Monday, November 30, 2009

What does Gerald Ford Dream About?

I'm a klutz. Half clumsy, half putz. I break things. It's an accident mostly. There are some days at work where I break multiple things at multiple times. Open the refrigerator door. Oops. PLOP. One beer glass-- dead. Take a rack of wine glasses from the wash station. Oooh shit! BANG. There was another rack of rocks glasses underneath the rack I took. Well, they were rocks glasses. Now they're just a hazard and a chore to clean. I tried catching some of the falling glasses with my foot (it's physics people: if I can decrease the distance that an object falls by placing my foot halfway between the floor and the origin of descent, I can impede the acceleration of said object by a substantial sum. Plus, my foot is cushy and the floor is tile. Remarkably, I make this calculation in the instant [T=0] that the object [rocks glass] starts its descent. Stupidly, I don't take into account the shattering factor).

I am such a klutz, I trip in my dreams. Does this happen to you? I can be minding my own dreamland business, walking along, fighting bullies, sexing multiple hotties, and breathing underwater, but present me with a flight of stairs and my orgy superhuman dream-persona turns into Steve Urkell.

To boot, my body physically jerks during my klutz dreams. When I trip down the flight of Matt'sMind stairs (an inevitable eventuality), my actual body reacts with a powerful and quick equilibrium calibratory jerk. It fucking pisses me off.

I Want To Go Where Everybody Knows My Name

I've done it. It took me about two months and maybe 100 quid, but I've done it.

I am a regular at a cafe.

Whenever I move to a new city/country, I instinctually always try to make myself a regular at a neighborhood cafe or restaurant. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe I like the comfort of familiar faces. Perhaps it's the joy of a cliched "The Usual, sir?" There's also the chance that I just like the food, though that's usually not the case. I like these places because I like the people in them. I like the smell and the feng shui arrangements. It only takes about 15 seconds and one look around to decide if I like a place. Based off my first impression and, importantly, the reactions of the staff, I can tell if I will like the place or not. More than once I have walked inside, looked around, and walked right out. Sometimes a staff member will even approach me or ask a question of "can I help you?" Still, something was wrong. I say "no thanks, just looking around", and wave a frenzied hand about the air in an attempt to communicate my frivolous investigations. Then I walk out. But sometimes, when the planets align, I feel right. It clicks. That's something special.

Off hand, these are the one's that I remember:

Munich: "Tschuss". In Maxvorstadt, a salad bar place with free wi-fi and a late 20's crowd. Most of my posts from my Munich-period were written at one of the back tables here. Usually, I ordered a "Grosse Mixsalat mit karotten, kicherebsen, und fetawurfel, bitte."
"Soda". Pretty close to Tschuss, this place had a really hot waitress who I used to oogle at. (See my post called "The Look". It's somewhere in my 2007 archives.) I ordered the weissbier and some kind of mushroom and pasta dish. I was really into mushrooms at that time. Weird.

Paris: "Le Rive Gauche". Located right on the Place St. Michel, this charming little cafe was the base of operations for the tour company. For that reason, I was forced into making it "click", but I have a feeling that it would have clicked anyway. The staff here were perfect Parisians: Jean-Luc, Pierre, and I don't remember the other one. Every morning I walked inside and was immediately greeted by Pierre, "Bonjour Matt, ce va?" "Bonjour Pierre, tres bien, tres bien. Ce va?" "Bien. Petit cafe?" "Oui, si vous plat." And just as I was sitting on a tall stool, Pierre/Jean-Luc placed a hot espresso in front of me. A packet of sugar (I drank my espresso with sugar when I was in Paris. It wasn't until my Moroccan vacation that I started drinking my coffee and espresso black), and I started my typical Paris day wonderfully.
"Cafe Blue Sky". I've written about this little joint in Montmartre before, so dig into the archives for a full description. In brief, it was run by a midgetine Madagascar man with the most charming high pitched laugh a wandering American could ask for. I ordered a Croque Madame avec un petit cafe. I mostly wrote my blog posts here. Unfortunately, I heard that the place closed down since I've been there.
[If you want to see the exterior of this cafe, it's in the movie whose name I can't think of right now. Robert de Niro is in it, and he is in Paris. Jean Reno is also in it. Fuck. Anyway, in the opening scene, De Niro comes down a long flight of stairs, outside, and turns right into a cafe on a corner. That's my cafe. Interestingly, and this made me giggle with insider-knowledge delight, the interior shots were not shot at this cafe. The interior is way smaller.]

New York: "Building on Bond". My little piece of Brooklyn heaven, this chic and intelligent-trendy Cobble Hill cafe served pretty good food, and importantly, had free wi-fi. The servers were fantastic, with personality and care. Whether I was talking about the art of book-binding with Paul or just shooting the breeze with Lynn, I was always in good company and felt like a part of the neighborhood.
"Provence en Boire"... or something like that. Another Cobble Hill joint where I would set up shop with my laptop. They had great French food and good cappuccinos. Oddly, I arrived one day to an empty restaurant and signs posted saying it had closed because of "illegal operations". And that was it.

And now, London: "Tiffins Cafe". How to describe my new haunt. Hm, well, I should start by saying that I live directly above the cafe and only have to walk out my front door to be within 10 feet of their entrance. In fact, we often get their mail. The ambiance is, well, it feels very London working class. Lots of construction workers clothed in their bright yellow High Visibility vests and pants (an ensemble that I can't imagine American workers ever agreeing to wear, despite the obvious increased safety attributes) eating their breakfasts, with the occasional businessman type. It sort of walks the line between diner and cafe, leaning more towards diner-- but not an American diner. It feels like an overcrowded cafe that serves a lot of fried things (which I don't eat). Yet, something about it clicks for me. The patrons are an Indian/sub-continent couple (not sure if they are married or what) who are just about the sweetest people around. I walk in nearly every morning, greet the two behind the counter, and inevitably the man will say "the usual sir?" "Yes please!" And before I even sit down, my breakfast is being cooked up. The waiters (who are wonderful) don't even write my order or give me a check anymore. I sit, eat, do some school work, get up, give thanks, and leave the money with some tip on the counter. It's great.

Last week, the lady asked me where I was from because I have a funny accent (that was such a weird feeling for me. I have an accent? Dude. YOU have one!). I said New York, here for grad school, blah blah, will go home to NY in two weeks. She said, "don't worry, as long as you're here, we'll take care of you." My heart melted.

I order the "Chef's Special #5". Two eggs, baked beans (brilliant), two rashers bacon (wider than American bacon, lacks the striation of fat/meat of American bacon, and is a tad saltier), two pieces of "brown" (wholewheat) toast, and a milky "coffee" (an americano, as filter drip coffee is a prized commidity in short supply with Starbucks holding a near monoply).
Since it's "the usual" now, I don't have the heart to tell them to cook the eggs longer (I don't like runny yolk-- I want to eat the yolk, not mop it up), and don't put milk in the coffee-- I hate milky coffee. No. I'll eat my runny eggs and drink my milky coffee in satisfaction and happiness. It's ok.

My ultimate dream: Someday, when I am long gone and hopefully famous in some respect or field, these and other places will have a little blue plaque outside that reads "Matt Reed, famous _____, frequently ate here when he lived in Munich/Paris/New York/London. He loved the people and the ambiance and did some of his best thinking here. He frequently ordered ________. Come on in, relax, and have a good day."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Weltkrieg Tabagerie

Men clothed in turtleneck sweaters and checkered pattern ties. The scratching of fountain pens recording indecipherable morsels of important sounding information. Sounds of haughty laughter following a well executed witty quip.

No, we're not in the House of Commons. We're in my Origins and Conduct of World War II class. By far the most upperclass white male of my classes.

I walk in once a week to sit around a large, mahogany stained table for two hours, in a room with exposed white painted piping in the ceiling and wall-to-wall bookshelves, discussing topics that would make any self-respecting armchair historian giggle with academic masturbation. Things like: The Remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Czech Crisis, and the Phoney War. Real topics that real men enjoy. I can't even write this post without squinting, leaning slightly forward, and giving each topic its deserved momentary pause of gravitas.

Peering through the thick fog of smoke that has settled in our little room, I can barely make out the figures around me. Seated at the other end of the table, the Humpty Dumptine Churchill puffs a fat cigar and provides color commentary as we, with reckless abandon, tear into Chamberlain's gutlessness and curse French laziness and unthinkable military preparations. Goering, looking like a perverted Buddha, sits delighted and jiggles with morphine-soaked laughter as we expose the idiocy of Ribbentrop. I sit, reluctantly, next to Mussolini (I was late and it was the last seat open) who makes fart noises whenever Churchill rises from his chair, sending mainly himself into fits of phony barrel chested laughter that makes the tassel on his fez hat flop limply about. Stalin and Molotov pass notes in between staggering swigs of Siberian cough syrup. And De Gaulle shouts an awful lot from the back.

Discussions are centered around questions like: Did the Germans have a clear plan for rearmament?
(Side note: In this context, even I say the word "Germans" with a tinge of contempt... "Germans". The hard "G" was a perfect starting consonant to have for an enemy. "The Germans". My medulla oblongatic biological reaction when saying the word is to furrow my eyebrows, squint, and give my head a quick jerk for added emphasis. I honestly don't know if we would have ever had gone to war with the Lithuanians. It just doesn't sound as good. "Germans". Hell, even "Japanese" [or the far superior, from a propagandist's point of view, though infinitely more racist "Japs"] has the hard "G". Fuck war with the Indonesians!)

Questions with little modern relevance. Questions whose answers are buried in "the stacks". Questions that spark a memory of a little known quote from Hitler, recorded secretly by a secretary, that sends waves of High-Register Staccato Academic Laughter Snorts throughout the room.

The HRSALS ("hersals") are usually in response to the most disgusting and inhuman of quotes or paraphrases. We snort our surprise and acknowledge the entertainment value over such crackpot ideas as the forced deportation of European Jews to Madagascar, or Stalin's choice phrase that the Non-Aggression Pact was "cemented in blood".

As the room goes warmer from the collective body heat of these aged men (I should note, there are two girls in the class of about 14), worked into an academic frenzy, our time suprisingly expires. We give a round of thanks, collect our pocketwatch chains, waistcoats and umbrellas, and return to the real world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hay Cadajo

I cut my finger pretty badly yesterday while slicing open a passionfruit (which, by the way, I had never seen an actual passionfruit before coming to London). I'm telling you, I was in so much pain that I was seeing stars for a couple of minutes. If I was alone, I might have even cried. But instead, I let out a stream of curses-- in Spanish. Which brings me to an interesting point: I curse in four languages at work.

If you'll remember, my workplace is a cross between a New York City steak-n-burger place and the Cantina scene from Star Wars. We've got Brazilians, an Italian, an English/Cypriot and me behind the bar. Also behind the bar are hundreds of ways to injure oneself, and according to Murphey's Law, There Will Be Blood. The only entertaining part about it, if there can be any entertainment in bodily harm, are the different ways of saying "Fuck" or some other delicious expletive in different languages.

The phrases I shout when shit goes wrong are:
"Hay cadajo"
"Fuck me"
"God fucking dammit"

We also use these phrases for the observation of pretty girls. Usually, the two bartenders will be standing next to each other, arms crossed, sipping soda water, complaining about how hard we work, when a gaggle of gorgeous girls come stepping up to the bar. One of us will gnudge the other, twitch our head in the direction of the ladies, and use one of the previously mentioned phrases, drawing out the words for effect. "Cattsooooo". There might even be a covert high five. Then, we turn it on. The other guys can make killer cocktails. I have to settle for charm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Words of Wisdom

"The splinter in your finger only makes you unhappy when you're not talking to someone who has a railroad spike through his head. " - Scott Adams

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wounded Pride

My hands are covered in about a dozen wounds of varying severity-- and I couldn't be more proud.

I have always harbored a deep respect for those who work with their hands in any capacity. It is a Romantic, civilized activity that, being a history major (or perhaps just lacking visual creativity), I have not had the opportunity to indulge. Until now-- sort of. As a bartender, I am making "art" in a form-- temporary art, to be sure. And hopefully delicious art. And if I am lucky, art that is enjoyed more than once. But art nonetheless. A peripheral benefit of my craft is that I can show physical evidence of it, i.e. cuts and scrapes. They are pretty bad ass. It's a new and exciting change for me. Try proving to somebody you're a painter (or a historian for that matter). "Oh hey, check out my stain!" What does that prove? Nothing. Nice try klutz. Come talk to me when you swallow some turpentine. That would be bad ass.

In the past, I can relate with complete honesty that people have commented on my soft and handsome hands. Though the observation was meant as a compliment, I took it as "Wow, your hands reveal that you are quite the pussy. Ever lift a heavy cardboard box, Goldilocks?" It struck me deep. But not anymore. Now, I look like I manwrestled a lawnmower-- and lost. What could be better than that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rock It

I don't know if I ever shared this link before, but in case I haven't, check it out.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Classic Rock and Roll.

Leon Russell-- "Jumping Jack Flash/ Youngbloods"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Exact Opposite of Hell

One of the trials that makes up my day at present is one that I'm sure many of us have to endure. It is such a common misery, that I'm sure we could all benefit from a little recognition:

Getting out of the shower into a cold room.

I don't know about you, but I like my showers hot. Real hot. Like a curry. I like it when the air is so thick with steam that I can visualize the microscopic mildew that is bound to grow in unreachable corners, succored on my thermal excesses. A small price to pay for red skin, relaxed muscles, open pores, and decadent deep breaths. It's where I do my best thinking, my deepest relaxation, and my best singing. But, eventually, I have to leave.

The decision to turn off the shower water is similar to the decision involved in getting out of bed. There's always the possibility of staying just a little bit longer. Even while I weigh the relative benefits of staying or leaving, I'm still in the shower/bed, and that's a good thing. Deliberation is simply my means of procrastination. And usually (this might be unique to me), I start daydreaming while deliberating. I mean, let's face it, if I am deliberating I am fully aware that I should be exiting the bed/shower, and therefore the deliberation consists of a cyclical argument where I don't really "say" anything convincing. I repeat myself over and over again. It is during this intentionally indecisive mantra that I start daydreaming-- and god only knows the thoughts that come into my head. But the point is that while daydreaming, I am still in bed/shower. It's a vicious cycle of inertia-- one that I enjoy immensely.

Eventually, I turn off the shower (not after a last moment's hesitation at the steel knobs). I wipe the excess water from my body (a trick I learned when I was about three years old from my father) and prepare myself to exit the Relaxation Chamber. Parting the waxy curtain, I'm shocked into a standing fetal position by the flowing air currents that apparently only manifest themselves when I emerge from showers. Fuck, I hate my life. Everything hurts. I must purge my body of every last molecule of epidermal hydration. It's my only hope in the struggle against goose bumps. But goddammit, wouldn't you know, that even the simple act of bringing the hanging towel closer to my body generates typhoonic wind currents that give the last 1-2 left hook before I can finally wrap myself in cotton's warm embrace-- well, at least the top half of my body. My two bit and tackle still have to suffer.

Stepping out of the shower is always a chore, thanks to the genius who invented "bathroom tiles". Sure, the little rug helps, but it's usually wet by this point. But wet bathroom rugs are the least of my worries. I still have to open the door to the freezing hallway. It's a bit like a fireman opening the door to enter a fire-- except the exact opposite. They have gear and respirators and enter burning hallways. I'm naked and dreading the run through the Hallway Gauntlet into my room. After some (unnecessary) deliberation, I open the door-- and I'm hit with a sonic boom of cold. Fuck. Everything hurts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Process

A thought I just had in the shower at 12:49am:

Getting a Masters degree in history is akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle, except the individual pieces are hidden throughout the house. Everybody knows that the pieces exist; the trouble is finding them. What I mean is that we (junior historians) know that the statistics and interpretations exist, but putting them together just means wading through the online based journal articles and published books, and finding the arguments that support the subtlety suggested views of our professors (not that it is their intention to do so-- but why would they assign a reading list that purports views contrary to their/established interpretations? I would heap immense respect upon the professor who offered evidence that is contrary to an established viewpoint). Original thought is discouraged. Towing the line is the name of the game. This seems to be more of a lesson in patience than in critical thinking. Better yet, this process is a measure of who has the financial capacity to afford this educational luxury.

Perhaps the evolution from armchair historian to professional historian comes in the PhD process. Maybe that is where the good are separated from the great; the passively-interested from the deeply concerned. Maybe we are learning the method now and the application (i.e. original thought) comes later. If this were the case, I just wish it was admitted. But again, only those who can afford this luxury can partake in the process, and that's sort of fucked up.

I think I am just tired from reading so much. A lot of this stuff is quite mind numbing.

The Next Generation

I was walking through Harrod's a few days ago (not shopping, just for the experience of walking through Harrod's) when I saw an elderly lady sitting at a little rickety booth. She was selling the red poppies that Brits put on their lapels for Rememberance Day-- a tradition that I find wonderful and moving. At this point, I still had not found a place that sold poppies (they are everywhere, but damned if I haven't seen a single vendor until this point), so I walked over to her to make my donation and get my fashionable floral accessory.

As we started chit chatting, she said quite bluntly "You have an accent" in her sort of let-it-go elderly way. I laughed and said, yes, I am from the United States. I then overshared and started talking about when my NY accent comes out and only with certain words like "water", "dog", and "drawer". She was obviously not interested. I tend to do that when I get excited.

She asked me what brings me to London. School. What am I studying. I roll my eyes, as I always do at this point, and explain that the title of my course is quite self-important, I breathe in deeply and then say with appropriate hand gestures, "The History of International Relations", after which I clarify and say "basically modern history." She says something along the lines of how we can use that nowadays. I agree.

Then, she turns the conversation. She mentions the recent shooting at Fort Hood. We agree that it was a real tradgedy and a dreadful event. She expounds on her thoughts, and confides in me her distaste for Muslim people. She asks me, "have you heard them talking? Dreadful language." She continues, and mentions some ridiculous details of an encounter with two Muslim women, filled with such hyperbolic drivel that is not even worth reproducing here. It was offensive and biologically impossible.

Not knowing whether to officially denounce the ignorance of this geriatric or just be passive, I choose the latter and don't agree with her but sort of rock on my heels, make eye contact, and tighten my lips to show my discomfort and passive disagreement. She didn't get it. I quickly concluded the conversation and walked on.

It is in situations like these where I have to make a decision: Do I express my opinion (what I would call "educated and informed opinion") in the attempt to convert her from her opinion (what I would call "ignorant and hateful opinion")? My answer is "no". She is too old. A harsh reality, but reality none the less. She isn't going to change her views no matter what spark of insight I can provide. She had hate in her heart and I couldn't heal that. Maybe others can, but I can't. My only hope is that she doesn't influence younger generations and spread lies.

So, what can you do to help combat ridiculous and harmful stereotypes? Educate yourself. Meet and listen to people of different backgrounds. Listen. Coopertation is key.

However, I can't help but admit a pang of guilt when I think back on this episode.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Psycho? Analysis?

I haven't been nice recently. It's a trend I've noticed over the past few months or so. I'm less nice sometimes. My patience is shorter and my quips more biting, less sensitive, very crass. I can think back to my first years in college (not that long ago) where I was the kindest SOB on the block, as naive as a puppy and just as enthusiastic about the world. Wearing my baseball cap, shaving, shunning alcohol and womanizing; if I was a Catholic, I would have been a good Catholic boy.

Things changed. I stopped shaving, for one. I drank. I became more confident. More of an asshole at times, surely. The trend continues to this day. My ego shapes my public persona and that persona at times embarrasses me.

I find that periodic self-assessment calms me. It eases my anxiety. I feel like I have won a small inner-monologue battle when I realize that I am being a douche.

Also, sitting at a computer for hours on end, reading about Nazis, tends to facilitate my inward analysis. It traps me in my own head. If I were alone on a deserted island, I could live forever. If I were trapped in a small room, I would go insane. If I were a monk, I would see God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tall, Dark, and Evolutionarily Advantageous

Do you think that attraction to "exotic" looking people, in what ever way you define that, is an evolutionary adaptation for diversifying the gene pool? Is it a biologically stimulated reaction, beyond free-will control, that trumps cultural affinity or other "nurture" arguments and attracts us to those of a different background than ourselves? In other words, do I want to bang hotties because we'll have sexy looking children?

I think so.

The flip side of this is to cite the whole Oedipus argument, where men marry women like their respective mothers. In this case, the gene pool isn't diversifying at all-- it's an intelligent and humorous lady who can take tequila shots down like it was "waw-tah".

But, I feel that exposure to the "exotic" is a modern phenomenon, and furthermore, it is only within the past 20 years or so that it would even be socially acceptable to intermingle with one considered "exotic". (And I am taking a way liberal view on this topic here, for simplicity sake. Unfortunately, a sizable [again, I'm being generous] part of the global population still ignorantly talk of "race" and "staying with your own kind".) The Oedipus argument is moot because the alternatives were minimal. Today, we are free to go beyond the familiar.

Sexual freedom has exposed repressed evolutionary biases! Thanks Hippies!