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.

36) 1998. Weldon Street, Birkdale (Brisbane) QLD 4159

In June of 1998, a lifelong dream finally came true. After an eighteen-year tour of the best and worst of Queensland’s rural hotspots—charming hamlets, desert mining towns, coastal gems, bigot strongholds and far-flung peripheries—we moved to Queensland’s capital city: Brisbane. A place I had literally dreamed of living in, but had barely dared to hope. It was the 18 months spent in Toowoomba—tantalisingly close to Brisbane, only an hour and a half-ish by car—that gave me the freedom to fantasise about perhaps, just one day, moving down the hill into an actual city.

And then it happened. We decided to go to Brisbane. From the day the decision was made until the day we moved the boxes into the house, I held my breath: it all seemed to good to be true. My life thus far had made it very easy to assume that everything would turn to shit; everything turning to shit was kind of our default position. Our family crest is an image of a second shoe falling, and our motto is “Giiiiive it a Minute”.

It was particularly easy to assume that moving to Brisbane was too good to be true given that the street we were moving into was our own stupid surname. It was all too surreal, and it made ordering pizza for delivery very difficult.

Weldon St

This was one of the most colourful houses I ever lived in. One bedroom was vivid purple. One bedroom was bright blue. The computer room was mint green. These verandah railings are actually the most subdued colour scheme in the whole house.

Living in Weldon Street as a Welldon really helped to fuel the fantasy that I was a fancy person. I could pretend to be so important that I lived on a street named after me. The horse-owning six-year-old me would have been so proud.

In reality I was a dumb, poor, first-year journalism student who was too lazy to transfer to a Brisbane university, and so instead kept travelling to Toowoomba three times a week to attend classes. I was too in love with the concept of living in Brisbane to realise how stupid it was to commute to Toowoomba from the outer south-eastern suburb of Birkdale: A twenty minute walk to Birkdale train station, a fifty-five minute train trip from Birkdale to the Roma Street bus terminal, a two hour bus ride to Toowoomba, and then another twenty-five minute bus trip from the Toowoomba terminal to USQ meant I was taking a seven hour and twenty minute round trip every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. For three hours of class.

Unsurprisingly, this soon got super tedious, and after three months I just stopped going. I didn’t defer, I didn’t drop out: I just didn’t go anymore. No classes, no exams, no assignments handed in…there’s probably still a “MISSING” poster with my face on it in the refectory.

It was while living on Weldon Street that our family also continued its odd tradition, spearheaded by my mother, of taking in family friends and stray people and building unconventional family units. Aimée had moved out on her own and remained in Toowoomba, but Mum’s good friend Natasha had moved from Toowoomba to Brisbane at the same time as us. Naturally we all ended up living at the same house. There was a downstairs area at Weldon Street that was essentially just a rumpus room, but functioned as a self-contained unit. She was excellent to have around, both as a fun and lively addition to the house, and also, as a built in mum-distraction, which meant mum spent less time asking me to do things.

One Sunday afternoon there was a knock at the door, and Natasha answered it. A young English guy, presumably a backpacker, was going door-to-door selling—wait for it—encyclopaedias. Literally. Sure, they were interactive CD based encyclopaedias aimed at children, but still. DOOR TO DOOR ENCYCLOPAEDIA SALESMAN. Had we moved to Pleasantville by mistake?

Mum and Natasha immediately rejected his offer, despite all the wonderful discounts available to them. He took the rejection graciously, turned to leave and then sneezed. The sneeze triggered a cough, which led to a coughing fit, which led to another sneeze. He sounded like an idling two-stroke engine. He apologised, mentioning something about pollen and allergies. It was hard to understand him with all the coughing and sneezing. Natasha offered him a glass of water and a chair to sit on to collect himself while he tried, unsuccessfully, to keep all his air and spit on the inside.

Polite conversation followed, and it turned out that Casey (his name) had not had much luck selling his children’s encyclopaedias, and really didn’t enjoy trying to sell them. We didn’t blame him, it was an awful job: we knew because we’d just seen him do it. He wanted to quit the job but his original plan had been to quit only when it was time to return to the UK, and he didn’t want to do that. A lot of suggestions and advice and lengthy discussions about plans and travel flew back and forth, and that afternoon Casey quit his job and moved into our spare room, where he stayed for three months.

Hey, if you’re looking to move into Weldon Street, we were the people to talk to. Check the name.

Despite the fact I have no idea where Casey went after those few months, and I in fact had to ask mum what his name was before writing this story because I had forgotten it, he did have something of a lasting, positive impact on me. He is one of the only people to have done this. And he did it in the most innocuous of ways.

I was seventeen, a bit dumpy, right in the middle of some excellent acne, and I had stupid hair, very few friends, a dental plate that physically covered the fact that I was missing three teeth from a car accident but did not offer the same service on a psychological level, and worst of all, I had a giant mole in the middle of my neck. Exactly halfway between where the chin ended and the chest began, a disgusting brown sphere the size of a peppercorn mocked me endlessly.

Oy

This is from a few years earlier: 1994, when we living in Darwin. But it’s one of the few photos taken from close up enough for the mole to actually be visible. Also do I get a medal for bravery for posting an extreme close-up selfie of my face at 13?

I would cover it up in photos, I would stare at myself in the mirror with a finger pressed over it, trying to see what I would look like without it. I would fantasise of living somewhere cold enough to wear a scarf all the time: day and night. Of all the things wrong with me, it was in hindsight the least problematic, but it caused me the most grief.

It depressed me so much that one day I made an appointment with the nearest GP and went to ask how I would go about getting removed. I had no idea how these things worked, besides some vague notion of plastic surgeons charging thousands of dollars. But I had to at least ask the question.

I must have seemed pretty pathetic to the doctor, because he offered to remove it himself, the following week. He also mentioned some stuff about biopsies or something technical; I can’t remember what it was, but it meant I could even claim it on Medicare. He could make me pretty and he could do it for free.

A week later, the disgusting mole was gone. In its place was a white bandage the size of a playing card covering up a row of stitches, but in a fortnight they’d both be gone and my neck would be free of debris and I would be beautiful. Or something.

I raced in the door to tell everyone what had happened. I was so super excited about the new lease on life I had just been given. (This sentiment should highlight exactly the kind of vain idiot I was, and remain to this day.)

The first person I saw was Casey, who noticed the bandage immediately.
“What happened to your neck?”
“I had the mole removed!”
“Mole?”
“Yeah. Mole. THE mole. The Mole. THE MOLE. My mole?”
“What mole?”

That motherfucker had never even noticed I had a mole.

I couldn’t actually grasp the concept. This hideous disfigurement had dogged me every second of every day. It felt like a second head to me. It was all I saw when I looked in the mirror. It was all I thought about. And now Casey was telling me that he’d never even noticed this thing that was the bane of my existence?

He taught me a very valuable lesson about perspective without even realising he’d done it. I mean, it wasn’t that life-changing: I, like everyone else in the world, have never stopped being annoyed by my physical flaws. Casey did teach me to stop assuming everyone else was as annoyed as I was. It helped lessen the torment.

Well. I mean. having the mole cut out probably helped more. But the Casey thing seems emotionally healthier? I should focus on that.