How two broken people made the most of a chance meeting

What happens when bodies, doors and walking sticks malfunction

‘You okay?’

I’d dropped my walking stick. The CRACK sound of my metal stick on the concrete must have been loud. I had earphones in, listening to The Cure, so didn’t notice at first.

‘—yeah,’ I replied, stopping the song so I could make contact with the Good Samaritan a couple of feet away. Reaching down, I managed to grab the stick without falling over.

‘I’m fine.’

Two words I often use when someone sees my wonkiness or look of pain—anything that says ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ more publicly than I’d wish.

We were both waiting for the glass doors to open magically at 10 o’clock. This morning, I was at the side entrance from the book-lined Mr Tulk cafe entrance to the grand State Library in Melbourne.

‘F**king late!’ the guy said.

1 minute past 10.

Doors still closed, even though we could see a stream of library-goers being led in through the main entrance some 20 metres away.

‘F**king Council!’ he added.

I thought I’d better educate him on who actually opens the doors to this place. ‘Well, the Council doesn’t run the library, to be fair,’ I pointed out, though I think unconvincingly. ‘It’s probably a Library trust—reports to the State Government, I suppose.’

‘State Government? Council? All the same isn’t it?’ Dan clearly knew better.

3 minutes past 10.

No sign of an opening yet.

He was fit. A handsome man in his 40s, well built, strong, athletic. Immediately friendly, although had some disability that I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe a limp, or something he’d been recovering from due to a past accident. All that in a few moments observation while I kept my steadiness.

‘What do you like reading?’ he asked.

4 minutes past 10.

A security guard was standing on the other side of the doors trying to open them. There was a clearly a problem: This would take some time, I thought.

‘I like modern American writers,’ I said. ‘Tim O’Brien—’

‘Charles Bukowski!’ he cut me off. ‘Charles Bukowski,’ with a big grin. ‘Look up Charles Bukowski. On YouTube. Go on. You do that.’

Who the heck is Charles Bukowksi, I thought? I’m sure this makes me ignorant, but ‘I don’t know him’, I confessed.

‘Charles Bukowski,’ the guy replied. ‘He’s f#*king awesome. There’s a documentary on YouTube about him. It’s called Bukowski: Born into this… look it up.’

‘Born into this?’ I replied. ‘Haven’t heard of it, but I’ll remember that.’

‘F#*king awesome!’ the guy replied.

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5 minutes past 10.

Security guard spoke into his walkie talkie on the other side of the glass while trying to get us in.
‘I’m Paul,’ I said.

‘Dan,’ he replied, reaching out to shake my hand—both of us a bit wonky on our legs. It was like we were already brothers somehow just through shared disabilities. Both a bit unbalanced while we waited to get through the doors.

‘From Scumshine,’ he added with a cheeky smile. ‘Where the bad boys and girls come from.’ I liked this guy straight away. A dry wit, and could laugh at himself.

‘You live in the city?’ I asked.

‘Yeah… I’m a lawyer.’

Dan didn’t sound like a lawyer. Probably looked like one. But didn’t speak like one I’d seen on Law and Order.
Then again, I probably didn’t look like a writer.

What we both looked like was a couple of damaged guys. Damaged from things we didn’t speak of, or care to identify. His was probably some accident, I supposed. An injury from an accident on the Westgate, or a pile-up on the Monash maybe?

Me—a sickness that had eaten the stuff around my nerve cells that left scars on expensive x-rays for doctors to call ‘MS’. Two limping men not mentioning a word of illness; not defined by limits, but diving straight into beat poets and literature.

That’s the sort of friendships I want. Not carer-patient, but reader-writer. Not pity-pitied, but thinker-thinking.

‘Ernest Hemingway—’ he added, jolting me back to our topic of conversation. ‘He’s like Bukowski. F#*king awesome.’

The truth is, Dan was far more interesting to me than some beatnik writer he was educating me about. Dan—the lawyer who lives in the city, the man with a love for American counter-culture writers—had some story that I wanted to uncover…

6 minutes past 10.

Doors open. A miracle!

As we both limped in from our respective backstory afflictions, I stopped for a moment and reached out my hand.

‘Good to meet you Dan,’ I said.

‘Charles Bukowski—don’t forget.’

‘I won’t.’