THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Thursday, 22 March

We’re a little rocky this morning. I undertake a mission to find caffeine and some carbohydrate for breakfast ensuite. Today is our Glenn Huddleston day. But first, laundry. I’ve located a wash-and-fold place a half hour’s walk from Hotel Windsock. We have a lot of stinky wash, including the sheets and towels we bought at Target yesterday. In fact, we have so many garment units that a cab to The Lonely Sock launderette will be necessary.

From there we can walk to rendezvous with Glenn and his wife Gil (Jill). I first met Glenn on September 11, 2001 and haven’t seen him since the planes started flying again on the 14th. Every year, though, I think of him. I had a young Aussie houseguest, Ryan Ely, who got stranded at LaGuardia that morning and, sitting on the curb watching the towers burn and fall, befriended a New Zealander (Glenn) who had no place to go. They found their way back to 54 Bleecker Street around six o’clock in the evening. He and I had been out of touch for sixteen years, but eighteen months ago, he emailed me. I told him I regretted not trying to get in touch when Joss and I went to New Zealand. “Oh, I live in Melbourne now.” Hence, Glenn.

Ali and I are early, so we stroll in the shadow of the gargantuan casino/convention center on the south side of the Yarra River. Nearby and moored in a smelly berth, is a three-masted barque, the Polly Woodside. Shrieking schoolchildren are storming the deck. No further exploration of the Polly Woodside is necessary, so we search for our designated tram stop / meeting place. I recognize Glenn right away, even though I hadn’t been able to conjure up his face. Seventeen years have passed. He must have been in his early twenties; I was fifty-one. Now, he’s almost a middle-aged man and I’m a venerable son-of-a-bitch. Some happy, awkward moments ensue. Ali, bless her, picks up the slack. Then, his wife appears and the gabbing really commences.

Soon, a tram pulls in. Yeah, Glenn and Gil have reserved a table for us aboard the Tramcar Restaurant. These are shiny, maroon, decommissioned trams kitted out with Victorian frou-frou and teeny-weeny galley kitchens. We roll along for two hours, merrily indeed, as the streets of Melbourne pass by. Glenn points to things, like the preparations for the upcoming Melbourne Formula One road race, Melbourne’s early 20thcentury amusement park, and this park and that park. Oh, and the food is surprisingly decent. Photographic evidence of this grinning foursome exists.

Ali and I retreat to Hotel Windsock for the next lap in our nap marathon, because tonight – Footy! Glenn is taking us to an Australian Rules football match. Carlton versus Richmond. There isn’t a nuttier, more beloved sport played anywhere on the globe; in fact, it’s pretty much exclusive to the state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne, in particular, which has seven or nine clubs, Carlton and Richmond being two.

Glenn meets us in the Windsor lobby an hour before the match given there will be a thirty-minute walk and stadium security to deal with. Mistimed. We miss maybe the first twenty minutes due to the clusterfuck at the arena entrance. Up three escalator flights and through a milling horde, we search for our level and gate and section. Suddenly, what had been a growl becomes a roar and the blazing, gigantic stadium opens to us, vibrating with passion and beer and incalculable wattage. It’s heart-stopping.

Tonight, 90,000 fans fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in Australia and the 10thlargest in the world. All for two local teams. The Mets and Yankees should be so lucky. We have wonderful seats, way high up, but behind one of the goals. Here are some stats – a vast playing field perhaps four times the area of an American football field, four goalposts on each side, eighteen fielded players to a team, four quarters of play at a half-hour a piece, at least six referees in electric yellow ensemble, a handful of team factotums in lavender, and MAYHEM! What a demented fucking spectacle! I love it. Ali loves it. Glenn is delighted. Ali and I last through the third quarter and bid our friend good-bye. Richmond is leading. It has been a reunion of great fun and satisfaction. The walk back to the hotel is all giddiness.

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