Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life's a Beach: Chapter Five

Let’s tell it like it is: I tend towards the chubbier end of the body spectrum. I don’t actually eat fast food or greasy snacks, but am most definitely one of those unlucky bastards who can gain weight just by imagining how good some Lindt chocolate would taste right now – and, let’s be frank, I don’t always stop at just imagining. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will always have an exaggerated appreciation of sweet, yummy foods, but I try not to overdo it; now that they’ve started selling my beloved Milka Swiss chocolate at K-Mart and the grocery store, I need all the help I can get to stay on track. Obvious solution: get on the bike.

Not so obvious, though; Cairns throws a lot of curve balls at you when you’re trying to convince yourself that bike is better than car. For the most part, I’ve overcome whatever challenges have come my way: bloody hot? Bring a water bottle. Don’t want tan lines? Wear a tube top. Too sweaty when you get there? Pack a shower kit and change of clothes. Shower pack too big? Get a basket. Raining too much? Take some plastic bags. Highway too aggressive? Take the back paths. Horrifying dead things all over the back paths? Um... don’t ever get on your bike again.

Want to hear about it? Wednesday I rode out to do some grocery shopping (and to buy new tweezers, much to my dismay – nothing worse than getting used to new tweezers) and I took the back paths, which I had recently discovered will get me all the way to the shopping centre and thus spare me having to deal with freeway traffic whizzing past. Within five minutes I passed my first dead kangaroo, lying half over the bike path – sad, but freshly enough dead that there wasn’t any smell. Flies, but whatever. I felt a bit bummed out, a little shaken, but was ready to move on. Five minutes later, kangaroo number two: definitely not fresh, hugely smelly (which explained the desperate shutting of windows whenever we drove by that spot on the highway), covered in dark fuzz and pretty much melted into the pavement. Yuck, right? Who wants to see a kangaroo like that?

On the way back, I decided to go the long way so that I wouldn’t have to ride by these awful sites/sights (/smells!) again. The long way is not only long but also very hilly, keeping in mind that I was carrying heavy groceries and riding under the one o’clock tropical sun. All to avoid some dead kangaroos. And what did I get for my trouble? Rats! Two of them! Giant, horrible, bloated, dead bush rats – which are roughly the size of beavers – rotting by the side of the road. I figured that people were exaggerating when they talked about how hideous these things are, but I was wrong, my friends. (And when I say “people,” I mean “the people I work with,” since these repulsive beasts apparently hang out in the kiddie bike shed and their pee made Todd hospital sick – needless to say, I’m never going near the kiddie bike shed again.) I think you’re all pretty clear by now on how I feel about rodents in general and rats in particular, so you can imagine my state by the time I got home and I think I deserve a big pat on the back for even leaving the house again, not to mention getting back on the bloody bike.

Which I did yesterday, riding back from dropping the car off at the mechanic’s. Not about to go the long way, rats and all, so I figured I could handle the kangaroos, since at least this time I'd be prepared. Just hold my breath, right? Except that from this side, I could see the thing’s petrified, leathery face, a horrifying death mask that would fit right into pretty much any nightmare I can imagine. I was so overwhelmed that I had to stop my bike and vomit – literally, vomit – on the side of the path. (Which means that whoever goes by next will have to deal with my vomit and the nightmare roo... Sorry, mate.) I obviously decided that I would skip back over to the highway rather than riding past the second carcass, but before I had a chance to do that, something caught my eye and I looked up to see one of those monster bats I hate so much hanging over my head, having been electrified on, and trapped in, the wires, facing down toward me with its wings spread out behind it.

I mean, seriously? Two dead kangaroos, two dead giant rats, one dead giant bat. What the fark is going on? Is this some kind of biblical shit? A test? Am I a modern-day Job? Would you stay in this country?

Guess how well I’ve been sleeping these past few days.

Luckily I have the weekly pre-natal class to keep me feeling positive about life. And good thing I’m there, since I’m the only person in the room who isn’t completely freaked out, other than the midwife teaching the class. The pregnant women are getting increasingly stressed out as they imagine the things they see in those pictures actually happening to them in a few months, while their partners just sit there in a trance, slightly green, looking really uncomfortable every time a picture has blood in it. Or at least, they did when they were there; this week was the first of however many State of Origin footie games – where everyone plays for their home state team – so half of the men didn’t show up for the class and three more left early to be home in time for the game. When I got home Mark and I played a game called “Guess How Katy Would Feel If Mark Chose Rugby Over A Pre-Natal Class.” It was great fun.

Meanwhile, in one of the rare moments when I was not weeping over some birth picture or other, I realized that it’s time for me to start up a new project. You already know about Mark’s and my Know More Stuff project, and of course there’s the lifelong Eat Less Chocolate project and the increasingly futile Stop Picking At Your Bloody Eyebrows project, both in full swing. But here’s one that I’ve only recently put my finger on: the If You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, Just Shut Up project, otherwise known as project Stop And Think.

The key to IYDKWYTA,JSU was when Jo the midwife was talking about different hormones that go through women’s bodies and either help or hinder the labour process. There’s Oxytocin, the happy hormone, there are endorphins – all helping loosen up and relax so that gravity can do its job. And then there’s a bad one, since it makes us tense up and can be counter-productive during labour. Does anybody know this hormone? It makes us anxious... It starts with “a”... What I should have done was either decide that I didn’t know what she was after and shut up, or at least give myself a few seconds to figure out that the only “a” hormone I can think of is adrenaline, which makes sense because a rush of that would definitely un-relax you. What I chose to do was to just play word association - “a” and a frowny-face drawing on the board - and shout “anxiety!” Of course – everyone’s favourite hormone, anxiety.

You know? Just shut up. Stop and think for a second. I thought back to last week when Mark and I were watching a show about the U.S.S.R. and they said something about Lenin’s successor as Russian president. I could have just let them finish their sentence, right? Isn’t that what people do, just shut up and listen? Instead, I shouted out: Putin! As in, Vladimir. The no-shirt-in-a-canoe guy. If I stopped for even a second, would I really think that Putin came after Lenin? No, I would not. If I stopped for a few seconds, would I have sorted through my brain fuzz and pulled out “Stalin”? Yes, I would. Very probably. Or at least maybe. But instead, through basic word association (Russia... president...) and this apparent need to show off, it was “Putin!”

These are only two of many examples that are coming back to me in increasingly humiliating waves. Bronwyn said that I’m a smarty-pants, which I had never realized about myself but can no longer deny in the face of such damning evidence. Though that’s really the lesser problem; at least if I called out something even vaguely accurate, I could be smug and self-satisfied, a smart smarty-pants. My thing is to just call out the first word I think of, which is pretty much always completely off the mark. An idiot smarty-pants.

“The largest planet in the solar system,” – Pluto! – “Jupiter is 2.5 times larger than all the other planets combined.” Ah yes, Jupiter. Of course.

“The bone in the upper arm, called” – femur! The femur! – “the humerus, runs from the shoulder to the elbow.” Oh, you said the upper arm. The humerus, obviously.

So it’s officially on: If You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, Just Shut Up. We’ll see how I go.

Then there’s something that I’ve been thinking about, with all this talk about war (Know More Stuff! It’s working!), and that started on Anzac Day. (That’s the Australia/New Zealand Army Corps and it’s like a second Remembrance Day, since they do that one too.)

*Incidentally, I didn’t realize it was coming up and had been planning to make the delicious Anzac cookies for which I had just acquired a recipe, only to discover that there was not a package of coconut or rolled oats to be found anywhere in the Greater Cairns Area – aha! Anzac Day is upon us! (I think it’s really nice that people actually do make Anzac cookies on Anzac Day.)

There was a sunrise service at the beach and Mark suggested we hop on our bikes and go. (Of course, it’s a whole different story when the alarm clock actually goes off at 5:20 am and it’s drizzling and dark outside... I kicked up a real fuss until we took the car, couldn’t find parking and pretty much had to walk the whole way anyway, and of course it stopped raining so I was a big fat whiner for nothing.) Even before we got close enough to hear anything, I was moved by how many people had turned up. I was pretty weepy through “In Flanders Fields,” struggled through the raw and scratchily-played Last Post and completely lost it when some old men in uniforms laid the first wreath. I thought that having a blatantly Jesus-based prayer was a bit weird but none of my business, but I have a real bone to pick with whoever thought it would be a good idea to play a jungle-dance version of the National Anthem. I mean, if there’s ever a time for the solemn, anthemic version of the anthem, it’s at a war memorial. This one made me want to grab my Zumba rhythm sticks and get down – not a very dignified end to the service.

Now here’s what I’ve been thinking about. The send-off was a parade up and down the esplanade: soldiers, veterans, marines, school kids, cadets... Wait a second, school kids? What are they doing there? What are we paying them our respect for, exactly? But then, I guess they’re what the whole thing is about, right? People fight in wars because they want things to be better for their children. When I thought about it that way, the children in the parade represented everything hopeful and bright about the world, rather than the little monsters who make my life as a relief teacher miserable. But then that train of thought got me to thinking: is that why kids are the way they are now? Is bad behaviour and a complete lack of respect the result of growing up without war? Maybe our generations are just spoiled and have never had to think about our place in the world, not to mention making sacrifices for it. Maybe a little bit of hardship would do today’s kids some good. Even if that’s a completely simplified way of looking at it – there are obviously generational shifts and new ideas in education and parenting and so on – couldn’t that be part of what’s going on? Am I a horrible person for thinking like that? Should I just hand over my teaching license? Please share your thoughts.

Then there’s my own personal war against the next-door neighbours. They have loud, late nights on a regular basis. They watch crappy machine-gun movies that keep me awake and give me panic attacks. They smoke on the balcony – even though they have awful, hacking coughs that would make any sane person pay any amount of money for any product to help them quit – and it comes into our house. They get obsessed with a certain song and play it on repeat for literally hours at a time – right now it’s k.d. Lang’s “Hallelujah,” which I didn’t like in the first place and can’t stand now that I’ve heard it forty times.

But the last straw was the other day when they got some new speakers. I assume that’s what happened because they kept blasting music for a few seconds, then turning it down, then back up, etc. I figured that was the deal with new speakers and I could wait it out, but then they settled on a volume (earsplitting) and genre (saxophone jazz from hell) and after a few songs, deciding that letting the air out of their tires would be passive-aggressive, I chose to be more direct: I blasted Maria Callas singing “O Mio Babbino Caro,” letting it play through to the end even though they had long since turned theirs off. It was actually quite thrilling – this is rough and tough North Queensland, don’t forget, and I wondered if I was going to get punched in the face next time I left the house – but nothing’s come of it and so far the volume has stayed somewhere closer to a reasonable level. Since they seem to understand this kind of communication, I’m trying to think of something that I could blow into their house next time they smoke into ours... Again, please share your thoughts.

I will leave you with two recent examples of four-year-old logic that I like so much:

1. Ellie has let Shaquanna wear her bracelet for the afternoon.
“Don’t forget to get it back when your mom comes to pick you up.”
“I won’t. One time, I woke up and I remembered that I had swimming.”

2. Ellie again, playing with little plastic jumping frogs, three of which are broken. So how many are still good? Ellie counts.
“Seven. And my brother’s seven, so there you go!”

Later skaters.


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