Sunday, May 31, 2015


We were up before sunrise. Adelaide, South Australia - Sydney, New South Wales, - Christchurch, New Zealand is how Qantas delivered us to our intended location; to explore New Zealand's South Island. When I learned that we would be stopping in Sydney for a more than a few hours, I was distraught. That's too long to sit in an airport! But then it dawned on us: why not just take the train into the city for a bit? With only a couple hours of freedom, one cannot delve too deep into the complexities of the beast that is Sydney, NSW. It really only leaves enough time to see the basics: the high bridge, opera house, downtown, etc. And yet a couple hours is all I need to make a place memorable for what I anticipate to be the rest of my life.

I'm sitting on a bench in Sydney, right underneath the tip of the opera house. The clouds provide much needed shade, and my eyes are reminded of the 3 hours of sleep I had the night before. I'm also reminded of the fact, that, mere hours before, I had no idea I would be in downtown Sydney at that point in time. My gaze wanders across Sydney Harbour, to the other side of the bridge and the unknown wonders to be found in North Sydney. There is park beneath the bridge, and to the west of that is a peculiar clown face looming from the entrance to what I eventually learn to be Luna Park. Surely, something like this could only exist in someone's dreams. I begin to wonder: How did I get here? Why am I here right now, at this exact place and at this exact time? Everything felt eerily familiar, yet surreal. And that's when I fell asleep - roughly 20 meters away from the most iconic building in Australia.

If memory deletion were to somehow be possible, I wouldn't use it the same way I imagine others would. I would use it for travel. I would book a flight, and upon reaching my destination, I would delete all memories associated with how I even got there; like a dream in reality. Remembering part of a dream hardly ever includes how we get to a place. We are where we are and there is no reason why. When I awoke from my short slumber of no more than a few minutes, Sydney became my own abstract world. Suddenly, I forgot where I was, let alone how I got there. Suddenly, the line between reality and surreality blurred. I didn't wake up from a dream; I woke up and entered one.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Call Me Brett Favre: I'm Un-Retiring From American Football... In Australia

I'll always remember the first football game I ever played as a starting running back. It was 4th grade. Since my home city of St. Paul didn't have a competitive youth league back then, I played for Roseville's youth interleague system, in which a number of Roseville teams just played against each other. I played in 3rd grade as well, but that was the year I only played middle linebacker and had (somehow I remember this) a coach that didn't know any more about football than I did. And I was a little kid who had never played before! In 4th grade, my coach observed that I was one of the fastest kids on the team. So then, he tried me at running back during practice and it goes well enough for me to stick with it. Our first game was coming up on Saturday, and the nervousness began to sink in before my heightened duties.

Saturday arrived and the quarterback called everyone in to announce the first offensive play of the game. Sure enough, he called a hand off play to me. Before I knew it, there I was, standing in the end zone. What? I didn't even know what to do. I handed the ball to the ref and got off the field until my coach threw me back in for the extra point I didn't know existed. In summary, the center snapped the ball, the quarterback handed it to me, I ran around the corner, turned left and continued for 80 more yards into the end zone without being touched. On our next drive, we tried a few different things involving other players until they decided to hand it off to me again. Touchdown. "Is this football or track" I must have wondered, because no one could touch me, much less tackle. The exact sequence of the remainder of the game is a bit foggy to me, but I remember without a doubt that I was handed the ball two more times. What did I do in my next two attempts? Touchdown, followed by touchdown. After we won, I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad's van on the way home, wondering to myself  "is this what it feels like to be bound for the NFL?" I don't blame myself, either. We've all heard of baseball pitcher's having perfect games, and how difficult that is. But football players? Running backs? I was handed the ball four times, and each time landed me in the end zone. I went the entire game as a running back, the position that gets tackled the most, without being tackled at all, not even once.

Although my football career began on a perfect note, it wouldn't be like that forever. Yes, I did eventually get tackled. And yes, my organized football career did end after 9th grade, but that was a choice that I decided to make based on preference rather than skill. In the 7th grade, I tore my hamstring playing football, and even though I made a healthy recovery, I haven't been able to run as fast ever since. The next two years would prove to be my final ones playing organized football, but not because I wasn't good anymore. Instead, the fun of it all simply began to dwindle.  Every season through senior year, the coach at my high school asked if I wanted to play, and every year it was the same answer. If I could have simply shown up to the games, be handed the ball without worrying about memorizing plays and just run I would have been fine with it, but we all knew that would never be the case. And as much as I would have liked to be part of that American stereotype as a football player adored by their classmates every Friday night, some of my favorite memories happened while sitting next to them in the stands. After all, there was plenty of time in the winter for them to admire my hockey playing instead.

And thus, was the end of my football playing days...

Or was it?

This past week, a couple of my friends invited me to join them in our University flag football club's welcome party. The field, or "oval", as Aussies like to call it, is located in gorgeous Mawson Lakes, the same site of my aviation courses at UniSA. A series of small buildings and strip malls constitute this quaint area until the shops give way for man-made lakes, fountains, and sculptures. One can almost see the amount of effort and precision it must have taken to build the area up in such an aesthetically pleasing way. If this place is an album, it's Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Beautiful, ambitious, sparkly, yet characterized by an underlying sense of it all not being possible without ridiculously expensive production.

By the end of the day, I was a part of another team, "5 Star Service" and successfully penetrated the social bounds of an Australian clique. In order to garner notice from them, now my teammates, I made what was admittedly a spectacular interception in our own end zone that sealed our win for the scratch match. All of this, I preceded simply by walking onto the field and playing, which was preceded by sitting on a train, which was preceded by whatever else I did that Wednesday, which was preceded by waking up.

"Oh, sh*t! This bloke can catch!" Chris turned to me after I came down with the same ball the opposing quarterback had just thrown. "What's your name, mate?"
"Thomas, but just call me Tommy."
"Damn mate, where did you learn how to play like that?"

I looked down at the brown ball sitting quietly in the grass, its white teeth sticking out in a grin, as if knowing what I'm about to say next.

Then, in in my unapologetically American accent, I for some reason decided to say, "United States, mate."

Laughter in the dead of the night.