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Welcome to Watertown, mate

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I come from a land down under where beer flows and men chunder.

When I was 16 years old, a few friends and I went to the local grocery store armed with a cardboard cutout of Australian professional golfer Greg “The Shark” Norman and a video camera. Our goal: to secure a six pack of Foster’s — because, as the slogan goes, “It’s Australian for beer.”

We weren’t successful, although the resultant video, set to the song “Land Down Under” by the Australian rock group Men at Work, marked a high point of our high school hi-jinks.

At the time, most of our impressions of Australians were caricatures of the real thing and we congratulated ourselves on the cleverness of our work.

Eight years later I moved next door to an irrepressibly cheerful Australian named Mitchell L. Hayes — a man who quickly became one of my best friends and both confirmed and shattered some of my earlier notions of what it means to be from the “Land Down Under.”

The very definition of a fun-loving and gregarious Australian, Mitch is also incredibly intelligent with a deep thoughtfulness and worldly understanding far beyond his years.

An accomplished runner and athlete, he’s a man of prodigious talents and ability but is still down to earth. Socially adept, he greased the wheels during my transition from the military to college and introduced me to many of the people I now consider great friends. I am incredibly indebted to him for that service. He’s also a better boxer than me, though we are both clumsy compared to our Iranian instructor, Mehrzad.

He has also given me some insight into the intricate tricks Aussies play on the English language.

From him, I learned that “chunder” means to throw up after a night of heavy drinking and the phrase “rough as guts” can be used to describe the recalcitrant transmission of a pickup truck.

This past weekend I hosted Mitch, who lives in New York City, at my apartment here in Watertown.

There aren’t too many people who would make that trip and I was both excited and nervous about the prospect of having a visitor with as much energy as Mitch. “What the heck am I going to do with him?” I thought. After all, it’s November in the north country and the forecast was calling for snow.

It turns out I needn’t have worried. Mitch seemed to feel right at home here.

Mitch comes from Warwick, a small town near Brisbane that apparently has a lot in common with Watertown.

Though slightly smaller, it serves as the center municipality of a region with a strong agricultural industry and a largely conservative population. It’s served by the Warwick Daily News, a rough analogue for the Watertown Daily Times.

There’s a stark contrast in terms of climate, though, and our cold weather threw him off a bit, at first.

“Crikey,” he was heard to utter, more than once.

We stayed warm by indulging in all the north country delicacies: a chicken stir-fry sandwich at Jreck Subs, Tom and Jerrys at the Crystal Restaurant, coffee from the Lyric Bistro in Clayton, roasted garlic cheddar cheese from River Rat Cheese, Guinness and cider at Coleman’s Corner in Watertown and cheeseburger hash from Gram’s Diner in Adams.

By the time we watched the Watertown Privateers hockey team beat the Danville Dashers 3-1 Saturday night, Mitch was fully indoctrinated.

As the players took a victory lap, Mitch regarded them with all the pride of a hometown fan.

And he has given his seal of approval to Watertown, even describing Public Square as “picturesque” at one point.

We even brought things full circle by playing 30 minutes of virtual golf at the Syracuse mall before his flight.

Greg Norman would have been proud.

The most important lesson of the weekend, however, came Friday night, just after we arrived in Watertown.

A stranded driver asked us for help starting his car. We gave him a jump but neglected to ground out the negative cable on the engine block, placing it on the battery instead. The batteries started smoking and the copper cables turned red hot, melting the plastic coating like some sort of science fiction movie.

The moral of the story: never judge a culture by a beer commercial and always remember to ground out your jumper cables.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering Jefferson County government and politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at dflatley@wdt.net.

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