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Mike's Fiction From The Road #1 - Find Your Mark
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a man who didn’t know where to go decided to just wander the city until he figured it out. he was an aborigine with a large body and long strong arms and legs. his soft hairy face was mostly covered by the curly black hair that hung down from underneath the dark leather hat that he always wore. his black and blue plaid shirt was quite hot for the time of the year, and his gray trousers with faint yellow pinstripes were too formal given his otherwise sloppy appearance. he wore no shoes. he shuffled barefoot through the city carrying a thick, dark stick that appeared to be, but wasn’t, a digeradoo. as he walked through the streets, quite noticeable in sydney where his kind scarcely roamed, he frequently paused, holding the stick close to his face and re-examining it as if it might tell him how to use it. he had been drawn to the wood and picked it up when he found it, taking it with him everywhere, but he had no idea why it had called to him or for what purpose he was to use it. he frequently thumbed the word carved into it but could not understand what it said. he carried the mystery around with him, and roamed the city for the answers. his aimless walking lead him in a loop through circular quay and the rocks, across the harbor bridge and back again, but he had no clear destination or reason in his head. the city swallowed him until he became needed, until his reason became clear.

jordan stepped off the plane onto australian soil for the first time in his life. he was an american man in his early 30s, happy to be away from his job for a 2 week trip down under. he often worried about his hairline, his bank account, and what his friends truly thought of him, but he decided to defer those concerns until he returned - now he was on vacation. on vacation from everything. he knew his business partner would be constantly sending e-mails seeking help to avert the daily mini-crises that attack a small business, but he could accept that as long as he wasn't locked up in the office for the next 17 days. a quick daily stop at an internet cafe for an e-mail to his partner and then to the beach was the plan. he would do some research there also to find the “mark” his father had left in sydney. jordan and his dad left marks for each other worldwide; little signs or a pile of rocks or a bag of marbles, something to find and get a picture of one's self with. they enjoyed their long distance scavenger hunt - it kept them close even when they didn’t see each other for months or years at a time.

jordan had been many places but not yet to oz. what did he expect? a country much more laid back than home, people overly friendly to their american visitor, some strange foods, and extra-large everything. what he saw in the movies is what he expected to see walking the streets of australia. he wore a black nike running shirt, thick khaki shorts, large mirror shades, and running shoes. he carried a gray burlap bag over his right shoulder with a camera, his passport, and sunscreen in it.

he walked into a pub and looked for foster’s. when he didn’t see that he ordered a victoria bitter instead. as he turned from the chest high bar, leaning his back into it, he faced the open pub. a man wearing a blue jersey looked over from where he was standing. he had heard jordan order his drink and it set him off. his lightly freckled skin was pale for an australian - closely cut red hair and a tall, strong body, full of beer and menace, he walked over to the american.

“are you canadian?” he asked.

“nope,” jordan said smiling. “i’m an american.”

“eh. a fucking american. that brings you down a notch,” replied the man. “i hate fucking americans.”

one of jordan’s expectations was shot dead, like the unlucky duck in a group fleeing from the rustling leaves disturbed by a careless hunter. he wasn’t sure what to say.

“some of my best mates are american,” the man said, which made jordan wonder how that came to be. he stood there silently, feeling uncomfortable 15 minutes into his relaxing vacation. the man looked down at him casually holding his half-empty beer glass loosely in his right hand. his left-hand was tucked into his shorts-pocket. the right words didn’t occur to jordan so he said nothing. the man moved closer, the alcohol and the belligerence in his heart dismissing all rules of personal space.

“but in general i don’t like americans at all,” he said as the faces of his friends passed through his mind. there were several tables in the pub, very few with any customers seated at them. a bartender wiped down the rectangular wooden bar as jordan and his new “friend” stood alone in the area near the waitress stand. middle-aged men absently pulled the levers of poker machines behind the blue jerseyed ozzie. jordan looked uncomfortably down at the dark green carpet under his left foot and at the red tile under his right. the ozzie stood entirely on the carpet, his legs slightly parted, the men’s bathroom over this right shoulder and the hallway to the backroom over his left. jordan had nothing to say, so he turned and ordered another drink. he sought the comfort of a friendly person.

ignoring the presence of the bartender altogether, the red-haired man leaned toward jordan and asked him if he could take it.

“uhh, yeah, yeah,” jordan replied. “i can take it.”

“good on you mate,” the ozzie said. “you have to be able to do - you come to australia and people are going to take the piss out of you. be ready for it. you should be proud to be an american.”

jordan couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. the man seemed to be joking but jordan detected some malice beneath his words that would surface surely if he challenged the man back. he decided to skip the last beer. he left quickly. on his way out he looked into a crowd of people crossing the pyrmont bridge over darling harbor, noticing a woman that looked like an old girlfriend. he felt very lonely in this so far unwelcoming place. seeking comfort, he decided to research the clue his father had given him for the sydney mark. finding that would make me feel better, he thought. he ducked into an internet cafe.

later, jordan took a walking tour of the city using his lonely planet guide. he walked up castlereagh street along the railroad tracks that ran out from central station and under the brown-bricked tunnel at campbell street. he turned north up elizabeth street towards hyde park. he walked the diagonal path toward the ANZAC memorial and then around it to the reflecting pond. the lawns hosted picnickers and lovers and friends kicking footballs, the fragrance of the flowering trees perfumed the breezy air. the rats scurrying across the footpath and into the drains did not diminish the beauty of the place.

jordan looked at the clue his father had given him concerning the mark in sydney, it read:

wife of new south wales governor in 1809 loved a particular spot in the sydney harbor.

his internet research on this clue lead him to hyde park and the botanic gardens, specifically to mrs. macquarie’s point. he had plucked that clue from the refrigerator magnet as he headed towards the airport for his flight to sydney. jordan and his dad left marks for each other all over the world and then created clues for finding them, which they then stuck to the refrigerator back home. there were standards for the clues: a good clue taught one something about the history or the culture of the city/town/park in which the mark was hidden. “always learn the basic history of the places you visit and respect the cultural differences, even if you don’t agree with them,” his father always said.

he crossed the street in front of st. mary’s cathedral and walked into the domain towards the botanic gardens and mrs macquarie’s point. he watched with a puzzled look as a short black man meandered the path shouting dramatically to himself. the man stopped under a broad leafy tree and yelled at a couple making out on a blanket, pretending to be friends with them. he waved and beckoned at them; the couple looked over at him, clearly annoyed. jordan walked by the man carefully.

he slowed his pace down when he remembered he was on vacation. he decided to stop and enjoy the smells and wildlife in the spectacular gardens which sprawled over the entire northeastern corner of sydney city. he walked along a black, undulating path past bamboo clumps, eucalyptus trees full of cockatoos, and into the herbal garden. he sat on a bench and had a conversation with an older local couple who welcomed him to the city and gave him suggestions of what to see. he always enjoyed connecting with locals and he looked forward to meeting up with some local friends later in the week. he walked away from the herbs happy that this new pleasant encounter scribbled over the memory of the one with the blue-jerseyed man.

he reached mrs macquarie’s point and started looking. his camera sat in his burlap bag and there were plenty of people around to take a photo should he find the mark. the point stuck out into the sydney harbor providing excellent views across farm cove to the mussels-like opera house. carmen would play there tonight - the french opera that took place in spain. jordan parted some bamboo trees with his arms and peered between them, searching for something his father had left behind. nothing. cockatoos with fanned-out yellow head feathers squawked at each other and at the american in cheap sunglasses crawling on the grass twisting his head left and right, up and down. jordan could not find anything that looked like the mark. “where’d you put it dad?” he asked a cockatoo. after 15 minutes, he gave up and decided to search again later. he headed home thinking that sometimes their game didn’t work; people or the wind or the rain moved things. he remembered a time that he had arranged some stones on a mountain in ireland, carefully spelling out the family mantra, but when his father got there he found nothing. his father was disappointed then like jordan was now. jordan walked past a quiet pond towards the youth hostel.

over dinner he read through the lonely planet guide for tips about what to see in australia. ayer's rock/uluru looked amazing in the photos but he would have to rush to fit it in, and he was here to relax; a little surfing with local friends, a trip up the coast to see some remote beaches, finding his father’s mark - the 2 weeks would be over quickly. ayer’s rock/uluru was 2000 kilometers away from sydney, so, despite all the backpackers recommendations, he decided to skip it.

his father had urged jordan to see it too, but encouraged him to walk around it, rather than climb it, if he made it there. jordan's dad was a seasoned traveler and was always highly respectful of local cultures. he told jordan how the aborigines held uluru sacred; climbing it was part of a spiritual journey that westerners disregarded when they climbed it themselves - they went up merely for the view rather than for religious enlightenment.

jordan’s dad had been to uluru 20 years earlier, reluctantly part of an american tour group. everyone on the tour climbed the rock, walking right past the sign communicating the indigenous people of australia’s plea not to. but jordan’s dad, a first generation american - a fact that perhaps lead to his understanding and respect of other cultures more so than his average countryman’s - didn’t climb; he walked around the great red rock instead and marveled at the cryptic shapes that the wind had carved out of the walls. he walked along the winding burnt-orange path, dodging the swarming, adamant flies. he kept under the shade of the scant trees as much as possible, taking cover from the throbbing sun.

he was all alone on the trail when he came upon a young aboriginal man kneeling near a billabong. he looked to be about 9 years old his father thought. they couldn’t communicate with words so they just smiled at one another. just before leaving, jordan's dad tipped his hat at the youngster and then removed it, giving it to his new friend. his dark brown leather hat had the word “sisu” - finnish for “courage, guts”, the family mantra - sewn into the back in blue letters. the hat engulfed the kid’s head but he wore it happily. jordan's dad returned to the bus 3 hours later, and, despite being attacked by the flies without the protection of a hat, sat alone smiling, hoping no one would talk to him to disrupt the soaking of the special meeting into his memory. no one did - they were mad that they had been waiting over an hour for him to return. they had almost left without him and jordan's dad half-wished the ignorant, disrespectul lot of them had.

jordan wrote an e-mail to his local friends about meeting up later in the week and then headed out for an evening walk. he didn’t mention in his e-mail the unpleasant “chat” with the local at the pub earlier in the day although it was still bothering him.

he headed up george street, passing by chinese stores selling cheap junk, outdoor cafes filled with people drinking bad, yet expensive, coffee, and a movie theater. he walked through the QVB, the world’s lovliest shopping center (he had read in the lonely planet.) he bought a diet coke at woolworth’s. he continued his walk and noticed a hungry jack’s, wondering how they got away with stealing burger king’s logo...and even their food! (he quickly looked inside at the menu and saw a whopper on it.) almost every pub he passed was called a hotel even though they clearly were pubs - wonder why that is? he thought. to him, sydney resembled an american city, more so than the cities of other countries. but subtle differences were sprinkled about, like the hungry jack’s. not so subtle was the cars driving on the left-side, something he had trouble getting used to. he was almost run-over several times as he headed for "the rocks", the oldest section of sydney. the streets were filled with men in dark jeans, white dress shoes, and white polo shirts with the collars sticking up - like we did in 6th grade jordan thought.

when he crossed over into the rocks, he noticed the shining harbor bridge. it looked amazing and the views down on the illuminated opera house from it were too good to miss. he decided to take some night-time photos of it so he steered himself towards the stairs up to the bridge. cars, trains, bicycles, joggers, and other walkers crossed the bridge daily. it’s 4 concrete towers supported a massive tangle of black steel that arched over the sydney harbor, connecting the city and north sydney. to the east, jutting out into the water was the magnificent opera house, abuzz with the music of carmen. "el toreor!" jordan reached the southeast tower and looked at the opera house and across the blackness of farm cove to mrs macquarie's point.

“i’ll find you yet mark,” he said as he pointed towards it. the fresh sea air swirled around him as he stood there on the east side of the bridge. he watched the ferries carrying passengers off to the northern beaches. it was getting late and the traffic on the bridge began to thin out. soon jordan was the only one looking over the opera house, save for an occasional jogger. he was relaxing fully, enjoying the activity of the port city. he was reaching for his camera to take his night-shots when someone grabbed him by the arm and twisted him around.

“you like the view, yank?” it was the man in the blue jersey. he was drunk and angry, all the good nature gone from his voice. jordan was tucked inside the secluded concrete lookout by the southeast tower, trapped. he looked around nervously, the man was bigger than him and irate. but jordan stood up and looked him in the eye.

“look man, i don’t want any trouble.” he tried to diffuse the situation but the red-haired man wasn’t having it.

“look man, look man,” he mocked. “what the fuck mmmaannnn? what the fuck, seppo?” the man’s breath was hot on jordan’s face as he started to shove him.

in the lookout near the northeast tower a third man in a plaid shirt was lumbering quickly towards them - drawn by karmic obligation.

“you fucking americans are all the same,” the drunk in the blue jersey continued. “you get what you want when you want it. you think the fucking world revolves around you.” jordan could see the bloodshot eyes of the man searching for an excuse to attack. he didn’t really hate jordan, his anger was with the american government, but george bush wasn’t there and jordan was. the menacing storm gathered in the drunk man’s eyes. he stared hard at jordan as behind and below them the white opera house shined into the cloudless sky above. cars whisked by now and then and the drunk tried to yell over the noise. jordan felt entombed by the concrete walls and barbed wire fence. some passersby looked over but could not tell the tone of the encounter given the racket of the traffic.

the approaching man in the plaid shirt strode more quickly now, getting closer. he had purpose in his steps now. he had direction. he had reason. he had a big stick.

the drunk ozzie shoved jordan into the hard corner and clenched his fist. jordan punched him in the gut and the man doubled over, his anger surging.

“you fucking asshole,” he yelled in a coughing voice. “i’m going to throw you off this fucking bridge.” he lunged at jordan and the two locked together in a violent clutch. the stronger man gained an advantage and threw jordan down. jordan got up, standing precariously in a crouch as the ozzie stabbed an accusing finger at him.

“i’ve been following you around seppo,” he hissed. he then reached into a pocket and pulled out a knife, the blade of which gleamed under the lights of the harbor bridge. jordan’s stomach exploded in butterfiles and his groin fell. holy shit, this guy is going to kill me, he thought as he crouched there helplessly. the drunk smiled wickedly and rasied the knife to stab. jordan's eyes widened though as over his assailant’s head, the brim of a dark hat appeared, framed in the starry sky by the metallic fingers of the harbor bridge. above that hat brim, long, thick arms raised a knobby, meaty stick towards the southern cross. those arms violently slammed the lumber down on the ozzie just as he was attacking with the knife. the blade grazed jordan’s left bicep and clattered away. the ozzie fell to the ground with a thunk, limp as a boiled noodle from the tremendous crush of the hard wood. jordan's heart jumped wildly in his chest as he scrambled away from the fallen man. he stood on wobbly legs and looked at the large man wielding the heavy switch of wood. the dark man smiled at him. the yelp that the ozzie issued as his head caved in drew the attention of a bridge security officer who ran over with a flashlight shining.

in the light jordan inspected the man carrying the stick. he wore a blue and black plaid shirt and gray pants. his feet were bare. who is this guy? jordan wondered as he looked at the giant black man. the ozzie squirmed on the ground between them and the security guard knelt down to attend to him. jordan suddenly took notice of the aborigine's hat; it was dark leather and didn’t quite fit on the man’s massive skull. jordan thought he had seen the hat before so he pointed at it. the dark man smiled, removed it, and handed it to jordan. he turned it around in his hands, looking for a word stitched in the back. he grinned widely as he read the frayed blue stitching there: “sisu.” it was indeed his father’s hat.

"what in hell is going on here?" the security guard demanded, looking up from the unconscious ozzie.

jordan explained the situation, and the police and an ambulance were called. the ozzie was hauled off to the hospital while jordan and his new friend rode to the police station.

as they sat in the station, jordan looked over the stick that his father’s friend had used to save him. he wondered if...no, it couldn't be, he thought. he was running his hands down the shaft of wood when his fingers passed over an engraving. jordan squinted at it and smiled broadly when he read the word carved there - the familiar family mantra. he shook his head in disbelief and then reached into his bag for his camera. he asked a passing officer for a hand as he and his savior posed with the stick.

“i need a picture of us for my father,” he explained as the officer snapped the shot. “i just found my mark.” he looked over at the dark man who smiled softly at him, thinking, “no, i guess this time the mark found me.”

April 2005 - Sydney, Australia

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