Road Trippin’ Down Under: Shopping & Dropping

Day Four of our vacation to Fremantle started about the same as Day Three had, but slightly later. Despite having absolutely nowhere to go and not even a hint of a schedule to keep or an agenda to pursue, we were out of bed, in the shower, and out the door like Amy Schumer ditching a hookup in the movie, Trainwreck.

It seemed insane—if not a little sad—for two healthy, red-blooded vacationing American’s to be up and around at 5am on a Saturday morning in Australia, but there we were. And we couldn’t even blame the time zone issue at this point since we’d been there for nearly 3 days—and it was 7pm back home.

Still, we tried—I mean we really, really tried—to relax and take it easy but it was a futile effort. There are only so many things one can do in a hotel room, after all—and only so many times one fifty-year-old couple can do them, if you catch my drift.

Even the television offered little in terms of distraction. Although the Jarhead normally can (a) lapse into and (b) sustain a TV coma—faster, longer, and with less effort than literally any man, woman or child on the face of planet earth—his superpowers are apparently weaker outside of North America. Seriously.

It doesn’t happen every day, but I and a handful of other witnesses have seen this man sit through twelve straight cycles of the Local on the Eights and three consecutive airings of Dune, and four solid hours of The Big Bang Theory—without blinking. And just when you’re ready to call someone with an electroencephalogram to check for evidence of brain activity, he’ll suddenly, casually, and quite coherently remark on some subtle difference between the most recent forecast and the one that had been issued for our area precisely one hour and eight minutes earlier—or preemptively blurt out Leonard Hofstadter’s response to one of Sheldon Cooper’s crazy complaints before Johnny Galecki can deliver the line himself. It’s uncanny.

But again, TV failed to hold the same attraction for him in Australia that it does in the States. My guess it has something to do with the language barrier.

I know. I know. The Aussies speak English just like we do. But DO they?

Sure, they speak many of the same words and use basically the same sentence structure that we do, but that accent of theirs can be tricky for people for whom language—and talking in general—doesn’t come easily. And this is the guy who spent three years in Naples and yet managed to learn enough Italian to request thirty liters of fuel from gas station attendants (trenta litri per favore) and to thank them afterwards (grazie.)

At any rate, the Jarhead wasn’t drawn to Australian TV like a moth to a flame as he is to American TV. Which was fine with me. Apart from a couple of programs I watch when I’m working out (which isn’t exactly often, obviously, or I wouldn’t be two seasons behind everyone else in the free world with Orange is the New Black) I mainly use our TV for background noise. And when the Jarhead is in a TV coma, he may as well be in a regular coma because he acknowledges and remembers very little—sort of like Jeff Sessions, except when the Jarhead doesn’t answer it’s because he hasn’t heard you and not because he’s trying like hell not to incriminate himself.

And so, as we had before, we walked out of the hotel with no idea how we were going to spend our day. The options were limitless and I’ll admit to having been somewhat paralyzed by the plethora of choices.

The one and only thing I truly wanted to accomplish that day was to purchase a new curling iron. Scratch that. The only thing I truly NEEDED to accomplish that day was to purchase a new curling iron. It’s an important distinction because, although I needed a curling iron, I most definitely did not WANT to buy a new curling. What I WANTED was for MY curling iron to work just as it had when we left the states.

But that was not going to happen. Because although one can power an American curling iron by plugging it into a US/Australia adaptor and then plugging the adaptor into an Australian outlet, one can only plug said curling iron into a US/Australia adaptor and then plug it into an Australian outlet so many times and for so long before you overheat and fry the bloody thing.

So…I needed a new curling iron. We needed sunscreen, too—not because of any mishaps involving electricity, thank goodness. Fortunately, I had remembered to pack my industrial-sized claw clamps and, therefore, was fully prepared to weather this and just about any other hair emergency, or the Jarhead would have been forced to set off for breakfast on his own and then pick up a curling iron and sunscreen on his way back.

For a change, it didn’t take us long to decide where to eat that morning, and soon we were sipping coffee and chatting with a staffer named Christine at a place called Salted Board. Salted Board has a funky yet cozy atmosphere with a décor that blends rustic and industrial elements and features bold earth tones and black accents to create a modern vibe that looked so positively chic that I started taking notes and making plans to remodel my home (again.)

And the food looked just as awesome as the décor, as you can see from the photos below.

Salted Board 1Salted Board 2

My ‘brekkie’ consisted of eggs Benedict, minus the bread, with salmon, smashed avocado, and a side of bacon. The Jarhead had sausage, ham, and eggs with crusty bread.

This was by far the best breakfast we had enjoyed so far. In fact, it was so good, that we ate breakfast there again on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and each time it was just as good as the last.

After breakfast, we began our quest to find a new curling iron. I say ‘a’ new curling iron because I knew better than to become attached to something I did not plan to keep. I would be leaving Australia in four days, after all, and it would be of no use to me back in the states—that is, unless I wanted to pick up an Australia/US electrical adapter and see how long it would last plugged in to a US outlet.

Turns out it’s fairly hard to find a large barreled, ceramic coated, variable setting curling iron in Fremantle, Western Australia. In fact, the only place we found that even carried curling irons, was Target. Not one of the three other stores we were advised to check had them, which I suppose is why we paid twice as much for that one than I had paid for the one that had died.

In the hunt for the new curling iron, we got to take in some more of the local scenery, wandered through a market, visited a shopping mall, and bought a few souvenirs. We also found the public library, and got up close and personal with some colorful parrots as well as a woman in the park whom I suspect was not dealing with a full deck because she kept shouting and swearing at the air above the bench beside her.

Dinner that night included cocktails and hanging kebabs which you have to see to believe, so here is the evidence:

Hanging Kebabs 1

We had put it off eating as long as we could by walking around for a while before heading back to the hotel restaurant. Our goal, again, was to stay out as late as we could in the hope of finally resetting our body clocks to local time.

The effort was valiant but, like our attempt to stay in bed that morning, was ultimately futile. The loud music and lights around the area kept us from falling asleep at our table, this time, but all that fresh air, food, and drink had left us sedated.

Fortunately, there was only one short elevator ride between us and our bed. So upstairs and of to bed we went. We had made it to 11pm!



What Would You Do?

Despite numerous posts affirming my affinity for television, there is a great deal on the tube of which I am not a fan. Examples include soap operas, confrontational talk shows, decoy dynasties, and any and all sporting events that don’t involve figure skates, tennis racquets, or hockey sticks. In addition, I have no time for likes of Dog the Bounty Hunter, Dance Moms, Toddlers OR Tiaras, semi-scripted dramas featuring shallow, insipid, spray tanned people from New Jersey, or Real Housewives from any locale. And while I have nothing but love and sympathy for the 21st century’s version of Shirley Temple, there is little in the entertainment realm that would please me more than a TLC special entitled There Goes Honey Boo-Boo wherein we discover that her family has entered the witness protection program and/or been relocated to another country, planet, or universe where there are no cameras, cable TV, Internet service providers, or streaming video options.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m against reality television as a concept. In fact, I am a devoted fan of several reality programs; I just prefer it be educational rather than exploitative, and articulate instead of asinine. Which is why my favorite reality shows are typically found on The Weather Channel, the History Channel, and HGTV.

One exception is a program on ABC called What Would You Do? For the uninitiated, this is a program hosted by John Quiñones wherein actors are placed in public settings and paid to display some obnoxious behavior or other as cameras record the reactions of the ordinary people around them. For example, in one episode, an actor played a Muslim clerk at a fast food joint while another played a racist customer who berated and verbally abused him repeatedly. In another episode, an actor, playing a mom in a grocery store, tells another actor, playing her child, to steal a wallet out of another actor’s purse in full view of other customers. The goal, of course, is to see if anyone will intervene, and why or why not.

More often than not, the observers are shown doing the right thing by defending the wronged party, summoning help, or, in the case of the stolen wallets, reporting the theft to the victim and then offering the thieving mother money so she could purchase groceries. In each episode the scenario is acted out a handful of times, and each time John Quiñones ultimately reveals himself to those in attendance and inquires as to the basis of any action they did or did not take.

I enjoy this program not only because I like John Quiñones, dig social experiments, and love watching good prevail over evil; I also enjoy it because on several occasions I have found myself in situations where I felt the urge to intervene, and wondering—after either giving in to or resisting that urge—if I had done the right thing and whether others would have handled the situation differently.

On one such occasion roughly twenty years ago, I was in the lobby of a portrait studio of a large department store when I witnessed a boy of about four repeatedly mistreating his two younger brothers while his mother, with an infant in her arms, tried to complete a transaction at the counter. Time after time I watched this child—whom I immediately pegged as a budding sociopath and imagine now to be living at tax payer expense in a maximum security correctional facility for the crimnally insane—smack, kick, and push his siblings onto the floor as his mother stood just feet away facing the other direction. Unsurprisingly, given that they were barely one and two years old, these poor kids would cry out in pain, whereupon their mother would ask the older boy what had happened, and he would respond by claiming one brother hit or kicked the other, or had fallen onto the floor of his own volition.

After seeing this played out for about the sixth time, I finally decided something had to be done. And so the next time the older kid assaulted one of his siblings and then lied about it, I stood up and told his mother as gently as I could that the older boy had been hitting, kicking, and pushing his helpless younger brothers the entire time.

To my surprise, she did not react with anything remotely resembling surprise or gratitude. No. Faced with someone whose only interest was to protect two of her children from the evil lying within the other, this well dressed, 30-something woman looked at me with what can only be described as defeat, and acknowledged my remarks with only the slightest of nods.

I don’t know what anyone else would have done in that situation. And I since I doubt that ABC or Mr. Quiñones would ever pay child actors to abuse other child actors, I may never know. I can only hope I did the right thing, and that my actions gave that mother the motivation she needed to get the boy some help.

Another of my favorite programs is Deal with It, which is a game show in which people are offered money to behave in outrageous ways in public and in the presence of a friend or family member who is not in on the joke. The amount participants win depends on how far they are willing to take the situation, and whether or not they can “deal with” the reactions they are getting from their companion(s) and the people around them.

This show resonates with me because so many people in my acquaintance are, as the Jarhead puts it, bat crap crazy, and/or routinely do things that other people simply would not do.

Such was the case one afternoon as he and I sat down to lunch with two elderly female relatives. With the food—four hamburgers and four orders of fries—having arrived, we all began removing the buns from our sandwiches and applying condiments. As the Jarhead and I took turns with the ketchup and mustard, I noticed one of our companions reaching for a packet of strawberry preserves. Unsure as to her intentions, I kept my mouth shut—for a change—and then watched in stunned silence as she opened the preserves and began liberally applying them to her burger.

Having met this person only twice before, I didn’t want to embarrass her by pointing out what I was sure was a mistake if it wasn’t. More importantly, as this person was near and dear to our other companion, who was not particularly fond of me, I didn’t want to make an issue of the preserves and further damage her already dim view of my character and personality.And yet, I did not want to see this person unknowingly ruin her burger and then have to choose whether to eat it, order another one, or go without. Not knowing what else to do, I sat watching out of the corner of my eye as our companion finished applying the preserves, placed the bun back atop her sandwich, then picked it up and started eating.

To this day I don’t know if the old dear had mistaken the preserves for ketchup and failed to notice, if she had mistaken preserves for ketchup and pretended not to notice, or if she was simply someone who liked fruit with her meat. Deep down, however, as a fan of What Would You Do?, Deal with It, and its predecessor, Candid Camera, a part of me wants to believe she knew exactly what she was doing with those preserves, and was simply having a little fun by seeing if we could deal with it.

I Dream of TV

As regular readers of this column can attest, I’m a member of the original TV generation. Through most of the seventies and the early eighties, I would spend my after school hours watching syndicated sitcoms while doing homework on the shag carpeted floor of our various apartments and mobile and stationary homes. Likewise, I passed a good many Saturdays delighting in the antics of Rocky and Bullwinkle, shaming the Really Rottens for cheating at the Laff-a-Lympics, and singing along with Schoolhouse Rock!

Since there were only four channels and one of them was PBS, there was no need for a remote. And since we had only one TV and I was the oldest kid in the family—not including the step siblings that came and went over the years—my two brothers had to suffer through whatever I wanted to watch or find something else to do.

One of the programs I devoured regularly was Gilligan’s Island. Seeing it now on TV Land—where the Jarhead is known to park the remote when Family Guy, American Dad, and The Big Bang Theory are off the air—I am moved to wonder what attracted me to it, but as a kid I found it the height of hilarity.

Like many people, I’ve wondered why Mr. and Mrs. Howell packed so many outfits for what was supposed to be a three-hour tour. I’ve also pondered how all seven of the castaways kept their hair so neat and tidy, and how the men were able to stay so clean shaven. Perhaps what baffled me the most, however, is that these people were smart enough to keep themselves clean and fed, and talented enough to avoid pregnancy despite the lack of modern contraception, but they couldn’t fashion a boat or other floatation device with which to transport one or more of them back to civilization.

Another one of my favorite shows as a kid was Bewitched. For the young and/or otherwise uninitiated, Bewitched featured a witch named Samantha Stephens and her advertising executive husband, Darrin. Like her counterpart, Jeanie, from I Dream of Jeanie, Samantha was not ‘allowed’ to use magic. Apparently Darrin Stephens and Major Nelson were far too noble and decent to exploit their partners’ superpowers and, thus, would rather have them slaving over a hot stove, poking their fingers with sewing needles, and driving sensible ugly cars than allow them to whip up meals or mend their clothes with the wrinkle of their nose, or conjure fabulous clothing and sporty convertibles with the blink of their eyes.

So there’s no confusion, let me state that if those were the options in my house, things would have been far different than they were at the Stephens’ place or Major Nelson’s home. In fact, I not only would use my powers to save time, energy, and money—so I could spend it feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, of course—I would also use it to feed my ego and shelter my income from taxes. Overnight I would become the best-selling author of life-changing novels, and would cast spells on the IRS, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and our township so that everyone would think I’d paid taxes on my imaginary earnings.

And unlike Darrin Stephens and Major Anthony Nelson, the Jarhead would be right there with me as I conjured groceries to fill the pantry, charmed the house into cleaning itself, and earned both critical acclaim and vast sums of money for my brilliant, award-winning books. That is because, along with the fully stocked pantry, the sparkling clean house, and the fantastic fame and fortune, would come a state of the art video gaming center, a limitless supply of his favorite scotch, beer, and cigars, and a personal recreation center complete with a rifle and pistol range.

Of this, Darrin Stephens and Major Nelson clearly would not approve. For some stupid reason, they would rather do things the hard way. So although Jeanie could have transported countless astronauts to the moon—or anywhere in the known universe—and back without spending millions of dollars or wasting thousands of gallons of fuel, Major Nelson would have sooner banished her to the bottle than tell anyone but Major Healy.

Of course, like the energy crisis and the AMC Gremlin, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie were products of their time. Back then, many men didn’t think women should have the right to work, vote or drive a car, so the idea of them having and using magical powers was bound to be a no-go. Knowingly allowing a woman to have and use magic to them would seem as dangerous as letting one have a gun or a bomb, only worse—because you wouldn’t need money, a permit or photo ID to get them.

Unlike Gilligan’s Island, I still find Bewitched—and I Dream of Jeanie—to be as funny now as I did when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s because I find it more amusing to watch a woman use her brain to get by in a sexist society than I do seeing seven castaways trying and failing to get off some stupid island.

I heart John Boy

(Originally posted Friday, April 5th, 2013)

I have a confession to make: I love John Boy Walton.

I don’t love him the way I do, say, the Jarhead or hot caramel sauce on chocolate ice cream—but it’s a pretty close race.

One reason I love John Walton, Jr. is that, like me, he was a writer. In fact, right after Erma Bombeck and my high school English teacher Lois Julsrud, Bill Bryson, Jane Austen, and three or four authors whose names I recall from either my freshmen English syllabus or a deck of children’s playing cards, John Boy is perhaps the biggest reason I became a writer.

Now some may infer from this that the reason I’m writing and not engaged in some other more lucrative line of work is that I was too busy watching The Waltons in my younger days to develop any useful skills. But I assure you that my choice of career has less to do with how much time I spent watching TV as a child than how much time I wanted to spend in my pajamas as an adult. Either way, John Boy deserves some of the credit—or blame, depending on your perspective—for the fact that you are reading this column instead of working, exercising, or reading the newspaper. And for that—to quote Daniel Tosh—I thank you.

As I write this, it occurs to me that in addition to influencing my job goals, my admiration for John Boy may have had something to do with how I wound up married to the Jarhead. Especially given their many similarities, the theory has merit. For example, like John Boy, the Jarhead grew up in the country, has a slew of brothers and sisters, served in the military, and—as evidenced by the fact that we’re still together after nearly three decades—has the patience of Job. Granted, the Jarhead grew up on Pig Tail Ridge instead of Walton’s Mountain, and lacks John Boy’s blue eyes, blonde hair, spectacles, and suspenders; but while they differ in terms of geography and their outward appearance, they are practically twins when it comes to temperament and intelligence.

Despite its many Emmy nominations, The Waltons was not without its critics. Some, for example, felt that the show was unrealistic; that its characters were impossibly virtuous people, especially given their circumstances; and that poverty in real life is rarely so sweet or lacking in dysfunction. That all may be true, but what kept me from buying the whole premise of the show is the ease with which John Boy wrote in his journal. The fact that we never saw the man using an eraser, scribbling anything out, angrily ripping a page out of his tablet and crumpling it up, or setting his entire body of work on fire induces me to wonder: Was he really that good of a writer, or just that generous of a critic?

Maybe I’m the outlier here, but I couldn’t write anything publishable—or legible for that matter—in long hand if my life or the future of the human race depended on it. (Those of you who would argue as to my ability to write anything publishable in ANY hand are invited to reread my previous posts—especially those on bullying.) In fact, the previous sentence alone took me three edits to get right, and there will likely be fragments left over from all the cutting and pasting I’ve done when I finish when I finally finish it.