Last Saturday night we gathered at Doug's to celebrate his birthday. Boy, it only seems like a year ago that we were celebrating his last one! He'd been a little down during the week - turning 23 can be a chastening reminder of one's mortality - and we were determined to make it a night to remember.
I played my part my rocking up 2 ½ hours late. Not that I didn't have a note from my mum, however. With Melbourne involved in a cut throat semi final against Adelaide I knew there was no way I was going to be able to adequately follow the game and fulfill the role of engaging raconteur and uber-guest at the same time. It was the old pat the tummy while scratching the head dilemma. I couldn't do either task justice by attempting them simultaneously. Thus I promised Doug I'd be there the moment the siren sounded (radio time, not phony delayed coverage TV time); earlier if they were getting pummelled.
As it panned out I ended up leaving home at quarter time. 40 points down and I hated the world with a frightening vehemence. If there'd been a World Trade Centre on the way to East St. Kilda I would have driven the XF into it. On the way out I had a screaming match with Dad after I blamed him for sounding confident during the week, thereby jinxing Melbourne's chances. The night had not started well.
Driving the dark roads towards Doug's place, I took some detours down a few dark roads of the mind. By the time I pulled off on to the verge of the Frankston freeway for an unscheduled piss stop in a small copse of semi mature trees, the Demons were on their way back. Life is like a nightclub bouncer. It gets you down, then it kicks you.
This valiant rearguard action was never going to be anything other than window dressing. Or was it? I spent the 3rd quarter on the Nepean hwy at 40km. While the goals were raining I didn't dare put up the umbrella. Turning off the highway would surely upset the karmic balance responsible for this improbable comeback. I hogged one of the right hand lanes, forcing a party bus full of drunken revellers wide to overtake me. One of the filthy scum inside leant out and called me a fucking maggot. I interrupted my reverie briefly to smile at the thought of him legless and bloodied outside a nightclub at 5am, a useless piece of detritus littering the footpath like a half eaten hot dog, sauce seeping from the crushed bun. As Travis Johnstone kicked his third for the quarter I swear I was crying.
I parked in the street outside Doug's and listened to the last quarter. It gutted me. My offal sat on my lap as Melbourne stopped like the Old Grandfather clock of the nursery rhyme - dead, never to go again. Last flag three years before I was born. Thirty Eight years on - no closer. I'll die having never seen a Premiership. Hi Doug, Happy birthday.
I can say unequivocally that I was a cockhead that night. Because they are my best friends, the small gathering in attendance was sympathetic to my plight. They cut me some slack. Then they cut me a little more. By night's end they were cutting slack by the metre, unrolling it off a big wheel and passing it over to me. I used it as a noose, martyring myself. I was a regular Ronald Ryan hanging round at the end of the dinner table. Terry had a small lighting rig which he brought over from his pace to brighten things up, so dark was my demeanour.
On a positive note, Jane cooked a fine meal. My late arrival had ensured a delayed start to proceedings and we devoured our food like wolves over a fresh carcass. The casserole contained mushrooms - a big no no in the Terry's Fit For Life diet - so he had the kid's meal, a spanking serve of bangers and mash cooked especially for the recalcitrant fungiphobe. I accidentally smashed a glass and, before anyone could say "Fuck you, you boorish cockhead you've ruined our night and now you're ruining our finest crystal" Doug had seized upon the shattered remnants and was proposing a toast with the broken stem in a moment of sheer comic genius.
After dinner we played Articulate - an exciting contest pitting wit against fuckwit - while Pink Floyd provided the backing music. First we heard side A of Dark Side Of The Moon and discussed the possibility of covering The Great Gig In The Sky with Doug on lead vocals. We then paired off with each other's partners for a brief sexual interlude, before returning to the lounge room to pick up Floyd circa '75. Ted played air guitar on Have A Cigar and tried to do likewise on Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 6-9 before realising the lead guitar was in fact a keyboard. He quickly adjusted his posture to one more befitting that of an art rock wunderkind but the moment had gone and we laughed viciously and without pity at his crass stupidity.
It was around this time that Doctor decided that he could no longer walk and we graciously escorted him the 6 feet to the front door so he could wait out in the frigid night air for a taxi. Now bereft of the calming influence of his patriarchal presence, the remaining guests loitered uneasily. Desperate for a new thrill, we turned to dessert, investing it's imminent arrival with all the faith of fundamentalist Christians anticipating the Second Coming.
But dessert was a false prophet. The generous dusting of icing sugar over the surface of my home made lime tart was so many flowing robes concealing a dry skeleton. The blind baking process had seen the pastry-casing shrink ruinously, ending up halfway down the side of the fluted quiche tin. I'd ladled barely one quarter of the filling into it before a thick lime-flavoured muck was overflowing the sides. This tart was mean in proportion; thin and ungenerous. It more closely resembled a thin layer of lime butter spread over a couple of pieces of stale bread glued together with egg whites than the glorious culinary construction depicted in the recipe book. I should have binned it there and then.
Not for the first time that evening, the guests worked hard to boost my spirits. The diplomatic ones just shut up and made to look as though they were too busy enjoying it to comment while others, emboldened with drink, chanced their arms with some exaggerated lip smacking and appreciative murmurs. Churlishly, I refused a piece of my own tart, bitterly denouncing it as a failure. Later on Terry admitted that the pastry reminded him of Blu Tack and his confronting honesty blew a fresh breeze through the smoke-filled room.
Sometime around 2am I hit the road. I flicked absently across the FM and AM bands, looking for a suitably maudlin musical accompaniment to go with my indulgent self pity. Unable to find anything, I shuffled around in the console, hitting upon an old tape of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. Look, half of the album is great but some of those songs about cars weren't exactly beer to the pretzels of my existential funk. I listened to Atlantic City about 8 times. Then there is the one about the cop whose brother is always causing trouble Downtown. Well, as the guy says 'Sometimes when it's your brother you look the other way'. This goes on for a couple for minutes until the worthy law enforcement officer receives a call on the short wave alerting him to the fact that his brother has been embroiled in yet another stoush. For Joe Robert, Barracks number 8, this is one fracas too many. He jumps in the patrol car and hits the lights. He goes on to point out that he must have been doing 110 through Michigan County that night. Anyway, after chasing his brother through the back roads, they reach a sign saying Canadian Border Five Miles. At this point the despairing policeman pulls over and watches his brother's tail lights disappear.
I listened to that one about 8 times too.
I was babysitting Boots - Doctor's dog and the canine responsible for Dogs Are The Best People's initial impetus. This caused Hamlet to bark like a World War 1machine gun the instant my keys rattled in the front door lock. He was getting in early in case I bestowed too much attention on our overnight guest and, as the dogs jockeyed for position on the end of my bed, I cast an eye forlornly around my bedroom in search of some bedtime reading to dull the pain. Almost immediately I had it. Albert Camus' The Myth Of Sisyphus - one of the great seminal heart-searchings of our time. I read the back cover. Apparently, across 150 odd pages, the highbrow French existentialist was going to attempt to diagnose the human situation in a world of shattered beliefs. What a sales pitch! I fluffed the pillows and lay down my weary body, along with its host of shattered beliefs, and settled in. I found his treatise completely incomprehensible and sunk lower into my wretched depression. . Now I not only followed a football side utterly incapable of winning a flag but I was stupid too. My lids started droop as I read and re-read and re-read again line after line, grappling hopelessly with the dense prose and complex ideas. If existence has ceased to retain significance when confronted with the fragmented and meaningless reality of the human condition, what then can, or should, prevent suicide?