Saturday, May 9, 2009

I learned how to read a book, I learned how to do the cha-cha, but nobody taught me, how to fall in love...

One of the things I always notice about Hobart, when I'm walking through the main city mall with my head down lest the bogans of death make me a statistic in the Mercury, is that lack of neon glare, the lack of high profile important flashing signs other than the new one outside the Centrepoint Arcade. When I'm in London, some parts of it, I feel like I'm bouncing around in a hypnotic glowing video game, but the only illumination that seems to show in Hobart sometimes comes from mysteriously lit up offices where workers toil in strange hours of the night, which just provokes curiousity in me as to what is so important it absolutely positively has to be done at 11am. We used to work with this woman who had a couple of quite bulky daughters. One of them, the blonde one, I last saw trying to make my friend jealous by slobbering over a Pancho Villa lookalike in a seedy North Hobart pool hall, which if not a sign from God you should be calling a taxi then certainly at least a nudge in the ribs. For one reason or another, we were hanging around work late one night, eating the last slices of pizza from a box and talking about what football coaches should do when we saw the woman lurking awkwardly in the shadows, somewhere furtive around the vending machine. It was such a shifty glance in hindsight, but we didn't think a lot of it, as there was still some pepperoni to scoop up and devour. It was only as I shuffled out with all the double crust I could manage floating around in my stomach that I noticed that the 3hree of them, mother and chunky daughters were all huddled on the carpet, sleeping in a medium sized office under a pile of duvets and blankets and discarded pairs of jeans, with not much room or oxygen to share and the gentle hum of the photocopy machine to soothe them all to sleep. Someone asked me what I was looking at and I said nothing and moved off, never to mention it again. I'm always reminded of that in my haste to wander through the mall as lights flicker on and off in high rise buildings and police station windows and cafes with one lingering patron polishing off the last of the late night beans from a plate - all the little stories I'll never know, all the people working through. I still don't know what the bearded guy in the newsagent is doing though - he's dragged his wife out in misty drizzling rain to point to something in the sky, something I can't work out, and as I sip my Red Eye gold and let it sit painfully in my stomach, I leave them to their shared reference point and head off to a heavy metal assault course inside JB-Hifi where loud guitar music assaults my senses from all angles, turning off one important light, the light inside my brain that helps me think...

When I need glare and gaudy neon though, I can always rely on the Casino to help me out though - I find the place just hypnotically awful when I wander around there. I'm not sure if it's just because of my first visit there. I've written before the Casino is the last bastion of don't ask don't tell, a place where ID is never questioned and young teenagers can book a hotel for a quick but totally nervewracking weekend away hiding from Mum and Dad. I found myself there once when I was sickeningly drunk in my own early teenage years - my own need to book hotels for said weekends away being about 2wo years away still - and it was the only place where we could still get served, perky bouncy barmaids quite happy to irresponsibly serve alcohol as long as they could avoid conversation with you and resume one with idling diffident monosyllabic footballers. The only reason I remember the evening is because one minute I was drunk, and I know I was drunk only because I found the phrase green dog so completely hilarious it was as if all comedy had ceased and been dissolved by state system into a single phrase. For some reason though, the alcohol in my system enhanced my concentration into the repetitive, dour way that everyone stuck in this casino at 3hree in the morning was monotonously and repetitively pulling on handles or queuing for change with plastic cups outstretched, and it made me quite philsophical, utterly sober in an instant and in need of a cheese toastie and a bus home. I know that for ages as I munched on that cheese toastie I was quite the musing muser without being amusing, such was my melancholy as I sat at my little plastic table pontificating on the way a pensioner was spending all their coin on such a depressing existence, pull, feed, pull feed...luckily, my friends were on hand to pull me out of the slough of despond, repeating the phrase green dog over and over again until they could shut me up by the power of laughter, not to mention being kind enough not to mention if I was so anti-casino why did I carry a Federal Casino chip for good luck, and shove me in a cab back to North Hobart just to get some peace and quiet...

North Hobart, in those days, was where I lived, where I strolled around, where I did everything but study - when I say everything it probably implies quite a rock and roll existence, but in truth if I had ice, it was in my coke or came from the freezer full of charity ice creams that somehow never made it to the charity intended. I was at least fit from all the poor student can't afford the bus walking home, but flabby from all the good food I would eat. I was happy in the winter, when those walks home were cold and bracing, but I enjoyed being responsible entirely for me, even if there were cultural differences along the way of that walk like having to walk past topless bar staff or a shoot out at a sleazy hotel that made me duck behind a Ford until it passed, on police orders. Good times. I had to adjust to a lot of different things, not least of which was my first awkward post pick up morning when over cornflakes and stilted conversation I had a less than enthusiastic host. What I mostly remember was my struggle to find a good newsagents. I didn't like the one in North Hobart, and felt overly judged for buying the SI Swimsuit edition by the woman in town, so I settled for an out of way cards and papers and junk on a 1ne dollar table. I didn't know Kevin Bacon made so many movies. It all seemed fine until I had to buy a Mothers day card, although unlike today it was at least not accompanied by people pawing over my shoulder to get the one with the monkey on it. To this day, I'm sure I set something off in the emotional background of the shopkeeper, because he took the card, looked at it with a depressed expression, even going so far as to read the words inside with aching poignancy. It seemed impolite to interrupt, but it took an eternity to get the card scanned and in that moment of silence, I would have rather been sitting eating cornflakes and getting grunted responses. I don't think I went back there, not that I can remember, although that might have been because new owners cleared away the 1ne dollar table, and poor Kevin Bacon not getting his royalty cheques just didn't sit right with me...

Of course, the Plenary Room being illuminated by gentle harmless comedy is enough to shut out the despair of desperation. It's sealed off from the poker machines, the doors shut, the lights dimmed, the vomit from the girl who spewed up at the Pete Murray concert all those years ago mopped up by determined staff with spot remover. The post comedy analysis takes place in the fading gloom of the Victoria Tavern, a pub in Hobart that I always associate with Coyote Ugly Fridays and the time they made all the barmaids dress up like 17th century wenches. Not an easy gig working there. Once the last drink is drunk, once the last joke is repeated from the comedy, I wander through the mall early in the morning. It's dark, the taxis turn their headlights on to attract attention, and it's cold, bitingly cold, like some reject from Twilight is chomping down hard on the slumped, post beer shoulders. There's a girl sitting on a park bench, crying with her friends arm around her. Her friend though doesn't seem especially sympathetic, as with her free arm she seems to be either texting or updating her Twitter status as she stares into the distance, eyes not moving from the screen as her friends one elongated tear splashes on the ground. Again it seems impolite to stop and stare, so I move on with a jaunty spring in my step and outside one of the long locked up fast food restaurants a single light is on in the back, all the stools are on the tables like it's the last day of school, but there is definitely a light on, and if there's a reason it's on, or if it's just the last action of locking up for the night, I'll never know because a taxi pulls up by the kerb like a saviour, although one not riding a horse so much as playing blindingly loud Croatian pop, and off I go into the night, into the dark of Kingston and another day ends....

There's no neon in Kingston as I go home, unless you count a discarded Syrup Glowstick, but that's another story...

5 comments:

sparsely kate said...

Hey that was so so sad about your co worker and her two daughters sleeping on the floor like that. Kinda puts things into perspective huh?

Sarah Lulu said...

So did you? Fall in love?

Miles McClagan said...

Yeah - not good. I didn't mention it to anyone, I just kind of let it go and moved onwards...

Yes, I did, although it sort of went badly...I might be in love now, who knows?

Baino said...

I took a friend into the rather promisingly named Star City recently and there wasn't a one armed bandit to be seen. Where's the fun in pushing a button? It was 11am and full of Chinese women who had probably left their babies in the car and I had to remove my hat in case I had a hidden camera under it! Was sparkly tho!

Miles McClagan said...

It's just a depressing place all round - I feel shifty and guilty being there unless I'm absolutely smashed and the guilt melts away, ha ha...I've never had to take my hat off though...maybe they thought you were from ACA?