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Saturday July 2, 2011

Drove to Boston to catch my flight. Belatedly realized that I fallen prey to a cunning bait-and-switch, as I had deliberately sought a flight on either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic in hopes of travelling in relative comfort. Upon arriving at the British Airways desk, however, i was made aware of the fine print on my Eticket that stated “operated by American Airways.” It was basically an American Airways flight from start to finish- I don’t see where BA factored in at all. Unfortunate.

I sat next to a British woman who looked like a cross between Patsy from AbFab and a failed MILF (late forties, bleached blond hair, leopard print pants, fringed white leather jacket, etc.). The sole screaming baby on the entire plane sat directly behind us, which seems like the sort of improbable thing that only happens in unimaginative mainstream comedies. On the bright side, i was able to enjoy the experience because my seatmate was much more annoyed than i was and i got to observe her escalating torment up close. My favorite part of the trip came when the child’s dad tapped her on the shoulder and said “excuse me- i just dropped a baby wipe under your seat. could you take a look for it?” I thought her head was going to explode. There is a useful lesson here- any bad situation can be made bearable or even fun if you can surround yourself with people even more miserable than you are.

Sunday July 3, 2011

Met Rachel at Heathrow around 10am. Her drink exploded in her bag on the way to the airport, rendering everything wet and sticky. On the train ride to her quaint suburb of Brockley, my left leg fell asleep and I was forced to navigate a staircase with one dead leg like some sort of lurching undead fiend.

Rachel’s new apartment is a vast improvement over her last one in every respect, but Brockley is not nearly the carnival of the drunken and the damned that her former neighborhood of Stratford was. I suspect my people-watching will be greatly impaired, but her housemate Yeliz helpfully suggested staking out the nearby bus stop at New Cross if I want to gawk at shifty creeps.  That is exactly what I want to do, obviously.

Went to the local Sainsbury’s to “do a shop.” i love foreign supermarkets- i could spend hours in them. This trip was kind of rushed though, so i contented myself with simply inventorying the various exotic cartoon mascots on British breakfast cereal boxes. Also, i did a lot of eavesdropping and had a great time doing it (i especially enjoyed hearing a dreadlocked crust-punk gush “oh my god- muffins!!!!”). Having just gotten off the plane, i was not yet desensitized to the wide array of accents being spoken. There are a number of them that i simply have a very difficult time taking seriously- i sometimes felt like i had wandered into an especially broad British sitcom. I would hear a laugh track in my head every time they said anything, no matter how mundane. Sadly, i am not yet at the point where i can identify which regional accents i find most hilarious. I need to work on that.

i strongly considered buying many bags of Monster Munch to carry around with me throughout my vacation in homage to Karl Pilkington (An Idiot Abroad), who brings them with him whenever he is revolted by local cuisine during his travels. Unfortunately, the available flavors (pickled onion, roast beef, etc.) are pretty goddamn vile and made me think that they should be avoided entirely.

The British seem to be lagging several decades behind the US in all things sandwich-related, despite the fact that ready-made sandwiches are seemingly available everywhere. My primary issue is that mayonnaise seems to be something of a required condiment, which is especially problematic given that i find it completely disgusting and inedible. Why not occasionally give hummus or pesto a try? They’re delicious! Also, the bread aisle at Sainsbury’s was hugely depressing, as it was about 70% devoted to variations of white bread (including loaves with the crust removed, which i sincerely hope is exclusively consumed by small children). Rachel grabbed some sort of seed-y artisan bread and suggested that we share it. i initially balked, then realized that i would have picked exactly the same thing because there was literally nothing else substantial available at all.

On the way back, we stopped off to visit Rachel’s friends Liz and Ollie in order to procure a pump for my inflatable bed. They were pleasant and intelligent- i liked them. At this point, i had been awake for over 30 hours straight, but i think i managed to avoid seeming especially deranged or incoherent. i was probably a bit too animated though and found myself using a disproportionate number of big words like “gentrification” and “Anglicized.” Also, i had no idea how to respond to the question “so what are you doing this week?” since my sole concrete plans were to skulk around Highgate Cemetery and go to an experimental music gig run by one of Rachel’s coworkers that I supposedly have loads in common with. I am an observer, not a participant- i don’t need planned activities, man.

Liz talked about how she just got a job teaching a class on feminist and psychoanalytic literary critiques and i impressed myself by not unwittingly saying anything dickish, offensive, or condescending about the endeavor. I would love to read the papers if such a class were taught for undergrads in the US though- they’d be brilliantly retarded.

When we got home, i wrote in my seldom-used journal for a while and discovered my Prague diaries from several years before. in re-reading them, i had the painful realization that i was much funnier and more interesting four years ago than i am now. i hate discovering visible signs of my steadily fading cleverness. It was still pretty entertaining to read though. I had forgotten that there was a Kafka-themed Segway tour of the city. I totally have to go back before that disappears. Franz would not have wanted me to miss that.

Given my crippling exhaustion, we didn’t plan anything for today, so we just spent the evening lounging around. i got to see an episode of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, however, which was pretty memorable. i had actually just heard about it a few weeks before in an interview with writer Jon Ronson- he had singled the show out as an especially damning milestone in the world’s intellectual and cultural decline.

Ronson’s problem with the show is that it essentially exists solely to point at another culture (travellers/pikeys/gypsies) and mock how fucking stupid and ridiculous they are. And he’s right- that is exactly what the show does. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that ridiculousness objectively runs rampant in that culture. in the episode i saw, an Irish lass (the appropriate slur would be “Pikey” here) set out to have a more spectacular wedding than the recent royal one. However, since no one wants a hundred campers filled with travellers descending on their property, it was impossible to secure a proper banquet hall. it ended up taking place at an animal shelter. Also, the bride’s dress was so large that she could not gracefully walk nor properly fit onto the horse-drawn carriage that she rented. And at the reception, most of the girls were dressed like strippers. Rachel said that there was an even better one about a first communion, as all the girls were still dressed like strippers, but were largely pre-pubescent.

In other news, Rachel is embroiled in a battle against moths, as they have been devouring all her sweaters recently. I had no idea that this was a problem that people still had in the modern world.

Monday July 4, 2011

We went on a day trip to Brighton, where rockers and mods famously battled in Quadrophrenia. Unfortunately, i have never seen it because i hate The Who (except for “the Kids Are Alright,” of course, which is among the best songs ever). Regardless, no similar melees erupted while we were in town. Disappointing.

Had a very tourist-y day wandering the boardwalk/pier, lounging around the beach, etc. The most notable thing that happened was that Rachel talked me into going on a ride with her called the Crazy Mouse. i did not get a chance to see it in action before our ride began, but it looked like a roller coaster and Rachel had told me that she loves it because it always seems like it is about to dump you into the sea. it was so much more than that. There is no way that i would have gotten on it if i had known what i was in for: the cars spun around crazily and took every corner at high speed, abruptly changing direction with a violent “ka-thunk.” I was sure that i was either going to die or throw up, but thankfully it ended after just one circuit of the track. I certainly yelped in genuine terror repeatedly though.

There was a large arcade on the pier that featured a “hurricane simulator,” which was essentially a plastic tube that people stood in and got blasted by a fan. Weird. Kids today are so fucking lucky.

The pier had its own very charismatic DJ (he sometimes sang along with songs he played) and he would periodically come on to warn everyone that seagulls are constantly lying in wait to descend upon them and their food. After the roller coaster ride, i happened to walk by the DJ booth with my lunch and got a shout-out live on the air: he gave his standard warning, then added “I’m looking at you, guy with the sandwich and chips!” It was super exciting. i thought about knocking on the door to the booth and asking him to autograph my sandwich, but my hunger overpowered my need for comedy.

I got way too many chips/french fries to possibly eat, so i invented a fun game with the surplus in which i tried to brain seagulls floating beneath the pier with falling french fries. It was extremely difficult to aim through the gaps in the wood and i never managed to hit one, but I did manage to elicit some very satisfying squawking and flapping.

Rachel got a cream tea at some place on the pier and we secured an excellent vantage point to scrutinize the passing summer fun enthusiasts. The oft-retro music and atmosphere made me feel like I was on some fictitious ’80s family vacation. I saw a lot of bad tattoos and a lot of chubby, pasty people showing too much skin. Also, we saw three very decrepit elderly women with walkers creep past us in single file, then congregate in a line by the bathroom. it was like watching a Diane Arbus photo come to life.

Sat on the beach for a while and amused myself by watching thrill-seeking teens jump off of a stone embankment into the shallow water. i was morbidly hoping that one of them would slip and perish with a horrific splat, but they were all pretty skilled at avoiding death. Also of note, the beach was composed entirely of round, polished stones, which produced an unusual effect: when people attempted to get out of the water, the undertow would drag the relatively frictionless stones out from under their feet. Younger people seemed to have no problem dealing with this phenomenon, but older people always seemed like they were trying to escape from quicksand, resorting to a desperate, crab-like scurry.

After the beach, we wandered around town and Rachel bought a bunch of cupcakes for her boyfriend’s birthday. We than hung around a large park surrounding a faux-Taj Mahal kind of building. I like lounging around large parks. Also, i dragged Rachel down a garden path after seeing a warning sign that stated that there was an “unguarded pond” nearby, as that sounded like an exciting and dangerous thing for us to investigate. It ended up just being a shallow pool with almost no water in it- just muck and some lily pads. Someone should have been guarding it, i guess.

I grudgingly took some pictures, as I guess I will want to remember that I went to Brighton when i am old and senile. I am extremely averse to breaking out my camera on vacation for a host of reasons though, the least of which is that i dislike looking like a tourist. Much more upsetting for me is the feeling that i am playing a predetermined part in a scene: “OMG- here is a picturesque building! i must now stop and be the five millionth person to take the exact same fucking picture to prove that i was here.” I am obviously aware that it is impossible to do anything original or unique at this point in history, but i like to avoid the feeling of being a human chess piece whenever possible. Also, i am a big proponent of “living in the moment.” If i am documenting something while it is happening, then i am not really experiencing it. Ironically, i also hate being incredibly boring and spouting predictable opinions, but i guess i just did it. Sincerity does not suit me at all.

unguarded pond