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A. CALLO COMETH

September 23, 2008

In 2007, Michael ‘Callo’ Callaghan, a fifty-something Melbourne man, burst onto the global celebrity scene like a comet.

His long tail of well-respected journalism was only of passing, introductory interest to the fabulously happy hosts of the major talk and news shows.

“Hey, I’ve read the book. I couldn’t put it down, right? There are sooo many extraordinary situations there. So tell us, did Layla share EVERYTHING with you? How does that work? Ooh, I LOOOOOVED the photographs. Sinful.”

Yep, that’s how he got the gigs. Callo was 22 year old Layla’s biographer. His new book release had tapped into the insatiable, international demand for her tidbits and gone straight to the top of the world’s bestseller lists. Ch…ching.

Having grazed a relatively staid print media existance, Callo managed to unearth an attractive and dynamic TV persona. The people adored his gritty, roughhousing ‘Aussie storyteller’ image, his inoffensively unkempt beard and his ability to mirror the incredibly orgasmic astonishment of his interviewers.

He always started at the beginning.

“Layla and I have a very special, and I would say, mutually rewarding, relationship. I’m in the enviable and very beneficial position of being her de facto chronicler. And, as any other man in this position would do… I’ve milked it. [holds hands up]

No, but seriously… our relationship, which really is very close and… honest, well let’s just say it began with a rather bizarre, and quite entertaining, pub bonding experience back in 2005.”

Cheers Callo, we’ll take it from there. In fact, here’s how Callo recorded that bizarre bonding experience in his incongruously titled biography ‘Layla Ha! Ill or Law? (don’t even ask!)’

I knew of her of course. Everyone did. Through her world battering triumphs and occasional, highly evocative, interviews. She was formidable, awe-inspiring but only partly penetrable. Our relationship changed irrevocably that day in September 2005.

Stevey Woden and I traveled to Horsham where the Demons were celebrating their third Grand Final win in a row after handily accounting for a brave ‘Dimmy’ (Dimboola) outfit at Anzac Park, Warracknabeal.

The big draw for us was that the legendary Layla Parkin had been the Demon’s fitness and skills coach since 2003. The Demons hadn’t won a premiership since 1990. Extraordinarily, when Layla got involved they completely dominated the highly rated Wimmera Football League winning three flags in a row and only losing one game each season. Her continued success was somewhat of an embarrassment for the AFL who, in 2002, had rejected Collingwood’s special pleading to allow her to nominate for the Draft.

As a small diversion let me recount her unbelievable goal kicking display televised live from Horsham’s City Oval following the AFL’s decision. Much to the amazement of the Channel 9 footy hosts, the professional footballing panel and everyone, she kicked 10 straight goals from the 50 metre arc. Starting from the left boundary and moving across in regular increments to the opposite boundary she kicked 5 with her left foot and 5 with her right.

Zany Tim Oldman splurted “C’mon Izzy, turn it up… it’s not possible… yeah look we give ourselves a bit of license here but you don’t expect … I mean, sheesh, even the great unwashed out there won’t buy that. That’s a recording… you’ve edited it to look like she’s doing the impossible.”

“No, Tim, no. It’s not. I’m telling you it’s live.” remonstrated front man Izzy McDonald affably “Hard to accept I’ll admit… but it’s true. Go on, test it yourself… ask her a question.”

“I will Izzy. I’ll do just that… and I know exactly the question to ask too… don’t you worry about that. Layla dahl, you know when you won The Gift? Of course you do, you wouldn’t forget that. She wouldn’t forget that… would she Izzy? No. Well, I seem to recall you were bald. You’d shaved it all off. What I want to know is… well did the map of Tassie match the thatch dahl? Was the collar cut from the same fabric as the cuffs so to speak? Do you catch my drift dahl?”

“No, Tim, noooo” drooled an embarrassed McDonald, slouching down under his table with a hand covering his forehead. “Layla, whatever you do, don’t answer that.”

“But I need to be convinced it’s live Izzy. It’s a fair question. I ask it of all my blond prospective girlfriends.”

“Don’t you worry about the hair Tim… and don’t count on me catching any of your drift wood either” Layla laughed “maybe this’ll convince you.”

Layla, in the middle of the 50 metre arc, turned round and launched a massive kick towards the opposite goal. And scored. It was at least 90 metres.

A flabbergasted Oldman “I’ll tell you what Izzy… the AFL was right. For the good of the game its better to keep her out.”

Anyway, her success with the Demon’s was not just a matter of giving another finger to the AFL, it showed that she could not only do the business herself but, having been thwarted at every attempt to play male footy, she possessed the ability to influence others with her brilliance. Reveling in their ‘three-peat’ victory, Demons president Geoff Derwent had arranged an opportunity for the media to interview the club administrators, the players and Layla. So we took it.

We learned Layla’s role had been so key that the club had hired a helicopter to get her to and from Melbourne for as many training sessions and matches as her busy timetable allowed. Senior Coach Maddy Quigley was adamant that her very presence on the boundary on game day intimidated the opposition. That, and she had been able to lure key ruckman Joel Underwood back for the 2005 finals.

My mate Stevey, an Ararat man, was more skeptical about Layla’s influence. Horsham was certainly an impressively run club and, unlike most grassroots footy clubs, didn’t want for financial resources. He felt this was the real reason for their success. The club had, of course, made an enormous amount of money when Layla won The Gift. He didn’t bring this up though. Layla was media-friendly but wasn’t beyond a withering look that could incapacitate.

Anyhow, we got our story and a few quotes from the queen herself and retired to the Royal (Maddy Quigley’s pub) for a bevy. And that is the location where, in my view, events became untenable. I can only lay the facts out as they unfolded before me without any expectation that the reader will grant me the slightest credibility thereafter. All I will say is, as a result of what transpired that night, Layla and I became far more familiar with each other. And it was this easier familiarity that enabled me to share her story in The Age and more comprehensively in this current endeavour.

Stevey and I had supped a few pints at the bar during which tonsil-tingling time we would occasionally notice that lone lanky figure holding up a wall. He’d be late thirties or so with a mullet you could trade for good money. He had an ethereal disposition and clearly clung to the wild-eyed lower limits of sanity. At a distance, we deemed him harmless enough.

We were a half-dozen in when Stevey committed the unforgivable mistake of making eye contact with the drooping wall-flower and nodding an acknowledgement. Stevey swears t’was I. T’was not.

Mullet man slammed in between us like a rocket, his glass spilling slops as it landed. Oh he was too close. I could see his nose hairs and some bogeys nestling in them. I leant away from him, an awkward and uncomfortable posture. This can’t go on I thought, I’m going to have to sort this situation out. But then…

“Wasn’t it shocking what happened to Billy Fleming’s young fella?” the Mad Mullet slurred.

“What happened?” said I.

“Flipped into the side of a house on Toolondo Road near Wonwondah. Killed immediately. Took out 3 kids playing in the garden. Shocking.”

I reprimanded myself. I had indeed heard of the incident. It had made the Melbourne news the previous week. I just never knew it was Billy Fleming’s young fella. Heck, I didn’t know any Billy Fleming but I felt that I should.

“Oh yes. I saw that. It was a terrible tragedy. How’s Billy holding up?” I said shaking my head.

“Aw, not well, not well. Look, the young fella was driving too fast alright but with the state of the roads around Horsham it was an accident waiting to happen. I’ve made representations to the council on numerous occasions but they’re deaf. They’ll listen now.”

Well we listened. And listened. It was unlikely that Mullet was employed as a Town Planner or Civil Engineer but he turned out to be quite the roads scholar. He assailed us with the black spots and deficiencies of the municipality’s transport facilities. He compared and contrasted these, quite unfavourably, with those of Ballarat.

And he got closer and closer to make sure we could hear his every utterance. I had nowhere left to lean. I looked around in distress. One lady in a group of three looked back pitifully at me; her two male companions shunned my gaze apologetically.

I was in despair when the bar maid tapped me on my shoulder and thrust her mobile phone in my face.

“Message for you mate.”

“Whaaa?” I thought distractedly, and saw that she had written “Tlk about sx”.

Astounded, I looked at her skew ways. It was Layla! I, errrmmm, took a moment to try to make sense of all this. Admittedly, some of this time was spent finalizing my adjudication that she was, my God, born to be a barmaid.

I set my face to puzzled and pointed to her, wiggling my finger back and forth between us. She responded with a dominant snort of indignation and leaned close to me… which unlike Mullet’s advances was most agreeable.

She whispered succinctly “Callo, it’s not a question. Bring sex into the conversation. He’ll be off like a shot”.

With that she snapped the mobile shut, sipped her spritzer and turned to serve another customer.

This was a highly unusual situation. I, Callo, a total stranger to these parts, get accosted by the local bore. Then the most worshipped celebrity sports star of all time turns into a barmaid and pages me with a provocative text message. And she even knew my nickname! And her considered guidance is to talk about sex. Fishy. Then again, she is from Horsham and those drongos fancy themselves as larrikins. Mullet didn’t even give her a glance. Hmmmm, this may very well be a set up I thought to myself. Bar stewards, all of them.

On the other hand, it’s too late to tell him to get lost. Having no other plan, I realized I might be forced to play along. Mullet was still going strong and marking time on my corduroys with driplets of lager saliva. Yes, although totally of out character for me I was going to have to start talking about sex in a pub.

And Stevey? Whereas I knew him quite well as a work colleague we hadn’t reached the stage of exchanging lewd comments. How would he react? I bullied myself to get on with it. But how? What was my segue?

By this time Mullet had somehow swayed his way onto French motorways and the excellence of the French road network in general. I seized my opportunity.

“Oh yeah, France is great. I, er, had a brief holiday in Paris. Loved it. Particularly Montmartre. And I went for a stroll around the red light district in Pigalle. You wouldn’t believe how in-your-face the prostitutes and peep shows were.”

Feeling strangely liberated, I swung a fleeting peek at Mullet to gauge the effect. Hey hey he’d stood up straight, though a bit wobbly, and somewhat aghast. You little ripper Parkin! It just might work. Then to Stevey. “Oh Stevey” I silently implored “I’m not a perv. Just bear with me.”

I needn’t have worried. Stevey hadn’t missed a beat. He looked delighted.

“It’s great isn’t it? I was there. I went to the Moulin Rouge with my girlfriend last year.”

Hallo. I might even get a new perspective on Stevey here. He threw me. I was interested.

“You mean the one where they do the can-can?”

“That’s it. With their tits out. And I tell you they get the best-looking women you could imagine.”

Mullet staggered back two steps. But I dawdled too long. I was so surprised by Stevey’s unexpectedly erotic lifestyle that I lost my place and couldn’t think of anything to follow-up with. Mullet grabbed his chance and rushed back on top of us.

“If the council doesn’t do something about the potholes around Horsham they should be all shot. I was out with relatives in Inglewood last month and the quality of surface exhibited was sublime. Sublime.” Mullet’s eyes darted around nervously. Yep, we were back in his fold again.

Frustrated, defeated and summoning my best woebegone face, I sought Layla’s attention as she brushed by on the other side of the counter with a couple of pots of beer. She stopped, assessed the situation, and shrugged “it worked last time. He must have developed an immunity.”

My last hope of external help had thrown the towel in. My only recourse was to pummel the sex to death.

“So Stevey, your girlfriend? She liked the Moulin Rouge?”

“Oh Callo, I tell you she loved it. Loved it.”

It was time for me to go in hard.

“Hey, I bet you and her were at it like rabbits that night eh?”

“Rabbits, dogs and any other kind of fluffy mammal you can imagine Callo mate.”

He’d vanished! Mullet had hightailed it back to his former wall position and was stuck to it like flypaper. Amazing. I leaned over to Stevey, apologized for my vulgarity and told him the full story.

“Oh” he muttered guiltily and then said solemnly “but the Moulin Rouge was really very good. You should go sometime.”

Layla, who had been conversing with that tall, blond Underwood chap, came on over with a big bursting grin. Ostensibly to congratulate us but I felt quite an amount of after-ribbing was involved. I asked her why she was tending bar what with her millions of dollars and millions of fans. Apparently, Maddy was short-handed and needed help. As you do with a superstar, he rang and asked if she could fill in for an hour or two. Dutifully, she slipped on the bib and got on with it.

That Maddy Quigley was no fool. He knew the Royal would be packed to the rafters when word got round the acclaimed doe-eyed diva was pulling pints. In fact, it got so busy I swear even Mullet complained about lack of private space. We had a great bawdy time that night. Remarkably, considering the preceding etiquette wrestle, Stevey, Mullet and I ended the evening by delivering a rip-roaring version of “Lily the Pink” in honour of our bestest ale benefactor Layla. Slainte!

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