Poster Child: Travels with a Slightly Effeminate Humphrey Bogart

I’d never thought about it much. For the most part, my walls were covered in wallpaper. The chosen pattern, selected in a moment of panic, was of light blue cricketers. This would have made sense if I was fond of either cricket or Smurfs, but as I was not particularly drawn to either, it was simply misleading. No one else had panicked when picking wallpaper. Of my brothers, Cameron chose motorbikes and Lachlan selected spaceships. My sisters chose Holly Hobbie. Only I acted in haste.

I’d never thought about it much.  For the most part, my walls were covered in wallpaper.  The chosen pattern, selected in a moment of panic, was of light blue cricketers.  This would have made sense if I was fond of either cricket or Smurfs, but as I was not particularly drawn to either, it was simply misleading.  No one else had panicked when picking wallpaper.  Of my brothers, Cameron chose motorbikes and Lachlan selected spaceships.  My sisters chose Holly Hobbie.  Only I acted in haste.

When I moved out of home, I left behind a lot of things, including the wallpaper and in my first year at Uni, I lived on campus at a residential college. I quickly learned that you were expected to decorate your room.  This was not so much an aesthetic exercise as it was one of identification – your room had to explain what kind of person you were.  Due to limitations in budget and space, this was mostly done by way of posters. 

Some students chose posters of their favourite bands as a means of nailing their colours to the mast (not literally – you were only allowed to use Blu Tack).  I remember one student having a giant poster of The Pogues and me, having only been exposed to commercial radio with dodgy reception courtesy of an aerial held together by sticky tape, having no idea who they were. Only those with a love for a certain kind of rock expressed their passion in poster form.  It was common to see posters of The Smiths, even though they’d already broken up.  But despite it being the early 1990s I cannot recall ever encountering a poster featuring Vanilla Ice, Colour Me Badd or Mr Mister at any time during my tertiary education.

Some students preferred ‘political’ posters.  These were usually in support of some kind of rally and always demanded ‘action’.  What kind of ‘action’ was generally left to the imagination.  The students who favoured their politics in poster form were always very serious and gave the impression of knowing something you didn’t about the world and how it operated.  Which, at that time and probably still, was likely to be so.  Older students had posters that were souvenirs of earlier campus events including plays and sporting events  and, in particular, university balls.  These were grand occasions at which several bands – lured by an appearance fee that factored an element of ‘danger money’ – agreed to play in front of a hall full of students determined to drink their money’s worth.

It was my first time living away from home and for the first few weeks, the walls of my room were as blank as my mind.  Here I was, surrounded by students who – if they had ever heard of Tyabb – had probably only driven through it. I couldn’t compete.  While I would decide to decorate my room with posters, I saw little point trying to be something I plainly wasn’t and vowed to avoid posters of indie rock bands or anything political.

Each Friday there was a market alongside the Student Union.  I’m sure they sold all kinds of useful things, but as I remember it every single stall sold either incense or posters.  With limited funds, I went through the racks determined to fill the empty void of my wall.  It was an alien world.  I had no idea which band Che Guevara was in, but as he’d not been good enough to make it onto the ‘Hits of ’89 Volume 1’ cassette, I decided to steer clear.  After an hour of searching, I finally saw someone I recognised.  I saw Humphrey Bogart. 

Without so much as a first thought much less a second, I bought Humphrey. I had purchased an entire packet of Blu Tack in anticipation and, back in my room, I eagerly unfurled my poster.  There is a time in your life during which Blu Tack is vitally important.  It must be scrounged and protected as though it were platinum. Accustomed to using scraps, having a whole packet at my disposal seemed like luxury itself.  With great care and unusual caution, I then fixed the poster to the blank canvas that was my wall.  Satisfied with my work, I took a step back.

I loved the work of Humphrey Bogart.  Casablanca was (and is) one of my favourite films of all time and The African Queen reminds me of Saturday nights in front of the television.  But this photo was drawn from neither of these motion pictures.  Nor was it from the Maltese Falcon or The Treasure of Sierra Madre.  Smooth of face and pouty of lip, there was something distinctly effeminate about this image of Bogie.  As though he had just auditioned for Tootsie.  Worse that merely effeminate, Humphrey was a little creepy too.  No matter where in the room you stood, his eyes would follow you. Invariably, the first thing anyone would ask when entering my room was: who’s that lady? This question was quickly followed by: and why is she dressed up as Humphrey Bogart?

Despite its unrepresentative nature, I took the bogus Bogart portrait with me wherever I lived during my student years.  At one stage, I even used it as a substitute curtain to block out the sun.  But there comes a time when you no longer need to explain yourself and, even if you do, it is not by way of a poster.  Somewhere along the line, I decided to take the poster out to the recycling bin. It felt like a betrayal.  It was dark and misty and, in the distance, there was plane on the runway preparing for takeoff. Realising that my problems didn’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed up world, I prepared to throw him away.  Taking one last glimpse of my poster, I told him this was the end of a beautiful friendship.  For a moment, I thought I saw the fulsome lips of the slightly effeminate Humphrey Bogart poster move just enough to say: ‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’

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