Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Registration: EHN 539

One bleary afternoon I’m in an under-ventilated tutorial room, sitting in a moulded plastic chair that threatens to pierce my kidneys at any given moment. I nod confidently while the students in my tutorial wax literary about notions of the onanistic sublime in William Blake. I’ve got no idea what they’re talking about, but I suspect it’s mostly about wanking. I blame it all on Peter Otto and tune out for the rest of the hour.

You’re waiting outside for me, traditionally clad in philosopher-brown corduroy pants and a light grey shirt that suggests you don’t separate whites from colours.

“You know how the car got nicked?” I nod. “Well, the police found it. It had a few parking tickets on it, but we don’t have to pay them as it was reported stolen.”

“Oh, that’s good,” I say. “Where was it? Was it damaged?”

“No…” you say. I raise my eyebrows. “Well, it’s a funny thing,” you continue, “The police were quite surprised, because while the thieves had obviously taken it for a joyride, they’d locked the doors when they abandoned it.”

“They’d…locked…” I frown.

“Apparently they found it at Optus Oval,” you say.

“Optus Oval,” I say.

“Yeah. Where a week ago I went for a kick of the footy, and then I had a beer or two, and then because I’d had a beer or two I walked home.”

“And…did you walk to Optus Oval, or did you –”

“I drove.”

“Right. So you reported the car stolen the next day, when actually - ”

You smile, and your eyes crinkle at the corners. “Yeah. I forgot.”

I attempt to frown again, but somehow I’ve collapsed against the John Medley brickwork, gasping with laughter.

You slide down to a squat beside me. “At least we don’t have to pay the parking tickets.”


It’s a car with personality. Which is a nice way of saying it’s a piece of shit but we can’t afford to get a spare key cut for the lock, let alone buy a new car. Let me introduce our car by way of some salient features:

  • If we rev it too high, the radio changes stations.
  • The windscreen wipers don’t work. We have a sponge rubber-banded to a ruler; lean out the driver’s seat window and ta-dah! Human windscreen wiper. If the rain gets too heavy, we just have to pull over and wait.
  • There’s a hole in the radiator somewhere, so if we’re not careful the temperature indicator will point into the red, then to the H, the past the H, and then we have to abandon it for the night and walk home from the Lort Smith with the cat.
  • Don’t put anything precious on the floor in the back seat. There’s a leak in the roof, and in winter we have to bail out the puddles each morning.
  • The driver’s seatbelt-clip doesn’t undo. There’s a pocket-knife in the glove-box and if we stab it around in the catch for a while, eventually it comes free. We always wear seatbelts though. You know; safety first.
  • Something smells in the boot. We haven’t been able to find out what it is. This is probably just as well.
  • Most importantly: the engine doesn’t shut down if we just turn off the ignition. We have to stall the car to make it stop. This is very, very important.


It’s one of those excellent, pre-child Sunday mornings. Sleep-in til 11am, slightly hungover but not like someone has stripped off your skin and shoved it back on inside out while you were asleep. More the kind of hangover that just feels like you’ve clipped your toenails a little too vigorously and then worn new shoes, or that you’ve tried a new kind of sauce at Lord of the Fries when you knew your favourite was the cheese and gravy.

The best thing about North Carlton on a November morning is the light. The light in North Carlton dictates everything from rental prices to the attractiveness of your fellow café-goers. It turns three-day growth into designer stubble and last night’s makeup into dusky Vogue eyes. Even the dog turds, rehydrated from white to grey by gentle spring rain, take on a beatific glow.

On Sunday at 11am in North Carlton, everyone is eating massive plates of fluffy scrambled eggs, crackly bacon, salted lemony avocado, smoked salmon slices that curl up like kittens, luminous fried mushrooms, steaming nutmeggy spinach, thick slabs of crunchy toast glowing with butter and oh sorry I didn’t mean to stare, how long have I been standing here? Sorry.

We move on past the Paragon, and fish in our student-sized pockets to see if it will be one coffee each or one between us. We’d rummaged between the couch cushions to see if your housemate had been slumped on a favourable angle again, and come up trumps: $7.05 in change. That’s even enough for coffees at the Rathdowne St Food Store.

I poke the racks of crumbling books out the front of Alice’s Bookshop while you wander inside and end up having the usual lengthy exchange with Anthony. You tell each other (again) the story of that time I paid for my Jules Verne book with $40 of Monopoly money, and I smile to myself.

The coffee licks the remaining corners off our hangovers. Archie looms up at one point, beard first, arm over his head. “I’m tryna get fifteen dollars for petrol - ” We give him our remaining 35 cents and he pockets it without changing his expression. We’re the only ones who give him anything.

When we turn the corner into Richardson St, I frown at our car. Registration EHN 539. Honda Civic, red, no visible rust.

“Why are the windows black?” I ask. Our steps quicken. You pull open the unlocked door and the smell of burnt red carpet rolls out like…a red carpet.

“Is it on fire?” It’s not on fire. But there’s a large, damp, melted patch of carpet that stretches from just under the gearbox down to the pedals. I look at you.

“Did Ben borrow your car last night?” You nod. Ben is your fellow philosopher and housemate. Any communications between the two of you that don’t involve theoretical absolutes can be a bit unreliable. “Does he know that you have to stall it to make the engine turn off?”

“I did say,” you answer. I gaze around the car’s interior. There’s a piece of paper on the dashboard that wasn’t there before. I lean over and pick it up, unfold it. A short, handwritten message reads:

“We have put out your car. Any queries contact Carlton Fire Brigade.” I hand the note to you. You nod.

“Well, at least Ben paid for our coffees.”

1 comment:

Cameron Mann said...

Great. Looks like it's fun being your writing gear right now.