We are four Canadian kids taking advantage of snow free roads by riding our bikes to the river. Summer is approaching and already the daylight is stretching well into the evening. We cross a bridge and stop at the top of a rare hill. I nervously survey the steep dirt track. My friend Tony can’t resist. He gives me a little shove. I zip down, panic pulsating, handle bars wobbly. I get to the bottom, relief in sight. Also in sight is a random rock jutting out of the soil. My front wheel hits it and I am airborne. I crash to the ground. Pain shoots down my thigh. “Ow – my leg, my leg!” I push myself into a sitting position. Then I see it. “Ahhh- my finger, my finger!” I’m shocked to see that my left middle finger has shape shifted. It’s bent and bumpy. My first broken bone. “Ahhh – I broke my finger, I broke my finger!” With cautious curiosity, Tony and the others negotiate the descent, avoid the rock and check out my finger. “Ha ha – that’s hilarious!” Tony is proud of his handy work. I want to kill him. “Look what you did!” Tears streaming down my dirty face, I start swinging my skinny freckled arms. Tony rides off, laughing. The others join him. I get on my bike, also slightly bent but still functioning. I slowly make my way home, feeling very sorry for myself (since no one else does). Finally, I make it home, a sobbing mess. My parents supply much needed sympathy and a lift to the hospital. The young doctor seems pretty casual as he puts my finger in a splint. Too casual, as it turns out. When I go to school the next day, I show off my trophy. As I slip off the splint, I soak up the oos and ahs. But Tony, unrepentant prick that he is, is unimpressed. “It’s still bent.” I fume. “I know – you bent it!” He shakes his head. “Nah – the doctor should have broke it again before he set it.” I am horrified at the thought. “But it’s already broke!” He shakes his head. “But it’s still bent. My brother had to have his re-broken so it was straight again”. I am terrified of having my finger snapped back into shape. Somehow I manage to avoid any follow up appointment where this might take place. Instead, I am destined to have a finger that’s not only rude but also rather bent.
It’s a drizzly Saturday night. I’m refreshed from my home-time dinner break but annoyed with myself for hastily accepting a multi-rider Uber Pool job. I reckon the multiple stops involved in Uber’s latest money making scheme are a pain in the ass for drivers – so I tend to avoid them. But in the excitement of being offered a job while at home watching the Blues Brothers, I accept it before I realise it’s a Pool job. Bugger. Oh well. I drive around the corner and, after some confusion, find my first passenger – a young Mongolian woman (another first). We drive through the drizzle to pick up rider number two – a Chilean dude (must be ‘Obscure Nationality Night’). After dropping off the Mongolian in Paddington, the Chilean informs me that the friend he was meeting has bailed and that he’s no longer going to his original destination. He wants to go to the Entertainment Quarter instead. As this is actually closer, I’m happy to drop him there. He’s grateful and says he’s going to a dance party, featuring world famous DJ Carl Cox. When I mention that I’ve heard of him, the Chilean asks me if I want to go – now that he has an extra ticket. I laugh. This is the third Saturday in a row I’ve had an offer like this. Two weeks earlier, a trio of very drunk Manly Beach boys ask if I want to drop some acid and go tripping with them. Short lived temptation is followed by boring but wise good sense. I decline. Seven days later, a coke fueled Cockney dude offers me two hundred dollars to come out partying with him and his mates. Tempting. But likely to be messy and awkward. Again good sense wins out. But now, as I turn into the Entertainment Quarter and see that I’m about to get stuck in traffic trying to get back out, I take the plunge. Yes – I will go to my first dance party in decades. After all – I am a Dancing Fool. I love to lose myself to the beat, not giving a toss how silly I might look. So I graciously accept the chilled Chilean’s offer and swing into the over priced car park, resigned that it’ll cost me twenty-five dollars for the privilege. The drizzle is ramping up to outright rain. As we hustle towards the gates – whoops – I slip and fall. That’s right – my shoes no longer have any traction, making wet surfaces especially dodgy. The Chilean asks if I’m alright as I scramble up. He possibly begins to regret taking a senior citizen to a dance party. I assure him I’m fine. At the gate we need to show photo ID to confirm we are over eighteen. The attendant doesn’t even bother to look at mine. We enter the foyer and hear the thumping boom boom boom from the main room. I offer to buy my benefactor a drink. “Thanks. I’ll have whatever you’re having.” I laugh. “Mate – I’m having water so I can still drive.” He decides a can of lime and soda is more appealing. Drinks in hand, we enter the auditorium. Blue lasers slice through the air. Shirtless peacocks strut and shuffle. Gaggles of girls in oversized glasses glide through the crowd with intent. On stage, a rotund black DJ pushes buttons. The double C emblem behind him confirms that he’s the event’s star – Carl Cox. The Chilean and I find some space and begin to move to the groove. I suddenly become aware of how slippery the alcohol coated floor is under my worn out soles. Bugger. Throw in hundreds of crushed cans and abandoned water bottles sliding about chaotically and the chances of me crashing to the concrete are as high as most of the dancers. I briefly wonder whether or not to cut my losses, thank the Chilean and head back to my Mazda where I belong. But I persist, focus on my feet and soon transform into a grey haired Dancing Fool. It feels fantastic to let loose, dissolve into the moment, not giving a hoot about the glances and stares directed my way. I eventually notice that the Chilean has disappeared, possibly embarrassed, possibly on the hunt for younger companions. Oh well. Whatever. I dance on. Careful of the floor. Always careful of the floor. I become distracted by a twenty something guy smiling at me. “Hey – good on you! You’re my inspiration. The party never ends!” I smile, resisting the urge to tell him to get fucked. He asks why I’m there. Stupidly, I tell him the truth. He laughs and turns to his girlfriend. “Hey – this guy is an Uber driver whose rider had a spare ticket.” I close my eyes and dance, wishing I had lied. I should have told him that I was Carl Cox’s manager. I decide that if I were the DJ’s manager, I’d tell him to lift his game a bit. The music’s not bad but has too many lulls. A little later, there’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see a girl, probably the teen side of twenty. I have been taking care not to let my loose hands flail about too much, terrified they may cop an unintentional feel. I’d be instantly set upon as a lecherous old groper. Why else would an old man be at a dance party? “Excuse me – do you have any gear? We’ll buy some off you.” I crack up. Ah – so there is another reason why an old codger would be mixing it with the kids – to sell drugs. “Sorry, all I’ve got is water.” I turn and dance on. Until I fall. Crash. Ouch! I scramble up, imagining the sniggers around me – laughing at the geriatric who succumbed to the inevitable. I decide to find another spot and luckily discover a seam in the concrete that offers a bit more grip. This coincides with a change of DJs. The new guy, Paco someone or other, is good and the vibe lifts. I get back into my groove – stomping away like a madman. Until, finally, a couple of hours after arriving, I decide I’ve had enough. With a smile on my dial, I head back outside. Where I slip and fall. But I’m well practiced at this now and am soon on my feet. “Nice recovery” says the bemused security guard as I walk out the gate. I hop in the Mazda and instantly get a job. I pick up three Northern Beach Boys heading forty kilometres north to Avalon. Yes! I ask them if they’ve just been at the party. “Yep.” As casually as I can manage, I say, “Yeah – me too.” “What? No way!” And for the next hour, as my Mazda crawls up the coast, I am a Legend.
I am discovering different ways of being invisible. There’s ‘Occupational Invisibility’. As an Uber driver, I can disappear – no longer a human being but merely an extension of my Mazda (does that make it a self driving vehicle?). This is the only explanation for why a beautiful young Instagram Queen would tell her friend over the phone all about her impending period (at least she hopes it’s her period and not – you know – the other thing). Surely this is not something you would discuss in front of a man – unless he were invisible. Then there’s ‘Retail Invisibility’. This is an increasingly common state that is achieved by people over forty while in a shop. The staff can’t see you but have no trouble seeing the younger shoppers standing behind you. This can only mean that one has achieved true translucence. Finally, my favourite – ‘Spiritual Invisibility’. This is the state I enter while meditating in public. I’ll be at Bondi Beach, sitting on my yoga mat, eyes closed yet fully aware of all around me: crashing waves, screaming kids, squawking seagulls and snippets of passing conversation. I feel like a floating spirit, adrift amongst Bondi’s busy bodies. The Invisible Man.
The camp fire crackles. My son and I stare at it, mesmerised. I look at him and smile. It’s so good seeing him staring at something other than a screen. He was predictably reluctant when I first told him we’d be reviving our Easter canoe trip that we did a couple of years ago. But searching for a positive, he did say he was looking forward to the camp fire. And here we are. One night of nature. “Hey mate – isn’t this great? Just you and me in the bush.” He nods. “I think it’s important for boys your age to do something like this – paddling a canoe for hours and then camping. It doesn’t happen enough.” There’s no reply but no opposition either. I decide to push on. “You know, for thousands of years boys did things like this in order to become men. Do you know about initiations?” He does. He tells me about a clip he saw of an African tribe that make their boys repeatedly stick their hands in gloves full of stinging ants. Ouch! I tell him about seeing the Richard Harris movie, “A Man Called Horse”, where his initiation into a Sioux tribe was to be strung up and hung by his nipples. Double ouch! He asks me why boys are made to suffer such things. “Well, I think the idea is that by suffering through something and then coming out the other side, you learn that you can overcome hardship. A little like this canoe trip. We had to keep paddling to get here. It wasn’t easy and you didn’t always like it but you pushed through and here we are – by the fire.” My son nods, no doubt reflecting that paddling a canoe for a few hours sure beats being hung by your nipples.
I’ve got my rhythm going. I’m gliding through the water. Feel so good. Time to turn. I twist and my legs push off the wall. Collision. I grab onto the edge and lift my foggy goggles. Adrenaline pumps. A middle aged woman dog paddles, glaring at me. I glare back. “What the hell, lady?” “I think the normal response is to apologise.” “I’ve got nothing to apologise for. Didn’t you see me coming? I was about to turn and you thought that was the best time to push off into the lane?” A muscular man slowly swims towards us. “Hey mate – maybe you just need to let it go. Take a breath.” Feeling out numbered, I refrain from replying. I take a breath. The woman turns and continues her lap. Mr. Muscles grabs onto the edge and takes off his googles. “Relax. The sun is shining.” I think this is an odd observation in an indoor pool but technically, he’s correct. The sun is shining through the ceiling’s glass panels. Once my heart rate has settled and seeing that the water witch is a safe distance away, I push off. It’s a couple of days later. I’m about to get into my Mazda when I see a couple of green waste bins on the road behind my car. I noticed them when I parked the night before and thought that where taking up a precious parking spot. I left them then but decide now to move them off the road and onto the verge. I just get the second one out of the way when an old tattooed bald dude comes striding towards me. “Hey mate – leave the bins where they were.” He starts pulling them back onto the road. “Right. So you’re happy to take up a valuable parking spot?” He glares at me. “This your car?” “Yes.” He walks to the front of it. “If pricks like you would park all the to the end of the pole…”, he points to the parking sign about half a metre away, “…then other people could park behind you rather than over my fucking driveway!” He’s full on aggro now. He yanks the last bin into place and yells, “For fuck’s sake!” I ever so briefly consider suggesting that he take a breath. But I figure he’s more likely to punch me in the head. So I just jump into the Mazda and get the hell out of there. Turns out it’s not nice being on the receiving end of grumpy man’s aggro rant.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Nothing beats rocking. Back and forth. Back and forth. I can do this for hours. Back and forth. Back and forth. My little bum glued to the chair. Back and forth. Back and forth. My big people know to leave me alone. Back and forth. Back and forth. They can talk but I won’t answer. Back and forth. Back and forth. They enjoy the peace. Back and forth. Back and forth. Because sometimes… White hot anger. Bang. Blind rage. Bang. It’s so not fair! Bang. Why do they treat me like this? Bang. Don’t they know I’m the same as them? Bang. Only shorter. Bang. My head hits the wall. Bang. The floor. Bang. There’s no pain. Bang. Just exploding frustration. Bang.
I’m running along Bondi Beach on a crowded summer Sunday. It’s over a decade before I’ll call this suburb home. This is a tourist stop for my visiting father, who’s freckled body is laying on a towel next to my girlfriend. My freckled body is enjoying a rare run, weaving around beach goers. I see two boys, brothers, using a stick to poke what looks like a blue bit of rubber about to get washed out to sea. Thinking they might be about to lose a pair of googles, I decide to help them out. I stop, bend down, pick up the blue thing, and hold it out towards them in my palm. They stare at me with a look I’ve never seen – aghast, bewildered and flummoxed, their small jaws hanging. My hand starts to tingle. I look down at the blue bit of rubber, which of course is not a blue bit of rubber. It’s a bluebottle – the local jelly fish whose tentacles unleash an especially nasty sting. Instinctively, I turn my hand over. Most of the blue bugger drops to the ground. But the rest sticks to my hand, which has graduated from a tingle to a throb. I thrust my palm into a wet patch of sand and rub. I rinse it off in a puddle. No more sticky blue bits. Still shocked by what they’re seeing, the oldest brother manages a question: “Does it hurt?” As nonchalantly as I can manage, I reply: “No”. I then calmly continue my jog, aware that the two stunned beach boys are watching the weirdo run off. What they don’t see is my face contorted in pain. My hand is on fire.