I have to admit that it wasn’t that hard to be the resident intellectual in my little town. We lived on the edge of the Indian Ocean; each day it crept timidly up the usually dry riverbed around whose mouth the town had grown. Then it would shyly retreat leaving large tidal expanses in which sawfish and stingrays basked. It was a hot place made liveable by the afternoon sou’ wester that filled the air with the smell of salt and pushed the heat back across the low hills that bordered our community. Beyond the hills, Australia reached inwards through low scrub and claypans towards the great thirsty interior. This was not the place for an intellectual.
Of course, I wasn’t really an intellectual, but as I grew older, I came to pass for one. Suspicions that had been founded on my love of reading and an ambivalent attitude towards sports were confirmed when, at 17, I left home for College. It was funny – we had spent our teen years roaming aimlessly around the town bemoaning our boredom and promising to leave at the first opportunity. Those of us that left at the end of school never came back; those that stayed never left.
I knew that my reputation was irrefutable, however, when I returned home for holidays at the end of my first college year. It was Friday night and the Drive In theatre was packed. In those days, the Drive In was the centre of whatever passed for youth culture in my town. We learnt to fight there; to drink, to smoke, to love and to nurse our broken hearts and noses.
I was parked near the boys from the Public Works Department. Most had left school at 15 and now they drove water trucks, fixed roads and laid pipes across the sprawling brown district. Their acknowledged leader, and my oldest friend, was Bandy, a skinny, eccentric kid with a quick tongue and a taste for the laconic.
It was soon clear from the conversations in the PWD car that the film, “Jesus Christ Superstar” was receiving increasingly negative critiques. Between the clink of beer bottles I could hear murmured disbelief as actors strode into scenes wearing ancient garments but carrying machine guns. Mild discontent became outright incredulity when a large tank appeared and chased Judas through the desert.
Finally a voice arose clearly above the rest, “Bandy, they didn’t have fuckin’ tanks in those days did they?”
Bandy, without pause, and loud enough to let me know that he was publicly recognising my superior knowledge in all things literary, answered his erstwhile student thus:
“I dunno, mate. Ask Oscarandre; he’s read the Bible.”