The Wrong Address index


The Painted Path
Bridge Road, 1960 

photo link : Thor at Bridge Road, 1958

 

These houses knew their place,

Federation red-brick with a porch

And painted path, a handkerchief of lawn

Out front to face the ordered world with.

Three generations had defined Bridge Road

For the credit agencies, the postmen and the politicians;

Each fifty-foot block marked off a television

On hire purchase, three letters a week,

Two votes for promises of a lucky country

To give the kids a start in life.

 

Dad had sworn never to live in a street

Where backyard paling fences walled a grey horizon,

And a good shouting match would bring the cops

Before the local wildlife lit into the scrub.

Within three months of our hijacking a mortgage on suburbia

(compromise along the road to fame)

An ancient lady on the downwind side

Had died in search of quieter havens

While spiders, unmolested for whole epochs

Of arachnid history, held urgent consultations

On mass migration.

 

May's renovation machine didn't muck around.

We assaulted Federation decency's florid brick complexion,

Pock-marked her with a sparrow-pick

And plastered her white like a whore

From a Japanes print. The gaping mouth

Of a toothless porch glittered at the street,

New glazing made a sunroom from the dusty porch,

Dappled with shadow, bamboo blinds to keep us demur

From garbos and the clattering trains.

 

Coming of consciousness is coming of age;

While the house transformed with unexpected possibilities,

So did I; through that decade of the fifties

The landscape of mind slowly found its definition

In light and shade; the half-grown century

Was about to discover rock-n'-roll,

A milkshake stop along the highway, unvalued

Before we earned our seeing eyes

And knew (though dared not say) that there are journeys

But no destinations.

 

Somewhere there's an old snapshot in a drawer,

The artless memory of a box camera, it shows

A gawky kid with big ears and nervous lips, still growing,

Scarecrow in a school blazer (royal blue)

And long trousers that later stopped too far above the ankles,

Already without style, lacking faith

In the big promises of being on the road

To Somewhere. But caught forever

With this phoney stereotype, there I am

Pasted by an accident of time and place

Onto the backdrop of a federation house

And a painted path.

 

Double-income families hadn't quite arrived,

(No wife of mine will work, He said),

Yet H.G. Palmer's suburban stores offered easy ways

To sign away tomorrow and tomorrow.

Came a day when I was sent (quaking)

To the street-corner phone with a message

That mum couldn't pay this week

Sorry mumble good-bye.

And His liquor bill was getting steep,

So there had to be another way to make a quid.

 

Why not try for mystery we thought, foreign bodies

In a room to rent : mother fussed

And they sent a lady out from the university to check

For gentility and bugs; an assurance

That that getting to know you Australian style

Would be etched with refinement in the margins of Asia.

The girls from Kuala Lumpur and Surabaya

Were to think with nostalgia of Sydney bathrooms

And the culinary daring of sago pudding.

 

Yvonne was all angles with funny teeth,

Wendy had puffy eyes, loved maths, hated exercise;

Sharifa Ini seemed to shed hair

Around the house like a moulting cat,

And giggled for no special reason;

All pretty normal, misshapen human beings,

Their minds tuned to harmonies in a tropic night;

Alas poor resonance for the jam-tin twang

Of a kid rung in on rafferty's street rules.

 

What could I do, smitten at fifteen

By exotic creatures, "university students"

(U-who's ? No tag for that one in Holden country);

Imprinted like a plastic duckling for all time,

My hot imagination nursed an image of the perfect body,

Chinese girl in a cheong-sam, honey-dew skin,

The toss of her long black hair, pert fringe on an almond face,

The caress of her cool slim fingers

Like a ripple of summer grass.

 

The wretched truth didn't matter, dreams will be dreams.

My vision of the Australian woman thereafter

Hung on the handle of her shopping trolley :

Blotched pink mutton, parcelled and bulging

Out of a cotton shift, her cheerful insouciance

As de-sexed as a jumbo carton of potato chips;

Unjust, absurd from an unlovely owner,

But the tides of passion don't play fair;

My heart was condemned to exile.

 

That Christmas holidays it was time, they said

To learn the work that real men do,

So putting the periodic table and modern history

Safely on a shelf, I got a job stacking oranges

For Joe. His Sicilian fruit shop lingers

With its aromas of cantaloupes and onions,

Stale sweat, fresh flowers, meatballs and tomato sauce

Waft in the chemical cracks of my brain.

 

Fat kind smelly Joe had style, a lifestyle

Entirely complete, from the pasta and eggs

Floating in olive oil at six a.m.

To gunning up the stout red Bedford, a slow trip into town,

The cavernous, clamorous market

With its signs not to spit in four languages;

Old friends dawdled at each stall..

 

How much are grannies and Tassie spuds today ?

You took your time over the texture of greens,

The crunch of carrots only dug yesterday,

The velvet skin of every peach.

The boy (I, the boy) ran

With towering barrow loads back to the Bedford

And around noon we'd make it home

To Mrs Joe, and the boy would be banished

Sent to wash the spuds

In an old bathtub up the yard.

 

There is a trick of seeing, of blinking down

An elf, a cloud, an empire before it gets away,

And on the crest of new perception

Suddenly past logic is a dream :

My days are populated with ghosts,

I am their only medium of exchange.

Perhaps in Joe's Sicilian fruit shop, the first turning

Slipped out of sight of the painted path,

And houses became colour patches of memory,

Moments of rest for a waif

Fated to wander through the oblivious worlds

Of H.G. Palmer's Hire Purchase Company, cantaloupes

And Chinese ice maidens from a tropic night.

 


THE WRONG ADDRESS 
Fragments from an Australasian Life
Thorold MAY
copyright Thorold May 1995 All Rights Reserved 
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company ACN 1116240S Sydney, Australia
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