First date, worst date

NB Names have been changed to protect the unfortunate.

Important occasion looming

Our high school formal was a few months away, and unfortunately I was dateless. I didn’t know any girls at all, what with going to an all-boys school, having no outside hobbies, and generally avoiding people outside my immediate and very limited social circle. I’d probably have gone stag if it had been an option, but it wasn’t.

Luckily, some friends found me a date in the form of Jane. Jane went to our sister school across town. I called her one night and after we chatted for a bit, she suggested we go out before the formal to get to know each other. I was stoked!

A little bit about me

Before I go on with the story, I need to tell you what I was like at age 17.

I went to a very sporty school, but I wasn’t sporty at all. I didn’t have many friends and I’ve always been shy and something of a loner. It may have had something to do with being skinny, wearing dorky glasses and braces, and having unfortunate hair. Suffice to say, I’d never kissed a girl or had a girlfriend. In fact I’d barely exchanged words with a member of the opposite sex in years.

Idiot that I was, I proceeded to develop a huge crush on Jane even though we’d never met and had spoken on the phone exactly once.

It’ll be alright on the night

The night of the Big Date with Jane finally arrived. I think it was a Friday night, although my memory is a bit hazy after all these years so it could very easily have been any other day of the week.

Jane and I had arranged to meet at a shopping mall, in the food court. I can’t remember if Jane was waiting for me or if I got there first and waited for her. Either way, I was nervous and excited. One thing I do recall is that that the food court was practically empty and most of the lights were off. I know that sounds ridiculous, and it makes me wonder if my memory of events has somehow become totally corrupted.

Anyway, one thing I do recall very vividly is that the second I saw Jane, I knew I was punching above my weight. She was very pretty.

Right. So, a certain pizza chain had an outlet in the food court. Jane ordered lasagna and I ordered a small pizza (Hawaiian, mmm! Fuck the haters who think pineapple on pizza isn’t awesome). We sat down amidst a sea of empty tables. Even though my pizza was fresh and hot, my nervousness transmogrified it into cardboard in my mouth. I struggled for things to talk about, but luckily Jane carried the conversation. We chatted about safe, everyday topics as we ate our food. It was a bit awkward, and I was just beginning to feel comfortable when suddenly some guy with model-quality looks appeared out of nowhere.

“Jane Smith?” said the guy, confidently sauntering over to our table.

“Yes?” said Jane, her face lighting up in recognition. “Oh, hey I know you, Model-Quality Looks Guy!”

Jane and Model-Quality Looks Guy proceeded to have a very animated conversation for what seemed like hours. Jane didn’t introduce me, nor did he acknowledge me in any way. As far as they were concerned, I ceased to exist. To be fair, I was doing my best to blend in with the food court furniture at that point so it’s possible that I am a master of camouflage. Eventually the guy went on his way and I was alone with Jane again.

After we’d finished eating, Jane and I went upstairs… to the movie theatre above the food court. We bought tickets to Only the Lonely. I’m not making this up. That was actually the name of the movie. John Candy was in it, but unfortunately it wasn’t very good. It didn’t occur to me until many years later that maybe Jane was trying to tell me something by choosing it! Ha ha!

During the movie, I didn’t do that thing where you pretend you’re yawning but then put your arm around your date instead. I did think about doing it, but I chickened out. For a good hour and half I wondered if Jane and I were going to kiss at some point. I don’t know why I thought we might, because deep down I did understand that we had absolutely zero chemistry. I was disappointed anyway.

After the movie, Dad came to pick us up and run Jane home. At the time I didn’t realise how uncool this was, so it did nothing to deter my high hopes for Jane becoming my girlfriend in the near future. Not even the deathly silence that pervaded the car on the 40-minute drive could stifle my optimism.

When we arrived at Jane’s house, her mum invited Dad and me inside. She showed us the pattern for Jane’s formal dress. She was sewing it herself, which I thought that was so cool! The pattern came in two styles, one pink and one white. She joked about how we shouldn’t worry about her accidentally making the white version, which was a bridal gown. I laughed dutifully, even though I could practically hear wedding bells by that point. Surely it was a sign that Jane was to be mine forever?

A few weeks later

The day of the formal arrived. I hadn’t spoken with Jane since our first date, but I didn’t think that was a bad thing. After all, we were going to the formal together and were therefore destined to spend eternity together as well. Pretty solid logic.

I started getting ready several hours beforehand, giddy with anticipation. As I mentioned earlier, though, I was a skinny, unattractive teenager endowed with truly terrible hair. I had a decent suit in which to hide most of my body, and in an effort to tame my mane I went down to the local hairdresser.

Unfortunately, I walked out of the hairdresser with the male equivalent of a 60s beehive. My initial impression was that the hairdresser truly outdid herself, but when photos eventually emerged I came to suspect it was just a trick of the mirrors and lighting in the salon. I still can’t look at those photos without cringing.

In the meantime, Mum had bought Jane a beautiful wrist corsage made of miniature pink roses to match the colour of her dress. Every other girl at the formal had theirs pinned to their gown. BORING. I always thought Mum was particularly on point in the corsage department because it really was a lovely arrangement.

It’ll be alright on the night, take 2

Our formal was held at a swanky hotel in the city. I sat at a table with my closest friends and we had a great time. Unfortunately, I ruined things slightly by showing everyone my moves on the dance floor. I went the extra mile by doing Hover Hands with Jane at photo time. Don’t worry, I cringed just as hard doing it as my friends did watching me do it. I’m even cringing right now at the memory…

I wasn’t sure what Jane thought about me or the formal. I thought I detected a hint of pity in her eyes when I shelled out 5 bucks to buy her a rose at the end of the night. Despite almost certainly not wanting to be there with me, she was very polite from start to finish.


A few weeks after the formal, my friends got Jane on the phone with the goal of having me ask her out. I didn’t, and the call was awkward as fuck and left me feeling stupid. I’d already come to the conclusion that Jane and I weren’t going to be a thing. I was disappointed, but I soon got over it. Thankfully I refrained from doing anything stalker-y or stupid like accusing her of leading me on. I was an idiot for sure, but at least I wasn’t a nice guy.

I saw Jane at uni the following year. She was sitting on the grass in the sun, talking with another girl. I pretended I hadn’t seen her and kept walking. In retrospect I probably should have at least said hello. But I didn’t.

I never saw her again.


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Posted by H.R. van Adel in Personal, 0 comments

Revenge is a dish best served petty

Once upon a time, in a land far away, I worked for a recruiter. They were based in another city so I didn’t work with them directly, but they paid my salary while I worked for someone else.

I didn’t really like the job. It was a pretty standard ESL teaching gig, the sort of thing you tolerate for a year or two before finding something better. And the recruiter paid on time, but that was the best you could say about them. They offered no career path, no bonuses or rewards for performance, no raises, no incentives of any kind. Not even adjustments for inflation! And aside from that, they could be very difficult to get in touch with. If you ever needed something from them, good luck! They sat on their hands or ignored you.

One day I get an e-mail from the recruiter. They need me to supply them with Document X. I decide to ignore the request. After all, they don’t respond to me when I need stuff, so why should I help them out?

Weeks go by and I get more e-mails, each sounding more desperate than the last. Recruiter needs Document X urgently, and would I please comply by scanning a copy of it to them straight away? Yeah, no, sorry. Couldn’t give a fuck. Ignore, delete, repeat.

Another few weeks of e-mails go unacknowledged by me. Eventually, I get a phone call. The recruiter really, really needs Document X. I pretend it’s the first time I’ve even heard about the matter, and make the person on the other end of the line explain, in excruciating detail, exactly what Document X is and why the company needs it. I promise I will take care of everything immediately.

A week or so later, I finally get around to reaching into my desk drawer for Document X. Instead of scanning it as requested, I take a blurry but mostly readable photo of it and attach it to an e-mail. It’s a big file, upwards of 8 MB. I include a message that apologises for the size, and offers to send an even bigger one if necessary.

I don’t hear from them again. Fools! I hope Document X clogged up their e-mail inbox, took ages to download and was generally a pain in the arse to deal with!

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The Story of Rachel

NB I like to think that Christians will come here thinking that this is the story of Rachel from the Bible and then be disappointed because it isn’t. Then again maybe there are some parallels, who knows? But it’s highly doubtful.

This tale begins with me living next door to a girl called, funnily enough, Rachel. We were the same age – about 3 or 4. She used to come over to my house regularly to play, and I remember having a bath with her once at her place. Our fathers were friends and they used to hang out making oil paintings in Rachel’s dad’s garage studio. No, that’s not a euphemism for anything and I can prove it.

I didn’t like Rachel very much. She played rough. She broke my toys, and would always grind the belly of my Fisher-Price aeroplane into the concrete walkway behind our house. It made me mad because I treated things – mine or not – with respect.

Our back yard was enclosed by a wall-of-splinters fence about 2 metres high with a single gate set in it. It was all painted mission brown because this story takes place in 1970s Australia. One day Rachel came to the side of the house and called out for me. Vegemite sandwich in hand, she asked me to open the gate so she could come in and play. Wanting to spare my toys from further destruction, I said no. She ignored me and started to climb the splintery nightmare, passing me her sandwich through the slats. It was a single slice of white bread that had been buttered and Vegemited on one side, a fact that will become relevant a couple of paragraphs from now.

I had been counting on Rachel never making it over the fence. It was easily twice her height and more. But not only did she make it over, she climbed the whole thing with ease. She even took a half-inch splinter to the hand in the process and it didn’t seem to bother her at all. I was seriously impressed and more than a little envious – a wound like that would probably have made me cry like a little bitch!

Despite my admiration for Rachel’s feats of dexterity, strength and fortitude, she still posed a threat to my toys. I had a duty to protect them, which was why instead of putting her Vegemite sandwich back in her hand, I mashed it into her face. It clung to her nose for a second before plopping face down in the dirt. She stared at me, stunned, and then burst into tears. I opened the gate and she ran home. This isn’t anything to be proud of, and I’m not. But in my defence, I probably hadn’t even turned 4 yet. Toddler politics can be brutal. I doubt Rachel even remembers any of this, anyway, or at least I hope she doesn’t.

This next bit is only tangentially related to this particular story. Rachel’s parents were anti-vaxxers. Not long after the events described here, she gave my mother rubella (aka German measles) which later morphed into meningitis and encephalitis. Mum almost died. What was Mum doing unvaccinated, I hear you ask? Well, she was born in the 1940s and the rubella vaccine wasn’t available in Australia until 1968.

So I guess if there’s a take-home message in all of this, it’s twofold: don’t mess with my shit, and vaccinate your fucking kids.

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Worst Job Interview

Alternative title: Dodging Bullets

It’s 2018 and I’m interviewing at a private ESL college. To get here I’ve taken a 3-hour bus trip and walked a good 30 minutes through inner city Melbourne. Great city, a nice place to visit, but there’s a lot of traffic and way too much going on. I’m not a fan of the Big Smoke.

I’m about 20 minutes early for my interview, but it’s fine. I’m happy to relax in the waiting area with my e-reader. My new leather shoes have been torturing my feet, though, especially that long ligament thingy which connects the shin to the upper foot. That bit really hurts. I haven’t worn trousers or a tie in ages, either, and I’m not exactly relishing the experience. On top of all this, the couch in the waiting area isn’t very comfortable. I’m doing what I can to extract my underpants from my arse without the receptionist noticing.

Eventually, INTERVIEWER emerges from the bowels of the college to greet me. He’s the big boss, the CEO. It’s my time to shine!

INTERVIEWER: (Shaking hands with me) Hi. Tim, is it?

ME: Hi. Uh, no, it’s Jim.

INTERVIEWER: (Gesturing) Come into the office, Tim.

I go into the guy’s office. Not only has he gotten my name wrong, I see that he also has the wrong CV on his desk. Yes, it belongs to someone called Tim.

INTERVIEWER: (Sitting) So, I see you have experience with [Company Name]?

ME: (Also sitting) No, I’ve never worked for them.

INTERVIEWER: No? You are Tim, aren’t you?

ME: No.

INTERVIEWER: (Looking confused, but also a bit annoyed) Oh, you’re not? Then why did you say you were Tim?

ME: I’m, uh, pretty sure I didn’t…

INTERVIEWER: So, what was your name again?

ME: It’s Jim. Or James, if you want.

INTERVIEWER: (Finding my CV directly under Tim’s and flicking through it) Okay. Okay! Oh, so you’re Jim! Actually I didn’t think you were coming today. You didn’t reply to my email.

ME: Uh, no I definitely did reply. We confirmed the date, time and everything for this interview.

ME, THINKING: I’ve got the email to prove it! Also, if you weren’t expecting me, why is my CV right there on your desk? What, do you think I’d fucking come here for shits and giggles? I travelled nearly 4 hours for this, and I have to do the same to get home again!

He mentions the fact that I’ve completed a few single-year teaching contracts. He asks me why. I tell him that it’s very common for ESL teachers to do a year here and there in different countries. People who set out to see the world don’t tend to stay in one place for long. He argues that it isn’t the norm. It is, though, and he’s talking out of his arse. Eventually…

INTERVIEWER: So, I see you’re currently doing your TAE certificate?

ME: Yes, that’s right. I started a few months ago.

INTERVIEWER: A few months ago? And you haven’t finished yet?

ME: No, it’ll take me another six months to complete.

INTERVIEWER: What? But you can do that course in a couple of weeks.

ME: Can you? I, er, don’t know about that…

To my surprise, we go back and forth on this for a bit. He’s talking out of his arse again. I know for a fact that it’s not possible to complete the certificate in question in a couple of weeks. Maybe it was 20 years ago, but things have changed. When he starts getting argumentative, I let it drop. I don’t need a TAE for this particular job anyway because I’m already seriously overqualified. He asks a few other questions about me and about my work history. Eventually…

INTERVIEWER: So, are you aware of how English teaching has changed?

ME: No. How has it changed?

INTERVIEWER: (After a long pause) It has changed.

ME: (After an equally long pause) Uh, okay…

I’m doing my best not to snicker because we’ve a had series of really dumb exchanges. The guy seems genuinely puzzled by my amusement. When he asks if I have any questions for him, I say no and there’s another long moment of silence. The only question I have is too rude to ask: why the fuck would I want to work for someone who has already shown me that they’re an incompetent, gaslighting, combative prick? But he just gives me this baffled look, probably trying to figure out why I’m not very enthusiastic about the job. Does he think that as a potential employer, he holds all the cards? No, no, no. A job interview isn’t a gift. It isn’t charity. It not where a feudal lord grants a boon to a peasant scraping and bowing before him. It’s nothing more than a chance for a boss and a worker to see if they’re right for each other. And in this particular case, we’re clearly not.

Anyway, the dude finally wraps up the interview by saying he’ll be in touch. For me it’s the cherry on top because he says it so unconvincingly it’s a wonder his pants don’t go up in flames. I’m not mad; he gave me a great story and I’ll be laughing about him until the day I die.

I found a job elsewhere a couple of weeks later.

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The Lord’s Prayer

NB When I was a kid, school assemblies began with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. These were generally solemn and serious affairs. By the time I got to high school, for some reason the Lord’s Prayer had been set to music. For me, this stripped away its gravitas and gave it a distinctly comedic flavour.

I went to a private high school for boys. It was supposed to be non-denominational, but our weekly assemblies had a distinctly Christian vibe and some of our guest speakers were disturbingly evangelical. For instance, an ancient missionary guy used to come every year and hand out tiny red bibles before regaling us with a song about the Holy Land. The song was a horrible dirge made infinitely worse by this guy belting it out at full volume, almost as if there was a cash reward for blowing up the PA system. The refrain was a jarring “JERRRUUU-SALEM! JERRRRRRRRUUUUUUUUUUUU-SALEM!” The entire school cringed in collective embarrassment, and there was always an awful stunned silence at the end. No one ever applauded; we never seemed to figure out how to respond. One year some nameless student spoke for everyone when he whispered too loudly, “What the fuck was that?”

Every Monday, we opened assembly by singing either the Lord’s Prayer or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I always thought the latter was a very odd choice for an Aussie school. We sang accompanied by the school band. Our version of the Lord’s Prayer was an up-tempo rock ‘n roll lite affair that I just couldn’t take seriously. One particular morning as we geared up to sing it, one of the band’s guitarists substituted the usual bland intro with his own improvised grinding/wailing riff. Whether he meant it as blasphemy or parody I don’t know, but it was obviously an unsanctioned move because it drew dark looks from our strict old headmaster. I completely lost my shit. The rest of the song proceeded as usual, with everyone singing along. No one in the peanut gallery seemed to find that guitar intro as funny as I did. Even if I’d wanted to join in – which I never did – I couldn’t because I was practically crying with laughter.

The song finished and I still hadn’t recovered. Then one of the band guys tacked on a glorious, single-note outro on a glockenspiel. I totally lost my shit again. There were a few scattered giggles around the assembly hall as the headmaster did his best to murder the glockenspiel guy with his eyes. The look of outrage on his face was priceless; I was desperately trying to keep my sides from going into orbit. My muffled snorts and heaving shoulders caught the attention of my biology teacher who gave me a verbal warning.

To this day I can’t hear the Lord’s Prayer without cracking up.

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Posted by H.R. van Adel in Personal, 0 comments