Going Down Now
A story of two worlds.
Thanks and Legal Disclaimers:
*Daria and all the many varied Lawndalians are solely owned by MTV. I have nothing.*
TAFKA, Geoff & jewli. They’ve all been kicking around with the idea – I might have got to it first, that’s all.
The ‘Enzs – I’ve been listening to “Six Months on a Leaky Boat” since 1982, it’s kinda rubbed off on me a little.
Australian Music: A lot of it is crap, most of it is ancient and a few particular favourites keep getting airtime. The reason why? Just be quiet for a second and listen...
"Arrgh! Pillow hair!"
Quinn's familiar whine dragged Daria out of a nightmare involving the flayed skin of a cat quoting Nietzsche while a faceless man pushed needles into where his eyes should have been.
"Moo-oom! Why did I have to get on this stupid plane anyway!?"
In all, Daria would have rather remained asleep.
Pushing her glasses back into place, she glanced over to her father, still sleeping as he had begun...ten minutes into the flight. Out of vague interest, she leant over and opened the window shade a crack. Brilliant sunlight flashed blue and purple bouncing balls in her vision before dazzled eyes adjust.
Outside, nothing but the awe-inspiring vista of limitless ocean.
Curiosity temporarily satisfied, she closed the blind, places her glasses somewhere more safe and tries to catch a little more shuteye.
"Oh my God! 85% humidity! My hair!"
But the drill-on-nerve tone of Quinn at maximum whine prevents any sort of restful slumber. A moment's wishful thinking was spent in the unlikely possibility that the Qantas Flight Attendants would be familiar with the "Aircraft Rage" restraints, but since Quinn's personality had made itself manifest 6 hours before, the cabin crew had become difficult to summon, at the best of times.
Wondering why she had decided to accompany her parents to Australia, Daria's hated inner voice threw up the usual suspects.
“C’mon! Do you know how much I’d give to go down under?”
“I’m not sure Jane...Are you still batting both sides?”
“Daria!” The false shock in her voice and the twinkle in her eye indicate a retort in the offering. I decide to pre-empt it.
“The action side of things must be pretty slow if you’re forced to pay...”
“At such a young age, too...” Her tone is so very dry.
I continue the thought a little further. “And all those necessary skills, neglected by our overworked education system...”
Jane looks up from her work-in-progress and grins triumphantly. “Not if you’re Brittany!”
It’s a colour representation of her room, a still life for Mrs Defoe. In protest to some long-forgotten issue, she’s boycotting the use of blue and yellow – I’m pretty sure that apart from our “Art Instructor”, I’m the only one to notice that everything that “Picasso Lane” has submitted this semester has shared the same deficiency...
...Which lead to some fast-talking when Ms Li “volunteered” all art classes to produce a giant paper-Mache mascot for the football team.
(I’m still pretty sure that Jane had something to do with the previous incarnation mysteriously catching fire like it did...but only because she asked me how to make an accelerant out of the various solvents she had lying around.)
(Hmm...mental note: Open windows now.)
“You’ll catch cold doing that”
Unperturbed, Jane catches a scrap of paper before it makes its break for freedom into the chill “almost-winters” they have in Lawndale.
“It’ll compliment the brain damage I’ve likely received from being in a room with this many flammable materials.”
She waves a hand at me. “Well, if you’d like to catch the full range of debilitating ailments at Casa Lane, you’d better spend some quality time in Trent’s room.”
I have to ask.
“Oh, since they’re kind of running out of rainforests and suchlike to study and research...”
“Still clearing that football field a second?”
“Makes you proud, doesn’t it? Anyway, since they’re running out of Brazil to study, some clever types have cottoned onto the possibilities that lie “closer to home” as it were...”
I flick through one of Jane’s older sketchbooks. “You sound almost sincere?”
That familiar eyebrow action. “I am, how do you think a slacker brother like mine can afford to fuel a car like his?”
Did I sound as surprised as I think I did? Apparently so - Jane finishes off a fine edge using a sable brush, then turns to clean it and answer me.
“You are not up to fusion then, Earthlink?”
“Although I may never be as proficient as Kevin in pumping fuel, I have had to fill a tank or two.”
“Kevin, the Fuel Jockey? Ha! No, whatever Trent uses to keep that blue pile of rust moving was probably phased out along with the idea of steam-engine trailer-parks.” There is a pregnant pause. “Napalm is still a possibility...”
There is a tap at the door, interrupting any quip of mine. A balding sweaty man in a white biohazard suit, helmet removed, leans around the threshold and waves at Jane.
“Ms Lane? The stuff we’re finding...it’s incredible. Do you think your brother would be amendable for our team to remain on-site for a few more weeks?”
Her flippant nod indicates that at the Lane household, truth is stranger than fiction.
“I’m NOT going, and that’s final!”
I finish my milk and mumble, “If only...”
Mother dearest knows full well that Quinn’s refusal is simply a bargaining ploy to squeeze further favours and concessions, but she’s less than sympathetic today.
“Quinn, for the last time, your father and I need a vacation and for once our schedules can afford a decent break...” It was in a reasonable tone, but I could see the teeth behind it.
I consider mouthing “No escape” at the little featherbrain, but decide to refill my glass and watch the entertainment as she learns for herself.
“Quinn, you have a week to pack.”
“A WEEK! Only a WEEK?! I’ll die!”
“The glare” is Quinn’s only answer...and my unspoken warning. It looks like a hectic time in store for Maryanne if this mood persists.
A few seconds of considering and Quinn departs for her room with the house mobile mid-speed dial; obviously about to discuss possible fashion combinations with her fellow drones.
“I’m already packed.”
Mom holds a hand to her head. Amazingly it doesn’t have a cellular phone. Uh-oh, possible mother-daughter moment.
“Daria, I...” That familiar expression of “busy lawyer” quickly re-establishes itself. “Forget it.”
“Mom,” she stops mid-turn.
“Thanks for the vacation.”
She continues as if she didn’t hear me.
The Oz-accented voice of the Captain intrudes on Daria’s waking reverie.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are approximately an hour out from Brisbane International Airport. Breakfast will be served shortly but if you have any questions about import duties, declaration of goods and possible quarantine issues, please catch the attention of the cabin crew. Thank you.”
For a moment, Daria wonders if the Australian customs officials would be amused at finding a 2-pound bag of crystalline powder in Quinn’s carry-on.
“I’m sure that they’d be smart enough to realize that it’s only castor sugar...”
Jake Morgandoffer twitched slightly as the smell of fresh coffee infuses the first-class section.
With that Daria stops her vocal musing, shivers and tries to hope that she didn’t sound like her mother.
“Brisbane Airport! Do you realize we’re in Australia!?”
Dad sounds happy.
“Shouldn’t it be “G’yay”?”
Everyone stares at me.
“We are in Australia..?”
Dad blinks. “Oh, sure honey! Say, where’s our driver?”
A good question. After collecting our luggage and hiring two baggage haulers for Quinn’s pile, we’d made our way to the “Incoming” lounge for the tour guide that Mom had organised.
In an efficiency-overdrive, she’d made absolutely nothing would or could go wrong with this “Grand Tour”.
NASA could have taken notes.
“I’m not sure,” Mom holds up a photo of the driver/guide that the company had E-mailed her. He’s balding, and that’s about as specific as it gets. After staring intently at a few passers-by, she sighs and drags out her cell phone. “Just look out for “Morgandoffer” on the signs, will you?”
“After all, what are the chances of another family having the same name as us?”
“About the same as me finding someone called “Morgan Doffer”
A deepish voice behind me answers my question and we all stop to see who it came from. There is a 6’2 man with a really bad haircut tapping a large sign with “Morgan Doffer” written on it. He stops the tapping and holds out his hand to Dad.
“Hi, I’m Lew Richardson from Black Dust Tours. Seems like the usual communication breakdown.”
“Gudday Mate!! I’m Jake, Jake Morgandoffer!”
The tour guy manages to hide a wince, bonus marks for that.
“Hey Jake, and these are..?”
“Oh, sorry! Helen, Quinn and Daria!”
He nods at the lightning-fast introduction, and I can see the pain in his eyes as he looks at the mountain that is Quinn’s luggage. Hmm, looks like Mom is stepping up to bat. The guide offers his hand and Mom takes the massive paw like it is going to break.
“I’m sorry, we were looking for...” She trails off as she notices the number of silver studs in this guys’ ears. She must have been distracted, there must be more than Trent’s.
“Henry Phillips, a little balding guy?” He holds out a bunch of newspapers and extracts the top one for Mom. She reads the headlines, then I intercept it for Jake and Quinn’s benefit.
“Horror Multi-Vehicular Smash! Vulture Street closed!”
He raises an eyebrow at my voice, in a manner strangely similar to Janes. “Yeah, it’s only been a day but the doctors say he won’t be out of intensive-care for weeks.” He hands some documentation over to Mom and Dad, keeping the pen as Helen’s lawyer-preparedness ensures that she’s never without at least three.
“Sort of negates the whole “Drive Safely in Australia” thing that we were bombarded with during the Olympics. Look, let’s grab your luggage before someone eats it and I’ll get a few more of those wheel thingy’s for...” He breaks off to wave at Quinn’s fashion necessities. He goes to organise something then stops and winces.
“Oh yes, sorry about this, but...” He takes a deep breath, winces and strikes an obvious pose. “G’day mate! An’ welcome to Awstralia.”
“I still can’t believe that they make us say that to you poor bastards, I mean, 17 hours in a 747 and the first thing after customs has processed the hell out of you is some reject from Crocodile Dundee 3?”
Lew’s constant patter arises from behind a pile of luggage that Quinn was unable to move, let alone push.
We’re making our way towards the obvious pick-up/set-down area. Busses are everywhere, as are very white people with backpacks bigger than they are. Mom hasn’t looked up from the papers the Lew gave her, I’m assuming that they are an invoice or guide itinerary.
Dad brightens. “There’re making another one?”
The native looks at Dad for a few seconds, obviously waiting for some sarcasm to follow. “Uhh, yeah?”
Thankfully, Mom interrupts before my father’s sanity can come into further question. “So, uhm, Lewis..?”
“Just Lew. That’s all there is, nothing else.”
“Ok then, Lew; how is the unavoidability of the contracted driver going to affect our vacation?”
Lew wheels the trolley down a little ramp, the obvious difficulty of the task causing a pause in the conversation. “Well, that depends on if you can stand me and...” He starts to unload the more precarious pieces.
“And..?” Mom prompts.
We’re in front of an aging tour bus, which he waves a hand at.
“And if you can stand the ride you’ve got.”
I’m ok with the whole idea, but the rest of the family stare past the bus for a while, then stare at it.
Then they stare at Lew.
“I’m. Supposed. To. Ride. In...THAT?”
Quinn is aghast while I wonder if she could spell the adjective.
Lew shrugs and makes a “sorry” motion with his hands. “Well, the limo that was organised for your transport was kind of,” He makes the “Quote marks” with his fingers. “‘Crushed when the cement truck rolled on it’ and since this is all the company has right now...”
Mom’s mobile is already out and the number on the side of the bus dialled before he can finish. While Lew looks on mildly, she gives up after the third attempt. He hands a cellular over.
“Australia has a totally different set of wireless protocols in place – press ‘Memory 1’- so that your phone will be pretty useless, here.” He opens the bus door and waves us on board, interior lights coming on.
“I can at least get you to your Hotel.”
“Wow! 4 Fridges!”
“That means that Dad is sold.” I’m sitting in what can only be described as the “bus shotgun”, a seat slightly behind the driving position. Quinn is sitting in sullen silence in one of the plush seatbelted armchairs, Mom still on the phone and arguing with an answering machine in a similar chair. From the noises, Jake Morgandoffer is still exploring the rather roomy interior behind some doors.
He looks briefly at me in the rear-view mirror, then his eyes flick back to the road. “I’m sorry, Quinn, was it?”
“I’M Quinn, she’s Daria.”
He winces in genuine pain at the tone she reaches, consults a note stapled to a corkboard then looks up at me.
“None taken. And it doesn’t happen more than once, generally.”
He waves, a gold wedding band glinting on the middle finger of his right hand. “Point, but I didn’t quite catch what you said, earlier.”
I decide to elaborate. “Dad, he’s sold on the bus.”
He shrugs again. “I know it’s not that bad, but it’s a hell of a lot less classy than a stretched Limo.”
“And more efficient.”
“Noticed the petrol - that’s gas to you - prices then?”
“All I’m going to say is that if Dad was driving his Lexus, the screams would be awe-inspiring.”
There are a few muffled clanks and bangs. Lew looks from the road long enough to stare at a dividing curtain.
“A walk-in minibar! Wow!”
We share a look of concern.
Lew arrives in the morning, in the same bus.
Mom had been on the phone most of the night to Eric at the firm...that explains Dad’s sullen glares and the dark rings under both of their eyes. Thankfully, they had learnt from the “Grand Hotel” experience and made sure that Quinn and I had separate rooms. A 16-hour difference in time-zones had knocked us around, but Quinn looks sickeningly perky.
“Morning,” He waves at us, obviously sure that someone with bright purple hair could be lost in the crowd.
“Good morning...” Mom’s words contradict her expression, but she visibly braces herself for “being cheerful to others” mode.
“So, do you wish to take a day or two to get over the ‘lag? Or do you want to start travelling and feel rotten for a few days, positive that you’ll be missing something important?”
Mom blinks at this. I know I do - even Dad looks surprised.
“Look, you pay me to make sure that you get the best out of your time over here, and my suggestion is that you crash for at least another day...” He gives Mom a quick once-over. “And try not to spend too much time on the phone back home, eh?”
“I’ll say...” Dad’s mutinous mutter carries to Quinn, who is playing court to a bunch of young men who should know better. Most are in Hotel uniforms.
“What Daddy?” She looks at Lew’s hair, disgusted. “You again?”
He does a quite graceful bow with accompanying flourishes, the judges would award bonus points for flexibility.
“Your ever-faithful guide for two weeks, with the option of three.” He looks at Mom, obviously understanding who wears the powersuit in this family. “Your decision?”
She sighs, obviously tired of the fencing, verbal and otherwise.
“I suppose an extra day would make us more comfortable,” Mom breaks off as a mobile phone appears in his hand, and is passed off to her.
“This is for your use while you are here, I’m on Memory 1 and the head office is on 2. The emergency services, police, fire and whatnot are contacted by 000, or the button that is coloured in red, there.” He hands the phone to Mom, who is instantly familiar with it.
“And if you so wish, you can phone home...” His expression is quite diabolical, but he explains further. “It’s something from the management, some crumbs that they’re throwing in your direction so that you decide to stay on and not break contract. My suggestion is to thank them politely and try to sweat some more goodies out of them.”
Mom’s expression is a study in disbelief.
“What? It’s not coming out of my salary, and you’re employing me to say these things.”
“I’m sure that your superiors are glad to hear that.”
He looks at me, grin becoming even more evil, if that were possible.
“I’m also notoriously honest.”
“And tactful.” It slips out before I can censor myself. Lew just nods his appreciation.
“No, not really.” He shrugs. “Anyway, it’s charged enough for non-stop conversation until I see you tomorrow, or if you wish to eat dinner at a decent restaurant, there are a few that I know. Otherwise, enjoy the room service.”
He makes his colourful way back to the bus, leaving Mom and Quinn to fight over who gets to use the phone first, and Dad to dream of golf.
I think I’m going to enjoy Australia.
There are a couple of rings, then a voice mail message comes on.
“No one’s here. Use your initiative.”
There is a bleep, and I’m talking into a machine.
“Uh, hello. This is Daria Morgandoffer...” There are a few thumps and the phone picks up.
“Hi Daria, was screening my calls. Is your family human again?”
“That depends...are we talking about the same people?”
“Be thankful that you haven’t got mine...so everyone tells me. Everone ready?”
“Well, not really. Mom and Quinn haven’t got off the phone and Dad has been catching up on his catatonia.”
“...But you’re fully-rested and able to function in society?”
“Well, according to those therapists...”
He snickers at the throwaway line.
“Ok, what would you like to do? Go shopping, get a manicure, a facial..?”
I experience, for a brief moment, the horror of being mistaken for Quinn.
“You are kidding, right?”
“Of course; I just said that to hear some emotion in your voice. Do you like Museums? Art Galleries? Adult stores?”
“Yes to the first two, and the opportunity has never arisen for the latter.”
“Actually, you’ll probably get to see all three. The Queensland Art Gallery has a Japanese exhibition showing.”
“And let me guess, you’d like to go to it as well?”
“You’re beginning to become wise to my wicked ways. Yes, as yet I haven’t been able to see it, and they’ve got some really good salt-glazes on show.”
“Pottery. It’s a long story...hmm. Can you walk?”
“If you can get to a window, look across the River.”
“That big series of grey concrete buildings? That’s where we’ve got to go. And since it’d be easier to walk than to try and find a parking place...”
“I’m not sure, it may fall under physical exertion, and that cannot be.”
“My treat for lunch...”
“Still not sure...”
“...And a taxi back to your Hotel.”
“Met you in 15 minutes, just let me finish this E-mail and I’ll be right over.”
The ‘Rent’s managed to feel human by dinner, and decided to take Lew up on his boast of a good restaurant. Quinn was undecided, until the prospect of more adoring young men overcame the allure of the TV Shopping Network. I was fine, a couple of hours spent with Lew and I felt I knew him forever...which he said was an effect he had on people.
That and spontaneous psychotic episodes.
Looking normal, or about as normal as a man can with hair as purple as an anime character and dressed all in black, he arrived in the now-familiar bus. Mom and Dad looked at it and said nothing.
Quinn was more vocal in her protests.
“Come on, we’re not going to ride around in that, are we?”
Swinging the door open, he waved us aboard, leaving only Quinn on the pick up/drop zone.
“It’s for a reason, I assure you. Now, would you like to come aboard or would you like to sit on chewing gum in those white jeans when you hail a taxi?”
Her speed up the stairs was amazing.
We drove the short distance to “South Bank”, an odd combination of landscaped rainforest gardens, speciality shops, eateries and a life-guard patrolled beach. Lew said it was the result of a combination of committees and through some freakish chance, it actually worked.
Pulling into the bus-park, we were staring almost immediately at a U-shaped fountain/water-sculpture set up with quite a few flags flying off poles that were incorporated into the fountain design.
“In 1988, Brisbane hosted a World Exhibition, with the ever-so original title of “World Expo 88”. These flags represent the countries that had pavilions there.” Tour-guide mode off, Lew-mode on as he waves a hand at the flags. “This probably saved money when they were looking around for something to fill in the spaces.”
The actual...well, I don’t really know how to describe it.
It’s not a park and it’s not a shopping strip. The dense and tall gardens give a surprising degree of privacy and tranquillity, if you don’t look up to see the lights blinking on the high-rises. Quinn was quite taken with a wooden temple that had been relocated from somewhere...until she noticed the phallic nature of most of the carvings. I made $10 off Lew for betting that she wouldn’t figure out what they were in under 10 minutes.
Mom and Dad were quite happy playing tourist, Dad especially drawn to a trap called Gondwana-Land, or something.
We left him for an hour, making faces at most of Australia’s native species, while the rest of us chose a place to eat at and watch the street-parades. At the markets, Lew pointed out a crystal stall that belonged to a cousin of his...before she went over to England to worship naked at sacred sites and work in some Virgin Megastore.
We had to drag Dad away from Gondwana-Land with the promise of tawdry trinkets and the scent of some weird tapioca chips that Lew swears are edible. I must admit, they were okay, but I don’t think that Dad had to buy a packet of each type. Then after a quick pre-dinner treat of some decent ice-cream, we rediscovered Quinn at the crystal stall being worshipped by people who wouldn’t ordinarily be seen dead near such a shop.
A few minutes later and Quinn was staggering under the weight of amethyst dolphin necklaces, bracelets, anklets...The collection of shiny things was impressive.
We ate at a seafood place, Dad having succumbed to the lure of all-you-can eat lobster and fresh oysters. Lew ordered steak, which came as thick as both my thumbs and dripping blood. This choice describes a lot about him – not afraid to let other people enjoy themselves but at the same time not worried about having to conform to other’s choices.
It also helped that they served excellent steak.
Quinn was persuaded to try something called a “Moreton-Bay Bug”, an uglier version of a lobster, if such a thing were possible. She didn’t get to see it prior to preparation, a personal disappointment, but that thing was almost as ugly as my father slurping down oysters from a bed of rock-salt.
Mom had the “Fisherman’s basket”...which was subsequently devoured by most of the table.
I tried the “Flake” which Lew assured me was the McDonalds of the sea - eating shark is a whole lot less exciting than it sounds. After that, and more than a few of Mom’s sea-scallops, I had only half a chocolate cake to wade through before staggering back to the bus.
Mom & Dad had a few glasses of wine, as did Quinn when she thought no one was looking, but I’ve never felt comfortable drinking. For someone closer to my age-group than anyone else at the table, Lew didn’t seem to care if I was a lush or abstemious.
Hmm, maybe I’d better start to abuse a substance, if I’m using words like “abstemious”.
Lew helped drag my now amorous parents to the elevator, not brave enough to assist them further. I prodded Quinn in the right direction and thanked him for a good night out.
“Don’t worry, it’s what I get paid for.”
“Gooooooood morning Morgandoffers. And how are we today?”
By the bright and spritely demeanour of our guide, caffeine had been consumed.
Packed and wincing in the bright sun, we were outside the Hotel waiting for the bus. My parents were tired but happy...and that’s as far as I’m willing to think about their marital bliss.
Quinn was wearing a new necklace and sunglasses that were darker than her usual shades. Some of her recent conquests were waiting to load her pile of luggage, and when Lew opened the hatches there were a few squabbles about who would load what. Great, if Quinn was kidnapped by aliens, there’d be squabbles over who would probe her first...
I think I’ve been around Lew for too long.
Consulting a photocopy, he strides over to the parents. “Well, it’s a short hop today...are you SURE you want to visit Seaworld, Dreamworld, Movieworld and the Australian Wildlife Park?”
“But I want to see the Crocodile Hunter!”
“Jake, you’re about a foot taller than he is and about 100 IQ points higher. This is a man who purposely annoys dangerous animals for ratings...and yes, I have met him, and yes, I don’t like him.”
Dad’s disappointment is obvious.
“But I suppose I can stay on the bus...but that’s not what got me worried. You’re going to four different theme parks in a single day...I’d recommend you skip them altogether and see them on the way back.”
Mom wakes up from cooing at Dad.
“You’re going up the Queensland coast, I’d suggest that instead of racing up there seeing everything as you go, you take it slow, get to where you want to turn around and come back even slower.”
The parents glance at each other.
I can see by their expressions they don’t really have an opinion.
“I’m cool with it.”
“Well, if I see what’s on offer as I go up, I can work out where to concentrate my efforts when I come back.”
Lew blinks, obviously not used to Quinn’s personality and the traits thereof.
“Right then, I suggest we travel to Caloundra and Mooloolaba today...” He can see eyes glazing over as the strange names roll easily off his tongue. “Ok, all aboard.”
Australia is full of strange names, most of the really strange ones not even of Aboriginal origin but combinations of mistaken meanings and drunken map-makers.
Well, that’s the explanation Lew gives as he drives out of Brisbane.
Mom and Dad have retired to the rear bedroom, and you couldn’t pay me enough to go back there to find out what they’re doing. Quinn is on the courtesy mobile so that leaves me with Lew to talk to while driving.
“Another thing is that I love they way that people actually pronounce the names. Personal favourite, a lovely American couple from some western state, don’t know which one. Anyway, they were trying to get to this place they called “In-droop-pilly”. Finally someone figured out that they meant “In-drew-pilly”...but that wasn’t half as funny as this couple who discovered their first stick-insect...”
He holds his hands about a foot apart, indicating the oversized relative of the Preying Mantis.
“Honey! There’s one of them giant stick-buuug’s that man was talking about.”
“Welcome to the Queensland landscape, or a lot of what you’ve elected to see.”
He breaks off as our eyes devour the sea, the sand, the sun...
“Life’s a beach...just don’t forget the sunscreen.”
“Where are the cute guys? All I see are old people!”
“Where are we staying and Quinn, where’s the phone?”
“And where’s the big surf? I want to become one with the waves, dammit!”
Lew groans and rolls his eyes.
Having disposed of the rest of my family, he turns to me, obviously lost.
“So, what glittering facet of the Sunshine Coast would you like to experience?”
“Who are you and what have you done with Daria?” He smiles, good humour restored. “No, honestly?”
“I’m not sure...do you have anything that you’d like to do?”
“Hmmmm, do you like sharks?”
“The flake was okay...”
“No, the swimming types.” He suddenly looks fiendish again, which reminds me that I’m alone on a bus and nobody knows where I am. He does a very bad Godfather impression. “It is now time to swim with the fishes.”
“As long as I don’t sleep with them.”
“Hey, whatever floats your boat.” He starts the bus and I take a seat.
“Please, no more nautical puns...and where are we going?”
“To visit a dear old friend of mine.” He pauses, “I assume that you’ve got swimming gear with you?”
“Well, it’s not a cutting-edge “Sport’s Illustrated” two-piece, but it keeps me decent.”
“Good, you may need it.”
“Did I ask you to?”
“I’m just pre-empting your question.”
“Am I that obvious?”
“Did you want an answer?”
Lew goes to say something, but stops in time.
We’re in an aquarium complex called Underwater World, at the more imaginatively titled city of Mooloolaba.
We, the air-breathing bipeds, walk under and over the water-breathing species via a series of large plexiglass tubes. There are lots of colourful and informative displays...but the places is semi-deserted.
Apparently, an old friend of his works here, doing survey’s for some honour project, or thesis...so we get a further discount and a guided tour.
If he can find the guide.
The fish dart around a lot of tumbled coral debris that Lew informs me is called clinker, another piece of information that is probably educational, but still useless.
All bright colours and odd patterns, the fish look about as obvious as a clown at a funeral...but I’m assured that amongst the coral and their fellows, predators tend to become confused and end up missing lunch.
My mind dwells on the Fashion Club for a few seconds, drawing parallels.
An energetic little fairy runs up to the purple-haired guide and they collide for a while. After a few seconds of saliva-exchange, they break off and Lew introduces me.
“Daria Morgandoffer, this is Mandii, or if her thesis supervisor actually gets back to her; Dr Amanda Strohfeld.”
She give him a glance. “Yeah, right.” Instant sunshine. “Hi!”
She’s small, sweet and sunny. Somehow, this wasn’t exactly what I expected when Lew said “Old Friend”. I was thinking more along the lines of some consumptive amphetamine freak with a few earrings, a tattoo that said “Death to the Norms” and a fish-hook as an eyebrow ring. Or as an eyebrow.
“Anyway, I’ve got Daria’s family on tour and decided to drop by...are you still doing those surveys?”
“Shark-dives? Yes...are you going to do it, this time?”
“If that bastard doesn’t wave that steak above the tank again, yes.”
“Hey! If I can do it...”
“So says the person who...” He stops, obviously unwilling to tease her with sensitive information in my presence.
“Okay Daria, ready to watch what could well be an episode of “Animal Maulings”?”
“I’ll get the camera.”
“Now, are you sure you want to do this?”
The dive instructor is running his hands over Lew’s tanks, the regulators, the valves, making sure everything is working correctly.
“And what do you do in the pool?”
“I swim, keeping myself to myself. I do not play touchy-feely with the sharks and if I feel or observe any sign of agitation, I get the hell out of there.”
I can’t believe that someone like Lew would... Actually I can believe that someone like Lew would purposely swim in a tank full of sharks. The shark aquarium a lot bigger than I expected, and the sharks a lot smaller, but I suppose they get bigger the closer you are to them.
This fresh piece of idiocy has drawn quite a crowd of happy onlookers - I recognise more than a few expressions of “Animal Maulings, Ho!” among those with video cameras. The fact that it is now lunchtime means that there is a lot more foot-traffic than there was earlier, and quite a few have brought a packed lunch to enjoy...
A thought that draws me back to said idiot, about to climb into the tank.
The dive instructor leans over Lew to give him another once-over.
“And lose the earrings, sharks can pick up sharp metallic noises.”
Lew extracts them, all eight, and gives them to Mandii to hold. He jokes with the instructor and Mandii.
“Hell, sharks can pick up anything. Who wants to see my impression of a wounded fish?”
Mandii hits Lew over the head with a folder of surveys and kisses him good luck with an easy sort of familiarity.
I think back on Tom’s kisses and blush.
I blink, ready the camera and banish Tom from my mind.
“Yes. Lew, any thoughtful last words?
“Hell yes! ‘The water’s fine, come on in’.”
And with that, he’s swimming.
“Your turn now.”
My expression might be useful for cracking rocks open but bounces off his “grinning fiend” mien.
“I wasn’t meaning with the sharks...although I did find a chunk of steak in one of the fridges back there. No, they have this thing with the seals, want to give it a try?”
“No way in hell.”
“Ok, these are all female seals, we don’t like smaller types like yourself swimming with Duran, our male, because he gets kind of excited...”
Mandii leans in.
“He’s trying to say that the males get horny and a little too friendly. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
This news barely has time to sink in before Lew pops into the picture with a grin that shows off his back-teeth...and my camera.
“Ready for your abuse, Ms Morgandoffer?”
I turn to Mandii.
“How does he do it, really?”
“What, talk you into doing really, really silly things without a thought of the consequences?”
“Well, not in so many words...”
“I’m not sure, but it happens with anyone who trusts him. If you want proof, ask to see the Halloween photos of my family in 2000. But only if you’ve got a strong stomach.”
The dive guy is trying to help, but Mandii is doing a better job.
“Relax, these ladies tend to like the newcomers, it’s the people who swim with their stud-bull they get jealous of.”
“I’ve kind of had a problem with situations like this...”
I can’t believe I just said that.
No one notices though, now too busy fending off the happy seals. Lew turns to me after gently pushing one inquisitive head away.
“Nothing.” I take a deep breath.
The instructor, a different one as the Shark-guy has now been booked solid for the rest of the day, comes over and checks out the silver, pink and green wetsuit I’m wearing. One more look, and he nods.
“Whenever you’re ready.”
I take off my glasses, giving them to Lew as Mandii just ran off for a post-dive survey of another shark-tank victim. He holds onto them as he replaces the multitude of earrings.
The facemask is a good one and I could see everything quite clearly...if I wasn’t astigmatic.
A few more seconds and I realise that I’m procrastinating. Taking Lew’s lead, I pick a spot of the pool that doesn’t have much in the way of energetic seals swimming madly and duck under.
As soon as I open my eyes, I see a narrow furry face less than three inches from my own.
I swear, she’s grinning at me.
Walking around some sea-side strip-mall called “The Wharf”, I’m again struck by the strange flashes of similarity with Jane that Lew provokes.
It’s probably the earrings...
“Oh Daria, have I bruised your gentle psyche?”
Or it could be the irritating questions.
“No, just feeling uncommunicative.”
“Fair enough.” That evil fiend grin returns in full force, but I now know there’s nothing evil behind it.
“So, what problems do you have getting between other ladies and their stud-bulls?”
At my expression, he adds, “In addition to my emotional sensitivity, I have excellent hearing. Would you like me to drop the subject?”
I was wrong about the smile.
He directs me back to where the bus is parked and pauses at a fearsomely-spiked and barb-wire coated door set into a wall, obviously leading down into the marina. With quick glance for any interested security guards, he shimmys over the “picturesque” rope railings nailed into place, deftly circumvents the fortifications and opens the door from the other side.
“I thought you’d like to see where I lived?”
I walk through, not quite sure that I actually saw the balancing act.
“You lived here?”
“On a yacht...well over a decade ago, now.” He looks a little sad. “Spent 6 months here, laying over and waiting for the cruising season to begin again.”
We walk down the angled ramp and along the arm. Halting at a large powerboat, he looks around and smiles, a little sadly.
“Were you expecting a small plaque?”
Internally, I wince. I didn’t mean it to sound as vicious as it came out.
“No, not really.” He touches the cleat on the walkway. “Funny thing is, it’s not smaller than I remember.”
“Hi sweetie, how was your day?”
I’m not really in the mood for conversation, but Mom looks starved for meaningful dialogue.
“I did a lot of swimming.”
“Well, so did your father and that’s why he’s lying on his stomach covered in Aloe gel...” She breaks off the catalogue of familiar disasters to look at me.
Uh-oh. This she hasn’t had anything to occupy herself today, so it’s time to bond with her eldest...or try and figure out the puzzle I represent.
Same thing, really.
“Daria, is everything all right?”
“Right as rain, mate.”
I think I overdid it with the “mate”. Mom comes over and sits next to me on the Hotel bed.
“I know that Quinn and I have been on the phone a lot, but it’s free now. Would you like to speak to Jane...or Tom?”
She slips away, the mobile phone lying on the bed next to my hand.
When in hell did she get so subtle?
“HELLO?! Dammit. Hey TRENT! I’m ON THE PHONE!”
There is a brief pause, my ear protesting the abuse of Jane trying to yell over Mystik Spiral.
“PHONE, TRENT! PHONE!”
I reflect how some things don’t change.
“HELLO?! God, that’s better. Hello?”
“Daria! HEY TRENT, IT’S DARIA! DARIA, TRENT! DARIA! ON THE PHONE!”
After this, I move the phone over to my working ear and wait for the pain to subside.
“So girl, enjoying a life of sun-filled luxury?
“It’s been hard filling the empty hours, but I’ve managed.”
There is a noise indicating that another phone has been picked up along the line.
“Well, such sparkling conversation skills must have kept you in good stead. So, do the toilets actually flush in the opposite way?
“You know, I’ve always wondered about that...
“It’s called the coroclisis effect, and it’s the same thing that gives hurricanes their clockwise or anti-clockwise spin, depending on the hemisphere.”
“Hmm; I twist and I spin/clockwise I win....”
“Trent, if you decide to play with new lyrics over the phone, I’m going to make you clean whatever that red gunk is out of the freezer.”
“I think I did, that’s why it’s red.”
Some things...they just don’t change.
We stop in a harbour that seems to be oddly busy for it’s small size and inland location.
“This is Hervey Bay...and over there is Fraser Island, largest sand-based island in the world. Its main features of interest are the small freshwater lakes, which are geographic anomalies, and of course, the many and varied types of sands present on the island.” Lew throws a thin book back onto the bus and gets our attention.
“Edutainment over, you’re going out on a boat for a spot of whale-watching.” Lew rolls his eyes. “And what fun that will be.”
Incredulous looks from the family, but Mom recovers first.
“We’re going to go out, on a boat, and we’re going to watch whales?”
“Well, unless you’re a Japanese research vessel, you can’t harpoon them.” He stops at various expressions. “Is there a problem?”
“Oh, no! It’s just that the last boat trip we were on...”
“After the vessel in question collided with a garbage barge.”
He can tell by our expressions that we’re not joking...and that he’d like to. Somehow, he manages to stop himself.
“I see. Well, I wish you all the best on this cruise and a safe voyage to you all.”
“Hold on, aren’t you coming?”
“To be honest, I’d much rather sit this out.”
We fan out and an expression crosses Lew’s face that I’ve never seen, one of hunted desperation. Mom in lawyer-mode takes the lead.
“Lew, is there something you’re not telling us?”
A desperate grin.
But Mom doesn’t let up
“Not for your piece-of-mind, for mine.”
“HEEEEEY LEW! Howszit goin’!?”
He mouths some words in my direction.
A 6 foot man comes thudding up one of the Marina walk-ways, wiping away sunbleached blond hair which gets in his eyes. His expression of affable good-humour is a curious contrast to the emotionless mask that is now Lew’s face. Still without expression, he turns to the very tanned guy coming towards us.
“Glen”, dressed in various brands of surf-gear and with a set of expensive sunglasses, waves at us.
The is something quite wrong with this picture, I’ve seen Lew more animated while trying to humour Quinn than he is with this person.
“Glen, these are the Morgandoffers. This is Jake...”
Dad’s always willing to met new people. Probably early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Glen returns the greeting with a grin that can only be described as...goofy.
“Hey man, how’s it goin’?!”
Lew continues in that same eerie voice. I’ve suffered through other’s impressions of my voice...but his is not just flat, it’s soulless.
Same grin, same wave.
“And their daughters, Quinn...”
Instant simper mode from Quinn.
My turn, and as I look into his face, I’m struck by the serious lack of anything resembling thought.
“Hi Daria! Wow, you sound like Lew! Hey, got any stuff to bring on board?”
Lew nods to a small collection of personal luggage that should do the Morgandoffer family unit for a few hours afloat, then he makes a “Wait here” motion and rummages in the underneath luggage compartment for something. He emerges holding a beautifully-wrapped gift-box, the small card and multitude of ribbons still pristine. He gives it to Glen.
“Christy’s birthday present.”
“Aww, she’s going to love it! Thanks man, you didn’t have to, you know.”
Lew says nothing, shows nothing, just inclines his head slightly as Glen thanks him. An awful suspicion starts in my mind...
“You going to see Mum and Dad?”
“Depends on time.” He nods at the chattels on the road.
Glen takes the not-so subtle hint.
“Right, I’m Glen from the “Island Discovery”, follow me and I’ll get you all on board!”
As we troop along the walkways, Glen’s booming call preceding us, I dropped back to Lew.
“My sister-in-law.” I look at him, my suspicions groundless.
“Glen is my brother.”
If I were drinking something, this would be the cue for a spit-take. As it is, I can only stare at Lew.
“And he is..?”
“22.” He gives me another look, obviously tired of it all. “And she’s 20.”
Lew’s expression says nothing.
The Whale-watching experience was...interesting.
Instead of being herded aboard some fuel-guzzling barge with all of the aesthetic lines of a brick, we were herded onto a brick-coloured yacht with a beer-guzzling crew with the aesthetic lines of a barge.
Mom and Dad were a little wary, at first, but since the passage between Fraser Island is so heavily trafficked, if we were run down, any survivors would be picked up quickly, or able to walk ashore. Quinn was the centre of attention, as usual, but I actually got to see some whales...while leafing through an identification book.
Lunch was served quickly, so that the passengers would have something to line their stomachs before the bar opened. Dad was exposed to Australian beer and became an immediate convert. Mom was “persuaded” to try some cask wine...and they were soon quite relaxed. Quinn whined about there not being the right dressing on her salad...but shut up when “accidentally” offered a beer by one of the female crew. Mom didn’t say anything but when we got back to the Bus, the phone was off-limits for a week.
Various whales, including Humpbacks, travel from the Antarctic - where they feed - to sheltered, warm and shallow bays - where they give birth. This was the basis for a thriving Whaling industry in the days when Greenpeace was more likely to be an unusual last name than a political power.
Since people no longer view sea-going mammals as a handy resource, the area suffered economical meltdown until the tourism opportunities were realised. Now you can’t walk down the street without tripping over something with a sickenly-sweet, yet ecologically aware message...sort of like what would happen if Mr O’Neill were declared an endangered species.
Some splashes in the middle distance indicated that a whale was doing its “not drowning, waving” act. Why an animal that big would play around like it was a dolphin on Ny-Quil is still a mystery, but an impressive one.
The few things I did see, apart from a lot of taller people’s backs, tended to be more impressive when you thought how large the actual flipper was, smacking the water. There were a lot of terms being thrown about the crew; a lot of catchy jargon that sounded impressive, but translated into different ways the whale hit the water with a fin.
Well, these are sailors...
And Lew didn’t say more than ten words the entire trip.