LAST Friday night, I was refused entry to the gig of a 30-year-old Scottish alternative rock band because I was wearing thongs. Standing on the Bourke Street footpath outside The Palace, I wondered what Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie would make of it, and I cursed what we have become.
''The whole point of this country was that nothing particularly mattered,'' Liese muses in Chloe Hooper's The Engagement, pitting her new home against the English one she has left behind. ''Compared to London the streets of Melbourne seemed almost casually occupied. There was a lack of critical mass. There was a lack of critical anything. People felt obliged to tell me that The Economist had ranked this 'the world's most liveable city'.''
Sorry, Liese, your take on Melbourne is sooooo last century. ''Laid-back'' was once a native characteristic, a broad brush stroke to be proud of. Somewhere on the road to unparalleled ''liveability'', we became a place of silly rules and - to use a language Liese would recognise - jobsworths who are only too happy to enforce them.
Outside The Palace, pleading my case while trying hard to stay on the right side of the line that gets patrons punched by door staff, I asked the obvious question: Why? A range of reasons were given, and repeated by a venue spokesman in a Monday morning phone call.
You could cut yourself, they said. But there's nothing being sold in glass, I replied. And besides, what of all the women wearing sandals that offer no more coverage or protection than my thongs? But they have leather soles, they said, not rubber like your thongs. So, if it's about the sole rather than the upper, I protested, why aren't you turning away everyone in trainers?
But it's standard policy across the board, they said, falling back on the jobsworth's mantra: because we say so. They went on: in this day and age we have to; it's liquor licensing's fault; OH&S blah blah; it's an injury waiting to happen.
Then came the conversation's lose-the-will-to-live moment. ''Let's be realistic here - people get their feet stood on.'' Where do you possibly go from there?
Yes, people in large crowds do sometimes get their feet stood on. That's life. And if they're wearing thongs because it's a hot night and not steel-capped work boots, surely that's their lookout.
If I choose footwear that exposes my feet and happen to stub my toe or get splashed at the urinal, more fool me. What if I chose to wear full-coverage shoes, but in the act of trying to pick my nose I happen to poke my eye out? Might I take action against The Palace for letting me in without gloves?
As the door people and spokespeople pointed out, I had nowhere to go in this dispute. There was indeed a ''No thongs'' warning on both my $87 ticket and the venue's website. It was clearly my fault for not doing my ''homework''. More fool me again, but I stopped checking tickets to gigs at bog-standard inner-city band venues for anything more than confirmation of time and date about the time I stopped avoiding homework.
This is the head-bursting frustration of rules for the hell of it - once they've been made, there's no turning back, not even if those enforcing them are open to showing the quality that's lacking: common sense.
Mercifully, one of my two companions (both resplendent in sensible footwear, bless them) works a few city blocks away from The Palace, is a regular bike commuter, and had a spare pair of shoes in his locker. So I made it to the ball after all, and got to see Bobby belt out Get Your Rocks Off (but not your socks, and most definitely not your shoes).
I even enjoyed a couple of cans of beer, which I somehow managed to drink without slicing my lips or tongue on the lid. At one stage I noticed lots of people out on a balcony smoking cigarettes, which seemed awfully dangerous, but passed without management censure. I imagine they'll be onto that any day now.
Frustration aside, it was a good night. Although after pacing the streets of our most liveable city for close to two hours searching for a taxi, my mate's too-tight shoes had given me an awful blister. Can I sue anyone for that?
Peter Hanlon is a senior writer.