A Tasmanian in America
I have seen buildings covered in IMAX screens that keep entire cities in perpetual daylight. I have witnessed men drink wellington boot sized beers and walk off unscathed. I have smelled the piss and vomit and sweat rising from the steamy pavement. I have seen the garbage bags piled high in the streets — and was, like many others, blind to the invisible hands that whisked them away overnight. I’ve crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve heard hang drums play under stone temples.
I’ve seen fat. I’ve seen bone. I’ve seen wealth. I’ve seen homelessness. I’ve seen a McDonald’s more intricately decorated than many Australian churches — with a larger procession of customers to boot. I’ve been ripped off by taxi drivers. I’ve turned down a thousand panhandlers. I’ve shared a smoke with a group of African Americans and never, in my life, been more conscious of the colour of my skin. I’ve walked across the entire city of San Francisco, and stared down death with a steely glimpse over the edge. I’ve been to the Lego shop (12 years too late). I have paced up and down the aisles of a Boeing 747 with numb balls — certain the prolonged sitting had caused a testicular embollism and they’d drop to the floor like two rotten plums at any second. I have feared for my life and the life of my children — before realising, far later than I would have liked, that my vaporiser had leaked in the pressurised cabin, and subsequently my gonads had been steeped in menthol and nicotine for 15 hours. I’ve vowed to quit smoking entierly, then bought friendly-looking, branded packets of cigarettes for the price of one Australian beer. I’ve looked down at towering cities and felt myself shrink into nothingness above them.
I’ve watched, horrified, three semi-naked supermodels on a hotel televsion advertising a ‘Triple bacon cheeseburger with bacon bits and bacon jam’. I sampled hookah flavours like they were fine wines in a hole-in-the-wall ‘emporium’. I pumped hot melted butter onto already-buttered popcorn at a movie theater. I’ve drank ‘Dr Pepper’ from a bucket-sized ‘medium’ cup that took two hands to carry. I’ve been called ‘Sir’, ‘Buddy’, ‘Brother’ and ‘Pal’ in my own language — and presumably countless obscenities in others. I’ve eaten octopus that moved in my mouth. I’ve drank beers in Central Park. I’ve drank beers in jazz bars. I’ve drank beers at a drag show. I’ve drank beers in greasy nightclubs. I drank beers at comedy shows. I drank beers from the mini-fridges of hotel rooms. I’ve drank beers on airplanes. I pissed straight beer. I sweat straight beer. I became beer — touched the commercial, consumer, capitalist God — and I didn’t buy the shirt.
America was (and I presume still is) a strange place. A place that was very nice to visit, but I should never like to return to. The enormous crowds. The endless blaring sirens and car horns. Everything was frantic. One wrong step could end your life. It was like trying to cross a huge chasm on the edge of a razor blade. Even simply buying lunch came with a whole new set of problems. Tipping is yet another confusing emotional roller coaster. There’s no rest. No respite. It was all very fast-paced, intense and hot.
Back in Tasmania we lived a much simpler life. There were no fancy shop fronts, or corpulent chaps with Platinum credit cards, or steam rising from the gutters. There was no steam rising from anything but our breath in the cold air. We had no long summer days or Californian sunshine. Just a year-long biting cold that sucked the very strength from a man till he hadn’t even the might to raise an axe to keep his cabin warm. Though even without fire, we had our comforts. Come Christmas Eve, Pa would suck a peppermint, and all the children from the lane would gather round with their hands outstretched, basking in the glow.
Let me tell you now, if we had a nice sunny day like those Californians promenading on that ‘Pier 39’, we wouldn’t ‘ave been bumbling around stuffing ourselves with crawfish and ice-cream. We’d be out gathering firewood for the stocks, and bark and insects for the larder. There would have been no gallivanting. No PokeMon. No dosey-do, swinging partners by the hand, and ‘Yee-Haw’ing when the rising sun’s a shouting there’s work to be done.
Ay, but when there t’was a fire, t’was a grad affair. All the chiddlers, wrapped snugly in their seal skins. Ma warming a kettle of rat’s milk o’er the ‘arth. Pa so busy with the stoker he didn’ne have any hands left to beat us with. We ‘ad none of those fancy, ladey-da, New York luxuries — television sets; beds that lower with a button; non-related women — but we were happy there listening to Pa’s rough ol’ voice as he smoked his pipe and told us stories of days long since passed.
Ahh m’laddy, those were the days around the glowing fire. Pa’d be careful not to let us too close. No, no — it was his rightful place tending to the coals — and his alone. (But between you an’ me, there was one time when he was so proud of me for finding the neighbour’s lost dog that he let me turn it on the spit right there next to him).
Simple times — but wondrous times. Memorable times.
It’s not about the Play Bunnies — nor the limousines — it’s about the little things in life. Like having the first turn with the bathwater after Ma boiled the copper that month. Or taking the first bite of pork crackling and savouring — in that blissful moment — that you were born a male so your hand in marriage would never be traded for the other tribe’s fattest pig. Or finally getting the bed to yourself now that your sister Mabel was gone.
Those American’s don’t understand that.