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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Deputy Principal's Cat

Education and schooling were critically important to my parents, and have since become critically important to me. These days I can appreciate learning for learning’s sake (which is one of my excuses for doing pretty much bugger all with my teaching degree), the joy of books (explaining the great dusty slabs waiting for me on my bedside table), the power of rational, informed thinking and the value of being able to make oneself understood through the efficient use of correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Granted, I’m about as useful with mathematics as Anna-Nicole Smith, but you can’t know everything.

My father was involved with our school’s P&C association, and once even invited our sixth-grade teacher to a barbecue at our house. He was no stranger to our teachers, and my brother and sister and I were happy to let him get as involved as he liked because we didn’t know any different and subsequently wouldn’t have it any other way. We were all more than ready to start school by the time we did, as our education had already begun at home. Riotous spelling bees around the dinner table were a frequent occurrence, and child-friendly encyclopaedias lined one wall of the study. A favourite family story has my father fronting up to the headmistress’s office at Mimosa Public School with my then-four-year-old brother Michael, the first of us to nudge institutionalised-education age, to attend a meeting discussing his early start in big-guy school. Dad strode into the office with a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, which he deposited on Miss Davidson’s desk. “He can already read that from cover to cover”, he announced in a cool, matter-of-fact fashion. “He’s here to learn some social skills”. I don’t care if you’re cringing right now. I reckon that’s awesome.

Mum and Dad experimented a little with our pre-school education, sending us to an experimental school called Kinma for a short time. To parents and teachers, Kinma was a progressive, vaguely Steiner-esque co-operative school at which individual needs were addressed through a curriculum of self-directed activities, social interaction and organic progression. To us, it was a place where we learned batik, ran around the ‘drama space’ and made pizza. For some reason, I still have an undying love of pizza, but can’t stand hippies.

By the time we all reached high school, we pretty much had the swing of the whole learning thing. We’re those loathsome people who say that most wretched of things – that we found school easy. My brother found it so frustratingly easy that he sought out his own challenges with a series of self-directed projects, such as tying all the chair legs together in English or sewing a star into his palm in Home Science. I had a reasonable rapport with most of my teachers in high school, being a goody-two-shoes with a pathological desire to impress people, albeit wrapped in a package that shaved parts of her head and went into joyous spasm whenever a new Depeche Mode album was released. One teacher in particular, Mr O’Brien, had met Dad a few times due to his enthusiastic involvement with our school lives, and to my mild embarrassment singled me out in Year Twelve Modern History, mentioning my father a number of times in front of the rest of the class. Mr O’Brien was at one time a terrifying spectre of discipline, and at other times a bit of an oddity who patted the trees in the quad and extremely rarely displayed an awkward sense of humour that nobody understood. If you were ever called into his office, which people often were due to his role as Deputy Principal, you knew you were well and truly busted. He was that one teacher that represented the most dire punishments and the most balefully disapproving glares. I’ll never know if he actually made Modern History either come alive or die a tedious and slow death, because he was the only Modern History teacher I ever had. I spent most of my time in his class being quietly jealous of the kids in Ancient History, who were poring over illustrated texts about blood-soaked gladiators and Bacchanalian bum-orgies while I waded through joyless, dense texts about economic fluctuations and whatever the Luftwaffe was up to.

Because of my parents’ devotion to the getting of book-learnin’, our attendance at school was exemplary. Even on days when most teachers were on strike, and therefore most parents didn’t make their children go to school, off we would go with a packed lunch and an entrenched scowl. We’d wander through the almost deserted halls and attend sparsely-populated classes while teachers (probably) read magazines behind the desk and prompted us to engage in ‘self-directed study’. Everybody had a good old tedious bludge in between bursts of schoolbell.

Except in Modern History class. As I waited outside the door for Mr O’Brien and other students to arrive, I realised with horror that no other students were arriving. I was going to be the only person in the class, a double-period, with a teacher I was equal parts terrified and scared of. Eventually he showed up, uncharacteristically late, and opened the door heavily, indicating that I should take my seat. I noticed that his eyes were red, and briefly wondered if the predictable rumour about him keeping a hip-flask of Scotch in his desk drawer was true.

After fifteen uncomfortable minutes, Mr O’Brien looked at me with his bloodshot eyes and asked if I had a cat. “Um... yes”, I tentatively answered, wondering how that related to the post-war period. He said that he had a cat, too.

Until this morning, when his cat had died.

It dawned on me with considerable globs of doom and desperation that he had been crying. Then, with the urge to sprint away from this desperately uncomfortable situation making my legs twitch, I realised that he was - present tense - crying.

Imagine the most awkward situation you’ve ever been in. Now, put that situation in a vise for a year, mix in a teenager’s inexperience with anything even remotely related to empathy, then talk to a crying deputy principal about his cat for an hour and a half.

There has never, in the history of grossly anxious situations, been a more welcome school bell.

We never spoke of it again.

I passed Modern History.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Every Day For A Year #11

(Not sure what's going on? Catch up on parts 1-10 here. Sure what's going on but haven't seen a cat DJing yet today? This would be your link here.)

Back in Sydney after his international jaunt, Frosty Of The Camera is getting all eclectic and fancy on our arses. Like all good art, this latest batch of photos raises a lot of important questions, which I've answered, in random order, below:

1. Yes, he did.
2. No, he didn't.
3. I don't know, Google it.
4. Definitely, and they're called Sierra Fin. 
5. About fourteen, I think.

Click on each photo to see the detail in glorious monochrome.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Australia's Next Top Westie Scrag Series Seven - No Mess Applicator

Can you smell that?
That faint waft of desperation, menthol cigarettes and polyester in the air?
That, friends, teens and gay men, is the smell of applications for Series 7 of Australia's Next Top Model opening (check it here). And who doesn't love the smell of a model's opening, am I right?
Despite being cruelly overlooked last series, my spirit has not been crushed, and I've already submitted my application for next year.
Applicants are required to provide a photo, and I feel that mine really shows my inner beauty. If the judges can't appreciate the quiet dignity and fashion-forward magnificence of my shot, then clearly the whole thing is rigged, or at least skewed unfairly towards tall, beautiful, young people.

Don't EVEN tell me you're not a little bit aroused right now.

In fact, bugger it - I might start a campaign to ensure that my clear fashion and catwalk dominance isn't ignored in the culling process. I say we start here on the ANTM facebook page, and we'll sort out the street march and intensive letter-writing campaign at a later date. Give me a hand and spread the word - maybe by posting something on the wall, or writing to your local member of parliament. Every little bit helps, and remember - the real winner is mediocrity. And also me.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Everybody's Got A Pretty Friend.

I’m the “funny friend”. Since high school, my best female mates have tended to be jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s almost like I seek out the most obvious threat to my self-esteem, hunt it down and befriend it.

It started with Sharon, my bestie for most of my secondary schooling, not counting the two weeks she didn’t speak to me because she was sick of the way I constantly corrected her pronunciation. She had a point – she’d be telling a perfectly interesting story, and I’d just pipe up intermittently, re-pronouncing an incorrectly uttered word, interruptedly peppering her speech like intensely irritating commas. It’s a habit – nay, a compulsion – that I’ve since grown out of, mostly thanks to Sharon sending me to Coventry for that fortnight. Now I just repeat the correct word silently in my head and keep smiling and nodding. Baby steps.

Sharon was gorgeous in a way that was completely different to the way that most of the other girls at my high school were gorgeous. Our yearly school photos were sprinkled with sheathes of blonde, sun-kissed hair, impossibly slim legs and envy-inducing figures. Sharon was short and petite, with boobs on the generous side, freckles twinkling relentlessly across her face, a great heaving mass of dark curly hair and a dainty, turned-up nose. Of all Sharon’s features, her nose was the biggest source of envy on my part. This was the mid-80s, and elfin wee noses were the solid gold Rolexes of facial features. I would go to bed at night, pinching and squeezing my relatively non-descript but really quite normal proboscis into the shape I thought I wanted, trying to will my cartilage into fashionable submission.

Sharon, my sister Shelley and I had a lot of friends in high school, which was probably surprising in traditional cliquey circles, as we spent more than our allocated time hanging around the art and music rooms. It was (and admittedly still is) the primary and singular priority in my life to be ‘cool’. I can pick where I’m standing in school photos from half a room away with my eyes crossed – I just scan across the picture until I pick out the vague outline of dyed-black, short spiky hair and a sarcastic grin. I modelled each haircut I had carefully after popstars and desperately underground actresses that I deemed imitation-worthy at the time, and got around after school in mostly black, often home-modified outfits. There was a neo-gothic sub-culture at the time, but although I nudged the edges of it occasionally appearance-wise, I didn’t really like their music, and chirpy, bouncy class clowns who could moonwalk pretty well were generally frowned upon in black-lipsticked, artfully depressed circles. We developed our own mini-subculture, getting good marks at school but looking like drop-outs, voraciously devouring music and photography magazines and drawing highly accomplished profiles of pretty boys in the margins of books.

Most of the boys at school were beachy-coloured and got around playing handball in shades of gold and brown. There was a handful of boys who we deemed acceptably cool, and one of them, Jono, attracted my eye purely because he had a pierced ear and wore a Greek fisherman’s hat on mufti school excursions, despite having one German parent and one Bornean one. It was the 80s. Logic was secondary. Jono and I held hands a lot and even kissed once or twice, the cute and intensely embarrassing way that thirteen-year-olds do. The mostly superficial relationship lasted an impressive total of two weeks until it became clear to me that Jono was going out with me to get closer to Sharon. I was pretty intuitive about it, carefully piecing together subtle and obscure clues, like when he said to me “I like Sharon”.

A couple of years later, I was enamoured with a boy called Dave, who was rumoured to have been expelled from his previous school, sported a curly mullet not dissimilar to my main celebrity crush, Michael Hutchence, intense green eyes and a general air of danger. It was the first time I’d experienced the thrill of having a crush on a Bad Boy, and it was truly exhilarating. Add the fact that he played bass guitar, and in retrospect I can see that Dave pretty much paved the way for most of my future crushes over the next twenty years.

Dressed in an out-of-character studded white dress and reeking of hair gel and hormones, I arrived one Wednesday evening at the local youth centre dance to find Dave there in an advanced state of inebriation, obviously because he was cool. We sat for a while in the crowded yard next to the main hall, and he asked me if I would pierce his ear. In my very early teens, being asked to pierce someone’s ear in my mind was tantamount to an offer of marriage. Happily, the hem of my dress was held in place with a safety pin and ice was readily available, so with a hand rendered unsteady by a thumping heart and an unfamiliarity with medical procedures, I clasped ice to his ear while he rested his head in my lap. Having Dave’s tousled curls nestled on my thighs was pretty much the sexual peak of my life at that time, and the fact that the rumour that bloodshed and jewellery were imminent had attracted a small audience. I had it all. I had the head of the cool guy on my lap and the devoted attention of a gaggle of onlookers. I had ice and a safety pin. I had new shoes. I was pretty much living the teenage dream.

The safety pin poked easily through the skin on the front of Dave’s frigid lobe, but became stubborn when I asked it repeatedly and painfully to break through the skin at the back of his ear. Sounds of thrilled disgust were starting to emanate from the audience, almost drowning out the sounds of drunken agony emanating from Dave himself. After a couple of final, desperate, gory stabs, I gave up. Dave sat up in order to start early work on an ear infection, and then told me how much he liked Sharon. I looked down at the depressing spots of blood on my white dress.

Sharon didn’t end up going out with either Jono or Dave. Perhaps out of loyalty to me. Perhaps because she didn’t share the same taste in scruffy, addled miscreants. Perhaps because she ended up realising she was gay, and lives with her girlfriend now. Either way, I feel I’m entitled to feel a little smug. Through her pheromonal destiny, Sharon vindicated the embarrassment and disappointment I felt at the actions of these silly, barely-pubescent boys right where it counts. In the penis.

Although it wasn’t a habit I intentionally cultivated, I continued to befriend, or was the object of befriendment to, some of the planet’s most stunning inhabitants. I easily became accustomed to it, and found my own way of opening doors – a well-placed witty one-liner here, a startling philosophical revelation there – all helped me to keep feeling secure and liked, with dignity and pride intact. Of course, none of those things helped open doors quite like walking through them with a six foot Amazonian friend with a rack you could rest schooners on. But it’s all about balance, see.

Recently I was playing Monopoly with one of my pretty friends, who used to be a model. I landed on a ‘Chance’ square, and she handed me the top card from the pile with her elegant, impossibly long and slender hands. Turning it over, I read “You have won second prize in a beauty competition”

Yeah. No kidding.