So, as part of my Arts degree, I took a summer writing course called Writing the City. It gave me the chance to be a tourist in my own town, Adelaide. A whole luxurious week off full-time work, wandering around town, writing, reading and writing some more. Of course it included obligatory lattes, self-indulgent monologues about capturing a stranger’s character, and some definite surprises.
Tuesday morning we were sent forth with a decree to find something new. Look, really look, for something we’d never seen before. Well, this is a city I know well. A city I’ve spent time in almost every day of my working adult life. And yet I was astonished at what I found.
What did I find then?
It was 10am when a classmate, Brad, and I sauntered into the Crown and Anchor for a midmorning break from intense observation. One of Adelaide’s oldest pubs, the Crown and Anchor appeared a little bit grimy, a little bit dusty and a little bit dirty without necessarily being so. The bar top wasn’t sticky but it looked as though it should be. There were all sorts of old signs for ‘Shell’, ‘Flummins for Flus’ and an old ‘Union Street’ sign. There was an unmistakable smack of stale beer and cleaning products that pervades most hospitality establishments.
Just inside the narrow door, a loud and brash voice shouted ‘Come in!’. It was Jack and Brian. Who were Jack and Brian?
Brian had quite a sweet face, all things considered. Lined but gentle with a crinkly eye smile permanently pasted on his face. He laughed loud and long, trailing off in a series of sighs and nonsensical mumblings. He was small and wiry with skinny but fierce looking arms. His black and gray hair hung down his neck in limp welts. His goatee was the same – wiry, clumpy and uncomfortable looking.
Brian said, ‘Hey. Have a tequila with us. We’re celebrating’.
No thanks’- me.
‘Sure, why not’ – Brad.
It’s not that I was against drinking so early in the morning, it’s just that they wanted me to drink a tequila shot – the equivalent, in my humble alcoholic opinion, of pouring lighter fluid down my throat then following it up with a bit more self harm by sucking a lemon wedge.
The bar tender lined up the shots. We drank. I almost passed out. Recovered. And asked the obvious question: ‘What are we celebrating?’.
Brian’s grin was broad and toothy. He didn’t seem as drunk as he must have been. He sat fairly steadily on his stool, not even leaning on the bar.
He was celebrating his release from jail and somehow his small tale of armed robbery gone wrong was endearing. The policeman scared him, came up behind him suddenly, in the middle of the robbery and that’s the only reason he shot and wounded him. Jack hung his head, eyes closed for a minute with a big sorry sigh, ‘Lucky I didn’t kill him eh?’. I believed him.
Their camaraderie was charming. They laughed at private jokes, clutching each other in hysterics and then paused moodily to reflect on days gone by. ‘How long have you been friends?’ I asked. ‘We met last night’ they answered in chorus. ‘Jack saved my life’, said Brian. But he never explained how. Evidently the previous evening had been a dramatic and incident packed one.
Brian said he’d had a croissant for breakfast – with a scotch and coke. He kept laughing happily and slapping Jack on the back. Jack kept shaking his head, perhaps shaking out the last of the dark prison shadows, perhaps in disbelief of his freedom. Perhaps it was the cloudy tequila haze.
I said goodbye to Jack and wished him well. He smiled, shook my hand and thanked me. ‘Thank you’ he said, for no reason at all.