THE city’s lure was irresistible – despite the best of chill-out-and-pretend-we’re-not-lame-o-9-to-5ers-normally intentions. I was first to drag myself out of bed to the not so sweet sounds of Ross wheezing, sniffing and generally mimicking a large animal in its death throes, due to the hay fever he discovered sets in when he tries to kick the smokes. I wandered around Chapel St at street cleaner-am while eating fruit and breakfast Subway. Perfect Melbourne weather: utterly miserable. Peoples’ ashen faces appeared drawn to the ground by the frigid air crushing them from above. Or perhaps they were simply mirroring my appearance? When I got back I helped myself to the Hotel Claremont Guest House’s complimentary breakfast – while delighting in the Herald Sun front page story about the cops’ misreporting of solved crime figures. “We didn’t deliberately fudge the figures,” they said. “The inaccuracies were a result of errors in the system.” Yeah, sure, I thought. Crime gets solved and you tick the box. Real, difficult. Anyway, while Ross would arrive just in time to miss breakfast, I was busy being filmed for the Guest House’s Facebook page. Jesus, she picked the wrong inanimate bastard. While this time wandering Chapel St as a duo we passed a Borders bookstore. Rows and rows of shelves disappearing into a seemingly endlessly deepening store – almost all empty. The only books left were self-help pieces of crap and Twilight knock-offs. You could even buy the shelves, so pathetic was the situation. I couldn’t help but fear that it’s not just because people are more often reading electronically, and that in fact many people are simply no longer reading. Eventually we found ourselves at the end of the road and at what we were pretty sure was a tram station heading into the city like a drip feed directly into the proverbial Heart Of Darkness. The tram – my first time in one – dropped us off outside the National Gallery of Victoria. I’d later learn the gallery was about to celebrate its 150th birthday. The old girl looked pretty good for her ripe-old-age. I remember being transfixed by an imposing oil-painting of a young woman in a field, emptying a bag of potatoes. The painting’s background faded from sight as I zeroed in on her face – impossibly real looking, and beautiful. Like the paint had drawn every ounce of female beauty the world possessed and realised it in a photo-like representation of a young farmer’s daughter’s face. Transfixing for fleeting moments the eyes of whomsoever cared to give it momentary attention. The place was really for Ross though – he could’ve spent hours feeding his graphic designer’s brain on the art books of every conceivable type, from Egyptian to modern-political-satire, such as Tony Blair taking a happy snap of himself with a mobile phone, in front of a burning Iraqi oil-well. I bought us a couple of coffees and waited, while appreciating a waitress’s very real beauty.
Jesus, the city was like a sandy beach of faces, and us a pair of grains. Hung-over grains. But we blew along down the street ‘cause it was the easy thing to do. And we tried to not glaringly obviously perv on indie-chicks and high-school girls on lunch. After a walk through the city which was punctuated only by a brief rain-shower we came to Brunswick St, Fitzroy. A lot like Chapel St, but less pretentious, is and was Brunswick St. Chapel’s kind of like a diligent arts student born to rich parents, while Brunswick’s more of a talented but lazy arts student born to, yep, you guessed it: poor parents. There were more freaks too. They literally hung out the windows. But it was a pretty non-descript journey down yet another straight road-shopping-strip. We’d both agreed beer was the Devil earlier in the day but, come about 2pm, a corner bar serving up pints of Guinness in front of a roaring fire seemed pretty alluring. The difference between a bar in a place like that and a place like the Gold Coast is quite simple: genuine friendliness. Without pretence. We’d probably walked about three or four k’s down the street so it was all about a tram for the return journey. This part Indigenous – self announced – guy, Cameron, befriended us for the ride and told us all about, I dunno, something like ‘spirit geography’ or some damn shit. Said he was a shaman. Followed us all the way to Flinders St Station, which we reached on foot after I realised the tram was taking us to the middle of God-knows-where. Plus we hadn’t bought a ticket. Woops. And that’s where we finally lost Cameron. He was totally going to hook us up with some ‘gasha’ next time we were in Brisbane. Never heard that slang for weed before. Maybe he said ‘ganja’. Probably. It was hard to understand him.
Chapel St has myriad pubs and clubs. The first one we stopped at was a little over-fancy, but they had a two-for-one cocktail special going on, so we ordered a couple of Cosmopolitans and sipped them while surveying the scene. We tried to ignore the fact the Cosmos looked very suspiciously like feminine drinks, not that there’s anything wrong with that, then finally realised the bar was a little subdued for us so wandered back out into the biting cold. The ‘Lucky Coq’ , as in ‘rooster’, seemed auspicious, especially when we noticed a blonde and brunette pair occupying one sofa opposite another un-occupied sofa with a coffee table in between. Perfect place to rest our drinks, we thought. So we settled in to discover Samantha and Claire were English women from Leeds. They were strange though: both late-20s, no tertiary education and partial to no football team. I could respect the latter, being dispassionate about sport myself, but it was at odds with my perception of all Brits – especially un-educated Brits – as soccer hooligans. Anyway, they seemed impressed with the fact I was a muck-raking journo and Ross a glorified paint-by-numbers graphic designer. I told them my story about how I was once on my way to a story/photo about a musician at a picturesque estuarine surf-spot, when I drove past a large gathering of police and, thanks mainly to the photographer travelling separately who didn’t come to my conclusion the cops were having a Mother’s Day picnic, stumbled quite literally over a much larger story. A story about a surfer who’d been made minced-meat by a boat in the estuary and later died in hospital. The funny thing, about British Claire, not the dead surfer, was she inaccurately pegged Ross as a ‘player’, and decided that specious conclusion was pretext enough not to kiss him. I had better luck hooking up with Sam whenever possible. She had an alarming but strangely arousing tendency to bite my lower lip, hard, during the more passionate moments. I think we all lost interest in each other upon exiting the ‘Coq’ and being smothered by the cold-hard-lamplight of the early morning. It revealed our faces for what they really were: liquor and sleep deprivation deformed. For some reason a random blonde found it hilarious to slip ice in Ross’s back pocket at the Hungry Jack’s we stumbled into. We agreed, but the group of spastically drunk teenagers at another table were oblivious. Must’ve been the spastic drunkenness. I guess it was the fact they followed us almost all the way to the guest house before leaving in a taxi which set backed-up Ross to moaning, flinging his arms around and kicking inanimate objects. I recalled his behaviour to him with relish in the morning. He could barely remember, and simply sighed. One particularly vivid memory of the night, even before the Cosmos or the ‘Coq’, was dragging Ross across the floor and out of the hostel-room door for some drunken reason. But we told the British chicks we were sober when we arrived to meet them. Yeah, right. Sober as a Gold Coast woo girl or roided-up bikie gang member.