Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another Plick in the Wall

She's young, bright, attractive, and is working on Wall Street.

She's also Australian, and that's how I got to know Faith, the junior commodities trader.

We were lunching late at an Alphabet City restaurant, and Faith was describing her new job - only a few week's old - and her week on Wall Street. I asked about derivatives - what exactly are they, and she explained. Interesting stuff but not as interesting as her account of a recent faux pas she'd recently made at work.

Most of us can imagine how competitive life must be on "The Street". Long hours, smart and ambitious collegues, and given the current state of the economy, a level of job insecurity.

Given that, and her determination to make a good impression, plus the American work ethic and the almost Australian edict, "Thou shalt not complain about your co-workers" (Translation: Don't dob on yer mates), it should come as no surprise that Faith was horrified at what she had recently emailed to several people in her office. She'd had a hard week, working till 11:00 p.m. most nights, and so when she discovered that one of those nights had been completely unneccessary, she was justifiably annoyed.

So she emailed the co-worker who'd caused the unnecessary work, CCing the co-worker's manager, her own manager, his manager and god knows who else. "I have no intention of working to ten at night" blah blah. And she hit the send button.

Immediately she'd realised she'd done a "BAD THING". She was mortified.

Did I menton that Faith is Chinese? Well she is, and was born in China, becoming an Australian citizen in her early twenties. Her English is perfect, but she's unaware of a number of Australian and American colloquialisms, and while her 'r's don't sould like 'l's, they dont quite sound like 'r's either.

Sometimes her accent - Chinese-à la Australian is a little hard to understand, and while I got the point of her story, I was too tired and hungry to be totally absorbed in it.

We finished our meal and over the last glass of wine she told me how she'd decided to "make it better". "Don't bother", I told her. "New Yorkers are forgiving people, just ignore it".

"Oh but I already tried", she said. "I sent another email saying I was sorry to be such a plick!"

"Excuse me?" I was shocked. "Why would you say that?" "I was solly [I exaggerate] and I told them that."

Hmmm. I had my coffee while she went on about her manager calling her in to explain that everyone worked long hours and that he understood her frustration etc etc. "I told him sorry to be a plick".

Should I tell her about prick, I was wondering.

Best to just change the subject, less said et cetera. Besides she obviously didn't know the word. "Faith" I said, "just forget it. It's over. Let's talk about something else! I'm sick of the plick thing!"

She looked hurt.

"You are a loser!" she said, obviously not fully understanding the word.

"Well", I replied, "At least I don't call my boss a plick!"

She looked puzzled and asked me what was wrong with it.

I explained and she was mortified, then burst out laughing and so did I.

"I thought it was just like 'jerk'. Is jerk OK to say?" she babbled on.

We paid the bill, left the restaurant and walked through Tompkins Square Park to catch our subways. Every few minutes we'd break into fits of giggles like school-girls. November tourists stared at us. Even the drug-numbed locals emerged briefly from their lands of nod to look at the two women apparently unable even to walk in a straight line because of the laughter wracking their bodies.

"Is plick American or Australian?" Faith asked.

To rub salt into the wound I said "Both: it's the male equivalent of the C-word". "Oh no!" she screamed and shrieked hysterically, setting me off again.

We reached the subway station and parted ways, she to head west, me to head north.

"You'll be OK", I texted her. "You have a lucky star."

"Beep" went my mobile; a message appeared.

"Faith: I do have a lucky star. A crazy risk taker and geek like me. Plick it is."

I smiled to myself. Yes, that gal will do well on "The Street".

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanks For Nothing

Thanksgiving is my favourite American holiday and I don't want to offend any fellow Americans. But here it comes, the big BUT ...

I recently read Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land". It's a very funny book, all about a man in his sixties who has prostate cancer. Yes, it's hard to believe that a book whose central character has prostate cancer could ever be funny, but it really is. It was actually recommended to me by someone with prostate cancer, so I'm not worried about being politically correct in recommending the novel.

And talking about politically correct - there's a delightful scene in "The Lay of the Land" sending up those re-enactment people who come out in droves in America around major holidays, dressed up in 18th century garb and playing soldiers or Pilgrims. "Inside the (Pilgrim) village they've installed a collection of young Pilgrims - a Negro Pilgrim, a Jewish female Pilgrim, a wheelchair-bound Pilgrim, a Japanese Pilgrim with a learning disability, plus two or three ordinary white kids - all of whom spend their days doing toilsome Pilgim chores in drab, ill-fitting garments, chattering to themselves about rock videos ..."

In the novel there's a group representing the local Lenape Band - "New Jersey's own redskins" who believe they own New Jersey and are setting up to picket the Pilgrims on Thanksgiving Day and carrying placards that say "THANKS FOR NOTHING".

There are Native American events around the U.S. late November, and it is easy to see Thanksgiving as a harvest festival rather than a celebration of "Land of the pilgrim's pride" (from the lyrics of "America the Beautiful") . In New York there's been a Native American Thanksgiving Celebration for past eight years, and other Native American communities observe the last Thursday in November as a "Day of Mourning".

It's hard to believe that less than 200 years ago sentiments such as those in verse 2 (now dropped) of the Australian National Anthem were considered normal.

When gallant Cook from Albion sail'd,
To trace wide oceans o'er,
True British courage bore him on,
Till he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England's flag,
The standard of the brave;
With all her faults we love her still,
"Britannia rules the wave!"

This coming Thanksgiving I'll be celebrating with other Australians at an Australian restaurant in Manhattan. For details of this see The Australians Abroad Calendar.

It is after all, a lovely holiday in spirit if not in history.

Readers of New York

It's fall and aptly named as the leaves are turning red, golden brown and yellow and falling over the steets of New York. Here are some barely hanging on to their branches, on the Upper East Side.

I like the moth-eaten look of the leaves. It goes so well with our moth-eaten city.

Only one "New York Reader" this blog - it's getting a bit to cold for reading at bus stops.

If you don't believe me about the "moth-eaten" have a look at the pavement at my second bus stop on 60th Street.
And it's not likely to get better anytime soon.

Around now home owners in New York city, used to get a $400 property tax rebate check in the mail. Not THIS year! Our Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this month that the city will not be issuing the $400 property tax rebate, this will generate $256 million in additional revenue.

The size of the City workforce will be reduced by over 3,000 employees, approximately 600 through layoffs and the remainder through attrition.

He'll also reduce the peak headcount at the New York City Police Department by 1,000, and fire stations and the education sector will also be subject to cutbacks.

But we do have something to be thankful for - next week for many of us, there's only a three day working week, and plenty of turkey and pumpkin pie!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lost in Transit

Sitting on the Third Avenue bus.
waiting for the sun
If the sun don't come you get a tan
from standing in the English rain

But it's New York 2008, and there's no Beatles, and no Walrus.

Instead the Dow is through the floor and we are lucky to have jobs. Times are tough. It's been a long day's day.

Commuters all, we sit and sit, waiting for our stop to come.

What's this? There's an elderly woman opposite me. She is talking to a golf club! I kid you not.

She bends her face so that her mouth is almost touching the head. "What a bumpy bus. Do you want to walk dear?" she asks tenderly.

The man next to me looks up, distracted momentarily from his Blackberry. A woman opposite stops chatting on her cellphone. An overweight teenager turns the volume down on his Ipod, and stares.

There's a mischievous look in the old woman's eye. Is she having us on?

"Don't worry darling, we'll be home soon", she says to the golf club.

I go back to reading my Kindle. The man next to me answers his Blackberry message. The woman opposite re-kindles her conversation and the overweight teenager turns up his Ipod.

Life goes on.

And that is what I love about this city. We don't expect much. A golf club, a bus, an Ipod, a Blackberry.The karma of acceptance. The stock market might be plummeting, houses might be foreclosed all across the country, Sarah Palin may be a celebrity, but as long as little old ladies can talk to golf clubs on the Third Avenue bus, all is right with the world.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Collector

He's dreaming, Cloquet thought, as he stood over him, revolver in hand. He's dreaming, and I exist in reality. Cloquet hated reality but realized it was the only place to get a good steak." - from Woody Allen, "The Condemned".

My first husband (I LOVE writing that - it sounds like I've had dozens) used to collect cats.

Not just any cat - they had to have something wrong with them. I remember a small grey chap with a ragged ear that reminded me of the frost-bitten rabbit-ear plants that lined the nature strips of my childhood in Bathurst. Another had one eye. Another only one ear. It wasn't that he particularly liked cats, or that he wanted to make them better. I think it was because he thought it made him different and interesting. He aimed to be like Camus' "Outsider", or a minor character in a Dostoyevsky.

It is not uncommon for someone to have a strange husband. I know plenty of them, and I am sure you do as well. A strange husband goes with getting married, being alive, eating. But strange friends?

Last week a friend who I have known for one hundred years phoned me from Australia. It was late in New York, but I picked up the phone thinking there might be some family drama requiring my immediate attention.

I recognized my friend's voice immediately. But what WAS she saying??? "Can I speak to Joe the Plumber?" "It's me! Kate", I replied. "Oh", came her vague answer, "I'm looking for a plumber; there's a problem with my Carlton house." "This is Kate", I reiterated. And added, "Joe the Plumber is a joke person here in the U.S.". That did nothing to deter her and on she went, on and on about some leaking pipe. Whatever ...

I posted this little experience on the - Australians Abroad message board, only to be told by a very serious member of the X generation, that I have "strange friends".

ASIF! My friends aren't so strange. Take Rachel for example. Rachel is a good example as she fits in with last week's "Letter", about men and Home Depot.

Rachel should have been an entrepreneur. She has the knack of getting the best out of any situation, no matter how desperate it is. When she has a tenant she doesn't like she has them committed, and then sells an article to the Sydney Morning Herald on how hard it is to get services for the mentally deranged on a Sunday.

I admire Rachel. In the eighties she bought a run-down house in an inner-city area with a 56% Muslim population. This suited Rachel's political convictions She regards herself as far-left and believes that only the far-left support multiculturalism. Rachel supported the local Muslim community's demand for segregated bathing for women in the communal swimming pool. When I asked her how this stood with her feminism, she looked at me pityingly. I didn't pursue it, as I dreaded being written about in next Monday's Sydney Morning Herald ...

But back to the men and Home Depots. Rachel naturally wanted her house to be renovated. But she couldn't afford it. So she found a new live-in lover, one with a tool-box who belonged to the notorious Builders' Labourers' Federation. This also fitted well with her political convictions.

Nothing unusual so far. But no sooner had the floors been re-sanded and the new family-room built, than Rachel dumped her BLF man.

Within two weeks she had another. This time he was a part-time carpenter and full-time pot smoker. I went there for dinner. "Poor Rachel," he said, "Look at the mess that X made of the floor. It'll need re-doing. I'll also need to re-model the kitchen!"

Which he did. You can guess the rest. His tenure lasted only until the finishing touches were put on the new Jarrah counter-tops.

At the next dinner party I met John. John was a gardener and an active member of Greenpeace. Excellent. He was horrified at how the pot-smoking carpenter had done the floors. "I'll redo it, love", he said to Rachel. And he did.

Others followed. The house is now a delight. Not a capitalist nail in its foundation. Built by honorable men, who remember Rachel fondly.

I have to say, this fondness surprises me. Once I came across one of her former lovers in some shopping centre. After we'd exchanged the usual haven't-seen-you-for-ages comments, he asked me how was Rachel. "Fine", I replied.

"Lovely woman," he mused. "I'll never forget her. A real battler. Single mum doing a great job!"

You can say that again!

Readers of New York

Continuing my "Readers of New York", the following photos were taken on the eve of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

If I Had A Hammer

"I can't imagine him in Lausanne, what is he going to DO there?" she worried. "Do you think there's a Home Depot there?"

She was of course, talking about her husband and their proposed trip to Europe.

Now I don't know the Lausanne equivalent of Australia's "Bunnings" or America's "Home Depot", but I know what my friend meant. And I am sure that the men of Lausanne are no different than the men of New York, or the men of anywhere for that matter. Look at these guys on Second Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan for example.

There's a new subway being built here, "the Second Avenue subway", and unfortunately for me, I live between Second and Third. Second Avenue is a mess, but the local male residents find the digging and construction fascinating. There's always some of them peering through the wire.

And this is what the two men in the photo were looking at. What's the fascination? All I see is mud and men, most of whom are standing around looking at other men.

Perhaps it's the machinery that they like. Trucks and stuff. Memories of Tonka toys ...

Women like me, women of a certain age, can take men in their stride. Very little surprises us. Not so the women of the younger generation. They still have, "Expectations".

The Wall Street Banker and the Connecticut Wife

SHE is the Wall Street Banker. He is looking for a Connecticut wife. Or so we worked out, the two of us, over brunch, over-analysing, over and over.

"He's wonderful and interesting," she introduced him to our conversation. "I really like him". She prattled on. "Great", I replied. "Sounds good". So did the "Oeufs Benedict" as the Lower East Side Cafe pretentiously described them. I looked for the waiter.

"No it isn't great," she continued. A beautiful intelligent young woman, working on Wall Street. "I don't KNOW if he even likes me! He doesn't return my calls." And she went on to describe a relationship of a few months that started promisingly, but has recently faltered.

She described a man who wants a woman to care for, a woman who will live in the suburbs, stay at home and raise his children. A woman who "needs" him. A submissive tee-totaller.

"Doesn't sound like you," I commented dryly. "You're right", she said, "but a person can't have everything".

I was puzzled. "Is he good in bed?" I asked. "Oh no!" came the answer. "He's DREADFUL".

I didn't really want to know anymore, but for some reason I asked if he was circumcised.

"I don't know! I never look at THAT! My God. No way!" The very thought of "it" seemed to shock and repulse her.

We laughed. We walked on. There's always something to look at in New York.

We passed the usual Village people, shoppers, run-aways. People with metal in their nostrils and despair in their eyes. We passed a wedding show-room. "Stop", I said, "I need a photo".

"Is that what you want?" I goaded her, and instantly regretted it. Was I imagining it, or did her eyes fill with tears? I changed the subject and started to walk on. But she lingered and took photos of her own.

"It's not so easy", she told me, "to get a man in New York".

Duly humbled, I hugged her, and we parted. Me to the gym and my newly found healthy life-style.

She to dream of wedding dresses and the loneliness of not having the loneliness of a housewife in a Connecticut suburb.