How can I go to Australia when I can’t even call them on the phone?

a piece of cheesecake
You can't handle the cheesecake.

I’m very happy about our film being in the festival, and I remember when we applied, thinking it would be the perfect excuse to see Australia. But now that, amazingly, it’s worked out, my ignorance may just be too much for me.

Ignorance is fine when you have tons of money. You can get the most expensive tickets and figure out the rest when you get there. But we need to be smarter. I did some Web research and figured out that if we only have two weeks, we probably need to stick with Western Australia. Trying to see Sydney, much less New Zealand, would be like going to New York and LA on the same vacation.

Okay, good. So I know enough to call the travel agent recommended by the festival. Fest guy says they’re super-friendly and if you tell them you’re with the festival, “They’ll be even nicer!” I love them already. They’re Aussies. They’ll get me all sorted out.

I have to call in the evening, right? They’re 13 hours ahead? That’s what the time zone website said. Really, 13 whole hours? Okay, so it’s 10 pm here, so it must be 11 am there?Except it feels like midnight here because I’m still on Vegas time and I’m so sleepy but I’ll just call real quick and get this going. Their Aussie directness will cut right through my confusion and point the way. Okay.

I open Skype and dial. It rings! Someone answers! She says something I don’t understand.

I say, “Uh, hello?”


“Um, do you guys… I’m calling from Chicago, in the states? And I was wondering if you help people coming from here to there?”

“Sorry?” She sounds like she’s talking from inside a Best Buy. Did I call the right number?

“I… Um… I was wondering, do you work with people who are planning a trip not from Australia, but who are going there?”

A pause. I consider rephrasing one more time, but can’t think how.

Then she says, “Yes, we can help with that.” But she doesn’t say it all warm and fuzzy. She says it like she’s waiting for me to tell her what I want. I realize I don’t know what I want. I don’t know our exact dates. I don’t know if we want to stay in one place or two or three. I don’t know if we want to rent a car. I don’t know our budget. I want them to tell me what to do and how much it will cost and then tell me how to do an even better version of that for cheaper, so I feel like I’m getting a deal. I want her to sound like she’s sitting in a small, homey office, sipping a cup of tea by the fire, with all the time in the world, instead of like she’s next in line at the Geek Squad counter and doesn’t want to miss her turn. She says, “Hello?”

I say, “Um, you know what? I’ll call back. Thank you.” Before she can thank me for wasting her time, I hang up.

Dave walks in, carrying a plate of cake. “What did you find out?”

“Nothing.” I walk downstairs.

He follows. “I need help with this cake.” It’s magnificent strawberry cheesecake from First Slice. But I feel like too much of a loser to eat it. “I’m not hungry,” I say, and flop on the couch.

He sits next to me and I watch him eat the cake. Small bites of whipped topping and strawberry middle and thick graham cracker crust. I’m only a little mad at myself for hanging up on the travel agent. Mostly I’m mad at myself for being so intimidated by the prospect of going somewhere that’s not Europe. It’s so far, and so expensive, and it would be so much easier to just not go.

And that makes me think of my mom, may she rest in peace, the Queen of Just Not Going. I always said I wouldn’t let that happen to me. I used to tell her how wrong she was and how I’d never end up like her and here I am thinking, it’s just too hard. It’s just not worth it. No point in going through all that. It’s not like it will affect how the film does. And to make it worthwhile I’d have to network and introduce myself to people at cocktail parties, and what could be worse?

Yep, better to just not go. Just like Mom. Though she would have eaten the cheesecake. Maybe there is hope.

Howard Roark would be floored

Fiskars lawn mower
No apologies.

We got a new push mower. Dave researched and researched online and finally ordered the Fiskars model. I figured they’d be good because of the scissors. It arrived just when we got back from lunch with T—, and she was staying for a cup of tea, so we couldn’t immediately open the box and put it together.

T— is Dave’s ex-wife. Dave said it wasn’t until we were at First Slice, sitting at the table, that he remembered that they used to be married. Not that he had forgotten, just that the specific connection didn’t enter his head. I wondered if she felt more like general family, something like a cousin, but he said it wasn’t that. She just seems so right in her present life, and of course to me Dave does too, so while they are clearly very connected and seem to care about each other very much, it doesn’t seem to be fraught, or post-anything.

It’s weird, meeting the exes of your current love. I can’t imagine the same person being attracted to both of us. T— is a force of nature. She’s an amazing singer of about the hardest music you can imagine someone singing. She wears coordinated jewelry. Multi-surfaced, arty jewely. And smart shoes, with heels. And hair that’s cut on a definite angle, no shilly-shallying. There’s no trace of apology in her, not even when she tells the waitress to leave her used tea bag and bring her some more hot water. She’s everything my hypnotist included in the custom-designed affirmation I repeated 25 times a day back when when I was coming out of my dead dad depression. Powerful and confident and safe. Everything definite, from her career to her style. She has the clarity of confidence. Or maybe it’s the confidence of clarity.

The Fiskars mower is not cute like old-fashioned Craftsman mowers. It’s cute like a pair of Fiskars scissors, if you consider those cute. Gray and orange, and shaped for efficiency. Later in the afternoon, T— headed on her way, and we put off work for a few more hours to try it out. We should have been working, we felt guilty about not working, but we were drawn irresistibly to the Amazon box.

Dave put the mower together and took it for a spin. It was a miracle of manual lawn trimming! Direct and efficient, and it makes the most beautiful sound as it glides through the grass.