THE SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK NOOS » Zen and the art of emotional freeloading

Zen and the art of emotional freeloading

14 12 2003

Clear your mind.

When some bald crackerjack, cialis sales viagra sale decked out in robes and matching accoutrements, best cialis capsule moseys up in your face and in fluent dalai-lama-ese mutters “the obstacle is the path”, I urge you to unclench those fists. Just nod. He’s on to something. You see, when you’re an alien (which after reading this first paragraph you’re pretty sure I am), the obstacle of being a foreigner in a strange land is the path. And it’s a path littered with surrogate love and in some cases, stuffed turkey.

Oh, and if you’re the kind of person who’s gonna say to me “But Noodle, is the path really even there?” then you can just nick off back to right now. I really don’t have time for free-floating, take-it-too-far-with-the-Zen people today. I’m sorry, but if you’re having trouble keeping up with the news ticker at the bottom of your life screen, or if your earth umbilicus is threatening to jump its mooring, then you need professional help. But there I go just being, because I am. You with me?

Now what was I saying? Please, please, please clear your mind or you’ll never keep up.

Oh yes. When one is cut adrift on foreign soil, far from the comfort of motherly bosoms and the occasional Hot Toddy by the fire, well, one is left to grab one’s familial moments from whomever the hell one can. And grab at it we do. Greedily. There’s nothing as sad as a lonely expatriate. And fortunately, despite my desire to be independent and exude the ‘I don’t need nobody’ vibe, people continue to selflessly open their houses and hearts and eggnog bars to me.

So is it wrong to clutch at this kindness? Is emotional freeloading ugly and abhorrent behavior? Does the ‘comfort of strangers’ really exist, or is it just a great name for a band? Well, whatever it is, I seem to fall into the arms of these strangers more easily than into a puddle of Guinness on the bar. It’s a happy, guilty, accident.

Witness it in glorious action.

Master, what is the sound of pumpkin screaming?
Not pumpkin: mind is screaming.

Keith handed me the knife after completing the first incision on the Halloween pumpkin. It looked easy, so I grabbed the knife and attacked the pumpkin with gusto. How hard could cutting the top out of it really be? After all, I’m a gal from the farm. A breed apart!

But something was awry.

It seemed that even with my mind free of negative thoughts and Zen doing a quick jig in my nostril hair, I was a bona fide weakling. Keith reached enlightenment pretty quick-smartish and twigged it that this Aussie had the wrist strength of an anemic toddler. He took the knife away from me.

Time surveyed the scene and tapped its Timex in a menacing way, as Time is wont to do. The Modem Media Halloween Pumpkin Carving Contest had a time limit and we were not respecting it.

Keith hacked into the tough skin again. I stood idly by and tried to clear my mind of the new negative thoughts that were now putting up their feet in the foyer of my frontal lobe. They were almost gone when Keith handed me the big spoon. I was now on gut duty.

But hey, wouldn’t you know it, even scooping out pumpkin guts seemed difficult. It stunk for starters. It brushed my hand in an overly familiar manner whenever I went to scoop. And guess what? I was too slow at the task. Keith had to take over again. Then Kenyon, my other carving partner in this event, finished it off. We were way behind. And it was all my fault.

The plan was pretty simple. Carve Kenny from South Park and win all the glory and the ticker tape and the shock and awe and general fawning over that you would typically expect when you’re a champion. I had been drafted into this pumpkin carving team the day before. See, the thing about not knowing the nuts and bolts of American traditions is that people are very keen to be the first to show you. And I am utterly malleable and wide-eyed and hungry for experience and all that getting a leg up onto that higher level of consciousness malarkey. So I was very excited about carving my first pumpkin and fitting in.

Alas, dear readers. I took the human form of a pulled hamstring for this event and hobbled the team good and proper.

I’m going to fast-forward here and surprise you all by telling you we didn’t win. We were too ambitious and everyone was jealous of our prowess and so we were doomed from the start. Disappointing. But Kenyon, Keith and me, we will always know the truth. We kick ass. Well, maybe not me, but the two Ks, definitely.

And now, let’s wrap up how I achieved Halloween enlightenment and a spot of emotional and cultural freeloading. I participated in a pumpkin-carving event. More practice needed before joining the professional circuit. I tried candy corn. My teeth recoiled but the tongue seemed receptive. I watched a scary movie. The classic Evil Dead. I saw little skeletons, ghouls and freakazoids out trick or treating in Connecticut, and front yards of houses set up like cemeteries. Halloween is a serious thing here. It was never like this down under.

My mind opened the file cabinet and put the whole thing under ‘a’ for ‘assimilated’.

Master, does leg age restrict grasshopper jump?
Grasshopper not jump: earth bouncy.

Every year I try not to tell anyone that it’s my birthday so I can be a sad, withdrawn, tortured being. The kind of tortured being I imagine I need to be if I ever want to get a good movie made about my life. The kind of film that Peter Weir would direct, or maybe even that Ron Howard lad. But then about a month before my birthday I get too excited and tell every body that I’m about to trip over another year. I’m really hopeless. Who wants to sob into their beer for a day anyway?

This year the grasshopper turned to her Zen Master, took the stone from his hand and said, “Excuse me; this Noodle has some emotional freeloading to do”. Springing my legs and mind out of the lotus position, I ran off to the Outback Steakhouse with a bunch of my work mates for what would be a birthday dinner to remember. Or so I was told. I was just happy to have some company on what can be a very pathetic day without family.

(Just between you and me, it was already a birthday to remember anyway because I’d decided to start celebrating it on both Australian and U.S. time. That’s pretty much a two-day birthday. Nice.)

The Outback Steakhouse is what’s known as an “Australian Theme Restaurant”. You’re scared now, aren’t you? What could that possibly mean? Vegemite sangers as an entrée? (And I mean entrée for its true meaning, not the American ‘main meal’ meaning.) Hill’s Hoist clotheslines as table decorations? Well, no. It’s not quite that stereotypical.

In fact, I found it a bit low key. Where were the Crocodile Dundee knives on the wall?

Anyway, after arriving and being announced as the birthday girl, “and guess what, she’s an actual Australian” we were shown to the table. With eyes like gaping maws and eyebrows quizzically arched, I scanned the menu. Hmm…

A waitress ventured into our area.

“Guess what?” said Tom, with way too much enthusiasm. “Janeen’s an actual Australian”.

The waitress turned to me.

“Really?” she said. “Say something.”

If I’d had a bit of time to think about it, I could have said “Strewth and crikey, what a corker,” but I couldn’t seem to even say ‘no’. It was such an odd performing-seal-type of thing to ask me to do. Kind of funny though. People eventually got bored of waiting for me to say something, and so we moved on to actually ordering.

A quick scan of the menu. Highlights follow.

1. The Bloomin’ Onion. Deep fried and splayed out for delectable heart stopping goodness. It looks like a flower in bloom…maybe. It’s also described as ‘an Outback ab-original’. Eh?

2. The drinks. Lots of Margarita variations on the word ‘Rita’, though strangely didn’t they have the Ripper Rita. Or am I the only one who remembers Rita the ETA eater? (All non-Australians who have never seen this commercial will be looking very confused now.)

3. The Wallaby Darned. It’s a drink that has ’secret mixers’ in it. I don’t know why they’re secret. Maybe Fosters is one of them?

4. Jackaroo Chops (a Jilleroo favorite!). No one at the table knew what a Jackeroo let alone what a Jilleroo was.

5. Kookaburra Wings. Not real Kookaburra I found out. Actually chicken. Too right!

6. The Mad Max. It’s a burger and by all accounts it was pretty good.

7. Oh, and not on the menu, but worth mention. The toilets were labeled ‘blokes’ and ’sheilas’. Cop that! Confusion reigns.

The birthday girl ordered the Prime Minister’s Prime Rib, medium rare. They give you a very large knife to cut it with, though by Paul Hogan’s standards, it was not a ‘big knife’. I found the steak to be very underdone (just like the current PM), but enjoyable (so NOT like the current PM). Zing!

Before we leave my birthday, which I enjoyed greatly, special thanks must go out to Dr UX aka Vanessa, who was by chance in New York for the weekend and let me hang out with her and pretend that my company was pleasant.

Master, do balloons really float?
Of course, you idiot.

The plan was set. On Thanksgiving Day, I would bundle up the Noodle in her best scarf and hat, and cross-town her to a perch somewhere on the West Side to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s the one with all the huge balloons, if that helps contextualize the event. You may have seen it on TV.

In truth, I was rather curious about this Thanksgiving brouhaha. It’s not something that’s ever been on my calendar before. Not really sure what the whole deal is.

I have some vague idea that way back when, at the dawn of the nation, the Plymouth pilgrims threw out a picnic blanket, popped the cork on their best swamp water, and waited for the local Indians to turn up so they could give thanks for good crops, survival and especially for Squanto speaking English. They did turn up, thankfully, and with some pretty good eats in their Tupperware too. There was a feast. And…that’s about all I know. Really need to brush up on the reading there.

From what I gather, the modern interpretation of Thanksgiving is that it’s just a day when everyone can get together with their families and give thanks for things. Like being alive, and being together, and…pass me the Kleenex. Oh, and eat turkey. And pies. And turkey. And pies. It’s a nice idea actually. Not just the turkey and pies I mean.

All this goodwill makes people feel generous this time of year, and I guess that’s how I managed to snag an invite to a genuine Italian Thanksgiving dinner with Tom, the Associate Creative Director, and his unsuspecting loved ones out in Connecticut.

I was torn at first. Surely this is considered intruding? On the other hand, I had some pretty intense curiosity about the tradition. Should a body should swallow pride and accept the gracious offer?


Conducting a quick straw poll of the people around me, it was determined that it would be polite to take a bottle of ‘Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau’ (the first wine of the season and a kind of symbolic festive Thanksgiving drop). But when I got to the liquor store, I thought the label looked really cheap so I didn’t get it. Yes, I do judge books by covers. So I opted for flowers instead. They seemed to go down well on the day, though obviously not down the throat like wine would’ve.

This I now know about Thanksgiving. Pies hang out in flocks. As I walked into the house, there were many, many pies having what must have been their annual meeting on a table. I can’t recall seeing so many pies in one place, well, not outside of a store setting. Pumpkin and apple pies getting along. That’s what Thanksgiving’s all about.

Now to the dinner itself. Well, I was full after the meatball soup to tell the truth. And that was the first course. Delish. And then I thought ‘Suck it up, kid. You’re not full yet. You can make your way through a turkey plate, no worries’. The stomach readied itself.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that there was a lasagna course between the soup and the turkey. I was wrecked after that. Nevertheless, I bravely attacked the turkey and stuffing and cranberries and mashed potatoes and yams and everything else on the plate. I did the best I could, honest. But had to leave food behind. And I could barely move. There was serious pain in the abdominal region. Then the tryptophan (the amino acid in turkey that makes you sleepy), kicked in. Of course, the alcohol I washed it down with may have also hastened the zzzs.

Fast forward. Digest, digest, digest. Two hours later, I had some pie. Apple pie. Sooooo good. Full again. Apart from the pain, which I think comes with the territory, I enjoyed my first Thanksgiving. I am thankful for kind hearts, and for people who let a total strangers like me into their family for one day when they really don’t have to.

Master, when something reaches the end, is it really over?
Ummm, how long is a piece of string?

Strangers only remain strangers if you never get to know them. So although I say that I’m relying on the comfort of strangers (those people who take pity on me and help me push through to the 4th dimension of making this country my home), they aren’t really strangers at all anymore. I think they call this process ‘making friends’. Kind actions, like those mentioned in this Noos, are appreciated. Because when homesickness lies down in bed beside you and hogs the blankets, the comfort of strangers and new friends is what keeps your heart going padder-ping, padder-pong.

And as I sit here and it’s snowing again outside, making even those mountains of New York trash on the sidewalk look pretty, this little Noodle heart beats on. Padder-ping, padder-pong. Awwwwww….now is that the sound of one hand clapping?

Toodle-Noo. Here endeth the missive.


©Janeen McCrae 2003



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