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Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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The other day I encountered Archie, who is a Koori chap who lives largely, it would seem, on the streets of Melbourne. Actually, I have no idea where he lives, I have seen him with someone who addressed him as "uncle", so maybe he has someone to look after him a little.

If you've encountered him, you'll know who I'm talking about. He's... well, it's hard to say, I'm guessing he's in his 40's. He often stands on corners starring at the sky with one arm over his head. Archie is a bit broken - I hear from the same source who told me his name, that he's schizophrenic, brain damaged and a heroin addict... Talk about a rough trot!!!!

So, anyway, I'm a bit cynical about people asking for money on the street - much to the annoyance of my girlfriend who works in homelessness services. Archie, however, is clearly a man in need.

His requests are often very specific. I ran into him outside my work last year sometime, and he gave me the following speech, in a loud slow voice:
"Excuse me mate, can you go over into that seven eleven and buy me a bottle of coke?"

Another time he was after vanilla coke. I'm happy to buy him food, the dude is clearly in need and thin as a rake. Er, in so far as coke is food.

I often don't encounter him for months at a time, but I think he's starting to recognise me. I was crossing Exhibition street on Collins street the other night, and who should be standing on the corner but Archie. I'm kinda glad to see him, in some ways, he's the sort of person who lives a high risk existence.

Anyway, I walked right up to him and said "Archie! How's it going?" He'd seen me coming and pointed at me, then grabbed me by both shoulders and almost yelled at me "Not well mate! I need $20 to get to Albury!" Being the nice guy that I am, I pulled out my wallet and gave him the seventeen dollars I had at hand (ok, so, there was more money in there, which Archie could see, but I couldn't afford to give him $50.)

I forget what else he said to me, but I wished him luck, and went on my way. He reared back his head and gaped his big mouth with its brown teeth up at the sky. I think he was struggling for form a sentence perhaps.

As I wandered off I noticed another guy, wearing a tight bandanna, who was sitting on a doorstep. He looked at me briefly, and I wandered off.

Later, when I was several blocks away, I suddenly remembered another story I'd heard about Archie. Apparently a lot of his "mates" and "friends" tend to relieve him of most of his cash. In effect, using him as a kind of begging surrogate who people find hard to ignore. Which pissed me off at the time, and then it pissed me off again - I'll bet that guy on the doorstep was one of Archie's "friends". I almost felt like doubling back and asking him to let Archie keep the money people where giving him. As I mentioned, the guy is thin as a rake, maybe he is living on soft drinks from seven elevens...

Oh well, I hope I helped him a bit this time.