Happy Hour

The drawstring broke off my disposable apron. I released the belt with the golden buckle, smacked it up to my kidneys, fastened it over the transparent plastic, and dug three fingers into a burnt pot on the loading bench. Sweat and chest hair fused with the apron as I dragged a cooking chocolate figure eight around my nipples. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. That coke was the best I’d ever had. All I needed to do now was convince Jimmy Smith to stay back and do my job on Monday night so Kay could come to the gig. Once she saw me play the drums, she would leave Thomas Pitman without resorting to any unnecessary clichés.

I made a central part in the blonde wig, smudged brown lipstick across my mouth, and puckered at my reflection in the dishwasher.

When I pulled out the second last trash bag of the night, the thing ripped and a pile of lasagne gushed onto the cowskin boots. I said sorry to the cowskin boots, spat on the blue dishrag, and gave them a quick polish. Then I noticed that the new trash bags weren’t under the draining rack. Jimmy Smith must have punctured my bag and hidden the new ones under the wine rack in the storeroom to get me alone. I wasn’t sure if the wine rack contained good wine, cheap shit, or throwaways, but the labels always said GREAT AUSTRALIAN WINE, and they sometimes whispered TAKE US FOR A RIDE IN THE VALIANT.

Jimmy Smith wasn’t in the storeroom, but his work clothes were hanging behind the door. I pictured him naked in the cold room and decided to take out the trash.

As I strolled down White Lane, with a super bag that I made by inflating a new bag and stuffing it inside another new bag and then slopping the ripped lump off the tiles, I thought someone was watching me from the steps leading up to Darlinghurst Road, so I turned around and walked backwards. I saw smoke gliding across the moon and two gum trees wrapped around each other. A streetlight between the branches distorted graffiti on a brick wall. Ash settled on a ledge above a water pipe. A man with a red helmet fluttered past on a blue bicycle. The cowskin boots ignored my request to slow down. I had no control over my movements. Either the cowskin boots were pissed off about the lasagne, and the tentative polish, or the coke was producing a toxic reaction in its synthesis with Ma’s anti-reality pills. Sucked backwards from receptors in the base of my skull, I staggered to the corner like videotape in rewind, trying to position a safe landing for an inevitable crash. My heels scuffed the curb. I landed on garbage bags, empty bottles, cardboard boxes, and a wooden bed frame with iron clamps.

Jimmy Smith was leaning in the front passenger window of the Valiant, his off-white T-shirt riding up his spine. He tilted the bass drum towards the steering wheel and checked the Ludwig brand name on the skin. He smirked when he saw me rubbing my head and approaching the side-view mirror. I swept his mushroom boots against the front hubcap and slung him away from the Valiant. He skidded to the ground, zigzagged a few crouched steps towards a semidetached cottage, and plunged into a bush fence. The hubcap flapped on the bitumen.

When Jimmy Smith got up and came at me, I stepped aside and cracked him behind the ear with the hubcap. He landed in front of the Valiant. He straightened his sunglasses and dragged his fingers down the six horizontal bars on the one-piece grill.

I drove my knuckles into his chin-beard, grabbed his collar, and polished the fender. “The only thing worse than messing with a drummer’s kit,” I said, “is messing with his vehicle.”

“Isn’t it about time you got new skins?” Jimmy Smith blew up his cheeks and kept in the oxygen until his face turned red and the veins throbbed along his neck. His legs twitched. He slapped his hands on his cheeks and dribbled blood on his T-shirt. “What about those clothes? Them boots made in southern China that your mother shipped in from central Mexico? That ridiculous belt she gave you on your eighteenth birthday with a fake death certificate from the American Civil War.”

“Who the fuck have you been talking to?”

“Get off me, Hayes.” He ripped a chunk from my apron and stuffed it between my teeth. “You smell like a caged dog waiting to be incinerated.”

I dragged the plastic out of my throat. “Can you cover for me on Monday night?”

“Stop trying to fuck me.”

“I’m not trying to fuck you.” I got off him and sat on the hood of the Valiant.

He popped up in his mushroom boots and twisted his upper body without moving his neck, scanning White Lane conspiratorially, as if he also suspected that someone might be watching from the steps. “Let me have a drive of this pile of junk,” he said.

“No chance.” I prowled around the Valiant, checking for signs of abuse.

“Just up to the Cross.”

“Piss off. Nobody but me ever drives the Valiant.”

“We’ll get a drink and talk work like regular guys.”

“I haven’t finished the dishes yet.”

“They’ll still be there tomorrow.”

“I’m already late for band practice.”

“I thought you didn’t need to practise.”

“Do you have any money?”

“Who do you think I am?” Jimmy Smith smirked and took off his sunglasses and crunched them into a heap.

I climbed into the Valiant through the driver’s side window. He opened the passenger door to ride shotgun. We crept along Hardy Street and banged onto Darlinghurst Road. The headlights woke up at St David’s Cathedral. The engine backfired over horns blasting the Kings Cross intersection. The steering wheel swung left when we got to Brougham Lane. After scraping a pedestrian signpost, the snout hit the curb and parked across a driveway with a green rollable door that said on it in blue paint NO TRASH. Jimmy Smith’s hair left a grease patch above the seat when he stepped onto the curb. The patch spread, contracted, and hung there in a single glistening drop.

The bouncer at the Kings Cross Hotel wouldn’t let me in because he still hadn’t gotten over the shock of me picking up Kay Pitman a few weeks back. When Jimmy Smith took the steps in one go with an outstretched hand, the bouncer straightened up, turned away from the crowd on the veranda, and unfolded his arms. A tentative handshake became firmer after Jimmy Smith lifted the hearing aid and said something into the bouncer’s ear. Jimmy Smith strode back to the sidewalk and untucked my T-shirt, so it covered the belt with the golden buckle. The bouncer lowered his head and opened the door.

Backpackers with chin-beards wiggled up and down with fat-ankle girls wearing baggy T-shirts in front of wall-mounted televisions playing toothpaste commercials. Standing on a burnt couch next to a pool table, a skinny girl torched 10 Marlboro Lights and passed them to a crowd sucking tequila through a gasoline funnel. A man in a floppy hat ripped the packet into strips to stoke an ashtray fire. A girl with a glass balanced in her dreadlocks lined up a shot at a full rack. As she jerked her stick at the cue ball, the man in the floppy hat nudged her elbow, and beer sprayed the girl on the couch.

“You never drum up money on street corners or park benches.” Jimmy Smith twirled a purple florescent cocktail straw in a long thin glass of orange juice. “A hustler’s home is the airport. You can give hand-jobs in bars and blowjobs in business lounges or rented BMWs to men or women on conferences anywhere. Frankfurt, New York, Karachi, Johannesburg. Other stuff is best in hotel rooms or cubicles. You get meals, flights, clothes, cruises, long afternoons in far out resorts.”

“What about cash?” I gnawed on a plastic cup of beer. It floated in suds on the thin table against the back wall in the far corner of the triangular room. The bar staff told me that they ran out of bottles and glasses even though there were plenty decorating the bar.

Jimmy Smith stood erect on the other side of the table. “These repressed people make money to build a world to protect themselves from the things they really desire. Last week a software salesman from Geneva gave me a thousand Euros and a laptop computer for biting his neck and jerking him off over a squat toilet in Jakarta international airport. He offered me his Armani jacket but I left it behind the door because he came all over it. That’s what I like about you, Hayes, you never learned to repress anything.”

“What’s a Euro?”

“It’s money from Europe.”

“What are you doing in the restaurant?”

“I’m waiting. I’m the waiter.” Jimmy Smith spat some juice back into his glass. He wiped his wrist across his chin-beard and scanned the room. “Sydney’s dead. It’s not even a real city. You need ten million to make a real city. I can’t believe you’ve never left Australia. You need a manager. Someone with your talent should be playing in Amsterdam or New Orleans.”

“Are they real cities?” I licked my cup and rested my shoulder against a smiley face on a lime green poster that said EVERY HOUR - HAPPY HOUR.

The man in the floppy hat had a go with the stick between his teeth. The girl on the couch stubbed her cigarette at his leg. He choked on the stick and potted the black. Then he spun the triangle around the couch girl’s neck and shook hands with the dreadlock girl.

“Why did we come here?” said Jimmy Smith. “It’s full of tourists congratulating themselves for looping the country without getting murdered and raped by sugarcane farmers.”

We left the Kings Cross Hotel and drove down to Campbells Cove because Jimmy Smith wanted to see the opera house and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Burnt-out cars hauled suburban bushfire refugees along Hickson Road. The cars had mattresses strapped to their roofs, and their trays were full of wide-eyed kids in pyjamas. Couples in summer fashions wandered oblivious from courtyard restaurants and lingered near replica sailing ships chained to the banks. The tide rolled onto the concrete walkway and licked Jimmy Smith’s mushroom boots. His left eye patrolled the sleeping opera house. Searchlights cut through the smoke.

I grinded popcorn and chugged wine. “Why did you come to Australia?”

He pulled a silver comb from his back pocket, smoothed his chin-beard, and bunched up his hair. “I have to find some people before they find me.”

“Where are you staying?”

“In the backpacker ghetto on Orwell Street.”

I crunched a few of Ma’s anti-reality pills because my tailbone was aching and I was thinking about the band competition. “Do you reckon it’s a sell-out to record?”

“Why do you take that rubbish and drink that shit?”

“It gives me inspiration. First prize in the band competition is a recording session. I have to come up with some knockout lyrics for my song.”

“What kind of band practises on Saturday night for a gig on Monday?”

“Do you reckon it’s a sell-out to practise?”

“Depends what you’re practising for.”

“Kay’s looking forward to the gig.”

“Don’t you know anything, Hayes? How long do you expect to creep around motel rooms with another man’s wife before it ends in violence?”

“She’s never seen me play the drums.”

Jimmy Smith stabbed his comb halfway down his jeans and twanged it against his gut. “I’ll cover your shift if you do me a favour.” He started to whistle some kind of hillbilly song at a renovated steamboat tugging ecstasy eaters back from a harbour night cruise. Party lights and disco muzak flooded the deck. The big paddle churned into reverse as the boat approached Circular Quay. I swung the bottle in a windmill and then looped it up towards the bridge. Jimmy Smith pulled out his comb like a gunslinger popping glass.


Post a Comment

<< Home