with a big blue angel wriggling to death on the end of his phallic spear, ignoring the trail of abuse from locals as he threw the fallen blue angel into the boot and drove back to wherever he lived his guilty existence.
But some time after that Old Bluey was sighted again. All seemed well in the universe until there were more rumours that the old fella had just died of old age, despite the fact they live almost as long as humans.
Either way, dead or alive, here was Old Bluey appearing to me like a friendly ghost, gracing me with his presence on a day when I very much needed it.
So I floated around with the two Gropers and their orange-finned friend as if real life had somehow segued into a series of children’s animated features, and my strange little life in Sydney didn’t seem so bad. Not as long as the Gropers were with me.
After an hour I climbed back up to my rock, and saw that the sun was starting to sink. I decided to have one more dip with the Gropers and their orange-finned friend before the approach of serious winter.
(NB: to see said fish click on story title)