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Friday, June 29, 2007

'Writer'

PapaI don't remember which Christmas it was. We were still living in Texas at the time, but I was old enough to have been questioning the veracity of Santa Claus for a few years. We had come over to Papa and Joie's house on Christmas afternoon to open presents and run about and pester Papa to take us on rides in his golf cart.

The Christmases of childhood seem to have such established patterns: we did this and this and this for 700 years. For my family, the 700 years was spent going down to Lake Jackson. We stayed at my mother's parents' house and had a big Christmas in the morning, then went over to Papa and Joie's for another Christmas and lunch.

I can't remember if my father imposed this rule or if I imposed it upon myself, having developed his sense of propriety from an early age, but the Christmas spoils of the morning were never taken to the second Christmas at Papa and Joie's for fear of sparking a diplomatic incident with the other grandkids. The policy had positives and negatives. I never got in a fight with Shawn Jr. over whose Christmas presents were better (thank goodness -- he would have kicked my ass), but I spent the time at Papa and Joie's wishing I could get back to my new toys.

That sense of propriety stems from Joie, my father's mother, who gave each of the grandkids the exact same gift. This was the Christmas that she gave us all little AM radios that looked like Sunkist oranges. These were items collected at the local Texaco, where they had been offered for 99 cents with the purchase of a full tank of gas. At the end of the day, my brother and I were piling into the minivan when Papa came out with a secreted additional Christmas gift just for me.

A pen set.

Who gives a kid a pen set? What the hell kind of gift is that? A pen set would be no match against my friends' invasion-force-sized G.I. Joe haul. I muttered a thank you and got in the car. On the way home, my dad told me that I shouldn't mention getting an extra gift to the other grandkids. Yeah, Dad. As if I would.

We moved to Minnesota and Christmas tradition became me barbecuing a rack of ribs in sub-zero temperatures. I started writing. My journal; insufferable poetry aimed at getting girls to make out with me or feel really bad about not doing so; short stories. I wore a pen around my neck. I went to college.

In my first attempt at college -- in Moorhead, Minn., some 12 years ago -- I was particularly fond of writing letters and so managed to stay in contact with Papa better than I ever had or have since. In one of his letters back to me, he told me that he thought I was a pretty good writer and that he hoped I'd do something with it some day.

And I thought back to that pen set.

For the past several months, Papa has been in hospital -- unresponsive and in an existence that arguably goes against the wishes of his living will. On Wednesday, the family were all gathered in his hospital room, discussing with doctors the possibility of taking him off life support, of finally letting him go.

Then, click. Papa was there. He was slow. He was groggy. But he was there, suddenly talking for the first time in four months. The doctor started asking him questions to check alertness: name, date of birth, etc. Then he asked: what do you do for a living?

"Writer."

He's been retired for years, and hasn't been a sports writer for even longer, but the answer resonates with me. If he had been at his most lucid, I like to think that he wouldn't have answered differently. It's what he is.

These days I go around calling myself a writer (it's catchier than "Z-list foreign celebrity"). And much of what I am, and how I approach writing is inspired by him:
- Most notably, my policy on using profanity comes from him: "Sometimes it just fits."
- From him I get an admiration of (if not necessarily adherence to) athleticism in writing: removing cliché, unnecessary adjectives, etc.
- And from him I get the life lesson that the dumb option isn't always the wrong one.

The only person with a copy of my novel is my Papa. And the greatest compliment I've ever received about my writing came from that:

"I had to put it down," he told me. "It was so real, man. Really real."

The family gathered in Papa's hospital room sat and chatted with him for two hours, exhausting him with any questions they could think to ask, almost fighting with him to not go gentle. Everyone but my brother and I was there -- Jon and I tied to our worlds hundreds or thousands of miles away -- and they all got to tell him that they love him. It tears me up that I wasn't there, too. To shout: "I love you, Papa. I steal all your ideas!"

If you call yourself a writer, it's one of those things you feel is imprinted on your soul. You hope that if there is a heaven, you will spend eternity wearing a little name badge with just that word on it: "writer." And if you give someone the tools of your trade, what you are trying to give them is the ironically indescribable something that means so much to you.

I don't know where that pen set is now. I think it may be in a box, inside a box, somewhere in my parents' storage area. It doesn't matter. I've got what my Papa was trying to give me.

Ladies and gentleman, the Dirty Waves!

Good name for a band: Dirty Waves

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Winning the hearts and minds

Quickly, a few things referenced in a pub conversation I had last night:
- George Carlin's seven dirty words
- According to a recent USA Today story, Tijuana's murder rate is considerably lower than I stated. It is now down to one person killed every day. And only two kidnappings a week! Book your holidays now.

The highlight of the evening was having someone look me right in the eye and tell me that she hated Americans. I thought only Germans did that. Our friends across the North Sea are perfectly happy to state things so bluntly*: "You are American? There are 27 reasons I do not like Americans. I will list them for you..."

I find that I get to spend a lot of time talking about America these days. More so than when I lived in Portsmouth, I think. The Welsh are particularly regionalist in a nation-state of regionalists. I've pointed out before how eager Britons are to illustrate their differences with other Britons living 10 miles away. In Wales, and especially within the Welsh-language community, with its multiplicitous dialectical variances, that mindset is intensified. A big part of any conversation in Welsh is where you're from. This applies to everyone, not just outsiders, and location is often very specific. For example, here is an actual conversation from last night:
SARA: "So where are you living now?"
ME: "Here. In Cardiff."
SARA: "Where in Cardiff?"
ME: "Oh, up in Danescourt."
MAIR: "It's not really Danescourt, though, is it?"
CHRIS: "The Danescourt station's, like, two seconds away."
MAIR: "But it's not Danescourt. That's across the road. He lives in Radyr Way."
ME: "No one knows where Radyr Way is, though."
MAIR: "I do."

And then a friend of a friend told me that she hated Americans. That's a little less common. Although it is exhausting to talk about where I'm from all the time, most people don't have that many bad things to say about the place. New York is lovely, Florida's lovely. Once met a person from Missouri, or maybe it was Kansas, or Idaho, or one of those places, and they were lovely, too. People have their criticisms, many of which are valid, but for the most part I don't run into too many individuals who stare at me and tell me that they can't stand me because of their perception of who I am.

I always feel stupid and false when forced to defend the United States. It's not a place I'm particularly proud of at the moment. But it's where I'm from, and in Wales, where location is identity, criticism of place is criticism of the individual.

I run into that criticism from time to time and I do my best not to respond to it negatively. Like a lot of things, it's usually misunderstanding. For example, it struck me that this girl didn't get American sarcasm. That's not to say that she doesn't understand sarcasm, but that she doesn't understand it coming from Americans. Sarcasm depends a lot on your understanding of the speaker. If you think of me as an ignorant, oversure ass-hole who revels in violence, you probably are going to miss the joke when I tell you that San Diegans take tremendous pride in the fact that their police force has the highest number of officer-involved shootings in the country.

Her question of whether I knew anyone who had killed a person reminded me of when I first moved to Minnesota and someone asked if we had cars in Texas.

But we all do that, I suppose. I have trouble accepting that French people can be funny. I base my knowledge of Germany on having met only eight actual Germans. And I sometimes find myself wondering whether people from North Wales are retarded**.

It worked out in the end, though. I got a hug as I was leaving the pub (the look on Chris' face when that happened was priceless). I'm winning the hearts and minds, one heart and mind at a time. I think the U.S. government should send me a stipend.

* I'm not the only to notice. It was pointed out in an episode of "The Simpsons" once. In this clip, a German is in a hostel, listing what's wrong with America. It is scarily familiar to an actual experience I had several years ago, when a German was telling me how the European Union would crush the United States.

**That's a joke -- put there because the majority of my friends here are Gogs (people from North Wales) and I'm starting to pick up elements of their insufferable dialect in my speech.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

War Story Shows American Way

My latest column is out. It walks a little close to patriotism, but I think it works OK. Yes, I did learn about the story from "Coast." Neil Oliver is my hero.

I'm trying to guess which angry e-mail I'll get first: someone upset at my jab at Texas public education, or someone from the Navy upset at my believing the British.

What the hell?

News travels slow to these parts, but what the hell?!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer school

Well, scrap the book idea, I think. I got an e-mail today from my university adviser that said: "Hey Chris, how's your summer going? I was thinking that a really good thing for you to do would be, uhm, actually learn Welsh."

I'm paraphrasing, of course. The e-mail was in Welsh and contained three words that I had to look up in the dictionary. I was informed that an intensive month-long course for intermediate speakers would be starting up on Monday and it was very politely suggested that I attend.

The course is for people who have had one year* of Welsh. I have been studying the language for nigh seven years. So, my first reaction was something to the effect of: "Ouch."

This Welsh experience is like a Howitzer to my ego. I don't yet know how I did in exams, but I can't help but think that it was thoroughly unpleasant if I'm being encouraged to attend intermediate courses.

But after thinking about it all day, I realise that I should not be pissing and moaning. One thing that I worry didn't quite come across in the programme about me back in May is that Cardiff University's School of Welsh has done a fair amount of bending for me.

A lot of people were eager to tell me that I wouldn't have had such a rough time of it if I had attended university in Aberystwyth, The Greatest Place in Both the Earthly and Heavenly Planes. But I can't help thinking that things might have actually gone worse.

Because here's the thing, this course that I will be attending costs a shitload of money. But thanks to the School of Welsh, I will be paying considerably less than the course's stated cost of £600 ($1,200). As in £600 less; they've offered to let me attend for free**. I should be grateful. And, if I'm honest, I am grateful. The School is -- for whatever reason -- trying to ensure that I succeed.

But I can't help feeling that twinge of, you know: "Ouch."

The course runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week (see what I mean about intensive), so that pretty much spikes my hopes of writing a book this summer. I'll try to work on it in the evenings if there's time (which there almost certainly won't be if this course has homework), but really I won't get a chance to touch it until August. I'll get two months then to work on it, but that won't be enough. So it will be shelved until Christmas break or next summer.

What I hate about this most is that awareness that I'm actually kind of a stupid person. Charmingly stupid, perhaps, but stupid. I knew that already, but it always sucks to be reminded of it.

*OK, true, that one year is a year of Wlpan, which is a super-intense course that gets people up to fluency.

**It's worth pointing out, however, that over the three-year span of my degree I will be forking over some £27,000 to the university -- compare this to a UK student who will be paying closer to £9,000. Those students are also eligible for grants and scholarships, which I am not.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Oh, hello

I feel disoriented. It's been a fortnight (FTYPAH: "two weeks") since my last exam and I seem to have gone into hibernation mode since then. I spent the first week of my summer holiday sitting on the couch. Occasionally I'd turn on my iPod, but for the most part I'd just sit, staring at the wall, not really thinking about anything.

I've spent this past week putting together a 20-page outline for a book that no one will read, either because they have no interest or because they can't -- the book will be written in Welsh. I'm writing it in Welsh so I can say really awful things about my parents without them knowing. No, I'm lying.

Ideally, said book will be completed (if not polished) by the end of the summer. I will then store it away with my other book that no one will ever read (the novel formerly known as "Drinking Stories") and it will serve as light amusement to my grandchildren.

Exams went OK. I am worried about how well I did on the grammar exam, but I am hoping they will award pity points, since I am retarded: "You can't conjugate the subjunctive, or identify an adverbial phrase, but your shoes are tied so nice and tidy -- you pass!"

I have been trying to catch up on reading other people's blogs. I am also at least telling myself that I will write to my friends that don't have blogs. I respond to stress (like, say, trying to earn a degree in a language that you don't understand) and new situations (like, say, moving to a new country to earn a degree in a language that you don't understand) by pulling inward. Now that I'm on the other end of this first year, I find myself thinking: "Gosh, where did everybody go?"

They didn't go anywhere, I just stopped talking to them. So, that's where I am at the moment -- promising myself that I am going talk to people and stretch beyond the 50-mile radius I've confined myself to since November 2006. And how are you?

FAQ: Why did you delete my comment? What happened to free speech?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

First of all, I am not Congress and I have passed no law. The first amendment is directed toward government, not individuals, companies, media entities, etc.

Secondly, nowhere in the first amendment does it say that you have a right to air your opinion on my blog, my newspaper, my television show, or any other speech outlet that I choose to employ. Nor does it say you (or I) have a right to be heard. Your right under the United States Constitution is to express yourself via your own means. You have a blog and I cannot and will not make any attempt to stop you from writing whatever you want on it. If you don't have a blog, start one -- they're free. My blog, however, is mine. I can, have and will delete comments that I find disagreeable. I don't even have to have a good reason.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lots of little places

One of the little thorns in my side of living in Britain is the fact that Britons tend to have a homogeneous view of the United States. A bit like people from New York City, they tend to believe that the great expanse of the country is the same from top to bottom, shore to shore. Meanwhile, they are desperate to tell you how completely different they are from the people living 10 miles down the road.

Yesterday's post about the Watson's girl, and Ordovicius' response got me thinking about regionalism in the United States.

If you live in the United States, what's something unique about where you live? Obscure is good -- if you can think of things that people from other parts of your state wouldn't know about, that's even better.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Midwesterners: Please help

Suddenly I can't remember the name of the furniture outlet that has that whore-like blonde selling hot tubs during Vikings games. I think she also does the same in Indiana. I don't actually NEED to know this, but it's bugging me that I can't remember.

EDIT: My dad reminded me that the woman is Jennifer Eichler, the Watson's girl.

Monday, June 18, 2007

9 foot tall when you're 4-foot-5

"Gossamer" is an all-too-underutilised word in the modern English lexicon.

On the train this morning, I found myself listening to "Just One of Those Things," by Nat "King" Cole, in which he suggests taking "a trip to the moon on gossamer wings."

Personally, I would prefer some good, sturdy wings for a trip to the moon, along with a not-so-gossamer space suit. But I suppose "a trip to the moon in a quality-assured spacecraft with a few extra tanks of air, just in case," would have been a bit clunky in the verse scheme. And, of course, then he would have been forced to leave out the word "gossamer."

I have decided that I want to work "gossamer" into my lexicon, similar to the way I have been trying to work in "stud duck." The problem is, these aren't words and phrases that are likely to fit perfectly in my normal stream of conversation. I have to create places for them and then it feels weird and forced. Like when I try to wink.

Cool guys wink. It's got a sort of old-word charm, does winking*. But when I make an attempt, it comes off as really creepy (case in point the last six seconds of this video).

I think about these things because I feel the need to create my personality. I suppose we all do that to some extent, but I tend to want to mimic people whom I am nothing like. I am caught between wanting to be a less-buffoonish version of Bertie Wooster and a skinnier hybrid version of my both grandfathers.

Both my grandfathers are from West Texas, but are unique characters in and of themselves (Microsoft Word tells me "in and of themselves" is bad grammar, but I can't think of how else to write this). If Papa, my paternal grandfather, were a fictional character, a literary agent would make me rewrite him because of his strange mix of West Texas and World War II/hipster slang. He'll call people "hoss," "stud," 'stud duck," "cat," "man," and "Jackson."

Well, I'm pretty sure I've heard him say "Jackson." It's possible that I am confusing him for Phil Harris, the jazz musician who most famously voiced Baloo the Bear in "Jungle Book." Before "Jungle Book," Harris was band director for Jack Benny's radio show (Jack Benny?! Cripes, there's an ancient reference. Perhaps in my next post I'll yammer on about the Nicholas Brothers**). On the show, Harris would often greet Benny by shouting "Hiya, Jackson!"

Papa has a similar voice to Harris. And when I was a boy, I had a dream that Papa and I were laughing and dancing in his living room to "The Bare Necessities." The dream was so vivid and had such a profound effect on me that it rests precariously on the verge of being remembered as an actual event. The only thing keeping that memory out of the "things that actually happened" memories box is the fact that I have at no other time in my life seen Papa move that much.

Perhaps my dad (who occasionally reads this blog) can confirm whether Papa calls people "Jackson." Of course, my dad's memory is just as bad as mine, so if he disagrees with me I won't believe him. If my brother and I were to suddenly stop calling him "dad," my father would soon be confused by these two young men who are always asking him for money.

Other things I'm certain I have heard Papa say are "love a duck," and "I'm just Jake." There are a few other phrases that aren't coming to me at the moment, all of which I have unsuccessfully tried to work into my lexicon at one point. The only identifiable character traits that I have from Papa are that we are both unnecessarily moody and keen to stubbornly ignore good advice.

Grumpiness seems to be the key character trait I inherited from my maternal grandfather, as well. Breezy, as he is known, is not above character creating. There's a great picture of him as a young man smoking a pipe, and he readily admits that he only smoked because he thought it looked cool. He has since modelled himself somewhat after John Wayne, but, unlike me, he is successful in character creating.

If you go to Hollywood and look at all the celebrities' names and footprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, you will see that John Wayne had shockingly tiny feet. He was probably, in fact, a rather smallish man, and my grandfather could have kicked his ass. Instead, I like to think of my grandfather as a sort of Stone Cold Steve Austin who doesn't drink or swear and who's really good at math (and this is the point where Anthony gives me shit for my man crush on Stone Cold).

One of my favourite books is Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," which I like for the same reason that a lot of people dislike it, in that it is a bit ridiculous in its machismo -- this good-looking roguish make-it-up-as-you-go, one-of-the-guys soldier who escapes death, is loved by women, plays billiards with counts and always gets it right. Whatever, bitches. It was Hemingway's book and if he wanted to write it that way, it was damn well his prerogative and it made him so great that they put his face on coffee mugs. Either way, when I read that book, I always put Breezy in as the main character.

I mimic Breezy most in my storytelling. If I tell a story to you in person, I physically hold myself like my grandfather. As my writing style develops, I find myself trying to mimic his use of detail.

Here's an audio clip of Breezy telling a story. If you can understand his Texas accent, you'll note that he provides a certain attention to detail in his storytelling. He gives the names of towns and people, tells whether a person is right- or left-handed, describes landscapes, gives the prices of various items and on and on. This particular story doesn't show it, but what's great about Breezy's style is what he leaves out.

For example, he will tell you a story about a car breaking down. He will tell you the make and model of the car, provide a summary of the car's overall performance, explain the exact circumstances under which the car broke down, what the day was like when it happened, where he was and why he had chosen that particular route, what exactly was wrong with the car, how long it took to get it to a garage, and on and on. Then, suddenly, the story will become streamlined:

"...and this old boy says to me, 'Mr. Cox, that's gonna be $10.'
And I say, 'Nah. That's too much.'
Well, we had a little talk about it and he decided he was only goin' to charge me $5."

Eh? Something really important is missing in there. This is Texas. The mechanic's got my grandfather over a barrel because he's the only garage for 100 miles. They have "a little talk." Suddenly the mechanic drops the price. What happened?

The omission of detail amid so much detail makes it a brilliant story, because it forces the listener to create their own explanation of what "a little talk" means. Maybe the two sat and haggled for 45 minutes; maybe the mechanic simply felt like being a nice guy; maybe my grandfather kicked that mechanic's ass (my preferred version). Either way, my grandfather has brilliantly told a story by forcing me to tell the story for him.

"Gossamer," though, is not a word that would show up in that story. It wouldn't even really fit my Papa's style, who I think is influenced by his years working in newspapers and public relations. Newsmen of the generation before mine are hardwired to treat adjectives as weight -- a story moves best when it doesn't carry them. On the rare occasion that Papa feels like telling a story, it can usually fit comfortably on a 3x5 card in 12-point font.

So, I am left to try to create space for "gossamer" in places where it doesn't quite fit. This seems to be my style -- a stumbling, incongruous amalgam of every little thing I know laid out in story form.

Uhm, was there a point to this post?

*I can't work "gossamer" or "stud duck" into my vocabulary, but strangely I have no trouble structuring a sentence like Jim Ross.

**They were fucking brilliant, by the way. That clip also features the ultra-brilliant Cab Calloway. It really speaks to the chasmic evil of racism that these guys weren't just overlooked but aggressively refused the audience they deserved -- 64 years later, that sequence retains a "holy shit" quality (extending from the ECW days; when a wrestler performs a particularly amazing feat, the audience chant: "Holy shit! Holy shit!").

Sunday, June 17, 2007

They're the posture posse

Here's a clip I found on YouTube that's pretty much for Eric exclusively. Do they still teach posture in schools? I remember Mrs. Turner constantly yelling at me to keep my feet on the floor.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Well that's just maddeningly unhelpful

Uhm, what exactly is this BBC weather graphic supposed to mean? "Tomorrow's weather: Partly sunny with occasional angry retribution from The Lord Our God. High of 22, with a Smite Index of 5. So a good day for a picnic, unless you've sinned recently, in which case you'll want to cover up."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eight Is Not Enough

My latest column is out and features the line: "Darling, your love is like the fine men and women of the United States armed forces."

Something else that happened on 12 June 1999: GW Bush officially announced he would run for president. It's a factoid that my mother-in-law, a hardcore Republican, can take solace in -- at least the day wasn't a total loss.

Point Anthony

In my last post I challenged Anthony to come up with 10 things about Italy that Americans should be thankful for. Here they are:

1) Bocce- fun for all, needs no athletic ability and can be played with a Moretti La Rossa in your hand.

2) Frank Sinatra- or should we thank organized crime for funding his career?

3) Pinky rings- masculine when worn by a 300-pound man named Vito.

4) DeNiro, Pacino, Pesci, insert any other Italian actor who starred in sterotypical mob movie that we all love and hate so much.

5) Kissing other men without it being considered gay.

6) That small area of most major cities referred to as "Litle Italy" - Where else can you buy 3 pounds of fresh mozzerella and a stick of pepperoni and it's considered a snack?

7) Great sports heroes like Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra and Rocky Marciano.

8) My grandma's lasagna- if you've had it this wouldn't even be a debatable point.

9) Radio Flyer red wagon was invented by an Italian- it was un-American not to have one of those as a kid.

10) And America itself- I will ignore some of the controversy and go with the popular belief that an Italian, Christopher Columbus discovered America.


No. 5 is my favourite. The points battle between Anthony and Dan now stands 2-2. I would award more points to Anthony for this, but that would be unfair since Dan only earned one point for losing everything in a fire.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Maybe there are two Chris Copes attending Cardiff University

A few days ago, I was contacted by a writer from Gair Rhydd, Cardiff University's student newspaper, who was doing a story about anti-Americanism in the United Kingdom. She asked me to comment about my experiences and I responded with a rambling e-mail that I later put into a blog post.

The story came out today and I am happy to say that I got a mention. Unfortunately, the story claims I am from Florida and has me saying something I didn't say:

"Chris Cope, a student from Florida, adds: “We are loosely confederated individuals. We share very little commonality aside from our participation in the State. Our social experiences are vast, our heritages unique, and our sense of ‘us’ is predicated on none of ‘us’ being anything particular at all.”"

The quote attributed to me is similar to something I said ("...the United States could be broken into hundreds of different little nations... But the 'melting pot' mentality still holds for us -- we are a single people because we say we are"), but far more eloquent. "Loosely confederated individuals," "commonality," "predicated" -- that's some fancy wordsmithery right there. I would never be able use "predicated" in the right context. Like "obsequious," it's a word I'd like to have in my lexicon, but don't.

When I first read the quote attributed to me, I thought: "Man, the guy who actually said that (presumably he's from Florida?) is going to be pissed."

But perhaps the confidence that comes from being able to use "predicated" off the cuff results in your not really caring whether student newspapers misquote you.

Or perhaps the quote was a logical extension of that British thing of repeating back to me things I've just said. British people seem to think that an American accent makes words wrong, so if, for example, I say that I'm going up to Bangor on the weekend they'll say: "Oh, you mean Bangor."

Yes, of course I mean Bangor. That's why I said "Bangor."

So perhaps the article's writer saw my quote and thought: "Oh, certainly he meant to use fancy words like 'loosely confederated individuals.'"

Or, perhaps there is another Chris Cope studying at Cardiff University and he is hella smart, yo.

I guess it doesn't matter all that much. The day after I wrote about my experiences, I found myself at Kalla Bella -- an Italian restaurant in Llandaf -- with our waiter going on and on about how much he loved America.

"America! I love it! I love it!"

I run into that reaction from time to time here and never really know how to respond. I usually just try to think of something good about that person's country: "Yeah, well, thanks to Italians for, uhm*, really good food and the state of New York, and running booze during prohibition."

*Point to Anthony if he can list 10 things that Americans should be thankful to Italy for.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Reminder

For those of you living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, remember that the mighty 3 Minute Hero will be performing tonight (Friday) at Bunkers and Saturday at Fine Line. If you don't go see their show the terrorists win.

At least she's honest

I got a spam e-mail today from "ericka," a "lonely russian girl" who wanted to e-mail me pictures of herself. As you do. Russia's main export is lonely women. This is why strange middle-aged men are particularly worried about this whole missile kerfuffle.

The thing that amused me about the e-mail from "ericka" was the address: nqgppjsb@fishing.every1.net. Phishing everyone. At least she's honest.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Yanqui pontification

Cardiff University's student newspaper wrote to me the other day because they are doing a story on whether US citizens encounter any prejudice over here. I was amused by my response and since they almost certainly wouldn't use all of it, I'll put it here:

"I personally have not ever experienced anything that I would describe as prejudice. Britons hear the American accent and it's an instant conversation starter. It sets me out as different but not too different. They tell me that they've been to Florida (seemingly all of you have, or are planning to go), and suddenly I've got a new friend who's buying me beer. No complaints.

Part of the reason for this is that the connection between the United Kingdom and the United States is much stronger and closer than most Britons care to admit. Have you ever been to Sioux Falls, South Dakota? There's no need, because it looks just like the Talbot Green retail park in Llantrisant, which looks like the Silverlink retail park in Newcastle. Cardiff Bay looks just like Mermaid Quay in Portsmouth, which looks just like the bay area in San Diego, California. This similarity extends all the way down to the individual: with the exception of the perception of America as a Bible-thumping nation, most criticisms of the United States can be applied to the United Kingdom. You are also consumer-driven over-eaters who enjoy making fun of Germans.

To some extent, the wide-brush perception of Americans that Britons hold comes from Americans themselves. In fact, if Wales is different from England, along the same ideological lines, the United States could be broken into hundreds of different little nations. I was born in Texas, which itself could probably be split into at least six distinct groups. But the "melting pot" mentality still holds for us -- we are a single people because we say we are. And to many Americans, members of my family among them, to suggest that all Americans -- all 300 million of us -- are NOT the same from shore to shore runs dangerously close to treason or communism or some other bad thing that they warned us about when we were kids.

The perception of Americans at the moment is a negative one, but it's a perception that's not entirely undeserved. In retrospect, Iraq has not been nearly as much fun as we thought it would be. And we show a frustrating lack of respect for the environment, dissimilar cultures and people without money.

All that said, I will occasionally spot a certain eagerness here to throw down the "The United States Is Fucking The World" card. George W. Bush is not Hitler. He's a silly man who makes bad decisions and keeps bad friends, but he is not the evil that Queen Street kids with clipboards would have you believe. And from time to time, I think that people have trouble hearing the words coming from my mouth because they hear them in an American accent. What they hear me saying is based on their assumption of what they'd expect me to say as an American. It is assumed that I am somehow incapable of understanding certain things because I know the lyrics to "Star Spangled Banner."

But I don't feel prejudiced by it. People will sometimes take the piss or misunderstand me, but I take it all in stride. You're only jealous because Jesus likes us more."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ish, Richard

What the hell is that? I hope the London Olympics committee didn't pay too much for it. Their graphic designer had clearly spent the weekend before making this watching "Fame" over and over and over.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Philosophy from grammar books

Spanish grammar fact that can be interpreted as a general statement: "Ideas are feminine."

Revision hell persists. Despite having at one time or another attended Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State University Moorhead -- it's always a sign of a quality institution when a university feels the need to re-brand), University of Portsmouth, University of Nevada Reno and Mesa College, this year is really the first time I have cared about the outcome of things.

So, this is my first real occurrence of revision stress. I don't have the experience of coping and knowing how much panic is reasonable. Obviously it's good to have a bit of a fire lit under oneself for these things. But at the moment I seem to be suffering pretty much every stress-induced ailment imaginable. If I were an old man at a supermarket, I would explain these ailments in detail. Suffice to say, I am a wreck.

Shit. How much time have I wasted writing this post?