Monday, May 14, 2012
Long Black and Flat White
The radio was always tuned to the Italian station at Conca’s. A barrage of polysyllabic static emanated from the speaker.
“Sounds like a soccer game?”
“Yayes”, the elder woman said. “Is Italia? What would you and the young lady desire this morning?”
“I don’t know. What do you want Frances? Hey, look there’s some meat,”I peered into the glassed in counter case, “ looks like good Italian sausage.”
“Yayes. Is very good.”
“I think I’ll just have the regular breakfast.” Frances said.
“You want a coffee or something to drink too?” the white haired woman asked.
“Yes. I’ll have a long black and a sport drink–one of the Red Bulls.”
I decided, “I’d like to have eggs and toast.”
“What? You want no meat?”
“No. I’d rather, just have—some potatoes, perhaps, instead.”
“We don’t have no potatoes, Signore. How about, I give you extra egg and some pineapple and maybe a fried tomato?”
“Do you want a coffee or something too.”
“Yes. I’ll have a flat white and bottle of that orange juice.”
“Ok. You just go sit down; get your orange juice and Red Bool over there in the cooler and I bring everything else out.”
“Where do you want to sit, Tommy?”
“Here’s good. Ok?”
“Can I get a paper too?”
“But of course, Signore. That will be $14.50,” bells ringing as she pushed the cash register keys.
“Prego, prego, Signore. Are you Canadian?”
“No; I’m an American. I’m from San Francisco.”
Frances, her blond streaked hair bobbing, made her way to the cooler then smiling with her sly grin, brought our drinks back to the table.
“Bravo Signore. Are you here on vacation?”
“Sort of. I’ll be here for another five months or so.”
“I hope, you will enjoy yourself, Signore.”
“I’m sure. I will. In fact; I already am.”
The table itself was situated on the line which separated the light from the dark sections of Conca’s. The Formica topped tables decorated with lilies, surviving miraculously without water. In the darker corners of the café, a grey haired woman sat under a old, framed movie poster depicting a broadly smiling fellow, in a yellow t-shirt with black gloves and a Texaco, gas- station -of- the- 50's kind of hat, in,“Un Americano in Roma”, a Carlo Ponti production, her eyes glued to the coin operated computer screen as a middle aged man next to her (her son?) prompted her every move on the internet–instructional mode. On another wall, a poster of James Dean walking down rain splattered streets of New York on the “Bolulevard of Broken Dreams”. Other wall decorations had Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and a chewing gum advertisement for Wrigley’s written in German. The pin ball machine’s hastily scrawled “Out of Order” sign, still there after weeks of these Sunday morning outings irritated me.
“Scheisse. I thought, they’d have it fixed by now.”
“What’s that Tommy?”
“The damn pinball machine. It’s been like that for weeks.”
“No worries, Tommy. They’ll have it fixed soon,” Frances demurely replied.
Time, is what it was. Time was going at another, slower speed now. I was still in hyper-drive, but not “me mates”. They hadn’t experienced the complete boot up of Silicon Valley ‘Chip Kultur’. It was “hurry up and wait” there, taken to the nth degree of absurdity. These people were still in the 60's or even 70's in terms of the killer pace. I was just glad to be on the edge of the planet; out of the way in Western Australia; a rat out of the race, a winner, transforming himself back into a human.
“Babe; you know what I am?”
“No, what are you Tommy?” Frances said as she put down the “Sunday Times”.
“I’m a runaway slave; that’s what. I’m a runaway slave.”
“That’s fine, Tommy. Do you want some of the paper?”
“Yeah. Hand me the sports section, will you, Beautiful? I’m determined to learn what the hell is going on with this cricket game. I mean they bounce the ball in front of the plate and all. A mystery, a complete mystery.”
“Sure thing.” Frances said, as she peered over the business section and handed me the sports.
“Ah Signora. Here you are.” Granny Italiana said with a smile as the plate touched gently on the formica –a typical Australian breakfast of: sausage; ham; fried tomato; an egg, cooked sunny side up, plopped onto toasted white bread.
After setting Frances’ long black down she presented mine, “And for you Signore–is these ok? You see; we have here a little pineapple too. And a one flat white.”
“I see. Very good. Looks great. Grazie Signora.”
“Prego, Signore, prego. Enjoy.” And with that she withdrew back into the kitchen; the heat of the recently lit pizza ovens and Italian conversation with another older woman; the two working, as they did every day at Conca’s; preparing homemade pizza and breakfasts for their incoming retinue.
Stirring two packets of sugar into the thickened milk and then sipping, I relished the un-frothed, cappuccino like quality of my flat white. As usual, the sunny side up egg had been placed directly on top of my toast. I deftly moved it off and picked up the partially soggy tan bread in my hand..
“Quaint, how they do the egg ON the toast.”
“It’s the Australian way, dear.” Frances replied with her usual blended tone of sarcasm and irony.
A hot breath of air blew through Conca’s open door. Outside, blinding white brightness splashed over a landscape of dry brown and green suburban lawns. A Pizza Hut chain restaurant sat kitty corner cross the street, slowly sucking the Conca’s customer base away. A sun of 40 degrees centigrade burned down from a relentlessly clear, blue sky. A man of about 45, breezed through the door and picked up one of the “Sunday Times” from the pile of those still for sale. After perusing it for five minutes, he replaced it neatly on the stack, then, sauntered out again. The grannies remained in the kitchen, oblivious to the man’s commercial violation. Then the TV came on. More soccer from bella Italia. A teen, sans shirt with girlfriend in tow, arrived seeking shelter from the incessant sun. Frances scooped up the last slab of egg white into her mouth, then fed her caffeine addiction once more with another sip of Red Bull as the teen and his woman friend shared coke; she clad black on black: black shirt, pants, ankle high boots, rounded with silver studs. They exited arm in arm into a blaze of sunshine.
“She must sweat like a stuck pig in that outfit.”
“Excuse me?” Frances questioned.
“I mean that woman in black.”
“I see. Yes, she must. Are you ready to go back now?”
“So long, Signoras” I called.
“Oh, you leaving now?”
“Yes. We’ll be back though. When do you start making pizzas?”
“We start now.”
“Already? It’s only 11.”
“All day, ‘till night Signore.”
“Ok then, we’ll be back sometime for pizzas.” We stepped out into gush of hot wind.
“You want to give me a massage when we get back?” Frances asked.
“Sounds a delightful proposition.” I smiled.
The car was at least 10 degrees hotter. We hurriedly rolled the windows down; did a U-turn and made our way back down the Albany Highway and finally down King George Street to our upstairs apartment. Frances took her clothes off and put a towel down over the Turkish rug. I got the “Exstress” massage oil out of the refrigerator.
“What are you talking about now, Tommy?”
“That’s what’s written on the side of the oil bottle. Advert gimmick.”
“Hmm. You want to do the front or back first?”
“Ok, start with the top.”
I massaged her from her top, just below her chin, to the to bottom of her feet. She turned over and I started immediately in the middle.
“WHAT ARE YA DOIN’. GIVE ME...YOU GET OUT HERE. GO! GET OUT OF HERE!”
“Sounds like it’s coming from the next building. Those people are always fighting.”
“Yeah.” Frances said.
Neither of us, I think, wanted especially to do anything or find anything out about what the cretins around us were doing, yet again. It seemed like harmless lovers’ spats broke out between couples all the time in our neighbourhood–“Leetal Napoli”, I liked to call it. But the noises persisted and began to sound a bit closer. So, I reluctantly got up and peered out the small bathroom window, conveniently located head high. Nothing to be seen across to the neighbours. And as I listened more carefully, I determined that the disturbance seemed to be located within our own complex.
“What are you doing, Tommy? Come back here and finish.”
“I don’t know, Frances. It’s beginning to sound a bit weird. Maybe, I better check outside.”
“Are you sure, Tommy? Could be dangerous.”
The disturbance was getting louder now. It seemed to have broken out of doors downstairs.
“I’m going down,” I said as I put my trousers back on.
“You be careful, Tommy.”
“Don’t worry. Remember, we’ve been taking martial arts at Muay Thai.”
“Stop joking, Tommy.”
“Ok, no worries, Frances.” I said with mock confidence.
So, I proceeded outside the front screen door and down the cement stairs. When I peered over the railing I saw.
“Give mih back ma knife.” Scotty, our seventy year old downstairs neighbour was saying to a hefty black woman in her late thirties with a long kitchen dagger in her right hand, as they both lurched out of his apartment door; she moving backwards and he approaching her, hands up, with his absurdly demanding appeal. The knife was in stabbing position. That it to say, it was being held in her fist with the blade pointing downwards, ready to deliver the fatal blow.
“You get him away from me,” she said.
Then, I noticed the him, she was talking about, a short, puffy eyed black man, in his forties, I estimated. He made gestures and grunting sounds then, he looked at me in partial shock and partial fear, whether of me or the knife wielding woman or both, I couldn’t ascertain. He dropped his half-filled litre of Emu Bitter in the dead grass near the wall of Scotty’s apartment.
“Get AWAY FROM ME!” she screamed. And the black man loped off, away and towards the nearby sidewalk, looking furtively over his shoulder as she continued to stare menacingly in his direction, then whirling back towards Scotty who repeated, “ I want ma knife back.”
“Scotty!” I shouted. “It’ ok. Let her have the knife.”
She turned and noticed me then, breaking down in tears, “You call the police! Call them! Tell them to make him stop bothering me. You do that now. Do it now!”
“Ok, ok”, I said. And I ran upstairs to phone.
“What’s the number of the police, Frances? Do you have like a universal number here or something?”
“I don’t know.” she said.
“I’ll look them up in the phone book. Lets see, yes, here, police services.”
I pushed the numbers in and waited.
“Police or Fire or some other emergency. How shall I direct your call?” the voice at the other end of the line calmly asked.
“Hello. This is police service. What is the nature of the problem?”
“I’m an American. I don’t know whether I’ve got the right number or not. I haven’t been in Perth very long. But the situation is that there’s a woman with a knife downstairs and she’s waving it around rather threateningly. An old guy lives downstairs and he’s asking for his knife back. And then there was this other guy...”
“Where do you live, sir?”
“I live at unit ten, 20 King George Street in Victoria Park.”
“What is the apartment number where the disturbance is taking place.?”
“It’s right below this one. I ‘m not sure of correct number. Do you want me to go down and look?”
“No. That’s quite all right, Sir. And your phone number?”
“9366-77, let’s see. I’ve got it here somewhere.”
“9366-789 is it?”
“Yes, that’s it. How did you know?”
“We’ll be sending someone right out. Thank-you, Sir.”
By this time, Frances had put some clothes on and had gone out to the balcony to check on the action outside.
“The woman is leaving now.” she said over her shoulder looking back through the screen door at me. “ She’s going down the sidewalk.”
“ I hope the police don’t hang around all day.” I replied. “ If it was the States, they’d be here for hours filling out reports and getting statements.”
“Well, here they are, Tommy. Quick enough for you?”
The cops came towards the apartment complex and knocked on door below our apartment.
“Oh no. It’s not that one,” I said out loud.. “They’re at the wrong apartment.”
“Here they come upstairs.” Frances observed.
“Ah yes. I’m the guy who phoned. It’s apartment one, just down there.”
“What was happening?” the cop asked as he looked at his partner.
“Well, there was this guy down there, leaving. I think that’s his beer bottle down there next to the building.” I said in a rapid, nervous voice as I went out on the balcony and pointed towards the Emu Bitter container. “There’s an older guy who lives down in the apartment. We heard loud noises coming from down there and so I went out to see what was happening. When I did, I saw this woman with a knife coming out of the old guy’s apartment. He was following her and then there was the other guy who sort of took off when he saw me.”
“They were aboriginals.” Frances stated flatly.
The cops looked at each other, “We’ll go check now. Thanks for your help.”
They went downstairs to Scotty’s door and knocked. We heard their muffled voices, speaking with Scotty. A motorcycle cop drove up outside as well. And then, all three took off in their vehicles.
I decided to go back downstairs then. Scotty came out, when I did, “Ah, they tahride to steal ma mooney. They always want that, they do. But I fooled ‘em. They only got ten dollars from the table. But Ah fooled ‘em.” And he pulled a wad of bills from the back of his shorts. Scotty always wore shorts, his ultra tan spindly legs forever exposed to the West Australian sun. “Yes, Ah fooled ‘em.” he said again and chuckled, continuing to wave his money in the air. “They didn’t want ma new toaster. Hah, they didn’t want anything else. Just mooney. I knew them from my old apartment. Yes, they used to come around there too. He’s deaf, you know. Can’t talk. Oh, she always wants mooney.”
“Did you used to give them money?”
“Ah yes, I gave here some mooney. Yes, they used to live next doohr to me in Perth before. I used to live there, ya know. Right down in the City. Then that company came and mooved us ahll out. They tore the building down, don’t ya know. Made us ahll move out.”
“I see,” I said. “Well, I guess, I’ll go back upstairs now. Good that you’re ok. You know, you should have just let her have that knife.”
“That was ma knife.”
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, I’ll see you later.” I said, trying now to escape back upstairs to Frances, massage and the good life, once again.
Noticing my intent, Scotty quickly turned the subject around, “Me brand new toaster won’t work; won’t plug in. Me sister sent it. Brand new and it won’t plug in. Fooking Australians. Maybe you can make it work, Tommy. Won’t ya come in for minute and take a look.”
Why he thought, I could fix anything was beyond me. But I agreed, “Ok, sure,” I said.
Scotty’s place smelled a musty mix of sour air. It was sparsely furnished: a small TV; a couple of plastic chairs; a well worn couch; lamp with a frayed shade. Clearly his brand new, shiny white toaster would be one of his few luxuries--quite possibly, his only one. He handed it to me with great care..
“Looks like they moved the refrigerator.” I observed as I took the toaster in hand.
“Oh yes. There was a commotion, ah what a commotion. They moved me fridge; thought they’d find mooney there behind it. But, I fooled ‘em. They only took $20.” And he pulled the fat wad of bills from his back pocket once again, shaking them in my direction.
“So you actually knew these people before?” I queried.
“Ah yes. They used to live next to me in the City. They’d come over and talk. Sheah would talk. We watched TV. I tried to keep here inside this time. I went to the door and closed it and said, ‘Now you can’t leave.’ But I forgot,” he laughed and hit his forehead with his hand, “ it only lowcks from the outside. She got right out. Took me knife as well.”
“Here’s the problem,” I said as I removed the plastic shipping covers from the prongs of the toaster’s electrical plug. “No wonder you couldn’t get it into the electrical socket. The plug’s still got this thing on it.”
I plugged it in and pushed the toast lever down. As the internal wires turned orange, he said, “Oh, oh, thank-ya. Thank-ya. Me eyes aren’t too good, don’t yah know.”
I looked at his eyes more closely this time. His searching, grateful gaze came through pale blue colour, clouded by a greyish haze. Perhaps cataracts; perhaps glaucoma, I couldn’t tell. It was obvious though that his sight was pretty severely impaired.
“Won’t you stay and have some beer,” he offered.
I saw, he was drinking Emu Bitter from litre sized bottles.
“Not right now, Scotty. It’s a bit early for me. Besides, Frances is waiting for me upstairs. Maybe later, huh.”
“Oh, oh, thanks for fixin’ me toaster. It’s brand new, yah know. Me sister sent it to me. They didn’t take it. They didn’t want anything but some mooney.”
Monday, May 7, 2012
May Day 2012 in Fremantle,
Filmed by Mike Ballard, this is the main May Day union
workers' march through Fremantle, Western Australia
on May 6, 2012. The film begins at the beginning of the
march near the Fremantle Esplanade and ends after the
march with the workers sharing home made beer brewed
in honour of an old Australian seaman and unionist by
the name of Paddy.
Employers know enough to belong to a 'union'. It's called
The Chamber of Commerce. Doctors know enough to belong
to the AMA. There are plenty of corrupt, shonky operators
out there amongst the employing class, in the political State
and amongst professionals. Corruption goes along with wealth
and power accumulating at the top of a hire-arky. Even Lord Acton
knew that. The real reason workers should actively join in union is
to present a more powerful face to their employers when it comes
time to negotiate the price of their skills. Without unions, there is
NO negotiation. Without unions, there will be no resistance to the
constant downward pressure on real wages by the employing class.
It's market economics 101 folks. Employers want lower prices for the
skills they purchase and workers should be wise enough to bargain
for a higher price, including working conditions. Social justice
remains an empty abstraction without its being filled in with
workers receiving back more of what they produce.