REMEMBERING

It was one of those days neither here nor there in the life of Felix Appleton. He had experienced the dizzying heights and the devastating plummets of a life lived in the circus ring of the performing arts. He was often praised as a born performer but wasn’t sure of the truth in that. He hadn’t sprung from the womb singing and uttering funny one-liners. Perhaps his screaming was in tune? He didn’t know and was not about to reinvent his life for the joy of some hungry reporter. If he had a talent to amuse, it had come from pain and the ability to live with it. He used to say, “Show me an artist who hasn’t suffered, and I’ll show you a phoney.”

He was born in a public hospital and taken home in a taxi to a single-fronted weatherboard house in a street not many people walked down. It was in this small modest home that he got to know his parents, both workers who had struggled for their existence and carried the scars of their battles and defeats on their faces as proudly as old soldiers displayed their medals. They smiled with sad faces.and their eyes brimmed with the waters of a joy that’d rarely found the opportunity to flow. Felix instantly fell in love with them and knew he’d found the right home. His parents were that dying breed called good people. Yes, they were tremendously flawed if one was to appoint a critic to write a cold and detached review of their lives, but that critic would’ve missed the value entirely. Like the first critics to review “Citizen Kane” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they would’ve been dismissed as “irrelevant,” “a misstep,” a disaster of epic proportions.” But what do critics know? Because of deadlines they have to rush to judgement and, more times than not, in their haste they miss the point. The true worth of something is judged in time and weighed by the impact it leaves behind in all those changed by having experienced it.

Thus Felix was nurtured through his first steps into this world by two unsung national treasures. He inherited from them the gifts to love with all the loyalty of the poor; the joy in giving away his last coin, cigarette or piece of advice to someone in greater need; the strength to stand by your friend through their mistakes, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. For who among us is not flawed when day is done. As long as there is no meanness in it, all is forgiven. Like the Irish mantra, “No fear, no spite, no envy.”

Oh, and never show your enemies you’re hurting. No one should be
rewarded for their dark actions.

So it was from this environment that Felix went forth into the world. His parents had taken him to Luna Park, and the circus, and to Hollywood movies many times. He had grown to love the lights and the laughter and the collective tears of a reinvented world so much so that he joined it. “Hi diddle-ee dee an actor’s life for me.” He became an actor and acted out all the emotions he had experienced in his little childhood home – all the anger, the heartache, and the humour that can be found in any awkward situation that Life can throw at one.

Felix was praised for his talent to wring insight from any character he portrayed. Was he born with this gift? No, he was born into it. And how could it be called a gift when it comes at such a cost?

He never developed an arrogant ego, for his parents had clothed him in humility. He never cut down a rival due to envy, for he was sure that person’s journey had been as difficult as his. And he never said goodbye to any friend (whether it be man, woman or child) without tagging it with the words “I love you” for he had learnt that in this life we are never guaranteed of seeing that person again.

Felix was now an old man who kept to himself. He hated few things in Life but moving was one of them. It always signalled the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. And as such he not only found it physically exhausting but emotionally draining. He was hoping this last move would be his last. Not that he was morbid. Far from it. He saw a joke in everything, and put that down to the Irish blood from his mother’s side. The ability to get through even the darkest defeat with a funny line. He thought one shouldn’t take this life too seriously, after all, it’s just a long elongated dream. And dreams come and go. He was just about through this dream and hoped he’d performed as well as he could, given the extraordinary circumstances that had occasionally rained on him. And that he’d given more than he’d taken from this world, for he understood that there was a delicate balance to everything and most of the problems in this world are caused by man’s ego arrogantly tampering with that balance. He’d learnt to let it be. To leave affairs of the heart well enough alone. To respect what you don’t understand. And to do no one any purposeful harm.

When he looked back at his life he was now able to smile at not only the good parts but also the bad. For out of every disaster he had learned a huge lesson. And from great lessons learned comes great wisdom. Yes, if there is a God, he thought, he’s a very clever bastard.

Felix didn’t know if he’d be remembered. It didn’t much matter because he’d be dead. And so would all those whose opinions meant something to him. Anyway, who wants a whole bunch of strangers talking about you and dissecting you after you’re gone, and getting it all wrong?

Still, he hoped, if there was another dimension or heaven or universe one goes to, he’d still be able to remember his parents. They were good people. They had given him valuable parts of themselves. And they were worth remembering.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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OUR HEALTHY LIFE

I have seen it all
But missed so much
What happened to our healthy life?
Did we lose our touch?
There are women out there
That want to thrill ya
There are men who stare
That want to kill ya
I'm living in a two room condo
In Clownsville
I think I may've died but
The stubborn part is living still
Love is not for wimps
Or just a point of view
It waivers in the wind
When it doesn't ring true
I've been to hell
They know me there
Tell 'em Frankie boy says hello
If you dare
Everyone I meet
Is somebody's girl
My dad was Jack
My mother was Pearl
They taught me how
To survive our street
And to see the beauty
That comes with defeat


(c) Frank Howson 2018

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017

ST. KILDA

I was born in St.Kilda
Lived most of my life here 
Travelled the world searching for what was
Probably already found
And like the prodigal son I returned
My face lined with lessons learned
To the only place that ever felt to me like home
My childhood was spent in Fawkner Street
It was for a time my whole world
Among our neighbours were ordinary battlers
Sly grog salesmen
Gamblers
and gangsters
Public enemy Number one
Norm Bradshaw nicknamed The Beast for good reason
Lived there
When he wasn't on the run
So did his in-laws The Shannons
and our next door neighbour, the Aussie equivalent of Bonnie Parker - 
Pretty Dulcie
Colourful big-hearted contradictory characters
I remember the night that several rival gangsters
Kicked in Pretty Dulcie's front door and walked down her corridor 
Spraying gun shots
One stray bullet came through our wall
and if it'd been a little further to the left
Somebody else would be standing here today
The 6 o'clock swill at the Barkly Hotel
Produced enough colourful characters and street poetry
To fill a thousand pulp fiction novels
There was no better grounding to be a writer or an actor
Than to stand on the corner of Fawkner Street and Barkly
at sunset
And watch the cavalcade of originals spew out onto the street
and wander home in what seemed like a slow motion drunkard's dance
Two steps to the left, three to the right
Mr. & Mrs. Kilpatrick owned the corner Milk Bar
And were the moral guardians of the neighbourhood
If you were having a poor week
They'd give you supplies and keep a tab
You survived on your word and good name
In those days people trusted each other
My father worked for the St. Kilda Foreshore for over 30 years
His little office was under the biggest dip in Luna Park's Scenic Railway
and he looked after all the beaches as well as the O'Donnell Gardens
The latter was where a lot of my boyhood was spent 
Playing while he worked
In my mind recreating Sherwood Forest, the Alamo and every John Wayne movie
Hiding in the bushes, climbing trees, attacking the cavalry
Developing an imagination
Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Davy Crockett and Spiderman
I fought beside them
Blood brothers every one
We used to save the world before each day was done
My mum worked across the road at Candy Corner
To me, in my memory, still the best lolly shop in the world bar none
And my dad, during the summer months
Would work a second job at night
Running the ferris wheel at the sideshows to the right of the Palais
My first public appearance was on the stage of the St. Kilda Town Hall
at the age of seven, performing "Give My Regards To Broadway"
Although to us, Broadway may as well have been the moon
Years later my father actually died in an ambulance outside the Town Hall
It was a fitting place for him to leave this world
For you see, our world was St. Kilda
It was engraved in our hearts
Everyone I have mentioned, other than me
Have gone now
They are ghosts that haunt these streets
and boulevards and beaches
You hear their faraway laughter on the wind
and see their outlines in the mist of dawn
The spiritual guardians of a place that was every bit as unique
as Times Square, or Soho, or Wanchai
Every weekend people from all over Melbourne would jump a tram
Or a train and come to St. Kilda
To see the freaks, hear the music, eat the exotic European food, 
Rub shoulders with the ten most wanted
Poke fun at the bohemians 
Sneak a guilty sidewards glance at the painted ladies
Eat the cakes of a thousand calories
And parade along the promenade with someone special
Please, for sake of all those ghosts,
Don't let the soul of St. Kilda die
Atmosphere can't be planned or created
It is a magic
Like stardust from the Gods
And once it's gone
It's gone
It can't be explained
And it can't be fabricated
It's not a trick of Houdini
There is no recipe
It can't be reduced to something mortals can understand
But at the heart of it there is a truth
People don't come to experience a strip mall
Even if it has been exquisitely designed
They come to experience Life 
That to me is St. Kilda
And our Art
Tells the world who we are
What we think
And where we come from
And like Davy Crockett at the Alamo
I'll defend that till the end

(c) 2017

(Speech delivered at the opening of the St. Kilda Arts Crawl 
September 21, 2017.)




DAY IS DONE

It's push and shove
And Christmas Eve
You stole my heart
Now I wear it on my sleeve
And I'm standing here
Where a boy once stood
When he dreamed of worlds
That lay beyond the woods...

Daniel Boone and Peter Pan
Davy Crockett and Spiderman
We fought together
Blood brothers every one
We used to save the world
Before each day was done...

It's winter now
On Nelson Street
The shadow men
Celebrating my defeat
Never been afraid
And not about to start
So they stole my dreams
Don't mean they broke my heart

Daniel Boone and Peter Pan
Davy Crockett and Spiderman
I fought beside them
Blood brothers every one
We used to save the world
Before each day was done...

And I'm wishing hard
On every star I see
That you'll find a place
In your heart for me...

It's Silent Night
And final drinks
I'm too far gone
To hear what anybody thinks
Now I'm walking home
Can someone tell me
Where that is?
Somewhere someone wakes
To a Christmas kiss

Daniel Boone and Peter Pan
Davy Crockett and Spider Man
I fought beside them
And with Zorro I would run
We used to save the world
Before each day was done...

Before each day was done...

It's done...


Cc) Frank Howson 1998






THE HOPE

When I was a small boy, shortly after being pushed into this world through blood and tears, I  began to dream. These dreams weren’t like normal ones in my sleep but rather, much to the consternation of my teachers, during my awake hours. Some of these dreams were bigger than me. And a few would turn out to be so big they would eventually run me down. In time I took this to be a sign from God who lets us know, now and again, that there is a price for everything in this world.

I would pay for mine with a broken spirit reflected in a broken voice. A humbling condition that also teaches one that the true road to God is through humility.  It seems that you can only reach Him by looking up.

I strolled the dirty, broken streets of my youth looking down at the pavement locked in these dreams. In some of them I was Davy Crockett laying down my life for a noble cause.  In others, I was Zorro and my hair was perfect and I always got away unharmed to fight another day.  I found that these dreams could actually get you through your life, even on a zero budget. All you had to do was find a park bench, close your eyes, lift your head until you felt the warm comforting rays of the sun, and let your mind go off to exotic locations and scenarios.

It was good to be young in those days. Without TV and the internet and (c)rap and the Kardashians we had no idea what we were missing. Or how good we had it. Each day was all we owned and it was amazing how much we could fit into it.

I dreamed that I would be bigger than my dad in height and temperament and wealth, and I lived to achieve all that and to discover how meaningless it was. Especially the wealth. It is only in the hard wisdom that I fully see how big was father was. In spite of all his flaws, or maybe as a result of them. For no one gets to be perfect on this lonely journey and to attempt the conceit of striving for it will break you and those you love until you all splinter and disappear in different directions. Take it from one who tried.

So many were lost in action by my failed campaign.

Like a war, some dreams can kill you, maim you, or render you insane from shell shock. There is only so much horror one can witness. Some of us are so mad we get up, dust ourselves off and go on, no matter what we have lost. For to look back at what we have sacrificed following our dream may render us rigid with fear from the monstrous wrecks we have left strewn in our wake.

Over the years our dreams, like us, become less complex and more realistic. And, if we have learned anything at all, we have learned to say thanks for each simple one that comes true.

These days I do feel like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, weary from a very long battle that one can’t run from as there are too many eyes looking our way for direction and an example. But like Davy must’ve learned in those final lonely hours, there is no glory, that comes much later and is spun by the myth makers, there is only blood, sweat and tears. And an intense feeling of loss paid for those fleeting moments of inner warmth that made us feel one with the universe. Perhaps that warmth was hope. A hope that maybe some of it meant something to someone. And if so, maybe we were for a time bigger than ourselves and perhaps, if that’s the case, the dream will go on. And maybe someone much wiser and stronger will one day clench in the palm of their calloused hand the golden ring. I truly hope so.

 

(c) Frank Howson