Straining in the new-fangled Roman outhouse, Titus was sitting there with a shit-eating grin, drawing conclusions on the wall:
Nero was here.
Nietzsche is peachy
For a good time call Viagara on DCI-MMI-CCCV.
Trombones featured in the third movement of his bowel symphony, a turgid presto, and he was complaining about the new toilet tax levied by his father, the emperor Vespasian. His Dad, just back from slaying all the usurers, had quipped, index finger skyward, like Socrates, “Pecunia non olet,” which is to say Money Doesn’t Stink. To which Titus, after taking a whiff of a bronze unto-him-rendered Caesar, had rechortled, “And yet it comes from poo.” Thus, giving a taste of the world’s very first toilet humor.
Or, as Bobby Dylan would say, Money doesn’t just talk, it swears.
I was drawing my own conclusions about money the other day, sitting on the toilet, releasing a crocodile back into the wild, and thinking about my days spent, a quarter-century ago in Papua New Guinea (PNG), a place that Time forgot to forget, and where, in some quarters, the Mighty Whitey hadn’t ever been seen until the 1970s.
Among other things, it was a GodsMustBeCrazy kind of place, almost hallucinogenic in some ways, driven over the edge by colonial introjection; you found yourself doing double-takes a lot. It was a place filled with colorful characters and doings, which could be summed up by a blurb for a book of short stories, Port Moresby Mixed Doubles by Michael Challenger: “The local inhabitants are often relegated to roles as domestic servants, subordinates at work, or as partners in brief sexual flings. Among the expatriates themselves, relations are complicated by boredom, jealousy and self-importance.” So true.
In keeping with our current theme, out of all the colorful characters I came across there none brought out the crazy melange of Das Kapital, prehistoric literality, missionary pilgrims-progressivism, and the kind of good old-fashioned ingenuity that kept the chains moving on the evolutionary track: Meet Abba Bina, aka Mr. Shit. I remember him fondly for his proud morality motto: “Chicken shit, horse shit, cow shit, but no bullshit.” He ran for office with that slogan, and lost, because, as we all know, at the end of the day, once the charm of such populism wears off, we want the bullshit. The spectacle of turds. Anyway, Mr. Shit knew how to make a buck and would have perfectly understood Titus’ toilet humor about money.
Mr. Shit, in turn, had me thinking about another character from PNG I dealt with in a book review in these pages last week: Behrouz Boochani. He’s the Iranian Kurd who was chased out of Tehran, the religious regime there wanting to bust his balls (no doubt, literally) for his dreaming of a future Kurdistan. Some “friend” sent him in the direction of Australia in search of expressive freedom, apparently as some kind of practical joke, as Oz, for all its virtues, has no real protections for journalists, and struggles, occasionally, to justify it. Boochani managed to find a way to smuggle not one but three mobile phones into the Manus Island prison, which, because I’m twisted, made me think of the scene in Pulp Fiction when young Butch is delivered a family heirloom.
Anyway, Boochani’s book, which some ex-guards have called shit, features several episodes when the pump don’t work and noone knows if the vandals took the handles or hwat. Detainees must slosh and smell through ankle-deep turds in “cremation” hot heat that Boochani rightly describes as torture. Well, Boochani will never get into Australia now, even if he had been found to be a valid “refugee.” And there he languishes, a refusee, to this day. However, it’s not all bad news for our Behrouz. He wrote his book with WhatsApp and it won prizes and he eye-witnesses for the Guardian and gets absentee lecturer money from a university and shekels up with each new interview, and is now, when all the chips are counted, the richest homeless guy in the world, with my estimate at as much as $500,000. If he can’t escape Manus, then maybe he can start a cargo cult, ten hut.
That’s a lot to take in right there, but it goes on and on, like bowel symphonies sometimes do. In the course of research, I wondered about the local scene, how Australia had contracted with PNG to set up the detention and later “residential” facilities for the asylum-seekers. Apparently, the asylum-seekers had plenty of sympathy from the locals when they first arrived in 2013 (I’ve seen happy-faced testaments) and the good missionary work of a charitable heart seemed on full display. But then I discovered ka-ching was a factor and that other kinds of missionary work was going on, probably at reasonable rates for the refugees but at great cost to the local colonized community: Brothels to service the asylum-seekers.
Well, the argument for brothels was not so much a matter of providing comfort to the stateless prisoners, but rather seemed, if I read right, to be along the lines of providing a good wage for the island girls and, apparently, wives. But the idea was rejected because, being a community that has absorbed the invader ethos, locals can’t open up a shop referred to as a “brothel,” but instead already provide the same services in facilities called “massage parlors, bars, strip clubs, body rub parlors, and studios or by some other description.” Wham. And then it comes at you, the colonial corruption at work and play, Big Mammon™ spreading its seed. You can see it in the way they dress, the crossover, and it reminds you of “horrors” you’ve seen elsewhere.
And the shit keeps coming, overflowing really, like Boochani’s depicted toilet room, and you find yourself looking among the turds for a grand eye-opening epoophany, or some sage conclusion drawn on the wall, but it never arrives. Australia has spent more than $10 billion on the “offshore processing” of asylum-seekers, according to a Unicef report, from 2013-2017.
After the detention center closed and detainees were moved into other encampments on the island, Australia hired, without a bid, a shady mercenary company called Paladin who were handed $423 million dollars to service the asylum-seekers, but accountant giant KPMG, in a report through the Australian Financial Review, can’t seem to figure out what the company is actually paid for: “One issue is the sheer amount of money being spent – $1600 a day for each refugee, not including food or medical care, when comparable mining camps in PNG provide far more services for around $100 a day.” Where does this money go?
But back to the locals, who are the neglected lot in this sordid tale. It turns out, the brothel idea may be a kind of control valve to help contain some ‘hyper-active refugees’. Because there has been a pregnancy problem in the community; refugees hooking up with local women and having kids together. When father refugees are removed from PNG, they leave behind women who will bear children who will be seen as second-class citizens in the local patrilineal culture. In effect, the refugee fathers could leave these women — and children — homeless. That takes awhile to settle in.
Further, children of these mixed-couple liaisons are eligible, under Aussie rules, for medevac care, meaning they could be flown to Australia for medical treatment. And, strangely enough, now that Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister (and the architect of the offshore processing solution), pregnant Manusians with complications could be flown to Australia and a baby delivered there would become Australians on birth. That is, one could argue so: Morrison is a born-again Christian who believes in personhood on conception. Boochani can’t get into Australia, he could potentially wreak his revenge by knocking up a local girl and who would give birth to a — citizen. Named, let’s say, Behrouz.
The locals have no say on these state-to-state issues: Australian politicians meet with PNG politicians, talk cash payments (manus manun lavat), and essentially set the agenda for things that will happen on Manus Island (and elsewhere in PNG). Manusians have no say. Now that Americans have decided to challenge the Chinese in the region in a war of doctrines, Project for a New American Century (see John Bolton) versus the Asian Century, a new naval base will be needed — on Manus Island — to stop the spread of the Red Menace in the South Pacific, the Commies tweaking the noses of the Capitalists. The base will cost billions of dollars. Those brothels — er, massage parlors — will come in handy.
Then you learn that Manus Island is to be declared a Tax-Free Haven. More money pouring into Manus Island. The locals living on short pay, like servants looking for tips. Or as The Big Smoke has it, “To prove that irony is dead, and perhaps pointing to the fact that we’re living in a dystopia, the Papuan government has this morning announced that Manus Island is set to become a corporate tax-free zone.” Again, no local input.
Yup. Now Titus is writing one last thing on the stall wall: manus manum lavat (one hand washes the other). This is the way it has always been with money — all the way up to Mr. Shit and beyond. The crocodile released back into the wilds of the world. Slide trombone. And flush with cash.
Tacking, the square rig tense, and each bending
breeze a rapturous suspension; tall smiles
all around, leaning in toward isles
torn by tornadoes, almost lamenting;
blues on blues, the wild mast a metronome,
hoisting waves that roll and roar and riot,
with all voices deafened in the pilot
house, as we haul squid jigs and head for home.
All is lost, amidst laughter and the squall;
lost Dave pitzing his high-strung violin,
Michael’s cello thrums; lost skipper’s brass grin
at Jerry’s jazzy, sliding keyboard sprawl.
Dark first stars light the giddy levity
above the gushing black hole’s gravity.
- John Kendall Hawkins