Saturday, December 18, 2010

On the other side of the aisle

Can someone else take over from me on front of store? I've had enough! FOREVER! - Manager of the local supermarket after arguing with a customer about a can of Pepsi for 40 minutes

A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied, and I think that's what we have here. - Larry David

Holiday Shopping, Keyfood, Manhattan
I was approaching the fast lane at the local supermarket's checkout. The manager was there arguing with two customers who stood there zombie-like. One of them was repeating over and over, "Where's my free soda?"

The manager saw me approaching and called out. "Take the next line, Miss. I'm going to be two hours here."

I did. And he was. Well, I think he was, because I hung around fascinated and he was still dealing with the two women when I decided to leave.

Saturday afternoon entertainment. New York style.

It all happened after having had all her items processed through the checkout, one of the women wanted a free can of Pepsi. There'd been a buy-a-can-get-one-free special on cans of Coke. She'd bought only Pepsi. It had apparently been explained to her several times that she needed to buy Coke to get a free can of Coke, but she wasn't having any of it, so the manager had been called over to explain.

Sad Christmas Decoration Second Avenue, New York
I stood there transfixed as the manager did his best to explain what "get one free" meant and that Pepsi and Coke were two different brands. He had to repeat every sentence several times. The woman looked at him with dead eyes. Eventually he reversed the Pepsi charge and took the can from her basket. Here you are, he explained. Here's your money back. Now if you want to get a free can of Coke you need to buy a can of Coke. "Can I buy two?" she asked. "Buy as many as you want," he said.

She went off and came back with two cans of Coke. He told her he'd only charge for one, as the other was free. But she wasn't satisfied. She claimed she was entitled to two cans, one of Pepsi and one of Coke and where were they?

All this time the checkout girl was leaning languidly against the counter, focussed on something in a different land, visions of sugar-plums perhaps, or of bowls of noodles at a restaurant at a South East Asian beach. "Nobody cares," the woman behind me was muttering. Homeless people with big bags of cans were shuffling around waiting for the cash for cans-recycler machine near the doorway. Several newly-arrived Nubian-looking men were talking in French, waiting for 'delivery orders', oblivious to the fracas. "I want a can of Coke and a can of Pepsi," the complaining-woman was repeating for the hundredth time to the manager.

Eventually he left, waving his arms in the air and calling for someone to take over from him. Enough was enough.

By now I had finished with my purchases but lingered, wondering how the next person would handle it all. But no sooner than I'd swiped my card, than the manager was back. A glutton for punishment. Though I understood his position. He was determined to have her understand.

I stood around for a while. The woman had become even more confused. She appeared to have forgotten about her refund and was wanting even more Pepsis. She wanted free ones for the free ones she hadn't received from the purchase of the Pepsi that had been refunded. It was going to go on forever.

I couldn't stand it.

I think I'll mosey along to Fifth Avenue and stand amongst the tourists.

New Yorkers are getting me down.

P.S. My best ten books of 2010 are HERE.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars - From "Fly me to the Moon" composed by Bart Howard, sung by Sinatra

A few hundred years ago when I'd just finished university ('yooni' in OZ-speak), the Kubrick movie, "A Clockwork Orange" was released.

It is set in a Britain of the future and is the story of a young delinquent Alex DeLarge (played by Malcolm McDowell). Alex is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society's crime problem. The therapy involves him being forced to watch violent scenes on film while listening to classical music, specifically Beethoven's 9th, 4th movement.

Among other consequences of the "therapy" he is forever more unable to listen to classical music - music which he once loved.

I hated the film. However I was apparently alone amongst my circle of friends at the time. It was after all "in" to hate big brother, government, and aversion therapy. To love classical music was apparently the character's (Alex Delarge's) saving grace. Government bad, classical music good. And somehow Alex's horrific rape crimes that were the cause of his imprisonment were lost to all, or at least forgotten. I hated the film as they way I interpreted it was that ruining Alex's enjoyment of classical music was somehow worse than the crime he committed against a middle-class couple. Alex was of course working class and somehow sacrosanct.

I'd forgotten all about "Clockwork Orange". And then suddenly, unannounced, it all came flooding back to me.

Living in New York it is not uncommon to hear Frank Sinatra songs being played. In gyms, dental offices, stores, pubs. I don't normally notice them, well, not consciously at least.

But last night, there I was in my favorite Japanese restaurant. I'd asked for the check (OZ-speak = "bill"). When the check is brought at Konomi, it is always accompanied by a segmented orange. Why did I suddenly feel so ill? My jaw ached.

I could hear "Fly Me to the Moon" sung by Frank Sinatra playing in the background. Then I realized Sinatra songs had been playing all the time I'd been at the restaurant.

And what music is piped into the room at my dentist's? Sinatra of course. And I've had several very long sessions at my dentist's lately. Must have heard every Sinatra recording several times over.

I'd been aversion-therapied!

Now when I listen to Sinatra I hear drills. My mouth goes numb and I imagine Malcolm McDowell ramming a golf-ball down the mouth of the husband whose wife he's going to rape in " A Clock-Work Orange".

What's more I remember my old friends telling me I was bourgeois and didn't understand Kubrick's message. Oh the fear of being thrown out of the in-crowd!

Furgeddabout Beethoven's 9th. It's hardly played here in Ol'-New-York-New-York-so-good-they-named-it-twice. But Sinatra, he's EVERYWHERE!

I tell you guys, this is just hasn't been my year!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Mad Dogs and English People

Fat common people in tight clothes licked ice-creams and ate oozing buns and shouted.... "It's a shame so many young people are bald now," she said.
"Is it AIDS or this awful chemotherapy? I am sure we never had either." "It's the fashion, Ma." - from "Old Filth" by Jane Gardam

Poster at the Fashion Museum, Bath, UK
My dentist, as well as being a self-proclaimed expert, is a philosopher, and not a bad one at that. "Every morning when you wake," he tells me, "there are two channels, and you must choose one. One is the sadness or misery channel, and the other is the happy channel. People LIKE happy people and if for no other reason, you must take that. But if you have trouble, start the day with music, music that will guide you towards taking the happy path."

I've tried to my dentist's advice over the past weeks, but it's been hard. New York can be a lonely place, especially during the festive season. And this festive season, what with a few not-so-nice experiences, I've found myself taking the sad channel by default.

At one stage I became so depressed that I thought I'd buy a dog! Seriously. ASIF I could have a dog in a New York apartment. I imagined a comforting little puppy welcoming me home every night. I watched other New York women (yes, they are mostly women) hugging their dogs during the morning elevator commute.

Then reason set in. The only type of dog I could accommodate would be a dog without a digestive system. I just can't see myself following a four-legged creature around waiting patiently to scoop up its excrement in a plastic bag. Or paying a dog-walker $20 a day to do it for me. No. I had to find another path to happiness.

So that's the "dog" part of the title of this posting. Now for the second channel.

English People
English people. I visited the UK recently. Not for the first time. The first time I went there was a hundred years ago. I remember my first UK job. It was teaching at a "remand" home - for adolescent "criminals", somewhere far away from Golders Green where I lived, but still in London. Industrial greater London. I had to get the Tube, change a hundred times and then get a bus.

My first day. I navigated the Tube system and found what I thought was the correct bus. After about 50 minutes I looked at my watch, saw I was late, and looking out of the window saw green hills and hedge fences. I was in the country-side. Not a building in sight.

After asking the bus conductor where I was, and realizing I was hopelessly lost, I burst into tears. I told him I was late for my first day at work and what was I to do. He suggested a cup of tea. Really.

I can't remember the upshot of this story, except that I did have a cup of tea, arrived somehow at the remand home, and survived England.

Bath, UK
A hundred years later. My plane back home to New York from England left at 9:00 am from Manchester airport and I was staying in London. I decided to do the sensible thing and spend the night in a hotel near Manchester airport. I booked into the Crown Plaza.

The day before my flight, friends dropped me at Euston Station and I took the train to Manchester Piccadilly station, and then the local to Manchester airport. It's a pretty big airport. Nothing as big as JFK or Heathrow, but if you've never been there before, still confusing. On leaving the train, I took an escalator or two, looking for signs for the exit, or for information about transport.

Eventually I found courtesy phones for the airport hotels. There was a line. A Japanese tourist was sobbing into one of the phones and then ran off in obvious distress. Next in line the person in front of me was German. He threw his hands up in horror after a few seconds and left under his rucksack. It was my turn.

I dialed the Crown Plaza,. "I am at the station at the airport. Where is the courtesy bus?" I asked.

"Oh, near the doors?" came the answer. "Which doors". "The front doors."

"I am not familiar with this airport and there are doors to the outside all around," I explained. "How can I tell which ones are the front?"

"Well just go up a set of escalators and down another and look to the right and there they are," a very patient voice explained.

"But I already came up one set of elevators? So should I go down again?" I asked.

"Depends which one you came up," was the answer. "What were they near?" Was she serious?

Same Things, Bath, UK
I was becoming distraught.

And on and on it went in the same vein.

As we spoke the line behind me was growing. Doors to the outside kept opening and closing, bringing in freezing air.

I started to cry. "I don't understand," I was sobbing, when suddenly a woman wearing a Crown Plaza uniform miraculously appeared.

"The bus is outside and I will take you to it," she said.

And continued, "When we get to the hotel, you know what I'll do? I'll get you a nice cup of tea!"

Ah!The English solution. But what was even lovelier was the familiarity of it. The cup-of-tea-solution. Some things don't change.

Maybe my dentist is correct and the second, the happy path, is not so difficult to choose.

And that concludes the second part of the title of this post - "English people". You have to love them!