31 January, 2008

Lygon St Purgatory I

*I’m kidding myself that I get a whole heap of hits from beyond this fatal shore and so feel it necessary to give some background to this three-post series. Humour me.
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 cafĂ©-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

Revenge Is A Kind Of Wild Justice III

Recap From Previous Posts:
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

Revenge Is A Kind Of Wild Justice II

Recap From Previous Post:
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

Revenge Is A Kind of Wild Justice I

You may have read recently over at Can You Fly Like You Mean It? and Much Ado About Sumthin', a couple of very well-written posts dealing with the random menace and even violence we might encounter as part of our day to day lives. Both Rowena and Steph hit quite a few nails on the head with what they had to say, as usual. This three-post series simply describes some experiences of mine from quite a few years ago that link thematically with theirs.

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.