Fool’s Paradise, an extract
Fool’s Paradise, an extract
GRAFTON Everest is Professor of LifeSkills and Hospitality at Mangoland University and unwilling biographer of the state’s former premier Sir Otis Hoogstraden. Grafton’s day job as is under threat from the economically and sexually rapacious vice-chancellor Deirdre Morrow. And Lee Horton, head of Australia’s newly privatised Secret Service (trading as Spyforce Australia) is worried too. He knows that Grafton has trouble lying. And nothing is more dangerous than a man who habitually tells the truth. An exclusive excerpt from Ross Fitzgerald’s new novel, Fool’s Paradise.
“WHEN you don’t sleep, you need a lot of rest,” said Grafton Everest, professor of life skills and hospitality, to his dog Tao. Although sultry Wayneville was supposedly the most liveable city in the world, Grafton felt dissatisfied and about as significant as a fly buzzing around a rotten mango. Sure, that is significant for the tiny world of the mango; but cosmically speaking? And it was midday already.
“I’m not actually lazy. It’s more that I’m afraid.” Grafton scratched at his black-and-white Collingwood Football Club pyjamas and emerged from his bed, making his way to the lounge room where today’s brunch, wrapped in cellophane, awaited him. He sank into the chair, grabbed the remote control and stabbed play. Breakfast with Beryl, a high-rating, nationwide syndicated show appeared on his extra-large television. “I hope I looked better today. I weigh over 100 kilos, and the camera adds pounds!”
“Wake up, Australia,” the TV intoned against a soundscape of laughing kookaburras and a wonky electronic organ version of a World of Our Own. The screen title faded to a close-up of a grumpy Professor Grafton Everest in his pyjamas, propped up in his queen-sized bed, holding forth on his favourite topic: The Present Crisis in Australian Civilisation, as he did four times a week.
“Wake up, Australia! It’s later than you think. God help us, here in Mangoland, we have a new premier, Bruce Henderson, former champion in state of origin footballer, who, even as I speak, is in the process of selling off, sorry ‘leasing out’, our northern beaches and rainforests for 900 years to the independent principality of Kelemping located only 40 fertile islands to our north.”
Grafton took a bite of bagel and smiled approvingly at the TV image of his seemingly increasing passion. “… in the interest, Henderson says, of a more multicultural, more Asia-Pacific, less racist Australia. In the interest, he means, of making Australia even less Australian-owned than it presently is. Like his twice-imprisoned predecessor, Sir Otis Hoogstraden – the only man to have run Mangoland from a prison cell – this fool of a premier is playing a hazardous game.” Grafton watched himself eyeball the camera with practised menace.
“We have to protect our land and our economic sovereignty.” Grafton sounded, as usual, somewhat xenophobic. Though popular with the majority of the nation’s early morning viewers, he was acutely aware that, over the past year, he had provoked in his academic co-workers a mixture of ridicule, scorn and envy. Grafton, observing his TV-self from his rested state, often found himself agreeing with them.
“Well, friends, as the state and this nation know, apart from anything else, Premier Henderson will have me, and you, to deal with. And that’s a promise. Complaining is your civil right; in Mangoland, it may even be your civic duty.”
TV Grafton theatrically poured skimmed milk on his breakfast cereal, and smiled broadly. “Obediently yours, Grafton Everest, historian and political commentator.”
HAVING finished his brunch, Grafton put on a business shirt and a crumpled grey suit over his pyjamas and complained, “Why do I have to go to work so often? The university is a joke. We used to teach real people; now we service clients. Dear God! Why can’t I stay home in bed?”
“Because they pay you. And me too,” responded his wife from the kitchen. Blonde, tall and elegant, Janet Everest had just returned with the weekly provisions.
“You know what Mr Horton said about your colleagues?” Janet reminded him. “They’ve got no chance of understanding you, so what you need to do is to try to understand them.”
“That’s all very well for him,” Grafton complained. But Mr Horton doesn’t know just how cruel and awful they are.”
“I think he does, darling,” said Janet. “And you are fairly difficult to be with. Just being with you can make most people feel very tired. Even those of us who love you.”
GRAFTON pedalled forlornly for a couple of kilometres through the harsh tropical sunlight. He passed Wayneville’s most famous landmark, the Giant Cane Toad, constructed of fibreglass and covered in a patina of greenish mould. He rode through experimental sugar cane and bamboo plantations, and beside a lake surrounded by adjacent condominiums and brand-new mock-colonial homes. The looming, steel gates of the University of Mangoland, enclave of higher learning of no architectural distinction, proudly greeted him with the boldly agricultural promise: “The Fruits of Knowledge are Never out of Season”.
Bicycling through the university’s bleak, dehumanising buildings, Grafton was greeted with varying degrees of dubiousness and disdain. He headed quickly across the quad to CRAP, the university’s Centre for Researching Advanced Pedagogy. Grafton looked for the water fountain. Where it used to be he saw a sign pointing off into the bushes: “Fountains for Religious Ablutions”. He found four fountains in a cement block; they reminded him of primary school. He drank from the first fountain and splashed his face. Sensing he was being watched, he looked up. A young man in a turban, vaguely familiar, was staring at him.
“Oh f…k,” thought Grafton. “Have I committed some kind of sacrilege?” In such a situation, ignorance is the best defence. Ignoring the watcher, he started to leave.
“Professor Everest! Professor Everest!” shouted the young Punjabi. “I need to be consulting with you about my thesis.”
Of course! It was his Indian postgraduate student. “Ummm .th.th. come and see me next week. My door is always open,” said Grafton picking up speed.
“Yes, sir. Your door is always open, but you are rarely being in your room,” shouted his student.
Grafton entered the Human Studies building and waddled hurriedly down the corridor, until he came to a solid cedar door with an Olde English plaque: “Common Room”. How true, he thought.
He tried to enter quietly but the more carefully he attempted to open the door, the more excruciatingly long and loud the hinges creaked. His colleagues observed him balefully. At the head of the long table sat the lantern-jawed, vertically challenged, dean of human studies and professor of moral philosophy.
“Late again, Professor Everest!” shrieked the dean. “Welcome to our fifteenth crisis meeting.
As of Monday we’ve been placed under ministerial review. They are rumours that the chancellery might appoint an academic receiver,” said Oldfield.
“As you know, our previous head of business ethics, Dr Adam, is currently doing time for fraud. Apparently, the only thing he doctored was his qualifications. My plan A, which ought to be uncontroversial, is to merge my department, moral philosophy, with macroeconomics. I’ll be the new professor of business ethics and still stay on as dean. It makes sound financial sense.”
“I suppose the fact that both disciplines start with the same letter is as good a reason as any for merging them,” Grafton observed.
The dean paused momentarily as if on the verge of agreeing, and then pushed on. “Still being oppositional, I see Everest.
“We will also be offering a new degree: a graduate diploma in scandal management. It’s a branch of PR. It’s about time we got some productive capability out of these never-ending disasters. Dr Adam may yet be the goose that laid the golden egg.
Fool’s Paradise: Life in an altered state by Ross Fitzgerald & Trevor Jordan, (PressOn/Arcadia) in Melbourne, is on sale today.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University and columnist with The Weekend Australian. He has written 35 books, including his memoir My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey (New South Books). Ross Fitzgerald & Trevor Jordan are co-authors of Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia. (ABC Books)
August 31, 2011, p 37.