Are you a dude? I bet you are. I bet you’re such a dude you don’t know what a dude you are.
When we were moving to Australia, I remember watching Finding Nemo on the plane. Or, I should say, I think I remember that. Increasingly, these days, the senior partner tells me I’ve inherited one of my mother’s strongest tendencies: to never let the truth get between me and a good story. It’s a curse, or maybe a gift, at the very least a family trait. And, no, it’s not lying. It’s just a trick of the memory which makes facts fit a better story. So maybe it wasn’t actually on the plane but it was certainly around that time. I know that for sure because it’s bundled closely with my perceptions of what I wanted life in Australia to be . I wanted to become like Crush, the surfer-type turtle who helps Nemo’s dad find his way down the East Australian Current. I wanted to be a dude.
I love the word ‘dude’. I particularly love it when it’s used genuinely and without affectation. During beach volleyball games there is an unwritten rule: if a hottie walks past, the game can subtly pause so all players can have a good look. Fair enough. It’s normally the server who introduces the lull, as otherwise your wandering attention could lose you a point. I was once about to serve when a really hot bloke crossed the sand in an appropriately tight pair of shorts. My team-mate that day, who clearly didn’t know me very well, looked at what I was looking at and swung round confused. ‘Dude!’ he yelled. ‘That’s a dude!’
Another occasion which springs to mind was when a friend rescued me from One of Those Days, got me stoned and took me to play crazy golf. This, by the way, is a highly recommended rescue-plan. We were on Hole 8, trying to get the ball through the spinning windmill, onto the hippopotamus and down the winding path (at least that’s how I remember it), when the kids behind us started to play through. There were six or seven of them, excited ten-year olds who just needed telling how to behave.
‘Dude,’ said my friend, ‘that’s not cool, just wait up, yeah?’ And then next time it happened: ‘Dude! Just wait back!’
‘Don’t call me a dude!’ said the affronted ten-year old. And then, as he turned away to his mates, we heard him say. ‘What does that mean, anyway?’
Which says a lot really. You see, the word ‘dude’, so often confused with coolness, is actually sadly out-of-date, like a teacher dancing at a school disco. You can only use it ironically. Which comes to my other favourite use of the word. It’s when I go to the ocean with my mates, who politely ignore the fact that after four years of trying I still can’t really surf. ‘Dude, surfs up!’, as an sms, is a wonderfully sympathetic invitation. (Isn’t it?)
But the ten-year-old golfer asked a good question. What is a dude? Well, it’s not what I thought it was when I first saw Finding Nemo. Crush is a dude, but not because he says things like ‘Tja’ for yes, or can surf the current, or is sleepy-eyed or low-voiced or slow-thinking or cool. You can be all of these and still not be a dude. Like a guy I used to know. This guy is six foot something, slowly spoken, an awesome surfer, a gnarly mountain-biker, a fearless snowboarder. He’s quiet, extremely good at fixing things and almost always half-stoned. ‘Whoa’ I thought when I first met him. ‘What a dude.’ But I was wrong. Because, long story short, this guy turned out to be a bit of an arsehole. And you can’t be an arsehole and also a dude. Cool is cool, but decent is way cooler.
And that’s why Crush is a dude, because he helps Nemo’s dad find his way to his son. And that’s why all my mates are dudes. Some might surf better than others (most don’t surf at all), some might smoke more weed than others (I’m clean six months, two weeks and six days today!) and some of them might even be cool. I, personally, will never be cool. I have many qualities, but coolness is never going to be one of them. But I will cross the street to help a stranger, I’ll always avoid a fight and I will even, if it makes the world a better place, shrug my shoulders and let myself be wronged. All of which makes me a dude. Because, basically, a dude is like an old-fashioned gentleman. Or even better, it’s a modern gentleman, without the brylcream, the bias or the bullying. And if you’re reading this – and I hope you are – then you’re probably a friend of mine and you probably behave this way all the time. So chill out, man. You’re a dude. Even if you’re a chick.