Friday, December 14, 2007

Winning and losing all depends on what game you are playing at.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The goosebumps are instant. The sadness quickly follows.
Thanks S., for the link. I'll be haunted today by this and I'll watch it again tonight.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All you need to know about living can be learned from this man.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It didn’t start well and it has been downhill since. First impressions did not look favourable for sharing the office with Yaya Boudica. That’s not her real name. I can’t recall her real name because when we first introduced ourselves she mocked the way I pronounced her birth name which was Chinese; a language with linguistic hills, valleys, oceans and deserts I find impossible to traverse with my flat footed American tongue. Since she responded with derision to my friendly and multiple attempts get her name correct, I rechristened her Yaya Boudica. She then proceeded to correct my English. This would have been almost acceptable except she was wrong. My error was her misunderstanding and I assured her of this, and insisted this against her repeated arguments to the contrary. Rather than continue this dialogue, I decided it was time for a cup of tea.
“Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Yes. Have you eaten?” I thought this was an invitation to go to lunch and despite my misgivings, my gregarious nature won over.
“No. I haven’t. Would you like to get some lunch at the canteen?”
“No. Just the tea.”
“Okay.” I said confused and walked out trying to parse the confusing interaction, trying to decide if there was a cultural disconnect occurring or if I now had a jack ass for an office mate? I soon found out it was something else. I had for an office mate, a mad woman.

This became clear later in the day when she came into the office in a panic. She was near tears over the loss of a jade ring. She interrogated me about the other office mate, a quiet Belgian with whom my interactions with were limited to him leaning over from behind his monitor to smile his morning greeting.
"Can he be trusted?"
"Yes. I think so. I am sure he wouldn't steal your ring." She did not question me about the other office mate, a Chinese man whose name plate was on the other desk but whom I had never actually seen in the building.
"It's my guardian." She explained of her ring.
"Okay. Where did you have it last?"
"In this office, I took it off. What about the cleaning man? Or maybe someone else came in here and took it."
"Was this an expensive ring?"
"No. I got it in China. But it is my guardian."
"I think a thief would probably take one of these computers or your laptop if they were going to take anything." I continued to try and help her, assuring her that it was lost, not stolen.
"I am going to call my mother. She will send me a new ring." I cannot fairly describe the conversation that followed after she dialled the incantation to raise her mother to a telephone on the other side of the globe. I have no sensitivity to the nuances of spoken Chinese. I can tell you that the first time I had heard such noises was when I used to live in a neighbourhood that had too many tom cats and their night battles took place under my window. Except tom cats don't cry and blow their nose. When she ran out of the room trailing sobs, the Belgian leaned over, looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well put," I said. The next day, as she sniffled and repeated the importance of her guardian ring, she was going through a folder from which dropped the missing ring. I feigned excitement at such a fortuitous conclusion to this drama. What a fool I was. Loud crying bubbled up and burst forth anew. This as she explained meant she will lose face. She would have to explain to her mother that the ring was not stolen. I asked what would happen if she was given a new ring instead. She shrugged her shoulders. I asked for her ring and then left the room. I returned immediately and said, “Yaya. I got you a new guardian ring to replace your lost one.” To which, she smiled and laughed and thanked me. I said, “No problem” and wrote on my to-do list, ask boss if I can work from home three days a week. I have come to know that these panics and tempests are a weekly occurrence but not before I had given her my mobile phone. On the upside, the Belgian has started to talk but it’s mainly to trade theories on the particular mental malady that afflicts our office mate.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The village fete

An English village fete must be experienced. There is a pleasant home-made feel that is absent from the professional fun fairs that occupy neighbourhood greens with their rides covered in airbrush celebrity faces and blaring Radio 1 pop songs. Village fetes, like the fun fairs, have game booths. There are booths where for 50p you can throw balls to try and break charity shop china. Your reward for success? Throwing balls at and breaking cheap china is its own reward. What do you want for 50p? One of my favourite games is tombola. You buy a ticket and that ticket has a number and that number gets you a prize. The best prizes are always hooch. Usually you get a fish spatula. I have three. At this village fete, amongst the bric-a-brac sellers and charity tents, I found a tombola stand whose only prizes were alcohol. This ingenious loophole through the village green's drinks ban must be encouraged and supported. So, though steeply priced at a pound, I bought a ticket. The fish spatula equivalent in the booze tombola was export lager. The top prize was a bottle of port. I won a pint of Guinness and it went well with my hamburger made by smoke choked sea cadets. I drank my beer, ate my burger and eavesdropped on a circle of cockney bikers who were regularly testing their luck with the booze tombola. One was talking about his run in with a group of hippies. Every time he said 'dirty hippy', I grinned. Something about the way a cockney says dirty hippy that will cheer you up whatever the mood. They began trading 'dirty hippy' anecdotes. By the time I left the fete, my cheer had risen to bleary-eyed joy but that might also have something to do with the four tombola tickets crumbled in my pocket.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

a propos rien

The French will tell you that your French is good but I suspect it is the same way people tell children, "My, how big you are getting". Everyone knows kids are freakishly small humans but it wouldn't be cricket to point it out to them and everyone else.
In Lille, France, there is a postman that looks exactly like Dick Cheney. When I passed him I mused about what the world would be like if that anti-human's machinations were confined to a few blocks of this provincial Northern town. It is true that those on his route would suffer greatly. Children would receive Christmas cards with the money taken and his scrawling handwriting telling them their parents are liars and there is no Santa. People would find their elderly relatives on the ground howling with pain after he had kicked them in the shins and thrown their mail in their faces. I suppose people would also tire of taping together the letters after mailman Cheney had once again ripped in half their mail before shoving through into the neighbor's box. But, they would be the martyrs for mankind. If it meant a better world, I would selflessly endure once more that hemmoroid I had that looked like the head of Karl Rove.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

On the tube again. Just can't wait to get on the tube again

The man beside me on the train poured into his lap two handfuls of cigarette butts. He pinched their contents into a plastic tobacco pouch and, with pickpocket deftness, placed the emptied paper and filter husks into the coat pockets of the business man that stood in front of us. The man gave a nod of acknowledgement to the two snickering teenage boys across from us.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Language is cool and stuff.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Aneurin Bevan, who as Secretary of State for Health was responsible for setting up the new service in 1948.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Today's hero is this man.
The weirder you are going to behave, the more normal you should look.
---P. J. O'Rourke

I still think O'Rourke is a jackass.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I told Jimmy about my theory of wearing suits. The theory is that people trust, rightly and wrongly, men in suits. It was one of the countless nonsense bullshits that two men exchange when only separated by two pints and heterosexuality. At the time, the discussion arrived and left unremarkably as we drank at the Tam O'Shanter. I didn't think anymore about it until I saw Jimmy a few days later.
"It fucking works a treat, pal" He said in a wide grin. He was wearing a grey suit that looked tailored despite him, as he told me later, stealing it from a grocery bag of clothes left outside Oxfam's. "Dinnie know I was fucking millionaire? Eh pal?" The only hint that Jimmy wasn’t a natural suit-wearer came when he put his foot on the bench I was sitting on.
"Where's your socks?" I pointed.
"Ah, for fuck's sake." He put his cigarette in his mouth and pulled up his trouser leg. A worn and dirty sock hung from his calf. The toe of the sock ended in a blackened, dirty hole like a cartoon exploding cigar. He pulled the sock down over his heel and returned his shoe. "Had a tyre burst."
"Where did you get that suit?"
"I nicked it," he said. "Let me tell you. You were right. You can do anything. I've been getting free drinks, chatting up the girls. Look." He dramatically jumped over and stood on the pavement like superman – wide stance, fists on his hips – and shouted to a woman trying to parallel park. He motioned to her to keep backing up. She shouted, "cheers", and started backing up. He kept motioning; she hesitated.
"You got miles, dear." She looked unsure, but started reversing again. Her head jerked and she frowned when she hit the other car.
"Perfect." He said and gave her a thumbs up as she shouted, "you cunt" at him. When he rushed past me, he said, "See. Brilliant. See you later." He mimed drinking a pint and winked at me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

There’s a little coffee house on the Ile de St. Louis. If I am ever in Paris, I make a pilgrimage. The shop is made tinier by the clutter of hats, puppets and incongruously woven baskets. Lots of woven baskets. The walls are covered in masks and homemade art. Any other space is taken by chocolate moulds and books on astronomy. There is only enough room for a half dozen little round tables but, for each table, there is a big buttocked old lady in the kitchen. They chatter and cackle unseen, which are two of my favourite sounds. They are in back mixing and banging pots and pans. Occasionally one appears to serve coffee or cakes or hot chocolate. Hot chocolate served on a tin tray from a pot into a Japanese tea cup beside a small decanter and shot glass of water. It’s a hot chocolate that confirms that there is right and good in the world. It is as thick and pure joy. Dark chocolate sweetened with honey, Amen. A steady stream of visitors present relatives to the proprietor. She receives them like a queen.

As a nomad, there is no one place that is home to me. Instead there are locations or certain situations with certain people that give that same homey comfort that the more stationary pine for when away. Charlotte de L’isle is one of those places.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I have the social complexity of a puppy. I have my default weary, guarded, friend-or-foe phase and my tail wagging eager-to-please phase. It takes little more than the exchange of first names before I am in your lap. The problem is some people are not quite ready for that enthusiasm, and this openness sometimes catches people unprepared. People who have known me can put some of my outbursts into context (i.e. I am full of shit) and know how to handle them (i.e. with a grain of salt). I am missing that gland in your brain that tells you not to tell new acquaintances that the only reason you want to be rich is so that you can hunt man for sport, the only game worth hunting I say. This has included my professional contacts. We meet, we have dinner, we have a few drinks and I’ll tell you the aristocrats joke. Or recruit your assistance on my plan to bring down Western Civilisation by assassinating celebrities. I think it's too late to learn circumspection. Oh well.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I took refuge from a thunderstorm in Notre Dame. If that wasn’t good enough, I watched a guy having trouble lighting his devotional candle and thought that was God’s way of saying he was sick of his shit and if he wanted a new car, he should bloody well get it himself.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Watch him transform when he begins singing. Quite amazing and beautiful. It was nice to watch something impervious to cynicism.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

There were once righteous men amongst us.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Recently I started reading two books both of which I could not finish. The first is one of the Flashman series. The other is a new biography about Mao. I stopped reading them because both are rubbish. One is a romance novel for men who usually prefer watch F1 racing and documentaries about war. It's about a ne'er do well coward who bullies, womanizes and connives his way to glory. That one is fiction. The other is non-fiction and it's about a ne'er do well coward who bullies, womanizes and connives his way to glory. Except in the non-fiction one tens of millions of chinese die. Funny that.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I know the feeling

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I saw the tramp1 sitting on the bin beside the penguin crossing. He looked worn and exhausted from drink. He gave me a smile and a nod and I smiled and nodded back. As if that was our pre-determined signal he jumped into traffic. London traffic. Chelsea Traffic. A4 Cromwell road traffic. He held his arms and legs out as if to catch any SUV or fat silver Mercedes that might fail to heed his shouts. Pointing to one, he shouted, "Don't be a cunt. Stay!" He looked over his shoulder and nodded to me. Not wanting to disappoint his unexpected hospitality, I stepped from the pavement and marched forward with pedestrian lemmings following. A middle-aged Asian man with whom I shared a tube carriage and a lift smiled at me, amused as we all were.
"I've got friends in low places," I said. This sort of thing happens more often than you would think.

1) "Oi Vey! Enough with the tramp stories" I hear my large jewish grandmother readership say.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

In the taxonomy of the homeless, I believe, since he is stationary, he is a bum, not a tramp. Anyway, good on him. Too bad this windfall will call up all kinds of attention and criminality upon him and destroy any piece of mind he had. Here's to me being wrong.

Upon further study, the specimen appears to be a cross, tramp x hermit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I think my librarian is a murderer. The library building itself is sinister. I am certain it was built upon the bones of ancient pagans buried by evil and forgotten rites. It’s an old building and could almost be charming in its dilapidation like the mad aunt who farts at the dinner table and drinks too much vanilla extract, making her kisses to your cheek sloppy and smelling of ice cream. But it’s not; its architecture is the forgotten Grandpa who has locked himself in his bed sit to scream obscenities at game shows. I go in anyway and am reassured. The inside is fresh and newly painted. There are orderly shelves of neat books lining the edges of the sun lit room. In the corner, in the children’s section, there are toys stacked and ready. For 50 p you can have a coffee, tea or hot chocolate depending on what back lit button you push on the machine. There are exciting little tables with collages made from magazine cut outs enticing you to “Visit Wonderful New Worlds” (travel books) or “Make Exciting New Friends” (biographies). Before I could acquaint myself with these wonderful worlds and exciting people, I had to get my ticket. The library card would be my ticket. However, I only wanted a book by Carson McCullers which is neither travelogue nor biography.
I stepped up to the empty desk and rang the little brass bell tied to an incredible length of fuzzy red yarn. After I rang the bell and returned it to its station upon the desk, I followed the bell’s red tail. It traversed the desk several times, over stacks of books, across scattered papers, into a drawer, out of a drawer, disappearing amongst a web of computer cables, reappearing from under the desk and finally running toward and up the wall to its termination. Near the light switch, the end of the thick red string was stapled several times. As I was staring at the yarn’s cottony, frayed termination, spider like fingers inched around the edge and felt at yarn as if it was testing for prey.

I could have sworn he crawled in. Long, lanky limbs on a torso and head too small. Jerky, unsure movements and eyes that flitted to the corners of the room and seemed to expect destruction at any moment.
“Hello. Yes?” I felt the first drizzle of spittle that would become a torrent by our conversation’s end. Although it was clear he was addressing me, his eyes rested on me for only a moment. His question was more an accusation rather than an interrogative.
“I would like a library card.”
“Yes? Yes. Of course,” his demeanour changed slightly. His movements became more excited. The fine control of his motions seemed affected by palsy. He patted at and picked up the thread, moving it and then replacing it. I thought that he might be trying to find the right silk to call up another spidery librarian, the one who specialised in the registering of new library cards or sucking the life from would-be patrons. But there were no other spidery librarian, he was about to inform me. “You will need to fill out this form. Do you have a proof of address and photo identification.”
“I do.”
“Very Good,” he handed me the form and began hunting for a pen. When one was captured, I dutifully began putting my details into the appropriate boxes. As I did this, he jerked and twitched his way toward a shelf filled with stacks of glossy paper and folders. He began talking to the shelf about the facilities of the library. I was not really listening. Then I believe his confession began. “We have an excellent reference section.” I continued to fill in my email and previous postal address. All his extraneous movements stopped. He began rigid. He returned to the desk, presented me with the pamphlets, and said, “You should talk to the reference librarian. Except, she’s on holiday right now,” He paused, “Yes, Holiday.” The unease I felt upon entering the building returned. He made his way to my side of the desk. “I’ll show you around the library.” The lipless smile stretched across his bony face, exposing perfect white teeth. Then a drop of spit hit me perfectly in the eye. “Follow me,” he said. Recovering my sight, I obeyed.
He gave me the tour point at this and that, never giving me the opportunity to say, “Thank you but I really just want this one book. Here look, I have the title and the author written right here.”
We finally arrived at the last section and he began once again talking about the reference librarian and how nice she was and that she was on holiday. He made sure I understood she was on holiday. That is when I noticed the blood on his sleeve. He caught my glance and held his sleeve in his hand. He gave me a nervous smile and asked me if I wanted to check a book out. I gave him my slip of paper with the books details.
"Ah, this isn't a reference book. Follow me." We returned to the fiction section, he pulled the book I wanted and I checked it out. When I took the book from him, he smiled, "You have until the 16th, you won't be late with it I hope. The penalties can be quite stiff." I was very proud of myself that I was able to leave the building without wetting myself. That was more than a month ago. It is now past the 16th. I pass the building everyday. I know he's in there waiting for me, sucking on the bones of that poor reference librarian.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I realise I am out of touch with what is important to most people in this world. After watching a commercial for a garbage (rubbish) bin deodoriser, I am convinced that this is a blessing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Everyone knows the whole two nations separated by a common language and the differences between elevators and lifts or suspenders and braces. But it is only after a few years do you discover other subtle differences between Americanese and English.
To the British this is a wife beater.

But in America you would be referring to this.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An observation on ageing. I had to go to a seminar in Bloomsbury. It used to be that any event I attended that had free hooch was indeed an event worth attending. These days I get just as excited when they have tea and biscuits.

Also, if in your life you can take a short cut through the British Museum, you've done something right somewhere.
Photo source

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If you are American and want to instantly entertain an Englishman, say this sentence. It works in reverse too.

"There was a controversy about the albino sloth wearing macramé."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Another Poem about Death

(I swear I am quite happy these days)

I have never seen a badger. Now I must revise that statement. I have never seen a live badger. I infer from the proximity of the A316 that its death was the result of the weakness of flesh against the velocity of metal. Although no visible violence can be seen on the small animal’s body.
For weeks, on my daily commute, I have seen the process of its decomposition. The cold weather has shielded my senses from the vulgarity and revulsion of its decay. Instead I have watched the subtle dissolution from a seemingly sleeping creature to a dark mass hardly distinguishable from the earth around it. Its fur first expanded, filled with unsensed but fetid gases created by the expulsions of feeding bacteria. Then it deflated and its fur was picked by birds for nesting material. The exposed flesh blackened and shrivelled. The rain pushed it further into the soil and splattered mud to camouflage it further. Except for the glimpses of bones and teeth brightly seen. Everyday, I have a harder time satisfying my morbid sightseeing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Three men tapping on the grave of an uncle. This tiny gesture. The men crouching and motionless except for their index fingers quickly tapping messages beyond their generation, through earth and coffin, to reverberate against the quiet bones laying in darkness. With soundless vibrations, they communicate love, duty and the painfulness of loss to the remains of the man. This tiny gesture. More striking than their previous laborious devotions of washing the grave from a plastic litre bottle of water and pulling the petals of yellow and orange flowers to frame the gravestone portrait. These three men and this tiny gesture filled me with love for humanity.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

cultural observation number 453/i:

The stonework of Tuscany is littered with little black lizards very much like the southern United States. The difference is no generation of Italian children seemed to have recognised the entertainment value of getting the little creatures to bite your ears (it doesn’t hurt and they don’t let go) causing them to dangle like earrings. At this suggestion, each native I spoke to was surprised that this was a possibility. Upon my recollection of my own childhood, this was the immediate conclusion when I discovered the lizard’s nature to bite and hold on tenaciously.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The tube carriage was full but not to the point where the next pregnant woman boarding would have to stand in front of the seated businessman while he played video poker on his blackberry. Everyone was busy pretending to not examine their fellow passengers or reading their three-for-two novels. We pulled into a station and the doors opened. The theme song to the A-team sung acapella in duh-du-duhs entered the train from a raspy masculine voice. Immediately following it was a dishevelled man. Tall and thin dressed in aging, dirty and torn leathers. His ginger hair was slicked back tight against his skull by its own grease. He moved down the length of the carriage by means of a James Brown shuffle step, twisting and bobbing his head to accentuate the A-team’s tune. Occasionally he would point to a passenger and pause the song as a call for them to pick it up and make it a duet. No one obliged, and rarely did anyone make eye contact. As if the man singing the bar chord guitar parts to an 80’s American TV show could escape a person’s attention.

You know. The A-team theme song is pretty catchy and it was one of my favourite childhood shows. It’s the perfect song to prepare you for a half hour’s entertainment of men being thrown in slow motion and Mr. T’s witticisms. Maybe that explains why when the man cued me to join in his song; I did with equal gusto as him. I even pointed back and mimed his head nods. In return there was a knowing smile and we sang until the closing refrain. He started the song once again and continued his way along the carriage and into the next, pointing, singing, shuffling and nodding his head in time.

From the changed glances I received from my fellow commuters, it was collectively and tacitly decided I was not one of them. An appellation I hope for everyday when making the dull cattle cart trek to sup at the monetary feed trough of employment. Was this the point? Was the A-team serenader gloating? Was his pointing finger meant to shame? I certainly felt content by my tiny rebellion, too timid to make any greater sacrifice than the disapproval of strangers. It is worth noting that of all the people in that carriage, only man I accompanied and I were smiling.

When I think about it, the man showed no surprise when I joined in. He had gone past two dozen people without anyone acknowledging him, much less answering his call to sing along. Yet, when one of the suited herd did join, it was if he expected it. It was just a matter of finding which one of us was willing. Was that his purpose? To find that one or was it for that one, me, to come to the realisation I too am one of those.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Life is mostly monotony and tedium. This is not news. For some lucky few they have obsessions and addictions to give purpose and distraction from this regretful banality. I have my loves and my passions but none so overwhelming to my senses and attention to save me from the contrite reflection of the totalling pointlessness that caused my teenage self to produce poetry using words like “scream” and “blood”. Melodrama that, I suppose, I still have not completely abandoned. That is why when I find some individual or the evidence that such a person has passed my way, I take childish delight. I mean individual in a very strict sense; someone who has still retained a unique perspective on our common existence or at the very least just saw one little thing just enough differently to momentarily amuse. My mood can be completely turned for the better by a simple act of graffiti that says something more intelligent that the advertisement that it defaces. I fall in love quickly with people who benignly ignore or reject all the pointless matters of etiquette. Invariably these people have a great sense of humour and if ever there is a motto for my family it is “We laugh, to save ourselves from crying”. One most wonderful human being whom I love dearly like a beloved aunt is my dearly beloved Aunt Rose. Aunt Rose is a handful and a half, but she is beautiful. In my mind’s eye I see her standing in her tiny kitchen crammed full of an elephant’s graveyard of bric-a-brac from the seventies. There’s the tiny glow of her halo as she makes grilled cheese sandwiches. She turns to me and asks, what do you think is wrong with Pigeon? Pigeon is one of her three enormous German shepherd mutts. I don’t know. What’s he been doing? Well he’s been watching price is right with me. We discuss and attempt to diagnose the odd behaviour of her dog. The final conclusion is that Pigeon has decided he is human. Far be it from Aunt Rose to tread on the ambitions of her pet. She now indulges the beast to the point where milkshakes and hamburgers are decided to be part of its diet. Nothing changes for the other animals, the remainder of the animals remained content not to watch Bob Barker or eat Chubby’s. Chubby’s was the local fast food restaurant around the corner from her house from which I was usually sent to retrieve Pigeon’s lunch.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Can anyone tell who this is? The photographer? Anything?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I didn’t see the accident itself. What I saw was an elderly woman lying prone with her feet still in the train carriage. Her teeth were bared in a grimace of distress and her lips articulated soundless words. She looked around her, attempting to see the faces above the gathering feet and legs. Before my view was obscured by the concerned, I saw the tiniest red spot on her cheekbone that dripped by heartbeats. I thought about the soft feel and the skin’s tissue paper thinness of my grannie’s cheek when pressed to mine to kiss me a greeting.
Her husband had continued to totter toward the station exit. “Excuse me, sir. Your wife.” I said. He looked at me without recognition. I pointed back toward where she still lay. She had touched the spot on her cheek. The blood rouged her, thick and exaggerated like a little girl who has played with mother’s makeup. The old man followed my finger and there was still a hesitation in his understanding. I left after that hesitation when that understanding brought with it a change in the man I could not bear. The fear and anxiety, the guilt, his helplessness scared me. As he turned back, I went toward the exit. Should I have stayed? What could I have done? The station staff was there and someone said an ambulance was on the way. I could have done nothing but I fled from cowardice, routed by the inevitability of old age, fragility and death from infirmity.