Excerpt from “The Last Beer in the Share House Fridge”, my first contribution to the Oz-grunge-lit genre, which I hope will shortly go from ‘unpublished’ to ‘available at all good Indy bookstores’.
22 year old Bianca was in the lounge room, talking to one of her housemates, Dan…
Indy was an anthropology major, which usually would have been enough to qualify her as studying the least useful thing of any of us, had Dan not held the trump card: Philosophy. It seems to be part of the share house rules that every share house has to have at least one philosophy student. I wondered if they had some roster system or something, because it didn’t seem like there should be enough of them to go round. Given how useless the study of philosophy is for any purpose other than getting other first year philosophy students into bed, that is. I think it only worked for first years, though, because I think after that even other philosophy students had worked out it was just a load of wank.
‘I mean, come on, Dan, you can’t tell me that studying philosophy is actually useful for something,’ I challenged him once, shouting just slightly to be heard over the noise of Rob and a bunch of his annoying mates watching what he insisted on calling football on TV.
‘Sure it is. You can…’
I interrupted him. ‘Other than getting first years into bed.’
‘Oh.’ His took another sip of his beer as he thought for a bit longer. ‘Well, you can be a philosophy lecturer?’
‘And teach other people to write essays about whether or not there is a God, and if there were to be one – not saying that there is or anything – what she might be like.’
‘Unconvinced.’ I summarised my position. ‘What has a philosopher ever actually contributed to the world?’
‘Well, there’s democracy…’
‘Tyranny of the majority. Stupid idea. I should know. I always seem to be in the minority and it sucks.’
‘OK, then, questions like, unconstrained by the laws of society and morals, what is our essential, natural, human state? Are we inherently good? Or are we essentially savage beasts who need to be constrained by the constant threat of punishment for everyone’s benefit?’
A roar went up from Rob and his mates, who for some reason were all bald. Unlikely though it seemed given they were watching soccer, something must have happened. It must have been bad, though, since someone had sent a big gob of spit right onto the middle of the screen in disgust. It was very slowly – almost imperceptibly – moving down towards the floor. Like a glacier through a valley. Rob. Rhymes with Yob. I thought.
I thought the answer to Dan’s question was pretty clear, actually.
‘But what’s the point in trying to work out how we could be, if things were different? The world is what it is – the sum total of all us acting to maximise our own good – doing what’s best for us. Why not just start from there?’
‘You’re assuming that we know what’s best for us.’
‘Of course we do,’ I replied, exasperated. ‘You’re assuming that people can change.’
The roaring stopped for a moment, and we looked around to see what had interrupted the savage beasts. A blonde in a very small bikini and quite high heels, as it turned out. Her perky nose wrinkled as she cast her eyes about, her face brightening when she saw Dan. She had the languid, long-lashed eyes of a kangaroo. Or a quokka, maybe. Just as it’s about to disappear under the tyre of a loud, slow moving earth mover. Dumb till the very end.
‘Hi everyone, I’m Candy,’ she giggled.
‘Of course you are,’ I muttered, under my breath.
Dan glared at me momentarily, before jumping up to greet her with a kiss. Candy bent over in front of him, ostensibly looking for something in her bag. Dan looked over at me, licking his lips and rubbing his hands together. I just shook my head.
‘I know that I know nothing,’ Dan said, Candy’s long, supple back bent-over behind him. I looked at him, questioningly. ‘Socrates. He thought only a really wise person realises that they don’t know very much.’
‘So some bloke spends a few decades working out he doesn’t know anything, and that’s revolutionary, is it?’ I asked.
‘Even worse,’ said Dan. ‘People at the time thought he was extremely wise. But he himself didn’t. In fact, he thought he knew nothing at all – yet proposed that realising this made him quite clever. Paradoxically, of course. But, he also put the opposite case: that anyone who thought they were wise actually wasn’t. So, the people who thought they were wise got a bit pissed off about this.’
‘Did they chuck him out of Rome, then?’
He sighed. I think trying to make me a better person was hard work sometimes. ‘No, they didn’t kick him out of Athens. They tried him, and asked him to propose a suitable punishment.’
‘What did he suggest?’
‘A government wage and free dinners for the rest of his life.’
‘So he lived happily ever after then?’ I suggested.
‘No, they found him guilty of corrupting young minds and made him drink poisoned hemlock.’
‘I rest my case. Philosophy never ends well,’ I proclaimed.
‘Do you like my new bikini?’ giggled Candy, emerging from her bag and bouncing back into an upright position.
‘It’s lovely,’ said Dan. ‘How about you go out by the pool and I’ll be there in a sec.’ She giggled her agreement and tottered off with a bottle of suntan oil in her hand. I momentarily thought about pointing out that it was cloudy and not more than 21 outside, before deciding I couldn’t be bothered.
‘I’m not saying we can change, you know,’ he said. ‘I’m just saying, it’s worth aspiring to be better – people, society, world, whatever. Even if we fail.’ I smiled. It was the sort of thing Dan would say.
‘And in the meantime there’s Candy…’ I gestured to the pool area. Dan shrugged his shoulders and licked his lips again.