From Hero to Zero – Great Dining Debacles

It seemed so innocent.  A simple email arrived in my inbox without warning or fanfare.  Little did I know that it was a veritable poison pill whose sole purpose was to heap shame and ignominy on me like I was a nature strip and they were seeking to dispose of their hard rubbish after two years of lockdowns.  Put simply, it was a lot.  And to think, it started with a dinner at a swanky Melbourne restaurant.

I suffer a severe form of imposter syndrome.  In fact, my condition is so acute that I feel like a fraud even having imposter syndrome.  It means that when I go out to a fancy-pants restaurant for a special occasion, I can never quite get over the feeling that I don’t belong there and that all the staff and the other patrons know it too.  I don’t know whether it’s because I lack experience or because I always insist on wearing fly fishing wader pants when I eat out since it’s so much easier to mop up the inevitable spillage; I just never really fit in.

Like any good imposter, I like to do my best.  When ordering from the menu, I always try to pronounce the words if not correctly then, at least, convincingly.  In this case, the menu was in Italian (except for the word ‘menu’ itself which is of French origin) and I was determined to do it justice.  But before I knew it, my lips were tripping over syllables and consonants resulting in the kind of heinous alphabet soup that, for sure, what not featured on the menu.  To seem even more genuine, there may also have been hand gestures on my part, which I now concede were regrettable.

But despite the fact that I was something of a fraud, we had a really tremendous night.  The food was exquisite and there was something quite glorious about the very fact of being in a restaurant at all.  We had a wonderful time, and spilled out into the street, happy and content.  Then the email arrived.

The email came from the fancy restaurant.  It included a heart-warming message, thanking us for dining with them and hoping that we enjoyed our recent dining experience.  Then they sunk the boot in.  The email went on to say, ‘You’ve just earned 0 points’.  The zero was bolded just to drive the point home.  Granted, I had no idea when I went there that by chowing down on their food, there were points up for grabs, but now that I do, I really want some.  I’m even prepared to return the bread in exchange for points, if that helps.  But bread or no bread, it seems our attendance wasn’t enough to render us ‘point worthy’.

It was strange, I thought.  On the one hand, they were emailing me to thank us for dining at their restaurant whilst, at the same time, refusing to recognize us by giving us zero points.  My first instinct was to demand answers.  But then I paused and thought better of it.  Perhaps, I reasoned, it was better not to know why I’d been denied points.

I could imagine it – me, pleading my case in a lengthy email and them, in an equally loquacious reply, revealing the depravity that led to me having my points withheld.  ‘Sorry sir’, the response would begin.  ‘We’ve recently learned that two days after you dined at our high-end restaurant, you purchased a three-piece feed from something called “KFC” and, as a result, you have been disqualified.  Goodbye.’ 

It could have been so much worse.  If they’d been aware of the number of times I’ve devoured an entire box of barbecue shapes on a Friday night and called that ‘dinner’, I doubt I’d have ever been permitted to set foot in the joint to begin with.  I’d have been removed forcibly if they’d known how often I’d ordered an ‘Aussie’ from the pizzeria because I truly, genuinely believe that egg and shredded ham belong together.  The less said about all the times as a kid (and, also, possibly not as a kid) I ate Nutella from the jar using only my finger, the better.  Forget points.  Had they known about the ‘Nutella fiasco’, I’d have been banned for life.

Then, unbelievably, it got worse.  This was not the first time we’d gone to this very fancy Melbourne restaurant.  In fact, we’d gone there almost exactly twelve months earlier to celebrate the same very important occasion.  This, I feel, makes us regulars.  But despite this, having now told me that my attendance had just earned me ‘zero’ points, the email went on to say that this would be added to my current balance of  ‘zero points’. 

Not only were they refusing to recognize that I’d been there this week, they were now asserting that I’d never been there.

Ultimately, I feel the fault may be mine.  When they served us the artisan bread, I should not have sent back the butter and demand a tub of ‘Flora’ instead.  When the scallops arrived, I should have restrained myself from requesting a potato cake.  And when my exquisite spaghetti marinara appeared, I should not have demanded a bottle of White Crow tomato sauce.  Be that as it may, I regret nothing.  Eating out is not just a matter of ‘what’ or ‘where’ but also ‘who’.  And in terms of the ‘who’, I couldn’t have been happier.  That, after all, is what counts.  And with that said, I feel I’ve made my (zero) points.

To Hell and Nickelback

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s intolerance.  Whether it be intolerance for other people or even for gluten (I’ve never met a gluten I didn’t like), blind prejudice really gets my goat.  And in my goat-deprived state adrift in a sea of intolerance, I’ll admit that I get a little bit angry.  I’m not proud of it.  Hatred is often irrational and always ugly, it should be avoided at all costs.  That is, with one exception – Nickelback.

For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Nickelback’ is, I can only say that I’m incredibly jealous and I’d like to join you in the blissful state of nirvana you so obviously inhabit.  You don’t know how lucky you are.  For others who might be tempted to rush to the defence of Canada’s premier exponents of Cro-Magnon sub-metal mullet rock – save your breath.  When it comes to Nickelback, I am not for turning.  I respond to them in the way others might to peanuts or Kryptonite. 

Some people fall in love instantly.  It took me a similar amount of time to decide that Nickelback was not for me.  Put simply, I was under the impression that, as a species, we’d evolved beyond that kind of music.  I’m not sure I can even put it into words – their songs rub me the wrong way and I’m horrified by the idea that they’re making any kind of physical contact.  Imagine being yelled at by a drunk, dodgy uncle who sees himself as some kind of lothario but who, in reality, is an obnoxious, slightly overweight gutter-tramp that smells like shrimp paste.  That’s Nickelback.  I can barely say their name without feeling nauseous. 

Recently, someone I know has started playing Nickelback.  Not because she likes them (she doesn’t) but as an experiment conducted either in the name of science or, possibly, Satan.  It’s hard to say.  The objective is to see how long it takes for people to notice.  It’s insidious and strikes when you least expect it.  You can be standing in the kitchen having a perfectly lovely conversation when you’re suddenly gripped by a sense of terror as you realize the stereo has been commandeered and your ears are now being assaulted until they beg for mercy.

  I’m all for practical jokes, so long as those jokes don’t involve Nickelback.  My nephew went through a phase where he and his friends liked to install a ‘Nicholas Cage’ screen saver on any computer monitor they could get their hands on.  Step away from your laptop to get a cup of tea and you’d return to be confronted by the smouldering intensity of the greatest actor of his generation named ‘Nicholas Cage’ staring back at you.  There are computer shops in Melbourne that still have Nicholas Cage screen savers, thanks to my nephew.

But Nickelback is an entirely different proposition. Last week, I was wiping down the kitchen bench when the unmistakable aural stench that is ‘How You Remind Me’ tore the air apart.  Immediately, I began feeling queasy, losing my sense of equilibrium.  For me, the song really ought to be called ‘How You Remind Me To Cover My Ears Whenever This Awful Music Starts Playing.’  Within seconds, I was on the tiles, curled into the foetal position and begging for the madness to stop.

My hatred for this band knows no bounds, either in terms of time or depth.  Formed in Alberta in 1995, they were originally a cover band called ‘Village Idiot’.  It was one of those rare circumstances where the description on the tin perfectly matched the contents.  But then they went and spoiled everything by changing their name to ‘Nickelback’ and selling about fifty million albums.  That’s a lot of records.  To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met anyone who owns a Nickelback album.  Either that says something about the company I keep or is proof that anyone who owns a Nickelback record is unlikely to admit it.

I blame myself.  It’s possible that I’m being subjected to drive-by Nickelbacking because I taunted them in song.  Recently, the local folk club had a ‘metals’ theme night.  We wrote a song called ‘The Metal Song’ that listed tunes mentioning either ‘silver’ or ‘gold’ before declaring there was a metal we were avoiding because no one wanted to hear Nickelback.  To date, that performance by ‘A Band of Rain’ has racked up an astonishing eight views on ‘YouTube’.  Clearly, four of the eight people were Nickelback and they’re now hell-bent on revenge.

Perhaps they’re jealous.  Whether they’re envious of the soaring melody, the biting lyrics or the fact that I now have ten monthly listeners on Spotify (meaning that I’m now only twelve million, eight hundred and seventy two thousand, six hundred and forty seven listeners behind them and closing in at a rapid pace) I simply couldn’t say.  Or maybe they resent that ‘A Band of Rain’ is a much cooler name than ‘Nickelback’.

For now, I live in terror.  At any moment, I could be walking around the house only to be hit with an unsolicited blast of ‘Rockstar’.  I am tempted to started wearing noise cancelling headphones all the time, for my own protection.  And if you think I’m being melodramatic and am making a lot of fuss about nothing, we’ll have to agree to disagree.  Let’s blame ‘musical differences.’

Bemoaning the Era of the Post-Modern Mullet

Forgive me.  Forgive me in advance for the truly intemperate, intolerant things I’m about to say.  Forgive me if I hurt your feelings or betray myself as being too old to understand.  I don’t want to upset anyone or hurt anybody, but sometimes the truth is a blunt instrument – probably a bassoon – and the kindest thing to do is simply to blow it and damn the consequences.  I speak, of course, of haircuts.

We were at a shopping centre.  You may disapprove, but we’re entitled as anyone to do our Christmas shopping without experiencing a wholesale assault of the senses.  We walked (as you do when you’re at a shopping centre) for what seemed like hours and time and time again were confronted by the sight of young men, often in groups, sporting a haircut known as a ‘mullet’.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a mullet is the ‘platypus’ of haircuts.  Just as a platypus looks like several different animals rolled into one, a mullet consists of two types of haircut that are diametrically opposed.  Like ‘fire’ and ‘ice’.  Like ‘oil’ and ‘water’.  Like ‘good taste’ and ‘Married at First Sight’.  Some things simply cannot co-exist peacefully.

A mullet consists of short hair, generally located at the front of the victim’s subject’s skull, combined with long hair at rear.  The logic – such as it is – being ‘business up front, party at the back’.  It was the haircut that defined the eighties.  If that sounds like a somewhat pathetic achievement, you need to remember how competitive haircuts were back then.  It was an era that featured titans like the ‘blow wave’ and ‘the man-perm’.  Ultimately, they were no match for the mighty mullet.

As someone who grew up in the eighties, I aspired to have a mullet. My dreams, however, were cruelled by a school rule that strictly forbade boys to have hair that touched the collar of their shirt.  Flouting this rule was all in a day’s work for some, who insisted on growing their hair out until a teacher intervened and threatened to cut it on the spot.  The resulting handiwork was proof – if it were needed – that hairdressing is a skill acquired through training and not at teacher’s college.

But as human beings, we evolve.  That is, if we’re lucky.  With the benefit of hindsight and, possibly, a mirror, we came to understand that the mullet was an incredibly ugly haircut that not so much failed to flatter the host as it did insult them outright.  Eventually, mullets went the way of acid wash jeans and were quietly retired at some point in the nineties.  Granted, there was the occasional resurgence, including one led by Billy Ray Cyrus and his magical carpet of hair; who brazenly boot-scooted to distract you from the tonsorial atrocity that was perched on top of his head.  The horror.

Quite literally, I thought all that ugliness was behind us.  Turns out I was wrong.  A mere thirty-five years later and it seems that young men have embraced the mullet with a disturbing level of enthusiasm.  Worse still, they have taken this most tragic of haircuts and made it worse with a series of new and horrifying additions.  These include a bowl-cut at the front; presumably to get the ‘demonic altar boy’ look that everyone’s been raving about.  What’s happening out back only makes it worse.

There are two models of modern mullet.  There’s the one where the long hair at the back is teased or curled to give the impression of some kind of ‘hair explosion’ from a flatulent skull.  The other is lank and creates the impression of having only recently been released from prison.  Both kinds are all kinds of ugly.  It’s as though young men everywhere are participating in some kind of competition, vying for the title of ‘world’s rudest head’. 

Perhaps I’m too old and don’t understand.  Maybe I’m jealous at not being able to grow so luxurious a mullet of my own.  For all I know, these haircuts are a part of a sincere albeit misguided vow of abstinence by these young men.  Or perhaps it hurts to see the mistakes of the past being so hideously repeated by the next generation.  I’m not sure.  All I know is that you ought not go out of your way to have a head that looks like a dropped pie.  You can do better.  Humanity is begging you.

Naturally, I said nothing as they sauntered past me in the shopping centre.  As much as I wanted to walk up to one of these young men, grab him by the shoulders and shake him whilst screaming, ‘IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS SACRED, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING??????’ I refrained, because I thought there was a slight chance that I might be misunderstood.  Instead, I said nothing.  Perhaps I subtly shook my head in disbelief and, granted, there was the slightest hint of a tear in my eye, but I kept my thoughts to myself. 

If you’re reading this and are sporting a renaissance mullet, I beg you to reconsider.  You’ll be glad you did.  But if, after reading this story and viewing footage from the eighties, you remain unconvinced, then I simply can’t help.  Just know that I’m disappointed by your decision and that you broke my heart.  My achy, breaky heart.

Something Or Other For My Slightly Younger Brother

As occasions go, I can’t let it go by without remark.  Granted, there are others who are equally if not more qualified than I to say something but believe me when I say there are sound reasons as to why it should fall to me.  I’m sure my father has plenty of thoughts on the matter, but this column is only half a page long and the risk of a voluminous outpouring that is unlikely to remain on topic is simply too great – as anyone who saw my father give a speech at my sister’s wedding would doubtless attest (ideally, wedding speeches should be about the wedding in question, and not about the time you and your best friend used dynamite to launch a tree stump into space).  My brother, Cameron, has turned fifty.

I’d describe myself as his older brother but, traditionally, that has been a disputed statement.  That’s because we’re the same age, he and I, for four days every year.  As kids, these were the most fractious days of the year – I’m surprised our parents didn’t drive us out into the wilderness and leave us there, so incessant was out bickering.  Our conflict was rooted in a mathematically-challenged assertion that we were, for those four days, ‘the same age’ and, as a consequence, I was ‘no longer the boss’ of him.

As someone who, most of the year, was an undisputed older sibling, the news that I had ever been the ‘boss’ of my slightly younger brother, came as something as a shock.  Had I been aware, I would have made more of it.  But once I overcame the initial shock, I quickly despaired at his cavalier attitude to maths.  Granted, we’d accumulated the same number of years, but there were still nearly twelve months separating us and I was, without doubt, still the older brother.  Cam wasn’t having it.  He rejected my appeals to reason outright.  Not because he can’t count (he can) but because he knew that to do so would wind me up like watch.  Which it did.

But as difficult as these four days were, there have been many advantages to having a sibling who is (practically) the same age.  It means that there are many things you don’t have to experience alone.  This is particularly true of social events, where my natural inclination would have led me to avoid them completely.  But with my brother, I always had the option of tagging along.  Were it not for him, I’d have seen, heard and done a lot less than I have.  Mostly, that’s a good thing.  Through my brother, I have lived an almost unparalleled vicarious life.

Because of him, I never have to wonder what would happen if I tried to make wine out of blackberries.  Cam launched himself into the business of wine making in the same way he does everything else – with extraordinary gusto.  This enthusiasm resulted in him generating litres of the stuff, poured into old sherry jugs and left to ferment on the back step.  Then, without warning, the jugs began exploding, sending blackberry wine in all directions and the dog off the bush from where it refused to return for several days.

He was passionate, too, about break dancing for a time, even going so far as to sign up for lessons.  Although he only studied for a little while, he’s still known to break out the odd cardboard box for a few backspins now and again.  There was a mercifully brief flirtation with motorbike riding, a short stint learning karate and a moment during which he was deeply committed to scuba diving.  There was phase in which he curated bonsai plants and the time he decided to build a greenhouse and constructed something so elaborate and beautiful that it could easily have been upgraded to ‘primary residence’ status.

Somewhere along the line, he no longer fought with me for four days a year.  Either he was confident that I was not the boss of him for the rest of the year (which I wasn’t) or he no longer considered being the same age as me to be a desirable outcome.  He may even have been in denial.  As late as last week, he insisted he was ‘mid-forties’.  For my part, I took to labelling pictures of him in family calendars as ‘late 40s’ and, for several weeks before his actual birthday, sent ‘gifs’ wishing him a happy fiftieth.  It was, so I claimed, to get him used to the idea.  I may have gone slightly too far when I gave him a card that read ‘ninety years today’ and suggested I was ‘getting in early’.

Landmark birthdays are funny.  Often, they’re an opportunity to remind that person how lucky they are.  But I’m the lucky one.  To have a brother who’s practically the same age has been a gift (not ‘gif’).  I don’t mind the fact that we used for fight for four days every year as he challenged my authority. 

I don’t care that, for years, his favourite trick whenever we went anywhere was to park so that the passenger door was right up against a tree and I couldn’t get out.  I’m fine with the fact that when he used to ask how I’d done in any kind of athletic event, he’d let me answer and then claimed he’d done ever so slightly better.  I’m just thankful he’s here.  Happy birthday, Cam.