FREMANTLE, Australia — Let’s catch up with John, the welder, who today has painted his face green and yellow and written “Kookaburra” down his arms and clipped a boxing kangaroo to his ear. This is John’s hometown, and John is drinking beer, giant glasses of beer, and screaming — and so are the dozens of people around him, because the America’s Cup race is on TV high up in the corner, and besides, we are in a bar.
“AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE!”
“OY! OY! OY!”
Sorry. Should have warned you about that. That is the Australian chant. It comes about every 60 seconds in this place, which, last we looked, was named Benito’s, on South Terrace in the heart of Fremantle. It is wall-to-wall patrons, even though it is midafternoon, and the drinking has reached the point where there are several broken glasses on the floor and John is standing on the bar, leading cheers.
Which is to say, we’ve barely gotten started.
“Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda! . . .”
Drinking is second nature to most Australians, and they do it better than Americans, but Americans are welcome to try. Here in Benito’s, a group of Stars & Stripes fans hoists glasses as the boat takes a 29-second lead at the second mark.
“NO WORRIES!” answer the Aussies.
No worries. None at all. There are beer glasses on the window sill, beer glasses in the flower pot, beer glasses in the doorway, which is open, throwing in sunlight. It is hot outside, the Indian Ocean is two blocks away. The boats are out there, engaged in Round 2. Here they’re on Round 37. No worries.
“You a Yank?” yells John Mr. Green and Yellow throwing his arm around a visitor. “You know, we had the Super Bowl on TV down here.”
“Who did you root for?” he is asked.
“Dunno!” he yells. “Who was in it?” Pretty much a normal Sunday
This is every bar you’ve ever seen, and every bar you’ve never seen. This is anything goes, feet-up, spill-crazy, give ’em another. The word is, bars such as this are particularly wild during the America’s Cup. Then again, according to John, who is wearing sunglasses now and chug-a-lugging a tall glass while the crowd chants, “SKULL! SKULL!” this is pretty much a normal Sunday.
The boats move into the third leg, but the bar noise drowns out the TV commentary. Only when they turn around a marker does the crowd hush. Then everybody counts the seconds between boats. “ONE . . . TWO . . . THREE . . .
And then they have another drink.
There are racy songs about U.S. skipper Dennis Conner, and racy songs about Kookaburra’s Iain Murray, songs about Australia, about America, about drinking. This is every Happy Hour in the world. This is Ft. Lauderdale and Cape Cod and Amarillo. The boats go on. The drinking goes on.
“WE WANT A YANK! WE WANT A YANK!”
Now the call is for a faster chug-a-lugger. Up steps George Macary, a heavy-set kid from Connecticut who came down here two months ago with friends.
The friends are gone. George is still here. He is wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirt and a slightly drunk expression. Here’s his beer. Watch it disappear. No stops. No worries.
“SKULL! SKULL! . . . YAAAAAAHHH!”
In the corner the two boats move quietly across the TV screen. Few people are watching anymore. A matter of sportsmanship
The sun moves uninterrupted across the sky. One o’clock is two o’clock is three o’clock. Does it matter? It doesn’t matter. “We’re here till it closes!” yells John, who has lost his kangaroo earring by now. Soon there are four people standing on the bar, then six, then eight, then everyone is standing and singing.
George Macary grabs a visitor. “You know what kind of people these Aussies are? Last week I was hitchhiking and Alan Bond stops his Mercedes and picks me up! Alan Bond! The multimillionaire owner of Australia IV!”
He sighs. “I’m not kidding, you know.”
The singing goes on. The voices have turned raspy. The race has become a blowout for Stars & Stripes and John calls George onto the bar, and gives him an Australian flag. Everybody cheers — “It’s all good sport!” John yells — and they exchange high-fives and then John falls off the bar.
The stack of people grows higher and higher. The room fans above are shaking. People pass empty glasses over their heads until they reach the sink, where they are washed and served up again. Another song. Another cheer.
“AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE!”
“OY! OY! OY!”
Up on the TV, the American boat silently crosses the line. The race is over. Stars & Stripes wins. George does not see it. He is catching his breath at a table, his chest rising and falling with each gasp.
“What will you do when you finally go home?” he is asked.
His eyes are glazed, and his mouth curls into a sleepy smile. The crowd has started into yet another chorus of “Waltzing Matilda.”
“I don’t wanna go home,” he says.