Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kingstons Melancholy Wall Of Nothing



My petrol station with the cheerful local mechanics closed down last year in the name of progress. They dug up the road outside it to put in a roundabout and you couldn't get in unless you negotiated a complicated twisting series of roads upon which bewildered and harassed school age kids mothers would suddenly veer dramatically to the left without indicating because while little junior was telling an interesting story about the dream they had last night about a cake monster, they had completely missed their stop. So it went out of business due to lack of funds, and now I have to get my petrol from a more corporate source and the charm has subsided. Behind the counter works a middle aged woman, with a wistful stare and a slightly fierce black cardigan, encased in her world, unsupervised and reading the local paper until the time comes to face a paying customer, at which point she switches to the second of her two emotions, rigid disciplined friendly charm. An old man in front of me has mistaken emotion B for flirtation, and is telling her a story about his garden, which he plans to mow with his two stroke Victa lawnmower. I resist tapping him on the shoulder to ask where he got it from since it sounds amazing compared to my own lawnmower, which some days I'm sure is actually just a Fisher Price one I bought by mistake (I swear I've seen it blow bubbles) but I don't, I patiently wait until he's finished his story, and paid for his petrol and his swathe of chocolate products which he's bought in a dramatic fit of if I buy more I can talk for longer chat up daring, like a male who hasn't pulled a girl into his bed yet on a second date who orders a dessert he can't possibly eat in the hope at least one of his stories amuses the paramour. Eventually, he leaves, she wasn't listening at all, and I step up to the counter. She asks me without looking at me how my day has been. I've only just taken my IPOD off Icarus by Santogold, so I'm trying to work out the chorus and I'm not really listening, but something about her question strikes me as odd - it is after all only 8 in the morning, so I mutter something about it being far too early to judge whether I'm having a good day. It's a wasted thought though, because she's talking through me, and says thats super. She hasn't listened to a word I've said, and soon it's back to wistful out of the window staring just as I get back to Santogold. I used to think she was watchful and attentive, maybe paying attention to see if a car nicked off without paying for petrol, but she's chronically and unbearably sad about something, and passes her time in my company with the barest of attention and the maximum of efficiency, one customer at a time until knock off hour when her day ends, another unfilling moment surrounded by cheap chocolate and interesting stories from taxi drivers she doesn't have the heart to interrupt at a time...

I go for a walk later - not out of any motivation, just because the cricket is over and I want to wear my St Mirren top outside, which I guess actually is motivation. As I walk to my local shop, there's a family walking past me - in their fine Sunday best, clearly on the way to church. Since my involvement with Kingston religion involves our old Kiwi neighbours trying to save my soul and pimp me out to some girl at their church, I'm wary, but they seem fine, they aren't going to pamphlet my soul to hell for disrespecting the Sabbath with the drinking of chocolate milk and a blatant plug for the Braehead Shopping Centre on my top. As they walk past me, they almost smile some sort of friendly recognition, but they don't, and keep on walking. Most of all though, they don't notice their third child clearly pulling uncomfortably at his collar. He has a look on his face that he'd rather be anywhere in the world than out in his little mini tuxedo and he's eyeing my chocolate milk as if it's some sort of forbidden item, the way I used to look at video cameras in the early 90s. He looks old enough to have come to his own conclusions about the merits of singing from a hymn book, and they aren't favourable. His Dad sees a flock member across the street, a slender hipped Maori woman who he embraces with tenderness, his booming voice confirming they are indeed religious and not just dressed up for some time with Nana on a Sunday. I think briefly for a moment that as the only person in this mini street theatre not attired like a member of The Rat Pack that his booming accusatory tone about the strictness of Sunday is some sort of minor chastisement, but he's talking directly to the Maori, and it's a positive conversation. His wife, a woman as tense of mood as of pony tail, is shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot - whoever the Maori woman is, she doesn't want to see or talk to her, and eventually she steps into the conversation with a platitude or a joke, and pulls the family away, leaving the Maori woman looking confused and a little hurt. The kid in the tuxedo sight unseen spits directly on the ground as the family walk off, his own little protest at his temporary divorce from the television, but no one can see him through the family frost, as Mother and Father and the two younger kids walk off about three steps ahead of him and his now hopefully dry mouth, aware that something is terribly wrong with their world, but no one is keen to articulate on it on the day of our lord and they walk off in strict dutiful steps...

Two old women are sitting at the bus stop. I almost don't have the heart to tell them that there is absolutely no chance of a bus coming to Kingston on a Sunday. In my amazingly miserable second year at uni, I used to try and get a bus into town under the pretence of going to study but if I made it into Hobart I would generally head to the casino or some other happening place and try and look arty in the hope that somehow that would make me pass my studies, or at least I would if I got one of the three buses a day that came past, and I would generally just sit there with my heart not in my own life. The first old woman says something about someone called Todd, and how ridiculous he would find something. Instantly I recognise from the tone that Todd is no longer with her, in one way or another. She says it to her friend with just enough jocularity that whatever happened to Todd is OK to talk about, but the pain of it hasn't gone away. I move quickly on, just as her friend, a very old woman in a spectacularly funky orange coat, with darting eyes and tenderness in her voice simply confirms that yes Todd would. Across the road, three Sudanese migrants are trying to fix a car in the middle of a front garden, hitting it with a spanner. They are suspicious and defensive of people who walk past the mini garage sprawled out on the road, particularly the wife, a huge woman in a pink dress with more corn rows than I have hairs. She stops what she is doing, pouring juice or telling an anecdote or offering her expert knowledge of the intricacies of the 1984 Holden Ute, just to watch anyone who walks past with a wary eye. As soon as the man walking his dog has passed, she resumes as if nothing has happened, picking up her anecdote as if someone had pushed her pause button. The old women catch her eye at the same time she catches theirs, and they stare at each other with just one road, but an unfathomable amount of cultural difference and life experience between them. The staring contest continues until a bus, a mirage in the desert around here, pulls up, and the old women get on quietly, leaving the two Sudanese home boys in the Chicago Bulls gear to continue their hammering, and me relieved they didn't ask me for any kind of mechanical advice...I fixed a Tonka truck once, that was about it...

Just to confirm my suspicions, I casually glance in the direction of the petrol station, and sure enough the lady in the black is still there, with a barely flickered expression of bemusement, starting out the window. I walk towards the supermarket, past the health store that's always closed for stocktake, past the peg frenzy that is Chickenfeed, past the bakery where the purchase of more than a bread roll is cause for considerable staff elation, and past the bottle shop where manly men will fetch you your beer out of the fridge for nothing more than the public slight on your own manhood that always seems to register on the face of the blonde girl who doesn't have to wear a work uniform. I continue to my corporate local supermarket, where everyone wears green, and the staff mingle and mix with a yet to evaporate hostility, those who are casual and yet to escape failing to properly mix with those trapped and older and without hope of getting off register four. There's a particularly weary young girl without make up or an ability to blink, stacking canned fruit as I pass, her shirt too big for her, her expression blank and focused on the repetitive task in front of her. As she goes through the motions, a clumsy and awkward ginger kid in a flannel shirt reaches for a tin of peaches with his big farmer hands, and he fumbles it and it falls poetically and surprisingly softly to the laminate floor, at which point he steps over her again, gets another tin, and walks off telling his mates about the party he went to without missing a beat. It might just be me, but as the girl scrabbles under the bottom shelf she looks amazingly sad and depressed, a sort of Lily Bart of the fruit stacking world lit up by the poor quality flickering light of aisle 12. She reaches down to get it, despondent and tired, and eventually leaves it rolling on the floor, shaking her head and disappearing down the aisle with slow, agonized steps, her body slumped and sad. It's never a big blow up that makes you snap, it's the simplicity of a tin falling at your feet that normally finishes you off mentally, something which to the outside world seems utterly trivial. Eventually, I move on, aware that just as quickly as these mini dramas blow up, they pass, and just as Yelle comes on my IPOD and I pack enough fruit to feed a small army of one into my standard issue red basket, she comes back, gets down on the floor, and fishes out the tin. It would be a triumphant moment, but for the fact that if you looked really closely, she'd clearly been crying...

I move on, through the queue, through the people, through the rain, and go home, where my only contact with any kind of melancholy world is a sad reminisce with my friend about old bands, and collapse back into the hammock, everything shut down, everything finally relaxed...

22 comments:

Peter Murphy said...

Hey if you put ina direct, more visible link, to comment you might get a few more. I do like your style of writing, a prose self reflective, introspective commentary,

Nice

Pedah

Miles McClagan said...

So I've got to work on font, comments, paragraphing...quite a list, ha ha, a lot to do for a place that was just set up to bring back the Egg Flip Big M! Thanks for visiting, I appreciate it!

Aunty Evil said...

Fantastic. Saw you comment on some blogs, hadn't seen you before, decided to check you out.

I liked this a lot. I walked that walk with you.

Off to read your other posts!

Miladysa said...

Oh dear - I had a suggestion too...
should I keep my mouth shut?
No? Good :D

Music - you could add a music link. I kind of like the idea of listening along as I read your posts :D

Charles Gramlich said...

There is almost a surreal flow to this. You definitely have an interesting style of writing.

Georgie B said...

Interesting.

Is this sort of like a "day in the life" kind of vignette?

It's nicely written.

Amazing how things can be the same no matter what part of the world you live in.

Miles McClagan said...

Thanks very much for visiting, commenting works well! Don't go too far back if you read the old stuff, I was quite clearly drunk for most of July judging by the lack of quality!

Anything for the Robinho/Hatton mafia...I actually thought I did put a Youtube song link here, but it didn't work - I meant to put Icarus by Santogold up, but ya know...I'm not very tech...

Thanks mate - I was a pretty surreal child, it's carried on!

It's just what I see when I wander about...it's one of the joys of Kingston, you see a lot because there's not many people about...everyone stands out, whether they want to or not (hence my fear I'll end up on someone elses blog!)

squib said...

That Icarus song was quite good. I listened to some of her other stuff and in that song called 'Lights Out' she is singing exactly like Sleepy Jackson or whatever he calls himself these days

Anyway what do you think of The Do 'On my Shoulders'? I like her voice but I wonder if it wouldn't grate after a while?

Mad Cat Lady said...

ha - i think you are trying to make us cry on purpose!

wanders off singing *you write the blogs that make the young girls cry* (okay. fine. not so young women. why people have to be so pedantic, I don't know)

Bimbimbie said...

Miles, you now have me people watching more than I would normally. The other day I smiled while wondering what you would make of the people ahead of me in the queue I was standing in when I locked eyes with a future Miles McClagan reading me and the others whilst he was dangling on his mothers hip *!*

Sidney said...

Interesting slice of life. I have reached a point where I fill up at a station with pay at the pump. I never go inside. Technology saves time but diminishes human contact, I guess.

Crystal said...

Reading this was a bit like diving into a short story - except it seems almost too detailed to be real. I was fascinated, love your style.

Can't wait for the book.

PS What flavour milk were you drinking as you walked?

Miles McClagan said...

I'm all over the place with Santogold - the Diplo stuff is awesome, Icarus is just about my favourite song of the year, her single LES Artistes is OK, but Pretty Green is terrible...as for The Do, there's too much of a Kate Miller Heidke quality to her voice, I think after a while it'd drive me nuts...

No tears are on purpose believe me! I'm not trying to do that, maybe the next one has to be about something more hilarious or have a cute dog in it!

I always said I'd quite like to form my own literary genre, McClaganism, all about people eating lunch and what's going on...I must admit, I've been really observant lately, I hope I don't get to the stage I have to take notes!

It is really bad with our petrol stations now, you have to go ages to find anyone who will check your oil and water for you or give you service...it's a shame, it really is...

Thanks for coming and visiting mate - it was definitely real, that's Kingston, a sad kinda place...lots of odd stuff going on! Milk is my speciality subject...yesterdays flavour of choice, a tasty banana choc!

Helen said...

Wow, I've enver actually pumped my own petrol, everywhere has pump attendants who do all the work while I sit in my car feeling all superior!

One of them changed my tire on Friday though, which was awesome!

Peter Murphy said...

Contacting you via the blog is really limited?

Miladysa said...

:D

Charles Gramlich said...

I was actually going to comment on the most recent post but couldn't find a comment button. Loved that song. Had never heard it before. I like the ending to that piece, about how one line led to shipwreck. Good thing we aren't psychic, I guess. Think of all the pain, and joy, we might miss.

Miles McClagan said...

Yes, that's quite deliberate, I don't want to put an e-mail address up and get 212 poker/Nigerian offers a day...I'm trying to keep the spam down! Maybe I need a different e-mail just for this...so much to think aboot...

I wrote an e-mail to my friend yesterday which was just smiley faces and frowny faces...saved heaps of time!

It is a great song isn't it? That whole album is about how much she wants to kill Marit Larsen her old bandmate in M2M (long story!)...I know, I really didn't see any of it coming, I thought we'd be friends forever...still, it makes for great life experiences! And that I wouldn't trade...

Jannie said...

past the bakery where the purchase of more than a bread roll is cause for considerable staff elation,

loved it!

squib said...

Miles if you put your contact as Miles [at] whatevermail [dot] com then the spambots shouldn't pick it up (see my contact page). I haven't had any spam at my blog's email

Also if any of you are contacting Miles about book deals you oughtta know I'm his agent and I take a 95% cut

Miles McClagan said...

It's true - you buy one bread roll, they deflate, you buy a delicious Danish, you've got a friend for life...

Do people really need to send me e-mails? Am I going to get e-mails of cute cats? I get enough of them. Am I getting a prize? It's up to 95% now? Wow, writing is tough...

Kris said...

About five years ago I was in N├╝rnberg (lovely city, do visit), waiting for a tram to take me into the city centre for a meal, and for whatever reason I noted a young girl (18 or so) all done up, very attractive, looking very happy, all nervous excitement also waiting to head into town.

So I go into town, have a nice meal (among all of the cigarette smoke), end the evening with a couple of schnapps and gluwine – it was winter – and feeling nice and relaxed headed back onto the tram to where I was staying.

On the tram, there was this girl again. This time though, dripping wet, sobbing incredibly forcefully, make-up smeared; the very picture of unhappiness. So there I am (slightly askew, in an inebriated sense), no troubled to the pit of my stomach at the cause of this poor girl’s troubles.

I’ve no doubt that it was some romantic entanglement (isn’t it always), and was torn as to whether or not this under the weather Australian with the very loosest grasp of the German language could offer some solace to this distressed child.

Perched at the front of an otherwise empty tram carriage, and weeping for the world to hear I slowly ambled up, tapped her on the shoulder, shrugged my shoulders with what I can only assume was a stupid grin and said “Sie sind es nicht wert. Wer sie sind”, and offered her a clean handkerchief.

She sadly smiled back, took the hankie and I motioned that my stop was coming up (it wasn’t) and got off to walk the rest of the way.