Australia: Part Two

Memories unfold episodically. We jumble them up, sorting them out of sequence, insisting that this happened before that when in truth it might have been the opposite.  We also never have the same memories as those of others with whom we may have shared the same experience.  I’m sure I remember Australia differently than my wife at the time did; or as my children, though young, recall their time Down Under.

It’s funny to me that so many of my vivid memories are of times at a zoo or wildlife refuge.  Maybe it’s because these memories are really of my boys, with the zoos as background. Once at the Sydney zoo we stood next to the Kookaburra exhibit and David, six or seven years old, spontaneously sang, “Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree…”  It was a moment of pure uninhibited pleasure.  Another time while having our lunch seated at a picnic table in a wildlife preserve in Healesville, an Emu raced by, snatching a sandwich right from David’s hand.  He howled, not hurt but startled, even as we had a hard time controlling our laughter.

We often took the boys out with other school friend families.  One afternoon we went to the zoo in Melbourne with our Australian friends the Hollands.  Standing in front of a particularly hostile looking leopard, Mr. Holland—I wish I could remember his first name—broke into a dramatic recitation of all verses of “Little Black Sambo.”  And by and by he met a Tiger. And the Tiger said to him, “Little Black Sambo, I’m going to eat you up!”

While today not politically correct, it nevertheless was innocent and charming and the boys loved it.

I remember watching the Fairy Penguins leap from the sea onto the beach at Phillip Island.  And stopping once to picnic under a grove of Stringy Bark Eucalyptus deep in the New South Wales outback, I crept way too close to a pair of four-foot goannas.  Later I learned they could be aggressive– and a goanna bite never heals.

[Memories of zoos jump out from our earlier times in Spain and Singapore, too.  We made a special visit to the Barcelona zoo to see Snowflake, the albino gorilla.  In Singapore the coolest place on the island—cool being relative—was at the zoo, where the chance of a breeze was slightly more likely than in the center of the city.  We often took the boys there as a refuge from the heat and humidity.  The two big attractions were sitting with Ah Meng, a docile Orangutan, and her baby, and being photographed with two gigantic pythons.  Not even a chance to earn a million dollars could have induced me to come within five feet of these monsters.  My wife on the other hand had no fear of snakes and happily posed with both pythons draped over her shoulders, holding a head in each hand.  Our boys squealed with a combination of fear and delight.  Afterwards, Evelyn said it was like holding two particularly heavy handbags.]

Eva Gardner once remarked how appropriate it was to film a story about the end of the world in Melbourne when shooting Neville Shute’s On the Beach.  Her quip was sarcastic, and not especially appropriate to Melbourne. But I felt the same way when I visited Perth, said to be the world’s most isolated “civilized” city.  It was a physical sensation of being very, very far away from anywhere else. Facing the Indian Ocean, looking away from the continent, I could have been on a habitable Mars.  I experienced the same sense of isolation and being alone in the red desert and ranges of Central Australia, where there was only barren, limitless, inhospitable landscape. I know that’s one reason why I became so attracted to Aboriginal painting—legends and histories interpreted through a geography of dots and lines and color and mystery.

There are simple memories, too, from those days: the young Czech couple who baked heavenly cookies and pastries from traditional homeland recipes in their Black Rock bakery; our neighbor’s mentally handicapped son jumping in happiness in front of our sidewalk gates; the old ladies in their white hats and cardigans playing bowls; the Leagues Clubs in every small town that invariably served Chinese food; hopelessly playing cricket on my company’s team.

There was the time when my wife called me at work to come immediately to the hospital because Sam had broken his leg on our backyard trampoline.  The circumstances of his fall were vague, but to this day David insists his mother blamed the break on him, even though we know he hadn’t.  A few days later we left on a beach vacation in Queensland and I can still see Sam sitting in his cast in the sand without a care or concern.  He’s been a happy child since birth.

One Christmas we invited our Swedish friends Margareta and Mats Ogren to have Christmas dinner at our house. Margareta arrived alone.  About a half hour later there was a knock on the door.  We sent David and Sam to open it and in stepped Mats dressed as Santa.  Our astonished boys only saw the “real” Santa and they held that belief for years afterwards—even when they were fearful of not believing.

[Years later we had another encounter with Santa. When Adam was five years old we visited a former college professor friend in Maine.  Our friend had recently married a German author who was jolly, red-cheeked and sported a large white beard.  We had never met him before.  When he walked into the room, Adam fell back spell-bound, and looking up at him, exclaimed, “Santa!”]

I can close my eyes and see the hideous beige and brown carpeting in our rented house, carpeting we attempted to cover completely with oriental rugs.  I see Sam dressed as Paddington Bear and David as Robin Hood for a Guy Fawkes costume party.  I see the possums lined up on the top of our garden walls.  I see golden haired David in his black and purple Haileybury school uniform.  I see the great procession of prize farm animals wearing their ribbons at the Melbourne Show.

Were I to return to Melbourne I wonder what memories would be offered up by the places I knew so well. Would visiting our house on Arkaringa Crescent yield happy or painful memories?  (There were, in fact, hurtful, painful times.) The city has changed a great deal since we lived there, maybe erasing images I have in my mind of what it was like.  After twenty years it couldn’t possibly be the same, though it feels like yesterday. I also know from another time in another city that memories evoked through the lens of an earlier experience can be as real, and in this case, hurtful, as when they were first lived in happiness.

I know my friends in Australia have remained a constant, even those I haven’t seen in all these years.  Janine Rogers, Tim and Andy Macdougal, our next-door neighbor’s son, for a while Cathy Conors, who disappeared after her second marriage.  Tim and Andy, together with their three children Cordelia, Venetia and Hugo, visited us in New York.  We had dinner all together at our favorite Spanish tapas restaurant in the East Village.  I remember their warm and generous hospitality back in Melbourne.  Sherri McIver and I maintain our friendship on daily Facebook posts. Janine remains a close and faithful friend to this day.  We share everything in our lives, some of which has been remarkably, and unfortunately, similar.   I wish I could see Janine in person.  I will someday.

Adam was born in Melbourne.  Moving back to the States when he was one year old, he of course has no memory of his birthplace. I see him in the nursery of Monash University Hospital, a serious baby, as he is today as a young man.  He has never been back to Australia. It’s been a dream to take him there and share the memories of what our lives had been like back when he was born.

Our years in Australia exist for me today as a giant parenthesis in my life.  Professionally it was a peaceful interlude between the disruption of Spain and Singapore and the pressures of New York.  Personally it was a time of discovery, family and friendship.  My memories of Australia are full of happiness. It’s such a saner culture than America’s.  I love the country and miss it today.


There are two varieties of dreams:  dreams that arise during the night and vaporize by morning.  Sometimes these dreams are remembered and assume an importance as portentous signs of life we only half know.

The other kind are the dreams we harbor within ourselves.  Dreams of peace.  Dreams of windfalls.  Dreams of happiness.  Dreams of love.  Sometimes these dreams come true, though more often they’re little more than disappointment and futility.

I’m reminded of DDB’s famous ad campaign for the New York State Lottery, “All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream.”  Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery?  (This very successful campaign came to an abrupt end when a man on Long Island complained to the State that it encouraged poor people to waste their money on lottery tickets.  True enough since the odds of this dream coming true are infinitesimal.  I suspect Bill Gates has never bought a lottery ticket.)

I’ve had three sleeping dreams in my life that remain as vivid today as the nights I dreamed them. One occurred a long time ago when I was in my twenties.  I think I was still in college.  The other two have been more recent.  Each was frightening—though not nightmares—and each has indeed been significant to my understanding of my life within; also, lack of understanding.  Rich material for my therapist!  My last dream was terrifying when I dreamed it and hilariously comical when I recall it.  Two realities in one.

Of the latter kind of dream, I’ve had only one, and it’s been the same one since I’ve been a child.  After many, many years I thought this dream had come true.  It had, for a while, and then it was gone.  I won’t dream this dream again.  One shipwreck is enough.

Freud and Jung both wrote famously about dreams.  Freud infused dreams with sexual significance and Jung linked dreams to archetypes.  My own three dreams conform more to Jung’s interpretation than to Freud’s. At least that’s how I chose to interpret them, maybe a result of a year spent in Jungian analysis with the president of the Jung Society in New York—an extravagant indulgence that could have gone on forever without changing my life.

Is it the nature of dreams to be more lost than found?  Isn’t that what a dream is: something beyond our reach that we badly want and rarely get?  And if it’s imaginary, why is the loss so painful?

Alan Lightman in this month’s Harper’s writes about the immensity of the universe and the impossibility of comprehending it.  It’s a beautiful essay, emotionally overwhelming.  He writes, “We are living in an accidental universe.” I think our dreams are part of this search for meaning in a universe that we can’t imagine. Ultimately we don’t “mean” anything.  We are.  Yet we long to know ourselves, where we stand, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Dreams live in that projection, because they define the person we want to be.  Our dreams evolve, too.  We grow older and one unfulfilled dream folds into another, and another, and another.  I think the origin of sadness lies in this evolution.  It moves slowly, imperceptibly, and one day we wake up and discover that these dreams are in fact the dreams of sleep.  They didn’t have any reality at all.

Yet, some dreams do inspire greatness.  What drove Ulysses to endure countless challenges, drifting for years, but his dream of Ithaca?  Napoleon as a teenager still on Corsica dreaming his destiny.  Keats’ dreaming of Fannie.  Anne Frank.  Tony Manero almost—just almost– dancing his way to live his dream.

Cathy Freeman, the first Australian Aboriginal person ever to win an Olympic gold medal—when an entire country joined her dream of winning.  I defy anyone who watched her win the 400-meter race in the Sydney Olympics to confess they didn’t burst into tears.  I just watched it again on YouTube and again I couldn’t hold back tears.  Her dream came true, forever.

Yeats wrote that, “Sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind.”  When I read this in college I didn’t understand it’s meaning.  I didn’t believe it.  Sex, yes—but death?  But Yeats wasn’t writing about the young.  He was describing, I think, the agony of aging, when all the dreams we’ve lost take on bittersweet urgency as the years pass.  He was writing about himself.

Will we die with our dreams never fulfilled, or if they are, is it inevitable they fade away?  We’ll never know the answer to that question.

Hearts break because of lost dreams.  I wish I could close more optimistically.

Australia: Part One

Australia presents contradictions that still resonate. We were neither locals nor expatriates in the common understanding of that description.  Americans—Americans like us–were too close in background and shared Anglo culture to stand out as different.  We were not part of a tightly knit expat scene; in fact, I don’t remember even knowing any other Americans, and certainly not as friends.

Our children went to an Australian school; we went on Australian holidays; our baby was born in Australia and baptized in a uniquely Australian Protestant church.  The close friendships I developed at work were with Australians. Our social friends were mostly the parents of other children in our boys’ Australian private school.

Yet, we are not Australian and that difference was subtle, sometimes imperceptible, and a fact that made us both insider and outsider.  In Spain and Singapore we were clearly and only outsiders, expats, made all the more pointed by our transient circumstances.  We weren’t part of anything.

Individually, and as a family, we loved Australia.  We still do. David and Sam look back on their experience, even dimly remembered, as an idyllic time. Adam, who moved back to New York as a one year old, thinks of Australia as a home he once came from.

Melbourne was the safe haven afforded me by John Bradstock—whom I regarded as both mentor and guardian angel—and his former Needham colleague Peter Bennett.  I had been given the choice to relocate to either Sydney or Melbourne.  I chose Melbourne for personal rather than professional reasons and never regretted the decision.  Schools were easier to select; the suburban towns were pleasant and closer to the city; cultural life was more accessible; the restaurants were better.  I liked the idea of Victoria: the sheep farms and gold rush legacy.  Nearly everyone we met would within a few minutes say, “We were never a convict colony!”  As a city, Melbourne was, and remains, one of the most civilized cities in the world.  Its English heritage is more evident than in Sydney, or Australia’s other coastal cities.

Given its distance from Singapore, I had to select a town, a house and a school on my own.  It wasn’t practical to fly the family back and forth.  Guided by new associates in my office, I found a house in the bay side town of Black Rock—not as tony as nearby Brighton, but on the beach and convenient to anything we could want.  The house I rented on Arkaringa Crescent was large and well suited to our family, with a typical walled garden complete with an in-ground trampoline.  My wife was pleased with the choice—a small miracle.  Finally we were reunited with all of our furniture and household goods, which had been in storage in London and Singapore since our overseas adventure had begun.  We could at last have a settled life.

What has stayed with me from that time are several life-long friendships, a passion for Aboriginal painting, an envy of Australia’s more egalitarian and more democratic society, the pastoral beauty of the Victorian countryside, the great breadth and emptiness of the continent.  I love the stories that define Victoria and to some extent the country: Burke and Wills, Ned Kelley, the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Open. Driving through the giant fern forests of the Dandedong Ranges was like traveling back to the age of dinosaurs.  I often relive our trips to the sheep farming towns of Bendigo and Ballarat.  I think of Melbourne itself as the final jewel in the progression from tiny sheep stations to Gundagai–and its dog on the tucker box- to the next largest Victorian city Geelong.  Prince Charles spent time at Geelong Grammar, giving it a glamor over and above its fine academic reputation.

I was lucky to travel extensively across the country.  We drove across Victoria and New South Wales—stopping to see the giant radio telescope in Parkes that tracked  and televised the Apollo 11 moon landing—to spend Christmas at the Queensland beach resort Noosa.  (Half of Melbourne seemed to spend the Christmas holidays in Noosa.)  I remember one particularly vivid experience in a tiny, rough neck town near Byron Bay.  Finding no restaurant where we could have dinner, we stopped at a country bar that served typical Australian pub-grub meals.  It was the kind of place where only men hung out and all conversation stopped when strangers walked in.

We sat at the furthest table we could find and ordered dinner.  Over salad, David announced that he didn’t like the taste of carrots and lettuce in his mouth and immediately and copiously vomited all over the table.  I went over to the barman and asked for an extra napkin or two and when he gave me tiny cocktail napkins I said they would never do. He then discovered the problem and exploded with a string of expletives beginning with, “Jesus Holy Mother Fucking Christ…”  I threw more than enough money on the table and got us out as quickly as I could.

With work, I accompanied a country-wide television production for our client Telecom Australia that took me to places as diverse as the Capital Canberra, the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Communications Complex, Coober Pedy, the Blue Mountains, the Barossa Valley outside Adelaide, and many lonely places in between that had only Aboriginal place names, ancient rock formations, goannas and 1500 year old Baob Trees.

Australia also penned the first paragraphs of the final chapters of my marriage.  Though long, the steady descent from our final year in Melbourne led directly to the unfortunate events of 2007: another story for another time, perhaps.

We moved back to New York reluctantly.  I could have continued on at DDB Needham in Melbourne, but with the changed status from an international division employee to a local one. It would have been a seamless transition.  We thought about staying for a long time.  We liked Australia and our life in Melbourne.  We had made many friends. Our boys’ school was excellent.  Still, we were very far from our aging parents. My own career advancement was back in New York.  We were still American.

Leaving was emotionally difficult; we had many farewell dinners; our friends were sorry to see us go and we were sorrier.

We filled two entire ship containers with everything we moved back to the States, taking two weeks to pack up the house.  The boys cried the entire time.  Once home, we wept while we were driven from JFK home to Tarrytown.  We at once regretted our decision to return.

Abroad: Part 2

We left Barcelona after Christmas in cold and clear weather and arrived in Singapore in heat and humidity.  We had spent the holiday and New Year’s at the Hotel Boix in the mountains of La Cerdanya in the eastern region of the Pyrenees in northern Catalonia.  We had spent many weekends at the Hotel Boix during the summer and autumn.  The hotel was famous for its remote tranquility and Michelin starred restaurant.  We were always the only Americans there.

Spain had not been a happy time.  The uncertainty of where we would relocate, the merger, the lack of all of our household goods, our furniture, the boys’ toys, winter clothes, the false starts in London and Dusseldorf all lent to impermanence and deep discontent. Never good, our marriage was falling apart.  Singapore was perhaps the last place on the planet my wife wanted to be.  She felt trapped and expressed her unhappiness in extreme behavior that freighted the boys and terrified me.

Christmas was still in full swing when we arrived in Singapore.  The city was a blaze of lights.  Our boys were delighted driving through the walls of lights covering every building: Christmas amidst orchids and the red blossoms of Tamarind trees and native poinsettia.

I had made a trip to Singapore prior to our move, renting an apartment in a service hotel, anticipating a move to a permanent place.  We never left.  The Ascot, at the juncture of Scott and Orchard Roads—the heart of the city—was a high-end service hotel that catered to expats on their way to someplace else.  While not Spartan, it was nonetheless a hotel.  We had a kitchen, two bedrooms, a living room, a pool on the roof overlooking the lights of the city and a daily maid.  Our boys soon thought it was normal to have doormen, elevator men, a staff, twenty-four hour concierge, and a food court in the basement.

We enrolled David in the English Tanglin School.  It was closer, with a better reputation, than the American School. It proved to be a good choice, despite the bus ride each morning from downtown.  David arrived home a little ball of sweat in his Tanglin uniform.  Nevertheless his teachers were fine and the school itself was shady and outside the hustle of the city.  Sam was still at home.

The day before departing for Singapore I was told that my job had changed.  Instead of running an agency, I would be closing it.  Prior to my appointment, the local DDB office had already been merged with Needham.  Neither managing director would relinquish their respective roles.  Of course dual managing directors was doomed to failure.  Stephen Quinn, the DDB MD, left the agency, founding his own and against his contract taking most of his former clients.  I was told that Theresa Chan, the Needham MD, had decided to leave the agency and I was her replacement.

My first duty, on my first day, was to terminate the entire staff of fifty-five Singaporeans.  I was meant to meet the DDB Needham regional president, Alan Pilkington, who would support me in explaining the sorry situation.  He never showed.

The staff believed I was coming to turn around the fate of their seriously disrupted office.  Instead I was the ugly American who fired everyone.

In my entire career I’ve never known anyone who had to terminate an entire agency.  I was completely on my own.  Nothing had prepared me for this.  Unable to face the prospect of meeting individuality with each of the employees, none of whom I had ever met, I gathered the staff in our conference room and explained the situation trying as best I could to do this with empathy and compassion.  A decent severance package was in place contingent upon staying for three months to fulfill the terms of our client agreements.  Nevertheless by the next day half the staff was gone, including the CFO. I had no idea how much money the agency had and as it turned out nor did the regional CFO back in New York.  A young accountant from Ernst & Young was put in as the acting CFO.  He, too, knew nothing about the agency’s finances.  Together we would stay up to midnight studying the agency’s books, trying to figure out which clients owed us money, were our media commitments made, did we have enough money to pay out the severance.

My first month working in Singapore was worse than a joke. If I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t believe what happened.  Some of the drama was funny, some bewilderingly impossible.  I had been told we had one company car which was mine: a twelve-year-old green Mercedes-Benz.  The driver’s side door fell off the first time I used it.  But when my CFO investigated the books we discovered the agency owned more than ten cars.  I had no idea who had these. No one volunteered this information.  It was likely that many of the cars had departed with the ex-employees.  I spent a month searching car parks looking for matches to the license numbers we had on file.  Miraculously I located all but one.  This one I discovered was being used by an employee still at the agency. I remember Tang Eng Lock to this day.  More about Eng Lock and his car later.

On the morning of the mass terminations, our messenger, a young Malay with a limp, came to me and pleaded to keep the agency’s motorcycle in lieu of severance.  He had a family to maintain and said having a cycle was the only way he could be hired as a messenger somewhere else.  Of course I said yes.  How could I otherwise?  What I didn’t do was properly transfer the title resulting in a year’s worth of traffic tickets.  All the traffic lights in Singapore are monitored by video cameras, automatically issuing violations.  Apparently our messenger rarely stopped.

I had also been told the former MD would be around to help with the transition.  I had met her at a previous international conference.  She never appeared.  I had no idea where she was and assumed she was taking time off.  On my second day in the office I received a phone call from Theresa’s father, a senior government official.  He asked me who had decided to replace his daughter with me.  This wasn’t the story I had been told.  Barely holding back his contempt he told me Theresa had been fired.

With the office in shambles (all our video equipment, and even the bookcases flanking the front entrance, disappeared within the first few days) I had to go client by client and explain what was happening.  I remember one brunch during those early days at the Shangri-La Hotel with Alan Pilkington who nonchalantly claimed the closure would take maybe three weeks tops.  My wife, a corporate attorney, couldn’t believe this absurd assertion, and told him so.  In fact it took a year.

My first trip was to visit our client Swiss Air.  To say it was a frosty meeting would be an understatement. As I explained the departure of the former MD I was interrupted with the statement, “Don’t lie to us.  Theresa was at a Swiss Air marketing conference in Zurich when your Mr. Pilkington called to fire her then and there on the phone.  Please leave now.” Oh joy.

I remember these days as though they were yesterday.  I remember sitting in my office on the top floor of our building on Beach Road looking out over the Straights, local junks avoiding container ships from across South East Asia. And all day and night  F-16’s from the Singapore Air Force circled the tiny city-state in perpetual fear of an unlikely invasion by the Malaysians.  The office air conditioning was frigid, in contrast to the heat outside.  My office windows were tinted against glare which rendered the view as though at dusk.  I would wonder oh god where am I.  What am I doing here.  Where is my life going.  I was alone, out of touch, disconnected from reality.  My days at work were surreal.

Our office was adjacent to the old Chinese part of the city, its chophouses having narrowly escaped the wrecking balls that wiped out the rest of old Singapore. We were across the street from the then unrestored Raffles Hotel, whose fate was in the balance. It was a decayed relic of a lost time when Somerset Maugham lived there.  There were threadbare tiger rugs on the floor and tourists would come to drink their Singapore Slings on long tables outside in the garden.  Inside, its one restaurant still managed to serve its mid-day Tiffin Curry, a tame English version of what locals ate.

A month after my arrival I was notified by Singapore media that the agency owed more than $2 million to the government owned television network and print media.  We had barely the funds to meet our dwindling payroll.  Every client, without exception, refused to pay their bills, trumping up one excuse after another.  As the head of the agency I was told I was personally liable for the debt if not paid in four weeks.  I could be put in jail. I called our regional CFO who assured me I could access a $3 million line of credit at the Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank.  When I called at the bank I was told that the line of credit had been entirely used and the agency was in fact paying interest on it.  No one in New York knew this. The company wired funds to the media and the crisis was averted at the last minute.

All of our clients had to be sued to pay their bills.  These were for the most part major multinational companies.  With one exception they settled literally on the courtroom steps.  More unreality.

The exception was McDonald’s, the office’s largest client, the country’s biggest advertiser, and a major global client of the agency’s.  In Singapore, all the McDonald’s franchises were owned by a young and very rich man, Tommy Quan.  His father had bought him the first McDonald’s in the country and on its first day it instantly set the record for opening day sales.  Tommy then opened six more outlets, each setting similar sales records.  McDonald’s was phenomenally successful in Singapore.

To his lasting credit, Tommy and his wife befriended my family and me.  We would have dinner at his Hollywood caliber house, a house with no walls to the outside, surrounded by trees and water.  We would go out together.  They were lovely.  Tommy had an ulterior motive as it turned out, but one that had mutual attraction.  Rather than close the DDB Needham agency, he proposed that the agency buy the company of a friend of his.  In return he would give us his business.  This was an extremely attractive proposition.  New York agreed.  Tommy and I set about making the necessary arrangements.

Amazingly, my management in New York pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour.  Without my knowledge they had been negotiating with the former DDB MD Stephen Quinn to buy his agency.  Only eight months before management had seriously considered suing Stephen for stealing clients. Now they were in bed with him.

Tommy was furious.  He knew I had been duped and vowed revenge.  Unknown to the regional management, Tommy’s first cousins owned all the McDonald’s franchises in Hong Kong and Taiwan. You can’t make this stuff up.  His cousins put the business in review with the eventual result DDB lost the accounts.  Tommy continued to be our friend and we corresponded for years afterward.  I wonder how he is now.

Our last days in Singapore continued, alternating between comedy and anxiety.  Our life back at the Ascot remained reasonably intact.  We had made friends with two families, one Chilean and one South African.  We spent a lot of time together.  I remember one trip we took with the Chileans to the beach on the China Sea in Malaysia. I wish I could remember their names.  We drove through rubber plantations. Monkeys ran everywhere across the roads.  The beach was so hot we couldn’t walk on the sand. Driving across the causeway separating Singapore from Malaysia was a trip from the 20th century to the 19th.  In each direction were signs saying Mandatory Death Sentence to Drug Traffickers.

My final drama in the office was getting Tang Eng Lock to return his car.  Every week was another excuse.  Finally I had to threaten police action.  On the day he was meant to return the car he called and told me I would never believe what happened.  He said a snake had fallen from a tree and slithered into the engine block. It would take weeks to repair.  I was furious and told him, “You may think I’m a stupid American but no fucking snake slithered into the fucking engine.  Get that car back here immediately.”  He did.

I still had two years on my international contract.  During my time in Singapore I had become friends with the former Needham regional president, an Australian from Melbourne.  He gave me safe passage.  We didn’t really want to move to Australia.  We thought it would be like the States in the 1950’s.  I made trips to Melbourne, once again renting a house and finding a school for the boys.  This was becoming all too familiar.  Flying from Singapore the plane crossed hours and hours of nothing but red desert. I flew alone, into the unknown.

I rented a fine house in Black Rock a block from the beach.  The house was owned by the captain of the recently won America’s Cup Race.  I enrolled our boys in Haileybury College.  Both decisions turned out to be the best I could have made.  We stayed more than three years. Australia wasn’t anything like we had imagined.  A degree of normalcy entered our lives.