Archive for May, 2008
Unnatural, Unhealthy Interest in Fires
It was an older part of the city. The hill rose sharply from the end of the main street and twisted and turned to the historic lookout, which overlooked the city and harbour. The roads were lined by turn of the century wooden villa’s, mostly now occupied by the affluent young who flocked to the city to make their reputations, and hopefully, fortunes. The streets were narrow but the local council allowed on street parking which made them virtually un-navigatible. A perfect place for a fire.
Jason strolled through the mall looking at the human detritus sprawled against the surrounding walls. Filth. The word echoed through his head and seemed to reverberate throughout the mall. Mother had yelled that word. “You and your father are nothing but filth. He’s gone, thank God! Get out of my sight, you foul boy. Go.” She usually did this when she was deep in her cups, which was more often than not these days. He had long given up the pretence of either school or job. She seldom asked anymore where he was going or had been. He pretty much had the run of the house. He could be home at 7pm or 4am and she was usually unconscious. Either in her bed and if she hadn’t made that an armchair, a floor, the bath. She was a menace driving and Jason took her for her weekly trips to the liquor store, doctor, and supermarket.
A bulky youth jostled Jason and then glared at him. “What you looking at white boy?” Jason averted his eyes but the youth persisted. “Speak up – you little white shit.” Jason could hear the rising noise as people anticipated a fight. He muttered something but that would not satisfy his tormentor. Next minute Jason was lying on the ground, blood streaming from his mouth. Then the dull pain of a boot in his stomach and groin. He rolled himself into a ball and the attack stopped. The crowd moved onto the next trouble spot of the evening.
Jason next felt a hand helping him to his feet.
“You all right son?” He looked into the eyes of a very red-faced policeman. Jason momentarily forgot his discomfort as an unreasonable fear seized him.
“Iiiimmmm a-aa-all-l-l-r-ig.” Jason stuttered out.
“I saw the commotion from up the mall but I couldn’t get here in time. I know the chap and I’ll catch up with him later on. Do you want to press charges”
Jason couldn’t wait to get away but the policeman seemed to want to make sure that he was all right before he let him go.
Later that night. Jason, bloody mouth caked dry, approaches the large cream villa by way of the alley shaded from the streetlight by a large spreading pohutakawa tree. He takes off his haversack and removes the tool. Using his
screwdriver he forces the sidedoor and enters the laundry. Here tenants have not only their laundry but also discarded boxes, wrapping paper, old sacks, fuel for lawnmowers. Jason listens for any sounds of above him as he quickly sets his device.
He lights the mantle, which is already impregnated with candle oil. He had tried kerosene but the smell clung to his hands and clothing. This will burn slowly and allow him to get away from the scene. The mantle leads to a Beehive, Handypack ‘New Thicker, Longer Match-Contents 250 Matches’ matchbox which contains the crumbled heads of a dozen or so matches and two Lucifer firelighters. This will flare and set alight the rubbish that Jason has stacked over the device. Within a few minutes the laundry will be a blazing ball of fire. Quickly this will set alight the cladding and within a few more minutes the whole building will be alight. Once the fire gets to the lawnmower petrol there will be no stopping it. Jason manages to get across the block, up the grass bank and then into the next row of houses before he can hear the smoke alarms screaming. Far away, the first sirens from the fire engines can be heard but Jason knows by the time they get here it will be too late. There will be no stopping it.
Jason scrambles out of the building, over the road and up a flight of stairs to the adjoining street and enters another building. As he draws the door closed behind him he hears the sounds of the approaching engines, and his mounting excitement has turned his careful planning into an action replay of the mall scene. He fumbles, drops his matches and then the incidenary device falls out of his grip and the mantle comes out of the second matchbox. When he opens it, it is upside down and the broken up matchheads and parts of firelighter spill out. He scurries out of the basement and joins the watching crowd.
It is said that arsonists derive something akin to sexual pleasure from watching the results of their handiwork. For Jason the pleasure is hearing the voices fill his head, then fade. As they go he is filled with a sense of peace. A peace where mother only smiles benignly and holds out her hands to her son, a proud smile on her face. “My boy. I am so proud. Look at what you do. You make your old mother so proud.” This is Jason’s twelfth fire in as many months.
It had first come to him when he was listening to a Beatles song. ‘Fixing a hole where the rain gets in to stop my mind from wandering.’ It just triggered something in Jason. He had read that about Charlie Manson. ‘Helter Skelter’ it had been. The devils music his mother said. She favoured Sinatra and that preposterous Dean Martin with his drinking schtick. So he thought the lyrics through and they just translated into ‘make fires’.
The first one had been clumsy, but he kept getting better and better. There was still the occasional mistake. Mostly when he got very nervous. Like the second one tonight. That, in itself, was a little unusual because he generally became very calm. Almost cold. Icy calm.
After the fire Jason makes his way back to the car which he had carefully parked, legally, outside the fire station. The fire station was next to the supermarket and a major theatre and hotel, so cars came and went. One could be very anonymous. Jason slowly drove away, heading for the city lookout, high on the top of Mt Overview.
Minutes later he was looking out over the city. The spread of light, the neon signs flashing their hypnotic images, the streams of cars departing the city, and there, to the right, the scene of his latest triumph. Jason happily drove down the winding path from the lookout. Rounding the first curve he swerved to avoid an upcoming car. Somehow the right front wheel of his care left the road. He slammed on the brakes before realising his mistake and the car bumped into something, jumped into the air, and then came to a rest, half way over the bank. In fact it was like a cartoon. Here he was in a car, balanced on the edge of a cliff that dropped fifty feet to a gully. And to make matters worse Jason could smell petrol. Petrol, not kerosene, of which he had a plentiful supply of in his car boot. A flash in the rear vision mirror made Jason look up and to his horror he saw flames licking the very same boot. The car that he had swerved to avoid had stopped and the driver was running towards Jason, yelling for him to stay put.
Jason struggled out of his seat harness and put all his weight into the driver’s door. As he did the car slid further toward the edge of the drop. The other driver increased his yelling and now his arms were waving. Jason scrambled out of the car and managed to get his feet onto the bonnet. If he could now get himself upright he could leap onto solid ground. Behind him he could hear the roar as the flames took hold of what was stored in the boot. The other driver was yelling at him to jump and Jason nearly made it. As he took the final step that would get him to freedom, he hesitated. As he hesitated the car slid and Jason, car, and pyrotechnics slid with it in a fireball that exploded half way down the cliff.
“I invited him into my home. I met him at the church and I thought that he must be all right. I mean, you don’t think that someone who goes to church and looks like he does would be weird. He looked all right. Not scruffy or any of the facial hair or anything. Tall, sharply dressed, thin. I remember his jersey. It had some animal patterns on it and it was brightly colored. Or-at least there was one bright color in it. Red-I think. I said to him – come on down to my place after the service – we are having some coffee, lemonade and cake. Just me and the kids. I should have known when he asked how old my kids were. Anyway he called around. He seemed nice enough. I said to him at one point – I remember the kids had just left and we were talking about families and bringing up kids – I said to him – come round any time you want. I’ll show you where the key is. Just let yourself in and make some coffee. Just make yourself at home. He seemed a really nice person. The sort of person I had wanted to get to know. Someone you could trust. Someone you could talk to. I should have known. He looked kind of queerly at me and then he started. At first, I didn’t know what to make of what he was saying. The way he talked about the little girls that he had done these things too. Then he started in on the guilt and all that stuff but I could see that he didn’t really feel guilty. He was more concerned that he had been caught but even that had a funny edge to it. Like he really wanted to be caught. That being caught was part of the process. Part of getting off. I started to feel creepy then and I thought back to my work and I used the technique that I used with difficult patients who were just raving on and on about themselves. I looked at my wristwatch and I made a big deal of pulling up my sleeve and sort of peering at it. I pointed to it and said – Right, you have five minutes to finish up and then I have to get going-. Well! He sort of stopped in his tracks and then he looked at me and asked if he could use my bathroom. I just wanted him out of there by that stage and I didn’t really think it through. Sure – I said. Down the hall and to your right. After about five minutes I started to get suspicious but then he appeared with a big grin on his face and he traipsed out of the house. I felt dirty and spoiled. I felt betrayed by the church. They must have known about him if the things he said he had done were true. Why hadn’t they told me? Then my eldest came in. Mummy- she said – there’s something funny ion the bathroom and it smells. I went in there and the bastard had masturbated and left his stuff all overt the vanity unit. He must have been getting off as he spoke to me and then he had to go and relieve himself. I had thought smugly that I had the situation under control – but all the time he was just mocking me. Mocking me and thinking how he could leave his mark on me and my house. Left me feeling ugly, dirty, and abused.
A culture of fear that is mined by politicians and exacerbated by a media hungry for sensation. To my mind we don’t give enough attention to the vigilante strain in our culture, which teems with scenarios of wives and children murdered and bloody vengeance enacted by angry individuals fed up with the inaction of a liberal government. What we do brilliantly is beat the cultural conservatives at their own game. I watched Michael Moore’s film ‘ Columbine”. Where William Bennett and his ilk will be quick to blame the counterculture or Marilyn Manson (who appears in the film), Moore will suggest that a more likely source of homicidal rage is the culture of achievement at Columbine, whereby anyone who’s a loser now is told they’ll be a loser forever-and die poor. Where the right will target broken homes, drugs, and violent TV shows, Moore will show how the 6-year-old’s mother couldn’t have seen him leave for elementary school with his grandfather’s gun: She was on an 80-mile round-trip journey to the mall where she was employed as part of Michigan’s welfare-to-work program.
The culture of NZ is seemingly similar. When Teresa Cormack’s ravaged body was discovered on a wild Napier beach the police (noting she had been sexually assaulted) interview the known sexual offenders in the area. Napier, with a population of 57,000, threw up 147 known sexual offenders. The police (and media) were horrified that small town NZ could harbour so many monsters. This is not atypical of the sort of numbers that occur throughout the country.
Tie this to the history of abuse and bullying at schools and in the teenage and young adult years and the inequities in society.
We are faced with the spouses of vicious, inhuman, monsters claiming compensation for the emotional trauma they have suffered by being attached to killers and some parts of society actually giving them some air-time. A family claims that their 8 year old is being victimized because local shop-owners (sickened by repeated shoplifting and vandalism) place warnings in the main street shops. The Commissioner for Children actually supports these ridiculous pleas. ‘
My therapist has this story he likes to tell. He leans back in his upholstery chair and glares at me, as he starts in. He glares at me because I refuse to lie on his ridiculous sofa and pour out my misery to him. He wants me in this vulnerable position and my refusal to do so has been a constant source of tension between us since I started with him a year and seven days ago. The story goes like this. He had arrived from foreign shores to our fair land with the m mantra of New Zealand being clean, green, and a safe place to bring up your kids, firmly embedded in his mind. His first job had been working in rural areas providing backup liaison psychiatry services. He became quickly embroiled in what he saw as the reality of life in New Zealand. Sexual abuse of fathers on daughters figured largely in his caseload. Incest, inbreeding, sodomy, filled the next in the list of stories unwoven on his couch. It was common practice in these locales for the eldest daughter to move into the parents. Ice the mother had departed to the maternity home for another in the long line of progeny. It seemed that rural men had voracious sexual appetites and if the spouse couldn’t do the job, then daughters, sons or farm animals were just as good. In fact, my therapist came to believe that the rural New Zealand male preferred a daughter just entering puberty to an older women, body wrecked by repeated pregnancies. My therapist quickly became a bitter and disillusioned man. He said that most people did not believe him when he told the story of how common this practice was. He told me that he had been ordered by his supervisor to get immediate help, as this could not be so. I didn’t believe him at first but I have come to see that his view of New Zealand was a much closer truth than the fairy tale I had been bought up with.
Leo looked a little out of place as he stood outside the Royal Hotel, the site of the Red Hat Convention. The Red Hats were Linux operators who had all qualified at the very top of their field as troubleshooters for the Linux Operating System. Leo was dressed splendidly in cream chino’s, white athletic shoes (for easy running), a blue polo shirt and, of course, his fly-fishing jacket. But he was quite different from most people loitering outside the hotel this morning. The only clue to Leo’s purpose to being outside the Royal Hotel were the odd three pins in his Australian Outback hat. If one had looked closer, one would have noticed that Leo’s fishing jacket sat rather uncomfortably on him and if one had slipped the jacket open, one would have discovered over 100 trading pins. Leo is a Pinhead. Leo collects lapel pins that interest groups, conventioneers, up and coming companies manufactured to celebrate their little world-shattering event. Pinology crosses social and cultural boundaries and aficionados form a tight knit group that covers all corners of the world. They correspond regularly on the Internet through groups such as Pinland, ProPin (for the more serious Pinhead), and KiloPin for the elite Pinheads who have collections over one thousand. Today Leo is after a Red Hat pin which he hopes to get from one of the conventioneers and which he hopes to trade with Falco, the ultimate god of pinheads with the affectionate moniker of KingPin.
Pinheads do not pay money for pins, they exchange. Tomorrow he would meet Falco in his hometown and he has promised Leo, via the Internet, that he will exchange a 1974 IBM pin for a 2000 Red Hat. A done deal, and Leo will have the 1974 to complete his consecutive collection 1967-1999. A complete set to make him the envy of computer based Pinheads. His heart is beating at 100, he is pumped. He must score the Red Hat pin but he has been warned that some of the Red Hats know the value of their pins and will not part with them for anything. Oh no. Some have been known to ask hundreds of dollars for a basic give-a-way pin. But only a give-a-way to a legitimate, registered conventioneer. Last year one pinhead had masqueraded as a conventioneer and hung around the conference locale waiting for an opportunity to lift a convention pack, but that was considered to be bad etiquette and he had been singled out as a pinhead not to exchange pins with. Within a month he was ostracized and so disheartened that he committed the worst faux pas a pinhead could – he tried to sell his 15,000 pin collection at auction. No-one came and he ended up throwing them all from a bridge. Among them, a rare 1980 Roundtable pin with misspelling so that it read RundTabla.
Ten fifteen and a quarter of an hour past checkout time. Anytime now. Leo recalls his wife’s scorn at breakfast that morning.
“You’re like a little kid. For God sakes why don’t you have a decent hobby like golf or fishing. What sort of man are you with that stupid room full of pins. I can’t take any of my friends in there. They just guffaw into their hands.”
Leo, a retired accountant, thought that collecting pins was much better than collecting cars of worse, women. He did sometimes though see what his wife was talking about. Time Magazine had done a piece on pinheads for their June issue and they had been very disparaging about grown men and women indulging in such a stupid profession. Then one of those ghastly reality TV shows had done a series on people who collected things and they lumped Pin heads with Barbie doll, Teddy Bear, and Matchbox Toys collectors. Lots of angry letters to the editor from Pinologists after that one.
Just as Leo reflected on his own letter a rather dapper man, dressed in a sky-blue suit emerged from the hotel. He carried a large red satchel that bore the unmistakable moniker of the Linux Red Hat Convention and pinned to his lapel, beside his name badge which read Arnold Snedden and beneath it Red Hat, was the Red Hat 2000 Lapel Pin, freshly glinting in the cities morning sun. Leo sucked in his gut and breath and, noticing that his heart rate had increased even further, he stepped forward.
“Excuse me for interrupting you but I am interested in that pin you have on your lapel. I am an avid admirer of your organisation and would very much like to purchase such a pin as a souvenir of your wonderful accomplishments. Could we say $20?”
Arnold Snedden looked at Leo as if he was something that should be removed from the pavement and sneered at him.
“Most certainly not! I know what you are and I know the value of this pin. I am not selling it, Now kindly remove yourself from in front of me so I can go about my business.”
“All right then $50,” Leo said with a hint of desperation mixed with what he hoped would pass for business acumen.
“Get out of my way or I will call security,” screeched Arnold Snedden and he took a step backwards. He hadn’t noticed the rather portly gentleman scooting down the inner part of the pavement on his foldaway aluminum foot scooter, and he not so much felt the impact of the scooter as the last contact he made with the ground as he hit his head rather painfully on a large terracotta pot that sat at the entrance to the Royal Hotel.
At first the sound was as gentle as leaves rustling, then it became more intense as if thousands of insects were taking off and landing. The sound then rose to that of a roaring locomotive and the flashing lights started. Leo felt the insects crawling over his skin and then his tongue pressing against the roof of his mouth and he became rigid. He noticed that his breathing had become rapid and he became focused on his crawling skin and the rise of his chest. The sound was roaring, the lights were flashing, his skin was electric, and then it all suddenly stopped. The silence was deafening. For a split second Leo couldn’t even think. Then his eyes, which must have been shut, suddenly opened and he was looking down at himself standing over the prone body of Arnold Snedden, Red Hat, and he was reaching forward and then he was plucking that Red Hat pin from Arnolds lapel and he was putting the pin inside his fly-fishing jacket and then he was turning and rapidly walking down the road, away from the Royal Hotel, and then he was around the corner and he was running, running, running. Then Leo blinked and he was inside that body and he was indeed running down the street and catching his breath he hailed a taxi and then Leo was rapidly giving instructions to the driver to take him to the airport. Leo regained his breath about halfway through the journey and tentatively put his hand inside his jacket and Yes, he indeed did have the Red Hat pin and he felt his face redden, then Leo relaxed and all felt good with the world.
Falco sits at the table opposite Leo. Falco is dressed in shorts and a Bermuda T-shirt that is an exoskeleton of pins, one of which proudly says PINOLOGIST. Falco is smoking a very long Cuban, hand rolled cigar (rumoured to be rolled between the silken thighs of a Cuban virgin) and he is looking over the table at Leo.
“So have you got the Red Hat?” he asks between deep inhales on his stogie, and thinking of smart dealing and snaring trophies and of the especially constructed vault in his basement, where 25, 768 pins lay in inventoried glory.
“I indeed do have the Big Red as I have come to call it,” Leo proudly proclaimed, “and do you have the 1974?”
“I have been thinking it over,” Falco graciatingly said, as he placed the burning Cobina in a pin-shaped ashtray at his elbow, “and in the light of yesterdays events outside the Royal Hotel my thinking has taken me to a somewhat lesser article. I was thinking the 1984 Macintosh Users with the blue gild and the misshapen clasp.”
Leo gulped, because although the 1984 Macintosh was a rare item it was not the deal that he had struck over the Internet.
“And why this late change of heart?” Leo enquired while trying to maintain his dignity as cigar smoke stung his eyes and assaulted his nasal passages.
“Because of a little matter of skullduggery and the police bulletin looking for a certain man who was seen to snatch an item from a man lying prostrate on the cement after being cruelly run down by a fold up scooter,” retorted Falco.
Leo felt a huge lump in his throat and almost stopped himself from uttering the next twenty words.
“Do you want to know what happened those 15,000 pins that Reg dropped off the Keyways Bridge last year?”
Falco suddenly stopped blowing smoke rings and looked deep into Leo’s eyes.
“You didn’t,” he said with a trace of respect and suppressed excitement. “You couldn’t have. It must have been hundreds of feet deep.”
“They never made it. Got caught on a ledge halfway down. I’d been following him for weeks. I knew he would end up doing something silly like that. Well – do you want them?”
“Jeez! You cunning bastard. Fifteen thousand pins will make me the biggest pinologist ever in the history of the sport. And I will have the mis-spelt Roundtable,” Falco said visibly impressed.
“Funny thing that,” said Leo. “Of all the pins he said he had I couldn’t find the Roundtable. You could never tell with Reg. He was always such an unreliable and eccentric Pinhead. By the way. What brand of cigars are those. I really think I might take up being a Cigar Aficionado.”