[Getting Away Clean, 2,178 words, Genre: Realistic Fiction/Environmental]
* Image courtesy of Martin Rumsby
He was sixteen years old when Phillip’s life turned around completely. Before the event that was, he spent his time skipping class and smoking weed behind the school’s drama shed. He had found himself in the habit of getting high when he encountered another student named Daniel. Daniel was from one of the impoverished suburbs of Geelong called Whittington, where Phillip lived in the middle-class suburb of Highton. Middle class or upper class, for Phillip it was difficult to tell. When you’re that age you don’t really think about class distinctions, and if you did, you usually questioned why these things existed in the first place. Phillip knew a couple of things, for one; he liked getting high. And for two; Daniel was the one who had the connections to get the weed. So middle class, upper class, working class, or lower class… He didn’t really give a fuck about these sorts of things.
He would laugh his arse about the stories that Daniel told him. Stories about his parents doing all sorts of weird shit. Well, it was weird shit to Phillip anyway. Daniel kept on talking about how much he hated those ‘rich fuckers’ in Hollywood, how whenever he saw one of those celebrity gossip magazines about celebrities buying new houses or getting into new relationships, it pissed him off severely. Phillip would laugh about all of the things that Daniel told him. He didn’t really understand any of it, couldn’t understand any of it. How could he? Both his parents had government jobs, whereas Phillip’s parents were on welfare, surviving off of their individual disability pensions. In lots of ways he felt sorry for Daniel. But, as a teenager, in high school, there was very little that Phillip could do to improve the situation.
Phillip went there once, to Daniel’s house in Whittington. The lawn was overgrown and hadn’t been mowed in months. When Phillip went into the house, he heard Daniel’s parents arguing. They were yelling at each other. Something about a broken or blocked bong or something, Phillip couldn’t understand it. Daniel’s father sat on the couch and looked as if he had suffered from a stroke. He had a lazy eye that focused in on another direction where his line of vision stared at the television screen as he yelled at Daniel’s mother who was in the kitchen doing something. He kept on yelling about how the bong was blocked and he couldn’t pull cones. And his wife, Daniel’s mother, kept on yelling back that she was busy cleaning it. But they were both stoned, both out of their mind and the television was blaring. Neither one understood the other, so the bickering just jibed back and forth incessantly. After standing there, not knowing what to do for about five minutes, Daniel came out of his bedroom and told Phillip that they should probably leave. When they got like that, the yelling would often escalate and eventuate into a physical confrontation. It scared the hell out of Phillip, the situation did, his home was nothing like this. When Phillip asked Daniel how he could live in a situation like that, Daniel replied, “Well, I’ve got dumb motherfuckers like you coming around and giving me money for this shit, don’t I?” Daniel took Phillip’s twenty and handed over the weed that Phillip had come to collect. That was the one and only time that Phillip had gone to Daniel’s house. He didn’t like it very much and decided to meet Daniel anywhere else but there in order to keep up his habit of getting high.
One day when Phillip asked Daniel why he even looked at those celebrity magazines. Daniel responded that he did it because he jacked off to the pictures of the famous female celebrities in their bikini shoots. “I’ve shot many a load off to them my friend,” Daniel would say and they would both laugh about it, getting high as fuck as they did so.
“Why don’t you just get a porn magazine?” Phillip asked.
“They’re harder to steal.”
“You steal them?” Phillip was shocked.
“Yeah, what do you do?” Daniel asked.
“I give some old guy fifty bucks to buy one of the pornos for me. I got a couple under my bed. He gets to keep the change, it’s a win-win situation.”
“Nah, waste of money. Next time I go into the city, I’ll take you in with me and we’ll steal a couple.”
“Okay,” Phillip agreed.
That Saturday they both rode the bus into town and went into a newsagency. Daniel told Phillip to look non-chalant about it. So they tried as best as they could to blend into their surroundings. Picking up different magazines like comic books and the auto magazines, doing their best to feign reading them in an effort to blend in. Phillip made his way over to the pornography section of the newsagency and then when he thought no-one was looking, grabbed one of the magazines and stuffed it down his trousers. Daniel was doing the same in the celebrity gossip magazine section. After they had hidden the contents in their pants and beneath their shirts, they both went towards the door and started to exit the establishment.
Just then the shop-owner called out to the two boys, “Hey, you two, get back here!”
Then, as they were so close to the front door, both of the boys began running away. One of the attendees of the store dropped what he was doing and began chasing after the boys. The two boys ran away from a man that appeared to be in his early thirties. He eventually caught up to them and Phillip, slightly slower than Daniel, was tackled to the ground. The man pulled Phillip to his feet by the scruff of his neck as Daniel disappeared down one of the street alleyways of the city. The man manhandled Phillip and escorted him back to the newsagency.
Once he was back at the newsagency, they took the porn magazine off of him and returned it to its shelves. The man who held Phillip there in place as he faced judgement asked if the store owner wanted to call the police. The shop owner, thinking about it, said, “Nah, the police won’t do shit. Thieves get away these days with a slap on the wrist. Let’s call his mother.”
So they called his mother and Phillip’s mother, disappointed by what she heard, came and picked up Phillip from the newsagency. She picked him up and took him home, deciding what do with him.
In the car, on the way back, Phillip complained to his mother, “He tackled me to the ground mum, he hit me a couple of times too. The guy who caught me.”
“It’s all disgusting,” his mother complained, “He’s disgusting. What you did is disgusting. It’s all disgusting. Who was the boy you were with? The shop owner said there were two of you.”
“Daniel…” Phillip murmured.
“I don’t want you ever seeing Daniel again young man. You’re grounded until you finish high school, you understand me?”
“Mum, but Daniel got away clean… And so did that son of a bitch who hit me.”
“Listen to me Phillip, listen to me very clearly. Nobody is getting away clean from this. Not you, not Daniel and not that man who hit you, you understand me? What’s Daniel’s phone number? I’m going to speak to his mother.”
So Phillip gave his mother Daniel’s home phone and Phillip’s mother called Daniels’. The phone call went something like this:
“Hello is this _______”
“Yes, yes it is.” And then Phillip’s mother explained to Daniels’ what had happened. To which Daniel’s mother replied, “I understand.”
“I’m punishing my son and I suggest you do the same.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I will.”
And at Daniel’s home, Daniel’s mother began screaming at Daniel, “You been stealing magazines again, boy? You been god damn stealing!?”
“Nah, mum, I haven’t been doing that.”
“I just got off a phone call from your friend’s mum, she says you have. No cones for you tonight boy!” His mother packed herself a bong, and lit it up, inhaling the smoke and rewarding herself about a job well done.
“Damn it!” Daniel retreated into his own room, where he had to start smoking his own supply.
Phillip’s mother called the police and reported the incident to them. She told them that she wanted the man who manhandled her son to be charged with assault against a minor. The police tried to talk her out of it, but that’s what she did.
* * *
Ten years later, Phillip was a different man. Being grounded until the end of high school had turned out to be a good thing, it had allowed him to focus on his studies, stop smoking marijuana and rehabilitate himself from his juvenile delinquency. He had gone to university, continuing to work hard and now he, like his parents, was working for the government. He was going to meet one of his work colleagues for a coffee in the city center of Geelong. On the way there, he recognized someone. It was Daniel, he was sitting above a patch of vomit, attempting to clear his head in what seemed to be a permanent state of intoxication. Phillip smiled to himself, it looked like he didn’t get away so clean after all.
Phillip found his friend at the café and they started talking. Phillip began by saying, “Have you read the news lately? About the climate change refugees, the Pacific Islanders. They’re evacuating them and still the Liberals and right wing nuts keep on denying climate change and global warming. I mean what the hell? When are we going to start doing something about this?”
“Like what?” His work colleague asked in question.
“Like clean energy resources, switching to alternative energy sources, when the hell are they going to start doing something about this shit?”
His friend, smoking a cigarette, thought about it, “Listen, have you ever thought about it. What we’d have to do if we were actually going to do something about this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the entire world runs on petroleum. For us to have any effect on this phenomenon known as global warming, we would literally have to go into shutdown.”
“Shutdown?” Phillip asked.
“The military would have to take over and we’d have to enforce a police state. And you know how well that would go. There would be riots, people would become paranoid about what was happening and there would be all sorts of problem. And while we’re in shutdown. We would have to mass manufacture clean energy methods of transportation, we would require the manpower and mass intelligence to do this, you understand? Meanwhile, we would have to divide rations to everyone while everything is in shutdown. And you wouldn’t be able to shut down just one country at a time either, it would have to be a global unified effort. All countries working harmoniously at the same time, in an effort to switch to globally practiced clean energy methods. We would have to shut down the entire industry of fossil fuels and everyone who works in that industry has a vested interest in maintaining their stations of power. Any promises we made to them wouldn’t be able to be trusted, just like we can’t trust them.
We would have to mass produce these clean energy resources on a global basis where some countries don’t even have clean drinking water. In a world where some countries are run by drug cartels and other countries are in a state of civil war. We would then have to trust people like that to work harmoniously together and not take an advantage in a situation where the military would have to be maintaining peace and distributing rations amongst their own people, leaving each country undertaking this project defenceless in the face of any substantial exterior threat.
We would have to ignore the economy and each individual’s accumulated wealth in order to replace their petroleum fuelled cars and other methods of electrical power with clean energy ones. We live in a world where a large proportion of the world are illiterate and even those who are literate, cannot comprehend the vast complexities of the world and all of its interrelations. Where people argue about the most trivial of matters, who are that selfish that they steal from one another. People steal and cheat other people that they like, and worse happens to other people that they don’t like. Most people can’t agree what television show to watch at dinnertime. We have people of different faiths and they all believe in some wild shit. Some people believe the Earth is still flat, almost four hundred years after Galileo was burnt at the stake for that revolutionary theory. And you, what? Expect them to somehow engage in this globally collaborative miracle act?”
“Yeah, why not?” Phillip countered.
“It’s not happening, nobody’s getting away from this thing clean.”