Sunday, November 23, 2014

Caught in a Silken Net of Happy Endings

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. - "Kubla Khan", Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow. - "How sweet I roam'd from field to field", Willian Blake

I think of "The Pilgrims", who kick-started what we know as modern America, as a dour mob.

Looking down their noses at anything that smacked of "pleasure" and preaching the benefits of hard work. Wearing buckle shoes and strange hats, the men growing corn, the women making pumpkin pies.

But then, my knowledge of 17th century American history is not all that good.

It is hard to imagine those dour settlers - Americans nowadays being seekers of pleasure. For although there is an impression held by many that Americans live to work, while most of the world works to live, I don't find this to be the case at all.

Americans live for happiness - a happiness that those not living here may find saccharin.

The love of happy endings in films, the Norman Rockwell paintings, the love of fast food, any food - it is all about being happy.

Along with searching for happiness is what can come across as over-politeness.

"Why can't they get to the point?" I used to think to myself when calling customer service with some complaint,  only to be greeted by a cheery voice asking me how my day was going.

"Hello, My name is Madison, thank you for banking with Chase. How are you feeling today? What is the weather like there?  I see you are calling from New York. I've always wanted to go there. And your accent -  English? No, Australian. Oh I've always wanted to go to Australia. What's the weather like there?"

It used to drive me into a blind fury and I'd snap back that all I wanted to know was the answer to the question I was calling about. I now realize it is just easier and quicker in the long run to answer their questions. To be NICE.

West Village, Manhattan
The icing on the cake. The need to look on the sunny side. Where else would margarine be branded "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"? Or already sweet potatoes be served with marshmallows?

A blistery blustery night. The cab driver had dropped me two blocks from my destination due to the traffic snarl. The rain was bucketing down, the wind blowing me sideways. I was completely disoriented. I looked up searching for the lit-by-a-million-lights of Bloomingdale's façade, but it was nowhere.

People were rushing in every direction, heads down, bent over, fighting the wind. I stopped a woman and asked her which way was Bloomingdale's. She turned and pointed me in the right direction, telling me I was on the wrong street. We were hardly visible to each other in the rainy darkness. I thanked her.

 Before moving on she smiled and said, "Oh, you are so very welcome."

Such a contrast to Melbourne Australia - my "home country" as Americans from other countries refer to their country of origin.

The last time I was in the Melbourne's city center - the Bourke Street Mall -  the only person who spoke to me was a weeping spaced-out poor-looking woman of a certain age. Actually it was me who spoke first.

"Are you OK, can I help you?" She told me her boyfriend had kicked her out after he had nearly beaten her to death and she wanted to go home to Mildura but he had taken all her money to spend on drugs. I asked her what it cost to go by train to  Mildura. She told me forty bucks. I gave it to her. She stopped weeping.

That evening I was out at a restaurant with friends and told them of my encounter. They stared at me and laughed. "Jeez mate, you fell for that chestnut? She was a junky. Come in sucker!  You've been in Yankeeland too long. You must be loaded giving away that kind of money."

"Glad I could amuse you. Thank you for enlightening me," I answered.

I waited for the "Oh, but you are so very welcome."

I am still waiting.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Homosexual Fish

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain - "Horse with no Name", Dewey Bunnell, 1971

I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member - Groucho Marx

Metrosexual Flowers
I joined an online book club. I've never been a member of an online book club. Or any sort of book club for that matter.

The last online group I joined was a knitting group, and for some never-to-be-known-reason, I was chucked out. No ceremony. No warning. For god's sake, I was once a member of the Australian Labor Party, and THAT club allowed me in!

So it was with some trepidation that I joined the Facebook group - The Australians Abroad Book Club.

I recommend this club most highly. It has every quality that a good club should have.

In the first place - oh I love saying, "In the first place." It is so President Obama. Even if it is something he has said before, he loves prefacing his announcement with, "In the first place."

But back to business. In the first place, you have to be Australian. I don't think non-Australians could last five minutes in this club. You need PERSEVERANCE.

You need perseverance to use the meeting software. It has a funny name, like "nip in the bud". Hang on and I will look it up.

Back again. "Hip Chat" - that's the name of the software. I think that Hip Chat must have been written before computers were even invented. It is almost impossible to load. And then, after you have loaded it, you are presented with a vague sort of screen with nothing to click on.

Try as you might, you get nowhere. At frst I thought it was just me, and that me being a software engineer had something to do with my inability to find a hyperlink or anything 'clickable'. But no.  A very good friend, who used to live in Silicon Valley, and who I know for a fact can use more apps than anyone else in cyberspace - SHE couldn't get into the book club either.

A challenge. I cant let a challenge go by. I persevered, and sixty minutes later  I "got in". So did my ex-Silicon Valley friend.

At around the same time. Two person-hours altogether. We got in on the end of the discussion. I think the other people were Australians from Philadelphia  and Germany. That might explain it, though I can't see how.

The discussion was in full flight. About "The Slap" by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas.

The Shining revisited - Me at my door
I joined in. No, I didn't like Rosie and why anyone would marry a guy named "Gary" I didn't know. I saw my friend ex-Silicon  Valley was still on. She didn't like Gary either, though I expect it was because he was a Chardonnay Socialist.

On and on they chatted. Giving the novel scores, and doing "what ifs". What if Harry was  faithful to his wife,  and what if Ailsa didn't sleep with the man in South Africa?

I just followed it all. Rendered somewhat numb form having tried to load the software for over one hour. I think they all forgot I was there. I had to wake them up.

And so here is my  "In the second place" thing.

Knowing our December novel is "Barracuda" also by Christos Tsiolkas,I decided to remind everyone.  I forgot how to spell Barracuda so I typed, "Don't forget December's novel,  about the homosexual fish."  Cyber silence. There's nothing like it.

A bit concerned that no one had answered, I belatedly typed, "Spoiler alert!"

A couple of people contributed smiley faces, but I remembered about the knitting group. I decided I would be on my best  behavior.

There was a discussion about what to read next. Someone in Washington DC  suggested "Rhubarb". I wrote that  was OK if it was on Kindle. Adding "I don't do paper." "Oh but don't you miss the smell of paper?" piped in someone from somewhere in Asia. "I don't sniff paper," I answered. "I don't even sniff cocaine."

Silence again. I fear my days in the book club  are numbered.

In the first place, I did the spoiler thing. And then in the first place I said the cocaine word.

Oh how I love you President Obama!

In the first place .....

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Nothingness on Nothingness

Monday, nothing
Tuesday, nothing
Wednesday and Thursday nothing
Friday, for a change a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing

Lunes nada Martes nada
Miercoles y Jueves nada
Viernes, por cambia un poco mas nada
Sabado otra vez nada

nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
lots of it nothing!
Not a God damn thing - The Fugs from "The Nothing Song", 1966

Somewhere in Maine - but nothing to do with this blog
Nothings. Recently there has been a whole bunch of them.

There was the Ebola nurse from Maine who didn't have Ebola, not leaving her house. 

She had been quarantined in her home by the Center for Disease Control. Camera crews were keeping watch, parked outside her house 24/7, waiting to see if she would break the quarantine and leave.

It was news if she left, and news if she didn't leave.

To put it bluntly, it was news if there was no news. That was in America.

In Australia there wasn't so much nothing, as nothingness - the void left by that giant of a man,  ex Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam who died on  21st of October at the age of 98. The Prime Minister who brought Australia into the twentieth century during the years 1972 through 1975. The termination of military conscription, universal health care, free university education, the implementation of legal aid programs, land rights for the indigenous people of Australia. And more.

Nothing , worse than nothing,  were the Whitlam critics, who danced on his grave literally hours after the news of his death. " [Columnist] Bolt thought it was more important to vent, for the 865th time, his personal obsession with race than to show respect for the Whitlam family in its moment of grief." - Critics display meanness of spirit on Whitlam's death. (Mark Latham)

Back to America - nothing was the victory of the Republican Party in the November elections. Because it will just mean more of the same, or worse. Because legislation initiated by the Democratic party could not be passed anyway. Now it will even more 'not be passed', if such a concept is possible. More nothing.

Nothing is what I did yesterday when enrolling in a health care plan. 

Enrolling in a health care plan is very complicated in New York. I spent days just setting up an appointment to see a representative from Health First insurers, and then nearly a whole day - first  turning up for the appointment, then the two of us sitting on plastic chairs  in an open area in Mount Sinai Hospital, filling out the forms. He on his Blackberry, and I on my Iphone - calling doctors' offices checking to see if my preferred doctors were "in the network".

One doctor's office was impossible to get on the phone at all, and I had to actually WALK to it in order to find out if the doctor was in the network. Even then the answer was ambiguous. Still I trotted back to Mount Sinai and the plastic chairs, and signed the forms. I was enrolled at last, what a blast!

Once outside Mount Sinai I did a double take - like Woody Allen in "Manhattan" when he leaves the neurosurgeon's office -  ecstatic after being told he does not have a brain tumor - and then realizing that his relief was all for nothing because we are all going to die sometime anyway.

Why had I signed up for that plan?   I didn't even like it! It was the challenge that had gotten to me. That it was so hard getting the appointment with the representative, almost impossible to get a human on the phone at doctor's offices. It is part of my personality. I have make it through all obstacles. Failure is not an option. I WILL not be defeated!

So now I will have to cancel the  Health First policy - god knows how long  that will take, how many hurdles I will have to jump over. And then I will enroll in the insurance company I had in the first place.

All by December 5, which is the cut-off date for changing your mind in this country.

I have spent hours, days doing something only to have to undo it, to make it as it were, nothing.

And this blog. I just read it. It's a whole lotta nothing. I am deleting it.

It's nothing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Ebola, Jingoism and Being Lucky

This beautiful Puerto Rican girl in tight white spandex and a push-up bra sits me down and starts chopping my hair:
"Girlfriend," she says, "what the hell you got growing outta your head there, what is that, hair implants?
Yuck, you want me to touch that shit, whadya got in there, sandwiches?" - "Bad Day at the Beauty Salon" Maggie Estep, Slam Poet

Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia. - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on ABC's "Q and A", April 5, 2010
On 3rd and 60th
"I want him to be eaten by dogs. Maybe twenty dogs, all hungry. And I want to watch with 200 people like they watched when they ate his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek. I thought he gone. Sick man.  Fat. Maybe already dogs ate him. But no, he come back. Is alive."

This from my hairdresser who I will call Lily Pond. All the stylists at my hair salon have Chinese-sounding salon names. Like  "Lotus River", "Flower Petal", "Dawning Day".

I suppose having made-up salon names offers  privacy, in a similar way that Facebook profile names are sometimes used to disguise identities and to put across an image. Like sexy_girl345 or AussieFromOzland, or Liifesiize Barbiie Dubsetep Alcoholiic Raver (sic).

But back to Lily Pond's dog eating comments. She was of course referring to North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

The monologue continued. "They show no respect. Boy has uncle. No like uncle. Not like uncle, OK. But he should respect uncle who is older. Not feed him to dogs. Not 200 people watch."

I love New York. If ever I am feeling lonely I just go to the hairdressers. There is always something happening and people to talk to. Or listen to. And watch.

While Lily Pond was cutting away, another client walked up to the counter and plonked her two year-old son right on top of it. "Look!" she screamed. "His bangs are too short! What are you going to do about it?" Meandering Stream at reception was speechless. Was she meant to perform miracles and reverse time itself? She started tugging that the child's bangs, then ruffling them, applying gel. She was helpless. Meanwhile Lily Pond was looking and listening. "I think $20 discount make boy hair grow and mother happy," she sneered.

And so it was settled. The complaining woman managed to get her toddler's hair cut for a mere  $5.  I was beginning to despair of humanity. Truth was, I hadn't gone to the hair salon just for company. I'd had to get away from some Australians.

I'd been home reading Facebook comments posted by some ugly Australians on an Aussie Expats group - and yes we have some - ugly ones, that is.

"Don't send money to those warlords, murderers and rapists!" commented one compassionate soul, on the subject of aid being sent to the people fighting Ebola in West Africa.

"Let's not help them because we are only helping them because a couple of people in America caught Ebola," posted another. On and on. While most of us replied asking for some humanity and compassion,  it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was  pointless to answer the irate, "let them eat cake" types.

I moved  to another thread on whether Australians are racist, which had been prompted by the publication of  an Australian government controversial anti-immigration advertisement aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from travelling to the country illegally. The poster is titled "No Way" and the tagline reads: "You will not make Australia Home. "If you get on a boat without a visa, you will not end up in Australia. Any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters."

The Facebook  discussions were going everywhere. From whether it was provocative to drape yourself in the Australian flag and jump up and down in front of Lebanese migrants at Cronulla, calling them Lebbo bludgers, to how ignorant Americans are because they have never heard of failed early Australian explorers Burke and Wills.

I'd had enough of Australian complacency and false pride All too shocking to read. I walked away from Facebook.

And picked up my Kindle - I am reading Australian writer - Christos Tsiolkas's novel 'Barracuda'.

The protagonist's Scottish boyfriend Clyde is talking about Australia and why he doesn't want to stay there. "I want to be somewhere where people aren't perpetually banging on about mortgage rates and refugees and blackfellas and how fucking great this country is, how lucky I am to be here in the luckiest country on earth. I don't want to be told how lucky I am, I want to feel lucky. I want to be home."

I closed the Kindle. I too had no time for that brand of Australian. I decided a haircut was in order.

Something nice. A pleasantness. I needed to  get away from the jingoists.

I walked two blocks to Third Avenue to the hair salon talk about Kim Jong-un being eaten by 200 dogs.

Life is indeed wonderful.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Ripped Apart By Sunshine

I'm ripped apart by sunshine
I'm ecstatic
I'm leaping
I'm cutting off all my limbs
I'm doing circus tricks with forks. - "Happy" Maggie Estep, slam poet, 2013

First Avenue Billboard, 2014
"That thing! I opened the laundry bag myself. It was old and very ugly. I think to myself, who is person own this rubbish. You should be glad we lost it! You should be saying thank you to me and not come into my store with complaint."

I stood speechless. I had walked to the dry-cleaners after discovering that instead of my lovely one-of-a-kind top, made of three different colored and textured fabrics, that I'd bought at an up-scale craft fair near Columbus Circle, my beautiful long-sleeved top, had been swapped out for a flimsy short sleeved piece of hippy muslin rag.

But the dry-cleaner woman wasn't finished with me yet. "Maybe other lady bring it back. Maybe you happy to have your rubbish return."

There's nothing like bad New York customer service when it's bad. No half-measures in this city.

There was no point in arguing. I was remembering a Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets the wrong jacket back, and someone explains to him that it is a New York custom - that if you get someone else's clothes then you should just accept it; it all works out in the end. You win some and lose some. But I wasn't going to take it lying down.

As Ms Dry-Cleaner turned her back on me I found my voice back. "That is so silly!" I said. Loudly.

She jumped, startled that I had spoken. "You give me big fright. Why you talk so loud? I think I sue you. I might have heart attack. Go. Go. Leave my store. You standing there give my business bad name. I lose money because you have bad clothes. I sue."

Being a seasoned New Yorker, I know when I am beat. I crossed the street and headed off for home. And then turned back. I needed to cheer myself up. A mani-pedi was in order.

I've been going to the same nail salon for years. There's something comforting about being in a room full of people who look like me, being attended to by people who talk to each other in Korean.  Total non-communication. Almost a zen thing.

I was at the manicure table, reading.  My mind transported to a POW camp in Thailand in WWII.  Australian soldiers being tortured by Japanese, dying by the thousands, building a railway that was planned to run from Singapore to what was then Burma. Short-listed for the Booker, Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" prose is brilliantly evocative. My mind was a thousand miles away, in another country in another age.

I screamed. I wasn't in Thailand, and it wasn't 1942. The person holding my hand wasn't even Japanese. She had chopped off the top of my little finger. The pinky, as Americans like to call it.

There was blood everywhere. Someone else screamed. The manager of the place was screaming as she squirted some blue liqid onto the wound. The blood kept coming. I held my hand up high, so it was above my heart. Red dots stood out starkly on the paper mat where my right hand still rested.

The other patrons were looking decidedly nervous. On the muted  TV, the closed captions were explaining how viruses were transmitted. Doctors dressed like astronauts  were walking towards a disposal van.

I noticed my assailant was not wearing gloves. The red blotches on the white paper were growing. I tried to put my shoes back on, kicking off the cotton wool between my toes.

"Oh no, is not dry!" screamed Ms Nail-Place-Manager. "I don't care," I told her. "I have to go to the emergency room! I think I need a stitch. What a way to spend my Saturday night. Why do I care about my toenails?"

"There's a good walk-in clinic on 86th, one of the nervous-looking customers offered. "Yes I have been there," volunteered another. And in the way of New Yorkers - seizing any opportunity to talk about themselves to complete strangers, a conversation was started. And I was forgotten.

Somewhere out of nowhere, one of the nearby  fast food "Subway" guys was holding out a bottle of water. I thanked him. The world was starting to spin. There were band-aids upon band-aids, a veritable tower of them, on the end of my finger. I could still see blood seeping through but the flow had stopped.

I left the salon and the chatting women. I sat down on a plastic chair at the "Subway" fast food place. A man outside was begging. He only had one arm. He'd left the other one behind in Iraq. I remembered the Australian POWs tortured in Thailand.

I had it good. I should be so happy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

That's What Friends Are For

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?" - "Tombstone Blues", Bob Dylan, 1965

Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That's what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I'll be on your side forever more
That's what friends are for   - "That's What Friends Are For", Bacharach and Bayer Sager, 1982

Police Discreetly On Patrol at Strawberry Fields 9-10-14
It was like something out of a Ruth Rendell novel. Or perhaps, being in New York, out of a Patricia Highsmith novel.

The take-out  leftovers were piling up in my kitchen.  Bits of quesadillas, beef sandwiches, rice-puddings liquefied and bleeding into half eaten bagels. Revolting. The pile grew higher and higher.

It was the Labor Day weekend, and all my good friends were out of town, interstate, or in Australia.  I was very ill with  severe bronchitis and just had to wait it out. I was existing on food I had ordered in. I couldn't even make it to the compacter room to throw out the mounting pile of garbage.

I emailed my kids, telling them where my will was, and about sundry bank accounts. I was as cold as ice.

When I went to the bathroom I took my cell phone with me, worried should I pass out. And also in the misguided hope that someone in New York would call. Silence. 

I lived like that for five whole days and nights - not seeing a living soul. But thanks to email and Facebook I was not completely incommunicado. Thank you A, E, J and B. You helped me pull through. And of course thank you to the "Seamless" app, and to the delivery guys who brought me my food.

It made me wonder. What was I doing here in the  Big Apple?

When the chips are down, well - the chips are down.

But of course it is not all bad, and this week I smiled, as I was riding the Q60 bus home from work. on the 13th anniversary of 9-11. As the bus was crossing the Ed Koch  Bridge I looked out to my left at our  Freedom Tower. The way the setting sun struck it, it seemed as if something was sticking out if it.

"Look," I interrupted my companion who was in full-flight talking about his day, "there is something sticking out of the Freedom Tower!"  He glanced briefly across the river. "Oh don't worry about it," he answered before continuing with his  New York style monologue. "It is probably just a plane."

From My Office Window 9-11-2001
I just love the New York humor. The five horrible days forgotten, I posted on Facebook about it.  And also this photo on the left, taken from my office window on 9-11.

Now one would think - me being a New Yorker and all - that would be that. And it was, for a while. "I didn't realize you were so close," commented one friend. "Wow!" said another.

But then came what I should have expected - the anti-American crap. "What about Allende and Chile? They had a 9-11 too."

As my good friend A replied, "To bring up another event is like going to someone's funeral and going on and on about another death. Just not done in polite company".

Those PC people. Blinkered. It's like you can't say anything about radical Muslims without the bleating of, "There are bad Jews and Christians as well."

Oh sure! Whatever. We all know that not all Muslims are terrorists. But it just so happens, that most  21st century terrorists are Muslim. And in any case I had not even mentioned Muslims - just posted about it being 9-11. But the mere mention of 9-11 is enough to set some people off.

Dredging up the past. Going back over a thousand years to minimize an event that affected me and millions of other New Yorkers.

On and on. You even get,  "What about the Crusades?"

Seriously? What about them?  Let's dredge up Robin Hood? Or Tutankhamen?

Yeah, what about Chile forty years ago, and the Crusades nearly a thousand years ago?  And yes, Israelis shouldn't throw Palestinians and out of their homes on the West Bank. And the British killed the aborigines in Tasmania. And the mid nineteenth century potato famine in Ireland. My god!

But none of this has anything to do with the slaughter of my fellow countrymen in my city on 9-11-2001.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What a Wonderful World

But I do know, one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be - "Wonderful World", Sam Cooke 1960
I hear babies cryin'.
I watch them grow.
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world - "What a Wonderful World", Thiele and Weiss 1967
Child Being Tagged by OZ Immigration
Photo courtesy Asylum Seeker Resource Center
In the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali, children are named according to their birth order. The firstborn is "Wayan", the second is "Made" pronounced Marday, the third is "Nyoman", and the fourth is "Ketut". And if a couple has more than four children, well they just start again from the beginning.

I used to vacation at Bali in the 1980s, and remember a German couple, commenting to a Balinese woman who was explaining the practice,  "We don't give our children numbers in Germany."

Back in Melbourne I related the Germans' comment to my mother, who answered in her typical caustic style, "Oh really? Haven't they heard of Auschwitch?" Sitting in her North Brighton flat, we sneered at the sneering German couple.

My mother has long "gone to god", and I am glad she didn't live to see the day when the Australian government started to "number" children. Dehumanizing them. Locking them up.

In its paranoia about a few hundred "boat children" - refugees mainly from Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan- the Australian  government has a policy of not allowing asylum seekers even to step foot on mainland Australian soil.

After  horrific journeys across the Indian Ocean,  the over-crowded and unsafe ships carrying them are intercepted. The would-be immigrants are tagged,  numbered and "processed" off-shore.  Sent off to camps.

Down Town Manhattan,  May Day 2010
Less than 20,000 "boat people" arrive in Australia every year (Ten myths around asylum seekers arriving on boats in Australian waters ).  Less than a quarter of the audience capacity at Melbourne's main sporting venue, the MCG

Of course the majority of  Australia's "illegal immigrants" are white, European and arrive by plane.

In America we refer refugees who haven't been "processed" as "undocumented immigrants". In many states undocumented immigrants are able to  hold drivers' licenses, attend university, get jobs.

In 2010 there was a furor when the State of Arizona passed a bill allowing police to ask people for their papers if they suspected them of being illegal immigrants. 

After the "Reform Immigration" demo, NYC May 2010
I went along to the New York City demo protesting the Arizona bill. I think there were more people demonstrating across America, than the total of "boat people" trying to get into Australia in one year.

Ironically, modern-day Australia was founded by "boat people". They came from the United Kingdom and they booted out or murdered the indigenous inhabitants.  At first most arrivals were criminals, and later there were economic refugees from rural England and Ireland.  So soon we humans forget...

I know many Australians object to the new boat people who live in detention centres off-shore - yes the Australian government outsources detention centers - as queue jumpers.

I have only one thing to say to such people.

What bloody queue?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Basket Case

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows,
anything goes - from "Anything Goes", Cole Porter 1934

Watch a horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Shockin' me right out of my brain
Shockin' me right out of my brain - from "Horror Movie", Skyhook 1975

The MacRob Girl
In the olden days when I was a young girl in Australia, I was a goodie-goodie. Otherwise known as a "conch" - an Aussie slang term (derogatory) of the time - short I suppose for conscientious.

Me and my friend Di spent our free time studying, or singing in Latin  in the school choir. When there were interschool sporting events that we were forced to attend, we didn't jump up and scream for our team to win.

We sat around looking bored.

We were pre-cool.

We didn't socialize with the girls who went out with boys, or with the ones who hid true romance novels under their desks.

Instead we worshiped Audrey Hepburn, high marks, and read all our Stendhal in French.

We were always quiet and attentive in class. Sat up straight. Good girls.

We were, I suspect, quite obnoxious.

And so it was with some surprise, a hundred years later, that I discovered that I was, deep down, a "naughty girl". No conch. Au contraire - a born-again brat. A bad influence. A juvenile delinquent.

An outcast, I have been thrown out of, of all things - a knitting club! Expelled, unceremoniously, with no explanation, no right of reply. Done!

Of course it wasn't a real knitting club. It was a virtual one. On Facebook. But I did knit. And with real wool.

I am not quite sure why I was cast off so to speak. I THINK it had something to do with me posting that I had come across some ambiguous instructions in a Canadian knitting pattern and what did people think?  Was it my referencing the nationality of the pattern designer? Or was it the use of the word "ambiguous"? I suppose I will never know.

What I HAVE learnt however, is what it feels like to be "IN TROUBLE"! Write down one hundred times, "I will not criticize pattern instructions." Off to the head mistress's office. Detention for a week.

I cast my mind back to those halcyon days at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School. Me and Di, sneering at those lesser beings - the sporty girls playing womens' rugby, or the flirty ones tissying-up  their hair for Saturday night's rock dance at the Malvern Town Hall. Comparing our test scores, each of us trying to outdo the other.

Maybe, just maybe, all that time there was a bad girl trying to get out. And all it took was a bunch of knitting ladies and a Canadian knitting pattern.

Meanwhile I must put in a plug for a friend, Daniel Armstrong, of Australia's Strongman Pictures, who, showing great foresight, chose - even BEFORE I was kicked out of the knitting club, to set his next horror movie in ... a knitting club.

Watch out for it!!! After all, it comes strongly recommended by an ex MacRob girl!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Read The News Today Oh Boy

I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash, it's a gas, gas, gas
I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag
I was schooled with a strap right across my back
But it's all right now, in fact it's a gas - "Jumping Jack Flash", The Stones 1968
I read the news today oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all - "A Day In The Life", Lennon-McCartney 1967

I was leaving for work. About to walk to the bus stop on Second Avenue just down from 93rd Street. People were gathered, bunched together, and looking up up up into the sky. Like people in a Superman comic strip. I recognized one of our doormen in the crowd.

"What's going on?" I asked. He told me a man was threatening to jump. I followed the gazes of the huddled New Yorkers. And saw him. On the ledge of the fortieth floor of the skyscraper opposite. Saw him jump.

He seemed to take forever, arms flailing, body turning, as he sailed down. I remembered seeing people jumping from the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11. But on the television screen. Falling people,  filmed against that bright blue New York September sky. But this time I there was no TV screen between me and the man as I watched him fall in real-time.

I could see his clothes, his hair, his shoes. I stood transfixed, and turned away just had there was a loud thud as he hit the ground.

People have been edgy here in New York. It's the news;  the same for everyone throughout the world. Gaza, Israel, ISIS, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the Ukraine. The tens of thousands of children on the US side of the Texas border with Mexico,  trying to stay in America, making their way here on the top of freight trains, across rivers, dodging drug dealers' bullets. Tended to by good Samaritans, and entitled to their "day in court".  Some will stay.  Until then they are "undocumented immigrants".

Meanwhile our Australian government is freaking out about 157 Tamil asylum seekers who tried to get to Australia by boat - asking India to take them!  You've gotta be kidding! How many people are there in India and how few people live in Australia?

I try to take my mind off it all and to do something frivolous. But it is something almost obscene in light of world events. I decide to buy a "little black handbag". I  google images and eventually find one I like. 

Proenza-Schouler Bl;ack Bag $1,600
I post it on Facebook.

The Princess answers, "That's not a little black bag... That's a bloody suitcase lololol."

Which gets me wondering. All my New York friends (all four of them!) have big handbags. All New York women have them. I check them out on the Streets of Manhattan. Yep, I'm right.

Reading the New York Times online I see that Bill Cunningham - New York's  fashion street photographer proves me right.

Here are some of those big-bag carrying women of New York. Look at them. And if you can, forget what has been a horrifying July 2014.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Feisty Women of New York

I sit here by myself
And you know I love it
You know I don't want someone
To come pay a visit I wanna be by myself
I came in this world alone
Me myself I - "Me Myself I", Joan Armatrading 1980

Keep smiling and keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That's what friends are for - "That's What Friends Are For", Bacharach and Bayer Sager 1982

Orchid Selfie, Manhattan
I have seen her on the bus nearly every work-day morning for over ten years now. She's overweight, plain, fiftyish, and is either student or staff at La Guardia Community College.

She wears ill-fitting black trackie pants and a no-color darkish top. Every day.

Actually I see her on two buses. The first the M15 - the Second Avenue downtown one, and then the Q60 that goes over Ed Koch Bridge to Queens. We never speak.

This is unusual. Normally take any opportunity to talk to any sort of neighbor - be it bus, subway, or apartment.

I don't like her and I suppose she doesn't like me either. But it's so weird that we never even acknowledge each other. It is too late now; it has gone on too long.

Last Sunday I saw her. I've only ever seen her on a bus on a week-day. She was sitting in the window seat of a diner, wearing a sparkly tiara. I was walking past and did a double-take. I walked back to make sure. And it was indeed her. Sitting in the diner wearing a tiara and a white tutu taffeta fairy dress. Confident. Sitting there for all the world to see as if it is a perfectly normal thing to do. True dinks.

Just goes to show. She's probably one of them. One of the feisty women of New York.

I had my first encounter with a feisty woman of New York on day three of my first job here. A co-worker took me to the closest coffee shop. She ordered a latte. "Do you want skinny milk with that?" the barista asked. "Do you think I look fat? No need to be rude," she shrieked.

Angie in HBO's "Girls" is a perfect example of feisty. Defending her girlfriend - non-pregnant Natalia -  to Adam who has dumped her. To everyone in a coffee shop. Yelling for all to hear " Guess what she’s pregnant. She’s pregnant with your child. What you put in her, it made a baby in her and now she’s pregnant. How does it feel to abandon your son? Yeah, feel it."

And a friend of mine. On the phone. A monologue. Starting with. "You know those plastic knives you get when you order in food? Well I'd like to get one and stab him through the heart. Right through his effing heart. And then I'd turn it. Slowly. Yes that's what I wanna do. Stab him through his heart. You hear me. Right through his heart."

I put her on speaker and took up my knitting. Like a spectator at the guillotine in 17 whatever, when the French had a revolution and women watched people being guillotined outside the Bastille. I didn't answer. I didn't even ask who it was that she was talking about. Not necessary.  To listen and speak not. That's what friends are for.

Another friend. Times Square, after a  Broadway show. On our way to our bus stop; we were passing a tacky tourist store. I'd been wanting to get a replica of the Statue of Liberty for my three year old grandson. He thinks she - Lady Liberty - is the "Salt Ghost".  "Whoo whoo," he spooks other kids in rural Australia. "The Salt Ghost is coming!". Nothing wrong with MY family...

Anyway, there I was in Times Square. It was a chance for me to buy a trashy piece of tourist junk. It isn't often I pass a store with Statue of Liberty replicas on sale. " Hang on," I tell my friend -  the one I'd just been to the show with, "I'll just duck in here for a sec. There's something I want to buy." "No time for that!" she commanded. "Do it another time. I want to get the bus home!"

Chastened I obliged. One does not contradict a feisty New York woman.

A few month ago, an acquaintance died of cancer. I didn't know her well, and I read news of her death on Facebook. It was entirely unexpected. Lung cancer. Fortunately she hadn't suffered long.

I called a mutual acquaintance to tell her the sad news. "Sarah died," I said. A second's silence while she took it in.

And then the reply, "Stupid bitch!"

Followed by a litany of silly things that Sarah had done in her fifty years on this earth.

I can only count my blessings that I wont be around when she hears that I have kicked the proverbial bucket.

The feisty women of New York. Gotta love  'em!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Decal

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that's true. - "Old Man".  Neil Young 1972
Defining moments. Those moments you remember forever, moments which define a transition in one's life as surely as they do in some news stories, films and novels.

When Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennett
When Lady Macbeth first washes her hands of her king's blood
When (for those of us who are old enough to remember) John F Kennedy was shot
When (and more of us will remember this) when the Berlin wall went down

Mother and Son, Rotorua 1983
But I'm more interested in those defining moments that do not signify an event that causes a change in world affairs, or the turn of a novel's plot. I'm interested in those remembered events that mark a change in ones life - signifying the beginning of something new, a different phase, a subtle event perhaps unnoticed by many, but signifying something ...

The moment, perhaps lasting only a second or less, when it finally hit me that my mother's cancer had spread. "Today when I went to the fridge, I could't pick up an egg," she told me over the phone, 12,000 miles away.

The last time I played hopscotch. I knew it was the last time, at the time. "This is the end of my childhood", I thought as I turned on the two top chalked squares, "7 8" to commence my journey into adulthood.

A Melbourne tram conductor singing "Love Love Me Do!" in September 1964; signifying the moment when the world turned to color from black and white.

I wonder, are such moments hooks on which to hang the 'dividers' of our life? Anything before that hopscotch game equals childhood, everything after equals adulthood? Or are they more than reference points, rather times of realisation that life is forever changed.

Not all such moments concern oneself. They be another person's realisation, acknowledgement, or acceptance of a life change.

Father and Daughter, Melbourne 1967
One of my sadder memory moments occurred in New Zealand in 1983. I'd gone there with my boyfriend of the time, to see my father. We'd not spent much of our lives together, my father and I. My parents separated constantly from the day of my birth till when I was thirteen. From thirteen on the split was permanent and my father eventually moved to New Zealand. From then on our meetings were infrequent. In fifteen years I maybe saw him five times.

Somehow in 1983 I learned he was unwell, perhaps he had not much time to live. I had just started a new job in Melbourne and could only take one week off. But one week is better than nothing, and so tickets were bought and off we set, Robert, myself and my seven year old son.

It turned out to be not so bad a trip, in as much as a trip to see one's estranged and dying father can be 'not so bad'. Bill had stopped working, could not walk very far, and throat cancer had almost completely taken his voice. He was living in a caravan (trailer) behind the Princes Gate Hotel courtesy of the then owners. You can actually see this caravan in the movie Sleeping Dogs where he had a minor role. He and Sam Neil have a drunken scene in the caravan, and I believe little acting was required of Bill for this cameo...

Father and Daughter, Rotorua 1983
Bill was poor, having never saved a cent in his life. But he had an old Hillman Imp. Cars were costly back then in NZ and so owning a car was something for him to be proud of. And it came in useful. The four of us would set out every morning, to tour of the Rotoruan countryside.

Bill loved the old Hillman. To us, Peugeot owners from OZ, it was a bit of a joke. But to Bill, it meant a lot. And as he could no longer drive it, the day trips with his daughter and grandson and defacto son-in-law were important, both in themselves and as a change in the monotonous life of a lonely invalid.

On day seven, arriving back from the last of our excursions, when I slammed the passenger door shut, the Hillman's decal fell to the ground. Bill looked at it anxiously, and unable to bend down, pointed it out to me. I went to pick it up, wondering how I'd attach it back. I hesitated. He looked at me, then back at the decal. "It doesn't matter does it?" he said. I knew what he meant. The Hillman would never be driven again in his lifetime. From that instant on, we both knew he'd entered the dying phase. He died five months later.

And that's what I remember. It isn't all that I remember from that seven-day trip. But it is the event of significance. And in that one event is held all the poignancy of discovering, and saying goodbye to, my dad.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Organic Flowers and Other Stuff

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair - John Phillips of "The Mamas and the Papas", 1967

Can I get a bacon and egg roll with no aioli?
And instead of aioli just some oregano.
And no bacon.
Can I get a field mushroom instead please?
And instead of egg can I get avocado?
And can I  get no roll? - Adrian, Bondi Hipsters The Life Organic, 2012

Three geraniums, Manhattan
One of the good things I like about living in America, is not having to talk in complete sentences. And of being able to use the generic "stuff" for almost anything. It's like you don't have to think.

The other "Stuff" in this post's title is a restaurant review. The restaurant in question is "Jones Wood Foundry". Jones Wood Foundry appears to be run by a (another good Americanism)  "bunch" of English people, has dreadful service,  and is on 76th Street just off York. On second thoughts, I wont review it. It is not worth it. I just wont be going back...

I have a friend who used to peal off the little oval "organic" labels stuck on individual  tomatoes at the supermarket, in order to pay the cheaper price of the regular non-organic poisonous ones.  A bit ironic actually. How does one know if something is organic? By the label? Imagine if we are all going around paying an extra 50 cents per tomato just because of the label.

NYC Organically-Labeled Tomato
I was thinking of my label-removing friend yesterday when I went to buy geraniums from the plant store  at 93rd Lexington. The same day as when I went to  Jones Wood Foundry for dinner.
It was obviously not my day for good customer service experiences.

I always like to have tubs of red geraniums on my balcony in summer in New York. They give an Italian feel to the place. I can pretend  I am on holiday in Venice or Florence.

So when I happened to see geraniums for sale at International Plant Center, I picked out three and took them inside to pay for them.

There were no other customers, but the guy behind the counter was chatting with a friend. In real life, not even on the cell. I am used to having to wait for attention when what are called "associates" are chatting on their cell phones. But the Plant Center guy was talking to a real live person.

I waited for a few minutes and then the man behind the counter gave an annoyed-sounding sigh and stared to ring up the sale.

Brilliant Red???
It was then that  I noticed that the label thingy stuck into the soil of one of the plants indicated that the flower color was going to be pink. "I'll just change this one as I want them all in red," I said. Apologetically as I could sense that his friend was hell-bent on finishing the  conversation I had interrupted.

The guy-behind-the-corner was getting visibly irritated. "Don't bother," he told me. "Just because it says on the label it is pink, it doesn't mean it is really is - people change the labels around all the time."

I thought of my friend and the organic tomato labels.

Indeed, how do we know what we are getting in this life? Take men, for example. Well, perhaps not...

Empowered and emboldened - I had just come from my check up with my OBGYN - I am WOMAN hear me roar etc, I asked the man-behind-the-counter if he owned the place. He told me "yes" and asked me why had I asked? "Well you don't seem to value customers," I smiled. Sweetly.

The two men exchanged what-a-bitch glances and I went outside to exchange one geranium of indeterminate color for another.

It is a hot day today in New York City. I'm sitting at my computer typing in this blog post. Occasionally I look out at the three geraniums on my balcony.

And I wonder what they will be like when they grow up.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Ghosts of New York

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you. - The Police "Every Breath You Take", 1983
freed to talk privately

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

New Yorkers at the No Mosque Demo 2010
This is a story of two old guys, a basketball team, and a salt ghost.

I'm not much interested in sport, but I find this story interesting in that it pits anti-racism against freedom of speech. And this in a country where freedom of speech is often touted as the corner-stone of what many Americans think is the greatest democracy on earth, EVER.

The two men are accused racist Donald Sterling and American stand-up comedian and anti-racist, Bill Maher.

Sterling owns, or owned, a basketball team in California - the Clippers. At the time of writing I don't know if he still owns the team, but even if he still does, he won't for long because he has been exposed as a racist by his girlfriend who secretly taped a private conversation between herself and Sterling.

Once the tape was made public, the commissioner of the American National Basketball Association banned Donald Sterling from the Association for life. Which means of course, that he can no longer own the Clippers basketball team.

The other old guy is Bill Maher. I don't much like him either. Many of my friends expect me to like him, but I find him a little bit obvious, especially as he is considered, by himself and others, to be a satirist.

The connection between the two old guys is that Bill Maher unexpectedly defended Donald Sterling's right to privacy when the "racist" tape was made public.

"But, you know, the creepy part is when you get taped in your own house and then that goes to the world. Again, no one here is defending Don Sterling, but that's what's creepy to me is that we can't even speak in our own house anymore." (Bill Maher On Sterling)

I completely agree. It is really scary. I am sure I've made some politically incorrect statements, though not racist ones. Well, hang on, what about Polish and Irish jokes told between friends?

Obama commented on the racist tape by saying,"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk". But Sterling wasn't advertising anything, he was talking to his girlfriend and to her alone - well that's what he thought.

Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to its Constitution. According to Wikipedia, "The freedom of speech is not absolute; the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized several categories of speech that are excluded from the freedom, and it has recognized that governments may enact reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on speech" Restrictions such as making it unlawful to incite racial hatred or yelling out "fire" in a movie theater. But I'd always thought that private conversations between two people, conversations that were not related to conspiracy to commit a crime, were exempt from the exceptions.

While it is true that Donald Sterling has not been accused of a crime, he has never the less been punished economically, and been publically vilified.

And where does a salt ghost come into all this? And what is a salt ghost anyway?

The "Salt Ghost" is no other than the Statue of Liberty - according to a delightful three year old child who came to visit New York City last month.

He saw many statues in his travels around New York. New York is a city of statues - there are 162 in its five boroughs. Including Ludwig von Beethoven, Gertrude Stein, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther King Jr., Socrates, Marquis de Lafayette, Douglass Frederick, five George Washingtons and four Abraham Lincolns.

Through the eyes of a young child these large, silent, completely stationary men and women were "ghosts". The ghosts of New York. "Statue" was not yet in his vocabulary.

But he was looking for one ghost in in particular - the "salt ghost". And eventually he found her.

"La Liberté éclairant le monde". The defender of freedom on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

As to why he thought she was the SALT ghost -well that's another story.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blue Jeans are Green

In my mind I’m gone to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine
Can’t you just feel the moonshine
Ain't it like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind
Till I’m gone to Carolina in my mind " - "Carolina in My Mind", James Taylor 1968

"Who is James Taylor?" - "Anon", 2014

New Yorkers in Jeans, DUMBO
Today, May 20, 2014, marks the 141st birthday of the Levi's 501 jeans.

At the 2014 Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna, Levi's CEO Chip Bergh claimed that Levi's "are the ultimate in sustainable apparel.... [They] will last a lot longer than most people's waistlines will." - (Levi Strauss CEO: Stop washing your jeans).   Good to know that Levis are cradle-to-cradle. But I have given up wearing jeans of any kind for some years now. Jeans might retain their shape, or shrink -but out bodies don not.

There was a short period where I weaned myself off blue jeans them by wearing them in black. But for at the past two years, even black jeans have ceased to have a place in my wardrobe.

Whoever said, "Don't trust anyone over thirty," might have shown some fashion sense had he added, "Don't wear jeans over fifty." Hang on while I google who said it.

It was Jack Weinberg who turned sixty on April 6, 2000. I wonder was he wearing jeans.

In America they have "Mom jeans". According to Wikipedia, "Mom jeans is a humorously pejorative term for a specific type of fit of women's jeans, considered to be both unfashionable, and unflattering to the wearer's body shape. This style usually consists of a high waist (rising above the belly button), making the buttocks appear disproportionately longer, larger, and flatter than they otherwise might."

Earlier this year Sarah Palin used the words to try to insult Obama. "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates." It was enough to make me go out to buy a pair.

But no, I just can't do it. Jeans might be cradle-to-cradle, organic, and free-range, but they don't necessarily look good on women, or men, of a certain age. I intend to age gracefully. Of course you don't have to be under forty to look good in jeans and maybe I could even look OK in them. But the "Mom jeans" thing got to me.

Just another thing that I have lost. But then look how much I've gained. Growing old isn't all negative. Why just yesterday I discovered another until then unknown upside. I have completely forgotten all the books I read in my teens. I'm in the middle of Camus "L'Étranger". Don't remember a word of it.

Yes sister Helen Reddy.
Oh yes, I am wise
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am invincible
I am woman

Yet but I still don't look all that great in jeans ...

But look how much I've gained ...

A whole new library awaits me.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Living in the Seventies

I feel a little crazy
I feel a little strange
Like I'm in a pay phone
Without any change - Skyhooks, "Living in the Seventies", 1974

Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look
Spellbound an' swallowed ’til the tolling ended - Dylan, "Chimes of Freedom", 1964
Earth Day at Earth Fest, Battery Park, New York 2014

There's something about the seventies - they just won't go away.

I gave birth to my children in the seventies, and spent most of that decade in rural Australia. Back then Manhattan seemed a century away, as did "Swinging London" which I had recently left.

Days of macramé housewives, potteries, Fowler'sjars, and a fear of anything petrochemical. Needless to say we all drove 8 cylinder cars, but our hearts yearned for horse-drawn buggies. Memories of Gladydale, Victoria, Australia, The World, The Universe.

Where a friend of mine tried to grow rice on the side of a mountain top, in sandy soil with no irrigation or regular rainfall. My mind jolted back to the days of vinyl when children had names like Sunday, Zero and Chaos. When men sprouted sideburns and babies wore cloth diapers. When James Taylor was beautiful. Well, all of us were.

 Forty years on.

The bottom tip of Manhattan NY. Battery Park. Earth Fest 2014. Time warp.

Sunflower Seeds and Clay, Earth Day, Battery Park
A scattering stalls that may or may not have been selling something. It was hard to tell. Laid back and organic, with almost cult-like starry-eyed optimism, the vendors were all into customer participation.

A red-headed bearded man was showing me a few grains of rice, explaining that he had grown them on an island on the East River. I can't remember its name. Millrock perhaps? "Does anyone live there?" I asked and he told me no. I wondered how he got there everyday to tend a few clumps of rice. Perhaps he had a raft.

A band way playing songs I'd never heard of. Downbeat. I later discovered it was "Bluegrass" and performed by either "Gotham City Pickers" or "Five Mile String Band". Scorning advertising there was no sign. Actually I shouldn't be mean. It was all very pleasant. Laid-back and un-commercial. There was even a farm, based on strip-farming - the open-field system that was the prevalent agricultural system in much of Europe during the Middle Ages.

Kids rolled sunflower seeds into clay balls under the supervision of eager teenagers from one of the local schools. A communal bucket half-full of muddy children juice was available to clean tiny toddler hands.

But I am being mean again. I just can't help myself. I blame it on a guy called Bill de Blasio - New York City's new mayor. But that's another Letter ...

Friday, March 28, 2014

I'll Take Manhattan

My friends and I — we've cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we're fine with this,
We didn't come from money. - Lorde - "Royals" 2013

Hazel - single mother and actress, 1950
I was taught well by my mother. Hazel, who bought us up, me and Tim, all by herself in the days when there was no such concept of "single mother".

She instructed me on "the need for men". If ever she couldn't get the lid off a jar of honey, or my bicycle broke, whenever anything needed "fixing", she would sigh and say, "This is when you need a man".

I believed her. Until I grew up and had a man.

Was it me, or did I sense in the men I chose, something that would prove my mother wrong? For at least with the first significant men in my life, I chose men who couldn't fix anything if their lives depended on it. It was as if their inability to change a tyre or replace a spark plug somehow set them apart from the rank and file of Australian men.

I remember standing at the kitchen window, watching with horror and fascination as husband #1 attempted to build a chook house. From scratch. He approached the job in a linear manner, using what is now called in the IT industry, "Agile methodology". First he hammered into the sandy ground of the Yarra Valley, one long pole, which was meant to be  one of four  vertical support beams. Just the one.  That being done he went on to hammer in the planks that were to make up the front side. I think the roof came next. I couldn't watch.

Some years later I met Rachel. Rachel lived in a big rambling weatherboard house in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The first time I visited Rachel some rocker-looking guy in a navy singlet was sanding the floors, part of his project of "renovating Rachel's house". I was impressed. Rachel introduced him as her new "boarder".

He was one of many that came into her life in the next decade. From boarder to renovator to lover, they all prided themselves in helping out "the little woman". Rachel had it down to an art. She would advertise for a boarder on the notice board of a well known book shop in the then trendy Melbourne suburb of Carlton. That way she would attract a man who read books. No bogans for Rachel. She'd pick the sexiest -looking "applicant", install him in the spare bedroom, and them bemoan the fact that the house was run down and how could she, a single mother with a full-time job, a low-paid social-worker, do anything about it?

I am not sure about the order in which the next events happened, but happen they did. The boarder would be elevated to lover and house remodeler. The best thing about it, Rachel confided in me, was that they would all be testosterone-driven to show how bad the last bloke had been, and how much better HE was in fixing her house. Things just kept getting better. She had the whole process worked out.  "Poor Rachel!" Peter the rocker said to me as he put the sander down to light a cigarette. "The last bloke here knew nothing about wood floors. I am replacing the lot with jarrah".

Several men in as many years later, Rachel had one of the best renovated homes in Brunswick. I was envious. But no way could I be like Rachel. For a start, I didn't pre-screen my men. Her "boarder" idea was a good one. She quickly got to know the men's habits, skills, taste in music, and their politics, before deciding their usefulness and abilities as lovers and renovators.

I found out later, and only ever had one lover who was good with his hands in both senses of the expression. I think it is because I grew up sans any sort of man, that I was conditioned early in life to fear anything breaking. TVs, cars, tables, phones. As soon as anything went even remotely on the blink I'd get neurotic and just want it replaced with something new. I am still like that today.

But now I live in an apartment in Manhattan. We have "maintenance men" on site, 18 hours a day. You just pick up the intercom and say, "This is Kate and my dishwasher is making a funny noise," and there they will be, at the apartment door, tools and replacement parts on hand.

I think that is why I stay here, in my apartment in New York. That and the fact that I don't need a car. I remember way back when, going into a panic if the fridge made a noise different from the one it made before, or if the engine of my car made a whining sound. Who could I turn to? The men didn't know. They didn't even notice such things.

I yearned for independence. For a life without scary breaking-down things.

When I am feeling particularly neurotic I wander around my apartment in Manhattan, where I live alone. Checking for things that might beak in the near future. No man around to be able to not fix things. That closet door today for example. It wasn't closing flush. I picked up the intercom. "This is Kate," I said. "I don't like the way the closet door in the hallway closes." Five minutes later there's José at my door. Not a problem. He had spare roller things to replace in the slider top thing. He'd do it right now, though it would be best to replace the hinges. That'd be $100 per door plus tip. Cheap at half the price.

Now, if I had been with one of the can't-fix-it men, it'd be a different story. It'd be, "There's nothing wrong with the door!" And I'd say, "But what if it gets worse?" And on and on and I'd dream of doors falling off onto the heads of little children, maybe maiming them for life, even killing them.

The lack of sleep. Having to talk to the man over breakfast, hiding my neurotic fears, and peeling the damp plastic wrap off the Melbourne Age that the paper boy had delivered to the front lawn.

Now it is all about reading the New York Times, online of course. Eating breakfast alone. Or even not eating breakfast. And having an army of men ready and willing to fix every little thing!

Ah, the freedom of it all.

Eat your heart out Rachel!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Past Imperfect

The imperfect is a verb form, found in various languages, which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can therefore have meanings similar to the English "was walking" or "used to walk." - Wikipedia

Take another little piece of my heart, now baby
(Break it)
Break another little bit of my heart, now honey
(Have a)
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby
You know you've got it if it makes you feel good - Bert Berns and Jerry Ragavoy,  better known for Janis Joplin's rendition

Crowd gathers to remember George Harrison
Central Park 30th November 2001
I was posting on Facebook. I am usually very careful of what I post on Facebook. Nothing inflammatory.

Maybe it is just the people I am "friends" with on Facebook. Whatever. The people I "know" there are a polite group, except for one or two eccentrics who seem to be tolerated for their amusement value.

A few weeks ago I had been watching Scorses's "Living in the Material World" on the life of George Harrison, and was thinking about how affected I am upon hearing about the death of artists who I particularly like, and who were part of the youth of my generation.

I nearly posted how I feel, on hearing such news -  that a little bit of me dies with each such passing, and how "what a drag it is, getting old". I tried to explain, then remembering  my virtual reality whereabouts, I did not click on "post". Too negative. To confrontational. Definitely not the time or place. Cancel.

Then this week I saw a  photo of Mick Jagger published at the time of the death of his partner L'Wren Scott, in Manhattan this month. Jagger in the sixties, Jagger now almost in his seventies. What a transformation, though he looks good for his age, as people like to say. I prefer his line, "What a drag it is getting old", although he penned those words when he was young and brash.

I remembered hearing of  Jimi Hendrix's death in September 1970. And then Janis Joplin's the next month. Joplin's "Take another little piece of my heart, now baby".  The first sense of loss. Lost youth. So apt.  I decided to post something about getting old.

My circle on Facebook, as vanilla and polite as it is, seemed hardly to notice when I posted  - "Looking of photos of Jagger on hearing of his current partner L'Wren Scott's suicide, after seeing him as a twenty year old in a documentary a few days ago, I thought how sad it is that the young get old."

Hardly anyone commented. Two friends agreed. Another posted about enjoying getting old. Another seemed non-plussed - what on earth did I mean?

We are so polite on Facebook. Is is my circle of "friends", or is if Facebook? I suspect it is the latter. After all,  I read the other day that young people are deserting Facebook in droves, leaving it to "old people", preferring other social networks where young people hang around in a universe that is not dominated by cutesy sayings embedded in retro-fonts in rectangle graphics with yellow backgrounds and photos of grand kids.

Can't say that I blame them. Though a part of me thinks, "what a nerve!" Who invented the web anyway? Do they have "like buttons" on those other sites and apps? Is there the young equivalent of the cutesy sayings?

It is something I will never know. Like how to change a car tyre, or how how electricity works. It just isn't worth the effort.

Instead I joined a knitting circle. It's so much fun. People sit around drinking coffee, talking about films, and knitting.

But even there I feel a bit past it. Conversations about "Girls" on channel whatever, and how much better it is than "Sex in the City" was. How much more realistic it is. SO New York.

I wouldn't know. I just sit there knitting.

I told a young friend - well not "told" in the sense of speaking words, I messaged her, about how I joined a knitting club. "Whatever for?" she messaged back. Genuinely perplexed. I was sort of glad she was bemused. It meant perhaps that she didn't see me as "old".

But I re-thought. Should I be thinking that way. Where was my gray pride? Old should be good.

But it isn't.

I fear that I am entering that age when one is assigned to the rubbish bin of life. An age when even people of forty scoff at the music of "My Generation". But deep down, behind the wrinkles and grey hair I know that we, the baby boomers, are right. We were always right. And if we hang out in Facebook boring the hell out of younger people, at least we "like" each other.

It might be that we 
no longer get our kicks, on Route Sixty Six, and that the biggest arguments we have on Facebook are about things like whether spring starts on the equinox or on the first of April or September. So what?

"We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden."

Friday, February 07, 2014

Talking Points

You think that I don't even mean
A single word I say
It's only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away - "Words", Bee Gees 1969

Did she go to work or just go to the store
All those things she said, I told you to ignore
Oh why can't we talk again
Oh why can't we talk again
Oh why can't we talk again
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone - "Hanging on the Telephone", Debbie Harry, from The Nerves - 1978

Comfort, Texas
I have a friend. She is a really good friend. An American friend. I really like her. I will call her X.

I have been friends with X  now for many years. I usually argue with my friends. It is just how I am.

My excuse for the arguing is that I really care about them (on my side),and they are very annoying (their side).  X  knows she is annoying, and I think it is because we are at one on this point, that the friendship has continued for so many years.

X is special. I don't have many American friends. Also she is "centered" as they say on the West Coast. Well, here as well. And in OZ. But I think it started on the West Coast. Being centered as opposed to self-centered I mean. X is both. I don't think she can see the difference between "centered" and "self-centered". I fact I doubt she has even thought about centeredness - in terms of her own behavior, that is. And as for me, I am impressed!

Last evening X called me. X is the only person I know, who puts people on hold when SHE initiates the call. "I haven't got a lot of time," she told me when I picked up. She was in a pharmacy and was asking one of the workers about the different body exfoliates.

All I could hear was her discussion with the pharmacy person,  interrupted by "I am still here, just be PATIENT!" Then I heard the cash register ring and she said "I am getting on the train to the East Village now," and the phone went dead. That's what it's like having X as a friend. There is no point in saying anything. It is a put-up-or-shut-up sorta thing.

I was at X's house last week, when  she got one of those annoying calls. You know the type. When someone who you have never heard of, from a company you have never dealt with, calls and says, "Hello Kate (or whoever you are). And what sort of day are you having today?"

I usually answer something along the lines of, "Who are you? " Or "I'm busy!" Or "This isn't Kate; she is in the hospital. with a terminal illness."

X just snapped at the caller, "If you can't say what you are calling about in one sentence, then I'm not interested."

I can't do that. I am  more passive aggressive, or so I have been told. Sometimes I just put the phone down and go to the bathroom. By the time I get back they have gone.

But there ARE times that I rise to the occasion.

Like today. I took a call. "Hi can I speak to Eric?" it asked. "No!" I answered in a very firm voice. "He never wants to talk to you again."

Last week I had a call from a young woman with a name like "Madison" spelled wrong. It was about ten in the morning on the East coast, even earlier in the morning on the West coast."

"Good afternoon," she said, "my name is Madison and how are you feeling today?" "It isn't afternoon," I said. "Well it feels like afternoon," she replied. And then, "I would like to talk you about retirement villages."

I hated her. I hated her before when said about the retirement villages - I hated her when she didn't know what time of day it was. "I am not interested in talking to someone who doesn't know what time of day it is," I answered,  and - well you can't "slam the phone down" anymore. So I just double clicked the home button on my iPhone and went upon my way.

Ten days ago I needed to call my bank in Australia. Now I have an excellent phone service in New York. It costs me nothing to call OZ, but  the Commonwealth Bank of Australia doesn't know that.

Mid Town NYC
I had been in a prickly mood all morning. It was around 11:00 am in New York - 3:00 pm in Sydney when I came off "hold" and the Men at Work musak. Wanting to get back to whatever I'd been doing, I went straight to the point, and explained that I was calling from New York and it was quite expensive to be on hold, so I hoped we could get to my question.

Being Australian, the customer service person was called Janelle and not Madison. "Oh what's it like in New York?" she asked. This was coming from one of my own people so I didn't snap her head off. "It is very cold,"  I answered." "And what is it like to live there?" she said. I tried to summarise 18 years of living in NYC into one sentence.

"Jeez," Janelle said, "I want to go there one day How did you get there? D'you think I'd get work?"

My tolerance limit was reached. "I am calling about my bank balance and I really can't give you a travelogue on New York City," I said, in a nasty voice, thereby justifying all of the expats-are-annoying-especially-the-ones-in America thing, and undoing my attempt at being a nice person. The line went dead.

I guess Janelle wont be coming to New York anytime soon. As for me, I am going to take politeness classes from my friend X.

She's nailed it.