Western Politics and Whale Penises

by James Bent [Australia]

edited by Robert Fenhagen

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Look, when something gets on my nerves, I simply cannot go on with it.   Like my flat-mate’s couches.  I hate myself for it.  I let people bring things into my life and I don’t even give a damn at the time to consider what it’ll do to me.  But it always ends up doing something to me, and instead of blaming myself, I get angry at whoever it was who brought the horrible thing into my life.  I know it’s not fair of me, but I hate certain things so.       

Is it reasonable to get so worked up about couches?  As a matter of fact, it is, thank you very much.  If these were normal couches, then perhaps not, but my flat-mate’s couches are these old, clunky, second-hand things that take up so much space it’s just not funny.  Or good.  Or okay.  It’s a Feng Shui disaster, and it’s already happened.  It’s been happening for the last eleven months.  And I’ve only been here for seven of them.  Not that that makes a difference anyway.    

So why now?  Seven months after I got here, why now?  Because today I wanted to move the place around.  I wanted to move the kitchen table aside, so that I could pull one of those clunky couches over toward the sliding door, and then I was going to lay in the sun.  So I did.  I put the table against the long wall running the length of the four metre by eight metre room, pulled one of the couches down and put it in front of the doors.  And that’s where the trouble started.  Like a natural disaster or a major trauma, like losing a tooth or finding out you’ve become fat when you thought you’d managed to remain relatively slim, everything changes.  Move one thing, move two things, and suddenly the whole place changes.  And that’s just what happened.  I moved the table, I moved the couch, and suddenly the apartment can’t be the same.  I’ve popped the cork from the bottle of my frustration that’s been mulling like wine, and now I’ll be damned if I’m going to put it back in again.  Except I don’t have a choice.  The two goddamn clunky couches are too big to go anywhere else except in the corner of the room, at right angles to each other.       

I sit on the un-moved couch at the end of the room and think about it.  What if I moved the TV cabinet, which, by the way, is also too big, further along the wall?  Except I can’t, because that means moving the table somewhere else, and that’s also too big to go anywhere except where it is.  And the television antenna is fixed, coming out of this small hole in the wall, like a subway train rumbling into a station.  How about I have one of the couches parallel with the table?  No, it’d look ugly.        

The fact is plain and simple: the couches are too big.  They’ve always been too big.  They’ve been too big for the whole seven months I’ve been here.  They’ve been too big for the eleven months my flat-mate has had them.  They’ve been too big since the day they were made.  I curse the designer.  I curse the whole legacy of Western design for creating this style of a couch.  I look at the back of the couch by the door.  The arm cushions are massive.  They’re rounded and bulge and swell out like hideous appendages, like rolls of fat on the side of an elephant.  Or perhaps like whale penises?  I’m not sure about that, I’ve never seen a whale’s penis.  Although, isn’t that where the term dork comes from?  I’m digressing.               

From Western design, I feel I could go on to Western politics.  And then if I travel back far enough I’d get to the Greeks and the age of reason.  Which is quite appropriate, because my flat-mate is Greek.  Or half Greek anyway.  I want to ring her up and ask her “So where was the goddamn age of reason when you decided to buy these stupid oversize couches, you dumb-ass?”  Except I’m not going to.  I’m not going to because she’s gone back home for sometime because of something bad going on in the family.  I should be sympathetic.  But I don’t feel like being sympathetic right now.  Not to her, and certainly not to the couches.       

My girlfriend walks in from outside, wearing her white bikini that makes her brown skin look even browner.  She looks like a pretzel.  Like a piece of toast.  Like a very brown crayon.  She’s a good looking girl.   She looks at me funny.  She wants to know why I’m sitting at the back of the room when half an hour ago I moved one of the couches over to the door so I could sit in the sun.  I tell her what’s bothering me.  I tell her how much I hate the couches.  And the table.  And the TV cabinet.  I want to get rid of them all.  I want to burn them, chop them up, mutilate them, destroy them.  I want to eradicate their existence.  She tells me I can’t, because they are my flat-mates.  Our flat-mates.  I don’t see how this matters.  And it doesn’t comfort me.  

We’re going to be here for another three or four months at least.  Say four months, just to make the argument more interesting.  Four months.  Four times thirty days.  Say thirty one days to make it even more interesting.  Four times thirty one days.  That’s one hundred and twenty four days.  Imagine now multiplying that by twenty four, then by sixty, then by sixty again.  That’d give you the number of seconds I have to live with these couches.  And it’s likely a lot.  I can’t add it up thought.  And I don’t want to.  I know it’s a lot.  It sounds like it’s a lot.  And I can’t live that long with these couches, I really can’t.  They have to go.        

I think about ways to get rid of the couches.  Maybe I could throw them off the edge of the balcony.  I could say it was an earthquake?  Or perhaps strong wind.  We have strong wind here.  Probably not that strong though.  What about if I left the door open and went out for a while?  Someone might come and steal them.  But then, they might steal everything else.  They might steal things I like.  Like my girlfriend.  Although I’d probably have to take her with me if I was going out, otherwise potential thieves might feel funny coming in.  And then there would be the police and police reports and police investigators and newspaper reporters.  How could I lie?  I can lie to one person, maybe two, but three, four, five or more?  When it means going to jail if I get found out?  I can lie okay if the worst that happens is someone cries.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that there is only one way to make this happen.  I have to accidentally damage them to such an extent that they are no longer useable.  And what is the number one use of a couch?  To sit on.  Bingo.       

I didn’t even tell my girlfriend.  She just sat outside, with her pretty little nose in a book, aiming to move on from a piece of toast and upgrade her tan to the color of a raisin.  It’s a good job. I like raisins.  Some people think they look like mouse poos, but I think they’re just fine.  I look around for some sort of catalyst.  I need some ammunition.  There’s a bottle of water in the kitchen.  There’s some paint in a bag by the TV cabinet.  I can’t see how either could do the job.  The water just won’t damage it, not, unless the fabric of the couch is left wet for months on end; and it would be stupid to say I was painting on the couch.  I find myself thinking about red paint for no special reason except, I like the color red.  Then the bottle of water comes into my mind.  The two thoughts merge and I end up with a bottle of red water.  And what is red water?  Wine.  There’s a bottle of wine in the kitchen, next to the bottle of Famous Grouse which I’ve already drunk a third of.       

I go into the kitchen and take the bottle of wine.  How’s this going to work?  I need to get enough wine over the two couches, over all the cushions, four of them in all, such that these couches are going to look terrible.  So that I can really start the process of ruining them.  I get out four wine glasses from the cupboard and put them on a silver serving tray.  I fill all the glasses to the rim.  But I’m not ready to go just yet, I need to set up the room.       

I pull the couch back from the door and put it back in it’s original position, at right angles to its partner.  They look so good together.   Or bad, actually.  They look so very bad together.  But not for much longer.  I get one of my training shoes and put it in the middle of the room at exactly forty five degrees from the adjoining corners of both couches, about one point five meters away.  Then, I go back to the kitchen and pick up the tray of wine glasses, balancing them on one hand.  Steadily, carefully, I walk into the room.  It was a dinner party, see, that’s what I’ll tell my flat-mate.  We had some of my friends over from work.  We made dolmades, just to show that I’ve got nothing against Greeks.    We enjoyed them as well.  We talked about the weather.  We talked about how bad the flies are this year.  We talked about Western design, politics, the Greeks, the age of reason.  They agreed with me about how good all these things were.  The very pillars of society.  I pointed out the couches to them.  We all said how much we like them.  My girlfriend and I held each other close and felt in both our hearts how glad these couches were in our lives.  We proposed a toast.  A red wine toast, to the couches.  I brought in the tray of wine glasses, just as I’m doing now, walked in carefully toward my girlfriend and our two dinner guests, reached a point, one point five meters from the adjoining corners of the couches on a forty five degree angle, and my foot caught on something.  In the recounting, it was one of my dinner guest’s feet.  In real life, it was the training shoe.         

Amazingly, the wine missed everyone.  Unfortunately, all four wine glasses managed to go off at slightly different directions, each glass and its content landing on one of the four cushions across the two couches.  We panicked.  The wine soaked in.  We panicked more.  We asked who knew how to get wine out.  No-one knew.  We went forth into the apartment and found all the cleaning materials that we could.  Glass cleaner, bleach, wood polish, dishwashing liquid, floor cleaner, disinfectant, white wine, vinegar, soy sauce, flour.  We poured everything on together.  We scrubbed, pushed it around, mushed it around, rubbed it, scraped it, scoured it.  The result was not long coming.  We must have used the wrong mixture.  We couldn’t have used the right thing.  I couldn’t have used the right thing.  I had not used the right thing.  The couches, both of them, were ruined.  No person in their right mind would keep couches covered indelibly with glass cleaner, bleach, wood polish, dishwashing liquid, floor cleaner, disinfectant, white wine, vinegar, soy sauce and flour.  And red wine.        

My girlfriend watched me all this time, from outside, her nose out of the book.  Her pretty little nose.  She asked me what I was doing, I said I was sorting the couches out.  I asked her the number for my flat-mate, back at her family home.  She gave it to me.  And I made the call to explain to my flat-mate just how it was that her couches had come to be ruined beyond repair.  She understood, I think.  I didn’t really listen, to be honest, as I was too excited at the prospect of being rid of them.       

 The next day we take the couches down to the street, ready to be taken away by whoever takes away things left on the street.  When we get back from work they’re gone.  We get back inside the apartment, and don’t have anything to sit on.

Now, who to get mad at, genius?

Western Politics and Whale Penises

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