Saturday, December 29, 2012

Remembering Vanessa

Woman I can hardly express,
My mixed emotion at my thoughtlessness,
After all I'm forever in your debt,
And woman I will try express,
My inner feelings and thankfullness, - from "Woman", John Lennon

Each man's death diminishes me, - John Donne

I heard the news today, oh boy! My friend Vanessa passed away on December 26th.

A good friend even though not really really close. Real.  Because after living in the USA for nearly 20 years, she is one of only three American friends I've made here. Three American friends in 20 years. Some feat Van, as I am not the easiest person to get on with, and New York City is not the friendliest town out there.

But Van and I "got on", despite differences in cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and religious beliefs. I like to think that is because we "knew" each other. And that sort of knowingness does not come often in this life and is to be valued. Yep, we were on the same wave-length.

So this posting is short. Vanessa contibuted to "Letter From New York" over the years in comments (mostly anonymous) and in a couple of postings under the pseudonym of "Jaded New Yorker".

2012 has been a bloody awful year. Let's hope 2013 will be better.

In memory of Vanessa I close my last posting of 2012 with my brother Tim's poem. Tim who also died of lung cancer (give up the cigs folks!), and who, like Vanessa, believed in the hope of peace and love.

beetroot to yourself
lettuce all get along
Bean so good getting to know you
Peas to you and all of your family

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Friend Chris

The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door
A door marked "nevermore" that wasn't there before - Henry Mancini

I don't have a photo of Chris. I searched my albums and though I can see many of his friends, and certainly his good mate, my brother Tim, Chris seems to have somehow always avoided the camera's eye.

I first met Chris in the heady days of the seventies when he was a wine-drinking hippie. With his olive skin and thick dark curly hair, I always thought he belonged on a Greek island lying under an olive tree drinking a rough red, instead of hanging out in rainy old Melbourne.

Whenever I meet up with Chris he's always got something philosophical to say about the world. Sort of hippie-sounding stuff but slightly off. Or should I say more politely, creative.

One thing about Chris, he practices what he preaches. Life is to be enjoyed.

In the eighties when he was helping my brother out renovating houses. Chris would do the bathroom tiling, and this fitted in with my view of him as a younger version of  Zorba the Greek.  According to Tim (featured left when he was a child - but more on children later) one day Tim couldn't be at the house they were renovating, and the owners were at work, so Chris turned up solo.

Like all Juliffs, Tim liked to embellish, so take this with a grain of yogurt ... On arriving at the house, Chris took a look at the bathroom and decided to take a break. He wandered around the house and spotted the red wine collection. A glass wouldn't hurt, he thought, and opened a bottle, then sat on the deck in the sun, contemplating life and how both good and bad the world is. The bottle finished, he went back inside and found another. Then came his Goldilock's routine. Being by now somewhat sleepy, he surveyed the bedrooms, and finding the master bedroom the most inviting, thought he'd have a little lie down. And promptly fell asleep holding a now half empty bottle of wine.

Eight hours later the owners arrived home from a hard day of work, eager to see their newly tiled bathroom. Instead the discovered, lying  on their bed - a drunken hippy, snoring contentedly with a smile on his face. The wine of course had been a Grange...

I phoned Chris last night to wish him happy Christmas, and he explained the state of the world to me in his usual knowing Chris-style.

I told him I'd just come upstairs from my building's Christmas party for children. I'd rolled up at around 6:50 pm (it officially ends at 7) and Santa was just about to leave. "Ho ho ho!" he told the little kiddies. "I am off to the elevator to the roof to check o my elves," and off he went. "Bye bye Santa," the little Manhattanites called in their polite Upper East side Manhattan kind of way.

Santa had barely gone and suddenly a down elevator arrived full of a new batch of two year olds with parents in tow. It was still 10 minutes before the advertised  Santa departure time, and their parents had been busy changing them from their their nursery school clothes into party wear. Wide-eyed with faces of wonder that only little children can express, they rushed into the party room looking for Santa.

I have to give their parents' credit. As the little one's faces dropped their moms and dads knelt down to explain that Santa is a VERY busy man and had to go to lots and lots of places, not just in New York but all over the world, so they mustn't cry because it was a GOOD thing that he was looking after as many children as he could.

The children hung around, looking wistfully at half eaten cookies that the early birds had left behind. They'd been anticipating the Santa party all day. No longer wide-eyed, they stared downward at the floor.

"How old are you?" I asked a pretty little girl with a woebegone face. "Nearly two," she answered. And then, remembering her manners, "Happy holidays and it is nice to meet you."

Of course the parents were furious, because after all, they had arrived during the allotted time. But like their kids they put on brave faces.

I told Chris the story. "God, how Dickensian!! That's terrible! That will affect them for life! One of them might grow up to be a mass murderer!"

"CHRIS!!!" I screamed! He remembered himself. "Yeah,. that was the wrong thing to say Kate. I am SO sorry. Christ! Why did I even say that?"

So that's Chris for you.

He later told me he'd given up drinking. "Not smoking though," he added, "a man's gotta have something."

He might have given the grog but somehow my inner image of Chris will always be of him propped up under an olive tree, or snoring in a yuppie townhouse owner's bed, clutching a bottle of red and trying in vain to work out what makes this bloody world tick.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Being a Holiday Person

Please turn up sometime around 4pm. At 5pm we will hand out presents (for children only please) from under the tree. The tree symbolises mother nature and her abundance, the presents symbolises the triumph of advertising and the petrochemical industry. To honour the fact that Jesus didn't restrict his diet to kosher food we will be offering a curry dinner. This will be served at precisely 6 pm. Latecomers may chose to sit on the front porch till the meal is over. This is to recognize the 40 day fast in the wilderness when Jesus was tempted by the devil. After eating we will drink wine and talk. This is to acknowledge the legend that Jesus liked drinking wine and talking with his friends. -  Invitation to Christmas Dinner,Tim Juliff
New York Guy Celebrating Hanukkah
I'd seen them several times earlier in the day. A bunch of young guys dressed in varieties of Santa Claus inspired gear, some sporting antlers, others waving fake holly. They were frolicking around the streets of  Upper East Side New York, Leunig-like - a joyful procession of party people joined together hand-in hand like a happy antithesis  of Bergman's Dance of Death.

Around three in the afternoon I bumped into them for perhaps the fourth time, waiting at traffic lights on the corner of 88th and Second.

I smiled at them and asked, "What are you celebrating?"

"Hanukkah," they shrieked.  "Happy holidays," I replied.

 Unlike many people, I have no problem with saying Happy Holidays". It's almost natural to me now. In fact the other day when I was asked, "Are you a 'holiday person'" I answered with a decided "No" - thinking of course that the person meant did I like the December holy days. In fact she meant did I object to "Happy Holidays" over "Happy Christmas".

Growing up atheist in a single parent family in Australia in the fifties, Christmas was a time to dread. Christmas Day especially. The three of us, Mum, Tim and myself would sit forlornly around the table eating roast chicken - each of us trying to put a bright face on it in order not to upset the other two. One Christmas Day, when we were a bit older, my mother, having a sense of humour most would be generous in considering "dry", served up one hamburger with plastic holly on top.

Dance of Death from Bergman's "Seventh Seal"
Melbourne, in fact all of Australia, was outwardly mono-religious back then. Saying you were not a Christian was like saying you were a communist, or worst still, an aborigine.In fact, so deeply ingrained in me was Christian Christmas and its associated cultural side-effects that I didn't even 'get' the scene in the 1970's  Woody Allen "Hannah and Her Sisters", where Woody buys white bread and mayonnaise when he decides to convert to Catholicism.

So I love it here in New York when the December greeting is "Happy Holidays". I DO however draw the line at "holiday trees". What's wrong with "Christmas trees"? That's what they are, aren't they? Why else would people put dead trees in their living rooms and decorate them with glitter and stuff. And no one suggests we call Menorahs "Holiday Candles".

Menorah at Café D'Alcase
Still it's a small price to pay, living in a city where you are not assumed by the very fact that you are white and alive, that you are religious, let alone atheist.

I can ignore the store musak and the pretty lights. On Christmas Day we are eating Indian.  And the 1950s are 100 years ago! Praise the lord!

So turned off was I by the 1950's idea of Christmas that I brought my children up without any explanation of what it was supposed to signify. And I realized I had succeeded as a parent when my daughter, aged around six, asked me,

"Mum, was it Christmas or Easter when they crossed him up?"

Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Expat's Exit

With apologies to the bard

New York is just a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And each one in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

At first the distant viewer,
A-wonder and bedazzled by the city's movie charms.

And then the tourist, with backpack
And admiring morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly back home.

And then the new resident,
Sighing with rapture, with emails full of wonder
Sent to those back home.

Then the seasoned dweller,
Full of stressful oaths and complaining life's too hard,
Grasping for money, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking success and reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth.

And then the critic,
With the back-chat speech of Big Apple chic,
With eyes fatigued and clothes in shades of black,
Full of wise cracks and sneering references;
And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts
Into the departing expat,
With boarding pass in hand and carry-on on side,
His innocent views, now jaded, a world too wide
For his tortured mind; and his long-lost native voice,
Returning again to thoughts of home,
And the serenity of life past.

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is the parting journey home and mere oblivion,
Sans stress, sans hype, sans wonder, sans everything.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Steal This Blog

You tell me you are going to Fez
Now, if you say you are going to Fez,
That means you are not going.
But I happen to know you are going to Fez.
Why have you lied to me, you who are my friend? - Moroccan Saying

Don't trust anyone over 30." - Jack Weinberg 1964
Cafe Wha? MacDougal Street, Manhattan
I have to admit that I only, just today, discovered the true meaning of the word "hipster".

I like to think this is because, true to my generation  that ever since I heard the phrase in the late sixties, I "don't trust anyone over thirty".

Then today I read an excellent piece by thirty five year old Christy Wampole who is is an assistant professor of French at Princeton University.

Ms Wampole's How to Live Without Irony explains that hipsters are people, mostly young, who hide their true beliefs and tastes behind "a mantle of irony".

"The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness .... The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves."

Of course, as Ms Walpole points out,  things to be nostalgic about eventually run out - at least in our modern western throw-away culture, and one can only go far in scavenging  "vintage stores" to find clothes to mock at. Next in line are the clothes of  "ordinary people". Like those of pre-pubescent girls who like Justin Bieber, or of long haul truck drivers. And thus the cartoons accompanying Ms Walpole's article showing side-by-side the uncool and the hip - Justine Bieber tshirts or "Long Haul" inscribed baseball caps can be cool or uncool depending upon who is wearing them.

To put it bluntly, if you can't make it, make fun of it. And if you want to be REALLY cool, make fun of making fun of it. As in "The Life Organic" by Dom and Adrian.

Very funny actually. I like the bit where Adrian orders an egg and bacon roll, with no aole and instead of aole some oregano, and instead of bacon a field mushroom, and instead of egg, avocado. Ending with, "And can I get no roll?"

Although I didn't really know what a hipster was until today, I  realize now that I HAVE met some, mostly in foodie restaurants in Melbourne.

I like the way they take things literally. I suppose this is because they spend so much time on concepts and memes being one-removed from being one-removed. It can be very confusing. Like the old Moroccan saying from circa 1500 quoted  at the beginning of this blog. The existence of which goes to show that  hipsters have been around for a very long time!

Taking things literally  An example. I was in the weirdly named restaurant "Denches" in North Fitzroy with my daughter last September and we were amused to find "Deconstructed Eggs Benedict" on the menu. "Can you tell me what that is?" my daughter asked the waitress with a laugh. The waitress took the question literally and went on to explain the meaning of 'deconstruct' and that the eggs were not on the muffins and the hollandaise sauce was in a cup on the side.

A DYI eggs benedict....

Then last week when I was on the phone to my health insurer I spent several minutes getting the customer service man to understand the spelling of my name. He was obviously a hipster. My last name is Juliff and even though I was spelling out, ending with  "f as in Fred" he kept thinking I was saying 's' and asking me what "Fred" had to do with it. At last I explained the NATO phonetic alphabet and why we have it ... "You know," I said, "B as in bravo, C as in Charlie ..."

I thought he'd seen the light, "I know," he almost shouted in awe of his own enlightenment. "X as in Xray."

"Right," I sighed.

"So it is "Juliff" with an 'X' as in Xray," he answered.

I give up! It is just too hard being a baby boomer. Maybe I don't understand hipsters at all.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Shades of Gray

As I get older the past seems to flood in more and more.
We are all wounded and flawed and it helps to admit that. - Tim Juliff, June 2009
Scattered pictures,
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were. - from "The Way We Were", Marvin Hamlisch

Shades of Gray - View from my Living Room
I am twelve thousand miles away from what I am remembering. My brother Tim.

I saw his smile two days ago. Sitting on a cross-town bus on the northern part of the island of Manhattan. Below 39th Street our New York world's a mess. Flooded. Powerless in all senses of the word, wet, sad, gray.

We had more spirit in the aftermath of nine eleven.

I have my own refugee here. She's camped in the living room. Her apartment still has no power and it's been almost a week since Hurricane Sandy hit.

We went downtown yesterday to check it out. Guards opened the door to the apartment building and showed us where the water level had been. The security card system wasn't working. There was no heat, limited power, some water. A smell of dankness filled the lobby. Outside a tree up-ended by the storm showed its root system - bared to the gray Manhattan sky. The local deli had a few packets of cheese and some salami on its otherwise empty shelves.

Stuyvesant Town, New York
I've been all into New York this past week. The news, the internet, the people waiting for buses, lines of people holding cans for gas. The wreck that is Staten Island. Faraway Rockaways. It is as if a shell of gray surrounds us New Yorkers - living in our own little gray-encased world.

On the phone to OZ, people seen perplexed. "What do you mean, food shortage?" "Why didn't she fill the bathtub up with water?" And on Facebook, "At least you aren't in Haiti!" "At least YOU aren't in Haiti!" I snap back.

And so on the cross-town bus, I sat, immersed in my city, New York. No other place existed. Then I looked across the aisle. And saw my brother's smile.

The woman across from me sat reading. She'd looked up briefly, annoyed at some one's ringing cell phone, and caught my eye. She had my brother's gray hair, my brother's mouth and sixtyish wrinkles. As she caught my eye she smiled. It only lasted a minute, but was enough.

Woman on Crosstown Bus
I was transported back to Melbourne, Australia. To  a thousand different rolling-on-the-floor-laughing nights before emotions were acronyms. To the blue skies and white beaches of Wilson's prom when we were Dylan-listening teenagers. To Tim's sarcasm. To his deep love of his children. To visiting his first-born son in a Melbourne hospital, and picking baby Sime out immediately. Through the hospital nursery glass there were some twenty babies. All in hospital white. And there in the middle was Sime, all dressed up in hippie-purple.

Where was I? The bus jolted me back to reality. It had stopped on Central Park West. A heap of German tourists had ascended with all sorts of high-tech collapsible tubular steel mounted necessities for modern life. "Excuse me!" I had to get out.

I climbed over collapsed strollers, squeezed through the barricades of backpacks. Onto the busy New York street.

My brother's smile was fading. As it blurred into the grayness I remembered where I was.

In New York, New York.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Empty Fortune Cookie

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say," No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run" - from "Highway 61 Revisited", Bob Dylan

Chocolate Fortune Cookies, Lychees, New York
Sitting in a restaurant on East 55th Street with my American friend Sol. "Lychees" - American Chinese food.

I knew it was American Chinese when, after our "appetizers" (first course), the waiter picked up our dirty knives and put them back on the linen tablecloth, to be re-used for our "mains". Or as they call the main courses in the US,"entrées".

A pleasant evening. And at the end, the obligatory fortune cookies.

"Oooh they are chocolate!" my friend Sal exclaimed. Ho hum, what did I care? After the culinary delights of my home town of Melbourne, chocolate fortune cookies were just SO-uninteristing. 

Still I smiled and started to unwrap mine.

I stared aghast. My cookie was empty. I checked the two halves -  I held one in each hand. Empty shells. No sliver of paper with a trite message. Just darkness. Nothing. Rien.

A void. A complete nothingness.

"Look!" I showed my friend. "I have no fortune! I am no more! I am empty. There's nothing here. I am a blank."

He laughed. "I never saw an empty fortune cookie before - a true abscess!" he said.

Well, as I said, he is an American friend. Still, amidst my horror and despondency I corrected him.

You mean an "abyss," I said.

"Sure," he replied.

I sat there, staring at my message-less fortune cookie. Looking at the blankness, the abyss. The nothingness. Deadness.

American-like, my friend called the waiter."My friend has no future," he explained. "Can you get her another cookie?"

The waiter obliged.

Resigned, I accepted. The new cookie had a message. Something unmemorable. I can't remember what it said. My mind was fixated on the prior nothingness fortune.

We paid the bill. Evening over.

As my friend and I parted, each going our different ways on 55th Street, he said, "Text me tomorrow if you are still alive."

"Sure," I said.

And stared into the abyss that is New York.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Coded Bigotry - Romney Shows What He Thinks of Single Mothers, Especially Black Ones

The best time to have a baby is when you're a black teenager. - Sarah Silverman, from "Jesus is Magic"
"Romney stood up in front of a television audience of 60 million people and said that gun violence in America happens because poor black single women are bad mothers. He said it as he stood beside the black son of a single mother." - Chloe Angyal, from Republicans tune in to coded racism

First - I think Sarah Silverman is incredibly funny. Second, I was brought up by a single mother. Third, both Romney and his widow-peaked running mate Paul Ryan have a bad dose of the born-to-rule syndrome.

Like Australia's Malcolm Fraser in his bad old days, the feeling that emanates from Romney and Ryan is their attitude that only they and their ilk have a right to be IN POWER. Listening to Romney-Ryan what is obvious - barely below the surface - is  their revulsion that America has a Democratic president and what's even worse - he's black. The real world is awry for them. It just doesn't fit into their narrow understanding of what they would like the world to be.

They remain incredulous. Surely the world should fit into their own narrow imaginings; they'd burrow into a Norman Rockwell painting if they could.

Out of touch with the real world, Romney demonstrated in the second 2012 Presidential debate, his belief that he, Romney, is a member of the ruling class, a born-to-be leader, and that Obama is an aberration and not worthy of the respect normally accorded to his president.

In Australia where politicians can be rude to each other with impunity, it is only the lunatic fringe that taunts the Australian Prime Minister - an unmarried woman who lives with her partner - using sexism bigotry to deride her.

But in the US, the President is normally treated with respect - the role is modelled on the kings of Europe in the 18th century who were the heads of the government executive. The American president is Commander in Chief of the country's armed forces. In June this year there was a huge brouhaha when a reporter merely interupted an Obama speech. "The interruption stunned White House correspondents and television viewers. And it clearly surprised President Obama, too." - Reporter Interrupts Obama During Statement on Immigration.

I've lived here so long that I've come to view the respect shown to the President as normal. And so I cringed when during the second Presidential debate when Romney interrupted President Obama saying in the voice of someone used to being OBEYED, "Hold on, you'll get your turn!"

Who did Romney think he was talking to? And more importantly, who did he think was listening to him? Did he think that his television audience was composed of white males in two parent families? I think he must have.

Certainly when Romney implied in last Tuesday's debate that gun violence is a result of the increasing number of single parent families, he insulted all of us who have been single mothers ourselves or raised by them. And yet there he was, as Australian writer Chloe Angal pointed out, standing next to a man who was raised by a single woman and who became President if the United States. What a nerve.

How can he have the audacity to stand there and insult millions of single-parents and their off-spring? I can only assume he is unware of what he's saying. A case of political and social Asperger's with a healthy dose of intolerance.

Let's hope we only have to put up with a few more weeks of seeing him on the telly. His gleaming shiny white teeth are hurting my eyes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Case of the Missing Diamond and the Shaved Organic Radish

If you go down to the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today,
You'd better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic. - The Teddy Bears' Picnic, Jimmy Kennedy 1932
What are these women doing?

Looking for diamonds of course.

And where are they doing it? At no other than one of the many kid-friendly, gluten-free-friendly, politically-correct , gender-equal, deconstructed-themed restaurants that are popping up everywhere in my home town of Melbourne, Australia.

Dining at such restaurants is an experience more akin to participating in performance art, where all the floor's a stage,  the men are gay, and all the women drink lattes while the babies sip babyccinos surrounded by recyclable cradle-to-cradle gender-neutral toys that are communal in a way their hippie generation grandparents would have never conceived.

Toy trucks, balls, cars lie around on the floor, dribble-drenched, crawled over by toddlers who keep getting in the way of the waiters who are skipping gayly between the little ones, carrying endless lattes and babyccinos high above their heads, ballet-like on little round trays. .

When I was raising my children we called such places "playgroups", but we didn't have waiters, we made our own coffee, and the only things that were deconstructed were the jig-saw puzzles.

My favourite kid-friendly Melbourne restaurant is called Miss Marmadukes. It was there that I experienced the case of the missing diamond.

The waiters all wear cute little striped aprons of the type that were all the rage in the 1930s. They clearly enjoyed the many dramas. Pulling little Sebastian who was biting Amelie on her snotty button nose, back to the toybox. Screeching things like, "Oh what a day, a lost diamond, so Agatha Christie!"

The lost diamond really did them in - it was the sugar-free icing on the organic carrot cake. They searched high and low. Everyone joined in. Flashlights were found to explore behind walls - you can see one of the mothers (top left) scrunched up against a wall looking desperately for the diamond.

In the seventies we used to give our children car-key rings to play with when theybecame bored and grizzly. But the resource boom has done wonders for the Australian economy, so now it's diamond rings. Now WHERE could little Noah have put it?

And while all this was going on an Amish family came in and the toddlers started hiding behind their Tonka trucks. The waiters screamed with delight. High drama was had by all.

Such fun.

If you get bored with the gossip and "hide the diamond" antics, you can always read the menu. It's a bit hard though to remember what restaurant you are in because they all have the same buzz words -  shaved radish, window-sill herbs, deconstructed, du puy lentils, sumac labne.

Deconstructed - some menus have so many deconstructed items that it's more like attending a cooking lesson than being served solid fare.

DIY food. Soon we'll need those funny little pieces of paper with assembly instructions translated from Chinese that come with flat-box furniture in order to construct our deconstructed eggs benedict.

I just LOVE going to Melbourne. It's so IN. So cradle-to-cradle. So deconstructed. So latte.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Ah, but I was so much older then

Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now. - Bob Dylan, "My Back Pages" 1964

Flying east over the Pacific. Neither day nor night. The only 'time' one could set ones's mechanical watch to is 'now', which doesn't exist  35,000 miles or whatever above sea-level. All smartphones have to be on "airplane" mode". If turned onto "real mode", what time would it be?

We are in the 'Now'. I am hungry but we have to wait till what would be two in the morning  Melbourne time, or noon New York time, to have dinner, so that those alighting in LA will be OK to have lunch 12 hours later. Whatever. It's confusing even to contemplate.

I'd had had a rough time in OZ, 'OZ' as we Aussies call our homeland. It had not been the most pleasant trip and had it not been for my two children, grandson and a couple of very close old friends and family I'd have gotten the hell out of Dodge.

Most people, family, most close friends were wonderful, but this trip I saw the Ugly Australian. I hadn't seen it recently, being too bogged down last year with my  brother's death  and the consequent surrounding of the love, comfort and support of those closest too me.

This time I was raw-er. The cotton wool wasn't there anymore. I was meant to be normal. My brother Tim was (as he is every day) in my head and in  his children's and wive's heads, but there he rests.

So I was meant to be "normal". A normal what? A normal Australian woman in her sixties I suppose. Brotherless, motherless, fatherless. The head of my branch of the family.

My Brother Tim
Grief should have departed by now. However as we all know, it never does. It just fades a little, but in many ways it is more intense in its disconcerting paleness and distance. Pastel memories: we try to grab them but they slip chalk-like, dryly through our expectant and hopeful fingers.

Still 35,000 miles up I was in the future and heading east not west, I was I was in The Now. And without my knowledge, as I neared New York, the years slipped away. One, three five .. By the time I arrived in New York I was ten years younger. Amazing.

A few sleeps and I was capable of venturing out into the streets of New York. All around  there were all people like me. People in their fifties, sixties, on their way to work or the movies. I was one of the crowd. I had transformed into a normal person.

What do they say in OZ if  you are valued? "Yer blood's worth bottling". Well I don't know about blood, but certainly if we could collect it, there is something that happens in the air 35,000 feet up, flying east, that drops years from one's age and whatever THAT is, it's worth bottling.

Of course it is nothing to do with the flight or the miles. But it does have something to do with ageism and cultural differences.

I'd flown from one city of immigrants, New York, to another city of immigrants, Melbourne, and back again. Which city is better to its immigrants. I dunno. But what I do know is that in America I am related to as an American. I can vote, I can have medical care, and people are not allowed to be nasty to me because I am 'old'. In fact with the African, East Indian, Indian subculture immigrants, being old is something to be respected. People in the streets, even pushy New Yorkers defer to me.
And in any case, about 30% of the population is older than I. I feel young.

I feel valued here. I felt valued in Australia, but there only by the few.
I tell people about the Ugly Ocker Bogan Man. "I would have given him the finger", they say, "but he might have shot you". I am talking about Australia, I explain. We don't have guns.

I am confused. My heart is in Australia, but except for a couple of old friends and my children and my perfect grandchild, it was cold, both physically and emotionally there.

I WILL return to Australia. But I'll be careful in building my nest. I'll surround it with my true friends and family. I'll rarely venture out alone.

But on the plus side - and there's always a plus side as one of my favourite New Yorkers has told me time and time again - I know now, across two continents, who the people are who truly care for me.

Yes, in the words of the great man, and BTW you must get his new album,

"I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Ugly Ocker Bogan Man

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation) - The Who, "My Generation", 1965

Bourke Street, Melbourne
On 14th Septermber 2012 on the corner of Bourke and Williams Street, Melbourne 3000,  I became old.

I was vacationing there, in Melbourne, my home town. I was ill. It was that cold, damp autumnal Melbourne weather.

A sad thing had just happened and I was on my way back to my accommodation there.

Septermber 14th, round noon. I'd been visiting family and was finding my way back to where I was staying, traveling by tram.

My mind went blank when I got off tram number #1; in which direction should I take tram #2?

Not only sad, I felt ridiculous standing in the tram shelter amongst  normal-looking happy people. I could barely stop the tears welling up.  I could hardly speak. Mental distress on top of laryngitis. Potens Sui, my old school motto. Self control. I braced myself and turned to a woman next to me. "Which way is Swanston Street?"  I asked. Now anyone who  has lived in Melbourne for over forty years will know that only someone NOT from Melbourne would need to ask that question. I knew I was in a bad way. Sad and confused, and now not knowing where the major street in my own home town was, I followed the woman's directions and caught tram #2. But when I got off I started to walk the wrong way for tram #3. I chose the downhill direction. Because of my bronchitis. I hoped it was right.

About all the way down the hill my Melbourne memory came back to me. Wrong way. I turned around and was walking up the hill when I saw the man.

He was 15 feet  away. About forty - paunchy, beer-gutted, sloppily  dressed. Too fat to be a builders' laborer or "in construction" as they say in America. I think he had a badly cut beard. His expression was vacant. His eyes dead. Eyes that can look out but you can't see into.  He was ugly; ugly in looks and I guessed (correctly it turned out), in spirit. As he came nearer to me, his eyes lit up.

He was looking at me. Me, who was thinking about the sad thing, with dried tears on my cheeks, finding it difficult to breath, my hair disheveled from the Melbourne wind, my clothes wrinkled and ill-fitting from traveling. My face never looks the best when I am down. And it certainly no longer looks as it did when I was young and attractive.

"Hello beautiful!" he sneered with a laugh.

Yes on 14th September 2012 at 12:05 pm, I became old.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Of Mice and Men and Yves St Laurent Paris Premieres Roses

"I remember about the rabbits, George."
"The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you can ever remember is them rabbits."  - from Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"
The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn't sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave here Carey
But it's really not my home
My fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet
And I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne  - Joni Mitchell "Carey"
I never thought I'd meet John Steinbeck's Lennie Small "Of Mice and Men" anywhere, let alone in Bloomingdale's New York. But there he was, standing near the Yves St Laurent perfume counter, looking lost.

He didn't LOOK like Steinbeck's Lennie as portrayed in any of the various film and stage versions I've seen. He didn't look like the Lennie of my imagination when I first read "Of Mice and Men" at the precocious age of nine.

"Nine?" you look surprised, unconvinced even. But then remember, I was brought up in Australia in the nineteen fifties and was exposed to Literature with a capital "L" - and not to American Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics. The only mouse I knew of as a kid was the mouse that  Steinbeck's  Lennie Small petted to death. Things could only look up. And they did. From the dead Steinbeck mouse and life in a household where consumerism was banned, to shopping for Yves St Laurent Paris Premieres Roses in Bloomingdale's New York.

Of course the Yves St Laurent Paris Premieres Roses wasn't for me. I don't wear perfume. Some of the lessons of my childhood have stuck. "It is for a friend," I apologised silently to my father who has  long ago "gone to god" as my mother would have put it, though of course, he didn't believe in her - god that is - my mother he accepted as real.

There I was in Bloomies. And there HE was - Lennie Small. I recognized him instantly, even though he was black, gay, and gainfully employed and not poor white and hetro. I'd just paid for the perfume and stood back from the counter, waiting for one of shop assistants who we now call "associates", to gift-wrap my purchase.

"Hello," smiled Lennie. "What are you doing today?" "It's OK," I told him. "I have already bought some perfume." He was so innocent looking. So engaging. The Bloomingdale's staff employed to hang out in the perfume sections usually annoy the hell out of me. But this Lennie guy was just too sweet. I smiled back.

"Are you getting it gift-wrapped?" he asked and I told him yes, that is what I  am waiting around for. "I want to wrap it! I want to wrap it!  I love wrapping things. Can I PLEASE wrap it?" I heard the words but in my head they translated to, "I want to tend those rabbits George, please can I tend them rabbits?" What else could I do? I found the associate,  who was holding the wrapping paper and ribbons in one hand, and the box with the perfume in the other. "Can this man please wrap it for me?" I asked. She scowled. "Why? What's the matter with him?"

Sensing he might lose the opportunity, Lennie-like he whined, "But I want to wrap it. I like wrapping things". Did he call her George? Where was I? Centuries slipped back and I was nine again. George just HAD to buy that farm so that Lennie could tend them rabbits.

"Please," I begged. "Let him wrap it."  The associate relented with a sigh and handed him the paper, ribbons, scissors and box.

My god. What had I let myself in for? He took forever. He measured the box against the paper. "She cut it too big," he said. He measured the scarlet and white ribbons. He centered the box. With perfect precision he folded the paper.

He TENDED that present. The ends of the paper wrapping were perfect equilateral triangles. Oops, one end was shorter. He started again.  Un-Kate-like I waited patiently. I was nine years old again and this was Lennie Small.

An hour later it was all done. I thanked him and left, giving a nod to my childhood self of a hundred years ago.

I'd done the right thing. Them rabbits were well and truly tended.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Don't You Just Hate It When ...

Hi Kathleen,
I'm very sorry to see how upsetting this is to you. - Email from a Princeton "Researcher"

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for -   Sam Cooke, "Wonderful World"
Graduation - When Degrees Meant Something
Women of this world - don't you just hate it when certain men - especially the younger ones who were raised post political-incorrectness - tell you that you are "upset" when you complain about some service, or lack thereof.

When you are in the right, and are pointing out an error in their customer service, be it commercial, governmental or horror of horrors, educational.

What's "upset" got to do with it? It immediately implies that you are somehow not emotionally capable of dealing the blows that some inept service unprovider has dealt.

It takes focus from THE PROBLEM to one's own private mental state. Quelle nerve!!!

Some of you might know that I have, for the past 14 years, run a website for Australian expatriates. It's a relatively low hitting-site - Australia has a population of around 22 million, and even with the Australian Diaspora of 5%,  the Aussie expat community is small. Still Australians Abroad has a loyal following, and is important to those of us who go there for information or a vent.

Recently I noticed what seemed to be a DDoS attack. A websiteDistributed Denial of Service attack is when is an attempt to makewebsite unavailable to its intended users. This is usually done bymaking multiple hits or site requests so that the site is unable to cope with the traffic.

Have a look at this graph. Itshows the rate of hits before the attack, with the sharp drop indicating when the attack ceased.

This slice cover just a few hours. The "attacks" went on for days, having the effect of putting my site over quota and therefore unavailable for two hour every day.

Anyway, enough of this techie stuff! The reason I went into it is that after much researching and posting to Google website forums, I  discoverered the offenders who were not out to be malicious but were merely inept "researchers" affiliated with Princeton University and operating out of a group called

They said so very sorry we didn't mean it the dog ate my homework blah blah. I was not amused, and now having a name to put to the source of my outrage, emailed back, "Dear Mr Wzyz, ...", explaining that these tens of thousands of automated hits were unsolicited and unwelcome.

And then it came. A return email with,

Hi Kathleen,
I'm very sorry to see how upsetting this is to you ..."

Kathleen already yet! How sweet. How sharing. How it's so nice to get to know you. How pathetically familiar!

He's still emailing me. He wants ME to try to work out how it happened  on his end. The research was meant to involve one to three hits (which the guys at name a "probe" because it sounds spacey and more important) every 5 minutes. Now you and me might think that means one hit to my site from every five minutes. But NoSireeBob.

What we are doing is to perform an active probe from each PL node to every 5 minutes. The burst of traffic is probably because we conduct our measurement on around 150 PL nodes.

In human-speak, that means 150 times 3 every 5 minutes. N'est ce pas?

Anyway, or anyways as they say in the States, it was enough to annoy me,. Though that was a minor annoyance compared to the inept and so non-PC responses I'm getting from Mr. Wzyz. If the unsolicited website probes were not enough, now I have to deal with his emails!

What a week. I'd barely put the mouse down when the phone rang. It was Chase fraud alert asking me did I really make thousands of dollars in purchases from Victoria's Secret and Tiffany's.

At least one place has its act together. Of course I hadn't purchased anything from those places. Tiffany's! I haven't had breakfast there for yonks. And as for Victoria's Secret. ASIF!

A mid-western gentleman once told me that Victoria's Secret is where mid-western women go to buy stuff when they want their men to give them money.

What a hoot!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Talking to Strangers

Oh I can't control myself
Oh I can't control myself
Oh I can't control myself
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone - Blondie, "Hanging on the Telephone"

Cool Girl with Umbrella, New York 1996
A hundred years ago when I first came to live in New York it was a very quiet place. You could walk down almost any street and the only sounds of people talking were made by tourists or lunatics, in most cases by the latter.

You could go for a stroll and actually be annoyed by the rumblings of delivery vans, the sirens from ambulances, police cars, fire engines, the New York car horns and the sound of air conditioners emitting whatever air conditioners emit.

Those days have long gone. New York noise has doubled in intensity. Now New Yorkers have had the finial inhibition lifted. They can talk anytime, anywhere, without being hampered by a need for the physical presence of another human.

The cell phone has brought equality to the streets of New York. You can no longer tell the loonies from the so-called normal New Yorkers.

I hadn't thought too much about the increase in New York noise. In fact I hadn't thought about it at all, until the other day when I was walking in Manhattan with one of my noisier New York friends - yes New Yorkers actually do differ in the noise level they emit - when she yelled, "Jesus! New York is so f-cking noisy nowadays!"

To be fair, she HAD to yell or I wouldn't have heard her. "It think it's the cell phones," I replied, but of course she didn't hear me. New Yorkers only listen to themselves.

Some New Yorkers still don't have cell phones, and are forced to talk to whoever is close by. Click on the play button below and you'll hear a typical New York conversation between two complete strangers.

Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough off the mark and missed recording the first bit. The woman, who is doing most of the talking had been sitting in, well overflowing really, her wheelchair, berating everyone who walked by for being New Yorkers and not talking to her. It's a short clip, and well worth the click!

Larry David Talks on Pretend Cell Phone
People talking on cell phones somehow block out all other sounds and enter a bubble of their own making. They'll talk about the most intimate things regardless of who might be listening.

I used to think they were just pretending to call and my reason for thinking that there was no one on the other end of the line was that people on cell phones in New York never pause. It's one non-stop stream of audible consciousness.

If I was pretending I'd have enough sense to pause now and then and "answer with an "Oh really" or two. Of course I was quite wrong in my reasoning. New Yorkers are talkers and not listeners. The cell phone is perfect for them. There are no talker-listener pairs. Just two talkers. And hence the huge increase in noise level.

For every New Yorker on a cell phone there are two simultaneous conversations. I've never been much good at maths but something tells me that this is - to use a favorite word of modern Americans - HUGE! And thinking of "HUGE" it occurs to me that the new use of this word makes maths irrelevant. Numbers are either huge or not huge. I think I'm on to something huge here.

But that's another story.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Greetings from the Past

What's-a matter you?
Hey! Gotta no respect.
 What-a you t'ink you do?
Why you look-a so sad?
It's-a not so bad, it's-a nice-a place.
Ah, shaddap-a you face - Shut Uppa You Face, Joe Dolce, "

Na na na na na ,na na na, hey Jude.. - Lennon/McCartney, "Hey Jude"

Memorial on NYC Sidewalk Plus Pink Flamenco
Whatever time zone your are in, whatever country you live in, wherever, when ever you are, I am five hours before you.

If you are not living in the United states, that is. I hope to catch up with you and am sure I will on Sunday August 12, for that is when the 2012  Olympics end.

American telly does not show Olympic events "live". We in the United States have to wait till England is going to sleep and Australia is getting up the next day, to see the athletes in London at the XXX Olympiad. Why? Because that time slot, between today and tomorrow is Prime Time TV here in the Devastated States of America. And that's when we get to see the past, whatever goddamned time they choose to leap run and swim in the UK.

Actually I think it is a good thing in a way. If it was in real time then I wouldn't have been half asleep when Paul McCartney sang John Lennon's "Hey Jude". Being three wines into the evening at 2 am GMT, when most of England was asleep, certainly took the edge off seeing Sir Paul trying to act young, botox, hair-dye and all. The best way of seeing McCartney has always been with eyes half-open ... and yesterday was yesterday, apt really when not only was Yesterday his only real song, but that was when I saw him. Back in the USA. Yesterday.

As a break from traveling to the past I decided to social netsurf. One tweet caught my eye.

Danny McKee @danmckee25 I didn't realize other countries played each other when they didn't play the USA.. #basketball #Olympics

Good one Danny boy! You can join Sir Paul in the back of the class. Somewhat Twittered-out I turned to CNN. Fareed Zakaria on Time to Face the Facts on Gun Control. Excellent article. I bounced down to the comments. The usual from NRA sympathizers; there's no point in arguing with them.  Worth scanning though for the amusement value.
Another anti Second Amendment article written by a non-American. Funny how the rest of the world knwos what is best for the greatest nation on Earth. July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am 

This by somone called Darren Gil commenting on the Fareed article. Back to the bottom of the class young Darren. Next to Sir Paul and Danny Boy.

I always wonder why some Americans think that the United States is the greatest country on earth. Invariably such people have not traveled elsewhere.

I wish they'd shut up. They are giving America A BAD NAME! It's actually quite a nice place. We don't have a grumpy Queen and Paul McCarney is miles away.

On the downside, America does have a lousy health system, and there are way too many guns.

And now,  to top it all off,  we have to be alive five hours ago!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life in the Scary Lane

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies - Graham Nash, "Marrakesh Express"
Half of Spain clambered onto the bus. People spread out fiesta-style across seats, hanging out of windows, balancing on top of each other. Talking, laughing. I half expected them to start laying out tablecloths picnic style and popping bottles of Vino Rioja.

I jolted myself back to the reality of Queens, New York. It was 112°F outside and I was on my way home from work.

Where had these people come from? They looked so happy. Could they be tourists? I was never to find out, for they had barely settled themselves when the Manhattan-bound bus stopped on the Queens side of the bridge and they all got off.  They left behind a void. A silence that was as annoying as the chatter they had brought with them.  I watched as they disappeared into the distance, as they frolicked along Jackson Avenue like the dancing travelers in the final scene of Bergman's "The Seventh Seal".

Perhaps I'd dreamed them?

I looked around. There were half a dozen of us left.  Office people. Monotony reigned.  Then, out of the blue the bus screeched to a halt and the driver stood up and SCREAMED, "Everyone of the bus! Now!"

Food queue in 1950s Kiev or Upper East Side New York? Check the flag.
Surely he couldn't mean it? We were halfway across the Ed Koch bridge in the middle of three lanes of traffic.  But he did mean it, and continued to scream.

I was first out. As my feet hit the tarmac, and with one hand still holding on to the boarding rail, the driver pulled a lever causing the door to slam shut on my hand. I thought my time had come. Was the bus going to move again, pulling me along with it, dragging me through the crazy New York traffic?

The door opened and the remaining passengers were catapulted through it. We stood there on the road, looking at each other. Silent, literally dumbstruck, as the traffic roared past on every side.

Of course eventually another bus came to our aid and we were taken safely back to Manhattan. Just another New York moment after all.

But it got me thinking. About the dichotomous nature of this city. The all-or-nothing-ness of it.

Never settled, we go about our lives lurching from one type of experience to its opposite, never - and quite justifiably never - trusting that what we are experiencing will last longer than a  New York minute.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Left Wondering

Paté escargots soup de jour
cordon bleu chic coiffure
fait accompli maison
creme de menthe
Marcel Marceau
meringue blancmange Bardot
gauche gay Paris garcon
gendarme agent provocateur - from The French Song", Divishti Rankine & Greg Champion
French Gucci and New York Taxis, Fifth Avenue
Being that it is Bastille day, I had intended to write about something French. Needing inspiration, I hunted around among my many photographs on disk. I knew I had one of a poster I saw years ago in Manhattan. I snapped it around the time that  the French were angry with America for naming their fries "Freedom" instead of "French". I can't remember why the Americans did this,  but knowing the French, they must have had a good reason.

 In 1985 the French were angry with Australians because they - the French - blew up the Greenpeace flag ship -  "The Rainbow Warrior" -  in the port of Auckland, New Zealand, to prevent her from interfering in a French nuclear test in the Pacific island of Moruroa. What chutzpah. So French! Australia stuck up for New Zealand and the French then punished all Australian citizens, requiring them to apply for visas if they wanted to visit France.

The poster photo would have been good, but I couldn't locate it. I think it was about a French restaurant and said something along the lines of, "Enjoy the French food without having to put up with all the annoying French people." I decided to do a computer search for the photo and typed "French" into the little box that comes up when you click the Windows 7 start button. You can see the result on the left.

Windows thought I wanted to BECOME French!  It was about to change my PC language. Mon Dieu!  I was reminded of my daughter when she was six. She wanted me to take her to France so that she'd have a French accent. It's a nice language, not as nice as the French think it is, but it seems even Windows 7 has gotten the francophile bug and thinks if you type "French" you want to become one.

Merci, mais pas ...

It's been a confusing week. Hot, chaotic, and puzzling.

I'm left-handed. All the best people are. And in the last decade or so, designers have started taking us Mollydookers into account. Simple things like having the power cord come out of the center-back of the iron, make us feel wanted when once we were shunned. The hand sinistre. The hand some religions use to clean their bottoms.

What did Dory Previn pen in her "Left Hand Lost" song?
left-handed people are impure 
they go against the grain 
left-handed children play with themselves 
and drive themselves insane

And so it was with anticipation that I read this week about Australian entrepreneur John Lambie's alternative to what he calls the "dysfunctional" QWERTY keyboard.  Not as dysfunctional as mine would have been had Windows 7 had its way and turned it into a French one full of acutes, graves and circumflexes.

Not that there's anything wrong with John Lambie designing an alternative keyboard.  As people  abandon keyboards for smartphones it may well be the time to change keyboard design. In fact it has already started. Apple has a ".com" key, and there have been all sorts of other changes including changes on physical keyboards.

But look at this John Lambie one.

The keyboard is in alphabetical order with the letters split over five rows instead of three and .... wait for it. According to the Melbourne Age, "the keyboard  is able to be flipped for easier use by left handed people."

WHAT is it we are meant to do? Does Lambie think we lefties see the world in reverse? That the 'b' comes before  the 'a' in our mirror world?.

I'm quite confused.  I thought of typing this whole blog post  in reverse character order and holding it up to a mirror to see if Mr Lambie has a point, but wisely decided against it. How does he think we have managed all these years? Does he know we read normal books normally? Or does he think we start a the back page and flip the book upside down?

It's just getting all too much. I'm having an Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass experience.

Even the French are starting to look sensible ...

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

What's it Like to be in New York?

Hey girl what's it like to be in New York?
New York City, imagine that
What's it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?
Leroy says send a picture Leroy says hello
Leroy says keep on rocking, girl
Keep on rocking - from Anchorage", Michelle Shocked

East Sixtieth, July 2012
"I've always wanted to ride a horse. It is one thing I have to do before I die. I juss gotta get on one of them horses, but lordy if that horse done look me in the eye, I'm outta there."

What was this? I'd watched "Gone with the Wind" the night before. Had I been transported à la Twilight Zone to a stereotypical pre-Civil War deep south, and encountered Mammy?

I looked around me. No, I wasn't in rural Georgia, and unfortunately there was no Clark Gable looking suave, debonair and mean. I was on Sixtieth and Second, July 2012 waiting for a bus.

Behind me wasn't Tara, just the outside of a grubby pub selling Atomic Wings, whatever they are. Several 1950's era bicycles were stacked and chained together on a water pipe. The pockmarked concrete radiated out heat drawn in from the subways below and from the summer sun above.

The woman was still talking about the horse. I looked at her. She certainly looked like Scarlett's house-maid Mammy, though she wasn't wearing an apron.

"I once rode a horse," I answered. "Was it scary? Glory be!" Was this for real?  I was becoming paranoid. Was I the unknowing subject of some hidden camera television reality show eliciting the reactions of 21st century whites to racial-profiled character actresses? But no, surely not.

"Yes It WAS scary,"  I told her. "You are up so high and I got a fright when it moved. But you don't have to worry about the eyes looking at you. They don't look at you when you are sitting on their back."

This really set her  off. She laughed a deep throaty Mammy laugh. "Those big eyes," she chuckled, "You telling me you can't see his big eyes. You see them  BEFORE you get on that horse. You is sure funny!"

The bus driver who had been sitting in the driver's seat in A/C coolness reading "The Daily News" all this time, now condescended to open the door  to let us on. My new friend sat next to me, excited to talk more about horses. "You'll be fine," I re-reassured her. "Don't worry about it." I had hoped to be able to read my book - St Aubyn's Bad News, but didn't want to appear rude.

"I've been on a glider," I offered.

"I been to Paris," she countered.

"I've been on a tram."

"Me too and  I've been on a ship."

We sounded like two little kids in the school yard.

We chatted on about a few other things she wanted to do before she died. Anyone watching would have thought us the best of friends. Her stop was first. She got up to go and walked to the front of the bus. I looked up, following her with my eyes, expecting her to look back as she alighted. To wave. To acknowledge.

She didn't look back.

So New York. This sort of friendliness, camaraderie happens all the time. It's the way we communicate here. Who needs friends when you can just leave your apartment and talk to anyone. You don't have to actually know them. You can say anything. Or not speak at all.

It's all part  American take on "freedom".

Freedom of speech.
Freedom NOT to speak.
Freedom to have health care.
Freedom NOT to have health care.
Freedom to vote.
Freedom NOT to vote.

I'm starting to understand the land of the brave. Only took me 18 years ...

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Don't Lay a Heavy Scene on me, Man

But I don't wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn't catch you hung up
on somebody that you used to know - From "Somebody That I Used to Know", Gotye, 2011

"This is the song I played while I deleted my FB." - Essjaiveille's comment (June 29) on the YouTube clip of "Somebody That I Used to Know"

A hundred years ago, 'Kool-Aid' brought to mind the Tom Wolfe novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, rather than "drinking Kool-Aid" - as in  accepting an unquestioned belief.

Back then I lived in rural Australia. A housewife.

My ex-de-facto-sister-in-law  and brother were  visiting.  I stopped washing the dishes, those being in the days when I was married to the man-who-didn't-believe-in -dishwashers, when I heard de-facto ex-de-facto-sister-in-law saying to my brother, "Don't lay a heavy scene on me man!"

Perfect seventies-speak. I don't think people say that any more, except for me when I want to annoy people ...  So many lost words. But "hang up" has survived. "Don't be so hung up," we'd bleat to our parents and to anyone in mainstream society. Those were the days.

I was reminded of seventies-speak last week when I was having coffee at a Prêt à Manger, or should I say à l'Anglaise, Pret a Manger. Suddenly, breaking out from the ever-present Manhattan  hum that is a blend of traffic noises, jackhammers, A/C emissions and the babel of New Yorkers, came a complete and distinguishable sentence.

"Oooohhh that's MY song!" screamed the gap-toothed black girl behind the counter. I put down my cappachino and listened to the song that was playing. And recognised the opening bars, cords? whatever of Luiz Bonfá's "Seville". Swallowed quickly by Melbourne singer, Gotye's, "Somebody That I Used to Know".

"But that was love and it's an ache I still remember", swoon-sang the girl behind the counter, turning the volume up full blast.

Kimbra's sweet voice singing, "Hung up on sombody that I used to know."

"Somebody That I Used to Know" is the song of preference in New York stores and coffee bars this summer.

On my way out, I stopped and told Gotye's Pret a Manger fan that I was from the same town, Melbourne, as the singer. "Oh Goatee, he is so wonderful!" she answered.

I smiled and agreed, not wanting to disillusion her with the correct pronunciation of his name. After all, life's to short to disillusion people, and it has been a long hot and confusing summer.

Why, just yesterday, dear reader, I was taken completely by surprise. "Somebody That I Know", the title of Gotye's hit, applied to me! I discovered, quite by accident, that one of my dearest friends is ... gasp! ...

a Republican!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stomping on the Level Playing Field

Well, I don't figure I'll be back
There for a spell,
Even though Rita moved away
And got a job in a motel.
He still waits for me,
Constant, on the sly.
He wants to turn me in
To the F.B.I.
Me, I romp and stomp,
Thankful as I romp,
Without freedom of speech,
I might be in the swamp. - from Motorpsycho Nightmare, Bob Dylan 1964
Corner 58th and Second
Last week I posted about old people and drinking cappuccino, at what was then, my favorite brunch restaurant - the Zebu Grill.

But as the song says, "Well, I don't figure I'll be back there for a spell."  As to why, the lest said, probably the better.

This week my interest is in economics, rationalism and "Obama care" - the name being given to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010  bills that could have lead America into the 21st century, albeit grudgingly.

I just don't get it. The health care "system" in America is so inefficient. Since 1986 everyone in America has a right to health care treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. So the insured people are still paying for the uninsured,  just in an inefficient and round-about manner.  The hospitals providing the "free care" do not get  reibursed by the government. So it's the insured users who have to pay even more.

So this past week I decided to listen to Mitt Romney in the hope he would explain why it isn't a good idea for all Americans to have health insurance.

I tuned in to CNN and listened to Romney and his guys explaining how unfair everything was, and how China was a bad country because China can manufacture products cheaper than the US can. "We want a level playing field," one of them whined.

Huh? "Level playing field". Isn't that what Republicans DON'T want. Certainly they don't want every American to have health insurance. And what about capitalism and competition?  Not to mention the proclaimed benefits of a free market economy.

In my opinion, the Republicans are the new socialists - socialism for the rich. For the big banks. For Wall Street.

Bail out General Motors but heavens, don't provide health insurance to the poor and unemployed.

Yes a true socialist, Mr Romney is all for the workers.

According to the Sun Times, "Romney's campaign released a new ad on Friday - titled 'First 100 Days: Ohio,' where an announcer says, 'Day One, President Romney stands up to China, demands a level playing field for our businesses and workers.'"

It must be about having one's cake and eating it too. Or let them eat cake. Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain. Divying up the cake.

And as for the photo above, it has nothing whatsoever to do with health care, China or Mitt Romney. I took it because I just liked the sign. The smaller sign on the left says, "Feed a pigeon, breed a rat".

Yep, I just don't understand Republican logic.

Perhaps it's a rat thing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No Country for Old Hippies

Carpe diem, carpe diem
Carpe diem, carpe diem
Well it’s an old cliche
Yes, it’s an old cliche
But you better make your love today
Death is a’coming in - from 'Carpe Diem', Tuli Kupferberg (The Fugs) 1965

I did a double take. I was crossing 42nd Street, having just emerged from the Second Avenue bus and a daydream.

The daydream was about the reaction to my last week's post, Rated Oh! for Old People. People had emailed me, berating me for writing about being old.

Yes they were right, I mused. Think young.
And then I saw it. A huge poster. You can see it here  above left. A poster proclaiming loudly and boldly, "Get Old".

Had I entered the Twilight Zone? Twilight years, more likely. Walking west down 42nd I saw even more posters telling us New Yorkers to "Get Old".

Some of the posters had little word-bites, meant to be encouraging. Such as, "Live longer. Live Better". And "Live long enough to see them make the same mistakes".

On and on they went, poster upon poster. Encouraging us to teach our children, to think "I told you so", but all with the same tag line, "Get Old".

"Who was putting these out?" I wondered. And then I saw in small print at the bottom of the posters. "Pfizer". I googled "Pfizer Get Old" when I got home, only to discover that Pfizer has applied for a TRADEMARK on  "Get Old". Milking the baby boomer generation for all they can get!
So much for getting the getting-old idea out of my head!

Which reminds me - I thought of another worst thing about getting old. People calling me "dear". Or even worse, "sweetie". When did this horrible thing start happening? Is is purely an American thing? Lots of people use these "terms of endearament" when addressing me.  People I know. People I've never met before.  Friends. Bank tellers. Waiters.

I have decided to counter-attack. Anyone calling me "dear" or "sweetie" gets it straight back. Let's see how THEY like it!

And so to Sunday. Father's Day here in America. I decided to go back to my favorite brunch restaurant. I was dreading it, fearing I'd see the waiter who had thought I was dead (Rated Oh! for Old People). But I decided to be brave ad venture out.  Then, oh no, I got another getting-old reminder. Second Avenue was full of old men. It should be Grandfather's Day. Old hippie men. They were everywhere. Long gray hair. Jeans. Generation X-ers in tow.
From my table at Zebu's - Father's Day 2012
All that was missing was the beads. Was that marijuana that I could smell above the pollution of the Second Avenue subway construction?

At the restaurant I took a table near the door, all the better to observe my generation on the sidewalk opposite.

The waiter-who-thought-I-was dead wasn't there. He must only work on Saturdays. And the new one, being VERY young, around ten, didn't call me anything.

Things were looking up! I started reading my new book. "Cain" by José Saramago. I love Saramago's writing. Sentences that span pages. Hardly any paragraphs. "Cain" is Genesis for atheists. It's excellent. So good I had to put it down to savor what I'd read so far.

Over my cappuccino I reflected on life. On Adam and Eve and getting old. On the wonderful Fugs. Carpe Diem. My generation.

Oops. What was I thinking? The words from "My Generation" by The Who came  blasting  their way into  my new-found short-lived moment of tranqulity.

People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old

My generation.

How little did we know!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rated Oh! for Old People

Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college - from "Tombstone Blues", Bob Dylan, 1965

Youth and Age - Me and my Dad many years ago! 
My mother misled me.  "The worst thing about growing old," she told me, "is that your toenails turn yellow."

What a thought!  Mine aren't yellow yet though. Perhaps when THAT happens I'll agree that it's the worst thing. But not now.

I have a whole heap of worst things about growing old.

People saying I look like Maggie Smith is just one of them.

And people thinking I have possibly left this world!

Last weekend I went to my favorite brunch place - Zebu Grill. They make the best eggs benedict. I went with a book. When I first came to New York I imagined I'd make heaps of friends and have a busy social life, just like I'd had in Melbourne. That was before I knew that Americans - or is it just New Yorkers - aren't so much into friends. So I brunch alone with a book for company.

I generally go to the Zebu Grill every weekend, but I'd missed the week before. When I got up to leave the waiter said, "You weren't here last weekend? The waiter who is generally on in the weekends noticed, and asked if I'd seen you. He was concerned."

What did he mean? And then I realized.

Yikes! I went pale. He'd thought I'd carked it. Passed on, ceased to be, expired. Surely I didn't look THAT old. The feeling of enjoyment I'd had from the eggs benedict and my book, "Bring Up the Bodies"  died.  The very title of the book evoked death. The world turned gray.

Is this indicative of a new phase where people see me as something akin to the John Cleese parrot? Another worst thing! Even worse than being compared to Maggie Smith!

I am so sensitized to growing old, so obsessed, that I experience its awfulness when it isn't even there. Walking back from shopping last Sunday,  I noticed the poster on the left in the window of a laundromat. What did it mean? Where was the name of the show? I stopped, transfixed.

I must have read it through three times trying to figure out the name of the play, before giving up and assuming I was losing it. Aging had done me in! I could no longer make sense of a Broadway poster.

Perhaps what I hate most about growing old is losing the ability and the chance to redefine oneself. To imagine a different self. In my younger days I'd think things like, "I am going to change and be a neat person." Or "I am going to be more tolerant and cheerful".  Now I'm just me and stuck with it! Nothing's going to change. I've been me too long for any significant change to happen. So boring!

A bored Maggie Smith. Scary. What could be worse?

And back on the topic of Ms Smith ... I had quite a bit of feedback to my post, I Ain't Gonna Be Maggie Smith No More. Most people felt I should be honored at being told I was like her. "Such a wonderful actress", I was told by several friends. ASIF people thought I was like her for my acting ability. Clearly I was like her because of the nasty characters she played. Or her looks.  My uncle emailed, commenting on Maggie - "As my old man would have said : 'a face like a pound of tripe'". Charming!  It has not been my week!

There's not much worse than looking like Maggie Smith, having no dreams for the future,  not understanding Broadway posters, and having waiters thinking you've died when you don't have brunch one Saturday.

Unless it  is perhaps the color of one's toenails.

I daren't look ....