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Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Subject:our five-minute flick
Time:12:07 pm.



"Grace and the Staten Island Fairy," our entry in this year's 72 Hour Shootout short film competition, is now up online.

We had 72 hours to make a five-minute film incorporating the following theme: "Time's Up."

(You can skip the first 30 seconds, it's color bars, sound tone and black screen.)
Comments: Read 12 orAdd Your Own.

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Subject:UK Trip, Part Seven: Setting out for the Scottish Highlands
Time:9:01 pm.










"We're lost," says Elaine from the passenger seat, peering into the screen of the GPS unit in her lap.

From the driver's seat I glance over at the GPS, but quickly plant my eyes back on the road so I can avoid sending the four of us over the edge of a cliff. The green ravine at the bottom looks pretty at 60 miles an hour, but that's because we're moving horizontally; probably ain't so pretty at a vertical 60.

We've been driving through the Highlands for a couple hours and change. Neither Elaine nor I (the two designated front-seaters) know where we are, so yep, we're officially lost--and I totally don't care. Getting lost is only stressful to me if I'm on a timetable, transporting something I shouldn't be transporting, or being chased. Also, there are good places to be lost and bad places:

Good places to be lost
Scottish Highlands
Swiss countryside
Tokyo

Bad places to be lost
Newark
Fallujah
Shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia



We turn off of the main road onto a smaller one winding up into the hills. "Sorry, I'm not sure what's wrong with this thing," says Elaine, fiddling with the GPS. I tell her it's fine; Sandra and Tony chime in from the back seat with similar sentiments. I pull over on the shoulder, get out to have a cigarette, and take in the scenery around me.





It occurs to me that there is some danger in us getting lost, and that is that we'll run out of gas. Before leaving Glasgow, we stopped at a petrol station to tank the car up, as it was nearly dead empty. I stuck the nozzle in and started fueling--and it finished so fast I felt like I should tell the nozzle "Hey, it's okay, you're probably just tired, it's not a big deal" while it wept quietly in my arms.

So yeah, the gas tank on this car is tiny, like really freaking tiny. I think I filled it up on 13 liters (less than four gallons!). And out here we've passed a lot of sweeping greenish-brown vistas capped by dramatic cloudscapes, but not so many petrol stations.

"I think I've got it," says Elaine. As for the gas worries, I get back in the car thinking the same dumb thing I've thought ever since I've started writing, which is "If [this unfortunate thing] happens, maybe it will make a good story."

Another thing about Elaine is she's good with recommendations. Back when she lived in New York we'd be driving through Brooklyn or the city in her car wanting to get a bite to eat, she'd say "Where do you want to go?" and as picky as I am, I'd still always leave it up to her. In all of the New York hang time we had, we never went to the same place twice and she never steered me wrong. I had more good meals ordered through hot waitresses with Elaine than with anyone else.

Unfortunately, the lunch place she's chosen for us in the Highlands, after all of the twists and turns we took to get there, is closed. Of all the days to arrive, we get there the day they're painting the place.

"They say there's another place just up the road," says Elaine, sounding a bit deflated. The flip side to her always-spot-on recommendations is that she seems to take it hard if she doesn't deliver. I wish she wouldn't worry--you couldn't pick more laid-back travel companions than Tony and Sandra, and I'm so hungry I'll eat anything--but I know you can't change people's personalities.

So up the road we troop, to a place called--you know what, I can't remember the goddamned name, it was someplace with a green sign. (Now you see why I'll never work for Conde Nast Traveler.) It's a gas station and rest stop with a cafeteria-style restaurant and adjoining gift shop.

Inside I'm excited to see they serve what I take to be traditional Scottish fare, mostly meats and fishes. I order an open-faced roast beef sandwich and something that looks like a Jamaican beef patty filled with haggis. Tony orders this white fish broth called Cullen Skink, which we immediately begin calling Cullen Skank, because we are basically children.

The beef sandwich is middling, but the Scottish Jamaican haggis patty freaking rocks. Haggis is pretty gamy and I definitely have ex-girlfriends who would spit it out but I really like it. Then I try Tony's Cullen Skank and holy shit, it is amazing! It's like a more flavorful New England Clam Chowder filled with MDMA, and unlike the New England stuff it doesn't give you that feeling that 30 minutes later you're going to be running to the bathroom, pushing people out of the way to get there.





After finishing the meal, I don't have to go to the bathroom, but I go anyway. My one rule of travel, whether I'm in a city or the countryside, is if you see a bathroom, you pee. This habit was borne out of the time when I was backpacking through the Amalfi Coast and I had to go so very, very bad but had to hold it so long that I was worried I'd done permanent damage to my urinary tract. When I finally did get to a bathroom it kind of hurt to go. There we have a second article I won't be writing for CNT.

After coming out of the bathroom for my forced pee I run into Tony. "Dude did you see The Scotch Room?" he says, making it sound like it was capitalized.

"The Scotch Room?" I ask. We're in a friggin' gas station.

"In the gift shop," he says. I follow him in there.





Past shelves of T-shirts, mugs, kilts and trinkets is this three-walled room in the back...fucking lined with Scotch. Just lined with it bro, floor to ceiling on three walls. In any booze shop back home I've never seen more than a dozen, maybe two dozen different types of Scotch, but this place has literally hundreds of them. I feel like I'm in that scene in The Matrix when mad shelves of guns hurtle into existence around Morpheus and Neo.

The proprietor is an older white-haired guy, traipsing around the store, adjusting stuff. "All of these are available for tastings, you know," he says. I can see like, a half-dozen types of Balvenie alone I'd like to try.

Man. Of all the days I've gotta be driving along cliffs....

Maybe it will make a good story, I think. I can probably get away with five tastings before the guy cuts me off, he doesn't know my tolerance is low...I can make it a few miles in the car before it kicks in....

I ultimately decide it would make a terrible story.

Not that this one is any better. But, you know, at least I didn't kill Tony, Elaine and Sandra.


Up Next: Mo' Highlands


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Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Subject:UK Trip, Part Six: The Gathering
Time:12:46 pm.



I love studying foreign train schedules. To someone whose usual form of rail transport is New York's shitbox subway system, the idea that you can go to a place where trains consistently arrive on a predetermined schedule is like someone telling you that there's a country where you can have super-orgasms--you're envious when you're not there, and elated when you are.

Thanks to a Glaswegian train schedule I've timed my morning perfectly: I get some work done at Elaine's, hop on a train at Pollokshaws East, and arrive in Central Station at the exact moment I see Tony strolling in from the airport bus area, fresh off a flight from New York. I don't explain to Tony that I've just had a mass transit super-orgasm; I just say "What's up man, good timing" then we head out of the station to get a coffee.

Later that afternoon we're back at the station, this time waiting on Sandra's train from London. Recently my friends have been leaving New York in droves; Elaine was the first, Sandra, the second. I can't say I blame them for leaving as my home city is well past its prime. To me living in New York is like you've been dating a formerly hot cocktail waitress for way too long: She's gone to seed, the magic is totally gone and she cheats on you like nobody's business, but you stick with her because it's a comfortable lay and you're too goddamned tired to do any better for yourself.

But now I've got Elaine and Sandra in the same city, and with my fellow New Yorker Tony it'll be just like old times. With crew assembled, we can now prepare for the next part of the trip: A jaunt up to the Scottish Highlands.

"I prepared for the trip before I left," says Tony. I ask him what he means. "I watched Highlander." We then get into a discussion about how Christopher Lambert was legally blind. True story, look it up.



Sometime between 9am and 6pm Elaine got a car. In the morning she left for work on foot, and in the evening, she pulls up in front of the building in her new vehicle, like when you were a kid and your dad got a raise.

Before I came to Scotland, Elaine had sent me an e-mail saying that she was going to buy a car for our trip to the Highlands and subsequent drive down to London. When she told me she was buying a Rover, I was beside myself. You see Land Rovers all over SoHo but I don't think I've ever ridden in one.



Then she told me it's not a "Land" Rover. Well, okay, Range Rover, whatever you want to call it.

No, no, no, said her e-mail. It's a "City Rover." A "City Rover Sprite," to be exact.

I Google Image it:



Well, whatever--a car is a car, right?

More importantly, it's stick and I get to drive it. I sold my five-speed Volkswagen in New York three, four years ago, and since then I've been itching to get back behind the wheel of a manual. Like all cars in the UK, the stick of Elaine's is on the left and the steering wheel's on the right, but the clutch is in the same spot, so I should be fine. I mean if blind-ass Christopher Lambert can swing a sword at Sean Connery, I can damn sure drive a car on the "other" side.

The plan is to spend just one day and night in the Highlands, then the day after, we do Edinburgh. After that we pack Elaine's stuff in the car and drive to London.

It would be nice to spend more than a single day in the Highlands, but alas...There Can Be Only One.



"I'd like them to shtay longer too,
but they have to drive to London."



Up Next: The Scoh'ish Highl'nds

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Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Subject:UK Trip, Part Five: Can't sleep in Glasgow
Time:3:30 pm.



My eyes crack open.

It's dark and I'm lying on something that's not my bed.

I see unfamiliar-looking bay windows and beyond it, night sky. Where the fuck--

Ah right, I'm in Glasgow, sleeping on Elaine's couch. Wonder what time it is. I fumble around on the coffee table for the cell phone Elaine's lent me and mash the buttons until it lights up.

Screen unapologetically says it's fucking 4:42am. I try going back to sleep, but jetlag doesn't get down like that. So fifteen minutes later I'm dressed and walking out of Elaine's front door with two cameras, a pack of smokes and my Glaswegian cell phone.



Elaine lives three miles outside of Central Glasgow, which seems walkable; three miles is about sixty New York blocks, basically the distance from my apartment in Chinatown to 57th Street, and at my usual pace of a block per minute I figure it'll take me an hour.




Kilmarnock Road is quiet and nearly empty, save for the occasional passing car and intermittent groups of drunk Scotspeople, both men and women, staggering out of pubs. I'm impressed at how unloud they are; when a liquored-up group leaves a bar in New York, they feel obligated to let the entire block know what a good time they're having.





One super-tall (like six-foot-five) African guy lurches past me, reeling drunk, doing his best to walk a straight line. He's only the third black person I've seen here; the other two, an African man and an African woman, both asked me for directions, in separate instances, on Buchanan Street during the daytime. I was surprised they'd asked me for directions because with my Asian face, I didn't think I resembled a local; perhaps it was the newsboy cap.

After remembering the Africans, it suddenly occurs to me that out of every place I've eaten in here, from a pub on Byres Road in the West End to a Wagamama's in the city center, I haven't seen a single Mexican person. Back home every place I eat (none of them Mexican restaurants, by the way) has a kitchen entirely staffed by Mexicans; Manhattan meals come courtesy of Latino labor. But here every cook I'd seen was white. I guess filling out job apps in Glasgow is not on your average Mexican's lista de tareas.

I ought to stop pondering race; it's so depressingly American of me.




Bob gives haircuts for three quid.
Perhaps if he charged more his
flyers'd be a little jazzier.





Glasgow? Man they should call this place Gas-Go!
Gas is only 88 cents a gallon here! That's--
Oh wait a sec...liters, pounds, huh...
My mistake, never mind.



After about 50 minutes of walking, I've passed all sorts of closed establishments: a pub called The Glaswegian, some type of concert hall or live music venue with a marquee, and a red building labeled Mr. T's Fast Food (so that's what happened to him, he moved here and opened up a restaurant) when I finally come across something that's actually open, a convenience store. Parked out front, a taxi with no driver. I head inside.

An older guy, the cabbie I assume, is chatting with the counterguy, who looks to be early 20s. Both are South Asian and speaking a language I can't identify; I wanna say it's Urdu. They both kind of nod to me when I walk in.

The place doesn't look very different from a convenience store in the 'States, except for two things: One, the amazing variety of potato chips, which I'll get to in another entry, and two, there's a glass Tim Horton's donut cabinet like they have in Canada. I desperately want to eat one--I loves me some Tim Horton's--but my keen eye for pastry-forensics tells me these donuts were made before I left JFK.

Instead I hit the coffee machine, pull a cup off the stack and tank up. I grab one of the styrene lids and hear a voice behind me say, in pretty good English:

"You have to put the lid on top, and press down." I turn my head. It's the cabbie. "Press down hard," he urges, stepping forward and reaching his hands out, as if to do it himself. Okay Number One you don't touch my coffee, Number Two I'm not sure why he's giving me coffee-capping advice, I either look retarded or like I come from a country where self-serve coffee is unheard of.

"Ah, thank you, I've got it," I say, snapping the lid on and holding it up so he can see I've done a capable job. I keep my tone friendly, even as I am tempted to challenge him to a donut-dating contest. The glazed there, time of creation? Oh yeah? How about the maple ones on the second tier, do you know when they were made? Because I can place it down to the hour, my friend!

"The coffee is very hot," he explains. I guess earlier he saw someone with an untight lid sloshing coffee and burning themselves, and it haunted him for weeks; here, now, is his chance to prevent another catastrophe. Nice guy. I smile at him and step to the counter.

"Tha'ull be one therty-faive," says the counterguy, strong Scottish accent. I fish through the unfamiliar coins to give him what I think is exact change, making eye contact to see if I've got it right. "That's faine," he says. I thank him and leave with my coffee, and they switch back to might-be-Urdu.

I'm closer to the city than I thought; just a block after leaving the convenience store I'm walking across a bridge spanning the River Clyde. Sun's starting to come up.



Shortly I'm in Glasgow proper. The first people I see are a gaggle of club kids hanging out in front of some nightclub called Cathouse, a second-story joint, black windows, red letters. I can't hear any music so it's either soundproof or they just closed. Either way I'm impressed, it's like 6am and these kids are just finishing up. And again I find myself surprised that they're rather quiet, they're laughing amongst themselves but they're not hollering curses or shrieking. I'd always heard Glasgow was a bit of a raucous town, but maybe New York and the douchebags that populate it are just more savage than I realized.


I'm getting hungry, so I start poking around sidestreets and looking at places that have signs in the window saying "Full Scottish Breakfast" with a price listed. Unfortunately every single one of them is closed. The only food-serving place I can find that's open is a friggin' McDonald's near the station.

Inside are more club kids apparently coming off a long night, and ranging in positions from vertical to horizontal. I wait my turn at the counter, then order a breakfast sandwich. The short blonde girl at the register counters with "You settin'?" Takes me a second to realize she's saying "sitting," i.e. staying.

"Yes," I say (belatedly realizing I've just squandered a prime opportunity to use "Aye." Next time).

The countergirl takes a few paces back to grab something, and continues a conversation she was having with the boy and girl working in the back. "I just despise [unintelligible]," says the girl that was in the back.

"Well I despise Amairicans," says the countergirl, loudly, which catches me off-guard. I'm not sure if she could tell from our brief interaction that I'm American and she's trying to be rude, or if she doesn't mind saying such things within earshot of others. Either way, a few seconds later she serves me my sandwich with a cheerful smile.

If she doesn't like Americans that's faine, but perhaps she's working in the wrong place? Or maybe she thinks McDonald's is Irish. Well, whatever.

I sit and eat, fully expecting the bagel the sandwich comes in to suck; I've only ever had good bagels in New York and Montreal, everywhere else's were shite. But surprisingly this one is quite good. I guess Glasgow's got similar water to New York and Montreal.

I polish off the sandwich as the sun rises higher. I didn't get to eat a Tim Horton's donut, but at least I had something torus-shaped. I wipe the grease off my mouth, dump the tray's contents in the trash, and this despicable American walks outside to see what a day in Glasgow will bring.







Up Next: Crew comes in


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Monday, April 20th, 2009

Subject:UK Trip: Glasgow captioned
Time:9:04 pm.
I cover Glasgow like a goddamned mailman, putting my footprints across much of the city. The map Elaine gave me is useful, until I go off of it; it only covers Central Glasgow, and beyond its margins I'm relying on guesswork, the position of the sun, and the kindness of strangers to navigate.

Occasionally I'll spot broken glass on the sidewalk and have a sudden urge to pull back on the leashes, before realizing I am not at home taking my dogs out on one of their urban treks. I am alone, wandering, with no plan or responsibilities beyond occasionally looking for food, beverages or bathrooms. This is why I love going away.

In public places I listen in on as many conversations as I can. Not to spy; I just really like the way Scottish people talk, I could listen to their lilting and phrasing all day. But I'm never really sitting still long enough to hear much.

In retrospect I should have brought some type of audio recorder, but the only documentary devices I've got on me are cameras, and I take hundreds and hundreds of photos. I won't subject you to the entire stack, but here's another thirteen of 'em:



Elaine brings me to the Lighthouse, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-
designed building housing Scotland's National Architecture and
Design Centre. It's where I shot the globular panorama in the
last entry. This is the view down to the street.



This is the spiral staircase you have to ascend
to reach the Lighthouse tower. It took all of my
willpower not to spit on the person at the bottom.



Whomever did the bathroom signage has a sense of humor.



Here in the UK, I am forced to put into practice a
certain life-saving technique I learned while living
in Japan, which is to turn your head to the right
before you step off a curb. It's a simple neuromuscular
task, but forget it once and they'll be peeling you off
the front of one of these red buses.



Glasgow's West End. Something about the block-by-block architecture
reminds me of Baltimore, but without the crack gangs.



Can you guess what this is?
If you said "trash can," you're wrong.
It's a "rubbish bin."



The bins have ashtrays on top, which I thought
was kinda neat, if disgusting to look at.



If I was telling you about this place over the
phone, you'd think I was saying "Super Jews."



Glasgow's full of these alleyways, which my
friend Eve would describe as "really rapey."



This West End liquor store on Byres Road amazed me--you
know those little tiny airplane-sized booze bottles?
They had hundreds of them here, but all of top-shelf Scotch!



They had plenty of full-sized bottles too, and it's a
good thing I don't live here; with the integrated ATM
machine, I'd constantly be broke and drunk. Brunk.



This is the Scotch room at the Odd Bins booze shop I told you
about in the last entry. The Robert Burns poem references
"usque-bae," the Gaelic word from which "whisky" is derived.
("Usque-bae" translates the same as "Aquavit" and "Eau de Vie;"
they all mean "Water of Life.") I take the poem to mean "It doesn't
matter how bad things get--I got a bottle of Scotch, bitches!"




A sign I saw on the train. I can't do all the work
around here so write your own caption for this one.



Up next: Can't sleep in Glasgow


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Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Subject:UK Trip - Glasgow, Part Two
Time:4:53 pm.



Glasgow World



Out and about in Glasgow, the first thing I notice is that people underdress for the weather. Thirty degrees (0 Celsius) and guys are walking around in T-shirts, women in miniskirts. I am the only one wearing a hat (and four layers).

The accent takes some getting used to. From what I can hear the short "i" turns into a short "e;" "Six" sounds like "sex," "fish" becomes "fesh" and "Jimmy" is "Jemmy."

I don't see anyone walking around while drinking a coffee; I'm not sure if that's incidental, or if this place is like Japan, where if you walk around eating and drinking you look like a freak and people chase you with pitchforks.

Nevertheless, I need some joe to go. I enter a cafe, but before I order, I remember that on my first trip to the UK people referred to coffee like it was a race: Black coffee, white coffee. I also remembered they don't say "to go," they say "for take-away." So instead of asking for "Coffee to go, milk no sugar" I say

"I'll have a white coffee for takeaway, please."

"Right," says the countergirl. "Would you like Hommecher-komech in it?"

"No thanks," I say, figuring Hommecher-komech is some spice I've never heard of that they put into coffee here.

The girl stares at me. Clearly I've said something wrong.

"Um, what exactly is that?" I ask.

"Well," says the girl, slowly and patiently, "you'd like a white coffee, and the melk I put into it is either hot melk or cold melk."

Ah.

Another minor linguistic thing I have to get used to is people often say "aye" here as an affirmative, like when you ask the bus driver "Does this stop and so-and-so," he goes "Aye." At first I thought they were saying "I."

The puerile part of me wants to ask them questions like "In the alphabet, there's a vowel that comes after 'H', right?"

The teens in Glasgow have a flyness to the way they rock gear. It's almost black American. Not in style; I don't mean that they look like white kids in Midwestern America who are trying to dress like what they see in hip-hop videos, I mean that Glaswegian youth have a way of taking improbable clothing combinations and rocking it in such a way that it looks...fly. Difficult to describe. I probably should have taken some photos of them, but you know me, people photos ain't my thing.

Scotch, however, is my thing. One night Elaine takes me to a store called Odd Bins, a liquor store chain. The whisky room in the back has the Scotches broken down by region. I make a beeline for the Speyside shelves and my eye is instantly drawn to an unfamiliar label, something I've never seen on the racks back at Astor Wines & Liquors in the Village: A Benromach "organic" Scotch.

"Ah yes," says the store clerk, when I ask him about it. "It's quite young, sex years," he explains. I ask him about the "organic" part, and he says it's made from pesticide-free crops and barreled in "ecologically managed wood." I figure I'll never get to taste this stuff back in Manhattan, so I snag a bottle and pay for it.

After ringing it up, the clerk disappears for a moment and comes back with something wrapped in white cloth. He lays it on the counter and unwraps it. Inside is a small glass vial filled with amber fluid and capped with a rubber stopper. "A little geft for you," he says, setting a narrow snifter on the counter and pouring a wee dram. "Try thess. From my private stock, I haven't got very much so the one glass'll have to do for the two of ye. It's a nineteen-year Benromach cask-strength."

Elaine, not a Scotch drinker, takes a small pull and makes the noise a person makes after you've pulled them out of the water, resuscitated them using mouth-to-mouth, and they've just come back to life.

Unfazed, I slowly tip the glass back and let the remaining three-quarters slowly trickle into my mouth.

woooooosssshhh

pupils dilate

feet lifting off the ground

cue Radiohead's "Nice Dream"



As what can only be described as a powerful Scotch whisky Starburst infuses my senses, I'm like, seeing the fireworks Bobby Brady saw when he kissed Millicent.

Some first photographic impressions of Glasgow, below. (By the by, are the photos too big, would you prefer a link? Let me know.)





























Up next: Glasgow Captioned


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Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Subject:UK Trip - Glasgow, Part One: Getting set up at Elaine's
Time:9:24 pm.



One of the things I've always admired about Elaine is that she lives like a bank robber. Specifically, Robert De Niro's bank robber from Heat, whose motto was "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat." As Spartan as I've tried to keep my apartment, it will never measure up--or measure down, as it were--to Elaine's.

Elaine's pad in Glasgow is like her pad was in Queens: Hauntingly empty. TV on the floor, couple pieces of mail, a handful of books split evenly between literature and medical texts. In the kitchen, if you want to find dishes or glassware you have to go hunting because the first three cabinets you look in will inevitably be dead empty. The refrigerator has an echo. By the window there's a bag of chips--sorry, "crisps"--that she's apparently bought for my benefit.

Unpacking my rollie seems to double the apartment's contents: I've brought two cameras, cables and chargers for each, the laptop and charger, the iPhone, a travel adapter, three issues of The Economist, my travel notebook, small writing pad, pen, two cartons of smokes I bought at the Duty Free on the way into the country, and ten days' worth of clothes. I suppose the magazines could go but I consider the rest indispensable for a trip overseas.

Elaine is the perfect traveler's host in that she's not even around, she's at work. I don't mean that facetiously, I mean it gratefully. I like to travel alone and I dislike the notion that you and a friend have to take all your meals together and "do things" just because your geographical coordinates are lining up for a week. Luckily for me she feels the same way, so she gives me a set of keys, a map and no guilt trip.

Incidentally, even her keys are sparing: Two gold keys, one for the front door and one for the apartment lock, on the thin wire ring they give you at the locksmiths. No fobby fob, gewgaws, trinkets or knick-knacks. An FBI profiler going through Elaine's things to fill out a psych profile would not have to sharpen his pencil midway through.

I'm a fairly forgetful person, so when I try to walk out of my apartment back in New York it takes me forever. Exiting the building I'll realize I've left my phone, camera, cash, cigarettes, you name it.

When leaving Elaine's place to head out into Glasgow, I often see if I can gather what little I'll need for a day out and walk out of the door in 30 seconds or less. And it's the damnedest thing, I fail every time.

Some photos of Elaine's crib:



Elaine's kitchen, by far the busiest part of the apartment.





Place gets great light.





The breakfast nook. I later found out there was a dining table
and chairs here, which Elaine for some reason disassembled
and placed in the closet. I don't ask questions.






Telly on the floor and a few of her things.





For some reason, all of the cleaning products in Scotland
are named using anti-gay slurs. I'd show you a photo of
the laundry detergent but it was unprintable.



Up next: Oot and aboot in Glasgow.


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Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Subject:UK Trip, Part One: Transit
Time:11:16 am.



10:40pm on the tarmac at JFK.

I'm in 21-G, and the twentysomething hipster girl in 21-F keeps referring to the airplane as up in here. "There's no room up in here." "It's hot up in here." "How do I turn off the lights up in here?"

I want her to shut up up in here, but you're not supposed to say things like that to people. Instead I pop the white headphones in, pop the orange pill down my throat, and by the time the plane leaves the ground I'm in La-La land. A country I enjoy visiting and that requires no passport, just a prescription (usually someone else's).



Seven hours later it's 9:40am at London's Heathrow, and I'm groggily showing my real passport to the 20ish South Asian clerk girl. The Londoner (judging by her accent) is as crusty as any Bronx-bred immigration official and takes delight at powertripping me into Q&A stalemates. "You're supposed to fill out [this information], and you haven't, have you." "Well if you don't have [this], you can't do [that], can you?"

If you're visiting a friend in the UK, you're supposed to have your friend's name, number and address on the disembarkation card. The clerk is unhappy with the fact that I've got the first detail but not the latter two. I feel like telling her, What can I say, me and my friend make plans the old-fashioned way--we agree to meet at the airport at a certain time and stick to it, none of this I'll-text-you-when-I-get-there bullshit. Instead I apologize for my supposed lack of preparation, and after she delivers a few eye-rolls and withering looks she waves me through.

But it's not time for London yet. An hour later I'm in the air again, this time on a plane bound for Glasgow.



Bong...clack-clack-clickety-clack-clickety. That sound you hear after the plane has landed, the captain turns the 'seatbelt' sign off and everyone opens their buckles at once.

I stand, open the overhead compartment, and am excited to see--it's just like the flight attendant said! The contents have shifted during the flight! Someone's laptop bag is leaning on my rollie, so I wait before pulling it down.

The Scotsman next to me eyes my small frame and (relatively) large bag, mistakes my hesitance for physical frailty, and offers a cheerful "D'you need help, lad?"

I decline and hide a smile. I've been called a lot of things in life, but never "lad."

I breeze through Glasgow airport, past shops laden with shelves and shelves of beautiful, glorious Scotch whisky of all varieties. Oh this is going to be a good trip up in here.


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Friday, March 13th, 2009

Subject:Supershort entries
Time:12:17 am.
Been meaning to write, but can't seem to find the time. In the meantime I've hopped onto Twitter.
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Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Subject:I do
Time:11:25 pm.





These are some of the most striking photographs I've seen in a while. I can't stop looking at them; there is some metaphor in them that I'm unable to properly articulate.

Basically, a photographer in China was shooting a wedding when the quake struck.

Life, huh?














(Compiled by Xanga user Leland Wong, click here for the rest, they're pretty amazing. Photos from Dragon Photo, ND Daily and Sohu.com.)
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Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Subject:work
Time:6:00 am.



My pops once asked me why I juggle multiple, unrelated gigs rather than having a steady, and asked me why I'm willing to go thousands into debt just to have an airplane take me over the ocean. I told him I don't care about money and said I don't want to work for anybody. He said, But you do work for somebody--you work for the credit card companies.

That shut me up. Smart man, my pops. He gave me DNA, half his brains, a roof over my head, ass-whippings when I needed 'em and three squares a day. Good guy.

Here on my own I'm down to two squares a day, kind of squandered my half of the brains. And the last ass-whipping I earned, over on 7th and Bleecker, never came to fruition; the gorilla-sized man and his bigger friend got back in their car and drove away with unbruised knuckles. Guess they had a party to go to.

At parties or the bar people ask me what I do and I say, You mean for a living. Like they're gonna say No, I meant what do you do to find spiritual peace and larger meaning in this world.

Whenever they ask I'm always tempted to answer I'm a hustler, but that sounds self-aggrandizing or like I'm cooler than I am. But I am a hustler, that's what I do for a living. Not a grifter, there's a difference. I find three or four things to do that have paychecks attached and I do them until the mailman brings me that envelope.

There's a certain amount I have to earn each day, week and month to get those two squares and the spirits to wash 'em down, and a certain amount to shut the landlord up, keep the lights on and prevent Mastercard from calling me when I'm trying to enjoy said squares. Some days it's a bitch, others it's cake, still others I find myself holding the bar down with my elbows while I try to decide which it was.

In Manhattan, the bars stay open late.


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Monday, April 14th, 2008

Subject:The Reblog 010: Luxury Trains from Around the World
Time:10:32 am.
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We've got luxury cars and luxury airplanes, but trains are the transport form that best lend themselves to traveling in style. With no pain-in-the-neck aerodynamics-based curves to contend with, the boxy shape of a train car is just begging to be filled with building-based luxe touches, and several travel operators have taken full advantage. Let's take a look at some of the more notable ones from around the world.

South Africa's Blue Train has been voted the "world's leading luxury train." The five-star-hotel-on-wheels cruises through the vineyards and colonial towns of the dark continent and is one of the few trains in the world to feature en-suite bathrooms with actual bathtubs. And if you drop the silverware on the Persian rug, a 24-hour butler scuttles out to take care of it, so you needn't sully your hands.

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India's Palace on Wheels promises "heaven on Earth for seven days" with ultraluxe air-conditioned rooms, two different restaurants for the picky, an opulent bar, a library, exotic fabrics, and stiff-upper-lipped service people who will probably not complain if you slap them. Tour touches include being greeted at some of the destinations by "caparisoned elephants." Alas, guests will have to bath standing up in a shower. Savagery!

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Southeast Asia's Eastern & Oriental Express has pretty much the same luxuries as the aformentioned trains--gourmet food, a boutique, servants with funny last names, and a disturbing racial divide between who gets to sit down and snap pictures and who gets to stand up and fetch drinks. Globalization, you cheeky monkey!

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The crown jewel of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express is a baby grand piano in the bar car (how the heck did they get that thing in there, did they assemble it on-board?). On the Orient Express, you "can never be overdressed" as you move about in cars filled with lacquered wood, polished brass, crystal and French silverware. Bonus: murder someone on board, then frame a French guy by stuffing a kimono in his luggage--it's all part of the fun!

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Additional sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
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Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Time:1:11 pm.



I am a great friend to public amusements, for they keep people from vice




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Monday, March 31st, 2008

Subject:the Reblog 009: Photos of Grand Central's glory days
Time:9:00 am.
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One of the best scenes in Michael Bay's 1998 actioner Armageddon is New York City's Grand Central Terminal hosting the arrival of a flaming meteor, rather than the 3:12 from Brewster. In the brief pre-disaster establishing shot of the station's interior, done in CG, shafts of sunlight stream through the clerestory windows as they hadn't for decades. In reality the original clerestory design feature had long been upstaged by the many light-blocking skyscrapers erected around Grand Central over the years.

Someone who remembers the original sight is 77-year-old interior designer Boris Klapwald. Half a century ago Klapwald was a Pratt Institute student with a camera, and he took a crapload of photos of Grand Central's interior:

"It was a place of contemplation, really--the exact opposite of what it is today," he recalled. "...I liked the quiet of it. It was like a cathedral. You didn't have to pray; you could reflect on yourself."


The Times has an article on Klapwald and a slideshow of 14 of his photographs. The rest of his shots can be seen on display at the actual Terminal, in the lower level.
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Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Subject:the Reblog 008: Humans hijack alien advertising venues
Time:5:32 pm.
Is there anything advertisers won't do to get your attention?

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Apparently these guys peaked in '05, but I must have been living under a rock as I've never heard of them: The Circlemakers are a team of guys who make corporate advertisements in the form of crop circles.

With mandates from the Nike Free, Microsoft X-Box, Sanrio's Hello Kitty and Shredded Wheat cereal, their "billboards" were presumably not cheap, but as their website's not been updated in nearly a year, perhaps the tap has stopped running. Fine with me; I prefer the ones done by actual space aliens. Sure, aliens might suck a few of us up with that light beam and probe us or whatever, but they never ask you to buy anything.

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"I just want to make art."
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Subject:the Reblog 007: London flat's good with wood
Time:4:54 pm.
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This kick-ass bi-level London apartment by Hogarth Architects makes heavy use of timber, and was "designed as a large piece of furniture to provide all the functions required by a man about town." Kitchen, living room and original fireplace downstairs; bedroom and swanky shower up on the mezzanine. If I lived here, I'd blog more, because I'd never go out.

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Click here for the rest of the pics, taken by shooter James Brittain.

via dezeen
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Subject:the Reblog 006: Poorly-designed interfaces
Time:10:38 am.
Why is most technology such a bitch to use? A Family Guy video shows us why if R2D2 was running Windows, Princess Leia would've been screwed:

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Subject:the Reblog 005: Apt. Therapy's "Guess the Decade"
Time:10:34 am.
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How good is your design eye? We're loving ApartmentTherapy's "Guess the Decade," (latest installment here) where you peep the photo and try to figure out if the room was designed before or after America went to hell in a handbasket.
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Subject:the Reblog 004: Korea late to the cell phone tracking party
Time:10:12 am.
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For once, we here in the 'States are technologically ahead of the guys in Korea: South Korean police are only now proposing to have the tech wired up so people can be tracked by cell phone and satellite. What's totally suspect is the reasoning:

The new proposal is submitted in a bid to combat the increasing incidence of kidnapping and other crimes against women and children, the police said.


Why suspect? Because:

...the system does not work well indoors, where satellite signals are blocked.


I don't think this is going to be a tough technology to beat. Tip to kidnappers: When you nab someone a) take their phone away or b) avoid leaving them outside in the yard.

via textually
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Subject:the Reblog 003: Rat Rakes
Time:9:39 am.
Although it's no longer in debate whether meditation changes our brain chemistry--Buddhist monks "in the zone" have been proven to emit different brainwaves than the rest of us ADD-addled folk--researchers are wondering if using tools changes up the wiring in our grey matter.

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To put this to the test, scientists at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research have taught rodents to use rakes. After 60 days of training, the rodents (not really rats, something called a degu) were able to use a miniature rake to reach bits of food that were placed out of their ordinary reach. As the Times reports,

...it has long been thought that tool use is a hallmark of higher intelligence.... Training [animals] to use tools in captivity provides insights into the plasticity of their brains.


Our guess as to where the study's going next:

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via the new york times
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