Oct/Nov 2004  •   Fiction


by Roger Duncan

One thing I'm always telling customers at the call-centre is, You can't go lower than the plan you started with. I'm saying this at least 37 times a day. I've counted. It's become a mantra.

The phone beeps like this, ohmmm, clearing all thought, deleting all residue of the previous call. The mind beeps, ohmmm, and in tantric state I find myself repeating, You can't go lower than the plan you started with. I can barely hear the distant customer shouting in my earphone on my headset.

I picture myself as a young child. I wasn't Bland then, I wasn't me, I was him, that kid I remember. There he is in a Holiday Inn disco in Tunisia doing Elvis impersonations to "Burning Love," American tourists circled around him, clapping in time, his parents pleasantly embarrassed. The plan I started with.

The call centre is nothing like a Buddhist temple, but the phones are meditative gongs echoing in a random chain reaction, the same even tone bouncing around, ohmmm, until my phone summons me to answer it with the understanding of a reincarnated Gyalwa, of a living Buddha. The call centre is a temple of false prophets.

There are three types of people who work in a call centre.

1. Dreamers who believe they have achieved their dream (plan).

2. Dreamers who try to tell themselves they have given up on their dream (plan).

3. Dreamers who will never relinquish their dream (plan).

In the attempt to indulge their vision, this last group may find themselves sent to a credit agency because they abused their plan. Most likely, type 3's will end up back at the call center as type 1's or type 2's.

Dreamers have been given a bad reputation. I am a long time dreamer; I want to escape the constraints of myself.

Contrary to popular beliefs, dreamers do live in the real world, they do have goals, and they do achieve. But if you achieve anything less than your dream, it means nothing. If you're a dreamer, you will understand, You can't go lower than the plan you started with.

In Buddhism, highly ranked Lama's will search for reincarnated Lama's. They will search the world, testing candidates for special knowledges and powers. These candidates go on to be put in a lottery to see who will be chosen as the Buddha reincarnate. I learned this setting up a password account for a customer. The password was Buddha624. I had to set it up with supervisor-Christoph.

"And do you know why the customer has chosen this password?"


"In Theravada, Buddhists thought the Buddha was born in 624 BC."

"Are you a practicing Bhuddist, Christoph?"

"The more knowledge you seek, the less you know. And I don't have a car to get to the temple anymore."

"That's a shame. How long 'til that password's set up?"

"The length of time is not relevant, only purity of mind is needed."

"Ha! Fantastic. Thanks, Christoph. I'll tell the customer five minutes."

The call center is a Buddhist temple full of people who were never chosen to be tested, but who believe they are Gyalwas. Only one person in the call centre dreams he is a Lama: Christoph.

Christoph can often be seen traversing the call centre spiritual plain, levitating from one headset to another, offering calm wisdom to screaming customers.

"You people have no right to debit my account! I have three kids! I pay my bills on time! This is crap, bullshit. I'm not angry with you, but I want my money back!"

"I understand and accept your anger. All payments have been taken in accordance with the plan you agreed to. Until you accept this plan reflects your life-existence-practice, then turmoil will follow. I will transfer you to the correct department to make arrangements, which I would like you to view as a chance to order your life-practice. Whilst on hold, take three deep breaths and understand you are a perfect being."

Most Gyalwas in the call centre are reincarnations of sport stars, their polo-shirt-collars turned up to protect their necks from fluoro sun burn, football-socks rainbowing out from the space between where their suit-pants end and their shoes begin, nail-polish matching team colours, signed sports memorabilia in the lunch room.

Others are computer hacker Gyalwas: PS2 cheats, server upgrades, connection speeds, custom-made Pac-Man arcade machines.

Many are business entrepreneur Gyalwas. They have ties with multi-coloured zig-zags like laser battles from a 70s sci-fi, curly-hair brushed straight by a hundred strokes, shirts tucked tight holding up the belly threatening to spill over the belt, high-heel leather shoes always matching a thin-leather belt. They're shaving in the gents, dabbing tissue onto cuts, sporting fitted-jackets in soft non-threatening tones, always shaking hands, always patting shoulders.

There are Gyalwas who are members of counter-cultural movements: blue-hair punks, black-makeup gothics, nose-ring grungers, tongue-stud tribalsits, and pseudo-intellectual vegans.

Or, of course, rock star Gyalwas: air-drummers, side-burn kings, Aguilera look-alikes, hold-music singers, reading the gig-guide.

Fashion models: stilettos, three-quarter-length white-mohair coats, and fade-look denim, gossipers of the freeze-frame air-brushed digitally altered has-beens, about-to-bes and celebs, to identify with or vilify.

Sexually gifted Gyalwas with mugs saying Coffee Drinkers Are Sexually Gifted.

Good-looking Gyalwas, applying hair-gel and catching their reflection in the monitor-screens.

Not overweight Gyalwas, hobbling in on crutches due to knee reconstructions, carrying a spring water bottle filled with diet cola sitting on the desk like a dirty bong.

And some of these Gyalwas have realized they are overweight, are not rock stars, are too middle-class to be counter-cultural, and never will be business entrepreneurs. They can still feel the nagging of their dream but want to tell the world they are successful. They talk about how their knee surgery has made them realize there are worse things than being overweight and that they are happy with the way they look and are dating a young male nurse. How they were late for work because they jumped their boyfriend at 4:00 AM. How they protested against the circus for cruelty to animals. How they have been offered an IT position with a finance group, but had to turn it down because of ethical reasons. How the band was signed to Mushroom, but the guitarist's girlfriend ruined everything-Yoko syndrome-and music shouldn't be sold, just shared.

They don't tell how they die a little every time they repeat their happy-lies, trying to disguise the truth that You can't go lower than the plan you started with. There is no peace in a Persistent Vegetative State. Just ask Tony Bland.

People I work with in the call centre, I don't know them. I know myself. This internal gossip, my judgments, reveals who I am. I watch them, and I must be sure I am not watched. I must know if I am. To be watched and not know is to be subjectified. I am outside of myself, watching myself, subjectifying myself to my own vision. I have always had a plan. I can build upon that to create a person, to dictate to myself. I want to control how others define me; in this way I can be myself. This call centre is my unconscious reminding me, You can't go lower than the plan you started with.


New Faces

Somewhere in the vault of Channel Nine, there might be a tape. I don't know if television studios erase footage like I do videos. But there might be a tape.

There is a need to record myself. If I record myself, I can erase myself and re-record. Make the image or sound a product. I always thought I was a product of my time, a product of a plan.

Time has always felt right. My favorite bubble-gum turns out to be crushed beatles, people tell me they're not racist, but... everyone is a collector defining himself through a rare possession. I must be deranged because I don't have a mobile. The world becomes a familiar shopping centre. I have become immune to the recycling of clothes, hair-styles, TV-shows, debates, trends, music and political terrorism. I don't dream of good old days, of Family Ties, or Happy Days, or Wonder Years. They've re-run and repeated themselves out of reality. The longer they played, the more the message was lost, and all they are now is a reminder the tape keeps turning until it is recorded over with The Simpsons, or Seinfeld, or X-Files.

A certain time can make other times seem ridiculous or significant. There is a relationship between times; they compliment and influence. You have to move with the times. I can choose a time and its ideology and stick with it, being out of touch for a while, but once that time comes around again, re-mastered and re-released as a DVD box set, I can set the standard as an authentic original of whatever-it-is I choose to represent.

Someone famous, who I can't remember, said there can only be a handful of important people at one time, each decade. I guess he wasn't one of them.

I am typing this spontaneous thought as a proposal. Unconsciously, I want it to be read as a relevant document, a rare collectable item. I would like this proposal to sell on e-bay for thousands of US$. I want you to realize I've given this some thought.

When the tape ends with the New Years Eve year-in-review-special of terrorism, movie releases, natural disasters, celebrities who died, diseases, scandals, and successes, the tape stops, rewinds, and starts recording again. Some images will make it through onto the next copy, most will be lost, but if your plan is fame, then you have to burn your image so permanently onto the film you can never be erased.

And maybe somewhere in the Channel 9 vault there is a tape that wasn't erased, a tape of a turn and a look, a tape of what it is like to be told you will never be recognized by the world, a tape of a boy stripped of his identity, but there is more than one way to re-record yourself. You can emblaze your image onto the world so harshly it will never forget.


The Naming

Maybe this makes no sense to you, but I have known since I can remember. One day I just knew about names.

I knew the best names were alliterated: Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Edward Edisson, Marcel Marceau, Pablo Picasso, Tina Turner, Germain Greer, David Duchovny, Susan Sarandon, Harry Houdini, Janet Jackson.

Then I knew the best names were ones with two first names: James Dean, Mike Tyson, Gene Vincent, George Michael, Deborah Harry, Bill Clinton, Bob Dylan (taken from Dylan Thomas), Elton John, Paul Simon.

Then I knew the best names were one-word names: Bono, Madonna, Prince, Beyonce, Meatloaf, Eminem, Dracula, Frankenstein, Batman, God, Oprah.

There are obvious attention grabbers: Chris Rock, Iggy Pop, Neil Diamond, Lucille Ball, Freddie Mercury, The Rock, Courtney Love, Ruby Wax, Evel Knievel, Tom Cruise, Adam Ant, Little Richard, 50 Cent.

There are the best family names: The Jacksons, The Kennedys, The Osmonds, The Simpsons, The Bradys, The Manson Family.

There are names that are just names, often the most striking: John Travolta, Elvis Presley, Martina Navratilova, Margaret Thatcher, Adolf Hitler, William Shatner, Frank Sinatra, Amadeus Mozart, Ted Bundy, Pamela Anderson, Andy Warhol, George Orwell, Arnold Schwarzeneger.

There are initial names: Michael J. Fox, P.J. Harvey, Edgar J. Hoover, P.T. Barnum, George (Doubleyuh) Bush, O.J. Simpson.

There are nick-names that can define you: Wack Jacko, Princess Di, The Material Girl, The Boss, The Iron Lady, The Killer.

One day I knew the name and the person are the same. Make up your name. Use your birth name. Names are wrapped up in meanings. And meanings are wrapped in names.

You can borrow, steal, and combine names. You can invoke meaning into your name. Imagine your name in lights, on newspaper covers, bandied over coffees, hiding inside thoughts. Use your name as a lever with which to elevate yourself to a higher plan.



Warm breath misting up a clear plastic oxygen mask. A still image except for the coming and going of breath. Bold white letters stabbed upon the image "Persistent Vegetative State" as the voice-over droned.

Body sealed in a cold peppermint-green sheet. Imprisoned into the bed by steel railings, no chance of escape. The human subject. The full screen image. And amongst his gabble the announcer said the name T-o-n-y B-l-a-n-d.

One day, when I was very young, gyrating my hips Elvis style at the Holiday-Inn Tunisia, surrounded by drunk tourists, I knew you could steal someone's aura to gain recognition.

This wasn't like that. I already was Tony Bland. He was me.

Say it with a broad Australian accent: Toe-nee Blaaand.

Both barely alive on our lowest plan; able to feel, sense, possibly understand we have been starved of our potential by injustice.

Judges of the law sentenced Tony to death by starvation and dehydration, labeling him as being in a Persistent Vegetative State, and judges of talent sentenced me to the same, deprived of fame.

Euthanasia sounds just like youth-in-asia. There are connections everywhere. Everywhere, meanings are up for grab.

Christoph told me teenage-Japanese, youths in asia, have been known to become reclusive, dead to those who know them, and then they explode. They are called Hikikomori.

Language, meaning, identity is everywhere. Twisting itself out of reality. Drop the S from Slaughter and it's one big joke.

Take the tape, rewind and re-record.

I have taken the name Tony Bland. I share it. I identify with it.

Bland is a powerful word. A word that can mean celebrity.