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all dressed up and nowhere to go

Standing in an eighteenth century period costume complete with hoops, looking like The Joker with tears streaming down my face at 4am on Adelaide’s Rundle Street, I wondered how it had come to this.

Until that moment, I thought that I was pretty good at gauging situations and had the smarts to keep out of trouble when I went out. But I guess all it takes is one person to rub you the wrong way and a few too many vodka cranberries and anything can happen.

It was the night of a joint birthday party with my good friend; we were celebrating twenty-six years on the planet. Twenty-six relatively altercation-free and happy years during which my worst brush with alcohol was getting trundled into emergency by four concerned friends. We were dressed as Inuits. I was fine. That’s another story.

But what happened the evening of Joker face was enough to get our adrenalin going and make us all wish we’d left our party venue when they turned off the lights and ushered us out with a mop at 2am.

The first spat started when we moved on to a busy pub. My favourite pub.

I went to the loo with my friend who was wearing a similar costume to me (have you ever tried to pee in a period costume? It’s a nightmare). We returned to the bar and found a small group of my friends from Italy had got into a fight with another guy over the ‘N’ word. My Italian friends were escorted outside and chaos continued inside as people tried to work out what had happened.

We decided that there was a gross cultural misunderstanding that got heated because no one understood each other and had no patience because they were testosterony and drunk.

Emotions were running high, but we decided we wanted to rectify the evening. We headed to the bar where, fast forward twenty minutes, I would reassess my consumption of alcohol and assume the challenge of ‘Sober September’.

I don’t know why I thought it was such a big deal that there was a $20 Eftpos limit at the bar. Usually I’d just buy a couple of drinks for my friends and leave it at that. But the bar girl bothered me, ignoring me when I wanted to order, and giving me the hairy eyeball because I pretended to take a fellow patron’s drink (a shared joke between another girl and I).

But that night, I didn’t want to spend too much on alcohol. This would be my final drink and I wasn’t prepared to pay $20 for it, nor pay $2.50 to use their ATM. So when I got told I couldn’t use my card, I decided I didn’t need the drink, left it untouched and walked away. Next thing I know, the bartender and bouncer were escorting me outside.

For the first time, I had been escorted off licensed premises: not for dancing on a table or fraternising in the toilets –it was for saying no to alcohol. I was confused, dignityless, friendless and alone except for three bouncers who stood and looked on with a strange curiosity.

As a child I would cry hiccupping in the corner when I got sent there for talking too loudly. So when I got chucked out of a bar, I consequently cried like a baby. I stood there wishing I had just spent the money so I could be inside with my friends, in the warm and having fun.

No one knew where I was. None of my friends answered their phones. I resorted to approaching a bouncer. ‘Sorry…hic! Can you please find my friend inside and tell her I’m outside. She’s dressed just like me… hic!’

He was sympathetic.

Would I have acted differently if I hadn’t been drinking? Would things have been different if my friends hadn’t been involved in a fight earlier? One time, I thought I was safe from the advertised violence and awkward situations of binge drinking. I’m sensible, my friends are sensible, but do I trust the people around me?

I waited, standing on the footpath in the cold, swaying my hoops and quietly singing “Happy Birthday” to myself and wondered if bars really do need to be open after 2am.

A Mecca of stragglers and desperadoes, drunkards, tottering high heels, black bare feet and very sad costume party leftovers.

Nothing good happens after 2am.

By Natalie Oliveri

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