Thursday, October 22, 2015
I HAVE the misfortune to live in one of the most unfriendly streets in Melbourne. Sure, we know our neighbours on both sides, and they are both polite and have been in the house on the odd occasion and they are approachable and make you feel safe and offer you reassurance that they will help prevent burglary or arson of your property. However,
oh, there is the woman across the road who sometimes knocks on our door to bring food from the church, and she is comforting as well, and she doesn’t have to do this, and she seems to like us,
there is also the small matter of the people down the road a bit, on the corner opposite who run a small business, and work incredibly long hours and are never home. We visited once when we had the fanciful notion that we might get to know the people in our street when we purchased our house. We had a lovely time, they were in good spirits, I think it was around Christmas, at any rate a rare day off for them but I don’t think they have had a day off since, we never see them,
well anyway I walk up and down the street a lot to catch the bus that runs down the busy street at the end of our street. I walk up the street most mornings at about 7:30 and I walk down the street most nights around 5:00. I rarely see anyone. All the houses are like the houses in the Ray Bradbury story I’ve just read- The Pedestrian- where everyone is shut up inside watching television, and grass f=grows on the footpaths and there’s never a soul around because walking’s not the done thing to do,
and I know that people do still walk. I’ve seen this happen in other streets, even close by here. As I said I walk up and down a lot and never see anyone. Even worse, some of the paths are obscured because of low hanging branches from overgrown trees in people’s untidy backyards. There is rubbish on people’s lawns and cracks in the pavements and many of the houses have a kind of dishevelled look that doesn’t inspire confidence. And when there is no house with a jungle in the front yard and depressing overhanging branches, it’s an ugly block of flats that have sprung up everywhere like mushrooms and you can’t help but think of twenty or thirty closed doors instead of just one, and how people in the flats are probably suspicious of each other and have never been in each other’s lounge…
we have quite a wide street here, bookended at both ends by a busy road. We have, potentially, as the Irish might say, quite a grand spot. It could be a lovely street. As I said it is quite wide, and it is set back a bit from either end of the busy streets, and there are a few houses that are quite lovely to look at, the one next door in particular that should be heritage listed. But it is those damn front doors that are perpetually closed, those shutters that block out any light, those people on the other side who stick to themselves and don’t want to know you, or slip in and out like they worry they’re under some sort of surveillance. There are even kids across the road, and I’m not exaggerating if I say it seems like we’re invisible. There’s no curiosity, no warmth, no interest. You feel like ringing door bells to shake them out of their slumber. This is not what I bargained for. I dreamt. Of….
street parties. We all go to Dan Murphy around the corner. We congregate in the middle of the street and the police block off the road. Everyone wears some sort of funny hat and each of us has a book under our arm, or have a funny story to tell. There is a little microphone set up where you can share your story. People even sing, like they do in Ireland. Someone has a machine that’s got a backing track. You all belong. You all share something important. You are all members of the same street. You feel free, and comfortable, and you launch into ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, and the lovely woman across the road sings ‘You’re My World’, and the older one you know already from Lebanon knows some Lebanese music and that’s great, and the students you didn’t even know about are interested in the ARIA’s and you learn something new, and there’s even a Doors fan somewhere e=down the road, and you chat, just the two of you, for two hours about each other’s collection, and you are in a world of your own before you slip back into consciousness and get to know more kindred spirits, other people who have been transported mysteriously to your street just like you have. Towards the end of the night. No-one wants to leave. People pair off-
not in that sort of way. The ones who like poetry talk more in the encroaching shadows. There are two or three plumbers who promise to share each other’s tools, the two mechanics query each other over the size of their garage. Two men and two women from separate houses have all been jilted by somebody and never knew that they weren’t actually quite alone. Then there’s the kids. They might be friends for eternity. Any spare time they have in the future will be spent doing unfashionable things, like playing cricket or Cluedo, or ‘hit the gutter’ or four square at each other’s houses, and suddenly the iPad or the Nintendo will gather dust and won’t be used again. One day,
everyone will decide one street party every now and then isn’t enough, and these people won’t even feel they need to know anyone from the outside world. The houses are never sold, so none of them are turned into flats. Maybe, just maybe, the people in the existing flats might be invited. It might take years, but people will start trading and bartering and grow shared crops. Doors will remain open at all times. There will be no overgrown weeds and overhanging branches. Front fences will be torn down just because it is easier. And milestones and big news items will be shared and celebrated and there might be a big cricket match like the one in the novel ‘The Go Between’ and romances will occur, harmony maintained, and animals and birds will share the common humanity. Right now though,
I will wake up tomorrow, leave the house, the street will be silent and creepy, with not even a Boo Radley anywhere about, people will go about their business in the safety of their homes, those wandering about, few and far between, will have their heads bowed, and I will try one last time, because I can be incredibly patient, to catch the eye and smile at the guy who I see standing at the same bus stop every morning, catching the same bus.