When I was living in fucking Melbourne a few years ago, I was accepted into a writing course at RMIT. I really didn’t learn much but it beat the hell out of working for a living. Seeing as fiction wasn’t paying the bills, I figured that I might as well give freelance journalism a go.
All the kids I went to school with were swell except for the smelly communist chick in my poetry class. She always spoke in a whisper and her fucking poems were only ever two lines long and all about losing her virginity. She was always asking me, “are you drunk?” which I was but that was beside the point.
One assignment we were given for journalism was to interview an “interesting person” and transcribe it into an article. The problem was, I couldn’t think of one single living person in Melbourne who I would describe as “interesting” so I did what any self-respecting writer would do and made one up.
My teacher said I only missed out on top marks because my article included “illegal drug stuff.” The other students were fascinated by my subject and said, “I can’t believe he let you into his tree.”
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Who is Mr. Chuckles?
The first time I saw Mr.Chuckles, he had his pants around his ankles. He was urinating against a tree in Flagstaff Gardens and I was thankfully spared the full view. The Pilates in the Park troupe weren’t so lucky and got the full frontal treatment as Mr.Chuckles chuckled into his beard.
The first time I spoke to Mr.Chuckles he abused me and accused me of being in ‘cahoots with the furries’.
Later on, I found the best way to talk to him was to sit on a bench near where he slept, light up a joint and wait for him to materialise. Despite the fact that half his day is spent walking around the park laughing into his beard, I noticed that most people react with fear towards him. This may be due to his size – he is a big man, but I suspect it has more to do with his status; homeless and therefore in their eyes dangerous and unpredictable.
To be honest, I was a little wary of him due to his size but I found that smoking a joint would calm him down and make him lucid. It was frustrating trying to converse with him when he was drunk as he was all bluster and anger.
Mr.Chuckles has been homeless since the late 1990s when his marriage fell apart. He had previously lost his job as a lawyer due to his drinking. ‘The law was the one thing I was good at, really good at. Could’ve been a contender etcetera etcetera.’
His wife took the kids and he left Sydney and moved to Melbourne. After a few part time jobs and many attempts to give up drinking, he ended up on the streets and gravitated to Flagstaff Gardens. ‘Best park out mate, heaps of good trees to sleep in, right in the city too. Someone should do something about the bloody furries that destroy the park at night though.’ This was to be his constant refrain, a genuine hatred for ‘furries’ or possums as it were. They seemed to be a vessel for his impotent rage and at the merest mention of possums he would splutter in anger, ‘Filthy, bloody animals. Rooting all night, crapping everywhere. The government should get off their arses and do something.’
Among the difficulties of park life, Mr. Chuckles states that the worst is dealing with other homeless men. ‘Some of them are on hard drugs and act crazy.’ His hammock idea completely resolved the problem and he has become adept at tying his hammock at perilous heights. ‘All I need now is a couple of rocks, any bastard that tries to climb up gets it.’
He has only had one fall whilst inebriated which resulted in a broken arm. Seeing the way he drunkenly climbed trees to great heights filled me with anxiety. Such a task would have been demanding on a man half his age and half his weight. He looked like a dirty Santa with a sack of garbage as he clambered up the branches breathing loudly.
Apart from the furries, his other nemesis in the park are the exercise ‘Boot Camp’ groups that descend on the park at lunch hour. ‘Prancing about in their stupid bloody outfits, jumping around like they’ve had too much red cordial.’ Mr.Chuckles snorted.
When I asked him about his habit of urinating in front of them with his pants around his ankles, he laughed. ‘A blokes gotta piss, just one of the facts of life.’ Being an ex-lawyer I asked him if he wasn’t concerned about the groups taking legal action against him for indecent exposure. ‘What, prosecute a homeless crazy guy for pissing? They are all office workers, none of them have time to tie their shoe-laces let alone come after me. Forget money, time is the fire of our lives.’
The view from Mr.Chuckles hammock was something else. Footballers living in the Docklands pay a fortune for similar views. His hammock was Mexican style and scooped me in when I lay down. ‘Beautiful spot to watch the sunset,’ Mr.Chuckles nodded in the direction of Port Philip, and he was right.
Sitting on a branch next to the hammock, Mr.Chuckles cracked a beer.
‘All the good things in life came easy to me when I was younger. Women, money, jobs, I lived the good life mate.’ He claimed that his upbringing had involved yachts and European holidays and that his father was involved in finance, or ‘working for the money-devil’ as he put it. I found it difficult to reconcile the man next to me with the Gatsby-esque upbringing he described. ‘That’s why I have accepted my lot, some poor bastards never experience that lifestyle at all. At least I had the good life when I was young.’
During his divorce, Mr.Chuckles’s parents sided with his wife. ‘Stabbed in the back by my own parents – they can all go to hell.’ His children would be teenagers now, and I asked him if he had tried to track them down. ‘No! All of that is the old life, I have moved on, my mind has been cleared of all pollutants and sickness. Their mother is an occultist, working for the devil. She cast a spell on them and my parents.’
It started to get dark and Mr.Chuckles turned his attention to the ground at the base of the tree. ‘Furries are out, creeping around in the dark, trying to get up here and scratch my eyes out.’ I asked him if the furries were just a scapegoat for his rage. The lawyer in him had not yet been completely exorcised and he considered my question carefully. ‘No psychotherapy in the tree, this is a psychotherapy free tree, do not pollute my environment.’ I didn’t want to offend him so I climbed down.
As I walked through the park, a guy walking his dog approached me and asked if I was just up in the tree with ‘the possum guy.’ I told him we had a beer up there and he warned me off Mr.Chuckles. ‘He has been killing the possums in the park, mutilating them.’ I debated with him, conceding that whilst Mr.Chuckles had a definite aversion to possums it was highly unlikely that he would kill or mutilate them. The dog walker dismissed my arguments and pointed at a thicket where he claimed a recent victim lay. On investigation, I found a semi-decomposed possum with its head smashed flat.
Walking back to the tree Mr.Chuckles was in, I couldn’t help notice that the bush area that fringed the park felt dark and sinister. I yelled up at him, asking if he killed furries? A beer can narrowly missed my head. Then he bellowed from the canopy, ‘She left me out in the cold! She slammed the door in my face!’ The emotion in his voice took me off guard and just before I left, I am sure I heard him sobbing.