Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel



As Wally ground his cigarette butt into the mound of ash and picked up his keys, Pat took stock of the framed poster that hung behind the bar. A 5X3-foot Ramones Australian Tour poster, framed, the image of the eagle clutching the baseball bat partially obscured by the sheen of artificial lights on the glass.

That was when Wally’s band, The Shrunken Heads, had opened for The Ramones on their Australian tour in 1991. Back when Wally’s band was still a pub band, playing in Johnny Decarli’s pub in Sydney. Pat had been to see The Ramones in Brisbane when they toured in 1991. It was his first concert. He was 13.

Wally led Pat out of The Re:Public and into the building immediately next door. Its door and window frames were painted the same red as the fire door of The Re:Public. The three entered into a shallow hallway. Wally unlocked the cage behind the reception desk and took a key from a hook.

He led Pat and Johnny towards the spiral staircase, taking hold of the banister as he climbed. A red arrow was painted on the wall, pointing upwards.

“This is my exercise for the day,” he said.

Wally had aged in an unfortunate way. Most of his hair had fallen out, except for a grey hedge that sat just above his ears, like the ring of Saturn. Time had made him shorter and squatter, and the booze and cigarettes hadn’t helped.

“Basically,” Wally began, hauling himself up the stairs with the assistance of the banister, “I had a windfall. The record company released a best-of of our stuff and it sold like crazy, especially in the States. We’ve done a few tours, opening for some of the bands we’ve known over the years…. Motorhead in Germany, Tool on the East Coast of the US. We even did Lollapalooza. Most of the audience are about 12 and they’ve never fuckin’ heard of us, but they bought some records.”

“So you’re still going, then?” Pat asked.

“It’s better than working, that’s for sure.”

“And now you’re a publican.”

“Sort of.” Wally came to the first landing and stopped.

“He’s the other prime minister,” said Johnny, passing us and leaping up to sit on a table that had been pushed against the wall, under a fire hose reel.

“I’m mid-forties now, and I’ve never had a fuckin’ cracker. We all got royalties cheques after the tour, and mum opened the mail before I could get to it. I was living with her and I owed her money, see. Anyway. She nagged me to do something responsible. For a change.”

He took out his deck of cigarettes and offered the pack to Johnny, who took one. A blonde girl passed them in the hall. Pat caught her eye with his, but she was gone before he could look away.

“Smoke?” asked Wally, shaking the pack in Pat’s direction.

“No thanks,” said Pat, declining with a raised hand. “I quit long ago. Cold turkey.”

“Half your luck,” Wally said, putting the cigs back in the breast pocket of his denim jacket. “Tried everything; hypnotism, patches, the lot. It’s a work in progress. I’ve cut down, but I’m trying to go easy on myself about it.” Wally put the cig between his lips, lit it and then took it from his mouth before speaking. “So now I’m a publican, and I own a backpackers. With my partner here.”

“Wally needed a partner and the time was right, so here I am,” said Johnny.

“And you live here?” I asked.

“Steve and I live in St Kilda, but Wally lives here.”

“In a backpackers?”

“I’m actually building a place in Richmond, but I’m here until the principal work is finished. It’s not too bad, actually,” replied Wally, scratching behind his ear with a thumb. “I’m awake most of the night, anyway – lifetime of bad habits, so I don’t mind. One thing’s for sure, it’s not boring.”

Wally slapped Pat’s arm as he walked past him down the hall. Johnny stayed sitting on the desk, gently knocking his heels against the timber. A large Nordic man emerged from a doorway, naked except for a towel.

“Would you mind keeping it down, please?” he asked, gesturing towards Johnny’s feet. “That’s really annoying.” Johnny looked at him, gave two more little knocks and leapt down off the bench. The man went back to his room and closed the door behind him, mumbling something that didn’t sound like English.

“Did you see that? Like a fucking Viking,” Johnny said.

“And that’s where you come in, Pat,” said Wally. “What are you doing for work?”

“Nothing as yet.”

“Would you be interested in doing security?”

Truth be told, there was a raft of reasons Pat didn’t want to go back into security. Difficult hours, surrounded by booze and drugs, not to mention dealing with idiots and cops, who were frequently interchangeable. Wally, speaking scattergun, saw the mood shifting across Pat’s face like clouds moving past the moon.

“You don’t have to, mate. You can stay here, regardless. It’ll be fun!”

Wally took the key from his pocket and opened a door, pushing it inward. A pale rectangle of daylight extended over the hallway carpet and propped against the opposite wall of the corridor.

“It’s pretty much the same as mine,” he said. “Double bed, built-in wardrobe. It’s only a room, but you have the advantage of living in the CBD. You got a car?”

“No, I don’t.”

“And you’ve also got public transport.” Johnny and Wally stood expectantly, waiting for Pat to take the decision. He walked in and opened the wardrobe, regarding the mirror screwed to the back of the door.

“This is why there’s no nude day anymore,” said Johnny. “If we offered to give away free beer, the entire backpacker’s will be nude, drinking round the clock.”

“Where you been, anyway?” asked Wally.

“London,” Pat replied. Lately, that city had become a cipher to cover the whole sordid mess. He shut the wardrobe door on it.

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