Saturday, October 31, 2009

Converting to Polytheism

We had a joke, Langley and I: Someone dying asks if there is life after death. Yes, comes the answer, only not yours.
From "Homer and Langley: a Novel" by E. L. Doctorow (2009)

The Lord is helping me. I was once one bad sister, but now he works for me and is my friend. There's a reason for this, THANK YOU LORD!
Woman on just missing a bus, Queens, New York

aetheist fanatics? hitler, stalin, pol pot, mao - did they do it not in the name of god - dunno but they mostly enjoyed knocking of the religious in particular.
Comment on Grated Saccharine

Tibetan child, Nepal
There's nothing like the mention of religion to get people going. I usually don't partake in discussions on religion, as up till now I've been an atheist and not terribly interested other people's religious beliefs.

But when I read readers' comments on my Grated Saccharine posting, I started to rethink my position. Those people commenting that atheism is a belief system too, that it even has fanatics and fundamentalists, were pointing out something that I'd never before considered. Atheists have fought wars and killed, in the belief that religion is dangerous. It just never occurred to me.

So I've been on the wrong track all these years! I had better change, quick smart. But to what?

It isn't as if I was born into any religion, which makes it I suppose, easier. I have no preconceptions. No, that makes it harder, as I have no direction.

I'm not keen on any of the major religions. I quite like Hinduism as the stories are interesting and I like all the characters. Hanuman the monkey is my fave. But I can't see the point of reincarnation. If you are born as someone else, and have no memory of your prior self, then you prior 'self' is effectively dead. So Hinduism's reincarnation is functionally not so much different than atheism's mortality. And as I assume part of the attraction of any religion is the belief in eternal life, then how does this loss of knowledge of self reconcile itself to the idea of immortality?

I remember being somewhere in Nepal and asking a Nepalese about his belief in god. He explained to me that I could go and see his god anytime, as he lived less than a block away. So off we went together and there on a street corner was a statue of a tiger-like divinity. "Hello," said the man. "Hello," said I.

I felt good about this experience. It made a lot of sense to me at the time. Here was a concrete manifestation of god. And it was a personal god. Having such a god must be a bit like having a personal trainer. But better.

Ever since I was fired by my personal trainer I've not trusted them. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have that problem with a my Nepalese friend's type of god.

Balinese god with umbrella
Another benefit of having statue gods, is that there can be nothing stopping anyone having several. I could even mix and match them. I could have my favorite Hindu god, Hanuman - I've seen statues of him on display in the Indian area round East 29th Street, Manhattan. I might pick one up tomorrow.

I used to have a pair of stone gods that I bought in Bali. They were happy beings and I'd give them a small offering of rice (they expect that) on mornings when I wasn't in a hurry to get to work. They even each had an umbrella to keep them out of the sun. You can see one of them here in my ex-backyard in Victoria, Australia.

Unfortunately my partner of the time kept them when we split up, and I understand they are now enjoying living in Queensland.

I even have a photo of me buying them. I'm the one with the hat.
Buying gods

I loved the Balinese healthy attitude to religion. I'd noticed that the gods like mine that were on street corners and in family compound courtyards had a light coating of moss. I asked some Balinese how I could accomplish that effect. "Oh, you just pee on them," I was told. But somehow when I got them back to OZ I couldn't bring myself to do that. A Western collective unconscious taboo I suppose.

So there you have it. My personal solution to not contributing in any way to the wars fought in the name of religions and atheism. I will make sure that I get hold of gods whose past is pure as the driven snow. And as they will be mine, and mine alone, they will not be able to be accused of starting wars.

I could have I suppose, chosen agnosticism as a way out. I'm pretty sure no wars have been fought in the name of "I don't know". But somehow I think my solution is more joyous, more life affirming, more personal.

I might even be able to take my idea to California. Now THERE'S an idea!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Do Australians Eat?

My hotel room has a fire with artificial coal in it. It must be gathered in fake mines by actors pretending to be miners.
Ross Noble - on twitter

I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead - not sick, not wounded - dead.
Woody Allen

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

Fish and Chips À la Australienne
I recently "friended" someone I have never seen or met. It's easy enough to do, if you are on FaceBook. We have a mutual friend and the person I'd offered my FaceFriendship to, graciously accepted.

His name is Jonathan auf der Heide and he is making waves amongst the cinema literati for his movie, Van Diemen's Land.

"Van Diemen's Land" was made in Australia and has already been shown in a number of European countries. It is getting good audiences, not only because it is well directed, well acted, and set in a rather beautiful area of Australia, but because of its central theme which is cannibalism. And not the New Guinea tribesmen variety of cannibalism - cannibalism by white men, men from the British Isles. And it is based on HISTORICAL FACT. There's nothing us aussies like better than turning the screw into the Brits. Not only did they colonize our land, but they neglected to feed their subjects, and look what happened!

I hope "Van Diemen's Land" will come to America so I can see it. I am doing my level best. I've even written to the Food Channel recommending it. I told Jonathon about my endeavors but was greeted with a FaceBook silence. I assume that's because he is busy. Or perhaps he's hungry. I am cognizant of the film's tag-line: "Hunger is a strange silence". Yes I think that must be it. He's hungry.

Down Town Melbourne: Bill Clinton Ate HERE!
I'm becoming quite a FaceBook fan, though I tend to FaceLurk. I like the way I can log on and discover that a perky little blue cow has wandered in to Marie's paddock, or that Ginny has sent Peggy Ugg boots to remind her of Geelong. It is a veritable fairyland of fantasy.

Oh yes, Mr. Ross Noble of the hotel room with fake miners gathering fake coal for the fake fire, I can see that you are a FaceMan at heart! Hopefully someone will translate your fake miners into an 'app'. Or more to the point, perhaps someone will start a FaceBook rival, FakeBook, though I suspect that has been done already.

What has NOT been done, though, is virtual silences and virtual assuaging of hunger.

We can "friend" people and "un-friend" them. But how do we conspicuously ignore them? After all, how does Phil, who I un-friended, know that I'm cross with him? For all he knows, I've just been too busy to log on.

And although a plump little oyster might find its way to Anta's veggie plot, how can she eat it?

There must be some way of gratifying one's appetites. I have heard there's sex equipment that plug into one's PC, so that deviants can orgasm in chat rooms (apologies to Maggie - your secret is safe with me), but how can a keyboard serve up Peking Duck or a baguette? Virtual food just doesn't do it for me.

I think that Ross Noble is onto something with his pretend actors and fake coal. Now if he could only team up with Jonathan auf der Heide, perhaps their creative minds could together, solve the food problem.

Better still, they could hijack Bob Dylan. He is into helping feed the hungry and he obviously has at last lost any grip he had on reality. If nothing else, he could fund the project.

How about it boys?

I see a future for this.

After all, we are all virtual now. Even Bob. Especially Bob. Bob Unplugged. Bob Uncut, though with the references to cannibalism, perhaps not ....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grated Saccharine

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
was looked on as something shocking.
Now heaven knows, anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words,
now only use four letter words writing prose,
anything goes.
The world has gone mad today,
and good´s bad today, and black´s white today,
and day´s night today
©1936 Cole Porter

I hadn't realised it until I spoke to my friend Mary in OZ tonight. I hadn't realized that being an atheist really didn't mean that we couldn't, shouldn't 'believe'.

Now I understand that we atheists are a naive lot, who have little understanding of the complications caused by the inter-faith medley that lies at the very heart of some modern day people who believe in g-d. As well as in the very hearts of those of us who do not.

I was talking to Mary about Bob Dylan and his "Christmas in the Heart" album. "How can he be Jewish, raising his children in the faith, and believe in baby Jesus?" I asked in my simplistic atheist way.

"Why not?" she replied. "Maybe he believes in both." "He can believe that baby Jesus was simultaneously not the Messiah, and that he was the messiah?" I countered.

Santa in Manhattan
"Why not?" repeated Mary.

Mary is Catholic - a religion that has embraced a number of seemingly contradictory positions for over a thousand of years. But wasn't this going too far?

"It just seems strange, a Robert Zimmerman singing 'Little Town of Bethlehem'," I persevered.

"I know a Sarah Zimmerman," said Mary in a typical Mary non sequitur.

"Yeah and what's she?" I was foolish enough to ask.

"Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish". "Oh, she's also a Zionist," she added.

"HaHa," I replied thinking it was a joke. It wasn't.

I was starting to feel I'd just failed religion 101. I decided to move on, put on Dylan's, "Christmas in the Heart" and drink several glasses of Kosher wine.

But I can never leave well enough alone. "Is Sarah a supporter of Hezbollah?" I asked.

Static on the line. "Yeah and I'm in an op shop [thrift shop], so I have to talk softly," replied Mary.

"I'd LOVE something from an Australian op shop," I said, changing the subject. "Something like an animal knitted by a grandma."

"I just found a badly knitted frog and its got a bow-tie. But it's $1.95, too expensive and then there's the postage."

"Just the thing," I said.

"But too expensive," she insisted.

"OK already yet, I gotta go," I cut in.

"And I hope the other people in the op shop think you are MEAN!" I growled.

They already think I'm crazy," moaned Mary.

"They aren't far wrong," I said. I was beginning to think I should be counting rosary beads, lighting a Minora and offering rice to Shiva et al.

I remember when life was simple, when us atheists didn't, or have to, confront 23 religions in one person. Maybe it has something to do with multiculturalism, or non-partisan democracy.

Then my friend Maggie called and reminded me of Christmas decorations back home and how most mangers don't have marsupials in them. But that's obvious. They are probably all Zionists.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another Side of Bob Dylan

Me, I romp and stomp,
Thankful as I romp,
Without freedom of speech,
I might be in the swamp.
©Bob Dylan, Motorpsycho Nightmare 1964

As the world evolves, so do we. Yet we remain driven by our passion for inventing solutions to solve important problems, perfecting those solutions and delighting our customers.
from "About Intuit" 2009

Bro during his early Dylan
Today was a nightmare. Bad and mad things converged insanely, colliding halfway between my iPod speakers and my laptop, in the living room.

I'd decided to buy my bro in OZ a Christmas present. Well that's not quite right. I discovered the present first and then thought of my brother. The present - Bob Dylan's latest album - "Christmas in the Heart".

Years ago my brother committed himself to providing family Christmas dinner, for ever. This was in exchange for something-or-other that I've conveniently forgotten. And every year, before he gets around to cooking the curry (yes, that's what Juliff people eat on Christmas Day), and setting up the manger of baby Jesus and the three wise marsupials in the fireplace, he puts on some obscure music. Deliberately.

Something like "Bulgarian folk songs of 1923" or "Christmas at Stalingrad, 1956". "Yeah, where'd you get that?" comes one of those polite Australian questions. We are a nation of polite, if of nothing else. Sensitivity is our strong point. Just ask Red Symons, Daryl Somers or Harry Connick Jnr.

"Op shop", replies Tim, as he pours another beer.

Curry not in a Hurry
But THIS year he'll not need to buy anything as he'll have Robert Allen Zimmerman's Christmas album, "Christmas in the Heart".

I don't know what was Dylan's album prior to "Christmas in the Heart", but I DO know that Bob has not cleared his throat since then. "Christmas in the Heart" is truly dreadful. I don't even like his rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy", a favorite of mine ever since my son was four and sang it at a kindergarten concert.

Anyway, I thought I'd play the album before I sent it off to OZ. Good background music to working on my PC maybe. I needed to do my finances and to update Intuit's Quicken on my laptop. I put it on.

And so there I was, at my computer, converting my 2009 Quicken files to the latest Quicken format. "And so they told him, [cough cough] barrupa [cough] dum ..."

Construction on Second Avenue
Sunday in Manhattan. The sun was shining through the window, showing up the dust motes from the Second Avenue subway construction in the sewers below. The working week was 20 hours away. Dylan was singing. All was well with the world.

And then - the blue screen of death! I was forced to reboot my laptop - no easy task as it docks into a docking station and so must be un-docked when it crashes. And for me, un-docking and then re-docking it is almost as hard as calling Network Solutions customer service. I am spatially dyslexic.

On the third crash I decide to call Intuit, the makers of the Quicken software. I'd just paid $120 for the latest version, surely I was entitled to support. "Press 1 for support", "press 2 for problems". "Press 3 for " ... I was starting to think I was back at my Tai Chi class. "Put you left head over your right knee and ward off right." But I got there - to the point of asking a question where upon I was told to go to a webpage and click on the "phone me back button". Dial tone. So I did. Go to the webpage, that is. The button was disabled.

Agra, India
To the sound of "Here Comes Santa Claus" I decided to take another avenue. Online chat with a Quicken customer service rep. Now don't get me wrong. I LOVE India. Calcutta is my second favorite city after New York. And sub-continent customer service people are only doing their job. But on the sabbath that I don't even believe in, I do NOT want to engage in pleasantries more suited to social occasions where we all have all the time in the world.

Ha Ha, some of my best friends are Indian. Or they were...

I actually kept the transcript of my session with Shraddha. But I won't post it here as it needs the soundtrack of Dylan singing "Santa Baby" to be fully appreciated.

It started well enough though. I'd put in my details, operating system - XP, Quicken version, description of problem, my name rank and serial number and so on. There was a wait time of seven minutes. I waited. Bob sang a few more raspy songs. And then -

Here is the beginning of something that only had downhill to go.

Shraddha: Welcome to Quicken chat support. My name is Shraddha. Please give me a moment while I review the info you provided. [160 seconds pass]
Kathleen Juliff: As I said, I do not want to keep this product as it crashes my computer. Can I downgrade to a more stable version?
Shraddha: Hi Kathleen
Shraddha: I apologize for the delay in getting connected to one of us. Currently, we are experiencing a spike in chat volumes; however I'll try my best to answer your question in the least possible time. [a further 3 minutes pass]
Kathleen Juliff: Well I asked the question and am still waiting
Shraddha: You are using Win XP, correct?
Kathleen Juliff: Yes. You HAVE that info. Please don't not ask me if you have the answer already. [long pause untimed]
Kathleen Juliff: I do not want to keep this product as it crashes my computer. Can I downgrade to a more stable version?
Shraddha:: I am sorry for that, I was just confirming the issue
Kathleen Juliff: No need. Please don't answer with apologies. ...
Shraddha: Yes
Kathleen Juliff: Yes what?

And so on. All with Bob in the background. I'm not sure which was worse, Dylan or ... yes, I'm sure. Dylan was. I close my eyes and take deep breaths. I try to remember another side of Bob Dylan. What was it that he sang?

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

You can say that again!

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

My name is Kathleenwg and I approve this message.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quality Time

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
©1970 Janis Joplin

Hi Dudes, Here's a postcard of somewhere I've never seen or been. I bought it and some others at a garage sale in Denver
From Postcard from Simon, 1996

I'm sure they have "quality time" in other parts of the America, in other parts of the world even. But for me, "quality time" will always be a New England thing.

Quality Aisle, New England Supermarket
This is because I was in New England when I first heard the term used by actual human beings. Well, one human being, to be precise.

I hadn't been long in the U.S., perhaps six months or so. I was standing in a flea market somewhere in Connecticut. This particular flea market was VERY New England. It wasn't anything like the flea markets I'd been used to back home in OZ, where cars would back into their owner's allotted stall space and empty all sorts of unwanted goods onto trestle tables.

The Australian flea markets sold things like pink and blue synthetic wool coat-hanger covers. Old cups with handles and saucers missing. Hazardous one foot square carpet remnants to cover up the worn bits of floor carpeting on the driver's side of the car. Right underneath the pedals. Good one! Bookends hand-carved by someone's arthritic uncle in Therapy 101 class at an old persons' home.

My mother was a lover of such flea markets. She and her friend Del had a stall at one, somewhere in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Every Sunday stall holders would buy each other's junk - well no one else would. The only difference between that flea market from one Sunday to the next, was whose stall the "bargains" were set up on.

In those halcyon days I was married to the man-who-didn't-believe-in-telephones-or-washing-machines. We'd visit my mother on Saturdays and she'd load the trunk of our car with items she'd gleaned from the flea markets she'd been to during the week. On returning to our home, my husband of the time - he of the no phones or washing machines - would back the car up to the backyard, so that its trunk was directly in front of the garbage bins, where upon he'd empty the contents of the trunk straight into the trash. He was a man of economy of movement. Some would call him pragmatic. I have my own adjectives ...

No, the Connecticut flea market was nothing like those outer suburban flea markets of Melbourne. They were another animal altogether. For starters, there was hardly anything there that anyone without a six figure income could afford. Or had the space for. A Steinway Model M Medium Grand Piano? I didn't think so. An almost complete set of signed limited edition Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post prints? Nice, but I left my check book back at my hovel. Oh look, an Andy Warhol. Love the cans!

As well as the difference in the items for sale, the people at the New England flea markets looked quite different than their Australian non-equivalents. Not a track-suit, not a hoodie, not an Ugg boot to be seen.

So, there I was, out of my element, as Stepford Wives accompanied by Wall Street brokers and Fortune 500 CEOs made their way to the market, strolling patrician-like through the car park, past the Mercedes, and the occasional Lexus. The Lexus's it seemed, were owned by their children. Nice to see parents making sure that their children understand the value of money, showing them that they have to start small.

I was wandering round the middle of the flea market, despairing of finding anything I could buy, when I came upon a man selling old campaign buttons. I bought a few. "Spiro Agnew's Mother now Believes in Abortion". "My President" showing a long-haired Bill Clinton in 1972 not inhaling. HaHa, there was a funny poster of Monica Lewinsky with milk on her upper lip (from a milk campaign at the time). Caption read, "NOT milk".

Walking back toward the car park I paused when I heard a couple, voices raised, arguing. The Stepford Wife was saying, "Hey, wait a minute hon, I am interested in these vintage watches." Irate CEO husband yelled back, "I'm not wasting our quality time watching you look at god-damned watches!"

I was surprised. I didn't think people experiencing quality time could bicker. Imagine what their non-quality time was like! Quality time spent fighting was surely an oxymoron. Or perhaps just moronic.

Urban Ferals on Way to a Flea Market in Australia
So I pretended to look at the watches myself, just to see what would happen. Both husband and wife held their quality ground. The woman pushed a few watches around on the counter, marking time. The man grumbled and paced. He looked at his watch. "We have seventeen minutes of quality time left!" he bellowed. "Suit yourself, when it's over, it's over!" "The sooner it's over the better," the Stepford wife snapped back. "Next week I'll spend it with the dog."

I've always valued education. My own time at the flea market was not being wasted. I'm not sure it was quality time though. Can one person's not-quality-time be another person's quality time? Can one person be in quality time all alone? I think not. But it was certainly a learning time.

Ah my life was so rich. Surrounded by Mercedes and Lexuses, Steinways and Warhols, people with quality time ticking away. The richness of the fabric of my life was beginning to overwhelm me.

Only ten years before, I'd been married to the man-who-didn't-believe-in-telephones-or-washing-machines. I'd thought a flea market was a place where one bought crocheted coat-hanger covers and pre-loved carpet remnants. I'd thought Stepford Wives were characters in films, rather than warm-blooded real human beings with rationed quality-time. I'd thought a CD was a circular thing that made music. Now I was a worldly-wise woman who knew they were high yielding bank deposits and that Basil wasn't Sibyl Fawlty's husband, but was instead a herb with a silent 'h'.

I'd come so far in six short months. The world was my oyster.

I was beginning to understand that America really was, a land of opportunity!

As I stood there in the flea market, I remembered a bumper-sticker popular in the 1980's when an Australian Premier ruined tertiary education in my home state of Victoria. "Six months ago I couldn't even spell enjineer and now I is one".

Now why did that thought come into my head? ...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tea in the Sahara, Coffee in Queens

And it may sound strange
As if our minds are deranged
Please don't ask us why
Beneath the sheltering sky
We have this strange obsession
You have the means in your possession
from "Tea in the Sahara" ©1983 Police from Paul Bowles

Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enclosed in forever behind a glass frame,
In an old photograph all torn battered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.
from "Green Fields of France" ©1978 Eric Bogle

Dreamlike: Our mother, circa WWII
My desire to live as an expat dates from my early twenties. I was fascinated with the writings of Paul Bowles and Albert Camus, and imagined a life in North Africa - Algiers or Morocco, drinking mint tea with other expats under the bright African sun.

Of course I didn't take the dream seriously, never thinking I could attain it. In any case, in the dream my fellow expats were all British to the tea, and for some reason the dreamed men all wore pith helmets. The dreamed women on the other hand wore floral shirt-maker frocks and rode bicycles with wicker baskets on the handlebars. Very World War II. Images I must have gleaned from old French movies, and perhaps from the photograph albums of my parents.

None of us dream people had jobs. We all woke late and after a leisurely breakfast on a hotel patio, we'd make our way to a cobble-stoned city square and drink our mint tea.

As absurd as Camus' embracing of absurdity, although the connection did not occur to me at the time.

I did eventually get to Morocco and Algeria, about a hundred years ago. Unfortunately I have no photographs to help me remember my travels in those places. The closest is this one, truly "an old photograph torn battered and stained" ... It was taken in Afghanistan in peace time. And yes that's me standing there in Kabul.

Back then I was a traveler, not an expat. I traveled extensively for several years and for the most part my experiences were good. Until I got to north Africa, the place I'd dreamed of.

I didn't get to drink much mint tea in Tangiers and met not one Englishman, let alone any wearing pith helmets. WWII women riding bicycles with baskets on the handlebars were also conspicuously absent. We went to Fez, Marrakech, and Safi where we ate salted fish and watched young Berber boys playing at being men playing soccer on the beach. Then we headed east.

Disaster struck at Relizane in Algieria when we met the Algerian equivalent of the notorious Charles Sobhraj, the French serial killer who preyed on Western tourists throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s.

All thought of spending afternoons with cucumber sandwich-eating poms were instantly eliminated. We were lucky to escape, which we did with the aid of a delightful Algerian with the unlikely name of Medici Amour. With Medici's help we hot-footed it east to Algiers, then on to Tunisia where we crossed the sea to that haven of civilization - Sicily.

But a part of my dream of expat life did come true - I did indeed become an expat, though not in Paul Bowles' Morocco - instead in his childhood home of New York.

I've been away from my home in Australia for over fifteen years now, and belong as much here as anywhere I lived in Australia. I belong in both - or neither - country, and I find such lack of belonging liberating, though others may well see it as driftless.

And nowadays I even work not far from that part of New York where Bowles was raised, and from where he left to become an expat in Tangiers - in Jamaica, Queens.

And there's something comforting in in that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

You know you've been away from America too long when ...

I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
And find I'm A-number-one, top of the list,
King of the hill, A-number-one
"New York, New York" Frank Sinatra ©John Kander 1977
I was talking to a friend the other day, catching up on gossip and exchanging smartie-pants remarks as is our MO. The conversation came round to a mutual acquaintance.

"Do you ever hear from Dan?" Maggie asked me.

"Yes he's the same as ever," I answered. Then adding, "Oh yes, there's something new. His dating coach fired him."


Said friend Maggie now lives in the UK, having moved from the U.S. about a year ago. It is truly amazing what twelve months in the UK can do to a person.

I interrupted the silence to inquire as to whether she was still on the line. Since she moved from Seattle her phone connectivity is just not the same. I think the damp air of Wiltshire has something to do with the frequent lost connections.

No answer. I was imagining Maggie sitting in a cold moist lounge-room somewhere in the English countryside, reading "House and Hound" and wearing a tweed skirt, when communications were restored.

"What's a dating coach?" she asked in all innocence.

Was I imagining it? Surely Maggie's once Australian accent, slightly flattened by years in the U.S. was developing a "To the Manor Born" timbre.

"It's a person like a personal trainer, but instead of a fitness program they help you to develop dating strategy based on your personality, lifestyle, needs and goals," I explained, ever the sophisticate.

Did I hear her snigger?

I love it when Maggie calls. There's always something I can drop into convenient points in the conversation, that will elicit that silent Maggie-pause.

Like when I told her that my personal trainer had sacked me. I like to blend the absurd into some banal verbal paragraph of blah. Nonchalantly. As if it happens everyday. It gets her every time.

But it didn't always. There's something about living in the U.S. It gives you an edge. A sharpness that people living in other countries don't have. People in other countries are nice people. Life is learned for these non-Americans through living, not through courses. Mistakes made in social situations are accepted as normal human events, rather than aberrations to be rated and corrected.

Such people don't understand that life isn't about being nice. It's about being better.

And lest dear reader, you think I'm becoming elitist, do not worry. For although coming first, being the best, is everyman's aim in this wonderful country the United States, it is not the reality. There's a wonderful je ne sais quoi about the lack of finesse of Americans. An endearing quality. Here we don't worry about cutlery for example. We call it flat-ware and use desert spoons for eating soup.

What Americans have done to the English language is to simplify it, creasing out any old-world subtlety to a flatness where every word has the right to exist - to be free and equal in the new-world republic of language. Whether it's a spoon, a verb or a building, it can always be used in a simpler, dare I say, more democratic way.

Michigan, USA
May I please have another cup of tea?" my sister from New Zealand asked in a midtown Manhattan diner some years ago. "Sure," said the waitress and took Nic's cup away returning with it refilled with luke-warm water. She then picked up the old tea bag that lay discarded amongst the bagel crumbs and plonked it unceremoniously into the cup.

My sister just stared. Speechless. Me, I took it in my stride - the waitress's actions epitomized the American approach. Fast, utilitarian and often completely misunderstood.

Maggie told me she might be moving back here next year. I hope so. If she does I'm looking forward to helping her choose an acclimating coach. She'll need one.

I am Kathleenwg Juliff and I approve this message.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Battle of the Walkers

I know it was the point of the story... I'm a Noo Yawker blah blah blah I don't talk to people. But why not buck the trend?
Poster on Pub With No Beer commenting on The Duel

Do New Yorkers talk to people? Can you stop them?

On the streets, on the buses, in the subway, wherever there are New Yorkers, you will hear the sound of New Yorkers talking. Can't shut 'em up.

Take my last two bus rides for example. Going to work. The Second Avenue bus.

The route is slightly different this week. No longer stopping at 86th Street due to subway construction. "Where does this bus stop?" a woman asks the driver at the stop at 90th Street. "Hurry up and just get on what does it matter?" yells a passenger. "I wasn't talking to you," comes the reply. And so on till the woman decides to get on the bus. As we pull out the driver picks up his mike to make an impromptu announcement, "This bus he ain't no stopping at 86th any time soon, and so all you people just have a nice day [chuckle chuckle]".

"I like that driver," a fellow passenger interrupts me from my reading. "Is that one of those Kindles?" I'm about to answer when a child yells, "I spy with my little eye something beginning with 'E'". "An eye?" offers a woman opposite. "Yes I like the Kindle?" I answer, raising my voice to be heard over an ongoing discussion on the stock market taking place between two strap-hangers directly above us. The I-spy kid is telling his mother how he can't WAIT to get to school. "Can we RUN?" he asks.

My reading interrupted, I start to listen. It's useless. "I spy!" I yell. "Something beginning with 'N'". Surprisingly he gets it right. "Noise?"

I have a headache already yet, and the working day hasn't started.

Nine hours later. Same bus, but this time going home. We have "kneeling buses" in New York. Wheelchairs and walkers are wheeled with owner, onto a platform that raises and lowers them on and off buses as required. I have just turned on my Kindle and a walker alights. Pushed by a maniacal-looking woman about sixty.

The walker has a carrier - like those old-fashioned bicycle baskets that hooked onto the handle bars. "You gotta fold that walker M'am," says the bus driver. "Take the basket off and fold it to make room for the other passengers."

"No," she says. "I need it and I am getting off soon." He shrugs and we continue. "Crazy people!" says the man sitting next to me. "She can't help it, says the man to his right. "Sure she can." And so on.

"It's the City's fault," says man #1. "Letting all the loonies out of the nuthouses." He says it loudly. "Speaking about yerself!" the walker-woman laughs.

The next stop, Oh no! Another walker gets on. Same story. No she won't fold it. And walker #2 promptly sits directly opposite walker #1. Now nobody can get past, either to get on or off.

A lunatic with several teeth missing is standing in the stair-well of the bus. He's holding a large (and empty) plastic cat carrier. "You can't stay there, it's against the law," says the driver. "Move in."

For some reason Mr Gap-Tooth chooses to sing his answers. He's a tenor. Not bad, either. "Man oh man, the driver says to me, this cat bag ain't going nowhere," he sings, waving it wildly around in the air. "Yes sirree," he sings as the bus lurches forward. Walker #1's basket topples off and over. A decade-old newspaper and several supermarket bags fall out, contents rolling everywhere.

A young woman attached to an iPod is trying to manoeuvre her way between the fallen groceries but can't make it past the two walkers. Walker #1 suddenly decides she's a sensitive soul.

"I feel like the whole bus is staring at me," she wails. "

The iPod woman has picked up a can of tomato soup and is staring at it, as if wondering where to put it.

I get up. Time to leave, I think, as the man on the right of me is starting to complain that no one has time to be civil nowadays. A nice man on my left makes some room by clambering up onto his feet onto the seat and crouching there.

I edge between the two walkers and manage to get off the bus a couple of stops before my destination. Two Jewish guys are standing at the bus stop. I know they are Jewish because of their hair and hats. One is standing with both hands extended - in one he holds a furled upside-down Balinese umbrella, in the other, a lemon. His companion approaches me.

"Are you Jewish?" he asks.

"No," I smile back.

"Have a LOVELY evening," he says.

Ah, no wonder I love this city!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Duel

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
©Simon and Garfunkel - Sounds Of Silence
We construct a narrative for ourselves, and that's the thread that we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.
Paul Auster
I hurry past, avoiding eye-contact. "Hello Hon!" She manages to catch me. Again.

Who IS this woman who faces me head-on every evening as I step up from the curb, making my way to the second bus on my commute home? And more to the point, why can't I just answer her? Or take another route home?

I can't answer these questions.

All I know is that every evening, rain, hail or snow, the woman in the wheelchair comes from where I know not, to park herself on the corner of Sixtieth and Second. Sentry-like she faces east and greets the regular commuters as they walk past, to the left or right of her chair.

Most of them answer in a friendly, normal sort of way. Some give her money. Is that why she's there? I don't know.

She doesn't look homeless. She looks healthy, fortyish and average. Fair skin. Light brown hair. Always.

When I used to smoke, she'd notice and ask for a cigarette. If I accidentally made eye-contact, I'd give her one and then walk quickly around her so I didn't have to reply to her, "Thanks, hon!"

But I haven't smoked for over a year now, and so I feel free to walk past, in silence. I try to pretend I don't hear her, but somehow I rarely succeed.

I want to walk home in peace. What's with this woman? The situation is starting to take on the vibe of a duel - a bizarre hide-and-seek. I'm sure she knows I'm trying to avoid greeting her, and is determined to say her "Hello hon!"

I have tried different strategies. A few times for example, I've kept pace with another pedestrian - one on my right - as I cross the road. We step up from the curb in unison. Surely I can keep to the left of my twin as we walk past. The twin, my shield. But EVERY TIME I've tried this, at the last minute my shield will make a sharp right and disappear in into the crowd heading north up Second, leaving me EXPOSED!

"Hello hun!"

I keep walking eyes looking straight ahead, giving a barely perceptible nod. No point in being rude.

So New York. So Manhattan. Like something out of an early Paul Auster or a Patricia Highsmith. Now I'm REALLY spooking out. Paul Auster - New Yorker. Highsmith - New Yorker. Both wrote of the outwardly mundane, small coincidences and meetings in Manhattan, where anonymity should be easy to come by.

But is not. I need an Elaine Benes - a Seinfeld character to help me over this. Or should I discuss it with my therapist? I'm at a loss. There's only one thing for certain.

Tomorrow at 5:45 p.m. I'll step up from the curb. My right flank exposed.

"Hello hon!"

New York

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Kathleen with a 'Z'

Wot’s in a name?-- she sez . . . An' then she sighs,
An' clasps 'er little 'ands, an' rolls 'er eyes.
"A rose," she sez, "be any other name
Would smell the same.
Oh, w'erefore art you Romeo, young sir?
Chuck yer ole pot, an' change yer moniker!"
from The Sentimental Bloke, C.J. Dennis

The alter ego, Katy
Ever since 9/11 I've had trouble with my name.

Before that, I was simply 'Kate'. I used Kate on credit cards, employment forms - on everything apart from tax filings and immigration and travel-related documents.

But my real name Is Kathleen. My given name, I mean. And since 9/11 one has to be very exact with any identifying information. So now parcels, bank statements and dry-cleaning turn up, addressed to Kathleen. Sometimes, especially if I've had a hard day at the office, I stare at the labels wondering, "who IS this Kathleen?"

I never much liked being "Kate", or "Katy" when I was a child. I longed for a name like Susan or Elizabeth. This was before the days when Kate was a common name. A hundred years ago there were no Cate Blanchetts, Katie Courics or Kate Winsletts.

But now it occurs to me, that I might just morph into Kathleen. Perhaps Kathleen is my inner child who has been waiting waif-like all these years, to be let out.

For to me, Kathleen sounds wispy and wistful, something between a hippie child and an Irish faerie. Age of Aquarius sort of stuff.

Not me? Perhaps. But I could always try.

On the other hand, I could get more twenty first century and mis-spell it. Like Britannee, Maddyson, Meeshel and Kameron. Kathleewng? I quite like the sound of that. I look forward to spelling it out on my next customer service representative call.

Reminds me of the Fargo joke about the man who couldn't afford a personalised number plate. Changed his name to "JSB 724".

If I were young enough to have more children, I now have the perfect name, for ALL of them. I'd call each and every one WYSWYG - What You See Is What You Get. Perhaps I could re-name them retrospectively?

Of course not. But there's nothing to stop ME renaming, reINVENTing even, myself.

So from now on my friends, it is Kathleewng.

This is the dawning ...

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Miscellania (was "Let's Make Whoopi")

The Europeans have compulsory sick pay for employees and that's why they have such high unemployment
Conservative commentator on CNN a.m. October 3

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline in September (-263,000) [...] Unemployment rates for the major worker groups--adult men (10.3 percent), adult women (7.8 percent), teenagers (25.9 percent), whites (9.0 percent), blacks (15.4 percent), and Hispanics (12.7 percent)
Bureau of Labor Statistics (US)

Times Square
I was drifting in and out of consciousness, luxuriating in that delicious in-between-awake-and-sleep. Saturday morning. I'd woken earlier and put the telly on to check the news. Then back to sleep ...

Was I dreaming? No, I opened my eyes (and ears) wider. A guy on CNN was explaining about how European employers must by law, pay for sick days. With the confidence of someone who was well and truly out of it, he was telling viewers that was why Europe has such a high unemployment rates.

The far-right in the U.S. has me stumped. I can't understand how their spokespeople have the audacity to make such outrageous claims.

And for he past few months the loony claims have been coming thick and fast, coutesy of Obama's attempts to reform health care.

If I haven't lived through the health insurance debates in Australia in the 1970s I'd think the free world (yep, I am IN the free world!) had lost the plot.

From the Murdoch Press
Americans have defense forces police forces, members of Congress and schools, all of which are publicly funded. But at the mere thought of the "public option" - that's what the proposed safety net health insurance is called - than we have Sarah Palin talking about how there'll be government run "death panels" to kill off the aged, and how the whole of South America will be converging on us to get free health care for it's citizens.

But I DID live through the health care reform debate in OZ and so, it's the same old same old.

Fortunately we are relieved from the talk of death panels and unemployment figures by the frequent interruptions into political "debates", by news of sexual misdeeds, past, present and no doubt, future.

Until we found out that comedian David Letterman had been allegedly blackmailed by Robert "Joe" Halderman, a 51-year-old CBS news producer, the news was all Roman Polanski. Halderman is accused of exhorting $2 million from Letterman, in exchange for not revealing that Letterman had sex with women who worked with him on his the late-night talk show. He had plead not guilty. Letterman on the other hand has plead guilty (of having the sex).

Mr. Polanski, did in fact, plead guilty - of having unlawful sex with a 13 year old. That was 32 year's ago.

One of the many Hollywood celebrities who has come out in Polanski is Whoopi Goldberg who shocked many people when she was said to have excused Polanski on the grounds that his conduct back in 1977 with a 13 year old girl, wasn't "rape rape".

But what did she actually say? Her "rape rape" comment should be viewed in context.

In a panel session on the TV show, "The View" Whoopi Goldberg was TRYING to get her fellow panelists to address the facts. What was Polanski convicted of?

She gets a little frustrated. I don't blame her. I was surprised when the few people I've discussed the Polanski case with, have said, and I paraphrase, "I think he should be put in jail. It's wrong. What was he charged with? Has there been a trial?"

Nothing like informed opinion.

Can't people get it right? Listen to what Ms Goldberg actually said.

As in the Michael Jackson moralizing, people seem only too keen to forget the conviction and remember the charges.

Last I knew, a person was innocent till proven guilty. Jackson was never found guilty of child molestation and Polanski had no trial as he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. But what they were convicted of seems to have no bearing on much of media opinion. As with the comments on sick leave and unemployment figures, facts have no place when it comes to the gutter press and Palin wannabes.

Looking and listening to Whoopi Goldberg, all she appears to be saying is - "let's get the facts before sounding off".

It's a case of bread and circuses, with the emphasis on the circuses.