Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy Australia Day

By Bub

It was Australia Day this week in Australia, and everywhere else I suppose. For the first and hopefully only time in my life, I was in Australia for Australia Day. I thought I would ask Real Australians what Australia Day meant to them so I could paint you an oral picture like one of the boring-er segments on This American Life where they have a bunch of people say their piece on a certain subject. Then my Depression flared up and I decided I couldn’t interact with other human beings. I should point out my Depression isn’t real and only ‘flares up’ when the outside world refuses to conform to my delusions of self-grandeur. So, I didn’t get the Australia Day article that I wanted to present to you, dear readers, and I apologize for that. But then I realized a couple things. First, I am not only allowed to ask Australians about Australia Day on Australia Day – I can still do that any day I choose. And I will. So I take back my apology and nullify your acceptance of it. Second, I realized that if you ask people what a certain holiday means to them, their response will inevitably be colored by their own experiences and especially ones that they have had on that certain holiday. For example Christmas = presents, snow, pine-trees, vicious family arguments, etc. And since I am only going to be privy to one Australia Day, I am in a position to tell you precisely what Australia Day means to me. And that is it what I plan to do.

My wife Mary had to work on Australia Day so it was just me and my 3-year-old daughter Iris. I wanted to show her what Australia Day was, even though I didn’t really know myself. When I described it to my Grandmother I told her it was like the 4th of July, except there was no war and no… independence. Since Australia is still ‘dependent’ on Mother England it might make sense to celebrate the ‘discovery’ of Australia by Captain Cook, or the first day of nationhood. But in reality Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the first fleet of convicts from England. So it is less analogous to Independence Day or even Columbus Day but more like celebrating the day the first slaves arrived in America. This is a concept so dispiriting that recently crowned ‘Australian of the Year’ Mick Dodson suggested that the date be changed. For me though, Australia Day is and always will be January 26th the day the spawn-seed of Ned Kelly, Yahoo Serious and Heath Ledger arrived on the banks of Sydney Harbor.

Mary had seen an advertisement for an Australia Day free-concert featuring a performer similar in appearance to Hank Williams III singing patriotic and ethnocentric, celebratory songs. This sounded like Australia Day to me. So I had planned on taking Iris to bear witness that the US is not the only place on Earth where an asshole in a cowboy hat can become famous by singing songs with very simple narratives about day-to-day life in a ‘small-town’ and extolling outmoded ideas of morality.

We took the tram into City late in the afternoon but in plenty of time to catch the concert. As it happened, Mary was turning the corner to catch the tram home after work as we got off to head toward where I thought the concert was. We ran into her and she fed us old pasties that were leftover from work and gave me a warm bottle of Coke Zero. I was grateful. Luckily she pointed out that the concert was nowhere near where I was going and was actually in a suburb that was so far away that it would be over by the time we got there by public transportation. Adelaide is a major world city. Or at least it keeps telling itself that. But generally everything that ever happens there takes place within the 5 square kilometers of downtown. So naturally I thought ‘take the tram downtown, and you’ll just sort of run in to it.’ Not so.

Instead I took Iris to play at the nearest park. It wasn’t a park exactly; there were no play-things to speak of. It was more of a sculpture garden. But it was hot and there weren’t many playgrounds in downtown Adelaide and she could climb on the sculptures if she wanted. So she did. And it was fun. There was a giant sandal and a giant fish skeleton and a giant fire hose. It was a pretty obtuse theme. Iris couldn’t figure it out.

Iris had to potty. Thankfully, there was a ‘public toilet’ at the park’s edge. What I was not prepared for was that this toilet was a retired superconductor composed only of airtight chambers and stainless steel. I pressed the button on the men’s room and a sheet of metal slid open revealing something that the only fitting adjective that could be used to describe it would be ‘dystopian’. This was the bathroom where murdererous robots would relieve themselves in the next millennium. There was no lid to the toilet seat, just one flowing piece of steel. It was so hot inside once the door slid shut that a puddle immediately formed at my feet comprised of my own sweat and multifarious specimens of strangers’ urine. Against her protests, I held Iris up, suspended a foot above the toilet and told her to ‘pee now, or pee not at all.’ She peed. Unfortunately she peed all over my arm in the process. She finished and I set her down searching frantically for a sink. I stuck my hands into a crevice in the wall that housed some kind of basin underneath. I became leery when no water shot out. I grew even more suspicious when I couldn’t find a soap dispenser. Then I realized that I was trying to wash my hands in the urinal. There was no sink that I could find and it had become so hot that Iris was dizzy and I was having trouble breathing. We exited hastily, and I poured the remaining Coke Zero all over my arms to wash off the pee. That just made things worse. By this time groups of Emo kids had congregated around the periphery of the park. This reminded me of what I had read of Mexico City, except that there was no one there to bash in their heads. When I observed a couple engaged in what appeared to be the act of fellatio I decided it was time for Iris and I to go. We stopped at a McDonald’s and got some ice cream. It was nice.

On the way back to the tram I witnessed the only ostensibly ‘Australia Day’ behavior that I would come across this year. A drunk vagrant ran up to two young African girls and shouted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” He paused, waiting for them to return with “Oy, Oy, Oy!” But instead all he got was frozen looks from people more accustomed to being mugged than being victims of random acts of patriotism. The vagrant was disappointed and explained to them how they were supposed to finish the patriotic chant. They looked confused. Finally one of the girls stuck her hand into her purse to retrieve a two-dollar piece and then extended it out in the direction of the vagrant. “Well, Happy Australia Day to you...” the Vagrant said, now himself confused, as he accepted the money.

We then passed two teenage, bikini-clad, girls trying to catch a pigeon in a card-board box. I didn’t have the stomach to see if they succeeded. Then we walked by a juggler who only had chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil in his donation hat.

On the tram home Iris was tired and cranky. I overheard one side of a bizarre cell-phone conversation.

“Look, she posted those pictures on Facebook not me. I don’t know why you think I have anything to do with any of it.”

“That’s fine, but you’ve got two kids and you shouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff anyway.”

“Well, I’m not the one that … (unintelligible)… a fish with a funnel! That’s sick stuff!”

She got hung up on.

So that’s Australia Day. Mine was Merry. I hope yours was as well!

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