Stories from the vault: Cally and the drunken Smurfs.

Beep.Beep.Beep – Frankie – Rozelle – 2 minutes

“Ah, cool! You play the trumpet!” 

“I do a lot of things,” replied the stranger slouched on my passenger seat wearing a straw fedora, cradling what looked like a trumpet case to his chest. 

He tapped the silver stud embedded in his nose twice, raised his eyebrows, and tilted his head on a downward angle. 

Thought: The trumpet case is packed with cocaine. 

The diamante wasn’t the only piercing protruding from his heavily freckled face. His right brow was stacked with two miniature barbells, three hoop earrings jutted from the middle-rim of his ear, and one final shiny rock sparkled from his left cheek where many people have a dimple. All that silver on a spotted-brown face.

Thought: Nuts and bolts in a bowl of Milo. 

Eight hours of driving will do that to you. You don’t so much as hallucinate, but the mind wanders to strange places. 

“What else do you get up to?” I enquired, eager to riff with the mischievous music man after an uneventful day. 

“Things you wouldn’t believe. Haaa,” he exhaled in an over-exaggerated fashion, tilting the hat down over his eyes to pretend he was taking a nap. 

“Try me,” I replied.

Snap. He sat bolt upright and snatched the hat from his closely shaven head, then flipped it upside down and began pushing it back and forth above his lap, like he was sifting flour. 

“Every June I head out to Pine Creek in the Northern Territory to pan for gold.” He tilted his head again and widened both eyes to tell me he was deadly serious. I wasn’t convinced. 

“I took you for more of a silver man myself.” 

The hat went back on and Frankie slouched into the seat once more. 

“That’s not all I do though,” he said, smirking, goading me to ask the question. 

“Ah yeah? What else do you do?” I flicked my indicator on and crept across to the far left lane of Sydney’s Anzac Bridge in anticipation for the turnoff to Darling Harbour. The sharp mid-afternoon sun bent around the bridges long metal limbs, cutting thick, bar-like shadows through my car. 

Thought: Imagine sharing a cell with this fella. 

Hat off again. “You know those fire warning signs you see on the side of the road? Low, moderate, high, very-high, severe, extreme, fucken CATASTROPHIC!” He rattled the fire-safety terms off with gusto.

“Haha, yeah,” I replied, starting to enjoy the company of this very eccentric young man.

“Yeah, well I go around and change em’ when it heats up or cools down.”

“Money any good?”

“Not why I do it mate, not why I do it. Ahhhhhhh,” he shook his head and sighed with disappointment. 

“It’s to let the smokers know when it’s sweet to either flick their dart out the window, or if it’s maybe better to drop it in the empty can of coke in the cup holder. Didn’t you pay attention at school?” He said with mock-condescension, while extinguishing an imaginary cigarette in his hat.

“Hahaha! You’re a busy guy. Anything else?” 

“Yeah, heaps. But I’ll only tell you if you give me five stars, cos’ some other Uber driver gave me a crap score because I spewed in his car. But I didn’t even get any in his car. I had my favourite hat on and caught every drop. Bloody write-off it was too.”

Hat back on. 

“No dramas, guaranteed 5 stars.” My jaw was aching from the looney-tune smile stretching my face to unnatural places.

“Alright deal, you got yaself a deal. Every December, two weeks before Christmas, I work in nursing homes.”

He took the hat off again and held it to his chest, the way an old digger does on Anzac day when the bugle cries the Last Post. 

“That’s good of you. What sort of work do you do there?” I asked, suspicious, but almost buying his solemnity. 

“I lick the stamps for all the Christmas cards the oldies send out to their kids because their tongues are so bloody dry they can’t get enough moisture to make em’ stick.” 

“Hahaha,” I cackled. I laughed so hard Frankie couldn’t help but join in, shattering the facade he had tried so desperately to sustain. 

“Anyway cobber, this is me.” He placed the hat back on his head and held out his fist, which I promptly bumped with mine. 

He left my car and joined a group of other young men carrying black cases of varying sizes out the front of the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel. 

Beep.Beep.Beep. Cally – 4 Minutes – Glebe 

Dressed in a long, black leather coat that dipped below the knees, Cally walked tentatively down the front steps of the grey-rendered Victorian Terrace with the bay windows. Beside the front door, in place of a traditional placard bearing the name of a residency, was a square of black glass – a vibrant red rose painted in the centre. It seemed to pulse from the wall. 

Cally’s six-inch scarlet-coloured heels certainly contributed to the glacial pace of her movements descending the stairs to the front gate, but so did her size. She was big, and for just the second time in my career as an Uber driver, I feared a passenger might not fit in the car. The first instance was a second rower for the starting thirteen of the St. George Dragons. “No way cuz!” he had exclaimed. The expression on Cally’s face when she saw my diminutive Volkswagen Polo confirmed she held the same level of concern. 

Cally was in her mid-thirties. Her hair and lipstick matched her heels and she carried a hefty black leather handbag emblazoned with another red rose. 

“Gonna be squashy,” she said, giggling.

“I wonder if your car’s suspension can feel the suspense?” 

This comment conjured a solid belly laugh from me. “We’ll be sweet,” I replied through chuckles. 

“I know Uber charges on time and distance, but maybe they should factor in weight too,” Cally suggested, as she sat, then wriggled onto my passenger seat, her right thigh spilling into the middle console, squashing the handbrake. 

She looked over at me and scrunched up her nose. “Well, it looks like we’re fucked if your brakes fail. There’s no way you’re reefing up that handbrake with those chicken-arms Benny boy.” She nodded to my chicken-arms.

“Hahaha, yeah I’m well overdue for a gym session.” 

“Not me, I lift weight all day, errrrrrday.” 

Cally was instantly likeable and exactly the type of person I love having in my car. 

“What’s on tonight?” I asked, as I swiped the Uber app to start the trip. We were off to Watson’s Bay. 

“I’m a stripper, love,” she said, deadpan. Haha great, I had another joker in the car. 

“Hahaha, yeah, same, the chicken-arms are a hit with the ladies,” I countered. 

For the rest of the trip Cally told me about her week, about the Italian film she saw at the Palace Theatre in Leichhardt: “I can’t stomach Hollywood flics these days.” And about her Daschunds, Lolly and Frankie – short for Frankfurt. 

“Hey, same name as the passenger I picked up before you,” I told her, like it was the biggest news of the decade.

“Yeah, well hopefully he doesn’t wipe his arse on the cushions like my boy does at home.” Again, completely deadpan. 

The conversation waltzed back and forth as we climbed the hill to Vaucluse and snaked our way down to Watson’s Bay. 

“Lovey, would you mind waiting out the front for me? I’ll be ten minutes, max! That’s all they’ve paid me for and that’s all they’re getting,” said Cally, as I pulled into the driveway of a two-story brick home. The apex of a white marquee was visible at the back of the house and the thumping beat of trance music sent vibrations through my car as Cally struggled to her feet. 

“Paid for wha……” But she was gone, climbing her way up the flat driveway like it was Mount Kilimanjaro. She pressed the doorbell and was greeted by a young man, mid-twenties, dressed as a Smurf, a maniacal grin on his blue face. 

“What the fuck?” I whispered. “What the fucken fuck?” 

Before she disappeared inside, Cally turned back to face me, held up ten fingers and mouthed, “Ten minutes, sorry.” Another scrunch of the nose. 

“Okay!?” I mouthed back, squinting my eyes in utter befuddlement.

“What the fucken, fuck,” I whispered again. 

Then, after about thirty seconds of twisted thoughts bouncing around my brain like a haunted pinball machine, the trance music stopped and a powerful silence filled the street, filled the car, filled my lungs. It lingered for an age, before being injected with the unmistakable guttural roar of competing male laughter.

The music started again, and it was a song I knew, but from where?

“WELLLLLLLLLLLLLL……. IT IS THE BIG SHOW!” 

Saturday mornings. Wrestling. The Big Show. It was the theme song for the fan-favourite of World Wrestling Entertainment, the seven foot tall, one hundred and eighty kilogram man mountain, The Big Show. 

The backyard crowd erupted in a cacophony of laughter, clapping and wolf-whistles.

I sat in the car, mouth agape, mind blank. 

The scene didn’t last very long. It definitely wasn’t ten minutes before the music stopped and Cally came storming down the driveway to my car, three Smurfs in tow. The leader, Papa Smurf I guess, was yelling, pleading, whining, “Come back! Come onnnnn!” But Cally didn’t even look over her shoulder. She opened the car door and sat back down beside me, before lowering the electric window to speak to the trio. 

“There was one rule mate!” Cally said sternly to Papa Smurf with her index finger raised. He was on his haunches and leaning into the car, the tip of his white hat folding under the rim of the window. “The one rule was no touching. And one of your stupid mates got more than a handful, didn’t he!” 

“Please. Seriously, come back in, I’ll keep em’ under control,” the Smurf slurred, clearly hammered. 

“No chance,” Cally replied.

“Yeah, well fuck you then ya fat bitch, I’ll be leaving you a bad review online!” He sneered.

“And where will you be leaving this review sweetie? I might be the size of a house, but I’m not on Airbnb, ya dickhead!” Cally fired back. 

The Smurfs didn’t have a reply, so I took this as our cue to leave and make our escape from the house of horrors. 

When we reached the corner, I opened my mouth to speak, but was cut off:

“Haha, I told you I was a stripper Benny boy. Didn’t buy it, did ya.” 

I shook my head in disbelief and breathed a nervous laugh. I had so many questions, questions Cally knew were spiralling around my brain. 

“It’s about degrading the groom before the big day. And what better way to do that than to hire a hippo to dance on him?”  

“Yeah, right. And you don’t mind?” I asked.

“Hey, if those idiots want to pay me $600 for ten minutes work, I’ll take it every day of the week. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest,” she replied nonchalantly.

“The weird part is,” she continued, “95% of the blokes don’t really want me there. They might laugh and pretend to join in, but I can tell by the looks on their faces they’re not comfortable with it. Then there’s the 4% of sickos that genuinely find it hilarious. Then, like the rest of society I guess, there’s always one legitimate sex pest who can’t keep his hands to himself, especially after a day on the beers. Those bastards don’t take long to reveal themselves.” 

The lightness and humour left Cally’s voice as she spoke about “the bastards,” but she brushed it off as we reached the top of Vaucluse and the view of Sydney sparkling in the distance caught her eye. 

“Lolly and Frankie are eating pork-chops tonight!” she beamed, brandishing a fan of mustard-yellow $50 notes in her right hand.

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