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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Mon 20
Apr
2009

Terrifying Love

What Max Reckons Forgive me, but I need to get this off my chest. I am a Richmond Tigers fan. That’s a football team. And by football, I mean Australian Rules. I don’t want to get into a whole debate about which football code is best, but it’s this one. Let’s just stipulate that and move on.

I began following the Tigers when I was about eight. Looking back, I think it was the exact moment they transitioned from a league powerhouse to the most spectacularly unsuccessful football team of the last quarter-century. I love the Tigers, but so far the journey has comprised three or four moments of ecstasy in an ocean of misery and despair.

Currently we are at the bottom of the ladder, with zero wins. We are probably about to sack our coach. I have been a strong supporter of our coach over the last five years, because he is smart. Our previous coach was not smart, and that didn’t work out so well. So this was a refreshing change.

But now I’m thinking smart is overrated. It’s useful. But it doesn’t seem to be as important to winning games as other qualities; in particular, being Terrifying and Lovable.

Graph of AFL coachesBecause I woke at 5AM this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to rate AFL coaches on those three dimensions. I scored a coach highly on Terrifying if he is combative in interviews, physically intimidating, and generally looks seconds away from pushing somebody’s head through a wall. He scored Lovable points if he is the sort of bloke I would want to share a beer with or invite home for dinner. And I awarded Wily points if he is clever and tactical, both on match day and in the media.

(Incidentally, my first thought was to rate coaches based on how many Google hits their names returned when coupled with relevant words. But I couldn’t find ones that worked. The word “tough,” for example, occurs frequently in articles about Richmond, but in contexts like “tough season,” “tough luck,” and “Convincing anyone to coach this club will be tough.”)

It turned out that Terrifying was about twice as important as Lovable in terms of modeling a coach’s success, and Lovable in turn was about twice as important as Wily. This explained a lot for me. Richmond’s current coach, Terry Wallace, is very Wily, but not very Terrifying, and a little too self-interested to be Lovable. Our previous coach, Danny Frawley, was very Lovable, but neither Terrifying nor Wily. And I suspect Lovable can only take you so far: if you keep losing games, you probably become rapidly less Lovable. Those coaches who have a significant impact in their first year or two, then are powerless to stop their team sinking down the ladder: I think they’re Lovable coaches losing their shine. And one more thing: this accounts for the vogue toward younger coaches. “Lethal” Leigh Matthews, an extremely successful coach over many years who was nonetheless replaced last year, was one of the most physically intimidating men the game ever produced, but at 57, he wasn’t getting any more Terrifying.

Based on this, I hope Richmond’s next coach will be Nathan Buckley. I have no idea whether he’s any chop as a tactician, but he seems like a really decent, stand-up guy who might, if you annoy him, tear off your arms. Perfect.

Thu 09
Apr
2009

Memory Bones

Max Finlay with artificial limb augmentationI don’t want to freak you out, but MY DAUGHTER’S STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY HAS BEEN BREACHED. Her bones have bent. One has cracked. She has broken her arm.

It happened at an indoor play center, one of those technicolor places with dizzying heights and terrifying drops, trampolines that launch children through the air like patriot missiles and treacherous plastic balls that sneak out of pits to slip beneath tiny sneakers. Naturally, Fin navigated these with contemptuous ease, then tripped over her own feet on a stretch of flat carpet. Exactly how you break an arm falling two and a half feet onto shag pile, I don’t know. But she wailed like… well, like she’d just broken her arm. When this didn’t abate, and I noticed her arm dangling at her side like a wet noodle, I began to suspect something was wrong. I sprang into action, demanding a refund from the play center. Well, it was five bucks. And we’d only just arrived. I don’t see why I should have to pay five bucks for eight minutes of fun, followed by a broken bone. They gave it to me, too, plus a voucher for a free coffee my next visit, in 4-6 weeks.

As soon as that was taken care of, I carried my screaming three-year-old daughter straight out of there. I didn’t have a car, so I bore her in my arms to the nearest hospital. I don’t want to claim I was a hero, but if anyone wants to make a movie of my life, that would be a really moving scene. I think there could be an operatic sound track at that point. That’s just a thought.

Fin stopped crying the second we stepped into the Emergency Room, which was a shame, because they decided she wasn’t urgent and told us to go to another hospital. I was tempted to pinch her, in the interests of securing prompt medical attention. But that might have been a difficult moment to explain in the movie. So off we went to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where they X-rayed her, pulled her bones straight, and encased her arm in plaster.

Let me tell you about this process. I’ll tell you the same way Dr. Elliot explained it to me, right before he began to inflict excruciating pain on my daughter: “We’ll give her some gas. It’s not for pain relief. What it does is block the formation of short-term memory, so when it’s over, she won’t remember what it was like.”

Now, I don’t want to criticize Dr. Elliot. He is a smarter, better-educated guy than me, and no doubt across the many excellent medical reasons why this is the optimum course of action for children. But if they suggested this idea to an adult patient, that person would PUNCH THE DOCTOR RIGHT IN THE MOUTH. Is this not the most horrible concept you have ever heard? “We won’t block your pain. We’ll just make you forget it afterward. It’s basically the same thing.” NO IT’S NOT. Option A: no pain. Option B: TONS OF PAIN. That’s the difference.

Fin sucked on that gas like she was drinking it. Dr. Elliot pulled her bones straight. “Daddy,” she cried out. “Daddy, I want you.” I squeezed her free hand and told her it was all right, and a few seconds later she had forgotten all about it. When they were finished, she smiled and said, “I like this hospital.”

I hope that creeps you out as much as it did me.

P.S. Sorry to everyone who was mailed an old blog the other day. The gnomes who live in the web server and hand-address all the emails got into the alcohol cupboard and—oh, it was a real mess. I have replaced them with goblins and everything should work fine now.

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