The times as they were


I don’t know what connects these, but in my mind, these two small things from yesterday appear linked.

I got a call in the morning from a friend who loves up near Byron Bay. He was in town and wanted to catch up for a beer later. We met at an earthy, excellent bar in Moorabbin called Grape and Grain, where we started on some boutique beers sitting on a couch in the corner.

Even before he shifted up there, he looked the part of an alternative, backwoods type. Tall and thin, with dark wavy hair that in the years since has grown longer and greyer, and a thick, greying beard that makes him look like a prophet from the Old Testament. He’s a good man, a good soul, sensitive and honest and passionate, even if a little absent-minded occasionally, a man too gentle in some ways, too idealistic and out of step with the striving, pragmatic world around us.

We talked about all the usual things, about politics and the deplorable state of world affairs, about his family and life up north and about what’s happening to me. Surprisingly, there was little about sport, but shared memories of times we would go out together on the prowl, surprised to find they were 20-25 years ago.

I recalled a night I nearly got in a fight with a guy at the Prince of Wales because he kept dancing into me. I was in a mood over a woman and happy to express myself verbally, at least. It was unlike me – I’ve always been pretty controlled – and there was another guy with us – what was his name? Stuey, that’s right – who convinced me otherwise. We recalled going to the Corner Hotel to watch Weddings, Parties, Anything and pinging coins at the stage, a bit of a ritual, and seeing Hunters and Collectors at the Palais.

One of our haunts back then was the Provincial Hotel in Brunswick street, where we made an unlikely pair trying to hook a date. Now and then, we’d get in conversation with a couple of girls, whereupon my mate would start talking about politics or the environment while I rolled my eyes at him: time and place, mate, and this aint it. That was him, though, committed in every fibre.

Once we dated a couple we met there – or somewhere – and ended up one night watching Shakespeare in the Park at the Botanical gardens – The Taming of the Shrew, I think. We spread a blanket and had a basket of wine and cheese and what not. I remember looking at the woman with my mate thinking, ‘he’s in’. But he wasn’t interested. He always wanted a relationship but wanted it to be right.

Eventually, he met someone, and they married and had beautiful twins, now grown up (they’re at uni in Melbourne now, and he was here to visit them). His wife turned out very different from him, and they divorced, and he remarried a lovely woman. He’s been up there about 18 years now and has found his groove.

So we were talking about the old days, happily recalling things we’d forgotten. He asked how I’d been going and offered the standard compliment about how well I’d done to survive. I told him how things had changed for me since and suggested that maybe I’d become a harder man since.

He responded straight off to that in a manner foreign to his usual way. “You always had something hard in you,” he said as if it was fact.

I was surprised at how emphatic he was. It made me wonder. Now, there are probably few people in the world who think better of me than my mate, so it wasn’t necessarily a negative judgment. It made me consider our relationship in a different light though, and particularly those memories. I was the organised, decisive one. I had a stronger personality. I was just a mate, though, and suddenly I’m wondering if he saw me as fierce. You just are, then you realise that others see you differently from how you see yourself.

It’s all perspective, and it’s all relative. Compared to him, I probably was hard, and maybe that informed his opinion, but it was not something I was conscious of being. Driving home later, it lingered in my mind as things like that do. But then he had followed up his comment by saying he actually thought I’d mellowed since.

Then last night I had the news on. One news report showed a medical expert talking about something. I glanced at her and thought she looked familiar. Then I saw her name and yep, I remembered her.

You forget a lot of things. Not altogether, maybe, but because they’re not essential or particularly vivid, they slip back into the part of the memory not easily accessed. ROM instead of RAM, for the geeks out there.

I had sex with this woman maybe 22 years ago. She was from Sydney visiting, and we used to have these long, fascinating conversations full of wordplay. That was something I was able to do then (and have little patience for now) that many women of a particular type would find alluring.

We had dinner and a bottle of wine at Pellegrini’s in the middle of winter before we crossed the road to where she was staying, the Windsor Hotel. She took her clothes off there and I remember her body – tall and slightly awkward, pale skin and full breasts and distinctly unshaven. And the other thing I remember was how disappointingly drab the room was for such a grand and famous hotel.

Here she was again, twenty-two years later, looking not much different and an expert so well esteemed that she was being quoted on TV.

Maybe that’s what my mate meant. I had dozens of episodes like this. Fleeting encounters, flirtatious at the edges but basically sexual in nature. It was mutual, but it was easy for me because I could compartmentalise so well. I reckon I had 10-12 years like this and I’d probably have this type of experience 6-8 times every year, maybe more, in between having more considered relationships.

What can I say? I enjoyed it. Mostly.

My friend was always and remains an idealist, through and through. We connected on that level because we had similar interests and beliefs. I was an idealist, too, as I am now, but I wasn’t as innocent as him, and where he wore it on his sleeve at all times, I would pack it away when it wasn’t relevant.

Either way, I was always direct. Truth be told, I enjoyed the grit of reality and that burgeoning sense of self in earthly desires. I had a mind, but I had a body too.

 

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.

Father’s day


Maybe because it’s Father’s Day today I dreamt of dad last night. In the dream, I saw myself as he did: ever so reliable and intelligent, but prickly to boot.

I don’t know how true that is, but I’m sure it’s a true impression for some of me. If I am ever prickly then – I say – it’s in defence of my independence, or to assert a right. Or maybe to refute a nonsense I won’t abide.

As for dad, if he ever thought that, then the first part he took for granted while exaggerating the second.

Needless to say, I’m doing nothing for father’s day. I’m having lunch with him this week, I think. I think he’s mellowing.

The quirks of family


It’s a tiresome subject, but I have some updates on my cousin, as well as an unexpected development to come out of it.

I made the mistake last Thursday contacting my cousin to see how he was settling into Melbourne. I thought twice, even thrice, before doing so. He’s done nothing to endear himself to me in the short time I’ve known him. He’s graceless and rude and with a mighty chip on his shoulder. I’ve not said a cross word to him yet he’s walked out on me once, told me to fuck-off on another occasion, and otherwise imputed that I had benefitted at his expense. Basically, I don’t like him. On top of that he’s a manipulative opportunist and I was afraid he would seek to take advantage of any contact.

I contacted him nonetheless, setting all that to one side. The family connection means nothing to me, but I’m sympathetic to anyone less well off. And, I figured, I’d only seen him at his worse, at the bottom of the curve so to speak. It seemed unfair to judge him on that. He was entitled to get another go.

Unfortunately he was true to form. I started off bright and friendly. As always, he responded within seconds. He didn’t answer my question, instead launching directly into an interrogation of his own. Did you know what happened with our grandparents will? Did you get an inheritance? Where do you work? What do you do? What are your qualifications? What’s your office address? Are you on Newstart? Why does your side of the family have money when my side doesn’t? Where do live? What’s your address?

I should note that some of these questions were repeated 3-4 times, and came rapid-fire, before I had a chance to properly answer – even had I been inclined to. They came, one after another, until there was a line of them scrolling down the page.

At first I was patient, looking to answer appropriately. I was suspicious though, and soon his interrogative tone began to piss me off. I refused to answer the contentious questions for fear of further inflaming the situation, and because I felt no need to explain or justify. I let him go on until he petered out.

Throughout this I had the fear that if I gave him too much information it would be used against me. I was sure had I given my address he’d have shown up on my doorstep. Likewise, I was fearful of him turning up to work and either demanding to see me or making accusations against me. There was in his tone something hostile and resentful. It’s clear he believes we – being my side of the family – have derived some magical benefit denied to him. It makes him angry and sneering. Amid all his tendencies he’s also narcissistic and superior.

Once he’d subsided I quietly muted him. I had made up my mind that in time, once things had settled, that I would block him.

Then a friend of mine – the friend he had cottoned onto – asked if I’d seen his most recent Facebook posts. I hadn’t, and when I went to check found that he’d unfriended. I quietly rejoiced at that. He’d saved me the trouble.

In the meantime he’d posted a scathing take-down of his mother that ran to paragraphs. My friend sent me screen-prints and they were nasty. Regardless of truth they’re not the sort of thing that should be shared on a social media site for every friend and family member to read – but then I’m old school.

The next day my friend contacted me again telling me that my cousins sister had responded to his posts very eloquently. He sent me copies of those too. In them she basically refuted everything he’d claimed, adding that he had been abusing their mother for years, to the point she was afraid of him. There was reference to constant demands for money, among other more ambiguous, troubling references. It was quite compelling, and his response feeble. And he unfriended her as well as me.

So, that’s where I’m at with him – better off in a different orbit altogether.

But then there’s something else that came out of this episode. People often say things happen for a reason, but mostly it’s a case of applying a retrospective interpretation to explain a fortuitous happenstance. Sometimes it’s an easy thing to do.

When my cousin threatened suicide I contacted my father. He didn’t answer but responded with a message. That was our first communication for about four years. Having called him his number was now on my recently dialled list and on Wednesday the week following my bum inadvertently called him again. I caught it before he answered and disconnected. Awks!

That afternoon I was in a meeting when my phone rang. It was my father returning my call and leaving a message.

That left me in a quandary. I couldn’t ignore him, but nor could I tell him I hadn’t intended to call him – that would be too rude. I called him late in the day and explained that I’d been calling to update him on the situation with my cousin. We talked for about ten minutes beyond that when he explained his lifestyle – busy and unusually social. Maybe he’s mellowed. At the end of the call, unsure what to say, I said “catch up soon,” as you do. And having said I knew I had to do it.

Long story short we’re having lunch on Friday. Let’s see what happens.

Mulling it over


On Friday, as I prepared to head out for lunch, I contemplated dropping in on my dad. I haven’t seen or spoken to my father for about three years I reckon, maybe longer. I haven’t missed him much and even when we were talking we didn’t have much of a relationship. I don’t miss him, but I miss that functional relationship. It can feel pretty solitary when there’s no family network to lean upon.

Funnily enough, I was heading out to have lunch with a branch of the family I rarely see, my aunt and uncle and my cousins. They’re all decent, sensible people, unpretentious in every way. Growing up they were the modest wing of the family while we were glam – social, ambitious, striving, curious and challenging. I was very much of my family, but I found theirs almost an antidote to the occasional complexity of life on my side of the fence. It was lovely to see them again and it was a fine lunch.

The lunch venue was about ten minutes from where dad lived, though where exactly I didn’t know. I searched for him but couldn’t isolate him from the rest so never visited. Perhaps it was for the best – a friend tells me turning up on his doorstep like that might not have been the best idea. I’m not sure I agree – in ways I think it might have been the best way. And anyway, you can’t give up being ballsy.

So I didn’t visit him and mulled it over on the weekend. I didn’t seek a reconciliation as such, but I was conscious that he was getting older and anything was possible. I didn’t want to be the man who missed the important moments because of some petty dispute.

I wrote an email to him in which I expressed some of this:

We’ve had our differences but there’s nothing either of us can change or undo and I don’t waste my time thinking otherwise. Fact of the matter is we’ve never really been in each other’s lives, which is why this separation has been seamless – for me, at least.
I hope you’re well and healthy. Regardless of how we left it, I don’t wish for anything but good stuff for you. That’s what I wanted you to know. I don’t want you to think I’m bitter or angry. I’m none of that. Life’s much too interesting – and challenging – to be looking backwards.
I don’t know what I expected from this. There were times I have been bitter knowing what I was deprived of. Then I was disappointed that he didn’t fight harder to save our relationship. I think he was scared, so unlike the man I knew. As I said, there’s a time for being ballsy.
These now are no more than very gentle regrets. As I express, none of it can be changed now and perhaps that’s all I needed to say. I don’t think I could ever be close to him but I’m perfectly capable of being friendly and supportive.
So I sent my email and about nine hours later it came back to me, undeliverable. That was strange given I had sent it to an email address attached to his domain, and address I’d used before. So I tried another address with less hope and this too bounced back.
That’s where it stands. I can take it as the world telling me to give it away or I can try to source a current email address. That too I will mull over.

Kindness and grace


The girls from the shop want to take me out for dinner – that is, the girls from the massage shop I sold out of four years ago. It was such an intense period of my life that it comes as a surprise that it was so long ago. Most of the girls from then have dispersed since, and many of them are back home in Thailand now. There’s a few still here though, and they’re the people I was closest to back then. I don’t see them a lot, but I probably catch up with them 2-3 times a year – which is surprising in itself given the time passed, and very gratifying.

This is what I know about Thais. They’re loyal and hard-working. The best of them are reliable and will bend over backwards to help. They’re famous for being gracious and friendly, but they’re also honest and uncomplaining. There’s no way I could have survived my time as a massage shop proprietor except with the active support of my staff, and the fact I got out of it by the skin of my teeth is thanks to their efforts. I’ll always be grateful to them, which is why I can’t do enough to help them when they need it.

That’s the other side of the Thai character. They want to shout me dinner because I’ve helped them out with this or that over the last year and they want to do the right thing and acknowledge it.

In my mind, there’s no need for it, but it’s gracious of me to accept it, so I do. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to contact me in the morning wanting to go out in the evening. That would work for me a lot easier when I was younger. These days I want more notice, particularly because of Rigby.

Right now I don’t know if I’m going out for dinner tonight or not. Whether it’s tonight or another time I look forward to seeing them again. In the toughest of times, they were people I could rely upon and were a rare friendly presence in my life. When I look back at that period of my life seems incredibly hard, and very grim. I don’t know how I survived it but know I wouldn’t have without the small acts of kindness and support from my friends and the girls in the shop.

With the fam


I had my niece and nephew come into the city on Friday to have lunch with me. We went to TGIF and each had a burger.

I saw my nephew a couple of months ago, but I hadn’t seen my niece since before Christmas, and as she’d forgotten her Facebook login, exchanged no messages either.

My nephew was as I remembered him, tall and lean, but my niece had grown appreciably. She’s tall for her age now, and will likely be a tall woman.

We had a fine time as I plied them with questions and discovered unlikely facts about them. My niece, for example, was excited by watching some gaming robotics convention over the weekend, and has aspirations to become a game designer, if not a gamer.

My nephew has the mandatory desire to become a rapper, and demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the genre. He prefers the old stuff, 2pac, and Notorious B.I.G. If not a rapper he’d happily be a game designer also, but will probably do media studies and follow up with something in that area.

After lunch we went back to the office and they oohed and aahed at the views over the city. Kids always love that stuff.

I waved goodbye to them and back in the office people were quick to comment on how strong the family resemblance was. Later that day I got lovely messages from both of them thanking me for lunch. When I told S to keep in touch and that we must catch up again next school holidays she said she couldn’t wait. Nice to hear.