I’m standing in the Starbucks at the corner of Wilshire and 26th, Santa Monica, when I get talking to a woman who is holding a small terrier-style dog on a leash.
‘That’s a cute dog.’ I say to the woman as I bend slightly forward and hold out my hand toward the dog, making one of those sweet dog attracting sounds people make to a dog when they want it to engage with them.
‘He’ll just ignore you,’ says the woman who is wearing a white tee shirt, chinos, bright red lipstick, and has curly dark hair and arms covered with some portraiture tattoos, ‘he’s not interested in you out in public, but if you come to his home he’s all over you.’
‘I see.’ I say, giving up on the animal and straightening up, ‘So out in public he’s a snob.’
The woman laughs.
We stand there for a few moments until I say, “I like your tattoos.” and I point to a particularly excellent black and grey work of a couple.
‘Those are my parents.’ she says.
Then she shows me other black and grey portraits up her arms but none are as skilled as the one of her parents and I ask her who did it,
‘It was a woman up in Orange county,’ she tells me, ‘she was really good,’
I don’t have any black any grey and thinking maybe one day I might get one, I ask her for the woman’s number.
‘She committed suicide,’ the woman says.
‘Jesus!’ I say.
‘Yeh,’ says the woman,’ and she did this one too.’ and she rolls her arm around and shows me, this time without explanation, a good, but not as good as the parents, portrait of a baby on the back of her arm.
‘Yeh, it was a real shame,’ says the tattooed woman, as we both look down at the tattoo of the baby that the woman from Orange County who had committed suicide had done.
I’m in the 7 Eleven on the corner of Gramercy and 16th buying a decaf coffee when I strike up a conversation with a couple of smiling young men standing at the end of chip aisle.
The young men, who are wearing white shirts, red ties, have 5 o’clock shadows, gel in their black hair, and lanyards around their neck with a cigarette company logo on them, tell me they’re employed by the cigarette company to seduce smokers into changing brands.
‘I gave up a very long time ago,’ I say when they offer me a samples, ‘because I dislike the idea of choking on a throat tumour.’
The young men laugh and I tell them I hope they don’t smoke.
They laugh again and one of the young men tells me he smokes, but only crack.
‘You do? I ask him, and we all laugh again, ‘it’s lovely isn’t it?!’
This makes him and his colleague laugh even more.
And then, because I am waiting for Erin, who is in the queue paying for my coffee and her sweets and chips, I tell them that I smoked quite a bit of crack when I lived in London.
‘What’s it feel like? they say, all of a sudden taking me seriously.
‘If you ever had cocaine,’ I tell them, ‘well, crack is to cocaine what lobster ravioli with asparagus sauce is to ramen noodles.
Then one of the young men asks me if I have ever ‘done molly’, and when I tell him yes, he briefly closes his eyes and moves his head around in a circle, as if he is a 1950s crooner commencing his set.
Then, for the next few minutes while I drink some of my coffee and they half-heartedly attempt to convert a couple of smokers, we discuss the merits of ecstasy: the enjoyment we get from taking it and the absence of violence amongst ecstasy takers compared to drinkers of alcohol.
Then, suddenly, we are interrupted by a very large man who is leaning forward and pointing at my tee shirt.
Next to him, and holding his hand, is a very large woman, covered in tattoos, with a 1950s style bandana on her head, and she’s smiling and giggling at the man.
‘I have to tell you that I love that stuff.’ he says.
‘Really?’ I say to him as everyone looks in the direction of my my chest, and my dark blue tee shirt, which has the word ‘Gefilte’ written across it in white lettering.
‘Really?’ I say, ‘I think it’s awful stuff.’
‘Naw,’ says the large man, ‘the jelly is a bit gross, but if you get over that, it’s pretty good.’
Then the young men from the cigarette company ask the large man about Gefilte, and the man begins to talk, knowledgeably, about Jewish food and holidays.
‘You’re not Jewish, are you? I say, when he finishes, ‘you look a bit big and …Hispanic to be Jewish.’
‘No,’ he says, looking down at me and laughing, ‘I’m from El Salvador.’
‘I never had Jewish food before I came to the US,’ I tell him, ‘ thought it was all going to be spicy and yummy, like you’d get in a Bedouin tent, or something, and I have to say I was disappointed when it turned out to be brisket and gefilte and eggy bread and chicken soup.’
We laugh at this and then I turn around to see Erin standing off to the side, with chips and sweets in her arms, waiting for me to stop talking so we can leave.
‘Oops, I have to go,’ I say, turning back to the young cigarette company men, ‘it’s been lovely talking to you.’
‘You too,’ they say, and we smile and wave, and so does the large man who liked my gefilte tee shirt, and so does the girl standing next to him: the girl who smiled and giggled, and is wearing a bandana and is covered in tattoos.
I’m seated in 40F on the 1.05pm from LAX to JFK, waiting for the plane to take off, when the guy in front of me in 39 looks back to me through the space between the seats and tells me that he really likes my shoes.
‘I really like your shoes,’ he says, ‘I noticed them when we were boarding,’
‘Oh, thanks,’ I say of my shoes, which are a pair of very worn burgundy leather Converse high-tops, ‘I bought them at a music festival in England, years ago, second hand,’
‘Wow,’ says the man, who is wearing a dark knitted beanie, a tee shirt with an Adidas logo on it, dark blue jeans and Converse of his own.
‘Yeh,’ I say, looking down at my shoes, ‘a 20 quid bargain!’
Then he asks me if I’m from Australia and I lean forward and hang my arms over the seat and tell him yes, originally.
Then I ask him where he’s from.
‘Los Angeles,’ he says, ‘Downtown,’
Then we talk for a little while about how sketchy Downtown is, and how the apartments in the building he lives in have been bought for students by their rich parents and how there are now keg parties every night.
‘I get in the elevator to go to work and kids are smoking weed in it,’ he says, ‘and, like, I’m no prude, man, but it’s like 7am!’
We both laugh, and then he asks me if I’m ‘going home’.
‘No,’ I say, ‘I live in California, now,’
‘Oh,’ he says, ‘so, um, no escaping, then,’
‘No,’ I say, and give a really feeble laugh.
And he too laughs weakly, and even though we are not looking at each other, we know why we are laughing these feeble laughs.
And then the man frowns.
Then he rubs his stubbly chin between his thumb and forefinger and says ’My mum called me crying this morning,’
‘Yeh, I say, ‘There were a lot of people crying. I cried a lot,
‘She’s a school teacher,’ he tells me, ’A life-long Democrat,’
Then there’s some quiet between us and we are both shaking our heads.
‘She just can’t understand how it happened,’ he says.
And then there’s a bit more quiet, until he looks up at me.
‘It feels like somethings gone wrong,’ he says, ‘like really, really, really very wrong.’
I’m standing at the avocado display at Trader Joe’s, Studio City, holding the dog in my arms and checking out the fruit, when a woman comes toward me and starts talking about the dog.
‘Oh, my god, look at you,’ she says to the dog, ‘aren’t you sweet?!’
Then she asks me if she can pat him.
‘Can I pat your dog?’ asks the woman who has long dark gray-at-the-source hair and is dressed in an Hawaiian shirt, dark blue track pants and white rubber sandals.
‘Of course, he’s called Charlie,’ I say, turning slightly toward the woman to make Charlie’s head more accessible.
‘Aw,’ she says as she starts stroking Charlie’s head, ‘I had 2 little dogs but they died earlier this year,’
‘Oh, that’s bad luck,’ I say.
Then, as she continues to pat Charlie’s head, she asks me if it’s an Australian accent she hears.
‘Is that an Australian accent I hear?’ she asks me.
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘but I lived in England for a long time so it’s not so extreme,’
‘I lived in Bundaberg, mate,’ she tells me, and laughs.
I laugh, too, and ask her how she came to live in Bundaberg.
‘I married an Aussie,’ she tells me, still patting the dog, ‘We were married for 8 years, but he couldn’t keep his arm straight,’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I see,’
The woman laughs and claps and raises her voice slightly and says-‘SEE! you know what I mean. I knew an Aussie would know what I mean,’
‘Yes,’ I say, nodding my head, ‘I know exactly what you mean,’
‘I gave him an ultimatum,’ she says, frowning slightly, ‘Me and the kids or the booze,’
‘Oh, dear,’ I say.
‘He gave it up for a while,’ she tells me, ‘but he went back to it,’
‘Shit,’ I say.
‘I didn’t want to lose everything,’ she tells me, ‘I have a nice house in the canyon,’
‘Nice,’ I say.
‘Yes,’ she says, ‘I had my dogs there but I can’t get anymore animals because I have vertigo and asthma,’
‘Oh, dear,’ I say, ‘that’s not good,’
‘No,’ she says, still patting Charlie on the head.
Then we go quiet while she pats Charlie and says sweet things to him.
Then she stops patting Charlie and laughs and says- ‘I gave him a hit of acid on a beach in Indonesia…and then I married him,’
And then she laughs again and rubs Charlie’s head.
It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m standing in front of the large format printer at the FedEx on Sepulveda Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, where I have gone to make prints of my giant world colouring map and scan a pastel drawing I have done of Donald Trump, when I notice a small boy staring at me.
After a few moments of staring at each other, I say hi to the boy, and then, because he doesn’t answer me, I lean forward slightly, and ask him a question.
‘Why aren’t you at school?’ I say, ‘did you get kicked out or something?’
‘No,’ the boy says, ‘I finished for today,’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘did you learn anything while you were there?’
‘Yes,’ the boy, who looks to be approximately 7 years old, says.
‘What did you learn?’ I ask him.
‘J’, says the boy, ‘the letter J,’
‘Okay,’ I say, ‘tell me a word that begins with J,’
‘Juice,’ says the boy, and then smiles,’
‘Excellent,’ I say and clap, ‘now tell me an animal that starts with the letter J’,
I can see by his face that the boy is thinking, and then a small girl, slightly taller than the boy, comes over and both of them are looking at me and saying ‘um, um’ and thinking of an animal that starts with the letter J.
Then a very tall man comes over and stands between them and says ‘come on,’
And then suddenly, at exactly the same time, the boy and the girl shout ‘Jaguar’,
‘Yay,’ I say, and clap my hands again, ‘you should keep on going to school, it seems you learn things there,’
The man says good bye to me and takes the children by the hand and is starting to walk them away, when the small boy notices the drawing of Donald Trump I am holding in my hand, and he stops.
‘Wait,’ he says, ‘Is that Donald Trump?’
‘Yes,’ I tell the boy,’
‘Did you draw that?’ says the boy, and I tell the boy yes.
‘Wow,’ says the boy, smiling at me, ‘that’s really good,’
‘Thanks,’ I say.
And then I ask the boy if he likes Donald Trump
‘No’ says the boy, making the face of someone who has smelled something unpleasant,’ he’s a jerk,’
Then the man, who is trying to lead the boy and girl away says ‘come on’ again.
And I wave to them and smile and the girls waves to me and smiles and I watch and smile as the boy looks up at the tall man and calls out loudly-‘Well he is, Daddy, he is a jerk!’
It’s Saturday afternoon at the post office and I am waiting in the queue with a parcel under my arm when the woman behind the counter calls me over.
‘Hey, Honey, hi,’ she says, ‘watcha got for me today, huh?’
‘Hello,’ I say, ‘I have a parcel that needs to go to Australia,’
‘Okay, Sweety,’ the woman says, holding her arms out toward me as if she is going to hug me, ‘Why dontcha let me have a look at it’?
I hold out the parcel and the woman takes it from me and then, cheerfully, starts asking me questions.
‘You know what it weighs, Sweety?’ she says as she tilts her head and turns the parcel around in her hands.
‘I’m afraid not,’ I tell her.
‘Okay, hun, let me just get some measurements on it then,’ she says, putting down the parcel and taking out a tape measure.
Watching the woman, who wears small wire-rimmed glasses and whose long whispy pink hair is tainted by several inches of gray root, I feel compelled to tell her how pleasant she is.
‘You are the most pleasant post office worker,’ I tell her, ‘usually they’re so mean spirited,’
‘Well,’ says the woman as she adds some strips of clear packaging tape to the places on my parcel that are not secure, ‘that’s because of him upstairs,’
I tilt my head back and look up for a window to the manager’s office or a CCTV.
But all I see are stained beige ceiling batts.
So I look back at the woman who suddenly, like an ostrich, darts her head toward me and says-‘It’s the Lord. My Lord and saviour’.
Then she winks and smiles and nods her head.
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I see,’
‘Yeh, Sweety,’ she says as she does post office things with my parcel, ‘I accepted Jesus Christ into my life,’
‘Oh,’ I say again.
Then the woman, whose name badge says ‘Sharon’ tells me that previous to her acceptance of Jesus Christ as her saviour, she had led a life of sin and misery.
‘Oh, dear,’ I say.
Then, as I am taking my debit card from my wallet in preparation for payment, Sharon tells me that if I wanted, I could have Jesus as my saviour, too.
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘how?’
‘Now, Sweety, what’s in your parcel…documents, liquid, any flammables?’ Sharon asks me.
I tell Sharon no, none of the above, and Sharon writes something on a customs label, and then, without even looking up from her work, says-
‘I invite Jesus to become the Lord of life,’
‘Pardon,’ I say.
‘You can just say that after me, Hun, ‘I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life,’
Sharon, who is now pressing buttons on a calculator and writing numbers on a pad, goes quiet, and there is an uncomfortable silence, so I break it by saying- ‘And, so, um, what happens after that?’
‘Jesus will be working in your life,’ she smiles and tells me, ‘so…, ‘I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life,’.
I look around the post office, at the other people in line, and then back at Sharon and quietly repeat the words ‘I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life,’
‘To rule and reign in my heart from this day forward,’ says Sharon, who is nodding her head up and down and peeling the backing from my customs label.
‘To rule and reign in my heart,’ I say, twisting and turning my debit card over and over with my fingertips.
‘Please send your holy spirit to help me obey You, and do your will for the rest of my life,’ says Sharon, who is now making a red mark on my parcel with a large rubber stamp.
‘Please send your holy spirit to help me obey you,’ I quietly repeat, ‘and do your will for the rest of my life,’
‘Hun,’ says Sharon, sliding the parcel and pen back over the counter toward me, ‘Hun, please put your name and address up top there on the left,’
I take the pen and parcel and write my name and address in the top left hand corner and then slide the parcel and pen back across the desk to Sharon, who leans to her left and puts the parcel in a large fabric bag.
Then, out of nowhere, Sharon closes her eyes, bows her head, holds her own hands and says -‘In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen,’
I look at Sharon for a few moments willing her to raise her head.
But she doesn’t.
And so after a few moments I say- ‘In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen’
Then Sharon opens her eyes and looks at me, and not knowing what else to say, I say thank you.
‘You are very welcome, hun,’ she says, smiling, ‘Now is there anything else I can do for ya today?’
I’m standing in the street, checking my car tires for chalk, wondering if I’m going to get a ticket later in the day, when a man walks past with his dog and starts up a conversation about the parking situation.
‘Ma’am,’ he says, ‘you should call the city and ask them to issue you with a permit,’
‘We’ve tried that,’ says my neighbour, Melissa, who is standing behind my car checking for chalk, ‘but they won’t do it,’
Then Melissa tells the man that she has lived in the apartment for 20 years and that things regarding parking are unlikely to change.
‘I work for the city,’ the man says, ‘maybe you could try again, though you might have to pay,’
We both agree that we would probably have to pay, and then Melissa, who is wearing a towel on her head because I have just touched up her roots, goes inside and then, because he asks me where I am from, the man and I stand on the footpath, talking.
‘I am from Australia,’ I tell the man, who then tells me he has been there.
‘I’ve been there,’ he says, ‘I went to Sydney for my son’s wedding,’
‘Nice,’ I say.
‘Yeh,’ he says, ‘he married an Aborigines,’
‘Oh, yeh?’ I say.
‘Yes, ma’am,’ says the man, ‘and I knew nothing about the Aborigines until he married one,’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘they are the original population,’
Then I tell him a short history about Australia’s attempted genocide of the Aboriginals, and how once there was the White Australia Policy.
‘They are so black,’ the man says of the Aborigines he saw, shaking his head and laughing, ‘but they live just like normal people,’
‘Some do,’ I say, understanding that the man means in houses, with beds in the bedrooms and living in the living room.
‘They live in London, now,’ says the man about his son an the son’s wife.
Then the man tells me he was born in Shanghai, but came to the US when he was 10.
‘My whole family is out there still,’ he says, ‘and I ain’t seen none of them,’
‘Oh, yeh?’ I say.
‘Yes, ma’am,’ he says, ‘they weren’t too happy with my grandpa marrying a black woman, so my grandma came back here,’
‘Oh, yeh?’ I say again.
‘She lives in San Fransisco now,’ he tells me, ‘but she got married when she was 15,’
‘Interesting,’ I say and he laughs and says yes it is.
‘Well,’ I say, ‘I’d best get back inside,’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ he says.
And then he ask me my name and I tell him and then he tells me his name
‘That’s my English name,’ he says, ‘But my Chinese name is Lee Lee Ching,’
‘Okay, Lee,’ I say, ‘I hope you have a good day,’
You too, ma’am,’ he says as he starts to walk off with his dog, ‘you too.’
I’m standing at a pedestrian crossing, in a small rectangle of shade cast by a traffic light, when a very tall man with curly grey hair and the largest human nose I have ever seen walks up beside me and says-‘I’m okay today, thank you, because my Morgellan’s isn’t playing up,’
Not knowing what Morgellan’s is, I don’t know how to reply so I just say ‘oh’, and wait for the man to go on.
‘It looks like I’m a tweeker,’ he says, pointing to red spots on his face and neck, ‘but I’m not. It’s the chemtrails,’
‘See?’ he says, tilting his head backward and pointing upward.
I look up at the sky and then back at the man who is waving his hand back and forth at the sky.
‘NASA and the Illuminati have been putting those chemtrails there for more than 40 years, and they drop down fibres and the fibres rain down and burrow into your skin,’ he says.
‘Goodness me,’ I say, staring at the mans nose, trying to think of a way to describe it.
‘It’s bacteria that they’re dumping on us,’ says the man, who is wearing a dark blue short sleeved shirt, knee-length brown checked shorts, red trainers and a pair of red socks with baby’s bottles embroidered on them, ‘like worms that burrow in and live in your skin,’
Still not knowing what to say, I let the man continue.
‘They drop it out of automatic planes,’ he tells me, ‘planes without pilots,’
‘Like drones?’ I ask him.
‘EXACTLY!’ he shouts, ‘EXACTLY!’
Then he tells me that the bacteria that’s dropped are like caterpillars, and that they have the NASA logo on them.
‘If you look at them under a microscope you’ll see the NASA logo,’ the man says.
‘Goodness,’ I say, as the light changes to ‘walk’ and I start to cross the road.
The man crosses at the same time, repeating his story about the chemtrails and the Illuminati, until we get to the other side and he stops and stares down at me.
‘Look,’ he says, ‘go home and Google it,’
‘Okay,’ I tell him, ‘I will,’
‘Promise?’ he points at me and says as he starts to walk off.
I tell the man I promise to look it up.
‘There’s going to be a lawsuit starting in 2 weeks,’ he shouts back at me, ‘look it up,’
I wave to the man and tell him I will, and then I walk off through the petrol station forecourt.
Then I hear the man yelling again.
‘It’s NASA and the illuminati,’ he’s calling out to me , ‘and NASA’s logo is all over them…ALL OVER THEM!’
I’m standing in a line in a hot carpark on Dell Street, Venice, California, waiting to have my photograph taken by a wardrobe person, when a tall young man in the line in front of me turns to me and starts up a conversation.
‘I really like your look,’ he tells me, ‘you got some style,’
‘Thanks,’ I smile and say.
‘I’d like to shoot you,’ he says.
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘really? Are you a photographer?’
‘Among other things, yeh,’ he says.
Then he tells me his name and I tell him mine and we shake hands.
‘I have, like, 14 thousand followers on Instagram,’ he says, ‘You should follow me’.
Then he asks me if I am free tomorrow for the photoshoot and after I tell him I am not sure, he continues to talk.
‘I’ve only been here for like a month,’ he says, tapping his chest and doing a subdued jig, ‘but things are really happening for me,’
‘Oh,’ I say, looking up at him with my arms folded, ‘that sounds good,’
Then he tells me he has just made a promotional video for a tattoo artist who is about to be a celebrity.
‘He’s folk now,’ the young man tells me, ‘but he’s, like, about go big,’
Then he holds up his iPhone and shows me a video of the tattoo artist being interviewed on a red carpet by a long-haired pretty teenager.
Then the young man, who is dressed in black track pants, a red tee shirt and ochre Caterpillar boots, tells me he has a manager who has gotten him some acting work, and that beside being a photographer, he also does stand up.
‘Oh, yes?’ I say.
‘Yeh,’ he says, tapping his chest again, and frowning, ‘I’m, like, a pretty funny guy,’
Then he tells me that even though he is only 21 years old, he has his own production company, and that he is self taught in everything that he does.
Next he tells me that he was living in West Hollywood, but that his roommate had started to act in a strange way.
‘He’s bisexual,’ the young man says, ‘which is cool because my uncle is, like, bisexual, but this guy was acting, like, like I was his wife,’
Then he looks at his iPhone again, scrolling up and down, looking for things to show me.
Firstly he shows my some images of him posing with his shirt off while 3 girls in very little clothing hang on to his various limbs.
Then he shows me a video.
‘Here’s a video I made of an androgynous,’ he says, and for the next few moments, we look at the screen of his iPhone where a person wearing a head scarf, is walking along a street in high heels, singing.
Finally the video finishes and hoping that I can get away from the young man, I tell him that I am hungry and that I’m going to get some food.
But the young man says he needs to put on a few pounds and that he’ll come with me.
And so we then stand in front of the french fry tray and, while dipping the tip of his french fries one by one in ketchup, the young man tells me more about himself.
‘I’m like excellent at imitations. Like, after about half an hour with someone I can sound exactly, like, like them,’ is one of the things he tells me.
And that he has a friend whose uncle is a big Hollywood agent who has taken an interest in him.
‘Have you heard of him?’ he asks me.
Hoping that soon the young man will stop talking to me, I don’t respond, and instead I, while I eat my french fries from a paper plate, I stare out into the car park, to the spot where the portable toilet trailer is parked.
‘I’m a good salesman,’ says the young man, who has a wispy beard and acned cheeks, ‘I worked in car sales for like 4 years. And even though I’m, only 21, I was the manager,’
Suddenly, I realise I am clenching my jaw, so I tell the young man I am going to get coffee and I throw my paper plate in the bin and start to walk away while the young man continues his solo conversation.
‘Things are happening for me out here,’ the young man calls out to my back, ‘things are, like, really happening.’
I’m on my way home from the supermarket, by foot, and I am just about to cross Ventura Boulevard when I see a short bald man holding a large white envelope running toward me.
‘OH MY GOD,’ shouts the man as he reaches me, ‘YOU’VE GOT GREAT ENERGY!’
‘Really?,’ I say, ‘do I?’
‘YES,’ shouts the man again, raising his arms as if I have just performed a hold-up on him, ‘you sure DO!,
Then, suddenly, he puts his right hand on my left shoulder, inhales, holds his breath for a moment or two,tilts his head forward, exhales and quietly says-‘I have AIDS’,
Then he purses his lips and nods his head up and down.
‘Shit,’ I say, frowning, ‘That’s very, very bad luck,’
Then the man opens his eyes.
‘Yes, yes it is,’ he says, looking into my eyes, ‘But don’t worry, you can’t catch it like this,’
‘No,’ I say, ‘I didn’t think I could,’
Then the man, who is wearing blue slacks and missing the front teeth on both his upper and lower jaw,takes his hand from my shoulder and pulls up the sleeve of his dark blue polo shirt.
I look down to see a bony shoulder on which grey hair grows in tufts, like seaside grasses.
‘I need some medication,’ the man says, holding the white envelope up to my face, ‘I need 36 dollars,’
‘Um,’ I say, ‘okay,’
Then, like a magician performing a cup and balls trick, the man makes the envelope disappear, and pulls up his shirt.
‘You see?’ he says, pointing to his abdomen, ‘I need suppositories,’
‘Oh,’ I say, bending to look at his distended abdomen.
‘You see?’ the man says again.
Then the man closes his eyes and is quiet.
I stare at his face, at his mouth that is closing and opening like a fish gasping on a river bank.
And there is a long quiet between us until I put my shopping bags down and tell him a lie – ‘I’m afraid I only have 5 dollars’,
The man opens his eyes and pokes his head forward like an emu.
‘Is that all?’ he cries as I hold 5 dollar note out toward him.
‘Yes,’ I tell the man who is now tsking me and fanning his face with the white envelope, ‘I’m afraid that really is all I have.’
It’s approximately 12 midday, and 112 degrees, and I’m sitting in the hot tub trying to relieve some pain I have in my right shoulder blade, when a woman walks up to the tub, puts her right foot down on to the top step and calls down to me, ‘I’m not touching that hand rail. Not in this heat,’
The woman, who is wearing a floppy white raffia sun hat with a green band, black Jackie O-style sunglasses and a full piece red white and blue patterned bathing costume that features a skirt which makes her look like an inflated toddler, holds both her hands up in the air above the handrail, in a way that looks like the handrail has a gun and is conducting a stick up on her.
‘No,’ I say looking up at her, ‘metal conducts heat,’
‘Where are you from?’ she says to me as she moves her left leg down into the hot tub, placing it on the step next to her right, ‘is it England or Australia?’
I tell the woman I am originally from Australia but spent a good deal of time in England, thus the accent,’
‘I’ve never been,’ she tells me, pausing for a moment until she follows with, ‘Are you just here for the weekend?’
I tell her yes, I am here for the weekend and then the woman lets me in on some more information about herself.
‘I’m here for the union weekend,’ she says, offering me up the acronym of the teachers union she belongs to, ‘but we won’t be coming to this resort next year,’
Then she tells me that the resort isn’t unionized, and the resort they had held their conferences at before this one had been refurbished and had reopened without a union so they hadn’t been able to stay there, either.
‘We’re a union so it does not seem right to hold a union conference at a non-unionized facility. So we’ll probably hold the conference in L.A from now on,’ she lets me know, ‘which won’t be as much fun…but,’
Then she tells me she is getting a quick swim in during a break, that she had already eaten a sandwich.
Then, after she asks me what I do and I say artist, she tells me her boyfriend is from El Salvador and he too is in artist.
‘We’re going this fall break,’ she tells me of El Salvador, ‘he’s pretty well known there,’
Then the woman, who has now lowered herself down and stands on the second step of the hot tub, tells me that her boyfriend painted a big mural on the wall of an El Salvadorian airport, the name of which I don’t catch.
‘He’s spent most of his life in L.A,’ the woman says, while I watch her intently as she lowers her body fully into the hot tub,’ ‘Do you live in L.A now?’
I nod my head at the woman and say ‘uh-huh’.
Then the woman tells me a few more facts about her and her boyfriend until I interrupt her to tell her that shortly the timer will go off on the hot tub and the jets will cease and I point to the timer switch on the wall.
‘There’s the switch,’ I tell her, standing to leave the hot tub, unexpectedly uncomfortable with the woman and her questions and informational ways.
‘Yes,’ says the woman as she stares over at the hot tub timer switch on the wall, ‘it was nice talking to you,’
‘Goodbye,’ I say, not looking back, as I exit the hot tub.
And then I turn and look down into the hot tub, at the woman, and for some reason I lie and tell her it has been nice talking to her
‘Good luck,’ calls the woman in the white sun hat and red white and blue bathing suit, ‘with your life in L.A.’
It’s Monday afternoon, about half past one, and I am approaching the gate that leads to the studio where I live, when I notice a man, standing to the right of the gate, where the large blue-lidded rubbish bin is stored.
The man is bending down and taking clothes out of a duffel bag and laying them out on the ground.
‘I’m looking around,’ the man stands up and calls out to me just as I reach my hand out to open the rusty wire and iron gate, ‘for somewhere to wash my clothes,’
‘Oh,’ I say, stopping so still that I feel like a statue with it’s hand on a gate, ‘I’m not sure where you can wash them around here,’
The man, who is tall and bald and dressed in a green track suit, black leather jacket and large black work boots asks me if I could give him something to eat.
‘Have you got anything for me to eat? he says, and I tell him no, that I can’t give him anything to eat.
‘I can’t give you anything to eat because I haven’t been to the supermarket myself,’ I tell the man.
‘But if you wait a minute,’ I say to him, ‘I’ll go and get you five dollars,’
The man thanks me and says ‘bless you’ twice, and I go through the gate and into the studio and get 5 one dollar bills.
While I am there I look in the bottom of the fridge and see there are 3 Babybell cheese laying there and I take out 2; One for me and one for the tall, sweaty-headed man who is looking for somewhere to wash his clothes and something to eat.
With the five one dollar bills in my right hand and the cheese in my left I go back out into the alleyway where the man shakes his finger at me, motioning me to come no closer.
I stand still and wait until he has spat a stream of frothy white liquid into the large rubbish bin.
‘Mouthwash,’ he says, ‘I’m cleaning up a bit,’
‘Oh, nice,’ I tell him and then I hand him the five dollar bills and his cheese.
He puts the money in his pocket and says thank you and then rolls the cheese around in his hand, as if it needs explaining.
‘It’s cheese,’ I tell him of the cellophane wrapped sphere, ‘Babybell. I’ve got one, too,’
And then I say ‘look’ and start to unwrap the cheese and he does the same and then we stand there without saying anything, unwrapping, peeling and then eating our Babybell cheese.
‘My name is Peter,’ the man tells me once his cheese is all gone, ‘Peter Green,’
I tell him my name and then we shake hands.
And then Peter Green starts to tell me other things.
‘I’m a percussionist,’ he tells me, ‘and a drummer. That’s my thing,’
‘Oh, right,’ I say, ‘nice,’
‘My mother has cancer,’ he says next, ‘and she’s 92 years old and she’s been having chemotherapy,’
I tell him I am sorry to hear that and then Peter Green asks me where in England I come from.
I lie and I say – ‘I’m from near Oxford,’
Then he tells me his mother is from Wales.
‘My mother is from Wales and my father is from Jamaica,’ says Peter Green as he leans forward and rubs his right hand over and over on the light grey stubble on his head, as if shaking something from his hair, ‘and I am walking back and forward everyday to my see my mother while she’s getting well,’
I tell him again I am sorry to hear about his mother and then he asks me if I have some work for him.
‘I am a good handyman. Do you have any work for me to do?’ asks Peter Green and I tell him no.
‘I am actually looking for full-time work myself,’ I tell him, and he asks me ‘What is it that you want to do?’
‘I don’t know,’ I tell Peter Green, and then I laugh a little bit, ‘I’m waiting for a divine sign,’.
But Peter Green doesn’t laugh.
Instead he tilts his head right back, his leather jacket opening across his chest as he out-stretches his arms like a runner crossing a finishing line.
He stands immobile and I slowly finish my piece of cheese while I wait and watch to see what he will do next.
Then suddenly Peter Green tilts his head forward, lets his arms drop and looks at me.
‘Things are going to get so much better for you,’ he tells me.
And he tells me he knows this because he can ‘feel it’.
Then he tells me they’re going to get better for him, too.
Then he reaches out and takes my left hand and softly kisses the back of it.
I smile at Peter Green and say ‘okay, that would be great for both of us,’
Then he let’s go of my hand and I tell him I need to go inside and have a shower.
‘Then bless you,’ says Peter Green softly, rubbing his head and waving his hand at me, ‘I’ll be looking out for you’.
It’s what feels like 1250 degrees and I am sitting on some steps, under a tree, sunlight poking down on me, waiting for the Lyft to take me to the tattoo studio, when a man pulls up in a big black car, exits the car, and then stands on the footpath in front of me and says- ‘Wow, this is a really nice street,’
I tell him yes, and he says wow again and tells me it’s a beautiful street.
‘Such beautiful trees, so quiet,’ says the man who is very tall with dark sparse hair, a large stomach, and is wearing a white shirt, black pants and shoes and carrying a large brown paper bag,’
‘You should see some of the streets on the other side of the river,’ I tell him, gorgeous trees and very quiet,’
‘Uh huh,’ says the man, ‘where are you from, what’s that accent?’
I tell him Australia and he tells me he thought so, and that he had lived in Australia for a time.
‘I lived in Glen Waverly,’ he tells me after I have asked him where he lived, ‘and Clayton,’
He goes on to name a couple of other familiar places and I sit there in the dappled light, in the heat, wilting in my jeans and tee shirt, nodding my head.
‘Where are you from?’ I ask him.
‘Beirut,’ he tells me, ‘but we went to Australia for a while and then we came here,’
‘Nice,’ I tell him.
Then the man tells me he works for ADT Alarms as a salesman and then points to an ADT truck parked further up the street.
Then the man tells me he has another business that he’s trying to get off the ground.
‘I am a hypnotherapist,’ the man says.
‘Really?’ I say.
‘Yes,’ he says and then begins to tell me about a man whom he has just cured of smoking.
‘I specialise in smoking,’ the man says, ‘and I love when I have successes,’
Then I tell the man something that I can tell thrills him.
‘I trained as a hypnotist,’ I say, ‘and I have some very good friends who are hypnotherapists,’
‘Ooooohhhh,’ says the man, and holds his hand out toward me, ‘this is great. What is your name?’
I tell him mine and he tells me he his as we shake hands and smile at each other, bonding over hypnosis.
‘Are you a hypnotherapist or a hypnotist?’ I ask him.
‘Hypnosis is for the stage,’ he tells me, waving his hand, ‘but when you add some training it becomes therapy,’
Then he tells me he has certification and tells me who he trained with in the United Kingdom.
I tell him who I trained with and then he tells me I should start working as a hypnotist.
‘They’re slow in the US for this, but last night I spend three hours on a smoking client and I love it,’ he says, ‘I love the connection with people,’
I tell him this is the reason I trained, too, that I loved working with people and helping them out.
Then he tells me again I should start working and I tell him I love it but have trouble with confidence.
‘Maybe I should get some sessions from you,’ I tell him, smiling up at him from where I sit, ‘to help me out with my low self confidence,’
‘Yes, yes, of course,’ he says, ‘I’ll give you my card,’
He is shaking his head as he takes a card from his wallet and I am smiling at him.
‘You know, I was going to park down the street but I said to myself no, I will park here and now I meet you,’ he says, handing me his card.
‘Yeh,’ I say, ‘it’s a lucky meeting,’
‘Nothing happens for nothing.’ says the hypnotherapist, smiling and reaching out to shake my hand again, ‘Everything happens for something.’
I’m at Trader Joe’s, standing at the checkout waiting to be served, when a voice from behind me begins to count.
“1,2,3,4…yeh, you’ll be alright,’
I turn to see a very tall man wearing a golf visor, a white golf shirt with a golf logo on it, and a pair of golfer style chinos.
He has a gray beard and moustache and wire rimmed glasses and is carrying a basket which he tells me contains 11 items.
“I got 11 items in here, so if anyone should be in trouble it’ll be me, you’ve only got 4,’
Then he makes a joke about him being the aisle police.
‘Who do I think I am,’ he says, laughing, ‘the Trader Joe’s Aisle Police?’
I laugh at this too, and then, after standing there for a bit, exchanging a few words, he asks me where I am from.
‘So, where are you from?’ says the man, holding his basket by by the handles with 2 hands and swinging it slightly in front of him.
‘Melbourne,’ I lie.
‘I travelled to Sydney with Robert Goulet a long time ago,’ the tall man says, ‘remember him?’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘was he that chef?’
‘No,’ the man says, laughing and tssking, ‘a singer. Robert Goulet was a singer,’
‘Oh, shit,’ I say, ‘yes, I know who you mean,’
Then I tell him sorry.
‘Sorry,’ I say, ‘I got Goulet and gourmet confused,’
Then, as I am putting my items down on the counter to be checked out, the man continues to talk to me.
‘Do you play golf?’ he asks.
‘No,’ I tell him, frowning.
‘I played in Australia, says the tall golfer, ‘and the guy there kept asking me, “you want to play 9 or 18 holes”?
Then he starts mocking the nasal whine of the Australian accent and saying – ‘I said, whaaaaaaa? I just want a game of golf,’
I laugh at his imitation and so does he and then he says,- ‘Oh, I see you have the ‘F’ word on your arm,’ and I say yes and look at the back of my right arm where I have the word “fuck” tattooed.
Then I ask the man what his name is, and because I have already put my basket down, I shake the man’s hand when he tells me he is called Carl.
‘I’m a musician,’ says the tall golfing musician called Carl, ‘you should come hear me play,’
I say okay and he asks me if I like jazz.
‘You like Jazz?’ he says and I lie again and say yes, even though I think I would probably enjoy hearing Carl play it because Carl is very engaging, even in a supermarket.
Then, because I am interacting with the cashier by paying, and because he has overheard mine and Carl’s conversation, the cashier tells us he is a musician too.
‘I organise the open mic night over at the Tuning Fork, the restaurant right across the street,’ he says, pointing across the street.
Then Carl, who is smiling and still swinging his basket, calls open mic night karaoke, and the cashier isn’t happy.
‘Don’t say the “K” word around here,’ says the cashier who who has a wispy gray beard and moustache and gray hair pulled back into a pony tail, baring a sweaty forehead.
‘Oh, is that right?’ I say to the cashier as I pick up my bag of goods.
‘I’m a musician, too,’ says the cashier and then lists several pieces he has written, including an entire Country and Western musical.
‘Wow,’ I say to the cashier, who then lists a few more pieces of information about the open mic nights, times and so on.
And then, as I say thank you and start to leave the supermarket, Carl picks up his groceries which have now been bagged, and follows me out of the shop.
‘I’m going to give you my YouTube address so you can check me out,’ he says, resting his bag of groceries on top of a shopping trolley that is parked on the footpath, ‘have you got paper and a pen?’
I tell Carl that I do have paper and pen, and I take a small business-sized red card and a pen from the front of my dark blue Converse messenger bag and hand them to him.
After he has written his details I tell Carl I will now give him my details and I take another red card from my bag and write my phone number and website address on it and then hand it to him.
‘Have a look on the back of the card,’ I tell Carl as he takes it.
On the back is a drawing I have done of a small smiling man.
Written above his head is the word ‘Harmony’.
‘Appropriate for a musician,’ I tell Carl, and smile.
‘Yeh,’ says tall Carl, smiling now too, ‘very appropriate.’
I’ve just come back from the CVS pharmacy and am about to put the key in the lock of my front door when I hear ‘hello’ and turn to see my neighbour sitting on her front steps, a scrubbing brush in one hand and a small bucket of water to her right.
‘Hello,’ I say.
‘Hello,’ she says back to me, ‘don’t mind me, I’m just giving myself a pedicure because I’ve been camping for 4 days and my toes are filthy,’
Then she tells me she has been to a place called Sycamore, a place of exquisite natural beauty according to her description, and that she had had a very good time.
For a minute or so I listen to the neighbour’s travelogue until it comes to a natural conclusion, at which point I tell her I have a question for her.
‘Sure,’ she says to me, ‘Shoot!’
‘Well,’ I say, putting down my bag and leaning up against the door frame, ‘I have just been to CVS pharmacy, right, to refill my prescriptions, and one of them is going to cost 150 dollars,’
She stops scrubbing her toes and looks up at me.
‘Gosh!’ she says
‘And another one of them is 50 dollars and the final one is 20 dollars,’ I say, ‘Does that seem like it’s right to you?’
‘Well,’ says my neighbour, who is holding the scrubbing brush in her right hand and the middle toe of her left foot with her left hand while staring up at me, ‘yes, I guess it could be right. I’m taking a medication at the moment that costs 900 dollars,’
‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ I say, staring down at her, door key in my hand, mouth hanging open.
‘And that’s monthly,’ she says, ‘900 dollars a month,’
‘How the fuck do you pay for that?’ I ask her.
‘Well,’ she says, looking down at her toes and continuing her scrubbing, ‘I can’t work at the moment so I get free medical insurance and that covers it,’
I stare at my neighbour for a few moments more while she smiles and carries on with the task of tidying her toes.
I’m still staring at her, shocked at the 900 dollar confession, when she looks up at me, frowns and says- ‘Pedicures are expensive, you know, so me sitting here doing my own doesn’t gross you out, does it?’
‘No,’ I tell her, ‘not as much as the fact that your medication costs 900 dollars it doesn’t.’
And at that, we both laugh.
It’s 10am and what feels like 150 degrees in L.A and I am sitting under a tree, smoking my e-cigarette, my head bowed, watching the movement of sparkling dappled light on the front of my black suede slip-ons, when a woman comes up to me and says-
‘Hi, I didn’t catch your name,’ and then introduces herself.
After I say hello and tell her my name, she tells me she loves my ‘look’.
‘You know, I saw you here last week and I just love your look,’
I look down the tattoos on my forearms, my lint covered black velvet shorts, the 8 dollar slip-on shoes, and wonder how I could possibly have a look anyone could like when I haven’t showered for 2 days.
I thank the woman and she says ‘My pleasure,’ and then she takes out her iPhone.
‘I’ve just got a role playing a prisoner on TV and your look is perfect for it. Can I take your photo for reference.’
I don’t know what else to say so I say sure,
After a few moments fiddling with her iPhone, and me wondering what time GAP opens, I move into the full shade, where the woman has directed me.
‘Do you want me to look mean, and like….um, ‘ I say, feeling awkwardly criminal, ‘put my hands on my hips or anything?’
‘Yes,’ says the woman, ‘that would be awesome,’
‘Do you want me to do a snarl on my face?’ I say, putting my hands on my hips and leaning menacingly to the left, ‘I can look tough if you’d like,’
‘No thanks,’ says the woman, ‘your natural expression is enough,’
Then, while I ponder just how vicious I must normally look, the woman stops taking photos and tells me how much she likes my haircut.
‘I love your haircut,’ she says, ‘it looks so good so short,’
I tell her thank you and she says that it’s her pleasure and that she’d really like a short haircut like mine.
‘I got it cut at Fantastic Sam’s,’ I tell the woman.
‘Oh, yes,’ she says, recognising the name of the chain of stores where cuts can be had cheaply.
’17 dollars,’ I tell her, ‘I went in there and pointed to a picture of a man on the wall and asked the Romanian stylist to please cut it like that, but make it shorter on the sides and not quite so mannish,’
‘Well, that stylist did a fantastic job,’ she says.
‘Well,’ I say to the woman who will soon be playing a prisoner based on my look, ‘that’s probably why it’s called Fantastic Sams.’
I’m at Crave cafe, sitting on the red sofa, the one that doesn’t face the street, drawing comic characters in my sketch book, when a young man who is sitting at the table in front of me looks over and says- ‘Excuse me, Miss,’
‘Yes?’ I say, surprised by his polite use of ‘Miss’ in reference to me.
‘What’s your name?’ says the young man who is wearing yellow ochre coloured chinos, yellow ochre Caterpillar boots, a red shirt with the sleeves rolled up, suspenders, a pair of white-rimmed, green-lensed sunglasses, a ponytail and a goatee.
I tell the young man my name and he tells me he likes my style of drawing.
‘I really like your style of drawing,’ he tells me, ‘and I wondered what your name is because I might have heard of you,’
‘You wouldn’t have heard of me,’ I tell him, closing my book and putting it on the sofa next to me, ‘I’m not someone,’
‘Oh, really?’ he says, ‘Well, even if you are no one, I still love your drawings,’
I tell him thank you and then I pick up my sketch book and he goes back to the papers he is reading; something that looks like a script, with yellow highlights on some of the words and ‘Franco’ written across the top.
A few moments later one of his papers is licked by the wind and flips across the footpath.
‘Oh, fuck,’ he says, getting up from his chair to chase his paper.
‘Oops,’ I say, and he laughs.
‘I don’t mean ‘Oops’ for the ‘fuck’, I tell him, ‘just oops because your paper flew off,’
He laughs and then waves his paper toward me and tells me again how much he likes my drawings.
Then, as he sits back at his table, he asks me if I have published any books and I tell him about my comic book life story.
‘I wrote a comic book about my life,’ I tell him, ‘self published,’
He tells me he’ll buy it because he likes to ‘support’.
I tell him it’s on Amazon and we talk on a bit until he asks if he can come and sit on the sofa with me.
‘Of course,’ I tell him, ‘come on over,’
Then the young man begins telling me about himself.
He tells me he is name is Jonny, that he’s an actor and that he’s just been to a meeting at CBS.
Then he tells me he has been in a TV series.
And that he has made a film that will be coming out soon; a film in which he has a big part.
‘I’m thinking about moving out here,’ he tells me, ‘to LA. But to be honest, I’m scared,’
‘Um,’ I say, ‘what have you got to be scared of. You’ve made a TV show, you’ve been in a big film. You’ve had a meeting at CBS. Maybe you’re nervous, rather than fully scared,’
Jonny laughs, and then gets serious and cocks his head to the side.
‘Maybe you’re right,’ he says, ‘I’m not used to having people question me. You’ve made me really think,’
Then he tells me the TV series has caused people to be interested in him, but interested for what, he is not too sure.
‘I’m not sure whether they’re interested in me for me or for me because I’m someone,’
I nod my head and tell him he’d better get used to it.
Then Jonny asks me – ‘Do you find people just want to be with you because of who you are?’
‘No, I don’t think so’ I say, frowning thoughtfully at him, thinking that he thinks I am still a someone.
‘I think if you just be an authentic human being, people will want to be with you anyway,’ I suggest to him.
Then, as he leans forward, rubs his goatee and smiles a huge smile, I look straight into his mouth and ponder how very similar this someone’s teeth are to the teeth of all the no ones I know.
I’m standing on the corner of Ventura Blvd and Laurel Canyon Drive, waiting for the lights to change when I look over and see, standing to my right, a gray-haired man dressed in wire rimmed glasses, black track pants, red running shoes, and a black hoodie.
To his right is a woman dressed in green striped pyjama pants, a black hoodie, and black flip-flops, holding a domed cream-topped iced drink from Starbucks.
And then I see, off to the right of all three of us, a metre or two away, in the middle of the footpath, his head drooping forward so far as to make only his chin viewable, a man in a wheelchair.
On his head is a black baseball cap, and he is wearing a heavy black winter coat, dirty green jeans and there’s a back pack hanging from the right handle of his wheelchair.
For a while I watch the man in the wheelchair, unsure of whether to give him some money, but then my attention is drawn to the woman’s creamy drink, and I start wondering whether I might like to go and get one.
Then suddenly, while I’m watching the caramel ooze down the inside of her transparent plastic drink container, the woman turns, walks over to the man in the wheelchair, places some money in his lap, gives his shoulder a rub and then turns back to wait for the lights.
Then, a few moments later the gray-haired man in the hoodie turns and does the same as the woman; walks over to the man in the wheelchair, places some coins in his lap, and then turns back to again wait for the lights.
For a moment I look at the man and the woman, thinking there may be an exchange of words.
But the say nothing to each other, they just continue to wait for the lights.
So then I too I take some change from my pocket, walk over to the man in the wheelchair, place the money in his lap, pat him on the shoulder, and then turn back to wait for the lights.
And then the three of us stand there for a few more moments, staring straight ahead, until the light goes green.
And then the gray-haired man in the hoodie, the woman with her cream-topped iced drink, and me, cross the street.
It’s Saturday morning, about half past 10, and I’m walking past the bus stop that’s situated a few meters from the corner of Ventura Boulevard, when I say hello to a man to whom I had said hello just the day before.
The man, who is in a semi-lounging position on the black metal bus stop bench, has his gray hair long and slicked back, gray stubble on his face, is wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt, khaki shorts and has a shopping trolley off to his side that contains a small black wheeled suitcase, a large, full black bin liner and the skeleton of a lengthy wooden-handled umbrella.
‘Hello,’ I say, smiling to him as I pass.
‘Oh,’ he says, and holds up his finger as if he would like me to stop.
So I do.
‘We spoke yesterday, right?’ he says, and when I tell him yes, we did, he tells me that though I probably didn’t mean to, I caused him a problem in his thoughts.
So despite what I have done not being made clear to me, having caused unintended mischief, I apologise.
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,’
He shakes his head slowly, holds up his left index finger, waves it side to side, and tells me not to worry.
‘You weren’t aware of what you were doing, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional,’
Then he tells me there are cameras attached to the FedEx building across the street.
‘You know there are cameras attached all over the FedEx building, and that way they know everything that’s going on,’
Then he tells me it has something to do with what we are thinking.
I don’t know what to say to this, apart from – ‘Oh, is that right?’
Then, just as a very noisy bus pulls up, he begins to tell me a long story about how his people had bought him a convenience store.
‘I’m Jewish, and my people bought me a convenience store but there were too many people outside, all around the…,’
But I don’t hear the rest of the story because the bus engine is too loud and hundreds of cars are passing, beeping their horns and running red lights.
So I stand there watching the man’s mouth, nodding my head, trying yet failing to hear fully what he is saying.
But I am reluctant to interrupt him to tell him I cannot hear him, so I continue to nod my head as he talks on, until a small man, a man so small as to seem miniature, wheels past us in a wheelchair and I watch as he stops at a rubbish bin, puts his arm in, pulls out bottles and food containers, shakes them, opens them, and then drops them back in the bin.
I watch the man in the wheelchair wheel away down the street, and then I turn my attention back to the homeless man who, now that the bus is gone, I can hear is talking again about the cameras on the FedEx building.
About how they are looking into everything we are doing.
About how they are listening to everything we are saying.
Then a man with a long silver metal stick passes us, and I watch as he too stops at the rubbish bin, leans over and looks in, pokes around, takes out a plastic bottle, puts the bottle in a big black plastic bag he has draped over his left his shoulder, and walks off.
Then I turn back to the man whose words I have disturbed and he tells me this-
‘My name is Richard and I want to thank you for listening to me.’
And as I tell him my name, and that it was my pleasure to listen to him, he turns his head fully away from me.
So even if he has already dismissed me, under a splendid Los Angeles sun, I say goodbye to Richard, and walk off up Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
I’m on Ventura Boulevard, coming out of the Barnes and Noble that was once the Studio City Theatre, when I get talking to a guy who is from England.
He’d been behind me in the line inside the book shop where I’d bought a book called ’10 Things to do When Your Life Falls Apart’, and so, standing there in the street he tells me he has bought, amongst others, a book about the life of Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘He took his 13 year old wife to England,’ he tells me as we start walking along the street together, ’caused them to talk about it in Parliament,’
‘Sounds like a thing the English would do,’ I say.
We laugh and I ask where he’s from.
He says he’s from the London but has lived in LA for 14 years and I tell him I’m from Australia and lived in the UK for 14 years
He’s tall with slightly unkempt grey hair and he’s wearing shorts and a black tee shirt with the name of a place called the Baked Potato on the back of it.
He tells me he plays with a band and he stocks up on books for when he goes on tour.
‘What do you play?’ I ask him.
He tells me he plays drums.
‘Do you play anything?’ he asks me.
I tell him no.
‘I have tried many instruments,’ I say, ‘but I get to a certain level of skill and can’t manage to go any further,’
‘The trick is,’ he says as we stand at the crosswalk waiting for the lights to change, ‘is to play with someone better than you and learn,’
‘Maybe I should play with you then,’ I say and he laughs.
Then he tells me he plays at a place called the Baked Potato in a band called Jack Shit, but wont be back for a few months because he’s going on tour.
‘Go down there,’ he says, ‘tell them Pete sent you,’
Then I ask him who he’s going on tour with.
‘Elvis Costello,’ he tells me.
‘Oh, nice,’ I say and then I tell him ‘Shipbuilding’ is one of my favourite songs and that, during moods of melancholy, I used to play it on repeat,’
‘When we played it in Liverpool I cried,’ he tells me.
Then as the lights change we cross the crosswalk together and I say – ‘Ive forgotten your name,’
‘I’ve forgotten yours, too,’ he says, and then we retell each other our names and shake hands.
And as we walk he tells me the kinds of books he likes to read, and I tell him about one of my favourite books, Stasiland, a book of stories about various people who worked for and against the East German regime.
Then Pete begins to talk about Cuba.
‘There’s a young guy there who’s discovered a cure for lung cancer,’ he tells me.
‘Woah,’ I say, ‘I didn’t know that,’
He tells me a US company has purchased the discovery and then we talk about how the USA manage to get their hands on everything.
By this time we are walking along a side street and he says he’s going a different way to me now and we shake hands again.
‘Good luck in LA,’ he says to me.
And I tell him- ‘Good luck on tour,’
And then we wave and smile to each other and, because I’m feeling cheery from our interaction, instead of going home, I go to the Coffee Bean, order a decaf latte, sit at a table in the sun, and open up the cover of ’10 Things to do When Your Life Falls Apart’.
I’m sitting on the top step, my body in the shade but my feet on the third step, in the sun, and I’m smoking my e-cigarette and reading a book about ‘shame’, when the woman in the apartment opposite me comes out and stands on her step.
‘Hello there,’ I say, ‘How are you?’
‘Well,’ says the woman who is dressed in a white muslin shirt, white linen trousers, a handbag and a Bandaid across the right side of her hairline, ‘I’m famished,’
‘Oh, dear,’ I say, ‘in that case you’d best get something to eat,’
‘Well,’ she says, turning back and closing her aqua coloured door with a metal number 4 stuck to it, ‘I’m on my way to the Tuning Fork. Do you know it?’
I tell her no, I don’t, and she tells me they have good soup there.
‘They have really good soup there,’ she says, ‘and they have 95 beers on tap,’
‘Well, I don’t drink alcohol,’ I tell her, ‘but I do eat soup,’
Then, as if she’s been given a gentle shove by an unseen force, the woman staggers.
‘Oh,’ she says, flicking her long dark hair back with her left hand as she rights herself, ‘I nearly fell over yesterday,’
Then she emits a high-pitched giggle.
‘It could be your ears,’ I tell her, ‘when your ears are waxed up you can lose your balance,’
She says ‘Oooh’ to this, as if I have just told her a great secret.
‘But it could also be those ear buds you have connected to your phone,’ I say, ‘take those out and see if you stop wobbling,’
And she does, she takes the ear buds out of her ears right there and then, lets out another giggle, and says thank you.
Then, because she has three cats that I hear her cooing to as an adult might to a baby, I ask about them.
‘They’re indoor cats now,’ she says, ‘because they kept getting beaten up,’
‘I was coming out of the bathroom the other day,’ I tell her, ‘and I had left the front door open and a bold ginger cat had come in and then gone running off when he saw me,’
‘That’s one of the cats who beat my cats up,’ she says, ‘and now my little cat has to stay inside because that ginger cat tore her cornea,’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘that’s gross and bad luck,’
Then she gives another of her high-pitched giggles and says thank you.
Then she holds out her hand for me to shake and says-‘What was your name again?’ as if I had already told her and she’d forgotten.
I tell her my name and she responds by telling me hers and we shake on it and then say good bye to each other.
And then she leaves for the Tuning Fork, where the soup is good and there are 95 beers on tap to go with it, and I stay on the step, my feet warming under a pleasant sun, and continue with my book on shame.
I’m at the Santa Fe train depot, San Diego, waiting in the bicycle line with my bicycle, to board the train to Los Angeles, when an older man, wearing a baseball cap, a pale blue shirt, shorts and trainers and holding on to a fancy looking dark blue bicycle says- ‘So, you’re with us.
‘Technically, I suppose yes,’ I say to him, and we both laugh.
‘I bet we’ll be last on to the train with our bikes,’ he says.
I tell him I don’t know, and then because we’re standing there and there’s a silence, and we have a common topic, we start talking about where we’ve been and where we are going with our bicycles.
‘We cycled from San Luis Obispo, the man tells me.
‘How far away is that?’ I ask him, knowing that it’s far, but not how far.
‘About 450 miles,’ he tells me.
But his cycling companion corrects him.
‘475 miles,’ says the cycling companion, whose bicycle is one of those low rider style, like a reclining beach chair with a wheel at each end.
‘Jesus,’ I say, ‘that’s a long way. Are you too tired to cycle back?’
‘My butt hurts,’ says the guy in the baseball cap, and with his left hand he reaches around to his bum and pretends to rub it.
‘I bet it does,’ I tell him, ‘and I look at his seat which looks like it would be as vicious as a plastic picnic knife on the backside and testicles.
‘Believe it or not,’ he says after I suggest he get a gel seat, ‘this is the most comfortable bike seat in the world. It’s a Brooks England,’
I tell him I don’t know what that means, but I’ll Google it, and the man goes on to tell me it’s the third seat he’s had and he’s worn all the others out and this seat takes 6 months to break in.
Then the 2 men start looking over my bicycle, and the cycling companion, who is very tall and has gray hair and round wire-rimmed glasses and is wearing a pale blue cycling jacket, and jeans, tells me my chain needs some oil.
‘A bit of oil to go with those cobwebs on your gears,’ he says, pointing to the back wheel.
We all laugh at this and I explain that my bicycle has been in storage for 4 months.
Then, diverting the conversation away from the shameful state of my bicycle, I say to the man in the baseball cap-
‘You look like a hard core cyclist and that bicycle looks really lightweight,’
He tells me yes and that all they have carried on this 475 mile trip is in their panniers-a change of clothes for eating dinner in and not much else.
‘And sore bum cream?’ I say.
He laughs and says yes.
‘Have you been cycling a long time?’ I ask him.
He tells me yes, he has, since he was very young.
‘I’m 75 now,’ he tells me.
And my mouth falls open and I frown.
‘Are you serious?’ I say, ‘you’re 75? You look about…I dunno, 54,’
Then he laughs and touches me on the shoulder and says he’s going to tell his wife.
‘I’ve been married 51 years,’ he says, ‘and I’m going home to tell her I look too young for her and that she doesn’t cut the mustard anymore,’
I laugh at this and then the conductor walks over to us.
‘Off you go with your bicycles.’ he says to us.
And so, despite the 75 year old cyclist with the sore bum predicting we’d be last, we, with our bicycles, are first to board the train to Los Angeles.
I’m sitting on the sun bleached yellow concrete bench at the bus stop at the corner of Market and 22nd, San Diego, about to board the number 3, when two small children run up the to the bus, and leap, as if over a wide puddle, onto the bus.
While I wait to board, I wonder whether the children might be those of the driver, because they’re all holding arms out to each other, the driver leaning down and, one after the other, giving the children hugs.
The greetings over, and the children walking down the aisle, I step onto the bus and stand by the machine that will take my $2.25 fare.
‘Do I get a hug too?’ I say to the driver while the ticket machine wolfs my two one dollar bills.
The driver, who is wearing a pale blue bus drivers shirt, black trousers, black sunglasses and shoulder length dreadlocks, laughs.
‘Stop that now, girl,’ she says.
And I laugh, too.
And then she asks me where I got my accent.
‘Where you get that accent of yours?’ she asks me.
I tell her I got the majority of it in Australia, but some of it I got in England.
‘Damn, she says and cocks her head to the right and says, ‘What are you doing here, girl?’
‘I dunno, really,’ I say truthfully, smiling at her while she smiles back at me ‘I just really like your land and your people,’
Then, for saying what I have just said, she tells me I can have a hug, too.
‘Come here, girl,’ she says, ‘you can have a hug too,’
And she reaches her arms up toward me and I laugh and lean down and we hug.
And my arms are around her and she is large and feels comfortingly spongy.
And the back of her pale blue shirt is soft on my arms.
And the hug momentarily subdues my anxiety.
But then as we release, the anxiety flares when I remember I haven’t showered today.
And I can only hope, that as my arms had gone out toward her, the hugging driver hadn’t caught the odour of unattended sweat flavouring my right armpit.
It’s Wednesday and I’m on the 12.50pm train from Swan Hill to Melbourne and there’s 3 minutes until the train will leave the station, not enough time for me to get off the train, take a photo of the monstrous fibreglass trout on the train station lawns, and get back on before departure.
So instead, I sit looking at and listening to the Italians who are sitting in the seats across the aisle.
There are about 10 of them, I make the guess from around 65 to 75 years old.
They are making a lot of noise; talking a lot, moving from seat to seat, taking their coats off, checking their seat numbers and tickets, yelling at each other over the top of the seats.
And then suddenly I hear from 3 seats down an elderly woman, who is wearing a blue skirt, blue cardigan and glasses stands up, turns toward the Italians and leans over the top of her seat and starts calling out to the old Italians.
‘Oi,’ she says, ‘you’re making too much noise, keep it down a bit?’
Having lived in Italy, I feel protective of the Italians, so I give the woman the stink-eye.
Then, I overhear the Italians talk about me.
They are saying how sorry I must be to have to sit so close to them, with all their noise and chaos.
‘Non c’e problema,’ I say, ‘capisco tutto e mi piace gli Italiani,’
Now they are all laughing and saying to each other, in Italian, ‘she understands Italian, she speaks Italian, she likes Italians, how nice’.
And they are all leaning forwards now and looking at me and waving and saying hello and I am smiling back at them and saying ‘piacere’; telling them it is a pleasure to meet them all.
Then the train starts to move and for a while I sleep in a patch of sun that falls on my seat through the uncurtained window.
When I wake up, one of the Italian men, who is wearing a beige sweater, has ginger hair and moustache and is wearing a short-brimmed, grey hounds-tooth fedora leans forward in his seat, waves his hand palm up to me and tells me, in Italian, to look at the seat next to me.
I look to the seat on my left and see a Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
I say thank you and then I ask who has left it for me and then I pick it up and unwrap it and eat it.
‘Giovanni te l’ha lasciato,’ says the man, who holds his hand out for me to shake.
He tells me his name is Rocco.
And we begin to talk.
He tells me he came to Australia in the 1950s but really he loved Canada.
‘I would have dug a hole all the way down to get back to Canada,’ he says.
Everyone is talking loudly so I lean forward in my seat so I can hear what else Rocco wants to say.
He tells me he is the boss of this social group, and that they have been in Swan Hill for 4 days, playing cards and poker machines and shopping and they come here every year and stay in the same motel.
We speak in Italian for a while until one of the other Italians, a woman, comes and sits opposite me and starts to talk to me.
Firstly she tells me why her English is not good.
‘I came from Sicily,’ she tells me, ‘and I have 4 kids, 5 years,’
Then she holds up 4 fingers on her left hand and tells me the names of the children.
Then she asks me if I have a husband.
I tell her no.
‘No time, eh?’
‘No,’ I say, ‘no time for husbands,’
Then we both laugh.
Then she tells me she likes to play the poker machines.
Then swapping between Italian and English, we have a discussion about poker machine addiction.
I tell her about my mother’s.
‘I think my mother spent most of the money my father left her on poker machines,’ I tell the woman.
She makes a ‘tsk’ noise and then suddenly everyone is laughing.
The woman’s husband has fallen asleep, 2 seats opposite and behind us, and is snoring.
Rocco gets up to take a photo of him with his phone.
All of the Italians are laughing and after the husband wakes up they begin to bring out food from containers under their seats.
There is a thermos of coffee and the women offer me some.
I say yes and they give me a little disposable cup of espresso.
They stand in the aisles and shout to each other, laughing loudly, passing biscotti and coffee and wine.
They explain to me what years they came to Australia, they tell me their names and who is married to who.
And it is then I realise that the woman who told them to be quiet, Barbara, is married to one of the Italians and I get out of my seat and I go to speak to her.
‘I am really sorry,’ I say, kneeling down and holding on to the arm of her seat, looking up at her slightly, ‘for giving you such a nasty look,’
‘I wondered why you were staring at me with such a look on your face,’ Barbara says to me.
‘I wanted to say- Excuse me, madam, but these people are Italians, and this is how they ARE,’ I tell Barbara, and she laughs.
‘I know how they are,’ she says, ‘I’ve been married to one for a long time.’
And Barbara and I laugh and then I go back to my seat and Giovanni offers me ‘vino’ and I lie and tell him I am allergic to wine.
‘I am allergic to cheese,’ Rocco then tells me, ‘and milk, anything like this,’
That must be hard for an Italian, I think, with all that pizza and mozzarella di Bufala and cappuccinos.
It would be like an Australian being allergic to beer or tinned beetroot or dim sims.
It is a 4 hour trip from Swan Hill to Melbourne and for perhaps 2 and a half of those hours I talk to the Italians, drink their coffee and eat their biscotti and cakes.
And the Italians are never still.
And they are never quiet.
And they never stop laughing.
It’s Friday morning and I am sitting in my pyjamas in the Pasquale’s kitchen listening to a woman, called Bev, who is standing at the kitchen table talking.
Bev, who is wearing a quilted beige winter coat, blue slacks, slip on blue shoes, that have a shiny faux-gold piece of chain decorating the front, and some kind of pearl-style earrings, suddenly looks down at me and says, ‘Oh, are you Norma Le Busque’s daughter?’
I tell her that yes I am and Bev raises her hands in the air and then brings them down again, in the kind of way you do when you’ve had a revelation.
‘I used to go marching with your mum,’ she tells me, ‘me and her and Bev Equid, we were all in the marching girls together,’
‘I remember my mother’s photos of the marching girls,’ I say, ‘my mother’s head always stuck up over the top of everyone else because she was so tall,’
Bev doesn’t say anything about my mother being so tall but she goes on to tell my mother and my aunt and her had also attended school together.
‘We were at Mildura Central school until I was about 10, I think, and then my dad got a job on a water gang in Irymple and we moved out there,’
I am just staring at Bev now, smiling, yet feeling slightly as if I might cry, waiting for her to go on telling me more about my mother.
And she does.
‘Then I moved back from Irymple and we were at high school together,’ Bev says.
Then she tells me my mother had been fun.
‘Oh, she was fun, your mother, she really was,’
Then she tells the story of how they all came to be marching girls.
‘There was this chap, about 60, the son of a chap who owned the menswear shop in Langtree avenue and he went off down to Geelong one time, and well he must have met a woman at some stage and he married her. And well, this woman was involved in the marching girls so she moved up to Mildura with this chap and put an ad in the paper for girls who might like to march,’ Bev tells us, ‘and blow me down if they didn’t get 400 girls turn up to march,’
Then Bev tells me this-
“There was this one time when we went to Shepparton on a marching trip and we were staying in rooms at the cannery, and they were all just little box rooms and we were chaperoned and we were supposed to be all back in the rooms by ten o’clock but of course your mother wasn’t because she’d found some boy and gone off with him and so then at, oooh, must have been midnight I could hear her creeping along the rows of rooms calling out my name..”Bev…you there, Bev?” until she found us,’
I am smiling at Bev, mesmerized.
‘Ive got a photo album of us from marching days you can have a look at, and you can see photos of your mum clowning around. She was such good fun,’ says Bev, ‘she really was the life of the party, your mum was.’
It’s Saturday morning, Easter, and I’m sitting at in a cafe drinking a latte and thinking the sorts of thoughts that seldom improve my life, when a girl child sits down next me and a mug of something warm is placed in front of her.
‘Hello,’ I say to her, ‘is that a cappuccino you’re having?’
She laughs, in that way children do when an adult has said something stupid, and says ‘No, it’s hot chocolate,’
I watch her as she starts to eat the hot chocolate with a teaspoon.
And then I say to her-‘I think you’re about 5 years old,’
She says no, again, in that same you’re-a-know-nothing-adult way.
‘I’m 6,’ she says as she eats her hot chocolate from the teaspoon.
‘So being 6 you probably have a job, am I right?’
‘Nooooooooo,’ she says, and giggles with her mouthful of hot chocolate.
‘Well if you haven’t got a job what do you do with yourself all day long?’
‘I go to school’ she says and laughs as she leans across the table, takes the sugar pourer in her right hand and then pours a great cascade of white sugar into her hot chocolate.
I immediately look at her teeth and start to worry.
‘You know,’ I say, ‘a lot of sugar can be quite bad for your teeth,’
She looks at me and smiles and shakes the sugar pourer up and down and then empties the content of the sugar pourer into her hot chocolate.
Not being my child, and her parents sitting at another table, I wonder whether to call to them or take matters into my own hands.
‘What’s your name?’ I say and she tells me it’s Tamara.
‘Well, Tamara,’ I say, a lot of sugar can be very bad for your teeth, it can make holes in them and it can do nasty things to your body,’
This doesn’t frighten Tamara because she stands up, walks to another table, takes another sugar dispenser and comes back and pours even more sugar into her hot chocolate.
Then Tamara, who has pigtails in her hair and is wearing a black tee shirt with a butterfly on it and some kind of fairy dress, eats some more hot chocolate, looks over at me, smiles, and then pours more sugar from the dispenser right into her chocolate.
Realising the child is a fully-blown sugar addict, and denial is not a river in Africa, I change topic and ask her what school she goes to.
‘What school do you go to?’
‘Edginton primary,’ she says, getting off her chair, moving it back from the table and climbing back on to kneel on it.
‘And where do you live?’ I say.
‘Jeeez,’ she says rolling her eyes, ‘I live in Queensland,’
‘In Edginton?’ I ask.
She rolls her eyes again and repeats the word Queensland.
‘Well maybe if the school is called Edginton primary your town is called Edginton…maybe?’
‘I dunno,’ she says lunging at the sugar dispenser again.
‘Look,’ I whisper with insistence, leaning in close to the ear of this child who I have no stake in educating, ‘you are putting way too much sugar into your chocolate, you will make yourself sick and when you’re older you’ll spend a shed load of time at the dentist being drilled and filled. Is that a future you want for yourself?’
Then she looks over at me, a semi-afraid, semi-sad look on her face and then she leans forward and pushes the sugar dispensers from her reach, into the middle of the table.
Then, because I feel mean and that I may just have just traumatised a child who has a raging sugar habit, I change the subject and tell her that her dress looks really pretty.
‘Your dress looks really pretty,’ I say, ‘I really like all those different colours,’
‘It’s not even a dress,’ she says, kneeling up on her chair, the spoon half way to her mouth, her condescending eye roll in full flight, ‘It’s called a skirt.’
I’m in town, sitting in a cafe, in a window seat, staring out at the nothing that’s happening in front of me, when a woman I have never seen before sits down next to me and says -‘Do you mind if I take that newspaper?’
And I tell her no, and push the newspaper that is in front of me toward her.
And she says thank you.
I tell her she’s welcome and she says ‘lovely, thank you’, and opens the paper and begins to look at it.
I’m still looking out of the window at the nothing out there, eating my creamy latte froth with a spoon when the woman says- ‘Disgusting’.
I turn to my right to look at the woman, who has a blond bob hairstyle, a black sweater on and a large gold necklace that looks like draped lace around her neck.
‘Did you see this?’ she asks me, ‘Drunk Driving Kills 4,’
I tell her no, that I have not seen it because I didn’t really read the newspaper.
‘I drink,’ she says turning and looking right into my eyes, ‘and I probably drink too much. But I don’t drive drunk,’
And then she laughs and says-‘In fact I can barely even walk drunk,’
I laugh at this and then again start eating the cooling froth in my cup.
Then she tells me that her and her husband had spent 12 months traveling the country in a caravan, and that they had virtually drank their way around Australia.
‘You’d arrive somewhere, you know, after all day in the car pulling the bloody caravan, and the first bloody thing you’d want is a glass of Moselle,’
‘I can imagine that,’ I say, looking over at her as she goes quiet and turns the pages of the paper and I make patterns with my spoon in the froth in my cup.
And then, after a few moments the woman starts talking again.
‘We all drink too bloody much sometimes,’ she says, ‘but we don’t all get in cars and smash people to bits,’
‘I don’t,’ I say turning to look at her again, ‘I don’t mean I don’t smash people up, I just don’t drink at all,’
‘Well,’ says the woman, ‘you’re an unusual one,’
And then she laughs.
Yes, I say, and then I explain to her that I can’t drink safely, that I can’t predict what will happen when I do.
‘It’s safer for all concerned that I abstain because I have been known to appear naked on a bar after several Southern Comforts,’ I tell her, and I laugh, and so does she.
And then I ask her if she would like to drink less.
‘Of course I bloody do,’ she says, frowning at me, ‘I drink way too much,’
I ask her how much.
‘A bottle a night,’ she tells me, ‘a bottle of Moselle a night,’
I look over at her and frown.
‘Goodness,’ I say, ‘that can’t be good for your….anything,’
Then I tell her my mum died of cancer and so did my aunt and I think it was lungs and pancreas and liver.
‘I think if you start putting that stuff in you when you’re young, you’re body goes mad. It’s like putting kerosene on jellyfish or something,’ I say, ‘it must just shrivel your organs up,’
Absentmindedly turning the pages of the newspaper she tells me she doesn’t like drugs and I tell her that I do but I don’t take those either.
‘Then she leans closer to me and whispers – ‘While I’m being all confessional I’ll tell you that my ex husband went to jail for 18 months for growing marijuana,’
‘Good on him for trying,’ I say, ‘but it’s a shame he got caught,’
‘They tried to get me as an accessory,’ she tells me, ‘but they couldn’t pin it on me, so I got off,’
I don’t know what to say to this so I just keep scooping what’s left of my froth and eating it until it’s all gone and then I stand up, ready to leave.
‘It’s been really nice speaking to you,’ I say, looking down to the woman.
‘I hope I haven’t shocked you, dear,’ she says, looking up, smiling at me and taking my left hand between hers and squeezing it.
‘It takes a lot more than what you have just told me to shock me,’ I say, gently touching the shoulder of this woman who was once just a stranger who sat down next to me in a cafe and asked me for a newspaper.
I am at Curious Grace Community Cafe, Pine Avenue, Mildura, and I am sitting at a table by the window with my friend who is telling me the story of how she forgave her father for sexually abusing her as a child.
‘He had Alzheimers at the end of his life,’ she tells me, ‘so he had no recollection of what he had done. For him it did not exist. It existed only for us so there was no where to go with it, no confrontation to have,’
Some tears appear in her eyes as she tells me this and she pulls her shawl tighter around her shoulders and then she takes a purple napkin from a napkin holder on the table and wipes under her eyes, absorbing her tears.
And then she tells me that her uncle had also abused children.
And I don’t know what to say so I just keep looking into her eyes, eyes that look as if they are always smiling, and I intently listen as she talks.
‘So my dad eventually had to be moved into a home, and he hadn’t wanted to go and he was belligerent,’ she says, ‘but then as the Alzheimers progressed he just changed, he accepted it. The truck came to move his things and he said look, there’s a truck, look, they’re taking our things,’
Then my friend goes quiet and wipes at her tears again.
‘And he became a sweet old man but I had forgiven him long before the Alzheimers hit, long before he got so old and had forgotten what he had done,’ she says, ‘and that forgiveness came from praying together and it was then that I came to love him unconditionally,’
Then she goes quiet again and blots at tears from under her eyes.
‘It was like God took a scalpel to his memory and removed the toxic parts and gave us a new landscape on which to build a relationship,’
And then she tells me that as the Alzheimers had progressed even further, her father, always a story teller, had kept a small spiral bound pad in his pocket.
‘The last one I found, after he died, had only 2 pages filled. The first one was an order for a cake and coffee for a fellow resident and the second one,’ she says, ‘…here, I’ll show you on my phone,’
While she looks through the photos on her phone I ask her a question.
‘So, to all intents and purposes he was a different man,’ I say, ‘he was not the father who had done those things to you because he had no idea he had done them,’
‘Yes,’ says my friend, ‘and that is the man I had the unconditional love for,’
And then she says ‘A-hah’ and shows me a photo on her phone of a piece of spiral bound note paper.
And written on it, in an unsteady old man’s hand, are the words- “Being James G…… does not make me an expert at anything only perhaps at being friendly.”
I’m at Ana’s house on Ontario Avenue, Mildura, and I am sitting on the sofa opposite Ana, listening to her talk about her father and how her Maori family celebrated his death.
‘The body is laid out in a big room,’ she tells me, smiling and opening her arms and waving them around, showing me how big, ‘and there are mattresses all over the floor and that’s where we sleep or sit,’
I am looking and smiling at her and I say wow and she continues with her story.
‘The family don’t do anything,’ says Ana, who is wearing a white and dark blue patterned sun dress, her hair in a straggly pony tail and a fake bubble gum packet tattoo stamped on her arm, ‘we just sit there and the rest of the visitors take care of things, like cups of tea and food and so on,’
‘Wow,’ I say, ‘so your dad just stayed there in the middle of the room?’
Ana says yes, and that he stayed like that for three days, with people coming and going and sitting and sleeping and crying all around.
‘My cousin came in,’ she tells me, ‘and my dad was like a dad to her, and so she picked him up and cradled his head and kissed him and then laid him back down,’
Ana tells me she was very moved by that because she’d had a distant relationship with her dad but her cousin had had a close one.
‘How is the body after three days, though?’ I ask Ana, imagining that it must have been going off in some way, beginning to decompose, going rotten.
‘A little man comes in, the undertaker, and he takes out a little brush and powders the face,’ Ana says, laughing and demonstrating how the undertaker had operated, ‘and tidies him up and he looks fine,’
Then she tells me how her daughter, Holly, had made the mistake of removing dead flowers from the coffin, but that everyone in attendance had been very forgiving of the faux pas.
‘She also walked through the middle of everyone into the kitchen, eating sandwiches which is a big no-no,’ Ana says laughing.
Later on, it’s time to leave and I am sitting on the back porch looking up at the overcast sky while the dusty yard is whipped by hot winds, and Ana comes to speak to me again about death, this time the death of her child.
‘I came out into the backyard in the middle of the night and started to wail,’ she tells me.
I sit looking up at her while she points down to some place in the back garden.
‘And I never want to leave this house,’ she tells me, ‘because I dug a hole and wept into it,’
I don’t say anything about this, but I look down the garden and just keep listening.
‘And my beautiful neighbour came in from next door and asked me if I was okay and I just wailed and tears fell into the hole I had dug and my neighbour hugged me and then said “it’s 2am, I’m going back to bed”. Then the next day I was at the supermarket and Holly said to me, “Mummy, are we buying shoes?” and I looked down to see that I was wearing one slipper and one shoe,’
At this Ana and I both start to laugh.
Ana looks across the dusty yard to the place where she let the tears for her dead son fall.
‘It’s funny what grief does to you.’ she says softly.
I’m in the Safeway Supermarket, Lime Avenue, Mildura, in the rice and pasta aisle where I have come looking for brown rice, when I see half way down the aisle, someone I haven’t seen since my mother’s funeral; Jenny Bower.
She has her profile turned to me so I walk up behind her and say hello ‘Jenny Bower’.
And Jenny Bower, her hands still holding her shopping trolley, turns fully toward me and says my name.
Not just my first name, my whole name.
‘Hello,’ she then says, ‘how are you?’
I say I am fine and she lets go of her trolley and then I put my arms around her and give her a hug.
And she hugs me back.
And because it’s such a joy to see jenny Bower, I have a big smile on my face.
‘How are you? I say, letting her go.
Jenny Bower, who is over 60 years of age, but younger than 70, laughs and tells me she is good.
‘I’m good, Tone,’ she says and then she looks up the aisle at where Shane Cumming and his son, Jake are standing.
‘Shane was just telling me you were here somewhere in the supermarket,’ she says.
I laugh and hold my arms out as if addressing an audience or presenting a car on a game show, and say – ‘And here I am, Jenny Bower, like a miracle,’
Jenny Bower laughs and Shane and Jake call out goodbye and we say goodbye to them.
Then Jenny Bower and I turn to each other and start catching up.
Firstly Jenny tells me about her husband, Graham.’
‘He’s good,’ Jenny Bower tells me, ‘he’s just had a triple bypass,’
‘Well, he’s had a pretty good innings considering that bloody crash,’ I say.
25 years ago Jenny Bower’s husband was involved in a near-fatal car crash when a car ran into his car while he was driving home from work.
I think about how how he had been wobbly on his feet ever since the accident, and how he had always referred to beer as frothy coffee and that he had once worked for Jenny’s father in his hardware shop.
Then I think about how before she had married Graham, Jenny Bower had had a boyfriend whose name I had never forgotten; a Biker called Norrington Helpworth.
Then I stop thinking these things from the past and pay attention to Jenny Bower who is talking about one of her sons and his divorce.
‘I’m getting one too,’ I tell Jenny, ‘my second one,’
‘Oh, Tone,’ Jenny says, ‘I am sorry to hear that,’
‘Not to worry,’ I say, and then we go on to talk about a mutual friend who has also undergone divorce.
‘It’s odd, don’t you think, Jen,’ I say, ‘that none of us came from divorced parents, yet we have all had divorces,’
And I cock my head and frown and Jenny laughs and says ‘Yes, Tone,’
Then Jenny Bower asks me how I find being back home.
I laugh and tell her it’s funny that everyone calls it ‘home’ when anywhere but here has been my home for almost 25 years, but that I am enjoying it, and sometimes I think about moving back.
‘But,’ I say, ‘it is still weird that mum and dad aren’t here,’
And Jenny Bower smiles sweetly and frowns and says ‘I bet it is,’
And then because it’s Jenny Bower I am talking to, and because I suddenly feel I might, I tell jenny Bower I think I am about to cry.
‘That’s alright, Tone,’ says jenny Bower, and she reaches out her right hand and rubs the top of my left arm a couple of times.
I smile at Jenny Bower and say thank you.
‘I’m a bit emotional still, about the way they died,’ I say to Jenny Bower, and she smiles and frowns again.
‘Aw,’ she says, ‘I know Tone, I bet you are. I bet you are.’