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".