Friday, March 28, 2008

On the Townsville, Chapter Four

I just read over the first chapters of On the Townsville and couldn't believe how long they are and how much unnecessary detail is included in each story. So my project for chapter IV is to become a better self-editor. Here we go:

Island Man Sam

A few young Americans were recently hired and have created a frat party vibe in the restaurant. Chris and Shane in particular are a hit with the ladies, as we get lots of parties of young women -- bachelorette dinners or just girls' night out -- and they're so drunk and so excited by these cute, young, flirty men with yankee accents that they're barely able to contain themselves. They get their pictures taken with them, they write their phone numbers in lipstick on the table -- there was even an attempt to stuff a tip down Chris's pants. It's mayhem.

The tables were turned on Sunday, however, when there was an all-afternoon-and-evening reggae thing with a really good live band. I hadn't understood the hugeness of the event and suddenly found myself running drinks and getting cat-called like a cocktail waitress in a night club. The frat boys didn't have any problems because all the drunk women had their eyes on the waiter-trumping musicians -- or on themselves, as they were so clearly enjoying being 'crazy' and 'original' and dancing their rhythmless hippie dances in flowy pants and beaded head scarves. As the only female staff person, however, I got a whole lot of attention from the slobbering, moronic, drunk-off-their-tits men who seem to populate the Townsville social scene. Embarrassingly, one of them told me I was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen and I was all giggly and blushing until Shane pointed out that the guy was literally drooling into his schooner of Victoria Bitter and could barely sit upright on his barstool; looks like I'm starved for compliments these days. I'll take what I can get!

The sad news is that Doug, one of the managers, is leaving. He's worked for ages in hospitality and has owned a restaurant for six years, so he's ready to move on. (This is obviously very hard on Jim, the other manager, who has been Doug's business partner, roommate and best friend for six years; it's pretty much like a divorce.) Doug is originally from Trinidad and is a gorgeous little leprechaun of a man; everyone is sad to see him go.

But since Doug is leaving Townsville, and since I'm looking for a place to live...

Wait for it....

Katy and Jim!!!

I packed on Wednesday, rode out to uni on Thursday morning, rode back home to finish packing, rode BACK to uni for my afternoon class, and then my friend Sarah came with her car and helped me move into Jim's swanky bachelor pad -- before I rushed out to work. An exhausting day, but after a little housecleaning and putting my stuff away, I just sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Maybe this afternoon I'll do the same thing, only in the pool! Huzzah!

It's not as great as I originally thought because he's bought a condo and will be leaving April 10th, but that gives me two weeks to find something more permanent, and during those two weeks I will be in a clean, nice-smelling, quiet apartment in a ritzy part of town with an ocean view and the mountain behind me. Most importantly, during those two weeks I will get some sleep. No more all-night parties with drunk British back-packers snorting horse tranquilizers off the living room table. No more drunken, raging, 3 a.m. lovers' spats. No more smelly little dog yapping me awake every time a car passes on the distant street. No more wet, moldy towels on the bathroom floor; no more ants all over the counter because nobody can be bothered to rinse the barbecue sauce off their plates; no more strangers going into my room and taking my pillows to use as couch cushions; no more pee on the floor or on the toilet rim (the wooden toilet seat snapped in half two weeks ago and has not been replaced). No computer? No land line? I don't care. I just need some sleep.

I will definitely miss my nightly routine of sitting on the front step and looking at the stars with Joogsie's head on my lap and my home-made juice popsicle dripping on it. I will miss my comfortable, forty-minute bike ride, as it now takes over an hour and includes two steep uphill climbs (though with the fun downhill swoop that follows) and I'm feeling the burn.
I would have missed Rico's home cooking, but it never ended up happening; when I tried, after a disastrous attempt to cook chicken for myself, to strike up a partnership wherein I buy the food and he, the professional chef, cooks it, he thought I was asking him to make a big dinner for us all some time. The more I tried to explain, the more he thought I was pressuring him to step up to the task and he tried to set a date so that I'd leave him alone. I guess it was never meant to be.
(I've collected some easy recipes from the chefs at work, so maybe this will be the year where I finally learn to cook properly for myself...) (Probably not, but maybe.)

So there it is: I'm staying for two weeks and wishing it were longer, and the apartment hunt is on.


I'm not coaching as much as before, as it's hard to get there in time after school. I'm also not umpiring, as so far they've managed to find people and [knock on wood] they won't need me. What I am doing is playing every Wednesday night, among amazon-sized women who just reach over my head and drop the ball in the net. What I am not doing is improving; I played a lot worse this week than last week -- but I'm hoping it's just a juice-belly thing and not a trend.

I sure get a lot of exercise, though, hopping around trying to steal the ball off of people who are two heads taller than I am; luckily it's a friendly league, so it's lots of fun and I get to try different positions every quarter. Interestingly, I'm a much better attacker than defender; maybe because I can deek around and find my own system, instead of having to block someone whose bra clasp is at my eye level. Sometimes I even get the ball in the net! Really!

Magnetic Island

It's no secret that my favourite demographic is middle-aged men, probably because I am pretty much middle-aged myself and I like their rhythm. Should I pretend to be hipper than I am? Why deny the glaringly obvious?

A friendly dining foursome very quickly became my favourite table and I sat down with them when my shift was over and had a drink. (Raspberry cordial; my fave!) We'll call them the Spy Guys because they work for some top-secret organization and can only tell me certain details. Planes are involved -- they are pilots and engineers -- and they're here for four months. That's all I know. Maybe something with the government? or the military? They are being lodged in gorgeous apartments on the boardwalk, so it's someone with money. (They have promised me that they are not involved in bombing North Korea or similar; I have to take their word for it.) (And I obviously can't publish any pictures of them, so you'll just have to look at what I've got and imagine it with four Aussie blokes with really white feet.)

They came back to eat again the next night and invited me to spend a day with them on Maggie Island, which I hadn't yet had a chance to visit. (When I had free time it was raining; when the rain stopped, I had a job.) Off we went on the ferry and I am disappointed to report that I got boat-sick. On a ferry. Just the last two minutes pulling in, which is apparently a notoriously bad section, but still; it was pretty lame.

Once we got to shore, we rented some funny little barbie jeeps and go-Karted around the island. We all know about boys and their toys, but with a group of men whose lives are spent designing, fixing, testing and flying planes, you can imagine how much fun they had racing up and down the mountainous coast. ('Racing' might not be the right word, as the cars couldn't go much faster than 50 km/h... everything's relative.)

Other than my being a boat sissy, it turns out I am also a wallaby sissy. The island is famous for its wild wallabies who live in the rocks and come out to eat out of people's hands. Up I went with my palmful of seeds, and out came the wallabies -- including this rough-and-tumble one who had clearly been around the block a few times. I suddenly had visions of giant rodents gnawing at my hand and I couldn't take it. I threw my seeds on the rock and was out of there in a flash, then sheepishly took a picture of someone else feeding them so that I'd at least have the memory.

Grade Six

And finally, I did my first teaching practicum and it was a lot of fun. I have three more weeks with this grade six class (after a two-week university segment -- blech) and then will come back in October and spend a month with the grade sixes on the other side of the pod. Both the teachers are fantastic and I think I'll learn a lot.

Now here's the complaint. (You didn't think I was just going to be unabashedly positive, did you?)

Wallaboo State School, not Catholic or private. Funded by the good tax-payers of North Queensland and teaching a state-wide, if not nation-wide, curriculum in order to make good citizens who will contribute to society. And yet, what is this block on my weekly schedule -- does that say 'religion?' Is that possible? Carol, my prac teacher, assures me that it is non-denominational. And come to think of it, that's pretty neat, to be teaching a comparative religion course in grade six. It's a 'values' class, and I think that having a block of time to discuss values and morals and social things like that is really important. Good on you, Wallaboo, I can't wait to see what this Thursday class will be like.

The day arrives, and with it comes Gavin, a huge, blond, highly entertaining Baptist preacher from North Carolina who has been living here with his missionary wife for seven years. It was a forty-minute session, and I can't remember most of it because I was so fully in shock that I didn't understand what was happening for at least the first half. (Is this performance art of some kind? When is he going to break character and talk about how dangerous it is to have loony Southern preachers set loose on elementary school classes?)

As the shock wore off, however, I heard that:
-we sin all the time, we're probably sinning right now, but we're covered because Jesus died for our sins -- remember when he was spreading his arms out on the cross? That was him saying 'I love you THIIIIIIIS much!', just like Mommy and Daddy say to you, boys and girls;
-God wants blood in return for sin and sometimes cutting a lamb's throat just isn't enough;
-there's nothing we will ever be able to do to live up to what Jesus did for us.

Then, after choral-calling back ('Who loves you?' 'Jesus!' 'And why did He die?' 'For our sins!') the students coloured a picture of Adam carrying JC's cross for him while Gavin invited me to Thanksgiving with his family. (You're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy...)

Sandy, the next-door teacher, added to my disbelief when she sat down with the two classes for their daily novel-reading. In response to a comment that I didn't hear, she asked if anyone knew how old Jesus was when he died. When the kids started guessing, she said she hadn't asked for them to guess, but had asked if anyone KNEW. Because there is documentation, there is an official age, it is a fact to be acquired. I thought she must be talking about the flesh and blood Jesus and whatever historical documents and back-tracing she had heard about, but she continued, 'he was thirty-three. It is documented; it is written in the Bible. It's a fact.'

See, now what am I supposed to say? How is it possible that she is officially announcing to a double group of eleven-year-olds that the Bible is a factual document, while at the same time warning them about using Wikipedia for their countries project because you can't always trust its sources?
This is PUBLIC SCHOOL, for Christ's sake! It's a FACT that he was thirty-three because it's written in the BIBLE???!!! Is it a FACT that some people lived to be six hundred years old and that Noah built an enormous ark and filled it with animals? You can have whatever beliefs you want at home and at Sunday school and you can be scared of God and filled with sin-guilt and have crucifixion nightmares; that's your cross to bear. (Tee-hee.) But public, tax-funded school? I can't stay in this country.

So much for self-editing. Wish me luck in the bachelor pad -- maybe I'll be such a good roomie that he'll want to take me along to the new condo... Who wouldn't?


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On the Townsville, Chapter Three

Chapter 3: Gainful Employment and a German to Boot

The Strand

Hey everyone! I've been to the beach! There was a day where it didn't rain -- crazy, I know -- so my London, Ontario friend (and Railway Estate neighbour) Nicole and I walked to The Strand -- then kept walking because we had to get to the stinger nets -- and Nicole-of-Irish-heritage was roasted before we even got across the bridge. I also got too much sun, but I seem to have more of a base tan than I thought, possibly because I have so desperately willed it to be so. (Though my butt hasn't gotten any smaller, so this might not be a sound theory.) And I only got the shoulder burn because the water was so gorgeous and the day so perfect that I couldn't bring myself to get out of the ocean and cover up, for fear that I would never see the sun again. (So far, my fear is completely justified.) So it was worth it.

The problem with getting a burn on your shoulders, of course, once the rosiness fades out, is the inevitable dead-skin peeling that follows. Frankly, Nicole's was worse than mine and possibly the grossest thing I've ever seen -- don't tell her I said that -- but mine was definitely noticeable and highly unattractive on Friday when I volunteered at a netball tournament. The kids, who have had the fear of cancer drilled into their little heads, were openly disapproving of my irresponsible sun behaviour. They would never allow any part of their body to stay out in the sun for longer than it takes to get from the car to the front door; by Australian standards, I am a terrible role model. (One six-year-old said to me, "melanoma is not a trifling matter." They're good with the sun smarts; maybe need to work on not making people feel like jerks.)


Netball, you ask? Well. One Friday I suddenly had an overwhelming (and largely unprecedented) craving for a hamburger. Jenny took me down the street to a little grocery store/diner and while we waited for our burgers to cook, we saw hundreds of kids and their parents in a field full of basketball courts. I thought this would be a great chance for me to get a first volunteering project going (we need fifty hours for teachers' college), working with kids and getting some exercise. And they obviously needed all the help they could get; the poor bastards couldn't even afford backboards for their nets.

I found the president of the association and discovered that there's a sport called netball, which is like basketball but you can't move with the ball. Kind of like basketball-meets-ultimate-frisbee. And no backboard, which means that pretty much nobody ever scores. Every player has a specific title and has to wear the jersey with the corresponding letters: Goal Attack, Goal Defense, Centre -- and others, but I can't remember them, and they don't matter because the kids all clump together and run after the ball, regardless -- and each position can only be in certain zones.
You can pivot, but only on one foot. Once you catch the ball, you can take a follow-through step, but a second step will disqualify you. It's very fussy and detailed and I can't really keep track of who's supposed to be where, so obviously they've asked me to be an umpire. I suggested that it might be a good idea for me to get to know the rules a little first, maybe watch a game or two, do some scoring at the next tournament...

So. I'm co-coaching a team of 11-year-old girls and I ran the concession stand on Friday, which was a lot of fun. (Once the kids had finished lecturing me about using minimum SPF-60, checking the expiry date and buying some long-sleeved cotton shirts, they were fun to hang out with -- which kids usually are.) They're going to give me a rule book this week and they're really wanting me to umpire at the next tournament. It's kind of ridiculous, but then it's nice to feel needed. What would they have done if I hadn't turned up? Do they realize how unlikely it was for me to have a hamburger craving? Do they have any idea how LUCKY they are to have me?

The House

Several changes here on Second Street. The first is that we went bed-hunting because we had a new roommate moving in, and Jenny found an almost-new bed for only $50. Then when we went at the end of the day to pick it up with her dad's truck, the people said we could take the other one as well, since no one had bought it. So instead of a crappy little wire-frame bed with boards digging into my side all night, I now have a posturepedic, top-of-the-line bed that would be the most comfortable bed in the world if only it didn't have wheels that roll across the floor every time I shift positions. (I never know where I'm going to wake up; usually it's on a jaunty diagonal with my head wedged under the doorknob. But no matter -- nothing wrong with shaking things up a bit.)

The idea was actually for me to get a futon and then I'd give the new guy my bed, but the futon was sold by the time we got there and I decided to jump on the good mattress, even if it is a single. Doubles are more comfortable, sure, but let's tell it like it is: the only extra bed space I'll need this year will be if I decide to make a collage and I need room to spread out my magazine clippings. I've checked out the scene, I've done my analysis, and it doesn't look like I'm going to have to put up with anyone's snoring, unless you count Joogsie the cattle dog. If you catch my drift.

The new roommate, meanwhile, has moved in. His name is Rico, which makes sense, as he is -- wait for it -- German. Hm. Tricky. He claims that his mom just like the name, which is Italian -- which is not true (about the Italian, I mean, not his mom; I don't know that I'm in a position to judge how she feels about one thing or another), but then it's possible that he meant to say Spanish. He speaks very little English -- maybe 32 words? rough estimate? -- and it isn't always easy to get information across. (Needless to say, explaining "Rico... Suave..." was a long, tortuous and ultimately unsuccessful undertaking.)

Super nice, though, that Rico. I like his commitment to life. And really friendly, which is sometimes a pain in the ass because you aren't always in the mood to sign-language your way through conversations (and I use the term loosely) about where you were last night, but of course I have no business being impatient, considering how supportive and encouraging everyone was when I was working my way through broken Spanish. Let's hear it for karma.

My favourite thing is when he talks to someone on the phone and I get to hear him function in German. Remember in Waiting for Guffman when Corky says something about Germans with that "muck muck muck muck" thing -- and you think, "that's not what German sounds like, you nutter!"? Well, whether it's a Dresden thing or just a special Rico thing, that's what he sounds like. You hear all the "shtein" and "schwarz" and "aufden" type sounds that you expect to hear, but then there's a whole lot of "muck muck muck muck muck." It's pretty exciting.

Also, he's a chef and has promised us a home-cooked German meal one of these days -- he claims to have really enjoyed the lentils-and-dumplings I prepared but I think it just made him want meat.

My least favourite thing, however, is his earthy European approach to personal hygiene. He rides his bike to work, spends eight or nine hours in a hot kitchen and then rides home, all in the context of muggy, stormy, 35-degrees-celsius Townsville. Maybe you should take a moment to imagine how much sweat might be produced under these circumstances. Okay? Now do you think it might be a good idea to have a shower? Thirty seconds, forty seconds, no big deal. But let's get some soap involved here, ya? Nein. Not so much for Rico. His course of action is to take off his shirt, scratch a lot (though this is by no means restricted to sweaty moments) and plop down on the couch, while his sweat seeps into the cushions. Needless to say, that couch and I have become estranged. Who needs contaminated cushions when I can just as easily sit on a hard-backed chair, right?

The sweat, the pee on the bathroom floor, the jar of cigarette butts on the deck -- these things would be annoying enough in a happy home. But these last few weeks Flomby has become a live-in boyfriend, even showing up when Jenny's not here because he wants to watch cable tv, and Jenny's party-hardy British friend Maggie has been desperately trying to get everybody to go clubbing with her, so there are people here all the time. Loud, smelly, crass people. All the time. It was getting so that I was taking long, complicated detours on my bike ride home because I was so reluctant to walk in the door and find people sprawled all over the furniture with the smell of beer and greasy food in the air and the tv blasting "Girls of the Playboy Mansion" or "Britney: The Life Behind the Scenes" or "America's Hardest Prisons," as my regression into the student life I wasn't willing to live in the first place continues.

School is so shitty (yes, for those of you who have asked, it is still awful and clearly will be for the rest of the year; I have resigned myself to this fate, as I have made my bed and must now lie, squirming and clawing my eyes out, in it) that I really need home to be some kind of sanctuary, and these days it is anything but that.

However. While I feel a bit as though I've been duped, paying a higher rent so that I wouldn't have to live residence-style in a house full of dirty, messy idiots and somehow ending up doing just that, and while I will keep my eye out for any available single rentals (they don't really exist in Townsville but I'm hoping the karma thing works both ways), I think things will be better when I get involved in more volunteer activities with interesting people, as a big part of my crisis was just being in such a shallow, knowledge-free environment. I felt myself getting stupider by osmosis, between the vacuous readings and discussions at school and this household's appalling absence of basic facts -- including, but certainly not limited to: where is Haiti? Doesn't Canada have the same president as the States? Who is Al Qaeda? What is communism? What exactly is colonization? (I AM NOT EXAGGERATING - these are actual questions. I am an amazing, all-knowing genius in this house.) Hopefully, a bit of intellectual stimulation will come my way. Clearly not at university, but maybe elsewhere.

My New Job

And the other thing that made the last few days better was that I was working. This is good for the bank account and for the morale, and since it's in a restaurant, it keeps me on my feet. I saw a posting on the career website at school and thought I'd drop by to hand in my resume, since my work permit had finally come through. The manager didn't even look at my resume, but complimented me on my green eyes and asked me to come in for a trial the next day. My trial became "you're hired. Here's your section, and we need you to run drinks from the bar, too, and can you stay tonight and work a double shift?" In like Flynn, my friends. In. Like. Flynn.

The restaurant - which I will call Island Man Sam - is an open, breezy restaurant/bar on the beach - with a great view of Magnetic Island - really busy most of the time, and the clientele is laid-back and friendly because they've just wandered in from strolling hand-in-hand along the beach or playing Aussie football in the park. The staff is great and surprisingly affectionate towards my Canadian self (though that might get old) and the manager is not as sleazy as he sounds, but rather funny-sleazy. He's from Chicago, he's good-looking and he likes the beach and the ladies. Funny. Sleazy. I like it.

I am pleased to report that the Townsville policy of "no shirt, no shoes, no problem" -- which includes the grocery store, where people just wander in, barefoot and wearing only a pair of shorts -- does not apply at Island Man Sam. There's also really good live music and the food is yummy. The shirts we wear are an unfortunate and unflattering grey-beige polyester, but you can interpret your denim bottom however you choose, so it's okay. And I'll do exciting hair things to make up for it: a fun project. (Let's play Barbie!)

And when the rain stops (they swear it will be any day now), I can go to the beach before work. Everybody wins. (Well, I win.)

So there you have it: the ups and downs of Townsville. I think, on the whole, that we're moving in an upwards direction; interesting things are appearing on the horizon, just under the rain clouds.