Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stop It Or You'll go Blind!

Pope John Paul II was set to visit Australia in 1986. To commemorate the event "Writers Press", a small publishing house in Diamond Creek put out a cheeky, irreverant book of cartoons titled, "101 USES FOR POPES" by 101 Australian & New Zealand cartoonists, and I was asked to contribute. My cartoon depicted a Challenger astronaut using the pontiff as a stepladder as he bowed down to kiss the surface of the moon. The book was going to be launched in Sydney by none other than that great papal impersonator himself Max Gillies, man of a thousand faces. I was really excited about going up to Sydney, and Ritzy, who had wrangled a week off work was coming with me. But first we were going to spend a few days in Queensland visiting his rellies, as well as various theme parks along the way. Naturally this necessitated scoring a couple of grams of head. It was imperative that we experience the sensation of riding the double loop de loop roller coaster at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast stoned out of our brains. Once in Queensland we stayed at Ritzy's Grampa's house, who like us, was off being a gadabout somewhere. I have to say that cleanliness wasn't high on the old fella's agenda though, because after spending the first night sleeping on his cot I woke up itchy'n'scratchy, and covered from head to toe in flea bites. From that night onwards I slept on a banana lounge, a single thin sheet providing sufficient coverage in the clammy Queensland climate. 
On the second night the high humidity finally got the better of Ritzy, who with his asthma suddenly skyrocketing from mild to chronic, had been struggling for breath the entire trip. It was frightening watching him spluttering, wheezing, and frantically drawing futilely on his ventolin pump with no relief. I remembered how a girl I'd gone to school with had died from an extreme asthma attack. Finally we had to call an ambulance, and he was rushed off to hospital for emergency treatment. He was okay by the next day though, and after doing the rounds of various uncles and aunts we were glad to finally say our goodbyes and fly down to the more temperate climes of Sydney. We did all the tourist-y stuff in the harbour city, checking out the opera house, centrepoint tower,and riding the ferries and stuff. We'd organised it so that the book launch was on the last day of our trip, then we'd fly home. But not everything went according to plan. On our last day in town we ran out of money, and we ran out of drugs. At my insistence we took my ghetto blaster to a pawn shop in King's Cross and managed to trade it for twenty dollars. It was a monster sound system with detachable sub-woofer speakers that I'd bought at JB Hi-Fi in 1983 when they'd opened their first store out of the back of a garage in Keilor. I planned to redeem it later. I suddenly felt like a real Rock'n'Roll outlaw, like I was (kind of) living that line in Dee Dee Ramone and Johnny Thunders' ode to heroin addiction "Chinese Rocks" about all my best things being in hock. In a way I was right. Without knowing it, like the characters in the song, I had taken the first step towards being a slave to my drug habit. 
Our dealer radar was obviously finely tuned by then, because the first sleazy-looking character we approached in the Cross hooked us up with a gram of hash, with enough dosh left over for the eventual munchie attack that would inevitably follow. By the time the two of us lobbed at the book launch we were both flying approximately eight miles high, at nine to the Universe. Being full of bravado I sashayed straight up to "His Holiness" with book and pen in hand, gushing about what a big fan of "The Gillies Report" I was. Gillies, in costume and in character, imperiously proffered a pudgy hand adorned with what could have been a chunky Captain Marvel signet decoder ring, and said, "Kiss my ring" in a Polish accent. The double entendre sailed straight over my saluting platform in my stoned state, and I continued to nervously hold out my book and pen until he took it, scribbled "Stop it,or you'll go blind", signed his name, and returned it to my grasp. The dope paranoia kicked in. Had he simply scrawled his "Gillies Report" catchphrase? Or had he twigged the nature of my dishevelled state and made some kind of pointed comment? For the next hour or so I flitted around the room like a wild-eyed fanboy, collecting autographs from the more famous of the assembled cartoonists, like WEG,Jeff Hook and Mark Knight. We flew home the next day. I never did redeem my ghetto blaster. I figured it would have cost me far more than it was worth to fly all the way up from Melbourne to re-claim it. Things were beginning to spiral out of control. I had a little mobile suspended on a string, that dangled from my bedroom ceiling, swinging lazily in the limpid breeze that wafted occasionally through my window. It was a frowning cartoon image of the Pope by Leigh Hobbs that had adorned the cover of the book. Sometimes in the dead of a fitful night, when the moonlight flashed across its' slowly twirling arc illuminating the Pope's stern features, I found it curiously comforting in my increasingly frazzled state. It was as if a guardian Angel was somehow hovering above me, glowing re-assuringly through the dark times that were slowly descending.              

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