Friday, March 26, 2010

Sub-Par Bagels and More Problems

We left the college and walked into the bright sunlight. I saw The Drunkard blubbering in the fetal position on the ground. The Traveler stood over him, looking around at the confused tourists walking by. I rushed over and said, “Dear God, Traveler, what did you do? Why did you use your capoeira powers on the poor man?”
“I didn’t do anything,” he said, raising his palms in the air. “Someone stepped on a beetle and The Drunkard just collapsed onto the ground in tears. I don’t think he just has absinthe in his flasks.”
“Can he get up?” asked The Student.
The Traveler shrugged. He gently kicked The Drunkard in his ribs. The Drunkard’s blubbering grew louder for a second and then subsided back to slightly louder than a whisper.
The Student crouched down and said, “Drunkard, it’s okay. That was a bad beetle.”
“What?” asked The Drunkard.
“Yes. He was a bad Beetleborg. You remember Beetleborgs?”
The Drunkard’s blubbering ceased. “I do remember Beetleborgs.”
“That was a bad one. Someone killed one of the bad guys.”
“Good,” said The Drunkard. He straightened from the fetal position, craned his neck to look at the squashed beetle carcass near my feet, and smiled. “Good.” He finally stood. His face was pallid. Veins stood out and his eyes were bloodshot. “We should eat.”
Dee nodded. “Good idea. I know a good bagel place right outside the gates.”
“Son of a bitch,” I said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a good bagel.”
“I know,” The Student said. “The ones over here? Treif.”
We walked out of the gates, across the street, through the pedestrian traffic, and into a bright blue shop. It was set up like an ice cream place in the States—probably because, in addition to bagels, they had thirteen flavors of ice cream (nothing on thirty-one, I know, but it was England, after all). There was a long bar—part freezer, part bagel bar. At the end of the bar furthest from the entrance were three racks of bagels and displays of delightfully British fillings and toppings. By ‘delighfully British fillings and toppings,’ I mean smoked salmon, plain cream cheese (they refer to it as ‘soft cheese’), cucumber, and mayonnaise. There were a couple of others—lettuce and a couple meats among them—but, overall, it looked like they were trying to make a sandwich bar.
There are times when I really pity the British, for they don’t know what they’re missing. I pitied them now: they did not—and, barring a trip to the U.S., would not—know what made a good bagel. Their options were limited to cinnamon raisin, plain, and sesame. They would never know the joy of challah rolls, or potato bagels, or asiago bagels, or—I should stop this train of thought, as I am starting to dribble over the keyboard.
“Help you?” asked a man wearing a dark blue shirt and black apron from behind the counter.
“No,” I said. “It is you who needs help.”
His eyes darted from side to side—what he was looking for, I do not know. Possibly a hidden camera or a Bible to fling at him from some hidden space—and he said, “Sorry?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. I’ll have ice cream. Your bagel selection is, frankly, insulting to my people, who—”
“Narrator,” said The Traveler, holding a cup of ice cream. “Order your food and let’s go downstairs. Dee’s holding a table till we get down there.”
I nodded, ordered my food, paid, and we walked down a narrow wooden staircase to a seating area downstairs. “I notice,” I said, “that you’re not holding a bagel.”
He snorted. “You see that selection? Please, any place that doesn’t at least have an asiago shouldn’t legally be allowed to refer to itself as a bagel place.”
“Amen.” We clunked our ice cream cups together and joined the others.
The seating area downstairs had enough space for about twenty people. The walls were hospital white with some paintings featuring cows in famous places across the world—naturally, places where one would not expect to find a cow. We sat down at a booth set at one of the walls and Dee went upstairs to order. None of my friends had bagels. I pointed to the ice cream. They grunted.
At this time, a group of students descended the staircase. Most of them wore cardigans and clutched Moleskine notebooks. I twitched. In my mind, there are two types of people who use Moleskine notebooks: the first group are the Writers of the world; they fancy themselves the crème de la crème and nothing but $15 notebooks shall contain their thoughts. The second group—and even worse—are journalists. Journalists are the scum of the earth, for they live in a dying medium and do not acknowledge it. (Of course, it goes without saying that I would never say that to The Drunkard, for he would gouge out my eyes and them force them down my throat.)
“Well,” the first one—a tall, thin man in a maroon cardigan, thin-rimmed glasses, and an immaculately-trimmed goatee—said as they sat down at a booth nearby, “it’s incredibly hard to plan out an issue of a magazine without knowing how many people are going to be writing articles.”
I snapped my plastic spoon in half. Journalists.
The Drunkard stood up. He grinned out of one side of his face, showing some teeth. A disturbing look, made all the more so by his eyes, which arced up at the sides, giving him a look somewhere in between a serial killer and the mask representing Comedy. “Drunkard,” The Traveler said, “where are you going?”
The Drunkard, unresponsive, walked to the journalists. “Er,” I said.
The Traveler turned to me and arched an eyebrow.
“What?” I asked.
“What’s he doing?”
“How should I know?”
“You two are buds, aren’t you?”
“We’re friends, you think that means he telegraphs everything he’s thinking to me?”
“Did I say that?”
“Guys,” said The Student, “you need to stop that.”
“But—” I said.
“No. Chains of questions don’t help anyone.”
I looked back at the group of students. The Drunkard scraped a chair across the linoleum floor, straddled it, and stared directly at the man in the maroon cardigan from behind a woman in a green shirt. “Hi,” said the man. “Can I help you?”
The Drunkard, slowly, shook his head. “Nope.”
“Um,” the man said. He looked around, shrugged. He unwrapped his Moleskine, opened it, and said, “So, Stephen, could you—”
The Drunkard burst into a coughing fit. “Oh, whoops,” he said when he stopped. “Sorry.”
The man nodded. “Stephen, could you—”
“Hey,” said The Drunkard. “Hey. You. Maroon Man. You the editor?”
“Thought so. I could smell shit from across the room.”
The group of students grumbled. The Traveler hung his head, The Student looked to me, and I said, “Oh no.”
“Sir,” said the man in maroon, “I’d like to know what you’re insinuating.”
The Drunkard pushed in front of the woman and said, “I’m insinuating, you spineless coward, that you, as an editor, are naught but a fish-faced enemy of the people. How much you paying these guys, huh? Nothing, I’ll bet.”
“That’s more of a complaint to take up with—”
“Fuck you,” said The Drunkard. “I’ll take it up with whoever I want. Look,” he said to the woman. “This guy ever gives you shit, you take a dump on his desk. That’s the only way to handle editors.”
“I don’t th—”
“Hey,” The Drunkard said to the girl in green. “How many times he come on to you?”
“None, he’s a per—” she began.
“Pervert. Probably rubs one out thinking of you during meetings. Right, Maroon Man? You fucking letch.”
“Sir, I’m going to—”
“Do it right now.”
“Okay,” said The Traveler. He bolted out of his chair and dragged The Drunkard out by his collar. “We’re done here. Sorry about him, he’s deranged.”
“Your mother is deranged,” shouted The Drunkard. “Editors are scum! Spineless tools of the corporate world who don’t understand the risks of—get off me, Traveler, or I will—stop that!” The Traveler was now dragging The Drunkard up the stairs by his collar. The Drunkard’s shouts devolved into guttural screams, nonsense threats against The Traveler’s family. We heard a series of thumps on the floor above us, the ringing of a bell, and then silence.
Dee slowly plodded down the stairs with a confused look on her face. She held a plate with a salmon and lettuce-covered bagel.
“Ooo, went with lox, huh?” I asked.
She looked at her plate and said, “Yes. What was that?”
“Yes,” said the man in maroon. “What was that?”
Everyone turned to look at me—except for The Student, who stared at a magazine on the table with enough concentration to move the damn thing. “Ah,” I said. “Well. You see. The Drunkard—the man who just insinuated you were a sexual deviant—used to be a journalist. And, um, his father—who beat him with a length of rubber hose each night in rhythm to ‘Hey Jude’—was an editor. So, you know, he doesn’t really like editors.” I scratched my head.”
“You’re lying your arse off,” said a man in a navy blue cardigan. (Why were they all wearing cardigans? What was wrong with these people?)
“Maybe,” I said “But, just maybe, I’m not. And, if that’s the case, that makes you a rat bastard, sir. For my friend still carries the scars of his father’s ruthless shenanigans, and I shall be damned if I allow you, some cardigan-wearing poof, to say that my friend’s dark past is something to be scoffed at. Why, if I had a glove, I would throw it on the ground and challenge you to a duel. But, since I don’t, I bid good day to you, sir!” Then, since my train of thought essentially led me to turn tail and bolt, I did just that—although in a manner that said I could return and kick this guy’s ass six ways to Sunday.
The upstairs was still quiet from The Drunkard’s forced exit, and it entered a whole new realm of silence by the time I made it halfway to the front door. Before I left, I turned to the people, bowed, and said, “Thank you all, we’ve had a blast.”
Outside, I saw The Drunkard crumpled in a heap and The Traveler bouncing off of his hands back onto his feet. I sighed. “Again? Really?”
The Traveler shrugged. “We made it outside and he hurled a haymaker at me. I dodged it, tried to talk him down, he did it again and, well… there he is.”
I bent down and saw that The Drunkard was in the fetal position with his eyes open and blood trickling out of a gash directly above his right eye. “Hey,” I said. “You okay?”
“I’m going to sue,” he said.
“No you’re not,” said The Traveler.
“Fine. I want to go home.”
“Can’t. We’re taking the girls shopping tomorrow, and I’m cooking tonight.”
“Holy hell,” I said. “You cook?”
“Of course I cook. You don’t think I’d be fool enough to spend all my money on microwave meals, do you? God only knows what goes in those things.”
“Er,” I said. “Goodness. Goodness goes in them.”
“That’s what you eat, isn’t it?”
I shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Christ. I’ll teach you how to make something tonight.”
“Will you make spaghetti?” asked The Drunkard, sitting up. I wasn’t sure if he was dazed or still tripping from the absinthe, because that didn’t seem like a question that he would normally ask.
“No,” said The Traveler.
We stood around outside the ice cream/bagel bar for a while konger. It seemed The Student and Dee were content to let us revel in awkwardness outside. After about ten miinutes, they walked out, The Student saw The Drunkard on the ground and said, “You schmuck.”
Dee, possibly bowing to some maternal instinct made a whining noise and said, “Traveler, what did you do?”
“Capoeira. He tried to hit me with a haymaker. It was all in defense.”
“The man,” The Drunkard said, “is an animal. An absolute animal.”
“Right,” The Traveler said. “How much more absinthe do you have?”
“I’m out.”
“Prove it.”
The Drunkard took out four flasks, opened them all, overturned them. Not a drop fell out.
“Stand,” said The Traveler.
The Drunkard did so.
“I’m going to pat you down.”
“Aw, man, don’t do that.”
“What do you have to worry about? It’s not like you’re hiding anything else, are you?”
The Drunkard grumbled and pulled a flask from inside his pants and poured out a greenish liquid.
“Any more?”
“No. I hope you’re happy, Mr. I-Don’t-Acknowledge-The-Parrot-On-My-Shoulder.”
“I’m ecstatic.” He clapped his hands together once, turned to Dee, and said, “So, tour guide, where to now?”
“I was thinking the Botanical Gardens. They’re just down the street.”
“Okay,” said The Traveler, “while you’re doing that, I’m going to go get the ingredients for cooking tonight.”
“You’re not cooking,” Dee said.
“Yes I am. Lena won’t let us pay you guys for crashing in your flat, so I’m going to cook.”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Spaghetti?” asked The Drunkard.
“No, not spaghetti.”
The Drunkard hung his head and The Traveler said he’d call us when he got done at the store. He walked off and The Student and I helped The Drunkard up and followed Dee down the street.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Inside The College; Or, We Get Bored Easily

The interior of Christ Church College looked like it should have been the interior for a film about a Tudor monarch. We entered via a walkway leading in from a courtyard. It was dark. Though there were plenty of windows set in the walls, the light streaming in was minimal. When my eyes adjusted, I saw beautiful stained glass windows, portraits of old college masters and a couple tapestries. I looked up and saw a few coats of arms on the ceiling high above. The entire place was beyond my abilities to describe in terms of architecture; however, I believe that the ceiling had flying buttresses. (I say that because it was the only architectural term I remember from my Medieval Studies classes.) There were crenated beams running from the walls to a large column—beyond that, I would direct you to a well-stocked photo library of Oxford.
As we walked in, both The Student and I went, “Oooo,” and stood and looked with stars in our eyes.
“Yeah,” said The Student. “I should have gone to Oxford.”
“You think you could have gotten in?”
“Oh, God no,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that, in a just universe, I should have gone here.”
He spoke the truth. It was a damn shame that this wasn’t a just universe. “So,” said Dee, who hadn’t seen us stop, had walked up the stairs, and now had to come back down, “this is where they filmed parts of the college scenes in Harry Potter.”
We turned our attention to Dee. “What?” I asked.
“Never saw it,” said The Student.
I nodded and started up the stairs. The other two followed.
“Did you read the books, at least?”
The Student dug his hands into his jacket. “I haven’t had the luxury of reading anything for fun in, oh, six years.”
“Woah,” I said. “Really?”
He nodded like a man in mourning. “What with reading lists, critical interpretations, scholarly articles, and philosophical readings relating to the subjects undertaken in the literatures of different regions—nay, cultures—I can barely form a normal thought any more.”
“And you?” Dee asked.
I shrugged. “I read them when they came out. Thought they were decent, but I never thought it would be worth the time to see the movies.”
“But the cinematic brilliance—” she started.
“Pah!” shouted The Student. His objection echoed off the stone walls. We passed through a large archway at the top of the staircase and walked into a massive dining hall. The tables looked like they were about fifty yards long. At the end of the hall, there was a gigantic stained-glass window (the shapes had some significance to something or other, but, frankly, I didn’t care—we were in a dining hall). Small lamps were placed around the tops of the tables, generally one lamp for every two seats. Along the walls there hung large portraits of men wearing wigs. “Pah,” repeated The Student, a little quieter due to the glare he received from an usher. “Cinematic brilliance? Hardly. If you want cinematic brilliance, watch Kubrick.”
“Pah,” I said. “If you want cinematic brilliance, watch Spielberg.”
“Spielberg’s tripe,” The Student said.
“Your mother is tripe. Good for Kubrick, he can adapt novels.” I gave a slow clap that earned a glare from the usher.
“Pah,” said The Student.
“Pah,” I responded.
It should be clear to the reader, who is probably infinitely wiser than I, that neither The Student or I were impressed by the display of every stereotype of Oxford portrayed in this room. I wasn’t impressed because I realized that we had just paid five pounds to view a dining room. I guessed that The Student’s temporary fascination with buildings that weren’t built in the 1960s (as the University of Kent was) was fading. We left the dining room after about one minute spent scoffing at each other and, as we left, realized that Dee was still inside. We looked back in and saw her gazing around the room with a giant grin on her face. Clearly, she was a big fan of the movies.
“Still wished you went to Oxford?” I asked.
The Student scratched his chin. “Well, it would have looked nice, having a degree from Oxford. But, really, when it comes down to it, literature’s all about an individual’s perception of a work, or ‘work,’ and taking a degree is about formulating, postulating, perhaps, a critical standpoint—be it Marxist, feminist, post-modern, anything really. So it doesn’t really matter what university you attend. You know, have I ever told you my thoughts on Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’ as an Oedipal—”
“Shut up,” I said. “You’re going into literary criticism mode, and I fear that may lead to you throwing feces around the room. Stonework is a bitch to clean, and I’d rather not spend the afternoon scrubbing defecation from centuries-old college walls.”
The Student, presumably seeing the wisdom of my idea, silenced himself and we looked at a sculpture of a man named Cyril Jackson. I have no idea who this man is, but I expect that he is Michael Jackson’s ancestor—for no reason other than he was sitting, and I’d heard that, from time to time, the King of Pop enjoyed a nice sit-down.
Finally, Dee, dazed, walked out of the living room. “You could almost see the owls flying in from the roof.”
The Student turned to me with a bewildered look on his face. I shrugged. It appeared that students in the sciences were no less prone to being kids than we in the humanities. “Here,” I said, pulling a chair over from a small table in the corner, “have a seat while you gather your senses.”
“Oh,” she said. “Thank you.” She sat down, still grinning.
“So,” I said. “How bout them Yankees?”
The Student blinked. “What?”
“The Yankees. They won the Series.”
“Ah.” The Student sniffed. “I presume you don’t like the Yankees.”
I shrugged. “I’m more of an Astros fan.”
“Houston? Why in God’s name would you like them? They’re terrible. I don’t watch baseball and I know they’re terrible.”
My nostrils flared. “Gotta support the team. Home team. For it’s root, root, root for the home team.”
The Student turned his head to one side. “What? You turning into Rain Man over there?”
“I was born in Houston. You have to support your home team.”
“Please, that’s bullshit. You’re free to go with whomever you want.”
“Well maybe I want to cheer for the Astros.”
“I repeat my earlier question: Why in God’s name would you want to support one of the consistently most disappointing teams in baseball?”
“Because I believe in a little thing called loyalty.”
“More like stupidity.”
“Why you—” I raised my fist in the air and Dee jumped between the two of us.
“Okay,” she said, “let’s go.”
I dropped my fist and nodded coolly at The Student.