It is approaching one a.m. on a cold Monday morning. Thanks to an unusual evening nap, I’m feeling relatively awake and ready for two hours of grown men trying to kick a ball into a net. Like most of the world, I’m cheering for the underdog but resigned that the favourite is likely to win – as they did twenty years ago. I also watched that victory in the early hours of a cold Monday morning in Sydney. But I’d seen a number of the proceeding matches all over the globe. Although I’d been in France in the lead up to the tournament, I was in Italy by the time it started. Rome was a ghost city as I walked out of the train station. When its citizens finally emerged, their mood was muted thanks to their nation’s unlikely draw with Chile. But later in a Venetian piazza, the small café crowd were jubilant after a decisive win. The streets of Amsterdam were draped in orange tissue paper and balloons. I found a not too crowded pub to witness the Netherlands battle Yugoslavia. I was amused to see the team names abbreviated on the screen as ‘NED’ vs ‘JOE’ – like two rednecks playing checkers. By the time of the semi-finals I was in Thailand, cheering for France in a Phuket sports bar. So, for me at least, 1998 really was the year of the World Cup.
The crowd is grooving. The musicians are swinging. They are the best soul men in the biz. Killer horns. Thumping bass. The original Funky Drummer. Never have I seen so much ego on one stage. They are the cream and they know it. Even so, they aren’t the main attraction. Despite being taken on a smooth ride to Funky Town, the crowd grows a little restless. It’s been over twenty minutes since the band hit the stage and still no sign of the main man. Until… “Ladies and Gentlemen – are you ready for the Godfather of Soul?” The crowd explodes. But this is just a tease – the start of a theatrical entrance that takes five minutes before, finally, James Brown takes the stage. He’s a short fella. But what he lacks in stature, he more than makes up in self belief and talent. The massive weight of ego already straining the stage has now more than doubled – thanks to the addition of the smallest man up there. He might be the other side of half a century but he’s still a Sex Machine. I am soon dripping in sweat, swept away by ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’. When James declares “I Feel Good”, I feel Great – beyond Great. With my soul about to burst, I realise that I am having a religious experience. I am in the presence of God. (Of course, in a matter of months, events will unfold that prove James Brown is not God but in fact a violent wife beater fleeing police while off his nut on horse tranquilisers…)
The nightly Bed Battle is in full swing. “Just go to bed – now!” “But I want to do something first.” “You can do whatever it is tomorrow.” Disappointed resignation. “All right.” Curiosity. “Tell me what it is so I can remind you.” A glimmer. “I want to measure myself in feet and inches.” This throws me. Not the usual delay tactic. I sigh. What the hell. I slide open the cabinet door guarding our pathetic tool collection. I grab the fluro orange tape measure. “Alright, stand up straight.” Not believing his luck, my son obliges. The yellow tongued tape stretches up his well toned teenage body. I press down on upright hair doing its best to extend the final figure. I pull the tape away and look to where my finger is pinching. 69 inches – 5’9’’. Wow. An impressive height for a fourteen-year-old. But then he’s always been a tall kid. And with his foot size now matching his age, we know that he’ll one day become, if not a giant, then certainly a man most people look up to. But the pressing question is – how close is he to my height? He passed his mother years ago. And in our recent head to head stand offs, I’m told that I still have an edge. But by how much? One way to find out. I hand the tape over and now it’s his turn to measure me. I’m suddenly nervous. I’ve always thought of myself as around 5’10” but it’s been decades since I’ve been measured in feet. Maybe I’ve shrunk. Well, I’m about to find out. My son pulls the tape away. He look at his finger. 70 inches – 5’10”. I am still taller. By one solitary inch. I am both relieved and trepidatious. The day I’ve dreaded is fast approaching – probably only weeks away. I will have to admit that my son has surpassed me. I will be somewhat diminished. And that will then continue as he grows taller and I slowly begin to shrink smaller. But until then – I will relish that last little inch.
Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle and I are climbing up a steep hill, heading home from our nightly Bondi Beach walk. From the other side of the road comes a booming female voice. “Right – that’s it. Until you can fix it – I’m out!” Our curiosity captured, Nitro and I turn our heads in time to see a big bodied young woman stride up the road and away from a skulking young man. “You can go to the wedding on your own.” Okay – now it’s getting interesting. Whose wedding? Theirs? Is this an engagement going down in flames on the footpath? Nitro and I are about to enter our building, desperate for more. Our wish is granted. “I’m going to take my mother’s money and go to Mexico.” Boom! I open the door and scramble up the stairs, anxious to share with my wife this delicious tale of a big Bondi Break Up.
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.