However. Yesterday I stopped in at this strange truckstop to get gas. It was a bonanza of retro. A girl came rushing over to PUMP MY GAS FOR ME - IMAGINE!! So unprepared was I for this that I eyed her approach with outright suspicion. (But I'm not paranoid. Who said I was paranoid?)
When I went inside to pay - because the girl had wandered off to flirt with a boy in a Skyline who looked like Jesse Pinkman circa season 1 of Breaking Bad - I was asked how much I had. "What, like in litres?" I asked, brow furrowed like a field. No, not in litres. Turned out I was expected to come in with the exact amount I owed on the tip of my tongue. I know. I thought this practice went out with the Whitlam government. Anyway, it gave me the opportunity, while trotting out to check the pump, to notice a bain-marie squatting in the corner. I don't know how I missed it, since it weilded a sweaty, salty and altogether holy command over the room.
It's hard to believe but I know a lot of people who don't actually like bain-maries or bain-marie food. Weird. On the other hand I have a friend who sees bain-marie foodstuffs as one of God's singular greatest gifts to man. "Mmmmmmm...deep fried treats..." is pretty much his catch phrase, and when he says it a glazed, reverential look comes into his eye. Also, he drools.
So I saw the Bain-marie, stopped short, and said "give me two of those potato scallops there Flo" because a) she looked like a Flo and b) because we had struck up something of a rapport due to what she perceived to be my inherent idiocy what with not knowing the correct payment proceedure and all. I also told her to add plenty of salt, which is my standard request, and that was where it all went awry and deviated dramatically from the script, because she gestured to the top of the Bain-marie and said "help yourself". HELP YOURSELF!!! What the shit, Flo?!!
Empires have fallen for less.
You get so used to being all coddled and swaddled and treated like a fucking incompetent and untrustworthy pin-number possessing piece of meat that experiences like this are just jarring.
I've just finished reading The Fountainhead, too, so the whole 'help yourself' notion resonated in my Ayn Rand- filled head like one of those Oriental gongs ringing out really, really loudly in the pre-dawn air of a still and sleeping valley.
So I mean, honestly, what the shit? Today helping yourself to salt, tomorrow the implementation of individualism and the triumph of Howard Roarks the world over?
The Fountainhead looks at the chronic, unconfessed fear in which we all live and is basically a rollicking, 700 page manifesto outlining just how repulsive Ayn Rand finds the concept of servility of the spirit. Fair play, too, at least theoretically. Definitely fair play in the practice of allowing me to administer my own salt and such. The abolition of the entire welfare system and every other economic and social safety net in existence? Not so much. In any case this was not my concern yesterday.
Ten years ago I found a broken up paperback copy of The Fountainhead lying in three pieces around the communal campsite (I believe the correct word for it in this instance is 'slum', but you say tomato etc etc) I was living in on the outskirts of a North Queensland town. I had no job and there was a hammock strung between two tamarind trees and once I found The Fountainhead my unemployment, the hammock and the book collided and synergised and I spent four or five days installed in said hammock stoned beyond all comprehension and just fucking gripped by this audacious book. My friends would start trickling home from their jobs around two each day and they would nod and say things like "still at it, eh?" as they eased themselves into the ripped out car seats that were sprawled around the place like gutted hogs and I would grunt and hang my foot out of the hammock to nudge the bowl across the ground toward them without missing a beat of the book. I was a bum yes, although in my defense its also a really, really good book, okay?!!
I have a notebook, the one I was using to record the absurdities of that particular time and place - of which there were an abundance - and for years afterwards, leafing through it, I would be struck by this one sentence above all the others - "I came here to say that I do not recognise anyone's right to one minute of my life". I would marvel at the way that it summed up my entire, until then unarticulated ethos, and would wonder where it came from and how something could so perfectly capture such a slippery and elusive concept.
Ten years later I'm reading the final pages of The Fountainhead under a thatched roof on an Indonesian island and Howard Roark is at his trial telling the court that he is a man who does not exist for others and there's that sentence, there it is in black and white and there it is in my veins and sinew and cells singing at me from within and without: from the page and from my being; the realisation of something that was out-of-reach intangible but ever present and it's a reunion and a resurrection and the closest thing I have had to a holy or spiritual experience and it is better than my whole life because it is my whole life.
All of this went through my head like a great silver streak of light as I looked at the self-serve salt and sauce in that service station, and culminated in me half-filling the paper bag containing my unidentifiable battered items with salt, because I could. It's not exactly freedom but I'm no Howard Roark so it may be the closest I get to it.