July 15, 2009
Inspired by the Inter Collective‘s and Tom Cho‘s blogs, I thought it might be useful for me to try to synthesise my thoughts about my various projects in not-too-lengthy, not too flowery blog posts. Often I fly through these projects without noticing what I’m doing, hence I learn nothing from them. This means that with each project I repeat certain mistakes that reduce how proud of them I can be. Hopefully by putting them up where I can view them more analytically I will be able to fix these bad habits more quickly.
Man there is this incredible documentary about a kids-with-Tourette’s camp on at the moment. It’s midnight, the documentary is on Channel 9. I’m just going to write down what the kids do for a while.
One girl is standing in the middle of the room barking. A girl watching her starts yelping and then she shakes and bends her body really violently. The barking girl starts hissing. Now they’ve cut to a different scene of her calling people faggot and barking at the same time. Now she’s having the following argument with herself: “I hate you. No I don’t. I really do. No I don’t.” A different scene, now a girl is relatively peaceful but if you look closely her body is never still. The first barking girl has kicked off a riot of barking in some kind of dining hall. One of them is a little boy and he doesn’t like the noise. Don’t know what his problem is. The shaking and bending girl is in her home now, when she wakes up she jerks constantly. She imagines cracks in the floor that she hops over. She hops so much that she has broken the floor. If something touches her she has to touch it back. Now she’s stabbing a pancake with a fork really hard. She can’t put on moisturiser because she goes through all these things between putting the drop of moisturiser from the tube onto her skin. She also hits herself.
Anyways, these are the things I’m doing at the moment: an honours thesis with a 10,000 word prose fiction portion and a 5,000 word exegesis; a zine of creative writing and some drawings and shit; a book of art and art writing with an exhibition, pending the success of a grant application; an acquittal of a different grant application that must be handed in before the most recent application can be assessed; looking for someone to act as a writing mentor for me and a publishing company that will give me work experience; weekly articles for the West Australian; weekly articles for Sunset Events; some band bios; some press releases.
The main thing that I’m thinking about today is whether I’m getting better at doing all this stuff at the same time. I’m doing okay. Today I didn’t do any reading, I’m supposed to be making my way through like four books on psychoanalysis by next Friday and I’m still on the first book. So now the blog will be used to think about what I have to do tomorrow: CD reviews for the West, finishing the chapters of The Interpretation of Dreams that are relevant to me, and then a meeting with Sarah about Rounds. Oh and a press release about the LIMV Cookbook II.
Oh, and I have to start waking up before 10:30.
These kids are super depressing, but not as depressing as their angry, resentful parents.
November 10, 2008
I am in a reflective moooood at the moment. Past posts on this blogotron have contained mainly elongated anecdotes of dubious interest about my vapid tourist activities. Go to some place, take a photo of it, have lunch somewhere, take a photo of it. This to me is the most honest way of traveling. Before I left Australia I got into hot soup with some people I barely even knew because I vehemently stated that travel doesn’t offer you much in the way of useful insight about other cultures (nb: I am fun to be around). This applies particularly to fly-in-fly-out stays in cities, during which your main exposure to culture is commercial transfers and tourist books, but it also applies to longer ones like mine (which, by the way, is also dominated by commercial transfers and tourist books). I may have lived in the US for three months but I still have only a superficially better insight into what it means to be American than I did before I left. This is partly because I am not an extrovert so I haven’t gotten amongst the culture on a deep level, plus I’m not that interested in finding out what it means to live and be born here anyway, but still, I’d like to venture some observations about the US and its people, regardless of how insulated from the truth such comments might be.
First of all, Americans (that is to say, the Americans I’ve met and eavesdropped on, which is to say the Americans at SUNY New Paltz who take my classes, live in my resident hall and eat at the dining hall I use, which is to say a few hundred middle-class Americans from Long Island between the ages of 17 and 20) appear to have no internal environment. They seem to speak every thought they have. Thoughts like, “I want an ice cream cone.” One will say to another, “They’ve got the strawberry sorbet out tonight,” and the other will reply, “I like sorbet,” and this will be said incredibly loudly and rapidly, and it will be followed with a non-sequitur like “Dude, when did you wake up?” There’s a lot of the saying of “dude”, that much is accurate in college films. Less commonly portrayed in film is the saying of “yo”, which I think is used as frequently as “dude” to start a sentence. There’s a lot of “Yo are you going to Hasbrouck?” (The main dining hall.) Or “Yo she has got mad titties.” “Mad” is still a popular intensifier. This kind of speech pattern is used by guys who still take their stylistic cues from Fred Durst – backwards hat, little beard, t-shirt and jeans or shorts. I did not expect that. I thought the people here would be much more urbane, and if they weren’t I thought they’d be dressed in a shitty style that was lifted from someone more contemporary than Fred Durst. I hoped for the common mode of dress to be that douchey Brooklyn hipster kind of look, but mostly people have adopted a relaxed but colourful hip hop style. Particularly true of the black and Hispanic students, who are probably the best dressed kids on campus. To relate this paragraph’s most recent digression to its topic sentence, the black and Hispanic kids have a similar habit of immediately voicing whatever is in their heads, or seeming to at least. In their case it’s most often hip hop lyrics: there’ll be silence outside my room in the resident hall, then suddenly “YOUNG MONEY LIL WAYNE” rings out, followed, further down the hall, with “THEN THE MUSIC DROP”. But it might also be, “Oh fuck no, you did not just crash and lose my paper, you asshole.” This was said in the computer lab by a girl who spoke many such sentences to herself. This has been one of the alarming commonalities to Americans: it’s not just the insane and homeless who talk to themselves. Someone will be walking towards you, all normal-like, then they’ll suddenly say, “She a bitch anyway.” I swear they aren’t speaking into a headset, they are talking to themselves. The other most common piece of aberrant behavior I’ve witnessed has been public, superfluous spitting. It crosses barriers of ethnicity, age and class.
Getting back to black kids, my wigga friends will be happy to know that they speak in hip hop-isms in casual conversation. This is often satisfyingly rap skit-like when they say stuff like “Where the party at? Them niggas bounced already.” But it feels weird when they say something more mundane, such as, “We all out of detergent son. We been doin’ mad laundry.” There is also, in general, a lot more contribution from students in class. I was shocked the first time a teacher called on a class I was in to find that a number of hands shot up, instead of everyone embarrassedly looking at their desks and hoping that someone will break the silence with some comment. The class dynamics remain the same as in Australian universities, there’s the older student who loves to make himself heard (not always me), a younger, affable student who contributes modestly when the class most needs it, the completely stupid kid who never says anything worthwhile and complains about things they don’t understand, and a morose young man who spouts cynical, Naomi Klein-style clichés. But then there is also the senior who has embraced Buddhism, and the freshman whose puritan upbringing bars her from sympathising with Clytaemnestra. There are also a ton of severely disabled kids around. One class I’m in contains both a partially deaf girl who is recovering from severe depression and a girl in a wheelchair who reminds me of the boy in a wheelchair from Malcolm in the Middle. As I was entering class one time, she was being helped by a different girl in the class while suffering frequent abdominal pains. Then there’s the girl who walks like she’s just gotten off an incredibly wild and fat horse, the other girl in a wheelchair, the blind girl, the guy who might be physically and mentally disabled, or from Eastern Europe, or just weird, and the guy whose left side of his face has about 20% extra skin and tissue mass, and is sloping downward like it’s melting. There are also a number of students who had children in their teens. Plus, basically everyone smokes weed, and talks about smoking weed. Some girl outside the dining hall was playing checkers while blazing up a huge pipe. Which is ballsy, considering that police cars patrol the campus 24 hours a day.
That’s another thing: in my half-assed cultural theory internal monologue I have often supposed that people in a society that is highly policed will suppose that they are doing something wrong, even if they aren’t. Drug use is made such a big deal of by the legal age being 21 and parents playing such a huge role in the life of students on campus (every few Sundays the dining hall is full of families visiting their siblings/children and college brochures address parents more often than students) that even though I am allowed to purchase alcohol and can do so at more places and with less money than I can in Australia, I often can’t bring myself to do it because I’m afraid someone will disapprove. I feel intense scrutiny at every stage of the process – while I’m looking, while I’m carrying, while I’m buying, while I’m walking home, while I’m drinking. When I drink I do it in the computer lab when it’s empty at 2 in the morning because I don’t know what my roommate will think of it. (On that note, my roommate is the exception that disproves all the rules about Americans that I am setting up here. He is very nice, thoughtful, quiet and doesn’t spit.)
There is a slightly different tone to interactions between students and teachers. They are more adolescent. I had a professional writing teacher at Curtin in around 2003 who was old, about 60, but had just received her PhD. She had been a longtime high school teacher, and we were one of her first university classes. One time some of the students asked some standard clarification questions about an assignment and she refused to answer them, condescending that we were in university now and we had to take responsibility for ourselves. Ironically, her exhortation for us to be more mature undermined our maturity. The same thing happens with some of the teachers here. It’s inscribed into a lot of university rituals. They don’t tell you their first names a lot of the time, for example. They just write “Prof. Tromanhauser” on the board. I think I mentioned before how anyone who teaches a class is called a professor, right? One of the teachers takes that attitude to a second level by prefacing all her comments with “students”. “Students, I want to show you a video on YouTube today, but I can’t operate the screen. Can someone help me?” The other day, two days after Obama won the election, this same teacher showed us a video of Kennedy’s inaugural address. (In fact she showed it to us twice because the one she selected had about 30 seconds worth of “important” material cut out of it.) Afterwards she was crying, which engendered an incredibly awkward silence. Then she goes, “Am I the only one crying?” Yes, you are the only one crying about the YouTube video broadcast onto a whiteboard in front of 18 people who were born 20 years after the 60s. Eventually she got mad at us for not being as moved as she was and threatened to dismiss the class if we didn’t appear to be more interested. I don’t know what her point was, exactly. She enjoys showing us YouTube videos without unpacking them. Before we started to read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas she showed us a series of YouTube videos of Hunter S Thompson. In one of them he was silent and expressionless while about five non-noteworthy people talked to each other. In another he talked about how he wanted to be buried, and she cried during that too, after conspicuously positioning herself next to the projected image. So, when she threatened to dismiss the class and wouldn’t move on because “this moment” was “too important” or whatever, people ventured half-thoughts on the election which she cut off by barking Why? at them. Then if they tried to explain why she said Why? again, getting inexplicably more irate. Then she goes, “Why do you think the world is so rapturous about this result? What does Australia think about it, Matt?”
I look up from the scribble I’m working on and go, “Hm, oh, uh, well, I don’ t know, I have a lot of friends who – ” then she cut me off and started talking about how America has alienated the international community by being too bossy and not listening to them. Irrrrrony.
Anyway, I have gotten bored of this topic so I will put it away for now and bring it out again another time. Ladies, please, try to withhold your excitement. Save it for the next chapter of Matt Giles Keeps a Blog.
October 20, 2008
So, I was back on my feet! I had had an assful of intellectual celebrity injected into my ass and it made me realise, oh boy, I’m on holiday! If I can watch Salman Rushdie make a bunch of false-modest jokes to a fawning audience on the third floor of a second hand bookshop, imagine what other kinds of wacky crap I can get up to! It kind of hit all at once how many opportunities I had to see some cool shit. And that was when I went to Chicago.
Much of this post will be redundant because Esther and Emma have already spoken to some degree about their respective trips to Chicago, one of which contains 66% of the same content as mine, but nevertheless I’m going to plow ahead with it. And if you aren’t friends with either of those people you are in for a treat, although you miss out on their delightfully hilarious fractured takes on life.
I went by myself, so who took this photo of me asleep on the train? Well, funny story, I sat next to this randy Romanian vineyard enthusiast who says to me, are you a member of the Two Feet High Club, and I says… no, I took that photo. This is me doing a simulation of what is impossible to do on an Amtrak train, and that is, have one moment’s goddamn peace. It’s not a noisy experience (apart from the one guy from the Bronx striking up conversation with a mother/daughter pair out of Queens full of facile truisms:
“Dey love Noo Yawkers on the west coast, dey love us. dey love de way we tawk, de way we ack, everyding’s direct, dey love it.”
“So why are you headed to Chicago?”
“Because I love dis country. I go everywhere, Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle, Ohio. Everywhere. I love it.”
“Do you work?”
“No I’m retired.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a secret to retirement.”
“Oh, please tell us.”
“Ahright. Awl it is, ya gottah give up some dings. Dey’re cawled the faw Cs. Comford. Ya gahdah give up some comford. Convenience. Ya gahdah give up a liddle convenience. Caw. Ya havta give up ya caw. And yes, ya must, ya must give up ya credit cawd. Yes. Yes.”
So your life is uncomfortable, inconvenient, immobile, and eBay purchase-less? No-thank-you), but, as that ridiculous parenthetical demonstrates, you are exposed to a lot of *shudder* people, and the seats are mysteriously built in such a way that prevents any kind of slumber. The Greyhound buses are quite conducive to sleep, but there’s something about the seats on trains that prevents your head properly resting against the window, very odd. So the 20 hour journey was done mostly awake, a bit like the flight from Perth to New York, though at least on that one there were stopovers. Well, there were stopovers on this journey too, but they were in like, Ohio, and Indiana. No, I didn’t get out to see them, they occured in the middle of the night. I wasn’t asleep mind you, it was just really cold and dark, and well, we were just at a train platform. So instead I read White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Quick review: I quite liked it, I endorse it, I want to read more things by her. My favourite parts were the representations of Jamaican and, uh, Raggastani cultures. There was one line I really liked that ended with the Jamaican grandmother saying “… and don’ bruk up dem legs,” which I think I laughed out loud at. I must’ve read 200 pages on the rides to and from Chicago. Another reason this trip was like my flight to the US is that Penn. Station, like an airport, is frickin’ huge! I arrived with only 10 minutes to board (got waylaid buying socks, underpants and big coats at Uniqlo, which I now visit on a weekly basis), got lost for five minutes. If I had to line up for a ticket instead of just printing it out at a kiosk I would’ve missed out on my whole trip and seeing the very lovely:
Emma Breheny! Let me tell you folks, she has not changed a bit. Her hoity-toitiness remains at her regular Leederville (or wherever she lives) levels, despite flitting around in the lap of eastern European, former-Soviet bloc luxury, and she was able to meet me at Union Station (which, let’s take a second to appreciate absolutely one of the best things I’ve been inside of:
I tells ya, there’s no better place to set off on a crummy, microwaved food and obnoxious midwesterners-laden sleepless day-long journey) and guide me around the city. A huge help and a major difference from the completely indifferent, shapeless experience of wandering around forbidding, unfamiliar New York. Not least of all because we didn’t go into the city on the first day, we just walked around the super nice neighbourhood around our hostel, Lincoln Park. Like the band!
I have no explanation for this photo. Lincoln Park just really likes the Tin Man. Maybe the guy who played him was from Chicago. Anyway, we didn’t even look around Lincoln Park that much, we went almost straight to the festival whose line-up drew Emma, and therefore me, to Chicago in the first place, stopping only to view a massive pile of garbage just sitting in the middle of a river without any kind of explanation or supervision.
The festival was pretty bitchin’ really. The organisers offered me free tickets after I told them I was a journalist for a rinky-dink Australian newspaper, but they didn’t tell me I was definitely on the list until two days before I left New York, by which time I had already bought a ticket. I told the organisers that, basically complaining, and they sent back an email that very delicately explained that the show benefitted the performers and local charities only. I felt very bad, but that feeling was erased once I started partaking of the VIP benefits they gave me: FREE BOOZE FOR ME AND MY UNDERAGE FRIEND.
UNLIMITED FREE BOOZE. They really know how to set up a VIP area here. All the ones I’ve been in at Perth festivals require you still buy your booze, the selling point is the smaller line. Which is actually a pretty good bonus, given the fact you often can’t just walk around with booze at Australian festivals, whereas in Chicago people can walk around with their babies
and their booze.
and their balls.
Not sure what band that guy’s in, alls I know is that they had accents and played psychedelic metal, so I think they’re the Czech band who were on the bill. Wait, are Black Mountain, who were also on the bill, from the French part of Canada? If so, could’ve been them. I cannot tell a Czech accent from a French Canadian one. And on reflection you can walk around with alcohol at most festivals, just not the Big Day Out. Am I right? I don’t know.
So Emma and I got preeeetty pissed, watched Neko Case and a bit of Hercules and Love Affair, neither of which I really enjoyed, has to be said, then retired to the hostel in preparation for the next day.
We had breakfast at a “nice place”, which are actually in quite short supply in America. Actually, I’m sure that’s not true, it’s more likely that “turd places” are in abundance, and such places are concentrated in the easily accessible areas of every city, and those are the only places I visit. Still, there are an awful lot of them, and it was a great pleasure to finally have coffee at a place that used CHINA. Actually I had tea. They had to check if they had English breakfast. The other day I was making tea and this girl asked if milk in tea tastes good and I said, yes. Then, thinking I could funny, I said, no, it doesn’t! I’m really going to hate this! As with all my other jokes, this one was interpreted as hostile, and she meekly explained that she had heard of but never tasted milk with tea. In the end, we did not make friends. This is a demonstration of why I haven’t made friends with any American students since coming here.
But anyway, Chicago! Chicago really is brilliant. You can tell from this photo, probably. It feels huge, but not claustrophobic. I’ve come to really enjoy New York and even to think of it more like any other stylin’ place, like the corners of Walcott and Beaufort or King and Murray streets, but you have to get used to its ways, and until you do it seems very harsh. Not so with Chicago – I liked it straight away. Apparently it’s the architectural capital of America, the birth place of American modernism, and the city is best observed with your neck at a 45 degree tilt.
Ahh. I explored the city more after Emma left, but while we were together we went to the Art Institute of Chicago, which a Pakistani woman doing a masters of fine art at New Paltz said is supposed to be better than the Met. If we’re going by how many paintings it had that I recognised or recognised the name of the painter, then it isn’t. For there were only two:
When I saw this I verrrry slowly recognised that it was the painting Cameron stares at in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, then I slowly realised that I knew that movie is set in Chicago, then I slowly realised that I was walking around the same museum Ferris Beuller and Co. walked around on their eponymous day off. I got waaay too excited about that for about five seconds.
But my favourite was this gigantic metal clothespeg:
Afterwards… or before maybe, we checked out this thing. That was nice, looking at the Wikitravel page and going, oh yeah, Wilco are from Chicago (right?). And then we sort of walked around town.
In addition to being really big and pretty, Chicago makes really good use of its waterfronts. I can see what people mean when they say Perth doesn’t do the same. But it also has little bits of it that are clearly from other decades that act as entertaining little retro patchworks. They’re like imperfections that make the place prettier, like the big nose on that girl from Kill Bill who fights with a ball and chain. The second day at the Hideout thing was even funner than the first. The New Pornographers were really great, and I expected them, based on my most recent viewing, to be so-so, and Ratatat were also great.
They had really huge hair. Their synth guy was the best, he was really into the songs, especially the beats, he flipped out with them. During Wildcat he mimed a panther’s mouth with his arms during the growl. Afterwards, sadly, Emma had to go back to Canada, but I stuck around to do this:
Throughout, I was thinking, man, we gotta get some shit like this in our town. I don’t know how you do that, but also, I don’t know why I was thinking that. Do I want to have something beautiful and strange in a prominent public place, or do I want a prestigious object to raise the esteem of my home city? I don’t know, but also, I don’t think it matters too much, because in the end both ends get served. It also made me appreciate the public art we have in Perth more, like those big quill things on supreme court gardens. Not so sure about the kangaroos in that same area, though, or the guy doing a hand stand on Hay Street mall. They’re okay I guess.
But the moral of this story is, after I spent another goddamned 20 hours on a train going back to New York, I had shaken off all my unfamiliar environment jitters, leaving me with three more months to try enjoying myself, rather than sulk while downloading episodes of The Daily Show. I was a new man.
October 9, 2008
Hey, I prepared a joke for my post about Xiu Xiu that I didn’t use, so I’m gonna bust it here. It went like this: “This show was tubular. Because during it, I went to the toilet and did a shit that was perfectly cylindrical.”
Okay so last time I wrote in this thing I was summarising the funk I got in at the end of August and the beginning of September, and doing it quick because I don’t want to dwell on it. Even though I enjoy painting myself as a victim, it’s getting tedious and repetitive and more to the point, it’s not indicative of where I’m at now, and the kind of time I’m having. Plus, stuff’s happening now that I want to report but can’t because of my boring holiday news backlog. For example, today the bar girl at this place on Main Street in New Paltz told a joke she thought I couldn’t hear that went, “How do you give a black guy CPR? You put one hand on his temple and one hand on his chin and say, ‘So long, nigger!'”
Anyway, after the three week rut of boredom and depression I got stuck in after Xiu Xiu, things quickly got better. One of the major upturns that occurred after that initial chafing was gaining a buddy. Her name is HASHIMOTO.
I initially made friends with a Japanese guy named Shotaro, but we kind of parted ways after a couple of weeks, and then he got enveloped into this crowd of Americans (no idea how, nor why that hasn’t happened to me). So that acquaintance went nowhere, but through him I was introduced to Kanami, who came up and said hi a couple of times afterwards and then we became friends. Again, not sure how, but I think it’s because we are in similar boats: neither one of us has been hugely great at making friends, yet both of us are clearly awesome dudes.
I have helped with some of her assignments, and in exchange she has provided me with a bit of company. Not sure why I’m not making friends, but it’s something I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on these past couple of months. I guess I just don’t really do that very quickly, while everyone else here does it super quickly. If you’re sitting by yourself, reading the paper or whatever, people just plonk themselves down in front of you and you’re expected to make friends. I don’t like doing that, it appears to me to be using strangers purely to ward off loneliness. I like to have some kind of reason to be friends with someone. Do other people feel that way? Plus everyone here is super young, or super annoying, or (most commonly) both. Plus their eyes kind of widen and glaze over when I speak to them. It’s as if they barely understand a word I’m saying. In fact, at first there were many instances when I couldn’t understand what people were saying, or make myself understood. Mostly this was at the hands of disinterested service staff who spoke quickly, monotonously, looking away from me, through those speakerbox things they put into glass screens that turn every sentences into “Wah werr weer wah”. But also, the first time I ordered an omelet at the New Paltz dining hall I said,
“I’ll have ham, onion, cheese and tomato.”
I said “tomato” in the English way, “toe-mah-toe”. The omelet guy, Big D as he’s known, replied,
“Tomato, tomato,” I said. I pointed at the tomato bucket.
“Oh, toe-may-toe,” he replied. Then I said,
“You say tomayto, I say tomahto.”
A similar incident: on my first ever visit to Starbucks, I was next in line to order, rehearsing what I would say to the cashier while she dealt with the guy in front of me, when the guy behind the espresso machine, who was white, middle-aged, and didn’t have much of an accent, said,
I said, what? He repeated his made up word. I repeated my confusion. He said it again, then a fourth time, and finally I said,
“I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
He sighed and said, “What would you like?”
“Oh,” I said. “Tall latte.”
(“Tall” means “small”.)
He started preparing that and muttering to himself, then I twigged what he was saying:
“‘Can I get something started for you?'” I repeated back to him. He nodded. Then I took my tall, way too milky latte over to a table, head bowed in shame.
These are not isolated incidents – I have about as much trouble communicating to Americans as I do to Kanami, who can barely speak English. (Although she’s very good at reading and writing it.) When I tried to buy bedding I had to work out which of the sizes “twin”, “full”, “king” and “queen” would fit my mattress. I stared at the shelves for 20 solid minutes, dumbfounded. Even now, occasionally I’ll use a term for something that the US has its own term for and it’ll ruin my sentence. Like, I’ll ask someone what what the deal is with the four numbers that come after the dash in a postcode, and they go, “what?”
Then I correct myself and say zip code, and they go,
“Oh yeah we have zip codes, it’s the five numbers down – ”
“Yes yes I know you have zip codes. We call them postcodes. What are those four numbers after the zip code?”
“What? Oh those things. That’s to do with the route that gets to our part of that zip code.”
This and incidents like it make me feel like a retard. But I’m getting better at communicating with the Yanquis. I’m starting to use phrases like “real quick”.
“If you wanna stick around and wait for the manager to return he can help you, okay?”
“Sure. Hey, mind if I go get a coffee and come back real quick?”
But getting back to the way my situation has changed. On my last venture into New York, the rather disastrous one on which I saw Xiu Xiu and was molested by jocular coke dealers, I saw an ad in The Village Voice for a reading at the Strand bookshop by Salman Rushdie to coincide with the release of his new novel The Enchantress of Florence. Imagine that! Possibly the most esteemed writer of the latter half of the 20th century, and he’ll be reading to me and some other people, only five or so metres in front of us! Plus, free wine and cheese! There were cons as well as pros – it cost $40 (which back then was AU$48 but now would be AU$59) and I was kind of grumpy about the dicking around that New York gave me last time I was there – but I figured this was one of those things that you have to go to if you’re in New York. So I forced myself to go.
Speaking about it to Katie on THE INTERNET, I told her that I was having a pretty bad time, so she said I should check out some websites that ran notices of things to do in NYC. I was like nahhhhhh not for me. Then she found out from one of them, Freewilliamsburg.com, that Lightning Bolt had played in Brooklyn at the prior weekend. I fuckin’ missed out on Lightning Bolt! Naturally, I got over my weird prejudice of travel and events websites and started looking at them and jotting down things to do in New York. It worked: I had a ball! I got there early and was like OKAY. LET’S HAVE ANOTHER GO AT BEING A TOURIST. The MoMA thing didn’t work out last time, so instead I checked out:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art! This wasn’t something I found out about on the internet, by the way, I don’t want to give that impression, nossir. Nope, I found out about it in Lonely Planet. The place is beautiful, it has an aura by virtue of completely dwarfing you. You feel like you’re in a place of great significance.
Which, apparently, you are. It’s one of the three biggest art museums in the world, or something. The lobby is very big and there aren’t signs as such, you’re supposed to use these maps they give ya. And there are swarms of people going every which way, which I found confusing. On this trip I’ve discovered that I’m very easily confused, I’m going to be one of those old men who get angry at Woolworths stock boys because they can’t find the cereal aisle for me. But even with a map I was stuck, because I had no idea a) which artists they had in the Met, or b) what I would like to look at. So I did what anyone would do in my situation: I went left. Into the sculpture garden!
The photos don’t really do it justice. The ceiling feels like it’s three or four storeys tall, and I can’t quite get that grandeur. (By the way, I think Americans spell “storey” like “story”. Just FYI.) But it too is awe-inspiring. Despite this, once you see one really old thing you’ve kind of seen them all, so I quickly went looking for a different area. This time I went right, hitting everybody’s favourite: Ancient African art!
So, much like before, once you’ve seen one piece of ancient African art you’ve kind of seen them all (although the huge ovoid penises were a surprise), so I made another move. This time I consulted a map and found the modern art wing was pretty close to where I was, so I went there. These paintings were slightly more interesting to me because I have spent at least six hours contemplating modernism in art as part of my cultural studies minor, so I was officially qualified to have ideas about them.
Once again, I got tired of looking at things worth dozens of millions of dollars. I was starting to get one of those all-body aches, which doing basically anything in New York seems to give me. I’m starting to think it’s related to my flat feet. I’m also starting to think I have a hernia. So, fading fast, it was time to go to the one thing that I knew would be at the Met that I was actually interested in. It was the first really breathtaking experience of my trip. This:
It was really beautiful. The treetops of central park, the Manhattan skyline, the unseasonably warm day on top of a roof, this was the kind of experience that I imagined New York just shits out like it ain’t no thing, and I was finally getting to experience it. I guess what I really wanted was to do something that would make people wish they were in my shoes. Or at least, still in their shoes, but at my time-space coordinates, and probably next to one of their friends in their shoes. This was probably something like that. It overturned my misgivings about coming to America (now a major motion picture) immediately. Plus there was a little cafe stand up there serving Coronas:
So, that was pretty righteous. I was feeling UPBEAT. I could’ve stayed up there for hours, or, more likely, 20 minutes. I didn’t though, because it was almost time to go watch Salman do his thang. I narfed a salad
and caught a train to Broadway in Soho. I got out of the Subway and again I thought, fuck me, I can’t handle all these people, these smells, not knowing really where I am, seeing poor and rich people alike talking irritably to themselves, piles of garbage taking up space on the footpath, all of it! Then I saw an Urban Outfitters and I thought, “I know that name from ads,” so I went in. I got a pair of super well-fitting grey Lee jeans for $40! Holy shit! I felt like a total dork for not knowing how to let the changing room girl know that I wanted to use a changing room (I swear, there are a million needless service people jammed into every consumer operation over here. Any time I want to do something, I stand still and waitto be descended upon by someone enquiring about how many items I want to take into the changeroom/how many diners in my party/am I looking for the Dead Sea Scrolls/would I like some help with that ornamental Sears Tower paperweight) and I felt utterly gross because of how sweaty me and the clothes I was changing into and out of were, but I’d now officially gone shopping in New York. I felt like I was on a roll, so I went back out onto Broadway for another strike. See, before I left New Paltz I’d noted Uniqlo’s American flagship store on my list of things to do based on a note included on Wikitravel.com, a passing recommendation from Katie, and their super awesome website! It’s basically like American Apparel, but cheaper, with more variety. The store lived up to expectations.
On my first day I only bought three pairs of socks (you get three for $10) but since then I’ve bought three t-shirts, three more pairs of socks, four pairs of boxer briefs, a parka, a pair of jeans, a flannelette shirt (which was discounted by 50% two weeks subsequent, so I’m pretty steamed about that) and a “waffle-weave” long sleeve shirt. When I get back to Perth I’m going to be a walking endorsement to all other not-really-young-anymore, balding, underweight, Irish-or-something males. The t-shirts come wrapped in plastic! Like Bonds shirts, but when you wear them you look like some kind of Japanese skateboard company owner, instead of Perth hipsters circa-1997.
Then it was time for Salman. There was a bad mix up that led to me standing outside the shop in a line for the elevator, which wasn’t actually a line for the elevator, because there was no line for the elevator, people had made their way up to the third floor expediently and were enjoying plates of brie and free tote bags without me. I made it at some point.
A review: if I were to say this was good, you might get the impression that it was enjoyable entertainment to watch Rushdie read from his book. It wasn’t – the book itself felt middling, and though he’s expressive he’s no great performer, and he’s probably hard enough to follow on paper when you’re able to concentrate and backtrack if you get lost, let alone when he’s reading it out and your mind is wandering to, what will I ask him if I get picked during the Q&A session? So I won’t say it was good, but it was certainly very interesting. It was like a carnival sideshow freak being trotted out for us all to have a look at. There’s Salman. He’s famous. He was nice and charming enough, in the way you expect someone would be charming to a room full of people they neither know nor respect (for you cannot truly respect someone who fawns over you, and there is no other way to describe a crowd that has paid $40 to see you read somewhat poorly from your somewhat poor book) yet are obligated to spend an hour with. I wanted to get him to write a humorous message in the free copy of the book I got (something like “Matt, I hate you”) and the wine I’d had emboldened me to contemplate asking for a photo with him, but after about 20 minutes in the autograph line it became clear that he was reeeeeally over it. By the time I got to him people were just handing their books along with the name they wanted him to use written on a Post-it to his helper, who would hand them to him, and he would sign it then place it on a table for you to pick up while he the next book. Still, it was satisfyingly weird to have him go, “Oh, hm? This is yours,” to me.
The day deflated rather than boomed to its end. Semi-drunk, I had dinner at an average Japanese restaurant, missed my bus by 10 minutes and had to chill in the Port Authority bus station for two hours. But I didn’t mind: I bought a Time Out New York. Upon reading the headlines and the articles (“Own This City!”, “Fall on a Budget”, that kind of thing) I realised that everybody else in New York is overawed by it too, they’ve just learned to incorporate their stumbles into their steps. When I casually walked into the men’s bathroom and entered the stall that I, and it seems every other seat-pissing man in New York, use when I’m at the Port Authority and swapped my hole-ridden brown Bonds socks for the fleecy, cream coloured Uniqlo one, still fresh with shop aroma, I felt that I could do that too.
And then I stopped being grumpy about everything. I switched to being grumpy often, but only about specific things.
September 28, 2008
Oh yeah! When I mentioned that trip we took to the Galleria on our first day in New Paltz, I forgot to post a couple of photos.
This is where we all waited while some asshole rangled the buses. Behind the group of trolleys is some kind of fast food joint where customers would load up on, I’m not kidding, gigantic buckets of popcorn to snack on while they shopped. And then I found this while looking for the finest, cheapest hair products:
Anyway, classes started the week after this trip. Here my troubles began. Well, sort of. The end of August and much of September were spent wallowing in misery. It was nice to have all those birds around but I was lonely and weirded out. Really crabby, just totally down on everything. I don’t really know why. Some guy who addressed the exchange students at Curtin before I left told us we’d feel elated at first then really depressed, then elated again, then depressed again, then we’d plateau out, but I just went straight to depressed. I was really disappointed in the city, I guess. I thought it’d be this modernist, cultural wonderland, but it turned out to be reeeeally dirty, stinky, full of poverty and generally gross people (there’s a preponderance of public spitters in the US, not just New York), and it was just way harder to manage, in both a physical traversing and abstract imagining sense, than I thought it’d be, and there were fewer rewards for doing so than I expected. Well, that’s not true, but the rewards didn’t leap out at me by virtue of me being there. Turns out you have to work to find the cool stuff, just like anywhere else. This is a dire situation for me given that it took me about three years before I found the cool stuff in Perth. Just think: I may never find out where New York’s 17 to 19 year old rockabilly and goth sets go to mingle with dexied skanks who compare everyone with a bob to Karen O.
But it wasn’t just the city. My confidence in my education is taking a bit of hit, too. In my first week of classes I discovered that I was basically taking all second year units. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but I also found out that in their first year here students just do general studying and writing classes. So really I was taking first year classes. Plus, New Paltz appears to be a bit of slack jawed Cletus of a school, so students don’t approach postmodern theories, or even poststructuralist theories, until they undertake graduate studies. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment. The teachers are smart people no doubt, but either because they’re forced to or because they want to, everything comes at students in a way that I really disagree with and is separate from the kind of academic world that I want to be in. It made me feel really good about Curtin’s humanities staff, but at the same time it underscored just how out of the loop I am about these sorts of hierarchies. Heather knew that the state schools aren’t so great and was able to land herself a nice one with Penn. State, but where was my knowledge? It’s true that I was limited to schools that taught creative writing and had a partnership with Curtin, but I have to believe that there are better ones out there than the one I’ve ended up at. Also weird is, it seems anyone who teaches here gets called a professor, no matter how many articles or books they’ve published. Of course, I don’t do this. I just say, “Here you go,” and give them my assignment. Because I cannot remember their first names.
But in the midst of this self-esteem swallowing miasma, I gritted my teeth. I waited for the middle of the second week, when I knew one of my favourite bands, Xiu Xiu, was playing at the Bowery Ballroom, a place I’ve seen advertised in Spin lo these many years! Whee! This could redeem all my grievances. Let’s get on with the show!
So, this is the cordoned off area that local police set up around a suitcase that had been left next to a dumpster outside the bus station. This was nice, a nice start to the trip. Completely blocked up Main Street. Which prepared me well for the massive car jam that I would witness an hour and a half later on the New York city limits:
But I made it, I made it into the city eventually. And I made to it my hostel with only a few snags. By this point I was pretty okay with the subway, I knew my way around it enough to know to catch the 6 train to Bleeker Street while only checking my subway map once between stations to make sure I was on the right route and once I was off the train I only had to look at my Google map printout of Noho constantly to make sure I was heading toward my hostel. It was getting kind of late, though, so I had to hurry if I wanted to get dinner before I hit the Bowery Ballroom. Wandered down Houston and realised, hey, I’m in Noho! On the border of Soho! It was muuuuuuch more like what I imagined New York to be. More cosmopolitan than Spanish Harlem and less tacky than Midtown. There were American Apparels all over the place, little bars, little cafes, little restaurants, one of which was an Australian cuisine joint that actually looked really good (big sign: “Meat Pies”)! Its decor and design reminded me of the Red Teapot, it was cute.
I would’ve taken a picture but I was too busy powerwalking down the Bowery (name of the street the hostel was on, home to yet more neat shops and cafes, one of which featured a handsome black transvestite wearing a gigantic blonde wig talking sass to someone on his mobile out the front of it) and found the place where my hostel was supposed to be. I saw only a cafe and a run down record shop. It was supposed to be right there. The most likely candidate for an entrance was this blank door but I didn’t trust it. I went into the record store, which turned out to be an avant-jazz specialist, and wanted to ask for directions but couldn’t just up and do that (too shy). So I bought a record. While he’s bagging it I say, do you know where this address is?” He goes, “Oh, that’s right next door. It’s literally the next door.” Turns out what I thought was a cafe was the hostel. I looked right inside but it didn’t click. The windows were big and dark, okay? I wasn’t picking up hostel vibes.
So I went in, saddled with some fuckin’ jazz record that I had no idea what it was (found out later it’s a collaboration with the Kronos quartet!) and checked in. The old guy behind the counter (“Australia, Australia… the land downunder… hot here, cold there… when we cool down, they heat up… that’s the way it goes, an’ that’s the way it goes, an’ [further mumbling]”) took my details and money then said good day and I was like, wait a minute, where’s my key? Where’s my room? Why am I too passive to ask these questions of someone who can answer them? The answer was, because I am sick of feeling like a total jackass just because I’m in a strange city with different customs where the service industry has a massive chip on its shoulder and answers such questions as if it wants to punch you in the face. So instead I went out into the street, assuming that when I returned whoever was at the desk would let me up to my room (just in case you think I’m setting you up for a dramatic episode when I return and can’t get in my room, I’m not, there was indeed some guy at the desk with my key).
I followed the old guy’s directions: south, then east. I walked that way for about 20 minutes then turned around and headed west to the subway, picking up a Village Voice to see what the Ballroom’s address was. Helpfully, it told me not only the address but its nearest subway station. I jumped on at Bleeker, went down to Smith, but when I exited the station I was, unbeknownst to myself, completely disoriented, and I headed in the exact opposite direction to the one in which I should’ve been going. It took me about, oh 40 minutes to realise this, at which point I hailed a cab and told him where I wanted to go. This was hugely humiliating even though nobody saw me do it, and it started a habit I now have when I do something stupid or something goes wrong: I saw, “Fuck me, fuck me, fucking New York, fuck fuck fuck.” On the plus side, though, I found out that they have TVs embedded in the back of the divider between passenger and driver in New York cabs! Sweet!
This is me having a goddamn fucking beer at the Bowery Ballroom after all that hass. Something that is pretty true about the US is that the beer is quite cheap. Imported bottles of beer are about a dollar or two cheaper than they are in Australia, and pints are about two or three dollars cheaper. However, once you factor in the utter nosedive in value the dollar took in August and the fact you have to tip a buck with every drink (I think?) the saving is negligible. Oh, and I learned how to tip. You pay, you get your change, then you leave a bit of your change on the table and, magically, no crumb bum up and steals it. At the bar were a million dollar notes just chillin’.
This is the first of a few terrible photos I took because I was unwilling to use the flash. It’s the downstairs bar area. Since then I’ve learned how to white balance out such shittiness. But in the meantime:
It’s a really nice place. You can see a little balcony type area where you can watch at a table with candles, very pretty.
And then, the big moment!
Xiu Xiu! As clearly as I could capture them! Not very clearly at all! Slightly disappointing I know… but that was the show as a whole, really. Xiu Xiu are a good band, I enjoyed myself, they played some of the songs I like, but it was one of those shows where you go and they play and nothing in you gets stirred up. You start to say, I’m glad I came, but I hope this is their last song. You also start to feel pretty sick because, in your desperation to calm your nerves, cool yourself, and ignite some joy in your bones, you have drunk about five beers on an empty stomach.
You have also bought three albums by the second support act, Prurient, because you thought his Merzbowian distortion coupled with his flashy lights and flailing arms was reeeeal cooool. Once the lights go up (no encore) you gladly head out onto the Bowery and think to yourself, well, that’s my night. You storm down the Bowery determined to walk the 10 blocks to your hostel instead of catching the subway because you know you won’t get lost that way. You see a bunch of guys, about eight, let’s say, horsing around. You go, ha ha, just innocent fun I’m sure, but when you pass them one darts to your left and the other stays on your right and grabs you and goes, “Get the white dude, get the white dude,” and you go Nnnnyyaaagghhh and get out of their hold (you weren’t in any danger, they really were just horsing around) and another, more serious member of their group rushes up to you and whispers “Hey man, I got that coke, I got that weed, whatchu want?” and again you push forward. Indeed you do end up at the hostel, eventually, although it’s on the other side of the road to what you expected, and you get your key off the west African guy on reception and you find out why this hostel had a spare room just one day out from your check-in date and why it cost only $30:
It is slightly larger than the bed that is in it. And there is no roof for your particular room. Instead, it opens out onto the air of the floor, and the floor’s lights are never turned off, and you wake up about six times before you decide to stay awake and leave, at 6:50am. Then you get back to New Paltz and head right into your Women in Literature class, ready to discuss Sappho!
What was I talking about before I launched into this anecdote? I think I was trying to set up the idea that the Xiu Xiu trip was supposed to either redeem all the shite of landing and floundering in New York, but in fact it was one of the worst experiences of the trip so far. Worse even than eating this thing:
This is what the dining hall calls a “vegan alternative”. I guess they’re saying death is a better alternative than giving up meat.
So I slipped into a funk that lasted about three weeks. But you know, I found enjoyment where I could. For example, making fun of the various signs around the place:
And observing some of the local characters:
And getting into the school spirit:
But ultimately, it was a poor end-of-August and beginning-of-September. Most troubling were two thoughts: 1) I basically had to bankrupt my mother to get myself onto a trip that I didn’t enjoy, and 2) I went on this trip because I felt inferior compared to everyone else I knew so casually going overseas, but this inferiority was enhanced rather than diminished by my inability to properly navigate New York. I was looking at Claudia’s photos the other day, the ones in which she looks like she’s having so much fun, enjoying the colour of the city so easily, and i was thinking fucker, why do you get to do it?
But the journey doesn’t end there, folks. There’s plenty opportunity for things to get better, and for things to get much worse. Stay tuned for what’s going to happen to this little guy:
September 19, 2008
When we last left our hero…
I had settled in for a luxurious sleep using my arm as a pillow and my scrotum as a pillow case. It had been a rough day, I didn’t feel welcome in either my new country, my new school, or my new home, and I felt all too welcome in the whinging tourist mode I had instantly entered. I was exhausted yet I wasn’t sleeping; I was kind of shivering my ass off. In the middle of summer! My mother needed to be talked down from making me buy a coat before I left (“If I go coat shopping I’d like to do in New York, not Mountain Design”) but it turns out that even the declining New York summer is shorts weather. I didn’t pack any shorts, so instead it was rolled up jeans, irritated leg pits, and sweaty back weather. Except at night, when it is rug or at least sheet weather, more things I lacked.
The theme here is that the my mind had adopted the subjectivity of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer paranoically blames all his misfortunes on New York. I was really cranky. This crankiness would in fact last me for about four weeks, it was really only alleviated yesterday, but that’s foreshadowing for later in the tale. At this moment, I was lying in bed, suddenly hot after a cold night spent on an unsheeted single mattress in a completely empty room surrounded by few people, none of whom I knew, when I heard… quacks!
Yes, that’s right, there are shitloads of ducks just running around New Paltz. I think there are some at Curtin behind the student admin building in that scar of a water feature they have there, but there are a bunch of flocks of varieties of water fowl here. There are also:
Big fat geese. First time I tried to take a photo of one of these guys, from a distance of about 16 metres mind you, one just up and started flapping and hissing at me. Of course I ran for my life then, but ever since I’ve tried to take a photo or video of them doing that a second time. For some reason they’re so chilled now that I could bonk one of them on the head and it wouldn’t care.
Help a caption out?
Nothin’ special about that, apart from his puffed out little chest. And then:
The kind of duck you get in Duck Hunt! Truly, I am experiencing the best of America. I am also experiencing, as a result of my idyllic duck-filled walks to the dining hall, mountains of faeces:
I think this portion of the entry is actually stolen from Serrano’s latest exhibition. Either that or he stole it from me. Or we both retrieved it from the collective unconscious, as my weirdly Jungian literature teacher here would have you believe.
Also awesome are all the squirrels around the place, jumping up trees, diving into bins, scampering.
But of course, they all pale in comparison to the one true Highlander.
So, the presence of these things was nice surprise, and it continues to be a cool thing, apart from when thick-necked guys who answer the phone by saying “Who dat be?” chase them into the river to impress some girl who CACKLES HER FUCKING ASS OFF.
This is something that happens a lot in New Paltz. It’s a nice town, but the college kids spoil it. You have this row of… I don’t even know what style house, but 19th century wooden houses that look like a pilgrim’s about to step out of and cook himself some ribs, yet blaring out of the window of one of them is some dopey techno or crunk song sampling “Paper Planes”, which is fucking everywhere at the moment. That and Li’l Wayne are the most commonly recurring musics. The only site of resistance is this one guy from Mexico’s room down the hall from me that is constantly spinning starchy 90s hits. “Under the Bridge” by RHCP, “Got the Life” by Korn, and… “Zombie” by the Cranberries? By the way, band most commonly worn as t-shirt? Rancid. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Anyway, this is all quasi-rosy overture and counterpoint to the tragic themes of my stay’s first act, whose title is:
CAN’T LEARN, CAN’T EAT, WHAT MAKES THIS STIR FRY SO BAD?
Or, Sorry about the huge images, my laptop is broken and the school computers have no image software.
September 2, 2008
Okay so, after this post I will declare an end to the minute, boring detail portion of the telling of the story of the trip of my life. But for now, the portion continues.
Basically, after the events of the last entry, I woke up, doodled around in the city for a while until about 1 (did nothing interesting, actually I think this was the time I went to the Met and MoMA so I’ve accidentally used up my story for this day), then it was time to take a train back to the airport to catch the shuttle to SUNY New Paltz. The bus was leaving at 2, I got there at 2:30, I fretfully looked for people in blue NP shirts thinking they’d left for sure, found them, discovered that they weren’t leaving at 2, they were receiving students from 2 to 4, at which time they would leave. So I thought, “okay, good, I’m here, I found the shuttle, but now I have to dick around, again.” I haven’t traveled much in my life, but from my brief, recent forays into the hobby, it seems to be constituted by a lot of dicking around. I’m not really any good at it, I hate dicking around. It feels inefficient, but on the upside it’s better than riding a train and not knowing whether it’ll stop at the place you need to be at in five minutes (or rather, from five to a hundred and twenty minutes in the future), so I more or less happily went duty free shopping in terminal 4.
(Terminal 4 at JFK, by the way, is a more upmarket version of terminal 7, where I landed when I got here, and where you can get a Starbucks drink and a McDonalds burger and you can watch a young black man change out of his work uniform into some other clothes and call a friend telling him he’ll be around later, but that’s it.)
Looked for lipstick for Katie but they didn’t have any Revlon and I should’ve just gotten some other lipstick but I don’t really know how to buy lipstick so I became disoriented by the shop, so I left. I went into what I thought was the classiest eatery, like I was actually worried about walking in there with my sneakers and rolled up jeans is how classy it appeared through the window, but it was just some tacky bar that served wraps and sandwiches not much better or fresher than those you get in plastic boxes from servos. Had a beer, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and a chicken wrap, and these made me feel ill. It’s funny but here they seem to put a lot of emphasis on whether a beer is a lager or not. Like if it’s a lager they’ll prominently label it so. I don’t think we do that, do we? Are any of the beers I drink lagers? People who know what beers I drink team up with people who know what a lager is and help me out. Get that older guy from the Rosemount drive-thru or that young Greek guy from the Liquor Land near my house on the phone.
I watched some Olympic water polo at the bar then noticed that there was a big display for Australian wine next to the TV. I kind of “huh”ed at myself, then stood up and made the “check please” sign to the bar girl (felt old school at that point). I saw on the check their different rates for tips: 0 if the service was bad, 15% if it was good, 20% if it was excellent. It was good, so I pulled out a dollar bill (I had about 13 at this point as well as a dozen pennies, which led me to think that I was bad at doing US money) and was all set to leave a tip, but I didn’t know how. Like, do you give them the money and say keep the change, or do you get the change back and then go, “AND NOW I BESTOW UPON THEE, THINE TIP.” Since then I’ve been to the Bowery Ballroom and worked out that you just plop it on the bar before you walk away, but at this point I was still going bwawwww I don’t know anything, bwaw bahaw bahaw every time I was the least bit disoriented, so I just walked out feeling glum.
There was still an hour to go, I tried to play Galaga but the machine ate my dollar coin, so I went and sat amongst the luggage and what few other international students were there and read Best American Non-Required Reading. Read a really good story written by an author called Miranda July, and I was like, that name, that name sounds familiar, isn’t she an… Australian actress? I was thinking of Miranda Otto and I slapped my forehead when I looked at the back of the book and discovered that, of course, Miranda July is the director of Me and You and Everyone We Know. Since then I have looked at Leonie’s blog and discovered two really neat things, this website of hers and this video that she’s in:
(I love this kind of simple but brilliant shit and I bet you do too, hipsters!)
If you knew about all three of these things already, you are way more on the ball than I am. You have been on the ball so long you have federated the colonies of the ball and declared the ball a sovereign nation. I envy you and your gigantic ball.
I was feeling waaaaay weird at this point. It reminded me of the time I went to that Buffy convention in Sydney and met all the people from the Buffydownunder.com website and they turned out to be much closer to the Comic Book Guy and the nerds from the Homer Goes to College episode of the Simpsons than I’d imagined. This time, instead of sweaty obese office workers and shy, boney quasi-rangas from WA wearing clothes too big for them (ahem), the alienating group was full of people whose bodies shivered and eyes glazed over when a bald male official said things to them like, “Okay can y’all hear me? I’m going to bring the van around front, we’re gonna put as much of the luggage in there as we can, then we’re going to go over to the gold bus over there, put the rest of the luggage in there and climb aboard. Understand?” It also felt like we were refugees from a country whose government had just been toppled and its people run out into neighbouring Ethiopia, in that we didn’t know what was going on, and we were waiting for the Americans to help us out. But anyway, at some point the bald guy got his little van out the front and some of the luggage was chucked in there, then we went to the bus and put whatever didn’t fit in the van into the bus, and once we were all aboard we drove out of Queens, onto a highway, and north toward New Paltz. This swarthy-looking Japanese guy sat next to me so I was like, ‘sup, then I fell asleep using my book as a pillow. I woke up as we were pulling into town, and I saw a bunch of shitty shops with names like “Shop Rite” and “Bank of America: Drive Thru” and “The Convenience Deli” and “Worst Omelettes of All Time” (at least that’s what it shoulda been called), and then I saw the university. It was beautiful! It’s covered in ivy, it’s backed by some kind of mountain, and a river runs through it, and it’s little and cute and it’s got some… well, pretty ugly, Curtin-esque buildings.
Okay, so it’s not beautiful, but I was very excited by all the green at the time. Then these obnoxiously peppy volunteers jumped right at us off the bus and were like “HIYA! How’s it going, are you excited? Where are you from? Where are you from? Where are you from? Are you excited? Why isn’t anyone talking? I get it, you’ve had a long day, you’ve had a long flight, you just want to settle in, you don’t need big ol’ me all up in your face. No you can’t go in yet, you have to wait out here while we check you in 15 at a time. Who lives in this hall? Oh, you don’t know yet? Well if you end up living in this one then, phew, look out because I live in this hall and I am a little bit cuh-rayzay. Do you want to play a fun game? Well they don’t have to play a fun game, Alicia, but it’s better than just standing around doing nothing not talking. If they don’t want to play a game then we’ll be silent for another twenty minutes. Hey, there’s Diones. Wassup Diones honey. All right that’s probably enough, they can find their own ways to their rooms now, can’t they?”
I waited through this interminable reception with the knowledge that if I did I would be shown to my room and given some necessary supplies, I would be able to shower, I would finally have some roots in this country. So I sat on my suitcase for half an hour, the check in lounge started mysteriously emptying. This lounge:
Then someone came over and said to what few of us were still in the room, “All right, so we’re all sorted over here?” I pointed out that I didn’t know what was happening with me, they flagged down an RA (residential advisor, apparently a term you know if you watch enough college TV and film) who very irritably showed me to my room and left me there without any further information about what was supposed to happen, was irritated and condescending again when I told him the keycard to my room didn’t work (“You have to swipe it”, “I know that”, “*swipes, doesn’t work* That’s weird”), and then at 9am I was in a bedroom by myself, in a pretty much empty hallway dorm, thinking, that’s it? What do I do now? And why are there no sheets on my bed? That had to come the next day, when we went to fabulous Target in nearby Poughkeepsie, one of the many spectacular shops in the, wait for it, Galleria Shopping Center. (Yes, I had flown thirty thousand kilometers in twenty four hours to go shopping at the Galleria.)
For the moment then, I made a pillow out of one of my hoodies, my pyjama pants, and one of my rank smelling t-shirts, and sheets out of one of my other hoodies and my pyjama shirt, and slept a very uncomfortable sleep. In New York they may have called me meth head and hit my neck with a magazine and made me wait in lines to see the tops of their stupid buildings, but they at least gave me proper bedding.
That’s basically the end of my odyssey. Next, a feature on water fowl, or, Do you feel ducky?
August 24, 2008
HMWELL. And then what happened? At about 5 in the evening I lay down on my bed and thought to myself, this feels (Gian voice) reaalllll goooood, so I fell asleep, and woke up at 7:30 the next morning. Above me was some Norge with a laptop, to my left was a French couple with, funnily enough, an Australian flag-themed beach towel, and then on the other side of the room were four other dudes. I got up, showered, took a staunch piss then went out into Chelsea. Fabulous Chelsea! More galleries than any other part of New York, per square mile, or something, and home to a lot of homosexuals. I saw no evidence of either of these qualities. I’m afraid this day continues the bleak overtones of the previous two. But, not that bleak. For one I was no longer so sleep-deprived that fluorescent gargoyles were swooping down from their street lamp rainbow nests to plunder my front pocketed wallet, my grip on reality had tightened; for two I found a nice coffee place called the Brown Cup. Don’t let your imagine run away with itself, the place in fact was like a Gloria Jeans with pretensions toward being a Cino to Go, but, this being America, they served bagels, and you can’t fuck up a bagel. They tried their best, layering on the cream cheese with a two inch thickness, but it retained its basic bagelness: deliciousness, softness, and cream cheesiness (the last in fact being amplified until I scraped it off to a satisfactory level).
This was like a proton energy pill. I felt like I belonged a bit more. My pocket was filling up with change I couldn’t understand despite being warned about it and knowing the difference between a dime and a nickel before I left (the 10c dimes are the size of Australian 5c coins, and the 5c nickels are the size of 10c Australian coins… see, completely incomprehensible), but this was a minor problem. I had a copy of the Village Voice, I wandered up Madison Avenue to 34th street and Times Square and went into the Hershey’s and M&Ms shops (lots of stupid crap in there, like sexy portraits of the green M&M), I asked three different shop guys how mobile telephony works in the US and none of them gave me answers I could understand (they kept saying things like “your minutes” and “your bonus minutes”, which to me suggests that the US has a fetish for describing things in a non-intuitive way like it ain’t no thang), I crossed the road with gusto and determined that only a putz waits on the actual footpath to cross the road, that you must venture about two feet onto the street to wait, and I had another coffee (again in a paper cup, there must be some law against china in the US, or at least the state of New York) accompanied by a completely flavourless strawberry croissant, and I read “Rock the Junta”, an essay by Scott Carnia in the 2007 Best American Non-Required Reading which, unintentionally, echoed the patronizing density that I felt coming off so many of the Americans that I was dealing with and overhearing during these first two days, so I began to carry myself with an I-know-you attitude. I felt I had this place, so confusing at first, pegged. As if the universe was telling me that I did indeed, two obese diners with salads and massive cups of cola chose that moment to sit down next to me. Then I went home. On the way back this guy blocked my path and tried to sell me his rap group’s CDR. He put his hand on my chest but I pushed by and he went “Yo man where you from?”
Me: (still walking) Australia.
Guy’s Friend: (over the heads of a group waiting to cross the road) Where? Sydney, Melbourne?
Guy: Hey come back here.
Me: (shakes head)
Guy: Hey come here, hey meth head, come here meth head, meth head. Meth head!
This leads me to relay another story. After Mya and I left the Empire State Building we were walking along and this group of very young teenage boys were walking our way. This was a little odd, remember that it was about midnight, but I didn’t think much of it and walked ahead without paying them regard, then one of them, a singing one of them, reached a climactic point in the song he was singing and leapt a short distance off the ground and hit me in the back of the neck with a rolled up magazine. Because I was a little shocked and no harm had been done I didn’t do anything in response, Mya didn’t even notice. This was like the time I was walking down Northbridge with Matt and Soda and, again, a group of young boys walked through us and one of them punched me in the chest and kept going, and I did nothing, and Matt and Soda didn’t notice. Why do they do that? And why do they do it to me? Other encounter with random New Yorkers, a very camp Hispanic guy came into the pub where I bought that bad sandwich and started to sell the barmaid wholesale condoms. I think in Australia such a person would be told to get the hell out of the shop, but she was like, “Okay what’s the deal?” That was interesting. Anyway, after she went to get the manager he turned to the businessmen to his right and said, “Ay, you guyth want thome condomth? I’m givin’ them away for free.”
Businessmen: (shake head)
Camp Guy: (turns left toward me) What about you, you want thome condomth?
Me: No thanks.
At least he thought there was a chance I might be in a position to use the condoms between now and their expiration date. After the condom pub thing, checking out of the Chelsea Star, catching the subway to the airport, looking for the SUNY New Paltz representatives, and feeling as though I have the measure of New York City, and that this measure makes my dick itch.
I didn’t really take any pictures during this portion of my trip, I wasn’t in the mood. Apart from this one of my room:
To compensate, here is an extra photo that I took before I left:
August 21, 2008
Right now I am sitting on my single bed, in my pyjama pants, on a freshly purchased blanket, sheet and pillow, in my as-yet-roommate-less dorm room in a residence hall at SUNY New Paltz, feeling very much like a character in a scene of a TV show in which something like what I’m doing happens (Felicity, let’s say). I’ve been in New Paltz for three days, prior to which I was in New York City, having a fuck of a time because I was lugging all my shit up and down Manhattan in the 30 degree late summer heat, getting a) blisters on my hands and feet and; b) lost, because I was operating on about 40 minutes’ sleep across two days. Two glasses of wine and three cans of beer and an Atavan could not send me to sleep from Hong Kong to JFK Airport. Neither could eight episodes of Friends (season 6, good season), five episodes of the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (Jess Horrocks take note: hilarious), two episodes of 30 Rock, half of Dead Poets Society (aborted because I couldn’t stand it despite loving it as a child, adult me disdains the overprivileged bohemian fops), Unforgiven, Kung Fu Panda and a dozen furtive minutes spent trying out the video games, which were all basically cheap permutations of Asteroid. I was not ready for the disappointingly rural setting of the airport, the Ashfield-y vibe of New York that lingers until you get to about Manhattan, the kinda rough hispanic neighbourhood my first hostel was in, and the invitation from Mya from Slovenia, who was staying in my room, to go see the Empire State Building at 11pm on a Sunday. Unready was I also for the 2 hours it would take for us to get through the line up to the 86th floor observation deck.
But this was okay:
Mya had enormous breasts and a nice smile but was very serious, and casually mentioned things such as finding all Croatian people to be very “bad”, and that the Greeks and Italians were sneakily trying to steal Slovenia’s land. She was a backpacking medical student, and she emphatically denied wishing to study the kidneys. At some point she grabbed my shoulder to get a look at lower east side and I thought, whoah there Nelly, not sure I like where this is going. But then I fell asleep on the subway back to our hostel and I think she lost interest in me. Either that, or she had no interest in me to begin with (just as likely [much more likely]). So, the next morning we said a very awkward goodbye, I took her picture
and parted ways. As I left, I said bye to Santos, who runs the hostel. It’s worth mentioning him because it leads into a demonstrative anecdote about the Spanish Harlem community. He wasn’t in his office when I arrived, and all the doors to the place, which from the outside just looks like a decrepit ghetto squat, were locked, so I walked around to find a payphone to call the office. During my search I saw a playground caged in by chainlink fence at which kids were playing baseball and basketball and using those spinny playground things. It looked just like fuckin’ Sesame Street, I swear. I wanted to take a picture but, I’m ashamed to say, I was afraid that if I did the eyes of one of the dozens of young men in the street listening to Cabana music would light up and I would be rumbled. In that way, the street was not unlike the hispanic parts of GTA San Andreas. Lots of little kids, lots of jovial old men, lots of shouting, lots of running… really, nothing to suggest criminal activity apart from everyone was very poor-looking. At the payphone I dialed the numbers and found out that both of them were out of service, so I walked back to the hostel and sat on the stoop, thinking, whose penis am I going to have to suck in order not to get stabbed when I inevitably have to sleep on the streets in this neighbourhood? Then this guy, who looked a lot like a latino version of the guy with the moustache who works at Highs and Lows, waved at me and said, “Ay, you gotta hand in the key?”
“No, I’m checking in.”
“Oh you checkin’ in? You see anyone yet?”
“No, no I – ”
“Hang on one minute. *gets out phone, dials, puts it to ear* Hey, Santos man, there’s a guy out here to check in, where you at? 10 15? Okay. *puts phone in pocket* He’ll come get you, he’ll be about 10, 15 minutes. Okay?”
“Okay. Enjoy your stay, don’t worry, nobody here gonna mess with you. *wink*”
Five minutes later, a rather obese lady comes up and says, “Ay man, are you waiting for Santos?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so.”
“He should be around, I’ll give him a call. *dials, holds up to ear* Ay, poppy, you got a customer. Where are you? Well he’s out the front of the place and noone’s here. He’s been waiting a while.”
At this point she told him her name and her number, and I realised that she didn’t work at the hostel, and neither did the other guy. They just live in the neighbourhood and, apparently, are really helpful.
“Okay I’ll see you later. *hangs up* He’ll be here soon, don’ worry.”
So I checked in not long after that with an English girl who told Santos, who was very nice, that she’d lost her passport and visa on the subway. He said, “Oh mommy, that’s too bad, I’m sorry about that. We’ll just process these payments then I’ll drive you to the police station, okay?” and then we checked into our rooms, and I met Mya, and you already know that story. The day started off rough, in fact it started 36 hours ago, but I was in the country, I had a bed, I was alive, I wasn’t sucking on a penis in a burnt out car, so I cut my losses and looked toward the next day.
First thing, I showered, packed, checked out, and went to the Chelsea Star Hotel, which is in Chelsea, which is basically on the opposite side of Manhattan to Spanish Harlem. I wanted to cave my own head in at the thought of having to walk that, but thanks to Mya’s advice I had learned how to use the Subway and to better visualise where things were on maps of Manhattan, so I got around much better than the day before. It wasn’t as hot either, because it was morning, although later in the day it got even hotter, but at that moment I was like woo, let’s enjoy ourselves some fucking NEW YAWK. But I was still basically jetlagged and saddled with 20kg of luggage and adrift in an unfamiliar place, so negativity reigned unabated. My basically completely unhinged mental state and relative lack of security can be blamed for that, but also I was bitter that New York was more mundane than I thought it’d be. Times Square is kind of interesting-looking, but what is it really? I don’t even fucking know, some chain store coffee shops, fluoro signs and the headquarters of some businesses that I missed the names of because everything is so busy and huge, but it’s probably, what? Time Warner? Whoopdidoo. And it’s cool to be able to say, “I caught the subway,” but again, if you remove the myth of the subway from the actual thing, then all you’ve got is a dilapidated transportation system covered in advertising and rats. I thought I’d be staying in other quasi-rundown shack, but instead Chelsea Star is this pretty top notch hostel/hotel with really yellow walls and big metal doors.
I booked a single but there was something wrong with it, so they put me in a dorm and gave it to me for free! At that point I was prepared to be upbeat, so went out for a browse. Again, there wasn’t much browsing fodder, and the street seemed devoted to a lot of useless shit like shoe repair, garages, those little newstand things, tiny Asian convenience stores. It had very little colour. Angove Street has more colour than this place, was what I was thinking. But I was hungry so I picked a pub (it was called something like “Paddy O’Reilly’s Genuine Green-Ass Pub”) and ordered a sandwich. I wanted to get something American, so I ordered a reuben, which I guess I’ve heard talked about on Seinfeld because I recognised the name, but I wasn’t ready for this:
In case you can’t make it out, that’s about an inch and a half of corned beef, with nothing else apart from some cheese sauce. That’s the best way I can describe it, cheese sauce, some kind of runny style of cheese. I couldn’t finish it. I had a Heinekin, and if you know me well enough, or if I’ve yelled it at you in a fit of incoherent rage, you’ll know that I don’t like European beers, so you can imagine that I was feeling pret-ty bad right then. To compensate, I thought I’d sight see the first thing that came to mind: MoMA. So I looked it up in Lonely Planet, but in my, again, brain damaged state, I accidentally ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I thought, what the hey, that’ll do, and decided to go in, but I found out it was closed for renovations. I bought an orange Gatorade from a hotdog stand to avoid passing out from exhaustion and the heat, then, on the verge of giving up on the good things in life, went back downtown to try and find MoMA. I did, but I’m sorry to say that it too wasn’t what I thought it’d be. It seemed to be a stuffier, more comprehensive, more popular version of any art gallery or museum I’ve seen. I was in a room surrounded by Jackson Pollocks, and the opposite side was Rothko, and the adjacent was Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, and all I could muster was an, “Oh, Pollocks.” They did, however, have this
and lines for checking in your bags, going to the cafe, and collecting your bags.
That last one is what you see if you lie down on the couches on the second floor and softly moan to yourself about your dead and dying limbs. After doing that for a bit I went back to my hostel room. You got free wireless, so I thought I’d email my mum and tell her I was okay, but when I found the emails and messages of people from Perth I felt awash with relief, reminded of the person I once was: still someone irritable and sore, but nevertheless able to navigate the treacheries of life with something resembling aplomb. Some of them asked me to keep an account of my travels (more like TRAVAILS – ha!) so out of appreciation for their contact, as well as a swelling sense of ego, that is what I have started to do. I’m going to try to journal semi-often and extensively, and not just give up after I’ve left Chicago, so y’know, feel free to check back and say hi and whatnot. As a parting gift, here is a picture of the chicken from my old place:
August 10, 2008
Good news: I am excited about going overseas. For months people have been asking if I’m excited. “So, you’re going overseas. Are you excited?” At first the answer was no, and I didn’t know why. I guessed I was unable to see past First Page getting finished, or that because I don’t travel I don’t really know what I’m in for and I can’t excited about something I don’t understand, but there was always the sneaking suspicion that I was a soulless automaton incapable of intense emotionz. But now that all I have to think about is exchange, and I’m having to do stuff like pack up all my CDs and books and I have to pick a hostel in the city to stay in for one night when I get there, I’m getting excited about it. Having to do something like imagine whether I’d prefer to catch two trains or one bus into the city, and what the weather might be like at 4 in the afternoon, and what I might eat that night, makes it realer. So now I’m like hee hee, better get some American money. Then I’m like, holy crap, how do I do that? Then I figure it out. Then I’m like, holy crap, how much should I get? Then I’m like, few hundred bucks. I’m pretty green I suppose. This… topic… bores me.
On Sunday mornings my nephew Elliott, who has emotional problems, plays that Auskick thing meant to get kids and families interested in football. For months my family has been going on about how funny this is, and it is pretty funny. One kid just ran around a goal post a dozen times then fell over, for example. But whenever I see my nephews do things I can’t help imagining the tragedies their behaviour will get them into around their tweens and teens. For example, Elliott has this friend, who he was kind of affectionately bugging. Elliott, I guess, a bit like me, doesn’t communicate hugely well, so instead he throws a barrage of hugs and tackles at his friend, who has come to see Elliott coming and cringe, then yell for him to stop. I remember things like this happening to me, and the friend ditches you and you don’t understand why, and you start asking yourself WHYYY WHY AM I DOOMED? I’M NO GOOD, ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS JUMP ON MY FRIEND’S BACK BOOO. While I’m imagining this all the other parents and kids seem so normal, eight year olds laughing and talking about how they want their hair to be for a party this week, heightening the sense that me and my extended family are bound for the margins. Perhaps lots of kids do this. Perhaps I am simply reliving my poor primary school life through my nephews. This is probably the case, I never miss the opportunity to dystopianise their futures. Fuck man, I could never have kids. Sorry ladies.
I’m trying to write superhero poetry. Here’s one, TOTALLY FREESTYLE… actually no I chickened out of doing that, but here’s one I wrote yesterday:
I told you, Christine, the
beast came through the barricade fast
as lightning, splashing spit from
that mouth all over us. Johnny
reacted first, threw his body at
it to protect the team
ripped to shreds
Betty yelled and fired her
eye beams. It took
her next, by the back
of her head. I dropped a
safe on it from a very
great height, which caved
in its exoskeleton. Then
Billy burned it. That’s when
you showed up. I’m
so sorry, Christine.