At some point early in 1999, I started my first proper casual job. Oh sure, I’d done a three month stint at McDonald’s in Rockhampton in 1996, but I was terrible at it. And I’d been called in for a day’s trial at Subway in Toowoomba in 1997, but I didn’t get asked back, so I can only assume I was terrible at that too.
So what does a teenager do for cash when he proves himself to be grossly incompetent at working in the fast food industry?
He becomes the conductor of a rollercoaster shaped like a dragon.
That is, as a very lucky few of you will remember, the Dragon Coaster from Tops!: a scaled-down theme park that occupied the sixth and top floor of a shopping mall in Brisbane city called the Myer Centre. Tops! also featured dodgem cars, a ferris wheel, carousel, jumping castle, a pool hall and videogames arcade, as well as a handful of other small rides and a giant fibreglass tree/jungle gym thinger.
(Only 33 seconds of this video are relevant. Stop watching after that. Or keep watching, I dunno, it’s your life.)
Against all odds (I mean, until this point I’d hardly consider myself a lucky person) I scored a job at this wonderland, and it remains far and away the best employment I’ve ever had. Nearly everyone on the team loved their job: while our contemporaries were salting fries and stocking shelves, we helmed the music desk at the dodgem cars and drove a ferris wheel and controlled a frickin’ dragon.
We lived as kings, while we worked as carnies.
The staff at Tops! formed a fairly tight-knit group. I’m still friends with many of them to this day. And it’s because of the staff at Tops! that I moved out of home, into my first ever share house.
Yes, this is the first new address in this series that I went to under my own steam. I’M GON-NA MAKE IT AF-TER AAAAAALL!
My workmates Marco and Amy lived in a three bedroom house in Coorparoo. One of their housemates (if memory serves, Amy’s sister?) was moving out, and they had a room spare. As I was, at the time, crammed into Nathan’s Ascot apartment—which was small, on an infrequently running train line and, worst of all, contained Nathan—I’d spent a lot of time griping about my living arrangements. Many long conversations with Marco ensued. Conversations about how grown-up it felt to move out of home, how fun it was to share a house with friends, and how prestigious it was to live in a famous home: the house was a former residence of Quan from Regurgitator. Or was it Ben from Regurgitator? Or was it Quan from Regurgitator’s brother? Or perhaps it was Ben from Regurgitator’s former housemate? At any rate, if the suburbs of South Brisbane had an L.A.-style tour of celebrity homes, Milsom Street Coorparoo would obviously be the first stop.
I was sold.
I really learnt the sharehousing ropes at this address, like the cute ways in which chore rosters are established: ours was a simple alphabet fridge magnet creation. Letters for our initials sat in a neat row. When your letter was pushed above the line, it was your turn to clean. When you finished cleaning, you slid your initial back in line with the row and pushed up the initial next to yours.
I also learnt how to grocery shop properly: a fortnight’s worth of two minute noodles, 3-4 apples “for variety”, and every remaining cent on Coke and vodka. Not to drink together, mind you. The Coke was for when it was too early to drink vodka. Obviously.
I also learnt that I hate vodka, but wouldn’t admit this to anyone for four more years. Instead, I did what 99% of people my age did: I drank Lemon Ruskis. Lemon Ruskis, for those who don’t know, are premixed bottled drinks that are actually super convenient, because they fill both the need to get drunk and to find out what lemonade would taste like if you mixed a bit of Sard Wonder Soap into it.
I also learnt how to become properly obsessed with a TV show. On a Monday night, when Ally McBeal and Buffy were both on? God help the unsuspecting idiot who tried to ring the house phone.
I also learnt how to tune out the sound of a housemate having sex: specifically, the sound of a housemate half-heartedly faking an orgasm after receiving (some very clearly unsatisfying) oral sex. (This might seem funny, but with the way today’s property market shuts out younger people/first time buyers? Our generation is going to be sharing houses for way longer than our parents: being able to tune out the sound of lacklustre sex is an INVALUABLE SKILL. UNRELATED: it would also come in handy for dating me. Er, I mean, never mind.)
And finally, I also learnt that if you clean the lint filter in the dryer, your new housemates will think you’re a life-saving genius, because they weren’t actually aware the dryer had a lint filter, and had simply assumed the dryer was broken.
I lived in a good house with good people. It was perfect for a first-timer. I wish I’d lived there longer. Even just a little bit longer. Like, longer than eight weeks, which is how long I lasted before I completely panicked and moved back home because being an adult and living on your own is fucking terrifying and I didn’t think I could make it.
Yeah. Eight weeks. I lasted eight weeks. Not even two full months after embarking on the momentous rite of passage known as “moving out of home”, I embarked on the slightly less momentous, but equally common rite of passage known as “quietly moving back home and not really talking about it”.
Back into the loving arms of my mother, and the tiny, useless T-Rex arms of Nathan. Aww.