Current Issue #488

Beer and Other Sins:
An ordinary night in extraordinary times at The Gov

Sia Duff

As a state of disaster sets in across the border, a regular night at the pub takes on a different feeling.

The day Australia recorded its then-highest number of COVID-19 infections was a night like any other in the front bar at The Gov. Across the border the second wave might have been reaching a new peak, but here the people were untouched and life quietly went on.

It was a Wednesday night in late July when the air was cold and dry. Inside a man built like a mountain shuffled across the floor to the fireplace. He was a regular who wore cheap sneakers and drank alone. Laying fresh wood on the embers, he poked at the coals with an iron until the flames grew strong before going back to his drink to watch the television.

Across the world COVID-19 infections topped 15 million that day. Hundreds of thousands were dead globally and talk was already beginning about a new Great Depression. At the same time another two men sitting at the table closest to the fireplace spoke about ordinary things: how work sucks, love is hard and the 28-year-old we’ll call Jared had too much to drink on the weekend.

“I wrote myself off completely,” he says, his hand clutching a beer glass. “It was almost embarrassing. I’m too old for hangovers.”

Jared is six feet tall, wearing khaki pants, a faded grey shirt and a baseball cap. His drinking partner, Rhys, is the same height in jeans and a long sleeve shirt the colour of rust. The two army boys are talking about Jared’s recent break-up.

“You know how it is,” Jared says. “Sometimes you blink and you think for three seconds and you’re not happy with your situation. That’s how it was with us. She had a crush on a guy in her CrossFit class. I called her out on it. That was it.”

The break up went as well as any other. He packed his things to leave. She asked if he wanted a hand with anything. He didn’t. He wanted the dogs but he had nowhere to live, so he made her promise to keep them. When she suggested they split a Netflix account, he told her that wasn’t about to happen.

“I was like: yeah, you want to kick me out but want to share Netflix? No thanks,” he says.

The nice thing, Jared says, is her old man sent him a message after it all happened. He said he was sad, but relationships are hard and the main thing is to keep it civil. If he ever wanted to talk, Jared could always call.

“He sees me like a son,” Jared says. “It could be worse. At the end of the day she goes out and finds a new bloke, whatever. If I go out and get with someone new in six months, I’ll look back on this and say, whatever. That wasn’t happiness.”

Across the border in Victoria a strict lockdown remains in effect. No one is allowed to leave their homes and mask wearing is mandatory in Melbourne. The planned reopening of intrastate travel has been put on hold and SAPOL officers stalk the borders looking to throw anyone who sneaks across in jail.

Out back in the restaurant section, it’s ukulele night. It starts at seven and the pub has begun to fill as people arrive. A couple walk in through the front door. When the bar tender sees them, she says hello and points out how they’re still winning the footing tipping.

“You two are bloody killing it at the moment,” the bar tender says.

The couple take a photo of the leader board and then go find their chairs. The absence of anyone sitting at the bar the only give-away that there is a pandemic.

Soon after they are followed by two women who wear heavy coats and scarves that hug their faces. At the bar they order dinner and beer before taking a position over at a high table where they sit close.

They talk about family, about parents and grandparents, and family histories. There’s conversation about renting and landlords, and how they haven’t seen each other for so long.

One makes a self-deprecating comment about her coat to the other.

“Don’t worry about it, you look gorgeous darling,” the other says.

Generally speaking, the news is bad for a reason. Good news is normal because it is supposed to happen. People are supposed to be able to get up in the morning, have coffee, go to work, come home, kiss their partner, get angry at the television and go to sleep without a second thought. When something goes wrong to break that chain, that’s when we hear about it.

Thing is though, when everything seems like it’s been so bad for so long, sometimes the good and ordinary can become unusual. A break up. A beer with friends. A compliment about a coat. In strange times, the perfectly normal becomes entirely extraordinary.

Royce Kurmelovs

Royce Kurmelovs

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Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance journalist and author of The Death of Holden (2016), Rogue Nation (2017) and Boom and Bust (2018).

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