Merry Bloody Christmas or Whatever

Didn’t have a Christmas tree last year. Talking to my housemates it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, since none of us were gonna be around. A couple of us were on holiday across the silly season, a couple were going to be celebrating it with separate groups of friends, I was always working or sleeping when any celebrations with what was left might have happened. I joked a couple of times about raiding the parking lots of some of the office buildings lining the Skytrain tracks. They’d filled their flowerpots with pine trees you see, to mark the season. Wouldn’t have been all that hard one night to have hopped a fence, sawed off the top of one of their trees and brought it back to the house. We all laughed, remarked that it would have been a pretty awesome attempt at getting into the holiday spirit, but never did. Mostly, I like to think, because we didn’t have a saw. Not sure if I would’ve had the balls to do it if we did, but the fact that I looked for a saw at all says something about my state of mind last silly season. Only positive things, I’m sure.

So my celebrations last Christmas were small. Practically non-existent if I’m being perfectly honest. Most of the close mates I’d made were locals or localish. They had families they were spending time with and there are certain holidays you don’t ask your random Aussie bud to attend, Christmas being the top of that list. It didn’t help that it just didn’t feel like Christmas, hilariously enough. Cold, wet, quiet and a little formal, whereas Chrissy for me had always been hot, loud and casual. Shorts and t-shirt, soccer or cricket in the backyard, water bombs and water guns, loud conversation and gorging ourselves on stew and barbecue. Far different to the semi-rigid traditional family dinners that so many of my Canadian mates described. Then again I didn’t actually attend any, so how the fuck would I know?

Cultural points of reference are different as well. I mean, sure, I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life before. It’s apparently a classic. I haven’t seen it in about ten years though, and I’ve never watched A Christmas Story. Didn’t even know there was a movie called A Christmas Story and that it was a cultural milestone for North Americans until I saw it on a Cracked video. Nor have I seen A Charlie Brown Christmas or that version of A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray. As for on the Australian side, well, I guess they don’t understand the Boxing Day Test? They don’t actually understand Boxing Day if I’m being perfectly honest. I don’t know. I guess I was just a Stranger in a Strange Land. Doesn’t matter. Aussie Christmas is the superior Christmas.

Fewer concerns about the ongoing “War against Christmas” as well. Seriously, I heard three months of comically stupid bitching about Starbucks decision to stick with plain red cups last year. This year Peter Dutton (Member of Parliament and comically stupid example of the physical and psychological effects of sticking your head in a barrel of botox for extended periods) called upon good, honest Aussie Christians to rise up against the PC crowd’s war on good, honest Aussie Christmas. That was on the news for about two days, and then we forgot about it. Thank God.

I guess the celebrating I did was on Christmas Eve. That was fun. Went with a coworker and her boyfriend to go see Die Hard at the Rio Theater. Went for a walk trying to find an open bar somewhere on Commercial Drive, failed, and ended up just knocking one back in the back of their car. Yeah, that was good fun. Not being sarcastic, I have very fond memories of that. Called my parents when I got back to the house, it already being Christmas Day over there. Here. That was nice. Funny how it was a year ago now. Feels like so much longer, while other memories feel like they happened yesterday.

I helped put up the family tree. I might even claim that I did most of the work. Not in front of my siblings, of course, but they’d make the exact same claim. It’s artificial, and been in the family for over twenty years. Still looks fantastic. The underneath is filled with presents, the results of six people (five of whom earn an income) making up for all those years when beneath the tree was bare. We’re waiting for some close family friends to arrive, ready to eat, drink, laugh and reminisce. I’m downstairs, with my brother, earphones in to drown out the music my dad’s playing upstairs. Shitty music by shitty artists and Coldplay. Swear to god he hasn’t bought a single new song since well before I left. He had to shave off his beard a couple days ago as well, after he mangled a trimming, which is shame cause he had a great silver fox black santa thing going. Mum’s been cooking, prepping and cooking some more. I’ll be pouring drinks later. It’s gonna be a good day. So’s tomorrow.

I hope you guys all have a great couple days as well, whether you’re celebrating Christmas or your own tradition’s or don’t celebrate anything at all. I hope you guys have an excellent time.

Wishing you a very Merry Bloody Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Advertisements

Halloween night in New Orleans

It’s going to be a long night.

That’s not hard to figure out. There’s a group of about eight or nine of us, all staying at the hostel or working there or both, and we hit Bourbon street not long before midnight. Late in some cities, early in others, and in New Orleans it’s right on time.

I’ve actually dressed up (to my great shock) and there’s fake blood liberally splattered beneath my mouth, through my beard, and strategically painted across my face. I’m going for a vampire look – the violent, brutal extensions of eastern European myths and metaphors for sexually transmitted diseases kind of vampire, not the sparkly kind – and I think I pull it off. I even bought some fangs, but the instructions were more complicated than I was expecting. After about ten seconds of consideration I said “fuck it” and just touched up the blood on my neck.

We don’t care much about Halloween in Australia. Truthfully I don’t think many countries do. From what I’ve seen of the world so far Canada cares a fair bit and that’s about it. Maybe Mexico does as well, what with the Day of the Dead happening at the same time, but I’d want to ask a Mexican about that before making any claims. For the rest of us it’s just another excuse to drink (as if we needed an excuse), maybe an excuse to drink in a shitty costume that we’ve applied the bare minimum of imagination to creating. Maybe.

But in New Orleans Halloween is an event, a party that stretches across the week and weekend before until all involved are exhausted and badly hung over. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Lights on, shirts off, knickers most decidedly in a twist as they creep up the bum of a rather sexy looking nun.

We hit the street, most of us having put some bit of effort into their costumes, one person running through the usual range of typically Aussie jokes that border on the dad-territory to laugh off not bothering (“I’m dressed as a bloody legend!” etc.) I laughed, so I guess it worked.

Bourbon Street is bedlam. Hundreds of people out and about, enjoying the last night (the actual night) Halloween. We spot a dozen Where’s Wallies (he’s usually much better at hiding) and at least two popes. Suicide Squad style Harley Quinn’s and Jokers are the most common, and that’s a little disappointing as a fan of the character. I feel better when I see a more traditional Harley roaming the streets with a Poison Ivy. Not even five minutes in there’s a drink in everyone’s hand (except one guy who doesn’t drink) and we’re crossing between bars, yelling in each others ears and watching the crowd. Up on the rafters people are screaming at random passers-by and hurling beads almost at random. A guy flashes his tits and gets a handful of beads as well. None of the female revellers are quite so bold, surprisingly enough. Or not surprising. It’s not fucking Mardi Gras. Still they get beads tossed at them by strangers, and I can’t help but feel people have a real misunderstanding of demand-side economics.

Someone swears creatively enough to get everyone’s attention and we turn to see three people in a group human centipede costume being led on a leash by a fourth. They’re bloody and wearing naught by bandages, noses near enough to each other’s arses that they’d know the exact moment the person in front of them last showered. The most frightening thing is that they’re on their hands and knees, crawling along the road. Crawling along fucking Bourbon Street, with its eternal puke and trash puddles, studded with broken glass and plastic. They’re gonna be sick tomorrow. But it’s a calculated risk, ‘cause they immediately draw a circle of admirers getting following along and trying to get that perfect shot. Good for them.

We get into a bar and there’s a band playing, a cowboy is singing and a ghoul is playing a mean guitar. One of the female singers is wearing a leather boob-tube and briefs. The cowboy remarks that he has no idea what she was dressed as, but it doesn’t matter. She still looks great. They play covers, play them well, and we pile onto the dance floor, bouncing in that way that people do when they’re trying to avoid spilling drinks. I’m on my second or third since hitting Bourbon Street, with a few before that.

It’s going to be a long night.

I fucking love New Orleans. It’s a filthy, dirty city with an incomparable life of its own. It’s a tourist town, most definitely, but one that people actually live in. There’s construction all over the place, honest industry and all that jazz (heh). More than that people are good in this city. They nod and smile as you walk past, are quick to shoot the shit and unafraid to help a stranger with a foreign accent.

And it is absolutely bonkers at the best of times, only growing more insane during its festivals and holidays and parades. The night after Halloween the local bicycle club rode past the hostel. Dozens of bikes lit up with neon and carrying blaring music from speakers on trailers or hitched to the seats. I mean, that just doesn’t happen in other cities, at least not in the same way because this, this is normal.

What’s also normal is drinking. We pass from one bar to another, hopping over puddles and picking our way through the crowd and debris of a city wide party. More bands, more music, more alcohol. Our group gradually dwindles, as is inevitable on any pub crawl. People get tired, people get too drunk and high, people need to go to work the next day (massive respect to the Brazilian who needed to attend a convention the next morning – and did – but still made it to three in the morning).

I’m on the rye and ginger ale, which I’ve got a taste for at the moment. Probably go back to scotch and cokes when I get back to Australia (can’t ever shake those bogan beginnings) but for now I’m enjoying the smooth sweetness. I flirt with people unsuccessfully. We keep drinking. It’s as easy as breathing, what with the ability to walk the streets legally with your grog in hand and the low, low prices (even in the tourist areas). I mean, it’s not always cheap, but you get a high alcoholic content for your buck (I nearly gagged on one drink that was mostly bad whiskey).

Eventually I get separated from the group. Long story that’s not very interesting. Time to make a decision. We’ve been making our way down Bourbon, with the intention to make our way to the party on Frenchman but we haven’t even made it halfway down. So that’s the way I head.

It’s not so much that the party’s winding down so much that it’s settling down. Folk have paired off or found the bar or event they want to end the night on. The crowd on the street is thinning, leaving a thicker layer of refuse than what I imagine is normal. More great costumes though, more to be seen and done.

It’s still going to be a long night.

What’s what? A bit of blog news.

Alright guys, so I’m typing this from my hostel room in Toronto right now. I’m about to take a nap (because my body clock is fucked), then I’m gonna go drinking. Hooray for me! But first I wanted to explain the spotty update schedule.

So as has been mentioned, I’m taking the long road back to Australia. That means I’m basically gonna spend the next four weeks on the move without the time, internet access and (if I’m being honest) inclination for most of that period to consistently update the site. Adding new content is hard. That doesn’t mean I won’t, it just might be randomly spaced and topically random. Couple of things, however, I’d like you to know:

1. Life in the Avenger’s Barracks is on a sort of hiatus. Not that it won’t be updated, just it… won’t be updated. Fuck. Alright, so we’re coming onto the last few chapters now, coming to the end and I want to get this right. I’m gonna come right out and say it’s probably not going to be as satisfying as I want, but that’s alright. This has always been an experiment and practice. But I don’t want to release chapters until they’re done. And that’s gonna be hard for the next few weeks. I’m so sorry to those who have had to deal with my already unreliable update schedule, and I appreciate everyone who’s still reading and will finish this adventure with me.

2. I’ll be rejiggering the schedule when I get back. I’ve got a few new semi regulars I wanna try out and maybe the dramatic return of irrational irritations. Maybe. We’ll see.

3. I love you guys.

What am I gonna miss?

It’s raining while I’m writing this. I feel like I should work that into this somehow, some sort of metaphor about the city weeping for my loss. Probably says something about my own ego that this might even occur. Probably says something else that I’d never do it even close to seriously. More than anything it reminds me of my arrival, sitting in my hotel room between exploring Vancouver and hitting up bars while the city showed how soggy it can get.

There’s a weirdness about my imminent departure. Stress maybe. I’ve got a long list of things I need to do before I leave and only a few days to do it. Less than a week and I’ll be gone. Mostly it’s just people I want to see before I go, share that one final toast and sing along to that one final song, get properly shitfaced and argue about everything from the superiority of the Australian electoral system to whether or not Suicide Squad has earned the right to sequel – sober me isn’t sure, drunken me is much more decisive in his opinions about second tier superhero movies.

The two discussions I’ve been having the most over the past few weeks though, drunk or not, have been answering, “are you excited?” and “are you gonna miss it?”

The first is easy to answer: of course I fucking am. I haven’t seen two of my siblings in over twenty months (and it’ll still be another one til I see them again, even if I’m leaving the city). I’m tired and homesick and truthfully, while I have built a life here, it’s never become anything more than an extended sideshow to the life I lived back home. The life I’m going back to. The life I have planned.

The second is more difficult to answer. The short version? Not really. The long version? Maybe. Yeah, that doesn’t sound that long but bear with me. Let’s start by saying that if you asked me what I’m going to miss I’d tell you about the much longer list of things I’m not gonna miss.

It’s raining while I’m writing this. That’s something I’m not gonna miss, the rain here. This might sound strange but there’s no drama to the rain here. It’s just constant and soaking. No thunder and lightning, no hail and, shit, most of the time it doesn’t even rain hard enough to make a sound when it hits the roof. You might not even know it’s started raining til you look outside and realise that everything’s gotten wet. No wonder everyone uses dryers here, you wouldn’t have any warning to bring the clothes in if it suddenly began to shower. So you end up with all the problems that come with rain (worse even, since some bastard decided the pave each and every walkable surface with the slipperiest substances they could find) without the fun stuff, the noise and the light shows. It’ll be nice to get back to proper thunderstorms again. Miss me some dramatic weather.

Caesars are another thing I’m not gonna miss. Take a Bloody Mary and add clam juice. Yeah, really. Fuckin’ clam juice. Made so many of these fuckin’ things, and I’m very glad that I’ll never have to make another one again. Such a boring drink and I don’t think half the people who drink them even like them, as evidenced by the number of people who ask for “easy spice.” No mate, that’s not how caesars work. You don’t like spice? Then you don’t like caesars.

Other things are more difficult. Ice hockey (or as they call it here, just hockey), for example, is something I both am and am not gonna miss on the TV. On the one hand, it’s a great sport to watch that ticks all the right boxes. On the other, it’s on all the fucking time, and often becomes the only thing people care about. But I’m still gonna miss seeing the odd game on the TV. Definitely not gonna miss baseball or CFL/NFL though. Fuck baseball and North American football.

But these are just a handful of things on a very long list of will-he-won’t-he’s, and ignore the complicated relationship you form with a place you spend any decent amount of time in. That I’m sick of Vancouver has nothing to do with the quality of the city itself. That I’m sick of Canada and North American culture in general has nothing to do with country and continent. It’s just been a long time since I’ve been home, and I miss it dearly.

Funny how I’ve never really thought of this place as home. It’s always just been where I live, not where I’m from. I was talking to an Irish girl not that long ago, who’d lived on more continents in more cities than I had. She said it takes six months to settle into a new place. I’d agree with that. But settling doesn’t mean taking root. Settling doesn’t mean a place becomes home. I don’t think I ever gave Vancouver that chance. It’s not the city’s fault, I just never saw a reason to. I’ve been here twenty months and there’s always been a sense of intransigence about the way I live. There’s no furniture for me to pack or give away, no art or decoration, there’s not even ever that much in my section of the fridge. It’s not that I don’t want things, it’s just that for the whole time I’ve been here I never planned on staying, so why the fuck bother?

Maybe if I’d met someone, but I didn’t. Maybe if I saw reason to stay through the winter, but I haven’t. So all the little flaws, irritations and annoyances built up and up and up, and without a reason to overlook them all it was inevitable that familiarity would breed contempt. And so I’m going home.

It’s not you Vancouver, it’s me. I was never ready to commit to you, and you deserve all the people who are. You’re a great city, really, but you’re just not right for me. But I’m glad we had this time together.

It’s raining while I’m writing this. It’s supposed to rain every day well past the morning I climb on a plane to Toronto. I’ll probably have caught my next flight to New Orleans by the time it stops. A constant, ugly downpour, stripping the leaves off the trees and turning walking down the fucking pavement into a battle of wits and balance.

I’m not gonna miss this place. I’ll miss the people here, but not the city, and they can come visit me down in Sydney. But I’m glad I came. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, worked out who I am and what I want to do, here. That’s what I’ll take from this. That’s why it was worth living in a place I’ve never loved, never been willing love. Always planned on leaving.

Shit, it’s still raining. I can’t hear it, and it’s too dark outside to see it, but I know it is.

Heading home

I’m flying home soon. Sort of. Y’see I’m leaving Vancouver on the 20th of October, leaving the life I’ve led for the last nineteen months (it will be twenty by that point), and heading to Toronto. After Toronto comes a return to New Orleans, then down Cancun way in Mexico (though I don’t plan on spending much time in Cancun itself), back up into the good ol’ U-S-of-A to finally check out San Francisco.

You jealous? Yeah, you’re jealous.

The part I’m real excited about, however, is my final destination at the end of it all. Just over three weeks after leaving Vancouver I’ll be climbing on a plane. Fourteen hours of travel that are also two days later – because timezones – I’ll be climbing off a plane in Charles Kingsford-Smith. Sydney. Home.

I’m so fuckin’ excited. Counting down the weeks, the days, the hours. It’s been so long and I miss it all so much. Friends and family I haven’t seen in well over a year and a half, a brother and a sister whose birthday’s I’ve missed, my dog, Aussie beer, lamb, Thai food and Donner kebabs, the bars and pubs I learnt how to drink in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna miss Vancouver. No, that’s not true. I’m not going to miss Vancouver. I’ve not been able to form any real attachment to this city despite what it’s given me and I’ve grown tired of its many flaws and pretensions. I can’t look past them like I can with other cities I’ve visited, other cities I’ve loved, other cities I haven’t lived in long enough to become uncomfortable. But I’m gonna miss the people I’ve met here. The good folk who shared a drink, a meal, a board game or a movie with me. That taught me how to bartend or at least encouraged it, allowed me the chance to realise that yes, this is a job I love and want to keep doing. Will keep doing. I might not miss this city, but I will miss them.

They better fuckin’ follow through with promises to come visit.

But I’m not missing them yet. I’m not really thinking about missing them either. I just wanna get home and see my family, see my mates and be able to talk normally to both without needing to repeat myself (Fuck, I can’t fuckin’ wait to be able to talk – and swear – normally). I wanna pat my dog, see cricket and rugby and AFL on the TV instead of baseball and NFL and ice hockey.

What I really wanna do, what I really wanna do, is sit somewhere on the harbour with a schooner, and get very, happily drunk while watching the sun set over Bridge and the Opera house.

I can’t Goddamn wait.

A bit of a heads up.

Alright. How are we all today? Good? Fantastic. Quick word with the couple of dozen of you excellent and discerning folk who regularly frequent this site (and anybody that chooses to join such illustrious company in the near future).

To start with, I’d like to direct you over to Evade Gismo. It’s a blog written by a co-worker of mine and his brother. It’s been going for a couple of months now (though I was only made aware of it recently), and is obviously still a work in progress as any new and old blog always is, but I like the aesthetic, they’ve got high ambitions and the style is not altogether dissimilar to how I write over here. The main reason I’m mentioning it, however (aside from giving a shout-out to a mate’s work of course, which is a given), is that there’s been a bit of talk about regularly contributing to their site. Not sure when, what or how, but I will make sure that anything published over there is at least re-blogged over here as well (since I’m bad enough at keeping up over here without dividing my content further). Anyway, I was thinking journaling and critiquing a playthrough of KotOR II now that it’s been released on Mac. What do you guys think? I think it could be fun.

Whatever happens, if it happens, probably won’t be for a few weeks mind you, and that segues half-neatly into item two on the agenda. I’m going travelling for a couple of weeks. My sister’s flying in from Australia and we’re gonna go for a terrific jaunt ’round the good old US-of-A. When am I going on this trip? That’s a great question voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like Sam Worthington practising his American accent. I’ll be climbing onto a 7am flight tomorrow down to LA. Should be good fun. That might make the next few weeks of updates here… difficult. The plan is that I will be updating a new Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues every week (wifi willing) on Tuesday (wherever I happen to be time), but a few other posts I had planned for the next few weeks might have to wait ’til I get back. But, hey, I’ll take pictures. Can’t promise you guys’ll see any of them, of course, but pictures will be taken.

Alright then, that’s it for today. Just wanted to give you all a heads up. I’d just like to say that I appreciate all the people who are so patient with me and continue to check in regularly. Talk soon, and here’s hoping I’m more deserving of your attentions in the future.

And the US Women’s Team have done it!

The pre-game shift was intense but manageable. Families decked out in the red, white and blue, a few young folk who may have been wearing the same kit since the Independence day celebrations the night before, the odd pair in blue jerseys sporting a rising sun painted on their cheeks, piling in to get a feed and a beer or three in them before heading off to the stadium where the price of hotdogs rises exponentially and the only alcohol available is a choice cat-piss or watered-down cat piss. The rush was over by about 3, the last of the customers off to watch the game live gone by 20-to. Vancouver woke up yesterday to a sky of red and yellow, a layer of smoke and ash from one of the many raging wildfires colouring the sunlight like stained glass. I growled out a greeting along the lines of “something’s on fire” to one of my room mates and remembered a few of the blood red sunsets I’d seen back home. By the time the day was over the city would be reminiscent of old stereotypes of London covered in smog and the air would taste like ash. But before then two teams of women, one from across the sea in Japan and the other from across the border in the USA, needed to sort out who’d be wearing the crown as queens of football for the next four years, and everyone was expecting a hell of a match.

And it fuckin’ was. One of the bartenders and I ducked into one of the places nearby to grab some food that we hadn’t had a hundred times before and keep an eye on the game, with her boyfriend due to join us there. We settled in to what I’d heard predicted time and again would be a long, low-scoring battle of attrition between two top teams. My co-worker ducked off not long after kick-off to the restroom. Not long after that the Americans had a corner. I was watching with some interest, expecting the Japanese to go on the counter-attack as soon as… Holy shit the Americans scored. A section of the back wall and corner of the restaurant burst into cheers and it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where they were from. My friend came back.

“The Americans just scored,” I said.

She responded with some equivalent of “No way!”

Then the Americans scored again. The back wall of patrons exploded in cheers again. I think I swore quite loudly. My friend was shocked at how little time had passed since the beginning of the game. I began trying to assure her (and myself) that the Japanese could recover, that being 2-nil down wasn’t the end of the world. They could still win it.

Then they scored a third goal. Bloody hell. Was that the same girl who scored the second? I was sure it was the same who’d scored the first. Yep. Nup. Carli Lloyd scored the first two. Lauren Holliday scored the third. Right. Good. Bit of variety in their scoring. Could the Japanese still-

Nope. Carli Lloyd scores again, for her third and final goal of the match and the USA sit at 4 nil. I can’t see the timer on the television, since I’m a touch short-sighted (just barely legal to drive without glasses) so I check my watch. Christ. It’s only been about fifteen minutes. Great goal though, straight over the Japanese goalie who’d strayed too far from her line, kicked from the American half of the field. Even still, she almost reached it. Almost…

My colleague’s boyfriend arrived, we ordered food, and didn’t pay near as much attention to the game. I look over everytime part of the restaurant cheers, but the result had been more or less decided. The Japanese fight back, and a 5-2 loss has a little less sting than a 4-0 loss would. Maybe. Possibly. Probably still sucks. But goddamn, well done Team USA. A well-earned and well-deserved win. I’m positive the Matildas would’ve beaten you in what would have been a fantastic second outing, but such is life. They’ll get you at the Olympics next year. Yes, they will. Yes, they will. It doesn’t matter if I’m biased, so are you! Well, we’ll just see, won’t we?

We had to return to work before the end of the game and watched the trophy ceremony while preparing for the inevitable post-game rush of Yanks celebrating what was a fantastic victory.

Something that was a little disappointing was the number of people cheering for the Japanese out of an attitude of wanting “anyone but the Americans” to win. It seems a little bitter, doesn’t it? I myself was cheering for the Japanese, mainly because when given the choice I tend to cheer for an Asian team playing. We come from that group, and showing some solidarity for our fellow Asian teams seems like the right thing to do. I’d certainly rather a country cheer for the Aussies out of a sense of fraternity and respect than because they don’t like where the other team was born. Then again, I also quite like Americans. They’re polite, friendly, outgoing, helpful, generous, understanding and tip well. I’m quite happy to not judge them by the stupider members of their society (same as I’d appreciate them not judging every Aussie by their experience of Queenslanders). They also came out in force to support their national women’s team, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of other nationalities with teams in the World Cup.

So, as I said. Well done Team USA. You played fucking brilliantly and deserved the win. Good luck in the future, and next time we meet the Aussie ladies are going to crush you.