Monday, November 01, 2004

The Art of Not Doing

I am in a contemplative mood. I am musing about life in New York.

I think that I have discovered a new art. But perhaps it is not entirely new. And I realise on reflection that I've come across it before. I wrack my mind. When and where was it?
I remember. Several decades ago. A small village in Java. At a time long before Westerners were the enemy. The locals tried so hard to please. So much so that it seemed to our Western minds that they were lying.

You'd enter a shop and ask, "Do you sell rice?" "Yes!" you'd be assured. Only to be answered when you attempted to actually buy some, "Sorry Missus but we have no rice."

You'd walk away bemused. What the hell was going on.
What was going on was two realities, both equally valid. The shopkeeper, eager to please would agree to anything. If you'd asked did he sell Porches no doubt his answer would still be yes. Anything to please. "Yes" is good; "No" is bad.
The locals understood. Just because he said "yes" didn't mean "yes". You were not meant to embarrass him by actually following through. What he really meant was, "I wish I had rice to help you, but I do not, even though I do so wish it."
Westerners would rant and rave and go red in the face, feeling they were being tricked or ridiculed. The shopkeeper would be shamed.

Not a good thing.

But those days of freedom and travel, of a safe Asia and a happier world are far away. Memories are obliterated by the hard reality of life. There is only one reality now, and that is of hard work and the daily grind. Or is it?

It seems to me that dual realities are alive and well and embedded in New York.
In New York people work hard, and play not at all. But just because they can't play, does not mean that they would not like to.

So they have two realities. The one that they live through daily. This is Reality #1. Reality #2 - the "other one" - is an easy life of social engagements, friendships and the warmth of human interaction. And it exists. Really!

It doesn't exist on the subway, the work-place, on the streets or in apartments. But like the Javanese storekeepers rice, it is nevertheless a fact.

Deep in the cerebral cortexes of the New Yorker's brain lives this other happy and social life.
At times however there is a disconnect and the happy life that bases itself in New Yorkers' brain cells, Reality #2, appears to be part of Reality #1. "I'm having a fiftieth birthday!" a friend told me. "I'm holding it in a restaurant and there'll be a band. I'm inviting fifty people. PLEASE come. Yes bring Jo and it starts at 9:00 Friday 23rd. You MUST come."

When I was new to New York I'd enthuse, and hurry away to write the details in my diary. I'd wait for the day, excited to be going to the party. The days would pass. The party would never be mentioned again. I'd assume I was no longer invited. The 23rd would come and go.
But of course it was never held. It was never meant to be held. Like the Javanese vendor's rice, it existed in Reality #2.

"You MUST come to our family Christmas dinner," a new acquaintance told me when I was fresh to the city." Are you sure?" I asked. She insisted.
That was in November. I waited for details. None came. I started to worry. Was I meant to just turn up? Perhaps she'd changed her mind. But why didn't she say?

Eventually I fronted her. "What can I bring on Christmas Day?" I asked. She looked puzzled - "What?"

I explained. Like the rice vendor she looked embarrassed. She didn't know what to say. She was struck dumb.

I sensed I'd made a cultural faux pas. I changed the subject. All was well. Reality #1 reigned supreme and all was well with the world.
Another evening after work, several years later. "Please come to dinner at my place," a colleague insisted. My mom will cook. Southern food. You'll love it."
"Yeah, yeah", I though. Reality #2. But a few days later she questioned me, "You haven't forgotten? Saturday night. OK?" "Sure!" I replied. My god, this was for real! Lucky she reminded me.

So on the Friday before the big day I phoned her to get her address. "Why do you need it?" she asked, obviously completely stumped. "For tomorrow." "What?" "Dinner...", my voice trailed off. "So were you really going to come. It is too late now. You should have said!" She was clearly annoyed. Another social faux pas.

Sometimes the Art-of-Not-Doing progresses right to the knocker. Talk about skating on thin ice. Arrangements will be made. Subway maps consulted. The pretence - or should I say, Reality #2 - goes on right up till almost the appointed start time.
Then the event will be 'cancelled'!

Oh but we had such fun. The anticipation, the plans. It was all worth it. And what a grand occasion. We really MUST do it again! Perhaps we'll do it next month. Better still, why not make it a monthly event?

Think about it. It makes perfect sense to me now. Just because you don't have time to do anything ... Just because you are too bloody exhausted in the weekends and at night after work, doesn't mean that you can't PRETEND that you have a social calendar. Well, "pretend" is the wrong word. The events are are happening. Social events are organized, planned to suite everyone concerned's social diary. Venues are carefully selected. It's all there but the actual event itself.

And who cares about that anyway.

Now I am a New Yorker. Without Reality #2 I'd been socially deprived. After all, one needs the occasional dinner party, the occasional drink with friends after work, the trip to the country on a Saturday. Just because I don't have the money or the time doesn't mean I should be deprived of life's essentials.
"Yes we must meet for drinks next Friday," I tell my friend Barbara as we talk on cell phones while we travel to our respective workplaces. Barb, being a true New Yorker agrees. "YES! she says. Let's do it".

We go into detail. What time is convenient to us both? Where will it be busy but not noisy? We will both have to re-organise our schedules.

An observer from another country could not be blamed for thinking that we are planning a major life-event. An expedition to Antarctica perhaps. But no, it is a simple half hour social appointment to a bar mid-way between our two apartments. After all, we are BUSY PEOPLE.
There was a time that I'd call Barbara the day before to confirm. Or even a time when I'd turn up at the appointed hour.

Not so now. Like Barb, as soon as I've closed the flap on my cell phone, the rendezvous is forgotten. Maybe I'll think of it when my mind wanders as I'm on hold to AT&T's customer service center in India. Nice to think I have a social diary. Nice to catch up with Barb!
But there ends the experience. And after all, why not. We had our fun. We didn't really need to actually meet.

So nowadays I forget it. We planned it. We enjoyed it. It's over.
In my rare spare nanoseconds my mind wanders. I remember being cross with the non-rice vendor. Thinking he was a loon or a liar. Now I understand. He couldn't afford the rice. We can't afford the time. That doesn't mean that we don't want it; that we can't pretend, that it isn't a reality.

I feel like traveling to Java to find him. To apologise and to explain that I now understand. In fact I think I'll do it! Why not? It should be a good break.
And perhaps YOU would like to come too? Make it next January. We can book on Singapore airlines. I've heard they're quite good. I've got the frequent flyer miles. And it's years since I've been to Indonesia. We can stay in a nice hotel and read books on the beach. It'll be so much fun! You WILL come, won't you?

Promise me you won't forget ....

Good Day Bluebell Wednesday

Bluebell Wednesday is a little girl who lives on a boat on the Thames, so close to the centre of London that every morning she awakes to its chimes.

Bluebell has a mummy called Amy, a daddy called Jamie  and  thirteen aunts and uncles.

Amy and three of her sisters - Rosie, Gita and  Edith -  get together from time to time to play in their quartet called the Dirty Pretty Strings.

Bluebell Wednesday's eldest aunt, Lakshmi lives in the Peak district of England where she looks after lots of funny little children who speak with strange northern accents. Her aunt Edith is fifteen years old and goes to the Lady Manners school on Castle Hill. One day you will see Edith on the stage as she will become a famous actress.

I grew up in Australia with Bluebell Wednesday's maternal grandmother. Her name is Di. Her brother is Gary. We had friends with names like Sue, Helen and Julie. I was called Katie back then. I  hated my name as it was an unusual name at that time. I wanted to be called Susan.

When Di and I  grew up and had our children it was the seventies. I had a dog called Sunday. If I hadn't already used that name I would have called my firstborn "Sunday". Instead I called her Ebon. Di's first children were twins -  Dara and  Lakshmi. Our more conservative friends named their children James, Daniel, Emily, Cecily, Matthew, Lucy, Simon and Penny. Not even for them the staid names of our parents' generation.

My expat friends named their children Yarra and Ned. My brother, whose name is Timothy, had friends who called their children names like Daffodil and Sunshine.

People in the country were calling their sons "Jaidyn" and their daughters "Kylie" and Kirrillee". And through all this, the ever-reliable Australian  working class families were still bearing Trevors and Waynes.

At the turn of the century when the Lakshmis and Sukis were reproducing, rebellion set in with babies being named Jack, Jessica, Thomas, Emma,  Joshua, Sarah, William, Emily , Michael, Jasmine and John.

I am now in America where people in the Blue areas are naming their children  Emily, Michael, Christopher and Sara. In the Red areas they   prefer Chelsea, Tiffany, Brittany, Conner, Madison and Taylor.

My daughter  Ebon  is now an adult. She loves her name and goes by her given name only. Not for Ebon a family name. Like Cher she is mono-monikered. The only time her name caused her any pain was once at a hippie festival when there was an announcement over the load speaker for an "Ebon" to come to the stage. She thought there was another one and was devastated. Fortunately it turned out she'd misheard and the announcer was saying Evan. Two "Ebons"? ASIF!

I wonder how much one's name influences our paths through life. I always think that if I'd have been a Sue I would have been more stable. I think I would have lived in the leafy suburbs and married an accountant. My car would have been a Volvo and I would have joined the local tennis club.

Sometimes people change their names to fit what they want to be. The twins I knew who were born in 1974 and named Zero and Chaos, changed their names in the late eighties to Mac and John. My elderly aunt Nell came into her own at eighty and changed to Eleanor to be more dignified. My mum's first name was Christina but they made a mistake at her new school when she was ten and called her Hazel. She was too shy to correct the teacher so she became known to Hazel to all but her mother and sisters. I am sure I used to see a personality change  when she switched between the names. With her sisters she was demure as she  answered dutifully   to the name "Chris". Quite a change from  the sarcastic and somewhat bitter Hazel that she became   in the company of her friends.

When I was about sixteen and wanted to be like Simone de Beauvoir or Glenda Jackson, I changed from Katie to Kate. A secret part of me however, still yearned to be Susan.

When my children were very small, I used to spend a lot of time  with my friend  Margaret. She had young babies too. We'd practice referring to them by other names to see if our inner image of them altered. I remember Margaret going over to Ebon in her bouncinette saying, "Pamela, do you want milk? Pamela! Good sweet little Pamela!" But no way could we get our minds around Ebon as a Pamela! ASIF!

Nowadays most of the  interesting names I hear belong  the babies of my black friends. "Asia" and "Africa" are lovely names. My white friends have grandchildren called Hannah and Amelia. No more the Zeros and Cosmos. Not even a Suki or a Polly. And certainly no Ruby Tuesdays

And so it was with joy and hope that I heard of the birth of Bluebell Wednesday.

A belated welcome to this world little Bluebell.

Soon you'll be able to hear your mum play the cello as part of her quartet, "The Dirty Pretty Strings". You'll be able to run around on the banks of the Thames, loved and admired by Lakshmi and Gita, your aunts. Your grandma Di and your great uncle Gary will shower you with love and gifts. When you go to school you will shine and outshine the Sarahs and the Williams. And later, you will still be out partying when Big Ben chimes midnight. You will never be a dedicated follower of fashion. You will make your own indelible and colorful mark on the dreary grey of London town.

Bluebell Wednesday, the world is your oyster!

On Greek Gods, Noah and Manhattan Hairdressers

Hairdressers must rank amongst the top ten in strange, in the long list of New York professions. Which is probably why I enjoy visiting them.

I've had a long list during my eleven years in Manhattan. At first I despaired of ever finding one. I'd heard on the Australian bush telegraph that a good hairdresser - as we know them in Australia - was almost impossible to find.

"Darhhhling", my gay friend Robin explained, "You just HAVE to lower your standards - you're in America now!".

My (Australian) boss in those early years of Manhattan living, recommended a very short lady hairdresser in an Upper East Side salon. I've repressed not only the hairdresser's name, but the name of the salon, although I went there regularly for almost two years. The human mind sensibly puts mental survival ahead of memory, and all I can remember - apart from the fact that the hairdresser was so short that she didn't have to bend down to cut (also read 'chop' my hair) - is her strange co-worker.

The co-worker was a blonde and obvious transvestite, who I never saw cut one head of hair. She'd just stare admiringly into the mirror at her station for hours and hours. She was made-up and coiffured to look (well, from a distance) like Kim Novak in 1955. I stared too. It was amazing.

After I'd settled into New York life, I felt that I was independent enough to change hairdressers. As if on cue in an Off Off Off Broadway production, Robin announced that he'd found one.

"Darhhhling, I've found a hairdresser JUST LIKE an Australian one. Well she isn't Australian but she's NORMAL!!" he announced one day as we roamed around the Union Square farmers' market in search of aubergines that would coordinate with his lounge chairs. "NEVER forget the fruit when decorating," he intoned.

'Normal' coming from Robin, was a bit disconcerting, but I had faith. And so I booked in at Madison's (the hairdresser's name, not the avenue).
Madison lived in a poor area of Manhattan. Her building didn't have a doorman, and when I arrived for my appointment, men from the local halfway house were asleep on the steps leading up to the front door. I carefully avoided stepping on the brown paper bags lying around, knowing that they concealed empty bottles of plonk or metho or whatever was the latest Manhattan cocktail of the time.

The door bell didn't work, so, being a shy person at the time (god, THAT'S been knocked out of me) I didn't want to call out. Madison was on the third floor and there was not a sign of life around except for the gurgling sounds coming from the open mouths of the surrounding drunks.
Eventually Madison came down looking for me. "It's OK", she explained with true New York hootzpah, "all my clients get confused". And she took me upstairs.

Madison had a husband. His name was John and he collected antique cameras. Thousands lined the walls on especially made little shelves. The bed (it was a 'studio' apartment) was unmade. No coffee ("We're health freaks", she explained as she lit a cigarette).
I was starting to wonder WHERE she'd wash and cut my hair, when she drew aside an old velvet curtain to reveal a one meter square recess that housed a sink and a chair. Things were looking up!

She told me to sit and as I did so she started to 'cuss' as they say here. "I forgot I broke the expletive deleted scissors on my last client!" she yelled. That SHOULD have been enough! I was beginning to HATE my good friend Robin.

She used the kitchen scissors (though I can't imagine a kitchen existed in this camera-land - was it cunningly hidden behind the sofa?) and gave my hair a quick wash in cold water whilst telling me horror stories about her landlord.
When it was blow-wave time, she discovered that her dryer was broken. Like a psychiatrist unsuccessfully administering ECT she tried to jolt it into action.

"Oh well, there weren't ALWAYS dryers and we managed didn't we Hon?" Speak for yourself I thought, but acquiesced and with my hair badly towel-dried, paid, said goodbye to camera-man, and left. The drunks were still asleep. The world was normal after all. How comforting I thought as I caught the subway home thinking of what I'd say to Robin at work next Monday.

"She's wonderful!" I told him 36 hours later. "A real find!". And indeed she was. I was a client of Madison for the next few years until she moved to Queens to enjoy as she so quaintly and impossibly put it, 'a more rural life'.

You see dear reader, I REMEMBER Madison. My mind has not obliterated her as it did her predecessor - so I KNOW that Madison was OK and that Robin was impeccably right again.

A succession of hairdressing failures followed. Clay in 'Bumble and Bumbles' wasn't too bad. (Was it Bumble and Bumbles that started the trend of having your roots dyed to show you'd been to your hairdresser?) But it was hard to schedule Clay in, as he was bi-coastal as well as plain bi. This means that he worked on the West coast of the US some days and the East on others. I'd forget where Clay WAS on the planet, and so eventually moved on.

Then there was the aromatic hairdressing salon in Hoboken - one of the many sad experiences during my exile there. I'd have to scrub my hair for weeks to get rid of the smell of avocados after my visits. Tiffany just plain refused to cut any hair that she hadn't drenched in a flavour of vegetable oil. Of course you could CHOOSE your flavour. I once seriously considered celery, which only goes to show what Hoboken can do to an otherwise normal human being.
Now my search is over. No longer under the influence of Robin, who has long since left Manhattan and his aubergine-tinted apartment, I found my own hairdresser. Her name is Glamour and I've written about her before.

Not only can Glamour cut hair, but she doesn't babble on. She ALWAYS has scissors that work and her dryers ... sheer perfection - true engineering miracles.
Not that I'd call Glamour normal. She is half French, half Italian, and commutes to Manhattan from Philadelphia. She once cut the hair of the rich and famous, but they didn't tip well enough. The logic of this escapes me. The price of a haircut at her previous place of work must have been about $500. Now it's $30.

But I suppose if they don't tip, what does money matter? Or something like that. I'm learning to suspend reality when it comes to Manhattan hairdressers.
I've been a client of Glamour for over a year now. Kept the same hairstyle; always go on a Thursday after work; always tip well... everything was starting to seem - NORMAL! Till last Thursday. I should have known it couldn't last.

There is a new hairdresser in the station adjacent to Glamour's. She has a normal name, Monica, but that is the most normal thing about her.

When I was there last week, I watched in stunned silence, as she kept forgetting to cut her client's hair, in order to entertain the whole salon with some story about a rabbi, a red dress with a long slit up the side, and what happened at a wedding. I could not follow a single word of it.

Glamour kept hissing at me, "She's ALWAYS like this!" as Monica jumped around, illustrating various parts of her story with actions and gestures that made the mind boggle.
I stopped looking at her, as every time she noticed me looking, she'd elaborate and explain again, some part of the incomprehensible story for my benefit.

Just as I blanked her out of my mind and was drifting into that dream-like state you get when you feel safe and comfortable, she yelled at Glamour - "Who was that man in the fairy story where there is long hair?" "You mean the Rapunzel story?" Glamour suggested. "No No NO!!!" Monica was jumping up and down. Her client was just sitting, her wet hair hardly touched.

"No no - the one not in a story, in the Bible" - Madison was REALLY excited. She started suggesting answers to her own question.

"Hercules!!! That's it!!!" Glamour sighed. Now MY hair wasn't being cut. "He wasn't in the bible. Do you mean a Greek?" I was forced to join in, against my better judgment. Anything to stop the prancing and to get this show on the road
"Sampson!" I screamed above the din. "BLOODY Samson! Read yer bloody Bible! See yer rabbi! Ha Ha"

Monica was happy. "YES YES YES. And I LIKE you!" she yelled back.
I remembered reading somewhere how Americans confused Joan of Arc with Noah. "Do you know who Joan of Arc was?" I asked them both. "YES YES YES!" Monica screamed. "And her animals that went up the ramp two by two?" She looked puzzled and then started shrieking again.

Eventually things began to calm down. Hair was cut. Hairdressers were tipped. On my way out I approached Monica and tapped her on the shoulder. "Don't forget to go home and read your Bible" I told her. She smiled. And as I was going through the door I heard her ask Glamour what country was I from was I was so funny. "Australia" Monica told her. "I wanna go there!" said Monica. And the prancing began again.

My only regret is that Robin is back in OZ. I'd just LOVE to recommend him to my new find.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call Sometimes when I have a spare minute, or even a spare second, I remember a time, a long long time ago - a time bathed in filtered light gently shining through green leaves, when I lived twelve thousand miles away, in Melbourne Australia.

The recollections vary only slightly. I am lying in a hammock in the rambling garden of a house in Northcote. Sometimes I'm reading. Sometimes I'm talking to a friend who has dropped by. Sometimes I'm just thinking of what I will be doing when night falls. But some aspects of these recollections remain constant. I'm always relaxed, and considerations of time are far way.

I know now, though I didn't then, that these time considerations were just waiting for me, twelve thousand miles and three thousand six hundred days away.

New York 2004.    There's no time. Or not enough time. New Yorkers have no free time. Moreover the time they do have is labelled. There is "quality time", "scheduled time", "night time", "day time", but never "My Time".

Time is a precious commodity. Time is money. Money is time. We don't even have time to see our friends, even if we had the time to make them. We have promises to meet, "some time".

We don't have time for conversations. We phone "friends" when we know they will not be home - so that we can leave a message on their voice mail rather than have an interactive (and therefore longer) conversation. A few days later we get a voice mail back. And so on.
Time is an asset whose value varies according to the "owner" of the time. We have always accepted that some people's time is less "expensive" than other people's time. It is a matter of supply and demand. A blue-collar worker's time is worth less than a dentist's time for example. This is because (1) there more blue-collar workers than dentists; and (2) dentists spent more time in the education system than blue-collar workers. I call this "capitalistic time" as I have acclimated as they say, to American society, and can now think like an American.

"Capitalistic time" now applies to things other than hourly pay rates. If you are a doctor, your time is more valuable than that of your patients. You cannot be expected to waste a second between patient appointments. So you double-book and patients must wait. After all, they are ill and therefore their time is of less value.

That is, unless the patients have paid more for their time. At some surgeries, patients pay to join something similar to the airlines platinum member clubs. The "reward" is a level of service that one could expect in a civilized society - you don't have to wait - well you don't have to wait as long as the plebs in coach...

I used to wonder why, in a city where even time units are qualified by the city name - "New York minutes", its citizens wait so patiently in queues, euphemistically called "lines". I now understand. If you don't pay for time then you cannot have it. Time is a consumable in limited supply, more valuable than oil.

I value my time. I have even learned to squeeze out some semi-leisure-time from hours once devoted to sleep. Time is now a consideration in my everyday life. Not so for my happy band of care-free friends in OZ. To them the only thing about time of concern, is what the time is in New York when they phone me.

I can see them in my mind's eye now. Sitting around in the middle of a lazy Melbourne day. Perhaps the friends who have dropped by have left for a leisurely drive home. Perhaps they feel like using one of their many idle moments to establish a connection with their faraway friend. Who knows? But somehow, when it is between 10:00 am and 2:00pm in Eastern Australia, they'll decide to phone.

Invariable, their first question is, "What's the time there?"

After I've told them - "Three bloody AM!", and put down the phone, I try to go back to sleep.

This doesn't take long. I just have to remember a peacefully time a long long time ago - a time bathed in filtered light gently shining through green leaves, when I lived twelve thousand miles away, in Melbourne Australia.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Sounds of Silence

I am she as you are she as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like Biggs from a phone, see how they dial.
I'm waiting.

Sitting on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring.
Information call-man, are they gone on holiday?
Girl, you been a naughty girl, you left your base so long.
I am the friendless, they are the phoneless.
I am the friendless, goo goo g’joob.

Mister city phone-sets sitting
Pretty little phone-sets in a row.
See how they ring like a Four 'n Twenty pie, see how they call.
I'm waiting, I'm waiting.
I'm waiting, I'm waiting.

Maladjusted chatter, slipping from a dead phone's dial.
New Yorker still-life, workaholic mistress,
Girl, you been a naughty girl you let your country down.
I am the friendless, they are the phoneless.
I am the friendless, goo goo g’joob.

Sitting in a New York condo waiting for the phone.
If the phone don't ring, you get a Plan
From standing in a New York train.
I am the friendless, they are the phoneless.
I am the friendless, goo g’goo goo g’joob.

Expat textpat, choking brokers,
Don't you thing the joker laughs at you?
See how they dial like birds in a pie,
See how they hide.
I'm crying.

Kirralie StwitchBoard, climbing up a Telstra tower.
Directory Mannequin saying yes I'll call ya.
Girl, you should have seen them saying 'Vote for Joh!'

I am the phoneman, they are the phoneless.
I am the friendless, goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob.
Goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob g’goo.

Apologies to the Beatles

Sounds of SilenceA few weeks ago we bought a VOIP service. What's more - an AUSTRALIAN VOIP service.

I was so excited! For about 8 cents US we could call Melbourne Australia for unlimited minutes. And what's more, anyone in Melbourne could call us in New York (unlimited minutes), for the cost of a local (Melbourne Australia) call.

For around $10 per month we have a Melbourne Australia phone number. So now we have two physical phones - our US phone and our Australian phone.

I hurriedly emailed my Australian friends. Those not on email, or who rarely check it (yes such people exist) I phoned. I spent time explaining. I was a little surprised at the apparent lack of interest, but put it down to ... well I didn't put it down to anything; I just repressed it.
Then we waited. An waited. And waited. Till it dawned on us that it wasn't the expense of a long distance call that was stopping old friends calling. It was something much much worse!
We are forgotten.

Oh I'm not saying we are completely forgotten, but we are no longer part of the daily life of our friends. I can imagine them sitting around at a dinner party and saying, "I wonder how Kate is? - let's call her - doesn't she have a Melbourne number?" And then realising that they don't know the time in New York and that they've lost the number and it's all too hard anyway.

An old friend of mine came to stay last month. She kept asking, "What's the time in Australia". About one hundred times I patiently explained that it is easy to work out. Just add two hours and then realise it is the opposite en of the day. So 9:00 a.m. in New York is 9 plus 2 = 11 and swap from a.m. and it is 11 p.m. in Australia on the east coast. I THOUGHT she was listening but later she asked again. "What's the time in Melbourne?"

I must have sighed, as she commented, "Well it is easier to ask people than to work it out yourself!"

I realised that Carolyne hadn't changed since I met her eons ago in Elsternwick, Melbourne. Still the vague Carolyne. That is one of the aspects of Carolyne that I find endearing; she's an old and valued friend. But perhaps she was displaying more than her "Carolyn-ness" - perhaps this obliviousness to the rest of the world and the movement of the planets around the sun is an antipodean thing. After all they are laid back "down there". Life is comparatively easy. And if a friend leaves for other lands, who can be bothered with working out their time of day?

We still have our "Australian phone". It has rung about three times. Once from a friend who called Telstra first to find out the time in America. Whilst on the call with Telstra she had a chat. She explained about our "Melbourne phone". The Telstra operator didn't believe it. It is impossible she told Sarah.

So Sarah called our Melbourne number and I answered in New York. Most of the conversation consisted of her explaining that it was all impossible. When I would start to explain, she'd quote the Telstra lady. I gave up. At least she'd called after all.

We'll keep the phone. We don't expect it to ring though. And perhaps they are right - our friends in Australia - after all. Why go to all that trouble of working out the time. It is just too much work.

Why do I now remember that Australian bumper bar sticker that I'd see while driving up Punt Road, Melbourne in the eighties - a sticker that sums up the easy-goingness of Australians.

"I'd rather be sailing".

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Pedestrian Rage

"Earlier this year, a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, China, was diverted to Alaska when twin sisters were accused of interfering with the crew. One was accused of choking a flight attendant, and the other was accused of hitting two flight attendants and the plane's captain. passengers"

From CNN July 6 2001
"For many workers, in a range of jobs, income and education levels, the workplace is a hotbed of stress and hostility. According to a recent phone survey of 1,305 American employees performed by Integra Realty Resources, stress leads to physical violence in one in 10 work environments. And almost half of those surveyed said yelling and verbal abuse is common in their workplaces.

Dubbed "desk rage" by the popular media--and known to psychologists as counterproductive or deviant workplace behavior--this behavior includes acts of aggression, hostility, rudeness and physical violence. "

From CBS Monitor on Psycholgy Volume 32, No. 7 July/August 2001 (Jennifer Daw)

WalkersIn the good old days "rage" and "raging" referred to partying all night, painting the town red; in short, having a good time. Not so now.

First we had "road rage", then "air rage", "desk rage" and "office rage". And now I think we are in the midst of a "pedestrian rage" epidemic, at least in New York.

I remember when I first came to this town, nine years ago. The sidewalks were busy, people were always in a rush, and there were a few pedestrian collisions. But on the whole, pedestrians kept to the right and moved, if ever so slightly, to let oncoming pedestrians pass.

Dog walkers would pull their dog in close to them, to help one avoid tripping over the lead. People made an attempt to move out of the way, and at at least they stayed in their place in the queue (line) at subway and bus stops. When someone almost bowled you over or stepped on your foot, they'd mumble a New York style apology.

They were the good old days!

The streets of the city now seem to be dominated by a pack of belligerent, aggressive, self-obsessed creatures from Mars. Certainly not Venus. Dog owners give their pets a wide berth, and it is not uncommon to be tripped up by a retractable dog lead spanning the width of the sidewalk. I suppose we mere humans are meant to step out onto the road ("street" in Amlish) to allow the dog walker and dog to have the freedom of the streets.

And for those of you not in New York - these dogs often resemble horses. Great danes, Dobermans, huge dogs who come from a breed I've never heard of, roam the streets with their owners in tow.

But lest I appear to have it in for dogs ("he's friendly", the owners will explain when you walk around them in the narrow supermarket aisles), I must mention the dogless variety on New York walkers.

These people come in all shapes and sizes. They can often be seen in groups of three or four. Arms linked, they'll take up the whole of the sidewalk, from curb to shopfront. You have two choices when approached by such people. They will not budge. Not even an inch. You either back out of their way, or stand still. Walking towards them is too hard, as it is a natural instinct of the civilized to move aside. They won't move out of your way. So you either step out into the path of the New York traffic, or flatten yourself against a store window to let these remnants of humanity pass.

If only the aggressors were always in groups. They'd be easily recognized. But the selfish behaviour is not confined to the armed-linked brigades. A growing number of individuals walk straight ahead, oblivious to the fact that others are using the sidewalk. Old or young, they knock people out of the way.

I've seen women of eighty pushed out of the way by gymbag carrying men in their twenties. And just yesterday a woman on crutches was pushed out of the line (queue) by a businessman, who thought nothing of it.

This pushing and shoving is exacerbated by the current habit of wearing earphones. Either on the cell-phone, or listening to their portable CD player, the wired-for-sound New Yorkers live in a world of their own. They can no longer receive aural cues to tell them what is going on around them. In any case, I am sure that they don't really care. The "me generation" had nothing on these people. They literally care only about themselves.

I remember when I first came here, it was easy to spot the tourist. Apart from wearing color, these people were obvious because of their slow pace of walking and their tendency to suddenly come to a halt to examine their travel guide. Fifth Avenue was a place to be avoided between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There were tourists everywhere, sidewalks chockablock.

In 2001, the tourists are a blessing. Coming from more gentile states and countries, they walk the streets in the belief that their fellow man should be considered. I have no idea what they must think of the new breed of New York pedestrians.

As for me, I intend to make the tourist spots my walking destinations. After all, there is safety in numbers, and I intend to mingle with human beings.

Your Questions and Comments

Nick emailed: Hi, I am an American and have been reading your columns and I completely agree with what you said in your patriot article. I am quite often embarrassed I from the U.S., I once was talking to someone in Ohio who didn't know if the Pacific Ocean was west of the U.S. or east. What is even more embarrassing is the fact that I am from the Midwest, so I naturally am perceived as a fat slob who knows nothing of the world. I apologize for the ignorance and self-righteousness of Americans - I sympathize with you. Good luck showing people where Africa is, and remember, most people here are under the notion that Africa is a country and not a continent - so there is another one for you. -Nick, Michigan

Thanks, Nick. Yes, I can imagine that Africa is thought of as a country. I'll check that one out. And thanks for your positive comments.

Lean emailed: I was in New York earlier this year visiting friends and I am probably going back early next year.

Where can I buy vegemite in Manhattan? I really missed my morning vegemite on toast.

I found being in New York a lot of fun, though unusual. I got the distinct impression that there are not many Australians there. I was identified as English, Irish and even Scottish because of my accent.

My major problem was getting waiters to understand what I meant when I asked for a "Coke". Very very frustrating. I also almost got into a fight on the subway because I looked at somebody. When I got home to SYdney I found it a relief to be able to look at people on public transport again.

Anyway, enough of my gabbing. If you can help with the Vegemite that would be much appreciated. Really enjoy the columns.

Lean, I can't really help you. I used to know a place but am not sure if it is still stocked there. Best to bring some over with you, but I'll keep a watch out for it.

Angela emailed: I'm an avid reader of the Australians Abroad website and enjoy all of the different columns written from around the world. I especially like yours as I live close to New York City. I draw your attention to the recent article 'Letter from a Patriot: 'Missile from Millicent'. This part of the 'missile' I found particularly amusing as it supposedly highlighted our lack of grammatical prowess. Here is the offending example.

"In fact, I think you need to go back to school to learn proper grammar or at leasd proof read your articles before you post them for the world to sea."
Yes, I was amused by that - and you are the only one who picked it up!

Meredith emailed: just letting you know I'm with you, couldn't agree more with your article, and if so many trusting, friendly and open-minded Aussies independently come to the same conclusion (I was actually expecting a lot better when I originally came to the US, so could hardly be accused of being biased from the start!) there has to be some truth in our observations - we seem to agree with the opinions & experiences of people from a lot of other countries, too!

Millicent's confidence about the US being the "best" country in the world seems a little misplaced when you look at the objective facts, and Australia being the "worst" isn't even worth refuting - the UN has ranked Australia no. 2 in the world for quality of life (USA is 6th) after Norway, and no.2 in the world after Japan (USA is 26th) for longevity! Also, Millicent didn't "proofread" either - she spelt "see" as "sea"!

Anyway, I am currently home in beautiful sunny Canberra for a visit, and I am personally convinced more than ever that Australia IS the best country in the world - here I have a nice tasteful solid-brick home which is affordable and well-built (not huge or ostentatious either), blue sky & sunshine every day, lovely fresh clothes dried on the Hills Hoist, trees, fresh air, affordable healthy food, SAFE power-points with SWITCHES on them, light-switches which aren't upside-down, sinks with draining-boards and a proper laundry with a tub (apparently considered rare "luxury" items in the US - they don't even seem to know you can get automatic electric kettles!), energy-efficient & well-designed, affordable Italian kitchen appliances - and happy, healthy-looking, relaxed & smiling people dressed in nice normal clothes & not either daggy, weird or seduction outfits! Hope that when we come home to live, we never lose our appreciation for how incredibly lucky we were to have been born in Australia! All the best, Kate.

"In fact, I think you need to go back to school to learn proper grammar or at leasd proof read your articles before you post them for the world to sea."
Well, the second person to pick up Millicent's typos! As for electric kettles, it is the low wattage here that is the problem. Even if you get one, it takes forever to boil! Have fun in OZ. I am jealous!