The Resurrection & Death of Lou E. Lugg

The Resurrection and Death of Lou E. Lugg

 

Look. See that happy Luggite?

He doesn’t give a damn.

I wish that I was a Luggite;

Good grief!

Maybe I am.

 

 

Part one

The premature end of Lou E. Lugg surprised nobody.

He possessed certain flair and an unerring feature of fatalism; but his final egress did produce considerable comment at the time. Lou E. Lugg’s wild eccentricity of conduct had local gossips search his lineage for a hereditary taint of insanity.

Those laudable idiosyncrasies of Lou E. Lugg are for gossiping about. Local residents attest to  his  capacious  appetites  and that  he held  his liquor well,  better  than  anyone hereabouts.  It is  his boisterous  drinking binges we remember,  in whispering tones of adulation, and in sheer awe of the quantities of alcohol he drank daily.  The man’s phenomenal tolerance to alcohol is legendary.  People  say  that he absorbed such an astonishing quantity of booze that his body ticked, twitching constantly.  Well, that is a far-fetched assumption, but his eyes fluttered  sometimes  and  everyone  said  that  it  was  a  sure  sign  that  Lou E. Lugg was pissed up to his eyeballs.  Thus, with his bloodshot eyes blinking regular rhythms, we always knew when Lou E. reached saturation.

‘Loaded as Lugg’ and ‘Lugg-light’ are local sayings used to describe someone slightly inebriated and therefore not the full quid.  Lou E. Lugg’s legacy is several such quaint colloquialisms and  these obscure  local  phrases  scoffed  at  by  various  cynics  are  firmly fixed in our uniquely provincial vernacular.

An uncommon amount of luck hitched itself onto Lou E. Lugg while imbibing seriously. Whenever Lugg was into drinking and decently drunk, he was virtually immune to death, though he tried some exotic exploits to do himself in. Considering that he remained soused every day, luck must somehow enter the equation whenever Lou E. suddenly itched to do a strange stunt. Yes sir, drunk and charmed, an exhilarated Lugg remained remarkably deft at death evasion.

‘Lucky as a Loaded Lugg’ is today a familiar enough catch-phrase.

Once, Lou E. Lugg vanished from the bar at the world famous Tantanoola Tiger Hotel. Nobody missed him until someone reported a commotion above. A quick head-count by Corcoran, the publican, found that Lugg wasn’t inside, meaning he was scheming something. Everyone rushed outside, quickly spilling onto the road and gaping up at Lou E. Lugg seated upon the hotel park-bench perched precariously on the roof-ridge. He appeared to be in deep discussion with the Tantanoola Tiger advertising cutout bolted onto the flashing up there. His bottle of booze swung wildly as he gesticulated between the occasional swallow of the lubricating fluids. The entire affair up on the hotel roof swayed about.

Lou E. ignored all enticements to abandon this bizarre balancing act and persisted at talking to the tiger that grinned mutely as it wobbled. Finally Lou E. had enough of this one-way conversation and decided to relieve himself from up high, aiming over the fence into Stan Benair’s potato plot. He promptly fell onto the spuds in the garden. Everyone hustled around to see Lou E. Lugg clutching his watering equipment and splashing a forceful stream into a thick patch of potatoes.

Unhurt, he muttered lucidly;

“Bloody stupid dump animal. It must be completely ignorant to want to live up there on the pub-roof. The moronic beastie doesn’t even drink!”

“You stupid Lugg!” Corcoran, the publican, screamed. “You could have been killed pulling off a crazy stunt like that.”

“Too right.” Lou E. Lugg replied. Tucking his equipment in, he said, “I’m terrified of heights too.”

Next morning Corcoran needed a cherry picker and crew to retrieve his park-bench off the hotel roof. Shortly afterwards he decided to sell out and to retire to distant ‘Lugg-free’ zones.

‘You stupid Lugg’ is a local saying to describe a daft person’s conduct.

The obsessions of Lou E. Lugg also embraced cars. He could not afford them of course, and this made the infatuation worse. Pictures from ‘Overlander’ magazines proclaiming a particular fondness for ‘hot’ four-wheel drive motor vehicles plastered his bedroom walls. Often he would hold up his bar corner with complicated talk about the newest and latest gadgetry in ‘off-roading’ adventures.

“One day I shall own the greatest and biggest ‘off-road’ motor to do Canunda National Park dunes with ease,” he’d brag. “Only for my recreation, of course.”

Everyone appreciated Lou E.’s ambition to possess such a motor car and they felt safe so long as he stayed without one.’Lugg Dreaming’ came to mean certain wistfulness found amongst the locals at times.

The weird uniqueness of Lou E. Lugg, besides his devotion to complicate our lives with his derring-do pranks, was his luck at beer-tickets. The bar sells beer tickets and awards prizes to those numbers finishing in zero. Double zero tickets win real money prizes and Lou E. Lugg never failed in getting the big payouts. Not once did he draw a ticket that didn’t end in a zero.  Cashing in his winners meant more grog to consume and a total wipe-out to his fellow drinkers.  Even so, Lucky Lugg seldom became affected by such streaks of good fortune.  He would simply smile broadly and blink a lot more.  His blinking became very unsettling then, especially for those who simply found the pace too frenzied.  Most people quickly departed for their homes, leaving Lugg behind at the bar to carry on with the drinking session.  Worse still, next day he would be as right as rain while everybody nursed throbbing hangovers.

‘Lucky Lugg’ means someone who strikes out and wins at bingo or handles his liquor well. There are no ‘Lucky Luggs’ in Mount Gambier today. Born losers, and sopping wet dripping soaks ensconced by the crate load, that’s for certain; but no winners live here.

The burden of winning struck Lou E. Lugg on the day he won X-LOTTO. It also struck everyone else, right smack-bang in their collective groins. Jealousy occurred in Mount Gambier that day when Lou E. Lugg won enough to indulge in an ‘Off-Road Recreational Vehicle’. Overnight he became a hazard to society, endangering the entire neighbourhood for miles around.  His frequent plummeting off hotel roofs paled into insignificance against this reborn Lugg. Loony ‘lead foot’ Lugg practised with total recklessness his new found freedom that real money bestowed on him. Instead of being an amiable, blinking drunk, he drove all his neighbours to drink with his wild driving antics.

Until the following week, when he soothed us by obligingly piling his hotrod up a convenient stoby pole, thereby wrecking the blessed lot beyond recognition.  Lou E. Lugg walked away again unscathed, and he instantly resumed his position in the barroom corner at the Park Hotel. He had missed the atmosphere, he told everyone. Nobody missed his wheels though, those burning rubber tires and the screaming engine roaring around the streets of Mount Gambier.

People gladly welcomed a return to what went as normality, from Lugg.

‘Loony Luggs’ refers to those wastrels and petrol-heads inclined to burn up rubber tyres on quiet back-roads.

There is no ‘Loony Luggs’ left because no one has the money to indulge in such fantasies. The Government tax sees everybody into egalitarian destitution, and X-LOTTO wins happen infrequently. In fact Lou E. Lugg’s was the only lucky result in years, and he stashed it up a telegraph pole.

Then Lou E. Lugg ‘out-Lugged’ himself with an infamous escapade at the Valley Lake. For some time the discussion amongst the blokes had focussed on fishing. Big John ‘the Ethnic’, fancied tying special flies to attract the trout in the lake because spinning lures failed to fool them.

“Scientific is terribly terrific. Ya, and native cunning too will surely do tricks on big fat trout,” Big John said. “As a matter of noting is, I must intent and soon go. Fat fish require the titbits of enticements. Flies is good tucker for fishes, ja?”

“We ought to blow ’em up,” suggested Crackers Eddie, who generally proposed blowing up all and everything. He suffered grievously from some degenerative brain disorder causing excessive introspections and balanced it with a passionate attraction to explosive devices. His friends considered him a little timid, but now and again he perked up to contribute another blast to the beer talking.

“We ought to erupt ’em out of the water! Blow ’em sky-high.”

Politely humouring Crackers Eddie as usual, talk rambled on to other means of getting a feed of fat trout from the Valley Lake. Lou E. Lugg listened with unusual attentiveness during that session in the bar at the Park Hotel.

The entire City of Mount Gambier awoke next morning to an earth-shaking explosion. A thousand tons of TNT would not make more noise. The echoes reverberated everywhere and shocked residents hastened onto the roads to check on the mysterious noise echoing around town.

Could the dormant volcano be about to explode? frightened people asked of each other.

Finally, when order returned, the Council workers reported an unusual amount of activity at the Valley Lake Public Reserve where fish and wildlife were raining down onto the grass flats and the picnic area.

“Some cranky bastard has deliberately blasted the Valley Lake,” they yelled. “There’s fish debris scattered all over the place. The shags are acting mighty peculiar and they appear to be shell-shocked.”

The general consensus held that the Lakes copped a Lugg-mishap.

“Soon the truth will emerge when Lou E. Lugg appears to explain himself.” they said.

Meanwhile, appreciative citizens gathered an appalling quantity of stunned trout. They found them irresistible barbecued or smoked. Smoked fish is a local delicacy.

That afternoon Lou E. Lugg entered the bar sheepishly, sporting a positive paleness around his gills. All suspected that he had something to do with the explosions at the Lake and they quizzed him. At first he pretended no knowledge of loud bangs, but a few beers released his thoughts. Finally he loosened up to explain that Crackers certainly did the job much better than expected.

“Who’d think that a balloon of acetylene goes off so savagely.” He began. “Hell, that volcano crater surely amplified our intentions.”

“What happened?” Someone asked nonchalantly whilst trying to contain the giggles at the same time.

“Well, Crackers Eddie and I thought it would be a lark to blow up some trout,” Lou E. Lugg replied firmly.

“Shit, you didn’t actually try to blast trout out of the Valley Lake, did you?” A listener gasped, pinching himself to contain the urge to burst out laughing.

“Too right we did.” Lou E. Lugg answered. “Crackers Eddie isn’t average though. He wouldn’t stick to only one balloon. No, he needed to prove that many balloons would stun many more fish. He’s a bloody menace that bloke. Should be locked up for safekeeping.” Lugg, warming up with the attention his story received, continued; “Twenty balloons full of acetylene he filled. Can you believe it? Twenty whacking great balloons chocker block full of gas floating on the water. And guess who’s the crazy bastard who volunteered to light the kero wick. Eh?”

“You did it?”

“Yeah, and I still haven’t regained my hearing properly. There’s continuous ringing.” Lou E. Lugg thumped his head as if trying to clear an obstruction. “Mind you I got off lightly compared to Eddie. He stood on the shore directing me and copped the full back-flash.”

“What happened to you?” The bartender asked in utter fascination.

“I nearly drowned.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, I swam out with my trusty old Zippo lighter to touch the wick and dived under in time, joining the trout. Even underwater I got a horror at the commotion above. Luckily I had swum far enough away before the entire affair exploded simultaneously, so I didn’t see a thing. But Crackers saw,” Lou E. Lugg added.

“Where is he now?” Everybody wanted to know what happened to Crackers Eddie.

“He is in the hospital with third degree burns. Blasted and smouldering, completely bald as a coot.” Lou E. Lugg said concisely. “Lucky for him we launched our bombs at the Nurses’ Landing behind the hospital. I dragged him to the emergency ward. Burnt black all over his body and babbling crazily, ‘fry you bastards! Fried fish and chips’. Crackers sure was cracked and frizzled. Starkers and raving madly. Blistered all over he was.”

No one ever did discover the full story of what actually happened.

Every day Lou E. Lugg visited Eddie who recovered quickly from his injuries. Getting sense out of him proved impossible and he never once mentioned blasting things afterwards. Seemingly the fishing for trout in the Valley Lakes cured that particular affliction with him.

Also the wildlife is returning, although several shags acquired a strangely staggering flight, preferring to stay well clear of Nurses’ Landing, where a patch of burned vegetation and charred, blackened rock is visible.

“You nearly drowned, did you?” The bartender asked Lou E. Lugg.

“Yes, I nearly drowned. Bloody helplessly giggling too much.”

He meant it seriously too.

During the weeks following Crackers Eddie’s recovery, Lou E. Lugg repeatedly hinted that rabbits were in plague numbers and bringing good money as pet food. He thought they might like to gang up to make some money for drinking funds.  Big John ‘the Ethnic’, believed in the schemes to dong rabbits in sufficient numbers to make the effort worthwhile.

“You gotta donga de rabbit many times to make much money, thats is a right?” he asked.

“No it isn’t, you stupid ethnic,” Crackers Eddie replied. “You gotta donga much rabbits. Not a rabbit mucha times, you daft drongo.”

“Ya. All right, I see this clearly too. You blokes counta me in to many rabbits donging. OK?”

When the fuss following Lou E. Lugg’s stoby pole incident resolved itself in an out-of-court deal with the South Australian Electricity Trust, and several hefty fees paid to solicitors, a small amount of money remained – enough cash to invest in the rabbits for pet-food business.

The three partners in the venture worked nightly to deck out their spotlighting rig, an older type hotchpotch made up of various Holdens and pirated carparts. Crackers Eddie welded and bolted bits to every panel and Big John ‘the Ethnic’, rewired the electrical systems entirely, until the car looked like a hybrid motor from a torrid horror movie. Lou E. Lugg offered advice about everything and drinks from the Engel fridge. His major contribution was placing the Engel fridge into the rear and anchoring it down against sudden jolts.

“Mustn’t agitate the refreshments out in the scrub,” Lou E. Lugg said as he slipped another stubby of beer into the portable cooler holder. A bottle of Green Ginger wine fitted snugly behind the console beside the driver’s seat. “A purely medicinal precaution, you understand,” Lou E. Lugg said.

Their first foray into rabbit territory was scheduled for the following weekend. The three rabbit exterminators required considerable lubrication at the Park Hotel before departure. Inevitable delays saw them in good cheer when finally egress came via eviction at bar-closing time. By roundabout deviations they navigated past breathalyser road blocks and the rabbiters made for the nearest pine plantation. Soon they found the medicinal wine and Crackers Eddie and Big John slept the night away in alcoholic bliss.

Lou E. Lugg, who also mixed some beverages with no noticeable effect, believed in exertion beyond primeval calls of the wild. He started to bash crazily about in the bush. Like a possessed demon he boldly pursued giant rabbits that presumed to challenge forth in savage frontal assaults. Finally, tiring of donging rabbits in enormous quantities, he came to rest in strange territory. There he slept beneath a tall old pine tree. The dew drenched him thoroughly, waking him at dawn, coldly abandoned.

Since Lou E. was missing his mates drove away next morning. Looking out for him they finally decided to quit seeking missing Luggs in time for the bar-opening hour.

Later on in the morning Lou E. Lugg returned to the Park Hotel too, joining his meek and bleary eyed partners. Glumly they planned a better strategy for hunting rabbits next time. Bush bashing for savage giant rabbits received no mention at first and Lou E. behaved as nothing was the matter. Setting a furious pace in drinking he soon invigorated the entire establishment with graphic pictures of drunks dashing after man-eating rabbits. He personally throttled some considerable outlandish monsters, he said.

“That is too true. Ya?” mumbled Big John ‘the Ethnic’, wiping the laughter tears away when Lou E. Lugg mimicked his superior methods of donging Australian wildlife.

The beguiling humour of Lou E. Lugg disguised an ignoble aspect of his character; Lou E. Lugg tormented sparrows.

Since his youth, sporting steel ‘shanghai’ slingshots and pestering the local sparrows with steel ball bearings, Lou E. Lugg had made harassing them a specialty. Many sparrows hit the dust after tumbling off neighbouring roofs when Lou E.’s eye was true and keen. Ball bearings shot from his shanghai rattled over the roof tiles and bounced down on many citizens of Mount Gambier.  His deplorable behaviour halted when the regional constable caught Lou E. destroying wildlife behind the police station and a straying ball bearing broke a pane of the rear louvre window of the toilet block. The notorious shanghais were confiscated and young Lou E. discovered the hard comfort of a prison bed.

“Disturbers of the peace and wanton destroyers of essential government property are locked away,” The constable said. Lou E. promised him never to kill sparrows again if he were let go.

Borrowing an air rifle from his father’s gun cabinet Lou E. Lugg revenged himself upon the sparrows at Saint Paul’s Church soon after his release from prison.  Lead slugs ricocheted off the brass bells and shattered insets of the stained glass windows.  Shrewdly Lugg avoided detection and capture, but everyone knows the deadly menace he was to sparrows in his youth.  Thousands of little birds perished during the sparrow pogroms perpetrated by Lugg.  His eyes, before they developed a boozy twitch, could spot sparrows at great distances and Lou E. always held pebbles in his pockets that became deadly missiles. Lou E. Lugg nearly annihilated the entire sparrow population of Mount Gambier in his youth.

‘As deadly as a Lugg shot’ is a local saying meaning right on target.

The Friday following their abortive rabbit extermination campaign, Lou E. Lugg and partners decided to skip the hotel happy hour. Sobriety oozed as they journeyed to the killing fields to try catching rabbits once more. Big John ‘the Ethnic’, Crackers Eddie and Lou E. Lugg resolutely trod forth, resisting all alcoholic beverages before arriving at the stony paddocks where rabbits run amok.

Not once did they deviate from their purpose or succumb to temptation when passing the many watering holes along the way. Lou E. Lugg decided to remain grog free throughout the night of spotlighting. He twitched noticeably as the discomfort of withdrawal from booze began. The customary arrangement of spotlighting for rabbits saw Crackers Eddie and Lou E. Lugg handling the rifle and spot-light in the rear, while Big John ‘the Ethnic’, chauffeured. Many rabbits volunteered and affairs looked decidedly rosy when Big John reacted sharply to an urgent tapping on the vehicle roof. Accelerating quickly, but too abruptly, Lou E. Lugg fell out the back of the vehicle. He landed in a flinty pile of rock and cracked his head nastily.

“Bloody Hell! Big John, you gone and killed him properly. Yes, he’s dead for sure.” Crackers Eddie tried reviving Lou E. Lugg, who seemed to have expired absolutely.

“No, he not dead. Ya, see his knocka his head on the rock. He is knocka senseless. Ya?” Big John ‘the Ethnic’, almost pleaded. He touched Lou E.’s body tentatively for any sign of life.

“You bloody well killed him all right,” Crackers Eddie continued.

“No, I only driver. You killed him by pushing him out the back. He cracking his skull on the rock, ya?” Big John became upset. “What doing now Crackers?”

“We can’t leave his carcass here. Can we?” Crackers Eddie grabbed the shoulders and commanded Big John to pick up the legs. “Place him with the rabbits. There, he’d never know anyway. How about a drink. Eh?”

“Ya? Do you think it drinking it will help?” Big John blubbered emotionally, overcome at the calamity of Lou E.’s end and the sorrow of seeing his mate cushioned by the dead rabbits crammed in the back of the vehicle.

“Too right. Lou E. would have wanted us to have a drink on him, for sure,” Crackers Eddie said adamantly.

“Ya. I think you are correct,” Big John sobbed. “We have a drink on Lugg bugger who dies when he sobered.”

Soon Crackers Eddie and Big John ‘the Ethnic’, became suitably sloshed. In a melancholy moment they decided to lie out the body of Lugg on the slaughtering bench of the Station shearing quarters.

“It’s cool to keep Lugg’s body cool,” Crackers Eddie slurred.

Both drunks returned to chase more rabbits, and spill beer, and generally make a total mess of things and themselves in the knowledge that Lugg was chilling into rigour mortis, a sober corpse but ‘pickled’ for sure. At dawn and tanked up with considerable fortitude, enough to face the music, they drove cautiously home to Mount Gambier to report the end of Lou E. Lugg. The attendance officer roster-ed on duty at the Ambulance Station on Penola Road agreed to let Crackers Eddie come for the ride to fetch Lugg’s body. Big John ‘the Ethnic’, accompanied the police constable in the patrol paddy wagon pursuing the ambulance up Bay Road. A solemn looking black hearse following next caused many curious onlookers to trail along also.

News of the death of Lou E. Lugg quickly spread. They progressed slowly because the accident report stated that Lou E. Lugg was definitely dead, as witnessed by two people. Imagine everyone’s surprise at the Lake Terrace crossing when a cyclist rode down hill, passing the entourage going upwards and cheering in his haste;

“Yahoo! You little beauty! I am alive and stone cold sober!” Lou E. Lugg yelled joyfully in his wild ride down the steep Bay Road slope. He skilfully avoided colliding with several pedestrians and the vehicles in the entourage going up the hill.

Then he promptly plunged head-on into Charlie’s Ready Mix Cement truck that was turning into the main road from O’Halloran Terrace. Charlie stepped down from his pink rig. Looking behind the cement truck at the squashed wreckage and ruin that had been Lou E. Lugg and bicycle, he sighed;

“You bloody fool Lugg. You bloody stupid Luggite.”

Part two

“Ah, Mr Lugg. There you are Mr Lugg. I have been expecting you.”

I hear a voice and I turn around to see who is talking to me. A friendly, jaunty and roundish man beams at me, smiling extravagantly and he is attired in a yellowish jacket and striped trousers. Wearing an extended purple-blue stove-pipe top hat jangling with medallions, the bright ‘smile’ badges flashing and a large pink flower lapel-led properly, he clasps my hands, shaking them vigorously. Where in blazes did he come from? I ask you, see, because the strangest things occur in the City of Mount Gambier. Solicitous cheery eccentrics for example. Everyone smiles when they want something from you, it is the latest style. Grinning insurance agents are notoriously at it all day and every day until kingdom comes, or X-Lotto. It makes you want to puke at the transparent audacity they show off to ordinary people like me. Always smiling so friendly like. Obnoxious people. And here is this bloke grinning fit to burst and in high fettle too.

“Yes, I say, you have been avoiding me. You have eluded me for a considerable time. Never mind that now, welcome my friend. You are welcome, most welcome, and you will not be avoiding me any longer I see. Very exiting isn’t it, I do say. Don’t you think so too? Mind you, I had expected you to arrive earlier, much earlier than today. Yet you did do remarkably well in the previous dimension. Staying there I mean. Hanging on tenaciously, yes, upon my word. You are very good at avoiding the inevitable, indeed, that you are. Never mind now, allow me to simply snip at this here little cord attaching you to that redundant reality. Here we are, snip snipping away any remaining ties via superfluous paraphernalia like this stringy astral cord. Such nuisances they are too. You are liable to get terribly entangled. There you are, welcome indeed, sir. You are one of us now, at last.”

The light-heart banter exuding from this jovial person is overwhelming me. As it is I am quite confused at the events unfolding before my very eyes. For one thing here I am standing beside myself after ramming into Charlie’s Ready-Mix cement truck, wrecking the bicycle and definitely coming off second best besides. Trust that road-hog to turn in front of me when I am showing off my grand style on bikes. Bikes and cement trucks do not mix well. See over here I am splattered all over the road. It isn’t my pushbike, damn it. This matter is going to cost a pretty sum on repairs.

Anyway why do these people run and look so glum, shocked even. The spectators running towards the accident gawk in horror at the smashing ruin of myself. Yet I am standing up and being ignored by all and sundry, except by this quaintly cheerful man who snips at the silver cord that comes from my mangled and prostrate body lying there on the asphalt road. The truck did roll over everything and had snuffed out my living daylights, squashing the whole kit-caboodle beyond recognition. I can hardly recognise myself and it is certainly disconcerting. That maniac Charlie and his rotten truck. Fancy turning into me when I am relishing the looks of surprise I received on my dashing ride down Bay Road. Not everyone gets laughs for daring speed riding on a treadly. Then up pops Charlie spoiling the effect. The bastard ought to be institutionalized. Truck drivers like him are a menace to society. Just as ‘crackers’ as Crackers Eddie, and he’s a slouch at most things except blasting things.

“Good grief.” I am annoyed at the mess I am. It is an odd thing to watch the stunned silence of the people who rush to attend the accident and the pitiful remains of myself littering the Bay Road.

“What a mess I’ve made of that.” I reflect out loud.

“Yes, certainly a little jumbled. Detached and completely disconnected to you now.” The jolly man in yellow green clothes laughs holding a pair of scissors before my face. “Snip snip, I cut the la-di-da cord. Hah. See, you are not connected any more. Hah, snippety snip. The line is terminated.”

“What’s you do that for?” I ask, but I find I really do not mind. There is no point in worrying. Nobody, except for this man, who is dressed in very odd coloured clothes, notices me at the scene of the accident. It is as if I cease to exist at all. The people gaze straight through me, like they are looking through clear glass. I breathe no more, that is for certain, which is good because it appears to me a distant fading awfulness and I do not want to belong there anymore. Thanks, but no thanks.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” The jocular man in green and blue clothes percolates, exuding warmth.

This bloke is liable to get me down with his participation in my predicament. Queer sort of salesman and changing colour by the minute. Crazy!

“I am the Conductor. Yes, the Conductor of this sector. I have waited for you, Mr Lugg. My good friend, you certainly know how to evade me and delay your appearance. Finally you are here though, and yes, it is my job to conduct you in your progress through this wonderful dimension. A gorgeous dimension, I might add, that everyone traverses sooner or later before their relocation and return.” He gesticulates lavishly including the entire city of Mount Gambier and beyond as his private domain.

“Yes, Mr Lugg, beautiful. You are indeed lucky to have me as your guide through the various difficulties one might face whilst recharging for the inevitable return to your previous temporal dimension. Indeed you are very fortunate, that’s for sure. Privileged I might add, hah.”

This bloke is a classic lunatic all right. Probably escaped from the gaol just around the corner where persistent insurance agents ought to be kept. They do keep some classic deranged cases under lock and key there I believe. Well, it is easy to see that I’ve traded one daft situation for another equally as demented. That’s Mount Gambier for you. The place crawls with cheerful salesmen for all sorts of companies selling their useless wares. Now I’m lumbered with a real classic of the genre who, by his looks, is a right royal loony, fit for the asylum and very likely evicted when they did not require him any longer. No wonder he’s so buoyant, and handy with that monstrous pair of scissors.  He’s done it before by the looks of it.  Bloody intimidating prick, just like an insurance haggler I know. Anyway, figuring a laugh is better than nothing after the mess I did create, I stroll off with the Conductor away from the accident scene where widespread disarray seems to hamper an ambulance officer’s attempt at resuscitating me. I tuck the tatty severed astral cord into my trousers and leave the distressing view behind me. I am curious to know more about the strangely funny man, the Conductor, who continues an unbroken babbling flow of data about the oddest things found at Mount Gambier. He would surely qualify as a major tourist attraction all by himself. No sweat.

“Now look here, Mr Lugg.” The Conductor postures before the City Court House and bids me to come along faster. “Now look here, Mr Lugg. Do you see anything odd about this particular house of law?”

“No, not really. I never actually knew anything was the matter with it.” I reply, and I am curious to know what the Conductor is driving at.

“Precisely my good man. There is nothing at all the matter with it. Oh, well, it leaks a little bit due to those architectural design faults and such things, but all in all there isn’t anything at all the matter with it. Except one eeny weeny teeny little thing.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. This here judicial apartment lies beneath the people. Yes, my good friend, this courthouse for the rule of all men and women, and containing the enforcement of everything, lies beneath the common folk. They step down, down and down into the dark supporting chambers that reek of servitude to the masses. Nowhere in the entire universe is the law held beneath the commonalty. Nowhere at all. Everywhere you rise up, ascending ever upwards to the law of the land, except here at Mount Gambier. Beautiful isn’t it. Absolutely beautiful.” The Conductor dabs at his eyes with a pink handkerchief, overcome with the emotions he feels. Even his clothes radiate a dash of pink. This character is weird.

“I never thought of it like that,” I comment.

I do not quite grasp the drama of the point being made, except to make a note of this weirdo and seeking a quick exit if the situation requires a swift getaway. Who cares about court houses dug into the ground anyway? This is Mount Gambier for heaven’s sake. Nothing is ever the same here as anywhere else. The city fathers probably planned it this way. It was built in the seventies and people were down right peculiar then.

“That’s it.” The Conductor yells at me. “You fail to see the point because you never needed to see it.

“You wastrel, slipping into an average life, a bogus materiality of booze and partying, being pampered and mollycoddled in the artificiality of the Park Hotel. Always drunk and plastered without a care in the world and completely unable to distinguish reality from illusion.

“You were irreparable, before and now, here, with my cerebral guidance you have a chance at redeeming yourself, to show some intelligence, and see, see what happens! You hover there like a stuffed turkey failing to see something making Mount Gambier uniquely different in the entire world. Right here, here at Mount Gambier, the judiciary is below the ordinary people and you don’t see it.

“This is not fantasy.

“This is fact.

“This is an example of egalitarian fervour not seen anywhere else.”

The Conductor, dressed in blue clothes with a flash of red, rages on at my stupidity.  I’ll have to smarten myself up a bit to keep up with his prattling. Frankly, I never think of life as a complication, ruled from a legal house lower than the bar at the Park Hotel.

“You certainly have an interesting way of looking at the world Mr Conductor, Sir.” I reply and fawn admiration at the man in the variously red and yellow clothes.  Well, no harm can come from being respectful of my elders, even if the bastards are totally deranged. He’s not the only maniacal person in Mount Gambier. By my last estimation the entire place is crawling with suspect characters. Crackers Eddie is a perfect example and so is Big John ‘the Ethnic’, who immigrated to here. Ever an optimist that one. No wonder we need court houses in Mount Gambier.

“Mr Lugg. You are newly arrived here and shortly you will progress to ensuing dimensions of being, arriving a little bit better accomplished than the before-time and than this present interval of improving.  At least it is what I hope and you will make my job far easier if you attend to my muse. It’s for your own enlightenment, don’t you know? If your past record is any guide, this courthouse may well have been your second home.

“As a matter of fact your rather dramatic exit saved you from attending. The way you were heading you were setting yourself up for a major stretch in court. You were developing into a real rascal, an incorrigible rogue with too much to drink and causing lots of anxiety to the suffering citizens of Mount Gambier. Are you coming along then?”

The Conductor, in purple, wanders further along the Bay Road.

I catch up quickly and resolve to involve myself in what promises to become an astonishing day of instruction from this baffling man. After all it is the least an incorrigible scamp can do, isn’t it.

“Mr Lugg. We are entering the heart of Mount Gambier.” The Conductor, in purple-blue, says as we both amble onto the main road intersection. Strangely we are the only activity on the road, although the traffic lights return to green and then to amber before changing to red again. Nobody is around. The place is absolutely empty.

“Mr Lugg, you now stand right smack bang in the pivotal centre of town. Let me explain the communal psychosis of Mount Gambier from this point of town. Yes, Mr Lugg, the communal psychosis of this place is equal to the length and narrowness of its main road. The length and narrowness of Commercial Street illustrates the character of Mount Gambier.”

The Conductor opens his arms in a wide swaying turn, pointing both ways down Commercial Street.

“Do you see, Mr Lugg?”

“No, I have no idea at what you are saying, Sir.” I say. Hell, this bloke is a right royal nutter. If he flaps any faster he may take off, well, come to mention it, he is certainly off already, what with his greenish tinted dress sense. What’s psychosis mean anyway?

“Ah, Mr Lugg I see you fail to grasp my point, I see it clear.” The Conductor grips my arm and turns me around.

“See.” He points at the town clock and the old town hall. “What colour do you see?”

“Well, Sir, I see a brown town hall.” I say.

“Precisely, a brown town hall. And do you think that is normal?” The Conductor asks me.

“Yes. It is like that because it is painted brown.” I answer because it seems a perfectly normal reply.

“Good, Mr Lugg. You are catching on.” The Conductor continues. “Now can you please tell me if that colour is normally the colour of the town hall and city clock?”

“Gee, I remember the colours used to be that of white quoin limestone and red dolomite.”  I answer because I do recall the old colours of the buildings.  In fact they were beautiful colours once.  “Why did someone paint them brown?”

“Ha! You are learning fast, Mr Lugg. A question I ask myself everyday, ‘Why do they paint out the character of Mount Gambier?’ ”  The Conductor thumps his head in frustration at the assault brown makes on his eyes.  “Mr Lugg, they painted out the beautiful colours belonging to us. Why, I ask you?”

“Hell, I do not know.” I begin to protest my ignorance.

“Because, Mr Lugg, it is the plan. The plan.”

“The plan?”

“Yes my friend, my innocent friend. While you idle time away in the Park Hotel and generally pursue an aimlessness the bureaucrats have a plan. A great plan to level original expression by painting everything brown. Bureaucrats are drab and dour persons who detest originality. They pick brown colours from a Dulux colouring book of paints and say it is heritage colours.

“Worse, Mr Lugg, the citizens of Mount Gambier say nothing and the mandate in Adelaide dictate the brown paint jobs everywhere.” The Conductor fumes and rages in his orange red jacket.

“What is more frustrating to me is that everyday I conduct new arrivals in this transient dimension and all say they never thought about it, and those who do simply shrug and remark they have no power. Can you believe it! The very shareholders of Mount Gambier came to believe they are powerless.  A fine pickling bunch of no hopers I get to conduct, I tell you.  It is frustrating Mr Lugg.  I hope you will adjust your perceptions on your return to worldly matters.”

“Yes Sir.” I say.

This person sure has a point and he makes it forcibly; even a dribbling fool can see that somebody ought to correct the colour of the town hall and clock. “I think you are right.”

“Good, you learn rapidly.” The conductor turns as flaming red returns to his violet-blue colour. ‘Now let us see over here, Mr Lugg.”

“The delights of our paradoxical city may be discovered by walking a small distance, Mr Lugg.” The conductor paces up Penola road.

He stops and beckons for me. “What do you see?”

“This is Chicken Land, Sir.” I answer.

“Incorrect.” The Conductor jumps up in annoyance, colouring peculiarly. “That my slow-witted friend is the chicken coop of Yankee imperialism.”

“Eh?”

“See?

“The red and white stripes on the building? That is the Yankee stripery of invasion, a visual assault on Australia. Worse still, they take over the second most prominent realty in town and call it Kentucky. An insult to sensitive souls every time seen by them.”

The Conductor, striped in yellow with pink dots and reddish spots, is resolute in his observation.

“To top all though, they trade on Sundays, while St Paul caters to regular custom. Furthermore, if you have no church going funds, there, over there, is the automatic money machine of the bank to top up your wallet.

“Mr Lugg, you may desire everything on Sunday mornings right here.

“Turn around. Grab a beverage or two, rush the pokies next door, drink a refreshing drink at the front bar, buy a chicken snack and saunter into the Lord’s domain for balance. And if you are differently persuaded you can do the Protestant thing too, there is no opposition from Mount Gambierites. The spices on the chicken taste the same to everyone.”

I confess to utter confusion and if this is a joke I certainly fail to latch onto the catch line. The Conductor is stark raving mad and flashing a bona fide rainbow of colour. Still he does have a point. Only Mount Gambier caters to churchy types with a Kentucky Fried Chicken addiction. Even the banks endorse the situation by encouraging withdrawals on Sundays.  Then the pubs trade well too. Hell, this is Mount Gambier for heavens sake.  The Uniting Brethren advertise their message ‘Jesus Saves’ on the green hedge opposite the Catholics and the bank with the hole-in-the-wall automatic teller machine.

“Yes, I think I am seeing the points you are making,” I answer cautiously. “I see the idea of psychosis.”

“Jolly good, Mr Lugg. You do learn quickly. For a rapscallion your progress is encouraging to me.” The Conductor is soothingly attired in the most flourishing greens.

“Oh, yes, it is obvious to the attentive observer who cares to see,” I reply, catching on to the odd vernacular the Conductor uses. His verdant green is a little disconcerting as its vibrancy accepts an iridescent lime tint. He is quite certainly in a category all by himself.

How did I catch up with this one? I wonder who is the crazy one here? Oh well, I may as well play along in my appointed role.

“Yes, it is so easy to understand,” I continue. “You can do your buying, boozing, business, bonking, eating, worshiping and playing all at one time, and on Sundays also.”

“Very good, Mr Lugg,” The Conductor compliments. “Let us go over there.”

He walks eastwards to the fountain in the Cave gardens.

“What do you notice now, Mr Lugg?” The Conductor points to the Civic Centre.

“The hallowed hall of civic power and garden sculptures,” I reply in an attempt to play along with the Conductor who is attired in sky-blue overcoat.

“Correct you are, Mr Lugg. Can you describe it to me?”

“Well, it is like this, Sir,” I quickly try to gather my skills in observation. “The one sculpture with a stainless steel crisp on top is the key to the civic centre. The other is its chimes. Together they represent the locking mechanisms and alarm to that huge filing cabinet called a civic centre. It is painted in another tint of beige and brown to be in the wider plan. The plan.”

“Excellent, Mr Lugg. Excellent.” The Conductors clothes shade from Sky-blue to a paler wash. “I think your progress in this dimension will be rewarded. For a Mount Gambier resident you do grasp matters admirably quickly. That building is indeed a very large filing cabinet. Come along then.”

The conductor conducts flamboyantly, prattling away about everything to see at Mount Gambier. In fact I had never thought that Mount Gambier was so interesting. For years, I believed the place down right tiresome, which it is, if you did not drink and play the bingo tickets or pokies. The Conductor sees much more than a truck terminal and timber mill.  He points out a place to live harmoniously in, along with others. Now I am thinking that the city shows a certain style I missed all along. It is a charming city, very pretty when you take out the people and the shopping mall. Pity everything is painted brown and on my return I promise to change it. Live and let live is my motto. Let us brighten up the place. Brown is yuk! It’s the colour of my discontent.

“Mr Lugg.” The Conductor calls me.

He changes colour constantly according to his mood and passion and white shades seem to dominate at present.

“Mr Lugg, here you must take the test.” The Conductor leads me towards a shop in Commercial Street.

“Here? But this is the CES office.” I answer in surprise.

“Precisely my good friend.

“Everyone properly prepared goes to the CES bureau to be tested for their suitability of advancement. It is the law of the land for the unemployed. Here you come to be judged for your next job.” The Conductor leads me indoors through to glass doors that slide open automatically. “Wait here while I knock for admittance to the inner sanctum.”

He steps past the job vacancy bulletin boards and knocks on the inner office door.

“Knock, knock, knock.”

“Whom have you there?” A deeply ominous voice asks from within where blinding lights burn, sharply silhouetting the Conductor framed in the open doorway.

“Mr Lugg. A poor candidate, who is properly prepared and seeks your signal for advancement,” replies the Conductor who is now attired in the most shining white apparel. This bloke sure knows how to dress for solemn times. Still worse, he is not so flamboyant now. Hell, this does not look too promising, I reckon. He is changing into a very humble person. Strange coot. What is going on?

“Let the candidate enter in due form for the testing.” The ominous voice demands in a deep murmur. “Do you, Mr Conductor, vouch to Mr Lugg’s readiness?”

“I do, Sire. He sojourned in Mount Gambier and now understands his failings.”

“Good. We invite Mr Lugg inside then.”

The conductor closes the door and returns to explain my predicament.

“Mr Lugg, here is a blindfold. You will be blinded with a blindfold so you best fit it straight away. It will not do to put you in hospital with damaged eyes now would it?

“More, you must reply from your heart to every question.”

He ties the large blindfold tightly and the handicap of sightlessness strikes me as a deliberate attempt to harass me.

Good grief, they should have warned me, then I should have gone bush.

These blokes sure do the theatricals well.

Bugger these blokes with their intrigues and plays.

Speaking from my heart, indeed.

What is happening here?

“Now, Mr Lugg, please do not be afraid as I also tie this cabletow around your neck so I may guide you through your ordeal to come. Please follow me.”

The Conductor tugs the cord and I follow. What can I do but follow, tied to a bloody rope around my neck?

I ask you, whatever next?

“Knock, knock, knock!”

“Whom seeks admission?” A deep voice demands as the door opens.

“Mr Lugg, a candidate in darkness whom I have prepared for the testing. He is ready for reassignment.” The Conductors voice sounds really humble.

“Ah. Mr Lugg has reports against him. Lead him to the questioning place so that we may judge for ourselves the type of person he is who petitions to be re-appointed.” The voice commands.

Blast the Conductor for leading me blindfold into a right queer mess.

It seems to me that I am being victimised or something.

“Mr Lugg, you are free to answer to your past. We demand of you to reply honestly to my questions. Do you sincerely believe that you are a person ready for re-assignment?” The deep voice asks.

“I do,” whispers the Conductor earnestly and tugs the cabletow cord urging my response.

“I do, Sir,” I reply honestly.

Well I do don’t I?

These blokes are proper intimidating weirdos.

I should have left the Conductor earlier.

I know he is short in his top paddock, a demented exotic.

“Good. Mr Lugg, in your previous dimension you drank a lot and caused considerable mischief. We have a report here indicating your behaviour was rather wanton and erratic. How do you respond to this accusation?”

“I, well I did play a few pranks. Mount Gambier is so stodgy and straight-laced. It makes me want to seek excitement, Your Honour, Sir.” I answer because denying my practical jokes certainly will do little to help me here I think.

“And this is a report about you pilfering potatoes from Stan Benair’s potato plot.” The voice observes from rustling papers.

He must have a pile of papers by the sound of it.

“Only a few, Sir.” I aswer.

How does he know that?

Stan grows lots of spuds to nick: Everybody nicks Stan’s spuds.

“Ah. Here is another note saying that you blew up the Valley Lake with balloons of acetylene.” The voice is edgy.

“Twenty balloons precisely,” I reply. “It caused a very loud bang.”

What else can I say?

Apparently this character knows about it all, barbecuing trout and more besides.

“Yes, I see. Now Mr Lugg, We do understand your need for personal expression. It is the modern times we live in. Young people find the strangest way to make statements on contemporary life.” The voice sounds rather conciliatory I think.

There’s is hope here after all.

I might even get away unscathed if I play my cards right from now on.

“I think so too, Sir.” I answer in agreement.

“Tut, tut, Mr Lugg. Did you really enjoy the fast driving and the anguish your antics cause the citizens of Mount Gambier following your X-Lotto win?”

“Yes, no, well yes, all right. I enjoyed the wild driving, Sir.”

“I see, very well then. Another report We have here states that your rabbit hunts flopped because you remained inebriated throughout.”

“No. That is incorrect. I sobered up to be successful in business. I wanted to be sober to make some money.” I yell out in frustration.

“To purchase more alcohol We believe?”

“What? Oh yes, I suppose so.” This bloke places his nasty fingers on the impulse for my business strategy.

How did he know that?

“What is your notion when I say brown?” The voice asks.

“Terrible colour. Should be banished to where bureaucrats dwell. Adelaide for instance.” I answer quickly. Well, the Conductor thinks brown is awful, and I do too, even though I never considered it before. “On my return I promise to personally protest, honest I will. I am no fan of the plan,” I add, to press my learning from the Conductor.

“Good, Mr Lugg. We can overlook your idiotic misdemeanours and the lack of civic involvement.

“However, We do have in front of us a sad report about your constant tormenting of sparrows. In fact you applied considerable ingenuity in the pursued of killing Our sparrows. How do you explain yourself?” The voice is menacing.

“I cannot explain, Your Grace.” I answer very softly.

I do not enjoy this at all.

Blast the blabbermouth who dobbed me in about the sparrows.

Who counts sparrows for heaven’s sake?

“You killed 2,568 sparrows, Mr Lugg. That is a lot of My sparrows.” The voice murmurs ominously.

There follows a lengthy moment of deafening silence.

Silence is golden. I am resolute.

I am not, definitely not saying anything else.

Hell, I may incriminate myself.

Mums the word.

Amen, and that is final.

So there!

I get into trouble far too easily as it is.

“Very well. We are sure the Conductor pricked your conscience as a resident of Mount Gambier.

“You are improving somewhat, Mr Lugg.

“We grant you a return to My earthly domain,” the voice whispers, almost as if considering something which takes time to think about.

The voice suddenly commands loudly;

“Mr Conductor, I thank you for your effort in conducting this Mr Lugg on his visitation here, and he will depart, now.”

Part three

The clouds over Mount Gambier open like a window and in a downward spiral plunges a tiny fluttering sparrow. It perches on the branches of the trees behind the Park Hotel and hops from one to another. Preening its feathers with swift movements it tugs at twine entangled around its neck. Quickly it studies the terrain for delectable morsels to eat. On the  sidewalk other sparrows flit about pecking at tiny crusts of pie remnant. The solitary sparrow observes the display and flies across the hotel car park to land onto the windowsill there. It rushes at the hotel lounge window and pecks at the glass as if seeking to enter.

“Looka see you? Heh, Crackers Eddie. Look and see the little birdie. It knocka de windows glasses to see us.” Big John ‘the Ethnic’, points out the sparrow on the windowsill. “Looka see you. The spoggie is collared with a stringy bit and piece.” “Bug off, you big drongo. It is only a bloody sparrow.” Crackers Eddie replies. “Lou E. Lugg would’ve nobbled it quick smart.”

Morosely both of them drink their beers. They had escorted the coffin at the funeral of Lou E. Lugg in the morning and a private wake in the Park Hotel is winding down. The whole city had stopped to attend the funeral of Lou E. Lugg and the boys emptied lots of schooners of beer afterwards. It is the way Lou E. would have enjoyed getting down to business. Drinking business.

“Lookie see, Cracker, de birdie keeps pecking the window glasses.” Big John ‘the Ethnic’, insists that Crackers Eddie take notice.

“Aw, bugger off will you. Sparrows are all the same. Seen one seen them all.” Crackers Eddie growls. Losing Lou E. Lugg had upset him very much. “Here, it is your shout. One for the road.”

“Ya, Lou E. Lugg always does a last drink for longa tragedy road,” Big John ‘the Ethnic’ cries.

“Treacherous road, you illiterate foreign mongrel. Treacherous!” Crackers Eddie response angrily and drinks the beer quickly, trying not to cry.

Crackers Eddie and Big John ‘the Ethnic’, walk away from the Park Hotel. The sparrow flies past trailing a short bit of twine, and then appears behind as if following. Crackers Eddie pitches a pebble at the bird killing it.

“Hey! You killa the spoggie,” cries Big John.

“Yes, I did.”

“You a dead-eye Luggite, that’s a for sure, all right,” wisecracks Big John ‘the Ethnic’, staggering slightly and fighting the grog obstinately. They amble away into the dreary brown Mount Gambier twilight. The dim street lights flicker and fade out as Mount Gambier experiences another power failure on the day Lou E. Lugg is no more.

“I miss the bugger.”

“Ya, me also.”

A car passes and crushes the sparrow, sending a dispirited puff of feathers flying up in a twirling gust. Its last view was of maudlin mates turning the corner into Commercial Street.

© Pieter Zaadstra 1996

Click here for my Short Stories Collection

Post note:

My old grammar teacher remarked on this tale that it was a fine balancing act and he had nothing further to add or any suggestions to make. He thought it was probably mostly auto-biographical, a point of view I refrain from making any comment about. As you can appreciate any similarity or reflection on persons alive or departed is purely of co-incidence. PZ

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