Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lives of Others

I work in Parramatta,Sydney's second city. A river runs through it and my building is in the restaurant district among Pizzerias and poshness yet the streets are full of hopeless people, office types, tourists and an a plethora of races from Arabs and Indians to Chinese and Koreans. The high density living is attractive to the lower income brackets I suppose. It's a strange place with three or four international hotels, flats and luxury apartments. Homeless and drunks, racial mixes and bustle. Yet the city has a 'dead' feel about it despite the best efforts of Parramatta Council to keep the streets clean and the gardens maintained.

It's my habit to go down to the well-manicured riverside once a day to have what I laughingly call a lunch break, and a dose of sunshine beside the rather muddy and carp-filled
Parramatta river. Today hundreds of Corellas were high in the trees making their lovey dovey squawks, tiny swallows were dipping along the river in what looked like dog-fighting fun which I'm sure was motivated by hunger as they seemed to snap up invisible delights. Seagulls nestled on the newly mown grass along the river bank. Pigeons cooed and strutted their stuff as pigeons do. Joggers and lunchtime office types jogged along the riverside pathway, tourists looked obvious in their sandals and socks and oversized camera paraphenalia.

Then reverberating rather menacingly from the public picnic table behind me was a strident, deep-voiced woman having what can only be described as a guttural and profane rant at her equally sauced cohort. Unashamed of her loud and base vernacular, every word bounced across the river onto the skyscraper opposite and reverberated back in ever increasing decibels. Her hurls of abuse enough to make a sailor blush!

There's a picnic table with a bench on each side, near where I sit. It's frequented by regular drunks. They're not homeless as far as I can tell, no trolleys full of bags, no swag and frankly not particularly scruffy but they congregate there for hours. They're often well into it when I arrive at work at 7:30am and always there when I take a short break anywhere between midday and 3pm. Downing their
oversized bottles of beer and canned spirits and fizz and by 2pm have completely lost the plot. They're staggeringly abusive towards each other. This band of brothers pissed as newts and raving wildly at each other. They're shouting in the most profane way, they threaten each other (never a passer by), they have faux fights and run after each other, then settle again as if emulating the seagulls that rise and fall with equal fervour on the other side of the bank every time a crumb is dropped or one's sovereignty threatened.

The woman today pulled a small pocket knife on her
compadre and I was about to get up and sound the alarm when the incident was self-diffused and she was content to slap the hard wooden bench so hard that it must have bruised her flattened hand. Just as well because she couldn't have knocked the skin of a rice pudding in her state!

I'm dying to ask them why? Why are they there? Why are they alcoholic? Why do they argue? Why do they drink themselves into oblivion and smoke like chimneys? How do they afford it? Where is our fantastic social security system? Why do they go over the same rants? The same issues? Hang with the same people? Nothing is ever resolved by them.
The woman with the gravel voice has a partner in gaol, her children have gone . .she will sleep with whoever fancies her at any given time. . I know this because I've overheard her conversations. I can only assume her kids were confiscated by community services because apparently it's one of her drinking pal's fault that her partner is in jail and her children with someone else yet they keep company, every day. They argue, every day.

A large aboriginal man, clearly not starving or in need of a feed is so comatose that he falls off the bench with regularity and needs two more women to right him until he takes the last slide off the bench and decides to just stay put on the concrete path. It would be funny to watch if it wasn't such a frequent event. He feels no pain at this point so sympathy is wasted. Joggers jog round him, tourists pick up pace, grandparents with small children avoid him and the locals just don't see him or don't care.

What a way to live!
It's the little moments each day like this that remind me no matter how introspective I become, no matter how disillusioned with my lot, my bank balance, my frustrations, I have children who love me, employment, friends who care and a life that's pretty fabulous.

Sometimes we need these drunken down-and-outs to sober ourselves with the fact that life for some, is a repetitive hell.
Then everybody already knows.
They just don't care.


34 comments:

i beati said...

lots of local color I must live viocariously through you - loved Cohen always sandy

Brian Miller said...

yeah...
i think of the song, comfortably numb...
and it is sobering...
wonderfully written though...loving your descriptions...

kj said...

oh, the observer and writer is back! i can't wait to read this--got to work first but soon...

oh btw i love you (and i'm NOT saying it all over the blogsphere!)

love
kj

Bimbimbie said...

Felt like I was sitting on that bench watching with you.

Reminds me of my early days in Brisbane, each morning in one office doorway I had to step over a sleeping form who'd grunt a muffled g'day as I opened up*!*

Elisabeth said...

Sad, sad, sad. these people who live such forlorn lives. You wonder where they've come fro and what awful early experiences, what awful disenfranchisement has left them so demoralised.

Have you read Kate Grenville's 'Lillian's Story'? It gives a somewhat fictionalised account of one homeless person, based on the Real life late Bea Miles. She, you might say, started off like you and me ? educated, middle class - but her familial experiences went awry.

laughingwolf said...

can't legislate against stupidity... or being poor :(

Kate Hanley said...

Such a vivid description. It's so sad and yet a great reminder of how lucky we are. When I have a bad day, which I had recently because of my show, I try to remember how privleged I really am. Oh, and the song, great song!

nick said...

You're right about Parramatta having a dead feeling about it. We didn't see any raucous drunks when we were there, but then we didn't go right into town.

Indeed, it's easy to take our demanding but privileged lives for granted until you look at unfortunates like that whose lives have completely combusted.

Janice said...

Great descriptions. As far as your people observations, it helps one put life into perspective, doesn't it?

JeffScape said...

Hmm... I was almost gonna ask if this was a fiction piece. Whatever it is, it's writing. ;)

Roy said...

A lot of homeless people gravitate here to Newport, I guess in hopes that some of the prosperity of a summer resort will rub off on them. Unfortunately, we're really not very properous; the mansions overlooking the ocean aren't inhabited, they're museums, the fancy boats are also now museum exhibits referring to a previous, more prosperous age, and selling souvenir trinkets doesn't generate all that much financial flow. They've found out the hard way that this place is all image with very little underlying substance.

We've been hoist by our own PR petard!

Roy said...

BTW. lest I be misunderstood... By "underlying substance" I meant financial substance. For me, the beauties that live in Nature here overcome the monetary delinquencies. But people who drifted here looking for money aren't going to be all that compensated by scenic beauty.

Ropi said...

Well, here some people beg for money to buy alcohol.

Mim said...

I also always want to know their stories - how? why? when? crazy? sane?
amazing

Darlene said...

It is puzzling how some people end up in such a wasted life. Alcohol certainly plays a large part in their decline.

Baino said...

Colourful in many ways Sandy but not always 'savoury' I can assure you!

Just say what I see Brian. We have become comfortably numb.

kj! You're moosh.

I think they're harmless enough Bimbimbie but they're regularly there and clearly pissed to the eyeballs all the time.

Hi Elisabeth. No haven't read it but I'm so curious as to how they became that way. Sometimes there are children with them too and I wonder what sort of life they're going to know as they grow.

Nope Wuffa you can't. I'm not sure whether they're stupid or just lucked out and they have enough money to smoke and drink.

Me too Kate. I have nothing to complain about, nothing!

This is actually by the riverside Nick which is on the northern end of the city, you wouldn't know they were there uness you did the river walk. There's a bunch of homeless people further down who live in the car park stairwells and under the bridge too.

Certainly does Janice.

Nope absolute truth Jeff.

I'm pretty sure these people aren't homeless Roy, they're gone by the time I leave work and they don't have any 'baggage' with them. They're not dirty either just a bit rough around the edges. I didn't realise that Newport had lost it's sparkle?

Here to Ropi but this particular gathering has never asked me for money or a cigarette.

Well the woman that talks a lot gives much away when she's not swearing at her colleagues. Definitely has had a hard life.

I wouldn't know Darlene but it certainly plays a large part in their everyday.

Subby said...

Being as I'm a former tar; I've yet to meet a swearin' sheila tha' could make me blush...just sayin', luv ;)

Ronda Laveen said...

When our shop was at its old location, there was a couple like this who lived in the run down, little trailer court down the street. Every day they would get hammered and walk to the store. Every day they would get into a fight as they walked home from the store. Every day, in front of our shop, she would scream at him that he'd "broke the bread" they'd just bought. He'd scream the "F" word back. Off they would walk, going back and forth:

You broke the bread!

F off!

You broke the bread!

F off!

Yep, always made me feel grateful too.

blackwatertown said...

What a lunchtime break! You escape the office for the air and the wildlife - excellent - and then the life becomes a little too wild. I've almost intervened a couple of times in similar circumstances, but thank goodness the situation has calmed itself. Thank goodness because I know that whatever moral imperative motivated me, both sides would immediately focus their ire on the outsider - i.e. me.
So... your colleagues must be startled at how pleased you are to get back to work after your lunch break some days.

Tom said...

oh you are a riot.."they've completely lost the plot"...sounds like a scene out of Steinbeck's 'Tortillas Flats'...
well, at the least you've got a daily soap opera going on; keep us informed on any fantastic twists.

Kath Lockett said...

It's so hard to know what to do, isn't it?

I've no doubt written on my blog about 'Mr Divvy Van' who lives in a block of flats in our street that are designed for men released from jail or undergoing/been through a court-ordered detox program.

Yesterday he was lying unconscious on the footpath in front of his house with two friends (I've seen them many times; they don't live there but are part of his drinking, drugging, yelling and ending up in the divvy van crowd) leaning over him.

I was with Milly the dog doing my litter ninja duties and called out, "Is he OKAY? Can I help?" but they said they'd called the ambulance. It arrived as I turned the corner and I was selfish and mean enough to think, "Surely now the authorities (such a general term - his parole officer? case worker? social worker? police?) will see that he's not coping with life and move him on?"

But then I thought, 'To WHERE?'

He and your lunchtime entertainers literally have nowhere else to go. They have destroyed so many brain cells that there is no way they could hold down any form of job unless it was a highly-supervised one in a sheltered workshop. They have no family left, no friends who aren't as bad as they are and they do not have the capacity to see their way past a daily dose of oblivion.

I don't know about you, but I've never felt scared or threatened by this people, just sad. I don't have a solution either which is even sadder.

Megan said...

Do you ever talk to them?

Mrsupole said...

So sad that you see this in any large city and some say even the small ones. Every where here we are accosted by the panhandlers begging for any money we will give them. The local news has done stories on how some of them make a lot more money then those that actually hold jobs and pay taxes. These people pay no taxes and some also live off the system on top of the money they get panhandling. Since I have seen that story, I rarely give out money to them.

I know people who have given them food, only to see them throw it away, or watch them get money and go buy alcohol. Such a sad choice these people make and such a hard life, and there but by the grace of God go I. I do not know if I could live like that and pray that I never have to find out.

Sad, sad, sad, is all I can say about their life.

God bless.

Sarah Lulu said...

Yep alcoholics ...I've spent a lot of years in the company of and working with these ...my people.

Baffling and powerful is the disease.

Poetikat said...

It's very sad, really Baino. I love that Cohen song though.

Kat

Grannymar said...

Life in the raw. It makes us realise how fortunate we are!

K8 the Gr8 said...

A glimpse of what our lives could be like if they'd taken a different path... or what the future could be like if we don't watchit? Maybe you witnessed it on purpose so that we'd read your account and get a chance to count our chooks :)

Rowe said...

Oh yeah, these kinda people and sightings remind me my life aint so bad. I wonder how the hell do people end up like this. I would like to yank each one of them out of their sinister rut but know I don't have those magical powers to help them. It's terribly sad, tragic and sobering.

River said...

It's entirely possible that these people are "homeless" and living in a small room in one of the many boarding houses that dot our cities. Cheap(ish) rent, no utilities bills to be paid, so their entire centrelink allowance (apart from the rent) is theirs to do what they want with. Since most of these people are alcoholics the money gets spent on what makes them a)happy, or b)forget, whatever gets them through their day. They do this in the parks etc, because most of the houses have strict rules about being drunk and disorderly in the rooms. Repeat offenders are asked to leave. There are some who have managed to "dry out", but still have nowhere else to live, I know a few such people, they come in and buy the cheapest grocery items, often things that will last without refigeration, (often dodgy little bar fridges, one per room), things that will stretch until the next allowance day. They're trying to bring themselves back to some sort of normal life, but they can't find jobs, they have no credit ratings, they can't afford better housing. For some it's all too much and they backslide. Some have mental problems that are not bad enough to be in care, but still too much to be overcome.

Pam said...

Thanks for your visit and comment Baino. In regard to your question, the answer is because here in Oz we grew up with so many tv programs from England with the occassional English-accented reference (for a variety of reasons depending on the show) about "Blackpewl" "Bluckpool" - that curiosity got the better of us after seeing the Blackpool turnoff on the Freeway. Have since been asked how could we go and not see the decorative lights there at night.We were only there for a couple of hours.Was an experience and glad I saw for myself.Interesting post here - I love watching Cohen perform.

tony said...

The same in England,variations on a theme.Although,often in The UK, the drunks tend to be much younger (the cold weather kills off the old here?)
"Why"? various reasons I guess.People get stuck in a groove & cant find a way out or beyond it? Booze has the magic glue-like ability (for all of us)to keep us stuck+rooted where we are.Which is fine if we are in a happy place to start off with .Thats why its a bad idea (for all of us) to drink when sad or angry.
What A Mixed-up Muddled-up World!
All Hail Uncle Lenny.I bet he's a Happy Soul When Drunk!

kylie said...

great post, baino

Kate said...

Aha - people watching in the extreme my friend but be warned - do not get involved - they are almost an alien life form and the last thing they want is saving!!!

Here's to saving for a bottle of plonk and a lovely holiday - it makes work tolerable!!!!

RubyTwoShoes said...

Oh wow, I just found your blog tonight, and scrolling down, I read this. It feels like a very "small world" moment for me here on the world wide web as I just put up a post about 'taking a trip down memory lane' to the town I grew up in, can you guess where that is???!!!!