So, Steve and I were having a Fosters in this crappy little bar in Cairns, when one of the local girls came up and started chatting up Stevie. Girls like Steve cause he's so completely harmless and fun looking. Picture a five foot tall jewish gnome with a big red beard and the most wonderful twinkle in his eyes. Our new galpal was really cute, and appreciative the way some Aussie ladies are when you are even halfway nice to them.  They love to trifle with the tender hearts of American boys.   They know we're usually good for a nice dinner and it makes their boyfriends crazy jealous.

So we're chatting, and her friend came over once the ice was broken and we started playing pool together and bought them each a beer and everyone was smiling, those goofy "hooking up," smiles. Then we noticed on the other side of the room three local blokes who all look like Mick Dundee, only ugly. Very unfriendly-looking guys, glowering darkly in our direction. The girls noticed the guys too and I suddenly had an epiphany: "we're fucked!"

After a few minutes of menacing stares, the three guys started over towards us.  They joined our little group and said G'day to the girls.  Clearly everyone knew each other.  Everyone except Steve and I that is.  After a few minutes of chit chat with the girls, they turned their attention to us. 

They had pegged us for Yanks before they even came over.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, most aussies more or less like yanks, at least in theory.  Steve and I didn't really fit the mold, but we clearly weren't from anywhere around there.  Two of them were about the same size, coloring and build, brothers probably, like two blond gorillas.  The other one was a smallish dark-complexioned redhead.  I vaguely remember somewhere hearing the term "black irish,"   and that's what came to mind when I looked at him. I reckoned that the shorter dark guy was the brains of the outfit, the twins seemed to hang back and wait for him to call the shots.  

Steve and I waited as well.  The conversation came to an abrupt halt and the girls sort of drifted out of the impact zone.  Steve caught my eye and gave me that goofy wink of his.  Like I said, the guy has a crazy sparkle in his eye, and he specializes in thinking outside the box.  In the present situation, I was glad to entertain any plausible alternative outcome to the punchout my stomach said we were headed for.

Oddly, the fighting scenario wasn't as alien to either Steve or I as it might have been.  Steve is a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do karate, and I was a freshly minted black belt as well, having invested four demented years of my life to the sport.  Since most of you probably aren't martialeros, it may not be entirely clear how Steve and I were considering our situation, so I'll elaborate.  Basically, we both *knew* exactly what we were going to do if this turned into a fight.  Our reactions would be more or less automatic because we'd practiced them a bazillion times before.  More blind reflex than anything.  I don't mean to over dramatize this, karate training is no guarantee of anything in a bar fight.  About all it meant was that we knew what we'd do, it didn't give us the barest clue about the biggest variable of all, what THEY were going to do.  Usually, in bar fights, someone has a gun or a knife, or just picks up a barstool and brains the other bloke outright.  They are pretty random really and us being black belts was only a slight advantage.  We both knew this.

Slim, as I had labeled the small guy, slid up and put his arm around me in the way that guys who intend to kill you in a bar often do.  

"Yanks?" he offered as a conversation starter.  

"Yup," sez I, "local blokes?"  

"Don't come much more local," said Slim, an occasion for much raucous laughter from the twins and, to my surprise, from Steve, who seemed to find this hilarious.  Steve kept chuckling like this was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.  At first our three new best friends glared at him, then they stopped laughing and just stared, a little weirded out by the thing.  

Once Steve had their attention he just stopped.  Completely.  Then, smiling, he turned around to the pool table we were leaning against and started picking up a few of the ivory balls.  The guys sort of bristled a bit and I instinctively moved a little closer to cover his back.  I remember thinking that the end was near.

Steve turned back to face them with a big handful of balls and with a big smile said, "Want to see something really cool?"  This was a show stopper, completely.  I mean what could a dorky looking jewboy with a big red beard who was about to get his ass beat by the local posse be packing that could be remotely cool.   I'd like to say that I pulled a Vulcan mind-meld and grokked his program, but I just sort of gave him the huh? look along with everybody else.  I noticed the girls edging back a little closer, which seemed like a positive sign.

"What ya got mate?" said Slim, apparently undecided, at least for the moment, about the best course of action.  Steve smiled at each of us individually, and, I'll never forget how much it impressed me at the time, shot a confident wink at me.  He turned to Slim with the pool balls in front of him and started to juggle.

First one ball, just sort of tossed up in the air, then caught with a satisfying click against the others in his hands. Then two balls, which still looked easy, then three, then four, using both hands.  He wasn't doing it fast, or particularly skillfully, but he didn't drop any, and the unexpectedness of the whole thing made it seem a little surreal.  Round and around and around.  

Then he started going faster, obviously concentrating harder and working up a little sweat.  He ramped it up one more level as he turned slowly around so that he was juggling over the pool table again, going flat out.  We could all tell that he was totally in the zone, a picture of reflex and focus.  And then he just stopped.  He literally pulled his hands out of the circle of revolving balls and let them crash down like bombs, one at a time on the felt-covered slate of the pool table.  Steve stood back like a proud father and smiled grandly at the noisy chaos.

The balls bounced a time or two, then rolled around randomly and finally everything came to a stop.  It was only then that we all looked at each other, as if for the first time, and grappled with the notion of what should happen next.  To everyone's great relief, one of the twins started laughing a huge goofy guffah, which almost immediately set off his brother, so we had a stereo kind of thing going down, then Slim gave in and started laughing as well.  The sheilas drifted back within reach.  And all was well.

In fact, it was great.  In my experience, once you break the ice with aussie blokes, you've got a friend for life.  The way they travel, it's a sure bet that they'll be showing up at your place within the next year or so for a visit.  Steve had definitely broken the ice and we were so totally in there.  Danny and Dale were the two "brothers," cousins as it turned out, and Geoff was the main man, Slim.  Slim's dad worked on the docks and had seen our research ship come in earlier in the week.  They were all currently on the dole, collecting pub money and playing the ponies a bit.  No worries at all.

They bought another round of Fosters and formally introduced the ladies to us, Nancy and, of course, Sheila1 .  They even suggested that we take the girls out for a bite, and made some restaurant recommendations.  I believe I mentioned earlier that aussie gals like Yanks, so suffice it to say that we had a grand evening.

And that, little cricket, is how you pick up Sheilas!

shei·la  "
n. Australian Slang

A girl or young woman.

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