This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
On our second night in Melbourne, Erin and I ventured out of the CBD and into the street art, craft beer, beard loving world of Fitzroy. As we walked past the Carlton Gardens and climbed up Brunswick Street, the atmosphere got increasingly more hipster. Chain stores became vintage and “op shops” (second hand stores), mass market goods became refurbished furniture and and kiosks were replaced by photography and graphic shops.
We took advantage of this time to practice street photography, most people scuffing at our uncool cameras (“That’s huge!” or “I had that camera in 2009!”). Erin wore a sundress and I was in jeans and white tank top. Our haircuts were so mainstream. It was abominable.
We were getting tired. After walking all day getting the lay of the land, we wanted to sit and have a beer. As with everything in Melbourne, all of the bars looked horribly expensive. The vibe at all of the places we began to pass was wrong for us. Too fancy, too artsy, too many beards, too many heels. We passed a sign for the Marxist conference as people in ripped jeans and pixie cuts sipped $15 glasses of wine.
Settling on The Evelyn Hotel, the outdoor area seemed like a relaxing place to sit as dusk descended on us. It could have also been the man buns and beards that helped me make my decision. I can’t get enough. As we walked in, we were brimming with excitement. The night was full of possibilities. Who might we meet? What friends might we make? Might I caress a beard in passing? It’s kind of like giving someone a pat on the back, except way more annoying for the person on the receiving end.
“We’ll have a jug!” we said as we smiled at the bartender (a jug is a pitcher). “What’s your cheapest beer?” we asked with wide eyes and wonder. Standing lifeless, like his heart had been dumped on the sidewalk a few weeks prior, he indicated the cheapest beer on tap was the Lazy Yak. I guess this is why people don’t like hipsters?
Not letting his empty soul get us down, we walked out with our jug and into the jumble of beards, combat boots and buttoned up short sleeved shirts. Erin later discreetly pointed out that it’s interesting to live in a place where men’s fashion scarily mirrors the U.S. Postal Service’s uniforms. We sipped our beer and as the night fell we mingled with a few different people, most with the same attitude toward us. Until we stumbled upon Mahalia.
“It’s like Australia, except Mahalia,” she said in between sips of her beer. She was sitting cross legged, wearing black pants and a black shirt. Her curly red hair fell over her shoulders. She was wearing black lipstick, something she later commented to Erin that gives her some nasty messages on Tinder. To those messages she typically responds with equal abrasiveness. Halfway through her conversation she showed me another Tinder message exchange she had had where someone said something she didn’t agree with. To this she simply told the guy to go f*** himself. Don’t cross me.
We started talking because somehow it occurred to me to interrupt her conversation with her friends. I asked her what was the worst pick up line she’d ever received. Without hesitation she reported that it was when a guy asked her, “Does the carpet match the drapes?” (At least hers was creative? The worst I’ve ever encountered was when a British man came up to me in Koh Phi Phi and before asking my name asked, “Do you want to go have sex?”)
Mahalia had the familiar sour tone of many of my friends back home. She had the intrigue of friendly conversation and the bite of piercing comebacks and degrading humor. In the twenty or so minutes we spoke, we learned that she was from the bogan (=redneck) state of Australian (Queensland), she often ran into her long haired, grungy ex-boyfriend (we met him too) and she hated Tony Abbott (doesn’t seem to be too radical).
She was also quick on her feet. “Wow, she was really good and whipping out those lies,” Erin later commented. We were with a guy who was getting texts from a drunk girl who loved him. He didn’t love her back but seemed to want to keep stringing her along. In five seconds Mahalia had already crafted a game plan for him, telling him how to respond to each of her drunken pleas to talk to him.
She seems happy we were so entertained by her sharp edges but simultaneously bored with our company. Her domineering voice was directed towards entertaining the crowds, not engaging in dialog. Her shifty eyes indicated a distracted feeling. Her heart wasn’t in the conversation, but the pleasure she got from watching us react to her repeating the word c*** was sustaining her presence.
Then, she had an out. Her ex-boyfriend approached and she went to have a side conversation with him. The momentum thereafter fell apart. The circle wasn’t the same without her. We had surface level conversations about the U.S. with her new found red haired connection (“We always find each other,” he explained. “There’s a code.”) and started to feel our eyelids grow heavy from the jet lag. The rest of the bunch resembled her in ideology and attitude, but without the edge to her voice our conversation was toned down; unenthusiastic even.
We decided it was time to return to mainstream society. My mass produced infinity scarf (excellent Christmas present, mom! I love it!) was no match for the vintage graphic tees and straight across bangs of my neighbors. As we walked out, we passed her leaning against the brick wall of The Ev, looking discreet and nonchalant as she puffed away at her cigarette. “Thanks for the conversation,” I said. “Aw, thanks,” she said. “Make sure to get the tram now, it’s going to pour!”
Erin and I ran down Brunswick Street past a string of outdoor bars and jumped on the tram just in time. A few minutes into the ride we heard to first drops of the soon to be massive downpour. That’s Victoria weather for you.
Featured photo: Erin and I drink a jug of Lazy Yak at The Ev.