Friday, June 08, 2001

Sick In London

I have heard that stress makes one more susceptible to illness. I have also heard (and believe) that stress is completely man-made, that we create it ourselves, it is not God-given. Irrespective of the nature of stress and illness, I am sick; and this illness follows the rather stressful process of moving from New York, saying good-bye to friends and family, and sitting with hundreds of strangers in a pressurized tube for seven hours.

I've never thought of myself as an exhibitionist - or as exhibitionists like to say, a diarist; but, the more I think about writing these messages to America: sadly, this is what I've become. Has my vanity taken such hold that I find this therapeutic? I must be sick!

We are still in our City flat at The King's Wardrobe, in Carter Lane. Our spacious new flat in Chelstow Place will not be ready until July. The best part of our current address is that is is in a very old part of London near St. Paul's Cathedral and Blackfriars Bridge. Carter Lane is a narrow thoroughfare one block in from said cathedral's churchyard, populated by modern (1970s) office buildings at either end, a 19th century YMCA which now houses a YHA youth hostel, and blocks of 18th century residences that have, for the most part, been turned into businesses. Wardrobe Place, which is the address of The King's Wardrobe, is a small cobbled courtyard of three trees with families of birds, surrounded by six very old buildings. It is picturesque. It is quaint. It is cozy and wonderful and very unlike America (even Beacon Hill).

This was the site of Henry VIII's wardrobe: a cobbled square with six buildings that housed his tailors and storage for his clothing. The original buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and, like most all of Old London, rebuilt, as-is, in the same spot, in the same roads during the ensuing century. When London was flattened after the fire, the government wanted to re-design it as a modern (17th century) city, with a plan and a grid of sorts. However, the aristocracy (landowners) could not agree on compensation for eliminated roads and buildings, so London was rebuilt as it had been. So, you see, my fellow Bostonians, there is a lineage to our municipal ineptitude.

Boston is much like London, but that's a different story.

So, I find myself in The King's Wardrobe, today. Apartment A110. All day. Sniffling and sighing and generally feeling sorry for myself. I am not good at being sick. I have an aversion to housework, which is a detriment during a sick day, because there is not much else to do: mess the house, clean the house. Generally, I spend the first part of the sick day messing the house, and the second part of the day making a half-hearted attempt at cleaning it up so that it is a tad tidier than when I started. I enjoy some success.

I was awoken this morning by a conversation among British-sounding youths. Luckily, our apartment looks out over the courtyard. Unluckily, we are often unwelcome listeners to late-night conversations or arguments between lovers or early-morning business conversations among foreigners. Sometimes it is amusing; often it is irritating. This is a drawback to natural air-conditioning: open windows.

This morning's conversation among a seemingly large group included the clinking of tools and metal, so curiosity got me to look. (Not being an exhibitionist, I am neither a voyeur, and feel guilty when I peek out my own windows to check-out a disturbance.)

Slender Asian man with beautiful hair and looks, scruffy Italian-looking man with a beaming smile, cropped-hair English dyke with bright eyes, and a slew of others carrying photographic equipment around the courtyard. Two young men were transforming all the single-pane windows on the ground floor to six-pane windows by placing a grid brace against each pane of glass, lighting was being arranged, cameras were being assembled. All were chipper and chatty. None were thirty. Another photo-shoot to publicize the development, I assumed.

I managed to rest and read and answer email and call vendors about the move and call work a few times (no one seems to be in either the NY or UK office). I listened to the BBC Radio 4, T.Rex "Electric Warrior," and The Tubes "White Punks On Dope" collection. I ate a banana, made the bed, started some laundry, and continued my journey through Gore Vidal's "Palimpsest."

As the afternoon rolled on, I heard the famous "Quiet! Sound! Action!" call of moviedom and looked to see three Nazi officers walking through the archway, onto the cobbled courtyard, toward a doorway, and behind a lighting-scrim, out of view. Followed by: "Cut!" and the chatter amongst technicians and artists (separately, of course) that follows a filming sequence.

I am still in my pajamas and bathrobe, so I sneak peeks discreetly, because I do not want to get dressed. No one seems to notice me, or they are too cool to be seen noticing me.

My cute Asian seems to be the lighting guy. My Italian is involved with the camera. My dyke is the director, or director of photography. The actors are all blond and well-built and Caucasian and turned out in their Nazi grey which always makes me uncomfortable. They seem at ease in their roles and costumes. Are they competent actors, or do they aspire to this imagery?

My neighbors are coming and going through the courtyard in waves, as they are stopped at their door or the entrance to the courtyard and must wait for permission to pass through. None seem bothered, all are non-plussed by the equipment. Am I the only one who finds this interesting?

I miss New York. When I leave my New York office I see Radio City Music Hall. When I leave my London office I see the Lloyd's building.

The Lloyd's building is a piece of post-modern architecture that I classify as masturbatory design. It seems not to have been designed with longevity in mind, only a sense of schoolboy one-up-manship. "See how unique my building looks? I am so unique." It is as if a boy with an Erector Set was asked to design an office building. Unlike an Erector Set design, though, the Lloyd's building has no classic, if pedestrian, lines. It is designed with its innards on the outside, like the Pompidou Center in Paris. It is fun to look at, but not very attractive. The Lloyd's building has a lot of stainless steel, which I like, but it is impossible to keep clean; and the inside doors of the elevators (which are on the outside of the building) and the elevator shafts, which seem to have been originally stainless steel, are now greasy, blackened exposed one-dimensional shafts with all the appeal of the underside of subway tracks. It is not a pretty sight. At night, it is lit blue, which gives it a much softer feel. Most see it during the day, though, in its sterile ugliness.

This is not to say that I dislike all modern (post-modern?) architecture. I like the Grace Building on 42nd Street. I like Boston's Hancock Tower. Though I find most I.M. Pei designs to be the most egregious of all masturbatory designs, he did a nice job in Boston; but then, a stopped clock is correct twice a day. I look forward to a visit to Bilbao to see the new Guggenheim (which I like in pictures). Enough of this! I really did not intend to write a letter about architecture. Hell, I live in a city with remarkable examples from many centuries of design.

I miss New York. Maybe my illness is psychosomatic -- maybe I am just sad and depressed. But, that is probably not the case since I have a runny nose and keep getting hot and cold flashes. I probably have a common cold from one of my cootie-ridden companions on Flight VS012 from Logan to Gatwick.

The final week in America was fun. I attended a Mets v. Marlins game with the manager of the evil Midtown Mercenaries and had a blast. Spent days inventorying and valuating our possessions for shipment to London. Spent time with Pam, and Michelle, and Dickie. Took long walks through Manhattan. Then my brother, John, and our buddy, Fred, arrived from Boston to collect me and take me North to New England for some final farewells. I got to spend time there with Steven, and Dianne, and Albert.

The low-point of this process was selling my car. Anne's company has these fascist policies about how they will protect you against loss of your car. Unfortunately, you pay dearly for the protection as you seek multiple offers in Manhattan while working full-time and arranging the move. I finally made the sale to a dealer on 10th Avenue. Today, I discover that he has not sent pay-off checks (one of which is my money) to the bank, so I wonder if I have been screwed out of my car. Best not to think about it.

No matter how nice or generous car dealers might be in their personal lives, I find them all to be scumbags in the workplace. It may not be their personal nature, just the nature of the industry; but, I've yet to meet one with whom I would choose to break bread.

The best event of the week was a Red Chord show, at the Plough & Stars, in Cambridge, with Karen, Meg, Susan, Steve, Pat and Bob. I have been trying to get my friends to attend a Red Chord show for some time now, but most blow it off, usually under the mistaken impression that I promote this band only because my cousin, Andrea, is the lead singer. I thought most knew that if I did not think something was good, I would say so; and, if my cousin's band was a dog, I would tell her to get a different job. Maybe we are all just getting too old for long evenings in The Abbey or The Plough. Does anyone else remember that the Plough & Stars was on River Street or Western Ave.? With a red storefront? Am I imagining this?

Anyway . . . Red Chord was great. They are a band worth taking in and I was vindicated when Meg remarked over and over that she was shocked at how good they were because she figured I only liked them because it was my cousin's band.

Oh, my! Now they are pounding on the door and shouting in German! Yikes. This is eerie! I wish I had a microphone to record it for you (they are literally right outside my window): Quiet! Sound ready? Sound ready. OK. Camera ready? Ready. Roll-sound. Rolling. Roll camera. Take One (click). Action! Then the sound of heavy boots marching across the cobbles . . . a knock on a door . . . a pounding on the door . . . a deep, loud German voice shouting a command ("Open the door," is it?) . . . Cut! The Asian is now holding a sound boom. He looks so versatile. This must be a big production, because there are at least twenty technicians out here and only three actors. They are now arranging a different shot. I am probably in for some more German shouting.

I love London and I will keep you posted about our goings-on.