The Stand-Up

Chapter Five

The words were like a finger triggering a flashbulb in the camera of my brain, which fed its polaroid print into my consciousness and watched it slowly develop.

28K image

"We think ..."

A pale brown square, darkening around the edges, in a half-centimetre frame of white.

"... we should ..."

The form of a head, a face, blanched and pale, in the centre.

"... try moving..."

My face, drained of blood. My mouth, silent but half-open.

"... to Sydney."

Every colour now developed, but my face still devoid of it, and my throat dry and silent.


I swallowed. I stuck the polaroid into its own special page in my mental photo album and closed the cover. My conscious mind turned back to look at Kath.

"Are you all right?" (Look at Kath. She's looking concerned. Say something.)

"Uhh..." I struggled to recover, to reclaim the body and face that had been frozen all this time. "Uh, yeah. Uh, when?"

"Well, nothing's fixed yet, but maybe in a couple of weeks. Alan's going to suspend his Ph.D. for a while and see how it goes. We've got a bit of money saved. He'll go on the dole. We'll just see how it goes."

I was breathing again now. Just.

"It won't be that bad, Sean," said Kath, in a worried tone of attempted reassurance. "You can come and visit us."


I sighed.

"I'll miss you," I said.

And I thought: please, please, don't let it happen. Not yet.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 1

I wandered around for twenty-four hours in some kind of daze. Laurence wondered what was wrong, and probed gently for some kind of explanation, but I couldn't give him one. I didn't even have one for myself, so I was hardly about to go giving them away like concert fliers. One Night Only, Sean's Emotional Collapse. Season Extended By Popular Demand.

After a half-eaten meal I withdrew to my darkened boudoir and fell onto my pointedly single bed. Right then I didn't care if I never got up. But I had to, because I couldn't reach the stereo, and angst needs a soundtrack.

Tangerine Dream wasn't going to do it for me tonight. Neither was Jarré, neither was Floyd, and neither was Steely Dan.

22K image

The one night I wished I was a fan of Leonard Cohen or the Cure, and I didn't have any of their records. So I did the best I could manage and regressed to childhood with 1983: The Hot Ones (Various Artists). The perky upbeat charm of "Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang" by Monte Video and the Cassettes seemed appropriately ironic given the context, and I could clinch the black mood with a few bars of Dionne Warwick's "Heartbreaker" and Supertramp's "It's Raining Again".

Tinny ten-year-old tinklings scratched their way out of the worn vinyl grooves and through my stereo's woofers and tweeters. Tweet tweet. Woof woof. Shoop shoop.

I slept.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 2

I couldn't concentrate at uni. The first floor of the Hancock Library felt like a tomb. Books and shelves hemmed me in like the marble walls of an ancient monastery, and students seemed to glare at me as they shuffled silently past, holding books before them like monks heading off to mass. Only the rhythmic whirr of the photocopiers punctuated the silence, humming in the background like the machinery in some dystopian nightmare. I agonised over my overdue lab reports, but thoughts seemed to drop onto my skull as infrequently as water in some Chinese torture.

I ended up grovelling to Ferret about them. He wasn't exactly understanding. "Personal problems?" he said. "I'm sorry, I don't accept that excuse before spring. Try again in a month." I tried begging for mercy; he told me to "Grow up, you lovesick centipede".

I objected to that. I didn't feel lovesick, I just felt sick. Plus I was a few legs short of a hundred.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 3

I saw Andrew in Civic on a grey-skied afternoon and told him the score. He seemed genuinely sorry for me, which was mildly reassuring but not particularly helpful. Then he told me he'd lined something up for Friday night, and asked if I was still interested.

"Interested in what?" I responded, my mind elsewhere.

"The date—you know."

"August the somethingth."

"Oh, very witty, Wilde. I mean the date, you know, with a woman, you know, one of those."

"What? Not now, Andrew; I can't right now."

"Sean!" he protested, drawing my name out in that familiar nasal drawl. He reached out, shook me by the shoulders. "Don't wimp out on me now. This took me bloody ages to line up."


"Come on."

"All right." I had to do something to get this monkey off my back. (I didn't mean Andrew. Or perhaps I did.) "So who is she?"

"That's for me to know and you to find out."

"You're not going to tell me who she is?"


"Bloody hell, Andrew."

"Ooo! Deadly. 'Bloody hell, Andrew!'"

"Fuck off. You know I hate blind dates."

"No I don't. Have you ever been on a blind date?"

"Um... no."

"So how do you know that you hate them?"

"I've seen enough shitty teen movies to know."

"Sorry, I forgot you owned every sequel to Revenge of the Nerds."

"A ha ha ha. Most amusing. Such a shame that I must kill you."

Andrew said he'd ring me with the details later. I decided to let him live for now.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 4

I rode home from Civic. As I was riding, the grey skies turned to black and the black clouds collapsed, pouring their contents over the city and over me. Suddenly I was soaked, and still halfway from home. I pedalled grimly onwards, muttering to myself, "Fuck."

My left cotter pin squeaked. It was always squeaking. I replaced the damn thing every three months and it always ended up squeaking. Fuck.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

It was like a mantra. I chanted along.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

(Pour. Pour. Pour. Pour.)


Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.

Rain, rain, rain, splash.

Squeakity fuckity splashity squeak...

A woman at a bus shelter gave me an odd look as I rode past. I didn't care. I devised an impromptu cycling song which seemed to fit the mood, and sang it aloud for the world to hear.

Oh I'm lonely,
And I'm wet,
And I'm such a
Stupid git...

A bit too autobiographical.

Oh I'm lonely,
And I'm moist,
Oh hear my cry,
Yes hear my voice...

Not quite there yet.

Oh I'm lonely,
And I'm damp,
And my riding
Gives me a cramp...

I had to face it. As torch songs go, this was the two-dollar torch made in China with a triple-A battery that was already flat when you bought it. I gave up on it and rode the rest of the way in silence.

Naturally, it stopped raining five minutes after I walked in the front door.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 5

Alan landed one last gig that Thursday, at the Canberra Uni bar. I went out there to Belconnen to watch, but my heart wasn't in it. I arrived a bit late, and stood up the back, avoiding Kath; stood there, arms folded, half-smiling to myself at Alan's routine. My mind tumbled around the thought of the two of them stealing themselves away to Sydney. "Stealing themselves away": I felt I truly understood the term for the first time. Alan and Kath were being stolen from me, and they were the thieves.

My eyes glazed over as Alan spoke. I pictured him in traditional burglar's garb, stealing Kath and hope away from me. It didn't exactly help me appreciate his latest batch of jokes.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 6

369K mp3

"Have you ever noticed how a lot of stand-up comedians start off a routine with the words 'have you ever noticed how'? And if they're really trying to be clever, they bring to your notice the way they started their routine by saying 'have you ever noticed'. And have you noticed how they'll finish by saying 'I really hate that'? I really hate that.

"I mean, how much of this observation comedy is based on stuff that really happens to everybody—every single person in the audience—and how often are you just half-laughing while you're really thinking 'That's never happened to me... that doesn't really happen to people does it?... naaahh... I've never even eaten cantaloupe'.

"For example, have you ever noticed how when you're driving on a deserted back road, and a UFO lands in front of you, it always lands right in front of you, and its nuclear engine or whatever just melts the tarmac and completely cuts off the road. So after you've been abducted and transported to the planet Zarklon for thirteen of your Earth days, and they drop you back at your car—'yeah, just at the car thanks, that's fine; no, I'll make my own way home, don't want to impose or anything'—and they fly off into the stratosphere, only then do you remember that they'd only gone and melted the road, so you've got to turn around and go all the way back to the last turn-off and try to find an alternative route to the nearest office of the Weekly World News.

"And that's another weird thing about abductions by aliens. They always go for the deserted back roads. 'Time to abduct a human sample—now where's the best place to find one? Hey! Deserted road!' They must be searching for hours. Why not just head for the bright lights, guys? They're like eight-year-old boys playing with an ant's nest. 'Stay away from the nest—that looks like bad news, all those angry ants there. I'll just get this one wandering about by himself over here. Torture time!'

"I mean, please, torture. Why do aliens do it? It's hardly polite. 'Greetings, earthling—we are the first sentient life forms ever to make contact with your species, and we're here to jump-start your scrotum.' It's like the universe is populated by Argentinian generals with swimming caps pulled over their heads. They all have that, don't they—those faces that look like a flat rubber mask with slits for eyes and big evil grins. All those photos in the Weekly World News, with the big headline, 'My Twelve Nights of Terror on Zarklon IV', and an artist's impression of something out of the cantina scene in Star Wars.

"But it's all a load of shit, really, isn't it? 'Cause it was never like that when I was abducted by aliens. I mean, I was driving along a deserted back road, sure, but they didn't land in front of me. Their UFO was stuck in a ditch and they were standing by the road trying to hitch a lift. I took 'em into town, and this bloke from the NRMA came and hauled 'em out. They were just lucky it happened less than fifty light years from home, or they'd have had to pay.

15K image

"And there was none of this rubber mask business. These guys looked perfectly normal, apart from the fact that they all looked like... well... Humphrey Bogart. One of them looked just like Bogey in Casablanca, and one like Bogey in The Maltese Falcon. And a third was like Bogey in The African Queen. He was in colour. The other two were in black and white.

"So the last thing on my mind was worrying about being tortured. Come on, this is Bogey here, I was thinking. The guy is coolness itself. I mean, if I'd looked like Ingrid Bergman or Lauren Bacall I might have ended up with a broken heart, but a broken scrote was out of the question.

"And as it turned out, I was right. They'd just come to Earth looking for a fourth for bridge. Unfortunately I don't know how to play bridge, but we all knew 500, so that was okay. Had a great time back at the Mother Ship, listening to Sam tinkling away at the ivories and getting raided by the Nazis now and then. Zarklon IV wasn't much to write home about, but then a letter from there would have taken three thousand years to arrive so there wasn't much point.

"And when I got back the Weekly World News didn't even want to know. I think their staff artist must have cruelled it for me when he heard he couldn't use his rubber mask drawing again. The guy probably can't draw Bogey for nuts. I really hate that."

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 7

Kath and Alan found me after the show was over.

"Sean! Didn't see you in the dark."

"Yeah, I'm wearing my special night camouflage only visible in infra-red."

"We haven't heard from you for a while," said Kath.

"I've been busy. Writing a report for my supervisor." Or not writing a report, as the case may be (okay, as the case was). In fact, Kath, I've been busy fantasising about you. And wallowing in self-indulgent self-pity.

"Kath says she told you the news," said Alan.

"About Sydney?"


"Yeah. She did." I didn't know what else to say. "Bummer." Neither did my Automatic Verbal Response Unit.

"Hey, don't be like that. It'll be fine. Sydney's not that far away."

"Yes," said Kath, "You'll have someone to stay with when you visit."

That's a fair point, I noted. I didn't know anyone in Sydney. I'd only been there a couple of times before, when I was a lot younger. All of our relatives lived in Melbourne, so that had been the big smoke for me.

"So when are you going?"

"Well, probably, not this weekend but the next."

"Next weekend!"

"That's when our lease expires, so it's as good a time as any. I've got a mate who lives in Surry Hills—he said he'll put us up while we look for a place."

"That's so soon," I muttered.

"Strike while the iron is hot."

The conversation stalled for a moment. We stood there, staring off to the sides, the background noise of the bar crowd suddenly fading up into our awareness.

"Say, Sean," started Kath, "what are you doing on Sunday?"

I shrugged. "Nothing much."

"We're going to have a stall at Trash and Treasure. Selling off some of Alan's stuff before we move. Would you like to come?"

"Yeah, that's an idea," agreed Alan. "You can share the stall. Got any old junk you want to sell?"

"Well, yeah, I suppose so."

"Great!" said Kath. "It's a date. But we have to get out there really early."

"How early is really early?"

"About two or three a.m."

That's okay then, I thought. I'm usually still awake around then.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 8

Friday, and Andrew found me in the lab. He opened the door a crack, stuck his head around it, and hissed at me.


"Pssst yourself," I replied. "What's up?"

"Are you ready to go for tonight?"

"Yeah. What's with the whispering?"

Andrew straightened up and looked furtively around the lab. "Ken's not here, is he?"

"No... why?"

"I made up some bullshit excuse to get out of going to some party he's got on, and I didn't want him to know I was actually going out tonight."

"The bastard! He didn't invite me to any party." I paused as I took in the second part of Andrew's last sentence. "Are you going out tonight too then?"

"Of course I am, y'drongo. I'm going out with you."

What? This didn't make sense. For a moment I thought he'd been keeping me in the dark all these years: "You're my blind date?"

"Leave it out!" Andrew was visibly unsettled by the very idea. "No, I mean I'm coming with you and your date. With my date. It's a double date."

"A double date? I didn't want any double date!"

"I know, but the girl I've got for you wanted a chaperone."

"A chaperone! Where'd you find her, in a Jane Austen novel?"

"She said she didn't know you from Adam, and you can't be too careful these days."

"Great," I said in my strongest sarcastic tone. "That sounds like heaps of fun."

"Yeah, well thanks a lot, I love you too."

"I didn't mean that—I just meant it's going to cramp my style."

"Sean, if there's one thing you're known for, I guarantee you it is not style."

"Yeah, right. Ditto you and tact."

"You wanted a matchmaker, not a diplomat."

"Huh. So who are you bringing along?"

"Oh, you know. Just this girl I met."

I wanted names. He said it wouldn't be a proper blind date if I knew their names. I asked him whether I had to stand behind a screen and ask them three questions as well.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 9

We were all to meet that night at seven-thirty, at a Turkish restaurant in Civic. Andrew swore by the place. I got there five minutes early, and was first to arrive, which meant I had to stand outside uncomfortably, hands sweating in the pockets of my baggy black trousers, feet cramped in my tight black leather shoes, hair unnaturally combed, white shirt shining under the streetlights, and underneath it my skin shivering in the chill. I hated this waiting. Anticipation and stage-fright battled it out in my stomach, despite my protestations to myself that I didn't really care what happened tonight. Maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me that this could be important—that this could help me get over... her.

I heard someone approaching, and looked up, thinking it might be Andrew. It wasn't. It was a girl—an ordinary, pleasant-enough-looking girl I suppose, with curly brown hair she didn't know what to do with, lipstick too red, and nose slightly crooked. Her clothes were clean and neat, but plain: a dark jumper, jeans.

"Hello," she said, smiling tentatively, perhaps a touch nervously. "Are you Andrew's friend?"

"Yes, that's right," I replied. "Hello. My name's Sean."

"I'm Sandra," she said. We shook hands, rather stiffly. Mine was too sweaty; hers was warm, soft, small.

A beat or two passed as I searched my brain for small-talk.

"So—," we both started to say at the same time. We laughed, too readily, and urged each other to speak first.

"So," she tried again, haltingly, "where do you know Andrew from?"

At least he was consistent, I thought; he ain't told neither of us nothin'.

"Well," I started, "he and I both do honours together"—and then Andrew walked up.

With Jennifer.

35K image

There was no denying it. Jennifer was a drop-dead gorgeous girl. It had taken every ounce, every dram, every nanogram of my nerve to go up to her when I had and ask her out. I'd spent days psyching myself up to it. I tried relaxation techniques, meditation, self-hypnosis, anything to convince myself that no, she wouldn't think I was a trivial, pathetic, insignificant shell-creature crawling from the murky depths of the deepest ocean trench just to scrape my tentacle over her toes in a slimy, sickening and saddening bid to gain her attention and affections. I practiced what I was going to say dozens of times; I went over the plan of attack in my head again and again (Where would I stop her and ask her? How would I look at her when I asked her? What if she said no? Were there handy escape routes within easy reach?). When I finally built myself up to the point where I actually did it, and she actually said yes...

Well, I couldn't believe it. I was really rather pleased.

And really rather devastated when she stood me up. Okay, so I laughed it off, and I guess the fact that I met Alan that same day and Kath shortly afterwards let me forget about Jennifer fairly quickly, or at least repress my feelings about the whole affair to the extent that it felt like I'd forgotten about it... but it was still a rotten trick.

And God, she was still gorgeous. She was gorgeous now, wearing the nightclubber's uniform of a little black number cut low over her breasts and high on her thighs, her arms and legs cut from pale silk and her long blonde hair spun from gold. Even at uni she never looked this good.

And what the hell was she doing with Andrew?

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 10

The first opportunity I got I collared him. We'd just been seated up near the window when he got up and said, "If you'll excuse me, I just have to go to the bathroom." After a moment I chirped, "Gee, that sounds like a good idea," or something equally contrived, and got up and followed him.

He was standing in the corner at the lone urinal. I sidled up behind him in the cramped surrounds and poked him in the back, giving a fierce hiss of "You bastard!"

"Jesus, Sean!" he gasped, jumping. "Don't creep up on me like that. You're wrecking my aim."

I went into the cubicle beside him, and spoke from there. "You're lucky it's one of those single urinals," I said, "or I'd be standing next to you and pissing on your shoes."

"So what's wrong with you?"

"What's wrong? Are you kidding? What the hell did you bring her here for?"

"What, don't you like her? I thought she was just your type."

"Not Sandra, you dickhead. You know perfectly well I mean Jennifer."

"Yeah, orright, orright."

A flushing sound came from outside the cubicle. The tap started running.

"Well?" I demanded.

"I just thought I'd keep you on your toes," he said, as he flicked on the hand-drier. "You had to find out some time."

"She told me she wasn't looking for a boyfriend right now."

"Guess she wasn't looking for you."

"Thank You For Your Considerate Reply." I zipped up and left the cubicle. "So where did you meet her? I thought you didn't know her."

"The Private Bin, a week or so ago."

"Not the Bin." I wrinkled my nose and brow in disapproval. Civic's most blatant pick-up joint.

"That's your problem, Sean," said Andrew. "You're too demanding." He opened the door, then stopped for a moment, considering what he'd just said. "No, not demanding. Exacting. You're too exacting."

As we walked back to the table together, he whispered to me, "You've gotta admit, she is something."

"Yeah," I growled, "right." I'd grudgingly admit that. It was an unspecific, catch-all word, so it'd do. Jennifer and Andrew were both... something.

So there I was, trapped in the dinner date from hell, my penultimate love-interest fawning over Andrew and laughing at his every witticism, my present love-interest nowhere to be seen and about to clear out of my life, and my potential love-interest sitting opposite me, avoiding my eyes and saying squat.

Things could have been going better.

We ordered one of those buffet things where you share the main course among four people. It had lots of dips made out of carrot and beetroot and chickpeas and tahini. Andrew ate most of the pide bread, so we had to load up the last pieces with extra dip to make it last. As a result, I spilled beetroot dip on my white shirt, and everyone laughed. Sandra included.

Things could have been going better.

The music in the restaurant was from somewhere between Mecca and Munich—exotic Middle-Eastern instruments and chants underpinned by a thumping techno beat. Just when the world music sounds subsided, in would come thb-a-dm, dm, dm-ba-d-dm. Andrew was grooving to it, waving his arms like a Hindu goddess. Andrew and Jennifer were getting progressively pissed on a couple of BYO bottles of cheap red. People at other tables were looking at us and whispering.

Things, as I have said, could have been going better.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 11

When Andrew had finally finished his last stuffed vine leaf, along with his rendition of the little-known Beatles tune "I Feel Vine", I managed to tip him out of his chair and then walk him—tilting first one side forward and then the other, as one walks a large cupboard—out of the restaurant and downstairs to the street. Jennifer weaved along behind us, while Sandra followed at a safe distance.

Down on Bunda Street, with the fluorescent lights in the Supabarn multi-storey car park glittering in the distance like candles on a concrete cake, we deliberated about what to do next.

"Let's go to Asmara!" squeaked Jennifer, who was still reasonably composed, though looking somewhat dishevelled. Andrew swung his arm around her neck and warbled his agreement.

"Do you want to?" I asked Sandra.

"I don't know," she shrugged half-heartedly. "I don't really dance."

"Neither do I," I said. "We can keep each other company."

We drifted a few doors along to the one marked "Club Asmara". Up the stairs and after the usual cover-charge and stamp on the wrist, we wandered into a jumping jungle of flashing lights and humidity. My glasses instantly fogged up.

Asmara specialised in African and Caribbean music, and it was a favourite night spot for expatriate Africans—Forestry students at ANU, members of the diplomatic corps. They mingled with stiff Anglo public servants, most of whom looked decidedly out-of-place in this den of sweat and rhythm. The dance-floor was packed, with every stomp and every beat building up the room's heat. The crowd chanted along with the chorus of the song that was playing:

"I fee-l haht—haht—haht!"

Andrew and Jennifer dived right in.

Sandra and I made our way to a small table that was free, and sat down. Alone at last, there was nothing left to do but talk to each other, though that wasn't easy above the noise.

She knew Andrew through Jennifer. She knew Jennifer from one of her tutes. Jennifer had suggested that she come along tonight. (What was Jennifer's angle, I wondered; was she feeling guilty, and trying to make amends by lining me up with her friend?)

How Jennifer and Sandra were friends in the first place, I couldn't figure. Sandra was quiet to the point where the tape hiss between tracks on an album would seem more audible. She was reticent with a dash of taciturn and a hint of sullen. She was painfully shy.

In other words, she was just my type. But before we got anywhere, she called it a night. "It's late," she said, at an hour when true party-goers would just be getting started. "I'd better be getting home."

"Are you sure?" I asked, feeling I had to make some effort to get her to stay. I suppose I didn't want to break all records for shortest and most pointless date. "We could..."

I had to stop there. I couldn't for the life of me think what we could do.

"We could dance?" I tried.

"No thanks," she said, getting up. "I'd better be going."

"Wait," I said, following her out, "I'll walk you to your car"—which turned out to be parked right across the street. So much for that as a delaying tactic.

She opened the door of her blue 323, and turned to me, but didn't look at me.

"Um, thanks," she said. "I had a really nice time."

"Me too," I lied.

"Um, right. Well—bye."

"Wait," I blurted. I took a deep breath. "Look, Sandra, this didn't really turn out very well. Do you want to try again?" I didn't want to, particularly, but I felt that politeness dictated that I at least make the offer. "Without those two," I added.

"I don't know," said Sandra. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

"Maybe not," I conceded. "Well look—Jennifer's got my number. And my address. Get in touch if you change your mind."

I didn't think to get hers. And then it was too late. She was gone.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 12

Andrew and Jennifer danced most of the booze out of their system, and by the time we left around midnight they seemed ready to party on all night. They jumped and skipped through the crowds milling about in Garema Place, while I marched alongside with my hands in my pockets and arms braced against the cold. "Where will we go?" pleaded Jennifer. "Come on, Andrewww."

"I know," he said, in one of those moments of inspiration I had come to dread, "let's go to Ken's party!"

Oh, ker-rist.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 13

10K image

They made me drive, of course. Out onto the Parkway and through the black and empty hills to Tuggeranong. By now it had started to rain, and I peered through the windscreen into the darkness, watching for the glimmering headlights of the occasional approaching car.

"Where's Sandra?" asked Jennifer, about a hundred years after the event.

"She went home," I answered.

"I dunno, Sean," said Andrew, "I go to all that trouble, and you go and blow it."

"We go to all that trouble," corrected Jennifer.

"We go to all that trouble, and Mr Hotpants goes and blows it."

Yeah, right. Thanks for nothing.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 14 - Bridge over the lake

After turning off into two wrong suburbs and driving half a kilometre the wrong way along Yamba Drive, we finally made it to Ken's place. A boring brick house, or brick of a house, that he shared with its public-servant owner. It was so new that the grass wasn't established, and the front lawn had turned to mud in the rain.

"Andrew!" protested Jennifer. "I don't want to get mud on my shoes."

"It's all right," he said, "I'll carry you across."

"Andrew," I warned, "not a good idea"—but he was having none of it. He hoisted Jennifer up in his arms and stepped confidently forward.

He even made it a couple of steps before he slipped and fell, dropping her in the mud. She shrieked.

The front door opened, and Ken peered out of it. "Andrew!" he cried. "Sean! You made it!" He stared down at Jennifer, whose dress was by now a patchwork of black and brown. "And you brought along a mud-wrestler." He waggled his considerable pelvis. "Seh-ehhhh-xy."

Jennifer glared at him as she marched inside, tracking mud across the public servant's carpet.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 15

"You're a bit late," said Ken. "Most of the guys have gone."

A couple of blokes who looked about how you'd expect friends of Ken to look—pasty, corpulent, and possibly tubercular—were sprawled out on armchairs, watching video clips on Rage.

"Guys?" asked Jennifer, in response to Ken's comment. "What about the girls?"

"Oh yeah," said Ken, "she's gone too."

"Party down," I muttered.

"Ken," inquired Andrew, "how many people were at this party?"

It was a fair question. It didn't look like there had even been a party. The sparsely decorated walls were immaculate, the spanking new lounge suite still looked new and spankable, and the copies of Fishing Life on the glass-topped coffee-table were lined up in a neat and tidy pile. There was, however, a single corn chip ground into the carpet.

"Oh," said Ken, "about ten, twelve. Quite a few. The joint was really jumping there for a while."

"So where'd they jump to?" I asked.

"Well, around ten o'clock a few of them headed off to Laserzone."

Nice one, Ken, I thought. Your friends go off to pay money to run around a maze shooting toy lasers at one another rather than stay at your party. That's sad.

"Ken," said Andrew, decisively, "I'll have a beer."

"Beer?" said Ken. "Oh yeah. We've got some here someplace." He looked around vaguely, here, there. Then he remembered himself. "Please," he fussed, ever the thoughtful host, "take a seat."

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 16

26K image

By three a.m., Andrew and Jennifer were asleep on the couch, Ken's mates had left, and Ken was playing me a comprehensive selection of tracks from his complete collection of Bob Dylan CDs. He had them all, he told me, including Self-Portrait. I had discovered that Ken was a really big Bob Dylan fan.

I had also discovered that I am not a really big Bob Dylan fan.

Ken spoke enthusiastically, animatedly, as he flicked the player from track to track and shuffled disks in and out of the tray. "Just listen to the lyrics on this one," he'd say; or, "The singing is supposed to be nasal; that's the whole point. It's beautiful."

I think I passed out somewhere around Blonde on Blonde.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 17

We drove back to Civic in the harsh light of Saturday morning, after declining Ken's kind offer of breakfast a lá Slow Train Coming. Andrew had forgotten that he'd parked in a voucher-parking zone; by the time we got there at ten, he already had a ticket.

"Not the most successful of nights," he said to me, as he climbed into his car after Jennifer.

"No," I agreed. "Not the best."

"Ken's party—," he began.

"What about it?"

"Bit of a mistake."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Just a touch."

"Sorry about Sandra."

"Yeah, well." I shrugged. "Y'know."

"Yeah. Well. Seeya."


"Bye, Sean."

"Bye, Jennifer."

They drove away.

... What a complete, absolute, total bloody fiasco.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 5, Bookmark 18

I really didn't think I could get much lower. I hadn't had enough sleep, I'd blown my blind date, Andrew was an item with Jennifer (were they sleeping together yet? I guessed so. God, how depressing), Alan and Kath were leaving in a matter of days (and they had to be sleeping together—God, how depressing), my flatmate had gone away for the weekend and left me with the washing up, my report was late, and I hadn't even started my thesis. I was sure there were other items on the checklist, but that would do for starters.

When I got home I just crashed.

I got up around noon and crawled to the couch, where I crashed again, but this time in the slumped, face-up position with eyes cracked open, rather than in the prone, face-down position with eyes gummed shut. I flopped my hand around the cushion beside me until I found the remote, and flipped on the TV.

I really hadn't been aware of the joys of Mr Smith Goes to Washington, but my goodness, it's a happy, happy film, isn't it.

I really hadn't been aware of the joys of Rugby League, but my goodness, it's a happy, happy game, isn't it.

I really hadn't been aware of the joys of spreading oneself out in front of the television and watching it for twelve hours straight, but my goodness, it's a happy, happy medium, isn't it.

17K image

Actually, I tell a lie. It wasn't twelve hours straight. I had to get up around six-thirty, because my stomach was tightening itself into a knot, and for once it was because I was hungry. I stumbled out to the kitchen in search of baked beans. A stack of tomato-encrusted pots and pans was swaying gently in the breeze. The sink was still half-full of cold dishwater. A cockroach was lying upside-down in it, gently kicking the backstroke across the traces of froth, dodging small translucent squares of onion like they were lane markers. But at least there was a pile of clean dishes on the other side of the sink. I burrowed my way into it and extricated an enamel pot.

The cupboard was a warehouse of tins—tins of tomatoes, tins of coconut cream, tins of creamed corn, tins of dinosaur-shaped spaghetti. Nary a baked bean in sight.

I had to settle for another member of the baked bean food group. I cooked up a mess o' creamed corn-'n'-Spag-o-Saurus on toast, and followed it with a Home Brand Neapolitan Ice Cream straight-from-the-bucket chaser. It kept me going through prime time and the late-night seventies-B-movie graveyard shift. Finally, around midnight, I fell asleep where I lay.

The phone woke me up. At first I felt disoriented—was it morning already?—but then realised that this disorientation was perfectly understandable, given that it was dark outside. Inside, the TV was still bathing the room in its hypnotic glow.

I staggered over to the phone and picked it up. "Hello?" I croaked.



"Yeah, that's right. Are you ready to go?"

64K mp3

"Go? Go where?" I stared blearily at my watch, tilting my wrist this way and that to try to catch a glimpse of its face in the television's light. "What time is it?"

"Two-thirty. Aren't you ready to go to Trash and Treasure?"

Yet another masterpiece of Sean Crawford planning. I really had to stop letting others organise my life, I resolved, as I bumbled upstairs to my bedroom.

The Stand-Up, Chapter 6