The Summer of Kicks, page 1
Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave) is currently seen each week on Channel Eleven’s Toasted TV and Channel Seven’s It’s Academic.
Dave’s many other television appearances include Saturday Disney, Creature Features, Totally Wild, Good Morning Australia, a shark-infested Texta TV commercial and dozens of appearances as Live Cartoonist on Network Ten’s cheeZ tv.
Dave has presented to over 130,000 children in schools and libraries, and has been a popular speaker at numerous teacher/librarian conferences and literature festivals across the country.
Dave has written six instructional cartooning books and is also the creator of the UFO – Unavoidable Family Outing novel series; Sumo Granny Smackdown; Norman Enormous; and Hamilton’s Handstand, and recently co-created The Bum Book.
To Finn, Sami and Eden – may you fall in love fearlessly, love as you hope to be loved and involve your head in decisions of the heart, and to Kim, the only crush I ever had that mattered.
Shoes maketh the man
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes on their feet. Now, I’ve never met the contingent of mysterious humans who make up they or them or even the masses, but I’d defy them to pin a label on me based solely on what I look like from the ankles down. Currently my feet are wearing Converse. Old-school high-tops. Once rust-coloured, now faded out to a malty pink. They epitomise coolness. The shoes, not me – let’s get that straight from the get-go. For decades this shoe has been worn like a badge of artistic rebellion, exuding comfort, creativity, effortlessness and confidence. A pair of shoes as equally at home on the feet of movie stars and millionaires as it is on back-alley midnight spray-can artists and trying-to-make-it singer/songwriters who have moved out of their parents’ homes and travelled halfway across the country to sit on a stool and strum their guitars in seedy Melbourne cafés just waiting to be noticed by someone half as interesting but slightly more connected than they are. But my shoes don’t tell the whole story about me. I didn’t break them in. Didn’t wear them down like this. I picked these up on eBay for twenty-two bucks. Up until a week ago I was wearing Dunlop Volleys.
It’s a sad thing when two hunks of canvas have way more going for them than I do. I got the sizing a little wrong, and they kind of bunch up when I tighten them, but although the chances are slim that my foot will widen with age, they’re a start. Will they change my life? It’s unlikely. Transform me into a respected member of the school community to the point that I’m glanced upon favourably by Candace McAllister? Probably not. But hey, it’s almost summer. A new season is just around the corner. And when you step into anything new, you need to have good solid foundations. You need to start from the ground up.
Thanks for nothing, Bryan Adams
Whether looking for answers to life’s big questions or just seeking a spoonful of standard garden-variety advice, some people will by default turn to their parents. Or their peers. Or the internet. Or the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song, hoping to extract the true meaning of existence. But me? I prefer to picture myself on the set of a TV game show. Before me is a huge grid, three squares wide, three down – like at the beginning of The Brady Bunch. But instead of Mike, Carol and the rest of the Brady posse, there’s a wall of nine random celebrities, each of them at my disposal. And I can ask them anything I like.
‘My next question is for eighties rocker Bryan Adams.’
His body of work is familiar to me. Everything from his early redneck-rockers to the endless stream of schmaltzy ballads he dripped out in the years that followed.
Bryan turns up a sleeve of his checked shirt and spins his chiselled jaw in my direction. ‘Bryan, can I call you Bryan?’ I ask. ‘Listen, Bryan, have you ever stopped to consider every screwed-up teenager who accidentally flicked on the radio to hear you belting out Summer of ’69, banging on about your forty-plus years ago perfect summer? You know – the band. The girl. The best days of your life? One upbeat guitar riff intro, a few good-old-days lyrics and pretty soon they start thinking, hey, maybe everything will be all right. Maybe good old Bryan’s onto something. Maybe somehow it’ll all work out, and I too will have the perfect summer. Well, thanks for freaking nothing, Bryan, because here’s what you’ve achieved with your stupid song – you’ve managed to set up every teenage kid on the planet for a lifetime of summers filled with complete and total disappointment – are you happy to own that?’
Bryan squirms in his chair. I’ve made him uncomfortable. Awesome.
‘But it doesn’t stop there, Bryan Adams,’ I say. ‘Look at all the half-hour TV sitcoms and glossy magazine ads. Every PG movie ever made. Glee, for God’s sake – every one of them has tried to sell me on the idea that no matter what life throws at me, it will make me a better person. That everything will work out. That the average kids will have an uprising and eventually I too will be accepted and praised by the masses, and although my best friend is a massive dork, his dorkiness will be endearing enough that the hottest girl in my class will get to know him, then notice me, and within minutes she’ll dump her stereotypically meat-headed football captain boyfriend, and together the two of us will skip along the beach every day at sunset, kiss like starved hyenas for hours without a breath, and laugh and love our way through a never-ending perfect summer dream sequence.’
I continue. ‘I don’t mean any disrespect but, for starters, you come from Canada. Canada – you know that vast wintery blob above America where it snows every day of the year? What could you possibly know about summer? Plus there was a guy in your band called ‘Jody’. That doesn’t even make sense. Third strike? A duet with a Spice Girl. And here you are giving me advice? I mean, what makes you even remotely eligible to be the spokesperson for the “perfect summer”?’
‘I guess the fact that I had one is a pretty good start,’ Bryan Adams responds.
And there it is. Even my own manifested celebrity is taunting me.
Now I know that if I lived in BryanAdams Land I could wake up every morning with complete confidence that from first light on the first day of December, the smattering of zits on my face would clear up, I’d be sporting abs of steel and Candace McAllister would instantly start sending me text messages that I’d be unlikely to share with my mother.
But unfortunately I don’t live in BryanAdams Land. I live here. On the fringes of suburbia, with no job, no girl and no idea of how to get close to anything that resembles the best summer of my life.
My best summer to date? It was right before high school. I’d been out of action for most of the holidays with a broken left foot and had just hobbled out to de-mail the mailbox when she rode past.
On her actual bike.
She makes a right turn from Travers Street, and I see her pedalling towards me, her golden hair sprouting from the back of her Strawberry Shortcake bike helmet, dancing like a trail of rose petals on the wind. She gently applies the back-pedal brake and gracefully glides to a stop right outside our house.
‘Hey,’ she says. She’s the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever laid eyes on.
‘Hey,’ I reply, and I’ve already eclipsed my total-words-spoken-to-Candace-McAllister tally by one.
‘How’s your leg?’
‘It’s my foot.’
‘Oh, right. Your foot.’
‘It’s good.’ Awkward silence. I quickly think of something to fill the void. ‘Got plaster,’ I say and point downwards.
‘Mmm,’ she says. She nods. Then there’s more awkward silence. She nods again. More silence. And a little more. And then, finally, she speaks. ‘OK, well, I guess I’
The tragic news is that, to date, this still ranks as one of the highlights of my entire life.
Fast forward a handful of years, and it’s now November twenty-ninth, two days before summer. Fourteen days until the school holidays kick in, and I can feel the buzz in the air – the optimism so tangible I can almost break off a chunk and pick my teeth with it. The school year is a few short days away from being just another bad memory, and my summer to-do list is firmly in place.
One: Find a way to make Candace McAllister my girlfriend. I realise that I’m punching way above my weight even suggesting it, but in a perfect world it would at least be a possibility. The truth is that the likelihood of Candace McAllister bypassing every single footballer, cricketer, chiselled surfer and good-looking academic kid in a six-suburb radius to select me as the one guy she devotes herself to sits somewhere between absolute zero and a chocolate Paddle Pop’s chance of surviving the summer in hell. So naturally there’s more than one item on my list. Here’s a slightly more attainable goal.
Two: Have a conversation with Candace McAllister. An actual conversation where she talks to me and I talk back, and maybe she flicks her hair and smiles a little. It doesn’t have to be a direct result of something I’ve said – just to see her smile up close, a smile for no one else but me that I can take away with me and add to my slideshow of Candace images to replay over and over in my mind. Maybe it’ll only last a few seconds, the conversation and the smile. Maybe just the span of one or two breaths, but in that space of time, to be the only thing that Candace McAllister is thinking about? That would be impressive. If I can get number two off the ground, this summer will eclipse all summers, past or future.
No one else can see it coming – not the genius Bryan Adams or even my hit-and-miss psychic Nanna – but I’m quietly confident that something will happen these holidays. I can feel it in my bones. I’ve heard Mum say that if you feel something in your bones it’s usually a sign of early onset osteoporosis, but I find it hard to take a hundred per cent of what my mother says seriously. After all, she’s part of the two-person team who chose my name in the first place.
I know. My parents were complete idiots. I can understand the concept behind burdening a child with a name like Starrphyre if they were intergalactic space warriors and I was named after their dying home planet, or if my dad was a rock god from a tragic 1980s hair metal band, but that just wasn’t the case.
At least not entirely.
You see, my dad actually was a rock god. Of sorts. He played bass guitar for Waxxonn, a mildly successful screaming wall of noise that had one hit single in 1986 – ‘Nagasaki Miyagi’ – followed by an EP and one fairly ordinary album. There’s a framed photo hanging above the two-and-a-half-seater at his place, him with the other guys in the band all prancing about in spandex onesies, gelled-up mullets and more make-up than a gaggle of available grannies at a singles-only bingo night. To look at him now, after folding up his skin-tight rock-suit and hacking off his mullet years ago, nobody would ever suspect he was anything more than your average nerdy accountant. See, it’s all right for him. A quick haircut and a change of clothes and he’s just like everyone else. But me? It won’t make a difference if I change my clothes, cut my hair or rip off my entire head; I’ll still be stuck with the stupidest name in the history of stupid names.
For the rest of my life, every single person I meet I’ll still have to introduce myself by saying, ‘Hi, I’m Starrphyre …’ And then follow that with something like, ‘Yeah, it is kind of a girly name, but actually … I’m a guy. I’m sixteen, have a haircut that makes me look like a nine-year-old girl, and am the proud owner of quite possibly the stupidest parents who ever walked the earth.’
Over the years I’ve had numerous conversations with my parents about my name – none of them shedding any fresh light, but as I sit here at the breakfast bar at 8.15 on a Monday morning, chugging down my second bowl of Wholegrain Heaven, the most recent conversation about my name is in full swing.
‘I just want to know,’ I screech, ‘on what planet is Starrphyre an acceptable name for … anything?’
‘But darling,’ Mum says, ‘you know the story – ancient magical stone possessing unlimited positive energy and power?’ She holds out her left hand to me, the unidentifiable stone in the ring on her finger failing to sparkle in the sunlight as I’m sure was her intention. ‘The Starrphyre is the most beautiful and rare of all the gems in the cosmic realm.’
‘Come on, Mum, that’s bollocks. You totally made it up!’
‘Made it up?’ She shoots me a fake shocked look. ‘How could you even suggest such a thing?’ she says. ‘I’m deeply hurt. But all things considered, I do suppose you’re right.’
‘What?’ Rice milk splatters sprinkler-style from my mouth, dotting my hands, the placemat and parts of my shirt with small white circles of dairy-free goodness.
‘Well, you might as well know,’ she says. ‘We did kind of make it up.’
‘Hold on, can we rewind a little?’ I say. ‘What are you talking about? And why am I just hearing about this now?’
‘I think you’re old enough to handle the truth,’ Mum says, and she sits down in the chair opposite me. ‘You have to understand, my love, that when you popped out I was still medicated to the eyeballs and talking gibberish at best. You were just so pink and cute and tiny – such a magical little bundle – and I convinced your father we had to give you a name that would reflect that, and would continuously remind us every day of how special you are to us.’
‘You could have hung a sign above my bed that said, Special kid sleeps here. Slightly less damaging, wouldn’t you think? You didn’t have to give me a joke name.’
‘It’s no such thing. Come on, let’s hold hands and say it together. Starrrrr-phyrrrrrre,’ she says, teasing me with her ridiculous rolling r’s.
‘It’s a crap name. Admit it. Admit to me that you gave me a crap name!’
‘I won’t do anything of the sort.’
‘It’s pathetic, you know it is.’
‘It’s a beautiful name.’
‘Beautiful? Jeez, Mum, even a unicorn would get the crap kicked out of it if its name was Starrphyre.’
‘Well, what would you prefer to be called?’
‘Like I have a choice.’
‘No,’ she says. ‘I’ll admit defeat. Obviously you know best. I mean, it’s not like for forty and a half weeks I let you grow inside my body, carried you in my uterus and then squeezed you down my very own birth canal …’
‘Eeew, God, Mum, don’t say birth canal.’
‘What then? Shall I use the other word? Would you prefer me to say …’
And … hold it right there. At this point I just have to say that mothers who talk about their own personal female body parts to their teenage sons are just wrong. So very, very wrong.
‘Oh, and by the way,’ Mum calls as she heads out the door, keys jingling chirpily, ‘Warren’s moving in.’
‘Oh, it’s not for long, darling.’ And she’s still walking away. ‘Turns out the place he was renting sold. Pretty quickly, from all accounts.’
‘I know it’s not ideal, but it’s only until the new year. Just push your bed over against the wall. You know, make some room. He’ll be here around 4.30. Don’t be late for school. Byeeee.’
‘My next question is for the gentleman in the centre square.’
The neon strip around the perimeter of square number five flickers from a dull maroon to a radiant, glowing red, and the bald, moustached American occupying
‘Doctor Phil, I’m about to face an existence where I have to share a room with my sister’s meathead boyfriend, Warren the Tool. Being that he’s a testosterone-packed alpha-male boofhead, what effect do you see that experience having on my emotional growth and general wellbeing?’
Doctor Phil, TV therapist and authority on all situations relating to human behaviour, leans in to his microphone and lets his slow Southern drawl loose. ‘Now what you have here, young man, is a potentially dangerous environment. He’s going to establish himself as top dog, right from the word go. Anything that’s yours will soon be his. Your room will be his room. But the real danger is in the risk of you not only losing ownership of your room and your general possessions, but also losing ownership of yourself.’
‘Spectacular. Just what I thought,’ I say.
He hasn’t had his whooping round of applause yet, so Dr Phil continues. ‘You see, if you allow him to take you away from you, by bullying or by whatever means he sees fit, you’re going to fail to have an identity. Not only that, you’ll have condoned his bullying patterns, accepted those terms, and that’s just not an option.’
‘So how do I …?’
‘You’ve gotta stand up to him from the start, young man. Even before he sets his bags down, establish the ground rules – your terms, and declare your territory and let him know that you won’t take any of his crap.’ Applause follows as expected. Big American applause.
Suddenly, without invitation, TV craft-maker/cookie-baker Martha Stewart chimes in, and square number three, top right, neons into gear.
‘Whenever I get a new dog, now I live with a number of dogs in my house, anyone here live with dogs?’ More applause. Americans must have hands of steel. ‘Now the first thing I do when I bring a new dog into my home is I lean into it … and this might surprise you, but I lean in really close and I bite it on the ear. I’m not kidding. I actually take the dog’s ear, put it in my mouth and I bite down on it.’ A quick pan reveals an audience of shocked faces. ‘I don’t draw blood, oh, gosh no, but a solid bite on the ear is enough to let that dog know who’s in charge. And they never forget it.’ Applause. Big time.