Wednesday, 18 December 1996
Dad asked me the other day if I had any plans for Christmas. I blinked quickly (like stuttering with your eyes) and said No. He nodded slowly and kept eating his sandwich, He didn’t invite me to Nana’s thankfully. I guess he can’t because it’s now established that the Slag goes with him, and he doesn’t want to hear me say no on account of that. I’m actually spending it with Mum and Pam on the banks of the Yarra, a picnic, but I wanted to make him sweat a little. You know, that lunch itself deserves a precis of its own.
Mr J’s Theatre of Brat Presents:
That’ll be $27.50, Thanks.
Dick comes in and meets J for lunch. Edith the receptionist calls J and lets him know Dick is downstairs in reception. J takes the stairs three at a time, knowing that Dick has brought J’s sister’s birthday presents for him that Dick picked up on his Super Surprise Visit in September to J’s poor Sister. J unwraps them in reception. A book and an ace CD.
“Where d’yer wanna go fer lunch, Digger?” thunders Dick in his deepest, suavest voice. (He always flirts with Edith.)
“Umm, how about Schwobbs Swiss? We always get a table there,” J replies, too lazy to think of anywhere new.
“Schwobbs it is,” booms Dick. “Catchya later,” he grins to Edith, a catchphrase he picked up from his daughter in the 80’s.
They walk the fifty meters to the sandwich bar in Flinders Lane, peering through the glass windows to spot a spare table. There’s a couple here and there.
“What are you after?” J asks Dick, sidling up to the counter to order.
“Nah, nah, nah. It’s my shout, Digger,” insists Dick. Too bloody right it is, thinks J. “But you order, I’ll grab a table. Just gemme three toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches.”
“Uuuh, Dad the sandwiches here are pretty big,” J says measuredly. “Are you sure you want three?”
“Oim starvin’ Digger,” Dick says too loudly for J’s social comfort. He winces accordingly.
“No, I mean, they’re like, pretty big, Dad.”
“It’s my shout mate.”
“OK,” says J resignedly, slotting into the strata of suits waiting to be served by the jail bait sandwich girls.
J places the order and passes the $50 note over the too high counter to the sandwich girl as she looks at the ceiling doing her sums, her eyes rolling back onto him as she says: “That’ll be $27.50 thanks.” J’s eyes widen. He’s thankful it’s not his shout.
Five minutes later the sandwiches and J’s fruit salad arrive. The three toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches are enormous. About twice the size of your average sliced home loaves.
“JEEEESUS,” booms Dick excitedly to the sandwich girl as she clunks the plates onto the table. “I think my eyes are bigger ‘unme belly.” J winces again.
They start to talk about their respective jobs. Dick is talking of selling up his car dealership, and J wonders what they’ll talk about once it’s gone. The sandwiches sit steaming on the table, the pink ham smeared with cheese leering indecently at J the prim vegetarian. Several other tables are looking over. The plates are crowded on the small table and sit crookedly between the salt and pepper, the napkin holder, the cappuccinos and the complementary mints. Two old bags sitting adjacent are taking particular interest. J shoots them a withering look. No mercy for the aged.
“Oooh, I think you’ve over-ordered there,” quavers one of the old bags, clutching her umbrella closely. J wishes he could brain her with it.
“Huh huh huh” laughs Dick deeply. “I sure have! D’ya wanna help me out Digger?” he asks J, who wishes that just one time his father could remember his name.
“No. Thanks very much anyhow Dad. That fruit salad really filled me up actually,” replies J smiling, thinking seven bloody years. Seven bloody years since I gave up the carcass-munching and still you offer me meat. Interest in their table is snowballing with the old bags’ persistent peering and demented smiling. As the lunchtime crowd file past on their way out, they all take a look, some smiling and offering comments like “Big appetite?” and “Hungry, eh?” Wearily, J looks at the parquetry floor and wonders if you can make a deal with Satan without speaking out loud.