Monday, November 24, 2008

18 and (friends for) life



It's not often I have to set foot in my local library anymore - I had my fill of the local library when I was unemployed, enough flirtacious conversations with single mothers, run ins with thin skinned Aboriginal home boys when a computer came free and ten minute time limits to write an e-mail. The one in Kingston used to have quite a depressing little computer about the size of an Atari Lynx where you could punch in your details and look for jobs, which was just fundamentally depressing as you would wonder how your life ended up like this, sitting on a plastic bucket seat while a flannel shirted nicotine junkie paced up and down impatiently behind you, wondering whether a career in butchery was for you. There's none of that kind of despair in this library though, that's all in the bus mall where fat girls in tight black T-shirts with skinny husbands wearing smaller versions of the same band on their chest coated in stubble and a poor grasp of the English language push soon to be despairing kids back and forth in a pram. As it happens, this local library is calm and sedate, but what interested me today was a new batch of school leavers jumpers. Every November at the end of a Tasmanian school year you see a new batch of blue or green or white or yellow rugby tops out and about with a humourous nickname imprinted across the back in big letters - the wearers of these rugby tops, as today where three boys all in blue sat trying to hide their illegal searches from the not really that bothered librarian, a feeling that can only be replicated by feeling excessively guilty buying porn from a newsagents and looking shifty, are very rarely spotted on their own, they move together in their social groups, all dressed exactly the same in their school leavers jumpers, completely unaware that the shifting passages of time, the drift away from home and the rich experience that is being dumped into the room of a share house and watching your parents drive away will render their friendships as past experiences. I know that we all hugged each other and said we'd be there for you (it was very popular at the time) and then one day we weren't, and my nickname on the back of my tattered leavers rugby top just stopped meaning anything one day. The librarian eventually wanders over to make up an excuse that their time is up, out of a sense that, while looking up bikini clad models isn't anything that scandalous, it is making the old lady sitting next to them learning painfully key by key to type the word "dear", just in case she progresses to e-mail some time in the next year, uncomfortable. They slink off, giving the computer to another grey haired one finger typist, leaving behind a Kathy Ireland print out on the computer, a story to remember that only they know, and laugh without ever knowing that the time they have together, by definition of their leavers tops, is ever shortening...meh, Marion Raven on the IPOD always makes me cynical...

When I had my school leavers top in mint condition, several million bottles of water ago, I was a young and nervy eighteen year old with a weary air of cynicism and a job washing big silver trays at a popular supermarket. Every Tuesday night I'd go to indoor rock climbing at another schools gym and me and my friends would crawl through a secret tunnel to a secret little room that used to belong to the janitor and sit and play cards and gossip about everyone. One night, I dutifully walked in having inevitably been rained on by Burnies changeable weather (it was either rain or heavy rain - like I said, variable) and suddenly everyone stopped talking. I knew something was wrong when people took an interest in rock climbing. I mean, no one other than this completely ace kid called Nick, the one who scientifically disproved personal jinx, ever went to rock climbing to climb the bloody wall. I thought perhaps some sort of secret shame had been uncovered, that maybe I wasn't as big a fan of The Eels as I made out or that my secret crush on the librarian had been discovered...but it didn't take much to work out that my friends were planning a surprise party for me. That it didn't take much was down to a girl called Lara, who I only otherwise remember for some incriminating photos of her and a blow up sex doll that were posted on the school notice board, just underneath my request to sell some CDs (no one rang), and her giant coke bottle glasses. Lara asked me, as everyone else looked like the board of Enron and whistled idly that they knew nothing, when my party was. Now, I should say I have a morbid latenight fear about throwing a party and having no one turn up - so obviously there was no way I would have thrown a party - therefore, gasp, everyone was throwing me a surprise party for my 18th birthday. I shrugged meekly at Lara and said that I wasn't having a party, at which point she turned around and looked at one of my friends and said something akin to I thought you said you were throwing him a party...at which point Nick hit her with a basketball accidentally on purpose from the top of the rock climbing wall. I don't think it's an understatement to say that I was incredibly moved, after all I'd just gone through roughly three years of friendless summers while everyone around me dropped the fri from that feeling, and I didn't want to blow it by telling everyone that I knew or that I knew that they knew or that I had wanted to stay in that night and watch an episode of Friends...it was probably one of the few times in my life I've been genuinely and completely happy. After all, I had friends, I had a social life, and now I had my very own party...what they don't know, since I liked to maintain an enigmatic image, is that I went down to the janitors room for some quiet time to sit and take it all in, how touched and happy I was...and to steal the Belinda Carlisle poster out of the room...amazing no one ever noticed it was gone...

The party itself was at someones house and it was secondary the quality of the party, which was obviously an incredibly mid 90s affair where everyone put on the Rembrants and drank West Coast Coolers and put on VHS tapes and then sat drinking watching Rage and pretending they were drunk when they really weren't and then someone would put on Spiderbait and pretend that they really understood the deeper meaning to Old Man Sam at which point someone would say they preferred Regurgitator and a big argument would break out, especially if someone said Spiderbait had a better chance to break America. My friend James, the one I last saw selling drugs out of his living room at 9 in the morning, was so faux drunk all anyone had to say was green dog and he'd start giggling and making stories up about the green dog (which, I'm sure if he typed them, would be properly paragraphed) and it's adventures. Eventually, the party stopped being about me, since I think it was mostly held to try and get me drunk and when I was eighteen I could have drunk petrol by the gallon and still been sober enough to discuss rational economics. As the tape deck rolled on with approved music that only I liked and everyone chatted, I realised this really was as good as life could get...which alarmed me, since I'm a cynic at heart, but I let my momentary moment of unease pass because I was genuinely happy and because there was a Bananarama clip on Rage. My presents were stacked up in a little pile in the corner of this girls house, a house seeming entirely made of oak, and I remember distinctly thinking that the party was grinding to a halt at one point and trying to get a dancing competition going but no one seemed to be biting. I then tried to show everyone the dance steps to Everybody Gonfi Gon, by Two Cowboys, but again everyone seemed to be more interested in the antics of whichever bunch of scruffy indie herberts were picking the film clips on Rage that night (preliminary research indicates it was possibly Custard). When I was of that age, I was quite an emotional and moody person, so had this state of perpetual battle between dance and non dance continued, I may very well have chucked a bit of a mental and stormed out of my own party, but luckily, there was some sanity in the room (mental sanity, not a popular CD store of the same name). Her name was Kylie, and like the guardian angel that she always was, she took me by the arm, smiled, and said "no one wants to Gonfi Gon" and lead me outside, so that we could for a nice calming walk...she wouldn't even let me kick over a West Coast Cooler in disgust, which was a bit mean...

Kylie and I used to always go for walks around the school. She was a really cynical girl who just seemed to dislike everyone at the drop of a hat, so for me with the mentality that I had when I was eighteen she was fantastic to know. Our friendship was pretty much entirely based on walking I think, so given my lack of physical fitness it wasn't built to last, but we had many deep philosophical conversations. This walk was a really long one though, through what I consider in my drunken everybody Gonfi Gon mindset to have been a jungle or a forest but which in reality was probably just some shrubs in Mrs McGlumphers garden when we took a short cut. Eventually she showed me a small replica wooden boat in the middle of a park, somewhere in Burnie that I never went again. So, with so much effort invested in the pursuit of a monument, we sat in opposite ends of the little wooden boat replica, got out some cigarettes and had a conversation that I wish I could remember. I know that the stars were incredibly bright, I know the sky was incredibly dark, I know we were unbothered by public vagrants, which was a bonus in Burnie, but the words that came out, well, I know they were meaningful, but I can't remember the context without being that person again. It's one of the few conversations I wish I had listened to more closely, because it meant a lot to me and I never really told her that. What I do know is that as the sun came up and before I realised that I probably should go to work at some point pretty soon and that neither of us knew where the hell we were is that the conversation turned to what we were going to with our lives - she was much more adult that I was, she had plans and ambitions, and I had a Tickle Me Elmo and a PHD in Kick Off on the Amiga. So I didn't know, I winged it, I made something up about law and mumbled something about moving to Hobart and she said she was moving there too, and all this good stuff that we'd always be friends and everyone else was a dickhead except for us two...just as the new day revealed the beauty of Burnie through the blooming of flowers and the stirring of homeless people, she passed me one last cigarette, congratulated me on my maturity, and smiled as she got out of the boat wearily and said "You know, I think I'm going to ask Mark out..."

And with that one sentence began the process by which we all ended up shipwrecked...

12 comments:

the projectivist said...

i liked her up until she said that.
bloody cheek!

ps. please would you post a picture of yourself doing the Gonfi Gon dance?

Helen said...

Wow, I wish I'd had someone to take me walking when I was 18 and upset. Even if it all ended in tears...

To tell the truth, I kind of stepped out of school, threw the jacket in a corner of my room and never looked back. There were friends that I think of occasionally (and thanks to Facebook, poke occasionally) but I think for most people, 18 (17 in my case) is a time better forgotten.

Unless you're one of those people who loved high school and spend the rest of their lives trying to recover the feeling of safe and comfortable popularity, until they get married, have 2.4 kids and live vicariously through them until THEY finish high school...

This is pure conjecture of course, I'm sure people like that don't really exist.

Miles McClagan said...

I know, and what a series of consequences it set up! And not hilarious consequences, which are my favourite kind...sigh...as for the Gonfi Gon Dance, maybe one day, I'll have to dig out my tapes of Now 42 and see what I can still muster....

I know, she was a great friend...I miss her. I'm like that now, or at least I was until I started blogging! I left school and kept in touch with everyone for exactly 12 months then it, by necessity, was onwards and upwards. I would hate to still have them as friends like it was, I'd feel there was something grander out there! That's just me, restless either way!

Jannie said...

Evey time you mention Burnie, I can't help but thinking "Weekend at Bernie's."

Here the homeless, and evey one, gets a full hour on library computer and when the 60 mins is up the screen goes bland and the next in queue gets on.

Happy 18th belatedly!

Quickroute said...

I'm only in touch with 1 friend from high school although facebook has been changing that recently

Megan said...

What happened to the Belinda Carlisle poster?

Miles McClagan said...

On the infamous Billy Connolly gig in Burnie, he said it sounded like when used to put his hands on the stone and yelled "Burnie Burnie!" in pain...Weekend at Bernies is sensational...what a film...Kingston is a little more democratic, you just get yelled at by a librarian and if no one wants the computer, you can sit there all day!

Ah, Facebook....it'll get me one day...I only use it for stalking gently...looking at peoples babies is strange...people who last I saw puking and smashing windows....

It's on the wall...next to the St Mirren calendar, the Britney calendar and the horribly out of date poster of Charmed...

Pink Ink said...

Love the Atari detail and could feel the depression of the job search :-). I've wandered the library during the day...but I should look more closely at the cast of characters.

Your post makes me want to visit your part of the world just so I could listen to people tell stories like you do :-)

Baino said...

Interesting. I was in a relationship with someone who didn't go to my school at 18 so kind of lost touch. Saturday, I'm going to an old school mate's 52nd. Guaranteed to be a reunion of sorts . . I want to go but then I want to remember them as they were . . .and they to remember me as I was . .Frank Neitchke did the same thing to me on the swings in Turon Avenue . .3 hour D & M then asked someone else out. Ah well . .

Miles McClagan said...

It's definitely quite depressing looking for work, especially with that little tiny computer...it wasn't as cool as the Lynx, but it was awful...the worst was definitely when I had to go and sit in the cult where eventually I found out the job was going to sell knifes! That day was not a proud one!

What's the point of a 3 hour D&M if you don't get a pash at the end! It's wrong I tells ya! I dread to think of going back to see everyone at a re-union...I'll tell them all they are good for literary musings, that'll be good!

Kris said...

Rosny Library = bees knees.

School leavers tops = a sad indictment.

West Coast Cooler = a lost friend.

Miles McClagan said...

I must admit, I really like the indifference of the librarians in Rosny...in Kingston, they try and help too much! My leavers top, probably with West Coast Cooler down the front, is long ago in the bin...thankfully!