Thursday, September 20, 2007

london > (amsterdam) > nyc

The last 48 hours in London were bittersweet. Rarely do I look beyond the moment (or the day at hand). I wanted to soak up the last days in London since I didn't know when I'd be there again. However, I couldn't wait to return home. Well, I really don't have a home. Alas, I wanted to get back to America, or at least NYC, which one of my favorite writers Spalding Gray once described as that tiny, yet eclectic island off the coast of mainland America.

The last two days in London involved squeezing in as much stuff as possible. Monday was shot since we slept in late. We spent a lot of time in the lounge area of our hotel on the internet. I caught up on 75% of the email that built up over the past six weeks. I uploaded some pictures to the London gallery and made a bunch of lists. I didn't write much but at least I know what I want to write about.

On Monday night, we hung out in North London where Snoopy and Jen live. They invited us to have sushi at one of their local haunts. It was late and the streets were almost empty. We walked by Jack the Ripper type alleys.

On Tuesday, I packed up my gear (less than ten minutes) and then hit up two tourists spots... The Eye and the Tate Modern. One was free and the other was about $30 US (per person). The Eye was cool since it was a clear day and you could see for miles and miles surrounding London. The Tate was also pretty cool since it was free. They had some interesting paintings (the Rothko room) and some other pretentious-wanna-make-me-puke-installation-art that I loathe.

Here are some last day in London and The Eye pics...

Nicky treated me for a birthday dinner for our last night in London. The high-end steak joint she wanted to take me was booked solid, so we settled upon an Italian restaurant where we got shitfaced on wine as we discussed our impending trips to Florida and Australia.

I had a few hundred British pounds leftover and cashed them into US dollars. It felt good to handle US currency again, even though a fistful is worth about the same as toilet paper in Europe.

We both had connecting flights in Amsterdam from London-Heathrow. In Amsterdam, my connecting flight headed to JFK, while Nicky took a different one to LAX. They both left about one hour after our arrival time in Amsterdam. Our flight from London was late about ten minutes. Lucky for me, my gate was just 20 meters away. Nicky's was in the next terminal. She had to sprint to get the only direct KLM flight to Hollyweird. She made it, while mine was delayed.

I had some Euros left and bought a water while I stood in a long security line. At Amsterdam airport, they often screen your carry-on stuff a second time at the gate.

Once I passed through security, I noticed about 80 or so Ethiopian refugees. They were mostly old women in tradition clothing and small children in matching running suits. They all carried some sort of bag from a humanitarian entity. I assumed they were en route to America, the land of opportunity, Starbucks, and 3,218 cable TV stations.

I had 17H, an aisle seat, something I prefer on long flights. I rarely sleep on planes and want to have the freedom to walk around and stretch my legs or get my laptop out of my bag if the creative juices strike and I want to write 35,000 feet up in the air.

The person in the seat next to me was a beautiful teen aged Dutch girl with cowboy boots and a jean skirt. She said hello and I settled in and read my book by Michel Houellebecq. Five minutes later, a grumpy old guy in a wrinkled blue pinstripe suit told her that she was in the wrong seat. She was supposed to be sitting two rows behind us in 19J and the old man kicked her out. That was the first bad beat of the flight.

The old guy smelled horrible and that enraged me. The young Dutch girl smelled like a field of flowers. The old guy smelled like three-day old fish as the scent of death lingered around his collar.

Enter the Ethiopians. My flight just got worse. They took over the entire middle section across from me. At that point, the entire plane smelled like goat shit combined with a sweaty jockstrap. I'm pretty sure that the main culprit was the old man next to me.

I jotted down something in my notepad... Did he soak his soaks in cat urine before he boarded the flight?

I was not going to sit through seven or eight hours of that madness. The Ethiopians were a plighted people. They got a pass in my book, but I was concerned that I might catch the Ebola or the bird flu from the runny noses of the little ones. Plus, the old guy was atrocious. I needed to escape the peasants and sit with the uber-rich business travelers whose companies were pissing away profits on a better meal and spacious chairs.

My drug supplies were low. I only had two generic vicodins left. I had to ration. I popped a half and asked the KLM stewardess in the powder blue uniforms if they could upgrade me to business class. I was ready to spend $3,000 to escape the malodorous old man and the foul scent of animal urine and feces.

"We're all booked sir," the KLM rep told me. "We have ice cream today though."

Great. My sanity for a cup of freezer-burned ice cream. Thank the Lord that KLM served free booze on their flights. As soon as drink service started, I busted into the Heinekens and popped the other half of the vicodin.

The Ethiopians must have been tired and freezing since they slept the entire flight with blankets over their entire emaciated bodies.

I watched three movies. The old guy next to me could not figure out how to work the entertainment system. He'd tap me on the shoulder every ten minutes to tell me that he shut it off by accident or that he didn't like what he was watching.

Then they served the meal. It was fish or pasta. I prayed that the old man didn't get the fish. He did. Ten minutes later, he had to rush for the toilet. The food service wasn't over yet, so I had to hold the trays as he fled to the bathroom. He's made a dozen more trips over the next three hours. At least he stopped pestering me about the movie system.

I watched Pirates of the Caribbean 3 which was just OK. Ocean's 13 was amazing. Much better than Ocean's 12. That was a nice treat. I stumbled upon The Factory about Edie Sedgwick, the drug-addled socialite who hung around Andy Warhols factory in Union Square. Sienna Miller played Sedgwick and Guy Pearce pulled off Andy. They had a character supposed to be Bob Dylan in there... played by Darth Vader himself. He sucked as Darth Vader and did a mediocre version of Bob Dylan. That was a nice surprise. Anyway, in case you didn't know, Edie Sedgwick was the inspiration behind Dylan's Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat from his album Blonde on Blonde, in addition to the mainstream hits Like a Rolling Stone and Just Like a Woman.

When the flight crew passed out immigration cards, the old smelly guy asked me to help him write his out. He handed me his passport. He was from Iran. I filled out the stuff and when I asked him questions about what he was carrying, he didn't understand and I left it blank. I started freaking out because I left my finger prints on an Iranian passport. I feared that the federalies at Gitmo would think that I was lending support to the evil doers.

When the plane arrived in JFK, I sprinted out of the plane faster than I had ever run in my life. The line at immigration was short and I waited twenty minutes for my luggage. My bag was the 32nd piece off the belt. Yeah, I counted. That's how bored I was.

I hailed a cab from a guy named Singh and rolled the windows down. The cab sped towards the Van Wyck as a breeze filled the back seat. An SUV driven by a fat Puerto Rican guy cut us off and the cabbie called him a "muthafuckin' cocksucker." It felt good to be back in NYC.

I went to my mother's apartment to pick up my mail. There was a stack of boxes and a large garbage bag filled with mail and magazines. I dumped it on the floor and started sorting them into piles. Checks. Bills. Junk mail. Magazines. Etc.

Whenever I get home from being on the road for an extended amount of time, it's like Christmas for me. I often spend minor holidays on the road. I missed Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. But when I dig through my mail... it's like Christmas in September.

I set aside the magazines that had my columns and would read them later. I quickly fished out the checks. Nothing is more satisfying than opening a paycheck. Well, perhaps opening up multiple checks. I did the work months earlier and had been on the road, so I was not sitting around to get paid. I ripped open three from one client and one from another. I also got a dividend check from one of my other sites and got paid out from a friend/poker player that I staked in a few tournaments.

Then I focused on the boxes. Three used books arrived that I ordered two months ago. I got them for a total of $5 and of course, it cost more to ship them. I have been on a Henry Miller kick recently. I wanted to re-read Black Spring and didn't have a copy. Now, I have a used one.

I also picked up Death to All Cheerleaders by Marty Beckerman and Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins. I started that one and never finished it. I recall selling it when I lived in Seattle, along with a dozen other books, so I could buy pot. Times were tough in 1998.

I met my brother at his apartment and we ordered from the diner. It felt good to sit on his couch and watch the Yankees game. I missed watching sports and the Yanks have been hot recently. I saw Matsui jack a HR and Andy Pettite win his 200th game. I kept nodding off, fighting super exhaustion from the two flights I took and the six-week grind of being away.

I had a short, but solid sleep and woke up around 5am. I wrote for two hours and read for a bit before I unpacked the rest of my stuff. I listened to radio, WFUV, one of my favorite stations. They played Bob Dylan and the Beatles back-to-back. I have no idea why Crowded House was tossed into the mix before they played Femme Fatal from the Velvet Underground. Andy Warhol asked the Velvets to write a song about Edie Sedgwick. That's what Lou Reed came up with.

I went to the bodega and bought the newspapers. Then walked across the street to the Greek diner for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.

Sometimes, you don't miss a place until you spend a lot of time away from there.

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