Note: This entry takes a departure from the norm. I wrote this while on my trip to Brisbane, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. Since it’s narrative nonfiction, it’s a bit longer than my usual posts. I hope you’ll still read it.
At 9:45, I finally shut my laptop and commit to actually acting like I’m under 30 and on a semi-vacation. I rise from the comfy couch, leaving the random cat that walked into the hostel and curled up next to me on it. Like many of the things walking around Byron, which to me is a cross between the Jersey Shore and the beat beach towns of southern California, this cat seemed like a vagrant, a bit worn down from life if it’s limp and swollen eye give any evidence. In the morning, it’s fine white hairs are scattered across both sides of the gray upholstery. Apparently, he took up my seat after I’d gone.
I go back to my room, which I am sharing with two other girls I have yet to meet and whose amount of luggage indicates they have been or plan to be travelling for a long time. I consider showering, but don’t, then considering changing, but don’t, until I realize that underneath my jeans and tank top, I still have on the bathing suit from my aborted kayaking trip. So I change out of it, spritz on some smells, retwist my hair into a bun and march out of my corridor, which is outdoors and lends the feeling of some hippie resort that’s in its off-season, and into the night.
It’s been raining in New South Wales for near a month, and tonight is no different. Up in Queensland, it was sunny and mild, but here it’s damp and chilly. The sky now is only spitting, but it’s assault earlier in the evening turned the dirt to mud and slicked the sidewalks in slippery grime. I pass the tall emerald lights of Woolworths and a video store that’s about to close. I glimpse packages of crisps through the window and consider buying some, then decide that walking into a bar while shoveling salty junk food into one’s mouth is no way to make an entrance.
I hear my destination, a bar called Cheeky Monkey’s recommended to me by someone I’d met up with in Brisbane, before I see it in the form of a gaggle of young European girls who have just spilled out of the bar while spilling out of their too-tight tops. Their eyes scan me as their lips purse around the cigarettes. They’re trying to be dainty, but they pull on the butts like hungry addicts.
The dark, mulleted bouncer asks for my ID, which I’ve already packed into my back pocket as I’ve been getting carded everywhere since I left on this trip. He lets me through, and I’m face-to-face with a brunette protected behind a counter. “Do I just go in?” I ask her, unsure of a cover charge. “Yup,” she drips in Aussie drawl. “And have fun,” she adds, like the after thought it surely is.
In the bar, a song I know, but that was never popular in the States, is playing, but it’s the bellowing and brass of the young patrons pushed into corner booths and perched above bar stools making the walls pulsate. I see sports on a TV somewhere, and upon walking toward it, I realize it’s a mirror reflecting the other side of the room. I walk past the bar and glance at the beer offerings–Touheys, the Aussie equivalent to American Miller Lite, is all that’s on tap. My tastebuds retreat.
I walk toward the TV area and scan that corner of the bar. A plump blonde who seems barely out of high school stares me down. I take this as a cue and pivot toward the exit. On the way out, I state to the brunette behind the counter, “I’m 10 years too late for this place.” She clucks and says, “Aww,” but I don’t care, because instead of feeling sad and old, I feel proud, because I own it.
I’m not ready to give up on the night, so I amble down Johnson searching for another place to go. Like much of Australia, this town closes up shop early and few lights remain on in the stores. I walk toward the bus depot and am drawn by music–not the candy pop kind the other bar was pumping, but real music, the soulful kind. A smell of wood smoke wafts toward me and I see the bar is an open air sort. There are people gathered talking and playing pool and drinking. There’s a stage with a bright mural painted behind it.
I walk to the back of the bar and order a local brew from a boy who looks no more than 16. Behind him hangs a row of crisps, and I finally order some, the salt and vinegar kind. A lady in red ordering bottles of wine next to me asks, “How’s your night going?” I respond, “It hasn’t really started yet,” which, while true, sounds stupid. Through a window in the wall, I spot a child dancing and I exclaim even more stupidly, “Hey there’s a kid in this bar!” The bartender brings me my beer and chips and I ask if a band’s on and he says, “It just finished up.”
I go find a wooden table that’s half inside, half outside the bar. I see the lady in red go to the stage and start packing up equipment and realize she probably was the band. I begin reading a newspaper from the community of Nimbin, where it’s rumoured drugs are legal. Red Hot Chili Peppers is playing and people behind me are talking and my beer is good and cold and my chips are salty sour. The wood-burning smell is still swimming in the air around me. My insides warm at it all, like the cat curled up contentedly on the couch at the hostel, like the lit ends of the cigarettes dangling from the girls’ mouths outside the other bar, like the fire roaring in the trash can outside this one.
After I fold up my Nimbin newspaper, now covered in my scrawl, and rise from my seat, a young bald man, pierced and clad in black, approaches me.
“Sorry,” he says, “but I was watching you. Were you drawing?”
“No,” I say, a bit hesitant to answer. “I was writing a story.”
“Oh wow. I just saw you and I…I like creative people. What’s your name?”
I tell him, and he asks, “Really?” He rolls up the sweatshirt sleeve of his left arm and shows me a tattoo with my name in black letters, block-form, but with curved accents. “Wife?” I venture. He shakes his head. “My first born.”
I don’t know why I think of it, but I ask, “What’s her middle name?”
I tap his arm lightly. “No kidding. That’s my mother’s name.”
“She’s named after her grandmother.”
“And my middle name, Grace, is after mine.”
We each start to turn, knowing the night is over for both of us.
“Well, if you ever see me around, come say ‘hi,’” the man says.
“OK,” I say, even though I’m leaving Byron the next afternoon. And then I realize what I‘ve forgotten to ask.
“Hey. What’s your name?”
“David,” he replies. I smile. It’s the name of one of my best friends back in the States. “Take care,” I call as I begin the walk home.