Monday, January 30, 2012

From Sea to Shining Coast

When you're alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown
When you've got worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, down town - from "Downtown", sung by Petula Clark, lyrics Tony Hatch 1964

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea! - from "America the Beautiful", Katharine Lee Bates 1894

When I'm alone and lonely, when I'm depressed, out-of-sorts, anxious or blue, I don't need to listen to Petula Clark singing "Downtown". I don't even need to go - "Downtown".

I just need to tune in to Piers Morgan on CNN.

So therapeutic is Mr Piers Morgan, that I am prepared to wait until 9:00 at night to get my fix. And then, all annoyances, outrages, petty gripes, all things negative - disappear - drowned into insignificance by Piers and his in-depth look at American society and politics.

Take today for instance. Everything was going down. Going "south" as they say in America. Do things "go north" in OZ? Whatever.

They were certainly going south for me today. All was lost. I was going to have to blot out my entire life with the oblivion of SLEEP.

And then perchance I turned on the telly and for some bizarre reason - I certainly hadn't programmed the TV to do so - CNN came full-blast into my living room, anchored by none other than Piers Morgan, America's token Englishman.

It is times like this that I am SO GLAD I am not English. Imagine being represented by such a token as Piers.

Piers Morgan - I suspect my fellow Australians are ignorant in bliss of this person. But we New Yorkers see him on our TVs - and regardless of nationality, birth, race, socioeconomic status - we shudder.

Tonight Piers excelled himself.

For starters, or as we say in America, "for appetizers", this evening Piers had as a guest some old guy by the name of "Welch". I use the last name only because the ticker only told me "Welch". Along side Mr Welch was a younger person, though not really "young" - a woman, whose name wasn't on the ticker. I suspect she was a "minder". Or perhaps a "carer". She didn't speak. Perhaps she was a blow-up doll. I mention her only because she was there and therefore I assume she had a ROLE, though what it was, was not apparent.

East Coast Patriot
Piers was rattling on in his English accent which is becoming more pronounced by the sound-bite, about President Obama taking off Al Green's "Let's Stay Together".

Then, in a rare moment of impartial anchor-ism, Piers ventured to compare Obama's rendition of "Let's Stay Together" with Mitt Romney singing "America the Beautiful".

And, stating the obvious, Piers said that Obama's Al Green impersonation was better that Romney's "America the Beautiful".

Well we knew that already. I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for the old guy - the Welch fellow. The camera panned onto him to see his reaction to Piers' uncharacteristic display of certitude. Welch was not a happy camper. But still I felt for him, Welch that is. After all, I'm old myself and I probably like "Walzing Matilda" renditions better than "Stormy Weather". Well I don't. But I could understand it if someone did.

"Wasn't Obama better?" Piers asked, looking as is his wont, INNOCENT? "Well it depends," said Mr Welch, and his toy doll nodded in empathy. "One song is better than the other - 'America the Beautiful'" is a better song."

"Oh," countered Piers, in an uncharacteristic display of independence, "It all depends if you live on the coast or not; is that it?"

At which I did a delayed reaction thing. "Huh?"

Ah yes, he must have been referring to the coasts in "From sea to shining sea".

Or am I giving Piers more credit than he deserves?

Is such a thing possible?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yes to scrolls, no to codex

A codex (Latin caudex for "trunk of a tree" or block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings (sheets of paper or vellum in multiples of two which are folded and stitched through) typically bound together and given a cover. - from Codex Wikipedia

I cannot count the times I've had to listen to bus or train people - people who I've never met, people whose opinion I haven't sought and people who I haven't even made eye contact with - say something along the lines of:

"I see you are reading a Kindle. I love to read but I would never read a book on a Kindle; I like the smell of books the feel of the paper I just couldn't read a Kindle".

I've use a semi-colon to punctuate for readability, but it is invariably breathed rather than spoken, in one continuous contiguous rollout of words.

I usually answer with a sentence, because at least on public transport I'm quite a nice person. But lately I'm more likely to not to reply with a nod or a grunt, burying my face in my Kindle.

So yesterday I answered with, "Well yes, they said that about scrolls when books came in. They said, 'But I love the feel of scrolls, I could NEVER like a book; it wouldn't be the same thing. I don't like the thought of PAGES. I just HAVE to SCROLL.'" She looked back at at me blankly. I think she thought I was speaking in a foreign language. Either that or I that was from another planet. As for the latter, I am inclined to agree ...

Talking about books ... well about language, yesterday someone commented on one of my posts - Tooth, Justice and the American Way - which, as you can imagine, was about American dentists. I quote verbatim,
It is the first time I visit Antalya with my family and my brother got accident and had a pain in his tooth. He is not able to sleep whole night due to pain. I am here looking for dentist who can cure his tooth ache. If anyone knows any professional dentist who also knows English well, please suggest me. Thanks.

Now I understand that it is pretty pretty pretty hard to write in a foreign language. But why on earth would anyone whose grasp of the English language is so poor that,

a: they didn't understand the post, and
b: they can't even construct a sentence in English that is even just halfway correct

want a dentist who speaks English "well".

And in any case, where the hell is Antalya? See I AM acclimating to the 'American way"!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Invisible People of New York

It would be almost unbelievable, if history did not record the tragic fact that men have gone to war and cut each other's throats because they could not agree as to what was to become of them after their throats were cut." - from "The Fried Rice God"

Classification has been defined by Mayr as "The arrangement of entities in a hierarchical series of nested classes, in which similar or related classes at one hierarchical level are combined comprehensively into more inclusive classes at the next higher level." A class is defined as "a collection of similar entities", where the similarity consists of the entities having attributes or traits in common. - from Biological Classification - Wikipedia

I have discovered a-yet-to-be-classified species - a species which can be found in New York City, though I suspect there are variants in Paris and Moscow.

I strongly suspect that the species I have discovered remained unclassified for so long because all of its members are invisible.

So I shall call them "The Invisibles", though I suspect that some bright young thing will come up with a better-sounding nomenclature, most probably derived from Latin.

A group of invisible New Yorkers
Here is a photo of a group of Invisibles outside the Lincoln Center. They are humanoids, and should they not be invisible, they probably would be indistinguishable in outward appearance to other New Yorkers.

Besides being invisible, the Invisibles are unlike other New Yorkers in that they are quite unable to speak. In fact no sound issues at all from their vocal cords, though I suspect one could hear their footfalls were they to come close when walking outside. Walking outside is something they rarely do, as their main function in life is too sit quietly at home or in some quiet place, holding a phone to their ears. The phone can be of any type. It can be a cell, or a cordless hand-held VoIP or landline.

Speaking of cordless hand-helds, I actually know a man in Melbourne, Australia, who does not know the difference between a cell phone and a cordless landline phone. He actually thinks they are one and the same because the are both "mobile" in the sense of being capable of being carried around. Unfortunately though, this man is NOT invisible.

Invisible New Yorkers on Vacation in New Hampshire
Back to the Invisibles. You might think they would be anti-social solitary beings. This is in fact far from the truth. Many of them are married, or are living in blended families. Some may even have pets.

Although you cannot see them, you CAN detect their existence. All you need to do is get onto a bus or subway car in New York, and listen to those very visible New Yorkers talking to the Invisibles on their cell-phones.

It is quite remarkable, as regular visible New Yorkers can talk for hours on end, first to one Invisible and then to another. Talking on cell phones is the New Yorkers' preferred method of passing the time while commuting.

The Invisibles are POPULAR. If they were not invisible you'd see them in old high school year books, with captions such as, "Miss Popularity", and "Girl Most Likely to Find a Husband". Invisibles have qualities that New Yorkers do not possess but which they find eminently desirable in others.

Invisibles are patient; they listen diligently. They NEVER interrupt. They never voice an opinion. They NEVER talk about themselves - what they have done, how they feel - but are content to listen to every minute detail of the visible friend's life.

Invisible New Yorker with Umbrella
There remain some parts of the Invisibles' culture and environment that I do not yet understand, and because of their nature, will never know. For example, do they eat? I imagine that they don't as they would have no time to shop for food or cook it. They couldn't even order-in, as their phone lines are constantly busy. Do they hold political or religious views? I expect not. I would imagine they would camelion-like, take on the views of whoever they are currently listening to.

Nearly all New Yorkers have at least on Invisible friend. I know this because almost every time I hear a New Yorker talking on a cell phone, there are no pauses; there are no phrases such as "Really" or "Did you?" Or "What do YOU think?" New Yorkers never answer whoever is on the other end of the phone, and this certainly must be because the listener has nothing whatsoever to say.

Sometimes a New Yorker will make a mistake and call another visible New Yorker. This has happened to me a number of times. They'll just forget and when I actually get to talk - and it DOES happen that a visible New Yorker can make a mistake and pause for a nana-second, perhaps someone distracts them, or they have an urge to cough - when I actually SPEAK, I can almost hear the astonishment emanating from the other end of the line.

At such times the visible New Yorker is speechless. The callee has actually attempted to speak. There is stunned silence. But only for a second - undeterred, the visible New Yorker carries on talking as if nothing has happened. My words have had no effect.

I am thinking of nominating the Invisibles as a group, for the television channel "NY1" "New Yorker of the Week" series. To date this has been dominated by visibles - teachers, philanthropist, firemen and such.

It is about time the Invisibles are recognized. What would we do without them?

Just imagine the chaos if everybody here talked at once, if no one listened to anyone else. And if people actually LISTENED!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blowing Monkeys out of Trees

The Map and the Territory(French: La carte et le territoire), is a novel by French author Michel Houellebecq. The narrative revolves around a successful artist, and involves a fictional murder of Houellebecq. from Wikipedia entry on The Map and the Territory

I admit it's getting better
A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)
"Getting Better", Lennon, a hundred years ago

fragrant feral front-yard fresias (©Tim Juliff)
It is possible that it is because I've been reading a bit to much of the French writer Houellebecq lately. After all, he is described in the press as the enfant terrible of French literature - can it get any worse?

But perhaps it has something to do with reaching an uncertain age. Whatever it is, it is bizarre.

My life is changing. Yes I know it happens to us all, but I just did not expect to be spending time blowing monkeys out of trees, looking for New York taxis with surprised eyebrows, and listening to an ugly old man yelling into his cell phone on the M15 bus about how he wanted to play with a South Carolina's woman's breasts.

If you haven't read any Houellebecq and want to find out about him, I suggest you read Tender and Terrible: The Vulgar Beauty of Michel Houellebecq in the Harvard Book Review. It might turn you off. Or turn you on. Houellebecq writes a lot about sex and death. And although I enjoyed his The Elementary Particles, I found the sex passages to be a bit overwhelming.

Not as overwhelming however, as the conversation I could not help over-hearing on the M15 bus in New York last week. I could only hear one side of it, but that was enough. In any case I think the woman on the other end of the man's cell phone wasn't saying much. It being more a monologue than a conversation.

I must point out here that the man in question is blind. He's a bit of a regular on the M15, and noticeable because of his weight (he weights about 280 lb) and because he is ALWAYS talking on his phone. Usually I can ignore him, but last week he was particularly loud, and glancing up from my Kindle I could see the woman opposite me looking stunned. His conversation had become a public sort of thing.

The fact that the man is blind is relevant in that it raised a number of questions. His conversation was with a woman he had not met in person and who lived far away. He hadn't been able to see a photo of his "intended" and he HAD sent her a photo of himself. How did he know if it was flattering? Could a photo of him BE flattering? Unlike the South Carolina woman, I had the misfortune of being able to see him.

I heard him tell his intended that he was 48. Yeah, sure. Whatever.

New York Cab With Eyebrows
I put him at around 60. He was asking Ms South Carolina a number of questions, loudly enough for the whole bus to hear. And not being able to see his fellow New Yorkers - known for their unshockability - looking down, looking out the window, looking anywhere but in his direction, he continued on, becoming visibly (yes visibly) more sexually excited. No mean feat when you are an overweight male over sixty, seated and dressed in loose-fitting clothes.

"I want to make love to you," he yelled into the phone. Obviously there was silence at the other end of the line which he mistook as indicating she hadn't heard him. "I want to make love to you," he repeated. And then, apparently thinking she didn't understand, "I want to have sex with you."

Getting no response, or at least giving her no time to respond, he asked, "How big are your breasts?" She must have answered as his excitement grew. "Can I play with them? I want to play with them!" regressing into what he must have been like when he was a demanding child wanting his sixth Big Mac.

On and on it went. He asked her could he visit, and if he visited, would she pay for his trip. At that I looked back up at the woman opposite. She looked shocked.

He was still talking when the bus arrived at his stop. As he alighted my eyes met those of the woman opposite. "Disgusting!" she commented. I nodded agreement.

And went back to my Houellebecq.

The world was sane again.

And as for the monkeys in the tree and the New York cabs with eyebrows, well you are just going to have to

Stay Tuned.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Butter, Onions, and the Margaret Thatcher Syndrome

"Why not have my bedroom as the main room? After all, I spend most of my days in bed; I most often eat in bed, watching cartoons on FOX TV; it's not as if I throw dinner parties." Indeed, bits of toast and scraps of mortadella were strewn on the sheets, which were stained with wine and cigarette burns in places. - from "The Map and the Territory" by Michel Houellebecq

At the beginning of the movie, "The Iron Lady", Margaret Thatcher is shown as an elderly woman buying butter and a newspaper in what we in New York would call a bodega - in Australia and perhaps the UK - a "milk bar". Thatcher, played excellently by Meryl Streep, queries the cost.

I'd forgotten all about "The Iron Lady". The movie, that is. Who could forget Thatcher? Or perhaps I should ask, "Who can remember her?" Old people, I suppose ...

Surprisingly, I remembered the movie - because after all I saw it over a week ago, and the attention span of us baby-boomers is fast approaching zero.

I remembered it today. I was in my local supermarket. When my turn in the checkout-line came, I was charged nine dollars something for a generic brand of unsalted butter, one onion and four Idaho potatoes. I paid, and was checking the printed receipt.

The checkout dude, complete with facial piercings and manicured eyebrows, tried to rush me on. Perhaps it was time for his meal-break. Behind me in the line, an elderly gentleman was looking into his basket, puzzled at what appeared to be a bagel. The checkout dude was snapping at me, "It's $9.20!" I think he thought that people as old as me couldn't read.

OK already yet, I was thinking to myself as I moved rapidly away from his line of vision. No way did I want to cause a scene. I don't fight battles I cannot win!

Then it hit me. An epiphany of sorts. In my time as a professional woman I have more than infrequently been called, in a derogatory tone, "Mrs. Thatcher". And here I was acting just like the woman - well at least like the woman as portrayed by Ms Streep.


I shuddered.

The day had not begun well. In the morning I'd woken from a nightmare where all the men I've ever known (in the biblical sense) had merged into one very scary male. The dream had been vivid, and now I come to think of it, very clever and imaginative. Well of course imaginative.

This chameleon, chimera, whatever, spoke a mix of Oxford English, accented German English, Strine and American. Truly an abomination I can assure you. What's more, he was argumentative, mellow, practical, sensitive, autistic, well-proportioned, youthful, over-weight, intelligent, social, slightly stupid, all at the same time.

Quelle horreur! I awoke in fright. I'd been arguing with him because he wasn't here and wasn't not here all at the same time.

There's only so much a gal can take.

And now the Thatcher thing.

Am I truly, Thatcher-like, losing it? Is my old friend Paul right when he tells me that we baby-boomers are dropping like flies, and so why are the governments worried about looking after an ever-increasing elderly population?

Am I doomed to be a person who queries the price of onions? Will Rick Santorum become the president of the United States? And if so, will I have to flee this island of Manhattan?

If I were under thirty, I'd say, "Whatever!"

As it is, all I can say is,

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Bourgeoisie?

... they were still young enough to laugh about it - the preparation for that epicurean, peaceful, refined but unsnobbish happiness that Western society offered the representatives of its middle-to-upper classes in middle age - from The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

From San Diego up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
Where working men defend their rights,
it's there you'll find Joe Hill,
it's there you'll find Joe Hill! - from the folk song " I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night", adapted by Earl Robinson

This one has me stumped.

Somehow, sometime, when I wasn't looking, America got rid of its working-class. Completely, permanently, absolutely. Linguistically.

"Working-Class Men", UK
Where have they gone, all those working-class guys and gals? They aren't unemployed because they don't exist, and you can't even begin to look for work if you aren't anywhere.

If I were a Mayan I might think they disappeared when our solar system turned upside down - putting by the way, Australia in its rightful place - on top.

But the working-class in America disappeared well before this year, 2012. So it isn't a Mayan thing.

Is it purely an American thing? I don't THINK so. I was listening (I can't bear to look at him) America CNN's token Englishman Piers Morgan, and I am pretty sure it was last year, when he made a more than usually ridiculous statement. He was talking to a guest, can't remember who, and he said something which was completely over-the-top. Had it not been Piers, I may have found what he said, innovative - provocative even. But unfortunately it WAS Piers and so it was merely simplistic.

The rich, he tried to explain to a dumbfounded politician, had to pay higher taxes PROPORTIONALLY because - wait for it - the class system in the UK means that you earn more money because of your dad.

WHEREAS, he deigned to explain, in America you earn more because you work harder - nothing to do with mom and dad.

An innovative idea perhaps to be included in Economics 101 at a community college.

Of course, Piers was talking of the "middle-class" and how the US budget couldn't be balanced because the middle-class didn't make enough money to pay enough taxes. I half expected him to get out a cake and make a pie-chart out of it. Perhaps he did. I seem to remember flicking the off-switch ...

Working-Class Washing, UK
When I was growing up in what is now on the top of the solar system, which in itself is weird as how can the solar system have a "top"? - the middle-class roughly equated with the bourgeoisie. The middle-class people were people from families where the male wage earner was a professional, the family owned their own mortgage and the kids, especially the males, received a university education. They also tended to live in brick veneer houses and were socially conservative.

Working-class people - when I was growing up - were people from families where the main wage-earner was a blue-collar worker. Maybe an abattoir employee or a railway linesman. Or a brick layer (now called "working in construction") or a shop assistant (now called "an associate in retail").

Uber-Class Dwelling, UK
You could more or less work out what you were. Upper-class was old money, royalty. Working-class was blue-collar workers. And middle-class was - well all those people in between.

Maybe that's how it still is everywhere else in the world. But not here in the USA. Here we only have "the middle-class". There's no "upper", "lower" "working". The middle-class here is anyone who earns a salary or is out of work. Sort of the 99% to coin a phrase. What the other, the 1% is, I do not know and would be VERY interested to find out.

Someone, and I suspect Mr Murdoch (tongue in cheek), has done a very clever linguistic piece of social engineering.

We no longer have the poor, the working-class, the under-class.

We just have the middle-class. We are all poor and unhappy and the same, and isn't that just what democracy is all about?

Who would have thunk that the class struggle à la Marx, would have been put to rest by the careful and hardly subtle use of linguistics?

And while I'm on the subject of linguistics, what's with this "uber" stuff. "It's oh so uber , sort of thing. What happened to "very"?

Maybe we'll have a "uber class"?

Maybe we already have.

Yep, I'm pretty sure the members of the uber-class are alive and well ... And living on Wall Street.