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.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same. - Little Boxes, Malvina Reynolds, 1962

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right. I'm jumpin jack flash,
It's a gas! gas! gas! - Jumping Jack Flash, Jagger/Richards, 1968

I'd always believed that "Little Boxes" was written by Pete Seeger. I should have known that such a clever song was written by a woman! No offence to Pete, a man who never craved the limelight.

I only discovered that Malvina Reynolds composed the song when I checked the lyrics today -  thinking about Pete Seeger who died last Monday in New York.

End of an era.

A mere six years between "Little Boxes" and "Jumping Jack Flash". Between the gentle, almost self-effacing Seeger, and the bold rebellion of Jagger. Who would have thunk it?

I can actually remember where I was when I first heard  "Little Boxes". I was with my father in a car on the way to the Sir Colin MacKenzie Fauna Park - otherwise known as the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary.

It was on an access visit. My father was driving, and left-wing socialist that he was, he referred to the wild-life sanctuary by its correct name, "The Sir Colin MacKenzie Fauna Park". That's what he was like. Having never learned to read and write until he was a grown man (a big thank you to the Saint Augustines Boys' Orphanage), he prided himself on getting things right.

Of course none of the gray looking people on the streets of Melbourne had a clue as what he was talking about. "Sir Colin MacKenzie Fauna Park" indeed!  A lover of the proletariat by political conviction, my father could never quite cope with the working class in the flesh.

Bill lived in New Zealand and my brother and I, in Australia. It was in the gray years of the fifties, that extended their dull influence to the early sixties in Australia.  The country we expats now call "OZ"  - being run at the time by a political party several degrees to the right of the American Tea Party that was to come later.

Of course we never made it to Healesville to see the koalas and kangaroos. My father, like me and my brother, had spatial dyslexia, and couldn't read maps or find his way out of a box. He drove round in circles, passing little boxes all the same. I remember he kept stopping to ask the gray-looking pedestrian pedestrians of Melbourne's outer suburbs, "Can you please direct me to Sir Colin MacKenzie Fauna Park?". He said in his best Sir Laurence Olivier British upper class actor voice. Olivier, his hero.

Tim and I cringed. We cringed a lot in those days. When to be accepted one had to be normal. When to have divorced parents was definitely not.

We were access visit, latch-key kids.  Now I think of it, we were ahead of our time!

I was going to write about Greek ruins in Northcote, and how it is so annoying when customer service people ask what sort of day you are having...

But  listening to "Little Boxes" did me in.

Thank you Pete Seeger.

It was because of you Pete Seeger,  that we were able to grow out of our "boxes".