Monday, 28 May 2007

"Slamming" published May 27

I’m not sure what the equivalent of slamming a phone down on someone was before they invented phones, but I’m sure it was something like slamming a door, or slamming a Bible closed or just slamming someone in the face.
Because the act of slamming down the phone is hostile. [can’t have a hostile art]. It leaves the person on the other end feeling rejected and every one of us sits there and stares at the phone in our hand in some misguided belief that it’s a technical fault. We hold it up to our ear again and say ‘hello?” even though we really know that the other person has slammed us. It might have had something to do with their last two words which began with “f” and ended with “u.” Or the fact that you were only half way through your treatise on the injustices that have been meted out upon yourself in recent days.
Some of us respond by ringing back and attempting to continue that conversation, of which there is a 99.9% chance of that happening while others simply dial our best friend and say: “I can’t believe he/she hung up on me!” before detailing the entire conversation and implying that the slammer was the loser.
Being slammed is still one of the rudest things anyone can do to you apart from getting out of bed and putting their clothes back on half way through sex, or leaving a restaurant in the middle of an intimate dinner for two. These actions break the rules of engagement and there are few things left in life that actually involve engagement. Conversation in person is a dying art as anyone who has recently been to a party will admit, wrestling just isn’t cool and sex with strangers is problematic. The most common form of engagement these days is on the telephone where we are giving each other our undivided attention, guaranteeing a few minutes or more of information swapping and leaving us both feeling a little better for the experience. So breaking that agreement is just plain nasty.
Deeper analysis of the slammer will reveal that they are certainly frustrated, probably angry and most likely couldn’t think of anything to say. If only real conversation were that simple. How useful would it be when you reach that crucial place in the arc of a heated discussion when you know you’ve lost? When you’re on the wrong side of the Bell curve and the only way is down, disappearing into thin air would be a merciful escape rather than having to do the mature thing and admit you were wrong or as I prefer to say: “I’m so over this conversation, I’ll get back to you.”
I’m deeply ashamed to admit that I am a slammer. It’s been a lifelong passion which began very early on with doors.
Phone slamming was a natural progression from doors, but you only do it with someone you care about. We never slam on the telemarketer ringing during dinner, we’re just too polite. But the boyfriend who went to the rugby instead of coming around to watch Four Weddings and A Funeral is fair game. As is the first husband who you know will slam on you first if you don’t get in soon. But you never slam on your grandmother or your best friend’s relationship crisis. That’s a different kind of phone etiquette involving holding it to your ear while you read a magazine and saying “mm” and “really” and “imagine that” during the three pauses in the half hour conversation. That’s called false engagement and along with faking an orgasm is just as rude as slamming, if only they knew you were doing it. I’ve done less slamming as I’ve got older, mainly because the only person I care enough to slam on refuses to play. He simply ignores it, gets on with his life and waits until I eventually need to phone back to remind him to get some milk on the way home. It’s only slightly annoying that at the age of 45 my husband’s parenting rule of not reinforcing bad behaviour in children is being used on me and working.
But the other day I got slammed. I was in the middle of reminding a friend to use the phrase: “And how was your day?” at least once in a conversation.
“You’d miss it if I didn’t ring,” he said, under the illusion that I needed yet more tedium in my obviously sad life.
“What’s to miss?” I replied.
“Miss this!” Silence.
And I’ve been trying to, honestly.

Monday, 21 May 2007

"Sisters" published May 20

One of the benefits of being a sister of the revolution is that somewhere along the line, about 1976, it became okay for a woman to pick up a hammer.
We were allowed to swing it and get a nail home if we needed to fix something. We were also eventually allowed to buy power tools from the hardware store and use them to sand a table, chop down a small tree or drill holes for a curtain railing. But we could practise our new skills only occasionally because those of us who like to get a little handy know that you are well advised to keep your efforts to a minimum and make sure you do them when there are no men around. They are still a bit sensitive about it all (whisper).
Recently after a worrying night’s sleep caused by the total lack of hot water in the house the night before I ventured out into the pre-dawn darkness around the side of the house which is inhabited by a jungle of rampant weeds. Dressed in my pyjamas and gumboots and armed with nothing but a screwdriver I managed to work out that the pilot light on the gas heater had gone out after much clearing of convolvulus and the discovery of a lost tub of conditioner which had fallen out the bathroom window. I carefully followed the instructions and re-lit it. Emerging a little worse for wear I crashed into the bedroom and woke my husband with the fantastic news that I had fixed the hot water crisis!
“Yeah I knew that.”
“It was the pilot light, I was going to do something about it today.”
“Oh so that’s why you said last night when I was wondering if we’d have to get a plumber out on a Sunday: ‘don’t worry it’s just the pilot light.’”
“If I had said that you would have had me out there in the dark to fix it and I needed my sleep.”
Let’s be clear about this. Urban men are never going to be on the level with their country counterparts when it comes to lugging bits of four by two. But when it comes to my urban man we are about equal in the handyman stakes. He not only chopped down the lime tree, he also pulled out the roots with his bare hands, which were then brandished with Fred Flinstonesque pride. He is also the more sensible one of us, pausing wisely at the prospect of ambitious home repairs and consulting the Yellow Pages. I on the other hand have been responsible for totally munting the kitchen faucet after trying to attach some unique spraying device I bought at the $2 shop for $5 which would shoot across the room whenever you turned the tap on. I have also drilled holes in plaster all over the house trying to find a piece of wood to hold a screw and therefore a picture. Who knew there were professional picture hangers? And I managed to water blast most of the paint off the house instead of giving it a wash. Is it my fault I never did woodwork or metalwork classes?
Clever women of the revolution just don’t go there. They have realised that as our men struggle with this whole equality thing they need something to write home about. No one is particularly impressed in boy town that he changed the baby’s nappies, nursed his wife back to health after a crippling bout of the flu or cooked a three course meal. They will be deeply affected if he built his own pergola or concreted the driveway, preferably in his short Stubbies, tool belt and flanny. So we women might be high flying executives hauling in twice as much cash as our hubby and that’s okay. But get out the hammer and fix something in front of him and he’ll be devastated. That’s just taking the revolution too bloody far.
So we do the little fix up jobs at dawn while they sleep, as my recent hot water escapade illustrates. And we never, ever skite about it. We know that they know things aren’t falling down around the place anymore, but no one will mention how that is happening. We learn to smile patiently as our fathers, who we use as our secret handyman advisors, respond to every question about how to fix things with: “You don’t want to be doing it like that.”
And we hope like hell every Mother’s Day as we are presented with our highly insulting bright pink “toolkit for Mum!” that no one discovers the arsenal of weapons grade tools you have hidden under the bed.

Monday, 14 May 2007

"Vandalism" published May 13

It was just like any other Friday. My little green car sat patiently in its crumbling 1940s concrete garage waiting for me to open up the aged wooden doors and take it out to lunch. Friday is lunch day, and sometimes if I have a really, really good lunch it gets to spend the night up on Ponsonby Rd, which I understand is quite a thrill for a little car with a rag top which doesn’t get out much.
This Friday would not be the same, however. As I approached the garage something wasn’t right. That feeling you get when you leave the house either without the undies or still with the slippers. My garage door had been covered in graffiti. It was a large piece of work, about three metres by three metres, it was a ghastly monochromatic minimalist work of a very dated style in a very familiar colour. A certain mud olive green that I see around the place on park benches and fences. It was Auckland City Council green and it slowly dawned on me that I had been the victim of council vandalism.
A few years ago I had persuaded a “street” artist, as I understand they are called, to paint a work of art on the old garage doors. To the uninitiated one could refer to it as “graffiti” but to us it was a piece of art which eventually was worked on by other “street” artists. Think of it as a mural in progress which greets our visitors before they enter our jungle, my personal work of art in progress.
After the first work had been completed a very well dressed mother, who also happens to be a former city councillor parked outside it in her expensive car with her teenage son and informed me that her son was simply admiring the “cool graffiti”. More recently, I’ve heard that Eastern suburbs mothers are paying street artists to paint their son’s bedrooms to resemble a New York subway and an architect even hired them to paint the fence of a new house just to give it that “street” feel. Call me a trail blazer if you like, I just happen to think that art on the street is good.
My nine-year-old daughter was horrified and immediately suggested that I write “a strongly worded letter of complaint with exclamation marks!” to the council. She should probably stop watching Neighbours at War. My husband, being the calm one in the family, rang the council and pointed out that the garage was on private property. He was told a “pro-active” anti-graffiti volunteer had been the culprit. I look forward to following his court case after he or she is arrested for vandalism. Or do they just arrest young people wearing hoodies and backpacks full of spray cans for vandalism these days?
It would seem we must now spend our lives protecting the right to live and work in an environment which hasn’t just stepped out of the pages of an architectural digest immaculately groomed in beige tones and minimalist influences. If we wanted to live in an environment like that we’d all move to Dannemora where I’m sure many a pissed husband has climbed into bed with the wrong wife because all the houses are identical. But instead we choose to live in a neighbourhood where there are remnants of a past. The Tongan family over the road who laugh like a longed for melody most days and fill up a shipping container on the front verge every Christmas to send to the Pacific have been here longer than anyone. Will an over-enthusiastic volunteer be removing the container this year? The park that fills up every weekend with sports mad locals feeding on chips and sausages from the Richmond Rovers clubrooms which have already been the target of stone yucca lovers who regard them as an eyesore. They’ll be wanting to remove the billboards next.
My neighbourhood, like most is organic. It possesses a history of people, structures and colours that deserve to be preserved even if they’re not to our taste. But as property values get ridiculous the values of our houses are being pressured to become clean and tidy and provide a haven for stone garden yucca lovers. Billboards, fences, even my old garage are all part of the way our city grew and should be left to reassure us that, just like our traffic congestion, which I notice the council and its over enthusiastic volunteers are unable to fix, they make up our city. And, with the exception of Garth George, that is just the way we like it.

Monday, 7 May 2007

"Rich Men" published May 6

I don’t think I’m the only woman who has asked herself: “Why the hell didn’t I marry a rich guy?” It’s a question that pops into your head from time to time when your husband “does the figures” on your mortgage and tells you exactly how much interest you paid the bank last year. When you read one of those French property magazines and see you could be the owner of a 20 room chateau in the Dordogne for a mere 1.5 million Euros if you had that kind of cash hanging around. When you meet Gilda Kirkpatrick.
But then you take a look at the guy you married and realize that when you marry for love you are best buddies, like meets like, able to overcome all sorts of obstacles together because, well you just love the guy.
Yeah, but how many more obstacles could you overcome with heaps of cash?
Most of us had a time in our lives when hooking a rich guy could have happened. When we were 20, stretchmarks were still something you only saw in magazines and you had the enthusiasm, energy and experimental nature to allow you to be reasonably interesting to hang out with. As a journalist I should have opted for business journalism rather than the popular press and thrown myself in the path of budding millionaires of the future, ready, willing and able to tag along for the ride.
But then I would have had to write about share markets and indexes instead of rock Gods and where’s the fun in that when you’re 20?
But that was then.
Today spending time with a man who has to wear black polo necks to hide his fabulously wealthy turtle neck and has a permanent smug aura doesn’t seem too much of a sacrifice. Listening to the details of his next property deal while you wonder if you can get that handbag in blue, seems like fun. You’ve already got the pink, white and gold, but you’re having a blue day. Beats paying a mortgage. And I’m told it’s not too late. There are millionaires out there, just waiting to be snapped up.
My plan is as follows.
1) Attend charity events. The Retired Polo Ponies Endowment Fund Ball looks like a good bet. And then there’s the America’s Cup,which certainly behaves like a charity.
2) Hang out with Gilda. Her husband James is apparently worth $80 million and when she was introduced to me recently with all the pomp and ceremony of an audience with Princess Diana I couldn’t help notice she had quite the coterie of ladies in waiting. It’s possible she won’t notice one more tagging along at the many social events she and the Sunday gossip columnists attend.
3) Develop a keen interest in polo and horse racing. Nicky Watson should be able to help with that.
4) Join the National Party. John Keys doesn’t pull in much doing his current job but he’d have rich friends from the old days.
5) Start collecting vintage cars. Rich guys love cars.
6) If all else fails become a flight attendant.
The only problem with all of the above is that I would have to submit to years of plastic surgery to hang out with Gilda and her mates and not stick out like the 44-year old I am. I could no sooner join the National party than cut my arms and legs off inch by agonizing inch, nor do I possess the grim patience to be a flight attendant, be interested in any sport or drag myself out to charity events which bore me rigid within minutes. The only thing I could possibly see myself enjoying is the vintage cars. After all I already own a 1997 Mitsubishi Chariot. So maybe I should just find a vintage rich guy with a big car collection. Chances are a nice steak, a quick lap dance and a kiss on the bald head should be enough to send him off to Dreamland so that I can have some “me” time most nights.
But then there are my two lifelong burdens “personality” and “independence.” Should I ever hook a rich man he would probably want to talk about himself and his money all the time, and that would not do. I like to talk about interesting things like art, books, politics and especially me. I also prefer to earn my own money, pay my own bills and look after myself. Not many rich men would find that very attractive. What function would that leave for them to serve? Offer to buy me that chateau in the Dordogne and I’ll insist that I pay half.
Which I guess is why I never married a rich man.