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.
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.
It’s after midnight on what’s been a busy Saturday night. I get notified of a job in Bondi and wait outside the building for five minutes. Just as I decide to phone my Uber rider, a dark skinned woman comes running up to my Mazda. “Thanks for waiting. I’m hopping out of one bed and straight into another.” This throws me – being a statement I’ve never encountered. “Fair enough” is all I can come up with. But of course my curiosity is aroused. What’s her story? Is she a prostitute? I want to check her out in the rear view mirror but decide it’s too creepy. Oh well – whatever. As I drive I notice she has a strong, musky yet sweet scent. We sit in silence, except for my music mix which, thankfully, doesn’t play anything I feel compelled to skip. As we come down the hill into Coogee, a heavy mist hangs over the beach and surrounding streets. “Can I roll down my window?” I’m surprised by the request. “Sure. Here – I’ll roll down the others.” The windows slide open and suddenly our cool cocoon is breached, warm humid sea air rushing in. I drive out of the valley and up the other steep incline. Soon we arrive at a South Coogee cul-de-sac. “Thanks. Have a good night.” “No worries. You too.” It’s as she walks in front of my headlights that I get my first good look at what she’s wearing – a flimsy nightie, bare feet and only her phone in her hand. Wow – she really is hopping out of one bed and into another. I decide that she’s probably not a call girl but more likely a booty call girl. Is she returning to her own bed or will she be hopping back out and into another Uber later tonight? Either way, she won’t be hopping into my Mazda. Time to call it a night.
I unfurl my yoga mat. It’s a bright winter’s day at Bondi Beach. The concrete platform at the south end has the usual sprinkling of yoga stretchers, tai chi posers and seated coffee drinkers. I spot an especially lithe young woman with a pony tail contorting herself into some pretty impressive positions. But me – I’m just here to do my daily stretch – nothing too fancy (though I will end up in headstand a bit later). I begin my salute to the sun and notice an old fella near a rock with a pair of binoculars. It’s that time of year when then the humpbacks migrate north, so he’s no doubt here for a spot of whale watching. But just at the moment, it’s not whales that he’s watching. I follow the direction of the binoculars and surprise surprise – they are pointed at the pony tailed contortionist. Given he can’t be more than about twenty metres away, the dirty old bugger is getting an eyeful. An eyeful of what exactly is anybody’s guess. I suppose he can focus on whichever part of the lithe body he fancies. After all, it sure the hell beats whale watching.
The first time I saw him in public was a classic double-take moment. I was walking up Curlewis street in Bondi when a group of about four people were leaving the Brown Sugar café and started walking in front of me. One of them was unusually tall. Wow. He’s big enough to be a footy player. Then I noticed his curly hair. Hang on. He is a footy player! It was Shane Mumford – aka Mummy – the Sydney Swan’s enormous ruckman. I was a newly born again Swans fanatic at the time and was even wearing my prized black hooded Swans jacket. I reached for my phone and the nerve to approach him for a selfie. But I stopped myself. Here was a guy just hanging with his mates on the weekend. He didn’t want to be hassled by an annoying footy fan. So I resisted. The next time I saw him, he was no longer with the Swans. The shock signing of superstar forward Buddy Franklin had created the salary cap pressure to force Mummy out of the Swans and into the still fledgling Great Western Sydney Giants. And once again, I didn’t recognise him straight away. I was in the Bondi Vet waiting room with Nitro the two-toned cavoodle, who was worse for wear thanks to an encounter with a tick. A couple with a cute cavoodle pup entered, so naturally we started chatting about the virtues of cavoodles. After a little while, the penny dropped. “Uh – is your name Shane?” He nodded. “Right. I’m a huge fan. I saw you in the 2012 Grand Final in Melbourne with my son. You were great.” He politely thanked me but as I could sense a bit of embarrassment, I went back to talking about cavoodles. Once again, I didn’t want to be seen as an annoying footy fan. The third encounter, over a year later, also involved our cavoodles. I was taking Nitro for an afternoon stroll near the beach when I noticed another cavoodle he plays with sometimes. So I let Nitro loose for a bit of cavoodling. I then see another dog owner playing fetch his cavoodle. It’s Mummy and the now fully-grown Bella. I watch them for a while, wanting to say something but resisting. When Nitro decides to steal Bella’s ball, which I rescue, I can no longer help myself. “You guys were in a tight one the other day”, referring to the Giant’s last second one point loss to the West Coast Eagles. Mummy groans. But he then starts chatting about the frustration of losing such a close game. We continue talking footy – the form of other teams, the excitement of the Giants about to take part in their first finals campaign and the possibility of a Swans v Giants final. I am really enjoying the chance to be a footy bore with one of the AFL’s best players. And despite my dog repeatedly thieving his dog’s ball, Mummy also seems happy to chat. Finally it’s time to head off and we say good-bye. I’m buzzing and later tell my wife and son all about me and my mate Mummy. It’s maybe a couple of weeks later when I next spot Mummy and Bella. Nitro and I are on our way back from the north end of the beach walkway. Mummy is about twenty metres ahead, putting a lead on Bella. He sees Nitro and, without making it too obvious, sees me. He then turns sharply and starts walking in the other direction. His long legs get into gear and in no time at all he is speeding away, the curly haired Bella forced into a trot beside him. Ok – no worries. He obviously isn’t up for a chat today. Then it hits me – I am an annoying footy fan. Even worse – I am an annoying footy fan with an annoying cavoodle. A combination best avoided whenever possible.
The concept of a ‘Canadian Diner’ had completely eluded me until a few years ago when “The Stuffed Beaver” waddled onto Bondi Road’s ever expanding stretch of hipster joints. Of course my inner Canadian was intrigued and our family of three went to check it out. My wife decided fairly quickly that it wasn’t really her thing – though she does concede that they do make a mean margarita (that great Canadian cocktail). But my son and I enjoyed it, so it became a place the two of us went to on those occasions when I surrendered to his persistent pestering. The menu tends to cover pretty much the whole of the North American continent – starting with tacos, moving north towards pulled pork, hamburgers, hot dogs and the nominally Canadian dish of Fries Poutine (an artery blocking combo of chips, bacon, gravy and melted cheese). Much of the ‘Canadianess’ comes from the naming of the dishes: “The Celine Dion Dog”, “The John Candy Burger” and something involving Bryan Adams (an instant stomach turner for myself). It has been quite some time since we last visited Beaverland, following a series of mediocre meals. But I have finally succumbed to He Who Pesters and He and I once again find ourselves entering the Beaver’s busy bar area. We are immediately spotted by an exotic yet familiar face. “Oh my God – look how big you’ve got!” And it’s true – my son is now the same height, if not slightly taller, than the petite waitress. I have always been curious about her heritage. She has an Asiatic face but the locale suggests the possibility of her being native Canadian – maybe even Inuit. Her neutral accent provides no clues. “I remember when I first saw this one” and I know immediately the story she is about to share with those around her. I imagine my son also knows and I look for signs of embarrassment. “It was years ago and he was much smaller. I walked past and suddenly – blaaahhhhh – he spews up! Luckily it all went straight into his wings basket, so I just took it away.” My son smiles a little sheepishly but seems fine. We continue into the booth area and, as luck would have it, sit at the very same booth of the puke story. We take the obligatory snap shot with the beaver menu, order our usuals and start to eat. I am relieved that the quality seems to have improved. “Dad, next time you see her coming over, let me know.” “Why?” “Because I’m going to pretend to throw up.” This puzzles me at first. Then it makes sense. Someone has a bit of a crush. I’ve noticed lately how girls have started to transform from ‘Disgusting’ into ‘Hotties’. “Ok. Get ready – here she comes.” “Blaaahhh!” But it’s an anti-climax. She keeps walking towards the kitchen. Still, my son’s not one to give up. After all, it was persistence that got him back to the Beaver in the first place. “Let me know when she’s coming past again.” So I keep an eye out until I see her approaching. “Alright – go!” “Blaaahhhh!” This time she whirls around with wide-eyed concern. When she sees who it is, she knows she’s been had. “Ahhhhh you….” She rubs my grinning son’s hair, proceeds to have a chat and tells us her story. I watch the scene and smile. Well played, son. Well played.
The “wumph wumph wumph” of helicopter blades is not an unusual sound in Bondi. Perhaps this is why I’ve work away in my study for hours to this steady back beat without giving any thought to its persistent pounding. It is only when I head outside for a walk that I become curious as to its source. I soon find myself in a park near the coast. Although the destructive storm finally passed during the night, it has left behind a heaving ocean. Earlier in the day I had been surprised to see a foolhardy paddle board rider surfing a monstrous five metre wave – until it crunched him. He surfaced but without his paddle. He managed to get back to the beach, deciding not to push his luck any further. Now, overlooking the cliffs near the Bondi Icebergs pool, I get a better idea of why there is a chopper hovering above. The street below is closed off by blue and white police tape, with five police cars and two ambulances parked in a line. As well as the police chopper just above the crashing waves, I notice another one further out to sea. Below it are two police boats. I am part of a curious crowd craning their heads like meerkats with mobile phones. I use my own to take photos, a video and to text my wife. She too is now intrigued. What’s going on? Not sure. Some sort of rescue I guess. Can’t see over the cliffs. I am animated with restless excitement. I decide to continue my walk and head down towards the beach, away from the commotion. I pass a huge water tank that was dumped onto the sand, a battered testament to the storm’s strength. I get to the main stairs leading to the beach, sit down and check online for any news of the incident. Among all the stories of the storm’s devastation, there is a recent post about a search for a missing man last spotted either swimming off the rocks near Bondi or perhaps swept in by a giant wave. Either way, the police have been searching now for hours. I quickly share the news with my wife, keeping her in the loop. I then stare out onto the sea. The north end is not as rough as in the morning and a group of surfers is taking advantage of the still impressive swell. Suddenly, I am aware that there is wave about to engulf me. It is not shaped with water but by melancholy. What I witnessed was not a rescue attempt – it was a body search. The ocean has consumed someone and is not in a huge hurry to cough him up. I think of the panic that the man felt as he was tossed about, perhaps wedged under a rock, perhaps just continually churning below the surface. I think about the police in the chopper, straining their eyes for a glimpse of a hand or a foot. And I think about the waves and how they simply don’t care. Waves don’t care if you ride them. Or if you dive into them. Or if you are too close to the edge when they come crashing down. Forces of nature have no conscience. And so I leave the beach and the buzz of the chopper behind, attempting to ride the wave which now surrounds me.
It’s days since the deluge but the Bondi sky remains heavy and grey. I am taking Nitro the two-toned Cavoodle for his morning walk. Am feeling flat but hoping that my daily yoga stretch and meditation in the park will soon revive me. We get to the park and the dog is unleashed. I keep an eye out, waiting for him to assume the position that will require me to shove my hand into a blue plastic bag. But the only position he assumes is one of hunter as he leaps onto a lame lorikeet parrot. We are all surprised by this, especially Nitro, whose habitual chasing of birds has so far been without triumph. After a couple of seconds of shock, I am shouting like a mad man and yanking the bird from the furry jaws of death. Then I awkwardly attempt to re-leash an excited canine with one hand while holding a freaking parrot with the other. This proves rather painful as the lorikeet’s little beak pinches my hand, biting down like his life depends upon it (and from his point of view, it probably does). Somehow I manage to tuck the bird under my arm, safely padded by my hoody, leash the killer Cavoodle and head back home. Whilst walking I decide that I will drop the dog off at a neighbour’s and take the bird to the veterinary hospital in Bondi Junction. I took an injured bird there years ago and was surprised by how Hollywood handsome the vet was. At that stage, neither of us had a clue that he would later achieve celebrity status as the star of the “Bondi Vet” TV series (which conveniently ignores its true location since “Bondi Junction Vet” isn’t nearly as sexy). Once Nitro is safely enclosed at the neighbour’s, I head home, put the lorikeet into a box and then wash the tiny wounds on my hands. I look for some disinfectant but the best I can do is splash around some mouthwash. I know it’s supposed to kill mouth germs but am unsure if that extends to bird mouths. The car is parked a block away, so I walk along holding a hairdryer box like it’s a gift for the baby Jesus. As I enter the car, I notice that the inside of one hand is starting to ache. Is this the onset of some strange avian disease? And just how do you contract bird flu? Doing my best not imagine that this is the beginning of my end, I arrive at the vet. Dr Hollywood is rarely around these days, most recently sighted in an African jungle hosting a show featuring a number of dubious ‘celebrities’ all wanting to get the hell out of there. So another vet inquires about what’s in the hair dryer box. I unveil the little guy and the diagnosis is immediate: beak and feather disease. He says that most vets put such afflicted birds to sleep but that they won’t. Instead, they’ll take him and put him out the back in a little sanctuary they have. Lucky birdy. Or lying vet. I mention that I ended up with several wounds on my hands. I’m told not to worry as the disease is only passed on between birds. Seeing an opportunity too tempting to resist, I quip: “So I don’t need to worry about my beak and feathers?” Having achieved the sought after chuckles, I leave the bird behind and head back for another attempt at walking the dog.