Around the World With a Vagabond

Oprah Sightings, Attempted Smuggling, & Too Many Boobies December 12, 2010


The plotting began the night before the Christmas party.


Chris had found out at the last minute that his company’s Christmas party was to be an employee-only Christmas party. Strictly no partners, guests, or plus-ones allowed.


I had been looking forward to going and was bummed out to find out I’d been banned. What kind of Christmas-spirit-crap was that? Chris was disappointed too. “Don’t worry, “ he told me. “ We’ll smuggle you in.  Who gives a shit? It’s Christmas.”




And so we schemed how I would get past the strict bouncers, claim someone else’s employee ID, avoid eye-contact with the Boss Man and enjoy the festivities without being escorted out or getting Chris fired.


We concocted an elaborate plan on whose identity I was to take if questioned, and worked with someone on the inside who would slip me an employee wristband.  I memorized the names and descriptions of people I was to avoid. Easy.


With the same thoroughness and forward thinking I planned my Christmas party outfit.  I would wear a pretty red dress, heels, and bring flip-flops for the end of the night for when my feet hurt too much from dancing.


I was doing well to plan ahead with both fancy Christmas outfit and the Operation Christmas Party Smuggle. What I failed to do was tie these ideas together.


Once slipping past stocky security and snapping the blue band that had passed through many cooperative hands to get to my ineligible wrist, I should have kept a low profile and not:


  • Called attention to myself by wearing a sexy red dress at a casual dress party.
  • Forgotten that my American accent stands out in a room of Aussies.
  • Overload on champagne and partake in audible antics of joy.




Not only was no one else wearing anything much dressier than khakis and tie-less shirts, most of the clothing was neutral toned down blacks and grays. The only black I was wearing were my 5 inch heels.  My red dress was a short and strappy silky number that didn’t necessitate a bra. Simple and Christmassy in my mind, but fair to say it stood out amongst the overall attire of employees at this particular work function.


Stealthy and a little scared, I found my way inside the pub and upstairs to the rooftop bar  – we entered the function room and walked smack into the Big Boss.  I fake-smiled confidently and hurried off to hide in the ladies room for a few minutes just in case.


But . . . nothing happened!!! Yay! Chris handed me glass of champagne number 1, and we proceeded through the crowd, him smiling, me smiling and avoiding eye contact and chatting with a few of his friends who knew what we were up to, but glad to have us!


The longer I was there, the more comfortable I felt.  I mingled! I met people! I helped myself to sushi and tempura!  I was handed champagne glass number 2 and began to tell stories to a few of Chris’s work mates. And I had a GOOD story!


En route to the Christmas party, Chris and I had an encounter with none other than the Prime Minister of Australia and Oprah Winfrey!  As our tram trundled over the Yarra River into downtown, I noticed how crowded the road was with cops. Looking again, I noticed the TV cameras and giant fuzzy microphones extending over a gathering crowd when Chris shouted, “Hey! It’s the Prime Minister!  . . . . . . .And Oprah!”


We rang the bell to stop the tram and jumped out.  Like a couple of star-struck teenyboppers, we hurried to join the growing crowd.


Julia Gillard (the PM) was walking along the riverbank having a conversation with Oprah.  A film crew was walking ahead along the roped off path.  Two helicopters hovered overhead, a police boat putted along the river, several MIB patrolled the crowd and followed the pair closely as cops wearing sunglasses scampered around with their phones and their guns.


It was so EXCITING!! The crowd was buzzing and shouting out declarations of adoration at Oprah.  We somehow managed to get right up to the rope, and Chris caught the whole thing on his camera. It was 5 minutes of glory.  We were about three feet away, and close enough to see the make-up creases on the women’s faces.


As if royalty, they strolled past, we smiled and waved.  We couldn’t stop staring. It was awesome!


After a few more minutes, the women were ushered into black tinted SUVs and drove away, leaving a trail of reporters and photographers and a dispersing chattering crowd behind.


By the time I finished telling this story, I was on champagne number 3, and my audience had grown by another employee or two, and maybe a manager.


Deciding to check out the balcony, Chris and I maneuvered our way to the other side of the rooftop and take in the twilight horizon and sprawling city lights of Melbourne and the tucked away suburbs.  It was a pretty cool view. . . . and then:


“Is that a fat lady getting naked down there?” asked Chris.


I looked and, sure enough, on the second floor of nearby housing was framed a fat lady directly in front of her window and in plain sight of the busy pub balcony.


“Is she really getting naked?”


We, again, couldn’t stop staring. We were shameless. But then, so was she.


The fat lady, very obviously seeking her own audience, proceeded to remove her shirt. Her back was to us as she undid her bra, and then . . BOOM!!  Full frontal naked fat lady boobies.  She had spun around and was looking straight up at the pub balcony.  This must be a regular thing for her, so practiced was her unsnapping and spinning.


I think the crowd on the balcony was too engaged in their own conversations to notice, and Chris and I, hysterical and snorting, were the only appreciative viewers.  Fat Booby Lady’s window light flicked off, and Chris and I headed to the dance floor.


And dance we did.  Spinning around and making up line dances, we had a blast.  But somehow, between Oprah and the champagne and the Fat Booby Lady, I’d forgotten that I wasn’t actually supposed to be at the party and should still try to stay undercover.


Smiles and eye contact I now openly exchanged with everyone.  Dancing was not in the dark corner of the pub, but smack dab in the middle of the dance floor.  Spinning round and round and round, I’d also forgotten that my dress was a no-bra dress, as Chris twirled me in and then twirled me out, and then twirled me in, I looked down to see booby-on-the-right had made an escape.


Shrieking, I adjusted my dress. I have no idea if it had just then peeped out, or if when Chris flung in me in an outward twirl towards other employees and managers, booby-on-the-right was making a grand appearance.  I also have no idea if the professional photographer who had been circling the room was still on the prowl.


Well, a boob’s a boob.  We just kept dancing.


Now, if my fancy red dress, the celebrity stories accentuated with gestures and an American accent, or quick-booby-flashes didn’t draw any attention to this smuggled-in party-crasher, the piggy back ride across the center of the dance floor surely did.


It was during a favorite line of an overplayed track that my shameful dance moves suddenly and desperately called for a swift front kick. My black heels that had kept me vertical all night suddenly had a strap snap, and my right high heel went flying.


No one was hurt, and I was happy to dance barefoot until the song finished. However, there had been several incidents involving broken glass, and Chris didn’t want me to cut open my bare feet.  He, a few beers down himself, insisted on carrying me on his back across the room, and across the dance floor, where I could retrieve my back-up flip-flops and also get champagne number 9ish or 11th-ish.


Up I hopped onto Chris’s back, red dress swishing, one arm loosely around his neck, and the other arm pumping the air while I shouted, “Forward, ho!” and “Giddy-up Cowboy!”  Chris did his best to weave his way straight through the middle of the dance floor with his belligerent shoe-less girlfriend on his back, who was shouting down orders, high-fiving the crowd, and still dancing all at once. I think Chris may have busted a move on the dance floor too.  All I know for sure is that I definitely made eye contact with the Boss Man at this exact moment. In fact, I think I shouted a Black Eyed Pea lyric at him as we stumbled forward and passed by laughing.


I don’t know what the repercussions of this will be for Chris when he goes to work on Monday. Maybe nothing.  Maybe a reprimand. Or maybe possibly he’ll be more popular.


All I know is that I’m awesome at smuggling in, but with blending in, I failed spectacularly.


Another Thanksgiving Abroad December 8, 2010

Filed under: Another Thanksgiving Abroad,What Happened in Australia — christynichols @ 6:30 am
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I don’t know exactly when, or how it happened, but it turns out I’ve become a heathen. Perhaps I always have been, and it only takes attending a Charity Thanksgiving Sunday dinner for me to realize this.


Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated Down Under.  Why would Aussies celebrate a holiday that came about because a group of musket-bearing Quakers diseased the natives, pillaged their land, and ate their turkeys? That’s what I used to tell my British students anyway, much to my mother’s chagrin.  (It’s closer to the truth than anything I was ever told as a kid.)


Nevertheless, a charitable cause is a charitable cause, so off I went to the Thanksgiving dinner. I had ventured out on my own, seeking what I assumed would be some nothing-special venue, springing along to whatever folky-happy music my ipod chose. But the place where the dinner was held was so fancy, that I almost missed it.


Walking from the station, I came upon a columned building somewhat set back from the main street. Brightly bopping balloons tied to pillars decorated the curved driveway as ladies in heels and men in suits and sunnies mingled in the open double doors.   The International was luxuriously scripted across the front of a large slate grey stone.


“This can’t be it,” I thought, and sauntered past in my flip-flops, sure my destination was the crumbling-down building on the next corner.


Moments later, having walked too far, I turned around and was again in front of The International. This was it.


I walked up the steps of the building and into the lobby, already feeling a little out of place.  It was a very nice lobby, walls bedecked with large paintings and hollowed corners filled with sparkly Christmas trees, all being admired by people dressed in their Sunday best.  I looked down at my plaid yellow country button-up shirt, my flair jeans, and my flip-flopped feet with chipped toenail polish.


I’ve been told that it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. But I just can’t always be bothered to make that kind of effort. So if I am underdressed, it’s better to at least be with other underdressers.   When alone, I scan the crowd for people even more embarrassingly underdressed than me.  I can almost always find someone of this description, but it’s usually a small dirty child. Today, even the children looked better.


I tucked my ipod away, and went to search for my name on the lists of table assignments posted on a nearby board.


The tables were listed by number. There I was, listed under the very last table at the very bottom of the board, and not only was my table numbered Table 25, but, making me feel more out of place, this particular listing also pointed out the unfortunate location of my table: Table 25 – back of room. See:



None of the other tables had that snubbing addition.


I wandered over to where I was told to go, to a very nicely set, but very empty table and sat down.  I looked around the room at the other tables filling up with laughing children and smiling families and chirpy conversation. Some shitty Thanksgiving Day parade was playing on a big screen at the front of the room.


This wasn’t doing too much for my homesickness so far.


Nevermind, I started to pour myself a glass of water from a glass pitcher into the stemmed water glass. My aim was off, and I poured the water straight onto my plate, all splashy and cold.  No one was paying attention to the cowgirl in flip-flops at the “back of room”, so I just swapped plates with one on the far side of the table.


I sat for about ten minutes, then, out of boredom, I scanned the menu/agenda.   Then I noticed that during the “prayer” time the bar would be temporarily closed.  Bar?  Where bar?!


A brimming glass of Shiraz later, I sat back down at my empty table.


Then, finally, an old woman and her partner circled towards my table at the back.  The old woman was balding. She looked at the chair next to me and politely asked, “Is anyone sitting here?”


“Nope!” I said.


Except, it wasn’t a simple “nope”, but a drawn-out, especially plosive “nope”. Hold the “p” down, and let it go . . . . .  like the girls do with “lollipop” in that one song.




I don’t know why I did this, having had only a slurp or two of wine. It was the first conversation I had had with anyone in 45 minutes, and I nearly ruined it.  I should have said, “Hey! Yeah, please sit! Go right ahead!” And smiled in my normally bright and friendly way.


But all I had was, “No-pahh!” And then I stared at her.


It seems I stopped trying before the dinner even formally started.


I watched as the old bald lady sat down and started to pour herself a glass of water.  Her aim was bad, and cold splashy water puddled up her plate and napkin.


Here was my chance to redeem the “No-pahh”.  I handed her a dry napkin from someone else’s seat and told her I had spilled all over too. She smiled.


And then the dinner was served.  Turkey. Stuffing. Cornbread. (CORNBREAD!!) Cranberry sauce.  It was alright!  As I dug in, I realized why I had thought it was perfectly normal to rock up to a Sunday Thanksgiving dinner in jeans and flip-flops and a cowboy shirt.


Not only had I not been home for a decade’s worth of this particular holiday, but my family has always celebrated it differently:  off-road style!  We (usually a caravan of 4 or 5 families) drive hours out to the desert towing trailers, fifth wheels, jeeps, bajas, quads, dirt bikes, RZRs, and sometimes shotguns to shoot up leftover Halloween pumpkins (not natives).  We bring food for Thanksgiving, but we cook it in the ground.


A big ol’ hole is dug in the ground, the bottom lined with stones that usually the kids are sent out to find, and a fire is started.  The fire is manned through the night, with campers taking shifts to add the wood and get the fire and the stones oven-hot.  Then the turkey is seasoned and wrapped and encased in a pot or something (I am usually playing in the dirt or getting people and myself beers at this point, so I don’t really know what happens between the digging of the hole, and the digging up of the turkey) but the turkey is buried and left to cook in the heat of the stones. Then we ride around on bikes and in jeeps all the next day. Once someone remembers where the turkey was buried, we dig it up and dig in.


And. It. Is. AWESOME. But yeah, we are dirty, sitting in lawn chairs around a fire, beer in hand, turkey on paper plate, and we all sit around feeling fat and grateful like the heathens we are.  This is what I remember when I think of a family Thanksgiving.


Those memories are a far cry from the situation I found myself in this year. No family. No off-road bikes. The turkey had been cooked in an oven. And any dirt in the place I am sure was brought in by me. But I felt a little more comfortable than I had when I first arrived.  Food and wine will do that.


Feeling conversational, I began to chat with the bald woman. Turns out, she was lovely.  And from LA.  Thirty years ago, she told me, she was traveling Europe when a rugged Aussie struck up a conversation with her over a cold beer in some 17th century building.  She followed him to Melbourne and never looked back.  She told a few stories and I, enchanted, listened to every word.


I took another bite of turkey, and then it occurred to me that I too had met an Aussie, who, over a beer in a 17th century building in Colombia, I realized I would be following to Melbourne.


Then I remembered how I had splashed the water all over my plate, as had she. We had both been sent to sit at the “back of room” table. In forty years, I thought, it could be me who was the bald lady sitting at the table telling travel stories to strangers.


I think I will be okay with that.


I just hope there’s a flip-flopped heathen sitting next to me then too.