Last night I awoke quite clear-headed, as I seem to these days some 4 or 5 hours in to my sleep, with a fully-formed memory session, all narrative-like. I am moved to share it here.
It isn't really a confession, as although this story contains one or more Things Not To Do Ever that I did, I have no shame or regret now. No need for absolution or recognition that I have been far, far less than perfect in life. No prophylactic attempts to pervert the too-easy knee-jerk of Everyone's A Top Bloke When They're Dead that is bound to raise its queasy head for someone later down the track at least. It's just, well, a really vivid image in which I felt deeply alone, in which Death stalked about nearby for a quick cheery "Hello!" and which seems to want to be told.
The lighting in this is really important. Nighttime, no real clouds bar the occasional thin wisp of steam or exhaust from some appliance or vessel around the port. Sodium vapour streetlamps in that special orangey yellow. The hour just that bit too late for someone out on their own. Early 1990s, me and my trusty red Vespa.
The evening started out alone in a crowd, I remember this feeling clearly. A bar in North Fremantle, once called The Stoned Crow (the name derives from some Australian vernacular; an oath to "Stone the crows!" - maybe something like "holy crap!") and at this time it was probably still called that, just. The sort of low-ceilinged dive fitting maybe 60 or 70 souls inside to hear a small band, selling cheap beers and its own 'special drink', a fortified wine of evil repute called Kirup Sirup (sic) named after the country town not too far away that it came from. Beer garden out the back with wire tables and chairs and where you could smoke a J as long as you a) shared and b) maintained some semblance of circumspection and modesty in behaviour. You most especially had to ensure you kept the bar staff topped up, and mind their drinks for them too. I'd been sort-of invited by a friend from Uni days I'd run into earlier that day (Uni was two or so years previously perhaps but when you're that young it seems like an eternity) and at the time I was planless, and must have been in some in-between stage girlfriend-wise, I cannot remember now. As you can see at a glance though, young man, at a loose end, bar full of mostly happy strangers, drinking and smoking, on his scooter ... danger lies ahead. I don't remember the band, nor much of the company bar the young woman that mentioned the gig to me, but I do remember what happened after. I found myself in a dingy flat two suburbs away with two underage (as in, 17 or so) girls who'd been at the gig, listening to Hunters & Collectors on their crappy stereo, acting like we were cooler than even the coolest cats from Beverly Hills 90210 and like there wasn't a shred of sexual tension in the room. This and the smoking of bongs led me inexorably to eating a bowl of Froot Loops.
Froot Loops are for all I know ubiquitous in global western culture now, but for those who do not know, they are a teeny donut-shaped crunchy morsel made up mainly of coloured sugar and some cereal extract designed to float in milk, sparkly with an array of frooty flavours. they are the sweetest, and possibly worst, breakfast cereal known to man. They made me very, very hungry and I just had to escape the dire farce that these two girls who had lured me there I think so they could brag about having had some 'older guy' from the bar they'd illegally gotten into come and hang out with them - there was certainly nothing else on the agenda but awkward adolescent hormonal mismanagement - so I got myself to Captain Munchies.
Yes, dear reader, so far I have scooted from North Freo up to the far end of Mosman Park and back in to Freo port itself, maybe 10 km only, but in the wee small hours of the morning, smashed on alcohol and pot. I'm tempted to say "don't do this at home" but really, that's exactly the ONLY place you should do it.
Captain Munchies then was one of only three places in the greater Perth metropolitan area that was open 24 hours a day; the other two being franchises of Fast Eddy's. I parked the Vespa in an aesthetically pleasing way under a streetlight and ran the gauntlet of the too-bright neon interior to order a burger, with beetroot and cheese and egg and barbecue sauce, then sat at the bolted-down tables outside admiring the peace of the seagulls wheeling overhead in the glare of the lights from the port broken only by the occasional fellow-traveller awash in his or her own seas of fuzz. It was only at this point, and this is where my half-dreamt remembering started last night, that I became properly aware that I was very definitely doing a bad Drink Driving thing. More than that, I was going to do some more of it, to get home. No way I'm leaving the Vespa here, and it's too far to walk now.
But drunk and stoner logic failed, as so often happens, and rather than settle on the shortest route home straight up the hill it seemed far safer to use some 'back roads' around the port and then speed down the well-lit highways, over the newer, shinier traffic bridge, across the highway and straight up to High Street; home.
And here's the vision. Here, you ride it this time. Glance down at your hands. Denim jacket done up at the wrists, fingerless gloves only, resting calmly on the handgrips, shiny red instrument and headlight nacelle glinting happily up at me, speedo at rest. Pull that clutch in with your left hand, and off we go. There's a beautifully curving on-ramp to the new traffic bridge from the river road, and we slope up that at a good clip, having a wide and clear view of any traffic (none) coming along. Now there's this drinkers' logic that says if you're drink-driving you should also speed as that means you are on the road for less time and thus are less likely to get pulled over. Apart from all that, speeding across this four-lane bridge, with ample time to see and predict the lights at the end (green), late at night with not a soul around is sheer joy.
There is an odd weather phenomenon that happens at this place on the river though, especially this late at night. The cooling air can funnel down the walls of the river and cause a sudden draught to cross the bridge at an odd angle, and hit your light-as-a-wasp Vespa side-on very hard and with no warning, sending me careening across two lanes before safely bringing the whole thing back under control. Then I spent a few moments pondering my good fortune, scooting at unreduced speed through the green lights, and by the time I woke up properly I realised that at my speed (on these square tyres with these teeny brakes etc etc) if the NEXT lights changed I was doomed, so did the only sensible thing - decided to lower the percentages by veering as close to the centre line as possible and setting up for a high-speed left-hander rather than carrying on straight (if you're American, imagine this as a right-hander, OK?). My theory was that there would only be one direction's worth of traffic to dodge. All this manoeuvring meant no time for braking, so it was a pretty line-ball thing, keeping the whole ship upright.
The rest of the journey home was entirely uneventful. Not even an adrenaline comedown, no shaking as I fumble with keys to get in the house, no making it safely home only to drop the bike on its side in the driveway.
And I think that last night might well have been the very first time I have remembered that night, 20 or more years ago. Just one typically stupid youthful misadventure that happily did not end in tears, but from which no great lessons were learnt at the time (except perhaps for just how fast you could take that left on to Marmion Road) as I am pretty sure I drove whilst under the influence at least a couple more times after that. I probably even ate Froot Loops too, and certainly Captain Munchies' burgers. Never saw those girls again though.
What shoots the whole memory through is this sense of aloneness, in fact although there surely must have been other vehicles about, I recall seeing none. I wanted this landscape to myself, and drunkenly or otherwise I let Death sit close by for that time, in a comfortable place. If there was to be a regret, it would be that I did not learn that Death rightfully *should* always be allowed to sit there at my shoulder. That its proper role is as a companion in life. I do not excuse my actions, of course. But I might have learned earlier that with Death alongside, nothing in life is too terribly scary. And the lighting, direction, sound mixing, and even the casting are from a top-notch movie maker when death is part of the production.
I miss that Vespa, sometimes.