In Fremantle I walk from op shop to op shop, the heels of my feet growing sorer and sorer and every now and then I take a chunk out of a day old roll in a white paper bag and jam it into my mouth. I’m looking for a lamp but I end up buying an old book about walking in Lebanon. There are pages and pages about gods but most of it goes over my head. At the entrance to the final op-shop, I decide to finish the roll so I pace up and along the footpath chewing and breathing through my nose. Inside I’m a little short of breath and there are no lamps but lots of books so I’m looking at the books the way a tall person might enter a short doorway, when I see the great god-like artist Horatio perusing the cutlery section. Horatio’s texta masterpiece is on the western wall of Gino’s cafe and admired by many, including the art critic Marty M. M. who was so moved by the intricate work that a shower of gold coins splattered into a specially erected tip table. For my own part I was impressed by the way in which Horatio ignored Marty and I as we stood there observing the work the way some might view Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Other than the stoop in his shoulders (as he moved close to the wall with texta held like a world champion dart throwing), Horatio was no slouch.
As I edged my way along the book shelf my mind returned to my previous thoughts of some day engaging with Horatio. One small dream lead to another until I arrived at the thought of befriending Horatio and perhaps convincing him to partake in a friendly interview for my blog and then spending the afternoon together cackling over several rounds of double espressos and arguing about philosophy and greek gods and climate change. Surely a man who could create such moving works of art harboured an unfathomable and inexhaustible well of wisdom and he would choose me, me, J. P. Quinton to pass that wisdom on to other public intellectuals in the 6160 postcode. I looked up from a copy of Robert Drewe’s The Shark Net and saw Horatio was wearing a bowlers hat, and old but classy sports coat, jeans and sneakers. It looked as though our paths would cross in final aisle. This was the moment, I thought, I’ll bag my next interview for sure right here in front of the cricket sets.
Excuse me, um, sir, I said, somewhat embarrassed. It was as if his bowlers hat moved first and his head followed. His eyes met mine and his body moved backward in a manner that suggested we were about go shopping in Sale of the Century. Are you the artist working on the wall near Gino’s? Yes, he answered. My approach was possibly too direct – straight for the art – like some inexperienced dealer. Oh, how long have you been working on it for? Horatio frowns as if he’d just downed a shot of lemon juice. Up until about ten minutes ago, he answers. No, I mean, I said, when did you begin working on it? I took a step back. He looked at the broken badminton racquets, How long is a piece of string? he answered with a question, everybody asks me that. I was too caught up in the moment to realise he was saying I was a stupid idiot for asking such a banal question. It appeared that he was asked the same question so many times that he now no longer met the question with any logic and preferred to answer his own question which was how much longer do you think it will take you? I was perplexed. My resolve the chase a story to it’s gritty end was being tested and those observing would see I didn’t have the guts. He hung around in the vicinity for a little while longer basking in the glory of his fame yet satisfied with having brushed off another annoying synchophant. Is that your work behind the buildings down on the corner of Wray Ave? I asked, in my final effort to salvage our future together, gesturing with my right hand in the direction of the associated public artwork. I failed again. He didn’t even answer. He looked at me like I had pooed on his mothers grave and walked off toward the pants.
In just a few short seconds I had gone from admiration, to the hope of a lasting and fulfilling friendship, to being flummoxed to ultimately regretting imparting with the dregs of my student stipend on that sunny day with Marty, who had a funny tummy from a previous night of drinking. Now everytime I walk past Gino’s I wonder what Michelangelo said whenever anyone met him. Michelangelo, when did you begin working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? To which he would naturally reply: How long is a piece of string?