After my parents died within six months of one another, I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha. On the advice of friends, I moved into the little Victorian terrace house in Fitzroy mum and dad had brought as an investment in the ‘60s. I ...
After my parents died within six months of one another, I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha. On the advice of friends, I moved into the little Victorian terrace house in Fitzroy mum and dad had brought as an investment in the ‘60s. I hadn’t ever imagined becoming an inner city dweller but in hindsight, I guess I felt like I was keeping something of their dream alive. They had planned to move to Melbourne when they retired.
That I decided to go with the flow and stayed much longer than I ever would have imagined, is now a matter of history. That Brunswick Street, which is only spitting distance from where I live, greatly influenced my decision, goes without saying.
God, the first time I wandered down there, I could hardly believe my eyes. There were skin heads, mohawks and more pierced nipples than you could poke a stick at. There were men in women’s clothing, women who looked like men whispering in one another’s ears; there were green- haired punks and happy drunks, people pushing trolleys containing worldly goods and blokes who looked like they had walked straight off the set of the Godfather. There were hippies, dwarfs and a one- eyed, unicycle riding juggler. There were street kids bumming cigarettes, shop owners spruiking and some of the sexiest looking women I had ever seen wearing leather mini-skirts, denim cut-offs, and vinyl contraptions without visible means of support. The scent of freshly-cut flowers and the smell of exotic dishes laden with coriander, chilli’s, garlic and paprika filled the air while the wafting aroma of ground coffee was like nothing I had ever experienced. The place was a blur of movement; it was humming with life and loss and love. The rattling of trams buzzing north and south was like a percussive accompaniment to an already deafening symphony of motion, color and sound.
I was seduced by the intensity of this amazing street . I had never seen or heard or felt anything like it. It may sound crazy and even a little kinky, but I became quite aroused by it all. People were brushing by me, talking in different languages, I caught snippets of conversations to do with art and fashion and words and exhibitions. My head spun.
Feeling as high as a kite and desperately needing a drink I ventured into the Providence Hotel and perching up at the bar, I knocked back two pots quicker than you could say Jack Robinson. Lighting a cigarette I took my third beer over to a table by the window. Before I had a chance to lift my glass to my lips, I was joined by a bloke wearing a navy pin stripe suit and a tattered Collingwood beanie. His hair was grey beneath the beanie, and though clean shaven, his face had the worn texture of one who who has confronted nature’s elements more than once.
“I couldn’t trouble you for a cancer stick could I old boy?” he asked, in a voice so rich and clear that I wondered if he might have been a radio announcer or something.
Without saying anything I handed him a smoke and my lighter and watched as he cupped his hand around the flame as though expecting a strong breeze to suddenly blow up. Handing the lighter back to me, he took a huge drag and closed his eyes, obviously savouring the smoke flowing into his system.
“My dear chap,” he said exhaling smoke through his mouth and nose, “you are truly a life saver. Can I perhaps buy you a another chilled beverage by way of thanks?”
“Yeah thanks, ” I said.
“Then it will be my pleasure to do so at a later date when the coffers are a little fuller than they are currently,” he said, taking another draw from the almost finished cigarette.
“Oscar I hope you’re not annoying the patrons,” the barman called out. His voice was gruff and the look on his pock marked face made it clear he wasn’t joking.
“I certainly am not,” replied Oscar, looking to me as if for confirmation.
Turning in my seat I assured the bar man that I wasn’t being bothered.
Mumbling under his breath the barman went to serve another customer; a woman dressed in a clinging black dress. The rat sitting on her tattooed shoulder looked thirsty too.
“Thank’s old son,” my companion said, extending his hand. “May I introduce myself.”
As I took his hand he said, “I am Oscar Miguel de Santa Juliana Bartholomew Rathdowne the First, poet, connoisseur of fine art and wine, pedigreed political tactician and practitioner of the aural arts. At your service!”
He concluded his introduction with quite a regal nod of his head.
“And you would be?” he asked.
Realsing I had been looking at him with a stunned look on my face and my mouth open I said, “I’m Brian. Brian...
“Brian Zion,” he finished for me. “A fine name if I do say so myself.”
The amused look on his face spoke volumes.
I started to giggle then. And the giggle soon became a hearty on bout of raucous belly laughter. My new friend Oscar just sat quietly looking at me knowing he had been successfull in making it clear he thought little of names, especially other peoples.
Once the laughter had subsided I offered to buy him a beer which he accepted very politely before suggesting the purchase of a jug would equate to more or less the same price but would ensure we truly got value for our money.
As I was being served the barman warned me to watch myself around that nutter.
“He’ll rip you off as soon as look at you,” the man said.
Returning to the table I noticed Oscar had helped himself to another cigarette.
“I can only assume that Roger, our rather ugly pourer of often- watered- down ale has cast aspersions in the general direction of moi?” he asked.
“He did,” I confirmed.
“And if I might enquire, what do you think about his summation of my character?”
Taking a sip I looked at this strange character before me. In my hometown he would have been looked upon as complete and utter nincompoop, but sitting by this window watching a whole new world pass before my eyes I couldn’t help but feel distanced from such attitudes.
“Oscar,” I said. “ I think you pretty well sum up everything I’ve seen so far today. And you know what, it’s all good.”
As our glasses clinked, the number 11 tram to the city clunked by.
So began my induction to life in the inner city.
We chatted about many things as we smoked my cigarettes and downed countless jugs I purchased, each one noted by Oscar so he could return the kindness when he was paid the following week. When I mentioned that I had just arrived in Ftzroy that Oscar’s eyes really lit up.
“Welcome.” he said. “Welcome to the river.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, enthralled at the passionate reaction this revelation had inspired.
“Well,” said Oscar, “over the years I have travelled to many places.”
“You’ve travelled nowhere you bullshitter,” called out the barman, who seemed to spend more than his fair share of time listening in on our converstaion.
“Ignore the ears with eyes,” said Ocar, a small smile on his face.
“As I was saying,” he continued, “my travels have taken me far and wide and after much reflection, have become convinced that this street which lays before us is a river in which the energies of the entire universe are carried.”
Seeing that I had no idea what he was talking about he said, “You said yourself you have never seen anything like it, didn’t you?”
“But I’ve just arrived..” I started.
“Exactly my point,” “Oscar interrupted. “I have lived on these worn banks for many years and know of what I speak but you who have just arrived, can already sense the depths of the waters before you.”
Oscar paused offered me one of my cigarettes, took one for himself, then lit both.
“All roads near and far lead here. Think of them as tributaries. Each day you will awake and venture to the banks of Brunswick Street to eat, drink, dance, and love.”
His voice was hypnotic and and as he spoke I found myself looking out the window paying close attention to the pavement and road outside. The blue grey asphalt and the cracked and worn cobble stones did appear to have a depth and texture not unlike flowing water. The fading light only ehanced the image.
Sensing he had a captive audience Oscar continued.
“When you seek knowledge you will browse in any or all of the establishments which line this living stream knowing that whether it be today or tomorrow, you will find the answers you seek.”
“Brunswick Street flows my boy,” he said raising his glass. “And you will flow with it.”
“What makes you so sure?” I asked.
Oscar looked at me then and despite the numerous beers we had shared his eyes were clear and bright.
“Because my boy, I sense in you a need for connection, a desire for completion and a thirst that only these waters can quench.”
“I haven’t even decided if I’ll stay here or not though,” I pointed out.
“Quite right my good young man, quite right and I’m sure whatever you decide will be for the best.”
Oscar downed the last of his beer and rose to his feet.
Extending his hand to me he said, “Should you decide to remain camped on these banks I would like to repay your kindness some time in the future. ”
Shaking his hand I told him that if I did stay I would look forward to it.
“Then my friend for now I bid you adieu,” he said and turned to leave.
He had taken only two steps before he turned around and recited, “Bathe in these waters and heal your wounds, then drink long and deeply. These waters will ever know your name and will forever keep ye.”
Then bowing like a true professional he exited quickly and with great dignity.
Until his death six months ago Oscar and I drank deeply and often from the waters of Brunswick Street. I accepted Oscar’s eccentricities and poverty as willingly as he accepted my naivety and occasional foolishness. Together we watched the street change and evolve and grow. Together we sated our desire for knowledge in the nooks and crannies on the banks of this ever flowing stream.
Eight years ago I arrived, wondering what the future held in store. Now I know