One day, not so long ago, somewhere between three and four decades, but who’s counting, I had the misfortune of accidentally sending the garbage bin in the bathroom crumbling to the floor. Whoopsies.
Dad heard the crash and commotion, popped his head in.
“It was an accident Dad. I didn’t mean to.”
He gave my noggin a brushing, said “You know what, if I clean that up for you, do you promise to clean it up some day if accidentally knock it over too?”
Do I? Of course! What an idiot! He’ll never knock it over. He’s not clumsy at all. And now I don’t have to clean it up either! Are you kidding me? This is fantastic!
“OK Dad, sounds good to me.”
I smiled. He smiled.
Dad went about tidying up the mess, putting it all back in the garbage bin, spick and span.
“Oi, Li Li. Come have a look. Make sure you’re happy with it.”
I popped my head back into the bathroom. Yep, clean as a whistle.
Dad shrugged, “There. Look good?”
I nodded. It did look good, "Good as new."
Dad breathed out deep, smiled at me in a cheeky sort of way, then tipped the bin over again!! You bastard!!
“Rightoh then, off ya go sport! Clean it up!”
Brutus! Judas! Every backstabber in history combined!
“A deal’s a deal son. You promised, remember?”
I’d dug this grave for myself dammit. He had me there.
“Yeah, I remember…ya big poopy pants.”
“What was that?”
Sullen and sour, I started cleaning up, and despite hating Dad more than ever, cleaning away the mess I had literally created, Dad had actually opened my eyes to an imminent light bulb moment of Eureka proportions.
I can just do the same thing back to him! Make him clean my mess up.
A deal’s a deal! He said it! And I’ll add some garbage to the pile too. Haha! Fill the bin above the brim. How you like that? That’ll teach him to mess with me!
So, I cleaned that mess up well and truly, kept the ruse up, and I like to think Dad didn’t notice me snooping about for more bits and bobs to add to the pile. No, I like to think I was sneaky as a cat burglar, but more accurately I probably looked about as subtle as Dr Evil stroking Mr Bigglesworth, holding my pinky to my lip as I laughed out of control at how incredibly clever I was. I didn’t go to Evil Medical School for nothing, thank you very much.
“All cleaned up Dad. Sweet as.”
He popped his head back in.
I took a deep breath in, gave him the same cheeky smile he’d given me just before, and shoved that bin right over good and proper. Cop that!
“Rightoh then, off ya go sport! Clean it up!”
I laughed, and I laughed, and I tell you, for a few minutes there I felt like Jesus himself, walking on water, watching poor old Dad on hands and knees cleaning up the mess I’d made. Life can be so sweet sometimes.
This feeling didn’t last long. Much to my regret, Dad was onto my game of adding to the pile too, making the mess of my eventual cleaning much, much bigger than what I’d started out with only a half an hour earlier.
Uh oh. Two can play this game! What have I done?
Somehow he was emptying all sorts of rubbish from other bins round the house into this one tiny bathroom bin and balancing it all like a magical leaning garbage tower of Pisa. Oh dear.
He was smiling, whistling, not upset in the slightest. I knew what was coming. I was gonna have to clean up the biggest mess 11 Milner St had ever known!!
“Dad, Dad! I’m sorry! Stop! I promise I won’t ever knock the bins over again. I promise. I don’t want to clean it all up again. Please don’t push it back over. I know I deserve it but please, please don’t.”
He smiled, dropped a knee and gave my noggin another brushing.
“How about, if one of us ever knocks the bin over again, we’ll just clean it up together? Deal?”
That is actually a much better deal.
And for the first time I can remember, Dad shook my hand, shook it like I was a grown man, not a little boy.
And just like that, a truce was reached, but far more, another Peter Carroll Zen lesson had been taught, a somewhat elaborate game where I got to actively pursue my own dark side, understand that some offers are simply too good to be true, beset with a downside you may not spot from the get-go, and most of all, learning that being a little bastard achieves nothing more than incentivise your opponent to step up their bastard game too.
We’re all in this together. Make every deal with that in mind and you’re on your way to a life worth living, able to spot the real deals from the pretenders, and equipped to make sure, more times than not, you’re a resource to your fellow battler, not a hindrance. It’s the place to be.
PS. Super Dad would’ve been 66 today. Dearly missed, but never forgotten, no chance of that.
PPS. If you look closely at the bottom left of the photo, you can see the bin in question. Quality teaching aid, oh yeah.
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the oil trading world of Southeast Asia. His second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a sentimental ride back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, 7year old Fanta addict. And his third book, Hooroo Love, is in the works now.