Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Collector

He's dreaming, Cloquet thought, as he stood over him, revolver in hand. He's dreaming, and I exist in reality. Cloquet hated reality but realized it was the only place to get a good steak." - from Woody Allen, "The Condemned".

My first husband (I LOVE writing that - it sounds like I've had dozens) used to collect cats.

Not just any cat - they had to have something wrong with them. I remember a small grey chap with a ragged ear that reminded me of the frost-bitten rabbit-ear plants that lined the nature strips of my childhood in Bathurst. Another had one eye. Another only one ear. It wasn't that he particularly liked cats, or that he wanted to make them better. I think it was because he thought it made him different and interesting. He aimed to be like Camus' "Outsider", or a minor character in a Dostoyevsky.

It is not uncommon for someone to have a strange husband. I know plenty of them, and I am sure you do as well. A strange husband goes with getting married, being alive, eating. But strange friends?

Last week a friend who I have known for one hundred years phoned me from Australia. It was late in New York, but I picked up the phone thinking there might be some family drama requiring my immediate attention.

I recognized my friend's voice immediately. But what WAS she saying??? "Can I speak to Joe the Plumber?" "It's me! Kate", I replied. "Oh", came her vague answer, "I'm looking for a plumber; there's a problem with my Carlton house." "This is Kate", I reiterated. And added, "Joe the Plumber is a joke person here in the U.S.". That did nothing to deter her and on she went, on and on about some leaking pipe. Whatever ...

I posted this little experience on the - Australians Abroad message board, only to be told by a very serious member of the X generation, that I have "strange friends".

ASIF! My friends aren't so strange. Take Rachel for example. Rachel is a good example as she fits in with last week's "Letter", about men and Home Depot.

Rachel should have been an entrepreneur. She has the knack of getting the best out of any situation, no matter how desperate it is. When she has a tenant she doesn't like she has them committed, and then sells an article to the Sydney Morning Herald on how hard it is to get services for the mentally deranged on a Sunday.

I admire Rachel. In the eighties she bought a run-down house in an inner-city area with a 56% Muslim population. This suited Rachel's political convictions She regards herself as far-left and believes that only the far-left support multiculturalism. Rachel supported the local Muslim community's demand for segregated bathing for women in the communal swimming pool. When I asked her how this stood with her feminism, she looked at me pityingly. I didn't pursue it, as I dreaded being written about in next Monday's Sydney Morning Herald ...

But back to the men and Home Depots. Rachel naturally wanted her house to be renovated. But she couldn't afford it. So she found a new live-in lover, one with a tool-box who belonged to the notorious Builders' Labourers' Federation. This also fitted well with her political convictions.

Nothing unusual so far. But no sooner had the floors been re-sanded and the new family-room built, than Rachel dumped her BLF man.

Within two weeks she had another. This time he was a part-time carpenter and full-time pot smoker. I went there for dinner. "Poor Rachel," he said, "Look at the mess that X made of the floor. It'll need re-doing. I'll also need to re-model the kitchen!"

Which he did. You can guess the rest. His tenure lasted only until the finishing touches were put on the new Jarrah counter-tops.

At the next dinner party I met John. John was a gardener and an active member of Greenpeace. Excellent. He was horrified at how the pot-smoking carpenter had done the floors. "I'll redo it, love", he said to Rachel. And he did.

Others followed. The house is now a delight. Not a capitalist nail in its foundation. Built by honorable men, who remember Rachel fondly.

I have to say, this fondness surprises me. Once I came across one of her former lovers in some shopping centre. After we'd exchanged the usual haven't-seen-you-for-ages comments, he asked me how was Rachel. "Fine", I replied.

"Lovely woman," he mused. "I'll never forget her. A real battler. Single mum doing a great job!"

You can say that again!

Readers of New York

Continuing my "Readers of New York", the following photos were taken on the eve of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

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