TIKI EVE

Some people are really good at casual social interactions. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I have to be convinced, cajoled or corralled into attending gatherings larger than four adults and even then it’s usually all I can do to avoid glancing at my watch with insulting frequency.

On reflection, my partner would probably substitute ‘and’ for ‘or’ in the previous sentence. Convinced, cajoled and corralled. I am just not that good at small talk.

It’s not that I dislike people. In low-density situations (preferably one-to-one) I relish human connection. In fact, I’ve made a career out of bounded intimacy. But parties aren’t my best thing, especially ones full of strangers. 

As we pulled up outside the New Year’s Eve party of a couple we’d never met, I glanced at said partner with a slightly troubled expression. Is this a bit odd? Rocking up to a tiki-themed NY party with a bottle of Margaret River Rosé and a garish pink shirt? She managed to roll her eyes and look lovingly amused simultaneously, which has a degree of difficulty of 4.2. I did wonder, she said mildly.

I knew the answer, of course. For the first time, a blogosphere entity was beaming from hyperspace into the real world. A fellow of diverse creativity, restless curiosity and a peppery reaction to intransigent stupidity, the source of our party invitation is also a prolific Facebooker, being responsible for more of my ‘Like’ clicks than anyone else during 2018.  (I recognise that last one, partner said in response to this observation. She does irony too). He’d also promptly and generously offered a sound production tutorial to a young musician friend and alerted me to one of the concert highlights of recent times: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Pity we didn’t actually meet on the night. 

Walking down the driveway, a little ahead of Ms Lonely Keyboards and the boy, I felt a pang of anxiety, instantly dissolved by the warm greeting and firm handshake of our host. We both grinned. Good to meet you. Come inside.

As we passed through a jungle of exotic decorations—all tiki-themed, of course—I realised that we were, in fact, the first to arrive. Gulp. The hostess was jamming small coloured edibles onto toothpicks, her smile of greeting just a little strained. Preparations were still very much in progress. We were unfashionably unlate. Double gulp.

Well, one thing I do know is that if you have a task, you feel less at sea. Ms Keyboards knows that intuitively, probably because her work rate is about triple that of normal humans. Or perhaps just mine. Anyway, within moments she had taken over the toothpick business, freeing the hostess for something else. Our host was also into spearing; bits of chicken onto pointy sticks. A-ha! Let me relieve you of that job, I said. Stabbing diced dead animal is a culinary task within even my limited capacities. As people dribbled in, I cheerily said hello and promptly forgot the names, but it didn’t matter. I was on the team and the pyramid of impaled chicken was growing steadily. 

When our jobs were done, we adjourned to a little table on the verandah and enjoyed the summer night, the wonderful range of tropical set decorations and even the tiki-themed music. Our host joined us for a few minutes, which was nice. It didn’t matter that our conversation was interrupted by welcoming duties; that’s the role of host, isn’t it? To facilitate the enjoyment of others. These particular others were a friendly couple; Peter said, sotto voce, you’ll like David, you have a lot in common. Off he bustled, off drifted the new arrivals, off drifted Ms Keyboards to see if there was any food for the boy. I wandered too, noting that the barbeque was starting up. Another job! Within minutes I’d commandeered a spare pair of tongs and was rotating the very same kebabs I’d prepared earlier. And sausages too. And some things with pineapple on sticks. You can take this Hawaiian thing too far, I said to the host. Fortunately he took the crack with good humour. There is a bond that forms when you’re sweating over a hot BBQ; a camaraderie forged in smoke and sweat and grilled meat. It’s a primal encounter where you also get to chat and drink. Having a yarn confirmed all I’d gleaned from this new friend’s posts and our email correspondence. It was really nice, and if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not cracking the halloumi, I’d have noticed I was remarkably relaxed.

Later, after supper, I was chatting to the musician Peter had introduced earlier. That was great too; lively, funny, filled with forays into different topics and random jumps from sound compression to Steve Winwood joining Steely Dan for an encore. 

Later again, Ms K and I were chatting to David and his wife. So, asked David, how do you know Peter? I just met him tonight, I said. What can only be described as a guffaw exploded. Seeing you barbequeing together, I assumed you’d known each other for years. I grinned back. Couple of hours.

Which just goes to show that what the world really needs is more barbeques. 

Or maybe more Tiki parties.

LAVA BAR

Lava Bar constructed by Peter and photographed by Wendy

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CHRISTMAS ADAM

Morning, I said to the boy. Isn’t it a lovely day? Clear, bright sky, not too hot yet.

It is, he replied. And Merry Christmas Adam.

Christmas Adam?

Yes, he explained, the day before Christmas Eve. Oh, OK.

Funny what they come up with, kids. Raised as a strict atheist, the mythology of this centrepiece of Western civilisation still infiltrates. Even here, downunder, where all the trappings and symbols are entirely out-of-place. No need for strings of lights to brighten dreary streets when it’s warm and light until nine o’clock in the evening. Yet we add to global warming with our tree lights and exterior displays though those who would most enjoy them are tucked in bed by the time you can actually see them.

Don’t be a Grinch, says the boy’s mum. I don’t do Seuss, I snap. I learned from a newspaper quiz that the Grinch has a dog named Max. The boy enjoys reading me the quiz when we get the paper. Sometimes I score well, mostly not. The Grinch’s dog? What kind of opening question is that? Who was the bumbling spy in the 60s sitcom? What was the name of the wild boy in the wolf suit? He laughs and carries on with the questions. I do awfully, as usual.

It is indeed a glorious morning. Perfect for busking.

That’s what the boy is off to do in a few minutes. There’s a community market in the car park of the university not far from our home. Same university I worked at for fifteen years. Can almost walk around it now without a shudder, which is good because the grounds are lovely and there are ducks on the lake.

The market will be bustling on Christmas Adam. Fruit and Veg, garden stuff, food caravans, trash and treasure. And buskers. A middle-aged pan flute player, a stringy girl scraping at her violin, the sullen adolescent whose cheap acoustic guitar is drowned by the hubbub. 

Our boy wants to get there early to get a good spot. He expects stiff competition for his Christmas Carols. Last week it was raining; few punters, even fewer buskers. The market organiser invited him to stand under his awning, which was sweet. He did well, partly due to the lack of competition, partially from compassion on the part of the marketeers. Compassion. A good word for any time of year. Most of the people who gave me money were older, he said. 

Today it will be a barrage of Silent NIghts, a cacophony of carols. Should a non-believing child with a clarinet profit from a once-religious ritual? Commercialism. A good word for this time of year. There’s nothing we need; let it go.

What do you want the money for, his mum asked. Anything special? 

He hesitated. I want to buy you and daddy presents, he said.

Isn’t it a lovely day?

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ALL THINGS MUST PASS

I’m sitting on the verandah railing of a rambling wooden guest house in hilly Warburton. Rich smells from the surrounding bush push against a pervading odour of serene decay. Once a retreat for Melbourne’s genteel, now ghosts whisper along the wooden balconies and sigh like puffs of dust when morose teenagers throw themselves onto faded sofas.

One of those teenagers is me. Despite the chill in the air, I prefer the verandah to the communal lounge. The dim light and musty carpets of the interior depress me but more importantly, I stand a greater chance of glimpsing Kirsten by lurking on this semi-sheltered thoroughfare. Not that I’ll speak to her if she wanders past. For starters, she’ll be with one or more girls and thus surrounded by an impenetrable field of femaleness that my wistful glances simply fade from like breath on glass.

It is day three of this Year 10 German camp. The time has passed slowly, and quickly. Soon we’ll be packing and taking a bus back to school. And I haven’t managed a single interaction with Kirsten in either Deutsch or English. No wonder I’m morose. No wonder I’m sitting, shivering just a little in the damp Winter air, hoping for one more chance to not talk to a girl who probably hasn’t even noticed my intense, meaningful glances. 

I did try. Yesterday morning I ordered Speck und Spiegelei in a voice loud enough to carry to her end of the table. There was a titter, but I don’t know who. This morning, in an act of heart-tingling bravery, I approach her group and looking more-or-less straight at her, or at least her toast, I said Kafee? with an upward inflection that surely demonstrated my passion. Surely.

Back against the solid verandah upright, one leg is crooked nonchalantly on the ledge while the other dangles over the garden, I’m gazing poetically into the middle distance and wondering how long I can stay in this position. Sounds of my room-mate packing are a reminder of time passing, of opportunities fading. He smuggled in a small transistor and has turned it up a bit louder this morning, reasoning that he can scarcely be sent home early at this stage of proceedings. I reach down into the garden and pluck a daisy. The radio starts playing George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, the strummed guitar and plaintive melody fills me with something, but I don’t know what. I really want to see you, really want to be with you. Frowning, I pluck a petal. It takes so long, my Lord. Another petal flutters onto the weathered boards. She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A tiny snowstorm of teardrop shaped petals. Kirsten appears at the end of the verandah, walks the uneven boards to her door, three before mine. She fumbles with the handle, but doesn’t look up. 

Really want to see you, really want to see you.

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The music theme of this post continues at Vinyl Connection

EVE

There’s an orange pumpkin-shaped bucket next to the front door, full of sweets to bribe wide-eyed children in pointy hats and surly teens daubed in fake blood to go away without hurting us. The candy is individually wrapped. Halloween OH&S Department won’t allow any touching of naked treats. Must protect the junior ghouls from germs.

I usually feel angry about the ritual. Take this American crap away from us, it’s not ours! More commercialism, more meaningless expenditure. Don’t think, don’t reflect, just buy the sugar.

Yesterday I had blood taken for the annual tests. My pathology collector was very efficient and if I’d remembered it was almost Halloween I’d have tried a vampire joke. Instead I went to buy croissants as a reward for fasting overnight. What deprivation. Yet I deemed the delay of breakfast a suitable excuse for indulging. How soft we’ve become. 

The supermarket had a front line of seasonal lollies and other Halloween paraphernalia fully five yards long. I wondered if they had the individually wrapped eyeballs. I like those. Many cyclopses died in their creation. A young mum with two kids in tow stopped in front of me, a look of dismay on her face. Running the sugar gauntlet to get bread and milk. I left her to it.

It’s another appropriation of a pagan festival, of course. This time Celtic New Year, once the first of November. In this country it was taken over by a horse race, first Tuesday in November, but I don’t join in the holiday. I’ll be working, powered by the leftover sweets from the pumpkin bucket. Maybe the candy eye-balls will give me extra insight.

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