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DAY 357: Being blooded into Dungeons & Dragons

23 Aug

I AM the half-elf druid Mentholius. I am a chaotic neutral. This distinguishes me from a chaotic evil, in that I may choose to slit your throat in your sleep, but it probably wouldn’t be a malicious gesture. Dungeons & Dragons disciple Clem Bastow chose this character for me, but I think it sums up my own ‘how on earth did that happen, I was merely…’ demeanour.

Even though it feels like it’s been around since Middle Earth times, Dungeons & Dragons was actually conceived in 1974 by role-playing games designer Gary Gygax, who enjoyed playing Medieval wargames in his basement with other nerds.

Fast forward to the 2000s and Clem developed an interest after finding a prize haul of early ’80s paraphernalia in an op shop. She’s flummoxed as to how the manuals might have got there, as a D&D-er would have to fall from grace considerably to want to get rid of such a bounty. Perhaps, she hypothesises, his mother threw them out unbidden when he left home, or his wife insisted it was them or her. The latter’s quite likely: when Gary Gygax’s business partner died, the wife unceremoniously dumped all the Tactical Studies Rules on his front porch. Either way, Clem’s on a quest to track the previous owner down and find out.

I have a flick through the manuals and recoil. While the covers look like the fantasy paint jobs you’ll find on any discerning panel van, inside they’re crammed with facts, figures and stats, like your worst memory of physics and maths books combined. There isn’t even a D&D set stuffed with orcs and mountains, as it turns out – just grid paper.

Today, in a Carlton café, Clem takes the role of Dungeon Master, although she wouldn’t usually – DMs tend to develop a god complex, if they didn’t have one already. She sets up a scenario: I’ve run into a confrontational cluster of Kobolds, and they’re booming “Halt! Who goes there?” kind of things. With some rolls of the dice – the numbers of which determine my battle strength – I am soon defeated.

Unsurprisingly, there are some epic fall-outs within D&D brethren, particularly when someone acts unethically or nurses an almighty grudge. It is, Clem, muses, psychological warfare. With capes. It’s comparable to Alcoholics Anonymous or having some incurable disease, in that there’s a whole ’nother universe behind an ordinary looking door, with its own rules, issues and lexicon – that most people have no idea exists.

Is it for you?

Your fantasies tend to involve dwarves.

You work in IT.

You have a pedantic streak a civil servant would balk at.

You have a tendency to over-intellectualise life.

The passage from childhood to puberty was one marked with sorrow.

If you answered yes to any of the above, it is for you.

Keeper? No – no immediate gratification here.

DAY 349: Sulking at drag queen karaoke

15 Aug

PEOPLE are pulling out of my drag queen karaoke night right at the vinegar stroke, so I ditch the girls’ plan to drag up and get in the spirit of things, and head to Scruffy Murphy’s on my own in my usual stylish gear.

Scruffy Murphy’s. That’s the first warning sign right there. An Irish bar, occupying valuable CBD real estate inches. Half full of English, Irish and German backpackers, it’s the waiting room of nightlife. If only someone in the know had told these poor schmucks there were other options in this, the largest city in Australia…. although the Sydney Pub Guide says it’s “the best bar in Sydney by a long shot” (and “rustic”), so what do I know? And at least it hasn’t slapped ‘VIP’ on any part of it, which seems to be the tactic of rubbish clubs these days, to distract you from the novel idea of going anywhere good.

Not much to report on the karaoke. We’re kept on tenterhooks for an hour, as a disembodied voice promises the drag queens are coming out any second. Once they do, they work the room and humiliate everyone in turn – except me. Weirdly, drag queens don’t pick me to humiliate, even though I’m willing them to this time round so that I’ll have something to write about.

Disappointingly, drag queen karaoke isn’t what I’d envisaged, which was wall-to-wall blowsy queens elbowing up at the bar and packing a few whiskies in over a rousing Celine Dion soundtrack, before stalking off to door bitch some club. Instead, it’s a bunch of regulars (backpacking regulars? That’s tragedy right there), who leap up to perform R&B tracks like they’re on Australian Idol. I can’t really talk though – I’m just tippety-tapping away poisonously on my laptop.

Keeper? No.

DAY 320: Streaking in Streaky Bay

18 Jul

THE road trip through South Australia was pretty boring, till THIS happened.

Keeper? Yeaargh! Bring on other provoking place names!

DAY 300: Going to work in the nuddy

28 Jun

I WAS just thinking about how I’d never done the turning-up-at-some-bloke’s-door-in-a-trenchcoat-with-nothing-underneath-it thing (for fear of guffawing reprisal, mainly), when it occurred to me that I could just breeze all the way into work in nothing but my coat and some over-the-knee socks.

Why? Dunno.

Cycling’s clearly out today, so I trudge to the station with my hands thrust in my coat pockets to override any gusting.

I’d like to report that I feel like a giggly little minx on the train in, but instead I feel like a creep, particularly because I have to wear my laptop on my lap to cover any gaps left by the safety-pins. So far as having a secret no one knows about goes, it doesn’t come close to the ol’ sneaky bottle of vodka cuddled in the coat pocket.

Keeper? Not giving up yet – being in grim marching-to-work-mode didn’t help. A nuddy footy match might be in order. GOAL!

DAY 298: Dancing to Pat Benatar in public

26 Jun

FOUNDED in Wellington, New Zealand, the Real Hot Bitches ’80s Dance Troupe now have a Melbourne chapter. They specialise in histrionic workout choreography: pomp rock stylin’ in loud G-string leotards.

Today my friend Elle and I join them in an East Brunswick warehouse, where they’re walking new recruits through Pat Benatar’s ‘Love Is a Battlefield’.

We take to it quickly. There’s loads of thrusting and complex arm pumping, plus pained facial expressions to master, but we’ve done all this before as little girls.

I still remember my choreographed routine to Limahl’s ‘Never Ending Story’ and Elton John’s ‘Nikita’. Just  like my eight-year-old self trying to convey Nikita’s “eyes like ice on fire” through hand movements, the Real Hot Bitches are keen to take a literal approach to lyrics. Imagine, if you will, the physical interpretation to this verse:

You’re begging me to go, you’re making me stay
Why do you hurt me so bad?
It would help me to know, do I stand in your way
Or am I the best thing you’ve had?
Believe me, believe me, I can’t tell you why
But I’m trapped by your love and I’m chained to your side

Oh god, it all makes perfect sense. My favourite move is the eagle taking flight, but you’ll find the lobbing of hand grenades while crawling on one’s belly satisfies the more adventurous. The x-rated, on-the-back squirmings (“You open your legs on ‘touch me deep inside’, FYI”), meanwhile, make me feel like I’ve been busted doing naughty things at a pajama party by someone’s mother. No wonder the absent Jane Fondle – choreographer of many epics – is talked about with the same reverence as Colonel Kurtz.

It’s all daggy as a sheep’s bum, to be sure, but I love it and so does Elle. On the tram home she tells me about her own blog that never quite came to fruition: Hula-Hooping Your Way Out of Heartbreak. Her plan was scuppered when her ex-boyfriend came back, bearing platitudes and talking rubbish. Time to resurrect it, I think.

Keeper? Definitely. I was really feeling it.

DAY 288: Getting insulted at my own garage sale

16 Jun

IT’S eight in the morning and five straggly men are peering through my gates (not a euphemism).

“The ad in the paper said nine,” I admonish, marching past them with a bunch of cheery balloons.

“That’s okay, we can wait,” one says, pushing his nose through the pickets.

On the dot of nine, they sweep through my carport like gannets.

“Is this all you’ve got?” one asks, peeved that I’ve assembled no medals, antique clocks or rare vinyl he can flog on his stall somewhere or other.

This garage sale is a far more businesslike venture than the local community meet-and-greet I had envisaged. “You’re the first person to say hello,” I beam at one bloke who mutters a “g’day”. He ignores me.

“Who’d buy a book with a cover like that,” one matron snipes of some anthology or other as her friend stands back an adequate distance from the table to make it clear she will not be roused.

“Me,” I point out, “I did.”

As the hours wear on, I become increasingly aware of all my expensive follies during the last few years of gainful employment. Take the Ab King Pro, which it turns out, everyone has one of at home, and everyone is using as a clothes horse.

Talking of which, I haven’t sold a single item of clothing or accessory. A woman tries to offer me a dollar-fifty for a cardigan I paid fifty bucks for while getting bored waiting for my tram on Gertrude Street, and the leather doctor’s bag that looked well worth $60 at a secondhand boutique in St Kilda is considered, but ultimately deemed not worth two dollars.

These 'Gaugin' girls may well look mortified.

Keeper? Now that I’ve quit my job to live on magic beans, this is a lesson on the value of money that has come a smidge too late.

DAY 278: Retaking my vows

6 Jun

WHEN I realise I can still fit into my Brownie Guide uniform – give or take a couple of hips – I feel obliged to both remake my Brownie Guide promise and creep my family out.

It’s not a million miles from my forthcoming Australian Citizenship pledge, really – let’s compare the two.

Brownie Guide

Australian Citizenship

I like the way you get the option of removing the word ‘God’ from the Australian Citizenship pledge, though. Onya, Department of Immigration.

I’ve got a copy of my Brownie Guide handbook, so I am open to suggestions as to what badge I should go for first.

Keeper? Ongoing.

DAY 277: Unearthing my first love letter and writing a better one

4 Jun

PRETTY sure I spelt Johnathon’s name wrong, but since Mum found it in the attic, it’s safe to say he didn’t receive this love missive from my nine-year-old self.

Now no one needs to know.

In a plastic bag morbidly stuffed with my childhood teeth, hair and hospital tag (sponsored by Cow & Gate baby formula), this loaded letter lay dormant.

It’s an exemplary communiqué of aggressive masochism, setting myself up for a future of codependent bliss. Beautifully written. Pacey.

To be honest, I’ve got no idea who Johnathan is, nor Jane, the scheming bitch.

Doesn’t matter, I’ve now written a better love letter, to someone more memorable. I hope he gets it, as when I texted a picture of my undies to him on Day 190, he never received it, which made for an awkward conversation when the accompanying blog post went up.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 246: Experiencing great bonhomie at a glee club

4 May

It wasn't like this.

I HAVEN’T got the loveliest of timbres, truth be told, so when Esther – who provided the cynical backing track to our Heal Your Soul With Song experience – suggests we toddle off to a glee club, I’m apprehensive.

I’m picturing women in brightly coloured stockings and twee winter coats; Esther predicts gay men singing numbers from Starlight Express. Either way, when someone uses the words ‘hip’ or ‘funky’ in their online bumf, you know you’re going to have to check your pride at the door.

This glee get-together is held at South Melbourne’s charming Butterfly Club; a Victorian house with its parlour converted into a kitsch-cluttered lounge and the kitchen into a bar. It’s got a fairly clandestine entrance, which adds to the feeling that we’re slinking into somewhere shameful.

We cram into the front room with around 30 men and women, all clutching red wines, and not one of them looking particularly punchable. So far, so good.

Or this.

Glee hostess Vicky Jacobs has worked extensively coaching singers for musicals, and she has a warm, natural way about her. “I want her to run my life,” whispers Esther, brainwashed already.

Vicky runs us through some vocal exercises, each a tone higher than the last, so that we can discover our own comfortable pitch. I have a choking fit halfway through, which signifies I’ve passed mine already. I’m nervous that I’m going to vomit, because I used to trigger my gag reflex regularly when trying to sing along to screamy girl-bands in my teens. You know the ones – all jailbait dresses and photo shoots utilising raw meat.

Anyway, none of that here. We warm up with a run-through a ditty about some sailor whose flesh rots off his bones, sung in rounds. From there on, we sight-read our way through Solla Sollew, Chapel of Love, Falling Slowly and Over at the Frankenstein Place, singing in harmonies. En masse, it works, although I’m not ready for any solo spots. The songs sound so beautiful and forlorn that Esther and I grip our hearts and get goosebumps in rivulets… although I download the tracks later at home and it all suddenly feels a bit Sarah Brightman.

In the here and now, though, we’re filled with good cheer and wide-eyed about the whole experience. There’s a sense of stillness and robustness all at once. I may wind up rasping like Patty and Selma Bouvier for a few days, but I know I can get this feeling back.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 245: Learning to drum unmolested

3 May

I’VE always thought I’d be pretty good at drumming; only such is my attraction to drummers that every time I tried to learn as a youngster I ended up nobbing my drum teacher and had to pack it in.

An arcade seems like the safest environment in which to learn, then, as presumably the Wadriko Rocket Dive has more of a sense of professionalism than those fop-haired shysters.

Urban legend has it these arcades are where ne’er-do-wells do their class A swappsies, but I’m too concerned with figuring out this giant bongo machine, the instructions of which are all in Japanese. Seems like a kiddy (“kodomotachi”) version of Guitar Hero, with dancing beagles fannying around distractingly at the bottom.

I'm demonstrating the French grip.

In the next arcade I find a full pad kit and some eardrum-botheringly loud Japanese rock songs to thrash away to. It’s fast, but not as fast as the kid next to me, who’s shredding away on a guitar with ‘PERFECT’ flashing up for every flurried note. If he could put that skill to some kind of actual use, he’ll go far.

Keeper? Marginally more productive than class A swappsies, so long as you’re not supposed to be at home doing your homework.