Monday, June 30, 2008

Doing my bit for humanity

I spent yesterday getting re-acquainted with my sofa, having spent a wonderful weekend with JK who was here en route to a study course in Boston.

We celebrated Thanksgiving in June on Friday night (yes, I cooked turkey); we overdosed on steak and other carniverous delights on Saturday night at Fogo de Chao; and so by the time he departed on Sunday, I was knackered and just wanted to lay down all day. So I did.

But I got mesmerised by some useless program on VH1 that did a countdown of the 20 (or was it 30?) most shocking Hollywood murders. The Mansons took top honours (DUH) with the Nicole Brown-Simpson crime in second place. Generally the show was crap, and it depressed me for a while, so I closed my night by ogling Colin Firth in "Nanny McPhee".

I got to work today and the news was full of more murders and mayhem. Not necessarily based in Hollywood this time, but I read about an axe murder and murder-suicides in Australia, as well as some nutjob in Texas that (surprise, surprise) shot a bunch of people for one wacky reason or another.

I suspect that what we have here is a wonderful collection of psycho nutcases, which makes my mental actions today all the more defensible.

Coming home on the bus tonight, very late for any day much less a Monday, two girls were across the aisle from me. One of them was talking very loudly - so loudly that I had to lean forward several times to see whether her unfortunate travel companion was wearing two hearing aids. She wasn't; Chatty Kathy was just a loudmouth jabberjaws.

And she was talking utter rubbish. Crapping on at ever-increasing volume about her theater shows, and her literary prowess, and how the recent car trip she took was oh-so hilarious because she was reading to the captive audience from her collection of trashy romance novels. [Side note: Why her travel companions didn't leave her at a truck stop after filling up with petrol is beyond me.]

So on and on she droned, and I was simultaneously wishing for death, and a new set of I-pod speakers, neither of which materalised.

I texted Lex and asked if I was allowed to hit the woman, and Lex gave me permission, but only if I took a photo at the same time. Hmm I'm not that clever.

But surely smacking a noisy commuter upside the head would not result in me taking first place in a VH1 Top 20 countdown of public transportation outbursts. Rather, I would probably be given a street parade, or at least a hearty round of applause. Or something. Right?!

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's not a question of where he grips it...

Originally uploaded by Diana Pinto.

An article on today's Reuters news online left me quoting Monty Python for hours, and soon you'll see why. I guess we should just be grateful that Brazilian pigeons, like African swallows, are non-migratory.

"A sharp increase in drugs and mobile phones found inside a Brazilian prison mystified officials - until guards spotted some distressed pigeons struggling to stay airborne.

Inmates at the prison in Marilia, Sao Paulo state, had been training carrier pigeons to smuggle in goods using cell phone sized pouches on their backs, a low-tech but ingenious way of skipping the high-tech security that visitors faced.

"We have sophisticated equipment to search people when they go in, but they avoided this by finding another way to bring in cellphones and drugs," prison director Luciano Gamateli told Globo TV.

Officials said the pigeons, bred and trained inside the prison, lived on the jail's roof, where prisoners would take their deliveries before smuggling the birds out again through friends and family.

The scheme was uncovered when guards on the prison walls saw some pigeons struggling to fly."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008!

Back home, it's quite the norm for the staff at fast food joints to be pimply-faced juniors in the full deathgrip of puberty with amusing crackly voices and a general ambivalence toward everything. Especially customers.

Here in the US however, the demographics are quite different. The fast food counters here are, in large part, monitored by much older people, sometimes even senior citizens, many of whom are not native English speakers. It's not a bad thing of course, but it's just different. And watching a much older person flipping burgers and shaking fries sort of redefines 'fast' food...

Anyway this morning I was craving a breakfast sandwich so I went to Dunkin' Donuts and got served by a lady who was not only ancient, but also a trainee. Oh boy. I placed my order in typical American fashion (aka quickly and no-nonsense, straight to the point to minimise confusion).

Or it was SUPPOSED to minimise confusion.

The woman rambled at me, and the Dunkin' Donuts trainers looked up at me expectantly. I literally had no idea what she'd just said. I wasn't even sure it was English.

So I asked her to repeat it. Again with the rambling. Again with the expectant looks.

So I had to get a translation from the coffee dude. Who then just burst out laughing at me.

It was then that I regretted wearing a white top, because it only further highlighted the fact that I was blushing from head to toe.

I was so eager to just get out of there that I mumbled something incoherently, which seemed to satisfy everyone in question, and I slunk out of there. Miraculously with everything I ordered (or thought I did).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Was there life before Pixar?

Pixar Wall-E Poster (7)
Originally uploaded by divxplanet.

I recall a night out in North Adelaide when a certain pair of Aussie adults were deciding whether or not to go and see "Finding Nemo".

"Sure, we should go," one said "but we should find some random kid to take with us."

"You're right," agreed the second "do you know any?"

The first girl shook her head sadly. "You know what that means," she said, "we're easily going to be the oldest people in the cinema."

The second girl looked up, the light of inspiration in her eyes. "You know, it would kinda be bad parenting if people bought their kids to a 9.30pm screening on a Sunday...."

The heady smell of potential hung in the air. Or it could have been chicken tikka. At that point, after that many bottles of red wine, it was pretty hard to tell.

Buoyed by their own genius, the girls shoveled in handfuls of garlic naan and creamy butter chicken, downed the last of their quality Aussie reds, and made their way to the cinema across the street.

And realised, to their hysterical amusement, they were actually the YOUNGEST people in the cinema. The night was a riot.

[And almost funnier than bringing garlic yiros into the cinema, being the only 2 people in the cinema, and then trying to pretend they couldn't smell garlic when the usher came around. Priceless.]

The thing about a tipsy trip to the movies, late on that balmy Sunday evening in Adelaide is that Pixar never gets old. The humour is as much for the kids as it is for the adults, and my own love of the studio shows no sign of letting up.

And really, when they keep putting out adorable gems like "Wall-E", why should it? Definitely not one to miss.

You quack me up

I haven't told you yet but my favourite barista left my coffee shop to work at the yoghurt place next door - don't ask. I'm not quite ready to have yoghurt for breakfast yet, so I let him leave and waited with baited breath to meet his replacement. Who turns out to be cute, but dumb as a stump.

I have been training him for the last 2 weeks or so, and he's only screwed up twice, which is pretty good. But this morning, he made an absolute cracker.

There are two types of filtered coffee on the go every morning - light, and dark. Clearly being the caffeine freak that I am, I need to order the dark otherwise my old heart simply does not start pumping like it should. Dependence issues? Probably.

Anyway, the rookie calls me up to the counter, and I place my usual order for "a large dark with room for cream". Bear in mind that I very rarely deviate from this order. So he says, "a large latte?". I breathed in patiently, "Uh no," I replied "a large DARK with room for cream".

"A large duck?"

I wanted to die.

So I stared at him for a second and let it all sink in.

Then the dude making the coffees (who I think owns the place) says to him "No dummy, why would she order a duck? She said dark: D-A-R-K."

The rookie barista didn't even look embarassed that he'd misheard me. And even though I roll my r's when I say "water" or "whatever", I just can't bring myself to roll them in the middle of a word. Not yet, anyway.

But in future, perhaps I should stay out of the barnyard and just order light coffees from now on.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What does B.S stand for?

Allison III
Originally uploaded by Sara Heinrichs (awfulsara).

In my case, BS stands for BABY SHOWER - and I'm off to my first one today. I've been invited to a few in the past of course but, for whatever reason, I have had to put in my apologies as the date got closer.

But today I'm really looking forward to catching up with my Aussie friend S, who is not much taller than me and is, by all accounts, absolutely ready to give birth any second now. Let's hope it doesn' t happen today, purely from my selfish standpoint!

I am well acquainted with the SATC episode where the girls drive to their friend's baby shower and, with the exception of Charlotte, feel like square pegs in round holes. All the baby talk and the goo-ing and gaa-ing was a bit too much for them all. The fact that the mother-to-be served cocktails at the event was the only way I think the girls got through it. Hear, hear!

Like bachelorette parties, baby showers always seem to be organised by the friend of the special woman in question. As a guest, you find that invitations come from people you've never heard of, and so the party itself is a real unknown quantity. Who else will be there? What is expected of you? I mean at a birthday party, you can safely assume that there will be cake and decorations - two traditional components that just about everybody can abide. But a baby shower? There are usually no babies and certainly no showering, so what to expect? It seems that baby showers do, however, bring with them a certain sense of pomp and ceremony.

Case in point, I hear that baby showers feature games that the assembled women are encouraged to play. They're supposed to be games about kid-related things, or story-swapping opportunities where we all sit around regressing to childhood and sharing things about ourselves. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I don't mingling with strangers, and swapping conversation and stories, but game-playing? Hmm. And if anyone mentions the words "breast pump", I am leaving.

I do think that I'll be OK today though, for two reasons. Firstly, the inside scoop from another guest (and friend of mine) is that the mother-to-be is not the game-player type herself. With any luck, she'll have vetoed any storytime or group games straight up. Secondly, S and her husband run my favourite wine store in Chicago, so chances are there will be plenty of bubbles and wine to bolster my spirits. Fingers crossed on both of those fronts, I think.

All jokes aside, I am so excited to meet this baby in a few months time. His parents are two of my favourite people in Chicago so it makes his birth a much-anticipated event for me. What's not to look forward to? I mean, for the past 9 months I've been spared the bloating, pressure and pain, but at the end of it all I'll still get my fair share of cuddles with the little guy. Sounds perfect to me! And maybe even worth playing a game or two...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

We've NEVER been in Kansas, Dorothy

The US Midwest has been battered by some pretty horrible weather the last few weeks and I'm dosed up on hayfever meds and having that daily "umbrella-no umbrella" argument with myself before I leave the house to go to work.

The office offers shelter from the elements but it's been a whirlwind of meetings, farewells & welcomes, and a general rollercoaster of emotions. Somehow we all made it to Friday though, and I'm enjoying a weekend of strong coffee, DVDs, and Aussie music blaring out of my computer speakers.

I'm looking forward to having JK back to stay with me next weekend, as he's en route to Boston to become an even more brilliant Uni student. I got an email from him the other day that presented a rather lengthy list of pre-course readings and writing tasks so as he said himself, sometimes it's a good thing that the flight from Oz to the US is so long and boring. I wonder if he'll get any (or all) of it done.

I was talking to Lex the other week and we agreed it would be fun to have a "Junesgiving" dinner for JK - after all, if he can't be here for the real Thanksgiving, maybe we could bring it to him. So I'm cooking next weekend - yes, you read that right. I'm cheating with the turkey of course, opting for a seasoned rolled turkey rather than a whole bird that would just go to waste. But otherwise I'm going for the traditional fare - green bean casserole (which I love), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and Lex is bringing the sweet potato casserole. I can't allow pumpkin pie in my house (it's a phobia), but I'm happy to admit pecan pie so that's our dessert. I've also got creamy limoncello in my freezer courtesy of Coco and while it's not traditional at Thanksgiving, it's delicious and a fantastic digestif so I'll bring that out too.

But as I have had my windows open all week to let the howling winds blow through and keep me cool, my apartment is full of dust and fluff and I even saw spider webs in the loungeroom so I think it's probably about time I got busy cleaning.

The things we do for friends, eh?!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A victory for the little people

letter clutch - front
Originally uploaded by ::sämyii::.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that US Postal Service employees are the most disgruntled you'll ever find. They pass on their workplace frustrations directly to their customers which is both unfair and unpleasant. By and large, customer service simply ceases to exist once you reach a USPS counter.

And I think one of the biggest bummers about the whole thing is the fact that we NEED the postal service, and the employees know this. So there is no incentive for them to cheer up and actually be helpful, because as customers, we're going to keep coming back regardless of the treatment we receive.

So with all this in mind, I trudged over to the USPS after lunch thinking that the lines would be smaller and I could get in and get out quickly. Not so.

Round One with the USPS employee began with her annoyance that I couldn't find an appropriately-sized mailbox for the gifts I needed to send. In typical Goldilocks fashion, one box was too small, but the next size up was far too big. No mailbox I could see on the shelves was just right.

Faced with the option of splitting the gifts into two smaller boxes, I instead opoted to shove the whole gift collection into one big box and bravely approached the counter for Round Two.

The USPS employee was now deliberately being useless, and she looked at me like I had the plague when I queried whether she might have spare newspaper behind her desk so that I could pad the box out a bit.

She seemed to think that newspaper was a ludicrous suggestion, and instead wondered why I couldn't clearly see that the USPS sells bubble wrap for that very purpose. Now I understand the concept of up-selling, but as I was now so irritated by her, all I wanted to do was wrap HER in bubble wrap and mail her somewhere far, far away.

But I am also good at picking my battles, so I let the USPS lady win that one, and instead I duly opened a pack of costly bubbly plastic and stuffed the box with it. Once I had ensured that the enclosed gifts were safely protected, and all the necessary customs forms filled out, I returned to the counter for what I hoped would be the final round.

Round Three began with much huffing and puffing on the USPS employee's part, trying to fathom why I would send such a huge box to such a far-away land. By now I was quite happy standing in utter silence and just letting her do her thing. And clearly silence was not something that this woman was used to. Realising that our transaction was nearing its close, she tried to make up some ground with me.

To my complete surprise, she said "I'm really sorry if I was mean to you before," and yet made no additional excuse as to why she was mean, or why she was now sorry for it. And by way of reply, again to my complete surprise, I simply uttered "Uh huh". And nothing more.

So this annoyed her because I was now playing hardball (and I was past the point of caring) so she was blathering on about Australia and my family and whether it was hard for me to adjust to living in a new country.

And what did I say?

"Uh huh."

And I manged to maintain this frosty silence until she had finished processing the transaction. Completely out of character for me, but on a steamy Friday afternoon, I was completely over it and not in the least interested in putting up with her crap any more than I had to.

So once I was certain that my gifts were correctly bound for Australia and not, perhaps, Austria, I gathered my things, cordially wished her a pleasant weekend, and left.

And even though statistically the USPS woman won 2 rounds out of our 3, I nevertheless felt that I had ultimately emerged the victor because after all, she was the one who ended up apologising. And in the case of USPS, everybody knows that that NEVER happens.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


There is a construction site across the road from office with, quite honestly, the best looking crew I've ever seen.

In the absolute absence of any kind of OH&S policy, they bash and crash to build some sort of eyesore that will hopefully not block too much of my view over the Chicago River. They dangle from the lofty heights, with no harnesses or safety nets, or even hard hats (in the case of some). They have even put up a cheeky chalk sign on one of their steel thingies that says "We do all our own stunts" - they are classic.

The other day I learned that it is quite uncommon in the US to have office buildings with a 13th floor (superstition is alive and well here), but the construction workers are basically working on what would be the 13th floor - so they're basically eye-to-eye with me all day.

Of course I'm too shy to open my blinds, because I know that they can see me - and with so many of them looking like the Diet Coke man, I can't say I'd get any work done if I got to watch THEM all day too.

But yesterday I was walking to work and stopped in at the pharmacy first. I crossed the road when the lights changed and ended up on the same side of the road as the construction site. A bunch of construction workers were lined up outside the site, enjoying a cup of coffee and the warm sunshine. As I walked past, the cute one in the green cut-off shirt (who I had noticed maybe once, yeah right) smiled at me and said "How YOU doin'?".

Totally Chicago.

And what did I do? Yep, I giggled like a bloody schoolgirl and kept walking.


Oops, I did it again

Gab chills out in Burano
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

I am heartily apologising in advance for the fact that by the end of this month, I will be completely and utterly obsessed (again) with Venice.

This is not the first time that such an obsession has overtaken me. I have been to Venice three times and with each visit, my love affair just grows stronger.

I'm not in Venice right now of course, but I feel like I'm there because I'm reading "The City of Falling Angels" by John Berendt - the guy who wrote "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". All the characters in the book are real, and not at all difficult to imagine.

With each page I read, I am trying to imagine how I can get back to Venice and its islands and, what's more, how I could stay there at some length. Is there a job for me there, or should I just be a professional house-sitter in an ancient, crumbling palazzo and putt-putt up and down the Grand Canal all day?

Either way, the book is fabulous and even though I want to punch Mr Berendt for being the type of guy whose trip to Venice has introduced him to the Mayor, City officials, faded aristocrats, genteel English expats, and other toffy types, it is the fact that he writes about Venice with such genuine affection that striking a chord with me.

Venetians love melodrama and exaggeration is the norm there. If you are too 'normal', they will dismiss you as being a bore. The absence of cars means that everybody walks everywhere, and 'being seen' is what Venice is all about. So in that sense, Venice is a level playing field (socially-speaking) and I love that idea.

So if you don't mind, I'm going to keep reading, and daydreaming, and maybe one day I will find myself back there living the high life amongst the rats, pigeons, and tourists - and loving every minute of it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The urban rainforest

taxi manhole steam
Originally uploaded by countchomkula.

This weekend I was all set to be a social whirlwind but instead, my efforts were hampered by crippling lethargy caused by the weather. I have been really struggling because of the humidity. I don't remember being this knocked out last summer, but the last two days I've been sleeping during the days, and feeling really sluggish when I do make it outdoors.

I looked after DB yesterday who is originally from Adelaide too, and now works in our California office. We went to brunch in the morning, took a long walk to the famed Viagara Triangle in the afternoon, and then met up again last night for dinner and a few drinks about town. I didn't make it to our evening meeting on time, as a freak thunder & lightning storm made it difficult to even get outside. I had to wait for a break in the nasty weather so I could walk to the main road to grab a taxi. And even that turned into a rushed mercy mission. But I made it Downtown and we had a good time catching up.

Today I have been a couch potato and have had little energy for anything beyond channel surfing and sleeping. I slept through a rather nasty rainstorm and awoke with a start when I remembered that I hadn't closed my bedroom window before the nap. Consequently my floorboards were soaked, ditto the bottom half of my bed quilt. Whatever. In this icky heat, everything dried pretty quickly.

Right, I've been sitting up for way too long typing this - need to get back to the reclining position. How do people in Florida and even Brisbane handle this weather?! I'll never understand it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Turn the heat down will ya?

So the winter chills have given way to a burst of spring (complete with sneezing fits) and in the space of only a few days, spring is being given the royal shove by a summer that seems way too eager to get started. Personally I'm finding it very tricky to keep up, if only from a fashion point of view.

One of the great things about the warmer weather's arrival is that Chicago socially springs to life, and I'm ready to embrace that for sure. This weekend I plan to take full advantage of the annual Blues Fest in Grant Park (which is celebrating its 25th year), and also Ribs Fest up in the Lincoln Square neighbourhood, not too far from my house. I have no idea how many years Rib Fest has been going, and I do not care to know - the fact that I will be able to buy my body weight in baby back ribs slathered in an array of sauces makes me so happy I could pee.

Last night I finally caught up with the lovely Bork and we tried out a brand new bar called "Potter's" which is part of the historic Palmer House Hilton. Can you believe I've never even been inside the Palmer before? What the?! It used to be a private residence way back in the day but what with all the Hilton add-ons, it's hard to tell where the original residence ended and the newer renovations commenced. No matter really, "Potter's" is 100% new and it's actually quite nice. So much better that we went on a weeknight too because we got to sit right at the bar and had the full attention of the bartender, whose Cosmopolitans were divine.

So you can see that a cracking pace has already been set for the summer social season. I'm almost even able to handle the blessed humidity that comes with a Chicago summer. I must be getting used to this place or something...