Here’s a bit of writing that I scribbled in my diary after a sleepless night flying to Melbourne. It’s been edited a touch but still in the scattological stream that my sleep-deprived, coffee-addled mind spewed it out. Kept me busy for a few hours anyway – hopefully gives an insight into my thoughts if you ever see me walking around like a zombie or sitting vacant on a train with my headphones and diary.
An old woman shuffles past the bus terminal at a painstakingly slow pace. The elderly know how to attack the dawn. They make the rest of us look confused and suspicious. I have literally nowhere to be in the Melbourne CBD at six-fifteen in the morning yet she is relentless in her mission. She walks with her snail’s vigour everyday along the same path. It will be three hours before I can enter my ramshackle hotel perched over Chinatown. Three more hours before I have a cold, stiff mattress to power through a few hours sleep and meet the city anew with dappled eyes and an unfogged brain. How boring a world of sumptuous sleep will seem.
The sun has risen unperceived by the inhabitants of this cold city. The streets remain uncharacteristically barren, populated by clustered handfuls of the morning’s victims – the sleep rolling out of the city’s eyes. Though masked by the vehement clouds the dawn sun offers a transparency to the Melbourne streets and alleys, a clarity of hazy spaciousness that disappears once the crowds take up their daily march . The indifferent atmosphere hemming in the skyscrapers is too dull to be truly gloomy. The inhabitants would barely recognize the old town were it not overcast.
Despite her laborious movement, the old woman surprisingly passes me as I unconsciously drift out of her way. Her wilted figure portrays an untiring attrition, a stoic homunculus determined to outlive the changing facades. Her cataracts bring a uniformity to the shopfronts and hotels in their varying states of decay and rejuvenation. She belongs to the city, Spotted in a sepia photograph amidst the stern hat-wearing crowds she would never have been a young woman, but walking as now with bent shoulders to her purpose.
Coffee becomes necessary in this climate. The bounty of whirring cafes represent a moment’s respite from the stagnant grey. A slightly too heavy, slightly too old businessman commandeers a portion of the pavement with his onerous bulk. Expertly squeezing his satchel between his knees he simultaneously sucks a cigarette into the concavity of his cheeks while clasping a corrugated take-away cup of skinny latte with two sugars. At this time of morning his family is dead. They don’t know him, nor he himself. The sleeves of his navy-blue jacket are too short and always were – an exhausted beast of burden tarted up for no-one’s amusement. People smoke their cigarettes in an attempt to give themselves dominion over their awful lives. If they must exist in a grey haze, better it be of their own contemptuous making.
The bums take up their positions. In this lurid sleepless morning I know their homeless pain. I have no idea of their homeless pain. Casually dressed people mutter to themselves with strings of unpunctuated sentences. When I find myself talking to myself it feels like short, violent outbursts of self abuse at a moment of weakness or frustration. Perhaps it feels the same for this lusty bunch but their lapses in self-propriety have no end. I fear that one day an unshowered, unshaven, unsavoury bum will pick me as one of his own, heave his pile of ‘Big Issues’ onto my chest and skip away whooping. I will be left to take over his lot for the rest of my days.
While I slyly take in the passers by I catch their unambiguous glances at me.
Six hairy feet of contradiction. Too comical to be tragic, too tragic to be comical, too benign for anyone to really care. I make their day and am forgotten in another moment.
An almost immeasurable spattering of rain perturbs the people only by it being a cliché. Everybody’s packing an umbrella, more fashion statement than utility. I search for another coffee to allow myself a place to sit out of the damp and cram my thoughts onto paper. Nothing comes for free. A wild-eyed Catalonian hobo in Barcelona taught me this years earlier, singing and capering in English each night for the passers by.. The lyrics hammered home that unavoidable truth. ‘Nothing is for free.’ He was certainly a few strings short of a guitar – which he strummed at adamantly. “Not even sex is free coz you have to buy a condom.’ The song cost me a Euro. A chair out of the rain cost me four dollars.
A statue of Dr Sun-Yat Sen, insultingly tall, gold and anglicized tells me that ‘all the world deserves love’ or some shit. On the other side of the nation, Bon Scott poses, insultingly small, heroically espousing a message of spittle, denim, venereal disease and rock ‘n’ roll. Whose statue will stand longer? The well known sculptures litter the street-corners and malls, barking out Melbourne’s artistic credentials, exulting its bicentennial heritage, begging for a global authenticity. These carefully placed extravagances have been usurped by their swirling counterpart in the form of graffiti. Having fought so hard to be taken seriously, the ‘street art’ seems a touch contrived. Does a hipster hate on graffiti?
The old woman passes the show district, each banner heralding new and exciting theatrical experiences, reflected by the signage of the tram carriages as they clatter by. The titles are all familiar and resonate in a dusty memory, a well-beaten story unfurled with fresh lacquer, an actor of unplaceable notoriety. She knows the promises they proffer won’t be delivered. The heights will never be hit. She knows this despite never attending a show. In a town obsessed with football and horse-racing, no self-respecting local has.
She walks with unerring direction and frankness – no need for appearances. Never again to hopscotch through the sprawl of trendy suburbs in cabs and tramcars to discover new bars, boutiques and eateries
Having reached her destination the old woman ducks hard from the footpath into the warmth of the beaming Hungry Jacks.