They say to be a better writer it helps to be constantly on the look out for new material, sponged from daily life. For a while now I’ve had a cloud-based folder in on my phone, crammed full of mysteriously-titled files covering all sorts of random topics. Brave. KP2. Double-cross. Winning. Details. Each one of them a list of sentences or paragraphs, mostly unconnected, describing something I’ve either seen on the street, or pertaining to an upcoming project or kernel-of-a-project which I simply had to write down before it evaporated.

A couple of weeks ago, just after we temporarily moved into the colourful neighbourhood of Surry Hills, I started one called Crazy People. The mission: writing down anything I happened to catch, uttered by the local vagrant or special population, of which there seem to be quite a strong showing of in the area. Not surprisingly, this file is filling fast; so fast it’s becoming clutter, especially as I have no current project where this anthology of nuttiness will end up finding a home.

What I’m also discovering is that the more I’m listening to these people – not only writing down whatever hollered sentence they happen to utter as I mosey by, but also details about what they were doing, how they looked, and what might have caused their outburst – the more some of them are starting to make sense. When I started, my intention was to capture the strange things these often-disturbed people said, thinking there’d be some comic value in it somewhere, especially if it had originated in an authentic place. But now that I’m actually trying to document, most of them just make me feel a bit sad: there’s often a lot of logic behind their apparent madness.

Like yesterday. There was a 50yo man in a filthy blue polo shirt, holes in his shoes (though not a vagrant), his wild eyes and sweaty features asymmetric enough that you could tell at a glance he wasn’t all there. He was walking down Bourke street, shouting: “Eight!! … Eight!!! … EEEIIIGHT!!!”, over and over, with unintelligible muttering in between. Curious about the muttering, I got in close. In between the eights, he mumbled : “Two, four, six, eight. Eight pairs of legs. Nice legs. Summer legs. Two-four-six-eight.. EIGHT!!!” Turns out he’d just passed a bunch of girls, farther down, all still laughing at having dodged a crazy man, each of them wearing tiny denim shorts to match the summer weather. Eight legs, all in a row.

He wasn’t crazy. Well, not completely. Sure, he was bad at maths, but it’s not like I hadn’t noticed the same group, both of us reduced to being just a couple of dudes noticing a bunch of pretty girls. The only difference between us was that I kept my mouth shut about it, and my shoes were clean. Nearly every one of these people I could’ve said the same about; all larger disability issues aside, in the one-on-one isolated incidents I’ve been documenting, nearly every person has been motivated by exactly the same things as the rest of us would, the only difference being their method of expression, their hygiene, and how the world bluntly responds to their presence, usually putting distance between them.

Whether there’s been any deep understanding gained from having noticed, I don’t know. I’m still going to keep writing down their pearls of wisdom, still for exactly the same self-serving reasons as before; there’ll be no human-interest, life-changing-experience paragraph to end this tale. But if the observation has left it’s mark on me at all, perhaps it’s that I’m now listening for stories, not soundbites. That, and for any helpful crowd-sourced tips on whether there are any beautiful women in the vicinity…