Monday, March 25, 2013
Sketches From A City Lunch Part 2
It had been some time since the lunch group had met. The inclement weather had subsided that morning and whilst the roads were still wet and slippery in the city and the slightest swipe on the stone mall pavers could land you flat on your face, still Charlie walked briskly and defiantly in his dandiest mufti day special as he headed towards Chifley. People often stopped him on the street either to encourage his courage or to snigger whilst making a back-handed compliment. He ignored them, especially today, when he was quite sure that burgundy was the in colour for silk ties that season and that no-one else had cottoned onto that quite as yet.
When Charlie had entered the foyer of Chifley he looked amongst those sitting and those walking until a familiar wave from Oliver signalled that they were choosing one of the more discreet tables for the day. Oliver was often ashamed to be seen with Charlie, especially when he wore gregarious colours, citing that he did not want senior management of his mergers and acquisitions department considering him as lunching with homosexuals. This line had got the entire table into a frenzy of insults two weeks earlier, but today Ben, who often added the most fuel to the fire, had called in sick. Seated next to Oliver was lanky Mike in his relaxed fine cotton shirt and opposite him was Phillip who was newer to the group than the others and accordingly spoke less at these lunches.
“I feel naked without Ben here” said Oliver. ‘I almost feel we oughtn’t to be lunching’.
“Sick as a dog I was told. The whole family too. Apparently Dana had to take the whole family to the hospital in a taxi at 3am. She’s the only one with balls in the family it seems”, responded Charlie.
Once Charlie was seated the conversation resumed to the topic prior to his arrival. Oliver turned to Phillip, who was from London, to continue.
“We have to go to a birthday party for kids in Killara on the weekend” said Oliver explanatorily.
“Killara” said Phillip with a plum in his mouth, “now where is that?”
“Killara is near Lindfield, it’s like waspy North Shore, big houses, big streets with overhanging trees. Kind of near St. Ives. But, the reason why I said I am dreading it is because I grew up there”
“Because I used to get chased there. I mean it was awful. There is an ugly road that cuts the whole thing in two too. It’s like a savage scar, it’s a wonder that all these old families that live there think they are so wonderful.”
“He breaks out in a rash like Woogie. The avenues, people sweeping streets, everyone is polite but guarded”.
“Who was is it that said, I know, it was Da Vinci, who said that the avenues should be one and a half times the height of the buildings on either side. I think it was a Da Vinci’. He pulled his hands back through his hair as if it would accentuate how much he’d pushed his brain to deliver up the small tid-bit which was being stored in the back of his large brain amidst all the noise of daily grind and the movements of the stock market.
“What a fantastic piece of trivia to hold in your noggin Mike” said Charlie.
“I think about Paddington Street in Paddington. I think that’s just about the proportions that Da Vinci was referring to” added Mike.
“What a golden nugget of information” said Oliver. “Do you notice how Mike has all these pithy little nightclub remarks - you need these kinds of things because you are still single. It’s the perfect kind of thing to whisper in a girl’s ear in the back of a taxi at 3am. That old talk between club and bedroom’.
“Hahahahaha!!!!” the laughed in unison.
“I was going to say, yes, that was such a nugget! Perfect word Oliver!” said Phillip.
“Isn’t there a similar one about the size of your cock related to the size of your forearm” said Charlie.
There was a small silence as they listened to the noises of the café traffic and the two women who were debating their Easter holidays and their positions in their respective firms.
“Hey did you enter the competition for the tie giveaway from Le Noeud Papillon?”
“No, it was totally rigged. They gave it away to some swine who quoted Proust. An absolute bagel from London”.
“You know I know him, he told me that you are his best customer Oliver. He said that when he goes on sale you are the VERY first person to buy on his website”.
The others guffawed.
When their lunch arrived they talked more about the stock market and for the first time Oliver gave away something about the value of his bonuses when Mike mentioned that he had place a foreign currency trade to Switzerland on his behalf. It galled Phillip and Charlie, who were small timers in comparison to Oliver and Mike.
A woman walked past the table, her legs were still tanned from the summer. She wore a printed silk skirt which rocked with her hips and her breasts, which were propped up like fat avocados inside her supportive bra, were not moving one iota. It caught the attention of both Mike and Charlie simultaneously, although Charlie’s eyes fervently watched her with intent whilst Mike’s were more relaxed and subdued.
“I know you saw her, I know you saw her” said Charlie, “you can pretend, but I saw you. You are a very clever fox”.
“I had her before she even came down the escalator” said Mike, “I just don’t sweat it as much”.
“I’d like to die on top of a woman like that’ said Charlie. “I don’t think I ever recall having had a red head. That’s not even red really. What do you call that? Burgundy? I’d love to die humping something like that. Really, just get my back into it and in the middle of a heave ho just collapse. What a way to go. Or an orgy. Spunk everywhere. I’ve never had an orgy”.
“Didn’t you have a friend that died of cancer that went like that?” asked Oliver.
“No, not whilst having sex”
“Yes, but didn’t he go to orgies?”
“Charlie had a friend” said Oliver, positioning himself to speak to the remaining two, “who was diagnosed with cancer and then just went loose, started taking drugs, going to parties etc. Ended up going to these sex parties and basically losing all inhibition before he died. You went travelling with him right?”
The others, astonished, looked at Charlie for confirmation.
“Yep, basically this is how it went. He… um… He… His ex-girlfriend, no, his ex fiancé it was, started dicking him around. He had proposed to her, she accepted his ring, then flew off to New Caledonia and was working as an airline stewardess between here and there. She was living like a single woman over there, never once wore her engagement ring and basically fucked everything except her fiancé. Then one day he got wind of it by the strangest coincidence. He confronted her and she said she wanted out and threw the ring off the wharf at Rose Bay. He was totally shattered. He was a pharmacist by profession and he had bought two pharmacies using family money, over-priced as they were at the time, as a gesture of goodwill to begin a life together. Over extended himself. Was working like a dog. Then hits a wall when she throws the ring in the water. Twenty k I might add. Then comes the selling off off the business, sells it for x minus 15 per cent. On the day he sold the business he gets a dizzy spell and he’s tired. Goes to his family doctor two days later, gets in with a specialist straight away and finds out he’s got some form of aggressive lymphoma. When I caught up with him he had three months to live and had just been through two months of hell. He sat me down, oh God; I can still remember it like yesterday. We were eating pizza and he told me the story about this fiancé and all I could think was ‘this is going to kill him’. There was so much vitriol and angst in his voice and I remember being so brutal with him and I said ‘don’t let this kill you, she’s not worth it, she’s just a slut and you will have many more. I think her name was Victoria or something like that. I might have even quoted Bukowski.”
He paused for a breath as the coffees were placed in front of them with their cannoli.
“You can’t quote Bukowski” said Oliver. “That is reserved for The Zionist”
“This is phenomenal. How the hell do you know these sorts of people Charlie? You’re like Kramer”.
“I don’t know. They find me, I find them. He was a great friend. A much better friend to me than I was to him. That’s all I could think about at his funeral. How shitty and unsupportive I had been as a friend. I gave him five minutes of a high and mighty speech and the next thing I know I am standing at his wake after watching the rabbi rip his father’s pocket. I, I don’t think I had witnessed pain like that before. The pain of the family.”
“But what about the orgies, let’s keep it lighter shall we”
“It’s the one thing I remember that struck a real cord with me. A woman once said to me, ‘Chuck, it ain’t the things we do on this planet that we regret on our death beds; it’s the things we didn’t do’. And with Josh, that was the thing I loved. I said ‘what have you been doing since you got the cancer’ and he said, I started going to rub and tugs. Then I moved onto hookers. Then from there I started signing up for sex parties. He was going to two or three sex parties a week. He said he would fuck some guy’s wife from behind whilst the husband got a blow job and that one time the spunk landed on the other guys leg and they all just laughed. I remember the cheeky look in Josh’s eyes, it was the only time when he wasn’t bitter – he was revelling in the fun he was having just rooting like a mad men. But then it came to an end, I think anyway, when this girl, Victoria, flew into town and they met at the Sheraton On The Park to sought through it all. I can remember him saying to me ‘and I said to her, why did you do this to me? What did I do to you? You have given me cancer! It was you who gave me cancer!’ Then apparently he broke down and cried and she didn’t even hold him. By this stage he said she was so drunk and all that she wanted to do was give him a blow job and he just crumbled into a ball and begged her to hold him.”
“Oh, Jesus that is heavy” said Mike.
“How much is it each person?” asked Phillip as the bill arrived.
“$24 each, make it $25.”
“I will spot you for this one” said Oliver looking at Mike, “you got me last week”.
“Let’s hope that Ben’s back for next week”.
“Indeed” said Phillip.
Monday, March 4, 2013
He awoke first at 5am, rolling over to see if she was still there. He had hoped that she might disappear somewhere in the night, so that he could be free to dream like a boy. Whenever she was next to him the dreams were stopped by a nudge or her whining his name in the dark. There was a sea breeze blowing and it was still dark outside with only the lamp of the street bringing in a false moon. She crossed over again and for fear of waking her up, he rolled away from her, to the corner of his bed, and huddled so that he could be with his own thoughts.
He awoke again at 7am and this time the sun had now risen and the street was being disturbed by the loud clanking noises of garbage trucks and garbage men calling out to one another. She was now awake too.
“Sam, can you shut the window” she asked. “How did you sleep?”
“I slept fine. I just woke up too early. I am paying the price for smoking cigarettes again. They really dry me out”
“You won’t ever listen to me, will you” she said and rolled her eyes.
He turned away from her but this time she noticed that he was withdrawing, so she placed a hand upon his hip and gently rocked him but he was not interested and he tried to return to sleep.
When they had both showered they took their time getting dressed between boiled eggs and coffees. He looked out the window hoping to get an indication of the morning. The summer was heating up the ground and the cicadas now filled the morning air with a voluminous shrill.
“What time is the Church?”
“It’s on the card. I left it on the fridge and I emailed it to you yesterday”
Until they crossed the bridge they spoke very little, but as they approached Kirribilli they began to chatter more about finding a car spot and working out whether they could squeeze a visit to their favourite café, Oskars On The Bay, before attending the Christening lunch. Kate insisted that she he would have to leave him after the service to finish off an interview.
“This is the last thing I feel like doing this morning. Do you know that? The very last thing. Why he goes and gives us 3 days’ notice for a christening is beyond me. And we’re all expected to hop to as soon as he sends an email” said Sam. “He is so unorganised. And yet when he wants you to be there to wine and dine some schmuck he wants to do business with on a Wednesday night, your phone will not stop ringing if you run 5 minutes late. Honestly, I am just sick of him.”
“Nick is your best mate; you two have tiffs all the time. You better be nice to her when you are there. You really don’t make enough of an effort with Gunilla.”
“What am I going to say to her? I am at a loss for words. We don’t have children. We don’t renovate.’
“Oh you can chew the ear of anyone you want to. Mostly, you know what it is. You’re not attracted to her. If you were you would be all over her like a cheap suit.”
When they pulled up at the kerb they were surprised to see how many car spaces there were available. Sam stepped out of the car to be met with hot air rising from the street and the glimmering sheen of the harbour from a sun uninterrupted by clouds.
A party had gathered outside on the lawns of the church. The gathering was short of what either had expected. It had turned out to be a very small attendance for the Christening which warranted a mocking glance between Sam and Kate. Nick’s immediate family were playing with the numerous children that had been born amongst the siblings within the last four years. Nick’s parents, both conservative and tired, were doing their best given the heat.
The ceremony was in Swedish and the entire congregation chanted Swedish songs praising God in the most gentle sing-song way that made most of the crowd that spoke Swedish smile with great joy. The remainder of the English speaking congregation sat with bored heat exhausted expressions on their faces looking at the fans hoping that they might spin faster. It was all taking far too long for the non-Swedes but they endured as good Christians do. Rising when they were told to rise, sitting when they were told to sit.
When they left the church both Sam and Kate had then decided that the endurance warranted a quick drop in to Oskar’s. They were so parched, so hungry and so hot that they could not have made a faster bolt for the car. They screamed the air-conditioning as loud as they could and revved the car up the incline towards the harbour bridge.
When they arrived at Oskar’s the café was full. They eyed the other patrons scanning for departures and when a table came up, Kate, ambitious and wily, quickly placed a newspaper down on the table and sat down on the better seat, the banquet which faced the wall.
“Just once, just once, I would like to have the better seat. Just once.”
“Don’t whinge. Do you want it?’
“So don’t whinge” she repeated. “You are in a filthy mood. It’s hot, but we’re all dealing with it.”
“What is that noise?”
“That screeching sound, what is it?”
They looked around the café but saw nothing. Still the noise sat loud above the clatter of the café. It was as though a child was being hurt. It was not a normal sound of a child crying but something far more primal.
“Oh look, the other couple that sat down just left. Do you want to follow them across the road? We can go try the Bake House”
“No, I am sure it will stop and the Bake House doesn’t do eggs like Oskar.”
The screeching continued and to the astonishment of Sam, nobody seemed to be turned in the direction of the sound. He was perplexed that people would allow this infringement and not be looking up with scornful faces to challenge the guardian or parent of the child.
Sam continued. “No, I don’t want to let a kid screaming stop me from having my breakfast. It is a good argument against having children though, wouldn’t you say?”
“When they are your kids I am sure you will demand everyone around you to tolerate them”
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but yes, I think that I will”. He pulled Kate close to him, flicked her hair over her ears and pulled her lobe close to him and then kissed her cheek.
The clatter continued and they kept their minds off the child’s squeal. Eventually they did not notice that it had stopped. It was only when the waitress began to take their order that the child began again, this time louder and with more gusto. It arrested Sam, and alarmed by the expression on his face, Kate asked once more if they could leave.
“No, no no! Why should my Sunday breakfast be altered because one father can’t control his kid? It’s probably some single mother with her head up her arse wondering why the guy walked out on her. No, I have had enough of this!”
“C’mon, let’s just leave.”
“No, I want my breakfast. Carla, I will have scrambled eggs with bacon and avocado. I want a piccolo latte and I want my tobasco as usual please”.
“And, I will have two poached eggs on one piece of wholemeal with a side of avocado and a skinny cappuccino, but can you make sure they are poached well, because last time they were a bit runny”.
Sam looked around the room and now a few of the patrons, especially the older types, were starting to look over towards the table on the far side where the suspect family were trying to contain the child. Eventually the mother walked past with the screaming young girl and left the café to console her. Both Sam and Kate were blocked from seeing her, but the café became noticeably quieter. A certain serene calm began to descent over the room which seemed to not only remove the noise of the child but stifle the noises and machinations of the café on a quiet Sunday. The chefs beat their eggs a little more softly. The waiters lifted the plates without clatter. Sam sighed and looked at Kate with winning grin.
“Somebody must have given them a big greasy. Oh, hooray. You know what I hate? I hate the argument that ‘you don’t have a kid’, even if I did I would not allow it to behave like that. And I would expect that if you were the mother, you wouldn’t want it either. What right do they have to ruin it for everyone else? I mean clearly, the guy opposite us was stressed out of his brain. He couldn’t read the paper. He was constantly looking up”
“You don’t know the first thing about being a parent. It must be so hard when you have a child like that”
“Yes, I am sure it is. In Vermont did you see that dribbling autistic kid in the breakfast room. The mum was so prim and proper at the omelette counter and then she walked back to the table and I saw the way she had to deal with the idiot child. I felt so sorry for her. She had such dignity and poise and yet it seemed like the bane of her existence”
“It was autistic, it wasn’t an idiot”
The noise began again. It rose up above the noise of the café as though it was winding itself up towards a crescendo. But it was not a crescendo, for when it reached the top; it just hovered there, squealing again and again. Sam’s face went red and he put his hands to his forehead.
“Let’s just go” said Kate. “They will cancel the order”.
“No, I need to see it first.” Sam stood up.
“Sit down, don’t make a scene”
“I just need to see it”.
Sam, in his Sunday Christening best crossed the café and walked past the counter to see the noise was emanating from. He walked back to his seat and sat down.
“I know that family over there” said Kate. “That’s the father of a friend of mine, Jess, you haven’t met her yet. She was in my swim team. Did you see them?”
“A pack of…. No, they are more likely Indians. I can’t tell the difference. I am going to say something Kate. I have to say something. I come here all the time, I pay hand over fist to eat at this café. Oskar gets three tables a week out of us. I don’t want to not say anything.”
“Just don’t do it. You will regret it, I promise. It’s not your position to say anything”.
“Why not? And just sit here copping it sweet. No, fuck it, it’s my Sunday too”.
Sam got up, he looked around the room, and he said to himself “I am not doing this for myself alone, this is for everyone. This is a selfless act, not a selfish one. I am right.” With that thought streaming past him imperceptibly and requiring no double-checking, he walked himself across the room, pulling his collar tight around his neck and running his hand through his longish brown hair. He walked straight up to the table.
“Excuse me! Excuse me! You are going to need to do something about your child. Either take it for another walk, as you did earlier, which clearly worked. Or find another solution. But this is my Sunday morning too and I don’t want to hear your child screeching.”
The husband raised his head up from the table. Same quickly surveyed the table and saw now clearly the mother, the father, the young dark boy and the little girl who now stopped crying.
“Just chill out mate!” retorted the father.
Sam swelled with anger and blushed, but vehemently and with courage he repeated “Just do something about it”.
The bustling café fell into the deepest silence and all that Sam could hear as he returned to the table were his footsteps. He looked around the café eagerly scanning faces for support. “I have done this for you” he tried to implore with righteous eyes but replied with scorn. They unanimously offered a unified response. “You went too far. Shame on you”.
Sam sat back down and looked at Katie. She was silent and watched him for a moment.
“Are you alright?”
The café was dead silent. Discerning faces now looked over at their café. One patron in a dusty old collared t-shirt turned his whole rotund corpulence towards them, to see the renegade in the aftermath.
“I did the right thing. I did what none of them had the courage to do. You think they would thank me” said Sam.
Kate rubbed his arm.
“I told you, we should have just left”.
“May you were right”.
Their breakfasts arrived and Sam looked straight into the depths of his yellow scrambled eggs and began to slice away the wholemeal bread and shovel one load after another into his mouth. He took a swig of his piccolo latte and then dove straight back into his breakfast.
After a few minutes, the silence slowly lifted and he was thankful that it was returning back to normalcy. In the corner of his eye he noticed the mother walking out of the café cradling her child. As she walked past she stopped and raising her voice to an audience volume she said.
“We are going now. I hope you are happy. I just want you to know that you are the most despicable person I have ever met in my entire life.”
She walked out of the door way, turned and mouthed “fuck you” before walking off down the street.
Shocked, Sam returned to his food but muttered many expletives under his breath. His seething was completely ruining every morsel of food he put in his mouth. The husband, having now paid the check, walked past table. He now appeared stockier, more like a fighter. He hunched himself over as he walked past the table, stuck his finger up and yelled “You Poofta!” before walking out. Sam’s stomach now knotted. He thought he was in for a fight, the adrenaline kicked in, his heart raced and he wanted to run out the door and assault the man with his full weight behind him. The other patrons, astonished at the second wave that had transpired, now fell silent again. Only the fans whirred, with the heat helping to keep the other patrons quiet.