Alone in the Land Down Under

Today I was out and about and noticed lots of cop cars and an ambulance outside a house near the park. I’m not an accident perve. I didn’t whip my binoculars out for a look and so I remained clueless for most of the day. As it turns out, Greg Ham had died in his house, alone and been found by friends this morning. He was the guy responsible for the flute riff in “Land Down Under” by Men at Work.

I fucking love that song.

I can’t even tell you how many nights I would go out with my friends, packet of textas in my bag so that we could draw dodgy imitation 18+ stamps on the backs of our hands and gain under age entry to seedy jizz fest clubs in the Canberra bus interchange. Those were the days. The air inside thick with sweat and sweet with the smell of Midori cocktails. Sixteen years of baby faced age and dancing on podiums to songs like “Land Down Under”. And Bon Jovi. Always with the Bon Jovi.

I was skyping my sister just before and I told her about it, we did some googling while we talking and I read an article about his death. One of his neighbours had had no trouble spilling her guts to the press about how he “looked like he’d done it hard”, “had obvious health issues” and “was a good guy who used to walk the streets and look a bit daggy”.

A lightbulb went off in my head when I read this as I realised that Chockie and I had walked past him in the street on Good Friday. I remember it because I live in a quiet, half wealth-half hipster, inner suburbs area and I’d never seen a guy like that before. He looked like a total hobo, long stringy hair, and his neighbour was right, he did look hard done by but he had a gentle presence. I smiled and said ‘hello’ to him and when he looked up, I was stunned by the bright, bright blue of his eyes. He looked at me, as though he thought I was looking at him, and thinking what a bum he was. It struck me as sad for someone to walk around like that constantly thinking that people are judging them. Although, I guess I have my nights like that at work.

This whole Greg Ham thing has made me think about Frank.

I’ve not seen Frank for over four years. He was a big, fat, old man who would come into the bar fortnightly and spend a couple hundred dollars of his pension early on in the night. He had a few girls he would see, and often if I got there on time, I’d swoop him up. I think the first time I met him I gave him a lap dance for about 3 minutes and then just sat talking to him. From that day on, we just chatted. It was easy.

Frank was super fat. He was so fat and unhealthy that he got diabetes. He had to have a ventalin every now and again for his asthma but I could hear him wheezing with each intake of breath. His breath. Holy shit. It actually really did smell like shit. Like he’d stuffed his face with a turd for dinner and forgotten to brush his teeth before he came in. I would sit next to him, and hold my breath while he was speaking, and then when it got to much, I’d rest my head on his chest to avoid copping air shitticles in my face. He was comfy to cuddle. And I knew that he really appreciated the human contact. It was kind of like cuddling up next to my grandpa. I’d sit there like that and he’d stroke my hair out of my face and tell me stories.

He was a lovely man. I learnt a lot about him. He didn’t have any friends, or any family that he got on with. He lived alone and didn’t even go to his sister’s for Christmas because they always ended up fighting. She bossed him around and he didn’t like that. He described his mum as a mean old bitch, but out of fear of living his own life, or out of obligation to her, he’d taken care of her til her dying day.

I felt bad taking his money. But I also knew that a couple of the girls he saw weren’t very nice and I justified that if he were paying for company, he may as well pay for someone who actually really liked him, despite his stench. I asked one of the girls if she would sign a card and put in some money for a present for him for Christmas. She looked at me with suspicion. As though I were laying a trap. I let her make me feel like an idiot, I worried it might be too intimate to give him a gift that was only from me. So I didn’t end up getting him anything. Just giving him a big hug and saying “Merry Christmas Frank. See you next year”.

I never saw him again. He didn’t come back. I have a feeling he died unnoticed. Alone in the land down under. A fat, hopeless heap on the floor. He is one person who I wished I’d let into my life, just so that he didn’t have to be alone. Given him my number, or my email or something. And then maybe when he died someone could have contacted me, and I could’ve gone to his funeral and shown his family that he did have someone else who cared about him. That he had a whole other life that they didn’t know about. At the very least I should have ignored that skinny mole and written him a Christmas card telling him how sweet I thought he was and how I really liked him and his stories.

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