Monday, September 20, 2010

THE LIFE OF THE FUNEMPLOYED


We left la la land on December 1st 2009, escaping only just, without our undies catching on fire.  The last six months were a maelstrom of double shifts, farewell drinks, sorting, shipping, planning, saving and (for some self-flagellating reason) hosting a ‘those who also don’t have family’ Thanksgiving in a semi-packed house, four days before we departed on our great road trip ’09.
We did, however, find the time to engage in one of life’s most underrated cultural events – the humble garage sale.  An early morning jamboree of bargain hunters, odd-bods, and low-grade criminals walking the streets picking up rubbish as part of their community service.
Easily spying our garage sale virginity, our first foragers happily outlined the expected protocols of this Saturday morning affair.
1.     It is against established etiquette to ask the hosts to ‘hold things’ until you return.
2.     Nothing is worth more than eight dollars.  Unless it is a bike and even then it had better have ridden in the original tour de France.
3.     Haggling is expected and one should feel totally shameless participating.
4.     All serious hunters will be at your door at least one hour prior to your advertised starting time.
5.     There is nothing wrong with aforementioned hunters knocking on your door at least one hour prior to your advertised time.
6.     It is a nice gesture, but not anticipated that the hosts will provide bags for hunter’s finds.  Most people will happily stuff your treasures in their pockets.
7.     Expect neighbours to come and have a good sticky beak at what type of stuff you keep in your house.
8.     Don’t get offended when something you prized is ill received by hunters.  (Not everyone appreciates the latent beauty in a plaster gargoyle).
9.     Wear jeans.  You need somewhere easy to stuff your cash.
10.  All people are weird.  But extra weird people go to garage sales.
You have been warned.
 First stop on the road trip was Vegas, the highlight being the bathrooms of the Paris Casino.  I am intimately familiar with them you see, for while Gregory was entertained by the extreme water wastage of the Bellagio water fountains, I was holed up in cubicle number three, vomiting into the toilet bowl. 
In between bouts of outrageous gut propulsions, I was kept amused by the English and French translations piped through the public loo’s sound system.  “Listen closely to the following phrases that you may find useful during your stay at the Paris Casino,” said an elegant sounding man.  The French would come first and then the translation; “I think you’re cute too, but I would like to get to know you first,” and; “oh my! Where did all this glitter come from?” 
When there was nothing left to leave behind, I exited the bathroom and made my way back through the casino floor.  It is fair to concede that I was probably a little dizzy and certainly sporting some serious dragon breath after my upset stomach, but neither of these account for the view my eyes beheld when I looked at the cocktail waitresses on the floor.  Regardless of age, body type or willingness to remove pubic hair, every woman was in the same outfit.  Low heels, (sensible for a long shift on your feet, but they do nothing for the line of the leg) beige fishnet stockings, all topped with a brilliant blue leotard and a skirt that someone had forgotten to continue all the way around to the front.  It really only covered a wide and varied selection of the female derierre, leaving the F.U.P.A. (Front Upper Pussy Area) proudly on display for people who would have to be winning millions in order to be distracted away from such a horrendous sight.  If the wearer were eight it might have been cute.  In this case it was shocking.  Come on ladies, we all know how to groom correctly.  And if you don’t, there’s a great place in SoHo I can tell you about – in and out in twelve minutes, not a single hair will survive, all for the bargain price of twenty bucks. 
Where you get waxed can elicit quite a debate amongst New York women, everyone’s got their spot that they are fiercely protective of and loyal to.  Some ladies won’t share their location for fear it will become over run by hairy vaginas and they will no longer be able to get their own grass cut, but I will happily divulge my salon because I don’t live there anymore, and am now on a quest to find some unfortunate soul willing to perform the procedure on me down under, so to speak.  This is because I have had two rather disastrous incidents with home waxing.  The first one was years ago when I was still living with my parents.  It was pre-brazillian days, when I was happy with a bit of a general pruning of the area to avoid embarrassment at ballet and swimming training.  Dutifully I heated the wax up in the microwave per the instructions provided.  It was a new tub so I just put it on for the maximum time recommended, took it out and assumed my position at my bedroom desk.  Don’t worry, no one else was home.  One leg propped up on the chair, wax wound around my knife to avoid spillage, and I carefully applied an appropriate amount to my inner thigh.  Immediately, I scorched off the first few layers of my skin.
You’re right.  I should have checked the temperature first, but patience and foresight aren’t my strongest suits and those sorts of things always occur to me after disaster has struck.  Grabbing some baby oil, I managed to remove most of the wax – and my destroyed skin with it – but what I lack in patience I make up for in perseverance and I refused to give the activity away entirely.  All I needed to do was cool the wax down, I thought.  So I put it in the freezer.  To this day, I’m not sure why this seemed like the best option, or even an option at all, but at the time, it really did appear to make sense.
Yes, you’re right again, I could have waited for it to cool down naturally, but I thought I’d already told you that patience isn’t my strong suit. 
I applied some ointment to my singed skin and opened the freezer door…somehow the wax (balanced on a loaf of bread and some frozen sausage rolls) had over turned and dripped all through the freezer.  Wax stalactites were hanging from an assortment of ice creams and I spent the next hour picking blobs of semi frozen goo off the cuts of meat stacked at the bottom.  That was incident one.
Skip several years and I’m in New York about to commence my first ballet class.  Now on an actor’s budget, I had no slush fund for such extravagances as a beauty salon, so I bought a tub from the store and when my roommate was away, attempted the home wax once again.  This time I was careful not to overheat it and I was fairly certain I had the right temperature for success.  With my leg propped up on the toilet seat this time, I carefully wound the wax around my bread knife and stroked it down my inner thigh.  Disaster.  Again, again.  This time I hadn’t heated the wax up enough so it stuck to my leg like a big glob of congealed snot.  Not hot enough to spread evenly but too hot be removed easily.  What was I going to do?
I scoured my apartment for an appropriate tool.  I didn’t have any baby oil, and neither did my roommate.  But we did have olive oil and I thought it might be similar enough to do the trick.
It wasn’t.
By the time she got home that night, I was still in the bathroom bent over at an awkward pain inducing angle, desperately trying to remove the hardened wax from my leg and the olive oil from the floor.
That was the very last time I ever tried to wax myself.
I never made an appointment to get waxed in New York, that seemed like cheating.  Part of the fun of it is trying to get there around the rush while still allowing yourself a moment to read the gossip magazines lying around.  Generally I would be halfway through some article about how a woman gave birth to a fish, when I was ushered in to a small and not so private room and told to leave the magazine outside.  This is because some waxers require assistance and your hands being free is essential to a successful de-hairing.  Unceremoniously, you strip down till your totally starkers on the bottom (sometimes I leave my socks on because my feet get cold) and flop yourself up onto the paper-covered bed.  Paper is not very comfortable to lie on, but at least you’re assured the area is somewhat sterile.  I say somewhat because you can’t be too sure can you?  I mean the wax is sitting on a hot plate in a tub that is probably the same one that was here eight weeks ago when you were last.  The wax is applied to your skin with a knife that is repeatedly stuck back in the same pot.  Obviously your knife is not the only one having a dig in the old wax and I wonder what sort of microorganisms and bacteria live in semi-volcanic conditions.  I am pleased to report that I’ve never caught anything having my bikini waxed, but in all honesty, that could be less about hygiene and more about luck.
So there you are, lying on the bed like a piece of freshly caught trout and the dusting begins.  They powder you up with a liberal amount of baby powder to remove any sweat and dry the area out.  If necessary, they take out the nail scissors and give your hair a bit of a pre-wax trim.  “Hair very long.  When you last wax?  Leave too long, hurt more,” they scold you in their broken English.
I’m not categorizing, it’s just true.  I’ve never been waxed in New York by a non-asian.  I think it’s their temperaments.  They have a culture of efficiency.  Look at the way they eat, they let none of their food sources go unused and they treat your bikini with the same attitude – no good pube goes unpunished.  Personally, I like their all-business attitude.  I find it wildly uncomfortable to have an in-depth conversation with someone who has a more intimate knowledge of my nether regions than either my friendly gynecologist or myself.  It’s clinical for the gyno, they just stick a cold, hard metal contraption up your hoo-ha and treat your bits like a tunnel.  These ladies get up close, scrutinise for sneaky follicles, pluck out the determined ones, then flip you over and do the same on the other side.  That’s right folks.  A Brazilian aint’a Brazilian unless you’ve tended to your bottom as well.
A helpful asset in this experience is flexibility.  (I have now found two uses for musical theatre in the real world.  The other is climbing out small windows to rescue Frisbees from roofs).  An ability to get your legs into odd and awkward positions can shave a good thirty seconds off your total waxing time.  Often I use the wall as a prop and get some good side leverage by lifting my leg over my head and rotating my torso ever so slightly. 
This is one of a variety of techniques employed by your waxers in order to achieve maximum speed and efficiency.  One lady slaps you really hard before she rips off the cloth.  “Better for you.  You forget what happening,” she says leaving a bright red mark on my thigh.  I beg to differ.  Now I just hurt in two places.  My friend however, likes this style, but as she pointed out, she is Italian and by virtue of her heritage, has very course, thick and plentiful hair.  She welcomes the slap as a distraction. 
I prefer the lady who gets you to help.  “You hol’ this,” she says, grabbing my hand and placing it on my thigh.  “Tighter. Tighter.  Pull away fat.”  (There is no room for ego in this process). 
Twelve minutes later, you’re back in the salon, perfectly aware that everyone getting their refills done knows that the waxer thinks you’ve got fat thighs. 
Generally they wipe you down with some sort of oily based cloth, so it is best to avoid wearing silky dresses or fluffy tracksuit pants.  New York is not the kind of city you want to be walking around with your skirt plastered to your crotch. 
Painful yes.  Embarrassing, slightly, but both are better than the koala ears these ladies were sporting in down town Vegas.  Surely they can’t be making good tips turning up to work like that.
And while we’re at it, it’s not just women who need to take care of themselves.  A little man-scaping goes a long way to impressing the ladies, gentlemen. The men in my husband’s family call it the clown’s head.  You gotta trim that baby down.
So, a good vomit and some bad bikini lines and we’d seen all of Vegas we needed to see.  Back in the car and on to the Hoover Dam (architecturally impressive but a picture from the car window will suffice) then a leisurely stroll along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  Not a bad tourist spot that one, given that it’s free.
Continued along the majestic Navajo trail, a landscape you’d imagine on Mars but littered with two-bit towns comprising of old tyres, red rocks and a miserable collection of half finished trailers.  The major difference we could see between Nevada and Arizona, (apart from how easy it is to get a divorce in the former) are the trees.  Nevada doesn’t have any.
A night in Moab, Utah (mullets, 4 wheel drives and singers doing curious versions of ‘goodbye yellow brick road’) followed by a morning exploring the magnificent Arches National Park.  It was like the whole place had been blown up by an angry mother nature and we were walking through the rubble.  Cliffs like beef jerky, rocks bigger than towns and the mighty Colorado River powering along beside.
Speaking of, that was our next port of call and it was a magnificent drive in to Boulder Colorado, with a view of the Rockies and their dusting of freshly fallen snow. 
All this brilliant scenery, I should point out, quelled my usual illness of driving narcolepsy and I made an excellent companion, always ready with a piece of chewy, a tidbit of news from the lonely planet or a helpful hand-wipe. 
We had stopped in Boulder to visit a culinary buddy of Gregory’s, and once he got over the shock of his mate having become a vegetarian (if my husband were an artist it would be like telling him he could only paint in black or white) we enjoyed a hike in the Rockies, an afternoon of tobogganing (keeping our feet dry with the poor man’s North Face – socks, plastic bag and another pair of socks) and a delicious meat free curry. 
If I were a university student in America, I would pick Boulder to attend.  Even if you had to do sheep husbandry to go there.  It’s a great little town, and even in the dead of winter, still gets glorious sun shin-ey days.  The locals tell me they have as many sunny days as the state of California, they just don’t advertise it because they don’t want everyone moving in.  (Sorry people, but on the upside, this little plug could be good for tourism).
Week two of no bra or makeup and we were ready to tackle the great mid-west, dodging a snowstorm by stopping in Kansas City, Missouri. 
Some might argue – and plenty tried – that a road trip in the middle of an American winter is not the smartest thing to do.  Particularly with an Australian, ie someone from a land with no significant amount of snow, and driving a VW rabbit with no intention of getting snow tyres.  Still, with a combination of ignorance and excitement, we managed to beat, circumnavigate or run away from every storm headed our way.  I wouldn’t recommend it if you have a serious destination date, like a wedding for example, but if you’ve got a bit of time, and don’t mind holing up in the city with the greatest number of water fountains outside of Rome, then Kansas City mid snow storm is the place for you.
In addition to this dubious title about fountains, Kansas City also claims to have seventeen national historic sights, but unless they were referring to the seventeen-hundred-odd miles of cornfields, I’m not buying that title with a three-dollar bill.  It was right about here that diabetes, high cholesterol and scurvy became very real possibilities as we abandoned fruit and vegetables and delved into delicious mid-west BBQ on our way to the windy city. 
Frank Sinatra said it was his kind of town and apart from the vicious winter weather, I’d say it’s my kind too.  Of course we were given rock star treatment from another of Gregory’s chef friends, staying in his suite complete with steam room, wine humidifier and enough medicinal marijuana to numb a herd of elephants.  Cocktails at the top of the Hancock building, deep dish pizza, hot doug’s hot dogs, Mr. Beef, Arabian style tacos, dinners at restaurants Gregory’s been following for years, all rounded off with an exhilarating ice hockey game and a Christmakkah celebration where the Jewish and the Christians celebrate together around a candle lit Christmas tree. 
Five days later and our poor car could barely carry us to Canton, Ohio this time to enjoy a gaming dinner in an old converted speakeasy. 
On our way to Ohio we passed Gary Indiana, their welcome sign painted on the sewerage plant.  While the scenery was hardly impressive, the billboards were, sporting pro-life slogans like; “pregnant?  Scared?  Text options to 94685,” and a diet tip to “choose right, eat small.” 
Next stop was Lewisburg Pennsylvania, where I dropped Gregory at his friend’s restaurant and spent the afternoon chasing Mennonites about the countryside.  You wouldn’t think they could outrun me given that I was in a car and they ride a horse and buggy, but it was back streets and farm roads and they knew all the shortcuts.
Of course we stopped off in our beloved NYC, then headed to the country for a Llewellyn style Christmas, which meant brisk walks in the frigid air, tart whiskey sours and five nieces dressed up as Zoro. 
We followed that with a whirlwind tour through almost every east-coast state, (billboard highlight in Maine; “take the US out of my UTERUS”) then we pointed the v-dub south and headed for the very flat, very manicured and very religious state of North Carolina.  There we continued our anthropologic billboard study with gems like:
“VIRGIN – teach your kid it’s not a dirty word.”
“Following your friends is easy.  Following your heart is brave.”
And possibly my favourite…
“Breast milk is the best milk.  Eat at moms.”
I just knew I’d love the south and I wasn’t disappointed. 
Mark Charleston, South Carolina as a port of call one of these days.  You won’t regret strolling through the old town, gas lanterns guiding your way, catching your heel on the cobbled roads as you gaze in wonder at the mansions, their white trimmed, black shuttered windows open to reveal secret walled gardens, individually decoupag-ed stairs and rich old antiques standing underneath dusty portraits of the men that made the town. Everyone greets you as you pass by, and all I wanted them to do was invite me into their enclosed verandah so we could share some mint julep tea. 
Of course, you can stand at the market where they used to sell the slaves, but if we condemned everyone for their past transgressions there wouldn’t be a country left to visit.  Except perhaps Switzerland, and apart from chocolate and founding Red Cross, they don’t count.
Next stop on the Funemployed Express was Vero Beach Florida, to hang out with the in-laws at their 55-plus retirement community.  I’ve only known Gregory’s parents for three years, but I tell you, this retirement gig has taken ten years at least off their faces.  The two of them are positively radiant.  Filled with the fervour of mid-morning bridge games, scavenger hunts on tandem bicycles and short-sleeves in January.  I can’t wait to get there!
Logistically, we had to get back to the west coast before flying home, so we returned our leased and loyal VW chariot, boarded a plane and landed in San Francisco for a few days with friends. 
I was worried this would happen…I love this city.  Absolutely love it.  I could live here, if I hadn’t already uprooted my husband and planned a move across the entire universe. 
Next time…
San Francisco has the fabulous feel of a small town, the village-ee, neighbourhood-ee aspects of New York, the vistas of one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and, strikingly, is inhabited by delightful locals all willing to show and share their city with you.  We had the city’s best yum cha, dined at our friends’ establishments; (both top raking in the city) saw the Tutankhamen exhibition, visited Alcatraz (I reckon those escapees made it.  It really doesn’t look that far and the current can’t be that strong, surely) took in the Castro district and admired the Victorian houses the city is famous for.  It was a delight.  And I suppose the company of good friends helps.
I, of course, was like a dog and let myself out regularly for runs.  I embraced the damp and chilly San Franciscan clime as a veritable heat wave after the east coast snow storms and beat a path around the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the largest of its kind in the world and a Mecca for the city’s many pavement pounders. They’re a serious bunch there too. Most are decked out in sweat-slicking, microfiber, colour-coded outfits and many run with bum-bags stuffed with water bottles and those gel packets designed to get you through a marathon.  Are they really running that far on a Thursday afternoon?
The last of my runs was particularly significant; after nearly eight years it would be my last one on US soil for quite some time.  I was about to get on a plane bound for Sydney and before a fourteen-hour plane trip, the best thing anyone can do is stretch the jiggles out of you.
I ran in the rain drenched San Franciscan air, reading with interest the Tsunami evacuation route posted along the road, drinking in the view not dissimilar to Bondi’s and knowing that in approximately twenty-four hours I’ll be doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the Atlantic.
We would like to thank our sponsors across this fine land – friends and family who willingly opened up their homes, some who even gave us their beds.  We felt like Jack Kerouac minus the drugs.  And that reminds me of a quote written by John Leland about the very beatnik I speak of; ‘low overhead and a sense of improvisation make for a great life.’  True that.  

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