The most common insults and abuse that are given , are done in an atmosphere of intimate coercion, where the dominant party can take advantage of their position and the moment to exercise without criticism or reproach their quiet act of oppression.
My first job when I arrived in Darwin in the early seventies was with an Italian cabinetmaker / joiner..He was a dodgy little bastard who specialized in “fit-outs” on new blocks of flats and cash jobs..my wages seemed to fluctuate between his own fortunes in and out of the betting shops, which were tenuous at the best of times…it was an “experience”.
It went like this
I was working for Fusco then, (pronounced “Foosko”) doing some carpentry, cupboards and the like. Fusco was one of those greasy, little Italians you see around the place, looking greasy always because of the “shadow” on his shaved face, one of those blokes that have that five o’clock shadow no matter how much they shave.
We had a stack of cupboards to fit into these new flats out in Nightcliff, belonging to one of his mates (they were always his mates). So we were there early in the morning to start and Otto’s car was there too, had been there all night, we knew because it was the wet season and no tyre tracks there.
“Otto!” Fusco yelled as we crossed the door step.
“Hey!” an answer echoed through the empty rooms.
“Where?” Fusco yelled back, then stood still to listen, his hand raised flat to still me.
“Here, the bathroom”. He was in the next flat.
We walked through the back door into the other flat, Fusco quick stepping, his thongs slapping against his heels as he lifted his foot. A light breeze billowed his loose, unbuttoned shirt from his back.
“What, you sleep here now?” Fusco called in a joking tone. Then we walked into the bathroom and the girl looked up at us both, Fusco’s eyes went real wide.
“Ehh, what’s this?” He motioned with his hand flat, like Italians do.
Otto was squatted, cross legged on the floor with the ceramic tiles he was lining the walls with. He had a box of matches on the floor by his knee and was breaking them into short pieces to use as spacers between the tiles.
“It’s my sister ,” he spoke without looking at us “from the old country”.
Fusco smiled, his arm still outstretched with the gesturing hand.
“Ah, so, a fine family you have”.
The girl was young, in her late teens, an indigenous girl. She sat on a tartan rug on the concrete floor, her legs tucked away under her. She had on a short print dress with some sort of yellow flowering pattern on it, which she pulled coyly down closer to her knees when we walked in. She seemed shy.
“The resemblance I can see” Fusco continued.
“No”, answered Otto, still concentrating “We have only one thing in common” He leant over and gently pinched the girls cheek. “Eh, my little flower,” He winked at us, then leant back over to the other side and guzzled out of a flagon of red wine. He offered Fusco a drink, but he said he wasn’t drinking yet.
“You been here all night?” Fusco asked.
“Ah, that useless Eddy, he wouldn’t stop drinking at Lim’s last night, always one more, one more. PUHH!!!” he waved to the wall which we took to mean Eddy was in the next room. “So we pick her up” he motioned to the girl “and stayed here. The first guests huh!”.
Fusco turned his attention to the girl, he was grinning from ear to ear.
“You stay here last night?” he asked. The girl just giggled and looked shy. Fusco turned to Otto for an explanation.
“I told you, all of us, all night, here” Otto replied “What do you think, I lie?”
Fusco shrugged his shoulders.
“Look here,” Otto turned to the girl “How many times we do it last night, you know…” he cocked his hand back on his wrist, curled his fingers in and gave quick little stabbing motions forward in the air with his arm and the ball of his hand..; “Bohm – Bohm?” he spoke quickly with the movements.
The girl giggled, Otto took hold of her arm and looked at her closely.
“Six, wasn’t it, six?” Her eyes were down, then she looked up and the whites of her eyes were brilliant
“Yes” she nodded.
“Aha!” Otto cried triumphantly,
Fusco placed both his palms flat on the sides of his head and slowly moved it from side to side
“Oh ho ho” he groaned mockingly..his eyes shut tight, he then quickly dropped his hands and got down on his knees as though in search of something on the floor. Otto looked at him, puzzled..
“What are you doing?”
Fusco lowered the bucket he was looking under and gazed at Otto innocently.
“I’m looking for the pencil you tied on to keep it stiff”. He mumbled.
“To buggery with you” Otto exclaimed and flicked a little tile cement at him.
Fusco stopped and stood up straight and still, with a finger pointing up by his eye.
“No! You must not do that, as you see, I am clean, you must not dirty.” his face was serious.
“Oh well in that case” Otto shrugged “I was going to ask if you would like a little of this” He pointed to the girl with his eyes.
“No, she’s probably had enough already. How much you have a day?” Fusco spoke the last to the girl, she never answered Fusco’s questions, just giggled. Otto had a tile in one hand and bits of matchstick in the other. He was just about to glue the tile on. He took up the questioning.
“Yes, how many times, black and white?”
The girl gazed down.
“Oh, some”..and she hesitated..then..a little more than some”. she answered, shrugging her shoulders.
“Men?” Otto asked.
“Mmmm” she murmured in reply. Otto looked at us and smiled.
“Do you like the whites better?” Otto asked.
“Mmm..” she giggled.
“And do you like this fat Otto?” Fusco piped in and laughed, the girl giggled and Otto picked up a handful of cement and made to throw it at us;
“Arh, ah” Fusco pointed at him and he replaced it in the bucket. Otto then looked at me, then to the girl;
“Would you like this young one?” The girl snuck a glance at me then turned away quickly and giggled again. “Jack, you want her, have her,” he gestured with his hand “Fusco and I will go out, we will go out and smoke a cigarette and talk of the weather. eh, Fusco?”
“What you say Jack? A nice young girl for you, better than this eh?” Fusco spoke then made suggestive movements with his hand. Otto and he laughed. The girl was quiet, it was then I noticed she was about the same age as myself.
“No, thanks all the same” I quavered out, trying to sound “worldly”..then I remembered something I had heard. I spoke to Otto “I know which ward you go to every week”. They both laughed and Otto turned back to his work .
“Alright, ok, but it’s the last time I offer it to you, I’m a generous man, but not that generous”.
Fusco stood there a second with his arms folded, then ;
“Come, we have work”.
So we moved our gear into the next flat and got to work. He gave me the job of fitting all the linen presses. It wasn’t a big job, just a matter of cutting the toe rail to size between the two walls and fixing the shell of the cupboard to the wall. I was working well, getting them in quick, I had left the flat that Otto was in till last, I didn’t want to hang around there and was hoping they’d be gone by then. But they were still there when I was ready for that flat, Eddy was there in the bathroom too, I could hear his voice asking the girl something. She answered quietly.
“No, no more, let’s go back to the pub” she complained.
“What for, nothing back there” Eddy answered.
“My sister’s there, she’s waiting for me, she worries”.
“Hey move over a little”. Otto asked them both, tiles rattled.
“Alright, I take you back, but first one more, for this morning”.
“But I do not want it now” the girl said softly.
“Look my little flower” this was Otto now “Give him the one then we take you back, we all go back and have a drink. No, don’t worry, it’s true”.
“Ok then” the girl answered after a little silence “But just one”.
There was no doors or anything in this place yet, and I was working near and it was hot and sticky, very hot and sticky..I couldn’t concentrate and this cupboard was giving me trouble, this one of them all. Then through the doorway I could see her stretch her legs out, then his were there and his shorts down by his knees and Otto asking them to move over a little as he had only the two tiles to do there then he was finished, so there was a scraping movement then it was quiet, but in a moment I could hear that sound like the oil makes when you rub it thickly over your body to stop sunburn, so I stood up and walked outside to go to the shop and Fusco yelled from the second floor :
“Where you going?” but I didn’t feel like answering so he yelled again “Are you going to the shop?” and I shouted back “Yes” without turning “Then get me a salad roll,… you want the money?” but I kept on walking to the shop, strangely angry .
But, well, that was a long while back now, when I was working for Fusco and was quite young.