Author: misschryss

Ejo #93 – My Wallet

In 1995, my boyfriend gave me a beautiful men’s wallet for my 24th birthday. I fucking loved it. It was unique, functional, I’m pretty sure it was expensive, and it was a giant middle finger to the kind of birthday present girls were “supposed” to like. I still love that wallet, and now, because I’ve had it for over 22 years, I am also sentimentally attached to it. I love it because after all these years together we’ve become so close we finish each other’s sentences.  I love it because it’s always been there. It’s travelled with me to dozens of countries and endured four crappy jobs before finally settling in to the right one. It’s witnessed four other boyfriends come and go, and one amazing husband stick around. I love it because it’s seen me broke and it’s seen me flush. It’s held deposit cheques for my first car and my first house. Money that my Dad left me when he died. Money to buy food for handouts here in Dubai. Maxed out credit cards that have kept me awake at night and banknotes in eleven different currencies. You know, as mementos

Someone recently asked me what all the crap in my wallet was, referring to my large collection of car wash vouchers. Eight vouchers used to score you a free car wash – in 2001 – but I never actually got around to using them and over the years my poor wallet has stretched out to accommodate their bulk. When I finally decided to get rid of them, about ten years ago, I realised that my wallet had ballooned so much that my cash had no chance of staying put and just kept slipping out. So the vouchers resumed their position, filling the cavernous space they had created. We’ve all accepted that this will be their final resting place.  My wallet can no longer function without them, and thus neither can I.

IMG_2015

Need somewhere to write a list?

My wallet has contained love notes and phone numbers from fascinating strangers. It’s held receipts, IOUs, shopping lists and lists of things to do. It safeguards passport photos and photos of dead people, photos of people I love. It keeps my Australian sim securely hidden away when I’m in Dubai, and my UAE sim safe when I’m travelling. And, because I’m a hoarder, it still hangs onto every single driver’s license I’ve ever had. It holds my organ donor card, my Blood Bank donor card, and my most recent acquisition, my first aid license. My life is essentially contained within the smooth, dark brown, leather pockets of this wallet.

 

But let’s be real. The thing is over 22 years old. I don’t know how old that is in wallet years. Ancient. The stitches are falling apart at the seams and the Oroton label has all but completely worn away. The zipper on the coin pocket broke about fifteen years ago, and the whole goddamn thing is so distended by filler crap that I can’t even actually button it closed anymore. Let’s face it, this wallet is an old, ugly, worthless piece of shit. And I really, really should just throw it away and get a new one.

But I think we all know, I never will.

IMG_2035

‘Til death do us part.

 

 

 

Ejo #92 – My Name Is Chrysoula Stathopoulos

My name is Chrysoula Stathopoulos. Since 1933, I’ve lived in Lechaion, a small seaside town in Greece. But I was born in a tiny village in the Peloponnese mountains in 1916. I am 101 years old.

My name is Chrysoula Stathopoulos. I’ve lived in Dubai since 2008. But I was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971 and raised in Melbourne. I am 46 years old.

As the firstborn, I was named after my Dad’s mother, which is how the Greeks do. I hated my name growing up because nobody could ever pronounce it, and a lot of kids gave me shit for it. On the first day of Grade 2, my teacher actually accused me of making it up. I casually dropped the “oula” part of my name when I was 12, and made it official when I was 14. Over the years I’ve grown to love my full name again. It’s unique, and it’s who I am. It’s also something that connects me to my grandmother, my yiayia, whom I love dearly.

My twin sister Fotoula and I were the apples of our father’s eye. We had two older brothers, but we were the favourites and everyone knew it, including Mum. She scolded us once for making too much noise while we were playing and Dad looked at her very seriously and said, “Whatever you do, don’t ever talk to my girls like that again”. And she never did. Times were tough growing up because of the war, and we didn’t have a lot, but our house was filled with love and I always tried my best to make my Dad proud of me when he was home. He was gone for most of my childhood, working in America so that he could send money home for us. Every time he came home was a big deal and my favourite memory was of being bounced on his knees – me on one leg, and Fotoula on the other, the three of us laughing and laughing.

Even though Greek families usually covet a son, my parents had three daughters and I think that, secretly, my father loved being surrounded by women. My Dad drove trucks for a living in the early seventies, and he was gone for long stretches at a time. My earliest memory is of our flat in Elwood. I was wearing a nappy and crawling to the front door because Mum had told me that Dad was coming home. I remember bursting with joy when he appeared at the flyscreen door.

In 1924 my family moved down from the mountains so that we could attend school near Korinth. Some of the teachers were very strict, which I didn’t like very much. I certainly wasn’t used to being smacked, but the teachers had no problem hitting us if they got mad. I always studied hard, and tried to be the best student so that they would never have any reason to hit me. On 22nd April 1928 a big earthquake shook Korinth. Twenty people died, and nearly 15,000 people were left homeless. Even though our home was damaged, we were lucky that it wasn’t one of the 3000 that were destroyed, and that we still had somewhere to live. Our school had turned to rubble and, while it was being rebuilt, classes were held outside, on the football field.

Fotoula hated school. She would say, “Chrysoula, I’ve been to school for a week, now it’s your turn”. School wasn’t compulsory back then, so she could get away with it but it’s a shame that she never learned to read or write. I wanted to be a teacher or a mid-wife when I grew up because they earned 500 drachmas (about €2) a month, which was a lot of money for a woman back then. But I was forced to drop out of school in 1929, at age 13.

When we were young,my parents forced me and my sisters to go to Greek school on Saturday mornings. I hated it and faced each weekend with sickening dread. But my parents wanted us to learn how to speak Greek, and to appreciate Greek history and customs. Fair enough, but the teachers at the school we attended were sadistic fucks and what I remember most about those classes was the constant fear. It ended when a teacher pinched my cheek so hard he left a large purple bruise across my face. My crime? Not completing my homework. My parents, horrified that the tales of assault and battery were actually true, allowed me to drop out of Greek school at age 12.

In 1930 my beloved father got sick with double pneumonia. The closest doctor was in Didima, a village 100km away, and every time he came to the house it cost us 500 drachmas. When Dad died, we owed the doctor a small fortune and since we didn’t have the money, it was negotiated that I would go with him back to Didima and work as his housekeeper until the bill was paid. I didn’t want to go, but my older brother got very angry and slapped me across the face and told me I was going and that was the end of it. After that I was happy to leave, just to get away from him. My Dad would never have allowed anyone to strike me like that. But now he was gone, and I had no choice but to enter into servitude for nearly three years in a village where I didn’t know anyone and where they didn’t even speak Greek. During my time in Didima, I slowly learned some Albanian so that I could communicate with people, but I was happy when the debt was finally paid off, and I could return to my family, who had moved to Lechaion.

In late 2002 my beloved father was diagnosed with lung cancer. My parents tried to be upbeat and hopeful about the prognosis but as you can imagine, it was a total shock for all of us. My father was the healthiest and most robust man I’d ever known. He was invincible to me, a rock. In denial, I didn’t even believe that he was actually sick until he started showing symptoms a couple of months later. And after that, the decline in his health was rapid. Lung cancer is a truly horrible disease and over a ten month period I watched my father deteriorate from a tower of strength into an emaciated skeleton coughing up tar-black mucus onto my birthday cake, a month before he died. Shit like that stays with you, man. When we told yiayia that her firstborn had passed away, she cried. But because of the Alzheimer’s she sometimes forgets. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember who he was.

In 1933 I started working in the fields with my sister, picking fruit to support our family. We earned just 25 drachmas a day, which wasn’t much, but our lack of education didn’t leave us many options. A lot of people were in the same boat and there was a great deal of competition for these field jobs, so we weren’t always gainfully employed. In 1936 I met a man at work called Panagiotis, who was a real go-getter. He would schmooze around the taverns at night, networking for jobs, and his circle of friends always had paid work, thanks to him. He seemed like a nice guy, and he must have taken a liking to me because he started getting regular work for me too. Working side by side we started developing feelings for each other, and after a year we were engaged. We couldn’t afford to get married right away but I did move in with him which was illegal back then, so we pretended that I was his housekeeper and everyone fell for it! Haha! Suckers! We lived in sin for two years before we got married on New Year’s Eve, 1939. Ten months later we had our first child, Konstantinos, and then after that I gave birth every two years, with Roula, Chris, Toula, Sofia and our baby Stavros.

 

Capture1

In the fields.  Kon, Chris, Toula, Sofia, Stavros, Roula, Panagiotis and Chrysoula.  And a small kid.

 

I met my husband David at work in 2005. It was love at first sight, for me anyway. We worked together for a year, exchanging flirty glances across the tower console before we actually started going out. Two days later I moved in, and four months after that we were married. Most people at work thought it wouldn’t last but, after eleven years together, we’re still nuts about each other. We decided not to have children, which we sometimes lament, but usually not.

Over the years all my children except Stavros emigrated to Australia. Roula went first because she hated working in the fields and wanted a chance to start a new life. Kon joined her a year later, and then the others followed. I wanted them to be happy and to have a better life than I did so I didn’t mind them leaving, but my god I missed them so much. My children are my life and they have always made me so happy and so proud, even now. In 1976 I went to Australia for a visit and I had such a wonderful time, mostly because I got to see all my children and grandchildren. Little Chrysoula was, of course, my favourite*. She was such a delightful child, and she taught me how to count to ten in English, and even though my memory isn’t what it used to be, I’ve never forgotten: onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten! See!! I do have trouble remembering some things, but those old days are crystal clear. I loved Australia so much I went back for another visit in 1988 and I wish I could go again, but, even though I’m as fit as a fiddle, let’s face it, at my age it’s probably not going to happen. There is always someone here, one of my kids, looking after me, and I appreciate that. But I wish my grandchildren would visit more often.

I met my yiayia for the first time when I was five years old. She came to visit us from Greece and stayed with us for a few months. It was nice having her around because she was always smiling and laughing and hugging us and telling stories and crocheting beautiful things. Her skin was wrinkly, but soft, like well-worn leather. And you could tell that my Dad just LOVED having her around. They glowed around each other, overflowing with mutual adoration and respect. My grandmother was such a loving person and she taught my Dad to be honest and hard-working and to be proud of his achievements. In turn, he taught me the same.

I’ve been thinking about my yiayia a lot lately. I am writing this ejo to celebrate her, while she’s still alive. I don’t know if I will ever see her again. But I want to. The last time was five years ago. She recognised me, which was wonderful, but she is very locked up in her mind most of the time. Locked in the past. And the people around her, even loved ones, are very much in the periphery of her consciousness. But every time we are together, even though my Greek is shit and she can’t speak English, there is always a deep and loving connection between us. A circle of life and love that cannot be broken by distance or years apart.

We are Chrysoula Stathopoulos.

 

IMG_1418

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Some creative license MAY have been used in the writing of this ejo.

 

Ejo #91 – Wave Your Arms In The Air, Like You Just Don’t Care!

When I was younger my family had a holiday house (a holiday shed, in reality) down the coast at Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula. Between the ages of about 12 and 17, we spent every weekend at this property (which we called “the farm”), basically running around like wild, feral kids getting bruised, scraped, dirty and exhausted. It was awesome. Another great thing about the farm was that it had a private dirt track that led to a very deserted back-beach. That’s right bitches, private beach!! Did I forget to mention that I had an amazing childhood?

So every year we would spend most of the summer down at the farm, all piling into our decrepit, old Land Rover a couple of times a day to make the bumpy trek down to the beach where we’d spend hours fishing, swimming, crab-hunting, sand-duning, picnicking and lazing around. A rotating roster of relatives and family friends would join us, lending these summers a festive, carnival feel. I have so many vivid memories of these times. The time we found a huge echidna on the beach track, all rolled up into a ball – we tried to take him home with us, but he was having none of it. The time Uncle Paul was almost washed away to sea after a huge wave knocked him off some rocks. The time my Dad took a flying leap between two huge rocks, suspended in the air like Michael Jordan making a slam dunk.

Oh, and the time my friend Tina told me, as we lay on the beach perpetrating a tan (c’mon, it was the 80s), that I should probably start shaving my armpits and legs. I was 15 years old. I remember lifting up my arm in curiosity to examine the fluff growing there, wondering why on earth I’d have to shave it. I mean, I could barely even see it. I was bemused, and just laughed her off. It was only later, back at home, once I’d had time to think about it, that the shame set in. Shame that my body, in its natural state was apparently unacceptable. I was already a very self-conscious teenager but that was the first time someone had weighed in on my body hair. It wouldn’t be the last.

So I did what every young girl is supposed to do and started shaving. Right from the get-go I just hated shaving my legs. I hated the actual act of shaving, hated the bristly regrowth, hated how often I needed to do it for my legs to be acceptable (there’s that word again). So when I was seventeen I started getting my legs waxed. I haven’t put a razor to them since, and only need to get them done below the knee every 6-8 weeks to keep them respectable, sometimes going months between waxings. And even then the hair follicles have been so beleaguered and abused over the years that it’s all they can do to produce a few sparse, downy hairs.

My underarms are a different story. After that day at the beach, I spent the next thirty years of my life slavishly incorporating razor work into my shower routine, never letting my underarm hair get any longer than some slovenly stubble. And I never questioned why I was doing it. Not even once. In thirty years! Isn’t that crazy??? Everything else I do on auto-pilot has some kind of basis in hygiene. Shower, brush my teeth, wipe my ass, clip my nails. There’s a valid reason to do all of those things. But shaving the tuft of hair valiantly trying to grow in the space under my arms?? What was my reason for doing that??

Turns out that before around 1915 women didn’t care about their hairy armpits, because they were never on display. As soon as sleeveless dresses became a thing, so did underarm shaving. I wonder who decided that the hair underneath women’s arms was too “objectionable” to be shown in public. Oh yes. Objectionable. Check out this advertisement from a 1915 edition of Harper’s Bazaar:

Armpit Advertisement

And this British one from the early ‘30s.

Armpit Advertisement 1

 

It really gets my goat to think of the posse of gin-soaked ad-men at Dae Health Laboratories Ltd. sitting around a table in their double-breasted suits, smoking cigarettes and spit-balling ideas for how to get women to buy their product. Advertising’s greatest weapon is the consumer’s insecurity. Hair under women’s arms is no more disgusting than hair under men’s, but if women think it is, of course they’ll buy your depilatory cream. Of course they’ll buy your disposable razor. And they’ll keep buying it, over and over again until they die. It’s fucking brilliant marketing. And in the process, we’ve all been conditioned into thinking that armpit hair is gross. That it is objectionable.

armpit3

If it’s good enough for Sophia Loren, it’s good enough for me.  You go, girl!

My journey towards razor freedom started not as some kind of statement, but rather sheer laziness. Look, I’m nearly 46 years old. I’ve always been a low maintenance kind of girl anyway, stemming from my formative years as a tomboy, and from the fact that I am essentially a very slack human being. I don’t paint my nails. I don’t wear high heels. I don’t blow dry my hair, or even style it. And most of the time I don’t even wear any make-up. But after three decades of dutifully shaving my underarms, I started letting the regime slide a little. I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead of razoring every couple of days, I’d sometimes let two weeks go past without shaving (egads!!!!). Then, I’d notice the growth and do a quick shave. And the process would repeat. I wasn’t particularly fussed about the stubble, and David didn’t seem to care either (bless).

And then late last year, seemingly out of nowhere, I realised it had been a couple of months since I’d shaved and that I’d cultivated some cute little fuzz under my arms. I loved it. It felt a little rebellious to be sporting what Gwyneth Paltrow once dubbed, “a seventies vibe” under my arms. But I certainly wasn’t growing it deliberately, and I wasn’t trying to achieve some kind of edginess, or anything as interesting as that. It was simply the result of deep-seated sloth, and that is all. The day before our Australian holiday earlier this year I stood underneath the shower and argued with myself about whether or not I should shave it. And in the end, because I hadn’t been growing it for any particular reason, I succumbed and scraped the razor over my skin leaving me smooth and hairless once again.

But I do remember being a little bit sad about it.

Once the holiday was over, I stopped shaving again and allowed nature to do her thing. Once more the primary motive was laziness, but this time there was also a definite pinch of disobedience involved. To shave or not to shave had somehow become a big deal, not because the act of shaving itself was a big deal, but because the choice had been taken out of the equation. For the first time, I questioned why I was doing this odd thing. Was it for hygiene (would I smell bad if I grew the hair out)? Was it cosmetic (was hair under my arms actually ugly, or was I just brain-washed into thinking it was)? Would people judge me and consider me less attractive or less feminine? Maybe they would. But if so, whose problem was that? I decided it was no longer going to be mine.

armpit1

I defy anyone who says that Lola Kirke is less attractive because of her underarm hair.

In May we had a couple of friends from work over for dinner. Once more I found myself in the shower, in a terse stand-off with the razor, debating if I should shave under my arms or not. Would not shaving be some silly, pointless act of defiance? Against what? Would shaving be an act of surrender? And if so, surrender to what? To whom? And seriously, why was this such a big deal????

That’s when I decided to just leave it. Fuck it. I didn’t care. And for once I didn’t care if other people had a problem with it either. Here’s the thing with me. In some ways I’m still that self-conscious teenager, always worrying about what people think of me. And in other ways, I’m fiercely individualistic and don’t give a flying fuck what other people think of me (complex, much?). Essentially, I’m a good girl. But I have a streak of bad girl in me too. Just a tiny little streak, but it’s there and it’s real. It’s why the hair on my head has been every colour of the rainbow. It’s why I’ve had multiple body piercings, including in my tongue. It’s why the pizza boy once copped a beautiful eyeful when I was dared by friends to answer the door naked. These little rebellions don’t amount to much, but it’s part of who I am to kick back against the establishment, just a wee bit.

Unfortunately, because of where I live, I’ve had to tame that part of myself. When giving my husband a peck on the lips in public is something that could land me in jail, I just can’t afford to act out. But this small thing, allowing my “gross” underarm hair to grow out, is one thing that I can do to assert my individuality after years of it being suffocated. And even though not shaving my underarms has (somehow) become the difficult choice, I’m not actually trying to make any kind of statement. I’m simply exercising my right to choose what to do with my body, in a way that has absolutely no impact on anybody else. I might wake up tomorrow morning and decide to shave it all off again. I might decide to dye it fluorescent yellow. I might decide to throw some glitter on it and call it Betty. But whatever I do, it’s my choice and for the first time in a long time I’m proud of myself for not conforming, for doing what I want to do, regardless of what other people might think. And you can bet I’ll be waving my arms in the air about it.

140515_Sammy-Lee-Smith_CF006057

Even though I haven’t shaved for about five months the hair under my arms is even sparser than this – I do wonder if it was thicker if I’d still have the gumption to grow it.  Food for thought, eh?

 

Check out this amazing photo series by Ben Hopper which I discovered while writing this ejo. I like to think that the point isn’t that you can be beautiful despite having underarm hair, but that it just doesn’t matter one way or the other.