You're in a foreign city. The language barrier is daunting or perhaps impenetrable, but you're surrounded by people who have some formal education and/or cross-cultural exposure. You have to take a shit. You don't want the indignity of pointing at your own ass in a frantic way or shouting something like, "WHERE ... IS ... THE ... TOILET!" This is a communications issue that the human race should've settled a long time ago. There's an international sign for choking, and it seems to work quite well, so I argue that there should be one for I will soon soil my pants if you don't direct me to the proper facilities. Below you'll see my suggested gesture, which is built off the idea of "number two" being a synonym for "shit." It also employs a double-pound for emphasis:
Let's consider it a "beta" test for now. I'm not sure sure about the universality of the gesture. But I'm certain that there are plenty of smart people who can help me refine this. In any case, such a nonverbal expression could be quite handy and discreet, even in situations where everybody already speaks the same language.
NOTE: It's possible that this gesture could be misinterpreted as, "I urge you to play a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors with me."
OK, so maybe the assignment for the NYT's "Correspondents' Guide to the United States" was relatively bland, as in, "Give us a bunch of locations that would not scare off your average vacationer." But it's painfully obvious that Todd S. Purdum loves Georgetown, Chevy Chase and Bethesda, like, a lot (pdf). I'll fly with him on the Bombay Club, though. Nowhere else is imperialism celebrated with such relaxed panache.
The Philly one looks a little "duh," too.
I don't usually read the Travel section, because it just makes me think, I ain't got no money or I ain't got no vacation to burn. But the Vegas cover story of the WaPost magazine's latest travel edition somehow sucked me in. It's a little too wide-eyed at times (Las Vegas is weird and growing! Las Vegas constantly reinvents itself!), but I'm cool with this:
I decided to try to find a lounge to go to that evening, preferably one with a live act, but nobody famous, or imitating the famous. I chose a place in my guidebook called Pogo's Tavern, which supposedly had an old jazz drummer named Irv Kluger playing on Friday nights along with other vets of the Big Band days. I did a little research on Kluger, who had, since the '40s, played with musicians such as Artie Shaw and Dizzy Gillespie, and decided I ought to call to make sure he was still alive and on the bill. "He sure is, honey," said the woman who answered. "And tonight is our 35th anniversary, so you should come on over."
Pogo's Tavern is in a strip mall so distant from downtown that it was almost off the top of my map, but when I walked in, I had the feeling it was what I was looking for. It is a tiny place, with cavernous red booths, an old jukebox and a free-standing elliptical bar that takes up half of the room. The light in Pogo's is golden and warm, and it bathed the people who lined the bar. A middle-aged woman in a gold lamé top was playing video poker next to a lean old man with a big diamond ring. I was the youngest person in the room by about 30 years. As I crossed the bar, a short man of about 70 in big glasses and an open-necked shirt looked me up and down. He came up to me, carrying a trombone and walking a black poodle on a lead. "So what took you so long?" he said, out of one side of his mouth, like Humphrey Bogart.
How to get some righteous jetlag: Fly to Scotland on a Friday-night-into-Saturday-morning flight. Stay up until about midnight local time Saturday, drinking local scotch and chatting with old friends. Attend a wedding on Sunday, and because of the fun & excitement, stay up until well after midnight. Wake up around 8 a.m. Monday to catch the first flight out of town. Spend the next 16 hours in airplanes or airports.
Yeah, I know, it wasn't smart, but it was the only way for me to pull it off. I will say this, though: Two nights at the Marcliffe in Aberdeen were well worth the money. The staff was unfailingly nice, and the wedding/reception itself (held onsite) was low-key and highly pleasurable. (Dinner at the Cults Hotel on Saturday night was tasty, too. Yeah, I had chicken stuffed with haggis.)
So I offer thanks, congratulations and good luck to John & Kerry. Weddings full of kilt-clad dudes are always a good thing.
By Monday, though, I was both burned out and wound up. The Amsterdam-to-Detroit leg of the trip produced some disconcerting moments. Preface: Michael Stipe just did a "Dear Superstar" interview in Blender where he talks about bawling like a baby at a really cliched movie while on a long flight. He blamed the dehydration, loneliness and disorientation. When I read it last week, I thought it was funny.
Now I know where he was coming from. I've never taken a really long flight without company (Tha Mrs. couldn't come for work-related reasons), but this one was a doozy. I was generally fine -- I had an aisle seat for easy access to the crapper, and I was able to sleep a little bit. But I watched "Friday Night Lights" (pretty good, if only for its pace, top-notch gridiron staging and excellent use of Public Enemy, Refused and The Stooges) and "Ladder 49" (marginally lame, but not horrible, in a "Mystic River"-lite kinda way, which is either a sarcastic quasi-compliment or faint praise, or both). Both flicks have serious heartstring-yanking qualities, if you're susceptible to that sort of thing. I'm usually not.
But on that plane, I was a total weakling. I kept getting choked up during both movies. I didn't shed any tears, and I didn't make any audible sobbing sounds. But I was on the edge a lot. With "Friday Night Lights" the emotional connection is at least somewhat concrete -- I, too, was an undersized high school football player in 1988, but not in a football-mad Texas town ... and not on a good team. As for "Ladder 49," I am not a fireman, and I'm not sure I ever liked Joaquin Phoenix.
Conclusion: People who cry at movies are probably dehydrated, lonely and disoriented.
Condolences to Rob D and his family. Rob's mom passed away suddenly earlier this week.
Italy, the short version: Spoleto was tip-top. Thanksgiving was truffles, olives and vino, all at family-owned jurnts up in the hills. We capped that intake with a full-course grub-down at one of Spoleto's little osterias. (Earlier in the week, we won a free bottle of wine at the same jurnt for getting the correct answer to this current-events puzzle: BBBB. Be the first to post the answer below, and I'll send you a free, random CD from the pile of major-label freebies on my desk.) I still haven't had any turkey. This is a problem, but it's a price I'm willing to pay.
Five things I learned at Monkey Jungle:
1. Squirrel monkeys, macaques and howler monkeys are most entertaining when all of them are in the same location, squabbling over the same potential food source. If the potential food source is a child with a bag of peanuts, all the better.
2. You do not want to be lost in black spider monkey territory with a box of dried fruit. You will be overrun.
3. Alpha-male baboons are not to be trifled with. Big Poppa will quash your adolescent beef, like, instantly.
4. White-handed gibbons prefer raisins over peanuts.
5. I want to have a white-handed gibbon as a personal companion. I'd trade my iPod for one.
If you're familiar with the debate over sending used clothing to Africa, then you know there can be considerable economic consequences for the countries on the receiving end. The problem has a simple solution: Emo kids need to buy more "vintage" clothing than they already do. And they need to do it in Africa. That's right, America's whiny pseudo-punks have a solemn duty to reclaim any marginally cool piece of casualwear that has been shipped to the world's most underdeveloped continent. Word has it that literally tons of such clothing goes overseas every month. That means vast stocks of situationally ironic T-shirts are ending up in the hands of poor, non-English-speaking people who won't ever know how emo they really are. Why should earnest suburban youngsters pay a premium in the United States for such gear when it's readily available, at rock-bottom prices, in the markets of the Third World? My hope is that reclaiming potential emo-wear from Africa will create a glut in the U.S. market and destabilize the vintage T-shirt economy. Only then can coolness be accessible to everyone. I'm planning a charter flight to Ghana in the spring. It's more than a safari for the socially conscious. It's my gift to emo. I'll post prices and departure dates in a little while. Cheers!
Another weekend, another wedding (that makes three in September). This one was in NYC, the one a week ago was in the Hamptons. Both were good times. I don't want to see the Jersey Turnpike again for awhile, however, even though we didn't really hit any traffic in our travels on both weekends. Yesterday was my own anniversary, marking an excellent first year of marriage. We had a huge slab of leftover wedding cake in our freezer -- we didn't realize how big until last night. If you're interested in sharing some of it with us, let me know. It's still pretty damn tasty. If you're lucky, we'll feed it to you by hand.
The highlight/lowlight of my quickie trip to Chicago was an evening at Fogo de Chão. Damn, the food was good, but my gastrointestinal tract was hurtin' afterward. I consciously avoided any of the stuff that was wrapped in bacon, and I mostly stuck to the marinated beef, but that's like saying someone is a "good" crack addict because he or she only smokes the top-grade stuff. Over the weekend I also learned an excellent piece of un-politically-correct slang: "vinte quatro," which literally means "24" in Portuguese, but usually means "gay" in Brazil. I was told it comes from -- get this -- Brazilian street bingo. The number 24 on the bingo card apparently is accompanied by a rather limp-wristed looking deer. Thus, "gay."
From the Saudi Embassy in London:
Saudi Arabia doesn't really ban tourism, the Kingdom simply recognizes that it is not a tourist attraction. It lacks the infrastructure necessary for a successful tourist industry. What tourists require, first and foremost, is entertainment, and in a conservative and religious society, like that in Saudi Arabia, there is hardly any tourist entertainment. But Saudi Arabia is not a closed society. Don't forget five million non-Saudis reside in the country. They tour as they please. And between the Hajj and the Umra pilgrimages a few million people come to visit the Holy Places. At the present time Saudi Arabia could not handle an additional influx of visitors. Maybe in the future, but not now.
Like a theme-park safari, Fort Lauderdale's airport offers a sample of South Florida's wildlife without the dangers of full submersion: Everywhere you look, there are obese suburbanites, fake boobs, yentas, fab gay men, fag hags, Carribbean immigrants, blue hair, pale Northerners, spoiled kids, Louis Vuitton knockoffs, muscle shirts, airbrushed nails and doddering old guys. It's all relatively docile, though, as if the fact that it's not Miami immediately takes the edge off every interaction. Except for the notably mellow '50s-flavored tourist zone by the beaches, the city itself could be any uber-affluent subtropical urban community -- there are times when it feels like Beverly Hills instead of a drained swamp. But Florida is always right around the corner, and Florida never met a strip mall or a bad low-rise office building it didn't like.
May 19, 2003 at 19:29 | Permalink
A friend recently described an IT gathering on the West Coast. The slightly abridged/edited version:
A technology industry conference "social event" predicated on what I'll call "mockularity," that is, mock jocularity. The theme of the social event, "Carnival," accent on the last syllable to imply the hipness of Brazil, Nawlins, etc. A completely white audience of 300-400 people, a black band covering your favorite hits of the funk era, and a brown waitstaff with painted-on smiles and a look in their eyes that says Dios mio. There are games around the room such as ring toss, other crappy "amusements," a clown on stilts, a mime on an 8-foot-tall unicycle.
Hundreds of whiteys stand around trying to look like they are enjoying themselves, unable to converse about anything except the minutiae of their jobs. It is clear, though, that the concept of "enjoying oneself" is as foreign to these cats as a traditional Masai War Dance. And speaking of dance, there is a dance floor in the middle of the room, with a handful of tech-industry broads and simpering male DBAs with bad hair and flat feet ... not trying to get laid, mind you, that'd be too much like human connection for these dolts. I'd be proud of them had that been their intention. They either need to prove to themselves that they are having fun, or they're succumbing to the group peer pressure to hold up the charade. The band is clearly embarrassed, but it's a paying gig so they soldier on admirably.
And then there's me, sitting alone at a corner table, sucking down Corona after Corona after Corona. Kind of reminding me of my acid-crazed college days when I would leer at the frat society with pupils the size of saucers. My options for the evening were this crap, staying in my room to jerk off to "Wolf Blitzer Reports," or going out to dinner with a bunch of my colleagues, for rousing discussions about work-related gossip and petty stupidity. And then I had the realization that, for most of the folks, this sad, sad excuse for social behavior IS INDEED the very height of their annual social calendars. There are villagers the world over for whom life is a constant struggle to survive; but these folks, they are among the chosen few for whom life is a much rosier set of opportunities -- yet the opportunities are totally squandered in a haze of business and techno buzzwords. (And these cats simply don't make enough money for it to be a valid excuse for their complete immersion into their sad little careers.)
So, on one side of the room there are these inflatable boxing-ring-type things, kind of like those big "Moon Bounce" things at your elementary-school spring fair. In one of them, people put on these way way way oversized boxing gloves and duke it out. The gloves are so huge it is entirely uninteresting to watch. In the other ring, there are two platforms, and two people get in and stand on either platform and try to knock each other off with these oversized pugil sticks, basically padded plastic staffs with big nerf thingeys on either end. The pugil stick ring soon becomes the focus of my attention. Some of the drunken DBA boys have begun to apply their twisted view of machotude to the action on the nerf battlefield. For some reason, this angers me greatly, maybe because of the context of the entire sad scene, maybe because of the steady stream of Coronas I've been sucking down.
One of these idiots squares off with a reasonably-attractive young lass, and instead of letting her win and using it as an excuse to get a drink with her and strike up a conversation, he just knocks her down and raises his arms in Rockyesque triumph. I finally decide to get into the ring. I'm paired off with some government-agency IT guy who tells me he's been at it all night and really has the hang of it, and I'm going DOWN. I nod and make some lame comment about how it's all in good fun. His buddies seem to have given him Bull Goose Looney status due to his nerfstick exploits, and this again angers me -- here is a group of young guys, clearly single, with corporate cards and a city full of beautiful Southern California women, and all they can do is brag to each other about which one is the best nerf warrior.
We put on the protective headgear and get into the ring, and my martial arts training comes in handy. He first takes a wild swing at my head, I lean back a bit and parry his nerfstick out of the way, and as he misses, I jab forward and poke him squarely in the face. It doesn't hurt, obviously, but he's a little dazed. I rear back and swing at his knee, and connect with enough force to knock him slightly off balance. Another poke to the head, one to the midsection, and down he goes, crashing to the Moon Bounce surface.
Before he hits the mat, I'm already off my platform and removing my headgear. The dude's buddies regard me with sullen animosity. I grab another Corona from the bar and stumble back to my room to get onanistic with CNN.
March 31, 2003 at 14:06 | Permalink
The streets of uptown Richmond were pretty quiet on Saturday afternoon as I drove around with some family members, looking for a place to eat. I wasn't expecting such tranquility, even though Richmond is basically a sleepy Southern city. It was a nice break from the underlying buzz of D.C., which isn't really in a war panic yet, and might not be even when it's Bombs-Over-Baghdad time. Still, things never totally settled down here after the attacks in 2001 -- the Washington Post even published a "personal preparedness guide" on Sunday. It's hard to simply blow off something like that. I didn't read it, but I paused for a second as my brain computed what it meant: The Post can be suburban-paranoia-centric at times, but it's also run by people who are in close contact, in one way or another, with the dudes who run the country. If anything, the special section reflects a confluence of fears, not a confluence of threats. But still, that kind of thing can be tiring after awhile. I suppose it's like being a Cubs fan.
March 17, 2003 at 22:18 | Permalink
1. Walked a mile for a BLT and a cup of coffee. I'd been to this diner before. The last time, about six years ago, I passed out in the gutter outside the front door.
2. Watched a belligerent drunk woman harrass the waitress at the register. No blows were exchanged.
3. Came upon a taxi stuck in the snow. The driver, obviously an African immigrant, apparently was new to the idea of driving in the white stuff. A guy sporting pointy forest-green leather boots, John Lennon shades and a bad attitude (an overstylish foreigner, natch) jumped out of the cab as soon as it became apparent that it would be stuck for awhile. The African dude took all of our instructions patiently, and with the help of a shovel borrowed from a nearby doorman, the cab was sent on its way.
4. Watched my future sister-in-law make snow angels with toddlers that belonged to proud Hispanic parents.
February 17, 2003 at 20:27 | Permalink
Of all the weeks to have business in Philly ... the snow has stranded my wife here with me at least for another day. We're with family, and not in some roadside hotel, so it's actually quite enjoyable. Snow days for adults -- truly the most wonderful time of the year. Of course, this is Pennsylvania, and although the lovely Keystone State has relaxed its blue laws, it's not so easy to buy a six pack or a bottle of shiraz on a normal Sunday. Thus, the Blizzard of 2003 all but nixed our plans to drink the day away, so we're eating and sleeping it away instead (tip o' the hat to "Polar Opposites"). When conscious, I'm making good progress with "The Corrections," which is far less annoying than I expected it to be. Genuinely entertaining, even.
February 16, 2003 at 21:30 | Permalink
Welcome back. Took a cab one night in Aruba, and the driver was playing some obscure Bill Withers tracks. I didn't know it was Withers until "Ain't No Sunshine" came on, so the rest of the stuff was a revelation. As somebody who digs a little Al Green and Shuggie Otis, the connection was clear -- the non-hit Withers tracks are slinky and well-phrased, with pleasantly muggy production and an over-arching sense of longing. Not exactly honeymoon music, but easily the most refreshing thing I heard on the island. (I'm now finding it much easier to overlook the whole "Lean On Me" thing.) Two nights later, we got in a different cab and the driver was playing Withers. So I asked, "what is it with Bill Withers and Aruba?" And the driver asked us to describe the ride we took a few nights earlier. Turns out it was the same dude, but another vehicle. Anyway, his name was Henky and he'd lived in Amsterdam for most of his life until deciding that his African heritage was better-suited to a tropical clime. He'd bought the CD -- a Euro double-disc retrospective of Withers -- back in Holland and fallen more deeply in love with it once he moved to the Carribbean. Music was a funny afterthought most of the time on the island -- from the late-night Eminem and Nelly blaring at the Radisson casino (I was playing blackjack with a table full of expensive-Hawaiian-shirt-wearing 50somethings at the time) to the Latino duo that mixed local sounds and drippy pop hits at the Pirate's Nest bar on the beach. Those two were a trip: A singer/guitarist and a singer/percussionist joined by a sampler/beatbox gizmo that played pre-programmed rhythms, basslines and keyboard flourishes. Most of the time they were vaguely comic and the the crowd was unfailingly polite -- songs such as "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" were permanently memorable simply because the dudes' Spanish accents were absurdly thick. Their Santana stuff was more tolerable (the singer/guitarist could approximate the Carlos tone on his powder-blue fake Strat), especially after a few Balashis, and the salsa/merengue ditties actually had some sizzle. Nobody requested any '80s synth-pop hits, but for awhile I wanted them to attempt a little "Tainted Love." I couldn't bring myself to verbalize my (very small) inner New Waver. Oh well. It was one of the few missed opportunities of the trip. The best part was that the Latino duo only played from about 5 to 6 p.m. each day -- an hour of power, with half-price drinks. In some ways, Aruba is almost too well-managed, musically. There weren't any buskers anywhere, and the reggae band on our flight was taking business class back to the States. The only overtly ballsy thing done by an indigenous organism was the french-toast grab executed by a big iguana on our last Sunday morning on the island. The lizard hopped up on the table of a non-butchy 40something British lesbian couple (they were wonderful company at the bar) and dove right into one lady's breakfast. I came to the rescue, gently putting my hand under the belly of the 'guana as he chomped down on the french toast. After his last gulp, he scooted off the table once he realized that the humans would stand up to him. Cheeky!
October 08, 2002 at 01:39 | Permalink
My brother is on an all-expenses-paid trip to Switzerland for continued indoctrination into the culture of his multinational employer. But that doesn't stop the kid from waxing wise. I'd reproduce his e-mails here, but I haven't asked for clearance yet. Let me sum his travelogues, quasi-haiku style: Milan, grime, food, Switzerland, food, 11 p.m. softcore, Euro siesta culture, U.S. football reruns, festival clowns, '80s synth music everywhere.
January 30, 2002 at 18:29 | Permalink
My brother played hooky and checked out lower Manhattan earlier this week. He filed this report:
You definitely get a much more harrowing feel for the whole thing when you get close to it, compared to seeing the images on TV. My stomach totally dropped out and I couldn't help but tear up a little. Looking up at the blown-out, charred windows of the surrounding buildings is just indescribable. The shit around tower 1 is still smoldering -- they were still pouring water on the area. One of the buildings near tower 1 is so crazily, crazily mangled and much of the surrounding neighborhood still has a hefty coating of dust/sludge. There were a ton of spectators milling about the area, but the only noise you could really hear was the humming of the cranes and shit.
October 25, 2001 at 18:45 | Permalink