Actually, it wasn’t yesterday but I’ve been dying to use that song title from the Rolling Stones 1967 album Between The Buttons to head up a post. This is about interesting experiences on a few occasions where I’ve been out recently. At night. And why I always feel I’m at the mercy of the naked city whenever I do.
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.