How to Speak Australian

Earlier this week, cleaning through a pile of cards in a box in our back closet, I found this:

aussie

Like most college students, I had a fake ID. Except mine was fake Australian.

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My rationale was actually pretty straightforward: any bouncer or liquor store clerk worth his salt had seen literally thousands of IDs from any of the 50 states. But most could probably count on one burly hand the number of Australian IDs that they’d seen. So even a fake that badly botched key details seemed likely to pass muster; after all, who’d be crazy enough to get a fake Australian ID?

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At liquor store registers, the clerk would eye me up and down with rightful suspicion. Freshman year, I weighted 120 pounds soaking wet, and barely looked old enough to drive.

So they’d whip out the book of IDs, searching through for the matching sample, to see how well mine matched. They’d thumb through Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkasanas, then hit California. They’d page back, then forwards, then backwards a few times.

“It’s not a state,” I would say, derisively, in thick Australian accent. “It’s a country. A foreign country.”

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The accent helped, obviously. I can’t do it now sober, but a couple of drinks in and the muscle memory returns.

My fake Australian accent was good enough that, most of time, it even faked out real Australians. Though I was aided by the fact that they were drunk, and I was drunk, and perhaps they simply assumed that my wonky accent was due to having lived too long in the US.

Only once, with an Australian bartender, did it not work at all. “Sorry mate,” he said with a laugh, handing the ID back to me.

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I did, on occasion, have to bullshit spectacularly to pull it off. I’d meet Americans who had visited Australia, and who had memories they wanted to share. I hadn’t – and still haven’t – ever actually been to Australia. So, mostly, I’d smile and nod, trying to keep my responses positive but vague.

At one point, I met a woman who was neck-deep in writing her PhD thesis on Australian public transportation. She had a slew of questions for me, wanted to know my experience as a presumed regular user of Melbourne’s buses, trains and trams. So, of course, I pulled answers out of my ass. Hopefully, none of it actually made it into her thesis.

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The real test of the ID was Quality Wine Shop, a liquor store in New Haven not far from my dorm at Yale.

The store was great – excellent selection of wines and liquors, knoweledgable and helpful staff. But they had no patience for under-age drinkers; the wall behind the register was lined by literally hundreds of confiscated fake IDs, pinned up in row after row after row.

Miraculously, my ID even worked there. And, over time, as that became my go-to liquor store, I gradually became friends with the staff. They would give me discounts, throw in extra bottles if we were stocking up for a party. Exceedingly nice.

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The summer between junior and senior year, I turned 21. Which left me with a serious conundrum: what to do about Quality Wine?

Should I continue feigning Australian-ness while shopping there? Switch back to my normal non-accent and hope nobody noticed? Or did I need to come clean? And, if so, how? I had trouble picturing a conversation where I explained that I wasn’t actually the person they thought they’d befriended at all, that I’d secretly been fucking with them the entire time they’d been so nice to me.

Perhaps not a big issue in the scheme of the world. But it seemed big to me. I genuinely lost sleep about it that summer. Which is why, when I returned to New Haven that fall, I was both saddened and somewhat relieved to discover that, priced out by Yale’s increasing retail rents, Quality Wine Shop had quietly closed over the summer, replaced by a gourmet deli.

Give it a Rest

At an intuitive level, most people assume that if doing something is good, doing even more of it must be better. But when it comes to human bodies, at least, that often doesn’t hold. Taking two Tylenol will cure a headache; taking the whole bottle will kill you. Similarly, doing more and more exercise doesn’t make you more and more fit; at some point, it overtrains you, and instead progressively drives you into the ground.

That’s often difficult for new CrossFitters to grasp, because the total amount of workout time in even a heavy CrossFit training week probably pales in comparison to the amount of hours of working out the same person did pre-CrossFit. Certainly, if you can get on the elliptical for an hour, six days a week, you should be able to do six short WODs, right?

Turns out, you can’t. The very high intensity level of CrossFit WODs necessitates much more recovery time than from more traditional workouts, and there really is a hard limit to how much most people can do each week while still making positive progress.

How much is right for you? Here’s the back-of-the-napkin calculation I use:

Start with 8 WODs a week, which appears to be the upper limit of training for Games-level CrossFit athletes. Then subtract HALF a WOD for each item if you:

  • Don’t sleep 8-9 hours a night in perfect darkness.
  • Don’t eat a 100% clean diet.
  • Have had a drink in the last two weeks.
  • Have taken off time in the last two years due to injury.
  • Have any job stress.
  • Have any personal stress.
  • Have been training CrossFit (without a break) for less than three years.
  • Don’t have a powerlifting and Olympic lifting background of at least five years pre-CrossFit.
  • Are not on steroids.
  • Are over 25.

By these calculations, I should be doing 4 WODs weekly. Which, in fact, is about the number I can sustain for months at a time while still making gains. Try the calculation yourself, and be guided accordingly.

And, as ever, let common sense be your guide. A few years back, a now member of our competition team had been pushing herself very hard for several months straight. One day, she took a bar off the rack, and put plates on the bar. And then she sat down next to it and started crying hysterically. You don’t want to reach that point. If you think you need to take a day – or a week – off, you’re almost certainly right.

Five (Wrinkly) Finger Discount

At the dog run with Gemelli this morning, I caught the end of a story that a woman in her mid-80′s was telling the group.

She was at Home Depot recently, she explained, looking to buy a toilet. So she headed to the plumbing section, and waited for an employee to pass by to help. After ten minutes of waiting, she managed to flag someone down. Unfortunately, he worked in the paint department, and didn’t know much about toilets.

After a few minutes more of waiting, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She found a palette, rolled it back to the plumbing section, and started taking a boxed toilet down from the shelf herself. Another employee saw her, and came to her aid, helping her get the toilet down and onto the palette.

She thanked him, rolled the palette up front, and then rolled it right out the door. A cabbie helped her load the toilet into the back of his van. She got in. And then she told him to floor it.

So, wait, we said. You stole the toilet?

Yes. She stole the toilet. And then, a month or so later, she stole a sink pan. And a month after that, she stole a shower rod.

As in, she just walked out without paying?

Oh yes, she said.

We must have looked shocked, as she told us that, if we thought that was bad, we should meet her sister, who this fall traveled through Italy and France with an extra suitcase to carry all the fixtures she stole from her hotels’ furniture.

Fare Enough

As Ben Franklin once observed, “human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”

Which is why I’m so enthused by the Way2Ride app. It’s stupidly simple: if you’re in a Way2Ride-enabled Taxi, you can ‘check in’ to the ride on your phone; when you arrive at the end of your trip, the app instantly auto-pays (using your pre-selected card and tip amount), no tapping and swiping (or cash hand-offing) required.

While it doesn’t seem like much, dropping the flustered payment scramble at ride’s end turns out to make a huge experiential difference – enough so that I’m actually annoyed by cabs that haven’t yet taken up Way2Ride.

Phoney

They say that, for entrepreneurs, being early is often a bigger problem than being wrong.

Three years back, I suggested that Verizon’s iPhone launch would cripple the Verizon network – an incoming exodus of unhappy AT&T customers eating up Verizon’s network capacity – while in turn leaving AT&T’s network relatively fast and problem-free for the customers who stayed behind.

A year later, however, AT&T was still slow and regularly dropped our calls, so Jess and I headed over to Verizon with everyone else.

In the beginning, it seemed a great move. But, in the time since, my 4G connection speeds in NYC have increasingly ground to a halt.

Now, Verizon is admitting that it can’t keep up with their increased LTE demand, while several friends still on AT&T have expressed joy in their connections zipping along.

It appears my predictions were just a bit ahead of their time. I may not be able to check my email, but I can at least take solace in knowing I was right.

Get it On Paper

I’ve often noted that, in any partnership, both partners believe they do two-thirds of the work.

Interesting, then, to see Ben Franklin’s advice on this front, in his Autobiography:

Partnerships often finish in quarrels; but I was happy in this, that mine were all carried on and ended amicably, owing, I think, a good deal to the precaution of having very explicitly settled, in our articles, every thing to be done by or expected from each partner, so that there was nothing to dispute, which precaution I would therefore recommend to all who enter into partnerships; for, whatever esteem partners may have for, and confidence in each other at the time of the contract, little jealousies and disgusts may arise, with ideas of inequality in the care and burden of the business, etc., which are attended often with breach of friendship and of the connection, perhaps with lawsuits and other disagreeable consequences.

Relatedly, it appears Ben was also an early angel investor (seriously), backing young printers in other cities by putting up the capital to buy their equipment in exchange for 50% of the profits:

The partnership at Carolina having succeeded, I was encourag’d to engage in others, and to promote several of my workmen, who had behaved well, by establishing them with printing-houses in different colonies, on the same terms with that in Carolina. Most of them did well, being enabled at the end of our term, six years, to purchase the types of me and go on working for themselves, by which means several families were raised.

Recently, Jess was yelling at me to clean the kitchen.

“You know you don’t have to yell,” I said.

“Yes I do,” she replied. “You’re voice activated.”

Treat, Trick

Gemelli will happily eat pretty much any kind of protein. But as you stray from Paleo choices, he starts to get pickier. Most baked dog treats, for example, don’t pass muster.

That isn’t an issue in our own house, where we now only buy the kinds of meaty treats we know he’ll like. But it’s often a source of some embarrassment in the outside world.

In New York City, you can take a small dog with you into nearly any store. Doing field research for Dobbin, for example, we drag Gem into a good number of clothing boutiques, where he’s invariably a hit with the women behind the counter.

Your dog is adorable!, they say. Those little white boots!

Can I give him a treat?, they ask.

Sure, I tell them. You can try.

The shop girl will come out, biscuit in hand. Gem will sit politely, smile, take the treat in his mouth. Then, after a couple of seconds, all the while making eye contact with her, he’ll disgustedly spit the treat onto the floor, turn around and walk off.

Total asshole move.

[Ed. note. Forgot to mention this coup de grace: because it's apparently too easy to clean up a rejected whole treat, he'll also occasionally crack the treat in his mouth first, before dumping it as a little mound of crushed biscuit on the ground. Nice.]

Hearing Voices

A few nights ago, as I was taking Gemelli for a late walk, he stopped to say hello to a small black-and-white cockapoo.

“She’s very cute,” I said. “What’s her name?”

“Josie,” said her owner.

And I thought, oh, you’re Jon Ronson.

Later, Google backed me up. But I was sure from that first word. I don’t know why, but I’m exceedingly good at recognizing people by voice.

I drive Jess nuts with this when we watch television, as I can’t help but reflexively call out the name of the person doing the voice over for each commercial.

You can’t pick your talents.

By Any Other Name, Redux

If you have vodka with breakfast, you’re an alcoholic.

But if you mix in some horseradish and tomato juice, it’s brunch.