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I Couldn’t Risk Strangling That Maniac Cabdriver

October 25th, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

The cabbie ranted, sweat flying from his blubbering lips as he craned his neck around to steer. The crazy sonofabitch was accelerating us backwards down one of Sydney’s main thoroughfares, utes and passersby blurring into an cursing metal rainbow. We careened and caromed down car-lined streets, a four-cylinder pinball headed fast for guardrail flippers and off the Bronte cliffs and into the ocean. There would be no multi-ball…That bad motherfucker was going to kill us both.

I couldn’t risk strangling him, as his death throes would make him mash the gas even harder — but we had to slow down somehow. Quickly, I flung both rear doors open to try and get a bit of wind resistance to slow us somewhat, buy me some time or maybe let me risk a leap out of the speeding car. The doors sparked and smashed against cars on the highway, each impact slowing us a little more until the doors ripped off. We plummeted into the ocean all the same.

I braced myself for the impact and swam like hell out of the sinking cab before the grill even made it below the surface. I could feel slippery, muscular mollusk flesh caressing my shoulders and legs as I splashed to shore, cold slimy arms with thousands of living nubs tickling the gooseflesh on my cold shoulders.

I felt heavy and imbalanced as I climbed out upon onto the rocks, panting with exertion and adrenaline. Something was definitely off. I staggered into the nearest Hungry Jack’s to comport myself in the restroom, and that’s where I saw it…

A giant, black starfish had settled itself onto my back and shoulder. Its thick arms pulsed with activity, ripples moving along the exposed nubs under the sides of its five arms. It must have weighed at least twenty pounds, but I couldn’t feel a thing.

I marched straight into the nearest doctor’s surgery, where the nurses shrieked. One of them tried to calmly explain that the starfish had latched itself onto my back very tightly, and was gobbling the flesh off of my back with its sharp beak. Its saliva, she explained, contained a powerful numbing agent that guaranteed I wouldn’t feel a thing until its beak started to scrape bone.

I snatched up a can of spraypaint from a nearby cart and shook it menacingly, trying to threaten the vampiric mollusk off of me. No such luck. I sprayed and sprayed, covering the beast with a candy-apple metallic color, the paint and my blood commingling in rivulets as the vicious beast prised itself from my back and fell to the floor, writhing in agony.

Then I woke up, had a piss and stayed awake until three a.m. What could that have even meant?

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Don’t Eat the Electric Fence

July 1st, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

I feel for this poor guy. He’s just had the snake equivalent of six Thanksgivings, and he’s crawling home to sleep it off. He can’t see well enough to see the electric fence, and certainly doesn’t have the brainpower to comprehend what it might do to him. All he knows is this serious sting is giving him a headache and harshing on his super-mellow food-coma. So he turns around to attack the source of the sting, and gets STUCK on the electric fence.

snakeonfence

snakemouthCLOSE

Another old-fashioned Aussie “good on ya, mate,” to Jamie, source of all my snake photos.

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‘Roo Shooting in Pictures

June 30th, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

As I have mentioned before, I am working on a large feature story about my experience shooting kangaroo in Australia. My other mate Luke Simon is a fantastic and talented photographer, and just returned from a shoot (in more ways than one) with these photos…hopefully we can use them with the story.

I seriously cannot stop looking at these…

Here’s a ‘roo shooter scouting for packs of kangaroo:
scouting

The first one of the night:
ute-moon-roo

draining

I cannot remember what sort of bird this is, but they are native to Western Australia, and I don’t think they are in the owl family:

bush bird not an owl

Like all too many other species, foxes were introduced into the Australian ecosystem and have run absolutely wild. They hunt and eat all manner of indigenous marsupials and are wreaking their own sort of havoc on the ecosystem. Consequently, it is a perfectly legal activity to just go out into the bush and drill as many foxes as you can. There is a difference between legal and enjoyable in my book, but I understand the reasoning behind it…

dead fox

As a soft inner city kid with a penchant for digital photography and comic book reading, I was totally unprepared for the harsh reality that comes along with killing mammals. I would like to state for the record that this sort of thing is not for me at all, but I do see the value in culling ‘roos, hunting, and I definitely eat meat. If you’re going to eat meat, you have to be willing to participate and get your hand dirty at least once, and I sure did. I overemotionalized what is a very normal, common thing for any country person that has ever slaughtered a hog or dressed a deer.

But one thing that hit me was the weird, grimly comical faces that the animals could make. I saw sights like the following a lot, and I never got completely used to it…it’s silly and scary all at once, and really makes you understnad he power of laughter as a coping mechanism.

If you get queasy easy or get bummed out by pictures of dead animals, don’t scroll down. I am building in a bit of space for the fainthearted so you guys can navigate away if necessary….

shot-roo

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Another Grim Look at the Australian Food Chain

June 22nd, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

This picture is from my mate Jamie, a man with a keen eye for the inherent savagery in Australian fauna…see the photo below, then a detail for the close-up…

KimberlyFishingWEB

snakeDetail

For more involved pictures of a different python weating a wallaby, click here.

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More Snakes to Get Excited About

April 3rd, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

Yet another connection through the magic of the internet…

Last week a German snake-aficionade message board linked to my post of the snake devouring a wallaby. Somebody saw it, who sent it to a friend who sent it to a friend, and one of the herpetologists from the National Zoo emailed me last week. He had no idea that I lived in DC, much less right down the street. He invited me around to have a look at some of his wards, including this Rainbow Boa.

closeupRainbowboa

The Rainbow Boa lives all over South America, from the north on down. This guy is of a variety found in Peru and Brazil.

RainbowBoaBluehue

Rainbow Boas are not called that because they are multicolored like a muscular tube made of Froot Loops. However, the surface of their scales has a sort of prismatic effect when viewed in sunlight. They are like the surface of an oily puddle around the edges. This Boa is not sitting under a blue bulb–his skin is refracting the light and causing him to look blue around the edges.

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A Grim Look at the Australian Food Chain

March 17th, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

My friend Jamie is an environmental scientist in Perth, who, like all of his countrymen, has a fantastic sense of the macabre combined with a love for wild animals. Check out these photos he sent me of a python eating a large wallaby somewhere out in the Australian bush.

This is the Aussie equivalent of a trip to Golden Corral…

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 1

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 2

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 3

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 4

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 5

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 6

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 7

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 8

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 9

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 10

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 11

Snake Swallowing Kangaroo 12

Click here to see another massive python stuck on an electric fence, and here to see a python retrieving a drowned kangaroo somewhere in the Pilbara. Additionally, I wrote and published a lengthy account of a kangaroo shooting trip I went on in Australia a few years ago. You can read that here.

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‘roo shooter

January 23rd, 2005 by Jeff Simmermon

australia.looks.like.this
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

The West Australian sun is a silent nuclear scream that can burn unprotected skin right through a car’s windshield. It can tan a man through a thin layer of concrete and quietly flay the flesh off of unprotected tourists.

Kevin and I had been hammering over the highway with the A/C cranking since dawn. I imagined the sun blasting its way through the windshield and my massive pair of Blue-Blockers, tanning the surface of my actual retinas. Kevin wasn’t sweating it. A sixty year-old man raised in the bush, he had trained as a kangaroo shooter and roof carpenter since the age of eight. Apparently he had never worn a shirt to work, either– the man looked like a crocodile hide stretched over a human frame, a frustrated expression by a taxidermist who went to art school.

We were driving ten hours each way to a million acre plot of red sand and sun-blasted rock to slaughter four and a half tons of kangaroos. I was there as a hired hand, working on a story for Vice magazine. I’d come to Australia for all kinds of adventure, and this trip was it. Today was just another day for Kevin.

Kevin had already played both his Elvis tapes by eleven and was saving the Jerry Lee Lewis ones for the all-night drive back. On the way back from a shooting trip you’ve gotta drive all night so the meat doesn’t spoil. It takes all the novelty you can muster to stay awake on a drive like that. We ended up eating fifteen sausages apiece and drinking enough water to make our straining bladders keep us awake, but that’s later.

“Mate, let’s pull off for a piddle here, then have a stretch up in Geraldton when we check the tires at the petrol station, ay,” Kevin barked.

“Why don’t we just use the bathroom at the gas station? It’s only like 3k away.”

“Shit, I know, I just hate going to the toilets at a petrol station if I’m not buying anything. It just feels fuckin’ wrong, mate.”

I had nothing to say to that one. I’d been doing it all my life, but I saw his point. For a lifelong kangaroo slaughterer and a heavy user of the word “cunt,” Kevin had a unique sense of honor.

“Ah, shit, what do I know, though, you’re the guest,” Kevin said. Let’s sort these tires out and celebrate with an indoor piddle, hey? Fancy an ice cream while I’m in there?”

“Nah, I’m cool,” I said.

“Bullshit you’re cool, we’ve been driving all morning and we’ve got five hours to go yet. This is the last fuckin’ store you’re gonna see for a week, mate. That’s it, you’re having an ice cream and put your purse down.” Kevin’s face split into a massive, crooked grin. “I told you, while you work for me, I buy the food, and last I checked, ice cream was fuckin’ food.”

You couldn’t help but smile at that, and I must have beamed. It was the last time I smiled for several days.

Five hours passed with nothing much to report. The red dust and spinefex all ran together into one long ribbon of alien terrain under a Technicolor blue sky. The only event of note was when we turned off the paved road into the dirt tracks that led us deep into the bush. Kevin navigated on pure instinct, muttering to himself “must’ve had rain up there, that bit’s all washed out from floods, there’s some green, have to remember that.” The cab filled with the roaring tires on bumpy corrugated roads, Kevin’s muttering and the two metal barrels full of petrol sloshing around in the back of the Ute.

Camp was in a stretch of bush more godforsaken than all the rest. Cans rattled aimlessly across the landscape and tatters of newspaper flapped from sticks in a silent, manic greeting propelled by the desert wind. We pulled up to a long shack, like a corrugated tin tube sliced in half and graced with a concrete slab porch. Two giant refrigerators sat out front like fat metal marshmallows dotted with mysterious reddish stains.

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

My bedroom was a segment of tube with a low metal cot and an extremely suspicious looking foam mattress. Everything was covered with a thin layer of red dust: 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 old, clotted blood sat next to a forlorn, dusty generator out on the front porch. Our camp was like an abandoned prospector’s cabin on Mars, or an axe murderer’s holiday home.

“Whoa, Kevin, this is so cool,” I shouted cheerfully. “It’s the most godforsaken place I’ve ever seen in my life!”

I meant it with the sort of joyful, artificial exuberance that my friends back home use to describe roller-skating, duckpin bowling or their supposed love for Journey. You know the tone, it’s ironic detachment in a cheap mask of sincerity, meant to say, “Hey, friends, dig me digging this lame experience!”

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

Embarrassment shot through my veins and I stuttered out an unnecessary apology. I later learned that it’s impossible to hurt a ‘roo shooter’s feelings with a bunch of tiny words. And as I would discover when I chopped the paws off of my first kangaroo, its blood spraying into my eyes and open mouth, our lives were more different than anyone could hope to imagine.

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Guts, Heads, Tails, and Paws Are Not Usable Meat

November 30th, 2004 by Jeff Simmermon

feeding.charlotte
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

You’ve got to shoot kangaroos right through the head if you want to make any money at it. Nothing ruins perfectly good meat like dragging a bit of lead right through it.

Once you’ve killed a doe (or female), you must reach straight into her pouch, pull out any joeys you find and kill them immediately. Most people grab ‘em by the tail and back legs and smash their skulls against a rock with a dull whapping sound. The really tiny ones can be crushed under a bootheel or quickly beheaded with a sharp knife, the tiny pink head popping away like a meat-covered dandelion in a child’s backyard game. However, if joeys are beyond a certain age, they can hop into the bush and partner up with another doe. These surrogate mothers won’t allow the adopted joeys back in the pouch, “but I reckon if their heads’ll fit in there, the mum’ll let ‘em have a crack at the tit again,” Kevin said once in a shared didactic moment as we both urinated in the dust, staring up at the Milky Way.

The kangaroo you see me feeding on the right belonged to a ‘roo shooter’s assistant that I met while camping. He couldn’t bring himself to kill it, so he was raising it as a pet…she slept in a pillowcase hanging from the back of his car’s passenger seat.

You get paid per ton of usable meat. Guts, heads, tails, and paws do not count toward that weight total. It’s a lot easier to gut, decapitate, de-tail and de-paw in the bush than in the meat processor’s parking lot a week later. That might be the only thing nastier than doing it in the first place.

I knew these facts before I ever met Kevin. Like any good writer, I’d learned all about ‘roo shooting from the internet, supplemented with telephone interviews. One shooter had me over to his house, and we talked shop over coffee. He pulled out an album he’d compiled over the years packed with photos of himself gutting camels, cleaning his guns in the bush and driving a truck surrounded with a strange brown curtain. That curtain, I would later learn, was actually about 50 dead kangaroos hanging upside down.

And like any young male writer, once I was out in the bush and faced with the reality of the uber-masculine task I set out to portray, I wanted to run screaming home to my mother. Everybody thinks Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson are such badasses, and maybe they are. But they didn’t start that way. All good writers are compulsive readers. This means spending every available moment of your entire life indoors with your nose stuck in a book, which completely precludes any sort of badassery.

Guys with a particular blend of academic inclination and self-loathing seem to think the key to being real cool is to do something really, unimaginably fucked up and then write about it, and that’s gonna like, prove them to the world and make them really cool. At least that’s what I thought. All the bullies that ever picked on me were suddenly going to become literate and read that masterwork I hadn’t actually written yet, and ATMs would just spit hundred dollar bills into my pocket.

It didn’t turn out that way. Instead of just like, interviewing a bunch of dangerous weirdos and witnessing some “xXx-treme” behavior from a safe distance, I actually had to step up and do what I’d been flapping my gums about. Those of you that know me know I can flap my chops so beautifully, too…but putting your actions where your mouth has been for a month usually hurts.

I had to suppress so many parts of my personality to do this, and on several occasions I vomited into my mouth and discreetly spit it into the bush when Kevin wasn’t looking. I slipped on a severed, bleeding kangaroo head and fell into a pile of intestines so many times that I was actually looking forward to coming home and stepping in some good old-fashioned dog shit.

Working with Kevin was no temp job I could quit on a whim. We were on one million acres of desolate bush, eight hours’ drive past cell phone coverage. Kevin had all the food and all the water, and the only way out of there was in that ute. I preferred leaving in the cab to riding out in a heap of ‘roos in the trailer, so I got really good at keeping my mouth shut.

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‘Roo Shooter

November 9th, 2004 by Jeff Simmermon

australia.looks.like.this
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

The West Australian sun is a silent nuclear scream that can burn unprotected skin right through a car’s windshield. It can tan a man through a thin layer of concrete and quietly flay the flesh off of unprotected tourists.

Kevin and I had been hammering over the highway with the A/C cranking since dawn. I imagined the sun blasting its way through the windshield and my massive pair of Blue-Blockers, tanning the surface of my actual retinas. Kevin wasn’t sweating it. A sixty year-old man raised in the bush, he had trained as a kangaroo shooter and roof carpenter since the age of eight. Apparently he had never worn a shirt to work, either– the man looked like a crocodile hide stretched over a human frame, a frustrated expression by a taxidermist who went to art school.

We were driving ten hours each way to a million acre plot of red sand and sun-blasted rock to slaughter four and a half tons of kangaroos. I was there as a hired hand, working on a story for Vice magazine. I’d come to Australia for all kinds of adventure, and this trip was it. Today was just another day for Kevin.

Kevin had already played both his Elvis tapes by eleven and was saving the Jerry Lee Lewis ones for the all-night drive back. On the way back from a shooting trip you’ve gotta drive all night so the meat doesn’t spoil. It takes all the novelty you can muster to stay awake on a drive like that. We ended up eating fifteen sausages apiece and drinking enough water to make our straining bladders keep us awake, but that’s later.

“Mate, let’s pull off for a piddle here, then have a stretch up in Geraldton when we check the tires at the petrol station, ay,” Kevin barked.

“Why don’t we just use the bathroom at the gas station? It’s only like 3k away.”

“Shit, I know, I just hate going to the toilets at a petrol station if I’m not buying anything. It just feels fuckin’ wrong, mate.”

I had nothing to say to that one. I’d been doing it all my life, but I saw his point. For a lifelong kangaroo slaughterer and a heavy user of the word “cunt,” Kevin had a unique sense of honor.

“Ah, shit, what do I know, though, you’re the guest,” Kevin said. Let’s sort these tires out and celebrate with an indoor piddle, hey? Fancy an ice cream while I’m in there?”

“Nah, I’m cool,” I said.

“Bullshit you’re cool, we’ve been driving all morning and we’ve got five hours to go yet. This is the last fuckin’ store you’re gonna see for a week, mate. That’s it, you’re having an ice cream and put your purse down.” Kevin’s face split into a massive, crooked grin. “I told you, while you work for me, I buy the food, and last I checked, ice cream was fuckin’ food.”

You couldn’t help but smile at that, and I must have beamed. It was the last time I smiled for several days.

Five hours passed with nothing much to report. The red dust and spinefex all ran together into one long ribbon of alien terrain under a Technicolor blue sky. The only event of note was when we turned off the paved road into the dirt tracks that led us deep into the bush. Kevin navigated on pure instinct, muttering to himself “must’ve had rain up there, that bit’s all washed out from floods, there’s some green, have to remember that.” The cab filled with the roaring tires on bumpy corrugated roads, Kevin’s muttering and the two metal barrels full of petrol sloshing around in the back of the Ute.

Camp was in a stretch of bush more godforsaken than all the rest. Cans rattled aimlessly across the landscape and tatters of newspaper flapped from sticks in a silent, manic greeting propelled by the desert wind. We pulled up to a long shack, like a corrugated tin tube sliced in half and graced with a concrete slab porch. Two giant refrigerators sat out front like fat metal marshmallows dotted with mysterious reddish stains.

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

My bedroom was a segment of tube with a low metal cot and an extremely suspicious looking foam mattress. Everything was covered with a thin layer of red dust: 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 old, clotted blood sat next to a forlorn, dusty generator out on the front porch. Our camp was like an abandoned prospector’s cabin on Mars, or an axe murderer’s holiday home.

“Whoa, Kevin, this is so cool,” I shouted cheerfully. “It’s the most godforsaken place I’ve ever seen in my life!”

I meant it with the sort of joyful, artificial exuberance that my friends back home use to describe roller-skating, duckpin bowling or their supposed love for Journey. You know the tone, it’s ironic detachment in a cheap mask of sincerity, meant to say, “Hey, friends, dig me digging this lame experience!”

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

Embarrassment shot through my veins and I stuttered out an unnecessary apology. I later learned that it’s impossible to hurt a ‘roo shooter’s feelings with a bunch of tiny words. And as I would discover when I chopped the paws off of my first kangaroo, its blood spraying into my eyes and open mouth, our lives were more different than anyone could hope to imagine.

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Emu Damage

September 16th, 2004 by Jeff Simmermon

Emu Damage
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

We were burning up the outback in a tiny compact Daewoo, Tash and me tearing down the highway between Carnarvon and Denham at over 140 km/hour. The sky was blue, sun screaming, and the highway a hot black stripe laid between two endless plains of red dust dotted with spinefex. I was imagining the highway as a massive treadmill when Natasha said, “Not fair, sleeping in the shotgun seat when I’ve driven the entire trip (she had, too.) You have to tell me a story about something fucked in America to keep us both awake.”

I warmed up with a description of Norfolk public schools and was really bearing down on the time Ray Heard punched Eric Browne right in the face and stole his grape soda. Then we crested the hill.

An emu stood right in the middle of the fucking road just the other side of that hill. It scrabbled on the asphalt like an indecisive squirrel with a glandular problem, running right and then left and then right again.

I do the same thing myself when I’m faced with an important decision–run all over the damn place, not sure which direction is the right one to run. Most times it doesn’t matter what direction, just get off the road.

Something wet flew out of the bird’s face when its body connected with the hood. Natasha swears that it looked her in the eye as its head dragged across the windshield. It flew across the road like a misshaped, feather-covered bola.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Natasha exclaimed, surveying the damage. I sympathetically snapped photos, like any sensitive boyfriend would. Note the clot of feathers jammed in there above the headlight.

The emu lay dying in the dirt, its beak clacking arrythmically. See the tiny feet on the right side of the inset, attached to the shadow? Those are Natasha’s feet. She was steeling herself to wring the dying beast’s neck. Just then a truck pulled up and a guy jumped out.

He asked me something totally unintelligible. The stranger had massive hearing aids attached to each ear–must have been deaf since birth. Between his related speech impediment and thick Ocka accent, I couldn’t make out a damn thing. He asked me again, twice.

Still nothing. Frustrated, the guy rummaged in the back of his truck. He pulled out a hammer and looked me in the eye. Then he stepped past Natasha and smashed the emu’s brains out. Then he looked me in the eye again and shook the hammer.

We quickly thanked him and drove off. As we were gathering speed, we passed a feral cat that had burrowed into some fresh kangaroo roadkill. It looked up from its find and hissed, blood and meat dripping from its teeth.

Natasha and I checked in the nearest (and only) motel and spent the night in the pub.

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