international librarian of mystery

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The End

The end? Well, sort of. How about we just call it an extended intermission.

Back when I was a gainfully employed librarian, I found the time to work on this blog virtually every night. I'm currently in a situation where I just can't find that time any more, the posts are getting further and further apart, and I'm walking around with this gnawing sense of guilt that I haven't made a post for weeks. And this at a time when blog-worthy moments are coming and going faster than ever.

So I might just wrap things up here, and concentrate properly on the other time-consuming projects I've got on the go. I realise, for those that have been following my story, that this is probably a really annoying place to call it quits. Sorry. (The gig went well. I played okay. We're off to play some summer festivals in Europe now, just one of the reasons I'm going to be short of time over the next wee while).

And I've had enough interest from various people now to make me think that a part of the blog, at least, will actually make a passable book, so I've been working on arranging and editing part of it into a proper story that has an old-fashioned beginning, middle and end. I thought I'd be able to continue to post new stuff while editing the old, but, to tell the truth, re-writing the old stuff leaves me in such a state of anxiety (Why did no-one ever tell me about all those typos? How often do I really need to use the word 'nice'? And what is with the overuse of parentheses?), that starting a new post is the last thing I want to do.

If, in the off chance my random ramblings do ever find the light of day in a published form, and you feel like you might be in the market to pick up a copy for yourself or a loved one's Christmas stocking, then drop me an email or leave a comment and I'll let you know when (if) it becomes available.

So, yes, thanks for reading. It's been fun to write.


Natalie Biz.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It's the vibe

I spent the entire day rehearsing the basslines for my audition with Bertel's band (which, for the purpose of this blog, will hereafter be known as Hamlet).

The band have been holed up in a studio apartment downtown (Bertel and I have spent a couple of nights at a hotel around the corner, to try and get a bit of privacy, but it would seem the cost of privacy in this city is fairly exorbitant), so I spent the day there with Bertel and Axel (the guitar player), going over the songs.

After dinner we headed off to the rehearsal room to play through the songs with the full band.

It's a bit tricky to describe the music of Hamlet without giving too much away, suffice to say it isn't technically difficult to play, but does rely on all the players being in tune (and not just the musical sense) with each other...

"It's all," explained Axel, "about the sonics. The ambience. The shifts and swirls and eddies. It's the vibe. Yes?"
"Yes," I agreed, as I pondered just what the first note of the song we were about to play was, and realised that I shouldn't have done all my practicing sitting down, as now, standing up in a semi-circle with the rest of the boys, I suddenly realised how heavy the damned bass was on my shoulder, and how much trickier it was going to be watching just where my fingers were going from an upright position.

As I pondered my posture, Jakob the drummer clicked us into the first song, and we were away.

Tell you what, if you think modern rock concerts are loud, try standing next to a Scandinavian rock drummer going at full throttle in a small rehearsal room. I could barely hear myself (which was probably for the best) over the splash and crack of his cymbals and snare. The accompanying waves of distorted guitar noise emanating from Axel and Arkin's amps were just about powerful enough to knock me off my feet. It was great.

We played through the set-list from start to finish, only pulling up a couple of times in some of the more free-form sections where I totally blanked out on what I should be doing.

"You have lost the vibe Natalie? Yes?"
"Err, yes."

Still, they were minor things, and Jakob was great, giving me all sorts of visual cues with the subtle raise of an eyebrow or not-so-subtle pointing of a drum-stick. Bertel, hand encased in plaster and sitting in an armchair in the corner of the room kept nodding his encouragement my way. The only person who didn't seem particularly enthused by my performance was Nils, the manager, but I've yet to see him enthused by anything other than the World Rally Champs, so that wasn't too disheartening.

After finishing the set, we stopped for a team-talk, and all the boys were suitably complimentary of my playing. The vibe, apparently, was feeling pretty good.

"We do it again, for real this time," said Nils.

And we did. Nils and Bertel made it a bit harder for me this time by dimming (and even turning off entirely) the lights at various stages of each song to emulate a live light show. Bertel even played the part of a drunken fan, and shouted a few rude things at me between songs to try and put me off, but I got through the entire second set without a major mishap (which is more than can be said for both Axel and Arkin, who both played a couple of terrific clangers when the lights went out).

At the end of the second set, Nils nodded. "Yes," he said, "that was good. Guys, I would like to propose a vote. All those in favour of Natalie being our temporary bass-player while the violent and valiant Bertel's hand mends, please say 'aye'."
"Aye!" shouted all the boys.

My shoulder ached from the weight of the guitar, and my ears were ringing from the onslaught of noise, but my physical woes were put aside as I flushed with delight and excitement at my promotion from band groupie to band member.

I'm going to play a gig! This weekend!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Chur Bro

There are a surprising number of New Zealanders here in New York City. I am stumbling upon them with happy regularity. Bertel's band (who have been in pre-production for their album since we arrived in New York) are rehearsing at a studio where one of the main sound engineers - Tom - is a kiwi.

After a night out seeing yet another fabulous act I would never have dreamed of seeing (or, admittedly, even have heard about) back in New Zealand, Tom pulled me (and by extension, Bertel) off to watch the Crusaders v. Hurricanes Super 12 rugby semi-final.

It was an ungodly hour of the morning at some downtown bar in Manhattan, and the combination of several nights of loud music and alcohol was starting to take its toll on me, but as soon I spotted Dan Carter, Caleb Ralph and Rico Gear in the pre-match highlights, I was wide awake again. Mmm.

It goes without saying that Canterbury won, and even the many Wellingtonians present agreed that their buzzy-bee uniformed 'Canes were no match for the Crusaders this year, and we all toasted to their success in the final. It was, as they say, all good. In fact, with plenty of New Zealanders present, the home country lingo was flowing freely, much to the amused incomprehension of the assorted Americans (and a few Brits, for some reason) who also happened to be at the bar...

"Hey bro. Gizza 'nother one. Cheers."
"Ka pai."
"It wuz wucked."
"Wucked mate."
"Chur bro."

And, at the end of the night...


It was on the way home, in the wee hours of the morning, that things took a turn for the worse.

We had decided to walk the few blocks back to the hotel, when, just like out of a Hollywood film (although, just about everything we do in New York feels like it's out of a Hollywood film), a guy jumped out of an alleyway and demanded our wallets. Bertel, without even breaking stride and in one smooth movement, hit the would-be mugger with a punch right to the nose. Blood spurted. The mugger didn't fall over, but he did give out a mighty yelp, clutched his hands to his face, turned heel and ran into the alley he had come from. Bertel, Tom and I scarpered down the street, fearing he might return with some heavy weaponry or some bigger friends, to take revenge upon us. We safely got back to the hotel, and, with the adrenalin still coursing through our veins, proceeded to drink the mini-bar dry and watch Bertel's delicate and long-fingered hand slowly but surely balloon up and start to take on some intriguing shades of blue and purple.

Of course, he's broken a couple of bones in his hand, hasn't he? And with his band due to play a 'secret' gig this weekend as part of the preparations for their recording sessions, their manager is furious. The whole plan looked like it might be going down the gurgler.

But then someone sensibly suggested they just find a temporary bass player. There's at least a couple of guys in the crew who could probably pick up the parts quickly enough, being musos themselves, and they figured it would be easy enough to lay down ghost parts on the recording while Bertel's hand healed up (four to six weeks, the doctor told him). As more than one person pointed out: "It's only the bass, isn't it?"

Since I happened to be sitting in, Yoko Ono like, on this particular discussion, I jokingly volunteered for the temporary bass player's job, having learnt most of the parts with Bertel over the last few weeks, both of us playing along to the demos to find the best lines to play. And, wouldn't you know, my flippant remark was taken seriously (with some lovely advocacy from Bertel, who was full of praise for my ablities) and they're going to let me rehearse with them tomorrow to see if I can do it! Ahaha!

I haven't actually played bass in a live performing band since my high school band (the fantastically monikered Lady Macbeth's Bathroom Scales) got knocked out of Rockquest in the regional finals in 1992.

I am all a-jitter. May my fingers not let me down.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Efficiency pays.

Well, thank-you to everyone who emailed after my last post, and suggested workarounds to the task that lay ahead of me at the start of last week. With the help of a couple of otherwise under-utilised lads within more-or-less instantanteous MSN or Gmail contact, I managed to cut hours from the task that had been allocated me. By the start of Thursday, I had done all the updates, and even eye-balled all the changes, a full seven working days ahead of schedule. I mucked about on Friday, double-checking everything, catching up with email and trying to write a blog entry or two. By mid-afternoon I realised I wasn't going to be able to maintain the facade for a whole week, so went to see my boss-for-the-fortnight, John.

"Coffee?" he asked, gesturing back at his filter, stewing away faithfully behind him.
"No, thunks."

I took a breath. Was I about to do myself out of a week's worth of wages?

"I'm finished, actually."
"Pardon me?"
"I've done all the updates. I've done the input and proof-read it all. I think you'll find it's fine. I'm happy to come back and make any changes if you find any errors, but I'm pretty sure it's all okay."
"Well. Really. Already? All done?"
"Well. Fantastic. I will, uh, be getting a couple of the team to go through the updates before the project can be signed off, and we'll obviously let you know if anything needs a touch-up, but, if you're done, well, you're done I suppose."

I asked (in such a roundabout way that I can't even begin to reproduce it here) about the matter of my pay. John assured me I had been hired to complete the contract at the price agreed upon. The pay was for the job, not the time. Payment would be transferred to my account as soon as the job was signed off.

I sighed with relief. Efficiency does pay.

John stood up, and straightened his tie.

"Natalie, " he said, "it was lovely meeting you."
"And you John."

We parted ways.

How great is New York! I figure if I can keep up this sort of contract work, I could live in this city indefinitely.

Saturday, April 30, 2005


Firstly, if there's anyone out there who can tell me where I can get good coffee within walking distance of the Canal Street subway station, I'd be most appreciative.

The impression I got from American films and TV was that NY was absolutely awash in coffee, which may be true, but I've yet to find anyone who can make me the perfect flat white (or café au lait, as I've discovered as being the safest bet to get something vaguely like what I'm really after). The Starbucks in the Charles Schwab building is my front runner so far, but, really, Starbucks? Come on New York!

Because I am definitely in need of a tasty and strong caffeine boost after my nerve-racking initiations into the NY subway system. And my new job.

I arrived nice and early, having given myself a decent amount of buffer time should anything go horribly wrong on the subway. I considered taking a taxi, but my limited experiences with NY taxi drivers has led me to believe that they either can't understand my English, they don't actually speak English themselves, or, in most cases, both.

My boss offered me a coffee as soon as I sat down in his office.

I said yes, and he swung around in his large leather chair to reveal a filter coffee dripping into a stained brown jug.

"Err, No."
Cream? I didn't even know you could have cream with filter coffee.
"No, thanks."
"You have a lovely accent. Mel said you were a New Zealander?"

The accent thing still gives me a kick. I must have said all of six words to John, my new boss, all of them mono-syllabic, and still I get the 'you have a lovely accent' stuff. I reckon it's the 'thunks' for 'thanks' that gets them.

We chit-chatted for a bit, and he apologised profusely in advance for the job he was about to set me upon. His company's product catalogue has recently gone through a 're-imagining' of some kind, which has resulted in him hiring some advertising firm to write new blurbs to accompany the product line. All 750 items.

So now their website has to be updated with all the new blurbs. Enter me.

John showed me to where I was to do all the data entry. A space had been made for me in the accounts office, where I was introduced to the accountants, and then tucked into a corner. John walked me through the data entry process a couple of times, and all my start-of-job fears evaporated: it was indeed a job of mind-numbing repetition.

The website had a nice looking content management system, but the process of updating a single product entry required going through multiple steps, many of them pointless. Open the record. Confirm the name. Confirm the price. Confirm the meta info. Then update the record. Proof-read. Publish. Check the live site. The process took about five minutes for each record. Two weeks sounded about right.

Gah. At least I'm getting paid.

And what is it with the air pollution in New York? I went for a long sight-seeing walk around Greenwich Village in the evening, and by the time I got back to the hotel, my face was covered in this grimy muck. Yuck.

Still, haven't been mugged yet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Well, in an effort to catch up with myself, I'm going to skip our Chicago adventures. I'll save them for a rainy day.

Bertel got a call last week from his band's manager telling him that the pre-production sessions were now going to be taking place in New York. We booked airfares and were in the Big Apple the next day, our taste for long-distance cross-country road-trips now well and truly sated by the mind-numbing Memphis to Chicago drive.

My main problem at the moment (well, most of the time, to tell the truth), is a complete lack of funds. I've been living off Bertel's generosity and the seemingly never-ending limit of my credit card for the last month or so, and I don't want to push either resource too far into the red, for fear of irreparable damage.

So, I've decided to get a job. Surely there's something I can do in this city. Land of Opportunity and all that. Unfortunately, the woman at the first temp agency I went to had to stifle a laugh when I told her I was in the USA on a holiday visa. She politely told me my best bet was to leave the country, find a company that was willing to hire me (from abroad), and then get them to apply for working visa on my behalf. In other words: go away. I did.

Thankfully, Mel, the lovely woman I met at the second agency a couple of days ago was much more encouraging and helpful. Having looked at my CV, we sat down together and browsed some of my online work together.

"You've definitely got the skills and qualifications to get something on an H1B," she said.
"I do?"
"Definitely. Only problem is that it will take at least a month to process, and that's after we find someone who wants to employ you. Although, again, I don't imagine that will be a problem. Can you hold out that long?"
"Err, maybe. Although, not really. I'm pretty broke. In fact, I don't even have enough money to get a plane ticket home at the moment. I don't really know what to do."

At which point, for the first time in years, I burst into tears.

Mel was extremely gracious, whipped a box of tissues out of her desk for me to blow my nose on, and came around to me to give me an encouraging pat on the shoulder. After I stopped my blubbing, she closed the door to her office, and sat down on the desk in front of me.

"Natalie," she said, "I know of an opening at a firm downtown. It's a simple data entry job, something well below your station, and only for a couple of weeks, but does pay quite well, and will let you get back on your feet. I know the HR manager extremely well, and he owes me a favour or two, so I'm sure we can fudge the paperwork for a few weeks while we get onto processing your H1B."
"That would be ... amazing. Thank you," I sniffled.
"Don't mention it."

She ushered me into her reception room, returned to her office to make a couple of calls, and then called me back in. I had a job. Just like that. If only things were so easy back in New Zealand. Mel gave me the details of where I was to report to work (the next day!), and bid me farewell, with a promise to ring me again soon once she had a longer term position in line for me.

The job starts tomorrow, and, despite it being 'menial data entry', I'm all a-jitter. Full report to come...

And, on a different tangent altogether, a big 'shout-out' to blog-buddy Zinnia @ Real E Fun who has, along with myself, been deemed 'webby worthy' at this year's Webby Awards. You'll find me on the 'B' page, just down from a plethora of BBC sites, and just above Yay for us!

Monday, April 11, 2005

A la mode it

Bertel and I had two 'must-do's' on our visit to Memphis: the Reverend Al Green's Sunday Service (Bertel's choice) and Graceland (mine). We must have driven up and down the streets of 'Soulsville' in the south of Memphis a dozen times looking for the church, but it completely eluded us. We did have accurate directions to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, so we traded a 'must-do' for a 'may-as-well' and visited there, instead. Which, it turns out, was a great move. The museum was inspiring, educational, fun - an information resource that the unemployed librarian within me could really admire. As such, it was the complete opposite of the Graceland experience we were to have later that day...

The lines at Graceland were mercifully short; being a Sunday, we figured everyone was still at church. The operation ran with a scary efficiency - the level to which I was photographed (they said for a momento but I'm not so sure), instructed, prodded and directed made me feel a little like I was back at library school: a lot of rules and no time to learn them in.

wearing headphones at graceland It's hard to offer a summary of the Graceland experience. Bertel seemed to be enjoying it on some sort of musical level, but I, however, was constantly taken aback with the evidence that with ridiculous wealth one does not necessarily come excellent taste. I suppose most people familiar with the Elvis's latter years know this of course, but to be confronted with it on such a gigantic level was overwhelming. The 'best' part was the racquetball court, with the glass entombed examples of Elvis's 70s and therefore 'fat' sequined clothing.

"Man, this guy was a dandy!" exclaimed Bertel, bringing forth some of scowls from one or two of our tour-group who obviously had a higher opinion of Elvis's sartorial sense.

In fact, those scowls were about the sum level of interaction with our fellow Elvis pilgrims. Although Bertel and I chatted about the exhibits as we wandered around, and other couples whispered the occasional comment to one another, there was next to no intermingling with anyone else in the group. Everyone was listening to the same audio tour via headphones, so we were cut off from each other, but hearing the same thing.

(As an aside, this is something I've seen more and more of while here in the USA. The other day I saw a young couple, walking down the street, hand in hand, both listening to iPods, and both txting on their cellphones with their free hand. Mad.)

Together Alone, as NZ's most famous songsmith once wrote.

Having done our sight-seeing duties, we drove to a restaurant, and encountered some 'authentic' American culture. American English (and, it has to be said, Scandanavian English), continues to surprise me with some brilliant turns-of-phrase. Having made our orders, our waitress sprung this on us...

"Y'all want to a la mode that?"
"Do I?" I asked.
"Do you?"
"A la mode it?"
"Yes. You know. A scoop of icecream on the side."
"Ohh, yes, please."

I think "to a la mode it" is one of the best verbs I've ever heard. Even now, a couple of weeks later, we're still getting mileage out of it.

Anyway, with our vocabularies suitably enriched by our Memphis stop-over, we headed out-of-town for Chicago, and a whole new series of adventures.