Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tales from the road, part 3

January 28, 2011
On the train from London to Dover

Neal called him a Lithuanian git as we wandered drunkenly down the street in Soho. The Lithuanian was a massive man working the door at a bar with a band playing upstairs, and he turned Neal and me away, telling us we'd had too much to drink. The rest of our impromptu party had already run up the stairs as we listened to his scolding. Go down to the KFC and eat some food, the Lithuanian said. I was at about a five on a ten-point scale of boozing but there was no denying I had bounced off the door frame as I tried to walk into the place, and that caught the Lithuanian's attention, and I had been in town too long to blame jet lag. The Lithuanian had a huge head under a fur cap. His eyes were childlike and he had that weary look that bouncers usually have. Above all, he was enormous, and I decided not to argue with him.

Neal and I shuffled into a cheap Chinese diner and disinterestedly ordered something sweet and sour. I was thinking about the bar with the loud music and how much I'd rather be there than eating bad food with other drunks at midnight. The group I had fallen in with at the Marlborough Arms in Bloomsbury were celebreating the end of their semester at the University of London.

Neal was a chemical engineer and lectured at the University on getting oil out of the ground. He had the florid face of a man who packed away pints without number, and he seemed devoted to making sure I had a good time in London that night.

A man with an untrimmed look and a practiced smile began to speak to us from the next table. Are you doing well tonight? he asked, and I said that I was. Neal gave him a silent sideways glance. Might you have a few coins so I can get some food? the man asked. I'm a bit short, you see, my wife can't work because of her disability. He spoke in a slow, supplicating way. He began to go on but Neal cut him off saying Shut up, you, I'm eating here and I don't want to hear you. The man protested; Neal would have none of it. I still hear you talking, said Neal, and I don't want it, you worthless cunt, so be quiet or get out of my sight. The man's smile never changed. He and Neal exchanged a few more words, the English equivalent of maybe I should kick your ass, and try it, buddy, and then the man stood and silently dragged his wheeled cart out onto the street.

Having swallowed the sweet and sour, we made a return visit to the Lithuanian and this time scored passable sobriety and we climbed the stairs and wedged ourselves into the room. The band played generic bar-quality rock and roll loudly, if not well, and the crowd danced intently, if not well, and we rediscovered our ad hoc drinking buddies. There were a few pints ahead of us and happy to see us again, in that we're-all-getting-sloshed-together-tonight way. The crowd whooped and more began to dance as the band launched into their final song of the set, and the room full of London college students, exams over, sang along in full voice to Sweet Home, Alabama.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tales of the road, Part 2


At The Crown & Anchor, Covent Garden, London

January 25, 2011


My unerring sense of direction, which I always mention just before becoming deeply lost, is failing me on the streets on London.


In a normal world I can parse out north-south-east-west from the position and angle of the sun. A normal world, however, does not have a pewter sky that gives no clue as to the position and angle of the sun, and, in fact, makes one suspect that the sun has, at last, burned out. And so I wander through curving cobbled streets, cheerfully baffled, and stop to puzzle over every streetside map. Thankfully, The Magic Beer will make it all better.


What's that? You don't know of The Magic Beer? Draw nigh, child, and let me fill you up - fill you in, I mean. The Magic Beer is an event that can only occur when one is on vacation - or 'on holiday' as they say here (and as you can see I am quickly learning this foreign tongue.) The Magic Beer always happens around 2:00 pm local time, at that moment when you've walked your legs down to bloody stumps and a wolfed-down lunch is heavy in your gut and your spirits are flagging. The Magic Beer - one pint is the prescribed amount - sets the world to rights again.


A few hours later at the Fitzroy Tavern, Bloomsbury


Day 1 in London: The Major Challenges



  • Not getting run over. There is a serious problem here with people driving on the wrong side of the road. Such a severe problem they have posted signs for pedestrians that say 'Look Left!' I nearly became a hood ornament for a very large truck about two minutes after I got off the Tube.

  • Not getting unalteringly lost. We Yankees are used to grids of streets and the quaint notion of street signs rather than the occasional street name (a what is a 'mews' anyway?) posted on the side of a building. Maps are futile, and the GPS in my phone searched and loaded and then came back with an error message saying 'Fuck it, have another beer, mate.'

  • Not goofing on accents. Very hard not to launch into a bad fake accent and start calling everyone 'love' and 'guv'nuh.' Do NOT want to get punched. Perhaps after one more beer, though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tales of the road, Part 1


New York: January 21, 2011
He sat down beside me at the oval bar on the balcony at Grand Central. He was a young, handsome Latino in a skin-tight T-shirt. His Manhattan arrived and he turned to me and told me his name was Manolo and I settled in to wait for him to put the moves on me.

His accent was thick and I picked up every third word as Manolo emptied his mind of every current thought, in the unrestrained way of someone who is drunk. His family owns three restaurants in New York, he says. They make the best margarita in the city. I should come there to 59th and 9th and he will give me a free one. He lived in Miami but he hated it. Too much non-stop partying. He likes to box, He is 30 and he is in love and his lady is only 20 and she is over there on the other side of the bar with another man.

He stood on the rail and propped his elbows on the bar and learned around the bartender and said Yes, she still there. His lady is beautiful, he says, and she is bi-polar. She ran off to the middle east and fucked six guys but he still loves her. She can't help herself. She is bi-polar. I don't know why she do it, he says. I love her and I keep myself looking good, you know? I like to box, he says.

His face flashes from pending whisky stupor to the look of a tormented man in love. His story pours out and repeats and he periodically lunges sideways to peek around and say Yes, she still there. She loves me, he says, she just don't know it always. I treat her right. Sometimes I get mad but only because I love her so much. She is talking to that other guy over there but Manolo says it's alright, it don't matter, and he peeks again and says Yes, she still there.

You live here in New York? he asks and I say no, just traveling, waiting for a train. How long you here? he asks and I say just a few days and he tells me again I should come to his restaurant for the best margarita and he asks for my phone number and then he jerks back to to look again and see if she still there, and this time she is not there, and he stands on the bar rail and scans the room and looking past me says Here she is.

I hear her say What's going on here? and I see a pleading look in Manolo's eyes as he faces her and says Nothing's going on, this is my new friend. I turn to her and her eyes are wide and wild, and she is obese and doughey-faced and her hair is a thick brown shapeless mass. She looks at me and then at Manolo and says I do not understand what is happening right now.

Manolo fumbles with his phone and says Nothing, baby, we just having a drink right here while you were over there. The time seems right for me to say I've got a train to catch and, nice to meet you and, 59th and 9th, right? He says That's right and I know if I walked in for my free best margarita in New York he would not remember that night at the Grand Central bar, that night he told a stranger the intimacies of his life story in five minutes. And I know Manolo and his lady have a lot of the night left for pledges of love and pleas and accusations and lies and apologies and threats and the pulling of hair and slaps to the face, and I know there will be many nights like this for Manolo and his lady.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My annual report

To paraphrase some comedian I once heard: "There comes an age when a person should stop making a big deal about their birthday, and that age is 12." It came as some surprise, then, to have a couple of Facebook friends suggest I should blog about my birthday, because out of all the topics I might think to write about, my birthday would rank about 1,327. I had a birthday. Whoop-dee-frickin-doo. Slap me silly and call me morose, but it's just a reminder that I'm a year closer to being dead than I was a year ago. "I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat and snicker" and it's not pretty.

Simultaneously, since I'm really good at holding completely contradictory thoughts in my head side-by-side and seeing them both as honest and true because, after all, they are MY thoughts and all my thoughts are honest and true and even admirable (ahem) I still secretly wish for someone to surprise me, make a big deal of my birthday, and make me feel loved. (This happened once in my so-called adult life, and it was an unforgettably good feeling.) And so like a child with a taste of candy, you want more, and like The Dude, the child inside abides.

But I ask you, friend, is it the birthday that matters? Does it matter when someone important to you almost completely forgets you? Or is it taking stock of the year you have just lived, and peering into the year to come, that is of value? Rhetorical questions. Don't bother answering, because this is my blog and my opinion, so the answers are no, yes, and yes, respectively.

And so I sat myself down in the principal's office and reviewed my personal report card for 2010.
  • Language: A-
    Barry speaks well and comprehends at grade level; writing improving; too much cussing
  • Math: C
    Functional skills, but no progress since 8th grade; lacks enthusiasm
  • Science: B
    Watched PBS several times
  • Conduct: B-
    Less talking out of turn; has trouble keeping his hands to himself; no jail time this year
  • Penmanship: B-
    Needs works on cursive capitals
  • Social skills: B+
    Made a fool of himself at only one party this year, as far as he can remember
  • Art: A
    Made efforts at creativity; successfully pretended to understand and appreciate things he didn't
  • Honesty: B
    Pretended to understand and appreciate things he didn't
  • Enlightenment: C
    Made genuine efforts at universal love, living in the moment, and not wanting; needs improvement
  • Self-loathing: A
    No comments
  • Bestiality and Necrophilia (Avoidance of): A
    Shows improvement
All in all, a decent year. 2011 is starting well, with many opportunities. Candles and party hats next year, perhaps.