Wednesday, June 11, 2014

59) Ave Maria at the Black Widow Cafe.

Arthur had nodded off in a pot fugue, thinking over his life, wondering how he was ever going to tell his side of the story and somehow justify his reason for living. Much of it had been bloody awful, things one should be ashamed of, not just the hedonistic sex, it was the violence done to him and that he seemed to want to do in return. And yet he was a peacenik, make love not war his credos, it all depended on his intention for a certain outcome: to feel compassion and attempt to heal or to stand up for himself and wage the righteous fight. And when, throughout all the fracas and ecstasy, he asked himself, "Who am I?" he got a clear-cut answer, "I'm a wandering warrior monk contemplating the Universe wanking over It's awareness!"

When next he looked up, he saw that the Café crowd had thinned out, only the diehard lunatic fringe clinging to the corners. And the ghosts from the past also lingered, as if loathe to leave this site of strange attraction. One of them was write large, almost larger than life itself,  Maria, Vitto’s ancient sister, lying stretched out snoring upon the grungy, padded bench behind the tables, her varicose legs elevated and her crabby soul tranquillized by her afternoon siesta. 

The wimps always fled at her arrival for she humored no bludgers or broken-arsed substance abusers, but Arthur wasn’t scared of her, to him she was just another outre King’s Cross character, champing at the bit in her own God’s Waiting Room. She was a post-world war Italian immigrant who had elevated herself to shopkeeper status by sheer hard-work; nicknamed Il Duce’s Widow by the cynical café crew, she kept a candle eternally burning behind the counter to ward off the Evil Eye, only it had the opposite effect and troubles rained down on the Family like biblical plagues.

The Café of No Return had gone through many upheavals and permutations in its fifty-year history and none greater than when Vitto took on its ownership out of desperation for a job. Old Joe Polenta had put the business up for sale before his death but there were no takers as Vitto’s manic, gay personality was the business, get rid of him and the place was a morgue. The dump got closed for a few months when Joe sacked Vitto, who then slaved at his sister’s Cafe on Oxford Street before they let him go, too old to cut the mustard, he couldn’t run up and down the stairs, and he was bereft of a reason for living, like a queen evicted from her throne-room. 

Joe begged Vitto to come back and bring the customers with him, then he died of bowel cancer, poor thing and the cafe was on the edge. Biting his tongue, with Maria’s aid, he put his Randwick flat up as collateral, took out a mortgage and bought the Poison Chalice Café, continuing to run it as a shrine to wannabe (mon)stars and hang-out parlor for the mad at heart. Except he wasn’t such a great businessman, and innumerable sales of bad coffee and cheap spaghetti couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments. Then his sister lost the lease on her Oddbods Café in Paddington and decided to join the business on the Cross with Vitto, giving herself a last gasp at life and helping him run a tighter, tougher ship as if she were Captain Bligh in drag.

Arthur’s fondest memory of Maria was the night long ago when he took a prospective boyfriend named Jason to her Oddbods Café to have dinner with Vitto and her. He’d been courting Jason for months, having first glimpsed his exotic beauty in the hippie countryside haven of Nimbin and had sleazily invited him to stay at his pad in Sydney whenever he was in town. The luscious, tall guy actually turned up and the weekend held great sexual promise as Jason had hinted he was ready for his first big homo fling and Arthur was drooling, looking into his marvelous eyes where he sat between Vitto and Maria. The food was flung before them by a faggy Italian waiter who took one look at Jason and went into a tizz of unbridled lust. He fussed around the six-foot hunky guy, splashing spaghetti everywhere, whispering zealously, lasciviously into the spunk’s ear, much to Arthur’s annoyance. Then he rushed off and, before Arthur could comment, Jason left the table, disappearing to the dungeons below, to go to the toilet Arthur surmised.
Maria and Vitto prattled on about the trains always being late, and half an hour dragged by, with no sign of Jason or the waiter, while Arthur writhed with frustration in his chair. Finally Jason materialized and breathlessly took his seat, the fag waiter slinking in his wake, a satisfied smirk on his weary face. Arthur then dragged a sordid tale of woe from an evidently mentally challenged Jason. The waiter had promised him bales of marijuana if he would meet him in the toilets and when he got there the silly poof had thrown himself on his knees and tearfully begged to take Jason’s long, thin cock in his mouth. Jason said he resisted at first but then the crazed homo had promised to buy him a car, give him money, anything, if only he could suck him off.

Jason claimed he’d refused but half an hour is a long time for a knock-back and just long enough for a blowjob and Arthur knew the yob was dumb enough to fall for the wiles of any loquacious poof. “He’s not going to get you a fucking car no matter what you do for him and I bet you did plenty! And here’s another piece of advice. You can fuck off, dumb arse!” snarled Arthur, quite turned off now that he had a fool to contend with. Arthur went on to complain to Maria about the outrageous rudeness of her waiter cracking onto his dinner companion.

“He’s not your boyfriend, is he?” she croaked. “Not yet but I had high hopes,” whined Arthur. “So, then he’s free to do what he wants,” was her wizened reply. And forever after, every time Arthur looked at her craggy face, he thought of the Witch with the crock of shit at the End of the Rainbow Café.

For seven years Maria rode gunshot at the Deadwood Café where the perennial posse of haggard dope dealers slunk about the area, insinuating themselves into every crack and croaking their pathetic come-ons, any drug available at every five paces. They were strung along Roslyn Street like wheedling penitents at a lepers’ fair, tirelessly loitering outside the Café, and they couldn’t be gotten rid of, cockroach spray and Maria’s curses only excited them. They squeezed into the Café at nights, unremarkable amongst the crowd of freaks, disguised by the cloud of pot-smoke that filled the Shoe-box premises, the deals unnoticed in the roar of conversation and music crashing from the jukebox. Maria was smart enough to know what was going on and tolerated them, as long as it didn’t create too much of a hubbub and no hard drugs went down.

There was one dickhead named Mimmo who bragged he was boss of the whole scene. He was an over the hill coke-head and gambler, and sold enough pot to be able to gamble a thousand dollars away every day on the horses and pokies. Maria let him carry on, favoring him perhaps because he was a fellow Italian and somewhat handsome, in a ragged kind of way. She tried not to rock the boat too much, the Café had to attract customers, she and Vitto worked tirelessly to provide a club for the deadbeat pothead philosophers to improve their art of bullshitting.

In Arthur’s way of magical thinking the Café was like a secret Rosicrucian club where he could meet fellow travelers and discuss the history of knowledge, the veracity of Art and the pitfalls of Existence, where the key to Nature could fall from any stranger at any moment. He imagined Roslyn Street had been named after Roslyn Chapel in Scotland, the Hermeticist’s Lodge that incorporated the history of the world’s various religious metaphysics into its design. Indeed, a “Rose Line” or magnetic leyline possibly ran the length of the street. He thought a major clue was the streets close proximity to King’s Cross, a symbol resonant of the Knights of the Holy Temple. For at least a hundred years Occult groups like the Order of the Golden Dawn had gathered in the area and famous witches like Roslyn Norton had made the place home, as if it was some prehistoric pagan hotspot.

Roslyn Norton.
Bohemians, artists, musicians and poets had always flocked here to practice and propagate their crafts, attracted by the twenty-four hour big city lights, dreaming it was a site of enlightenment, of mind-blowing vision quests, of swooning ecstasies. Too bad that many got distracted and blown away by the enticing lights of sex, booze, gambling and drugs, for all knowledge was up for grabs and an explosion of light in the brain was only fifty bucks away, a high many a weak-linked, gutless wonder would kill for. 

The local library stocked books of the most arcane and mysterious sort, for they had to cater to the thirsty celebrants swarming the neighborhood. It was by tracking the popularity of certain esoteric texts displayed like lures at the library that Arthur surmised he was not alone in his search for the Holy Grail, and that quite possibly it lay somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the Black Widow Café. That’s why he put up with Maria’s cranky shit and all the little humiliations the dickhead throng ladled out, for he had a higher purpose for being there and no halfwit fame-whore was going to deter him from drinking at the Fount.

Arthur felt embarrassed and stressed that the Café had pot-dealers milling about as it meant Vitto was open to trouble from the greasy arm of the law. For much of the time the police took bribes and all the cafes in the street did a roaring trade in marijuana, particularly the Amsterdam Café across the road from Vitto’s Crackpot Café . Every gronk and his drover’s dog made their way to the Amsterdam, clouds of ganjha smoke wafted out onto the street and sent the busy little blowflies buzzing, so the area became notoriously hot and featured as an ongoing scandal in the Sunday yellow press. No matter how many times they busted the joint, the Amsterdam’s wily entrepreneur found another backpacker-sucker to run the risk and sell little baggies with every cup of coffee. The Pigs put surveillance cameras up on all the corners, even inside Vitto’s House of Hate Café, and did periodic swoops to round up all the sleazy suspects, but there was an army of zombies rising from the gutters to get a piece of the non-action to support their bad habits and nothing could deter them. 

Twice they’d even dragged poor old Vitto off to King’s Cross Police Dungeons on the charge of running a disorderly house and selling drugs, he who had never smoked a joint or sold a drug in his life. Oh that such a hardworking immigrant shopkeeper could sink so low! They showed him videos wherein he could be seen pointing out the secret camera to his customers, proof he was a conniving, law-breaking scumbag. Arthur jokingly looked on the old queen as if he was some creaky Genet-like crim, an underground drug czar bringing in donkey-trains loaded down with hashish, him on the lead donkey cracking a long whip. Roslyn Street was becoming too hot for cool cats like Arthur.
He recalled the obstacle course of contretemps he had run through for the sake of hanging out in the café, the money he’d spent there, the loyalty he’d given, standing by Vitto no matter the disaster. Such as when the local electricity station had blown up and the whole area had been plunged into darkness for a week, he’d sat with Vitto in the cold wet dark with only a candle for comfort. Or when he’d been dragged off to the cop-shop, waiting patiently for his return to commiserate and curse the demonizing of the wonder herb, marijuana. And going to the movies with him every week for twenty-one years, ignoring the embarrassment of Vitto screaming and calling out at the slightest piece of cinematic violence.

He was particularly pained to remember that time he was nearly criminalized just for being a loyal patron of the Cafe de Sade. There he was, blissfully drinking his café latte, listening to Mimmo crap on with a lot of coke-fueled nonsense, trying to impress two good-looking Swedish back-packer girls, recounting everything that was wonderful about himself. The girls laughed in his face because the arse was out of his baggy jeans and he looked like a bum. Arthur decided to put up one of his posters and as he did so Mimmo asked if his name was on it, considering how popular he was. Arthur pointed at a word and said, ‘Yep, there’s your name right there in clear print, DICKHEAD!” Mimmo muttered into his scraggy beard while the blond Venuses giggled. Then Arthur made the mistake of sitting next to the guy. All was jolly for seven minutes with a few more wisecracks slung in Mimmo’s face and everyone sniggering, him being so dumb he thought they were compliments.

Suddenly the Café Inferno was surrounded by squads of Police, plain-clothes and uniformed, they blocked off the street and wrestled through the doorway, they had a search warrant and the deviant crowd was frozen to their seats. The Pig posse oink-oinked and shuffled about, poking their grubby fingers into private places, peeping into any likely stash-hole, ruining the Café’s carefree ambience totally. Arthur glanced down at his backpack on the seat beside him and eyeballed a strange paper-bag lying on top of it that wasn’t there a few minutes ago. He didn’t have to be a genius to realize it was Mimmo’s dope stash and the bastard was trying to palm it off on him. The Pigs were distracted combing through the morass of junk in the Café and Arthur snatched up the bag and threw it on the floor by Mimmo’s feet.

As the Pigs got closer in their search Mimmo spotted the bag at his feet and with a grimace kicked it over to Arthur’s side of the table. Arthur snarled and kicked it back. The Pigs were snorting down their necks as Mimmo did the quick shuffle and kicked the bag back again, like it was a fun game of miniature football. Arthur glared menacingly at him, and mouthed the words “Fuck you, cunt!” as he gave the paper bag such a kick it flew up between Mimmo’s legs and he couldn’t surreptitiously dislodge it. He squirmed and wriggled like a pathetic belly dancer and when the bag fell to the floor his feet scrabbled in a blur trying to get the incriminating object away from him and back to Arthur. Except one of the pigs had noticed the squirming and saw the bag fly from between the bastard’s legs. The Cop stomped over to them and picked the bag up. He asked Arthur if it was his and Arthur stated calmly that he’d never seen it before. He was asked to empty his pockets and all he had was the price of his cup of coffee. 

The Oinker then turned to Mimmo who blustered on and on about his innocence but on turning out his pockets was found to have a stack of notes, all twenties and fives coupled lovingly together, twenty-five dollars being the cost of a tiny bag of marijuana. Mimmo’s face went red as he was arrested, with the Swedish backpacker girls less than impressed, while Arthur was given his freedom and told to leave the premises. He pushed his way through the crowd of Pigs, furious at his near-fame-up, glancing back to see old Vitto being frisked, humiliated, reduced to sordid criminality as he was also led away.

When Arthur went back the next day Mimmo was out on bail and bragging how easily he could evade the Cops. He had the nerve to sit next to Arthur like they were best mates, keeping up the bluff of the jolly banter, dumb as an ox. Arthur lost his cool, accused Mimmo of trying to frame him and gave him a shove. Mimmo tried the macho stance and demanded Arthur face him out on the street, which was what Arthur was rearing to do, grabbing Mimmo by the collar and dragging him out of the Café and then giving him a couple of bitch slaps across the face. Mimmo went down like the proverbial wet paper-bag, squealing and begging for mercy. Arthur replied with his favorite move, he spun the sad-sack on his heels and gave him a kick in the arse, the six-foot arsehole running off up Roslyn Street bewailing his pathetic existence. Arthur didn’t consider himself such a tough nut, he was just so angry he could’ve torn the creep’s ears off.

Still fuming he re-entered the Chasing the Dragon Café, glaring at Maria who blithely returned his gaze as if the sorry saga had nothing to do with her bad choice of Italian buddies. Then this little twit called Rodney piped up, “Gee Arthur, Mimmo’s customers won’t be too happy with you, chasing him off like that!” Rodney was this short, blond gay clone who worked as a male prostitute but would garble on to anyone, regardless of the topic of conversation, that just because he sucked cocks for a living didn’t mean he was gay, (like anybody cared.) He was well known for having schizo flip-outs and had once accused Arthur of being a creep and ogling innocent little him seductively, and Arthur had been waiting for the right moment of bad mood to get him.

He snarled “Keep your mouth shut, you little cocksucker!” Rodney spluttered and moaned “I’m not a cocksucker, I’m not a cocksucker!” “Yep, that’s all you are, a dirty little cocksucking cocksucker!” persisted Arthur, dying to slam him in the teeth. But the little jerk wouldn’t take the bait, infamous for breaking a woman’s nose in one of his attempts at hetero normalcy, chicken-shit when it came to a stoush with the boys.

Maria and Vitto had taken up knitting to fill their empty hours and they continued clacking away with the needles like Madame La Farge and crony witnessing the action at the guillotine. The cruelly indifferent faces at the Café Sans Culottes sorely tried Arthur’s patience and, sneering, he put on his backpack and stormed out onto the street. Looking back through the window he saw a smug grin on Rodney’s cloned face as if he’d triumphed in a battle of wills and this infuriated Arthur so much he caught Rodney’s insipid gaze and continuously mouthed the word “cocksucker”, crooking his finger, beckoning the little shit to come outside.

Finally the turkey rushed out, able to withstand the challenge to his manhood no longer. Rodney was half Arthur’s age but the same size and weight, thus Arthur felt no fear at taking him on, except in his temper he’d forgotten to take his backpack off and was somewhat encumbered. As Rodney came at him screaming “I’m not a cocksucker!” Arthur gave him his standard swift Wing Chun kick to the guts, which surprised him and he stopped dead, realizing Arthur was no push-over. Then his pseudo-machismo got the better of him and he stepped forward again, throwing a punch that only grazed Arthur’s head, Arthur socking him in the jaw in return, the damn backpack hampering his movements and he knew that the fight was going to be a tough haul. Rodney paused again, looking for a way out, as the brawl was descending into a low-down, hair-pulling, bitch-fight tumble to the gutters. Vitto must have heard the squalling for he stuck his head out the door and shrieked for them to stop their childish antics. This was the excuse Rodney was looking for and he backed off, Arthur also satisfied he’d encouraged the little dead-shit to keep his dirty gob shut in future.

Maria knitted on, non-committal, just part of the theatrics at the Blood and Gutters Café and she’d seen it all. Though it wasn’t long before she herself lost her wig when an Algerian pot-dealer wouldn’t leave the premises at her command, calling her an old cunt. She hit him over the head with a plastic bottle of mineral water and still he wouldn’t go, and in frustration she ran weeping from the Café and flung herself upon a bench across the road, having what looked like a heart attack. All the deadbeats charged after her and crowded around, fussing over her as if she was the matriarch of a powerful Mafia clan. Arthur watched the scene from the café’s window, a group of men gathered around the old woman under a street lamp, her writhing about, kicking her legs and waving her arms, the men seemed to be trying to hold her down, one even looked like he was between her legs, giving her the old heave-ho. “Nogod! What on earth is going on over there,” he wondered.

Vitto asked him to go over and see if she was alright and as he approached the bench, lit like a diorama from the streetlight above, with several men tugging on her legs and arms, he got the terrible idea he was witnessing a gang-bang in progress. He pushed his way through the crowd and looked down upon her, using his nurses radar to scan her in seven seconds and see that she was just hyperventilating. She looked up into his eyes and knew he was there to give succor if she needed it and relaxed a little. No heart attack, no stroke or breathing problem, just anxiety. Mimmo was there ogling the action and Arthur asked him to get her up and help here to her apartment nearby, she couldn’t lie out  in the cold all night with a mob of deviants blubbering over her.

All the poor dear's bats came home to roost a few days later when her dear friend, Mimmo, robbed the Café of all its earnings and fled to Nowheresville. Then the candle she had left burning in her apartment, to ward off the ever-threatening Evil Eye, set fire to the curtains and burnt the whole joint down, including the sixty thousand dollars she’d stashed for years under her mattress, never having trusted banks. Trying to squeeze out just a bit more life for herself she became a permanent fixture at the Café Undesirable, grumping vitriol at anyone who cast their shadow upon her, castigating the desperate lunatics and humoring the toothless lapdogs who dared cross the thresh-hold.  But Arthur liked her, she was quite a character, very staunch and forthright, a hard-worker who didn’t suffer fools gladly. He remained loyal to the café and fearless, no matter how many punches in the face, insults to his sexuality or threats from the cops he got, outliving any imbroglio, more lost than most but kind of at home, twenty-one years an acolyte at that Mecca for Misfits.

Eventually all that hard work did her in, her legs gave out on her, she got embolisms that scoured her creaky old body and she died at St. Vincents in the early ‘Noughties. Arthur was glad he got to kiss her goodbye on her deathbed, gratified to know she liked him in return. Vitto was inconsolable, she was his last staunch connection to the old world familia that Italians dote upon. She had a big funeral at the Catholic Church down Roslyn Street presided over by Father Syn, all a bit mind-boggling in its metaphors. Peter the violinist played Ave Maria from the choir-loft and her niece, Tina, stood up and declared she’d made a promise to the dying Maria: that she’d look after her brother, Vitto, till the end. Thankfully she and Lorenzo have lived up to their bargain, moving him in with them and looking after him well as he’s terrified to live and die alone.

In the middle of the funeral service an old Italian widow in black kept trying to stand up but those on either side of her kept pulling her back down, they struggled back and forth for much of the ceremony but finally the old girl broke free and got to her feet. She loudly wailed, “We loved you Maria but you sure were a bitch!” It reminded Arthur of a scene from a classic Italian movie melodrama starring Anna Magnani. All of the congregation went into shock, Vitto stared at the floor in embarrassment, everyone pretended they didn’t hear it and the prayers carried on. Arthur found out later she was Maria’s sister-in-law, the husband had died many years previously, apparently a wastrel, Maria doing the ghastly Catholic thing and leaving him, bringing up her kids on her own.

The other of her sons, Joe, was a biker, in a motor-bike club and he, with Lorenzo and members of the biker gang, carried the coffin out to the hearse, all of them dressed in black leather jackets with wild club insignia across their backs; it was a colorful and fitting escort for Maria on her last journey, from Café Purgatory to the Pearly Gates. And Arthur continued to hang in there amidst Purgatory’s flames, ignoring the mob of ghosts clinging to the door posts, but he was like a budgie with its wings singed, trapped in a rusty cage, he longed to fly free.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.