Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ready, set, Go!

OK, here’s a pop quiz for the guys: How long does it take you to get ready to go out on a Saturday night? Quick! No cheating. I bet the answer is about two minutes.
You grab a shirt out of the drawer, check that it’s not too wrinkly and you’re halfway there. (Or, if you’re like my brother Jack, you will head to the laundry basket, rummage around and pull out a shirt, and sniff it to check that it’s not too rank). Next, you spritz on some cologne if you’ve not had a shower yet (because you’re going to be covered in cigarette smoke soon anyway, so what’s the point of getting too clean, right?), squeeze into a pair of jeans, run the fingers through the hair and you’re all set. Easy.
Meanwhile, when a girl gets ready for a night out on the town, it’s like she’s leaving the country forever, or going for the most important job interview in her life.
Take Amanda. The drama starts about four hours before we’re supposed to leave the house. She’ll stand in front of her wardrobe, purse her lips and flip through the hangers. She’ll take out a dress at random, put it up against her body and examine herself in the mirror. For aesthetic reasons that escape me (because I think she’ll look hot in that dress), she’ll sigh with dissatisfaction and put the dress back into the closet and pull out another one. I know that she’s going to look amazing in that one too, but she sighs again and puts it back.
This process will continue for a good half hour by which time she will complain that she has absolutely nothing to wear, but she’ll worry about it after her shower. And with that, she will disappear into the bathroom for two hours during which she will pluck, prune, pinch and preen before she exfoliates, trims, and oils. And then, she’ll take a shower.
After which, she will spend some quality time in front of the bathroom mirror examining her damp body for flaws and defects while massaging anti-cellulite cream all over her legs. She will mentally compare herself with every girlfriend of her’s who will be at the nightclub that night, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston and finally, she will contemplate plastic surgery.
(In between all this, our other flatmate Saffy is going through an identical ritual as she gets ready.)
I know all this is happening, because every so often, I’ll tap on the door of the bathroom and whine that it’s getting late and I’m really hungry and that it’s the rush hour and we’ll never get a taxi at this rate. From behind the door, one of the girls will say that she’s not ready yet and to stop bothering her.
Meanwhile, I’m already dressed, watched a DVD, finished checking my email, called my mother and eaten my way through an entire bag of corn chips.
An hour after we were meant to be meeting our friends, the girls have each changed outfits twice. And now, Amanda is checking her shoe closet, going through the same selection process she used for picking out her dress. In the other room, Saffy is giving herself a nice pedicure and says she needs another five minutes, she swears, for the nail polish to dry.
But I know better. Because there is still make-up to be applied. This involves the kind of transformation you normally don’t see outside of a Mission: Impossible movie. There are creams to conceal, oitments to highlight, salves to nourish, serums to guard against the environment and antioxidants, and little pots of glitter to help make skin and eyes just pop.
And all this under a special mirror that has different light settings depending on whether it’s a day or night event you’re going to. Because if it’s night-time, you need to use different make-up and different amounts of it so that your natural beauty is maximized, as Saffy once told me when I stupidly asked. It’s amazing what you learn living with high maintenance women.
By this time, I’ve already eaten all the leftover pizza and pasta in the fridge. Which means I’m no longer hungry and I’m already wondering if I should just change back into my pyjamas because what’s the point of going out to dinner now? It’s so late, it’s early. Almost time for breakfast, in fact.
And I swear to myself that next Saturday night, I’m just going to stay home with a book and a movie.
But that never happens. Why?
Because we’re guys, and we never learn.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Death Becomes Her

My friend Annie’s mother passed away recently after a long illness.
            Annie was so incredibly strong about the whole thing. Almost English in her efficient way of compartmentalizing her emotions. Saffy had lunch with her several times and would report you would never have known there was anything wrong.
“Not like that dreadful Marcia!” she said once, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, you could not speak two words without that girl turning somehow turning the conversation back to her and her dying mother. Say that it’s so hot outside and she’ll immediately tell you the heat gives her mother bed-sores! Say you’ve just seen this movie and she’ll start weeping about the last movie she saw with her mother. I’m so not inviting her to my birthday party next week! It’s just too much!”
Which explains the boundless admiration for Annie. “Such a rock!” Saffy pronounced.
As if she wasn’t already juggling a busy career, a husband who’s always travelling for work, two dogs, three children and a maid who’d just decided to quit, Annie seemed to effortlessly shoe-horn dawn to dusk visits to the hospital.
As Amanda pointed out, “I can barely cope with a facial and a conference call on the same day! I'm so useless!”
Then came news on the grapevine that Annie’s mother was finally dying. Of course, her friends rallied, but at such a private moment, there isn’t much anyone can really do except offer trite support from the emotionally safe distance of SMSs and Facebook messages.
And so, we went about our days of normality, a little guilty and always with one eye cocked nervously at our phones.
When the message finally arrived – “My mother passed away last night” – there was relief and a great deal of sadness in equal measure.
Saffy immediately burst into tears. “I don’t know why!” she sobbed. “I only ever spoke to her once when she answered Annie’s phone because Annie was driving and all I said was, ‘Can you ask her to call me back, Auntie?’ I should have said something more meaningful!”
Amanda delicately dabbed her eyes, careful, even in moments like these, not to ruin her make-up. “Poor Annie,” she said. “She’s an orphan now.”
I sent off a silly, completely inadequate SMS of condolence. “Honestly, what do you say at a time like this?” I complained to Amanda.
“I know. You can’t not say anything because that would be just plain rude, but ‘Sorry to hear about your mother’ just sounds as if she just failed her driving test, or something!”
A message pinged on my phone. It was Annie: “Thank you, my friend. I'm exhausted and sad but relieved at the same time. It's funny how you fight it all your life, only to realise that, in the end, you are so much more like your mother than you ever thought possible.”
When she heard the message, Saffy cried even harder.
Amanda, on the other hand, was mortified. “I should certainly hope not! I am nothing like my mother!”
“I miss my Mummy!” Saffy wailed as she picked up her phone to grief-dial her mother. “Mummy? Mummy? Is that you? Oh, Mummy, I miss you! And I love you, and I really want to…What? No, nothing is the matter! I just rang to say that I…What? No, I’m not dying!...But…Oh, what, so I can’t call you without there being…No, I’m not pregnant! Oh my God, what is wrong with you? It’s no wonder I don’t call you!...Oh yeah? Well, listen, you…”
In the background, Amanda and I listened with our mouths hanging open. As I later said to Sharyn, I’d never heard anyone talk to their mother like that. “And it wasn’t so much what she said, but how she said it. It just seemed so rude!”
“Aiyah,” Sharyn began, her eyes disappearing into dots behind her Coke bottle-thick spectacles, “different people got different re-lay-shun-sheep with their mah-dur, lor! You ever hear me talk to my mah-dur, or not? Wah, shout, shout, shout, ah, I tell you! But then, hor, afterward, we say bye-bye and later I drop the kids off at her place and you nair-ber know one hour ago we shout, shout, shout. Aiyah, mother and daughter always like that one!”

“My mother is a real piece of work, let me tell you,” Saffy confirmed later that evening when things had calmed down a little. “She is the most irritating woman I’ve ever met in my life, but I do love her to bits. If something ever happens to her and she leaves me an orphan, I think I would just I die!”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Water Feature

I’ve recently started taking aqua aerobic classes at my gym.
Now, careful readers will immediately notice two odd things about that last sentence. The first will be the news that I actually go to a gym in a sufficiently regular way that allows me to use the phrase ‘my gym’. If you actually knew me at all, you’d know that I have actually considered getting myself a Segway to get around in the little shoebox apartment I live in – I’m that lazy.
The second is the fact that I’m taking part in an activity that I’ve always associated with grannies and rehabilitating war veterans. Not that I’m the only one with this one-eyed prejudice.
“Aqua aerobics?” Amanda said when I came home waving the pamphlet I’d picked up at the gym reception. “Can you even swim?”
“If money was involved, sure,” I replied. “But it says here on the thing that you don’t need to be able to swim, just tread water.”
“Isn’t aqua aerobics for aunties, though?” Amanda asked, her forehead still etched with dubious disbelief.
“Probably, but I’m so lazy and out of condition, I figure I might as well ease my way into this whole gym nonsense. My mother loved watching all those Esther Williams flicks and it looks easy enough.”
In the Technicolour movies of the 40s and 50s, Esther Williams, in full make-up, and sequined swimsuit would leap off high diving boards in full synchronicity with her troupe of aqua amazons and dance complicated routines underwater, all while smiling and gracefully waving arms and legs.
I remember a scene where she emerged from the water on a rising pedestal like a golden Venus de Milo, water droplets cascading off her toned limbs as all around her, fireworks popped and colour smoke billowed. Then, from a height of what must have been at least 50 m, she leaped off in a graceful arc and splashed into the water with barely a ripple.
“Isn’t she amazing?” I remember my mother sighing with deep pleasure. “Such courage. Such strength!”
Not that much courage nor strength is ever in evidence whenever I pass the shallow end of a swimming pool filled with aging grande dames dressed in assorted floral swimming caps and one-piece swimsuits gently swaying, their arms wind-milling in the water while keeping time with the instructor.
 “It’s just like tai-chi in water,” I told Amanda. “No strain on the joints. You won’t feel like you’re ever sweating, and if it all gets too much, you could probably just float for a bit. All very relaxing, I’m sure!”
Which is the frame of mind I showed up with a few weeks ago for my first class. “Easy,” I thought to myself as I planned what I would have for lunch after. Some grey haired ladies were already in the water limbering up, by which I mean they were huddled in a loose circle gossiping.
I got into the water, smiled indulgently at all the ladies, noting that not only was I the youngest person in the class, I was the only male. I have to confess to feeling a sense of superiority.
Fifteen minutes into the class, and I knew I’d made a fatal mistake in even showing up.
It turns out that to do aqua aerobics properly, you need something called core strength, which, after Googling it, has something to do with strong stomach muscles. Core strength is how you maintain your balance in the water as you lift and kick your body in directions it has no business going. Core strength is what enables you to lift your legs out of the water while keeping your head dry and you propel yourself from one end of the pool to the other. Core strength is what you need to be able to do sit-ups and push-ups while floating on a thin Styrofoam pole.
Core strength, it turns out, is something I do not have, but that grey-haired old ladies seem to have in abundance. While I was frantically pumping my legs and arms for star-jumps while floating, the grannies around me had serene smiles on their faces as they lay on their backs, gazed up at the ceiling and chatted while gentling pulling and pushing.
“I can’t believe it. You couldn’t keep up with the grannies?” Saffy later cackled.
“Hey, you should try it! It’s not as easy at it looks! I thought I was about to drown, but everyone just seemed to be floating by with no effort at all! Every bit of my body hurts right now,” I complained.

It’s too bad Esther Williams died recently because I owe her one hell of a big apology.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

House Call

I love watching reality TV. Especially if it involves rich people’s houses. It’s the next best thing to breaking into them and having a nose around like those crazy kids in ‘The Bling Bling Ring’ who sneak into Paris Hilton’s house and steal all her jewelry and handbags.
            My favourite past time is sitting down to a marathon session of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ and watching that mad family lounge around their massive ass cribs (thank you MTV for teaching me the lingo) and arguing with each other.
            “How come we never see any maids?” Saffy once asked as we sat, sharing a bowl of popcorn, and watched the Kardashian girls bicker in their mother’s mansion. “They must have maids, right? Because I cannot imagine Kylie with a toilet brush, or Kris doing the laundry.”
            Through a mouthful of Garrett’s caramel popcorn, Amanda mumbled, “If they showed the maids, then it wouldn’t be reality TV! The whole thing is meant to convince you that this is how the rich and fabulous actually live. Like normal people who can’t afford a maid or a gardener. Otherwise, we might as well be watching ‘Devious Housemaids’ which is just pure fantasy!”
            “You’re so clever, Manda,” Saffy said, spraying a flurry of white popcorn all over her lap. “Oh, that reminds me, Sharyn needs us to look at a flat she wants to buy.”
            Saffy’s best friend has finally saved enough to move, or maybe it’s more a case of her family living space reaching what nuclear scientists will immediately recognize as critical mass. In a two bedroom, one bathroom flat, she packs in herself, her husband, their two kids, her husband’s ailing mother and father, and a diabetic Chihuahua.
            “I have no idea how she’s done it all these years,” Amanda said, her voice deep with admiration.
            “All I can think of is the morning bathroom situation,” said Saffy, who suffers from chronic constipation and can spend up to an hour at a time in the toilet each morning. “I’ve insisted that she only look at flats with at least two bathrooms!”
            As it turned out, the bathroom situation was the least of the problems of the flat Sharyn showed us.
            For starters, the light in the tiny communal lift kept flickering which gave us all the chills, the memory of endless Japanese and Korean horror movies still fresh in our overheated imaginations.
            But none of that prepared us for the actual flat.
            Real estate experts are always telling prospective sellers to present their homes in the best light. Tidy up. Put away junk. If possible, don’t be there when the agent brings in viewers. Put on soft music and candles if the viewing is at night. Bake a cake and fill the space with the aroma of vanilla and cinnamon.
            Clearly, neither the real estate agent nor the owners of the flat we saw had read the manual.
            The first thing Saffy said when she stepped in was: “Has something horrible happened here?”
            It was as if two minutes before we’d arrived, armed bandits had crashed through and ripped up the place looking for illegal foliage and then decided to redecorate by randomly tipping furniture over. Clothes and magazines and computer hardware were strewn all over the floor. The kitchen counter was covered with plastic bags filled with unidentifiable bulges, while two completely filled clothes racks were parked right next to the fridge. The bathroom was strewn with empty shampoo bottles while Amanda later swore she saw mushrooms growing out of the shower grouting.
In one of the bedrooms, two children slept on top of a pile of clothes. In the other, the parents sat cross-legged beneath their wedding portrait flipping through interior d├ęcor magazines. It was hard to believe that the man with the wild hair, ratty singlet and torn shorts was the same man in the tuxedo in the photograph. As for the wife, the least said the better.
The fragrance of stale oil hanged over everything.
            “Seriously, what is going on here?” Saffy hissed at Sharyn who was looking about the space with a critical eye.
            “Ay, I like! Got potential!”
            Saffy stared.
“Why? You don’t like, ah? Got such nice views!”
            Amanda groaned. “I think I’m going to have to burn what I’m wearing as soon as we get home!”
            “Any offers so far on this place?” I said brightly to the real estate agent who, I noted, hadn’t moved more than a foot from the main door since we’d arrived. He had the good manners not to lie.
            From the other room, Sharyn said, “Got two bathrooms some more!”
            In the taxi home, Amanda kept moaning, “Mushrooms!”