Category Archives: Personal Tale

Time nipping at our heels

Do you ever feel like the protagonist in your favourite books?

Interestingly, I’m drawn to delusional, psychotic or narcissistic males in many cases: American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman is a wealthy, narcissistic, vain Manhattan investment banker who moonlights as a serial killer.

Liar’s Poker is semi-autobiographical account of author Michael Lewis’s time as a bond salesman on Wall Street in the 80s when ‘greed was good’.

And then there’s Death of a Salesman, a play by Arthur Miller fearing Willy Loman. The name befits the character – a 63-year-old travelling salesman from Brooklyn who has lost the youthful verve and camaraderie of his past. His business acumen is still at its peak, but he can no longer leverage his personality to get by.

Time has caught up with him.

I’ve been pondering Willy as I edge towards 60. Still some years away but in the professional world 50, 60 – it doesn’t really matter.

Time is nipping at our heels.

I hear the platitudes – age is just a number, there’s plenty more to achieve, you’re never too old, it’s about your mindset. Blah, blah blah.

Sure, they’re all valid comments, but it also becomes very clear that you don’t have (or perhaps don’t want to commit) 10 years or 15 years or even 12 months to reaching some milestone. Make it snappy. Time is short, we need to get a move on.

Gen Xers like me have been there, done that. We’ve been through social, economic and plenty of tech changes and challenges that have influenced our view of the world.

Unlike the tradition valuing Baby Boomers and the socially progressive Millenials, Gen Xers are pragmatic, self- reliant and skeptical.

Poor Willy Loman pre-dated Gen X and Baby Boomers. He worked at the same company for more than three decades, withstanding a pay cut and then being fired by the son of the guy who had hired him decades prior.

Willy created a fantasy world to cope with his lot, and he tried several times to end his life.

Author Arthur Miller was quoted saying Willys’ story was about hopelessness and mortality: “Willy was trying to write his name on cake made of ice on a hot summer day.”

No one wants to be Willy. To be fair, no one is probably keen on being any of my fictitious favourites.

There’s probably another discussion in why I’m drawn to dodgy New York male characters (husband excluded) but meantime I’ll seek out some sunny, female protagonist-led literature.

I’d love to hear which characters you are drawn to, and why?

Three Years

Three years. It’s everything and nothing.

You can get a university degree in three years, plan and have a wedding, birth a couple of children, change the direction of your life completely by moving abroad, changing jobs or Marie Kondo- ing your life.

But three years is no time when you are grieving. It’s as fresh as if it were yesterday. Three years, 36 months, 1095 days . It’s a whisper of time that hasn’t passed at all.

Three years is supposed to mark a period of transition. It’s when you begin rebuilding, and while the sadness of losing a loved one lingers, it’s not as prevalent, according to psychological studies on grief. It’s no longer socially palatable to talk about your loss, according to another piece I read  One needs to move on. Easier said than done .

Here’s to my beautiful father who passed three years ago today. He is well remembered daily by those closest to him and especially missed this week. 

I hope he knows how much he is loved.

And just like that …

And just like that … it’s more than a decade since we relocated to Australia from New York. We said so long NYC and hello to Adelaide, South Australia.

Adelaide is where I grew up, It’s the town I left for Sydney, which I later left for New York. A lot of young people leave Adelaide and inevitably, one day, usually with children in tow, they move back. Some settle in right away, landing cushy jobs and riding high on their international careers: others take longer to find their feet and settle in.

I am probably the latter. it’s still debatable whether i’ve truly settled in, and certainly the family have their moments when this doesn’t feel like home. But day by day, we take turns feeling more entrenched.

Frankly, the idea of packing up and moving across the world again makes me shudder. It’s still too soon to contemplate another relocation so Adelaide it is. We have a house we love, a dog we adore and won’t ever leave behind, jobs and friends and family. And we have safety and security.

With all that is happening in the world right now, the horrors in Europe, the flood destruction across eastern Australia, to name just two of this week’s headliners, it’s good to be here.

So this is a bit of a peg in the sand. I write all day for work but I miss this sort of writing – letting the words flow freely with no real destination in mind. It’s rambling of sorts, and therapy after the boundaries and rigidity of my day shtick (which by the way, I actually really enjoy).

Now that the floodgates are open again, i’ll be writing more frequently I hope. So stay tuned for gdaybklyn from Adelaide.

Barossa is Bringing SexyBack

Anlaby Station
Anlaby Station

No longer can I claim to never win anything.

The drought has broken.

Yesterday, I pressed ‘enter’ on a competition I barely read the details of. Something about the Barossa, a weekend away, food. It doesn’t take much more to pique my interest. It was a vendor that I trust and it didn’t take me to any dodgy links or spam, so why not.

Within a couple of hours, an unfamiliar number rang on my cell phone and I was told I had won two nights away at Anlaby Station in the Barossa Valley and a dinner at fermentAsian. Just like that.

The contest, run by Glam Adelaide for the South Australian Tourism Commission. builds on a recent, deliciously controversial, new ad campaign to lure savvy overseas travellers to our gorgeous wine region.

The ad – part of a $6 million tourism campaign – goes way beyond the well-known wineries though, wooing viewers with sumptuous produce and beautiful people. Lots of suggestive scooping of oranges and freshly-laid eggs, rolling around in fine Barossa dirt, a woman in a white dress and a man who might as well be shirtless for all of the ad’s lusty feel.

The tagline reads simply: Barossa, Be Consumed. You can watch it here.

Is the Barossa bringing SexyBack?

Anyway, I’m yet to set a date for this adventure but as we roll towards our second anniversary since moving to Australia, I think a weekend away is in order.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, hubs will get first dibs on accompanying me …

New York, New York – If You Can Make it There …

I just waved my eight-year-old son goodbye as he boarded a bus for his first ever school camp. One week into school in Australia and he was herded away to Aldinga Beach, an hour or so from the city, to run free and learn in the great outdoors. It’s all part of being an Aussie.

Every morning at school drop-off, these robust little kids are running and jumping and chasing each other, or playing one of many organised sports. Every girl in our daughter’s first-grade class has a skipping rope tucked beneath the desk to use before school and at recess. Sitting still isn’t an option.

It all fits the romantic notions about Australia, especially among Americans. From the worn out stereotypes of kangaroos bounding along city streets and Foster’s drinking blokes throwing shrimp on a barbie, Australia holds a sort of mystique from far away. Our New York friends, while sad to see us go, were excited for our brave move down under. Everyone wants to visit and everyone probably would, if it weren’t so far away.

But as recent arrivals – sit still, we do. So far it has rained almost daily since we got here in July, soaring electricity costs make us too scared to blast the heat as much as we’d like, and neither my husband nor I has found a job. With no income to speak of and no entitlement to assistance because apparently the Australian Government deems us rich, morale has its ups and downs.

We’ve endured reams of paperwork and probing questions only to be told that money in a bank, no matter how inaccessible, a part share in a house we  cannot live in yet and the fact that we could get jobs any day,  trump years of paying taxes in both Australia and the US and the absence of a pay check.

Sticker Shock

Every time we walk out of a store, sticker shock follows us. Everything costs a lot more than we’re use to paying. Even long-time Australia dwellers are balking at rising food, gas and utility prices. Basics like bananas  go for around $3 a piece and green beans top out around $18 a kilo – or almost  $9 a pound. The good life sure is pricey.

Still, here I am 40-something, married and mother of two back in my parents’ immaculate house after more than 20 years of independence. Perched at the dining room table, I feel a bit like an aged Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, banging out resume updates and introduction letters in improbable surrounds ( how did she ever afford a Manhattan studio and Jimmy Choos on a columnist’s wage?)

To be sure, the folks are thrilled to have us back in Adelaide – as delighted as they are petrified every time a beloved grandchild swings a  backpack and narrowly misses some pricey collectible or “accidentally”  picks all the unripe lemons and stomps the onion patch.

The question we’re asked by pretty much everyone we meet is, why? Why on earth would you move from New York City – bright lights, big city, songs written about it, movies made just to showcase its vibrancy – to Adelaide? Adelaide, a sleepy city barely bigger than a country town, with lots of green space and nearly as many churches as people. Why indeed?

For family and for lifestyle mostly. We figured it was time to slow life down a little, smell the roses that bloom in Adelaide gardens and let the kids run free in the parklands and on the beaches, with cousins and perhaps a dog in tow. We wanted to own a house and a have a garden where we could cook out on a warm evening, and all sit around the dinner table together.

All in Good Time

And soon enough the sun will shine and the kids will get the beach and park time they moved for. We’ll find jobs too, I’m sure of it. We just have to adjust our timing from New York standards where emails are answered pronto to Adelaide’s more relaxed schedule.  And soon enough we’ll be able to rip up old carpets, paint walls and move into our own little home.

For now, the coffee is good, the clean country air is a mere 15 minutes “up the hill” as the locals say, the kids are happily settling into a lovely school and we are still charmed by the many people we meet and the warmth and friendliness they show us; from the boys in the local coffee shop we’ve made part of our morning ritual,  to the toothless old man I met at the weekend farmers’ market. He explained to me the pros of eating Australian olive oil and beamed with pride talking about his famous ballerina daughter.

Our waterlogged son will have his own stories to share when he slumps home from three rainy days at the beach, where he was to learn to paint a boomerang, cook on an open fire and negotiate friendships with a new crew of teachers and classmates.

As the lyrics go if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.  Let’s see if Adelaide is our “anywhere”.

 

 

A Cautionary Tale, aka No Communal Tables on Date Night

We don’t get out much together. Dear husband works late weeknights, which leaves only weekends for adult dinners. So on the rare occasions we have a sitter and actually do get to go out, it really bites to have a less than enjoyable time.

Enter the communal table.

A long sturdy wooden table conjures notions of comfort and nostalgia. It takes you back to a toasty kitchen, crowded with family and friends and a grandmother or aunts reigning over bubbling pots and roasting pans. The communal table can convey a sharing of bounty and acceptance.

Increasingly, restaurants are installing large communal tables in part to recreate that homely vibe and often times to maximize square footage and revenue potential per customer. To be sure, you can squeeze more paying diners around a long table, than you can fit individual tables, and that matters when space is tight and overheads high.

It can be nice too in a big city like New York where you might be lunching solo with just a book to keep you company. Pulling up a chair at the communal tables at one of the Frenchified global Le Pain Quotidien restaurants in Manhattan, for instance, feels easy and inconspicuous. There is enough space that you can get by with barely a nod at your neighbors, if you don’t feel like engaging them.

And I’ve never thought twice about joining a large round table for Chinese dim sum. In fact, it’s pretty much the only way a singleton or a couple can join in the parade of passing carts to slurp noodles and dip dumplings during bustling weekend hours. Thankfully, people are there to eat, not make friends, so rarely have I attracted much attention beyond the usual stares at another ignorant gweilo.

Growing Trend

But the trend has spread from grandma’s kitchen and Chinese brunch to new, hip, happening restaurants – Buddakan, BoqueriaThe Meatball Shop, Salt and even the very Upper East Side Café Boulud among them in Manhattan, and locally, in Brownstone Brooklyn, Brucie and Buttermilk Channel and Beer Table.

This brings me to a recent, rare date night when we agreed a little hesitantly to sit at a communal table. The restaurant of choice was crowded and there was a lengthy wait for a 2-top, so it seemed harmless enough sitting side by side at the end of the table. Shortly after we sat down, more people joined the table and the wait staff assumed understandably that we were together. We pointed out that we were separate parties but as timing had it, our orders were taken and food was served in sync.

It was fine for a moment as we kept to ourselves but I sensed that the couple across from us was just dying to make eye contact. Well, I went there; I made the mistake of acknowledging our fellow diners and exchanging pleasantries. I thought we could go on with our meals then, unencumbered, but the chatter went on and on and I found myself trapped in conversation with a stranger as our partners stared into space.

Our date night was being sabotaged by a chatty young woman who, worse still, complained that her meal was overcooked. Here lies the peril in the communal table; friendly neighbors are one thing, but incessant talkers and whiners are deal breakers.

Unpleasant Standoff

The woman sent back her plate and sat glumly through the rest of the meal, making us feel uncomfortable enjoying our own food. When her check arrived she balked at being charged for her discarded meal and called over the chef-owner, who tried graciously to make amends while we tried our hardest not to listen. It was assumed again that we were a group and somehow we became bystanders to an unpleasant standoff.

What began as date night had morphed into a Seinfeld episode.

I wanted to crawl under that wretched communal table. And dear husband chided me for being sociable. “Don’t talk to strangers,” he urged. “It can only end badly.”

Thankfully the offending couple left and the staff, realizing once and for all that we weren’t with them, apologized for our neighbors and our lost evening. But we were scarred, vowing to never again sit at a communal table as a couple, or unless the sociable one  – me – is gagged.

Sure, communal dining has its merits. It can be nice to see what others are eating, or to join in a party atmosphere if you happen to sit near a fun crowd. And with a big group of your own friends or with children in tow there are enough distractions to ward off needy neighbors. In fact, we’ve had some great dinners with the kids at Brooklyn’s Buttermilk Channel when we’ve landed at the communal table surrounded by families celebrating birthdays or graduations and letting us in on the fun.

 But as a couple desperate for some “alone” time, beware!

RIP to the Friend I Barely Knew

Almost one year ago to the day, my Godmother died. She had been sick for a very long time with an invasive cancer that chewed through her body and her spirit and finally won. My parents were in New York for Christmas, visiting from Australia where my Godmother, my fathers’ elder sister, also lived. I wept at the time, mostly for my father who felt guilty being away when the inevitable happened.

Today, I wept again; steadily and perhaps irrationally.

I returned from a festive lunch with family friends at a local Italian joint and was told our doorman for the best part of this year had died suddenly and all too young. Curtis was not just the guy who signed for my parcels or buzzed me into the building; he was the one person I chatted to daily about the weather, the kids, whatever; he played soccer with my children and chased them around outside.

Curtis was a good guy who years ago gave up the rat race after he suffered a massive heart attack. But he kept smoking – a lot. He told me once that he wished his children wouldn’t smoke, but that he had been doing it so long, he couldn’t give up now.

I expected to see him this morning when I stepped out early with my yoga mat slung over my shoulder, but the super was at the door, wearing an awkward smile. Upon returning late this evening, he said Curtis has passed earlier in the day from heart problems.

I have wept uncontrollably since, for a man I scarcely knew. I can’t spell his last name; tell you his address or his birth date. Though I know he was barely past 50.

Is it selfish that I will miss his chatter each day when I head outside, or his weather forecast before I leave, or his kind words for my children? The last exchange we had was Thursday afternoon when the kids told him silly jokes and he laughed heartily. Curtis is survived by his two grown children, one of whom also works in our building. My thoughts and prayers go to his family.

Happenings like this make me embrace New York even more. We have had so many doormen and maintenance men through the years, many whom my children have become attached to. There was Angel who helped my son build a robot dragon; Robert who joked around with the kids and snuck them candy when they thought I wasn’t looking, and Anthony, who told my daughter she was beautiful and tickled my son until he giggled uncontrollably. They all left for one reason or another, probably immune to the impact their leavings had on us.

For big-city kids, and their parents, these men who earn minimum wage and work around the clock, are the equivalent of uncles or close family friends. They are often times a link to people and cultures we might not otherwise get to know.

Most importantly, they are friends. Rest in peace Curtis, we will miss you.

Becoming American

I have lived in the United States for some 12 years. I married a US Citizen, my children are US Citizens, so I figured it was about time I joined their club.

Friends kept warning me that “you never know what can happen” and the most compelling message from well-meaning advisors: “you should always have the same citizenship/s as your children.” Was I worried my husband might flee with the kids and deny me access, like those awful stories on the 10pm news? No, I am pretty comfortable in the thought that my children will stay glued to me for as long as they can, G*d bless them and their attachment issues.

But it did make sense not to worry about renewing my Green Card every so many years: and it did feel odd having to stand in a separate immigration line to my kids and husband when I travel with an Australian passport and they all have US passports. It’s the little things that made me to push ahead, plus, it seemed like only a little effort  and about $675 to make the application.

Now the fun begins. I have a couple of days to cram the history of the United States, from colonization to present day, with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the structure of government, wars spanning the 1800s and 1900s, a smattering of geography, a bunch of presidents and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in between.

I happen to know from watching late-night talk shows – Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments come to mind – that the average American, born and schooled in this fine country, could NOT, even on a very good day and with clues, answer most of the test questions laid out in the printed 29-page Learn About the United States: Quick Civics Lessons for the New Naturalization Test publication that citizenship candidates are handed after their fingerprinting and biometrics ‘meeting” with immigration officials.

My husband is a bit of a history buff and could answer most of the questions correctly, but I suspect he’s not the norm. Here is a sampling of the questions: how do you rate?

Who is Chief Justice of the United States now?

The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the US Constitution. Name one of the writers?

When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

When was the Constitution written?

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?

What territory did the US buy from France in 1803?

How many amendments does the Constitution have?

The House of Representatives has how many voting members? They are elected for how many years?

These are just a few of the questions that most people probably have to think about, just a little, lest the number get muddled of the memory is hazy. And I’m willing to bet many, many people wouldn’t even have a clue, but perhaps I am underselling the population. Either way, it’s a task for those thousands of people who, every year, choose to pledge loyalty to the United States, many who speak or read little English and probably weren’t taught about the Civil War in school, and haven’t heard Star Spangled Banner at a hundred baseball games.

I’ll admit, I plan to study the book before I go.

Failing the civics section of the test (it’s not multiple choice unfortunately) is not an option. There are 100 questions; I will be asked 10 and have to answer six right to “pass”. There is also an English writing and verbal test, which I hope not to worry about, given that English is my first language and writing is my living.

But hey, I am not getting cocky about any of this. One dear friend has already made it clear that I will be mocked mercilessly for years to come if I don’t walk out of my interview a citizen. I consider myself warned!

Make Plans+ G*D Laughs:Lice Before London

It’s hard to be chic when you are up to your elbows in laundry, let alone when your youngest starts scratching wildly at her head after weeks in day camp at the height of summer.

Well, that’s how my long-awaited trip to London began, or the preparation time at least when I should have been laying out the clothes I would pack, and styling them with shoes and accessories, a raincoat, umbrella … all those precautionary things you need for London.

Instead, I was confronted for the first time ever with the biting reality of head lice.

My 5 year-old complained her head itched, which given the heat and her very long hair, wasn’t anything unusual. I had never seen lice, but a closer look at her head suggested something was wrong – something seemed to move, or was I imagining it? There was no time to muck around, so off to the appropriately nicknamed “lice lady” we went. In Boro Park, Brooklyn, in a self-contained primarily Orthodox Jewish community, the lice lady and her family lives. There are daughters and daughters-in-law aplenty who help out too, picking heads searching for lice and then combing them out with tedious but effective (and pricey!) precision.

My daughter, it turned out, was infested with live bugs – probably acquired at her very nice day camp. My son and I, thankfully, were all clear. But what happened next was like a military operation and not what I needed one day before delivering the children to their grandparents’ house and setting off for our first grown-up trip overseas sans kids.

Daily Torture

Bedding, cushions, clothing, dolls – anything my daughter had contact with had to be washed. And what couldn’t be washed and dried at high heat had to be bagged and sealed for several weeks, so anything lurking would die. My daughter’s hair still had to be monitored, so grandma was armed with a big bottle of Pantene – the conditioner of choice because it’s thick enough to coat the hairs, and the delousing crew informed me you can get huge bottles at Costco – and a sturdy German-made “lice comb” to torture dear daughter with daily.

The initial head check and subsequent comb through for a 5 year old with very long hair, in case you wonder, was about $175 and the comb, another $25. Somehow it worked out to another $70 each for my son and I to be combed through with conditioner. It’s a cash-preferred business, but if you don’t happen to have $300-plus on you, they will accept a check. This, I have decided, is a business to be seriously considered, though probably not by clean-freak, type-A personalities (like me).

As part of the overall service, my daughter went back for a head check the following day and was declared all clear; my son and I have yet to return for a final checking but that also was included in the price. I was told that London is crawling with lice, so I really should return for a  post-trip check. Ahh, the glamor of international travel these days: if it’s not lice, then beware the bed bugs.

Needless to say, a week away was much needed. And needless to say, in the midst of a delousing operation, I packed completely inappropriately. The scorching heat in New York addled my brain and had me stocked with flimsy sundresses and open-toe wedges for London, instead of layers, and rain-wear and at least one pair of closed shoes. I froze, I was rained on and my feet were splattered with mud on long walks through Hyde Park. But none of that mattered.

And we’re back now to cooler weather and lice-free kids.

To Bare Old Scars

It’s summer again and time to unwrap the long sleeves and high necks and reveal skin. I am not averse to baring skin  – but with it come a bevy of stares and questions. Already, children in my daughter’s pre-k class are pointing at the long red scar that dissects my chest and asking what it is.

A scar, I say, or a boo boo that is healing. They look uneasy at the response, I guess because that boo boo is pretty red and jagged. It begins just below my collarbones with a nubbly mass that has formed a keloid and continues down my chest, resembling exactly what it is: a knife cut. To top it off and make it even more sensitive, the keloid has formed on top of a bump, which is a cluster of wires used to fuse my bones post surgery.

The scar is almost four years old now, and the result of emergency open-heart surgery to remove an aortic aneurysm and replace a faulty heart valve with a mechanical one. Sadly, I found out the hard way, that I am prone to keloid scars, which are not only unattractive to look at but incredibly sensitive to touch.

There are days when my 5 year-old jumps on me, thrusting her head at my chest in loving play, and I shriek in agony as she swipes my scar. Or I bump it as I open a drawer or remove jewelry, and it brings tears to my eyes from the throbbing pain. Even just being exposed to sun can be agonizing as the skin sort of dries and contracts, no matter how much sunblock I smother on it, resulting in a uncomfortable, sunburn-like itch.

Magic Solutions?

Of course, there are things you can do to minimize such scars, I’ve been told repeatedly by well-meaning friends and doctors. So, a few weeks back, I went in search of one of these magic solutions. I made an appointment with a cosmetic dermatologist on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The doctor came with a great reputation, swanky rooms and a staff of sweet, leggy blondes of indeterminate age. Sitting in the waiting room, you could feel women looking at each other wondering what each was “having done.”

I was assured the good doctor could help me out with all sorts of non-invasive treatments, including lasers and other scar-zapping devices. But nothing is ever so easy. During a consultation (ka-ching), the doctor informed me that there were indeed great solutions for my scar but first we had to deal with the keloid and the only way to do that was to inject cortisone into the swollen, angry-looking mass.

I had this exact procedure once before in 2008 when I was visiting Australia, and it was the most mind-numbingly painful thing I had ever experienced.  After some back and forth though, I agreed to give it another shot (literally!).

The doctor tossed her blonde locks reassuringly and swabbed my scar with liquid nitrogen to help freeze the location and hopefully ease the pain. It didn’t.

Scared + Scarred

I am pretty pain tolerant but the pinch of the needle sliding in and out of the scar had me clawing  the bed, knuckles white and eyes watering until I broke down into full-blown sobbing and begged her to stop. I bore two children with no medication, and this, I told the doctor, was more grueling.

The poor doctor wanted so desperately to help me; and my sobbing unnerved her. I paid my hefty bill and left the offices in a pained daze. As I walked across town toward Central Park to gather my thoughts, I kept wondering why I had put myself through the procedure again knowing how much I loathed it. I tried in vain to ring my husband, fearing that I may just pass out in front of Bergdorf Goodman and be trampled by hoardes of fanny-pack-wearing tourists.

Would I come back in three weeks or so for another treatment, the doctor had asked before I left. She wanted to see how the scar responded and hopefully take another well-intentioned jab at it. Well, three weeks is up and I am in limbo. Admittedly the scar looks a tad better and is not as sore, but can I take another round with a steroid-filled needle?