6.20 Sydenham

Friday 20 June 2008

Got the early train tonight. Stood in customary spot in doorway. Diagonally opposite, two teenage girls. In front of them, young man in early 20s sitting on the floor.

Was listening to his iPod and began singing. Quietly at first, but then louder.

"How do you describe a feeling?
I've only ever dreamt of this."

Desiring greater communication amongst his fellow travellers, he opened it up to the floor. He asked me first, and I kinda smiled at him. Hoped it was a rhetorical question. Thought he probably was maybe a bit mentally challenged or a bit drugged out or something because no one is that excited or communicative on the train, are we? Because we can't veer out of train convention. People might think we're whacked, you know? Guilt by association.

So he posed it to the girls in front of him and they did that thing where they were ignoring him but not fooling anybody. Kind of an ostrichey burying your eyes in the air and just waiting for the buzzing noise to go away.

So he posed it to me again. I could feel that feeling where you want to slide into the floor, you know? "Don't look at me!" The way I feel at comedy venues or at impro shows when they're scanning the crowd for someone to bring on stage. Don't - look - at - me. Oh, hot shame.

But this, this was tepid shame, really. And anyway, I have been blessed with a relatively outgoing personality, one that can switch off the gazes of the people staring at me on the train. Well, I'm pretty sure that personality trait still exists; it's been ripped around the edges, like everything, in recent years. And I am feeling a bit mentally challenged myself this week, a bit frail and fragile. But then, something tipped me over, poured me out, and I pushed down the shame. Had to, really. Would have been rude not to answer. I looked at him. Prayed that he wasn't going to say anything horrible to me. And he said,

"Guess who is singing this song!"

Right. The rest of the carriage is looking at me. The only time we look intently at each other on public transport is when someone has removed themselves from the 2 inch wide appropriate behaviour tangent and gone off and done something crazy like ... laugh. Or talk to strangers.

So fuck it. It makes my rebellion rise. The train ride is boring and this guy is looking me straight in the eye, which is more than I can say for most people you come across. And who can resist music trivia, right? So.

"Oh, I dunno," I say.

"Well, guess!" he says. He's in his early 20s, obviously gay, sitting on the ground, surrounded by his mini discs. I feel brain dead after hours in front of a computer screen. But this could be fun.

"Umm ..." I feel my 37 years. "Well, okay. Has it come out recently?" I ask.

"What do you mean by recently?"

"Well, in the last six months?"

"Well, yes. The album was released last October, and this single was released in May,"

He knows this performer pretty well, obviously. And I have a ridiculous remembrance for him stating those dates considering I can't remember what I was doing 5 minutes ago.

Okay. You're pushing the bottom of Susie's musical barrel, 'cause I can hear that disco-ey beat through your headphones, and me and music you dance on ecstasy to have never really been all that close. So here we go, making an idiot out of myself.

"No, you'll know her," he says confidently. "She's been around for 21 years."

"21 years? Okay. Maybe I will get here then. So she was around in 1987."


Mariah Carey was my first guess and hit upon the correct answer, Kylie - of course, Kylie, the love of so many gay men's livs - about third. This was getting fun, so then I played guessing some of his other musical tastes - Madonna (I've got her book "Sex", that she released back in 1992. It's full of really fucking crazy shit"), Amy Winehouse ("Her album is called Frank. That's my name. It's the only album that's ever been named after me.") We agreed that Elvis Presley was okay but not anything to go nuts over and I told him about some of the stuff I've been listening to lately - Counting Crows and Ray LaMontagne and The Beatles. And then we went on to talking about The Jennifer Tate Show, which I am really starting to get into now and think she is quite berwilliant. Frank's favourite character of hers is the old woman, who goes into various public places and behaves abominably and manages to say the word 'fuck' 14 times.

So Frank was getting off at West Footscray.

"Where are you getting off?" he asked as he got up to leave.


"Oh, I used to get off at Tottenham. Well, anyway, seeya!" And he ambled off the train, the doors closed, and off we took.

The elderly Vietnamese woman said to me,

"Excuse me," and pointed down at the ground where Frank had once been sitting and where his mobile phone still was. As the person who knew Frank best on the train, it seemed it fell to me to return his phone.

So anyway, now I have spoken to Frank's brother and Frank's Mum. Looked up "Mum" in his contacts on his phone, figured Mum was probably a good bet, and gave her a call. Could hear the suspicion in Frank's brother's voice when he answered the phone to, "Ahh, hi. Is this Frank's Mum's house?" Or maybe it was fear. Fear that then I was about to tell them that Frank had fulfilled his lifelong dream to fly off the Westgate, or had taken 14 eccies in a row and was lying in a bush at West Footscray station, or whatever. We always think the worst. Indeed, we're trained to.

So finally sorted out why I was ringing Frank's Mum. Got Frank to call me. He was all effusive and bubbly and gregarious and oh so very happy to get his phone back. Which I'm just about to drop off. I think I'll neglect to tell him I've just written a blog post about him :)

I feel strangely cheered, you know, having this conversation with this stranger on a train. It felt ... daring. Which is totally fucking ridiculous but it's always how it's gonna seem in this stupid society where every person who sings song lyrics must be a crazy head. No wonder we all teeter into depression, and ennui, and meaninglessness and drugs. Anything to get away from the place where the ways we are allowed to behave are 2 inches thick.

Edit: I got such a big hug when I dropped his phone off, heh :)

"Let me give you some money for it," he said, moving to go inside. And I said,

"No! Don't be silly! You don't have to pay me!" I noticed that I was being rather more flamboyant and dramatic in my speech, flinging my body around as I was talking. Isn't it funny how we mirror each other's speech and stuff? I used to think that was a symptom of a too-ill-formed identity but now I think it's evidence of the way that we all need each other. We're meant to seep into each other's edges, just a little bit. You can always rub it out again later if you don't want it.

And so he didn't go inside, and what I really wanted to say to him was,

"Well, actually, I don't s'pose you know anyone round here that sells single grams of dope, do you?" But I didn't. Luckily. Dammit.


  1. So I wonder what made Frank able to chat to his fellow travellers. Do you think he was being prevocative? trying to get a rise or make people feel uncomfotable? or do you think he generally wanted to chat?
    Yay Frank! Glad he had you there to chat to and return his phone :)

  2. i agree with andi, "yay frank!" and yea sue!!! i'm not sure why but this reminded me of breaking loose and running through the fountain the other day. it felt like everyone along the sides wanted to do the same thing, but were frozen in their "propriety." i think most people really just want some form of connection with another whether they are willing to admit it or not.

    again, "yea, susie" you broke through the barrier...and you weren't even on drugs! maybe frank wasn't either :-)

  3. sue,

    i really enjoyed this - it was like being there. way cool writting.


  4. Sue, this was totally cool! I agree with Rob in that I felt like I was there.

    We are strange creatures, aren't we? I love that you "broke the rules."

  5. great story Sue...fun experience.

  6. Andi - I think he was being a bit provocative but I also think it was just part of his personality. He ended up being the sweetest of people. So maybe both - wanting to get a rise out of people AND wanting to chat. We are complex characters, aren't we :)

    Lucy - well, yeah, it did feel like breaking loose and running through the fountain a bit, especially considering it was in the context of feeling like I just couldn't bring myself to go see my old school friend - which I think I'll write about later, after I come back from the football :) Yeah, I don't think Frank was on drugs either ... but I think that sometimes he is :)

    Thanks Rob and Tina and Kent. I like riding about my train travel experiences. It seems that anything interesting that happens on there is good writing fodder simply because it's a place people don't often talk.


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