After returning to the Ponderosa, I lived there for another 21 months. It’s why, on the whole, I refer to having lived at the Ponderosa for a continuous period. In total, I was only away for nine nights: I’d stayed away longer on holidays.
It was shaky and difficult at first, returning to Canberra and being terrified of life in general. It felt like I had to build everything back from the ground up: home, work, health, the works.
The home part was actually pretty easy: life at the Ponderosa became even better after my return. The first step was getting rid of that pesky fourth housemate. Tammy, Zak and I had always lived with a fourth housemate, because it was a four bedroom house and that was just the done thing. However, every person we got into that room turned out to be a complete oddball.
The first one went on an unstoppable drug bender on his first weekend in the house and decided he was definitely gay. We found him a deshevelled, bug-eyed mess on Saturday afternoon, sitting on the front steps with an open bottle of wine in one hand and his phone in the other, alternating between taking long swigs of wine and screaming into the phone. At one point he got confused and bellowed “WELL THAT’S JUST WHO I AM, DAD” into the wine bottle. This guy would also slather himself in coconut oil every day before gingerly lowering himself into the pool with a high-pitched breathy squeal like he was having the world’s most delicate orgasm. This caused no end of frustration to Zak, who cleaned the pool, because all the coconut oil would immediately wash off, making the pool look like cold chicken soup.
The second one would not ever shut up about how great ALDI is. Like, ever. Every trip to the supermarket came with another breathless recital of the latest catalogue and how cheap everything was. He also had a girlfriend who only ever occupied two rooms of the house: his bedroom and the kitchen. She never ventured anywhere else, would never say hello, and occasionally he would spend hours out the lounge room with us while she stayed huddled up inside his room, hiding, like she was being smuggled across the Narrow Sea. Also, every time they cooked themselves dinner she would put the leftovers in a bowl, wrap it in Glad Wrap and then take that bowl to work the next day. We would never see it again. By the time the second one moved out we had gone from eight bowls down to two.
The third one never stayed in the house, choosing instead to house-sit for her cousin. And her room had nothing in it but a mattress on the floor and an Israeli flag that almost covered an entire wall.
In hindsight, perhaps our vetting process could have used some work.
When the the last oddball-du-jour moved out towards the end of 2008, Tammy, Zak and I decided to make life easier for ourselves by just absorbing the fourth person’s rent and living “on our own”. So then the Ponderosa was just the three of us, and our dynamic was never unbalanced again.
So with my home life back on track, it was time to work on the other pillars.
When I was taken off breakfast in 2007, I was put on the evening shift. It was lonely and unfulfilling; sitting alone in the studio hours after everyone else had gone home, aimlessly pressing buttons to make sure the national shows beamed in from interstate went to air. I’d only just worked my way up to a real job before I left for Sydney. Now, having come back, I was straight back in the only position they had free: the evening button shift.
Partly to fill the long days (I didn’t start work until 3:30pm), and partly to raise extra money for an overseas holiday, for the last half of 2008 I started looking for a second job. I found one in the most unlikely place: Magnet Mart, a Bunnings-style hardware megastore.
For five months, Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm, I operated a cash register at Magnet Mart. How did someone who knew as little about hardware as I do manage to operate a cash register at a DIY megastore? EASY: my area of expertise was only the cash register. They had experts for every department, that was their job. It was literally store policy that I not deal with anything beyond the bench on which my cash register sat. It was perfect.
I gave away the Magnet Mart job at the beginning of 2009 when it looked like another spot might be opening up at the radio station’s Creative department, meaning I was back in the office working regular human hours. Things were picking up!
Later in 2009, I caught another break: I was invited to submit a writing audition to the head writer at weekly variety TV show Rove. Somehow, one of the jokes from my submission made it through to the final cut (I assume all the regular writers ate lunch at the same place and all got food poisoning and died?), and I ended up getting one of my jokes on air in the “news” segment.
With my audition clearly proving successful, I was invited to continue submitting jokes for the rest of the season. In my third week of submissions, George Negus was the guest newsreader. It’s because of me that one of Australia’s most respected media figures—a member of Australian television royalty—told a joke about environmentally friendly German sex workers.
I knew it was only a matter of time until I would be asked to join the team full time, and be able to move to Melbourne. So imagine my surprise in my fourth week of submissions when, at the end of the show, the host himself, Rove McManus, stood up in front of a nationwide audience and called out my name.
KIDDING. I’M KIDDING. He announced his retirement. Rove ended a week later. My career as a TV comedy writer was over in less than a month.
So it wasn’t all upward for my career, but hey: I still had my daytime office job back, and I still had my Magnet Mart staff discount card.
During the time we lived in Kaleen, Zak had become something of a regular at the local Kaleen Sports Club; the kind of semi-naff local bar/bistro/pokies venue that peppers Canberra suburbs. The Kaleen Club had meat tray raffles three times a week, and on at least one of these nights the three of us go down for dinner and to enter the meat raffles. Ten dollars bought ten tickets, and each ticket had five numbers on it, any one of which could win a tray.
Through either astounding luck, or the sheer number of meat trays the Kaleen Club gave away every night, we would win at least one meat tray between us every time we went. Our record was six meat trays, but we usually netted around two. The amount of meat we took home from the raffles meant that despite the number of social events we hosted (weekly, if not more frequently: we never went anywhere, because everyone always came to our house), we did not buy any meat in 2009*. Not at all. Not even once. At one stage the freezer of our second fridge was so chock full of frozen chicken wings (none of us particularly enjoyed chicken wings) that we had to start offering them to friends to give to their pets just so we could get the space back.
Okay so this isn’t a great depiction of “health”, but by gum I was never short of a rissole.
I moved out of the Ponderosa in March, 2010 when I moved to Melbourne. (I moved out reluctantly, but the siren-song of Melbourne was too strong to resist.) Tammy moved out in October 2010 when she moved to London. Zak stayed in the Ponderosa, and was still there in 2013 when Tammy came back to Australia moved back in. Tammy, Zak and I were under the same Ponderosa roof as recently as 2014 when I went up to visit: we had dinner at the Kaleen Sports Club, and I won a meat tray.
Only in May of 2015 did the Time of Ponderosa finally come to a close, when the house was sold and Tammy and Zak moved out. I’d been out of the house for five years by this point, but I still shed a sneaky tear when I heard the news.