May 30, 2017

“Chips, Egos and Geminis”

By In Uncategorized

My maternal grandfather, Abraham “Abe” Lessick, was born on May 28 1927, in one of the front rooms of a single-storey semi-detached house in suburban Pretoria, in which also lived another family of even lowlier origins. His parents were Hasidic Jewish refugees from the shtetl adjacent to the town of Ponedel, near the border of modern-day Lithuania and Latvia, having fled in the years after 1905, when their settlement of one thousand suffered a devastating pogrom (in which one of Abe’s aunts was raped and murdered by a soldier) orchestrated by the townspeople (but against the instructions of the town priest), with the Baltic states then being part of the “Pale of Settlement” for the Jews of the Russian Empire, which suffered an economic recession for most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a result of Russia’s extreme lethargy in industrialising causing a protracted recession which of course was blamed on the money-lending Jews through widely distributed anti-Semitic newspapers encouraging the hard-pressed peasants in the countryside to occasionally riot against their Jewish neighbours with the tacit consent of Russian officials in charge who were all too happy to redirect the object of such civil unrest away from themselves. Most of South Africa’s Jewish population escaped in one enormous exodus from Lithuania in the years before World War I, migrating sibling-by-sibling, family-by-family, shtetl-by-shtetl from a country which had been their ancestral home for half a millennium but where it was now abundantly clear they were no longer welcome to one which was economically fertile thanks to the turn-of-the-century gold rushes around Johannesburg and welcomed white immigrants with open arms (even Jewish ones who arrived with only the clothes on their backs). Ironically, it was the relatively ‘mild’ pogroms that saved the 40,000 South African “Litvaks” (Yiddish for Lithuanian) from the Holocaust, with 94% of the 263,000 Lithuanian Jews that remained living there in 1939 perishing by 1945, the highest ‘success rate’ out of any of the countries involved in the ‘final solution’.

Even though South Africa’s fledgling Jewish population was generally poor because of these unfortunate circumstances, Abe’s family was particularly so. His father, Nehemiah “Nathan” Lessick was an alcoholic and none of his remaining family can tell me what job he had because they can’t remember him ever working. Abe’s mother was once a skilled seamstress, but soon after he was born, started losing her eyesight. From the age of eight Abe helped her with sewing every day when he came home from school and got his first ‘proper’ job at the age of twelve, operating the lights at the Southern Suburbs ice rink to supplement his mother’s small income and help support his younger brother and two younger sisters. After the family moved to Johannesburg, they continued to move houses every year or so because of evictions brought on by rent defaults. It was at one of these houses that an afternoon tea was held to commemorate Abe’s becoming Bar Mitzvah. The family could only afford to provide food for a fraction of the large number of the extended family they were obliged to invite, so his two younger sisters stood at the door, collected the envelopes from the guests, took them to the room that they shared and opened them, leaving the cards for Abe to read later and taking the money to the purchase enough supplies from the local kosher supermarket to cater a respectable party, sneaking the supplies in through the back gate.

Despite being left to support his family alone, owing to his father’s death and his mother’s deteriorating health, Abe managed to find enough time for study to graduate near the top of his class and became the first member of his family to take a degree, studying architecture at the prestigious Witwatersrand University. But it was at Abe’s university side-job, working as a bookmaker’s assistant at Johannesburg Tattersalls, that he really hit his stride. Abe was not only charismatic and good looking but he was incredibly resourceful and pragmatic – and eventually made enough of a name for himself in the right (or wrong) circles to open his own bookmaking operation, which would eventually employ up to 14 people (and most of the extended family, including my mother) and see him arrested for tax evasion. He funnelled the cash from this business into property, building a retail and housing complex, and also purchasing vast tracks of seaside property in the Western Cape. Property was the perfect investment vehicle for Abe’s slightly ill-gotten gains because he was able to scatter little monuments to his ego all over South Africa. Meanwhile, his younger brother Mike Lessick, born into similar poverty and with a similarly fervent determination to hoist himself out of it, began sewing of the seeds of a rather less precarious empire as soon as he left high school. At the age of 30 he opened his own store in Kempton Park, eventually owning five Mika (the South African version of Bunnings) franchises.

However, Mike, born 2 February 1931 (an Aquarius), did not suffer from quite the same degree of rabid egotism or crippling shame over his origins as Abe, who as a child contracted Rheumatic Fever (most likely because of the family’s inability to afford heating), which left him with a lifelong heart condition that he hid even from his wife and children until he was on his deathbed, not wanting to be judged for having a “poor man’s disease”. In fact, he never spoke to them about his childhood at all, or the sacrifices he made for the sake of his family (his siblings being the ones to pass down this information). And as soon as he began to earn his own money, he began pulling out every stop to persistently prove to his family and strangers alike that he was unequivocally the opposite of a “poor man”. He wouldn’t leave the house without a wad of hundred-Rand notes hanging out of his shirt pocket, ready to pay for the meal of whomever he happened to be dining with, always giving the triple the tip that would be tasteful or appropriate in any given situation.

 

Abe’s manic fixation with outwardly demonstrating his ‘worth’ only intensified when he met and fell in love with June, born 11 June 1927, whose father Frederic was a member of the esteemed Issacs family of English Jews, and whose mother was a Narcissistic Frenchwoman who only wore current-season Chanel suits and converted to Judaism to marry Frederic  (which is how I turned out vaguely normal looking – the more non-Jewish blood in the Jew, the less likely he’ll look like Woodie Allen). Both of June’s parents turned their not-so-big nose’s firmly up at Abe and his mob of gefilta-fish scoffing, chicken-swinging, Yiddish-speaking Litvaks. June obviously thought nouveau-riche gauche was sexy because they married. I won’t say anything about their marriage because my very talented aunt Rochelle, also a writer, is adapting the story of their tempestuous union into a morality tale called Emergency Happiness (imagine a more neurotic, sympathetic version of Skarsgard warring with a more chutzpadik version of Kidman in Big Little Lies, with South African accents, and you’re almost there). Instead, I’m going to fast-forward to Abe’s mid fifties, when he decided to sell the entirety of his property portfolio to finance the ultimate monument to his ego, a hotel, in Maraisburg, a  not-particularly-desirable town in Western Gauteng (outside of Johannesburg). Despite no longer having anything to prove, and having everything to lose, his determination (fanned now also by some sort of mid-life-crisis) to build, and expand, and rebuild, and rebuild again, this ultimate status symbol could not be broken. Every associate, friend and family member who begged him to think again only somehow encouraged his belief that all he had to do was open the doors of his temple and the worshippers would flock. Except they didn’t. The hotel rooms remained empty and the complex haemorrhaged money from the day in opened. And in  1988, the bank repossessed every property he owned, including the house where he and June lived with their two poodles Joey and Lisa eand the once lavish couple were reduced to accepting handouts from the little brother Abe helped put through school.

What does a man, a true Gemini, who was both a Communist-party member and shonky businessman, do after the roller-coaster of his life reaches rock bottom and he loses all the outward material compensations for his internal sense of inferiority that he spent his life accumulating? He takes his wife and follows his two daughters to a foreign land, rents a one-bedroom flat in Chatswood, and promptly contracts terminal pancreatic cancer. At the time my big-haired mother, who was an Australian resident of only two years and mother of a six year old child with a giant gap between his front two teeth, was in the midst of a very difficult pregnancy (it seems I was a troublemaking foetus even before I became a troublemaking child). She almost suffered a miscarriage because of high blood pressure, resulting in her doctors forbidding her family from exposing her to any further stress, especially the news of her father’s imminent death. On 5 June 1990, my mother gave birth to a healthy but somewhat reluctant baby boy. Her husband was not actually present at the birth because eight days prior, on the 28th of May (also Abe’s 63rd birthday), my father had suffered a rather dramatic nervous breakdown and had been sectioned (about which my mother fortunately also didn’t know all the details). The day after I came into the picture, my mother was finally told of her father’s illness, and driven straight from St Margaret’s in Surry Hills St to the Royal North Shore Hospital in St Leonards so that the intergenerational Gemini torch could be passed down, and she could begin to say her goodbyes. Apparently Abe opened his hand at me in a gentle wave and I reached out and grabbed his thumb and held it. “You’ve got a strong one here, Wendy”, he commended my mother. He died exactly two weeks later. If you’ve ever been tempted to judge my mother harshly for some of the stories I’ve recounted with a not-so-concealed tone of resentment, think back to the three weeks between the 28th of May and the 20th of June 1990. I certainly do, a lot.

We didn’t have to share it with Afrikaners, but the house that I was taken home to was also long, dark and skinny and by the standards of what an average Australian child born in the 1990s would have grown up in, dilapidated. My parents bought the three storey terrace in 1988 for an amount which though one tenth of its worth today, seemed to their relatives a ludicrous amount for a hundred square metres sandwiched between a major arterial road, a backpacker’s hostel and a tradie pub. But they had grand plans for renovation, almost none of which (owing to their failure to ever really get themselves back on their feet after the calamities of June 1990) were fulfilled until just before they sold the house in 2009 after their divorce. For my entire childhood, it had only one proper bathroom on the ground floor (meaning you had to descend three flights of stairs if you had to use it in the middle of the night, which might explain why I have such a sturdy bladder and resilient quads), a kitchen with chipped green tiles and rotting brown timber cupboard doors that didn’t close properly and a yard of cracked concrete and unweeded and cat-shit-filled flowerbeds that lead down to a gate that was continuously threatening to fall off its hinges (partially because of the attempts of drunk backpackers to get into what they periodically mistook for their lodgings).

But unlike my grandfather, I was always fed and clothed and bathed properly and our relative poverty (relative only to a particularly wealthy section of a particularly wealthy society) only became apparent to me when by a certain twist of fate narrated in the entry “Mark of the Bullied Children” I escaped the public school fate for which I was destined and was transferred to a posh Jewish Day School at the age of eight. It was there that, because I had friends for the first time, I began to be invited to friends’ houses, and I began to realise that most houses, and most families, were very different to mine. The boy who would become my first ‘best friend’ (though I was never his best friend – I was third on his ‘best friends’ list, a position I felt honoured to hold because it was a rather illustrious list) lived in a house in North Bondi with a double garage and a kitchen with a granite kitchen island and a stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator, a bathroom (one of four) mere metres from the door of his bedroom which had a shower that actually had a screen around it so it didn’t wet the toilet seat, and a rumpus room with a table-tennis table and a gargantuan cathode ray television (one of the ones with a huge plastic box behind the screen – this was the pre-plasma era). His dad used to cook lamb chops on the barbecue and clean the terracotta-coloured pillars that held up the loggia of the house’s upper floor with a hose fitted with a high-pressure attachment. My friend’s mother would drive us to Parsley Bay, often picking up other kids along the way, and we’d go for ‘jungle-walks’ around the rock-boarded creek in the reserve that hugs the bay, before eating the pre-prepared smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches that waited for us in an esky. My friend’s parents took it upon themselves to socialise me in every aspect of upper middle-class living, from how to properly greet someone when you enter their car to how to use a napkin at a restaurant. But pretty soon after I first hopped aboard, I was the best “good morning” announcer and napkin wearer in the Tarago.

My friend and I mostly spoke about Pokemon cards and computer games but occasionally some underlying source of tension would unexpectedly bubble to the surface and we’d find ourselves talking about ‘real things’. My friend was always quietly curious about me because I was such an anomaly in the ‘group’, and I was reticent to talk about my family life or my previous school unless prompted. But I could always tell when he wanted to ask me something and I couldn’t help but pry it out of him what that was.

“Come out with it, just tell me”, I once pressed him as we were walking up the narrow lane from the park next to the school after PE class.

“Nothing.”

“I know it’s not nothing. And I’m going to ignore you until you tell me.”

“Okay, okay….well…when you were younger, like a little boy, I don’t know how to say this…did you…”

“Did I?  Did I what? Have a circumcision?”

“Oh my God.”

“What?”

“That’s exactly what I was going to ask you.”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny.”

“Sam, it seriously was.”

“Are you kidding me? I was joking. Why would you ask me something like that?”

“You never use the pee-wall when we go to the bathroom together.”

“How could you think something that – seriously – I’m Jewish aren’t I?” said while wearing a blue and white yarmulka, as per the school uniform.

“Well, I guess so…”

“Could I even go to this school if I wasn’t Jewish?”

“I guess not.”

“I can assure you that I most certainly am circumcised. I don’t use the pee-wall because I think the whole concept of a pee-wall is strange and uncomfortable – why would you pee standing next to someone when you don’t have to? Girls don’t have to. Why should I?”

That was all entirely true – like every good Jewish boy, I was involuntarily mutilated and permanently deprived of the enjoyment of my foreskin at the tender age of eight days old. But I eventually get over my misgivings about communal urination, training myself out of stage-fright during my ‘gap year’ for reasons of pride and practicality. I now even find the experience of using a urinal to be an amusing live study into the paradoxes of modern behavioural decorum, especially half-outdoor urinals like the one at the bottom of London Fields in my old neighbourhood of Hackney, where you can watch hipster mums and dads with their hipster children entering and leaving Broadway Market while you hold your appendage and expel the liquefied refuse from the quart of beer that you’ve just consumed at a barbecue in the park – and it’s all legal and somehow socially sanctioned.

But returning from my adult perversions to my childhood angst, on a different quiet and confessional walk, I was bewildered to learn one day that my friend had actually been harbouring a certain jealousy towards me.  When we were waiting to be picked up by our mothers, he began to bewail the “unfairness” of my receiving full marks in a class test for which I had started studying only the night before, whereas he started studying a whole week before and achieved only 90%. I was dismayed by how my popular, wealthy, loved friend could ever be jealous of a Smeagle like myself, and I even revealed that it was I who was really jealous of him, thinking that would somehow make him feel better. I explained to him that even though it couldn’t be denied I was smarter than him, he was actually much better than me at life overall – even if we just took sporting prowess into account, never mind all the other areas in which I was impoverished. If I was 100% good at school, and he was 90% good at school, then he was also 90% good at sport, whereas I was 30% good at sport, so he was really 50% better than me as a person.  He nodded his head in agreement.

But the most significant conversations my friend and I had in terms of the development of the chip weighing down my young shoulder transpired one lunchtime when we remained in the shelter a few minutes longer after our friends had finished eating and run out into the yard to play. By that stage, he had visited my house a handful of times, about a tenth of the number of times which I had visited his. Halfway down the yard in my house, there was a detached cobwebby outhouse which would have been the house’s primary bathroom when it is added in the 1950s, before the one behind the kitchen inside the house was built. A sliding door divided this odd structure into two chambers, one containing a rusting bathtub (in which rested our two dryers – a newish operational one stacked on an old broken one), a trough-like basin which looked like something you might have washed your hands in at a bather’s pavilion in the 1970s, flanked by a white top-loading washing machine and Miele dishwasher. In the other chamber was a W/C with an even more rusted toilet bowl and shelves with stacks and stacks of TIME and National Geographic Magazine from the 80s and 90s and half a dozen ashtrays that were never emptied. This chamber had a distinctive odour, an odour which permeated the entire courtyard because the window of the outhouse didn’t have any glass in it. It was about this smell that my friend inquired about on that fateful afternoon.

“It just smells because my Dad is always in that outside toilet, smoking.”

“Yeah, your Dad always smells like that room after he’s been in there. He makes the office where your computer is smell like that too.”

My father worked from home as an architectural draftsman and took up the two large reception rooms of the middle level of our house as his office (meaning that my brother and I had to share one of the rooms upstairs, the nicer room, actually). When the sea of paper that he somehow operated from within was eventually cleared out before the renovations in 2008, several A1 original plans for Chifley Tower, constructed in 1988 and my father’s first big project in Australia, were found in the excavated rubble.

“I guess he does smell. But it’s just because he smokes a lot of cigarettes. And he smokes them in the outhouse. And the smell drifts out into the yard.”

My friend nodded his head in feigned concurrence.

“That makes sense doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess. Except it doesn’t smell bad in the way that normal cigarettes smell bad.”

What my friend said was true. It was a peculiarity that I had picked up on myself frequently, never to which I never turned mind because of the threat to the image of my father, and to my life, that the question embodied.

“You’re right. They don’t smell like normal cigarettes. The truth is that I don’t know what the smell is.”

My friend gave the playground a coy glance.

“Do you know what the smell is?”

“I asked my parents. I told them what it smelt like.”

“What did they say it was?”

“They said it was marijuana.” (pronounced with a hard ‘j’)

“What’s marijuana?”

“Maybe you should look it up.”

When trying to put a positive spin on my childhood (and her marriage), I recently said to my mother that we should actually consider ourselves fortunate that my father’s addiction (or daily coping-with-life mechanism, depending on how you look at it) wasn’t the same as Abe’s father, because an omnipresent but vacant male presence who can still perform a job well enough to keep a roof over his family’s head, is preferable to one who is unemployed and physically violent. But after my friend got to ask his question, I stopped asking him, or any of my other friends, to come to my house, and I started walking into the school in the morning with my shoulders slumped a little lower.

It was around this time, at the beginning of Year 5 when I was nine years old, that the first boy in the year (a Vaucluse resident) was given a mobile phone. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It had interchangeable clip-on front and back covers. The screen lit up and it vibrated when it rung. It had a stopwatch and a countdown timer, a phonebook and even a rudimentary calendar. And most spellbindingly, Snake 2. He was never on the playground without a flock of admirers hovering over his new toy. Observing how much more everyone seem to like and respect him after he got the phone, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I stopped spending my pocket money on sweets – nothing could taste as sweet as how popular I would feel after I had that phone in my hot little hands. And by the time my tenth birthday came around, I only had a $120 shortfall which I begged my mother to make up as my birthday present, convincing her that I could be socially accepted and happy even though I was too embarrassed to invite friends over only if I was bought the Nokia 3310 prepaid pack from the Post Office. Perhaps she could have tried to explain why no consumer product was ever going to make me feel complete as a person, but instead she just gave me the money.

And being the second boy in the year to own his own mobile phone did actually make me feel a bit better about myself, or at least a little less inferior. But that wasn’t enough. All my friends at sleepovers and ‘get-togethers’ at Fox Studios and Eastgardens seemed also to have newer and nicer clothes than me, and once I was even called out for wearing the same army-green Mambo t-shirt on two different occasions. So I coerced my mother into taking me on regular shopping sprees to General Pants Co and SDS and raised absolute hell if the words “we can’t afford it” even dared to leave her mouth, expertly deploying the emotional blackmail and manipulation tactics I’d so often observed my parents deploying against each other as their preferred mode of communication. I think, even once, I threatened to jump off my third-storey balcony if I wasn’t bought a new pair of jeans (to which my father’s response was “you wouldn’t even die – you’d just be a miserable cripple”. My mother felt so sorry for me that she bought me the jeans).

When Year 6 rolled around, I was sat down by my mother and told in no uncertain terms that I had only been placed into private education for the remainder of primary school years to save me from certain destruction at the hands of public school bullies, but there was absolutely no way they could afford to send me to a private high school, so if I wanted to go to the same school as any of my friends, I would have to make my own way there by achieving a full scholarship. She placed a stack of study guides and past exams for the state-wide scholarship exams in a Dymocks bag on the table and wished me luck. I didn’t argue with her. I just started studying. And conveniently, it just so happened that when I was in Year 6, my brother, with whom I shared a room, was completing his High School Certificate. So every night while he studied for his all-important end-of-year exams, I studied for mine. I completed every past paper and memorised every word of the study guides, and in September, despite not having had a tutor, I received a perfect score in the scholarship exam and was offered the highest level of scholarship for which I was eligible at every school for which I applied. But unfortunately the school to which the majority of my friends were heading, the ‘mainstream’ Jewish Day School in the Eastern Suburbs, only offered half academic scholarships and my father’s income was actually too high for me to meet the eligibility requirements for a part needs-based scholarship (if you’re wondering then how we lived so poorly, perhaps it was because the majority of his income went either to take-out food, psychiatrist appointments, those ‘different smelling’ cigarettes, or to the perms which my mother seemed to get done on a weekly basis, which I now fully appreciate were her excuse to escape for a few hours to a place where she would be told she looked beautiful, because Lord knows that wasn’t something she was ever going to hear at home, even though she was).

The timing of my scholarship applications was fortunate because the ‘alternative’ Eastern Suburbs Jewish school just up the road, having just been ransacked of its best students by the opening of Sydney’s first for-profit school Reddam House, was only too delighted to offer me a full academic scholarship, even if I was slightly less delighted to accept it. You’d think that an eleven-year-old might be proud of such an achievement. Except I really wasn’t. I was ashamed of entering this new school in what felt like a shroud of illegitimacy. I forbade my mother or the few family members who knew about my feat from ever disclosing it. And I was paranoid about anyone at my new school picking up whiffs of my ‘outsiderness’, and based on prior experience, inferred my best defence strategy against being ‘caught out’ was to arm myself with status symbols reflective of a higher socioeconomic status than what I actually came from. And so I manipulated my mother into buying me as many such symbols as my arsenal of emotional blackmail weapons could manage, which was quite a considerable amount, considering I had just effectively earned myself $100,000 of education and I was still really cut-up about not being able to attend the same school as my close friends, despite having done all that was possibly in my power to get myself there and the school itself proclaiming that my parents weren’t as hard-up as they had always made out to me. In addition to an all-new uniform and a shiny new pair of black Clarks, I insisted on being bought a full new ‘plain clothes’ wardrobe for the school orientation camp (including a pair of recently released Nike Shox that I was totally obsessed with), a new phone (with a colour screen!), half a grand’s worth of every kind of stationary conceivable (including an excessively multi-functional calculator) and all new textbooks, painstakingly covered in opaque contact paper. I threw many tantrums during this weekend-long spending spree, perhaps the most memorable of which being at the Bunnings hardware store on Frenchmans Rd, which we visited to purchase the lock which the information pack stated as being required to protect each child’s locker. I was tremendously excited to have a locker – the first ninety square centimetres of floating property I would be able to call my own outside of the house from which I did everything possible to disassociate myself. I would wallpaper the inside into becoming a shrine to Destiny’s Child, BMW and Japan (I had an eclectic mix of tastes) but I knew that even the most beautiful locker interior would mean nothing if the lock that adorned its exterior didn’t send the right message to the world. And this message of course had to be both ‘stay the fuck out of my locker’ and ‘I’m richer than you’. If you were moving to a new suburb and had to live in the same wooden box as all your prying neighbours, but you were allowed to park whatever you could afford in the drive, wouldn’t you go all out on a gunmetal-grey Range Rover with 22” rims? So of course, I hunted down the Range Rover of locks. It was a Master, all chrome, perfectly circular, with a bolt that slickly slid out into a u-shaped gap carved out in the solid piece to enclose the latch it was required to secure. It looked exactly how I wanted to feel – rich and unfuckable-with. It was $69.95 (in 2002) but I had to have it. My mother capitulated after 324 seconds. Except, when it came to taking my new lock for a test-run on the first day of the school, the bolt was actually too thick for the eye of the locker’s puny latch. And the store wouldn’t exchange or refund the lock because it had been taken out of the packaging. So my poor (now literally, and in every other sense of the word) mother had to go back to buy me a more conventional $21.95 Lockwood that was more of a Jeep Wrangler. But it had a matt black coating, and was sexy enough.

In my first year of school, I also tried to keep my cleverness quiet whenever results were returned, so as to not give the other students a reason to suspect I was only at the school because of my undeserved brain as opposed to they whom were at the school because of their parents’ entirely deserved wealth. So I was a complete dark horse when I took out the prize for Dux of Year 7. But even after this made hiding my intelligence an impossibility, I was still ashamed of getting high marks, and tried not to share them too flagrantly. This greatly irked the no. 2 of the year, my frenemy throughout High School, who incidentally the only vaguely attractive (in a generic Anglo-sort of way) guy in the year (because his mother was a convert). In Year 9, we received a Jewish Studies exam back in which he received 94%, which he was pretty confident was the highest mark in the year, because the next highest marks of which he knew were down in the 80s. I congratulated him to make him feel comfortable with his presumption, but wouldn’t reveal my mark. He wasn’t satisfied. So when our teacher accidentally left the spreadsheet of marks unattended on his desk, my tormentor (incidentally born 24 May) not only took a peek, but picked up the page and started waving it maniacally at the rest of the class, yelping “Bookatz got 99%! He got 99%!” I asked the mortified teacher if I could be excused and spent the rest of the period crying on the lid of a closed toilet. I didn’t want to be smart and poor. I wanted to be normal.

My next opportunity to manipulate extrinsic circumstances to facilitate my nascent spending addiction arrived with the approach of my Bar Mitzvah. Because I had seen my brother go through the same process six years prior, I knew exactly what a Bar Mitzvah meant – serious coin. Like five-figures coin. It’s traditional for close friends and family of the Bar Mitzvah boy to give cold hard cash as a present, in multiples of 18 (a lucky number in Kabbalah because the numerical value of the letter ‘chet’ (ח‎) is 8 and the numerical value of the letter ‘yud’ (י) is 10, and chet and yud together make ‘chai’ (י ח‎), the Hebrew word for life, so 18 in a sense ‘means’ life). And many of the gifts are very high multiples of this number because the larger the gift, the less likely the Bar Mitzvah boy’s family will hold farribels against the mishpocha who gave it for the next 18 years. And, unlike my grandfather, the boys in my family got to keep their loot. But we were only meant to spend a small portion in the immediate term on a single, grand, self-chosen gift (in my brother’s case, a bass guitar), requiring the rest to be kept in trust account until he reaches adulthood (my brother having used it to pay his rent for the first year after he moved out of home, while he spent most of his waking hours playing his bass guitar). But spending a ‘small portion’ wasn’t good enough for the younger Bookatz son. So I decided to strike a deal with my mother to do one better for myself.

To contextualise this deal, I need to delve into the intricacies of the wonderful and terrifying task every Bar Mitzvah boy faces to receive his bounty. The Old Testament (or, in the proper language, the Torah) is divided into 54 parashot, one or two of each is read (or sung) each Saturday morning during the synagogue service. And each parasha is divided into seven (give or take) aaliyot, or ‘readings’). During each a’aliyah, a different member of the Bar Mitzvah boy’s close family, or otherwise a member of the community commemorating something particularly significant that week, is called to stand alongside the bim`ah (Torah stand). The text on the Torah scroll (which itself is made from lambskin) is written in an ornate Ancient Hebrew font which has no vowels, but does have little squiggles around the letters which indicate the notes in which the passage is meant to be sung. So the reader is basically expected to have memorised the entire reading, the text only really acting as a prompt. And the readings are not short. So, especially considering that many Bar Mitvah boys don’t know Hebrew before they start their lessons, and their debut singing performance in Ancient Hebrew has to be in front of not only their family and friends, but the entire congregation of the synagogue, most Bar Mitzvah boys only read one (sometimes two, maximum three) a’aliyot, with the chazzan (cantor) singing the rest. But I wasn’t most Bar Mitzvah boys. Despite only starting to learn Hebrew when I moved to Mount Sinai in Year 3, I loved it so much that I beat a handful of Israelis to claim the Hebrew prize at Emanuel in Year 7. And when I started my lessons with the Chazan (who was an utterly delightful human being – a young hearty homosexual man (our synagogue belonging to the ‘Progressive’ stream of Judaism that allows such things), who had a signed photograph of Aretha Franklin hanging in his office and is now an opera singer in New York), and asked him how many of his former students had ever performed all seven a’ailyot of my parasha (Ki Tavo, an exhilirating chapter whose primary theme is agricultural law), and he said ‘none’, I saw a golden opportunity. The deal I struck was that if I sung every reading of my parasha, I’d be able to spend half my Bar Mitzvah money immediately on whatever I wanted. The Rabbi told my mother it wasn’t possible but it would be great motivation for me to study, so she agreed. On 13 September 2003, Cantor Toltz of Temple Emanuel was put out of a job for the morning. On the week of 15 September 2003, Sam Bookatz bought himself a new phone (a Sony Ericsson Z600, which was not only the best cameraphone on the market, but the first clamshell phone which didn’t have a protruding antenna), a top of the line Sony Cybershot camera with a twisting LCD screen and a focussing system that shot out a grid of laser beams (a feature that was removed from later Sony cameras when it was discovered, not entirely unexpectedly, that it blinded subjects), about a grand’s worth of clothes from General Pants Co (including two pairs of Vans), a Nintendo Gamecube with Super Smash Brothers Melee and Super Mario Sunshine, and the biggest Times Atlas (A2-size pages) available at Dymocks George Street (though that was with a voucher).

The rush of consumerist ecstasy and the playground respect that all these gadgets and garments bought me was intoxicating and addictive, but I realised there was just no chance that I was going to be able to repeat this feat through funds obtained only from my family (something I inferred from the feather-light touch of pressure it took to send her hysterically descending into howls of “you’re bleeding me dry, we’re going to have to sell the house because of you, do you want us to be homeless?) so earlier the next year, I requested that she take me on an excursion to the three nearest three shopping centres (Eastgate, Fox Studios and SupaCenta – Westfield still being under construction) to hand out my rather brief but meticulously composed resume in search of a casual after-school job. All the store managers were very kind to me and accepted my CV, but regretfully informed me that though they’d love to hire such a keen, budding salesperson, it would be illegal for them to do so for another six months. And so, six months later, a week after my fourteenth birthday, I again asked my mother to take me back to these same shopping centres. And this time, I received a call-back by the customer service manager of K-mart Bondi Junction, directing me to apply online for a casual position as a checkout operator. I was called in for a morning of standardised testing and training at the Centralised ColesMyer Training Centre, and a week later, I was merrily behind one of the sixteen tills of the discount department store (located one floor underground), in the black short-sleeve uniform polo, paired with grey stovepipe Lee jeans over black hightop Converse All Stars.

I used to work four 5 hour shifts a week (two weeknight and two weekend), which meant that even at my starting wage of $8.71 ($13.09 on Sundays), I was soon able to regularly buy myself some pretty impressive merchandise from the sprawling monstrosity of Westfield Bondi Junction which opened shortly after I commenced work. I was the first kid in my year to have a Motorola Razr V3, and a Razr V3 black when the silver one wasn’t cool enough any more. I think I was the third to have an iPod, but I was the first to have an iPod with a colour screen (which particularly impressed one of the boys in my year because of “all the porn you could fit on that hard drive!”) A few of my other favourite things were a shiny 15.4” HP laptop, a black stainless steel DKNY watch, four pairs of Diesel jeans, three pairs of retro Nike kicks, a pair of Armani sunglasses, an Aqua di Gio cologne, six Ralph Lauren and two Tommy Hilfiger polo shirts. I’m pretty sure I was one of the first people in Sydney to own a pair of raw denim Nudie Jeans in early 2006 at the age of fifteen. How’s that for fashion-forward! Twelve years later, they’re still my go-to, but unfortunately they’re now also everyone else’s. Rather more embarrassingly, I was also a pioneer of the Ed Hardy hoodie, which I had to purchase in Melbourne because Sydney didn’t have a Christian Audigier boutique. I had my hair cut at the Oxford Street Tony & Guy, which I then thought was cool (I’ve also learned the error of my ways).

I also used my earnings from K-mart (where I was the frequent recipient of positive customer feedback because I was the only checkout operator to lovingly fold the clothes rather than just shove them into white plastic bags) to ameliorate the most glaring class signifier I had no choice up until then but to wear – I had never travelled overseas. The reason why my family had never left Australia wasn’t principally financial, it was logistical – insofar as my father couldn’t be sure of a reliable supply outside the Eastern Suburbs (the first thing my mother did after the divorce was take herself on a six-week round-the-world trip, and when she returned she was as euphoric as a school girl for about five hours showing me photographs and exclaiming how equally “beautiful” and “amazing” the brownstones of Tribeca were as the Hagia Sophia).  Perhaps it was my bitter envy towards the overseas adventures that seemed to be enjoyed every holiday break by every other kid in my school, combined with a feeling of entrapment on a barren island on the edge of the earth with a family that only wanted to make me suffer, that fuelled my obsession with atlases and almanacs as child, and continues to fuel my obsession with travelling as an adult. I was fifteen when I had saved enough money for a ticket and some spending money, and after wearing down my mother’s feeble resistance, booked a ticket to visit visit my relatives in South Africa, and one of my old school friends who had returned with her family to Israel. Yes, I was fifteen when I went on my first solo globe-trotting escapade to two of the most dangerous countries in the world. There was a week when I couldn’t stay with my school-chum in Tel Aviv in the Centre, so I went up to stay with one of my mother’s best friends in Haifa in the North, but then I decided I wanted to visit Eilat in the South, and my surrogate mother let me take a six hour overnight bus through the Negev desert, hang around Eilat for a day (including eating a Magnum Ego ice-cream on the beach), and fly back to Haifa that evening, all unaccompanied. I also got my eyebrow pierced. It became very infected (but you can see the infection in the photograph below because of the oversized shades). I was such a bad-ass!

It was during the South Africa leg, where I was very much constantly supervised, that I first learned much of the family history with which I opened this piece. I stayed with my great uncle Mike, the hardware guy, younger brother of Abe. On my second day, he decided to give me a full tour of my geographical family history, including the home where Abe had his infamous Bar Mitzvah, his school, the Tattersalls where Abe had worked, Mike’s first hardware store, all the various houses, my parent’s house in Johannesburg , and finally the doomed hotel in Mariasburg, which really is the middle of bum-fuck nowhere. Except this part of the tour didn’t go exactly to the plan. The hotel lies on the corner of a busy one-way street and a quieter side-street. Maybe it was because he was too focussed on providing a not-always-welcome commentary (“sis man – look at what the blacks have done to this place!”) but Mikey wasn’t paying too much attention to his driving. He made the not-so-easy-to-make mistake of trying to turn right into a side street from the middle of three lanes, without using an indicator, not seeing the hot-rod Opal Astra trying to quite legitimately travel straight in the right lane. Of course the Astra smashed into the erratically turning Audi A6, sending both cars careering into the outer wall of the conspicuous hotel. A blonde and strapping but extremely disgruntled Afrikaaner (from my limited experience, Afrikaaners are as gorgeous as they are dense – am I allowed to say that?) sprung up from the driver’s seat of the crumpled Astra and started gesticulating and making menacing guttural sounds that may or not have been actual words at my seventy-year-old uncle. My heart skipped more than one beat and I remained firmly strapped in as Mikey languidly hoisted himself from his own seat, walked over to the man, reached into his pocket and pulled out the roll of hundred-Rand bills that had casually resting there (a habit he must have picked-up from his older brother), placing them confidently in the hand of the raging rockspider, who suddenly stopped being so raging. Unlike the Audi, the Astra was undriveable so the man, his blonde Dutchie wife and two little blonde Dutchie children squeezed into the back seat and we gave them a lift to their house, giving me a glimpse into what real poverty (as opposed to the very relative poverty I was used to) looked like. The family was a member of the ‘poor white’ minority who now have the worst of all words in ‘modern’ South Africa – uneducated yet unemployable in low-skilled positions because of reverse-discrimination laws.

When we returned to Mike’s house (in a gated community enclosed with layers of electrified fencing and guarded by 24/7 security patrols), we spent the evening watching his vast collection of home videos, including the ones he took during his trip to Sydney with his sisters Doreen and Sarah in May 1990 to say goodbye to their brother Abe. My father of course wasn’t to be seen in any of the videos, and my mother was the only character who seemed happy, because she was just excited to see her aunts and uncle (the extended family having been very close when she was growing up) and she had no clue of what their visit truly signified.

Remembering how particularly embittered my grandmother June looked in those videos reminds me of a troublesome pastime she and my mother used to share when I was growing up. Every Saturday June used to come over for lunch, and afterwards she and my mother would sit on the couch, surrounded by the filth both were waiting to be cleaned up by a maid that neither of them could afford (and wouldn’t really be that socially acceptable in their chosen country of residence even if they could), and kvetch, especially about my late grandfather. They would rhapsodise in some detail about all the properties he used to own, speculating about how many millions they would be worth today, and vehemently lambasting every poor decision, personal or business, he ever made. My rightfully disgusted father would sometimes get a whiff and yell down the stairs from his office, “why don’t you two go on an excursion to the cemetery to dig him up and shoot him, and leave the rest of us in peace?” My indignant grandmother would get up, say “I can’t bear to spend another minute in this pig-sty anyway”, grab her stole and purse, walk across the road to the pub, and drop half her pension into a pokie machine (she was definitely the Phoenix Hotel’s best customer who wasn’t a tradie, and definitely their most elegantly dressed). I feel that story is significant because (a) it reflects a parallel between the ability of my mother and grandmother to only have a civilised discussion when the topic was their mutual resentment towards my grandfather and the ability of me and my mother to only have a civilised conversation when the topic is our mutual resentment towards my father (which is one of the reasons why I reconciled with my father after almost five years – there’s no more space in my life for resentment, or relationships that are only ‘alliances’) and (b) the story suggest that some of my sense of socio-economic shame and sense of socio-economic entitlement as a youth was inherited quite directly from my mother’s side of the family, rather than just being generally socially conditioned.

The same year as my maiden overseas jaunt was when I had to complete a week’s voluntary Work Experience, the school encouraging us to think about what vocation we foresaw ourselves pursuing as adults. At the age of fifteen, I already had my heart set on not only being lawyer, but being a corporate lawyer, specifically at a top-tier firm in Sydney (it was only when I visited London at the age of eighteen and I realised how much ‘better’ it was than Sydney that the plan changed to working at a ‘magic circle’ London law firm). And it just so happened that we had an obscure family connection who was a partner at such a firm and so, very unusually, they accepted me to do unpaid work for a week, and made a quite fuss of me as well – I was able in 2005 to secure my first office on the 27th floor of the elegant Renzo Piano-designed Aurora Place (even if it was just for seven days). I’m not going to delve too deeply into how I came to be so hell-bent on becoming a lawyer, since I’m in the process of writing a five thousand word chapter explaining how a fictional character very much like myself sentenced himself to a profession to which he was almost fatally ill-suited for my debut novel, The City (which you can pre-order and support its crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter). But seeing as how it relates to both the heaving chip and tender ego that are the subject of this piece, I will say that my decision to pursue corporate law when I was just a teenager had a lot to do with the dream house, a metonym for the dream life, which I had been meticulously designing in my head for my future self already for some years. This house had harbour views and a double garage to house two BMWs (an M3 convertible to get me to work and a 5 series station wagon in which to ferry around the kids – an X5 being too vulgar), a walk-in-robe, an ensuite with twin basins and a Gaggenau oven in a stainless steel and white-marble kitchen. I didn’t care if it was going to take twenty years – I could see that house in the distance so clearly and wanted to choose the most direct and certain path through life that would bring me to it. And I was able to chart a long but non-derogable course from my lowly station to my capitalist ideal via the stops of achieving a 99+ UAI required to study law at one of the ‘acceptable universities’, maintaining a Distinction average during my degree, being offered a clerkship at a top-tier firm, and then a graduate offer after university, and the rest would be easy – associate, senior associate, partner and probably just as I would receive the promotion to senior partner, I and my equally corporate and cutthroat wife would upsize into the mansion of our mutual fantasies. I didn’t care if I’d enjoy or find meaning in my work, I just wanted the things I thought this work could buy me.

Rewinding back from my fantasy future to my teenage present, my next opportunity to exploit unfortunate familial circumstances to engage in some seriously rampant conspicuous consumption arrived after I graduated from High School. Despite having had to move into a friend’s house during that year because my parents barely could no longer constrain their mutual loathing (resulting in my actually missing one of my final exams), I managed to achieve a pretty astronomical University Admissions Index Mark (but which was 0.15 less than my rival’s, a ‘failure’ which I clearly still haven’t managed to let down, despite the fact if you include the five bonus points the Education Board awarded me because of my disadvantageous circumstances (and my diagnosed psychiatric condition), I not only beat the bastard by 4.85, but actually received a score of over 104%, which is kinda near). As I saw it, this had earned my parents free bragging rights which the parents whose children I would later tutor would pay someone (and did pay someoneme, actually) literally tens of thousands for, so my folks owed me, big time. Not only this, but I was informed after finishing my last exam, that they were (finally!) getting divorced, and that they were going to pay for me to go to Israel for ten months on a leadership and self-actualisation programme with the Socialist-Zionist youth movement of which I was a member so that they could (also, finally!) renovate the house, and settle their divorce proceedings, while I was abroad (during which time they hardly spoke to me because they were so deep at each other’s (I hope only metaphorical) throats, while I was worn down by the guilt of realising that they had only stayed together long enough to completely eviscerate each other’s spirits on account of my inconvenient presence. But when the information pack arrived for the ‘gap year’, it contained a long packing list (most of it optional) for a rather diverse itinerary – that included dorm-living in Jerusalem, a multitude of hikes through forests and lakes and deserts, a Holocaust education seminar in Poland, six weeks living on a Kibbutz, and lodging in a sharehouse while volunteering in a ‘development town’. My mother showed me the list and said “your father agreed to you going on this trip, and our bank accounts are still joined for the next few weeks – let’s go to the shops”.

If you’ve ever seen the video clip for Blu Cantrell’s “hit em up style”, particularly the scene of Blu’s “shopping spree-ya” at Neimann Marcus with Sole and Mia, then you’ll have an idea of what Wendy and Sam’s own husband/father avenging shopping spreeya in Westfield Bondi Junction was like, the Mazda2 literally heaving under the weight of our purchases on the way home. And you should have seen the look on the face of the store manager of Mountain Designs (Australia’s version of REI) when my mother requested “all the articles of clothing and pieces of equipment that a seventeen year old boy going hiking, camping and backpacking for ten months might need”. It was almost as gleeful as this face, the face of the biggest baller on Habonim Shnat Hacsharah in 2008:

I feel for those Birkenstock sandals heaving under what was effectively a 150kg person (70kg of actual person and 80kg of luggage)! I can assure you that no actual backpacking or hiking was possible (beyond the fifty metre walk between my dorm room in Jerusalem and a taxi, captured in the above photograph, taken shortly after my eighteenth birthday) with the three bursting backpacks and Crumpler satchel. The blue shirt I’m wearing was the official ‘hultza’ of the movement, the red string (which was meant to dangle lower on the left side) symbolising its Communist ideology of which I was not exactly a prefect paragon. Although the indoctrination tactics of the programme leaders did at least succeed in altering my physical appearance, with after ten months in Israel looked like:

… but then after a mere four months after my return to Sydney, it was more like…

If my grandfather’s innate wit and craftiness facilitated his conquering of the sordid underground world of horseracing in Northern Johannesburg, then those same inherited qualities facilitated my own conquest of the sordid underground world of Private HSC tutoring in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. And if the fact that saving all the cash I squandered on useless status symbols during my final years at high school and gap year abroad (which included the remainder of my Bar Mitzvah loot) could have afforded me a deposit on a flat in Sydney’s East at the age of 18 would be a tragedy of Pearl Harbour proportions, then the fact that the cash I frittered during my six years of intellectual prostitution as an HSC tutor on even more extravagant futilities while studying at university would have paid off the mortgage by the time I turned 24 would be Hiroshima (that is, if I still cared about owning things, which, to cut to the end of the story, I don’t – now only seeing all those ‘mistakes and missed opportunities’ as conducive to a good bildungsroman). The above photograph was taken at the Gossip Girl themed birthday party I spent a month’s earnings on catering, held at the Woollahra terrace in all its newly renovated glory. The house was meant to be sold before I returned to Sydney, but then the global financial crisis hit, so my mother got to live in it for another two years while it recovered some value. I used this opportunity to invite everyone I knew from high school, my youth movement and even my new friends from university to this elaborate affair (all of whom had never seen the house in its former dilapidation) to trick them into thinking that I had grown up in a house that looked like it was lifted straight from the back cover of the Wentworth Courier and had parents who could afford a DJ, open bar, cupcake stand, two marquees and gas-lit patio heaters. To those of my readers who were part of the hundred-odd guests that left that heady affair with the perception that I grew up in a handsome Victorian home with a family of tea-sippers and poetry-readers, I apologise for lying to you. It was a musty hovel, and we were barbarians.

It feels oddly good to say that, now. Accepting and embracing my (to be euphemistic) humble origins is far less psychologically damaging, and financially taxing, than continuing to feel ashamed, and expressing this shame through consumerism. Although the strategy of compensating for my continual perception of my essential inferiority with false external displays of wealth continued for at least another seven years, I was always intuitively aware of the pitfalls of such an approach to life. It was exhausting, and it took its toll. A prevailing psychological theme of each of the nervous breakdowns that punctuated my university years was a pervasive sense of disingenuousness. The incongruity between my way of living and my fundamental values as a human being would begin to make itself heard first as a whisper coming from some quiet observational corner of my mind, which I’d ignore or drown out by filling my life up with as much distraction as possible, causing this voice to grow louder and louder until it became a siren so urgent and violent that by the time I actually got around to listening, I would almost infer its message to mean that the only remaining way of my redeeming the integrity of my soul was to destroy the corrupted shell in which it was imprisoned. Perhaps the primary source of this essential feeling of disconnect was the stifling of my sexuality, something I will discuss further in the next entry, “Imagining a Gay Future?”. But certainly the tension between my internalised perception of poverty and my outward projection of wealth was a significant factor. But despite my over-hasty, over-medicated and under-reflective responses to my first two breakdowns (read “UNMEDICATED” for further explanation), after breakdown no. 3 in 2013 I did start to do some serious self-reconciliation work, making real efforts to restructure my life into something richer, fuller and more meaningful, rather than just continuing to patch the holes over with antidepressants and designer clothes.

But it wasn’t until I got to London in 2015 and realised the true price of achieving the corporate, consumerist dreams of my childhood, that I was inspired enough to fully make the break from materialism to mindfulness. I’m not going to go give you a play-by-play of how my ‘baptism of fire’ in the Mergers and Acquisitions team of a Magic Circle London firm had the unlikely effect of exorcising the career-driven status-hungry psychopath from within my long-burdened romantic soul, because I go to great lengths to delicately evoke such an awakening in the protagonist of my debut novel, so you’ll just have to wait until your copy of The City arrives to learn more (which you can of course pre-order at Kickstarter). But I will say that all the way through university, as the more sensitive and tactile facets of my personality inadvertently (and inconveniently) were nurtured by facets of my life such as my private coaching (whose main purpose was to earn me money to buy me things) and my Bachelor of Arts (which I only did to fulfil the requirement of having a ‘combined degree’ with undergraduate Law), I hoped that in the end, when I reached my graduate job in a corporate slave-factory, which I viewed with the same mixture of trepidation and resignation as an Israeli teenager approaching his three years of compulsory army service, that this experience would so forcefully and irreversibly crush my spirit, that it would allow me to live out the image of numbed, self-satisfied success to which I still so steadfastly clung. Except I must have a pretty extraordinarily resilient spirit, because it wasn’t crushed at all by my entrance into the corporate world, which was even more horrifying than I had imagined. It was emboldened. Conversely, it was the image of my future that I had spent so long crafting and pursuing that crumbled. And so did the worldview that had generated this image. After spending 18 months spent observing specimens at various stages of the life-path I had charted for myself, realising the further along this path they were, the more they appeared miserable and vastly older-than-they-actually were, all of the reasons for which I had opted in simply dissolved. In a way, it was really convenient that within the structure of my former worldview, my faith in corporate careerism was so inextricably linked to my belief that a projected image of status and wealth was going to make me feel better about myself, that as soon as one central pillar of my Weltanschauung came crashing down, it took with it the whole edifice – and there was no possibility of salvaging any of my original desire to be a corporate lawyer, or any sort of lawyer, or any sort of corporate, from that rubble.

The terror and disillusionment that I experienced in London was so total that I think it may have spared me from the curse of the Gemini’s chip and the Gemini’s ego. The experience forced me to build something new out of the rubble of my former idea of myself, something in keeping with my true values as a human being and not driven my insecurities. This new worldview is less overwrought, less influenced, less rigid. I’m still learning how to avoid conceptualising every aspect of my external world into a scheme at which I am at the centre. I am learning how to let go of ‘I’. I’m realising more and more how my fixation with image projection and self-construction ultimately lead to a form of self-commodification and self-erasure, and am now slowly learning the beauty of mindfulness , the feeling that comes when one stops persistently trying to be something, and just tries to be. It’s really difficult. Sometimes I worry that in my new life I’m still motivated by the same competitive, ego-sourced insecurities, but now directing them towards the pursuit of an illustrious writing career as opposed to pursuing writing out of a genuine love for the craft. However, although the proof will be in the pudding, I do believe that my newfound ambitions are fundamentally motivated by love for what I’m doing, and not by fear of the past, as my previous ambitions were.

As soon as I stopped trying to cover up all the bruises on my ego with material trinkets, and allowed these bruises to breathe, they actually started to heal. I stopped craving the material objects I was convinced were all that was keeping the threads of my fragile being together. I started to realise that I was enough. Case in point – the last time I lived in Sydney, I had a beautiful (rented) flat in Darlinghurst that with its combination of antique treasures and slick mod-cons perfectly reflected the debonair young urban persona I was trying to craft. It had an ensuite bathroom, a king-size bed, a lush terrace and a parking space with an almost-new car. If someone would have taken all of that away from me back then, I would have probably collapsed into a heap and hid myself among a pile of black garbage bags in a dark alleyway somewhere for a few months. But things are different now. Although my mother is not exactly an ideal housemate, I feel absolutely no shame in admitting that I’m living off her generosity in a modest two-bedroom flat in Randwick in a cluster of identical eight-story 1960s cheaply constructed blocks that look like a housing commission project. And every time I borrow her 2009 Toyota Yaris (so that I can park it behind the brand new Mercedes of the kids that I used to tutor), I have to descend into the dank, expansive underground garage level (which has no electronic security and the parking spaces are enclosed by wire cages most of which have some sort of tarpaulin draped over their door, giving the overall effect of a favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo) and when I approach the cage-door of 6e (preparing myself for the physically and psychologically taxing manoeuvre of manually opening it up the cage, reversing the car, closing the cage and driving off), I’m met by an old friend by the name of ‘Master’. It took its time, but it’s finally found a place in the world. Which gives me faith that some day, so will I. I know I’m one step closer because I’ve realised that such a thing cannot be bought.

—–

I thought I might leave you with a little happy-snap of me taken in 2013 standing outside the actual Neiman Marcus on Beverly Boulevard where the “hit em up in style” video clip was shot. If I would have saved the amount of tutoring cash I spent on the items in those bags I’m holding and donated it to the crowfunding campaign of The City, I would have already reached my target. All those items have now either been sold on e-bay (collectively raising about $100) or dumped in a charity bin next to Hackney Downs. Whilst I don’t expect that revelation to actually encourage anyone to ‘donate’ to my campaign, I’m all for full and frank disclosure of the fact that I, exclusively (with the help of the chip that I carried on the shoulder for the first 26 years of my life) am the author of my own financial woes. But if you’re a forgiving culture-lover, please do head on to Kickstarter to support the campaign for The City. Besides, if you’re donating more than £10, you’re not really donating at all – your pre-purchasing what will be the first truly great work of Millennial fiction (on e-Book), and if you’re contributing more than £30, you’ll be pre-purchasing a signed copy that is sure to be the envy of coffee-tables the world over.

  

Actually, that layering of different shades of cashmere over an exposed, waxed neck is a bit weird and feminine – I’m not quite sure what I was thinking. I was obviously very jetlagged. So instead I’m going to leave you with one more photo featuring a better getup (where I’m dressed as a 40 year as a 22 year old). The photograph was taken the day after I nearly wrote off the 2013 rental Volkswagen Passat I was driving by side-swiping a parked car at 30 mph shortly after taking the exit towards Beverly Hills from the freeway that leads from LAX to LA. This trip was taken in the Christmas break from my summer clerkship at a top-tier Sydney firm in my penultimate year of Law School. After the last day of work, I had gone straight from work to Christmas drinks to Sydney Airport to a twenty-six hour flight (taking Air China via Beijing because it was the only vaguely affordable last-minute pre-Christmas flight I could find) to jumping straight into a driver’s seat on the wrong side of the car, so I think it’s perfectly understandable that I didn’t expect a parked car to creep up on me on the right-most lane of a main road? In what sort of country do they allow drivers to park in the right-most lane of a main road? Perhaps my driving style is something else inherited from my mother’s side of the family….

 

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