"Australia 1999" story # 24


Byron Bay, New South Wales
May 9, 1999

I had a ten o'clock rendezvous at the beach on Saturday, and to make it on time I relied on my thumb.
     Outside Lismore, a black-haired guy in his thirties let me in the truck he drove. It was Southern Cross University's truck, and he was borrowing it for the weekend to carry out coastal management studies on the northern coast.
     His studies seemed cool, I said, but I didn't have much work.
     He said he could understand; that's how it was with the exchange students. "Why, there's this one American in my chemistry class - I've never seen him lift his pencil once. He spends the whole time just staring into space."
     I asked the name of the kid, but I already knew the answer.
     "Jeremy Levine."
     That kid's slacking was the stuff of legends.
     My slacking was pretty good, too; when I set foot in Byron Bay, I ensured my trip-every-weekend pattern would continue. At mid-morning, a bus from Sydney arrived. Out stepped the tall St. Louisecian, Kory, who gave a big smile.
     The catching-up we old buddies had to do! I hadn't seen Kory since orientation in Cairns. In fact, I'd never seen Kory before orientation in Cairns either.
     But, he was a funny kid, who smiled and wore his hair like Eddie Haskel. Ian, a tall, poky dark-skinned guy, came with Kory, as did the quieter, short, low hat-wearing Brandon.
     They got a hostel, and I showed them the beach. The sky and water were cold and hazy, and we went to play in the waves. From green Mt. Warning to rocky Cape Byron, the semi-circle beach was nearly void of people. The sloping backdrop of plants twinkled bright green from the recent rain. Ian loved it. He called it the nicest beach he'd ever seen.
     While Ian elated, Kory told me about studying in Sydney, weekend trips to Melbourne, and getting shot down a dark, roller-coaster-like track in a New Zealand cave. Though our travels had been separate, there was one thing we agreed on: Asian tourists were fun to make fun of.
     Ian was tough to pull away, but we eventually made it back to the hostel, dried off, and set off for the streets of Byron to be tourists ourselves.
     "S.O.F. baby!" Kory said, as he sped across a street, giving no heed to whether there was traffic or not.
     He explained this theory of his, telling me he just walks the streets in Sydney blindly, saying "survival of the fittest" will decide who lives.
     We counted the day's losses at a Thai restaurant - which Ian claimed to be the best - and continued on for refreshments. Kory, when he wasn't busy dodging cars, provided entertainment through song. I must say, his amazing voice was able to do the original artist justice.
     "Iiiiii'm sailing away," he sang, "set'n'open course fr'th' virgin sea ..."
     The artist he imitated was the chubby, animated kid, Cartman, who sang Styx's "Come Sail Away" on tv's Southpark. This meant his voice had become angry, hoarse, and infantile, with a severe speech impediment. It was quite hillarious.
     "Come sail away. Come sail away. Come sail away with meeee! Come ... 'Ay! What's goin' on? ... Who said that? ... This is my song! ... Come sail away. Come sail away. Come sail away with meeee - yeah!"
     The sailing that night would be on "Mudslides" - Kahlua and Bailey's - for Ian, Brandon, and some girls who'd accompanied the boys from Sydney. Kory drank Soho, only because he thought its electric green bottle was cool.
     Some time passed in the crowded hostel room. Everyone made himself belligerent and drunk, except I, who'd become belligerent and as wound-up as a jackhammer, because my sailing had been done on ice cream and Milo.
     Kory read from my big, empty Milo can. "It says: Consume contents in under 8 weeks. Well, I'd say you managed that! How long did it take you? 8 minutes?"
     I certainly had the energy for Byron Bay's nightlife. We visited the patio bar on the corner of the beach, which featured a fantastic band: one with hot girls and rockin' music.
     The cool guy on the dance floor was Ian, who even found a cute, good dancer to dance with. His bouncy moves spanned every decade, from the "swim" to the "robot" to his own hat-flipping-around, stare-the-girl-in-the-eyes technique. His and Kory's version of "A Night at the Roxbury's" two guys-bumping-chests-with-a girl was the highlight, which they did while pecking their heads like chickens and mocking the shallow lyrics of "I'm Horny."
     We calmed down at the beach afterwards, mesmerized by Byron's dark waves beneath the starry sky. Given a sense of power from the view, Kory and I made plans to wake at the brink of dawn.
     The next day was seized, but, as was to be expected, not until late morning. There was little time to lose. Kory wanted to hike to Cape Byron, and the guys were going too, no matter how hung-over we were or how difficult a time our hearts were having pumping Milo to the extremities.
     Cape Byron was the continent's extreme eastern point. Talking baseball, we started hiking along the road. We reflected on the consistent downfall of Asian pitching talent in the majors.
     The gray above let out a downfall of its own, putting a short halt to Kory's grand scheme. We huddled under a tree, while scuba diving girls undressed in the nearby parking lot, providing Kory and the others their first happy glimpses of Byron´s toplessness.
     "Say, I think the rain's subsiding," said Ian, after the girls had left.
     "No," said Kory, "you're using that word wrong." The rain didn't seem to be letting up.
     "I think Kory's ideas ought to be ignored from now on," said sleepy Brandon.
     Kory responded by continuing his song. "Come sail away! ... Come sail away with meeee!"
     We scurried for improved shelter in a nearby bathroom. We spent as much time here as I ever want to spend in a bathroom with three guys.
     "Look! It's subsiding," Ian would say optimistically.
     "There you go using that word wrong again," said Brandon.
     The bathroom came to be known to us as the "Gent's" hotel, or "Brandon's House." We were reluctant to face the rain; Brandon, most of all, had come to like the bathroom, especially his favorite joke there, "A little privacy, please?" as he asked us to wait outside in the rain so he could do his business.
     Kory finally got us to leave with a motivational pep talk on how great it'd be if we just made it to Australia's easternmost point and how proud our grandkids would be to hear it and how it just might save the world if we sucked it up and made it there. Considering how much he wanted to go there and how little Brandon cared for getting wet, I'd put Kory's speech up there with the one Alexander the Great gave his thirsting troops before they took Cincinnati - or whichever place that was.
     We left, running through a trail surrounded closely by thin trees. We came out at a high point that offered a vast view of the Pacific. White splashes in the blue distance convinced us we were seeing dolphins.
     At this point, the trail offered a curious option, as a small walkway sloped down to the right, ending abruptly above the hill's long, sleep descent. We mocked the walkway's designers: it seemingly asked people to fall off down the mountain. (It was either a parachute launching pad, I figure, or a public suicide venue.)
     We took the other option. We walked along a grassy ridge atop rocky Cape Byron. A restroom on the way proved "Brandon's House" wasn´t actually the easternmost bathroom in all of Australia. We were a bit disappointed.
     We descended to a fenced-off square on top of rocks which jutted into the sea. We bothered other tourists to take the obligatory photos with our four cameras. Kory's smile was the biggest. The world was safe - atleast for today.
     Soaking wet, we went to town to eat. Over an "In the Pink" ice cream cone, Kory asked advice regarding an eight-hour night he'd be stopping over in Brisbane. I advised him not to pay a little money for housing when he could just stay up all night losing a lot of money at the casino. This logic puzzled him, but he said he might be up for my idea.
     "Come sail away with meeee - yeah!"
     Kory introduced me to Cartman's rendition of "Come Sail Away" on the Southpark soundtrack. The chubby boy's vocals were hillarious, but the lyrics and piano made for a good song. I especially liked the line, "Iiiii wook to the sea. Reflections in the waves spark my memoriiiies. Some happy, some sad. I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had."
     Kory comemorated the early days of our friendship at Bay Kebabs, which had easily won over the Sydney boys' hearts and tastebuds. Kory and I added our signatures to the store's wall, writing "Bay Kebabs: The Best Australian Food Since the Kool Mint!" in reference to our roommate days in Cairns. Matt, the third roommate, would hopefully add his signature later.
     And, with that, I sailed away to Lismore. With Kory's song in my head and dolphin splashes in my eyes, I recalled the childhood dream my friend, Tonto, and I used to have - to open a used-screw store entitled, "Tonto y Psycho: Sell the Screws."
     That was probably never going to happen. Sniff, sniff. Cartman really had a way of touching you deep.

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