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Tuesday, 22 November
The Cats That Ate My Blood. Also, Chicago!

The wife and I are back from Chicago. What a crazy city! I mean . . . crazy! You know? Totally crazy! You know what's so fucking crazy about it? Seriously?

Nothing. It is the least crazy city I've been to. Chicago is, from what I can tell, pretty definitively not-that-crazy. Or if it is, it's crazy in such a quotidian way that it's not really noticable to the outside observer. And I was really looking forward to the crazy. I mean, my God, this city does after all have a Daley at the helm. Give me some corruption, Mr. Daley! Don't bore me! Offer me a bribe! Promise me free socks! Threaten me with arbitrary prosecution! DO ANYTHING!

Again, nothing. Which isn't to say we didn't enjoy ourselves; we did immensely, even despite our utter failure to get a toehold onto some of the city's infamous graft scene. The closest we got to discomfort was some diffidently inclement weather (Oh no! Wind!) and an alarming experience on the El with something called the SANTA EXPRESS! Where we were greeted by CTA elves wielding candy canes and packed cars of glum people all miserably clutching . . . candy canes. "It's only November 19th!" screamed the wife, striving helplessly to be heard over the sound of Perry Como being lashed by the Christmas Furies.

There's a lot to tell about the visit, so I will as usual be obnoxiously talking about this for a week or so, so for the travelogue-hating folks out there . . . happy Thanksgiving! From here on out for a while, it's going to be nothing but Tales From Chicago. And I have a few. Including this one time where I fucked this hot chick from Canada, but you don't know her.

Anyway. We were hosted the entire time by our good friends S. and J., old pals of ours from Seattle, and their cats, Herbert and Dora. I bravely do not feel the need to protect the identities of the cats, you see, mainly because, well, one, they are cats; and two, perhaps someone will kill them for me. For while our hosts are lovely and gracious and kind, their cats are FUCKING POISON to me.

I've had a lifelong allergy to cats. I thought to mitigate this with medication, so before our trip, I coughed up a good amount of dough for some Claritin. No problem! RIght?

Those fucking cats nearly killed me. DORA AND HERBERT? ARE YOU READING THIS, NASTY CATS? I'm still breathing funny! I've stayed with friends before who have cats, and it's never been much of an issue, but this time, it was like some awful histological key party where Dora and Herbert waltzed off with my immune system (played by Joan Allen) and rough-fucked it into oblivion, leaving me, immunologically-compromised Skot, to gasp and cough and wheeze the entire time until I finally wandered the icy Chicago roads only to be electrocuted by a downed power line. (Unfortunately, Elijah Wood was nowhere to be found.)

Stupid cats. Stupid worthless Claritin. Even when I doubled the Claritin dose--knowing full well that when pharmaceuticals get approved for OTC use they routinely halve the dose--it didn't do fucking jack. Here's a sentence that should make for some good Google hits: CLARITIN BLOWS DEAD CIRCUS BEARS. Here's another: CLARITIN ANAGRAMS TO "CLIT NAIR," FOR WHAT THAT'S WORTH! And finally, CLARITIN DIDN'T HELP ONE BIT WITH MY ALLERGIES, BUT I DID FUCK THIS HOT CANADIAN CHICK, BUT YOU DON'T KNOW HER! SO THERE'S THAT!

My fussbudget antibodies are, happily, starting to chill out now that I'm back home, but I can tell it's going to be a while. It's fine, though. It gives me time to ruminate on my other experiences, such as the astounding gay bar known as SideTracks; the utterly appalling theater experience we, uh, experienced; and of course, the gigantic banquet thrown in my honor by many friends who wished to come and pay fealty to their king, which was me. (NOTE: While I am not lying about the banquet, some attendees would not refer to me as their king, and would instead prefer the term "that jittery jackoff.")

Oh, and there was also this hot chick from Canada that I totally banged, but you wouldn't know her.

Friday, 11 November
Chicago! Not The Musical.

Craving new Izzle Pfaff hi-larity over the coming week, are you? No? Nobody? Well, you're all in luck! On Sunday, the wife and I travel to the City of Hot Dogs, fair Chicago! So I'll be blessedly silent for a good week or so. Our good friends S. and J. have agreed to put us up for our stay, and I just can't wait to make fun of them or the city they live in. Yes, I'm on a serious joke-finding mission, and nothing--not inclement weather, not the generosity of our hosts, not even a minimum standard of goodwill nor taste--will make me stray from my path. My path to hot dogs. And also to Ozzie Guillen. I'm bringing him a gift! It's a button that says, "I'm kind of a creep!"

See? I'm not even there yet, and I'm insulting the place! This is going to go great.

It's just too bad that actually getting there will, of course, involve yet another immersion into what has become America's Lousiest Fucking Common Experience, air travel. Oh boy! The airport! We all know how this is going to go.

"Hi, I--"

"HAVE A GUN? GUN! SECURITY!"

And then I'll get gang-tackled by a bunch of guys who got demoted from mall duty. After a brief tussle, I'll finally be muscled into a locked room and surrounded by the brutes.

"Strip off his clothes," will say the one who has mastered human speech. "We've got to find that gun he's been bragging about."

"I don't have a gun!" I'll scream. "All I've got is a cigarette lighter!"

And an ominous hush will settle over the room, as they stare at me with fresh hatred.

"An explosive device!" the lumpen leader will hiss. "You confess! Boys . . . get me Alex."

Helpless tears will roll down my face as I struggle at my restraints. "Who's Alex?" I will gasp.

"He's our bomb-sniffing crocodile. We're going to light him on fire and then slip him right up your asshole. He'll eat that bomb in no time! And maybe your heart. We'll see."

"WHAT BOMB? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" I'll scream. Then I'll pause for a moment. "Wait, why are you lighting it on fire?"

"I dunno. It's in the regs." And he'll show me a little book with a page that clearly says, "IMPORTANT: ALWAYS LIGHT THE BOMB-HUNTING CROCODILE ON FIRE PRIOR TO INSERTION. IT IS TOTALLY HILARIOUS." So there's no getting around that.

And then I just know they're going to make me check a carry-on.

But anyway, when I get back, I have a new project. Just FYI--clear your calendars!--for I am yet again taking the stage for another kind of bullshit theatrical experience that doesn't really require much effort! Which is really my cup of tea these days. In December, Open Circle Theater will be mounting its all-expenses-spared production of a thing called " 'Twas A Night of Shitty Theater," a holiday-themed reader's theater show where actors read from scripts of the worst holiday plays ever imagined by man. Good times! (Note: Good times not actually guaranteed.) I'll keep you posted.

See you after next week. Unless in a fit of button-inspired rage, I get choked to death by Ozzie Guillen. I'm not ruling it out.

Wednesday, 28 September
That Was A Good Trip, Man

The saga continues! Follow our heroes as they make their way to Cannon Beach! (I'll also try to make this slightly less tonally schizophrenic than the last entry, which seems at some point to have gone completely off the rails. It's probably never a good idea to post a blog entry on the tail end of a vacation while, uh, kind of besotted.)

After sleeping in for an indecent amount of time on Saturday morning, the wife and I clambered into the Purple Snatch-Dazzler and made our way out of town. Well, almost. First we made our way into town, inasmuch as Seaside has actual town, because . . . well . . . see, Seaside has something that not just every city has. Something wonderful. To put it simply: NOTHING SAYS "VACATION DETOUR" LIKE "OUTLET MALL!" AAAAAAAAHHHH!

Eddie Bauer! Liz Claiborne! Uh . . . Totes! Oh, yes, we were pigs at the trough. After an exciting Liz Claiborne visit--where the men's "department" consisted of a rack of ugly belts and some truly unforgivable pants--we sped to Cap'n Bauer's, where I gleefully latched onto athletic socks! (We only use them for sex, people. We just don't feel right doin' the Grunt 'N Shove unless we are both clad in bright white athletic socks.) Then! On to . . . Totes! Look! Cheap umbrellas that will last for one month. We need two!

And some other fucking crap. Finally, the wife decided she needed some new bras, so I stood outside the bra store and smoked--smoking at the mall! I felt like a teenager again, until an actual teenager laughed at me and hit me with his skateboard. Not really. Nor, as a teenager, did I ever smoke at a mall. I am a failure. Anyway!

Finally the wife emerged from the Playtex Compound with a new bra or two. Can I just say? Is there anything sexier than the delicious interplay between the words "Playtex" and "outlet mall"? I don't think so. Boy, it almost makes me want to go suit up in some white athletic socks. I'm not going to give out these sex hints forever, people!

So we eventually did make it to Cannon Beach, all of about seven miles away. (I've actually been there before, but not for many years.) We immediately were entranced by the rustic charms of the setting, and decided quickly to anesthetize those feelings of affection by having a couple drinks. Spying a free outside table, we darted into a place called, God help me, the Driftwood Inn. If I ever open a down-homey place on the Oregon coast, I swear I am going to call it something like the Medical Waste Cabin or Mysterious Jelly on the Beach Saloon or the Kelp 'N Grit.

After a couple glubs, we made our way to the beach to complete our evening of relaxing cliches and, yes, watched the sun go down. (I snark, but this was all of course unbelievably great.) I diddled around hopelessly with the cameraphone, and took some perverse, photon-fucked bad photos of the sunset, and the wife beamed happily. We noted at one point that a couple locals had joined us, and were standing nearby with glasses of wine. They toasted the sunset, and I swear it was even pretty cute.

Then we had dinner at . . . sigh . . . the Driftwood Inn again, because every other joint in town was completely full. Well, the good old Driftwood was actually full too, sort of: the hostess informed us that there would be at least a 45 minute wait. And there were a lot of people there before us waiting already, so I didn't much buy that. "What about the bar?" asked the wife. "Oh, you can eat in there, sure." We walked into the bar and immediately found a table. So those other people? Dumb.

And that was Cannon Beach. I know it doesn't sound like much, but man, it was pretty great. Even though the town would clearly dry up like a mummy without the tourist dollars, it was still very charming and lovely, and yes, we did get to see Haystack Rock, a gigantic rock whose claim to fame is being a gigantic rock. That's one thing you have to love about the Oregon coast: the total innocence. Check out our big fucking rock! Christ! Man, that's a big rock, huh? Hey, you want to eat some taffy? Because it's good taffy, man. Later on, I'll pop some wheelies on my Huffy and you can watch! Being on the Oregon coast is a lot like being in a really charming and enthusiastic commune for a while, but with the difference that you can leave when it starts to grate on you. Also, it's never your turn to go out and weed the beet rows.

We took our time the next day hitting the road, because why? We both took Monday off, so fuck that. We wandered up to Seaside's beachfront aquarium, a scruffy little building that housed all manner of bummed-out marine life in little Plexiglass-fronted tanks. Hey, octopus! You dick! Move around! Change color! Mr. Octopus declined, and maintained his sucker-hold on the window. Hey, eel! Make Abe Vigoda faces at me! And he did, which was so great. They also had a "touching pool," mostly for the kiddies, and say, we should change the name to anything but "touching pool," you know. We laughed at the tots who were busy hassling starfish, who I'm pretty sure are the most-hassled sea animals of all. I don't even think hermit crabs have to put up with as much shit as starfish do.

But the real draw of the tiny place were the seals, a whole passel of them that had been raised in captivity, and now spend their lives competing for the attention of tourists, who for $1 buy little fish chunks to throw at them. They slap their bellies. WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP! They swim upside-down and give you heartbreaking, imploring looks. THROW ME FISH! They dunk their heads artfully and direct a spray of brine at you. And, if you're really stupid, and stick your hands too far out, they viciously bite you. Sadly, nobody around us on that day took them up on that talent. I wouldn't have minded one of the screaming kids losing a couple fingers to the hungry beasts. But really, the best one was this proudly bewhiskered male who would simply poke his head up out of the water and wail: "YORB! YORB! YORB! YORB!" at the most astonishing, ear-rupturing volume. It was simply the most incredibly appalling, hilarious noise I've ever heard, and I say that as someone who has listened to Diamanda Galas albums. It was also really effective: his howls inevitably produced a hail of fish parts.

And then, after a lunch stop in Astoria--a curiously scuzzy-seeming city; I'm sorry, but maybe that was just the weirdly gray and depressing nonarchitecture and my water glass complete with a lipstick stain--we headed home.

Man, I already miss it all. Particularly the outlet mall. We should have gotten three cheap umbrellas. 'Cause that would have been bumpin'.

Tuesday, 27 September
Holiday? Celebrate?

Well, this whole weekend was just one big fucking disaster. There's no getting around it. We set out for a nice road trip to the Oregon coast to relax, get out of town, get away from work and all . . . and it all ended up in the fucking dumper.

For one thing, the traffic? It was not entertaining at all. Me, when I go on the roade, I want traffic, and lots of it. I want miserable, endless jams, say around Olympia, the kind where I can lean my head out the window and chat with my fellow roadmates. "Hey!" I always like to say, "That sure is an ugly dog you've got!" In this way, I bond with my roadmates. Another one that always prompts good conversation is to mention someone's wife, like, "Whoo-whee! I can smell your wife's nasty business all the way over here! You need some Febreze?" I can't tell you how many times this has opened up a conversation with a stranger on the freeway--"Look at this guy pound on my window!" I like to observe, while the wife cowers.

But on this trip? We got jack shit. Not one time did we even hit a slowdown, and so by traveling, on average, at about 75 mph the entire time, we lost our chance to really engage with some decent folk.

When we got to Seaside and checked into our hotel--a stately establishment dating back at least several months--we noted happily that there were a bunch of school buses parked in the lot. Hey! Our weekend was to be blessed--BLESSED!--with the presence of several dozen young teenagers. And sure enough, our hotel room was directly above the swimming pool, where the delightful youngsters frolicked. Audibly. We rested our heads, that first night, our rapturous heads on our pillows, as the adorable tots below us shat freely into the pool and hit each other over the heads with cheap plastic bongs. (When will our youth discover apple bongs? I ask you.) Sadly, the pool closed at 10:00, forcing the unhappy teens to glumly skateboard on the pavement outside our window, and they bellowed and lowed like wayward buffalo as they clattered along the urban plains. I cheered myself for a while by pitching my butts at them as they skated. (Yes, it was a nonsmoking room, but I AM SUCH A REBEL.)

It was time to go to a bar. We discerningly picked a place called the Bridge Keeper (I think), mostly because, uh, it was closest. The tavern was filled with what seemed to be locals, and they stared at us for a little while, but we fearlessly took a table anyway, because, like I said, it was the closest bar. And we weren't really in any danger anyway, but it's fun to pretend. We got a couple drinks and settled in, and soon enough the terrifying locals all . . . went home, at about midnight or so. Feeling unjustifiably menaced by Oregon coast locals? My suggestion: wait for the witchy hour of midnight, and they all get tired, apparently. We wandered over to the Megatouch game, feeling ballsy, and I'm proud to say we murdered that fucker: we easily toppled the existing trivia champs--named "CUPPAPOOP" and "CORNHOLE"--in the music category, and only narrowly missed taking the top spot in the "Erotic" category, thanks to a question about the motility of pig sperm. Thanks a lot, pig sperm! You suck.

More to come later as I describe the TERRIFYING SPECTACLE that is . . . Cannon Beach, Oregon. Seaside never looked so good. No, seriously . . . Seaside never looks good at all. It mostly looks like an old man in ratty overalls that are stained with gravy. And good luck finding cigarettes! Anywhere! Honestly, Seaside is a pretty dumb town.

Is it as dumb as Cannon Beach? I'll have to think about that.

Friday, 20 May
The Wrath Of Grapes

Oh, what else did we do in the Bay of Dogs? Well, lots of touristy things, of course. I mentioned a few posts ago, for example, that we went on a little tour of the wine country, and I was going to devote a whole post to it, but it probably doesn't merit that many words, and I've been plenty wordy this week anyway.

Instead of going through the hassle of renting a car and driving all over hell and gone, we opted to buy tickets for a tour bus and have ourselves be driven around all over hell and gone. Another bonus, besides not driving after an entire day of drinking wine, was that we got picked up and dropped off at our hotel. (We had rented a room for a couple nights to treat ourselves and also to give our good hosts J. and A. some time to have their apartment back.)

So we lit out at 8:30 in the morning with the promise of wine hitting our lips at around 10:30--Breakfast of Champions. We met another bus at Fisherman's Wharf and boarded, and (I had predicted this, but it wasn't exactly a hard call) we immediately noticed that everyone else on board probably had a good 20 years on us at least. There were visors, lots of visors.

Eventually we took off and met our driver via mike as he guided us out of the city over the Bay Bridge. He set the tone almost immediately: "I wasn't even supposed to be here today," he said in even tones. "But we're stuck with each other today, so let's get along. I want to set down some ground rules, and the first one is, take it easy. I don't want any pukers today. And you guys look like a lot of alkies." Nervous laughter.

Like a seasoned comedian, he quite obviously had a patter down, and he had it down cold. The only odd thing was the tone he adopted, a kind of avuncular hostility towards the audience, as if he were stifling hecklers that hadn't actually said anything yet. You got used to it after a while, but it clearly had as much to do with behavior modification as it did with entertainment, the unspoken message being: We can all have fun here, but if you get weird on me, I have weapons. At various times during the day, he mocked the elderly (gutsy, considering his human freight): "Don't anyone die on me today. I have a bad back. I'm not pulling you out of here." Cops: "Oh, look, the doughnut patrol. That's your tax dollars, folks." Horse carriages: "Folks, I don't want anyone here riding those things. That could be Mr. Ed out there." And, at one very weird point, Baptists. I wish to hell I could remember the exact comment, but I cannot, but I do remember him following it up with, "We don't have any Baptists here today, do we?" Nervous laughter. I am too areligious to even begin to figure out what was going on, so I promptly fell asleep.

There isn't much else to tell, except that we visited wineries and greedily slurped up their offerings. At one winery, we did receive a bit of golf applause when a couple of the hosts asked who was visiting on a special occasion: when silence ensued, the wife said in a small voice, "Anniversary!" "Great! How long?" asked the host. "Two years," I said. The crowd clapped with warm politeness, and we graciously acknowledged their applause, and quietly exulted in the fact that most of them would probably die before us.

We lunched in Sonoma; the wife and I split off from wherever the majority of the group was going--not because we hated them, or anything, but we just figured, why compete with them for waitstaff? We found an Irish pub off an alley and ordered some fries and drinks. We sat on the deck, as it was a gorgeous sunny day. There was a light wind, and I noticed white fluffy motes dancing in the wind. Seeing these, I felt an icicle of fear slide into my asshole. "Does that look like cottonwood to you?" I asked the wife. She didn't know.

When I was a kid, I had miserable, miserable hayfever allergies. Combine that with chronic asthma, and you've got a real formula for success. Springtime was always a season of misery for me, and I remember my mother crying when she saw me halfway up a staircase, having to rest and catch my breath trying to get to my room, a ten-year-old little old man. And cottonwood was always the worst, it would fuck me up good every year. It wasn't until I moved away to college that my hayfever subsided, seemingly for good. But I still really got the heebies about seeing that stuff floating around in the air.

And for good reason. Within fifteen minutes, I had the sniffles. Five more minutes and I was sneezing. I felt my lungs starting to clamp up, which was terrible. I thought, Oh God! Will I be able to finish my beer? The wind freshened, and the cottonwood started blowing around malevolently again; I ran to the bathroom and promptly soaked half a roll of toilet paper with open-faucet quantities of snot. When I washed my face and then looked into the mirror, I saw a damp-faced thing gazing back at me with raspberry eyes. I hadn't had an attack like this in fifteen years, but good old Sonoma had provoked a histological boxing match embarrassment that was going to be legendary. My mucus membranes screamed "No mas! No mas!" at the Sugar Ray Leonard cottonwoods.

It was time to go, thankfully. And it only took about 20 minutes of recycled bus air to return me to my normal state. We went to a couple more wineries--they were fine--before making the trip back to the city. I of course slept practically the whole time back, probably for a lot of reasons. For one, sleeping was better than listening to the bus driver's litany of misanthropy ("Look at these joggers on our left. He's too old for her. He might die trying to keep up with her." I caught that one.). For another, my body was still pretty pissed off about the cottonwood siege. And finally, Jesus, I'd been drinking wine since before eleven in the morning.

As we got into the city, the bus driver praised our good group. "You guys have been great. I thought I'd see some troublemaking on this trip, but I can't complain." The senior citizens beamed and bobbed their gray heads, as if proud of themselves for, I don't know, not fucking shit up. He continued. "You guys can puke if you want. It's been a good day. I can hose this thing out. I don't care." Gosh, it's like getting a thank-you card! From Bobcat Goldthwaite!

And look at that. It was its own post anyway. I can just go on and on. I should drive a tour bus.

Tuesday, 17 May
You Don't Have To Go Home, But We're Not Open Yet

Upon deplaning following a perfectly smooth flight, the wife and I moved smartly through SFO to the BART station, where we would then catch a train to our stop at 16th St. Mission to meet our friends, J. and A.

And so right away I knew that San Francisco was a bit . . . weird. Not that the BART was a nightmare or anything, apart from the wildly intuitive ticket machines. "WELCOME TO BART TICKETING I AM EXTRACTING TWENTY DOLLARS FROM YOUR CREDIT CARD THAT IS OKAY RIGHT?" I yelped a while before figuring out the ridiculous little machine's little wiles and then promptly misread the fare rates and overpaid anyway. But that's not too weird, neither the laughably lo-fi technology, nor my unsurprising failure to really master same--not weird.

What's immediately weird about the BART is . . . who the fuck sets up a mass transit system and then carpets the trains? Rattling towards SF, I had nothing else to stare at but that carpet, whose unlovely grey and every-other-color-stained tones made it look a bit like someone had recently mown over a layer of diseased rats and called it good. I found myself engaging in truly unfortunate mental games such as Is That Vomit? and Which Looks Stickier?

Our tirelessly patient and accomadating hosts, J. and A. met us at the station, and by "met us" I mean "called us from their car." My phone rang. A: "Hey! You see the Payless Shoe Store?" I looked around at . . . well, bums and crazy people. "No," I said. "I see a Walgreen's," forgetting to add, "and also my impending assault by hoboes." "A Walgreen's?" A. sounded perplexed. "Okay, go to Walgreen's." None of this was making sense. Walgreen's? Pick us up! Where the fuck are you? It was like being sent to Fassbinder State Clown College to pick up a salami and two giraffes. Pick us up!

We had little choice. And, freakishly, the "Go To Walgreen's" gambit turned out well, as A. and J. did indeed meet us there, and even made the bold move of getting out of their car. Drunks eyed us weirdly, probably wondering, as I was, why two tourists with their damn luggage were being picked up at this inauspicious spot. We climbed in the car.

"I need a drink," said A. with a casual ferocity that quickened my pulse. "I agree!" we pealed, zooming down the street. Turns out that A.'s family had been staying with them for the last week, had in fact left just that day, making them 1. the best hosts in the world and 2. the most frazzled people in the world. A. revealed a story of two-year-olds and waking up VERY EARLY and going to bed VERY EARLY. "And very fucking sober," chimed in J.

We don't have to spend all that much time on the first night, since it is all variations on this theme: when we arrived at the apartment, J. hauled out three gigantic bottles, one of Jim Beam, one of Maker's, and one of Glenlivet. Brown liquor it is! Appropriately, since later on we all browned out a little bit, particularly after we went out to a bar for more.

The next day we went on a little hike over to Haight St. (you will find that we did a LOT of purely touristy things) and ambled along its busy sidewalks and cliche-spotted. "Green buds, green buds!" Psychedelia. Head shops. Presently we wandered over to Amoeba, the intimidatingly large music store that, I am given to understand, was formerly a bowling alley. A concrete cavern, Amoeba has the ambience of a particularly depressing mausoleam overrun by antlike creatures who plumb its grey depths, hunched over music racks, running through CDs with a chittering noise that fills the whole place. After only fifteen minutes or so, the insectile rattling of plastic on plastic got to me, and I started to have hallucinations that I was surrounded by thousands of chatterteeth Cenobites and soon hooks would descend on chains and rip me apart while Pinhead's booming laugh bounced off the gloomy walls. Plus, I already had three CDs picked out in that short time anyway, so I had to get the fuck out of there. J. and A. didn't even last that long.

Later that night the four of us went out to dinner at a lovely little crepe place called Ti Couze, which my brain unfortunately insisted on translating as "The Cooze," which is just what you want to be thinking about when contemplating a meal. We were joined by another couple of friends and dispelled any lingering cooze-associations by promptly ordering three bottles of wine and then a big pail of some kind of cider, which was then decanted into . . . bowls.

Like I say, SF is kind of weird. Whatever. We cheerfully Fidoed that shit down with a minimum of actual lapping at the bowls. Later, J. and A. begged off, citing exhaustion, while the other friends, one an old college friend of the wife's and the other being J.Z., a renowned pornographer, repaired to some loud dive joint called the Warm Ass or something like that, where they actually played Falco. Eventually, J.Z. drove us home, and we tiredly staved off her attempts to get us to do a bit part in her upcoming biblical porn opus called The Loads and the Bitches.

We met up with J.Z. again the next day to go to MOMA, thereby fulfilling that one undodgable requirement of traveling: MUST SEE ART! And boy did we! There were some interesting video installations, and also of course some stuff like a saloon door with some beer cans stuffed into its slats. There was another piece that looked like someone's closet had vomited. There was yet another piece called, I believe, "Women I'd Like to Fuck in Time," which is possibly unique in the art world for deriving its apparent inspiration from Throw Momma From the Train. At another display, I was staring at some terribly cramped and hard-to-look-at painting of some sort, and J.Z. piped up, "My friend Henry does art like this." "Oh, really?" I asked. "He's eight." she said. And that was it for us, as a storming case of the crying giggles forced us out of the room.

The next day was Monday, and so J. and A. had to go to work. The wife and I decided to roam again over to Haight--there was a bookstore there we wanted to hit--and then maybe wander back over to Divisadero area to scope things out, and then maybe back to the bar that we had gone to on our first night for a late afternoon cocktail. It's vacation! And this all worked out well, right up until four o'clock or so, when we finally did make it back to that bar.

It was closed.

Again, I must point out how weird San Francisco is about small shit like this. What kind of fucking bar doesn't open until four? DO THEY NOT HAVE BARFLIES IN THIS TOWN? Does NOBODY drink before five? Because, look, sometimes--vacation or no--you feel like a drink at two in the afternoon. I can't be alone in this. But this shit happened over and over. For instance, the day we went to MOMA, we wanted some lunch. I know, crazy! And let me also point out that that particularly day was Mother's Day. What did we find ALL OVER THE PLACE? Closed restaurants. Downtown. On Mother's Day.

Another example, though I admit part of this was all our fault. One day the wife and I were down by the Square, and just wandering around seeing what was what. And we fucked it all up: we walked right into the shopping district. Great. Prada. Sharper Image. D&G. Even if I could afford these fucking places, I can find this shit in Seattle. Or the internet. I began to hunt for a hole in the wall where I could escape the awful looming upscale retail, but I had picked exactly the wrong neighborhood. "Does this fucking town not have one goddamn hole in the wall where I can duck in for a drink and a sandwich?" Well, the answer is of course "yes," but not where we were, and in any case, it probably wouldn't open until five anyway. The wife helpfully pointed out a restaurant at one point. "It looks like it costs a million fucking dollars," I helpfully snarled. Don't you wish you were married to me?

We ended up in the Square morosely drinking a beer and a wine while staring at all the people with their fucking cell phones screwed into their ears. (Look, I finally got a cell phone, and I think it's dandy--and certainly useful--but there are times when I just want to go after these people with a heavy shovel. You know who I'm talking about.) In the end, however, we left kind of happier for sitting and peoplewatching if only because SF is a real dog town, and hey, people with dogs. [COUPON: Entitles the bearer to one free annoying public cell phone conversation provided they have a hilarious dog. Not valid with other offers.] I mentally rechristened the city as Bay of Dogs.

I'm about halfway done here, but I'm going to quit for tonight because my fingers are tired, particularly because I have a helluva time typing "San Francisco" for some dumb reason--I fuck it up almost every time--which explains the SFs sprinkled throughout. Also, this is long. But rest assured: I am not done detailing the many reasons why SF is so goddamned weird.

And I haven't even gotten to the bus tour of wine country.

That's a whole post all by itself.

Thursday, 05 May
Not Very Magical Nor Terribly Mysterious Tour

We're gone, daddy, gone! Gone to SF for the next week, so your least favorite alleged comedy site will be dark until the 16th. Maybe by then some of my horridly underperforming fantasy baseball prospects will have climbed out of the toilet! I'm looking at you, Scott "I seem to have gotten my bat stuck up my ass" Rolen! And you, Hideki "But I was to understand that this was a good team" Matsui! And as for you, Miguel Olivo . . . uh . . . be more like . . . er . . . someone else. I guess. I don't care.

Anyway. Sorry to be so brief, but frankly, I'm worn out all to hell. I'll see you back in a while. With a whole new city to enjoy. And, of course, make fun of. I can't wait.

Wednesday, 04 May
This Is How We Disappear

So it is, as of this writing, my two year wedding anniversary. (Hold your applause. Actually, hold it between your knees like a chicken salad sandwich.) This is kind of astonishing to me; it simply does not seem like that long. I polled the wife when she was between amphetamine benders: "Honey? Does it seem like two years to you?" She replied, "Every minute of my life with you feels like two years." And then she broke into violent sobs, but without the actual tears, because her wasted body no longer produces moisture of any kind. The noise was heartbreaking: I couldn't hear what the contestants of "The Amazing Race" were saying. So I told her I had some heroin cut with baby laxative in my sock drawer, and she crawled over to get it, leaving me in peace.

And really, that sort of sums up what married life is like. You talk about the important things, and you figure out how to give and take. In this instance, as you see, we talked about our relationship. Then, she took my heroin. And then, I gave her CPR while waiting for the ambulance. And it worked out! I even got to watch the end of my show while I did the chest compressions. Amber is pretty hot!

But a successful marriage doesn't fully thrive with just the occasional resuscitation or bail hearing. Sometimes you need to get away, find a change of scenery, and duck your parole officer. That's why on Friday we're going to fly down to San Francisco for a week to take a little break. We're pretty excited about this, and not just because of California's backed-up, overtaxed extradition process.

We'll be staying with some old college friends of mine, J. and A., who run a pretty classy indie porn business out of their apartment in Lower Haight--"We don't do snuff," A. sniffs, and I believe her, because these guys aren't that kind of people. They stick to pretty mainstream stuff like lobster crush vids and the vegetable peeler crowd, and I can tell you that those people are lambs. (Truth is, the wife and I might do some filming--hey, it's our anniversary trip! Mum's the word, but be on the lookout for Blown Save sometime in June. It's about a bawdy nun and the relief pitcher she loves. The credits are--seriously--pretty damn classy.)

Oh, we have other friends to check in with down there too . . . there's good old J.Z., a savvy businesswoman if I ever met one, who has a serious thirst for scotch and hash, when she has the time. Her business keeps her pretty hopping, though; a career in Forcibly-Motivated Human Resources is not for the lazy. As J.Z. says, "Look, I want to traffic in only the best slaves. Do you know how hard it is to work in this business and maintain any kind of quality control? It's damn hard."

We'll also be seeing K., a funny guy with his hands in real estate. Literally, actually. He fucked over a client of his on a shady financing deal, who then proceeded to chop off K.'s hands and brick them up in his fireplace. K. and I still laugh about this when we get together for drinks; it always kills me when K. lifts up his martini with his wrists and then starts crying when he spills it--every time. He always says, "I can't even beat off any more!" in this really funny, chokey voice. That guy is a fucking card. (Which reminds me of another funny story! K. used to love to play cards, but he can't any more, because he doesn't have hands. That guy.)

So anyway, we're pretty excited. I think that we're both only about two tricks away from making it happen, and it's only Wednesday. Shit, I can do two tricks standing on my head. I did three like that just yesterday. Kind of fucked up my gums, but hey. It's our anniversary, right?

Friday, 11 February
Street Hassle

I had a jolly time walking home from work the other day. So many new friends to meet!

First up was the fellow who, at the freeway onramp off of Olive Way, simply sat down in the middle of the street. He wore jeans, a ratty jacket, and carried in his arms an ancient radio that, as far as I could tell, was playing nothing, but this did not prevent the man from feeling rhythm (I would not be surprised if the apparatus was capable of playing old 78s. In fact, that would be cool. "Let's rock out to 'Sixty Minute Man' "!). As he sat on the asphalt (in front of cars, who honked forlornly), he held his arms out horizontally and did kind of a hippie wave with them, bobbing his head ecstatically. He was like the quietest, loneliest Phish concert ever. The cars continued to beep at him peevishly, and after a moment, he incorporated their noise as synocpation; he bopped to his feet and boogied over to the nearest car's driver-side window and gave the occupants a happy double bang-bang set of gestures with his hands . . . you know, like, "Hey, you are rad! I would enjoy having a key party with you and your wife!" Or something. Unmoved by this display of appreciation, the driver frantically scrambled to lock his door. The man held out his decrepit radio to the window in an attempt to share the Music of the Spheres with the car's occupants, but still the radio remained silent. The car veered around him onto the onramp, roughly at the same time I was veering around him, praying he wouldn't notice me. But he did: as I passed, he flashed me a gigantic grin and gave me the finger. I was actually pleased with this encounter, as it did not involve me talking to anyone.

I was not so lucky once I reached Broadway, where I was innocently making my way to the liquor store. I waited on the corner to cross the street, willing the light to change, when I was approached.

"Hi, sir! How are you doing?" This from a chirpy little dronelet wearing some yellow polyester jacket with an unfamiliar logo on it. I glanced down the street and noticed other yellow jackets. The bastards had blanketed the QFC block (a supermarket; basically the Kroger's of the Pacific Northwest), and were hassling the street's busiest area.

"I'm fine," I said stonily. Thanks to my accursed parents, I am pretty much trained to be at least minimally polite. Otherwise, I would have said, "I was great until some broad I've never met decided to bother me on the street." Or, "See that liquor store over there? I wouldn't need to go there if people like you were dead." But I didn't.

"Have you ever heard of PLAN?" she asked.

"No."

"Well, we're some sort of lousy organization that allegedly helps starving kids in hellholes everywhere, presumably by holding them hostage to Jesus-lectures before we give them donated food." I might be paraphrasing.

"I see."

"Maybe you've seen the movie About Schmidt?"

"I saw it on a plane." (Here my mind took time out to become exasperated with itself. Who fucking cares? Why are you talking to this person? How is this information relevant? Why haven't we bought liquor yet?)

This was obviously a BINGO! response that, like a dummy, I had provided. "Ah! Then you probably remember--"

My temper slipped a notch as I noticed that I had allowed a crossing-light cycle to pass by. "I don't have any money for you today," I interrupted.

"We don't accept cash donations," she smoothly replied, which certainly ruined my idea of winging a roll of quarters at her forehead. "What we do is take your name and address . . . "

Yeah, that was enough. I showed her all my molars. "No thank you. No." My mind was still wondering why I was simply unable to tell her to leave me the hell alone in the first place. She gave me a sad grin that clearly said, "You are a terrible person." Well, I knew that already, but I'm a happy terrible person. And now I'm not talking to you, so I'm even happier!

After the happy visit to the liquor store--which is kind of funny, since is there a liquor store that is not fundamentally depressing? There's always something, like the guy whose credit card I saw got declined when he tried to buy three minibottles of vodka. "Run it again!" he wailed, and I just wanted to sit down and be miserable for a minute, BUT--I wandered back out onto the not-very-mean streets., only to be confronted by my least favorite "homeless" scam artist.

"Got any spare change for foooooood?" he crooned, as he always does. He's a big blond guy, and his schtick is that he's perfected this man-boy persona that suggests that he's mildly retarded and helpless. He's been pulling this shit on Broadway for ten years, and it drives me crazy, to the extent that I have jettisoned my usual "must-be-nice" reactions for pure brutality: "Fuck no, you parasite." He does not drop his role for a second, and stares at me with a wounded look: but I have seen him about a billion times pulling out wads of bills to buy beer and lottery tickets. Once I walked into a local convenience store to get some smokes, and the bloody bastard was playing a "Mars Attacks" pinball game.

And this concludes my tale of being irritated by the possibly drug-addled, nonprofit volunteers, and the homeless. Hurrah!

Wednesday, 29 December
London (II)

Well, might as well finish this out. There really isn't much to tell, but hey . . . it isn't football either.

Our train back to London from Bath was relatively event-free, and mercifully did not include any drunken, amorous fumblings from fellow passengers. I confess I did briefly feel an urge to experiment with screaming at the public address messages: "SHUT UP! CHRIST HATES YOUR GONE-OFF SANDWICHES!" But I confined myself to periodically dozing, occasionally waking up to hoarsely whisper at the wife, "WOTSITS?"

We arrived without incident at the hotel, if one can rationally consider a London cab ride a non-incident, for London cabbies are a voluble, lurching lot that think nothing of erratic lane changes and rundown bicyclists left screaming in a tangle of twisted hollowcore metal, all the while calmly expounding on the relative merits of dead junkies. "They's a lot of mass, them junkies. Hell on the landfills. On t'other hand, they's dead, which is good." "My God! You ran over that delivery guy!" "Snapped 'is femurs, I did! Bloody cunts."

You people who cycle around London are fucking crackers, is all I'm saying.

We arrived at our hotel presently, which was in the alarmingly tony-seeming and thronged Kensington neighborhood. Various luscious-looking shops were everywhere, and filled with people with cell phones screwed into their ears. An H&M beckoned at the wife to come besmock herself, and on a visit the next day, we found it typically swarming. I noted a certain non-American disregard for rack sorting: in the US, pants are all over there, shirts over here, and so forth. H&M doesn't give a fuck, really. It's just fashion salad: suit jackets next to jeans (AND here's a shelf of ugly hats!) and then a couple parkas tossed in like croutons. We didn't have any fucking money anyway.

But I get ahead of myself. Checking into the hotel, we were met at the desk by a pleasant young woman. I gave her my name. "Kurruk . . . Skot? Yes! Two rooms, then?" We stared at her. I felt something knot in my bowels. "No . . . " I said, knowing what was to come. "One room. We reserved one room." She looked down at some paperwork. Specifically, two sets of paperwork. Then she went and got a manager. Who, yes, told us that we had two reservations.

I stifled a moan. In Bath, we had made reservations via a website called [REDACTED ON ADVICE OF PRETEND COUNSEL], a . . . . "last minute" website offering discounted hotel rates in "London." (There! Nobody could possibly piece those hints together!) The rates were indeed good, but the interface was fucking horrifying; I literally was able to smoke a cigarette before the fucking page load completed to give us our confirmation. I have bought thousands of dollars of crap online, so I also know better than to (despite mounting fury) pound the "Submit" button over and over and all that crap.

And yet we got nailed twice by the "last minute" website for hotels in "London." (I AM BEING GOOD, PRETEND COUNSEL!) The real clincher in my mind that I had not done anything wrong was the fact that I got only one confirmation email regarding the transaction, specifying only one room. If I had somehow fucked it and inadvertantly made two, I should have gotten two confirming emails. We called them, and they promised to make restitution, minus some fucking fee to the hotel, them being out for reserving a room and all that. Well, eat me, because we didn't do anything wrong, and it seems to me that we shouldn't have to pay a cent for an error we never committed.

Good God, I don't even want to go on about this, because it's so fucking stupid. And it's not even my place, since we were using the unlucky wife's card on the whole deal, and she's been the one having to deal with it. Suffice it to say that there was chargeback wrangling, and then bank complaining, and much confusion, and it is still not resolved, and all I can say is, when at the "last minute" in "London," be wary of which "dotcom" you engage to make your bloody reservation. [PRETEND COUNSEL, AM I NOT SMOOTH?]

Our last couple days were spent frugally, as we were getting a bit on the lean side--thanks, lousy crumbling dollar! I did note that a week after getting back that the dollar dove even further into the septic tank versus the pound. We kept to the hotel bar and restaurants (which played, mysteriously, freakishly loud Trans-Siberian Orchestra-esque music; nothing like eating carbonara while baffling guitar sprays keep getting tangled in one's noodles). We ventured a couple times to a pub called the Prince of Wales, which was obviously no stranger to travelers; its menu prominently featured a HOW TO ORDER block of text, advising befuddled Americans that sitting down at a table with worried expressions was never going to result in a waitress.

(It's actually kind of fun trying to spot Americans waiting for service rather than going up to the bar. They usually end up either disgustedly leaving, feeling affronted, or they corral some poor bastard who was on his way to unclog a toilet. Just who you want handling your comestibles.)

What else? Not much. The flight back was unextraordinary, and we glumly stared at the same fucking movies we flew over with, horrors like Troy and Dame Edna Eats It All For You or whatever.

Soon we were home. And now we're done with all that.

I'll try and cool it on the football too. No promises.

Wednesday, 22 December
Bath (II)

While we enjoyed lazing our way around Bath, there wasn't a ton of remarkable things that happened, really. Mostly we woke up, the wife ate some breakfast while I smoked, the we'd shower leisurely, and head out to the city center, usually stopping by a pub at around noon or so for a pint and to chat about what the rest of that day would consist of, which was frequently nothing.

Coinciding nicely with our visit, Bath had a groovy little Christmas market set up, where we would enjoy spiced wine and watching all the dogs in the crowd be very excited about this kinetic new neighborhood just bustling with fresh new asses and crotches to be pondered and sniffed. One day, a "town crier" wandered through the market, bellowing some nonsense about "GREAT SAVINGS!" at a nearby Marks & Spencer (department store); we decided we'd have a look.

Which was a horrible mistake. The place was a mad crush of bodies, mostly women, all racing around the place and generally behaving like a band of marauding huns. Children were dragged around like unwanted freight, their wails of protest unheard; merchandise was seized frenziedly; the staff wore the hunted expressions of doomed quarry. We noticed a couple harried employees manning a wine-tasting little promo table, and we wandered over because, hey, free wine.

The table was surrounded by in inordinate number of older ladies; on the table itself were many dozens of plastic cups filled with Cabernet. We helped ourselves, but we were the only ones. This is because the ladies didn't want any damn Cabernet: "D'you have some Chardonnay?" one crooned. "Yes!" another piped, "I'd prefer Chardonnay!" The entire crone chorus was almsot immediately as one voice, and it demanded Chardonnay. "Please! Some Chardonnay, please!" (Another thing is, old English ladies really do sound exactly like one of the Monty Python boys in drag. Exactly.)

One of the staffers clutched a lone bottle of white. "THIS IS THE ONLY BOTTLE OF CHARDONNAY WE HAVE LEFT!" she yelled. "IT'S SOLD! THERE IS NO MORE CHARDONNAY!"

Only a brief second passed before one of the ladies simply repeated, "I'd really prefer some Chardonnay." Others picked up the familiar refrain. "D'you have some Chardonnay elsewhere in the store?" "Yes, a little Chardonnay?" Some didn't appear to have listened at all. "Will you open that bottle of Chardonnay?" "Oh, that would be lovely. Open the Chardonnay!" Moments later they were all again fluting hellishly at the staffers, a tireless flock of wino loons.

"We have to get the fuck out of here," I said, and the wife agreed.

I naturally stopped at some local beer & wine merchants, checking out the native suds fare, and was pleased that I did, for it was there that I saw a brand of beer called The Fursty Ferret, whose delightful label showed alcoholic ferrets crawling around a cask of brew in a craze of apparent need. Plus, it was called The Fursty Ferret, which is delightful by itself. The wife opted for some cider called Scrumpy Jack, which I'm sure she regretted later if only because I became so enamored of the phrase Scrumpy Jack, that I got obsessed with it for a while, and adopted it as kind of an alter ego, and was given to unpredictable hollers such as "I'M SCRUMPY JACK!" or conspiratorial whispers: "I'm ducking this bill. Grab your purse." "What?" "Are you mad? I give coin to no man. I'm Scrumpy Jack!" I'm sure this didn't get old at all.

Another product I found utterly charming I saw in a supermarket over there called Sainsbury's, a truly awful place to exist for any amount of time. The color scheme is dependent on a curiously 1970s-ish hue of ghastly orange, giving everyone and everything inside of it a sinister, desquamated cast. But then a bag of chips--scratch that, crisps--caught my eye. They were called Wotsits! (Their exclamation point.) I whooped happily and pointed them out to the wife. "WOTSITS!" I screamed. "Mmm-hm," she grunted, probably anticipating what the next few days would be like. I didn't disappoint. Funny looking dog passing by? "WOTSITS?!" When asked what we should have for dinner? "WOTSITS!" As I've said before, I am very lucky to be married.

Just in case we missed Seattle at all, Bath kindly also provided homeless people for us. Many of them were selling a paper called The Big Issue, which I assume is analagous to Seattles Real Change paper, which is sold by the homeless who then get to keep most of their profit. These fellows were the cheeriest damn bastards on the whole street. "Hallo, how are ye, good afternoon sir, fancy a copy of The Big Issue, only a pound, right then, copy of the paper sir?" The first couple times I saw these guys, I (sigh) assumed it was some crummy scam and passed on by, and the guys saw even before I got past that I was a big No Sale, and with only the slightest tinge of regret would call out, "Right, well, sorry, have a nice afternoon."

There's something heartbreaking about the fact that in Bath, anyway, the homeless people are more polite than most of my friends.

Then the weekend rolled around and the population of Bath suddenly trebled, because apparently EVERYONE GOES TO BATH ON THE WEEKENDS for Christ knows what. There were millions more of the demented old ladies, and they were still screaming for Chardonnay, or sometimes even more bizarre drinks, such as brandy and Diet Coke, or lager beers spiked with lime juice. Freaked out by the roil, the wife and I retreated; we spent one night in the room eating sausage, cheese, crackers and wine purchased at the accursed Sainsbury's (and drinking Fursty Ferret); another afternoon, we went to go see The Incredibles. Hey, we had six days, you know?

And all too soon they were over. It was back to London for a couple days before our flight left. And being the exquisite planners that we are, we didn't have a hotel booked yet. What could go wrong?

Tuesday, 21 December
Bath (I)

Respite! And so we came to Bath, where we had already been duly warned that Bath "really isn't worth six days. Maybe two." We appreciated the advice, and maybe it is true for the hale & unconstipated traveler who is just ripping to get back on a damn train or plane or motorboat to go winging off to the next destination, ready for the next plate of fish and chips to lodge resolutely in his or her duodenum while gazing fondly out the window at yet another sooty wall decorated with the happy slogan, "FUCK BUSH."

Indeed.

We understood, and yes, you can see the sights of Bath in a day or two, but the point was, we were a little tired of big cities and definitely tired of racing to and from various stations and checkpoints, and so the idea of spending six long days of idly wandering around a smaller city with its small, cramped roads was immensely appealing. And we were very happy we did.

As has been previously mentioned, however, the daunting thing about staying for long periods of time on the American dollar is its utter fucking puniness relative to the GBP. (And it's gotten worse, I notice. Holy Jesus.) We surveyed the terrain of our usual haunts--that is, charming, rustic little B&Bs where your iron tubs are cold and rusty and for some reason they have mounted dead crabs on the walls, or something--and they were all horribly expensive (again, remember the flaccid exchange rates). So we did what any person would: we immediately compromised our standards, and booked a room at the yes, soulless and corporate local Holiday Inn Express. It was a good 20 pounds cheaper a night (at least), and was a mere 10-minute walk to the city center.

And we were glad we did, to be honest. Now listen, again, I am a huge fan of those dead-crab-on-walls B&Bs, and they tickle me a great deal, particularly when I'm lowering my tensed ass onto cold iron and I think "I am traveling, and I feel it right now on my ass!" and then I pick up some complicated bath-sceptre and spray water all over the towels. I really do love it. But you know what else I love (and was really happy to find at the Holiday Inn Express--we were never able to determine what exactly made it an "Express," unless it described the velocity with which one's body expelled their glum, defeated coffee, but you could say that about all English coffee, and nobody calls the place England Express)? I loved a queen-sized bed. I loved standing up and taking an actual shower. And I loved--oh, how I loved, I confess, after only a mere week--more than three grainy televeision channels. O God! I cried. I am not forced to watch the Gaelic news! I have options other than baffling childrens' programming! On the other hand, one lonely night as the wife slept, I did discover myself watching Mystic Pizza, which I gravely analyzed as some sort of Hollywood autopsy.

Our stay in Bath was not really very remarkable; we saw the sights, of course: we toured the baths (duh), which was fun in that crumbling-stones-and-green-water kind of way (PLEASE DON'T TOUCH THE WATER! IT'S GROSS! blared the signs. Everyone touched the water. No wonder it's gross.), but somehow more fun was the Museum of Costumes, a charming little collection of outlandish garments throughout history that silly people all actually wore. I'm being mean, of course--we do, after all, live in a culture which has countenanced such things as leg warmers and body glitter. By comparison, an elaborately embroidered greatcoat weighing twelve pounds seems . . . well . . . cool.

Maybe it's a theater thing.

But mostly we took pleasure in relaxing, walking around, seeing lovely old architecture, etc. We wandered the Abbey, a typically Gothic affair with a stunning array of memorial plaques mounted on the walls, on the floors, on the pews, everywhere. "Neare here lies Magdalene Chomper, goode Mother and Faithfulle Wyfe; her surviving Husbande grieves to this Day, and Faithfullie appends the Letter E to manie Good wordes. 1784." That sort of thing. I felt particularly bad about the inscriptions set into the granite floor, as they were all worn away to practically nothing by the millions of feet: you couldn't really read them at all, and it bummed me out that the feet-corpses were getting the short end as compared to the wall-people; it also bummed me out to think that not only were their sentiments getting wiped out earlier than the wall denizens, but also that I might be walking on their faces. "Sorry about the size tens, Mrs. Hoagaboam," I thought. "You want me to give the finger to Mrs. Gangenhall? She's the uppity one over there on the wall." But my fears were probably misplaced; many of the plaques were pretty cagy about the actual resting place of the remains. They said: ". . . whose body lies near here . . . " quite a lot. Which makes me wonder if there was just some ignominious chute where all the bodies were dumped, and then mercilessly scavenged by gravediggers who hauled them back to dark rooms where they would yank out their earbones and sell them for gin.

I think it's clear I needed a rest. Which I definitely got; and there's more, but Lord, I do go on, don't I? We can pick this up later. There's a whole fucking Christmas market that happened, and an unfortunate event at a Marks & Spencer, and a selection of beers to talk about, and a supermarket that, given European complaints about American crassness and bloat, cannot be left without comment.

How's Wednesday for you? I'll see you then.

Friday, 17 December
Interlude (Travel Day)

After leaving Wexford, we had one more night in Dublin before going back to England. This night was so unremarkable that I'm not even going to bother to try and dress it up with any lies. We had dinner somewhere and then a few drinks at the Long Hall, where the only thing that amused me was when I ordered (for the wife) a Harp at the bar. The very efficient bartender actually took two steps away from me to fill the order before his neurons fired. He wheeled on me. "ARP?" he shouted. "NO ARP!"

I don't know if ordering Harp is a dumb American thing to do; I tend to assume that when traveling, any time someone tells me "No" that I've done something stupid. I quickly just asked for a cider.

The next day was dedicated solely to travel; we had to get from our hotel in Dublin to Bath. Geographically speaking, this is kind of the equivalent of me driving to Spokane. In reality, of course, things were much different. Here's what had to happen--each step of the journey, incidentally, costing simply fantastic amounts of money, particularly when taking into account the supine posture the American dollar has adopted against European currencies:

Dublin hotel --> Dublin airport --> Gatwick Airport --> Gatwick Express --> Victoria Station --> Paddington Station --> Bath train station --> Bath hotel.

To be honest, things on the whole went incredibly smoothly, all things considered. Our cab ride to the airport was made pleasant by a typically garrulous driver named Tony. ("He took a gamble on old Tony there!" he cried when a pedestrian made the dumb move of stepping in front of his cab. A London taxi driver would have accelerated, I guarantee.) Tony regaled us with his own travel stories, proudly telling us of his adventures in certain US cities such as Juneau and Branson.

And Dublin airport managed to exceed our dim expectations as well simply by being far less ghastly than Gatwick. (Though for some reason I am a security magnet. I was taken from my seat at the gate to have my carryon inspected by the most humorless man on Earth; he poked at my gloves with a little stick, which for some reason tickled me. Yes, there's a bomb in my gloves. The wife commented on the fact that I get singled out for these things more than anyone she has ever known. I am proud to say that I have been given the security business in four different countries; a couple years ago, the Belgians practically cavity-searched me.)

The RyanAir flight was just fine--quite by chance, we were among the first dozen to board, so choice seats at the front were ours. The Gatwick airport--like any airport--was much more of a pleasure to leave than to enter. The express train to Victoria was typically fine, as was the cab ride to Paddington (only three pedestrian casualties!), where we happily went to the counter to purchase tickets for the next train to Bath.

The teller scrunched up his face. "When do you want to go?"

Was this a trick? "Now would be nice. The next train?"

He smiled. "If you travel now, it's peak time. It'll be ninety pounds a ticket."

This wasn't in Rick Motherfucking Steves. The counterman continued on. "But if you wait until after 7:30, it's only thirty pounds."

7:30 was three hours away. This certainly dented our day's schedule, but there was hardly any way we were going to be nailed for the difference. We waited; I had a brief temper tantrum about this once we reached the outside, but it subsided once we realized that there was a nearby pub (THE PRIDE OF PADDINGTON!), and I wouldn't be stuck in the station staring at brisk Londoners.

Eventually, we boarded the train, and we were feeling pretty good about how things had been going. Yes, the wait was a bit of a drag at Paddington, but everything else had been pretty smooth. We found seats and sat down. All was well.

And then they arrived. A man and a woman, clearly drunk, and they sat across the aisle one row back from us. They immediately smashed their faces together for a while, engaging in some seriously enthusiastic tongueplay accompanied by a musical variety of grunts and moans. Oh, lord.

If only they'd just done that for the whole trip. But no.

Everyone else in the car was doing their level best to ignore them (and this was a milk run; the train stopped at every little town like Grumbleton and Yob's Knob and Corkbutt--we all prayed they'd leave, but no, they were going to fucking Brixton), but after a bit they left off their clumsy amory to--what else--pour some wine.

I looked over when I heard the generous glug-glug-ery, and--look, this isn't nice, but fuck them--I have to say that they were really very ugly people. The fellow looked like something poorly die-stamped at a factory in China, and the woman . . . well, she looked like several miles of wagon trail. Together, they resembled something like a total repudiation of evolutionary tactics, and I imagined that their children would all come out looking like broken chairs or puddles of botched stew. I mean, ugly. There was no getting around it. I speak as someone pretty funny-looking myself.

And on they drank, particularly the woman, and they carried on loudly in conversation. She would ask, over and over, "So whadyew really think of me?" She really only had to look at any other passenger's face for that answer. To his credit, the guy did try to shush her some, but it was hopeless. Things really got exciting after the second round of glugs: God knows what die-stamp guy did to provoke the response, but all of a sudden the wife and I were jerked out of semi-successful attempts to nap by her piercing scream: "PERVERT!"

We sleepily thrashed for a moment at nothing, and then swiveled to see who was getting mauled. Nobody. The harridan laughed uproariously at the entire car's response.

Later, the club car announced over the PA that it still had some snacks left for purchase. She erupted again. "SHUT UP! WE DON'T WANT YOUR HORRIBLE GONE-OFF SANDWICHES!" Then she cackled some more, and belched. It was like AbFab with all of the humor carefully removed. The car was deathly silent in a very English way.

Finally, we reached Bath, where we hurled ourselves off the train; the awful couple were apparently continuing on to the hellmouth of Brixton (I only insult Brixton, of which I know nothing, because THEY were going there). Bath--sweet Bath!--where we had been cautioned that travel-wise, was only worth a day or two. We planned on staying there for six.

Wednesday, 15 December
Wexford

After our little stay in Dublin, it was time to move south to Wexford, where the wife has old friends who live there, B. and E. and their two kids Z. and G. She hadn't seen B. and E. for ten years, which was the last time she had been in Ireland.

We took the train ride--only a little more than an hour--and it was perfectly lovely. Too lovely, really, and it maddened me a little as I stared out the windows at the countryside to realize that I was rapidly being forced to acknowledge a cliche: that green really does mean something different in Ireland. Realize that I've spent most of my life living in what amounts to a nontropical rainforest; I am not unaccustomed to green. And yet, as I looked out at the landscape (dotted with one of nature's more inexplicably comic animals, namely sheep--why are they so funny?), I was unable to prevent myself from thinking that I had never really seen anything quite so fucking green. It dug at me, but at least it was just gorgeous. Plus, I thought I might have a shot at making a bit of money by pitching a new tourist slogan at someone: "Ireland: Quite So Fucking Green."

B. and E. were utterly charming folks, and the kids (the girl Z., 10 and the boy G., 8) were also clearly unrotten--G. wasted no time informing me that rugby was "way more violent" than American football, casting a shy grin as he imparted this dire news. I decided not to tell him about Ray Lewis.

We had a nice homemade dinner consisting of standard Irish fare: spaghetti and meatballs, prepared by E. and the wife. The wife was in charge of the meatballs, which, by her own admission, turned out to be a terrible responsibility that she simply wasn't up to. As she wailed the next day, "I'm sorry about those meatballs. I've never made meatballs before!" At the time I reassured her that they were fine, but since then it's become a running joke, so in truth, I do admit that they were rather like tiny meteorites shot through with desiccated oniony flatworm xenomorphs.

Later in the evening, perhaps in an attempt to poison our minds against any memory of the spaghetti and frightballs, E. offered to take us out to the local pub. Now, this is not the same thing as a pub in a large city, which is just really a bar. "Pub," after all, is short for "public house," which is what we got to experience: someone, some time ago, gutted out a house and threw in tables and a rudimentary bar. And this is where all the locals go for evening drinks; very much a community thing. So of course when we strangers walked in, everyone in the place immediately shut up and stared at us, at least until they saw E, the familiar face. Without her presence lending us tacit endorsement to be there, I'm pretty sure we would have been identified as invading brigands and seared by hot pokers.

The next morning, B. unfortunately had a business trip to make, so he was unable to accompany the rest of us on a car trip conducted by E. around County Wexford to see many crumbling Norman ruins, impossibly adorable country houses, and yet more innocently hilarious sheep. The tour culminated in some lighthouse point where we all got out of the car to admire the thing and to wander around on the beach of (apparently) volcanic rock where we hunted for fossil impressions (which were legion) and endured the incredibly cold and merciless wind, to which E. seemed impervious.

"Isn't this beautiful?" she howled at me, red-cheeked under her knit cap. She stood facing the wind as if it were a gentle zephyr caressing her skin, when in fact we were all being horribly dermabraded by its killing ferocity.

"My testicles are near my heart!" I screamed piteously. "I think we might die here!"

She nodded. "Yeah, there's little fossils all over the place! I like to come here to watch the dogs play in the surf."

I beat my numb hands feebly against the rocks, staving off hypothermia, or at least pretending to. "I can't feel my skin!" I shouted into the wind.

E. put her hand on her hips, facing the murderous gusts. "Sometimes the dogs get carried off by rogue waves!" she bellowed agreeably. "Sometimes kids!"

I had had enough of the lighthouse beach.

A few hours later it was time to head back to Dublin--we hadn't planned this visit very well, unfortunately. We said our goodbyes and got back on the train, back to Dublin for a night before returning to England.

Nothing much happened on that last night in Dublin--a few more damned Guinnesses at the Long Hall, really. And then the travel day, from Dublin to Dublin Airport to Gatwick to London to Bath. And it all went so smoothly. Right up until the very last train ride.

Where it all went terribly wrong. It's not a long story, but it's not one that fits here. Next up: The Train Ride Featuring the Drunken Horny Brixton Mutants.

Tuesday, 14 December
Dublin

And so we went to Dublin, flying out via Gatwick airport, which is evidently an ongoing experiment in panic-inducement. I cannot stress enough how terror-inducing our experience was at this airport.

For one thing, the gates are all separated in multiples of (roughly) five, but these multiples are fed by single long walkways. Okay. But for whatever reason, Gatwick chooses to keep your gate designations a mystery until mere minutes before flight departure. So what happens is, several hundred desperate travelers stare fixedly at the Departure screens, waiting for the gate assignment to come up, and when it does, everyone charges into these walkways like frightened elk, throwing elbows like frightened elk who had suddenly evolved elbows. Then you come to a frightful bottleneck--without explanation of why everyone just stopped running madly--and see that this awful crush of people are being ticket-stamped by one lonely elderly gentleman doing his level best to manage a panicky charge of elbow-y elk.

This is before you even get to the gate to fight for your seat in RyanAir-style single combat. Kudos, Gatwick! You make Newark look like the Elysian fucking Fields. Let's be clear here: I would rather fly out of Newark than Gatwick. I am hard pressed to think of a more damning statement.

Once in Dublin, the wife and I were a bit stunned to learn this interesting fact: traffic in Dublin blows dead dogs. The cab ride into town was a phantasmagoria lullaby of . . . not . . . moving . . . much. I watched with interest as actual zombies passed our taxi with relatively surprising speed; the driver commented, "Yeh, the zombies er fast, but they wun't kerry yer luggage! Itch yer neck is what'chell doo!" We remained silent and continued staring at the knotted traffic going nowhere and the attendant zombie slaughter. I asked tentatively if Dublin had any sort of viable public transportation system, and received only derisive laughter.

Eventually, we reached our destination, Kelly's Hotel, a little dilapidated spot in the city center whose staff's fucking-A-ness more than made up for little details like cranky windows and bash-yer-head ceilings (at one point, they contacted the rail people for us and obtained information on several different fares and times). Knowing that earlier in the year that Ireland had, stunningly, banned smoking in public places (and being advised by a reader that this included my hotel room), I wasted little time in BREAKING THE LAW, MOTHERFUCKERS! by opening a window and defiantly half-clambering out of it to have a smoke. The wife, however, made this unnecessary by simply asking if smoking was banned at the hotel. "You can't smoke anywhere else," was the reply. "Might as well smoke in the room." (The Irish are virtually incapable of not deriding the smoking ban law; we heard countless variations on this very sentiment.)

And you can't; certainly not at the pubs. Outside of the wonderful Long Hall, an establishment right across the street from us (and a recommendation by a reader), smokers crowd in the entrance to have their precious cigarettes. One night, I met a very drunk fellow passing by who asked for a smoke; his brogue was very thick, so charades were involved in translation. Finally, I understood, and gave him one, to which he confusingly exclaimed "Odor point!" while waving his arms enthusiastically at me. Then he turned around and stumbled face-first into a metal pole, to no observable effect on his demeanor.

It was a little while before I figured out that "Odor point!" translated to, "I owe you a pint!"

And then there was Brian, whom we met while waiting in a pub for a train to Wexford from Pearse St. Station. Brian could almost be his own blog entry, but we'll do it here.

We had bought our tickets to go see friends of the wife down in Wexford, and while waiting for the train, found a pub called Kennedy's to pass the time. Brian found us at our table, accompanied by two young boys in his charge, relatives of some affiliation I never quite comprehended. Brian was the soul of Irish good charm, in (I would say) his late fifties, and full of incomplete ideas about America. He asked us where we were from. We replied that we were visiting from Seattle, Washington.

"The states!" he exclaimed. "Got the Bronx, do yer?"

We didn't have any good way of denying that, as Americans, we guessed we were stuck with the Bronx, and it seemed pointless to try and get into any geographical hairsplitting. Brian didn't care anyway. He pointed at the young boys he was herding around to little success.

"That one's a rockhopper!" he yelled. The boy mugged at us in return. "By which I mean he jumps around. All the time!" The boy obligingly jumped frantically in place, drawing dark looks from the bartender. Neither Brian nor boy gave a fuck; in the meantime, the other boy made faces from behind Brian's back.

Brian continued on with a disjointed account of the family history behind the childrens' provenance while the lads ran madly about. "He's a rockhopper, that one," said Brian again before becoming briefly serious. "I lost me wife last year."

We put on sad faces and cooed plangently, not quite knowing what to make of what was going on. Brian didn't care. "There's a lot of history here!" he brightened for some reason and waved at the window. "That hotel over there used to be a church!" Okay. The boys were becoming more and more restless; one of them grabbed Brian's hand and began tugging on it, bleating, "Can we go soon?" Brian (not for the first time) admonished him, "I'm talking!" The lad tugged again on one of Brian's fingers, prompting Brian to say, "If you pull on me again, I'll kick yer right in the nuts!" The kid laughed. Then Brian made strangling motions at us, as if to say, "You won't mind if I throttle these kids, right?" For the second time, Brian then said tenderly, "Me wife died last year, you know."

I wish I could transcribe more of what Brian said, but frankly, much of it was incomprehensible to me. There were more confused geographic questions about our proximity to certain New York touchstones interspersed with such queries like "Do ye believe in God?" and "Can ye take the rockhopper off my hands?" The latter with more neck-wringing gestures.

In the end, he left us (with the children mercifully--as yet--unkilled) with no less than four heartfelt two-handed goodbyes, making sure the kids gave us stout handshakes as well. And I swear that one of the last things he said to us--the wife's hands clasped in both of his--he breathed, quietly:

"I lost me wife last year."

Saturday, 11 December
London (I)

Flying into Heathrow airport after a nice wakeup on British Airways ("Sir? Orange juice? Coffee?" "What, no wine? I'm on vacation!"), I was naturally concerned with one thing. I turned to the wife, who, having slept very little, glared at my well-rested self; undeterred, I tenderly gazed at her and whispered, "Do you remember if you can fucking smoke anywhere in Heathrow?"

What a dumb question. Of course you can. And, once we cleared customs, I did. God save the Queen.

After snagging our luggage from baggage reclaim (Reclaim! Not claim! How exotic!), we then set about our first task: getting to our hotel. Being the masters of not planning much of anything in advance, we hadn't bothered to work this out. There was the Heathrow Express, of course, the handy train system that zaps you straightaway to Paddington Station, but the thing was, we were staying nearer Victoria Station. Or there was the option of just taking a cab, but Heathrow, being a fucking city in and of itself, is a ways out of London proper, and we knew that it would be a horrifyingly expensive ride. Neither of us were up to negotiating a tube ride with our bags and barely-functioning brains either, so that was out. It was quite a conundrum, which I set about solving by going and having another cigarette.

Presently the wife found a small desk called "Hotelink," which promised us airport-to-hotel service for fifteen pounds a person. (A note on the US dollar versus the pound sterling: we're fucking losing. The dollar is around .53 pounds--and not much better against the Euro--so it became quickly evident that to convert British prices to the American equivalent, you just doubled prices in your head. As if I needed more excuses to drink heavily.)

Hotelink worked pretty well, really. We shared a van with just one other customer (who got out first at the London Hilton; thinking about its room costs filled me with a kind of economic nausea), and got to see some lovely urbanish sights along the way. I distinctly remember passing an office building with its name proudly emblazoned on its side that was quite memorable: THE LEPROSY MISSION. Welcome to London! Our mission: To give you leprosy. I'm sure it's a fine organization, and obviously with a noble cause, but leprosy just isn't one of those things that gets a lot of play in the States, and you don't often hear it mentioned, much less stamped onto large buildings. And yet, there it was, greeting me into the city. It had a curious logo, which seemed to be that of an adult reaching down to hug a child. Or to give it leprosy.

A little later, twenty minutes or so, we were treated to our first really English experience: someone calling someone else a cunt. That would be our driver. At a stoplight, he was apparently harangued by another driver; however, he apparently couldn't hear the exact words of the insult, so he accomodatingly rolled down the window to get a better listen. I thought this was really charming.

"WOT?" our driver shouted.

I heard only indistinct replies.

"Aaaaah!" he snarled back in irritation. "Yer cunt!"

I admired a couple things about this. First of all, his utter lack of regard for the fact that he was swearing freely at other drivers without a care that we could clearly hear him. Another was that he managed to somehow pronounce "cunt" as if it contained a diphthong. But England is the Land of the Diphthongs. I'm pretty sure they snore using extraneous vowels.

We reached the hotel in due course, and the driver cheerfully flinged our bags to the curb and waved us off briskly, clambering back into the van before we could even tip him, which naturally (not for the first time) made us feel like stupid Americans--Americans are deeply nervous about not tipping anyone who has done us the slightest service, and so we go around doing things like tipping people who make us coffee, or fix our toilets, or give us leprosy, whatever. Fortunately, we were too whacked out to give much of a shit about it, because otherwise I would have likely ran after his van, screaming, "I FORGOT TO TIP YOU! STOP, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! TAKE MY MONEY!" And flinging pound coins at his windows. Instead, we trudged up to our hotel room and collapsed.

We spent only a couple days in London at first (we'd be back later), and to go on much more about it would be pretty boring: those days were mostly spent acclimatizing ourselves to the time change (and resulting body malfunctions: "You shit yet?" "No. You?" "Just air." Our trip would turn out to be positively Rabelaisian in its varied discussions about what did or did not fly out of our asses). We did manage to stir ourselves long enough for a trip to the Tate Museum, which any fucking fool can see is a seriously great place to see some astoundingly great art, and at an unbeatable price: free.

It's a profoundly American reaction to feel like you're ripping off someone, somewhere, when you go to a European museum and just wander in the front door for nothing. Because it's deeply weird for us that a government would actually take the position that, hey, part of our (the government's) function is to make absolutely fucking sure that anyone, without regard of who they are or how much money they have, should absolutely be able to experience things like great works of art.

Naturally, it doesn't really work like that here. Which is pretty embarrassing.

Like I say, though, we only had a couple nights in London before we headed out to Dublin, via RyanAir through Gatwick. And here is where things got exciting. For Gatwick might be the most horrible airport in the world. For myself, I am convinced that Gatwick is simply a large, particularly cruel Skinnerian experiment in operant conditioning; a maze for rats where there is no cheese, but only Velveeta.

But enough for now. Next time: Gatwick. And Dublin. Where we leave off diphthongs and go straight to glottal stops.

Monday, 22 November
The Night Before

Well, fuck you, Gmail. You can kiss my ActiveX ass. Honestly, what on earth does that mean?

BARL. See you in December.

Luv,

Skot

PS to Europeans: Jesus Christ, buy us drinks!

Wednesday, 17 November
USA! USA! USA!

As the trip to Europe comes closer, it dawned on me today that it was time to shop for tiny things. It's no good when traveling to pack a giant can of shaving cream, or the standard-issue tube of toothpaste, and certainly not a big tin of Band-Aids. For one, it's just not practical to cart that shit around. And for another, it's just insulting to the Europeans. This is a place where people drive tiny cars--if they drive at all--and eat tiny portions and sleep in tiny beds. In short, Europeans are tiny, scuttling pygmies, but they are proud pygmies, and resent stout American traditions like buying every possible product in such quantity as to suggest that at any time we may suddenly be plunged into a famine. America is the land of plenty, which is why we are the only people on earth who buy tube socks in twelve-packs.

I learned all this to my pain on previous trips to Europe. I remember one night in France at a restaurant, and I asked the waiter, "What's the soup du jour?" He told me what it was--I don't remember exactly, but it sounded good--and I said, "That sounds wonderful. Bring me a big fucking bucket of that shit, and a ladle." The waiter stared at me a moment, and then politely explained that the soup came in a perfectly modest portion that he thought I would enjoy. I set him straight. "I'm an American," I said through my big-ass American teeth, "You bring me that bucket and ladle. I'm gonna suck down that swill like an asthmatic moose, only noisier. I'm gonna grunt like Monica Seles having a sigmoidoscopy. I'm fucking Falstaff squared, okay?" Europeans respect Americans who simply know how to shoot straight, and true to form, the waiter was nothing but helpful from that moment forward, particularly after I shot him in the ankle for forgetting to refill our wine glasses.

But when it comes to most other things, we try to play it cool, and hence the shopping for tiny things. So today I bought a tiny little thingie of deodorant (my cavernous American armpits tingled with dismay), a tiny little tube of toothpaste (my tobaccoed American teeth laughed riotously and rubbed their teeth-hands together in anticipation of a smoke-friendly culture), a tiny little packet of ibuprofen (my giant American brain quivered with enthusiastic American endorphins), etc. Presently, a clerk approached me.

"Finding everything?" she asked.

"I think so," I replied. "I like these tiny little combs. They're absolutely spot on for my pubic hair, which does get really unruly. Do you have tiny little tubs of hair gel?"

She adopted a worried look, but remained helpful. "We, ah, have these small cans of hair spray. Would that work?"

"I don't think so," I replied. "I'm a smoker. One goddam stray coal and my dick is a Roman candle."

Her hands fluttered slightly in an unconscious semaphore indicating MADMAN to anyone who might be nearby.

"It's cool," I said soothingly. "Listen, do you have any tiny little pistols? Something good for travel? I might need to discipline some snotty waiters while I'm on vacation, and you have a Christload of tiny little things. Like a derringer or something? I don't need a fucking Buntline Special here."

She gave me a watery stare before responding. "Have you tried Safeway?"

Lord. This country is just in the dumps. It'll be good to get away. We'll be there soon, Europe! I know you just can't wait.

Wednesday, 27 October
Up

As everyone knows any more, air travel really blows, and particularly so since 9/11. To be honest, I'm not sure it was ever much fun anyway, except, of course, for those who have money, like your Rich Uncle Beard-O over there, living it up in first class with the reclining seats and the martinis and the hey hey hey I Get Blowjobs! Here's a fifty, stewardess.

(I recently read a classic bit of sniffery in the NYT Book Review where the writer was pining for the days when people on airplanes wore proper suits and the airport restaurants were all classy affairs. In other words, she was eulogizing a time when people like me didn't fly. I'm more than happy to dance on that particular grave.)

One of the leveling effects of any kind of downward technological creep is a certain dismay in the fact that while you--the regular joe--suddenly get to enjoy the benefits of [whatever], you also suddenly realize that all of the other regular joes get to enjoy it too. This leads to resentment in that what you expected to be kind of cool and thrilling--a big-screen TV, a hotsy computer--is just that, but it's diluted by the fact that the dickhead over there in thongs gets to enjoy it too. It's orthogonal to misery loves company; think more like self-indulgence hates competition.

But you swallow it, and at times you can even commiserate. I certainly did with other weirded-out flyers who, like me, weren't familiar with the new "TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES!" policy at security gates. That was new to me--you want to scan my shoes? Jesus, fine, I guess. Everyone knows that now that shoe-scanning is routine, some guy is just going to eventually show up with C-4 shoved up his ass, or his hair woven into some terrible nuclear dreadlocks or something . . . scan my shoes, you poor nerds. We're the middle class and we can afford to FLY! Nothing will prevent the shuffling, besocked hordes from getting on that plane!

The wife has always been irritated with a trait of mine when it comes to air travel. I was about to call it a talent, but it's not; it's simply a condition. You see, I can not only sleep on planes, I am basically incapable of staying awake at all on a plane. I just can't. I've fallen asleep even before the drink cart shows up, and many friends of mine will testify that this is deeply weird for a lush like myself. It happens all the time. The wife hates this very much, as she cannot sleep for shit on a plane, so there I am, a hateful drooling golem, whose helpless dozing is like a jabbing thumb in her restive ass.

But sometimes, even the most somnolent of travelers can be jarred into thrashing agony. Most commonly, this is due to horrifying co-travelers, which come in many varieties. On this last trip . . . I encountered several. It was uniquely terrible.

THE GUY WITH THE FUCKING CELL PHONE

We all know cell phones, while annoying as hell, are very useful. HOWEVER. There's a time and a place. I'm willing to forgive minor transgressions like their use in restaurants . . . usually. If people are discreet about it. But places like city buses, elevators, bathrooms . . . no. Same with planes. I mean, sure, a quick conversation--"Honey, the flight is late! Pick me up at nine!"--that's cool.

What's not cool is the loud guy who talks into his cell phone all the way from the jetway right up until the flight attendant is demanding he turn it off. So it was flying home, with me on the window and he in the aisle; he went from one "DUDE!" conversation with a BUDDY! right into a gruesome conversation with his mother. I was already feeling antipathy for the bastard, and then I heard this:

"Mom . . . MOTHER! (Pause.} Mother. I'll try to make it, okay? (Pause.) Mother, what industry do I work in? What industry do I work in?"

Here my hatred intensified. For one thing, don't be a dick to your mother. But also, don't make a show about your incredibly important job here for our benefit. I knew this was going to end badly. He didn't disappoint.

"Mom! I work in television! You know that! Television! I'll do my best."

I immediately wrote this person off as a human impostor, and I devoutly hoped he'd fall through a rusted area of the floor. Everyone would cheer as he fell screaming to his death.

FEET

Here's what you don't do: take off your fucking shoes in public places. Least of all on a goddamn plane. But that's exactly what the grim-faced woman did, right after she sat right next to me. She pulled off her fucking shoes and then, cementing my feelings of horror, pulled out a Dr. Phil book. I began to feel glad about my air-travel narcolepsy until I realized that occasionally her nasty foot--which she had tucked under her leg on the seat--was prodding me every now and then as the plane yawed. Now, I'm not a germophobe or anything, but do I really want some harridan's skankerous feet touching me on a long flight? Waking me up to notice that she's still reading about how Dr. Phil helped out a family of half-human-half-dingoes by bathing in a tub filled with human placentas? This would alarm anybody. It's fucking unnerving. I wanted to whip out a copy of Swank magazine and start vengefully beating off to see if I'd get a counterreaction.

FINALLY, YOUR HORRIBLE CHILDREN

One in front of me, one in back of me. And listen--despite what you might think, I get along pretty well with kids. They're generally hilarious, but in most contexts, that's because one knows that they are easily escaped from. Not so on planes, and I was sandwiched. The kid in front of me was a screamer: "EEEEEEEEEEEEE!" This because he was trying to shove his headphones into his pants, and the father sensibly was trying to prevent this. "EEEEEEEEEE!!!" Kids are weird, or perhaps just know more than we do, we who are corrupted by so much confusing "experience." Perhaps the kid realized the truth: that our genitals are broadcast mechanisms for communicating with outer civilizations. Or perhaps he was just a little howling sack of shit. In either case, I was consumed with fantasies of poisoning him, particularly with the idea of conspiratorially whispering to his parents, "I've poisoned your awful child! He'll be dead soon!" I liked to imagine their fictional reactions: "Oh my God, how can we thank you? Now we can buy things we like!"

The kid behind me was worse. He was a Kicker. SLAM SLAM SLAM went his feet against my seat. GLARE GLARE GLARE went my eyes behind me. But it didn't matter. The parents of this kid were completely fireproof, in that hateful way that I don't quite understand, where the parents' judgment is so completely warped that they are incapable of recognizing that just maybe their delightful little tots are actually a real pain in the ass.

It's not that parents shouldn't be allowed to travel with their kids. It's just that they should travel on planes other than mine. We should all have our own planes, just like Rich Uncle Beard-O. Just like I shouldn't have to share. We're all kids in the end, I guess.

Take off your shoes.

Monday, 10 May
All That Glitters

Some of you tens of readers are going to get the wrong idea about our trip to Las Vegas. You're going to think, "Wow, he had a really shitty time." Please don't think that. We had a delightful time. But for some reason, whenever I think back on the trip, I think of . . . stuff . . . that wasn't necessarily . . . fun. But still. We had a good time. Just try to remember that.

Flying into Vegas in the daytime is never a good idea. In fact, looking at Vegas in the daytime at all is a really terrible idea--it's like going backstage at a strip club and finding out that the women are all tired and crabby and hate you. And make no mistake: Vegas hates you. Let me amend that: Unless you are rich enough to genuinely not have to give a shit about money, Vegas hates you. The image it likes to play up is: Anyone can get lucky! No reason it can't be you! Which I suppose is technically true. However, the darker side of what Vegas really thinks about you is this: And if you get lucky, who the fuck cares? You're just going to blow it on something stupid, obviously, because you're here, aren't you?

These were the thoughts that filled my brain as we flew into Las Vegas and I stared at the horrible, grimy low-rent tenements that squat around the Strip, like the dark-eyed children lurking around the skirts of their trashy mothers. Nothing says "Losertown" like eyeing some of the hopeless lodgings a mere half mile off the Strip. Fortunately, much like other people's neglected children, they were easy to forget about once I couldn't see them anymore, so by the time we got to the hotel, I happily did. No losers here!

We went exploring. The casino was nothing unusual, except for perhaps the startling explosion of deeply weird new slot machines. There were the celebrity (I'm being kind) machines: "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve Slots!" "Kenny Rogers' The Gambler!" "Stacy Keach's Unemployment Check Fiesta!" Clearly not my demographic. Nor were some of the more esoteric of the "themed" machines. What the fuck is "Lobstermania"? Are all the rugged woodsmen flocking to town to play "Wild Bear Salmon Run"? I stared for a while at the puzzling "Tabasco" slot machine and idly fantasized that each losing spin rewarded the unlucky player with a blistering spray of capiscum into their eyes.

We availed ourselves of a couple drinks--foregoing the three-foot-tall bongs full of daquiris favored by the wandering college-aged chitterers--and headed outside, where there was a band playing. It was apparently "ALL EIGHTIES!" because we certainly don't want to forget that utter debacle of a decade, and the band was playing a truly dispiriting version of "Don't You Want Me." The siren belted out the lyrics like she was cleaning a rug with a broom: "DON'T! YOU! WANT! ME! BABY!" In defiance of all sense, the male singer responded to her shrieks with a pantomime of, I guess, "wanting": he took up his end of the chorus and began chasing her around a speaker. I hoped that he was trying to murder the wretched singer, but alas, they were being "cute." They continued their assault on the song, while the wife and I stood transfixed. I no longer wondered what ever happened to people who are truly awful singers but who cannot help themselves: they move to Vegas. The woman in particular was hauntingly bad. If musical notes were baseballs, and she were to be suddenly inhabited by the spirit of Ted Williams, and she were also given a +5 Magic Bat of Homers . . . well, she could maybe get a spot with the Mariners, but that's all.

As we turned to go, the band launched into the minimally funky "Bust A Move," and we quickened our step. The song screamed in agony as the musicians fell upon its neck and hungrily sucked all the fun out of it. We needed more drinks.

Later, we prowled the casino tables. The wife was determined to try some gambling, and had settled on roulette as her game of choice. I located her a five dollar table and she sat down cutely. I made my escape, as roulette gives me hives, and tried to find a five dollar blackjack table, which is the equivalent of the childrens' table at Thanksgiving. None. Only ten dollar tables, and I had never played on one before, mainly because I am so very chicken and also because I do not have hundred dollar bills falling out of my asshole. Eventually, however, I screwed up my courage (read: couldn't fucking handle just watching any more), pulled out a hundred, and took a seat. I was handed a tiny stack of chips, of which I almost immediately lost sixty dollars. I just bought Steve Wynn a pair of shoelaces, I thought.

But as it turned out, I ended up winning about sixty bucks, and weirdly, I stopped. Found the wife. "How did you do?" "I lost about thirty-five bucks," she said. "Did you have fun?" "Yeah!" she chirped, "and I got a couple of free drinks." This is the hallucinatory aspect of Vegas. You spend the equivalent of $17.50 for two watery drinks, and like it.

By the next day, I had started to think of Las Vegas as The City That Makes You Want To Push Old Ladies Down! Really, you kind of want to push all of humanity down, because they're all in your fucking way in Vegas, in improbable spots: Yes, in the middle of a doorway is the perfect place to have a discussion about show tunes! Dorothy, I would like to pick this busy sidewalk to get your chicken recipe! Uh oh, Bernice, there's a sociopathic young man who's pushing you down!

We decided, unsurprisingly, to have more drinks, so we headed to Mandalay Bay. For those of you who haven't seen it, Mandalay Bay is this gold-plated monstrosity that crouches on the outskirts of the Strip, looming ominously over the heat-blasted nothing, like some existential Ivana Trump. Our destination was a place called The Red Square, which as you might imagine, specializes in vodka, and lots of it, of all kinds and provenances. Sweet overpriced vodka! We could hardly wait.

It was closed until the evening. For a minute I felt kind of stupid for not calling ahead, until I realized that the fucking place was violating a major law of Vegas: Closed? What the fuck is closed? In this city? Nothing closes, for Christ's sake! It's the whole point of the city! If I want to drink vodka at noon, or lose all my money at midnight, or gang-fuck a hooker in a raccoon suit, the city provides this ANYWHERE, ANY TIME! Closed. And stuck in a giant pachinko machine right off Gehenna Lane. We found another bar and drank listlessly, considering our options.

Finally, what can you do? We split. There was a walkway connecting Mandalay Bay to the Luxor, a ludicrous pyramid dropped down in the desert by lost, tacky pharaohs. We finally entered the thing, and my spirits were lifted a bit by the sight of crying children: the Luxor's interior is a creepy, imposing cavern filled with looming Egyptianesque statues and inadequate lighting. Naturally, the children were all terrified beyond sanity, and wailed for their parents to deliver them from the hellish crypt. We continued on, and inside I cackled at the luckless parents, whose future therapy bills would surely be as astronomical as they would be useless in fixing their grey-faced, somnolent children, who would all become goth teenagers one day thanks to the Luxor.

We continued on another human-freight-moving-tube to the excrutiatingly wretched Excalibur, an Arthurian-themed casino that seemed to be designed and built by Walt Disney's febrile ditch-cousin. The wife wrinkled her nose. "It smells like buffet, she said, and I was alarmed to find that there really was a smell called "buffet." Gray meat, pink wine and brown gravy were the dominant themes, with an undercurrent of Old Spice; alarmingly, the smell was beginning to cut through our previous drinks, so we ran out, scattering children like tenpins, breathing a little easier once we emerged into the furnace of the Outside, and gulped down lungfuls of dusty car exhaust. Whew.

The rest of the day was a wash; we napped in our room, resting up for our later excursion: Showgirls! The wife wanted to see a Show, bless her, so we wrangled some half-price tickets to something called The Showgirls of Magic! I figured with a title that bad, it had to be dismally good. And it was! The wife and I enjoyed ourselves as the young ladies pranced 'n danced 'n did hoary old magic tricks and, most importantly, displayed their breasts. Expecting a parade of silicone, I was pleased to see the entire gamut of breast sizes, from perky As to charmingly plump Ds. This appeal to my sense of democracy pleased me, as did seeing naked tits. There was also a fat transvestite who hassled some guy in the front, and later, a midget. Every fucking tacky thing about Vegas was paraded around on stage, and the show reveled in it, and I appreciated that. Particularly the breasts.

Afterwards, we gambled for a bit; I went up about thirty bucks, and the wife again cheerfully lost some more money at the random number table, but no biggie. We went to bed and huddled under the blankets, fighting the arctic blast of the air conditioner.

The rest of the trip, really, was more of the same shit. I did end up losing some money to a video poker machine, which the casinos malevolently put at each bar. Video poker is my nemesis, and yet I play it every time. Some people have things on their headstones like Loving Father or Taken Too Soon. Mine will surely read, For Some Reason, Played Video Poker, and then below that one of those red circles with a diagonal bar across it obscuring a dollar sign.

As we returned home on the plane, I slept, and I dreamed: I dreamed of "Bust A Move," and of brown gravy. Sounds played in my head: "WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!" "Bongbongbongbongbongbong" "LOBSTERMANIA!" I remembered the guy at my blackjack table who split fours. I recalled the very same fellow who stood on two aces. I imagined doomed revenant children who haunt pyramids, living off of discarded soda pop and mustard packets. I fondly remembered getting out of town, drinking beer at one o'clock in the afternoon, and spending time with my girl. And I dreamed of breasts, all sizes.

So I don't see how anyone can get the idea that I didn't enjoy myself, because I damn well did. We had a lot of fun. So much so that we're pretty sure there's no need to go back very soon.

Monday, 08 September
Vacation (Fortunately Without Chevy Chase)

Last Thursday, the wife and I left a much-needed long weekend on Whidbey Island at a bed & breakfast. A couple of friends (who are themselves a couple) joined us, K. and K., and we had a glorious time on the ridiculously beautiful island doing things like luxuriating in the hot tub, drinking booze, and in all ways pretty much just draping ourselves over furniture like sleepy mandrills.

The bed and breakfast was of the "Here's the bed, make your own fucking breakfast" variety, which was great with me: the 2-bedroom cottage was set apart from the owner's house by about a quarter mile of woods, and they had stocked the fridge with eggs, bacon, juice, etc. So rather than having to chat with athletic Swiss middle-aged couples touring the countryside over scones or grimly smiling at a too-eager-to-please host, we lounged around looking disgusting and made breakfast at whatever damn time we pleased. Being a total misanthrope, this worked out well for me.

Outside the cottage was a stable containing three lovely horses who clearly were used to getting their way with the tenants; they would hang their long faces over the stall walls and stare at us when we came out on to the porch. They'd sort of shake their faces at you, then give a soulful look at the apple tree nearby, and look back at you pleadingly. It was great; I immediately wanted to magically replace all the panhandlers on Broadway with adorable horses. Traditional beggars don't whinny and make chuffing noises of appreciation when approached with apples and carrots (though I confess I've never tried this tactic).

Note to self: tomorrow, try pacifying neighborhood panhandlers with fresh produce. Approach subjects cautiously, saying absurd things like "Who's a pretty thing? Are you a pretty thing?" and then shove carrots in their faces.

Maybe not.

A ridiculously big hit was, of course, the hot tub, which my wife in particular showed alarming enthusiasm for. She was in that fucker immediately, relaxing quite vocally and with much stretching and wriggling, causing me to think: Well, I'm not needed any more. We all got in a couple of times, but it's just not the same for me, I guess; it feels good and all, but after a little while I just kind of start to feel like soup. The wife, however, I imagined was stealing away in the dead of night to get back into the tub's gurgly embrace. "Wha--? Whereya gon?" I'd say muzzily. "I'm leaving you for the hot tub." "Whyyyy?" "It doesn't kick me or fart in bed," she'd say, slipping out the door. It would be hard to argue with her; it's just as well we do not have a hot tub at home.

We dicked around the island one day, visiting the local winery, whose pleasantly straightforward host treated us to some lovely stuff and endured our clownish questions. "What's Oak Harbor like?" "Northgate," she deadpanned. (For non-Seattleites, Northgate Mall is an utterly charmless aging mall north of the city; it is known for its wretched Eastern bloc-style architecture, unappealing retail outlets, and frequent violent crime.) Freakishly, we still went there, and sure enough: it was horrible. The K.s took to calling it "Commerce." I hypothesized that some of it had to do with the nearby military base: "The boys get back in town and want some cheeseburgers and whores." We thought about seeing a movie, and checked out the wan, crumbling theater: Jeepers Creepers 2, The Medallion, and . . . God, I don't know. Something else that made us immediately stop thinking about seeing movies. I began to wonder if the entire town wasn't some governmental black-hat experiment in mass demoralization.

"Agent Smith, report on Oak Harbor!"

"Sir, the populace has reached Level Five. According to a recent poll, 74% of the respondents feel like their souls are 'made of some kinda black crud.' "

"Excellent. Move to Phase Three."

"Yes sir. Johnson! Release the roving packs of gray, mangy, vomiting dogs!"

We took a little side trip on the passenger ferry to Port Townsend as well, a lovely little burg whose sidewalks are absolutely crammed with terrifying hippies, pedal-steel bands (what?), and adorable little beachy-front shops designed to crowbar all your fucking money right out of your pocket. It's charming if you're in the mood, and we were; we stopped at some anonymous pub to get some food, which only took a mere forty-five minutes or so to obtain from the perilously incompetent waitress, and we didn't even care much. We all passed out on the ferry ride back, except for boyfriend K., who was viciously stung by a bee that had crawled into his shirt. It's kind of funny if you know him, though we all felt bad; he writhed and occasionally made piercing noises through his teeth. "HEEF! HEEF!" I know that doesn't sound funny, but this is the same guy one time who put too much spicy crap on his pho soup, and spent the better part of an hour with water bursting out of his eyes and his nasal passages burning like hellfire. Things like that just kind of happen to him. He's like Job, but with slapstick.

Anyway. I'm back, and I survived Monday at work, where of course I answered the same question over and over: "Have a good time?" People always ask you that when you get back from a vacation, and then of course you have to tell them about it. To get around this, sometimes I'll lie. "We got gang-pressed into a geek circus, and I had to jerk off chickens while a monkey orchestra played 'Pass the Dutchie'!" "Ha-ha, be serious." "Heh, okay. We actually were on a millionaire's retreat, and he let us hunt and shoot The Most Dangerous Game! I bagged me four hillbillies!" "All right, I'll talk to you later." "You don't want some hillbilly steaks? They taste kind of like feet!" "Jerk . . . "

But yeah, I had a good time.

Tuesday, 27 May
Some Of The Rest Of The Story

Well, even after a few different postings on the subject, I still have a bit more to yammer on about Belgium. So fuck it; I will. Here then is just some of the bits of the honeymoon that I didn't manage to fit anywhere else.

The Immobile Elderly Woman

On our walks to and from our hotel, we passed along a couple residential streets every day, and with startling frequency, we would encounter the Immobile Elderly Woman. She had lost a leg somewhere along the way, so she sat in a wheelchair, right in her doorway, apparently--it seemed--for hours. It was like someone had parked her there, because I seriously doubt she had the motor skills to whip that chair around. At first we smiled politely as we passed, but then she started speaking to us. "Mlab," she'd say, craning her head around. We tried to respond, first with "Bonjour!"--most Bruggeans know French, and our Dutch is ghoulish. We got nothing. We passed her the next day. "Blem." So we tried our butcherous Dutch. "Goedemorgen!" we chirped. "Lahr." She turned her head away from us; whether out of disgust or incomprehension or simple motor dysfunction I can't say. Naturally, I immediately assumed failure on our part. "Our Dutch chews," I said, "We probably just told her that her cat was Jewish."

Finally one day, we did see the parker: a young woman with a little child were getting her arranged in her doorway and chittering at her companionably. Then the young woman rushed away with the kid, calling out goodbyes to the other woman, who called back to her, "Ylaaa." So: monosyllabic granny who just likes to sit in the sun during the day, and presumably is pretty used to people not knowing what the fuck she's saying. So that was all right. Beats a nursing home.

Restaurants

The wife and I ate like fucking royalty on our trip, I must say: we made Falstaff seem like a starving ape casting around his denuded rainforest for a goddam wood grub. Belgians, it should be known, quietly eat some of the best food on the planet while France gets all the big ink and then whams you with monstrous bills to boot. But a couple of our favorite experiences were at relatively smallish, modest places anyway. One of those, "Den Wittenkop," looks like it's been kicking around since the canals silted up, and features the best waiter in the world. When we first went in, he presented us with our menus, and then when returning to take our orders, he noticed that he had neglected to also give us a wine list. His attitude immediately became mournful. "I am . . . so sorry." he said funereally, as if this lapse in server etiquette was the equivalent of vomiting in our laps. On another visit, I asked for an after-dinner scotch, and his eyes gleamed with the unholy light of one who recognizes another single-malt fiend. "The fifteen year is better than this eighteen year. I know, it makes no sense!" he cackled, and no fool I, I ordered the fifteen year. He came back with both, so I could see what he was talking about, and of course he was right. That evening, we produced the inevitable camera, and he bustled over saying, "Yes, I will take your picture!" I brought him up short saying, "Actually, this is one of our favorite restaurants here; I'd like to take your picture." He puzzled this a moment, as if I had suddenly lapsed into Tagalog. "What do I do then?" And then he struck a freakish heroic pose; at well over six feet tall, he looked like some heraldic jumping spider. We settled for a normal shot of him with the wife, but in retrospect, I shoulda got the first one when I had the chance.

Another place we loved, "De Bottelier," was run by a placid man who rather reminded me of Christopher Walken, but with all of the frightening weirdness excised. He often allowed a traveling group of buskers in to his place, where they performed bits and pieces of song classics along with their fiddle, guitar and stand-up bass while people ate and then tossed them euros after. Pretty nice . . . unless you were a dog. People in Belgium think nothing of taking their dogs pretty much fucking everywhere with them, a policy I endorse with vigorous nodding: I love dogs. However, on this night, there was obviously some tonal dog-torture emanating from one of the instruments--my guess is the fiddle--and right as they started up playing "Yesterday," the dog lost it. "YICK! YICK! YICK!" it screamed, startling the hell out of me: I had no idea there was a dog in the place, but sure enough, looking over to the next table, I could see the crazed little beast, barking with bloodlust, looking like a tiny, angry, fanged pile of rags. The buskers didn't give a fuck, and kept playing, so the owners of the dog whipped right out of there--but making sure to quickly tip the buskers first.

Terrastje

Meaning "terrace," the Terrastje is a tiny bar right across the canal from our hotel; we spent many evenings hanging out there, having a couple beers and playing Yahtzee with dice and paper. It's run by this fantastically crusty older couple, who, when the mood strikes them, will suddenly throw on ancient French tunes and croak along with the lyrics. The wife is particularly singular; she will often simply make up sudden, seemingly random house rules according to her whims. One night we ordered food; she laid down menus in front of us and said, "I don't know. You point, and I say yes or no." We cautiously pointed to macaroni and cheese, which was apparently a legal option; we were fed and fed well. One night the wife ordered a martini--by the way, a very different thing than what Americans or Brits are thinking of--and she said, "Martini? I make it, but I think you're crazy." Noted. Perhaps best of all, one night I ordered a beer and a whisky chaser. She nodded, poured the beer, then looked behind her at her liquor bottles. She looked back at me. "Beer, but no whisky," she said firmly. "No whisky?" I asked, staring at the bar. The inebriated guy beside me heard this too. He turned around. "No whisky?" he echoed uncertainly, as if he had heard of an impending comet strike. She ignored him and gave me my beer and no whisky.

Our second to last night there, we walked into Terrastje, and . . . what the holy fuck? The music was blasting at a mind-shattering volume; weirder, it was Ricky Martin, and the wife-owner was grooving behind the bar. Some locals were also up on their feet, dancing like mad, while others observed with amusement from the sidelines. It was like turning on the TV expecting BJ and the Bear and getting The G.G. Allin Batfuck Variety Hour. We goggled for a bit and then settled in to a table. We chatted and laughed with a nice British couple next to us on holiday with his tiny, aged French mother. (We initially took her for a tiny, aged man, because of her thinning white hair; in truth, she looked exactly like that terrible old crazy fucker from Poltergeist, but without, you know, the unspeakable evil.)

This of course did not last; soon we were all dragged into the mad dancing, even at one point the tiny French woman--Edith Piaf got her out of her chair. We danced for a while, nuttily, and then someone twigged to the fact that we were newlyweds. Frank Sinatra was played while we danced our very own dance, and the British fellow snagged my camera and took some shots of us. It was all very sweet, and very romantic, and very embarrassing, and in a fairer world, it would have lasted much longer . . . but that's what keeps one coming back, I suppose; the perfect waiter or a silly dog in a restaurant can keep you coming back. Even if it's only to park yourself in a doorway in the sun and watch the world pass.

Thursday, 27 March
The Fine Art Of Hemorrhaging Money

It's a little silly given that I have a honeymoon to deal with first--including those dick-twisters who create the nonsensical airfare bafflemazes (aren't they supposed to be going broke, for Christ's sake?)--but I've been feeling a jones to get back to Our Nation's Most Appealing Cesspool, Las Vegas. It's a little hard to write about a place that was seemingly covered back to front by a certain Mr. Hunter Thompson, but hey, that was thirty years ago, and goddamn it, I love the place, even while I fully understand that the whole thing is a glutinous, cynical, cardboard fuck-factory that eats the weak and picks its marquee teeth with the bones.

The last time I was there was about a year ago, when I went down with about a dozen friends for a birthday jaunt. So we threw our Antabuse pills into the dumpster and hopped on America West (aka Afterthought Airlines) for a couple of hours before being kicked out into McCarran Airport's cheerless smoke 'n wait 'n slot desmesnes. Then a quick taxi-cram to our hotels (Paris for the birthday boy, Bally's next door for the rest of us), hurl our shit onto the bed and off to the Strip we scampered.

I can understand why people would object to the atmosphere of--or even idea of--someplace as fundamentally perverse and crass as Vegas, but I still maintain that if you can't get over it long enough to even have a tiny bit of fun there, you're just being obstinant. At the very least you can people watch: the racked-out trophy dates (or brides); the loutish, appalling white trash tourists; the horrid old-person-shaped giant funguses rooted in front of the slots. You can at least enjoy these things ironically, can't you? Hey, is that a really attractive hooker? Or a pretty showgirl? Or a knockout cocktail waitress? Answer: it is a man in drag.

Over the course of our visit, we of course went all over the place. I always like to visit the desperately terrible Excalibur casino, if only to walk into the joint. Entering visitors "enjoy" (when it's working) a moving conveyor belt while your ears are entertained by actors with awful plummy Olde Englishesque accents trumpet nonsense about the "MERLIN'S MAGIC!" being on your side as you gleefully yank the nickel slots. Meanwhile, on either side of the belt are two concrete alleys: these are for people leaving the casino, on foot, not as the Vegas Gods intended, which would be in either a limo or an ambulance. No, people exiting the casino in such an ignominious fashion not only walk out on their two sad loser feet, they walk past the glorious soon-to-be-winners who only have to stand there and be whisked inside without any perilous effort at all. Nothing else in the town for me sums up so succinctly what I think of as Vegas' unspoken credo: LOSERS WALK.

At one point, a bunch of us decided to take a walking tour of wherever we led ourselves, with the idea that we'd just grab drinks wherever we were moved to. Unbeknownst to me at the time, a couple of them had some ecstasy, which they had gulped down (because yeah, in Vegas, you need heightened senses to pick out the subtle details, like the twenty-foot tall billboard showing a winged, double-dicked incubus sportfucking the Barbii twins on top of a Humvee). This led to trouble for one of our merry band; we settled down in some piano bar in the Venetian, and K. seemed jumpy and tense, and it was a little odd that he was wearing sunglasses, but whatever. We'd been carousing for two days, and we were all feeling kind of soul-mashed anyway. But what was going on with K. was, the ecstasy was warping his perceptions, and he kept catching a sideward glance of this tiny Asian woman at a nearby Pai-Gow table. She was enthusiastic about the game, and loud as hell, and she'd toss the dice in the shaker and wave it over her head and scream "PAI-GOW!" K., we found out later, was under the impression that she was staring directly at him as she did this, and that the screams of "PAI-GOW!" were some kind of terrible tooth-baring threat, and the dice sounded like bones rattling in a crypt, and that every time she screamed afresh, she was implacably inching closer and closer to him. K. held himself together all right, but I can still make him flinch by bugging out my eyes and howling with menacing cheer, "PAI-GOW!"

In the end, we naturally lost all of our fucking money--especially heart-tugging were the losses of C., the birthday boy, who went bottomlessly broke so quickly that the process seemed to require the employment of tachyons--and when we finally hit the airport to return home, we looked and felt like wraiths. "I feel like death's chilly asshole," I moaned when I hit the seat. "Me too," said the fiancee. "I can't wait to come back."

Monday, 10 February
Coming Home From Work Is A Non-Heroic Unadventure Not Even Remotely Fraught With Danger

As I made my way home today--as always, on foot, it's about a 20-minute walk, a distressing bit of exercise that I neatly negate by smoking a couple of cigarettes--I naturally encountered other good citizens of my fair city. They included:

The Couple Making Out

You know, it's appalling enough to see people you don't know mashing away just anywhere, but it's really also very eerie to see them do it in the Starbucks parking lot. Not even leaned up against a car or anything: they were just going at it in an empty space. Did they imagine they would get towed elsewhere? Actually, there's an idea--it's a little tamer than my original fantasy, which involved sauntering over to them and hitting them with a pickaxe--Starbucks should tow them. "Kids makin' out in the lot again." A simple phone call, and then a beefy guy in a greasy t-shirt would drive up and swiftly attach a massive towing cable to the startled couple. "Hey, let us out of here! We'll move!" they'd shriek, their passion taking a decidedly sudden downturn. "Take it up with the city," the guy would grunt, and then he'd take off with a lurch, and you'd see the unfortunate couple dragging behind the truck, bouncing off the asphalt and howling like Pandemonium's own PA system.

The Unnerving Not-A-Rapper

As I crested the hill and approached Broadway, my cardiovascular system shuddering and lurching like a poorly coordinated rugby scrum, I spotted a horrifying apparition. It was an unkempt figure, nearly six feet tall, with knotted dirty blonde hair flying this way and that, limbs keeping an uncertain, frenetic tempo modeled, seemingly, on the flight patterns of frightened hummingbirds. It held a soft drink cup to its lips, and screamed terrible rat-a-tat-tat near-rhymes and assorted ravings in rough accompaniment to the tempest ravaging its tortured body, using the cup as a megaphone, which was hardly necessary; the noise had several people in a nearby bus kiosk pinioned to the plexiglass wall, and they writhed helplessly. The figure capered a while longer, and somewhere grandmothers cried piteously, without knowing why; it was because of this awful shambling thing near Broadway. I turned away from the spectacle. I cannot discount the possibility that it was Joni Mitchell.

The Dead-Eyed Bank Shufflers

I had to use an ATM, and of course as I approached the bank, there were lines of people waiting to use them all. I took my place at the end, and patiently began becoming enraged with all of the other people failing to use the ATMs quickly and efficiently. I pride myself on this skill; being able to execute a rapid succession of neatly timed keypad punches at an ATM is, to my mind, one of society's most underappreciated abilities. But apparently it's only me, because, yes, this person was staring at the screen, definitely not punching any buttons, apparently befuddled by the dozens and dozens--no, strike that, six options available to him. You want a withdrawal, you wretched troublefuck! That's all anybody ever wants! Press "withdrawal!" More monklike studiousness. Then the scales fell from my eyes, and I saw that the ATM inside the bank had nobody in line for it. What cruel trick was this? Nobody else seemed to notice or care; they were all boring holes into each other's backs. So I skipped inside, got my money, and He Who Notices Things was on his way. Nobody else had moved.

The Cold Girl

I don't want to dwell on this, because I don't want to sound creepy or sexist or anything, but. As I left the bank, I approached a girl in a tiny little tank top, and it was cold out, so of course her nipples were plainly visible through the microgram of fabric she was wearing. And I saw them, and because I'm me, I was instantly consumed with a burning shame, and I flushed violently, and cursed myself for being a man who noticed a woman's nipples, and snapped my head downward to stare at my shoes, and almost certainly became the perfect representation of the creepy guy who wanders around the streets in the daytime with nothing better to do than leer at womens' tits all the time, and who should be killed. I kind of wanted her to punch me as she passed by, but she didn't. So to the cold girl: I'm sorry I noticed your nipples. If it makes any difference, it made me feel just awful.

Nice Girl

There's not much to say here except to note its bewildering improbability: a pretty girl smiled at me. Fresh from the psychosexual horsewhipping I had just experienced, I was reeling uncertainly down the street, and paused at a stoplight, which is always a good idea when you don't feel like getting hit by many fast cars. So I was standing there spacing off, and I noticed a pretty girl looking at me from across the street, smiling. I performed my usual maneuver and immediately looked away, because, you know, girls are scary. I sneaked a look back. She was still smiling at me! Some poorly-trained lonely genetic algorithm clumsily managed to execute itself and cough out some Pig Latin instructions to my brainstem, and I feebly grinned back, a sad rictus. Her smile broadened. Then the light changed, and we passed each other, and the crazed ordeal was over.

I have, of course, a beautiful, wonderful fiancee, so I don't want to make too much of this, because it's really silly, but there you have it: it's nice to be smiled at by a pretty girl. I dashed home to see if someone had tattooed a humorous joke on my forehead, or perhaps I'd grown a tiny, adorable new head that I couldn't see, but it was just me.

USA! USA! USA!

That felt good. And with that, I'd like to publicly just remind my fiancee that I love her. If she wants, I'll go make out with her in public.

Monday, 03 February
Coprophagia Can Enhance Your Travel Experience

Because we are incredibly unique people with rarefied tastes, my fiancee and I are making the shocking decision to honeymoon in Europe. I know, I just freaked everyone out, but we are. Go ahead, Mr. and Mrs. Joe American, have your tired old Qatar, your played-out Liberia, your faux-frisky Laos! Fuck that, we're funky! It's crazy Europe for us!

Specifically, we're planning on going to Belgium, but I haven't yet secured the tickets, but only because the airline industry is a rat-chewed bunch of malevolent crotch-kickers whose sole aim in life is to make planning air travel an incomprehensible, tedious, life-destroying debacle that makes Prometheus look like a contemptible loafer sunning himself on a fucking rock all day with his adorable pet cockatoos and his nonstop triple martinis, because fuck you, regenerating liver! At least he was heroic; he gave us fire. What does Expedia give me? Nine hundred dollar fare quotes and a deep, abiding despair, that's what. Any of the services--they're all identical--are basically like experiencing Kafka as interpreted by Disney. Baffling, vicious bureaucracy methodically meting out cruel punishments served up with straight-faced outrageous gall in a world where nothing makes sense and the only real assurance one can count on is the simple feeling of pain, but in a cute way. Sound familiar? Yes, exactly, standing in line for the "It's A Small World" ride, and buying plane tickets off the net.

Because of course travel agents don't exist any more, and you can't even get into the airport any more without tickets, ID, and a wholly subdued sense of moral outrage. "Can I see your ID?" "Sure." "All right. We'll need to scan your luggage." "Okay." "Now eat this dog turd." "WHAT?" "I want you to eat this dog turd before I let you go sit desolately to wait for your late, crowded plane." "Why? Why are you doing this to me?" "New rules."

You examine the little horror. It's wrapped in foil, which you notice is embossed. It says "EXPEDIA!" Down the hatch.










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