The girls are in bed at last. The rain has come again, but it’s just steady and pleasant, not like yesterday’s insane hailstorm, and finally, after a couple of hours of it, I have stopped sweating. (Mrs H: “you could be having a heart attack – uncontrollable sweating like that is an indicator”, and I know we’ve had this conversation before, but I still wonder what could be the cause. Especially given that the girls were feeling cold).
It has been a long day, not without its tensions, as my various frustrations manifested themselves trying to discipline my girls, after another late night with their cousins sleeping over at our house last night. Late in the day, I heard Morrissey’s voice in mind,
“God give me patience / just no more conversation.”
But it’s my time now. After I wrote last night, and returned to the lounge room to tell Mrs H how much better I felt at last, she explained to our niece that I couldn’t relax until I wrote. Her look was quizzically dismissive, the way only a thirteen year old can be.
I make another Lavazza caffe latte, check with Mrs H that it’s OK for me to spend the hour or so I need to write, and I cue up iTunes – Electric Light Orchestra’s Rain Is Falling leads into Echo and The Bunnymen’s Bring On The Dancing Horses, and I’m off. At last.
The 34 posts I previously wrote dealing with one of my favourite subjects, becoming a Dad, have developed into an emerging, ongoing questioning of What It Means To Be Man (for want of a better tag), and it is that business which was unfinished in my most recent post.
Yesterday morning I made a visit to Bill The Barber. As I approached the High St end of Northcote Plaza, across the pedestrian crossing where Blockbuster Video used to be, something caught my eye: a four door Toyota Hilux Safari, circa 1985 vintage, with aluminium flat bed and diesel snorkel. I guessed it had been used to deliver fruit and vegetables to the small greengrocer’s inside the Plaza, opposite Aldi. This vehicle inspired me because it was clearly the kind of thing a Real Man would drive (in my book, at least). It also had a resonance because as a kid I had a thing for monster 4×4’s – and the wonder of four wheel drive in general, as the motoring magazines raved about its implementation in the pioneering Audi Quattro. Remember those days? I do.
I walked through that end of the Plaza, thinking how much things have changed in the years I have lived here – Aldi where Medicare used to be, Keep It Fresh grocery opposite, with bags of grapes on special to compete with Aldi; and as I walked on, I passed a forum of Greek men at a table outside a cafe, and a group of women with their hair in rollers at the hairdressers next to the shop with the incense, sheets of stickers, pirated Dora The Explorer shopping bags, and a gruesome wooden statue from Bali that makes me wonder who would want to have it in their possession.
I made it up to Bill The Barber, and the fella in the seat next to me was having his hair styled by Bill’s colleague. Let’s call her The Predator, for the purpose of this story. I had enjoyed having her style my hair when I went there a couple of visits ago, and when she told me her husband had just left her, the rescue fantasy kicked quietly in as I listened with genuine sympathy. Only on a subsequent visit did I hear the other side of the story, from Bill himself, whereby the aforementioned hairstylist was revealed to have embarked on a relationship with a man some twenty years her junior – and this was just the latest in a succession of like men. “No wonder he left her,” Bill had said. “What’s he going to do with an old woman like her?”
So I listened with interest as her subject confessed to her about the woman he had recently met, and he told her how he goes out with his twelve mates (aged between 32 and 37) to Spice Market, then they want to go out for coffee afterward, and it’s two or three in the morning, and he’s over that, he’s ready for a change now, he wants something different, he’s ready to settle down. He hadn’t introduced his new love interest to the mates, because he knew if he did, they would cut his lunch.
I recalled an incident earlier in the week, when I’d made the mistake of catching the train home, and as I tried to keep my balance in the dehumanising sardine can conditions, I watched two young studs text each other across the carriage, appraising the female subject close by via facial expressions and text messages. The world has turned since I was a lonely single lad.
I woke after about five hours sleep. Woke to the sound of rain falling. Lightly, but enough of a deterrent to keep me from W1D3 of C2K again. I wasn’t happy about that, but I wasn’t about to catch a head cold from working up a sweat slogging in the rain.
Instead I drove up to Maria’s bakery in Reservoir, next to where I used to rent a shop for my former business. Past the streets with the funny names – Beenak, Purinuan – and walking into Maria’s bakery, the familiar smell of her bread took the edge off the bad memories. I hadn’t been in for maybe six or eight weeks. She told me she thought I was sick, or on holiday. I laughed that off, and told her I was trying to eat less. She scoffed and told me she had been eating fig jam “this thick”, and she held her thumb and forefinger a centimetre apart. “I’m gonna die happy, on a full tummy,” she said, patting her belly.
I left, the car warm with the aroma of a dozen freshly baked ciabatta rolls, through streets wet and empty and lonely, and cars few and far between. It brought to mind nights returning from clubs back in my desolate bachelor days.
I spied a fella in the Olympic Hotel Tabaret on Albert St with one of those backpack vacuum cleaners. Hours before they open, surely. I wondered whether it was the end of his night or the start of his day. I don’t miss early starts in the dark on a Sunday setting off for the kitchen to cook for Monday’s deliveries.
Back on High St in the drizzle, with Mercury Rev’s Goddess On A Hiway playing, the grey, atmospheric conditions were conducive to writing and creative thinking, and it brought to mind that story as yet unwritten, from all those years ago, where getting home at dawn seemed so glamorous.
I’m getting closer to that writing goal than I’ve ever been before. Thanks for being here today.