"Australia 1999" story # 6


Lismore, New South Wales
March 15, 1999

I had to keep from forgetting that the reason I'd come to Australia was to learn. In Video class this week, I learned how Matt and I would be airbrushed out of the movie we'd acted in.
     Then, in Outdoor Education, we split into our groups for the upcoming camping trip. Matt, Kristi, and Jeremy were in my group. Rob, our blond-haired, rugged, Aussie bushman instructor, told each group to select an animal. So, one minute after our group had been formed, we already had our first argument. I suggested that a dodo would best capture the essence of our group, but Matt had some weird obsession with fruitflies. In the end, we settled on a dodo, the basis for agreement being that any animal would be less dull than a fruitfly. Matt objected bitterly, briefly considered starting a one-man camping group, and sulked.
     Rob continued. "Okay. Now, walk around class, imitating the actions of your animal. We're going to try to guess which animal you've chosen."
     Our group looked at eachother, clueless. How did dodos walk?
     Matt's fruitfly loyalty disappeared, and he said, "How about we switch to an easy animal, like a gorilla?"
     "Yeah!" everyone said.
     I couldn't believe my ears. I'd entered into a group of cheaters! I scolded the others and stood up, not sure what I was going to do. I watched other groups acting out elephants, monkeys, and cows.
     Then, all of the sudden, my legs, my ... wings, my beak, everything ... became the dodo. I bent over and took steps very slowly. My head bobbed quickly back-and-forth, like I was pecking at chicken-feed. Every couple of steps, I flapped my arms strenuously and hopped an inch, in an unsuccessful flight attempt. The actor's instinct took control of Matt, and he came bounding down the auditorium stairs, shaking his arms.
     Rob laughed at us. "Who knows ... ha, ha, who has ANY idea ... what kind of animal they're doing?"
     Some hands went up. We got some bad guesses, like "giraffe" and "cocker spaniel", and good guesses, like "penguin". Finally, Dutch Sam said, "Dodo?" Matt and I clapped hands. Our acting had done it again. Next stop: the big time! That's right, Hollywood! - in search of a movie with major roles for a dodo and a fruitfly.
     So, like I said, I was here to learn. This class here served great evidence, as Rob's activity taught me an unforgettable life lesson. And that lesson was: always pick the easy animal, the gorilla! ... No, no, there must be more than that. Let's see, um ... something about teamwork? Hmm. Well, I don't know anymore, I forget.
     The important thing was that I met a girl in class, and I guess I was busy studying her. Shana came from Wisconsin, and she had short, directionless, sandy hair and big, owl eyes. She wasn't much to look at, actually, but she said to me, with a smile: "I don't ever get mad" - which was exactly what I looked for, because, let's face it, I do some stupid things, and the last thing I needed was my girl getting mad at me. Looks, shmooks.

Wow, such difficult classes were really getting to me. Luckily, Wednesdays were one of my five (sometimes six) free days from class. I borrowed a bike, and Kylie wrote me directions to a nearby swimming hole, Dalwood Falls, where she'd dove off 60-foot cliffs before. I checked Kylie's paper at the first intersection and noticed she'd calculated the distance to the swimming hole on it. I was disturbed that the math required in determining the distance to the falls took up more space on the paper than the directions on how to reach them. They were 20 miles away, and there were three lines of direction. If I'm going 20 miles, I need a short novel of directions. I biked around until I got lost (which was immediate), considered going to the town Casino to gamble (which was 40 miles away, and I had no directions), and gave up on the bike trip.
     I returned to campus to waste time. I walked alone through a tight path of trees. I looked to my left, and on a short wall sat the meanest-looking, beadiest-eyed, 2 1/2 foot black lizard. I mean, this thing was evil. So, I grabbed him. And you wouldn't believe what he did! He turned around and bit me! His tiny, sharp teeth carved the outline of his bottom jaw into my knuckle. I dropped the blue-tongued beast, and his scaled body scurried away, tail flapping behind him. I'd made the classic gaffe of grabbing him too high on his body, a mistake I vowed to correct when we met again. It was my hand that bled from a crescent-shaped gash, but I hoped to laugh last.

The following night, I visited Shana. She was drinking with her suitemates, and it didn't take long for her ask if she could kiss me. A divine idea, I thought, and I let her. How could someone who never gets mad not be attractive?
     Maybe, after all, I had been learning this semester. Maybe I'd learned that looks don't matter. Maybe the laidback, Australian way, where "image" and show-offy materialism aren't important, had taught me to look to the inside of people for beauty. Maybe I'd grown.
     Or maybe not.
     When I laid eyes on beautiful Elkie, Shana's Australian roommate, my lips only wanted to go to her, and my brain (and other parts of my body) immediately forgot Shana and her nice attitude. Tight clothes covered Elkie's thin, soft body, which looked as comfortable and welcoming as a beanbag. Dark brown, shoulder-length hair framed her round face, with its dotted freckles and bowl-like smile that just begged to play. Her eyes were light-colored and innocent: lime-green, with a hint of lemon. They squeezed when she smiled, and if I looked at this time, their brilliant powers shot at me and left me her slave. She was a star - she could sing, she could dance. I obeyed her smile; I wanted to play. Her lips shone of pink lipstick, and they quivered of a hot time.
     We waited for a taxi to Lismore's only nightclub, the Powerhouse. Shana and Elkie kissed eachother, and then Shana kissed me. As we got in the cab, Elkie batted her dark eyelashes at me. I watched her thin lips. "Aw, Justin," she said. Her sweet Aussie accent sounded like a songsparrow when she trailed off on each word. "You've still yet to kiss me!" Hearing this, I almost melted into a pool right there in my shoes. But, instead, Shana put her arm around me, and we headed downtown.
     Most of the night, I danced with Shana in the Powerhouse foam-party. Elkie met another international guy, Kai from Germany. However, she kept dancing close to me, running foam through my hair, whispering things ...
     By the time the night had ended, I wanted nothing to do with Shana. So that I don't come off as shallow, I'll try to justify this: she got really mad at one point in the night, when she ... uh ... got mad at the taxi driver? ... no, that was someone else ... got in a fight in the club? ... definitely not ... um ... let's see, she - I remember! - she called the bouncer a jerk when he wouldn't let her dance shoe-less. Ah, ha! That's it. As you can tell, she obviously did get mad sometimes. I'd say this was a direct violation of our unspoken courting agreement, and I thus acted as any real man would by telling Shana I felt sick that night and couldn't go home with her.
     When I went to my bed (Kim's floor) that night, I had a lot to think about. Shana? ... Elkie? I confided in Kim. If anyone could pull off a "roommate swap," it would be her. She lectured to me on the delicate strategems and sneaky tactics I'd need to employ. I also talked about it that weekend over a rubbery Papa Bear's pizza with Matt and Jeremy, two of the last people who could pull off a "roommate swap." Nevertheless, we devised some pretty good game-plans, including the "While-Shana's-Out-Of-Town Maneuver," "Putting Evil, Blue-Tongued Lizards in Kai's Bed Assassination," the "Pick-And-Roll," "Operation: Dodo Disguise," and, if things got out of hand, a full-blown "Bay Of Pigs."

After returning from another snorkel-filled Byron Bay weekend, Kim and I went into Lismore on Monday to buy groceries. As we walked, Kim was saying something like, "I don't know, man. It just seems to me that people in New York City really don't ..."
     We suddenly stopped in mid-conversation, mid-stride, and looked at the music store beside us. We dropped our bags and joined eachother at a piano. We started jamming. Kim free- styled a funky high-noted beat, and I played a sorrow-filled blues on the low notes. For a while, we were really feeling the music and swinging to the tune. Without a word, we smiled, stopped playing, and picked up our bags. Kim continued, " ... care about the homeless people. I mean, people are hungry, cold ..."
     A while later, we came upon the Oakes Bar and Restaurant. We spotted some American girls from our school: Kim, Jess, and Jenni. They'd skipped classes and had been drinking since noon. We were invited to play drinking games, but Jess pulled me to the side with an urgent question.
     She sat me down. "Justin, Kim and Jenni and I have been hearing some rumors about you. Do you know what we're talking about?"
     I felt like a little boy being grilled by his parents. "No." I bowed my head, ashamed.
     "C'mon, Justin. We've been hearing rumors. We want to know if they're true, okay? These rumors come from last Thursday night. We wanted to know ... did you have a foursome with Shana, Elkie, and Kai!?"
     Hmm. Perhaps they'd seen a spark between me and Elkie? Perhaps the "roommate swap" was more feasable than I'd imagined.
     But, I was still disgusted. "No!" I yelled. A foursome ... that included KAI!? Eww. Does that stuff really happen? I was beginning to learn a little more by studying in Australia than I'd ever wanted to.

Wish me luck with Elkie! - Justin

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