December 2008. Somewhere in regional New South Wales.
I sit, roll a Champion Ruby, and wait for my coffee. To the left, a newsagent’s window display glistens with tinsel and Christmas baubles. To the right, a pharmacy promo poster has raindeer leaping through Winter snow. I’m sweating bullets and its only 10am. The table wobbles.
It’s early summer in south-eastern Australia. The heat and humidity is increasing and the flies return after winter to fuck and swarm. They seem to be attracted to my stink this morning, and I suspect my sweaty back is a seething brown-black blanket.
I remember some advice I heard about anthropological fieldwork that, when all else fails, a struggling researcher should just start counting stuff. So I count flies and, in doing so, begin to record other mundane details about the comings and goings on the street.
It’s Thursday, which is Pension Day. I call it Pokie Day. Plenty of people are out in the sunshine shopping and running errands, stocking up for Christmas and Boxing Day, when the shops will be closed. However, the Pokies carpark was already full when I drove into town.
There is a pre-Chrismas buzz in the air, but I don’t care much for smiling children and green and red faux lanterns this morning. I started drinking with an informant while fishing at the estuary jetty last night on dusk, which became a bottle of wine or two with dinner that became…what exactly?
All I know right now is that I need to be working rather than focussing all my energy on trying not to have a panic attack. Other people feel sick on a hangover. That doesn’t faze me too much as I’ve been hungover for mostly a decade now. It’s the spontaneous, crippling anxiety that worries me most.
Carols, playing on loop, interupt my thoughts and sour my mood each time the automatic door opens at the pharmacy. I close my eyes, breathe, and listen for other sounds in the street. Trucks, cars, seagulls, magpies.
The smell of cigarettes, exhaust fumes, grease (from the fish and chip shop).
A car horn blares, accompanied by two loud, echoing exclamations:
An Aboriginal man, who I have seen around town a few times since I moved here but haven’t met, wears a Santa Claus outfit, has the attention of a few dozen people, takes one last hit from a bottle of spirits in a torn brown paper bag and seizes his moment in the middle of the main street.
For the next fifteen minutes, or for however long it takes for the cops to drive around the corner from the station, Santa starts yelling and doesn’t stop.
It is a rambling, slurred monologue about the injustices of European colonialism and genocide, punctuated with more loud, echoing exclamations. It could have been epic, had Santa not been so righteously hammered.
Parents wheel their prams and usher children into shops.
Ten centimeters of ass crack is visible when Santa bends over to pick up his dropped cigarette.
Did Santa have official duties this morning? I suspect some community Christmas event might be missing out on their VIP, if that was the case.
The scene is stereotype, played out in 3D surround-sound stereo before my eyes and ears. I feel ill.
A woman walks past, mutters:
I stare bleakly at my notebook. Yes, the date at the top reads 2008. No, not all whitefellas here are like that, I tell myself. Kevin Rudd just won office. Some Koori people said they feel more hopeful about reconciliation since John Howard failed to even hold his own seat.
Why am I even writing about this, its not like I’m going to put it in my thesis about *insertresearchquestion*? This is an outlier situation right?
And, what right do I have to take notes on public drunkness as a ‘dispassionate observer’ when I’m seriously considering rehab for my own drinking?
Bad Santa probably won’t remember much of this. Much like I can’t remember anything after the 7:30 Report finished last night.
Get off the road ya fucking alco!
To their credit, when the Police do arrive, they do their best to calm St Nick before escorting him quietly away. Or maybe that last slug of grog finished him off?
Some years later I met Santa outside an AA meeting. He was in plain clothes, picking up a friend. It turns out Santa isn’t an alcoholic. But he did love to drink when he had a wallet flush with cash, and freely admitted he sometimes took it too far and landed himself in trouble. When the doctor told him his liver was shot, Santa simply gave it away. Didn’t need AA. Didn’t need rehab. Didn’t even get the shakes.
Santa’s take on that December morning in 2008?
I had a full head of steam, felt the injustice clear and wanted to shout it from the rooftops. And Captain Morgan’s was on special. Problem was I forgot we had Christmas golf day! Didn’t even make it to the first tee! See. Don’t give Santa rum!