of it

of it, but we wouldn’t have seen anything were it not for a woman named Pat, who was born in Melbourne and has lived there for most of her life. We’d met her a few years earlier, in Paris, where she’d come to spend a mid-July vacation. Over drinks in our living room, her face dewed with sweat, she taught us the term “shout,” as in “I’m shouting lunch.” This means that you’re treating, and that you don’t want any lip about it. “You can also say, ‘It’s my shout,’ or, ‘I’ll shout the next round,’ ” she told us.

We kept in touch after her visit, and when my work was done, and I was given a day and a half to spend as I liked, Pat offered herself as a guide. On that first afternoon, she showed us around Melbourne, and shouted coffee. The following morning, she picked us up at our hotel, and drove us into what she called “the bush.” I expected a wasteland of dust and human bones, but it was nothing like that. When Australians say “the bush,” they mean the woods. The forest.

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First, though, we had to get out of Melbourne, and drive beyond the seemingly endless suburbs. It was August, the dead of winter, and so we had the windows rolled up. The homes we passed were made of wood, many with high fences around the back yards. They didn’t look exactly like American houses, but I couldn’t quite identify the difference. Was it the roofs? I wondered. The siding? Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.

“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.

This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Pat has her own business, a good one that’s allowing her to retire at fifty-five. She owns three houses, and two cars, but, even without the stuff, she seems like a genuinely happy person. And that alone constitutes success.

I asked which two burners she had cut off, and she said that the first to go had been family. After that, she switched off her health. “How about you?”

I thought for a moment, and said that I’d cut off my friends. “It’s