Fear and Loathing in Brisvegas

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Fear and Loathing image

Today I ate lunch in an inner city park of Brisbane's CBD. Sundried tomatoes and fetta cheese from the deli, avocado and organic grapes are my kind of decadence. Around me office workers are on their lunch break, eating out of plastic containers with plastic forks. I watch an ibis pick through the scraps of a plastic bag. The bird looks as if it could have flown straight from some ancient egyptian temple as I watched it glide here through the high rise valley, straight to modern day corporate Australia... It's noble profile doesn't deserve this kind of beggar pose, but the city makes scavenger's of all wild animals doesn't it?

This past week I've been staying with my old friend Daniel who I grew up with in Darwin, and is now a successful corporate lawyer. Dan's parents started Solar Village in the rural outskirts of Humpty Doo and built their own house out of rammed earth back in the seventies. I remember visiting their beautiful bushland property as kid and being spelllbound by the kangaroos that would hop up to the verandah to eat food offerings and learning about the real potential of domestic solar arrays for the first time. Nowadays in a classic role reversal that often happens to kids raised on alternative ideals, Daniel is working on the 38th floor of a high rise in Brisbanes CBD - about as different a landscape as possible from the one in which he was raised. I called him up a few days ago after making a shotgun decision that I needed to catch a flight out of Darwin that night so as to avoid the thousand dollar pricetag of a weekend ticket. Without hesitation he said I could stay in his apartment in Fortitude Valley. Legend.

Life in the Body Corporate

Dan's home is a large complex called 'Cathedral' which he explains was named after the Catholic cathedral which was supposed to be built on this land until the cardinal disappeared with the millions that had been saved for it. Now it is an apartment complex for rich european students and young urban professionals. It is an inner city compound which employs very high security codes and intercoms to police who enters and leaves. Im interested that all the buildings are named after rural English localities; Oxford, Canterbury, etc.

I've never lived in an apartment before, and feel like I would miss not having a garden, but I can see that for many people in the modern working life there is not time to look after a garden, so it is not too much of a sacrifice for them. There is one garden at the centre of the compound which is managed completely by an army of hired staff.. it surrounds a lavish pool and a heated spa like a private oasis in the middle of the concrete desert that is called Fortitude Valley. It's a far cry from Solar Village, and I wander how Dan has adjusted to it.

This feeling increases when, after dinner on my first night i learn that there are no facilities for compost in the two thousand bed apartment complex, or even recycling(!). It's something I find particularly hard to get accustomed to since I have assimilated this practice so deeply. It literally feels obscene to me to just throw all the foodscraps in the same bin as everything else... and although I realise that this is how a lot of yuppies live, it just makes me feel disconnected from the earth.

One day while Dan is at work I hook up with Liam (stage name; The Monk) from the hip hop band Culture Connect that I've just finished a music video for. I've just discovered half a tab of LSD left over from the Mayan Day Out of Time party we held on the outskirts of Darwin a few months ago, and Liam's eyes light up when he hears this...

Half an hour later we are wandering out of the concrete valley with eyes slowly peeling off the veils. Normally I would not use this powerful substance in the complex energy playground of the city with all its spectacle and media toxins, but perhaps for that very reason I am interested in having a look at what it will show me of the metropolis... I find that psychedelics give me insight into the layers of reality that is more mythical and energetic. The symbolic nature of any situation suddenly becomes clear as day, this can be an overwhelming headspace, especially if you are running away from any personal issues, it is an unforgiving mirror. But that's cool, I've burnt most of my demons away in moments of illumination, all that is left is the mirror of the world that I amm exploring, which is also me. Today I want to know what it is that I can find of myself in this corporate landscape.

As we wander out of the Cathedral Apartments into the city, we pass through a park beset on all sides by traffic, where drunkards sleep off Valley hangovers and big black statues of white colonists loom above us. We cross into the city center, and gravitate toward the river where public transport ferry's cast long ripples, and the Story Bridge crosses over like a metal spiderweb. Soon we find ourselves at the foot of the Australian Stock Exchange building which I recognise after once protesting outside of it during May Day (M1), 2001. That was back when the global justice movement was at it's peak just prior to the Sept 11 and the beginning of the war on terror destroyed it's momentum and simultaneously escalated global violence. Thanks Bin Laden, you stupid fuck.

On a whim I decide I want to go inside and see the machinations of the stockmarket up close... so we step into the revolving doors and find ourselves transported into a the building's opulent foyer, it's ceiling rising a thirty metres into the air above us. The walls and floor look to be made of marble. The waiting seats are leather. Wealth projects from every surface. A few days before Dan had told me about some of the funny psychological effects of working so high off the ground.. He described the exhileration of lifting off every morning into the vertical heirarchy, the view from his office of the mountains around Brisbane, but also the fact that because there are so many other high rises surrounding his building the sense of relativity in height is diminished from what it could be.. In my current drug induced mytho-poetic state I sink into the idea that this is a temple of currency, and I wan't to go deeper, to understand what lies behind it's powerful veneer.

As the security guard notices us I make a point to look business like, reading through the building's directory... Amongst the names I notice 'Extrata', a corporation which only yesterday someone was telling me is a mining company interested in taking over Uranium extraction in Australia's red centre. Interesting...
Soon we are disappearing into the red reflective metal elevator doors. I press 6 where the ASX is listed, but then watch helpless as for some reason the lift does not stop and the numbers rise past this point. 10... 15... 20... the armani suited woman behind us gets out. The numbers continue to rise... 25... 30... 35... I feel my ears pop...

A man enters the lift dressed in a fine black tuxedo like uniform, tie and shiny shoes... it looks to me like he is on his way to some cocktail party.. I feel him stare at us from behind. Me in my magik hat, chaotic batik shirt and sandals and Liam with his big curly afro... obviously we don't fit in, but thats cool, I am silently projecting a great excuse, and if anyone asks I'll just tell them I'm the millionaire son of one of the partners in Extrata... this is how millionaire sons dress these days - only the underlings still have to wear suits didn't you know? Finally the lift arrives at the top of the building and we hesitantly step out of it's steel cage as if we were entering another world... The man in the tuxedo disappears through a door... I'm kind of interested who has run of the ceiling of our cities so we venture down the corridor.. not suprisingly perhaps we discover it is a Law firm. Im reminded that Dan told me how none of the main law firms in the city will take a floor which is below another law firm... the psychological impact would be too great on the prestige and status that this kind of real estate is for, and perhaps only law firms have the kind of money to burn for this kind of symbolic heirarchy... But here we are at the top of the city, Agents of Kaos with psychedelic sparks in our eyes running through the castle for the forces of Order. We decide to explore further...

Perhaps my millionaire projection worked, because no one asks us for credentials and we are left free to wander around the maze of faceless skyrise corridors. getting claustrophobic in the eerily identical floors full of rigid angles, and enclosed singular directions. We find one whole floor of doors that don't seem to wear any numbers or names at all. I was told by Dan that in his building the entrance to the Australian Tax Office is unnmarked, apparently due to the risk of terrorist attacks (or perhaps just irate taxpayers?). Perhaps these anonymous wooden borders are filled with similarly senstiive innards? My mind races to the limits of conspiracy; it could be anything; ASIO offices? CIA fronts? Halliburton war councils? Masonic lodges? Strange cults of numerology? Or maybe the Bilderberg Group themselves? The reality is probably much more prosaic, but for now the mystery only serves to feed my imagination. A part of me is tempted to play spy, but conscious of the new anti-terror laws that could mean they are allowed to detain us for two weeks without arrest if they suspect us of doing anything vaguely suspicious curbs my innocent curiousity. Some paranoid folks might think that what we are doing is very suspicious...

Descending to the sixth floor we finally find the Stock Exchange, but it's nothing like what I expected. There is no bullpen of traders shouting testaments to the absolute madness of hyper-capitalism and greed a la Wall Street - apparently America is the only place where that still goes on... Through the office windows we can only see sensible haircuts and cleanly shaven white collar suits and ties entering numbers into computers... I had wanted to enact Abbie Hoffman's infamous money burning over the New York Stock Exchange, but alas all I could do here was make blowfishes in the windows of 21st century economic managerialism. And that's not a powerful symbolic action, it's just childish...

Looking for an exit we turn a corner and find ourselves standing at the balcony of a sixth story mezzanine overlooking the foyer of the building. In front of us stands a huge iron sculpture rising out of the ground in one long curve then breaking off into two large symmetrical arms. For a moment we wonder what it's meant to depict, and then it dawns on us... they aren't arms at all.. they're horns... the foyer of the Stock Exchange is filled with an enormous iron goats head! My mind filled with the symbolic possibliiltes - could it be that behind this dull veneer of shiny surface wealth lay the true dark gods of materialism? And this balcony suddenly seemed more like a pulpit... I looked down at the people entering and exiting through the large revolving doors below... which through my psychedelic glasses suddenly seemed like religious symbols of some esoteric meaning, always spinning, like atoms, or souls departing and leaving the domain of the material world... they spin like border checkpoints into the domains of the ruling class... the hierarchy of wealth and power... did that stilleto heeled number cruncher even realise what she was doing? does that gucci wearing alpha male actually know who he is really working for?

Hmmm... some of them must know... but definately not all of them... it might be years before anyone would be invited into the fold of the ancient order of money and influence that had commissioned this huge towering beelzebub for the foyer of the ASX.. and in the meantime no one would ever find it odd... The best place to hide things is in plain sight, coz no one even realises that all the symbols are staring them in the face...

Ok - let me take a moment out of my gonzo character role play for a reality check here;I don't really think that modern economists and their corporate masters are actually occultists working for a dark satanic lord of money and arcane materialism. Those are just the kind of wild, exaggerated mythic ideas it is very easy to get while on LSD. Im just playing... it's just corporate art right? I'm sure it means nothin' at all.


Wide Angle Vision

So anyway, we decided we'd seen enough... we'd found the heart of this tower, and it was full of computers. Liam and I nodded to each other, and without a word we descended in the reflective red box again, and silently, walking under the shadow of the huge horned sculpture we exited through the revolving doors, leaving the ordered silence of the foyer and stepping out into the bustle of the street...

"Damn that place was scary." Liam finally lets out. I look him in the eyes and nod without a word, still trying to decode all the energies Im recieving. Across the road a glorious banyan tree is beset on all sides by roads and traffic. Marooned in a world of high rise upstarts that dwarf it's curly, curved branches. We pass a McDonalds full of rich white collar customers and continue further into the heart of the city, the mall overflowing with people. I stop and whisper to Liam:

"Focus on your periphery vision so you encompass your entire line of sight..." He is intrigued and we roll onward into the storm. This is something I was taught by Charlotte when I saw her in Melbourne. She told me it's a technique used by trackers to pick up energy imprints all around them while hunting in a forest, but since then I've learnt to use it in the concrete jungle to avoid the power of the advertising and billboards. My theory is that when you aren't under the spell of spelling in these kinds of environments you begin to pick up a lot of interesting insights that words trying to sell you stuff will distract you from.

We glide silently through the cities blood. Invisible as the wind. I feel the rise and fall of a thousand faces in the line of my eyesight as we all move in tides of humanity but I also feel still, as though my feet are pulling the pavement underneath me. The large flat horizontal landscape is adorned with the coloured brushstrokes of fashion and the shining beacons of eyes that aren't hidden behind sunglasses. I see through the logo heiroglyphics of the shopfronts and they just become patterns, a hundred branded shades of the same free marketing dream. Finely sculpted technological jewels adorn the window displays. Libraries of art and entertainment in the CD, DVD and bookshops are culture stacked like canned goods filling up the aisles. I'm watched by blank faced mannequins that model the latest season of glamour cloths behind glass walls. I can see the currency of dollars flowing through this economic centre, money in the pocketed wallets of all these souls and their pin numbers, shopping bags full of finely crafted desire. This is the consumer cultures mecca, the city's centre, alive and bustling with trade and capital. But today I am not spending money, I am buying insight.

Then almost as quickly as it came upon us, wehave passed through the hurricane. The end of the mall had found us, and on it's edge we have found the next stop on our metropolis mission. That other nexus point of capital, the leisure centre where money becomes a pursuit in and of itself. If the Stock Exchange is the seat of high power in the religion of money, we were on our way to the community church.

The Casino

Now I understand, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a horror novel, lamenting the failed serach for the American Dream. Every Casino in the world is linked to this global franchise. For a long while Liam and I wander in daze through rows of pensioners feeding their pensions into the robots, trying to understand what might be found here for those passing their autumn years within these rows of beeping lights and flashing electronic jingles. We think of another age when these grey elders might have been strong centres of family and community, passing on wisdom and tales, instead of feeding their life savings into poker machines called 'Mystic Tarot' while their grandchildren are at the professional childcare centre.

After visiting Arnhem Land recently I've been thinking about what happened to all the whitefella dreamtime stories. Here in the casino I find one answer because here they all are; the unicorns and the faeries, the roman gods, the druids, the four leaf clover and leprechaun. All the characters of European mythology lined up like political prisoners, enslaved to run in vertical circles for the godless god of money. It makes sense. Anything with a slightly magical rumour is perfect fodder to illicit the attention of superstitious gamblers who might believe that these little stolen demigods will shine luck and favour upon them... and in one fell swoop our entire cultural heritage is reduced to a mere novelty at service to the machinery of capital.

But is anyone even surprised? All of their sacred powers were stolen so long ago no one even blinks when they are treated so cruelly. And it's bad enough that the white secular culture has prostituted its own mythology, but amongst them we also find Native American dreamcatchers and new age dolphins joining the rows of mythological martyrs imprisoned in the robotic head of the poker machine. Could you imagine the uproar if Aboringal Dreamtime images where used in one of these gambling toys - or for that matter Christian symbolism? I feel the potential pandemonium like a vomit welling up inside me.

We leave, and spend the rest of the day meandering through the art gallery as the trip slwoly fades away, before finally quitting the city and returning to our suburban homestead where Liam's neighbours are having a party fuelled by bad sangria. James the bass player in Culture Connect gives me a CD of some rhymes we laid down a few days prior. Check em out on the Undergrowth website soon.

The next night is another Saturday night and Daniel takes me to a club called the Fringe Bar on the edge of the concrete valley. He's just split up with his girlfriend this week and so is keen to step back out into the meemarket. I usually avoid these kinds of places, full of trendy twenty somethings getting very trashed to loud house music. On the many plasma screens around the club they must have been playing the football finals, but now it is just the channel nine movie: 'Three Kings'. I watch with interest as people down $15 cocktails while on the screens Marky Mark is getting oil stuffed down his mouth by an Iraqi soldier... no one seems to notice. As we walk home I hear the wail of a lone aboriginal woman busking down the street, competing with the obnoxious sounds of techno emanating from the club next door where people are queuing up to get inside.

I am reminded again, this is a concrete valley.

Now I am sitting on the corner of Creek St. Perhaps there was once a creek here, now there is only a word on a sign. This is the Australian city as I find it today. A bitumen streetscape that could be anywhere... shoes obeying white pedestrian broken lines. Wealthy kids with too much money and not enough sense looking to get drunk and laid every weekend, corporate high rises full of suits obsessed with numbers, community centres of gambling robots, the roar of bus engines running on natural gas... a balding businessman, Indian officeworker carrying her mobile phone in front of her like a leash... a lone african amidst the wash of palefaces. The cafe Im sitting at is called 'Escape the Daily Grind', it has a painting of a city in monochrome... across the road is a bank. Somewhere above us all I know the sky is being scarred but we burn coal like there is no tomorrow anyway. Somewhere on the other side of the world a hurricane is fighting back, like Mother Earth's angry little sister and we watch shocked on our media portals as if we weren't forewarned for decades. Somewhere else third world poverty continues unabated while free trade dogma just rolls on.

Let me stop there. I know there is more to this city, and this is a very cynical entry... and truthfully, I dont want to be cynical anymore... I want to understand what is going on in this world without those cloudy spectacles of angst, but watching this city breathe petroleum in the hangover of my psychedelic visioning is making me feel that way. I'm searching, but I don't find much beauty in this monocultural lifestlye, and I need to record what I see for the sake of honesty...

I don't need acid to tell me that this world is upside down, but sometimes it helps to burn away the convenient illusions...

verb| 9:33am, Sat 08 Oct | The Body Corporate