After a second busride of only 5 hours, I reached Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales. I stayed at Matt's apartment the first night. Upon arrival, I tossed him a bag of our beloved hotel mints. Then, I immediately took them back and ate as many as I could get to before he did. I love those things.
We took a walk to campus. I found Kim, who I'd gelled with during the orientation in Cairns. With her Marisa Tomei-smile, she told me all about the drunken festivities (also called "puking") of her recent birthday. I told her how Matt's landlords wanted $435 from me if I moved in there, but all my money was still in Darwin.
Kim, in her scratchy, smart New York accent, said the words that would come to define my semester.
"You don't need to get a place to stay. You can sleep on my floor."
My school had scheduled a trip to touristy Gold Coast on my first day there. We went to an amusement park, Dreamworld. Matt, Jeremy, Kristi, Sarah, and I sat in a cart raising slowly up the 360-foot tall Tower of Terror. We reached the top and just sat there. Our view of the city highlighted tall hotels packing the downtown, foaming waves that bombarded the long, golden beach, and lots of ... AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!! The tower dropped us. We sped down so quickly my feet nearly kicked my own head. The cart slowed towards the ground to let our stomachs catch up. Who would've thought 3 g's pulling on your face could be so fun?
In the Dreamworld arcade, I showed off the crane game experience I'd accumulated at Denny's restaurants, but I wasn't able to win a stuffed animal for Kristi, an excitable, rabidly anti-Denny's blonde whose lip curled up when she smiled. Luck grew worse for her on the Thunder Rapids ride, when Kristi's seat repeatedly rolled below the drenching waterfalls, sending Matt into cackling hysterics.
Later, on the log ride, wet Kristi pointed to a lizard on the side of the track. When our boat (log) reached the three-inch lizard, I shot my hand out to grab him. I looked down and was shocked to see him twitching between my fingers. I showed him to my friends, and we amazed at the precise timing, impeccable accuracy, and cobra-like speed of the catch - especially when compared to my other animal-chasing follies. "G'day, ya leedle rippah," I said. I let him go unhurt. "You're one of me finest catches yet!"
I visited Dreamworld's Wet N' Wild Park with Jeremy. Jeremy had short hair, was short, lazy, and wore slippers everywhere. He's the kind of kid who gets stuck in waterpark slides and everyone has to wait for him, which is exactly what he did. Atop another of the park's slides, I perched on a yellow toboggan. A protective net divided the water park from neighboring rainforest, far from the slides where nobody could reach it. I joked to the lifeguard, "It's a good thing that net's there, or else I'd fly across the water and just coast out into the rainforest." He said, "In all my years working here, I've never seen anyone hit that net." I winked. "You're looking at the first." I aligned myself perfectly on the board, leaned forward, and went down. I skipped across the water. For a second, I thought I'd make it. But, I ran out of steam, tipped, and hit my head on the shallow bottom. "Not even close!" the guy yelled.
Living with Kim, I had to make my own meals. Brandy, Jess, Kimmy, and I split up at the supermarket. Thirty minutes later, we were all totally confused by Australian foods and product names. One thing was certain: we weren't going to buy VegaMite. Yuk! It's made out of yeast! As an American, I wasn't open-minded enough to taste more than a tongue-tip of the stuff, but I knew that if it wasn't around in my country, it couldn't possibly compare to a good ol' hot dog, which is made out of ... um ... uh ... parts ... of things.
I'd found only the first ingredients for making about nine meals, and there was little hope of finding any two things that would go together.
Frustrated, I reached a crucial moment in my life. I daydreamed of Denny's Banana Splits and Ooey Gooey Oreo Sundaes (mmm!) and came to the epiphony that, hey, life is short, and I don't ever want to eat anything but ice cream again. (This day will forever be remembered as the day my "all-ice cream-diet" began. Thus, I've designated February 28th a personal holiday titled "Communal Sundae Day For Joy", or "Ice Cream-mas".)
Who can forget the story of the first Ice Cream-mas? We pilgrims had endured our first, long, hard Australian supermarket trip, and the natives had shown us how to buy and cook local foods. Americans (Brandy, Jess, Kimmy, and me) and Australians (Peta, Luke, and Nathalie) joined one another in harmony and gave spoons for the feast they'd be having. The food served on this fateful day would always remain a cherished tradition: Neapolitan ice cream, strawberry, cherry, and caramel toppings, hot fudge, bananas, honey-roasted peanuts, whipped cream, Snickers, and some cookies I thought were Oreos but tasted like coconut.
The all-ice cream-diet commenced on this day. So, also, did the near-daily tradition of tiny Brandy smiling supercute and saying, "Wow, Justin! This is the best sundae yet!" And then, as the story goes, she raised her spoon and said, "God bless us ... Every one!"
Lismore (pop. 40,000) is twenty miles farther from the beach than Darwin was. The brick buildings of downtown possessed a gloomy brown color, and I didn't see the sun the first five days. Matters could've been getting even worse. A common Lismore flood was anticipated; marks on telephone poles showed past water levels that had risen to thirty feet above normal.
Atleast the scenery was nice: rolling, bright green hills and forest surrounded the valley Lismore lied in. But, even this could be treacherous, because most students lived on one of these hills. School was in the valley, necessitating a 35-degree mountain-climb of a walk home. My calfs were gonna be huge! The designer of this school should be shot.
No complaints about my class schedule, though. I'd received my course agendas, and I was only assigned four assignments the whole semester. Only four things to do in fifteen weeks, ha ha! Gotta love those laidback Aussies!
My schedule included perhaps the greatest class ever: Outdoor Education, where I'd learn to survive in the outback then go on camping excursions. When we introduced ourselves in class, I said, "My name's Justin, I'm from America, and the reason I came to Australia was the Crocodile Hunter." Rob, my instructor, soon heard of my animal-chasing. He laughed and said, "I'll have to keep an extra eye on you on our trips." Later, a girl was having difficulty understanding the grid system of map-reading. I raised my hand and said: "Here's an easy way to remember it. You know those arcade games with all the stuffed animals in them and a crane to pick them up with. I'm really good at those. But, anyway, you always have to go to move your crane to the right before you move it up or down." Matt and Kristi laughed, but a healthy relationship with Denny's and The Crocodile Hunter was what vaulted me to achieving expertise and a solid C in the course.
My strategy was to go from living on one friend's floor to another friend's floor for the whole semester. I'd received offers from Kristi, Brandy, Jess, Kimmy, and Sarah. Their strategies were probably going to be to make me forget they ever made such an offer.
But, having a roommate was fun. Kim and I played cards every night, filled the house with smoke trying to cook, and talked a lot and discussed girls. She was so casual to talk to, with her chill manner and ecstatic-to-be-with-you smile. She said a lot of people were in love with her, and I believed it. She seemed capable of getting any girl, or guy, she wanted. What a pimp. I took advantage and tried picking up her secrets; there were some cute girls at Southern Cross University.
Because, as "my song" goes: "I have been arou-ou-ound the world, looking for that women-girl, who no love can unfurl." - Crosby, Still, and Nash's "Southern Cross"
Gold Coast (1): +$100
Semester to Date: -$70