Friday, April 3, 2009

Sleeping alone on a landmine

One of my skills - if I can be arrogant enough to say I have any skills other than the ability to unfreeze an IPOD - is an ability to say meaningful things about netball games without paying attention. A simple comment about over officious umpiring used to do it, and if the opposition team had a big stocky monster, a massively thighed Goal Defence with hair in a pony tail and a skirt that doubled as a cape, you could simply say her size advantage made the game unfair. This is almost entirely from my year watching my girlfriend play netball - when I should have been looking for work obviously, and sometimes when I was meant to be at work - on windy days at Creek Road in Moonah. Sometimes I would take a stroll to the video store and smoke a cigarette, sometimes I would go to the putt putt golf course or mill around Harris Scarfe trying not to be given into trouble by fat security guards. Mostly though I would sit on a bench wondering why girlfriends team wore such horrible yellow and green uniforms, and talking to other bored boyfriends or life partners - I think we were just starting to be corrected on the use of lesbian around 1999, certainly at uni - about life in general. I think I probably exaggerated my abilities in life at that point, I'm sure I said there was a screenplay in my knapsack and a song in my heart, but there was one guy called Jeff, who was always trying to claim he was the boyfriend of the hottest girl in the team when in fact he was the boyfriend of someone who was a little less hot - this is looks wise, Moonah in mid June, no one is hot, even if they busked as a fire-eater - and who would constantly tell us sub Del Boy stories about how he was about to go straight to the top. The stillness of those games, the cold and the ill informed conversation and the poetic ennui sweeping in from the hot dog stand could make you feel like time, like your life, had ground desperately to a halt. My girlfriend, a super competitive person who was highly driven to turn the clash of the green and yellow skirted someones against the blue and blue skirted somethings into a Wrestlemania worthy contest, would always try and win in spite of her less talented team-mates, and her voice would resonated around the court and pierce the stillness. I wonder sometimes if she ever looked up to me for support and I was reading in the Herald Sun a Fred Bassett comic or a Mike Sheahan article about Australian Rules Football and got upset. She never mentioned it, but the saddest and weariest I ever saw her was one day when I looked up from the paper or from Jeff telling me that his girlfriend really was the hot model one - look Jeff, she's gay, we all know that - and the game had finished, her team-mates were already scattering to the pub, and she had taken it upon herself to collect some stray netballs. I looked up, most of the people had gone around me, and she must have known that I wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to the game and I didn't even know if the game had ended or who had won. Even though it was from a distance, I knew that I had made some kind of tactical error, and a chill went right through me even before I could mouth a very weak good hustle or some kind of platitude, and she went right back to collecting the balls without changing expression. She always looked incredibly beautiful in those moments when I realised she was right and I was wrong, but I never found the right way to tell her. I thought perhaps over effusive praise of her meatballs was enough, but somehow it never was, and when I saw Jeff one day by the side of the road wearing a Dominos sandwich board, it was my loss, not hers, that we couldn't share his misfortune together...

Those Saturdays were never pretty for me. They were good in the sense that if you believed as I did that you were bit of a tortured and misunderstood poet, that life and fates had conspired against you, watching old women run around playing netball in the rain felt like quite the conspiration, if that's even a word. Out of necessity sometimes our post match analysis would take place in the grim strains of the towns McDonalds. If the Austudy people stuffed up and put money in my account we would splash out on the towns bakery, an award winning bakery that would one day win, er, awards for it's Reggie from Big Brother biscuits. One day my girlfriend was queueing idly for her Big Mac and some girls from another team began sort of having a go at her for the fact their team beat her team. It was probably something of a relationship high point that I told them to fuck off, and they did, and we had a lovely day having a go at them back while the fitfully and nervously ate their chips as quickly as they could until they rushed out. Most of my times in McDonalds involve my Dad, Fathers Days mornings where we eat pancakes and he has to wait endlessly for his specially cooked McMuffin that takes a Kevin Rudd style tantrum to get cooked. Those mornings are easy, light hearted conversation about sport, easy banter, the occasional tantrum, then a drive home, but that's lovable old Kingston, with it's lovable old familiarity and it's lovable old old people who don't know quite how to use their indicator. Moonah never felt comfortable, and nor did the conversation. But the thing is, I'm sure there were games when she won and I had money and people were stupid and we laughed at them and then smoked and drank and played ATARI and talked about art, but I can't remember them. Not easily. Not until I've had my early morning pancakes, and talked to my Dad about Paisley and got into a relaxed frame of mind. Anxiety to me breeds anxious thoughts, and Dad and his silly face as he mutters about getting an egg when he didn't want an egg, like he wouldn't get his pudding if he didn't eat his meat, is the perfect relaxant for any aspiring thought composer, never mind one suffering from flu who can only think of bad things otherwise...

Anyway, the point is that I can never objectively go to the town of Moonah and think positive things about it. It's a place of strangely dark mid mornings in my mind, a place of silence and mood changes and helplessness. It's not Moonahs fault of course, they certainly did design their video store with a car park specifically designed to make the bored seem even more miserable. Just happened that way. It's probably apt that when we went on a morale boosting work trip to play putt putt golf we couldn't play the 18th - a testing lie with a steep uphill slope - because, how can I put this, someone had left a bodily function near the hole. Their precision was admirable. The night descended into further chaos because a Scottish guy - why is it always a Scottish guy - demanded a particular type of milk and in the single minded pursuit of getting him some milk everyone else had to hang as they grew waiting for their own food. I never got that hedgehog slice by the time anarchy descended on the group and we were forced to march out as a protest en masse. Even though In fact, that putt putt course, as far as I can tell, is a victim of my eternal mindset in this place, because the 2nd time I went there, I threw my putter away in a terrible huff and was left to play about 3hree holes of catch up on my own behind my own playing group in the rain while an attractive but bogany girl stood with hands on hips, her hair streaked with highlights and attitude as she impatiently waited for me to play through. I pushed my hands through my hair and cursed Moonah indignantly as my little yellow ball lipped out of the cup time and time again until I cheated and stormed off to my car with the putter thrown in the boot. I've still got it. Sorry putt putt course. It makes up for the lack of a hedgehog slice. I'm so sensitive to the history of a place when I'm in it, I wish I could turn my brain off and just wander around, like a normal person, but of course, I can't do it. All it takes is one damn breeze, just one little damn breeze to remind me of all those wasted moments, all those black Saturdays, all those damn weekdays smoking outside the video shop. And it never seems to stop whenever I drive through there. Even with the windows wound up, it still finds me, still runs up my spine. It was only the other day that I realised I had the same kind of huff in the same town, but playing ten pin bowling...maybe I'm just crap at sports...actually if you've seen me throw a javelin, you'd know it really is just me...

The first fight we ever had, I slept on the couch. I could have slept in the attic and played ATARI all night long, but it felt like a more apt punishment for whatever my offence was. After an Artificial Joy Club lyric, I used to say such punishment was sleeping alone on the landmine, since banishment to the couch would require plenty of thinking time until she exploded and got it out of her system. After a while of tossing and turning and not being able to adjust the rabbit ears television antenna to pick up whatever late night sport C7 was running at 3 in the morning, I went for a long walk around Moonah. My impressions of the place weren't, as you have read, very positive even then. I kept walking, through the cold, hands in the pockets of my little denim jacket - hey, looking suave unemployed boy - head down, past some drunks and some bus drivers knocking off for the night, one of whom may have hit on me but a 3am booty call with a Metro driver in Moonah would definitely have been rock bottom, or as the bus driving community call it here in Tasmania, the school run to Warrane. I kept walking for ages, with a clear head, just out of boredom, frustration and having nowhere else to go. I could hardly go back to Mum and Dads, and cop another lecture about all this wasted beauty - mental beauty - that I was frittered away. I couldn't go back to the couch because I was freezing and fidgety and wide awake. So I walked until the sun came up, up and down, down and up, past the same drunks, past the same horny bus driver, past the same drunks, past McDonalds, past the NAB bank, got on first name terms with the drunks...it was hardly a memorable road trip, but it at least cleared the head a little bit. Since the only thing open was a late night pub, I got her a bottle of wine - which was a step up on my normal contribution of milk and bread - and left it on the table when I got back at some random time mid morning, feet absolutely aching and throbbing and the shoe leather down to littlest Hobo proportions, before I took off to some pointless job interview where I wore a suit and said I had all the attributes they wanted and my tie choked me and I knew that the brother of the interviewer would get the job anyway. She never really thanked me for the wine - as I've said, it wasn't our style - but that night, my dinner got tremendously complimented. And when we watched whatever current affairs program was in vogue at the time and bagged out the presenters hair, it was possible to forget all the troubles in the world around a plate of tepidly cooked chips washed down by the best wine a 3am pay packet could buy...

For Moonah, and for me, especially in 1999, it was as good as it got...

6 comments:

the projectivist said...

i'll be frank with you, Miles.
i'm not liking the sounds of ANY of these girls. the ones in your stories i mean. are there ANY nice ones? just give me a heads up. will there be a nice one appearing any time soon?

also?
what on earth does your dad request on his McMuffkin? (an aside. that is not a typing error.)

i bet you'd chuck a right hissy fit when i beat you at Wii hoola hoops.

Baino said...

I've spent many an hour on the sidelines of a netball court and totally understand where you're coming from. The most exciting part was being asked to cook chips in the canteen! It's weird how places take on their own force through the experiences we have in them. I hate Parramatta for much the same reason. Or maybe it's because the place really is druggiefied, homeless person's paradise.

squib said...

Ah, fine writing yet again, Miles you clever person you. Took me back to my Goal Attack days. I don't think there's any position better than GA

I thought perhaps over effusive praise of her meatballs was enough

LOL!!

sparsely kate said...

Oh I love your posts. It's like going on a bit of a journey with you, like I was there at the netball courts and getting in trouble off your girlfriend as well..you write so I can picture pretty much everything. I love that.

Kettle said...

My post-argument activity of choice was driving around Canberra at 3am in my little Datsun 1200, freezing, but it was better than staying still and thinking. Moonah and Canberra sound a little the same :)

I never had to suffer through the agony of netball, though!

Miles McClagan said...

I don't know, they all have their moments surely? That relationship was pretty bad, but good in a way, it just wasn't what you could would call easy. Dad on his muffins asks for a Sausage and egg McMuffin without cheese - it's a nightmare! I'm a gun on Wii Boxing, I know that...no fits there!

Netball just seems so boring to me. If I had to watch Netball all year my mind would wander all over the place. I've never cracked the sanctity of the chip canteen though I did sell some team fund raising buttons. And yeah, it's not Moonahs fault so much as mine, although the bakery is pretty up itself!

I was Goal Keeper in my meaningless stint playing mixed netball, all I had to do was punch the ball! Easy! Her meatballs were good, I was praising from truth!

That one was hard to write, because I took myself back there! Having to think about goal attacks, nightmare!

Yeah, you can't beat the 3am wander be it in a car or walking around. It's good for a poetic soul! You are lucky you didn't have to suffer netball - I saw girls who shouldn't wear skirts, believe me!