I was a pretty good kid. I liked broccoli and brussel sprouts, and most nights I brushed my teeth before bed; but one lesson I never quite got the knack of was “don’t talk to strangers.” They say that “curiosity killed the cat,” but for this Cat, curiosity has only enriched my life – and I’m still here. I’ve been tossing and turning over what to write this week, I try to write “one meaningful thing a week,” because I think it’s good practise, but this week I haven’t had any great profound thoughts, and everything that’s made me punch pages of books and bang my fists on to tables in a rage hasn’t ammounted to anything note worthy. I always say that life isn’t so much about big moments but more the little ones that make up our days, which make up our weeks… and months and years which one day come to full fruition in something we look back on called “life,” and so instead of arguing a case or making a point… I’d like to tell you about a few strangers, that aren’t so strange at all, but are entirely more note worthy than any of my opinions. They each spend parts of their days within a few kilometres square of where I spend part of my day at work… maybe they notice one another… but I like that whether they know it or not, their seemingly separate worlds contribute to a complete little world of incredible somebodies around the Melbourne CBD.
The first is a man who plays the gee-tar. Every Friday morning he busks in the underground bypass which leads from Flinders Street Station to Degraves Street, just at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to a funny looking Belgian Waffle house that I’ve never been to. He plays an acoustic guitar, standing up, and he always sways when he sings. He sounds a lot like Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of a band called Wilco, and whenever I see him I can’t help but think about how Jeff Tweedy is who he is – playing and singing all around the world, and how this man is who he is – playing and singing a gig every Friday to the early morning commuters. I like to give him money, because I figure that if I paid nintey-bucks to see Wilco play last year – the least I can do is spare change for this equally dedicated chap. He’s a real gentleman too, he always stops and thanks everyone, everyone, who gives him a coin or two; and doesn’t offer any less or more of a genuine thankyou to anyone whether they give him a gold, silver or a note. I really like him. I wonder what will be written about him after he passes away one day, whether he’ll go down in local history. I hope he does – he’s worth it.
Once I’ve walked up from the subway, past the waffle place that maybe I should give a whirl, I walk past a strip of cafes that always smell like bacon and coffee and while everyone else is looking at menus… I look up to this beautiful old building… and then as my eyes drop down to face level… I start looking to see if my favourite Big Issue salesman is there. He’s usually there on a Friday but I’ve never spoken to him, I love him a lot though – because, although this isn’t necessarily a compliment in the traditional sense (or any sense other than humourous come to think of it)… well, he looks like an exact compound of Fat Elvis, and Adolf Hitler. When I first saw him I giggled aloud, because it was too good to be true and now I just smile every time… and wonder if he’s ever compared pictures of Elvis or Hitler and himself in a mirror and noticed a similarity. He
wasn’t there today, which was a real shame. Maybe I could make him a mix CD of Elvis songs and make some home-made cover work out of a picture of the Fuhrer… but I worry he might think I’m a crazed neo-Nazi handing out subliminal messages about “the King,” on my way to my day job. But I’m not a neo-Nazo, Elvis-Hitler Big Issue guy, I’m Polish.
There’s a wonderful man in the city that plays the cello. He is unlike Subway Tweedy or Elvis-Hitler, because he likes to move around. Sometimes he’ll be along Degraves Street… other times on a laneway near a really great sushi place and a really scary clothes store. My
favourite is when he’s perched on the corner of Little Collins and the Block Arcade… the acoustics just seem right there for the cello because there’s this glass orning above where he sits that catches the sound just before it escapes up into the sky-scrapers, and the
setting really suits him. It’s kind of classy, and he’s a classy looking fellow – salt and pepper hair, mostly salt, and always in beige slacks. When he first started, or rather when I first started seeing him – he didn’t even have anything out to collect money. He just liked playing for people. Now though, I think people just started giving him money – because he’s really, really good. I’ve told him I like his music, and we recognize one another and
smile friendly smiles now whever I pass by. I don’t know his name, but I do feel incredibly lucky to know his face. I’d really like to buy him some more cello music too.
The next is a middle aged couple that came into my work the other day. The lady dithered about whether to buy a peach or apricot coloured scarf, and the husband practised rolling his eyes and making jokes with me – it was wonderful. And when the lady went to pay, the
husband in a poke-in-the-ribs fashion chimed in saying “oh, we don’t need a bag – I’ve already got one!” and nodded in the direction of his wife. I laughed, the wife scowled lovingly at him, giggled, and appologized for her husbands “derogatory remark!” I smiled and told them that I though what he said was funny, but I had heard better from another chap one day, and if they were willing to let me say something slightly rude over the counter I’d tell them. Both the man and the womans eyes sparkled wide as I leaned over the counter to whisper what a good-hearted bloke at my old work had said to a male collegue of mine one day… and in my meekest, cheekiest, sneekiest voice – and my best middle aged Australian male accent I told them…
“Listen son, if it’s got tits or wheels – it’s gonna cost you a lotta money, and cause you a lotta grief.”
The wife shrieked and laughed like she’d just been told the only joke worth hearing in the universe, and the husband smiled his widest smile, put one arm around his lady, and said he’d happily bring her back to my shop any time for a peach or apricot “bloody scarf.”
Lastly, but not least is a lady called Sue. Sue is, in a word, spectacular. Spectacular Sue I’ll call her from now on. Sue runs a crack-in-the-wall soup shop in an annex of the Arcade I work in, she has testicles the size of dinner plates, and a heart the size of Jupiter and several of it’s moons. She makes three soups a day, that have usually been “on since seven this morning love!”and they are always the best soups this side of the sun. She’s fiercely unaccomodating to anyone that wants to have something that’s not on the menu, and I mean anyone – the Pope could ask for a soup without an ingredient and Sue would probably tell him were he could shove his ingredient-less soup, but underneath her rocky
facade… Sue is beautiful. She creates this environment of a home in her little soup shop, a place so small that strangers still have to ask politely to sit next to other strangers to get a seat, and usually – as was the case today with myself and a Chanel salesperson from Myer,
they finish their soup not as strangers, but friends. Sue goes on about Spartan men with rippling washboard stomach’s, winks at all the older guys that come in for lunch and is a self proclaimed “hug hussie,” but she talks about her husband as though he’s the only man that ever was. I reason he must be to have gotten Sue. One thing, one of many, that I
love about her… is that she doesn’t play any music in her cafe. I think a lot of cafe’s play music to create some sort of atmosphere or vibe that perhaps wouldn’t be there without it, and I understand that. But the vibe at Sue’s cafe is complete honesty and the atmosphere is one of unconditional love. The kind of love that makes you relax your shoulders just a little more in its presence, the kind of love that makes you say silly things around strangers – because you know Sue would shoot ’em dead if they ever tried to shoot you
down, the kind of love that gets up at six in the morning, just so she can make three soups… and a hundred or so peoples days just that much more worthwhile. Sue has wisdom and advice in spades, probably stored in pots like the ones she makes her soups in,
and she’s always willing to share it – and her not so secret soup recipies. The other day a regular of hers who was switching jobs out of the city bought her a little cactus plant to thank her for all the warm meals, and cuddles, that Sue had given her over the years –
and Sue cried… she cried over a silly little plant with spikes sticking out of it. Because Sue doesn’t give expecting anything in return – at all, ever. She gives because she’s an every day, ordinary person… who just so happens to have a heart of gold all the way through, and today… Sue said that it was “nice to have time,” with me. With me… and hours later, soup very much digested, I still feel like the luckiest person alive.