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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Half the Fun of Not Travelling

My latest column is out. My favourite part is when I refer to myself as a "wistful girl's blouse."

Also, I claim in this column that I am not being forced to sign statements of allegiance to Len Goodman. You'll note, however, that I conveniently left out the fact that I so totally would. Len Goodman should be king.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bram

I just learned that long-time blog friend Bram Davidson died suddenly a fortnight ago.

I learned about this from Kari and felt ashamed to admit that I hadn't heard earlier because I haven't been reading blogs in a while.

I've been wrapped up in my own little world -- that happens, I suppose. Then something tragic comes along to remind you that all the little shit is really not worth tearing yourself up over.

Yr hen ddinas

This city is only as old as the stories that are told about it.

I learned recently that Cardiff was established by the Romans 1,952 years ago. Nobody appears to have been keeping records before the Romans showed, so as far as we know Caerdydd (a) is the oldest city (b) in Wales.

You wouldn't really know that from walking around. On the surface, Cardiff often resembles St. Paul, Minn., with its relatively wide and tree-lined streets, architecture that tends not to date back more than 150 years and ample parking. It is a city that Welsh people, Welsh speakers in particular, are often eager to dismiss. This modern, always changing, historyless place; it's not the REAL Wales.

Of course, in fact, it is. Like the real Wales -- whatever the hell that's supposed to mean -- it's history is hidden.

European History courses in the United States would often be better named as courses in "Things The British Have Done," such is their focus. So, the facts and histories of this island are not too unfamiliar. Except when it comes to Wales. We learned nothing of Wales in the United States.

But then I learned the language of this place no one's heard of and it's slowly revealed a vast expanse of literature and history. It's like poking your head into the ground and discovering one of those enormous underground caverns that you could build an A380" in. It's an awareness that leaves me feeling a bit like Nada in "They Live," walking around knowing that all around me, practically coming up from the ground, and unseen to everyone else, is this different culture/history.

Cardiff is like that. Its soul is veiled.

There are former Roman sites dotted all throughout the city, but few are identified as such. The most amusing one for me is the Roman fort that lies opposite the Cardiff Bay Retail Park (FTYPAH: "strip mall"). Turn one way, you see Ford Escorts queuing at the McDonald's drive-through, turn the other way and you see the work of people who laid the foundation of Western civilisation.

Cardiff has the largest concentration of castles of any city in the world. But you'll only find two of them in any tourist literature, with one of those being a castle that was torn down and reconstructed according to Victorian interpretation. The others are crumbling, or paved over by housing estates.

There used to be dozens of canals through the city. Hundreds of miles of railway. Roads have names that reflect a history hardly anyone knows. The original Welsh name for City Road is Heol y Plwca, which refers to the fact that when it marked the boundary of Cardiff it was where heretics were hanged.

In contrast, this city welcomed Britain's first Muslims. It rioted to keep the Irish out. Its history is rich but almost wholly unknown by its inhabitants.

I was thinking about all this last Tuesday as I sat eating my lunch in what used to be a church graveyard but in the last year has been converted into a lovely little square with benches and trees. There is a straight, neat row of old tombstones on one side of the square. Having lived here a year ago, I know that they didn't used to be so perfectly aligned like that. Presumably the subjects of the tombstones are still in their original spots -- beneath the workers and shoppers and tourists eating pasties and pork sandwiches.

There's something about this city. It's a hell of an interesting place if you can find someone who knows about it.

(a) "Caer" means "fort," and "dydd" means "day." Calling the place Day Fort doesn't seem to make sense, so the theory is that "dydd" is a bastardised version of either "Taf" (the river that runs through the heart of Cardiff) or of "Didius" (a Roman bloke who was governor of a nearby province).

(b) I'm using "city" in the philosophical sense here, obviously. As a city, Cardiff is only 102 years old. FTYPAH, the British are anal in their use of words like "city" and "village" and "town." The words are not as interchangeable as they are in the United States; you're only what the Queen says you are.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In many ways, this is a picture of my soul

The embodiment of all that I strive to beThis is a picture of Jett, photogenic front man for under-appreciated Atlanta rock band Rock City Dropouts, found via the Flickr page of Lopez1.

If somehow my soul were able to jump out of my body, I would very much like to think it would look like this chap.

I am at once amusing and disturbing, scary and laughable. It's difficult to tell whether I'm taking myself seriously, whether I'm in on the joke, whether I should be befriended or avoided. From the quiet middle finger, to the bike that is flamboyant but not in particularly good condition, to the fact that he is roaming around in the daytime when all the normal people are at work: that's pretty much everything I feel inside.

Of course, if it were actually my soul, it wouldn't be so adept as to ever ride the bicycle -- it was just do that thing of of walk-rolling all over the place, yelling at pretty women. It also wouldn't be able to handle Jett's Pabst intake.

If it's not a picture of my soul, it is at least the physical representation of my ambition. In a philosophical sense, this is all I strive to be in life. It is all any man should strive to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oh, sweet irony

Here's a fun fact about the city in which I live:

In Cardiff city centre there is an old church that not many people pay attention to called St. John the Baptist, which has been there more or less since 1110. I say "more or less" because it underwent some major reconstruction after having been sacked by Welsh national hero Owain Glyndŵr in 1404.

Directly across the pedestrian walk from the church, no more than 15 feet from the church's main entrance, is a pub called... The Owain Glyndŵr.

Random memory of a really surreal thing that didn't seem all that surreal at the time

Here's an actual thing that happened in my life: Some 15 years and six months ago, Eric and I were in the Dominican Republic, wearing wool marching band uniforms, and several hundred people were shouting, "guapo," at Eric's brother. That's the sort of thing you wouldn't think I'd forget, but I had until just now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Swimming

I don't really have a nifty segue into this, but I was amused by this video, which was brought to my attention by Gin.

Life's been like that lately -- I don't have the mental energy/time for segues. I'm not really able to craft anything, which is why the blog has gone a bit dead. Any writing energy I have at the moment is going into my column for bARN, because they pay me, or my column for IB, because they give me a large audience. Well, a potentially large audience. In truth, the audience is probably no larger than that of this blog, which has yet to deliver those big advertising dollars (a).

But with life swirling around me, I am doing my best to still take notice of it. I'm not sure whether it's my notoriously poor memory or climatologic fact, but this autumn seems more autumnal than last year's. I don't remember golden sunsets and changing leaves and crisp nights.

Autumn is my favourite season, if not simply because it means I can start wearing long sleeves again. I have always preferred to wear long-sleeve shirts because they helped to hide the bruises from when Daddy would push me down the stairs.

No, I'm lying. My dad reads this blog and he's a very nice fellow who won't appreciate that joke at all. I like wearing long sleeves because I am a wiry chap and additional clothing gives me a bit of girth.

I think that last year I was wearing long sleeves by this point but feeling uncomfortable in them. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin last year -- that is my predominant memory of the period. Around this time last year, my large but shockingly unstable ego had crumbled to dust amid the challenge of what I had thrown myself into. I was so out of my league. With the BBC cameras following me around, I felt as if I was in some sort of ridiculous reality show -- a crueller, unending version of "Faking It."

It is fair and perhaps bordering on too kind to say that I was drowning last year. I kept waiting, and, in a way, almost hoping, for the day that I would get called into my advisor's office and he would say: "OK, look, let's be honest. This was all a bit of a mistake, wasn't it? Perhaps we didn't assess you correctly, perhaps you sold yourself a little too well, but I think we can agree now that you simply don't belong here. This is a university, and, really, you should be... well, somewhere else."

Things felt very claustrophobic. To carry on with the water analogy, it was like when Landeros and I would go to the beach on rough days (b). The waves would crest over our heads and pull us into them as they broke, spinning us, tossing us around and slamming us against the sandy grit of ocean floor. Amid that experience, one loses perspective. You focus only on getting your head above water and trying to turn and face the next wave. All other things disappear. I would be standing just a few feet away from Landeros and he would be shouting something at me, and I would be completely unaware.

My memories of last year are rarely of things that existed more than a foot away from me. I remember feeling that I looked stupid, I felt I sounded stupid when I spoke, I worried that I smelled bad, I lived in paralyzing fear that people could just look at me and see how ignorant I was.

But somehow I stumbled through and I'm back in it. Remember that episode of "Scrubs" when J.D.'s conscience manifested itself as an opera tenor who bellowed: "MISTAAAAKE"?

Occasionally that guy will still show up in my world and announce: "YOU'RE AN AAAASS," but, on the whole, things are improved from last year. My ignorance is still immense (c), but I feel slightly better able to deal with it.

So, I am occasionally able to look up and think: "Wow. Were the sunsets this pleasant, this life-affirming last year? Were the female students this pretty? Did the weather feel like this? Was all this happening around me?"

It probably was, to a large extent, and I just wasn't seeing it.

(a)Since I sold my soul and put advertising on this blog back in December 2006, the blog has pulled in a whopping $74, which, when converted to a currency that isn't plummeting, is just about enough for a packet of shortbread at Somerfield.

(b) Jim "Landeros" Landrith and I worked together on the morning shift at KUSI in San Diego. After work, we would grab several cans of Fosters and go to the beach.

(c) I'm not being charmingly self-effacing here; there are shit loads of things that I simply do not know -- the history of Wales, Welsh literature, Welsh culture, etc. Just about everything is new to me. Add to this the fact that I tend to struggle when it comes to interpreting poetry and my university experience is almost unbearably humbling.

Finally, one problem that New Orleans doesn't have.

"One approach has been to train bands of larger, more ferocious langur monkeys to go after the smaller groups of Rhesus macaques."

And then when they become a problem, we'll employ heavily-armed silverback gorillas

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Does Running So Far Prove?

Action shotMy latest column is out. My dad's favourite line is: "I love me some Powerade."

Unfortunately that line is a lie. They gave us Lucozade, but I felt it would slow the pace of the column to reference Lucozade and then have to explain that is a sports drink that is apparently for people who like to eat candy while running. Cripes that stuff is sweet.

I also didn't mention my time in the column, which was around 1:54. That's a few seconds more than I ran in Fargo a few years ago, but I'm not particularly bothered because I had been suffering a pretty bad cold in the week before. At the starting line I was still coughing like someone's granddad.

The run itself was enjoyable, winding from City Centre down to the Bay and then up into Bute Park. In my column, I make a bit more of Butetown than was actually the case. The boy I referenced in the column followed up his taunt with: "All day, my old son! All day!"

My guess is that he was simply shouting things for the sake of shouting.

Going up through Pontcanna was the best part, because there were people cheering us on in Welsh. My favourite supporter was a curly-haired girl who looked to be about 4 years old. She was jumping up and down and shouting, "Da iawn! Da iawn!" at the top of her lungs.

Unfortunately, the race was "organised" by retarded people, so the moments before and after the race were filled with frustration. I'll bet cash money that any one of the regular readers of this blog could have done a better job on just a day's notice than the mental midgets who apparently have been putting on this run for several years in a row.

Here's a question for you: If you had an event that some 10,000 people were attending, how many portable toilets would you have at the start line? If your answer is "more than 10" you are better qualified than the Cardiff Half Marathon fuckwits. All of the men simply pissed in the street. I saw several blokes making no effort to stand near a wall or bush or behind any sort of barrier. They were pissing in disdain.

The race ended within the walls of Cardiff Castle. There's a certain romanticism to that, but take a look at this aerial view of the castle grounds and tell me how many gates you see. That's right, two. Two gates.

So, here's another question: If you were using one of those gates to allow the thousands of people to stream into the castle grounds, that would leave you with how many exits? If one exit for 10,000 people sounds a bit silly to you, you are WAY ahead of the incompetent ass-hats that charged me £21 ($42) to take part in their clusterfuck. They were trying to use the other gate -- a space that is only about 8 feet wide -- to allow people both in and out.

Oh, but that's not all. They didn't ask the police to block off the road that runs in front of the castle. That left only the pavement as the method of dispersal. The pavement is probably 4 feet wide and on any given weekend (like this one) is usually crowded with tourists and shoppers.

Things came to a standstill inside the castle walls. Those of us who had finished the race found ourselves trapped -- exhausted, dehydrated, cold and not at all prepared to stand in a crowd for 40 fucking minutes. The child bride was close to fainting.

The organisers insist they'll learn from their mistakes, but these mistakes are so basic that they shouldn't have occurred. It's the sort of thing that may very well drive me to write a sternly worded letter to the Western Mail.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Random statement about me

I often compare my relationship with God to my relationship with Justin Timberlake. You know, if I were to run into either down at the pub, I would compliment them on what they've achieved and would ask if they had a clue as to what the hell's gone wrong with Britney Spears. I would be forced to admit to both, however, that I don't at the moment own copies of their work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

P.S. - I'm crazy

Actual e-mail received the other day:

I read with disdain,the ungentlemanly remarks about Prince William losing his hair to "male pattern baldness "and can not help but laugh at the ignorance and rudeness of the writer.He should be so lucky !!

I am aware that male pattern baldness is a sigh of virility,which the writer (Chris ?) does not have.Only a big mouth to make fun of others, about subjects that he is totally uninformed.

Male pattern baldness is a result of excessive testosterone which is exuded in the form of sebum, through the sebacious glands of the scalp. As this substance builds up , it chokes the hair shaft which in turn causes the hair to fall out, resulting in the death of the hair root,which culminates in "MALE PATTERN BALDNESS ". tHIS MAN WILL STILL BE GOING STRONG FOR YEARS, WHEN YOU ARE LAMENTING THE LOSS OF YOUR MANHOOD.

I suggest you get the facts before you start poking fun at others.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cheesecake 97

I think I've mentioned before that one of the more amusing elements of British university-campus fashion is their strange love of random Americana on T-shirts and sweatshirts ("hooded jumpers," for international viewers). For example, I often see faux-worn-out clothing promoting Minnesota kayaking clubs or non-existent Wisconsin colleges.

Thus far my favourite of these had been the shirt that simply said: "CENTERFIELDER." But today I saw one even better: a girl wearing a sweatshirt that said:

CHEESECAKE
97

I want to believe that it was an ironic shirt, that someone somewhere spotted this ridiculous trend and decided to take it to its ridiculous extreme. But it's so hard to tell sometimes.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Is America ready for the Secondhand Ska Kings?

The other day I saw Suggs advertising fish fingers ("fish sticks" for those of you playing along at home) on television, which elicited a howling response from myself and a sort of roll of the eyes from the child bride. She did this because she knew that no matter what she did, I was going to insist on telling her who Suggs was.

My head is a Rwandan minefield of useless pop culture references -- it is almost impossible to hold a two-minute conversation with me without my working in a joke about some person or band you've never heard of. I don't really have a good reason for doing this. When you think about it, it's a stupid way to hold a conversation. What's the point of a wacky reference to Phyllis Diller (a) if it is no more relevant to the listener than a reference to Valerie Bell (b)? But I can't help myself.

"Dude! Suggs!" I shouted, when I first saw the 2 Tone icon on screen.

After a bit of giggling to myself in such a way as to convey that I was thoroughly amused, but not so thoroughly that I would refuse to field questions about the source of my amusement, I decided that perhaps my wife hadn't heard me, despite her sitting three feet from me.

"I can't believe Suggs is shilling fish fingers," I said, being sure to annunciate.

The child bride knows that I pride myself on retaining useless crap information and I live to share it with other people. After a long pause and an exasperated sigh, she asked: "Who's Suggs?"

"Cultural icon," I said, happily, knowingly. "I suppose you could blame him for Gwen Stefani."

And that's pretty much ska in a nutshell, isn't it? Suggs and Madness took the Jamaican sound, Anglicised it, made it poppy and sold a load of records in the UK. The 2 Tone sound carried over to the United States a few years later and fuelled the early 90s ska revival that gave us No Doubt.

Now Suggs is selling fish fingers and Stefani is No. 4 on my List Of Women I'd Like To Keep In A Shed For Personal Use. Funny how life works.

But the point of this post is that sound: ska. These days it is all too often the sound of concrete basements and cheap beer; the sound of Welsh-language activists who are too untalented to master or develop their own folk music. But occasionally it will show up in an Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen cover and I'll grow all wistful.

Whereas interest in ska had ebbed elsewhere by the late 90s, it was the sound de rigeur of Midwestern college bands. It was easy to play and easy to dance to. The quirky/catchy Midwestern brand of 2 Tone was the soundtrack to my Moorhead years. And whereas I suggest that most modern purveyors of ska are crap, the ska I was listening to in those days was great. It was great because everything is great when it's in the past and because most of my friends were in ska bands. And as we all know, people who are in bands are cool; if you have friends who are in bands, you, too, are cool. So, I was great. Everything was great in Moorhead and I never wanted to leave.

Not really. But the music was good. Long-time friends of the blog will remember my tome to 3 Minute Hero, one of the bands of the time.

Anyway, a few years ago, guys from 3 Minute Hero and Suspect Bill and The Smoking Jackets decided to relive the good old days, when they could jump around on stage all night and not wake up the next morning with aching backs. They formed Secondhand Ska Kings and started playing gigs mostly to their ever-suffering girlfriends and wives.

Things have moved on a bit and these days they occasionally play to crowds of people with whom they have more than one degree of separation. Sometimes these people even give them money to play. As evidence of this big-time success, the band has released an album, Ale to the Kings (iTunes), and I think you should buy it. Here's why:

1) The music is actually good. What they've done for this album is something that's a bit different from what a lot of ska bands do -- they've practiced. You can spot this in the lack of chipped notes.
2) Four of the guys in this band have bought me beer. If you buy this album, they will probably buy me beer again.
3) The guitarist, Matt, once nursed me back to health when I got the flu. If you buy this album, you will be supporting the idea of my being alive. If you are one of my ex-girlfriends, you should buy the album anyway.
4) Trombonist Eric has been my best friend for almost 20 years, is a frequent commenter on my blog, and is the guy that everyone loved in the documentary about me. If you buy this album, you get to hear him implore a woman to "take that, take that skirt off."
5) The cover art is cool.

For the low-low price of $9.99 (less than the cost of a pint in many London pubs), you get 44 minutes of the good-time sound that was in part popularised by a man who now sells fish fingers.

Perhaps one day a strangely impossible-not-to-look-at beautiful girl will be inspired by the Secondhand Ska Kings and will produce music that is at once brilliant and insufferable. It's not that far off an idea. Matt's first band, Ten Cent Fun, is mentioned in the liner notes of one of No Doubt's first albums.

(a) Female stand-up comic whose career peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s
(b) Girl I had a crush on in kindergarten.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It goes to 11

It's a simple fact that some peoples are naturally cooler than others. Black people for example: on the whole, blacks (and especially in the United States) are so cool that it is almost a super power. They can make anything cool. Remember that fashion of pushing up one's trouser leg for no particular reason? That was ridiculous. In a strictly controlled environment, jacking up the leg of your trousers is a sign that you haven't figured out how to wear clothes.

But black people made it cool.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen black guys wearing silly hats and managing to pull it off. I'll think to myself: "Hey, I like silly hats. I wish I could wear a hat like that." But I know I can't -- not unless I want to get punched in the face.

That's life. I like to think that karma is somehow involved -- blacks have had to spend hundreds of years getting the short end of the stick (uhm, that's putting it mildly), so God gives them extra cool. Yes, I realise I've just mixed Buddhism and Christianity, but you get my point.

In race terms, white people rank pretty low in coolness. Within that group, of course, there are sub-groups and some white people are just naturally cooler than others. In the subsection of the British Islands, then, I think we can agree that the Irish are at the top, with the Welsh, unfortunately, left to take up the slack.

I'm sorry. I know my Welsh friends won't be happy to hear that, but it's true. The Welsh are a likeable and admirable people in all sorts of ways, but coolness isn't one of those ways. A country that posits Meic Stevens as a musical genius is not cool. End of discussion.

Since I'm also not cool, this is something that has never really bothered me. But now I'm learning Gaeilge (Irish) and the coolness of the guy teaching the course is off-putting. I'm not saying he could walk into the classroom sporting an Afro pick, but he at least has a Coolness Factor of 11, which is to say that he is cooler than the 11 of us taking his course.

This makes it difficult for us to learn his language because when we try to repeat what he says to us, it comes out all wrong and we feel stupid and totally lame for trying to mimic him. Then we go all quiet and think: "Oh cripes, I hope he doesn't eviscerate me with his notorious Irish wit. They're famous for that, these wily Irish. They can think of funny, brilliant and cutting things to say really quickly."

Well, at least, I think that. I don't know why the rest of the class is mumbling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Over The Falls In A Barrel

My latest column is out. Despite its headline, it is not about Britney Spears' career. However, it does contain a line that I'm sure Elisa can relate to: "Facebook is my chocolate pie."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Is America ready...

The other day I was watching Samantha Bee's "Daily Show" report on whether America is ready for a female president, and the thing that struck me was the fact that all the news orginizations were asking the same question in pretty much the same way, and how stupid this was.

Bee did a good job of pointing out the stupidity of the question by responding to it with stupidity (the best part in her report is when the feminist talking head breaks in mid-sentence to help Bee choose a blouse), but when you think about it, even the phrasing of the question is stupid.

By asking, "Is America ready for a woman president?" the question suggests that a woman president is a bad thing. Almost always when the phrase "Is America ready for..." is used, it is followed by something bad: "Is America ready for terroist attack?"; "Is America ready for a major flu outbreak?"; "Is America ready for the next Tom Cruise film?"

When is that phrase ever used for something good? When has the media ever asked: "Is America ready for more cuddly teddy bears?"; "Is America ready for a hug?"; "Is America ready for free Hostess Cupcakes? Can the nation withstand yet another onslaught of chocolatey snacky deliciousness?"