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Tom Jones - Short Story by Kenneth Nolan

Tom Jones got a job in a sex shop in Sydney. A tiny shit-hole, situated in a seedy corner just off George Street near “The Railway Hostel” where he and I first met.

He was a Welshman, just like the singer Tom Jones. Tom hated the fact that he shared the same name and nationality as the legendary warbler. He preferred to be addressed as Tomas. I insisted on calling him Tom—sometimes I called him Delilah if I was trying to get a rise out of him. He liked to notify people that he was not “the real Tom Jones”, though he was one of the most real people I have ever met.

I lived in a house in Coogee with two lads from Liverpool named John and Paul, and a Scottish dude named Roderick. Tom moved in with us when Rod moved out. Tom was from Cardiff, and he spoke with a distinctly Welsh accent, which I suppose is the entitlement of Welsh people. All Tom seemed to do was write, drink, and consume drugs. He would say ‘Everybody in Cardiff does drugs—it’s a heritage thing.’

His job in the sex shop gave him time to write, and think about writing. A place where the creative juices could flow, along with all sorts of other juices. He was left to his own devices there. No boss on-site to answer to. All he had to do was change ten-dollar notes for the gentleman customers, and mop the floor at the end of his shift.

Of all the jobs in Sydney a fit young man could get at that time, (of which there were many)—the fact that Tom chose to work in that dirty old kip puzzled me. I just concluded that the industrial amount of drugs he consumed had addled his brain.

Tom had a lasting habit of sliding drugs under my door late at night. It began when I acquired sleeping pills from him which relieved my insomnia.

From then on he gave me a wide variety of narcotics on a regular basis, without ever asking for payment or anything else in return. He thought it his duty as a friend and a gentleman of Wales to keep the supply line going. I guess he just really liked me—or it may have been because I took “a thorn from his paw”—so to speak, by hooking him up with the room in the house, when most people thought him too weird to spend any substantial amount of time with.

You couldn’t be faulted for deciding that he was a degenerate, just by taking one good look at him. Though the Liverpool boys and I really liked Tom, we all had great craic together, it was a funny little household.

Most mornings I would awake to find all sorts of: “pills, thrills, and just might kills” on my bedroom floor, “uppers and downers”—“smilers and frowners”—and a very effective constipation remedy. I would collect them all, store them up over a period of time, and then I would sell them on to the transvestites down in Kings Cross. Those dainty ladies would pay good money for pills, even for something as basic as a Valium.

The transvestites I came to know were nice people, amusing to look at at first, but friendly, humble, and caring, when you got to know them. You could cry in their arms when the sharp pains of loneliness or homesickness hit. They were very useful allies to us mischievous young men.

With the proceeds of the drugs I would sell to the trannies I would buy many a round of drinks out of turn in the “Mercantile Bar” on a Friday night, for which Tom would ironically proclaim me ‘the most generous Irishman he had ever met’. To further add to the irony, he probably bought the drugs from the trannies in the first place.

My life in Sydney at this time was very good, I was living it to its fullest, young, care-free, open to all opportunities. I worked quite hard, though I never let work interfere with my leisure activities.

John, Paul, and myself had a steady grafting number with an agency. We always had work on, and good money to spend. It was perfect really, just physical work, we didn’t have to think much. We’d start at 7am, finish at 3, be on the beach for 4, pissed by 6, in bed for 10, maybe grab a sandwich somewhere along the way. It was a terrific little gig and none of us could fathom why Tom refused to take us up on our offers to hook him up at the agency. He preferred to stick with his job in the sex shop surrounded by all that filth. Despite the fact that he earned a crap wage there. Barely enough to live on.

‘You can’t write on a building site’—he’d say this line often. It became like a mantra that he would repeat over and over again in that booming Welsh accent. It would always make me laugh when I heard it.

All I worked for really was gargle money, and enough to pay for the digs. Money just to mess about with, just enough to be free and easy, and a face around the social scene, as most young lads in their twenties like to be. Money helps a man in his pursuit of a good time, that is to say—it helps a lot in his pursuit of the fairer sex. With a little luck, you could earn and put aside enough extra cash so that you might take one of those, nice, respectable girls from Manly out for a posh meal at the weekend (given the opportunity).

Manly has a beautiful beach and is considered one of the more salubrious areas of Sydney. This is where the agency would send us more often than not, to do the donkey work on house renovations. Usually with some over-weight, angry, middle-aged, Aussie builder.

It seemed like folks from Manly were always getting extensions done—and their statuesque daughters were adept at glancing seductively at you as they walked past the door frame. These young sirens would serve: tea, coffee, biscuits, and sandwiches—with a heavenly smile that would momentarily wash away the madness you might otherwise be accustomed to.



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