Thursday, September 29, 2005

“Where are you from?” I get this a lot. I also get comments on how thick my American accent still is and if I am keeping it that way on purpose. Accents are a big deal here. My guess it comes from most people being the same shade of pale and they needed something by which to discriminate others. I am nowhere near as proficient at the accent game as the natives here, but it’s a fun game to play anyway. I am not doing too bad considering I came here with typical American ignorance assuming there was three major accents; Irish, Scottish, English. Cockney was just something they did for movies. And welsh… is that a country? In Britain adjacent neighbourhoods have different accents. Hell, sometimes they use different words all together. It is something I have really come to appreciate and enjoy. It is diversity not possible in the states. I grew up in the dark heart of the south (which unfortunately has risen again). Yet, I have a very standard of-the-shelf non-regional accent. Although, when I drink corn liquor I drop all the g’s from my present participles, and have a hankerin’ for sodomy. My mother and father where raised a thousand miles apart, but have the same accent1. A thousand mile separation on this side of the Atlantic would mean the parents speak different languages if not use different alphabets.

There are accents here I really love to listen to. One of the department heads has a great accent and occasionally I drift off listening to the cadence and melody of his voice rather than the meaning of the commands he’s giving me. There are other accents that immediately grate the nerves. There is a particular west coast Scottish accent that is so nasal and harsh in tone that I see why they are perpetually stabbing one another. It is also not uncommon for people to hold several accents and switch between them when the occasion arises. Locals of Aberdeen and the islands have such an incomprehensible twang that they must use a more comprehensible one even for fellow Scots. The whole point of this accent business is to be able to pin point a person’s origins, and this question, “where are you from?” means just that. The problem is I am not “from” anywhere in that sense. My answer, as the question means to me, would be “Edinburgh”, but I know this is not the answer that is sought. I have tried “America” as a response. This too is never satisfactory, usually because the person asking has been to a city in America and wants to know if I know this guy “Gerry” they met on holiday in Orlando. Finally, I just give them a résumé of the places I have lived in America (just the states involved usually suffice). Though this answer satisfies the listener, I always feel disingenuous. I was born in New Mexico. I lived there for my first years of life. I am not ‘from’ there because I can’t remember a thing about the place and I have no urge to return. It means nothing to me. I grew up in Florida. This might be the best candidate for the ‘from’ location. Yet to me, it is an accident of fate that my formative years were spent there. It too holds no allure to return. My family is there, but they aren’t ‘from’ there either. They just happen to be there now. I have spent almost as much time in Texas, but again it was just another city I happen to be in.

So, to me, where I am from is where I am, but it only became an issue when where I am is certainly not where I am from. You dig?

1) Dad does occasionally say things like ‘warsh’ instead of ‘wash’.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Traveling by airplane is the last humiliation troubling Western man. It is a thoroughly unpleasant experience. To steal myself against the privations inflicted upon my person, I entertain myself by conversing with fellow passengers also strapped into this aluminum tube hurdling through the sky. The entertainment comes from the fanciful autobiography I concoct for myself. This last trip I was a pachydermist. I had been called to the Hungarian National Zoo to investigate a specimen who allegedly could hop an incredible 10 cm s. I know 10 cm s doesn't sound like much but for an elephant we are talking about a record breaking leap. You see most think elephants cannot jump because of their size. Not true. Not true at all. They haven't got the knees for it. Their knees are all wrong for jumping. Slap on the right kind of knee and elephants would be gamboling like fawns. This is why I traveled to Budapest to see 'Kersel' which is what they named the elephant. It means 'eagle' in Magyar.

I go on like this making small talk ensuring I insert as much erroneous information as possible. The hope being that at least one piece of information get corrected thus throwing doubt on all the incredible information I had been recounting. The best bit is if I see them on the return flight. I pretend I never met them before.

Monday, September 26, 2005

There was a lamp in the house of my childhood that had no bulb, exposing the naked wire. If you stuck your finger into the hole, the sensation could not be described as pleasant. Of course, the shock was not fatal, but the pain was such that the fillings in your mouth would hurt. Yet, there were times when I could not resist sticking my finger there. Usually I would be lying in bed by which side the lamp sat, restlessly waiting for sleep. I would softly call my brother’s name to ensure he was sleeping then hold the lamp at the top and dip my finger into the opening until the jolt forced me to recoil. I would repeat this behaviour half a dozen times trying to hold my hand in place but never being able to for more than a fraction of a second.

This masochistic tendency still remains with me but manifests itself in different ways. Reading livejournal, watching 24 hours news, or flipping through a women’s fashion magazine provide that awful stunning sensation similar to my broken lamp. It’s a redemptive agony I occasionally crave. As I make my steady course toward elderly eccentric curmudgeon, these stimuli provide me with the catalyst to rant and complain about the state of the world. I get worked up and upset by these things. Livejournal reminds me just how dull, uninteresting, and whiney the majority of people are. No wonder I prefer to talk to the drunken crazies on the bus, at least they surprise you from time to time. 24-hour news is great for pissing you off in so many ways. The fear vending, the bizarre vapid commercials, and the daily horrors of man and god displayed in shades of red and smoke are great for getting up the hackles of this sissy humanist. Women’s magazines are great when you think about all the women and little girls who have their ascetic dictated to them, the paedophilic displays of tarted up emaciated teenagers giving their best vacant look and best of all are the question and answer sections. The questions are only surpassed by the responses in shallowness and contempt for women as a sex. I am completely unbearable when I am in my venting rage decrying these examples of the ruination of civilization.

After I return to consciousness and calm myself down, I feel better but I know in a few days I’ll stick my finger in again and go pick up one of these things again.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Budapest is actually two cities. Buda is the large hill on the west side of the Danube. Pest is flat and stretches out far to the east from the river. Many of the inhabitants of Budapest men sport moustaches not seen since I watched a marathon of cowboy movies in a leather bar. We are talking serious ‘tash country. The inhabitants of Buda prefer what I call the Magyar special number one. Picture a bushy Fu Manchu that tapers to points just south of the corners of the wearer’s mouth. To distinguish themselves from their cousins on the other side of the bridge the Pestians go for the Magyar special number two. This is more of your standard baroque Germanic moustache. The whole continent is littered with statues of imperial assholes sporting one of these. So, it is the accident of one’s birth location that dictates the Budapestian’s facial accoutrement and not fashion.

The cuisine of the city is hearty. Lots of thick sauces and meat. I had cockerel in a red wine sauce with the ubiquitous dollop of cream. It was tasty but I have to admit my choice was dictated more out of a sense of justice. I have eaten a fair number of hens, and I thought it only correct that that smug rooster get his this time. For anyone who cares, cockerel tastes just like chicken but a little more gamey. This sense of justice is also why I never pass on any ‘exotic’ meats. Westerners are quite bigoted meat eaters. I see no reason why after having chosen to eat flesh should I only pick on cows, sheep, and chickens. So, I have digested a good number of god’s creatures. Dog, Donkey, Snake, etc. I have had the whole Chinese zodiac at the end of my fork at one time or another. This time cockerel got his.

My first impression of the city kept changing. As the airport bus drove me to the hotel, Budapest would remind me of New York, then Paris, and then even Florida. It was odd. The city is certainly in flux after having become one of the newest members of the European community. There is construction everywhere. Another layer of living being built upon the layer before. The strata of human history have never been so clearly displayed as it is in the streets of Budapest. Budapest unfortunately is in a perfect spot to be passed between larger empires since its birth. Anyone making there way across Europe in the name of Empire took time to grab Budapest or at the very least took time to raze it. One will see an imperial building built by Austrians that the communists left to rot which stands next to a statue of some Turkish vizier. At the top of Buda there stands a building covered with the pot marks of bullets. They could be from the Nazis, the Allies, the Communists, the revolt, or even earlier. When I was walking through Pest, I came across a huge police cordon that was so large I was having trouble getting around it. I asked a policeman for directions. He explained that a construction worker had found world war two bombs. Sixty years later, they still find these things. I wonder how that construction worker felt after he realized he had been knocking around a half-century-old bomb with a shovel? I would need a holiday.

Despite the occasional discovery of unspent ordinance, Budapest is a lovely city. I hope I get to go back and show off my version of the Magyar special number two.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A few snaps of my time in Budapest. I'll write a few words about my adventures soon right now I am busy growing a moustache.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It was with trepidation that I made my way through the narrow hallways in the bowels of our building as I looked for the office of the building manager. The hallways were poorly lit. It had an unfinished feel as the exposed pipes and wires raced along the hallways. Scuffs and scratches pointed the direction towards the door of the man I sought. The building manager could also be called the king of the porters. He’s the guy that orders around that threesome of mongrels that run amok through out the building. Maybe I was exaggerating. This man was in a position of responsibility. Surely, he could not be of the same ill-bred ilk that served him. Clearly, I was being bigoted against the custodial class.
I had volunteered for fire steward duty. Volunteer is not the word, but I don’t know the word to describe the process where some silly duty which includes wearing a bright yellow vest and following the office space cattle down the stairwell is given to someone who just happens to be at the coffee urn when the fire officer turns up. I think duped is close but I stuck with the verb he used, volunteer. The consequence was that I must retrieve my ‘fire steward’ vest from the building manager deep in the heart of darkness. Well, not really. It’s just the subbasement.
I reached the door, gave it a knock and walked in. Before me was a man not much over five foot, wearing nothing but Y-front tighty whiteys. He had one leg in his trousers. He looked at me in surprise, and I with equal surprise fumbled to shut the door trailing apologies. He gained his composure quicker than myself and as he put his other leg in the trousers shouted, “Don’t run away!” in such a way that made me think his tongue too wide for his mouth. I stuttered a few more mumbled apologies. “No worries pal. Just taking a nap.” Rather than pursue the questioning of why napping requires the removal of one’s trousers, I stated my purpose. “Hmm. Don’t think I have those. Want a biscuit?” He stuffed one whole in his mouth; the falling crumbs powdered those that remained in the bag. “No thanks.” He tossed the bag onto his desk, and proceeded to tear his claustrophobic office apart. The room was packed full of the detritus of papers, boxes, and mechanical parts. The stacks of boxes seemed to teeter inward threatening to crush the living occupants. In the flurry of papers that followed his search, I momentarily saw a couch, an enormous silver playground ball whose purpose could not even be guessed at, and a small bin full of dirty dishes. I must have been staring with mouth agape and eyes of disbelief, because he paused and looked at me. “You all right.”
“Huh. Yes. Sorry.” And I made a halfhearted explanation about being tired from lack of sleep.
“Hmm.” He responded and went back to shifting boxes, wiping grease onto himself and his surroundings from unknown mechanic objects. “Here we go.” He found the vest. He tugged at it but it was caught on something unseen. He gave it increasingly vigorous tugs until it snapped loose. “Here.” He tossed it overhand to me, and retrieved his bag of cookies. “Sure you don’t want one.” He said with his mouth full spraying the desk with moistened crumbs.
“No thanks. I should get back upstairs. Thanks for the vest.”
“No bother pal.” As I left one of the porters came through and before I shut the door heard his boss say, “All right you daft cunt. What now?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The fluids and vapours that emanate from fellow commuters do not overly concern me. It is merely a trifle to be dealt with when one prefers public transportation to the wasteful and stressful use of a private car. I unconsciously avoid the effluence of my fellow citizens and their pets in a sidewalk slalom where flags are replaced by dog turds and blood and/or vomit1. Upon embarking on a full bus and finding myself nose to pit with a person who prefers to scrub with dead woodland creatures rather than a loofa, I take a deep sideways breath from the mouth and pray I can retain consciousness until the individual alights. I even abide with stoic resignation the ever present scent of ‘eau de pisse’ that the senile set use as perfume.
Today my resolve was sincerely tested when it came time to push the ‘stop requested’ button, I found it completely obfuscated by another human’s buttocks. The said button is placed on a vertical bar easily reached from your seat. This man’s tracksuit clad and ample posterior completely engulfed the button as well as nearly eclipsed the yellow bar as well. Conjecture of how this man could ignore or worse still purposefully put this uncomfortable foreign body in such a place have disturbed me all day. Luckily, someone else requested the stop from somewhere else.

1) An interesting detective game you can play is to follow the trail of dried blood drops usually starting at the doorstep of a pub and ending in a constellation of drops where I assume the man with the busted lip waited for a taxi or conferred with his friends on just how much that guy who punched him was a dick.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pudding lady was in top form today. She got on the bus trailing her tartan grocery cart and harangued the bus driver about his route. She wanted to make sure that the bus she takes every other day would be passing by some place that it passes by everyday. This took longer than you would think because it required rewording of the same question repeatedly and then confirming the received answer by repeating it exactly.

“You go to the Toll?




“So, you’ll pass by the Bridges and then go to the Toll?”

“That’s right.”

“Hmm. That’s right you say?”

“Yes. This bus goes past the Toll.”

She sloshed her way to the back of the bus, and another lady offered her seat.
“You need it more than I do.” The pudding lady said. The polite lady made a reply I didn’t catch but did concede her place and went to the back of the bus. Pudding lady was on a roll now and she sat down with a plop. She pointed at the face of another old lady who was not a pudding lady but just a plain ole’ normal blue rinse grandma and said “You got something on your face, dear.”

I couldn’t help laugh at this whirlwind of unpleasantness that accompanied my morning commute.