Nazi salutes to neck brace: the 1000th hour

How was your weekend? What are your plans this weekend? I wish the weekend was longer… Whether it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, weekends seem to always be on our minds.

After all, the weekend signifies the end of our work week. We might go out on a Friday night, or a Saturday night, and then recover on a Sunday. Or, for some of us, Sunday is reserved for church services, or heading to the football, or sleeping. Whatever helps us wind down from the previous week, or prepare for the week ahead, the two days – Saturday and Sunday – hold a special significance to us. But how long is two days really?

“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend,” author Chuck Palahniuk wrote, in his 1999 novel ‘Invisible Monsters’. So then, about mine – it all began with some controversy.

Canadian right-wing political activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux hit Melbourne on Friday July 20 for the first of a series of six shows on a speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand. Predictably for such experienced provocateurs, their arrival brought with it considerable controversy, with Southern particularly in hot water immediately upon stepping off the plane in Australia, proudly wearing a t-shirt with the slogan ‘It’s Okay to be White’.

Even long before their arrival on Australian shores, left-wing activists in Melbourne had announced plans to stage a protest against the Southern and Molyneux event, led, in chief, by Melbourne group Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF). Naturally, for journalistic purposes, I chose to attend the event.

With safety concerns mounting ahead of the event, the location of Southern and Molyneux’s first stop on their speaking tour was not revealed until some two hours before the event was due to begin, with attendees instructed simply before then to meet at Broadmeadows train station and be bussed to the event location. Ever vigilant, Melbourne’s left-wing activists were ready and raring to meet attendees at the train station as they attempted to board the buses, before proceeding to the final location to make their voices heard.

Grouped beside the gates of Somerton venue La Mirage Reception, the left-wing activists made sure to provide a warm welcome for attendees making their entry ahead of the evening’s festivities.

“Look at the lonely Nazi,” they sung out to me, as I sheepishly shuffled my way past security and a line of riot police. I stifled a giggle, unsure how else to react. After all, the passionate crowd would hardly have cause to believe me if I were to turn and plead my case for not being a Nazi at all.

“That’s Nazi 101,” I tell myself, “Just like you can’t convince people you’re not crazy by saying you aren’t crazy.”

Isn’t that crazy?

The evening would only heat up further for the crowd of left-wing activists, as their swarm would soon move to envelope a bus carrying event attendees, blocking off one side of the well-travelled Hume Highway in the process. Police clad in riot gear, and atop police horses, swiftly moved in to try and safely disperse the crowd, muscling by innocent journalists as they did so.

“Surround the Nazi bus,” a crowd of more than 100 left-wing protestors screamed, as they blocked off one of Australia’s major inter-city highways.

“What’s all this then?” I imagined perplexed drivers saying, weary from their long drives down to Melbourne from Sydney and waiting, however patiently was possible, for their path to be cleared.

Meanwhile, attendees of the Southern and Molyneux event had some excitement all their own. Such was the anticipation of some of the event’s ticket holders, one young man, clad in a Los Angeles Lakers hoodie, continued to live stream (via Facebook) some twenty minutes or more of standing in line and waiting to be allowed entry inside.

And what wasn’t to anticipate? As Lauren Southern finally bound out on to the stage to kick off the event, it became clear that I had somehow stumbled in to a right-wing political comedy show, with Southern playing to multiple spurts of laughter from across the room as she joked and laughed about the state of multiculturalism (amongst other things). This, of course, was during moments when Southern was not dealing with one of five left-wing interrupters, rising from among the crowd of listeners to shout their discontents and disagreements to the object of their rage.

Not to be disrupted, Southern was eventually able to finish her speech, greeted by the applause of an adoring room and the alarming Nazi salutes of some. While the Nazi salutes numbered as few as four around the room, event attendees surrounding the culprits could nonetheless be seen squirming in their seats at the sight of the action.

“Oops,” I thought. Yet, before I could gather my thoughts further, the event’s other headliner Stefan Molyneux waltzed out to further applause, wearing a tight black sweatshirt and accompanying blue jeans like a right-wing Steve Jobs preparing to regale his audience with details of his latest innovative tech product.

Seemingly less popular than Southern, Molyneux managed to get through his extended speech unscathed and uninterrupted, with all of the left-wing protestors appearing to have spent all of their chips earlier during Southern’s stint on the stage. Molyneux, like Southern, relished in playing to his crowd, which included a number of ‘Make America Great Again’ hats in honour of right-wing hero, and United States President, Donald J Trump.

By event’s end, I was almost glad to emerge from La Mirage in to the bitter cold of Melbourne’s North, having heard more than my fair share of political opinions and diatribe for one Friday evening. But then, of course, this was only Friday, so what more could the weekend hold?

“What kind of a host invites you to his house for the weekend and dies on you?” Asked Andrew McCarthy’s Larry Wilson in the 1989 film Weekend at Bernie’s. While perhaps not as dramatic a turn as that faced by the characters of Weekend at Bernie’s, my own weekend would, nonetheless, take an interesting turn.

Having grown up in country Victoria, football had long been a part of my life. From junior football strapping on the boots for the first time at age 11, to present day, a somewhat-adult running out alongside friends to take on foes in the brutal tradition of footy. But just how brutal can brutal get?

There is no shortage of compilation videos easily found on YouTube and other streaming platforms showing some of football’s hardest hits, showcasing the courage and, frankly, madness of players hurtling in to each contest with aplomb and recklessness, alike.  Such is the brutality of Aussie rules football, it has been estimated that as many as six players will suffer a concussion for every 1000 hours spent on the field playing the game that they love. And me? Evidently, I had reached my 1000th hour.

While the initial tackle that ‘did me in’ has since, understandably, faded from my memory, much of its aftermath lingers on my mind. From the uncontrollable spinning behind my eyes as I lay stunned on the grass, to the thirty minutes afterwards where my only symptoms were blurry vision and the consequential confidence I felt that I had avoided a concussion. Such was my confidence, it would be on the verge of my returning to the field that my day would take a sudden turn.

What would follow saw much panic, and chaos, with paramedics arriving and, after assessing my condition, attempting to locate the nearest Ambulance helicopter to airlift me to Royal Melbourne Hospital. I’d suffered concussions before, but this was unique. Sadly, my maiden chopper ride would have to wait, as the closest helicopter had been revealed to be too far away. As a result, an ambulance ride with sirens blaring would have to suffice.

Barely coherent, pumped up with pain medication and the delirium of a head trauma, I had unexpectedly landed myself in a neck brace, lying in the Emergency Room of one of Victoria’s major hospitals.

The concern for my condition, and the dangers of spinal injuries, I would be forced to spend over 14 hours lying perfectly flat on my back in a hospital bed, neck brace coddling my broad chin, as tests were conducted to try and ascertain the extent (or existence) of any spinal damage.

Luckily, no spinal injury was found.

Nonetheless, I emerged from my hospital stay 24 hours later with a severe concussion, and likely ligament damage to my neck, in addition to ongoing anxieties surrounding the game that I love the most. Concussions were not a new thing to me, or to football, but I couldn’t deny that this had been a different experience.

Would I be able to return to football? If I did, what preventative measures could I take to avoid further concussions? My wild weekend had presented me with more questions than answers.

“Oldtimers, weekends, and airplane landings are alike,” Major League Baseball Casey Stengel had once said, “If you can walk away from them, they’re successful.”

Stengel had also once said, “There comes a time in every man’s life and I’ve had many of them.”

I would concur. I had just experienced my 1000th hour, and lived to tell the tale. Now all that remains is to wonder what the next 1000 might hold.