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A Giant Lizard Ate My Pants: “Into the Wild” on the Moth Podcast

February 27th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

I had the honor of performing in The Moth’s GrandSLAM back in January at the Highline Ballroom here in New York City. The night’s theme was “Into the Wild.” Naturally, I told another story about the brief period of time I spent working as an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback.

I’ve been to that well before, and I think I’ve about beat that thing to death by now. Still, I’m glad I was able to squeeze another story out of it.

It’s not every day that a giant lizard tries to eat your blood-soaked pants. And the opportunity to talk about having a giant lizard steal my pants on a kangaroo shooting trip doesn’t really come up in conversation at the office all that much either.

So I’m really glad I got to use that little gem for something. I’ve probably forced it a few times too many over the years.

The Moth was awesome enough to include my story in their podcast today, too. I’ve wanted to make their podcast for years, and it’s a pretty huge honor. I feel like running down the hall at work high-fiving people, but I’m pretty sure that opportunity’s not going to present itself either.

Here’s a video of me telling that story from today’s Moth podcast at the January GrandSLAM, in case you’re stumbling in off the Internet and wondering if I am, in fact, a bald-headed white dude with glasses and a suit:

If you want to see more stories, you can do that here, here, and here.
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‘Roo Shooter at The Moth

November 13th, 2009 by Jeff Simmermon

Kangaroo, Ute, Moon

In early 2004 I was an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback. Pretty much the only experience more bizarre and terrifying would be if I were to have worked with a kangaroo shooter at the National Zoo.

Before you go getting all fired up, remember that kangaroos are pests in Australia, and people eat their meat all the time. And meat does not just cheerfully lie itself down on the burger bun, either. Kangaroo meat is as free-range and organic as it gets, but you’ve still got to do a fair bit of old-fashioned killing to make it happen — and the process is disturbing, gory, and pretty hideous. Not unlike the rest of nature, the parts they don’t show you on the television programs.

But not a day goes by that I don’t think of that experience in some way or another. It taught me a lot. I learned to get tough, how to do some hard, hard work, and how to put aside all my pussified city liberal ideas and face the realities of the food chain.

I told this story at The Moth on October 22, 2009. I’d told it at the Moth last year, as well as at The Liar Show, Risk!, and Seth Lind’s Told. I’ve also told parts of this story to pretty much anyone that will sit still in my presence since early 2004. I think D.Billy, my co-blogger here, has seen me tell the thing each time, too.

I’ve pitched it to This American Life twice now, and had Ira Glass personally tell me to my face, that while he really likes the story as long as he is a broadcaster in the United States of America, it will not appear on his show. He was actually really nice about it – and he’s right. The story, in its original and best incarnation, has tons of appalling gore in it, the killing of defenseless baby kangaroos and uses the word “cunt” more times in ten minutes than most Americans have heard in their entire lives. And cutting that stuff out kinda neuters the whole enterprise.

If I’m this sick of telling this story, I can only imagine how tired my friends are of hearing it. And I’ve sure made a lot of hay off the experience on this blog.

Unless something tremendous happens, I feel like I can safely say that this story’s been done to death and put to bed here in New York City. It feels good to be all the way through this one and kinda wipe the slate clean for a batch of new stuff.

On the other hand, I’m about to go to Australia again for two weeks starting Saturday. And if I can claw my way in front of a microphone after a couple or six VBs, this thing might rise again. If any of you know of storytelling shows or reading series or something similar in Adelaide or Melbourne, please let me know. I’d love to try this or other stories in front of an Aussie audience.

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Performing at Seth Lind’s Told! Tonight at 7PM

July 19th, 2009 by Jeff Simmermon

I’ll be performing a story at my man Seth Lind’s story show TOLD! tomorrow night at Under Saint Mark’s Theatre. My story’s always a work in progress — it’s about the time I was a kangaroo shooter in the Outback. My close friends are so tired of this one, because even though I had the actual experience back in early 2004, I have only just recently stopped talking about it.

So if you’re new to this blog and you live in New York, come on down. It’s the right price, too: Free dollars and free cents!

Seth runs a pretty interesting show, too. He brings a lot of what he’s learned from his day job at “This American Life” to the experience as well as his training in comic improv, creating a show that’s informal and experimental, a little bit talk show and always really, really interesting to see.

Here’s the description straight from the show’s Facebook page:

Hi. You are cordially invited to the ninth installment of TOLD, the free monthly storytelling show at Under St. Mark’s Theatre.

This month… ‘The Rough Guide’ – riveting stories from out on the road. Our totally sweet performers include:

Actor and Comic Book writer CHRIS KIPINIAK, who will show us that a trip to Egypt can have more in common with the plot of ‘The Hangover’ than you might think. Well, part of the plot of ‘The Hangover.’ Tyson doesn’t sing.

Moth Grandslammer DAISY ROSARIO, tells about a crazy drug trip… not the kind you’re thinking.

Comedian KEVIN ALLISON (The State) with a tale of arriving at a place where I know you’ve been, and deciding to do something I hope you haven’t.

And JEFF SIMMERMON, who just had a story on “This American Life” last week, tells about heading Down Under… to be a hired killer. For real.

Plus, if the tech gods and schedule gods are with us, MELANIE HAMLETT will join us between stories via live video feed, to report in on her current cross-country adventure living in her truck.

Hope to see you there.

TOLD #9: The Rough Guide
Monday July 20th – 7PM
Under St. Mark’s Theatre
94 Saint Mark’s Place
FREE FREE FREE

Hosted by Seth Lind
Produced by Heidi Grumelot
Presented by Horse Trade Theatre Group

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“Foreign Soil”: More Storytelling at The Moth

March 6th, 2009 by Jeff Simmermon

In 2003, back before online dating was remotely acceptable, I met a woman from Perth, Western Australia over the Internet. As many of you know, I ended up selling all my stuff and flying across the planet to meet her in person. It was pretty much the adventure of a lifetime, and even though parts of it were really hard, I don’t regret a moment of it.

This is me, telling that story recently at The Moth:

If you’re just here from BoingBoing, you can see other stories I’ve done at The Moth here:

Royal Quiet Deluxe, Chicken Band: Now the Story is Told on Video
Reverend Al Sharpton Hates Royal Quiet Deluxe, Chicken Band

I do a lot of talking about The Moth on here, and very little explaining. Here’s how it works.
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Terrifying Text Message from Down Under

November 16th, 2007 by Jeff Simmermon

I was three-quarters of the way through a bowl of duck noodle soup in Union Square last Friday when I got this mysterious, terrifying text:

Terrifying Text Message

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‘Roo Shooter, Part 3

April 30th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

Dead Fox

We wait for the sun to drop. Then Craig turns to me. “Here’s what you do. Get out of the cab and up on the back of the ute with this spotlight here. I’ve got on on my side as well. You move that light nice and slow over the left side of the road while I drive and do the right. You see any ‘roos with that thing, tap the roof with your hand.”

Simple enough, it seemed. The hard stuff came along pretty quickly. We stopped with a jerk, Craig mashing the brakes with his feet as he loaded a shell into his rifle and took aim. A kangaroo sat frozen in my spotlight’s cone of light, its eyes two tiny reflectors and its jaws the only movement.

When a kangaroo gets shot in the head, it jumps straight up and flips over backwards like some kind of weird 3-D Atari game. One leg vigorously pumps the air, a flailing faucet draining away the last of a kangaroo’s energy until it drops into the dust with the rest of the body. My job was then to leap off the Ute, run up to the kangaroo, grab it by that same recently-kicking leg or the tail and drag it back. Ninety percent of the time the animal was dead by the time I made it to the truck.

Shot 'Roo

As I walked slowly to my first dead kangaroo, processing all of what had just happened and what I was about to do through thin filter of functioning emotional shock, Craig barked at me from the Ute.

“Let’s get a wriggle on, we haven’t got all bloody night!” His shouts were punctuated with the rhythmic clacking drags of a knife on steel.

I dragged the dying beast as fast as I could, trying to block out the little shakes traveling up my arm as its shattered head bumped over uneven ground. This was even harder than it sounds because I was also trying to block out the distinct thought that I had seen something writhing in the kangaroo’s pouch as I grabbed its leg.

I didn’t have time to dwell for long. As soon as I got to the truck, Craig handed me an enormous machete and a bloodstained wooden block.

“You know how to use these? You’re gonna learn fast, mate. Watch close and listen carefully. I fuckin’ hate having to repeat meself. First, we get in there and split the heart. If ‘e’s not quite dead, that’ll do him quicker than anything. It gets all the extra blood out too so’s you don’t have such a fuckin’ mess later. Then we get the head off and put it out here.”

With this, Craig stabbed the kangaroo in the neck, rummaging around in the spine for what seemed like a particular juncture of vertebrae. Upon finding it, he quickly slashed through the remaining neck tissue, grabbing the poor creature’s head by its long ears and flinging without even looking into the dark bush, where it hit the dirt and rolled with a series of sloppy wet flopping sounds.

With maximum efficiency, he turned to the tail, severing it from the ‘roo’s rump with a few deft strokes, grunting “these’re worth a dollar apiece. Coons buy’em and make soup out of em. Bloody beautiful soup, too. Lotsa guys don’t save ‘em, but I say why throw money away? Now get over here with that block and machete.”

I was responsible for hacking the forepaws off of each kangaroo while he beheaded and be-tailed them. Craig reckoned I’d pick this skill up quickly enough. I had no prior machete experience, and found that I had to hack repeatedly at the animals’ wrists, sending a fine spray of blood and bone splinters onto my face and into the night sky. I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut at work, both literally and figuratively.

“Yeah, you’re crap at that, alright,” Craig said. “Now, take this knife and cut that bit of skin there on the back leg.” Although longer, the bit of skin Craig referred to is analogous to the skin between a human’s Achilles tendon and the bones of the ankle. Under Craig’s guidance, I guided a large, S-shaped meathook tipped with very sharp points through the hole. Surprisingly enough, I had not yet vomited.

“Now, for the big boomers, there’s no way you’re gettin’ ‘em up by yourself. I’ll help you with this’n and the other big boys. But the does, you can get those alone. That’s why you’re here. Me arm is all fucked from years of this shit.”

Female kangaroos, however, pose their own problems. Although easier to lift than male ‘roos or “boomers,” the does are often pregnant. And in those cases, the only humane thing to do for the joeys that can’t survive outside the pouch is to kill them on the spot, quickly and decisively. It can be an emotional challenge. Even for Craig, who accepted this part of the job decades ago.

The best methods for dispatching joeys include beheading them or stomping them beneath your boot. The bigger ones you grab by the back legs and smash against a nearby rock or even the truck’s tire. After we killed five or six ‘roos, Craig would stop to gut them, pulling the babies out to dispatch them en masse. After one such performance Craig peered at me through the swirling dust and sighed.“Mate, I’ve been doin’ this for fifty years, and this part always makes me feel like such a cunt.”

Let the record show that I didn’t participate in this part of the job. The one time that I did, I made a horrible mistake. I was dragging a doe up to the Ute and could see something wriggling in the pouch. All of a sudden two legs stuck out. I grabbed them, pulling the joey free. I meant to hold it up and shout to Craig, “Hey, what should I do with this one,” but it leaped out of my hand and hopped into the distance with a chirping scream.

“You stupid fucking fuckwit, that joey’s not big enough to survive on its own out here! E’s gonna go off and get eaten or starve to death all alone all because you think you’re such a fucking animal lover! Now chop that cunt’s paws off doubletime and help me get these fuckas up on the Ute!”

*********
This is part 3 of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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Roo Shooter, Part 2

April 27th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

First One
My girlfriend took care of me the best that she could, and I managed occasional work as a dishwasher, furniture mover, and stonemason. But my meagre income was eating into my pride. I was tired of the wide, silver paint-lined grins that the Aborigines at the city center always flashed when they saw me shoplifting my meals. I was tired of shoplifting my meals.

Then Craig rang.

“G’day…is that Jeff?” It was.

“This is Craig Murphy. Steve Evans told me you was looking for a bit of work as an offsider to a ‘roo shooter.” That was true, yes.

“Well, I’m getting’ ready to go up to Nookawarra out bush for a couple days and I could use a bit of help. I can’t lift the boomers onto the Ute like I used to, and I’m lookin’ for someone to work the light and go get the ‘roos after I shoot ‘em. I’ll take you up there, take care of all your food, and offer you 400 bucks flat.” Sounded cool to me.

“I’ll meet you Monday at the train station,” Craig said. “Bring a couple pillows and a towel and some clothes you can get messy. We leave Tuesday morning, first thing.”

***

The kangaroo is a striking, strange creature, at once silly and majestic like the moose. It’s also the primary symbol of Australia. Portrayed on the national coat of arms, the creature has been used to advertise and anthropomorphize the Australian psyche all over the world. Not only does it adorn everything Australia produces—from postcards to foodstuff logos, from children’s books to novelty t-shirts—but it has proudly crept into the vernacular. In a nation that derogatorily calls its aboriginals “boongs,” its Asians “slants,” and its Italians “wogs,” white Aussies are referred to as “skips.”

For the Australians, the kangaroo is both a boon and pest, a national icon and creature to despise. The country is overrun with them—58 million, according to the latest census, making the species amongst the most common wild land mammal on earth. This, ironically, is mostly thanks to a sheep and cattle industry that have created an abundance of man-made pasture grasses and watering holes, and have driven dingoes—the kangaroos only predators, but “vermin” to sheep farmers—into the center of the country. These cute, fuzzy hoppers now pose a serious environmental threat to the rangelands. Travelling in packs of several hundred, they can easily cover up to 500 kilometers. A pod can bisect a farm on one of these journeys and cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to valuable crops in a single night, wrecking fences and outgrazing cattle for rare desert grass.

Consequently it’s perfectly legal in Australia to kill kangaroos, but not all kangaroos. Only the four most plentiful species can be commercially harvested. And it’s not indiscriminate, but part of a far-reaching Management Plan drawn up by the Federal conservation Department. The Plan is basically a system of population monitoring and quota setting. After deciding on a maximum allowable “take” for a given year,the States Authority sells individually and sequentially numbered plastic lockable tags. To qualify as a legal kill each kangaroo must be tagged, and he circulation of these tags are also closely watched to ensure the harvest in any one area doesn’t top the quota.

So if you’re a licensed hunter, you buy tags from the government, load up a truck with a weeks’ worth of food, water and fuel and drive out into the bush to slaughter as many kangaroos as you can safely carry. You then lug the carcasses into town and sell them to a kangaroo processor. Processors will only buy those beasts you’ve humanely killed (i.e. head-shot as opposed to “skin only” which targets the legs and the neck). It works in everyone’s best interest this way: the ‘roos are killed humanely, and processors don’t buy meat that’s been contaminated with lead bullets.

The culling is vast. At its highest, in 2002, total deaths hit seven million. Twenty percent of Australia’s kangaroo population was wiped out in a single year. Little surprise, then, that the animals are now seen by many as natural resource, with the processing of their body parts one of Australia’s fastest-growing industries. Kangaroo meat is now considered a delicacy outside of Australia and exported to fifty-five countries. The soft hides are highly prized by tanneries for being very durable, yet light in weight. The kangaroo economy brings in over $200 million dollars per year and employs about 4,000 people.

Craig is a professional “harvester”, and has been shooting the animals since he was eight years old. “Most weeks, if we wanted to eat meat, we shot a ‘roo. That’s how it was in early days, mate.” After finishing high school, Craig trained as a roof carpenter, supplementing his income with money earned from ‘roo shooting trips and occasional work as an oil driller. Apparently he had never worn a shirt to work, either—the man looked like a crocodile hide stretched over giant sack of rice.

I imagine that most licensed hunters are like Craig, men who grew up in the bush their entire lives with kangaroo killing as part of the lifestyle. The most vocal of the four kangaroo shooter associations—The NSW Professional Kangaroo Cullers—have stated they’d like to see shooters recognised as a full time occupation, much like fishing. And interest does seem to be high: 6,236 occupier licences were issued for the commercial zone in 1999 and 5,130 in 2000.

That said, no one in their right mind would classify commercial kangaroo shooting as a career with long-term prospects. It’s certainly not the type of work you’d take up if there was something better to do. Nor is kangaroo shooting an aspect of Australian culture that is particularly revered or immortalized. Even the gruffest, grizzliest shooter recognizes the job has some nasty aspects and puts it behind him as quickly as possible. Craig confided in me that he no longer dreamed when he slept.

*********
This is part two of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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‘Roo Shooter, Part 1

April 25th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

You may recognize this story from this blog, over a year ago. Since then, it’s developed to a publishable state, been published, and been forgotten. In the absence of any other content, I’ll be running this in installments on here over the next couple of days…

australia.looks.like.this

We’ve been hammering at the Outback highway since dawn. Red dust and spinifex grass run to the horizon in every direction, forming a long ribbon of alien terrain under a technicolour blue sky. Craig hasn’t said a word for the last six hours. He’s already played both his Elvis tapes and is saving Jerry Lee Lewis for the all-night drive back. On the way home from a shooting trip you’ve got to drive all night so the meat doesn’t spoil.

We turn off the paved road into dirt tracks that lead us deep into the bush. Soon, we pull up to a long corrugated tin shack graced with a concrete slab porch. Two giant refrigerators sit out front like fat metal marshmallows dotted with faint crimson stains.

“Go on, pick your room, mate, just not the one with me cooler in it,” Craig orders. “I brung that up special.”

My bedroom has a low metal cot and a foam mattress. Red dust covers everything: my bed, the table, the toothbrush and wadded-up tissue the last guy left behind. A table scarred with the cuts from a million knives, stained with oil and dried blood, sits next to a dusty generator out on the front porch. Imagine an abandoned prospector’s cabin on Mars, or an axe murderer’s holiday home.

“Craig, this is so cool,” I shout. “It’s the most godforsaken place I’ve ever seen in my life!” I mean it with the sort of artificial exuberance my friends back home in Richmond use to describe roller-skating, duckpin bowling or their supposed love for Journey. You know the tone.

Craig grunts “Call it what you want, mate, but it’s me fuckin’ life, and I like it.”

Embarrassed, I stutter out an apology. I later learn it’s impossible to hurt a ‘roo shooter’s feelings with a bunch of tiny words. And as I’ll discover when I chop the paws off of my first kangaroo, its blood spraying into my eyes and open mouth, my own life had already become more different than I could ever have imagined.

***

Richmond, Virginia is the sort of town that’s friendly to boredom and torpor. For a couple of years after college, I scraped by on nine bucks an hour, did my laundry at my parents’ and claimed to be a writer and musician.

After a major lifestyle hemorrhage wherein I realized how closely to squandering my twenties I had come, I donated my drums to the thrift store, sold my records and my van and bought a ticket to Sydney.

Within an amazingly short amount of time, I had a girlfriend on the other side of the continent and one of the most beautifully isolated cities in the world. It was a dream come true—my frustration and loneliness suddenly replaced with the picture-book perfection of life on a foreign beach with a gorgeous lady by my side.

Then I ran out of money.

**********
This is part one of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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Wolfmother Is the New Zeppelin

April 11th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

Wolfmother Poster
Originally uploaded by The Kozy Shack.

Mark my words, people: these guys are serious.

Australia has a pretty nice cultural tradition going for itself in that it produces bands that are never terrifically innovative, but do what they fuck they do better than anyone else on earth. Wolfmother fits squarely within that tradition.

Think about it: AC/DC — straight ahead balls-out rock. INXS, same deal, but cokier. Now Wolfmother, the sonic fusion of Zeppelin, Trail of the Dead, and every picture your friend’s older brother ever drew on the cover of his math book.

I hear Wolfmother and I think of springtime in Norfolk, rolling out to the Boathouse in my man Phil’s crappy Chevy Manza. I think of skipping school to smoke dope on the way to the beach and summoning up the nerve to crash the preppy crowd’s parties and talk to the girl in my math class. Given my prowess at the time, I would have asked about the killer test that week, but you know, baby steps.

These guys are like Sabbath and the lone shred of hippies that are still cool all rolled up into one psychedelic thundering explosion. They played South By Southwest, a few club show here and there…

If anyone’s gonna bring the magic of hesher stadium rock back to America, it’s gonna be these manic Aussies. Mark my words, it’s not going to be long before you start seeing Wolfmother tattoos. On people’s FACES.

WolfMother
Here’s an incredible video, and the making of said video, with a little interview…

Additionally, you can

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More Reptile Dismemberment

November 2nd, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

This is more from Jamie, my Australian environmental scientist friend. I’d say this is a bang-up urban legend except there’s a heap of repulsive pics to prove it to be true…

Read the text first…

A guy in St. Louis was driving to work on Hwy 144 when he heard a ‘pop’. He thought it sounded like a flat tire, though his ride wasn’t affected.

After pulling over, checking the tires and finding them intact he opened the hood to look at the motor. Before the hood was even all the way open he jumped back in shock and knocked his head on the partially opened hood, unable to believe what his eyes were seeing! Nobody was going to believe this!….you sure wouldn’t have either!

Fortunately, a coworker with a camera recognized him along side the road and stopped to see if he could help. Check out the attachment jpg files to witness for yourself the source of his amazement……Now, this has to be right up there at the top of the list of unusual but verified ‘Reasons I was late for work’!!!!

engine 1

engine 2

MVC003F

snake engine

snake engine 4

The poor python must have escaped from a neighbor and curled up under the hood for warmth…

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