Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Man In Car

Just around the corner from me lives a man who must love his car.

I really started noticing him a couple of years ago when I would pick up my son from school and go down this particular street to get home.

Almost every single time I passed this man's house he would be either asleep in his car or just sitting in it, looking out from behind the wide windscreen.

The car is in pristine condition. A Ford LTD in a glossy, metallic sage green colour. Shiny chrome bumper bars, door handles and window trim. I think it is an early 1980's model. It is always parked outside the front of his home. In fact, I cannot recall ever driving down this particular street and the car not being there. And I drive down it almost every day.

Sometimes on the weekend I drive past and he is still in the car. What is he doing sitting in the car on a Saturday afternoon?

There are times when I have seen him just sweeping the footpath in front of his house. Or just standing near his car and smoking a cigarette in the quiet and thoughtful manner that smoker's do when enjoying their habit.

I think he is in his early 70's, but that is hard to tell. Slightly built with stooped shoulders. Usually wears a short sleeved shirt in a vague beige colour and contrasting brown trousers which look around the same vintage as the car. His hair is grey and I think he must oil it and comb in back neatly. Sometimes his hair is tucked behind his ears which looks odd on a man.

I once caught a glimpse of his wife when I drove past one day. She was hovering in the entrance of the front doorway. Grey haired, quite stout and wearing an apron. In the short time I looked over at where she was I caught a little moment in time of their life. Her at the door talking to him, whilst he stood with his back to her, shoulders hunched and cigarette in his hand. The whole brief picture was one of indifference and exasperation between the two.

I may well have read it incorrectly, that small scene between them, but it reminded me of the same pose between my own parents many years ago.

I think that is why he sits in his car and watches the world go by. I am sure he bought that car new and loves it as men are inclined to love their cars. He must watch school children walking by day in and day out. Not watching in a creepy way, just watching in the way that people do when they think about their life.

His house is neat, the garden trimmed, the pavement swept. The sage green car shiny and loved.

All these little lives going on really fascinate me.

Print Friendly and PDF

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Party Memory

When I was younger I had the odd party that I attended. Parties were kind of huge in the late 70's and early 80's. Actually, they probably still are huge but I am old now and don't go to them.

I never understood parties as such. I don't mean the sort of parties where you bring a present, have some cake, play some games and take home a lolly bag. I am referring to the sort of party you bring some wine to, hang around the lounge room and kitchen or, if it is hot, hang around outside. Generally, the only reason I ever went to one is because a guy took me or my sister and her husband took me to one.

So, I would get to these parties full of semi drunk people who talked about incredibly boring things. Girls would talk about guys. Guys would talk about cars and fishing. I would stand around like a lost soul looking at magazines, books or opening cupboards to see what was inside. I never mingled. I never made a new friend. I hardly drank or, worse still, drank too much. The person I came to the party with would drift off to chat to his friends whilst I just sat around the room like a shag on a rock before making my way out to the front yard where I would sit and pat the dog or something until it was time to go home. Once I even fell asleep in a bean bag whilst some guy was talking to me.

I have not changed really, but these days I don't care about it. On the rare occasion I have gone with K to a party I have no problem taking a book from someone's bookshelf and reading it once I get bored beyond belief. It may well seem unsociable and rude but it is so much easier for me to do that than talk to a complete and utter stranger. It just isn't me and I am not going to try and change that aspect of my personality any more.

But, last night I was lying in bed thinking about some embarrassing things that have been part of my growing up years. And one of them was an afternoon barbecue party I went to with a guy. His name was Garth. He wasn't a boyfriend, he was just a friend. He liked to go out with me because we looked like brother and sister (freaky but true). He was so unbelievably vain he would constantly look at himself in the mirror at any given opportunity. Frequently he used to tell me that I could be just amazing if I did one of many things. Like, dressed differently, did my hair differently, lost more weight or was more chatty. Since I was "his sister" I used to ignore him and then go out of my way to be less girly just to annoy him.

So, we went to the bbq one sunny Sunday afternoon. I knew a couple of his friends who were quite nice and the bbq was at one of his friend's homes. They were Greek. Lots of food and wine was on hand. This was my Kate Bush combined with Cindy Lauper stage (aka the 80's) so my hair was big, my clothes were multi layered with holes in them, bruised looking eye make up - just the usual screech of the 1980's look.

There were some other girls at the party. But they were into a completely different look. Neat and tidy. Slim skirts, tops or dresses with neat shoes. Nail polish on long slim fingers. Fitted rayon shirts with cap sleeves. Not much make up, neat hair. They were good girls. Excellent marriage material. They sat on chairs in a circle and chatted to each other sipping champagne in fluted glasses. I mosied around talking to the parent's whose house it was being held at, admiring the abundant vegetable garden and the bee hives far down in the backyard.

There was great food on the outdoor table setting. Lovely platters of Greek food, both savoury and sweet. Hot Greek lamb, vine wrapped rice parcels, a variety of salads and the most beautiful array of sticky, sweet pastries. The table was groaning with the amount of food that was on it. In the centre of it all was a giant punch bowl full of freshly squeezed juices, soda water and lots of chopped up fresh fruit.

As it was quite hot and some of the food was quite salty I ended up very thirsty and kept filling my glass with the fruity punch and drinking it. After a few glasses it dawned on me that there may be something boozey in the bowl as I was quite giggly. In fact, I was a bit worse than giggly, I was a bit unsteady on my feet so I sat down on a lone chair with a glass of water to settle my head.

The guy who was holding the party came up to me to see if I was okay and offered to help me inside to sit in a cooler room where they had an air conditioner. Thinking that may be a good idea I agreed and stood up to make my way inside.

As I got up I stumbled a little and he put his hand out to steady me, we hit heads and I laughed really, really loudly. He must have seen this as one of two things. One, I was too pissed to walk or, two, I was up for a bit of fun. So he then took it upon himself to pick me up in the same fashion that a groom would carry his bride over the threshold. My protest was loud enough to ensure the entire group of people at the bbq looked in our direction. This protest was accompanied by a significant effort to get my feet back on the ground.

In those few seconds of him picking me up and me trying to get down, he lost his balance and stumbled, with me still in his arms, and fell onto the table of food which resulted in the collapse of the table along with all the food and myself and him on top of it all.

Worse than that, my final landing spot was on the greasy meat, the punchbowl smashed and my skirt upended enough to cause acute embarrassment.

The only people in the back yard laughing were us two fools (I must have been pissed). His parents helped me up from the ground and brushed my skirt down. The other girls went inside and on their way in looked at me as though I had stripped naked and danced by the light of the moon, so shocked and disgusted were the expressions on their faces.

Garth took me home and told me how disgusting my behaviour was. I had to agree because I also vomited in his car, the smell of some sort of sickly alcohol was noticeable.

He never took me out again, which was not a great loss.

Personally, I just thought the whole thing was more funny than anything else.

Some people just don't know how to have fun...

Print Friendly and PDF

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Words On Paper

My mum migrated to Australia from Denmark when she was eighteen. That is a long time ago as she will be sixty-eight this year. Fifty years in a country on the other side of the world from which she came from.

I know that she used to get a lot of letters from her own mother for years on end. I also know that she hardly wrote back. She told me once that she just couldn't. Couldn't think what to write, did not think she was very clever so just never wrote much at all really. When overseas phone calls became cheaper she would call her mother rather than go to the effort of writing a letter. She has not actually changed much. My mother speaks to me via msn mostly. I may speak to her every six weeks or so on the phone. I don't know why she is like that. Maybe I should ring her more often, but sometimes I think that she likes how it is.

For years she just kept all the letters in various boxes and odd places around the house. Not in any particular order or anything. You could open a kitchen drawer and there would be one there, or perhaps a cupboard and a few would be lying around in it or a couple in her sewing basket. Just kind of spread around rather carelessly. I remember them arriving in the mail. Thin, pale blue paper with the angled navy and white stripe showing it to be airmail. My grandmother's handwriting was spidery. I could never read the letters myself as they were written in Danish and I never learnt to speak or read the native tongue of my parents.

Sometimes I would receive a birthday card from mormor. The only thing I could understand was my name. The rest was written in Danish and I would ask my mother to translate it to me, which she did so rather quickly. The translation from one language to another is not always straightforward. I still have those few birthday cards packed away somewhere.

I would occassionally open one of the letters and try to pick a couple of familiar words out and make some sense of the contents. Mum never felt inclined to tell me what was written. Just boring things was the answer I got when I asked.

Towards the yet unknown but inevitable end of my parent's marriage there was a lot of general packing of family stuff going on. Mum would fill boxes with what she called rubbish. The boxes made their way from the family home to my parent's furniture factory to be stored up high on the mezzanine floor above the office where they collected a thick layer of dust over the next couple of years. The letters were shoved into a mixture of green garbage bags and a couple of boxes, mingling with craft magazines and other bits and pieces. Forgotten about.

A couple of years after their quiet exit from home my mother had some sort of notion to rid herself of all the superfluous crap that was around her. And that included clearing out the stuff in storage on the mezzanine floor.

I sat up on the floor with her as she opened the boxes one by one. The floor was filthy with dust and there was hardly any light to see by. I had to sit in a position that allowed me to see what was in the boxes without blocking the thin sunlight that shone through the open roller door way below us. Out came magazines and letters. My mum occasionally opened the odd letter from her mother and briefly read it before throwing it away.

I asked why she did not keep them. She said they took up too much room.

"Mum, you could fit them all in a box and put them on top of your wardrobe. Once you throw them out they will be gone for good. You might want them later on to read. Or I may want them," I said to her.

But she was adamant that they were no longer part of her life and, as I could not read Danish, she said that they were no use to me. One handful by another she grabbed them and into the rubbish bag they went. Years and years of one sided correspondence being thrown away. Years of words that her mother took the time to write were tossed aside as though they had never happened. Although I was aware that something was not quite right about what she was doing, I was not mature enough to be able to process that information in my head in a rational manner. It was instinctively wrong but my mother still had enough hold over me that I would not question her decision.

I can still see her crouched in a rather uncomfortable position reading the odd letter before throwing it aside. Not one letter was important enough to her to keep. Maybe there was something cathartic about what she was doing. I have never asked her and it is unlikely I ever will. In my opinion, it is one of those actions that she may regret and I see no point in stirring up unwanted emotions just to satisfy my own curiosity.

When K and I went to Denmark in 1994 we met up with my mother's sister. She made no bones about expressing her anger at the fact my mother was very sporadic in writing letters back to mormor. What could I say. Not much really. People have reasons for what they do. My mum had a tough marriage and not an easy life here and I am sure she had bigger things to think about than writing letters. What could she say anyway? Dear mum, I married the wrong person? Perhaps she did not want to worry anyone. Sometimes there is nothing to say anyway.

I keep letters. Even small notes written to me by my brother that say things like "don't touch light switch in bathroom as it is wet and you will get electrocuted and die" are kept in a small box. A little note that my son showed his dad, a white, screwed up piece of paper that says the word "fuck" on it which he wrote in the way a six year old child would when he realises that he knows how to.
Letters are completely different to the spoken word. They evoke some sort of nostalgia that is difficult to explain. You could read a letter the first time and feel one thing and yet read it again and feel something else. It is not as easy to write to someone in anger as it is to speak the words in anger. By the time you take out the pen and paper and start writing, any anger you may feel is likely to settle as you start letting the words flow. I mean to say, writing the words "you are a shit" looks very funny on paper, whereas writing the words "I am sorry" makes so much more sense.

Whilst email is one form of writing it is not quite the same as a handwritten letter. Too quick perhaps. Too spontaneous maybe. Email is a great way to communicate but the prospect of it becoming public knowledge on a huge scale can take away the intimacy of that communication. A typed word can sometimes look a little tidy for my liking. That does not mean I don't like sending and receiving emails, it just means that I think they rate second to a hand written letter or card.
The visual beauty of handwriting on a carefully chosen piece of paper is ultimately a most pleasing thing to see.
One thing my mum does do these days is send everyone cards on their birthday or for Christmas. She makes beautiful cards with great detail and glorious colour. I see her handwriting has the same spidery style of her own mother. I keep them in places around the house much like she kept her mother's letters in various hidey holes. However, the cards I keep and they will never be thrown out.
Really, I suppose I actually do know why my mum threw out all those letters. I think they were a reminder of times in her life that were not very good. Why keep things like that when reading them would make her feel sad.
Having written this I think I may write my mum a little letter.
One that she may keep because her life is pretty peaceful now and my letter is unlikely to remind her of anything other than that I was thinking of her. Which is fine by me.

Print Friendly and PDF