I have been reading Raymond Chandler, the genius hard-boiled detective novelist whose stories centre on hard-boiled, hard drinking P.I. Philip Marlowe.
Maybe this affected my mood as I went to a lecture at Sydney University on the evening of Tuesday, August 11 with some Latin American academic talking about the state of democracy in the region.
What I will say is every word below happened exactly as I describe it.
I walked through Victoria Park to make my way to the lecture. A ceaseless gaggle of Sydney University students passed by going the other way, fleeing their beloved campus for the day.
It isn’t that I don’t trust your average student at this illustrious institution, but I felt a hell of a lot better feeling the grip of my Colt .32.
It was only 5.30 in the evening but already the sun was making a hasty retreat. It was although it decided it had had enough of the day. I can’t say I blamed it.
I got to the rough area where the building was supposed to be. For a campus with so many buildings, they sure work hard to hide the one you want.
There was a security guard leaning against the wall of one of them, standing impassively smoking a cigarette. I approached and asked him if he knew where the New Law Building was.
He glanced at me impassively and blew some smoke. “What’s it worth to you?”
I resisted the urge to remove my Colt. 32 from its place where only dames that cause trouble and cops that do the same ever search. Instead, I said “Maybe I gotta fiver I’ve been itching to give away to charity.”
He looked at me impassively and blew some smoke. Then he pointed at a building right in front of us and said “There”.
I pealed off a note that he took impassively. “You want me to draw you a map?”
Walking off, I turned. “Nah, I wouldn’t want you to strain something.”
He shrugged impassively and blew some smoke.
I found the room I was looking for and soon wished I hadn’t.
The lecture was by some ageing intellectual wiseguy. Spent too long in the ivory towers of the world, to judge by the introduction he was given.
He was supposed to speak for half an hour. An hour into his dull and frankly counterrevolutionary spiel my Colt .32 started to itch.
I resisted the urge. Some things aren’t worth the trouble they bring.
But there is only so much guff about uppity populists upsetting democratic balances by changing constitutions to perpetuate themselves in power a guy can take. As he droned on I made my way past political science students staring at the old guy impassively and went outside. I lit a cigarette and stood there thinking some.
By the time I crushed the butt, I was thinking you can’t let some wiseguy spread his objectively counterrevolutionary and pro-imperialist garbage like that and just let him get away with it. I made my way back.
He was still talking to his endless supply of graphs proving every leftist government in the region put in power by mass movements of the impoverished who shed blood for the honour scoring the lowest on every indicator except the only ones that matters – poverty reduction and popular participation.
Those two didn’t make into his not brief presentation.
Finally, to the noticeable relief of the room, he ground to halt. I stood up the back and lit a cigarette.
The chair asked for questions. I obliged and raised my hand.
Cigarette dangling from my lips, I asked the ivory tower boy: “So what about inequality and the exclusion of the poor majorities? You think that might have something to do with all these constitutions that keep changing?”
He looked me straight in the eye with a cold hard stare that suggested maybe I didn’t want to be asking too many questions about the conditions of the oppressed. Then he started to waffle as only a lifetime academic a decade or two passed a dignified retirement can manage.
Finally the meeting had the mercy and common decency to end. I stood outside as Sydney Uni students impassively filed passed. I tried to hand out leaflets for a Latin America Solidarity Fiesta on that Saturday.
We had an agreement. I agreed to try and give the students leaflets, they agreed to refuse to take them.
The odd student broke ranks and took one. Sydney University students can be impertinent like that.
I got talking to a guy I know called Alejandro and even sold him a Green Left Weekly. He comes from a middle-class Venezuelan family and supports Chavez. This caused a split among his family and friends on account of some of them quite liking the corrupt, venal, coup-plotting fascists in the Venezuelan opposition.
Alejandro was in the minority. A minority of one.
We shared our mutual views of the presentation we had just witnessed. We mutually agree on exactly where the academic could shove his right-wing views on the “rule of law” and the “need for counter-balances” to stop the impoverished working people having too much say about their state of exploitation.
Then I lit a cigarette and made my way to the train station to catch my inevitably late-running train. I had other things on my mind.
I picked up a six pack on the way home. No Boags Draft. I was forced to drink Tasmania Bitter, cursing the injustices the world seemed intent of heaping on me.
Then I spent the night smoking my mind with cigarettes and songs that I was picking. Sorry, that's Johnny Cash.
"The beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad so I have one more for dessert". Neither Johnny Cash nor this song really relate in any way to the rest of the post.