Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bad day

First I got into a yelling match with a bus driver.

Then, and more significantly, I found out that my son has Asperger's. Not that the school psychologist is available to share any of the details until a month from now.

That's what you get when you don't pay for services.

I'll post later.

Just felt the need to share. Or vent. Whatever.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I grab my first coffee of the day at Tiamo’s: take-away. I’m on my way to the office of my job-that-pays-the-bills, a trip I make approximately twice a month.

At the bar, a stout middle-aged man sits before a plate of vegetables and unidentifiable blobs of rich brown meat. He sinks his fork into the meat with great gusto. It smells, and not in a good way. (To me, anyway.)
‘Join me!’ he admonishes the blonde young waitress, in perfectly enunciated BBC English.
‘Mmm, no thanks,’ she calls back over her shoulder, her back to us, hands busy in the sink. ‘I’m just not a fan of liver.’
The man laughs heartily in reply. So: that’s liver.


I’m in the fruit and vegetable shop, fetching a snack. Queuing. In front of me is a woman with a dark bob, expensively cut. She wears skinny jeans under baggy black leather boots, studded. A fine black woollen top clings tastefully to her lean torso. A hint of white singlet keeps her from revealing more than a crumb of cleavage. She turns her head to talk to the ‘older’ gentleman with her, and I realise with a shock that she, too, could be called ‘aging’. It’s only now that I notice the ever-so-slight steely glint to her hair, the silver that dances where the light falls on the crown of her head. Maybe you can buy youth, I reflect. Somehow, she doesn’t look ridiculous. She actually looks good. I juggle my mandarins and paper-bagged almonds from hand to hand as she chats with the aproned girl at the register and remember that I didn’t buy skinny jeans earlier in the month because I’m too old. I’m still too old.


I step out of my office onto the street. It’s dinner time, and I’m taking a break. The scene is breathtakingly, unexpectedly beautiful. Lygon Street is wreathed in fog. Down the road, at the intersection with Elgin Street, the familiar street scene fades into nothingness. A symphony of colours blinks back at me out of the mist like fairy lights: bright white, orange, red and green. (Street lamps, traffic lights, car headlights.) In the middle of the road, birch trees stand stark against the grey night. Their black branches reach into the fog and disappear.

I cross the road tentatively, carefully. I can barely see the cars approach – how will they see me?

I dawdle on my way to eat, wandering in circles, poking my head in and out of shops. At the entrance to Lygon Court, outside Borders and Nova cinema, a trio of violinists play a jaunty tune. The Big Issue vendor who normally sets up camp here is nowhere to be seen, perhaps hastened away by the cold tonight. Everywhere, people look content, relaxed, even as they breathe cold steam and brace themselves against the winter that has finally arrived. The street rings with voices. It is Friday night in Carlton and people are here to relax, throw off their weekday worries and ease into their two days of freedom.

In one of the shops, I overhear a conversation between two of the staff.
‘God, I hate weekends’ says one. ‘All the people from the SUBURBS come out and ask STUPID questions.’


Tiamo’s. Again. The outside tables are packed with people, wrapped in winter coats and wreathed in tightly wrapped scarves. One table is empty, though still littered with dishes. I glance inside through the window. People are queuing at the bar, waiting for tables. I poke my head through the door, the hanging wooden beads falling about my shoulders. Inside, it is warm and noisy and dimly lit. I’m hungry, and I’m wearing my trusty New York parka. I brave the cold at the free table outside.

A waiter is clearing the dishes as I approach. He is darkly handsome (though not really attractive), with a caterpillar moustache and a regal bearing. He looks at me and holds up three fingers, then two, then one.
‘How many?’
He sneers a little as he takes it in. I soon realise that sneering a little is his thing. He sneers as he brings my bread (buttered, which I asked not to have), as he lays out my cutlery, as he brings my spaghetti, and finally, as he ushers me inside to pay.


An Aboriginal woman appears over my shoulder as I sip from my glass and scribble on a scrap of paper I have found in my bag. She is not much older than me, by her appearance. Long, stringy hair frames her face from beneath her beanie. Steam drifts from her mouth as she begins.
‘Do you have any change?’
‘No, sorry.’
‘Okay, have a good night.’
I am tired. I don’t know if I have any change, actually. I don’t really give it a second thought as I bend back to my paper.

I hear her repeat the question and glance up to see her legs at the next table. They dismiss her, as I did.

As she moves on, their conversation holds my attention.
‘Oh, I had the WORST beggar the other day. He was a dwarf …’
‘You just don’t know who the real beggars are, that’s the problem …’
‘SOME of them are genuine, I’m sure. A few.’
‘When I was in FRANCE, there was this MAN. His head looked like it was on backwards, like THIS. And then his legs went THIS way. Anyway … And he was shouting something, in the street. It was like GIVE ME MONEY!’ (This last bit is squealed in a desperate, shrill tone.) ‘GIVE ME MONEY!’ (Shrieks with laughter) ‘Of course, that’s not EXACTLY how he sounded.’ (The speaker is in hysterics now.) ‘It was IN FRENCH, of course!’

I glance up in alarm. I’ve been imagining these voices as belonging to a gang of well-off students, or maybe twenty-something professionals. Instead, the laughing woman bears a rigid grey coif and wire-rimmed glasses. Her gentleman companions wear blazers over knitted jumpers. They are members of the left-wing middle-class.

I feel ashamed that I didn’t at least look for some change.

Inside, three women in big winter coats are thawing on stools at the bar, wineglasses before them. The closest one to me wears a coat like a teddy bear: fluffy fake fur. Its collar brushes her cheeks. Springy curls, cut short, tease the tip of her collar. They are coffee-coloured, flecked with silver. A golden flower glints in her nose. Behind the counter, a grey-bearded man zipped into a slim-fitting tracksuit jacket barks orders like a traffic cop.
‘I can’t go any faster’ wails the grizzled, plaid-shirted man behind the coffee machine, as he pours hot milk into latte glasses.

As I pass through the door on my way out, another waiter dips a little bow in my direction and stands flamboyantly, gallantly aside to let me pass.


It’s 10pm when I gather up my laptop, my papers, the several books I have bought, and head for home: to the soundtrack of violins, the hum of car engines and the metal clanking of trams rounding the corner of Elgin Street.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Show and tell

It wasn't just me who audibly snorted during today's show and tell in seven-year-old F's class today. The teacher's aide was similarly bemused.

Young A brought along her baby blankets to show the class. Very sweet. Then she rummaged in her bag for 'my first phone'. I expected a flourescent plastic thing. Instead, she triumphantly held aloft a stainless steel contraption much, much nicer than my last mobile phone.

'It takes photos and everything' she beamed importantly.

There was a collective gasp among her classmates.

As I said, the teacher's aide snorted. I don't know what I did. I think I laughed.

'I've taken the battery out' she said. 'My mum gave it to me last week when she ordered her new phone. She wanted a black one.'

So, I figured it must have been relegated to A's toybox instead of hard rubbbish.

I was wrong.

'Do you send messages?' asked a classmate.

'Yes. LOTS. I'm only supposed to do it when my mum and dad are in the room watching, so they know who I'm talking to, and because it costs lots of money. But ACTUALLY I send lots and lots from my bedroom upstairs.'

'Are there games?'

'Yes. LOTS.' She proceeded to list the games.

'Thank you A' said the teacher. 'Next please.'

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hypothetical dilemma

What to do when you are nearly eight years old, you profess to hate girls, and you realise - to your horror - that you have 'fallen in love' with one?

You don't tell anyone, even your mother, for a really long time.

You nearly DIE when she walks past you at the school disco and LOOKS at you - for once - and you are crying because a prep has been beating you up. How EMBARASSING!

She collects Yu-Gi-Oh cards, so you challenge her to a duel. But she says she is too scared to duel. You plot to convince her to duel you and PLAN TO LET HER WIN. This is a big thing, as you HATE to lose. Anything. And you often cheat in order to win, though you'd never admit it, not even to yourself.

You draw a love heart with your names in it and hide it in your drawer, never to show anyone. As you get out your textas to draw it, you decide to confide in your Mum about your BIG SECRET. You make her promise never to tell anyone, not even Dad.

'I won't,' she promises. 'Not even The Husband.'
'You can tell HIM,' you say.

Your Mum is on the phone to her Mum.
'My son is telling me a secret,' she says. 'But I can't tell you, sorry.'
'You can,' you say. 'Just her. I think she might know something about boy's fashion, and I need advice.'

When your mum gets off the phone she asks why you need to know about boy's fashion. You are not known for a great interest in fashion, beyond light-up TMNT sneakers that were JUST PERFECT for the disco and your habit of writing slogans on skivvies with permanent texta. And you quite like to wear your navy school trackies on weekends.

'So she will fall in love with me, too,' you tell your Mum.

'Oh,' she says. 'You think fashion will make her fall in love?'

Your Mum tells you that she will certainly seek some advice on fashion for you, and suggests that the Husband may have some advice, as he knows a lot about boy's fashion.
'Oh YES!' you say. 'Good one Mum. That would be PERFECT!'
'And your aunties love fashion,' she says. 'They are FASHION EXPERTS. They used to buy all your clothes.'
'YES, that would be great.'
'What about me?' your Mum asks. 'Do I know about fashion?'
'What about your Dad?'
'He doesn't know about fashion?'
'No, he DOES NOT.'
'No,' your Mum smiles. 'He does not.'

The most important thing, your Mum says, the thing that will really make a difference, is if you are fun to be around. 'Do you want to know what made me fall in love with The Husband?' she asks.
'Well, he was handsome, of course. But more than that, he was very nice and we had great talks and we had fun together. And most of all, he made me laugh.'
'Oh,' you say. 'Well, that could be a problem.'
'But I thought you said you were the class clown?' says your Mum.
'Yes, I am.'
'But nobody laughs at your jokes?'
'They do,' you explain. 'Lots of them do. But some of them don't. And SHE never seems to laugh.'

Your Mum has one last piece of advice to deliver.
'Do you know what would make you even handsomer than you are now?' she says.
'No, what?'
'If you let me comb down your hair before school in the mornings and flatten down the sticky-up bits.'
'Mum,' you say. 'I don't think that will help AT ALL.'