Monday, January 5, 2009

Getting old and eating chicken wraps

When the wind blows painfully through the trees and Rosny is boiled down to it's essence on quiet days where securing the last parking space can seem like a perpetual Tetris like battle to the death, it can be a painful sight. At Big W yesterday, no one was touching the Godfather DVDs or books about painting, but the thongs on the rack seemed to be attracting a crowd of shoppers with no end in sight. The floors that were crowded with Xmas shoppers are now sparse and blank, the excitable casual staff sent back to the holding pen of non employment, and the special offers go through and around a ten percent discount on spangly mesh tops that are two or three sizes too small for the intended wearer. There's some sort of flimsy pulsing electro pop tinned in over the PA system that is supposed to represent the apex of popular culture right now but which sounds like some sort of reheated sub Fischerspooner nonsense. No one remembers Fischerspooner of course, which just makes me feel old. At least with no one around I can get to have a look at the DVDs without some kid headbutting the back of my kneecaps. One of the presets of someone dying, one of the emotional defaults, is a commitment that life will be lived more fully, that you won't let the little things bother you and learn a far greater ideology than being unable to calm down if someone headbutts your kneecaps or cuts you off in traffic. It doesn't last of course - bit like new year, by February I've already wasted too much of it watching TV - with me. Today I am trying to be calm and engage with the world around me but as soon as some bogan chick in a tight tracksuit stands directly in front of the Weeds DVDs I know I'll be back to forgetting lifes sobering lessons again. As I wander round to the book section which is now mercifully free of Jill and Jenny bogan discussing whether their mutant offspring likes one cricketer over another, an entire row of self help books glisten in their solitude, trapped in the back of the store screaming to get out and let their helpful ideas flow like wine. One of the workers - neither panda eyed girl nor fat sweaty girl - is staring intently at the cover of one such book, so intently that it seems as though a motivational idea has struck her, although there's every chance she was just lost and confused and trying to get her trolley to move. She pauses for a moment, but the idea, whatever it was, is lost in a hubbub as a small child runs around her legs to get to a Ben 10 book or one of those horrible Garry Lyon footy tales. She puts the book down sadly and continues to push her trolley of books around pointlessly as my friend that I'm meeting for lunch is in mid soliloquy about how many bogans are around us and the way Tasmania is crumbling economically. His self righteous tone drowns out the song that's playing as we make our U turn back past the thong stall...it's not the Reynolds Girls...is it?

My friend is a more nervous exaggerated version of me. By which I don't mean he's peppering the conversation with stories about Bros - no one is like me in that sense. I mean his natural disposition is to look away from direct eye contact, into the middle distance. I'm nervous with small talk, but I've never been this bad. I feel like I keep making conversational false starts every time I make up even the most basic reference to American Football. Maybe around some girls while James played at school discos from yore. Either that or he's really enjoying his wrap.There's a girl who works at this particular shop, Muffin Break, who's made entirely of dough. She's very nice, very thorough in her work, but she's made entirely of dough, with a perpetual sense of lifes toil drawn across her face. Maybe it's working with the girl with the strange eyebrows. I toil myself selecting something to eat and she's being ultra friendly, like a greeter at an American chain store you see in a movie, and she takes my friends dis-assessment of their quiches with a personally offended wince. When she tells me they are out of toasted sandwiches it's said with such utter poignancy it's like the end of Gone With The Wind. My friend doesn't notice, he's back to checking his phone for friendly messages from famous cricketers. In spite of his nervousness, his falling apart around the one girl he really loved, and his perpetual nerdy stammer, he's actually got about twenty times more friends than all of us, and like a lot of people is a lot nicer than I am. One of the consequences though of having friends for a long time is they are frozen entirely in youth, when you first saw them, what they first did when you knew them. I express surprise that my friend is now an avid Michael Palin documentary watcher but I remember that he is nearing forty, which is kind of startling, although I don't know anyone who's such a big fan of Micky P they'd shell out for a 19 disc set like he did. Hey, I got the autograph of Duncan from The Bill, what would I know. Many times I've had a panic attack at night wondering about the rapid dissolute passage of time, and now it's not only here, but it's beckoning me to watch Nat Geo instead of VH1 on my cable box. I think in some ways, maturity should be my friend a bit more - I should accept the WWF isn't going to call to ask me to write wrestling shows. That said, I'm surprised at any time he's bold enough to offer an opinion, even if it's just on quiche or the musical stylings of Andre Rieu. He said something strange though on the way to get our wrap, he rejected a cafe on the grounds it was an old persons cafe, a youthful statement of defiance as unlikely as if he started wearing an earring and saying everything was irie. In the end, once he has decided Muffin Break is hip and trendy enough to accomodate, and after we've both eaten a wrap each and there's nothing left to say, we sit in blissful mature silence, on our own, while the doughy girl watches attentively for the ultimate franchise accolade - two people walking away saying that was pretty good...

Many years ago I was in a Hobart burger cafe - the one that did the worlds greatest cheeseburgers, which I think closed down to become a sushi restaurant where you could get your sushi delivered to you on a toy train that stopped off at your table. The atmosphere in this restaurant was pretty rough and ready, with coarsely skinned Greek women and men who you hoped tied their hair back in the kitchen arguing passionately over a tomato. Whenever I sat at the window of that particular cafe, I used to look out into Hobart and think of all the little dreams I had, all the youthful plans I had, maybe an attractive girl or two would walk past. Sometimes you would see a regular couple walk past, an old man and woman walking past, and sometimes they'd wave, and then you'd only see him say, or only her, and you'd wonder what happened to the other person you saw. You'd sit and ponder the ravages of time and if you should maybe, just maybe, be doing something with your life other than sitting munching on a cheeseburger and looking out a window, but your thoughts would be interrupted by a loud slanging match which made you learn the Greek word for dickhead and then they'd turn their radio up really loud and a plate would smash. There was always this girl that used to come in all the time while I was chomping on my burger and curling up in a mummy and daddy please don't fight position - she was about 20 foot tall with big bunched up blonde hair and an assortment of army surplus clothing outfits that she would wear because nothing else fitted her. I think she had something wrong with her, maybe some sort of terrible illness, because whenever someone asked how she was, instead of just saying good, she'd launch into a series of Hallmark style one day at a time every days a bonus just greatful for sunshine phrases that really stood out from the usual grunting around the place. One day though, after a while of this kind of Oprah speak, I turned around and actually looked at her, and she wasn't saying these things with any kind of smile, any kind of belief, she was just saying them with her braces and her big baggy jumper all over the place, and her eyes staring up at the ceiling fan. Whatever questions she was asking herself about her life, the answers weren't being found easily. She would take her 1/2 serve of chips and wander off sadly, ducking under the doorframe as she went, which should have been a point of deep reflection for me - just like when I was 10 and I was shamelessly manipulated by a Children In Need special about a miracle Mum caring for a kid with no legs - but obviously, such deep discernment and appreciation for the nature of life and what I had were only fleeting thoughts. When I was 10, it was lost in the rush to get back to my Amstrad, with the giantess it was in the rush to get the last bus home, and now, it's lost in the rush to find out news about minor celebrities...I wish it was to get back to my Amstrad...the Fruit Machine game was amazing...

Of course, difficult questions about where we are going, what we are doing, the complexities of death, and indeed the aging process and so on are questions for the greatest minds in history, not some benny in a Manchester City 1997 Kappa top trying to chew through a ham and tomato wrap or who later tried to have a sneaky read of the Popbitch book in Angus and Robertson only to be near a kid who can't stop breaking wind. There's not many philosophers or thinkers around these parts, no real intellectual role models. Even the people with the Magic Pens have gone, and they used to spend their time putting the words magic and pens into popular songs. My friend eventually wanders off, obviously nervously, towards his car, while Mum texts me to say she has to go to dinner at the house with the grief circle, which sounds awful, and impossible to bear. Little of consequence happens - someone sends me a Miley Cyrus song on e-mail which could be a virus, the automon launches into an impassioned speech about not having kids, a drunk doctor and a woman with lemon streaks in her hair whinge on and on...all little tiny things of absolutely no consequence that will fade from memory by tomorrow. My Dad and my Uncle come to visit much later, standing as men of the world with beers in hand talking about the state of the world, all their hatreds and disgusts mulled over with the assistance of Boags, my Dad being a particularly verbose and wordy man, he takes control of the conversation, while I attend to them with sausages and the giving of my time. As an answer to lifes big questions, quality time with other meaningful people should be something of an answer, but it still feels uncomfortable, like something grander should be coming. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Barry Tosser, my horrendous neighbour, sitting in his lounge chair, telling his wife in tremendous detail about a growth he's had cut out of his perfectly round head, and thats when lifes answers are easy...

Whatever you do, don't be a tosser...

5 comments:

the projectivist said...

i was with you at that cafe, Miles. not with you, with you - i'd rather be at another table, sipping slyly from my tepid tea as i watched you, watching passers-by.

you'd be wearing those tracksuit trousers, your best ones, neatly pressed and crackling crisply.

and so that you didn't have to make smalltalk with the waitress, maybe you'd have your ears bunged up with leads from your ipod - blaring the latest Miley offerings into your tortured ear drums.

i hope you're not one of those types of people that dissects their hamburgers? casually laying it out in pieces on the plate, before devouring it neatly and precisely with your knife and fork?

Charles Gramlich said...

Sometimes it's tiring just to realize that the big questions I have are the same humans have always had. And no one has a satisfying answer.

squib said...

My fav bit

There's not many philosophers or thinkers around these parts, no real intellectual role models. Even the people with the Magic Pens have gone

The answer's 42 by the way

Doc said...

"Even the people with the Magic Pens have gone, and they used to spend their time putting the words magic and pens into popular songs."

Perhaps they haven't.

This was a great read and I look forward to more.

Doc

Miles McClagan said...

Actually, weak tea is a Muffin Break speciality, hmmm...I was having a retro Garbage phase on the IPOD yesterday, someone made me think of I'm Only Happy When It Rains...my ear drums are pretty knackered as well. Hamburgers go straight in the mouth, although I do a casual check for any stray pickles or weird veggies...knife and fork? Heaven forbid...

No wonder dodgy cults make so much cash right? I mean, easy answers to hard questions, it's a doddle...

I miss the Magic Pen people, I really do...not the songs, but the magic...42 was the number I just had to click on for Blog Explosion...weird!

They may be a travelling roadshow, so somewhere else is enjoying the Magic Pens/Magic bus interface...lucky them...