“The only real man there was the man with the gun.” Five guys are kicked out of a café for discussing masculinity, the Martin Place Siege, and Fred Nile.
In a hostage situation, if you have the chance to escape, should you in fact choose to stay? Or, more precisely, if you as a man have a chance to escape, should you stay if women are left behind? These were the questions that got me thrown out of a café this week.
The whole thing started with a phone call from Michael. I shouldn’t have answered the phone, I was supposed to be writing.
“Dude, there’s swell in Maroubra,” he says, his voice echoey on his truck’s hands-free. “I’ve got a job down there which I reckon I can wrap up by eleven. Then I don’t have to be at the next one till two. What do you say to a cheeky lunchtime surf?”
I tell him I really need to work, I’m behind on the book. Michael makes the same pff noise he always makes when I use the word work in relation to myself. I can tell he’s about to tell me there’s no work in me, but instead he says, “Lauchie’s coming. And Tom.”
Tom? Lauchie I can believe, he’s just back from a three-day job shooting swimwear in Queensland. (Q: How do you know when Lauchie’s on a great shoot? A: He tells you, again and again.) But Tom runs his own business, the man hardly has time to brush his teeth.
“Three foot swell predicted,” sings Michael down the phone. “You’ll be the one missing out.”
“Predicted?” I say. “As in, you’ve not seen it yet? Where are you exactly?”
But what’s the point in resisting? Choosing to sit inside on a stunning summer’s day is difficult enough. Add in choosing not joining your mates on the first swell in weeks and it’s pretty much impossible. Ten minutes later, I’m in the car.
Lauchlan and I are standing chatting on the steps above the sand when we see Tom arrive in his fancy Lexus. He spots us as he’s beeping it closed, waves a hand and saunters over. He’s wearing a sharp suit and shiny shoes.
“This is a coincidence,” he says. “What are you two doing down here?”
“Surfing,” says Lauchie. “With you.’
It’s at that point that Michael screeches up in his truck, the side-panels wobbling as he slams the door and hurries over. We discover, later, that Michael wanted to be the one to break the news to Tom: their important lunch was in fact going to be a cheeky lunchtime surf. Surprise! He’d chucked a spare board and an extra wettie in the back of the truck, what could possibly go wrong? He’s halfway towards us when he sees what. Behind us the ocean is flat.
“Oh shit,” he says. “They said three foot.”
“They?” says Lauchie. “You said Ged was down here and he was looking at three foot.”
“You said we were going for lunch,” says Tom. “You said it was important.”
I say nothing and, for a second or two, nor does Michael. Then he throws his hands in the air, shouts “Busted!” and gives us the famous Michael Chan grin which, according to him, will always get him out of any trouble. Standing there like an idiot in a wetsuit, holding a board beside a waveless ocean, I’m less than convinced.
In fact, none of us are in the best of moods when, a quick-change later for two of us, we walk into the beach’s glass-walled café for lunch. Tom seems to mind the least. It turns out he’s thinking of opening his next store in Maroubra and was down here anyway for a site-visit, that’s what gave Michael the idea. And Lauchie had nothing better to do so, I admit it, what I mean is I’m not in the best of moods when we walk into the cafe. I leave the guys flirting with the Croatian waitress and walk over to a pile of newspapers. The one on top is open to a headline which catches my eye.
“The only real man there was the man with the gun: Fred Nile on the Martin Place siege.”
For those of you lucky enough not to know, Fred Nile is a Member of the New South Wales Parliament, and head of the Australian Christian Democratic Party. He’s slightly to right of Attila the Hun, and if you can think of something which became acceptable this side of 1950, the chances are he believes it should be punishable by imprisonment, if not death. I take the article back to the table.
“Look at this,” I say. “This idiot reckons the blokes who managed to escape the hostage situation are somehow less than men.”
“That’s not what he said,” says Tom, who’s heard the story. “What he said was they shouldn’t receive bravery awards. And he says the same for the ones who stayed behind too, apart from the one’s who got killed.”
“Why does getting killed automatically get you a bravery award?” says Lauchie. “I’ve never understood that, even for soldiers. You can be a complete chicken-shit and still get killed.”
“That’s the not the point,” I say sitting down. “The point is, he’s singling out the men. He said about the men who escaped, ‘Maybe they could have done more to protect the women, but I guess when you’re faced with a dangerous terrorist with a gun, you’re not thinking about protocol, you’re thinking about how to save your life.’ Protocol! What planet is he on?”
“The point he’s making,” says Tom, raising his voice to match mine, “is they shouldn’t get a bravery award!”
“Actually,” this is Lauchie, “he’s said more than that now. I saw him interviewed on the TV this morning. He said, ‘the only real man there was the man with the gun.’ As in, the other guys there weren’t real men.”
I tap the headline and push it over to Tom so he can read it as well as hearing it twice. Michael’s shaking his head, “That’s appalling. So real men don’t save themselves or take opportunities to avoid danger or make sure their families have someone to come home to. No, they just die defending women.”
“Hang on,” Tom says to Michael, his hand loud on the table. “Are you telling me that if Michelle was in here and there was a man with a gun you wouldn’t stay and defend her?”
The Croatian waitress is back, ostensibly to give us each a glass of water but really to find out what the noise is about.
“If there was a man with a gun in here we’d all stay and defend our partners, male or female,” I say. “But if they weren’t here, and we had a chance to escape, we wouldn’t be any less manly for doing so. In fact, we’d be idiots for not doing so.”
“Gun?” says the waitress. “Where man with gun?”
“You better hope no-one’s got a gun,” Tom is really shouting now. Maybe he does mind being here under false pretences after all, although you can never tell with him. He has a famous temper. “Because if someone in here has got a gun, none of this lot are going to defend you.”
He notices too late that he’s shouting at the waitress when he’s angry with us. She stares at him, then at each of us, trying to assess the danger.
“I would defend her actually,” I say. “If I had a chance. But not because she’s got a vagina and I’ve got a penis. And I’m sure if she had a chance to defend me, she would do so, and that wouldn’t make me any less manly either. But, in the much more likely scenario that neither of us could save each other and we could save ourselves, then each of us should do just that.”
“Please,” says the waitress, unhappily. “No trouble.”
“It’s like we all have to be Bruce Willis to be a man these days,” says Michael, surprisingly angry. “The only real man! What does that even mean? Any adult with a penis is a real man.”
He’s an unexpected ally in this argument and I can see Tom wishing Andrew were here. Andrew would rather lay down his life than let a woman open a door for herself.
“What Fred Nile is saying,” I say “is that a terrorist willing to kill innocent women is more of a man than innocent male passers-by who were willing to save themselves. It’s so primitive as to be laughable, except this man is a politician.”
“Watch out,” says Lauchie.
The waitress, unnoticed by any of us, has gone to fetch the manager. He’s a big man and looks like he has his own special relationship with violence, manly or otherwise.
“You lot,” he says. “Out! Now.”
“Aw, get lost,” says Tom helpfully, while Michael stands up and gives him the Chan grin.
“I should have punched him,” says Tom when, two minutes later, we’re all out on the steps above the beach again.
“Oh brilliant idea,” says Michael, most outraged, I suspect, because the grin didn’t work. “I suppose that would make you a real man?”
Tom turns, furious, and for a second, Lauchie and I think he and Michael are going to start brawling in the beach carpark. But instead Tom rolls his eyes and calls Michael an idiot. Michael laughs and calls Tom something worse and Lauchie and I breathe a sigh of relief. I go back in to the waitress to apologise for upsetting her and then we all go our respective ways, hungry and unsurfed and no-one hurt.
Because that’s what men do.
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Photo: Rob Griffith/AP Photo