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Monday, 21 December
Continental Drift

Right before Thanksgiving, the wife and I traveled once again to Bruges. It was our third trip over there and my first to Amsterdam, where we flew in and out of. I've been thinking a lot about how to write it up, and have largely been stymied. I'm still not quite back yet.

General notes, I guess: weather-wise, we got utterly creamed. There was exactly one day in which we were not rained on, and we're not talking Pacific Northwest polite rainfall: we got doused every fucking day. On our first night there, we sat glazed in front of the hotel TV, trying to get our bodies adjusted to the jet lag (with occasional fun bouts of me throwing up nothing), when a truly epic thunderstorm descended upon us. Naturally, I chose this very moment to wander downstairs for a cigarette.

The lightning was close and intense, so it was a smart thing that I was holding an umbrella up in the air. As a rule, I like to feel safe by holding a largely metal object up in the air when there's massive amounts of atmospheric electricity in play. I struggled to light my smoke in the ridiculous gale, and was largely unsurprised when my umbrella got inside-outed by the wind. "I've really got to stop smoking," I thought as I stood battered by the storm. I watched a middle-aged lady attempt to cross a canal bridge, and her hopeless umbrella met the same fate as mine. I stood under my crippled, useless bumbershoot, shivering and staring at the twisted tines of the poor thing and welcomed myself to Europe.

I hope it goes without saying that neither of us could give a ripe fuck about the bad weather.

We had a week of the town to ourselves before we were met by our traveling companions Will and Julea (and, for a brief couple days, Warren). We had set ourselves up in a two-story apartment with a rooftop balcony that overlooked the city's famous belfry. The three of them had a rough ride to Bruges from Amsterdam, and arrived hours later than they anticipated due to four different train changes necessitated by things like dogs wandering onto the tracks and train operators needing to stop for gum in Ghent. After such a harrowing trip, one thing was called for: a ridiculous bender.

The wife and I had laid in a solid liter of Jameson's whiskey, which we attacked like Huns. Warren in particular went after the luckless bottle as if it had done Warren some grievous wrong in the past. (I confess I wasn't far behind Warren in draining the thing.) At some point in the evening, Julea took exception to a hideous oil painting in the apartment, a depiction of some long-forgotten matriarch glaring out with a secret fury at the living world, and clambered up onto a decidedly unsturdy desk to cover it with a blanket. That's when my wife went a little pale and announced she was going to bed.

Some of us were to be discovered, the next morning, a bit on the moany side, and we laughed over our night of excess. Warren, for his part, blamed the brand of whiskey. "Fuckin' Jameson's!" he howled. "Every time I drink that shit, I wake up miserable!" We attempted to offer an alternate theory--that he had drunk a simply unreasonable quantity of high-octane moonshine--was met with scorn. "Fuckin' Jameson's!" He would occasionally yell this while looking to Zeus for answers that were not forthcoming.

It wasn't all debauchery, of course. We made sure to get our culture on, visiting some museums, taking in public sculptures, and in general freaking out over the absurdly adorable local architecture. We climbed the belfry tower, noting that, while cruel, Colin Farrell's observation from In Bruges that morbidly obese people could never make it all the way up was completely true. We were at the top when the clock struck 2:00, causing certain female members of our party to scream, which was also charming. Further evidence that heterosexual men are just assholes: nothing pleases us more than when our gals are screaming like fire alarms. This is why we subject our poor mates to things like horror movies and intolerably loud noises: the hope that they will jump up and down and grab onto us, both of which are utterly delightful to us.

There was a ton of other things that we did, of course, but then this post would be nine miles long, but I'm sure I'll get to them soon enough. But there is one last story to tell before I go hit the bed.

We spent the back end of the trip in Amsterdam, where we flew in and out of. On our first night in Amsterdam, after a fairly spectacular meal featuring oysters, the wife and I were sacked out in our hotel room. It was around 11:00 PM, and I was questing through the channels in search of something to watch. The BBC was already in full boring mode--whatever, reporting on countries I, as an American, have barely heard of, such as Scotland!--so that was out. I wearily kept punching the channel incrementer.

Suddenly, there was . . . well, there was a thing. It seemed to be a documentary, though since the narration was in Dutch, it was difficult to tell what the fuck it was about. Interestingly--I guess--the subject seemed to be these four or five guys from America; they all seemed to be from New Jersey. I only say that because they were all sort of paunchy fucking schlubs who were phenomenally unattractive. I know that's a mean stereotype about New Jersey mooks; they could have been from Montana. But if I had to guess, well, I'm sticking with New Jersey.

So there's these mysteriously ugly dudes speaking (in English) to their interviewers about . . . what? It was strange, but yet the filmmakers seemed to think there was something interesting about them, something worth documenting. We soon found out what the hook was.

As the Dutch narration continued, one of the fellows suddenly stood up and lowered his pants, and revealed a simply absurdly huge dong. Seriously, he just stood there while the camera filmed, briefly, his thoroughly inactive flaccid dick. A few minutes later, one of the other tools did the same thing: he dropped trou and stood there, bored as anything, as the camera captured precious footage of his drooped, indolent cock. Now, like I say, we don't speak a word of Dutch, but it was around this time that a particular cross-lingual phrase started to come through in the narration. It sounded something like this:

". . . oop blarg munchkin bedonk't ENOR-MOUS PAY-NIS flimp gramm crocker schmoot . . ."

They kept saying this phrase. "ENOR-MOUS PAY-NIS." Soon, we were helplessly laughing, and now the phrase has become household shorthand for a quick laugh. (I'm surprised it hasn't come into usage sooner, given the fact that I have a ridiculously immense member, but that's another post.) We just couldn't believe it. Who would ever want to watch such a thing? Who would ever get the idea to make such a thing? These guys were, to a man, utterly hideous and complete dolts. One unforgettable scene displayed one of the big-dick dipshits shamelessly making out with his nasty skank of a wife at some cafe, which was awful enough; they appeared to be testing the structural integrity of each others' gumlines. Then the camera pulled back, and down, and then zoomed in to the under-the-table action. The guy's wife had her hand on his crotch under the table, and was, during this grotesque make-out session, enthusiastically fingering the man's penis through his jeans, rolling it between her fingers as if soothing a particularly aggrieved iguana. It felt like watching evolution go in reverse.

Okay, I guess it was all debauchery after all. (Not really. Next up, I'll talk about ice skating and frites covered with gravy and tiny little bunnies. Seriously.) I'd like to say I'm happy to be back, but apart from forced business trips and visits with your odious family members, are you ever glad to be back?

(Mom and Dad: a rhetorical goof. I do not actually find you to be odious. Merry Christmas!)

Wednesday, 06 May
On The Beach

The wife and I took Monday and Tuesday off this week; Monday was our sixth anniversary! Thank you, thank you. That's six solid years of faithfully not fucking other dudes, except for the four or so times I blew those guys at Volunteer Park. But way to go, wife, as far as I know!

We had a couple options as the date approached, both of which we'd done before: Oregon Coast or Whidbey Island. We opted for the latter, mainly for this reason: it was a lot closer. It's clear we're getting old. "You want a refill on your glass of wine, or would you prefer to stay motionless?" "I prefer to remain sedentary." "I concur." (They do not move.)

We did splurge a bit on accomodations and made reservations at the Inn at Langley, a magnificent establishment that welcomed us and our credit cards with a room with a fireplace, a windowed whirlpool tub, and a hardwood patio that with its three-story beachside view practically invited us to dump a body over the side, which we promptly did the first time housekeeping bothered us at 10:30 AM, wondering if we were ever going to leave so they could give us more toilet paper.

Apart from the gorgeous inn, our stay did not really get off to an auspicious beginning. The two-doors down tavern was shuttered with a mysterious "CLOSED UNTIL SUMMER" sign. Langley is nothing if not capricious about business hours, but that was a bit much. We pounded on the doors energetically, but were rewarded with nothing but a muffled silence and possibly slight creaks as angles were bent out of true by the coastal winds. The building dates to something like 1908 and looks like your grandfather's teeth; a spirit level is nearly required just to get your beer to the table. I hope someone's going to fix the old place up before it just slides into the ocean.

We instead made our way to the Edgecliff Bar & Grill just up the road a ways. A couple of local duffers were watching the Mariners play their peculiarly dumpy brand of ball (the AL West: May Require Goggles) and commenting acidly: "Who the fuck is this guy?" (Guy grounds into a double play.) "Never mind." I can't tell you how much better it is hearing stuff like this rather than hearing Mike Blowers' run-over oboe intonations.

But this was only a momentary respite. We then went off in search of food. The tavern being closed, we were denied salty fried things, and also giant squid attacks, and so we went across the street to the innocuously-named "Mike's Place." You know, I can't say we weren't warned right from the start. For one thing, Mike's Place has its own generally deserted ice cream counter. There is almost nothing more depressing than a completely barren ice cream counter. I imagined Archie Andrews sitting there, desolate and alone, raising a pistol to his head.

Our waitress greeted us at our table. "Can I get you something to drink?" The wife asked about their wine selection. "Oh, we don't serve alcohol here."

Don't even "family" restaurants--which Mike's assured us it was right on the menu--offer a fucking beer for poor Dad to drink so he doesn't run out and fuck his secretary on his new motorcycle? We sagged a little. (Our bartender friend Eric contends convincingly that they must have been busted at some point and lost their liquor license; the fact that they run a "trivia night" in the back--on the night we were there, actually--sort of backs him up. Who does a bar trivia night without alcohol?)

Wife sensibly ordered the fish and chips, but did also ask for a garden salad; I ordered the french dip (or, in Mike's grandiose parlance, the "Prime Dip"). And a couple of soft drinks.

The waitress reappeared seconds later to explain that they were sold out of the Prime Dip. This made complete sense to me, as we were two of the six people who actually were in town at the time. Whatever. Mike's menu mentions that you can get breakfast "all the time," so I had a "fuck it" moment and just asked for bacon and eggs and toast and hashbrowns and purple melted crayon jelly and also my original salad, which no longer made much sense, but, oh, fuck it, as I said. The howling emptiness of the ice cream counter was starting to weigh on my psyche.

The salads came out first. Fine. Dressing came on the side in the little plastic cups that always make me think of prostate medicine (for some reason; I'd like to emphasize that my prostate is, as far as I know, stupendous). We gnawed the begreased leaves agreeably.

Then the entrees came. I sighed at the sight of my bacon, which resembled tiny deck planks; the eggs, however, looked just fine. Then I looked over at the wife's alleged "fish and chips," and felt myself falling down the rabbit hole.

Here's all I can figure: the waitress must have interpreted the wife's garden salad order as "instead of the chips," because there were no fries at all. What she received was a tiny little saucer with about six little fried fishlet chunks dumped unceremoniously atop it along with a little cup of tartar sauce. She stared at this meager spectacle while the waitress asked, "Can I get you anything else? Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard--" because, mmmm, fish and mustard; "--vinegar . . . "

"Yes, vinegar, please!" cried my girl. I rapped my bacon against my plate rim and contemplated its implacable juicelessness. "We are not seasoned at all," my hashbrowns trilled to me, and they were unfortunately correct. The wife continued to wait for her vinegar. "Maybe if I eat this really slowly," she said, chewing delicately.

We never saw our waitress again.

I don't want to sound like we had a bad time; we didn't. I mean, Mike's Place wasn't great, but it got better. We ended up having a nightcap at a really splendid place called Prima. And the Inn at Langley, while pricey, is really fantastic. We also fucked a lot, and that always seems to improve one's mood. It beat the hell out of Volunteer Park.

Monday, 01 December
Avignon, Meal Two

You try to not violate your travel rules. Inevitably, you fail.

I don't know why this is hard. The wife and I learned this early on: Do not eat anywhere close to the town square, for you will be served fucking garbage. We violated this rule on our trip--again--and paid.

It was nearing ten o'clock in Avignon, and we had not eaten. Yes, we were in the fucking town square; yes, we were hungry; yes, we fell prey to the siren song of a godforsaken eatery on said square. We sidled up to it like you might approach a bored whore.

It should have been a sign all by itself. A waiter hollered to us--we apparently stink American, since he didn't even bother to try our awful French--"You better get a table! We close in fifteen minutes!" He really was very friendly, in a harried kind of way; I like to think of him as the Luc Besson of waiters. He didn't really care about the overall experience of his clients, but was mostly concerned with how efficiently he could cycle them in and out of his worldview. Which is why I suppose we were served the gastronomic equivalent of The Fifth Element.

I ordered a simple steak, which turned out to be, in Moe Scyszlak terms, the size of a toilet seat, generously marbled with copious amounts of gristle. The wife opted for a truly grievous pasta pomodoro thing, which she proceeded to salt the everloving bearfuck out of. I must have stared a little bit at her, since she eventually hissed, "It doesn't taste like anything." I dipped my head ruefully and continued sawing away at my sinewy colossus of pure meat; an unappetizing gruel of over-sauteed vegetables stared at me accusingly and greyly from the side of my plate. I ignored their vegetized grumping and concentrated on chewing my astounding gristle-slab while the wife continued to strafe her dismal dish of bloodied pasta with killing fusillades of sodium.

It's simple. Don't eat on the public squares. This is a lesson that we should have learned--we have learned--over many years of shared travel. We still fuck this up.

Monday, 17 November
Getting There, Getting Around, Getting Back

I have a troubling confession to make. I really like airport Bloody Marys.

Not because they taste good; they manifestly do not. Least of all in Heathrow, where what you will get when ordering one of these is a glass half-filled with vodka and tomato juice, and then a bottle of Tabasco, a bottle of Worcestershire, and a pepper shaker. Hey, thanks! You fucking limey creeps. Incidentally, fuck you, Terminal Five. Heathrow's new Terminal Five--roughly the size and shape and carrying the same charm as Winston Churchill's dead, grotesque liver--is thoroughly and wholly the living international shits.

Let's clear this up: Terminal Five handles most if not all of British Airways' international traffic. When you deplane, you are immediately herded onto these godforsaken little trams, and then you take a ride to the terminal itself, a ridiculous gulag of a building with this preposterous sign posted outside of every door: "It is unlawful to smoke anywhere inside our outside of this building." I've got news for you, Terminal Fucking Five: I broke the law several times today.

(I actually broke the law while in Terminal Five itself. When I was taking a shit in the bathroom outside "Huxley's," the impressively inauthentic English airport pub, I hotboxed a good four puffs on a cigarette because I exhibiting early signs of nicotine psychosis. One of those signs is ordering a Bloody Mary from Danish waiters working in Heathrow's abominable Triumph of the Will-styled cathedral bars.

Oh, and here's an actual conversation with a waitress:

"Is there a smoking area anywhere in here?"

"You cannot smoke anywhere in here."

"Oh. So I guess I'd have to go outside to smoke, then."

[Puzzled and pitying look] "You cannot leave, sir."

This is actually true. Unless you are vomiting blood, or have a thorax full of chestbursters all erupting at once, you cannot leave Terminal Five. Terminal Five is, quite literally, Hotel California. The Brits have settled on a fairly literal definition of the word "terminal": It will make you want to die.)

Anyway. Airport Bloody Marys. I don't know what it is about these terrible things, but I always must have them prior to boarding a plane. Part of it is the wan little celery garnishes and the microcephalic sword-impaled olives, and most of all, the abrasive chemical peel you get in your mouth from the wretched seasoned salt they rim the glasses with. All of these terrible details wake up my lobes and tell me: TRAVEL IS AFOOT! Plus, they help me deal with ancillary issues, such as settling into my BA seat only to find out that my next nine hours of air travel will be unadorned with such fripperies like a working set of earphones. When I went to plug in the 'phones, the entire jack caved into my armrest, causing me to spontaneously order six whiskies and then watch seventeen silent dumbshow reruns of Martin in a stuporous gloom.

I'm just kidding. I fell asleep. I'm stupid, but I don't hate myself. Not that much.

The only other in-country travel that we faced while in France was getting from Paris to Avignon via the astoundingly awesome TGV train, which travels so fast that you get to watch time dilate. We greeted our train at the Gare de Lyon with an hour or so to spare, so naturally we settled in to . . . the cafe/bar at the train station's soaring outgoing depot. The wife had an espresso while I opted for a beer. We settled in and watched all of the charming bustle. Ten minutes in, I picked up my beer and brought it to my lips. But I noticed something.

"What the fuck?" I said. The wife beetled her brows at me, questioning. I wheeled my beer glass around this way and that. There appeared to be tiny little slugs in my beer. "What the fuck?" I hissed again, showcasing my firm grasp of this uniquely American idiom. I peered at the tiny slugs. One appeared to be clinging listlessly to the rim of my glass. I picked at it.

"Slippery fucking thing," I grumbled. It kept sliding out of my grasp. What the hell was going on? I finally got a hold of the damn thing, but then it promptly dissolved in my fingers and fell like an ectoplasmic nightmare into the depths of my beer, creating a noisome cloud.

Gare de Lyon's upper depot is basically open-air. Trains come in and out on one end, passengers do the same on the other. There aren't any doors. There weren't any slugs in my fucking beer. One of the dozens of pigeons that make their home in Gare de Lyon had taken a desultory shit into my glass. And I had just spent ten minutes fingering a good quantity of it--had, in fact, come bare seconds away from drinking it. I suddenly glared up at the ceiling, staring at these hateful little fucking vermin, and then I had to laugh. The wife called over the waiter, and, her normally very good French failing her, pointed at my beer, then at the damned birds and said, "Ah . . . . pigeon . . . ah, boom?" Here she mimed a bomb drop. The waiter smiled easily and motioned me to hand him my glass and promptly replaced it. I noted clinically that he did not wear a hat; I doubted that this was his first skirmish with the evil avian bombardiers lurking above. I peered gloomily at my shit-beslimed fingers and sought out a bathroom.

And one last thing about Gare de Lyon. When we came back from Avignon, this station was also our point of disembarkment in Paris. So we got off the train--and we could not leave the station. We walked towards the "Sortie" signs; they took us deeper into the bowels of the terrible place; we soon found ourselves staring at subterranean train stations threatening to take to places prefixed by the word "Aix." We scrambled back upstairs; the wife spotted a sign that said "INFORMATION" with a helpful arrow; it pointed to a blank brick wall.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" I screamed. Nobody cared; the noise was incredible. Everyone was rushing everywhere and nowhere at once. Any direction could have possibly been the correct one. We ran up against a bank of alarming turnstiles; more trains. These promised to take us to towns named Glottal Stop and Swallowed R. We shrieked like bats and ran in circles; I contemplated asking the nice man in full camo gear for directions, but was given pause when I noticed that he carried not only a professionally terrifying moustache but also an automatic rifle that he cradled with no small amount of paternal warmth.

We finally emerged from this Gehenna thanks to some Parisian fellow that the wife managed to buttonhole: "GO LEFT! GO LEFT!" he screamed insistently, though it is possible that this was simply his local exhortation to vote for Barack Obama. We blinked as we staggered outside, and then hailed the worst cab driver in existence; he dropped us off three blocks from our hotel, saying, as far as we could tell, that he could "see it from here." The cab smelled like degraded polymer chains.

Exhausted, depleted, we finally discovered our hotel. And, the next morning, on the flight back home, I watched The Dark Knight. Not bad! At least my headphones worked. Halfway through, the steward offered me some inedible thing purporting to be a sandwich; I think it was alleged that it contained some sort of marmalade. (British people: I know American food is, on the whole, laughable and dispiriting, but is this a competition?) I politely declined and asked: "Can I get a Bloody Mary?" It was perhaps eleven o'clock, local time.

Bless him, he only paused for a moment.

Tuesday, 11 November
The Women, Dogs And Poisoners Of Paris

HELLLOOOOOO EVERYBODY! The wife and I are back from France! Did you miss us? HOLLA IF YOU MISSED US!

. . .

HOLLA!

. . .

GOOD TO SEE YOU TOO! Anyway, sorry it took a while to get back to writing. I'm still kind of temporally fucked up from the trip. I've been back to work for two days now, and that's been oddly okay--no shootings yet, except for that Mary bitch with the motor disease or whatever--but it turns out that my geriatric nap schedule has been somewhat thrown into disarray, and now whenever I attempt my usual evening sleep period during when "How It's Made" comes on, I get this weird sensation that slavering wolves are breathing on my genitals, and I just lie there and sweat. I trust this will pass.

We had a great time over there, of course; we spent four days in Paris then a week in Avignon. A real writer would recount the entire trip in a roughly linear fashion, going off of his copious notes and dedicated scribbles. I, of course, cannot be bothered with that shit, so over the course of the next few entries, I will recount various vignettes and anecdotes in a more or less completely broken and incoherent fashion, so that the entire narrative will, eventually, come to light in a postmodern, fractal kind of way--think Pynchon, think pointillism, think CSI: Miami. Or do what I do and renounce thinking entirely.

Our first few days were spent in Paris, waiting for the wife's appalling fortieth birthday to pass, which it eventually did, much like a kidney stone, causing me to clutch my penis in horror, realizing that my old lady was, finally, genuinely old. Oh well. We tried to pretend to enjoy ourselves anyway.

We were staying in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, locale of the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, Musee D'Orsay and Rodin, and several fragrant public toilets--good for taking a hearty shit in provided that you're too hoity to get down on the sidewalk with the dogs and just leave it there.

Right around the corner from our hotel was our adopted cafe, the Cafe Du Marche, whose busy staff rarely managed to ignore our hideous French; we enjoyed started our days there, with the wife enjoying an "EX-PRESSO!" and me more often than not sipping a Campari.

As many people have observed, Paris is a crazy dog town, and we, being dog people, enjoy dog-watching even more than people-watching. One fellow on a particular morning sat down with his tiny little graybeard black dog in his lap and ordered a coffee. The dog was adorable. The dog was also the most fantastically caniopathic dog I've ever seen in my life: he hated every single other dog that came within five yards of his lap-ambit. He would be sitting there placidly on his owner's lap until he spotted another dog pretty much anywhere (and he was preternaturally good at seeking them out) at which point he would stiffen, chuff indignantly for a minute, growl and then FREAK THE FUCK OUT, writhing in his owner's lap like a sack full of angry eels, barking and howling as if someone had suddenly stuffed its asshole with a quantity of cilantro. He was outstanding. I'm pretty sure he was Napoleon brought back in tiny dog form. The other dogs looked at him lazily in any case, often stopping to take a desultory shit on the cobblestones, offering their professional opinions as to the efficacy of the tiny dog's threats.

Not that people-watching ever disappoints, especially in Paris. Particularly, for some reason, the old ladies. It must be said that Paris, pound for pound, contains the most undiluted concentration of hilarious crones that I've ever seen anywhere in my life. They are, quite honestly, incredible. On any given afternoon on the streets of Paris, you will witness the most astonishing collection of grotesques, gargoyles, termagents and just plain caricatures than you would believe; this was just at the Marche cafe. I saw things such as an upswept dye-blond beehive-cum-pompadour with half-inch long visible roots, wraparound designer sunglasses, pleather jackets with "NO MERCI" on the back, and high-heel leather boots with a crosshatched rhinestone design. Unfortunately, I saw all of these on the same woman at the same time; she of course also yanked along with her a tiny little dog whose only clear purpose of existence was to be stepped on by passersby. Watching old ladies in Paris is like owning free tickets to a Commedia del'Arte show every day for free: Columbinas tottering around with their little mewling canine Punches.

One day at Cafe Marche, watching the street show scroll by, I noticed that they served hot chocolate ("chocolat chaud"). That sounded nice. What also sounded nice was some rum with that. I flagged a waitress; the wife ordered some coffee, and then I gasped out in my typically horrific French: Je voudrais un chocolat chaud avec rum!

She looked at me as if I had opened my mouth and a plague of moths had flown out. Rum? she said, looking alarmed and not a little horrified. Oui! I replied, showing her my molars. She retreated inside a little shakily. She came back seconds later.

Rum? she asked again. I nodded. She motioned for me to follow her inside, clearly wondering what the fuck I was talking about. I followed her in. A bartender was drying glasses, staring at me warily. I turned to the wife. "I cannot possibly be the first person who ever asked for a hot chocolate and rum," I said. "Maybe you are," she chirped. Fuck you, Jack, I've got my coffee, was the clear subtext there. She was enjoying the weirdness.

I examined the bottles behind the bar and beheld no rum (the wife claims she saw some, but I didn't). Then I saw some whisky. "Whisky OK!" I cried, pointing at the bottle. The waitress looked, if possible, even more stricken now, and the bartender pulled a truly disgusted face, raising his pained eyes to the ceiling as if to seek answers from the mottled tin above, grimacing when the Gods did not immediately favor him with a suitable explanation as to what the stupid fucking American could possibly be asking for. C'est bon! I hollered defensively, and witlessly rubbed my stomach. The bartender stared flatly at me. He and the waitress chattered for a moment and then seemed to settle on a game plan; the waitress motioned us back to our table outside, clearly still unsettled by events.

We waited. I wondered what the hell was the problem, but right then my drink showed up; the waitress wore an expression that I figured was similar to the one worn by whomever had to serve Socrates his teacup. Merci! I said.

After the first sip, I realized what had gone horribly wrong, I'm pretty sure now. If I'm correct, my huge mistake was ordering chocolat chaud avec rum (or, later, whisky). What I should have said was chocolat chaud et rum/whisky. "Avec" means "with." "Et" means "and." PISH TOSH, right? Well, not so much. By ordering the hot chocolate "with" rum/whisky, what I had signalled to them was: replace the water you'd normally add to hot chocolate mix entirely with booze.

I was served a hot chocolate not with steamed water but with 100% steamed whisky. They must have used close to four shots; I nearly sent my first mouthful into my wife's hair in a concentrated jet. It was, of course, fucking awful. After a giggling half-dumbshow with the waitress explaining the misunderstanding, she burst into delighted gales of laughter and let the bartender know what the mix-up was. After that, my disgusting alcohol bomb became the topic of much hilarity: the waitress would periodically make a show of mopping my brow; I would periodically ask her to call me an ambulance or curse her for poisoning me. I worried what I was going to be charged for the awful mess, considering how much booze must have gone into it, but they apparently decided that its humor value more than made up for the whole episode, and only charged me five euros and some change.

Two days later, we were back at the Marche. A woman on a motorcycle screeched up to the outside seating area and pulled off her helmet, shaking out her long hair. It was the waitress. We grinned and said our hellos.

"You are not dead!" she cried. C'est bon!

Indeed.

Tuesday, 07 October
Venal Sin City

The wife and I have returned from Vegas. Even though Vegas undergoes near-constant change, the city itself really doesn't. What's mostly interesting to me about Vegas is the fact that it manages to convince you--a visitor--that it isn't as absurdly fucked up as it is. While you're in Vegas, ostensibly enjoying yourself, you don't notice the incredibly strange things, such as your eternally dripping faucet--in a desert--or the fact that you're hanging out in warehouse-sized Skinner boxes without windows or clocks, being served alcohol relentlessly and congratulating yourself on this fact while you slowly go broke. Fountains and seafood abound everywhere in this ridiculous, blasted skilletscape. It's like if you went into the Amazonian rainforest and were completely unsurprised to round a trail corner and find a Portuguese bank.

Only in Vegas could you possibly do something as self-abnegating as agreeing to go to an establishment as repulsive as Coyote Ugly, only to have the plasticine bar staff order you onto all fours and bark like a dog for a free shot. Not that this happened to me: it happened to D. Later that night, D. ingested some food that had peanuts in it and went into anaphylactic shock. It happened the night before the wife and I arrived to join everyone, and obviously, I was sad to have missed it; I think it is the quintessential Vegas experience.

I was told this story, by the way, while enjoying the discharge of a six-foot-tall bonglike thing apparently called a "beer tower." I'm a little surprised that nobody has opened an entire casino called "Beer Tower." Maybe next week after they disintegrate the Stratosphere with lasers. (The Stratosphere is so notoriously awful that they'd probably neglect to inform the guests first, immolating and/or crushing several thousands of people too cheap to spring for some place classy like Harrah's, where we stayed. [Harrah's is a gloomy, cheerless dump.])

The long weekend progressed as you might imagine. We were there to attend the wedding of C. and L.--and, really, fuck this initial nonsense. It irritates me too anymore, except when I can't think of what else to do. Let's call the groom Corny Eely and the bride RILOR, because it pleases me to think of her as the world's sweetest robot intelligence. Corny Eely is just a Googledodge, and how I also enjoy referring to him, as I am a fucking idiot.

The first night was spent, of all things, gambling. The wife made it to a little after two, while Corny and I, in a truly heroic exhibit of drinking and not sleeping, made it until after four AM playing craps. No less than three times during that epic night, Corny looked at me, shuffled his many chips and said, "Well, ready to call it a night?" And each time, my response was, "We just ordered beers." And he replied, each time, "That's true." Free beers. So we soldiered on, until I was forced to struggle up to my room and bid good-night (or, I suppose, morning) to Corny, who tiredly waved and then proceeded to go back to the ridiculously terrible O'Shea's to play craps for another two hours, eventually winding up with $700 in winnings on the evening.

And the next night was the bachelor/bachelorette parties, of course. I'm not allowed to talk about the details of the bachelor party because of that GUY RULE of silence, but I can share this: for the first time in my life, and I fervently hope the last, I was heard to tell a bartender, "I need fifteen shots of Jaegermeister." Then later we drove out into the desert, bent a bunch of hookers over the guardrail and fucked them stupid, then bludgeoned them with garden hoes and dumped their bodies in Lake Mead. But like I said, I can't really talk about it.

The wedding itself was fairly unremarkable, not because it was unimportant, but just because the good people who work at the Flamingo churn out weddings like a Chicago sausagemaker. Get in! You're married! Get out! Most of us there were chewing this incredible gum that our friend L. had discovered: it was peach Sangria-flavored. So that was classy; while Corny and RILOR tied the knot, half of us were on the bench chewing booze gum like a herd of docile, mildly alcoholic cattle. It was sort of fitting. At the end of the 20-minute-ish ceremony, the officiant was seen, upon leaving down the aisle, to give a thumbs-up to the automatic camera filming the event and stage-whisper, "The end . . . and the beginning!" I like to think that Uwe Boll scripted that and was beaming in the editing room.

Corny and RILOR had the reception in their suite at the Flamingo, which we all gawked at, particularly at the TV display that was embedded somehow in the bathroom mirror. A couple of us wandered into the shower to sit on the little marble bench where you could watch the TV as well--because, you know, we're rubes. Toasts were made, naturally, with the best man's being notable--for one because the best man was a woman, but also for her frequent frustrated cries of "Shit!" because she kept tearing up. Congratulating her after the fact, she moaned and pointed at me, saying "Fuck. Blogger."

We're back home now, after a particularly hellish Sunday morning spent struggling to get up at 7:00 AM to make our flight. We had a good time, but as with all things Vegas, it was tempered with grimness. It's hard to ignore this underlying aspect of a city as debased as Las Vegas: the octogenarian fungi mechanically playing the slots; the hordes of bored Latinos paid to stand on the sidewalks and try and hand out cardvertisements for escorts, wearing their awful t-shirts with phone numbers and legends proclaiming "Call and she'll COME right over"; restaurants branded with Toby Keith's imprimatur; yardfuls of pina coladas.

I swear to God: heading up to the Flamingo suite for the reception, we shared a partial elevator ride with a local. He carried an oxygen tank complete with the little nostril tubes. Nice guy; he asked us where we were from and wished us good luck when he exited a couple floors before ours. There was another fellow waiting to get on. He carried an oxygen tank with him. "Hallo!" he wheezed at us, clanking his iron cylinder aboard the elevator car.

I stole some looks around at my friends. Presently, people realized the coincidence, and we shamefully grinned. But I think that a few of us almost didn't notice.

Tuesday, 30 September
Voivod Las Vegas! Wait, Is That Right?

On Thursday, the wife and I take off for the promised land: Las Vegas. Las Vegas. The land of milk and honey! No, wait. It's actually the land of ruined daquiris and crusted semen stains. Well, whatever. Some friends of ours are 1. huge Vegas fans and 2. getting married, so you see where this is all coming from. "By the power vested in me by the Nevada Gaming Commission . . . " and all. On the other hand, there's like thirty people or so all coming down for the festivities, so it should be a good time. The only way to take on Vegas is to travel in packs. You know, hence the Rat Pack. They traveled in groups to prevent Mafioso sten-gun attacks on Sinatra, and to make sure that roving rednecks couldn't string up Sammy Davis Jr. from a streetlamp.

See, the last time we were there was for our first anniversary, and it was just the two of us. This was a horrible mistake in that it was just the two of us. My awful persona that I've adopted here on this blog to the contrary, I'm just not capable of being a giant asshole in public--usually--and the wife is a freakishly wonderful person in every way, and that's no way to take on the demented fuck-scream that is Vegas. One needs to be insulated, one needs a posse, if only just because being in a group of people--particularly when those people are all actors and sketch comedians--allow one the freedom--nay, the responsibility--of becoming a complete and total shithead. This is what friends are for. Would you ever scream "SHOW YOUR TITS!" in New Orleans if you weren't surrounded by your pals? Of course not. Similarly, in Vegas, being surrounded by your friends means never having to feel bad about taking a shit in the big planters outside the Venetian while braying like a donkey. It's what you do.

The first time I ever visited Vegas (as an adult) was in 1999 or so; I had organized the trip just on a lark, and there were about ten of us, I think. We just went because, well, what the fuck, why not?

On the flight down there, J. creeped back to where we were all sitting, away from his girlfriend, and showed us The Ring. "I'm asking her to marry me," he unnecessarily explained. Well, awesome! Our little jaunt now had a cool narrative! Of course she said yes.

So then: the bachelor party. Which, since J. hadn't told us about, was completely unexpected. And nine years ago, I was much, much poorer than I am now. AND, of course, the cardinal rule of bachelor parties is: the groom pays for nothing.

J. naturally wanted to go to a strip club. In fact, he wanted to go to Glitter Gulch. I had no idea what to expect.

We got there, and J. promptly emitted a piercing shriek of glee and ran off to receive the first of what turned out to be a staggering number of lap dances. A comely lass approached our group and exclaimed, "Hi, fellas! Welcome! That'll be ninety-eight dollars." As in: apiece. What that got you was two drinks and the ability to stagger around in a daze while chicks clambered onto your table and shimmied. Dazedly, I pulled out my debit card and handed it over; entering a fuguelike Monkeybone-style universe, my credit card grew a cartoon face and laughed at me.

I was pretty rattled. Rattled enough that, when armed with my watery Budweiser and when confronted with my first dancer of the evening, I shot my arm out and immediately shoved a fiver into her G-string. She raised her eyebrows at me and said, "Oh, boy! Fast mover." Then she left. Ten seconds of girlflesh, and then the awesomely insulting realization that I was supposed to let her dance for a while before rewarding her. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see J. receiving his nine hundredth lap dance, burying his head reverentially into the dancer's cleavage. I imagined shooting J. in the face with a bazooka and playing with his discarded teeth.

In my storied career, I realize now that I should just stay away from strip clubs.

There is, so far, no indication that our groom has any intention of hitting a strip club, thank God. We'll be apparently spending most of our time in Old Vegas hitting the fifty-cent blackjack tables and getting hit with hammers by demented locals intent on stealing our shoes, which sounds pretty good. We'll be with friends. So when I take that giant shit into some hotel planter, it will be a friendly voice that announces, "Skot, that's an Escalade's sun roof." And, because we're all friends, I will elatedly scream, "SHOW ME YOUR TITS!" And then Kirk will sigh and bury his face in his hands and vow never to go anywhere with me ever again.

Thursday, 06 March
Sands That Are Happily Not Named Julian

You know, I don't keep meaning to do this to you, tens of readers. It's just . . . well, I've been getting a little on the side. I didn't want you to hear about it like this, but . . . well, I've been seeing Oregon.

Not that I haven't been fantastically lazy about updating, but the wife and I did recently take some time off to go hang out in Cannon Beach. Because if there's somewhere you want to go in early March, it's the Oregon coast! In truth, we had originally scheduled this trip in--you'll like this--last November, which is the second most popular time to visit the Oregon coast, but that had to be rescheduled when torrential rains wiped out large swaths of I-5 as well as peeling the roofs off of hotels all up and down the coast like so many lepers' fingernails.

And so! We gave the old car the usual checkup before leaving, and upon being told that the old car needed the mystical ministrations of Dr. Strange before we could ever dream of driving it for more than six miles or so, we promptly rented a car and drove to Cannon Beach! (Did you know that there exists a little gutless thing called a Chevy Stratus? Did you know that Chevy still makes cars? I'm not sure they do even after renting one. Renting this car was like renting a Zen koan. If a car makes no sound, was I really there to rent it?)

Interestingly, we weren't actually staying in Cannon Beach. We were staying in Arch Cape, which is only four miles or so south of Cannon Beach, except for the part where we found out that we were actually staying one mile south of Arch Cape at he Arch Cape Inn, which therefore put us five miles (of pretty twisty road) south of Cannon Beach, which is, in itself, no metropolis anyway. But it was cool--it wasn't like we were right off the highway where you could hear logging trucks screaming by all night, except of course we were, but at least we did have a convenience store located about 100 yards away down the highway, which was pretty exciting walking down, especially when the giant trucks howled by us and gave us incredible wind-wedgies and fucked up our hair, and anyway the convenience store was closed the whole time we were there anyway.

The Oregon coast! You're stupid if you don't go in early March!

But I'm making it sound as if we didn't have a good time; we had a glorious time. For one thing, any time away from 1. work and 2. one's normal house is a glorious time. It's good to get away. And Cannon Beach is pretty much away, particularly in, well, early March. We soon discovered there's like six places to eat in town in the off season, and three of them advertise "burgers and pizza." Oregon's native delights. We settled in at a place we had visited before, the Drift Wood Inn, which is sort of like a Cheers where everyone wears gum boots. We were to discover that the Drift Wood Inn also had improbably fantastic food, given the proletariat atmosphere; the wife had a ridiculously creamy filet mignon while I tore into some absurdly flaky tempura shrimp with two types of cocktail sauce. Meanwhile, yards away, some locals fed video poker machines with the same kind of fervor that you see people in Jerusalem tucking prayer slips into the Wailing Wall.

At night, we would retire back through the twisty dark road to our rather out-of-the-way hotel-thing. It was not really a hotel. It was a series of little connected self-serve bungalow things where you checked yourselves in; when you coughed up the cash online, they gave you a door code. Can nefarious people discover our door code and rob us? I wondered, and then immediately dismissed the idea as ludicrous, as we are worthless. Any robbers or kidnappers or mountebanks or whatever would steal up in the dark of night, filled with malign intent, and then would immediately spy the Chevy Stratus rental in our parking space and then disgustedly tiptoe away to break into the abandoned convenience store to see if anyone had left behind a roll of quarters.

Ensconced in our roughly bed-shaped room (there was an entertainment center whose doors, when opened, prevented one from opening the room door), we then proceeded to enjoy the creature comforts, including a lovely little sea-stone fireplace with the newspaper and kindling all set up and ready to be lit for a comfy fire! I looked quizically at it for a moment, as it seemed that they had stacked a rather large log on top of the newspaper and then thrown kindling on top of that, like a careless pasta dish, but I figured: Aw, they know what they're doing. I lit the paper, which burned merrily for a few seconds until it died out abruptly; the large piece of firewood continued to squat stolidly atop the ashes, its haunches unscathed by even the merest hint of scorching. The kindling, far above the fray, was not even warm, and victoriously keened with Elven voices into the maw of the chimney above.

We tried again, with similar results. Then we realized a key problem: the firewood was wet. Not "wet" as in "left out in the rain for a bit," but "wet" as in "unseasoned, green wood that might have been a boat keel last week." We would have no fire that night, unless you count the FIERY DIALOGUE BETWEEN JUSTIN LONG AND BRUCE WILLIS IN LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD! Which, of course, we do.

You see, we also watched a bunch of movies. The wife wondered aloud at one point if Cannon Beach had any sort of taxi service in case we wanted to spend a night at the Drift Wood Inn "getting loaded;" I just laughed weakly. It's like asking how many ATMs there are in Chicken, Alaska. No, it was movies for us, and fortunately for us, we adore horrible movies. To wit: 30 Days of Night, a movie that dares to ask the question, "Can we make this even stupider than the terrible comic book?" Thrillingly, the answer was a resounding YES. This movie did feature a bracing sort of schizophrenia where the laughable overacting of the WAMP-EERS was perfectly balanced out by the reliably affectless performance of Josh Hartnett, who can at least boast that he perhaps contained more moisture per cubic centimeter than, say, our firewood.

That same night--because we are fearless and fucking crazy, I guess--we also watched the astonishingly witless Beowulf, a movie so barking mad that it assumes that the viewers do want to see Angelina Jolie's alarming, nipple-less, motion-captured tits, but does not want to see Ray Winstone's alarming, presumably leathery, non-motion-captured penis. Beowulf is essentially 300 for people who worried that the latter was too realistically homoerotic.

Aw, there I go again, making it sound like we didn't have a good time. We did have a lovely walk on the beach under iron skies, a good half mile or so from the city center to Haystack Rock, which the wife informed me was the "third-tallest monolith in the world." But thanks to a series of childhood ear infections, the seaside wind was wreaking havoc with my pathetic auricles, so I ignored her, opting instead to point at a scuttling (read: completely motionless) hermit crab in a snail shell that I spied in a tidepool. The wife picked up the creature and cooed at it; the beast waved a tiny feeble claw in some sort of parody of defense. I hunched miserably against the wind and glared at the basalt-colored clouds bearing down on us from the sea.

It rained like Thetis' own vengeance on us all the way back into town, and we of course stopped by the Drift Wood Inn for a warming beverage before returning to roadside Lilliput to watch terrible movies, and of course we wish we were still there.

Tuesday, 22 January
French Kisses

I checked with her, and she doesn't mind: this is the year the wife turns forty. And it only seems fair that before I leave her for a younger woman I show her a good time.

(Ha ha! I kid. No younger woman would have me. So I'm leaving her for an older woman: Here I come, Helen Mirren!)

It has long been the wife's wish that on her fortieth, she would like to be in Paris. And so we are planning on making this happen. (Though today's economic autocornholing has certainly put some zest into the plans. Is there a Wikipedia page on "Things You Can Melt Down For Money"?)

It sounds like a good time, and of course I am willing to do anything to make the wife happy--which now that I reread that, sounds hilarious: "Oh, I suppose I can take one for the team and go to Paris." I've been to Paris; it's nice! So is London, so is Rome, so is Brussels; I think all the major European cities that I've visited are positively swell. They're corking!

So how come I always have more fun in the smaller cities?

Part of it is simple: I'm a tremendous pain in the fucking ass. Somewhere there is a Platonic Ass Ideal, and there is an identifiable Pain Solid in it, and it is almost certainly Skot-shaped. It's always some little fucking thing, really.

In Paris, it wasn't the food--which was wonderful, particularly (I'm not kidding) this fucking rad little taco joint--it wasn't the snottiness (everyone who acknowledged us was lovely). It was the goddamn phones. (This was pre-cellphone for me.) I just wanted to make a call to check my bank balance (prior, of course, to being able to do this online), and so I got one of those little phone cards and proceeded to dial. And dial. And dial. All to no avail; in 2001, at least, France's public phone system was about as user-friendly as ENIAC schematics. For my efforts, all I was able to obtain was a stream of recorded Gallicisms that I became certain was trying to tell me, "You are a vexing little sausage of a man." I finally gave up, and found myself staring down at a bit of graffito reading, "American shit." I then proceeded to beat myself about the head with the plastic receiver in a truly Krustyesque display of self-mortification.

I know that this is an unfair and unrepresentative way to remember Paris. And yet I do, except for the dim parts that have been occluded by self-inflicted head trauma.

When I think of my time in France, I much prefer to remember our Thanksgiving night in Arles, a sleepy little town in the south of France, remembered mostly for being so relentlessly charming and so implacably beset by chilling winds that it caused a certain Mr. Van Gogh to completely lose his shit, paint radioactive sunflowers and eat his own ear.

We loved Arles almost immediately. There's something about a town that has kept its semi-medieval protective walls, because fuck Huns, or whatever. I demand a completely Hun-free night when on vacation. Also, you have to love a place with a functioning arena that continues to stage bullfights. It certainly explained where my Thanksgiving meal came from that night, listed on the menu in helpful English as "STEAK OF BULL."

(There's something oddly warming and special-making about spending Thanksgiving in another country where obviously nobody gives a shit about your US holiday. It's like sharing a secret, albeit a secret that isn't secret at all and that nobody else cares about anyway, and let's not even think about the fact that it's one of the lamer holidays for being manufactured and fraught with all kinds of lies and misdirection and so forth, but anyway: it's still kind of your secret thing on that day in that place, even if Bastille Day makes it look like some clumsy, raddled milkmaid by comparison, because Bastille Day is fucking awesome in ways that Thanksgiving will never be. They stormed something for their holiday! What did we do? We had dinner. And then half the people at dinner died of communicable diseases a little later. AMERICA!)

Anyway. STEAK OF BULL! Who could resist that? Well, the wife could, for one, and she instead had a little mistake of a salad that was decorated with strips of uncooked salmon, which she pawed through gamely if unenthusiastically; the oiliness of the fish had permeated the entire dish. She resorted to pushing the stuff around the plate in a manner recognized by parents of young children everywhere until the waitress appeared with her next dish, a much more well-received preparation of rabbit. Meanwhile, I sawed mercilessly at my STEAK OF BULL, savoring it's loser-y goodness. "You were a warrior," I thought at my plate of meat. "And you lost to a mincing peacock with swords. Suck on that, cow."

At the end of the meal, we ordered and received two creme brulees, and . . . oh my. They were heavenly. Bar none the best brulees we had ever eaten, seasoned lightly with the staunch unsmilingness that is the hallmark of French waiters and waitresses the country over. (Not rude! Just all business. I love French waiters: they bring you your shit and get the fuck out of the way, because that's your table for as long as you need it, and if you need something else, well, you should have thought of that before, stupid. It's like they trust you enough to take care of yourself for the night, and if that's not the case, well, that's sort of sad. French waiters are basically Turing machines.)

After the meal, the wife and I decided, well, we're not done Thanksgiving it up! It was like nine, but of course Arles had rolled up like blown-out socks; we wandered for a while in front of nothing but dark storefronts. Finally, we found a little bar that was open and walked in. A group of men were playing Parchisi in the corner; they favored us with a curious glance before returning to their game. The floor was covered with sawdust and peanut shells and the here-and-there chairs were all well-worn wood--spare and spartan was the rule.

Awesome.

We took in what the bar had to offer, and were mildly disheartened to see that the sole scotch available was Clan Campbell, an incredible horror that we have never seen in the US, unless that's what you're getting when you buy things like xylene or butyric acid. Clan Campbell is a fiendish hellbroth that is essentially what frat boys squeeze out of their carpets to drink when their trust funds are tapped for the month. Naturally, we ordered two.

"Rokes?" asked the nice barlady. We made the international monkey-faces of Not Understanding.

"Rokes! Rokes!" she hollered, and reached down and picked up a few cubes of ice to show us.

Ah! Rocks. Got it. "No thank you," said the wife. The barlady cocked her head quizzically and then shrugged and put ice in our drinks. Oh well. It couldn't possibly make the horrible stuff worse.

It somehow made it worse. Which, perversely, made it better, because now we were laughing at this suddenly comical horror-fluid, which caused the Parchisi guys to laugh with us, unaccountably, which made the lady next to us laugh as well, sitting comfortably on her chair and petting her dog happily--and let me just say that France is a country that would never, ever think to prevent people from bringing their dogs into restaurants (at least I hope this is still true), and let me further say That's fucking rad, and to sigh to think that we like to think of the French as being tight-assed and all--and then the chair the dog lady was sitting on broke right beneath her, pitching her down onto the filthy sawdust and peanut shells and cigarette butts, causing her to give a little yell of surprise, and that was it; the whole bar lost it, dying laughing, holding our sides, tears running down our faces and throwing back this awful scotch while the dog gamboled in delight, and a chill wind blew outside to the concern of nobody within the safety of those battered walls.

To paraphrase John Irving, I want a whole life like that night. I look forward to going back to Paris. And I don't think the wife will mind too much if I also say: I really look forward to getting out of Paris, out amongst the locals, the happy dogs, the sawdust and the broken chairs.

Thursday, 10 May
But Seattle Only Symbolically Crushes My Balls

All right! *rubs hands together eagerly* Time to rip into some Chicago! That Chicago! What a . . . they're so stupid! Chicago. Please. It sucks like . . . a thing that . . . sucks! Sitting on that lake! Like it's so big and, uh . . . lake-sitting! Gay. Chicago, you're gay! You're so . . . wait, "gay" isn't gay anymore. What's the new "gay?" Well, it's whatever Chicago is! Chicago is the new gay pejorative term! So next time you want to malign someone for his or her sexual preference, you walk right up to them and scream, "GOD HATES CHICAGOANS!"

This is getting complicated. I need to call Fred Phelps and see if he's cool with all this.

Oh, it's hopeless. I can't really make fun of Chicago, because frankly, Chicago is awesome. It's awesome in practically every way. It's got world-class public art (Miro! Picasso!), world-class pizza (oh, shut the fuck up, New Yorkers), world-class architecture, outstanding museums, outstanding baseball history (times two!), even outstandingly entertaining political corruption. (I would love it if on the "Welcome to Chicago!" signs, they would add the phrase "Fuck You, We're Still Electing Daleys.")

If there is anything to quibble about with Chicago, it's that maybe it's almost too awesome. It's almost oppressively awesome, to the point where you simply don't know what to do with yourself. Do I go see the Sears Tower? Do I go to Wrigley Field? Do I go puzzle over that Miro piece? Do I go visit that weather-witch of a giant fucking lake and wait for my marrow to freeze? Do I fall into the Daley gravity well and helplessly vote for him even though I don't live here and it's not an election year?

I think this is why the wife and I are so comfortable in Seattle. Seattle is nothing like Chicago: Seattle is a fake big town for dumb hicks who want to think that they actually live in a big town. But Seattle is flyweight compared to Chicago. Our public art consists of things like a bronze pig and a great big silhouette of a guy crushing his penis with a hammer. Our wan museum displays things like Andy Warhol's ear hair and waits for touring shows of other, more important shows to make bank; additionally (and perhaps most awesomely), it is directly across the street from a strip club called the Lusty Lady. Our architecture is usually exceptionally bland or utterly demented; the Smith Tower narcoleptically exemplefies the former, while the Gehry monstrosity that is the EMP demonstrates the latter. In between is the iconic 70s discarded toy for giant babies that is the Space Needle. I'm not kidding. On the base of the inverted lawn dart that is the Space Needle is a parental warning: "Suitable for giant children age 3 or above." There have been so many giant babies that have picked that stupid thing up and just jammed it right into their fucking eyes.

Don't even get me started on the local politics. Do you know who the mayor of Seattle is? His name is Greg Nickels, and his main accomplishment is, astonishingly, being less exciting than an actual pile of nickels. His predecessor was named Norm Rice, whose main accomplishment was, yes, being less exciting than rice. Washington's governor is Christine Gregoire, a politician noted most prominently for her slightly unsettling hairdo, which perches over her cranium like Fuseli's nightmare incubus.

So Chicago is in pretty much every way more awesome than Seattle. The wife certainly had a good time raiding the town while I was stuck at work doing things like manning a computer lab that was attended by nobody (no exaggeration--not one person showed up over three hours). We're dinky latecomers with no claim to any kind of the sort of throne that Chicago commands.

On the other hand, even in downtown Seattle, I probably won't have to pay ten dollars for a gin and tonic.

But on some mythical third hand, Chicago has wonderful public art that does not feature a giant guy who smashes his genitals with a hammer.

Monday, 12 March
I Take The Evening Train

On Friday, the wife and I teamed up with her brother and his wife for an exciting adventure on the SPIRIT OF WASHINGTON DINNER TRAIN! A three-hour-and-change excursion from Renton (it's Levittown for the moderately wealthy!) to a winery and back, the Dinner Train unexpectedly reveals that the Spirit of Washington is: waiters with canned schtick, hurried meal-eating, and relentless drink-gouging. Washington! It's everything the father of our country believed in.

Actually, it was sort of fun, but that's not what we're here for.

Brother-and-wife-in-law (uh . . . shut up, you know what I mean) actually live in Renton (yes, he works for Microsoft . . . I wish I had the prosodical talents to describe his expression when he told me of spending time working on projects leading up to the Vista rollout. The best I can do is say that his face looked like a Dostoevsky novel and when he spoke, ashes fell from his mouth to collect mournfully in his lap), so we met them for a drink before finding our way over to the train. After all, it's important to drink before taking a dinner train with drinks out to a winery to taste and purchase drinks before re-embarking the drinktrain to have a half-hearted dessert with drinks.

The train car we were assigned to was a double-decker, and we rode on the top level in a "domed" car. This was courtesy of the wife's parents, who have taken to Christmas-gifting their kids with adventures on outmoded travel vehicles; my tens of readers might recall last year when they gave us all two nights on a houseboat. In the years to come, I look forward to rides in stagecoaches, being shot out of torpedo tubes, and brachiating merrily through the jungles of Madagascar.

Presently--and efficiently--dinner was served shortly after boarding, just in time for some truly astounding railway sway. As we clutched at our drink glasses, skidding across the table along with our little lamp and all of our silverware, we occasionally had an opportunity to regard our food, which was serviceable in the way that any 100 or so catered meals can be. My order of medium-rare prime rib was apparently taken quite literally, as it was a uniform pink the color of the hides of dodgeballs. This was served with lifeless steamed vegetables and an inexplicable side of horseradish-laced applesauce which our waitress bragged about; it was perversely scorching and inedible and seemed like something developed by sociopaths. I mentally renamed it "sociopapples." Nobody else at the table seemed to quibble, though, possibly because most of their meals ended up on the train floor as the car shuddered hideously along the track, although it was entertaining to watch wife-in-law offer b-i-l her rather mealy-looking salad tomatoes, which he chokingly reported moments later were, in fact, hunks of grapefruit. He looked a bit green as he solemnly chewed this citrus ambush, as did the wife, succumbing slowly to motion sickness. Just what you want when you're approaching a wine tasting session.

But before anyone could get too far into the nausea zone, we were there. We had 45 minutes to storm the winery, sample a few wines (a measly three) and then fall like Cossacks on the cashiers clutching sweat-stained lists of our orders before being herded back onto the train. We did take a little extra time to take in an utterly information-free little winery tour where the biggest yuks were saved up for the inevitable utterance of the term "bunghole." I took some cheer when the tour-person noticed a sunken-eyed person with a nametag wandering around. Identifying him immediately, and also naming his shame for all gathered, she hollered, "Oh, you Mystery Train folks need to go upstairs for the Special Murder Mystery presentation!"

Yes, the train offers, hellishly, a "Murder Mystery" option, one of those horrifying immersive-theater nightmares where you and several of your favorite strangers all dully ruin an entire evening feebly trying to pretend to care about staying in character while planted actors around you all try and not stick forks in their eyes while trying to sell the idea that you're INVOLVED IN A MURRRRRRDERRRRRR, and it's all a catastrophe, because you're not an actor, and you're beginning to see why, and the actors are all hating you for, well, being you, and plus they're not drunk, and they're beginning to wonder why.

Anyway. The poor shithead looked at the tour-thing hollowly, nodded, and glumly staggered up the stairs to join the luckless Murder Mystery fools who were mercifully segregated from the rest of the group. I got the feeling that if he made it all the way upstairs without flinging himself over the bannister, he was probably going to damn well get his money's worth and genuinely murder somebody; probably one of the actors.

We eventually sampled our three wines--hurriedly--and then, yes, we grabbed a case of wine apiece (per couple), the reasoning being, "Well . . . it's a winery." We do need some new wine glasses, but I rejected all the samples shown at the place, as they were uniformly hideous: the best of the bunch were emblazoned with the winery's name, and the worst appeared to display the same design aesthetic behind the creation of the Uruk-Hai. I looked around for someone to bludgeon to death with these startling instruments, but then I remembered that the Murder Mystery folks were sequestered upstairs being glummed to death.

Finally, we were back on the train heading back home, eating either apple crisps or raspberry-chocolate things and enjoying our pre-ordered dessert drinks--the b-i-l and I had ordered cognac, and we stared at our poor choices: $9 Hennessey half-pours. Hennessey? We stared at our tiny drinklets, and swirled them unconvincingly. I'm certainly no stranger to paying exorbitant drink prices in situations just like this, but they were a little ridiculous; I wasn't expecting Manute Bol, but nor was I prepared for Peter Dinklage.

In the end, it was not as shriekingly horrible as I was dreading it to be: I was not served rubber chicken, and the grapefruit IED was actually pretty funny. We ended up with a lot of really nice wine--the Sangiovese we had tonight is just stellar--and I did not buy any Sauron-sponsored wine accessories. But most importantly, I never had to hear--or, thank God, say--anything like "Heavens! Colonel Denbury has been murdered! The murderer must be ONE OF US!"

I think it was that dead-eyed guy with the nametag. He was just looking for a getaway. I know I would. I'd kill anyone who stood in my way.

Monday, 26 February
Sneasons In The Snow

This weekend, as mentioned before, found the wife and I taking a drive up to Cle Elum to spend some quality time with five other friends in the mountains, playing in the snow.

It was completely awesome, of course.

The wife and I were the first to arrive at the TWO-STORY LOG CABIN, which was all-caps rad, as you see. Fireplace! Foosball table! Hot tub! Dart board! Live-in pixie prostitutes! I assume, anyway. Those fucking pixies can hide anywhere, but I know they were there, because that's how great it was.

We had a couple hours before the others arrived, so we set about making the place homey. The wife built a fire and I hauled in sacks of booze, and began dumping cider in the crock pot to heat. I chopped lemons to go in it and threw in a handful of cinnamon sticks; later it would be married with Tuaca and Metaxa, and would cause us all to moan and flop around happily. We also, of course, scouted out the best bedroom to claim. We were first!

When everyone else arrived, we helped them unpack an unholy amount of food, gear, and of course, even more revoltingly improbable amounts of booze: nine bottles of red wine, a couple of bottles of white, vodka, gin (relabeled impishly as "Liquid Valium"), whiskey, beer . . . I'm surprised nobody ended up brandishing a bottle of imported absinthe. "This stuff killed my great uncle!" "Really? Can I have some?"

After warming ourselves with a drink or two, and with the stove, and with several dozen hugs--actors hug like other people hike up their pants--we prepared the night's dinner, which was a bunch of Boboli build-yer-own pizzas. Now, I readily admit that I am a picky eater: I opted for only tomato sauce, meat and cheese. The others . . . did not. In fact, they went fucking nuts: they chopped peppers and mushrooms and tomatoes and artichokes and pancakes and spark plugs and marmot scent glands and hair and toothpaste and a priori concepts and Bosnian military forces and more cheese and dumped all that shit on their pizzas while I stared in horror. It's not healthy to eat that much cheese, people, but they wouldn't listen, and hit me in the face with hot spatulas while they cooked these horrors. WHATEVER.

We played some games that night, but I didn't win any of them, because everyone else fucking CHEATED, so there's no point in talking about that in any detail.

The next day, after rousing ourselves out of bed--can you guess who was last to get up?--and making fun of each others' bedheads, we gradually started to form a plan. We wanted to go do some sledding, dammit. None of us had been sledding in like fifteen years! Say, I'm sure our bodies are going to be down with that! Happily, the Magic Cabin of Snowy Awesomeness came through again: I found four or so little dinky sleddin' things by the side of the house. Clearly made for children and not rampaging adults, we cheerfully picked them up anyway with the certain knowledge that we were going to destroy them.

We also abandoned the idea of going to some fee-based sledding hill or whatever. For one thing, we didn't want to drive--we all drove laughably mountain-unfriendly cars--and for another thing, we didn't want to pay money to anybody for a fucking hill. Pay for a common geographic feature? Fuck that. That'd be like paying for a rainbow or a river or a freeway. We found our own damn hill.

The plastic flimsy sleds proved to be real quitters, and practically exploded under the stress of demented thirtysomethings slamming their girth down onto them. They were like riding potato chips, and we glumly unsped down the hill, shedding shrapnel the entire way. Then we threw those aside and urinated on them contemptuously. Much better were the sled thingies made of that stuff that they use to make beer can cooling sleeves. Not only were they virtually indestructible--except for the one that we broke a slab off of--but we discovered that tandem riding allowed two people to careen down the hill at satisfyingly terrifying speeds that guaranteed a broken bone in the inevitable event of any kind of crash, or so you think, until you remember the one great thing about wiping out in the snow: it's actually really hard to hurt yourself, provided you don't hit something terribly unsnowlike, such as a tree or a fencepost or a wolverine.

If there is something better than sledding, apart from the usual suspects, I don't want to know about it. The snow was cold enough not to melt on us, no matter how much friction our spectacular wipeouts applied--we used to call these sort of falldowns "snow sales" when I was a kid, owing to the astounding amount of gear that ends up lying on the landscape in the aftermath of such crashes. Then we would lie there in the snow laughing our asses off. People managed to take some really excellent action shots of their good friends plowing horrifically into the snow, or simply just screaming by the camera while, well, screaming.

After a while of this, we returned back to the cabin to rest our shrieking joints in the hot tub and consume hot chocolate with brandy, and our friend L. created a masterful baked pasta dish with ziti, hearts of palm, palms of heart, Gary Hart, Hartz Mountain tick medicine, the Hartford Whalers, and discount heart meat. I mean, I assume it was masterful, but I wasn't going to eat that nightmare, so I had hot dogs that I sandwiched with bagel slices. I'm not crazy.

Then we all got loaded (read: I got loaded) and played more games, which I lost, because everyone else fucking cheated again. Also, during a game of Balderdash, nobody voted for my definition of the acronym NAPA as "Next, Another Pussy? Awesome!" Because all of my friends are cheating scum.

Let's do it again, cheating scum, let's do it sooner rather than later. Next time we'll find those sex pixies.

Wednesday, 21 February
Go Drink It On The Mountain

On my way to the bank after work today, I was waiting on the corner of Broadway for the light to change. A crusty-looking guy approached me. Uh oh.

"You got a lighter?" he asked. Oh.

"Sure," I said, and pulled out my Zippo, but he didn't seem to be reaching for a cigarette or even looking at the lighter.

"You know, that's my iPod," he said, pointing at my other hand. What the--?

"I don't think so, buddy," I replied cheerfully. I was still holding my Zippo in the other hand, waving it distractedly. If things got bad, I could always light myself on fire.

"Anyone ever tell you you're a sexy man?" he asked. Fuuuuuuuuck.

"Just my wife," I lied. Nobody calls me sexy. "Ham-face," sometimes.

"I'm not gay," he said, a picture of solemnity. The light finally changed.

"I gotta go," I said, and started crossing the street.

"Hey, come back! Don't go! I . . . aw, God dammit!" he cried.

So that happened. It occurred to me that I needed a break from the city. Happily, I'm getting one!

This weekend, the wife and I are driving up to Cle Elum, a dinkish little town near the pass for a couple days of snowy recreation! I'd love to say this was all my idea, but it was totally the wife. She set it up, and a bunch of other friends are coming up there with us to stay in our three-room room-thing complete with a hot tub! And ping-pong table! And we're gonna go sleddin'! And inner-tubin'! And hypothermia-gettin' and pelvis-crunchin'! And of course, drinkin'!

There's something very rejuvenating, I hope, anyway, about spending a couple days with good friends behaving as if we were twenty years younger than we are. There might actually be genuine youngsters there to give us the scornful laughs that we surely will deserve as we drunkenly careen into trees, or snow plows, or bears. Or, even worse, they might laugh at the bunch of nervous drunks who are worriedly scanning the landscape for potential disasters.

"This looks pretty steep . . . there's a jump over there that I don't like the look of . . . is this inner tube rated for two people? Maybe you should go ahead . . . why are those kids over there laughing at us? . . . if you want, we can go play some more beer pong . . . "

Whatever. However things turn out--DANGER DRUNKS? OR COWARDLY SOTS?--it promises to be a good time. After all, there will be cider! And pie! And that sort of uncomfortable good cheer that comes with sitting too close to your nearly naked friends in a hot tub!

So I don't care if those kids laugh. I really don't. Even if the whole weekend turns out to be a bust, and we get shivved by the villainous teenagers after calling them "a pack of debased, trout-sucking rotters," I'll still be happy, lying there bleeding on that hospital gurney. A smile will play over my blued lips.

Not only for the memories of a weekend well spent with friends. Also for the secret knowledge, stored deep in my heart, that somewhere is a crazy street person who thinks that I am a sexy man.

Thursday, 21 December
Last Remembrances

Okay, so it turns out I have a few more things to say about our recent trip to Italy. It's just a bunch of random crap, really, that I never got around to fitting in anywhere else.

THE FLIGHTS

. . . were fairly horrible. As they usually are, of course, even though British Airways still makes with the free booze and gives you wine with dinner. I really do like that when they served dinner--some mysterious roast-y kind of thing, which could have been worse--they asked me if I wanted white or red wine. This despite me still having a full beer in front of me. "Red, please!" I squealed. Just for good measure, I also grabbed another beer. Who knows when I would see them again?

Alas, the meal and/or the flight disagreed with the wife terribly, and she got horribly sick right when we were coming into Heathrow. As in, circling Heathrow, waiting for landing clearance; the wife hunched over her knees, wracked with nausea. I felt helpless and awful, and passed her one of those pitiful barf bags, not sure if I should hover over her consolingly or turn away and let her vomit in peace. The guy on the aisle looked pretty jumpy too. But she hung on. She even signaled frantically to the strapped-in stewardess: Can I go heave in the bathroom? She got a prim "Nope!" response. She clenched her teeth. Finally, we landed, taxied for a small eternity, and then when the signal came, she made a heroic dash to the WC and audibly brought up the unidentifiably roast-y matter from her stomach.

My girl is strong. She don't vomit in her seat! By God, she'll get to that bathroom or die trying. And the guy on the aisle seat's body language was pure "Man, that's awesome that chick didn't puke in her seat." You wouldn't think that body language could say that, but his totally did.

On the way back from Italy, things grew more baffling and horrid. My thesis is, on BA flights from the States, the airline strives to American-ize their meals. Hence the puzzling-yet-edible roast-y thing. But on BA flights from England, well . . . I suspect that the menu is a bit more Brit-oriented. Otherwise, I have no explanation for what happened on that flight when the "meals" were handed out.

"We have a selection of sandwiches," the steward announced (if "selection" is really a word when the number of choices is "two"): "We have chicken and ham, or cheese."

What?

Chicken and ham? Versus . . . lonely cheese? I was immediately nervous, and while I like chicken, and while I like ham, I was not really interested in a pas de deux of these meats. I decided to get the decidedly unthreatening cheese.

As it turns out, the whole "chicken/ham vs. cheese" thing turned out to be a cruel joke, a trick question no matter what. To paraphrase Wargames, the only winning strategy was not to play. They were not "chicken and ham" sandwiches; there were two half-sandwiches in one wrapper; one chicken, and one ham. This is what the wife went for. Similarly, the "cheese" option contained two half-sandwiches, one with some sort of clotted pus shot through with orange matter. I read the ingredients label and discovered that this alarming snot was infested with "carrot chutney." And the other half of the "cheese" sandwich is unknown to me, since the phrase "carrot chutney" combined with the leukemic substance purporting to be cheese had made me forget about the concept of eating for the next ten hours. The wife, I noticed, had similarly given up on both the chicken and the ham options, as one was polluted with horrifyingly elastic onion slices, and the other seemed to pulse with malign intent. We both guiltily wadded up the things a little bit--maybe they'll think we actually bit into them if we make them smaller!--and crammed them back into their bags, uneaten and mutilated.

THE MUSIC

I have already commented on many of the mind-wrecking songs we were forced to endure, over and over, thanks to the familiar banality and sheer repetitiveness of MTV Italia (as with any iteration of MTV): Madonna, Pink, the goddamn Red Hot Chili Peppers (whose "Hey-O" uncomfortably set up echoes in my mind where I'd try and shoehorn the lyrics to "Day-O" into the flabby melody of their terrible song).

But I forgot to mention the incredibly awful and incredibly ubiquitous Evanescence, whose single "Call Me When You're Sober" got almost nonstop airplay in Italy. This is such a weird band. Featuring the worst excesses of goth, nu metal and vaguely Teutonic chord progressions, and fronted by one Amy Lee, a woman who sings with the force and grandeur of a stuck car horn, Evanescence is yet again an answer to a question nobody ever wanted to ask: What if Fred Durst and Bette Midler died, came back to life, and joined Sisters of Mercy?

THE FALL

There really isn't much to this last story, really. One of the funny features of our trip was our ability to find out-of-place Irish bars all over the place. We found one in Rome--it was five blocks from our hotel--and we found one in Florence. (We didn't find one in Arezzo, and that was just fine.)

Going to an "Irish" bar on the continent really only guarantees two things: one, they will have Guinness on tap; and two, there will be TV screens with soccer playing. That's cool. I like Guinness. I don't give a shit about soccer, but I really like Guinness.

In Florence, when we discovered the Irish bar, we walked in enthusiastically. Too enthusiastically. The wife was in the lead, and as she opened the front door, she failed to notice the extra step up. She opened the door to the place, and warm air hit us; many people were seated right inside, glued to the football match; she tripped. She fell down on her face spectacularly, her arms thrown out in front of her. It was a complete disaster of an entrance, worthy of Buster Keaton.

The football fans glanced over at this sprawling American woman with little interest. The wife climbed to her feet and gave a Mary Katherine Gallagher "ta-dah!" gesture. The football fans turned back to watch the soccer players dick around some more with the ball, resolutely not scoring.

I do love my wife so very much. But I have never laughed so hard in my life.

Wednesday, 13 December
Tuscan Raiders

It took the wife and I a little while to adapt to the unique rhythms of Arezzo, a lovely Tuscan hill town. Not that this was trying or anything; on the contrary, it was actually pretty charming.

Take, for instance, the widespread custom of what basically amounts to a siesta, where businesses close up for a few hours so people can take naps, veg out, watch TV, or just go home for a quick knob session, whatever. During these times, which are frequently from 1 to 3, or 3 to 6, or 2 to 4, or 25 or 6 to 4, good luck doing anything, unless you find someplace open, which you might! The whole thing is typically puzzling, as the Italians are, wonderfully, a sort of society that seems to value not really giving a shit about any sort of consistency at all, particularly in temporal matters. A clearly posted sign that says "Closed 3-6" may mean that they are actually closed from 3 to 6, but it just as easily could mean that they will not open until 8, and it might also mean that they aren't closed at all. The best you can do is rattle the lock, and if it's open, see if someone charges at you brandishing a knife or something.

I think this is why Mussolini got shot like a dog. I think he was drafting legislation about people actually having to read and follow their own signage, and the Italians were all like, "I don't mind the oppressive authoritarian statism so much, but now there's talk that we'll have to pay attention to our own shop signs."

But then we found something magical happening in the early evenings in Arezzo, starting around 7:00. People started walking the streets.

All of them.

Streets that 30 minutes ago were sleepy and deserted suddenly filled with masses of people, wandering amiably, with no real purpose, seemingly for no other reason than to see and be seen, to say hello, to let their dogs piss happily (Rome is a cat city; Arezzo is a dog city). They weren't shopping; store workers mostly stood holding themselves in doorways, smoking and calling out to acquaintances. They weren't bar-hopping; most of the bars didn't bother to be open yet. They weren't even going anywhere; when they reached the end of a particular street, the Italians would simply turn around and amble back the way they came. This was the small-town Arezzo version of dragging Main Street. They would do this for a couple hours until nine or so before finding somewhere to get dinner, and I found it charming as hell, even the one basilisk-faced old woman who gave me such a frightful glare (why?) that my feet swelled and frost collected in the whorls of my ears. "Buona sera!" I called to her, and she deepened her terrifying scowl, making her face a detailed contour map of alien steppes.

Arezzo had other surprises, almost all of them shockingly great. One minor example was finding a fifth of Johnnie Walker in the supermarket for nine euros (not my brand, really, but since this is about twelve bucks American, uh, THANKS!). Another fun romp was to be found in the local farmacia--the wife unfortunately needed to restock her supply of tampons, and unfortunately rejected my advice to ask for "timpanis" or "trombonos" or "Jeffrey Tambors"--where we discovered delicious new brand names such as Ribex condoms ("Made from genuine frogs!" they unfortunately did not say; I immediately thought of a dancing frog with an erection singing gaily, "Ribbit! Sex! Ribex!") and a diaper brand called "Mr. Baby." The wife and I really love the brand name Mr. Baby. I like to imagine a tiny little mustachoied child, a Meerschaum bubblesoap pipe clenched in his pink gums, indignantly demanding that some peon cleanse the feces from his upper-class buttocks. "I'M MISTER BABY! And I have soiled myself."

But perhaps best of all was one morning when I went to have a morningish cigarette at the apartment. I opened the window to let the smoke out, and . . . music? Clearly, something was going on in the main square just around the corner from us, as I heard brass oompahing with some emphasis. The wife scrambled out the door to find out what was going on while I placidly continued to enjoy my cigarette. She came back moments later as I was finishing.

"It's a marching band competition!" she yelled gleefully. "There's marching bands in the square!"

I cocked my ear out the window one more time. A familiar tune was being played, and I heard the distinctive squall of majorette whistles. It took me a moment to place the melody, but then I had it.

There is really nothing like waking up in a semi-obscure Tuscan hill town and hearing a marching brass band belting out Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" at ten in the morning.

After I took a shower, we went to take a look. The marching bands would play a song or two in the square and then would march off down the Arezzo streets, blatting the whole time. Then the next band would play a couple songs in the square and follow. The dogs of the city must have been driven half-mad, and I thought I heard them all howling like hungry ghouls as the astonishing racket bounced off of the stone walls and empty storefronts and bored, smoking store employees.

The adults walked slowly, without any illusions of urgency, while the children (and some of the dogs) chased after the musicians. An old man without any apparent teeth clutched his cymbals and hunched over them as if they were twin chalices worthy of fierce protection; the dogs jumped spastically when he grimly crashed them together.

Then they were gone. And we went to go take a nap.

Wednesday, 15 November
Movin' To The Country, Gonna Eat A Lot Of Olives

I HAVE GOOD NEWS!

My tens of readers are getting a break. The wife and I are going on vacation for a few weeks, and so Izzle Pfaff will be mercifully silent until at least December 7. So y'all are going to have to get your RDA of strained metaphors, clumsy profanity and pointless, overfreighted verbosity from somewhere else for a while. Fortunately for everybody, there's always Fox News.

Where are you going? I hear you all asking. Is it somewhere uncomfortably humid and with lots of feces lying around? Somewhere unpleasant? Please let it be unpleasant. That's what everyone has been asking us. The guy who cuts my hair just asked me this, and when I told him, he was not pleased. In fact, he was envious. (Really!) He was so envious, in fact, that he literally stamped his foot with jealousy. I'm not sure I've ever seen an actual human stamp a foot before. But he did. Then he proceeded to spitefully give me the worst haircut I've ever had in my life.

(One thing I like about getting my hair cut is that it tends to make me look younger. In fact, minutes after the haircut was finished, I was buying some wine at the grocery store and the cashier carded me. "You're making my day!" I chirped. "Did you really need to make sure I was over 21?" She stared at the top of my skull and replied, "I needed to make sure you were really human.")

So anyway. On Tuesday, the wife and I leave for Italy. We're taking a lovely nonstop flight out from Seattle and then spending a few contemplative hours at Heathrow to have our rectums politely examined--hopefully from harrumphing, mustachioed fellows smoking briar pipes and saying "I say! No hexplosives up this one's bum! Roight!"--and then on to Rome.

We're only spending a couple days in Rome, though. We have been once before--for one whole day--in 2001, where we dashed around madly, managing to see the Vatican and the Colosseum before we had to madly dash somewhere else . . . I think it was Naples. (At the time, we were experiencing severe travel madness; this time, we basically have no excuse.) Anyway! Maybe this time we can bag us a new Pope sighting! (We got blessed by good old John Paul the Sequel back in 2001--along with about 10,000 of our closest friends at St. Peter's--so we figure if we can get blessed twice, we basically can give God a wedgie if we feel like it. This is leaving aside the fact that neither of us are Catholics, but hey, these guys don't have to keep blessing us.)

Our big destination for week one is a little town in Tuscany called Arezzo. Through an astonishing website that a friend clued us into, we are renting an actual apartment in the city; an apartment that opens right onto the fucking town piazza.

This is awesome.

One, it's not a hotel. It's an apartment. It has a bedroom. It has a GREAT BIG FRESCO OF JESUS in the bedroom, right opposite the bed, actually, which, uh . . . well, that might be distracting. BUT IT'S STILL AWESOME! ("Honey, you feel like . . . you know . . . ?" "But . . . He's . . . staring at us." "Sigh." "But this is awesome." "It's getting slightly less awesome for me." We'll see.)

For another thing, and nothing on giganto-cities, but I have found that most of the time when I am traveling, that I really kind of love the more village-y places, the small towns that you can walk through on foot, and where you see the same regulars in the same places every day. I'm looking forward to finding that place where, without ever quite knowing you've decided, magically becomes that place where you end up every day at 2:00 for a sandwich or a drink. I can't wait to meet all the characters who own the little shops who crinkle their faces in pleasure to see a new face, someone new that they can show off their stuff to, to say, This is what I do! I do it very well, don't you think? And I always love finding out that, most of the time, they're absolutely right, and telling them so.

I cannot wait.

Oh, and as if all this weren't enough, we're spending four days in Florence after that. Florence, home of the Uffizi Gallery, the tiny museum that just happens to house the most heart-stoppingly concentrated collection of Renaissance art that you can find--and comprehensively tour in under three hours. If I were even remotely religious, this place would be church for me.

And then, of course, there is also--walking distance away--the Accademia. Nothing special here. Just David. Just the most beautiful piece of physical art that I've ever seen in my life. Just the only inanimate object that I ever found myself falling in love with. The only thing that it was wrenchingly difficult to leave, to take my eyes from.

I have heard songs, seen paintings, read books, many times, that made me intensely jealous and awed. Jealous because I want to create art on that level. But I do not. Awed for similar reasons, but awe also for the artist: How did he/she think of that? Could I ever come up anything close to that? But I cannot. David, while it does these things, also provokes this in me: it makes me feel small. I am utterly unable to conceive of the creation of its perfection. Its beauty is palpable and unknowable and nearly inhuman. I am diminished and imperfect in its presence, and I am so small in the knowledge that such a thing is so beyond my ken--in its conception and execution and its existence--I have no choice but to simply rejoice in it, in my tiny way. For me, David nearly inspires something I would in other contexts call penitence. And I don't even know why or what for.

I have been longing to see Michelangelo's David again since the moment I stopped looking at it five years ago. I would posit that it is simply the most beautiful thing ever created by man. This is of course a matter of opinion, and is also of course intensely personal. All I can say is: I really look forward to feeling small again.

I can't wait to get there. And I can't wait to come back to write about it. You're never going to get a David out of me, of course. But the point of David is: You should try.

Monday, 28 August
Ferry Tale

AND SO IT WAS on Thursday that the wife and I bailed on work halfway through the day to make our way to Whidbey Island. Our destination was the dubiously named Bush Point B&B, located just outside a lovely nothingness of a townlet called Freeland.

Island culture, it seems, leads to certain oddities in, well, naming things. Freeland, existing as it does in America, is pretty damn free, to be sure. However, my hopes were a little mashed when I wandered into the grocery store hoping that all the price tags would read "$0.00." YOU CALL THIS FREE? Oh, well. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence did suggest that the nearby Useless Bay was, in fact, actually useless, as did learning that there was a nearby golf course. And then there were the various cutesy-wootsey road names: Raindrop Lane! Cloying! Ptarmigan Ptollway! Puzzling! Handjobbe Hollow! Kind of disturbing!

Anyway, the Bush Point B&B--situated on a beach which was irritatingly bereft of much bush, frankly, but on the other hand, there were pointy things like sticks--turned out to be kind of awesome. First off in the awesomeness parade, the "B&B" part became clear enough when the kind folks who checked us in encouraged us, when breakfasttime rolled around, to "open the fridge and eat!" The fridge contained a couple blueberry muffins and a bunch of tomato juice. (The muffins went unconsumed, but I gleefully guzzled down all the tomato juice in the evenings to come by making Red Beers--don't scrimp on the black pepper!--much to the dismay of the wife.)

The decor was vintage 1973-era Lamer Homes and No Gardens, but we didn't care. In fact, we kind of loved the octagonal glass-top dining table, and the frosted-glass filigreed lighting fixtures, and the astonishingly terrible mixed-media paint-o-thingy still life that must have been entitled Raised Tin Flowers That Will Surely Suffer From Neglectful Dusting. A sliding glass door gave us egress onto the rear deck, which sat thrillingly atop the actual breakwater, and featured not only a gorgeous view of the ocean, but also an unblocked look at the former fishing platform, which, since it had been eaten away by corrosive sea brine, was now unfit to be trod upon by human feet, and has for some time been adopted as a seagull sanctuary. The gulls had coated the entire structure with a thick layer of guano, and the birds spent their time doing that great feather-ruffling shrug thing that they do and crapping with a palpable enthusiasm. It was great!

We took it easy that evening. We took our dinner in the restaurant upstairs, where for seventeen bucks I indulged memories of a youthful Skot by ordering deep-fried prawns. (When I was a kid, I just about made my parents cry by clamoring constantly to be taken to Skipper's.) I also managed to startle the waitress--and myself--by forgetting the difference between a carafe of wine and a half-carafe, with the result being that by the end of the meal (and the full carafe), the wife and I were half in the bag. Good job, Skot.

Actually, looking back, it put us in the perfect frame of mind for the DVDs we had rented. We woozily fired up the first one (with me starting in on the Red Beer), Spike Lee's Inside Man. I loves me some twisty caper movies, and hey! This one was pretty good. We had a good time. I made another Red Beer, and readied myself for the next feature, one that I had high hopes for.

It was Basic Instinct 2. At the video store--actually the Freeland Payless--I said to the wife, "I'm not sure I can pass this up." She concurred. We figured this film to be a lock for the "so bad it's great" categorization.

Basic Instinct 2 made me want to call the CDC to alert them about the world's first cinematographic disease vector. This movie is stupefyingly terrible on nearly every conceivable level, and should only be watched by burn victims, who are the only people on earth so overloaded on pain that it cannot possibly touch them. Only burn victims can lie there and moan, "Oh, that's nothing! My skin comes off in sheets!" For the rest of us, there is nothing but agony. Sharon Stone, who is clearly a hermaphroditic reef fish, has completed her transformation into a full-blown drag queen, and is hair-raising in her utterly unsuccessful attempts to raise anything else, much less her utterly luckless male foil, an actor named David Morrissey, whose every scene, every expression screams, "I know I've thrown my career away, but they gave me so much money!" So there you go: two hours of a leathery protogynecological nightmare gnawing away at a pasty-faced dullard with the Hollywood business acumen of Krusty the Clown. The wife and I mercifully passed out/went into neurological shutdown halfway through.

Did that happen? we asked ourselves the next morning. We stared at the awful evidence of the DVD cover on the floor. It really did. How did we get to bed? We weren't sure. We were lucky not to have drowned in our own unconscious bile, our heads tipped back on our necks like rainstruck turkeys. We were fortunate to have survived. We plucked the poisonous DVD out of the player with tweezers, handling the nasty thing like the filmic plutonium it was. "Don't touch it!" we hissed. "It might want to replicate itself. Don't let it touch your skin." We returned the thing to Payless and hurled it at the counter girl's skull, scoring a direct hit that dented her forehead and left her dazed and bleeding. "What are we, socialists?" we screamed. "Don't rent this to nice people!" We got the hell out of there. It was a scary time.

Whidbey Island lay before us, and reborn, we knew it was time to put it to the sword. We ransacked that island like huns, incandescant with the killing spirit. Occasionally stopping at bars to, well, kill spirits.

And so it was.

Wednesday, 23 August
Two Caucasians On Their Way To A Dance

Tomorrow is going to rock. And I'm working tomorrow! So why is it going to rock?

Because I'm leaving at noon. And Friday is going to rock even harder! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?

Because I won't be going at all. Yes, I am living the dream, the dream that every worker has: not going to work. (Hey, I like my job fine. I just happen to like it better when I'm not doing it.)

The wife and I are taking a couple days to get out of our fetid, stinking apartment and are treating ourselves to a couple days on Whidbey Island. We had originally thought about spending some quality time in Spokane, but we want to get away from the whole fetid and stinking thing. But we really were sold on Whidbey Island once we remembered that the place has some lovely wineries, and is just kind of beautiful, and is also where Robert Mathews, former head of white supremacy group The Order, was slaughtered in a shootout with the FBI. That's history, people!

And really. Is there anything more relaxing than lounging in bucolic surroundings and reading such truisms like, "The Jew is like a destroying virus that attacks our racial body to destroy our Aryan culture and purity of our race. Those of our Race who resist these attacks are called 'chosen and faithful' " while enjoying a nice syrah? I don't think there is. There really isn't anything like a nice wine that isn't too oaky while retaining notes of grapefruit and sandalwood, but still maintains highlights of racial purity. And it finishes really well.

Which is sort of why we're also digging up the corpse of Sterling Hayden and taking him with us. I'm thinking of this whole weekend as Operation Dropkick. Look, I don't want to sound like an asshole, but I can no longer sit back and allow communist infiltration, communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. I just want to relax! Which is why Whidbey Island is so perfect, because everyone there is white. Just us, white people, and the corpse of Sterling Hayden. What could be finer?

Hey, don't worry, guys! I'll be back! We'll meet again.

It's not the end of the world.

Wednesday, 10 May
Simply Red

The morning after our initial introduction to Yakima, we got to experience what must be the most pleasing feature of that fine city: driving out of it. We were on our merry way-ish to a region known as Rattlesnake Hills, home to approximately a choadillion wineries. Rattlesnake Hills also has the distinction of being near the Washington town of Zillah, perhaps the only US city named for a Gashlycrumb Tiny, so how awesome is that?

After a brief freeway drive, we were there! Lost! On a road lined with yards populated by mangy dogs! Where the fuck are the wineries! Oh my God! Are those banjos I hear? We turned around, and a mere twenty minutes, we were there! This time, at a winery--Hyatt. We walked in to find an utterly empty tasting room, which boded well, since, you know, fuck other people. The gal behind the counter greeted us: "On your way to Walla Walla?" Ominous. Not a question you want to hear as any conversational opener--it made me jittery. "FUCK ONIONS!" I yelped. She stared at me for a moment and then explained that there was some big fucking wine hoedown going on that weekend in Walla Walla.

Good news! Less people = Skot happier. We dug into the offered wines. While we swilled, we were joined by another couple, who, in the time we had moved from wine #2 to wine #4, managed to rack up a $534 order. This, of course, made me feel like shit. By the time we had completed the tasting, they had whisked out of there with a couple cases of grape along with some fancy stuffed olives. This all made me feel, of course, like a tool. We meekly bought a measly three bottles of wine and some of the damn olives, because HEY WE CAN BUY ANCILLARY CRAP TOO. (As it turns out, they're olives stuffed with hot peppers, and boy are they good.)

We made our way from Hyatt to Two Mountain, which featured a lazing dog in front of a tin building. This was great. Lazy dog raised its head at us briefly when we cooed at it, and then rested back again, totally unimpressed. Two Mountain featured an extremely loquacious gal given to telling us stories about how "this is a pizza wine!" and getting drunk in Seattle and spending the night at someone's house and doing the "walk of shame" back to her car--but without the sex! Well, she was a nice gal, but her stories could have used more sex. She also told us the story of the lazy dog, named Gus, who, heartbreakingly, and legbreakingly, had a broken leg from being hit by a car, but was on the mend. This was again sort of puzzling, since Gus was very clearly a female dog, unless he had grown six tiny mutant penises on his belly, but we left the whole thing unchallenged, because, oh for God's sake, let's buy a couple bottles of wine.

Next! Probably our favorite: Paradisos del Sol. Upon leaving our car and walking to the tasting room (which was a kitchen in a ranchhouse), we were assaulted by a silent tiny white dog trailing a couple of weird, apparently flightless grey birds. The dog sniffed at our ankles and the birds gabbled around aimlessly, pecking at shit on the ground. We also heard the unmistakable cries of roosters from a barn somewhere. "I see you've met Snudley!" Or whatever the dog's name was--I couldn't hear her, the woman who called to us from the veranda. "Yeah!" I said. "Now you have to tell us what these birds are!" "They're baby turkeys," she replied, "future Thanksgiving dinners." she continued flatly. Then without another word, she disappeared into a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. Good to meet you, misanthropic bird-killin' lady.

We went into another door, which led into the kitchen-tastery-whateveroom, where a tiny bespectacled woman lurked. "CHALLO!" she screamed. "I am Bulgarian. Will you have twenty minutes? I tell you everything, I teach you." Good Lord. Don't argue with the Eastern Europeans, or they'll pluck out your tongue. We let Greta, or whatever, give us the full business about all things wine. She brooked no demurrals at all--hers was the only tasting where there was food accompaniment, to better demonstrate how wine works with a full palate. At one point, she brought out some crab-artichoke dip and all but pried open my jaws to make me eat it. Later, out came something she called "Glop"--a blue cheese and garlic dip. EAT!

She was really fucking great, actually. Halfway through, another young couple showed up. She tore into her spiel with them, of course, and the guy tried to beg off the whites: "I don't really like sweet wines." Greta tartly shot back, "You try them all. You do not like, you spit." She fixed him with a withering Bela Karolyi stare, and the guy slumped like overcooked asparagus. I silently guffawed and ate more Glop. "ZO!" She returned to us. "You see the color of the wine? How do you say?" We nervously held our glasses up to the sunlight. "Amber?" I ventured. "You see!" she beamed. "It is yes." I felt like Kerri Strug.

I loved Paradisos del Sol, and so I was that more grateful for not running over little Snudley when we left the parking lot, which I nearly did, since the little fucker was sniffing at our tires at the time. That would have sucked. The baby turkeys, not so much, I guess, since I could have just marched up to the chilling porch-woman with the carcass and declared, "Thanksgiving comes in May this year!"

Next up was Horizon's Edge, manned by a very, very enigmatic fellow named . . . well, I cannot recall if we ever caught his name. He poured indiscriminately, often not telling us what we were drinking, and then gently mocking our confusion. "Is this the merlot?" I would ask. "What--did you think it was the rose?" "I--I think I'm getting palate fatigue," I said lamely. He stared at me like a carny stares at a mark. "Of course you are." Moments later, he abruptly asked, "So, which of you is wearing perfume?" The wife shot me a look, like, I hope it's me. "I'm embarrassed to say I'm wearing White Diamonds," said the wife. That was news to me. "It was a gift," she concluded lamely. "Well, as long as you can't smell it," the guy said mildly. "I can't smell it," I offered in weak defense. He broadened his grin. "Even better." We stood there awkwardly for a moment. "That's a professional's nose for you," I said witlessly. He continued to lazily smile, and then poured us some more wine. What a freak, I thought. That's probably why we punished him so harshly by buying three bottles of wine.

Portteus Vineyards was another tin-building affair, with an extraordinarily affable fellow who told us stories about how he met his wife of twenty-plus years at his old college chess-and-pot-smoking club, which, really, that's kind of awesome. We also had a lengthy discussion about prostate cancer clinical trials, which was fairly weird, but he seemed to take a shine to us at the same time, and cheerfully opened up a bottle of Malbec for us that wasn't on the regular tasting menu, but hey! If you can't share some nice oddball-variant grape with your new cancer-and-pot chums, where are you anyway? There was no way, of course, that we could not buy a bottle of the Malbec after he opened one up for us, which we did happily, since it was great, and then we bought a couple of other bottles as well. The case box in our car was pretty much full up.

So it was back to Yakima. Back to the Lotus Room. Our waitress from the previous night came over just to say hi. We ordered some more ridiculously alcoholic drinks. I've written some sucky things about Yakima. But it's suckier to be back home.

Monday, 08 May
Once Upon A Time In The East

As has been alluded to before, this last week, the wife and I took an anniversary trip into Eastern Washington's wine country. Specifically: Yakima!

YAKIMA! Does not that name sing?

After extensive (read: desultory) research into lodging in (sing it!) YAAAA-KIIII-MAAAAA!--we rejected many B&Bs, mainly on the grounds that 1. they were pretty expensive and 2. I don't really feel like making forced conversation with bright-eyed strangers over runny-egg breakfasts--we elected to stay with the fine professionals at Best Western.

BEST WESTERN! Does not that name sing? BEEEEEEEEEST WEEEEEEEES-TEEEEEEEERN! (SFX: crack of a whip!) YEEEE-HAAAAW!

Best Western's website promised nice things, such as an "adjacent facility providing a lounge and a 24-hour restaurant." Which was true! If you elasticize the definition of "adjacent" to mean "an unwalkable distance away from you." It also promised that it was "near the freeway," which was also true! It was in fact nearly under the freeway, which we discovered as I maneuvered the car down the offramp, and the wife immediately screamed, "THERE IT IS!" provoking a spectacular, tire-smoking hard right, and we jounced merrily into the Best Western parking lot. Upon coming to a rest, we found ourselves staring at the nearby "adjacent" facilities such as a Harley dealership and an Exxon station. They were both closed. The gas station nearest the offramp was closed at 4 PM. I . . . whatever.

After checking in with the helpful gals at the front desk, we decided to use our never-fail "ask the locals for advice" non-trick for finding the city's delights. "Where's a good place to get a decent dinner?" we asked. The girls looked at each other uncertainly, as if we had inquired about hidden uranium deposits. "There's an Outback Steakhouse down the street." I thought I'd rather eat at the Harley dealership, but remained silent. The wife tried another tack. "All right. So where's a place to get a good drink?"

At this question, the youngest-seeming of the girls positively leaped into action. She began furiously scribbling directions down on some scratch paper. "You need to go to the Lotus Room," she babbled. "They serve a good drink. They'll treat you right. It's a friendly place! You--you--it's very . . . well, these are good people--"

She was starting to decompensate to some unnameable mental pressure, but I was catching a vibe. "Will no one help the widow's son?" I asked her gently. She relaxed visibly and favored me with a relieved smile. "You're going to have a great time."

So we followed her crabbed directions to the Lotus Room. Located in the rear of some faded restaurant called the Golden Wheel, which looked like it had had its peak in 1972, its entrance was a featureless metal fire door set into a plain concrete wall. A white sign overhead read, in black letters, THE LOTUS ROOM. It was about as inviting as a needle exchange center. The mouth of a green plasticpail outside the door gaped, ready to receive gallons of cigarette butts. It looked like a perfect place for enthusiasts of receiving pool cues to the back of the neck. I started to wonder if the hotel gals hadn't set us up for a bad end. Oh God! I thought. They've sent us to our deaths and then they're going to break into our room and steal our nothing!

We made our way inside, and encountered a faux-opium den sort of place, with lots of Oriental dragony carvings and lots of no light relieved by a little red light. It was sort of like walking into someone's mouth. The jukebox near the door had a hand-lettered sign that read, "PLAY AT YOUR OWN RISK." Noted, I guess. Someone probably got chain-whipped for playing "I Want It That Way" some fateful night. We found a booth and sat down.

But for all of the ominous portents, the Lotus Room? Friendly as hell! Every person who came in was greeted by some other patrons with "NORM!"-like cries of welcome. A pleasant aging waitress came over and took our order; remembering the possibly-murderous hotel gal's promise of "good pours," I then eyed the bartender make my whiskey soda.

FSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH! went the whiskey from the gun. FSH! went the soda. Our drinks returned to us, and we sipped them gingerly, and we felt icicles forming on our livers and kidneys. Our bladders glumly started rolling out the fire-suppression gel. The waitress eventually returned, and the wife asked for a couple of glasses of water. "These drinks are pretty strong," the waitress said amiably, "so it's nice to have some water." Which was a lot like a doctor saying, "Well, you've been bitten by four hundred cobras, so it's happy news that we have aspirin."

We ordered a second round. Someone braved the threatening jukebox and managed to coax it into playing "Tusk" without sustaining terrible injury. Red-limned dragons leered at nothing at all, and we sipped again at our impossibly alcoholic drinks, which I was starting to think of as some sort of interesting refinement of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: I was beginning to become unsure of both my position and my momentum, particularly when trying to descend the stairs to have a smoke.

We had entered Yakima County. And we hadn't even made it to a winery yet.

Monday, 24 April
Week In Review

So, Utah happened. They named a raptor after this fucking state? I'd go extinct too. On the other hand, I doubt any dinosaurs are climbing out of their desert beds clamoring to have me find their remains either. "Skotraptor? No thanks." Me, if I were a dead dinosar, I think I'd like to be found by, say, a porn star. Waddraptor! Gingersaurus! And the dreaded Tiffanytops.

I can't really slag a lot on Salt Lake City too much, mainly because as predicted, I hardly left the hotel. I can report that, from an airplane, it looks a lot like a bunch of discarded children's toys dumped onto a vast dirt expanse. Drab, said my mind. This city looks like that ugly babysitter you used to have. The one that read Sidney Sheldon? She had glasses and sucked on popsicles in a way that managed to be totally unintriguing. I had arrived.

I couldn't complain, however, about the free shuttle service to the hotel. Or, frankly, the hotel itself, which has five diamonds, or four stars, or ninety blue horseshoes, or whatever fucking rating they were touting at the time. It was a swank place, no doubt, the Grand American. You got greeted by no less than six people before you even hit the front door, and of course I undertipped all of them, as I wasn't prepared for the pomp. Some duffer got unlucky enough to wrestle my luggage away from me--the staff would sooner shit out their hearts than let you lift anything--and I think I gave him my spare coat buttons. While I was waiting in line, I was assailed by more of these poor minions. One approached and said, "How are you, sir? Water?" He held out a gleaming bottle of water. I eyed it as if evaluating its salinity. A beautiful woman advanced moments later. "Cookie?" she inquired, holding a basket of baked goods. They gave you cookies and water while you waited. Either that, or the waterguy was a random Mormon poisoner and the woman was simply the world's most cryptic prostitute.

The room, when I finally got there, was stunning. As usual, I went straight to the bathroom. THE BATHROOM IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE OF A HOTEL ROOM, I say, because there's something exotic about taking a dump in any strange place. There is a frisson about taking a dump in, say, a public rest room in the park. A nervous one, to be sure, but it's there. In a hotel? It should be downright awesome to take a dump, because it's costing someone good money. This bathroom did not disappoint. For one thing, marble floors. (Let's ignore that I nearly broke my back a few times slipping on that fucking crap coming out of the shower and missing the bath mat--I'm blind as a goddam bat.) For another thing, it had a tub and a separate glass-encased stand-alone shower stall. For another another thing, it had a husband-and-wife sink arrangement, with two separate hookups. And FINALLY--the dumper itself was its own room besides all of the rest, and of course had its own phone--"Simmons! I'm taking a shit on company time! Go into your toilet and take a shit with me! This is rad!"--and one of those ridiculous gilt toilet paper roll-covers that help you out with the tearing motion. I love this sort of vaguely infantilizing hand-holding: "You notice how people rip the hell out of toilet paper rolls, all jaggedy? Let's give them some sort of clean-rip technology. Poor bastards are wiping their asses with substandard wads."

I won't bore you with any of the business stuff--if you're not instantly numbed by words like "practicum" and "forum" and "plenary" then you are not of my species--but I will tell you that even before I boarded the plane, I felt a low-grade cold coming on. Just what you want when getting ready to get on a plane! A compromised immune system! In SLC, my cold built up a little steam, but nothing too unbearable. I had some mild sniffles, but nothing that would keep me out of the game.

Then the stomach virus hit on Wednesday afternoon. Like a switch. Crippling nausea, frequent romping trips to the bathroom, the whole bit. I sat miserably on the toilet, during commercial breaks from The Amazing Race, perversely willing the phone to ring. "Hey, Skot, how's it hanging?" I imagined my telephonic pal would say. "Right above a bowl full of abject horror. I think I'm dying." I would reply. But nobody called. I spent the night shivering and hopelessly smoking cigarettes on my second-floor balcony, staring out at the pool and listening to the sound system blasting out Sheryl Crow songs. The diarrhea was a relief from this sonic assault. Eventually, I fell into a fitful sleep, plagued by horrid dreams involving me giving practicum talks while seated pantsless on a toilet.

Happily, the virus proved to be of the really punctual 24-hour sort, and again, switchlike, I felt magically better the next day at five. I was still a bit whey-faced from the lingering illnesses (not to mention from my utter inability to eat dinner the previous night), but I heroically managed to attend the "hospitality" party for the survivors of the meeting, where I cautiously sipped oaky, croaky red Cab while my unpukey compatriots shamelessly dumped horrible Riesling into their maws.

(On the night of my arrival, I had already learned the folly of ordering liquor in this bizarre Pollyanna state. Upon ordering a martini, I was given an absurdly anemic little glass of cloudy gin, which I figured was due to a criminally scanty pour, but later learned was thanks to Utah's mind-wrecking state laws that mandate some system involving odd metal nipples on liquor bottles which marry to laughable booze-measuring doodads that mete out truly depressing amounts of premeasured shots. The whole thing is Byzantine and insulting and childish. I have convinced myself that, contrary to the historical record, Kafka was trying to get a decent pour in a Utah bar when he decided he wanted all of his papers burned after he died.)

Oh, lord, it's all gone on long enough. Leave it to say that I'm back, and feeling better, and I've had a few days to recover. I'm back to work tomorrow, in my proper office. The wife even got me all set when I arrived back home with a movie night. We watched the Eli Roth masterpiece Hostel, a movie so soulless and unblinkingly mean that it dares to ask the question, "Who wants to see a guy get his Achilles' tendons slashed?"

We cringed our way through this grindcore nightmare of pointlessness, this objet of dumbosity where nothing is really scary but everything is disgusting. In the hands of Scorcese, blood red can be shocking. In the hands of others, it's just another crayon color. What a dreary, idiotic movie.

I missed the excitement of diarrhea. I didn't miss Utah. So Hostel has that going for it. Sort of worse than diarrhea. Better than Utah. I'll leave the rest to you.

Monday, 17 April
These Are All The Shapes Utah Could Have Been

Ah, friends, my tens of readers, it is with a heavy heart that I write tonight, for tomorrow . . . tomorrow, I am off. Off to sail the crummy, cramped, smell-other-people's-farts skies with a few hundred of my closest strangers, off to fly to Utah. I will be gone for the week, and so you're just going to have to content yourselves with a deficit of snotty complaining about, uh, everything, for a little while. Sorry about that. This is going to have to hold you.

And I don't even know if my heart is in it tonight. Do we really need yet another bunch of rambling crap about how awful airports are? Is anyone really interested in another jeremiad against airline gouging, or their horrible, alleged food? Does anyone really want to read another unfair, unkind, and ill-informed screed against some innocent city that I happen to spend four days in?

I say: We do.

It's with real anticipation that I await getting to the airport tomorrow, since my flight is on the not-at-all trouble airline Delta. I imagine their employees are going to be so happy! It is indeed fortunate that--assuming I get on my flight all right--I am essentially incapable of staying awake on flights, an attribute which has earned me my wife's enduring resentment. I can't help it--I fall asleep basically right away. It might be a defensive reaction against those particularly insectile male flight attendants, who all seem to resemble David Spade. They creep me out, and I have uneasy dreams about them extruding silk from their vest-concealed spinnerets to encase me before they extract my blood from my wiggling frame. Yes, in my mental world, David Spade is basically a big gay Shelob.

It doesn't help that I'm going to fucking Utah, the boxy state that fails even in its geometric imperative towards Platonic boxiness. This is a state that got out-rhomboided by Wyoming, for Christ's sake. WYOMING! Here's a gerund of a state, which is just pathetic, and yet it eats Utah's Platonic lunch.

And plus, I'm going to Salt Lake City, a Borglike grid of a city dumped down into the desert, and named in honor of a lake that is totally fucked up in the first place. Great Salt Lake? Who asked for that? They couldn't get a lake right? "What a gorgeous lake!" "Yeah, fuck that. It's full of salt." Hanh? Swell. I also can't wait to see the Mustard Mountains and the legendary Paprika Forest.

Look, I'm sorry. Like I said before, this is all very unfair. I was in SLC once, a long time ago. I'm just not very enthused about going, since it's a business trip, and I'm away from my wife, and blah blah blah. I'll be putting in some long hours, and I'll have to wear a tie all the fucking time, which, honestly? I'd rather cinch up my nuts with a spiked belt. (Oh, shit! Did I remember to pack my spiked belt?) WHICH REMINDS ME! What essential thing did I forget to pack? I'm sure it's something, and something big! Or maybe they'll just send my luggage to Oslo! And don't forget about that travel anxiety, like compulsively checking my back pocket to make sure my wallet is still there, and which looks to the rest of the world that I appear to have some ass-clutching twitch! Oh, it all adds up, and it makes me miserable. I hope this week goes by quickly, which I am certain it will not.

Oh, I'll see you next Monday or so. Fresh off the trip. At which time, this post will probably seem kind in retrospect. In the meantime . . . seriously, they couldn't get a lake right? Good Lord. Maybe someday I can go to a conference at the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Tuesday, 28 February
Not Rockin' The Not-Burbs

The wife and I made a break for it this weekend, to the only place that made sense any more in this cold world: Brinnon, Washington. We were cashing in on a Christmas gift from her parents, a free couple of nights in the Olympic peninsula on . . . houseboats for two! Yes, we had a romantic holiday getaway weekend on a houseboat. Nothing says, "Say . . . why not conceive some grandchildren while you've got nothing to do but sit in a houseboat?" like a trip to Brinnon, Washington, whose lone restaurant (Open until 8:00 on Fridays and Saturdays!) is called the Halfway House.

As it turned out, the brother-in-law and his wife also received the very same gift, and yes, they had booked the same weekend. Nothing quells lustful thoughts like wondering, "Say . . . I wonder if your brother could hear us?" Well, almost nothing. For me, the actual thought of children quells lustful thoughts, so there was that too.

We actually had a very good time. From the very beginning, we were treated very well by the Brinnon folk, who exude that mysterious quality that baffles people who live in larger cities: incredible niceness. Our intrepid houseboat matron had told us to give her a call on arrival so she could let us in to the houseboat. Unfortunately, T-Mobile had different ideas . . . my awful cellphone refused to even countenance the idea of a reception bar. So we asked the proprietor of the marina store for help, and she immediately said, "I'll call her for you!" Then she charged me $7.41 for a pack of Camel Lights, so I guess she wasn't exactly coming out a loser on the exchange.

Settling into the tiny boat was easy enough; it had a hot tub that overlooked the little bay, and we were charmed by the seabirds that frolicked in the water, and occasionally stopped by to peck curiously at our window. This is, I must confess, somewhat unnerving when you're sitting naked in a hot tub. Tippi Hendren didn't have to experience dark thoughts about her nipples coming under avian attack.

The houseboat was also equipped with a stereo, TV and DVD player, and so after a bit of poking about, we decided that--given the paucity of Brinnon nightlife--we'd better go hunt down some horrible movies. We went to the video store--right by the Halfway House!--and discovered a dilapidated ruin that Snake Plissken would sneer at. I did appreciate the "NIGHT DROP" sign sagging morosely next to a kicked-in window. The wonderful gals at the Halfway House informed us that yes, "That place closed!"--no shit!--before referring us to the liquor store.

I love this idea! But, uh . . . the liquor store? In Washington, the liquor stores are all state run. Why would there be movies to rent there?

And yet. Sure enough! A whole shelf bulging with DVDs! And several more with VCR rentals! Um . . . okay! I assume that it's just a happy sideline for the manager, an--of course--incredibly nice woman who was more than delighted to rent us a couple of DVDs. "What do you need from us?" I asked, reaching for my ID, my credit card, a buccal DNA sample . . . "I need you to fill this out," she said, handing over a regular piece of white office paper. "Give me your name and phone number. I'll fill out the titles." That was it. She quoted me a price of four dollars plus tax for the two movies we were taking. Perhaps I got a sympathy discount, since the movies themselves were manifestly horrible, of course: we rented Changing Lanes and Flightplan, which we unfortunately watched. Perhaps this accounted for her less-than-exacting security measures. I don't care if I ever get these back, I imagine her thinking.

Later that evening, after a dinner at the Halfway House (how could I not go?), we retired to the houseboats where a spirited game of Trival Pursuit Mit DVD! was had, and I won, thanks largely to the kindness of the other players who let me have a pie for missing a question about when the Spirograph was introduced. (1966, not 1967. FUCK YOU, SPIROGRAPH! And also the death-deserving research staff at Trivial Pursuit. What a shitty question.)

The whole weekend was like this, really. Wake. Watch insane birds. Crawl nervously into hot tub. Go try and find non-alarming cuisine.

Our second night, we ventured to the nearby town of Quilcene, home to one stop sign and, we reasoned, at least one more restaurant than Brinnon. (We were right! There were two.) We eyed an establishment called--and I love this--the Whistling Oyster warily, but I vetoed it for a few reasons: 1. It was called the Whistling Oyster; 2. It advertised PULL TABS quite prominently; and 3. It looked like, if not the inspiration for, then at least the actual filming location of The Accused.

So we ended up at the only other place that was open: the Logger's Landing. The others had cheeseburgers while I contented myself with that most satisfying of all meals, the grilled cheese sandwich. By the end of the dinner, my dentition was thoroughly coated with a fine, impenetrable lacquer of semisolid melted orange matter. The others topped off the meal with some alarming thing called a Walnut Eat The Fuck Dream, or something. I had a Jack Daniel's while the others moaned deliriously.

And then we went back for some more Trivial Pursuit, and I was once again triumphant, thanks to about nine million lucky, lucky rolls. And hilariously easy questions. And the fact that it was the "90s Version," which--hey! I was alive in the 90s! And finally, this terrible game had made it . . . marginally worthwhile to endure! Thanks, Trivial Pursuit! All is forgiven for that fucking Spirograph thing.

It was all very relaxing, very nice. We had a good time. I was reminiscing about it today, in fact, as I walked home from work. I happened to pass a guy and his gal walking along. As I motored by, the guy stopped to pick up a weird little piece of plastic off the sidewalk. I don't know why. I heard their conversation for a moment after he stooped down to grab what, to me, was obviously, a piece of discarded junk. It was very pink.

"Check it out!" he said.

"What is it?" replied the gal.

"I dunno. Some kinda . . . cock ring?"

I thought, I'm back home.

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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