26 April 2009

Another ANZAC Day

I suffer no delusions that there is any deficit of consumption of alcohol in America, but I cannot think of any holidays where the primary objective of the occasion is to fill the pubs to capacity and drink huge amounts of beer until you piss down your leg standing in the queue for the toilet. Australia has two such holidays, and I love them.

Kevin conceded to spend this ANZAC Day crawling through Sydney's most historic pub district. The Rocks is a jumbled collection of steep and narrow lanes winding along the cliffs beneath the base of the Harbour Bridge. The site of the first settlement, it remains largely preserved today as a result of being completely ignored during that dreadful period in recent human history where old buildings were considered eye sores and were replaced by lifeless stacks of steel and concrete. Sadly, a few modern buildings have penetrated the district, but for the most part it retains the feel of the past - despite the ever present hiss of espresso makers issuing from over-priced cafes.

As I have noted previously and also mentioned here, aside from the consumption of huge amounts of beer (oh, and paying tribute to service personnel both past and present), one of the highlights of ANZAC Day is wagering on a game of two-up. This year, I decided I needed to investigate this custom further by giving away stacks of five dollar notes to complete strangers. Oddly, it was not as satisfying a past time as I had anticipated, but I am sure my conclusion would have been different had I instead been receiving stacks of five dollar notes from complete strangers. Nonetheless, the whole ritual is decidedly amusing.



At the Australian Hotel, the game of two-up is refereed by a man posing as the Pillsbury Dough Boy. He selects a volunteer from the audience to toss two commemorative pennies off a specially designed stick into the air. The tosser (wait, that's not what they are called, is it?) helps whip the crowd into a gambling frenzy by alternately pointing at his or her head or tail, the latter being more effective if the tosser is a well formed female. Wagers that the toss will result in two heads up are made by holding a fistful of dollars and slapping oneself on the head. To wager on tails, one must scan the crowd for someone slapping their own head with the same amount of money one wishes to wager. The wagers are held by the person who calls heads, so being able to remember and recognize a total drunken stranger is clearly the part of the contest that requires actual skill. I think one can make a pretty good fortune simply by looking incredibly ordinary and slipping off into the crowd before the toss. I also suspect that this is what leads to broken noses.




Once sufficient wagers are laid, the coins are tossed and the result called by the Pillsbury Dough Boy. If the coins should land one heads and one tails, the crowd erupts with an emotional round of booing. If a bad toss occurs three times in a row, the tosser must pay penance with ten push ups. Damn, my battery ran out before the midget lady in red high heel boots made ten bad tosses in a row!!




video



Having soon become disenchanted with giving away my money, I turned my attention instead to my favorite part of the ANZAC Day celebrations: men in skirts. Sorry, if I had realized the band was playing Australia's Un-Official National Anthem, I wouldn't have cut the video short. I guess if you are Australian, you can recognize Waltzing Matilda in a any form, especially since it is such a good excuse to sing off key at the top of one's lungs.



video



As usual, the evening degenerated into a fit of bad Lomography, the results of which I will spare you, save for this one which I particularly liked for no good reason.


UPDATE: This silly picture just arrived in my in-box. I am a such a face-maker. Good thing I do not take myself very seriously!

21 April 2009

Serendipity and Perspective

My morning shower was cut short when the hot water for the building mysteriously vanished.

Luckily, it started pissing down rain as soon as I left Redfern Station.

A series of other work-related catastrophes had me on the verge of being in a really bad mood today, but after checking in on Wayne, as I do first thing every morning, my trivial life immediately fell into perspective.

Dammit, Wayne, pull through so I can have a god old-fashioned whinge again.

17 April 2009

Random Updates

I've been racking up quite a list of things I have been meaning to blog about, but just have not found the time to sit down and give them a proper writing. So instead, I offer this jumbled list of stuff. Do you like stuff?

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Last night, Kevin and I went to a new restaurant that touts American-style hamburgers. You can design your own from an extensive list of ingredients that includes pineapple, fried egg, carrots, and - if you just cannot imagine a burger without it - beet root. It was pretty good, but everyone was eating their burgers with a knife and fork. Do Australians have an overblown sense of etiquette, or are they just afraid of their fingers? I feel like a troglodyte when I go out for Indian food with my mates. I try to explain, you are supposed to eat it with your fingers!

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Ever wonder what it is like at my house on Saturday morning at 7:30 am? Here is a dull video to illustrate:


video


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Last weekend, I was 'featured' in an article in the Sunday Magazine in The Telegraph. Two days earlier, I heard a comedian on Triple J saying almost the exact same thing. Plagiarist. Of course, he said it more funnier.

Reproduced here without permission:




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Despite the unhappy ending, we had a fabulous Easter weekend in Mudgee. The Evanslea B&B doubles as a foster home for orphaned Eastern Grey Kangaroos. Spekaing of kangaroos, here is something you never overhear in a wine tasting room in California:

“Hey, we just freed a joey that was caught in the fence down by the first paddock. He looks hurt and his mum his hoppin’ around all distressed. Can you call Kangaroo Wildlife Assistance? I'll start with the Riesling.”






Here is the blog entry I wrote, a mere three hours before losing my licen(s)ce. Serves me right for counting my joeys before they had been cut out of their dead mother's pouch:




Lately, we have been toying with the possibility of buying a new car. When
we first got here, not knowing if things were going to work out for us, we just
bought a cheap little beater. Our 91 Camry is as reliable as it is
uninspiring, and we concluded – using our own peculiar brand of logic – that if
we had a nicer car, say maybe a convertible, we would be more inclined to get
out of the city on weekends and explore our
surroundings.

Fortunately, our good friend Saji helped us put the
purchase into a useful economic perspective.

“Are you
fucking crazy? You don’t need a car.”

And so by employing
some questionable mathematical manipulations, Kevin has me convinced that we are
actually saving money by renting a BMW Z4 over the 4-day Easter Weekend to drive
to wine country. Normally, I might be inclined to argue his fallacy, but
in truth I found the idea infinitely appealing.
Mudgee is an ‘up and
coming’ new wine region nestled in the Blue Mountains about 4 hours to the west
of Sydney (4 hours east of Sydney is the Pacific Ocean), providing us with ample
opportunity to test the limits of the BMW’s performance and handling while
racking up multiple speeding tickets. In Australia, traffic offenses count
as points against your privilege to drive and holiday weekends are advertised as
Double Demerits, an intimidating alliterative and excellent source of
revenue. I saw more police on the road to Mudgee than I have in the two
plus years I have lived here. Fortunately (or not) there was so much
traffic, you couldn’t lose your license if you wanted to.
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Last month, in addition to being a good excuse to go to wine country, look how close I got to Chris Isaak's butt after his wonderful concert in the vineyards:




Well, I haven't quite run out of stuff, but I have run out of coffee. Until next time.

13 April 2009

Heavy Fines, Loss of Licenc(s)e

Dear Roads and Traffic Authority, NSW:


In order to do our part to stimulate the local economy – even though neither of us will receive $900 for that express purpose – my husband and I decided to spend the long Easter Weekend in the ‘up and coming’ wine region of Mudgee, where we did our best to support numerous small farms and businesses.

Lately, we have been discussing the purchase of a new car to facilitate such weekend excursions, but in the interests of our personal economy, and in order to minimize our urban carbon footprint while reducing toxic emissions, thereby helping to preserve one of the world’s most treasured and fragile natural landscapes namely, the Great Barrier Reef, we opted instead to simply rent a BMW Z4 for the trip.


I am typically a very conscientious and law abiding driver. I never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol and, on occasions when I have believed my husband to be driving poorly, have nagged him to the point of marital withholding. Thus, I can assure you that when I entered the oncoming lane to pass a vehicle that was travelling well below the posted speed limit of 100 km/h I was driving within my usual limits of my legal accountability.

No one was more surprised than me when Constable Bearly presented me with evidence that I had achieved a maximum speed of 152 km/h. It is inconceivable to me that I could have possibly been travelling at that speed, when I had merely gently depressed the acceleration pedal just like I always do in my 1991 Toyota Camry, which is what I usually drive.

I contend that I was in fact driving in a law abiding manner and that the hyper-responsive engineering of the rented vehicle with which I was not entirely familiar was in truth liable for the transient velocity overage. Basically, I wasn't speeding - the car was.

Therefore, I do humbly request that you forgive the $1674 fine and ask Constable Bearly to mail my driver’s licence back to me immediately.

Kind Regards,

Audra A McKinzie

07 April 2009

About Australian Taxes

For many years I have lived under the assumption that Australians pay exorbitant taxes. How else could they afford national healthcare, government sponsored television, and clean public toilets, not to mention special police task forces to make sure no one downloads any controversial internet content like websites discussing abortion or the Spice Girls Reunion Tour Schedule. But it wasn’t worrying about having to pay that kept me from filing taxes for the last two years – indeed, it was quite the opposite.

Perhaps no three letters in the English alphabet strike more fear into the hearts of more Americans than do I, R and S (Yes, one can make a case for Triple K, CIA, and possibly GOP – er, wait…is there a difference?) Normal law abiding citizens are deathly afraid that the IRS will one day burst into their homes and take everything they own to pay the penalties on $25 worth of back taxes from 1972. The only person I know who is not afraid of the IRS is my accountant, Moshe and his tax attorney wife. They wrestle over the new tax code and read it to each other in bed. They live for an audit…with other people’s money, of course.

The ATO, or Australian Tax Office, just doesn’t seem to have the same sort of teeth as the American equivalent. Sure, they may assess a penalty if you are late in paying any taxes owed – or they may not, if it looks like you are making an effort or they are simply feeling benevolent that day. Tax forms are written with polite language that is intended to clarify and protect rather than to confuse and distress.

And so I chose not to file taxes for the simple reason that I *could*. Not out of any sort of civil disobedience or protest, not even out of laziness - I had all the documents together. I didn’t file simply to feel what it was like to NOT do something I was supposed to do without being scared of the consequences. Silly? Wrong? Irresponsible? Perhaps. As I have said before, I have a low threshold of entertainment, and this little act of quiet rebellion brought me great pleasure.

However, I am fundamentally a responsible person – and lazy – so I finally gathered up my papers and paid the-most-boring-man-in-the-world $400 to transcribe the numbers from my documents into a computer program. How do I always find accountants who tend to proselytize during my appointments? At least Moshe stops the clock when he pauses to take personal responsibility for the Crucifixion and explain that the Bible is merely a poor translation of the Koran – but since the-most-boring-man-in-the-world was charging me a flat rate, I let him ramble on about how horrible it was to be a 7th Day Adventist in an office full of atheist heathens while I drank coffee and wondered what he was like in bed. I reckon he is more interesting when he is asleep.

A mere 8 days later, I received two sizable checks in the mail, with a nice letter apologizing for having to collect taxes in the first place, hoping I understand, and wishing me a good day. Overall, our income tax comes out to about 21% - which is comparable to what we pay in US federal taxes. However, there is no state tax, which translates to a 9% savings for us.

So where does all the money come from to run this nanny-government? Kevin reminds me that there is a big sales tax here – 10%, but that is not THAT much more than we pay in California. I think taxes on homeowners are much higher, having to pay something nasty called ‘stamp duty’ when you buy a house, but that doesn’t affect us. Then I remeber the 45% tax on cigarettes and alcohol.

Now I know where the federal government is going to get the money for that ridiculous national broadband plan...I am going to drink Australia a new internet, but I STILL won't be able to subscribe to NFL radio.