Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd 13

ROUND 13

Hawthorn versus Essendon

Friday, June 18th., M.C.G

I honour my promise to drink wine with Elaine Sidebottom when the Richmond Tigers next win.  It happens very quickly, and emphatically.  In Round 12, they flog the West Coast Evil and “her boy”, the new Royce Hart, Jack Riewoldt, bags a cool 10 goals.  I have a hobbling Bulldog as company, whose wood-heap wound has caused a stiffening in the calf. (Just a parrot, that’s all he needs, and he’s Long John Silver to a T.)

We’ve left Tommy and Jonesy digesting another of my French provincial meals – beef burgundy, baked potatoes and (naturally) a Greek salad – while ogling a mini-skirted Mrs Averling who was toying provocatively with a bottle of massage oil as I left The Manager’s Apartment.  Oh well, whatever happens between two septuagenarians and a middle-aged sleaze-bag is none of my business, so long as it’s consensual and they stay out of my room when they do it.

There’s raised voices coming from Rebecca the Riot’s apartment as Bulldog and I approach Mrs Sidebottom’s, and she’s dug out a Cold Chisel album.  It’s not quite rowdy enough for me to intervene – we call it marginal in the trade – but Bulldog and me shoot worried looks at each other.

It only takes about ten minutes for my friend to peg-leg up the stairs to Mrs Sidebottom’s first-floor flat.  After introducing him, and giving a brief account of how he acquired his wound, I suggest to Mrs S that we might find ourselves sharing a bottle of wine regularly if the Tigers keep playing the way they did on Sunday.

“Oh, I listened to it on the radio.  It was wonderful.”  Her wine glass trembles as she brings it to her lips, as much a symptom of a Tiger victory as of physical decay, I reckon.  Her eyes sparkle.  “Our coach Damien Hardwick can talk all he likes about not getting carried away, about how it’s the process they’re focusing on and not the results, and I’m not arguing with that, in fact I’m delighted that he has a clear plan for the team, but you can’t stop supporters like me getting excited about winning, and dreaming . . . dreaming that maybe, there’s one more premiership to savour before I drop off the perch . . ”

Me and Bulldog welcome this quaint thought with smiles of approval.  I know I’m thinking, A Tiger premiership within the foreseeable future! Piglets might fly, but I snap the thought back in its box before it pops out.  These social-service-type visitations to residents I engage in as part of my broader portfolio – often involving wine or other beverages – are adding a new dimension to my arsenal of discretion and social versatility.  Sure as hell beats sweeping up autumn leaves or spending a couple of hours with my head in a rubbish bin.

The conversation moves away from the Tigers, eventually.  (No sign of the photo album this time.)  But we stick to football – the drawn game between Melbourne and Collingwood, the way Geelong demolished the Bombers, how Port Adelaide and Brisbane are faltering after strong starts to the season. And so on.  We talk about the World Cup, and the Socceroos’ getting thumped.  She’s as sharp as a tack, is Mrs S, and now she’s keen to know what brings the four of us together, so we tell her about the Beaumont Football Club, its tragic grand final loss twenty years ago, and The Mob’s reunion.

“Just the four of you, then?” she asks.

“Yes, but we hope a couple of others can come down, at some stage.  Like there’s Toby Williams, whose nickname is Poodle because when he was a kid his hair was white and curly.  He was the runner in the 1990 final.  I’ve got a story about him.  Like to hear it?”

“I’d love to, Peter.”

“Which one?” asks Bulldog.  “There are hundreds.”

Rebecca’s got Rising Sun on her player now – it’s perfectly audible three apartments away because she’s beefed up the volume.  I start to get out of my chair, but Mrs Sidebottom ushers me back down.  “Tell me your story, then you can go and . . . do what you have to do over at the young woman’s flat.”

“Okay.  This is a cricket one, and I know this one real well, because I was there.  Direct witness.  Poodle had been appointed captain of our second eleven team for reasons which will always remain a mystery, and on this particular day our club – Town Rovers – were playing The Combine, on a huge ground about 20 kilometres from Beaumont, surrounded by black box forest with the Loddon River not far away.  Anyway, Poodle won the toss and to our amazement, decided to put the opposition in to bat.

“Let me tell you, we weren’t impressed.  It’s a stinking hot day, thirty-something in the water-bag, the pitch is as flat and hard as a road, and The Combine have two or three blokes who are over the hill, but who can still play pretty well.  And we have a very ordinary bowling line-up, including me.  Like as a cricketer I play a reasonable game of tennis, Mrs S.

“So the inevitable happens.  The Combine lose a quick wicket, but apart from that and a bloke who has to leave early to go to a wedding, we don’t have any joy.  They pile on the runs.  At tea – god, I remember how glad we were when tea arrived – they’re two or three down for well over a hundred and fifty and heading for a massive score.  I remember Bert Smithers, a dairy farmer who would be nearly fifty years old, he’d already made eighty or ninety, mostly in boundaries.

“Poodle was still upbeat though, hoeing into the sandwiches and lamingtons, telling us that we had to take some quick wickets and put them under real pressure.  Yeah, right.  Have another cup of tea, mate.

“Instead, they keep belting us to every part of the ground.  Smithers holds out when he’s 120, but that’s all.

“Then, Mrs Sidebottom, an extraordinary thing happened.  Just when we are absolutely at the end of our tether and ready to string Poodle up from one of the many trees available, salvation came right out of the sky.  You’ve got to believe this, because I saw it with my own eyes.  A glider comes into sight, you know, a glider . . .

“I know what a glider is, Peter.”

“ . . . right, sorry, and this glider starts circling the ground, you know, getting smaller and smaller in the circles it’s doing.  We can see the pilot waving to us and pointing frantically, and it’s obvious he’s run out of thermals because he’s losing height.  So what does Poodle do?  He takes charge of the situation.  Like, he’s made a total mess of being captain of a cricket team, but this emergency he can handle.  He orders the game stopped, pulls the stumps up and tells everybody to get the hell off the ground.  Everyone did, which is surprising.  Meanwhile, he stands there, out in the middle, waving his arms around like those blokes did on aircraft carriers, guiding the planes onto the deck.

“I’m thinking, the idiot is going to get bowled over by the glider if he doesn’t watch himself, but that didn’t happen.

“Sure enough, the glider bloke drops down onto the ground – it’s a huge ground – bounces around for a bit, and stops about twenty metres from the wicket, just near my run-up actually.  I race out and join Poodle because I hadn’t quite gone right off the ground, and we go up to the pilot, who’s already out and about, grinning his tits off – oops, sorry – and Poodle races up to him and says . . . What do you reckon he says?”

“Gone on, tell us.”

“He looks at the bloke and says, ‘Hey mate, you can’t bowl, can you?”

Mrs Sidebottom thinks that’s pretty funny, and so does Bulldog.  I tell them the Combine boys were a bit dark on not being able to continue the game – like they’re 3 for 230 and there’s still an hour-and-a-half to play – but they just opened the bar and after a while all was well.  The cricket association turned the match into a one-dayer, which we played the following week.

“Don’t tell me your team won . . . ”

“No they still thrashed us.”

We take our leave from Mrs Sidebottom, who tells us how grateful she is that we can find the time to visit and that she’ll probably see me again next week, because the Tigers will beat Brisbane up at the Gabba.  She also reminds me of her previous advice about the young woman in 106, and I nod and shake her hand.

I tell Bulldog he doesn’t have to come with me to quell the noise from The Riot’s flat, which is by now outrageous, but he insists.  “I’m a sticky-beak,” he says.

“I’ll go on.  You come up in your own time.”

I buzz the intercom to 106 several times, but to no effect.  So I walk the stairs, rap on the door with the same result.  Cold Chisel are going for it, singing about cheap wine and a three-day growth. I try the door-handle, and it turns.  Tommy is adamant about the conditions for entering apartments, but I reckon I’ve covered my legal bases, so I push the door open.

The pizza-rama man-mountain is directly in front of me, centre-stage, doing a kind of solo free-form Latin dance.  His ponytail stays a beat behind the tempo.  He has a totally spaced-out look which is hardly surprising, given the thickness of the dope-fugged air.

He gets a very surprised look happening when it dawns on him he has a late-comer to his show.  He stops dead still in the middle of a very complex hip-movement.

“Greetings, dude,” he croons.  “The lady has invited you to our soiree?”

“Could you turn the volume down, please,”  I say, raising my managerial voice over Jimmy Barnes.  “It’s intruding into the living areas of your neighbours . . . ”

It’s done in a flash.  Che Guevara turns lightning fast, like a ballet-dancer, and flicks the nob on the console.  It’s quite a performance, and he’s pretty pleased with himself if the grin is anything to go by.

Cold Chisel are much quieter, but no less diminished.

I glance around and conclude the man’s going solo until something moves among the mess of cushions on a couch to my left.  It’s a head, the hair of which is a regular rat’s nest, but recognisable.  It’s The Riot herself, stretched out in disarray.  A bottle of Jim Bean whiskey is wedged snugly between her thighs.  Her eyes are red-rimmed, her small mouth lolling.

“Mr Peter Rabbit, heavy lifter, I do declare,” she mutters.  “Let’s go to the footy, and get wet, wet, wet.”  She giggles, a silly, unattractive giggle.

She looks like a discarded doll.

“Are you okay, Rebecca?”  I ask, but she’s lost me, and is looking over my shoulder.

“Mr Nankervis, sir, of Taverner Secondary College,” she slurs.  “What a surprise.  You’re not seeing me at my best.”

I hadn’t noticed, but Bulldog has made it up from base camp.  He’s staring at Rebecca, an anxious look on his creased face.  Rebecca flops back down amongst the cushions, and gropes for the whiskey bottle, but I get there first.

I hand the bottle to Che, who looks at me like I’m a fresh dog-turd.

“This is what they predicted for me, yeah,” Rebecca says to Bulldog, and sniffs loudly.  I think she’s crying.  She’s certainly wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

“We’ll go, then,” I announce.  “Just so long as you’re okay, Rebecca.”  I wait for a few seconds for a response.  “Are you?”

She gives a weak shrug.  “I’m okay.”

The big guy clearly wants to get on with his free-form, and moves his bulk closer to us.  His arms are outstretched, ushering us towards the door.  “Yeah, she’s fine.  But thanks for dropping by, guys, and sorry about the noise.”

I give the man a parting shot – I can’t help it.  “I’ll call the police next time, and they can deal with it.”

“No need to get heavy, man.”

Both me and Bulldog pause at the door for a last look at Rebecca.  She’s watching us, too, and the Chisel have arrived at Choirgirl:

Loves me like a sister/ Loves me like an only child/ She’s my connection/  I’ll hold on/ And never, never, never let her down.

As we clump down the stairs, the fact that there’s a connection between Bulldog and Rebecca starts to sink in.

. . . / / / . . .

On Thursday, Tommy and me are downright disgusted, to the point where we find words inadequate.  Instead we give full attention to our lunch, egg-and-bacon sandwiches and green tea, and only when our plates are clean, our cups drained and the pot empty, do we come up for air.  Even thus fortified, we have trouble finishing a sentence:

“Peter, that anyone would have the nerve . . . ”

“They ought to be banned, simple as that . . . ”

“Who chooses these people  . . ?”

“It’s just absolutely . . . sickening to the . . . ”

“It’s embarrassing to the . . . ”

Tommy picks up the newspaper and reads aloud the article I’ve already read twice.  Western Australian football legend Mal Brown has made a speech at an official AFL function, in which he refers to indigenous players, including Nicky Winmar, as “cannibals”.  “According to this,” says Tommy, “Brown’s then pointed to reporters on the way out of the room and told them not to write what he said about Abos.”

The little bloke slaps the paper down on the oval table.  (He’s pumped.)  “And if you ask me, it’s not good enough to say that you could get away with things like that in the 80s, but we’ve moved on and you can’t say things like that in 2010.  That’s not the point.  That’s just saying a bloke like Brown has missed out on a bit of social etiquette.  The point is, he’s still thinking that these guys, because of their skin colour, are inferior, to be made fun of . . . he’s still got that mind-set.”

“I agree, coach.”

“Why would you want to say those things in the first place?  Peter, there’s no place for them in our minds, let alone our mouths.”

“I agree.”

“He needs to get himself a whole . . . new . . . life.”

“Absolutely.”

. . . / / / . . .

The week disappears like autumn leaves sucked into a street-sweeper’s belly.  I have had one lukewarm email from the Greek Goddess following my vivid, ball-by-ball description of the Collingwood-Melbourne drawn game, which included a mild wrap-on-the-knuckles for using “Labby” in huge, bold letters at the end.  (The result of intense excitement at the game.)  From now on I will stick with Labrini Houdini.

I failed to watch Greece beat Nigeria 2-1 in the World Cup, for two reasons.  First, I find the sound of thousands of fans blowing their vuvuzelas unattractive, and I cannot watch the world game with the sound down.  That’s like watching grass grow, or Mrs Averling massaging Tommy’s bung knee – which she has been doing downstairs recently, in full view, while I am trying to watch Stephen Fry on QI.  Also unattractive, both visually and aurally.  (The massage, not the show.)

The second reason is, my mind has locked into a scene which is taking place somewhere in rural Greece, where a travelling dance troupe are all decked out in white – like in “Ben Hur” and “Gladiator” – watching the Greece Soccer Club on a flat-screen TV, while enjoying gallons of retsina from rams’ horns, carving lamb from a spit roast, and generally behaving lasciviously.  Labrini Houdini is dancing dementedly with a chap who looks like Russell Crow.  This is an unattractive fantasy.

On Friday the papers are full of impending doom for The Bombers, mainly along the lines of the Hawks seeking revenge for our earlier atrocities on The Family Club.  We’ll see.  Tommy, on Mrs Averling’s supportive arm and stinking like a eucalyptus press, has gone to the cinema to see Sex in the City. (I hope it’s as boring as the reviews say it is.)  I answer the door bell of Unit 12 in the early afternoon to find two merchant bankers standing on the landing.

Well, they fit my idea of what a merchant banker looks like.  They are Mario and Francesco and they’re from Unit 39.

They want to discuss a problem they have with their apartment, so I sit them in the leather monsters and put on my listening look.  I expect a plumbing problem or mould in the toilet or a neighbour who practises the tuba until the early hours.  But no.

Kevin, their flatmate of six months, has a pistol.

Oh.  Is that all?

I tell them the manager will be home in a few hours, and maybe . . . no, they want me to deal with it.  It’s urgent.

So I get the full story, forensic-wise.  Francesco – or it might be Mario – has seen it in a case under his bed, AND he thinks he’s seen it sitting on the bedside table.  Francesco – or Mario? – knows he has seen Kevin – the flatmate of six months, a boilermaker by trade – dismantling it one night on the kitchen table as he was coming out of the shower.

Kevin has also been doing some weird things, like ripping up their Hawthorn  football magazines, slicing the tops off their balcony plants including a massive Yucca and, they suspect, going through their drawers.  Also, he’s completely rearranged the furniture in the apartment without telling them.  Twice.  Like the fridge in their bedroom, dining room chairs on the balcony, saucepans in the bathroom.  They came home one night and thought they’d entered the wrong apartment.

I jump to the obvious conclusion: Kevin has some mental issues, thus making him an undesirable living companion.

“It’s the gun that’s got us worried,” says the taller one. (Tall = Francesco)

“Shouldn’t you go to the police,” I suggest.

The shorter one puts his hands up in horror.  (Short = Mario)  “Oh god no.  What we’re worried about is him hiding the gun from the police, then we’re still left with him to deal with.”  There’s tension in their faces – these blokes are stressed out, merchant bankers or not.  “We’ve suggested he leave because of unreconcilable differences between us, such as us being football freaks and Hawthorn supporters.  That seems to particularly upset him.  He seems to have a particular loathing against the Hawks.”

I know the feeling.

“So,” I say, managerially.  “What to do.”

“Well,” says Mario, “we were wondering if you would be so kind as to speak to Kevin and encourage him to leave.  He gets angry when we try to discuss it with him, although he has given us . . . ”

“ . . . an indication, that he’s prepared to go this weekend,” Francesco chips in.

“Okay.  Is he home at the moment?”

“Yes.  He’s on an RDO.”

“You guys stay here.  Make yourself at home.  There’s coffee on the bench, and the history of the Essendon Football Club is in the shelves behind you if you want to browse . . . ”

They give a weak laugh, in unison.  “Thanks awfully Peter.”

On the way to Crazy Kevin I feel the urge to smoke.  I look around and sniff the air, but there’s nothing on offer.  Suddenly, I am standing outside the door of thirty-nine, having arrived much quicker than I intended.  (I can’t get decently lost these days.)

The bloke who opens the door to my knock is much shorter than his flatmates, but considerably wider across the shoulders.  He is square-jawed, his skin smooth and olive, and his hair is black, short and wavy.  (It doesn’t look home-grown.)  The eyes are a worry.  They’re deep-set, and a tiny bit close together for my liking.

I find myself lost for words.  On the way over I have rehearsed several options: Have you anything to declare?  Hi, I collect pistols and I was wondering . . .  Could I search your room?

Hi, I was just checking the lights in this stairwell, and . . . ah . . . I thought I’d check if everything was going okay in 39.”

Kevin is not impressed.  “What do you want, pal?”

“Well, your mates, Frank and Dario, I was . . .that is, we were . . . just chatting about the footy – I’m an Essendon man, by the way, absolutely loathe Hawthorn, family club they say, god what a joke – we were chatting, and they mentioned you were leaving . . . soon . . . soonish, like this weekend, and we, as a managerial team, Tommy Hubble and myself, we like to offer any assistance we can to outgoing tenants . . . ”

“And?  Like what?  You going to pack for me?”  His voice is very dry, as if the saliva buds are not working.

“Well, no, but will you require the gates to be opened?”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.  When you’re leaving.”

“No.”

“Tonight?”

“No.”

“Okay.  You’re right then.  I’ll be off.”

I get one more, very hard, narrow-eyed look from Kevin before he closes the door, a trifle more vigorously than good manners dictate.  On the way down the stairs, I conclude that if he did have a gun and his mother was blocking his access to the fridge, he’d probably shoot her.  Especially if she barracked for Hawthorn.

. . . / / / . . .

It’s over.  The season-defining game is over.

Essendon, the 2010 model, has been defined.

The pedestrian crowd has thinned out.  Two young blokes pace past me, cigarettes blazing.  I can see clouds in the night sky, a few seagulls wheeling across the city’s incandescence.  It’s a crisp, but mild night, and the trees in the Fitzroy Gardens have all but unloaded their payload of leaves.

The Hawks have beaten us by 16 points, but surprisingly I’m feeling only mildly crushed.  Why?  I’m convinced we’re just not good enough.  It’s called resignation, and it settles on the soul like a heavy frost that will burn off with the first piece of optimistic news.  (Like David Hille being fit enough to play in our next game.)  But, realistically, when I compare us with the Cats, the Magpies – jeez, that hurts – the Saints, the Blues – jeez, that hurts too – we’re behind them.  We’ve got a hell of a long way to go before we are genuine contenders.  We’ll beat a few more before the season is over, but Hollywood?  Not this year.

It was an exciting game with moments of exhilaration scattered through it, but it was a game between second-tier outfits.

And there’s another thing that calms me in the face of defeat, and that’s what I saw from the indigenous players over the last couple of hours.  Our boys, Alwyn Davey in particular, were terrific.  For the Hawks, Cyril Rioli was magnificent throughout the game, and as for Lance Franklin . . . words fail me.  Forget about whatever else he did – which was plenty – the two goals he kicked in the final quarter were breathtaking.  Just when it looked like the momentum had swung our way, and we were at last finding ways to score, Franklin gets a handball from team-mate Lewis on the members’ side wing and takes off.  He runs, Hooker gives chase, but can’t get to him.  Franklin bounces twice, Hooker digs deep and keeps chasing but not gaining, and they’re inside fifty, he’s had one more bounce, and I’m still clinging to the hope that the combined pressure of the chaser, the fact that he’s running at full tilt, the sharpness of the angle and being on the wrong side for a left-footer, all of these will put Franklin off.  But they don’t.  Of course they were never going to.  He kicks it and dribbles it through with the confidence of a champion.

Then when we got two more goals after that, thanks to Aaron Davey and Sam Lonergan, what happens?  Franklin goes and does it again.

That’s why I’m strangely upbeat.  The indigenous players took the cheap, low-life slurs dished out to them during the week under the camouflage of humour, and shoved it right back.

I stride on.  It’s an hour’s walk back to Huntleigh Mews.

Click, click.  The sound is approaching me from behind, and interrupts the thread of my thoughts.  Click, click.  It’s getting louder.  Click, click.  It can’t be Bulldog, aka Long John Silver – he’s gone home in a taxi with the rest of The Mob.  It could be a bloke with a samurai sword, preparing to take my head off.  Click, click.  It’s level with me, and it takes a moment to recognise Mario, using his brolly as a walking stick, and Francesco.  They’re smiling like men whose team has won a football match.

They commiserate, and we analyse.  We agree on pretty nearly everything.  The first half of the game was ragged, choked footy which the Hawks  dominated without putting us away.  Then the Bombers caught fire and dragged a 29 point deficit back to six by the last break.

Me, Mario and Francesco re-live the Franklin heroics.  We talk about it, we walk for a few minutes with it running through our minds.

As we approach headquarters, the elephant who has joined us after we run out of footy talk, lets out a tremendous fart to draw attention to himself.  Courtesy of myself, with a question without notice.

“What about Kevin?” I ask.

“Well, says Mario, “we were thinking, if the light was on in our apartment, we might . . . ”

“. . . book into a motel, or we could knock on a friend’s door,” adds Francesco, “. . . and we were planning to come and . . . ”

“. . . see you in the morning . . . to try to sort something.”

So, when we arrive at the Mews, Apartment 56 is in darkness, and I suggest I might go on up and check it out, seeing as how Kevin and I seemed to get on reasonably well during my earlier visit.  (Liar, liar, pants on fire.)  So I get the keys, and creep up the stairs with loose bowels and a heart thumping like a jack hammer, wondering why I put myself in these situations.  I insert the key, turn the handle, and push the door open – I mess the sequence up first time due to my nervousness, but get it right eventually.  I flick the light on, call out “Kevin, hi there, it’s assistant manager Peter wondering if . . . if . . . ”

Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.

Crazy Kevin, I would say at a glance, is no longer a tenant at Huntleigh Mews, but he has said farewell in a very bizarre way.  The outdoor furniture is indoors, the beheaded Yucca plant is on the stove, and a bed is where I would say the dining-room table used to be.  I rip a big poster down which says SO LONG FAGGOTS, fold it until I can shove it under my shirt.

Mario and Francesco aren’t particularly fazed, and it doesn’t take long for us to restore order.  I mean, there is no serious damage and we search the place from top to bottom, but can’t find a pistol.  (I’m secretly a bit miffed at this.)  I think they’re glad to have got rid of Crazy Kevin for such a small price.

Eventually, Mario works the cork out of a bottle of Chivas Regal, and we settle at the dining room table.  “Is there a particular, identifiable condition, as in mental condition, wherein and whereby people feel an irresistible need to make wholesale changes to the furniture?” I ask.

No.

No, not that we know of.

Solemn, slow shaking of heads takes place, followed by whiskey-sips.

FRS?  Furniture Rearrangement Syndrome.

No.

Google it?  Maybe, later.

“It has to be said though, Peter,” says Francesco with a wicked look in my direction, “certain gay folk, such as a person sitting not all that far away from me, does like to make alterations, furniture-wise, from time to time.  Like on a weekly basis.”

“Ohhh, is that so” I say gravely, going along for the ride.  I look quizzically at the accused, who is smirking.

Mario fires up, on cue.  “Fran-cesco, if you please.  I may like a little variety to invade our living space, but really, would I ever put the tele on the balcony, the cutlery in the bog, and a potted plant on the stove?”

“I wouldn’t care if you did, Hawk-man.”

And the three of us nearly piss ourselves laughing.

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