To earn some sweet extra dosh in my teens, during the golden age of the mid 90’s, I used to pick up my much younger sister Eloise, and much, much younger bro, Marky Boy, from their after school care centre and we’d walk home together. I’m sure some stubbornly thrifty parents out there reading this may shake their heads and believe, rightfully so, that I should have performed this brotherly duty sans payment. Ah well, stuff ya’s. Anyway, I probably would have, but money’s money and it’s a beautiful thing when securely pocketed.
And our parents were busy racing up the corporate ladder, frantically preparing for the looming tsunami of school fees coming their way in the very near future. The last thing they needed was an angry after school care bloke or sheila looking down their nose at them for always arriving bang on the 6pm closing dot. Heaven forbid you arrived a second later…After school care workers are a special bunch, and they take closing time very, very seriously. I doubt my parents crying foul about imminent commercial deadlines or the mind-bending intricacy of power plays being gleefully executed by their legal eagle peers would have been met with a great deal of sympathy from the watch-tapping child minders. Nah, slingin’ me 10 bucks a day for pick up obligations was an economic masterstroke.
Back to the stars of the show, Mark and Eloise. They sure were little troopers. The walk was a solid 2.5km, nothing to flinch at after a long day learning times tables or debating who was better; Pikachu or Scary Spice. (I still find it fascinating they were able to call the “black” one Scary – times have changed. Am I in trouble for writing “black”? Probably.) And inevitably, somewhere between Artarmon Station and home, with delirium racing up from their overtired legs, Mark’s 3year old understanding of the universe would fly forth from his hyperactive little cherub face to meet with Eloise’s doggedly pragmatic 7year old interpretations of right and wrong.
Marky Boy’s favourite saying, apart from calling me “LeeLum” (bless him and his wondrous toddler speech impediment), was to decry any tough situation with the all-encompassing line, “it doesn’t care.” We could be talking about how woeful the Tigers were going. “It doesn’t care.” Or that it was still so long away till school holidays. “It doesn’t care.” Or that the teachers gave Eloise too much homework. You guessed it. “It doesn’t care.”
Now, strictly speaking, Marky’s linguistics were a tad off the mark. Strictly speaking, “it doesn’t care” should really have been “it doesn’t matter.” Marky Boy’s never been one for adhering to the rules of the strictly speaking, a world where Eloise prided herself on inhabiting wholeheartedly. And usually Eloise, a master of the unimpressed eye roll that could perhaps carry over to a deeply unimpressed, full throttle snort when particularly irritated, she was usually able to deploy these non-verbal techniques to avoid confrontation. Not this day though. She’d had enough of this fancy free little bastard prattling on and on with his grammatically incorrect “it doesn’t care” mantra that seemed to bring him so much bloody joy and put a lofty spring in what should have been a downtrodden step.
As we crossed from Shepherd Rd to Smith, Eloise turned sharply, swooped down, grabbed Mark by the shoulders, stared him in the eyes with the fury of a thousand suns and hissed with pure venom, “IT DOESN’T MATTER!” Being the older bro, I was getting ready to step in, stop this escalating, but Marky’s resilience was first rate. Not put off by Eloise’s anger and annoyance, he managed to somehow shrug his shoulders beneath Elle’s grasp and say, yet again and with even more enthusiasm than ever before, “yeah, I know…it doesn’t care.” Eloise, irate to the core, frustrated beyond belief, strict adherent to the well-established rules of the English language, squeezed Mark’s shoulders firmer, “IT DOESN’T MATTER!!! MATTER!!! IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!” For a 7year old she was a strong young lady and now I had to step in and break Mark loose but he really didn’t need me, almost singing wistfully from beneath Elle’s fevered grasp again, “Yeah, I know…it doesn’t care.” I separated my dear bro and sis and let Eloise stew in her fury, Mark bask in his bright and bubbly world view. Hey, I’m a fan, it doesn’t care.
To this day I still don’t know if my 3year old brother was a comic genius with a razor-sharp sense of irony and philosophy well beyond his youth, knowing precisely the turn of phrase that could both prove his point and infuriate our sister, or if this was all just one giant fluke. But the fact that Mark’s happy go lucky essence clashed so perfectly with Eloise’s dutiful adherence to the rules of English grammar is something that I think about a lot, and a whole lot more recently since I’ve discovered the genius of Werner Herzog, filmmaker extraordinaire.
Werner speaks of using his films to help his audience towards an experience of the “ecstasy of truth.” It is not easy to define what this term means, as is always the way with anything our subconscious understands innately and yet we lack the ability to articulate it adequately. I believe an ecstasy of truth is found in the marriage of two vital, superficially opposing concepts, that coalesce in an explosion of understanding that is unavoidable; that life is at once filled to the brim with both beauty and suffering, that to truly live means to always have one eye on an eternity you can never be a part of, that the universe, deep down, doesn’t care about you but it doesn’t matter, it’s already given you everything.
Remembering the precocious Marky Boy, skipping down the streets of Artarmon in the dusk of any other day, decreeing to anyone and everyone that “it doesn’t care” with a smile ear to ear, that is a level of Zen mastery very few of us will achieve. Onya bro. And Eloise is now able to smile about this all too. She’s a convert to the far more enjoyable world of the not strictly speaking, where she always belonged, it was just a matter of time.
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the hedonistic cesspit wonderland of oil trading in Southeast Asia. It makes the world of Gordon Gecko look positively gentlemanly. While his second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a nostalgic romp in time back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, seven year old chubber, Fanta addict and devoted Balmain Tigers lover. And his third book, Hooroo Love, will be released soon, the story of a terminally ill 80year old man in rural Australia who sets off on his mobility scooter to journey 200kms to he and his wife's special place by the sea and fulfil her dying wish while he can.