A literally colourful character, running around northern NSW. By Jessie Cole.

Suiting himself

I’ve been seeing him now for what must be at least a decade. The first time I caught sight of him, he was sitting outside a cafe in Mullumbimby jotting in a notebook, midmorning, wearing what appeared to be a Spanish-influenced cowboy outfit. Back then he was all in black, replete with a silver-tipped bolo tie, pointy polished shoes and a giant sombrero. Probably somewhere in his mid-30s, he was extraordinarily handsome. Olive-skinned, with a face like a movie star’s, sporting a giant but well-maintained moustache, before it was trendy.

I gawked, trying to work out what could possibly occasion such attire. He didn’t glance my way, but continued writing furiously in his notebook. I’d never seen anyone who dressed so neatly. Everything was ironed perfectly, tucked in, immaculate. This was no costume, this was just him. It was an unusual sight for a Tuesday morning. I ordered my tea and sat down, thinking – well, I’m sure that man has a story.

I don’t know exactly how many years later he embraced colour, but at some stage I came across him walking down the street in an all-pink tuxedo, sans jacket. Again, it was the neatness of his outfit that struck me. The fabric was some kind of luminous synthetic, no lines or creases. It was perfectly tailored for him, the brightest, deepest pink. The sombrero was gone; this time he had a cowboy hat. It’s easy to envisage someone theatrical, someone eager for attention, someone radiating a kind of “look at me!” desperation, but the tuxedo man never seems this way. He doesn’t strut about, looking around to see who’s noticed him. There is something calm and centred in the way he moves through the world. He is unruffled, self-contained. I see people embrace him on the street, and I watch, curious as ever about how he came to be.

There was a period where the tuxedo man would run from Brunswick Heads to Mullumbimby, almost 10 kilometres, often in the height of summer, still, of course, in the pink tuxedo. I don’t mean jogging, but full-fledged high-legged sprinting, his hat hanging on a string around his neck, flying out behind him. It was a sight to behold. I must confess, at this point I began to worry he might be crazy. Regularly sprinting in 30-degree heat in a pink synthetic tuxedo seemed a dangerous activity. Before the running, I’d seen him simply as a man with a very specific – and decidedly flamboyant – sense of style; after he started the sprinting, I wasn’t so sure. It was always a joy to see him bolting along, but I didn’t want him to get heat stroke and die.

In the end his knees gave out. Instead of running, he now hobbles along the road with a silver walking stick. Sometimes he hitches a ride. My mum picked him up one day with my teenage son in the back. It’s the closest I’ve been to having a conversation with him.

“What was he like?” I asked my son, who’d chatted with him all the way into town.

“He gets his suits specially made in Singapore,” he told me, “out of special uncreasable fabric.”

“Did he seem crazy?”

“No, he was nice. He showed me all his rings.”

“Tell me something else he said.”

“He talked a bit about God and Mother Earth and stuff.”

I was jealous I’d missed it, this ride with the tuxedo man. My town’s icon – a bright flag signalling tolerance for an array of divergences from the norm. Nowadays he’s graduated from pink to a whole host of tuxedo colours. Bold, vibrant shades, but only one colour at once. Orange, blue, green, the occasional fluoro. I saw him recently, dapper from head to toe in blood red, but he’d added a fluorescent yellow cravat to the ensemble. I know I could approach him, gather the facts, but I’m a fiction writer, not a journalist, and perhaps it’s the imagining of who he is that brings the most pleasure. Maybe one day I’ll pick him up hitching and hear his story, but until then I’m bolstered just by the sight of him: the tuxedo man, otherwise known as the pink cowboy, or sometimes – more simply – the running man.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 20, 2014 as "Suiting himself".

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Jessie Cole is the author of two novels, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Deeper Water.

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