Ah, booty... my favourite name for pirate treasure. I may have zero money still but I've got a credit card and a free overdraft facility where you only pay interest on what you overspend. (You can fuck off and leave me alone now, Scum Of America. I cut up your card yesterday.) So I've been plundering the local merchants to enrich my meagre, portable stash of fun stuff.

Frank Black released a new album without telling me, and now I see why. I liked his previous solo stuff and loved what he did with his last band, The Catholics, despite an obvious move towards more tradional rock. Honeycomb seems to complete his slide towards middle age and unfortunately he just doesn't have the voice to carry off songs like At The Dark End Of The Street. Frankly, if I wanted to hear that I would have bought The Commitments. Can we have a new Pixies album soon, please? Everyone wants one and we're all gonna buy the upcoming live DVD of the tour I saw last year to prove it.

I picked up The Futureheads on the strength of comparisons to Franz Ferdinand (the record by the band of the same name, not the Austrian archduke whose assassination triggered World War I) but it's not very original or musical. So both albums are going back tomorrow. Next I'll investigate The Zutons, Kaiser Chiefs, and Saint Etienne's latest squeezing. If you know they're no good already, please leave a warning comment.

The saving grace of my inaugural shopping trip was a live DVD of David Bowie on his Reality Tour, featuring 30 career-spanning tracks. It's so good, I want to set up my dad's surround sound system before he gets back from vacation. Bowie even covers the Pixies' Cactus, so at least I got to hear one good Frank Black song that day.


This Is Vitruvius

The Da Vinci Code is finally out in paperback here and I'm finally reading it. I borrowed the large illustrated edition that I bought my mother for her birthday last year. (I play the long game.) It's not as large or illustrated as Helmut Newton's SUMO, which is so large it comes with its own four-legged stand. Apparently it was printed in The Vatican, the location of the only printworks in the world capable of handling the task with its history of over-sized Bible-making.

It's an odd read. I dig very much the mystery, the small cast of characters, the claustrophobic setting of the main narrative (I'm only 150 pages in, so that might change) and the educational aspect. The illustrations do tend to break the book equivalent of the fourth wall and give your imagination the afternoon off but, for the most part, a classic art philistine like myself gains more than he loses. The comparison of the two versions of Leonardo's Madonna On The Rocks was almost fascinating! Indeed, the art history lessons are the best thing about the book.

The downside to Brown's unwavering eye for detail is that he describes everything methodically, whether it's a salient plot point or not. He's either obsessive compulsive, showing off the depth of his research, intentionally obfuscating which elements of the story will turn out to be relevant or not, or - as I am beginning to suspect - meeting his publisher's word count. I've learned a good lesson for the short story I'm currently writing: there's a thin line between building a believable world using factual information and letting your drama become overshadowed by minutiae.

His choice of writing style - assuming it is a choice - reeks of consideration for beach reading. The chapters are an average of five pages long and seldom fail to recap previous events at their tops. The frequent four- to six-word paragraphs are no more than repeated iconic phrases, really and there are superfluous references to Robert Langdon's previous adventure that add nothing particular to this story. It's so ridiculously easy to read that it's starting to feel like an episode of Monk or Cracker in prose form.

"Messieurs! Ne nous deranger pas sous aucun pretexte." Langdon had hung enough NE PAS DERANGER signs on hotel room doors to catch the gist of the captain's orders. [They] were not to be disturbed under any circumstances.

There then follows a scene where the speaker in the above quote takes umbrage at being interrupted. Good lord! I don't speak French but I recognize "ne pas" as a negative and a quick search of the mental thesaurus throws up "disturbed" as a synonym for "deranged". Brown persists in immediately translating every single bloody French word spoken, even when they're phonetically identical to the English: "Prieuré de Sion" into "Priory of Sion", for example. I get it already! Stop making me feel dumb!

But it's certainly a page turner and I'm quite new to this kind of fiction so I'm willing to be spoon-fed in exchange for the thrill ride. Just like a T.V. whodunnit, there's no way I can quit before I get answers despite the predictable formulaity. Two characters so far have found themselves unintentionally imitating the stance of The Vitruvian Man (pictured above). Since Dan Brown "outed" Da Vinci as homosexual in an early chapter I anticipate a gratuitous sodomy scene before the book is done. You know... just to hammer the point home one more time. (No pun intended.)


Take Me To Your Dealer

Watch the clip before reading any comments.

Doctor Woo

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms...

- Into My Arms by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (1997).


Corny Dad Humour

When I'm not making dirty innuendoes I love me a good pun. Did you hear about the agnostic, dyslexic insomniac? He laid awake at night wondering if there was a Dog.

Failing that, gimme the kind of cornball humour I grew up with. Yesterday, father and I shovelled a ton (literally 2240lbs) of gravel back into a big bag and we wise-cracked back and forth to pass the time. Anyone dropping their eaves would have doubled over in pain, but we have an understanding that you can tell the absolute worst jokes in the world as long as you don't pretend they're any good.

Dad's teasing I'm less comfortable with. The same teases grate after the tenth time but he's 74 years old and doesn't always remember that he did the flab comment nine times already. Last night, I thought the honeymoon was over when I offered to set up his new multi-region DVD player. All I had to do was replace one component in his entertainment system but a bunch more connections fell out when I pulled the stack forward and I got in a real mess trying to put them back together again. I was frustrated with my lack of success because I sold and installed home A/V equipment professionally three student summers running (though that was ten years ago). "It worked before, son..." did not a happy Marcus make!

But I got coffee in bed at 0930 BST this morning and, still bleary-eyed, he dropped the following J-bomb on me:

"Did I tell you about the man I saw lying down eating the grass last week? I pulled over to the side of the road to see if he was O.K. and he said he was hungry. I told him to get up and come back to my place. He said, 'I've got a wife, three daughters, a son from a previous marriage, parents, a mother-in-law, cousins, grandchildren...'

"'Whoah!' I said. 'My lawn isn't THAT big.'"


Meeting People Is Easy

There was an Englishman opposite me in the bar at Dulles airport who looked like a friend of a friend. But I only met Bob once, five years or more ago, when the three of us went to The Comedy Store. Not surprisingly, I was mistaken. We chatted and swapped e-mail addresses anyway and he signed himself "Not Bob"!

Immediately after the announcement about what food would be served on the flight, a tall man with glasses and a sweater tied around his neck asked Laeticia, the flight attendant serving my section, if food would be served on the flight. I broke the ice with her by joking at his expense as she poured me a Coke. Later she made tea and we discussed accents. I thought she might be from Madrid because she sounded a bit like a friend's Spanish girlfriend, so I called it and I was right!

Later, I wandered the cabin to stretch my legs and bumped into Food Doubt Guy near the toilet. He was hesitant with me and, at first, I thought he'd heard us laughing at his dumb question but that would have been near-impossible over the noise of the engines. We talked casually in transatlantic accents (his was the more pronounced) but he was still looking at me funny. Then I thought I recognized him as Alyson Hannigan's husband, Alexis Denisof from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Physically, he was a match. He was dressed like he just came from a tennis club, which is also not a complete bust. The route we were on was one he'd be likely to take, and he wasn't in the cheap seats either. Plus, his awkwardness with me could be attributed to him thinking, "Does this person know who I am and do I really have to go through that now?" or "Come on... say you recognize me already and we can move on." But we were deep in that surreal mid-flight mental state, so I'll never be quite sure that he wasn't simply the type of well-to-do gentleman upon which Mr. Denisof first based his T.V. character, with an uncanny resemblace to someone famous.


Sweet Irony!

The best boss I ever had took me to lunch on my last full day in America because she couldn't make it to my going away drinking session. I would never have had the opportunity to transfer to the U.S. office if it weren't for her faith in me. She's "gone to bat" for me on issues both professional and personal. I can't say enough nice things about Monica. (Did I mention she's a hottie too? When I said I'd like to work under her again, the double entendre was completely intentional.) She brought four others to Guadalajara's with her: two married men from our old jobs and two single women she works with now. I ate chimichangas.

After lunch, I sent her my e-mail address and this U.R.L. I also kidded her for keeping her good-looking single friends secret from me for so long. One was more my type than anyone I'd met in a looooong time and, as we were eating, my right brain had had flights of fantasy totally inappropriate for Emigration Day -1. To my surprise, Monica responded with "she says you're her type too". Oh, headfuck! Did I mention I was about to leave the country for the foreseeable future, and Norfolk perhaps forever? Because I was.

Flashforward to The Winchester that evening and I'm talking to all my favourite people: my fellow immigrants, my musketeers, my dads-by-default, my music and smoking buddies, the waitress I'd crushed on since forever, friends who wouldn't date me despite my best efforts yet still turned out to see me off... it was a real rogues gallery. I was having a blast already when She Who Will Remain Nameless (Unless She Leaves A Comment) arrived and from that point on no-one else listed above saw very much of me! (Well, Justin got something from me but he closed his eyes like a gentleman should.) And I didn't hear one complaint. (Not counting Justin.) Now that's what I call support!

The world's so small these days and the future's so big that we decided to skip the tearful goodbyes. Why get sad about making great friendships, whether they be 12 months or 12 hours old? The irony of discovering the most compatible romantic possibility in six months was not lost on me but what's a boy to do? Hope I can spend more time with her when I'm sober some day? Sure. Dream a lot? Trust me, I'm on it! Laugh with me now, people, or I might have a tearful moment after all.

Start New Game

No airline seemed to be having the best day on Friday but me and Random Navy Guy Rob agreed the ground staff at Norfolk were maintaining grace under fire.

Not so in Washington for my connection with BRITISH Airways. The customer before me asked if we'd begun boarding and got the response, "You can see the line over there." How does someone having a bad day think being rude is gonna make it any better? Unfortunately it's symptomatic of a well-recognized British trait: terrible service stemming from a lack of respect for the customer. It doesn't happen every day, but it's widespread enough not to be a surprise when it does. This is my number one anticipated buzzkill on returning and I thought it had started early, but Smoking Flight Attendant told me it was a Dulles phenomenon too.

I ended up in the Economy Plus section (halfway between Economy and Business Class with three separate controls for each seat, no less!) because it was the only space left after I was switched airlines. So I won't complain about the bitch at the gate that gave away my assigned seat to another customer in front of my eyes without telling me anything about the problem she was trying to fix. As she busied herself with pen and paper I fished the same out of my bag and noted down some details from her I.D. badge. Of course, I never intended to do anything further with them but she did start to pay me better attention after that.

God knows I'm not singing every single day and to expect everyone I meet to act like they're on top of the world 100% of the time would be quite pathetic of me. But I have zero time for attitude any more; it's self-indulgent and counter-productive to a happy life. I want to keep intact my faith in mankind to be civilized, which was heavily reinforced by the people I met in Virginia. I smiled right back at the sourpuss who sold me my bus ticket and fazed her big time. I think this is going to be my new game!

A final example of my insufferable cheerfulness: Overseas & Overweight Student and I waited an hour at the baggage carousel but no cigar. (No bags either.) Impatient people were all around us, somehow misconceiving that being miserable makes your bags come faster. My luggage was damn heavy and I still had 100 miles to travel, so when we had to file claims I was more than happy for the airline deliver it to my door at their expense instead. (When there was no news 24 hours later, I got a little antsy that my only wordly posessions not languishing in storage had been lost but I have them now. I love it when a plan comes together!) Lost Baggage Desk Woman joked that I should repeat my reaction so she could tape it, and on the way out Carousel Monitor Guy said, "I wish all our customers were like you." What can I say? I rock so hard.

Top Five Reverend Horton Heat Songs

Guess whose greatest hits I listened to on the plane?

1. Martini Time (1996).
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?
I lost my job for no reason or rhyme
But I got two olives and a couple of limes
I guess that means it's martini time!

2. Baddest Of The Bad (1994).
I'm the baddest of the bad since you been gone
I'm the baddest of the bad since you been gone
I lay around here and I just drink beer
I'm the baddest of the bad since you been gone

3. Bales Of Cocaine (1993).
Bales of cocaine falling from low flying planes
I don't know who done dropped 'em but I picked 'em just the same
Bales of cocaine falling like the pouring rain
My life changed completely by a low flying plane

4. Sue Jack Daniels (2000).
I'm gonna sue Jack Daniels for hitting me
With the trunk of a big ol' live oak tree
He hurt me this morning with the bright sun light
I'm gonna sue Jack Daniels for what he did to my face last night

5. 400 Bucks (1993).
400 bucks! 400 bucks!
And you don't give a fuck about my 400 bucks!!


Eagle Eye Has Landed!

The whole journey took about a day including to and from the airports (overlooking the five hours time difference) by the time I reached my new temporary home of Bristol, U.K. I still have a tall tale or two to tell about my last days in the States and the characters I met en route but this here thing is my first impressions of being back.

No matter how prepared you are, quitting one life and starting another from scratch alone in unfamiliar territory is no piece of cake. So it's great to be back once more in the house where I grew up - a house requiring zero introduction and zero set-up. I took the National Express (like a Greyhound but less seedy, my American friends) from Heathrow and the view was full of reassuring images: green fields alongside the M32 with grazing cows, the monument on the hill where we partied all night aged seventeen, the city skyline with its historical buildings and balloon rides in summer... I vowed for the hundredth time to never again live anywhere as small or disconnected as Norfolk.

I can't believe my dad and I are getting along so well. When I was a teenager and he was a frustrated 50-something in an unhappy marriage and a body that was beginning to fail him, we once argued and didn't speak for six months... I guess we've both been through a lot and grown up since then. I find his presence comforting. He told me his father gave him his first cigarette when he was fifteen (though he smoked already), asked me if I wouldn't mind only smoking outside (he doesn't anymore), bought me traditional fish and chips for my homecoming meal (a bit greasy for my taste but inarguably appropriate) and downed half a bottle of Seagrams's with me last night as we watched his new favourite film, Troy. (You know you're dog tired when the caption "Port Of Sparta - Greece" reads "Sorta Part Of Greece".)

I haven't sweated profusely in at least 24 hours, my hair is straight and manageable again and I even felt the house was getting cold last night. Yay, yay, yay! And hey, don't English people talk funny?!


In-Flight Entertainment

Here's two things that don't happen every week. One: I'm moving countries. Admittedly, this has happened before. I'll see you on the other side as soon as I finagle me some net access.

Two: Kurt Vonnegut is a guest on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart! (Page down, do something else for twenty seconds while they pay the bills, then enjoy.) The clip called "Heavy Vetting" is pretty spot-on too.


Actual Housekeeping

Cleaning's never been one of my favourite pastimes so I was relieved to hear I'm gonna be billed for professional cleaners anyway - meaning I don't have to polish everything before I vacate.

I didn't pack much yet but today I've trashed around eight bin liners' worth of stuff I don't need any more. I'm keeping the sentimental stuff, natch, but half a dozen boxes of supposedly useful stuff that I brought to the U.S. has remained packed for the last 15 months begging the question, "how much of it do I really need?" And since I'm the one paying to get my stuff back (the company paid to bring it over), literally everything but my music collection is getting re-evaluated. I'm enjoying the symbolism of throwing away the past to make a new start too!

Erika had the bright idea today to sell the small items I'm leaving behind to donate to a hurricane relief fund. Bless her cottons. (Socks, people. Socks!)

KitKat was right with her comment. I finally replaced the light bulb and then my In-Sink-Erator (the garbage disposal) went "Glrrlrrlrrlrrrkukukukhh!", followed by a low hum for two seconds, followed by silence.

Drink Yourself Stupid

I'm not big on cocktails. One alcoholic drink in the glass at a time is usually enough for me. (I know that's not the dictionary definition but one liquor and a mixer doesn't seem worthy of the term.) So when My Two Dads took me out to Empire on Sunday, trouble was most definitely on the cards.

I usually drink 7&7 here and will miss it when I go. Tall glass = very refreshing! So it was an easy leap to the Rusty Nail on the menu. I say "the Rusty Nail" like it was singular: don't be fooled. Dan continued to make them for me at home, though apparently it should be Dewar's and Drambuie in a 1:2 (some sites say 1:3) ratio and we were making 1:1. Oops!

Around 4am, we decided to call it a night. We had all been slurring for while, yet for some reason this hadn't deterred us any. I was to be walked home - only 4 or 5 blocks - but we didn't get very far before falling over. As if by magic, the ugliest policeman in the world was right there on the scene, which sobered me up a leetle bit. Somehow we managed to convince him, from our seated position on the sidewalk, that we didn't need help or arresting. I made it to bed but the room was spinning. I think I was still drunk yesterday, and this morning's hangover bears that out.

P.S.A.: Do remember to drink responsibly. When you aim for that, sometimes accidents happen and you end up with a night like mine. If you aim to have a night like mine, well... it's your funeral!


Teach Yourself Spanish

I'm having fun reading my own site in other languages. Hit the Japanese flag in my sidebar to reveal the words Babel Fish doesn't know. Everything translates to an entirely new character set except the slang and pronouns, which stick out like sore thumbs.

My English vocabulary's quite good and I also have a basic qualification in Latin. Together, these skills have helped me survive in many foreign countries without speaking a word of the local lingo. Context helps, naturally: when you're in Spain and you see a store with "Electrico Domesticos" above the door and washing machines in the window, you don't need to be C-3PO to know what's going on. Anyone capable of reading my sidebar might find the following translations raise a smile, because they did with me:

¡Bing De Bada!
Un Australiano Oblicuamente
Negro Franco
El Doctor Who
Tomates Putrefactos
Espía Del Torrente
Tapa Cinco Todo

Being English, I never took foreign languages seriously at school. Well... when was I ever going to need one?! As soon as I have both the time and the money simultaneously I plan to enroll in Spanish classes. That New Year's resolution from 2003 may yet come true!


Digital Housekeeping

I have 167.5 hours left in the country. I'm taking suggestions of how best to use that time, and also for a new blog byline. "Research notes from an alien in America" isn't going to cut the mustard for much longer.

I just realized all my blog images are on my personal webspace and will disappear when I finish with this I.S.P. I'm looking at Gigashare and other free image hosters. Anyone use Flickr and have issues with it? While I can, here are a couple of amusing images: I was sent the first in the aftermath of the London Underground bombings, and the second relates to Hurricane Katrina... or does it? Survival humour at its finest.

Who are the Digital Freedom Alliance? Several recent movie downloads have borne their logo at the start. They clearly have a pro-piracy objective but I can't find a website for them.

Update 2005-09-10 12.28pm EST: I've added Babel Fish to my sidebar so you can get the lyrics from the previous post in the "original" Italian, should you wish. (Flag #6, numb-nutses.) Il vostro girlfriend è un tostapane!

Battlestar Operatica

I was compiling a 101 for a friend who wants to start watching Battlestar Galactica when I came across this nugget about the music. The Season One composer added a number of vocal pieces to the themes established in the mini-series. One includes the following lyrics, sung in Italian:

Woe upon your Cylon heart
There's a toaster in your head
And it wears high heels
Number Six calls to you
The Cylon Detector beckons
Your girlfriend is a toaster

So, the guy who did the score over a year ago implied that Baltar is a Cylon. I'm not Italian, I didn't hear it myself, and I'm not pretending musical cues are canon. But surely he had to have some kind of brief before he could start work?

Update 2005-09-10 11.48am EST: Evan is my go-to guy for cult T.V. in the same way that I'm the go-to guy for people who know much less about it than I do. You'll find us discussing each new episode of Galactica the following day at his site, Heimlich Maneuvers. Don't EVER leave spoilers. He knows where you live! And, if you've not yet converted, well that's twenty fewer uninteresting posts to wade through here. You're so lucky!

Bada Bing!

I downloaded several bogus and damaged files before finally finding a low bit-rate copy of the most recent episode of The Sopranos. I think it's legal to download T.V. shows because they're broadcast for free in the first place and you're allowed to record them, to watch later or loan to friends. If anyone knows for certain, please comment!

The Sopranos was the first H.B.O. show to take an unusual profession and subvert it - the undertakers in Six Feet Under who can't deal with their own father's death, for example. Johnny Soprano died in the first episode and left the "waste management" business to his son and brother to run together. Twelve episodes later, the family was split down the middle by his manipulative widow and main characters had started to wear concrete galoshes. I'll never forget Uncle Junior crying in despair, "Cunnilingus and psychiatry have brought us to this!"

I don't know what went wrong but for the next few years the trademark plot twists began to leave me cold. I guess the domestic stories took precendence. A gang war with Johnny Sac and the Brooklyn family has seemed to be on the horizon for two season finales in a row now but, in season four, the dramatic coup instead turned out to be that Tony's wife kicked him out of their house and, in this episode, Johnny was arrested by the Feds quite out of the blue. Surprising? Yes. As satisfying as The Godfather-esque blood-letting I was expecting? Hardly.

That being said, each episode still has enough going for it in the performance and direction departments to feel like a mini-movie. Steven van Zandt makes me laugh so much as Tony's consiglieri that I miss half of what he murmurs. He had no previous acting experience but you might recognize him from his day job in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band! They've also had Joe Pantoliano and Steve Buscemi as series regulars, plus Peter Bogdonavich and Robert Loggia as guests. Talentless crap this is not.

They're filming a sixth season now. Allegedly, James Gandolfini's temper tantrums aren't helping progress or morale. In one, he punched glass and filming was halted while his hand healed, meaning most of the work-for-hire crew didn't earn wages for weeks. In the positive column, there may now be a seventh season. Either David Chase never really had a five-year plan and will keep the show going for as long as it's popular or... no, I was right the first time. But if it stays low on Meadow and A.J. content and high on Paulie and Silvio, I'll keep watching.


Roll Call

The knock-on effect of being unexpectedly cut off from Baltimore was the prospect of an eternity of free time in a place I never planned to spend much at all. I sought therapy to keep my mind out of the doldrums, and I'd highly recommend it to anybody with time to kill and co-paying health insurance! The new friends I made were very patient with me.

Kirk: You're not exactly catching us at our best.

Spock: That much is certain.

- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1987).

Kyle gets his own paragraph here, for taking it upon himself to be my surrogate Dad. Every seasonal excuse for a get-together, I felt like part of the family. At Thanksgiving, there were eight at the table and four of us were "displaced". The food was fantastic and there was plenty of it. I've learned much about rolling with life's punches from Kyle, and you need to see him with his daughter to believe it. Every time I make the mistake of talking down to her she surprises me with some smart comment that should be impossible from a five year old - excluding the paranormal. Someone get Kyle a "Best Dad Ever" mug, now!

Lest I forget, a roll call of local souls that went that extra mile for me at one time or another would look a little something like this: Joe, Brad, Evan, Kendrick, Erika, Tiffany, Gina, Hannah, Jen B, Jen S, Abbi, Eve, Monica, Pam, Mike, Alicia, Chuck, Tim, Justin, Trevor, Ross, Dan, Abner, Lisa, Laura, Ashley, Courtney... which is not to slight in any way the many co-workers not listed individually here, the bar staff that know your name and your drink on sight, the owners at Subway who last week introduced me to a new member of staff as "one of our best customers", the mall baristas... oh, the baristas! I can't remember what I was saying now.

To friends!


Touched By His Noodly Appendage

With full deference to Shocho for one well-crafted parody already today and to Kathy for the link, I proudly present... The Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Could I be the last person on the planet to hear about this? Some bright spark called Bobby Henderson submitted an open letter to the Kansas School Board in June, protesting their decision to give equal study time to Creationism (a.k.a. Intelligent Design) alongside Darwinism (a.k.a. Evolution) in Biology classes. Minority board members have allegedly expressed their support and bought t-shirts. I'll take a print of the Michelangelo above, please!

This Is Narcissus

I was trying to demonstrate how my hair, normally light brown but dyed black four months ago, has grown out into a peculiar rainbow. There's black, dark brown, a reddish brown from who knows where, my natural colour and now grey. No job interviews this summer meant I could let the experiment run its course and this is the result.

Unfortunately here I just stepped out of the shower and the effect doesn't come across, making this one of my lamer posts.


Labor Pains

or The Baltimore Fiasco
or Son Of Marcus Whines A Few Bad Ugly Dollars Again
or Old Brown Shoe
or Je Suis Le Chef Du Zaire!

Yesterday was Labor Day. The holiday weekend started with some large generator on Bachman Turner Overdrive outside my window at 0730 on Friday, either shredding documents or making Soylent Green until the offices opened. What was worse, there was no new episode of Galactica. No wonder I was grouchy! I re-awoke later and exercised my right as blog overseer to delete the whining. Funny how being under-rested can seem like a crisis at the time.

Holidays here get me down, not least because (as has been well documented) my private life leaves a lot to be desired. It's funny how expectations shape your experience. If I came to Norfolk expecting it to be my entire existence, I dare say I wouldn't have been so resentful of its limitations all the freaking time. Indeed, my first six weeks here were as happy days as I can remember. I played soccer in the park at lunch and I even liked the weather. Then I got a phone call from Baltimore saying that half the whole reason I came here, my on/off girlfriend since 2001, didn't want to see me any more. Nuts!

It was a time of great change for both of us but I was still living out of a suitcase and it all felt like forward momentum to me. Naturally, her reasons were valid but her decision was a complete surprise and there was no ultimatum and no chance to make amends. I tried for a long time, but someone else had her ear already and it's clear now that I'll get no support or compassion while that remains the case. That two people who had so much in common don't even communicate any more is retarded.

Let's be clear: some days the ground she walked on was holy and other days her A.D.D. would run my nerves ragged. We both had doubts and talked of things we wanted to improve between us. But I was really looking forward to finding out if we had what it took to make it all the way, and not even trying after all our patience and preparation still dumbfounds me. I've been through the whole gamut of emotion about it and, in the end, I'm simply sad and resigned. A friend recently coined the phrase "The Baltimore Fiasco" and it seems like the most economic way to refer to the whole mess. Until the other side wants reconciliation too, the situation is firmly on the pile of stuff I can't do anything more about. "Je suis le chef du Zaire," as the Belgians say when their best-laid plans go awry.

Ultimately, the big question has to be "would I have still come here if I wasn't expecting so much from the experience?" The answer's yes, of course. It's been a singular year and you couldn't pay me to do it over, but I've learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. I've quenched a thirst for new experience. I've dated with some success. I've learned that the grass isn't always greener. I've lost weight, though that's probably more through malnutrition than exercise! I've enjoyed the congeniality of strangers and validated my theory that civility is not outdated. I'm comfortable with American culture, should I ever come back. I have a whole new appreciation for things British that I took for granted before. Going home is going to involve a lot of teasing about phrases I've picked up but should otherwise feel like putting on a comfortable old pair of shoes. Perhaps most importantly compared to a year ago, I am free of doubt and know better than ever what I'm looking for from life. Not a bad return on a year's investment. Funny how it all seemed like a crisis at the time!

If this saves me some awkward conversations when I get home, that's gravy. Comments are always welcome but I don't expect any. Implicit here is that if I later get that sinking feeling you get when you've sent an e-mail you shouldn't have and edit this text to within an inch of its original meaning, then you don't make too much of a fuss about that either. Ta!



"Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together."

- Producer/director/performer Mel Brooks.

"Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away from them and you have their shoes."

- Ann Brashares in The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants (2001).