This time I was working underground - below the Southern Cross Hotel, parking cars. Apart from the car fumes, which at times I thought was affecting my singing voice, I liked this job as I sometimes got to drive fancy cars and meet interesting people. I’ve driven a Ferrari and a Rolls Royce, though crawling around a carpark in first gear is hardly driving.
I met Australian actress Jackie Weaver, who at the time was married to Derryn Hinch. He owned the Rolls. She was lovely and didn’t speak down to me like some did. Another time it was Andrew Peacock who I didn’t get to talk to as he couldn’t string two words together and struggled to walk straight. He and his wife had been to a function upstairs in the Hotel where the Liberal party often partied. Can’t remember her name but she was lovely to.
What I liked most about the carpark was the acoustics. So sometimes when I thought there was no one else around I would sing. One day a lady walked up behind me as I was singing and as I took a breath she asked me what I was doing working in a carpark with that singing voice. I turned around and shrugged my shoulders, so she offered me a job on her farm somewhere in the outback of NSW. "Be cleaner air for your voice," she said. She asked me if I could ride a horse. I thanked her for the offer but said I couldn’t ride. "No matter," she said, "we’ll teach you." I thought it would be good to know how to ride a horse, thanked her for the job offer, then said I wanted to pursue my music career and that it would be a bit difficult to do that in the middle of nowhere. She asked if I was sure. I said I was. She wished me luck and drove off.
Then one day a little red Renault sped down through the entrance to the carpark and a girl with beautiful long dark curly hair jumped out and asked me if I could park her car as she was running late for work. This happened often, but never before had the car been driven by someone like this. I stood by the open car door and watched her walk hurriedly towards the lift. Whether she sensed I was watching her, or whether she wondered why she couldn’t hear her car being moved straight away I don’t know; but this girl with the long dark curly hair looked back over her shoulder, smiled, walked into the lift and then stood facing me, still smiling as the doors of the lift closed.
I took as many shifts as I could just to see Deborah again. She would speed down the driveway entrance to the carpark and I’d be there at her usual arrival time. I’d try to avoid any other customers, even if they wanted their Ferrari or Rolls Royce parked, just so I could walk her to the lift or park her little red Renault if she was running late for work. Later in the day, sometimes if I was lucky enough to not be busy elsewhere in the carpark, I’d make sure I was in the vicinity of the lift. Sometimes the doors opened and she would be there smiling and I’d walk her back to her car. We’d walk slowly and talk. She didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get home. Sometimes I’d pretend to forget where I had put her car just to make the walk last longer, but this didn’t seem to bother her. Eventually I would see the car and think that she would surely have seen it to; but never did she say so. I got it in my head that these walks were heading somewhere.
After a week and half, her smile, the warmth in her words and the look in those dark eyes made me do something stupid. I parked her car, then ran up onto the street and bought a single long stemmed red rose, hid it under my work coat so my workmates wouldn’t see it and placed it on the passenger seat for her to find when she returned.
Every day since Deborah had begun parking her car at the Southern Cross Hotel had become special. But what I hadn’t realised when I bought the rose, was that this particular day of the year was so special they would call it Valentines Day.
Here I was, thinking my sprint across the street through speeding traffic to the florist and back, then placing a rose on a car seat was the most romantic, original and clever way to give a girl a flower. But obviously, this clumsy heart hadn’t noticed all the shiny inflated hearts on the end of plastic stems that must have filled the florist.
It wasn’t until later in the day and after seeing too many women coming back to get their cars carrying flowers that I twigged. I decided I wasn’t going to give a flower to a girl on the same day that millions of girls around the world are given a flower. Deborah would get a flower on a day when she least expected it - and not on a day love and affection had become crass and commercialised. I’d wait until Valentines Day had faded and been forgotten - a few days at least.
Anyway, it was way too early for this kind of madness. Some may say it’s never too early for this kind of madness, but I raced towards her car hoping she would not come out of the lift before it was too late. I made it in time and the secret rose was hidden under my work coat again. Casually, I walked to a rubbish bin, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then gently placed the red rose in the bin. I’m glad flowers don’t have feelings, but it did look a bit sad and neglected lying there wasted amongst the rubbish.
Even though I’d managed to avoid what I thought would have been a mistake, when Deborah walked out of the lift and up to me she seemed to be searching for something in my eyes which made me nervous. Surely she couldn’t know about the rose, I told myself. We walked to her car as usual but we didn’t say much. She seemed to be angry about something. I can’t remember what I said but I tried to make her laugh. Instead of laughing she stopped, looked straight at me, and rebuked me for not taking life seriously. I wasn’t sure what she meant by this and should have just asked her what was wrong. But stupid as stupid is, I tried to read a woman’s mind. I then said something about trying to create a little levity whenever it was needed and she smiled a little as she got into her car, put her bag on the passenger seat where the rose had been, and drove off.
The next couple of days there was no little Red Renault speeding down the entrance to the carpark. On the third day I was about to ask my boss to give some of my shifts to others when the familiar squeal of her tyres echoed through the carpark. She was running very late for work again, got out of her car, rushed past me and said we’d have to talk later.
While thinking about the discarded rose, I worked my whole shift rehearsing the simple words, “Would you like to have a coffee with me?” Over and over and over, trying to get it right.
I managed to time everything perfectly - avoiding all other customers to be near the lift as she emerged. We got to her car and as she opened the car door I asked her out for coffee.
Deborah turned around and asked, ”Are you Jewish?”
I wasn’t prepared for this question and my heart hit the oil-stained floor of the carpark hard, leaving anger and sadness in its place.
I’d met a beautiful, funny and intelligent woman with long dark curly hair who was serious about life, but who was chained to tradition.
I disguised my anger and sadness and replied, “I don’t know." Frustrated, she asked angrily, “What do you mean you don’t know? Where are your parents from?” I could tell that this would be our last conversation, but continued to betray my Anglo/Celtic ancestry and answered, “History goes back a long way Deborah, you never know”. She said sorry, quickly got into her car, and disappeared. I often wondered where she parked her car after that.