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tales from an ordinary world


I was just making my way through the office, as usual, when I was hit with a particular memory I'd completely forgotten about - once upon a time, I became a regular in a bar, in some other city, just for a few days.

It wasn't so long ago - in recent years - and I was visiting this small city by the sea for a few days just to look around, to relax and recharge. I got to my hotel just before the rain hit, and feeling no particular need to go wandering in the wet I decided I'd eat in the hotel restaurant. I watched out the streaky window as the evening light faded, looking at cars passing by below on the main road, down which I'd come in the taxi not too long before.

After dinner, I wasn't feeling quite ready for the confines of my room, so I strolled over to the bar, perched on a stool and ordered a drink. The barman smiled under his grey moustache, friendly and slightly fox-like as we made usual small talk about where I was from, and what I was doing here. The sport channel silently showed fields of green, with multicoloured players who were probably tussling over a ball. The endless back and forth. He handed me my drink, and an ashtray, and that's how the evening went - not at great speed, but at a slow, relaxing pace.

During my days I aimed to cover as much ground as possible, to walk as much as I can and see what there was to see. Aircraft occasionally circled overhead, and some navy ships had docked for a few days. Girls pointed and giggled at well-dressed sailors in shopping malls. I found a cafe to sit in, somewhere I could watch out the window and see people crossing the street, concerns on their brow, laughing and joking with friends, or deep in mobile phone conversations. It was warm, not hot, but warm enough that you could work up a bit of a sweat if you'd been walking around for hours.

In the late afternoon I'd return to my room, shower and change clothes, and head out in the early evening to find some dinner. I'd walk up and down a few streets, examining the restaurants on offer, and sit at a table for one. I was content with this, with my random strolling about, without any particular agenda to follow or things I absolutely had to see. I could hop on a bus going nowhere in particular, and hop off at some deserted backbeach on a cold and windy but also cloudless and sunny morning. I could go up the hillside, and look down on the city below. Buildings and streets and cars and people and trees and pavements going up and down and around. Later, I'd pass small parks where people sat under trees, reading. Schoolkids waiting for their buses at a large terminal. Shoppers, hands full with bags. Happy and unhappy people, all together.

After dinner I'd walk around a bit more, but I'd always end up back at the hotel bar, for no other particular reason than its sense of familiarity, I suppose. It wasn't far to my bed afterwards, so I didn't need to worry about how I might get home when the day finally caught up with me. The bartender would tell me stories of his life, about when he used to be a taxi driver, or where he lives, a short drive out of town. He'd ask what I got up to, and nod approvingly as I mentioned the various places I'd been.

It's a nice little city. I'd like to go back some day, though I know it won't be the same.

Sometimes I listen to a song by The Church called Louisiana, because it evokes that faraway feeling, of a yearning for times spent in some other life.


Everyone's gone to the moon, it seems. We're in a quiet inner city bar, and it's good to see each of them sounding a little different, a little fluttery, wondering a little more than usual about what might happen next. My mouth is a well of encouragement.


It's an old haunt for these guys, this Carlton wine bar. Conversations flow as fast as the drinks, and I hear more and more things about the man of honour - the "that guy with the wooden sword and the book on Zen ? what would he know about C programming ?" story, for instance. Some of us wander out to the balcony for refreshment, and end up trying to guess the origin of somebody's European accent that's coming up from the voices below. "Listen to that, will ya ? The Australian guy's voice just doesn't measure up, in comparison. He hasn't got a chance..."


Weekend work. I scoop out the operating system of one of our oldest and most central servers, replacing it with a newer, shinier release. Layer the services back on top of it. With any luck, nobody'll notice a thing on Monday. It's hard to explain the satisfaction you get out of doing this sort of thing. It's all about the appearance of effortlessness. Solaris 7 has left the building, and nobody knows...


My bagel honeymoon is over - it's time for something else. I settle for an old occasional favourite, a little further down the street. Not long afterwards, a couple come in, sit down and order the safest, most bog-standard and uninteresting dish that one could order in this place. As I float in gastronomic heaven, getting higher with every mouthful, I think about how I'd love to shake one of them by the shoulders and say "look at the specials board ! you've no idea what you're missing out on, this stuff's fantastic ! you can have that other stuff anytime !" But as usual I turn on myself, because I know I'm guilty of very same transgression any number of times in the past and the future. Mystery and treasure await, but I'm feeling too comfortable to want to get up and open the door.


Burning rubber hits the air, from the kid in the Commodore who turned around and sped past angrily as I crossed the street. I'm nearly home now, winding my way around the back of the town hall while people poke at pictures in the gallery, the carpark amost full. A single bright star keeps its eye on me, through the trees in our street, and up the shared driveway to the front door.


I sat, quietly, trying to let go.

An old familiar Mazzy Star album started up in City Cafe (replacing some r'n'b-styled cover of can't take my eyes off of you) and I could hear the occasional s sound at the end of words as the guy sitting in the window started singing quietly along to something he also held dear.


I had the honour of a few quick beers before he wandered off, to return in a few weeks' time as a Changed Man. Afterwards I walked down Chapel St, stopping for a quick dinner somewhere newly familiar before making my way down to my tram stop on Dandenong Road. A very low-flying airliner balanced out the traffic noise with its own, red lights flashing as it banked to head southwards. The tram driver was overly jovial, singing the occasional a phrase or two as we made our own way south-east.

The evening seemed like one happy discovery after another - remastered/re-released versions of some of my favourite band's old albums, I found a new little bar behind where I ate dinner (somewhere to try later with a few friends, perhaps), and heard news that another band I liked was going to be in town tomorrow and on the weekend.


"Everything I touch turns to art," she laughed to her friend, while the sticky bit of the cigarette wrapper flapped in the breeze from the end of her fingers.


I sat outside with my coffee, mechanical and human traffic passing me by, and did nothing for the best part of an hour. I am silent, I am nothing, I am an observer. Some day I'll dream of these moments, though as I tried to collect my thoughts I could feel the clouds gathering overhead. It was time to meet my friends.


Time floats by.

When I was trying to sleep last night I tried to imagine I was floating, slowly moving my stomach as I breathed, in order to simulate the feeling of small, slow waves. I thought it might help, but my restless mind couldn't keep it up for more than a minute or two without giving into distraction and a general sense of worry.

Situations, either bad or merely undesirable - I can't stop them inventing themselves in my head, demanding that I play out the "what if ?" scenario to its grisly end.


People always ask me how I deal with The Distance ThingTM, but my answer remains the same - "I don't know. You just do."


dream : I'm on a bus. As it rolls down the street the conductor introduces himself to us with a few toots of his bagpipes, and tells us he's blind.

Later, I'm walking up a steel hill, along the side of a road. It's quite sandy. The conductor's with me, and asks if we want to continue on, or wait until tomorrow when it was light. I don't remember where we were headed, but I figured that perhaps it didn't make much difference to him whether he walked during the day or the night, and he was probably asking me out of courtesy.

I don't know if we stopped or kept going because the next thing I knew, I was in some large, underground cellar. Wine racks neatly organized. For a while I was trying to lift myself up to a hole in the ceiling to get myself out, but after a while it turned out that all my workmates were here, and we were drinking some of the wine and generally just sitting around. Whose wine cellar was it, though ? I noticed nobody had been replacing the wine we'd been drinking, and hoped this was somehow ok. At another end of the room were some pianos, in various states of disrepair. One of them was ok in the middle, but the keys at either end had rotted away. I wandered around some more, and found what must've been the front door - it seemed like an entryway, though I didn't look outside. A pile of letters and bils sat next to the door, which was presumably somebody's "in-tray" of sorts. I dug through the pile and found a copy of Fight Club on DVD. Maybe they'd hired it and it needed to be returned ? Oh hang on, there's a price on it. They must've bought it. What's it doing in this pile of bills that need paying ?


Sometimes I worry that I feel too much empathy for objects. I bought a new one of those cheap canvas backpacks at lunchtime, which meant I had to transfer the contents of my old bag to the new one, and throw the old one out. It's in the bin under my desk in the office right now but I can't help feeling a pang of sadness, as if this wasn't the right way for it to go. Usually (if I was at home) I'd have just put it under the desk in my bedroom with all the other old bags I no longer use, because I can't bear to throw them out. It's not some kind of "I must get maximum use out of this thing so that I feel I got my money's worth" crusade, it's merely a feeling...that it deserves better ? Like I should be giving it a proper burial, or somehow giving it another chance at life. I don't know if this the same reason why my father is or my grandfather was addicted to hoarding stuff, but I find that it's my primary reason for doing so. I have too much guilt in my life.


I was shaving this morning, and while doing so I was thinking about what somebody had said about being scared of razors, and I managed to cut myself in the "moustache" area. Coincidence ? I don't know. But you can tell I use a "Mach 3" razor, because there's three nicely-spaced cuts, all in a row.


"There's a lot of young people here," he said. I hadn't noticed, but a little later I overheard some black-nail-polished kid telling a friend how he'd forgotten his ID at a bar one night, and got kicked out for it. Black and white TV sets scattered through the bar, playing piped old movies taped off the TV (I spotted an ad advertising their "1998 sale"), and black and white movie star photos on the wall. Old games on a bookshelf. Tightly packed but eminently comfortable. People are drinking cocktails, which perhaps explains the attraction to the younger ones, but Steve's having a beer, and I'm having a gin and lime. It's a nice enough place, and certainly helps to explain the attraction of the inner northern suburbs. He told me of his recent post-wisdom-teeth-pulling days spent recovering at his parents' house, reliving his youth by sitting in front of the stereo with all his sister's old 7 and 12-inch vinyl, from those golden days towards the end of the 80's, the days that aren't yet back in fashion.

The old stereo in the lounge room. He said didn't have to use the headphones, like I did. I'd pull an armchair to face the aging silvery metal components, waiting for the familiar thump from the speakers as you turned it all on, and the comforting light-green glow of the radio dial. I'd slide it down to 106.7 every Sunday evening to catch The Electronic Influence, tape at the ready, watching the tape deck's left and right-channel level meters bounce back and forth with the signal. This was all 1980-bought equipment - no auto-tuning for the radio, not even any bouncing LEDs for the recording levels. On a weekend afternoon, perhaps, I'd grab a record I'd just bought and tape it so I could listen to it in my walkman, tip-toeing out of the room so I didn't make the needle jump (a much-forgotten aspect of the whole vinyl thing, or maybe people aren't as paranoid as I am ?)

When I called my mother last night for a pre-holiday chat we spent a good 5 minutes or more talking about music, something I probably never thought I'd find myself doing if you'd asked me 10 years ago. I've been lending my parents music, now - I think I can claim to have put them onto Steve Earle, for instance (although it was David that lent me some of his stuff, so I can't claim victory on my own). She said how they'd bought the Emmylou Harris anthology, which they couldn't stop listening to despite having most of the content on vinyl since I was a kid. "...and we bought that Gram Parsons anthology," she said, so I told her about the time I saw Evan Dando (of Lemonheads fame) with Steve at the Tote, nearly 10 years ago now. He covered a heap of Lucinda Williams, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, and other people's songs. A magical night, the first time I'd heard any of that sort of stuff (at least when I was conscious of it) and when Steve gave me a copy of the tape he'd made (thanks to a recording Walkman he'd had sitting in his jacket pocket) I'd listen to it again and again despite the questionable sound quality, and I've bought a lot of stuff stemming from that one influential night.

When I put on the Townes van Zandt tribute CD I bought yesterday, a song called Pancho and Lefty came up, the words sounding inexplicably familiar. But it's come back to me now - on one of those old Emmylou Harris albums that my parents always had, she covers it. Funny how those old things come around again. Eventually, we all come to terms with our upbringing. Perhaps this is my way of coming to terms with mine ?


Perhaps it doesn't often show, but I really enjoy taking friends to favourite places - restaurants, music shops, whatever. I'm not the most expressive or descriptive guy on earth, so it's hard for me to explain the multicoloured extravaganza of food you get at Blue Corn, or the delicate nuances of the Willard Grant Conspiracy + Telefunk in the fishtank EP. So I hope you can forgive my occasional exuberance, when all I can do is jump up and down, waving my hands, saying "you've got to eat this ! you've got to listen to this ! it's fantastic !"


I find the constant, slight food aroma in Singapore to be somehow comforting. Even though I'm still a stranger here, it's all becoming a little more familiar the second time around. On a large scale, I pretty much know what's around the corner when I go somewhere, but there's still room for surprise on a smaller, more minor level.

..end transmission...

other times

days : (<< 2002-06) 2002-07 : 02, 04, 05, 06, 07, 09, 11, 11b, 13, 14, 16, 16b, 17, 18, 21, 21b, 21c, 26 (2002-08 >>).

months : (<< ) all of 2002-07 ( >>).

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