Wednesday, July 30, 2008

a day I'll never get back

...but all told I was lucky.

This morning I broke a molar on a crust of very nice rye bread toast. It just came out, rather a huge piece of tooth if you ask me but I am biased. It was about 7.15. The next hour plus was fraught because even though it didn't really hurt, I was worried that the pain would suddenly kick in. Anyway while I was really annoyed about the whole thing I was of course very grateful and pleased that this didn't happen in a diner in Forest Hills Gardens two weeks ago, in fact it was really quite convenient that it happened this morning.

So the next couple of hours were fraught because I had to find a dentist who'd be able to see me at short notice, in the area, but of course they're not at their tools at 7 am, the bastards. I called one person who was advertised as an emergency dentist but he was in fact only a denturist, and his advice to me for dentists in the area was 'get one out of the phone book, they're all pretty good'. Thanks mate. Anyway I ended up going to Christine in Bundoora and she was actually pretty good.

What had happened was a tooth with quite a deep filling, from the 80s, had split. Christine replaced it with what she called a filling but this was really something I wouldn't call a filling per se, because it is actually a whole new created tooth surface. It feels so weird in my mouth, just like a new block of flats on the street would. I spent the rest of the day with a swollen face and of course it was numb for most of the day. The numbness was annoying and touching the numb part was like touching a dead person (guessing) but when the numbness wore off about an hour ago the pain was even more 'annoying'. Still, it's pain I seem to be able to keep at bay with Herron (TM). So hopefully by tomorrow I will have forgotten all of this ever happened.

Thanks for Mia for driving me to Bundoora, to Christine and her unnamed assistant for the grunt work (I think I did more grunting though) and to the animals for being entertainment/consolation during the day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A short history of tofu

I hate fictional and/or memoir things that claim to be a short history of something peripheral to the author's main point, that his/her uncle was having an affair with his/her father and/or mother. I do not know the history of tofu, short or long but I do know I like it. And like so many things it gets totally up my nose when people make snide remarks about tofu no-one would think of making about, you know, nougat as though tofu stood for something that went beyond its reality as a food. I happen to really like tofu.

If you want a short history of my history of tofu, I can't give it to you because I don't remember even when I was first introduced to it. I certainly don't ever recall thinking of it as an acquirable, or acquired, taste. It can't be anyway really I suppose as it doesn't have much of a taste, but like a lot of good bread, its texture complements a taste, doesn't it.

I do recall: working in health food in 1985 and having to sell this non-dairy icecream called just something very plain like, Tofu Ice Cream (not tofutti which I think came later). I do remember then that many customers would say to me, 'What is tufo?' i.e. the word was so unfamiliar to them they had never even heard it before and in fact so unfamiliar they had read it wrong. I also remember at this time at least one person I related the 'tofu ice cream' concept to, not in the workplace but a cohabitant, saying 'TOE-FOOD? Is that something you feed your toes with?' People are so contemptible when they don't know what's going on.

But it would not have been much later that I was told of a friend's taste for raw tofu on toast with melted cheese on top. The reason I mention this is that I think I might have become inured to the idea of tofu as some kind of cheese substitute. Not that I would necessarily use it that way, but that others usually did. And if you ate tofu you probably weren't that into dairy.

Another grouse thing about tofu is what it comes from, the soybean. I like:

Red bean drink you get in japanese restaurants - is that soybeans?
Soy milk - the only milk I drink as other milk makes me feel queasy
Soy sauce - I was thinking this morning when it became more acceptable to refer to soy milk as 'soy' rather than using that shorthand to refer to 'soy sauce'. I think that must have happened around the late 1990s
Soybeans you get in japanese restaurants, in the shell, you know


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the cake

people are still gross

Today on the train a woman my age took off her chunky white sneakers and thick sweat socks and painted her gnarled feet with a brush from some medicinal brown bottle.

at the end of my tether

Read on if you don’t like me one bit and want to see how much I have suffered over the last 36 hours. But be warned: there are some minor triumphs, with the usual caveats of all such (or any) triumphs.

So it was New York to Chicago – hang round Chicago for quite some time (but I wanted to leave plenty of time to get to Chicago, so that was a choice OK) and then Chicago-LA-home. It was gonna be arduous but it was gonna be manageable, and I sure had a bunch of stuff to read en route, which I had acquired cheaply and carefully with regard to my usual irritability/short attention span when on long flights. But really, I knew what I was in for and the trip was totally worthwhile, so no great problem aka ‘no biggie’ (would I make a great American? Sure, though they can’t understand a freakin’ word I say – unless I repeat it LOUDLY without any EMPHASIS, as if to a DEAF OLD PERSON).

So I get to Chicago, having stayed up all night on my final night in NY, doing pretty much nothing other than packing my suitcase really, really well. And then in Chicago – where they won’t let you store your bags so you have to take them everywhere with you until you check in properly – I went into town on the train (which presently is a big hassle because the powers that be figured summer, which I am sure is the height of the tourist season because if it isn’t, when is? was the perfect time to start repairing or ripping up or something the line between O’Hare station and the station just before it. So you have to get a shuttle.) But hell, I was packed pretty well, and the case has wheels, so... I went into town and just trotted around dragging my crap, I went to Einstein Brothers for some bagels which were good and coffee which was so-so, and then I went to this place also on Washington called Rock Records which Bill Meyer now tells me used to be good back in the day but the day wasn’t Friday 19 when I went there – you will recall my earlier boasts that I did no record shopping on this trip well I didn’t do any there so, means nothing but I did go in and have a look around. They were playing – get this – they were playing the Beatles’ album Revolver through only one speaker, so you were getting half the stereo separation which I now appreciate is pretty stark. To listen to ‘half’ this album, which I don’t own but which has been seared into my mind through repeated listens (on a mono cassette player) throughout the late 1970s, is a thoroughly irritating experience and I wondered then and wonder now whether they were doing this on purpose to be interesting or whether they just had a broken speaker or whether they simply didn’t know that wasn’t what it sounded like. Since the staff was all different when I left from when I got there, I don’t think it was any kind of conscious behaviour. There was nothing I wanted in there, at all, it was a huge space filled with multiple copies of fairly dire CDs supposedly 'on sale'. Oh I should cut them some slack because they probably did have some good things but I just didn’t want to know, couldn’t think of anything to look for. They didn’t have any Blue Orchids CDs, I know that for a fact, and I guess I thought they might have at least had some cut-out imports etc – or even local product (eg I had a look for a few things from Drag City but no go). Boring.

So I get back to O’Hare with plenty of time – plen-ty. Too much really, but I’m willing to put in the time to not get panicky about missing the flight, which is about the worst thing I can imagine (though I did miss a flight once and it was no biggie, they just put me on the next one, weird). So we go through that massively stupid security check where they check for all those metal items even though we know there are plenty of sharp or otherwise dangerous things that you can smuggle, then we all queue up for the plane, then we get on the plane, then we taxi around the runway at O’Hare for three and a half hours, then we get an announcement from the captain or the pilot or the admiral or whatever he is that if the plane doesn’t get on its way to LA (I’ve already missed my connecting flight, by the way) he’ll have to refuel because there’s not enough fuel, and I and I bet some other people are also thinking, ‘just fly, fly it, we don’t care if we don’t get there’, we are all kind of plane crazy. And then he announces he has to go back to refuel, and then he announces the flight’s been cancelled. So we have to queue up to get off, then queue up to get a hotel voucher and a taxi voucher and, oh yeah, a rescheduled flight. I shouldn’t even be writing about this because my trip is not over – in fact, it hasn’t started yet (we board in twenty minutes and leave in eighty) but what the hell, I am now inured to anything – I don’t care what happens any more. So there are three people attending to a very, very long line of people who should be more disgruntled than they are. And for an HOUR one of those people is only attending to ONE person, who has a stupid saggy old man ass which I have to occasionally see (through his trousers) when I look over there and think ‘what the fuck is that guy so special for that he needs to be serviced for over an hour??!’). Finally an elfin service personnel who reminds me of Bree in Desperate Housewives which I found out today has been cancelled – but I should stay on topic I guess – locates me in the queue when I am about one person from getting to the service desk and says it would be quicker if I go to another one she nominates, so I do and suddenly I’m waiting behind three people again, anyway, eventually I get to talk to this person who keeps taking personal calls from his family at home because he’s had to stay back four hours or something because the whole airport’s being belaboured by weird storms (particularly weird since I never saw any storms myself). He gives me $25 in food vouchers to be spent at the airport, a taxi voucher and a voucher for a hotel which he says is five minutes away (in a taxi). And then he rebooks me for San Francisco the very next morning (I am very keen to move on; if he’d said he was flying me via Brazil I would have said great – well, I’d love to go to Brazil so of course I would, so pick another less appropriate interim destination) and I have twelve hours in SF and then I fly to Sydney and then finally get to Melbourne 26 hours after the time I should have go there. Still with me? I’m not with me anymore, in fact I am sitting upside down on a very high ceiling watching myself type this at gate A8 of San Francisco Airport International Terminal. Anyway, so I go to get a taxi, get a taxi, get in and say, I have a voucher and I want… and the fuck says, ‘I don’t accept vouchers’, and I say – my first assertiveness in many weeks of listening to Americans complain about where their asses should and shouldn’t go, and people telling me all kinds of mindwarping crapola – ‘yes you have to’, but he doesn’t, so I have to get out. And then I see this other guy who had been at the desk getting rebooked and I tell him about my experience with the taxi driver and he laughs and says ‘that’s really funny’, which you can probably imagine is not what I needed to hear at that point. But I suggest to him that, since there’s a possibility that the next taxi driver one of us gets won’t take our voucher, and we’re both going to the same hotel, we should join forces and offer the taxi driver double the vouchers. Which we do.

I hope you’re enjoying reading this as much as I’m enjoying writing it down. Possibly you’re enjoying it as much as I’m enjoying this ongoing screeching/screaming noise, which may be someone screaming but is surely something scraping on the people mover (you know, those flat escalators) upstairs from here, or a figment of my imagination.

So we get to the hotel, it takes 20 minutes to drive there, and they say they have no rooms, and that the airline should not have given us vouchers for them because they’re fully booked. Then they say actually we have one room, with a queen sized bed in it, if you’re willing to share. Now understand, we are pretty fucking stranded here in this weird hotel that presumably is quite close to the airport but nowhere near the entrance to the airport and generally is just in the middle of nowhere. The guy I shared the taxi with – perfectly nice man, I don’t doubt his integrity at all – says he’s happy to share a room, he’ll sleep on the floor. But by now I am entirely frazzled and getting paranoid through lack of sleep, not of him, but of everything and am pretty firmly convinced that I won’t be able to sleep at all, particularly since it’s now 1 am and I’m going to have to get up at 4:30 am to get back to the airport and catch my SF flight. Luckily the guy is much more on the ball than me, and he does something decent for which I am very grateful: having snaffled another hotel voucher previously (not sure how he did that), he takes a taxi there and leaves me with the room.

The hotel sux, but of course I am pretty beyond caring, and I can’t get the alarm clock to work but I get a wake-up call, and I’m ready at 5 am for the shuttle to take me to the airport where I sit around forever and then get to fly to SF. Nothing special about this flight except the scenery when the clouds clear and I start looking is incredibly beautiful and strange – I guess I am looking at east California or Nevada or something – remarkable terrain which I try to photograph but it comes out looking very washed out.

An enhanced photograph from the aeroplane window.

So I get to SF and things start looking up, within the proviso of course that they couldn’t have got much worse without someone losing a limb or something. Although I almost don’t do it because I imagine perhaps ASKING is something treasonous or will raise the threat level above orange (the threat level is orange. Don’t ask me how I know. Alright, ask me. I know because this information is broadcast throughout the airport every five minutes) but I ask whether there’s somewhere I can stash my carry-on luggage and there IS. And I can go and get the BART to SF and hang out.

Now I know quite a few people in SF; Natalie and Rhonda, Greg Wadley, Alan Korn, Jefferey Kennedy (who admittedly I have had no contact with for about thirteen years), and others besides. I didn’t contact any of them firstly because I couldn’t and secondly because I was concerned that if I arranged anything I might have a paranoid attack and need to be back at the airport just in case the strip of land between the city and the airport crumbled and I couldn’t get to the plane. You know. Remember my sleep accumulation at this stage was: about 20 mins just before the NY-Chicago flight took off, about 20 mins on the Chicago-SF flight, and about 3 hours in the Chicago hotel – this is over around 48 hours I think. So I am getting a little weird. And also I think it’s kind of offensive to people I respect to be saying ‘well, I wasn’t going to come to SF because I’m so freakin’ busy, but guess what, I’m here and I really want to see you’ – it’s rude. So I took the BART into town and tried hard to recall where the good places were. It’s funny, about 15 years ago I used to feel I knew SF really well – possibly an illusion – but while I still love it a lot as a city, I no longer remember where anything is. I thought, well I’ll just go to Haight Street because at least I know that’s one place where I’ll find the free papers or whatever that will jog my memory about where the good stuff is.

So I got the BART to Mission and 16th, set off in three directions (the maximum I could have) from there before I was going in the right direction, and made it to Haight. It’s a pretty bad street, particularly the closer you get to the Golden Gate Park end, but at least I found a few good things like the coffee shop where I was sure Greg would be hanging out but wasn’t:

The place Greg should have been.

and the Ethiopian restaurant which I love but which was closed, and the record shop where I had seen the American pressing of the first Skyhooks album when I was last there – on tour with Huon, 2001 – and always regretted not buying. This time, they had the American pressing of the second Skyhooks album (!!!) but it was too expensive, I had too little money. Instead I bought three things – a Martha and the Vandellas album from ’72 that just looked cool, I got that for Mia (I already got her a copy of Music from Big Pink from a thrift store in Manhattan, one of those sumptuous big thick-cardboard gatefold affairs), an old National Lampoon from ’74, and an American pressing of the third Dragon album which – get this, get this! – is not only in immaculate condition BUT it’s a promo copy, white label! And it was so cheap. And maybe this is what it takes to get me back into collecting records (nah, probably not, but it is a really cool thing to have).

I talked a bit to the guy behind the counter about the National Lampoon. I used to subscribe to this magazine in the mid-70s, when it was still quite good but as I said to him, incredibly misogynist and kind of porno, which kind of washed over me at the time, either because I was too young or everything was like that then. He said he had been brought up adopted by older Catholic parents who would not have let him see that kind of thing but somehow he managed occasionally to get a glimpse in some fringe tobacconists' in his little home town and found it extraordinary. I think we were kind of empathic even though we were sort of talking at cross purposes (particularly since he probably only understood every second word I was saying because I was NOT. COMPENSATING. FOR. THE. FACT. I. WAS. TALKING. TO. AN. AMERICAN).

Then I wandered aimlessly for a while, then I decided – oh yeah, the San Francisco Public Library! They’ll probably have something about [the one suburban place I am interested in in SF but have never seen]. And so I made my way there, by now confident that the SF Public Library is probably open all night and serves mohitos. So I went to the history section and there was a guy there who was massively, incredibly helpful, served a great mohito, and got me the ‘vertical file’ (as they called it – quaint) on SFW. It was great, and included one fine original source to promote the estate in 1912, and another most interesting piece of work published to puff it a bit in 1937, two things I never would have found anywhere else I’m sure, so I guess what I’m saying was I didn’t see any friends, I didn’t have the maximised cool places SF experience, but I did get to do a little more fine research on top of the quality research I had achieved over the last couple of weeks, and I got that great Dragon artefact that only I would really appreciate.

As well, in the catalogue, they had an item listed that appeared to be a heritage report on SFW, so I really wanted to see that. I had to go to another floor and request that, and the guy told me to wait at a table and he’d go and get it. In truth the library is not open all night, or only the disco section is, and it was now 5:30, they closed at 6. And so I waited and waited and finally I went back to him and said ‘I’m worried that if I don’t get to see that item soon, I won’t have time to read it’. And he said ‘Wait, I have absolutely no idea what you said just then’. And I repeated it with the capitals and full stops and he chucked superiorly and said, ‘you have half an hour’, and I said, ‘well when will it be here?’ and he looked confused and then looked around his desk and then he found it, which would have been a great moment for me to become something I have never before tried out, a smug superior prick, but then we both had to laugh because it was one page, and not even filled up with type. It was essentially useless to me but I spent a couple of minutes retyping a couple of sentences from it and then I left the library feeling like I had actually done something pretty freaking fine. Of course I may discover, if I ever sleep again, that I actually made notes that were sunokt riw after riw if cinokete h=guvverusg like that, or that I was actually still asleep in the Chicago hotel room and yet to wake up… that would be poor. But look at this stage I feel like I did make something out of my crap, so let me feel it a little longer.

Then I returned to Chicago and had a coffee and some very yummy San Pellegrino plain mineral water on one of the vouchers. The funniest thing about the National Lampoon is the ads, which aren’t meant to be funny but which are all for wood grain cabinet stereo systems and really gross looking albums. Oh, my flight’s been called. See you on the other side… I hope.

[Later: I would like to say the remainder of the trip was uneventful, but in fact the bullshit continued, including Qantas losing my bag which was not returned to me for two days, but was, at least, returned, and sitting on the tarmac at Sydney Airport for over an hour longer than planned because of the exodus from Sydney that morning due to the freakin' Pope. The one thing I will say in favour of Qantas is that two Qantas employees actually came up to me and asked me where my bags were (!). One of these even advised me of the way in which I could turn this to my advantage eg I could get out through a special door because I had very little to take with me, or something, or maybe she just liked the look of me. Actually by this stage I looked pretty miserable. And four days later by the way I am still battling the lag. But I will survive.]

Friday, July 18, 2008


I have had the BEST TIME in New York. Let me take you through (or, as they say in New York, 'thru') some of it.

I was staying with Irwin and Fran in their delightful apartment near Central Park, they have been extremely gracious hosts (they're not here now, they went to their holiday place). I did not help Irwin with his computer problems (I tried, briefly, thinking all the time 'I'm not an expert, what will I do if this fries the thing?) and I failed to persuade Fran to come with me to Forest Hills Gardens to, you know, snoop around. But they were great to spend time with and I was particularly pleased that they are, like, people not hotel staff, who no doubt are people - don't get me wrong - but they are not paid to be people during their work hours. The worst of these was a man whose name I will not publish here as it is decidedly distinctive but who put me through the damn wringer over a booking I had arranged to be paid for on a support staff credit card about six weeks ago and who was incredibly rude to me by the clever trick of treating me like anyone would treat anyone (wait a minute, I just said that was what hotel staff never did - I think my argument just bit itself in the tail with a poison fang). Hotels are not nice. Alright, they are a little nice in small doses, but they are the opposite in large doses yet even if I hadn't come from hotel 'hell' (you know, the kind of 'hell' most people on earth will never know about, let alone see or experience, and could not imagine) I still would have loved being here in Manhattan in this marvellous flat with these extremely delightful people.

On Wednesday morning I had brunch in a Ukrainian restaurant with two former members of a band I once wrote a book about and the partner to one of them and the daughter to the other of them, which was lively and convivial and the food was excellent, as was the grumpiness of the proprietor when we changed tables. After that I was directed to the Strand, a bookstore or perhaps the bookstore, let's compromise and say one of the bookstores, because I had expressed an interest during the brunch in reading Suze Rotolo's book, and it was suggested that it would be there, cheapish, and there it was, along with a bunch of other things I am now going to have to lug (that word does not do justice to what I am going to have to do, unless you imagine it in enormous 10-foot-high letters made of concrete) half way round the world, back to my lair, where I will ignore the banner on which I recently wrote, 'I will stop buying books' (but these are special and rare and useful for my job and the last I will ever buy). After that an event I had planned for did not pan out so I just mooched around for a lot of the day, taking in the extraordinary experience of there just being people, people all the time. Every time I took a subway, which I did a lot of, I would come out of the subway having studied the map intently and immediately go off in the wrong direction. The wrong direction always felt intuitively right. It never was. I think there was in fact only one time in the entire two days when I started walking in the right direction, and it was only because I genuinely had no idea - therefore, a 50% chance of getting it right, whereas clearly the rest of the time something else (perhaps something to do with the travelling on the wrong side of the road/train tracks? The position of the sun?) set me awry. No matter: it was all so great, and I usually had plenty of time to make my appointments. Last night I went to Battery Park City and suddenly a really phat and groovy sounding reggae band were playing. It was Steel Pulse. That's a bit like 'his mother bought him a synthesiser, got the Human League in to advise her'; I mean, someone in NY said 'let's have a reggae band' and someone else said, 'yeah, let's get one of the most prominent and respected British reggae bands of the last 30 years'. And they did.

That time, I saw two episodes of violence. Both quite funny. In one instance, a black man hit a white woman on a subway platform - she was shocked and affronted - but in fact his hand had shot out involuntarily because of the force of a sneeze. And in another instance, as I walked away from the Steel Pulse concert, I saw an old Italianish man hit a rasta: he was gesticulating wildly as the rasta jogged past him. The Italianish man called out after him, 'I beg your pardon sir!'.

Yesterday I saw a hilarious exampled of NY crotchettiness on the subway. A woman asked a man to move over a little on the slightly depressed plastic seats, and he refused. She should have known better as he was already sitting in that way that makes the torso the mid point in the right angle of the legs (sorry, I don't know how better to describe that). And he refused to move, saying 'I'm not going to put my ass there', pointing to the slightly raised part of the moulded seats. They continued to bicker, and he asserted that 'normal people fill a normal space', and she capitulated saying 'I'm sorry you're having a bad day', to which he responded forcefully, 'I'm having a great day!!!' Manhattan is seemingly like this huge share household, where everyone is jostling and bitching at each other. Or being nice, I suppose.

This morning I went to Forest Hills Gardens, which is an exceptional middle-class (now richascroesus) development of the early 20th century constructed in a curiously odd mediaevalesque-over-tudor easy style, where the streets have names like 'Greenway South' and 'Nordern'. Hot stuff. Then I took a train to Sunnyside Gardens - only a few stations down the line at Woodside, but the trains don't stop, so I had to go all the way to Penn Station and come back, which was a hassle but who really cares. I was shown around Sunnyside Gardens, another housing development of the mid-20s, by two very delightful and interesting people who had lived there a long time and had recently aided the classification of the area as historically valid, which it certainly is.

Then I went back to the Strand to see if they had a copy of the book about Forest Hills Gardens or any of the books about/by the creators of Sunnyside Gardens but they let me down on that one but that's OK. I still bought a bunch of other things, thinking all the while, 'how the hell am I going to get this stuff home?'

I had an 8:30 appointment with Wil Greenstreet, who plays saxophone at the viewing deck of the Empire State Building. Wil was once known in Australia as Billy Green (here he is in 1970, playing guitar for Doug Parkinson In Focus in a great song he wrote) and I had made contact with him for the purposes of a book I am writing. We had a great chat and he should write his own book in my opinion (well, he has, but it's a book of exercises for playing the saxophone; I mean he should write a book about his life). He talked about writing the soundtrack to the absolutely brilliant film Stone, and about moving to Orange from the Netherlands when he was 9 (!!). Great guy, I really warmed to him, and what little I heard of his playing up there (I had to get back), was sensational. He took me up the ESB as his guest and it was a hoot seeing him converse with everyone he met along the way (in terms of security/ shepherding staff) and these ongoing conversations (mainly about music) he was having with them daily. And by the way the guy's 65, or will be sometime this year, but he looks about my age. Perhaps that's what NY does to you (unless it turns you into the crazy man in the Google NYC t-shirt who was on my train coming back, who was yelling out at the top of his voice about what a german shepherd would do to a pit bull 'He would kill it ALIVE! You get one german shepherd and three - no, five - pit bulls and that German Shepherd would come out, not a scratch on him. They go for the jugular. You wanna bet? I bet you as many pit bulls as you want. Pit bulls, all they can do is pit! (Yes, I really do think this is what he said, and I laughed inwardly, and outwardly later).

It's been really hot, and very humid, and the subways have just been like ovens (but the trains mostly beautifully airconditioned). Queens (where Sunnyside is) was much more pleasant, incidentally. I will certainly be glad to get back to a natural state of winter, more appopriate to this time of year, and of course I miss my homelife and Mia. But this little snapshot of NY has been brilliant, and I would like to right now thank everyone who made it so for me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I have been moved to think about my American visits of the past. My first visit was 1986, just over half my life ago. In fact, I turned 21 in Portland, Oregon, the day I 'nearly stepped on' (i.e. saw) a rattlesnake in a cemetery. That was an excellent day anyway, driving around the boondocks (whatever a boondock is) with Calvin and Lois. I think it was probably my best birthday, at least in adult birthdays, because of the novelty and the sense of possibility. I introduced my new northwest friends to the music of The Verlaines and The Go-Betweens. Just previously, I had spent time in SF with my friends Patty and Alan and had formally met for the first time Steve and Katherine, who were my publishers then and whose publishing company I am still working with now, so that '86 visit was plainly very formative and important. And the US then was a weird parallel universe, with the funny money and the 'to go' and 'regular' and the incessant, almost pathological, politeness (whereas Australians feel they really care).

I was crazy about the States, particularly in light of my ambivalent British experience (in truth not entirely Britain's fault). So it was hardly surprising that I agitated for The Cannanes to tour there, though I can't quite remember when this was. '91 perhaps? Surely earlier? How funny, I knew the year at the time. Well, there were a few visits around this era, because I also brought a girl to the States who won a competition to see New Kids on the Block - I remember the NKOTB show,* it was hot, and I remember going to SubPop in Seattle, and I don't remember much else. This must have been after the first Cannanes tour. Maybe not. I also came to the States in '89 or something with a former girlfriend - that was a debacle I think I must have been nuts. I am pretty sure I was nuts, actually. I was certainly a very unpleasant person who should have been punched. That was the time I played on one of those Go-Team records. I really should work out timelines before I blog rampantly, don't you think? Oh, there's always the opportunity to fix it later should I come to care. I think that time I stayed totally on the west coast and had a petit nervous breakdown in Patty's beautiful apartment near Haight. So there are a few visits late 80s-early 90s.

Then there was 96, another Cannanes tour this one my last, then there was 01, the Huon tour. All these rock tours, driving for very long periods of time and going to amazing places for no time at all so they are just jumbled memories of streetscapes and strange conversations. It's no use saying I wish I'd written it all down at the time because I did but then I lost it.

I still think you don't understand the US until you travel comprehensively within it, which I didn't really do until... actually, I probably still haven't, though the 01 tour was quite extensive and strange, passing through all those fine places like eastern California and New Mexico etc... in hindsight, wonderful things to see/experience. But I think the best way to experience the US is probably to do so underwhelmed, which is probably only what I'm managing to do now, and whether that's to do with the fact that it's my 7th trip or my 43rd year or the 2008th year of AD or I don't know what. I'm still overwhelmed by things I've seen - I loved eating plantain chips at Pullman, don't get me wrong please - and I still can't get over the Wrigley building, and there are people in the States I am very fond of. But the overall construction is as negative as it is positive, and that is, let's face it, a cancelling out. Or am I letting egalitarianism turn me into a cipher.

*I recall one funny moment. My friend Candice Pederson was there, and she said of the fireworks and the thousands of adolescent girls at the end of the show, 'I heard there were fireworks the first time you had sex'. This was a very, very good line. I also remember the bouncers for NKOTB on the stage at the end of the show picking girls out of the audience to meet the boys backstage. Dead set.

jetport rail

’10 HOMES IN PATH OF JETPORT RAIL ROUTE’ Broadmeadows and Keilor Observer 6 May 1964 p. 1

‘Ten houses are in the path of a tentative route for the new railway line planned between Glenroy and Tullamarine jetport.
‘Most of the houses are in Langton St. at the Eleanor St. end.
‘A plan showing the “most suitable” route for the jetport rail link was tabled at Monday night’s meeting of Broadmeadows Council.

‘JETPORT RAILWAY PROTEST’ Broadmeadows and Keilor Observer 27 May 1964 p. 1
‘A public meeting at Broadmeadows on Monday night decided to protest against the jetport rail link project.
‘Eight houses in the Langton St., Jacana area, will have to be demolished to make way for the railway.
‘Establishment of a third track between Spencer Street and Jacana is estimated to cost £2½ million.
‘At Jacana the railway will go under the standard gauge line and Pascoe Vale Road and continue through a cutting into open country beyond Jacana.
‘It is the cutting that will necessitate the removal of houses.’

‘JETPORT RAILWAY “A WHITE ELEPHANT”’ Broadmeadows and Keilor Observer 20 May 1964 p. 9
‘The Tullamarine jetport railway would become a “white elephant” Cr R. Wallace told the public meeting at Broadmeadows on Monday night…His view was backed up by other speakers.
‘Mr. M. Price, of Mickleham Rd., Westmeadows, said the railway would have only limited use by passenger traffic.
‘The expenditure of £1½ million [sic] on the proposed line was unjustified, he added.
‘Mr S. Whight said he had just travelled around the world and businessmen would rather take a taxi from a jetport than a train.
‘Mr. W. Murphy gave the viewpoint of Tullamarine residents when he said people in his area wanted the right to use the train service from the jetport.
‘At present, people had to go to Essendon more than four miles away to catch a train.
‘A plan exhibited at the meeting showed a proposed station on the east side of Mickleham Rd. south of Western Ave.
‘Among residents affected by the railway proposal at Jacana are Mrs Ivy Porter, and Messrs D. Godwin, Hogg, Brown, J. Heaton, J. Smr of Langton St., Mr M Stone, of Becket St., and Mr S. Laird, corner of Langton St. and Eleanor St.’

no sleep, no record shopping

[10 July]For the second time two nights in a row, I have woken up absolutely wide awake at 3 am. It’s amazing how wide awake you feel when you don’t want to be wide awake at all. It seems to me I have never been so wide awake! This must be something akin to ‘I have never felt so alive!’ Anyway so this is my 4th day in Chicago, and the day my conference actually begins (though not until the afternoon).

There is no doubt now that it is jet lag, but the extreme warmth of this most unpleasant room in a major hotel chain is another factor, and so I have set the air conditioning to arctic.

[13 July]I am extremely tired, overtired some might say, and feel like I am doing a high-wire act which will end all of a sudden when I run out of money and I crash into the street below. But it’s OK. I won’t really crash. Bill Meyer took me out to a place called the Velvet Lounge on Friday night to see Fred Anderson play saxophone with a marvellous band. It was marvellous. (that is my review).

[14 July] A few months ago I had a dream that I was in Chicago and I forgot to do any record shopping. Damn! Anyway here I am in Chicago and I have actually done no record shopping. When I went out with Bill M on Friday night I said something to him like 'oh yeah, where are the record shops?' and he said something funny like, 'exactly', which was a great 2008 music enthusiast's comment, and I applaud it. But he told me and I then forgot/neglected to do anything about it. Tonight I remembered and there is a Reckless Records up the road a long way from where I am - it might take half an hour on the L etc - but what do I want? And why do I want to spend money in that way? Wait till NY. Maybe something will seize me and I will become myself again. Meanwhile I am just happy here in front of the computer eating my swag from Trader Joe's - a 'Strawberry Smoothie' (actually, just a juice drink, not a milk drink), some Organic Tortilla Longboard [corn] Chips, Dried Dragon Fruit, Dried Bartlett Pears, bagels, and an apple. I still have a bag of chilli dried mango from my last Trader Joe's visit, but I ate the Banana, Flattened today - it was very nice (whole dried squashed banana AND NOTHING ELSE). Come to think of it, that was pretty much all I did eat today - weird. And a bagel this morning. Then I went off to Schaumburg, a place described to me (fairly accurately) as an edge city but which I had to look at for its space use. Its use of space, nothing to do with outer space exploration, incidentally. I took the Metra to Schaumburg because I had figured out how to take the Metra by this stage, and I like it (it's not the L, it's a separate network that takes you much further throughout Chicagoland, with a very cool interior arrangement of upstairs and downstairs, see pic)
Every time I rode on it, I was upstairs. Today, going to Schaumburg, I travelled in sight of what I assume was a mother and early teenage daughter, daughter had a rubber baby which they were taking turns cuddling, sometimes daughter would cuddle the baby and mother would put her arm around her/them. I'm not judging anybody, just reporting, I don't think anyone was I N S A N E and besides I was probably the only one there who had purchased chili dried mango and was going to Schaumburg to look at spaces. It was hot out there, by the way and in a way desolate. I wasn't on my I heart suburbia kick today, somehow, though parts of it will haunt me in a compelling way.

I have run out of salsa, fuck it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

teaching international students - a rumination from a few years ago

A university subject about contemporary Australia for international students – most of them in the country for only a semester – is an education indeed. For me, the tutor. I always tell them (partly in the hope of getting them talking from the beginning) that I learn at least as much about Australia through their eyes as they do. I have always lived here, I tell them, aside from some brief sojourns in the US and UK. Perhaps I have an overly benign attitude to Australia’s (perceived?) egalitarianism, relatively trouble-free multiculturalism, and longstanding democracy. Perhaps, I tell them, I need to have this problematised by an outsider’s eyes.

For the most part polite and respectful, the last thing this melange of Asian (mainly Sri Lankan with some single representatives of South East Asia), US and northern European twentysomethings would wish to do is cause a problem, much less problematising. However, they do it by default.

Pauline Hanson is of course one hurdle. Curiously, last year’s batch of internationals (proportionally, pretty much the same groupings) brought Hanson up as a phenomenon. They’d heard of her and were worried about her influence (an Asian student was adamant that she had made a proclamation on television early in 2004 that she had become a lesbian, a claim I took merely to indicate the degree of her celebrity in the Asia-Pacific). I adjusted the course to pre-empt their queries this year. None of the new group even claimed to have heard of her. Irritated – I see her as a blip we had to have, and a manifestation of perceived disenfranchisement, rather than as an important indicator of Australian attitudes on race – I am stuck with Hanson over my shoulder for the rest of the semester. Students will later write in essays about the ‘Hanson government’ or the about her introduction of racist ideas to Australia; as I feared, they came to ascribe her too much importance. Or do they? In one class, they passionately argue with me that her clear electoral appeal in the late 90s – not to mention the way in which Howard has adopted a number of her ideas – shows that Anglo-Australians are racist. I retreat into entreaties not to generalise.

All students – and this would possibly extend to some Australian students too – have a major difficulty with the appellation ‘Liberal’ on a major conservative political party. By a process of elimination, they tend to assume that since the Liberal party must be ‘liberal’ (it’s like gay pride: why would you claim such a title if you weren’t?) then the Labor party must be the conservative party. Faced with a whole lot of concepts that don’t correlate to America – ‘Democrats’, ‘Republicans’, and the aforementioned Liberals – the Americans tend to zone out on political matters, apart from one student who declares preferential voting to be ‘really lame’.

The Americans and the European students are distinctly different from the Asians, in interesting ways. The Asians have often been in Australia for a longer period of time, know how to engage with it on a day-to-day basis and are, in some measure, respectful of what they see as an interface with The West equal to and interchangeable with the US or Europe. The Europeans and Americans are far less forgiving. It is in their interests to identify elements of Australian culture they see as ludicrously derivative, such as the young Danish men who claim every 20th century Australian painting in the art gallery is an imitation of a well-known European artist (in their defence, they do not mean to be derisive but find this ‘interesting’). Others claim that Australian television is besotted with American television and that Australian television programs – though they cannot name any examples – will soon be swamped under globalisation. Another student writes an essay condemning Australian cities for imitating the USA (you would have to assume a margin comment from her earnest assessor entreating her to read Graeme Davison and Lionel Frost went unnoticed); still another claims that Australian cities are ‘close-knit’ and that this is the reason Shapelle Corby is a cause celebre in Australia in a way that would never happen in the USA.

In this kind of environment, what does one hope that students come away with? Hopefully, some of their preconceptions have been challenged; more commonly, they express disappointment that the subject was largely about non-indigenous Australia’s politics and culture rather than Aboriginal issues, which they naturally see as the unique to this country.

Additionally, they have used the subject to express some of the frustrations they’ve felt during their time in Australia. This is not, strictly speaking, part of the syllabus but in the context of discussion about their Australian experiences it seems relevant. Their complaints might be about the way the University itself lured them – neglecting to mention its distance from the city and lack of decent public transport, for instance – or has treated them since their arrival. Some students are paying $200 a week for accommodation run by private interests near, and recommended by, the University. Perhaps this is the most important lesson they can teach us in the tertiary sector: the little (?) things matter a lot for the international students who provide so much income for the nation’s universities.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

wide eyed

So I'm in this quite nice hotel in Chicago, the Amalfi, I get to sleep at a reasonable hour, 11ish, then at about 2 am I am wide awake, don't know why, perhaps I overdid the coffee at around 7pm, deceived by the sunniness outside into forgetting it's much later than I would normally be drinking coffee, but gee, American coffee by and large is as weak as weak coffee drinker's weak piss, so I am not expecting that to have any kind of kick to it. So I'm awake, and I start flipping channels, going around 5 or 6 times, there is a tv movie (?) with Scarlett Johanssen in it and some other actors I recognise, an ensemble piece about some lame-o teens who break into some kind of facility to resit their SATs. I think the film has been stretched a little for widescreen as SJ looks like a bit of a fat dwarf. And also there was Becker, CSI Miami, something called RedEye, constant Family Guy (god that show grates on me) but not totally constant because it then switches to other cartoons, for 'adults', including some stopframe animation thing Seth Green is involved in and which is totally out there and in parts entirely incomprehensible to me. I was interested to see how much some shows (ones to do with money or science fiction disasters, or murder) made me uneasy and angsty at that time of the morning. And then I think I will go to sleep, but I don't, I just lie there staring at the ceiling and imagining how shithouse I will feel the remainder of the day, and that's guaranteed. Then I read about half of a book by Carl Smith called The Plan of Chicago which I had purchased earlier in the day, well, I suppose, the day before (it's confusing; I had a Monday which lasted about three days, you see). Very interesting stuff. And now I am in the 'business center', a two-computer-n-a-printer setup on the floor above my floor.

So far Chicago has been great, I enjoyed the Historical Society Research Center and going through the fire insurance maps from last century, and the I M Pei design for Hyde Park in the 60s, etc, this hiccup is a bit of a bummer (because you spend a lot of time being wide awake at night then get exhausted during the day and do dumb things). I suppose it is some kind of jet lag but it doesn't entirely make sense, as it would be - I can't do the maths - bed time, or thereabouts, at home.

Monday, July 07, 2008

time the world over

Once in the early 90s I interviewed a minor American actor over the phone who asked me what month it was in Australia (he thought they were reversed).

i am at the airport

I am at the airport and I haven't slept all night and I feel very much like large amoeba are swimming across my line of vision, and the departure signs say that one should 'Relax', which is a grand piece of advice I would say. But with the Garnaut report and ... flying how is that possible!? Anyway it's all good. I have a Mojo with Slash on the cover and his pugnacious features are calming to me. See you soon.

yes it was a good weekend thank you

It was a good weekend, seriously, the weather was nice (canberran, cold yet sunny) and I had a really nice time at the Lurid Yellow Mist launch on Saturday night, though unfortunately tension, nerves, or schoolboy exuberance prompted me to give Olivia the finger in a silly way just like I said fuck you to Kellie the day before at Guy's birthday. What a baby. Anyway. Saturday I bought two apricot trees, one for us and one for Julian's birthday, it's kind of a bad present an apricot tree inasmuch as, it didn't come with an offer to dig the freakin' hole to plant it, though I did get some compost to go with it. I also got Nicola H. a birthday present only ended up not seeing her as she had a cold and her birthday breakfast was cancelled. We had a good breakfast this morning at a cafe in North Melbourne after being turned away from two pompous bugger cafes in Carlton - who cares. And I finished the Richard and Mimi Farina book by David Hajdu which was tops even though he is pretty nasty to poor Donovan. As long as he keeps being nasty (or fair) to Dylan I'm cool with it. I can't remember what else happened on the weekend but it was OK.

Hey do you ever listen to Dirty Deeds on RRR? It's a truly wonderful gardening show and I recommend it. You can podcast it here. Enjoyable even if you don't have a garden (Annabel) or care about gardening (well, that's probably me - no I do care - actually I care more all the time). Bye!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

by the way where are they now

People are stopping me in the street to discuss my sentimental post of last week re: things I remembered. They were particularly interested in my friends from that time, Felicity Provan and Mark Gurvitz. Where are they now? This is a good question. I saw Felicity Provan's name in a record by a jazz group called, if I remember correctly, Merry-go-round or maybe they just had a merry-go-round on the cover of their record and they were called Killing Massacre. From what I can gather she is a saxophonist and well-known and respected in her field. I don't know what happened to Mark Gurvitz, he was American and was only in Australia temporarily I think, until his parents tracked him down no, his parents were very nice and even glamorous as I recall, his mother made jelly oranges. So since he disappeared completely out of my life in 1972, I thought I should have a look for him on the internet and he may be a tv producer, or that might be someone else with his name. Anyway I feel about as creepy looking up old schoolfriends on the internet as I would if I were looking at the Anna Nicole clown video online, and I imagine it only compounds the problem by writing about it here.

Meanwhile, it rained like billy-o this morning at exactly 6:22, I know the time because that was when the train was meant to be pulling into Broady station but it didn't so we all got wet. I had a hankering for a donut upon landing at Melbourne Central but none were evident. I have to write a spoken word version of a conference paper today, and a seminar for a few weeks away, also see some students, and hopefully I will get to spend a bit of meaningful time with the 1924 volume of the South Yorke Peninsula Pioneer. There was a lot going on in SYP (as it's known) then, and it's my white man's burden to Tell Those Stories.