Thursday, August 21, 2008

Something is going on

It happened again.

Washington D.C. has a lot of people living in it. It also has a lot of dogs living in it. Because of how ratios work, you'd expect that moving from a place with a few people to a place with a lot of people would also indicate an increased number of dogs around, and you'd be right. This is a perfectly rational thing to expect.

What you might not expect is the increase in the rate at which these dogs digest. Well, maybe not the rate. I'm not saying the city is slathered with a layer of dog shit - quite the contrary, in fact. In a city with such a high population density, it wouldn't be surprising to see piles of unclaimed dog shit disconsolately moping about the sidewalks. In fact, it's surprising that you don't see it. DC apparently puts a lot of effort into keeping itself clean, whether with roving bands of street trash collectors or harsh littering and dog shit-disownment laws.

No, litter (biological or otherwise) is not the issue. The issue is that every single time I have seen a dog in this city, it has - without fail - been engaged in the act of shitting.

I am not exaggerating in any way. The occurrences are frequent and well-documented. I'll be walking along the sidewalk, and there, some thirty yards in front of me, is a single adult, apparently completely sane. He is staring expectantly at the ground. He is obscured from the waist down by a newspaper box or trash can. I wonder what he's paying such close attention to - if he just dropped his phone down a sewer, or maybe his toddler is taking its first steps. It's his unbreakable attention that draws me in - people who look bored might as well be invisible to me. But these people are never bored, at least in public. He is rapt, and of course I have to see what's going on.

As I near the point of no return, I notice a small plastic shopping bag in his hand - the kind of bag someone might carry after buying a packet of two Advil from a drugstore. The leash is never visible at this point. Just as the angle is shifting and I start to see around the trash can, a faint breeze kicks up and the bag drifts sickeningly with it, far too easily. I can see that it's empty, but of course it's too late. Big or small, every dog strikes the same pose: hunched down yet on tiptoe, its butt sticking out, frozen. It looks like the Pope who realizes, halfway risen, that someone has left a large wad of gum on the seat of his throne. Back arched like a cat's, there is an expression on the dog's face that very clearly conveys the sentiment of "Take a picture; it lasts longer." It's an unpleasant scene to view, much less be involved in, but the owner doesn't bat an eye. He stands there for the entire production, staring unflinchingly at his own personal logging industry.

The scene is one that has become grotesquely familiar, but (cruelly) only in retrospect. For some reason I am unable to recognize the danger until after it's too late. It doesn't help that variations have started to spring up. Now and then an entire family will be in the audience. There are two dogs, presumably engaged in some sort of competition. This dog is merely pissing.

The fact that the city is not awash with dog shit leads me to some troubling conclusions. The dogs in the city clearly don't have freakishly active metabolisms. Kayleigh suggested that something about my presence is the cause, and I'm having a hard time disproving that hypothesis. The fact that the act is in progress before I arrive is immaterial - everyone knows dogs have an acute and long-range sense of smell. Is there something about my personal scent that serves as a fast-acting canine laxative? I don't want to go to any lengths to verify such a theory. Despite the lack of effort on my part, however, the evidence is piling up.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I return in glory!

Now that I've been back in the US for almost 3 days, I can safely say that I was right in saying that our change sucks. The coins are so damn thin. Also, it's impossible to know what kind of change you'll need to make an exact purchase because of sales tax. I don't mind paying the extra 7.9% or whatever it is; just include it in the damn listed price, please.

Props to Apple once again for providing excellent customer service and freaking me out at the same time. I brought my laptop into get the lip of my slot-loading CD drive fixed so that it would actually allow CDs to pass through its maw - the Apple guy first told me that such cosmetic (bah!) damage wasn't covered by warranty and to replace the entire bottom casing would cost over $600. After dropping this shot of reality like a pigeon over a Ferrari, he watched my internal sputterings with pleasure for a few seconds before suggesting that he take it into the back room and try to fix it with Manly Tools. After about 30 seconds he returned with a fully-functioning CD lip. I wonder if it's company policy to begin by presenting the worst-case scenario and then slowly suggest more appealing alternatives, or if it was merely a technique he used to stay amused at work. In either case, Tom was happy to seek revenge on the Apple Store staff for their amusements by asking questions at them about speculative HD-DVD/Blu-ray compatibility and watertight keyboards.

Re: the posts below:

Avril Lavigne - I actually saw her recently in a movie - she surprisingly turned up in a role in Fast Food Nation, as an artfully disillusioned college-age PETA-wannabe, and was very believable. Who knew.

London economy- According to the illustrious Tim Kidd, the City of London (its financial district; the rest of it is technically Westminster) is actually the world's largest and richest corporation, with something like £2 trillion moving through the city every day. Yowza.

Friday, May 4, 2007

I was just resting my eyes

I suppose I should reassert my sovereignty over this blog before I'm overrun by a certain diminutive proletariat.

My time on this strange island is indeed coming to a close, and I've spent the past couple of weeks engaged in wrapping-up activities, like finals exams, final projects, final papers, packing, and combining strange food remnants together into meals that Chef Frankenstein might have prepared had he been equipped with a foreboding kitchen rather than a laboratory and had he actually been a chef.

Things I'll Miss About London:

1. Change: I'm talking about coins here. I was originally wary of any country that would affix value to an object with seven sides - every American knows that heptagons are not to be trusted. Americans who watch the Daily Show also know by now that their fabulous dollars are worth only a paltry half a pound, and that despite this massive advantage, above a certain price Londoners are still content to pay generally the same number of pounds for something that Americans would pay in dollars - £8 for a paperback book that runs $8 in the States, for example, or £9 for a movie ticket. Below the threshold of £3-4, however, the pound suddenly remembers its weightiness, allowing me to bask in the glory of 50p sodas, delicious £2.50 falafel, and giant mangoes at 2 for £1. Normally these prices would be merely reasonable, but since British coins include £1 and £2 denominations, a pile of change is suddenly useful for something other than packing into a sock for use as a crude bludgeon. There's a deceptively thrifty feel to paying for an entire meal with the coins you dug out of that tiny extra pocket in your jeans that isn't useful for anything else. I just hope that those new dollar coins are doing better than those Sacajawea coins they tried a few years ago.

2. Lots of Buildings: Buildings with things in them. As a Hamilton native, I'm impressed by any place that manages some kind of food service after 9:30 pm. London also supplies subway service, bus service, theatre service, mall service, iMax film service, and lots of other services. Plus, everything is within walking distance, regardless of the actual space between points. In the US, "walking distance" is defined by how far towards your destination you can go until you hit an area of grass. Once grass starts getting involved, the traveler has obviously left civilization and immediately regrets not bringing along his car, camel, or giant riding hare. In London, not only is there very little grass to be seen, the Tube system folds space (if not time) like a cosmic laundromat worker, making any destination seem attainable. The exceptions are the parks - it is physically impossible to walk across Hyde Park, and the sole purpose of Green Park is to discourage invading armies from attacking Buckingham Palace when they see how far they have to walk in order to get there.

3. Pubs: They're just better than bars, and not just because they serve alcohol to 18-year-olds. It's all about the image; if you ask someone what their plans for the night are and they reply "I'll probably go down to the pub," it sounds like a nice, social evening out. Receive the reply "I'll probably go to a bar," and suddenly they become a degenerate alcoholic, the whites of their eyes yellowing even as you look at them. The picture of them sitting casually at a table sipping a gin & tonic changes instantly to their slouching form propped between a rusty barstool and a smudged beer glass, trying to remember if he's already vomited today. A pub is a classy establishment that usually includes a long slab of something upon which drinks are served. A bar is a long trough for drunks to huddle around, occasionally housed by an old basement or converted crack den.

4. Vocabulary: This is really most noticeable when riding the Tube; when the train arrives at a station near a landmark, a recording notifies passengers that they may "Alight here for the British Museum." In America, "alight" is something you hope that you can offer that girl at the end of the bar so you can initiate a conversation that might lead to a one-night stand but nothing more involved than that because you'd never date a filthy smoker, that's disgusting. This announcement is followed by another, which suggests that passengers "Mind the gap." Simply stunning. Despite these formidable thesaural skills however, the word "Exit" seems to escape the city; their attempts to distinguish the door left them with the phrase "Way Out." Nobody's perfect.

5. Taza: Remember that £2.50 falafel I mentioned? This is where it came from - about 30 seconds walk from my flat. Legendary.

Things in London I Could Do Without:

1. British Bacon: It's at least three times as thick as American bacon. You might think that that sounds good, but you'd think wrong. Americans can achieve a similar substance using household items, and a razor. Using the razor, slice off someone's ear. Fry it in a pan, while simultaneously directing your household blowtorch at it. Once the edges are black and the middle is starting to turn pink, eat.

2. The Pound: Loose change is all well and good, but once I start dealing with paper money the British economy decides to remind me who's boss and invites my bank account to a nice seafood dinner without ever planning to phone it back. London devours American money as if it were bacon - delicious, American bacon.

3. Single-serving Grocery Stores: Maybe they're trying to deal with their increasing obesity problem (2nd in the world, behind Guess Who), but I've had it up to here with grocery stores acting like all shoppers are flight attendants. As an American, I was already familiar with the small bag of chips - the kind you'd find in a vending machine, hanging by a measly corner off of that useless wire turny-thing. I was also familiar with the large bag of chips, which costs about the same amount in the supermarket as the small bag cost in the vending machine. British people are also familiar with the small bag, but I think they got a little confused when they heard mention of a large bag of chips. Here a large bag of chips is six small bags inside a single large bag. Even larger bags contain up to 14 small bags, sometimes in a variety of flavors including Cheese & Onions, Roast Chicken, and Prawns (I am not making this up). The rest of the products found at these markets all follow the same vein. A Wegman's in this area would make it seem like Willy Wonka had decided to take his business in a bit of a more healthy direction.

4. That One Window: You know the one I'm talking about. It's loose in the frame and the wind is rattling it as I type this. I'm aware that I live on the 5th floor. Regardless, my instincts simply do not allow me to leave a rattling window unchecked for ninjas.

Monday, March 19, 2007

a brief interlude

When something slithers by,
And bites into your thigh...


That is all.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

England, the Hangar of Legend

Or, they have some fucking huge birds here.

When embarking on a quest to find birds of epic proportion, England is not normally the first place one would think of to search. Records of such gargantuan aerials are plentiful, and are generally quite sufficient for those wishing to soar through the clouds like that kid in “The Rescuers: Down Under,” catch an easy trip home after dropping a singular piece of jewelry into a crater of lava, or just eat especially well on a November holiday. One could venture to the Middle Eastern countries in search of the Roc, known for carrying off elephants and recalcitrant sailors to be eaten whole. Tales of the Thunderbirds might lead an adventurer to seek out the Native American tribes for guidance. Many a traveler has made the long and bus-filled trip to the deserts of Arizona only to find not a majestic bird with extraordinary powers of resurrection, but a city paralyzed with fear by the knowledge that someday the forces of irony will visit upon it a fate similar to that which befell London and Chicago. And who among us, gripped by legends of the massive golden bird of the city, has not asked the age-old question: “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”
Truly, giant birds have fascinated mankind for eons, ever since he discovered the delicious flavor of the flesh of birds and the sheer abundance of the flesh of animals larger than birds. Unfortunately, attempts to combine these traits genetically have as yet been unsuccessful – thousands of lives were lost in the infamous Buffalo Wing Project, and braver souls have yet to emerge to begin that dark work again.
However, amidst all this mythology, public television, and Hooter’s fare, the United Kingdom has gone largely unnoticed. The remaining species of giant birds have secretly populated this quiet island, inhabiting it with such numbers and behaviors as could make Alfred Hitchcock feel depressingly inadequate. Statistics show that the birds of Britain outweigh its humans by almost 4:1, and were they to all take wing simultaneously, they would blot out the clouds and probably crap on one another for a change. Statisticians admit that this is highly unlikely, yet one never sees a British statistician out walking without his umbrella and haunted expression.

The swans of Hyde Park are a prime example of Britain’s abnormal aviary population, and the one most easily noticed by foreigners. While swans around the world are known for their violent nature, these swans take particular relish in the fact that they are large enough to drive their beak, head, and neck completely through an adult moose. Swans attacking humans outside of the United Kingdom have been known to break bones, render eyes unusable, and overturn smaller automobiles with gusts of wind from their flapped wings. These swans are regarded by British swans as “wusses;” a recent swan attack left a constable disfigured after the swan sliced off his ear with a razor. Dog owners are encouraged by the city of London to walk their pets in Hyde Park, where they are summarily devoured whole by the swans – this keeps the problem of pet waste in the city to a minimum. The trees of Hyde park are purposefully arranged in a grid-like pattern for the benefit of London citizens; if a swan becomes particularly enraged (a state that may be triggered by any number of offenses such as coming between a swan and its young, allowing a swan’s young to come between oneself and the swan, the discarding of a fortune cookie fortune without bothering to check one’s lucky numbers, and any number of other behaviors which the swans refer to colloquially as “giving me shit.”), patrons of the park are advised to run to the nearest tree and hide behind it. This will offer very little by way of lowering your visibility, as all swans have X-ray vision, but may shorten a killing stroke of the swan’s beak to a mere flesh wound if it is forced to penetrate the trunk of the tree first. If the swan beats its wings, the tree may fall upon its occupant and kill them instantly, but most would agree that this fate is far kinder than any that an enraged swan would inflict in the absence of trees. Despite their brutality, however, the swans are revered by the citizens of London, as it is the wind from their great wings that powers the Gulf Stream and keeps the weather habitable.

The peacocks of Warwick Castle are similar in size to the swans of Hyde Park, though they share little of their ferocity. They have watched over and protected the Castle ever since they raised it from the bones of the earth roughly 70 million years ago to protect themselves from body thetans. The peacocks remain at the castle to this day, and their beauty is renowned throughout the land. Their tails hold a particular reverence; when William Shakespeare viewed the beautiful plumage for the first time and was asked to describe them, he only stammered that they “should have sent a poet.” Popular legend says that if you view the sun’s rays shining through the front of a Warwick peacock’s spread tail, you will either see the face of God or the face of the person you will marry. Slightly less popular legend says that the tail viewed in such a way will cause you to see God french-kissing the person you will marry while winking roguishly and stroking his thin mustache. Viewing the sun’s rays through the back of a peacock’s tail is said to reveal the date either 2 weeks before or 2 weeks after the apocalypse; this claim has never been put to the test, however, as it is considered extremely rude to sneak up on a peacock, particularly in the early morning or late evening hours.

Back in London, the ravens of the Tower of London often escape notice despite their monstrous size. Traditional Tower legend says that if the ravens ever leave the Tower grounds, the Tower itself will collapse. This is quite true; the ravens are load-bearing birds. Architect Bishop Flambard was a radical free-thinker when it came to the composition of defensive structures, and decided that the main building material of the White Tower would be the resident giant ravens. Ignoring protests that such a plan was contradictory to both the Tower’s given name and basic principles of masonry, the Bishop designed and began construction of his vision. He quickly was forced to abandon the concept of a flying castle due to the restrictions of natural law, despite the clear advantages it would offer in battle. Nevertheless, the Bishop’s artistic vision persisted, and after years of construction he had erected the Tower, composed entirely of ravens, mortar, and some bricks. It remains standing today, and all who witness the structure admit that building a fortress out of gigantic birds, if nothing else, takes some serious balls.

Finally, the pigeons. At first glance these birds may not appear to be of any extraordinary size. At second glance, however, you will find that in the period of time it took you to execute a double-take the pigeons have quadrupled in number and now have their collective gaze fixed on you. Look deep into the eyes of any single pigeon and you will be met with nothing more than an eerie blankness such as one might encounter when engaging in a staring contest with a Barbie doll. But widen your focus to encompass all of the now hundreds of pigeons in front of you, and let dawn upon you the vast knowledge and wisdom that resides in the minds of the many. This is a species that has seen the fall of empires, has withstood centuries of people running through crowds of them for dramatic effect, and has devoted the entirety of their excrement to expressing disdain for the achievements of the human race. As you stare impossibly into the thousands of pairs of eyes that now fill your vision like a kaleidoscope, acknowledge that the pigeons were here before you existed, will be here when you are long gone, and that, had certain circumstances of traffic or homicide gone slightly differently, the pigeons would be enjoying that muffin in your hand right now. Realize that, should a single crumb of cake drop from your now frozen fingers, it would be as a single spark within a gray-feathered powder house, igniting the mass you see before you into a fury that professional ornithologists call “batshit crazy.” You may blink. But do it carefully. When your eyes reopen you may discover only a half dozen birds before you, pecking indolently at the pavement. It’s possible that you will continue on your way. Don’t bother checking over your shoulder in the future to see if there are any pigeons there – there are.
England is indeed a strange country for a foreigner, full as it is of history and legend. While it may not claim as much fame for them as such mystical realms as Middle-Earth, Olympus, or Australia, the United Kingdom has more than its fair share of magical and magnificent birds. Fear and respect them, and return to your home with stories of their valor, beauty, and vicious stabbings, for they are the some of the last vestiges of the airborne creatures of myth, along with Santa Claus, and their existence must be remembered to continue.

Also, some of the swans have laser-vision.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

another late night post

One of these days, Alice, I'm going to write a blog post while it's light out. Then I'll punch you to the moon and Keighl will probably be mad at me.

Anyway. Last weekend we went to Warwick Castle, Stratford, and Oxford. Everyone who came got to experience the awesomeness that is Tim Kidd, my Interrelationships professor, and his strangely formal-and-British obsession with gruesome, prolonged deaths. This time it was of a nobleman of Warwick Castle, stabbed twenty-something times with a penknife (blade about half an inch long), who lasted about a month before his festering wounds carried him off. I know how long a penknife blade is because Dr. Kidd brought along an old-fashioned penknife as a story prop, along with a normal jackknife so we wouldn't be confused as to what we thought "penknife" meant. Anyway, after that talk we walked around Warwick Castle and surrounding town for a few hours.
I'm apparently incapable of taking a picture of any structure without the sun dashing behind it and making it look all spooky and silhouettish.

There we go.

Anyway, Warwick Castle is pretty much everything you'd expect from a castle - big, made of stone, parapets and arrow slits, two portcullises (portculli? portcullen?) in case of Rancor-attacks, and an abundance of peacocks.

Yeah, I'm not sure what they're doing there either. Maybe they're one of those secretly delicious foods that only people who live in castles can afford to eat. Like unicorn spleen, or the Golden Rutabagas of Atlantis.

Also at Warwick they had a freaking tall tower.

Here I'm looking pretty pleased with myself because I'd just conquered all the land you see behind me. It was actually easier than it sounds- the land was only occupied by a single hobo and his pet dead cat, and I conquered him by stealing his plastic shopping bag of worldly possessions, also pictured. The contents of the bag had not been investigated at the time of the photo; they were later discovered to consist of a 3-year-old map of the Paris Metro, five single socks (none of which matched but were mysteriously hand-numbered), and a dead fish (which was presumably to be fed to the dead cat).

Unfortunately for Alyssa, that steel bar wasn't attached to the wall nearly as securely as it looks, and seconds after the picture was taken she tumbled over the parapet to what would have been certain death, had she not landed on the prostrate figure of a sulking hobo, killing him instantly.

I suggested to Tim that it might be a little insensitive to carry on touristing only minutes after Alyssa had fallen to an apparent demise, but he insisted that he had come here to get a picture of a Gothic tower growing out of his head and he was "going to bloody well do it so take that camera and get snappy, Wangboy!" My attempts to point out that the term "wangboy" had a meaning other than the racist one he had intended were lost in his repeated order of "clicky clicky!"

On the way out of the castle we were pleasantly surprised to discover that Alyssa was not dead. She had, however, been incarcerated in the traditional fashion for damaging the tower's parapets and murdering the town hobo.

At this joyous discovery I was moved to burst into song much as one would in a musical. Tim locked himself in another stockade in hopes that I would go away and people would stop staring in our direction.

It was to no avail, however, as I continued singing for several hours at him, and would have continued if the local police hadn't recognized the bag I was carrying as belonging to the deceased hobo. We managed to escape to the bus just in time.

More stuff happened that weekend, but it's late and I have to get up tomorrow. We're going to Paris. Wheee! I'll catch you up on that and other stuff probably Monday.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Still shameful

So I recall saying something like once I had Internet I'd be posting more often. Obviously that was some sort of lie.

Anyway, hopefully this will get me more into the habit of posting. I was about to apologize that there was still no "Here's what I did in London!" post b/c I should go to bed so I can get up early tomorrow, but I figure that actually posting a (truncated) version of that will probably take about the same time. So let's see what pictures I can dig up.

This is Westminster Abbey. We went on a tour of it last week, and they don't let you take pictures inside it, so that's all you get. Inside are a lot of dead people, names of other dead people, pillars, a few chairs, chandeliers, and stern British clergy.

Oh, before that we went on a walk around St. Paul's Cathedral. We stopped in that place in the movie "Closer."


Ok, yesterday we went to the Tower of London. I'd been there briefly with the flatmates, and it is apparently impossible to take a picture of the place without it looking ominous enough to house an evil scientist with a multisyllabic surname.

See? Night or day, the place looks like it needs lightning striking it and clouds of bats encircling it. Maybe a few dragons for good measure. I originally wanted these pics to be side by side but I can't figure out how to make it do that right now, so I'll just fill the space with this crap that you just read. Anyway, I guess the creepy image goes pretty well with the fact that there was a buttload of torture and murder that went on in this place, but there's also a few none torture-related things here. Bling, for one. They keep the Crown Jewels here, pretty much the largest collection of shiny rocks and really heavy metal objects in the world. They've got the largest diamond in the world on a stick (when Americans see it they just want to complete the process and deep-fry that fucker). There's a solid gold punch bowl large enough to comfortably drown two or three reasonably annoying toddlers in. That, my friends, is luxury.

There are a few other things there, like giant ravens, but it's getting late and we're going to Stratford tomorrow. Seeing Richard III, having a few dozen tours, Warwick Castle, Oxford. Should be an interesting time. Anyway, sleep now, more non-posting later.