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The Glass Canoe - David Ireland (1976)

Somewhere in the inner western suburbs. Thursday afternoon. February 2023.

“I don’t go in for that craft shit. Two schooners of Resch’s love.”

The barmaid with the undercut and Nirvana t-shirt sneers silently, her hand squeezing the beer tap. Cold amber fluid is expelled into two Headmaster glasses. The bloke and the author watch with a practiced patience.

The bloke looks around, there’s two sharp boys and a kid with a mullet at the corner table, huddled over their oversized phone screens. Swiping furiously. Engaged in hushed, disjointed conversation. Disgusted, he pulls back a stool at the unevenly sawn timber bar, kicking back another for the author as he settles with a thud. Manners are still free, he thinks.

‘You’re a fucken relic mate. Times have changed. You blokes would once sit with the form guide or those bloody huge broadsheets covering half your face. Cheers anyway.’

Our glasses clink. The bloke takes his first gulp of Resch’s. A half smile crosses his broad face. The author takes a sip of the Pilsner. It’s grainy and grassy flavour is lost on the bloke. A local beer for a local bloke. No mention of it being brewed by Carlton, a historically Victorian brewery.

“Yeah but we could still hold conversations. Look a man in the eye. What about them?”

The bloke nods to the kids at the corner table. They’re late twenties. The taller of the two men in Sharp attire works in the city for a major bank – security analyst. His head freshly shaved, yellow-laced Dr Marten shoes and white tube socks revealed below tight cuffed grey trousers. His slim-fit short sleeve shirt tucked into his trousers reveals an above average level of fitness.

The author suggests that a digital screen is no different to print media. The bloke is having nothing of it though. His eyes are fixated on the taller bald man.

“All those muscles and probably never been in a fight.” The bloke grips his schooner tighter and takes another gulp.

I don’t think this is that kind of place these days. The author side glances the bloke and takes another sip of Resch’s.

The shorter of the two similarly dressed Sharps laughs to himself, his hands long and slender with deep red nail polish. Heavily tattooed arms exposed slightly beneath his long-sleeved shirt. A digital content writer for a national newspaper, he spends this afternoon scrolling Twitter for a follow-up tweet to quote. The kid with the mullet leaves the table for a vape, brushing by the bloke and the author. A faint whiff of cherry and fairy floss?

“I’ll say this, when they banned smoking I thought I’d enjoy the smell of the pub. But I never expected that!” He snorts toward the kid with the mullet, a well-known session guitarist, who will remain unknown to the bloke.

The author takes another sip of his Resch’s, gets up from the bar stool and excuses himself. Walking down past the corner table occupied by this afternoon’s trio of interest, out the back door into the cool sunlit courtyard to the men’s room. He fumbles for his oversized phone and scrolls through his image feeds. While engaging the urinal, he learns Tom Verlaine from the band Television died.

- The Glass Canoe by David Ireland tells the tale of working-class males that haunt the Southern Cross Hotel through the eyes of Lance AKA Meat Man. I wonder what Mr Ireland would have made of today's work class? Is he the bloke in the bar above or a captive author in need of respite at the urinal? The winner of the 1976 Miles Franklin is a worthy addition to your Australian Gothic collection.

James Barry (Footscray Chapter)

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