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.