Tag Archives: USA

Stay Hungry

I nearly called this post Pumping Irony, but that would have been shite. Instead, I’m making a reference to an early film starring the Governor of the united state I live in.

When I told Friend M that I was going to a gym, she responded

Gym??? Gym??????????? What ever next – nail bar?

Exactly how I felt about them. But as a result of certain photographs being published on the Web, I’ve joined a gym, and forked out for some sessions with a personal trainer. This is worrying. I don’t see myself as the sort of person who goes to the gym. Yes, I know that lots of people go, and it’s a pretty normal thing to do, but it’s never been a consideration before. But I’m not getting any younger, and now that I’ve taken the plunge, it’s easy-ish to carry on.

My trainer, Andre, was very nice and understanding of my goals (goals?????? you see?), and helped me to figure out a routine to do each time, so now I go to the gym with a tatty bit of paper listing some medieval-sounding grips and tortures.

One of the reasons I didn’t feel comfortable about going to the gym was because of the people who are already there – I didn’t want a load of sporty types judging me. And it’s true that sport is the main vibe around there – the TVs in the locker room are usually tuned to the baseball. Either than or Fox News which is even worse.

The people in the gym are of lots of different types. I’m pleased to see that many of them look like me – or at least are there for the same reasons as me. But there are many men who I think go to the gym a bit too much, that as a result have a rather strange body shape – little skinny legs, low waistline, huge wide shoulders and arms. It don’t look natural.

Dylan Moran said in Monster that people go to the gym to attain their “ideal body”, but that they were very unimaginative. He said that his ideal body would have (paraquote)

… one eye – you probably only need one. Some kind of sucker instead of teeth because they just give you grief in the end. And a long long tube with my arse way over there so I don’t have to deal with it.

The main reason I joined a gym was the food. Not the gym food, obviously, that’s all protein bars and protein shakes and “that yellow stuff in tins“. No, American food. And not junk food either. The regular food, sandwiches, salads. The quality is higher, the quantity is higher, therefore the consumption is greater. I must watch that. Plus I’ve been going to many restaurants recently, good and bad. I own a Zagats guide for San Diego, and I use the little sticky markers. Is this some form of Becoming that I am experiencing? What ever next, indeed?

They Call Me Loathsome

Cassie and I have been to a few movies recently, and we’ve been horrified to be forced to sit through this song and advert for the National Guard, sung by the UK number one artiste Kid Rock. It’s a full-length song, with an accompanying video showing what heroes the US National Guard are. The song is one of these Team America-style crowdpleasers, with the gravel-voiced Mr Rock crooning about how great it is to be a hero, with just a hint of sadness about why we need heroes at all, then kicking into a shouted chorus:

and they call me Warrior! They call me Loyalty!

That’s cheesy enough, but not insulting. The insults come when Mr Rock looks into the camera, mouth right up to the mic, stage lights shining through his whiskers, and sings

I’m giving all of myself, how about you?

Now I’m sure real National Guards are great chaps, but this seems to say, “What are you doing for your country? Elementary school teacher? Pah! You worthless lazy pinko“. This is all the more insulting coming from Mr Rock, with his hat pulled down to his eyebrows.

The video has the usual Army advert images, reminding me of the newspaper advert for the Army in The Young Ones – “Join the professionals its graet you can have a gun if you want”. Attack helicopters overhead, heavliy armed soldiers covered in cool electronics walking alongside bristling Humvees. The advert shows them doing their thing in the streets of what appears to be a Middle-eastern country. I thought this was strange – aren’t the National Guard only used at home, to suppress student demonstrations and the like? I was told the other day that the NG have been shipped out to the warzone, which must suck for them.

At one point in the ad, while the gang are cruising through the dusty downtown, a football (a round one, which proves we’re in some backward foreign country) bounces out in front of a Humvee. The nearest guard raises his hand, the entire convoy stops on a dime, he picks up the ball, stopping short of holding it up to his ear and shaking it. A kid steps up, wearing a a robe and kufi, and the NG gives him his ball back. No shots are fired.

The song and video also feature Dale Earnhardt, who is a Nascar racing driver. Don’t know much about him. The video shows him in a clearly computer-generated race, narrowly avoiding a spectacular crash with superhuman skill. He endorses this message.

But what is the message? Join the National Guard. OK fine. But making it look like being in the National Guard is a combination of rock star fame and race car driver excitement is a little bit patronising. And being forced to sit through the whole damn thing every time I see a movie is excruciating.

One-Way Ticket To LAX

~ Ancient history, from notes found on my laptop. This dates back to June 7th 2008, when I flew to the New World from my Old. ~

Waiting around in Heathrow, having cruised through bag drop, security, passport control and bought far too much duty free stuff, including the biggest bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Cassie will have ever seen.

Trying to find that most sweet of scaleable commodities, free wireless internet access.

Also trying my hardest to be excited. I don’t know what it is, but after seeing so many people before I left, all lovely friends I will miss a great deal, all I could feel was a kind of numbness. The only goodbye that caused me to well up (and is doing so now) was Shuggie, who at least was kind enough to lick my face and ear.

I’m currently trying each of the various wireless networks that show up around here, in the hope that one of them forgot to set up their irritating “buy your crappy web tokens here – £3.95 for an hour” page. No luck so far. “The Cloud” has a partnership with iPass, which is a system my company uses to allow employees to connect worldwide. Sadly, and as usual, it doesn’t work. And I resisted the temptation to include a modifier beginning with “F” between “doesn’t” and “work”. I don’t know whether it’s because The Cloud keeps hijacking the stream, or because of iPass’s usual sterling lack of performance.

More later.

 ~ *Real* evocative, Matt. Nice one. ~

Try Not To Forget

Today is obviously a big day in the news here in the US. In New York, all the names of the people who died in the 11 September attacks are being read out, with pauses at the moments when the planes hit and the later when the towers collapsed. The area around the Civic Center here in San Diego has a few stands set up from the Fire Department, with a huge shiny chrome-and-red fire truck, and a van from the Department of Homeland Security, just to make you feel safe. Some flags are at half-mast, which makes you notice how many more flags there are around here.

My company is involved in building the replacement buildings in Manhattan. I’ve seen some fascinating animations of the Freedom Tower rising up like a giant middle finger from the muddy hole that stands there now. There isn’t an atmosphere here in the office, there’s been no discussion or mention of it. A global email from the CEO reminded us to be thoughtful.

I’m more amazed to think how time has flown, and how different things are now. 7 years! I guess a lot of that is me just aging, but there’s no denying the big changes that have happened.

~

On a frivolous note, I think the world has got used to saying “9/11” now when they mean the 11th of September, even if the local nomenclature is different. In the UK, the standard as used by everyone, including my UK bank’s online service (which can be dangerous now) is to have the date as: Day (smallest unit), Month (middle sized), Year (biggest unit). It makes more logical sense to me. And it complies with the International Standard ISO 8601.

I’m getting used to dealing with stuff here with the day and month all arse-backwards, but it’s taking some time. Stand-up comedian Stewart Lee deliberately referred to to “the World Trade Centre attacks of the 9th of November” in an attempt to “reclaim the calendar”. At least 7/7 doesn’t cause any confusion.

UPDATE 12 September:

Here’s another thing never to forget. The start of the murderous military dictatorship in Chile by Augusto Pinochet, as supported by Margaret Thatcher and the CIA.

My American Fellows

Danny O’Brien describes his reaction to the current showbiz extravaganza that is the Democratic National Convention. I don’t really like writing about politics here, because I’m too inarticulate (basically I’m a Euston Manifesto type of guy, with all the “yes, but how?” vagueness that entails). But as an Englishman now living in San Diego, I’m interested to read other “expats'” views. I agree with what he says about the pageantry. I do like a good show though, but only if the audience shut up long enough to let it happen.

I’ve become a fan of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (both of which pass for satire* in the US) but they are short programmes made a lot longer by the whooping and hollering that follow every punchline (that’s not to say that Radio 4’s much-more-restrained The News Quiz is any better – in fact the insufferable smugness of some of the panellists is worse). But I do find myself fast-forwarding through the atrocious rock-and-horn-section soundtrack (a Bob Mould tune played by They Might Be Giants, if you can imagine such a thing without weeping) and the five minutes of cheering before I find any satirical content. I say “pass for satire” – actually there’s often some really good and funny stuff on here, but too often they drift off into skits about the presenters themselves.

Back in the “real” world of political news, I still can’t understand the (apparently many) people who were supporters of Hillary Clinton, who since Clinton is out of the running are now “undecided” between Obama and the Republican McCain. I want to shake them by the shoulders and ask, are you a Democrat or not? Are you so opposed to Obama that you would rather have a Republican in office? It sounds very much like sulking to me – “Well, if I can’t have my candidate, then I’m taking my ball home, and crossing to the GOP”. Absolute fecking madness.

Most of the speeches at the DNC have ended with the orator say, “God bless you” or “God bless America” or some such. It got me thinking about whether the US would ever be able to accept a stated atheist as a President. Never mind the trouble they have with a black man, or a woman – imagine a leader would said they couldn’t say “God bless America” with a straight face because they don’t believe in an invisible superhero who lives in the sky?

Ah, politics and religion. Yet another excellent piece on Flesh is Grass about the debate between the militant secularists and the pro-faith left. I think I lean towards the Coates end of the argument. Lean, and mutter.

claimer: Flesh is Grass is one of my favourite blogs, and is written by one of my favourite people. I miss them.

Yay To Freedom – July 4 2008

Sign on the way to Coronado Now that the 4th of August has passed, it’s probably time to write about the 4th of July. Photos here. Cassie came down to SD with Gordon, and we went across town to Coronado, where her brother Don and his family had rented a marina house, complete with yacht, waverunners, terrace and all mod cons! Pretty amazing, really.

During the weekend we spent some time on the Dog Beach at Coronado, which was packed with people and dogs. Those retrievers really love to retrieve, and they don’t care how big the waves are – they have to grab that orange floating dog toy that looks like it might have uses in the bedroom, if you catch my drift.

On the 4th itself had a very nice BBQ at the holiday house, with Cassie’s famous potato salad, her Mum’s amazing BBQ beans, and of course delicious homemade burgers and franks. Cassie’s Dad was kind enough to explain the reason for Independence Day. He told me about an evil empire that oppressed its people, and how a small colony of this empire broke away and fought for its freedom against the angered oppressors. Sounds exciting, I wonder who wrote it.

July 4th Yacht Trip The whole gang took a ride on the yacht, a 30-ish-foot speed cruiser type thing, all bow, with built-in ice bucket and white leather seats. We cruised around SD Bay, past the maritime museum with HMS Surprise, the naval base with the USS Ronald Reagan, and into the marina. This was packed with people and their boats, all moored up, all different sizes, BBQing on the back, kids playing in dinghys and inner tubes. It was really nice – everyone flying the flag and having themselves a time.

Waverunners Cassie and I had a zoom around on the Waverunners – they were amazing fun. I managed to hit 45mph on mine, while Cassie was a demon at over 50! You really feel the speed when you’re bouncing over the waves, with the wind bashing you as you go. My waverunner kept cutting out if I got too much “air”, but 45 was quite fast enough, thanks very much. I let out a few involuntary woops as we zipped up and down.

On the evening of the 4th, Cassie and I sat on the terrace by the fire pit and made S’mores. My first time. Definitely not my last, even if Hershey’s chocolate is rank.

Labor Day is next!

Rolling In My 1.2

One thing I really can’t get away from now is the need for a car. I can have all sorts of noble intentions about trimming the fat, running a tight ship and reducing consumption, but in the end I would starve if I didn’t have in my possession the keys to a ton and a half of metal with an engine.

My Landlady has kindly rented me a car until I get sorted out with a lease. It’s a Volvo S70, several orders of magnitude bigger than the Nissan Micra I sold in London. They don’t have Micras here – they have the novelty small cars like the Smart, or the German yuppie fashion statement Minis, but regular day-to-day small stuff like the Fiat Uno (like the one I wrote off in 2000 by driving it under a Toyota Landcruiser) or my old Nissan don’t get a look in. I had to send a picture of what a Micra looks like to get my Landlady to understand what I was talking about. For comparison, here’s me in a dodgem in the mid-1970’s…

bumper car.jpg  

…and here’s a 2000-ish Nissan Micra. Spot the difference.

Of course, as I always say, given a choice, I would like a 1972 Citroen DS20 with a backfitted electric or hybrid power plant. Or a Mr Fusion. And around here in San Diego there are some pretty good American muscle car classics, El Caminos, Chargers, Mustangs and the like, as well as the weird long flat stuff like the Lincoln Mark VIII. Lots of trucks, especially Fords – I think it’s the proximity to Mexico. There’s also a nice smattering of 70’s and 80’s cop show cars as well – both cops and gansters nicely represented. Of course, the vast majority of cars are modern, efficient, small(er than tanks), and pretty dull. Dull can be good though.

I have driven Cassie’s Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, and my Landlady’s Ford Blazer V8, but I just don’t like the driving position, or the ride. These Jeeps and other SUVs don’t just bounce up and down, they go from side to side and they twist and yaw as well. There are some nasty dips and bumps in hilly downtown San Diego, and I find that driving over them in a sedan/saloon is simply more comfortable (unless you’re going too fast, then you lose the sump cover).

But in the end, a Swedish tank, followed by a leased understated Audi or something will do me fine. Gas/petrol is coming down, so there’s no need to get a small car any more. That’s a relief.

How Are We Doing So Far, Y’all?

In a couple of days time, I will have been living in the US for two months. Every time people ask me in emails or on the phone (thanks Si), “How’s it going?”, I have to tell them that I’m still settling in. Lots to do. Forms to fill in (or “out”).

This chap has been living in San Francisco for a good few years, and his post the other day got me thinking about my own experience so far. He’s also one of the founding members of ORG, which does vital work in the UK, and which you should join. In fact, I think it was his pledge that started it. Anyway.

I’ve been having a good time, no question. Visiting LA, receiving visitors in SD, enjoying a national holiday or two. But all of this is against a background noise of “settling in”. Phone, internet, cable, driving license, parking permit. Driving on the right, automatic, air conditioning, remote garage door opener.

The mundane stuff like grocery shopping is a new adventure. I think I’ve figured out that 1% milk is the same as the semi-skimmed I liked in the UK. I have enough Typhoo to last me a while, and then after that, what do I do? Should I keep trying to drink tea in the British way? Should I succumb to the caffeine-drink snobbery that pervades the middle classes here (“let the bag steep for exactly two minutes, not a second more or you have ruined your tea”, “if you don’t roast and grind your own beans, you are ignorant scum”)? Maybe I’ll just buy a filter machine and swill venti until I sweat.

More to come. In the meantime, I’m fine, settling in, lots to do.

The Perfect Surprise

So as I was saying, on my birthday proper I went for a nice dinner with Cassie. We also planned to have dinner again, at a nicer place, on the following Friday. The plan was to let LA know I was here. Turns out they already knew.

Cassie told me that we would have a nice meal relatively early on Friday, then we’d go home in time to meet a couple of friends who would bring a birthday cake. I was looking forward to seeing that bunch again, as I hadn’t seen them yet this trip.

Come Friday, Cassie and I dressed up (well kind of in my case), and we went to Café Stella, which is a really nice place, even if the cheese plate looked like they were taking the mick. The food was great, the suggested wine was really good, and of course, sitting at a table in the covered outside area, in the balmy Silver Lake evening, was delightful.

During the meal, Cassie sent a couple of texts, which I don’t mind – I need to send messages as soon as I remember as well. Then as we were finishing up, the waitress came round with our coffee, and asked if we wanted to look at the dessert menu. Cassie looked at me and then said that we would skip dessert, as we were meeting friends at home. The meal was pretty pricey, but excellent. We’ll be going back there.

I drove us home, then I walked up the steps, unlocked the front door, and opened it just as the aprtment full of guests turned on the lights and shouted, “Surprise!”

It was perfect! I had literally no idea. The place was full of people I hadn’t seen for ages, and was strung with stars and stripes bunting and a big ‘Happy Birthday’ banner. You see, it wasn’t just a birthday party, it was a surprise birthday-and-welcome-to-your-new-life-in-a-new-country party.

As we walked through the door, a glass of bubbly was pressed into my hand, and Brian stepped up to make a short speech and toast. I was too busy gasping and gaping like a fish on a carpet to remember exactly what he said, but it was spot on, and everyone cheered and drank the toast – none more so than me. I was then presented with my first gun – an inflatable M16, in camoflage pattern, with USA stencilled on the stock. I slung it over my shoulder and carried it for the rest of the night. I don’t want no teenage queen, I just want my M16.

I say I had no idea, and it’s true, but thinking back, little things I’d dismissed turned out to be relevant signposts. The bathroom had been cleaned, and candles put out. People I’d wanted to meet for dinner earlier in the week had bailed out, or asked for a raincheck. It was like an M Night Shallamallamayan film, only without the intelligent design advocacy, and very enjoyable.

There was a cake, an amazing Red Velvet beast with cream cheese frosting, and barbecue, and lots of food, and music, and people being nice to me. It was organised by Cassie, with loads of help from Brian and Stacy, whose wedding I attended in October, and Sarah, and lots of other people all in on the deceit.

Obviously it look loads of organisation, and part of that was the detailed instructions Cassie left for Brian and Stacy so they could set up while we were at dinner. Here’s a bit of what she wrote.

Hi guys,

I thought I would put down on paper some last minute stuff that I won’t be able to do because it would arise too much suspicion. But first I want to thank you guys again for your help with this. It could not have been pulled off without you.

Kitchen:

  • Extend the kitchen table by pulling out the sides under the table and push it up against the window. This will allow the food and cake to be displayed and provide as much room in the kitchen for mingling as possible.
  • Fill the blue ice bucket found in the laundry room with ice for people to put beer in. You can put the Champagne in there too.
  • Display the cake on the table when it arrives with Sarah Cohen. You can put the plates and napkins and forks out too.

Living Room

  • I will have the iPod set up on the speaker dock set to a playlist for the night. It’s called “Cocktail Mix.” Just press play at some point when people start to arrive.
  • Please make sure the curtains are closed.

Bathroom

  • Keep the bathroom window closed until we get home. We will walk right past it on the way from the car to the house.

Outside

  • Please do not plug in the green/blue lights in the back where the BBQ is. I will be parking in the driveway when we get back and Matt will see them if they’re on. We can plug them in when I get home.
  • Don’t worry about anything in the back. Just keep in dark and quiet over there and we can set it up when we arrive.

Our Arrival

  • I’ll text you when we are paying our bill which will give you a 15 minute or so head’s up. At that time you can make sure everyone has their champagne glasses assembled and the champagne ready to be poured. Please have two glasses ready to hand to us when we walk in the door.
  • When we get close to our place, maybe as we’re turning on the street, I will call my land line and let it ring once or twice. That will be your signal to be quiet and have your glasses ready. We will park in the driveway and walk up the stairs. I will have heels on so you will hear us arrive.
  • Make sure the door is locked, both the door knob and the dead-bolt. I will unlock the door, open it and hopefully Matt will be right by my side. Make sure you tell everyone to get eyes on Matt before they yell “Surprise!”
  • Brian, I would love it if you would make a little toast to Matt when he gets over the shock of the surprise and has a glass in his hand. It’s totally cool if you don’t feel like it but there just seems to be a need for some sort of formality as long as everyone is standing there with champagne in their hands. Anything you want to say would be great.

After all that, I want you to drink, eat cake and relax. Thanks again. You are awesome.

And that’s exactly what happened. I ate cake and drank as well. Lots of booze and cake.

Thank you Cassie, and Brian & Stacy, & Sarah, and everyone. I’ll never trust you or anyone ever again.

Half A Ton Of My Life On The Ocean Wave

As part of the move to the US, I had a load of stuff shipped to my new flat in San Diego. The shipping company have said it won’t arrive for another couple of weeks, which is fair enough I suppose. In the crazy modern world it’s funny to have to wait 5 weeks to receive something. It’s like the old mail-order caveat, “Please allow 28 days for delivery”. Can’t they just email me it or something?

I was curious as to the route the 3.5 cubic metres of my stuff would take. The guys who packed it all up and took it away didn’t know. According to the shipping company’s online tracking page, my stuff is on the container ship APL Egypt.

According to this unsecured Excel spreadsheet of ship information, the APL Egypt was built in 2000, and registered in Monrovia in Liberia. The ship is classified as ‘Panamax‘, which means it has the maximum dimensions that will fit through the Panama Canal. Therefore it’s reasonable to assume that after leaving Felixstowe, the ship heads through the Canal, and then travels up the coast to Los Angeles. And according to this ship tracking map page, it looks like that’s what will happen. I’ll be watching.