29 December 2009

Notes From America - Talking Turkey

A little exercise in compare and contrast. 

Good Turkeys

Better Turkeys

I wonder, if Benjamin Franklin had his way, would this freezer would be loaded with bald eagles for Christmas?

Notes From America - Consumer Price Index

Yesterday I went to the grocery store and spent one-hundred and twenty-eight dollars on cheese and tampons, indisputable evidence that the “economic down turn” (sounds ever so much more benign than “Global Financial Crisis”) is indeed real – as if it wasn’t obvious from the number of boarded up business, the decrease in rush hour traffic, and the overwhelming cloud of anxiety that seems to hang over most everyone I have encountered during the last ten days here in California.

Now, I have purposely mislead you into thinking that inflation is spiraling out of control here in the colonies, but in fact, the price of goods and services have dropped considerably since my last visit a year ago. Just as travelers to Australia spend a good percentage of their time gasping at the price of avocados and milk, so too have Kevin and I been shrieking with delight at the price of meat and mayonnaise.

So, in the face of slashed consumer prices, how, pray tell did I manage to spend $128 on cheese and tampons??

Because a super market in America is like a proverbial candy store. I adore strolling up and down each aisle, fondling all the exotic ingredients and evocative products which are unavailable in Australia, marveling at the array of salsa sauces, gasping at the selection of macaroni and cheese varieties, and ultimately, wetting myself over the price of beer, wine, and vodka – yes, that’s right, beer, wine and vodka right there in the grocery store!

Which, to any astute reader, will immediately explain how I managed to spend $128 on cheese and tampons.

Yesterday I bought a 6-pack of 6.2% lager for $2.99! With prices like that, I could balance my entire monthly budget and ride out the recession in perfect inebriation – albeit with a decidedly pinched look on my face!

15 December 2009

The Christmas Lap Dance

Somewhere in between reports on ecological terrorism and the latest attack on personal freedom enacted by the Australian Nanny Government, I heard a TV magazine teaser for a story about the damaging consequences of children sitting on Santa's Lap.  I made a mental note to blog my indignation, but then missed the show and assumed I could find reference to it with a quick Google search.

Well, evidently the internet filter isn't fully functional yet. And Thank Goodness!  Depending on your personal experiences or preferences, you may or may not be surprised at what the search term "Santa's Lap" brings up, particularly among the images!!  Faced with the staggering variety of Santa fetishes and the BDSM camp's answer to politically correct salutaions: "Season's Beatings" - I promptly forgot what I was doing, but I am sure to have added my IP address to the official list of Electronic Enemies of a Wholesome Web (aka EEWW).

Refining my search terms a bit, I eventually, I learned that the 'truth' behind the 'news' story I heard had nothing to do with persistent psychological scarring resulting from being the vicitim of a collective lie perpetrated by parents and society.  Rather, this exciting news flash had to do with increased transmission rates of swine flu.  How disappointing.

So, what do you think?  Does sitting on Santa's Lap lead to long-term abberations of social behaviour and a skewed outlook on male authority?

You be the judge:

(Note to Mom - Why didn't we shop at the mall with THIS Santa??!)

02 December 2009

A Little Whinge About Time Off Work

The relaxed Australian work ethic is a double edged sword when it comes to the Christmas Holidays.  On the one hand, it is wonderful that the entire country essentially shuts down from December 24th until the end of January, allowing families to have quality time together while the kids are out of school for the summer.

But, if your reproductive decisions were influenced by the ability take adavantage of off-peak travel deals, when all the little ankle-biters are safely tucked away in classrooms, then being forced to use all of your accumulated leave during the time of year when demand is high and prices are even higher - totally sucks ass.

At least, it totally sucks ass when your employer doesn't bother to tell you that you will be forced to use all of your accumulated leave until three weeks before the fact!  Especially if, five months earlier, you had already booked an outrageously short and expensive, mostly non-refundable consolation trip to Western Australia, when you would have much rather spent your precious time, not to mention your 20th wedding anniversary, with friends and family in the Northern hemisphere!

Fortunately, among the personality traits which I consider myself blessed to possess are elasticity and the ability to not be overly concerned about financial losses.  In a few quick clicks our entire Christmas vacation was re-scheduled, re-routed, and re-financed. 

So, who wants to join us in Reno on New Year's Eve for the proper celebration you were all denied two decades ago?

30 November 2009


"What the HELL are you doing?!"

A startled scramble for the remote control and the TV blinks off, hissing with guilt...


"You're busted!  You were watching cricket."

"I was NOT watching The Cricket."

"You even said THE Cricket.  You were SO watching cricket."

"No, I wasn't."

"Well, then what was that on the screen?"


"So, you were watching cricket."

"No, I wasn't watching cricket.  I was watching Chris Gayle."

"OH MY GOD - You even know their names!"

" Do you even know who Chris Gayle is?"

"No.  And I don't care."

"Well, then go back to bed and leave me alone."

"Wait a minute...are you watching The Cricket without any pants on...?"


28 November 2009

Let the Mo Grow

November is one of the best times of year here. Not only does my birthday land at the height of the Jacaranda Bloom – like the whole city is painted purple and green – but November is when the men of Sydney grow facial hair to raise awareness (and funds) for men’s health and depression. How nice that city should dedicate an entire month to my favorite sexual fetish!

The mustache is in short supply in Sydney for most of the year, as facial hair in general is not at all popular here, which makes participation Movember particularly noticeable. And the turnout rate this year was excellent.

While I do not have the official numbers, I predict a participation of about 20%, based on the average number of “pervs per minute” (or PPM) during my morning and evening commutes. PPM is calculated as the average number of eyebrow inflections expressed as a function of the number of passengers in a given train carriage, corrected for the number of involuntary frowns, and divided by 60 minutes, and mulitpied by 100 because it makes the number sound more important.

During a typical commute, I experience approximately 4-5 ppms, depending on the destination of my train, with the number of mullet-induced frowns reducing the apparent PPM on west-bound trains. During Movember, ppms increased to 6-7 pervs per minute, but overall rates only reflected a 20% increase due to the implementation of the new City Rail timetable, which significantly increased travel times.

Since Kevin usually sports a moustache, he did his part by letting his beard grow in. There is a lot more white in it than last time. Even the big face at the entrance to Luna Park did his bit this year.

25 November 2009

Peer Pressure

Aside from the occasional whinge about the facilities and the students, I don't share much about my professional life in the laboratory in this blog, mostly because I am not especially interested in it.  Mind you, I love my job and the people I work with, I just don't want to bore the rest of you with details about the contributions to substrate specificity of extracellular loops of glycine transporters.  I do however, like to comment on the bigger picture of what it is like to work in the world of research, particularly in the arena of academia, where the credo "Publish or Perish" weighs heavily on everyone.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video says just about everything there is to say about the realities of peer-reviewed publication.  I swear, we JUST had this exact same conversation in our lab this week...except my boss doesn't have a mustache...

22 November 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s not every day I get to sit on the toilet, look out the window and watch zebras and giraffes stroll by within smelling distance…And not only because I live on the 18th floor of my building and my toilet doesn’t actually face the window, but because I live in Australia, where strolling zebras and giraffes are generally in short supply.

A wonderful aspect of life in Australia is that one is expected to be the driving force behind one’s own birthday celebrations, and this year I chose to spend the 42 anniversary of my passage into the world at the Zoofari Lodge of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, a sprawling sanctuary situated a mere seven hour train ride west of Sydney.  I also opted to take the train, believeing that would be part of the fun - that is until we were seated in front of a fine example of bad parenting.  Fortunately, Kevin didn't believe the conductor when he told us the train was fully booked, and we were able to move into a tranquil carriage where we were free to contemplate the gradual expansion of the landscape in relative serenity.  (When we returned home, Kevin could not resist confirming that a one hour flight would have been well worth the extra Benjamin!)  But still, train travel has a certain soothing romance that most certainly does not originate in the buffet car.  Fortunately, I packed a lunch.

Later that night, as we boarded an air-conditioned safari bus, I pondered whether cheap Hollywood thrillers are based on experiences like this or if this experience was based on a cheap Hollywood thriller – The cast of characters was perfectly updated for the times:  There were two fresh-faced German backpackers, a young slap-happy lesbian couple, a 70-something man with his 40-something wife and 10-something daughter, a high-strung too-black-haired insurance salesman from Brisbane and his fidgety animal-print clad too-blond wife, a young family dressed in natural fibers requiring gluten-free, non-dairy, bio-organic meals for their 8-year old son who frequently and flawlessly quoted David Attenborough yet stuck his fingers in his ears and screeched each time our guide started the bus, and of course there was the obnoxious American couple in loud shorts who will surely be the first to be eaten by any escaped carnivores…
…except THIS American couple wrote today's screenplay and know that the Sumatran tiger is going to devour the other bus filled with over-heated, over-fed, over-extended toddlers!

I wonder how much of the behind the scenes tours, the delicious candle-lit three course dinner, or the luxurious en-suite tent lodges will be stored in the memory banks of a 2 year old - and I suspect the stand out memory for their parents will be how their children screamed and crabbed and puked their way through a 43 degree day (and the better part of a 30 degree night).

Although I didn’t get to hear any koalas fucking during the night, I did get to see a two day old baby giraffe…

...and feed carrots to a grown up giraffe...

…and feed gum branches to an endangered Black Rhino…

…and watch a couple of 1400 KG hippos tip-toe out of the water for a feed…

…and get slobbered on by a timid African Bongo…

…and see a pack of wild African dogs rip apart some kangaroo breasts…

But my favorite part was listening to two Siamang Apes defend their territory with cacophonous, yet melodious and perfectly synchronized enthusiasm…

...kind of like KevinAndAudra on any given Saturday Night.

19 November 2009


The majority, if not all, of American visitors to Australia generally make the same sets of observations regarding differences of cultural quirks, social etiquette, and the subtleties of economic scale, the latter frequently taking the form of the exclamatory question “Eighteen fucking dollars for a six pack of beer!?!?” The former may include comments about the sorrowful status of indigenous peoples, the domination of television programming by exotic and unfamiliar sports such as cricket, netball, and underwater men's doubles ping-pong, whether driving on the left side of the road is practical or suspect, and the unexpected British-ness of Australia in general. Indeed, this blog is largely dedicated to the dissection of such observations.

Yesterday, the third and final round of this year's international visitors departed after a 5 week whirlwind visit, and they of course made note of all of the above – with particular emphasis on the cost of goods and services. During their frequent and somewhat emotional rants about the price of mangoes or the wretched value-for-dollar ratio of accommodations, a strange thing happened to me. I found myself becoming increasingly defensive.

And when I observed that in myself, I heard and felt a distinct 'click' from deep within my chest, an irreversible and unexpected ratcheting sound, which both thrilled and frightened me at once.

16 November 2009

The D-Bomb

The names in this post have been changed to protect the innocent...or maybe to protect the guilty...I really don't know, and that's not meant to be the point of this essay anyway...

I found out to today that a couple I know have just split up. Although this event does not really impact me personally in any way – they don't even live on the same continent as me – I was surprised at how very deeply I felt the impact of this bombshell, and I spent the day in confounded contemplation of human circumstance, social institutions, and the practicality of making promises. I can't say I have come to any profound conclusions, but sometimes I feel the need to use my blog to satisfy my own selfish explorations, not just to entertain you all.

My musings have lead me to the following questions:

Does divorce really impact those on the periphery of the drama? And if so, Why and How?

Is it merely a matter of empathy, of being capable of imagining the turbulent emotions of despair, anxiety, and uncertainty – more than imagining them, but actually feeling them in the process of imagination? Is there truly any evolutionary advantage to experiencing the pain of this form of empathy?

Is it a matter of being then forced to examine one's own relationships, to question whether the certainty you believed existed elsewhere truly exists at all? It forces one to ponder the definition, permanence, and importance of love.

There is a popular notion that when a couple divorces, friends are ultimately forced to declare their loyalty to one 'side' or the 'other'. I am not sure I subscribe to this notion, but even the best attempts at neutrality will be undone by declaring approval or disappointment at any given set of behaviors exhibited by either party.

Of course, if children are involved, there must be discussions as to the definition of the phrase “best interests” - a useless conversation really, since, at some stage in their lives, your kids will blame you for the outcome of their childhood regardless of the decisions you made. This could just as easily take the form of the accusation “Well, if you had stayed together, I wouldn't have become a needy co-dependent!” as “Well, if you had gotten a divorce, I wouldn't be such a needy co-dependent!” In other words, your kids are already fucked up – but they will get over it, one way or another, so they probably shouldn't factor in to your decision making process. Ever. Except, perhaps, in the decision to have them at all...

My mind finally wound down to one simple conclusion that brought me a bit of peace and resolution, although it didn't exactly make me feel any better. Couples, and by extension families, are something much larger than their parts – they become an entity of their own. Where as there is “Kevin” and there is “Audra”, there is also “Kevin-and-Audra” and “Kevin-and-Audra” has its own quirky personality and storyline, its own charms, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits .

There are socially accepted mechanisms and rituals for acknowledging and mourning the loss of individuals, but it is much harder to express one's sorrow at the loss of the super-being that is created by a shared trajectory, a simple ceremony, and a piece of paper filed at the Nevada State Registrar's office.

Hey....maybe I should start a memorial park called Splitsville, where people could go when they are feeling lonely and place flowers (or bodily fluids, depending on the circumstances of the final court decisions) on little tombstones of sorts. I would charge a modest annual maintenance fee to have the benches painted once a year and to pay for advertising in the back of Women's Weekly. It would be a great place for teetotalling divorcees to trawl for dates...meanwhile, Kevin-and-Audra will be heading off to wine country to celebrate 20 years of idiot-syncrasy.

08 November 2009

The Dark Trunk

In the earliest stages of our research involving relocation to Australia, I was warned of rampant and pervasive sexism, evidenced by an anecdote in which the narrator's wife was treated poorly by a mechanic who condescendingly insisted on speaking with her husband regarding all matters automotive. I have encountered occasional comments about feminine frailty, mostly from crusty old bartenders or tradesmen and usually suggesting that I have an inherent inability to manage my own finances due to a weakness for shopping. These are easily dismissed with a wink and a confession regarding the performance of my stock portfolio.

However, for the most part, I find that Australian men are fiercely proud of successful, strong willed women and quite supportive of their accomplishments, particularly in the sporting arena, but also in science and politics. Not that I care much for the opinions of think tanks, but the World Economic Forum recently ranked Australia 20th in gender equality (with Iceland in the number one spot, prompting one to seriously ponder the phrase “relative to opportunity”.)

Despite the global ranking, I count myself very fortunate to have found an excellent auto mechanic. He is not condescending in the least, and seems to value my assessment of what might be wrong when I bring my little beater in for diagnosis of her frequent and mysterious ailments. Yesterday, he let me help him track down an electrical malfunction, called me savvy, and gave me a detailed explanation on the subtleties of proper alternator function. I actually had quite a bit of fun, playing with the circuit tester and locating various fuses and switches throughout the car.

Then he charged me $88 to remove the light bulb from my boot.

03 November 2009

The Audra-city of Hope

I always imagined that hope would sound like an angel choir or an orchestra of strings lead by a single flute or perhaps like an enthusiastic song bird on a fence post chirping across a meadow blanketed with thick snow...but it doesn't hope makes the sound:

“Hisssssssssss. Ka-chunk! Whirrr.”

Hope is a cruel mistress who seduces you into dangerous situations even though your clumsy conscience is silently screaming “She is lying! Take the bus!”

“Attention passengers on the North Shore train on Platform 16. Sorry for the delay. The signal failures in North Sydney have been resolved. We should have you home shortly.”

Twenty minutes later, the train has crawled through the city stations emerging into the sweltering evening sun light on the Harbour Bridge where a slight breeze seeps through the sliver-thin slices of space that pass for windows. The carriages are stuffed with moist and cranky passengers, fervently fanning themselves with complimentary newspapers – perhaps the most value they have ever gotten from the M X. I have sacrificed my seat to a grateful old woman with puffy arms and swollen ankles. I stretch my arm between passengers to grasp a section of the hot metal pole, steeling myself against a faint. At least I am not wearing a suit and tie.

Then the train stops. It just stops.

There is nowhere to put your eyes on a crowded train, and everyone glances around nervously, constantly shifting their focus. No one wants to be caught staring, but everyone needs to witness the agony of our shared suffering. It is too hot to chat and break the tension of our collective annoyance. Mobile phones chime incessantly with fervent messages to loved ones waiting at stations down the line. Bet their cars are nice and cool.

2 minutes. Beads of moisture trickle down my rib cage. 5 minutes. My skirt is sticking to my thighs. 10 minutes. My hair is drenched. 20 minutes. I contemplate removing my under-garments. 30 minutes. My teeth are sweating.

“Hisssssssssss. Ka-chunk! Whirrr.”

Suddenly, every face brightens at the sound of the brakes releasing their death grip on the stalled train. The glorious sound of acceleration lurches us forward bringing a small rush of fresh air down the vents. Then...

“Grrrrr, Squeeeeeeeeeeeeel. Ka-Thunk!”

The brakes lock into place and the once ebullient train slams to a stifling halt.

Despair sounds exactly like I had always imagined.

19 October 2009

Coffee Break

Who knew that currawongs also enjoy a refreshing affogato?

16 October 2009

Double Down

"Now Serving: numb-brr...twenty-aight...at...win-doh...nigh-en-teen."

"Good Morning. I should like to have my licenc(s)e back, please."

"Did you lose it?"

"Sort of. I mean, I know where it went. I just don't have it."

Australian driving privileges are linked to a point-based demerit system whereby various offences are assigned arbitrary penalties based on their heinousness. Holiday weekends automatically double the heinousness of any given infraction - as if God and Queen are especially put out when you get a little enthusiastic with the accelerator pedal on their respective birthdays. However, some transgressions are serious enough to warrant instant, and I mean INSTANT suspension of said privileges. For example, exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 45 km per hour in a rented BMW Z4...

Six months and sixteen hundred and seventy-four dollars later, I entered the tidy offices of the RTA (DMV) to request reinstatement of my privileges only to discover that, in addition to the penalties I had already suffered, my speeding violation also netted me six demerit points. However, since my transgression occurred on Easter Monday (that's an official calendar day), I had automatically reached the critical threshold resulting in an additional 3 month suspension.

"Can't I get credit for time served? Isn't it unconstitutional to penalize me twice for the same violation?"

"Sorry, our constitution does not include provisions for the rights of individuals. However, you may apply for a good behaviour bond. That will be twenty-two dollars, please."

So I made an oath before God and Queen, not to receive any demerit points for the next 12 months. If I blow it, my penalty is doubled and I will lose my licens(c)e for an additional 6 months.

Have I ever mentioned how much gambling is woven into the fabric of Australian society?

Consider it mentioned.

04 October 2009

The sun shines in my sister's smile, and now she has taken it back to California with her along with Eddie and Mom, leaving me shadowless under low dark clouds full of mist. She also left me with her cold, so three days of dreary wet weather over this long Labour Day Weekend are not entirely unwelcome. The gloom suits my current disposition and affords me the luxury of sleeping late without waking to piercing yellow rays at 5:30 am. Still - I am getting a little stir-crazy and expect the Cat in the Hat to show up any moment, even though it already looks as if Thing 1 and Thing 2 have ravaged the apartment.

"But wait?" the observant reader might ask, "Didn't your mother visit you just last month?"

Yes. Isn't she awesome?

The original plan had been for Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, and Brother-in-law to arrive en masse for ten days of familial vacation chaos, but inconveniences of employment resulted in a scheduling conflict, and Mom decided to come twice...(er, I don't think I care for that sentence). At any rate, I reckon 7 people in a 2 bedroom apartment would have been as taxing on our collective patience as on our plumbing.

I had grand plans of merging the photostreams of the dual visitations into some sort of grandiose presentation that would fully capture the magnitude of emotion and entertainment experienced during those busy few weeks, but this cold has side-swiped my attention span and sapped my creativity, and I need to save my strength for the next round of visitors in two weeks time! Stay tuned.

However, I did manage to upload some snapshots for those of you who are interested in seeing my family make goofy faces at random locations throughout the Sydney Surrounds.

15 September 2009

A Time to Eat, A Time to Beat

I've gotten pretty good at NOT accepting the truckloads of magazines, adverts, and flyers that are thrust into my hands each morning as I make my way across the city. But, when a pretty young girl dressed as a caricature of a hippy - headband, love beads, and a t-shirt that resembled the floor of my shower in the 70's - handed me a small baggy of green leafy substance, instinct over-ruled reason. I thrust the herb deep into my pocket and walked away as she flashed me a peace sign. I felt a shiver of disturbance, like someone had just blown up a small planet, but pushed it deep into my gut and went about my day.

Later, that same disturbance welled up from the depths of my bowels and glowered at me in the form of a commercial interruption. Hippies from all directions congregated on my television screen, strumming guitars and flittering about to the gentle strains of The Byrds as billows of sweet smelling smoke engulfed their heads and obscured their vision of their hand painted combi-van.

I reached into my pocket to inspect my herbal parcel. Rosemary. I returned my attention to the love-in, which was, in fact, an Aussie BBQ.

These bloody hippies want me to eat Spring Lamb!

And yet...

10 September 2009

Life is Just a Fantasy

Aside from the dull ache of missing family and friends, the most lingering pangs of homesickness arise from feeling ostracized from the NFL. Sure, we are able to occasionally catch a game at the pub - and this year a new television channel promises to deliver three games per week directly into our living room at more appropriate hours - but what we do not get is all the commentary and analysis that makes it possible to watch the games with insight and emotional investment. Also, the games just don't 'feel' right when they are interrupted by Australian commercials that frequently malign American culture to make their point.

So this year, in an effort to feel more involved, I joined a Fantasy Football League. My excitement has been escalating steadily ever since. I even got up at 1:30 in the morning to participate in a live draft and chat with the other owners in my league, who were impressed by my dedication, even as they snatched all of my top player picks away from me. I had been warned that participation in a Fantasy League can quickly border on obsession, and the warning was entirely justified.

My excitement spilled over this morning when I awoke to the crashing sounds of the recycling truck at 5:30. I leapt from my bed, took a pass on a shower so I could catch an early train, and slid through the still-sleeping city so I could get my work done before the 10:30 am kick off of the season opener. As a cherry on top, my wonderful Canadian friend turned me onto a web site that streams every game - LIVE - and with real American commercials.

Now I can get all the commentary and analysis I can stomach, right from the comfort of my desk. Unfortunately, I cannot drink beer at work!

So, as soon as Kevin gets here, I am slipping off to the pub for an early extended lunch.

01 September 2009

About the American Consulate

Last week, I had occasion to visit the American Consulate, an experience I hope never to repeat as it lies on the pleasure scale somewhere between a trip to the DMV and having jalapeno juice applied to ones genitals. As I suspected, our 8 am 'appointment' was merely permission to come stand in line. Following a full body cavity search and a stroll through a metal detector, we were stripped of our worldly possessions and directed to a row of neatly arranged chairs. When the front row filled up, an armed security guard ushered them out of the room and harshly directed the remaining rows to move forward in a clumsy game of musical chairs with everyone clamoring to gain a more favorable position during the transition.

At last, we ourselves made it to the front row - in the second and third chair (woohoo!) and were soon escorted from the room into a secured elevator which brought us with alarming alacrity to the 59th floor, where we passed through yet another metal detector positioned in front of the world's heaviest door. All that jockeying for position was lost as we were instructed to take a numbered ticket and wait in the stifling heat of air that has been recirculated through 59 levels of public servants. Despite having passed through two metal detectors, the window agents still resided behind several inches of bullet proof glass. I was consumed by warm-fuzzy feelings of patriotism.

But then I got distracted by the view. The slant morning sun shimmered on the calm waters of the harbour. I traced the foamy remnants of the wake of the Manly Ferry as it snaked its way toward the heads. My gaze drifted out over the ocean, and I swore I caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate bobbing just over the horizon.

Our task at the consulate seemed relatively uncomplicated - we just needed some documents notarized (because the $480 charged for 6 stamps from an Australian transportee solicitor were unsatisfactory, possibly even illegal) in support of an attempt to refinance our home in the US...I am too strung out to rant about the stressful process of trying to find an underwriter who could not only appreciate the fact that a lower interest loan that will save us $160,000 over 15 years is indeed less risky than the loan we currently have, but who also knew how to recognize foreign income...funny thing is, I just know Chase will end up buying this loan anyway...bastards...where was I...oh yes, the consulate.

Unbeknownst to us, in addition to providing services to American citizens living over seas, the Consulate is where people go to get their visas sorted for travel to the US. It is also where people go to have their half-caste children documented such that they can be liable for future taxes to two governments at once - a process which clearly requires stacks of paperwork and a great deal of bitching and whingeing to the unflappable civil servants wisely housed behind several inches of bullet proof glass.

Eventually, our number was called and we passed our documents through a small slit in the counter where they were immediately dispersed among no less than six staff members in a flurry of un-stapling, paper-clipping, re-stapling, stamping, and signing. We became increasingly skeptical that our paperwork would return to us in any sort of order or completeness, but we shelled out another $150 anyways...a comparatively modest investment in optimism.

It was still quite early by the time we emerged into the shady cool air at street level, but I felt like I had already had a very full day. How exhausting to spend two hours on American soil in the heart of Sydney! I briefly weighed the glory of the panoramic view against the gore of shuffling papers and being screamed at by expatriates all day, and was suddenly grateful for my career of choice. I was also suddenly grateful to be born American - I would never have the patience or perseverance to apply for that privilege.

29 August 2009

Taken to the Cleaners

If you follow this blog closely, then you may know that at the conclusion of their ten day visit, my father bought me a lovely bouquet of lilies. For the last week and a half, I have been enjoying their softly scented blooms. Then last night, as their blooms began to droop, I stripped the stalks of their petals to adorn our weekly candle-lit bath (the candles were more carefully arranged this week). The next morning, the tub was trimmed with a receding series of orange lines from the abundant pollen.

Later that morning, we took delivery of our new front loading washing machine – much to the apparent amusement of our cat:

When she finally tired of watching the clothes go 'round, she promptly urinated on our bed. Under normal circumstances, this would be a death sentence, but it quickly became evident that she was in severe distress, attempting to urinate in unusual locations without success nearly every five minutes for the next hour.

“Let's just monitor her for the next 48 hours.”

“My Poor Baby!” exclaimed her concerned 'father'...

...so, we're at the vet...

And the office is wall-papered with posters declaring the unique toxicity of lilies upon cats and how renal failure will lead to lethal consequences within 3-7 days.

“Based on everything you have told me, I diagnose an acute case of aseptic cystitis and recommend a course of muscle relaxants and pain killers, plus an additional injection of pain killers. And you should switch her to an exclusive diet of wet food - or ground kangaroo if she prefers it. Also, it would be a good idea if you relocated the clothes washer and possibly booked her into a weekly massage appointment accompanied by some acupuncture to re-align her feline chakras. However, if you'd like, we can do a blood test to check for lily poisoning, and if it is positive, we can put her on a 24-hr drip and monitor her slow but inevitable decline so that she dies with dignity – but I am pretty sure it is just aseptic cystitis brought on by all the recent upsets in her life.”

“Did you just charge me $166 to diagnose my cat with stress?”

“Well, yes.”

“How about you give ME an injection of pain killers and a prescription for muscle relaxants and keep the fucking cat.”

25 August 2009

The Flavours of Mexico Down Under

“So, are you going to blog about THIS?”

“Ouch. My Grandma reads this blog…Ouch…Your sister and your cousin read this blog…Ouch…They don’t want to read about THIS.”

“That’s what I said, but you blogged about THAT!”

“Yeah. Ouch. But THAT was funny. Ouch.”

“THIS is funny.”

“Not from my point of view. Ouch. Hand me another ice cube.”

“See what you get for taking matters into your own hands.”

“I was just helping. Owwwie. You’re lucky I wasn’t feeling more generous.”

“Next time, wash your hands after you dice Jalapenos.”

18 August 2009

Departure Taxes

I broke down when I walked through the door, returning from the airport, and smelled the reminder of this morning's coffee. PapaJon wasn't swaying in the kitchen eating grapes. MommaLinda wasn't knitting on the couch frowning over the Australian news (or lack there of). BadBoyLee wasn't hiding in the bedroom chatting online with his pretty girlfriend. The Cat is still hiding under the bed. The house feels empty, like a hunger pang.

I walked from room to room, sobbing and looking for clues that they had really been here, then cried harder when I saw the flowers in the kitchen, even harder when I spotted the Benefiber. I fired up the computer to get on to my blog and write something good and mushy to make myself feel better, but before I could switch the television over to the PC, I froze.

Channel One was rebroadcasting the Swans vs Geelong footy game we all went to on Saturday Night. We were sitting in the endzone 11 rows from the field - one row behind the cheering section that waves red and white flags whenever something meaningful happens. I stared at the screen until the Swans eventually attempted to score and the camera quickly panned around to our seats.

I could pick us out!

And then it was like we were all together again, right here in my living room hanging out and having so much fun that my sides still ache from laughter.

And from LOVE.

Until this....

07 August 2009

The Brazilian

Occasionally I am asked - usually by young girls with stars in their eyes - what is the secret to sustaining a twenty year marriage. Depending on my mood, I may stammer something about stubbornness or spite or maybe try to explain my theories on pheromones, neural plasticity, and chemical bonding. But, in truth, I am just as surprised as anyone at the longevity of my relationship and I often sit stunned with slack-jawed awe as I reflect on all of our travails and adventures.

If pressed further, I am forced to conclude that the simple reason for the success of our marriage is that we have fun together. Our type of fun is certainly not for everyone, but it suits us perfectly. We spend most of our time playing together, telling private jokes and sharing secrets.

For example, last night, I drew a hot perfumed bath and littered the bathroom with candles, dozens and dozens of them on every surface. It was breath-takingly romantic and we soaked away the cares of the week in luminous bliss.

But all it takes is one little misstep to drastically alter the mood of the evening!

Twenty minutes later - after I put out the small fire in the bathroom - and after I had recovered from the peals of gut wrenching laughter that gripped my mid-section - and after Kevin stopped running up and down the hallway yelling "Ow! My Balls!" - but not until I got permission to relate this anecdote to my blogging audience - I tenderly, yet sardonically, performed the sort of ministrations that bond lovers together.

And make for great stories to tell his boss at the next company Christmas party.

01 August 2009

T minus 7 Days and Counting

I just watched a Qantas jet drift across clear blue morning skies and, depspite the fact that I have been making plans for 5 months, I suddenly feel entirely unprepared!

So here are some random thoughts to get YOU ready, in the hopes that will make ME feel ready.


Weather is unpredictable - thin layers are your best friend. Days have been mild - mid 60's. The sun is bloody hot, even on cool days, but a chill settles in at dusk. Scarves work miracles in this city, and seem to be standard issue and certainly most fashionable. The footy game is at night and will require getting rugged up. Hats are good, especially on sunny walks. I recommend undershirt, long sleeve shirt, thin sweater, topped with a light jacket for ultimate versatility and responsiveness.

We have a pool/spa, and if you are the sort who feels obligated to swim in foreign seas, then don't forget to bring your swimmers and your heart medication, and possibly a shark suit.

Comfortable foot wear is essential as there will be a LOT of walking. I hope you have been practicing.

Bring at least one suave ensemble for a nice dinner or Thursday Night Pub Crawl.


Australia is 220v with a different plug interface with a racially insensitive nick name. We have 1 plug adapter, but could probably use another - they can be bought at the airport for about $12. Most things with rechargeable batteries will run here - check the power supply to make sure it is 110-240v. (Lee, can you check Mom and Dad's stuff for them? They probably won't be able to read it...)


Do you all have your ETA's??

It is a long hard flight. Wear loose comfortable clothes and avoid seams wherever possible. Going commando is advisable, unless you suffer from leaky sphincters. Carry as little with you as really necessary - but eye drops are a god send if you plan on watching 14 hours of in-flight entertainment. A full size pillow is a wonderful luxury on the plane, especially if you are particular about pillows. (Ours are pretty crap and we may not have enough either). I find that raising your arm rests during the flight creates more space and eliminates hard surfaces that cause bruising.

Reserving an aisle seat and a window seat will sometimes net you an empty middle seat, but since there are three of you travelling, one of you might get stuck in the middle. Aisle seats are great if you like to get up and down a lot - which is highly advisable. If you do get stuck in a middle seat, try to get one between two asian girls, as they don't take up as much space as Norwegian men, although they do tend to snore. There are often enitre empty rows towards the back of the plane, so be sure to flirt with the sky waitresses and scope out alternative seating arrangements as soon as the cabin doors are closed. Real estate is the biggest in-flight luxury and there is a mad scramble to claim empty spaces as soon as the seat belt light is switched off.

Exit rows may have more leg room, but the seats have serious disadvantages. They are usually in front of the galley or the toilet, so you get a lot of people milling around sticking their but in your face (and farting, if it is someone like Kevin). The ride is smoother towards the front of the plane, and the section over the wing is the strongest part of the aircraft. I like to sit just in front of the exit row over the wing, reasoning that if the plane rips in half on take off, I should be able to climb out fairly easily.


When you get off the plane, you will pass through immigration to the baggage claim area. Grab a free luggage cart then start crashing it into large sleepy families wandering in a cranky daze, because fifteen flights from 11 different countries all landed at the exact same time. Collect your luggage and get into the wrong line to enter customs. Hand your customs declaration form to the friendly unintelligible employee standing near the turnstiles, who may or may not mark it with a high lighter, but most certainly will direct you to another line.

Be sure to claim any food on your customs card. You may bring in 250 cigarettes, 2.25 L of alcohol (preferably Vodka, and maybe a bottle of Kahlua), and 2 large cans of tomatillos. Sorry, no carne asada or pickled eggs. Also, make sure your shoes are not dirty. And don't bring any heroin or Australian Flags.

I will try to be waiting for you after customs, but there are four different gates and no way for me to know which gate you will exit, and the exit area is mad-house cluster-fuck of screaming children, hugging travellers, and runaway luggage. If I am not standing right there, proceed directly out of the terminal through the nearest exit. In front of you will be a very large parking garage. At the corner of this garage is a cafe next to some benches and some sort of public art that Kevin said was meant to be boomerangs, but I couldn't see it. Meet me there for hugs and kisses.

30 July 2009

Economy of Scale

“It feels like Texas just has more space than most other states.”

More than a mere geographical statistic, my statement was meant to confer my feelings about the sheer scale of development in Texas. The adage states that 'Everything is bigger in Texas', and that certainly applies to roads, parking lots, and plates of food. I had not realized just how accustomed I had become to the compact landscape of my antipodean urban existence, where a 15 minute walk can take you to another suburb, past stores, neighborhoods, and parks. In suburban Dallas, it would take 20 minutes just to cross the street – which contains three larges lanes in each direction, plus two left turn lanes and a dedicated right turn pocket, and may even have an extra access road on either side to help ease congestion. I nearly had an agoraphobic panic attack driving across a 25 story freeway interchange that consumed more real estate that the entire business district of Sydney.

The old adage certainly applies to Kevin's family. The portraits taken at the reunion were veritable pyramids of aunts stacked upon children stacked upon cousins stacked upon more cousins. The adage also applied to the buffet table which sagged under the weight of delectable barbequed chicken, sausage, and brisket, platters of potato salad, green beans, fried okra, and a salad topped with Frito corn chips! Already verging on a diabetic coma from the sweet Texas tea, I was unable to indulge in the enormous dessert that was as familiar to everyone as it was anonymous. I named it “Blueberry Sprawl”.

I reckon that Kevin's family has become so accustomed to his absence that they may even forget to miss him. I am certain it never occurred to his brother or his sisters that he might show up from some far corner of the planet. The look on his Mother's face when she turned around and saw him standing in front of her immediately counterbalanced the expense and effort of the journey.

Only in Texas could a single moment be so big.

25 July 2009

20 Hours to Texas

I really should be asleep, seeing as I have to wake up in 5 hours, but it feels like seven o’clock at night, and I am all wound up from the excitement of travel, and Kevin bought me a cool new miniature computer and I cannot resist playing with it, especially since our hotel has FREE broadband internet (Australia, are you listening?)

Maybe we had simply braced ourselves for the worst, but our trip here was incredibly smooth, possibly even pleasant. I was very pleased with the quality of Virgin Airlines to LAX. Not only was there heaps of space in the seats – enough to cross your legs – the toilets featured a well-considered soundtrack. At first I found it a bit disconcerting to urinate whilst the vocalist shouted “I see you baby, shaking that ass” and I did not especially like hearing “Burning Ring of Fire” on an airplane, but it is a great song to crap to!...and I said as much on the comment card.

Descending into LAX was emotional, if not smoggy and monochromatic…nothing that couldn’t be cured by a plate of nachos and some Dos Equis. The flight to Dallas was uneventful, save for the old Mexican woman sitting next to me who prayed the whole way and held my hand during take off. Unexpectedly yet delightfully, we were greeted at the airport by Kevin’s cousin Michelle and one of her many sons (I’m never going to keep all the names straight this weekend!) She drove us directly to a gas station convenience store that sold beer – but only until Midnight! Instead, we stocked up on Cheetos, Beef Jerky, Fritos, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and mixers for all of our duty free purchases.

The air outside is thick and delicious, heavy with summer and the chirping of cricket bugs. I just want to stay up and soak it all in, to breathe in the flavor of middle America…but Kevin just reminded me it is close to 4 am…so I must try to sleep…

23 July 2009

Two Things in Life are Certain: Death and Texas

It feels incredibly opulent to say "We're going to Texas for the weekend."

Airfares being a hard-hit victim of the GFC, it really isn't all that extravagant of an expense. Time is the luxury that is lacking from our lives, from most lives. We never have as much of it as we want, even though we squander it on long commutes and Simpsons re-runs.

So, rejecting the constraining notion of 'enough time', we are embarking on a cyclone visit to the land of the Lonely Star. Kevin has not exactly maintained close ties with his extended family, but through the magic of My Face or Space Book, or whatever its called, he has recently reconnected and reconciled. Thus, he could not resist the chance to be the surprise mystery guest at a family reunion.

I figure, that if he had been close to his family, the cost of visits over Christmas and Thanksgiving over the last 20 years would certainly exceed the cost of this little junket. Really, I am getting a bargain, and I only have to spend a weekend in Dallas. Besides, I would gladly fork over 2 grand right now just to eat at Taco Bell.

Seriously, though, I love visiting Texas. It is a special state, prideful and gregarious. We are looking forward to a little shopping and a lot of eating. Kevin has been sending me menus from a place near our (well appointed yet incredibly affordable) hotel called Love and War in Texas. I print them out and hide in the bathroom, secretly pleasuring myself as I read them. We are both very excited about the reunion. It will be the first time all of his siblings have been in the same room together in 35 years.

And you cannot put a price on that!

19 July 2009

Gulag Fondu

The surest way for me to conjure up something remarkably photographic is to decide to leave my camera at home. But really, how could I have predicted that we would encounter members of the CCP butchering compassionate truthful idealists for the purpose of selling their internal organs on the back of a flatbed truck rolling down Haymarket Street followed by a troupe of skip-stepping percussionists dressed in red and yellow silk.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

I am no fan of communist China and their dismal human rights record, so I was instantly sympathetic to the plight of the protestors, assuming that they were some ethnic minority getting squeezed by the government. I was mildly less supportive when a volunteer working the end of the parade thrust a brochure in my hand and explained that the Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa), were in fact a new religion based on the teachings of the Buddha introduced into China in 1992 to the brutal reception of the current regime.

“Why would the government target the Falun Gong for organ harvesting? Wouldn't they just kill anyone for that?”

“Maybe because they are Buddhists and their organs carry their good karma and outlaw spirituality into the high ranking party officials who receive them?”

Mind you, I am, just as skeptical of new religions as I am of the classics, but I most certainly do not support religious intolerance. But how American…how Western of me…that it never occurred to me that a cult could center around the Buddha…well according to the government anyway.

Mighty convenient, that word, when you need to get rid of a nuisance…cult.

05 July 2009

Good Food and Wine...well, wine anyway

“I what? That doesn't sound like me..."”

“You were! You were totally excited when I told you I had front row tickets to see Gordon Ramsay at the Good Food and Wine Show!”

“Really?? Because I am having a hard time imagining myself being excited about that. I barely know who he is. I’ve never even seen him on television. Wait - was I drinking?”

“Well, yeah…duh.”

“OK, that kind of explains it.”

“So, do you still want to go see Gordon Ramsay?”

“ABSOLUTELY!! If nothing else, it will be totally bloggable!” (I didn’t actually say that last bit, I just like the way it sounds now…)

Throughout modern history, there have always been famous chefs, but the recent phenomenon of the 'Celebrity Chef' is quite a curiosity. I love to watch cooking shows, but for me the food itself is the main attraction. I want a chef to explain the scientific subtleties of food preparation and presentation, not simper for the camera and recite carefully rehearsed sound-bites. I particularly dislike 'reality' style shows that exploit regrettable human behavior and encourage collective condemnation of contestants at 55 cents per SMS.

Gordon Ramsay moved to the number one slot on the National Shit List a few weeks ago when he insulted Tabloid TV Host Tracy Grimshaw. Personally, I think anyone should be granted total impunity to say anything at all about Tabloid TV Hosts, but Australians get particularly defensive when a Pommie Bastard is attacking one of their own. So strong was the public response against Gordon Ramsay, that I thought for sure everyone would forsake their $27 ticket in boycott. I was flabbergasted by the size of crowd that filled the enormous theater erected inside of the Sydney Convention Center. Despite not giving a shit about Gordon Ramsay, I suddenly felt very privileged to be sitting in the front row.

He began the show with a few modestly acceptable jokes about the Prime Minister and a back-handed apology for his earlier rude remarks against Ms Grimshaw. The audience groaned with tentative forgiveness when he claimed he had learned his lesson not to take on the Sheilas. However, absolution was soon revoked when he cast aspersions on the talents of home-grown culinary darling Jamie Oliver.

I am sure he is a fine cook, but I still cannot comprehend exactly why he has achieved celebrity status. His charm is inversely proportional to his arrogance, and his sense of humor is somewhat stunted. I hear women describe him as incredibly sexy, but I don't see it (but then, I don't care for blondes). My current working hypothesis is that he reminds women of Sting, and since they like Sting, they like Gordon Ramsay by association.

The rest of the Good Food and Wine Show was a feast of free samples, tastings, and give-aways designed to populate marketing lists. Thanks to Devona's tactical navigational skills, we were able to do two complete circuits of the exhibitor hall before the aisles were clogged with tipsy conventioneers frantically waving tasting glasses and grabbing handfuls of roasted organic almonds.

One of the highlights of the event is the opportunity to purchase 'show bags' - large sacks filled with samples of pasta sauce, instant soup, and Korean energy drinks. There were show bags of cheese, chocolate, olives, and canned mushrooms from Indonesia. Towards the end of the afternoon, I nearly collapsed from exhaustion, having been pummeled repeatedly by other people's show bags as they elbowed past me to watch the Miracle Shammy demonstration.

The Good Food and Wine Show may be disguised as a trade show of the culinary arts, but, like most events in Australia, it is really just a good excuse to spend an entire day grazing and drinking huge amounts of wine.

Sometimes, I feel so at home in this country!

04 July 2009

About Mature Themes and Sexual References

"Can you recall the last time you were flipping through channels on free-to-air-TV in America and your screen was suddenly filled with an enormous erect black penis?"

The Federal Government is going to extreme ends to protect us from intentionally accessing objectionable content over the internet...not that there is anything objectionable about an enormous erect black penis, per se, other than the surprise of finding one unexpectedly in my living room. Aside from the occasional misleading email attachment, I seldom click on links that lead me to enormous erect black penises by accident. You pretty much have to go looking for them. Under normal browsing conditions enormous erect black penises do not just suddenly pop onto ones screen. Yet, my only 'protection' at home is a brief disclaimer whispered at the beginning of a potentially objectionable program - wholly inadequate under the circumstances.

Stupid nanny government.

And might I add: damn!*

*please pronounce with three syllables

02 July 2009

About Australian Affability

“I’m not trying to pick up on your wife – I really am a poofter.” said the well coiffed gentleman as he swished into a seat at our table, his Cosmopolitan sloshing over the rim.

With an assumed intimacy, we fell into easy banter, swapping stories about art, musicals, and what it might be like to be fingered by an elephant. There was no exchange of the meaningless small talk such as “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” that often passes between strangers who are fully aware they will never meet again and who don’t really care about the answers to those questions anyway, but cannot think of anything interesting to say. For 45 minutes and two rounds of Cosmos, we were completely immersed in the mutual pleasure of each other’s company unconcerned for the future while cherishing the past as a source of amusing anecdotes about obsessive lovers and bad haircuts. Then we kissed and hugged goodbye and ventured off to our own separate lives.

For Kevin and I, there is nothing extraordinary about such an encounter. We often attract the company of quirky characters and love to share in feisty conversation. However, THIS encounter WAS extraordinary because in the 2 and ½ years we have been in Australia this was the first and only time an Australian has initiated congenial meaningless conversation with us under such circumstances.

I do not mean to imply that Australians are in anyway unfriendly, but there is a marked cultural difference when it comes to affable discourse between complete strangers. Australians are pleasant and helpful enough, but not in the least bit forthcoming, as if their privacy needs careful guarding in public. Being one who always speaks to strangers (usually in intimate tones and about personal matters), I can always be sure that if someone on the train is chatting me up, they are probably not native. This topic arises frequently among the Yanks Down Under when they are in the mood for a whinge, often commenting about the difficulty of making friends here.

In contrast, I have heard many accounts from Australians in the US who feel overwhelmed by the outgoing nature of Americans. Just as I feel alienated that transactions are conducted with a minimum of chit-chat, they feel annoyed that clerks and wait staff inquire after their well-being and wish them a nice day. For example:

This chattiness extended to people on the street or fellow customers in shops or
waiting in queues. Strangers seemed to have no hesitation in offering directions
if we seemed uncertain which way to go, or in offering opinions or comments
about events. I was browsing in Good Will one day when a woman near me suddenly
held out a small vase towards me and commented on how attractive it was and what
a nice gift it would make. Things like this do happen in Australia too, but they
seemed to happen more often in the US, and at more unexpected moments.

This phenomenon underscores both the difficulty and significance of an expatriate experience. Although I have gained an appreciation for the simple misunderstandings that can arise out of different cultural perspectives on propriety, in the day-to-day living, I often feel isolated and hopelessly foreign. But last night, for 45 minutes at least, I felt the warmth of simple companionship and fleeting camaraderie.

And learned some very raunchy jokes.

25 June 2009

About Australian Political Scandals

One might be tempted to describe his death as ‘untimely’…unless, that is, one has an over-active imagination that favors conspiracy theories.

Although Australian political scandals are not especially scandalous, they are remarkably entertaining. The persons involved clamber over each other to gain access to the nation’s top journalists so that they may hurl colorful epithets, each demanding the resignation of the others. Parliamentary sessions devolve into flurry of posturing and squawking that more resembles a flock of sea gulls bickering over a bag of soggy chips than any form of actual governance. The coverage of these scandals usually drag on ad nauseum for weeks until someone actually does resign, or until some other more exciting news story bumps the scandal out of the limelight.

I won’t bore you with the details of the current scandal (dubbed ‘OzCar’ by the media, or alternatively “Ute Gate” by traditionalists who clearly believe any proper political scandal must pay homage to the grand-daddy of all political scandals), because, well, they are boring – no stained dresses or pain killer addictions or duck islands. At the center of the maelstrom is a very sorry looking accountant with the incredibly unfortunate, but amazingly appropriate moniker Godwin Grech.

Whatever the details of who gave whom a new truck in exchange for favorable consideration, or who fabricated an email, or who leaked it to the media, one thing is clear: poor Godwin Grech is going to take the fall.

Unless, of course, some other totally outrageous and enthralling news story should happen to crop up and dominate every spare second of media coverage to the exclusion of all accusations and allegations…something big, like oh say, three weeks of hyped-up coverage of candle light vigils, sobbing fans in sparkly gloves tossing long stem white roses onto the steps of the Capitol Records Building, and endless career retrospectives curiously devoid of the mention of plastic surgery, child molestation, and Priscilla Presley.

Now, I am not saying that Mr. Grech actually engineered a cardiac arrest from 7,000 miles away as a mere diversion, but the coincidence of timing is as auspicious as it is suspicious. If I were the Prime Minister, I would call for an inquiry immediately.

20 June 2009

Blogger's Guilt

...not to be confused with Blogger's Remorse - which can be effectively treated with a quick click of the delete button.

I am actively fighting off a bad case of Blogger's Guilt. I know I cause disappointment when I do not post with a reasonable degree of frequency. However, feeling guilt over something I am NOT doing seems a waste of time. Guilt should be reserved for colossally naughty deeds and not squandered on mere inaction. And even then, I don't really endorse guilt as an emotion worth indulging. I am so grateful that I never really took to my Catholic roots - save for my love of gruesome Christian art work and badly animated Jesus Gifs...and my new found adoration of Kung Fu Jesus Clips on You Tube.

I am sorely tempted to offer excuses and apologies for having not posted lately - but I cringe when I read posts like that on other blogs. Although I write primarily because I enjoy it, blogging is a labor of love, a gift I choose to share - and until I am under contract with paychecks and deadlines, I shouldn't feel the need to rationalize or explain that my attentions have been fully employed in other pursuits that have left no time or energy for witty commentary or that and three weeks of shitty rainy weather and painfully short daylight hours have sapped any energy reserves that have not been spent working, commuting, bathing, and keeping myself fed.

I've taken to writing notes to remind myself of topics which require my blogging attention, but they are becoming increasingly cryptic as the spark of inspiration fades over time, that and many of them are written in a drunken scrawl for example: "noise sharing? compare/contrast with carbon trading and what about lab rats for cows?"

If anyone can offer up some insight as to what I had in mind there, I promise to write it up...as soon as I get around to it.

07 June 2009

Cinema du Tissue

I don’t go to the movies very often, so when I do it is kind of a big deal. I like to get dressed up and put on some make-up, which is really stupid because I pretty much cry it all off long before the opening credits are finished. I don’t know what it is about being in a darkened theater with reclining seats and enormous sound quality that activates my parasympathetic nervous system, but I routinely weep like a widow through entire movies (which was absolutely exhausting during the three hours and seventeen minutes of Titanic).

It matters not in the least which movie I am watching: romance, comedy, action/adventure – if porno films were screened in Dolby Digital Surround Sound, I have no doubt that every cum shot would send me into spasms of lacrimation. Of course, if there is some sort of emotional draw card associated with the production, then I am likely to be a complete snot-covered mess by the time I leave the theater…which was exactly the case when we saw the new Start Trek movie this weekend.

It was a shock to my delicate system to look back on 41 years of intimacy with a collection of fictional characters, to all-at-once feel the emotional impact that a television show has had on my life. Mind you, I am not one of those insane trekkies (although at one point I was a member of the fan club and I did once attend a convention, however I did NOT dress in character – but if I had, I would have liked to have been that green lady that dances in the end credits) who knows how to speak Klingonese and can recite the technical specifications of the matter/anti-matter reactor…but I am a fan. The episodes of the original series are tangibly interwoven throughout the epochs of my own life, so much so that watching the prequel genuinely felt like catching up with old friends (except that I was drinking a bottle of Pinot Grigio while they were battling Romulans).

The power of any form of media is that it can make you feel things that are not really happening to you – like plunging into an icy ocean or destroying the Death Star. Still, I was somewhat taken aback to realize that I experience very real affection and attachment towards fictitious people. It makes me question the strength of my ability to detach reality from fantasy and wonder how easily I could become one of those sad people who send love letters to Paramount Pictures addressed to “My Beloved Dr Spock”.

So why do I cry in movie theaters? Is it for the same reasons I cry in churches? I don't cry (nearly as much) when I watch movies at home - although I do frequently cry on the bus for no apparent reason...and sometimes in the middle of yoga class...but rarely at times when it might prove useful, like getting pulled over by the police...

06 June 2009

Ticket of Leave

On Friday, we received notification from the Department of Immigration that our application for permanent residency has been approved. We now hold the Australian equivalent of a green-card.

FAQ: Does this mean you are going to stay in Australia permanently?

A: What am I, psychic?

Considering my vision of my future never featured living in Australia in the first place, I am hardly in a position to make predictions about destiny.

The primary advantage of holding permanent residency - versus the employer-sponsored work visa on which we have been living - is freedom. For the last two and a half years, we have lived with the looming worry that if Kevin should lose his job, we would have a mere 28 days to scramble ourselves off of this remote island continent. Not such a worry, really, but there is some security in knowing our deportation would now require a discretionary hearing.

What IS a worry is that Kevin is now at liberty to go to work for another employer - crazy coincidence that a head-hunter called him on Friday morning with his dream job: running the business systems for a large winery in Adelaide. However, he has assured me that he is quite happy in his current situation and has no intentions of telling his boss to get stuffed...yet. More importantly, my own right to work is no longer tied to Kevin's visa. As he pointed out, I am now free to divorce him and still keep my job...was he giving me a hint?

Best of all, moving onto PR visa gives us access to the thrilling world of socialized medicine. And, in 18 months, we will be eligible to become dole bludgers! We also now have the right to buy property, and Kevin has already presented me with a list of small vineyards in Southern Australia. Then he turned to me and said:

"Now that I have PR, all I want to do is go home."

Some days I shake my head so much I swear it is going to snap clean off my neck.

31 May 2009

Random Acts of Marketing

This morning, I woke up with a bad case of the sniffles.

At Town Hall Station, I was greeted by a handsome young man in a white coveralls who presented me with a packet of Kleenex. How sweet.

21 May 2009

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

It is impossible to make it through a ½ hour news broadcast without hearing about some sort of government inquiry. I have come to understand that ‘inquiry’ is bureaucratic jargon for ‘find someone to point the finger at.” Commissioning inquiries seems to be the primary activity of the Australian government.

Bikie gang members instigate a bloody brawl at a Sydney airport? Launch an inquiry to determine if airport security notified the federal police within a reasonable timeframe.

A ship load of asylum seekers light themselves on fire off the West Coast? What we need is an inquiry to see if the Navy should have been more polite, maybe offered them some sausage rolls.

A 19 year old slut has sex with an entire rugby team in New Zealand and then, seven years later, realizes it might have been immoral? Let’s have an inquiry as to whether or not athletes should be role models or if ‘boys will be boys’…besides, it just might divert attention away from the budget!

Inquiries inevitably lead to reports, which are occasionally released, but only years later, and only if the evidence points away from any wrong doing by the party currently in power, unless of course the report is leaked by the opposition, but even then only if there is absolutely nothing else happening in the news AND the Australian team is not doing very well in a five-week cricket match against Pakistan. The reports often contain recommendations, such as “It is the determination of the esteemed investigating committee that persons arriving in Australia by boat, with the express purpose of seeking political asylum, should not set themselves alight.”

One of tonight’s top stories was about a real estate agent who died during a severe storm in Brisbane. Seems he was sitting at his desk, talking on the phone (as real estate agents have been known to do) when a large piece of metal blew off the roof and crashed through the window, killing him instantly. I have no doubt that once the sun rises, the Bureau of Meteorology will launch a full inquiry to determine if the government took adequate precautions against low pressure troughs forming over the South Pacific.

I am equally certain that the esteemed committee will further recommend that from hence forth, desks in the work place are not to be placed within ten meters of glass windows and that workers not be permitted to talk on the phone during severe weather situations that are likely to result in injury or death.

19 May 2009

Free to Air

Our TV is free. That is to say, we do not pay for cable or satellite service. Electromagnetic particle waves magically enter our apartment, are captured out of thin air by our television, and converted into hours of high-definition, commercial free entertainment all without an exorbitant monthly fee or lengthy service contract.

I am more than a little sanctimonious about it. It pleases me not to send money directly to Rupert Murdoch, and besides, the channel line-up on Foxtel stinks – there is no HBO in Australia, but I think that M*A*S*H is on 16 times each day. As Kevin sees, it we saved as much as we spent on our TV by not paying for cable over the last 2 1/12 years, so we could afford to buy a bigger television. I find no fault with the argument.

We get 7 digital channels, 5 of which are in high definition (plus two music channels and a TV guide). Two of the channels are fully sponsored by the government and are commercial free – just like PBS in the states, except the US government doesn’t give PBS enough money to operate, so they must sneak commercials into their broadcasts under the guise of thanking their corporate benefactors. The government channels (which NEVER have a pledge week) offer a good selection of socially conscientious, intellectually challenging (except for some of the British shows) programs, and they show cool movies on Saturday night. Last month, a new all-sports channel was launched, so this fall (spring) I can look forward to some American gridiron games being re-broadcast during more suitable viewing (and drinking) hours, thus raising the point total on my quality of life index tremendously.

But there is one thing that is very strange about free TV. Every night, during the Simpsons, there is a television commercial for…free TV. Let me repeat that in case the significance did not sink in. There are commercials for free TV ON free TV. These commercials leave me confused, because I don’t understand just what it is I am supposed to do. I wonder if they show the same ad on pay TV, and why do they need to advertise free TV in the first place? And why would I want to turn off my television and log on to the Internet to learn more about the free TV I am already watching at http://www.freetv.com.au/?

17 May 2009

Research Excursion: Blue Mountains

Backed by the pretence of doing a rekky (1), we took the 2 ½ hour train ride to Katoomba and spent the weekend exploring the Blue Mountains. The weather disagreed with me greatly – it was windy and bitey (2), and I was not suitably rugged up (3). However, after a visit to the local hattery, I was apples(4).

We had brekkie (5) at a cafĂ© that resembled a hobbit’s lair run by a commune of Christian hippies. It is as rare to see a Ruben sandwich on a menu as it is to see scrambled eggs. The food was flavoured with peace, love, and forgiveness. Yum.

A circuitous three hour hike that included a ride across a canyon in a glass-bottomed gondola lead us to Echo Point, where tour buses disgorged excited groups of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, and Australian tourists, who seemingly unaware of the sprawling natural beauty in front of them, instead queued up (6) to have their picture taken with a chain-smoking, didgeridoo-blowing, kangaroo skin-clad, white-washed genuine Aboriginal (7) who greeted and thanked each tourist in their native tongue and made more in an hour than I make in a day.

On our way back to the train station, I came across a tourist brochure for ‘Goomblar’s Dreaming’, featuring the very man who had just scented my sweater with his shockingly pungent armpit musk (much to my cat’s eventual delight.) No matter how I tried to reproduce the printed brochure, this is what happened:

Spooky! I wonder if he has been coming around my apartment eating up all the ice cream in the middle of the night.


(1) to gather information
(2) cold
(3) suitably dressed
(4) peachy
(5) breakfast
(6) to stand in line
(7) Blackfellah