Friday, December 12, 2014

The Good Listener

This one goes out to all the teenage girls at the sushi train hopping on the Bitch-fest Express, the lawyers escaping the workplace for a coffee and a whinge outside the courthouse, and that couple at the Italian restaurant who are quite possibly on a first date thanks to Tinder (which explains a lot) – for god’s sake, enunciate.

How am I expected to know why Missy is a “totes whore-bag”, how you can tell the witness was drunk or whether you’re star sign compatible if you mumble?  It’s like only watching the first 10 minutes of Gossip Girl, or the last 5 minutes of Law & Order or any of The Bachelor – frustrating in the extreme.

I know I’m a stranger, but have you considered using fewer incomprehensible verbal acronyms so I have time to google the ones you do toss around?  I realise I’m tuning in to a private conversation, but would it kill you to lay in a bit more exposition?

So goes the internal monologue of anyone who has ever enjoyed the high art of Eavesdropping in Public Places.

There’s a real skill required to pull off a successful Tune In to the Radio of Randoms.  Dare I say it (spoiler alert: I dare), there are in fact some unofficial rules to the jig.

1. Do not make eye contact with the Talkers.  That’s just rude.

2. Avoid audible responses (laughter, gasps, snorts of judgmental derision) to the Talkers.  In the Best of circumstances it will play like an odd tick, in the Worst it will appear you are reacting to an invisible friend, in the Middle the jig will indeed be up and they will accuse you of being rude.

3. If your friend gestures sideways with their head, and a well-placed eyebrow raise, for god’s sake Shut Up – there’s a vastly more interesting conversation happening within your vicinity.  Take a hint, don’t be rude.

4. When with friends, and thus Listening as a Team, avoid any quick analytical breakdowns of which one of the high schooler Talkers is Gretchen Wieners, and which one’s Regina George, while they’re still beside you.  Listening is a two-way street.  Also, it’s rude to sully the legacy of Mean Girls with anything less than half an hour of heated discussion on the topic.

5. For the truly skilled Team Listeners, develop a generic, meaningless patter you are capable of keeping up while really Listening, in order to better throw the Talkers off your scent.  Sample patter:
A: I’m not really sure.
B: Did you check the velocity of the object?
A: No.
B: Strange.
A: Very.
B: Allergic to mangoes.
A: That’s what they all said…
And so forth.

6. Under no circumstances should you become so swept in the Listening, that you find yourself blurting out the answer to a random question.  That’s less rude, and more disconcerting (and in the case of the man who blew his Listening cover to give me rapid, un-requested directions to the café bathroom yesterday, incorrect… so not worth blowing one’s cover for really).

Painefull Out

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Ghost of Housemates Present

If a housemate moves into the woods, but no one sees her… has she moved in at all?  Or is she just paying an exorbitant amount of money to store her clothes?

Clothes like this wet suit, which fits me perfectly

We recently underwent a changing of the guard at the Cliff, with Marika abandoning ship, and Mandy moving in as her replacement.  Mandy was an excellent choice – easy going, good at sharing and she laughs at my jokes (thus proving conclusively that she has an excellent sense of humour).

There’s just one thing… I can’t actually remember what Mandy looks like.  If you did a line-up of appropriately proportioned blonde girls, I’d struggle to pick her out.

I literally haven’t seen her in almost two months.  There are two clear reasons why this might be the case.

Option A
The grand burden of being in a healthy relationship is that you actually have to spend time with your significant other.  Mandy is so enamoured with said Other that she has no use for a lounge room as cold as a freezer, in a building which now appears to flood annually, on a street where parking has become a bitter, bitter knife fight with that douche who leaves snide notes.  In this scenario it also becomes apparent that she is the first person to live in this house and be in a relationship at the same time.

Option B
Mandy is a spy, and ‘Mandy’ isn’t even her real name.  ‘Mandy’ is her cover identity, and the Cliff is simply one of many safe houses she keeps scattered all around the world.

Option B is clearly the most likely, but let’s just stay open-minded on the topic for now, because none of this is even the real issue.  ‘What’s the real issue?’ asks everyone everywhere (all of them).

The real issue is: What should we use her room for?

1. A part of me instantly blurts out ‘sewing room’ (even though I don’t sew) because I am my mother’s daughter.

2. A second part of me mutters ‘home gym’ (even though I would never use it), because I am still that same daughter, and thus have had it drilled into me that I should probably go for a run because it will somehow make me happier.  And that I really don’t need that second piece of bread because I should still be full from the porridge I had 6 hours ago.

3. An upstairs cellar.  Vastly more practical and likely than a home gym.

4. A Rear Window style set up, featuring a telescope, in order for me to solve crime in the neighbourhood.  The seedy underbelly of the Lower North Shore will be unveiled when I finally unravel the masterminds behind such misdeeds as The Case of the Missing Mop Bucket, The Curious Incident of the Glove Box Thief in the Night-Time, and who the hell owns the cat that shits on our front porch every single day without fail.

5. A dog kennel.  In order to breed the mortal enemy of the cat that shits on our front porch every single day without fail.

6. A craft room – because paper mache feels like something I didn’t fully trial in my youth.

7. Walk-in-wardrobe.  Stop laughing mum, of course I’m joking – my various pairs of jeans fit perfectly where they are.

8. Bo-ho café furnished with ‘found’ objects, featuring only tea and staffed by the street gang of tweens who loiter on the corner and threaten to make people buy their abstract paintings.

9. A warm safe place to hatch baby chickens.  Because of course.

There are some advantages to having a housemate who’s MIA.  For one thing, it saves me from trying to figure out how to tell Mandy not to use my tea cup without sounding like a total knob.

Also we now have a back-up room for our next Annual Plumbing-Based House Flood.  After the last one a few months back Layla had to move everything she owned into the lounge room.  Now I don’t want to say she’s a hoarder or anything, but if the mammoth pile of newspapers which appeared to be older than that soup I made 3 years ago that’s still sitting in the freezer is anything to go by… an Emergency Flood Storage Room might be a thing worth having.

Of course the best laid plans of mice and crime sleuths can be easily over-turned by the Ghost Protocol Housemate herself should she want to use her own room.  So selfish.

Painefull Out

P.S. During the latest Annual Plumbing-Based House Flood one of the tradies casually said “You should write a blog about this.”  I don’t know what’s more concerning, that Deputy Hot Plumber & Co may have discovered my re-telling of their last visit, or the idea that “You should write a blog about this” is now a passing statement that can be made between strangers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Time Machine

This year my birthday celebrations were intimate, but the hat parade was fabulous
Each year it arrives.  Inevitably, uncompromisingly, wordlessly.  The date of our birth is like the steamroller bearing down on the henchman in Austin Powers – constantly rolling towards us, while we remain paralysed and incapable of getting out of its path.  See what I did there?  In the name of an analogy I used something that peaked in the 90’s, got tiresome through repetition, and now ultimately just feels dated.  Kind of like my birthday.

The clearest thing I know for sure about aging is it sure seems to Grinch me out.  I wrote a stream of consciousness list, and completely without planning it, it became the highly positive, totally life-affirming, upbeat catalogue of:

Things I don’t like about getting older

The list featured all the usual complaints about physical changes.  ‘My back hurts’ was literally the first thing I typed.  It still hurts by the way.

No longer being viewed as young in the workplace
Why does this bother me?  Probably because it was somehow connected to my secret hope I was a child prodigy at something.  If you’re still getting the coffees at 29… I think that ship might have sailed.

The fact that I still don’t feel like a grown up
Grown-ups understand what the hell their superannuation fund does.  And probably have one of them, rather than six.  Grown-ups don’t wear jeans to work, they wear slacks, or skirts, or astronaut suits.  Grown-ups don’t live in share houses, or have to borrow gardening sheers from their parents, or have large mounted movie posters adorning their lounge room walls.  They have personal space paired with a hideous amount of debt, a gardener that comes on Thursdays and a burgeoning modern art collection.

Young people, because they’re annoying and stupid
I mean.  Obvious.

The property market, because it’s annoying and stupid

Realising my parents are also getting older

The insertion of hashtags into verbal conversation
And YOLO.  And other acronyms I don’t understand because I’m old and too scared to admit I don’t understand the annoying and stupid young people.

Getting out of bed has not become easier
I was told sleeping in was a youthful fad I would overcome.  I have not.

Vacuuming, shaving and choosing what I eat for dinner – 3 things that always seemed like thrilling privileges during my childhood, marvellous gifts I would attain with age, are awful things I somehow tricked myself into looking forward to.

Coming to terms with the fact that I probably can’t take my nephews in a fight anymore
Why is this important to me?  Because I’m not a real grown up perchance?

Coming to terms with the fact that I will never appear on Survivor, am yet to solve a crime in the manner of Miss Marple, and haven’t stumbled across my own undiscovered musical talent (a skill I haven’t worked at because I assumed it would just find me)
What have I done with my life?

That plan I always have about working overseas feels just as vague and base-less now as it did when I started talking about it 10 years ago

My inability to ride a bike uphill
It requires three things I currently lack – fitness, balance and, in a surprise twist, a bike.

The fact that I was pretty sure I was going to be a published author by my early 20’s
Mostly because of Zadie Smith.  I blame Zadie Smith.

I have failed to develop the ability to walk in heels.
Like my hidden musical talent, I thought it would just appear one day, unbidden, without practice, and simply occur.

The biggest recurring theme appears to be Things I Haven’t Done.   I think the worst part about getting old is the memory of what you thought you’d be by now.  It’s not traumatizing or anything, and I know I was a bit of a douche in my youth, but I can’t help but suspect Young Me would be totally disappointed in Old Me.  Young Me thought Old Me would have Figured Stuff Out, while seamlessly becoming a Sophisticated and Worldly Human Being who was widely recognised as a Flawless Genius Who Only Ever Had Amazing Ideas.

I struggle with aging, not out of vanity, but because I know it’s meant to be significant, but I’m not sure I’ve isolated why.  It’s something I have no control over, will happen whether I like it or not, and requires no special skills, so how can that by itself be considered an achievement? 

There are some good things about getting older.  It’s a shorter list though:

I like the people I like more
I love the people I love more
I can stay up as late as I want

I’m sure there’s more to that list.  Perhaps I’ll add my failure to add to the second list on my first list this time next year.  Or maybe the whole thing will just make more sense when I’m older…

Painefull Out

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Do I Know You?

I dread meeting excessive amounts of new people, not because I don’t like people (though… fair point, there is that), but because I’m terrible with names and faces.  When someone is introduced to me it’s like my brain does a 5 second samba to the tune of a foghorn, drowning out all possible information in that window.  By the time the window is closed it simply cannot be re-opened.  And just like that, you’re screwed.  You’re left to make do with elongated “Hiiiiiii”s and ill-fitting nicknames and calling women 20 years your senior “playa” in a total blind panic.

I have worked with people for 3 years and not known their names.  And these weren’t people I was on mere nodding terms with, these were people I used to have in-jokes with.  I knew the in-jokes, but not their names.

Once I decided to cheat, and drew myself a diagram of desks and got a sympathetic friend to fill it in with names.  It worked a treat for 2 weeks and 3 days, until everyone swapped seats.  It was like a cruel game of musical chairs.  Suddenly I found myself approaching a man I was fairly certain wasn’t called Kirsty, and mumbling a slurred version of the word “Ribs” before barrelling into conversation to avoid being asked to clarify what I’d called him.

I’m an equal opportunity offender when it comes to faces.  Today I decided to change it up by going to the Woolworths across the road from the Woolworths I usually use (I know what you’re thinking, STOP living on the edge with such bold life choices Painefull, you’re playing with fire).  At the check-out the woman serving me asked how I was with that tone of familiarity that implies more than ‘I’m trying not to look at the clock as I wait for my shift to end’.

ME: Um… good?  Thanks…
CHECK-OUT LADY: You’re my neighbour.
ME: Am I?
APPARENTLY MY NEIGHBOUR: You live in a flat at 98.
ME: I do…
HOPEFULLY MY NEIGHBOUR OTHERWISE HAS TOO MUCH INFORMATION: I’m in 96 – you park out the front of my place all the time.
ME: Oh.  Hi.  Sorry.  Yes.  How bout that…

As a sidebar, this is why, despite my aspirations, I have not talent for crime fighting.  If this woman had committed a crime repeatedly as I parked my car outside her house every day, and after a year the cops had asked me to describe her, their notes from that interview would have read…

Suspect has hair.  Is definitely a woman.  As tall as this-ish.  Hair might be brown.  Has face with nose.

But perhaps it’s even trickier when you do recognise someone, they recognise you, but neither of you has the will to go through with the socially mandated interaction.  Then, as if by magic, somewhere in the empty air between you, an unspoken agreement is formed to each pretend the other person is invisible.
I lived in perfect harmony with such an agreement for over a year, studiously avoiding eye contact with a former colleague on the non-explicit understanding that while he and I don’t have a problematic past, there is simply nothing to say now.  We had worked together, but never socialized, and neither of us had remotely enough information on each other to sustain even the smallest of small talk.

And then, for no apparent reason, after 14 months of harmony, he broke our deal.  He addressed me directly while we both stood in line to get coffee last week.  It was such a betrayal of everything we had been through together.  It’s like I don’t even know who he is anymore… all over again.

What followed was an awkward non-catch up, a barista who seemed to slow down just to spite me, and that classic, hurried spasm of a farewell: ‘We should totally do coffee, I’ll call you or you call me, and we’ll make it happen, we could grab a drink or something!’  I like to think he understands the unspoken contract we both entered in that moment to do none of those things, but it’s hard to say with this guy.  He’s clearly changed.  I guess.  Barely knowing him at all it’s a little hard to say.

Life goes on, unspoken agreements to never speak continue to be made.  Just this week I entered one with a girl at pilates I suspect I went to school with.  Now, once a week we will sweat, breathe loudly and do exercises that will make us feel like we’ve been punched in the stomach the next day.  We will then busy ourselves rolling our mats, gaze listlessly at distant corners of the room when passing each other and leave in a staggered formation to avoid any possible risk of exposure.

I think it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Painefull Out

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Painefull New Year’s Eve

Welcome to 2014.  I’m 5 days late, but welcome anyway.  Let’s say welcome to the Real 2014.  The one that truly begins after the festive season ends, when work, and credit card payments, and sun stroke bring you back to reality.  Now that you’ve finally given in to your liver’s pleas for mercy, now that your oldest sister has finished dancing on the table, now that you’re torn between taking down the Christmas decorations and just re-branding them as The January Tree and The Year-Round Fairy Lights, I bid you a Happy New Year.

Scruffy is such a festive season hack - any excuse for a costume.  This is him wondering if his owner, my sister, hates him.

Was your New Year’s Eve disappointing?  A let-down?  63% of respondents say yes*.  Or they can’t remember, but the photos indicate they pashed someone who turned out to be a 3 instead of a 7.

My New Year’s celebrations were delightful, and I have decided the charitable thing to do is to share the secret to that success, the key to never being disappointed again.  Let me say, in advance, you’re welcome.

So, the math is simple.

Bottle of champagne + selected episode of Dawson’s Creek + the sound of fireworks occurring somewhere in the distance (apparently it’s a thing around Sydney Harbour?  I don’t know, I smell a fad) + leisure wear = A Very Special New Year’s Eve Tradition.

As is often the case with world-shattering discoveries (like the slinky, and Harrison Ford) I stumbled upon this equation by complete accident a few years ago.  It hasn’t let me down since.  How can you be disappointed when you know what’s going to happen (shock twist, Joey gets on the boat with Pacey)?  How can you feel let down when discovering ridiculously cheesy dialogue from your favourite high school show of yore (Jack’s Dad: Someone had to make the first move, Jack: I just didn’t think it would be you… Jack leans over and moves symbolic chess piece)?  How can you not WEEP every time Gran nurses Jen Lindley on her death bed (sorry, belated ‘spoiler alert’, but there’s a reason Michelle Williams is the Oscar nominee of the bunch)?

James Van Der Beek's stunning re-enactment of me weeping

Still not convinced that unlike NYE, Dawson & Co won't let you down?  I’ll let the evidence speak for itself…

- At no point will you curse the day your feet were born, and the crazy, over-sexed, hurtful and under-supportive shoes they get mixed up with
- You can watch Dawson’s ill-fated dalliance with the crazy, over-sexed, hurtful and under-supportive Eve, a character so shoe-horned into the story you can never quite remember why she’s there, other than to provide another non-obstacle to true love

- When you stumble to the bathroom you won’t accidentally interrupt a coke-binge featuring a notoriously unhygienic surface
- You get to watch the great ‘Say No To Drugs Kids’ episode where the strait-laced Andie pops her first and only pill, then promptly almost dies because there is absolutely no in between boys and girls

- You can avoid those deeply awkward interludes with random friendship outliers who you only see once a year, and whose name always escapes you
- You can watch everyone in Season 4 pretend that Pacey has always had an older sister called Gretchen who they’ve just failed to mention or see for 3 years

- There is no danger of being trapped in a corner in one of those epic drunken conversations that starts to feel like Waiting for Godot- meets the countless re-stating of the ultimate prize in a televised singing conversation (which is to say circular, unending and pointlessly repetitive)
- Every time Dawson and Joey have an earnest 3 minute conversation about being soul-mates, or Joey reassures Pacey that Dawson is her ‘past’ and Pacey is her ‘future’ (seriously, I counted 7 of those) you can just fast forward while topping up your glass

- There will be no battle to find a cab and get home
- Your bed is just around the corner.  It’s calling you.  The real challenge is tearing yourself away from watching some of the Oldest Looking Sixteen Year Olds of All Time (of ALL TIME).

Mouse can barely contain her excitement at my presentation

It doesn’t really need to be said, but I rest my case.

Painefull Out

* = survey was conducted by Painefull Statistics, and quality control assured that 100% of respondents were fictional