Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food babies. Today I went to a baby shower. I had never been to one before, and by the fabled horrific standards of such events it was relatively civilised – we escaped with only one parlour game and a ceremonious turning-up of the stereo when 'Love Shack' came on. Also, I was called upon to sing 'Ordinary Angels' by Frente.

The parlour game was simple: everyone was issued with two nappy pins to attach to her clothing, and whoever said the word 'baby' had to hand over a pin to whoever called her on it.

Also, at this event we ate a lot of food. So, there was a lot of talk of 'food babies'. This concept comes to me, as so many scatological things do, from Tash. But it seems to be a well-known gag. A 'food baby' is when you have eaten so much that your stomach protrudes as if you are pregnant, and then you 'give birth' some hours later.

I did some research and the usual food gestation period is between 24 and 75 hours, depending on the food. However I also uncovered a conspiracy theory that maraschino cherries "nestle in your stomack for years to come". Clearly, a maraschino baby is akin to those news stories in which a woman investigates a stomach complaint that turns out to be a fossilised foetus from decades earlier.

There is such a vein of rich and juvenile humour to be mined from this concept. This afternoon, for instance, Felicity sorrowfully informed us that her food baby had miscarried. Is this a fart?

Also, last night I dined on three spicy dishes from The Restaurant Formerly Known As Dainty Sichuan, and today I discovered that there is indeed much drama involved in overseas adoption.

If the pregnant person has a partner, you can also look lovingly at him/her and say, "Aww, she has your eyes/nose/etc."

Was it a long, arduous labour? Did it need to be induced with Metamucil? Or did you fail to get to the hospital on time, and ended up giving birth in the middle of David Jones food court?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dishwashing by hand: a masterclass. When I was a kid, dinners at my grandmother's place would always be followed by a dishwashing session. Dishes were handwashed, dried by tea towel, and immediately put away.

At my parents' place, dishes were mainly left to drain dry. Then when we got a dishwasher, it was my chore to load and unload it. This required its own specialised skill, because every dishwasher and set of dishes are different, and only someone who regularly uses a given machine knows its capacity and the best spots to put particular objects.

Dishwashing is a classic share-house bone of contention. I'll never forget the dishwashing stand-off in the early days of Wetburgh Street, which I finally broke after there was no clean crockery or cutlery, and no dishwashing detergent. I cleaned the dishes with liquid hand soap, retching at the mould that had developed between the plates. In the same house, the absolute nutcase Jacinta had a real problem with dirty dishes being left in the sink.

The other frustrating thing about share-house living is that your housemates will inevitably break your stuff. I feel lucky that my glassware is only from Ikea, because otherwise I'd get really mad at the way it regularly turns up broken in the recycling bin, as if a surreptitious Jewish wedding had taken place in my house while I was out.

As it is, my grandmother's Blue Nordic dinner set has become more and more depleted over the years, to the point where I now have four dinner plates and side plates, but only two cereal bowls. I used to have four green pasta plates, only one of which remains. And I once owned a set of four white pasta bowls with a larger serving bowl, none of which are extant.

Lately I have been very frustrated about the dishwashing in my current house. I'll get a fork out of the cutlery drawer and notice it has dried food on it, or a plate or glass will be all greasy and smeary. I was furious the other day when I saw that a bowl, obviously crusted with dried yoghurt, had been put back in the cupboard. There's just no way you could pretend this bowl was clean. I could drive myself mad imagining what bizarre impulse had led either Paul or Dan to replace it in the cupboard.

My mother takes this as her cue to suggest I move out by myself, despite the fact that I like my current house and it suits both the way I live and my budget. So, mainly to soothe myself, I have decided to set out precisely the way I like to wash dishes.

First, rinse any dishes that have a lot of grease or food debris on them. You don't want to be adding this stuff to your clean dishwashing water. Next, clean the sink. If it's anything like mine, it will probably have bits of scummy food clinging to the plughole, and a ring of grime.

Then squirt some dishwashing liquid into the sink and fill with hot water. I like to make it as hot as I can bear to put my hands in. We currently use that bullshit Earth Choice dishwashing liquid, which may be good for the environment but doesn't clean dishes very well, so I use a lot of it. Morning Fresh has taught a generation of handwashers that a little bit of liquid goes a long way, but this just isn't true about Earth Choice.

The first things you should wash are the glasses, as you don't want them to be smeared with grease from other dirty dishes. Using a long-handled brush or an abrasive sponge, clean right inside the glass to reach any dried wine or fruit juice. Don't forget to clean the outside of the glass too, to remove greasy fingerprints.

Glasses also benefit from a rinse in cold water after being washed to remove detergent residue. If I have a lot of glassware to wash, I like to set up a tea towel on the bench and put the glasses on it to dry, rather than wasting space in the drainer.

Then I move onto the plates, getting the food off with a brush or abrasive sponge. A regular sponge just won't remove crusted-on dirt. I use my fingertips to feel across the surface for any crusted-on food I might have missed. Then I turn the plate over and clean the back, because food can be transferred there when dirty plates are stacked.

After the plates I move on to the bowls. I basically wash the crockery in order of size, so I can stack the drainer from largest in the back to smallest in the front. The spaces down the side of the drainer I fill with mugs. My tea mug is the most challenging, because it's stained brown with the amount of tea I drink. It needs to be scrubbed hard, but it does return to white inside eventually.

Then I wash the utensils and cutlery – starting with the chopping knives, so I don't cut myself on them by fishing around in the water. I clean each item individually, front and back, making sure to work the bristles of my brush between the tines of the forks.

Last, I wash the large and dirty pots and pans. When I cook, I usually rinse the pan immediately or put it to soak, so that I won't have to do as much work when I wash it later. For non-stick pans I used a brush, but for others I like to use something more abrasive, like steel wool.

When all the dishes are clean, I let the water out and then wipe the sink and surrounds clean again with a sponge, and fish out any bits of food from the drain. At this point I let the dishes air-dry and consider my work done, dude.

As I'm putting the dishes away, I polish the glasses and silverware on a tea towel to remove any last bits of residue. This is especially important for spoons, which may have watermarks if they've dried facing up. My favourite sort of tea towel is the waffle-weave cotton variety you can get very cheaply in multi-packs. They seem to soak up water better than the flat weave, but don't leave fluff on the dishes as the towelling-fabric ones can.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Misogyny, narcotics and financial management skills. The other night I remembered that my brother Matt had a graphics calculator on which was loaded a game called PimpQuest. One summer I played a lot of that game on his calculator, and I wondered if it was online somewhere. Hooray! it was.

The point of PimpQuest is to pay off $100,000 that your brother owes to some mobsters. They have given you 30 days, and you have to raise the cash by pimpin'. There's a loan shark from whom you can borrow money, and there are women on 'the corner' to whom you offer money to be your hoes. However you can't take on any hoes until you have a vehicle large enough to transport them. (I don't know why as they never leave 'the corner'.) You can also raise cash by buying various drugs and selling them at a local nightclub.

Periodically you will be attacked by various characters ranging from "a rabid squirrel" to "Batman", and you will have to either flee or beat them down, depleting your "health". You earn money from killing your foes. There is a mall where you can purchase weapons to win your fights more easily. These range from a kitchen knife to a sub-machine gun. You can also take drugs or drink beer to recuperate your "health" after fights.

The game is pretty racist and misogynist, mostly in the way it depicts the hoes. There's an Asian ho and a Russian ho (who speak in broken English and are among the cheapest to convince to work for you). If you slap the hoes they will earn you more money, although you have to be careful not to beat them up so much that their "happiness levels" will go down so far they'll refuse to work. You can also fuck the hoes, which raises your "health" but instantly empties their "happiness".

I know it is a totally wrong game, but I have been playing it compulsively, game after game, the way I used to play Tetris or Crystal Quest on my tiny little Mac Classic. And I have been consumed by my pimpin' goals to the point where I would feel annoyed when a certain ho (whom you have to remember not to slap too much as she has less "happiness" than the rest) wouldn't work.

How fucked is that? I call myself a feminist, and yet I am feeling annoyed that my assaulting a woman is not resulting in her earning me more money. This is how wrong the game is.

The other thing I found noteworthy about the game is that it's all about money, and the way you play it reveals a lot – not only about the assumptions in the game, but also about the player's attitudes and approaches to money.

At first I was borrowing conservatively from the loan shark, only buying and selling drugs in small quantities, buying the cheapest option from the cars and weapons, and paying incremental amounts into the bank account that the mobsters had set up for me. Of course I was nowhere near being able to pay off the debt, and I was gunned down in a drive-by.

Then I began to realise that the secret of winning the game was incurring more debt. I wonder if this game would be developed now that, post the global financial crisis, there is a sensitivity to debt – a negative association of debt with precariousness and imminent disaster. This can be strongly contrasted with the positive association of debt immediately before the crisis, when it was seen as a set of stepping stones to social stability and mobility; you leveraged your existing debts to get access to more wealth, and there wasn't a catch to it.

You see, the way to win PimpQuest is to borrow big and spend big. A larger, more expensive car will fit more hoes. The more expensive hoes will make you more money. A more expensive weapon kills your assailants more efficiently and at least cost to your health. The loan shark trusts you with larger amounts once you can demonstrate your ability to pay back smaller ones, so I made my priority in the game to borrow and pay him back, and eventually he would lend me enough money to cover the initial debt.

You then spend the remainder of the game making enough to pay him back, plus 20 per cent interest. I still haven't mastered that bit; his thugs killed me last time. I wonder if there is another, less overtly hateful, Flash game that could illuminate similar financial issues.

Update, 11:28pm: Success! Day 25, and I have paid off all my debts and also paid off the loan shark! What am I going to do for the next few days? Have a holiday, ladies! I'm sorry I hit you so much – I was just trying to make a livin'! It's hard out here for a piiiiiiiiiiiiiiimp!*

* Gag possibly only relevant to those who remember the Three Six Mafia performance from the Oscars.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Disco stick it to me! I just got the most hilarious piece of hate mail via Facebook! It was from Mary Kimble, the subject line was "gaga", and it said:
"a friend of mine told me ab this site..ive read alot of neg comments but urs merits attn. songs called LoveGame n she says "i wanna take a ride on YOUR disco stick"Nxt time u diss gaga..u better know what ur talkin eh eh.we never heard of roison in USA since started attacking gaga...if roisons so hott then y does gaga have 9 million fans n shes virtually unknown.GaGa is here to stay..get a life bye bye"
It took me ages to work out what the fuck Mary was on about, but then I remembered that back in January – JANUARY! – I had written some negative comments about Lady GaGa on a Facebook group called Lady Gaga has led me to doubt the inherent restorative power of pop music. The description of the group, which was written by its founder Tim Finney, goes:
Okay, really, let's just be honest: she is AWFUL.

And what's more, her awfulness is actively DESTRUCTIVE, insofar as it retroactively introduces a kernel of unease into all sorts of previously ENJOYABLE faux-glam-sexkitten-pseudo-artistry maneuvers by Madonna, Kylie, Roison Murphy et. al. Like, yes, this is great, but to the extent that it has led to the monstrosity that is Lady Gaga, isn't it also somehow suspect?

I condemn you twice over, Lady Gaga: once, for being so crap, and twice, for spelling the end of the AGE OF INNOCENCE with regard to space age strip club femme-pop.

We never knew how much it meant to us until it was cruelly ripped away.
And I had written:
'Just Dance' is a terrible song. It's not as bad, however, as another GaGa song about "take a ride on my disco stick" that I heard in Supré one time. Is this meant to be some cynical attempt to be a Gay Diva? You get the feeling it's not even her stick - she just saw a picture of it on the internet this one time.
Hahaha, I get it now: I got the pronoun wrong! But really, I feel I was justified in believing the stick in question belonged to Lady GaGa, given all the hermaphrodite rumours. Basically, she is Hedwig of the band Hedwig and the Angry Inch:

The resemblance, I think you'll find, is uncanny.

But really, I have felt so betrayed this year as people whom I consider pop music literate have abandoned me and now like Lady GaGa. Possibly even Finney! It's like a zombie movie, where you discover that your loved ones have become infected.

Whereas I stubbornly maintain that she corrodes our culture. I don't care whose goddamn stick it is; the fact remains that she has fooled intelligent people into considering her sophisticated and subversive when those same people would jeer at 50 Cent for his similarly moronic lyrics in 'Candy Shop'.

So, why do smart people like Lady GaGa? From what I hear before my own frustrated sobs drown it out, they find her life of artifice aesthetically pleasing: her surrealist outfits (and the determination with which she refuses to let her absurd public image 'slip'); her deadpan, nonsensical interviews; the suspicion that her entire career is a prank on the music industry. Perhaps the notion that she's wildly popular – even among those without the "pop music intelligence" to consider her on an intellectual level, or indeed even spell properly – could even be said to add to her 'genius' because she's an 'accessible artist'.

No. No, no, no, no, no. I think we shouldn't settle for the kind of cynical artifice that Lady GaGa is peddling. Let's compare her to Britney Spears, over whom a pall of idiotic controversy has lately fallen because the masses have just realised that she mimes at her concerts.

Leaving aside questions of the two singers' relative musical merit (personally I believe that a '…Baby One More Time' or 'Toxic' towers over a 'Let's Dance' or 'Poker Face'), I'd argue that while Britney Spears's career, like Lady GaGa's, has been built on overproduced, disposable pop, there's an honesty, somehow, to Britney that makes her more appealing. There's the notion that Britney's artifice is fragile and maintained only with the greatest effort – and, most of all, maintained out of a sincere belief in the transcendent power of pop music.

Whereas I feel very strongly that music does not matter very much to Lady GaGa; rather, it's the vehicle by which she's decided to 'get famous', and possibly outside contemporary art it's the only artform that can tolerate her iron-fisted insistence on subsuming whatever personality she might have into this performance that is her career.

Also, I think that pop artifice at its best comes with a playfulness that I see as being completely absent from Lady GaGa's career. I see her antics as a punishing, humourless regime which we can only bear to watch by injecting our own playfulness and irony. Lady GaGa is an affective vampire, draining us of our ability to feel pop music.

God I loathe her so much.

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