Saturday, February 26, 2005

I have been infatuated with words for quite awhile, but it is painful how inadequate they are for expressing what is truly important. Upon hearing a friend's mother had lost her husband of forty years, the confused silence I mustered was the only appropriate condolence. The attempt to pen some approximation for the sympathy that one feels in the four-inch square space of a greeting card is dismal. The measure of inadequacy for describing the emotion I felt with such an inchoate concept as 'sympathy' is insignificant to the inaccuracy of describing as 'grief' the feeling of losing a spouse of four decades. After so long together, I could only imagine their souls had long grafted together and the loss of one half must surely be fatal to the other. For her to rise each morning is not only a testament to her own body's stubborn will to continue but also to the sublime strength of the children and family, which surround her.

This is not the only time that words, which usually come easily and often too plentiful to me, have been found too sparse to be useful. When confronted with the serious illnesses of others, I could easily present a number of well-worn platitudes that most people dust off for these occasions, but they seem false to me regardless of the sincerity with which I would offer them. I could even proffer empathy from having my own experiences with the fear of serious ill health or the sterile ugliness of hospital corridors as seen from a gurney. But, I have learned otherwise.

A nurse asked the patient in the bed next to me to speak with a newly arrived patient who had suffered a similar fate as him. Apparently, the new arrival had sunk very low and was not speaking. He politely told her that he thought it best that the new guy have time to sort it out for himself, but after a week, if nothing has changed, he would go speak with him. Immediately after her departure, He turned to me and said, “What the hell am I going to say, ‘I hear you found out life’s a bitch too. Sucks don’t it.’ Man. Fuck that.” I nodded in complete agreement.

Anything we could say will either not be enough or already known.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Being a foreigner has its advantages. One of these is regardless of how plain you are in your country of birth; abroad you have at least one interesting point. Namely, you come from somewhere else and the novelty of which can buy you a morsel of attention from the locals. It was because I was a foreigner in this land that I was interviewed for a documentary about Edinburgh. My uninteresting self was given five minutes of airtime solely on the grounds that I could point out things that are different from the USA. Not too difficult when I regularly see fifteen year olds in pubs with pints of cider. This is how I met a good friend, K_. A thousand years ago, K_ would have been an oracle, or a warrior queen. She is not much taller than most shrubbery but she is a force of nature. One side ways glance could wilt the toughest of men. I have long since given up arguing with her as regardless of how correct my position is the only result from the discussion is that she is correct. Out and about, we garner looks and disapproval as we shout and discuss bizarre topics such as how the world would be better off if we cull 90% of the male population. I agree with this as along as I am on the right side of the remaining 10%. Most of these looks are from withered old woman who have done nothing more for the world except create excrement and colour coordinate their living rooms. So, it is with a measure of approval that I notice these judgemental gazes. Last night was no different and after two bottles of wine for the better, I walked home with a thought towards how lucky I have been to make the acquaintances of several characters like K_.

You know how when a group of people go camping there is always someone in the group whom the biting insects tend to favour. That’s me. But not only for insects but eccentrics, drunks, and miscellaneous melange of non-standard issue personages. On the street, I avoid the staggering drunks who are talking to themselves, because I know if we make eye contact I’ll spend the next half hour getting hugged and sung to. I no longer sit at the tables outside pubs after one individual actually drooled into my Guinness as he apologised for some offence that he committed yet I did not notice. Same with crazies. At university, there was one character that used to preach to the students as they waited for the crosswalk light to change. He would passionately preach to the masses until some unseen being would interrupt him to which he would launch into an angry tirade and chase away the disruptive spectres. It seemed that my presence would always antagonise these spirits because as I would make my way past he would be torn between shouting at the invisible beings and asking me why I kept encouraging them and don’t I know he is trying to save these people’s souls! I soon found another route to class. Though mostly this attractive power is a curse. I must say that it has allowed me to meet some of the most interesting people. People who grew up with the same social conditioning as myself yet manage to retain a uniqueness that is becoming more and more rare. If you want to see just how rare. Go to It depresses me how alike all these ‘different’ people are. So, to those bizarre and beautiful spirits in my life. Thank you. To T_, Thank you for singing officer Krupke from west side story on the bar at full of rough necks. To C_ Thank you for instantaneously launching into German and marching out of the party in response to some jackass trying to ‘network’. To S_ remember when I had broke my ribs and I jokingly suggested you punch them and you did! What the fuck is wrong you! I still laughed as we drove back to the hospital. My life is immeasurably been more enjoyable for having known you all.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hello. I'll be your Pariah for today.

Our intrepid narrator stepped outside into the pend shared by all the flats of our building. Already there were the two American mothers corralling their spawn as they wandered and staggered like the drunk monkeys that all children remind me of. They live above me; both the husbands are studying at the university. As they made a lunge for a limb or shifted a baby's weight to another hip, they chatted. We made our friendly salutations and one of the women asked me if I was counting the days. The question took me by surprise, but before I could process it the other parent answered for me, "No. He likes it here." The tone of her voice would have been more appropriate for outted me as a bukkake enthusiast, not that acknowledging that I like living outside the US. As a footnote, the questioner comes from El Paso. For you language buffs El Paso is Spanish for "The latrine".

Words I taught my spellchecker, "bukkake, outted, and pend."

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I have Zelig-like tendencies. I have found this is a trait more common among Americans than others. We seem to prefer to be liked and to fit in rather than be correct. I personally thought it was because, for the majority of conversation topics, I couldn’t give a shit. But, recent observations have shown this is much more common amongst compatriots.

On the return from my last trip, I chatted with a guy who could be described as all American except he was from Manchester. He was square-jawed and wore a marine-style haircut that kept his blond hair tight against his head. He was still wearing dusty tan boots. The dust a day ago had been drifting across an Iraqi desert. He was hired by an engineering firm to protect the Texan petroleum engineers as they do the work of freedom. He sat a stool away from me. He was talking to his mobile phone to a woman back in England. Being the nosey shit that I am, I eavesdropped between sips and pretended to watch the soundless Arsenal game playing above the shoulder of the barkeep. It was a mix of tough guy military talk (“My mates dropping right beside me.”), and gentle queries about the health of elderly members of the family (“How’s mum doing?”).

Afterwards hearing my accent when I ordered another pint he asked, “You a yank?” I love that! Straight out of world war II. We chatted amiably, but I put on a much more macho front than should be possible from a guy with a tattoo of a cartoon chicken. I somehow even worked in the story about how I punctured my lung when I broke my ribs. I was graphic in description and dismissive about the pain (The pain made me pass out, but I left that out). This machismo banter wasn’t me at all. This discrepancy must have been noticeable, but he was friendly enough and chatted about what he was doing in Iraq. His view was the ‘Yanks’ don’t listen enough to the locals and are bound to have it all go ‘tits up’ on account of that. My chest-puffing chatter changed when I spoke with the guy in the seat next to me as we flew towards our home. He was a sharply dressed middle-aged man whose family fled Lebanon because of similar nonsense plaguing Iraq currently. “We lost everything. Our home. Our country. For what?” He shook his head and was silent for a moment. Then, he told me that he had a friend who was also American, a marine, who had married a British woman and because of that had a choice in being called up and shipped over. “I told him to forget it. He has a wife and child now. What would happen if he got shot out there? No. I told him, his responsibility was to his family not his country.”

Monday, February 07, 2005

I collect images like a magpie gathers shiny baubles. Sometimes, I use them to inspire my little art project of which I have sadly been neglecting for the past six months. Mostly, They just amuse me or spark my interest. I shove them in a folder on my computer and there they sit gathering electric dust. So, I wrote a little script that gathers them up and makes them into a nice gallery page. Have a look. Ignore the fact that I am dorky enough to have written a program to do such a thing and just enjoy my random picture collection.