Phone Call From an Alien Android
Seeking refuge at The Marly
This article first appeared in The Local, a quarterly feature of Neighbourhood newspaper.
by Jack Cameron Stanton
Today’s my weekly vigil, meeting a guy called Nelson who does the sound at The Marly, and I’m running late.
I crash out of the office, hoping that over the weekend no one will notice that the website’s down. It’s going to be marked down as my fault, even though coding looks hieroglyphic to me. The IT guy just chuckled, blew his nose on his tie and said “things’ll be fixed soon, mate” before heading off to the pub.
That was hours ago. And now it’s 10pm on a Friday and everyone else has gone home. So I’ve fled too. Reaching the edge of Newtown, I head down King Street, dodging phone-glued city-slickers, toward The Marly with a copy of Garner’s Monkey Grip in hand.
While walking, I get a call from a Canberra number, which I answer. It is one of the weirder calls I’ve received in my life. On the other end is an automated robot voice. It says something about a warrant for my arrest due to incorrect tax filing, that I have committed tax evasion.
“But I’m a writer,” I say. “I don’t make money. Plus, I thought only millionaires knew how to do this.”
The robot voice just carries on reading its script.
“This is a time sensitive matter,” it says. “You will be approached shortly to provide evidence attesting to your innocence otherwise you may be placed under arrest until further notice.”
It hangs up.
I reach the colossal art-deco pub and swivel round the corner onto Missenden Road, because tonight my mate Nelson is working upstairs at Miss Peaches. A group of uni kids wearing lab coats – no doubt med students on one of their tyrannical pub crawls – graze in the gutter under the red and yellow Peaches sign. I try to scab a ciggie from one of them, who drops hers quickly on the pavement. Probably embarrassed she’s been caught smoking so close to the hospital.
Inside Miss Peaches, I get a Newtowner before sitting at our usual table. Slowly sipping the frothy Young Henrys, I watch the immaculate dancers swing to the rockabilly band. Some minutes later they take a break and Nelson leaves the soundbooth to join me.
“This place is a time machine,” he says, speaking into his half-drunk schooner, “like Elvis Presley’s gonna materialise and give us ‘Hound Dog’.”
Pin-up girls and checkered shirts, floral dresses and rock’n’roll greasers crowd the bar. Some keep on dancing in pairs to the playlist while the band steps out for a smoke.
“Apparently I’m getting arrested by a robot sometime tonight,” I say, glancing over my shoulder.
“Yeah, well, that’s technology for you. Some creepy laughter keeps coming out of my Amazon Home speaker. Last night it freaked the hell out of me.”
Every week we trade books. I slide over my copy of Monkey Grip and he returns Richard Brautigan’s The Sombrero Fallout.
“How’s the writing going?” he asks.
“When I’m at my desk I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth,” I say to him. I finish my beer and start to get up for another.
“You see,” he calls out. “That’s beautiful.”
“It’s Vonnegut,” I shout back, at the bar now. “Beer?”
Forty minutes I’ve sat waiting around for Nelson to finish up, half expecting some Skynet robot to lazerbeam in here. My phone’s face-down on the table and vibrating. I don’t even have the balls to glance at the thing.
Nelson finally kicks off for the night and we head down to catch the band of anorexic kids playing on the ground floor. Down there I spot Meatball, the guy who tattooed Dali’s butterfly ship on my calf, sinking a beer and watching the band. The music’s shoe-gaze, channelling stoned Thom Yorke to a nodding crowd of dreamers. Meatball’s enshrined by a group of similarly inked friends so Nelson and I head to the garden without saying g’day. We order some burgers – mine vegetarian, Nelson’s beef.
Tired and paranoid now about my phone’s continual buzz, I say bye to Nelson who’s chewing fries and reading Garner.
Just inside the main door, I’m swamped by a line of party-goers as I make to leave. They’ve pilgrimed from all over Sydney or been booted from the pubs nearby that shut at midnight. They curl along the pavement, past the Greek takeaway joint, like a Rainbow Serpent. Western Sydney has braved the interminable ride from Punchbowl to be here, in Tommy Hilfiger and Nike Airs. There’s some North Shore kids dressed in button-up linen shirts and three-digit Chinos; a sandy-haired, Mambo-clad beachgoer is playing with a chatterbox, quizzing the security guard; and quite possibly some of the most fabulous queens I’ve seen in my life, arms crossed, cigarettes lit.
Dance music echoes from the basement bar, Tokyo Sing Song. I should go home, it’s late. There’s already enough partygoers exiled from the CBD precinct and hungry to dance. But I’m having second thoughts. A huge security guard taps my shoulder.
“Get out of the entrance, man,” he says, chewing gum loudly and flexing, or maybe not flexing. Either way the dude’s enormous.
My mind flicks to some Facebook scrolling earlier today…Isn’t Simon Caldwell spinning records downstairs with rope performers tying themselves into masochistic, mesmerising knots? Or maybe it’s that Pelvis party?
All of a sudden I see Nelson slithering back toward me and the bouncer. He slaps a hi-5 to the big guy.
“Come on, live free baby,” Nelson says to me, and before I can contest what’s going on we’re ushered into the underground with our books folded in the back of our jeans. As Nelson moves down a few steps ahead, I think about that robot coming to arrest me. Ah, hell, tomorrow’s problem. Better to disappear for a while in the hot dream box. It ain’t gonna find me here.
My phone rings again, and I let it go to voicemail, terrified of the damn thing. I muster enough courage to peek at the text message that follows. It’s from my boss: what the fuck’s with our website?