Wearing Pop’s Clothes
After my Pop passed away last year, I found myself wearing his clothes. This was nothing new. Back in 1998 when I first discovered op-shopping, I realised I had an exclusive treasure trove right under my nose. During a regular weekend jaunt to Nan & Pop’s I asked politely if I could inspect their wardrobe, and with the excitement of one passing through the ‘Staff Only’ door at Salvos, initiated a gangly, late-teens version of dress ups.
Whenever a fellow secondhand droog complimented me on my retro jacket, it was with great pride that I said it was my Pop’s. Adorned in a full set of his clothes, I strolled through Melbourne one brisk winter morning like a soldier of nostalgia trying to blend in with the past. Top: safari jacket, dark green, pure wool from New Zealand. Bottom: dark green, flared suit trousers. Shirt: pale lime green Pelaco brand. Singlet: Bonds, athletic. Socks: knee-length bus driver style. Underpants: yes, underpants. They were a pair of cheap generic boxers that Nan had bought but he’d never worn. The clothes made me feel safe, purposeful, loved. He was a quiet man who never said “I love you.” But what an impoverished upbringing and the Second World War had economised in his language, he made up for with a generous smile and patient ear.
There are days when the loneliness really hits me and find myself scuttling through the sand layers of my mind to find my fondest memories of him. I’m six, it’s a breezy, summer’s day and we’re walking along the beach. This was our walk. These were our times. We’d do it regularly. Pop would plod along at a steady pace, watching me sprint ahead and poke around in the sand. I’d run back and find his large, warm hand. The beach was an endless runway of delight where my adventures could take off. The clear salt waves nipped at my senses, while the vibrations of his voice ran through me as I rode high on his shoulders. Constant shiftwork had not allowed him to have this kind of time with his own children. It must have been such a joy.
Today I wear his clothes like a hug. When I first got them they still smelt like the cool linen stillness of his cupboard. It’s a scent I wanted to bury my face into; to curl up like a cat and fall asleep in. I was transported to a time before custom and expectation, when a simple woolen jumper held me safe. Now they’ve been through the wash a few times, but the cloth still connects with my blood. I am reminded of the love for my family, and this man who would be a father figure to me. Wearing his clothes makes me feel strangely complete. Like a traveller returning to the place they were born.
The truth is I’ve been wearing the clothes of the deceased for years. Not everyone is comfortable with this. There are those who scoff and hang cruelly on the edge of secondhand shops, dabbling their toe in the dust-ridden air, daring each other to go in. What twisted expression could I evoke with tales of my grandfather’s undergarments keeping me snug at night? I wouldn’t want them to understand.
My friend in Hobart said his father had just passed away and he too had taken to wearing his underwear and socks. He didn’t offer an explanation. He didn’t need to. In this global shop-front/techno-paddock world, sometimes we need to walk like kingdoms and wear our memories like flags.
Frankie Anthology 2016
I was at a friends Jewish wedding recently. During the reception the menfolk gathered for some traditional dancing. They linked themselves, arm over shoulder and began to skip in a circle. Faces flush, they gathered momentum as the congregation urged them along. I hung by the nibblies and watched the disc of men. The usual manly stiffness and concern had vanished, replaced with a disarming grace and lightness. It was so passionate and unselfconscious, suggesting an emotional generosity and clarity of spirit. For a secular Tasmanian from a single mother family, this fanfare of tradition and male expression could not have been more exotic.
The last time I stood arm in arm with a group of men was playing football for South Burnie reserves. Before the game we would frown and spit and stamp our boots like bulls as the world weary coach ran through earnest clichés. Locked in the pack, whacked on the back, my neighbours armpit presenting itself, I’d get a buzz. Here I was, ‘of men’ – belonging – all muscles and swearing and deep-heat. Suburban warriors bellowing empty threats. Sure, we’d get annihilated, but it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the ego’s suppressed longing for male affection.
I get jealous of girls sometimes. They have such an easy intimacy with each other. I dub it the ‘girly pal thing,’ they can hug and sit close and share clothes and secrets. There’s an openness which a knowledge of ones own emotions brings. Men have the wall. A big ol’ blokey man-wall that they carry around like cladding. Even arty guys have it, no doubt left over from their fathers. A certain stand-offishness, a tight lipped reserve, a skeletal tension from years of crushing feelings like cars. With girls I can dive headfirst into a spirited conversation about psychological malarkey, with boys there’s at least five stages of red tape as we eye each other off and play ‘can I eat you, can you eat me’ status tennis, leftover from primitive ‘provider’ hardwiring.
Most men would agree they gravitate to women for their affection needs. Growing up, I would hug my Pop like a woollen tree, but it’d be Nan who would squeeze me till I’d fart. When I was eighteen I became involved in ‘Youth Insearch’ an organisation holding camps to help teenagers deal with issues in their lives. They’d dedicate a whole session to learning to hug properly, reminding us that some kids may not have received that kind of love. On paper it looked disastrous, but by nights end you’d see tough detention centre boys gently wrapping their arms around each other, hiding beneath caps, pretending not to like it.
‘I might look gay.’ Gloriously lousy homophobia is the main reason lads keep their distance. This isn’t helped by sporting rituals being referred to as ‘homo-erotic,’ a form of sexism perpetuating the myth that any male bonding must be sexual. I’ve tried to counteract this by being the hug starter. Even if the dude is holding out his hand for a shake, I just go on in there like a bear. A couple of years ago my friend Tom started greeting me with a kiss on the cheek. At first I found it confronting. I’d kissed my pop on the cheek once and that was a whiskery mystery. As Tom and I grew close and riffed on ladies and penmanship, his intimate greeting began to feel right. Maybe this was our ‘blokey pal thing.’ Tom had displayed the brute strength to cast off society’s shackles.
With each generation we phase out some of the bad habits from the ones before. I’m hoping this whole Aussie men don’t cry bullshit is among them. We may not have the tradition of the Jews, but we should have the same regard for ourselves and each other. Handshakes are for salesman. Next time you’re going brotown, rock the hug.
THE WAY TO A MAN’S HEART IS THROUGH HIS STOMACH
This saying was first coined by the United States Chief Medical Surgeon Ernie Monbulk in Connecticut in 1943. At the time he was giving a lecture to a group of medical interns, in a stifling lecture theatre during an intense heat wave. What he actually meant to say was ‘the way to a man’s heart is through the pulmonic valve,’ however, it was such a hot day! His mind got to drifting, and, as documented in his 1963 memoir ‘The forty year old surgeon,’ at the time of his infamous blunder he was actually thinking about the mermaid cake his dear mother made him for his eleventh birthday. Except, in his adult memory, he couldn’t help but focus on the well endowed chest his mother had sculpted. Oh how hungry he was! What he would have now given to nibble at that pale pink frosting. A powerful man was overcome that day by the curvy mistress of cake.
As we all know, men are wispy, flakey sea captains, destined to be ruled by the tides of their metabolism on the good ship SS blood-sugar. Ahar, after a solid meal there’s wind in the sails and a clear sky ahead – anything’s possible – the stomach juices rise and fall with wistful abandon, a man stands tall – proud – he is a man of activity! Of fair spirit! Of salty confidence. However, on the horizon lurks the pirates of hunger, smudging up the sun and leading his manships astray to shallow, barren shores. Once emptied of his lunchy riches, the revered boy admiral is driven to madness, ordering his most cherished crew to walk the plank, before flailing about in a vacuous rage of astronomical self-pity.
Now, is to say that men fall apart when they haven’t eaten fair, or is it more accurate to suggest that ‘everyone’ falls apart? Asking around, I note that it is generally regarded as a man thing to get clinically cranky when famished. Perhaps this has less to do with genetics and reflects more on sir’s general inability to deftly process untoward emotions. Perhaps the action of a man saying: ‘I really need to eat now or I’m going to lose my freaking melon,’ is his way of saying: ‘I am vulnerable, uncomfortable and I need to remind you at this time that I require care, despite my rugged exterior and appreciation of Transformers.’
In one of my recent groundbreaking studies, I took all the Justin Heazlewood’s in Melbourne and conducted a simple experiment. I sent them on two dates, one, with a gorgeous record store girl with a great sense of humour who’s signature dish was ‘savlova’ (a meat based dessert). The other was with a plain, real estate secretary who served up a casual menu of pumpkin soup, roast lamb with all the trimmings, followed by apple crumble and ice cream.
I found the results startling. The subject, while clearly having a better time with the indie girl, called the date short, and left soon after dinner. And while conversation was stagnant with the secretary, Justin stayed the night! Sure, the secretary was his flat mate and the indie girl asked him to leave after a lewd incident, but I think the results are obvious.
To suggest that menfolk, as complex and sensitive as we are, can be wooed by pie is utterly offensive and possibly true. We are driven by earthy passion and daring intellect, and the way to our hearts is through love, understanding, and a special kind of food you can’t buy at the supermarket. As Ernie Monbulk said, ‘the way to a man’s brain is through his innuendo.’
CONFESSIONS OF AN INDIE SLEAZE
Regardless of your geographic tendency or sociological demographic, by the time you hit early adulthood, you will have had the misfortune of spending a Friday night at ‘The Cliché.’ The Cliché is a chain of nightclubs around Australia that use the same dingy decor and audio aftershave from DJ Lobotomy to attract a specific clientele. A Starbucks for sleazes.
Breath on nose. Hands through hair. Eyes on boobs. Foot in mouth. For honest, underground kids, the reality of the pub sleaze is a distant memory that no indie safehouse could ever rekindle. Or could it? Perhaps there’s a force at play more brazen and corrupt than any Dazza in a singlet, and who could inflict more emotional damage than Spiro the legal exec ever could. Let me introduce the concept of the Indie sleaze. A story that no Frankie reader should miss.
A few years ago, I happily did my head in about the paradox of approaching girls in bars. I felt like some social Archimedes sitting in the bath of my own self-loathing. If I start talking to a girl, won’t it be bleedingly obvious that I’m attracted to her and she’ll think I’m cracking onto her and hate me? You reeker! I exclaimed. Thus I did nothing but carefully implode on myself and grew so confident about the severity of my neuroses that I deemed them entertaining enough to express on stage. My mumbling, bumbling, fumbling stage act grew vaguely popular, to the point where I found myself in a verifiable position to speak to ladyfolk. To be honest, after a few years of hit and miss gigs and doing some serious ‘work’ on myself, I’d grown to be, oh and it pains me to say this, kind of confident. This did not fit in with my high school idea of myself or my stage persona at all. Frankly, it was becoming a real downer.
After speaking to these arty, bohemian girls, wrapped in grandmother’s wallpaper, eyes like manga moons through Venetian fringe, I detected a fragility that would be alienated by any bravado or showmanship. Despite the emotional rush of the after show, I had to ensure that I was no Pepe Le Pew to their…ah…the cat…that Pepe Le Pew chases around. So, drawing inspiration from another cartoon character, I modelled myself on Eeyore. With eyes and voice lowered, I found it wasn’t hard to draw from the well of low self-esteem that was constantly bubbling beneath me like the rivers of slime in Ghostbusters Two. I didn’t feel manipulative at all, if anything, I was being acutely honest, and taking an opportunity to offload my past tales of loneliness and frustration to someone pretty who seemed interested. Rather than pour on the charm and one liners, I’d pour on the insecurities and monologues. And with pink ribbon tied to my listless donkey tail, I was dubbed ‘the indie sleaze.’ A softie with a hard on. Where was the sex in the city episode about this?
The title was given to me by a girl who I met for debrief drinks a few months after a one night stand. Her complaint was that I’d been far too nice and sensitive and expressive and emotional for a fling, and that she’d assumed from my behaviour that it meant something more. “You’re the worst kind of sleaze,” she’d said. “At least with dodgy guys you know it’s just about sex.” By removing myself from the disaster men of ‘The Cliché’ I had managed to create a mutant hybrid of their behaviour which hurt girls even more. Whereas they’d be trying to feel her breasts, I’d be trying to feel her childhood. When they’d been breaking out of the house, I’d been breaking eggs for breakfast.
Thus, I became so paranoid at being known as a sleaze that I lost all my confidence, and went back to good old fashioned sitting in the corner at 2am staring at girls out the sides of my glasses. I was miserable, and genuinely felt like I needed saving. Now, that’s when the offers really flooded in.
THE MOMENT I FIRST REALISED I WAS AN ADULT
I first became aware I was an adult at age twelve, and then again at twenty seven.
The first moment was on a grey Sunday at Nan and Pop’s place holding Mum’s arms back to stop her from attacking Nan. She had reached the tip of the iceberg of her mental illness, and it was this moment that I was able to put a childhood’s worth of hyper awareness to use and intercept her anger. I was extremely adept at reading my Mother’s behaviour, and would know within heartbeats when she was becoming ill. Only now was I receiving a crash course in the true depth of implications.
I had been playing basketball in the driveway by myself, keeping my ears open between bounces for signs of trouble. Mum was particularly bad today, and reactions to Nan’s attempts to get her out of bed were becoming more and more volatile. Raised voices worried me. Long silences worried me. I was an audio lighthouse, and scanning the airwaves was making me dizzy. Sure enough, an argument emanated from the windows, led by Mum’s skewed snarls. I let my ball roll into a rose bush and sprinted inside, ripping the sliding door open like a toy.
Looking back, I’m sure my Mum would never have followed through, but at that moment she was standing in the kitchen with her back to me – arms poised, with Nan holding ground in front of her. It’s quite rare to act on pure impulse, but that’s what I did. I grabbed her shoulders, (with more force than intended,) and shouted at her to stop, (with more volume than intended.) I cut her off mid curse and knew that she was surprised. (This gave me a strange sense of pride – I wanted her to take notice of me. I was sick of her telling me she was fine and that I shouldn’t worry.) Her shoulders trembled as she lost her balance a little. The muscles of her arms were tense and straining against me, so I increased my grip. I would not let her go, and she knew it.
Nan later said she had seen a change in my Mum’s eyes when I’d grabbed her.
‘She wasn’t expecting you to be stronger than her. You weren’t just her boy, but a man.’
It might not seem like much, but yesterday I said the exact sentence:
‘I think I’ve overdone winter vegetable, perhaps I should go back to Moroccan.’ What was I talking about? Velish brand instant soups. Why? I’ve gotten to the age where I’m passionate about soup. Lately I’ve been an advocate for Velish. As a nervy, working from home type, I’m constantly on the lookout for effortless yet healthy lunch options. Honestly, some days, if I could just take a tablet, I would. Velish soups don’t have any rubbish in them and they heat up in about a minute.
There was something about the comfort with which I spoke about the soup, in combination with the playful mocking from the wonderful company I was in, sipping a G & T in the afternoon Melbourne sun, that made it all seem so grown up. This, in the same year where my happiest purchase so far has been a font.
After an emotionally rough adolescence, and the artistic slog of my early twenties – talking confidently about soup preferences and buying typefaces somehow feel like defining moments – little victories.
It’s been a long round trip, but I think I’ve grown into the person I always was.
DOIN’ THE DUDE
They say dance is the hidden language of the soul – if this is the case then Friday nights are all about learning to say rude words. Is there no greater relief from the cerebral shackles of modern life than cutting some serious lunch on the floor? While girls are so rhythmically infused they could dance to their own heartbeat, for men, like most things, it’s tricky. Strangled by their Straighty 180 collars and Blend It Like Beckham jeans, men love nothing more than to hover on the sides like out of work bodyguards, tapping along sheepishly, demonstrating that a fear of commitment isn’t limited to relationships. It wouldn’t hurt anyone to take dancing more seriously. Menfolk, listen up, put down the work boots and pick up the dancing shoes, the time for action is now – there’s murder on the dance floor and its women kicking our arses. I realise this is part of the problem – we don’t have arses! The song says shake your money maker, not sit on your bad assets.
For most guys, dance isn’t their first language. Leave them standing long enough in a nightclub and eventually their screen saver will activate. This is called the Terry Two Step. First shuffle left / then shuffle right / your arms shouldn’t leave your sides all night. Repeat until magically laid. What happened to all the ones we learnt in high school? The heel/toe polka, the pride of erin, the Mexican hat dance? It’s devolved into the Australian jacket dance, where blokes try and lure women by shifting around a stack of wallets. Break dancing will consist of tripping over as they walk to the bar while a frenzied pat down to find keys will be offered up as the macarena. The song says shake it like a polaroid picture, not fiddle with it like a digital camera! If the dance floor is musical speed dating then you’ve got to put your best club foot forward.
Shimmying is all smoke and mirror balls. Like most things in life, when in doubt, just act like you know what you’re doing. On the dance floor I become Captain Busy, throwing shapes and jamming genres together like Crunkenstein, the line between irony and earnestness up and down like a stereo equalizer. Spinning and kicking, sliding and dipping – i’m a mime routine of a horny octopus making soup on a bouncy castle. I enjoy the thrill of not really knowing what I’m doing, but thinking that I may appear like I do; the cosmic sex bluff of throwing some Napolean Dynamite VS Spike Jonze in the Praise You film clip spaz shapes with such rigour that they could be taken seriously, or better yet, sexily. Usually, this isn’t the case. I’ve been told that I make people around me dance out of time, like a rhythmic black hole. One girl said dancing with me was like being double bounced on a trampoline.
The urban discotheque can be intimidating. From the religious zest of the Nutbush to pro-am rockabilly swingers and Kate Bush interpretive rock eisteddfods, men can be forgiven for feeling trapped inside a show where they’ve missed all the rehearsals. What’s that saying? Every Good Boy Deserves Funk. Whatever your demographic I believe the mojo is within you, and there’s only one way to get it working again. Fellas, here’s a quick dance lesson from me: Move. Your. Fucking. Hips. Men have been blissfully unaware of their hips for centuries, yet wonder why they continue to groove like a depressed robot. The hip bone’s connected to the soul power. Once you’ve got your hips working then your legs will follow, and everything will gel. If dance is the language of the soul, then it’s worth seeing what your soul has to say. Sure, it might just be ‘shit…shit…shit’ but anything’s better than silence.