What is it about St Kilda?

‘I want to see the sun go down from St Kilda Esplanade
Where the beach needs reconstruction, where the palm trees have it hard
I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water)
For that one sweet promenade’
           Paul Kelly ‘From St Kilda to King’s Cross’

For some reason St Kilda will forever feel like my playground. Despite the onslaught of gentrification which threatens to extinguish its spark, St Kilda remains Melbourne’s gritty, eccentric, seaside suburb. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is about this little place that makes me hold my hand to my chest and sigh everytime I return but below is a guide of the places which, I think, make St Kilda special.

One of the best parts of St. Kilda would have to be Carlilse St. – the ethnically rich shopping strip where Jewish delicatessens and cheap Asian shops neighbour each other harmoniously. The many café’s along Carlilse st. go through an all too common cycle. They start out promising, and if they’re good, word of mouth spreads and they become a hang out  for “those in the know,” including local celebrities and musicians. Then before you know it, Jewish Mums wearing weird, layered clothing ensembles in various shades of gray catch on, and soon you find yourself eating breakfast one morning next to a table of half your friends’ mums ordering skim-milk porridges and talking about their sex lives (shudder.)

 Amongst the litany of cafes on Carlisle Street, of notable mention is Jewish mainstay Glicks. Glick’s is like a killer mutant that just grows bigger and bigger and spreads its tentacles across Melbourne, with thuggish vandalism, fiscal crises and disgruntled customers not seeming to put a dent in its success. Come Friday, Glick’s descends into mayhem, with daggers being exchanged over who’s first in queue to buy a gefilte fish ball. Screaming, pushing, shouting and community gossip fill that sweaty, challah smelling room. My fellow Semite friend put it aptly, commenting: ‘If I wasn’t Jewish and had seen that then I’d be an anti-Semite!” It is certainly a physically and emotionally exhilarating experience which would serve as a good visual for anyone studying Lord of the Flies or preparing for battle.

 If you keep walking from Carlisle Street towards the beach you will see local pub ‘The Greyhound Hotel’. ‘The Greyhound’ used to look like a hotel but since I’ve been back has been renovated to the point where it truly resembles a brothel now (at least now there’ll be no more surprises upon entry). It’s here that I saw possibly the seediest drag show ever which felt like the equivalent of someone smearing your body with Vaseline and then telling you ‘well I thought it was Vaseline… but I’m not quite sure anymore’.

 Stroll further down and eventually you will hit Acland Street. Franchises like Sportsgirl and Jay Jays have tried to stub out the local charm of Acland Street. Sadly they have nearly succeeded, but there is still evidence of a distinct, bohemian quality in this area. Even the drunks of St Kilda seem to have a friendly warmth to them. When me and a friend used to perform at an open-mic night on Acland street our main demographic would be a group of homeless drunks who would migrate from the Catani gardens nearby and cheer hysterically everytime we busted out a Christine Anu cover of ‘Come join my party”, exclaiming: ‘I fucking LOVE this song..Fucking LOVE it!!’ at appropriate (and inappropriate) intervals.

If you walk past Acland Street you will eventually hit the Esplanade with the laughing smile of Luna Park in the background. As the weather warms up the ratio of beer bottles per person here rises exponentially. Despite it being the summer backyard for Melbournians hailing from all over and the fact that the water is polluted, it is achingly beautiful and there is always somewhere to find a quiet, contemplative spot. Kite surfers dot the skyline and if you face your back to the tacky, beachside restaurants and just look at the dilapidated peer and the vista of the bay then it makes your heart skip a beat. Melbourne recently experienced it’s first truly warm summer day and at dusk the tourists and locals frolicking in the beach slowly became black shadows while mates sharing a drink and awkward couples on first dates watched on from the board walk. Sigh.

 These places constitute the backdrops for the memories made in St Kilda every single day and despite it being the home to backpackers, artists, yuppies, prostitutes and alcoholics, I suppose what makes St Kilda so damn special is that no matter who you are, St Kilda belongs to you too.

Batch is the St Kilda cafe of the moment...but for how long?

Jewish Lubavitche Hassidim speaking to customers outside Glicks

traditional dress and the bikini-clad in harmony

traditional and the bikini-clad in St Kilda harmony

'The Wall' cafe...it's literally a wall.

an industrious little boy at St Kilda beach Backpackers taking a break from their hectic life

twenty-somethings talking about their boyfriend troubles

twenty-somethings talking about their boyfriend troubles

sigh

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Farewell Birkenstocks

So I’ve been ‘let go’.

After fitting people with bunions on their feet for Birkenstocks, having little snotty kids throw crocs at my head and listening to my boss tell me why [insert customer name here] is a ‘fucking lunatic’ I was recently told in plain terms that I’d been ‘let go’. And while I am aware that my boss’ choice of words were only selected in order to soften the blow of my redundancy, somehow he hit the nail on the head. Finally I was let go. Free. 

You see, through my short time working in the shoe industry I learnt two very important things.

1)  Yuppie mums have now started to give their kids names like ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Indie’ and even with avant-garde names like that these tots still throw tantrums (and shoes).

2) Older people who have developed a healthy amount of cynicism and bitterness must let younger wide-eyed individuals discover cynicism on our own terms for ourselves.

Sitting for 7 hours every Tuesday in a 5 meter by 5 meter shopspace I was fortunate enough to be exposed to my boss’ life lessons about how ‘youth is wasted on the young’ and the real world is an ugly place. Youth is indeed fleeting. It is true that it’s only a matter of time until we, too, become wrinkled, develop back pain, become fascinated with things like mortgages and the plasma television we don’t have and eventually view funerals as integral parts of our social lives. But for young people this time has not yet come. It will come, but until it does why should we have to live according to the heavy, logical and burdensome life-lessons which come with experience and pain? We’ve got plenty of time to live like that, but only a small window of time to feel hopeful, indestructible and pay minimal tax. Why do old people begrudge us for this? They had that too. As opposed to getting botox, naming your kids ‘Phoenix’ and trying to rob us of our time in the sun, I really think it’s time to pass the baton over. Let us believe in something even if its stupid (and even if it’s only as deep as MTV).

We’ve all met that rare older person who embodies youth. They let their hair grow grey naturally, they seize life by its proverbial balls and laugh with all their teeth exposed, even if some of those teeth have started to fall out. Perhaps time will make me bigoted, bitter and angry, and like my boss believes, I will eventually ‘see the light’ and view the world as a place filled with people who want to fuck you over and exploit you. But for now, I’m happy in my youthful naivety and I hope that I still have that spark when I’m old and my boobs have hit the floor.

Charity and silk shirts at the train station

While waiting at Elsternwick train station I was approached by a man asking for money. He was indigenous, incredibly skinny, dishevelled and wearing a silk, burgundy shirt. 

‘Excuuuuuuuuuse  me, d-d-do you have ten dollars. I ne-e-e-ed t-t-ten dollars to get to A-a-a-lbury.’ He was shouting and finding it hard to produce his words. I had 6 dollars in my wallet. Three of those dollars were needed for the impending coffee waiting for me  in Windsor. I gave one dollar. ‘ C-c-c-an I have five?’ he pleaded. I shook my head and apologised and he moved on,  sobbing loudly, ‘I’m having a tough time!’

I went to sit down and watched as he approached the older woman sitting next to me.

‘Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii… sh-sh-shake…. m-m-my.. hand!’ he pleaded.

The groomed woman, with her neatly peroxided hair, said something along the lines of ‘oh dear.. I’m sorry love but my hand’s bad at the moment.. my doctor told me not to really use it very much.’

He looked at her and responded, ‘s-s-s-so use the-the-other one.” (touché silk wearing man, touché!)

She reluctantly shook his hand and as he pleaded for ‘t-t-ten dollars to get to Albury’.  ‘Would you believe I don’t have any money! I know I don’t look it, but really, my girlfriends just had to shout me lunch!’ she excalimed. Standing close to me, I could smell his sweat and noticed that he had a fading tattooed letter on each of his fingers. I could make out the letters A-T-E, but letter on his pinky was too blurry to see. Did it say ‘HATE’ perhaps…or ‘MATE’? As he walked off disheartened but not deterred, the woman plopped herself next to me.

‘Oh.. I feel terrible.. he’s not drunk.. he’s clearly spastic. I mean people must think he’s drunk because he’s slurring his words.. but he’s not.. he’s spastic. I know I don’t look it.. but I don’t even have any money on me. I have 7 dollars on me actually. I don’t have that much money.. you wouldn’t guess it to look at me though (she kept repeating that).  Oh I feel terrible. What’s wrong with people! Oh I should probably have given him.’ While she was talking (at) me she took out a tiny container of hand sanitizer and carefully rubbed it on the hand the beggar had just shaken.

‘I’m part of this women’s volunteer group. All of the other ladies are so wealthy, heaps of money and every Christmas we give presents for boys without a family. The girls always receive more.. so we give the boys.  lat year I bought a present, I spent 15 dollars, which is a lot for me. I mean you wouldn’t know it by looking at me but when you work a few days a week and rent like I do…well 15 dollars.. it’s a lot. But these other women… they have beautiful homes, loads of money and the presents they got for these kids… Bloody hell, they looked like..like.like..”

“The dregs?” i interrupted.

‘Yeah.. yeah.. dregs, that’s the word! Oh look I should’ve given him money.. he’s not drunk….I suppose you pass judgement. But who am I to pass judgement? It’s none of my business! I used to work in guinea would you believe and the way some of these civil servants would treat the locals, it was disgusting. You’d have them employing some boy in Moresby for the equivalent of 3 dollars an hour working him to the bone from 6am to 12 at night.  I tell you what, I don’t know why people are so awful!’

While the woman continued to ramble on about ‘human kind’ (older people often tend to tell me about what human kind is really like these days) I could still hear the man begging in the background. Dissapointed in herself, she ran off to give him some change. Another woman behind me who had just been approached by the beggar commented, ‘ten dollars… why does he need ten dollars? it’s a bit much don’t you think!’ I wondered to myself what would be an acceptable amound to ask for. 

Beggars make us all feel so uncomfortable. We never know if they are exploiting us or if we are meanspirited for entertaining that thought. They remind us of the numerous cracks that exist in our society and just how easy it is to fall through them.  Their smell, their clothes, their visible distress all give us a weird, yucky feeling between the heart and the gut. 

The train pulled up and thankfully I didn’t have to think much more about the moral and ethical dilemmas that one dishevelled man in a silk shirt can stir up.

Phew.

emu

smart creatures those emus, they don't just put their heads in the sand metaphorically.. they actually do it

And round and round we go

Joke: How many Zionists and left-wing activists can you fit into a Monash lecture hall?

I recently attended the annual Vice Chancellor’s debate at Monash University. This year, in what I believe was a cunning bid to ‘sex’ up the lecture, the debate topic was ‘should the West engage with Hamas?” On the affirmative side was former PM Malcolm Fraser, head of Australians for Palestine Michael Shaik and terrorism academic Debra Smith. On the negative side was head of the Australian Zionist council and local dentist Danny Lamm, some kid from the debating association wearing a suit and dashing former barrister cum Labour politician Mark Dreyfus.

As soon as I arrive to what I thought would be a bunch of ageing ideologues in an empty room, I find a who’s who of the Zionist/Palestinian lobby groups and some scruffy looking university students holding a sign. (Why is it that the fact that the anarchists may actually have fleas makes them that more attractive…or is that just me?)

sign making is an integral part of any arts degree

sign making is an integral part of any arts degree

The lecture hall is swelling with people and we all awkwardly squish to sit in the fire escape route. Foe next to Foe. People are gunning for a fight and the tension is palpable. One Jewish guy yells across to his friend ‘can you believe it.. one guy here I just spoke to didn’t know what a Qassam (rocket) was.. he thought it was a firecracker!” There is so much smugness in the air that it’s almost hard to breathe. Everyone seems to think they have the monopoly on truth and righteousness, and those not in agreement are just morally deficient troublemakers. At one point in the debate a woman hisses at one of the speakers and instantly gets silenced by the audience. We are all trying to prove that we are not savages, that we can sit and have a civilized discussion on this topic. But I can almost see everyone’s hearts thrusting against their chests when a side they disagree with puts its case forward. At least everyone is on the same page in that we all feel misrepresented and misunderstood.

 When the lecture finishes, once again no on seems to have won which is no surprise seeing as no one was really here to be persuaded of anything. I guess holding on to our own belief systems, be they based on the church of god or reason, is comforting. I, however, just feel nauseous from the whole thing. I exit to see an older Jewish woman pointing her finger angrily at a scruffy university student, yelling:  ‘You’re a Trotskyite aren’t you!’

Where can we go from here?

Imap – ‘Our city, our stories’

As part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival ‘Melbourne Futures’, a group of artists dedicated to bringing narrative and space together, have launched ‘imap”. The idea behind the ‘Imap’ project was to hang a giant map of Melbourne in the City library and invite the public to stick personal notes on the places which hold a special meaning or story. The map will be at the City Library, 253 Flinders Lane, for the month of October (free!) so go check it out. It’s amazing what people will write when given a canvas and a measure of anonymity.  Here are some of my favourites..
My classmate is a stripper but she doesn't know that I know

My classmate is a stripper but she doesn't know that I know

Me and my best friend who doesn't talk to me anymore, climbed the fire escape and screamed all our frustration & hurt into the air miles above the city on the rooftop. And then we saw her ex-girlfriend walking below.

Me and my best friend who doesn't talk to me anymore, climbed the fire escape and screamed all our frustration & hurt into the air miles above the city on the rooftop. And then we saw her ex-girlfriend walking below.

 

Oh how my heart raced the 1st time i rode down Swanston St! Stuck between a horse and a tram - I felt I finally really lived in Melbourne!

Oh how my heart raced the 1st time i rode down Swanston St! Stuck between a horse and a tram - I felt I finally really lived in Melbourne!

I came here in a cop car with my friend who had been missing for days in her apartment. This is the scene of my complete exhaustion & overwhelmed-ness I couldn't help anymore!!!

I came here in a cop car with my friend who had been missing for days in her apartment. This is the scene of my complete exhaustion & overwhelmed-ness I couldn't help anymore!!!

Got married here    Big mistake.

Got married here Big mistake.

I love the lade who plays the piano here sometimes...

I love the lady who plays the piano here sometimes...

Had first kiss here. Interrupted by possumes. But am glad it was you.

Had first kiss here. Interrupted by possums. But am glad it was you.

I am a Eurasian Melbournite. When my father comes to visit, papa stays here. Oh the mind numbing boring walks in the park...

I am a Eurasian Melbournite. When my father comes to visit, papa stays here. Oh the mind numbing boring walks in the park...

I got bashed here :(

I got bashed here 😦

Where I lost my virginity, her name was candy.

Where I lost my virginity, her name was candy.

 

The first time...he said he loved me

The first time...he said he loved me

 

Imap launch, courtesy of Melbourne Futures

Imap launch, courtesy of Melbourne Futures

Melbourne Stereotypes Part One: the ABC employee

A few years ago I used to work in a café near ABC’s Elsternwick studio.  I was a shitty waitress and was eventually fired. (I blamed it on antisemitism, but it was probably just because I was a shitty waitress). One thing I became all too familiar with during my time there was the stereotype of Melbourne I actually adore the most, ABC types. They are a distinct creature and aren’t just limited to those that work at the ABC (academics, curators and government employess also fit into this broad category).

 ABC types exist on the periphery of the real world.  Casually sitting at cafe tables around Melbourne, they  discuss Catherine Deveny’s latest column in ‘The Age’ opinion section with the same glimmer that my former Chadstone colleagues used to talk about Chasers’s new club night. While not all of them were born and bred in the heart of the city, they have each adopted a distinct twang which sounds a little British, a little snobby but always Australian.  For some reason they always seem to be wearing red lipstick, big chunky necklaces and penchant for striped tops (glasses too for that bookish,’The Graduate’ style look).  My mum has often attempted to master this look and, god bless her, she DOES watch the ABC and read ‘The Age’, but with her lipstick all too often entering teeth territory and her necklaces being weird knockoffs from ‘Targey’ (an ABC type would also never call chain store Target ‘tarjey’) she just misses the mark. 

Members of this Melbourne stereotype think that John Howard’s immigration policy was  ‘bullshit, pardon my French’ and feel that their vote for the Greens in the senate excludes them from actually having to install a water tank.  Red Wine, The A2, breakfasts on Sundays,  Karen Martini recipes, uproarious laughter: these are all hallmarks of the ABC type. Keep your eye out for this distinctive creature in the cafes of Melbourne and if, like myself, you do happen to be serving them a latte one day, make sure you learn their name. They love being on a firstname basis with their barista (it makes them feel like they still have the common touch).

The Pursuit of Mediocrity

It’s the inevitable question which I have begun to dread. Having recently come back from a 7-month stint overseas (spent exploring myself and racking up a romantic debt) the polite chit chat invariably turns to:

‘so…what do you do with yourself?’

 ‘Well, nothing, really.”

 I always unconsciously give some weird lopsided half -smile as I respond. Inside, however, this question/answer dance somehow manages to make me shrink from 170cm tall to the metaphorical size of a hobbit. Because in a society where you are defined by what you do it follows that doing ‘nothing’ surely must make you…nothing. 

I am still haunted by one teacher of mine who told me in plain terms that I was ‘in the pursuit of mediocrity’ (what a fine educator). In her mind some were pursuing excellence and others were just happy to settle. to be average. to be mediocre. So just like those kids in that Robin Williams movie ‘Dead Poets Society’ who stand on the desks, I was inspired by my teacher’s prophecies. I put my faith in my arts degree and gave my own intellectual rude finger to societal pressure. ‘Job prospects? I LAUGH at the face of job prosects!” And by golly I attended those lectures. I sipped soy lattes in the Monash wholefoods collective. I used terms like ‘paradigm’ and ‘dichotomy’ even though I am still convinced that no-one actually knows what they mean. I wrote thousands upon thousands of words about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (I’ll save you from the reading…it doesn’t end well). I had an existential crisis every few weeks and actually KNEW what the term existential meant. It was all fun and games and even the mild paranoia I felt when people asked what I wanted to DO with my degree or my grandfather would enquire if I was still studying accounting (?) merely acted as an impetus to prove a fictionalised ‘them’ wrong, show ‘em all!

Well…that hasn’t quite worked (as of yet). 

Lately, I have heard the same joke from three separate people:

‘ What’s the difference between an Arts degree and a family sized pizza: ‘A family sized pizza can feed a family’ (drum roll).

The first time I heard it I chuckled, the second time I kind of grunted and the third time I think I had a mild anxiety attack. This coupled with recently being told b y an engineering student at a party that I was studying a ‘Bachelor of unemployment’ hasn’t done wonders for my fragile self-esteem (alcohol on the other hand has!). It’s gotten to the point where lately all of my friends keep offering to buy me things. ‘Let me get that coffee…your money’s no good here’ they exclaim. Until now, I never knew that being an arts graduate in limbo between degrees suddenly placed me under the social poverty line.

Sick of answering the same ‘what do you want to be when you grow older?’ question again and again, my 17-year old brother has begun to answer this question with: ‘a wizard’.

Running out of options, and with the increasing cost of soy milk these days, I actually think he may be on to something…