"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Mitchell


Mitchell is the second member of the legendary Buttercup Gang, with me being the third. Together with Kelsey, we're the original three that started the group. Like Kelsey, I met him while working at KFC as a teenager.

Mitchell is one of the easiest people in the world to be friends with. He's fun and easygoing, and he loves people. I can't count the number of times that one of us has asked him to come and hang out and he's replied "Ooh, I just came off an eight-hour night shift, I haven't had any sleep... Oh well, I'll see you in an hour." I recently summed up Mitchell's thought process in this way:

  1. Here's something I want to do.
  2. Here's the reason(s) why I shouldn't do it.
  3. But I want to do it, so I'm going to do it.
When we do get together, Mitchell's always engaging and energetic. He sees the world with a sort of fascinated enthusiasm that I find contagious. He can talk to anyone about anything for any length of time - a skill I still haven't yet learned myself. Despite his agreeable nature, he's not afraid to tell people they're wrong if they need to hear it.

Mitchell is a nurse. He only recently finished his studies and has secured a contract at a reputable hospital. I'm not surprised he got it that quick. His fascination with life makes him eager to understand how it all works. Everything from the psychology and emotions of pain sufferers to the inner workings of the respiratory system. And he's happy to explain it in a way that doesn't make you drift off somewhere else.

I have tons of great memories with Mitch. There was that time on one of our very first hangouts where he, myself, Kelsey and another boy named Tom went to see a movie at Marion cinema. Afterwards, in the dark, deserted carpark, we grabbed a couple of trolleys and pushed each other around in them, having races and flying down ramps. Part of the excitement came from all the stories we'd heard of people doing the same thing and it hadn't ended well. Luckily for us it did ;) I never saw Tom again, and I consider him to be the Pete Best to our Beatles.



There was the time we took a trip to the Gold Coast together, along with Kelsey, Sarah, Jerida and Juan. It was a trip that cemented our friendship as a group after nearly tearing it apart. We didn't know each other as well back then, so problems arose. But Mitchell was always the peacemaker of the group. He would laugh and point out how petty the problem was and people would begrudgingly agree.







On our second group trip the next year, he spent a lot of the time pranking everybody. So I tried to get him back by getting his shoes, putting them on the veranda and placing a full cup of water on each one so that they would fall on him if he tried to take them down. We all watched in fascination for the next 10 minutes as he tried to figure out how to get them down without getting wet. I was standing there with my camera ready to take the money shot. Eventually he managed to lift himself up to the height of the veranda, grab the cup, and throw the water out onto me. You win again, Mitch.




Then there was the time (written about on this blog) where we took the 10-minute burger and fries challenge and Mitchell's sole aim wasn't to win, but just to beat me. Purely because he knows how competitive I am.


One time we traveled from Unley to Glenelg (11kms), me on a bike and Mitchell on roller skates. Trying to catch the tram back with my bike in tow was almost as hard as bringing a bomb onto a plane, so we had to ride (and skate) all the way back again.








Then there was the time when he donated $200 to charity to make me keep my Movember moustache for another month. I bring that story up so often that I bet I could find people who would donate $200 just to shut me up.


And of course, there's the amazing new memory we have of jumping out of a plane together at 14 000 feet.

I guess it all comes from his upbringing in the country. It's given him a sense of extroversion unlike anything I've seen before. And it also gives him the ability to have fun and communicate with people without relying on his phone or the internet, which is pretty hard these days. He's a great addition to any group of friends and I'm glad we got him into ours.

Friday, 16 January 2015

New Experience Challenge Week 52b: Skydiving

For part one of this post, click here.

I did it! I jumped out of a plane! It almost got postponed again. We had an unseasonable period of miserable rain for almost a week. But by some miracle, Sunday the 11th provided a short reprieve. Mitchell and I turned up at the Semaphore Surf Lifesaving Club where a large group was watching footage of a relative of theirs who had just done it. They were falling about with laughter as their relative screamed and her face got warped by the rushing wind. It didn't take too long to get ready, we met the lads we'd be jumping with and they helped us into our harnesses and away we went.

I'm not going to write too much detail, because I've got footage to show you. But there were a few details that are worth mentioning. One thing that not many people talk about is how small the plane is. Myself, Mitchell, our instructors, the two other people who were jumping and their instructors ll had to squish in together like a rowing team. One of the other jumpers was such a big boy that I wasn't sure he'd even fit in the plane. Once inside, we couldn't talk much because the rushing wind was so loud. There was a bumper sticker facing us at the end of the plane that said "I like to live on the edge of fear, but sometimes I leave it all behind and go skydiving!" I didn't quite get it. And beyond that, there were three lights - one labelled "3 minutes", one labelled "Standby" and one labelled "Jump!". As we climbed up to 14 000 feet, Mitch and I exchanged looks, laughs and jokes. We sang songs like Freefallin' and Blaze of Glory, much to the annoyance of the other two jumpers.

It took a while for us to climb all that way, I was surprised. But when the 3-minute light finally came on, the instructors sprang into action, finishing clipping themselves onto us and doing their final checks of the equipment. The 3-minute light switched off and the Standby light turned on. One of the instructors opened the side door and the noise got even louder. We felt the rush of the wind force its way into the plane and suddenly we weren't making jokes any more. The big guy went out first, followed by the other lady. Then it was my turn. Notice my face in the video just as I'm about to jump. When it comes to fear, there are two types of people in the world - screamers and freezers. I'm absolutely a freezer. Just as I'm stepping out through the door, my face seems to say "If I don't move a muscle, everyone will forgot I'm here and the danger will pass."

It didn't.


Have you ever been on a rollercoaster? As you start to go down a dip, your body seizes up, wanting to get itself to stable ground. This confirms that you're falling, just in case you didn't know. But your body expects you to land in less than a second. So when three seconds pass and you still aren't on the ground, your body stops screaming at you and reevaluates its situation. After those first few seconds, it becomes really enjoyable. You don't even feel like you're falling, you just feel like you're lying on a really big fan. You can probably see if you watched the video that the parachute opening was the worst part for me. It was very jarring and gave me a split-second of fear that something had gone wrong.

One thing you didn't see in the video was that Mitch got royally messed up by the fall. Mere seconds after the cameras stopped rolling, Mitchell stumbled off to the water's edge, fell to his knees and vomited. It was kinda hilarious.

So that rounds out my New Experience Challenge. I headed outside my comfort zone a few times, did some things that I fell in love with and kept doing, met some awesome people and got some great stories. I'm taking a break from any crazy stunts this year, but I could use some suggestions on what sort of project I could work on in 2015. Preferably something that can get me interviewed on TV. I have a friend who got on Sunrise (one of our Australian morning shows) for organising a "No Pants Tram Ride" which dozens of people attended. I also had another mate who was interviewed on The Project (our version of The Daily Show) for putting a night out with himself up for auction on eBay. I felt like this New Experience Challenge deserved a wider audience, but I sure am glad I got to share it with you.

Now I want to go bigger.


Monday, 12 January 2015

What a Week!

I was thinking there could be no way this year could top last year for how eventful and memorable it was. The first full week of the year really thew that into doubt. There's been so many wild ups and downs often in the space of just one day. I'll run through them here, putting the good stuff in green and the bad stuff in red.

  • On Monday, I went into the station to produce my radio show. One of the stars messaged me at the last minute to say he couldn't come in, so I offered to replace him for the afternoon. Our content manager decided it would be better if the other guy just did it on his own rather than for me to be there with him.
  • So, not having anything to do, I moodily sat around for the next four hours waiting for my open-mic comedy show to start. When the time finally came, I walked over and discovered it wasn't even on that night.
  • Tuesday started much, much worse, when I received the terrible news I talked about in this post. I had to inform the teacher of the radio school we went to and field calls from friends asking what the heck I knew. I unfortunately didn't know much more than they did.
  • It's really weird, but for some reason, when you go through something that makes you really, truly sad... It makes you more vulnerable, personable, even more likable. I had to go and record a voice over demo for my agents in the hope of getting some work there. The guy who made the demo for me had every praise for me - he said my voice was warm and inviting and I made him want to like me. There was one ad I read out that he said was one of the best takes he'd ever heard on that ad, and it had only been my first take. He also said I take direction very well,
  • That night, I had to go to a comedy gig I'd been booked for weeks ago. It was one of the best gigs I'd had since last year's Fringe Festival. Greg Fleet (Australia's version of Bill Hicks) was there and called me over as I was leaving.
    'Hey, that was really good!'
    'Thanks!'
    'You're really good at this.'
    'Wow, do you think?'
    'Yeah,
    because I didn't give a shit about you before.'
    'Oh... Well, I'm glad I'm on your radar now...'
  • After that I went to my cousin Daniel's birthday and had a great rest of the night. Like I said before, the events of earlier that day had made me feel vulnerable and personable, so I ended up sharing a moment with my uncle, telling him how much I liked having him in my life. We're a family that doesn't communicate well. That threw him back. But he really appreciated it.
  • Wednesday I went to an improv class and was told afterwards I was a bit of a natural. I was signed up their group and I'll be doing shows with them for the Fringe.
  • Thursday was the return of Quiz Meisters (the company I work for that runs pub quizzes) after a three-week hiatus. But it turned out that the venue had held a wedding during the break, which resulted in half the cables I needed missing. The show was an absolute shamble, with one of the staff members having to run out to a store to see if she could find replacements, and end me ending up standing on a ledge holding a mixing board up under a TV so that it could reach while I held the mic in my other hand to ask the questions. I'm pretty sure the crowd found it hilarious and still had fun.
  • Friday was my birthday, and as I described in this post, I:
  • Learned to play a riff on the harmonica.
  • Had to visit my grandma in hospital.
  • Went to the pool.
  • Injured my shoulder.
  • And got my fabulous custom Monopoly board.
  • Saturday night was meant to be a bit of a 10-year reunion for the people I went to primary school with. I had done all the organizing, and there was probably just enough people attending to make it worth while. Within two hours of start time, about eight people pulled out. That only left seven people still going. We had to call it off.
  • Sunday was the magical day we've been waiting for... skydiving. It went off without a hitch. The post about it will be written in a few days, once I get sent the footage.
  • That night, my family came over to celebrate my birthday. They all inquired about the skydiving and I described how it felt.
  • A few of the attendees agreed to play my new Monopoly game. My little cousin Julie was busy kicking all of our asses, when she tipped over a cup of water and it fell all over one side of the board. everyone around the table stared at it for five whole seconds, before I sprang up and ran to get some paper towels. Everyone watched me stress out, trying to clean all the water off as it soaked into all the stickers and ran the ink. It was low-quality cardboard, so it was already starting to warp the board too. For the rest of the night, people gave me sympathetic looks and Julie and her family tried to convince me to let them buy a new one. I refused.
This has been a really really good week. And I don't say that in spite of all the bad stuff that's happened, but because of it. All the good stuff that happens to you makes you happy. All the bad stuff makes you learn. Both are necessary to get the most out of life, and I'm glad I got to experience the extremes of both this week.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Buttercup Monopoly

It was my 23rd birthday on Friday. It ended up being a really good day with little planning involved. Early in the morning, on a mysterious whim, I fished out a harmonica that Kelsey & Sarah gave me and learned to play Piano Man on it.

Then, a bit later, I went to visit my grandma in hospital. She's having a tracheotomy later this month and is a little bit scared about it. Because she has trouble speaking English, and I have trouble speaking Italian, we don't really manage to talk to each other much. That's especially true now that the lump in her throat has affected her speech and and it comes out in a strained whisper. But I could see in her eyes how happy she was that someone was coming to visit her. I spent an hour and a half with her, reading prayers that I'd translated into Italian on my phone and doing my best to translate for the nurses that came in. I had to explain to her what date it was and when she realized it was my birthday, she was even happier.

At around midday, I went off to the Marion Swimming Centre to meet up with Mitchell. They had their inflatable obstacle courses out and I really wanted to have a go. The last time I tried one, I was 9 years old and still didn't know how to swim. Naturally, I fell off and one of the lifeguards had to jump in and stop me from flailing wildly on the spot. It was on a school excursion too, which made it extra embarrassing. This pool had two courses - one for younger kids and one for older ones. The younger one simply had a horizontal tube you could step over or slide under, four rings in a row, which you could either climb through or crawl under, another horizontal tube and then some slippery stairs you had to climb so you could go down the slide at the end. The older one began with a tight group of upright pillars that you had to push your way through, followed by a gappy bridge you had to climb over. Then there was a large gap that you had to swing over with a rope, before using another rope to swing off the end of the course and into the water. It's important to note that on the bigger one, all the obstacles are connected by a round tube, which made it very hard to balance. The smaller one just had a flat surface.

Anyway, Mitchell and I started on the smaller one just to warm ourselves up. We did it twice each before thinking "Okay, we're on top of this" and moving up. My first attempt at the bigger one was very shaky. The upright pillars that all the younger kids seemed to be dealing with fine ended up knocking me over. I nearly fell off within ten seconds of starting. I recovered and handled the bridge fine, despite almost falling again on my way there. When it came to the rope swing, there were a lot of teenagers on the side of the pool yelling at people to try jumping across without the rope. Mitchell had tried and failed. I wanted to try with the rope first and then try again without it later. I swung and I landed, easier than I thought. And with relief I grabbed onto the second rope and swung out into the water.

Second go: I knew what to expect with the pillars, so I got through them alright. The bridge was no trouble. Then the big gap. The lack of balance I had on the tube meant I couldn't take a run-up. I could only take one step before launching myself, which I did. I ended up smacking into the other side with my stomach, and in my failed attempt to keep aloft with my arms, I ended up jarring my right shoulder. I doggy-paddled to the side of the pool with only one arm and grabbed an ice pack from the first-aid area. I took no further part in the game.

It was funny seeing peoples looks a bit later when Mitch and I jumped into the spa and I was still holding the ice pack to my shoulder. We stayed there until the ice melted and then went on the water slides. Then we decided to revisit the obstacle courses.

Before I'd jarred my shoulder, I'd managed to do the small course in fifteen seconds. Mitchell decided he wanted to break that. Unfortunately for him, he's a bit too big for the course, so he kept tripping and getting stuck. We ended up talking to a couple of ten-year-old boys who wanted to get in on the action, so we timed them too. One of them got it in thirteen seconds. I couldn't let that stand. So I decided I had enough movement back in my arm to give it another go. I stepped over the first tube easy, tried to go through the first loop. tripped, landed on my arm, yelled "Ow fuck, my arm!!!" really loudly, realized that the ten-year-olds were still there and quietly and slowly made my way through the rest of the course before I could do any more damage.

After that I became the time keeper. Mitchell gave me his watch and I timed everyone from the moment they touched the course to the moment they hit the water at the end. One of the ten-year-olds kept beating the crap out of Mitch. When Mitchell finally got it down to twelve seconds, before he even made it back to the line the kid had his turn and got eleven. Mitchell got a quicker eleven, so the kid got ten. Mitchell's natural advantage of having more speed an power was undone by his being too large for the course. The kid was slower, but he was the perfect size to just zip through all the hoops without even slowing down. If I'd been healthy, I might have been in with a chance - I'm a pretty sweet combination of the two. The kid ended up winning, breaking Mitchell's spirit.

That night, the gang came over for dinner. Kelsey, Mitchell, Jasmine, Jason and Wendy were there, as well as Jerida who was fresh from a two-week cruise and had an amazing tan. Side note: with Sarah holidaying in Europe at the moment, Juan over in South America, Jason having recently come back from Vietnam and another friend named Dimi who's also in Europe, I'm starting to feel like I'm falling behind on my travel. I need to get away soon. Anyway, as we ordered four pizzas and three sides between the seven of us, some members of the group gave me some presents. Jerida gave me a Superman plush toy and a Dallas Cowboys track suit, because she knows how much I love those two things. Then Jason and Kelsey brought over a big bag. They had these huge smiles on their faces like they were already congratulating themselves. They reached into the bag and pulled out a game of Monopoly.

'Oh... thanks!' I said. I certainly love Monopoly, but didn't they know I already had the game?
'Take a closer look!' said Jason. I studied the board and noticed that in front of the word Monopoly was a big bright yellow sticker with the word "Buttercup" on it and a picture of a daisy underneath. There were more or those stickers around the sides of the board, anywhere it said "Monopoly" on it.
'Oh, that's cool! I said, a bit more excited.
'Why don't we open it up for him?' said Kelsey. We took it to the table and opened it up. I grabbed the board out and unfolded it, unsure what was going on.

Here's what they'd done - they'd managed to make a custom Monopoly board where the usual properties had been replaced by pictures of group members and memories. I couldn't believe my eyes as I scanned the board, working my way from "PDAs" & "General Quirks" to "Australia Day '13", "Pine Point '13-'14" & "Gold Coast '12", all the way up to "Buttercup Boys" & "Buttercup Girls" where the dark blues usually are. Each property had an accompanying picture that they said they'd taken either from Facebook or my blog. They even had custom Chance and Community Chest cards, with instructions like "Raise money for charity, collect $50 from each player", and a picture of me just after I did the World's Greatest Shave or "Stack it, pay $25", and a perfectly timed picture we took on the Gold Coast where Mitchell fell over and everyone else in the photo had turned to laugh. Some of you will be delighted to know that there was one that said "Attempt pole dancing, pay $50" and it had a picture of me doing the flagpole.
'Guys... This is the best present I've ever gotten,' I said emotionally. 'Lets play it now!'













Okay, so here's my deal with Monopoly: I think I'm pretty good. I've only played it a handful of times, and yet I've figured out why some sets are better to own than others and how to keep afloat when you're struggling etc. But I'm terrible when I'm playing against people who just love to make wild trades without any thought of the consequences. Here are some of the exchanges I had throughout the game.

Mitchell: Mike, what do you want for your grey property?
Me: You're not getting my grey property.
Mitchell: Why not?
Me: That gives you a set! And that's the best set on the board to own when no one else has got any. The houses are only $50 each, you can afford to stack them all up in one go.
Mitchell: What if I give you $500?
Me: Dude, landing on Floorgy once with a hotel is $600. No deal.

Kelsey: Mike, I'll give you a railroad for your green.
Me: That's the worst deal I've ever heard.
Kelsey: When someone lands on one of your railroads, they'll owe you $50!
Me: When someone lands on your hotel, they'll owe you $1400.
Jason: Gee, it must be nice to have properties.
Jasmine: Aw, chin up Jason. You'll get one soon.

(Later after much dealing...)

Me: Okay, so you'll give me your red, your pink and $200, and I'l give you my railroad, my orange and my grey?
Kelsey: Yes.
Me: Alright...
Kelsey: Hey Mitch, do you want to give me your railroad for my grey?
Mitchell: Deal!
Me: Oh for crying out loud Kelsey, you've ruined my birthday.
Kelsey: But look how many railroads I've got!
Me: Great, you'll have somewhere to sleep when Mitchell's got all our money.

Two turns later, Mitchell had a hotel on all of his properties and everyone realized they had to move quickly. Trades were made so fast I could barely follow it. But by the end of it, I had a set of three reds and nothing else. The next challenge was to develop them quickly enough to start making money on them. The very next turn, I landed on Buttercup Bowling - the grey property that I foolishly let out from under my protection. I had to pay Mitchell $550. On my next turn, I rolled a three and landed on Floorgy - Mitchell's again. That was another $600. I couldn't afford that. My friends didn't want me to give up so soon, so rather than just hand my stuff to Mitch, I mortgaged the only three properties I had and paid him off. Then I just played on my phone until it was my turn again. It ended up being Jerida who officially knocked me out - much to her dismay, since it would cost her more to unmortgage those properties than what she'd gotten from the deal. Naturally, Mitchell was one of the last two people left. But amazingly, Miss Quiet Achiever-Jasmine had traded like a boss and she was in easily the best position. Mitchell somehow ended up with nothing left but his three greys and the thousands of dollars he accrued from the rest of the players. Jasmine slowly developed her properties until there was no safe space left for him to land and she ended up winning. Go Jasmine!


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The World's Hardest Thing to Deal With

Yesterday morning, I got a call from a distressed friend of mine. We work together for a company the runs pub trivia nights around the country. He rang to let me know that one of the most beloved hosts in the whole organisation, a man I'd known for two years, had killed himself the previous night.

I was dumbstruck. How could he have done that? He was always so happy, had such a magnetic personality. He was outgoing and always up for a good time. He had such a sense of adventure that one time it even got him interviewed on national TV. He's the last person I would have guessed. Everyone knew that Robin Williams had problems. You could see it in his eyes and he often talked about his depression in interviews. This friend of mine showed no signs whatsoever that anything was wrong. He was always smiling and drinking beer. He loved to laugh and meet new people.

Maybe we weren't close enough. We'd seen each other maybe four or five times since we first met at radio school. But I still felt very close with him. We worked on the same team in that school, making a demo that we were awfully proud of. Later, I used my position at Fresh to get him some publicity which eventually got him onto national TV. And then I was the one that introduced him to the pub trivia guys. He auditioned, they loved him and he became a star. Why is it always the most loving and the most loved people that end up being the most depressed?

I guess people in his position either don't know who they can trust to talk to, or don't want to burden anyone with their problems. It just makes me wish I could have done something. If I'd picked up any sort of sign that he was in trouble, I would have made more of an effort to catch up with him. But I doubt that would have helped. I don't think he had any shortage of people to talk to and it's not like I could have gotten rid of his problems just by being there. See, that's a big part of the problem. People who are having suicidal thoughts often don't feel like they can share with anyone or that anyone understands what they're going through. It frustrates me so much not knowing anything about it - whether anyone at all knew what he was going through, how long he was in this pit before it happened, whether he tried to call Lifeline or seek other help... Hearing this news and not being able to do a freaking thing to stop it, change it or even help. That feeling of helplessness is the hardest thing I could possibly deal with right now.

A study of his Facebook page indicated that nobody did know, not even his family. Scrolling through all the messages of condolence was heartbreaking. Seeing the pictures people shared of him partying and having a ball... that was much worse. But there was one photo in particular that made me lose it - made me curl into a ball and sob for half an hour. It was a photo taken off a local news website, of him sitting alone on a bar at the pub. He was smiling into the camera and saluting with a pint of beer. What was once one of his proudest moments has now become his goodbye to the world.

Please, please don't let this happen to you. I guarantee that if you're feeling the same way he did, you'll be able to find someone to help. People are so good at that. Family, friends, colleagues, crisis lines all over the world... find a stranger on the street if you must and talk to them, they'll all love to know that they're making a positive difference in someone's life. You are never, ever alone.
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