Not my scene


On Tuesday night I caught up for a drink with a friend I hadn’t seen since late last year. She was at a bar at Southgate, Left Bank, with her husband, and I was there by 5 o’clock.

After about three beers, I was thinking about heading home. It was only meant to be a catch-up, and I had to get home to feed the dog. Then someone brought back another beer for me, then another after that and then my friend said, we’re going next door for dinner.

She’d been on the phone to her brother, who is a multi-millionaire business owner, and who just happened to be at a restaurant nearby having dinner. Come along, he’d told her.

At this stage, I tried backing out again. Gotta go home, I said, have a great night. But then she demanded I join them and her husband, a lovely guy, said I may as well join them. You might find it interesting he told me. Besides, it was a free dinner. So I joined them.

We found my friend’s brother in a private room with his friends and hangers-on. Apparently, he has a standing booking and turns up 3-4 nights a week for dinner. Hence the private room.

I looked about. As I already knew, it wasn’t my scene. There was a group of about six sitting around a round table, a married couple from the business and a few gay friends of the host. Bar one, they were pleasant. The host himself I’d met him a few times before and always found him a charmless character. He’s gay, short and plump with a nearly bald head and small eyes. He’s one of those people who don’t seem to say much but looks out on his entourage, occasionally speaking in a closed-mouth sort of way.

I had a glass of wine and thought twice about ordering a steak, uncomfortable to accept the generosity of someone I hardly knew. I joined in the conversation, but mostly I observed. In my imagination, I considered how 3-4 times a week the host holds court like this, watching on as others enjoy the fruits of his hospitality. It sat poorly with me all round. I’m old school in a lot of ways, but, you know, I’m not above accepting the occasional freebie if someone really insists. Sometimes it’s not worth making such a fuss about. Next time, you think. But to turn up night after night knowing that your meal – and your company – was being paid for is a different thing.

I get how people like free things. And a free meal in a nice restaurant is a treat. But to do it, again and again, makes it seem cynical. Worse, though – for me – would be the sense of being owned. Rented, at least. And I think that’s likely a part of the appeal for the host. He knows their price, and he can easily afford it. He watches them eating from his trough and takes pleasure from it. It’s just money after all, and he has plenty of that. In exchange, he has power.

And yep, I may be being unfair and judgemental here, and just plain wrong. Maybe it’s not the same people all the time. Maybe they’re generous in return in their own way. Or maybe they’re just happy knowing it gives the pleasure host to entertain them – it’s made round to go round, as my grandmother used to say. It’s all perspective. To each their own. It’s not for me, though.

Despite this going through my head, I ended up ordering a steak. I wasn’t going to starve myself on principle, and I intended to pay for it.

In the end, I ate it but never got to pay for it. As I was finishing my meal, a fierce argument broke out. “Come on, mate,” my friend’s husband said, pulling me from my chair, “I’ve seen this before”.

We took our wine and left the room, sitting out in the restaurant proper. I knew it was a volatile family, and my friend herself was subject to fierce emotions. We drank our wine while it was explained to me that once these family conflicts start, they couldn’t be stopped. Best to get out of the way.

Long story short, we were soon gone. I had only the opportunity for a quick goodbye as I grabbed my coat and bag, ushered away from the fractured atmosphere. Then I was walking to the station.

The night only compounded itself from then. No trains were running on my line, and the three Ubers I ordered one after another never arrived. In the end, I got a taxi home for twice the price, and long after I should have been.

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Trust and affection


I went out for a drink last night with one of the women here. Spring only sprung a couple of days ago, but it’s started well. It was a balmy evening for this time of year and we sat atop the Rooftop Bar above Cookie and shared a few pints looking out over the city skyline.

The woman I went out with refers to me as her ‘boss’ to anyone who asks, though I only supervised her for a brief period. She’s a lovely, bubbly personality, good hearted and generous natured. She has a loud voice and a laugh that belies her small stature. She’s a fond character who tells me she ‘loves’ me, and that she’s ‘proud’ of me, and so on. Much of our relationship is me teasing her or her teasing me.

Last night’s drinks have been on the cards for a few weeks, but was hurriedly brought on by a strange rivalry with one of our co-workers. To hear her describe it it seems she and this other guy got to talking about me over lunch. Somehow it escalated into a competition between them as to who I liked more, who liked me more, and who had the earlier friendship. I had to ask her twice, but that appears to be the true story. Last night she took the opportunity to send triumphant messages to her rival, though I told him I was open to bribery.

Among the things discussed last night she told me that knowledge that I’d once been homeless was now reasonably general. I didn’t mind so much, but I was surprised. She was quick to tell me that it was nothing to be ashamed of and that everyone thought it was admirable how I had survived and recovered. That’s why she was proud of me.

I had lunch with the other woman yesterday, and we have a coffee date tomorrow. I didn’t have plan to have lunch with her, I saw her sitting downstairs and said hello and she asked me to join her. She told me a bit more of her story, advising she’s very careful who she shares it with. The obvious question then was why she was sharing it with me? I guess there might be an obvious answer to that, too, but still – she hardly knows me, she likes me for whatever reason, and what is the basis for her trust? Unless it’s a speculative gesture – I’ll trust you, this is who I am, how will you react, and what will you tell me? Not much, as it turns out, but only because the time wasn’t right and she had to go back to work.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it


Just after 9am yesterday I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee (or two) and a pastry at a French cafe we catch up at every few weeks. It had been raining, and there was still a light drizzle when I left home. It was cold and the sky grey. Normally the outdoor tables are full, but yesterday when I got there everyone was inside warm and dry.

After a couple of minutes, Cheeseboy arrived with his dog, Bailey, and after ordering, we sat outside. The tables were arranged along the curb, and the chairs nearest the road were wet with rain, while those on the shop side had been sheltered under the overhanging eaves and had remained dry. As there was no-one else about, we sat at adjoining tables on the dry seats.

Within twenty minutes one of the other tables was taken by lycra-clad cyclists, who are everywhere early every weekend morning. In another five minutes, a larger group of people turned up wanting to sit outside. There wasn’t room for them all in the current configuration, and one of them turned to Cheeseboy and asked: “Are you guys together?”

Cheeseboy feigned outrage at that. “That’s a bit personal, isn’t it? I don’t even know you and your asking if we’re together!”

He went on in the same vein while the questioner appeared flummoxed. I began to laugh, and some of the man’s friends started to smile. I chipped in with a “we’re just good friends” line, and Cheeseboy was continuing. “What if I got offended by that? I don’t mind, but it’s none of your business.”

By now the questioner had the inkling that we were having a lend of him, but still came out with a plaintive “I just want somewhere to sit.”

Eventually, of course, Cheeseboy gave up his seat and came to sit with me, but this is a fine example of Cheeseboy’s playfulness. It’s one of the things that make him such fun company. He’s had a charmed life, and it shows, and I think he knows it. Yesterday we were just a couple of middle-aged Hampton dudes sharing a coffee and taking the piss as if we had not a problem in the world.

Free days


I woke this morning after a good nights sleep with the rain falling in a gentle, steady hush. That was a couple of hours ago, and it’s rained for most of that time since. Today is a free day, a public holiday with nothing I must do or anything I must be. Together it made for an easy peace of mind as went about my holiday rituals – coffee in bed with a book and an iPad, the dog close by, nestled into the curve of my body as I sat up on my side, or leaning against my back behind me.

As always Rigby is alert to everything even with his eyes closed. He knows the routines and the little tells he reacts to immediately – the picking up of my glasses from the bedside table, the snap shut of a book when I have finished reading, the book being replaced on the pile beside the bed – and he is up immediately, standing on the bedclothes with his head turned to me, before leaping down to the floor and turning my way expectantly. It’s the dregs of the coffee he’s after, the dregs he drinks every time cleaning out the coffee mug, just as he has for many years since. Both of us are creatures of familiar routine.

It feels fine to be free of obligation, and I wish there were more days like this. Though there is nothing I must do, I know what I will do. I’ll read a little, write for a while, and towards late afternoon I will cook. With the food in the oven or on the stove top slowly cooking I’ll fire up a hot bath and laze there reading my bath book while Rigby attends me bath side, licking the soap from my skin as he’s so inclined. I’ll wash my hair and shave my face in anticipation of the working week. For a few moments I’ll reflect on this and that: some of my best thinking comes in the bath.

Then it will get dark. I’ll eat my dinner with the TV on and by then I’ll be resigned to the fact that I must work tomorrow. Depending on how the day has been – particularly, how the writing has gone – I’ll feel either satisfied or searching for more. In either case, my mind may be busy with thoughts and conjectures. I’ll wonder at things, at words and probably at life itself, then possibly the latest footy scores. With work ahead, I’ll be aware of the things I intend to do. I start refreshed, as I do every week, as if this week I can change things, that the frustrations I’m victim of will clear, as if all I need do is keep going, persist, stay true and strong. Bending to the situation is not a consideration, and never has been. I’ll succeed on my terms, or fail, but it’s not obstinacy that informs that but irrepressible optimism.

Yesterday was a different day. We had arranged to drive down Red Hill way and attend the annual Winter Wine thingy. We’ve done this before, though for many years. I caught a train with JV to Frankston were we were picked by Donna on the way through, a couple of her friends with her. We spent the afternoon going from one winery to the next, though fewer than I hoped for. Navigation let us down once or twice, and a late, extended lunch at T’Gallant meant that by the time we left most of the openings had closed. I missed out on Manton’s Creek and Aringa Estate and one or two others I wanted to attend, but never mind.

I got home near 8pm last night, glad to be home and with Rigby again.

Another year older, nearly


It’s my birthday in a bit over a week and because of people coming and going and not being about I’m having an extended, though fragmentary, celebration of it.

Yesterday it started with a spirit tasting event at Cumulus, Inc with a couple of old friends. It was a beautiful, perfect day and spirits even before we touched one were pretty buoyant. We spent a few hours circulating in the crowd tasting this and that and chatting with the people behind these small brands and quietly getting intoxicated on the small sips of gin and whisky and rum afforded to us. It was all good. In the end, we topped it off with a cocktail and proceeded to our next stop.

We tried the rooftop at the Imperial but it was crowded and so ended up sitting at a table on Spring street drinking beer after beer and getting some bar snacks to help soak up a portion of it. The premiere of the new Harry Potter stage production was happening just up the road from us and we watched as a steady stream of people went by in either direction either coming from it or going to it. Some were dressed up like wizards or what not, and costumes that made no sense to me but would all the world to a Harry Potter aficionado.

Among the crowd were celebrities invited along to give the event a touch of glam, each one proclaimed by C as they wandered by, or sat at the restaurant nearby us. It was a stellar day for celebrity spotting, though no real A-listers unless you include the state premier.

We had all met working together at Shell more than twenty years ago, just down the road on the corner. We’ve been friends ever since, though in more recent times C has drifted away some – Cheeseboy still see each other every month, and often much more often. Still, it represented a reunion of sorts with many memories recalled and, as the beer settled in, deep and meaningful moments explored.

Somewhere along the line, the conversation turned to me. I’ve had a prickly relationship with C occasionally, though mostly on his side. He’s a man who imagines slights occasionally and in general, seems to often find my confidence – or whatever it is – as a challenge to him. Yesterday was free of that, perhaps because there was no audience, but he quizzed me once more.

We got talking about my writing and where that’s heading. I told him it was going well, but he was disappointed that I hadn’t written about my ‘experience’. Every time he sees me he commends me for having survived such a tough time. He emphasised yesterday what a compelling story that was if only I wrote about it – how, in his words, an intelligent, successful, private school boy ends up homeless and in despair, and recovers from it.

It’s a narrative to him, though his fascination seems genuine, as if he can’t really understand how such a thing can be – though he’s seen it with others. I think I represent some sort of mysterious cautionary tale. Of course, it’s not so simple for me having lived it.

I told him I would write the story one day, but only when I was ready for it. That wasn’t good enough for him. He leaned forward with insistence and it felt as if he was accusing of avoiding the subject, or skyving with it. I tried to explain. I’m too close to it still. Part of that it needs to properly ripen, when things are different, when there’s enough space between me and it that I can see it properly and not be affected by it. For now, it’s still a depressing thing and will remain so I reckon until I reach the next level – whenever that may be.

The discussion zinged hither and yon until someone at the end of the table felt the need to intervene with a comment, basically telling them to lay off me. We all smiled at that. It wasn’t serious, but in the conversation, I’d come clean. I’ve not been happy for eight or nine years I told them. I referred to how they go home to a family and comfort and security and all I have is a dog I love and small comfort and little security. I was complaining, I was just saying. I said your family is like a battery that replenishes you, except you don’t know it. You know it when you don’t have it anymore.

All of this is familiar to me, so it made no difference saying it. It was new to them though and it surprised them I think.

At one stage C had leaned forward when he was proclaiming my story and said I was smarter than he and Cheeseboy combined and that was the story – how does something like this happen to someone like me? I tried to explain but at the back of my mind, I wondered why he thought I was so smart. What makes me smart?

It’s something I wonder about sometimes in general, like I do other things. It’s curious because I know I’m primo intelligent but it just is for me and I don’t understand it because I can’t see or understand or even conceive of being any different. It feels so common that even if I am smarter than everyone else I don’t feel any different. And so I get surprised when people say such things or act in such a way and I wonder, what do they see? How is this thing manifested? (I know at work I’m perceived as some kind of brainiac, even by those who dislike me.)

I sometimes wonder if people get taken in by the behaviours they take as markers of intelligence, but which aren’t in themselves anything more than quirks of personality. That’s not to say I doubt it – I don’t. I only really know it when I get things that others don’t, mostly to my surprise, and the speed of understanding things and the connections I make that are mysteries to others. I think maybe that’s why I write.

By now it is late afternoon and there’s an aroma wafting our way of what appears to be Tandoori chicken and eventually, we adjourn around the corner to an Indian restaurant where Cheeseboy and I have dinner sitting at a table outdoors, and C finally departs for another function, long after he planned.

It was a good, full day, carefree and fun and nostalgic. I guess that’s what birthdays should be.

I’m sharing a dinner with Cheeseboy next week – his birthday is the day before mine – and one other. Donna might attend that too. The week after it’s a night out with JV, who is otherwise away.

Living the low life


I had the choice last night of attending a cool party in the city, a low-key barbecue close by, or just stay home. Guess what I did? I stayed home.

It bemuses me a little since I complain of a paucity of social opportunities, but then, I’m not going to force it. You feel obliged to do something on new years eve and somehow a loser if you don’t. I didn’t feel like going out last night though. I certainly didn’t relish catching public transport to and from the city with a million other (often drunk) members of the public. And so on the basis of doing what I want to do – rather doing what is expected of me – I went nowhere.

I fired up the barbie and made dinner. Then I watched The Maltese Falcon again. A little after 9pm I put on the movie I’d set myself to watch last night Bladerunner 2049. It’s running time would take me up towards midnight, and it was a movie I looked forward to re-watching.

Once more I was blown away by much of the imagery and set-pieces in the film. It’s great to look at. It’s a classic story too, though. As I watched I thought there’s something Dickensian about the storyline, even if set in a bleak, rainwashed future. Watching a second time with knowledge of how it all pans out added another level of insight.

It’s funny, though it’s deemed a classic and high-up on many best-of lists, I’m nowhere near as fond of the original Bladerunner – even though, on paper, it’s just my sort of movie. I watched it again six months ago and found my views on it unchanged. It has great moments, again, some fantastic set-pieces, the production design is fantastic, Ridley Scott is a fine director, and it’s got Harrison Ford – and yet I’m unswayed. You know what? I think – despite the story – there’s something cold at the heart of it. It’s an unfashionable view and I wish I enjoyed it more.

About halfway through last night I cracked a bottle of bubbles for tradition’s sake and drank half of it. The movie finished at about 11.45 and so I put a leash on Rigby and together we wandered down to the beach.

The idea was to get a good view of the fireworks over Melbourne. From Hampton beach, there’s pretty well an unimpeded view of the CBD. As it turns out it wasn’t as great as that by night.

A few other people had got the same idea as me. Cars had pulled over to the side of the road to check it out. On the beach, there were a couple of party groups, as well as a couple of cops checking things out. It was a beautiful night – cool without being cold, and the night sky clear so every star twinkled.

Midnight came and people cheered and cried out and the fireworks went off. They seemed far distant from our vantage point, small splashes of colour erupting on an oversized canvas. We could hear them though, and soon enough smell them too as the smoke wafted our way.

I stayed for about ten minutes, happy to have come, and then home, and to bed by 12.30

A Christmas ritual


As I do every year I caught up with Donna for our pre-Christmas celebration. We have cocktails, a meal, we exchange small gifts, we share stories of the past, talk about the future. It’s a very easy-going, celebratory few hours, and – like last night – we’re generally the last to leave.

The start of the night was different. As always, Donna was delayed and then late. I keep thinking I’m going to invoice her for all this lost time, but maybe not at Christmas.

Because I had time to kill I wandered the streets for a while before meeting her. It was a slightly sticky evening, with rain falling lightly in sporadic gusts. I searched for a Christmas card for Donna going from place to place. There were people about heading from work or out for their seasonal shopping. Shop windows were decorated with ribbons and tinsel and Santas, and the streets arrayed with coloured banners. There was a festive cheer all about.

I ended up buying a card from Dymocks, which was brightly lit and buzzing with shoppers. I was in a buoyant mood and wished the shop assistant a merry Christmas, as she did me. Upstairs I crossed over Little Collins thinking this is a great time of year; I love this.

I made my way to the venue for the night, a new rooftop joint called Red Piggy. I was way early and sat at the bar with a Vietnamese beer and chatted with the bartender, a woman from New York. We discussed cocktails and spirits and why she likes Australia so much and how sad it was my friend was late. Hope she’s worth it? We’ll see, I told her.

Then Donna arrived and we adjourned to a table in the corner and had a cocktail each and ordered from the menu. For the next few hours we sat facing each other not pausing in our conversation. I’ve known her a long time now and she knows all my foibles, and occasionally exploits them. We share many memories, including those of mum, who we spoke of last night.

It was a lovely night all round. This is the thing this time of year. Everything is so concentrated, so familiar, one thing after another. That’s why you get sad. The memories that are spread out evenly over the rest of the year here come one after the other. You recognise the form of things – so well known – without enjoying any of the blessings. But last night I could. We’ve been doing this for years. This is one ritual that has survived. This is mine. Good enough.