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appearances are nothing

Every now and then you read in a magazine or newspaper about how surfers were once considered to be deadbeats and layabouts, a shiftless bunch of no-hopers who listened to no advice, wore their bleached hair long and dressed in unwashed clothing, A ragged collection of the unemployable. Men youths and boys who foreswore the standards of dress and behaviour and who treated formal learning and regular employment as an affront to their right to live life as they saw fit.

They packed themselves into old cars and travelled far. They wandered the coast and ransacked the seaside villages of their best waves and loveliest girls. They bludged meals stole milk money and watermelons, they fought in pubs carparks and clubs because life, to them, was for the taking.

So look into the mirror and ask yourself, was that me?

Mick was one of the early Bondi generation, he’s pushing 77 now and today, on his regular walk along the Richmond river boardwalk he’s slipped out of the house without his wife’s permission wearing a T-shirt that hasn’t left his back for five days and nights, a pair of heavily stained linen trousers and the thong on his left foot has a hole in it as big as a two-bob piece.

Mick doesn’t shave regularly and what’s left of his hair gathers raggedly about his ears. His hat is dispirited, its brim without formation. His eyes dim, hearing untrustworthy, fingers stained, teeth far too few.

But Mick, you see, is proud of his surfing roots. What he was as a youth he remains as an old man. And today, walking towards him is a couple of about the same age. She is a trim little woman wearing figure hugging slacks, high heels and a  scarlet blouse. Her lips too are painted scarlet, her hair a rigid crown of orange shaded wire filings. Everything about this elderly woman is right and tight.

Her husband loiters behind. He is an unremarkably stout old man wearing overlarge shorts, white socks, sandals and an almost bright shirt. He is red-faced and appears to be struggling with his current circumstances.

Mick catches the ladies eye as they pass and tips his hat. For this he is rewarded with a tight little smile. A microscopic flinch of her bloodied lips.

Further along Mick hears a litany of grievances coming from a supremely drunken man slouched on a park bench.

The man’s woes appear to be many. His enemies without number. His problems unsurmountable, his bottle about done.

But upon spotting Mick he sees a man who can only be a familiar soul. A brother in appearance. Another ragged old man adrift in a world of wealth and disillusionment.

He looks up as Mick passes by, and with a supremely drunken attempt at hospitality, raises his half-empty bottle in a grand salutation.

‘Howyezfuckengoinoldmate,’ he says, ‘orrite?’

Bloody good, thought Mick, and thanks for the asking.

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