I've been massaging Mr Mallee for a few months now. My name's Peng and I run this shop. On first coming in, he told me he was looking for something to give his Mondays ‘distinctiveness’. Luckily he got me as his masseur because I have excellent English. He is rather chatty and the other staff always try to give him to me. He usually gets the neck and shoulders massage, which he says helps him, as he stoops too much when he sketches.
The first time he came in, he asked for the head, neck and shoulders massage, and I can remember his flinch of surprise on discovering that we masseurs consider the face to be a part of the head. I imagine getting fingers pressed into your cheeks was unusual for him. He might have even been embarrassed. Mind you Mr Mallee says embarrassing things sometimes, so I feel as if we're even. He once commented that, at his age and in his circumstances, nobody touches him, and that our massages take care of that human need in him. I blushed a bit at that, but luckily I was standing behind him, so he never noticed. I think he meant it innocently, as he has also said that a massage is better than a haircut, but you never know with old men.
Mr Mallee definitely had a twinkle in his eye, and has asked me to call him Logan, but I prefer to keep things deferential. I can see that he could have been a charmer in his youth. I gather, from our conversations, that he is a widower, and seems content with his life, which includes a dog, a house and garden, and activities intended to give every day ‘distinctiveness’. I wonder what he did with his Mondays before my shop opened.
* * * * *
Mr Mallee comes in here every Tuesday to return and borrow books, sit and read some magazines, and use the Internet. My name's Perdita and, here at the library, I run various classes in using computers, the Internet and genealogy databases. That's how I met Mr Mallee, and it’s usually fun. I say usually because, during his first Internet lessons he was a difficult student. Rather than just say he needed help with something, he would criticize the interface design for its lack of complete consistency. The thing is, I agree with him, but I cannot do anything except show ways to work around the fact that, like anything that has been designed and redesigned over time, software will never make complete sense. That was a while back now, and Mr Mallee surfs the Net with the best of them, and even gives others helpful hints.
The thing that drew Mr Mallee to our classes was his interest in genealogy. He had tried visiting church records, but confessed that churches had always made him feel like somebody was trying to sell him something, while here at the library he gets only what he's looking for. Mr Mallee lacks any children of his own, but has ‘plenty of family lost in time’ as he likes to say. As he finds ancestors he then writes short bios for them, and even draws illustrations of what they might have looked like. In that sense, he uses one interest as an excuse to engage in another hobby. It's a trick I should use more often, if ever I get the time. Maybe, once I'm retired I will take a tip from Mr Mallee on how to keep active. I'm happy that the Herevale Herald wants to make him the focus of a coming 'Local Characters' column, and I hope it won't make him too self-conscious.
* * * * *
Logan? Yes he comes to my milk bar to get milk and bread. He says he also visits the local shopping centre every week but that, by Wednesdays, he needs to ‘replenish supplies a bit’. He ties his dog up to the bench outside and then walks in, always with a smile and a ‘Good Morning Mandeep’. Before he purchases his groceries, he often sits and orders a milkshake or an ice cream soda. Very few customers do that, but Logan says that such drinks are what make a milk bar more than just a convenience store. These small musings over words interest me and I think that, talking to someone like Logan is refining my understanding of the subtleties of Australian English.
I might also be learning some economics from Logan. He could get his extra groceries cheaper at the shops, but he says that he likes to ‘put my pension into as many pockets as possible’. This interests me, as so many his age want to keep every penny, but he says that spending some of his money helps keep the economy turning. I'm lucky he does. He lives almost as close to the shops as he does to me, so he actively takes a walk in my direction just because he likes the traditional milk bar, and for a small-time operator like me, every bit counts. Besides, it makes my day more interesting when I get a chatty customer like Logan.
* * * * *
Mr Mallee comes to our weekly Chess tournament on Thursdays. He's never yet been invited to any of the smaller games run by private members. I think this is because he talks too much. I have tried to tell him that many of our members really just want to play Chess, but he just says ‘Emmett, I'm giving them the chance to change, if they want to.’ Maybe some of them do want to, and I've noticed those that play with him are more likely to be middling on the Extrovert-Introvert scale. I'm one of those and, I'll admit, he does have some interesting things to say. I'm into military history and so, even if I think his focus is more on cultural developments, we still have a common frame-of-reference.
Talking while playing reduces my effectiveness as a player, and I've sometimes wondered if chatting is a deliberate strategy of Mr Mallee's. It certainly takes me longer to beat him than many other, technically better players. He's still not accomplished, however. I think that, if we lived in an area that had those big Chess sets in the park, that attract the elderly who stand around commenting, that would be perfect for Mr Mallee. We're really a bit too purist for him, and some of his comment put the others off. He once said he plays Chess to help stave off senility, and I could just see several members looking on, aghast, because they suddenly had to think about what could happen to them later in life.
On the other hand, it is nice to have an extra member who's prepared to do things like stack chairs or fill the urn at the scout hall we hire. Too many of the others arrive just in time to play, put their heads down over their pieces, then flee as soon as it's time to tidy. I mentioned this to Mr Mallee and he says it's a generational thing. I think he's mistaken and it’s a thing of temperament. I've been involved in other groups of young adults and they've been fine. It's just this group, we're different, and Mr Mallee challenges that.
* * * * *
Yes, Logan comes in here every Friday to try something on our menu. His favourite is the lamb kebab, but sometimes he will have the felafel or the barramundi. He says he's been coming in here for years, since before this was Göker’s Grill. I’m Göker, by the way, and this is my shop. Great, hey? It was a fish-and-chip shop back in the day, and they served souvlaki, so it was a small step for me to get the locals to buy my kebabs. But we were talking about Logan, weren’t we?
Logan chats a bit, but he also just sits and watches the world go by. I think that’s why he has a coffee after his meal, since he’s already had a tonic water with his food. Why? Well, the coffee gives him extra time just to observe. On a sunny day he’ll sit at one of our outside tables. My customers love it, ever since the council let us introduce al fresco dining on the footpath. So, yes, we talk a bit and then he sits and takes it all in. I guess he likes to think a lot, about the way the world is now, about how things have changed and, maybe, how things stay the same.
Why do I say that? Well, he likes history, and I know this because he’s complimented the photos on my walls of ancient ruins in Turkey. He looks at them and says things like, I wonder what an average day looked like back then. Are they shopping or making things or even just stopping to chat? I have to admit, I rarely think that way, unless something like a movie prompts me to, but Logan seems to do it a lot. He looks at things, then past them and through them and around them. He sketches, so it must be an artistic way of thinking. Me? I’m more focused on what I can see and do now. Hey, would you like something to eat or drink?
* * * * *
Logan is a welcome addition to our Shillelagh club. We meet every Saturday afternoon and I provide instruction to the members in use of a Shillelagh, or indeed any walking stick, as a martial art. On initially meeting, Logan noted that my name, Finn, is Irish, as indeed is the Shillelagh, and then went onto say that he had decided to join us to get back in touch with his Celtic heritage. Only much later he admitted that was just a throw-away line, and he'd never even seen a Shillelagh in his youth in Dublin. Rather, he was involved to keep himself ‘limber’ and to ‘get the blood pumping’. I approve. He walks a lot, but walking only does so much for you.
We have a lot of older participants, and Logan is the oldest, but I forget that, because his mood is more optimistic than you would expect. He gets into a few polite arguments with some of the other retirees in the group, on the nature of the world. A few of them say they are here because they need to defend themselves, what with all the gang violence these days. Logan, refreshingly, reminds them how much more violent the streets, and indeed the pubs, used to be decades ago, when everyone thought that a punch-up was just what you did on a weekend. It's good to have him there, because he helps to bridge the gap between our older and younger members.
I want to have a growing membership, and to do that we have to welcome to a more diverse cross-section of the community. I learned that in the police force, which I only recently retired from. Some assume that we are a bastion of tradition but, if you're the pillars of the community then you need to keep in step with that community, and Logan helps us do just that. I wonder what he does on Sundays. He likes ‘small things to make every day different’ but I get the feeling that Logan sets aside one day to do nothing and have a rest from his weekly schedule.
Well that took ages to do. I think I'm in the mood for less realist and more fantastical things at present. These interests seem to come in waves. I wonder what the judges of the Monash municipal short story contest will thing of this one...
Cross posted here.