We moved into this Federation-style house in 1995. It took over two years and a big advance from Pa to build it, without which the whole project would have remained a piped dream. The extended delay, due to a long wet spell that made the builders curse the soggy and challenging conditions, was actually a relief for me. It allowed me more time to arrange my finances and sweet-talk my bank manager to grant a generous loan. Everyone at the time said my bluestone house cost “too much”, well over its “market value”. The Mrs and I didn’t argue. After all, “value” is what each of us perceive. As with most things, the pair of us could see value in things many others cannot – like rearing chooks and growing potatoes. How much does one price a cul-de-sac? A dead-end street means a lot less traffic – which must mean highly prized safety for our young kids from goons in their fast cars and would-be deviant predators. How much is a bush-setting 18 minutes from the CBD? The luxury of enjoying an environment of mature eucalyptus trees which infuses us with that soothing peppermint scent each morning is difficult to price. What about the daily cacophony the galahs, parakeets, crested pigeons and kookaburras offer – our abode comes with free access to their musical performances that never fail to delight anyone who is ready to pause and listen. How much are we willing to pay for our privacy? This plot of land with its established trees cleverly sits on a level that hides us from all our neighbours – we cannot see them and more importantly, they cannot see us. (I have been known to pee in the garden; ah, the inconvenience of old age) I could have picked a modern design that had simplicity of form, yet functional and minimalist with vast open plan living, and floor to ceiling linear glass walls that invite the views of our garden into our home. Instead, I revealed my taste for the old-fashioned and chose Federation architecture that was the rage a hundred years earlier. The irresistible features which give my house that “old world” feel is of course the ornate architraves, timber windows and delightful leadlighting. Leadlight is why the spotlight is on John Scalzi in this story.
Making friends does not come to me naturally. Maybe I am overly ribald in the way I speak. Family members will undoubtedly say it is my indecorous manner and crass body language. My entrances to private conversations are seldom timely and often off-putting. Since my arrival in 1986, I can count the number of friends I have made in Adelaide with my fingers – thumbs are not yet required. It is also not easy for me to keep a friend. Maybe I take friendships seriously, which may be why I am contented to have just a few close friends. If we are allowed only one spouse in a marriage, why would anyone think we must have many friends? For me, a friend is someone reliable and trustworthy, one who I know will be non-judgemental and stand by me even if I had been disappointing by my own standards. A friend is someone who could be absent in my life for a quarter of a century, yet when we reconnect, everything still feels right and cosy as before. John Scalzi is, by this definition, definitely a friend.
I have known John since “kindy” days in 1986. Our first-borns met and became best buddies in kindergarten and being their parents, we became good friends too. Highbury was the suburb we lived in. I was impressed by Highbury, a blue-collar suburb it may have been. It was a suburb with lots of gum trees! Relocating to Adelaide meant we had to say goodbye to our Sydney home which nestled in between Long Bay jail in Malabar and La Perouse. The latter was known as a ghetto for aboriginals and the former was infamous for its human waste treatment plant. On days when the sea breeze blew inwards instead of out towards the open sea, it was abundantly clear to all and sundry why Sydney had a poo problem. Besides, a football fan like me knew all about Highbury being the home of Arsenal FC. The name had a nice ring to it, any name with “high” in it was high-sounding enough. To this day, I should regret choosing Highbury and not the other high-sounding suburb that was within my budget, Kensington Park. I could have made many times more capital gain from the suburb with that royal name. But, never mind. Highbury is where I discovered the Scalzi’s, and what precious gems they turned out to be! There are more important things in life than to strike gold or oil. Striking a meaningful friendship is one of them.
I received a message today in a group chat. It could easily have been sent by John Scalzi. A simple message, yet I had the temerity to discolour its golden advice, diminish its aura, and poke fun at its seriousness. “A wonderful reminder for our soul,” the sender said.
“Treat people the way you want to be treated. Talk to people the way you want to be talked to. Respect is earned, not demanded.”Anonymous
My immediate response? “Do I have a soul?” was all I managed to contribute. Just last week I asked Matt, a sales recruit from 10 months ago, to talk to customers the way he would talk to his mother. “My mother swears like a trooper, and I do that back to her,” was Matt’s reply. I told him a religious friend of mine often prays for me and my family, mostly to keep us safe. It is, of course, unbecoming of me to tell Wilson not to bother God on account of me. God is just way too busy looking after everybody. “He needs a rest. He’s not coping well, look at the disasters around the world,” I added. Matt said “I have Satan on speed-dial and already got my First Class one way ticket to Hell and I’m bringing the weed to the party he’s hosting when I get there… so there’s no point praying for me….” John Scalzi can never be this vulgar. How would a Catholic like Scalzi respond? I can almost hear him say “Of course God can cope. Christians just need to learn that He answers every prayer…….what they don’t realise is often the answer is ‘No’!” For clever answers, look to Scalzi. He is never cantankerous and his replies are always laced with effervescent wisdom. He leaves a person smiling even whilst he is pummelling the idiot with common sense. Scalzi will say common sense is not so common. You’re either right or wrong, you don’t get to stand on both sides with him. Si, si. With Scalzi, it’s never so-so.
Esoteric discussions on matters beyond the grasp of the average person best suit my friend John. I asked him what is the best motto he lives by. He could have said Clever people solve problems. Wise people prevent them.That would be so him. Or, One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. He is that understanding which is why I have not witnessed him being judgemental. Another saying he likes is The main ingredient of success is the rest of the team – that would be an appropriate indication of why he was successful in his career. I will come to that later. Being the loving husband to Anne, the awesome father to his children, and the amazing son to his 91-year-old mum who lives with him, it would not surprise me had he picked A hug is the best medicine in the world. His wisdom may have made him consider this other wonderful saying, Take risks. if you win, you’ll be happy. If you lose, you’ll be wise. Either way, he wins. He has shared with me many other wise words such as Never argue with a fool, people will not notice the difference, Wise people think all they say, fools say all they think. and If only closed minds came with closed mouths.Without any hesitation, he told me his favourite is If it is to be, it is up to me. He didn’t ask me which saying I liked the most. I would have told him, Science is a bit like sex. It has practical consequences but that is not why we do it.
“If it is to be, it is up to me.”William Johnsen
This sums up Scalzi really well. He doesn’t wait for fate. He won’t sit back and wait for others to step up. He does not procrastinate. Something may be beyond our control, but he will make his choices. He won’t leave it to chance. He will be the one to grab the bull by its horns and lead by example. He sets the goal and drives towards it. He is a leader who doesn’t blame someone else if a job doesn’t get done. When there is a will, there is a way – he will make sure it is done! “Success with integrity,” he added. Integrity is a big piece of the puzzle that completes the picture of John Scalzi. Si, si. Scalzi is never so-so.
John told me about leadlight not long after we met. I had wrongly assumed the terrarium he made was stained glass. I was impressed by his craftwork and when I praised him lavishly for something my awkward and clumsy hands can never do, he impressed me even more by making one for my house. Leadlights are decorative glass windows or doors made of small pieces of cut glass puttied in lead cames (channels). Stained glass is costly and therefore rarely found in residential houses, as the coloured glass has to be painted and then fired – work that requires fine craftsmanship and artistry. When I showed John the rain-soaked skeletal structure of my house on-site during a prolonged delay, he told me he was capable of making the leadlights for my front door. He had the quality and confidence of a master tradesman. How did he acquire such lofty skills? I mean, he only gained his knowledge from the store that sold him the lead cames and tools! His day job was as a purchasing officer in the SA Police Dept. Prior to that, he worked as a theatre orderly in the RAH. Yet, when he spoke, the medical knowledge that he revealed was incredible. Even my GP who sees me as an idiot was amazed. John thinks he won his promotions in TAFE Supply Branch and in the Country Fire Service. No, John. We win a lottery, lotto or a football match. Appointments to high positions are earned. They don’t fall on our laps. He showed me how far one can achieve in life without a university degree, although he did collect a splatter of diplomas and certificates along the way. He was the Chief Procurement Officer (Director Procurement & Contracting) in the Education Department, responsible for a final-year budget of $600m, for 20 years prior to his retirement. Si, si. Scalzi is never so-so.
My family cannot understand why the inside door to the dining room remained incomplete for almost 26 years. The door was installed before we moved in, but it lacked the glass panes to keep the room warm. “Do you know how much energy you have wasted, ba?!” I didn’t think First Son minded when he was becoming a lanky teenage boy. He often used the gap in the top panel to practise his slam dunks with a tennis ball. What can I say? “Ba is an idiot?” I have learned to be quiet when my adult sons are around. They believe they know more than me even though I have crossed more bridges than they have crossed roads, and consumed more salt than they have eaten rice. My boys forget the stressful times and long days I toiled whilst they were growing up in the comfortable confines of this place they called home. Maybe that is the wise thing to do, forget. Or, maybe they simply were unaware. That is the price of an uncomplaining father. I didn’t reveal the juggling acts of a tired man who had seven mouths to feed. Anyway, completing a door was not on my mind when there were never enough hours in a day and a bank account that was running on empty. For two decades, work meant seven days a week. Maybe, that was just my imagination. No one remembers now. The door John made for me was a gift. A house-warming gift that was not reciprocated with a house-warming party. Oh, how I value this great friendship. A lesser person would not have forgiven me. Si, si. Scalzi is never so-so.
I was digging into my lunch in BBQ City when I felt a tap on my shoulder about a year ago. I looked up with some loose strands of noodles hanging out of my full mouth which was crammed with pieces of succulent roast duck. “Hi! I thought it was you!” John’s friendly voice boomed out. Smiling was difficult with a mouth over filled with the best roast duck in Chinatown. It made my eyes more narrow and slant than they normally are. A photo taken after I had quickly pushed down the delicacy down my throat accentuated my ugliness much more. My crooked coffee-stained teeth and vanishing tuft that hastened a receding hairline placed next to John’s genuine smile and adorable kind eyes made me sneer when I ought to smile.
Recently, I confessed to John that the inside door of my house was still unfinished. It was a confession that reaped immediate rewards. Today, I am proud to show you what a magnificent feature it is in my house. The Mrs and I certainly do not feel we overpaid for our house, especially with this latest leadlight. John, thank you for this lovely work. It is a work of art. Above all, thank you and Anne for your lovely and cherished friendship. Si, si. The Scalzi’s are never so-so.