Old Dogs

DOWN UNDER


he was
around me
before I knew
what was happening
I heard a crack
and turned in time
to see punch number two
catch Kurt squarely
on his already
bleeding mouth

before
I could react
it was all over
the assailant subdued
by his startled friends
Kurt still lounging
calmly on the couch
cigarette in hand
shoulders shrugged
in response
to my questioning
glance

later back
on the streets
curiosity overwhelmed me

"what the Hell did you say"

I demanded of him
"nothing"

he answered
over a swollen lip
"I was just
sitting there"

"never mind"

I replied

"I think that
I understand now
and
by the way
welcome
to Australia"

"fuck you very much"

two hours before
we had arrived
at the Sydney airport
both suffering hangovers
spiritually and
morally drained
we told the cabbie
that we needed a cheap room
so he took us to King's Cross
the red light district
and left us
to our own
devices

a smell
of doom
already hung
about our
heads

our lodging
finally secured
in a backpacker's inn
we hit the noisy streets
in search
of the wild life
but first
of course
a drink or two
to facilitate
our flagging
thinking processes

we had failed
to take into account
the time zones
and their effect
since we had left Seattle
on a sunny Saturday morning
but the Dateline had dealt us
a unkindly disservice
dropping us here
around 2am
on a very
early Monday

the first
three bars we saw
were already closed
but salvation was ahead
in streetwalker form
who else would know
the pleasures we seek?
she smiled her assent
and then took us up
a dimly lit stairwell
to open the concealed door
of an all night whorehouse
the front room a bar
so we had nothing
in the way
of complaint

we opt
for a couple
cans of Fosters
(the tourist beer
we are later
informed)
the place is packed
with feisty football fans
(REAL football)
in town for the final
filling their tanks
before returning
to the Outback
and beyond

they are amused
to find two Americans
in their drunken midst
and I struck up a conversation
with a group of ranchers
while Kurt disappeared
with out trailblazing
lady of the night
leaving me alone
with my newfound
friends

"messacree some roos mate?"

one of them asks
which after some
linguistic deliberations
I understand
to mean

"would you like to accompany us
out into the vast countryside
to kill many kangaroos
while drinking ourselves
into a stupor?"

I accepted
of course
on the behalf
of Kurt and myself
for we were nothing
if not true sportsmen
and horrible
drunks

as the chat
continued
at a lofty seven percent
alcohol content
versus my accustomed
three point six
greatly accelerating
the acclimation process
I was getting along well
with these frequenters
of the wastelands

Kurt
in the meantime
his back room business
finally at a conclusion
had quietly slipped
back into the scene
acquired a fresh beverage
and inconspicuously slid
onto the old couch
behind me

that was the last
moment of calm
before the ensuing outbreak
of a brief but intense
thunderstorm of violence
which seems so distant now
sitting at this sunlit table
ordering Victoria Bitters
(a man's beer we are told)
displaying our nascent
Australian acumen
and I see Kurt
assume the disdainful
authoritative pose
that was his custom
the same one
no doubt
that had triggered
the earlier downpour
of frenzied
fistfalls

our beers
mercifully arrive
and we nurse them slowly
drinking ourselves sober
for the coming
new day

we look
at each other
and laugh
we are strangers
in a strange land
yet feel strangely
at home