Sitting alone on a sold out train

“This is a sold out service from Penn Station to Niagara Falls, so today is Make A Friend day at Amtrak.”
And so I snapped back to reality while boarding a train in New York City to head upstate to Albany.
To this point, the 40 odd hours of travel (at least 25 of which had been spent in the air) had been a sort of suspended reality, as the extent of my human interaction was robotic at best and symptomatic of a brain injury at worst.
It’s not unusual on long haul travel for people to operate at a bare minimum, shifting a total of three to four smiles an hour, dealing in fewer words and moving only enough to not have the occupant of the window seat drag their crotch across your face as they make for the bathroom.
But even still, it took another train ride, several exclamations about my accent and a terrible chicken sandwich to liven me up to the point where I could laugh at our conductor’s jab at New York residents’ famed hostility toward strangers.
It’s bizarre how the same hundreds of people who had no understanding of the concept of personal space 30 seconds ago while forcing their way through the queue to get on the train could be so uncomfortable about being required to sit next to someone.
Symptomatic of the jet lag worn traveller and the early morning commuter then; not of a city.
I’m probably just bitter because on this ‘sold out’ service there was still an empty seat… next to me. They’re just feelings New York, they’ll heal.

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Buy my Subaru Forester and find true love

Owned by my father before me, and to a dealership possibly owned by someone else’s father before him, I regret to announce I must part with my noble steed.
My valiant vehicle. My fortuitous ferry. My safe swan. My brave bitumen Brienne of Carth (Game of Thrones reference no. 1). She’s for sale.
I first came across her fresh from the womb, or factory, if you will, in 2006, when my father purchased her to ferry wounded animals around South East Queensland.
So if you question her nobility, the loss, and the resulting shame, is entirely yours to bear.
She first came in to my possession, although she is a free elf, in 2009 and developed a thirst for adventure.
She carried my companions and I on journeys musical in taste and spiritual in ambition.
In Byron Bay and at Woodford we sought Splendour for three years running.
But when life gave me opportunities, my proud pony followed me further afield, and we arrived in Western Australia, where journalistic ambition and surfing abounds.
But now, three years on again, I must venture further afield than my humble hound can follow, and so I seek a new owner to care for her, and to give her the lifestyle she so deserves.

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2006 XS 2.5L Subaru Forester Located in Margaret River, WA
5 Speed Manual Transmission
Full Service History, 6 – 12 monthly for Duration of Ownership
170,000km
Unleaded
Towball, Roof Racks, Cargo Basket, Fog Lamps, Cargo Barrier, Floor Mats, CD Player, Cruise Control, 2x Glasses Holder, 6x Cup Holders (that’s more than there are seats!)
Registered to December 10, 2014.

For more information email powell.ad89@gmail.com or call 0413 634 289

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‘You’ve probably experienced bigotry but you’re proud of who you are’ and other non-insults

I was 19, living on campus at university, when someone first questioned me as to why I had attempted to insult a friend by calling him “gay”.

It was during one of the weekly games of porch poker we played on the outdoor tables of our campus apartments.

Six or eight students of the University of the Sunshine Coast living at the Varsity Apartments would each scrounge together five dollars of shrapnel (a veritable bounty in itself after alcohol and rent had been taken out of your Centrelink allowance) in the hopes of winning a student’s fortune in a hand of Texas Hold’em.

Surprisingly, as an arts major playing against engineering and accounting students, I occasionally held my own and claimed the $35 prize pool and would be the one drinking actual Smirnoff vodka that weekend as opposed to the brands I’m fairly sure are just random assortments of letters masquerading as Russian.

It was during one of my less successful reads of a friend and opponent, who I thought to be bluffing but had actually been dealt pocket aces and managed four-of-a-kind on the turn, that I lost the hand and exclaimed “Ah, you’re so fucking gay!”

I was laughing as I said it, as the poker games were always more for entertainment than financial gain, but the intent behind what I said was still, in a way, negative.

At the time I was sharing my particular Varsity apartment with three others.

We each had our own bedroom and bathroom but shared the living area and kitchen and, as young people do when they spend the majority of their time together drunk by a pool, became quite close with the majority of the revolving door of housemates I had during my two years living on campus.

During that semester, one of my housemates was an American free spirit by the name of Tasia who was abroad in Australia studying feminism and philosophy.

Tasia was also bisexual, I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s relevant.

She looked at me, after I lost that fateful hand of poker, and simply asked “Why’d you call him gay?”

I knew Tasia pretty well by that point in the semester and our friendship had been solidified on the previous weekend during a hungover excursion to the cinema to see the Disney Pixar film ‘UP’.

We still occasionally greet each other online by yelling “Squirrel!” or informing each other that “I hid under your porch because I love you”.

All of this online via Facebook chat though, as she moved back to Baltimore at the end of 2009 and I have not seen her since.

Although I have not seen her, I remember her asking me that one simple question because it questioned a phrase I had been throwing about as long as I could remember, and certainly since my early teens.

I was not homophobic, but I had never been close enough with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex person to have been called out for using ‘gay’ as a negative.

It was a simple lesson for me – “Oh yeah, gay people are rad. Calling someone gay isn’t an insult.”

The same goes for ‘faggot’ and ‘dyke’ and all the other lingo keyboard warriors and insecure privileged white males everywhere are using – it’s not actually an insult, you’re just making yourself look like a muppet with an average vocabulary.

Not that there’s anything wrong with muppets, of course.

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The service industry loves you and wants you to be happy

Question: what is the first thing you do when you go in to a hospitality or retail venue?
Question #2: I’m going to rant at you. That’s not a question but shut up is the answer.

I did a shift at a local brewery/restaurant on Sunday. I occasionally moonlight in said brewery to make a grab at a bit of extra cash and to help them out.
Of course, I tell them I’m actually there to fuck bitches and get money and I’m all out of bitches. Because, clearly, I’m a massive tool.
A weird thing happens whenever I work a day shift out there. I occasionally work the Friday nights, the only nights they are open, and this weird thing is less frequent.
But during the day shift this weird thing never fails to manifest; usually in the form of some gawking cashed up bogan and his peroxide blonde girlfriend/silver surfer impersonator, or a middle aged couple of grey nomad description, both fat from time spent on the road doing exactly this weird thing.
They will walk in to the venue, whether through the obviously a door front door, or around through the side door because clearly the large front door is just too fucking intimidating.
They will then, and this is when I generally notice their awkward presence, stare at the ceiling decorated with chandeliers made from large glass bottles before casting their gaze out through the dining area, out to the veranda, the playground and the expansive grassed dining area.
This whole process will take around a minute, about ten seconds into which I will have said something along the lines of “G’day guys, how’s it going?”
About twenty seconds in to the process, having not received a response as I observe their blank stares transitioning from veranda to the playground, I will generally reply to my own question with a slightly louder and more expressive “Yeah, I’m really good too thanks guys! What are you up to this afternoon?”
Ten seconds later, when I still haven’t received a response because clearly the plastic fucking bull-slash-seat in the undercover eating area requires their undivided fucking attention, I will follow up the deafening silence of their amazement at having walked into a restaurant without a drive through.
“Although the bull does look ever so life like, you have not in fact entered Madame Tussauds wax museum and we here behind the bar are in fact real life human beings who thrive on interaction with people such as yourselves.”
“And we are able to reward your ability to interact with a tasty beverage, such as the beer crafted right here in this building, or a meal such as a pizza or burger we definitely have not poisoned.”
Of course I haven’t actually said anything of the sort before, because I’m not actually that witty. I think the best I’ve managed is a “Hey, there we go!” when I have actually managed to catch their ever-so-precious attention.
I manage to do it with some form of grace however, and am usually rewarded with a sheepish grin as they realise they have in fact had someone speaking to them for the better part of ten minutes while they stared transfixed at the wonder of a fire contained within a box in a wall like it’s the Year of Our Lord 0004 or something.

My point is this, or at least something like it; if you happen to stumble into a building you haven’t entered before, and you intend to purchase something, give the people who work there at least the benefit of the doubt that they are not only decent human beings but actually good at their jobs in the service industry, excited to chat to you and serve you and ensure your visit is memorable and worthwhile.
Certainly, I understand that sometimes they aren’t; sometimes they are just useless and will openly scowl when you present with a knowledge of the venue even only slightly less than their own – unfortunately, there are times when one party, either staff or patron, is just going to be a shit person. You can do your best to not be that person.
Speak, converse, interact! I once delighted an African patron who told me he was from Rhodesia by putting on a mock African accent and saying “We say Zimbabwe now don’t we brother?” I don’t think he got the Blood Diamond reference but it didn’t matter. He’d already had a good time and hadn’t even yet spent any money! It’s so easy to just not be a complete tool.
In the same way, two of my close friends are my close friends because I walked into their shop and they were just friendly, interesting people who were happy to have me in their store.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a crowded restaurant, tapping into the free wifi and writing this while eating and drinking alone, so maybe I’m not the best barometer of sociability.

 

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Wearing your heart on your sleeve in the second person

You have an idea of who you are. You are a highly complex character, a unique product of your own existence and experience. Etched within the walls of your mind (Sorry Prof. Snape) are details as broad ‘not a dickhead’ and specific as ‘can be a dickhead but in a self-deprecating way if it gives others a laugh’ and ‘a bit pretentious; okay with it though.’

You take these details, these landmarks on the roadmap of your character, and you do your best to display and control them in a way which make you appear to family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers as the absolute best intimation of yourself. Except sometimes it becomes just an imitation of yourself.

Although you have not attempted to control the broadcast of your character to a point where you are infallible, without fault or flaw, you have attempted to control the flaws which you see as most desirable within yourself, those which do, paradoxically, make you more attractive to potential lovers, friends, employers. After all, you yourself are attracted to certain flaws and a vision of perfection is so subjective you believe it foolish to search for; at least at an aesthetic level.

Ideally you see yourself as someone who is genuine, kind, accepting, funny and weird in a way that draws people in. You are not someone to suffer the bullshit or idiocy of others; though you don’t become angry at stupid people, you attempt to emulate your father’s ability to tell people to go to hell, while having them look forward to the journey. Your ability to handle stress is one of your defining characteristics. You advocate knowledge and you rebuke those who preach ignorance through idealism. You are good at your job but you will not let it define you. You live for a lifestyle which allows you to both explore these aspects of your character and also ignore them for the sake of pleasure. You are outwardly happy, and if you are not inwardly happy you remove yourself from the company of others so as to not bring them down. You constantly question each of these aspects and every decision they lead to.

But right now you are sitting in on a couch in a library, mentally noting that if you were a parent on holidays in Margaret River on a 40 degree day you would totally take your kids to the library and give them a book and a beanbag. Man you’d be such a good Dad if you were remotely interested in ever having kids.

You are sitting here inwardly exploring in some kind of pseudo-intellectual philosophical ramble because you are on holidays, and you’ve allowed yourself the time to indulge in such nonsense. But you have to question why you’re on holiday, and you have realised it’s exactly because of a fault in the character you work so hard to not appear to work so hard at maintaining. You lost control; you lashed out; you became angry. You let an aspect of your job overwhelm and control you. At the time you thought your rant was eloquent and informative, controlled yet deservedly biting. But it was just angry, bitter and savage.

But you won’t dwell on that, you just need a little time away to indulge in sunshine, live music, art, surf and the beautiful people you surround yourself with. You deserve it, man. Motherfucker you just wrote two entire newspapers on your own, give yourself a high five. Better yet, tell someone else to high five you. Now stop talking to yourself, because this whole character control thing is becoming vaguely OCD. It’s okay though, because it’s self aware. Almost meta. Should probably talking to yourself though.

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Sharks, and facing danger with fear or respect

Saturday morning I woke early and fresh, having taken it unusually easy on Friday night. I stepped outside, noted the favourable winds, recalled the swell forecast from seabreeze.com.au, and for the first Saturday in at least a month, decided against joining the dawn patrol which would no doubt have already started rolling in to the Lefthanders’ car park, eyeing that wonderful stretch of coastline between Big Rock and Umbies.

I cruised in to town for a coffee. I noted the license plates of hire cars and tourists rolling in to town for the Gourmet Escape. I got to the gym when it opened at 9am, thinking a work out in the morning would serve me well, and that I’d cleanse my sweaty soul with a mal slide at Grunters that afternoon.

Fifteen minutes later I received a text from a colleague telling me there had been a shark attack. She had heard it was at Gracetown. She went to investigate. I carried on with my work out. Within the hour I had been told a man had died surfing at Umbies, the same break I had decided against surfing about four hours earlier.

By the end of the day the facts had outrun the rumour mill, Chris Boyd’s name had been released and it became clear I would not be able to distance myself from this death as a journalist, as a surfer, or even in my personal life. The social media tributes were flowing in, as is to be expected in a small town, from casual acquaintances, but also from colleagues, good friends, and surprisingly, from old high school friends back in Queensland.

Not only did Chris Boyd move in similar circles to me in Margaret River, but had also done so in Coolum in Queensland, a ten minute drive from my parents’ house and where I surfed throughout my teenage years, and still return to a couple of times a year. I realised it would be foolish and a lie to pretend my weight of grief, at whatever distance my life and Chris’s existed, was insignificant.

Is it arrogant of me to think I can speak to his, his friend’s, or his family’s experiences? Or would it be selfish to not use the access I have to a forum such as this to attempt to gather my thoughts and approach something that might resemble meaning? I can do it for myself, and hope that maybe it will do something for someone else.

Chris and I have friends in common, we’ve surfed together at the same breaks, and, although it was not uncommon, we have both made the journey from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and found ourselves at home in Margaret River, this beautiful surf mad town.

Now however, this beautiful town and surfing community is saddened and unsure of where to go or who to go to next.
The social media tributes have been replaced with social media debate which dissolve, occasionally, into impassioned vitriol.
Do we return to the ocean? Do we just find solace in each other? Do we arm ourselves to the teeth and hunt for the wretched beast for ruining so many lives? Or do we, while we can, live and let live, realising that the ocean is not our ocean, and the earth not our earth, despite the tragedies we face most definitely being our tragedies.

I can’t speak to Chris’s opinions, but the majority of watermen I know, have spoken to, and whose words I have read in recent days all throw about one word in particular on the subject of sharks and the dangers of the ocean: respect. Aside from the science, the opinions, the rhetoric and the politics there should only be respect.

To enter the Indian ocean requires a knowledge of those that have entered the Indian ocean before you, and the experiences they have shared, the stories they have told, the fates they have suffered. From this knowledge comes respect; respect of the ocean, respect of the creatures that call it home, and respect of those who join you each time you paddle out.

But you’re not full of yourself, or boastful that you can look such dangers in the eye and not let it stop you. You don’t just know the dangers, you embrace the dangers and accept fate, dropping down the face of that set wave you hung out slightly wider from the crowd for, watching it arc and peak ahead of you before it finally throws, tucking you inside that tunnel of lightest dark, and hoping it has hit the reef at just the right angle to hold you in there for so long you start to believe you won’t make it out the other end.

This week I am terrified of two things: I am terrified that the next time I go for a surf I won’t return to shore, but more than that, I am terrified that same fear will keep me from returning to the surf.

I am not religious, and I have no idea whether Chris thought he was headed somewhere whiter and brighter when he eventually departed these shores. But, to me at least, where he is now is irrelevant, because where he was was where he wanted to be, and I don’t think anyone can ask for anything more than that.

Your body may be gone, I’m gonna carry you in.
In my head, in my heart, in my soul.
And maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll both live again.
Well I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I hope so.

Modest Mouse – The Ocean Breathes Salty

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Sorry Mum, I’m not coming home just yet

You would be forgiven for thinking this website is written and managed by someone with, if not mild schizophrenia, at least the mind of a child. And the body of a child. And the attention span of a small bridge capable of producing it’s own tension. [Insert joke here.]
But no, the schizophrenia is yet to be diagnosed, adulthood was pronounced terminal nearly three years ago upon graduation from university, and you’re reading the words of a man fully capable of making his own indecisions; though he compensates with self-deprecation and hates it when people speak in the third person.
You would too though if you had the option of instead being self-referential in second person while throwing in a second punchline to a joke nobody noticed the first time around.
Long story short (story?) I am no longer leaving on the adventure of a life time by way of an antipodean intra-continental road trip before an intercontinental backpacking jaunt, because who needs the adventure of a lifetime if you’re already on the adventure of now? 
Aside from the schizophrenic aspect (or maybe exactly because of it?!) you should now be imagining the Brad Pitt to my Edward Norton telling me that this is my life, and it’s ending one moment at a time!
Fight Club may not be the most allegorically apt tex for my life right now, although surfing could be seen as the freedom of losing all hope, falling lower in the hope of flying higher and whatnot. And while there is a Marla she’s not an awful klepto; she’s actually quite sweet.
However I will be waking up in a different place, at a different time, but as just the same person throughout July and August when Splendour in the Grass and a snowboarding trip to New Zealand satiate any need I have to venture further afield.
Because seriously, have you been to the South West? Rich Wisken’s Brumby was fuelled by its own sense of self-satisfaction for having called this place its home.
If you need me, I’ll be here, watching 90s cult classics and doing exactly this with a self-satisfied grin I’ve modelled off Jeff Lebowski.

It's Blue Steel for hipsters.

It’s basically Blue Steel for hipsters.


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