Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cardiff is for lovers

There is more to the story of English Major.

I finished my overpriced tea and walked over to the library for a bit of tedious Welsh-language post-modernism. It is a genre that annoys me in the Welsh medium. I think that is because it didn't arrive until the late 80s, which is about when most people elsewhere were starting to think that postmodernism was dead. Welsh-language culture has a bad habit of jumping on the band wagon only after the wagon has actually stopped and been abandoned. Grunge is scheduled to take the Welsh music scene by storm next year.

The library and the humanities building are within a stone's throw of each other, separated by a small green area with trees and shrubs and a wee hill that seems to be the exclusive domain of cute girls when the weather is nice. In the library, I found a study area near a window and was able to look down and see that English Major was still out there with his Chinese yo-yo: swinging it around his leg, popping it into the air, dropping it and having to chase after it into packs of passing students.

Eventually he grew tired of really only being able to do two tricks, packed the yo-yo into his bag (if you guessed olive green over-the-shoulder bag, you guessed correctly!) and started to head off. But a group of girls called down to him from the first floor (FTYPAH: "second floor") and clearly asked him to perform for them. Man of my own heart, he set down his bag and started at it again, this time trying to pop the yo-yo up as high as the girls' window.

Appropriate to my earning-a-Welsh-degree nature, I felt a twinge of jealousy toward English Major. I wished I had some kind of talent that would cause girls to lean out a window and call to me. Damn it, why did I never learn how to Chinese yo-yo, or play harmonica, or do anything impressive? The closest thing I have to a talent is my ability to (poorly) imitate James Hetfield.

Pop into the air, around the leg, around the leg, pop, pop, around the other leg. The girls clapped and then closed the window, turning their attention to the class inside.

They had stopped English Major directly in front of a bench, the occupant of which was a red-haired girl who had been poring over a book that looked overly large and boring even from 50 feet away. She smiled at him and laughed at some little joke and he decided to keep at it with his Chinese yo-yo.

I went back to my reading. Occasionally I would look out the window and see that English Major and the red-haired girl were still there. She tilted her head and smiled at him.

If you look out for it, you see this sort of thing a lot on a university campus. All the stages of love play out in front of you in looks and glances and smiles and hands held and hugs and kisses. A university campus is filled with that, and so many of its occupants bumbling madly foolishly through it. Love is so desperately fragile, and yet so often we run at it with lumbering intensity, as if we are riding a piano down a flight of stairs: Love me! Crash! Thud!

Here, though was the gentle stupid beginning wrapped in the golden late-winter sun. It was like watching a film.

English Major and the red-haired girl talked for about 50 minutes. She laughed. She played with her hair. She held up her boring book and said with body language, at least, that she would much rather be talking to him. He kept at his Chinese yo-yo. The greatest challenge of talking to a girl is knowing what to do with your hands.

Eventually it was time to move on. He put the yo-yo back in his bag, gave that silly floppy-hand wave that is more an excited and nervous "thank you" than "goodbye," then turned and walked away at high speed, trying not to look back. Looking back would be uncool. He walked in the wrong direction -- opposite of where he had been headed before talking to the red-haired girl.

She put her book in her bag, got up, looked back in the direction English Major had gone, and then started walking toward the library. As she passed under my little library window vantage point I could see her face clearly. She was grinning.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Only slightly improbable

I woke up this morning in probably the best mood in weeks. Partially this was a result of the evening I'd had the night before -- getting to see your friends drunk can be fun, especially when they excitedly run around talking to everyone in the bar and dancing to music that can't really be heard -- but mostly my mood was brought on by a dream I'd had.

I dreamt that aliens came to Earth and this somehow resulted in a huge interplanetary soccer match being set up. The match was held in Mexico, because the country had expressed a willingness to ignore all kinds of health and safety issues for the sake of knocking up a stadium that would hold 300,000 spectators. The northern and eastern sides of the stadium were built into a hill, so thousands more gathered outside. From my vantage point, looking up into the smoggy Mexican late afternoon, there were acres and acres of people and banners extending forever into the haze.

My vantage point was from the field. I was on the team that had been selected to take on the aliens.

The aliens were large black creatures. Ebony black, about 7 feet tall and with heads (or possibly helmets) that looked a bit like the big water cooler bottles, they were particularly adept at defence. On offence they tended to be a bit slow and unwilling to put too many players forward.

Things went back and forth and the waves and waves of humanity that extended on all sides were going mad. Above the pitch hovered a massive spaceship that was beaming coverage of the match to its home planet and I could somehow feel the billions of earthlings who were watching in homes and pubs worldwide.

Before the match, Earth had been tipped to lose horribly, so we were in a good mood moving into the 90th minute, having held things to a 0-0 draw. We were given two minutes of extra time, in which the aliens suddenly decided to mount a major attack -- moving forward all but two defenders.

The crowd (and myself) were shitting bricks, but then suddenly I came up on one of the aliens and took the ball from him, popping it with my left foot behind me and to my right, to Wayne Rooney. The two of us broke up field, Rooney drawing one of the defenders, and sending the ball back to me. I stepped around my defender and took a poorly-judged long-distance shot at goal. Instantly I regretted not carrying the ball further. What the hell was wrong with me that I would have only a goalie to deal with but choose to kick from 30 yards out?

I watched the kick roll toward goal, clearly going wide of the net, and the goalie confidently walking to pick it up. But at the last second, the ball hit a divot in the pitch and jumped right, catching the goalie totally off guard and sailing into the centre of the net.

The whistle blew and suddenly I was being carried around the pitch. I looked up into the brown smoggy sky and it was alive with people and banners and flares.

"Point to the people in the shit seats," Rooney advised. "They love that."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Displaying an unsettling abundance of useless knowledge

In barber shop Wednesday, with Red Dragon FM playing in the background:

Woman Cutting My Hair: This is tha' ... wha's 'er name? Lil Kim, innit? The one wha' died, i'n she?
Me: It's Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopez. But you're right that she died. In a car crash.
WCMH: Tha's the one. Only, she died in a plane crash, though.
Me: No, it was a car crash. Aaliyah died in a plane crash.
WCMH: Oh, tha's right, love. You're good at this stuff. You should go on one 'em shows on the telly, like.
Me: A quiz show on the tragic deaths of celebrities. Not sure how that would go over.
WCMH: Ha, don' make me laugh, love. Got a razor in me han'.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

OK, that's more like it...

As if to make up for the intelligent kids of last week, standing outside the humanities building Tuesday was a bloke with one of those Chinese yo-yos that are the staple of a music festival, renaissance faire, cannabis legalization rally, or any other event where long hair and a goatee are the look de riguer.

This bloke was relatively clean cut, though, wearing the internationally recognised uniform of the English major. I'm not really sure what an English major is called in the UK; they don't tend to use the word "major" when referring to university courses of study. But you probably know the look: sport coat or velvet jacket, T-shirt or untucked frumpy dress shirt, corduroy trousers and trainers (FTYPAH: "sneakers"). Often the look is accentuated with an oversized scarf worn in such a way as to not actually be all that warm.

This is video of a bloke doing Chinese yo-yo tricks. English Major wasn't nearly that good, although he had mastered the around-the-leg trick seen 14 seconds in. Perhaps the chap in the video is an English grad student.

English Major was stood just outside the main entrance of the humanities building, sort of half-performing for the steady stream of students moving to and from their late-afternoon classes. His being there struck as a statement on what a degree in English is actually worth. Doing a bit of Chinese yo-yo was a CV-enhancing activity.

As someone earning a degree in Welsh, I appropriately stood just to his right, quietly sipping my tea and wearing a look of disdain as I thought: "Typical arrogant bastard -- showin' off like tha'."

I Need Miss Texas' Help

My latest column is out. It contains an edit that makes no sense to me.

In talking about my university experience it says: "Consequently, I am struggling. Despite my ability to start a sentence with la-dee-da words like 'consequently,' I feel I'm just not good enough to be here."

But "consequently" is not the word I had there. Originally I had "hitherto."

"Hitherto" means "up to this point," whereas "consequently" means "as a result of;" so the meaning of the sentence is changed and it makes me seem like a person who thinks "consequently" is an obscure word.

Ah, well. I'm not arsed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Holding on for Reading Week

About a week ago, Cardiff experienced a series of days that were brilliantly sunny and unseasonably temperate. People flooded from their dreary brick confines to just sort of linger in the spring-like warmth. In this country, it takes at least a week to get anything done (I am still waiting for my student loan cheque to be converted to pounds sterling -- I endorsed it on 11 January), but people respond to good weather instantly. As soon as the pavements (FTYPAH: sidewalks) are dry they are milling about, with at least a handful of the chavs doing their best to pretend that they are, in fact, in Magaluf -- stomping around in shorts and T-shirts. It speaks to the priorities of the British peoples, I think:
- Good weather = important.
- Getting things done in a timely fashion = not so important.

Anyway, I was sitting outside the humanities building last week, sipping a cup of overpriced tea, when I noticed a group of students who had found a choice spot in the sun and were lazily drawing on the pavement with chalk. Then, in eavesdropping I heard one of the guys mention pi. I looked at the chalk drawings and realised that they were equations. These students weren't drawing pictures of doggies or cars or breasts, as I would have done, they were in the midst of high-minded discussion. In their free time, on a brilliant spring-like day, they were doing equations.

"Holy shit," I thought. "It's like I'm on a proper university campus."

It was almost as crazy as when Llŷr and Steffan started working on poetry in the pub. This thing of intelligent people actually being intelligent and doing intelligent things not because they are being tested or building toward some mind-numbing career but because they simply enjoy using their brains -- that's weird, dude. It's foreign. It's kind of scary. It's yet another sign that I am totally out of my depth here.

By now the weather has gotten cold again and the forecast calls for a big front of depressing and crappy to move in as the week wears on. It helps in terms of concentrating on the lectures that I am trying to assimilate, but I still feel woefully behind. I am only four weeks into the spring semester and drowning.

And that's why I haven't blogged in a week.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Random question

How does Superman shave? He is impervious to needles and bullets and nuclear explosions. One would assume that no matter how many blades you slap on a shaver it would be useless in keeping the Man of Steel looking good for the ladies.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I amuse me

Earlier tonight, talking with my dad on the phone, I found myself observing: "Anglicanism's founding principal is effectively that Anne Boleyn was a smokin' hottie."

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'm afraid this bagel is burning my flesh

I was born in Texas. You might have picked that up. And in Texas, from the moment we take that first earthly breath it is drilled into us that our state is the best place, with the best people, ever. Indeed, the indoctrination may begin sooner -- it is not at all hard for me to imagine a cowboy standing and screaming Lone Star patriotism at my mother's stomach. That famous scene in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" is factually based.

I'm more mature now, I've seen a little of the world; I realise that Texas is not actually better than every place else. There are some places that, in their own sort of way, are as good as Texas -- for example, Minnesota and Wales.

But having said that, it's important to remember that no place is better than Texas. Any persons having the audacity to claim otherwise are not only intolerably arrogant but an insult to intelligent people everywhere. This fact is at the heart of why I do not like New York City (a).

Natives of that city haven't a fucking clue about the rest of America. They don't even know where we are -- a New Yorker once looked blankly at me when I told her I was from Minnesota and said: "That's down near Idaho, isn't it?"

No. No it is not. Neither Idaho nor Minnesota are "down" from a New York perspective, and they are only near each other in the way that they are not near China. How massive is the distance that encompasses Minnesota and Idaho? How many millions of square acres does it contain? It is a fucking great huge chunk of the country and she doesn't have a clue about it.

Yet New Yorkers bill themselves as being all you need to know about America; everything that is America lies within the five boroughs and any venture beyond is academic.

My mind fires when I think about NYC and all the things I don't like about it. The deep insult to my Texas core is too much for me to handle, I suppose.

I was thinking about all this stuff on the train Wednesday, mumbling angrily to myself like a mad man as I bounced toward Cardiff Central station. I was thinking about it because I was going to be interviewed for Welsh-language television and was psyching myself up to take a stand.

I was being interviewed for politics programme "CF99" about the Super Tuesday results. The interview was to be held in Cardiff's New York Deli (b). I was OK with that. Although I have always refused to go there because if its name, I realised that it made sense to do an interview about U.S. politics in a place that had lots of U.S. flags. Admittedly, when the producer had told me where he wanted to do the interview I had blurted out, in English, "I'm not from New York," but that's not what was eating at me.

What I was mulling on the train ride into town was his suggestion that he would film me eating a bagel and drinking a Coca-Cola.

Now, generally, I want to be an easy interview. They pay you to do interviews in this country and I would be happy to build a reputation as someone to turn to when the Average American opinion is desired. I am eager to please -- how else would I have once found myself wearing a baseball cap ('cause it looks American, see) and sitting in a tree (never understood that bit) reading a Welsh dictionary for the sake of a South Wales Echo photographer? (c)

But a bagel and a Coke. No. I couldn't do it.

First off, would you do that sort of thing to anyone else? If you were interviewing someone about Irish politics, would you give them props of Guinness and a potato? But even that I could get beyond. You know, I'm American but I'm speaking Welsh. My accent when speaking Welsh doesn't really betray my being from the United States, so, you know, it's nice to have visual clues. Otherwise I'm just some bloke.

And the Coca-Cola I could handle. It's an international beverage. In my head I associate it as much with soccer as anything else.

The bagel, though...

Just thinking about it, I could feel my soul dying. I don't have a great deal of shame. I will lower myself to all sorts of things. I am no man of high principle. But I will not be filmed in a New-York-themed deli eating a quintessentially New York foodstuff.

Thankfully, the issue never came up.

When I got to the deli, the producer bought me a cup of tea and set up for the interview. No Coke. No bagel.

Maybe the deli doesn't have bagels. Maybe he picked up from my "I'm not from New York" outburst that I wouldn't be keen. Maybe he thought better of it. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had, in fact, been taking the piss -- Welsh people have their own experience with being put into silly boxes.

We went through the interview and, with the exception of my stumbling in trying to pronounce "dychymyg," I was pretty happy with it. Although, when it aired, my words were at times difficult to hear because someone had confusingly chosen to add a sound bed of "America" from "West Side Story."

Being associated with Puerto Ricans -- Yeah, I'm fine with that.

(a) Or, to a lesser extent, California.

(b) My aversion to all things NYC aside, it actually looked like an OK place and the woman who ran it seemed really nice, so I will go to the trouble to tell you that it can be found in High Street Arcade.

(c) Thankfully, that picture, and the story that went with it, never ran.

Agreed, but which part exactly do you think is weird?

Overheard in Cardiff University cafe:

Extremely high-maintenance-looking girl talking to friend as they walk past me: "...and she said, 'I've never had it up the ass,' and then ran off screaming. It was very weird."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How The Super Bowl Looks Abroad

My latest column is out. If you read my blogging of the Super Bowl, the themes will be familiar but they are better fleshed out.

My favourite part is the observation that: "rugby... is what football used to be before being taken over by figure skaters. American football is so laden with rules and technicality that is at times more performance than sport. Yes, I realize you need to be fit to run really fast and catch a ball, but is it a real test of mental and physical capacity when you're allowed to stop every 15 seconds and do the Charleston?"

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fourth quarter

EDIT: If you're the sort of person who likes to read in chronological order, before reading this post first go through these:
- First quarter
- Second quarter
- Halftime
- Third quarter
- OK, now read the post below


15:00 - Sweet Jesus Joseph and Mary. I am so tired. I hate the NFL. Why am I forcing myself to watch this game?

14:52 - They're showing "celebrities" now, including Frank Caliendo. Is there anyone in Britain who knows who that guy is?

13:53 - Hey Bradshaw, run it into the pile.

13:12 - Hey Bradshaw, run it into the pile.

11:50 - Hey Bradshaw, run it into the pile.

11:05 - Touchdown. 10-7 Giants. I will never understand what the hell "play action" means. I love seeing Tom Brady look miserable. Tom Brady is great for me to poop on.

10:59 - Eli Manning looks like a 17-year-old boy. A really stupid 17-year-old boy. If I saw him at Starbucks, I would walk down the street to another Starbucks because he would be the sort of person to hand you a cold hot chocolate.

9:36 - I am so tired. I have been watching this game for three days.

9:20 - The San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints are the teams playing in London in October. How shit is that?

8:21 - Why do the refs have tight athletic shirts? Is that really necessary?

4:12 - I'm disturbed by Sterling Sharpe: "Randy Moss is a very cute route runner."

2:42 - Now 14-10 Patriots. I hate Randy Moss. I hate him. I also hate that for the last 20 minutes there have been less than 3 minutes on the clock. What day is it? Where am I?

1:26 - I think it's May now. Please send help.

1:04 - Holy shit. That was the best play ever. Manning shook off a certain sack then threw into hardcore coverage to get down the field some 20 yards. Almost certainly he will fumble the next snap.

0:51 - Or get sacked.

0:35 - Holy shit. A proper comeback. Now 17-14 Giants. It's like a football game that's actually worth watching. A Super Bowl that lives up to its hype.

0:29 - I am going to be pissed if this game goes to overtime. For the love of Pete, let me sleep.

0:19 - I love seeing Tom Brady get sacked!

0:01 - That's game Hendrix. There's still a second left on the clock and I'm surprised NFL rule mongers haven't forced everyone off the field for the sake of kicking the ball. I don't care. I'm going to bed. It is 3:07 a.m.

Third quarter

15:00 - I am so tired. It's 1:40 Why does this game have to air so late? They could have scheduled it to air at noon on the West Coast and it would have aired at a reasonable time in the UK. I hate you NFL.

14:26 - Did I mention I want to kick Dick Stockton in the teeth for his "New England, old England" comment?

11:00 - Again I find myself annoyed by NFL rule-mongering. Some guy is 6 inches from making it off the field and the Patriots throw a red flag. Ass. Hat.

10:22 - That ref has a certain show choir nature in his hand signals.

8:36 - Hey Maroney, run it into the pile.

7:18 - I love seeing Tom Brady get sacked.

6:43 - If you're only leading by 4, why would you not try to kick a field goal? Patriots are cocky tards.

5:22 - Hey Bradshaw, run it into the pile.

4:00 - That trick never works. The hail Mary pass is only successful in films. Why do they insist on doing that stuff?

3:12 - Randall Gay has got to be the suckiest name ever. His name is a description: randy gay.

3:04 - False starts are lame. Get rid of that rule, too. Who came up with all these crap rules? It's as if the whole thing was laid out by figure skating judges.

0:14 - Again with the false start nonsense. I'm happy to see the Patriots screw themselves, but this is so lame.

0:06 - Tom Brady looks like he's going to cry. Maybe I should kick him in the teeth.

Halftime

- I just thought of that "New England, old England" comment again. Cripes, I want to hurt that guy.

- When I used to live in Ballard Hall on the campus of the learning institution formerly known as Moorhead State University there was a guy across the hall who would play Tom Petty really loud when he and his girlfriend were having sex. It was disturbing. Seriously mind-scarring. Needless to say, this halftime show is taking me to a bad place.

- Does Tom Petty have different songs? Or are they all the same song with pauses in between?

- Do they really need monkey men in front of the stage? I'll bet a fair amount of money that all the people allowed on the field to be Tom's audience have been security checked to hell. There's no need for stage security.

- At the end of the halftime show, the English guy on the BBC's colour commentary team said, dryly: "It's about half past 1 in the morning back in the UK right now. I'm sure the fans back home are really glad they stayed up for that."
I love this guy.

Second quarter

- It's 7-3 Giants now. Didn't Laurence Maroney play for University of Minnesota? Presumably I could Google that information, but I won't. Where's Eric when I need him? Or Dan? Or Anthony?

- The NFL will play another game in the UK, apparently. They were just promoting the thing and the American commentator (Dick Stockton) said: "The British fans love the Patriots. I think because the word 'England' is the title -- New England, old England."
I want to kick that guy in the teeth.

- I want to kick Tom Brady in the teeth, too. But that's just for being Tom Brady.

- For fuck's sake. If the NFL were to outlaw celebration dances by defensive players this game would be over by now. Just play the damn game. I mean, a defensive player is supposed to defend. If he does defend, he's doing his job, which he is paid a bajilizilimon dollars for. I want to see normal people pumping their fists and jumping about when they simply do their job. The next time I take a taxi somewhere, I want the driver to get out and make six-shooters with his fingers every time he successfully navigates a roundabout.

- Now the announcers are kissing Randy Moss' ass. I definitely want to kick them in the teeth.

- When those of you playing along at home go to commercial, we watching the BBC get a collection of colour commentary guys including former Oakland Raider Rod Woodson. There's a random English fellow who clearly thinks that Tom Petty is the most crap Super Bowl entertainment ever. I'm inclined to agree.

- The BBC guys just described NFL football as "basically rugby league with two fewer players." Yeah, I hate rugby league.

- I sure wish these defensive players would celebrate more. They should stop mid-play to celebrate.

- How many people does that stadium hold?

- Remember "Jock Rock"? Whatever happened to playing "Rock n' Roll Pt. II" before everything? Now that I think of it, I've heard no ridiculous background music during this game. Phoenix is dropping the ball, yo.

- Way to go, Giants. Run it into the pile.

- Randy Moss looks like a homeless man. If only.

- Why can't you bat the ball? Who the hell cares if you bat a fumble? This game has too many rules.

- Good name for a band: The Illegal Bat

- They just promoted the NFL in the UK again. You wouldn't have thought that the words "British Prime Minister Gordon Brown" would be all that hard to say, but Dick Stockton pondered over them the way my dad stumbles over Welsh words. Immediately afterward, Stockton had no trouble saying: "Oh look, Pamela Anderson."

- Tom Brady looks like a Disney teen film version of a quarterback.

- Dick Stockton: "I think at this point the Patriots know they are in a game."
It would be funny if they didn't.

First quarter

I'm up and watching the Super Bowl tonight and blogging it because... uhm... I can.

I haven't watched or paid attention to NFL football since the last Super Bowl, so I've spent the first quarter paying attention to the various rosters. Junior Seau is still alive?! Randy Moss plays for the Patriots? And I thought it was impossible for me to hate them more.

After a weekend of watching Six Nations rugby, I'm having trouble getting into this. When the ref called pass interference I was baffled. What? That's pass interference? He just sort of stuck his hands out. You can do that in rugby. And then rip his head off.