This was primarily a social trip for me, even though I did manage to squeeze in a little sightseeing and museum-hopping, with Terry in London and with Paul up north. Most of my time, though, was spent seeing old friends, getting better acquainted with more recent ones, and meeting new ones altogether. Exactly the sort of thing always makes me regret having to go home. Here are a few shots of this vacation's cast of characters:
All week in London, I had to defend the North. Londoners act like the entire northern part of the country is one giant inbred cousin, inexplicable and dull, and slightly embarrassing. You know what, though? I loved my trip up there, and not just for the spectacular company. I’m an urban snob, but I’m not immune to the charms of small, quiet towns. In fact, the older I get the more I think they've got it going on. (Assuming, of course, that one has the natural ability to create fun wherever one goes.) Lancashire overall was really quite beautiful, even in the rain, and Lancaster itself was a great little town, pedestrian-friendly medieval-style little burg with just enough modern touches to keep it from feeling too remote. Blackpool is sweet and trashy, just like I wanted it to be. Morecambe is a faded flower, still keeping itself moving along, even though the crowds have moved on. I had no trouble seeing why Paul stays up that way, despite the occasional drawbacks.
Sure, small towns can have plenty of small minds, but cities don't automatically shield you from those. Small towns can offer the luxury of being able to catch your breath and determine your own pace. If your satisfaction only comes from novelty or consumption (of stuff, of stimuli), then big cities are te way to go. If you can make that move toward producing a life instead of consuming one — a goal I like to think I keep closing in on as I get older — then why not do it with a little elbow room and a little bit less strain on your bank account?
Davo, Jonathan, me getting carried and groped by Scally, Marcus, David, Michael, and Ian. Tom had already fled for parts unknown, and the rest of you were of course there in spirit, or at least gossiped about as if you were.
If you know me, than you probably know that I’m a big fan of science fiction. Why hide my spots, right? I make an effort, though, not to impose my enthusiasm on those who don't share it. It just invites snickering and rolling of the eyes.
Jonathan knows what I mean. He knows to avoid the indifference of some friends, and share the enthusiasm for others.
When we first met at this past Summer's Blogmeet it came up in conversation that I’d been totally taken with my rediscovery of Space: 1999, a show whose charms he also understood. He told me about his best friend Kit, a sci-fi enthusiast who'd built made replicas of the show's sets and costumes, which were — and you should see them for yourself — outstanding, at least before the show's American backers called for some unfortunate budget cuts. Since I was clearly a fan and not just a curiosity-seeker, he promised me that I’d get to see Kit's handiwork if I ever came to London.
Sunday, when I met Kit (who's just a sweet, handsome gem of a fellow), I was blown away. I was also encouraged to indulge my fandom. May I now present then, my adventures in the Alpha Room:
One of my social calls in London was Alex, an awfully sexy, sweet Brazilian guy I met when he was in New York this past summer. That time, we zeroed in on each other at the Lure and wound up spending just about all of the next few days together. Fun, hot, and even kinda romantic — a brief, no-strings romance.
We've kept in touch and had been looking forward to my trip, but it was pretty much a disaster for he and I. Nothing dramatic, really: the transatlantic situation being what it is, there was no point in being anything but forthright about each other or about other guys.
Logistics were the problem, mainly, and they tended to lead to misunderstanding. Alex lives and works two jobs on the other side of town from the otherwise convenient lodgings I had at my disposal, and it was hard to find time to get each other in the same place. After one mostly sleepless night in his tiny bedsit, I was so desperate for sleep that I passed on the next night so I could try to get some rest. He was kinda mad, and when our plans for the following night got mixed up, I assumed was much angrier than he was. He was just a little sick, though, and awfully tired himself. When he nodded off that night without so much as a smooch goodnight, I assumed our fling had just run out of steam. I crept out early the next morning to get my train to Lancaster and figured I was taking a hint.
Duh. Nope. Alex was worried that he didn't hear from me when I was due back, and we sorted things out over the phone. He was working all weekend, though, and I was running around, so a quick lunch before me flight home was all we could plan.
Well, he was getting his passport renewed that morning and got stuck, arriving late for our rendezvous, minutes after I left with the first pangs of panic about catching my flight.
Not unfounded panic, as it turned out. The Tube was having another of its frequent delays, the bus I caught didn't go where I was expecting, and I barely had time to collect my bag (packed more densely than a neutron star) and hoof it out the airport. I was late and freaking out about it, and got completely unhinged when I heard myself being paged at the airport.
I raced (a relative term, considering the impediment of my luggage) to the check-in desk, only to find Alex, who'd gotten my flight info from his office (travel agency) and gone to the airport to make sure I was alright.
In the half-hour before I had to go to the gate, I managed to calm down, Alex and I traded apologies and reassurances, and all ended on a very warm and happy note as we hugged goodbye at the metal detectors.
Hell of a trip, except for the plane ride itself. I’m very sad to have left all my pals in England, but very happy to be back. Very sad to be going to work in a few hours, very happy to get to sleep in my own bed first.
Jonathan remarked that I was pretty quiet on my first night out with him and David, and attributed it to my reluctance to be seen as American. Well, that’s a bit of paraphrasing of something that I was saying, but didn't quite express the point.
That evening in particular, I was a little wiped out from my trip north, and I was perfectly content to let the two of them lead me around from glam bar to glam bar while they swapped stories of their own recent vacations. I wasn't feeling a bit shy or self-conscious.
I was explaining, though, that when I’m out on my own in a foreign country, I tend to be quiet as a mouse, very reluctant to open my mouth and betray my nationality. I keep my interactions with waiters, shopkeepers and the like as monosyllabic (though as exceedingly polite) as possible, and quietly pass myself off as a local. Mostly, this is the flip side of my pride in being a savvy urbanite at home. I like to be seen as cool and capable, hip to the local customs and habits no matter where I am, like any jet-setter ought to be. The greatest compliment I can get in a foreign city? Someone coming up and asking me directions.
The other part is, however, that I’m usually a little embarrassed to be an American, and I slip into the role of apologist. It's not completely true, of course, that Americans are loud and course and pushy when they're abroad, but it's more likely than not. American tourists often seem to act like they're in a particularly vivid part of Disneyland or Epcot Center, but one where they're not quite getting the service they expect. Every time I’ve been abroad — even in England where we all speak the same language — I cringe when I hear that homegrown accent griping or making some dim-witted exclamation. I never say a peep around other Americans if I can help it. If I’m able to tell they're my countrymen, it's probably because they've just done something that justifies our bad reputation. This is why when I do interact, I’m so aggressively polite and easy-going. I don't want to be that guy.
In England, though, I run into a particular dilemma: after a while there, I start to slip into a bit of the accent. I can't help it, really — I do it in the South, too, and even in Brazil I started to speak like a really good ESL student. I just adapt to what I keep hearing around me. As my use of slang changes and the shapes of my vowel sounds morph, I get even more self-conscious about the sound of my voice, worrying that it sounds like I’m intentionally faking it. If you see me at home in the next few days, you'll hear it: At this point I’m all, "That bahstard took the piss out of me, just 'cuz I left my trainers and jumper back at the flat." I’m an English-language Zelig, not noticing how I try to escape notice. It's goofy.
I don't know exactly why, but I’ve been having a hell of a time getting going in the mornings. I doubt it's still jet lag. It could be run-of-the-mill fatigue from the long days darting about town, and then getting not-quite-enough sleep. It could be the cold I’m fending off. I suspect, though, it's oxygen deprivation from the last couple of nights spent in bars where everyone smokes like chimneys and the ventilation's not so good. I’m no stranger to smokey rooms, but there's nothing likea break from the usual to remind one how much Americans have cut back on the tabacky. I’ve been getting home gasping for air, desperately trying to sop up a runny nose.
Still, the company's been just swell. My hosts have been delightful, and surely more generous and accomodating than I deserve. The rest of the UK bloggers are loads of fun, also. (Lots of pictures of all that nonsense to come once I get home and download everything from the camera.) It's been a real treat to get some Q.T. with my offline friends, too, especially Tim, who I always miss like crazy.
Booty-call aspects of the trip have been a bit of a disappointment, but I suspect a good portion of that has been my own mood, which for a while now hasn't been content with simply scratching the itch and wandering off to other adventures.
Choire, this one's for you, baby:
Beau, I'll see your orchiopexy and raise you one testicular torsion. Yes kids, when I was a mere lad of thirteen I found myself with sudden, excruciating pain in my abdomen and scrotum. After a few humiliating rounds of examination in the emergency room, the doctors determined that somehow my right nut got twisted up inside and was choking itself off. I was rushed into surgery to correct the condition, but not quickly enough, apparently. When I woke up, I was informed that I was now the proud owner of a single testicle on my left side only. Woo hoo! Cue the adolescent-body-image-trauma theme music. Actually, it's never troubled me all that much, at least once I realized that it's not immediately obvious to the casual (or otherwise distracted) observer. There have also been no...er...performance issues related to this, although it's fun to see the reaction when someone notices. It does, however, explain why I have never taken a public shower (until today, actually, in a bathhouse near Scotland).
Great anecdotes from the hospital stay:
- The night after the surgery, the night-shift nurse (a friend's mom) comes into look after me and catches me eating contraband donuts.
- My older brother Bob, who's always creeped me out, tries to cheer me up by telling me that at least I'll still be able to stick it to the girls.
- My mom whispers to me one afternoon that I shouldn't let the guy in the bed across the room from me (who was, in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on at the time, you know...different) talk to me when she wasn't around, "because they like young boys." Cue the adolescent-sexual-identity-trauma theme music.
Happy Birthday, Choire!
Once I get back, remind me to tell you more about the Victorian-era Turkish bath Paul took me to today. It was in Carlisle, a little village just south of Scotland. Presumably some Americans have been to the area to see Hadrian's Wall and such, but we're pretty sure I’m the first one to make it into the bathhouse. Nothing unseemly, just a little bit of relaxing luxury that the local farmers (and the occasional working-class hottie of dubious sexual orientation) enjoy for a mere trifle. A fascinating new experience in social dynamics.
Later, we returned to Lancaster and enjoyed a lovely Christmas dinner. Tony prepared the roast potatoes and vegetarian turkey, Paul brought out his homemade Christmas crackers, and we wrapped it all up with some Christmas pudding and some more TV masterpieces of schadenfreude.
A few quick items before I forget:
- I’ve had my fill of squeezing into single beds for the time being. For the rest of the trip, I’m going to remind myself that I’m on vacation and my comfort and convenience are important, too.
- This is the fightin'est town I’ve seen in a while. I’ve never seen so many black eyes on random people in my life. I suspect it may have a lot to do with the power-drinking that goes on before the pubs close so barbarically early.
- Blackpool is pretty magnificent, even when mostly closed for the season. It has all the creepy, trashy, sweet charms of Coney Island or the run-down parts of the Jersey Shore. I say this without irony: I’m a total fan of midways and carnivals and skee-ball and low-brow amusement fun.
- The American Midwest may be pretty flat, vast, and featureless, but for sheer lack of visual stimulus, it ain't got nothing on England's Midlands.
- Are we at war or something? There was some big protest going on in London, and all these earnest-looking trendy kids were wearing "Stop the War" stickers in the Tube. Shouldn't they have been out doing their patriotic duty and shopping?
- There are more cute boys here than you can shake a stick at, but there's a sad lack of the hispter-nerd aesthetic I enjoy so much at home.
- It's the little difference that matter, like going to buy a sandwich at the train station and having to choose between ham/pickle/onion and bacon/mayo/prawn.
- There will be lots of photographic evidence when I get back.
I’m fucking exhausted, but at least I’m here, relatively safe and sound. What an ordeal it's been so far! After two weeks of barely sleeping, I took a catnap after work on Friday, only to have a half-hour barrage of stupid nightmares. So I gave up on that idea, and just lugged my cheapskate ass out to JFK via the subway. Keep in mind that thw two subways and the shuttlebus to the terminal take almost an hour-and-a-half. So I get there, haul my bag through the long check-in line, and the guy at the counter is suprised that no one told me my flight was cancelled weeks ago. Well, it turns out that the ticket they issued me way back when was accidentally put in for the 16th of October, that’s why no one told me! OK, so I’m not having a tantrum, 'cuz that’s not my style, but I’m aggravated as all get-out. Needless to say, everything leaving for London that night is booked, but I can get a 8:30 flight the next morning. Hmmm, that would mean leaving the house at about 4 a.m., right? Thanks, sir, that’s very helpful.
I didn't want to haul ass all the way back home for a four-hour nap, possibly filled with more stress-induced nightmares. Also, I would be in such a foul mood that Ralph would have to fear for his life, for no other reason that he would be within striking distance. So I decide distractionwould be in order. Unfortunately, there's nowhere to leave my bags at the airport, so I couldn't really ditch them and go to the movies and an East Village pub crawl, which was my first thought. I remembered, though, that Adam and Jennifer were having a little get-together at their swanky new pad near Wall Street, so I decided to go there and hang out and check out the new Xbox. It was a good plan, although it didn't occur to me that when I got out of the subway I would be looking directly at the Area Formerly Known as the World Trade Center, unexpectedly getting my first close glimpse of the burnded, twisted rubble of the complex. That threw me for a loop, to say the least.
But the Gormley-Helfet-Hillikers did wonders for my morale and gave me a place to nap in their deliciously minimalist studio, and at four I dragged myself right back to JFK. All went slowly but pretty well from there, even though a nine-hour delay left me with a lot of running around to do once I got to London. I dropped my bags at Jonathan's flat, and zipped off to meet my friend Alex before he got off work at a pub called the Coleherne somewhere on the other side of town. I didn't quite make it time, but caught a little of the tail end of their grand re-opening party before heading back to Alex's nearby bed-sit. Not as swanky as the Greene estate perhaps, but it had a warm, if tiny, bed and I had been up for almost 36 hours straight at this point, and could barely remember my own name.
Today has been a bit of a low-key blur, wandering around with Alex trying to work out some of the details of the rest of my stay. Which looks like it will settle down soon, thankfully. Another night of sleep and I might even be able to carry my end of a conversation.
More to come, no doubt.
You people are not getting your money's worth from me. I was just looking through my oldest entries from this site, and I realized that I have totally given in to pointless, banal chatter. Hell, it's not even funny anymore around here. I’ve totally lost my touch. Or maybe I’m just too mentally exhausted, or finding myself thinking about too many things that would be inappropriate to mention here. Maybe I’ve gone back to taking the funny, quirky things I see and do for granted. Who can say? Probably me, if I thought about it, but who has time these days? I’ve been so busy the last two weeks that I’m looking forward to tonight's flight to London just so I have a chance to sit still and read magazines or daydream for a while. Maybe I'll get some clarity with my honey-roasted peanuts and thimble of soda.
Check out this little nugget I wrote a while ago:
So here is my pledge: I’m going to try and stop pulling punches. I’m going to try and resume getting to the meat of things, instead of just carefully dashing off pithy asides and generating my own spin. I don't intend to put my whole life on display here, since nothing helps out a story a like a lot of judicious editing. I’m not trying to play the exhbitionist, and I always want to leave more levels and facets unrevealed so that there's a difference between me and the public face I maintain on the site. But I want to get back to the spirit with which I began UltraSparky — the spirit of shameless self-indulgence, coy confession, and light-hearted insight.
Y'all have totally been swindled. I stand ashamed.
But I’m going away on vacation tonight, and looking forward to a few days of q.t. with friends, relaxing and wandering, and curling up at night with sexy boys that make me smile. Maybe the change of scenery will make for better copy. We'll see.
A former co-worker of mine from my old job was on a flight leaving JFK yesterday morning and watched Flight 587 crash. I can't imagine what it would have been like to sit still for a few hours after that and try not to alarm the other passengers.
Whoa. 'Nuff said. (Click to see the huge version.)
More bad aviation news this morning as an American Airlines plane carrying 255 people crashes in Brooklyn shortly after leaving JFK. So far it's unclear what caused the crash, but we're already seeing the official reaction that I’ve been expecting from the first post-WTC plane crash: massive lockdown. All the airports, bridges, and tunnels in the area are closed while the government types try to figure out what happened.
I hope this was just tragic, innocent mechanical failure. It's awful, certainly. After September, plane crashes don't have the same abstract, far-away quality that they once did. "Oh, wow, how sad." No, I get these visceral flip-flops in my gut when I hear stuff like this now. Considering the heightened tensions in this country right now, though, I have to hope that this wasn't terrorist sabotage. I want the extreme reaction to the crash to be overzealous precaution. I don't want our fears to be proven true. I don't want more justification for this country to strap on its guns and its flag and kick more ass. I don't want violence to beget violence to beget violence ad nauseum. It will, of course, in one way or another until the end of time, but I really want the scale of it to level off, not consume us any more than it has.
And on a totally selfish note, because I need a breakfrom all this, I want American Airlines to deal well with this and stay in business for at least a couple of weeks more so I can get on that American flight from JFK to London on Friday and see my friends over there. Let them do what's best to make things secure, let them search me, make me check all my bags, whatever. Just let me get out of here for a bit.
As I predicted last night, by the time I left for work this morning I was able to download MP3s of all the music from "Once More, With Feeling," the brilliant musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Ralph, if you look in my CD burner, you'll find a disc with all of them that you can check out.) God, I love modern technology. I also went bananas over this episode, which was not only shrewdly witty, bawdy, and satirical, but also a moving chapter in the overall Buffy saga. It wasn't just a gimmick, they really managed to use the format to propel the season's story arcs forward.
I once heard someone explain that the basic conceit of musical theatre is that people shouldn't just be singing for the hell of it: They sing when they have a feeling so powerful that regular speech isn't enough to convey it. Granted, there are a buttload of musicals that defy that conceit, but it actually works for a lot of the genre, and makes it easier to swallow the artifice of the situation. And that conceit is exactly what this episode was built upon, which is how it worked so well as a chapter of the overall story of Buffy and the Scoobies.
I swear, when Joss Whedon turns his full attention to a Buffy episode, you get some of the most outstanding television there is. Remember "Hush"? Remember "The Body"? He must have made some kind of demonic pact of his own. Really, if you didn't see the episode last night — even if you hate musicals, even if you don't follow the show — it's really worth tracking down a tape or a rerun (of this, those other two episodes, and a handful ofothers) and seeing what can happen when someone with heaps of talent gets a bunch of talented people together and manages to rethink how to tell a story on television.
And every week it becomes more and more obvious that the show is really making good use out of all the extra cash they're getting from UPN. Everything has improved dramatically — the sets, the lighting, the photography, the make-up, the effects. It's an all-new Sunnydale!
OK, I'll shut up now before I become a full-on fanboy.
TV is going away once and for all.
Well, sorta. The tiny South Pacific archipelago of Tuvalu, owner of the lucrative .tv top-level domain, is succumbing to the effects of global warming and sinking beneath the sea. Its 11,000 inhabitants will probably be evacuated to New Zealand (apparently Australia turned down their request for safe haven), and presumably a number of them will be trotted around to various conferences to speak about what the climatic consequences of global warning has done to them.
Tuvalu has a pretty high profile for a tiny group of islands on the other side of the world, mostly due to the lucky two-letter national code granted to it by the ISO 3166 standard. Saddled with an enviable top-level domain all its own, Tuvalu has been making news for cashing in on this whole Internet brouhaha. So as tragic as this is, no doubt environmental activists will be able to capitalize on the demise of an entity with a little name-dropping value.
I wonder, though, what will become of .tv now that the country to which it was assigned will no longer exist. Will the .TV Corporation still be allowed to sell the domain? Will the domain be eliminated? Will someone else be granted it? Will the former residents of Tuvalu remain incorporated as some kind of entity that can still maintain control of the domain and reap its rewards? Naturally, the U.S. news today is all about military stuff, so there's not much to be learned just yet about unfortunate, fortunate Tuvalu.
It's incredibly windy here today, and the gusts whipping around the outside of my 20th-floor office are making it sound like I’m inside a haunted house or something. The wind is strong enough to make the windows creak, which is a teeny bit disturbing — I imagine sheets of plate glass fallin to the street and making life really awful for some random pedestrian.
I’m furiously knocking wood as I say this, but I’m sure glad that in the current economic climate I have work up to my eyeballs. Especially now that I’m employed full-time as a nerd again, I usually find myself turning down freelance work on a regular basis. Until recently I’ve been turning it all down, but I’ve been getting that itch again to be a designer, and also to supplement my comfortable but not quite adequate income. (Visa, I swear you could have my first-born if one were looming on the horizon.) Once I open a crack somewhere, though, leave it to fate to turn on the floodgates. My magnificent friend Yael has slowly been dragging me into some totally cool projects, and I’ve been making a little mad money off of some simple business cards and postcards from someoene else.
And just when I was starting to sweat about how to pay for things when I go to England for Thanksgiving, I get an emergency call from Thirteen asking if I’m available for the next two weeks to help them out with their annual report, something I’ve wanted to get into my portfolio for ages. Well, never one to look in the mouth of a gift horse of a company that’s always been good for work when I need it, I offered to work on it during nights and weekends until I take off on the 17th. I find out today whether or not they're cool with me working from home, but if so, don't expect to see me in public until I get back from my trip. (I make an exception for tomorrow night's eagerly anticipated Buffy musical, since I’ve already promised people they could come watch it.) I swear, my absence from the usual glittering social scene won't be a snub, just an emergency measure.
For all I know, Denver may be a very lovely city. I don't know — I never saw it. Instead, I saw a bunch of the Denver Tech Center, a monotonous sprawl of office parks, chain stores, and soulless housing developments. Bleah. It's this massive area that looks to have been built entirely from scratch within the last ten or twenty years. Sure, there was a picture-perfect backdrop of the Rockies off to the West, but this place is just flat and nasty, and really made we want to rush back to the eclectic charms of home.
And getting back here certainly made me wish I’d never bothered to leave. The return trip started off pretty well, with an airport fiull of hot Air Force cadets and an uneventful plane ride to...La Guardia? But wait? Wasn't I supposed to be flying into Newark? Yeah, but as we approached Newark, they wouldn't let us land because the airport had been locked down. Something about the fire trucks all over the runway, I dunno. Anyway, so we land at La Guardia and I’m all pleased because it's so much closer to home, but they don't let me leave since I have checked baggage. (I can normally pack for a week with just a carry-on, but not anymore, thanks to those pesky nail clippers and disposable razor blades.) So we hang out at Newark for a while, they throw us a granola bar to take the edge off, they we make the 15-minute flight back to Newark. After that, I have to take the monorail and NJ Transit back to Penn Station and the subway, which could have been a little better if they were letting more than one train at a time move in or out of the Hudson rail tunnel at a time. Mmmmmmmmm, heightened security rocks.
Just in case you think that I’ve abandoned the controversial GutWatch initiative, I offer some proof of what can happen after a month of more regular exercise and significantly less snacking. Nothing earth-shattering, but I'll use my two weeks of infirmity as an excuse for any failure to keep up the pace I’d hoped for. Anyway, here it is (and feel free to compare with last month):
Again, shout-outs to Jessie for the moral support, and understaning that this isn't about being fat or skinny.