28 December, 2008
1.) A lot of your blog posts have large gaps of time in between them throughout the year. Do you have any particular reason for that or just times when you're not feeling very 'bloggy'?
Not feeling very bloggy is priobably the best way to describe it, now that you mention it. Nothing noble about it. I'm not prevented from blogging because I'm busy manning a volunteer refugee support line or collecting for Greenpeace or any of the other things I should be doing. No, it's mostly explained in the profile: "Just a lazy Melbourne bloke..."
Although, I can be a bit pedantic about posts, and so tend to keep it to just a few, because they take a bit of time for me. You see, I proofread over and over and keep changing a word here and there until I think it's just right. Not that you'd know it from the quality of posts here.
2.) Are you closer to the goal you set of having your band reunite for your 50's birthday?
Shouldn't be too much drama about getting the guys back together again. The other guitar player works in my building, I'm in regular contact with the bass player and even though I haven't seen the drummer in ages I know he loves a gig and would jump at it. As would we all. I'll start moving on it in about April for the November party and work on a song list.
One thing I've learned from doing this ensemble at work is that you can't just pick up your instrument and do it. Plenty of practice and rehearsals needed. I'd like to do around 15 songs to make it really worthwhile. We did 12 at my fortieth.
3.) Since you're a man with amazing taste in music (and a self-proclaimed rock snob!), what music would your perfect road trip cd include?
Oooohh, I love this question. It's a little like Desert Island Discs. The two albums I reckon I could listen to over and over again would fit on one CD so here they are:
Who's Next (1972) by The Who - Just a simply amazing album and an LP I've known intimately since one of my older sisters bought it when I was about twelve. Pete Townsend had originally conceived it as another rock opera a la Tommy but when that project proved unworkable the Who were left with just ten great songs.
Let It Bleed (1969) by The Rolling Stones - this arrived when I was about fourteen and it was my other older sister's boyfriend who gave it to us to mind, along with a whole lot of other great albums while he went overseas. The intro to Gimme Shelter had me hooked right from the word go and I've been a Rolling Stones fan ever since.
Any road trip would be enhanced by the presence of these two classic albums.
4.) At the risk of flogging a dead horse, did your crush on Siobhan die or are you just better at handling it now?
Just a mild crush, that one. I suppose three blog posts was overstating the case somewhat but I wanted to articulate strange new feelings and behaviours.
Not much change in the situation. She's just as charming as ever. We're getting along okay and the ensemble is giving us plenty to do and talk about. It seems like quite a healthy friendship.
5.) Any New Years resolutions you've made and would like to share?
Yeah, I'll be visting a hypnotherapist in the New Year to have a go at giving up smoking. Just cigarettes. I'll still be having regular spliffs, but I'll be cutting back on that too. Reserved for when I'm in good company, or lack inspiration.
I just hope I don't come out of the hypnotherapy believing I'm the reincarnation of the Emperor Tiberius or anything.
Thanks again, Meghan!
24 December, 2008
This is a letter I had to write to the CEO of the organization I work for:
I’m bringing an incident involving myself and Michelle McClennan to your attention I informed my Manager, Rae Newcombe, of this incident on Wednesday 10th December after some careful consideration. I ask for your assistance to resolve this issue locally.
The incident took place at our end of year staff function on Fri 5th December:
At around 11pm I returned inside the venue to say a few goodbyes to people and approached Colin Ginty, who was in conversation with Michelle McClennan. I shook hands with Colin and thanked him for his efforts on the Social Committee. Colin returned the thanks for my agreeing to MC the awards segment of the evening.
It was around this point that Michelle began speaking to me and went into some detail as to her assessment of my character. Her conclusion was that I was an attention-seeker of little substance with a poor work ethic who tries to get by on personality in order to mask these shortcomings. I was quite shocked by this and tried to deflect her by thanking her for the career advice and turned away towards Colin.
She then commenced a monologue that seemed to be outlining my psychological profile, positing deeper problems she felt I may have which cause what she had described earlier. Again, I attempted to deflect rather than confront her by complimenting her on her grasp of psychoanalytic theory and turned away towards Colin once more.
I am unable to give precise details of what she actually said because I was a bit shocked by what I took to be an unprovoked attack on me. I was also somewhat transfixed during the conversation by the tone of voice she used, which I can only describe as very nasty, cat-like and reminiscent of that used by upper-primary school girls when they’re being particularly cruel to each other.
With a little help from Colin, I was able to cut her off by turning the conversation to another function I would be on my way to afterwards and said a final goodbye to both Colin and Michelle and left. I noticed what I interpreted as a fairly smug, self-satisfied look on her face as I turned away.
I hardly know Michelle at all, beyond the type of greetings and small talk I might engage in with any staff member with whom I don’t work directly, and she also took family leave not long after I commenced in mid-July, so there’s been very little interaction between us. I have neither said nor done anything that could possibly have generated any personal animosity between us, nor had she, up until this incident occurred.
I believe we have a very healthy workplace culture here with, from my observations, almost exclusively positive interactions between staff, so I’m still somewhat shocked by the nastiness involved in this. I’d like to be confident that this incident is a result of a series of poor choices made by a single individual and is not representative of tendencies to be found in other staff members.
I assert that this incident constitutes action taken within a work location that directly affects an employee that the employee considers is otherwise unfair or unreasonable and ask that it be investigated and, if proven, action be taken to ensure that it does not occur again, either to me or anyone else.
More to come on this one. That's for sure.
23 November, 2008
There hasn't been much change in the past couple of weeks. We've practiced with the ensemble twice now and it's slowly starting to come together. The two women who sing are just brilliant. Sandra, at her first session, hit all of the notes and even made it easier to keep time. And she said she was nervous! Yvonne has a lovely voice. Jim knows his way around the fretboard and fitted right in. I'm wading through the songs as if through treacle and I've only completely nailed just Dear Prudence of the five. The others are on the way and I'm hopeful they'll follow suit soon.
Siobhan is coping well with a new type of guitar and new songs. Did I tell you I loaned her my acoustic guitar so it'd be louder than the classical guitar she has? No? Look, it's no big deal, really, not like sharing a toothbrush. I was apprehensive about offering it to her, suspecting she might shoot back with "What's wrong with my guitar?"causing me to beat a hasty retreat. But she was really good about it, thanking me for the opportunity and telling me repeatedly how much she likes my Ovation Celebrity DeLuxe.
Every time I think there might be a problem, there just isn't. When I wanted photos of the band for a slideshow, she came straight over and sat for me so it took only three clicks and I had all I needed. No "How's my hair?" or "Ooh, not today" or anything.
I'm anticipating she'll be well-practiced for tomorrow night's session. Sandra and Yvonne can't make it so I'm hoping like hell Jim doesn't bail out as that will leave us with the two's company dilemma. We really need to get together and play, but Siobhan might be apprehensive about it being just us. I hope not, she's been great about everything else with the band.
Just the other week, she gave me a soft kiss on the cheek and a gentle rub up and down my back to wish me a happy birthday as I was cutting the cake in the lunchroom (49. Shit. I feel 17 but mirrors keep giving me away). In Australia, if the knife touches the dish you don't get your wish and you have to kiss the nearest girl. A colleague called out to Siobhan in a louder-than-she-probably-meant-it voice that this had indeed happened and Siobhan needed to make tracks. Possibly because there's been some talk, or possibly because Siobhan happened to be the closest girl, I don't know.
I ignored it and didn't look left to where Siobhan was standing next to me but I didn't see her move at all, which if I'm correct, was quite lovely of her. Afterwards, we chatted for a few minutes and once again everyone else just faded into the background. Wallpaper, all of them. Can't seem to help doing that. I know I shouldn't but....
On Friday she came over to return my pen-drive again and I got the breathless "See you soon," with the big smile and the dimples. I smiled back but I think what she got was my best Milhous-pathetically-and-vainly-courting-Lisa look.
So I've decided to lay down a few guiding principles to keep things ticking along just as they are. To enable us to keep doing what we're doing. And not doing what we're not doing. To stay as friends. And limit the potential for causing discomfiture or embarassment to either of us.
1) No drinking anything stronger than light beer at work things. Not because I might do anything rash, but in case I say something stupid to Siobhan or let my guard down and enter into discussions about her with anyone else. To date, I've confided in no-one. Just to you invited members of my now-restricted blogosphere, where I'm an entirely separate non-entity. Entirely separate entity, I meant to say;
2) No seeking her out. That means no beating a path to or hanging around the lunchroom if she's there - just breeze on through and if she comes in afterwards, don't linger. Avoid going to her desk to drop disks or things off. I can feel a few eyes on me when I'm talking to her around there. And she tends to turn on the dazzle for me when I go over to her desk;
3) Include others when we talk. I'm far too focused on her. With a little luck, I'll be able to recognize that there actually are other people present. This is going to be difficult. She seems to exert a considerable gravitational pull on all of my attention;
4) Never touch her, not even fumbling for spoons in the drawer;
5) No lingering eye contact. There's also something of a gravitational pull there. Strong too. I'm sure it could dilate time;
6) Definitely no flirting with her - I don't think I have so far - absolutely nothing suggestive or cute. Here are a couple of things I stopped just short of blurting out: when she mentioned for the first time that she had a boyfriend, I nearly asked "So, who is this fellow you've been seeing behind my back?" Funny line maybe, but could easily have come out wrong; and when she gave me the birthday kiss, "Hey, there is a God." Again, overstepping the mark. "Aww, thanks Siobhan," was a better fit;
7) Don't be so quickfire about replying to her emails - shit, we do have to communicate but keep to the point. Don't try to write a cackfest of gags every time. Save something for the blog readership;
8) Don't try too hard to make her laugh, generally; she's got a good sense of humour and she's made me chuckle a few times. Let things flow naturally;
9) Don't be drawn into or initiate serious personal conversations with her about life, relationships, anything. You're bound to say too much;
10) Don't deconstruct your "relationship" with her. Don't talk about how well we get along or re-enact things that have happened. She's shown no inclination towards initiating this sort of thing so far;
11) Just basically, make things as fuck up-proof as possible, I suppose. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? I couldn't possibly be aware of the right thing to do and then not do the right thing, surely?
12) Don't write another blog entry on this topic unless things change. Hopefully, they won't.
05 November, 2008
I didn't think so.
But this is what's happening: firstly me;
1) I do like her. Siobhan is graceful. And charming. The whole office seems to think highly of her. I'm drawn to her the way lots of people are. And we have common ground. The music ensemble we're playing in. There is something of an affinity;
2) Alright, yes, she is very attractive. A young 35. Not overly tall, but both slender and curvaceous at the same time and with dark brown hair and big brown eyes;
3) What am I doing? Just two things, I maintain:
a) Her emails get answered first. And I spend more time composing an email reply to her than I would to the CEO. I think he's starting to get jealous;
b) And focusing intently when we talk. She's in vivid technicolour while everyone else languishes in low-contrast black and white. She seems almost equally attentive, but I'm a bit concerned it might also be kind of obvious to eyewitnesses;
4) What aren't I doing? Well, I'm not seeking her out. I just breeze through the lunchroom when she's there and don't hang around if she comes in after me. She's equally perfunctory. But we just bump into each other and have a chat - almost exclusively about the ensemble these days;
5) I'm aware of her. It doesn't matter if we're in the same space with plenty of other people around, everyone heading in different directions, we always seem to greet each other. I quite like that about her. I think anyone would;
Now to Siobhan:
1) See above;
2) She has this almost teenage-girl way about her that shows off a fairly dazzling array of weaponry - head tilted; eyes up through lashes; slight blush; big smile; dimples at full compression; my name elongated, "Hi La-aad." I'm sure it's been used to devastating effect on far better men than I. I've seen this a few times now. And I'm not getting sick of it;
So, ready for some conclusions?
Well, I don't think Siobhan has a crush on me. I believe 2) above is just her way. Part of her charm and means nothing. She might not be fully aware she's doing it. I thought at one stage she might even be making fun of me a little, "Here he comes. Let's see what shade of red I can turn him today. Need to be careful, though. He nearly crossed over into purple on Tuesday. I had to switch all my dimples off!" This is unlikely. But I'd think it was funny, just the same.
She has a knack for making me feel comfortable and appreciated. I'm very lucky in that.
And me? All of the above, really. I don't feel lustful towards her. There's no phwoar. If anything, it feels like one of those pure and noble teenage crushes, the kind you might have had on your older sisters' girlfriends who seemed wonderful to your early teen eyes.
And folks, this has never been a fidelity issue. Most of you would know that I passionately and romantically love TLOML, on all levels. I look at her like she's my exciting new girlfriend. You know, "Wait till my mates see who I'm going out with."
She's fabulous. Wife and mother. Great to watch walking towards you. Great to be with.
On Monday, she delivered one of the eulogies at her cousin's funeral. She was a woman the same age as TLOML, killed in a car accident last Sunday week. They'd been good friends as kids. A terrible loss of a much-loved and striking woman. TLOML would normally be apprehensive about public speaking, and she was nervous. But she looked beautiful and graceful and sounded clear, confident and warm. Got a few laughs too. There are many reasons why she is TLOML.
And so what will I do about Siobhan? Nothing, really. And she won't need to do anything about me. I'll back off on the emails, and try to include others when Siobhan and I do talk. Nothing else needs to change. I can enjoy the friendship and the music for what it is. Shit, it kind of means I'm okay.
And maybe get a little bit of a kick out of it too. I am only a bloke, after all.
23 October, 2008
She works in a section unrelated to mine, so I didn't see much of her to begin with. Just in and out of the lunch room and around the office sometimes. Wondered who she was.
We were in the lift area together and she said hello, so I said:
"Hi, I'm Lad, I've just been here a couple of weeks."
"Oh we've been introduced already. On your first day."
"Oh yes, silly me. Sorry, I met a few people early on and I've forgotten quite a few names."
I waited momentarily for her to help me out and tell me her name but she didn't, so I asked her what it was. Siobhan.
Not long after, one of the other blokes and I were talking about classic albums and how I went on a bit of a spree buying up big-name albums and how I'd bought Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. Siobhan was there and she said it was one of her favourites and proceeded to rattle off other Led Zeppelin titles she was familiar with. Common ground. So we could say hello and talk easily from there on.
Just brief encounters, the occasional hello, smile or nod. Then someone was talking about the TV show The Einstein Factor. I couldn't help myself so I blurted out a little too quickly that I'd been on it. Siobhan asked what my specialist subject had been and when I told her the Nuremberg Trials she was certain she'd seen it. "Wow." she said. Regular readers of this blog will no doubt understand I haven't had attractive women look at me and say wow all that often. Halley's Comet is a more frequent visitor. It was pleasantly disconcerting. She asked me why I'd chosen that topic so I stammered my way through an explanation of why I thought it was interesting and she seemed to think it was fine. Not weird at all.
The day before the AFL Grand Final, we were having a special morning tea and I was running the staff handball competition. As I was setting up, Karen from Siobhan's section told me Siobhan was very keen to do well and that she was the sort who was pretty good at anything she tried her hand at. "You'll have to send her out on a fool's errand just as the competition's about to start, ha ha ha." She thought that was funny and headed back to work. Next thing, the door opens and Siobhan walks in.
"Hi Lad. Karen said you wanted to see me."
"Um, no ... oh wait I think she's misunderstood what I said. She said you were a big chance to win and I said well, send her out on an errand just before the start. As a joke, you know, and she's misinterpreted it as... you know, go and see Lad." I realized it sounded lame as I was saying it, never a good sign, and would instantly convince any woman that I'm a complete idiot. I expected her to roll her eyes and walk out but she smiled and shook her head and leaned over the counter.
"I'm sorry about that, Siobhan. Your time being wasted, I mean."
"Oh that's fine. Do you need a hand?"
"No, no thanks, it's all pretty much ready to go I think ," so I busied myself with the final setting up of the target and score chart. She seemed to want to talk and told me all about how she'd played football herself for a couple of seasons with a womens' team. My turn to go wow. She explained how she loved footy so much she thought why the hell not have a go, an attitude I found admirable. She told me how as her three brothers had never played, it was the only time her dad got to watch one of his offspring chase a kick. There were just the two of us there and with her opening up, almost shyly, I had a funny feeling about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Later, I wondered if it hadn't almost had the vibe of like, well, a date, of all things.
Three or four weeks ago a whole crowd of us went out for lunch at a local CBD pub for someone's birthday. I got lost and arrrived a bit late so sat at one end of our table. Siobhan was down the other end on the same side so I couldn't see her through all the heads. Probably just as well. The last thing I'd want to be doing is seeking her out.
A little while into the lunch, I went up to the bar to get another round of drinks for my section. There were a few people ahead of me so I waited and watched the cricket on the big screen.
"Hi Lad." Siobhan had materialized next to me. That's what it seemed like. My peripheral vision is probably shot to the shithouse and I was intent on the First Test from India up on the big TV anyway so it's probably likely she just walked over. We'd chatted for a couple of minutes when the barman nodded in my direction.
She called out her order with mine and I paid so she wouldn't be queue-jumping. She was adamant I was going to be repaid. Next time, I shrugged, meaning there'd be other such lunches and she could buy me a drink then, or forget all about it and I'd never remind her. Siobhan wasn't having any of that and went over to get some change.
"Look, Siobhan, it's no big deal and I don't want a whole heap of coins jangling around in my pocket. Leave it till next time. It's fine, really."
She put the coins down in front of me and said "End of discussion," with a not unpleasant finality and headed back to the office. I did turn to steal a wee glimpse of her as she walked away, something I'd been trying to avoid doing.
Later, I wondered if she'd been keen to pay me back so I wouldn't have anything over her, in case I might later pester her to buy me a drink and believe it entitled me to some kind of proprietary interest in her. Okay, there are a lot of deluded sleazebags around and if she's guarded, good on her.
And then just last week there was a staff meeting. Without any contrivance on anyone's part, Siobhan and I were sitting directly opposite each other. I was listening to one of the blokes, standing behind and to Siobhan's right explaining something when I thought I could glimpse her looking at me. I kept my eyes on the speaker for quite a few seconds and then stole a glance across at her. Still looking at me. I couldn't think what to do because we were looking right at each other so I just smiled at her. Probably more of a lop-sided grin. She smiled back and then cast her eyes down, like she was a bit embarassed at being caught looking at me. Or wondering what the fuck a middle-aged loser is doing smiling at her during a fucking staff meeting. Only one of these is really plausible.
Later that afternoon she again seemed to just appear when she came over to my section to return the pen drive that I'd loaned her earlier.
"Oh, here it is. Sorry I didn't return it earlier, Lad."
"No, that's fine Siobhan, thanks for bringing it over."
She half-turned and then gave me a big smile and said almost breathlessly "Bye. See you soon."
It was like we were a couple of nervous teenagers at a third-form social.
Tomorrow night we're playing for the first time in a little work ensemble group that's just starting up. I was in one of these before at a previous school and they're great fun. I had no idea she played anything but when I sent the expression of interest around the office email she responded with an offer to play guitar and flute. She'll be finger-picking her way through Dear Prudence and Wish You Were Here on her classical guitar while I try to keep up on electric guitar. Another bloke will play acoustic guitar and two women will fill things out with vocals and percussion. Musically, I'm quite looking forward to it.
So that's where we are. Just the facts, ma'am. I'll try to do a deeper analysis of what I really think is happening in my next post. You'll probably do a better analysis in the comments.
22 October, 2008
08 September, 2008
Alas, I had to have a problem that resisted even the good folk who trawl those forums dispensing sound advice. Okay, fora for those of you who insist on correct Latin plurals.
For some reason, the WinXP disk's recovery mode just wouldn't fix things so after a couple of luckless weeks, I rashly went for the reinstall option. After all, it only warned that I MIGHT lose the contents of the My Documents folder. Any chance is better than no chance at all. So I did it.
And lost everything. Family photos and video, family history research, personal stuff, everything. And 28 nearly-completed posts for this pathetic blog. When I say that they were all brilliant, witty, cutting-edge pieces of fine writing that could change your whole outlook on life, please take my word for it.
It's my own stupid fault. Mea culpa. Again with the Latin. I should have had virus protection in the first place. And even failing that, I should have waited until I came across someone who could help me recover Win XP without causing loss of data.
And then last week, TLOML's laptop surrendered its internet capability. And I got knocked back for one of those Virtual Community personal PC loans. Something about me only being in the new job for less than six months. So we're technologically-challenged at home.
Luckily, I'm now semi-comfortable at the new workplace and have girded my loins and posted this from work.
I'm not back in town as such, but I'm entering Kalkallo.
Kalkallo - small town on the northern outskirts of Melbourne
29 July, 2008
Now I'm waiting for our good friends at MicroSoft to deliver the Win XP disk I need to fix the damned registry problem the spyware has caused. And then I'll need to get some anti-virus software on. Last fucking time I ride bareback.
The battery on this laptop is getting low and TLOML has left the power cable at school, the darling. My blog and web access might be in tatters at the moment but life is not. I'm enjoying the change provided by my new job and funnily enough, I think I'm a bit more pleasant to be around for my loved ones. The Bombers playing great footy also helps.
I've been neglecting all of your blogs too as I'm not quite bold enough to run through them at work. Being new and all.
But guess what? One of my new colleagues is the partner of a blogger who I've been reading and commenting on for the past two years. Small world. Delightfully so, sometimes.
03 July, 2008
You would also have seen how she was observed and successively ignored by: a security guard; a doctor; another security guard – that’s right, the one who rolled his chair back to have a look and then rolled it back out of frame. And of the nurses who finally did come to her aid, one gave her a bit of a kick before bending to check on her.
The news you saw probably also had a New York public official saying something like:
“You might expect something like this to happen in a Third World country. You do not expect this sort of thing to happen in New York City.”
I disagreed with her. I’m not totally surprised that something like that happened. And I’m also not surprised that it happened in New York. I thought that the American cities I visited in the mid-80s all looked a lot more like Third World countries than I was comfortable with, including New York. I think there might also be quite a few Americans who are similarly unsettled by the nature of American cities.
And if there are any of you out there who’ve also been to New York City, you might just have picked up the same vibe from many of its inhabitants that I did.
That people seemed to be predisposed towards being deliberately unhelpful. And further, would even appear to take some deadpan pleasure in you being disadvantaged by this unhelpfulness. Always politely, of course.
Some of it was epitomized in the TV show Seinfeld: In scenes where the main or other characters would delight in or be dismissively uninterested in someone else’s misfortune. And then when the plot resolved and some disaster had overtaken the indifferent, their despair and pathetic pleading for assistance. I picked that recurring motif as very much a New York thing. In Australia, it appeared to be perceived as a combination yuppie Gen-X thing. The final two-hour episode was probably the quintessential example of what I’m talking about here.
Now, I’m happy to cop a roasting on this, particularly from any Americans who don’t see it as an indictment on New York or America anymore than backpacker murderer Ivan Milat reflects Australia. But that’s just it. He does reflect Australia. If you’re able to, check out some of the statements attributed to him by people who encountered him and tell me they’re not (admittedly) extreme examples of attitudes to women and crime that are not entirely rare in Australian males.
The indifference and deliberate inaction of those officials in the CCTV footage towards the dying woman is an (again admittedly) extreme example of attitudes you would not find altogether uncommon among New Yorkers.
We should be shocked, but not surprised.
30 June, 2008
This is not a wolf-at-the-door situation. I can do Casual Replacement Teaching if nothing falls into my lap. And if that’s unbearable, I can always go crawling back to my teaching job. So I’m not in the same situation as some poor bastard who’s been retrenched. I’ve jumped, but with a parachute securely strapped on.
I’ve been half-heartedly checking employment opportunities since about April. Something in training, perhaps. I have a B Ed and a Post Grad Diploma in Educational Computing. Neither of which makes me an appealing prospect for training firms. Certificate 4 is the preferred qualification there.
But just last Friday afternoon, I found out I have a new job, starting on 14th July. I’m pretty relieved, as you can imagine. I’d been feeling a bit guilty about making my family hostages to fortune.
The interview was on Friday morning in the city. With a State govt statutory authority. Being a qualified teacher was one of the selection criteria for the job. So I wouldn’t have to bluff my way through, too-hopefully claiming that skills I’d picked up during 25 years as a primary school teacher were transferable to whatever job I was going for. This was a job for a teacher that fulfilled all my requirements: it didn’t involve actual teaching!
There’s a bit of a pay cut involved. Leaving the profession right after a salary increase to take up a lower-paid job might not appear the smartest move and has generated quite a few interestingly arranged wtf facial expressions. Including from my new boss.
I’ll be working in the city. First time since 1978. Catching public transport. The kitting up will be expensive. For a teacher, the general rule of thumb in the absence of a dress-code is sort of just below smart casual. Or in my case, very casual and not always smart. From now on, I’ll be in shirt and tie territory.
And loving it.
04 June, 2008
I’ve arranged to go out for a drink on a Friday night with a former colleague, Paul. We both need a night out. At Newmarket’s The Quiet Man. It’s one of those fake Irish pubs, with a warm, friendly atmosphere, and named after a sentimental John Ford film set in a Hollywood faux-Ireland, so there’s a layer or two of irony attached to it.
Populated without being crowded, an acoustic duo plays unobtrusively in the corner. We have a look and a listen and I go to the bar. On the way back, I see this big beefy bloke, maybe early to mid-20s, and with facial features as if designed by the NRL Footy Show, sitting in a booth with a couple of friends and they’re trying to get him to stop punching the wall. Or at least stop punching it so hard.
Clearly someone to give a wide berth to. I tell Paul to keep his eyes peeled for the plaster pugilist. A couple more rounds and I’m waiting at the bar again when someone comes up beside me. It’s the big beefy bloke, still looking a little affected by his earlier anger-management issues. Fuck. I can be a bit of a magnet for these types.
“G’day mate I’m Steve how’s it goin’?”
“Hi Steve. Pleased to meet you, I’m Lad.” Wary without trying to appear wary.
“Geez I fuckin’ love this pub y’know. Good to get out on a Friday night and get pissed in.”
“Yeah, it’s alright isn’t it? Couple of drinks, bit of music, a few people.”
“Few wankers though. I kicked the shit out of a fuckin’ homeless cunt just down from here last week. Reckoned the two buck coin I chucked at him was a bit stingy. Fuckin’ ungrateful cunt. He fuckin’ deserved it.”
Often with these sorts of pricks there’s an inherent challenge to disagree with their scumbag attitudes. You find yourself with a tenuous grip on the tiger’s tail. But he seems to accept my non-committal single-nod Mmm as some kind of endorsement and I let him. Then he insists on buying me a drink, because he reckons I look a bit like a sometime in the future fucking homeless cunt myself. I know this is a fishing expedition, but I take it as a half-matey you-old-bastard-type insult and manage to grin and disentangle myself from him and return to where Paul and I are sitting.
“You looked to have handled that pretty well,” Paul says.
“Yeah. Managed to avoid putting him on an action footing, but he wasn’t pushing hard.”
“What would you have done if he was?”
“Well, and this is only a theory mind you, but with fucking arseholes like him, and there’re plenty around worse than him too, there’s a point where you realize they just want to hit you, and there’s no way to placate them. Anything you say they use to wind themselves up further. So when you feel you’re almost at the point of no return, get in first, I reckon. Start with a quick uppercut into the very soft bit just under the sternum. They’ll be winded by that and it might be all you need to do, but if you’re not confident about hitting the right spot, a couple of straight jabs right into their Adam’s apple should make them lose interest.”
“Shit, have a listen to Mr Fucking Natural-Born Killer here. Hahaha! Can’t understand why you’re not in Special Forces.”
“Now, you know perfectly well that we covert op types can neither confirm nor deny.”
Thankfully, Steve found other people at the pub to earbash (I hope that’s all he ended up doing) and we were left to chat and drink too-many Black Russians unmolested.
This time it was a regular monthly get-together of old schoolmates. Usually referred to as “the boyos”, for no good reason other than it gives us a chance to put on a piss-weak Welsh accent. I don’t get to go along all that often anymore, but this time I’m keen as mustard to make an effort. It’s in Preston, in a Chinese restaurant near the market.
After picking up a nearby mate, I’m waiting to turn right into Cramer St from Gilbert Rd. The lights change to green but I’m not in a hurry, so there’s a beat before I ease my foot off the brake. And just as well. Because as I do that, some kind of hoon-mobile comes streaking through the intersection to my right, doing what my companion and I estimate to be between 80-100kmph. We also estimate that if I’d taken off a little more quickly we might just have made the 7:30 news update as a diverting tsk-tsk item about two middle-aged blokes being killed in a horror smash. So far so good.
At the restaurant, one of the boyos is a regular and keen to order on our behalf so we let him concoct a set menu that is pretty good. Some of the guys are a bit dubious but I trust his judgment and we are vindicated. The meal is excellent if a little pricey, and we have a fun night catching up with good friends.
We get out of the restaurant at about 11:30 and walk over to where I’m parked in the market. We get in. Over to my right, a police car cruises up to a nightclub entrance about 50m away when I see a car being driven at speed from in front and to the left heading straight for us. This bloke is howling across the car park, swerving between cars parked in marked bays. Just as I start bracing myself for a significant impact he manages to yank the wheel over and flies past us leaving just a few inches to spare. We both say “Let’s get the fuck out of here” together.
Of course, we remember to link our little fingers for luck. We figure we’re going to need it if we’re to have an incident-free trip home.
Collingwood have easily beaten Essendon in the annual ANZAC Day match at the MCG, but back at a mate’s cozy place in Richmond afterwards, a few drinks and a few more joints take the edge off a terrible result for the Bombers.
I start heading home around midnight. Richmond West station is down the end of the street and I just need to hop on a train to Flinders St Station and then change there for another that will take me home to Flemington. But I’m disoriented, and catch an outbound train by mistake. I realize this when the next station is Collingwood.
No worries, I’ll get out at the next station, walk around to the city-bound platform and everything will be just tickety-boo. At Victoria Park, there are teenage kids saying goodbye to some mates and they’re good-naturedly rubbishing each other across the platforms.
A couple enters the platform opposite me. She’s tall and thin with long lank hair and he’s short and agitated, wearing a tracksuit and baseball cap. He walks quickly up and down the platform tapping on the walls, seats and signs with something and then jumps down on the tracks opposite the kids. They go quiet.
“Give me a fuckin’ cigarette. No, two,” he tells them. He’s wound up. The kids hand over the cigarettes. Hmmm, I think. A nasty piece of work. He turns to go back over to the platform opposite but then stops and looks directly at me, where I’m leaning against the station wall. It’s about this time I notice that he’s carrying a knife.
Fuck. I push off from the wall and walk out to the edge of the platform, so I can have a go at kicking his head off if he tries to climb up. He’s still looking at me, but it’s just a pause and he returns to the other side and he and his girlfriend leave the station. I go back to the wall, and turn so I can see anyone coming up the entrance ramp, just in case he’s decided to pay me a follow-up visit, but my train arrives and I’m on it and away.
Every night, there are four million stories in the naked city. I'm just paranoid enough to see it that way too.
29 May, 2008
His album titles were witty (eg So What?; But Seriously, Folks; There Goes The Neighbourhood) and tracks from the live You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind were regularly shown on rock clip TV shows like Flashez and WROK in the mid-70s. It was here that I was able to see Walsh in full flight.I mentioned that he’s the kind of player who puts everything into just about every note (by that I mean slight bends and the odd harmonic scream) but between notes he slid along the fretboard, going waow and whoo to punctuate his solos that really made my hair stand up on end. Here was a player who knew how to use the more “noisy” elements of rock guitar technique beautifully.
When I heard early in 1976 that he was to replace Bernie Leadon in the Eagles, I immediately thought their share price was raised considerably. No disrespect to Leadon, who was a fine singer-songwriter-guitarist, but up until Hotel California the Eagles had struck me as a group manipulating the easily-impressed (and easily depressed!) sensitive teenager market with contrived country-rock she-done-me-wrong songs. They still retained this element of their persona after Walsh joined, but it was just, I don’t know, better? And he and Don Felder really knew how to blend their similar styles. More fraternal guitar twins than identical. Kinda like Keith Richard and Ron Wood, but more accomplished.
They did all of his classic songs, from the early James Gang days, his solo career, and the Eagles. One particular highlight was a pumped-up Life In The Fast Lane, not an easy song to do live and believe me I would have understood if they’d left that one off the set list.
But for this admitted worshipper, Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl was the sour cream on the burrito. The original is the kick-ass opening song on Young’s 1968 Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere album, but Walsh and his hired guns took it to a new level while still remaining faithful to the original.
It was a pretty blokey crowd of unashamed Joe Walsh fans that night as I recall and we were all just transfixed.
Isn’t it great when you see an admired artist perform and expectations are both matched and exceeded?
*The Party Boys were a band that served as a perpetual fun side-project for prominent Australian rock musicians and the occasional overseas guest artist. Their membership was fluid and if memory serves, at different times included: John Swann; Marc Hunter; Kevin Borich; David Briggs; Shirley Strachan; and many others.
18 May, 2008
Flight of the Conchords stars New Zealand musical-comedy duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement as a New Zealand folk duo trying to hit the big time in the Big Apple. They have an unbelievably incompetent manager, desperately sell possessions to a pawnbroker who doesn’t like them but who is still their best friend in New York, and a lone female fan who they find repulsive.Inner monologues and dialogue between characters are often rendered in songs, frequently in the form of full-on music videos, a little bit like the Monkees TV show. There’re also many funny references to the Aussie-Kiwi dichotomy, which probably parallels the US-Canada relationship in some ways, I’d imagine. Read an interview with Bret McKenzie here.
Anyway, I’m about to watch episode two of this terrific 12 episode HBO series in just a few minutes. It screens on Channel 10 at 10:10pm. In Melbourne, anyway. Check local guides for details.
You can visit the official HBO website here; check out the BBC take on it here; and read a few slabs of dialogue here.
I found it piss-your-pants funny and littered with brilliant musical and visual gags.
So much of commercial TV is a complete fucking wasteland. And no, I’m not going to add the almost-obligatory “these days” to that assessment. Because let's face it, it’s ever been thus. But Flight of the Conchords is great TV, not just a cut above most of everything else that’s on at the moment.
22 April, 2008
1. When I was 16, I somehow managed to get a school holiday job working for a toy company. The job involved making personal appearances at K-Mart stores in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. As Spiderman. These stores were selling a new range of Spiderman toys to coincide with an upsurge in interest in the web-slinger.
I’d like to think I brought a certain dark, brooding, teenage angst-ridden presence to the role. I’d like to think that, but the facts don’t quite accord with that alternate reality. For starters, I was painfully self-conscious: not a terribly helpful trait for one embarking on acting. And the costume was made of some kind of pre-lycra type stretch fabric that itched like buggery and threw my puny physique into fairly sharp relief, adding to my discomfort. 13 Ribs! Count ‘Em, 13!
What a trouper I was. Anyway, three times a day the company car would pull up at a K-Mart entrance and I would sit and wait while my boss got the shop PA system working and could announce my presence and the location of my show.
“Ladies and gentlemen, give Peter Parker, Spiderman in person, a big welcome as he makes his way to Aisle 5. You can have a Polaroid photo taken with your friendly neighbourhood Marvel superhero and he will also be demonstrating the new range of brilliant Spiderman toys and merchandise.”
I lapped up the applause and cringed at the odd giggle and guffaw that greeted my awkward entrance. I did it because it paid a princely (at 1976 value) $20 a day and I was keen to use the money to buy ugh boots and a lumberjacket.
The worst day was a one-off at Myer in the city, where for some reason that now escapes me my boss couldn’t drop me right out the front so I had to walk half a city block in costume. To make it fun, I walked in character too. But even a superhero has to obey traffic signals and I had to stand and wait at the crossings with all of the lunchtime shoppers, some of whom thought I was some kind of pervert, and said so.
But I still have my pride. If one of my mates mentions that I was once Spiderman I strike a pose, hopefully a relevant one, and tell them, “That’s The AMAZING Spiderman, thank you.”
2. I was on Sale of the Century in 1990. I went in to Channel 9 in Richmond as a standby contestant and squeezed in to the Friday episode where I finished ahead of a very popular, attractive, long-running female champ. So I imagine for that weekend, in many households I was that-bastard-who beat-that-lovely-what-was-her-name-again-oh-and-she’d-just-had-a-baby.
Anyway, I managed to convince myself that I couldn’t give a fuck whether I was popular or not. And the plan was to buy at any cost so I could at least maybe come away with something half way decent. I bought everything, but then kept winning anyway. One more show and I’d have the prize showcase. Two more shows and I could add the $234,000 cash jackpot. The show for the prizes was the last of the day, the one to be screened on a Friday night.
After being 30 down, going into the last sweaty commercial break, scores were tied at the end of the final round. Oh, and thanks to the Dixons, our next door neighbours growing up, who gave the nine year old Lad a book about pirates for Christmas. I managed to nail the final answer, Captain Kidd, right on the buzzer. So there was a tie-breaker question. After Tony Barber read just the one clue, the other contestant buzzed in and got it wrong.
So one more episode for $234,000. During the ten seconds of background muzak, all I could hear was, “You’ gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…..”
I took the prizes and ran for the hills!
3. The Monday after my son Larry’s team won last season’s U12 footy premiership was Mad Monday. Not for the boys. Don’t be stupid. They had school. For the dads. The boys had a brilliant season, going through undefeated, although they only won the last home and away game by one point and were behind at half time in one match and behind at quarter-time in the 2nd Semi-Final. Every other game was a massacre.
In the Grand Final, Larry was selected at full-back for the first time that season and kept the competition’s leading goal-kicker to just the one touch, and that from a dubious free kick. So Mad Monday was a fitting way to celebrate a sensational season.
We kicked off triumphantly at 11am at Ascot Vale’s Prince of Wales Hotel and then walked up Mt Alexander Rd (Mt Rd in our local dialect) to the now-defunct Chung On Chinese restaurant for a long lunch. There was only heavy beer at the restaurant for some reason so ol’ Lad Litter shrugged and joined in the serious drinking with predictable results. Stinko. But leavened somewhat by the three or four joints I’d brought along.
Back at the pub, wives and even whole families started arriving at about 10pm and quite a few tired and emotional dads were embraced and then bundled into waiting family vehicles. “Are you coming back a bit later?” I called to one staggering escapee whose charming wife giggled and shook her head resignedly.
Resisting exhortations to kick on elsewhere, the walk home was like live action pinball as I staggered and bounced off trees, fences and then eventually the interior of our house. I might have binged, but I’d binged responsibly, I maintain.
4. I have never had sex. I’ll just let that sink in first before I qualify it. In a dream I mean, silly. I don’t think there’ve been all that many erotic dreams for me, but I always seem to wake up just before actually consummating. Does it mean that my life is destined to always fall short of true fulfillment? Am I unable to meaningfully follow through on commitments? Or does it mean that someday I am destined to lead the Jews out of Egypt? I don’t know.
However, in a similar way, I always regain consciousness during particularly frightening nightmares when I am just about to be killed.
5. Barracking for Essendon means I have reason to be antipathetic towards Carlton. And just so you don’t think I’m understating the case here, I don’t hate them. Not at all. I despise them. So many of their supporters are loud-mouthed, boastful, bragging, solipsistic, gloating, skiting baboons who insist on deliberately arguing from an extremely illogical position What lovable larrikins they are. Larrikin is actually Australian for fuckwit, but there are enormous sections of the media industry devoted to convincing Australians that it isn't.
So you can imagine what sort of revelation it was when some family history research turned up that my great-great uncle had been Carlton’s captain back in the 1870s and was even club President from 1914-1921. And that a grandstand at Carlton’s home ground Princes Park is named after him. And that his two sons had also played quite a bit of footy at Carlton, one even going so far as to play 150 games, kick 330 goals, lead their goal-kicking in several seasons and feature in two Carlton Premierships.
Our second son Larry, just by coincidence, shares Mr President’s name and probably also coincidentally, some measure of football prowess.
Of course none of this makes me go around with a paper bag over my head. I am, actually, a little bit proud of my antecedents having been such high-achievers. And the many ex-Carlton players I have spoken to and corresponded with during further research have all been wonderful, charming, generous people. And it is a club with a rich, grand history. Quelle contradiction? Hypocrisy anyone? I beg to differ.
It’s the narrative I’m into and I rationalize it thus: you don’t have to agree with the policies of Nazi Germany in order to be fascinated by its history.
Carlton supporters I know have derided me for the forsaking of my family tradition. But I believe my relatives’ stewardship of Carlton was a lost Golden Age, before they let all the spivs take over.
So there it is and I’m tagging Ann O’Dyne; Lord Sedgewick; Jahteh; Edward Yates; and Geoff Dening. If they haven't been tagged already, that is. Should be some good reading with that lot.
13 April, 2008
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary. All I’ve asked is for you to bring me one of the stubbies I handed over to you earlier. Just bring one of them with you when you come back please.”
“You go see the manager.”
I had absolutely no fucking idea why I would need to talk to the manager but I was given the distinct impression that it was because I’d done something wrong, and it had something to do with my asking for one of the stubbies. Maybe they’d lost them and the manager was going to apologise and offer me some other bottles of beer. That was about as much as I could come up with and judged it pretty unlikely as soon as it occurred to me.
No, it looked like I was going to be hassled. And I was a bit irritated by that prospect as I dragged myself up from my seat and walked through an arch to where the manager was standing behind a bar. I’d already heard from the colleague who organized the night out that this manager had a long and proud history of rubbing people up the wrong way. He was thirtieish; smooth of skin and hair; and ginger-fair in that northern Italian way. Southern Italians reckon northern Italians are all up themselves. I’m not sure if that’s one of the great truths, but this bloke might have had his own colonoscopy footage playing over and over in his mind.
Like the waiter, he looked like he wanted to impose himself on the ambience. And he was going to do that by being a pain in the arse. And I picked up that he thought I was not the kind of customer he really wanted in his restaurant. So he and the waiter probably felt some kind of entitlement about treating our group like shit. I wanted to help him understand that the unpleasant customer he was dealing with was entirely his own creation.
“The waiter told me I had to come and see you to get one of my stubbies.”
“Well, there’s a problem with the stubbies you’ve brought into the restaurant. We are BYO, but wine only.”
“Really. That sounds like a very uncommon arrangement.” This is a few years ago now, probably 1998, when this sort of drink-specific BYO, now widespread, was still very much in its infancy. “There’d be quite a few of your patrons caught out by that, I’d imagine.”
“No, not at all. It’s printed on all of our menus.”
“Menus that aren’t sighted till after everyone’s sat down. I said g’day and went off to get some beer. This is the first time that’s ever been something to be hassled over. What’s the reasoning behind the restriction?”
“People come in, and I’m sure you can imagine, they have eskies loaded up with beer and it’s not the sort of dining experience we want for this restaurant.”
“My dining experience has been getting hassled for bringing in six stubbies. Of light beer. You’ve created a problem where there wasn’t one.”
“You’ll find most of the restaurants in Lygon St are now BYO wine only.”
“I don’t go to Lygon St much anymore. Too many people who just want to give you a hard time. I’ll grab those stubbies thanks. All of them. I don’t want to have to ask your waiter to bring me one and have to go through this all over again.”
“Do you intend to drink them here?”
“Yeah I do. And I don’t expect to be persecuted for it either.”
He handed them over and the rest of the evening was spent pleasantly. We’d finished the main course by this time and didn’t need to have as much contact with the waiter and didn’t see the manager again.
One wit back at the table referred to my stubbies as the Carlton Six. The next day, I was to hear a view of the evening and the incident that seemed to come from a strange parallel universe.
Update: Well, not really an update, but does anyone know how to make my sidebar appear at the side of my posts and not all the way down the bottom? If there are any kind souls out there who can help, I'd really appreciate it. And feel free to patronize me for my stupidity.
15 March, 2008
This is a true story. The names have been altered, but not the initials. In a kind of homage to Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory, if you like. Criminal libel, come and get me. Just over two years ago, I entered the twilight world of the WorkCover claimant. This is what happened. Needless to say, I hadn’t thought I’d ever be in a situation like that.
I’d been teaching at Oxford Primary School in Melbourne’s far outer west for ten relatively happy years. And I had it pretty good, being the Information and Communications Technology specialist teacher and all. I mean, kids want to stay on the good side of the computer bloke. You never know when he’s going to need someone to test out games or let your grade have a bit of free time in the lab at lunchtimes. But I thought I needed a change, just the same. I was keen to move on and also find a spot a little closer to home.
Right before the end of 2003, a job was advertised that would suit me perfectly. It was an ICT specialist teacher position, and the job description was pretty much what I was already doing. In fact, this Solar Hills PS in Melbourne’s west wanted an ICT set up very similar to what I’d helped put in place at Oxford over the previous 5 years or so. So I could swan in, hit ‘em with all of the ideas that were starting to go stale at Oxford, and look like I was some kind of expert.
The Acting Principal, who chaired the interview panel, was someone I’d worked with previously, if briefly, and she seemed okay. TLOML had even worked there about twenty years previously so there were some familiar, if older, faces on the staff.
When I got the job, the techie at Oxford told me that he’d heard there was a lot of friction between the Principal, Min Worland, and the Assistant-Principal, Mary Gajic who was acting in the top job. Oh well, nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t have any trouble staying out of it. And when the job started, Mary was away in Europe on Long Service League, so the catfight potential was reduced.
But according to Min and the Acting A-P, Gavroula Parageorgiou, there were concerns over the job the staff were doing. Shit, I thought. I’d never been in a school where the staff were not well-regarded by the Principal Class people, so I hoped it wasn’t going to be too much of a pain in the arse for me to get them to use computers.
There were some warning signs during that first year. In the beginning, the Principal had seemed okay and I hadn’t seen her do anything too far out of line, but there was a bit of clubbishness about the school leadership group, which I was on, and a lot more denigration of staff-members when issues were being discussed than I was used to. Denigration that looked like it was unwarranted.
And I got the third degree once in a meetingfrom a couple of older female teachers who didn’t like the big changes I’d made to the ITC set-up, which were really pissy to begin with, but these two were threatened by them. Like getting staff using email for instance. You know the type.
Then the PE teacher resigned during my second week there, walking zombie-like into my class from next-door at about 9:30 in the morning, handing me a handwritten note and leaving the school immediately, and me with a double grade. He’d had a confrontation with the Principal over his teaching allotment and told me as he gave me his resignation that he wasn’t going to put up with her abuse anymore.
I didn’t really have a view either way about Min and Gavroula. I hadn’t really seen them do too much wrong up until that stage. But TLOML quickly developed a very firm opinion of them when she met them at a staff do.
“That Principal. I reckon she’s a bit funny.”
“Don’t be silly. She’s alright.”
“And the Assistant Principal or whatever she’s acting as. I can’t STAND her.”
“How can you say that? You hardly know her.”
“Oh, I don’t need to know her, you stupid man. And don’t give me any of that innocent-until-proven-guilty crap. She’s an absolute bitch. I know that.”
The apparently instantly-detestable Gavroula had even told me that she and Min were very disaffected with the Australian Education Union, in which I’d always been active.This was a bad omen for me. People who leave the AEU in high dudgeon, or worse, stay in it so they can obstruct what the AEU might be trying to achieve, and run and tell the Principal what people say at meetings, are impossible. They usually take that disaffection, and the petty bigotry that goes with it, out on anyone who is still active. They are without exception, unreasonable, spiteful, vindictive, and always behave atrociously. I wouldn’t have described it thus if it weren’t true in every case in my experience. And it is.
Gavroula showed her hand early when she confided in me that our AEU meetings should be held on a Tuesday, so that she could meet with Min straight after, because Min liked to be kept informed, you know. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You’re going to get sick of me telling you that. I told her the AEU couldn’t let its meeting dates be determined by the convenience of a non-member and left it at that. The relaying of sometimes sensitive AEU information I’d have to think about and leave till later.
Mary returned from LSL and disappeared a short time later. Actually, she went on sick leave never to return, but there was a story behind it that I didn’t hear till much later.
It was starting to get curiouser and curiouser.
31 January, 2008
Lygon St is the main thoroughfare in a restaurant-entertainment precinct in Carlton, an inner-Melbourne suburb. Historically, Carlton has always retained its essential cosmopolitan feel through many influxes and evolutions. Probably the most significant of these influxes was that of large numbers of post-war Italian immigrants. They settled and soon opened shops and restaurants to cater for this immigrant market.
Added to this is Lygon St’s proximity to Melbourne University, which means that the area has always had what Paul McCartney might call a “studenty” feel. The bohemian element in Carlton and its neighbouring inner suburbs were very keen on the fine but relatively inexpensive cuisine available there. And as with all such things, word spreads, the mainstream catches up after a few years, and so do the prices. Urban Geography 101.
**“Lygon St Limbo” was a refrain from a song about Carlton by 70’s Melbourne band Skyhooks. The title of this post is a play on that.
I never go to Italian restaurants by choice. It’s always someone else’s idea. It wasn’t always like this, but after a while, you just don’t want to encourage them by going back. Having access to top-class Italian cuisine at home via TLOML’s excellent cooking, and the odd passable effort myself, means a meal at an Italian restaurant has always felt a little like a busman’s holiday anyway.
But there are other reasons: I’ve never felt like I’ve been treated like shit at any Thai; Indian; Mexican; Balinese; Spanish; Turkish; Greek; Lebanese; or French restaurant. Or pub bistro for that matter. Not as a matter of deliberate policy, anyway. But at Italian restaurants, things have been a little different.
Now, I think I’d better qualify my position before anyone gets the wrong idea. My wife’s father was Italian. My longest and deepest friendships are with blokes of Italian descent. I love Italy, its language, its culture, its history and its people. But there is an international stereotype, ie Italians are great in the restaurant trade, that needs debunking; - you know, like Australians are laconic, easy-going and always get behind the underdog. And you can expect a future post on THAT load of codswallop too.
But back to Lygon St. There are restaurants on Lygon St’s east side in converted terrace houses. With waiters out the front touting. You’d reckon a good restaurant wouldn’t need to lower itself to this sort of shit, especially since these blokes have about as much savoir faire as the ones you used to see outside porno cinemas. But it seems to be something of a tradition.
You walk past. They ask if you’re interested in coming in. You say no thanks, or some other polite form of refusal, probably because you’ve already eaten at a decent restaurant, but they have to dish out smart-arse remarks or abuse, sotto voce. Sometimes not so sotto, either. It’s a pretty unpleasant and unnecessary gauntlet to be running, coming from a restaurant of all establishments.
Anyway, here’s a case to better illustrate the total experience: about ten years ago, I went to a work night out at a café-restaurant in a lane off Lygon St. One of our colleagues knew the manager, was a frequent diner there, and recommended it.
And because you’ll often see sickening obsequiousness in Italian restaurants whenever the staff are welcoming someone they know, or a celebrity of any magnitude, or a party that includes one or more attractive women, I thought having two out of those three was bound to give us some protection from the usual off-hand arrogance that I’ve experienced. This time, I thought we might be the recipients of some fawning, instead of observing it in stark contrast to the treatment I've come to expect.
All of which probably made my expectations for a good night out unrealistically high.
After arriving and saying a few hellos, I headed down to a nearby bottle shop to get a half a dozen stubbies of light beer.
When I got back, the waiter was ready to take our order. Some dithered over their choices, as people do. The waiter was impatient, abrupt and sarcastic. He responded to some orders by repeating the choice back to the person face thrust forward, lips in a protruding pursed O and eyes bulging out as if he couldn’t believe the person had finally made up their mind. I couldn’t wait for the arsehole to fuck off. But just before he finally did, he reached over and grabbed my stubbies, sighing histrionically.
The meals were okay I suppose, and offered much nostalgia for any former stamp collectors among us. In terms of the size of the portions, I mean. And during the courses, this waiter was asked politely, when we could get his attention, for the sorts of things that waiters are always asked for during a restaurant meal: you know, more garlic bread; another bottle of wine etc.
And each time he was called, he stopped dead in his tracks on his way somewhere else with raised eyebrows and eyes rolling skyward like it was a big hassle for him. And then he kept making a fuss about the huge favour he was doing everyone each time he returned with something. And we were one of only three occupied tables in the whole fucking joint.
But as big a pain in the arse as he was, we managed to shrug off his idiosyncrasies. It was going to take more than this hunk of shit to spoil a good night out, we reasoned.
And more was exactly what I got when I asked him if I could please have another of my stubbies.
30 January, 2008
1. I’d been punched and pushed around when I was 13 by a bunch of smart-alecs, in particular one nasty little shit who I was to learn afterwards was called Wog by his mates;
2. Two years later, I was due to play football against this nasty little shit;
3. During the football match, I took advantage of an opportunity to shirt-front Wog and knocked him into next week;
4. I never saw him again.
Okay, it was rather tabloid of me to use only part of Sir Francis Bacon’s quote in my title. The quote reads in full: “Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out”. Bacon was talking about the need for criminal sanctions to be about more than just retribution, and was warning of the need for civilized societies to hold hot-headed vigilantism, official or unofficial, in check.
I don’t believe my actions in cleaning Wog up during a football match approach what Bacon was warning against: I hadn’t gone looking for him in the intervening years. It was just a matter of opportunity knocking and me answering. But then I didn’t go around shirt-fronting opponents willy-nilly. I did purposely dish it out to Wog a bit more severely than I perhaps normally would have. But if it had been any other player, they still would have received a fairly solid bump.
And it wasn’t even a full revenge, when I think about it. There was no humiliation involved in what happened to Wog, unlike the treatment he’d handed out to me. I’d had some justification in making contact with him. Whereas he’d given me a belting at random for no reason and then sought to intimidate me further. No, I think he got off fairly lightly.
I was working with two blokes a couple of years ago who’d played for Wog’s club around that time but in different age groups and they couldn’t recognise him from my description. And this despite his captaincy of the team and being a fairly good player. Two things that tend to make junior footballers memorable to their contemporaries.
It was as if he’d been obliterated.
If you click here, you’ll read briefly about the terrible outcome of another more recent incident of what may turn out to be random violence for its own sake.
Wog writ large.
21 January, 2008
1. I’d been punched and pushed around when I was 13 by a bunch of smart-alecs, in particular one nasty little shit who I was to learn later was called Wog by his mates;
2. Two years later, I was due to play football against this nasty little shit;
The plaster came off my arm after less than four weeks and it felt funny. Smelt funny too. The good people at Royal Melbourne Hospital had used a little circular saw that sounded a lot like a dentist’s drill. I was going to need to exercise to reverse the small amount of wastage that had occurred, and keep it strapped up to hold it steady.
The doctor had given me the all-clear to resume playing football after a further two weeks. This would see me taking the field for my local team a week earlier than anticipated, giving me a game under my belt before we took on the team captained by Wog. Until my dad stepped in and told me I would be waiting an extra week as a precaution.
I did what any fifteen year-old would do: argued; explained; pleaded; whinged; and wheedled, until Dad was just about to blow his top and increase the precautionary recovery period. And then I stopped. There was no weakening Dad’s resolve, and anyway, he came to watch me in every game despite my being borderline-hopeless, so he had some credit with me where footy was concerned.
So I trained hard but carefully for the first two weeks, and then normally for the week leading up to our next game. I don’t mind telling you I was pretty nervous about that match. Firstly, there were the nerves that come in the lead up to any game of football; then apprehension about my possible performance – we’d lost a few games during my absence (but not because I wasn’t playing) and needed the win badly; and finally, the dread of not being gutsy enough to do anything to Wog, leaving me to feel doubly humiliated.
I hadn’t told anyone about any of this: not the original confrontation; nor its possible on-field resumption. There was nothing to tell, really. It was like a dirty secret that needed to be kept hidden, so I never mentioned it.
And I had no plan of action either. I was just going to play, and see what would happen.
Now, we’re going back all the way to 1975 here, when Gough Whitlam was PM; the Post Master General’s Department had just become Telecom; Sweet’s Fox On The Run was the Number 1 single; the Suez Canal had just reopened for the first time since the 1967 Six Day War; Jaws and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest were the big movies; and I was furiously saving too buy a lumber-jacket and a pair of ugg boots. So I think it’s forgiveable if I only have three clear recollections of this match:
1. Our coach moved one of my fellow limited-ability team-mates from his usual wing opposite me, into the ruck-roving position. He played a blinder and made a big contribution to the win with his marking and a timely goal from a long way out. He’d slipped as he kicked it and the ball gained extra distance. The gods only have to love you for a little while to turn your fortunes around;
2. Our rover and Wog had resumed hostilities and went at each other like a pair of Kilkenny Cats, using both fair means and foul. And Wog was coming off second best;
3. Late in the third quarter, Wog was about 20m in the clear but struggling to pick the ball up as he ran, head down and bent over, out of the half-back line. I was about 25m in front of him and he was odds-on to clear the footy downfield unless I did something. Soon.
I made a run at him at about three quarter pace, ready to dip my shoulder and tuck my arm in at my side, curving and quickening slightly ahead of him as he rose in possession of the ball. If I timed it right, a good old-fashioned shirt-front might both hurt and dispossess him, leaving the ball nearby for me to swoop on. Now running at full pace, that was about when my feet left the ground.My right shoulder struck him on the collarbone, but I didn’t cause any damage there because my arm had already impacted on the left side of his chest. He bounced straight off and lay flat out on his back, groaning. He was only winded. No broken collarbone, no neck trauma.
The ball was by his side and the whistle had gone for him to get a free kick. I went over as if to help him up and grabbed two handfuls of the front of his jumper and lifted and jumper-punched him rapidly into the ground a few times. That got us a 15m penalty but he couldn’t take the kick. No-one came to square up for him so I lingered in the area.
When he was helped up he said to me:
“You’ll get yours you fuckin’ cunt.”
I didn’t say anything. We were winning.
Our paths didn’t cross for the rest of the match, possibly because he was taken off, but maybe not, because to give credit where it’s due, he was a pretty gutsy player.
Quite a few nasty little shits are.
13 January, 2008
I was 13 and very keen on getting along to see Essendon in action every Saturday afternoon. Attending a school where everybody and his dog either followed Carlton* or Collingwood* didn’t furnish me with a whole heap of football companions. So apart from the odd group from my local junior footy team getting together to head off to see the Bombers when they played at our Windy Hill home, I generally went by myself.
(*I won’t link to their websites or articles about them on principle!)
Footy is something that you can go to by yourself without too much difficulty. Much easier than the cinema. And try asking for a table for one in a restaurant without feeling like a loser.
So for the Round 21 1973 away match, I caught a couple of trains solo down to St Kilda to watch the Bombers do battle with Fitzroy. We needed a win to secure a place in that year’s finals. And Fitzroy were close to the bottom of the ladder, so I’d already pencilled it in as a likely comfortable win.
The attendant in charge of keeping undesirables out of the Junction Oval’s Blackie-Ironmonger Stand was distracted by some players’ wives and girlfriends who weren’t sure where they should be sitting, so I was able to sneak in and sit down. Even in those days, the female companions of sporting identities tended to be pretty stunning.
I was able to stick out the whole afternoon in the stand by remaining inconspicuous. This wasn’t very difficult as the Bombers gave me nothing to shout about, putting in a shocker to go down by about five goals.
And so it was a very disappointed Lad Litter who trudged along Fitzroy St towards the station. I lit a cigarette (yes, I was smoking at 13. It was still thought to be cool around that time).
“Give us a smoke mate.”
Walking next to me was a tough looking little shit, with a screwed up facial expression like one of the Lollipop League Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, also heading towards the station after the footy. Sensing some menace in his approach, I wordlessly handed him a cigarette.
“What are you smokin’ these poofter cigarettes for?”
I shrugged. “Alright, I’ll have it back if you don’t like it.”
And then he punched me in the face, hard. My lips started feeling numb, and I was taken aback by the shock of the blow.
“Keep your fuckin’ poofter cigarette.” And he threw it in my face. Just then his mates who’d been walking behind enjoying the spectacle, caught up with us and a few of them gave me a shove as they walked past. I hung back, and watched them dish out similar treatment to another unsuspecting victim along the way.
I was pretty shaken by the whole business, not the least of which was my having shown cowardice in the face of the enemy. Fear, indignation, shame, all competed feverishly for dominance as I got on the train. At Flinders St Station, they noticed me and jeered as I waited on the platform. I watched them get on before choosing a carriage away from them. Did I mention that these shitheads were Essendon supporters too? Fancy being under threat from your own kind.
Anyway, we did end up making the finals and two weeks later I caught the train at Ascot Vale on the way to the final against St Kilda at Waverley. I pulled back the door of the train to get on, and there they were. “Hey, there’s that..” I heard as I closed the door and headed down the platform to another carriage.
At the match, where the rampant Saints pulled the hapless Dons’ pants down, they were sitting about five rows in front of me. I thought I might have to deal with them again, and decided that I would just start throwing punches if they approached me, so at least I’d have a chance of inflicting some damage and regaining a little self-respect. But I didn’t see them at all after the game, so my resolve went untested.
Two years later, I’d moved up through the age groups to playing U17 football, and the team was going alright. We were definite finals prospects and I was getting the odd kick to hold my place in the side. But a mishap during a tackling drill at training left me with a broken wrist, and I would miss six weeks. I turned up at our ground, arm in plaster, to watch my teammates play their first match for the season without me.
The opposition ran out on the ground and their captain looked very familiar. It was the little shit who’d punched me! We won easily and our rover, a very feisty character, had been involved in a running battle all day with this captain, his opposite number. They had taken an immediate and intense dislike to each other.
In the clubrooms after the match, I checked the draw to see if we’d play them again. We would. In six weeks time, when I’d be playing my first game back after injury.