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My Friend Mickey Waldon

18 September 2017

CONTENT WARNING: REFERENCES TO SEXUAL ASSAULT

Several pickets were missing from the beige-coloured fence. The unruly grass grew in patches, its colour ranging from a deep ivy to a murky yellow. The mailbox was overflowing with about a week’s worth of junk mail. It was a humble, indigent dwelling. This was Mickey’s home.

From the late ’50s to the early ’90s, the simple house belonged to the Waldon family. Annie, Mick’s mother, spent most of this time in the safety of her own bedroom, attempting to mend the wounds of severe post-natal depression. Yet Mickey is not entirely pessimistic about his Mother’s illness: “Things were different back then.” He casually pulls at the peeling skin around his fingernails. “Mum liked being in bed and Dad always did everything he could for her. It was love.” His face seems to almost illuminate at the memory. This enduring love isn’t exactly present in the way Mickey describes his relationship with his siblings, Steve and Caroline. Steve, who is two years his senior, once trapped him in the fridge. “I don’t think he really meant it,” Mick adds.

***

In the 1980s, we’d often go to the movies as a group, at the old Chadstone. Not the glitzy centre you guys know – it was a single strip of shops back then. Anyway, we’d always go and see what Mickey wanted, usually something involving a car chase. But it didn’t matter what we saw, because Mick did not shut up. Bloody walking commentary, he was. “Did you see that, Wez?” he’d try and whisper. “You reckon he’s gonna try and kill him?” and things like that. Oh, and after the movie he’d always insist on a rating out of ten. He wouldn’t pipe down till you gave him one.

***

‘Leave Nothing Undared’

Mazenod Secondary College’s school motto suggests a place of opportunity, of learning, where ambitions will be fulfilled. Yet the Catholic school’s grimy 1960s style architecture would indicate otherwise. Graffiti canvases the entrance to a urine-covered bathroom and the distinct smell of adolescent boy lingers through every hallway I walk.  Mick attended the school between 1975 and 1978 – not even completing Year Ten. He hated school – all of it. The ruthless, strict teachers, “stupid” cool kids, the work that made “zero sense.” Absenteeism became a pattern, alongside poor grades and  low motivation.

English classes were the worst. “I really tried Cait, but I couldn’t do any of it,” he almost pleads. Toward the middle of year ten, Mr Shannon assigned his class an essay on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It wasn’t as though they didn’t have time to do it- they had weeks. Yet the night prior to the due date, Mickey sat at the folded-washing-covered kitchen table with nothing on his page. Nothing. “I got really angry at myself” he reflects. “I think I threw some of that washing onto the ground. I just couldn’t do it.” Steve, who late became a  teacher, ended up writing the essay. It would have been an A-plus piece of writing, if Mr Shannon believed that Mick had written it himself. He was suspended for three days for collusion.

***

I didn’t talk to him about his illness. I think he didn’t want it to seem real. But I do remember that it was just before your Mum and I got married, say 1994. He still came to the wedding. He wore a bandana to hide the scars and stuff. Oh, and he decided to impromptu MC at the reception, commenting on your Oma’s outfit and who was flirting with who. People enjoyed the free comedy that night.

***

If you keep driving north up Stephenson’s Road from Mt Waverley station, you’ll find a quaint, church and coinciding school. ‘Faith, love and learning’ are printed proudly on the front of the small dwelling and the adjoining hall. This hall is like a time warp. Straight out of 1980, complete with brown bricks and dome-like lights. This hall was where my father first met Mickey, at the Youth Group, which met here weekly on a Friday night. They were both eighteen. “I was drawn instantly to Mick’s sense of humour and positive spirit” Dad recollects.

The youth group focused on socialisation. “I wasn’t religious or nothing like that” Mickey assures me, holding up his palms. “I just wanted a free drink. They could do that in the ‘80s.” Alcohol was a big part of the weekly meetups. There was also Tony’s favourite component of the nights – the games.

“Cait, has your dad ever told you about when we played billiards at youth group?” He reminisces excitedly, his energy levels increasing exponentially. He doesn’t let me answer his apparently rhetorical inquisition. “Everyone would play. I was too shit to join in, so I’d just commentate. ‘And here we have Snapper lining up the perfect shot’ I’d say stuff like that.” Snapper Wilson. Definitely not his Christian name, as I’ve been informed. That was another thing about Mickey. He relished on making up arbitrary, nonsensical nicknames for those around them- Steve became “Super dog”, Dad was stuck with “Wez” and of course, “Snapper” for his childhood best friend, Joe. No one can tell me where they came from, not even Mick himself. Dad always smiles awkwardly, with a touch of nostalgia whenever he is referred to by this nickname.

***

The caravan park at Frankston. Do you remember it? You were really young. It had everything – a swimming pool, tennis court and even that bloody jumping pillow. He called it the jumping jellybean. I couldn’t get you kids off that thing. I think Mick just liked the feeling of being on holiday all the time.

***

It was 1983. The youth group nights started thinning out, as people started to graduate or work full time jobs. But on this one September night, everyone seemed to show up; Tony, my dad and couple of the other guys. Details were sketchy: “It was the ‘80s, what do you expect?” Mickey informs me, chortling happily. I do know that alcohol and a bit of pot were involved – but only around the back of the hall and only where the organisers couldn’t smell them. At about 11pm, the weather turned sour. It was pissing down. Everywhere. Covering their heads with their jumpers to avoid the downpour, people ran to their cars and sped off down the main road. Mickey followed, his parka dangling over his head like a veil. Dad ran after him, panting:

“Mick, you can’t drive. You’ve had way too much to drink.”

“Mate, I’ll be fine. It’s only five minutes”

“There are cops up Stephensons [Road].”

“Not in this weather. I’m telling you mate, it’ll be dinkum.”

As Tony jumped into his cream-coloured Triumph, Dad felt sick. There was nothing more he could have done. The next night, he found out that Tony blew a 0.11 blood alcohol reading – twice the legal limit. Thank god he hadn’t touched the weed. It seemed that the foul weather didn’t stop the Police from patrolling Stephenson’s Road after all.

After a court hearing, Mickey lost his licence for a year. He was lucky to avoid jail time, Dad told me.

***

Do you remember when Mickey would come over for dinner during the week every now and then? It became quite a regular thing.  He’d always bring something to share. Never anything homemade or fancy. It was always something like chips or chocolate – you can’t forget those terrible Sausage Sizzle flavoured Smith’s. And he would try and avoid eating any sort of vegetable. Mum had to sneakily serve salad onto his plate for him. The only proper meals he ever ate were at our place.

***

1976: Toilet seat factory. Checking unpainted items for cracks and discrepancies.

1977- 1980: Paradise biscuits. Packer.

1981- 1984: Recycling plant. Sorting plastic and paper materials.

“They were all shit.” Mickey sighs, taking a gulp from his polystyrene cup of coffee. “Who would want to hire me? All I knew was how to talk shit.”

The shit talking couldn’t have been too bad. Towards the end of 1983, Mickey became a sports presenter on Melbourne’s Southern FM. The role was initially as a ‘button pusher’, ensuring sound clarity for listeners. However, after hearing his funny anecdotes during lunch breaks, the managers decided to put him on air. “It’s Mickey time folks!” He’d chant in the microphone each afternoon, at four on the dot.

Mick uses his fist as a microphone and gives me a personal demonstration, causing the female guard to inspect us with caution. “Waverley Lions trump Oakleigh by six points! You ripper!” He recites, clearly enjoying his impromptu performance.

When Mick was 28 years old, he finally had enough cash to move out of his family home. That tiny Wheeler’s Hill unit and Tenny the beagle were all that he needed.

In 1994, Mickey began complaining about his head. “A really bad headache,” Mick recalls. But his father, Roica, explained the full extent of Mickey’s ‘headaches.’ “Somedays he couldn’t get out of bed,” he revealed. “A couple of times, his speech began to slur.”

On this day, after a particularly long shift at the radio station, Mickey walked two blocks to his local pub. The ‘Nott’ was a single-roomed pub which always smelt like tobacco and soggy hot chips. But the staff knew him by name, and greeted him with an ice-cold Carlton Dry stubby.

According to the police report, about half an hour later, he was found lying motionless on the floor. The report also mentioned a tiny gash on the side of his left eyebrow, dripping with crimson-red droplets.

“I can’t remember that day, or any of that time, really,” I don’t find it particularly odd, especially since a later CT scan revealed a golf ball-sized tumor on the far side of the temporal lobe. Was it the excess drinking? The adolescent pot use?

The years after the diagnosis spiraled Mickey’s life into a state of disarray, which would never properly correct itself. There was surgery and rehabilitation. It was successful in the medical sense. However, his non-existent health insurance and the fact the radio station could not keep him on due to his absenteeism meant Mickey was buried in financial debt. Dad told me that no one in the Waldon family knew anything about managing finances. The little savings Mick did have were spent on an almost derelict ‘80s Mercedes Benz- the upkeep more expensive than what the car was worth. He also fancied himself a keen pokies player, Dad estimating that he’d burned through at least a grand on the “stupid pastime.”

In 1997, an estimated 30,000 Australians lived in caravan parks or other portable dwellings. Mickey had no choice but to become one of them, moving into a caravan no larger than my bedroom.  He was jobless, cashless and still recovering from a major illness.

In 2009, my family and I were seated at the dining table, munching our chops. Mum stayed in the kitchen, dishing up extra servings of potato. The rest of us had our eyes glued to some sort of screen. The low-volume television acted as background noise. Through the blurred screen of the television, I half listened to a story of a Scoresby BWS cashier being been held up at knifepoint in exchange for cash. “Turn it up” Dad instructed. “That’s not too far from us.”

Seconds later, Mick’s face stared absently at our screens. “What the fuck?” Dad called out, running straight for his mobile phone.

Mick needed money on that dismal day. Money to pay for his car repairs.  Money to stay alive. A warrant for his arrest was approved and within 24 hours of the incident, he was arrested and taken to Dhurringile Prison. Bail was an option, but in no way a possibility for the struggling Waldon family. He eventually received an eight-year sentence.

Dhurringile is what you’d expect from a medium security prison. Its exterior mimics a modern toilet block, complete with large grey bricks and a tin roof. The inside is dark and dingy, with dirt speckling the linoleum floor. The overwhelming aroma of disinfectant evokes the atmosphere of a hospital. Rachel, the guard overseeing my visitation, enforces me to withhold from taking photos or using any sort of recording device. I nod my head nervously in compliance and take seat behind what looks like a school desk, opposite Mickey.

“I am sorry for what I did” Mick insists. “I’ve told them that. I also said that I wouldn’t ever do something like this again.” It was as though he was a child apologising for stealing an extra Tim Tam from the jar. A simple ‘sorry’ wasn’t enough fix this.

The weight has fallen off him and his hair has greyed substantially since I last saw him. He tells me that prison rape was most definitely a real thing.  “It didn’t matter which team you bat for” he explains. You got bashed if you were in there for hurting little kids and if you did what he did, you’d get an almost self-deprecating high five. It seemed that Armed robbery was the crime of the “cool guys” Mickey tells me, shaking his head in dismissal.

Visitation is an hour maximum in Dhurringile. Frankly, I’m relieved to exit the suffocating, dimly-lit building. I’m fortunate to have this option. “Thanks Cait” he beams as he lets go of our embrace. “I’m lucky to have you as a friend.”