There’s always this moment with strangers. This moment when they finally make their move after you see them eyeing you. You see their wheels churning, calculating the perfect opportunity to wiggle their way into your space. While in Cairns, that moment was asking if my friend and I wanted a photo together after he had been lurking close behind us for several blocks.
For Budge, a 45-year-old Melbournian with a missing tooth, that moment was asking us if we liked owls.
His question wasn’t random. He may have been a “junkie,” been high on a substance or just odd, but he wasn’t born yesterday. (I know that for a fact. He asked me to guess his age, so I know for sure he’s 45. Which means he was born 45 years ago. He only looks his age, he claimed “because his brother was an alcoholic.”) He waited for my friend and I to pull our bulky suitcases across Dandenong Road and roll them down the tram stop walkway. We sat down and he started pacing, talking to his homely friend with a gray pixie cut at the bench next to ours just to make it seem like he wasn’t eavesdropping on our chatter.
“Do you like owls?” he asked, stopping his pacing in front of us. He held up a pink and orange faux-leather wallet. It had an owl on the front. “I’d give it to my mom but she don’t deserve it.”
We tried to politely decline but he just shrugged and said, “I was just trying to give this perfectly good wallet to you.”
Like most people who you’ve read about on this weekly series, Budge was also curious about where we were from. Opening the conversation, the question of ‘where our accents were from’ took us for a ride where we got to hear his views of the workforce (according to him, the worst part about working in hospitality is the amount of “inexperienced 22-year-old girls with an ash tray group mentality”), leadership strategy (“…you’ve to delegate, put them in the worst position possible and you’ll see how much they actually want it!”) and even politics (“I always vote for Greens, because they’re anti-labour and anti-liberal and the only ones thinking outside the box, because there is no box!”).
Our casual banter was innocent, even informative – to a certain extent. He warned us that, as he’s lived his whole life in St. Kilda, we shouldn’t go there. He even went so far as to tell us to cover up, because the boys will try to take advantage. While I appreciated his protectiveness, I didn’t appreciate his victim blaming.
He then started to explain the area’s shifting demographics when I heard his friend from behind holler, “It’s a Rhino!”
“No, it’s a W class!” he shouted back. We looked to our right and saw the tram approaching. As it slowed down near us, he pointed towards Balaclava, Caufield and down towards St. Kilda. “This is the start of the ghetto,” he said. “What do you mean?” I questioned him. I was praying it wasn’t what I thought he meant. Those areas of Melbourne have high Jewish populations. “You know,” he said, confirming my suspicions, “the Jewish quarters.” I put my head in my hands.
The tram doors sprung opened and we stood up and threw our suitcases up the stairs. Later, during the ride, I noticed I didn’t have the owl wallet. I asked my friend if she’d seen it.
“I saw it drop as we got on the tram. I didn’t pick it up on purpose,” she explained.
Featured photo: Luna Park in St. Kilda.
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.