The Day I Met the Premier

Years ago when I was about 21 or 2, I was a trainee manager at Young and Jackson’s Hotel in Melbourne. It is a downtown hotel opposite the main railway station and a city icon. It was so famous that every politician, boxer, racing identity, country folk, movie star, gangster, street punk, and derelict would stop by there for a drink at some stage. And it was because of this reason that the Victorian premier of the time, John Cain, had decided to launch his reelection campaign there. He, however, was a well known teatotaler and had organized his photo shoot for 8 am before the doors opened at 10.

Everything had apparently been organized on very short notice, as I had no idea what was about to occur and was at the pub cleaning the lines and putting on the barrels. At about 7am I received a call from the owner, Marcel Gilbert, the largest independent hotel owner in Australia, and a guy with a remarkable memory for names. I picked up the phone and he said to me in his cultured Jewish accent, “Daniel, is there any one else there? Is Michael there yet?”

“No, sorry Mr. Gilbert. It’s just me. I’m cleaning the lines,” hoping to give a good account of myself.

“Only you Dan,” the disappointment was discernable in his voice. “Well, Daniel you’re in the lion’s den today my boy. The Premier is coming this morning. They are going to take some photos. He’ll be there at 8 o’clock. I want you to be ready to meet him. But don’t say anything, you know what I mean? Don’t say anything.”

“Yes, Mr. Gilbert. I understand.”

“Good. Now, do you have anything to wear?”

“Not really. I’m only dressed in shorts and a T-shirt.”

“Well you go next door to Smith’s; I’ll ring Ray and have him waiting there for you.”

There were very few people in Melbourne who had the capacity to snub the Premier and send their lowliest employee to greet him and at the same time call the tailor next door and tell him to get down to his shop at 7 am to dress some greenhorn. But Marcel was just one of those guys, all charm and balls.

So with in half an hour I was standing out the front of Y&J’s waiting for the Premier to come by and as the designated representative of the hotel I was the focus of the press and the premier’s forward party. The premier’s PR guy gave me a quick rundown on what they wanted, perhaps a nice somewhat ironic picture of the premier raising a glass to Melbourne and the people of Victoria through a second story window.

That much I could handle. Then we settled down to wait for the premier’s arrival.

There was an old blind bloke who sold newspapers outside the pub; and as per usual, he was there that morning waiting for his regulars to stream by once peak hour hit. However, someone from the Premier’s forward party had got it into his head to have this bloke moved in case he got in the way of the photo shoot. So they started discussing it with me and as part of that repartee the photographer from the Herald started telling me a blind joke.

“A blind guy is crossing the road with his dog, but instead of crossing on “walk” the dog has dragged him out in front of the traffic. After the screeching of brakes, a few near misses and the occasional “get a cane you blind cunt!” from the drivers, the blind guy makes it to the other side. He then proceeds to take a dog biscuit out of his pocket and feed it to the dog. A guy standing next to him says, “Do you know that dog nearly killed you?” and the blind guy replies, “Yeah, I’m just trying to find out what end his head is so I can kick his ass.”

This bought the obligatory gwarfs of laughter from everybody standing around me. Then seemingly by happenstance the blind guy started to move on. He gathered up his few humble belongings locked up his paper stand, and picked up his dog’s water bowl, which was full of that kind of spew like mixture you get in dog’s bowls when the water has all mixed in with the dry food. And as he was walking past our little clutch of meanies he emptied that water bowl with the eye of William Tell all over the cameraman from about four feet away. Whooha! My new suit! Not a mark on it. Then when we were all in hysterics, we noticed the Premier coming striding down the street. As he reached out to take my hand he said through his smile to the photographer, “Jesus, Derek. Give up the grog. You look friggin’ awful.”

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