It was less than four miles between Sydney’s Inner West suburbs of Rozelle and Newtown, but by the time the taxi driver stopped his car at the busy intersection of Enmore Road and King Street, the man had bemoaned his fellow Australians (“We call it ‘buck passing’ here; we’re too lazy to fix anything!”), shared insider tips on sourcing Wranglers from overseas, and discussed the perils of raising parrots on a countryside farm outside Sydney.
He sensed a rapt audience of two in the backseat—desperate to see in which extraordinary direction he’d take the conversation, they encouraged him with wide-eyed nods and follow-up questions to preach on—so he stopped the meter, threw it in park, and continued on for another five minutes. The car sat idle in the left-most lane; traffic slowed and crawled around it, the driver indifferent to the serenade of scattered horns.
“Last time it killed a Dutch tourist who picked it up in the reef,” he said. “You won’t even know it bit ya, then you’re dead in 28 minutes!”
Somehow the conversation had veered to deadly things in Australia, which wasn’t all that off-topic since the country harbors more deadly creatures than anywhere else in the world. Most dangerous of all, he said, was the blue-ringed octopus, which was “the size of a quarter dollah” and “just deadly as hell… ohhhh yeah.” When he said “ohhhh yeah”—it was at least the tenth time he’d done so during the ride to Newtown—he cocked his head upward then dropped it quickly, as if a 10-pound anvil were attached to his chin, to hammer home the verbal impact of “yeah.”
His skin was pale white, and he wore his white hair shaved down to the scalp, a sort of poor man’s baldness. Dark sunglasses shrouded his eyes; he was like a less-fat version of Marlon Brando chalked white as Dr. Moreau.
They gave him as much conversational rope as he’d pull, then paid the fare when he seemed satisfied with his sermon. As they reluctantly clambored out of the car, he said, “Don’t pick things up that you don’t know!”
That was the last thing he said.
Before that, they learned the man lived on a “paaaaarcel” of land located roughly 1.5 hours outside of Sydney. He moved there some time ago, after returning to Australia following a three-year stint living in the Puget Sound region. “I was Americanized real quickly… ohhhh yeah,” he said. “So when I came back here it was like returning to a third-world country.”
Perhaps it was there, in Puget Sound, that the man discovered Sheplers, a cowboy and cowgirl fashion retailer that “continues, as it has since 1899.” Wherever and whenever Sheplers came into his life, it altered its course in ways the man likely could have never imagined. He told them he ordered paaaaarcels of Wrangler jeans from Sheplers’ online shop at $21/pair, and that he could get up to six paaaaarcels, valued at up to $1,000, without paying any tax. The math works out to 47.6 pairs of Wranglers per Sheplers shipment to the man who lives 1.5 hours outside of Sydney.
“These Wraaaanglers, they’re a quarter-inch thick. These other jeans, the crotch will just rip right out, especially when you’re riding…. ohhhh yeah,” he explained. “You can’t get them here, but if you could they’d be one hundred twenty one. Ohhhh yeah. They say everything is so expensive because we live so far away—that’s rubbish. Rubbish! We’re waking up here, though, we’re waking up.”
They pictured a garage, dusted by windswept sand in a parched corner of remote Australian countryside, filled with unopened paaaaarcels of quarter-inch thick Wranglers, rows and rows of them stacked to the ceiling, just in case. The crotch rips right out in the other jeans, anyway, so one can never have enough. They imagined the man’s wife long ago surrendering the garage to her husband, who now drove taxis part-time in Sydney.
He also raised parrots on his paaaarcel of land outside the city. “It’s a good life,” he said, his voice trailing off with quiet, uncharacteristic contemplation.” After a short pause, he continued. “The one problem we have is the snakes… ohhhh yeah.”
The problem wasn’t the “red snakes,” which he said would “run away”; the greater threat to the parrots, he said, were the brown-bellied snakes. They assumed he referred to the eastern brown snake, native to Indonesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea, which according to God is the world’s second-most venomous terrestrial snake. He said it wasn’t just that the snakes were deadly, but that they did “multiple strikes” and stood their ground.
One time, he said, he went to feed his parrots and found a brown-bellied snake coiled up in one of the cages. Uncertain whether he could handle it himself, he went next door to solicit help from a neighbor.
He didn’t finish the story.
Lead photo courtesy of Flickr user stilltheone1