My new book, “Run Guts Pull Cones” will be released in a couple of weeks. To whet your appetites for all things adventure, Italy, rafting, womanizing, debauched drug use, and manly men doing manly things, here is an excerpt from the beginning of the book.
Verona, Italy, 2000
The sound of the heavy blinds opening jolted me awake. Bright light pierced the room and I sat up as Nonno twirled the handle that lifted the lid on the outside world. It was the morning of my sixth week sleeping on his couch and I got to my feet and stumbled into the bathroom. I emerged to the smell of a fresh pot of coffee. My Italian friend handed me a cup and I sat down at the little kitchen bench in his one bedroom apartment.
“What are your plans for today?” he asked me.
“I’m going to go into the city and buy an English newspaper. Then I’m going to look for discount flights to Australia.”
“What do you mean? Are you giving up your dream of staying in Italy?”
I reached over and got my wallet and as he watched I counted out my remaining bills.
“Just over two million lira,” I said.
“That’s not so bad. You could even say you’re a millionaire.”
“I wish. What’s that in Aussie dollars? About $1800? That’s about enough money for me to get home. I’m almost past the point of no return. If I don’t go home now then I’m going to be stuck here. On your couch.”
“That’s okay. I like having you here.”
“Sleeping on a couch sucks. Face it, Nonno. I have to go back home. It’s been six weeks since the rafting season finished and in that time I have found exactly no job and no permanent place to stay. I’m out of options. You and DD have tried your best to help, but it’s all over. It’s time to face reality. I have to go home.”
“Is that such a bad thing?”
“It means I’m right back where I started six years ago. Exactly the position I didn’t want to find myself in.”
He broke off a piece of biscuit and dunked it in his coffee with great care. “So how soon until you plan on leaving?”
“Tomorrow. Maybe this afternoon if I can manage it.”
His eyes widened. “But that’s crazy. How can you do this thing so fast? You need time to plan it out.”
I laughed without humour. “My plan was to stay here and look at how well that went for me. I’m out of time. And money. You should be happy that I’m doing this. It gets you out of a jam.”
Nonno held up his hands in protest. “You shouldn’t think that way.”
“One of us has to. Don’t worry about it. It’s all good. I just have to deal with the fact that I’m going home with everything I own in two bags. And most of that space is rafting gear.”
I left that very afternoon. My first view of Venice was limited to a dash from the train station to the airport bus stop. Weighed down by my heavy bags, I struggled through the crowds of tourists that milled about like a school of fish with no prey. I was cutting it fine to make my flight, but the bus was on time, and we rattled back over the long bridge and up the coast to the airport, Venice disappearing behind me in its undiscovered wonder.
The airport was a throwback to the sixties, but it was cool in a kitsch kind of way. Everything was cool in Italy. I got a coffee from the cute girl at the airport bar, all smart and sexy in her prim uniform and cap. We flirted with each other and I loved the fact that I was able to communicate in a different language. It was as if I had opened up a secret world. A world that I didn’t want to leave.
I presented my Australian passport to two bored looking Italian immigration officials. The first official looked it over with some incredulity.
“But this visa expired in August,” he said in Italian. “That is three months ago.”
The implications of this dawned on me with a sudden rush. I stared at him in mock-confusion as I frantically tried to work out how to play the situation. The official repeated his statement with a threatening tone.
“I don’t understand Italian,” I lied.
“This visa, is over for three month,” he said in English.
My words came out in a garbled rush. “But that was for my work, and then I finished my work, and I wanted to see Italy so I’ve been travelling around, all over the place because I really love your country so how could I leave?” I went on in this vein for some time until my words trailed off into a hideous silence.
The official looked over at his colleague who gave him an exaggerated Latin shrug, the kind that says, ‘So what are ya gunna do?’
He turned back to me, and with a hostile glare stamped my passport various times with as much violence as he could muster. Then he threw it in my direction with a disdainful flick of his wrist.
I grabbed it out of the air, muttered my profuse thanks, and hurried to the plane.
The flight to London took two hours. I had a bunch of things to do when I got there and a fair number of obstacles in my way. In other words, the usual story. My habit of leaving things to the last minute was starting to wear thin.
As soon as I landed I bolted for the train which sped me into the bowels of London. The travel agency that was holding a cheap ticket for me was on the other side of the city. It was available only until the end of the day and I was rushing to get there before they closed.
I arrived with only minutes to spare. I paid the woman with my newly converted pounds sterling, and then I dashed back to the Underground. Now I had to make it to Gatwick before my flight closed, and once again it was a close-run thing. But finally I was sitting on my flight and leaning back into the seat as the wheels lifted from the tarmac. I let out a long sigh of relief.
The stewardess handed me a cold beer which I drank greedily.
What type of reception awaited me in my home town of Perth? When I had left six years earlier, I had been a different person. Still in my early twenties, I had been astonishingly insecure and deeply unhappy with who I was. At the time I had achieved nothing of real worth and had possessed little in the way of aspirations.
But that was the old me. A different person. I had lived and rafted on three continents, I had survived brutal adventures and harsh physical and personal challenges, and I had come a long way towards mastering a second language. Not bad for a guy who barely scraped through high school.
Maybe returning home wasn’t so bad after all. It was a chance to show them what I had done. Who I had become. A lot of people had doubted me but I had proved them wrong. I wanted to know what they thought of me now.
When they heard the stories that I had to tell, my friends and family would be falling over themselves.
Dude, how did you survive that?
That’s amazing, dude.
I ordered another drink. The man in the seat beside me laughed.
“Long way to Australia,” he said. “Might be better to pace yourself.”
I grinned. “I learned how to drink in Africa.”
“Africa, eh? What were you doing there?”
“I was rafting. In Uganda.”
“What river was that?”
“The White Nile.”
“Doesn’t sound like much to me. You should have worked on the Zambezi. I’ve seen a video of that. Hoo-boy, now that’s a river.”
“Oh, the Nile was a really big river too.”
“How much money do you make?”
I stared at him. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the experiences …”
He waved me off. “It’s always about the money. You can’t eat experiences. So why are you going to Australia?”
I mumbled something and then I fished around in my bag for a book. Just my luck to get stuck sitting next to an idiot on a long flight.