How Would You Be
HOW WOULD YOU BE?
(adapted and recorded by Warren Fahey 1996)
I first heard this wonderful monologue from my old mate, Alex Hood, and have since added it to my repertoire. I couldn’t resist adding to the story as it went along. I believe it is an early work of Judah Waten (born Odessa, Russia, 1911 and died Australia in 1985). I have never been able to verify this authorship and the piece, rarely published, has entered the yarn tradition of Australia as ‘anonymous’.
I struck him first in a shearing shed in outback Queensland. He was sweating over a greasy four-year-old wether when I asked him the innocent question: “how would you be?”
He didn’t answer immediately, but waited until he had carved the last bit of wool from the sheep, allowing it to regain its feet, kicking it through the door, dropping the shears, and spitting what looked like a stream of molten metal about three yards. Then he fixed me with a pair of malevolent eyes in which the fires of a deep hatred seemed to burn and he pierced me with them as he said: “How would I be?”
“How the bloody hell would you expect me to be?” Get a hold of me, will you? Dags on every inch of my bloody hide; drinking me own bloody sweat; swallowing dirt with every bloody breath I breathe; working for the lousiest bastard this side of the rabbit-proof bloody fence; and frightened to leave because the old woman has got some bloody private Dick Tracey looking for me with a maintenance order. How would I be? I’m so unlucky they could be showing free movies up a sheep’s bum and I’d still be some dag hanging around the back! I haven’t tasted beer for weeks and the last glass I had was knocked over by some clumsy drunken bastard before I’d finished it! How would you bloody expect me to be!”?
The next time I saw him was in Sydney; he was struggling to get into a set of regulation army webbing and had almost ruptured himself in the process. I said: “How would you be?”
“How would I bloody well be?” he said, “Take a bloody gander at me! Get a load of this bloody outfit; take a captain cook at this bloody hat – size 9.1/2 and I take a 6.1/2; get a bloody eyeful of these strides – why you could hide a bloody bullock team in the seat of them and still have room for me; get an eyeful of this shirt, just get on the bloody thing, will you? Get on these bloody ‘daisy roots’; why there’s a enough boot leather in the bastards to make a full set of saddle and harness; and then some know-all bastard told me this was a man’s outfit! How would I be? How the bloody hell would you expect me to be?”
I next saw him in Tobruk. He was seated on an upturned box; tin hat over one eye, cigarette butt hanging from his bottom-lip, rifle leaning against one knee; and he was engaged in trying to clean his nails with the tip of his bayonet. I should have known better, but I asked him: “How would you be, Digger?”
He swallowed the butt as the bayonet sliced off the top of his finger and he fixed me with a murderous look. “How would I be? How would I bloody well be? How the bloody hell would you expect me to be? Six months in this hellhole; being target practice for every Fritz in Kingdom Come; eating bloody sand with every meal; flies in me hair and eyes, frightened to sleep a bloody wink, expecting to die in this bloody place and copping the crows every time there’s a handout to anybody. How would I be? How the bloody hell would you expect me to be?”
The last time I saw him was in Heaven. I know I should have kept on flying but I ventured a cheery ‘How would you be, cobber?”
He pierced me with an unholy look that riveted my soul as he muttered: “How would I be? How the bloody Heaven would I be? Get a grip on this bloody regulation nightgown, will you! A man trips over the bloody thing fifty times a bloody day and it takes a cove tern minutes to lift the bloody thing just to relieve himself; and get a gander at this bloody right wing – feathers missing all over the bloody thing – a man might be bloody well moulting! Get an eyeful of this halo – only me bloody ears keep the rotten thing on me skull – and look at the bloody dents in it – it’s obviously second hand! How would I bloody well be? Cast your eyes on this celestial bloody harp; five bloody strings missing and there’s a bloody band practice in six minutes. How would I be, you ask? How would you expect a man to bloody well be?”