The Pig’s Arms Welcomes Back Gregor Stronach


It’s Chinese Ivan… he’s having a moment.

I’m not entirely sure why I was suddenly involved in this one, because – to be totally honest – I couldn’t give two fucks about Chinese Ivan, his never-ending moments and the insipid dramas he attracted. His life was a bog-swamp of pointless little episodes, to which hard times were drawn like flies to a pile of shit. But we took drugs together – which makes him a friend, a term I use as loosely as possible in this instance.

The hard thing to fathom with him was that there were two very different people living in that inscrutable little body of his.

There was the guy I first met, when both of us were in the depths of a horrible mass-madness acid fuck-up, and it turned out that we were each other’s baseline of normality in a sea of heaving buildings, shit music and friends who were either cloyingly, clingingly concerned for our well-being, or simply wanted to parade us around in the vague hope that our desperately poor states of mind would somehow cement in their own hatchling hangers-on’s minds that by dint of us being cataclysmically fucked up, they themselves might appear marginally more dangerous and cool.

It was a proper, platinum-plated cunt of a night when we met. Chinese Ivan was inches away from jumping from the roof of a terrace house in Chippendale – and I was doing penance in the arms of an off duty policewoman after I misread her signals and helped myself to a myopic gawk down the front of her shirt.

My view of one of the most outstanding nipples I’ve ever seen was interrupted by a slap in the face, accompanied by the unmistakable thud of a body landing in a poorly maintained garden. My face smarting from the blow, I remember peering about like I’d lost my glasses, in time to see a dirty, wiry little man emerge from a rosemary bush, his everything askew.

He walked like a newly-born foal. And, it would seem, flew like a newly-born bird. Paint spattered and bearing the scent of gypsy’s bedclothes, we latched onto each other and rode out the remainder of the gathering by cowering in the laundry, spending hours trying to introduce ourselves. That was fun.

I met the other Ivan a few short days later. And he turned out to be precisely the sort of atavistic fuckhead I hated. His girlfriends all left because he beat them. His friends all left because he stole. The only person who hated Chinese Ivan more than us when he was straight, was him.

And he fucking deserved it. A desperate emotional derelict with little thought and even less conscience, he lurched from high to high by sustaining himself with bouts of aggressive violence, and a penchant for displaying any clash of ideas or ideals by barking out a bilious grunt and spending the next few hours either sulking like a petulant toddler or raging like an MMA fighter in the depths of an upper binge – and either way, he was made almost entirely of fists, ill-will and about as tireless as an Indian cabbie. Make no mistake – he was a venomous, spiteful and dangerous man.

But when he went native, it was a sight to behold. The flecks of paint in his hair and his multi-coloured painting clothes made him look for all the world like Joseph had taken his dreamcoat on a rampage of good will and positive energy.

And when he was high, he was as high as people get. A proper product of manic behavior unchecked by modern psychology, and set free by the kinds of chemicals the CIA are still trying to understand after 70 years of unauthorized, off-the-books experiments.

So when I heard that Chinese Ivan was having a moment, from locals I trusted not to hand me a line of bullshit when things were getting very, very real – I knew that something special was in the works.

“What’s the problem this time?” I asked Tony. Tony shrugged, thought about answering for a moment, decided not to – and then spoke. As an aside, that was Tony’s way… his entire life seemed to be centred around careful, considered thought of the possible outcomes of every decision he made – and then acting in a completely contrary manner.

I don’t know if it was sheer bloody-mindedness, or a direct result of his church-laden, guilt-trip, rosary-reciting and inappropriate-priest-deflecting childhood – but I have never, ever in my life seen a man with nine different kinds of street-smart make so many fuckheaded and godawful decisions.

More on him later… I promise. But for now, I was confronted by Tony’s shambolic appearance, and his breathless exhortations that Chinese Ivan was, in fact, having what would turn out to be the biggest moment of his life.

“I think he thinks he’s dead,” Tony proclaimed around a mouthful of chicken salad sandwich. Small droplets of mayonnaise were flecked at the corners of Tony’s mouth – put food in his hands and he turned into an unapologetic hovering, hoovering pig of a man – and each syllable was punctuated by a short, gelatinous spray of emulsified egg. At that moment, I hated Tony more than I hated Chinese Ivan… and everyone hated Chinese Ivan.

We called him Chinese Ivan because he was Chinese, and not a single one of us could decipher his name when he spoke it, and we had even less chance when that angry little fucker wrote it down. If I had a buck for every napkin he’s handed me in the seven years I’d known him – each one inscribed with either a nonsensical pictogram or an anglicised variant almost devoid of vowels – I’d have enough to buy myself a nice gift of moderate value.

The kind of gift you could happily give a co-worker that you kind of tolerate, even though they really are exquisitely shit at their job, but you can’t take them to task too hard because you know that their chance of securing gainful employment elsewhere would be irredeemably hampered by the fact that they are simply appalling at being even a sad and sorry collection of odious personal habits coupled unmercifully to a desire to do as little as possible at any given moment of the day.

I should mention that we didn’t hate Chinese Ivan for being Chinese. We hated him for being Chinese Ivan.

I raised an eyebrow at Tony, the single gesture both urging him gently to elucidate upon his theory of Chinese Ivan’s current moment, and to remind him that, while I do like mayonnaise, it’s a flavor I prefer to enjoy unmolested by the spittle of others, and not when it’s moving at moderate velocity at my eyes from the mouth of a solidly dirty cunt like Tony.

Tony, as Tony did, got precisely half the message. Pausing only to jam more sandwich into his gaping craw, he told me what has transpired prior to my gentle line of questioning.

“So,” Tony sprayed, “Chinese Ivan has had an odd day, thus far…”

Tony tapered his sentence off towards the end, clearly seeking to judge my level of interest in the anecdote, which he would then weigh against his desire to expend the energy it might take to tell. When I sat stock still, a fleshy gargoyle perched high upon my stool at the counter of the café and saying nothing, Tony’s desire to talk outweighed his obvious need to conserve enough energy to make it to the bathroom and back before ordering more food.

“I saw Chinese Ivan pretty early this morning,” Tony said, leaning closer to me as if to whisper conspiratorially, without so much as lowering the volume of his voice by point whatever-the-fuck of a decibel. Everyone in the place could hear him, so the only appreciable difference in outcome of Tony’s leaning forward was to significantly increase the density and volume of mayonnaise he was depositing into my ear, the dirty fuck.

“Turns out, he needed to go to the bank,” Tony said – the word ‘go’ half-accompanied by a feeble belch of coffee-fouled chicken sandwich breath that carried like an abandoned kite before lodging in my nose and causing a slow, rolling front-flip from by stomach.

“He needed money to pay for something or other – I forget what it was – I think it might have been a washing machine or something suitably banal,” Tony said, pronouncing ‘banal’ in such a fashion that it rhymed with ‘anal’ – triggering a half snort, half laugh. A mayonnaise-laden snarf – most of which I wore with the grim stoicism of a Russian Imperial guard who refuses to leave his post, despite knowing that even one minute more without help would result in losing most of his toes to frostbite in the frigid snow of a St Petersburg winter.

Against all of my better judgment, I nodded.

“And he’s been on a mission to be as complete a motherfucker ever since… Stacey says she saw him at the bank,” Tony said.

It took me about four minutes to figure it out – and it was something that Chinese Ivan and I had actually discussed from time to time, in the depths of our horrific week-long ‘the only reason I can move right now is to take more drugs, or save myself the indignity of shitting my pants right in front of you” binges.

Chinese Ivan often only ever paid attention to point one of that particular worldview. He would, could – and often gleefully – soiled himself to force everyone else from the room so that he could Bogart the gear we left behind. He figured he would shit himself at some point anyway – so it was better to do so early in the piece and benefit materially through the theft of the drugs left behind by those of us whose legs worked sufficiently well to flee the odour.

Fucking hell, I hated that guy sometimes…

But it being Sunday, and his being spotted at the bank, shook loose a memory. One of the early recollections I have of Chinese Ivan was, in a rare moment of lucidity on his part and my own ability to figure out what the fuck he was saying, he posited an interestingly spiritual question.

“Do you ever walk up to an automatic door, and when it doesn’t open, think that you might have died and not realised?”

Sunday. Bank. Automatic Door… He was fucked from the moment he left the house.

And so, it turned out, that was indeed the case. Fronting up to the bank – and lacking the wherewithal to realize that the darkened interior, lack of security guards or worker drones, or other would-be punters meant anything other than “it’s the weekend, shithead… use the ATM” – Chinese Ivan leapt to a properly terrifying conclusion.

He was dead. And he could now do whatever the fuck he wanted to do.

And so it began.

It wasn’t a long walk to the local shops that we called home base… and Chinese Ivan hit every single one of them. The clincher – every single shopkeep between his house and walking distance knew what Chinese Ivan was like, and knew two inalienable truths.

First, he was dangerous when he was clean and sober, and infinitely worse when he wasn’t.

Second, any form of challenge resulted in violence as sudden and devastating as a car accident.

And so, thinking he was dead, he hit nearly every shop he could find. The transgressions varied from stealing chips from diners at the Greasy Shovel, the local fish/chip/burger joint on the corner through to leafing through the pornographic magazines at the newsagent, not-quite-surreptitiously pawing at his non-functional (please don’t ask how I know…) genitals.

None of this was enough to raise the ire of the well-meaning, hard-working shop owners.

But when Chinese Ivan entered our local ‘vintage clothing’ store, took several items of clothing into the change room and built himself an igloo from which he could watch young women disrobe, that something was said.

“Chinese Ivan, what the FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” was the cry. It came from Tara, a local semi-celebrity whose legendary beauty had been eroded by years of drug abuse. She ran the shop – something we all knew she wasn’t happy about, at all. Which meant she suffered fools about as gladly as jihadists suffer journalists with long, white necks.

I can only imagine how jarring that exclamation was… but for someone who evidently believed that they were dead, it would have been a major disruption to their present state of mind. And, as Tara eventually told it, once she’d been released from hospital and sold her doctor-prescribed calmatives to most (if not all) of us – Chinese Ivan did not react well.

With a howl that rivaled a descending single-engined plane in clear distress, Chinese Ivan did three things.

First, he shat himself, like a squid attempting to hide from its predators.

Second, he took flight, bolting from the rear of the store with the speed and grace of a Paralympic athlete.

Third, upon reaching the street, he was hit by a fast-moving taxi. The sound, Tara said, was like someone dropping a watermelon from a reasonable height into a rubbish skip full of glass and screaming Chinese people.…

It took the police about two minutes to arrive. The ambulance another seven.

The council workers didn’t arrive until just after 9am Monday to finish scooping the bits of Chinese Ivan the birds and stray cats hadn’t consumed into a couple of black bin bags, before taking those away to god-knows-where.

I would love to feel sad about this… but I can’t. Because Chinese Ivan died doing what he loved… getting monstrously fucked up and making trouble for everyone, and everything, around him.

For a dead man, he served a purpose – that being a proper, prize-winning degenerate fuck-up, and a short-lived rust-brown stain on Abercrombie Street that was used by the slow, subtle infusion of well-meaning gentrification types to scare their teenage children into a life of sobriety.

It didn’t work.