By Ellena Savage
Edited by André Dao
It’s kind of a cliché now to talk about how you can’t afford to live in the city you love or the city that made you or the city you need to be in for things to make sense. There’s just no point in dwelling on it. Things change. Mostly for the worse? Feel free to disagree.
The way I feel about Brunswick is old news. Was old news. I’m pretty much over it. It’s just a place I was in and around for a while. Now I’m somewhere else. It’s changed, but so have I, and so have you. Whatever. You think you know someone, and then they go get a job in finance.
In the early ’oughts, there was a milk bar on Union Street. Before it closed down it was where you could buy one-dollar singles while in school uniform. The air inside was thick and dank, and it smelled like maybe they were always boiling offal out the back. I’m pretty sure it’s medium-density housing now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
There was also a pub half a block down that apparently had topless bartenders on Thursdays. ‘Titty Thursdays,’ I heard from two boys who swore they had witnessed the living breasts themselves. Did they hire young, beautiful women to bartend on Thursdays? Or did the regular bartenders just take their tops off for one shift a week? It was not the kind of pub I imagined beautiful young women worked at, but I could be wrong.
Anyway, now it’s a gastropub.
Still, I don’t know which is better, or which is worse.
One morning before school I was smoking a one-dollar single outside the milk bar when the principal drove past in his 1970s Toyota Corolla. He honked his horn at me.
Shit, I thought. It’s over.
He was a hard man in charge of some pretty wild teenagers and was known for making the tough calls, expelling the unexpellable. During first period, my name was announced over the loudspeaker followed by Please report to the principal’s office. So I slunk into his office, which was famous for being the only air-conditioned room in the school, ready to be let go. But he barely looked up at me, and just uttered in a chilling tone of unquestioned authority, ‘I’ve received the petition, and we’re going to go with the new tape. So you can let it go now.’
He was referring to a petition I had created to get grip tape installed on the outdoor, unsheltered, aluminium stairwell on the side of the B Block, which became a terrifying wet ’n’ wild slide each time it rained.
So that was his game. Psychological manipulation. He knew that my main priority in life was acquiring teacher praise for civil leadership. My commitment to destructive lifestyle habits was a side-project at best. I had to admit it was clever. But sadly for my adult skin elasticity, it didn’t work. I spent the rest of the year happily wagging Science to smoke in school uniform while pashing my first proper boyfriend at Barkly Square. I was in uniform, but my boyfriend wasn’t, because he didn’t go to school. He was a filmmaker. You could say that after that I spent the rest of my life doing some iteration of the same thing.
This was probably a ‘bad look’ according to most people’s parents, and the teacher who once walked past me in this pose but pretended not to see, but I wasn’t trying to be bad. Or, I was trying to be bad, but only in the highly controlled manner that goodie two-shoeses the world over need to as a measure against developing anxiety and/or becoming corporate lawyers.
The boredom of these years was unrelenting. But then boredom isn’t confined to years.
A lot is made of the transition between being a teenager and being an adult, like Titty Thursdays could be read as a metaphor for adolescence, and gastropub equals adulthood. I reject that. Adulthood is just debt and wrinkles and deleting people from social media because you don’t remember who they are. Titty Thursdays don’t go away when you raise the rent. They just change shape, into something like overpriced burgers.
A few years after I finished high school someone sabotaged the school’s Wikipedia page. They edited it back before I ever got to see the damage, but I heard it was pretty good. Some of the younger kids from school who I saw at the pub told me they thought the digital vandalism had been my doing.
It wasn’t me. That was never me. But I was touched that that’s how I was remembered.