While I was drawing this an elderly man walking with a stick, and wearing a colourful checked shirt, grey slacks and a baseball cap, stopped on the footpath in front of me and asked me what I was doing.
I paused my podcast* and I told him I was drawing, and without me asking him, he limped over and stood behind me to have a look.
‘It’s beautiful,’ he said, even though I had only made a few minor lines and hadn’t started with the heavy pastel.
Then he asked me where I was from and I told him Australia and he let out a yell and told me he had lived there for many years, that he had gone there from Italy when he was a young man.
‘Oh,’ I said, smiling, and switching to Italian, ‘Ci sono visuto, in Italia per cinqe anni.’ (I lived there for 5 years)
At this revelation the man became even more excited and kneeled down next to me on the grass where I was sitting and hugged me.
I thought for a moment he might cry, but he began to speak quickly in Italian, clearly and in a good dialect that I could follow easily.
‘Come ti chiammi?’ he asked me, and I told him my name.
‘Mi chiammo Valentino.’ he said.
‘Piacere!’ I said, smiling.
From then on Valentino and I spoke in Italian and he told me about his life in Australia.
‘They are so racist,’ he told me, ‘I had to leave. They call me ‘wog’ all the time. They didn’t even know what a pasta was, an olive, the garlic, nothing, only the mash potato.’
We laughed at this and he told me how much the girls there had loved him and he told me how his wife had recently died, that she was German and a wonderful woman.
He stood up and took out his wallet, which was black and leather and stuffed with bits of paper and photos, and showed me a photo of her.
Then he showed me a photo of his granddaughter.
Then I told him about the town in Australia where I was born and he told me he knew it, that he had worked there and that he had met a woman he had truly loved.
‘I regret so much I didn’t stay with her,’ he told me, ‘but you know, we didn’t have phone in those days, so I don’t know what…she lived near a pub, that’s all I remember.’
‘Maybe you could find her if you remember her name.’ I told him.
‘I think she got a baby by me,’ he said, ‘I pretty sure of that.’
Uncomfortable with his confession, I just said ‘oh dear’ and waited for him to speak again.
‘After this I come to America,’ he told me, ‘and I get a job and I work too hard and now I stop to work, I don’t need to work, I got plenty money, I been all around the world, I got the movies to show it.’
Then he laughed and told me how much he loves life, how much he loves Californian weather, how much he dislikes European weather and how grateful he is that he came to America.
‘I love California,’ he told me, ‘look at this beautiful day!’
Then he told me about his big house, his garden, that he rents out rooms in his big house to doctors and students.
‘I understand poor,’ he said, waving his finger toward me, ‘but I don’t understand dirty. I ask only they be clean.’
Then he told me how he loves India and Thailand, but that it’s so poor in Thailand they sell their children, and tells me a story about a mother trying to sell him her daughter to him.
‘She wasn’t even developed there,’ he said, pointing at my chest, ‘you know.’
And then he snarls and and waves his hands and says ‘disgusting’.
‘What work did you do, Valentino?’ I asked him, and he told me he had 4 body shops and that when he closed the last one people had cried.
‘I was so polite to everybody.’ he said.
Then he told me about his daughter who was a professor at Yale, and his granddaughter who was an opera singer and his nephew who was a famous chef.
‘You know I was one of 15 children, I left Italy I had one pair of shoes,’ he told me,’ and when I get to Australia they put me in a camp and then they send me to work on the Snowy River and I work so hard in 3 years I got a house.’
He laughed and told me how happy he was, how much he loved life and laughing.
‘And affection,’ he said, ‘I need a lot of affection.’
Then he asked me if I would like to have lunch one day, or see his house, that he had a beautiful garden, so I said yes and he took out his phone, and old flip-phone with his number taped to the back and I called the number so he would have mine.
‘Do you like cruises,’ he asked me, ‘I been on 3 cruises this year. I love cruises.’
Then he asked me if I was alone in America, what I did for work, if I had any children, was I married.
‘No children,’ I told him, ‘I work in design, I’m not married.’
Then he asked me to come on a cruise with him, and I laughed and said no thank you.
Then he laughed and threw his hands up in the air and he leant in toward me and told me he was so happy and he kissed me.
‘Life is short,’ he said and laughed, ‘we need always to be happy.’
‘Yes, Valentino,’ I said, ‘it is.’
Then I told him I should finish my drawing and he said okay and, in a motion like an unsteady toddler, he stood up.
‘You call me, okay?’ he said as he started to walk away.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘for sure I will call you.’
Then he smiled and threw up his hands again.
‘You made my day.’ he said and he came back toward me and knelt down to give me another kiss, but this time he kissed me on the mouth with his mouth open, which made me lean away from him as far as possible without lying on the ground.
And then he stood up again and held his arms up and looked toward the sky and started talking about how gorgeous the weather was and how wonderful it was that he had met me and how perfect America is and how beautiful the trees are.
‘I’m going to walk once around the park,’ he told me, as I stared up at him in a minor state of shock, ‘I walk every day.’
And then, all of a sudden, he knelt down toward me again, and when he was on his knees on the ground beside me, he leant in, and as I leant away, he put his arms around me and hugged me.
‘Oh, I am so happy I met you,’ he said, ‘so happy.’
‘Yes Valentino,’ I said leaning, ‘lovely to have met you too.’
And just then, as I sensed he was about to let me go and stand up, grabbed me on the tit.
And then he stood up as quickly as he could and began to walk off with his stick,
‘You call me, eh? I take you for lunch, you come to my house?’
And because I wasn’t sure how to respond to an invitation to lunch from an 80 year old man who had just grabbed my tit, and because it might be impolite not to, I said yes, I’ll call you and go for lunch with you.
And then I put my earbuds in and stared at my paper for a while wondering what had just happened.
And then I went back to my drawing.
Sometime later, my phone rang and seeing it was Valentino, who had just, without invitation, grabbed me by the tit, I did not answer.
Then sometime after that, a car stopped in front of the house I was drawing and Valentino got out and walked toward me.
‘Ciao,’ he called out, ‘I come to take you to lunch.’
‘Hello Valentino, I can’t come to lunch, I have to go to work soon,’ I lied, ‘and I want to finish my drawing.’
‘Oh,’ he said, throwing his hands up, ‘I want to take you to a Brazilian restaurant, is very good food.’
‘I’m afraid not,’ I said, ‘I have to finish this.’
‘Lemme see,’ he said, coming over and kneeling down next to me, ‘ah, look how beautiful.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, wondering what he might do next.
‘Okay,’ he said smiling and laughing, ‘I go.’
And then he leaned in once more for one more kiss and this time I turned my cheek toward him, but Valentino had the moves, and the next thing I new he was trying to stick his tongue in my mouth.
‘Con la lingua, con lingua!’ he said.
‘No, Valentino, no!’ I said, pushing him away.
‘Then he laughed and stood up, again like an unbalanced toddler.
‘I’m clean, I’m a clean man,’ he called out as he limped across the grass to his car, ‘I not dirty like other men. You call me!’
‘Yes, Valentino,’ I lied, wiping my face with the back of my hand, ‘I will call you.’
Today’s podcast: Sword and Scale Episode 107