Fate? Circumstance? Coincidence? Universal Guidance? Chance? Synchronicity? Are they all the same thing? Does it matter? Is it our Earthly responsibility to question? Ponder? Understand? Know? Regardless, the outcome of this particular not so insignificant Universally-guided (and determined) exchange in my Sydney story was to become the standard by which I set all of my expectations for what this magnificent city would teach my about myself.
I had undertaken a quick reconnaissance of rental property availability in the Potts Point area. In detail, it had involved a visit to the Raine & Horne office in Macleay Street, Potts Point. Having introduced myself, I explained that I was considering a move to Sydney from Melbourne and that I was interested in what various amounts of money could 'buy' in the Potts Point rental market. The very helpful Property Manager handed me a set of keys and a hand-written list of four apartment numbers. The building was 'Serena' - 5 Tusculum Street. Perfect location. Quiet street. Altogether ideal. The four different apartments, on three floors, each had a different price. It all depended on just how much of the Harbour you could "glimpse". The price range was $180 (no glimpse - of anything) to $280 (glimpse of, possibly, water through trees from a narrow bathroom window).
By Melbourne standards, this was, well, excessive. My top floor apartment in The Ritz Mansions building on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, was a veritable palace by comparison. I had so much space in The Ritz that I often exhausted myself walking from my bedroom to the bathroom! Space in Sydney was, by all appearances, worth more than space in Melbourne ... or was it the other way around? Regardless, as I stood outside 'Serena' checking out the building's exterior, my eyes were drawn toward the sky. There, if I was not mistaken, were apartments on the roof! The views from these apartments would have been sensational, I imagined. And I marched back to my new friend at Raine & Horne to return the keys.
"The apartments on the roof," I said.
"There are four, two at the front and two at the back. The tenants in the two front ones have been there for about ten and fifteen years respectively," was my new friend's response.
"As you would imagine", I conceded ... realising that my best bet was to move into one of the other apartments in this building and wait, patiently, for my turn in either of the two west-facing roof-top apartments. I thanked my new friend for showing me what was available, and told her I would come back the moment I landed in Sydney to live. She was distracted with I wasn't to know what ... but she managed one of those classic "Yes, lovely ... piss off now" smiles I am sure they learn in Real Estate School.
In September I returned. Melbourne had been departed from with grace and alacrity ... the details of which I will write about another time. My gorgeous friends AK and DH collected me from Kingsford Smith Airport in their silver Saab, and I was to spend a few glorious weeks sleeping on their couch while I settled in to my new domain. The morning I flooded the bathroom, we all knew it was time for me to go. AK said as much.
I walked in to the Raine & Horne office as my friend was finishing a telephone conversation. As she hung up, she looked at me as though she had seen a ghost. 'Yes' I was the guy who had come in late last year and asked about 'Serena's' rooftop apartments ... and more completely astonishingly, 'yes', she had just hung up from the tenant of one of them who, after fifteen years, had just given notice. "So it's mine then!" I confirmed ... at which point she, still staring at me in a wildly perplexed manner, slid a rental application form onto the counter between us. I must have been a Warlock. It was obviously meant to be. Fortunately for me, she was just as convinced of this fact as I was.
Real Estate Agent negotiations have always been a piece of cake for me. It's where the Great White Pointer in me glides effortlessly and silently to the surface. I always know there are going to be any number of rental crises for us both to endure in the months ahead, and it's important that I employ the charm imperative to its full and maximum effect - right from the start. Charm is a greatly under-valued human characteristic. I have used it variously throughout the years to drop prices (and occasionally prized pairs of pants) - but never standards. It's the one thing about Charm, it doesn't require a compromising of standards, in quite the same way as downright deceit, collusion or dishonesty does. Charm is a gift - from one person (in this case me) to another (in this case someone who, in the not too distant future, would need to chose between being patient or evicting me without delay). Needless to say, I would eventually leave 'Serena' in circumstances of (something like) my own choosing.
My ally behind the counter is quite literally gob-smacked. We engage the pointless little Receptionist with details of how I had enquired last year about the possibility of one of the roof-top apartments, and that here I was, walking back in the door on the very day that one of them was being vacated. After fifteen years!
I filled out the application form as my new friend picked up the telephone.
"I'll just call the tenant back and tell her that you'd like to have a look ..."
"No," I said. "That won't be necessary."
I explained that if the tenant had lived in the apartment for fifteen years, then she would be very sad to be leaving it. (Just how sad I was to find out myself, a few years later!) I would prefer to respect her privacy and her timetable and would be happy to view the apartment once she had vacated. I flipped my cheque book onto the counter and wrote a cheque for $500.
"Hold this as a deposit ... and call me when she's moved out."
And I was smiled out the door. Never underestimate the value of a strategically-placed and enacted charm offensive. Ever.
Two weeks later, my girlfriend at Raine & Horne called. The tenant had vacated and if I wanted to pop around this afternoon, I would be taken and shown through the apartment. I dressed up (the concept of which escapes the vast majority of Sydney-siders in an almost compelling fashion) and walked from Surry Hills to Potts Point. My new friend's male colleague would take me to the apartment - and as we walked around the corner to 'Serena', I chatted idly about how excited I was to be living in Sydney. Security gate. Check. Security front door. Check. Tacky lift. Check. Fifth floor. Perfect. Key in the door. Door open.
I walked in to ...
... heaven. Without a word of a lie.
A third of the apartment was a partly covered rooftop terrace from where, on hundreds of nights, I and anyone who was with me, would watch the sun set behind the city skyline. New Year's Eve ... the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games ... more firework displays than I care to remember ... BBQs ... an unforgettable bonfire ... parties ... fuck, we lived this little space well!
There are many more wonderful photos of this apartment - but they are all prints. (MP, who would later take over the lease from me, has a wonderful collection here and here.) My photos don't belong here, because to be perfectly honest, I really don't want too many reminders of just how perfect this little apartment was. Or just how wonderfully well I lived it. It was to be my oasis. My Utopia. My Magic Balcony. My window on the world ... and the city which was my new home. In it, I would experience the most extraordinary times. The boldest, most sweeping, grand and enduring memories of arriving - and living - in Sydney in style. I miss it every day. Still. I was to exchange it for a different kind of magic and wonder on the banks of the Woronora River ... an experience that took me into the darkest corners of all my failings.
Where, one night, with one sentence, my housemate Michael would pierce me to the bone.