Men, and the often fatal battle against stupidity
Some years ago I was at a barbecue at a mate’s place in country NSW. It was one of those barbies which starts at lunchtime and finishes early the next day. Late in the afternoon I got talking to a bloke who was one of the coppers in town. He was built like the proverbial outside toilet, and was a very funny bloke. There was a bit of a lull in the conversation and he pointed to a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the table. “How much will you give me if I drink that?” he asked.
“I dunno, twenty bucks?”
“Naah, more than twenty. Fifty.”
“Alright, here goes.”
Drop by drop he necked the whole bottle. When he had finished hyper-ventilating and coughing and belching he sat back with a proud look on his face and said: “Jeez I love drinking stuff for money.” His past efforts included a 750ml bottle of soy sauce and a bottle of red wine vinegar. I gave him the thirty bucks and not long after he passed out on the lawn.
Good times. As it was in the Territory in July when Alex Bowden, 23, of Wagaman, Darwin, put a spinning “flying bee” firework in his bum crack during a party at his share house, sustaining burns to his backside and hand.
He had a reason for doing it. He was being hospitable.
“I had a few lads up from Queensland and I had to put on a good show,” he told the NT News from his hospital bed. “I just had a few beers with the boys and let off a few firecrackers. And I put one in my arse.”
As you do.
No, really. You do.
The moment any significant quantity of alcohol is involved, blokes do really stupid, dangerous stuff. All the time.
As a quick test, I invited two of the guys I sit next to at work to take part in an anonymous confessional of the dumbest things we had ever done. The three things we came up with were climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge (while drunk, and well before Bridge Climb existed), walking like a high-wire artist across the Narara Creek sewage pipe (while drunk again), with a 50 foot drop to the rocks and earth below, and trying speed for the first and only time (while completely drunk) and then climbing up to the top of a TV tower in the Melbourne CBD.
This column is not intended to celebrate or condemn male stupidity. Rather, it seeks to describe it. A lot of these stories are funny. They are also funny because nobody died. It’s the reason the film The Hangover works so well, because save for a couple of scenes (such as stealing Mike Tyson’s pet tiger), it almost has the effect of being a documentary. Everything which happens in the film is vaguely plausible, even the scene where the bloke pulls out his own tooth (while paralytic) to prove that he really is a dentist.
There is a spectrum of male behaviour which starts with the Tabasco-drinking copper and the guy with the firework up his bum, then moves into risking your life (or somebody else’s) by getting into a fight, taking a drug on a drunken whim, climbing a bridge or a TV tower, doing some drunken circle work on a school oval in your Dad’s Commodore, playing chicken with a train, racing downhill in a shopping trolley or wheelie bin.
It reaches its apex with events such as the death of the AFL star John McCarthy. Apologies if you believe it is too soon to discuss the circumstances of his passing. But as his former coach Mick Malthouse said this week, McCarthy’s death was a reminder that a lot of young blokes think they are Superman. While McCarthy’s death was shocking, it was not really surprising. The reality in our culture is that if he had managed to hold onto that palm tree, and was sober enough to remember doing it the next day, almost to a man he would have been hailed as a dead-set legend for pulling off such a remarkable drunken stunt. Instead he is being mourned for the great bloke he was, who died doing something which isn’t a world away from what many if not most normal Australian males will do at some drunken point in their adolescence.
Every father who has a daughter will talk half-jokingly about how on the occasion of her 13th birthday they are going to invest in a double-barrelled shotgun. It’s a sentiment with which I concur. But statistically, having a son is much scarier, because you just know that at some point in their teens or 20s they are going to do at least a couple of things which you and your mates did, your dad and his mates did, your grandpa and his mates did. If the question is how do you dumb-proof blokes, it is hard to know what the answer is. Without sounding defeatist, all you can really do is hope like hell that they remember the talks you have given them, the example you have tried to set, be it disingenuous or otherwise, and then hope and pray that the law of averages doesn’t fall their way.
One last anecdote. Years ago my Dad, a mild-mannered biochemist, was the straight man at a buck’s show. The groom had passed out and his mates thought the best way to wake him up would be to drag him down to the end of Adelaide’s Glenelg Jetty and throw him into the sea. Dad almost got his head punched in when he intervened, but with a bit of help from the less-maggoted participants managed to keep his mate dry, and probably alive.
I am not sure if the idea of the “straight man” is still the go these days. We have designated drivers, but the idea of having one unplastered person at the pub, the buck’s show or on designated days on a footy trip might not be a bad idea. Anything would be preferable to the pathetic “boys will be boys” rationalisation for the loss of young male lives.
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