I’ve always loved the Melbourne Cup and not because I’m into horse racing but because it’s a great excuse to get together with friends and hit the piss on a week day. Gambling has never been one of my vices and I’ve only ever placed two bets: one on the Cheltenham Races in 1998 and this year on the Melbourne Cup. However, this year was the very best of both bets.
My mate Aaron had been on his honeymoon and I was pretty sure he’d be back around Cup Day but I wasn’t 100% on this. On the morning of the cup, just as I’d finished watching an episode of The Moaning of Life (ep. 1, Marriage, 6.5/10), I received a text at 8:30am. It was Aaron informing me that he was back and trying to get out of going to a BBQ, meaning he wanted to hit the piss with a vengeance, with me. I endorsed his decision to bug off the BBQ and get some proper drinking done. It had been six weeks and I’d been in a thesis keyhole and in desperate need of cracking my skull on a good skelp o’ the bottle.
My buzzer went off at around noon and as usual I excreted a couple of teaspoons of poo because that fucking buzzer always catches me off guard, like it knows I’m concentrating on something and vulnerable to its awful sound. It was Aaron and he’d brought back a shot glass and some classic black and white French pornography as gifts for me. He knows me well. Although I was disturbed to find out that his duty free had been confiscated in Dubai, he never went into detail but judging by his gait it had been a harrowing experience for all involved.
Luckily he had a spare bottle of whisky at home, which he brought around in a posh bag he bought in New York that was slung over a fetching sports jacket he picked up in Rome and carried around to my place upon a shiny new pair of shoes purchased in Paris or London or somewhere like that. It was great to see him because Aaron is the kind of man who speaks his mind regardless of the company he’s in and not because he thinks it makes him look smart but because he really can’t help himself. This is both a gift and a burden for the lad but I admire this quality.
I had some beers in the fridge, so we got them out and started on the day.
By 1:30pm we’d caught up, drunk six beers and knocked back a bottle of whisky. It was time to venture out and get some more whisky, cigarettes, dumplings and place a bet on the cup. Everything but the bet was bought in my favourite place, Barkly Square. The bet was made in Bridie O’Reilly’s on the corner of Brunswick Road and Sydney Road. My local where I write my PhD, the rewrites of my novel and a screenplay with Brother Josh, in the middle booth looking out onto Brunswick Road and the corner where I live.
I had no idea who to bet on, so with a minute before bets closed I sought the advice of the barman. I also had no fucking idea how to work the machine and I was drunk and euphoric and needed a piss asap. It’s the kind of mix that can leave a man avoiding social engagements for a month or so. Anyway, the barman suggested Fiorente to which I said yes and Aaron handed him a fiver. We bet low because we’re novices and not afraid to say so.
Back at my place with a bottle of single malt on the table we got settled in for the race, dumplings bubbling on the stove. I flicked on my analogue TV and we kicked back and watched people wandering around Flemington Racecourse in all sorts of states. It’s a time for women to become slutted-up-weeble-wobble-dental-ads and for men to squeeze into suits from Peter Jackson and wear poorly selected sunglasses and strut around with one finger up their arse (Aaron in Dubai) and the other finger firmly ensconced in the cleavage of a slutted-up-weeble-wobble. I have nothing against this. People are entitled to behave this way if they want to but I am also entitled to laugh my arse off at them after three bottles of beer and half a bottle of whisky. It is our cultural right to engage in either practice.
The horses left the gates and they were off. The commentators started on a high and continued to work themselves up into a frenzy as the horses tore up the track in a spectacular array of colour and adrenalin. Aaron and I sat on the edges of our seats cheering on Fiorente, as our horse brought up the rear and other horses surged ahead. With five dollars on the line we were both on tenterhooks getting into the spirit of the occasion. The hooves smashed into the grass and the commentator rose from his seat and started spitting everything into the microphone. Just when we thought all was lost Fiorente came up on the side and raced to the finishing line like a drunk man with a kebab sprinting towards the last tram with garlic sauce spiraling behind him like a vapour trail. Ten seconds later Aaron and I were jumping around my flat hugging and swearing and high-fiving. It was the best feeling I’ve had so far this year. We’d won the cup, our cup and the whisky never felt so good dancing a victory jig in our veins.
After we’d exhausted every cell in our vocal chords we sat down knackered, speechless. It was the greatest home coming either of us could imagine. One of those moments you have with a mate when you’ve both placed your trust and expectations on the same situation and everything has fallen into place in a way you never could have anticipated.
When the dust finally settled, we sat in silence, every once in a while saying, ‘I can’t believe we won the fucking cup, I can’t believe we won the fucking cup’. Savoring victory, enjoying victory as dumpling skins boiled over onto my stove.
The rest of the day passed in a haze but at some point it all hit me. It’s these moments in our culture that make it all worthwhile, the moments when a race does stop a nation but it stops differently for all of us. Whether it’s drinking at home with a mate or falling over in the mud dressed to the nines, having fun has many forms but as a long as you’re having fun without fucking other people up then you are truly tapping into the better side of humanity.