Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Horror, The Horror

It's so hard to remain young and funky when you've got kids; the cool, hip pubs and bars which you once habitually frequented, although just as geographically close to you as they'd been but a year or so ago, seem completely inaccessible these days. 

It's not enough that caring for and raising a child keeps you tied to the home in terms of being there to watch over them through waking and sleeping, but even when you do have the opportunity for a free night away, you're completely knackered from the day's responsibilities such that you know it's gonna take chemicals a damn sight stronger than mere alcohol to even get you into the front bar, let alone on the dance floor ... and that's when the allure of half a DVD movie and an early night is just too good to pass-up.

The only consolation to the passing of your misspent youth is that your fellow offenders of yore, ensconced as they are in their own breeding programs, are experiencing the exact same social  isolation and troubling passage of time as you.  And like you, they are just as happy to let one Saturday night after another pass on by without so much as setting foot out their front door.

But there's something about our culture which demands that at Christmas time, one makes an effort ... kids or no.  The problem, though, is where can a bunch of people, once famous for their selectivity towards cutting-edge venues and significant staying power possibly get together and maintain their hip and groovy status?

The answer is ... no where!

And so, a couple of weeks before last Christmas, in a determined effort to get together somewhere that was both kid friendly and licensed, we all bit the bullet and descended upon the 'dining room' of an inner-city hotel, complete with pokies and bar maids wearing the mandatory, low-cut bodices and push-up bras that any self-respecting, red-blooded, TAB-going Aussie male would expect from someone pouring his $2-Happy Hour pots.

We were the first of our group to arrive, and had to wait in the front bar for 10 minutes until the dining room was opened.  It was here the realisation dawned that this wasn't the kind of place one was wont to frequent in one's wilder days; there were four men at the bar, each wearing Christmas break-up Santa hats and were very, very drunk.  They were all speaking at the same time; their different conversations creating a loud moan that seemed to buzz around the bar and, as if by telepathy, would come together in unison to utter the phrase "f@*king c@nts", before heading off again on murmured, indecipherable tangents.  It was kind of like this,

Drunk Man #1:  "Murmer murmer murmer murmer    - f@*king c@nts -     murmer murmer murmer".
Drunk Man #2   "Whah blah whah blah whah blah    - f@*king c@nts -     whah blah whah blah".
Drunk Man #3:  "Wang wang wang wang wang       - f@*king c@nts -     wang wang wang wang".
Drunk Man #4:  "Yarda yarda yarda yarda yarda      - f@*king c@nts -     yarda yarda yarda yarda".

So, not quite the kind of place we cool, funkmeisters would once have sought-out for a drink, and not quite what one might have had in mind for one's child.  Still, the dining room looked like it might be a little more civilised, so we surreptitiously slipped in, and hid in a dark corner until the booking Nazi was ready to throw open the doors.

Within five minutes, the place was packed with large groups of pre-Christmas revellers ... and their kids.  At every table, there were as many high chairs as there were seats.  We could tell by everyone else's assured movements that we were clearly the only newbies in the place; as we tentatively sought-out our table and tried to work out whether we were yet allowed to sit, we saw other couples stride-in with great purpose and resolve, and once inside, without even making eye contact, the acid-wash jeaned man would head to the bar while the peroxide blond, pink-spangled boob-tubed woman would dump their kids at the indoor playground and proceed to the table where she would fidget anxiously in anticipation of the impending delivery of her bourbon and coke (by the industrious Mr Acidwash) – all this executed with brilliant timing and precision.

Hang-on a minute, Donkey!  Did you just try to slip something by us, and think we wouldn't notice?  An indoor playground ... in a pub?!

Heh heh ... yes, I was getting to that.  One of the things that makes this place kid friendly is that it has an indoor playground [ie: a place you can dump the kids while you get schickered].  This is quite an elaborate set-up, completely sealed-off from the dining room with glass that, while not great for ventilation, does allow one to keep an eye on one's offspring while downing one's pre-Christmas beers and Bundy chasers.

Our friends all arrived, and with similarly haunted looks, we sat down with our kids to order dinner.  This was our next shock, and the second string in this venue's kid friendly bow.  Y'see, it wasn't just the indoor playground that had this place buzzing at 5.10 on a Tuesday evening, there was also the sentence in big, bold, red letters staring back at me when I picked-up the menu, "Kids eat for free!".  Uh oh!

Yes that's right.  Kids are able to select - for free - from a menu of deep-fried goodies, PLUS get a free 'red-lemonade', PLUS a free 'frog-in-a-[red]-pond' desert.  "Sure, it's not the most nutritious feed in the world for a growing body and mind, but hey, it is great value and...", I was suddenly warming to the whole experience, "with the money we save on Hambones' meal, we could try our luck on the pokies".

Hang-on, did I just say that?  Or did I just think that ... blimey, what's happening to me?

So, brushing aside a strange, unexplained, nagging feeling of alarm in the pit of my stomach, the kids ate for free, and we ate our own, larger but equally deep-fried slabs of meat with sides of deep fried potatoes and bright-green, oily garnish.  I was feeling thoroughly ill myself by the time Hambones'd downed his red lemonade and jelly, but it was only fair to let him have another run around the indoor playground with the other kids before we headed home.

As I followed him in to take-up our group's supervisory post (our revolving, continuous presence in the 'fish bowl' constituting the only adults to visit the room all evening), I was nearly struck down by the visceral wave which hit me in the senses as soon as we opened the hermetically-sealed door.  It was at this time when I came to understand the instinctive unease which had been gnawing at me since I first laid eyes on the words, "Kids eat for free!"

Because the thing about kids is that if you feed them high-fat food prepared in bulk, in conditions of questionable hygiene, and you combine this with immediate, post-ingested physical activity in a humid, poorly-ventilated room, one of three things are likely to occur; i) they will vomit, ii) they will shit themselves, or iii) they will vomit and shit themselves.

And another thing about kids is that if you feed them red food colouring (in lemonade and jelly) and you send them into a humid, poorly-ventilated room with brightly-coloured plastic play equipment and rubber floors, they will go nuts; run around and scream at the top of their high soprano little voice boxes.

And another thing about kids is that if they have been fed red food colouring, and been sent into a humid, poorly-ventilated room with brightly-coloured plastic play equipment and rubber floors, and they are going nuts, it won't be long before these kids start pushing, hitting, punching and biting each other like little savages.

And another thing about wild little savages who have been force-fed artificial stimulants and placed inside a glass prison to fend for themselves while the prison guards go off duty to immerse themselves in cheap liquor, is that like any group of beings fighting for their survival, they will factionalise; with the biggest, strongest inmates asserting their dominance, and surrounding themselves with flunkies through which to inflict real, physical pain on the weakest individuals sharing their cell.

So with my sauce-enveloped, fat-saturated meat products sitting rather precariously just above my liver, I entered into this maelstrom of writhing, screeching, vomit- and shit-reeking madness, and physically shuddered as I witnessed two bigger boys beating the absolute living daylights out of a much smaller child, and an older girl clothes-lining other kids in the neck as they were pushed down the slide by one of her accomplices.  In one corner, a little boy was curled-up in the foetal position, screaming as another boy unwrapped foil from a dozen, soft cubes of butter he'd misappropriated from the dining room, and was smearing them in his victim's hair, while in another, a little girl {demonstrating how her sense of taste was inversely proportional to that of her parents for bringing her here] was throwing faecal matter leaked from her bulging nappy at the flat-screen TV belching-out vintage Britney Speares music videos at megasonic volume.

Needless to say Hambones and I didn't last too long in there; by the time we'd dragged him out of that horrendous glasshouse and bundled him into the car, Colour 123 had expended its influence and he'd fallen into one of those post-party hypoglycaemic comas which make it almost impossible to pry a child from a car seat at the other end.  Never-mind coming down from ecstasy a couple of days later, this night of chemical inducement took our wee one a week to recover from.  OK, it was Christmas – a special occasion, and we got to meet up with our old friends ... but everyone else in that hell-hole were regulars.  Given the time it took for Hambones to 'come down' from his trip, these other kids must spend their whole week like brain-dead zombies, before doing it all again, and again, and again.

The experience has definitely placed mortal fear deep into my heart.  My next trip to the pub will therefore be with Hambones and his mates, aged 18 ... and we'll be going somewhere cool.  I just hope I'll still be able to squeeze into my drainpipes.

Under the influence of artificial stimulants, it's only a short jump from indoor playground to juvenile offender. Pic

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