Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: sydney 2002 Page 1 of 2

dust; settling

Honey, we’re home. Film en route was The Bourne Identity. Apparently Nathan Lane was in the first-class cabin the whole way from LAX. Saw him at the baggage pickup wearing a blue sweatshirt and an aura of studied inconspicuousness. Our car service never showed–apparently somebody’s assistant dropped the ball, again–but it was okay because we took a cab. It’s not like it was a big deal to stand around in the cold and rainy, anyhow. The apartment building still stands, and our home has not been burglarized. In our absence, we received 11 phone messages, 8 of which were pre-recorded spam; numberless skillions of e-mails; and about 40 lbs of good old-fashioned postal mail. Let the digging-out begin!
Much unpacking to do. But it’s good to be here.

it is

This blog and its annotations are hereby returned to Eastern Standard Time. That is all.


Am spending the second night in a row at “brother-out-law” Rob’s house in Oakland hills. Second night in a row: no Rob. Actually, he was here last night but was asleep by the time we returned from the evening’s festivities (see below). Saw him for about 5 minutes this morning, but you y’all know how useful I am directly post-waking, so it didn’t count for much. Tonight he’s out doing something lawyerly.
I am getting a ride from him to the airport tomorrow, so total time with Rob this trip is expected to be about 25 minutes. Given that he was an ostensible reason for this visit to the Bay Area in the first place, I find this odd. And a pity, moreover. We like Rob. But okay, whatever. Next time.

notes on pasta

Did the big dinner with University beloveds last night. I was too whacked out from jetlag to be much fun, but I gave coherence my best shot, just to be a sport. River Madison Walker is nearly two and beautiful and fabulous. Her daddy Scott is going to go blind because he keeps his monitor cranked to its tiniest possible resolution, but other than that he is very well. Britton Walker is her usual Superwoman self. Rich was about as jetlagged as I was. He has cried uncle and is returning to the States on 12/16. He’s totally burnt out on the job (as much as he loved Tokyo) and has some mysterious girlfriend in Boston whom we need more info about–so he’s coming home, and we are all the richer for it. Kelly Wade Dragoo was not pictured; baby, you need to get us your current phone numbers so we can get you to these things.

ramble on

Paul is playing Rob’s guitar in the next room. What is that—Zeppelin, I think? Whatever it is, I’d missed that sound.

even more importantly

I’d like to point out that bit above that says to the airport tomorrow. I’m going home! Tomorrow! Plane arrives about 8pm, for those of you who were waiting impatiently; the car service will get us home by 10. Feel free to call us and tell us how much you missed us.
Oh, I can’t wait to be home.

right back where I started from

Am in CA, wildly jetlagged. Pablo is here too, and that makes everything better. Would have gotten more sleep last night but was up most of the night with food poisoning—was it Qantas? Was it LAX? Surely it couldn’t have been Mom’s home-cooked meal. Anyway, I am all kinds of flooby at present as a result.
Plan for tonight: dinner with Rich Brewer (in from Tokyo), the Walkers, and K. Wade Dragoo, in the city. Tomorrow: picnic with Mom, followed by dinner with Dad. Purchased the LOTR: FOTR hyper-extended set yesterday but it appears we won’t be able to actually watch it until we get to NYC.
Arrive NYC Saturday. Am I ever looking forward to getting home. (And that has nothing to do with movie-watching, either.)

another observation

Also recommended: grabbing an aforementioned small smiley boy and turning him upside down. Suspend him by his ankles and present him to the camera like a prizewinning marlin; tickle him until his laughter makes the dishes rattle in the kitchen. Switch to the other small smiley boy and repeat.
Good for the soul.

t < 24

Just got off the phone with Pablo, who has arrived in San Francisco safe and sound. I’m now even readier to return to the States than I was before.

high culture

Tonight’s entertainment: beer, Tim Tams, and The Blues Brothers on VHS. Sure, I’m ready to go home, but this will do nicely until then.

review: feersum endjinn

Heather is out at the gym. I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about an Aquarobics session today, for reasons I can’t fathom. So I stayed here and finished my book.
The book is Iain M. Banks’ Feersum Endjinn. I’m a huge fan of Banks’ work: it’s intelligent, inventive, and surprising. He writes tragedy and hilarity with equal grace. In the SF sphere, he’s best known for his Culture novels, a series of works all sharing the same galaxy-spanning socialist utopia. The fun is the exploration of what happens after you’ve founded the perfect society, where nobody lacks for anything and your personal freedom is paramount. What is such a culture’s responsibility to the civilizations it encounters? How can you enshrine an enlightened, hands-off approach to other people’s business and still wage wars, hot or cold, if you feel they suit your purposes? Fabulous stuff. Feersum Endjinn is not a novel about the Culture, though.
FE is told, mostly, from a quartet of viewpoints: a scientist, a disembodied colonel, a naïve young woman, and a boy hoo rites lik thees coz sumfingz rong wif hiz hed. The world is plunging into a cloud of sun-obscuring dust; a nameless naked lady has just been spat out of a family crypt; the VR that connects everybody’s heads is behaving strangely; and Ergates the talking ant has been carried off by a mysterious bird. Why is the government opposing all attempts to investigate the situation?
I’ve tried to write a more coherent synopsis a dozen times now and failed. An explanation of all the brilliant and crazy things contained therein would be as long as the book itself and nowhere near as fun. And I haven’t even mentioned how the entire population of humanity is living inside a gargantuan castle called Serehfa, with rooms kilometers long by kilometers high and towers with summits unseen in millennia. Or how people get to live eight lives and then sometimes end up turned into animals, which have their own common computer networks.
There. See? It all sounds bonkers. But as usual Banks makes it all work. Rich characterization, a keen sociological eye, and all kinds of fascinating stuff going on in the margings. Pretty much all of his work is highly recommended: check it out.

brought to you by…

This bit is a shout-out to the Galaxy Bookshop. I hadn’t intended to do any sort of Big Shopping while in Sydney—and then I wandered into this place. Huge selection, and because Australia is Commonwealth you can find things here that aren’t in print in the States. Like Ian McDonald’s most recent novels, for instance. Why does he not have a US publisher these days? Or a collected re-issue of LeGuin’s first four Earthsea books. Or Miéville’s King Rat. Heaven.
I dropped some cash, and it was great. I am set for the plane ride home, let me tell you.

hi, mom

Left the hotel in Sydney today; am spending the next few days at the home of the delightful Heather Doering Mitchell and her family. Heather is Cornell class of 1989 and an old drinking buddy. We’re in Roseville, an hour or so north of the city. As a friend explained to me yesterday, this is the Australian Dream: every family with their own house and their own yard. Hence, staggering suburban sprawl—but the houses (and the yards) are nice. There’s a stunning bougainvillea out in the back in full bloom: an eye-wrenching shade of purple. Also the ubiquitous jacaranda, the tree which will be one of my most lasting visual associations with my trip Down Under. Heather has two kids whom I’m meeting for the first time today: Campbell (age hey-did-you-know-I’ll-be-5-next-week) and Tom (18 months). Campbell is obsessed with airplanes and airports. The house is full of hand-made signs telling you which way to the taxi stand, where you can park, where the fire extinguishers are, and what you can (and can’t) bring on the plane in your carry-on bags. Right now he’s telling me about the train that runs through the basement that will take me to the Sydney Airport.
heh. Cute.


While I’m here Heather and I are hoping to do a coupla touristy things that I never got an opportunity to do while running around with the queers. We’ll see how it goes.
For instance—I realized on the bus on the way out here that I have no photos of the Sydney Opera House. Every time I saw it I thought about how it is one of the most-photographed buildings on Earth. And how striking a thing it really is when seen in person. But I never did get around to taking a picture…
I did get lots of photos of Hugh making up Jim for the Black Party. That will get a gallery unto itself upon my return, mark my words.

wait! what happened on Friday?

Oh, right: the Pink Flamingo.
I guess I should start this report with one final piece of historical information: prior to these Games, Team New York Aquatics had not won a Pink Flamingo competition—has not even placed in a PF competition—in the last several years. In recent memory, even.


Here’s how our PF went.
Little Nikki Webster skips out onto the beach. She spreads her towel, applies sunscreen, and promptly falls asleep (looking as though she had been hit with a rock). As she sleeps, she dreams of the sea life of her beloved Australia: a wiggly green worm, a pink jellyfish, a couple of big random tropical fish, two graceful nudibranch. [sign holders hold up sign 1: “Nikki’s Nightmare: SOUTH PACIFIC”] [music: from the Sydney 2000 opening ceremonies, Nikki’s underwater fantasia theme]
The fish swirl enchantingly about the stage…until Auntie Jack and Thin Arthur arrive! They wake up Nikki and throw her into the pool. Auntie Jack shouts at her to “Swim damn you, or I’ll rip your bloody arms off! And I will, too!” Her dream has turned into a horrible nightmare! The happy sea life is replaced with fish skeletons and signs reading “Toxic Waste” and “No Swimming” and “Danger” and they all swim around her menacingly. Aieee! [sign holders hold up sign 2: “Nikki’s Nightmare: SOUTH PASSAIC, New Jersey”]
Little Nikki finally escapes the horrible toxic waters and drags herself out onto the deck, exhausted. Where is she now? It’s some kind of…cheesy tiki bar? [sign holders hold up sign 3: “The Bada-Bing! Lounge welcomes the Sopranos’ Tiki Night!”] The cast of the Sopranos strides into the bar and glares at her. [music: “Got Yourself a Gun,” aka the Sopranos Theme]
Suddenly the music changes. A man in a sailor’s hat strides onto the stage and sings “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” He sounds suspicously like Bernadette Peters, but who’s counting? He spies Nikki and plants a big one on her lips. Nikki finds this unsettling, but she is quickly distracted by the beginning of a fabulous synchronized swimming display, to an orchestral arrangement of the same song.
35 seconds into the synchro, the Sopranos become bored. The swimmers are summarily executed; their corpses drift aimlessly in the water. [music abrubptly cuts off]
Nikki screams. It’s all going horrible again! And now the big tiki heads at the back of the bar stand up. Inside are three Nikki Clones, dressed just like her! They begin to dance [music: Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”] and move towards her menacingly. The corpses of the synchro performers stand up and do the same. Nikki screams again!
Showing the pluck that made her an international star, for about 17 minutes, Little Nikki begins to sing her big ‘aren’t we all one big family and isn’t the future bright’ number. [music: Sydney 2000 opening ceremonies, Nikki Webster singing “Under the Southern Sky”] The entire ensemble joins her in a series of interpretive hand motions. Vendors appear in the stands selling Nikki t-shirts and “Nikki on a Stick” fashion dolls. Nikki is raised on the shoulders of the crowd triumphant.
And then the Sopranos fit her with a pair of cement shoes and drop her in. The ensemble waves a happy goodbye to little Nikki (except the lounge singer, who weeps despondently). Exeunt. [music: Sydney 2000 opening ceremonies, end-of-Nikki’s-dream-everybody-leaves-the-field theme.]
Yes, we did all that in under 5 minutes.


And the crowd went wild! The locals ate it up! They recognized Nikki and Thin Arthur and Auntie Jack right off the bat! (Which is a good thing, because the Americans had no idea what was going on.) They loved the fish! We won the “Best Interpretation of Theme” award, which was a case of Aussie Chardonnay! And we took third in the overall judging!
Jubilation reigned. Much of the PF squad went to the Sydney Tower’s revolving restaurant to celebrate. Spectacular view.


Yesterday, we went to Palm Beach, another trip well north of the city. Great beach, and then late in the afternoon there were parasurfers, who were amazing.
Last night: the closing ceremonies—much less grand than the opening—and then the Farewell Party, at which a few thousand people danced until 5 am. Extremely fun, but clearly much easier to do if you’re on heavy drugs, which I would like to stress I was not. I wore my olive green neotrad Utilikilt.
That’s all for now. There’s an almost-5-year-old who is parading up and down the hallway outside this room singing “Eleanor Rigby.” Between that and the lack of sleep, my ability to construct sentences is collapsing catastrophically.

flowers and bats

Spent the first half of yesterday wandering through Sydney’s lovely botanic gardens. They’re huge, immaculately maintained, and free. Took many pictures of plants…and then we turned the corner and went into the Palm Grove, and saw the inhabitants.
And I don’t mean the palm trees. The Palm Grove is home to thousands of grey-headed flying foxes. Spectacular; they hung like huge leathery melons off the trees’ higher branches. We were surprised at how active they were—you expect bats to be asleep and therefore inert during the day, but they squabbled amongst themselves if they were feeling overcrowded, and every now and then one would go zipping through the air in search of a better perch. They were magnificent, with wingpans that were easily a couple of feet across. My digital camera displays the typical lag when you push the button, so it’s not great for that kind of fast-twitch photography, but I spent many minutes making a valiant attempt to get a shot of one of them in flight. We’ll see if anything came of it. It’s not an insect-eating species, which would explain why there are so @#$%^&* flies in this town…they’re frugivores. Apparently the entire colony spreads out across Sydney every night to feast on the fruits and flowers of the local trees. Tempting to go over there at sunset to see that happen.

pf 101

There wasn’t time for that yesterday, though, as I had to get myself out to the pool for an in-water pink flamingo rehearsal. The performance is this afternoon, you know.
I guess it’s time to give the uninitiated that explanation I’ve been promising. The Pink Flamingo Relay began innocently enough. Don’t these things always? Years ago, it was just a “fun relay” held at the end of many meets on the gay swim circuit. Each team in the meet would send four swimmers; the swimmers would swim a relay race in which a pink plastic lawn flamingo was passed from swimmer to swimmer as a baton. Pretty straightforward.
Predictably, TNYA became bored with this after a while. One afternoon our relay representatives strode out onto the deck in big crazy drag: hats, gloves, black spandex sheath dresses. And then swam the race while wearing all it. The other teams were amused until we won the race. The crowd went berserk. TNYA blew kisses to the throngs and wore their laurels with style, baby.
The next time somebody threw a PF at a meet, everybody showed up in drag. Surprise. And things went along this way for a little while, until somebody decided that the teams should be properly announced as they arrived, so now each team was providing the announcer with a little script to read as they entered the field of play.
TNYA eventually got bored with that, too. So at one fateful meet they carried out a cunning plan. It was a tribute to Marlo Thomas in That Girl. The announcer began to read his script, talking about how lovely Ann Marie had fallen into the photocopier at her latest new job. Enter our relay team: four men dressed in identical A-line dresses, bright sunshine yellow with white flowers, wearing matching gloves and flip-flop sandals and perky flip wigs.
The announcer went on. The photocopier was out of control; Ann Marie, without the handsome Ned to bail her out, couldn’t contain the forces she had unleashed.
And suddenly the pool area was filling with Marlos. The entire team was streaming in through every available door, in perky flip wigs and sunshiny A-line dresses. Marlos were in the stands handing out resumés. The crowd, of course, went wild, as mobs of Marlos took their places to cheer on the relay team. The officials sounded the starting beeper…
…and TNYA, drunk on the limelight, moved in for the kill. 67 Marlo Thomases decided to pile into the pool from either end of lane 4. Flip-flop sandals bobbed across the surface as the two mobs of Marlos met in the middle. The other teams swam on, valiantly trying to preserve the athletic dignity of the event, but the giddy Marlos laughed and splashed and waved at the crowd. The crowd loved them back. Chaos reigned.
Who won the race? Nobody seems to remember. But precedent had been set once again; history had been made. From this point on, the skit that got your team out onto the deck was vastly more important than the race they swam when they got there. Cast lists swelled; musical numbers and costumes and props and choreography were dragged in; synchronized swimming became de rigeur. The modern PF has pretty much dispensed with the race entirely. Leave it to a bunch of queers to find a way to include a floor-show competition in a swim meet.
At last report, more than 1500 people had purchased tickets to see the PF competition today. It’s considered one of the highlights of any Gay Games or IGLA championships. It gets the media coverage that the rest of the swim meet—hell, pretty much the rest of the Games—generally doesn’t. A guy from San Francisco set an American record the other day in the pool, but the thing that brings ’em in is the prospect of seeing that same guy dressed as a dancing vegetable, or perhaps doing his best Esther Williams in a French maid’s uniform.
This year, the PF theme is “South Pacific.” We’ll be presenting a thing that (without giving too much away) incorporates that darling Nikki Webster from the opening ceremonies from Sydney 2000 with old Aussie TV shows, Kylie Minogue, and the Sopranos. It’ll be brilliant. Trust us.
Don’t ask who’s wearing the pink dress, though. I don’t know. No, really. No idea. You can’t make me tell.
Anyway, I gotta go now.


Today was my last day of racing. Started the morning with a 200 Breast. Did it in 3:12, I think. Something like that. Not a bad time, and it felt good as it went by. At this point I don’t trust my notes on my PR times are any more, so I’m not going to worry about it. It was fun. Coach Rob pulled me out of the 4×200 Free relay that followed, because (a) there were others who were available to do it; (b) I was feeling a little woozy—I’m either overtired, undernourished, or coming down with something; and (c) he wanted me to be really ready for the 4×100 Medley relay later in the afternoon….


And that was our time. We won the heat. We won our age division. We won a freakin’ gold medal. How cool is that? My personal contribution was 100 meters of breast stroke in 1:22. Zing!

on to the fun part

So. My final day of competition ends with a little souvenir. I’d like to thank all family and friends who supported me as I worked to get myself to this point, most especially the charming Mr. Phillips. I couldn’t be prouder of this, and I’m immensely grateful to all those who helped me realize this thing. Woo hoo!
So…I’m free! Tonight, assuming I don’t just take a nap instead, I’m going to go have some dinner with the gang and take in some of the cultural festival that’s been going on all week. There’s some sort of modern dance performance on Bondi Beach that sounds promising. Tomorrow, who knows. I have a pink flamingo rehearsal—yes, I know I promised to explain what that meant; I’ll get to it sooner or later—in the afternoon, so another day at the beach is probably not an option.

yesterday’s beach trip

Was fun. A combination of buses took me through the city’s northern suburbs; I walked through a residential area full of flowering trees and with a spectacular view of the water and then down through a small bit of the Sydney Harbor National Park. The air smelled like eucalyptus, until it smelled like the ocean. I got a glimpse of life as it is lived around here, and I’m glad. I have notes, but they’ll have to wait; I’m off to clean up for dinner now.
Best to all.


Confidential to the 3am caller: Charles says he’s sorry he hung up on you. I’m in Room 38 should you wanna try it again—but check the time-differential first.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén