By Angrytrainguy

    I’m part of the great machine that keeps our country dull. A member of an intricate web of brake pads that slow things to a crawl when any creativity or unexpected success looks like breaking out. Eureka moments are an anathema to us. Sure and steady is our creed, and if you could just fill out this form and come back in a month, that would be fine.

    I am a public servant.

    Jan marvels that I find succour in this flat sea of grey, even though I have explained to her many times that this is a calling [actually more of a whining] that summons a scattering of off-the-plan thinkers who thrive under this leaden blanket. The best of us are high-functioning sociopaths with sophisticated farce appreciation systems. This off-kilter worldview of ours finds unfettered expression because The Service pays so well and expects so little, allowing us to continue on our merry way reconfiguring this society to our own eccentric tastes.

    Why would you work anywhere else?

    One of our favourite antics is to gather adherents to some discipline or other into an easily corralled herd and faff about with their heads. We call these seminars or conferences. An example comes trippingly to the tongue.

    Beyond the pale

    After a soporifically mind-grinding journey from West Footscray [don’t ask] to Flinders Street, I needed caffeine and sugar in that order. And there, in the dim light of my coffee dissemination facility, I could make out the broody form of my ‘supervisor’.

    True to his name, Slippery Josh Slider was driving his buttocks back and forth across the seat of a tonally right, vinyl-clad, chrome-tubed kitchen chair, circa 1956. He looked rather like he was trying to roger the table leg, if that’s a thing. In my line of work, it just might be. Apart from this adolescent propensity of his, Slipstream would never attract a second look, let alone a first one. He was elite PS. He had perfected the art of absence while present.

    ‘I need you to go to Sydney,’ he said. ‘I just can’t do it this time.’

    This was code. Slipperydip had once more tested the limits of his body’s capacity to absorb massive amounts of pharmaceuticals, some prescribed, some not, and it had come up wanting. Pity really, because the paper he had
 constructed like some
highly jewelled obfuscation machine for the 4th South Pacific Colloquium on Innovation in Environment, Civil, Materials and Architecture Engineering, really needed his languid insouciant delivery to achieve the ‘desired outcomes going forward’ that conference-goers so desperately crave.

    It was entitled ‘Beyond perfidy, behind mendacity and beneath chicanery’, and it meant precisely nothing.

    Leave ‘em baffled

    The thing about 
Sydney that most endears me
 to her emerald 
waters is that for
 $17.90 one of its peculiarly arranged trains will zip you
 from Mascot Airport 
to the CBD in around 20 minutes. Time enough to plot how I might go about presenting Slipknot’s erudite meanderings in a way that did his emptiness justice, and 
then make a clean getaway.

    I was introduced to the throng – a tidy turnout of about 300 pocket-penned empty shirts – as the Responsible Departmental Representative. The moderator then read the title of Slipshod’s paper and the room seems to shrink slightly as 300 pairs of buttocks tightened.

    Over the tentative applause, I began ‘In a small town, a builder garnered a reputation for unerring accuracy. He became widely known for his uncanny ability to predict to the last nail all materials needed to construct anything of any size, thereby saving clients thousands of dollars.

    ‘A wealthy man of considerable profile in the district decided he would build a house of 24-carat gold bricks, befitting his status. Our builder was summoned and predicted that 19,852 bricks would do the job. He won contract and on completion found one brick left over. He was bereft. What would he do/

    ‘Eliminating various options on the grounds that they would lead to the discovery of his failing, and the dismantling of his reputation, he opted for throwing it over the back fence.’

    Pause and beam at the rabble as if anticipating an outbreak of hilarity. It came like an old steam locomotive leaving the station, chuh, chug, chuggity, chuggity-chug, as none wished to be seen as ‘not getting it’. I had them. Now they were primed for the paper, so deftly built from preposterous first principles that only an off-balance audience would swallow it.

    Into the Valley of Wah

    I employed the singsong voice of the clergy as I led my people down blind alleys, into endless mazes, and left them at deadends before rescuing them with fallacious theorems and hope built of smoke. As an addendum to Slipway’s ludicrous conclusions, I offered this:

    ‘A man was travelling alone in a train carriage. A woman entered the carriage with a small bag. Determined to enjoy a cigar, the man said to the woman, “I hope you don’t mind”. She said she would rather he didn’t, then revealed the contents of her bag. It was a small yapping dog.

    ‘They travelled together a short distance, silent only for the insistent barking and whining of the animal. Then, the woman leapt up, grabbed the man’s cigar from his mouth and threw it out the now-opened window. Furious, the man grabbed the dog and did the same.

    ‘When the train pulled into a station, not long thereafter, the dog came running up to its relieved mistress. You will never believe what it had in its mouth.’

    Pause while 300 shattered brainpans struggle to stitch the shards back together, sufficient to form an answer and shamefacedly share it around the auditorium. Why, the cigar of course. ‘No, it was the golden brick.’

    Boom. Just when they thought they’d put it all back together, left-handed logic and existential humour. Eschew applause, wave generously, leave.


    Returning home, as I watch Australia slide by below me, I review Jan’s barb that this kind of intellectual bullying is hardly worthy of a grown man. I decide that, on balance, going forward, it is an absolute necessity.


    *  [headline courtesy random corporate bullshit generator]

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