Saturday, December 22, 2007

And That's It for 2007

I'm taking a break from blogging, which I plan to extend for as long as I possibly can into 2008.

I have my reasons.

Freedom of Association

I can't remember when this happened - some time way back before I got married, obviously. When I'd finished Uni, had a job and enough income to afford a flat of my own.

It was a Friday night - I was in my poky little kitchen, turning a chook over in the black cast iron roasting dish, when I heard a knock on the door. "Bugger, she's early!" I thought. The chook still had a good half hour to go and so did the spuds. I hadn't got round to blanching the haricots vert yet, nor had I set the table or crammed the candles into the necks of the Mateus bottles.

But it wasn't her at the door - it was some bloke I hadn't ever seen before, and behind him a few people who all had one thing in common - they were complete strangers to me.

"G'day, I'm Eric," he said, "Tom said you might be able to help us out."

"Uh, I'm a bit busy right now - I've got a friend coming over for dinner at eight."

Tom I knew only vaguely - he was the weird downstairs neighbour with the Che Guevara poster glued to the outside of his front door who'd buttonhole you on the staircase to ask you if you were interested in going along to a forum on the socialist approach to stopping the international arms trade and other such exciting events.

"Yeah, well the thing is, we need somewhere to hold our meeting tonight."


"Well Tom told us your thinking was fairly sound - for a bourgeois - so maybe we could use your place."

"I've got a friend coming over for dinner at eight."

So then this bloke, who still hadn't introduced himself to me gives me a pointed stare and said:

"You've heard of freedom of association, haven't you? It's a basic human right."

I gave him one of those blank looks you give someone who's just said, or done something totally astonishing, then patiently repeated:

"I've got a friend coming over for dinner at eight." Since that clearly wasn't going to be enough to get the message across I spelt out the consequences "You'll have to find somewhere else to hold your meeting."

"Typical f'k'n bourgeois pseudo-leftist..." he grumbled, "Care more about your own bloody sex-life than basic human freedoms!" His firends all gave me disapproving glares and disappeared into the night.

A few days later the managing agents for the flats came round to inspect Tom's place and he received an eviction notice. Apparently there'd been a few complaints from one or two of the other tenants about loud music in the wee small hours and other strange goings on. I didn't learn about it until I bumped into him as he was moving his stuff out to his new place.

"What sort of person would do something like that?" he asked, after recounting the events just described, "Where's the class-consciousness?"

"No idea." I said and went upstairs to sit down and listen to Bach's Mass in B Minor, on vinyl, confident that this time the et resurrexit wouldn't be interrupted by The Ballad of Joe Hill coming up through the floor.

Secret Nice Guy™ Business

Nicky'n'Alex were two people I used to know way back when - in the early eighties, when I'd just finished my completely worthless first degree (it took me six years, with leaves of absence and repeated years, but I finally got there). They had been a Nitem for quite a while and it was generally assumed that they were going to stay a Nitem for life. Of the two I was closer to Alex than to Nicky.

Alex was a third generation Irish Aussie, Nicky a second generation Greek Aussie. They went well together, were very obviously in lerv, and though I'd once had designs on Alex myself I was more or less resigned to being her Nice Guy™ friend who didn't quite get what Nicky had that I didn't have but sort of hung around, willing to be a repository of confidences, in the vague hope that they'd stop being a Nitem. Then, after a suitably decent interval, I'd get to invite her out and try my chances myself. Bacause, in my Nice Guy™ way, I respected her personal autonomy too much to try to score at a time when she was feeling hurt and vulnerable. Nice Guys™ don't exploit their friends like that.

Nicky'n'Alex stopped being a Nitem in 1982. While on vacation from uni, Nicky took a three-month overseas trip - to Europe of course. When the two of them parted at the airport there was much sadness. Nicky told Alex how much he was going to miss her, she told him that she would miss him too, they hugged, promised to write each other regularly - a promise Nicky was to keep scrupulously - and finally we managed to force a crow bar between them and prised them apart so that Nicky could actually get away to catch his flight. He winged away, those of us who'd come to the airport hung around looking sheepish because we didn't quite know what how to prop up Alex's mood - nor indeed how much propping up was required.

Over the next two months, Nicky wrote regularly to Alex, as promised, with news of the sights he'd seen,the adventures he'd had, and wishing very much that Alex could be there to share it with him but of course one day, they would have the chance to go to Europe together and he would show her such fabulous things. Then he went to Athens, for the last part of his trip, an extended visit with his extended family in Greece - and his brains went South into his underpants. I got a call from Alex asking me if I could go over for a visit because she'd just had an upseeting letter from Nicky. She sounded like she had been crying. My Nice Guy™ moment had finally arrived.

The full story, though it was drawn out in the telling, was a short one - Nicky's letter had told her that he had met someone else and, much as he had struggled with his feelings, he couldn't help himself - the new woman he had met in Athens, Eleni, was the woman for him. From what Alex told me of the letter, it revealed a sentimental "romantic" side to Nicky that I'd never suspected before. We had coffee together, we went for a walk in the local park, keeping away from the lighted paths and staying in the shadows under the trees to avoid any chance that a passing stranger might gawk at her tears and I kept my hands stuffed in my pockets, walking close but not too close beside her, as a proper Nice Guy™ should. Then I accompanied her home, we had another coffee and she said "Gummo, I'm glad that at least you're not the kind of bastard Nicky turned out to be." and that was that - all my Nice Guy™ dreams scuttled in a single sentence.

As I said at the outset, the story's been fictionalised - name changes to protect the privacy of old friends with whom I've lost contact, and such. I also swapped the gender of my two main protagonists - Alex was actually a man, Nicky a woman.

Alex and I did take that walk in the park, and while we did, we talked about how he was going to deal with the news and Nicky's inevitable wish, in the letter that she had written that they could somehow find a way to remain friends. Once we'd sorted that one out - I can't remember the details of how - we had a bit of fun inventing imaginary misfortunes that would fall on Nicky from a great height if there was any such thing as poetic justice. In the secret darkness under the trees in the park, we indulged the misogynist that lurks at the heart of every Nice Guy™ with fantasies of Nicky married, up the duff, and abandoned, because the man of her dreams was only after permanent residency. But of course as we were both Nice Guys™, we couldn't really wish that on her, pleasing as the imagining was.

What happened between them next was inevitable - Alex became Nicky's Nice Guy™ and her source of consolation and advice when she had troubles with her Greek boyfriend. He was the one who got her through the lonely months of waiting for him to come to Australia. In a purely platonic, Nice Guy™ way, of course. She had hide enough to ask that, and he was mug enough to give it.

If you find that last sentence a touch misogynistic, I suggest you just swap the genders back to where they were at the beginning of the story and see if you like that any better.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Counting Flowers On the Wall, and Other Amusements

It's cost me $36.00 - for which I got two derisive E-mails, several E-mails that were not at all derisive, one Yahoo mail address, one telephone number and one and half hours of conversation over cups of flat white coffee - but I've finally confirmed something I've long suspected. There's no point wasting any of my time or money on on-line dating services.

The title of this piece doesn't adequately convey my opinions or feelings about the on-line dating service I used, but I'd probably get into trouble over trademark infringement if I'd published the original title - the four-letter acronym of the service with an "ox" on the end. Those of my friends who've also resorted to on-line dating consider it the best of the commercial sites they have tried, so it might also be a little unfair.

It's obvious from the special offers I get from the service via e-mail that they have a bit of a problem attracting men to use the service. I'm not surprised by that. From this bloke's point of view the service is woeful.

What I got for my 36 bucks was three "stamps" (yes I'm talking about RSVP for anyone who hasn't guessed already) each of which entitled me to unlimited e-mail contact for one month, with one other RSVP user. Unused stamps expire if they're not used within a month. For more money than I could afford at the time I could have bought more stamps with longer life expectancies.

In contrast, I can go to any Australia Post outlet at any time and buy a book of standard paper stamps that I can stick on an envelope, also at any time, and shove in the mailbox when I get around to it. The stamps don't expire - if standard postage rates go up I can buy additional stamps, of smaller value, to top up the value of the out of date stamps I already own. Within the limits of standard envelope sizes I can put whatever I like in an envelope, address it, shove it in a post box and Australia Post will deliver it. It won't come back with a purple ink hand stamped on the front, pointing to the stamp I bought back when, with the message "This series no longer recognised".

Yes, I'm comparing snail mail with e-mail, which looks like comparing apples with oranges and if you think that, you've missed the same central point that RSVP has missed - if I prepay for a service which allows me to contact other people at my own discretion - which is where Aussie Post and RSVP are no different - I expect, quite reasonably I think, that "at my own discretion" will mean just that - not within an arbitrary time which has very obviously been designed to push me into spending more to increase both the number of people I might contact and the period over which I can do so.

I've used two of those stamps - the first in response to someone who actually initiated contact with me through an RSVP "kiss". That got me the two derisive E-Mails. The second got me the good things - the e-mails that weren't derisive and so on to the hour and half of conversation over coffee, an undertaking to get in touch again in the New Year but not the free steak knives.

And the third I simply can't be bothered using, at least not this year. I've got until the middle of January so the prospect of blowing it early in 2008 can't be ruled out. Whatever occurs, that will be me done with on-line dating.

Leaving the next appalling contrived option to sonsider - joining a book group. Not yet though. For now I think it's time to find a pack of 51 playing cards to while away the time as I wait for the skies to open and Ms Adequate to fall into my lap. It's happened once or twice before so the possibility can't be ruled out completely.