Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas

L(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

I wonder how much of this is autobiographical, give that it’s his first novel.

Were we all as judgemental at that age?

I don’t understand all the drug-taking. Or why he hates himself and everybody else. Though it gradually dawned on me that this cry of despair is similar to the book of Ecclesiastes, whose writer sees the whole of life as ‘vanity and a chasing after wind..’

Whereas The Slap was a considered, panoramic look at Melbourne society, shifting subtly and successfully between eight different viewpoints, Loaded is a high-octane, drug- and sex-fuelled romp through 24 hours in the life of Ari, a 19-year-old Greek-Australian gay man living on the margins of society.

L 2Quotations:

 The aching longing to be somewhere else, out of this city, out of this country, out of this body and out of this life.

“they’re on heroin, I’m on speed, different drugs, different moods.”

Noise connects with the pleasure emanating from my gut… LSD, the ecstasy, the speed, the dope, the alcohol rush around my body and I feel one with the pulsating crowd…

“home is the last place I want to be”

Every street around here looks like every other street, every stranger you meet walking along looks like the same stranger you passed blocks ago… East, west, south, north, the city of Melbourne blurs into itself

“meeting new people, getting excited about unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells… a couple of years away from the family and all their hang-ups and expectations”.

On this tape I’m listening to I have the Jackson Five doing ‘I want you back’. This is a supreme moment in music history, even if I’m the only one in the world who knows it. On one of my tapes I have one side of the tape only playing that song. When things aren’t going so well I play that cassette over and over and just walk around the city or walk around Richmond. I sit on a rock by the river throwing bread to the ducks, letting a young Michael Jackson cheer me up. In the three minutes it takes the song to play I’m caught in a magic world of harmony and joy, a truly ecstatic joy, where the aching longing to be somewhere else, out of this city, out of this country, out of this body and out of this life, is kept at bay. I relive these three minutes again and again till I’m calm enough to walk back into life again. I can’t meditate in silence, I haven’t got the patience. I meditate to music; I need something else going on.

—I don’t thing you’re a dag. She smiles back but I don’t let her off the hook completely. I do think you’re a wog.
—So what, I’m proud of it. And what are you? I don’t answer. I’m not a wog. I’m not sure what I am but I’m not a wog. Not the way she means. Mick Jagger’s voice comes on rough and soulful, the opening verse to You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Dina starts to sway to the song: she’s enjoying being stoned to it.

Ethnicity is a scam, a bullshit, a piece of crock. The fortresses of the rich wogs on the hill are there not to keep the Australezo out, but to refuse entry to the uneducated-long-haired-bleached-blonde-no-money wog. No matter what the roots of the rich wogs, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Arab, whatever, I’d like to get a gun and shoot them all. Bang bang. The East is hell. Designed by Americans.

My breathing seems loud to my ears. I allow the night breeze to tease my body, to cool me down, and I piss against the alley wall. I tuck my T-shirt into my jeans, tread on the cigarette, mixing the tobacco in with the come and piss on the ground and walk back through the car park and into the backyard of the pub.

The politics of sex and of the city dominate the narrative, but the characters outlive the length of the novel by demonstrating how real they are, how they are trying to break free of such constraints.

I have no interest, she tells them, in involving myself with progressive, so-called left-wing Greeks if it is the same faces, the same conservative mob of wogs, married, bourgeois, living in the suburbs, who happen to be able to spout Marx and Lenin. The woman across from me flinches. Ariadne continues: I want to be involved with the deviants, the mad, the creative, all those people that the Greek community despises, that the general Australian community despises. For Christ sake, she screams at them, communism is dead. She walks off.

I hate it, but the North is temptation. I take the bus from the city and roam the ovals and parks and river banks, searching out fat Arab men and chain-smoking Greek men who stand with their dicks out at urinals, cigarette in their mouths, waiting for you. A defiant stance, for I am a wog myself, and I have to force myself to my knees before another wog. I have to force my desire to take precedence over my honour. It is in the North where I search for the body, the smile, the skin that will ease the strain on my groin, that will take away the burning compulsion and terror of my desire. In the North I find myself, find shadows that recall my shadow. I roam the North so I can come face to face with the future that is being prepared for me.

The club is now crammed tight with people, mostly men. The music is a savage ceremony, men walking around each other, making eye contact, flirting, but flirting in a detached, cynical manner, to avoid the humiliation of rejection. The women are mostly on the dance floor, thrusting their hips to one another, oblivious to the games of male sexual conquest around them. A few very drunken men, or out-of-it men are putting on an aggressive manner and asking for sex from strangers, loudly and insistently.

“I saw John Cusack interviewed on late-night television and he looked like me”

In the East, in the new world of suburbia there is no dialogue, no conversation, no places to go out: for there is no need, there is television.

But it seems to me that there are two things in this world guaranteed to make you old and flabby. Work and marriage.

L3 the greying men in their ugly business shirts, shuffle paper around all day, have guilty sex in toilets or at the brothels on the way to the station, and return home every night to drop dead in front of the television. Television rules. School, work, shopping, sex, are distractions to the central activity of the Eastern suburbs: flicking the channels on the remote control.

Joe’s mother went into hospital in our third year in high school. The woman flipped out, went crazy, took her Bible in one hand, an egg beater in the other, and roamed the streets of Burnley screaming that the Antichrist was coming. The news rushed through the school, there were whispers and jokes made in the locker rooms, in the kafenio, across the counters of the milk bars. My mother told me, and I listened wide-eyed, that the priest from the Burnley Street church tried to take her by the hand and she started pounding him with the Bible. My mother crossed herself as she told me.

In the school yard the story became embellished with adolescent lewdness. She had tried to stick the holy book in her vagina, had tried to proposition the priest, the priest accepted, they fucked on the altar. The simple story was that the woman had gone crazy. The embellishments were nursery horror stories to frighten the children and to keep the presence of insanity away. Joe’s mother was normal, that was what scared everyone. An-eight-hours-a-day-factory-worker-with-two-normal-kids-and-a-fat-hard-worlcing-wog-husband. The woman was so normal, a standard Greek wife.

That day I began to feel alone in this world. I walked past Agia Triada, the Greek church in which I had been baptised in the blood of the holy trinity and I opened the iron door and walked in. I lit a candle and crossed myself, looking for God. No one answered. Of course. I looked at the icon of the Madonna, the picture in a gold frame, and looked past her mysterious smile, noticed the cracks in the purple of her robes, noticed the lipstick marks on the glass. The Madonna was mad. She too must have been beautiful when she roamed the streets of some middle-eastern village claiming that God had deposited his sperm in her belly. I remember thinking this thought, thinking that God would strike me now, that the chandelier hanging from the church ceiling would fall on my head. Nothing stirred in the church. I touched the icon, left the building and outside spat on the church steps. I turned, gathered my fingers into a fist and smashed hard against the iron doors.

The drugs are circulating through my body. My skin is alive in sharp bursts of electricity. My nipples are erect, my face is flushed, the hair on my naked arms tingling. I’ll have to dance soon, or fuck soon. The energy inside me is pushing against the confines of my body.

Drugs mould the club, drugs initiate the dancing, the search for sex… Without the drugs the music would be numbing, monotonous. Without the drugs the faces would be less attractive…

I must appear strong for him to want me. He too wants the one hundred percent genuine wog fuck… [but] I want to tell him I adore him.

“You’re either Greek or Australian, you have to make a choice. Me, I’m neither. It’s not that I can’t decide; I don’t like definitions.”

“I want to tell her that words such as faggot, wog, poofter, gay, Greek, Australian, Croat are just excuses. Just stories, they mean shit. Words don’t stop the boredom.”

 “we hesitate in our physical communions. Testing each other, not wanting to be the first to admit desire. The first to be the faggot.”

 “No matter how many hours spent at the gym, no matter the clothes he wears, the way he cuts his hair, the way he talks, a gay man always reveals himself as a faggot.”

“He was a momentary figure in my life. That’s what I like about casual sex with men; there’s no responsibility towards the person you fuck with.”

“insults have formed me, they have nourished me. In latrines and underneath piers I have enjoyed pleasures that are made sweeter by the contempt I know they bestow on me in the eyes of the respectable world I abhor.”

“It is impossible to feel camaraderie if the dominant wish is to get enough money, enough possessions to rise above the community you are in.”

“Pol Pot was right to destroy, he was wrong not to work it out that you go all the way. You don’t kill one class, one religion, one party. You kill everyone because we are all diseased, there is no way out of this shithole planet.”

 “Are you proud of being Australian? The old mans question feels like an interrogation. The answer is easy. No, no way. Proud of being an Australian? I laugh. What a concept, I continue, what is there to be proud of? The whole table laughs at this and Ariadne gives me a hug. They forget me and continue their conversation.”

“If they were very angry they might come in, turn off the music, throw your CD or cassette against the wall. The screaming could go on half the night, wake up the neighbours, wake up the dogs. They called us names, abused us, sometimes hit us, short sharp slaps. It was not the words themselves, but the combination of savage emotion and insult, the threat of violence and the taunting tone that shattered our attempts at pretend detachment; it was Peter’s sly, superior smile, my sister’s half-closed eyes which did not look at them, my bored, blank face, that spurred my parents on to greater insults, furious laments.”

Speed, if it’s good, can take me higher than I can ever go, higher than my natural bodily chemicals can take me. […] On speed I feel macho, but not aggressive. I’m friendly to everyone. Speed evaporates fear. On speed I dance with my body and my soul. In this white powder they’ve distilled the essence of the Greek word kefi. Kefi is the urge to dance, to be with good friends, to open your arms to life. Straight, I can approximate kefi, but I am always conscious of fighting off boredom. Speed doesn’t let you get bored.

The West at night, as you drive over the Westgate Bridge, is a shimmering valley of lights. In the day, under the harsh glare of the sun, the valley reveals itself as an industrial quilt of wharfs, factories, warehouses, silos and power plants. And the endless stretch of suburban housing estates. The West is a dumping ground; a sewer of refugees, the migrants, the poor, the insane, the unskilled and the uneducated. There is a point in my city, underneath the Swanston Street Bridge where you can sit by the Yarra River and contemplate the chasm that separates this town. Look down the river towards the East and there are green parks rolling down to the river, beautiful Victorian bridges sparkle against the blue sky. Face West and there is the smoke scarred embankment leading towards the wharfs. The beauty and the beast. All cities, all cities depend on this chasm.

I’m not going to change a thing, no one will remember me when I’m dead. My epitaph; he slept, he ate, he fucked, he pissed, he shat He ran to escape history. That’s his story.

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