Burnt out sofa, burnt out life

Photograph of burnt-out sofa on Stanmore Road, Enmore

“Want to buy a sofa, going cheap?” Mike, the bloke sitting on the veranda, laughs — amused that the discarded furniture was torched. He’s annoyed they started the fire too close to the fence, though, scorching the paw paw plant that’s just starting to come into fruit.

Somehow the conversation turns to the weather-beaten old homeless guy who was camped out nearby most of this week, but who’s now been moved on. “Keith? Nah, he’s not into money,” Mike tells me. “He’s a millionaire though.” Come again?

Ten or fifteen years ago, Mike was in the queue behind Keith at the bank. “He had a bank book,” says Mike. “That’s old, I thought, so I had a bit of a sticky-beak over his shoulder — and the balance was $1.2 million!” Keith withdrew a thousand dollars in $50 notes that day, carefully folded them into tight little squares in the palm of his hand, and shuffled out into the street.

“I’ve seen him sitting there, on the nod,” says Mike, “and his hand has dropped open and there’s four or five hundred dollars in cash scattered on the ground. Anyone could just take it and he doesn’t care. Once I asked him if I could borrow two bucks ’cos I was short for a packet of smokes, and he opens his hand and shows me a bunch of notes and says take what you want. I can’t do that!”

Keith’s lived on the streets a very long time. His skin is brown and leathery. His hair and beard are a deeply knotted tangle. He sits motionless and silent for hours at a time, staring at nothing in particular. I don’t think Keith understands that he’s a millionaire.

[Names have been changed.]

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4 comments

  1. Richard’s avatar

    Now this is a good post, and it’s not about weird sex stuff.

  2. Zhasper’s avatar

    But I *like* weird sex stuff – more of that, please!

    Burnt out sofas are fine, but you can find *them* on any street corner…

  3. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Richard: Thanks for the compliment. I must admit, I do like some of my more essay-like postings.

    @Zhasper: You like weird sex stuff? Cool. I’ll drop you my phone number…

    Actually, I’ve always wondered whether I should post about my, um, more personal personal life. My friend Richard Watts writes quite openly about his weekends of vice in the same blog where he mentions his professional life. But if I’m trying to re-establish a higher-profile media presence, and I think I am, perhaps the serious commentary will have less gravitas if it’s interspersed with tales of debauchery.

    After all, look what happened when my friend Justin Walker was standing as The Greens candidate for Prahran in Melbourne and someone discovered his profile on Gaydar. Dirty politics in every sense of the word.

    Then again, Alan Jones’ adventures in a London public toilet don’t seem to have done him much harm.

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