This is a story I wrote for Story Club, which in this particular instance was on at the Old Fitz Theatre as part of The Horses Mouth Festival
. It’s a swank event which is going all the way to December 17, so you should pound your walking leg into submission.
I rode a horse once. My sisters 11th birthday involved riding ponies around Stanwell Tops. It was practically a long, boring episode of The Saddle Club, except my sister’s bitchy friend Melissa didn’t learn her lesson in the end. I have a fundamental distrust of riding large animals – this may stem from this time I saw a camel chomp down on an American tourists face. So, when selecting our steeds, I asked for the oldest, placid, gentlest my little pony. They gave me Patch, a cloudy eyed old gelding who didn’t really react when I sat on him. His enormous face seemed to perpetually be trying to remember where he had put something.
As we rode along the winding trails, I swiftly realised that Patch was in his own senile horse world, completely oblivious to whatever I was doing with my reins or my spurs or whatever horse apparel I was wearing. This wasn’t a problem, until halfway through the ride, he separated himself from the rest of the group, and instead of continuing the climb up towards the sunshine and grassy meadows covered in butterflies and singing birds and equal rights, he took me down a side path shrouded in cold shadows, wreathed by spiderwebs and overhung by various kinds of stinging plants. While a part of me may have embraced my maverick, lone wolf status, exploring Shelobs lair like Frodo riding on the back of an aging, senile Sam – about half of my sisters friends horses followed me down the path towards the temple of doom. We saw brown snakes. We were covered in spiders. I was entirely unsuccessful at leading everybody in a Saddle Club theme song, sing-along.
But much like that ancient nag, I’m going to ignore the obvious trail in front of me, and say to hell with finishing that story. Instead I’m going to lead you down the shadowy side trail of this new anecdote. Is this because I have no more stories about literal horses? Yes. Is it because the end of the former story ends with us despondently eating sausage rolls? Yes. And is it because this other story is better? Let’s find out.
LACK OF STARS:
I used to work at a pub named Boyles Hotel, truly a shimmering carbuncle on the forgotten scranus that is the Sutherland Shire. Apparently in the eighties, Boyles was a dangerous bikie joint, famed for it’s violence and motorcycles and dedication to Khe Sahn. These days the place is patronised by whatever fading remnants of the bikie scene still remain, a bitter, curmudgeonly crowd of about fifteen geriatrics. Our rush hour was at 8am in the morning when the council workers would finish their night shifts. After optimistically doing a two week cocktail making course, the most exotic drink I got to make in my entire time there was a bourbon and coke. It was for a Sheila.
But if I made the venue sound boring, I am doing it an injustice, which I didn’t think was possible frankly. Much like a gangrenous leg that your stupid hiking buddy is just too cowardly to cut off, Boyles seemed to attract the local wildlife. This being Sutherland, instead of arctic wolves or bears, this meant lunatics and Rugby Union fans. The footy fans didn’t seem to ever drink inside the bar – instead on Friday nights they would gather outside and have long sprawling brawls that would eventually involve the police.
The most persistent of our resident eccentrics had one very particular goal in life. Like a disgusting salmon swimming upstream to disgust the other salmon, this man’s modus operandi was to shuffle into the pokie room, sit on a chair and shit himself. After doing this, he would simply leave.
But not everyone was as fun and harmless as old Stoolio – one night while working in the bottle shop section, I was absorbed in bagging my longnecks of VB when a kerfuffle breaks loose. Suddenly I see my coworker leaping the bench and roaring down the street. Turns out someone had just thrown a knife at us.
But after a few months, my shifts suddenly dried up, until I was getting something along the lines of 1 hour per week. This forced me to move on to an exciting job at the Miranda Target loading dock, which I was equally suited for and lasted a similar amount of time. Obviously I wasn’t heartbroken about losing my job at Boyles, and considering I wasn’t bosom buddies with any of the racist thugs that worked in that place, it wasn’t exactly mysterious. Or was it?
I didn’t hear the real reason behind my pseudo-firing from Boyles until it was delivered to me straight from the horses mouth. And by horse I mean incredibly high ex-coworker and by mouth I probably mean ecstasy-hole. Sitting on the train one late night with my girlfriend, this guy suddenly explodes through the door, making an upsettingly determined bee line towards me. When I worked with this fellow, I’d probably never exchanged more than two words with him. Those words were VB and panda. Now he was very excited to see me, and had a rather interesting story to tell.
Turns out that one of the owners of the bar who I had worked with a bunch of times decided that I was a homosexual, which he didn’t like. He then implemented a system where I would be rostered on to do all the most distasteful shifts, such as chasing Stoolio out of the pokies with a broom, so I would hopefully leave. Then when that didn’t work, he simply reduced all my shifts. So, while I was sitting there absorbing that not so surprising piece of homophobia, my new tripping friend added ‘Oh, and everyone thought you were really shit at counting.’ Which is true.
But once at my shitty retail job at the international airport, I got in a lot of trouble and was called in to the store managers office, which just happened to be located in the confectionary store room. My heart in my mouth, I stared at this woman who sat like a malevolent Willy Wonka, haloed by a diabetics hoard of candy, and tried to figure out my crime. There were any number of reasons why I deserved to be fired from this job, the only question being what I’d been caught doing.
My crime was pointing out to my co-workers the mystery shopper that had been staking out our store over the past few days. And part of the reason she was so annoyed, was that she was convinced someone in senior management must have blabbed to me about the secret shoppers identity. Slightly baffled, I told her that I’d heard it straight from the horses mouth, meaning I’d approached this suspicious woman and had a very interesting chat about what it takes to be a mystery shopper. Turns out it requires no qualifications.
The store manager tensed on her chocolate throne and asked me exactly what I meant by ‘the horses mouth’. She had obviously never heard the phrase before, and thought I was insulting her in some kind of new-fangled way that gang members insult people over Twitter.
And as a wrap up, the way that I sussed out the ultra secret identify of the mystery shopper was brain drippingly simple. As we worked in the departures terminal, anyone who is in our shop is flying on a plane to another country. They have gone through security and after they finish shopping, will get on a plane and go far away. There is no street traffic, and definitely no return customers. So when I saw the same woman in the shop for five days in a row, I knew she was either a mystery shopper or the ghost of a passenger who died, probably from all the incredible savings she was making in our store.