Waiting rooms are tense, silent places. Nervous patients in the reception areas of GPs, physiotherapists and proctologists sit quietly wondering the same thing: whether they’re worse off than the person beside them. Usually it’s hard to tell, but sometimes there are clues. If you’re at the ophthalmologist you can watch how closely someone holds a magazine to their face. At the chiropractor observe how people are slouching.
In the waiting room at hair surgeon Russell Knudsen’s clinic in inner Brisbane Spring Hill, men discreetly judge one another’s scalps in glass reflections and self-consciously run their fingers through their remaining locks. The man in the leather jacket sitting opposite me I notice has broken a golden rule of hair loss: don’t grow it long to compensate for its absence. While we don’t make eye contact, I know he’s surreptitiously examining my head too.
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In the library of Inglewood State School – a three-hour, sleep-inducing drive west from Brisbane – Jim Lyons discusses Scarlett Johansson with students from years seven and eight. He shows them a laminated newspaper article featuring Johansson’s photograph. The headline is unfortunate: ‘Bush Bashed On Sex’. Jim paraphrases the story for the students: Johansson is outraged that the Bush administration has poured millions of dollars into abstinence education; she argues that it takes women back to the dark ages; she gets tested for HIV regularly; she urges every young woman to do the same.
“What can we learn from this young lady?” Jim asks. “What does this tell you about Scarlett Johansson?” In the back row, a skinny girl with spectacles puts a hand up. “That she’s safe?” she says. Jim raises his eyebrows. “She’s safe?” he asks sceptically. “What else?” To the side, a year-eight boy mumbles something. “She’s sexually active,” Jim repeats, so the rest of the class can hear. “Well, some would say she’s very sexually active.”
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Back in the homeland of my people—the vast, mystical moors of China—sport just isn’t the same. From what I can gather, the national pursuits there are Tai Chi, badminton and smoking opium. We’re a gentle—not gargantuan—race, so I never exactly excelled at Australian sports. I couldn’t swim or tumble turn. However, I didn’t always come last at swimming carnivals, like you’d expect. No, no. That would be weak. I was disqualified instead.
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