Monday, November 29, 2010

Show and Tell

Before we continue, I need to tell you something about myself.  This 'something' is actually very important, affecting my outlook on life, the decisions that I make and ultimately, the content of my writing and the conversations between you and I, dear reader.

I work with dead people.  Specifically, I deal with their estates - the practical aftermath of their demise.  Unlike the Coroner or funeral directors, I am not in physical contact with the dead.  Rather, I am Death's personal assistant - organising funerals, taking calls from the police, social workers, hospitals, family members.
I am Death's cubicle monkey.

I've been doing this for three years know, and here are a few maxims I've come to know and rely upon.

1)  Some deaths suck.  Dying is good and natural and necessary.  It's what we do.  However, some of us die of a huge stroke whilst straining on the toilet.

Austin Powers: Who does Number Two work for? Who does Number Two work for?
Cowboy in the next toilet stall: Yeah, that's right! You show that turd who's boss!
Nurses come across that one pretty often. 
Some of us die from a combination of drug abuse, alcoholism and general looking-after-oneself-crappily in small apartments in the middle of winter, having fallen over the bar heater and not being found until the neighbours notice the smell. 
In general, the way in which we die can pretty much be divided into good, bad and okay-but-not-great.  Good is what we all hope for - at home, sudden, in our sleep, then BAM, gone.  Preferably when we're old, but not infirm and with our wits about us.  Oh and someone to find you sooner rather than later. 
From what I know, most of us achieve okay-but-not-great status - little heart attack one day, bigger one the next, history of Alzheimers and Type 2 diabetes, nursing home.  Perhaps a touch of pneumonia. 

2)  No estate is normal.  That's because people are not normal.  There will be fights over jewellery, resulting in one's brother punching one's sister-in-law.  Right now we're dealing with a deceased left at the Coroner for 4 weeks - she was dumped by her Greek parents in Australia as a three year old when they realised she was mentally disabled.  It's now 38 years later and my co-worker has to call Thessaloniki a few times a week to see if asshole mom and dad have made a decision about what to do with the body... yet. 

3)  It's good work.  Not easy work.  Some days you head straight to the cocktail bar across the road and stick your head into a Mai Tai, you need to.  But every day you know you helped out a little and that counts.  Maybe you've been able to move the body to a less expensive funeral director so the widow doesn't have to spend so much of her pension.  Maybe you're able to send an email to a deceased's sister in Ireland explaining that yes, her brother's ashes can be sent back to Limerick and yes, we'll send his war medals and photographs too, don't worry about it.

So, that's what I do for a living.  Some days are better than others as with any profession.  And some days start with a quarter of diazepam chugged down with a swig of absinthe, and remembering that showing up to work drunk and inebriated is a 'fireable offence'.  Also, cornering your bosses into a meeting room to scream about the chronic understaffing (whilst drunk and inebriated) is a Bad Idea. 

That's why we're having this little chat today, you and I.  Pass the whiskey, will you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Kind Of Lingua Franca

“Now I want to know where this terrible American accent is coming from.  You didn’t have it before, then yesterday it was all CON-NOR instead of Conner and just then you said  O'NEEAELE instead of O'Neil.  It’s since you came back from holidays”.

The complainant is SN, my extremely effeminate, extremely plummy and extremely Anglophiliac boss.  His father had been knighted for services to the upmarket department store Georges, and as a six-year-old he threw a tantrum because he really, REALLY wanted to go to Paris… and then he got to go.  And of course, his family often ‘had the help in’ to assist in running their sizeable Toorak household. 

SN and I have a few things in common.  I, too had been to Paris as a child; just not the interesting bits like the Black Dog heavy metal bar where Gieger showed his work.  My family only did the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and you know… the usual.  I, too was used to ‘having the help in’ (we had maids) and still have fits of unreasonable ‘it’s-not-fair’ tainted fury when the house is in a mess created by myself, with only myself to clean (and blame).

But unlike SN, my childhood was rich with wonder of  McGuyver, Dallas and Magnum P-I.  Sure, I could 'do' the tones of Miss Marple, the entire cast of Trainspotting and Monty Python; mainly because I went to an international school full of grumpy expat children.  However, my voice, my truest, dearest and most comfortable voice is Michelle Gellar a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I may not look like a California blonde, but in my heart of hearts I am in a GM convertible, wind and Sun-In in my hair, on my way to an audition for the next CIS:New Orleans/Florida/Hoboken.  

So I do posess an ever-changing, somewhat schizophrenic voice.  When angry I go Proper British, and due to where I grew up I can do a reasonable Manglish/Singlish.  And please let's not discuss the time I stayed with my Hindi best friend in high school for Job Week.  Exorcising those high pitches and Bollywood head movements from a teenage girl makes Linda Blair's efforts look easy.
And yes, I recently had been on holiday visiting relatives, in a country where English spoken well is spoken in Default American.
But funny things happen when children stay up late with their mothers watching Dynasty.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

To Be Reminded Of Your Options

There is a certain comfort in knowing that you can be in other places, be another person, opt for something that it not here, now or you as you are now.

On the bus, a cold day, an hour away from dusk.  A stretch of industrial road.  It feels like an early spring in rural Canada, the outskirts of some university town.
Not that I've ever been to this place, mind you.

Instead, it's about 6.10pm in Melbourne, Australia.  The moment here only feels like a moment in country I've never been to.  These moments don't have names, they are only reminders that there is a life somewhere else just like your own, but not.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Turning Into Little Yellow Person

I have returned, (mostly) triumphant from my stint in Penang, Malaysia and brief visit to Singapore.  And it seems that I may be Chinese after all.  I have been using Hokkien colloquilisms, been describing food as 'heaty' or 'cooling', gotten over my squeamishness about crab guts and have become violently obsessive about hygiene.

The good part about it is that I've been cooking like a bee-yatch, and consuming leftovers with gusto.  Leftovers and I were not good friends before my trip.  Hell, food and I weren't even really on speaking terms.  I was chronically unwell with a nasty case of hives, overworked and homicidal.  Food, let alone the qualities, properties and nutritional value of food, was not high on my list of Stuff To Think About.

And that's how I wound up landing at Penang International Airport looking like an overcooked Doctor Zoidberg.  My face was bright red and burning hot.  I itched like a mother******.  Not a good way to present yourself to your most beloved cousin and aunt after ten years apart!
I knew it was bad when I found myself showing pictures of me with The Boyfriend on Facebook and exclaiming, 'See, that's what I REALLY look like!'.

So the next day, The Aunt (who will now be referred to as 'Aunty Battleaxe') conned me into driving... yes, driving.  In Asia.  Without an international license, on the first day of arrival.  Anyway... Aunty Battleaxe conned me into driving into Pulau Tikus to visit the doctor and the herbalist.  She thoughts the hives were due to a terrific case of nerves, and we also stopped by the pharmacy where she tried to swindle them into selling her some Valium ('I was on Valium for three years after Fred died') but to no avail.

The visit to the doctor was a real revalation.  He confirmed that the hives weren't a nerves thing ('If it were eczema maybe, but this is not...') and he proceded to ask about my diet.

Now, NO Australian doc has ever asked me about my eating habits, not in the last decade at least.  I have a regular doctor here in Melbourne whom I'm fairly loyal to, but he couldn't give a rat's ass whether or not I'd had rat's ass for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  The consultations involve him complaining about his horrible children ('My wife wanted them *despair*') whilst typing on his computer.

So, the Penang doc asked me about my eating habits, then told me to drink alot of water, poop daily ('must, must get rid of the toxins'), eat tomatoes and bananas ('they have potassium, which is what you need') and drink even more water.  He then gave me a schedule of pills to take, which was the same meds as  I was prescribed here.  But there was no hauling my ass down to the pharmacy to procure some random bottle of god-knows-what, taken-three-times-a-day-with-food.  Oh no.  This was different.

At the clinic, and in every clinic I ever went to as a child growing up in Malaysia, there is a dispensiary.
The doc had a quick chat with the dispensiary nurse, and outlined to me exactly how the pills should be taken and when.  At the dispensiary, the nurse proceeded to fill four little bags with the exact quantities of pills, and on the bags themselves were instructions as to when/how they should be taken, in gradually reducing quantities.  Hell, she even rounded off the sharp corners with a tiny pair of scissors so I wouldn't get jabbed by the foil edges.

Exhausted, lobster-faced and weary, I nearly cried with gratitude.
And when we got back to Aunt Battleaxe's flat (by way of the curtainmakers and the mooncake shop) I proceeded to drink LOTS and lots of water...