30 October, 2007

Brushes With Fame III: Franklin Ajaye

We’d walked, two mates and I, from our cheap hotel on 49th St in mid-town Manhattan to Greenwich Village on a chilly Sunday in late December 1986. The thing about walking in Manhattan is that it’s probably the easiest way to get around the Big Apple, particularly for the wide-eyed tourist. And we could have passed for Marty Feldman.

Walking a distance in New York City is not a problem because the numbered streets ensure the journey is constantly punctuated and there’s plenty to see anyway. Yay, only 32 blocks to go. So we had a late lunch at a café-restaurant somewhere in the Village and made our way around to Washington Square. I was keen to go there just to see it. You’ve read the book, now see the park.

And it didn’t disappoint. Surrounded by old stately houses, dotted with bare winter trees, it had an urban oasis quality to it. And big enough for a range of activities to be going on: some organized; some spontaneous. The Square was populated without being crowded that day and had a really nice vibe to it. We sat on the edge of a fountain and watched the scenes around us. There were a lot of buskers and you could tune in and out of the music each one was playing just by turning your head: the guitar player doing note-perfect early Neil Young; the saxophonist playing The Odd Couple Theme with all of its variations.

But in American cities, we’d found that not all buskers are musicians. There was a small crowd gathered off to the side of us and a guy was holding court. The small crowd of people around him were having a nice old laugh so we went over. The fellow doing the act was a black man, probably in his late 30s. He had a claque of friends who laughed in all the right ways in all of the right places, and added to the show, like a well-primed sitcom audience.

The guy talked about the black experience through American history. And he was funny and poignant about it at the same time. I can’t remember too much of what he said but two things stay with me: the Statue of Liberty had just celebrated its centenary, but he said it meant only that she’d been sticking her torch up black peoples’ asses for a hundred years; and how sanitized, glossy and improbable the Roots TV mini-series’ treatment of the black experience had been. So how the fuck had it managed to make white folks feel so right-on about having watched it?

He engaged with everyone around him in a pretty inclusive way and the feeling was not of having been in an audience, but rather as part of a conversation. And you never got the “Oh shit I hope he doesn’t pick on me,” feeling like with many stand-up comedians. His claque interjected funny lines, engaged with the punters in the crowd and tossed lines out to the punters as well.

He finished up and we put some bills in his hat and went on our way. I didn’t catch his name.

Whenever we talked about that trip in the years since, that black guy always got a mention. How funny he was. And how polished American buskers were, because we saw other very funny acts on beaches and streets in various other American cities too.

So I got a sense of déjà vu when I tuned into The TV show The Panel for the first time, not long after its debut. There was a black American comedian guesting. And he was funny. He looked a little familiar too. More drawling and laconic now, and even more self-effacing. I got on the phone to one of the blokes who had been there in Washington Square that day. He’d watched it too and he was as sure as I was that this Franklin Ajaye was the guy who’d busked Washington Square.
I hoped his television appearance meant that he was successful, and didn’t see or hear of him again for some years.

The next time, I was watching Deadwood on DVD. Now, if I was doing a series of posts on Awesome TV, Deadwood would get a guernsey (would be included, for those unfamiliar with Australian football metaphors). Deadwood is a dirty, vicious, profane western series that draws on such cinematic forebears as Unforgiven; McCabe & Mrs Miller; and The Wild Bunch. Terminal westerns about the end of both the West and The Western.

Franklin Ajaye appeared in the second season, playing the Nigger General, a Civil War veteran who drifted into the North Dakota frontier town and took up residence in the local livery stable. And he was pretty good.

I haven’t seen Ajaye at all since then but I hope his lively character role in Deadwood is an indicator that he’s been successful, and hope to see him in more good quality films and TV shows. And if I ever get back to Washington Square, I’ll look out for him there too. Even though I understand he now lives in Melbourne. Best damn busker I ever saw.

21 October, 2007


The thoughtful, kind and generous Legal Eagle has tagged me for an animal meme which is currently doing the rounds of the blogosphere:

An interesting animal I had:
We acquired an axolotl (aka Mexican Walking Fish) and a tank some years ago. An axolotl is an amphibian closely related to salamanders and newts. They are native to Mexico and can reach adulthood without changing from their larval state, after which they lose the feathery gills located at the back of their head.

As pets, they stay in this larval stage, never leaving the water. But I was curious. I read that if a land base is built up in their tank and iodine is added to the water as the weather gets warmer, they’ll metamorphose. This intrigued me. Lad Litter saw far too many schlocky mad scientist movies as a kid. But over at Party Pooper Central, TLOML was horrified and forbade me from playing God in our house. The shed was the place for that. I was known as Dr Frankenstein for a while afterwards.

An interesting animal I ate:
We’d walked along Sunset Boulevard in the early evening, once more stamping ourselves as tourists, and not-terribly-bright ones. No-one walks Sunset.

Feeling hungry, we entered a restaurant and perused the menu. Escargots anis jumped out at me. I’d never eaten snails and was keen to try. The waiter took my order and came back a short time later.
“The chef just wants to make sure you know what you’re ordering.”
“Of course.”
“And that it is flavoured very strongly with aniseed.”
“Yes, I understand.”

I believe I still don’t know what snails taste like. To me, I was eating those licorice blocks that were the staple fare of primary school tuck shops in the 60s.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal:
We entered the Killer Whale show at the Stanley Park Aquarium in Vancouver later than the rest of the audience. It was crowded but there was a bank of unoccupied seats right up the front so we sat down and spread out. Ha! We’d sure beaten out all of those schmucks who were jammed into their seats like sardines. The young woman at the microphone said something we didn’t quite catch and the whole crowd looked at us and laughed good naturedly. Probably something about latecomers but, hey, we had great seats for the show.

The show’s finale was for the whales to demonstrate their capacity to leap from the water, leaving a large hole, then gracefully slam down in the centre just as the water rushed in to fill the hole, making a huge splash. Something about concussing their prey or maybe just for sport. The audience chuckled and looked in our direction as the announcer described what was about to happen. Another in-joke, but we were no longer latecomers so what was that all about? Oh well, the orcas swam around the tank getting faster and faster until they all reared up out of the water simultaneously, one of them right in front of us.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as the orca hung suspended some three metres in the air close to the edge of the tank and our front row seats. It dove into the gaping chasm left in the water by its exit (“We’re going to get soaked,” I thought) as it sent a huge tower of water straight up into the air (“Hang on, I think we’re going to be okay,” I revised) as the waterspout seemed set to collapse in on itself.

But a split-second later it exploded outwards instead. The mother of all splashes did indeed soak us. The auditorium was drenched in full-blown belly laughter. We joined in, the last ones to get the joke. The girl with the microphone came over to commiserate with us. I think we might have been simply the latest in a long line.

An interesting animal at the museum:
There are two main types of whales: toothed whales - which includes dolphins; orcas; sperm whales; porpoises and others; and baleen whales – right whales; blue whales; humpback whales and others.

Toothed whales hunt their prey, mostly fish, while baleen whales gather it. A baleen whale will hold huge amounts of water containing plankton in its mouth, and then strain the water out through baleen, which takes the place of teeth in whales belonging to this type. The plankton that’s left is then swallowed.

At the Melbourne Museum there was baleen in a hands-on display. It felt like giant fingernails.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat:
I'm terrified of sharks. I swim nervously in the sea, and don't dive. But a dive into Port Phillip Bay sounded a pretty good thing to do during a Queenscliff holiday.

Through the kelp beds at the edge of Pope’s Eye we circled. An unanticipated variety of fish ignored us. Around Chinaman’s Hat, the old navigation marker where male seals unsuccessful at mating congregated, we swam. Even from our watery vantage point, it was uncomfortably reminiscent of some share houses I'd lived in. Even the smells.

Then, the dolphins, mother and child. They swam alongside us as we were towed on a long rope out the back of the boat, making eye-contact and smiling anthropomorphically.

I repeated the experience when my mate from SW Yorkshire came over. He raved about it.

One year later, press reports appeared of a Great White Shark in Port Phillip Bay. I confronted TLOML’s brother-in-law, a keen fisherman.
“Hang on, Great Whites come into Port Phillip Bay?!”
“Yes, not that often, but not all that rarely either.”
“I thought they never came into the Bay. NEVER. Even if the last reported sighting had been in 1868, I WOULD NOT have done those two diving with the dolphins things.”

I still get the occasional shudder, but I’ve done it, so I don’t have to do it again.

16 October, 2007

Just Slip Out The Back, Jack...

Fucking work again. I’m filled with the ol’ tell-tale dread every morning. It’s not all that bad when I get there, but it’s never actually good. I’ve been phoning it in this year, without working from home either. So I’ve come to a decision.


I’m applying to take next year off. I’ve got nearly five months Long Service Leave, which would take me up to around mid-June and then I should be able to get Leave Without Pay for the rest.
I’ll spend the first couple of months fixing up the house a bit, or at the very least removing the many signs of my criminal neglect. Not that I’m not house proud, just lazy. Physically, morally, intellectually, socially. Read my profile, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

The next couple of months after the home maintenance frenzy will be spent looking for the SOMETHING ELSE that might prevent me having to go slinking back to my current job with my tail between my legs. Well, at least then I’d have something between my legs.

Oh, there’s just the small matter of my boss approving all of this. He has a higher opinion of me than I do. He took a bit of a punt giving me the job in the first place. He’s probably weighing up the costs and benefits of not having me around in 2008:


1) I’m the only one who knows how to do certain things that need to be done. I’m sure a few of my colleagues put up with my incompetence because I’ve taken on areas of responsibility they’d rather avoid;

2) I’ve set a few things in motion that might fizzle out without me. (see Benefits 2) below);

3) I’m not such a bad fellow at times. Really;

4) I’ve had some very expensive training paid for by work;

5) I’ll probably end up coming back;

6) They’ll have to get The Office out on DVD if they want to see a dickhead in a workplace setting who thinks he’s a lot funnier than he really is;


1) I’ve become a liability. And not the tax-deductible kind either;

2) How will the things I’m doing get done without me? Better;

3) Someone who doesn’t want to be there won’t be;

TLOML supports me in this. She doesn’t want me to just spiral downwards. She’s in the same line of work and understands the pitfalls.

It would really piss me off if I had to saddle up again next year.

And no, I’m not a jockey. I just use loads of pissy cliches. I told you I was lazy.