Saturday, December 30, 2006

One weird thing

You've probably seen that meme that has a person list six weird things about themselves. I am stuck for a blogging topic, but too lazy to be arsed with six things, so I've come up with one.

Of course, the question of what falls under the category of "weird" is a bit of a trick. I speak Welsh, I think medieval fayres are awesome, and I follow EastEnders so religiously that I refer to characters as if I know them personally (I am about two dead brain cells away from writing them letters of advice on how to solve their problems: "Stacey, you know that nothing good will come of this thing with Max!"). So, I'm not 100% sure* I'm qualified to judge "weird."

Perhaps that I am so taken with iTunes (a half decade after everyone else) is a bit odd. But for the most part, I don't tend to think that things I do or think are all that weird -- probably because I am the person doing and thinking those things. It's a bit like Catch 22; people who are crazy don't know they are crazy. If they think they are crazy, it's almost certainly a sign that they are not.

So, the fact that I don't tend to think of myself as not weird may be a sign that I am, in fact, very weird. Most likely, though, this is wishful thinking. More likely, I am one of the most boring people on Earth.

In terms of what other people might think is weird, I am either so boring or people are so used to my quirks, that I ceased surprising people years ago. I could list just about any odd thing and people who are close to me would think: "Yeah, sure -- that's not all that weird coming from him."

So, here's my totally un-weird weird thing about me:

I have a science-fiction TV series in my head.

It's about a border-line suicidal space fighter pilot. Because of the accessible nature of electronic information, his branch of the military (which would have to have a cooler name than the usually lame "Space Force" or "Space Marines," but I haven't thought up the name yet. Most likely it would be an acronym) starts putting important information on paper again (written in Sioux). The fighter pilot -- nicknamed "Witke," Sioux for "crazy" -- is given the job of hurtling unescorted (so as to not draw attention) across vast, cold, dangerous stretches of space, delivering various ultra-important messages.

Recognizing that he is already more than a bit psycho (he gets this assignment after being pulled as a squadron leader, having led his group into one too many mismatched fire fights), the yet-to-be-named military branch he works for fits his ship with a beta-version navigational/operating system that is designed to develop a personality of its own. The idea is to give him company on the long, cold (to preserve power and to help avoid detection, most of the time his ship does little more than circulate oxygen, so he's almost always weighed down by cold-weather gear [hence the connection to Heather's kittyhead hat]).

The system learns at an immense rate, so it tends to know everything that can be known, or can learn it in a pinch by gathering information from the future incarnation of the Internet. It is also designed to make itself as compatible and personable as possible to the user, so in short order it develops a female voice (probably with an accent) and Witke names it after some girl he had a crush on as a cadet before she was killed by some habitually-evil alien race that have been warring with Earth for 100 years.

Partially because his mood is erratic, and partially because the software recognises Witke actually enjoys arguing, the two have long, bantering philosophical/humorous conversations as they hurtle through space. They are occasionally interrupted by the need to blow stuff up or narrowly escape certain doom or save the universe. You know how it goes.

Needless to say, this culminates in all sorts of philosophical questions about the nature of reality as Witke "falls in love" with his ship's navigational/operating system, and vice versa. Neither will admit this fact.

At about the same time as this man-software love that dare not speak its name is coming to fruition, the military branch with a cool acronym name decides through other tests that the software -- hard-programmed to be so accommodating and protective of the user -- is a bad idea all around. They order it removed from Witke's ship and all existing versions of the software are deleted.

That's the end of season 1.

The second season starts with Witke in the bar, receiving the equivalent of a text message. The message contains a backup file to his ship's navigational/operating system -- it was sent by his ship, and had been bouncing around the corners of space, making it impossible to trace.

And it goes on from there, with all kinds of possibilities:
- The ship becomes too reckless in actions, because it can always provide a backup of itself, and almost kills Witke.
- An evil-twin version shows up, based on a corrupted version of the file that was bounced around space
- The ship starts to project a hologram of an attractive woman, so it messes with Witke's head even more.
- Through either Star Trek replicator technology or William Gibson microsofts technology, the OS becomes a tangible female form.

*The phrase "100% sure" is there only because I wanted to use the percent sign.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ladies' man

I dreamt last night that I was staying at Eric and Kristin's cabin and playing Kubb in the yard when Kristin drove up in a white early 90s Renault; her passenger was an ex-girlfriend of mine.

She (the ex-girlfriend, not Kristin) had Kool-Aid red hair, so I had to stare at her for a second, but then it registered and there was a rush of excitement as I lifted her up in one of those "Oh, my gosh, I haven't seen you in ages"-type hugs.

It was actually her, not an amalgam of female features attached to a name, as can often happen in dreams. My memory of her was so strong that I could smell her as we hugged. Her smell is scored deep in my memory.

Dr. Handy once told me the technical term for a person who remembers based on his or her senses, but I have since forgotten that term because it was mentioned in an e-mail conversation; I couldn't smell her when she told me.

Either way, sensing that this "Oh, my gosh, I haven't seen you in ages" hug was lasting just a second too long and becoming an "Oh, my gosh, you still smell so good" hug, Eric piped in loudly with a comment about Rachel, putting emphasis on the phrase "your wife."

Not missing a beat, Kristin added that almost every column I write is about how stupid I am for Rachel.

This particular dream featured Sarah McDaniels, but it's one I've had countless times.

The dreams are little morality plays of the subconscious, and they almost always go the same way: I meet some girl I haven't seen in a coon's age and am too patient/accepting/happy to see her than perhaps I should be, and then Eric comes in as the voice of reason*.

It's perhaps an odd thing that Eric features as the metaphorical angel on the shoulder in my dreams. But of all the people I know, he has one of the most defined and clear senses of what is right and wrong. Remember that knowing right from wrong is different than choosing right from wrong. But he is still considerably beyond me. I often fail to identify that things I do are insulting or hurtful or inappropriate. It's probably not coincidence that the people who are closest to me are so thick-skinned.

My subconscious works like a poorly written Victorian novel, so these lessons in fidelity usually end with a sort of karmic reward for good behaviour -- I discover that while I've had seven and a half years of happy marriage, the ex-girlfriend has experienced a slow and steady emotional decline since parting from me.

Of course, the side-effect to these dreams is that I end up spending the next conscious day wondering what has actually happened to the featured ex-love interest. The thoughts bring a deep and wistful melancholy. I can feel it pushing against my ribcage; breathing feels laboured. I'm not totally sure why the feeling is so strong, and what it says about me. Most likely is says I am a big girl.

But it's strange to think that out in the world right now there are all these women, all these souls, who have been close to me, and the odds are quite high that I will never see or hear from them again.

"All these women." That makes it sound as if there are thousands upon thousands of them; as if they could all move to the Aleutians and set up a semi-autonomous state of jaded ex-lovers: The People's Republic of Fuck-Chris-istan. But, you know what I mean -- there are more than three.

They are women who actually liked me -- even if just for a tiny space of time -- enough to be close. They saw me as better than I have ever seen myself. They kissed me. They wanted to hold my hand. And, to varying degrees, I tore myself up over them. It's hard to accept that two people could have existed in such intense moments and emotions and then just sort of fade away and never know if the other is even alive.

I often wonder what happened to this person or that person. So much so that I will work their name into a blog post**, making their names Google searchable for all eternity. I have this stupid quiet hope that these little internet snares will lead to the person e-mailing me. But there's probably a reason I don't know where they are or what they are up to; perhaps they have no interest in hearing from me. I'm hardly a recluse; if Jeni Rodvold were to ever find herself wondering what the hell happened to me it would take less than a second to find out.

*His wife, Kristin, will often serve as a second voice of reason. Both are capable of speaking in the blunt way that is necessary for communicating to me.

**I have mentioned Sarah a few times: here and here.

Monday, November 6, 2006

No turning back

The child bride and I are scheduled to be on a plane tomorrow. The plane is flying from London Gatwick to Minneapolis.

We won't be on it.

When we bought our tickets to move here we found it was cheaper to purchase return flights rather than singles ("cheaper to purchase roundtrip rather than one-way," for those of you playing along at home). Hoping to get the best price on the tickets, I set their return date for well out of the summer season and before the holiday season -- 7 November.

A few weeks ago, when things were so bad and I was feeling like I had made a huge irreversible mistake by moving here, I found myself staring at those tickets. I don't know how serious I was about it, but I was aware that they were my last best chance to give up. If I wanted to crawl back home and try to quietly fall back into the same old routines that had once frustrated me so much that I dropped everything and moved 5,000 miles away, these tickets were it.

We don't have the money now to buy any other tickets. When that plane takes off tomorrow morning and we aren't on it there will be no contingency plan -- despite the sage of advice of Bruce Willis in "Armageddon." We can only succeed from here. Or fail really, really big.

As Omega said, "You're living the dream. But no one said it would be a nice dream."

It's a good sign, though, that I had managed to forget about the tickets over the last week. I was reminded only by the e-mail from Northwest airlines offering to let me check in for my flight online.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

17 October 2006

I'm from the United States. Depending on my mood when you ask me, I am from Texas or I am from Minnesota. Right now, though, I am living in Cardiff, Wales, and studying the 2,600-year-old language that is Welsh.

I don't really know why I am here doing this -- I don't have any family or personal connection to Wales. A few years ago, I was bored and I found a website that taught Welsh. Now I'm here; 30 years old and struggling to see and understand a culture that is at once familiar and utterly confusing.

The trains here in Cardiff are laughable by even U.S. standards. I like to imagine the entire company is run by one of those friends everyone has who is a likeable alcoholic -- he tries to do a good job, enough that it pains you to really complain, but everything he does is substandard.

My train to Cathays, where the university is located, was delayed by about 10 minutes and then so fully packed that it was like a city centre pub on Saturday night. The large breasted woman pressed against me on the short journey from Radyr to Cathays smelled lovely.

Welsh women tend to have larger breasts than the women I knew back in Minnesota. They should put that fact in the tourist literature: "Wonderful Wales! More castles than any sane person could ever want to visit and lovely large-breasted women!"

The train cuts through generally unexciting territory. From cow fields along the lazy River Taff down through middle-class homes, past one of Cardiff's numerous chav hotspots, over the A48, past student housing and into the heart of campus.

The nature of my arriving in this country to do what I'm doing has resulted in my becoming something of a darling in the Welsh-language media. So, while I was almost late to my 9 a.m. class, the camera crew was not. I am the focus of a documentary that will come out in the spring, and they were there for the obligatory "here's Chris trying to pretend he understands what the hell is going on in his lectures" shot. I felt bad for the cute girl with a bad cough who was sitting next to me. She smelled of the previous night's booze, so I was pretty sure she didn't want to be on camera.

I probably understood about 60 to 70 percent of the lecture (all of my lectures are conducted entirely in Welsh -- cell phones and flatulence are more readily tolerated than English), which was focused on the history of the Eisteddfod. A word that's impossible for my father to pronounce, Eisteddfod is at the heart of Welsh culture. It is basically a competition of singing, dancing, art, and literature. Other cultures have similar events, but here IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER. I went to the National Eisteddfod this year, in August, and I didn't get it. I generally try to keep this fact to myself. As a Welsh learner, my lack of interest in Eisteddfod is equivalent to training to be a priest but thinking that John the Baptist wasn't all that important.

Afterward, sans camera crew, I tried to keep my head from exploding in my Welsh grammar course. I feel so stupid in my courses. They are like The Machine in "Princess Bride," but instead of sucking away years of my life, they rob me of all self-confidence.

As if my brain weren't scrambled enough, the class that comes straight after for me is Spanish grammar. But Spanish has become a respite in my world of Welsh sub-understanding. It is the academic form of candy for me right now.

Buoyed by the confidence that I am better at beginner Spanish than the 18-year-old from Somerset who sat next to me, I then returned to the Welsh-language department to do a "Chris talks about how he feels about his lectures" interview with the camera crew. They've been following me around on and off since May, and I've been generally unhappy with my past few interviews. I know the fact that I am heartbroken and homesick comes through. That might make for a good story, but I am media savvy enough to know that it will feel very embarrassing when I see it in several months time.

I ate lunch in a building on campus that only international students seem to know about. It's always me and a load of Asians eating in the building's cafe, which serves a sufferable curry, naan and bottle of Coke for £2.90. Then I went to the library to try to make sense of a Welsh poem.

Poetry has never made sense to me, but when you add the fact that it is in Welsh, esoteric, and focused on a culture that I still don't understand at all, it becomes the intellectual equivalent of a spinal tap. I spent two hours trying to draw something from it before getting together with a group of girls from my literature class to write up an assessment.

Poets are revered here, whereas in the U.S., even well-read people would be hard-pressed to name a single living poet. So, people who were born and raised in Welsh culture are better suited to poetry.

I feel bad for the three young pretty girls who are stuck in a group with me. They are all native Welsh speakers and they probably understand this as well as I understand professional wrestling and rodeo (I would prefer to discuss Triple H over Twm Morys any day). But they are all very nice, and were quick to point out to one another the contribution I had made -- figuring out that the not-in-the-dictionary word "amenio" means "to say amen" -- and we managed to put something together.

I took the 18:43 train from Cathays to Radyr, then the 19:04 from Radyr to Danescourt. The train heading south was packed with people heading to the Cardiff vs. Southampton match that Cardiff City would eventually win 1-0. I was home in time to watch "EastEnders."

I am allegedly a mature and intelligent adult of proper breeding, but I find myself obsessed with keeping track of what's happening in the long-running soap "EastEnders." If I could have one wish granted, it would be this: I would show up at the Queen Vic and say hello to Peggy in Welsh, then she would throw me out, using the phrase "sling yer 'ook!"

For dinner, I ate lamb stew that my wife had left cooking in a crock pot. She has a master's degree but the only work she can find here is at the Starbucks. It is demeaning and tedious and they have her working stupid hours, but she is beautiful and wonderful and keeps at it. She is always tired when I see her, and I feel a terrible guilt that she is serving coffee to self-absorbed city workers while I spend my day reading poetry and looking at pretty girls.

This is our life. Tomorrow will be somewhat similar.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Trains, buses, boats and legal

The trip to Dover was a success -- the child bride and I are no longer filthy foreign scum who are here illegally to leech off the goodwill of the British people.

We are still filthy foreign scum who are here to leech off the goodwill of the British people, but we are now here legally.

Coming homeFor those of you entering the theatre a bit late, while you find your seats I will fill you in on the fact that Rachel and I had spent several hundred dollars getting a piece of paper glued into our passports, but the visa wasn't actually valid. It was missing an all-important stamp from an immigration official.

Our visas were issued to run from 1 August 2006 to 31 October 2009. In the face of that time window, three weeks aren't (or should I say "isn't," since I'm referring to it in the singular?) really all that much. We could have stayed in the United States until the visa actually started and we would have saved a load of time and frustration. But I was eager and impatient to move to Britain and out of my parents' house and -- as Dr. Sara Handy likes to point out -- I don't think. So, we got here on 12 July.

That meant that we were here on a general tourist visa; issued automatically to any American with a passport. Tourist status is good for six months and does not allow me (or, more importantly, the child bride) to work, so as soon as 1 August rolled around, I was keen to change my status and make use of my proper student visa.

When I got my visa in Chicago a few months ago, I mentioned this little visa-switching plan to the woman who had issued the document and she said it would be no problem. All I had to do, she explained, was leave the country and come back.

White Cliffs"Day-trip to France on the ferry, that sort of thing," she said.

Just as I would have saved myself a load of trouble if I had simply waited until 1 August, I would have saved myself half my trouble if I had followed the woman's suggestion to the letter. Instead, because I like Ireland more than France (Je suis désolé, France), I went to Rosslare. That turned out poorly; apparently no one has alerted British immigration to the fact that Ireland is a different country. So, no stamp was issued.

And that brings us to Friday, when the child bride and I set out from London to the coastal town of Dover. Famous for its white cliffs, Dover is also home to an enormous and bustling ferry port that sees more than 60,000 travellers a day. It took just shy of two hours to get there by train.

After a short bus ride from the train station to the ferry port, we handed over £12 and were soon on a shuttle to the ferry. Very strangely, we went through French immigration control whilst still on English soil, which I thought sort of defeated the point of then getting on a boat and spending 1.5 hours sailing to actual France.

England"That's the way governments work, love," explained the British immigration officer who was very strangely to be found on French soil. "Whatever's the most difficult; that's the way we do it."

As soon as we had gotten off the ferry and been deposited in the Calais terminal, Rachel and I were on our way back onto the same ferry. In total, we probably spent 15 minutes on French soil. Most of that time was spent talking to the very friendly British immigration lady who was fascinated with my learning Welsh and wanted to tell me all about Ivor the Engine.

I have never seen the programme, so I can't speak to the accuracy of her description of the show, but I have to say that Donal's account of the show a few months ago* was more interesting.

Anyway, she put a stamp on the piece of paper in our passports, thus giving us legal status in the UK for the next three years. The child bride and I are legal. It was all sort of anticlimactic.

Then we had to spend another four hours travelling to London, where we ate dinner with Chris, who had been drinking for three hours but was still more lucid than I am on my best days.

*Blimey, that was a while ago. I need to get to Dublin.

Friday, August 4, 2006

The first two three weeks

I have internet again, bitches. Here's a look at what's been happening while I was away:

Dydd Sadwrn 15 Gorffennaf 2006

This is the first day that I've had to sit down and write since we've arrived. I've decided to keep a blog going in a Word document and I'll put it online as soon as I can. That guy Salaam Pax did something similar when Americans were bombing his house -- I am just waiting for BT to install broadband.

I don't understand why I need a phone line for high-speed internet, but I am fast re-learning the No. 1 rule of British life: Try not to ask questions.

People here will give you answers, but the answers will be tedious and detailed and they will usually still result in your not being able to do the thing you want to do. Unless you really, really want to know the history, sociological implications, and environmental effects of coaxial cable, it's not worth it to ask why it's not used in BT's broadband service.

Driving in Cardiff requires a sort of Islamic extremist mentality, I think. People here tear through streets so small that Americans wouldn't call them driveways, in cars so small that Americans wouldn't call them golf carts, at speeds that loosen American bowels.

The child bride and I scheduled to rent a minivan at Gatwick so we could drive our two bike boxes, five duffel bags, one computer bag and our exhausted selves to Cardiff on Wednesday. The rental agency gave us a Vauxhall Unpronounceable, which was about the size of a Honda Accord, but we were able to cram everything into the car and were on the M23 by about 11 a.m.

The M23, for those of you playing along at home, is a motorway. Us Yanks call roads of this size "interstates." I have actually heard fellow Americans ask why they are not called "interstates" in Britain. I think it has something to do with the absence of states.

Driving on the motorway was only mildly stressful and by the time we got to Swindon, I was calm enough to listen to the radio. Rachel, on the other hand, was in extreme stress mode. Imagine what it must be like for those guys who run convoys in Iraq every day, constantly waiting for an IED to rip through their Humvee. Rachel was at about that level.

Driving 150 miles in a straight line on a single road (the M4) is not hard. The problem was that everything was relatively new. I have only driven in Britain twice before, and in both of those instances I was doing that "wherever the road takes us" thing -- that's how my family ended up staying in Bala when we were planning on visiting Llangollen (look at a map). But now we were trying to get to a very specific point.

The car was totally new to me, I was working on more than 24 hours without sleep, the road was unfamiliar, the scenery was unfamiliar, driving on the left was unfamiliar, the surrounding cars were unfamiliar, and the road signs were unfamiliar.

If you unhook your brain from the American experience, British road signs are easy to understand. But if you try to make it adhere to what you are used to -- especially in the midst of sensory overload and exhaustion -- they become a challenge: "What the fuck is with all the arrows on that sign? What is it trying to tell me? English, you fuckers! You invented the fucking language; put it on your goddamn road signs!"

Things only got more chaotic as we exited the M4 to head into the heart of Cardiff.

It was at this point that we discovered that Mapquest is shit. Seriously, my bitches, Mapquest in Britain was apparently set up by someone who wants you to take the train.

Of course, it wouldn't matter if the directions were correct because the first thing you'll note about driving in British cities is that clearly marked roads are for pussies. Having a road and plainly promulgating to anyone driving or walking by what the road is named is Yankee scum thinking. In Her Majesty's Kingdom, if you don't know what road you're on, you should probably just go back home.

So, we arrived at the offices of Chris John + Partners thanks mostly to Rachel's power of prayer and my sketchy knowledge of Cardiff that has come from two visits and having spent hours and hours staring at a map of the city.

We got the keys to the house and managed to bumble our way home with my only once coming close to killing us, because the roundabout where Cardiff Road splits to Llantrisant Road and Bridge Road looks absolutely nothing like a roundabout. The woman in the car I almost hit was absolutely livid and sort of cartoonish as she bounced around in an effort to express how I had committed the greatest sin in all of history. Hitler was bad, but he never shot through a roundabout -- I am clearly the greater evil.

She turned to go to the BBC Wales studios. With my luck she is a higher up with an incredible memory who will keep me from ever working there.

Smart people, having managed to escape death and arrive sleep-deprived at their new home probably would have taken a nap. The child bride and I decided we would try to navigate our way to >IKEA. We acquired a Cardiff A-Z map at the petrol station near our house (check me out, instantly converting to use the British lingo. In America, you would call me a "tool" for doing that. I'm not sure of the British equivalent -- "ponce" maybe?) and headed out for some genuine city driving.

I think it might help when driving in Cardiff to be screaming nonstop -- just one long, terrified, spine-searing scream. That would probably attract unwanted attention from other drivers, though, so I just did that in my head.

You know that scene in "French Connection" when Popeye Doyle is flying through downtown Chicago (edit: this movie actually took place in New York City)? The scene has been copied countless times and it's supposed to give you this real sense of claustrophobia and the absolute madness of Doyle in his pursuit of the bad guy that he would drive like such a maniac. I'll bet that scene wouldn't draw much notice from a Cardiff driver. They do the same thing every day on winding roads.

This is what I mean about an Islamic extremist mentality. They are driving as if they feel they are not really in control of their actions -- everything is in the hands of Allah. If Allah wants you to die a horrible death in a Ford Mondeo, then you will die a horrible death in a Ford Mondeo. That death will come if you are going 15 mph or 100 mph. So, you might as well go 100 mph; if Allah doesn't want you to die today, at least you will get where you are going quicker.

While I was trying to hold my own in all of this, the child bride was busy having some sort of major life crisis from the stress of trying to help navigate.

ME: "Where do I need to go at this roundabout?"
HER: "I... I don't... What?"
ME: "Where are we going? Do I take this? The A4232? Do I take this?"
HER: "The... what? Where are we?"
ME: "There's a river. We're passing over a river. That's the Taff River, I think. Do you see that?"
HER: "Where? I... How am I supposed to know where we are?"

In my head I have the pieces of a column on how moving is one of the great tests of marriage. If I end up using that column, expect our driving experiences in Cardiff to be a part of it.

We used the car again the next day to go to IKEA again (we have been to IKEA three times in four days) as well as a grocery store and a bike shop. Rachel was delighted when we finally dropped the car off at the airport and has been singing the praises of the Cardiff bus and train system ever since.

The weather has been unusually warm and sunny here in Cardiff. The child bride and I were at the Food Festival in Cardiff Bay today and it was picture perfect. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Things were so perfect that for the first time in my life ever, anywhere, I wanted to go on one of those boat tour things. Cardiff has several. You can tour the bay, you can go up the Taff River, you can go up the Ely River, and on.

Unfortunately, everyone else in the region decided it was a good day for the same thing, so the lines were enormous. And I had foolishly waved the IKEA carrot in front of Rachel in trying to help her get her bearings in the city.

What I said was: "See those buildings over there? Just on the other side and down a bit is the IKEA..."

But this translated to: "Let's go to IKEA and buy another £70 of shit that I will have to carry onto the bus."

According to the beacon of journalism that is the South Wales Echo, the weather will stay like this for a few more days, so perhaps I can still take my boat tour.

I suspect that God is lulling me into a false sense of security with all this nice weather. On Wednesday we are supposed to go pick up our bikes. It will probably be pissing rain when we do this.

We had to have our bikes dismantled in order to transport them on the plane. Presently, my only tools are those that are available via my Leatherman, so the child bride and I are paying a nice man named Reg to put our bikes together for us.

I am thinking of starting a new blog:

On it, I would simply keep a list of the myriad tools that I need, so that people can buy them for me as birthday/Christmas/Thanksgiving presents. That's right British people, we give presents on Thanksgiving. I expect you to take part in the tradition this year.

(Note to Americans: Don't spoil it for me by letting the British know I'm lying.)

Dydd Sul 16 Gorffennaf 2006
When I was growing up in Houston, there was a woman who always gave out pennies on Halloween. In a similar vein, I am thinking of handing out our remaining U.S. dollars to neighbourhood children. Jesus Christ Lord Almighty on a motor scooter, could my home country's currency be more useless?

I have $13 sitting on a table downstairs and I can't be arsed to go get it converted. If I were to exchange the money in city centre, half of it would be used on bus fare.

The child bride and I found the shopping Valhalla that is the Cardiff Tesco Metro today. Tesco bitter is 92p for four cans. I was so tempted to try it. I'll bet it's awful.

I bought a £50 radio/CD thing there, which means that I finally feel like I am here. The first thing I bought when I moved to Portsmouth was a stereo. Radio became the centre of my world and has pretty much been that way ever since.

I have been grumpy at the end of every night we've been here so far, but now I can happily sit and listen to Welshy radio and all sorts of other stuff. The child bride and I are surprisingly low on cash at the moment, so a TV and TV license are out of the question for the time being (for those of you playing along at home, you have to pay to watch TV in Britain. A yearly license is about £150, or $300).

I did laundry today. Even though my machine apparently dries clothes, I decided to conform to what everyone else is doing and hung my clothes out on the line.

Europeans seems to be really, really hung up on energy consumption. I fear I will understand this more clearly when the power bill comes.

Dydd Llun 17 Gorffennaf 2006
The spin cycle on our washing machine sounds like a dentist's drill. This displeases me.

Our house is furnished entirely by IKEA. Not just the stuff we bought, but everything else. The kitchen looks to have come from IKEA, the dining room (area, if I'm honest) table, chairs -- pretty much everything.

The house came furnished. I expected it to have a table and chairs and couch, but our landlord has gone all out. He has provided the sorts of things you wouldn't expect, like an ironing board, and wall art.

We have an enormous and disturbing picture in our front room of a rooster battling a two-headed chicken. A Cardiff friend was in today and said: "I can't even look at that thing, it's so disconcerting."

We're pretty sure we want to replace it with, uhm, anything. But I almost don't want to just for the novelty factor: "Look at that thing. Our landlord seems to think it would make us feel at home."

Dydd Mawrth 18 Gorffennaf 2006
Last night I was at Y Mochyn Du -- a pub here in Cardiff -- and a woman walked up to me and asked: "Are you Chris Cope?"

She explained that she was from BBC Wales and that she had been sent to interview me because "someone had heard" that I was at the pub.

My parents need not worry about how the child bride and I are fairing in Cardiff because the BBC is apparently keeping tabs on me.

The story was online today, but I haven't had a chance to look at it. Someone from Radio Wales has been trying to contact me, as well, but I haven't been able to get back to them because I don't have a phone. I have to walk down to Llandaf to find a payphone.

It is hot, yo. I hesitate to piss and moan about summer weather in Wales, but it really is hot here. Tomorrow's expected high is 95F, according to The Western Mail. I realise there are people in much hotter places who read this blog, but remember that the child bride and I are sans air conditioning.

Pretty much this whole city is sans air conditioning. The Waterstones book store has AC, as does the cinema, but that's about it. Rachel and I decided today was a good day to see "Pirates of the Caribbean." I'm not sure what we'll be doing tomorrow. We are considering going down to the beach.

Dydd Mercher 19 Gorffennaf 2006
Today was the hottest day on record, according to the BBC. Weather records in this country go back upward of 350 years, so that means it was pretty hot. Somewhere Al Gore is doing his "See? I told you so!" dance.

Thankfully, some cloudy weather has pushed in this evening and it is sufferable, albeit humid, in our house.

I was interviewed today by Radio Wales. They brought me in to interview at 17:15, but then bumped me back to 17:50. I was happy to sit around and do nothing because it meant sitting in an air-conditioned building. Air conditioning in this country isn't on the same level as in the U.S. My parents-in-law would have thought that the air conditioning at the BBC was broken... or that it was being withheld as an extension of the evils of socialism.

My interview was amazingly short to the extent that I kind of wonder the point. I'm happy to come in anytime because I am the Biggest BBC Kiss-Ass In The World, but it seemed a bit odd to bring me in and talk to me for only three minutes. The interview went a bit like this:

INTERVIEWER: "You might remember Chris Cope, that wacky American who taught himself Welsh and planned to move to Cardiff. Well, he's arrived now, and he's here with us. Chris, it sure was hot today, wasn't it?"

ME: "Yes, it was. A lot. That's a bit unexpected."

I: "Are you liking Cardiff so far?"

ME: "Yeah. My wife is still struggling to find her way in a city without grids, but all-in-all we're enjoying it."

I: "You should go to (name of Welsh town). It's all grids there."

ME: "Yeah, we'll do that. Being the fans of grids that we are."

I: "So, what makes you want to be learning Welsh?"

ME: "Ah, you know. It's something to do, isn't it?"

(Note to self: I really need to come up with a better answer than this. Perhaps I should say that God told me to do it. Or, perhaps to add a bit of Cardiff flair, I could say that Ninjah told me to do it.)

I: "Well, thanks for coming in."

The interview had the sort of feel you would expect if I were a D celebrity in town to perform in a panto: "You might remember Chris Cope from that one episode of EastEnders when he got punched in the face by Kat Slater. Now he's in town and starring as Sneed in a New Theatre production of 'Peter Pan.'"

Still, it was enjoyable enough. They said they might be interested in talking to me again once classes get under way. I am assuming they'll get sick of me eventually, but it would be really funny if they never did: "Chris Cope, everybody's favourite American Welsh speaker has turned 50 today. Chris how are you?"
"Fantastic. Now, let's move on to the weather..."

Ninjah is a street crazy who seems to think that he is a god. Yesterday he was standing in city centre taking full credit for it being so hot.

This town is brimming with crazy. The thing about Cardiff crazy, though, is that it is a mobile crazy. The crazy in most cities is stationery -- it sits in one spot and shouts at you as you hustle past. The crazy here is on its feet, making eye contact and eager to chat.

I think that all good cities have a personality. I'm still trying to figure out Cardiff's personality.

An interesting element of this whole Welsh experience is that it has taken on a life of its own. I have long said that I kept on with Welsh, because it just grabbed a hold of me. More and more I feel that it is pulling me down some road and I am just sitting here trying to be pleasant to people and hoping that wherever I end up is OK.

I have been interviewed by BBC Wales radio, BBC Wales online, Radio Cymru, BBC Newyddion, and Cardiff University's alumni magazine. There's one particularly exciting thing that's going on that I can't tell you about until May, I am speaking at Eisteddfod next month, Radio Wales seems keen on talking to me again, and the university's PR office is so eager to get in touch with me that they called the BBC in an attempt to get in touch with me. When I arrived in Cardiff, there were welcome cards from fellow Welshies (can I say fellow Welshies?), and apparently a few people have dropped by to say "hello" when I was out. It's all very exciting.

But as I say, it feels as if I am just holding on and trying not to forget to be gracious. And I am grateful for all of it, but I feel this sense that if I fuck up, I'll be disappointing a whole lot more people than when I usually fuck up (which, hitherto in my life, has been every time in my life I've tried something big).

The BT people come tomorrow. That means that I will have a phone, which I can then use to order broadband Internet. So, I should be back online within a week. It feels weird not to be checking my e-mail four times a day.

Also tomorrow I will probably have a bank account. Accounts in Britain take a while to set up; it's not like in the U.S., where you can just show up and walk out an hour later with a box of cheques.

Dydd Iau 20 Gorffennaf 2006
We now have a phone. It will be a while until we get Internet.

I had been told that I could not get internet until after my phone was set up. As soon as that was done today, I called BT.

"I'm sorry, but we can't set that up until your phone has been connected," a woman told me.

"It is connected. That's how I'm talking to you now."

"Oh," she said. "Well, our file says it's not. So, you'll have to wait until the engineer closes the file. Everything should be sorted out by tomorrow."

British bureaucracy, baby. You gotta love it.

I was, as you probably noticed, able to do a quick blog post today thanks, as always, to the BBC. When I mentioned to someone at the BBC that I am sans internet, he offered to let me come into his office and use his computer for a bit.

That's surreal, right? I'm starting to lose the ability to tell whether my life is weird.

So, I was able to answer a poopload of e-mails and clear out the 500 spam messages that had collected in the last week or so. Thanks to everyone who sent messages of support, either directly or on the blog. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you.

A National Insurance number is not the same thing as an NHS number. I figured that out today after a great deal of running around.

I need an NHS number so Rachel and I can see a doctor should we ever get sick. As a student, I am eligible to be on the NHS, as is my spouse. The literature encouraging international students to come to Cardiff University points out this benefit myriad times.

Since both "National Insurance" and "National Health Service" are pretty much terms without meaning to my Yankee mind (remember to say "Yankee" like the angry bad Indian in "Last of the Mohicans" -- "Yahn-keee"), I found myself asking for the wrong thing at the Cardiff University International Development Office on Tuesday.

The thing is, though, I asked for it like this: "I need to find out my National Insurance number, or whatever it's called, because my wife and I want to be able to see a doctor."

I was in the International Development Office, which is supposed to deal with international students -- the vast majority of which aren't exactly rocking it with sterling English. You would have thought that, being used to people who say things wrong, they would have identified what I was really asking for and helped me out.

Nope. They sent me on a wild goose chase to another office, who then sent me to another office, who then sent me to the Job Centre Plus office, where I was handed a photocopy of a pamphlet and told to call to set up an appointment.

Only today, when I tried to set up said appointment, did I discover my error.

I called the International Development Office again, this time asking how to get an NHS number, and they directed me to a website. Which, of course, I can't access for a week because even though my phone is working, it isn't really and I can't even apply for the internet until it is. Cue the circus music.

Dydd Gwener 21 Gorffennaf 2006
Make that 4 August. I will not be connected to the internet until 4 August. BT had better be some great fucking shit after all this fuss.

It is frustrating to be this disconnected from the world -- all my friends specifically. I might not even have that much of a problem with all this if it weren't for the fact that I keep all my contacts on my Gmail account. So, I can't even send anyone a letter.

Dydd Sul 23 Gorffennaf 2006
There is a young girl who lives in the house across from the garden who loves to sing. The other day she spent a full hour singing in the bath, often making up the lyrics: "I am singing. In the bath. And you're telling me to be quiet, but I won't. Because I'm singing!"

Today was the sort of Sunday that us writer types (or, wannabe writer types, in my case) seem to go all stupid for. I sat and watched our curtains dance in the breeze for about an hour. The sun is shining in that way that it bounces off things that aren't supposed to reflect light, like bedding. Our duvet glows in the sunlight.

It made me want to sit down and write a short story about falling in love, but I was able to resist the temptation.

As I was writing the above, the girl who lives in the house across the garden found a spider. It is, by all accounts, the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to her.

She's not alone, I suppose. A few days ago the child bride and I were at Boots, and the woman across the counter yelped in the way that perhaps I would if I were to happen upon a 60-foot part-cobra-part-pit-bull with dentist drills for teeth. She, too, had found a spider.

A few days later, an old lady who lives down the street was staring anxiously toward the sky at the three dark clouds that happened to be there and spent 10 minutes telling me how much she hates thunder.

I can't remember whether it's inductive or deductive to draw general conclusions on an entire people based on only three cases, but I find it strange that Welsh women are allowed to hold onto fears in such an intense way. Don't these women have grumpy uncles to tell them to shut up?

The child bride and I finally got our bikes on Friday. Rachel seems keen to never bike anywhere that isn't immediately connected to the Taff Trail, which is a path that runs from here to the Brecon Beacons with most of it being car-free.

When I was younger, I used to do this thing where I would suddenly kick open the door of a moving car and swing out, holding onto the seatbelt. This was a great way to scare the shit out of anyone who was driving me around and, it turns out, it was quality training for biking in Cardiff.

I have found it helps not to think about my own mortality as I pedal through the city streets, narrowly avoiding the psychopath-piloted vehicles around me. The Jedi accepts that he may lose everything.

The only drawback to a day like this is that it allows for homesickness. It is peaceful and beautiful and lovely and suddenly you find yourself thinking about how far away you are from... something.

Homesickness, for me, isn't a particularly valid emotion, because I'm not sure what the hell I'm homesick for. Very strangely, at moments like these I always find myself wishing I could be in my grandmother's house in Lake Jackson, Texas. I would be eating pound cake with melted butter on it. And a scoop of vanilla Blue Bell ice cream. That, somehow, is home.

Expect me to turn that into a column some day.

Living here makes me feel like a more valuable member of global society. I bike or walk, or take buses and trains. I dry my clothes on the line. I don't have air conditioning. I even recycle. I am suddenly the Sierra Club ideal.

Dydd Mawrth 25 Gorffennaf
The child bride and I were just listening to a Radio 2 documentary (they still do stuff like that here -- using radio as a tool rather than something to block out noise) on Lenny Bruce and it reminded me of something that has always secretly bothered me: I will almost certainly never run in intellectual/hipster circles.

I don't get it. The documentary stated numerous times that Bruce was a genius, but didn't really offer evidence to that fact. I've heard a lot of commentary on the tragic genius of Bruce and I've always wondered what people were seeing that I am not.

I tend to think that people are too often labelled geniuses simply because they died young or tragically.

If Bill Cosby had been shot down in the late 60s by some crazed racist, he would be regarded as the greatest black comic to have ever lived ever.

I was interviewed by Welsh-language television today. A programme called "Wedi 7" (After 7) sat down with me in a pub beer garden and asked me a load of softball questions, several of which I managed to fuck up. I have reached a point in my Welsh speaking level where I sometimes try to turn phrases, as I might do in English. But almost as soon as I head down the road to a pun or witty observation, I realise that my vocabulary is not, in fact, strong enough to make it come out right.

So, I looked like a dope. Go me.

Still, apparently they are going to send me a check. I'm starting to grow fond of the British media and their willingness to pay for stories. In America we would call that a violation of journalistic ethics.

Because I am the BBC Kiss-ass, I should point out that in all the interviews they've done of me, I was only paid once. I like to think that was done by mistake, or that they paid me because Beti George planned to bundle my interview with others and make a profit.

Buddha on a bicycle, it was hot today. What's with Cardiff always being sunny and hot? Apparently, Glamorgan has, unbeknownst to anybody, broken free of Britain and drifted into Spanish waters.

The child bride and I finally managed to order mobile phones today. I only had to spend an hour and a half chatting with a nice Geordie bloke from BT. Actually, that bit was alright. He was fussing with his computer and then got into telling me about why he chose not to pursue a master's degree in Greek classics: "The comedy of Euripides loses something after 3,000 years."

His name was Paul. He is now considering pursuing a second BA; this time in astrophysics. I almost want to call BT every few months just for an update on his progress.

Anyway, our phones will not arrive for 10 working days. It is at once charming and infuriating that everything takes so long here.

Now, I know what you're going to say. Because you -- the collective you -- say things like this every time I find myself entangled in some wee thing that annoys me: "Oh, Chris, you've done it all wrong. You should have gone with such-and-such company. They would have done everything in less than 8 seconds or you would get £800 as part of their 8-second guarantee. And you get unlimited calling for 12p a year. Blah blah blah."

Shut your fucking cake hole, you. I'm locked into these phones now, so telling me how I could have done such and such for less money and less effort does me no good.

If I were a songwriter, I would write a song for all the kids who play near the weirs in the River Taff on hot days. There is something life-affirming about all those foul-mouthed boys swimming exactly where the city has told them not to.

Dydd Mercher 26 Gorffennaf 2006
Rachel got her phone today. Some bloke showed up at 7:40 a.m. and thrust a box in my hand containing Rachel's phone. My phone... uhm...

Anyway, Rachel's phone is really cool. I'm not really much of a phone guy. Hitherto, I have refused to carry one, because it is nothing more than a way for people to get in touch with me. I prefer contact me via e-mail. This way, I can think about my response and come off sounding wittier than I actually am. In person, off the cuff, I am tedious; phone conversations reveal this fact.

Rachel has always carried a mobile phone, but as she is with a lot of things, she has hardly ever been interested in the kind of mobile she carried. If she can talk into one end and be heard at the other, she's not particularly bothered about niceties like cameras and disco ring tones.

So, the coolness of Rachel's new phone is completely lost on her. It does all sorts of really nifty things, but she only wanted to know turn it on, how to make a phone call, how to receive a phone call and how to turn it off.

"But, honey, look at this feature," I would say.

"You can mess with that on your phone when it gets here," she would say.

We biked down to Cardiff Bay, to the Assembly building, today. We had heard third- or fourth-hand that it was possible to connect to a WiFi network there. Which seemed like just the sort of "open to the people" mindset the Assembly is shooting for.

Probably one of the best places to sit and stare out across the bay is from the comfort of the leather couches in the main part of the Assembly building, but sadly, one cannot (yet -- expect me to write a letter) use WiFi there.

So, we went to the Starbucks just a few hundred yards away and keyed into WiFi from there. I know it is bad and wrong to go to Starbucks, and MAYBE IF ONE FUCKING OTHER BUSINESS IN THE CITY would offer WiFi, I wouldn't have to go there. I don't enjoy paying $12 an hour to use the internet, yo, but I can't find any viable alternatives.

Rachel was able to search for jobs online but came up with nothing. We are burning money at a ridiculous rate and I am starting to get really worried. Maybe I should do that thing where I ask people to donate via PayPal... you know, because that always works.

The child bride and I have now been here for two full weeks. I still don't feel like this is my home, and I find that a side-effect of that is that I will suddenly become really pissy for no reason.

It doesn't help that the heat has yet to subside. I have heard tales of other parts of this great country seeing thunder and rain and such, but we've had none of it in good ol' Caerdydd.

The Echo (which is, by the way, the worst paper ever) says it is supposed to cool down over the next few days and we are supposed to have rain through the weekend. I hate to say it, but I'm looking forward to it.

Dydd Gwener 28 Gorffennaf 2006
I like our house. Especially now that the weather has cooled a bit.

The house is tiny by American standards and is packed in among a load of other tiny houses out here on the edge of Cardiff. The Welshies will often point out that I live close to "y cefn gwlad" (literally translated: "the back country"), which demonstrates that they have no idea what back country is. But it is pretty quiet here, even more so than Bloomington Rock City.

It's as if I live in one of those vacation villages you see in the middle of Wisconsin. Sadly, we have no indoor water park.

I had a dream last night that someone in the city of Bloomington had read my blog and had the council send me a plaque that stated officially that the unofficial name of Bloomington was now "Bloomington Rock City."

I'm going to have lunch on Wednesday with the people who run the website that taught me Welsh, BBC Learn Welsh. In a perfect world, they would offer me some ridiculously well-paying cake gig that I could do whilst still attending university.

That's highly unlikely. I think the days of the BBC being able to throw money at things (if ever those days really existed) have passed.

Nonetheless, it's kind of cool that I get to meet them. In years past, I have always promised myself that I would send them a Christmas card, but I worried that it might be just too weird.

It looks as if we will be scrapping the trip to Ireland that I had planned for Tuesday. The 1st of August comes right before Eisteddfod, so we wouldn't have had a chance to enjoy ourselves. We are legally here until January on a tourist visa, and Rachel has yet to find work, so there is no pressing need to validate my student visa just yet.

Most likely, we will take a longer trip to Ireland after Eisteddfod. In my head, I would like to take the ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare, spend a few days in Ireland, then take the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead and spend a few days in Northern Wales.

This whirlwind tour may not happen, though, depending on our financial status.

Wow, this is a boring blog entry.

Dydd Sul 30 Gorffennaf 2006
Today has been the second ridiculously pleasant Sunday in a row. I spent most of it reading and doing laundry.

Our washer-dryer accepts only comedy-small loads, but it is still a distinct improvement over our previous washer-dryers, which did not exist.

It feels like mid-September in northern Minnesota. It also reminds me of being in college; lying naked on a tiny bed with some girl who was foolish enough to take an interest in me.

If this blog were a novel, I would be told to drop that last bit because it does not necessarily fit the character.

And you see what I mean about days like this doing weird things to me -- making me all melancholy and introspective and tedious. Still, it is an incredibly lovely day.

If you were to stare at me for a while, you would probably make me uncomfortable, but you might also notice a little grey dot just to the left of my noise. I noticed today that it is still there.

It comes from when I was in fourth grade. I had just sharpened a pencil and managed to stab myself in the face with it. Contrary to what you might expect, I did not make a sound when I did this. I was embarrassed and worried that someone would make fun of me.

When I saw that no one had spotted my stabbing me in the face, I made a very loud display of karate chopping my pencil, so as to be able to explain why I needed to turn around and go back to the pencil sharpener. After being admonished by my teacher (it was either Miss Key, Miss Webb, or Miss Jenkins -- I'm drawing a blank), I was allowed to sharpen my pencil again. This time I was careful to avoid putting it near my face as I walked back to my desk.

When I was eventually able to inspect the damage, I found that I had managed to break off a large chunk of graphite in my face.

The child bride and I went to an event called "Joust" yesterday, which was held on the grounds of Berkeley Castle, where Edward II was famously killed with a red hot poker up the ass.

The people who tell you all sorts of interesting facts about the castle politely gloss over that fact, but it seemed to be common knowledge by all who were present: "Hey, this is where Edward II took a red hot poker up the ass."

It's one of those delightful bits of historical trivia that everyone seems to know and want to share, like the demise of Catherine the Great (although, I'm not sure if that last one is actually true).

Joust, as you can probably guess by the name, is a medieval festival. The child bride and I are suckers for those sorts of things. We tried very hard not to contrast it with Rachel's beloved Minnesota Renaissance Festival, but comparisons were inevitable.

I found Joust to be woefully lacking in bawdy humour and saucy lasses. Ren Fest (as it is known in über-dork circles) is a veritable cleavage-palooza, where a man walking across a field risks severe spinal damage from turning his head so much. At Joust, I saw only one woman wearing a leather bikini top.

Equally, I only heard one comment about the loosening of bowels. Joust is in desperate need of more ribaldry.

I think this comes as a side-effect of many of the Joust participants taking themselves a bit too seriously. The various shows put on had far too much chatter for my American tastes.

In one part, a group of "Cossack" horsemen ride around performing a series of tricks that were relatively impressive (although, I've seen the same tricks performed at every rodeo I've ever been to -- often by 12-year-old girls) but ruined by a bloke who stood in the middle with a microphone shouting things like: "Behold! The might Cossack riders! Watch now as Antonovich Mostokovichichivich risks his life to swoop down from his horse and pick his hat from the ground!"

As he did all this, weird Trans-Siberian Orchestra-type music was blaring in the background.

Similarly, the joust spent to much time yammering on about the actual history of joust tournaments and suffered from having participants who weren't particularly eager to take a dive. I don't blame them, if you told me to put on a shitload of metal and then take a header from a horse, I'd probably have to think on it for a bit. But, having seen it done at Ren Fest, and then not done at Joust meant I wasn't as impressed as some of the other people there.

Joust did have going for it the fact that it was staged on the grounds of an actual castle that was built in the 12th century. That's one element you'll never get at Ren Fest. And, a large group of historical re-enactors staged a 15th century battle outside the castle walls, replete with cannon fire and archers (the cannons fired only packing and the archers fired rubber-tipped arrows).

But something was lost there, too, because the re-enactors didn't seem particularly keen on falling down and playing dead. So, you had three waves of attack without a single person keeling over. Also, from a purely military strategy standpoint the attacks were horribly sloppy.

Sadly, our medieval-type costumes are presently somewhere between Minnesota and Cardiff, but I did have my rocking cool leather mug, which I filled with various ales (Abbot and Old Speckled Hen).

After four tankards of said liquid, I brazenly wandered over to the re-enactors' camp on the periphery of Joust. This resulted in my getting in a sword fight with one of Lord Talbot's men.

This sounds like a lie, but the child bride was thankfully smart enough to take pictures. I will put them up as soon as possible.

There is an ice cream van that regularly cruises our area but never comes down our street that plays a sped-up music-box-like version of "Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head."

If I ever write a horror film, the killer will drive that van. The music is at once annoying and unnerving.

Throughout the film, people will just hear that music but never see the ice cream van. And when the music stops, another person turns up brutally murdered.

Earlier I mentioned that I had $13 just sitting around. I finally took that to the bank the other day. It netted me £6.53. Again, thank you GW, for allowing the dollar to devalue.

The child bride and I have been able to use the internet at our local library. Our library has that sort of charm that comes from being financially neglected for years. The sign outside says it is the "FAIRWATER RANCH LIBRARY" -- the letter "B" fell off some time ago. The computers are probably old enough to be legally married in Kentucky.

Rachel was able to find a few leads on jobs Friday and plans to make phone calls on Monday. We have both gone into denial about the finite nature of our bank accounts. If money comes from the cash machine, we assume it must exist. There will come a day when the cash point will stop giving us money and we do not presently have a plan of action for when this occurs.

In an interview the other day, I was asked if I felt that God was smiling on us. I sincerely hope that he is.

Dydd Mawrth 1 Awst 2006
Sometimes the Welsh language makes me feel like I've been playing that game where you try to hold your head underwater longer than all the other kids. I used to be pretty good at that game -- the key is convincing yourself that you don't need air all that urgently -- but after a few rounds it would give me a driving headache, where my eyeballs felt like they wanted to push out of my skull.

Welsh does that to me. If I find myself for an extended period of time in a room full of people speaking Welsh, especially if a number of those people are naturally inclined to mumble (read: "raised in British society"), it can do my head in.

It's that thing of having to run your brain at full speed just to have a conversation about the weather. My Welsh still isn't anywhere near where I want it to be, and that becomes clear in casual conversations.

So, I'm exhausted after spending nigh three hours in the sacred headquarters of BBC Wales today.

I had another interview today, this time with Radio Cymru presenter Siân Thomas who -- and I'm not just saying this -- ranks up there as one of the more delightful people I've ever met. It turns out that she lives just down the street from me. She gave me her phone number and address and told me to pop in anytime.

When I get a mobile phone, I think I'll program her number in there, just to impress anyone who might be flipping through my list of contacts. Who would be impressed by my knowing Siân Thomas, I'm not sure -- little old ladies, most likely.

After the interview, I met up with Stephen Morgan, who is one of the people running BBC Learn Welsh. Because I am the Learn Welsh prodigal son, he bought me lunch in the BBC commissary (interesting fact about the BBC commissary: it lists the number of Weight Watchers points for each item of food). But this was not before he introduced me to the newsroom.

As a result of said visit, some BBC outlet (I have forgotten which -- I will just show up and smile) is going to interview me at Eisteddfod. Possibly twice.

I am going to be at the Learn Welsh stand at Eisteddfod on 12 August. My name is even mentioned in the promotional material that presenters are supposed to read out. You can meet Welsh-language soap opera stars, unconditionally beloved Welshy Garry Owen (I've spoken to him on the phone twice, he is impossible not to like), and me. One of these things is not like the other.

It's as if it were: "Meet the cast of 'Days of Our Lives,' newsman Tom Brokaw, and a Mexican kid who can recite the whole of 'King Lear' in under 15 minutes."

But there we are. That's my life now. And apparently that makes my opinion valid in matters of Learn Welsh's future endeavours. I got to spend about an hour learning the crew's extensive plans for their next learning tool.

I will tell you that it's really cool, and the goal of it, apparently, is to take you along the same sort of path that I took -- from know-nothing to Class H celebrity. OK, maybe not that path. But they hope to help people with no Welsh move on to fluency. You can almost certainly expect me to hype it once it comes to fruition.

Stephen also took me on a sort of wandering tour of the BBC complex. I got to step onto the set of "Pobl y Cwm," the Welsh-language soap opera. Considering how long the programme has been running, I think I felt a bit of what you would feel if you got to set foot in the Queen Vic (admit it, even if you think the absolute worst of "EastEnders," you would feel a sense of reverence in the Queen Vic).

On a side note, one of my goals in life is to set foot in the Queen Vic.

When I mentioned "Catchphrase," the learner's series that I used to start learning Welsh, Stephen insisted on dragging me up to meet former Wales national rugby team member Nigel Walker, who was the star of that programme and is now Head of Sport (your guess is as good as mine on what that entails) at BBC Wales. And on and on it went like this.

Having worked in media, I am sure that there are mentally set boundaries of where people in certain departments can and cannot go ("Oh, I'm in radio, so I really have no business wandering into the orchestra's recording studio" -- that sort of thing. And yes, BBC Wales has an orchestra. I walked into their studio as they were rehearsing), but refreshingly, Stephen was happy to break these boundaries. We went everywhere.

But as I say, at the end of it, my skull hurt from the experience of meeting dozens of new people, trying to take in everything and trying to hold down running conversation in Welsh. My brain had been pulling from every available resource and that meant using up reserves stored in my ego and emotional core. As I walked home I felt stupid and had this feeling that I am just a big joke, and very quickly -- perhaps next week at Eisteddfod -- people are going to key in on this fact and hate me for wasting their time.

I got home, had a cup of tea and three Fox's Golden Crunch Creams biscuits (which I have discovered to be among the most delicious foodstuffs ever), and lay on the floor and thought about what will happen if I fuck this all up. Not only do I have the pressure of knowing that I have hitherto failed to complete a university degree, I also get the added stress of knowing that my failure could quite possibly be reported.

The Sunday Mirror (which strangely back in February ran a blurb on my coming to Cardiff University next to a blurb about Robbie Williams announcing a concert tour) might run the headline: "Welsh, Maybe Not" or "Ameri-Can't Cut It In Wales Uni"

I feel a bit better now, but my skull is still pounding. In a few hours we are going over to a friend's house to watch the interview that I did with "Wedi 7." The fun never stops.

My question now is this: How can I use all this to get myself a walk-on gig on "Pobl y Cwm?" I want to be the Winston of "Pobl y Cwm" (Winston is the token black guy who runs a stall in Albert Square).

Dydd Iau 3 Awst 2006
The day is winding down, which means the child bride is in a pissy mood. Rachel has yet to figure out how to fill her time in Cymru, so when there are no shops to go to or really old things to tour, she gets in a foul mood whilst I try to sneak into the study and write. I am fine with not having anything to do because I have my head.

Many years ago, someone once said of me that I would make a horrible hostage because I could keep myself perfectly busy if locked in an empty room. I would have nonstop conversations with myself and come up with a series of hilarious inside jokes with myself. I would probably also emerge with a thick Scottish accent.

When I drove West in 1998, it meant spending four days alone in my truck and to amuse myself I maintained a running commentary of everything in my ridiculous Scottish accent. It then took me a week to stop doing it when I returned to society.

I have tried to encourage the child bride to develop an interest in Britain's myriad quality radio offerings, but she doesn't seem to be keen. I sometimes find it frustrating to have married a woman who shares so little of my interest in music and radio, but it's probably for the best.

If we were both stupid for music, we might sit around and have the sort of head-up-our-asses conversations that would put us at risk of imploding from the tediousness of it all. Like when I read music magazines. Multi-page articles about the cheeky brilliance of Broken Social Scene make me want to drive a pen into my eye.

Rachel and I went to Caerphilly Castle today, which is really cool in the sense that you can sit there and think, even by modern standards, "Hey, this would be a son of a bitch to attack."

But, as it happens, not all that many people felt like attacking it. It was sieged only once, as far as I could figure out from all the informative plaques at the castle. There's a fact that was probably written out of any tourism promotional material: "Caerphilly: Nobody really feels like fighting for it."

Rachel was so taken with the castle that she signed us up to be members of Cadw, the Welsh heritage organisation that helps to look after the myriad castles, abbeys, Celtic burial chambers, Roman ruins and historically important industrial sites of Wales. We can now go to loads and loads of really old things for free.

It's interesting to us, even if not to anyone else in Wales. As the child bride and I were sitting there being all taken with the fact that we were standing in a structure that was built before anyone knew my home country even existed, a local youth found the wall was ideal for kicking his soccer ball against.

He just kept drilling the ball against the wall and doing that thing of offering running colour commentary: "Yet another beautiful kick to goal!"

Amusingly, his commentary involved his never scoring. Each time the ball would come back to him, he would say something like: "What an impossible save! But here comes another attack."

There was something amusing about the fact that he never scores in his fantasy world.

And I realise that a kid with a soccer ball shouldn't be much of a threat to a building that was designed to withstand armies, but it seemed somewhat disrespectful. We found ourselves stating the obvious in realising that kids who grow up in a country where 800-year-old buildings are set next to the Greggs just aren't all that impressed by them.

In fairness, I'm not sure that many American kids would be impressed, either. I, on the other hand, took a shitload of pictures and will put them up as soon as I can.

If everything goes as it is supposed to, we will have internet tomorrow. Apparently some sort of bit of equipment is supposed to arrive in the post and then all I have to do is make it work and, viola*, I will be back online.


I've missed you guys.

*Yes, I misspelled it on purpose.

Once I get internet, I will try to link to the interview I did with "Wedi 7." It aired Tuesday and is embarrassing on all sorts of levels.

"Wedi 7" is a sort of human interest programme, like a small market morning newscast without the hindrance of news, sport or weather. Inexplicably, on Tuesday, they did a five-minute piece on the fact that the film "Miami Vice" is out, and doesn't everybody think the 80s were great?

From this, they segued into the story about me. It starts out with me riding my bike with an American flag faded in and generic "Dukes of Hazzard"-stylee country music playing.

When I saw that, I hit myself in the forehead with the hope of damaging my frontal lobe enough to forget the experience. Sadly, it is all still pretty clear in my head. I need to kill the bad thoughts with Guinness.

Actually, I've yet to have pint of Guinness since arriving here. There are too many beers that I've never heard of to go around drinking the familiar. Disappointingly, there are no proper off-licences ("liquor stores," for those of you playing along at home) within walking distance, but the Tesco offers two full aisles of beery goodness.

Cream of Cornish ice cream is delicious.

The child bride has a job interview on Wednesday, 16 August, which means that we need to push up our plans to leave the country and come back in order to validate our visas. She has to be able to prove that she is legal to work in the country.

We will probably spend Monday through Wednesday of this coming week in Wexford or thereabouts as a result. Lucy, I will e-mail you as soon as possible to see when you are available to grace us with your presence.

In retrospect, we probably should have gone this week.

The other day I was flipping through a tourist guide for Britain. As I always do with these sorts of guides, I checked the entry for my beloved Portsmouth. Fodor's said: "there is no compelling reason to stay overnight."

I love that.

Friday, June 2, 2006

'Under way' is two words, you fools!

Today was my final day in service of my benevolent employer. As I told my fellow wage slaves, I feel a tinge of shame over leaving on good terms. It doesn't do much for my writer reputation to have left quietly, my bag of stuff under my arm, 550 stock options to pin my hopes on. A part of me wishes I had been dragged out naked, stinking of whisky and screaming death threats.

My departure today is particularly poignant because it is not only the end of five and a half years at the same company but, hopefully, it is also the end of my news career. Obviously, if I'm starting over at age 30, I have a few issues with this business, but it hasn't been a total loss. You can learn from every experience. Here is some of what I have learned over my 12-year attempt to be a newsman:

There are a lot of evil people. There are a lot of stupid people. Most of them live in Ohio and Florida.

North Carolina is unnervingly conservative.

Southern Californians are the ugly Americans of America.

Old people are not good drivers.

Pit bulls love the taste of children.

Few things are more exciting or newsworthy than a bear in a tree.

The public hates quality public education; they especially hate paying for it.

Whatever's wrong, it's Bill Clinton's fault. Unless it's George W. Bush's fault.

Contrary to what "Law & Order" would have you to believe, most people who commit violent crimes are terribly inept when it comes to putting together an alibi.

If the 14-year-old girl with whom you are having an illicit online relationship asks you to travel out of state to meet her for sex, it's a trick.

Most people stop learning shortly before they enter the workforce.

The media is neither liberally nor conservatively biased. It is lazy.

There are a lot of really, really, really crazy people. Those with the capacity to send angry e-mails or make angry phone calls are largely responsible for editorial policy.

Journalism schools are apparently teaching that puns and alliteration are the two most important elements to news writing.

Journalism in television is like good beer in Cheyenne, Wyo. -- it is very hard to find. There is plenty of booze available in Cheyenne, and there is plenty of news available in the modern world. But finding quality in either case is a challenge.

Ignorance is powerful.

Life is shockingly fragile.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Terrorizing St. Paul with jumper cables and a mouthful of Novocain

I survived another trip to the dentist today. I will admit to hyperventilating a little bit, but things weren't as traumatic as last week.

I think I mentioned before that the dentist had originally suggested the work on this side of my mouth could be done without Novocain. This idea was wholly rejected at the start, but I wondered this time around if it might actually make things a little easier on me.

My logic went like this: I can suffer a little discomfort and perhaps actually being able to feel the drill tearing through my jaw, rather than not really feeling anything and just sitting there waiting for white hot electric pain to cause my head to explode, would keep me from going into a panic.

"Sure we can try that," the dentist said. "Just put your hand up if you need me to stop."

"Fweeeeeeeeeeeeee," said the drill. "Bzzzt. Bzzt."

And my hand was up.

It says something about me and my transparent wussy nature, I suppose, that he was instantly swabbing my cheek with that piña-colada-tasting* numbing agent. It was ready to go. He hit the nerve again in administering the Novocain, but since I was expecting him to do it and my mind had logged it as far more painful than it actually is, I was able to keep myself from weeping.

I was sweating like a maniac, and I clenched my fists so tightly that it hurt to unclench them, but as I say, it wasn't as bad as last week, and one hour later I was in my car and headed home.

But first I needed to drop by the gas station. I tried really hard not to be frustrated by petrol prices -- because it's my own damn fault for driving a 23-year-old car with a 6.5-liter engine -- got back into my car, and: nothing.

"Son of bitch. It was just running," I thought.

I tried turning the keys a few more times, made sure the battery connections were OK and even tried kicking the car, but it did no good. I couldn't get a sound from the car -- it was completely dead.

This was one of those moments in which, if my life were a movie, I would do one of those pull-away Spike Lee crane shots. I'm not sure I entirely get the point of them, but he uses them when things go a bit shitty, which is where I was. I had just gone through my second emotionally exhausting dental experience, the right side of my face was still completely numb from Novocain, and my $250 piece-of-shit car was dead.


I would like to big myself up and point out that I did not do my usual thing of getting really, really, really angry. There was no reason for me to be: I was in my beloved St. Paul; I had $7 in my wallet, which is more than enough to get you anywhere you want to go (albeit incredibly slowly) on the buses; and while I was scheduled to come to work today, I didn't have to be there for three more hours and I am in my final days of employment, anyway.

Instead, I felt a sense of frustrated resignation. I called my wife and left a moping Eeyore-esque message on her phone. What was going through my head was what my brother had told me about the day his 1977 Buick Skylark died: "I came outside and it just wouldn't start. The thing wasn't worth fixing, so I called the junkyard to come pick it up."

"Here it is," I thought. "The death of my car. What an unceremonious goodbye."

That's a good name for a band, by the way.

It seemed like an exercise in futility, but I decided I would at least try to get my car started again. Even though it had just been running, I decided to try jumpstarting. I got out my cables and walked over to the woman who was parked right next to me, pumping gas into a Lexus SUV.

"Hi, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a jump," I said, smiling and waving my booster cables in as friendly manner as possible.

"Uhm... no. I... uhm," she said, trying to think up a reason not to help me.

Let's be fair and remember that I had a face full of Novocain, so my request came out as more of a growl and my smile may have come off as somewhat leering. But it was the middle of the day, there were loads of people around, and she was parked right next to me -- all she would have had to do would have been pop open her hood.

There was no reason to mess with her, though. There were plenty of other people at the gas station.

"I understand," I said. "You're in a rush."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "Really in a hurry."

So I walked over about five feet to a man pumping gas into a red Volvo.

"Hi, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a jump," I growled, this time playing up my partially paralyzed face in hopes that it would garner some sympathy -- after all, who would refuse to help Good Ol' J.R. jump start his car?

"Uhm... no. I... uhm," he said, trying to think up a reason not to help me.

What the fuck? Who refuses to help someone jump start their car? It was the middle of the day, at a busy gas station and I was pointing to my car. All these people had to do was sit there while I did all the work. That's what you do when you jump start someone's car: you sit in your car and do nothing. Once the other car is started, the jumpee thanks you profusely. It is the easiest way imaginable to rack up good karma, and I had two people refuse.

This is what's wrong with America, people. When the Chinese take over, remember this day. Remember that we are a nation that flat out refuses good karma.

But I didn't pester the Volvo man; there were still other people I could ask. At the next pump over, there was a man standing next to an early 90s Ford Tempo. What person driving a Tempo was going to refuse me? He was my people. We could bond over shitty cars.

"It's just that, well, this is my mother-in-law's car," Ford Tempo man told me. "And I would hate to have to bring it back to her and explain how I blew up her generator."

It's an alternator, you fuck. Cars have alternators. And do you not see the car I'm driving? You don't think I know how to jump start a car properly?

"OK," I said, and walked back to my car.

I got in to try starting it up again. This is years of working with computers that caused me to do this. Computers sometimes really do come back to life if you leave them alone for a while. Internal combustion engines, however, stay dead.

Ford Tempo man had a sudden, begrudging change of heart and swung his car around.

"You look so miserable," he said. "I'd feel bad if you were just stuck here."

I'm assuming my miserable look was a result of the Novocain. Maybe I look miserable all the time.

I tried to explain to the man that I had just been to the dentist, so my face was numb, but it became clear to me that he was terrified of either me, or "car stuff," or both. So I just went about the process of hooking up the cables. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see he had a nervous look on his face -- as if we were doing some kind of drug deal. When I attached the negative cable to my engine block, he jumped back about 15 feet.

"Cripes, man," I thought. "It's not gonna 'splode like some kind of al-Qaida car bomb."

I got in the car and turned the key. Nothing. I wasn't really surprised, because: 1) I wasn't sure this was going to work, anyway; 2) my engine block has 23 years of oil and dirt on it -- not ideal conditions for electrical current. So I got out of the car to mess with the cables a bit and try again. But he was already removing the cables from his car.

"Sorry it didn't work out," he said, shoving the clamps in my face.


"Why don't you ask the guys across the street?" the gas station attendant said.

I was flipping through the phone book, looking for someone who would come tow my car and buy it for scrap. The "guys across the street" was the Phillips 66 station, which also does some odd mechanical repair.

When I walked in, I noticed a large sign on the wall: "MINIMUM LABOR CHARGE IS $12.61"

That's sort of an odd figure to come to, and it left only $37.39 for the maximum amount I was willing to pay to fix my car. Unless I had burned out the magical Makes Everything Work fuse, I told myself, I was going to be parting with my car today.

One of the mechanics grabbed a portable jump start kit and walked across the street with me. He fussed with the wires, had me try to start the car, fussed with the wires, had me try to start it, fussed with the wires and, "WHOOOOOOM," my car roared back to life.

"Holy shit. I was all set to have this thing towed away for scrap," I said.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you," the mechanic said.

"How much do I owe you?"

"Huh? Nothing. It's a jump."

Back on the freeway and sailing toward home in my born-again land boat, I thought to myself: "The guys at the Phillips 66 on the corner of Cleveland in Grand, in St. Paul --that's what I'll write a blog post about. I will write an enormous 2,000-word post to point out how they are among a dying breed of people who aren't so self-absorbed that they can't help a person jump start his car."

"No one will read that long of a post," a voice in my head told me.

"Probably not," I thought.

*By the way, thanks for ruining a perfectly good alcoholic experience, world of dentistry.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006


Keeeeeee-ripes, I hate going to the dentist. I have nothing against dentists personally. Most of the dentists I have met in my lifetime have been good people; they do good work and they are woefully underappreciated. But, as I've said before, sweet mother of Jesus dancing a jig on a Chevrolet, I hate having to see the dentist.

For some reason, my brain is capable of occasionally -- and, so far, always inappropriately -- producing extreme panic. And something about having people placing whirling metal objects in my mouth takes me to that special terrible place. I think it is partially a side effect of being such a big fan of Carl Hiaasen novels. If my experiences were a Hiaasen novel, the dentist would be blitzed on alcohol, meth, and nitrous oxide. He would slip and manage to shred my jaw and cheek into a bloody, pulpy mess. In his drugged-out panic, he would then decide to avoid a malpractice lawsuit by bludgeoning me to death with a giant toothbrush.

That didn't happen today, obviously. But things got off to a bad start when he managed to hit a nerve while injecting the painkiller. It felt as if an explosive had gone off in my jaw.

ME: "Gah!"

DENTIST: "Ooh, I think I hit a nerve. That doesn't happen too often -- sorry about that. Your nerves are exactly where they are supposed to be. That's not the case with most people. The good news is that the painkiller will definitely work now."

MY BRAIN: "Hey, whoa, man. What the fuck was that? Why are we not running away?"

DENTIST: "Are you OK?"

ME: "Yeah. OK. Fine."

BRAIN: "What?! We should be leaving. Fuck you, man. Fuck you three times."

The painkiller did its job and soon I could no longer feel the left side of my face. The dentist then stuck various bits of metal in my mouth that I'm sure made me look as if I was in German fetish porn. As soon as I heard the whir of the drill, my mind flashed back to the last time I had a cavity filled -- about 14 years ago. That dentist (a different one) offhandedly noted that the cavity was deeper than he had expected.

"I'm a little concerned that I may hit the root as I'm drilling," he said.

"What happens if you do that?" I asked.

"Oh, you'll let us know," he said. "You'll let everyone in the building know."

One of the teeth that today's dentist was planning to work on was that tooth -- the "you'll let us know" tooth. I didn't want to let anyone know today. I wasn't feeling informative. He (and another dentist at another office, as well, lest you think he was doing unnecessary work) had determined that the filling in that tooth had been done wrong, allowing the cavity to hang on. He planned to remove the old filling completely and replace it with a new, better fancy-dancy white filling instead of the "Why, yes, I do drive a 1983 Oldsmobile; how did you guess?" metal filling that was there.

I was shaking in the chair, and as soon as I heard the rattle of the drill echoing through my skull, the panic button was pressed.

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Here comes the pain. Oh, fuck, this is going to hurt! This is going to HURT! Oh, Christ! This is it! He's going to break through the tooth and tear up the root and it is going to be more pain than we've ever experienced. Oh shit! It's going to happen at any second! ANY SECOND NOW! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! And it is going to hurt so bad that our left eye will pop out! You will be so overcome pain that your own eye will pop out of your skull!! Shiiiiiit!"

I was hyperventilating and squeezing my hands together so hard that my ring was cutting into my finger. My eyes were squeezed shut, but I was aware that my feet were kicking around.

DENTIST: "Chris? Are you OK?

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."

MY LEFT EYE: "I don't want to pop out!"

ME: "..."

DENTIST: "Let's give you a chance to catch your breath, OK?"

No, not OK. I was already going through trauma. Why they hell would I want to prolong this experience? I wanted to just get it over with and get the hell out of the office. I wanted to be 8 years old eating at Popeye's with my mom and drinking strawberry soda. I did not want to be sitting around in a dentist's office waiting for more drilling.

I shook my head desperately and tried to communicate that I wanted him to just keep on, but I couldn't get any words to form.

ME: "...hhhhh..."

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."

MY EGO: "What the fuck is going on here? There's no pain, you big pussy."

BRAIN: "But there WILL be pain -- a lot of pain! Oh God! Oh shit!"


DENTIST: "Yeah. Let's take a quick break."

ME: "..khhh..."

EGO: "Oh, for fuck's sake. You are such a girl. This is... wait. Wait a fucking minute. Are there tears in your eyes? You're fucking crying! Oh, FUCK! What is wrong with you?! You absolute pussy."

BRAIN: "OK, I'm going to start running through every bad thing that has ever happened to us ever. Remember when Andy Wolf put you in a headlock and he would not let go? You were punching him in the balls, but he just would not let go."

EGO: "This is so embarrassing. What kind of man are you? I am so disgusted with you."

BRAIN: "...and then Sarah McDaniels broke up with you. Oh wow, did that suck. And..."

LEFT EYE: "I don't want to pop out!"

It went on like this for an hour and fifteen minutes. At the end of it, I walked out with four new fillings. I go back for work on the other side of my mouth next week.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

An expert in shouting at crows

  • Sometimes I think I'm being a damn fool for leaving Minnesota. I was thinking that especially this morning as I crossed the Hiawatha Bridge toward the headquarters of my benevolent employer. The forest along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers are turning a lush green now. The bridge soars over the valley and gives a panoramic that stretches from downtown Saint Paul to out past Black Dog Lake (about 30 miles) -- all of it leafy and green, with soft hills and fat, lazy river cutting through.
    Just as you reach Mendota Heights, the steeple of the 166-year-old St. Peter'sChurch sneaks above the trees and it looks like the sort of thing that Thomas Kinkade would charge you $700 to look at. That's where you would expect God to actually be. When I look at the mammoth, soul-hurting edifices of megachurches I always find it hard to believe that God would hang out at those places any more than he has to. Of course he's there, that's part of the job description of an omnipresent being. But at an old church that rests on the bluffs of the Minnesota River -- that's where he probably enjoys being.
    I try to think of what I would be if I hadn't spent my adolescence here, escaping to Nine Mile Creek and the Minnesota, and I have trouble coming up with positives.
    Wales is beautiful. The River Taff runs less than 1/3 of a mile from the house where the child bride and I are hoping to live (although there is still some debate as to whether I could swim in the river). We will be able to walk from the house into countryside. Wales has mountains and seaside and better beer and less snow and fewer evangelical churches. But I can't help but feel some sense of guilt/melancholy/doubt for leaving here.

  • Those of you who paid attention in Twin Cities Geography in school probably got a little confused by the above blubbering: "Wait, Chris, I thought you lived in the prestigious west side of Bloomington Rock City -- what the hell were you doing taking the Hiawatha Bridge across the river? That doesn't make sense. It's like that scene in 'Fargo' when they're supposedly driving down from Bemidji, but for some reason they're on I-35. This is madness!"
    I know. Calm down. I was in Saint Paul this morning for a dentist's appointment. I went to the dentist about two weeks ago and they decided that they needed to spend a few hours drilling holes in my skull and filling them, but set the dates for said torture sessions too far into the future for the child bride's liking. So, she arranged for me to go into a different office and have someone poke me in the mouth with pieces of metal before they could set more immediate dates for face drilling.*
    The previous dentist had thoroughly depressed me with the number of cavities he found. I am a dental hygiene poster child with all of my flossing and brushing regularly and rinsing with fluoride mouthwash and not drinking pop, but my white trash heritage is too strong and I have bad teeth. Today's dentist found an additional "problem area," hence my more subdued mood.
    His apparently serious offer to do the work sans Novocain was soundly rebuked by me, which means that things will be split into two appointments.
    The plus side of this is that I plan to burn off my remaining holiday time surplus by taking half days for those appointments. This means I have 16 days of actual working left.

  • Ask a ninja about love.

  • Good name for a band: Power Rangers Rendezvous

    *Whoa, that sounds like the subject line for one of those really dirty spam e-mails.