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.