“Oh yeah – I almost forgot.” My son suddenly remembers something and rummages through his school bag. “Our photos came back.” He hands me a teal booklet with his face on the cover. Inside is a loose sheet with his photo in various sizes. He looks good, with his close-mouthed smile, short cropped hair, blazer and tie. Far more handsome than I was at his age (or any other age). The booklet itself features small pictures of the rest of the kids in his year. The boys greatly outnumber the girls. I am intrigued by all these cheery faced children. I decide it might be fun to play a little game. “Ok – I’m going to point at a kid and you tell me what they’re like in one or two words.” “Sure”. “Alright, how about… that one?” “Annoying.” “That one?” “Book worm…annoying…book worm…book worm.. annoying… annoying…” “Why is he annoying?” “He always reaches across and hits the reset button on my iPad”. “Ok – fair enough – that would annoy me too. How about him?” “Homophobe.” “Really?” I stare at the effeminate Asian face and wonder if there’s something going on there. “What about him?” “Sick lad.” Say what? I continue pointing at faces. “Annoying. Sick lad. Book worm. Sick lad. Sick lad. Annoying. Sick lad.” What’s up with all the ‘sick lads’? Is his year suffering some sort of pandemic? I decide to try something. I point to his picture. “Sick lad.” Ahhh – ok – I get it. I’ve heard him use ‘sick’ numerous times as a positive adjective and have accepted that ‘sick’ has once again been elevated in the lexicon of high schoolers, though this time minus the ‘fully’. But I guess it is the coupling with ‘lads’ that throws me. When I think of ‘sick lads’, I get an image of poor Dickensian characters like the crutch cradling Tiny Tim or Oliver and his fellow lice laden orphans. But I guess in another era, my son might have described his mates as ‘cool cats’ or maybe ‘gnarly dudes’. So I’ve learned something new. Like the time I read a young promo producer’s script and pointed out that she had left the ‘z’ out of ‘crazy’ and had written ‘cray’ instead.
Should I put on a mask or not? I do have a packet of them in my bag but they were bought more as a joke than as a practical purchase. I got them in Tokyo after my wife, son and I had giggled at the numerous locals walking around with unflattering white cups over their faces. But as I sit in the waiting room of a Kyoto hospital, donning a mask is beginning to seem like a good idea. There are only a few other people waiting and a couple of them are masked. Given how unwell they look, I am grateful. But I’m less grateful about the unmasked old dude coughing his guts out not too far from me. Maybe, to be safe, I should put on a mask. After all, I can’t look much more ridiculous than I already do. Before I make a decision, I am called over to the desk. A nurse is found who speaks enough English to take my details. I must be put into the Japanese health system and in return, receive my very own swipe card. Very efficient. Though not surprising. Next, a young doctor who also speaks some English invites me into a small examination room. I point to my face. What had started out as an angry pimple in Tokyo has ballooned into a puss filled heaving mass just below my right eye. It has gotten so bad that its starting to encroach on my vision. So it was decided that I should get it checked out while my wife and son continue to explore Kyoto. The handsome young doctor has a look and a bit of a prod. He nods knowingly. “Yes – I know what it is. But not the word in English”. Then his face lights up. He takes out his mobile phone, opens an app, then speaks in Japanese. There is a pause. Then a robotised female voice says: “Fondue.” We look at each other. “Um – I’m pretty sure that it’s not a fondue”. The doctor shakes his head. “No, no”. So he gives it another go – this time saying the word with his most precise Japanese elocution. Another pause. “Fondue.” The doctor just rolls his eyes and shrugs. “It’s ok. Just bacteria. Will give you cream.” I walk out soon after with a tube of anti-bacterial cream and a new family phrase that will forever be used to ridicule me: “Dad’s Fondue”.
It has been two years since our last pilgrimage to Melbourne. On that day, the faith my son and I had placed in our marvellous men to triumph against the odds was rewarded in glorious fashion. That faith is now even stronger. Those whom we worship seem more dominant than ever. Even though they meet the same mighty foe as before, this time it is our men who are expected to be victorious. We are upbeat as we once again enter the monumental temple, pleased that our view has improved considerably. We are seated amongst a large group of our own flock but only a set of steps away from our foe’s followers. Our voices contribute to a thunderous roar as the contest begins. My son and I are filled with enthusiasm – like a couple of tightly packed sand bags. And then it starts. A quick stab. Then another. And another. Soon, in very little time at all, our sand bags are riddled with holes. Our enthusiasm seeps out and gathers in little piles by our feet. What the hell is happening? What’s going on with our marvellous men? They look more like beatable boys. As the tsunami of pain continues, the mockery of our foe’s followers becomes unbearable. I can’t take it anymore. I want to leave. But in a role reversal from two years ago, it is my son who is adamant that we should see this out to the end. And even though I feel like shit, I’m proud of him. So I suck it up, endure the taunts and see the massacre out to its grim conclusion. By the end, my faith in those once marvellous men has evaporated. I feel stupid for caring so much.
I have seen the light and have been born again. Though it’s not some judgemental deity that I worship but a group of young men. Not mere mortals, these are extraordinary specimens – capable of the most mind-boggling feats. My son and I have gathered together a number of times with the rest of our flock to cheer and praise our marvellous men. But this time is special. We have headed south to Melbourne – like a pilgrimage to Mecca – praying that our marvellous men can overcome a tremendous challenge. The logic of our minds reasons that their success is unlikely. But the faith in our hearts holds out for a miracle. You never know. As we enter the monumental temple, the adrenaline starts pumping. We are only two amongst tens of thousands. The opening hymn is sung. Then – the challenge begins. Our marvellous men battle bravely but look like they will fall short. Then, they surge. My son and I begin to entertain the possibility of triumph. But the task is great. Tension builds. It is excruciating. My son can’t take it. He starts to cry. He wants to leave. It’s too much. No. We can’t go now. Here – have some chocolate. This seems to help. Then, at last, the final siren sounds. They did it! We jump up and down. We scream like idiots. We hug. And we sing the final hymn – our hymn: “…while our loyal sons go marching onwards to victory.” Our faith has been rewarded. Our men truly are marvellous. And so are we.