Visiting foreigners and returning expats apparently see Australia as a bit of a mythical place. Our larrikinism and disdain for authority is much vaunted, while in fact we’re a pretty conformist bunch. Pete, our protagonist, has noticed he might be standing with a few others at a pedestrian crossing, no cars in sight, yet most will still wait patiently for the little fluorescent green man to light the way. With that in mind, and leading by the hand a girl he’s on a first date with, Pete crosses – on a red man. ‘Wait,’ she protests, pulling him back. ‘You can’t cross now.’
‘That’s jaywalking,’ she lectures, literally pointedly at the luminous red-coated crossing guard.
He scoffs, releases her hand, says goodbye and crosses the street – leaving her obediently bewildered on the other side. She was probably pro-life, too, anyway, he reassures himself. None yet had passed the red man test.
‘Ews ya team?’ asks the thrice divorced looking, well-worn Jack Daniels jumper wearing bloke at the pub. Normally Pete would respond with a white lie, and quote the football club from the city he was born – at least for the purposes of believable predictability.
Instead, this time, he takes a generous gulp of his schooner, and replies: ‘Don’t have one,’ then places the glass back on the bar, eager for JD’s response.
‘Well,’ he readily starts to explain, while avoiding a self-righteous tone he worries might get him glassed, ‘I believe commercial sport is a shiny but meaningless distraction for the masses, not unlike religion, which keeps us focused on trivial matters so our not so subtly malevolent overlords are left free to openly – if you’re paying attention, which you’re probably not – exploit us.’
‘I don’t follow ya,’ comes the surprisingly eloquent yet still baffled response.
‘Didn’t expect you to.’
‘Plus,’ Pete ignores, ‘watching a bunch of well-muscled men in short shorts and tight tops chasing a ball around, to quote Bart Simpson: “Seems kinda gay.” ‘
‘You’re gay,’ he derives.
‘Yeah, didn’t mean it literally,’ he mutters just loud enough before finishing his beer while rolling his eyes at the ceiling.
‘Look!’ Pete furiously points. ‘The bikini waitress is bending over!’ Then he sneaks out while JD’s perving at nothing over his shoulder.
Pete leaves the house smoking a cigarette, wearing a clean Big W t-shirt but unwashed ever Trade Secret jeans and knockoff wayfarers minus those obnoxious little diamante-looking metal or plastic things usually found on the upper outer edge of the frame. He gets into his never cleaned, rarely vacuumed and weathered paint 15-year old Korean hatchback. He almost lights another cigarette, because a Bob Seger song starts playing, but instead resists. He winds down the window, because the air-con hasn’t worked in five years, and starts driving. There are no cars in sight from the other direction, but the right-turn arrow remains red. So he just goes, after checking the vicinity for the cops. Someone beeps him. He sticks his middle finger out the window.
It’s hot as hades down the closest community centre, on local government voting day. Which seems appropriate. Pete foolishly makes eye contact with a political pamphlet packer, then politely declines her advance. He tries looking around a little more, while avoiding shirts with faces on them, but spots a couple of Southern Cross tattoos. So he spends the rest of the line to the democratic sheeple shearing staring into the clear blue sky. He does actually vote for someone, while wondering why he bothers. But on the referendum as to whether state government ministers should have massaging parliament house chairs, he ticks yes (‘cause shit, who wouldn’t want them too) and also writes on it: ‘The more you let income inequality grow, the sooner the revolution will come.’ That’ll have them shaking in their not yet massaging chairs, he not at all seriously thinks as he leaves the building past the line looking at the ground so as to not realise who or what he shared his community with. Then he follows an eight, no kidding, eight-children my family stickered beat up Tarago on the way home. And instantly thinks of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now: ‘The horror. The horror. The horror.’
He claims he knows the earth is flat because he’s a construction worker and somehow he can tell by using a spirit level. Pete’s already horrified, because he just wants some time alone in the Brunswick Street bar’s smoking area. But seriously!? The earth is flat and you can tell by using a spirit level? Surely he jests. He bites anyway, and throws a couple of arguments back at him, mostly about how there are photos of the earth from space and what would anyone have to gain by conspiring to lie to us about something so big yet at the same time inconsequential to everyday, individual life. But it’s no good. He believes the lie too truthfully, or hopefully enjoys the joke too much. Pete walks away, then drags his wine drunk (and pro-choice and jaywalking fan) girlfriend up Fitzroy St to the flat of the mate he was staying with. He does leave the spare key in the door that night, but in the morning consoles himself with the fact that he at least respected the many years of research and experiment that people smarter than him put into discovering facts that he could barely even comprehend. His mate says a spirit level would have to be kilometres long to prove the earth was flat. That’s true.
The customs officers are belligerently baffled. Just because Tiger Airways don’t have a smartphone boarding pass system doesn’t mean Pete can just take a screenshot of his boarding pass, then walk past the boarding stewards and on to the runway when they refuse his documentation. Just because it isn’t stated that it’s illegal to smoke on the tarmac, merely that it isn’t allowed, doesn’t mean he can light up for a pre-flight smoke beside the plane. And just because they haven’t taken off yet, doesn’t mean he can join the, well, about 20 metres high club with his girlfriend in the on-board bathroom. ‘But why?’ he asks.
They look at each other. Then reply in unison: ‘Because you can’t.’
He meets their exasperated stares with a blank one.
‘But wh. . .’
‘Get out!’ they interrupt, again in unison, pointing toward the door.
So he gladly obeys, takes his girlfriend’s hand, walks out of the airport, and after waiting five minutes gets in an Uber. It’s a brand new Mazda 3. The driver’s a chainsaw sculpting, beret sporting former radical from a country that doesn’t exist yet, he says. Bullshit, Pete thinks, while smiling broadly.