A Question For Our Times


Maybe it was just a single experience, but here’s what happened:

Whenever I drove east away from the exquisite Malibu coastline, I’d stop at this supermarket with different foreign food stands inside, a buffet of desserts like chocolate mousse and Tiramisu, and enough market goods to feed a city. The place was one of my favorites, with great service and enough variety to keep my road-trip from ever growing stale. As I entered the store today, however, I realized things had changed.

The foreign foods were still there, shrunken into smaller alcoves and fighting for signage. The desserts existed, but now had names like Kunafeh and Basbousa. There was Turkish ice cream and couscous and some sort of potato-mayonnaise-egg concoction that was, frankly, fantastic. The noise inside was deafening, with a hard smattering of kh sounds throughout. Employees wore clothing casual enough that there was no indication that they were employees, and the atmosphere leaned more toward bazaar than supermarket. Employees did not smile, nor look up at the customer, but rather, stuck hands out for the cash and then returned change without a word.My purchase was a transaction, not an interaction, and the idea of the cashier saying the phrase “have a nice day” or “thank you” was about as likely as the lion-shooting dentist staying in business. Hundreds of customers clustered in the dining area, spread out across tables, sprawled upon floors, lay out on the sidewalks, and littered the grocery aisles.

I’ve traveled a bit, so places like this don’t rattle me the way they did when I was too small for the rides at Disneyland. However, when I come back to America from a foreign land, there is always this feeling that American culture is both diverse, and at the same time, consistent. While we differ politically, culturally and economically, there are some collective norms that pervade the nation. We have a customary way of handling transactions. We greet people and thank people in subtle ways that recognize their humanity without invading their privacy. Living here in the states, one gets used to this feeling of American culture, where cashiers speak, where customers don’t stop to eat in the aisles, where pushing and shoving ones way to the counter is frowned upon andwhere the din of the marketplace is not threatening to your eardrums.

For decades, we’ve asked immigrants to assimilate, to learn English so they can be successful here, to make themselves aware of the laws, of capitalism, and of the cultural idiosyncrasies that define America’s melting pot. We recognize the contribution of immigrants and how America was built upon the backs of immigrant populations. We’ve learned that diversity provides the massive benefits of perspective, of innovation, of ideas. We’ve learned foods from other cultures enhance our homeland’s palate, designs from foreign nations add to our national fabric, and that the dreams of immigrants augment the country’s creativity. Having a global population within the nation’s borders has surely enriched the American way. And yet, what happens when those who come to America want to change the American nation into the nation they left? What if they want to use the foundations of freedom and capitalism to create a platform for their own cultural, religious and national interests? Is there a requirement that all those who immigrate adopt and accept American customs, and if so, what are those customs?

Perhaps Americans should simply accept that there is no true American culture. Perhaps we should understand that America represents an ideology, which permits everyone to pursue their own interests, even if those interests are not comfortable for the current American population.   And if people choose a lifestyle that is anathema to the Founding Father’sideals, if they pursue cultural norms which are anti-social, unfriendly, and transaction based, if they begin purchasing land and supermarkets and political positions, if they begin to create laws that abridge freedoms and cultural norms the way we have always known them, well perhaps that is the evolution of our nation and we should accept it as the natural state of the world. Then again, where assimilation ends, imperialism begins.

When a culture passes beneath Lady Liberty’s torch, it hears the promise of this nation – you are free to pursue happiness here, to take your ambition and create your own way. But too, it hears another promise – that this country will not impose its will upon you, that you are free to bring your ways into the melting pot to thicken the steel of our national ambition. This second promise means you won’t encounter resistance when you bring your economic, cultural, and religious ideas. It means you can bring your old ideas to this new country and add them into the milieu of the American way. It means the marketplace of ideas is open to all thinkers. And then there is this little thing called democracy, where, if your ideas can gain leverage, if you can convince some folks to agree with you, you can begin to change things. Over time, those changes add up to influence, and then to grander visions, and then to leadership. With enough people buying into your ideas, you can change the country into the thing you want, rather than changing yourself into what the country wants. This promise of opportunity was there at the nation’s inception. Today, however, it may be there at the nation’s demise.

It may offend some people, to think that someone could believe the nation’s evolution can be considered the nation’s demise. But when the ideals of a country change, when a notion like freedom bends and breaks beneath the demands of cultural interests, when the American dream of ambition and opportunity is transformed into an international dream to convert America into foreign ideals, when America’s ability to change the world becomes the world’s ability to change America, then yes, perhaps America’s demise is imminent.

My ideas about American culture have been wrong – that is what I learned in that marketplace today. Our national identity is about freedom and our cultural identity is based on who is here, more so than any concrete concept. We say, Come do as you please and we will not pressure you to do otherwise. Today, many immigrant groups are growing large enough to change the American way, to make things more like the homeland they came from.   Today, diversity means, rather than making America’s customs their own, they are bringing their homelands’ customs and ideologies to us There is no doubt the country is changing. The question is…who will determine its direction?

By ccxander

Cotton Symbols


In the wake of the Charleston shootings, a call has gone out – “Remove the Confederate flag!” To a segment of the American population, the flag represents oppression, hatred, racism, and an era, which has no place in today’s society. With crowds chanting for the removal of the flag, and as politicians now enter the debate, one feels we are getting closer to a “Tear down that wall” moment. Removing the flag from the capitol would be a significant symbolic gesture, construed as a step forward in race relations and a reconstituting of the South’s mission in the civil rights discussion. For many, the flag’s removal represents the progress we so desire in this country.

Like all rights discussions though, there are other arguments to examine.

We are a nation, which prides itself on tolerance. Does the removal of the flag symbolize tolerance of all peoples, or intolerance of the Confederacy’s role in American history?

Throughout our stay on these fruited plains, Americans have taken lands from Indian tribes, taken freedom from African American populations, taken property from Mexican populations. When the European settlers conquered the American territory, it erased the successes and contributions from these cultures. As with all archives, the winners wrote the history.

Hundreds of years later, these groups still fight to re-establish their heritage in American society. They ask for remuneration, for restitution, for recognition of their role in forging the foundation of this country. The “losers” demand to be recognized for what they contributed to the nation’s prosperity. Would obliterating the symbol of the South, albeit offensive to many of today’s Americans, be the equivalent of the winners writing the history?

The South is filled with passionate folks who see the Confederate flag as a symbol of State’s rights. “It’s a symbol of family and my ancestors who defended the state from invasion. It was about standing up to a central government,” said Chris Sullivan, who is a member of the Sons of the Confederacy. “The things that our ancestors fought for were not novel and they really are the same issues we have today.”

Are the winners now becoming the oppressors? When the minority becomes the majority, who protects the rights of the new minority? In a hundred years, will we look back and speak of restitution for the Confederacy’s descendants?

Every symbol represents different things to different people. Think about McDonald’s golden arches. For some, it is sustenance. For others, death.

Then again, perhaps the issue is dead, gone the way of “The Earth is flat” and “Alcohol is illegal.” Maybe the confederacy’s cultural heritage is simply no longer viable, no longer true, and therefore no longer requiring a venue for expression. Maybe we, as a society, have left the notions of slavery, segregation and divisiveness for a new age of compassion, and embracing otherness, and tolerance. Maybe an evolving society looks at offensive symbols from the past as representative of an era of ignorance and injustice – see the Nazis.

Of course, that leaves open questions about the symbols of Stalin, of Mao, of Guevara. In hopes of evolving our society, should we obliterate these names and symbols from the pages of history?

It is said, we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, and that even if we don’t like what they stood for, they taught us that stability comes from correcting failed foundations. Are we now turning history into the Venus de Milo?


So, what do we do with this flag? To some it represents enslavement. To others, it symbolizes a quest for freedom. Perhaps we should fly it at half-mast – for a nation which has lost, and continues to lose, something on its behalf.

By ccxander



There was a story on CNN today, reporting about a hunter who paid $350,000 to save the black rhino species by hunting and killing one of its members. In order to raise funds to conserve the animals, the Namibian government held an auction for the heads of several of its rhinos. The hunted rhinos are all older males, with no reproductive future, and whose aggression makes them likely to kill off younger members of their own species, thus representing a threat to the herd. Because the government does not have the funds to conserve the rhino, and cannot staff its parks well enough to stave off poachers, these hunting auctions are considered a utilitarian move to protect the few remaining members of the species. The question remains, however, is this wise?


Several arguments occur to me. If the hunter is truly a conservationist with a big bank account, why not donate the funds to the Namibian government to hire more staff? Or, if it isn’t an abridgement of the animal’s freedoms to just do what animals do, why not create a private place for the animal to grow old and die? From the Namibians, we get the following: Even If the government had enough staff, these older rhinos would still pose a threat to the species, and might kill of the next generation of black rhinos. Regarding penning up the animal, the animal rights activists are vociferous in their demands that the animal be free, and that it would be a cruel and indefensible act to abridge an animal’s freedom.

So, what seems socially and morally repugnant is now being regarded as acceptable, innovative, and beneficial to the black rhino species. This begs several other questions about this kind of acceptance. Does destroying some members of the herd, in order to benefit the others, fit into the realm of our current morality? Additionally, are we willing to treat the human species as we do the animal species?

In other words, can we apply the utilitarian argument to other aspects of our society?

A few years back, there were talks about death squads in the new health care bill. Today, elderly patients are assessed and then a medical panel determines whether they are indeed worthy of receiving high-level care – we’re talking a new heart, or cancer treatment, or some pretty expensive and death-defying stuff here, but you get the point. Too, there are families across the nation, which refuse to vaccinate their children for fear of things like autism, allergic reaction, and/or just the whole idea of being forced to stick a dead-virus laden needle inside their kid.

I’m certainly not the person to decide what is morally permissible in this world, and I’m well aware that agreement on these issues is as likely as finding Jimmy Hoffa, however, I am getting older, and, in the next decade or two, the younger generation’s sense of morality may very well come into play for me. I might need that heart, or that cancer drug. I might want my kid’s fellow students to get their vaccinations. In other words, right now I’m the hunter, but very soon, I might become the black rhino.

By ccxander

Bait and Switch

It’s amazing how history continues to show the disgusting truth about George Bush. In digging through his emails, a Los Angeles reporter recently discovered his leaking of sensitive information regarding the military. Like someone else is being accused of these days, Bush kept a private email account on his Presidential computer and many of those emails were hack-able by foreign intelligence services. During his Presidency, and for nearly a decade afterward, Bush withheld those emails from the public, but via the Freedom of Information Act, it has now been shown that several emails were related to military movements during the war in the Middle East.

Whether the information was actually used by the enemy to kill American troops has yet to be determined. However, sources suggest that due to Bush’s incompetence, foreign enemies had access to the movements of the American militia during wartime. It’s simply abominable to think that a politician would have the audacity to keep sensitive (and hackable) information on his personal computer when American lives are at stake.

Just one more thing to prove what a scumbag this guy really was.


My apologies. I need a retraction here. It wasn’t George Bush, it was Hilary Clinton who did this. Will the name on the marquis change the way people feel about the act?


Rudyard Kipling wrote,

 If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same… 

 I think he had it right.

By ccxander

Rafael Nadal and the Pope

For those of the Catholic Faith, this article is completely satirical and meant in good humor. If it offends, please use that wonderful sense of forgivenessyour religion provides for.


The Vatican is now the seat of Pope Francis, an Argentine priest with a penchant for poverty and the sort of progressive mentality one doesn’t usually expect from the Holy See. I went to see him this morning.


While queuing up in St. Peter’s Square, a shy, bronze-skinned, well-Nike’d Spaniard stepped in front of me on his way to a little pre-French Open blessing – think Rocky Balboa before the Creed fight and you get the idea. What happened next will explain the burden of Rafael Nadal’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. For journalistic integrity, I think it’s important to provide all of the details.

Rafael enters the Vatican and Father Francis emerges in full Papal gear. Francis gestures for Rafa to come over, but there are lines on the Vatican floor, and Rafa, not wanting to step on any of them, progresses toward Francis employing the navigatory wherewithal of an attention-deficit GPS. (Footnote 1 at bottom of page)

Eventually, Rafa reaches the holy man.


The Pope raises a hand to bless Rafa, and, well, we all know what happens when the poor kid is about receive, right? Nadal touches his ear-nose-ear-ear-nose-ear. Papa Frank, figuring the young man probably skipped Sunday school on his way to tennis practice and is confused in his genuflective efforts, tries to help Rafa out, crossing him once more. Rafa though, stuck in the sub-conscious Sahara where decisions are less made than automated, replies with another ear-nose-ear-ear-nose-ear sequence and P Frank is becoming visibly pissed.

Papa Frank raises his hand skyward and Rafa, now mortified by his own subconscious actions, thinks the Pope wants a high-five. He lifts his left hand toward the Popish palm, but before he can connect with the holy hand, his arm lassos above and behind his head with the sort of French Open-winning finish that only he can understand. The Pope, unfamiliar with Rafa’s technique, takes this as a high-five psych. Rafa reddens to the point where his facial hue matches the red clay of Rome.

Once again, Papa F blesses poor Rafael and you can almost see the pain in the Spaniard’s twitching face as his hands pass across his face, touching those now-calloused auricles and probiscus one more time. By now, Frankie’s face is turning purple and he’s beginning to shake, but being the compassionate and ever-forgiving representation of God on Earth, he performs the blessing one more time, praying with Papal power, that the boy will get it right. Rafa lifts a quivering hand, and for a moment, you get the sense that he just might overcome his need to move toward his ear. Even Big F is getting excited. Alas, the boy fails.

Unable to handle this heresy, PF goes into a full-bodied clench and gets his Papal robe stuck between his butt cheeks. He yanks at them, and Rafa, sensing an opportunity to show his respect, grabs at the back of his own shorts and yanks, smiling with satisfaction. Now, the two of them are standing there, one hand behind them holding a fistful of cloth, Rafa’s right hand going through some uncontrollable face-touching and Francis praying for forgiveness.

PFrancis, now over his vow of mercifulness and darn near ready to slap the kid, sprinkles Rafa with the Holy water. Rafa, overcome with horror about the water touching the ground, then tackles a small American woman, commandeers her water bottle, corrals the holy water, and sets the bottles (labels out) perfectly straight upon the Altar. Rafael then tilts his head southward, yells Vamos, flails his legs side to side and sprints out of the Vatican. Pope Francis issues a benediction to grand applause.

I am now headed back to Paris for the French. There is a rumor the Pope is coming to watch. They say Rafa is willing to move Heaven and Earth to win. We may just find out.

  1. For those who grew up in the eighties, there was a video game called Frogger where the gamer had to control a frog across a freeway of trucks and cars and the amphibian moved right, left, forward and back with uncommon irregularity. I was going to use this reference, but as I read it to my companion, she gave me a blank look, so I went with the ADHD reference instead. I still find the Frogger analogy better, but c’est la vie.






By ccxander

A Tale of Two Cities

Having spent three days in Firenze before coming south to Rome, the cities’ personalities differ at their extremities. Florence uses its arms to embrace you, while Rome simply flexes.

Firenze suggests acoustic guitar on the Ponte Vecchio, where sunset means a thousand couples wrapped around each other in poses more bacchanalian than virginal. Firenze means two hefty Italian women in the kitchen singing and laughing as they taste your al dente fettucine until it is olive-oiled to perfection. Firenze means Giotto’s Bell tower steps, which will kick your un-oxygenated ass, and the Uffizi museum where Caravaggio’s dark colors take you inside your soul. On the streets, Firenze means accordions and violins echoing down cobblestone streets as you search for the perfect Panini con afumicato before licking the sweet, sugary gelato from a too-full cone. Firenze means Piazzele Michelangelo’s hillside cafes where one can witness Brunelleschi’s dome atop the Duomo in the distance. With yellow and orange buildings, brown streets, and Crayola box fruit-stands on every corner, Firenze is a shade for all hours, and if one sits long enough, the days sharpness fades into twilight and pastels change like autumn’s leaves. Firenze’s blood is the Arno, a river, which carries widows’ tears, ripples with lover’s laughter, and nourishes the soils of the next generation of Florentines. Scents of garlic and fresh baked bread drift throughout the city and you can’t help closing your eyes and sniffing the air in even the most formal moments. I am in love with this city.

Rome is massive, meaty, manly. The Palazzo Venezia towers over exhaust-producing Via del Corso while the Colosseum’s bloody stones maintain vigilance in the background. Trevi’s Fountain is swimmable and there are enough steps in the Piazza di Spagna to wear out Rocky Balboa. Rome means thick Bolognese sauces with bulky Pici pasta and large loaves of stiff bread. Rome means leaving the table with an unbuckled belt and considering a week without shaving. There are gladiators here, bearing swords and the type of aggression that makes you re-consider jaywalking. Rome means drums and electric guitars in piazzas the size of football fields and white stone with hard-angled facades. Through Rome runs the Tiber, a muddy brown river that carries away blood of ancient wounds, the shame of Caesar’s slaves, and which cools the skin of modern-day warriors. There are drunks, and homeless and eighty-foot brick walls with enough cement between them to make you think Soylent Green. Scents of Parmesan and bacon flood the nights and you can’t help closing your eyes and wishing for the smell to dissipate. This city might not be right for me.

By ccxander

Rome Tennis…sort of

I’m here in Rome, Italy, covering an event for http://www.10sballs.com.  The site owner believes I’m going to write about tennis.  I think otherwise. :-)


If you know where you are going, the Foro Italico (stadium) is approximately 3,598 steps from Piazza di Spagna, otherwise it is exactly 9,487.   When you arrive, a blue-uniformed security guard named Giovanni checks your ID, scans your body a bit uncomfortably, and lets you pass onto the main walkway.

Moving toward the courts, you step on white, circular street plaques dedicated to Italian Olympians in sports like ciclismo, pesistica, scherma, and automobilisimo. You will feel insecure about scherma until you find out it means fencing. To your left, fifty small children scream and swat tennis balls over hobbit-sized nets upon grass courts, and you get the feeling Italy is prepping the next generation for a Wimbledon title. An ethereal and breath-inhibiting cigarette smoke hovers over the site and after about an hour, you get the feeling a giant filter would increase everyone’s life span. Beginning at 11am, however, a nice cool breeze kicks in and it’s mostly the South side of the stadium that suffers.

Behind the courts, a swath of trees adds green accents to the brick-red clay, and with all of the white hats on spectators’ heads, the Italian flag feels fairly ubiquitous. The trees are a nice touch, although they throw off a lot of pollen, and it being the early summer, there’s now a pretty constant back and forth rally of “achoo-salud” resounding throughout the stadium

The Foro Italico Express is a Disneyland-ish train that carries people from the entrance to the courts, although it moves slightly faster than a pregnant yak going uphill in soft sand, and if you walk quickly by the people on the train and smile, they pretend to hate you. All over the site, music accompanies the crowds, and if you stand central between the courts and the vending booths, you can hear four different radio stations at once, which I imagine is a lot like watching the show, The View (sans instrumentation).

Police here carry swords, and I can only imagine it’s a tribute to the gladiators of yore, since, well, let’s be honest, a sword? Hundreds of people rest on nearby lawns and drink caramel-colored beer and give tongue-lashings to 7-euro gelatos. Every vendor serves some form of pizza, and most are covered with fresh basil and geisha-face-colored mozzarella and, in Rome, the word margherita has nothing to do with tequila. (I asked, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one). There are many men here who are skinnier than the women, and most of them wear open collared shirts with enough chest hair to make you think the entire crowd is engaged in an effort to gradually smuggle in Chewbacca. At corners of the site, there are: an Estathé-sponsored paddle tennis tournament, a serve speed booth (top score is 104 by a 14 year-old girl, although her father was yelling at her during her swing so I think the radar reviewer may have added a few mph for child-protective reasons), and a pool where petite, loathsome ants will bite you and keep it a secret until four hours later when your ankles will swell like pomegranates.

On court, the clay is soft enough to muffle the noise of the bounce, so the normal smack-grunt-bounce-smack-grunt-bounce rhythm now has this zero-gravity thing about it. There are long chiaroscuro-hinting slide marks on the clay, and ball kids who show self-conscious romantic interest in the players. Around the stadium, colossal statues of Roman sportsman grace the grounds, and the marble stadium seats make slushy sucking sounds when you rise from them. Intermittently, the crowd roar, and I’ll swear at least one of the statues has moved his hands toward his ears.

There’s more to say about this place, but that pizza is too damn tempting, so I’m retiring for the day.  More tomorrow.

By ccxander


IMG_4148Giotto’s Bell Tower requires 436 steps up a dark circling hallway and, if you’re in pear shape, an oxygen tank. The Tower rises above Florence’s main attraction, the Duomo, and looks out over the entire city of palazzos, museums, and crowds of tourists that smile splendidly beneath remarkable body odor. This is my last stop on a 19-mile walking tour of the city.

This morning, I headed out to see Michelangelo’s Dave (collegial name because I’ve now seen him naked), and his contraposto pose before scouring the Uffizi for DaVincis and Botticellis. With a $72 Firenze card in hand, one skips all lines and you can get through all of the city’s sights in about ten hours. Thus, I’ve passed across the Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace, walked the Palazzo Vecchio and Medici Chapels, and eaten perfect pasta made by big-haired, large-breasted, black-clad Italian women who make cooking joyful and glare at you if don’t clean your plate.

At this time of year, there are thousands of people here, filling the streets with the sort of unbridled enthusiasm that causes them to slam into each other and trip over selfie-sticks and interrupt photos. I’ve seen children whose faces look like gelato attacked them and old. fedora-wearing men that stare at women’s backsides with the sort of sentimental yearning one gets when remembering youth. I’ve heard words end with vowels that should not end with vowels and seen gestures that look like seizures but are apparently friendly. I’ve stood behind the kitchen counter with an Italian family and walked enough cobblestone to blister my soles. And now, here I am, having walked the 436 steps with cramping quads and mangled feet, having staggered and crawled my final stiarwell to the top of the city, having felt life slipping from my lungs and legs, here I am, standing at the top of Giotto’s Tower.

It is 8:30 p.m. Giotto’s Tower closes at 6:30. I don’t think anyone knows I am here. I have yelled to the streets that I am stuck, but no one has heard my calls. I have this inkling to ring the bells before 9:00 pm arrives just to see if someone will come get me, however, I cannot lift myself to pull the rope. I am just sitting here, tears welling in my eyes, the day’s ache now paralyzing my legs. In ten hours, the sun rises. I’m actually longing for the comfort of last night’s plastic chair at the airport.

The night is becoming blurry. A ghostly echo now permeates the chamber’s tower. It may be my exhaustion but I hear the crescendoing whispers of a conversation.

Giotto, “Every day, up and down these goddam stairs just to ring the bell.”

Da Vinci, “ Giotto, I have this idea to get you up and down easier.”

Giotto, “Yea sure, now. Where were you three hundred years ago when I needed you!?”

Da Vinci: “I was working on a helicopter and a painting of some woman with a questionable smile.”

Giotto: “My knees are killing me, not to mention some guy just tried to hire me as his Sherpa.”

Da Vinci: “You want the elevator or not?”

Giotto: “Listen, Lenny. That elevator breaks, there’ll be hell to pay. Let’s just stick with the stairs for another thousand years until someone figures out how to keep time on a phone or something.”

Da Vinci: I envy your strength.”

The whispers fade. I am alone again. Against the stone wall, my head throbs. The air feels like a dog’s nose.  I hate Giotto.

By ccxander


One notable thing about Norwegian Air Shuttle flight 7096 is its small aisles. It’s as though the airlines believes all traveler’s carry the slight frame of Nordic Cross Country Skiers and are able to press their hips through the aisle-adjacent faces of other passengers. Imagine toothpaste pushing its way through a tube. Needless to say, there is an abundance of cheek-touching. The other notable thing is the seat size.   On a bet, I once tried to squeeze myself into a child’s car seat, sliding beneath the straps and retracting my legs until my toes were nearly inside my hips. The cramping was excruciating and I made sounds I didn’t know I could make. That experience was an exercise in lounging luxury compared to NAS 7096. Vern Troyer (Austin Powers’ Mini-me) would have bitched.

The plane from LAX to Rome, with a brief stopover in London’s Gatwick Airport is presumably uneventful. However, with Rome’s airport fire beginning the day I left, Gatwick has now become my own personal Hades. I am currently standing in a 230-passenger-deep line, being told “All flights to Rome have been canceled until Sunday. It is now Thursday morning. I have non-refundable pre-paid hotels, trains, historic monument tickets etc. that are now expiring faster than the deodorant this here NAS representative is wearing (maybe). I am in a mood.

The suggestion, which comes with a very professional “Sorry, sir” and one of those palms-up head tilts that is just the gesture of death to someone who wants assistance, is that I could purchase a new $500 ticket for Florence the following morning, although it leaves from the London City Airport about an hour distant (just across the city). I make the purchase and have a brief word with God about destiny and being fucked with.

Crossing London at night has this dysmorphic Paul Revere thing about it, although when one traveler grabbed me to ask if I knew where the Jack The Ripper exhibit was, I jumped centuries and then sprinted toward the train station. The trip requires five trains, some underground, a bit of walking, and at least one “unmentioned” left turn (that bitch!).

My final train ride requires some explanation. ON the “tube” (London vernacular), doors open at each stop. At London City Airport, however, it’s a quick open/close and I am about halfway out when the “shutting” occurs. Backpacking through Europe means I bear this faint resemblance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo, and what with Florence on my itinerary, the whole things smacks of irony. Point being, the “shutting” catches the edges of my turtle shell pack and I quickly feel my heels lift from the floor, sort of like those old video games where you control the claws that come down and try to clasp a teddy bear, except here I’m the damn bear. I’m now hanging from the door, accelerating in space, seeing the beginnings of a tunnel wall about thirty meters ahead, and wondering if this what bugs feel like before they hit the windshield. With one death-defying heave, I launch myself from the train and roll onto the cement, and end up like one of those grey mini-armadillo-looking pill bugs with the flailing legs. I roll over and crawl my way toward the airport. (…riding this entymological analogy all the way home).

At 11:30 pm, I arrive at London City Airport, just in time to find the food stands closed and to hear that the last local hotel room has been sold out. I am now curled fetally in a chair, which even Norwegian Airlines would consider embarrassingly small, consuming a bag of vending-machine Funions, staring at the remains of a three-day old croissant, and wondering whether the Roman gladiators would be proud of me. Nine hours ‘til my plane arrives. Good night!

By ccxander

A Supposedly Relaxing Thing That I Just Cannot Get Over

I won’t say it was a dare, as much as something someone said “I just needed to do before death.” That has come pretty nasty intonations, so let’s just get it out of the way that there is no immediate danger here. Unless….

I am standing in a room with twenty-six well-stuffed leather chairs, all of which sport massage rollers along their spines, and some oddly-shaped buckets beneath their bottoms. There are mirrors and photos of East Asian women and lighting that suggests romance is imminent. Sixty-two percent of the chairs are filled with barefoot women who seem to find it acceptable that small Vietnamese people are stuffing cotton balls into their toe crevices and shrieking (loud is not the word for it) with the sort of high-pitched clangs one would expect from people having a fight with flung aluminum cans. Echoes of running water resonate throughout the place.

I am here for something called a mani-pedi, and if we are being honest, I’m kind of freaked out about the whole thing. Filbert (the name explains everything you need to know about him) takes my hand and guides me to my chair at the rear of the room. Filbert is 5’4, with comic strip black hair and the type of effeminate lisp that you just know got him his ass kicked in grade school. Filbert also appears to be flirting with me and lets his hand linger a little too long on my shoulder before passing me on to a woman whose name I didn’t quite get but sounds like “Tongue.”

Tongue has six teeth, and if her name really is Tongue, that would be awesome.

Anyway, Tongue places her hand on my knee and starts to untie my shoes. For those who don’t know, I play a lot of tennis, which means we wear some pretty offensive socks and have appendages that have an extraterrestrial thing about them. I’ve developed a soul-penetrating anxiety about this and the red cheeks and leather-sticking sweat I’m now wearing, just makes the whole thing miserable. Tongue makes an interplanetary sound that matches my feet and then hoists her hand to her nose and backs away from the whole pedes area altogether.

When she returns, she is holding a card with a price tag on it, presumably suggesting I need – let’s call it a callous-shaving service – before we move on to the nails thing. I don’t know how she thought I said, “Yes,” but a few seconds later she’s using something off a construction-site to sheer off half my foot. I hear “Holy Christ, are you fucking kidding me?” come out of my mouth, but luckily the Vietnamese chatter drowned out most of my scream. As Tongue bores into my right sole, Lina appears with a white surgical facemask and a dipping bowl (you women have issues). Lina grabs my left hand and immerses it in one of those milky-like substances you see first-graders have running from their noses. She places my other hand in the dipping bowl as Tongue starts hacking at my other sole. Across the room, two women, who I’m fairly certain, were laughing at my mani-pedi-virginity, cover their mouths and shake.

In Vietnamese, the phrase Dep Trai means handsome. I know this because at least five of the staff passed by and said it to Tongue, who slurped back her agreement while Lina alpha-dogged about her dep trai client. Filbert even tossed out a dep trai with the sort of aggressive wink that suggested he might be willing to stay after hours if I could summon the interest.

I need to confess something. I’m a masculine, blue-collar-mentality guy who spends a lot of time sweating and mucking about in some pretty dirty areas. I pee on trees for God’s sake. The idea of nice nails being relevant in my life is slim. I don’t think it makes my top 1000 list of imperatives. But I’m aiming the philosophical arrow at something here.

By doing this Mani-Pedi thing, for a brief moment, I’ve slid down the masc.-fem. spectrum into the metrosexual zone. There’s this old joke about a modern day Lothario who sleeps with a thousand women and then has one drunken night with a guy named Biff and for the rest of his life he’s called a C-cksucker. I kind of feel like that, as though I’ve now done something to erode the fact that I like peeing from a standing position, that I am no longer allowed to root for football teams and stare at women’s breasts, that I now have to call a tow truck to fix my flat tire and might have to add conditioner to the whole morning shower routine, that I might someday have to let someone buy me dinner.

Lina files down the nails on my second hand and Tongue is now jamming cotton balls between my toes, an act, which she performs with the tenderness of a proctologist shoving a comforter up one’s ass.


And then both women disappear and I am left to stare out at the clientele, most of whom are staring right at me, presumably wondering about my gender-identification issues or who the woman was who forced me into this – I’m guessing Filbert is curious too.

Just when Ithink the discomfort is done, Lina and Tongue return, this time both wielding large plastic bags of a steaming orange waxy substance, which, it turns out, is steaming orange wax, and the temperature of lava, and now being wrapped around my hands and feet in ways that suggest both mummification and a sincere desire to burn the client to death. “It will moisten and soften your skin,” they say between my screams, and then Tongue gives a big smile that shows her dental habits are even worse than the British.

Seven burnt minutes later, I am sulking. The wax-filled bags have solidified and I’m pretty much catatonic in my leather chair, surrounded by a roomful of women laughing at my misery and suffering the lingering looks from Filbert-my-wanna-be-lover and a bunch of oompah-loompahish Vietnamese women that think I’m quite dep trai, but also, just a really big pussy.

Lina puts her hand on my shoulder and removes the wax bags. Imagine trying to open one of those plastic-wrapped electric razors or remote controls, the ones that stare at you like a caged monkey and then mock you while you rip and tear and scream your way through it, only to find out that what you’ve ripped off is actually just the front of the packaging and the razor is in the back and so you start to think about killing either the person that created this plastic tomb or yourself. Well, you get the point. Tongue is tugging and yanking the ones off of my feet. They both withhold their mocking for what I imagine is an effort to get a larger tip. I give them each $20 and tell them that if I ever walk in this door again, they are to kick me in the balls and send me back to my car. I figure that will save me a lot of pain and the price of a mani-pedi.

The point here is this: I have a newfound respect for the lengths women go to look groomed. For the future, I’m content with your nails being back-scratchingly long. And if your toes aren’t perfectly painted and aren’t baby’s ass soft, I’ll survive. Next week, I’m heading over to Vietnam to let them know the war is over. Hanoi no longer needs to send folks over here to torture our women. And as for my new look, well two hours and $50 later, I can’t tell the damn difference.

Post mani-pedi update:

Two days later, I began to feel pain in my feet, the result of the newly-shaved callouses now creating a completely different balance and walking terrain. The skin on my soles is now splitting and sore, and with the bleeding and sock lint now sticking to them, the whole thing looks like a Jackson Pollack painting gone awry.

By ccxander