Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Melbourne Cup Day 1996 (the legend of Janie Jane)



Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job. So said Andy Warhol, but he never had his hair cut at Cyber Hair, where a girl with a scissors is trying to conjure something up on the horrible canvas that is my head. I feel like I'm a disappointment to her as I only ever have my hair shaved off, and require no artistic styling, and she's got split levels and shampoos and nothing to use them on. Not that today is a day for art and styling, particularly at the Kingston bookmakers, where reams of people dressed in tracksuit trousers, battered grey Collingwood tops and people loudly saying how amazing Jessica Mauboy is (no love for Flo Rida though) crowd around an upbeat and jolly guy in glasses who holds the key to all our fortunes, the keyholder who is the only man who can understand the betting system. He's upbeat, slightly 1960s sexist with his overuse of the sweethearts and darlings, and at least putting on a good show for the punters. His opinion on Jessica Mauboy remains unspoken though. A girl in front of me has a fascinator on her head, standing out and definitely winning the fashions on the TOTE award. We stood in our little betting shop community together, waiting for the overworked middle aged women to compute our betting slips, trapped by circumstance and a somewhat minor desire to improve our circumstance just a little bit. The Melbourne Cup for me is one of those timeline events that will have old women at bus stops commenting on how quickly the year is going. Those old women live for Christmas. I'm terrified of dying though so I don't like hearing "cor the year is flying by!" from even the most good natured grey topped old coat wearer. So when the girl in the fascinator got up to "I can't believe it's Nov...", I couldn't let her finish the sentence, and I hurried to put a Catatonia song on my IPOD to drown her out. On a philosophical level if you are pondering the rapid passage of time, it's best not to put on a band who peaked in 1998, realise that was ten years ago, and then freak out even more...it's best to put on Jessica Mauboy...if you like that sort of thing...

When I lived in Burnie, the best year I ever had in my life was 1996. It was an amazing year, and sometimes I wish I could just go back and live it over again with a little more maturity and composure. Mind you, I'd have to apply that to everyone, given the entire friendship group was ruined by immaturity, hormones and black taped off the radio cassettes being chewed up. However like everything else in life, that's only half the story, and to go back and live in that world would mean that I was back living with my parents and working at my part time job at Coles. It would also mean, if it was this time twelve years ago, that I was really beginning to pull away from the job emotionally anyway, I wouldn't say rubbing it in, but I was definitely conscious of my wonderful chance to escape the gravitational pull of the checkout and the underpricing of the frozen chickens. Our school captain came in at the same part time intake I was on, and she never escaped Burnie, at least graduating to a real estate job, but her example was pretty frightening to me. I remember one day, I had to go and wash down the big metal trays that the pork chops were stacked on, and my notional boss was completely berating one of the fat girls who had ended up trading her life in for minor respect at the deli, and laughing that I wouldn't be like that. Of course, then they just yelled at me for not getting the last piece of gristle off the metal rack. Later that same day, I dropped a bottle of cranberry juice all over the Burnie mall, and it smashed everywhere, and I said the c word (no, not cranberry) really loudly in front of a vicar. Yes, it was like a sitcom, except he didn't slip on the juice or have his pants fall down. It was a pretty horrible day, although it was somewhat diluted by the fact that I was escaping them all and wouldn't have to deal with the Burnie public again. Of course, the dreaming of the graduating student never translate into reality, and when you are turfed out into the street with nothing more than some numbers on a piece of paper and a flimsy hand stitched leavers top, you never quite know what is going to become of you, no matter your mouthy bravado about owning a yacht...and you realise in time, you aren't any better than the bewildered, stressed out woman in the glasses who has to order cigarettes by the dozen or she'll get fired...I was better than the fat girl with the marker pen though, god, I hope I am....

Melbourne Cup Day in 1996, it was a hot day in Burnie, and I got a late call to go into work. Obviously I would have been extremely grumpy about it, and I know for a fact that I had to listen to the race on 7BU while getting a lift to work from my Mum. Luckily for me, I was assigned my favourite duty in the whole world, trolley boy. Trolley boy was a position of great responsibility, but it was also fraught with peril, given the erratic natures of the trolley, the service lift which smelled of ham and pee, and the occasional Burnieite who would throw something at you just at the moment you began to lose control of the trolleys - on the plus side, there was no customers to deal with, and of course, you could just nick all the 20c pieces and give yourself a lunch break. In fact, you could probably bugger off for a while if you had an inventive way to get out of the multi story car park, or someone with a car to give you a lift. I wish I had thought of that actually. Much like getting the job where you got to put the fruit in the horrible vats full of dirty water for storage, it was a great way to hang out and chat - well, it would have been if I had any friends at work. It was also a great way to flirtaciously and unsuccessfully attempt to chat to single mothers at about 8 in the evening. What was always good though was the chance to have a break, if you were incredibly mardy or pissed off or tired, there were parts of that car park where you could go, a sort of strange sub culture world developing around your breaks. One corner had a rather serriptious group of women who would gather around in a corner smoking cigarettes and comparing various holes in their legging. Naively, it took me three trolley trips to work out they were hookers. I wasn't able to confirm this (matron) because I didn't want to go and say "So, hookering, what's that like?" but it was fairly obvious and a bit depressing. Mind you, I didn't have to as one day one of them passed by me and said "Hey trolley boy" and I said "hey hooker" without thinking, and she smiled and said "I get paid more" and walked off clacking in high heels and unjustified satisfication - much like that scene in Happiness, I did actually see once a guy get rejected by a hooker, for what I believe (don't quote me on this if you are him) was trying to pick up a hooker while his kid did a Rubiks Cube in the back of the car. Thus, I've often said to my friends that no matter where I go in life, I'll never fall so low as to be rejected by a car park hooker. They sort of look at me a bit funny, and then move on with the conversation, and, to be fair, they are probably right to do so...

Now, this particular day, Melbourne Cup Day, now by definition Melbourne Cup Night, they assigned me a partner, Janie Jane, a slightly plump freckled girl in a Coles issue jumper who patently hated everyone in the whole store. I had never really spoken to her in about six months, mostly because her opinionated stance wasn't condusive to gaining employment hours, and after a particularly strident argument about a mandarin (maybe it was a tangello) her hours dwindled done to nothing. All I remember about her was there was a guy at work called Mark who really fancied her and kept getting knocked back. So we didn't say much to each other on the service lift on the way up, and I didn't much fancy breaking the ice by saying "hey, look, some prostitutes!". I was probably sullen anyway, I was probably yelled at for not knowing my fruit or the price of baby formula, and would have been looking at my watch with my late teenage impatience. When we got out of the lift though, there was not a trolley to be collected. In fact, it was like a science fiction invasion, no cars (maybe one Green Hyundai, the official car of Burnie), no hookers, no trolleys, just one gently shifting plastic bag tumbleweed style. My initial instinct was obviously to go back, but she grabbed my arm, and said to follow her. She pulled out a milk crate from underneath god knows what (it was under the plastic bag?) and sat her tightly trousered arse on it, lighting up a cigarette. Devoid of milk crates, I did the incredible ice breaker of going to sit on the ground, and sitting in a puddle. Trust me, great ice breaking technique, second only to "so what's your opinion on Jessica Mauboy?" - and after that, and after I had my first ever cigarette (I nearly burned my fingers) so we talked for about an hour about life, about her boyfriend Dave, a blue singlet wearing jerk who could also be incredibly sensitive, and I talked about my life, my crush on a girl called Kylie, and we probably had a bitch about laziness - both from my horse that day and from the people we worked with. It was probably the one real positive time I ever had at work apart from when I won fastest teller in the west the year before, and if I ever made a list of conversations I've enjoyed (rather than my favourite hundred songs that start with F), this would be right up there. It was deep, especially for a Coles carpark. However, after we had burned through about six cigarettes, and it was time to go back to work, she looked me dead in the eyes, freckles and gingerness illuminated by Burnies depressingly poor car park lighting, and said "If you ever think of staying here...don't"...and with that, she spun on her Clarks shoes, went down in the service lift on her own, leaving me standing looking out over the city with strange confidence that I'd be OK and honestly, I never spoke to her again, don't think I saw her again, but it definitely was strange - I took more out of that conversation than some life long friendships. I know she'd not remember it, I know that she'll probably still be in Burnie with Dave and a kid and a part time job, but I just want to say that today I thought of her, and I said, just quietly, thanks...

Sadly though, since this was a 1996 story, her opinions on Jessica Mauboy will never be known....

11 comments:

Jannie said...

Boy, would I love to go back and re-do my best years with more maturity too! Let me know how, if you figure it out before me. For me it was 1999. Or maybe last year.

A fascinator, a fascinator, you're making me Google... Oh yeah, those are cute on the right heads.

Those moments of saying something and spinning on heels away forever, I think I've been guilty of having been the spinner-away on more than one occasion.

Was more into arguments on avocados than tangellos. Once how to stack the canned peas.

P.S. My post today is not as lame as yesterday's, just so you know I have redeemed my blogging dignity.

P.P.S. Just who is Miles McClagan as compared to Michael Lee? In the context of pre Andy Murray tennis and Kerouac and all. Is M.L the "real" you?

Miles McClagan said...

I think it's really unfortunate you can't go back - or get the time you waste back, by definition, it's a shame, but you just keep moving forward! I'd love to go back and do other things differently, but oh well, as long as old women don't say "cor aint the year flown!"...

Yes, ML is my real name, I just forget to pen name...oh well, that'll learn me!

Kris said...

I've always assumed that 1996 was a poor year for Burnie, primarily because I had moved away and it had lost something irreplaceable.

I liked 1987, 1995, and the year 2000 was good too.

1993 can go and get fucked though.

Miladysa said...

Fabulous post - I do so enjoy these journeys you take us on. So many well observed characters, events and emotions.

The Fascinator - Was is Baino by any chance?

Catatonia - decent music :D

The hooker and the rubic cube - classic. Good to know that some people still have standards these days - or rather back then...

Good ole JJ - ;D

Kath Lockett said...

Well for me, young ones, it would be summer of 84/85 in the apricot cutting shed. Darlene (yes, her true name) and Gabbie were comparing love bites and hoping like made they'd get full time jobs at Woolies after the apricot season had finished.

I, on the other hand, was saving up my hard earned summer money to spend on beer at uni that year.

squib said...

Beautiful writing as always miles. I found it hard to believe that prostitutes would hang around a supermarket carpark but then I remembered you were in Burnie

Miles McClagan said...

I didn't like 93, 94 was the worst though, 2000 Essendon won the flag on my birthday, so that was troubling, 95 was so-so, 96 was really good...87? I wasn't too bad in 87, and Penguin won it's last flag in 85, so that was the best...

No, it wasn't a sieve, it had a big feather. I liked Catatonia a lot until "Stone by Stone", they lost me on that one. And yeah, good old JJ...I miss her now!

Does Darlene have a blog? That'd be pretty cool. Apricots and Woolworths is also a great name for a short story...

Prostitutes hang around everywhere Burnie if you can find the torn leggings...you should have seen them when Targa came to town...

Baino said...

OH me too. To be 20 and know what I know now. I love milk crate smokos. Used to have them out the back of KFC where I worked most of my teen years, listening to Frank Zappa and tampering with the bundy clock!

Boy would life be different.

Lay off my fascinator! It's durable and practical.

Miles McClagan said...

My friend, the really motivated one, worked at KFC, he earned 1/2 as much money as I did for working twice as hard and cleaning grease a lot more...I never understood why anyone would want to clean grease for 5 bucks an hour, but I guess it build character...

Jannie said...

ML you'll always be to me, then.

(My word verification is pergatu, hope that's lucky.)

Miles McClagan said...

I think Pergatu is a word that invokes an ancient curse word that raises dead bats...oh well...we'll fight them off!