By: Tim Murray
My friend is relaying a story about a relationship he is in, or was in, or is about to be in – I’m not really sure. Such is the nature of his love life that it’s a little hard to keep track. He’s not playing the field or anything but he splits his time between Australia and the States and as a result half of his life is here and half of it is there. Invariably, when he goes he has to put a bunch of things on hold, relationships included and this is where things get complicated. I take the chance to meet up with him on a night we both have free and he tells me the name of a place where we can enjoy the closest thing to ‘Brooklyn’ in Sydney. For a moment I wonder if he does the opposite with his friends in NYC and takes them to Australian themed bars where Fosters is served, pictures of crocodiles adorn the walls and everyone says ‘beaut!’ but I just say yes because even if I won’t admit it out loud, it sounds like a cool place to be.
It’s about twenty minutes after we had planned to meet when I call him to ask for directions. Despite being given the name and address of the place, I have at this point walked up and down the same small lane three times without finding anything that looks like what I’m after. He answers the phone and I can hear the thudding pulse of music and the sounds of people without kids hanging out in the background. They sound carefree. ‘Hey man, you close?’ he asks. I stop and look to my left and right. Ten metres away is a dumpster, further up the lane is a small set of townhouses each adorned with the juvenile scrawl of some “artist” who felt compelled, like a dog, to leave his mark on the walls as he passed through. A small carpark for a set of apartments that looks like an old Telstra building is also nearby, but there is nothing in sight that resembles a bar or restaurant or anything that would house something that could pass a food inspection. I explain the scenario to my friend, convinced that we have somehow got our wires crossed and I am in the wrong lane when I see a few people entering an exiting a plain white building that looks like it might be a pool hall. In keeping with its environment it too has spray paint scrawled across its facade. This I describe to my friend, but add a line about it not being the place because there is no signage. At this point he cuts in – ‘That’s the place. See you in a bit.’ Before I can reply the line is dead and so I head towards the white building without a sign and step through the threshold.
And here a world opens up to me. It is a dark place, full of exposed timber, industrial lights hanging from the ceiling, loud music and people – lots of people. Tables are crammed into every corner and above the floor a mezzanine hosts more and more tables, each of them filled with those same voices I had heard through the phone. They are young people, without children, without mortgages and without a care in the world. It is a strange place, like some remnant of a dream. I’m almost 35 and can vaguely recall a time in my life when I was like them but like any dream that you try to remember the images vanish when you reach out to grab them. The glow of smartphones blink like fairy lights in the gloom as I make my way upstairs and I find my friend in the corner by some kegs that stand like sculptures against the wall. One has a soft lantern sitting on it, placed in such a way so as to appear casual, but this is clearly the work of an interior designer. I don’t even care that I notice the fit-out; this place is cool. So cool that it doesn’t have a sign out front. So cool that it is filled with twenty-somethings who are busy sipping craft beer and instagramming their every moment. So cool that the proportion of beards in this one room might make Ned Kelly feel proud if he didn’t know that the beard, once the very pinnacle and emblem of masculinity, had been hijacked by young intellectual and arty types in tight jeans.
I take a seat opposite my friend, let’s call him “Jack,” and within moments the past two years of distance seem like only a week or so. We swap stories, we laugh, we reminisce about the past. He begins telling me about a girl that he left behind in New York, about this relationship that has kind of started but hasn’t. It has in the sense that they are interested and have hung out; it hasn’t in the sense that he had to leave before things were able to progress any further. Our food arrives: fried chicken, burgers and fries, served in baskets with rustic cutlery to complement the décor. I have forgotten for the moment my initial feelings of being a foreigner in this land of young people and their groovy, out-of-the-way places. I’ve been married for ten years and have two kids but at this moment I feel like I belong here, that it doesn’t matter that my phone isn’t beeping incessantly or that my car has kids’ seats and the remains of countless snacks throughout or that I wear pants that are comfortable and not skin tight. Everyone here is having a good time. We are young and free.
I snap out of my reverie when I realise that Jack has been talking and I haven’t been listening. I try to rescue the situation before he realises and ask a general question about this new relationship that I hope might get me back on track. I brush the crumbs off my fingers onto the table and ask, ‘So where did you meet her?’ A simple question I think to myself, but the answer throws me. He says a single word: ‘Tinder.’ A word that I have never heard before. Rather than simply nod like I know what he’s talking about, like an idiot I ask what “Tinder” is and in that moment all pretenses of fitting in vanish like a vapour. I am found out. Jack doesn’t make a statement about how out of touch I am for this is now officially, plainly obvious. Instead he allows a small grin to play across his lips before stating sincerely, almost apologetically, ‘Oh my God, you are so old.’