© John Sawyer – May 2007
“Would you like a drink, brother?”
“No thanks, mate, I don’t drink on an empty stomach.”
“I know what you mean, brother.” Well he might, but I don’t.
The truth is, I’m shit scared of getting pinged by ticket inspectors at any
time. I certainly don’t fancy the idea of going down for swigging Cab Merlot
out of a bottle while being in charge of a 10 trip 2 hour Inner MetCard. It
still has 6 trips to go.
“I just had some chips, not that it matters much when you
drink 3 bottles of the stuff a day. This Queen Adelaide is a good drop. I don’t
know how they make it so cheap. Y&J’s also has a really good clean skin
that goes well.”
“I don’t like merlot that much. Cab Shiraz is more my go.” I
have mates who have no problem with $70 a bottle and I’m discussing the merits
of fourpenny dark with a stranger.
The young Malaysian woman opposite is starting to look a bit
disturbed. She isn’t scared, but she is making herself thinner and pressing
against the wall of the tram. It’s OK to share the seat with a smelly guy with
a guitar, but when the eccentric old bloke opposite starts to socialise with
him, it promises to be an eventful journey. I smile at her reassuringly. She
offers up a conspiratorial smile back and relaxes a bit. As always, Wendy is
content to oversee proceedings with a studied indifference, leaving me to do
the talking. For a while anyway.
“Where do you live, brother?” Shit, he wants to move in with
“Gee you must have money then.” What if he gets off at the
“Not really. We bought our house in the 70’s, all we could
afford. No one wanted to live there then. Less than a year’s pay to buy a
“Yeah, but now you’re worth a bit, hey brother?” If he gets
off, we'll go and have a coffee.
Wendy is slightly uncomfortable about living in such an
expensive bit of real estate. “Well if we sold where would we go? We’d have to
move away from the area.” She still makes sure she lets her mates know the bank
valuation whenever she can though.
“You’re right, sister, you need somewhere to put your roots.
I have this mate. Best mate a man could have. He renovates houses. Moves his
family in, does the place up and then moves out. He makes a bloody fortune. But
it’s no good for his family, moving all the time. All he’s interested in is the
big…” He draws an enormous dollar sign in the air with a sweeping gesture of
his now half full bottle of red. It must be an abhorrently unsayable word. The
young Malaysian woman looks at me for guidance and I smile again.
“I’ve told him, well you have to tell your best mate don’t
you? I’ve told him to look after his family better.” Yeah, I know about best
mates. You’ve probably been in competition with each other since primary
school. You’ve probably drifted apart and see each other occasionally for a
drink. You probably both say things that hurt the other and feel rotten
“I’ve got a beautiful woman now, brother. I’ve written a
song about her. 'Jan Jan'. I’ve been testing out what people think, you know,
busking, doing research. There were some dickheads who yelled out, but there
are always some dickheads when you busk. I think people like the song.
“I’ve got a mate who used to be a guitarist with all the big
groups. He knows the blokes from Daddy Cool. You know Daddy Cool, brother, the
Eagle? I heard it the other day. They're all coming back now.
“Anyway, 'Jan Jan' will top the international charts I
reckon. Do you want me to play it now?” Fear of the ticket inspectors sends me
into mild panic.
“No that’s OK. What sort of song is it?”
“No, he means what genre?” Wendy helps translate.
“Soft Rock brother, but when the big groups get hold of it,
they change it. You know. Add drums and anything could happen.
“I love Jan and her two girls. I treat them like my own.
They’re from a previous marriage. Are you happy, brother?”
The young Malaysian woman looks at me, Wendy looks at me,
and Bob looks at me. I hesitate. I smile. “No, I’ve got a terrible life. I’m
terribly unhappy.” We all laugh.
“I know you love her, brother. Woman like that. How could
you not love her?” The unashamed flatterer, but he’s won the young Malaysian
woman; he owns Wendy. They smile at him while at the same time they half glare
at me. We wait expectantly for the next topic.
“This stuff certainly helps you sleep after a hard day’s
busking.” The bottle is now only a third full but Wendy loves the bloke and
rushes to his defence.
“They say red’s good for you.”
“Yeah, but in moderation, Wendy. A glass a day maybe.”
“No two’s OK” she shoots back. Wendy drinks red out of a
beer mug shaped like an elegant wine glass. I don't think you're supposed to
fill it to the brim.
“What do you do, brother?”
“A bit of this and that. I sometimes write actually. I’ll
probably write about you and Jan Jan. I’ll change the name though. I don’t want
you suing me for my money when I make my fortune as an author.”
“I’d love you to use the name, brother. Just love it. I’m
not like these bloody Americans you know, suing each other.”
Our stop is coming up. We start to make our exit.
“What’s your footy team, brother?” I hesitate to say my
unsayable word. “It’s Richmond isn’t it? Look at you. I know it is.” I smile
politely. “How many games have they won this year?”
“I’ve enjoyed our conversation, why do you put the boots in
now?” I overdramatise.
“Just asking, brother. How many wins?” he calls after me as
the doors begin to close. The whole tram is laughing as it speeds into the
We're both laughing too. “You certainly attract them don’t
Yes, Wendy, I attract all sorts of