Hot Desk Extract: Invalid Memoir
As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Alistair Baldwin worked on a collection of quasi-fictional personal essays and autobiographical stories, Invalid Memoir.
The collection takes auto-fictive license with the truth to explore and satirise disability representation, the entertainment industry, the ‘inspiring’ memoir and Alistair’s tips for monetising muscular dystrophy through the personal-essay-industrial-complex.
‘Extra, extra, read all about it,’ cried Evangeline Tan, posted in front of the Harmony Day mural, frisbee-ing copies of the Parkmoore Gazette into the sleep-deprived faces of her cohort. She was about to do the same to me before catching herself and, somewhat patronisingly, walking up to me and nestling it into my reluctant, areflexic hands.
‘I can’t believe the Editor-in-Chief has you covering for the hawker, aren’t you the Gazette’s star journalist?’ I asked Evangeline. This was a joke – as the one and only member of the Parkmoore Gazette, she worked all three of these positions by default. Rumor has it she literally owned a different hat for each role.
Single-handedly keeping a student newspaper afloat while print media dies nationwide is the exact kind of Sisyphean feat that looks good on scholarship applications.
‘You laugh now, Baldwin,’ said Evangeline, ‘but single-handedly keeping a student newspaper afloat while print media dies nationwide is the exact kind of Sisyphean feat that looks good on scholarship applications. You know, it’s never too late to jump on board a sinking ship – I’d love to have an authentic voice covering the lack of accessible stalls on campus …’.
‘Ah yes, me writing a longform piece that’s only relevant to me. I’m a 17-year-old boy and even I find that too masturbatory for my taste. How about I tweet at BuzzFeed about it instead? That’s all people want nowadays; superficially progressive, 140 character clickbait headli–’
I stopped in my tracks, having taking a moment from my diatribe to actually read Evangeline’s headline: ‘RUGGED TERRAIN: QUARTERBACK EMBROILED IN DOPING SCANDAL’.
‘Pithy,’ I remarked, before flipping open the paper and leaving the now-smirking Evangeline (and her newsy cap) in my wake.
The rest of the school day was particularly unproductive, for teachers and students alike. While no one bothered to actually read Evangeline’s piece (obviously), the headline was enough to get the rumour mill running, and a surprisingly accurate narrative began to emerge.
Duke had, for the past two years, been injecting anabolic steroids during training, and ingesting speed during games. Coincidentally, the Parkmoore Parakeets had placed top in the AAFL (Australian American Football League) Junior Division two years running, and whether that was due to Duke’s doping or the fact that Parkmoore High was the only Australian high school to play American football was anyone’s guess.
The drugs had apparently been supplied by Principal Jared Rugged, an American expat and Duke’s father. Having had his own high school quarterback career cut short by a broken leg, Principal Rugged had been the one to champion Parkmoore High’s lateral move into American football and, it now appeared, his need for a vicarious return to his golden days stopped at nothing.
Biology teacher Deirdre Silk announced that the doping scandal was the final straw, and she would no longer teach Creationism over evolution, as per Principal Rugged’s request.
The Rugged men didn’t show up to school that day, forewarned of Evangeline’s exposé by Assistant Principal Ken Kazacos. Teachers who had languished under the rule of Principal Rugged took this opportunity to voice their own long-held grievances – biology teacher Deirdre Silk announced that the doping scandal was the final straw, and she would no longer teach Creationism over evolution, as per Principal Rugged’s request. I would soon discover, however, that her take on evolution had a Social Darwinist bent, meaning 80 per cent of her lessons involved convincing me to get sterilised.
In lieu of Duke on campus, it was his girlfriend Daphne Winthrop who became centrepiece for the scandal. It was clear that the news had genuinely gotten to her. Her left eye twitched maniacally, causing her eyebrows to lose their enviable symmetry. In the coming weeks, her composure and hygiene began to suffer.
Assistant Principal Kazacos became Acting Principal Kazacos – after the school board voted unanimously to fire Principal Rugged. Duke escaped expulsion (the school board decided his father had pressured him into his drug-taking) but he didn’t return to Parkmoore High. His doctor had provided a sick note declaring his need for a month to mentally recover from the scandal and ‘fully detox from the steroids and speed he was on’.
With Duke M.I.A. and Daphne smelling bad for the first time in her life, the social order of Parkmoore High collapsed on itself. Amongst the wreckage, it was Evangeline Tan who emerged as the new de facto leader of the cohort. We became addicted to her daily updates on the Rugged family affair. She quickly realised that all she needed to do was write one-sentence headlines on the emerging details regarding Duke’s detoxing or Principal Rugged’s explosive divorce from his Australian wife, Sheila.
Abandoning her ideals in favour of actual success, Evangeline rebranded the Parkmoore Gazette into a Twitter account, and each recess and lunch we gathered around her on the now abandoned football pitch (even me), as she fed content into our hungry little mouths.
Each recess and lunch we gathered around her on the now abandoned football pitch (even me), as she fed content into our hungry little mouths.
In its own way, the scandal elevated my social cachet too. The Kiln Fire Affair had been mythologised as the purest distillation of Duke’s former self; altruism and athleticism bundled into a sexy combo. How could Parkmoore’s own golden boy be so bad when he had been so good? The question was tantalising to supporters and detractors alike.
Indeed, there was no room for grey area on campus. Instead, the pendulum of public opinion swung harder and harder, back and forth between who he was and who he had become, both of these versions of Duke being pushed well beyond any connection to truth.
Apparently he had robbed me at gunpoint to pay for his drugs.
Apparently I’d been trapped under a vase in the Arts Room, and he’d risked his life to save me.
Apparently he had started the fire, so his father could collect insurance on the school.
Apparently I had started the fire, suicidal over my wretched lameness, and Duke had not just saved me – he had taught me life was indeed worth living.
Either way, as one of the supporting characters in Duke’s arc the cohort expected me to have a firm stance, to cast my vote on Proposition Duke. Yes/No. Good/Bad. Hero/Villain.
I didn’t cave to the pressure. I couldn’t articulate my stance into a one-sentence soundbite, so my thoughts were deemed useless. I felt sorry for him, and horny for him, and angry at him for distracting us all from exams, and betrayed by his synthetic, gorgeous muscles. If only steroids worked on me. See? Grey area.
It felt inevitable, then, that I should be struggling the final five metres to my house one day (a few weeks after the news broke) and spot Duke Rugged standing on my lawn, holding a single red rose.
Grey gets greyer.
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