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Rockabilly Westworld: Zombie Karaoke Elvis-bot

January 18th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon

Zombie Elvis Karaoke-bot 1

My friend Eric called me up late the other night from somewhere outside of Barcade, panting breathlessly in the cold. “Dude, don’t go to bed yet,” he said. “I’m bringing something over for you.”

And what a something it was! In its heyday, he looked like this, functioning as an expensive karaoke toy.

More photos after the jump …

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Dueling Hairdryers: Vintage Portraits from Olan Mills

December 31st, 2007 by Jeff Simmermon

olanmills1

God, I wonder how much they spent on shampoo and conditioner as a household. Probably at least as much as this guy spent on mousse and hairspray.

That photo up there comes from a fantastic post (via Metafilter) of spectacularly crappy vintage portraits from Olan Mills Studios. Like one of the comments says, “hilarious in an oddly painful way.”

For a bonus treat, check out this lovely lady.

Happy New Year, everyone. Drive safe and don’t resolve too much all at once.

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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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