1987 was the year of Dirty Dancing, Lost boys and Nightmare on Elm Street. It was the year Robin Williams screamed Good Morning Vietnam and the term bunny boiler was coined from Fatal Attraction.
’87 was the year Ben Mendelsohn debuted in The Year my Voice Broke and when Scott and Charlene were married to the serenade of Angry Anderson singing Suddenly.
How I looked at Ramsay Street with unadulterated envy.
My street was nothing like that. I’m not sure that everybody needed a neighbour in our little stretch. Just a friendly wave each morning, helps to make a better day, next door is only a footstep away. Are you humming it yet?
When I was a kid, Mum would give me all of the 1 and 2 cent coins in the house in a little bag to go down and get things from the corner shop. It wasn’t far. Just at the end of my street, but it was the adventure of a lifetime every time.
Walking past the scary old guy on the corner was freaky, he would just sit there staring into nothingness, but his ability to urinate into the garden and spit meaner than a pissed off donkey was impressive. I often wondered what he was looking at, and I am not going to lie, his wiry white hair and grunting made me nervous. You just couldn’t trust a grown-up who could spit like that; it wasn’t natural.
The next stretch was the empty block with very long grass.
Now if you grew up in the Australian countryside, a block with long grass on a hot summer day could spell trouble. A small rustling sound in the dry husks could signify an early demise, for surely it was a brown snake or a red belly black ready to have a feed and snuff you out. Thankfully I was skin and bone, not much to eat. Too bony and crunchy for the likes of a Joe Blake. Even so, I could recall how quickly the adults jumped during Friday night drinks when one slithered in under the bar stools. You could understand my nervous hesitation.
Melting bitumen was the order of the day, the stuff that made your thongs tacky (melting rubber), with heat hovering over it like an invisible man hologram. Man, that was a hot potato, do you remember going to the local pool and having to hot step it with wet feet on hot concrete? Yeah, exactly. Ouch.
Then there were the hoons.
Young men amped up with testosterone and P-plates, armed with their dole money chucking laps in their Toranas or Datsuns with White Snake pumping out of the cassette decks like an audio bomb. This was no Bose finesse doof doof folks. This was Uncle Mick’s old Clarion tape deck with second-hand Alpine speakers, wires gaffa taped to the carpet. Rockin soul right there.
They would yell things out, awful things I didn’t know what they meant. Later I did, and they should have had their mouths washed out. Uncouth Youth of the other side of the tracks.
The ticker of front lawns sprinklers with garden gnomes standing sentry would guard my path.
Eventually, I worked out that I needed a distraction.
I found myself impersonating my idol, the mentor of my life and the keeper of my dreams and ambitions Jana Wendt. Good grief the woman was a shitstorm in a teacup. Nicknamed the perfumed steamroller by her male counterparts, I had never seen anything like her. She was so smart, she had an excellent vocabulary and got to interview lots of interesting people. Her curly questions to men were the best bits. Kids watched He-man, I watched Jana. During the Fitgerald inquiry, her ability to break down to the facts and cut through BS was dynamite. I had no idea what the Fitgerald inquiry was about, the only Fitzgerald’s I knew was Fitzy’s, the local supermarket. But she was better than scrunchies and Debra Harry, she was smart, and she got to ask cool questions.
So I would copy her mannerisms, tilt my head in a certain way, practise my voice pitch, my look of serious contemplation and oh yesses, yes of courses, and I understand and interview the world’s greatest. One time I was interviewing Muhammad Ali about the San Diego bust-up, and I would often have fascinating in-depth discussions with Michael Jackson and his opinion about Jacques Chirac’s deal to open a new Disney in France. MJ was the expert on amusement parks. I longed to meet his chimp and get the moonwalk- slight- heel turn spot on. This was the icing on the cake for a future author/ballerina/news anchor.
There was one time the year before, and my then step-father gave my cousin of awesomeness and me the task of going to the tuckshop to get supplies of some nature.
All he could find was a one-dollar note. This cousin of mine was the Joan of Arc to my Jana. Fearless and mighty she could give sass to a grown-up at 200 paces. Now kids, back in those days a one-dollar note was 100 of those 1 cent coins, and a 1 cent coin could buy a lolly. We entered with the clang of the shop bell, the sugary hot chip and newspaper scent greeting us. A slight glint of the sun outside illuminated the glass case to our right. Heaven descended upon us, a case filled with treasures of musk sticks, bananas, caramel drops and sherbert bombs, milky bottles and Big Boss cigars.
Three things happened simultaneously so fast it was breathtaking, my cousin Kelly reminded me of our secret cousin nod, that we possessed the ability at that moment to purchase ONE HUNDRED OF THEM, the shopkeeper asked “ What do you kids want?” like a Scooby-Doo classic, and my mouth watered. It was a trinity of circumstance out of my control.
All thoughts for fulfilling our quest for my step-father’s goodies evaporated quicker than you could say chocolate freckle. We bought a paper bag so large we could barely hold it. I cannot remember if I ever got into trouble, the memories must have been overcome with Jube Hallucinations. The rebellious joy of it was almost too much to handle.
The joy of the one-cent coin never appealed to the shopkeepers, and I could never work out why.
On my interview walks by myself, carrying the big heavy bag of treasure, bypassing hoons and snake-infested paddocks, I would cross the last path of fear. Jumping the cracks in the footpath and ignoring the Magpies as they sharpened their beaks on the branches like Samurais sharpening lethal swords. There was a house with The DOG. A big brown fence was the only thing keeping me away from a Rottweiler the size of Kong. He didn’t care that I was an 11-year-old bag of bones, he wanted to eat me. You could literally hear his foamy spit. Have you heard spit before? Between old mate over the road and the Rottweiller, it was a freakin spit parade. So I would pretend he was Joh Bjelke Petterson and I would give him a Jana -what for’ as I ran a stick across the fence.
At the shop, the lady would look at me and smile with an “oh poor love” look. She must have recognized my frustration at being a Pulitzer prize winner in an 11-year old’s body stuck in the Bronx.
Flash-forward 30 years later, and childhood is a vast haze a whole dimension away from conscious thought. A family has been created. Some brain surgery, many near-death moments, a few strokes, some blindness, 160 staples, a few bolts and plates, some recovery, a scattering of seizures and the survival resilience of a cockroach…
Then it happened.
I was sitting in my office and doing a phone interview with Prof. Fiona Wood. I was interviewing this terrifically skilled human who not only saves lives but is the Marie Curie of scar technology in the world. The world! Gosh moment I can tell you.
About ¾ of the way through, Fiona told me something incredibly witty and funny, and it must have been the tilt of my head with an aha-combo and a ‘yes I see” response that caused it. I am not entirely sure. Still, suddenly I was transported back into the moment of crack-jumping, snake avoiding, Jana interviewing Thug Life. My apprenticeship worked, it happened. I realized that at that moment, I was holding in my hands a dream realized, and it was bloody amazing.
Jana Wendt if you are out there somewhere: you are my hero and rescuer from White Snake ballads and $2.50 worth of hot chips in 1 cent pieces.
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