Northern suburbs, Melbourne, July 1985
On the 13th of July 1985 I found out just how naïve and malleable a person I was becoming. My friend Gina’s 16th birthday party was fancy dress. Most of the girls dressed as Madonna, while the guys didn’t bother at all: just the usual mid-thin leather ties, puffy shirts and pleated pants, complemented by wog tapper shoes or karate slippers. Throw in highly sculpted mullets aided by hairspray and cheap gel and you get some idea of why climate change became such a big issue as soon as this decade finished.
I made my usual half-hearted contribution: bright red lipstick, a fake golden earring and dark eye-shadow. I was fascinated by the way Phil Oakey from Human League and Robert Smith from The Cure dressed in a manly way, yet got away with wearing an inordinate amount of make-up.
Gina went to Newlands High and I was a Northcote High boy. Northcote was a boys’ school then and had the unfortunate nickname of ‘poofters paradise’. And here I was in cheap lipstick, eye-shadow and fake earrings. There was a huge bowl of ‘fruit’ punch just before you entered the main dancing area upstairs. I grabbed my polystyrene cup and put the soup spoon into the bowl. Out came a slice of peach and half a strawberry reeking of tequila and vodka.
I settled onto a bench and slowly sipped the concoction. With awkwardness dissipating, I looked up to see a pair of dark and mildly amorous eyes. “Do you wanna dance or are you gonna sit here by yourself all night?”
A girl called Anna had wrapped her arms around my neck and was looking into my bewildered eyes as we danced to Kool and the Gang’s Cherish and Bryan Adams’ Heaven. My first real kiss was a cheap tequila breath away.
As Adams sang ‘And baby you’re all that I want’ Anna’s tongue is suddenly scraping dregs of peach and strawberry from the back of my throat. I had seen tongue kisses while watching pornos at Uncle Stan’s place, but I only thought they did that sort of stuff in pornos.
Finally, my tongue got out of its slumber and joined the dance. Fruity saliva with a tequila finish, swaying with a girl who reminded me of the girl in Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing video. Anna had straight dark hair, deep brown eyes and developing curves.
I liked the way she looked at me after the kiss, but it was too much for a 15 year old virgin. My life experience was going to school, the footy and occasional looking at porn. I didn’t know how to relate to girls.
My mum, a friend of Gina’s mother, was also at the party. She kept coming upstairs and I kept telling her to back off and go downstairs. She wouldn’t budge though. She was not happy: “Who is this little poutana you lick yourself with? She Greek?!”
Anna was half Greek, half Turkish. A volatile combination even in these fledgling multicultural and semi-globalised times. Just before midnight Anna said: “Why don’t you just go and sit with your mother?!”
Freud had got this all wrong. I wanted to f–k Anna, but I really wanted to kill my mother.
Finally, mum went home. I went to the bathroom to check my make-up. It was smudged and so was any reputation that I may have forged that night. My hair was out of place, the Gossamer had lost its hold and the mullet looked cheap and nasty. I wore Pino aftershave that night, thinking that it was a cool manly aroma to juxtapose the gender-bending motif.
“I might call you next week,” said Anna after I gave her my number. I walked home just after midnight with a mixture of relief, anger and more than a hint of romantic delusion. And Heaven playing in my head on constant rotation.
But by the time I got home I felt deflated. I flicked on the TV and the first thing I saw was Ozzie Osborne and Black Sabbath belting out Paranoid at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. This was the stuff I’d grown up listening to blasting out of my brother’s hi-fi. I turned up the volume and sang along.
I’d built up Anna in my mind as some kind of elusive suburban goddess. She would be the one who would show me the delights of Coburg, make sweet love to me, and shape my hair with her magic sprays and gels. She would show me that Turks and Greeks cannot only coexist, they can come together and make exotic families as examples to generations of fearful villagers who dared not even transcend their own borders for fear that their identity and heritage may be eliminated.
But, one week on, she hadn’t called. Two weeks.
August came and as the last chills of winter began to give way to the first buds of spring my hope intensified. Three weeks.
No word from the only girl who willingly exchanged fruity saliva with me.
Black Sabbath and The Smiths dominated my cassette player for a while. “Finished with my woman cause she couldn’t help me with my life” and “A smile, lights up her beacon face and well it would, I lost my faith in womanhood, I lost my faith!”
I was seduced by the feeling that love could exist and that it would be the elixir to the gravity and tediousness of school and family life. Meeting and kissing Anna opened a door in my soul that I never thought existed.