Discordant

This morning I organised to meet JV for brunch down Chapel Street. Instead of driving I decided to take the tram. Traffic is always heavy South Yarra way and parking problematic. I catch the tram all the time, but this tram, running down Church Street, cross town as such, was unfamiliar to me. I sat and looked out the window as the tram climbed the Church Street hill and traversed the northern edges of Richmond before crossing the bridge into more trendy surrounds.

I’ve walked the length of Chapel Street over a hundred times I reckon. I used to live nearby and most Saturday mornings would see me walking down to check out the familiar boutiques before finding myself in Prahran Market, where I would do all my meat and vegie shopping, not too mention my deli purchases – good cheese, marinated olives, crusty bread, spicy salami, and do on. There was a time when I knew the strip as well as anyone, from the shallow glitz of the South Yarra end to the earthy grunge of Windsor. I never felt out of place.

Today we met at a familiar venue, Tusk, and outdoorsy cafe I’ve had breakfast or lunch at dozens of times through the years, and often with JV. We sat at a table outdoors talking, eating, watching the passing parade. It seemed different to me. I didn’t know if I had changed, or if the place about me had. Tusk is towards the Windsor end of the street, but close enough to Commercial road that there is a mix of styles and attitudes.

The first thing I noticed was how many gays there were. Doubtless there are gays in Hawthorn, where I live, it’s just that you don’t really notice. Here it was obvious – slim men with good haircuts shoulder to shoulder; a woman in a t-shirt proclaiming she was gay and asking us to get over it; a pretty, slender girl holding hands with an older girl with short hair. Were there more than before I wondered? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just more open than before. Or more concentrated here. Or, just as likely, I had become unaccustomed to it living in Hawthorn. To each his own.

Otherwise young men walked by dressed in a variety of styles: skinny jeans, flamboyant shirts, baggy tank-tops. One man walked by wearing skins. By and large the hair had been finely wrought, occasionally into unlikely styles I could only dream of emulating. Whatever I saw, JV saw too. We commented on the difference, but the difference now is us. We’re gen X, and clearly so. I felt some of my age, both the reality of it, and how some things now have passed me by. We’re old school Australian males, larger than the norm it seems these days, our hair fashionable largely but understated, both our appearance and attitude more overtly masculine than the norm on Chapel Street. “Remember when there were Snags?” JV asked. “Yes,” I said, smiling wryly, “now everyone’s a snag, it’s the norm.”

A group of girls about 20 came to the cafe at that point. They were all beautiful, luminously so, as if they were models on a break. They all had long, slender legs and wore cut-off jeans to emphasise the fact. They had large, pretty eyes, and bee stung lips. The concept of bee stung lips hardly existed when I was a kid, but are all the rage now. Two of them had tattoos on the back of their thighs. One had a bunch of roses about the size of a girlish fist colourfully tattooed on either thigh. The other had a matching set of hearts, each with a key hole tattooed in the centre. Is this the fashion too, I wondered.

I write about these things. I moan a little. I realise what I moan at is my increasing age. Once I could feel I was the man, now there’s little chance of that because our time has past, and we – for now – antiquated throwbacks to another time.

We went for a walk after brunch before JV left to go home. I cruised down Chapel Street recalling the familiar and pausing at the new. As I transitioned into South Yarra the crowd changed, the vibe more slick. Occasionally I would stop to look in the window of a boutique, familiar to memory, one after another in a row on either side of the street.

I headed towards Topshop, opened late last year to much hype and characteristic fanfare. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wended my way through the crowded women’s section while a DJ with big cans on his ears spun discs. I checked out the boys clothes. Most of the blokes I saw there were like I’d seen earlier, more fashionable than I ever was at their age, their hair perfectly coiffed. As so many times before I felt myself so much more imposing than them, and as such felt myself standing out. Much of it is physical: I wonder sometimes if gen Y is shorter than my generation, though the truth is there are some towering examples. Though many of them have bodies toned like we never had then, much of it seems purely for show, a fashion rather than evidence of a practical lifestyle. When I had muscles then it was from sport.

I’m conscious of seeming like an old fogy – or perhaps just a middle-aged one. I observe the difference, and in so doing recognise how I am a creature of my generation and time, no matter how I may deny it. I go my own way, but the cycle has reached a point where I find much which I am out of step with. Even the fashion – the short, narrow legged shorts, the skinny jeans – not only do they not suit me, I don’t like the look. So I browsed, seeing the odd jacket or t-shirt I liked, but thinking most was not me.

I walked on down Chapel Street in the sunshine. I realised that the time I remembered was long gone now, and resolutely so. Once again I thought of how life segments into logical partitions according to memory or geography – the time I lived in St Kilda; or the time I was with Claire. You move, relationships end, then you return after to find everything has changed, it’s not how you remember it, not how it was – but then nor are you.

Those times are gone, I see with different eyes now. It’s my life, but the world belongs to others. That sounds final, even sad. I’m not sad. It just made me realise that it’s time to make my own world rather than trying to fit into another. I partake of the world here still, I still lust after the same pretty girls as before, that much hasn’t changed. I’m not who I was then, and won’t be again. As JV said, it’s time to move on.

… MoreWikipedia: … More, probably Richard More was an English politician.

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