Thursday, January 28, 2010
Jan 1 through 4
A few more days of peace and quiet down at gorgeous unspoilt Whale Beach(about an hour from Sydney) with Rachel and a dear friend Lydia and on my last day in Sydney I actually wake up feeling somewhat refreshed and not unlike a human being – but no rest for the wicked. One hour later, after a lightning visit to a fabulous local artist Bruce Goold, I am heading back to Sydney to pack. Me and my boy wrench ourselves from the sultry Sydney summer back onto the plane and a few hours into the tedious flight back, memories of penguin watching at twilight and xmas lunch with all the cousins and the dinner party of oysters and artichoke pasta at frank’s and vegemite on toast at Janey’s are beginning to fade.
By the time we're waiting for our luggage at LAX (why does your life flash before you in such a deeply depressing way as you wait for luggage?), it’s hard to believe that we were in another hemisphere and another season this very SAME day (due to the 19 hour time difference) with lovely folks we won’t see again for a good long spell. Traveling is very fucking weird and I am thrilled that Lola is in fact still there – having decided to stay on for another ten days to go on a road trip to Queensland with her bff Matilda Brown.
Jan 5 –Next day.
The alarm goes off at 7am after what seems like ten minutes of sleep- and I wonder for that weird couple of moments where the hell I am but I look down at the floor beside my bed and it all comes back to me… a frenzied session of unpacking Nick’s bag at 3am resulted in a sandy pile of stinky damp clothes on the floor which I step over as I stagger to his room and try to wake him. And it’s now that I remember the poor child has a science test today and yes, the relevant pages from his science text book that I conscientiously Xeroxed for him are still packed neatly in his back pack – having naturally not been perused by student ONCE during entire vacation. What a shock. I feel genuinely sorry for him and it’s tempting to say “Go back to sleep honey, you can skip school today” and run back to bed myself. But he’s already missed a day of school so, setting a dangerous precedent, I take him Weetabix and hot milk in bed along with his Adderal and beg him to sit up and eat.
As we drive to school in the biting cold we’re not used to after a spell of summer downunder, I try to jolly up the sleepy teen with thoughts of how cool his new buzzcut is and how his pals will probably like it. (Blow me down if after two long years of unsuccessful threats mixed with cash bribes if only he would cut his shoulder length hair, he doesn’t slip out one morning three days after arriving in Melbourne with cousin Jane to the same barber my dad used to go to and get his hair buzzed within half an inch of his head!) Well, the bad news is –he failed the Science test. The good news is that YES, his pals dug his hair cut and by Friday, not one – but THREE of them had followed suit and gone from long flowing locks to short, crisp crew cuts! My son the trend-setter. I was disproportionately proud of the giant child who grew half an inch over Christmas. But trying to keep some perspective, made him retake the science test and after long nights of jetlagged study, we got a C.
Oh my God. The jetlag. Ferocious. For days I could not stop myself from running to Starbucks after dropping him off before falling straight back into my bed. The guilt, the self-loathing as one finally comes to at 1 in the afternoon realizing there is a good two hours to get anything accomplished before picking up child and starting the tedious homework/dinner routine all over again before another night of tossing, turning, getting up for snacks (Janey—desperately need more Vegemite!! PLEASE SEND MORE!) and finally, more often than not, taking a friggin half an ambien at about 3am.
Oh, an update on the tits.
So the first day back I am down in Santa Monica seeing Dr Bob at 10 am sharp. He’s not too thrilled with the amount of fluid he has to drain from my left breast. Nor am I for that matter as despite an almost complete lack of any feeling whatsoever, one feels the dragging and sucking as the giant needle ‘vacuums’up the liquid. He tells me to try and do NOTHING strenuous before coming back in a week—and when I return, it’s the same story. There is a large fluid build-up which is of some concern and this time he tightly bandages me up to try and stop fluid from collecting. He explains that he can’t pump the expander with any more saline to fill up the breast as it is already twice as big as the other. I could have told him that. And then he informs me that not one but TWO more surgeries will be needed in trying to replace the expanders with permanent implants and get it looking half way decent. Two, if we’re lucky. Could be more. Greeeeeat.
The combination of realizing that I have two more surgeries, an immune system to repair, five more months of 8th grade homework, no job, no money AND mouse shit brown hair leaves me, along with the jetlag just a tad depressed. Oh- and the lovely Tamoxifen waiting for me at the local Rite Aid which my oncologist says I need to start taking now FOR FIVE YEARS. An anti-hormonal drug that “is for the risk that anything could microscopically have spread and adds to the chemotherapy to give a combined 75% reduction on the original risk of spread of the cancer” is how my oncologist put it to me in an email last week. But it also can lead to bone aching, joint stiffness and soreness, endless hot flashes, uterine cancer and should “be avoided at all costs” according to my homeopathic doctor. What to do???? I make an appointment with the UCLA oncologist I have been meaning to switch to –but exhaustion, reluctance to drive so much further to UCLA and fear of asking my current oncologist to send all the records have so far stopped me. But this is a fairly crucial decision. I need more input. And that means more than talking to one or two friends—both of whom refused to take it for fear of just ‘putting more chemicals “ into their bodies. And so –a teeny bit low and weary that I have to make more drug decisions as I gear up for another surgery, I DECIDE TO CUT MY HAIR EVEN SHORTER AND GO WHITE BLONDE.
It was a rash, somewhat impulsive move– but hideous hair and an invitation to the G’DAY USA awards for FAB AUSSIES WHO’VE DONE A HECK OF A LOT the next night calls for tough decisions and I’m pleased to say I was up for the challenge. I made the call at 11am friday. And was with my old hairdresser pal Mario by 4pm that same day. And by 6.30 Saturday night I was heading—alone of course- to join some Aussie pals at the big black-tie bash promoting OZ/USA relations in trade, showbiz and whatever else they can think of—to honor my friend Simon Baker (star of The Mentalist) along with Toni Colette and Greg Norman the golfer. And shallow old tart that I am, I gotta say I felt a hell of a lot more attractive as a blonde than as Ms Mouse Brown. A tragic attempt to recapture my youth when, a mere quarter of a century ago, I cut my hair and dyed it blonde ? Yep. A toxic overdose of chemicals onto my poor old scalp that burned like hell as said dye did its thing? Perhaps. Although both oncologist and homeopathic docs said to go ahead and do it! So what the hell?
My kids both approved wholeheartedly and at least heading off to the Hollywood Highland center to celebrate the Aussies, I felt like I’d made an effort and could hold head up high. And it was a ‘bloody good night’ as the very sweet and mighty cute Simon Baker was introduced by his old friend Nicole Kidman who clearly felt comfortable surrounded by fellow countrymen and she proceeded to tell us all that she took pride in being the one who had convinced the young jack-of-all trades but generally unemployed Simon and his wife to come over to LA about 15 years ago and ‘give it a go”. They followed her advice and some good parts finally followed. But then, about three years ago, they felt it was time to head home to Sydney and they sold up here and bought a house there. But six months later they were all homesick for LA – and they headed back-three kids in tow – to LA at which point the again-unemployed actor got a new gig and hit the jackpot. As lead on the top-rating show THE MENTALIST. Niiice.
Nic and hubby Keith Urban then serenaded Simon with a fabulous version of Men At Work’s “A Land Downunder” singing witty new lyrics of their own all about Simon and his wonderful wife Rebecca and their three kids. It was a revelation to see “Nic” kicking off her shoes in gay abandon as she danced around behind her hubby and rather touching that so much effort had clearly been put into the very personal new words.
"He's got a plan this quiet achiever.
And Becca is his dream believer."
Simon blushed adorably -as did Rebecca when the lyrics focussed on her- but it was an amazing tribute and certainly had a verve that the globes and oscars can only dream of - and I was thrilled to be there amongst the fun-loving, irreverent, champagne-swilling aussies till I looked up and saw myself on the two mega giant screens televising it all. At first I truly thought – ‘who is that sheila smiling goonishly behind Simon with a very shiny forehead and something resembling a wig hat on her head?’ before realizing it was me. I then tried to hide behind Simon but kept dodging in the wrong direction. Mortifying. Though by the time I woke up late the next day there were some nice emails from Australian friends saying they had seen it all on Channel 9 in oz and how much they liked the new ‘do’. Almost certainly fibbing. But it’s a funny old world. Hard to keep much to yourself.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Loyalties torn and divided, we sadly leave Melbourne and cousin Janey's cheerful face at breakfast after a fleeting 9 days and head to Sydney where there are more lovely friends, warm breezes, cockatoos overhead and the heavenly smells of all the Frangipani trees. Our stunning hostess Rachel Ward (she of Thornbirds fame and more lately a fabulous director) decides we should stop on the way back from the airport at the Fish Market and check out the huge whacking great barramundi and gleaming freshly caught snapper and all manner of Aussie seafood – some still alive and kicking, freshly arrived here at the wharf. Minutes later we are lunching on fantastic sushi and then we buy fresh prawns and oysters and sardines to eat the same night under the Sydney stars in her beautiful old sandstone house right on the Harbor before retiring to my own little guest house at the bottom of the garden just feet from the Harbor itself and their own jetty for speedy morning getaways by boat to nearby cafes for more lattes or a swing past the Opera House. It’s some sort of extraordinary flexible jetty that sways with the waves made by adorable little tug boats and swanky lit-up cruisers that pass all through the night. My first night in Sydney-a full moon, a Southern Hemisphere sky that is ablaze with stars and the softly-twinkling lights of the famous Harbor bridge Not too shabby.
The next morning I discover I have moronically packed just one of my weekly vitamin boxes with the anti-depressants, antibiotics and all manner of supplements to restore my immune system. Must have left the other two behind in my rush to get out of the USA to my mother country. Ah. This is dull. I’ve taken 10 days of antibiotics in Melbourne and that should do the trick, topping up the staggering amounts I’ve swallowed for four months. (Never did believe in the theory that you must finish every single course. WHY??) Anyway—no sign of infection. All seems fine down there as long as I wear baggy tops to disguise the fact that one boob is twice the size of the other. But another week with no anti-depressants? Now that could be a problem. Ever tried quitting them cold-turkey? Incredibly inadvisable due to nausea, shocking dizziness, headaches and major urges to go to bed and never get up again. But a good friend (and this is surely the definition OF a good friend) suggests she pop in to see her pals at the neighborhood chemist and get some more of her Effexor and switch to those immediately. It does the trick beautifully and soon Rachel and I and Lola and heading over to my friend Nell’s house in Longueville, a North Sydney suburb where Nicole Kidman grew up. (Rachel’s gorgeous daughter and Lola’s adored lifelong pal Matilda, 22, is editing her short film for the Tropfest- which is a film festival for short films under 7 minutes that gets hundreds of entries a year. She has written, directed and starred in it—as twins-and it is fantastic. If she gets to be one of the finalists, it will be shown at a wonderful evening under the stars in Sydney’s Domain- an inner-city park and it could jump-start her acting or directing career. There’s such a can-do spirit in some aspects of Australian life and young filmmakers are encouraged in all sorts of ways by both their peers and the government –with endless grants and tax brakes for writing and making movies that simply don’t exist in America.
We arrive at Nell’s new digs- just a teensy bit far for me from the city proper –but discover she has moved back after thirty years in New York where she acted and ran restaurants and her own wildly successful nightclub NELL’S and embraced a whole new life. The house is a true haven, backing onto gorgeously green bushland and is totally surrounded by a virtual forest of trees and kookaburras and her own pet water dragon Jimmy who appears daily now for raw carrots and any tasty leftovers. She has done a spectacular job of renovating what was a simple brick house and added verandahs, an amazing kitchen and, like a girl after my own heart, has cunningly installed all Ikea cabinets and sliding drawers and roll-out closets with custom made door fronts. And the garden is brilliant with native plants she has hauled from miles around. And so, I kept thinking over the home-made hummus and the roasted snapper and heavenly salad …why couldn’t I make a go of it in Australia ?? Why did I spend four years there and then rush back to LA ? Well, unlike Nell who has an adored mother and two sisters and a brother in Sydney, I had family in Melbourne, most of my pals in Sydney – but most importantly, my dearest daughter in LA. It made sense to return, didn’t it? My second-guessing of myself and the constant recriminations and regrets must stop soon. They must. Memo to self. Talk to LA therapist about my endless lack of feeling good about my decisions, restlessness and underlying flat-out panic about the future. Just because I’m a single mother and have no job, no prospects, no savings, no pension to look forward to and no partner...
And I keep thinking back to Mandy, my childhood best friend from our all-girls school Firbank who I’ve had fun with on every trip back home – at least thirty of them, since leaving Australia at 20. But this trip was very different. I visited her twice in Geelong, about an hour out of Melbourne and after two years of pancreatic cancer, she’s not a well girl. Every fiber of my being wishes I had the money and resources to somehow magically produce the perfect holistic team of acupuncturists, reflexologists, chefs, and yoga teachers on her doorstep, easing the need for painkillers and anti-nausea drugs and giving her a life and immune-enhancing concoction of food, drinks, meditations—and the STRENGTH to keep fighting. I’m sure the Aussie oncologists are as good as any in the world---but that basically means well-meaning folks who are trained to prescribe toxic drugs and nothing else in the way of complimentary treatments, nutrition or supplements. No one had ever even mentioned the concept of smoking or somehow ingesting pot to help with the nausea. Her weight is very low due to endless vomiting caused by the acute nausea and she should at the very least be trying out SMOKING SOME WEED !! I told her how I had been convinced by Melissa Etheridge talking on Ellen or Oprah about pot helping with it---and she seemed open to it – but in Australia no doctors can prescribe it and she said none of her friends partook of same. It’s tough to be a know-it-all bossy boots caretaking type but not live in the same country and unable to come by more often for a fab barbey(BBQ) of snags(sausages) and chops thanks to her darling hubby Graham and just two days after weepily waving goodbye to her I was far away in Sydney. But wishing her the very best in her struggle as I realize how lucky I am.
And just a few days later another year –a challenging one– was about to bite the dust. New Year’s Eve day in Sydney was a flurry of activity as the perfect hosts, Bryan Brown and wife Rachel are preparing their house for their big bash that evening on their verandah and back lawn overlooking the Harbor and thus we, the guests are thrilled to help in anticipation of yet another of their famous NYE bashes with the fantastic free view of the amazing fireworks show that Sydney puts on for it’s inhabitants each year now. It’s a bloody beauty!
There’s a lot to be done….no lolling about reading novels or watching dvd’s today…We drink lattes and as the caffeine kicks in, we rise to the occasion. Suddenly gorgeous Turkish rugs and oversized cushions are being flung onto the lawn, verandahs are swept, bushes are pruned, fabulous throws and Indian quilts are put over outdoor sofas, tables are laid, lanterns and candles placed, incense is lit and within a couple of hours we have ‘staged’ the joint beautifully. The blokes (Nick and Joe Brown being directed by the very bossy but witty Bryan Brown) have been doing bloke work—carrying boxes of grog all over the place and putting out big bins lined with trash bags to hold copious amounts of beer and wine…and now it’s time for some food prep before joining Lola and Matilda for a fun, old-fashioned massive trying-on of frocks session.
Hard to remember ever being that young and gorgeous as they inspect themselves in a full-length mirror and reject one fantastic outfit after another. I borrow a long arm and leg-covering dress from Rachel and try to not look in the mirror more than absolutely essential. And then suddenly, as the wind dies down to nothing and a stunningly warm evening presents itself as the last of 2009, we realize we have about ten minutes to get dressed as folk appear, champagne corks start popping and the party has begun against one of the best backdrops in the world. Well certainly in the Southern hemisphere. (This spot is such a hot ticket that the entire neighborhood is blocked off by police so that people wanting the view in nearby parks have to come by foot so that bedlam does not ensue).
Lola and Matilda appear looking like the exquisite young things they are – each wearing one of the other’s outfits. And it’s startling to realize they are no longer awkward or shy but totally confident and charming young women able to make small talk with the best of them and welcome guests like old hands. They no longer need us for practically any bloody thing and in fact would not even notice if all we oldies snuck out of the party right this minute. And if they did notice, they'd be deliriously happy. For a few moments there I start to wallow in the tragedy of getting old and redundant and not having a hope in hell of ayone flirting with me tonight (as if ) but try to pull myself together as an old Aussie pal I dated in London makes his way towards me and announces, very loudly, "You're alive!! I'm so pleased."
But most people downunder, though candid, are also discreet - and no one else has even alluded to the Big C. Or else they don’t care. But I think it’s the former - a natural tendency not to pry or invade anyone’s privacy which is a giant relief. Though I realize they can lie through their teeth with the best of them when they tell me how swell my stunningly dull, mouse shit brown hair looks….about an inch and a half all over and now with an unmistakable wave that it never possessed before. “Wow, it looks FANtastic“ they splutter as their eyes bulge in shock and horror. But it’s okay. The last year has cured me of pretty much all but a shred of vanity and it’s such fun to see folks I haven’t seen in well over two years…AND we get to see the fireworks TWICE…there is a 9pm show for young kids who can’t stay up- and then again of course at midnight. We’re riveted both times ---nothing like watching them from the comfort of our own party as we eat sushi and garlic prawns. At midnight a lot of us head down and watch from the jetty as the water reflects the flaming lit-up sky and suddenly lots of the young folk—led by an inspired Matilda Brown, jump into the Harbor, clothes and all. Shrieking, laughter and the roars and whistles of the fireworks. Such fun. Yes, my two leapt in too and were extremely pleased with themselves. We oldies mutter to each other about sharks but the young ‘uns are having a blast and certain daughters even have a first kiss with a very cute local right there in the harbor as the fireworks explode overhead.
But it’s funny how things can change in the space of a few days. One minute I’m thinking how cute and adorable it was to see Nick walking round the block in Melbourne to see the pals he’s known from the third grade—reverting to the childhood habits of cruising the neighborhood on bikes and then a few days later he’s a drunken oaf throwing up like a great big revolting teen who, to my horror, admits as he hangs his head over the toilet for about an hour at 3 am, that he’d downed TEN beers—apparently between midnight and 2am when I saw him heading for bed. I am shocked and very upset to think that had I not gone up to check on him – only to discover him lying in a huge pile of vomit on the pillow — he could have choked to death! It’s frightening and alarming and I berate myself for not keeping a closer eye on him but when a shitload of free beers are lying in bins all over the place waiting to be drunk, what can you do? I truly pray that it taught him a lesson and as I watch him like a hawk all night and put my hand on his back to make sure he's breathing –as he snores happily in my bed- I remind myself to tell him, about fifty times over the next few months, that shockingly, teens die of alcohol poisoning all the time.
As he happily tucks into bacon and eggs the next day at noon with the rest of us, (after a lot of hosing down outside on the lawn of the stinky sofa bed he slept on) and silly, somewhat inappropriate tales are swapped of the first time others got drunk, I know it’s a New year’s Eve he’ll remember for a very long time.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Few hours Later- dec 16th
I’ve gone home, collapsed on the bed amidst all the half- packed bags and chaos of wrapping paper, presents that are not nearly good enough for cousins and adorable old pals I’ve known for thirty years and wallowed in the guilt and panic of not even having found a single present for my best and only daughter. I lie there and a vision of the next 18 days alone, with not even a plan for Christmas day, flashes before me! Self-pitying sentimental slob that I am, I just can’t bear the thought of it. I simply can’t. And my oldest best school friend, who’s had pancreatic cancer, which has spread to liver and lungs, is expecting to see me and I would dearly love to see my favorite uncle who is not AT ALL well. Fuck. It doesn’t seem wildly indulgent to wallow in self-pity for an hour before school pick-up. But suddenly I remember I am in possession of a letter from Dr Sam who HAS said that if I can put the flight off till Monday, he might be able to give me the go-ahead. I call the travel agent and tell him I have a letter from my infectious disease Doctor saying I should not travel till the 21st and could he please see if there is a seat then. He practically snorts with derision saying that unless I have an immediate family member who has died- and I have a DEATH CERTIFICATE ON MY PERSON, tough titty.
Over dinner I tell my kids I probably won’t be joining them again this year and they are sweetly sad but it doesn’t seem to occur to them to say they won’t go either and I can’t blame them –nor would it make any sense for us ALL to sit around feeling lower than a snake’s belly. Or some such local expression from downunder. I never get them quite right. That’s because I’m a disenfranchised bloody aussie with an American passport as well, not to mention two American children who no longer has a place she calls home and despite loving and always weeping when I hear Peter Allen’s stunning anthem “I Still Call Australia Home”, I’m afraid it’s been about three decades since I felt that to be true. I have no place to call home. It’s true and it sucks. It would be nice to feel one belongs somewhere.
24 Hours Later
I lie in bed wide AWAKE all frigging night wondering if I should just defy doc’s orders and jump on that plane but it’s hard NOT to imagine the nightmare of fifteen hours in the back of the plane. Something about staggering up for the ninth time of the night to pee and feeling the deep, deep fatigue of a year of chemo, surgeries and crap make the thought of same flight seem utterly horrifying. I’m TOO OLD for fucking ECONOMY, I tell myself sensibly. It’s just plain wrong.
But by next morning, after dropping the teen at school, I know that staying will be too wretched for words and so, I give it another try. I call to see if there are any labs back yet from the fluid tests they did yesterday and blow me down if Dr Bob doesn’t call right back and say that preliminary results indicate there may not be any infection but best to wait till Monday so I can come back and be drained again and get the official results. I tell him that it will cost $1700 to change my seat and start to cry. Basically resigned to stay, I blurt out that the left breast is twice as big as the right today anyway but he explains that it was like that yesterday because he filled it up SO much so that no more fluid could enter.
“Well it’s your decision. It’s up to you “ he announces…
“I can GO?”
“Double the dose of antibiotics and take them for two weeks-not just one and jump on a plane and come back if anything starts to look weird”
Having one breast twice as big as the other is already in the Weird department but clearly not what he means. What DOES he mean? Who cares at this point?
“So, just to be clear, you won’t disown me as a patient if I go to Australia? I ask
“If I was going to disown you I would’ve done that a long time ago!” he laughs.
“God that is so MY line”, I want to yell---but give an already smug surgeon an opening and suffer the consequences.
“Thanks so much Dr Bob “ I say—and actually mean it.
Well it’s four hours to go till my ex-husband’s very sweet third wife and Lola’s second stepmother arrives to take us to the airport. BETTER GET MOVING.!!!!! And so follows a wild few hours of all the manic packing I should have done over the last 48 hours. I try to pretend a camera is recording every move so that, with laser-like efficiency and focus, I will stick to the tasks at hand and manage it all—passports, both aussie and American, my son’s packing which is to include rash vests for surfing, his acne medication, rubber bands for his braces, swimsuits, flip flops, his skateboard and thoughtfully Xeroxed pages of his upcoming science and history chapters so that he will be a step ahead when he arrives back at school a day late, jetlagged, with a science test in the first period and a history one the next day. (Mothers must be optimists..…but yes, a MASSIVE waste of time.) And then I nimbly stuff three weekly pill boxes to the gills with all the supplements and antibiotics and anti depressants I am meant to take, hurl about twenty tank tops, 4 winter jackets and two pairs of jeans into the case with my usual lack of flair for packing and pretty soon, after weighing and reweighing all the bags till my head is spinning, I am sweating and fretting, and desperate to find something to wear for a New years Eve bash we are going to in Sydney but too late- our ride has appeared, and we’re off to the airport via Otis College to pick up Lola who is meant to be giving an end of year Performance Piece for her teachers in about ten minutes. But some people don’t bother to read the itineraries their mothers send them on repeated occasions and thus have to skip out of school a day early. Soon we are delivered safely to LAX. Okay- so we’re on the wrong floor at Arrivals and it’s also the wrong terminal. But we’re close and after a frantic 15 minute schlep we are in the correct LONG line. And soon it ‘s time to stand by as my fabulously strong son heaves bags on and off weighing machines, not letting his dear ol mum lift a finger.
As we hit the first passport checkpoint, an immigration officer looks at me, looks at my passport picture and then back at me. “You looked better with the long blonde hair. You might want to grow it again, “ he offers as he snaps it shut and takes up the next passport. I am gobsmacked. Rendered temporarily speechless, especially as Lola who often thinks she’s the bloody grown-up, has ordered me just moments ago to be polite to everyone. I am known for a certain lack of finesse at airports where my colossal impatience has been known to rear it’s ugly head- especially when power-crazed women start ordering you to take off not only shoes, but belts, scarves, sweaters, beanies.” FUCK! Should I JUST STRIP OFF COMPLETELY? Look, under my beanie –what am I hiding ? NOTHING! ” I seem to recall shouting last time I flew in June, still bald.
But Lola is incensed and jumping to my defense, immediately pipes up with “Well you know, it’s funny but when someone has chemo and LOSES ALL THEIR HAIR, they don’t have much choice about their hairstyle for a while!” That’s my girl.
The moronic officer is not remotely embarrassed and responds “Well I wouldn’t know about any of that!” before waving us on and shouting “Next!”
“Dickhead” mutters Lola and Nick sweetly puts his arm around me as we march on with the eight pieces of heavy hand luggage I vow to eliminate each year. Unsuccessfully.
Three pilots then hover next to us, trying to jump the queue as we approach the x-ray machines.. I politely ask if they’d like to jump in ahead of us and they accept the offer and walk through without taking off their shoes. I decide to leave mine on and casually walk on through before a cranky female screams at me to go back and take OFF THE SHOES! “Well they didn’t “ I reply indignantly pointing to the pilots hurrying away. The woman’s partner, packing heat, booms out “When you learn to fly a plane, you can keep your shoes on too!” I’m tempted to snap back that I have a flying license too but sensibly decide to resist my juvenile anti-authoritarian urges.
And then, naturally, I am taken aside to some holding area after putting same hand luggage through the x ray machines because I have idiotically packed three expensive green drinks from the health food store into one of the bags. The female recovers all three drinks plus a gorgeous hydrating face spray and holds them up as it was a cache of heroin and a home made bomb. “Well can I drink them now? I plead as Lola hisses “Jesus mum, they’ve only had this law for about ten years. What is your problem??” Feeling utterly brainless I respond loudly with “Well what the fuck do they think will happen? I’ll drink them and blow myself up on the spot?” Lola yells back and soon she and Nick and I are all shouting at each other. Another gun-toting dude then tells us all to pipe down or we’ll be taken “to another area”. That shuts us all up.
As we wait for the flight, now laden down with even more bags of magazines, sweeties and water, my cousin from Melbourne calls me on the cell to say, without even a hello, “Well I hope to God you’re not coming!” She’s just read my latest blog and apparently feels I should get a grip and follow doctors’ orders. “Janey, don’t be mean, the doc changed his mind and we’re about to get on the plane. Sorry!!! “ She sighs and says she’ll be at the airport to meet us. Dear cousin Janey. I do love her.
The flight is in fact even more horrendous than I anticipated and after watching four films in a row suddenly realize that both my right leg and arm are completely numb. Seriously without feeling. I manage to stagger up and head back towards the toilet where I shake and rub and suddenly remember cousin Jane’s warning that I could get a BLOOD CLOT after all the surgeries. None of my doctors have ever mentioned such a possibility but I suddenly panic ever so slightly and ask a stewardess what the symptoms of DVT are…
Well to cut a long tale short, within minutes I am surrounded by about five airline personell, my blood pressure, temperature and oxygen levels are taken and a Medivac team in Australia are called for their advice. I then excitedly overhear one steward whisper to another “Are there free seats in Business or First?” and my spirits momentarily soar as I imagine a good lie down for the next eight hours. “NO, nothing at all” comes the reply and by now I am over it all. Feeling has slowly returned to limbs and I’m ready to go back to my seat. But now they’re checking the manifest to see if a doctor’s on board and failing that they promise to make a loudspeaker announcement to see if any doctors present themselves. Jesus wept. I insist they not bother but sure enough, a few minutes later they locate a nice Asian doctor who questions me endlessly before I am finally allowed to go back to my seat. That’ll teach me. But very nice to know that apparently about 95 % of the time there’s a doctor on board any and every plane.
An ambien, an ativan, 8 Melatonin and still not a WINK of sleep – so another couple of movies, a couple of weepy moments from Lola who is so overtired after her week of work and exams and BOB’S YOUR UNCLE, (one of my favorite local expressions meaning ‘it’s all okay’) - we’ve landed in Oz. Well in Sydney—so just a few more tedious hours of recovering luggage and checking in again before a bus from the International to the Domestic terminal and then another plane ride and we’re in Melbourne. We grab a latte—even the fabulous airports in Australia are full of fantastic stores and juice bars, sushi cafes and the BEST COFFEE in the world and then out into the stunning fresh Aussie summer air and a ride with dear Janey back to her place in Sandringham, a few minutes from Port Philip Bay and the beach in groovy, hip Melbourne.
Within about ten minutes Nick is off on foot to walk round the corner and look up some of his old school mates from the primary school, a stone’s throw away, that he attended for three years. Five minutes later Lola is sunning herself by the pool in the back yard with my gorgeous 18 year-old niece Nikki who has completely grown up in the two years since I last saw her. Already I’m feeling sad as Nick loved Melbourne and the genius aspect of having pals a few blocks away. He would have been very happy to stay and live here. But I decided to return to LA and Lola after spending four years in my home town looking after my dad. It’s my first trip back in just over two years since he died and it’s odd not to feel the constant guilt I experienced whenever I wasn’t by his side. So we tuck into our favorite charcoal grilled chicken and gorgeous salad and fruit that just tastes so much better I’m afraid to say than American salad and fruit. The mangoes, the passion fruit, the pineapples—just utterly delicious and sweet and fresh. Dunno how or why—but they’re simply superior. Go figure.
For some reason the jet lag is almost non-existent and when one does inevitably wake at some ungodly hour there’s always the comfort of a glass of Milo and Vegemite on toast. My brother Geoffrey kindly lends me back my ancient old Ford Falcon station wagon- and since I was safely back in the USA while my license was suspended for 12 months, I’m free to thunder round again in what my kids called The Moose. (Only lost my license for chatting on the cell phone a few too many times- they take a dim view of cell phone use here and made it illegal about four years before America did the same thing. Oh and then I was wicked enough to drive WITH a 6 month suspended license and that’s when a judge decided I should be deprived of driving privileges for 12 months. At least they didn’t fine me as well. Once, driving from Sydney to Melbourne, I was wildly unlucky. Caught for speeding twice in six hours and given on the spot fines that you need to pay ON THE FRIGGING SPOT. As in – hand over cash or a check. The first was for $200 and then a few hours later, I rolled through a town and some rogue cop with a thick Scottish accent, possibly a plumber posing as a copper, insisted I was going 85 in a 50 km/hr zone and demanded FIFTEEN HUNDRED SMACKERS. I wrote a check- and it was good. Annoying since I was trying to be thrifty and not spend dough on airline tickets.
So naturally despite endless pacts not to buy each other xmas gifts, we manically run around buying far too many last minute pressies. And it's a treat to see nephews and nieces and their gorgeous offspring. And have endless Australian lattes. I cannot get enough.(Apparently the head of Starbucks flew to Sydney to work out why they'd had to close down all the Aussie Starbucks. Apparently he had a coffee at the airport and immediately understood the problem. Aussie coffee is sublime. On EVERY corner!! In the cutest, hippest cafes and bars and restaurants everywhere. In many, many ways,(food, design and coffee to name three) Aussies are so beyond hip and stylish and way ahead of America. And then,it’s already Christmas day. Very confronting to realize we are the grown-ups now. No parents are there. The last Christmas in Melbourne there was my dad, cousin Jane’s parents- my dear Aunty Pat and Uncle Ab- and my cousin Rick’s wife’s mother Dorothy. They would trundle round on their walkers barely able to move or speak and clearly making the most tremendous effort ever. But it made it worthwhile. They probably all wished to God they were home having a nice nap but we would get them into the cars, put on their best sweaters and their arrival would be met with much fanfare and kisses from grandchildren whose names they could barely remember. Beers and shandies and wine were brought to them, chips and dips offered and over their heads we would exchange meaningful, anxious glances. But now Dorothy and dad have kicked the bucket and poor Uncle Ab is not remotely well enough to come (with Parkinson’s, throat and lung cancer) and dear Aunty Pat insists on faithfully staying by his side. So COMES THE CHILLING BUT OVERDUE REALIZATION THAT WE ARE THE GROWN-UPS now…me and my three cousins –Jane, Rick and Bun, Rick’s wife Sue and my brother Geoff.
Who knew I was this old? Why are we even doing this?? Cos it’s bloody Christmas and that’s what you do and in fact it’s a very jolly one with seven kids between 14 and twenty six who know how to party and drink champagne and beer like it’s going out of style. Nick tries to casually walk away with a beer at one point till I put my foot down and tell him to put it down immediately- no ifs or buts! Mother Lola interferes and says ‘it’s no big deal” but I am adamant. Nick even reveals that my pal Frank who gave me a gorgeous dinner party a few nights before had given him a beer. And he drank it! Honestly Frank. He’s a child. Okay, a man-child. Aussies and their drinking – hard to keep ‘em apart. But I stick to my guns and if Nick drinks it’s behind a bush and there are those who think it’s better out in the open but at 14?? Doesn’t seem right. By 5 pm 18 of us are finally sitting down to eat our wonderful Christmas feast. Very traditional. Turkey, plum pudding –the lot, thanks to Sue who is ruffled by nothing. I stand up and try to make a toast to missing friends, my dad and Uncle Ab and Aunty Pat but am immediately in tears and unable to speak. Young Tom, 25, gets to his feet and rescues the moment—with great humor. By 6 .30 we’re dancing like fools to some great oldies that our fabulous DJ Rick always provides. And by 9 the washing up is almost done (thanks Janey) and we stagger home. Very, very glad I came. A genius decision for once.