‘So,’ he said, gulping down his second drink as I nursed mine. ‘Are we staying or are we going?’
There was so much to his simple question: going meant driving back north to Fingal Head, my home, having a couple of quiet beers and perhaps surfing in the early morning, before I had to work my first Sunday alone at a newspaper which had recently gone almost entirely digital. We’d had ok waves that afternoon so I was pretty keen for more. Staying meant bad food, many drinks, slurred conversation with weirdos and sleeping in my car. Then leaving before Byron Bay’s parking cop fascists gave us a ticket, banged on the car and said ‘This isn’t a caravan park!’ It’d happened before. Of course I decided to stay.
I walked into work on Monday feeling ok. I’d just spoken to and had a photo taken of a beautiful young woman who’d just returned from bringing awareness of Japan’s annual dolphin slaughter. The last piece of the puzzle that was the last Gold Coast Mail – a free weekly newspaper which had stood for more than 20 years. Pity she was from Tweed Heads, but it was somehow appropriate to have her on page three regardless. The Boss came from his office and asked me: ‘May I see you for a moment Colin?’ I sensed disaster. He pointed to an email I’d sent him on Sunday afternoon. It outlined what I had planned for Monday. It also, lastly, stated I’d done little to prepare for the Mail’s final edition beyond gathering news as usual, and felt I had neither the experience nor ability necessary to do what was required. More accurately I was not sure what was required. ‘Did you have any idea what my reaction to this would be?’
The reason he wanted to stay was he was ‘to be honest terrified of the idea of heading back to Fingal tonight’. Don’t get him wrong, Fingal’s a lovely place. Albeit sometimes boring, to him. I’d call it quiet and relaxing. But Byron’s beach hotel had many beautiful women at most, and many people at least. It’s what swayed me. We noticed a cute girl and her equally cute yet plump friend at a table in the non-smoking area. We did need to work on my timidity with the fairer sex, which I for once had good arguments against. ‘You just need to play it cool,’ he said. ‘And let them come to you.’
‘But I’ve also had advice to the effect I should “put the hard word on them”,’ I said. ‘So which is it?’
He was for once stumped. But we had bigger problems in the form of a dinner not as expensive as a beach pub would offer. Plus I needed pants; I was wearing fisherman pants which not only looked ridiculous while wearing the shoes I’d need to enter late-night establishments, but had only one pocket which was to contain my wallet, keys, phone and cigarettes. So of course I bought a pair of $99 chinos for one night out. Thank God none of the $200 jeans were in my size, and I was able to get the stains out of the chinos the next day for acceptable use at work. Which khaki chinos are suitable for, only.
The Boss would take care of the Mail’s farewell. Which ended up occupying only one page because of an 11th hour added, erm, ad. In the meantime I had to sort out the final layout which I was meant to put together with The Boss. But hey, we’re all busy. The layout lady laid it on my desk and said something like ‘Sad, 24 (pages)’. I then appreciated the small sadness for each person who’d once been involved in the paper’s creation, from the sources, to the journalist (me), to the layout lady, advertisers, ad sales people, printers, distributors, everyone else and, last but not least, the readers. I had little time for this appreciation. I laid out for the last time, typed up a news list, sent it to the boss and went outside for a cigarette. It was cloudy, windy; morose.
I put my secret Santa gift (a $9.50 camping chair) under the car because I knew I’d not be able to sleep beside it, in addition to my board, and all the other surfing related crap in its back. Naturally, when we inevitably left I forgot the chair was under there. Fifteen dollars for all you can eat Chinese at the Byron Bowlo seemed a good idea, until we waddled out with stomach cramps. And ended up back at the top pub, with brown liquor and coke in front of us, cigarettes dangling from our lips and stolen glances at Cute and Cute and Plump who were still miraculously there. “So we going over there?” he asked.
‘Yep,’ I replied. And over there we went.
‘We’re boring,’ Cute said. They were right: accountants from Lismore, the both of them.
‘Feel free to prove us wrong,’ I said, meaning them, and from there it only got more awkward. They got up for more drinks, which was our cue to leave. But we didn’t. So when they sat back down Cute mentioned the boyfriend, and he mentioned his girlfriend. They left, and we debriefed each other. I think I performed well; didn’t speak much but that’s just me, plus that was part of his pep talk. That you don’t need to fill awkward silences, because what feels awkward to you isn’t necessarily awkward to her. We finished our drinks and headed west down Byron’s main, toward Cheeky Monkeys bar. Naive backpackers beckoned.