27 September 2008

Meltdown Averted

Despite the panic of the morning - and the flight being full, and being assigned a center seat next to a woman with whooping cough - the coast to coast journey was surprisingly smooth. In fact, I am now firmly of the opinion that all trans-Pacific flights to California should be rescheduled for a later departure time. Dinner is served at a more reasonable hour and arrival occurs at the civilized time of 5 am (according to the body clock...noon locally), rather than 3 am, which takes an astounding toll on one's sensibilities.

After a quick tour of my mother's adorable new house (more on that later), my first order of business, of course, was to seek out some proper tacos and cheap beer. Under the wings of my cherished friends, I soon found myself in Carnitas heaven with my hand wrapped around a cold Pacifico. Bliss.

Later that night, under the cover of a deliciously warm October night, we ventured out into the streets of San Jose on bicycles in search of more cheap beer and, eventually, more tacos. (My God, does anything taste better than a taco served after the bars have closed?!) I cannot describe how fun it was to be pedaling through familiar neighborhoods, an insider tourist in my own home town. However, in the bars, it was impossible not to draw constant comparisons between American and Australian culture. As charmed as I am by art deco pubs, there is a durable soft-spot in my heart for good old fashioned dive bars, an institution that is entirely absent from the antipodean landscape. And, so it seems, an institution that is rapidly fading from the urban panorama of California as well.

Like the gritty blue-collar pubs of Sydney, most dive bars are being snatched up by swanky young entrepreneurs who recognize the nostalgia and respect that a new generation of drinkers have for seedy old dumps. While they try to preserve that special something that makes a bar a dive, they also install chic lighting, thumping sound systems, hire cool bartenders with bee-hive hairdos and trendy tattoos, and invariably host hip DJs on weekends, additions that are in direct conflict with the fundamental essence of a true dive.

My Australian friends are invariably uncomprehending of the concept of a 'dive', and I often find myself unable to adequately provide an accurate description. More than just cheap drinks, a cast of local derelicts, and a collection of tacky alcohol-related paraphernalia, a dive bar typically encompasses a blend of familiarity and desperation, of comfort and wretchedness. Regardless of the methodical yuppification of the best dive bars of San Jose, one critical facet endures.

In Australia, spirits are strictly measured by the smallest shot glass in existence. Happy Hour commonly involves a modest discount on one brand of drink and typically lasts ONE hour only, usually between 5-6. At Jack's, happy hour means $3.00 beers, $1 discounts on all other drinks, AND it lasts from 4-9pm. That is five very happy hours for the price of one. And then, from 10-midnight, there was another drink special: 'shots' of Jack Daniels for just $4...only the shots were free-poured into a glass the size of a coffee mug. Furthermore, the 'Jack Girl' (snigger) was on site, distributing stickers, patches, t-shirts and bandanas to anyone who bothered to simply ask for one, with the idea, of course, that one would then purchase a shot of JD. I felt no such obligation, but I absolutely love my new t-shirt!

And then we went to a great German bar hosting Oktoberfest, where I finnagled a free apple strudel and drank a beer bigger than my head.


Then I fell over.

Did that cat follow me from Australia?

25 September 2008

Meltdown Pending

I wasn't especially anxious about my trip back to California. I has a nice massage last night, didn't drink too much, and had a very good night's sleep. I woke up mildly excited, yet calm in knowing exaactly what lay ahead: have some coffee, finish up the laundry, pack my one little bag, take a shower, slip on my stretchy travelling costume, have some lunch, hop a train, go to California. Just before boarding the train, I opened my phone to send Kevin a goodbye text, only to receive a barrage of messages from Qantas telling me my flight was delayed.

And then I spun into a panic.

My phone battery died.

I left my charger at work.

Since the age of portable phones, I can no longer remember a phone number to save my life (except for 279-8091).

My internet connection crashed.

When it finally blinked on for a moment, I instantly forgot all of my passwords.

My lunch ceased to digest.

I don't mind schedule disruptions, but with the troubles that Qantas has been having of late, coupled with my very active imagination, my mind went bonkers with frightening scenarios as to WHY the flight is delayed!

But now it is time to go.

I think I'll have me a Rum and Ginger Beer at the airport.

20 September 2008


In the age of portable communications and high speed cable internet, land lines are becoming increasingly obsolete. Indeed, Kevin and I do not have one here in Australia, although we do have three mobile phones, one cell phone, and a Skype account.

A phone number seems an odd entity to serve as a repository for sentimentality, yet I was choked with emotion when, several months ago, my mother disconnected the service she had had for over 30 years. The musical chimes of those digits still echo loudly in my head, and although I have not been at the end of that dial tone for over two decades, all of my childhood friends still know that number by heart. More than just an electrical connection to the outside world, over the years, it seemed to take on a personality of its own. Having moved to California from Ohio with roommates, the phone was listed under the name of 'D. O’Rourke', and my mother had never seen any reason to update this information after Delphine moved out. Somewhere in the world there is a very naughty man named Dan O’Rourke, and for many years, we could gamble that any calls received during the dinner hour were from bill collectors or private detectives. Those calls became a running gag in our household, and curiously, I find myself missing them.

It was like some critical part of my past had been severed, lost, disconnected, and I feel more than a little foolish for it. But that is nothing compared to the self-centered blubbering that is about to unfold.

On October 1st, my mother is moving out of the house she has rented for 29 years. So great is my distress over this disengagement, that I am compelled, under the guise of ‘helping,’ to travel to California to wallow in the memories that are stored at 1166 Hester Ave.

In reality, it is nothing but a happy occasion. My mother is finally fulfilling the dream of homeownership, postponed for decades as she raised and educated three children and supported a fair share of deadbeats along the way. Yet, I get overcome with emotion when I think about returning from Australia to find her life transplanted into new environs without having been a part of the transition, as if I might otherwise never ‘belong’ there. I do not like to imagine returning to San Jose and driving by my childhood home inhabited by strangers without having been able to walk through the empty rooms saying goodbye to ghosts.

My mother is delighted by the prospect of throwing out much of her old life and starting fresh in a new place. I can certainly appreciate that – I have done it more times than I can count, and perhaps that is part of why I am so distraught. That constancy, that romantic notion of ‘home’, a place that I could always go back to, has provided me with a degree of stability in my nomadic life. Now all that will be gone, and I am a little scared of how that will impact my perception of my place in the world.

Or maybe I am just feeling the strain of the incredible distance. Australia is very far away from the rest of the world, a notion that I neglected to give proper consideration before moving here.

Or maybe I am just getting old. And tired.

Or maybe, I just needed a good excuse to eat a proper burrito.

16 September 2008


If any of my dead beat friends have been toying with the possibility of coming to visit me in Australia - where you will have free accommodations (with stunning views), free airport pick-up, not to mention free use of a car, free food, and many, many free rounds of beer - I just wanted to bring to your attention, the fact that round trip flights from San Francisco are currently at an all time low...

Oh, and the exchange rate just dropped below 80 cents, so it is like Australia is having a 20% discount sale on everything!

11 September 2008

Yes, He Did His Research

I have recently finished reading John Burdett’s trilogy of crime novels starring Part-time Pimp/Full-time Buddhist, Detective Jitpleecheep. In addition to startling endings showcasing incredibly gruesome acts of retribution, each novel features a detailed description of a Traditional Thai Massage (2nd floor only – 3rd floor is no place for an honest Buddhist Cop.) Last night, in the interest of investigating Burdett’s literary integrity, Kevin and I, went to the store-front Thai Massage parlor across the street. No, we did NOT get Happy Endings, but I must confess that I was rather distracted wondering if it was on the menu and by the possibility that it might be happening in the room next door.

We were greeted warmly, albeit incoherently by two small women dressed in colorful pantaloons. They showed us up stairs to a pleasant room with two large flat tables, gave us each a cup of cool fruity tea, tossed two brown linen squares at us, made a few confusing gestures, and left. After some bewildered muttering, we settled in to our brown baggy pants and awaited their return.

The massage began pleasantly enough, with a warm towel placed over my feet and some gentle acupressure. Within minutes, Giny had climbed up onto the table and was crawling up the backs of my legs. She shoved her knees into the backs of my thighs and jammed her elbows deep into my lower back. I made a mental regarding potential treatment of kidney stones. She did a few handstands on my back, her body weight entirely disproportionate to her size, but she wasn’t going to take any crap from the knotty monsters that live beneath my shoulder blades. Digging in deep with her lethal elbows, I felt my muscles crunch and melt beneath the grinding pressure.

She turned me over and began manipulating my legs. Thai massage may not be suitable for the elderly, as I felt sure that had my diet been more calcium deficient, she surely would have snapped my femur, if not my entire pelvis. Sitting between my feet and grabbing onto my bended knees, she pulverized the backs of my thighs with her powerful feet. She kneaded and twisted the muscles around my knees until my legs felt like two doughy baguettes.

I was hoisted into a sitting position for some neck and shoulder abuse. Locking my hands behind my head, she thrust her knees into my back and contorted my spine with a series of stirring motions, bending me backwards over her thighs. Finally she released me back onto the mat, placed a warm towel over my eyes, and said “Thank You” as she left the room.

Thank Me??

Kevin sat up and looked at me with a somewhat dazed expression. Gingerly, we placed out tenderized bodies back into our clothes and went down stairs. A warm cup of tea awaited us.

“You have some sore tomorrow,” said Giny as she pointed to her shoulders.

“No, I will have some sore for three days.” Truly, I am surprised that my arms are turgid enough to even hold my hands above the keyboard.

I can’t wait to go back.

05 September 2008

Why is it...

...that lighting a campfire of seasoned wood requires a bundle of kindling, an entire Sydney Morning Herald, and generous amounts of lighter fluid...

...yet one misplaced cigarette butt can instantly ignite a soggy coffee table on a rain-swept patio?

02 September 2008

Whose Clock??

Because none of my 'real' friends will come visit me in Australia, I often invite complete strangers off the Internet to come stay with us. Last weekend we hosted Paula and her 8-year old daughter Vanessa, who were visiting Sydney from Toronto.

Whenever we are around children, Kevin scrutinizes my every move looking for signs of hormonal sea changes or evidence of regret for the most defining decision of my reproductive life. If I so much as coo at a baby, he often sulks violently, waiting for the backlash of remorse and maternal yearning that he believes will inevitably overtake my otherwise appeased disposition. I've grown tired of reassuring him that he has had no influence whatsoever over my very personal choice regarding motherhood and am more than a little offended that he should think me so weak-willed in the first place. It's not like negotiating over which car to buy, where one is more apt to yield to the desires of the other, particularly in the face of one's own indifference - and shame on any one who has agreed to parenthood under such circumstances...Danny...in fact, I think he negotiated a child FOR a new car...or was it merely a dirt bike?

If you don't know me, and possibly even if you do, there is no way you will be able to visualize the expression of worried disbelief upon my face when The Baron of Bomburst turned to me as we were reading in bed and said "Gee, it's kind of nice having a little girl around. I really like her. It makes me feel nice to listen to her talk. We've never really been around children much. Maybe we should spend more time with them?"

Word of the Day: Flabbergasted.