Hangin’ 11: Surprise Party Ruined By Surf Shop Manager
When I finished writing this instalment of Hangin’ Eleven, I let a friend read it before I filed, and he scoffed. ‘Everyone’s heard that one. You’ve written up an urban myth.’ But I’m here to tell you that I was there when this so-called myth occurred, and while some might’ve heard a version of this story before, very few have heard it direct from the horse’s mouth.
I was fifteen in the summer of 1993, and I worked at the town surf shop, 230 km away from the nearest coastline. When I say surf shop, I mean we sold everything you needed to catch a wave, besides wax, wetsuits and boards. Rip Curl backpacks? Yes, sir. Okanui boardshorts? You betcha. Kuta Lines polar-fleece hoodies, Reef sandals, and giant Billabong windscreen stickers? Step right up, Agent Utah, we got you covered.
I worked Saturdays from noon till six. I wore khaki Stüssy pants with an elasticated waist, a Mambo ‘Farting Dog’ t-shirt, Vision Street Wear hi-tops, and a floppy haircut made famous at the time by Tony Hawk. ‘Fuck you, Skeg!’ the local toughies would cry as they tore past the store on their bikes, but I didn’t mind. Being one of the few ‘skegs’ in town was a badge of honor, something that meant you were different to everyone else. Plus, while those assholes were under a bridge getting high and listening to Megadeth, I was hanging out with the coolest guy in town: Deano.
Deano was the store manager. He was twenty-six, had his own flat, and he drove a ‘67 Jaguar. He had a silver crucifix earring, shoulder-length hair, and he wore paisley shirts tucked into tight, black jeans that disappeared into pointy, black cowboy boots. He was confident, relaxed and effortlessly chic. Every girl in town was in love with Deano, and every guy wanted to be him. He was the coolest, and he was my friend.
Deano called me ‘J.C.’ – ‘Hey J.C.,’ he’d say, while marking down the Kuta Lines hoodies, ‘You catch The X Files last night? Freaked me out, brother.’ He was the only person in town who didn’t call me ‘Crombie’ or ‘Skeg,’ and he was the only person who could get away with calling people ‘brother.’ No one said ‘brother,’ it just didn’t sound right. But when Deano said it, it sounded normal; I guess because that’s what he was – a cool older brother. He introduced me to Echo & The Bunnymen, Nick Cave, The Doors, and The Smiths; he set me up with his girlfriend’s little sisters (‘J.C., you have to meet Naomi’s sister, she’s a major fox’); and he looked out for me all the time. Some Saturday nights my friends and I would sneak in the back door of the pub and get the older kids to buy us beers. Deano was always leaning against the bar, surrounded by girls, and more than once he intervened when a drunk threatened to kill us or the bartender told us to fuck off for being underage. ‘What are you doin’, brother?’ he’d say. ‘That’s J.C. and his mates. You gotta let the little dudes be little dudes.’ Then he’d give me a wink and the problem would be fixed.
Deano was and remains the best dude I ever knew.
And one day he disappeared without a trace.
It happened on Saturday, March 6, 1993. Deano’s twenty-seventh birthday. I’ll never forget the steady stream of well-wishers (mostly female) that dropped by the store that day. It seemed like he was being wished a happy birthday every fifteen minutes; and there were so many presents, he started getting me to open them for him. ‘You open it, J.C. I can’t. I’m too excited.’
At six o’clock we locked the doors like we always did, and, while Deano counted the till, I straightened out the racks and made sure the store was tidy. Then I grabbed my backpack and made to leave. ‘What are you gonna do for your birthday?’ I said.
‘I’ll probably just go to the pub,’ said Deano. ‘Nothing major. You should drop by.’
I said I would right after I saw a new movie that was playing at the cinema: Groundhog Day. ‘Supposed to be good,’ I said. ‘I’ll swing by afterwards.’
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Thanks for today, J.C. I’ll catch you at the bar.’
I unlocked the front door and stepped on to the street. ‘Happy birthday, Deano,’ I said, and Deano smiled.
After that I guess he locked the door behind me and dropped the day’s takings in the safe. Then he would have clicked off the lights and left the shop himself. The air had cooled since lunch time, so perhaps Deano stood out front of the shop with his hands on his hips and admired the sunset for a time. Then he would have fired up the Jag and head for home.
It was dusk when he opened the door to his flat, and, without turning on any lights, he stepped into the murk of his living room, dropped his keys and wallet on the coffee table, and undid his pants. He found the TV remote, and flopped down on the couch. He pressed a button and the television flickered to life and a pornographic video began writhing on the screen. And then all the lights came on and every single person Deano had ever met screamed, ‘SURPRISE!’
Deano leapt out of his seat, grabbed his wallet and keys, and shot out the front door in under a second. But we’d all seen it, everyone one of us. His mother, his father, his sisters, grandparents, closest friends and I had all seen his red, bullet-shaped penis, and none of us would ever forget it. Nor would we forget the smell of burnt rubber or the sound of his mother sobbing as we quietly excused ourselves.
I often think about Deano and where he might’ve gone. There were rumours that he became a gigolo or a hairdresser, or that he found his fortune opal mining in Coober Pedy. Wherever he his though, you can be sure he looks under his bed and checks the closets before he rubs one out now.