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."