Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tony Smith

Tony Smith and I went to school together. We weren’t in the same classes and we didn’t hang around together. We weren’t friends. I was scared of Tony.
He seemed to be an amalgam of every bully and tough kid I had ever known, since Scott and Mark used to push me around and laugh at me in reception.
Tony skipped classes. He swore at teachers. He wrote graffiti. He was dark and handsome in a cheeky, tough way. He had rough friends, got into fights, had lots of girls who liked him and he smoked. He didn’t like the school or the work (as far as I could tell).
He and I were complete opposites.
I never missed a class, instinctively sucked up to the teachers, had a few wimpy friends (none of whom were girls), hundreds of big, tough pimples and I’ve never been in a fight or smoked a cigarette in my life.
But, somehow we knew each other. I think we were in the same PE class for a semester. He was athletic and defiant and I was clumsy and vigilant, still trying to figure out how to make my newly long arms and legs work together instead of against each other. I once forgot my sneakers and did the class bare foot. Tony and one of his tough friends had a great time calling me a 'bum'.
Even so, he wasn’t really malicious towards me. He would often nod to me as we passed each other in the halls while I quivered in fear. I think I used to fancy that I was the Adrian Mole to his Barry Kent.

Two events hold firmly in my memory of Tony:
Number one was at the first proper ‘high school party’ I ever went to (translation: the first party with drinking, drugs and no parents). I went with one of my wimpy friends and was so nervous beforehand that my hands were shaking as we were dropped off. I wore all the things I thought were cool: red jeans (which later washed out to pink) and a t-shirt with security-blanket brand-name across the front. The party was held in a tiny little inner-city cottage with a back garden the size of a billiard table. A few dim lamps were the only lights on in the entire house. Huge bottles of alcohol stood on a table next to plastic cups and bottles of coke.
I think it was a milestone party for a lot of kids that night. There was a huge controversy because someone sporty and good had announced that they would try some *gasp* dope. It was a sort of defecting from the non-druggy group to the group of people who didn’t do enough homework and got in trouble with the teachers. I over-came my nerves after three short hours, two large bowls of chips and countless cups of coke and even asked a girl to dance at the end of the night. She was the daughter of a friend of my mother’s and we waddled around the floor together in a sort of speeded up waltz.
At one point I remember going outside for some fresh air. It was actually just an excuse to keep moving and avoid the wallflowers I felt growing up around me every time I stood anywhere, trying to work out what to do with my hands. While I stood out the front, planning my next casual pass at the chips and coke table, Tony suddenly appeared, lurching up the street with a girl under each arm.
“Oh my god!” one of them was saying. “He drank like, a whole bottle of vodka!”
“Oh my god!” echoed the other. “Are you okay, Tony?”
Even though he only seemed to able to use about one of his legs at a time, he still had that cheeky grin plastered across his face and was laughing his head off. He leant up against a wall next to the house while one of the girls trotted inside to fetch him some water. One of his rough friends, Chan, ambled onto the front porch and was appropriately appreciative of his drunken state (being drunk was a very big status symbol in year nine).
While Chan basked in the second-hand cool, Tony looked up and saw me. His face lit up.
“Ey Sammy! Whas’ up man?”
It took a second before I could work out what to say. “Not much man. How ya goin’?”
He collapsed into laughter again. “Wicked man! I wanna fuck Kerry-Anna!” (Kerry-Anne was the girl who had just gone inside).
Chan turned and looked at me blankly. I swallowed. What to do?
“Yeah, cool man," I ventured. "Go for it.”
Tony cracked up laughing again as Kerry-Anne came outside again with a large cup of coke. Chan joined in laughing while Tony draped an arm over each girl’s shoulder and used them as crutches to help himself inside. He spent the rest of the night lying on the host’s bed, puking into a bowl of chips.

By that late stage of year nine just about everyone had completely grown out of whatever child-like ways they entered high school with. Girls wore make-up and had older boyfriends. Boys destroyed school property for fun when the teachers weren’t looking and stole chemicals from the science labs.
The cool thing to do around that time was to try to open the locks on other people’s lockers with your own key. Some guys collected bunches of keys (who knows where from) and went around trying lockers all day to see if any would work.
One guy reckoned he knew how crack combination locks by listening for the clicks as he twirled the knob this way and that, but no one ever saw him do it.
Tony didn’t bugger around with random locker break-ins and fiddly bunches of keys. I joined The Group one lunchtime and he threw a Chomp bar at me. It hit me in the head and I sat down quickly, trying to ignore the small tide of braying laughter from the twenty or so other kids who were all eating their own Chomp bars and listening to one of Tony’s not-so-rough friends tell the story of how he had stood guard while Tony vaulted the canteen counter to nab an entire box of Chomps.

The second incident had a history which began later that year.
I had finally convinced my parents to buy me a pair of Nike Air Max running shoes. They were blue and white and cost $120. It was the most expensive pair of shoes I had ever owned. I didn’t need them for anything specific, it was just your average teenage insecurity expressing itself as an obsession with brand-names - a way of buying acceptance.
The only place I was permitted to wear them was once a week for PE. I would bring them to school in a plastic bag, lock them in my locker until it was time to go to the gym and then afterwards try to get away with wearing those soft, comfortable, expensive shoes for the rest of the day - as though I had simply forgotten to change back into my school-approved hard black leather lace-ups.
When I opened my locker to get my prized Nikes, they had disappeared. I remember physically crumpling up in heart-aching disappointment hiding my head inside the locker. I scrabbled pointlessly under the little pile of exercise books I kept in there, but no blue Nikes appeared. The all-too-sensible words of my parents kept playing and replaying in my ears: “They’ll get stolen!”.

When you’re fourteen, having the coolest shoes in the universe stolen from you is only fractionally worse than your parents being right.
I don’t remember what happened after that. I supposed I did PE in my stiff, leather school shoes (I had learned my lesson about doing PE in bare feet). I did find out who had done it though: a tall weaselly-looking kid with snaggled teeth called Daniel. He had one of the biggest bunches of ‘spare’ locker keys in the whole school and three people told me that it was him.
That only made it much worse.
I knew I couldn’t prove anything and there was no way I could have summoned up the guts to actually confront him about it. Not surprisingly, that was only the second-to-last time I ever saw those shoes and the last time I ever went near Daniel.

He knew that I knew he had taken my shoes and every time I saw him, I imagined him grinning at me, teeth like a handful of Tic Tacs, knowing that I was still too much of a scared kid to act without help from adults. I could prove nothing and that made him even safer.

Tony enters this story about a year later, sometime towards the middle of year ten. By this time I had new, not-quite-so-cool-and-expensive shoes and was looking forward to getting my braces off. Rumours had been circulating through the canteen lines and along the margins of classrooms when the teachers turned their backs that Tony hated Daniel. Loathed him. And things were coming to a head.
I never knew why the animosity had developed, but that’s where the battle-lines lay as lunchtimes grew colder and teachers began hassling everybody about wearing their school ties for the winter term uniform properly.
Suddenly, one windy day, it was on. Daniel was in deep deep shit and Tony was going to give it to him. At lunchtime.
Someone challenged someone else to a fight every other week, but it only ever came to blows about once a year, so no one paid any real attention. I was sitting on a bench next to the oval and eating my ham, tomato and onion sandwich and watching a group of boys kicking a footy. Tony and Chan marched past, but didn’t acknowledge me. Five minutes later, there was a brief, whirling scuffle on the opposite side of the oval from the school buildings. Daniel emerged from a flock of onlookers, bounding at high speed across the grass with Tony in hot pursuit. I remember very clearly at that moment noticing that Daniel was wearing a pair of dirty, old, blue Nike Air Maxes. They looked about a year old. I remember smiling slightly as the chase picked up speed. Tony ran with fury, but Daniel’s long, gangly legs were fuelled by fear and soon he had outstripped his pursuer and disappeared somewhere towards the front office.
That was the last time I ever saw Daniel, or my shoes.

There's an epilogue here, but that will have to wait for another blog.


  1. If there's one thing I like about the youth of today, it's the fact that they are less brand obsessed than we were. God we were little shits. I remember how disappointed I was when my grandparents came back from their american holiday not with the promised nikes, but with the New Balance shoes they told us were all the rage over there.

    It seems to me that with the kids these days it's cooler to be more individualistic rather than join the herd. Maybe they've become more content-focused and ad-savvy than us because of the internet.

  2. Yeah, kids these days are too busy interbullying each other to worry about reading clothing tags.
    Do you reckon technology is the new brand?
    What about the poor kid whose parents tell them that Toshiba GigaBeat is just as good as an iPod?
    (You know what I'm talking about ...)

    Funny you should mention the NBs - I reckon I had that story (re)told to me just last week. Tragic.

  3. Kids are still into brands, just different ones: haven't you noticed Converse Chuck Taylors everywhere? They used to cost around 20 bucks ten years ago, now retailing for $90.

    We have a public high school in our street that is largely ignored by the folk who send their kids to Flemington Primary school but *not* the highschool. Aside from Converses it is indeed iPods (score one to you, Franzicle), iPhones, Mossimo hoodies and those ridiculously overpriced Crumpler bags.

    That was brilliantly recalled, Franzy. I could feel the cold-sweat despair of helplessness and then smugness in the account. God being a teenager is/was hell. Do you mind if I take your lead and write my own reminiscence soon?

  4. Kath - I had a pair of Converse when I was about 11 and was convinced they were completely daggy. I went for the puffy Converse basketball boots instead (imagining that they were like Reebok Pumps!).

    Reminisce away.

    River - Well spotted ...


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32