Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Old Women of Manhattan

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, tell where are you going?
This he told me
Said, I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free - Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock" 1969

Upper East Side Women
Where have they gone, the children of Woodstock? Long time passing. The "where have all the young girls gone" girls. The "I Am Woman" women.

The older women of my parent's generation frequented diners or cafés. Socialized in the dining rooms of their peers.

They had their hair permed and gray-rinsed. Certainly they didn't hang out in  bars. OMG - in Australia women of any age were not even allowed in bars. But the times they have been a-changin'.

The young girls of the nineteen fifties and sixties are now women in their sixties and seventies. You can see some of them in the bars and restaurants of Manhattan. They generally come in groups of two but sometimes dine alone. Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. But this early dining is not because age has wearied them.

Aù contraire. They choose these hours because these are "Happy Hours" here in New York City. Drinks are cheap. Important when on a fixed and limited income as many are.

They quite often have large smiley-face plastic bags on the table next to them, containing the left-over food from their meals, that they'll take home for tomorrow night's dinner home alone.  One night eating in, next night eating out - all for the price of one. Anti global-warming deniers - they would demonstrate against their own carbon footprints - defiant in exposing their own hypocrisy.
Smiley  Face, Happy Hour

Like "alternate side street parking" that we have here - something I've never completely understood - possibly because I don't own a car.

I gather it means that you have to park on the opposite side of the road than the one you parked on the day before. But I can't figure it out. How would one remember? And how would the parking guy know? And what if you parked on the left side on Monday but were away from home on Tuesday. Would Wednesday be the alternate of Monday, or of Tuesday?

The taking home of leftovers though I do understand, though I don't participate. Along with the happy hour drinks it makes economic sense.

I admire the older women of New York. Hanging out in bars, walking wherever they want. Giving as good as they get.

We've come a long way from Yasgur's Farm, and I like to think we've set our souls free. 

Star dust, billion year old carbon.

As they say in New York - "Tell me about it!"

Meanwhile, we'll keep on rocking.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ambient Light

May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young - from "Forever Young" Bob Dylan 1973

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever. - Germaine Greer

Barney's on Madison
It used to be so very easy, when something went wrong. Like my car had a flat tyre. Or I wanted to return a pair of shoes to Myer Melbourne. Or I needed the attention of the waiter.

I would just put on a sad face and would be swarmed with offers of assistance.

Playing the young-and-pretty card. I even made a game of it. How far could I go?

I remember an incident when I lived in Launching Place in Victoria, OZ. I have never been a good driver but had been  pretty accident-free. I put this down to the fact that other drivers saw me coming and got the hell out of Dodge..

But one time I did have an accident -  involving a steel traffic signal pole thing. Side-swiped it, Pedestrians were staring with shocked faces. I accelerated. I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.  Catapulted straight into denial.

The crunching noise had sounded terrible.  I think  I had made the damage  worse be not stopping or even reversing. I can still remember all these years later, the sound of metal rearing. Ripping. And the shocked faces. Christ!

When I did stop to inspect the car I was horrified. There was a huge gaping gash in the passenger door. A wound. A not-meant-to-be thing.

What was I to do?  I couldn't face my husband. I wasn't  prepared to give him evidence towards his belief that I was a hopeless driver. I knew he wouldn't care about the car. But I cared about my reputation.

So I drove to a body repair shop and pretended to cry a little bit, and asked the manager of the car place could I borrow a mallet and some cream paint the color of my car. "I want to fix it myself as I don't want my husband to know I had an accident,  Also we are poor" I said in a sad voice.

Window Display at Dylan's Candy Bar
Manager man consulted with his worker mates., They stood around in a circle in the way men of the Australian bush do when they want to show they are real men solving an important problem..

"Yeah too right we'll fix it for her, poor little thing," they were saying. "The husband's lucky to have her." I thanked them profusely and told them how wonderful they were.  My acting skills are not a lot better than my driving ones, so I cut the thanks short. Nothing worse than over-acting, my father - one of the greatest actors of all time - had taught me.

My job well-done I walked over the road to a coffee shop and read a book while the men pulled out all plugs to get my car looking as good as new.

But those days are well passed. I can't do that sort of thing now. I haven't been able to for a while.

Sometimes I wish I would have been born ugly; then I wouldn't have had to adjust so much. People would never have helped me. The transition  has been hard.

But I made it!!! I change my own tyres now. I don't even have a car anyway, so I don't have car accidents. If waiters don't take any notice of me I yell at them. I am woman, hear me roar!!!!

I don't exploit my own sexuality because I don't have any. Life is good. Was good ...

Something new has begun. I have entered another phase of ny life. An even worse one.

And that is - saying out loud my date of birth - to bank officials, Medicare workers, house insurance people, people at LifeLock who protect me from identity theft. Come to think of it, do I even NEED Lifelock? Who would WANT to pretend they were me?

It goes like this. I will be applying or asking for something by phone, from a person with the authority to deny it.  The conversation, the application will be going very well.  Especially if the person on the phone is  male and Texan. So polite. So charming.

They'll even chat a bit. "Love yer Aussie accent!" they'll say admiringly. "I am sure you can get that loan, insure that house,  return those shoes you don't like anymore."

And then, "We need to establish your identity for our records. What is your date of birth?". I can hear the mouse click at the other end where they are bringing up my personal details on the computer screen.

I answer in a whisper . Maybe they wont notice the year. But of course, they do.

The tone of the conversation changes. Clipped. Polite. Not interested in accent. No way José.

A few times I've tried to play the age card. I don' know what you mean by a "HUD-1 settlement statement," I will say. "I know you told me before but I can't remember!" But it is a fine and dangerous line I am treading here! They might think I am feeble minded. Not worthy of a loan. Not fit to take out insurance.

Actually I tried it once - playing the old card that is. At a hospital here in New York. In the ER. I was lying there, forgotten. Hours passed. I was thirsty. I had no water. When I called to the nurse I was ignored.

I started to get dressed. "What are you doing?" Nurse Ratched snapped. "I'm getting water, I'm thirsty .I  haven't had any liquid for five hours!" She glared in an accusing spooky sort of way.

"Do you know where you are?" "Of course I answered!" "Well where ARE you?" she crowed triumphantly. Trumped like The Donald! I became the old woman she thought me to be. I briefly considered saying I was in Paris having a meal with my man friend, but common sense warned me.

I didn't much like the ER I was in, but was pretty pretty pretty sure that the one at Bellevue would be worse.

So I told her where I was, in an elderly feeble docile sort of way.

Which only goes to show that the system will always win, and we must go gently into these our final days. Or at least pretend to.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Don't Blame Me - I Just Live Here!

You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read It’s well known
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones? - from "Ballad of a Tin Man" - Dylan 1965 

What's-a matter you? Hey!
Gotta no respect. Hey!
What-a you t'ink you do? Hey!
Why you look-a so sad? Hey!
It's-a not so bad.
Hey! It's-a nice-a place.
Ah, shaddap-a you face! - from "Shaddap You Face" - Joe Dolce 1980
Beach, Maine, USA
"Even as I write this on gray and rainy Saturday, the glorious weather of Independence Day weekend is borne back ceaselessly into the past like Gatsby's boats against the current.

I hope this missive finds you well wherever you are, on the docks in the West Egg or in your own backyard."

This was the preamble of a letter from my attorney - I like to call him my end-of-life attorney (it's so American) - just to annoy some of the folks back home who have it in for all things USA.

Sure the USA has a lot to answer for. But it is also - for many of us living here - a very nice place. Especially New York City, where one's end-of-life-attorney references  F. Scott Fitzgerald when sending a letter reminding you to check that your last will and testament is still in order. 

I have a theory about New York - because it is so big, and in many ways by virtue of its size - somewhat impersonal - that people are very friendly and personal with people that they come across in day-to-day encounters.

Most of us live in small apartments and spend large amounts of  time at work. On a physical level our horizons are somewhat cramped. But we make up for it, because the world is our back yard. Central Park, the High Line, Prospect Park, the galleries, the theaters. The literary and music legacies.

Subway Advertisement 2015
And so New Yorkers, seeing the whole city as their own space, will chat to complete strangers, holding whole conversations with people who they are never likely to see again.

And in customer service email - not you pro-forma "Dear Sir/Madam" -  a comment, a viewpoint can find its way into the most mundane of commercial emails.

As was the case a few weeks ago. Frustrated at not being able to find a movie that had been reviewed on "Talking Pictures on Demand" where a panel of film critics talk about the on-demand film offerings, I emailed customer service at the TV station  NY 1. In ten minutes the reply landed in my inbox.

Thanks for your email. I just checked Movies on Demand and I found it. You need to go to channel 500 (Movies) and go to the alphabetical listings. You'll find "Battle Royale" in the A-C section. I know that we have done reviews of movies in the past that might have been unavailable and we try hard to make sure that that doesn't happen.

Thanks again for the feedback and please let me know if you are having any issues finding the film. It's a weird movie....very Japanese.

Steve Paulus General Manager, NY1

As Jo Dolce sang to people putting down Australia in the 1980s - "Hey! It's-a nice-a place."

I was chatting on the phone to a friend in Australia last week, talking about the plight of refugees and how in America we call them "undocumented immigrants", and how welcoming the U.S. really is, when it comes to new arrivals. The conversation went something like this.

Me: We call them "undocumented immigrants" here.
Her: What? I think someone is at the door.
Me: Are you back? I was just saying how in America we call refugees who come here illegally, "undocumented immigrants".
Her: At least we don't have the death penalty. I couldn't live in a country that has the death penalty.

Well I suppose we all couldn't live in countries that we think do bad things. I couldn't live in a country that stoned female adulterers to death for example. Well naturally ... I would be dead.  

Maybe I wouldn't want to live in a country that turns back "boat people"; that even calls other human beings "boat people". But I have, and I no doubt will.

And in any case, it isn't a competition.

Or is it?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Aylan Kurdi - Lest We Forget

"I wished there was no problem in their country, that they hadn’t left it and hadn't tried to leave Turkey and that I hadn’t taken this photograph, But as I found them dead, all I could do was take these pictures to be their voice." - Nilufer Demir, photographer, Bodrum Turkey, September 2 2015
"But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again" - from "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", Eric Bogle 1971

The beaches of Gallipoli (Gelibolu) are etched in the collective memory of many older Australians. Every year on the 25th April Australians celebrate "Anzac Day" - the anniversary of a battle that  is believed by some to represent the birth of our nation.   In 1915 8,000 Australians died on the beaches of the Turkish peninsular of Gallipoli -  men and boys of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs),  in  their first ever campaign. The first time we made world news as a nation separate from England.

Most of us older Australians  have seen the movie "Gallipoli" -  which was also part of the marking and making of our nation. Released in 1981 by Australian director Peter Weir, it helped put the Australian film industry on the map. A film about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War and who are sent to fight the Turks on the peninsula of Gallipoli. Sent to die.

Australian expats are moved almost to the tears when hearing Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda",  a song which describes war as futile and gruesome. War seen through the eyes of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli.

Was it the fact that the dead child in the photo was washed up on a Turkish beach that got to me yesterday? Beyond tears. Was it the association with the memories of the young Australian soldiers  running from the Turkish beach to their deaths one hundred years ago that sickened me so?

Or was it because of the way he was lying. As the CNN reporter put it, "face down, his head to one side with his bottom slightly up -- the way toddlers like to sleep"? My children slept like that.

Or what he was wearing, his red top and blue shorts and little shoes with Velcro straps? That I could imagine his mother dressing him in that morning? Too close, too personal.

"This picture is so desperately sad", posted a friend on Facebook. I could bear it no more. I closed the iPad, turned off the TV, and  slept the sleep of the dead.

I awoke today with that feeling you get when you know that something is wrong. In between sleep and full consciousness - usually it's something like how the dishwasher is broken; or that I lost my iPhone the day before. Something trivial, but something that tells you that today is not just another day.

I don't normally wake up with that "what's wrong" feeling related to world events. Even when George W as elected way back when, I woke up as per normal. The Chile earthquake. The bushfires. The Japanese tsunami. World events don't overly affect me. At my age I'm a seasoned traveler of  life.

Last time I woke up with a feeling of something being wrong -  a something that wasn't affecting my personal life - was on 12th September 2001. The day after 9/11.

Today I woke up with that feeling. That something-is-wrong-in the-state-of-Denmark feeling. And it wasn't  about something personal. What had changed?

As consciousness dawned I remembered. The toddler on the Turkish beach.

I know that children die every day. Of disease and starvation,  from war, by infanticide. But this one did me in. Has done me in. Little Aylan Kurdi, whose family had fled through three countries in search of safety.

Fleeing ISIS. What parents wouldn't?

As we say at the dawn service on ANZAC Day in Australia, remembering the young men who died on another Turkish beach," Lest We Forget".

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fragments - Handle With Care

"I close my eyes in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents. Against my will - or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore? - I remember." - from "The Nightingale", Kristin Hannah

 Today : "You have a third of your life left according to one of the sound bites describing Renata Singer's new book, "Older and Bolder: Life after 60". Thirty years, but I've already used up nearly a third of what's left! I do a little bit of arithmetic.

The Seventies - According to Bloomingdale's
A third of a third... I don't want to know. But I must read the book. And I wonder what Renata Singer sounds like - because like me - she is an Australian New Yorker.

I  google to an ABC Australia podcast, to listen to Renata Singer being interviewed. I knew here two-thirds of a life ago. She is as inspiring now as she was back then. All those years ago.

But what's with the photo gracing the podcast's webpage? A grey and white photo of drab grey and white old women, unstylishly dressed. At odds with what I expect of the book. Old women looking not bold. And very very old.

Still, I feel emboldened. And I haven't even started the book. Watch out folks!

Yesterday: On a bus. All the seats are front-facing. About three rows behind me I can hear a young woman, voice slightly raised. A clear voice. A young healthy voice. 

Dog Days on Sixtieth
I assume she is talking on her cell phone. But her voice gets louder and I turn to look behind me.

She's about 28, dark hair, attractive. Millenial-dressed. I avert my eyes and go back to staring straight ahead like all the other commuters. I can hear her clearly now. As can everyone else.

Like all New Yorkers we are doing our best to remain detached, at least outwardly.

"I can feel you thinking about me." She is almost yelling now. "I can feel your eyes. Your eyes are touching me. I hate their touch. Touching touching."

At a bus stop a woman gets on and stares. She is looking uncomfortable as she looks around at us, all of us New Yorkers, all looking straight ahead as if nothing is happening.

I feel we should do something. "Reach out," as they say. But I'm not going there.

I can hear the young woman. Yelling now.

"I feel like getting my hands around your throats," she's saying. "I want to squeeze hard around your necks and watch your heads turn yellow and green. I want to see your heads, your heads, your heads pop off!"

The sensitive woman who got on one stop earlier looks behind her, hesitates, and then gets of the bus at the next stop.

I am thinking about people in movie theaters in America getting shot. What are we meant to do when someone is clearly unhinged?  Did anyone tell us? Do I remember? I think of telling the bus driver. I'm getting nervous.

Then I remember; I'm in New York - we don't do guns here - well not on buses anyway. All those mass shootings were somewhere else. Someone else's problem. I relax. Visibly.

When the bus stops at my destination on Sixtieth, I get off. I don't even remember enough about the young woman to even look back.

Last week: You never stop being a mother. And your children never stop being your children.

In my head I am stuck at being twenty seven years old. Not unusual I have been told.

But my children? In my head they are stuck at being three. The age of questions.

And it is my duty and instinct to answer those questions. With answers that assume that my children, my eternal three year-old children, actually need me to explain, even the obvious.

Take at this little bubble of text convo for example.

What was I thinking? That my over forty year old daughter - herself a mother of a four year old - didn't know the basic workings of of the human digestive system?

Geez mum, indeed!

Stay tuned.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

When I Saw Him Standing There

Well, he walked up to me
And he asked me if I wanted to dance
He looked kinda nice
And so I said, "I might take a chance" - 'Then He Kissed Me', The Crystals 1963

I only know when he
Began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced,
All night! - 'My Fair Lady', 1956

Dummy in NYC Haberdashery
A hundred years ago a dancer from the Bolshoi Ballet asked me to dance. This is a true story.

I can't remember how I managed to walk to the dance floor, or what sort of dancing it was. I don't remember the music either. I do know it was in Melbourne during the Cold War and that I had been dragged along to a social function put on by the Australian Russian Friendship Society.

He told me his name was Sasha. We didn't speak much. We gazed into each others' eyes. He had a lovely smile, a half smile. I remember thinking of the mambo scene in "West Side Story".

Perhaps we didn't even dance. Perhaps we just stood still, looking at each other. I can't remember. I do remember that  we tried to work out a rendezvous, but what with my shyness, his limited English, and the restrictions imposed upon him by his KCB minders, we didn't get anywhere

I was star-struck for at least two nights and then, being young and carefree, all  thoughts of Sasha faded. My memory of him now is of a young Count Vronsky look-alike -  dressed in black and white,  handsome against a monochrome Soviet background - a memory influenced no doubt by the many experiences I have both enjoyed and suffered in the intervening years between then and now.

I thought of Sasha last week when I looking into the ice-cream freezer display at the Keyfood supermarket on Second Avenue in New York.

An elderly gentleman - a fellow shopper - was trying to get my attention. Why did I think so suddenly of Sasha? I hadn't thought about him for years.

Perhaps there was something about the black-and-whiteness of the fellow, the hesitation, the half-smile.

I turned away from the shelves of  tubs of Edy's ice-cream to ask him what he wanted. "Can I borrow your coupons?" he said, pointing to the leaflet of coupons at the bottom of my shopping basket.

Around us streamed the afternoon throng of elderly New Yorkers. The 3:00 pm crowd. Getting in before the rush and crush of the millenials. War-weary ex-peaceniks, the beaten-up beats of generation 1950. Aisle after supermarket aisle of elderly men and women.
New Theatre Review Melbourne 1942

Did Mr. Coupon think I was one of them? I tried to look young. Well younger. "I'm not there yet",  I was thinking. Soon yes. But not yet. I am only old, not elderly. There's a difference!

You can HAVE the coupons, I told him. I didn't explain, but printed coupons aren't necessary. The cashiers ring up the sale price in any case -  the coupons being more an advertising gimmick, placed indiscriminately by supermarket staff into the  shopping baskets, aiming to fool people into buying things they don't need; tricking them into thinking that they are getting a bargain.

I went back to surveying the freezer shelves, trying to choose between the slow-churned vanilla and the cookie dough flavor. Maybe two tubs of one, or one of each ...

He was still standing there. Like the girl in the Beatles song. "Oh why did I think of another?"

I'll tell you why. It was 1964 and I was dancing with Sasha in gloomy old Melbourne-town during the Cold War. I was the rescuer of a  possible defector to the Free World. We were going to try to meet somewhere on St Kilda Road. But then the music died. The night the music died...

The supermarket was playing our song. I jolted back to reality. The coupon man was still there. Standing. Just.

"You should buy one of these Edy ice-creams," I told him. "They are two for the price of one."

He said he didn't trust the supermarket. If he didn't have a coupon, then how did he know it was true?

By now the tubs of ice-cream were starting to melt. "Like my heart when Sasha asked me to dance," I mused.

Sasha. I had tried to look him up. Tried to get a playbook of the ballet. But of course his real name was not Sasha, Sasha being a diminutive of Alexander.

Reality girl! Elderly man. Coupons 2015. New York. Not Melbourne. Summer, not Soviet.

I closed the door to the freezer. "Look," I said. "There is the notice on the door. Two Edy's icecreams for the price of one." He peered through myopic eyes. And smiled. A sort of half smile. Hesitant. A wary-of-the-KGB sort of smile. I half-smiled in return.

And hurried away, not looking back. So as not to to see if my Sasha was using a walker.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What was Violet's Middle Name?

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be -  Working Class Hero, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, 1970

Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today - "Yes! We Have No Bananas", Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, 1922

Best friends, Australia, When we were young
I am opening up a new online bank account. I'm trying to set up my security questions and answers. I've been here before. I dread going there.

I live in a country where it is very important to be politically correct. Socially, racially correct. But apparently this meme or whatever, does not apply to "security questions".

And yes, I realise that such questions are only there in case you forget who you are, or what is your password - but it is not as simple as that.

The assumption is that you had a conventional childhood. White. Affluent. Two parents and 2.2 children, of which you are one of them. One of the whole number, born ones.

It is all worked out here in the U.S.A.  If you are not statistically normal, help is on the way. You can even get extra points in order to get into college (aka university in OZ).

But when it comes to opening a bank account, a 401K, a Roth IRA - even a social media account - the un-politically, un-socio-economical questions come pouring in.

There's normally a list of set questions you can provide answers to - in case you forget who you are. I speed-read it. But unless there's something simple, like "Your father's middle name", I am at a loss.

 I was raised by a single mother. I lived in a country that didn't use the term "middle school". I know I had a paternal grand father, but I only saw him once and I was six at the time.

He never told me his middle name.

I had a dog but I can't remember his name. Probably he was"Blacky",  but maybe the five year-old me spelled it with an "ie".

We moved house 27 times before I was 14. So I have no effing idea the name of my home teacher when I was in "middle school".

My dad had three wives and I don't know the middle name of any of them. Including my mother's.' Well, I do with my mum, but the "authorities" kept getting it wrong, and I keep forgetting the "wrong one" that  I am meant to remember.

When my mother, a country girl eleven years old, came to Melbourne from the tiny New South Wales town of Moama in 1930, the teacher at Princes Hill Primary school got her name wrong, and the young country girl  was too overwhelmed to correct her when she read her given names out of order.

My mother's name was "Christine Hazel", but she was registered as "Hazel Christina" at Princes Hill. So what IS my mother's middle name? I dare not get it wrong or my bank account will be locked. My mum  - Born Christine, married as Hazel, Divorced as Christina. Died Christine. I skip that question.

My best childhood best friend?  I think of Di - in the UK now. We were  best friends  -  still are  - for yonks. Will be forever. We lived near each other in the early sixties. In Melbourne. But maybe it should be Kathy Brettel. I was best friends with her in third grade in Bathurst New South Wales in 1959.  Never heard from her again. But she was "first". Or Carolyn who lived round the corner when we were both fourteen and I still stay with in Australia when I visit. We are as sisters.

And what do they mean by "childhood"? Too confusing.

The Missing
I skip that question. Here's one - "Who was your favorite comic book hero?" There's the rub. My dad didn't allow comic books in the house. He was left-wing till Stalin invaded Czechoslovakia. I really don't want to bring the Cold War and McCarthy into a supposedly simple account security system check.

What was my nick name as a child?  Closer. "Katie" or maybe "Katy". I should make a note of the spelling in my password-keeper.

Oh, and I LOVE this one - "What street did you live in when you were nine?" I think back to the fifties. The various rooms and half houses that my single mother, Hazel, Chris, Christina ... whatever,  found for us. Beats me. I am not even sure of the state.

I go on. "Your favorite  uncle?" Well we all us women know about favorite uncles. I am not even going there! It is all getting too close to home.

Till next time,

Kath, Katy, Katie, Kathleen... Chris's daughter, Hazel's daughter, Violet whoever's granddaughter,


Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Eating Pies on Trams Syndrome

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand - Bob Dylan "Every Grain of Sand", 1981
His veteribus sub tectis
Carmen vocibus sucentis
Celebrate virginum
Mistos lusibus labores
Operosa fructuosa vita debet exige
Palladis, potens sui. - Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School Song

Walking home - 94th Street, Manhattan 2015
A hundred years ago I went to an exclusive all girls' high school in Melbourne.

Mac.Robertson Girls' High. We sang our school song in Latin. We had to wear hats and gloves when in uniform outside the school's grounds. We weren't allowed to eat on trams. Our French teacher was called simply, "Madame".

One day an ex "MacRob girl" who must have been very ex to our young eyes - she looked to be at least forty - complained to the headmistress about the behavior of one particular girl on a tram .

Looking back, the headmistress Miss Barrett was a very ordinary women. But at that time us girls fantasized that she had once had a lover; a dashing young man who had died in the trenches at the Somme. That's the kind of gals we were. Very "Picnic at Hanging Rock" kind of girls.

But back to the ex MacRob girl who complained. Apparently she had seen a girl in a MacRob uniform not only not wearing gloves, but eating a meat pie on the number 69 tram the day before. The PA system directed all girls who had been on a number 69 tram to go to the general assembly hall for a line-up.

The Conch, 1963
And yes, I had been on the number 69 tram. Of course I hadn't been eating a pie. And I always wore my gloves. I was what they called a "conch", which was I believe, short for conscientious.

Nevertheless I was sure that the ex-MacRob snitch would choose me from the line-up. I even felt guilty. I  internalized the guilt of the unknown naughty girl. A bit like Jesus was meant to do when he died for our sins I suppose. But then I have never had enough cognitive dissonance to understand that concept.

I remember thinking that all us number 69 tram girls looked the same, and that how could she tell who had eaten the pie. The rest of that day is now a blur. Receding long ago intro that dark and distant past - the  olden days.

And then it all happened again. Déjà vu like no other déjà vu. The déjà vu of déjà vus!

Commuters on the M102
June 2015. I was on the M102 bus on Third . On my way home from work. An announcement over the bus PA - "Calling all bus drivers. An elderly woman has strayed from her nursing home. She has graying hair and is wearing black. She has dementia. If you see this woman please call 511."

I looked around nervously. Furtively. Dreading the pointing finger. It was the pie lady all over again.

And yet - how did I know it really wasn't me? Perhaps I was only thinking I had been to work that day. Perhaps I was really that lost woman with dementia and had imagined I had a job and belonged in the real world.

"I'm getting OFF this bus lickety spit!" I told myself.

No pies for me! And certainly not on a bus.

But really, it isn't funny. I am old.

I am so old it takes forever when I am filling in an online form. When I am prompted for the year of my birth I have to scroll downward through the years, down down down; it takes years to get there.

I am so old, that words from my childhood that have not seen currency for decades have been recycled by millenials.  Such as "dig it" - an expression I understand was popular in the beatnik era when I was still in school. Not that Latin-singing MacRob girls used such words.

"I don't dig it," I heard one millennial say to another millennial just last week. I remember it distinctly because it sounded so strange. Millenials rarely speak in public. Unless it is into their cell phones. This was face-to-face. Real-time. Possibly there was even eye contact.

Yes I am definitely old.

I am so old that I only just found our that there is a popular band called Mumford and Sons.

But that's a good thing.

Isn't it?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Painted Ponies

And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came - Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game, 1968

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 - America, Horse with no Name, 1971

Carousel, Brooklyn
"As the associate said to the guest" ....

If  I could think of a good punch line I would have written it. But I can't.

"Associate"?  "Guest"? Context? I am always amazed the way words are recycled to describe old things - things that could be construed by the paranoid, as being politically incorrect.

So now, people that sell you stuff in stores are not sales assistants, or even "in retail" (as they say in Australia), but are "associates". And people who come into a store to buy stuff, are not "shoppers", but "guests".

Which makes one wonder, what name do we give to people who we invite into our homes. No longer "guests" but ....

Surely we can't give away names willy-nilly.

When I had not been long in America, and had not understood about THE revolution, and how the English were baddies... fresh from the colonies I walked into an Eileen Fisher shop on Madison. Shoppers and the people behind the counters were all on cell phones.

I had about six pieces of clothing draped over my arm. I approached the counter with the cash register on it. And in all naivety, I asked the shop assistants (Australian for affiliates), was there anyone there who could serve me.

"Oh SERVE you, oh so sorry m'lady, would you like a cocktail?" sarcasted the only affiliate who wasn't on her cell phone.
I was speechless. "Would you like a martini? On the rocks? Or perhaps madame would like the cocktail of the house?" she went on. and on. And on.

"I only wanted to buy clothes," I whispered, before I hurried out.

What's in a name? Excuse me, but a lot apparently. Now I am very careful what words to use in America. They haven't forgotten the British. The Redcoats. The lords and ladies of the manor born.

Of course, buying clothes anywhere isn't easy. Last year I was in Melbourne Australia. I wanted to buy something Australian. I went to the usual places, places of my youth. Myer, David Jones, and a few Lygon street boutiques.

And found something that I have barely seen in Manhattan clothing stores. Old people serving ... oops I mean elderly associates ... oops I mean senior associates.

They annoyed hell out of me. I would be wandering around the store looking through racks of clothes and they would actually approach me.

"Can I help you?" "Exactly what is it that you are looking for?" And so on. I would leave in a hurry. My New York private space invaded. " What's with those people?" I asked my friend C after about two weeks of such assaults. "Oh", she replied, "Were they OLD people?" I thought and answered yes.

"Well don't EVER go into a shop where the shop assistants (C is not PC) are old", she told me. "Go to places where they are young and they will be busy on their mobile phones. Then they don't bother you. You can look at clothes for hours and they don't come NEAR you."

Of course she was right. C is always right. I have even put her advice to the test in Manhattan. Especially in Bloomingdales.

Works like a charm.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thank you for love us

And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row - Bob Dylan, Desolation Row, 1965

Michelle, ma belle
Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Très bien ensemble - Lennon-McCartney, Michelle, 1964
Michelle's sign, 93rd and 2nd Manhattan, 2015

Winter is so last session, the ads would have us believe. Sure. Tell that to the Marines is what we Manhattanites are thinking as we brave the cold, and venture onto the streets which are beginning to evoke rather horrific memories of New York City in the mid-nineties, when Mayor Giuliani was in town.

We have a different mayor now. His name is Bill de Blasio. He eats his pizza with a knife and fork, and he's always late. He was late for Catholic mass on Good Friday. He was late for the St Patrick's Day march in Queens. He is even late for his own breakfast.

Still, he has a following. Late people I expect. Many New Yorkers speak well of him. Especially Brooklyn people. For Bill is nothing if not Brooklyn.

NYC 2015 - So Soviet!
I was out to dinner the other evening, and was talking about de Blasio with a friend. We were sipping cocktails at a new restaurant, the Monte-Carlo (sic) on the Upper East Side.

I had just made a particularly acerbic observation about de Blasio, when the maître de came over. "His name is de Blasio with a zee," she corrected me.

I was tempted to snap back that there's no hyphen in Monte Carlo, but figured it wasn't worth it. And in any case, she was correct. It is pronounced à la Italian with a hard 's'. But I still call him "de Blasio" with a soft 's'.  De Blassio à la Australienne. It makes me feel good.

If I have to put up with Bill de Blasio, at least I can pronounce his name the wrong way.

 I don't think I'll be going back to the Monte-Carlo for a spell. I don't know what that restaurant is doing on the Upper East Side anyway. Like Mayor de Blasio, it's all so Brooklyn. You pay your check millennial style, with an iPad. And the fact that you are paying and the wait staff is waiting is neither here nor there. We are all people, after all.

There's a democratic proletarian vibe about the place despite it's fancy linen serviettes and Manhattan-chic décor.

We might all be equal, but I don't expect to have the waiting staff  listen in to guest's conversations  and to correct their pronunciation. Equality only goes so far!
Empty tables at the Monte-Carlo

Back to the Giuliani-period bleakness that is returning to this city. And Michelle. Michelle -  who is one of the of many whose quality of life has been especially affected -  by the Second Avenue Project in Manhattan.

Michelle used to run Eve's nail Salon on Second Avenue. A typical Manhattan nail salon - the staff were mostly Korean. Big black-and-white posters of American icons hung over mirrored walls. Marilyn, Sinatra, James Dean stared down on us, as we sat in big padded massage chairs having our pedicures. Taking calls on our cell-phones, or reading the  'People' magazines  provided by Michelle.

Eve's Nail Salon was a refuge, a comfort zone amid the mess that has become Second Avenue above 62nd Street for these last nine years or so. Second Avenue Upper East Side - now so much like a scene from of a post-apocalypse movie that you could think you were in Detoit. On the once thriving block between East  93rd and 92d Street, there's only one business left. And Eve's Nail Salon isn't it.

Sign on Manny's on Second - the last business standing
I found this out when I ventured over there last weekend , the first weekend since November when it wasn't snowing or freezing cold. All bordered-up. The building that had housed it "foreclosed".

I stared at the sad little notice that Michelle had put up inside the now brown-papered window giving her phone number and the address of her new place of work, signed with a melancholy, "Thank you for love us".

Dolce Nail Salon, Third Avenue, 2015
Touched, I went to Michelle's new salon on Third. Only a block away and a different world.

"Hello Michelle, it's Kate. I saw your sign!" She gave me a big smile and said she'd missed me. "Hi Kate, how are you?" "I am good Michelle, how are you?"

Knowing someone's name is Manhattan for friend.
On my way home I detoured along Second between 93rd and 94th. Homeless guys live there, between the chicken-wire fences and ugly plastic barriers that separate the empty shells of those buildings that remain and the scaffolds that are holding them up.

'Desolation Row' - 2nd near East  93rd, 2015
The homeless guys all have bits of them missing. A leg here, an arm there.

"Hello!" I greet them with a forced cheery smile. It is dark and damp. Old beer bottles and pizza crusts line what is left of  the sidewalk. "Hello," they answer. "How are you?  Have a good weekend, lady."

New Yorkers are so polite and friendly. Endearing.

Even ones who come from Brooklyn and pronounce de Blasio with a zee.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

On People Who Walk Right Into You

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it '
Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo - Macarthur Park

Here I stand; I can do no other. - Martin Luther, 1521

"That breakup text can wait," captions the traffic-safety poster on the bus stop shelter. But there's no waiting for the plague of millennials on their cell phones who seem to be perpetually on the move on Manhattan's sidewalks.

I have a new tactic. I no longer dodge them; I no longer veer to the right to give way. Nor do I stick to my path, and hope they will look up in time not to bump into me.

There's a trick to it, you see. If you keep to your path, you will automatically move at that last nana second. It's human nature. So I just come to a complete halt. This way I can steady myself and won't be knocked over.

I just stand perfectly still. At first I tried this technique as an experiment - to see when the cell-phone person would realize someone was coming towards them.

Apparently there's an app you can get that advises you when there is an on-coming pedestrian. Of course there's no market for it, because the cell phone people want YOU to move out of the way. Otherwise they'd be looking up in the first place. My stand-still tactic works. Really well. It is now my modus operandi.

There are three responses. Most of the cell-phone texters look up at the last minute and THEY move, without a murmur. About twenty percent complain saying silly things like, "Why can't you move, there's plenty of room?" Such people only serve to make my decision more resolute.

About five percent keep walking. They don't realize that other people exist. And they certainly don't realize that they are about to come across a baby-boomer. My formative years were spent  in demonstrations. Walking down St Kilda Road in Melbourne with 10,000 like-minded people. Braving police people on horses. Stopping for no man. Or woman. A Manhattan millennial on a cell phone is nothing in comparison.

I like to think I am passively resisting. Gandhi-like I make my stand. I'm not going anywhere! " One two three four, we don't want..."  etc.

Mad Men Street Manhattan  © G Chen
Casualties are minor. But as in any war, even peaceful ones, there can be collateral damage. Like last week on Third when I spotted a millennial iPhone person bearing down on me. She was one of the worst kind. Not only was she texting, but she was wired for sound. Sightless and completely deaf - a Hellen Keller of the twenty first century. I braced myself. I stood my ground. She flew straight into me. Taken by surprise she threw her hands in the air. I watched astonished as her silver iPhone 6 flew heavenward. The sun glinted on it as it reached the zenith of its trajectory and hurtled to the ground.

We both stood. Staring at the shattered thing. A sad thing. Deprived of life. The gleam of its silver casing gone, a dead thing. 

I felt mean. She looked at me, waiting. Was I meant to say something? Like time during a car crash, the moment seemed to go on for an eternity. I stayed, expecting her to pick up her phone. I think her ear buds were still playing the last of her iPhone's songs. The final refrain as the umbilical detached and the dead phone lay on the ground.

I couldn't stand the silence, so broke it with, "Not a good idea," and hurried on.

Back in my apartment that evening, I poured a wine and turned on the TV to blot out the stresses of the day.

Watching the news. CNN with its garish almost psychedelic background sets that move disconcertingly as you try to focus on the anchor of the moment. What the hell was he saying? Some bakers in Arkansas protesting that they don't want to bake cakes for gay people?


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Winter of our Discontent

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes . - Cole Porter, "Anything Goes" 1934

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. - from Shakespeare's Richard III

East 59th Street, Winter, 2015
"I will be the woman at the bar wearing black," I texted her from the Oyster Bar at Grand Central. Tongue in cheek.

And to affirm my dry wit, I glanced around. Yep, there were five of us there. All women. All in New York black. De rigueur.

I was meeting a fellow New York Aussie for a drink. We'd met on Facebook, and had never met in the flesh.

My phone beeped and I checked the message, "I am wearing black too!" said the little pixels in their blue bubble. Words of innocence. Was I meeting an ingénue? Not a good sign ... but I am of a forgiving nature. Just ask anyone.

It had been a month of weirdness. Starting with good old Bob Dylan appearing on the front of AARP magazine. For non Americans - AARP is a magazine for old people. They start sending it to you when you turn fifty, and you hide it under cushions so that no one will know. Until you get older and iPads are invented. Then you can opt to receive it electronically and dump it in the virtual trash can.

What was Bob doing on the cover of AARP magazine? Advertising his new album of Frank Sinatra covers no doubt. Weird.

Weirder still my tax consultancy CPA place. My "preparer" there was a woman. Normally OK. In the past she has answered calls promptly. But this year she was proving to be elusive. I had paid $3,000 to have my city, state and federal returns prepared. I expected service.

When I at last got on to her she said she had been busy "in labor". She kept promising to have something ready and didn't. She told me that she was doing my returns "in between feeds".

Now I am all for women being able to work when they have young children. But this was getting ridiculous. Plus I didn't want to be responsible for a babe in arms having to rush its dinner. I felt guilty and annoyed in turns.

After three weeks my patience was exhausted. I phoned the company direct and asked the receptionist, "Can you please put me on to someone who is NOT lactating?" She giggled and put me on to someone who didn't speak English. Not really, but it makes a good punch line.

Nearly the end of the month, and I was meeting a male friend for dinner. To understand how the following could happen, you need to know that many New York restaurants are lit only by candles. We are into being green here. Ever conscious of the environment, no electricity for us if we can help it!

Actually I think the restaurants are badly lit so you don't pass out when you see the check. My friend and I, we split the bill. I had been hoping he'd pay. Still ... as I said, I have a very forgiving nature. We both put our credit cards on the check and the waiter picked them up, processed them and returned with the two cards and two receipts.

I took a cab home. Paid by card. Went out to eat again. Paid by card. Friday came. Ate out again. Paid by card. But this time I glanced at it while I was putting it back into my wallet. It had someone else's name on it. It was HIS. The dinner companion from three nights back.

I called him when I got home. Told him I had his card and to please look in his wallet. Sure enough, he had mine. "Have you used it?" I asked. No he had not. "Well I have used YOURS!" I crowed.

He told me not to worry about it. "Go and buy yourself a hat at Saks," he said.

A hat? At Saks? I imagined a post-WWI style one, with a wide brim and roses.  Or feathers maybe. Something Lady Mary would wear in Downton Abbey. What century was he in? A hat from Saks? Well, just maybe.

Maybe I'll buy one tomorrow.

I think I'll get it in black for next time I meet someone at the Oyster Bar.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Handmade Blade

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying - from "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", Bob Dylan, 1965

New York, late September 2001
"Isn't that ISIL stuff terrible," I asked rhetorically of an old friend the other night.

It was during a phone call. I was talking to an ex-ex in Australia. Catching up. I knew him well. But that was in another country ...

An intelligent man. A peace-loving man. An educated man. A grew-up-in-the-sixties-sort-of man.

ISIL had just been reported as having beheaded around twenty one Coptic Christians in Egypt. Exactly how many? Not sure. Did we even know the victims' names? Did we care? Well, speaking for myself, I care. But not enough.

And then came the spiel.

 I should have know better. I should have not even raised the subject.

"Yeah, well, it is all America's fault," my old friend intoned. Like a broken record.

"What?" I answered, holding my ground. "The United States didn't behead anyone..." "Yeah but," he answered.  "If America hadn't elected Bush and gone into Iraq..." and so on and so forth.... I changed the subject. Trying to find some neutral ground. After all, this was/is an old friend.

But in the back of my mind, the logical me, was thinking, "Why is he saying this? After all, I am an American. How insulting. He can think what he likes, but a little diplomacy could perhaps be in order? Not to mention logic."

I was asking too much.

For Christ's sake, when are these people going to stop blaming what they call "America" for all the ills in this world? At least get the geography right. Don't lump Chile, Brazil and Argentina, let alone Canada in with the USA. At least get the the country right.

When will it ever end? Why not blame England? George III - the mad English king who lost the American colonies? Surely, if he'd had a grip on reality, he might have kept them ... the colonies - "New England" that is.

No "United States", no "America" no "ISIL". Surely in this man's mind, and the minds of so many like him, this follows as night follows day. We can't blame "America" - the name given so lightly, so incorrectly, to the United States of America - if it didn't exist.

And it - the country, my second country, only exists as a geo-political entity because of (gasp!) "colonialism". Like Vietnam, Rwanda, Nigeria, India, white Australia. The political-geographical state of the world in 2015 is not the fault of the current citizens of the USA. Certainly not of mine. And yet ...

I put up with it when Al-Qaeda murdered 3,000 people on 9-11. Not wanting to argue, and rendered fragile when my city was attacked, I remained silent when the phone lines were restored and I heard people tell me it was all "America's fault".

Now 14 years later I have had enough. We can blame history. We can blame Bush, G W Bush,, Clinton, Carter, Washington. We can blame King George III of England, or the Quakers before him. We can blame Henry 8th. We can blame the Puritans. The Vikings maybe? We can blame ourselves.

To my old friend - and he is just one of many - can we please dare to get over it.

And blame ISIL.

Monday, February 02, 2015

The Old Person in the Room

We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game - from "The Circle Game", Joni Mitchell, 1968

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma - from "Guantanamera", José Fernández, long time ago

Bus Stop, Third Avenue, Winter 2014
I looked up. Three pairs of hands were stretching toward me. New York hands. Different shades of color human.

I'd slipped on some ice on the curb as I was about to cross the road. I'd gone flying and my left leg was half-twisted beneath me,

New Yorkers, being New Yorkers were quick to help. I staggered into an upright position and thanked them. "Yes I was OK," I answered their concern.

As I walked away it occurred to me that the concern was perhaps because I looked old. Frail even! Was this the beginning of the end? Could I expect more falls? I started thinking with alarm of those TV advertisement about old people needing to wear medical bracelets that send out help signals should they fall over alone in their homes.

"She's had a fall," I remember hearing old people say to other old people when I wasn't an old person.

It can't be. Baby boomers don't get old.

On the bus. It's freezing. The bus door stays wide open while "seniors" clamber on board maneuvering their walkers. God, don't let it ever be me.

The bus lurches forward. The people-with-walkers watch them spin around wildly. It's chaos. It's hell. I'm in a bus full of wet New Yorkers.

"Stop the bus!" one of them yells.

The bus lurches backwards and the driver and all the rest of the passengers peer anxiously out the fogged-up windows. Had someone been hit by a car? Fallen? A child perhaps.

The yelling-out person gets to her feet. "It's my friend Miriam," she explains to all of us wet people. "She left her hat on the bus." Those wet people who were young enough to hear rolled their eyes. The bus driver, a seasoned New York bus driver, patiently opened the door so that the yelling-out-person could call to her friend. The cold air streamed in.

Through the windows we can see a blur of a woman with a walker. She's looking puzzled. "Your hat, Miriam!" screams Yelling-Out-Person. "Your favorite hat." And eventually Miriam understands, and ever so slowly pushes her walker through the snow to the open bus door.

The hat handed over, Yelling-Out-Person turns in triumph to address us. "It is hard enough to find a decent hat these days," she announces. With a Dame Everage smile and New York chutzpah.

It takes me forever to get home. The less time we have left on this earth, the more value it has. Time is becoming a scarce commodity. It is precious. When you are three years old a year is a third of your life and it takes forever. Those long summer holidays when we were children. Those long years at university, and later when our children were infants.

Then suddenly a year is nothing. The equivalent of an infant's minute.

Time is no longer on your side, Mr Jagger.

I watch the news on my iPad. Some CNN crap. I click on the video link and there's an ad for a car I couldn't care less about. A car! More likely I'll be in the market for a walker already!

What's this? "You can skip this ad in five seconds" in tiny writing on the video screen. Five, four, three seconds ... My life is ticking away before my very eyes. Bastards!

I stomp on the "x" with my mouse.

Killing Time.