12 March 2007

The Dead Leaves

We've been suffering a cockroach infestation in the apartment, to the point where I've had to endure the nasty little creatures darting out of places like my shoe (as I was about to put it on) and my (thankfully unused at the time) toothbrush holder. So when I saw what looked like it could be a dead rat (or perhaps a baby wombat) sprawled in front of the door downstairs in the lobby, I was no more than slightly disturbed.

It turned out to have been a trick of the light, however, or of my failing vision, because as I drew near, I realised that it was only a large and crumpled leaf that had drifted in from off the street. Not entirely prepared to trust my senses, I stepped on it to make sure it was a) definitely a leaf and b) definitely dead, and it disintegrated into a pile of dull brown fragments. As I walked out the door, I thought, "Now where did that come from?"

The answer was there at my feet: the pavement was, well, not exactly littered, but definitely sprinkled with similarly dead leaves, and as if to emphasise the point, another one came drifting down in response to an ever-so-slight breeze and hit me in the face. But things still didn't compute. Why were the leaves falling off the trees? Sydney just doesn't seem like the kind of place that does autumn. Besides, it was 86 degrees (30C) and I was headed for the beach.

Eventually, on more careful reflection, I had to accept that yes, very possibly autumn did exist here and was actually starting to happen. Come to think of it, I've been here once when it was winter, so it's a fairly safe bet that autumn at some point intervened. But regardless, it doesn't seem as though it should be happening now.

In fact, it's officially been autumn for a couple weeks already. The Australians have this strange custom where they ignore the equinoxes and solstices and start their seasons on the first of the month. So autumn begins on March 1, winter on June 1, spring on September 1, etc. I've tried explaining how ridiculous and out of sync with nature that is, but they mostly seem to think that's how it's done everywhere else. And of course they're still flocking to the beach in March and even April, when it's definitely autumn (and in October, when it's still early spring), so I guess it's understandable if the lines get a little blurred.

But for me personally, summer ends on the 16th of March, when I'll be bidding goodbye to the beach and heading back to the still rather chilly USA. Up until about a week ago, I was fine with that, and was looking forward to settling back into Brooklyn, even if it'll be a few months yet before I get to enjoy my second summer of 2007. But this week, I'm suddenly conscious of everything I didn't get round to doing, and of just how pleasant it can be to live in a town where two of the most strenuous activities are going to the beach and going to the cafe, and where even on a lousy, cold, windy and drizzly day like today, it's still nicer than the average summer day in London or Frisco.

Never mind, though, I'll accept my fate gladly, as New York has its charms, too, even if the weather is only occasionally one of them. For one thing, I'll be glad to get back to a sensible subway system. I know it's not often that you hear a New Yorker or anyone else waxing nostalgic over that city's subways, but after enduring three months of Sydney's ridiculous Toonerville Trolley that moves along - when it shows up at all - at a pace only slightly greater than that of a fast trot, and still charges 50% more than New York does, it'll be a while before I complain about the L train. At least two or three days, if past experience is any indicator.

My latest adventure in mass transit: my Travelpass (the local version of a Metrocard) stopped working in the fare gates a couple weeks ago. In any marginally competent city, that's no big deal; you take your defective ticket to the ticket agent and he issues you a new one. But not Sydney. "Well, it'll take about two weeks to send that into the city and have it replaced, and since it's only good for another two weeks, there's no point. You'll just have to find show it to the guard and have him let you in."

"But what if there's no guard around?" (Which is generally the case.)

"Well, he'll be around somewhere. You'll just have to find him."

"So how come you can't just issue another ticket? I know you've got a machine in there that can issue electronic tickets, because that's how I got this one in the first place."

"That's not the way we do it. I've got to mail it downtown. Takes a couple weeks."

"But we're downtown now."

"Different office, mate."

And so forth. I don't know why I'm so touchy about the whole thing; half the population of Sydney doesn't pay to ride the railway anyhow, and on any given day you can see dozens of people pushing their way past the ticket inspectors without even bothering to show them a fake ticket. In the interest of "avoiding trouble," ticket inspectors have now been told not to challenge fare dodgers, and they've responded by simply leaving many of the gates open to make it easier for them. So even though I've got a legitimate ticket (and a very expensive one, too, I might point out), there I am among the mobs of disreputable Sydneysiders strolling blithely past the ticket barriers and contributing to the general decline in civility and public morals.

Speaking of which, I knew that the bus I regularly rode to the beach travelled through some fairly disreputable territory, judging from the graffiti, boarded or bricked-up windows, and the high proportion of youthful gangbangers who barged their way onto the bus without paying and proceeded to entertain the rest of us with their hiphop boom boxes, but I had no idea it got this bad. I can't remember if the story specified this or not, but the police are not actually trying to catch the brick-throwers in most cases, again probably for the sake of "avoiding trouble."

I first discovered the beach at La Perouse when I was out hiking, a trek that took me right through the middle of Maroubra, a slightly down-at-the-heels suburb that put me a bit in mind of the banlieue slums that ring much of Paris. It's also the home of the Bra Boys, not, as the name might lead you to believe, a bunch of breast-centric transvestites, but a rather violent and unpleasant surf gang that has branched out into drug dealing. After beating what should have been an ironclad murder rap, the Abberton brothers have managed to turn themselves into celebrities with help from the film that launches here this week and from genial dupe (and himself part-time thug and bully) Russell Crowe.

People here in Sydney often look at me strangely when I say that one reason I'll be glad to get back to New York is that it feels a lot safer there. I'm exaggerating a little for the sake of making a point, but not by that much. Sydney has the feel of a city that's beginning to come apart at the seams. It reminds me of New York back in the 60s or 70s, when the politicians and citizens alike were beginning to give up on it, to believe it was simply ungovernable. As if to underline that point, policing in New South Wales (Sydney, a city of 4.5 million, doesn't even have its own police department, which is a big problem in itself) is handled by John Watkins, the same government minister who's in charge of the collapsing transport system.

Not everybody agrees, of course, that sky-high crime rates and failing public transport are a bad thing, whether in New York or Sydney. Those of you who are or were MRR readers will remember that magazine's Mykel Board. He was here in town this past weekend promoting his book I, A Me-ist, and holding forth on his theory that high crime is "a good thing" because "it keeps rents down." I half-heartedly tried countering his argument by pointing out that this method of rent control might be fine for the young, strong and fleet of foot, but for poor old grannies (or even gentlemen of a certain age like, for instance him and myself), it could be disastrous or even fatal.

But I've known Mykel long enough (20 years!) to know that reason or logic were not likely to carry the day when they stood in the way of a good sound byte, so I let him carry on with his theorising, and we adjourned to a nearby bar where even the voluble Mr Board was cowed into semi-submission by what may easily have been the world's biggest band and record nerd.

This guy was a bottomless fount of information, facts and trivia, all of it, as near as I could tell, true, and about 90% of it, except to other band and record nerds, useless. Okay, maybe I'm being too harsh, no, really, I am. The guy could easily write an encylopaedia of 70s, 80s and 90s punk rock bands (with separate sections for England, New York, Washington, Texas, SoCal, SF-East Bay, and probably a lot more) and the minutiae surrounding them, and it would come in handy for decades of resolving barroom and internet message board arguments. But in person, it's just a little exhausting, especially when it takes the nonstop form of, "Hey, let me ask you about [obscure 1979 SoCal band]" and before you can answer, being interrupted with, "Let's talk about [even more obscure deceased members of Austin TX punk band circa 1982" followed up with "Don't you think that [completely unknown founder of completely unknown UK band] should have put [completely unknown re-recording of completely unknown in the first place song] on the B-side of his second single on [completely unknown indie record label]? Hey, what's up with you guys anyway, I thought you were into punk rock?"
Anyway, time to wrap this up before my run-on posts become as maddening as the run-on dialogue of TWBBARN (what's that you say, it already happened at least a year ago?). I just wanted to point out that "The Dead Leaves" is not the name of yet another justly obscure punk rock band (well, actually, I don't know that; it very well could be), but in my case it's meant more as a tribute to one of my favourite songs for this time of the year, "The Autumn Leaves" (drift by the window, etc, etc.), which has been coursing through my memory, and which the French, with characteristic mordancy and/or to-the-pointness, render as "Les Feuilles Mortes." With that, I'm just about of here, "here" meaning both blogland for today and Sydney for this summer. I'll probably have a couple more things to say before I board that big old jet airliner and set out for the north, but if not, I guess I'll catch you on the flip-flop.


kabukiboy said...

so sorry for introducing that guy to you!

Larry Livermore said...

No worries, I'll put up with almost anything for the sake of a story to tell on my blog!

And besides, after that conversation, almost everyone else will seem interesting by comparison.