I had no idea, but apparently, it's St Patricks Day. This means that one year ago I arrived in Melbourne. I came to visit after doing some tough physical labour in the country with my brother. I liked Melbourne; I got work here pretty quickly, so I decided to stay.
One year ago today I was celebrating in a crowded Melbourne pub with a New Zealand guy called David. He was big and stocky and had a crew cut, and had a way of either talking too much or not talking enough. We sat and eyed one another over the table. Occasionally he'd get up and fight his way through the crowd and bring back some beer, and occasionally I'd do the same. I tried asking him a few questions, and he didn't answer them.
He was a fucking nutter.
We were both living in a flea-bitten lice-ridden junkie-infested hotel on Bourke Street. After about a week, another guy from the country - I think his name was Matt - moved out. He was a stoner, but easy enough to get along with.
A middle-aged Indian guy called Dale moved in with us. He was balding, slight, cheerful and talkative, and worked long hours at a factory near Dandenong. Apparently his family had been involved in Indian politics - I was never sure whether to believe him about this - but he was the black sheep of the family.
Every Thursday, when he got his pay slip, he would slip into the TAB offices underneath the hotel and blow all his cash on the horses.
He was a fucking nutter.
Pretty soon we moved out to another backpackers in St Kilda. Dale was talking about giving up gambling. David was talking about finding a sharehouse to live. They were both lying, but I believed them. Which I guess made me a fucking nutter, too.
There are some people you might call 'interesting'. They're not good, they're not evil, but they're a quixotic mix of the two. I guess that's how you'd describe those two guys. David could be domineering - he tended to dominate the conversation by simply talking all the time. He had all the ordinary phobias - homophobia, racial phobia - and a couple of others to boot.
He once told me a story about sharehousing in Wellington, New Zealand. When a new flatmate moved in with him, apparently he weirded her out by his habit of sitting, perfectly still in a chair, every evening when she came home. "I'd do things during the day," he said. "I cooked, I went to the shops, I worked. She just thought that I sat there all the time."
He decided to make a game out of it, and every time she came home from university, he would sit perfectly still in the chair. His eyes wouldn't even twitch. She moved out soon after ...
Dale was different: a better person in many ways. Generous, often to a fault; he was a father, and he cared about his kids; his wife, Doris, had left him, but he was still in love with her. He was shrewd, and often able to make peace between me and David. He had a puckish sense of humour. His favourite game was to trick ticket inspectors on trams. Once, he said to us, he got a ticket inspector chasing after him down the corridor of a tram until, finally, they had him cornered in the back section of the tram.
It was then that he turned around and waved his validated Zone 3 ticket in their faces ...
"My family don't want to know me," he said to me sadly once. He knew why, and I knew why. It was because of the gambling. He'd gambled away a job, and a wife and children. I don't know if he'll ever recover from it. I still wonder if I could have helped him more.
After about a month, I moved into a sharehouse in Brunswick. The last thing I remember Dale ever saying to me was, "Can I borrow twenty dollars just to last me until Thursday ...?"
I don't think I'll ever see him again.
A lot of other shit happened to me since. I got kicked out of a sharehouse, got a job, got mugged, got fired, got another job, and got another job after that. That's all been part of my first year at Melbourne.
All of which may or may not explain why I became so furious when speaking on the phone to Nick, my brother, during the Christmas holidays.
"So how long are you going to stay in Melbourne for?" he asked.
"How long are you going to stay in Sydney for?" I spluttered. "What kind of a question is that?"
"I'm just asking," he said.
Screw that. I'm not staying in Melbourne, Nick, I'm making it my own. I'm keeping it.
Happy St Patrick's Day, everybody!!!!
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