The Grape Men
I grew up in well-established suburb of Melbourne, so it was a novelty to have horses over the back fence. They roamed around in a thin expanse of undeveloped land that spanned an entire block lengthways and sometimes Dad would lift me up so I could feed them grass and pat their noses. (To this day, I like horses for the fact that they prefer the grass out of a person’s hand to the grass coming out of the ground. They are humouring us like a kind uncle humours a dim-witted child, and I appreciate it, despite the fact that once you know what they’re doing you can’t help but feel it’s a tiny bit condescending.)
The strip of land is still there, but the horses are long gone, and so am I – from the house bordering it, not the paddock itself. (Sometimes Mum told me she could no longer support two children and that I had to go and live in the paddock and make money as a busker, performing my inimitable version of ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ to dog walkers, 85 cents in the dollar of which I would need to “send” back to the family. But it never came to that.)
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Nothing will ever come close to the excitement of having horses over the back fence, but since then, I’ve been lucky enough to live in two homes with something interesting to peer at while standing on tiptoes.
For a couple of years I lived on the second floor of an apartment that bordered one of those creeks that have been lined with concrete and become a sort of open drain. Sometimes, when the creek ran low or completely dry, incomprehensibly cool teenagers – not yet pubescent, in many cases, but oh so hormonal nonetheless – would use it as a kind of ultra-fashionable thoroughfare. Occasionally they’d stop to pull out a spraycan and spend seconds, and sometimes a full minute, creating something wonderful.
You could see them if you craned your neck in one of the bedrooms, but you got the best view if you stood on the toilet in the little bathroom at the end of the hallway. From this vantage point you could see every nervous dart of the head, every self-consciously indifferent adjustment of the testicles, every letter of the word they were trying so hard to spell – bless them.
I was living with my brother at the time, and on a weekend once, we stood with one foot on the toilet lid each and watched as a little group of twelve year olds, their trousers round their knees, stopped to leave their aerosol contribution to the beautification of the concrete drain – the word “dick”.
I’m not a huge fan of the fight-fire-with-fire approach, but in this instance I could see its merits. I decided that the best way to combat their childishness was with childishness, so I cupped my hands over my mouth and yelled out the window “THIS IS THE POLICE! PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”
The can hit the ground before I’d finished the first sentence. They bolted – two left, one right.
I yelled: “THEY’RE RUNNING! OPEN FIRE!”
I have never heard a louder explosion of flatus in my life – the acoustics of the drain turned out to be perfectly suited to turning a fart born of terror into a kind of once-in-a-lifetime musical event.
About six months later, I thought I’d try out the police routine again. This time a lone spraypainter had set up shop and was proving himself to be a damn fine depicter of the human vulva.
“THIS IS THE POLICE!” I bellowed.
His head moved slightly. He could have been turning to spit. It was not the reaction I’d been expecting.
“PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”
With his back still turned and his spraycan finishing a labia, he lifted his other hand and gave me the bird. I shat myself, ducked and spent the next twenty minutes squatting on top of a closed toilet, whimpering a little bit.
At my current home, I’m on the first floor of a little apartment block which sits next to an expansive vacant block. It’s owned by people my wife and I have come to know as The Grape Men. Every March they drive their semi-trailer down to the Barossa Valley and return with what I can only assume is cast-off – shitloads of it.
Then they spend the next three months… what would you call it? – tending to these picked grapes. Once every three or four weeks they sell a bunch or two. For the rest of the time they use up ten to twelve hours a day, every day, just… I suppose… being near the grapes. It’s sort of like a vigil, except with a monumentally large amount of swearing, bickering, starting and stopping of engines, shifting of polystyrene boxes and thrashing of corrugated iron.
They are all Italian men of between 55 and 90 years of age. Some of them have allocated jobs – loud palette stacker, engine starter, belligerent foreman, engine stopper – but most just stand (or lean on walking sticks) around, sometimes entering into an argument about how slowly a car should reverse out of the block, mostly just smoking.
For three months a year, we wake up to the rattling of big iron gates and hollered exclamations:
“NOH! NOH! NOH! NOH! NOH!”
“BACK. BACK BACK BACK BACK. NOH! FORWARD! FUCK!”
“EP! EP! EP! EP! EP! FUCK!”
“EH! YOU! WHAT YOU DO?! HA HA HA HA! FUCKIN’ PUTANO!”
“LEAVE IT THERE! OH! NOT THERE! FUCK!”
They are delightful people and I hope to be doing what they’re doing – pissfarting on a full-time basis – by the time I’m 50, but sometimes they start screaming “PUTANA!” so early that it becomes a bit much.
That’s when my wife has to go down and have a word to them.
The first time she went down furious and came back jovial and with a bunch of grapes that was gently fermenting.
The second time she went down furious and came back jovial and calling them The Nice Grape Men.
I don’t know what they said on either occasion because I had hid in a cupboard and waited for the confrontation to pass in a foetal position.
They’re back again this year and it’s fun to watch their antics.
Once one of them rode in on an okapi and someone yelled “PUTANA!” and everyone laughed. Including me, while on tiptoes, standing on my bed.
Haught fact of the day:
According to the Crimes Act 1900:
A person who, with intent to deceive:
(a) impersonates a police officer, and
(b) purports to exercise a power or function as a police officer,
is guilty of an offence.
The maximum penalty is imprisonment for 7 years.