Good Day

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Matt Geiger

In recent weeks, I’ve been following Australian news rather than its US counterpart. It’s more fun, as a spectator, because I’m protected by a vast ocean from the idiots who headline their stories. If those politicians and criminals (putting “and” in between two synonyms feels incorrect) want to come here and harm me and my family, we will at least have some time to prepare, thanks to the 100-hour flight. Plus, their stories–including both the fluffy ones and the serious ones–always include bonkers details delivered in absolutely straight faces by their newscasters.

“A young girl who was eaten by a shark in Dungadoo last month has now taken top honors at the regional school spelling bee, eking out a victory against two wombats and a billabong,” a man in a suit will say in the teaser, causing me to scrunch my face and glance up from my work. Wait, what??

“The extinct BongaShark has been wreaking havoc on the Outback’s feral camel population. Find out how at six!” 

But how??

Australia seems to face issues that are similar in nature but very different, both tonally and linguistically, to ours. Politicians there are just as corrupt and two-faced as ours are, but there you at least have a 50 to 75 percent chance of seeing them get stung by a poisonous insect or knocked out cold in a boxing match with a kangaroo. Come to think of it, I think the prime minister might actually be a kangaroo. 

I know what some of you are thinking: “Matt, these are insensitive, outdated, harmful cultural stereotypes.” I understand the instinct to say that, but I urge you to watch some Australian news and come back to me to admit that I’m actually underselling the zaniness factor by a factor of 1,000. 

The point is, we can learn lessons from all of the human beings with whom we share this planet, even the ones whose lives are full of slightly different incidental details. One day, not that long ago, a fairly unspectacular guy released a few (and I mean a few, literally) rabbits into the inhospitable Australian Outback. The rabbits, apparently unaware what inhospitable means, proceeded to take over much of the continent. Just a few years later, people killed 100,000 of them and didn’t even make a dent in the population. Rabbits in the United States, I will remind you, are famously fragile. They are so fragile, in fact, that each Easter I receive press releases from vets reminding everyone that if a wobbly, iron-fisted toddler even looks at a live bunny, that rabbit’s nature will be fundamentally changed, by which I mean it will die immediately. And yet in Australia, the land of crocodiles and dingoes and an animal that is literally called a devil, rabbits are made of adamantium and cannot be killed, even by nuclear weapons. 

Camels did something similar, and now there are millions of them wandering the Outback, despite the fact that they did not evolve there. Domestic dogs brought there by ancient seafarers did so well they are now considered a native species, the aforementioned dingo. It’s not really too surprising that cats, who are famously immortal, are also thriving. Cats would thrive on the surface of the sun if they got loose there. 

Australians live in a place where everything seems to be trying to kill you, from the sun to the snakes, and do you know what they say to each other all the time? “G’Day!” It’s literally a contraction of “Good Day!” What a wonderful disposition!

I once saw a news story in Australia about an older couple whose couch-potato dog fell overboard at sea during a violent storm. The nearest land was a tiny, sun-scorched, uninhabited island five miles away. To reach it would have required swimming through some of the most shark-infested waters in the world, and, just in case your attention span is short, the sea was raging due to a terrifying storm that day (and night). The couple sailed home to mainland Australia, where they shed a few tears for their dog and returned to life on land. But four months later, a wildlife warden spotted their dog. Alive. She had apparently swum to shore, unbothered by the thunderous waves or the ravenous sharks or the astonishing distance and carved out a new life on the island. The only difference was that she was noticeably fatter, due to all the wild goats on which she had been gorging herself. The dog, who was named “Sophie Tucker,” which sounds delightfully Australian to me, was brought home and reunited with her owners. She promptly sat back down on the couch and resumed dozing and eating kibble while her owners watched TV. That is what the average dog is like in Australia, apparently. 

Now, compare this to our news stories, all of which for the past five years have had one of the following three headlines: “Donald Trump said something incredibly rude,” “Joe Biden is incredibly old,” or “New poll shows Americans are divided about politics.” Who in their right mind would want to settle in and follow the American version each night? 

And I actually didn’t switch directly from American news to its Australian counterpart, anyway. I spent several years following Russian daily events in between. The Russian stories are similar to the Australian ones, only the outcome to literally everything there is tragic. It is also very cold, and you call people different names there based on your relationship to them.

“A young girl who won the regional spelling bee has been eaten by a wolf that later starved to death,” will grumble their news anchor. “Also, the wolf was poisoned, shot and stabbed. We would like to remind our viewers this evening that if the little girl had survived the wolf attack, she would have eventually grown old and died, anyway. So will I. So will you. Everyone dies. Good night.” 

I’m surprised the Russians don’t say “B’Day,” adding their own flavor to “G’Day.”

Also, definite and indefinite articles (words like “a” and “an” etc.) do not exist in the Russian language. Ancient Russians were simply too busy fighting with Tatars to invent them. So, instead of “A man was in the room,” they say: “Man in Room.” It sounds cranky even if it’s delivering good news. “Man won lottery.” 

I saw one news story about an elderly Russian woman who axed a wild wolf to death when it thought she would make an easy meal. Honestly, how dumb do you have to be to think an 82-year-old Russian woman would be easy to kill? I think elderly Russian women are considered apex predators. 

I recently read the following headline, and keep in mind it was not in a satirical (at least, not intentionally satirical) publication: “Russia strengthens Arctic army as Putin’s new weapon could spark radioactive tsunamis.” I mean, that’s not good news, but it is certainly good news.

Whenever I gather with friends, and they want to talk about American issues, I always have a vague grasp on what they are discussing, but the only hard details I can offer are related to the Ukrainian separatist movements or the fact that in Australia, they have a rabbit-proof fence that is three times the length of the Great Wall of China.  

“But Matt, what happens in Australia and Russia has nothing to do with you!” they always scold me. “You have to obsessively follow everything that happens in the United States, a country of nearly four million square miles that is home to more than 300 million people.” But all of us, in America, are very different too. We are people of the mountains, people of the prairies, people of the bayous and people of the sea and the desert. People are people, wherever you go. They love their kids, they try to love themselves (that part can be harder) and they try to make sense of a world that really, if we can be honest for a moment, doesn’t make any sense. 

And the way I see it, those 300 million people with whom I share a country aren’t really an imminent threat to me or my family, or those we care about. There are some dangerous individuals and institutions, to be sure, but that is not the only headline, or even the top one. Most Americans are no more of a threat than sharks or crocodiles or rabbits or wolves or crooked politicians or tough old ladies or even rabbits. The big story, really, the top headline, is that we are humans, eight billion of us, living out our lives alongside a vast menagerie of animals and ideas. Sometimes you can stroll up to the watering hole next to them and walk away without so much as a scratch. Sometimes they sneak or slither into your bedroom at night and sting you or bite you. Animals, ideas and people are all very hard to predict, so you never really know until after it happens. But they all want to live, to bear offspring, and to spread out across the landscape, however inhospitable it may seem to those on the outside looking in.

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