I read this at The National Young Writers Festival 2013 as part of the ‘First Time for Everything Event’ which was maybe my highlight of the festival? Who knows.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my time on this moist round planetary mass that we affectionately refer to as ‘Earth’ or sometimes ‘The fantastic spinning volcano orb’, it’s that everyone has a weakness. A weakness that we can identify and exploit for business reasons. Now I’m not talking exclusively about Limpy Joe and his shattered femur – sometimes a person’s weakness is less obvious, and less awesomely accessorised by a sword-cane. A weakness can be a soft spot for corn-based foods, a hatred of tight hats perhaps. For me, it’s a psychotic desire to own pretty jackets. You’re probably saying ‘plenty of people like jackets, just the other day I wore a jacket to work, Patrick, you’re a fool, I won’t stand for this, I won’t stand for the beautiful lies coming out of your vile yet enticing face-hole.’ And you have a point, my pompous hypothetical friend. Lots of people wear jackets – it’s one of the top five established garments. Number one is pant. But few people lose their entire shit immediately when confronted by jackets like I do. I am normally a mildly fiscally responsible person, due to never having much in the way of fiscals, but I have, and probably will again, spend every dime I own on a neatly turned lapel, leaving me without the ability to pay the rent or feed my cry hole.
This all started when I was eighteen, and on a jaunt in the city with some of my new university friends. Everything was fresh and startling, and I was enamoured by catching public transport and drinking midday beers and feeling fresh spring breezes on my stupid innocent face and also having friends for the first time ever. We spent the day browsing shops in Newtown, and at one point wandered into a place called Gallery Serpentine, which was full of elaborate Victorian era goth frocks. At this point in time I earned my coin by folding cardboard boxes in the loading dock of Target Miranda, and assiduously trying not to get involved in the crime ring that operated from it. Money was not a plentiful thing in my life, the cardboard box folding industry being a skilful job with few rewards. So it was with great surprise that I walked out of that shop fifteen minutes later with a beautiful Victorian Priest’s coat that had cost me five hundred dollars. It was a full length jacket, which flared out slightly at the hips, with a high collar. If you can’t visualise it, think of what Professor Snape wears in the popular Harry Potter movies. Now you also know what I dress up as for Halloween every year.
But at that point, suddenly deprived of my ability to pay for basic essentials, I had to somehow validate my impulse purchase. Since I already knew there was a vast dearth of Victorian weddings for me to officiate any time in the near future, and since I also possessed a flagrant inability to travel back in time, this meant I now simply had to wear my ridiculously formal coat everywhere. Starting with my very first university house party on the upcoming Friday night. I felt there was certain symmetry to wearing my first expensive article of clothing to my first ever house party, proving that I had no idea what the word symmetry means.
The party was at a sharehouse nicknamed ‘Gaynor’, a clever reference to the fact that it was a house on ‘Gaynor Avenue’. Gaynor was the quintessential sharehouse – large sprawling rooms in various states of decay, rumours of a ghost, a certain odour, a tobacco stained roof. Once I spilled an entire bottle of red wine onto the carpet, and when I came back with some paper towel, I couldn’t find the stain. The carpet was… thirsty. It was the kind of house where once I went over and one of the hosts was super excited about a roast dinner he was cooking. The whole place smelled amazing, as he’d been slow roasting all the meats and vegetables in the oven for the majority of the day. Finally that night, we all crowded around in anticipation as he opened the oven and pulled forth the tray, only to discover that somehow, in a mystery unsolved to this day, a basketball had melted over the top of the roast, ruining the entire meal.
But none of this had happened yet. It was my first house party, and I entered it dressed like a scary penguin, armed with two bottles of Passion Pop. Immediately I discovered one of the greater faults in my long list of ‘why it is a stupid idea to wear a $500 jacket to a house party’. And that was the fact I was terrified of getting it dirty. Someone reeled towards me, splashing red goon with wild abandon. A giant naked man, smeared head-to-toe with blue facepaint tried to hug me. Later on I held my friend Jimmy’s hand as he peed in the middle of a freeway, and managed to avoid him getting run over by a truck, or worse, wee-wee on my coat. I soon lost all sight of having fun, and instead viewed the party as an elaborate scheme to ruin my coat. I was like a mama bear, protecting her baby bear that she really couldn’t afford in the first place.
As you have predicted by my sneaky ‘smoking gun’ writing technique, I later drank those bottles of Passion Pop. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t hold my alcohol – eh, I can’t even lie. I’ve never been able to hold my alcohol. I got spectacularly drunk. And the majority of the rest of the night comes mostly from corroborated sources, who delight in telling this story over and over and over.
At some point, it became increasingly obvious due to the large line of people with giant inflated bladders, that somebody had locked themselves in the bathroom. After a bunch of hollering and knocking, it was decided to knock the door down. This was unsuccessful. Then my friend Willis was taken outside and boosted through the window, ignoring its protective layer of glass. Once Willis dodged the razor sharp panes and extricated himself from the sink, he discovered the bathroom had been transformed into a place of rare horror. Judging from the descriptions, it sounded like someone had gone to great pains to vomit on every surface available. The floor, the walls, the mirror, the toothbrushes. That someone was me, and I was passed out in the bathtub.
There are people at parties, who no matter how drunk they get are still great forces of organisation and sanity. One of these people decided they had to get me out of my vomity clothes. My shirt came off, as did my shoes, but when they got to my pants, they discovered I possess a kind of unconscious kicking instinct. In the face of such stout opposition, they very rightly gave up, leaving me facedown, half naked in a bathtub in the middle of winter, junk exposed, unconscious.
Now this is where things begin to get weird, and where I begin to remember stuff again. I woke up, and I was cold. I was shivering violently, my face pressed against something icy and white. I raised my head as much as I could, and saw only whiteness stretching out infinitely in front of me. With all the sexy power of hindsight, I now realise I was simply looking at more bath, but in my inebriated state, I decided that what I was looking at was the vast snowy wastes of the arctic, or perhaps the Antarctic, I couldn’t remember the difference. How did I get in the Arctic? Why was I naked? Why did everything smell of bile? These are all excellent questions that I didn’t bother to think about due to my fear of dying from hypothermia. Now what happens next I can’t justify with any sort of logic, but I can only ask, what would you do if you were suddenly dying in the arctic? A little bit of empathy, please. Because with great difficulty, I managed to find a lighter in my pocket, and proceeded to set my own hair on fire. It wouldn’t catch – so twisting my body around, I saw my saviour hanging on the wall – a roll of toilet paper. Let’s ignore the incongruity of toilet paper hanging in the arctic – let’s ignore it, because I have already set it on fire. It quickly spread to a pile of magazines and gross urine splattered books and old toilet rolls. The fire might not have generated enough warmth to save my life, but it did create enough smoke to alert the rest of the party who then came in and rescued me, or as they saw it, stop the drunken psychopath from setting things on fire.
The next morning I glumly helped mop up the vomit, sweep up the shattered glass, scrub the burn marks from the wall and help re-screw the door onto its hinges, and amongst all the devastation and filth, untouched and pristine in a neatly folded pile, was my jacket. My stupid, beautiful, jacket.