Bliss in Laverton
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
The next day, around 10:30, Weena dropped me off at the uni. She was going to spend a good part of the day visiting realtors and, perhaps, looking at some houses. I told her to try to stay under $700,000, but that she should try for three or four bedrooms, two or more baths, and parking for two. "Yes, yes," was her response.
I got the big hello inside the Centre and was shown into a lounge and given a mug (no ghastly paper or styrofoam cup!) of passable coffee. The secretary said she'd tell "everyone" that I was here.
Within half an hour I was exhausted. I knew that I'd only recall a few names. But I did meet the fellow who was interested in apis -- bees -- and recalled a paper of his. He had read both of mine, and so we completed the dog-smelling ritual. He seemed quite nice. And we were the sole entomologists. The other folks seemed okay. We sat down and did a bit of academic chit-chat, but then an older chap in shorts with a true Aussie beard down to his waist asked what I intended to do.
"I thought that you, as a group, might tell me what you thought I should be doing."
"Well, there's a lot we don't do."
"Look. I'm the new boy. I've been parachuted in. You've not had a chance to interview me or try to get me drunk or anything. Well, I don't know much about you, either. I've been aware of you for a few weeks. I was asked to do a report on places for the CSIRO to place a Bureau in the Territory or in the West. I reported that Darwin, Broome and Perth were the likely places. I was told that I'd be going and where would I like to go. So I asked my fiancee and she said Perth. And here we are."
"She went to school here in Perth and was brought up in a mining town a couple of hundred klicks north-east of here. She's out looking at houses."
That got a sympathetic groan from everyone.
"You're not from around here?"
"No, Queensland. Near Roma. My dad's a pastoralist and my older brother's a vintner."
"We've got a few vineyards around here." There was a laugh.
"I know. That's one of the things I was thinking about. The social insects are important -- without bees none of the flora would get fertilized. But wine is valuable to Western Australia. I was thinking of working up a phylloxera project. They're aphids, y'know. And though they've not yet made it west of South Australia, it's a good time to start alerting folks and educating students. Y'know they've been finding rust in the vines in the Northern Territory for the last few years. All those things travel now. I work for the CSIRO. The uni will give me space, but my boss is in Canberra. What I'd like to do is teach a bit, have a graduate student or two, do some research, and consult."
They stared at me. "You're not a spy for the uni admins?" "You really just want to act like the CSIRO?" I got six or eight remarks all at once. I got it. Typical academia: I was evil, because I was different. Sigh.
"Look, we've gotten off on the wrong foot. I'm here to help. The government is involved because they're under pressure: Entomology has three bureaus and they're in Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide. Perth will be the showcase for the rest of the country. I'm half enthusiastic and half petrified about doing this. I'm going to need all the help I can get. Why don't you blokes tell me what you do and then we can talk about how I can fit in. Also: I'm going to be starting out with one other professional and one grad student. Oh, and a secretarial person. So, now you talk to me. And I'm Gordy -- not Mr. or Dr. Okay?"
An hour later we'd gone through the group and were ready for lunch. "Anyone know the plans?"
"I'm sure the idiot didn't make any. Harry, walk down and ask. Then cut back and we'll go for tucker and booze."
Harry came back and confirmed that no plans had been made.
"Before we go," I said, "Could someone show me the allegedly vacant third floor lab and the one on the ground floor." So we all traipsed to the third floor, then downstairs. It was clear that the space upstairs was vastly superior, but the ground floor was more prestigious. I asked where the others had their spaces: all on the second floor. I guessed that resolved the issue.
We then distributed ourselves into two wagons, were driven (I think) west and parked in front of a rambling restaurant. Seated around a large table, everyone ordered beer and either seafood or beef. We ate, drank and talked for about two hours. Then I asked whether someone could drop me back at the New Esplanade. "Sure," was the response. Then I asked where folks lived. It turned out the answer was "all over," though it was unanimous that I'd never afford anything near the uni. I was asked where Weena had gone to school, and I had to admit that I didn't know.
Weena had lots to say: she'd been looking at housing in North Perth, in Leederville, in Highgate. It meant nothing to me. I still couldn't keep track of the neighborhoods and suburbs. So I changed topic by asking where she'd gone to school. "Perth College, in Mt. Lawley. Ten years in a blue uniform."
"I bet you were cute as all hell."
"Right." She kissed me. "Anyway, there are acceptable places at around $600 or $700."
"Seven hundred thousand dollars? How about something closer to two?"
"Don't be a silly. This is Perth, not the outback. And we'll need a place to entertain."
"Of course. You'll be a bureau head. We'll need to invite folks." My head started to spin. I was far beyond my depth.
"Hold on. I need to understand this better. Could we get a decent map of Perth, so I know where things are? And where they are in relation to one another? I'm not even sure where the uni is." While I was talking, Weena was already pulling things from her purse. One was a large accordion-folded map of Perth and environs; the other was a small, glossy tri-fold from the hotel, showing points of interest. Weena spent about ten minutes pointing out where the hotel was (fairly central), where the uni was (west and a bit south), where Mt. Lawley was (north and east), and explaining why she didn't think we "wanted" to be south of the Swan or north of Reid Highway.
"Okay," I said. "We're getting married, right?"
"And you said you wanted to work for a few years before starting a family?"
"Yes, dear." From the tone I knew I was getting into hot water, but I forged ahead.
"Well, we know where I'll be; do you have any idea where you might want to be?"
"I worked at the Royal Perth while I was in school, before I went to Adelaide. That was a nice place ... probably still is. And I looked at the job postings when we were at the uni. It looks as though their health centre is desperate."
"They might have a rule about employing spouses."
"You're not going to be employed by the uni." I sighed. She was right, of course. "Let's call mum and find out when we'll be hitched."
We did. After a bit of chit-chat I turned the phone over to Weena.
"Hi, mum! ... No, he's been good. Real easy to push around ... Yes, I'm sure that'll change as the new wears off. So, what are the plans? ... Oh, ours? Well, we'll be here for another week, then we'll fly to Canberra together. I guess we'll need to be there for at least a week. Gordy will have to make plans and get authorizations and learn how to be a bureaucrat ... Yes, five weeks from last Saturday should be fine. We'll take a few days and drive Canberra to Sydney to Newcastle to Brisbane to Roma. It's around 1200 klicks ... No, from Canberra to Brisbane. I presume that Gordy can get from the beach to your place ... No, we've not really fixed on where to live yet. I think Alice is equidistant between the uni and Roma. He's turning purple. It's quite becoming. Anyway, I'll phone my dad. He'll most likely fly into Roma a day or two early ... Saturday, 27 November. 14:00? Okay ... Oh. No white dresses. No penguins. No, not even little blues. Will you be my matron? I'm certain Gordy will want David as his best man ... Who? ... That's the one who doesn't get along with Gordy? ... Right. She can sit somewhere ... The little girl can do flowers and the boy can be ringbearer ... Right. Like Frodo ... Great! All arranged. See you in a few weeks." And she got off the phone.
"Now for Daddy." And she did it.
I realized that the rest of my life I could just think about entomology, the CSIRO and the university. Society and the household would be accommodated by my new executive assistant. And I wasn't even going to protest. I had a good thing going.
Turning everything over to Weena -- at least it felt like that -- took a real burden off my mind. She spent the rest of the afternoon calling real estate agents, making appointments, and then calling her father (again) to talk about funds, escrow, building inspection, closing, insurances, and a lot of other stuff I'd not thought of. Of course, I would have gotten on a bus at the uni and rented a two-bedroom flat relatively nearby. And made do with whatever drawbacks it had.
We walked for about 20 minutes in the evening and just popped into a restaurant that looked (Weena's term) "nice." It turned out to be Italian seafood and I overate. We walked back to the hotel with frequent snog stops.
The next morning after breakfast we began marathon house touring. We looked at a sequence of three-bedroom bungalows, one more boring than the next. Around 11:30 I asked Weena: "What's next?"
"Wembley Downs. West. Near the beaches." She looked at her notes. "We're right on schedule. The agent is supposed to meet us in 15 minutes. It's four beds but only two baths. 3-car garage. Nearly 600 square metre lot. It's a bit older and a bit pricey. If you like it, let me do the bargaining."
I'd learned. "Yes, dear," I said. We pulled right into a small street and then right again and into a drive. There was a yellow brick two-storey building with a lot (it seemed) of greenery. We stopped behind a car that was already parked. I looked at Weena. "I love it. You saved it on purpose, didn't you?"
"Of course." She kissed me on the cheek. "See how manipulative I am? And remember, let me talk."
We shook hands. Weena made sure I was "Dr." and the "new CSIRO bureau chief" and that the agent knew we were getting married in a few weeks, after we gone back to Canberra to "report." I was the strong silent type. We walked all the rooms, with Weena babbling about how we could redo this and install new fixtures there. In the kitchen she was exceptionally scathing. No entertaining until that cooker was replaced. Perhaps a new door to the patio. "Dear, do you prefer coals or gas on the barbie?" And on into the back yard, where we sat on some benches.
"Do you like it, dear?" I nodded.
"The smallest bedroom could be my study."
And she started in. "800 is a bit high. We'd have to invest a lot in it to make it truly useful. Do you think the owners would accept a lower bid? Hmmm. How long did you say it was on the market? Well, then, it isn't moving that fast. How about 650? Too low? Well, 700. When was the last inspection? Dear, would you look for insect traces?" I got up and went back inside to look, but I heard, "I did tell you that Gordy was an entomologist, didn't I? If there's any traces, he'll find them." And I did.
"Well, no termites. But I found one dead blowfly near the water heater and a moth upstairs in the master wardrobe. Must have been carried here -- it's a Queensland moth. I'd say the place is fairly clear."
Weena turned to the agent. "Well, that's good news. Now, will you make our offer of 700?" He agreed, but hemmed and hawed. "Oh, and we'd like to close as soon as possible after completion of inspections and title search. Tell the owners we'll give you an earnest cheque for -- what do you think Gordy? -- oh, $50,000? Will that be OK?" She flashed one of her megawatt smiles as she pulled out her chequebook, filled in the information, signed it with a flourish, tore it out, and handed it to the clearly-dazed realtor. "You'll call us at the hotel? Come on, Gordy, we'll lunch at the beach."
We shook hands all round and left. The realtor was holding the cheque, Weena played wife and got in on the passenger side. I backed out carefully as Weena waved. "Turn left, then right." When we got on the street proper she began to laugh.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life!" I said.
"I thought I played it pretty well."
"You had him coming and going. By the way, what was wrong with the cooker?"
"Nothing at all, dear. But you wouldn't want me to not have complaints, would you?"
We drove to the beach, turned north on highway 71, and lunched in Scarborough. Weena said that as soon as we heard, she'd get a referral to both a maintenance contractor and to a painting contractor. She wanted everything ready for move-in around 9-13 December.
"We'll buy furniture, too. We'll shop before we leave. What do you have in Canberra and at the ranch that you'll want to move?"
"Are you kidding? I've got boxes of books, a little equipment, and my 'bug collections.'"
"Since before I was a teenager, I was a collector. Ants, bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, spiders, scorpions. Since spiders and scorpions weren't insects, it was my bug collection. As long as they were dead and mounted, mom was okay with them. She wasn't happy about live scorpions, though. There are over 100 families of beetles in Australia. I caught a beautiful cowboy near Brisbane when I was 12." I realized I was getting involved. "Anyway, I've got a lot of big flat boxes with my collection in them. In fact, my books and the collection are about everything. Half my clothes must be in the hotel. I guess my collecting equipment goes into the pack I had in Laverton. Oh, yes. I've got a bunch of field maps. That's it."
"Well, I guess we'll want nearly everything for the house. Linens, curtains, china, cookware. It'll be such fun! I'll try to track down some of the girls when we get to the hotel."
"The girls I went to school with are most likely married and have kids. Some must still be in or around Perth. If I can locate a few of my friends, it will make shopping a lot more fun. Unless you want to come?"
"No, I've an appointment with a dentist who uses no anaesthesis." She broke into laughter. "'time, which nature doth despise And rudely gives her love the lie, Makes hope a fool'."
"That's not Shakespeare!"
"No. Raleigh. You're not the only one who reads, doctor!"
Back at the New Esplanade we cuddled a bit and then Weena got out her pad and pen and the phone book. A few minutes later she was talking to the Registrar at Perth College. A few minutes later still she was talking to someone connected with the alumnae association. After giving her info -- pretty straightforward -- whoever it was decided that Weena wasn't a front for a gang of slavers and began to divulge. Weena was scribbling as fast as she could. I went downstairs and asked the concierge where the nearest bookstore was.
I got a reprint of an old Upfield -- Mr. Jelly's Business -- around 70 years old -- but it takes place in Western Australia, in Burracoppin (about halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie) and, returned to our room, settled down to read with Weena as background.
After a while, I realized that she wasn't on the phone any more and looked up. She was staring at me. "You concentrate so hard," she said. "What is it?"
"Murder mystery. Find out anything?"
"Lots. Theresa has twins. Jeanette's been married twice. That sort of stuff."
"As I don't know either Theresa or Janet..."
" ... or Jeanette, I'm not sure that's important. Were they friends of yours?"
"Not especially. Jeanette went boy crazy at 14 or 15. I guess she still is. I'll be sure that you don't meet her. But there are several of my friends from a decade ago still around. I'll try to phone one or two after dinner. What time is it?"
"Bit after five. Want a drink downstairs?"
"Sure. Let me freshen up."
"Let me muss you up first." She did.
While she was brushing her hair, the phone rang. It was the agent. Surprise! The owners had accepted our bid. The agent wanted to know whether we had a solicitor he could get in touch with. I told him we'd call him about 9 am and give him a name and number. "I know that Weena's got it, but she's -- uh -- indisposed right now. Yes, I'm happy, too. We'll talk to you in the morning." Weena had come out of the bath but I had put my finger to my lips.
"What was that?"
"The agent. They accepted our offer."
"Dammit! I should have offered 650!"
"He wanted our lawyer's name. I said we'd call in the morning."
"Let me call Daddy." Back to the phone. "Daddy, we made an offer and got a house... 700. I should have offered 650. They were asking over eight ... Yes. Wembley Downs. Near the beaches. Anyway, I need the name and number of a lawyer ... Yes ... Yes ... Got it ... Oh, I wrote an earnest cheque for 50. So you can keep track ... Love you too."
And we went downstairs.