Australian Rules Football is huge. Every man, woman and child watch the Grand Final in Australia, except of course for those that don’t…regardless, it’s a big deal. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, it has some similarities to American Football, and absolutely no similarity to what most of the rest of the world considers football (aka soccer). Aussie Rules is fast moving, chaos where they score points and it involves very muscular young men in tight, short, shorts running around. It’s fantastic really.
So I was in Australia during the climax of this national sport. The day of the Grand Final I’m walking around a in a suburb of Melbourne and I see a sign at a restaurant saying ‘help wanted- inquire within’. I was just visiting, but I kind of wanted to find a job to make a little extra money. I inquire within. I spoke to a rather tall, large man of 30 or so years who asks what I’m doing that night. I had to choose between making a few bucks and watching the Grand Final on TV. In a panic (decisions!), I blurt “nothing”, crass money wins again. So he says I can come in for a paid trial. It was just a sport, which I really knew nothing about, so might as well try to get a job.
I arrive promptly at 5:00 at the restaurant. I’m led to the kitchen in the back, it’s kind of quiet. A server told me to go in the back and look for the man I met earlier, we’ll call him George. I walk into the blindly bright kitchen and ask for if George is around. A young man doing prep nods toward a hallway on the side and says he’s probably out there. I start to walk down a dark hallway, I was about to put my hand up to the wall to sense where I was going, but there was just enough light to see the wall and I decided to risk tripping, bumping or squashing something in lieu of touching the wall. Down the hall there was a store room and a door a jar, I open it. I had just opened the door on quite the vignette; three men huddled around the small outside space. The only thing making it seem less like a boy scouts meeting and more like a Godfather scene was the cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. As I opened the door the conversation stopped immediately, despite me feeling of uncomfortableness I say “I’m looking for George”. The guy I had met earlier got an expression on his face that looked like he picked the shortest straw and then realized it was worm. I’d found my mark. He leads me back to the kitchen, I don’t know what it was about him, maybe his stature maybe the faint scent of smoke he emitted or maybe the snaggle tooth and eye patch (that he didn’t have, but based on his personality I think he could have worked the look pretty well) that made me uneasy. He hands me over to another man who is person who will be giving me directions from now on. Apparently, I was already a handful. I’d be washing dishes and doing prep work.
The grand final was being broadcasted on the radio. There area few other younger guys in the back doing some prep work and then putting plates together. We all listened in respectful silence to the match and no one could touch the radio except the main chef who was one of ‘the boys’. I felt very out of place amongst these guys, I looked around at the thought of returning to this kitchen and nearly put my head in the industrial dishwasher. Now you may be thinking I‘m exaggerating and was being introverted, and you would be right. But cross my heart, it felt very much like I would need some sort of initiation involving candles and tall buildings before they would accept me being there and actually carry on a conversation.
I focused on working, the only thing that broke up the mundane work was listening to the game, it turned out be an exciting match. I was rooting for the Geelong Cats. I wasn’t quite familiar enough with game to picture what they were describing so most of what was being said sounded like something like this: “Mulligan runs around Randall for the kill, releves towards the backside of the queen and somersaults for the crowd, the crowd goes crazy he runs like a snake on a barbie and ends with a beautiful butterfly finish- two and three-quarters points for Geelong”. It sounded like the appropriate time for me to ‘woo hoo’, so I did, quietly. And I continued to listen and enjoy what few words I could manage to understand.
I was cutting up an assortment of herbs as the game was finishing up. One of the servers, who stopped in to get a listen when he could, missed the end. He asked me who won and I told him Geelong. I asked which team he was barracking for and he seemed slightly surprised that I knew anything about Aussie rules football. For a brief moment I thought maybe I could pull off being ‘one of the guys’, but that feeling quickly faded as a streak of panic crossed over me- I thought I may have told him the wrong team won. And as I went back to cutting my herbs I listened with the fine-tuned skill that many of us master in relationships- selective listening. Who knew it would come in handy? But I listened intently for key words, luckily I told him the right team! If I hadn’t I think I probably would have been hoisted then and there right out of the restaurant, banned for life from the establishment anywhere within 25 feet.
So I got to spend my first experience with Australian Rules Football was in the back of a hot kitchen with a bunch of sweaty guys. While it would have been nice to actually see the match, it was still the saving grace for a rather miserable evening. And by the way the restaurant never called me back, can’t say I was surprised- my herb cutting left a lot to be desired.