Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Places I Go To

On the road that leads up from the beaches of Byron Bay to the mountain top of Bangalow, lies one of The Places of my memories. Not the whole road. One particular part of it. One exact spot. You come out of a bending and fumbling strip of black tar hidden under over-hanging trees and rise up into a clearing, that reveals lumpy, rolling hills of dairy fields and shadows in the valleys below. 

That is where it is - The Place I go to in my mind when I need it most.

Byron sees more than its fair share of visitors and escapists and most have never been out on that road. And if they have, they speed past that spot. Maybe one or two passengers in the car look back towards the famous lighthouse behind them. What they see is the white of its tower set against the blue of The Pacific and the sand and the surf blowing and hovering in the air in a blurry horizon.

This would be pretty memorable to them. If they saw it, that is. If they bothered to look back. Though, for me it isn't the beauty of the sight of it all that is my memory.

Emerging from under those trees - as you hit the clearing - the road straightens out and you see a driveway to your left. It is a hard, right-angle turn to pull in. Easier if you're on a bike though. The house at the end of the driveway is The Place.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Just Checking In...


I took a Christmas Day train to go see her. It wasn't a big thing. I prefer my trains empty. Even if it had been a trouble, I would've made that trip. She had flown in to spend the holidays with the family on her brother's farm. They grew peas. Not her - the brother grew peas. She worked in fashion over in England and needed to be back there by New Year's.

The night before Christmas she had come to see me at the bar I was running in South Yarra. We spoke and caught up but the drink orders kept interrupting. We never got momentum into our conversation. The small talk never had enough time to burn off. I wanted to see her properly. With time and without interruption. Going out to her brother's would be my only chance. So I got up at dawn and caught the early morning train.

I love trains. I love riding on trains. In particular, I love being short of sleep whilst riding on trains. The tiredness stings under my eyelids and combines with a hunger for salt followed by yoghurt. I'm all low energy and heavy in a haze of slowed pause. I lean back on the high backrest and watch the outside rush past. It's the movement. Movement that I can see happening in front of me. That's the best of it.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Last Night and Tomorrow

My favourite memory of D is of a gig I saw him play at The Greyhound Hotel. Nowadays it is something else, but back then The Greyhound was - in a word - seedy.

Seedy.

That is all you need to know about that old pub in the Melbourne neighborhood of St Kilda.

I could describe for you the square room of the Front-Bar with its sticky, black and green carpet, plastic bartop and the sweet and stale stench of yeast that only comes from decades of spilled beer. I could tell you about the assorted collection of skinny bikies, fat amphetamine dealers, tall pimps and dwarf TV-ad actors who milled around from 11am till close.  How they all dressed in black, long-sleeved T-shirts with white, bold lettering down the arms and silently stared at any new stranger for the first three minutes. How the street prostitutes who worked the corners outside would use the toilets as their change rooms, the safe as their bank and the bartenders as their biographers.

I could tell you I never felt truly safe in there, despite growing to be liked and getting to be on a first name basis with mostly all of the locals and staff. I could tell you that when night closed in and the red lights above the liquor shelf glowed out over the room and the bands started their sets, I'd often step outside for fresh air to re-collect my courage. Then there was the time I had to make a morning-after appointment to proffer an in-person apology to a out-on-parole speed-freak, after I sort of knocked a few drops of beer onto his jacket.

All of this is real stuff.  This is how it really was back then. And so much more.

But...

You should be able to work with just the word 'seedy'. That's all you need to know. The details are best not spoken about.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pound Pavement


I never jogged when I was young. Never. I rode my bike a lot. I walked long distances whispering to myself. I stood still on football ovals waiting for the ball to come towards me. I waded out into the surf and turned my back to crashing waves. I crouched behind the batsmen talking trash, whilst the bowler jogged in to deliver the cricket ball. I moved around. I broke a sweat from time to time. But I never jogged.

A personal trainer told me this was the reason I find it hard to jog now that I'm older. You gotta get your body used to it when you're smaller. There seems to be whole lotta stuff that works like that. That seems to be a rule. And I've tried hard to break that rule.

Under the Williamsburg Bridge on Manhattan, there's an Olympic sized running track. Absorbent rubber under-foot; crisp, white lane-lines around; seductive bends on the corners; and piecing, cold skies above. You enter through an old, full-height, metal turnstile covered in thick, dark acrylic paint laid on to hide the rust underneath. Layer upon layer of the shiny stuff has been caked on over the years, leaving the whole unit looking as if it is made of soft plastic.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Is There More

I want to live down a hidden lane-way paved with bluestone cobbles. Large ones. They jut out at different angles and rise up to different heights. The way would be lit by a full moon, the sound of muffled dance music in the distance and the smell of dry champagne. As I walk further down the lane, the multi-level carparks bracketing me on either side get taller and taller. The front door is white and a meter and a half thick. The doorbell is stainless silver. The key turns easy and there is a Chinese butler waiting for me inside.

What happens from there is my business. You aren't welcome in and I have no desire to share any of it with you. Not because I dislike you. I don't know you - I can't dislike you. It's just that I don't want to have to worry if you like Louis CK or 'Before the Revolution' or Greek yoghurt. I don't want to wait for you to let me know how you feel about it all.

I want a hat like Mastroianni wore in black and white scenes from old films I sorta remember seeing. I won't wear that hat. That would be too much. Too much to dislike about a stranger on a sidewalk in the sun with a slouched Stetson pulled over the right side of his forehead. No, I just want the hat. To have. To hold. To fill up some space on the wall by the inside of the front door. I could look at it as I step back out into the cold air of my lane-way. It would make me think of all times we sat in the dark in cinemas in the Lower East Side and didn't speak. That was the best of us - the silence.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Take Me To The Beach



They have beaches in cities. Not only in cities. They have them in other places too. Like, you can go down to Costa Rica or fly up to Queensland or book a diving trip to the Philippines and find beaches there that aren't in cities. Those ones will most probably be an empty square of sand, hidden behind a wide stretch of moss-covered rocks holding up bent-over palms. They see no cars nor buildings nor Parking Inspectors nor small, fluffy white dogs on long leashes nor any of the General Public. You can sit on them and pretend your stories are someone else's. You can dream up new ones to tell in bed under the air-conditioner on a Sunday morning in the middle of a heatwave.

I grew up in a city that had beaches. Those are the ones I know best. The water is a little dirtier and the sand a little coarser. There are park benches, blue-stone walls, divided walking paths, wide-open spaces, manicured strips of grass and always a solid, tarred road running defiant along the outside. The sound of the rushing cars is similar to that of the crashing waves and you are left with a surround-sound effect.

I go to beaches to escape. I look out at the water and there is more distance than I can see. I like knowing that there is more than I can see. More out there than I can tell. It calms me in the moments I cannot imagine what there would be if there were no longer you. But on a city beach there is all that City Life going on around me and I'm never able to escape far enough. I'm tranquil and away and then I'm disturbed and I'm back.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Sometimes a Mouse....

"She left in the fall; That's her picture on the wall; She always had that little drop of poison"

That's from a Tom Waits song. Do you listen to Tom Waits?

Later on in the same song he sings:

'A rat always knows when he is in with weasels"

I'm not sure what that means. It sounds like it means something. I don't know enough about rats. I think I'd be able to tell the difference between a rat and a weasel. I think. Though I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference between rat and a mouse. I once saw a rat and thought it was a mouse. Or maybe it really was a mouse. Like I said, I just don't know enough about it.

I was living in England at the time. North London. There were drinks for a birthday in a pub in Angel. I knew some of the people there. Enough to enjoy about thirty minutes of drinks and small talk. About two and a half pints worth. One of the guys there used to serve drinks at the bar we hung out at after work and it was his girlfriend who had brought along her sister - The Hairdresser.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Back Down The Stairs

Sometimes, locals call Melbourne's downtown area The CBD - The Central Business District. I think this is when they wish to elite the feel of an afternoon they have to spend there.

"I've got an interview at my lawyer's office in The CBD."

"I'm gonna meet up with her in The CBD and I'll break up with her then."

"I gotta drive to The CBD to get a sandwich."

Something like that...

Mainly though, most everyone in that Southern city of trend, comfort, effort and caffeine calls it The City.

The City is laid out across a perfect, square grid of streets, laneways and tram-tracks. There was a time when most of that grid was a dangerous place to walk at night. There were a few open and well-lit boulevards with generously wide, slate-coloured sidewalks and they were a safer bet. As were the dim rooms behind doors cut out of the side of buildings which were filled with booze, pasta and heroin dealers. They felt particularly safe. But other than those few beacons, everything else was grey and foreboding.

This is how I remember it - recalling The City now and how it seemed to me then. It may not have been like that. It is however important to this story that you know it was like that. Before. That it was Dangerous and Criminal. And not in an exciting way. You should know, that at night The City was once a quiet and sinister grid made up of a heavy darkness and stillness that would only be broken on occasion by the screams of a desperate escape and the shining reflection of a street-light off a switchblade.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Light On The Bridge

The first message came through as I was searching for new pictures of an old girlfriend. Facebook was new to me. New to most people at that time. Now it is something else. Back then - in its early days - for me it was a way to play with fantasies.  A thought or a feeling or a memory would rise into me as I lay back on the couch or whilst dipping a rice cracker into a tub of hummus and I'd bend open the laptop and search for an old name or face to add to my Friends List. Or send some vaguely provocative message to someone already on it.

Fantasy is so easily spoiled by action and I spoiled a lot of fantasies by rambling around Facebook with the taste of pureed chickpeas in my mouth.

This particular 'First Message' was from someone not on my Friends List. I didn't recognise her either. It was a girl and she was certainly a stranger to me.

"Hi. I'm ----. How's your Friday?"

That is what the message said.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Keep In Touch

Her parents named her after a writer I'd never heard of before. Neither the name nor the writer. I was behind the bar and had just made her and her Korean friend a Vesper. That's a gin and vodka drink that's shaken with a dash of Lillet. The white one - not the Lillet Rouge. 

She asked my name and at the same time her friend asked where I was from. It is polite to answer those questions directly and honestly and then ask them back in return. This is the way things are expected to go. Once, for about two months, I used to tell people in a posh part of Hollywood that I was from Mumbai.

"You know - the place with the bombs and the cricket and where they answer the phone when you call Verizon..."

That's different though - I was trying to be impolite and unexpected back then. 


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Letter: When I Was a Kid, I Was Really Young

I was eleven years old when I started 7th Grade. I think you're supposed to be twelve. Twelve turning thirteen. I think you're supposed to have your Bar Mitzvah in 7th Grade. But I was eleven, turning twelve.

It wasn't that I was smarter or more advanced or anything like that. It was a time of the year thing. See, the people who decide such things have a cut off point -  a date on the calendar - and if you're born after that day they bump you in with the next intake. The next year. I was born just in time to ride just above that line. I snuck in by a matter of days.

All of that which is only to let you know that I was eleven when I started 7th Grade. It is important to be accurate. Even when telling fiction...... especially when telling fiction.

I was brand new to this Secondary School, but I did have some history with the place. It was part of a small private school that ran all the classes from Kindergarden to 12th Grade out of one asphalt, tanbark and orange brick campus. So signing up for the Secondary School simply meant rocking up at the same damn address, with the same damn tanbark and same damn asphalt. The only changes were the new teachers and a new principal to answer to.

But I had more history than just that with the place itself , I also had history with said 'new principal' - a man we shall call 'The Baker's Son'.

That history had been foisted upon me. I hadn't asked for it. Nor did I even know it was available to be asked for. It wasn't a history that I had made or participated in or been present for. It was a history that my uncles had cultivated through years of arrogant and pointless struggle against the stubborn and petty force that was The Baker's Son. He then turned those collections of running battles into a grudge to be played out with and upon me. Their history was now my history and with all that hanging around, I started Secondary School..

Years later, as an older and far more distant fellow, I'd come to understand The Baker's Son better. His way. His method. Why he acted the way he did. It was not due to some misguided romantic vision of providing us with that which we needed to face the world. It wasn't because he had an idealised notion that what he was doing was for our best. It was because he was - and I'm sure, still is - a Pathological Narcissist. A man without reproach. Who felt no empathy and was filled with the zeal of a predator who wanted nothing more than to inflict pain. Or something.

But back then, as an eleven year old, I simply thought he was an arsehole. Though, to be fair, that too was certainly accurate.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mop and Repeat

For me, it is Bleach. The smell of Bleach. To be precise, it is the smell of Bleach, diluted with warm water and dragged over white tiles with a damp and clean sponge-mop. As the streaks evaporate and the smell of watered down Bleach lingers with only a hint at its potency - that smell. I like that smell.

It is not nostalgic nor evocative nor comforting nor escapist. It is just a smell. It is its own thing and I like it for what it is - without your judgment or need to explain it to or for me.

The time some waiter told me that he liked the smell of Gasoline, was the first time I realised that folks out there like some fucked-up smells. Gasoline? The smell that rises up off those few drop that drip out when you pull the nozzle back out of the tank at the gas station? That smell? Really? Why?

Because he did. Because I like Bleach. Because her neighbor likes a reed diffuser set (do you know what that is?) that pushes out a sickly sweet and thick odor, that can only be described as: a plastic cup of coconut bubble tea sweetened with a kilo each of icing sugar, sweet & low and stevia, so that it's almost glowing.

Because your Mum likes the smell of the ink and paper in the glossy magazines at her divorce lawyer's reception. That smell is also there at her personal trainer's, her realtor's and her osteopath's. Because his boyfriend likes the smell of nail polish remover. Because they said they like smell of wet dirt.

Because you like what you like. Whatever weird smell you like. You goddamn, fucking weirdo.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

And A Plastic Warning


Farringdon is such a fun word to say.

Say it:

Farringdon.

It can also be a dramatic word to say, if you can pull together a partly hoarse voice filled with a jumble of recognition, remorse and wistfulness.

Farringdon.

It is after midnight and I'm not drinking nor drugging - neither myself nor someone else. So it is just me and the beige mist and the cotton touch of the sheets and the still, thick warmth trapped and left over in the room - even though the heat of a blazing afternoon has long set off and away. That balmy, floating atmosphere tangles and fights with the cool breeze entering in off the fly-screen door that opens out onto a timber-slat decked courtyard.

Except those slats ain't no timber.

They're plastic or resin or composite or something. I'm not exactly sure. I just know they are not timber. The landlord told me that. We were signing the lease and he hadn't said much and I'd asked even less. The questions usually come when one party doesn't pay the rent or another party doesn't fix the rusted hot water system. But I was just signing the lease and he was just giving me the keys. Neither of us had any need for questions. I just silently scribbled away and he spoke none.

Except for on his way out.

He picked up the papers and after putting a hand on the front door handle, he turned back around, pointed with his chin and said:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Minimalism


I live in an aluminum half boatshed. I eat panadols three at a time and drink sharp mineral water. I fall in love when I shouldn't and only take intimacy in ounce shots when I should. I report on places I'm not in and tell stories that you think are true. I find hope and lose guitar picks and take time and miss calls and respond out of order. And I'm lucky. Luckier than you. For sure.



I like accents. I like it when there is a disconnect between what is being said and the accent it is being delivered in. Like a French person dropping Australian slang, but slower and rounder and more romantic than we would spit out the same phrase or shortened word. If I didn't want to be the sort of writer that I now don't want to be, I would have written that I like it when there is a "dissonance to the delivery". But I don't want to be that sort of writer. And I don't want to put a baby in your guts. And I don't want to know what your dietary requirements are. And I don't want to pretend to care.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

a hyphen is as good as a comma to a blind man

A few years back there, somewhere in the middle of England, I meet this guy. Actually, now that I think on it, I remember exactly where it was that I met him.

Just below the dawdling canal running through Startford-upon-Avon, winds a road heading east out to Wellesbourne - or some town just as equally dull. It was on that road that I met that Welsh-born, Midlands-raised, Red-head. Let's call him 'Welsh-Red'.


If you head the other way on that road - towards Bidford - you'd find yourself along a stretch of tar flanked by houses of the very rich and the very poor. No pattern to their procedure - they just all jumble in all together. A few mansions, then a shack, then a twisted metal garage door, then a tiny yellow car, then some more large houses, then a council flat. Another council flat and then a bald, high-price lawyer leaving the sprawling, low-slung house he bought for his bride some twelve years earlier. He was just dropping off the kids.  He doesn't live there anymore. That same bride done tossed him out months ago. She had been OK with his late night fraternising at the office, but once the gaggle of single mums in that line-up of cars outside school learned that he had unzipped his trousers with one of their very own in that very same line-up, well, you know...disloyalty, shame, embarrassment, betrayal, rage... it all leads to the same place - late Saturday nights at that grey-toned house with the kids and the estranged husband replaced by young men, strong drugs and un-eaten take-away. Only way to treat that particular pain....

But all that is on the road to Bidford. I met Welsh-Red on the road to Wellesbourne - whole different set-up on that side.