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6) The Religiously Confused Part Of Castlereagh Street

When I was in the early years of high school, I found religion very interesting. Mainly it was because I was attending Sydney Boys High School, quite a way out of my comfy ethnic suburban upbringing. There were lots of nationalities and cultures there, not just the same five or six. Josh was the first of many Jewish friends I would make in my life.

I went to Josh’s Bar Mitzvah when he turned 13. Man, it was so awesome. His parents hired out the Panoramic Room at Randwick Racecourse, and over the monitors that usually displayed racing statistic, Josh had put on Star Wars: A New Hope. It was cool.

(Note: in these openly communitative times, I’m noting that all names used maybe false)

Anyway I point this out because at age whatever-I-was-at-the-time, religion, God and all thought of with equal curiosity and cynicism by Josh, who would never come out with us on Friday nights cos he had something on, and me, the son of the few unbelievers in an Church going/Salvation Army kind of family.

I mean, I for one was fascinated by Judaism. Such a rich long culture, with such a respectful grace about it. And of course a history of hardship. Lots of far out looking Synagogues.

There was a kid at school who was a Seventh Day Adventist. His name was Tom and he was a really great guy. Very funny. He ran funny too, but not in a way you could make fun of – he just had an odd style about him. There was another Jewish kid, who was a little awkward, had glasses, and wore a kippah, one of those Jewish skullcaps. And kids used to take it off him. Ah – kids are shits.

There were, of course, your garden variety Christians, Catholics, Muslims, etc. Even things like the Korean kids, or some of the Lebanese kids – some had it tough with their parents being really strict. They couldn’t go out after school etc. That seemed to come from the same place as religion. It’s how your parents are making you live your life. Maybe that’s cruel, but it was fairly true. In most cases, talk of religion was like showing other kids what your parents made you for lunch. You’re a little embarrassed, but everyone knows that there’s nothing you could have done. Five minutes later we’d all be equal on the touch footy field anyway.

There were two other religions that we were fascinated by. Two that were kind of new to me around this time, and I never met any kids who were these religions. The first was the Mormons. They were amazing to look at, first and foremost. So clean cut. I did spend an afternoon with a couple of American orphans years later. But I really need to move on to the second of the two…Scientology.

Firstly, the name. I don’t get it. Were these people the ones who believed in Science? It was like sex education all over again. There were kids who would somehow have that knowledge that we didn’t have – about girls, about drugs. And a couple, they kind of knew about Scientology.

We all agreed it was weird. We knew that it involved giving money a lot, some weird mind games and strange astrological beliefs (that was just the girls – ha ha). But we were willing to find out more. Josh, who has the best sense of humour you’ll ever meet, decided to come with me one day, to the Scientology building on Castlereagh St in the city (it was across from Kings Comics anyway).

So one day after school, we decided we were going to get some literature. This was almost the same situation that would happen that same year, when we tried to get Alex to buy a condom at the Condom Kingdom. That boyish curiosity mixed with a sense of danger. So Josh and I approached the building. We were looking at each other nervously. It was like we had chocolate in our pockets and as soon as the shopkeeper stirred, we’d run.

And that’s when the hat rack style pamphlet holder near the door of the building decided to fall over and die. On a windless day, it just went ker-plunk, leaving Scientology literature scattered at our feet. We had no idea what happened. It occurred to us, right away, that it could well be an act of God. All I know was that we looked like two little shits in scruffy school uniforms who just pushed over some poor people’s display thing for kicks.

Needless to say, we ran.

I haven’t thought about that incident in years, but even as weird and amazing as that was (and how far we dined on that story), that’s not the reason I love that area of Sydney. I love it because it’s right next to an Anglican Church. I remember it was years later that I noticed this. Sad, cos the Church is quite interesting to look at, but it’s kid of dulled over the years that I missed it completely.

I do wonder what, say, the roaches who live in between the walls of the two places believe in. Surely they are in direct competition. I wonder if one kicks a football over the fence, if it’s returned, or deemed lost. It’s all so confusing. All of it.

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