Sunday 27 May 2007

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Busker Bob

© 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 us.


“Gee you must have money then.” What if he gets off at the same stop?

“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 house.”

“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 afterwards.

“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 night.

We're both laughing too. “You certainly attract them don’t you?”

Yes, Wendy, I attract all sorts of people.


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