Old friend


Caught up last night with a friend I met in my first ‘real’ job nearly 30 years ago. That was back at the bank, and a pretty wild era it was. I think I’ve probably written about it elsewhere on this blog. We were all young working in the back-office (IO) of the NAB, managing currency trading, imports, exports, and so on. It was a very masculine environment, and consequently pretty competitive, and tending to the excessive. Times have changed, back then though we were very much a part of the eighties – a shitload of drinking, during lunchbreaks, a few nights a week, and every Friday night in the office. There was plenty of sex to. While most of us were male, there was a sprinkling of women. And in an era before PC’s proper every pod had a typist, generally a pretty girl of about 20. Looking back it was a bunch of fun, but pretty combustible to. I was in my element.

There was a bunch of us who got friendly back then. We all started around the same time and progressed through the organisation on the same path. We were all very young, with degrees of confidence and worldliness. Ahead of us, encrusted in the organisation, were the hard-bitten time servers. Most of them were supervisors or junior management, and never likely to progress much beyond that – they’re probably still there. Some were good, and most were fine once you had their respect, but there was also an element of sport to it. There were some tough dudes amongst them, and if they sniffed any weakness they’d go for the jugular. If I’m a certain way now then perhaps it’s because I had to run that gauntlet. I was luckier than many – I did my job well, and while I had a smart mouth I also had the wit that could run rings around most of them, and they knew it. And physically I was not someone to be pushed around. Other’s weren’t so lucky – the timid, the incompetent, the fearful, the ugly, the fat, and so on.

Hell, I’m making it sound terrible, and it wasn’t really. Outside of one incident there was never anything much more than the odd comment and the barely suppressed threat. I did battle with a guy every week, but kind of enjoyed it – I was a very cocky bastard. In any case, we banded together, strength in numbers and all that.

Royston was a genuine friend, and I’ve been catching up with him ever since. He was great fellow even then, a big smile, happily self-deprecating, always ready to laugh. He was garrulous and friendly and beneath all of that, a pretty good operator. He was, and remains the archetypical bear of a man with a heart of gold. He got through the gauntlet because he made people smile. Though he was burly, he couldn’t hurt a fly. He used to call me Punching Bags – even then I had a bit of a pugnacious reputation.

Back in the day we were drinking companions – he was very accomplished – along with a few others. I continued to see him after I moved on. We would catch up at different venues, often the Mitre Tavern, and down beer after beer while we caught up on the news and chatted about the latest sports results.

So it was again last night. It was chilly and we had a number of beers sitting outdoors at some pizza restaurant, before moving onto the Mitre once more. We talked about the footy at length, then dissected the cricket, before getting onto the deplorable state of politics in this country – politically different, we both agreed about the lack of competence on either side, and the miserable state of affairs in general.

As usual he did about 75% of the talking. I had forgotten this until meeting him again. I was happy to let him go, enjoying the show.

It was a little after 11 when we finally parted. It was bloody cold and very dark and we’d both had a skinful with no more than a shared bag of chips to soak it up. Good to see him.

Keeping the door ajar


Do you reckon dreams mean anything? A few weeks ago I got told by an eccentric woman that I should watch my dreams closely and abide by any message received via them. That’s nice in theory, assuming it’s valid, but more difficult in reality. If your dreams are anything like mine then that kind of clarity comes but rarely. My dreams, like most I expect, veer from a mad jumble to the an eariely surreal. Things happen out of sequence. Characters lob in then disappear. Scenes change dramatically, in time and place, and it’s rare that I dream anything that is truly linear. I may scratch my head at it afterwards, but the reality of dreams is that when you’re in the middle of them nothing is really surprising.

Last week I had a few dreams though that perhaps could be grouped around a theme. Last year I had a falling out with a close friend. We’ve tentatively reached out to resume our friendship, but on my side I had wondered if something was irrevocably broken. I acknowledged finally that for all his endearing traits that he was an unreliable character. Despite his charm, there was also something juvenile, almost trivial in his personal make-up. None of this was really new to me, but the credits I had extended previously had since been cashed. While on the one level I was prepared to give him another chance, in my gut I thought it was futile.

That’s a sad realisation, but I thought I was ready to accept it. Shit happens after all. Times change, we progress, people fall in and out of your life. Then I had my dreams.

The dreams are vague of course, and if it was just one dream then I would discount it altogether. as far as I know though I had three dreams on successive nights, as if something deeply held inside me was trying to put itself forward and present its story.

The first dream seemed almost a vindication of my feelings. I travelled to be where he was, he met me, he made a few anodyne comments, and then left to pursue his own thing. That was in keeping with my latest thoughts about him – that he is self-absorbed and often pretty shallow. I woke wondering why I dreamt that, but prepared to let it go. The dream the next night I have no real recollection of, except that it was more generous towards him, and more forgiving. Well alright, but so what?

Then came the third dream. Once more we were in the same place, and had come together as the long time friends we have been, but awkwardly, with this shadow hanging over us. Neither of us was prepared to speak of it, and in my case I barely cared. I was at the point that it didn’t matter if we remained friends or not, and I didn’t care enough to try to save it. Then his girlfriend stepped in. She spoke quietly to me. She knew what he was like, she said. She understood that I was upset and maybe I had some cause. She told me that he was distressed by what had happened and wanted to be friends again, but didn’t know how. She said my manner and hard-line attitude was intimidating. All throughout she was gentle in her speech, looking out for the man she quite possibly loved, but sympathetic towards me.

In the dream she left me and I began to question this hard-line – a hard-line I’ve pretty well held to in my waking life also. In the dream I suddenly felt harsh and unforgiving. I felt like a bastard, and no amount of justification could change that.

I woke and thought little of it, but walked around with the dream in me all day and in the days following. Gradually I began to wonder if I wasn’t being too dogmatic. I thought back to what the strange woman told me and wondered if this was it. Ultimately I realised no matter what happens with him, this is is not a person I want to be. What that meant concerning him I still hadn’t resolved.

Then yesterday I heard from him out of the blue. It wasn’t anything much, just the typical quick exchange about something happening or something I should know about, like many hundreds of times before. I responded in the same tone and that was that.

What’s to come? I don’t know. He knows what I feel. There’s no reason to say more on that. I think I’ll keep the door open though, just in case.

Untrue friendship


There was a period of about an hour yesterday when I felt as near to being depressed as I ever do. I was abruptly struck by the full gravity of losing a friend who once upon a time might have been thought of as my bestie – certainly I was his. I felt that queasy feeling in my stomach. For a while I felt close to being overwhelmed. I felt hurt and betrayed, bewildered and desperately disappointed. I knew there was nothing I could do – even if I thought differently, I know I couldn’t believe in him, or our ‘friendship’ any longer. It was over, and for all my sorrow I felt a contempt for what I thought of as an inadequate character. I wondered how it got to this. I wondered what stupid conceit led him to act as he did, though by now I should know. More than anything I felt my self, the thing that is me, deeply wounded, like a bruise on my soul.

Who really cares about me, I wondered. Who do I matter to? In whose thoughts do I feature? Anyone? If I can be so casually disregarded, what does it say about me? His indifference to my sistuation made it even worse. At a time when I need friends more than ever he casually trashes our friendship, and me. What do they say: you find out who your true friends are when the chips are down? It seemed like another cruel twist in what has been a miserable year. It seems hardly conceivable, yet I think I’m bound to lose another by years end. Seems careless.

I’m sad now. It’s right to be sad. For all this crap now, we shared some good times, and forged a deep bond. To lose something like that is not easy, nor should it be casually discounted. So I’m sad, but the best thing I think I can do is turn my back on it. I’ve got enough to worry about. I don’t need people adding to my woes, I need friends by my side who will help ease the burden. Ultimately this is just another thing to deal with, and I will. So I forget this, hopefully, tomorrow.

directlyThe Free Dictionary: In a direct line or manner; straight: The road runs directly north.

Drawing the line


Most people, when asked “how’re you going/how are you?” know that the questioner isn’t really interested in their present state of being. It’s almost a reflex greeting these days, and replied to with the same reflexive muscle, “fine” people say, or “good”, and often, in Oz at least, with the classic “not bad”. The answer is often entirely divorced from the reality. A person may be a death’s door and more likely than not they’ll answer with a bright “can’t complain.” It’s considered bad form to answer with your honest woes, though I sometimes wonder what would happen if I opened up with a “well, actually…”. In reality the most I’ll ever admit to is the very Australian understatement, “been better”.

I buy into this convention even as I recognise how ridiculously rote that it is. When I ask someone how they are in that context I don’t really expect, let alone desire, a whole litany of existential complaints reeled off at me. Maybe later, over a beer, or in the occasional moments of authentic candour, such things can be said and discussed. I’m happy to be that friend, but anyone who spills their guts at the first opportunity will soon get a reputation for something akin to poor manners, and more likely than not will be rebuffed with a “settle down, mate”.

As it happens I am also one of the multitude of men who find it difficult to confess to any kind of vulnerability or deficiency. It’s something I’ve got better at in recent times, by habit and necessity, but it still does not come naturally. Like many I have a fear of being a burden to others. I may be on my knees and I’ll still put on a bright face, “no worries, mate,” I might say with a wink, even while I have every worry in the world. Often the person quizzing me will know that I’m fibbing. They’ll look at me as if to say, really? It’s ok to tell me if you want. Mostly I don’t though, though often I wish I would.

I’m immensely, ridiculously proud. It is a crushing realisation to accept that I can’t get by without help. Self-sufficiency is a cornerstone of my identity, and something which I’ve had to fudge in recent times. I’m not asking for any favours, I accept my predicament for what it is without making excuses. My intention, always, is to head into the gale, one foot after another. I can’t do it alone though, and there’s the dilemma. I must accept help. Occasionally I have to ask for it. Every time I do a little more of my self-esteem is chipped away.

What I won’t be is an object of pity. I absolutely refuse that, and would be horrified to believe that people think of me in such a way. Most of those close to me know that, and respect it. I’m still a man, and I’m not asking for any exemptions.

Truth is though that I miss being able to share the depths of my feelings. I’m scared sometimes. Sometimes I despair. I struggle to contain those episodes, but each time I do. Yesterday something more disastrous occurred, and for a few hours I felt the darkness around me and questioned the point of continuing to struggle. It passes though. It must pass. I’ve still got a lot of living to do, and even if my worse fears are realised I still need to strive forward.

What I want from people is understanding. I’m not even asking for sympathy. Sometimes you need to talk. You need to let it out. Someone asks how you are and you restrain yourself from letting it rip. Sometimes the situation arises and I can talk, and the words come from me like water from a spring. It’s soothing to speak, to simply express all the sorrow and the poison in me. People look at me solemnly, and I feel like telling them don’t take it so seriously. I don’t want their advice, though sometimes I may ask for a perspective. I certainly don’t want their pity, and I don’t want empty words of sympathy. I’m my own man, it’s a struggle, but I can manage. I just want an understanding ear, want to know that they’re there, rooting for me, caring for me if it comes to that, believing in me. Sometimes, I need a little tenderness too.

Which is where it gets to the pointy stuff. I lay in bed last night thinking about this stuff. I thought of one person in particular. I find myself going through different stages in this process, and this stage is all about shedding the things I don’t need anymore. It seems apt – I’m in a house where there is barely any furniture. This morning my sister came with a truck and collected her things right up and including the fridge, Literally, my existence in this abode has been stripped bare. Now I’m looking to do that – with more science and discretion – with my life.

Basically I’ve decided that there is a friend of mine that I will let go. I don’t ask for much, but I don’t get what I would think is the basic minimum. Though I’m apt to avoid fuss, I still appreciate people asking after me as if they really care. As I said, I want to feel that I matter still. Normal times that’s less of an issue, but these are not normal times. I don’t get that from them, at least not when I’m out of sight. I don’t get the respect or courtesy I believe is due either, more a dumb oversight than a deliberate snub, but typical. Once before I called things off, made it clear that their self-centred attitude was not good enough, and at that time was talked into giving them another chance – and I saw then the best of them.

I’m sad to do this. We have a history. We’ve been the closest of friends. At times they’ve been a true friend, and generous to a tee. We have a lot in common, have had some great times together, and I still believe that the best side of them is very engaging. But it’s the other side which turns me off. Enough is enough. I’ll let things go, and if it comes to discussion then have it. And perhaps that’s just the way life is: friendship can have a use by date.

Life is challenging. I’m inclined to say I need all the help I can get, though I still try and do without it. I’m not abject though. I’m here, upright, persisting. I don’t deserve this, and I’ve drawn the line.

 

Faking it till you make it


Confidence

Confidence (Photo credit: wherefishsing)

A couple of days ago I had a very odd conversation online with a friend of mine. Out of all my friends he’s the one I’m most intimate with – I’ll open up to him about my fears and problems, and he’ll do the same with me. He is a sensitive soul, though he doesn’t necessarily fit that profile, much like me. And so over the years we’ve become accustomed to sharing the little things that worry and work at us, seeking in the other a sympathetic ear and an understanding nature.

Such was the conversation the other day, abbreviated by the medium and communicated in that shorthand we often use online. And perhaps that’s where some of my confusion stems from – something lost in the translation or else left in the gaps. We were talking about me. This time he had initiated the conversation. He spoke of how one on one I appeared more vulnerable than I had before, and how welcome it was. This I could believe. Then he went on to say that I was different in a group situation, where he said I was ‘too confident’. I didn’t know what that meant, but didn’t follow up.

I’ve been puzzling on it the last couple of days. I admit I’m more confused now than I can ever remember, almost to the point that I’ve lost an idea of who I am.

Too confident. Is that what he meant literally? That I came across as too sure of myself? What is ‘too’ much? Unless I’m overbearing – and I’m not – then I don’t know what the issue is, unless it is that the inside stuff never gets seen. Or does he mean something else? Too slick perhaps – though that doesn’t ring true. Too familiar. I don’t know.

He is one of my best friends now, but I recall a conversation we had years ago when our friendship had become properly established. He explained to me that when he first met me, and even in the early stages of our friendship he had felt occasionally intimidated by me. It was a surprising admission. He explained that my brazen self-assurance and occasional blunt ways would sometimes set him on the back foot. And this was a from a man with a lot going for him and not short of confidence himself.

I think I’ve changed some since then. Much of that was conscious – I did not want to be intimidating my friends (though really, I’m not sure it was that widespread). The rest of it is circumstances, I have matured since then, perhaps mellowed, and of course been subject to one humbling experience after another since then. This he has acknowledged over recent years, I’m much gentler than I was. Still though, I’m ‘too confident’.

Confidence is a funny thing. Once upon a time I’d have put my hand up and said I was full of it – or perhaps I was full of something else. In general terms I have come to accept certain aspects of myself as settled truths, and never pause to doubt them. For example, I know I’m way smart. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t stop me from questioning aspects related to that however, such as my judgement, which is often poor – and which I’ll occasionally pour over in abject detail in these pages. In other words, I’m largely confident of the baseline in me and accept it as something just about empirical, but often dubious to what it all adds up to. One on one I’ll share my doubts with him, but obviously (is it obvious?) in a group situation I’ll keep them to myself. Perhaps that is what he means – the group sees only the confident baseline from which I’ll foray from.

It becomes about behaviour then, even the different personas you possess and roll out. A lot of life is performance I think, and a lot of performance becomes habitual. Forced to consider it all now, I wonder how much is performance, and how much is me? Is this alleged over-confidence just a projection of myself, a role I assumed years ago and which I’ve been performing ever since? These are confusing conjectures.

My general view is that it’s all authentic, just that in certain situations different elements of your personality get emphasised and other parts dimmed. For example, last night I went to a function that had a brief networking session. I walked in the door, got a drink, a sandwich, then sized up the room. Then I walked over to the most likely looking group and with a smile and extended hand introduced myself. Now I’m not much different to everyone else, I don’t don’t find it particularly easy in theory to walk up to strangers and introduce myself. In situations like last night though needs must, so I assume that persona and get it done. And in fact, generally, I’ll be the one in that group that directs that conversation so powerful is the persona, and the mission of that persona.

Now that’s an obvious example because – in my case anyway – you almost consciously assume that personality. And that will be the case in other situations, in going for a job interview maybe, in dealing with bureaucracy, and so on. Other times – 90% of the time – it’s nowhere near as obvious as that. I don’t think when I get in a group situation that I must be this person or that. I don’t consider how I’ll act, or how confident I’ll appear. I believe I go with the flow, but there is always the possibility that the performance has become so sublimated over the years that I’m unaware of it. What am I to think?

As I write my mind keeps returning to an evening a few weeks ago when perhaps my friend was reminded that I was ‘too confident’.

It was a Friday night, we caught up after work for a beer with a couple of his colleagues I had not met before. We’re four males, Australian males, all at the executive level and so there’s a fair bit of testosterone there, let alone bullshit. Still, it was easy, I felt comfortable and got on well with the others. From there my mate and I went out to meet with his girlfriend.

His girlfriend was with friends of hers, about 4 girls and a couple of blokes. For the most part I talked with the girls and we got on fine, sometimes just having fun, but often talking about real things. It was a little different with the men. One was an affable Pom, not particularly handsome and a little portly, and sporting a painful looking case of sunburn – things I note because it was evident that he was keenly aware of and would comment on. I introduced myself early on, and later turned to him and said something I thought amusing. In reply he said something that suggested he had put me in a separate pigeon hole. Ok, fine.

The other guy was a Kiwi, a little loud and obvious, keen I think to get in the good graces of my mate, who has a history of sidekicks. Early on I sensed this guy wanted nothing to do with me, as if I disturbed the equilibrium – who is this stranger who knows my friend better than I do? Still I would turn to him and ask questions politely – I think I’m always polite – and get monosyllabic answers. He refused to engage with me and so I thought, shit happens, and turned back to the girls.

Then something small happened. I’m tallish and I take up a lot of space. I’ve always had relaxed body language. In my early years in the office I’d often be told off for having my feet on the desk. At my ease I’m inclined to lean back, cross my legs, and stretch out my arms. This I did on that night – only to find my mate making faces at me as if to stop.

At the time I thought he was pissed because one of my arms was on the back of his girlfriends chair. I thought it ridiculously precious at the time – I wasn’t touching her, the gesture was in no way meant to be romantic, and it could just as easily been the chair of a bloke. Anyway, I got the message and reluctantly complied.

It’s only now that I wonder if his objection was more sophisticated than that. Did he think my body language inaproppriate? Too relaxed, too confident? Was I too comfortable there amongst strangers, and appearing so – again, what is ‘too’ comfortable? Should I have been more reserved and conservative? Should I have watched and listened rather than engaging with them as I did? Why?

Perhaps there is something to what he says, and in fact it’s something I’ll be looking into. I’ll ask questions of others, and in fact am think, quite radically, of conducting a workshop all about me. I hope to find a lot answers to a lot of pressing questions. Regardless of what he has said, I’m at the stage of my life when I’ve never been more confused, nor been so full of doubt. These are things I need resolve.

The other side though is this I think. My friend, love him like a brother, can be precious and occasionally petulant, and will sometimes take offence at things that nobody even notices. I wonder if that is the case today. Not that I’m too confident, just that I’m too confident for him.

Wht do you think?

 

 

Strange birds


When I was about 21 I started a job at the NAB working in international operations, or IOV as it was called. I worked through the department learning all facets of international trade, documentation, currency trading and management, and so on. Joining me were a bunch of similar people, all of us pushed through the sausage machine with some falling by the wayside, and others in a continuous loop joining us. There was little to tell us apart. About 80% were male, pretty well everyone was in the 20-23 age bracket, in my recollection most of us were playful, competitive, spirited and keen to party. I know I was filled with the sense that the world was at my feet, and I acted accordingly. I enjoyed learning the ropes, and felt as if I was poised on the verge of a glittering career. I enjoyed the camaraderie too, the playful and occasionally silly interactions and, with so many males crammed together, the testosterone driven competition – in which I felt I had a natural advantage.

For the most part I enjoyed the extremes of banking life back in the mid-eighties, hard work and demanding deadlines followed – and occasionally interrupted by – hard living. One of the managers there held the record for drinking 15 pots in an hour lunchtime back when he was in a similar role to me. Three days out of five we would have a beer over lunch, and the regular Friday night drinks in the office would often spill over into something more when someone would place a wad of cash on the bar. Through the week it was not uncommon to have a drink or three after work (Tomasetti’s was our local), and a couple of us would occasionally be out for so long that we might get an hour of sleep before turning up at work bleary eyed for another day of work. You smiled, weary, a little worse for wear, but feeling like superman really, and as if you were in the middle of a great and luridly coloured adventure.

I remember too there was rivalry, and occasionally hostility, between the hard-bitten veterans of the department – the supervisors, all pretty well chain smoking drunks – and us young’uns. There was a distinct gap between us, between what we saw as rough-edged bogans with little life outside of work, and us, ambitious all and young. For some reason many of us had a private school background and wore our two button suits and silk ties as proof of our superior style – even if we got down and dirty ourselves too regularly. These days that old guard has just about died out, but back then there were plenty still stuck in the corners of different businesses just like the bank. It was no surprise that often they looked upon we precocious wannabe’s with disdain. You could earn their respect by knowing your stuff, or having the balls to occasionally challenge them, or if you made them laugh. If you didn’t you copped it bad – I remember one Friday night one of my colleagues was quietly set upon in the men’s toilet. I was ok generally, good at my job, a little cocky and smart mouthed probably, which gained their approval. All but one (Ian Wotherspoon?) who for some reason took a instant dislike to me – maybe it was my mouth. In any case he would take every opportunity to have a go at me, to which I would always respond in kind, enjoying it in a way. I saw him – in that cocky adolescent way (which I still was really, a colt) – as an embittered and ugly old man (though he was probably no more than 30). Most of us would look out for each other, and if trouble arose would stand together.

Then there were the women, of course. This was a time when there was no such thing as a personal computer, and each section had a typist, every one of whom was a woman – or girl really, with none of them any older than us. Naturally there was a lot of byplay and flirtation, and often on a Friday night, much more. I never got with a typist though I was friendly with plenty. Instead I got involved with some of the women I worked with directly, or in other areas altogether. There were regular, free spirited functions, and I remember once a mid year Christmas party at a rowing club on the banks of the Yarra where many of us had a nominated CPT – Christmas party target. Mine was a curly haired woman from currency trading with the largest breasts on the floor – we called her big tits Rowney, in that very sophisticated way that lads have. Though I was junior to her I later discovered, much to my surprise, that I was her CPT. Sadly we never got together – instead I found myself spending the weekend with another and gradually falling in love – but that’s another story.

I made many friends and acquaintances through that time, some of whom I still see occasionally and would consider second tier friends. There was one guy though with who I formed a very strong friendship, and for many years to come – Dave Mc. He was a bit different, tall, about my height, but lean, he played tennis every weekend, and occasionally basketball, and though he would binge occasionally like the rest of us he would more likely abstain because of his sport. He had a very Scottish way to him, though he was very Australian – he was famously tight with his money, and had something austere and spare in his personality. I wouldn’t say he had a strong personality, but it was fixed, and, as I came to observe, occasionally intimidating. While there was plenty light-hearted about him – I remember singing old Police songs (Roxanne) with him at our facing desks at work – he was also one of those personalities that measure, weigh, and ultimately judge. I measured up obviously, but to those who didn’t he never cared much if they knew it or not. He could be quite confronting and aggressive, not caring what people thought of him. We were different, but somehow we trusted each other and clicked.

The reason I take the time to describe him today is because one day he dropped out altogether, and yesterday we bumped into each other.

In the years after we started working together our careers went off in different directions, but we still maintained a friendship, going out for drinks or dinner, to the footy, or off skiing. I remember he had a very attractive girlfriend he’d been with for years (Debbie?). One day she broke up with him, much to his shock. I remember the two of us discussing it on a trip back from Mt Buller. I can picture it still, one of those bright winters days with the sky blue but outside the cold like chilled steel against your skin; and the road straight heading down from the hills and heading towards others in the distance where the road curled. He was driving. He spoke to me of it as he watched the road ahead. He had always expected to marry her, to have children with her and live that life. She probably knew it too, but he had never really said anything to her, and in his spare way had never bothered to tell her what he felt for her. He was never a man of strong emotions, and it would never have occurred to him to actually tell her what he felt. Except on this day, unusually, he opened to me. I listened and I realised why she had left him – a smart (she had a masters in physio or something), attractive, vibrant woman wanted more than a childhood sweetheart of limited ambition who never said anything. It might have been different had he told her something of what he felt and what he wished for, but he never did. Perhaps he never really knew. I didn’t say that, but I remember suggesting to him that next time he should be more expressive.

By now I was his best friend, and he was the equal of any of mine. In time he met an English backpacker who wanted to stay in Oz and they married – I was best man at the registry office. Our friendship continued, flourishing almost as Nat, his wife, was such a friendly, engaging character who adored me, and others. Then a frew years later they split. By this time I probably had as much to do with her as I did him, mainly because of her greater energy. Gradually Dave backed himself out of the picture until he wasn’t there at all. In the years after one or another of our extended group would bump into him, an announcement which was akin to a yeti sighting. The amazing thing was that he had cut ties with every one of us, childhood friends as well. Every time I met him he would be friendly, we would chat, I would suggest we should catch up, and never once did it happen. I always wondered if he was so embarassed/ashamed at having failed with Nat that he couldn’t face us. He always was different.

So again yesterday we met in a Hawthorn street not far from where I used to live and chatted for 10 minutes. He looked little different, except he seemed smaller than before. He was in a suit, his balding head shaved as it had been when I knew him then. His career had come along, I knew that, but almost by accident. I always remember how insistent he was that he didn’t want the pressure of leadership, whereas I always sought it. Yesterday he told he had just started at a new job for the same money as the last, but better because he no longer had anyone beneath him. We spoke about getting old and the variety of our ailments, and caught up on some of the news as people walked by us in the street. I sensed without asking that he had not married, and recalled how little interest he’d had in the things that motivated so many of us – namely women, and sex. I can recall how he would jokingly complain how Nat always wanted to have sex he had no inclination to.

So we parted, let’s catch up, sure. both of us knowing it wouldn’t happen. He’s a strange bird, but I guess I am to. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Seems a million miles away from those halcyon days at the NAB.

 

Always a way


I’ve had a rough-ish start to 2012. All set to start afresh I found myself beset by the same problems. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, not much of it awfully positive. Right now the situation making the most noise is mum’s.

On Wednesday morning I picked her up and took her to her GP. I wanted to talk to him to get a clear idea of what mum was facing. He was good and the meeting constructive, but I was witness to things I’d rather have not known. It was uncomfortable. Afterwards I took mum grocery shopping. There was something depressing about this. I wheeled the trolley up and down the aisles for mum as she picked out the things she wanted. This degree of incapability is probably inevitable for all of us, but to be there providing mum the support she couldn’t manage without made it plain. I dashed home after that, took 30 minutes for myself, then clambered into a suit and headed over to mums again.

Irving, a family friend of many years, a gentle, funny, and sensitive man had died the day before. His death had been expected – I had cancelled a little trip away in expectation of it – as he was 87 and in hospital after a stroke in September. Beings Jewish his burial was the next day on from his death, and so we raced over to attend the ceremony.

I was there more for mum, as chauffeur and support, but I was glad also to be there on my own behalf. I liked Irving greatly. I always thought him a lovely man with a cheeky sense of humour. He was forever bright, despite the fact that he was the only member of his extended family to survive the holocaust, or shoah, as the Jews call it. During the ceremony the story was told by the rabbi of how Irving’s mother had given him some diamonds before they were separated, and how he had hidden them in the heel of his shoe. He never took those shoes off, not even to sleep, throughout the many camps he was incarcerated in. How many stories are there like that untold?

I was back at mum’s on Thursday morning. I felt weary of it all, and downcast. Mum had given me some news the day before which sent my spirits tumbling. I drove over to mums thinking I needed a break from this. I craved a normal life again. I wanted some support too. A cut-out to take some of the load from me with mum. And some moral support for me. I felt sorry for myself basically, something I try and avoid but which at times is perfectly understandable.

I had organised for some home-help for mum and so met them Thursday and confirmed all the details. She left and feeling emotional I let go a rant to mum, what about me? It horrifies me to think I did that, but once more I understand. Mum is dying, harsh but simple; my life is nowhere near as definite, and much more complex.

I had arranged to have lunch with Cheeseboy Friday. One of my new years commitments to myself is to be more open with others. Cheeseboy particularly is a man who is always trying to draw me out, to get me to admit to my feelings. I’m so old school though. I’m one of those proud and stubborn men incapable of publicly admitting to any fears or vulnerability. I don’t want to impose my issues on others, that’s my business after all, won’t it embarrass them. Consequently I take on much more than I give out.

My reticence seems ridiculous in light of some of what I write here, but this is a different medium, one voice amongst millions broadcast anonymously to a world that has only a passing and voyeuristic interest in my travails – which is how I like it. There’s safety in anonymity, and numbers.

Still and all I had made my mind up to give him what he wanted, not for him, but for me. I may be stubborn, but I know it’s silly to bottle it up.

In the evening Thursday Cheeseboy sent me a message to say he was coming over. He arrived bearing a bag of cheese and crackers, as befits his reputation. He selected a good bottle of Pinot Noir (Punt Road) from my rack, then we sat down and talked.

I’m new at this. It came slowly and in small pieces. While I admitted to things I talked them down.  I was open though with all that was happening, with mum, with me, with everything else. I told him something of what I feel, the frustrations, the occasional sense of futility, the perverse events of my life. At one stage while telling him of the latest episodes with mum he asked, “but who supports you?” Well, that’s the crux of the matter right now. I lack that support that would make things so much easier, but the fault for that is mine.

He listened and gave advice, and offered his help – not to mention support. I was glad to have opened up. Somehow I did not feel a lesser man for owning up to the frailties I had previously kept from view. It was good for us to, as friends. I think in many ways I’m a good friend – reliable, sensitive, fun, interesting, pretty well always up for it. I’ve been a woeful friend going the other way. I give, but I don’t take, when the real treasure in true friendship is the opportunity to give. That’s something I’ve denied my friends.

We continued to drink and eat, talking now about other things, about sport, movies, about getting a new barbecue. Our conversation was sprinkled with the usual juvenile inanities we always find time to giggle at. Gradually we came to watch the movie that just happened to be on TV, Sleepless in Seattle. We commented on the different fashions, how Meg Ryan was cute and attractive but not particularly sexy, about our memories of when the movie came out. I watched, enjoying the simple fairy-tale the movie portrayed, why not, I thought, good things happen, dreams come true, happy endings can be so.

Thursday I turned the corner. The situation is no better now than it was when I was at my bleakest – in fact mum is in hospital as of this morning. Life goes on though. There will always be these episodes and sometimes there will be a struggle – that what happens when you’re human. I’ve always been positive though, and resilient – I’ll deal with things as they arise, and look forward to a better year.