When I was 25, I went to New York. It was the late 80s and my first trip overseas. The ultimate destination was Canada on account of a lifeguard I’d fallen in love with some years earlier. He’d once worked minding a beach in the brief Canadian summer in Nova Scotia and when he spoke fondly of the way Canadians talked of their “suit”, I decided then and there I must go. I think it was this fondness I was looking for, or maybe jealousy of the actress, Ann-Margret, whose picture he had on his wall.
The trip did not begin auspiciously. My parents were to drive me to the airport, and Dad and me and one or two siblings were in the car, parked on the steep driveway of my parents’ home. “What’s she doing in there?” Dad asked the air, as he had every time we’d set off in the past 25 years. This was the pattern. Dad would go and sit in the car, we would follow and Mum would stay behind checking for the 20th time whether the appliances had been turned off. The minutes ticked by, and all of us stared out the window and then came a scrabbling noise (forgive me, this still makes me laugh). “What’s that?” Dad asked suddenly, “Is it a dog?” It was my mother, slipping on the driveway and trying to save herself with the car door handle. With no harm done, except to pride, we set off at last on the terrifying (to my father) drive to Sydney Airport.
The plane was a Continental one, just moments before it went bankrupt I’m sure. The airconditioning system wasn’t working properly and all through the long night over the Pacific Ocean I shivered under a thin airplane “blanket”. I sat next to a Canadian woman in her 60s from “BC” whose name I’ve forgotten. She was returning home after attending a Soroptimists conference in Sydney. I later discovered the soroptimists were a women’s organisation devoted to good works, like a female Rotary Club.
She’d been married for some extraordinary length of time to a man named Joe, and she confided to me that in all that time, Joe had never seen her without makeup. She told me that every day of her marriage she’d gotten up an hour early to put on her makeup. She told me the secret to good skin was using a scrub and she showed me the special steel-wool-for-the-face type pads she recommended. I also remember at one point she looked me up and down and pronounced I had a “difficult” hair colour.
As well as steel wool for the face, for my next edification she proceeded to order a can of beer and also tomato juice and then poured them together into the same glass. I must have been staring because she assured me, “Oh, everyone drinks [forgotten name of concoction] back home.”
Eventually, we made it to Honolulu airport where I was stopping for the day, and that’s where I made my next acquaintance with North American customs. I blame the long, dangling earrings I was wearing. The US Immigration Officer took one look at me and did not like what he saw. I was carted off to a little room and grilled for some time about my intentions. I remember glancing down at the immigration card on which the officer had written one fatal word: “evasive”. Eventually, they must have decided I really was as gormless as I sounded and they let me go. When I emerged into the airport proper again, there was my buddy, the beer-and-tomato-juice-drinker waiting for me. I almost forgave her the crack about the hair.
… to be continued.