Tuesday, 2 October 2018



by Dave Wheeler
     Sometime in the mid to late 70’s I was at Commonwealth Park, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, on a hot summer Sunday. I think the event was called, “Sunday in the Park.” I would have been in my mid twenties at the time. 
   At that time of my life I was probably living with my mate, Brownie, (The late Owen Brown), in a house we rented at 17 Massey Street, Evatt, although Brownie was not with me at the time of which I write.
   "Sunday in the Park" was quite a wholesome event and mainly for the benefit of families, as are the sorts of functions that are held at that park today. Yet on that Sunday afternoon I, an unattached, abnormal, young misfit with two of my unattached mates of around the same age who were also by no means normal young men, attended one of those events. I suppose we had nothing better to do with ourselves, and we did have a good time. We enjoyed the band that was playing as well as the company of some pretty young girls we met while we were there.
  My mates who I went to the park with initially were Mario Gladwish and Trevor Crook, but while there we ran into another bloke we knew who I will call Larry. Larry, who was also about our age, was also by no means a normal young man. But he was a nice bloke, and I can say he was a nice bloke even though I never got to know him well, as I'm a good judge of character. Larry was also an excellent musician. I once heard him play a mean wailing sax at the Dickson Pub, and his playing gave me much pleasure and happiness at the time.
    Trevor Crook became a successful standup comedian and is still in the industry. Mario taught guitar for many years. I dont know what became of Larry.
   I enjoy listening to the sax and other brass, particularly if it involves trad jazz, blues or traditional rock and roll, and Larry played the sort of music I love and he played it well. Mario was/is also a brilliant musician, being an excellent guitarist and vocalist. I first met Larry through Mario. 
  The video clip above is of the late Fats Domino and his orchestra doing “Jambalaya." If that sort of song is experienced  close to the brass the feeling of the sound resonating through one's body can be euphoric. It is the sort of feeling I remember experiencing when I heard Larry blow his sax at the Dickson Pub many years ago, as well as when I had the privilege of hearing Fats and his orchestra at the Canberra Theatre, which I also heard many years ago.
   Pictured above is the Dickson Pub, which was where I last saw Larry blowing his saxophone. Although I don’t like pubs or alcohol nowadays, I did not like seeing the place bulldozed. It had a unique structure and it was a part of the life of a lot of lads and lasses of the Berra during their youth. I have very good memories of listening to good jazz at the Dicko. I know one ex Canberra boy, a bloke who was no stranger to crime and violence, who burst into tears when he found out the Dicko had been demolished.
   Larry, a fellow misfit, joined us as we were listening to the band  playing at Commonwealth Park and he also joined in our conversation with the attractive young ladies. After the band stopped playing Larry asked the girls if they would like to come back to his place with us. The girls declined the invitation and told us they had something else to do, which was not surprising. Even though they appeared to enjoy our off humour and off topics of conversation they possessed the minds of simple middle class Berra girls, whereas although the 4 of us had bodies that had dwelt in the Berra for lengthy periods our minds were on an entirely different planet.
   Anyway, we decided to go back to Larry’s place minus the sheilas, and upon arrival I was to discover Larry was still living with his mum, who greeted us as we walked in. She was a very friendly lady in her 50’s who made us all a cup of tea and provided us with a plate of bickies. We sat together, minus Larry’s mum, at a large table, and began talking about the usual things blokes of that age and our type talk about; until Larry started talking about Scientology! 
  He went on and on! He told us that his mate had got him into Scientology and it had dramatically improved his life. He also told us that prior to finding Scientology he had felt unwell. The Scientologists told him to begin eating properly, exercising and abstaining from piss, tobacco and dope. This he did, and after a while, lo and behold, he started feeling a lot better. Some of the best scams in history have been based on half truths. Obviously Larry would have felt better once he began looking after himself, but he attributed it all to Scientology. He hadn't given much thought to cause and effect. 
   On and on he went, trying to convert us to Scientology, until his mum, an obviously very empathic lady, who had moved into the next room to give us some privacy, could take it no longer. She came out of the adjoining room, walked up to Larry and said,“Larry, give it a rest! Your mates didn’t come here to listen to that drivel!”
    Larry got the message and we got back to discussing the things lads of that age and our type discuss.
   Other than Larry feeling better because he was looking after his body, Scientology probably gave his life some sort of meaning and direction, even though its foundation is based on absolute bullshit. I’m not sure of the Scientologist’s ultimate goal, but I’m told it involves something like getting rid of “engrams” in order to achieve some sort of eternal enlightenment. I suppose Larry's pursuit of the Scientology goal gave him a path to follow and something positive to look forward to, even though the whole thing was ridiculous.
   Our species became religious because it gave meaning to people and possibly promoted tribal unity. It must have also aided our species' ability to survive and engage in gene replication, because if it didn't the propensity for religiosity would not exist.
    Religion which has in its foundations a belief in the supernatural and offers eternal life may suit some, but not so those of us who cannot help wanting to see hard evidence before we are willing to believe in anything. But, humanity has the full spectrum when it comes to religiosity, ranging from non-believers like me to those who are afflicted with religious mania.
    I’m not sure where on the religiosity spectrum Larry was placed, but I know it was enough to have got him heavily into Scientology. Still, I haven’t seen him for 40 plus years and I wonder if he became disillusioned, as some do, and got back into the legal and illegal drugs he had been using. For all I know at this moment he could be mumbling incoherently to himself in Ainslie Village, or he may have topped himself many years ago. I hope not, because, as I have said, he was a very nice bloke and I sincerely hope that somehow he continued to have meaning and direction in his life and continued to keep himself in good health. Musicians however, are not renown for having good mental health, particularly very talented muso’s like Larry. Everything seems to have its price.
     On that note I will go back further in time and introduce the main subject of this yarn, a bloke I knew named Bob, who, like me, also demanded proof before he was willing to believe in anything, particularly anything revolving around the supernatural. I worked with Bob as a builder’s labourer in late 1972 or thereabouts on a building site in Wattle Street, on the Lyneham side of the road. We were building a block of flats.
   I always made a habit of trying to break the monotony of mindless work by engaging my workmates in conversation that went beyond the mundane. And as Bob, a true-blue Anglo Celtic Aussie in his mid to late 30’s, had at least 15 years on me, I thought I may be able to pick up some useful knowledge from him even though he had very little formal education. Other than receiving direct verbal knowledge from others based on what they got right in their lives, I was aware that it's possible to learn by being aware of the mistakes others make, and Bob did not try and hide the fact that he had made plenty of mistakes during his life.
    To get my workmates talking non-shallow talk I would usually bring very basic philosophy into our conversations and ask them questions which got them thinking. I would also sometimes give them hypotheticals, and as a result of that approach they often spilt their guts to me. 
    Bob revealed to me a lot about himself. He told me that at one stage of his life he’d been a hopeless alcoholic and that his wife had left him for that reason. That event of course made him feel worse than normal, and it was not long after his wife left him he looked at his life and saw it as pointless. He thought there was no light at the end of the tunnel other than the proverbial oncoming train. 
  Had he inherited the religiosity gene/s and/or been indoctrinated into a religion, he may have been able to see some point in life by following a religion, but Bob was an agnostic and a realist.
    He told me that in a period of sobriety, albeit sobriety in which he felt at rock bottom, he walked to the top of Mount Ainslie, and in act of desperation got down on his knees and prayed, despite the fact that he was an agnostic. 
   Although of course my memory will not allow me to quote verbatim the words Bob told me he used in his prayer or what he said to me in the conversation I had with him after he told me of his experience, what follows describes the gist of his prayer and our conversation with absolute accuracy. It is as follows, beginning with what Bob told me he asked God in his prayer:
     “God, if you exist please give me a sign! Please given me some direction in life! I can’t take it any more; just give me some inspiration! Guide me onto the path I should be taking! Give me a reason to live God! Please!”
    Bob told me that after the prayer he waited for something to happen. He said to me, I waited and I waited and I waited.” 
   "What happened"? I asked Bob.
   Bob replied, “Fuck all! It was a waste of fuckin time and I felt like a fuckin idiot talking to the trees and the sky. Nobody was listening to me and nobody gave a fuck!”     
   I asked him, "How did you feel after that Bob?" 
   Bob replied, “Not the best. What do you expect?”
   I asked him, “Have you come to the conclusion that either there is no god or if there is a god he couldnt give a rats arse about you and he has no intention of lending you a helping hand?" 
   Bob replied, “Yeah, it’s all bullshit. I still can’t see any point to life, but the fact that I realise it’s up to me to make the most of what life throws at me means I can’t blame anyone for any bad decisions I make other than me. 
   I asked him, Bob, upon accepting that fact, did it make you more able to look after yourself than before you accepted that fact?
   Bob replied, “Yeah, I don't drink piss anymore and I eventually got onto another sheila who I’m living with.” 
   I asked him, “Are you happy Bob?"
   Bob replied, "As happy as I’ll ever be. You’ve just got to accept that life is about workin, growin old then dyin, and making the most of it all while we’re here
   I asked him, “Do you mean life's a combination of pain and pleasure and you’ve just got to accept the pain and savour the pleasure when it's available?
   Bob replied, “That’s exactly what I mean! I was thinking of topping myself for a while when I realised just how pointless life is. But I could never do that to my parents or brothers. Had I had no parents or brothers I may have done it, but as that was out of the question I just had to accept that I had to live through it all, and Im glad I didnt top myself because even if life is pointless its not too bad.
     I then asked, "So Bob, to sum it up for me do you think we should choose between suicide or accepting life’s pains and savouring its pleasures, and do you think that any other choice is irrational? And before you answer that, do you believe that if for whatever reason we decide to rule out topping ourselves, once we decide to stick around and in doing so accept lifes pains and savour its pleasures life is not too bad, even if it is pointless? 
Bob replied, "My fuckin oath!
I then asked, When you say life is pointless could we instead say that the objective of life is to maximise pleasure and to minimise pain, and in pursuing that goal our objective should be to take into account the anticipated quantity and intensity of pleasure and pain which accompanies each of our options?

Bob replied, You’re confusing me you bastard, but I think I know where you’re coming from.
I then asked, “How do you know God didn’t give you that message by refusing to give you any sort of answer or sign Bob, meaning he was giving you direction by not giving you direction?”
    Bob thought I was taking the piss and continuing to try to confuse him and he laughed heartily. He then replied, “Youd think with all his powers he could do a bit better than that. The bastard.”
    After accepting he was not going to get any outside help and that he was not going to top himself and that life consists of growing old, dying and making the most of it in the process, it would seem that Bob had adopted much of the philosophy of an ancient Greek named Epicurus, even though it’s highly unlikely he had ever heard of him.
   To go into greater detail, Bob, either consciously and/or non-consciously, had, like Epicurus, come to the conclusion that the objective of life is to maximise pleasure and minimise pain, and that to do so one must accept unavoidable pain and savour  pleasures when available.
     And because he had given up piss it would seem that Bob, like Epicurus, believed that one should not pursue pleasure blindly in ways that result in certain intense pleasures bringing on more pain than they're worth. In other words, he became conscious of the fact that to increase pleasure is to avoid pain, and certain intense pleasures can ultimately result in suffering pain of such an intensity and/or duration than they are not worth having, as would be the case if one has sex with a beautiful woman who kindly passes on to you her HIV positive status. Although that is an obviously extreme example, we are surrounded by many other pleasures we can choose to enjoy which are simply not worth enjoying because of the pain they also deliver.
    It was for the latter reasons Epicurus advocated savouring simple pleasures and a simple lifestyle, a lifestyle devoid of rich food and alcohol. The word “epicure," came about because of an ignorance of what true Epicureanism entailed.
   To reiterate, by being aware of all this Bob was able to savour life’s pleasures and accept without mental turbulence life’s pains, which obviously means that when he rid himself of his dependance on alcohol he was better able to accept and savour his here and now, which means he was more mindful (in the present) than he had been, even though he was not a practitioner of mindfulness per se.
    We are now talking about the non-religious aspects of Buddhism. "How wondrous this, how mysterious! I carry fuel, I draw water.
     Having said all this, Bob could not be described as a laughing Buddha. Like everyone he suffered pain and enjoyed varying degrees of pleasure, but on an overall basis he enjoyed his life and had ceased to have any desire to turn out his own lights.
    Okay, the reader will accuse me of putting words into Bob’s mouth he did not want to utter by my asking the leading questions I asked him, but based on what he told me in simple English, without any prompting from me, I’m convinced that he came to the same conclusions as many of the great philosophers and that my questions to him were there to assist him to express himself rather than to put words in his mouth. 
   Had Bob been more articulate he could have given lectures to the few people who would have listened to him, and in doing so saved them from an enormous amount of unnecessary pain and allowed them to enjoy far more pleasure than they would have otherwise enjoyed.
    On the same subject, I’ve said in other posts that in my youth I met many old WW1 and WW2 diggers who saw horrible sights and underwent horrific experiences. Some suffered for the remainder of their lives because of their wartime experiences, but others, rather than talk about what they experienced to counsellors or their families, (and in doing so get themselves upset by reliving their traumas), chose to live relatively enjoyable postwar lives, and they did so by way of a simple formula. 
     Other than not talk about what they experienced some were able, to a large degree, keep unasked for visions of what they experienced from flooding their conscious minds by simply keeping physically and mentally active. Try thinking negatives thoughts or reliving a past trauma if you are engaged in heavy physical exercise or work.
    I will place a caveat into this approach when it comes to dealing with trauma to the extent that a degree of rationality is required for it to be successful, and if a person is so traumatised and emotional he loses his rationality then obviously he will remain a slave to his emotions. All we can do is consciously strive for rationality, and if this is done one has a reasonable chance of keeping it most of the time.
    Of course nobody is able to dodge pain entirely, but by accepting unavoidable pain and being occupied one is more mindful than one would otherwise be, and by being mindful one is also better able to savour life’s simple pleasures. Some old diggers who took such an approach continued to enjoy the simple pleasures life offered them for the remainder of their lives.
    How Epicurean! How Buddhist! How Bob-like they were!

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