46) 2002-2003. Chalfont Street, Salisbury (Brisbane) QLD 4107

The house on Chalfont Street in Salisbury was delightful. It was in no way fancy, but it sat on a quiet, secluded street, backed onto the beautiful Russ Hall Park, and the entire underneath of the house had been converted into a living area, meaning I had what was essentially a studio apartment to myself. Room for my bed, bookshelves, a couch, TV and even including my own toilet, I felt very independent and grown-up living here (and good thing too: I was 22 years old).

chalfontstreet

That’s a pretty underwhelming-looking building for the place that holds some of my fondest Brisbane memories. I mean, I watched the musical episode of Buffy in this house, for fuck’s sake.

The year and a bit spent in this house was almost entirely devoid of drama. Mum and Mike got along swimmingly—to the point where they married; I was continuing to get paid work at the radio station, working my way up from receptionist to “Black Thunder Pilot” to Community Switchboard coordinator; I graduated from The Actors Conservatory, and even performed in my first non-high school play. In short, life was really coming together.

Also, early into 2003, I finally realised who I was. You know, in a sexual sense.

miranda

You can look at this in two ways: either as a bitter ironic twist; only when it seemed like the seas of my life were finally, briefly calm did the issue of my befuddling sexuality burst forth (again) to fuck everything up. Or you can see it as a long overdue blessing; that because everything was going well, and I wasn’t feeling in such turmoil, I was able to process something that had hung over my head since I was 15 years old. I have often described it as the former, but I must be softening with age, because I’m choosing today to look at it as the latter.

Now, I’ve heard coming out stories that usually involve a night of flirting with a member of the same sex that finally catapulted over into full-blown, magical passion and a stark, shocking, but ultimately comforting revelation the next morning. Or just out-of-the-blue epiphanies, borne of spur-of-the-moment lust. This kind of thing did not happen to me.

In fact, it could be said that the opposite happened to me. The opposite in every single way.

Her name was Tatiana (no it wasn’t, I made that up because I actually can’t remember her name), and she was beautiful, and I met her while a group of us from the radio station (the “Black Thunder Team”, if you will) were hanging out, post-work, at the Normanby Hotel. I was quite drunk so I can’t remember how I actually met her, or how she ended up with our group, or how I ended up dancing with her: but I did, and she did, and we did. The rest of the group I was with were about as surprised as I was that this was happening: I wasn’t the guy who talked to girls and danced with them in bars. But, I was filled with both Dutch courage and Dutch courage’s way more effective cousin, Uniform courage. Here’s the skeezy truth: working at the radio station was social currency. How much social currency is never certain: I don’t want to be a total dick and accuse Tatiana of only talking to me because I was wearing a shirt with a radio station logo on it, but I can with complete certainty say that I was only able to talk to her because I was wearing a shirt with a radio station logo on it.

Tatiana did say she thought it was very cool that we all worked at B105, so perhaps she was kind of drawn in by the uniforms. She also wanted to know how she could get work at the station. How did we all start? For half of us, it was through volunteering on the Community Switch, of which I was now the chief coordinator, having worked my way up from volunteer, to receptionist, now to almost-full-time-employee! So technically I was the person to talk to?

I took a chance while we were dancing and talking and I kissed her. She kissed me back, and I finally got some kind of inkling into what it must be like to be a sexual person: someone who experiences even a modicum of success, romantically speaking (the inkling passed super quickly, and I haven’t seen a shred of it since). We exchanged numbers, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would call Tatiana my girlfriend.

Not only was I going to break a terrible drought, but I had made a decision! I was straight! The thing that had tormented me since 1996; throwing thoughts and indecision violently around the inside of my head like Kinsey scale poltergeist for eight years, making me hate myself and doubt myself and never giving me a moment’s peace, was to be put to rest. It was such a huge relief. I’d had crushes on girls before, (and I’d had crushes on boys before, for which I felt nothing but shame as I tried to push them down to the bottom of my…pants), but this was a real, organically grown start of something. It felt different.

Four days later, I called her, but got no answer. I left a message saying hi, and tried not to let this first hurdle completely destroy me. She picked up when I tried to call her again the next day, but was unavailable to do anything as she was away all weekend with friends down the coast. Strike two, but the course of true love never did run smooth, right?

I tried to be a bit more casual on the third attempt. I waited until the Sunday of the weekend (I didn’t want to be seen to be bugging her when she’d already told me she was away), and I texted her, giving me the space and freedom to choose my words carefully and maintain at least the illusion of composure. It was, at the time, still something of a risky move, as texting wasn’t yet the ubiquitous communication tool it is now. It could be seen as too casual, even too common. In 2003, there were still a healthy contingent of people who either “didn’t own a mobile”, or “didn’t text”, and both of these phrases were always uttered with the same superior sniff that people today say “Oh, I’m not on Facebook”. I kept it real generic: did she want to come with the movies with me some time? Exactly forty-one minutes later my heart started again when I received the response: “Sure!”

It was hard to schedule this movie date. She didn’t pick up when I called her on Tuesday. And the text I sent Wednesday afternoon went unanswered. By Thursday I was feeling confused, and having tremendous difficulty focusing on my work. Was she actually interested at all? If not, why not just say no when I asked her to the movies? Oh god, did I pressure her into saying yes? Had I been a pest, badgering her until she said whatever it took to get me to stop calling her? Was this part of the rules of dating? Was there some unwritten hint I should have received by now? How, exactly, had I fucked this up?

While I sat in front of my computer, not working, staring into space, my desk phone rang. It was reception. “I’ve got a Tatiana here to see you?”

Oh my god.

Trying desperately to look like I hadn’t just sprinted all twenty metres from my end of the building up to the reception area, I casually flung open the glass door and ushered Tatiana inside. The lack of response to my text messages and phone calls still stung, but this impromptu first date was well on the way to making up for it. Would she like a tour? Had she had lunch? What were her plans? Do we hurry into a supply closet to make out? I’d seen that on the telly, it looked pretty sexy. What did she want to do?

“Um no, I can’t stay, I just remember you saying everyone got work here by starting at the Community Switch, and I wanted to see if could get a job!”

Somewhere, deep inside my brain, something tiny went “click”. Imagine the tiniest little car you possibly can. Tiny. Like it’s an ant’s car. Now imagine the tiny little gearbox inside that tiny little car. That tiny little gearbox slips quietly from neutral into first gear: that’s how gentle this click was. The tiny little engine in the tiny little car purred tinily, making the tiniest little whisper that sounded like “s t o p   d o i n g   t h i s”. 

I stopped panting. I quietly gave Tatiana the spiel about new volunteers, took her CV to add to the pile, and I didn’t try to call her again.

Look. In the immediate aftermath of this event, and for at least five years after it happened, I painted Tatiana in a very bad light in this story. I was weirdly angry at her, and when retelling this anecdote I would describe this situation in full, martyred glory: she had led me on in an attempt to get a job at the radio station. She never had any intention of dating me. She was simply a gold digger; the “gold” in this scenario being eight hours of unpaid work per week answering phones.

With the wisdom of hindsight, and an active interest in trying, wherever possible, to be neither victim nor fuckwit, I realise I never actually asked whether she had any intention of dating me. I only assumed she didn’t; an act of desperation by what I now know to be a frantic and terrified subconscious, clutching at any straw to stop me pursuing her, even as my conscious remained hurt and confused. Today, twelve years later, I have no need to make Tatiana look bad. Nor do I have reason to lament her not dating me. What if we had? The experience could only have been terrible for us both.

I tell the story differently now. But I still credit Tatiana (the fuck was her name?) with helping me figure it all out, even though it didn’t happen straight away. See, in that moment, I still didn’t understand what the “click” was. It sounded like a profound thing that happened, right? It wasn’t. I thought the tiny whisper of “s t o p   d o i n g   t h i s” meant “stop embarrassing yourself, she’s not into you”. I didn’t immediately realise what it actually meant was that I was into dudes.

That realisation took over a week. And it wasn’t even a week of “debating” whether or not I was gay. It was a week of sulking like an entitled man-baby. Sulking that She Just Wasn’t That Into Me. Sulking that I’d never had any real romantic success, at least not since Sheridan Lunn kissed me in the jungle gym at Mount Isa’s Central State School in 1989 (her name I remember). Sulking that I hardly ever ever ever met a girl I fancied, and when I did it never went anywhere. And even when it went as far as it felt like it did with Tatiana, I still ended up at square one.

Sulking because it just seemed like it was all too hard.

And suddenly the tiny click made sense: it was all too hard. Why was it too hard? Because, DUH: I didn’t actually want the thing I was doing a terrible job of pursuing. I didn’t want a girlfriend. I wanted a boyfriend. I didn’t want to date women, I wanted to date men. I didn’t want to be best mates with Neighbours star Daniel MacPherson because he seemed like a really cool dude, I wanted to wrap myself around Neighbours star Daniel MacPherson like a compression bandage and tell him all my secrets and dreams!

danmac

#DANMAC4LYF Yes, this is the same person I was fortunate enough to photograph for work last week. No, I didn’t say anything inappropriate. Yes, I was very professional and normal (it’s far from the first time we’ve met, and yes I’ve kept it cool every time). No, it wasn’t easy to keep it cool. Yes, he does look even better now than he did then. No, I didn’t say that. Yes, I am indeed arguing with myself in a photo caption. No, I do not wish to continue.

And with that, I finally realised I was gay. I wasn’t proud of it. I wasn’t okay with it at all. But at least I’d realised it.

I could almost kick myself these days for how long it took me to realise who I was. Especially considering the evidence that I kept mounting. Ahem. Especially considering the evidence that kept mounting. I kissed my first boy at age 15 (the boyfriend of the first girl I kissed); my second and third also at age 15 (Paul, the first boy I dated, and Matt, the weird new kid who looked like a surfer); my fourth at age 18 (on NYE 1998 in a relatively hidden gay bar in Toowoomba called “Waves”); my fifth and sixth at age 20 (Name Forgotten, in the back of a car after a party, and Nicholas, whose kiss was actually a scripted part of an assessment performance piece at The Actors Conservatory—but the man deserves inclusion and your respect because he very classily pretended not to notice any of my erections when we rehearsed).

Based on numbers alone, if you add up all the girls I ever kissed and all the boys I ever kissed, including Sheridan Lunn at age 8, Felicity Scriven at age 12, and Tatiana Something-Something at age 23, by the year 2001 I had kissed twice as many boys as I had girls. But I still didn’t get anywhere even near clarity until 2003.

Idiot.

But hey, it’s not cool to dwell on things you absolutely can’t change. I got there eventually. And after that life fell deliciously into place* and I loved myself more than ever** and got a boyfriend almost immediately***.

*life continued to be a mess because this isn’t TV
**I hated myself intensely for at least five more years
***seven. years. later.

45) 2001-2002. Amelia Street, Nundah (Brisbane) QLD 4012

Mum and Mike were going strong, and decided to take things to the next level: moving in together. Would this be a repeat of the Nathan thing a couple of years earlier? Did Mike have a poxy little unit we’d be crammed into until one or all of us went insane? No, it turns out Mike had quite a sizeable three bedroom townhouse in the suburb of Nundah.

I’m sorry this photo is so Nundah-whelming. (NAILED IT)

Nundah isn’t exactly an inner suburb of Brisbane, but it was way closer than Taigum. Mike had been happily living in his surprisingly large home with two boarders. Between their respective amounts of board, Mike’s own rent payment amounted to about twelve dollars every week. I won’t see he was fleecing the boarders. I will simply imply it by not elaborating any further.

When we moved into Mike’s house I was, sadly, still unemployed. (Just to clarify: the boarders moved out, so it’s not like we all piled into the house together. Normally this would go without saying, but considering we once ended up living with a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman, I felt it was important I be as specific as possible). It had been two months since Games R Us had closed its doors. I had now been unemployed for long enough to make me really question my usefulness, both as a member of the household in which I resided, and also as a human being. The money provided by Centrelink’s Youth Allowance barely covered my weekly tuition at The Actors Conservatory, and mum and I had more than one giant row (like, seven or eight) about the practicality of me sending myself into bankruptcy so I could continue learning how to embody the characteristics of a stick (an actual thing that took up several weeks of tuition). But I was resolute. The Actors Conservatory was, to date, the greatest thing that had ever happened to me, and I was not about to give it up. I would do anything it took to keep my place in the school.

But I did accept that I could not continue the way I was going. I needed a job. Any job. Even the worst job I could think of. Even the worst job anyone could think of.

Which is exactly what I found: I became a telemarketer.

Telephone

Me IRL

Not just any telemarketer, mind you. I didn’t sell booklets of vouchers or cleaning products or even fancy encyclopaedias. Nothing useful like that. No, I sold glamour photography sittings to women in non-metropolitan areas around Australia.

Crinkly purple background? Check. Feather-boa-as-clothes? Check. Brittle sphere of fibreglass hair? Check. Unnatural hand placement? (This woman actually looks amazing, though?)

While we sat in an un-airconditioned office in Woolloongabba making appointments, a truck would tour the country, packed with bolts of tulle and satin, tubs of mascara, and row upon row of permanently unfocused camera lenses. The truck would descend on a town and give every single citizen who’d responded positively to one of our phone calls the exact same glove-wearing, collar-holding, sprayed-for-the-gods-hairdo headshot. Sitting for the photos was an absolute bargain, but as they stumbled out of the mobile studio, blinded by the hot lights and dizzy from the hairspray, they would be coaxed into parting with significantly larger sums of money to buy the actual prints.

For a company that promised such unyielding arseloads of glamour, it was a pretty unglamorous place to work: spartan, grey, and overheated. But hey, they offered me thirty hours a week, paid a guaranteed hourly rate, and were nice people. This preposterous company (which, I might add, is still in business to this day) saved me from bankruptcy and allowed me to continue my studies, so I can’t shit on them too heavily. But still: it was telemarketing. It meant that at least forty-seven times a week, I’d have the following conversation:

Person: So, what do you do?
Me: I’m an actor. I’m studying acting.
Person: Oh. Acting, huh? But like, what do you really do?
Me: I work…for a place…that…um…sells…things…over…the…uh…phone…
Person: *punches in face, slashes tyres*

A normal person would eventually learn the easiest way around this would be to just lie, but I was too honest for my own good. I couldn’t just make up a fake job on the spot like some kind of common CRIMINAL. (No, I don’t know why either. Ask my oddly specific moral compass.)

So I found a loophole. Or, specifically, Rebecca came to my rescue again (just like she’d done with the Games R Us job five months earlier), and found a loophole for me.

Again, this visual representation is the highest compliment I can bestow. I reckon if she tried really hard, Rebecca could turn a scarf into a dove too.

Rebecca had also been exploring volunteering in her free time, and had recently started working at B105, Brisbane’s Austereo-branded radio station. She helped to man the phones on the “Community Switchboard”, which listeners could call to ask for information about upcoming events, weather forecasts, traffic reports; anything Brisbane related.

B105 has since changed logos twice and names once, so this logo does nothing now but savagely highlight my growing irrelevance.

The Community Switchboard was like a human-operated, locally-specific Siri. And because the labour was unpaid, positions came up frequently, and I got one.

So while I spent thirty hours a week calling the unsuspecting people of regional Tasmania, asking if they’d like to do themselves over, daytime soap opera-style; I spent four glorious hours on a weekend in the newsroom of “Brisbane’s Hit Music Station”, telling people where the best markets were. And when people asked me what I did? The smarmy hair toss flourish I added to the end of every “ACTUALLY I WORK AT B105” caused neck damage I’m still working out fourteen years later.

The best part is this massaged-truth turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as within two months I was actually employed at the radio station, as a part time receptionist. I was able to quit the telemarketing job, and instead of spending my days making calls and stressing over sales quotas, I had the much more relaxing task of taking calls and abusing the power I had over the PA system.

:+:+:+:+:+:+:

Because I feel like this moment needs marking: This is the address I had when I turned 21. A huge, momentous occasion marked by yet another incredibly modest party, attended by perhaps fifteen people. There was no hired party yacht, no catered venue, no new car as a present. One of the party guests did give me a copy of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, and at the time it felt like it was the kind of heavy, pivotal moment I would describe years later when being interviewed by Oprah, but nope. I can’t even remember if I finished reading it. But I do still have the book, and technically I am describing it years later. So bullseye, I guess?

44) 2001. Handford Road, Taigum (Brisbane) [REDUX] QLD 4018

So, I’d quit my job at the toy store, to take up part time work under my friend Rebecca, who’d become the manager of a video games store at Westfield Chermside. It was only part time work, so I was suddenly on a lot less money. Combine that with the fact that Chermside was practically next door to Taigum, it made sense to move back home. Again.

Unfortunately, the forty-three house moves I’d experienced up until that point had given me a warped view of what it meant to rent a place: I assumed the capricious abandonment of one dwelling for another was completely normal and no big deal. So I called my real estate agent, without a hint of shame or comprehension of the consequences, and flatly informed her that I could not afford to pay rent anymore and would be moving out, but thanks anyway and I’d let her know when it was empty. Oddly, she got quite sharp with me. I mean, here I was giving her a courtesy call and she was giving me attitude? Like, calm down, lady. I’m just saying I need you to cancel my lease nine months early because I’m poor now. Why so snappish? But she refused to listen? She just kept talking about obligations and “breach of contract” and “letting fees” and “cleaning fees” and “paying rent until a new tenant is found” and I found the whole thing stupid because if I could afford any of those things then I’d be able to afford the rent, wouldn’t I? DUH. And anyway, it’s not like I signed a CONTRACT; just a lease, and a lease isn’t…

…what’s that?…

…I see. Oh. Well, then.

LOOK. Was closing the bank account the rent came out of and clearing all my stuff out of the flat in secret the mature thing to do? No. Did it work? Technically. Do I regret it? Yes. Do I wonder how I’ve ever been approved for any subsequent rental properties, since that undoubtedly left a black mark against my name? Every single time since.

And so I was back, living with mum, in Taigum. A suburb not on a train line; serviced only by buses. And this was during a time in Brisbane’s public transport history where half-hour buses were considered “frequent”. The isolation, especially in contrast to Petrie Terrace, where I’d been able to see the city right in front of my kitchen window, was well and truly felt.

Remember what I wrote as the caption to this photo two weeks ago? Whatever it was, just pretend it says that same thing here.

So what to do when you’re stuck out in the wops with nothing to pass the time? You find the nearest thing and start doing that, apparently: it’s what my mum did when she walked into the AMF in Kedron and joined a ten-pin bowling league. And it’s what I did when I…copied my mum and did the exact same thing.

Like most of her other hobbies, mum took to ten-pin bowling with an ardent fervour that was short-lived, but intense. At first she was useless at it, but her learning curve was steep: soon there was an actual pile of “Player of the Week” certificates on the table. She started learning how to do the “spin” delivery. She bought her own ball. She had a special glove.

Like most of my other hobbies, I took to ten-pin bowling with an imaginary fervour that far, far outweighed my actual level of talent. I had no certificates. I tried the “spin” delivery once but it hurt my thumb too much so I stopped trying. I wanted my own bowling ball (it was going to be transparent, but with a skull in it, just like Janeane Garofalo’s in Mystery Men), but could never afford it. I didn’t have a glove.

But I did have a nice league team-mate. He was in his forties and had the ugliest mullet you had ever seen, but he was a very friendly person. Were my life some kind of weird romantic comedy, he and my mum would have had a meet-cute and started dating. She would have fixed up his hair, and he would have given her something to do other than try to find wall space to fit all those fucking bowling certificates.

Oh wait, they did do that. They did exactly that. That’s how my mother met Mike. Here’s how I assume it went down:

(Mum’s always on at me about who would play her if this blog became a movie. I guess we now know it would be Lorna Luft?)

I, on the other hand, continued to meet no one. But at least work was fun. The video games store job was the perfect antidote to the toy store job, and continued my winning streak of ridiculously fun-sounding jobs. I can really only think of three complaints I had about working at Game R Us. Firstly, Westfield Chermside is so big, so sprawling, and so oddly shaped that it is impossible to find one’s way around. On more than one occasion I was late coming back from my break because I got lost. LOST. I couldn’t find the store at which I was an employee; the store I’d left not fifteen minutes earlier.

CALM DOWN, WESTFIELD. This is far too much shopping centre. This is more than just Chermside, this is Chermwhole. THE ENTIRETY OF CHERM IS WESTFIELD NOW

My second complaint would be the one other employee, Carl; an American, formerly of the U.S. Army, who made everything—EVERYTHINGa competition. If you had a black cat, he had a blacker one, etc. Carl also held eye contact a little too long, and talked about the army a little too much. I’m not saying Carl had a human skull in a box under his bed, but he definitely had the box.

My third and final complaint about Games R Us would be the way it went into administration two months after I started working there, and closed down completely one month after that.

That was bothersome.

43) 2000-2001. Petrie Terrace, Petrie Terrace (Brisbane) QLD 4003

So, I had a job I hated. A job I’d already quit once, before hastily begging for it back again. What a perfect position I was in, then, to move out of home for a second time? And not into the relatively safe support network of a sharehouse. No no. I was ready to spread my miserable, barely competent wings and FLY.

For $105 per week, I found my haven in one of the most convenient places Brisbane had to offer: right on the border between the CBD and Paddington. Petrie Terrace was one of those streets you could just refer to by name:

“Where do you live?”
“Oh, *hair toss* I live on Petrie Terrace.”
Oooooooooooh.

(Full disclosure: Not once did anybody respond to my address with “Ooooooooh”. Frankly, there was a blatant disregard for my quest for socio-eceonomical status within the wider Brisbane community.)

The apartment was a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny bedsit. Not enough room to swing a cat. Not even enough room to hold a cat gently with your arms outstretched.

For reference: The balcony with the “FOR RENT” sign on it was mine. The entire apartment was only as wide as that bit of wall to which the balcony is attached. That other balcony at the front is a whole separate apartment. (Also, hi Google Maps: I don’t think Princess St goes in that direction at all, guys.)

But what did I need with space, anyway? It’s not like I owned anything of note. My only worldly possessions consisted of a TV and a PS2 (because priorities), and a small, cumbersome dining table. That was literally everything. The TV and PS2 sat on the floor, and the table was jammed into a corner; useless because I had no chairs to sit at. I slept on a foam cushion that I’d borrowed from the back of a friend’s wicker couch. It was a pretty meagre existence, until I got my inflatable armchair.

Yes. Inflatable armchair. This was a thing.

Christopher’s Early 2000s Fad Recap (For Anyone Too Young Or Too Old To Remember)
At the turn of the year/decade/century/millennium, there was a brief period where the pinnacle of home furnishings was your own breath shaped into household items. Photo frames, wastepaper baskets, fruit bowls, even furniture. This trend actually made it very easy for young people moving out on their own, because they could deck out an entire house on the cheap: all you needed was fifty bucks and some Ventolin.

So yes. Inflatable armchair. It was huge, and a horrible shade of purple, and it required blowing into no less than four different sections to make its complete chair shape. But once it was fully inflated and you could sit down (which you needed to, what with all the hyperventilating)? It was glorious. It lived inside, but every morning I’d carry it to my tiny, TINY balcony and have my morning coffee while I looked out over the suburb of Paddington.

Meanwhile, in what will come as a surprise to absolutely no one (but shocked the hell out of me), my job and I continued to be a terrible, terrible fit. Though saved from having to go to an outer suburban store (meaning I could still attend acting classes), I was moved to a different store in the city. The new store was much bigger, and contained Briony: a woman so delightful, whenever I picture her she’s always backlit like Monica in Touched By an Angel.

monica

Artist’s impression. (Well, Roma Downey’s impression, I guess.)

Sadly, Briony was not enough to fix either the horrible job or my horrible attitude towards it. The new store had a huge hobby section: gas powered, radio controlled cars that were built from scratch, model aeroplanes, and those tiny Warhammer figurines. Not learning my lesson from last time, I admitted to management that I knew nothing about any of those areas, and I was particularly uninterested in model car construction: within 48 hours the directive had come down from Springwood that I was to immediately start training—outside work hours if required—to become the new hobbies ‘guru’.

It was a miserable time. For 9.5 hours every Monday to Thursday, 13 hours every Friday, and 9 hours every second Saturday, I would drag myself to work. I felt lost and trapped. I would sometimes feel almost physically ill, like a sinking weight in the pit of my stomach, when I thought about work. I became too tired to do anything outside of work hours: between work and classes, I would simply go home and fall asleep on my sad little foam block.

Soon, the only solace I could find was during the ten minutes I spent in the very early morning, sitting on my inflatable armchair with my coffee, looking out over the balcony. I didn’t have much, but I had those few stolen minutes of me time, which I treasured.

One morning, as I went through this regular ritual of sitting with my coffee in my hideous purple chair-shaped balloon, I felt the familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach—the one that signalled impending work-induced misery. I tried to push it away. This was my BALCONY TIME, dammit. But it felt particularly acute. It was harder to suppress than normal. It was as if my entire stomach was folding in on itself; as if my body was involuntarily curling itself into a ball. I felt a hard pressure against my chest. Was I having a grief-induced heart attack? The pressure on my chest felt like it went straight through me; down my spine to my butt. Could I feel pressure on my butt as well? WHAT WAS HAPPENING?

In my panic, I failed to notice the hissing sound.

My armchair was deflating.

It was the floor pressing against my butt, and my own knees pressing against my chest. I didn’t feel a sinking feeling; I was literally sinking. It wasn’t as if my body was involuntarily curling itself into a ball, it was, in fact, curling itself into a ball. And as I sank, the torn plastic corpse of what was once my arm chair folded in around me.

I scrambled free of my lurid purple body bag before I completely Laura Palmered myself; knocking my coffee cup off the balcony in the process. I stood amid the wreckage, still in my pyjamas, and surveyed my life.

First my free time, then my spirit, then my armchair, then my coffee. The horrible toy store had taken everything. When would the misery end?

Turns out the misery would end that Friday, when my friend and former Tops! coworker Rebecca called me to ask if I wanted to work with her at a video games store in a shopping centre right near mum’s house in Taigum.

monica

Rebecca at that moment. (jk, it’s Roma Downey again.)

And that’s how I quit my job a second time, gave up on living alone a second time, and moved back out to mum’s place in Taigum a second time to work with Rebecca a second time.

42) 2000. Handford Road, Taigum (Brisbane) QLD 4018

Eventually, Mum realised her relationship with her tiny boyfriend Nathan was not reaching the…heights…she was hoping for. Imagining a future with him was rapidly becoming a tall order. She’d made a pros and cons list, and Nathan had come up short. When she ended it with Nathan, she let him down gently; it wasn’t that difficult, as he was already quite low to begin with.

So on top of my new classes starting at The Actors Conservatory (still not okay about the apostrophe situation), and my job soon to be ending at Tops!, we also were moving for the forty-second* time: to Taigum; a suburb of Brisbane that even long-time residents of Brisbane have never heard of.

I’m sorry, does that sign say “Evergreen River Park”? YES. IT DOES. Evergreen River Park, 308 Handford Road, Taigum. Anyone sending us mail had to buy A4 envelopes to fit it all on.

It wasn’t all bad. Evergreen River Park was like a cross between a retirement community and a fancy suburb complex. By which I mean it was a fancy suburb complex filled with old people; but it did have both a tennis court and a swimming pool. FINALLY, I was living the lifestyle I knew I’d always deserved. Even though I used the tennis court and swimming pool exactly ZERO times, it was good enough just knowing it was there.

Around about the same time we were moving to Taigum, a caught a major break: the owner of a chain of toy stores (one of which was located just underneath Tops! in the Myer Centre) was looking for new staff. He happily took on a handful of us soon-to-be-destitute ride attendants: three of us finished at Tops! on Friday and started at the toy store on Monday. It seemed to promise an even MORE fun job than the one we’d had.

As it turned out, the toy store was a terrible, terrible place to work. Look, I do realise now that I was a stubborn, petulant child, and carry some responsibility for how miserable I was while I worked there, but the psychological warfare employed by the owner, Don, was remarkable. The most noticeable example of this was his weekly tour of all the stores. Every Thursday, Don would stop by all the stores, one by one, to check in. The hysterical displays of fakery that this would elicit were incredible. The scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda arrives at the office and everyone gets in a flap? Exactly what happened.

Now imagine this scene again, except with Furbies and Pokemon instead of expensive shoes and magazines.

Upon Don’s arrival, every staff member would descend upon the doorway like he was Dorothy and we were Munchkins. We would fawn over him, laugh at everything he said, flirt with him, and all the while trying our best to appear so ecstatically happy that our voices would go higher and louder and higher and louder until eventually no sound came out at all, but all the dogs in the vicinity would lose their shit. We did this so as avoid the terror of the Friday morning phone call: Anybody seen to be not as cheek-splittingly cheerful as possible would be interrogated as to their mood and what was wrong with them, and whether they really wanted to keep working for the company. In particularly dire circumstances, you would be summoned to the store that doubled as head office for a face-to-face meeting. To staff, the head office was referred to simply by the suburb it was located in: “Springwood”, as in:

“Don called. He wants you to go to Springwood.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

To this day, the very thought of Springwood makes me feel a tiny bit sick. Long after I stopped working there I would drive around the suburb entirely, just to avoid it.

springwood

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

This atmosphere of fear and worship is something he’d created. It was what he wanted. He would make his staff feel like they were worthless, like they had nowhere else to be, or go, and then offer his store as sanctuary. It felt, to me, like the more broken you were, the better you were for him. Because you’d never leave.

Again: I was an inexperienced, petulant, whiny 19 year old who was discovering teenage temper tantrums about five years too late, so my take on this experience is extremely tainted. I’m sure there are people who worked there who loved their job, and Don, and hated having me around because I was a tiny jerk.

But it did really feel like Don was personally out to break me. To wit: I started out working at the store that only sold videogames. I was in my element. I loved the games store, and felt really comfortable there. When asked how I was doing, I said exactly this, and two days later I was moved across the corridor of the shopping centre to the regular store. It was harder work and less fun, but I managed. I was earning a full-time wage and could afford to attend my Actors Conservatory classes. I was as happy as a slightly unhappy clam. Then I started hearing rumours that I was gong to be transferred to an outer-suburban store, meaning I would be too far away to make it back into the city in time to get to class. I mentioned this to a coworker (not to labour a point, but remember: petulant & whiny; I probably didn’t “mention” it so much as “went on and on and on and on like a prissy shitbag about it”), and the coworker immediately reported it back to Don. The next day I was summoned to Springwood (NOOOOOOOOOO), where I was told that outside interests and hobbies were all well and good, but he preferred his staff members’ outside hobbies to at least be vaguely related to toys. Sports were great, remote controlled cars and kite-flying and Warhammer—all activities that required equipment sold at the stores—were fine. But acting? It really showed that my “head wasn’t in it”. Don told me I had to decide whether or not I really wanted to work there. I had to choose between working for him, or “faffing about at your little drama school”.

I chose faffing. I quit my job on the spot.

I gave up the job I needed to pay for my tuition because keeping the job meant giving up my tuition but once I’d given up the job I could no longer afford my tuition. ADULTHOOD, Y’ALL.

Those classes must have meant a lot to me, because three weeks later I took myself back out to Springwood (NOOOOOOOOO), made an appointment with Don, and begged for my job back. I was utterly broken. Which made me a prime candidate. Which is why I got my job back. Everything was back on track!

Did this experience teach me about humility, and compromise, and learning how to navigate the world? Naaaaaah. It taught me I was an unstoppable force of nature who could do whatever he wanted with virtually zero consequences, which is why I announced to Mum that I didn’t need Evergreen River Park’s tennis courts or swimming pool or fifty thousand septuagenarian neighbours: I was moving OUT INTO MY OWN FLAT!

Not again.

*I’d just like to point out I really resent that my 42nd story isn’t grander than this. I mean. As a Douglas Adams/Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy acolyte (the number 42 is literally tattooed on my body somewhere, but that’s a future story), I really wish this had been more explosive. It’s just poor planning on my part, really.

41) 2000. Liaw Close, Boondall (Brisbane) QLD 4034

Why? Why did we move to Boondall? Why did we leave the giant, marble kitchen-benched, closed-in backyarded, three-and-a-half mile long house on a corner block in Ascot—ASCOT, for fuck’s sake—for the northern wastelands of Boondall? Sure, it was another big house, but…it was BOONDALL. I’ve said the same thing about “Murgon” and “Doomben“: it’s all in the name. BOOOOOOOONDALL.

Once again, the horse-owning five-year-old in me was bitterly disappointed.

Oh. Wait. Okay. Maybe he wasn’t THAT disappointed.

I may never know the reason why we left Upper Lancaster Road, and headed so far north. I can’t ask Mum about it, because that would mean reminding her of the time she was very nearly engaged to Nathan, and this reminder causes her to vacillate so wildly between hysterical laughter and near-catatonic horror that getting a straight answer out of her is impossible. So it will remain a mystery.

Though the move to Liaw Close did get me one step closer to living a fancy life like you see on the TV (apart from the very TV family sitcomesque house which, admittedly, I looked up on Google Maps after I wrote that first paragraph, and now regret being quite so aggressive about it). I found, at a second hand shop in the area, an old television that had been converted into a fish tank. I immediately bought it and set it up in my bedroom.

How is this closer to living a life like you see on the TV? Because Caroline from Caroline in the City had a TV fish tank. If there’s one role model I should have been emulating as a young nineteen year old suburbanite, it’s Caroline Duffy.

Did you see the fish tank? (Did you also see a pre-Gilmore Lauren Graham? Weird.) Anyway, even though I’d failed at living out of home, and failed at living in Ascot, all was not lost. I had a TV fish tank just like Caroline’s, and I had a hair cut just like Annie’s. A life like you see on the telly: I was on my way.

Turns out the people I’d bought the tank from had not, in fact, converted the old TV into a fish tank. They’d simply dropped a fish tank into a hollowed out TV and sealed it up. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say it was easier to get a living fish into the tank than…the opposite of that.

:+:+:+:+:+:+:

I did not continue my Media Studies degree at QUT after completing the first year in 1999. I can’t remember exactly why, but I’m sure it was a combination of the course not really speaking to me, and me being exceptionally lazy with regard to assignments and studying for exams. On top of that, I was offered the opportunity to take up full-time hours at Tops!, the place I’ve already described as, to date, one of the best places I’ve ever worked. So, faster than you can say “teenage caprice”, I was a university drop-out and full time ride attendant of an indoor theme park inside a shopping complex. Man, if I was relying on the Caroline Duffy TV fish tank to make me a successful man of the world, it sure had its work cut out for it.

Look, I mock myself and my own stupid decisions, but in the very, very, very long run, it turned out to be great for me. Had I not been working the weekday shift at the Tops! ticket booth on a Thursday in September of 2000, I would not have been handed a flyer for The Actors Conservatory, a prestigious-sounding acting college in the city that, to my unending frustration, refuses to render its name with an apostrophe. Having already been burnt twice by two failed attempts to get into an acting course at university (both USQ and QUT rejected me, and I’ve retained a healthy grudge for both institutions ever since), I decided to audition for The Actors Conservatory as well, because chasing humiliation with further humiliation is like eating garlic after eating garlic: you can’t make it worse.

I prepared two monologues, a joke and a song, as per instructions, and performed all four in front of the Conservatory’s dean, in a room that was just a little bit too small for my comfort levels. At USQ and QUT, you audition in a giant auditorium. The panel sits high up in the seats and you’re left in the centre of the room with only your own echo for company. Here? I could look directly into the eyes of the guy for whom I was performing. It was unsettling. Thank god the garlic in the last paragraph was a metaphor; it would have caused some real complications in those close quarters.

The emotion in my monologues, the humour in my joke, and the fact that my song was quite short must have done the trick, because by October of the year 2000 I was enrolled at The Actors Conservatory, on my third attempt at earning a tertiary qualification. It had taken a few years, but I was finally pursuing something I’d really wanted. During the day I had a job I loved, in the evenings I had classes doing something I loved even more, I had my own bedroom with an arched window and my own cathode ray tube fish grave. What could possibly go wrong?

Two weeks after my first class, a memo was passed down to from the Myer Centre to the Tops! staff: the theme park was being shut down. It would be demolished to make way for a cinema. My income would soon be gone, and I would not be able to afford to keep attending classes.

Because when god opens a window, he closes a door. And then the window.

40) 1999-2000. Upper Lancaster Road, Ascot (Brisbane) QLD 4007

So, my first attempt at moving out of home was completely scuppered, and I’d humbly moved “back home” again. Except “back home” was now somewhere else entirely. Mum and Nathan had decided to relocate to a bigger place, because even with me gone it was still a tight squeeze for mum, Nathan and Lauren in Nathan’s tetchy apartment. And it turns out they had no intention of doing anything by halves. The ENORMOUS house we collectively moved to, back in the fancy suburb of Ascot, went on for hours.

I was in a bedroom at one end of the house, with the other three bedrooms at the other end of the L-shaped structure, and I’m pretty sure if my sister and I both woke up at 7am and started immediately walking to the kitchen in the centre of the house, it’d be 7:15 before we’d make eye contact.

Okay that might be an exaggeration. But what I’m saying is it was a big house.

Admittedly it looks even *fancier* in this photo than when we lived there fifteen years ago because they have done some extensive refurbishments. They’ve added a whole second storey above the garage? HOW COULD THEY HAVE POSSIBLY NEEDED MORE ROOM?

It was the perfect situation for someone who had to come running home with their tail between their legs, having initially failed at going it alone. I had space all to myself so I could still explore my growing sense of adulthood, and I didn’t feel like I was stepping on anyone’s toes by asking to be taken back in. (Did I mention it was a big house? I’d need a compass, a short-wave radio and six hours just to find someone’s toes to step on.)

Living in a big house meant it was easy to host a party. My first ever party. Well, technically my third party, but the first one where I had more than eight friends to invite, thanks to the family unit that was the Tops! staff. But this wasn’t just any old party, this was my Y2K PARTY. Yes, providing this story with a delicious timestamp is the fact that my friends and I watched the year 2000 tick over in this house.

It still wasn’t a balls-to-the-wall shindig like I know some of my contemporaries would have held. I was still a slamming goodie-two-shoes. It was, for all intents and purposes, a pretty mild and quiet affair. But I remember that party to this day because I still consider it an honour that so many people decided to choose my house to see in the year 2000. A New Year’s Eve is not really that big a deal, but Y2K was a once in a lifetime thing. The passing of a millennium* (yes, pedants, I know, that wasn’t until 2001, shut up, everyone hates you). Plus, there was the whole threat of the world ending.

Turns out it was all fine. Were we just the tiniest bit disappointed we didn’t end up in the middle of an apocalypse? A little. Had we already kind of started assembling the hierarchy of the Lord of the Flies/Z for Zachariah/Tomorrow When the War Began-style society we would surely have been the only people left alive to start? Kind of. I mean, I had very little to offer: I wasn’t much of a hunter, I was too lazy to gather, and goodness knows I’d have been as useless as a chocolate teapot in the civilisation-rebuilding breeding program. But it was MY HOUSE. Surely they’d need someone to vacuum?)

:+:+:+:+:+:

It was rare that my mother, sister and I all did something together as a group. The age difference and gender difference and our general family complications meant we were rarely a cohesive unit when it came to activities. Off the top of my head I can only remember three things we have intentionally done together, “family” style: watched Ren & Stimpy in the 1990s, watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the 2000s, and watched Archer in the last couple of years. What? We like TV.

But there was one thing we all did together while living in Upper Lancaster Road that really helped us bond: we experimented with hardcore drugs.

Well. Not hardcore.

And not drugs.

But it was definitely an experiment. With a substance that left us with a three day hangover.

It was lavender oil.

lavender oil

Not even once.

Let me explain. For whatever reason, not a single one of us was sleeping well. I usually slept like it was my job: it took me fifteen seconds to fall asleep, and I’d be out for a solid seven hours. But at this time it was not happening. I honestly cannot remember what it was that was keeping us all awake, but if I were forced to give a reason I would guess it was probably Nathan’s constant scrabbling at the door to get let in and out? (That was a short joke. He was very short.)

I can’t remember if it was a segment of a lifestyle show, or an article in a magazine, that suggested lavender oil as a remedy for troubled sleep. Let’s say it was a lifestyle show. Let’s say specifically it was Better Homes and Gardens, because it’s funnier if I can say my “drug” history is all Noni Hazlehurst’s fault.

So, Noni says that a few drops of lavender oil on the underside of one’s pillow will result in a beautiful, solid, restful night’s sleep.

“That’s so stupid,” I say.
“That’s so stupid,” Mum says.
“You’re so stupid,” Lauren says. “Also that lavender thing. But mostly you.” (She was thirteen.)

So we all agreed it was stupid and should be immediately forgotten. However, Noni’s time on Play School when I was very young had given her surrogate mother status in my mind (along with Claire Huxtable and Elyse Keaton), so I was compelled to do as she instructed. Plus, Mum was never one to shy away from trying something new, and Lauren hated being left out of stuff, so in the end we all decided we would do it. If for no other reason than to prove just how stupid it was. What did we have to lose? Besides three soon-to-be-ruined pillowcases?

We got some oil, we put three drops on each of our pillows, flipped them over, and went to bed.

The End

SIXTEEN MILLION YEARS LATER, I opened one eye. It’s all I had the strength for. My body was made of molasses. Where was I? Who was I? Did I even have a body? Was I, in fact, just a muddled cloud of consciousness and one half-opened eye, floating in a pool of molasses? No, I could definitely sense a second eye. It slowly opened. Were the eyes attached to anything? Like a head? I had no way of knowing. A distant memory of limbs flickered in the distance. Arms. I definitely had arms. Did I still have arms? IF THERE ARE ANY ARMS STILL ATTACHED TO THIS MOLASSES CLOUD, DO SOMETHING…NOW.

I flailed. An arm flew up. My own knuckle smacked into my cheek. Okay, so I definitely had two eyes, an arm, a cheek and at least one knuckle.

After what felt like an hour, I was in a sitting position on the edge of my bed. I looked at my clock radio: sixteen hours had passed since I had pressed my face against a cotton sack filled with lavender-soaked foam. Okay, so not quite sixteen million years, but close.

I staggered out of my room towards the kitchen. I heard the undignified clang of another door being flung open. And then another. A few minutes later my sister appeared in the kitchen; her long hair so violently tousled she looked like a tumbleweed with an angry face. Behind her was mum, looking like the “before” photo of a Medusa makeover.

“What just happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you just spend two thirds of a day as a corpse as well?”
“YES.”
“Was it the lavender?”
“How can it have been the lavender?”
“Did you accidentally buy a bottle of heroin?”
“HOW CAN IT HAVE BEEN THE LAVENDER?”
“Did we all wake up at the same time?”
“Was this a hypnotism thing?”
“Have we been body-snatched?”
“OH GOD WE HAVE TO THROW AWAY THOSE PILLOWS OR WE’LL DIE.”

I can’t actually remember who said what in that conversation. It’s still a blur. But we boiled all our sheets and pillowcases and bought new pillows and immediately looked up our nearest Aromatherapies Anonymous. Turns out no such place exists.

Which actually is good, because it means I have no one to answer to on those really difficult days when, just for a quick hit, I sniff a bottle of fabric softener.

39) 1999. Milsom Street, Coorparoo (Brisbane) QLD 4151

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.

dragoncoaster

“WHERE ARE MY DRAGO—oh there they are. On the same steel track they’re always on.”

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.

Daenerys

Why wasn’t this a thing back then? We could have dined out on the pop culture references for YEARS.

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!

mary-tyler-moore-opening-credits

I would throw that hat away too. Yuck.

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.

Milsom St

Cameo appearance from the street sign! This could be an establishing shot from my sitcom. OH! THIS IS WHERE I’D STAND TO THROW THE HAT!

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.

Bygones.

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.

38) 1999. Buxton Street, Ascot (Brisbane) QLD 4007

Perhaps we should have realised earlier that we were being inappropriately stalked by our creepy landlord.

oldman

Still funny.

Normally, I think mum would have spotted it very early on, but during the time we were living there, mum was going through some stuff. Her youngest kid, my brother Tommy, was about to go and live with his father for a while. His behaviour was disruptive, his mood was erratic, and most of all he was keen on the idea of going to live with his dad. Mum was not equipped to have one of her three kids move out yet, and she certainly wasn’t ready for it to be her youngest; her baby.

I guess I’d never thought of us kids as a source of stability for mum before this. I mean, we were kids. Being disruptive, unpredictable and completely dependent was pretty much our whole deal. And yet, we were a constant. Our family life was always in flux, as the very existence of this project proves: but I think, for mum, the three of us provided a sense of stability: as the world around us spun and spun, we were the focal point that kept her from barfing. But that focal point was about to get all wobbly.

To say mum’s relationship with Dale was complicated, tumultuous and bad for her health (in all of the ways) would be a face-meltingly gross understatement. But he had never mistreated Tommy, and had in fact always revered him like some sort of small god (one of those Nordic, mischief-based ones). So while dealing with the standard, to-be-expected sadness of having a child move away, she was also having to interact with the man who made so many of us miserable (her in particular), and face the horrible possibility that the best thing for her son was for him to be somewhere where she wasn’t. The stress of this, and the sadness of the impending shift in her life caused her brain to sort of stop working.

At least that’s what she says, in 2015, by way of explaining why on this giant screaming earth she started dating…Nathan.

Nathan was a GIANT dweeb. And this is quite an accomplishment considering how short he was. He was like a dweeb TARDIS. If you look up “short man syndrome” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Nathan; standing in heeled shoes on a box, holding a picture of Tom Cruise and pouting. Straight up: he was a tool. Harmless, but a tool. Nevertheless, for a while he and mum saw something in each other: he saw her kindness and vulnerability; she saw his protective nature and…the top of his head, probably. Whatever it was, they started dating, and it was fine, I guess.

Nathan and mum had only been seeing each other for a couple of months when we discovered that our landlord was the hand (butt) that rocked (crinkled) the cradle (bedspread): their relationship was kicked up a few notches probably quicker than it should have been when we high-tailed it out of Ainsworth Street, and into Nathan’s apartment two bedroom apartment in Ascot.

Buxton

Kudos to whoever put out those bins with METICULOUS precision.

Oh sure, Ascot is one of Brisbane’s fancier suburbs, and there’s a certain level of social clout that comes with saying one lives in Ascot…unless it’s the part of Ascot between DOOMBEN Racecourse and DOOMBEN train station. DOOMBEN doesn’t sound as fancy as Ascot. (And no, italics doesn’t help, I tried that: Doomben. See? Still rubbish.)

Nathan was a security guard: not the stand-outside-a-building type, the patrolling a whole bunch of buildings at night type. This meant he had a car stamped with the security company logo, and two handguns he kept locked in a safe in his office. The logo stamps on the car and the locked-away guns were everything to him. They represented the manhood he assumed his diminutive stature denied him. To his credit, he wasn’t constantly waving the guns around or anything. He only removed them from the safe once, but on that one occasion he did snottily dare me to hold it, which I did just to stop him wanging on about it. I held it very reluctantly—flat, in the palm of my hand, like I was going to feed it to a horse. It was heavier than I was expecting and I was kind of grossed out, which Nathan found highly amusing. Had there been a horse nearby I would definitely have fed the gun to the horse, just to piss him off.

Look, if Nathan had just stopped fretting so much about his height and trying to overcompensate for it, he wouldn’t have been considered by the wider community to be quite such a cracking dullard, and would have been respected more. Thank goodness I was already an adult by this time and didn’t have to accept him as any kind of authority figure. But that didn’t stop him trying to throw his imaginary authority around like a free sample in a supermarket aisle. He tried several times, without success, to bark orders to make a coffee at me or demand to know where I was going when I left the house. Bless his low-to-the-ground heart, he was trying to be a father figure to me. But I already had a father, and while we weren’t in solid contact at the time, I had never felt a need to replace him.

Poor Nathan. He was, if anything, the only person I’ve ever met unluckier than me. I mean, think about it: the one person on this planet who could have really benefitted from my lifelong pathological need to obey and respect adults was the first person that I, as a brand new adult myself, wilfully dismissed as any kind of authority. All he needed was the blind, default respect I offered every other grown-up I had ever met, and he ended up being the first person to whom it was denied.

If I know my Yiddish (and I do NOT), Nathan was the very definition of a schlimazel.

37) 1998-1999. Ainsworth Street, Salisbury (Brisbane) QLD 4107

In late 1998 we left the breezy, salty outskirts of Brisbane’s Redlands shire and headed inward to Salisbury: pronounced SOULS-bree or SAWLS-bree, depending on how fancy you feel, but never ever SALLIS-berry. If you’ve been saying it like that there’s something wrong with you.

Ainsworth St

In hindsight, that’s an excessive number of carports/driveways for a single house.

Coincidentally, while Weldon Street happened to be very similar to my family name, which meant no end of jokes about how the street was named after us; it turns out that many streets in Salisbury were actually named after members of my family: from my dad’s side, who helped establish the suburb way back when. Fairlie Terrace is a large street in Salisbury; Fairlie is my grandma’s maiden name (no, not that one; the other one. The nice one). And we lived just off Lillian Avenue: Lillian was my (great?) great (great?) aunt (I’m unsure on the correct number of greats). Luckily, I wouldn’t learn this for another six years, so everyone around me was spared me being a total insufferable nonce about it.

There were two excellent things about the house in Ainsworth Street. The first being the giant jacaranda tree that grew in the front yard. With its explosion of purple blooms that made a filthy mess of the footpath, hanging out on the front verandah was a feast for the eyes. And even when it wasn’t in bloom, it is still a beautiful big tree.

The second excellent thing was that Robby, who had lived with us in Cairns, Darwin, Moranbah and Crows Nest, now lived around the corner, on Lillian Avenue (did I mention it’s named after a relative of mine? I’m pretty important around here). Specifically, Robby lived so tightly around the nearest corner that our back fence was her side fence, and there was even a gate giving us access to each other’s backyards. We basically operated as one giant house that just happened to have an atrium in the middle of it. So while Natasha and Casey had both moved out and moved on with their own lives after we left Weldon Street, our unconventional extended family unit maintained its multitude of dysfunctional arms.

I had my 18th birthday in Robby’s backyard, which was the very first night I ever got drunk. Having extensively documented my capacity to be a goody-two-shoes, nobody should be surprised by this. Yes, it wasn’t until December 20, 1998 that I had more than one single mouthful of alcohol. As you can see, I took to it almost immediately.

Drunky

This isn’t all my fault: My friends and family didn’t ease me into this “drinking” malarkey: Oh no, I was doing shots of Sambuca and Southern Comfort right off the bat. It was years before I would learn that alcohol needn’t taste like licking the back of a fridge.

Being my first time, I got drunk pretty quickly. But I didn’t get drunk as quickly as my mother.

Mother dearest

The theme of the party was to come as something starting with my initials: C, B or W. Mum combined two and came as a “bitch with wings”. I’m not making this up.

I can only assume the relief at having gotten me all the way to 18 without either of us dying, by shark or toaster or boat or cactus garden or handsy babysitter or snake or Tina Arena cassingle, had given her cause to celebrate.

Nice wig, Carol Channing

This is the most my mother has EVER posed for photos. This in itself is proof she was completely soused. PS: She doesn’t have three arms, that third arm is Robby’s, who is even better at avoiding having her picture taken than mum.

And celebrate she did. My mother is not a frequent drinker. In fact, she drinks so infrequently that it’s easier to just round it down and call her a teetotaller. And she’s a lightweight, so when she does drink the resulting spectacle is as surprising as it is shortlived.

Smashed mum

Ladies and gentlemen: My mother. Looking classy as shit with her cigarette and unopened bottle of what looks from here to be a West Coast Cooler. Oy. Also in this photograph: Aimée, looking just thrilled at her choice of surrogate mother-figure.

She had passed out in Robby’s bed by 10:30pm.

She didn’t even get to cheer me on when Paul, who was also living in Brisbane by this stage and had come to the party, gave me a birthday kiss on Robby’s trampoline. (I’d actually forgotten about this until Paul reminded me in a conversation we had on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.) And yes, at this stage, on December 20, 1998, I am still five years from realising I’m gay, because I am. a fucking. idiot.

:+:+:+:+:+:+:

We did not rent the house on Ainsworth Street through a real estate agent, we rented it privately. I don’t normally remember the details of how we rented houses and who we rented them from, but I specifically remember this was a private rental because there were some specific stipulations in the lease agreement.

For a start, the covered carport was where the landlord kept his Winnebago. We didn’t have to do anything with it, it was just where it lived. Secondly, there was a downstairs room, separate to the rest of the house, which was always locked: it was a storage room, and it was packed to the gills with old spare furniture of his. The room was off limits to us. Both of these were fairly innocuous requests: there was plenty of driveway to fit mum’s car as well, and the remainder of the house was a perfect size for us.

You already know where this is going, right?

If you have already assumed that the landlord was a massive creeper who would sneak into either the Winnebago or the downstairs room without any notice so he could spy on us: congratulations, you are smarter than we were. Where the hell were you seventeen years ago?

But did you also guess that he would let himself into the house so he could do things in mum’s bedroom?

We discovered that last part because mum had a lightweight cotton bedspread that she pulled taut across the bed when she made it of a morning. One afternoon we came home after all being out all day, and she discovered the tautness of her bedspread had been compromised by something shaped like an old man’s butt.

oldman

I don’t even want to imagine what he got up to in there, so whenever I think of it I just picture this.

We never really got to the, er…bottom…of exactly what this guy’s damage was. Nor did we really dig too deep to find out what he did when we weren’t in the house (or worse still, when we were). Once we discovered he was a major creeper, we pretty much moved immediately.

It’s one of the silver linings of a private rental: If your landlord turns out to be a the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house kind of guy, you can pretty much just abscond without guilt.