As an Aussie Rules fan, Rugby League is a game I dismiss as a bunch of no-neck gorillas running into each other. Not nearly as exciting as tall lean athletes leaping over each other. Still, there are at least three League games a year that I make an effort to watch: the State of Origin series. Billed as ‘State versus State, Mate versus Mate’, it is essentially an NRL all stars game, with each team selected based on where the players originated from. This allows for members of the same club to be facing off against each other, playing for State pride. And it does seem to make a difference. These games can be brutal, as was the case with the first one of this year’s series. And remarkably, ‘my team’ of New South Wales managed to beat the previously dominant Queensland in Brisbane. It was so exciting that I considered something I never have – buying tickets to the next game in Sydney and possibly witnessing the ‘Blues’ beat the ‘Maroons’ and take out the series. My son had been talking about wanting to go one year and I’d dismissed the idea. But now I have the opportunity to surprise him. So the day after the first game I fork out nearly three hundred bucks for seats up in the heavens. I don’t tell my son about it, not until a couple of hours before the game. He is shocked. And elated. So off we go, driving to the station then catching a train out west. But the train full of footy fans stops on its tracks, somewhere between stations. The mood remains surprisingly good. After some time, there’s an announcement that the reason for the delay is a police operation at Strathfield Station. A woman in our carriage elaborates – apparently someone has thrown themselves onto the tracks. This is a horrifying thought and I imagine the bloody mess, with police and paramedics attending to the scene. I take the delay as an opportunity to practice a bit of mindful patience – there’s nothing I can do so no point getting worked up about it. Hopefully we’ll get there in time. But if we don’t – we don’t. Finally, the train slowly chugs forward, to the cheers of its passengers. We crawl past Strathfield station. I can see a bunch of cops. They are standing around a man sitting on platform bench, black scuff marks down his back. The guy’s still alive! I am shocked and relieved. The Maori Maroons supporter behind me does not share my sentiments. “They should of just run over the c*nt.” Over an hour after we left, we finally pull up to Olympic Park station. We get swept up in a mostly blue tide. There are dozens of food stands. We grab a couple of chicken rolls and head up to our seats. ‘Up’ is very much the operative word. We climb a concrete spiral ramp that appears to be leading towards Heaven. At last we make it to the top and find our seats, careful not to teeter to the wrong side and tumble down and over rows of disgruntled spectators. Once seated, the site is truly remarkable. One of the reasons I decided to spend a few hundred dollars to watch a code I’m not especially passionate about is that I wanted to see this former Olympic stadium full. I have been at several AFL finals where, despite there being over forty thousand fans, the place looked half empty. But not now. There are over eighty thousand bodies packed in and the atmosphere is electric. After the national anthem (they should really have the two state anthems, should such songs exist), there is an almighty roar as the game begins. It is an exciting first half and too easy to get caught up in the crowd’s antics – chanting ‘Buuuulllshit’ at every dubious call and ‘New South Wales, New South Wales,’ to lift the spirits of the warriors in blue battling below. I also discover that binoculars are a very handy accessory for rugby league. The game moves at a pace that is easy to follow and it’s great to be able to see the player’s faces. Binoculars also prove entertaining between play to check out the sea of blue wigged die-hards camped at one end of the ground. After the first half, our boys in blue are comfortably on top and it looks like victory will be ours. But, as the cliché goes, it turns out to be ‘a game of two halves’. The proud and talented Maroons fire up and, thanks largely to the kicking skills of a Queensland legend playing pretty much with only one arm, the visitors steal the match by two points. Tens of thousands of disappointed fans trudge down the spiral ramp towards Hell. Or in our case, the toilet block. Just outside, my son sees a blue wig abandoned on the ground. He picks it up, dusts it off and puts it on. I jostle in and out of the toilets and then take a photo of my son with the blue lit stadium in the background. A Queensland fan, oddly wearing a blue wig (possibly also abandoned by a blue Blues fan), offers to take a photo of my son and I, lending me his wig for good measure. So we, a couple of Aussie Rules supporters, now have a shot that marks the time we crossed footy codes and cheered a losing side – and loved it (except maybe the losing bit…)
When my son returns from the barber, I’m expecting to see the usual short back and sides. At first glance, this seems to be the case. But something’s different. “Turn around.” He does. And there’s the difference. Instead of the back smoothly tapering off, there’s a defiant tuft at the top of a cliff like edge. It reminds me of Dennis the Menace. “That bit at the top looks weird.” “I like it” is the defiant reply (though later he will admit that he in fact hates it). As dumb as it looks, it’s not even in the same league as my worst ever haircut. I was a year or two older than him and having a much anticipated Sunday weekly visit home from boarding school (aka ‘Canadian Concentration School”). What I wasn’t looking forward to was returning to school for the upcoming haircut day. Every couple of months they would dig up this old bespectacled fossil named Steve. He had been cutting hair at St. John’s Cathedral Boy’s School since its inception in the early sixties. Obviously not one to move with the times, Steve had been dishing out the same two styles for the good part of a couple of decades. There was the ‘page boy’ and the ‘buzz cut’ (which has made a resurgence – though my son refers to it as ‘the shaved testicle’). My ears are too big for ‘buzz cuts’, making me look like a chimp. So I reluctantly always went for a ‘page boy’. I must of shared my dread with my family because to everyone’s surprise, my dad volunteered ,“I’ll cut it for you.” Everyone was pretty dubious about the offer – especially the one whose hair was on the line. “Really? But you’ve never cut hair.” My dad shrugged. “Up to you. Go back and let Steve do it then.” And that was the bait that got me. I knew what the alternative was. But I didn’t know what the possibility was. By some miracle of hidden talent could my father actually give me a better haircut than Steve the Butcher? Was it worth the risk? Yes. Yes it was. I could imagine the looks on the faces of my fellow inmates when they saw that I had come back with a stylish cut that still managed to sneak within the archaic guidelines. “Ok – go for it.” So he did. His tongue poked out slightly as his brow furrowed with concentration. I’m not sure I’d ever seen him so focused. I watched chunks of my hair fall into the my sheet covered lap. I must admit, I was hopeful. The only mildly disconcerting thing was the looks that the rest of my family were giving me as the cutting progressed. Still, what would they know? At last, my dad seemed satisfied. “Ok – go have a look.” I brushed the hair onto the floor, took off the sheet and hurried into the bathroom, my family close behind. I opened the door. Looking straight back at me was…me. Except not really. This version of me still had a freckled face and big ears. But something was wrong. Where there once had been straight brown hair sculpted to resemble a page boy, it now looked as if Picasso himself had decided to paint a page boy – after a few too many. Symmetry – who needs symmetry? Certainly not my dad. Evenness? Boring! Having short bits surrounded by long bits was much more daring. I stared. My family held their breath. And then it started. Tears. Lots of them. “What have you done?” Apart from my father, who was looking a little wounded, the other three members of my family were doing their best not to burst out laughing. “I can try to fix it if you like.” I was horrified. “NO! Don’t touch it! Ever again!” I ran off, tearfully searching for a hat. Of course this head gear was immediately yanked off on the bus back to Concentration School. I’ll spare you the jibes but they were appropriately cruel – my hair a gift from the gods to a bunch of sadistic teenage ratbags. So, after days of hell, Steve finally hobbled into the library to wipe the smile off of faces. But not mine. I had never been so glad to see him in my life. I threw myself onto the chair. “Hi Steve. A page boy please. Or a buzz cut. Just whatever it takes.” He looked at me a moment, startled. He took off his glasses, gave them a wipe and put them back on. And then, for the first time ever, I saw him smile. “Dad cut your hair, did he?” Now, in all fairness to my father and with the gift of hindsight, I can see now that what he did that day was just simply ahead of its time, that’s all. About ten years later, as a post punk student in Sydney, I not only would have paid someone a fair whack of money for such a cut, I would have also got them to squirt a bit of red and black dye into the mix. Maybe my dad missed his true calling…
It’s a no brainer – as I live just around the corner from Glebe Morgue, I’m the logical choice to return the gurney our short film production borrowed for the day. The task also provides me with a legitimate reason for having a film school van signed out in my name. Not that I especially care whether or not I have a legitimate reason. But it might come in handy if anyone ever bothers to check the log books and discovers that I’ve had a van for several months running. One of the fringe benefits of attending such a generously funded institution. It’s dark by the time I get to the morgue and access to the underground parking area is shuttered. There’s an intercom so I press the button. “Helloooo?” The woman’s voice sounds kind of creepy. “Uh – yeah – I’m returning a gurney from a film school shoot.” “Ah – yes – drive in and I’ll meet you in the car park.” I drive in, park and pull the gurney out of the back of the van. I turn around and see an odd looking woman – short with frizzy hair, Marty Feldman googily-eyes and an unsettling smile. “Follow me.” She turns and walks through an entrance. I follow her down a hallway and through a pair of thick plastic doors. The temperature drops. She asks, “So, you’re making a film about death, are you?” I’m about to explain that it’s a short film about a woman who finds out that her fighter pilot husband has been shot down when I suddenly realise that I’m surrounded by dead bodies. I literally see dead people. Old ones, young ones, each as naked as the day they took their first breath. Ok. I get it. Creepy Marty Feldman’s sister is trying to freak me out. Nope. Not going to let that happen. So I casually tell her about the film. Meanwhile, my heart’s racing and my eyes are darting around. There’s a little boy about seven. Sad. There’s a dude with an erection. Gross. Once we reach the other end of the room, the weird one turns and smiles. “This belongs in the deep freeze.” Ok then. We go through another pair of plastic doors and this time the temperature dives. As the freak takes the gurney from me, I spot the strangest thing yet. There in a plastic bag is what looks like a frozen furry giant. It’s much bigger than a normal person. What the hell is it? Before I come to any conclusions, I follow Marty’s sister back out into the main room. I continue to tell her about “Telegram for Mrs. Edwards” but as I do, I notice that I’m now much calmer as I drift through the dead. I look at them with a strange curiousity. So this is death. This is what it looks like. It is what it is – a bunch of empty vessels. I’m escorted back to my van and freaky Feldman wishes me luck with the film. I drive the short distance back to my share house. I’m buzzing. And hungry. I cook myself a steak, fascinated as I watch the blood congeal and sizzle. Meat. In the end, we’re all just pieces of meat.
Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle first discovered the joys of the dot one night on Bondi Beach. It was a green dot generated by a laser pointer belonging to the owner of another local Cavoodle (who doesn’t really look like a Cavoodle), named Poppy. The novelty of chasing a green dot zipping along the sand had worn a bit thin for Poppy. But to Nitro it was a revelation – a fast green light that could never be caught. The other owner and I were amused by Nitro’s gung ho efforts to catch the uncatchable. After being informed where I could buy one, I didn’t. At least not for nearly two years. But when I finally introduce Nitro to the red dot one night at the beach, he goes nuts. I point it in front of his face and then whip it along next to the water. Nitro takes off, galloping like a fuel injected rabbit, grains of sand flying in his jet stream. He comes to expect it every night and is disappointed if I leave the pointer behind. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that the dot is somehow connected to the cylindrical shiny thing I hold in my hand. He even rises up onto his hind legs and stands for several seconds in gleeful anticipation of the shiny thing emerging from my pocket. But, unfortunately, the shiny thing chews up batteries and Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle is deprived of dot chasing over the several months in which I fail to replace dead batteries. When my son and I finally take him out one night and resurrect the dot, there is not a more excited Cavoodle on the planet. He goes hard. My son especially enjoys swinging the dot from side to side, watching Nitro twist and turn. Unfortunately, this costs me over a hundred dollars for a vet visit where it’s decided that our over overexcited dog has pinched a nerve in his back. So the dot is once more retired for a spell. When it re-emerges, its trajectory is considerably straighter. The plus side of this is I discover a new game – ‘Point the Dot at Nitro’s Bullseye Bum Hole.’ This is a challenge but every so often the dot briefly hits the galloping target – as if a SWAT team sniper is lining up a shot. Once we finish our dot games on the beach, Nitro heads straight for the water tap on the walkway. I press the button and he gulps and slurps, replenishing fluids drained by the dot. He then coughs and splutters, redirecting water that’s gone down the wrong way. Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle then looks up and smiles, delighted to have had yet another dot dalliance on Bondi Beach.