I had a steady stream of visitors yesterday. Bilateral Petersham has begun to draw folks in from the outside world. You see, if my friends want to spend time with me, they have no choice: it’s the ‘sham or nothing, mate!
Jane arrived early and we headed up to Big Brekkie. She’s in the final stretch of her thesis now. We talked about small details and minute observations. She’s looking at this stuff in relation to some experimental filmmakers. Her argument is that the analysis of films tends to focus on grand, schematic explanations, ignoring the tiny details that knit together and give the films their texture. These details are embedded in the time and place that the film was made, and thus they almost give the film an ethnographic quality (even if this was unintended by the filmmaker).
I’m still stretching my brain to accommodate some of the implications of this stuff. Obviously it relates to my own work – the gist being that in order to really be in a place, you need to try and disregard the fact that it belongs to a broad “type” (eg Petersham is similar to Stanmore, it belongs to the Inner-West, and the suburbs in the Inner-West are all more or less the same). How can I go beyond this typology, and see the particular arrangements and rhythms of this place? How do I choose what details are included, and which to ignore?
After breakfast, Jane and I found a garage sale on the corner of Audley and Addison. I complimented the hosts on the graphic design of their pole posters: bold and simple, blocky capital letter fonts. They thought this was funny. I gave them my page of Petersham FAQ’s and asked if they’d be interested in inviting me around for tea sometime to talk about life in the ‘sham. Jane bought a teacup for fifty cents.
I needed new printer cartridges, and Jane needed a new ergonomic chair. So it was to off to Officeworks for us. But Officeworks is out of bounds. Jane crossed the street into Lewisham and went shopping while I squatted at the corner of Canterbury and Wardell, outside Petersham Bulk Cleaning Supplies, opposite Budget Petrol. It’s an aggressive set of traffic lights. Cars jocky for pole position, changing lanes, blocking oncoming traffic, edging out into the intersection, turning illegally into garages. This western end of Canterbury Road is the least pedestrian friendly. Lots of empty shops, no place to stop and park your car. Bigger, more industrial businesses. Retail outlets tend to be large, functional, and serious. No flim-flam here, no custard tarts, no delicate cuts of meat, no lingering for a coffee. Even Georgiou’s Confectionary feels like a factory outlet rather than a nice place to browse for chocolate. After about twenty minutes, Jane phoned from inside Officeworks to let me know the price of a cartridge, and I authorised the purchase. Unfortunately, the chair she wanted wasn’t in stock. She would have to go to the Alexandria store instead.
After Jane left, I had a visit from the Cake Lady. We sat in the backyard drinking lemon verbena tea. She’s doing an artist-in-residence at the Regents Court Hotel in the Cross. In return for staying there for free, all she has to do is water the garden a little. A nice deal. Then Claire rang up. She’s an old friend of mine who lives in France. She’s been visiting Sydney for the Writers’ Festival. Cakey said goodbye, and I set out for the train station to collect Claire. Out on Audley Street, Tully was driving past. We waved to each other. He hopped out. Polly and his other flatmate were with him. “Well? Is it art?” he snapped. “Well”, I said, “there’s a long and a short answer. The short answer is yes. The long answer – as to why it’s a yes – you’ll have to wait for that.” They crossed over to Charlie’s for icecream, and I continued on my way.
Claire was waiting at Trafalgar and Regent. She’s cut her hair short, sort of assymetrical with a loop hanging down the left hand side. I said I thought it looked great. I asked what she thought of Kylie’s post-chemo hairdo. I’ve never found Kylie all that interesting, but I reckon she’s hot with her new short style. Claire hadn’t seen it. A rare occasion where I am more up-to-date on pop culture than my friends.
We passed the RSL. The elections were on for the board of directors. Being a card-carrying member, I went in to exercise my democratic right. There were three cardboard voting booths in the foyer. A man sitting at a desk, looking official, leafed through a large lever-arch file for my name. I peered at the pages as he turned them. Every couple of sheets was a single name highlighted in orange. “Not many people voting, are there?” I asked. “Nah,” he said, “maybe only a couple of hundred out of how many… maybe ten thousand members.”
I wasn’t sure who I should vote for. How can you vote for someone you’ve never heard of? Luckily, each candidate had a passport photo stapled to a handwritten page. This text gave a brief picture who they were. My job was to select two of the four candidates. One, I could immediately discard from my options. He had been in the navy, fought in the first gulf war, and was particularly dedicated to the armed forces side of things. Perhaps this was narrow-minded of me. After all, RSL does stand for “Returned Servicemen’s League”, right? Surely he is the perfect man for the job! But I didn’t dwell on it. I operated on instinct. He was out.
Another fellow looked very friendly in his photo, but his handwriting and grammar was so poor that it was impossible to work out where he was coming from, or what he stood for. So I discarded him too, poor fellow. Who knows, maybe English was not his first language, and I’d effectively rejected a broader ethnic base which would serve to radicalise the club. Claire thought I was being unfair on this guy. She thought he was cute. But it was my decision in the end, and as far as I was concerned, poor grammar was a good enough reason for rejection.
That left the remaining two candidates. One was a woman, already on the board, who emphasised her commitment to indoor sports (including ten pin bowling) and parcelling out money to charities. Never mind that this money originates from poker-machine gambling addictions. She sounded good to me. My other vote went to a man who said simply that he had been a member for many years, and wanted to give something back to the club. Easy. We noticed that none of the four candidates actually lived in Petersham.
* * *
Waiting for the lights to change, I spotted Daniel zooming past on his bike. I shouted out to him. He stopped and turned around, beaming. I haven’t seen him for a long time. Daniel lives in Stanmore. We met doing a course in web design at TAFE a few years back. I invited him over to have lunch with us.
We sat in the kitchen. Claire warmed up some Thai leftovers which Bec had brought home from work, and I washed a mountain of dishes. I’m always behind with the washing up, and it only ever seems to get done when I have visitors.
Around half past four, I dropped Claire off at the “Rail Bus” stop. The bus came almost immediately. Claire said she was dissatisfied with the amount of time we had spent together. She was right. There’s so much to talk about, we hardly even scratched the surface, and it could be a long time before we see each other again.
But there’s a strange feeling, when I receive visitors in the ‘sham. It’s a bit like I’m some sort of professional, making appointments for short talk-oriented consultations. We talk about life, inevitably I talk about what’s going on in the neighbourhood, I hear news from outside, about parties I’ve missed or lives-in-process. In theory, my seclusion from the flux of the wider city should give me some time and space to relax into these conversations. But I don’t ever feel quite relaxed. Why is this?