Telling it True: With Billy O’Rourke

His name was Billy O’Rourke. Now that’s a great name, I thought. A pub-poet name and I rather hoped he smoked a pipe, played the fiddle and drank whiskey. At the point of our meeting, I couldn’t tell. I was having my eyelashes tinted when he walked into the small salon I frequent and my eyes were firmly shut. My mouth too, for I had been told by my knowledgable hair stylist, Raelene, it is much harder to keep one’s eyes closed when one’s mouth is open. Perhaps she was after some quiet time. Who can tell?
Anyway, Billy O’Rourke arrived with his wife. That much I knew. It was their regular appointment and he expressed concern about not getting there on time. So Billy O’Rourke was the punctual kind of pub poet. Billy acknowledged me sitting in my chair with pieces of crescent shaped cardboard wedged up under my eyes to prevent leakage, when he asked, “What is she having?”
Rae said, “An eyelash tint.”
I think he grinned then because his next statement came out like he still was: “I thought it was one of those procedures to get rid of the bags, you know, but then she’s way too young for that.”

So he’s a punctual, polite kind of pub poet, I thought, because I’m not really too young for eye bags. I just want to be. One could say he is a charmer. It’s all in the voice, I thought, and when you think about it, it had to be, with me sitting there with my eyes slammed shut. Perhaps, this is why I remember Billy especially out of those I’ve rubbed shoulders with in transit. I remember him because I couldn’t see him. He was a puzzle and I was forced to wonder about him.

I didn’t make him up. I swear to it. I am almost always guilty of that, but not this time. Some stories are true. There might be a bit of poetic license, of course. A little buffing here and there, like the smoking a pipe and playing the fiddle bit. I do embellish, but sitting in the chair in the salon, I felt Billy’s presence balloon out into the room. I hung on his words, waiting through the gaps for more. Was he charismatic? I have no idea. Maybe shutting one’s eyes and truly listening to someone automatically coats them with charisma like icing on a bun.

I feel this sometimes when I listen to The Moth Podcast (if you haven’t yet and like true storytelling go find it on iTunes). The person becomes very real and its like you’re second cousins, once removed, by the end. It is the act of noticing, an exercise in sharing. It’s also the stories these people tell. The openness, they way they fill the available space, like Billy did.

There is a limit to how many people we can really know, like how many books we can possibly read in a lifetime. It takes time and time is not in endless supply. But sometimes a person leaps the gap of introductions and first meetings and gets right to it. They fast-track the connection by sharing something very human.
As I listened to Billy tell Rae of the houseguest he had staying, someone they had not seen for many years and I imagined Billy was a long thin bloke with sideburns you couldn’t miss. He talked of preferring Bill to William, as a name. “Back in the day, you only got William, if you had money,” he said. I didn’t know of the William/Billy dichotomy and I added brown suede shoes to the mix. I decided on a deep-collared shirt and chest hair. I have no idea why.

I could feel Rae’s fingers around my eyes now. Billy was talking about going down to Tasmania to catch up with members of his family and I almost wanted to go too. Billy, his wife and I could take the highway south and the car ferry across the strait in his old Holden Kingswood, because that was what I’ve decided he drove. He might want to go with me to MONA (Museum of Modern Art) because he’s lyrical and has a sense of humour.
Rae is wetting and dabbing and wetting and dabbing at my eyes to rid me of the excess dye and then her fingers are gone.
“You can open them now,” she says.
I did and I found Billy O’Rourke sitting across from me looking mildly interested in the results of my eyelash tint. He was small and well-muscled and wore slide-on sandals. By his very white teeth, I could tell he didn’t smoke a pipe. Billy O’Rourke was not a pub poet either, but something related nonetheless. He’s a singer, ‘an old fart singer’, was how he put it when I asked him. He sang Rock and Roll, he said.