Doing battle with daily dragons

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

America, In Brief

Sorry this has been a while in coming. I came back suffering from a head cold on top of crippling jet lag, so I've only just managed to pick enough bits of myself off the floor to post. This pretty much covers what we got up to over the past few weeks.

November 18
9.23am

I have just woken up in the city that never sleeps. King of the Hill and Top of the Heap status are pending, but I CAN tell you that there are some really good bagels on the corner.

I am spending my first morning in New York with a mild hangover. Our flight landed at JFK at about 7 local time, 12am GMT. After a lengthy taxi journey, (I don't have anything particularly pithy to say regarding our first ride in a New York cab. I've been more frightened in the past riding with BoyRacer) we were dropped at our home for the next few days at 301 W 53rd St and immediately set to the task of getting ready to go out to meet Big Fish and Little Fish, whose wedding we are here to attend.

After a 5 minute cab ride, we found ourselves in a small treasure of a piano bar on East 84th Street called Brandy's featuring a vocally talented wait staff and a flamboyant, gregarious pianist with an impressive musical vocabulary. The "Wedding" party had been there for some time and we were greeted enthusiastically with a flurry of drinks that continued to flow copiously throughout the evening until The Rock Star and I were serenaded out the door at about 3.10am, our bodies threatening imminent shut-down. Thus, the hangover.

This morning, BoyRacer, The Rock Star, myself and our traveling companion, Mr. Easy Company, (a friend of the boy's from school) are heading out to see what we can see of the city. I keep hearing talk of breakfast, but seeing as how it's 11.45, I think it's unlikely.

5.45

I have only ever been in New York City once before, despite growing up about 5 hours away. I was 15, had never really experienced a large city and had unfortunately been drafted into a mock UN group whose membership base consisted of future slackers who were not so much as interested in world events as they were with trying to be as cool as possible. (I didn't fit in so well.)

I found the experience (aside from my incredibly dense companions) overwhelming and since then, have had no desire to return. However, within an afternoon, I was about ready to go extremely over-priced apartment hunting.

Our flat is ideally placed in terms of sightseeing as well as being a shooting location for at least two different pieces of film while we were there. (We ran into the incredibly creepy Jason Patric just outside of the building and a notice was posted a day later about clearing the street for the filming of “Law and Order”, thus justifying the Rock Star’s perception that the US is just one big film set.) Times Square is literally two blocks away, so our merry little band made our way down into the glittering madhouse at the end of Broadway, trying not to look like tourists. However, I suspect that most New Yorkers avoid the area like the plague, leaving the visitors to the city to fend off the muggers, pickpockets and knock-off handbag salesmen, so by definition, if you‘re in Times Square, you ain't local.

After mooching under the bright lights for a bit and admiring the 3 block long line for discounted show tickets, (a cab driver informed us that some people sleep out the in order to get them.) we explored more of downtown near the Empire State Building. (Which we chose to look up at rather than down from.) We had no particular goal in mind for our afternoon’s wanderings, although Mr. Easy Company had made a slight miscalculation in the underwear department and informed us that he was in need of pants. So we decided to pop in quickly to a little corner store called Macy's.

Moot and I made the mistake of going to Harrods’s once, pre-Christmas. The experience was definitely enough to make you re-evaluate your belief in Capitalism if not everything that is good and holy. Macy's was pretty much the same deal, but with different accents and no Egyptian tack. I had no problem whatsoever finding the women’s clothing (it took up 3 floors) but the boys had so send out scouting parties to locate the men’s wear, which was hidden away in an actual whole other building. The pants were finally located in the basement, but THEN the challenge was to find ones that didn't have a designer label slapped on the ass crack with a price tag to match. Mr. Easy Company managed to find something fairly inexpensive with which to cover his butt and we made a hasty retreat.

3.20am

Nightfall in New York took us to a tapas bar with a cranky lead waiter who didn’t like 30 people turning up in his restaurant at once and then milling around by the bar. Big Fish, who was obviously in the throws of pre-wedding jitters, was feeling fairly stressed, so BoyRacer, Mr. Easy Company, The Rock Star and I took a table away from the main party to facilitate everyone putting their butts in a chair. After a few drinks, The Rock Star and I decided to head back to the apartment, still suffering from jet lag and a bender the evening before. Mr. Easy Company and BoyRacer have elected to remain out for the evening, being the swinging bachelors that they are, so we don’t expect them in anytime soon.

November 20

Following our early evening, The Rock Star and I got up early to go to be dork tourists, leaving BoyRacer and Mr. Easy Company sleeping off their second late night trip to Brandy’s.

We started out with breakfast at Lindy’s, an apparently famous diner on Broadway that’s mostly known for its cheesecake. While the breakfast was quite stunning in both taste and proportion, I have to say that the 5 dollar glass of orange juice knocked me for a loop. Apparently I’m not the only one who was heartily unimpressed with the financial implications of breaking fast at this particular establishment.

Waddling off into the Big Apple, full of pancakes, we snagged a cab to take us to the Staten Island Ferry port. We boarded the doubled ended ferry to get a nice far away look at Manhattan and a close up look at The Statue of Liberty, which The Rock Star has seen in it’s miniature form in Paris, but was rather more impressed with in it’s larger than life twin.

We were lucky to get a lovely cold, clear morning to make the crossing, although the further we got from the island, the more apparent Manhattan’s incredible brown funk became. Our momentary hankering to actually live in the city was squelched by the thought of constant black bogies.


To warm up after a fairly chilly crossing back, we started to hike briskly downtown, making a quick detour down Wall Street to see what all the fuss was about. Being a Saturday, it seemed remarkably quiet except for other tourists who were all jostling to get their pictures taken next to the bollocks on a statue of a bull that took up a fair amount of space outside of the Cunard Building. (which we took a picture of purely for the interest of Moot and PPD, who served aboard the Queen Mary back in the 60’s.)

You can’t really walk around for long in downtown New York before you came across Ground Zero. The Rock Star and I weren’t really looking for it, but we came across it nonetheless; the only place downtown where you can see the sky.

I imagine that after the event, when the site was littered with high jagged rubble, it must have been an incredibly distressing sight; an obvious scene of devastation, both human and architectural. Four years on, it is a rather large and sterile building site, the only reminder of 9/11 a pair of crossed girders that are said to have been found in the rubble that way. I suppose it is the absence of the Towers in the sky that is the most lasting reminder of the tragedy, rather than the hole in the ground.

By this time in the afternoon, we finally heard from the boys back at the flat and agreed to meet them at a well known Greenwich Village watering hole called Chumleys.

The cab dropped us off in front of a building of no obvious note. The only clue we had to its purpose was a yellowing piece of paper tacked to a weather beaten piece of cork by the door that proclaimed that it was indeed the place we were looking for. The Rock Star suggested that if we entered we might encounter a load of men in leather chaps slow dancing together a-la The Blue Oyster Bar from the woefully awful Police Academy movies. (okay, maybe the third one made me laugh, but only because of that guy who screamed all the time)

It actually turned out to be one of the coolest bars in the universe. Inside, there was a distinct lack of slow dancing men but a treasure trove of literary history, two aging Labradors and a damn fine pint of cider. The place was a speakeasy during Prohibition (America’s great failed moral experiment and sure-fire Mafia moneymaker) and reportedly had several secret routes out into surrounding alleys in case of a police raid. It was frequented by giants of literature and show business; John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemmingway, Buster Keaton, and Willa Cather. (who, if the tour guide we were eavesdropping in on was to be believed, was a real party animal. Anyone who’s ever read My Antonia should be mildly surprised.)

The walls, as well as being a tribute to famous patrons, were adorned with firefighting memorabilia, as the landlord seemed to be a member of an engine company himself. The Rock Star and I both found the tributes on the walls to fallen 9/11 personnel to be much more moving than the actual site downtown. With something as big as 9/11, it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the whole thing; actually putting faces on it brings it closer to earth.

While the four of us could have stayed there for the rest of the day and well into the night, we had a wedding to go to, so we took our leave and attempted to hail a cab at around 4 in the afternoon. Anyone living in New York would know the utter folly of this act; it is around this time that every single cab driver in the whole city goes off shift at once. We were lucky to find one with a driver who was heading in our direction anyhow and was happy to pick up one last fare on his was home. This particular cab ride, due to the volume of traffic on the road, was slightly more hairy than some of the others. Though there are only 4 lanes on most of the major avenues of the city, most people drive as if there are 8. BoyRacer asked our driver if cabs ran into eachother often. "Yeah, all the time, " he answered nonchalantly, "but we're all yellow, so who cares?". I'm assuming that one of these comings together is NOT followed by the exchange of insurance details.

After an hour or so of primping and styling, the four of us caught a cab to the swanky UES Hotel Palace Athena, where the wedding was taking place. Being early, we settled on one of the comfy couches in the bar and ordered the most expensive round of drinks I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not that they were extraordinary drinks, mind you. Far from it; 3 rum and Cokes and a Bay Breeze, totaling (are you ready for it?) $60.00. Before we could swallow our own tongues at the cost, we were invited upstairs for the wedding by the tiniest and most perfect looking wedding planner who has ever lived.

The wedding itself was very small as both Big and Little Fish are British. (both working for the same UK company on exchange in New York) Like most weddings, it was very beautiful. Little Fish looked stunning. Big Fish looked blissfully happy. The Best Man (Big Fish’s little brother) looked out of his mind with worry over his speech. (Which was very good, by the way. He took their horoscopes from “Teen Girl” magazine.) Everyone ooed and aahed at appropriate moments. We had a lovely meal, some drinks and a bit of a boogie and then bid farewell to the new Mr. and Mrs. Fish when it became apparent that the busboys were ready to physically remove us from the ballroom in order to tidy up and go home.

I knew when we arrived at the apartment, the boys were itching to do their best Rat Pack imitation out on the town in their suit jackets, so I left them to their own devices in Times Square while I put on my PJ’s and flipped through the roughly 300 stations we got in an attempt to find something to watch. If I had been looking for porn, I would have been in luck, but I was in more of a mindless sit-com kind of mood rather than a poorly written naked people kind of mood, so I took to my bed to celebrate my last night in New York with a decent night’s sleep.
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So that was our excursion in the Big Apple. The following morning, The Rock Star and I caught a train from Penn Station to BWI in Baltimore where we were met by Papapotamus and whisked back to my parent's beautiful home in Mt. Airy where we spent a week relaxing, being entertained by the cats, catching up with relatives various and eating a beautifully prepared Thanksgiving dinner with my folks for the first time in 6 years. Our last Thanksgiving in Mt. Airy was a hugely crowded affair and took place a few days before we got married. We actually celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday, the day we returned. We marked the occasion this year with dinner and a movie; I had the chicken and rice, he had the ravioli. "Bug's Life" was the feature du jour and we would have engaged in other romantic activities but were rather afraid of attracting the attention of the stewardess as well as our fellow travellers on Flight BA126 from Dulles to Heathrow.

Home again, now, we're still recovering from our travel experience. Normal blogging service should be resumed in a few days.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Still Alive

Just wanted to check in from the front...New York was fabulous; full report to follow. Currently residing in Mt. Airy at my folks, getting ready to stuff myself full of turkey and green beans in mushroom soup tomorrow. (If you've never tried that, it may look unpleasant, but it tastes unbelievable.)

The Rock Star and I will be winging our way back home on Sunday evening (Our 6 year wedding anniversary. Mmmmm, romantic...airline meals.) so I hope to report on our doings next week.

To all those on this side of the pond, Happy Thanksgiving. To the rest of you...there'll probably be cold turkey sandwiches later.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Going Off to Look For America

The Rock Star and I are heading Stateside in an hour or two, so this blog will most likely be quiet until next week when we reach our final destination at my folks house in Maryland. (We're stopping off in New York first, though, it's not actually going to take 4 days to get there.)

If anyone needs to get ahold of me or just wants to chat, I'll be at boatwoman_beatty (at) hotmail (dot) com until Sunday the 27th.

Hi ho, Potamus! Away!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Calling the Creative

Just wanted to make a quick appeal to writers out there...

Hotel Chocolat

Okay, can I just say that this is distracting me this morning? There is one of these bastard stores less than 20 miles from here and that fact alone is making me kind of antsy. To say that I'm a fan of the white chocolate with strawberries in is a masterful piece of understatement.

Want. Want now.

Waaaaaaaaaaaant.

Coming Out of Hiding

It’s been a little quiet in Blogapotamus Land for the last few days. In winter, when the hours of daylight wane, you feel like you need to work every moment you can to get everything done before dark puts the hammer down. I don’t know about everyone else, but when it gets dark in winter, I just want to crawl into bed. And when dark happens at 5.30, productivity tends to suffer a little bit.

The Rock Star, BoyRacer and I are heading stateside on Thursday for a wedding in New York, so the pressure to get stuff finished is…well….pressing. So, for your amusement, a quick rundown on the last few days.

Friday-
The Rock Star had a gig in Milton Keynes, so I thought I’d do a little boarding while the Mis-spelled Band set up their kit. When the girl serving me at the front desk said the slope “wasn’t up to scratch” I should have listened, because moments later, I found myself sliding down a sheet of pure ice. I’m not saying that it’s easy to make snow or anything. I mean, I couldn’t do it personally, but a place that makes it’s living making it ought to be able to do it better than that. I’m very glad that I didn’t choose to apply my new purchase (a tub of “the slipperiest stuff on earth”) to the bottom of my board or I feel sure that I would have had to have been scraped off the plexiglass window at the bottom of the slope.

The other high point of the evening was the Nudist, who got licked up and down by a woman who was doing her damnest to show the entire venue her vagina, getting teased by the security staff afterwards about having to make an embarrassing trip to the clinic the next morning. The Nudist responded by trying to kiss one of the bouncers. If you’ve never seen a 260 pound club security guy with a dragon tattoo on his head running from a guy who weighs slightly less than, and is about as intimidating as a packet of pub peanuts, then you should definitely put it on your to-do list.

Saturday-
Two lessons I learned today with startling clarity: a) Never go to Hemel Hempstead on a Saturday morning unless you are willing to lose forever your faith in humanity and b) Never get very drunk just before a “visit from the decorators”. It’s bad for everyone involved.

Sunday-
A hangover followed by an afternoon’s toil with a jeweler’s torch and a few slabs of metal.

Monday- A virtual hangover, actual toil at work and more pseudo-toil with jeweler’s torch and more slabs of metal.

So that’s my excuse for being absent without leave.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why, Why Why....Derirah?

Taking advantage of Orange Wednesday at the local Odeons has been a midweek tradition for the Rock Star and me for some time now. We usually frequent the cinema in the town of Aylesbury (which was apparently, to the townspeople’s chagrin, was recently compared with Kabul and Baghdad in a film review in The Mirror. The reviewer later admitted to having only “driven though” on his way somewhere else. If he’d stayed, he would have surely been forced to conclude that he’d rather spend the evening in the Green Zone with the Iraqi security forces for drinking buddies.) but as the film we wanted to take in wasn’t playing there, we were forced to spend the evening in Hemel. (Let’s hope that the film reviewer never makes THERE.)

After taking in Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” (which was beautifully done) we drove down to the town centre (notorious for it’s Friday evening stabbings) and went to a Chinese buffet that I used to frequent when I worked at a bookshop in the Marlowes several years ago.

A lot of restaurants (not particularly high class ones, mind) have television screens so you can avoid all that tedious talking- to- your- dining- companions malarkey. They’re usually tuned to something innocuous like CNN or SKY; the volume just enough to distract you from what your boyfriend or girlfriend is saying about “commitment”. Well, no droning 24 hour news network for the Golden Dragon patrons; we got karaoke videos. Without the karaoke.

The videos are obviously from the mid-80’s, filmed in Australia, subtitled by a non-native English speaker and therefore 10 times more distracting than any coverage of first division football that you can muster. There were two main points of distraction.

1) The lyrics- For the most part, correct, but victim to stereotypical “Asian” spelling and grammatical mistakes. “Browing in the Wind” was my particular favourite.

2) The visuals- The production value of the videos was really just a gnat’s whisker above home movies. The Rock Star commented that most of it looked like a porn film before it starting getting good. Girls in bikinis seemed to be the main theme for just about every piece of music from “Hard Day’s Night” to “Delilah”. The latter, to make a point, had a woman in a bikini with big hair driving around in a golf cart and playing with a putter, which, in my eyes, had very little to do with the theme of the song. (although you can almost get there if you stretch the metaphor a bit.) Our joint favourite was “California Girls” which came up from a fade onto a herd of cattle.

So, if anyone ever finds themselves in the centre of Hemel, besides being lost, you have an excellent opportunity for some tasty Chinese food and a little bit of bad entertainment on the side.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kid Fears

As adults, we can often trace our various psychoses to stuff that happened to us when our brains were soft and malleable; before hardened and rubbery grey matter we’re stuck with for life emerged.

I’ve never liked standing next to big things. It’s almost like reverse vertigo. The Air and Space Museum in the Smithsonian was always a mixed bag for me as a kid; I was fascinated by the amazing machines in every corner of the place but terrified that one might fall and squash me flat. The same went for our visit to the Kennedy Space Center; standing under one of the Apollo rockets that was hung from the ceiling of a huge warehouse gave me a terminal case of the willies. (I seem to see an aeronautical theme emerging. Maybe I’m just afraid of big things that fly. Glad I wasn’t around for pterodactyls.)

My mother tells me that when I was small, there was a skit on Sesame Street that always used to have me running for cover. It was a lesson in big and small, I think and featured the erstwhile Grover as a badgered waiter. The difficult customer was dissatisfied with the “small” hamburger and asked for the biggest in the house. On Grover’s second trip to the kitchen, there is a huge rumbling sound and Grover shouts, “Okay Charlie, broil the BIGGIE!” He then comes through the doors with a hamburger 5 times his size which promptly squashes him flat. This was apparently unbearable for me and I’d always run from the room. I think this was the source of the strange phobia of towering things that I’ve still got to this day. To be fair, I know an awful lot of people who can remember being terrified of all things Muppet when they were little. (Don’t even get me started on the talking Beethoven statue on the top of Rolf the Dog’s piano. That gave me nightmares for years.)

So, who else has some nonsensical childhood fears to share?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fireworks: Part Deux

I would like to make a tiny addendum to my earlier remarks about fireworks. Specifically, the reticence I showed in banning them to prevent them from falling into the hands of the terminally stupid.

Last night we attended a celebration in honour of the Cheerful Idiot’s son’s third birthday. A truly fantastic little kid. Gregarious, sociable and smart; he could probably calculate pi to the 20th digit if you gave him the right calculator. Exaggeration aside, he was certainly more clever than the rest of us as he elected to remain indoors and watch the firework display that his father had arranged for him rather than standing outside with the rest of us, who clearly didn’t have the Idiot’s past exploits in mind when we stepped out the door.

Not having grown up in a State where home displays were legal, I’ve always looked on people I know setting off highly explosive devices as not being a Good Idea. This goes doubly for the Idiot, who has had various accidents involving frozen basketball poles, a load of mirrors, a black diamond run and a bruised ego.

The small display turned into an exercise for the fleet of foot as not one but TWO Roman Candles weren’t properly anchored into the soil and toppled over propelling very small, hot balls of gas and colour in our direction and sending us all diving for cover. (It’s just as well that, by this time, The Idiot’s son had become bored of watching the fireworks from his nan’s bedroom window and was having a story. He probably would never have been persuaded to go to a display again.) Not only that, but one of the rockets (again, not completely pushed into the soil) left the earth with it’s stick still attached and came plummeting down to stick into the earth like a smoking spear about 4 feet from where we were all standing.

I won’t even go into what happened to the Catherine Wheels.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sympathy for The Guy

Okay, here are the facts:

1) It’s Guy Fawkes weekend.

2) It’s 2 o’clock pm and while it tends to get dark pretty early this time of year, it is, as of yet, not at all dark.

3) There are fireworks going off outside my window.

One would think that, to truly enjoy setting off a minor explosive, you’d like a dark inky background to set it off against to fully appreciate the experience. This does not seem to be the case, which is worrying in that it’s clear that there are people in this neighbourhood who simply get off on blowing shit up.

The media, as it does every year, hauls out some bastard kid who’s just lost an eye because he was dicking around with an M-80 and begs the question: Should fireworks be banned? No, but maybe you should be watching your damn kids instead of watching Eastenders in your underwear.

A science show that BoyRacer saw the other day recreated the Gunpowder Plot and wanted to see exactly what WOULD happen if the 63 barrels of gunpowder had succeeded in taking out the entire ruling class of London in one swell foop. It would have taken out more than your eye, that’s for sure. It seems silly that the “Oh my god, how dangerous are FIREWORKS??” whinge tends to dominate a holiday celebrating the foiling of a plot to leave a Grand Canyon sized crater where the centre of London used to be.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

M*A*S*H

So I’m doing something new this evening. Variety is the spice of stuff, etc. I’m making mashed potatoes.

I grew up with a real aversion to the buggers. In fact, just about everything I dislike to this day I dislike for the same reason I couldn’t hack mashed potatoes; consistency. While I am not prepared to field any lewdness regarding my incredibly sensitive gag reflex, I will admit that there are some comestibles that can’t make it past passport control in my throat. Excess grit or squishiness seems to be the criteria that my oesophagus uses when assessing “credible threat”. Oatmeal, yoghurt, sprouts, kidney, all of these things are the asylum seekers hovering on the border, trying to get past customs hidden in something else like bread or meat. But my throat is rarely fooled.

The mashed potatoes that I grew up with were sometimes powdered, combining both gritty AND squishy and therefore were not even let past the teeth. My parents are both tremendous cooks, but they were also teachers and spent all day waging war with 9-13 year olds and didn’t so much feel like going through the whole Julia Child bit upon returning home. On the occasions that we DID have real mash, I was thoroughly uninterested.

When I moved here, I was introduced to bangers and real mash, which is truly gorgeous, combined with enough milk and butter. So tonight, I’m going to attempt it on my own armed with nothing but enthusiasm and one of those things you use to beat potatoes senseless with.

Come dinnertime, we’ll see whether their papers are all in order.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Modest Proposal

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Weekend in Brief

It's obvious that I made it back from my Western soujourn safe and sound with little more than a massive case of sleep deprivation and good feelings. Here's a little fragmented weekend blogging.

October 27

9 am, GMT, over the coast of Ireland

Somebody up here likes me for a change.

No drunk Nordics for me on this flight. By some unimaginable grace of a kindly diety, I find myself with two seats all to myself. Not only that, but I find myself on the first plane in AGES where I can cross my legs comfortably. I knew sacrificing that black cockrel to The Gods of Travel would pay off.

The in-flight entertainment kept me amused until the first of two lots of munchables came around. Perhaps ill-advisedly, I chose to watch CSI: Vegas.

Flight Attendant: Would you like pancakes or an omlette?

Gil Grissom: "Look at how the victims body parts have been arranged in this highly mysterious pattern.... "

Me: Er, I think I'll just have a ginger ale.

9.35am, CST, Chicago O'hare

The maple trees still have their leaves on them. An auspicious beginning.

The pilot and two customs officials have just told me "Welcome home."

October 30

2.23pm, CST, South Bend Regional Airport

Sitting in the world's smallest regional airport, I look back on weekend of truly epic proportions.

There are places in the course of our lives where we leave bits of ourselves. Goshen, Indiana is that place for me. These places always feel like home whenever you find youself there; maybe because you recognize the piece of yourself you've left behind.

I did my best Prodigal Daughter impression. There was no end to the laughing, hugging and drinking. I shared a hotel room for 3 with 5 people. Watched a nightime wedding in a jungle. Had Mexican food for breakfast. Felt better and more self-assured than I have in ages.

I can’t even begin to say how glad I am that I came. Even though I'm leaving again so soon.

3.35pm, over the midwest, somwhere between South Bend and Chicago

On this tiny plane on this amazingly short flight from South Bend to Chicago, we have a flight attendant named Paul. He looks approximately 12. He is very serious about his job in that cute, my-suit-is-too big-for-me kind of way. His pre-flight banter was both irritatatingly long and full of repitition. I found it especially handy to be welcomed on board United flight 7221 to Chicago upwards of 4 times. He will undoubtedly go far in the field of serving drinks on very small planes.

9pm, over the Midwest, heading home

There is a screaming toddler behind me. There should be a special compartment in the hold you can check them into. I'm prepared for a sleepless night.