Seymour Rants: Baked Beans in Taree 1991
Another great entry in the Mark Seymour rants series – Mark meets his wife.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 14 February 2006.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
I was hiding under the blankets. My breath came wafting back from the sheet. It was appalling. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth like a dead slug. There’d be no jog this morning.
A rhythmic thud was coming from somewhere in the room. I lifted my head to look but a searing pain swelled behind my eyes and squeezed my skull like a vice. I was in a lot of trouble. Death felt close. I was going down slowly to some weird relentless thumping that kept going on and on mercilessly. Somebody was grunting. I could feel it through the mattress. I pulled the blankets over my head.
“Please stop,” I whispered.
“Oh dear. We’re awake.”
“No. I’m asleep. I’m only pretending to be awake. What in god’s name are you doing?”
I had to look.
There was a girl on the floor doing yoga in the nude. All the bits were in the right places. She was in good shape. She was doing what she’d demonstrated to me the night before, on the same piece of carpet:
“It’s called the salute to the sun. Let me show you…”
We’d returned from the club where I’d bought her three tequilas and orange, merely because she’d kept looking at me with huge brown eyes. In a rare moment of clarity I realised she wanted me. So we returned to the Taree Inn where she demonstrated her salute in a sort of textured silver mini skirt and purple boob tube…. But the excitement didn’t last. I was too far gone. Even now the effort of keeping my head up was proving impossible. There was a knock at the door.
God help me. It was Archer.
“We’re going for breakfast.”
“Me and Bazz.”
Christ, now there was a marriage made in heaven. Only two nights before in Coff’s Harbour we’d had to re-configure the stage to separate them. Volume conflict. They’d been close to blows. Amps were separated. How could they possibly eat together so soon? And why the hell did they want me there? Still, who was I to judge as I lay there gazing at her arse rising and falling athletically? I searched within me for the heart to understand how human beings can have their differences and then make up afterwards. Witness the results on the motel floor. She was hard at it with not a care for the awful fact that I’d failed to deliver the goods only hours before. What a trooper. I began to rise from the bed.
“Ah, I’ll be there….ah, where?”
“We’ll walk down the main road until we get there.”
“Where is there?”
“The first brekky place we come to.”
“Can I come?”
She was standing in the middle of the room smiling down at me with her hands on her hips. Oh dear. Look out.
We walked together down the main street. She was clicking along in her party shoes, occasionally wriggling her tube back up over her boobs while I stumbled on next to her, moaning inwardly.
It was Sunday, January 24, 1990. Taree was empty. The heat was appalling. I was overdressed. She wasn’t. There was a song going round in my head from the night before: Loverboy, “Turn Me Loose.”
“Boy, I could eat a house,” she said.
“Wow,” I replied, trying to sound riveted.
“Oooh, look. A little kitty. Sooo cute!”
There was a cat sitting on a stool outside “Christo’s”, the first cafe we came to. It was a huge black and white thing. It licked her, un-cat like. It struck me viciously that my new friend was probably used to affection and tenderness in all its forms, including being licked. The cat simply couldn’t resist. I hated the cat.
The boys were peering at us through the window. Bazz was waving madly. Archer stared absent-mindedly. Things appeared to be normal. She marched ahead of me through the fly screen. Suddenly I had a vision of the immediate future. She’d stand there waiting to be introduced and I wouldn’t remember her name. We approached the table.
“Hi. I’m Jo.”
Now I knew. She held out her hand. They both stood and shook it.
They glanced up and down at her bits. How could they not? She had them. She appeared to be used to this kind of attention because she immediately sat down and began to chat and look around as though she’d known them all her life.
“I come here lots. Hi Christos!” she yelled at a man at the back of the room behind the coffee machine. Christos approached with a pad.
“Have you boys been served?” she said.
“No. We’ve been waiting for Christos,” said Bazz.
Christos stood behind Jo in a black Jack Daniels T-shirt. He had the pad poised on top of his gut with the pen in his other hand. He was a bald man with dirt under his nails. He had a huge florid face that was streaming with sweat and covered in broken blood vessels. He looked like a Christian Brother I once knew. There was a fly crawling down his cheek. He didn’t flinch. He just stared blankly through the window out into the street.
I gazed at the menu. It was all about egg. The room stank of rancid oil.
“Yes”, we said.
“A weak latte for me,” said Bazz.
“The same except strong,” said John.
I couldn’t take my eyes of the menu. Everything had egg in it.
“Soy latte decaf please Christos,” said Jo.
I was at a loss. How to avoid the egg? If I ate egg I’d vomit for ever. Everyone was waiting. I glanced up at Christos. He was still looking out the window. My head was thumping. I couldn’t string events together. I started to sweat.
“Are you alright little muffin?”
What? I was jolted back into the present. Little muffin?
“What kind of coffee?”
Little Muffin. She was making me nervous. I hated it when girls made me nervous. What could I possibly have done to deserve such kindness? Was she deeply ironic? I looked at her face. No. She was smiling from ear to ear. Was she a nut case? They were prone to popping up occasionally. I’d learned that. I searched within myself, and for the life of me I’d done nothing to deserve it…maybe.
“Long black,” I said.
Christos walked off. I looked back at the menu. Ah Yes. Something with egg. Maybe egg was the go. Go for volume and soak up the acids. That would fix things. Eat egg and then run; outside to the gutter and gurge. That would provide me with an excuse to run away… out of Taree forever.
“Hmmmm”, said Bazz. “Not a lot of choice really.”
“Don’t worry about the menu,” said Jo. “It’s cool in here. Christos will make whatever you want.”
“Really? Can I have something without egg in it?”
He was a brave man. Unlike me. I’d learned from experience that the best policy when touring the regionals was to blend in. The journey is so much easier that way.
Sadly not for Bazz. Bazz was a vegan. Nothing with a central nervous system was allowed inside him. His father owned a chain of abattoirs. Bazz had witnessed the slaughter and couldn’t stomach the thought of contributing to any more of it. Despite this, here appeared to be the happiest man I’d ever met, (especially at high volume,) except when he was ordering food. Egg was a problem.
“Christos?” said Jo. “We’re ready.”
Christos wandered over, his attention still drawn to the street outside. I turned to see what interested him so much. The cat from before had crossed the road. There was a dog over there too. It was licking the cat.
“I’ll have the breakfast special with the lot”, said John.
“Same”, said I.
“Bazz is a Veggo,” said Jo.
Christos stopped writing and gazed down at him.
“Is that so?”
Bazz looked up at him. He paused momentarily, as though sizing up the gravity of the situation.
“Is that a problem for you?”
“Dunno yet. Whadaya want?”
“Tomato and baked beans with toast.”
Christos wrote. We had lift off.
“Jo?” said Christos.
“Just coffee for me thanks Sweetness.”
Sweetness? She obviously spoke that way to all the men. I wasn’t special dammit. I was starting to like the idea of being her ‘little Muffin.’ It made me feel protected. I’m not sure from what exactly, but there it was. Jo had a touch of the earth mother about her. For a moment I wondered if she was a Kiwi. I’d met lots of girls over there who fell into that category. Dominant. Inclined to take control. Taree wasn’t all bad after all. We had to make Sydney that day. I was going to miss the place, strange as that might sound.
“Loved the show,” she told them.
“Thanks”, said John.
“And are you from Taree Jo?” said Bazz.
“Fuck no. Just passing through. I’m a Kiwi. Can’t you tell from my accent?”
“Well, actually it sounded a little odd but I couldn’t place it.”
“Well, that’s where I’m from. Fush ‘n chups.”
“Yeah, right, I can pick it now. And what are you doing while you’re here?”
“Oh, this and that.”
“This and that?”
“Yeah. This and that.”
Christos arrived with the coffee. It was warm.
“Fuck. It’s cold,” said Bazz.
“Here. Give it to me. I’ll fix it,” said Jo.
She grabbed the saucer and took off after Christos towards the counter at the back of the room. John and I slurped ours dutifully…as one. John Archer and I had that in common. We’d had stern table manners drummed into us by fathers with great authority. We didn’t complain. Stupid really. They say in life, that the squeaky wheel gets the most oil. Bazz was getting it. She came back with a hot one.
“There you go. Get it in your good self.”
“Yes. That’s better. Thank you Jo.”
She disappeared again, this time right into the kitchen. Somebody bellowed in pain. It sounded like Christos. She came back and sat down.
“Food’s coming!” she said beaming at us.
We sat there quietly for a while. There was a blowie dying somewhere near us. I looked down at the window sill. I was sitting next to it. Yes. There it was, on it’s back, vibrating and there were hundreds more, dead all the way along the window.John Archer reached into his pocket and produced a folded piece of paper. A blue biro followed. He began to draw. We all peered over at his work but said nothing. It looked important. It probably was. Within minutes, as the blowie gave out, Archer’s drawing became something exsquisite; a fully blown trigonometric projection of a speaker cabinet. The shading was almost photographic. It was an intense piece of work.
Jo leaned over to me. I could smell her perfume. It made me dizzy. I could see her breasts through the boob tube. They were perfect. She whispered,
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s designing a new P.A…. for us,” I whispered back into her left ear.
A whisp of her hair brushed against my cheek. I wished I was back in room 6.
“Don’t interrupt him. It’s important work,” I added. We continued to watch him go at it until at last the food emerged. Christos had three plates on his left arm, and a tissue in his right hand that he was using to dab at a bleeding lip.
“Looks nasty Christos”, said Jo. “I’d get that looked at.”
Christos almost ran back to the kitchen.
Christos’s big bog in: Two sausages, a lamb chop, two slices of bacon, two fried eggs, two pieces of toast, two fried tomatoes, and mushrooms in cream sauce. I went for the pepper. Applied the Worcestershire sauce. I Began. More coffee. I tried to balance as much food on the fork as was physically possible and insert the lot into my mouth. Ahh. I have a huge mouth, just like my father. He did it that way to. When I was a lad I’d watch him devour a huge plate full of roast with a napkin inserted into his collar after Sunday mass. He could knock of a mountainous plate full in five minutes. I timed him once. I am good at some things. Eating is one of them. I owe it to him.
I thought of him as I demolished it. And then I stopped. I was the only one at it. Archer was finishing off the cross hatches, Jo was staring at my mouth in shock and awe. I could feel a small trickle of egg yoke on my chin. Yes, Dad did that too. Jo was staring at my chin.
“Hmmm”, she said. “Very attractive.”
She reached for a napkin and dabbed at it.
Bazz was staring glumly at his plate.
“What?” I munched.
“Fuck.” He said it again.
“What?” I said.
“What’s wrong babycakes?” said Jo.
“The tomato is cooked. The baked beans are on the toast!”
“The tomatoes are cooked.”
“I CAN’T EAT THIS!”
He didn’t reply.
“CHRISTOS?” Jo yelled.Christos came running, literally, out of the kitchen. She picked up Bazz’s plate, stood up and walked Christos back to the kitchen. They were gone for quite a while. Archer kept drawing. His food must have been stone cold. I kept eating. I was close to done, with a sliver of bacon and bits of toast floating in yoke that I’d missed, strewn across the china. I was poised, ready to end it all when they returned, with Christos revved up and red in the face.
He stood over Bazz, puffing hard. Jo was hovering in the background, hands on hips, trying to look like she was in control. She wasn’t anymore.
“What is wrong with this?”
Bazz looked up and said nothing.
What is wrong with your baked beans and tomato?”
Bazz buried his head in his small beefy hands and ran them through his close cropped hair. Clearly he was over it. He reached back and took the plate out of Christos’s hands and Gently laid it on the table.
“Look at it,” he said.
Christos leaned in over his shoulder. He looked.
“LOOK AT IT!”
Christos looked again. Bazz leaned back and put one hand over the back of his head and drew his fingers in over the bridge of his nose. He always did that when he was concentrating. I asked him why…once.
“The baked beans are on the toast and the tomato is cooked.”
He was apoplectic but in control.
“The baked beans are ON THE TOAST….which means the toast is soggy. The tomato is COOKED which means it is SOFT. I don’t like soggy toast and soft tomato. If I’d wanted soggy toast and soft tomato I’d’ve ASKED FOR IT.”
He turned in his seat and looked up into Christos’s face. Christos frowned at the plate.
Bazz breathed in slowly and deeply. Then he spoke in a soft parental way as if to a small child.
“I want the tomato raw, and the baked beans on the side.”
“Here, let me deal with it!” said Jo as she leaned in to take the plate away.
“NO! It’s my bloody cafe. Just sit down and SHUT UP…” yelled Christos.
He was beside himself. He grabbed the plate and took off for the kitchen. Meanwhile Archer hoed in to his brekkie. He shovelled it in. I sipped my coffee and watched him. He moved his arm from plate to mouth with a smooth graceful motion, pausing briefly to mumble through a mouth full of egg and bread….
“Tarago’s here in ten.”
“WHAT? I haven’t eaten!” this from Bazz who was staring panic stricken out into the street. Archer pocketed the drawing with his right hand while he continued to shovel with his left. Jo got up again and took off for the kitchen.
“Well, that’s what we arranged. Bags are in the back. Doug’s driving. He’ll be here in ten.”
He looked at his Casio. “Eight.”
Bazz said nothing. He stared glumly at the table. Jo came back with the plate. She plonked it in front of him.
“There you are dumpling.”
He looked up briefly and grunted “Ta…” and then got into it. It was exactly as it was meant to be, a large plate with three separate portions of food arranged in a triangle, four slices of cold tomato, a round of toast with no butter, and a dollop of baked beans, neither of which touched each other. Archer slurped the last of his Latte and stood up. He stared down at Bazz briefly, dropped eleven dollars fifty onto the table, then exited out into the street where he simply stood on the curp waiting with his hands in his jacket pockets.
Jo and I gazed at Bazz as he polished off the rest of his meal. He meticulously cradled small fork loads of bean and tomato on to carefully sliced corners of toast which he had previously sliced into small triangles, all roughly the same size. It was a delicate process. I glanced at Jo. She was enthralled by his precision.
“Well,” I said to them both, “The Tarago’s here in a minute.”
They ignored me.
“We better be going.”
I put a twenty dollar note on the table and stood up, hoping Jo would
get up too. Time was running out.
“Bye,” I said…
Still no response. She was gazing at Bazz’s mouth.
“Right, better go,” I thought sadly. Things were getting silly. I stepped outside just as the mini-bus pulled into the curb. Archer swung the side door open and leapt inside. I paused at the open door, vainly hoping she would come out and give me a quick cuddle to send me on my way. I hovered in the doorway with one foot on the sill….with Archer glaring out at me from within….In fact they all were.
“We’re not getting any younger,” intoned the Doctor wearily from the driver’s seat.
“What’s Bazz doing?” This from Smithy who was right up the back with the luggage.
“He’s still eating, I think”, said Archer fiddling with his mobile.
Jo and Bazz came out. Bazz had his head down. She had here arm ’round his shoulder. She was mumbling something into his ear. He was nodding in agreement. Christos was standing in the doorway, in his apron, with his arms folded. I let Bazz in first, hoping desperately that she would linger with me a moment longer, hoping that I was the special one, that it was me she wanted and that Bazz’s meal ordeal had not at that moment become the sole purpose of her existence.
Bazz dithered too. We were both to and fro-ing on the threshold of the Tarago doorway when she pulled at my t-shirt.
I stepped back and turned to her. She pulled me away from the door.
“Oh, for FUCK’S SAKE..” from someone inside the vehicle. Bazz was inside now. The Doctor was revving the motor threateningly. I thought about Sydney, then I looked into her eyes. She fluttered them…then started playing with my collar….
“Yeah?” I said, leaning in expectantly. HERE IT COMES I thought….YEESSS!!
“Ummm, I don’t know how to say this, but…”
Her perfume was wafting all around me. Just a quicky I thought….I was about to ask her if she had a car when the Doctor leaned on the horn…
“Ahh,” said Jo, leaning closer. Her mouth was barely an inch from mine. Her breath brushed my cheek and then she whispered,
“Do you realize that your music is seven years out of date?”
Two years later I married her.