Once in a lifetime laundry lessons

So I moved about a three weeks ago. It’s been a bit stressful, partly because it was shorter notice than I was expecting and partly because the only furniture I had to take with me was my bed. I’ve basically started from scratch, and honestly moving to fucking Canada (and then back to Australia twenty months on) was easier, if only because I booked the tickets months in advance and gave myself time to plan. But it’s done now and I love my little apartment. Will love it even more when my new couch finally arrives.

Funny thing though, moving. It’s full of very specific lessons that you probably will never use more than once a decade, if ever. Such as when you’re buying a washing machine.

Yeah, I bought a washing machine. A decent washing machine as well, as far as I can tell. Not one of those fancy fuckers that somehow manages to iron your clothes while it’s removing stains, but one that doesn’t seem to tear apart clothes or walk itself across the room while it’s spinning. A decent washing machine. With short pipes.

That’s the first lesson I learned. Manufacturers assume (not without reason) that the taps, outlets and waste points are going to be right next to where you’re putting the machine. So this means if said taps are more than, say, a metre away they’re not going to reach. No big deal, nothing that a trip to the hardware store can’t fix.

So I hooked it all up, plugged it all in, went for a walk back to the hardware store and picked up a clamp so the extension was properly sealed over the appropriate waste pipe (lesson number 2 learnt – always buy a clamp). Realised they’d sent me the wrong fucking washing machine. Gave the company a call, was told that I could keep it if I wanted. Did a quick Google and discovered that this was a probably a slightly better machine than what I ordered. Decided to keep it. Wondered how the bloody hell these people were still in business. Figured the answer was probably “because the internet” (lesson number 3 – the internet). Ran a quick fifteen minute cycle to clean the machine out.

Then I finally did some laundry. And that’s when I learned the big lesson. Never put whites through as your first load in a new machine.

Now I searched the inside of the washing machine before I switched it on, but I apparently missed the silicon pack hiding in the barrel. I’d run desperately low on the clean white shirts I’m required to wear to work, so in they went, and out came the murder evidence.

Seriously, they were streaked and splattered with lines and splotches of vibrant red, as if I’d been finishing each shift by bottling all the customers I didn’t like. As if I’d been out American-Psychoing hookers, hobos and coworkers without wearing the appropriate raincoat or protective smock. As if I’d seen seen the re-animated body of Jackson Pollock working a canvas with a can filled with what may or may not have been red paint, raised both arms and cried “have at it!”

Fuck my life, is what I’m trying to get at.

I needed the shirts the next day, so I pulled out the gel pack and resisted the urge to take it outside and peg it at a moving vehicle. The stain removal spray came out, the shirts went back in with my hopes and prayers. And to my surprise most of them came out passable clean. A few faint marks on the sleeves or hems, where I could hide it, but otherwise clean and white. Except for one, which still looks like Exhibit A two more washes later, and which I’ll have to soak in some proper stain remover. But that’s okay.

So life lesson learned. Never put your whites in first when you’re breaking in a new washing machine.

But when am I going to use that information again?

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Not always appropriate travel music

Do you love songs that you never actually listen to?

Anyone that knows me well can you that my love of Bostonian Celtic-punk rockers The Dropkick Murphys runs as long and deep as Spicy McHaggis’ famous pipes and infamous pipe. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since I was old enough to know what good music sounds like and remain one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, not least because a Murphys’ audience is one of the best fucking mobs you can ever be a part of. Their latest album, 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory, is another collection of epic distilled into musical form. A group of anthems and ballads telling stories of love, loss and missing hats. Take this fella right here:

Yeah, that right there? That anthem right there is everything I love about hard rock. Big, loud and proud. Strong and powerful, offering hope through the guarantee of community and support. Wind, rain, storms, violence, tragedy. Come what fucking may there’ll always be someone beside you. So stand tall and dream big. How can you resist singing along to a chorus like that?

I can’t, so nine times out of ten when it comes on through my earphones I hit the skip button.

If I’m listening to music odds are good that I’m at work (in which case I have no choice over the music being played), I’m in the car listening to the radio (in which case I also don’t have much of a choice in the playlist), or I’m on the train listening to music through a pair of headphones (where I have full control over the playlist). When a song like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ comes on I can’t help but sing loud, sing proud, sing tunelessly. And that’s just not polite on the train.

Now I have no problem telling people that I love the Dropkick Murphys, and even less of a problem telling people I love this song. I wouldn’t be writing this if I did. But no one in a crowded train (or bus) carriage wants to listen to someone else’s music. Definitely not just the chorus sung badly without any musical accompaniment. There’s a name for people who do that, and it starts with ‘C’ and rhymes with ‘runt.’

So I never really listen to this song, but I don’t love it any less. And when I do I’m probably singing along at the top of my voice.

What about you? Any songs you love but never listen to?

The Bakery

Over in Haberfield, not far from where I live these days, is the superbly named Sunshine Bakery. In a neighbourhood known for its Italian patisseries, cafes, pizzerias, delicatessens, and, indeed, bakeries, the Sunshine is unique for the fact that it is actually Vietnamese.

At least we all seem to assume it’s Vietnamese. Now that I think about it this might actually be a case of racial stereotyping since, as any true gluten-eating Aussie can tell you, the Vietnamese are fucking awesome bakers. For the sake of brevity, and not starting an entirely different discussion, I’m going to continue assuming it’s Vietnamese, and if someone can confirm or deny the fact please let me know.

Anyway, the Sunshine Bakery is a bit of a landmark for those who’ve lived and continue to live in Haberfield. It hasn’t changed at all from what I remember of the first time I got sent there to pick up a loaf of bread fifteen-odd years ago (Christ I’m getting old). A little tacky, a nice smell, an easy place to get a cheap cheese and bacon roll or something sweet and mostly sugar. Good folk too, always very friendly, honest smiles.

Now, I want to be forthright here: they do not make the best bread and pastries in Haberfield. Honestly they don’t even make the best pastries on the block. But their meat pies mate, their meat pies are the best in a fifteen kilometre radius. The pastry’s soft without falling apart and flaky on top, with the right sized chunks of meat and fresh-as-can-be ingredients, all kept at the perfect eating temperature and sold at a very reasonable price (three-fifty for a steak and mushroom! I’m bloody laughing mate). There’s nowhere within a reasonable distance that sells as good a pie, and nowhere even further out that sells’em at a non-extortionist rate (which I will still pay, because I will do a lot for a good pie), making the Sunshine Bakery an absolute gem.

I feel like there’s a metaphor there: Asian immigrants in a primarily Anglo-Italian neighbourhood producing an iconic Australian cuisine. A good metaphor, I reckon. The kind you can staple to an Australia First Party member’s racist face.

I’ll think of it later, right now I feel like a pie.

Any good pie shops near you?

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.

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 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.