Monday, June 18, 2001

Stoopit American

I've gone on and on about how hard it is to get used to so many things in a foreign country. The pedestrians still baffle me, the supermarkets are a laugh, the ervice is embarrassing, and on and on . . .

One of the most frustrating has been the nifty little washer-dryer units that everyone in London has intheir kitchen. It is a single unit that serves both functions. I have referred to the machine as a permanent wrinkler. It has a little drawer on the top with three compartments for soap, bleach, etc., and only holds a small amount of clothes (2kg). We learned quickly to wash a very small number of items and have the washer STOP at the end of the wash cycle, so that the clothes could then be taken out, shaken and placed back in for drying, instead of having one ball of cloth attempt to tumble-dry in 75 minutes.

There are a couple drawbacks to these machines. You can only wash or dry at one time, you cannot wash one load while another is drying; the drum is really teeny; once you have started the unit, it is complicated to stop it; it is easy to set it to wash a second time when you intend to dry; the final rinse cycle seems to leave an inordinate (not a lot) amount of soap suds upon completion; the controls are a series of buttons and switches, most of which are heiroglyphic at best. None of this is insurmoutable, but it is all frustrating.

The worst part has been removing the freshly dried clothes, especially jeans, and seeing just a mass of wrinkles that no amount of ironing seems to remedy. This has gone on for months.

I actually enjoy doing laundry. It's not a problem at all for me. Anne, however, seems to have much more luck with this machine. When she completes a load, the clothes though wrinkl-y are not a solid mass of wrinkles; and it is soft, not crunchy.

The other night, I got home form the office early at 8:00 P.M., and decided to start laundry. I loaded the clothes, opened the drawer and accidently poured more liquid detergent thatn was necessary; about half again as much as usual. I decided that I would rinse a second time, if needed.

I did a pre-wash cycle, in hopes of eliminating some of the soap, and I checked the soap drawer near the end of that cycle. I was rather dismayed to see that very little soap was used in this cycle, and I would probably have to do a second rinse anyhow.

When the wash cycle was through, just prior to the rinse cycle beginning, there was still soap left in the drawer, and I feared that I might have to do an entire wash again, not just a rinse. When the whole thing was finished, and I was taking the clothes out to shake and reload, there was quite a bit of soap suds remaining. I sighed, shook out the clothes, put them back in, set the dials and buttons for a full wash and watched through the glass front as it all got started. Imagine my surprise when the wash was really soapy. At the end of this process, I decided to rinse one more time. Hours have passed at this point! Anne was home and, lovingly, not making fun of my dilemma and frustration.

At last, it was bedtime, the laundry had been folded and put away, and I continued complaining about the machine. Anne was kind. I admitted I had poured too much soap into the middle compartment and it dawned on me: why would the middle (second) compartment be used for soap? I asked which compartment she used: left (first)! For months, I have been putting the detergent into the fabric softener compartment and the clothes were 'rinsing' with a full complement of soap!!!

You try pressing the wrinkles out of jeans that have been rinsed in liquid detergent!

At least it's not raining.


Sunday, June 10, 2001

Names names names!

It's remarkable how important our names and monicker are to others.

I have used many names over the years. Most have been made up by me, some have been made for me by others, some I borrowed. I used them because of lifestyle or politics or mental illness. Whatever the reason, process or result, I have had to suffer the ramifications of those many names: using the wrong name at the wrong time, having different groups of people who call me different names collide in a social situation, forgetting what name you know me by, etc. These days, I am Dick Mac or Richard Mac. The repertoire has narrowed and the collision of names has pretty much ceased. Face it, there isn't a terribly wide variety in my current catalogue of monickers.

I remember a young woman attorney with whom I had become friends, we will call her Ms. Jones. She and I got to know each other a bit as she went from law school, through the bar exam, to being an associate in the firm at which I worked. We were not good friends, per se, just friendly in the office. We'd gossip and share bits of info about our lives outside the office. Though I do not recall what she looked like, I remember her as attractive, which would be criteria for being friendly with a young woman attorney in a law firm environment.

A few years into her legal career Ms. Jones and her fiancee, Mr. Smith, fast approached their wedding date. She was gone for a while on a honeymoon, and the first time I saw her in the office, it was with big smiles and warm wishes that we greeted one another.

"Welcome back, Mrs. Smith!" I exclaimed. Since I was being sincere and was genuinely excited about her marriage, I thought this was a friendly, giggly, almost girlish way to greet her.

She stiffened! Her face dropped, and she became rather stern. "I am a successful, independent, professional woman," she scolded. "I would never take a man's name after marriage."

I was a bit put-off. Many Miss Joneses keep their maiden names, but that doesn't make them any less Missus Smiths after the nuptials. I apologized and stammered that I knew she kept her maiden name, I was just referring to her by her formal married name. No offense was intended. She turned redder, became more frustrated and gave me a lecture about independence and equality and (what she passed off as) feminism. I was furious, but somehow kept my composure.

"I understand," I said quietly. "You are your own woman and refuse to take your husband's name; you've decided to keep your father's name. How progressive!" And I turned and walked away.

She never spoke to me again. She seems never to have told anyone about it; but, I leap at the chance to tell the story!

When I got married, I became Mr. & Mrs. Richard Mac, which has taken some getting used to. I am also one half of Anne & Dick Mac. Anne's maiden name has never been any difficulty for us; professionally she is Ms. D, and socially she is Mrs. Mac. It's all been rather simple.

With my history of 'name that name' I had my fears about how this marriage/names thing would work. I am totally comfortable with Anne using any name she chooses. Face it, when you've had as many names as me, it is futile to criticize another's choice of names.

Upon my return to The King's Wardrobe, last weekend, the staff was all smiles and
greeted me warmly: "Welcome back, Mr. D!"

The first time it happened, last Autumn, I wasted some of my life explaining to the
friendly and rather perplexed young man that although my wife's name was D, my name was Mac. He smiled, asked forgiveness, we laughed about it, he apologized again, I went on my way. Next time I saw him, he was all smiles: "Good morning, Mr. D!" I smiled, thought about how to politely correct him, and realized it was futile! Face it, I am Mr. D.

I have become Mr. D. Here in England, outside of my office and tiny social circle, I am known as Anne D's husband. Mr. Mac xists only as paperwork at Her Majesty's Immigration and my employer. Everywhere else, I am Mr. D! Our doormen call me Mr. D, the moving company calls me Mr. D, today the housing consultant called my office and asked for Richard D, the London company to receive our possessions calls me Mr. D, I assume this will continue!

I will keep you posted.


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.