Almanac Life: The value of a smile when life is a big issue

Craig reckons we have known each other for about ten years. And I reckon up until mid-2017 he started all our conversations with; “How shit were Richmond this week?!” I would counterpunch with a comment about his beloved Carlton, we’d guffaw, I’d hand over some cash and he’d hand over the latest edition of The Big Issue.


In mid-2017 Craig issued the ultimate challenge to me. “When Richmond wins a final, I’ll stop slagging ‘em!”


If you are a regular in Lygon St Carlton, and especially a regular at Cinema Nova or Brunetti’s you would have seen Craig. His “pitch” is near the bottom of the steps leading to the cinema and just outside the famous Italian eatery. He usually wears some type of Carlton footy club signifier, a beanie, maybe a jacket.


Craig’s life took a dramatic detour about 13 years ago when he was in his late 20s.  Things were going fine; he had a steady job, but he began experiencing what he calls “brain events”. He was diagnosed with brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation), a condition where there is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain that when ruptured can cause bleeding and brain damage. Diagnosis and treatment lead to the surprise discovery of a large brain aneurysm which also needed surgery.


Now, his brain functions differently than before but it still has the incredible capacity to store information about footy, cricket and any sport that Australia features in. Craig will tell you exactly what’s going on in the news as soon as the headlines are printed. And he will always be ready with a joke. Last week’s featured George Pell and Dave Warner and had a punchline about ball tampering.


His Carlton site is an invaluable one for a Blues fan. One day he witnessed Chris Judd being hassled outside the fish and chip shop a few metres away. Craig even attempted an intervention, an event that gave him fifteen seconds of fame on the nightly news and a story for a lifetime. Spottings of Stephen Silvagni also gave him a regular lift and he speaks with gusto about the new generation of Silvagnis donning the navy blue.


Over the years our conversations have gone in many directions, way away from sport. The eternal struggle of trying to secure long-term safe accommodation, the subsequent stress of fluctuating visitation arrangements with his adored daughter, now a North Melbourne-barracking tween – and the strain of constant worry when nothing is constant.


Craig has lost most of his teeth. Some days I would ask him if he would like me to grab him something to eat from Brunetti’s – he would reply; “Get me something soft as I can’t chew!” I’d usually get him a chocolate éclair which he would devour with a gummy grin.


About six years ago I saw Craig in his spot, and I readied myself for the usual Richmond barrage. But on this day, he was strangely silent. I asked if he was ok. He responded with an enormous smile. An enormous smile that was full of the whitest teeth you have ever seen.  Full top and bottom dentures.  I screamed: “Oh my god Craig, you look so handsome!”


He could not speak for a few seconds as he was overcome with pride. He had been waiting for months for the teeth and they had finally arrived. Gradually though, he stopped wearing his teeth. He said they hurt his gums and were becoming painful to wear. And that blinding smile was relegated to occasional appearances.


During the 2017 finals, history shows that Richmond went pretty well!  Curiously, I didn’t see Craig around Lygon St for that month. A week after Grand Final day I was having a coffee with a friend and Craig appeared a few metres away.


Hey! I called out.


He came up with a huge smile, I think in anticipation of what he knew he was about to receive.


“Hey Craig, is winning that final good enough for you?”


He gave me a thumbs up, then a high five as he got closer.


“Geez, Richmond did all right, didn’t they!”


The next September in 2018, my birthday fell on Grand Final Eve which was now a public holiday in Melbourne.  Richmond had, of course, been obliterated by Collingwood the week before after being Premiership favourites all year. To us Tigers, a heavy pall hung over the next day – Grand Final Day.


I hadn’t seen Craig for months as he had changed his days and was also now working another pitch part-time in a suburb south of the river. But, strolling in Lygon Street with my husband Chris, on the way to my birthday lunch we walked straight into him at his usual spot.


“Craig! We haven’t seen each other for ages! And you won’t believe it but today is my birthday, what a great present – to see you!,” I laughed.


“What did you say, it’s your birthday, really?”


I nodded.


“Hang on a minute!”


He walked a few metres to his bag and leant down with his back to me for several seconds. He returned, flashing his enormous beautiful white teeth-filled smile again.


“Happy Birthday!”


I gave him a cuddle, got another smile and, as we walked away, I looked back and saw him take his teeth out and put them back in his bag.


This year, with Richmond’s inadequacies no longer the focus, our banter wanders more generally from David Teague and Paddy Cripps to the Cricket World Cup and Craig’s daughter’s love of playing footy.


Over ten years, what started as a business transaction between us has morphed into something that can’t be costed. And demonstrates once again the powerful conduit of sport in the priceless act of human connection.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. Carole Fabian says

    This is such a wonderful piece of writing, Tess. Thank you!

  2. A great story, and beautifully told, Tess. I’m sure than many an Almanacker will keep an eye out for Craig when they are next in Lygon St.

  3. Bravo Tess!

  4. Bonzer words Tess.

    [And here come the Tigers…]

  5. E.regnans says

    Dear Tess, thank you.

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    That is beautiful Tess, just beautiful. Everything in it.

  7. Lovely story, Tess

  8. I feel it’s no coincidence that the comments above come from people who are the beating heart of the Almanac – from my heart to all of yours thank you so much!

  9. It is no coincidence that all of the above comments come from you great people – the beating heart of the Almanac – from my heart to yours thank you all so much.

  10. Roger Lowrey says

    Priceless Tess!

  11. So many interesting people in our local streets.

    You have nailed it, the character and personality with your words.

    a word portrait.

  12. Caroline Van de pol says

    Great story and beautiful writing Tess, capturing the essence of why we love footy and Melbourne.

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