Monday, September 12, 2011


I feel comfortable saying, at this point in my life, that I'm usually not an easily star struck person. I've had my fair share of celebrity sightings, the first of which was spotting wrestler Paul Roma in a Burger King a few miles away from my house. In college I had a math class with Olympic Hockey goaltender Sarah DeCosta. She sat next to me on the first day of class and I very cooly told her that I enjoyed her billboards (She had posed, with her gold medal, for a series of safety belt awareness advertisements). She sat on the other side of the room for the rest of the year, but I continued to buckle my seatbelt.

Since those early encounters, however, the level of celebrity interactions has greatly matured. I've had drinks with Ray Romano, Mario Cantone, Josh Charles, and Sam Rockwell. I've worked out next to John Stewart and spotted James Gandolfini in a wife beater. I've had brush by's with Jim Tressel, Giada DeLaurentis, Andrew Shue, and Cornel West.

My move to London, if anything, has made these experiences something of a common occurrence, having spotted Jonathan Rhys Myers, Jimmy Carr, Ewan McGregor, and Andrew Fletcher all strolling 'round my neighborhood. Now I know what you are thinking… anyone who name drops as much as this guy does is an asshole, but understand I'm merely trying to give you the proper context for what happened yesterday (actually a few days ago now, but I fully intended to post this blog entry the following day).

It was late afternoon, 3:30ish, and I had just finished throwing on my gym sneakers and my customary blue hoodie, when I tucked my beat up Sox hat over my eyes and headed out the door. "Sail" by AWOLNATION was bumping in my ears and I was trying to convince myself that today's workout wouldn't be painful (a daily ritual of mine) when I turned the corner and there he was-- Paul McCartney.

The aging Beatle looked old… probably because he is, but jaunty nonetheless. He rocked a sharp blue blazer, red kicks (with fat laces), and a sensible umbrella, which he swung in rhythm. The Beauty perched on his arm was fiancee Nancy Chevell who, in my opinion, certainly has a leg up on Linda (insert rim shot).

It should be noted that I'm not a Beatles fan. I appreciate their contributions to the history of music and I can get down to Rocky Raccoon but that's about it. But fan or no fan, I was completely in awe. It was like seeing Jesus or Abe Lincoln or to be more precise, it was like seeing fucking Paul McCartney! My mind immediately switched gears and before long I found myself hatching a plot to touch Paul McCartney. A simple brush of his arm? A tap on the shoulder? A full on bear hug? No. None of these would work without me seeming weird or more specifically, none of these would work without me getting arrested. But how do I record this moment? I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. Unfortunately, however, my 8 pound top up mobile's most high tech feature is a backlight (that I don't actually know how to work, which probably explains why I don't have a better phone). Having no camera and no interest in being arrested, I went to plan "C"-- follow Paul McCartney.

I casually strolled along with Paul and Nancy for several blocks, varying my speed, so as to sometimes be behind them and sometimes in front of them, never making direct eye contact. Paul stopped to fondle some cherries. I wished I was a cherry. Paul swung his umbrella. I twirled my finger. For three blocks I followed greatness, which is another way of saying, for three blocks I was great. And then, he turned, and I found myself farther away from my original destination than I was comfortable with and… that was it. No more Paul. No more greatness. And suddenly, I wasn't half the man I used to be.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011



The crowds roaring as people continue to stream outdoors, streaks of red, white, and blue swirling through the night air. Men and women high-fiving, as they leave their flickering television sets to celebrate the recent news. But there was no game winning basket, no footprints on the moon, instead a man has died. “USA, USA!”

I remember this scene-- the passion of an overzealous mob, celebrating a perceived victory for their country. It happened 10 years ago. Except they weren’t Americans and it wasn’t one death but hundreds. As many towns across the Arab world flooded into the streets waving their country’s emblems while burning American flags, I felt sickened and confused by their insensitivity, by their pure barbarism. And I feel just as confused today when I see my fellow countrymen jumping for joy, burning effigies, and cheering as if they just won the World Series (according to one Bostonian, there were even calls of “Yankees Suck” mixed in).

President Obama announced that “Justice has been done,” and maybe so. But the reaction of my fellow Americans isn’t in the name of justice but of vengeance. 10 years ago America was punched in the nose. The most powerful country in the world, powerless to do anything but watch as burning bodies hopelessly pitched themselves from windows. We wept, we screamed, and now we finally punched back. An eye for an eye.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called bin Laden’s death, a “step forward,” which may also be true, at least militaristically, but what about culturally? Will bin Laden’s death serve to ease tensions between the Western and Arab worlds or further inflame them? While I know bin Laden was a despicable, evil man, whose death I will not mourn, I cannot help but feel that the sudden surge of nationalism brought on by his assassination is merely a manifestation of the depth of the hatred we feel. Just 10 years ago, a day I will never forget, we were victims of misplaced hate. I remember waking up that morning and sleepily shaking the mouse on my computer until my monitor clicked on. These were the pre-Facebook days, the ‘dark ages’, but I had my Instant Messanger open, and filling my screen were text boxes that contained the most venomous and vile language possible: “Sand Niggers,” “Towel heads,” “Nuke them all!” All of these messages left by sensible people. Good people. It wasn’t until I turned on my television that I understood what they were even talking about. As I watched the planes fly into the towers over and over again, I felt the waves of grief and anger wash over me until I was emotionally spent. It took weeks, maybe even months to find some sense of normalcy, although I knew that the world I lived in was irrevocably changed. Muslim extremists had wounded us, taking the lives of innocent civilians, and in the process planting within us, the seeds of hate.

During their coverage of bin Laden’s death, CNN interviewed a New Yorker for his reaction to the breaking story. The man stated that he will forever remember where he was on 9/11 and will always remember where he was when bin Laden died. I have no doubt that this statement will prove to be true, but I hope when I look back on yesterday’s events I remember it as the day where humanity was able to reflect on the evils of the world and put our relationship with them into perspective and not the day where an irreparable chasm divided two peoples. Today, I feel no more American than yesterday, I am equally proud of the men and women who give their lives to defend our country and equally proud to be from a country that espouses the virtues of freedom and justice for all—a sentiment I hope we put into practice more consistently in the future.

In closing, I turn not to my President but to my Pope:

“In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Arrivederci Roma

Rome-- Caput Mundi.

If all it took to rule the world was great food, beautiful panoramas, and a lust for life then the Italians would have a collapse-proof empire. Unfortunately, it takes a bit more than a killer lasagna to run the show and the Italians haven't had their shit together since Marcus Aurelius. Keeping that in mind, here are some Do's and Don't's for your next visit to Rome:


- Expect any sort of travel within Rome or out of Rome to be easy. The Metropolitana, Rome's subway system (although system may be an inappropriate word here as it implies a certain level of organization) has a mind of its own and seemingly works when it wants to. Don't get me wrong, it is serviceable. But if London's Underground is Ted Williams than the Metropolitana is Lou Merloni. Delays and filth are par for the course. Sadly, it may be the most efficient mode of public transport within Rome.

Buses, as you might expect, require tickets that can be purchased at any news stand or often times on the buses themselves. Most Romans, however, do not pay, as there is nobody to check. You see, the Italians have a sort of Guerilla warfare means of keeping their public honest, as uniformed inspectors will occasionally board buses to check tickets. To make matters even more complicated, tickets must be validated upon boarding, and if not, it as if you haven't bought a ticket at all and may incur a 100 Euro fine. If you are over 25 and consider yourself a responsible adult, make sure you buy and validate the ticket because once the more agile 18 year olds abandon ship upon the first sight of an inspector, you'll be the first one to get screwed.

Trains aren't a lot better. In fact, I'd say at least 50% of my Italian train experiences have ended in disaster. I don't ever recommend booking your ticket ahead of time, as there are so many things that could go wrong between your purchase and the arrival of the train. Buy your ticket at the station, and once again, make sure to validate it on the platform (the validation is especially key as there is essentially no signage).

Planes. Perhaps this most recent story will sum it up:
Got to the Alitalia International flights terminal only to find out that flights to LONDON are not out of that terminal... Why would they be? So off to another terminal... where the clerk proceeded to give us two of the same ticket (both in Jessica's name). After another wait for her to correct the mistake she handed the tickets back to Jess, my tall, perky, long blonde-haired girl friend, and said, "Have a nice flight, Sir."


- Take your time in Rome. There is SO much to see and even if you are there for one week (which people seldom are on vacation) you wouldn't be able to see everything. With that in mind, make sure to find the time to simply roam (ha) the streets and take in the sights. An espresso, cappuccino (or even better a cappuccione, cappuccinos that come in cups large enough for a small child to bathe in) or drink in a piazza is worth the trip alone. Something as simple as a gelato in the Piazza di Spagna or some pizza at the Trevi Fountain can be as lasting a memory as a tour of the Colosseum.


Buy souvenirs with pictures of saints on them, even if it is at the St. Peter's gift shop. It is tacky and unworthy of such a beautiful place. You're better than that. Trust me, you'll have other opportunities to spend your money.


Feel free to drop a coin in a church coffer, especially the ones that are free (i.e. most of them). For example, a MUST do in Rome is the Crypt of the Capuchin monks. Admission is only 1 Euro but the small crypt could use the extra coinage. Plus, the postcards from there are the shiz. If you haven't heard of the crypt before, it is a series of four small chapels completely decorated with the bones of deceased monks. You know... a vertebrae chandelier here, a rib bone crucifix there. It is both sublimely beautiful and Hannibal Lecter creepy. To quote the woman who worked there, "Have nice dreams tonight."

If you are into morbidity, a tour of any of Rome's 63 catacombs is a must. The catacombs of Priscilla, Callistus and Domitilla are less busy than the ones in the Vatican and don't require a reservation. As far as I know, everything is done by guided tours, which is a good thing because one wrong turn and you could EASILY get lost in this seemingly never-ending network of underground tunnels. Totally worth it.


Wear the jersey of a rival soccer club (the local team being AS Roma) and for that matter don't wear Yankee's merchandise... the latter of which has nothing to do with Rome or Italy--- just don't do it.

As we sat on the runway getting ready for take off, I noticed a young woman next to us was crying. I suppose her tears could have been brought on by practically anything: leaving a boyfriend behind, salt in her eye, haunting flashbacks of the Capuchin Crypt, leaving family behind, a random sad memory...

But whatever her pain I liked to think that it wasn't something that specific. I liked to think that... maybe she was just sad to leave a place where the people are so passionate... so alive.

There is an old Italian proverb that probably best sums up the Italians complete lack of organization and their all out zest for life:

Siccome la casa brucia, riscaldiamoci/ Since the house is on fire let us warm ourselves

Arrivederci Roma.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Shortage

America used to the be the home of heroes. Larger than life figures that captured the world's attention. Icons that battled injustice wherever it was found. Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, the X-men... we had a monopoly on virtue. To quote Wikipedia, THE authority on such matters, "Superheroes are authentically US-American,spawning from The Great Depression era." But no longer, nowadays the ability to bend steel, climb walls, and battle evil villains is strictly an English-thing.

Recently Warner Bros. revealed that British actor, Henry Cavill, has been cast to play the Man of Steel in the upcoming Superman redux. This follows the latest news that Social Network star, and English raised, Andrew Garfield, will try on a pair of web-slingers in the upcoming Spider-Man film. Throw in Christian Bale's portrayal of the Dark Knight and we have the English superhero trifecta.

What happened to the great American superhero (and I'm not talking about William Katt, who is actually doing quite well as a voice actor if you must know)?
When did we lose our swagger? Our Machismo? If only the Duke(John Wayne for the non-fans) could see us now he'd roll over in his grave... then make... disparaging remarks about minorities to Playboy magazine....

But back to the topic at hand. When did the English become so tough and cool? With the exception of James Bond, name me another rugged British hero? Captain Britain, the JV version of Captain America? Danger Mouse? Who, despite his "rakish" eyepatch, hardly counts. Harry Potter? Who may, in fact, be responsible for this whole phenomenon. PLEASE.

Don't be mislead, despite the Kent surname, Superman is from Smallville, KANSAS! He grew up with tractors, overalls, the Jayhawks, and repressed libidos! He doesn't drink tea unless it comes out of a pitcher filled with ice, given to him by an old mid-western woman whose cat he saved!

Yet here we stand, on the precipice of another British invasion... and with no heroes to save us.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pub Wisdom

It is that time of year again. The time of year where Americans sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation of our nation's most cherished holiday -- Super Bowl Sunday. As a Bears fan, which is by definition a sadist, I was fortunate (?) enough to have my team in this year's NFC championship game. Being one with England, however, means some creative thinking on my part will be necessary to watch said game. Not to worry, I (and when I say "I" read, "Jessica") make a call to the local pub, the Clifton, and ask if they'd be willing to show the NFL game this evening. Yes?
Suck it Fox/time difference.
*This is a great tip for those ex-patriots, abroad in England, who want to catch a "big game." You don't have to go out of your way to some dirty bar, just call your local pub and they'll most likely be willing to put it on.

So off to the Clifton for some good pub food and the game. Being a 3:20 E/T kickoff, Jess and I casually stroll in at about 7:50 to get our eat on. The Clifton is a very traditional English pub, that throws around words like 'convivial,' and prides itself on its oak interior, highlighted by oak accents, with just a dash of oak for color. Not surprisingly football, of the European variety, is playing on the telly. We manage to find a cozy seat next to the television and put our order in. A few minutes later, the barkeep switches channels and puts the game on. It is 8 o'clock, so I have to wade through another 20 minutes of Skye TV pregame bullshit.

The 3 inebriated gents sitting next to us...
Gent 1: What's this?
Gent 2: Looks like American football.
Gent 1: I think the Super Bowl is tonight.
Gent 3: You sure? I think they are still in preliminaries.

Perhaps I found it amusing that the word "preliminaries" should sit in place of "playoffs," or perhaps it had something to do with the hard cider I was drinking, but for some reason I heard my usually antisocial self chime in.
"The Super Bowl isn't for another 2 weeks. Tonight's game decides who goes to the championship."

Gents (in unison): AH you're American!

Indeed I am. Indeed I am.

They look up at the screen and back at me. The nearest drunkard then asks, "Who's playing? I see you have the Bears of Chicago, but who is the other team?"

The Bears of Chicago. It were as though I was in Eddie Murphy's, "Coming to America."

"The Green Bay Packers," I calmly informed them.
"The Packers?" One quipped, "You mean Shit Packers!"
They seemed to really get a kick out of that one. I lifted my class slightly to let them know that, while not actually funny, they at least told their joke to a fan of the opposition.
"Ah America," my neighbor continued, "I like America, I really do."
Now, I knew for sure the conversation wouldn't end anytime soon. I felt... a segue coming on.
"I used to work for an American company," Lord Ale informed me, "I like the way they talk. Very... very..." My friend seemed stuck, so I tried to fill in the blank for him.
"Direct?" I guessed.
"You do it too you know. You probably don't even know it," he continued, ignoring me.
Of course I don't know it. I don't know what IT is.
"You speak with a certain effervescence," he finally finished.
For anyone reading this blog, English or American... Please, if you know, tell me what that means.
A few seconds later our appetizer arrived, and before anything else could be said I smeared some pate on a cracker and stuffed it in my mouth.
"You know what I don't like about America?"
Oh man, did I see this coming a mile away.
"You don't vote."
"Well, that is a problem." I responded, with a dryness intended to kill further conversation.
"What would you say if I told you I was a die-hard liberal?" Mr. Drink/Drank/Drunk asked, abruptly shifting gears.
Out of time (the game was starting) and patience, I looked to Jessica, who always has a way of saying the right thing at the right time... except for now. Her confused expression was like looking into a mirror. Finally, however, one of the other cheery men butted in and informed his friend to, and I quote, "Leave them alone."
After a little protesting my friend decided to drown himself in another pint and leave the political discussion for another night.

At the end of the second quarter, Jess and I slipped into another room, replete with comfy chairs and a bigger TV, directly under which sat a large table of Englishmen who were watching the game with utter fascination. I knew this look on their face, it is the same look I get when I watch rugby. I kind of 'get' the general rules, but I'm sure MUCH is lost on this novice viewer.

Male Patron 1: Why don't they just throw the ball every time? They pick up huge amounts.
Male Patron 2: Tactics! You can't just throw it every time! You've got to mix it up!
Male Patron 1: What's that mean "1st and 10"?
Male Patron 2: I think they get a set amount of opportunities to advance the ball.
Male Patron 3: Do they get points for the yards they pick up?
Male Patron 2: I don't think so.
Male Patron 3: Who is this Green Bay team? Where are they from?
Male Patron 2: Florida.


Male Patron 1: This isn't at all like Rugby.

While I greatly enjoyed overhearing this conversation, I was not enjoying the game. The Bears were down to their 3rd string quarterback and STILL hadn't scored (it was the 3rd quarter). Until, finally... a big play! I shook off my reserved- American patina and jumped from my seat in celebration.
The table turned... "You're American."

Fortunately, these guys weren't nearly as drunk as my 'friend' from earlier that evening. In fact, they seemed eager to talk about the game.

MP1: You cheering for Chicago?
Me: Unfortunately... yes.
MP2: They aren't doing so well, tonight. Didn't they used to be good? Who was that guy? The Fridge?

The Fridge! This guy just set the Bears back 25 years!

MP1: Do you know who Crystal Palace is? They are a football team. Er, a 'soccer' team.

I said I knew who they were, although I had no clue. I wanted to tell him that I think I may have once, in my college days, visited a questionable establishment called the "Crystal Palace," but I'm pretty sure none of the ladies in there played soccer.

MP1: Crystal Palace is my club.. and they suck! Your Bears remind me of them.

Ah yes, My Bears of Chicago... in My non-voting America... with our American-sized Refrigerators....