THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Friday, 30 March

I have planned a nautical excursion for today – the ferry to Manly, a beach resort thirty minutes away by boat. We hoof it through the Botanical Garden once more, our destination this time the Circular Quay (formerly the Semicircular Quay). The Opera House looms, or rather billows. Tourists out here on Bennelong Point are photo-crazed, taking all manner of douchy snapshots. They’re at the goddamn Sydney Opera House and now they have proof that both they and Australia exist concurrently. Go home, assholes. By the time we locate the correct ferry terminal (there are five), we’re a bit out of sorts. I am, at least. There’s a ‘fast’ ferry and a ‘slow’ ferry. After several moments of brittle confusion, we settle on the fast ferry. Ali feels a little woozy. I step out on foredeck to snap some photos of my own of the Harbour in its glory. From this vantage, its reputation as ‘World’s Most Beautiful Harbor’ is a sorry understatement. The breeze is bellowing, lifting my shirt to reveal my abdomen. Woe betide those within sight thereof.

Once in Manly, we reconnoiter like squirrels for food. This entails a long stroll along the Manly’s esplanade, laboring under the misapprehension that a restaurant lay in that general direction. Kids are diving off the docks. Sunbathers and families are enjoying the calm, clear water. We pass this woman, this young American woman, who is Face-timing or Skyping with someone to whom she complains about her defective tonsil and her ineffectual karma. We giggle and keep walking. She’s still at it on our return trip having found no restaurant. Karma’s a bitch.

At noon, the cafés open their doors and we walk right in. Ordering a meal in the Land of No Worries always involves guesswork and inquiry. Following lunch-induced mood stabilization, we amble off to the ocean side. Only half a kilometer of terra firmaseparates the ocean from Manly harborside. Manly beach is a grand plagewith a promenade of stately Norfolk pines and bounteous surf. Not Ali’s cup of sand. We start our oceanside hike to Shelly Beach by sucking on Golden Gaytime popsicles. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity since Monkey Mia. At the halfway point, we turn back, tired and hot, just holding the sticks. Back at Simpson’s, cooled off, and rested, we go for dinner at the blandest Italian restaurant in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Thursday, 29 March

Our morning routine has been semi-invariable – a text at 8:30 and a breakfast rendezvous at nine. Today’s no different. The breakfast room at Simpsons is light-filled, with white tablecloths and bentwood chairs. A framed speedo hangs on the wall. It belonged to Ian Thorpe, Australia’s last great Olympic swimmer. The cold buffet is modest, but perfect. I usually construct a ham & cheese sandwich on toast and eat a bunch of fruit. The coffee is ample and stimulating. After the meal, we embark on a semi-aimless stroll of neighborhood discovery. Behind a metal fence of the townhouse, a cocker spaniel barks at me. I address the creature with all solemnity – “Bar-bar-a.” “What?” “Bar-bar-a. That’s the dog’s name, Ali,” I say, “Bar-bar-a.” “Oh, Dad”

We miss the McElhone Stairs, a l-o-n-g set of steps that would have connected us with the wharves below. Instead, we turn right and get stuck in a beautiful maze-like park built, it seems, atop a parking garage. Flowering shrubs and great blue sky and no exit. It overlooks the Navy Yard or the Australian equivalent. The vessel docked directly below appears to be undergoing some kind of ceremony. Sailors in dress whites line the decks and walkways, while a band plays on the shore. Ali is able to glean, by overhearing a gnomish-looking man’s conversation, that the ship is being decommissioned. Also, that the HMAS Success was the last ship built by and for the Australian Navy. It will eventually be sunk for an artificial reef.

Beyond the ship, far off, we can see the arc of the Harbour Bridge and the glint of the Opera House, while below, Finger Wharf, a splendid pile of condos. The Domain and the Botanical Gardens lie across the cove looking elegant and lush. We stroll back to the hotel in order to primp for lunch with Judy Rowley at Coogee Beach. Judy’s a Bennington Writing Seminars grad who I got to know through the Cornelia Street Café reading series. We call a cab, exulting in our wisdom and self-preservation by abandoning the auto yesterday. Judy’s driving instructions are clear and, sure enough, she appears, graciousness personified. She and her husband, Peter, live in a high-rise apartment with a spectacular view of Coogee Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The apartment has a grand terrace where we share a bland, guest-centric meal. Afterwards, they take us for a drive to Bondi (Bond-eye) Beach, Sydney’s most famous. We amble along the Art Deco promenade. Peter suffers from a neurological problem that inhibits his gait, which means his boogie boarding days may be largely over. It is our great good fortune that Judy and Peter return us to our hotel, via the hip neighborhood of Paddington. Their warm hospitality and conversation are just what we needed.

Ali and I have an hour or two to prepare for our evening at the Opera. Napping is the most effective prep possible. Tonight’s performance will be al fresco. The Handa Opera Company is presenting La Bohemeon a stage at the edge of Farm Cove. Food will be available starting at five o’clock, which is when we begin walking over. Our tix have been held at the box office for months. This rather stupendous venue has been created on the shore in order to exploit views to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge beyond. Sydney harbor may be the most beautiful in the world. It is vast and convoluted, an endless hem of coves around a skirt of hilly peninsulas.Three different dining opportunities exist – sandwiches, sit-down, and chandelier. We are sandwich people, and our superpower involves the snagging of a pair of salads and a table for two with a breeze and a clear view of the Sydney’s endlessly entrancing waterfront as the westering sun sets the city ablaze. This is pretty goddamn wonderful. Ali is wearing her Godzilla dress and I my short-sleeve shirt with the tropical, 3-D pattern. We are by far the hippest operagoers.

The stage set is an enormous box fronted by an enormous raked stage and flanked by two construction cranes (uh-oh), as well as six spindly ‘street lights’. Paris, n’est-ce pas? Fake snow or fake-fake snow festoons all surfaces. Paris en hiver, n’est-ce pas? The opera is a complete clusterfuck / trainwreck. Overlit – Over-micced – Over-acted – Baffling directorial choices – Bad wigs –Anachronistic bullshit – and on and on and on.

Here’s a prime example. In La Boheme, as Puccini wrote it, during Musetta’s big end-of-Act-One number in Café Momus, the tremulously minor character of ‘The Toyseller’ enters, has a bit of business, departs. In this deranged version, the Toyseller is flown in via crane dangling in a garbage can held aloft by ersatz balloons. The action stops or rather becomes utterly insignificant in the face of such theatrics. Does the Toyseller sing? Who the fuck cares. Quicker than you can say “Giacomo Puccini” the fool hops back in his can and is laboriously whisked away. But wait! A pesky ‘street urchin’ has grabbed on to a rope that hangs from the toyseller’s bucket and, levitating, vanishes into the dark of the harbor. We are both appalled and somehow complicit.

The night has been magical, ridiculous, and unforgettable. We walk home muttering and amazed. It’s gonna be hard to top this.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Wednesday, 28 March

Q.  What do I have to do to get a cup of coffee in this lame-ass restaurant? A#1 – No worries, mate. A#2 – Blow me. After stuffing the car with our ever-expanding collection of baggage, we make our way to the National Gallery of Art through Canberra’s leafy boulevards. Ali marvels at my cavalier disregard of signage when I drive directly up onto the curb, instead of the obvious entrance ramp to the parking garage. “Dad!”

The National Gallery is an airy, inviting, rather discombobulated building. Its Aboriginal collection is extraordinary. We are quiet and focused, except to whisper, “Is that a snake?” Each piece shimmers with antiquity. The mystery of dreamlines, the incredibly ancient oral traditions, confront us. We know nothing.

Also astonishing are the watercolors of Albert Namatjira, an indigenous artist working during the first half of the 20th century. The mastery and luster of his painting is wholly within the Western tradition, yet somehow, the medium of watercolor perfectly captures the tension between the outback’s saturated palette and the light that transmutes it before your eyes.

His is a tragic story. Born in 1902, Namatjira spent his youth living with his family in an Aboriginal mission near Alice Springs. As a young man, he showed startling promise as painter and in 1938, his first exhibition sold out. Fame and money followed, but as an Aboriginal, Namatjira could neither lease property nor buy a house, among countless other prohibitions. Public outrage led to his being granted full citizenship in 1957. It took another ten years for basic rights to be granted to all Aboriginal people.

As a citizen, he could now buy alcohol. Aboriginal custom dictates that a person must share bounty with friends. In 1958, he was charged with supplying alcohol to other native people. The court did not believe his denial, sentencing him to two months in prison. Namatjira emerged a broken man and died in 1959. The National Gallery devotes a room solely to his extraordinary work.

Another of the glories of the National Gallery is Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ bought in 1973 for $1.3 million AUD, at the time the highest price paid for a contemporary American painting. Much controversy surrounded the transaction, however, today ‘Blue Poles’ is acknowledged to be Pollock’s supreme masterpiece. The electricity of the painting, its vibrancy and presence, is markedly different from the murky turbulence of a lot of his work.

Sydney will be today’s destination. Finally, we will surrender the car we rented with so much hassle in Adelaide; trusty, old shitmobile that it has become. Ali’s at the wheel and dealing with the GPS, as well. This is not a problem until we enter Sydney city limits and everything goes to shit. The highways in Sydney vanish into tunnels at a moment’s notice. GPS goes kablooey. Recalculate Nightmare! At a stoplight, we manage the scurrying ‘driver switch’ stunt. Though our search is cross-eyed convoluted, we eventually do arrive at the Hertz office. But there’s no street parking. We accomplish that, but when we enter the office, the counter staff disappears as if on cue. The miracle will be if I can keep my wits about me. “Drop-offs around the back,” is the take-away from this encounter. Done. Now can we flag a taxi? It’s only rush hour. After a series of silly, fruitless moves from one side of the street to the other and one corner to the other, a fucking cab does stop.

Moments later, we’re deposited at Simpson’s Hotel in the Potts Point neighborhood, a beautiful and serene Arts & Crafts-style house converted into a hotel after considerable renovation. Again, with the three-flight schlep of the monster suitcase. Ali has been assigned to Barbara’s Room. I get Number Nine. I’ve reserved a table at Yellow, a notable vegetarian restaurant around the corner. The food is pretty wonderful; only the weird wilted radicchio disappoints.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Tuesday, 27 March

Following a mellow breakfast and animated chat with Jo, the substitute innkeeper, we hit the road. It’s all freeway to Canberra. Phew. We engage in a small discussion whether or not to stop at Gundagai to see The Dog on the Tuckerbox. Who wouldn’t want to see a dog on a goddamn tuckerbox, I say. “What’s a tuckerbox, Dad?’ replies Alice. The response “Let’s find out” doesn’t meet with much enthusiasm, but we’re both peckish, so we make the turn at Gundagai. Okay, this tuckerbox + dog equation has its origins in a typical Australian ballad called ‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’, a sort of lament for the passing of the drover’s way of life and a paean to the canine companionship and loyalty. A tuckerbox, by the way, is a food box, not unlike the present-day cooler.

This is a small, very local café. We order two burgers with ‘the lot’, which means garnished on top with salad. In addition to a profusion of tattered celebrity mags everywhere, there are two wheelbarrows full of squash ($5 each) sitting by the front door. The young women serving have many questions about the US.

Canberra is very low-key, a most suburban city. What bustle there is appears exclusively automotive. We are relying on the GPS solely; no street numbers are visible. We get turned around a couple times, but without too much difficulty locate our hotel. For the price of two rooms, we’re given a roomy suite, which comes with the always welcome, always problematic, washer/dryer combo. We keep it simple by ordering a room service dinner.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Monday, 26 March

We fire up the generator, turn off the water pump, reel in the ropes, and make headway. Seasoned river rats by now, we have no trouble navigating back to the wharf by nine o’clock. Chris meets us in the skiff and takes the wheel, neatly guiding us into the Mayflower’s customary berth. They are happy to see us. We did good. And, ultimately, we had a good time. A relaxing, chill time – not so much. Sliding an unfinished puzzle back into its box is a mournful experience. Our white Hyundai has been parked in a grove of towering eucalypts for three days now, long enough for the vehicle to be covered with a solid layer of birdshit. Our ever-crusty automobiles. We leave the demoralized car and go in search of a more substantial breakfast than Uncle Toby’s Cheerios. At the bakery we choose, they sell a confection called a ‘Neenish Tart’. It looks like a small black-and-white cookie, except the white side is pink. Ali’s real curious. She inquires, “And a Neenish Tart is what?” Evidently, it’s filled with something semi-gross, like marshmallow fluff, and the meaning of the qualifier ‘neenish’ has been lost. We harvest more synthetic, unfoldable Australian currency from obliging ATMs and plot our route to Beechworth.

It’ll take us through Glenrowan, where Ned Kelly stood his ‘last stand.’ The dude is to the Australian State of Victoria what the Ala-fucking-mo is to Texas. The word ‘hagiographic’ comes to mind, mainly so I can use it in a sentence for the first time in my life. A prominent feature of little Glenrowan is a 30-foot statue of NK in his iron regalia and wielding a shotgun. Just ten feet in front of Mr. Kelly, a helpful sign points to TOILETS. We eat lunch across the street. I am tempted by a Ned Kelly refrigerator magnet with a tiny thermometer attached, but I don’t pull the trigger.

We park the shitmobile in front of our Beechworth B&B, The Graces. Our rooms are lovely, each with a magnificent mantelpiece. In order to get the road kinks out, we go for a walk. Beechworth is a postcard-pretty town radiating from two perpendicular main streets. The Burke Museum (that Burke of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition to cross the continent south to north) is open. We buy a ticket that includes a visit to Ned Kelly’s Vault. Hurry! The Vault closes at four. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Look! Here’s NK’s brother’s Bible, the outhouse door with his initials carved on it, and his cousin’s hatpin. And lots and lots of armor, not only the suits that his outlaw band wore, but the steel ensembles worn by Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger in eponymous movies.

The Burke Museum is funky. First let me say that the Burke and Wills story is one of arrogance and ignorance succumbing to the implacable emptiness of Australia’s central deserts. Few failures have been quite so abject. They all expired from hubris. In addition to sad (dumb-ass) Burke memorabilia, the museum’s most striking feature is a full-size model street with storefronts of the various merchants and tradespeople of 19th century Beechworth. Beechworth was a gold rush town: 153 tons of gold were mined or banked (or something) here. A measure of a ton of gold is represented by a beach ball-size sphere sitting on the floor by the door. Gold is that dense. And let’s not forget the ratty taxidermy and seashells in dusty cabinets.

After a therapeutic nap, we make the dinner decision. When we first arrived, our host suggested this new place, The Empire Hotel. It had recently changed ownership and gone ‘upscale’. We’re game. The food is remarkably tasty, unfussy and ample, though the service is distracted. The waiter seems incredibly busy. In passing, he knocks over a chair and remarks to himself, “Oh, Basil.” This offhand Fawlty Towers joke relaxes us utterly and we enjoy the best meal of the trip so far. This is confirmed when dessert proves a letdown.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Tuesday, 26 March

We fire up the generator, turn off the water pump, reel in the ropes, and make headway. Seasoned river rats by now, we have no trouble navigating back to the wharf by nine o’clock. Chris meets us in the skiff and takes the wheel, neatly guiding us into the Mayflower’s customary berth. They are happy to see us. We did good. And, ultimately, we had a good time. A relaxing, chill time – not so much. Sliding an unfinished puzzle back into its box is a mournful experience. Our white Hyundai has been parked in a grove of towering eucalypts for three days now, long enough for the vehicle to be covered with a solid layer of birdshit. Our ever-crusty automobiles. We leave the demoralized car and go in search of a more substantial breakfast than Uncle Toby’s Cheerios. At the bakery we choose, they sell a confection called a ‘Neenish Tart’. It looks like a small black-and-white cookie, except the white side is pink. Ali’s real curious. She inquires, “And a Neenish Tart is what?” Evidently, it’s also filled with something semi-gross, like marshmallow fluff, and the meaning of the qualifier ‘neenish’ has been lost. We harvest more peculiar Australian currency from obliging ATMs and plot our route to Beechworth.

It’ll take us through Glenrowan, where Ned Kelly stood his ‘last stand.’ The dude is to the Australian State of Victoria what the Ala-fucking-mo is to Texas. The word ‘hagiographic’ comes to mind, mainly so I can use it in a sentence for the first time in my life. Glenrowan features a 30-foot statue of NK in his iron regalia and wielding a shotgun. Just ten feet in front of Mr. Kelly is a helpful sign pointing to TOILETS. We eat lunch across the street. I am tempted by a Ned Kelly refrigerator magnet with a tiny thermometer attached, but I don’t pull the trigger.

We park the shitmobile in front of our Beechworth B&B, The Graces. Our rooms are lovely, each with a magnificent mantelpiece. In order to get the road kinks out, we go for a walk. Beechworth is a postcard-pretty town radiating from two perpendicular main streets. The Burke Museum (that Burke of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition to cross the continent south to north) is open. We buy a ticket that includes a visit to Ned Kelly’s Vault. Hurry! The Vault closes at four. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Look! Here’s NK’s brother’s Bible, the outhouse door with his initials carved on it, and his cousin’s hatpin. And lots and lots of armor, not only the suits that his outlaw band wore, but the steel ensembles worn by Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger in eponymous movies.

The Burke Museum is funky. In addition to sad (dumb-ass) Burke memorabilia, its most striking feature is a full-size model street with storefronts of the various merchants and tradespeople of 19thCentury Beechworth. Beechworth was a gold rush town: 153 tons of gold were mined or banked (or something) here. A measure of a ton of gold is a beach ball-size sphere sitting on the floor by the door. It’s that dense. Don’t forget the ratty taxidermy and seashells in dusty cabinets.

After a therapeutic nap, we make the dinner decision. When we were settling in, our host suggested this new place, The Empire Hotel. It had recently changed ownership. We’re game. The food is remarkably tasty, unfussy and ample, though the service is distracted. The waiter seems incredibly busy. In passing, he knocks over a chair and remarks to himself, “Oh, Basil.” This offhand Fawlty Towersjoke relaxes us utterly and we enjoy the best meal of the trip so far. This is confirmed when the dessert proves a letdown.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Sunday, 25 March

I could hear the weather carrying all night long. It’s gray and cold when we arise. A good day to work on a jigsaw puzzle under normal circumstances, but by midday we’re rollin’ on the river. Ali has become adept at mooring and unmooring the Mayflower. Me – I’m Captain Afib and we’re heading upstream again. Ali makes lunch and I manage to consume a sandwich one-handed without running us into any obstacles. That comes later. Despite the crummy weather, people are out on the water. The two of us have relaxed into a form of boat existence characterized by relative efficiency of crabby teamwork. Who knew!

Twenty kilometers from where we started out this morning, we decide to tie up for the evening. The shadows are lengthening and the wind is picking up. I turn the craft into the bank at too oblique an angle and we get stuck sideways; not exactly aground, but semi-immobilized against the shore by the wind and current. Distress ensues. There’s no ‘reverse’ possible due to this skewed position. After several misguided and potentially foolhardy attempts at wading in and pushing the goddamn thing, we call service and repair again and confess to pathos. Here, I must acknowledge that Ali protested vigorously to this crypto-suicidal ‘pushing’ solution. “Push? Get out and push?  And who’s behind the wheel, Captain Rob?”  I was too far up my ass to hear. A simple, quick maneuver guided by Josh and we’re in the middle of the current. All I feel is relief and I imagine all Ali feels is scorn.

This was a bullshit snafu. We find a wonderful mooring place sheltered between two fallen trees. Penne with pesto, broccoli, and leftover burger meat weighs a ton and is delicious. Let’s see how puzzled we can get. It’s a hard one, a landscape reflected on water with basically only seven or eight colors repeated murkily on the horizontal axis. Pfeh. Movie time. Tonight – Lion. It has a lovely first half, but then the lost boy, now grown, boringly searches for his home in India via Google Earth. Still, a decent enough film and shot in part in Tasmania. We gotta pack tonight, because we’re due back at Echuca at 9am.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Saturday, 24 March

PIERCING SHRIEK!!!

Jesus Christ, it’s five o’fucking clock in the morning. Is this noise coming from the boat? Uh-huh. The mechanical room in the stern. Ali can sleep through anything. No, she can’t. What the fucking fuck!!! Okay, let’s start our day and pretend the boat won’t explode. At 7:30 (ever so considerate) I call the service & repair number Chris gave us. Josh, the other guy, answers.

“Did you run the generator for four hours?”

“No.”

“Turn it on and the noise will stop.”

“Thanks.”

Last night, we had been so relieved to have stopped moving that I turned off the clattering generator without really thinking. So, problem solved: we don’t explode. Breakfast is Cheerios, perpetrated on the Australian public by a gentleman named Uncle Toby. They are perilously crunchy, these Cheerios in-name-only. We become unmoored and proceed to go with the flow. The Murray is a placid torrent. It winds through stands of eucalypts, flanked sometimes by tall, raw embankments of golden earth. We encounter other houseboats along the way, both moored and chugging, and motor past holiday camps that are basically houseboats on stilts on top of bluffs. Paddle-wheel tourist vessels approach the Mayflower and we discover that the people aboard can be baited into waving. We smile gaily, wave, and say, “Fuck you, you fucking tourists!” Powerboats towing skiers zip by, as do obnoxious jetskis.

The Murray is Australia’s longest and most navigable river, delineating the border between New South Wales and Victoria, and at last passing through South Australia to empty into the Great Australian Bight. Compared to other river systems on other continents, the Murray is small potatoes. The river’s lack of water volume is due to the Australia’s arid nature. Still, it winds powerfully, yet leisurely, for 1,500 miles through forest, scrub, and wetlands.

We slip ondownstream. Once we get the hang of the blue markers at two-kilometer intervals, we feel more confident of where we are. The real estate has become more upscale: the embankments reinforced with wooden bulkheads or even riprap. Despite the neighborhood, we tie off on two dead trees and begin serious work on the puzzle while contemplating dinner prep. Burgers set off the smoke alarm. Then we turn off the lights and watch The Dressmaker on DVD that Ali had bought at the supermarket. The soccer-like game the sweaty, young Hemsworths are playing at the beginning of the film turns out to be … Footy!

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Friday, 23 March

Ali forbids me from driving to The Lonely Sock for laundry retrieval, so we pick up a taxi out front and make a roundtrip. The cabbie’s very chatty, a young man from Pakistan. The conversation’s all light until near the end of the trip, when he singles out all Somali youth as incorrigible. Not truly icky, but weird. So many factors at play. A&V repack and call for the automobile, pointing it to the northeast. We are heading to Echuca to spend the weekend piloting a houseboat on the Murray River. An hour or two into the trip, we’re famished. Ali spots a little café in a tiny, dusty town named Elmore. It’s called The Copper Kettle. The young couple have been operating for a month. Lunch is okay, but the two of them are disarming. He – diffident with a twinkle and German accent. She – all bustle with floury hands. Their handmade pennants fly from the arcade over the sidewalk and a small white car parked directly in front has “Brekkie” written on a chalkboard on its roof.

On we motor, ever-attuned to the continuing saga of Jim Holden and the frigate Rocinante hurtling across the Solar System. Prior to reaching the Port of Echuca we must stop and shop for a weekend’s worth of groceries – three dinners, three breakfasts, and two lunches – in preparation to be houseboat-bound for three days. We’re met at the wharf by a cheerful, efficient woman named Julie. All’s in order. Is it okay if we park the auto under the large eucalypts over there? We schlep our miscellany down to the Mayflower, a floating rectangle. After signing some kind of waver, a young man named Chris gives us a quick tutorial. The boat has a generator to charge the battery to run the systems, an independent water pump, and, of course, the goddamn ignition (what the key is for). He provides instructions on maneuvering, tying off to the shore, and, counter-counter-intuitively, motoring on the righthand side of the river. He hands me the wheel and vanishes. We’d been towing his getaway skiff. What’s to become of us?

Ali’s reaction to being cast adrift is to freak out, which flares for a while. She paces. She feels nauseous. But when she latches onto her father’s earlier egregious misrepresentation of himself, her mood brightens. I’d introduced myself to Chris as ‘Rob’, a name I have never ever used. “Rob? Rob? Where did that come from, Dad?” She remains, nevertheless, bummed. We cruise for a time, confused by the map they gave us and wary of oncoming river traffic, but jabbering continuously. The ‘Rob’ issue requires lengthy discussion. “Slow down, Dad.” I had been barreling along. “I mean … Rob.”

A good place to moor for the night appears and I bring the Mayflower in successfully. Two ropes, one at each corner of the ‘bow’ must be secured to trees. Now we can survey our lodging. The Mayflower is an exceedingly compact three-bedroom apartment. Two of the bedrooms contain queen beds and the other, a set of bunk beds. The queens fill the rooms so totally it will be necessary to stick one’s legs into the hallway in order to pull one’s pants on. This means we will use the bunk room as a dressing room. Up a flight of stairs is a covered deck, perfect for hypothetical relaxation. In the bow there’s an open space with a galley kitchen, dining table, and uncomfortable sofa. The helm with a chrome wheel is on the left side. Ali places the Royal Flying Doctor Service co-pilot koala on a shelf by the ignition.

Our bow is right up against an embankment of yellow earth, while across the river, distant hubbub rises from an elaborate caravan park. Two kids in funyaks paddle up to the Mayflower. Their intention is to assemble rows of lumps from the pale gray clay that runs in veins through the ochre dirt of riverbank. They’re chatty but focus intently on their blob project. We fix dinner, a rotisserie chicken and broccoli, then we pour the 1,500 pieces of the jigsaw puzzle out onto the glass-top table and commence edge-piecing. Twilight is painting the river with gold. “Shhh,” whispers Ali, “Look.” Ten yards away, three wallabies have come down to the river to pray.

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.