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.

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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.

Irrational irritations and other Unnecessary Issues (29/3/16)

So, Canadian coins are a little stupid. So are American coins, since they’re basically the same (aside from the fact that the Yanks haven’t gotten around to getting rid of the penny or the dollar bill like normal countries), but I live in Canada and use Canadian coin to give Canadian change to Canadians so this is going to be a more specific rant about Canadian currency (Canada!).

I don’t have a problem with the one and two dollar coin. Those are fine, and I’ve even gotten used to calling them loonies and toonies. They’re a good size and feel pretty substantial. Good shit. No, I’m talking about the silver. Well, technically I’m talking about the nickel-plated steel, but silver sounds so much cooler. Anyway, there are two things that piss me off in particular: size discrepancies and making change.

Size-wise I am of course talking about the nickel and dime. Why the bloody fuck is the Canadian ten cent piece so much smaller than the five cent piece? Why is the more useful, more numerous larger denomination the more inconsequential of the two? I don’t know why and, quite frankly, I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is why you haven’t changed this Canada? Is it because they’re basically the same size as the American nickel and dimes and you’re worried that it might hurt tourism if you got your own currency Canada? Is that it? You don’t want to confuse poor American tourists? Well guess what, Americans don’t fucking care. The smart ones expect foreign-looking coinage in foreign lands and the stupid ones are too mesmerised by the fact that you have your own currency at all to care. Make your ten cent pieces bigger!

As for the second item on the list, making change, you need to ditch this whole ‘quarter’ nonsense and pick up on the Australian and New Zealand system of having a twenty and fifty cent system. Yes, I know it means printing a whole new coin (is it still printing if it’s not a note or bill, or is it called, like, stamping? Stamping new coins? Forging new coins? Can someone google this for me?) but guess what, you’ll need fewer coins in the system because shops, restaurants banks will need fewer coins in the till. Let me explain. Let’s say you need to give someone seventy cents change. Now to do that in Canada you need a minimum of four coins, two quarters and two dimes. In Australia on the other hand (with a fifty, twenty, ten and five cent piece available) you need a minimum of just two coins, a fifty and a twenty. And Australia beats or breaks even with Canadian on all but two occasions, twenty-five cents (a single quarter in Canada, a twenty and a five cent in Australia) and thirty-five cents (a quarter and a dime in Canada, a twenty, a ten and five cent in Australia). All the others are either ties or Australia wins. Need to give someone ninety cents? In Canada you need a minimum five coins, in Australia you need a minimum of three. Forty cents? Three in Canada, two in Australia. Fifty cents? Two and one. Less coin, more easily broken. Ipso facto, quarters are stupid as well.

Now, do I believe that Canada should change its money on my say-so alone? Of course I do. I’m fucking brilliant. But do your projections, work out your costs, mine your data. You’ll see I’m right, and you’ll regret not listening to me sooner. Because I’ll already be gone, back to the sunburnt land and our superior, grown-up currency!

Seriously though, loonies and toonies? Perfectly acceptable currency, very functional and I like the fact that you’ve given them nicknames. Also, thank God you got rid of the penny. Man, fuck the penny.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (15/3/16)

Yesterday was the fourteenth of March, 14.3 for most of the world but 3.14 for these arrogant North American wankers. Now I can complain long and hard about the American system of dating things, and I will at some point in the not too distant future, but this time I want to talk about something else. Y’see, thanks to the entirely irrational dating system used in North America yesterday was Pi day. Y’know, π. That number that ‘geniuses’ on TV use to prove that they’re geniuses by quoting it to the sixty-third decimal or some such bullshit, but us mere mortals usually round up to 3.14 (but never to exactly 3).

So yesterday was Pi day and that seems as good as any reason to complain about the lack of pies in Canada. The edible kind, not the numerical kind.

Well, there are pies up here in the northern hemisphere I suppose. I had pumpkin pie for the first time last Thanksgiving. It was alright, tasty enough, though it still doesn’t quite feel like it should be a dessert if you get my meaning. And other dessert pies aren’t unusual. It’s possible to get the occasional shepard’s pie floating around, made with mince that might even have come from a cow and reconstituted potato.

But I’m not talking about any of that, I’m talking about the proper Aussie meat pie. The kind that comes in a foil tin, fits in your hand and available from anywhere with a power outlet to plug in one of those mini-ovens (for keeping things warm and on display). Fuck 420, I wanna fuckin’ Four’N Twenty meat pie at that perfect temperature where the heat brings out the flavour of the beef and gravy but doesn’t burn the roof of your mouth. Mrs Mac or Sargents, drenched in tomato sauce (not ketchup, bloody tomato sauce) I wanna walk into a Vietnamese bakery (they don’t seem to have those here either, damnit) and a grab a steak and pepper pie on my way home from work, or suddenly realise that since I’m in Newtown I can sneak into a gourmet bakery and switch things up with a curry chicken or lamb and rosemary pie. I wanna goddamn meat pie. And a lamington. But mostly a goddamn meat pie.

There are a few places around that cater to the Aussie palate, but the only one that’s worth getting from a pie from is all the way up in Whistler (Peaked Pies, give it a go if you’re up there). Not surprising given the concentration of Australians up in Whistralia, but not a practical option down here in Vancouver. The other places just tasted… not good… enough? Yeah, not good enough. Like the meat was worse than the lowest grade horsemeat put into a service station pastry or the gravy tasted chalky and had the consistency of flubber or the pastry lacked the structural integrity to hold everything together or some combination of things. Just, not good enough. And still difficult to get to.

But good god I miss pies.

Irrational Irritations and other Unnecessary Issues (1/3/2016)

You know what I don’t actually mind anymore? People taking pictures of their food. Seriously, if you want to take pictures of that salad on your table and put it on Instagram that is not just completely okay with me, but these days I will defend you for doing so. No one is more surprised that I just typed out that last sentence more than me.

Now, it used to annoy me. Back home when I was out with friends we’d see someone holding their phones above their plates we’d have a good laugh at these ridiculous people letting their food go cold. If you were one of our friends there was a good chance we’d relentlessly mock you to your face, or at least share a groan at the sight of yet another picture of a steak sandwich appearing on your social media wall of choice. I mean, why would you be taking a photograph when you could be eating it? There are starving children all over who dream of that linguini in that bowl and here you are putting a picture of it up on the internet for them to see, rubbing it in.

Not surprising that I’d have a problem with something like this, at least initially. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’ll make broad judgements based on trivial and inconsequential things that have no real effect on me.. I’m half-a-hipster, so a complete arsehole. Shit, that’s what these posts are basically here for. Working at a restaurant you’d think that I’d only get more and more annoyed by people taking pictures of their food. Apparently, you’d be wrong.

Y’see I like the place I work at, I like the food, and I like that other people like the food. I may not be the one in the kitchen prepping calamari or flipping burgers, but I feel a certain pride in the quality of the meals we provide. They look good, they smell great, they taste amazing. Seeing someone who is so excited by the sight of one of our burgers that they want to create a permanent memory with their friends and share it with their mates appeals to that pride. It’s a fucking compliment, how could I be annoyed at that?

But it goes beyond pride at work. About a week after I arrived in Canada I went to a bar that I’d eventually become a regular at and began working my way through the cocktail menu. It’d only been a short while but I was already missing the people I’d left back home, and that night I was missing one of best mates in particular. Back home I’d have been at that new bar with him, ordering the whiskey and rum based while he’d be getting into the gin and vodka drinks. I missed that, so when I got a delicious twist on an old fashioned I did something I don’t normally do. Snapped a picture and tagged him with it on Instagram. Sharing a drink with my mate the only way I could. God bless social bloody media and all that.

So yeah, I get it. I appreciate it. I’m sorry to the people I made fun of. If you wanna take a picture of that lovely looking banana split you’re having for breakfast (yolo) than do it. I can’t guarantee I’ll ‘like’ it, mind you, but I’ll defend your right to put it on Facebook.

Still not a fan of gym selfies though. Fuck’em.