Reverend Horton Heat and…

Sheltering from the rain where the tram meets the train it occurs to me I’m at a hub, the locus of the hurrying many. A good spot to promote your goods or your services or your gig. At my feet, on a patch of dry asphalt, a sort of yellow mound takes my eye. The mound turns out to be a pile of magazines, the strong yellow blazoned with bold script in magenta. It’s intended to catch the commuter’s eye.
 

When it comes to reading material I am my mother’s son. The printed word always lured Mum from the world of people and food and things: if it was legible Mum would leg it.

Me too. This was readable material so I read. I read CHOPPED. None the wiser I peered at the words in a smaller font. These are the words I read:

 

REVEREND HORTON HEAT

 

THE MEANIES

 

Hmmm. I guessed these were musical groups, bands, we used to call them. There was more:

 

Guantanamo Baywatch. Clever. I liked it.

 

Puta Madre Bros. Rude, naughty. I liked it.

 

Drunk Mums. Why not? 

 

The Cherry Dolls. Chris Russell’s chicken Walk. Ho hum.

 

The Pinheads. If you have that originality you aren’t one.

 

West Thebarton Brothel Party. I recalled the two occasions I went window shopping in a brothel. That was Hong Kong, not Thebarton West.

 

The Shabbab. Shepparton Airplane. There’s a ring to these.

 

La Mancha Negra. What can that mean? Probably nothing. Word stuck, word-drunk, I always want to decode the metaphor. A mistake: listen to the music.

 

The Reprobettes. Pretty literate. A snob, I am mildly surprised.

 

Flour. Hmmm.

 

Amyl and the Sniffers. Naughty again, very naughty. I am enjoying my morning’s reading. 

 

Racing on (I hear my tram approaching) – Slim Customers. King Puppy & the Carnivore. Thee Cha Chas. Was that three or thee? The eye wants to see what it wants.

 

Tape Wolves. Red Brigade. Do the members of this group know much about the Red Brigades?

 

Itchy Scabs. I love it.

 

The team pulls up as I read: Double Yad. Golly. I feel no doubt at all the namegiver intends this name. Understands the acronymic coupling of the Hebrew letter yad. Knows it to be the abbreviated form of the Ineffable Name.

 

My God!

 

 

The Princeling and the Premier

Mum has a brand new car. It’s not the Rover of Leeton days, it’s a Holden Premier. But it’s pretty fancy for a Holden – green duco with a metallic sparkle, luxurious bucket seats in rich tan leather.

Dennis’s close friend at Swinburne is Aly Ong, direct descendant of a line of Malay princes. One day Aly tells Dennis he has a date. Instantly Dennis offers Mum’s new car to Ali. Aly is amazed: ‘I can’t take your mother’s car!’
‘Yes you can.’
‘No I can’t. It’s brand new.’
Uncharacteristically, Dennis asks Mum’s permission.
‘Of course, Darling. With pleasure. Tell Aly to have a lovely evening.’

Is Aly a cautious driver? Has he a license to drive? Mum doesn’t think to ask.

At midnight Aly returns, knocks on our door looking desolated. ‘I need to speak to your mother. It’s terribly late, I hate to disturb her, but something terrible has happened.’
Night and day are one to Mum. She comes down the stairs, delighted to see Dennis’ friend: ‘Hello Aly. Did you have a nice time?’
‘No, Mrs Goldenberg… I ,mean yes. But something terrible has happened…’
Mum, concerned, her face softer than ever: ‘What, Aly? Are you alright?’
‘Yes, Mrs Goldenberg, I’m quite alright. But your car is not. I crashed your car!’
‘But you’re not hurt, Aly?’
‘No, not at all, but I’ve spoiled your lovely car.’
‘Thank goodness you’re not hurt, Aly. Come and sit down and I’ll make you some supper.’

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In the Poo and Out of it

Dennis and I are playing in the park in Wade Avenue. The trees are
bare and the air is cold. Mum has dressed me in a pair of overalls in
a heavy woollen fabric to keep me warm. The pants chafe my legs
pleasantly. The overalls have a chequered pattern in reds and greens.
We run across the park to its middle where the playground equipment
awaits. Our breath comes out in clouds.
We run to the see-saw, play for a while, then to the swings, then to
the roundabout. This is a heavy timber affair, a circular platform set
on some invisible centre so as to rotate with children aboard. There
are metal handrails that you hold on to while the roundabout goes in
circles that never end, so long as someone is pushing. When Dad pushes
you spin very fast and you need to hold the rail or you’ll fall off
onto the sand.
Today Dennis and I and Christopher Payne and his older sister are
riding the roundabout. There are no grownups so we have to push as we
ride. You hold the rail with both hands and you run in circles in the
deepening groove dug by pushers’ feet. My hot breath clouds are coming
faster, the roundabout is whirling, my head is spinning, the big kids
are too fast, the rail is almost yanking me off my feet as I leap
aboard at the last minute and taste the dizzy drug of motion.
Then, as we slow, it is off again and push, run and push, my breathing
a hard burning in my chest, racing, keeping up with the big ones, then
once aboard again, giddy, floating, trees and faces and shapes
blurring as they whiz around me.
The afternoon is darkening. Hot and happy to be accepted by the big
ones, I pay no mind.
Something is hot inside my overalls. Something is different: I can’t
feel the chafing. Instead there is a sensation that I half remember. I
understand what has happened but I don’t want to know it. I wait a
wordless moment, then get off and walk carefully away in the direction
of our home in Wade Avenue.
My walking is slow. Although I want to be away from here, away from
the other children, away from everyone, I do not hurry because I
cannot. I have to walk that slow, peculiar, wide-legged walk as my hot
legs send their messages of disgrace to my amazed mind.
The big children are calling out, calling my name, but I don’t turn
around. I hear Christopher’s voice and his sister’s. Loud questions.
Dennis says something in reply. Their voices say things that I cannot
make out as I keep walking. I hope, helplessly, that no-one follows. I
won’t be able to run away from them.
Here is Wade Avenue. The street lamps come on but they do not yet
penetrate the darkening. I am glad of the dark.

Mum comes to the door, the house bright behind her. I don’t know what
to do. I know what to say but I don’t want Mum or me or anyone to hear
the words. I stand and Mum is cuddling me gladly, now cuddling me
differently as she realizes, now helping me to the bathroom. Only when
we are inside that small room and the door is closed does she remove
her enveloping arms as she turns and runs a bath.

Somehow Mum has got me out of those loathsome overalls. They lie on
the floor, red and green and unbearable. After today I will never see
them again.
Mum lifts me into the bath, stands me with my back towards the tap as
she paddles warm water against my skin. Her hands are firm as she
applies soap and warm water to my bottom and my thighs. The hands go
everywhere they need to and I look out and not down. I look out,
across the narrow room, away from the overalls and succeed in seeing
nothing.
Now Mum is sitting me down in the bath and I allow myself to see. The
bathwater is clean, I am clean, the soap smells nice, Mum’s hands are
on me, soft and present.

Has Mum spoken? Nothing has been said about my disgrace, nothing about
the check pants. Nothing spoken, all is known and understood. I am in
clean pyjamas, redeemed.

***

Do my hands remember? Does my skin recall the touch, the knowing care,
the rescue?

***

Forty years later, following stroke after stroke of havoc inside the
vessels of Mum’s brain, she and I are once again in the bathroom.
Stronger hands help to lower and to raise a weaker body. Skin to skin,
they clean here, dry there, restore Mum to order and presentability.
From time to time over seventeen years this joy comes my way. It is a
job that calls for concentration but I never have to worry about
dignity. Mum has her dignity. It is inseparable from her.

Copyright howard goldenberg, 24 june 2009.