Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Assault during the Bewitching Hour, or Decapod Bladder

The arrangement of these entries is somewhat backwards, as I have told you an excerpt of our first night in Indonesia, but nothing of our travel and first day in the country, which I intend to do here. That’s not an apology, just a statement of fact.

Our journey began early in the morning in Portland. About 30 minutes before our departure, the lovely airline canceled our flight and, within another 30 minutes, managed to squeeze us on to a delayed plane without any notice other than, “Your plane is leaving now.” We rushed on to the tarmac holding as many carry-ons as would fit on our various appendages, while Langston slowly dragged a wheelie bag in front of us, obstructing our movement and repeatedly yelling, “Hurry up, Dad!” Memories of “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” flickered in my mind. The flight attendant laughed as I lugged six bags, carried my son, and pushed his bag up the flippy-door-stairs. “Yeah. Hurry up, Dad,” she repeated several times during the flight, in that manner of serious-speak that people do, yet try to soften it with a laugh. Synaptic firing dredged up images of “Fight Club.”

The boys slept the majority of the first two legs. In between sleeping and eating, Langston had his face smashed to the rear of the seat in front of him so that his eyes would not miss a single pixel from complimentary electronic entertainment. You would have believed him Amish, and all of this his first exposure to modern technologies.

Landing in Tokyo at 12 a.m. local time, we had little to wait between flights, and just time enough for me to attempt using a squatty-potty. Hilarity and giggling mostly ensued. Minutes before boarding, an airline representative approached to inform me that our six bags (Bethany’s hairdryer, etc.) and two car seats failed to accompany the previous flight. This is now our forth trip with a luggage mishap. I recalled “Groundhog Day” (R.I.P., Egon). The representative apologized profusely and, despite my assuring her that it was not a problem— especially since I would not have to try and wrangle all of that baggage, kids, and the wife— she continued to apologize. Then, it dawned on me: airline workers are accustomed to all manner of abuse and vitriol from customers. My response does not register. Therefore, I quickly issued a roundhouse kick to her lower left mastoid. She thanked me, asked me if I was a Premium Diamond Plus Platinum Mileage Bonus Valor Supreme Holy Roman Emperor Member, reminded me that the miles from this flight would be counted toward the airline’s credit card if I signed up on the flight (plus 20,000 bonus miles), apologized again, and allowed me to board.

Little of note on the flight. My son has the bladder of a mole crab (i.e. emerita).

In Jakarta we were quickly shuttled to our new home, but we had entered that crazy jacked-up-with-psychotic-energy-from-erratic-plane-sleep stage and found no rest. The house is lovely.

An international office representative met us a few hours later and took us to the mall (Indonesia has a significant mall culture; see wife’s blog). After supping, we decided to grab some essentials. But finding ourselves in an entirely new place without any of our luggage and with the rest of our belongings in a port in Seattle, everything struck us as essential— bed sheets, dish racks, cookies, kerchiefs, ratchet sets, play dough, chip clips, spare nails, anti-poodle spray, things for holding stuff, and things for holding holders. The boys crossed from mildly-pleasant delirium to insanity as our shopping cart crept over the 57th linoleum tile of that store, and they brought us with them. Shrieking and incoherent speech spilled from their face-holes. Insanity quickly lapsed into unconsciousness for them, while I oscillated between the former two stages. Something of a cross between “Adventure Time” and “Labyrinth” played in my mind and, at times, before my eyes, with extended scenes in the Bog of Eternal Stench.

The journey through the mall and the wait for the car is unbearable to recount. Lives were lost.

We arrived home at around 4 p.m., we put the boys in bed, but remained awake ourselves. In the hope of acclimating them to our new time zone, we attempted to rouse them at 6pm and feed them some dinner. We even went so far as to tempt them with a show of some sort on the computer in the hopes that this would wake them. This happened:

Attempting Awake

Attempting Awake

Angus rallied briefly, but Langston was lost. I realized this only too late. Somehow, he ended up naked downstairs— probably the wife’s doing— I moved him from the sofa to the dining room table and encouraged him to eat. He looked at me with those sleepwalker’s eyes that some of you may know only all too well. I believed my voice had registered and that he understood, convincing myself I even saw him nod. Yet, when he turned his head from me, he looked down between his legs proceeded to urinate a Niagara-esque volume all over our university-lent, cloth-covered dining chairs. I decided it was bedtime for Langston.

Eventually, I made it to bed myself in the hopes that the sandman or perhaps Angus Og would grant my weary body some rest. But another Angus visited me instead. At twenty minutes passed the midnight hour, some scratching sounds issued from the foot of our bed, but I believed this to be the restless leg syndrome of wife— jimmy legs. What must have been seconds later, I woke abruptly from a dream in which I was struck upon the mouth, seemingly experiencing actual pain on my face. I dismissed the soreness and closed my eyes. Sleeplessness activates a naïveté common to pre-fatherhood (read: “I should have known better”). Within seconds a downward heel kick engaged my exposed trachea, forcing me upright and gasping for air. My one-year-old giggled from the center of our bed. I locked him in his room.

21 Steps to Citizenship

Last week, we scheduled an appointment with the US embassy in London to apply for Langston’s US citizenship and a passport. The following are the steps required in this application process.

(Preliminary work: register son for an appointment at 9 am on October 4th via embassy website. Print, fill out, and gather all required documents. Photograph baby boy (a difficult task) for a ridiculously required baby passport. In order to avoid London traffic and the £8 “congestion fee” for driving through the city, find the tube station closest to the embassy. Figure out which station on that line lies the furthest north and its parking situation, thus minimizing driving distance and parking fees: Stanmore station is our goal. Plan route to avoid needless delays and notify family of plan. Wake baby up if he’s not paying attention. October 4th arrives.)

Step 1.) Rouse child and wife at 4am.

Step 2.) Morning preparations (e.g. dress, breakfast, etc.); gather materials and get into car.

Step 3.) Depart by 5am

Step 4.) Drive two hours and ten minutes south to Stanmore Tube Station. With 45 minutes remaining, son begins to cry. Arrive at Stanmore.  Thank Jesus that there are a plethora of parking spaces available.

Step 5.) Realize that you do not have enough change for the pay-and-display permit. So, grab your wallet with the intention of taking out some cash at an ATM in the station.

Step 6.) Follow a man to the station door. Take note that its locking mechanism has been activated. Man turns around and says, “It’s locked.” Ask man, “Why?” To which he responds, “The trains are on strike today all over London.” Look of sickness and fear falls over face.

Step 7.) Clean pants and run back to car.

Step 8.) Find wife nursing baby. Grab map from backseat and announce, “Drastic change of pl…” only to be interrupted by, “skwllllllshhpppppflppt” and see baby dump pour through son’s diaper into his clothing.

Step 9.) Son follows this up by immediately spitting up on mother. Mother realizes she only has a single replacement outfit.

Step 10.) Head to nearest gas station, take out cash, plan route (realize you do not have a proper map of London), and send wife to restroom to change baby.

Step 11.) Inside unisex restroom devoid of toilet paper, wife lays baby on mat. When it comes time to change baby, wife discovers single change of clothing has fallen out of bag and onto a wet, dirty mop.

Step 12.) Wife changes baby. Mid-way through, baby urinates all over mother’s jeans.

Step 13.) Wife returns to car with virtually naked baby, recounts story, and you head into London. An hour and a half until appointment.

14.) Remaining twelve mile stretch into the city is hampered by traffic. Decide somewhere between 2 miles and .5 miles left that you just need to park because your appointment is in 15 minutes.

15.) Park in sketchy neighborhood garage. Unfold stroller, pack baby in, and nearly forget envelope of important documents on top of your car.

16.) Begin running through drizzle in the general direction of the embassy. Discover journey is longer than .5 miles. Baby begins crying

17.) Let blankets fall out of stroller onto ground and run over them with the stroller. Baby still crying.

18.) Wife removes baby from stroller and carries remaining .5 miles to the embassy.

19.) Run to US citizens’ line twenty minutes late for your appointment only to realize they don’t care about your tardiness and they pass you through security. (Total jog of 1.4 miles).

20.) Change and feed baby, submit applications, and make payments in the embassy.

21.) Eat at Chipotle.

Ok, watch your back Fryman…

So, after wife and I disappeared to Tenerife for a few days, I returned to the postgraduate office at the university only to discover a disturbance in the force… something was missing… Ah, yes. My computer and all of the various sundries and wares, including several books for my research were nowhere to be found. I turned to a colleague, one Matthew Rodney Malcolm and asked, “Sir, where might I find my chattels?” Unable (and unwilling) to comprehend my request we played a game of Hot-and-Cold until I located my possessions in a newly assigned office:

The joke's on them. I call this convenient.

Transatlantic Abeyance of Sloom

Over a month has transpired since my previous entry along with a great deal of happenings: most primetime U.S. television seasons have drawn to a conclusion, I took several showers, it rained in England, I stepped on a snail in Greece, and I finally read The Catcher in the Rye (still perplexed about the hype surrounding this work- mostly boring). Though most of the month passed in such generalities, two substantively related events separated by only a few weeks continue to sidle into my thoughts at random moments throughout the day. One might contend that the occasions and frequency with which these thoughts occupy my cerebral realm is due to little more than the random firing of synapses. I would contend that that is a stupid response and that you have no idea how synapses work. Regardless, let me recount for you these events, which involve sleep (there’s your substantive) and international locations (true to the origin of these entries).

Location: Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Spain

Date: I can’t remember around 4 a.m.

After an invigorating day of ambling through Puerto de la Cruz, relaxing on beaches, and consuming German(?) delicacies, wife and I found ourselves back in the hotel room ready for a rejuvenating slumber.  Though I have had some sleeping issues in recent months, I found that rest came to meet relatively easily on this evening. At some ungodly hour, however, I ascended rapidly through all levels of sleep and wrenched my eyes open. It was impossible for me to have been wider awake at any time in my life than at that moment. Realizing that several hours yet lay before the rising of the sun and that I was not Amish, I inaudibly insisted that I return to sleep. The open door of our porch let in a cool ocean breeze, so I attempted to pull my covers over the right side of my body, which had become exposed as the night transpired. I choose the word “attempted” because that most accurately describes the situation. Following the two to three seconds that lapsed between my sleeping and hoping for sheet-coverage, I realized that my right arm was trapped under my body and throbbing in pain. I know, “Your arm just fell asleep, Andrew”; but I had apparently restricted all blood flow from my arm from the moment I lay on the bed. It felt like two people had been given respective tasks in handling my arm: one to vigorously massage it with fiberglass insulation, and the other to quickly inflate and deflate it from the shoulder down. Rolling off of it brought no comfort either, as the blood surged back into the tortuous network of veins and blood vessels. I thought to myself, “If you can just get the covers back over your right shoulder, maybe you will get back to sleep.”

Do you remember your biological science lessons from elementary school where you learned about voluntary and involuntary actions? The former case involves the application of the will, whereas the latter case requires no conscious decision. You never have to say to yourself, “Blink… blink…” or, “right leg lift, bend at the knee, and commence forward locomotion.” As I lay in bed that night, I struggled desperately and futilely to even grab the sheet with my right hand, let alone cloak my body in it. My thumb and forefinger refused to grasp, so I just rolled around violently, hoping that my savage heaving would land a sheet corner in my hand. I managed to drop an edge into my lifeless hand, but nothing happened. I sought with all my will to move that sheet- even throwing my body forward in the hope that I could fling my arm and the sheet over my torso- and it was in the midst of that desperation that I heard it… my brain speaking independent of me to my arm. It came during a particularly intense effort to force my arm into moving. Every muscle in my body (excluding the right arm) participated in a joint, upward-pushing exertion when I heard, “Move the sheet over your shoulder.”  He sounded very calm and matter-of-fact about it all. Meanwhile, I had been thinking (apparently with another wrinkle of my brain) how terrible it would be if the debilitation was permanent. I was not sure if my mind addressed my arm in the second person singular as independent from me or as part of the whole (I hadn’t the capacity to be offended if it was the first case). Either way, I halted my effort and lay there in shock at having heard the involuntary communication of my gray matter.

Location: Thessaloniki, Greece

Date: May 7-8, various times

Likewise, after a similar day of trekking, though in a decidedly different country on the Mediterranean Sea, I found myself retiring in a hotel room with a traveling companion. We had come for research relating to my topic on 2 Thessalonians and had slept precious little the night before on either the four-hour bus ride to the airport or the four-hour flight to Thessaloniki. We had come as a trio, but because of overbooking, they had to place us in two rooms: one with a single bed and another with a single and a double. Matt and I took the shared room and I graciously offered him the double bed. I rarely use pajamas, so I stripped down to my boxer shorts (this is all important, folks) and read a bit before retiring to sleep. Matt, on the other hand, climbed into bed, laid down on his back, uttered a few unintelligible words, and drifted off.

Meanwhile, I continued reading my Bible (I am rather pious), but only pressed through 24 verses before a low rumble issued from Matthew’s side of the room. This quickly progressed from a level of soft sonorousness to a series of rhythmic and cacophonic eruptions that punctuated the relative silence of our room. I simply stared at my Australian roommate as he snored with such violence you would have thought his body was attempting to make up for any breaths he may have missed during the day. I contemplated striking him in the gut, but noticed his camera sitting on the shelf of the bedside table between us. Quickly, I snatched it from its resting place, set it to video, and turned it on. Everything was working swimmingly- he would get home, flip through the photos on his memory card, and hear how disgustingly loud of a snorer he was- but when I removed the lens cap and pressed on the button to focus, it made that typical Canon chirp (deetdeet), and Matt’s eyes shot open.

This is an awkward position in which to find oneself. You know a person relatively well, but have never had a slumber party with them before. Then, they awake in the middle of the night to find you holding a camera pointed in their direction. Matt pulled his covers up snuggly under his chin and asked, “What are you doing?” I tried to produce a response that sounded reasonable so I could still catch him snoring and at the same time did not sound like I was some sort of pervert who took pictures of the innocent as they sleep. I fumbled for words and said, “Nothing” a few times. I almost said, “Just go back to sleep,” but that was pervert-talk. After repeating the question enough and realizing my avoidance of the answer only made matters worse, I finally confessed my great plan. Crestfallen, I turned off the camera and returned it to the shelf. Matt continued to watch me from the corner of his eyes for a few minutes, then wrapped his covers tightly around himself and edged away from me. I finished my chapter and shut off my lamp.

They eventually upgraded us to a three-bed room, but Matt adopted a new, Indian-style sleeping position.

I woke early the next morning feeling quite groggy and more tired than when I had gone to bed. As I sat on the edge of my bed and began to rise from the haze of waking I noticed that I was wearing an undershirt. In itself, that is not so strange. But, because I had stripped down to my boxers the evening before, as you will recall, it was peculiar, to say the least. Knowing that I have a familial history of sleepwalking and talking, as my brother will happily testify, this seemed like a rude reminder of a past that I thought I had escaped. Then another explanation manifested suddenly in my mind. As Matt roamed around the room I thought, “What if he is the pervert who likes to dress up his roommates in their sleep?” I would not have minded so much if he had dressed me in a clean shirt. I eyed him suspiciously (though he would not have noticed because of my trademark pirate-eye morning face) and the longer I squinted, the more the latter option made sense. As a seasoned sleepwalker, I NEVER go for the easy option- a dirty shirt on the floor? Heck no! I will acquire a clean one from the closet. Who was the victor in this battle of odd nocturnal behavior? All I know is that Matt and I have reached a level of mistrust and suspicion that should characterize all good friendships.

An Ankle-Smashing Holiday with a Little Yellow Bird

Thirty days of paid vacation: one of the numerous, fantastic realities about living in England. This reality resulted in wife and I awake at five a.m. and on our way to the nearest airport with dirt-cheap tickets to the Canary Islands (a sharp contrast to leave the land of soft-spoken, polite Brits for a place where all conversations sound like arguments) and a hotel of similar price categorization. We had scheduled ten days of holiday, though you will see shortly how that materialized. By noon we were on a bus to Puerto de la Cruz and nearly two hours later we found ourselves in the lobby of a hotel. Though Bethany’s Spanish is rough, it is kilderkins better than my own, so she spoke with the concierge and dealt with our reservation. If you need help counting to fifteen in Spanish, then I’m your man, otherwise I would advise you seek help elsewhere.

Having surveyed the room and deciding it met with our standards, we ventured out into the city of Puerto de la Cruz to see what it had to offer. Being the misers that we are, wife and I firmly decided against renting a car and opted for walking in the city or taking a bus to the more distant sites. As it turns out, our hotel is located at the top of a moderate-sized mountain and the city lies in the valley roughly one mile below. The hike down is relatively simple (and high-speed, should you like), but the return journey demands a bit more of the body. After several days of multi-mile walks through the city we found ourselves with bulging, trunk-like leg muscles, the veins of which were pressed up against the skin in order to transport the massive amounts of blood to our lower extremities… except that genetics expressly prohibit the veracity of this statement in my case.

At any rate, after the long walk back up the mountain, we examined the immediate environs of our hotel and noticed an inordinate amount of German restaurants close at hand, not to mention large numbers of relatively pale men and women wearing fanny-packs, hiking boots, and backpacks everywhere that they went. It turns out we had landed ourselves in the German quarter of Tenerife, which boded well for our ability to communicate. In the end, we settled down at a genuine Canarian restaurant and, thanks to a multi-lingual waiter, were able to order our first meal. Typical lady-style, wife first ordered a salad, though I insisted on large quantities of meat to nourish my growing, über-masculine boy developing in her womb. She settled for some fish. For my first course, however, the waiter brought out a scalding-hot skillet full of boiling oil with chilies, garlic, and shrimp. It was refreshing for someone to consider me a person of basic intelligence such that he did not warn me “not to touch” because the skillet was hot. I suppose he figured the bubbling of the oil would be a hint enough for me. Regardless, I immediately grabbed the skillet, poured the searing oil onto my crotch, and sued the restaurant for millions of Euros, all in keeping with my American sensibilities. That pretty much brings the first day to an end.

Bubbles Galore!

The following day we began the day with a traditional Canarian, German breakfast and decided to explore our surroundings more thoroughly. Initially this led us to the impressive botanical garden north of our hotel- not much to report here. It was pretty and peaceful enough. We even stumbled upon a dragonfly that was smacking his bottom against the water for some bizarre reason. Mimicking the behavior does not enable you to get any closer to the insect, nor does it aid in flight as one might think- you just end up with a wet butt and a dragonfly (not to mention onlookers) that thinks you’re a weirdo. After fifteen more minutes of failure in my entomological experiment, I dried off and dejectedly looked at the rest of the flora that the garden had to offer. A long walk later and we had arrived at our first beach for the vacation. It looked peaceful enough, but the steep incline of the shore and the yellow flag on a nearby pole did not sit well with me. I stuck my toes in the water- not too cold. In fact, it felt quite nice. Then the first large wave came in and I instantly realized why there was no one else in the water. The steep angle of the beach, coupled with the strong current meant that each wave sent large, rounded volcanic rocks up the shore and then sucked them back out with equal force. Putting something between the path of such a rock and the ocean, say a foot or an ankle, for example, means that the rock strikes said foot or ankle with the force of a furious ocean. You would be surprised how much foot skin a single rock is capable of removing in one go. After collapsing on the sand and cursing Poseidon, I dragged myself back to our towel and slowly bled while I waited for my ankle to recover enough to sustain my weight again.

Put your workboots on and join us for a swim

As the day drew to a close, wife and I sat in the hotel lounge for some drinks and conversation to wind down. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously asked, “What are we going to do here for ten days?!?” We came to realize something important about ourselves on this vacation: what made vacations so enjoyable was the company of family and friends, or being in an area with less stereotypically touristy options. Within minutes, we were at a computer booking a cheap flight back to England. The hotel even refunded us for the final days of our reservation. We certainly missed the final few days of sun, but the benefits of coming home early outweighed our vitamin-D needs.

Free from the concern of what we would do for so many days in Tenerife, we entered the new day with the aim of visiting a banana plantation. Less than two hours later, our hopes were dashed when we told the plantation had been shut down. Plan B: walk around relatively aimlessly until we find something to pique our interest for several hours. This led to an uphill hike of several miles to a park designed with multiple types of gardens. The apparent claim to fame was that it had been built on one of the few remaining “Plais” on the island. The information board never fully explained what a “Plais” was, so when we finally stumbled upon this legendary “Plais,” we were little impressed to see an unkempt weed-garden, populated with various cacti and low-lying shrubberies. The excitement for the view of a “Plais was only further quelled as we explored the countryside and found that this “rarity” was, in fact, ubiquitous. Perhaps they meant “rare within 500 square meters?”

The ever-impressing plais- in mint condition!

Dejected, we turned south and decided to venture an encounter with another beach. Playa Jardin promised a shallower incline, potential swimming, and a weaker current than the previous beach, but the percentage of topless women made it difficult to find a spot where wife was comfortable sitting. Eventually, we settled, swam, and sunned until late in the afternoon. After the 14-mile walk back to the hotel, we settled into an evening of playing cards and reading. At some point in the early evening, an idea came to me with such impact that it nearly erupted out of my head. You see, several weeks ago, a friend recommended that I give any children we have prenatal names. These names would differ from their birth names and, because they due not last beyond the pregnancy (not yet anyway), they can be anything I want. Therefore, I burst into the bathroom while wife was showering and shouted “Freydor Hammerhelm son of Og!” It is a collection of the most masculine names that I could envision, and even includes the name of an ancient relative in the time when names were at their manliest. At this point, we are sure Freydor will be born with a full beard… and perhaps a sword. After a discussion with some friends we determined that Freydor will fly out of the womb during the birthing procedure and, with a single stroke, slaughter all of the medical staff in the room and cut his own umbilical cord.

Freydor in situ

The next day we decided Puerto de la Cruz had offered all that it could, so we took a bus to the west coast in order to explore Los Gigantes. For those with a proclivity toward motion sickness, I would advise against the bus manned by Mario Andretti. It was as though our driver lived in a perpetual fear that the volcano on the island behind him was constantly erupting. The tortuous roads were better for little else than exacerbating the nausea. Every time we reached the crest of a hill, I thought, “Thank you, Jesus” only to see a long stretch of road and another slope in the distance.

Upon arrival, we found that Los Gigantes had more Brits to offer than our base city and an inexpensive cruise along the coast. Because of Freydor’s endless stomping upon his mother’s bladder, we found ourselves frequently in need of a restroom, but rarely one of the public variety on offer. We even settled on our cruise boat because it promised a toilet on board. After boarding the boat, however, there was no toilet to be found. I disembarked quickly and found the crew to ask about the aforementioned situation. The captain first asked, “For pee-pee only?” When I said, “Yes” he nodded and tapped another man on the shoulder. He turned around quickly and asked how he could help. So, I repeated my question. He looked at me over his sunglasses and asked, “For pee-pee only?” I nodded. So, he led me back to the boat and pointed out a secret compartment that a person could fit inside, indeed, even a toilet. Then he asked again, “For pee-pee only?” I assured him it was only for pee-pee. Then, he turned and laughingly said, “Something else for po-po!”

Our terlet situation sorted, we took off for a view of the local dolphin pod. Though our shipmates squealed with delight at the sight of the marine mammals, wife and I nodded in acknowledgment of their presence. At first, I must admit, I was overcome with the group’s excitement at seeing a dolphin surface, but, as I desperately scrambled for my camera, I remembered that I had grown up in Florida. Excitement then waned into familiarity and I shook my fist at the dolphins, shouting, “Kill a shark and impress me!” As a whole, the experience was nice, and we managed to snag a less erratic driver for the trip home.

I see you

The final two days in Puerto de la Cruz were relatively uneventful. We spent one day relaxing, and the last day up at Mount Teide– the highest peak in Spain. After marching around in the desert for a bit, we returned to the café at the tourist center and waited for our bus to arrive.

It took her twenty minutes to find the mountain.

We were up early the next morning for our bus back to the airport. The only bus that we were sure would get us there on time left at 6:30 a.m. and arrived five hours before our flight departure. Hoping that a coffee break and security would take up some time, we sluggishly proceeded through the airport. Wife passed through the metal detector first and managed to set it off. As the female security guard called her over and began to pat her down. She reached wife’s stomach and began to rub in circles. From the other side of the metal detector, I saw her ask something excitedly, then say something to the other security staff, all the while continuing to rub Bethany’s belly. She is probably the friendliest airport security guard of all time. Sixty games of gin and a Burger King break later, we were in line to board our plane.

As we filed in like so many bovine, I caught a glimpse of the prohibited items sign. I was surprised that they needed to mention crossbows, but less so to see fingernail clippers and liquid containers over 50ml. It was good of them to note all of these items in the end, however, as I had contemplated rigging up my arbalest with some fingernail clippers soaked in 100ml of travel shampoo to shoot the flight crew in the eyes. Wife wisely advised against this, so that we have made it home without a hitch.

Two Tales of a Cousin Nearly Lost: Part Two

Heimdall the Barbarian

Our well-rested heroes found themselves no worse for wear following the evening’s disruptions. Had there been any dark evil in the city of Dubh Linn, it had vanished since the arrival of the cousins. Therefore, the two gathered their belongings and ventured West, having sensed in their dense, indestructible bones that their enemy had fled in that direction.

Bounding across the land, Heimdall and Andreas eventually found themselves in the city of Corcaigh. The city yielded no evil, but the filthy river that ran through the locale was enough to send them away in a hurry.

In that same day, they happened upon Castle Blarney and began scouring the grounds, weapons in hand. Hearing the laughs of nearby travelers, they followed the noise beyond the hex’s cave to the inner halls of the castle itself. It seemed that many had gathered here to kiss an infamous stone in the wall of the structure near to the very top. Intrigued, Andreas followed his cousin up a staircase into the sunlight. They inquired with a peasant waiting in line as to the meaning of such stone molestation. This farmer responded with trembling voice, “It is said to give one the gift of eloquence in speech, fine sirs.”

The cousins glanced at each other for a moment with looks of bewilderment, and then broke out in uproarious laughter. “Imagine,” said Andreas, “that we should ever need a gift that we already so perfectly possess!” They laughed near to the point of retching, then pushed their way through the line, wiped their posteriors on the stone, and jumped from the height of the castle back to the castle garden. Satisfied at having found no evil here as well, Andreas turned to his cousin and said, “Come Heimdall, let us go.”

But something did not seem right with Heimdall. He appeared frozen in time. Then, with his brow furrowed and eyes squinted, he awkwardly threw up a pointing finger at the son of Donald and said, “You’re the one who needs to do the going…”

Apparently finished, he stood there with finger frozen in midair and a look of expectation on his face. They stood with the small distance between them for some time before Andreas broke the silence. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to do, cousin, but I assure you that you are doing it incorrectly- perhaps another time? As for now, let us be off.” Dejected, Heimdall’s finger retracted and he nodded in assent, mumbling to himself, or perhaps Jimmy, “Dang…”

From Blarney they ventured to Cill Airne and managed to procure two velocipedes. It soon became apparent that no evil resided in the town, so they mounted their contraptions and headed into the dark forest close at hand. The foul stench of wickedness laced the air faintly as they travelled. They increased the speed of their hunt with great fervor, convinced that their unknown enemy was within their grasp. The pair rushed pass monoliths, falls, lakes, and all variety of creatures in pursuit of this nemesis. Having taken the lead because of his acute perception of evil, Andreas followed the path with fixed determination. As they came near to a highway, Andreas noted the faintest whiff of depravity, and veered suddenly to his left onto a rarely used dirt path. He shouted back to Jakob, “I sense the need to pursue this course.” Certain that he had heard the agreement of Heimdall, Andreas followed the path for a furlong. Yet when he did not hear the familiar sound of earth crushing beneath the weight of his cousin, he stopped on the side of his route and faced the road he had just taken. The hero had vanished in the foliage.

Andreas waited several moments before turning his locomotive means around. Before he could begin pedaling, however, faint creaks and heavy breathing broke through the tree line.

Heimdall lumbered around a distant oak, covered in scrapes and bruises, and pedaling with some difficulty. In shock, Andreas asked, “What happened?!?”

With a gasping huff Heimdall responded, “Jimmy fell down!”

Relieved to see his cousin no worse for wear, Andreas laughed for a minute before returning to the path before them.

As they rode back toward the town, they began to consider whether Heimdall’s stumble might have been the work of an evil force attempting to hinder their progress. Upon reentering Cill Airne, they took note of the gatekeeper, who stared intently at them and seemed to be gesturing for them to join him in the shadows on the side of the road. The cousins glanced at each other, nodded in agreement, and veered from the main path into an alley.

The gatekeeper was a wrinkled old man, bent over with the weight of time. Before they could even ask him his reason for impeding their journey, the man sputtered, “Beware the wizard who endangers your path; a mystical man known for his power to control the lightning of Thor. He has claimed this island as his own and regards you as trespassers on his territory. If you pursue this journey further, it will end with the loss of life…”

The cousins stared with interest at this weathered man, then responded together, “Yes, the wizard’s life.” They laughed together and thanked the man for his fortuitous insight. Surprised at their lightheartedness regarding the matter, he volunteered more information, including the advice that they venture north to the highest seaside cliffs on the south of the isle. Taking their leave of the gatekeeper, they returned to their inn and bedded down for the night.

Early the next morning they began their journey to the cliffs known as Mhothair. The journey lasted the entire day, however, as they went from town to town seeking accommodation. Only when they had reached the bottom of the cliffs on the northern side, were they able to find an inn in the town of Doolin. The place had little more to offer than a bed in which to sleep and a lonely ass wandering around in the solitude of his enclosure in the middle of the town.

Early in the morning, the duo set out for the cliffs- a perilous journey that put them on the edge of the earth with waves crashing hundreds of feet below. Having spent more time in the mountains than his flat-landed cousin, Andreas quickly found himself leading the way, bounding from rock to rock. He carried on this way for some distance until he took note of a groan from behind.

“Dude can we wait up a second?!” bellowed Heimdall. “I twisted my ankle and it hurts real bad. I think it might be broken.”

Somewhat irritated, Andreas apologized and walked back to his cousin. Jakob Freyr sat on a stone, holding his knee with both hands in order to suspend his foot in midair. He began to slowly rotate it in circles. “Sssss… no, I can move it, so it can’t be broken. Maybe it’s sprained…” Heimdall muttered as he winced in pan. It appeared that they were on the right track, as the wizard began his attack on the lower appendages of this great hero. Nevertheless, Heimdall recovered and they found themselves on the path again.

A short time later, Andreas felt slightly ashamed at not having been more sympathetic to his cousin. So, he turned his head in the direction of Heimdall and asked over his shoulder, “How is your ankle, cousin?”

Heimdall responded, “Well it is a bit sore, but I th… HUAHWOAHOWLUHAOH!” Andreas turned quickly to watch his cousin tumble down a small hill and come to rest in a little clearing, sitting upright with legs directly out in front of him. A bit disoriented, but without any permanent damage, Heimdall cautiously rose to his feet and proceeded forward.

Inexplicably, the wizard’s magic suddenly changed him into the dress of a magpie, no doubt aimed at humiliating him.

“Everything would be fine if I could keep the ground from moving under m… HUDDAHHIYAHOOOLAOW!” he shrieked as he tripped and fell down the next hill, this time landing perilously close to the edge.

He sat there with his legs dangling over the cliff and noted, “I would be fine if I could simply stop falling.” Andreas helped him to his feet and, enjoying this trip substantially more, he continued to lead the way to the pinnacle of the heights.

They followed the precipice for a mile before they came to the end of the natural trail. It seemed that a local farmer wanted his fence to run to the very edge of the island, so that he could maximize the size of his land. Several yards from the edge, however, this same farmer had provided a small stoop that led over his fence for foot-bound travelers. Standing on the stoop, Andreas lifted his mighty leg over the fence, planted it firmly on the ground on the far side, and then brought his other leg over as well. He then took a few steps in the direction of their goal.

As he trudged forward several steps, the son of Donald realized that something was amiss. Was it the air? The grass? Something had registered in his subconscious that he could not quite articulate.

Then it came to him: the fence! He turned around in time to see his mighty cousin at the barrier, giving it a looking over. Being shorter in stature, Heimdall could not simply step over like his cousin. So, before Andreas could utter a word of warning, Jakob Freyr stretched out his hands and firmly grasped the steel cable before him in order to push it down. Unbeknownst to our hero, the wizard had concentrated all of his wicked power into this implement.

Don’t touch it! It’s a trap!

Heimdall felt the surge of lightning course through his body into his torso. Quickly, he released the fence and clutched his hands to his chest, shouting, “Holy crap!”

Yet, he winced in pain only momentarily and speedily regained his composure. It seems that this wizard had not taken into account the might of this warrior, and it would prove to be his undoing.

Heimdall carefully stepped over the fence, and rejoined his cousin on their path. Within the hour they found themselves at the topmost reaches of the cliffs. A lone tower stood there, guarding the coast and bidding the sun farewell every evening. The pair sensed the waning power of evil from within, so they hastily drew their weapons and destroyed the door with a heavy-handed blow.

As they stepped inside, they found a feeble old man cloaked in gray lying on the floor. His face bore the signature of time in a preponderance of wrinkles and his hair likewise with the absence of pigment. He seemed repulsed at their appearance, yet he gathered enough strength to raise his left hand and point at the mighty Heimdall. “You have destroyed me,” he said in a faint, raspy voice. “I vested all of my magical energy into one final trap: the fence. Using a deep and powerful magic known descriptively as ‘electronic,’ I put my very self into the trap, expecting that you should die and I should absorb your life-force…” He wheezed and coughed for several minutes.

After gathering his strength again, he whispered, “but my plan has failed and you have absorbed my power, my very life. You have become more powerful than ever, and shall, therefore, no longer be known by a name of your past might. From this moment forward, you shall forever be regarded as ‘Tron!’”

Two Tales of a Cousin Nearly Lost: Part One

Jakob Freyr Hartmann- Heimdall

These stories, though at their time this author thought they would end as eulogies, have become legends- shaped by time, whispered by the shadows, and striking fear in the hearts of all evil creatures across the empire. It is said, if one listens carefully, they can even hear the trees and grass murmur to one another the epic of Heimdall.

Our story begins in the year 2005 of our Lord with the young cousin of our hero swimming the Rhine through the territory of the Saxons in the land of Germania. Having swum for two days straight, this young warrior, Andreas “the Tall” of Donald, reached the ocean and procured a ship for the remainder of his journey. He battled with the monsters of the deep for one week before coming to rest on the shores of Britannia, the outer limits of the Roman Empire. In haste, Andreas made his way to the city of Oxenaforda. Rushing through the cobbled streets, he came to a small inn with a lone light in the upper story window. Rushing up the flight of stairs, Andreas found himself at an aged oak door, which he promptly kicked in with the might of his sinewy shanks.

Sitting on a small stool and reading by the light of the candle, Andreas found his legendary cousin: Jakob Freyr Hartmann, known to most in the world as Heimdall. He is regarded as both a warrior and a scholar, thereby striking fear into the deepest of depths of his enemies’ souls. Heimdall waited for the flickering candle to still after the gust of wind caused by his enormous relative so that he could finish his book. Then, setting it aside and brushing the splinters out of his hair, he let out a deep, bellowing laugh. “Ha ha ha! Jimmy is pleased to see you cousin” (he had long been convinced that an angel named Jimmy accompanied him throughout his life, whispering words of wisdom into his ear and protecting him during battles). “Likewise,” replied Andreas, “Please, tell Jimmy I said hello.” After a moment or two of what seemed to be a heated discussion with Jimmy, Heimdall turned his attention back to his relative. “Jimmy knows why you’re here, dear cousin,” he remarked in his booming voice. “Then,” Andreas responded, “Should I explain or shall we simply take our leave?” Heimdall stroked his beard for several minutes between his thumb and forefinger, and then said, “Proceed- for the sake of the story and so that we can be sure Jimmy is correct.”

Andreas then relayed his plan for a journey to Eire, where stories had arisen of evil running amok throughout the land: giants abusing the peasants and a sinister, dark magik at work in the island. Heimdall listened intently, still stroking his beard, sighing on occasion as if to say his (and Jimmy’s) suspicions were confirmed.

Andreas observed his cousin as he spoke. He was a stout, strong man of many battles and books. He was not called Heimdall by mere coincidence. No, like the god of Norse legend, he was the “whitest of the warriors”- a trait shared with him by Andreas- with skin color that bordered on translucence. Years later, he would become the patron saint of albinos. His similarities with the Heimdall did not cease here, however. For like his namesake, he had an acute awareness of his surroundings at all times, such that he was unable to sleep undisturbed, thus heightening his perception and enabling him to foresee any coming-battle years in advance. It was said that our Heimdall would announce with the actual deity that Ragnarok was upon us. These are tales, however, that history cannot confirm.

When the son of Donald finished his account, Heimdall rose from his seat and walked to the corner of his room. Whispering something about sausages, he quickly snatched up his sword, turned to his cousin, and said, “We mustn’t tarry another moment. To the Green Isle we shall go!” With that, Heimdall took the candle and set the building alight, for little reason other than dramatic effect. Nearly one hundred people perished in that fire as Heimdall rushed off laughing.

They came to the shore where Andreas had moored his ship, only to discover that a remaining monster had devoured it out of spite. Looking somewhat distraught, Andreas paced for a minute until a thought that should have come to him long ago dawned. Whistling loudly through the inner-ear tube of one of the sea monsters, the cousins soon found themselves engulfed in a nearly unbearable light. Andreas had summoned the Phoenix. It came to rest in front of the two warriors and revealed his immense size. The Phoenix nodded to Andreas as a signal of their historic friendship, then he turned to Heimdall and stared. “Did you start that fire, Hartmann?”

Heimdall paused for a moment before replying, “Um… yes.”

“Nice,” said the Phoenix. “Well, good sirs, how can I be of assistance?”

Andreas knelt and responded, “Oh great Pheonix, we require transport to Eire, but, alas, my ship is lost…” Andreas stopped when he felt a tug on his cloak and turned to see his cousin shaking his head profusely. “I canna do flying,” muttered the brave warrior. “But we haven’t any other means of transportation. The ship is gone. No one will lend us a ship, especially after you burned down a building on them. It is our only option.”

Heimdall stomped away in a huff, perhaps conversing with Jimmy, only to return moments later. “Okay,” Heimdall said, “but only if we take a ship back and not a word of the flight is shared with others.” Andreas agreed, but had no idea of the manner of agreement into which he had entered.

The two climbed on the back of the Phoenix, who flew quickly to the nearest coast of the neighboring isle. Heimdall spent the majority of the flight keeping Jimmy calm, while Andreas watched in amazement. Eventually, they came to rest at the city of Dubh Linn. The Phoenix bid them farewell, and then turned to Andreas, saying, “You owe me big time,” before flying off into the starry sky.

Everything seemed fine with Jimmy again and the night was young, so the warrior pair ventured into the city to find accommodation for the evening before they were to head out in search of a fight.

They found an inn close at hand. The owner showed them the accommodations available and those with whom they would have to share a room. Three wenches had taken the beds on the other walls, including two sisters from the Frankish kingdom and a young woman from the Holy See. After a brief introduction, though they needed none, Andreas and Heimdall deposited a few belongings with the innkeeper, and left to scour the city for evil. Instead they came to a brewery, enjoyed a strong mead, and then returned happily to their lodgings for the evening.

As it would happen, the inn had closed for the evening and most lights had been extinguished. The cousins quietly entered their room and crawled into their respective beds. Heimdall, the ever-alert, bid everyone goodnight and crammed pieces of beeswax into his ears.

Andreas remained awake, however, for something did not sit well with him. The room was somehow different. Then he noticed that there was one more occupant than before: a man of great stature in the bed beneath the woman from Rome. It seemed that a giant, one of the Jötunn, had decided to bed at the same inn for the evening. His body was so large that the mattress could not contain his extremities, and his legs projected for several feet beyond the bed’s end.

Generally, the Jötunn are known for their wickedness and short-tempers, but this one appeared to desire little more than sleep. Convinced that there was little reason for alarm, Andreas laid back in his bed, sword in hand, always ready for battle.

Before he could even shut his eyes, though, an enormous roar sounded through the room. Andreas was already on his feet, sword in hand, shouting, “You shall die this night, Jötunn!!!” But the warrior met no foe. He stood in the centre of the room, barely clad peering into the dark. Again the noise bellowed forth, followed shortly thereafter by the laughs of several maidens. As his eyes adjusted to the blackness of the night, he realized that the Jötunn did not desire a battle, but had entered into the deepest of slumbers, during which his lungs, like enormous bellows, attempted to suck all of the air out of the room. This sleeping giant was snoring. Andreas let out a hearty laugh, “Ha ha, good wenches. I apologize for my partial nudity.” Quickly he leapt back into his bed, which was positioned over the sleeping Heimdall.

Unfortunately, the snoring prevented the rest of any of the three maidens and Andreas. Yet the noise was so amusing they could not help but laugh. The Roman woman even attempted to silence the giant by striking him with her pillow, but she nearly lost the object and herself over the edge of the bed. As the group chuckled about the incident, Andreas heard stirring in the bed below him.

“Mm…hmm… wha… what is that?” scratched a voice. “What!… Oh my gosh… Are you serious?!? Does anybody hear that?!?… Grrrragghhhh!!! You have got to be kidding me!” It seemed that Heimdall had been disturbed from his sleep, in keeping with the name that he bears. The others laughed at his outbursts, as the beeswax prevented him from hearing himself. “Someone has to do something about this!” said Heimdall as he threw off his sheets. A seasoned warrior, he did not take the time to cautiously walk over, but leapt from his bed nearly to that of the slumbering monster. Andreas reached out his hand and attempted to warn him, but even were there no beeswax, Heimdall’s rage would still have deafened him.

Heimdall attempted to rouse the giant. “Hey, buddy… hey! Wake up. You’re snoring…” No response. In his restrained fury, the warrior began to pat the giant vigourously upon the foot. “Hey, buddy… hey! You’re snoring… no one can slee… d’you speak English?… Look nobody, we can’t sleep. Roll over,” he said with wild gesticulations. It seemed that he had caught the giant off guard, or in the midst of a very deep sleep, for he simply mumbled and returned to his rest.

The Encounter

Somewhat triumphantly, Jakob Hartmann marched back to his bed speaking words of affirmation to himself. The rest of the group continued to laugh. Before his head hit the pillow however… “SNOCCCGGGGGKKKHHHHHHPP!!!” The same noise came from the direction of the giant.

“Oh my gosh!!!” roared from under Andreas’ bed. Heimdall tried to wait in the hopes that the snores would dissipate, but his raging temper got the best of him. Again, he found himself smacking the bottom of this giant’s foot. “Buddy, hey… hey, buddy… you’re snoring… yeah, snoring… no one can sleep. Roll over… roll over,” he said again making circles with his hands. Everyone, excluding Heimdall, of course, continued to laugh. Angrily, he stomped back to his bed hoping that this would be their final interaction. The next minute, however, proved his desires were for naught. This pesky Jötunn continued his snoring as though uninterrupted.

At this point, Andreas could feel the heat of Jakob’s rage from the bed below. Heimdall began to speak in a manner unutterable by the average man- in booming depths, screeching heights, and all range of scratches and howls. For a moment, Andreas thought he could even hear Jimmy. No attempt to assuage the hero would have succeeded. The group continued to laugh while Heimdall flew to the feet of the giant. He began to slap them with such speed that his hand became a blur. “Hey, buddy! You’re snoring… Roll over!!! You speak English?!? English?!?… Roll over! Roll over!” Amazingly, the giant seemed to comprehend him this time and rolled over. The group tried to gasp in amazement, but were too near to the verge of vomiting from laughter that they could offer little more than a hiccup.

Victorious, Heimdall marched to his bed, exhaled a sigh of accomplishment, and shut his eyes.

His victory was short-lived, for “SNOCCCGGGGGKKKHHHHHHPP!!!” filled the air yet again. The others burst into laughter, but Heimdall, deaf to all, shouted, “I don’t know what to tell you guys. He rolled over. We’re just going to have to put up with it.” Begrudgingly, he pulled up is sheets and rolled away from the sound. The others continued laughing to the point of exhaustion and they all eventually faded into sleep.

The next morning, as the light began to peer through the window, Andreas was stirred by the sound of heavy feet. He looked below to see Heimdall peeking from his sheets at this giant of a man gathering his belongings and taking his leave of the room. It seemed that he had no memory of the various pedal-assaults he suffered the evening before.

Later, as Andreas and Heimdall gathered in the dining hall for a meal, the younger observed how enormous that giant had been and commended his cousin for such bravery. Jakob Freyr responded, “In all honesty, I did not grasp the immensity of this man until I placed my hand on the sole of his foot. In the midst of all that patting, I was wondering, would you have come to my aide, should I have been in need?” To which Andreas replied, “Strange, all the time you were yelling at that giant I was wondering how I would explain to your mother that you died at an inn in Dubh Linn!” The two burst into such great laughter that it sent all of the patrons running in fear.

Thus ends the first tale of a cousin nearly lost…

A Thunderous Compadre and Sage-esque Advice

At long last, I am able to sit and write, to ponder, pontificate, reflect, and furrow my brow in pretend depth-of-thought (consternated squinting might be a more accurate description). I have been distracted from my responsibilities as blog-master by a series of harrowing experiences that have involved the rescue of numerous orphans, impromptu muay thai fights, and hijacking prevention- all of which concluded with my shirt in tatters and my vascular musculature pulsating as a passing breeze warmed by a blaze in the background gently wafts through my hair and wife embraces my left bicep (*fade to black). In another reality, it turns out that living in a foreign country differs vastly from globetrotting adventures that force one into awkward and hilarious encounters, especially when there is the persistent absence of a hilarious cousin or a Norwegian giant. The reality of “living” in Nottingham has finally taken root. Be that as it may, “living” was not able to prevent the following day from elapsing:

Shortly after wife had left for work, I hopped on my über-masculine bicycle and headed to the university. While on the ride I recalled my humiliating journey into the town centre only weeks earlier and rejoiced at not having to endure such embarrassment on a regular basis. It was during this reflection, however that I began to observe the frame of my own mode of conveyance and realized it bore striking similarities to wife’s bike. Dentritic connections fired throughout my brain, a small mass grew into a large lump in my throat. I swallowed this welling sadness and involuntarily uttered, “I own a lady’s bike.” Unable to abandon the cycle, I attempted to encourage myself and weigh the positive aspects. Should I ever fall forward from the seat, the low frame will prevent fatherhood-ending injuries. Why did I have to buy a fuchsia chain? Fortunately, the parsimonious penny-pincher in me was quick to remind that the bike came free of charge. So I rode toward the university with my head raised a bit higher.

As a side note for those of you who doubt, let me assure you that making motorcycle sounds with your mouth actually increases your velocity exponentially. My record-setting speed on this morning, however, was inadvertently obstructed by a young Asian man travelling at a leisurely pace… in the middle of a bike path. I am unsure of why this happens with ever-increasing frequency, but nearly every morning I avoid a collision only barely with a person of similar ethnic descent on the same path. Perhaps it is a conspiracy hatched by the Chinese to infiltrate the world’s cycle route system, causing mass-pandemonium, and preventing university attendance in other countries while their own students excel at home. I’m on to you. You may have Tibet, but Nottinghamshire is beyond your reach. Anyway, as this thought passes out of my cranium, I take note that the young man has ear buds in situ, which prevent him from hearing my approach. I briefly contemplate the increasing individuality/reclusiveness that such products breed, but that is quickly replaced by the blinding fury that this gent unconsciously steps in concert with my every attempt to pass him. It turns out that simply crashing into the person speeds the process along, but the number of witness and the fact that my tires aren’t designed for such off-road/over-body expeditions generally militates against such a decision.

I slowly wheel onto campus as the massive herds of undergraduates migrate across the field below the theology building on their way to their morning classes. Nearly every morning I pause for a moment to take it all in, imagining how lethargic they must be from a night of cramming, or staying up all night to not do any work… as I imagine some students do in college. Then I picture a T-Rex crashing through the tree line, and chasing after the helpless students. He grabs them in mouthfuls. You can’t escape, freshman! Your backpack is too heavy- but you won’t drop it because your books were too expensive. That’s why you eat Ramen for every meal. I chuckle to myself as I imagine high-fiving Rex, and then I begin pedaling toward the post-graduate building. The entire experience is quite cathartic. Know that this imagined scenario does not stem from a dislike of undergraduates, so much as it does for a predilection of dinosaurs.

After a few relatively productive hours, it becomes necessary for me to venture into the town centre for a bit of shopping. It is here, while at the vegetable stand, that I begin to notice something has caused the majority of young males to abandon all vestiges of masculinity in preference for their disproportionate, skin-grabbing, movement-restricting skinny jeans. It was as though a designer said, “I know, let’s take some pantaloons and stuff them into a pair of knee-highs! The kids will go crazy over them.” The only benefit from this fad is that it has become abundantly apparent that my brother and I are now in the majority of average leg-size (if not on the larger end). Do some calf-raises, son! The rigidness of the legs runs the risk of causing widespread gastrocnemius atrophy, for the pants render the use of leg muscles unnecessary until the hip. Fathers, where have the initiation rites into manhood gone? Take your son hunting, or on a coming-of-age fishing trip. Drive him deep into bear-country, toss him a pocketknife, tell him to find his way home, and peel-out as you abandon him there in the woods. At very least take him camping and discuss with him at the fireside that it should not appear as though he has put on a diaper over pantyhose and then loaded it up. I weep for this generation. After drying my eyes, I made my way out of the shop and headed home for a trip to a nearby locale with wife and some friends.

We arrived at a place called Southwell (pronounced “Suh-thull,” which you would know if you read my British pronunciation guide), and began a walking tour through the town. The

Kindred spirits

Bethany befriending a tiny, inquisitive man

area is known for its wealthy inhabitants, mostly old ladies if the “pant-suit, gaudy hats, and high-collared shirts only” stores are any indication, and their Cathedral. We toured the building, perused the grounds- here Bethany met a kindred-spirit; a fellow gold-digger, if you will- and had a tea before the Cathedral’s evensong. Having had our fill of “Sul,” we stuffed ourselves into the car and made our way back to Beeston.

That evening, we attended a local, more contemporary church service in Nottingham. It was here that I realized that people in the UK have never gone through a phase where singing was awkward or embarrassing, so one simply mouths the words quietly in an attempt to deflect attention. So far, the congregations we have visited sing at full-tilt in a way that always surprises me. It’s refreshing when the crowd is louder than the speaker-system. At the same time, I am used to singing just barely louder than my neighbour, so this experience has raised the bar. I find myself on the verge of screaming in order to contend with these warbling Brits. The veins in my neck protrude, my head turns crimson, blood vessels in my eyes rupture, and it tends to conclude with a coughing-fit. The whispering wife, on the other hand, usually passes out from over-exertion by the first refrain. I mumble something about the Holy Spirit to our neighbours and they tend to ignore her.

During the ride home, a glance at my bike chain invoked some memories of my mother. You see, mom had the tendency to occasionally stretch the truth in situations- sometimes to protect her children, sometimes for her own entertainment. I tend to realize the elasticity of these adages as I am announcing them with confidence to another person, only to taper off at the end. Here are some of my favourites (siblings, please help me fill this out):

1. If you ride your bike barefooted or with sandals you will cut off your toes.

2. If you pick at a scab you will contract impetigo/flesh-eating bacteria.

3. All of the foam that washes up on the shore is fish spit (I unreflectingly believed this up through part of high school… all of high school ).

4. If you chew your fingernails you will get fingernail worms.

5. If you eat without washing your hands you will get worms (there were a lot of Beth-razors that resulted in worms- I miss you mom).

A Blast from the Past… Again: the KKK

I recently took a trip in my time machine and was able to recover another remarkable relic from the year 2005. Adding this to the repertoire of entries will help expand your horizons, so that you may come to understand how historically rooted is this mode of communication…

Oxford, 2005

"Hello to all you birds and blokes from the right good Mr. Blair and his American chum, Andrew 'the Fraus want to squeeze his rumpus' Talbert,

I truly desired to end this e-mail at the intro, but a greater desire burns within me to divulge the happenings of the last few weeks. With that said, I must explain my address to you folks on the mainland. I have ventured across the channel and am currently residing in Oxford with my cousin, Franklin. You must, therefore, read this letter in a Cockney accent to the best of your individual abilities, because I have labored in the same manner. Whether out loud or in your heads is a matter of personal preference- either way I do not care. Now, let us look back over the past several weeks and try to salvage memories worth slathering on this paper.

This past week I was invited by my Korean friend David to partake in a delicious meal prepared by several of his Korean lady friends. I traversed through Mannheim with two other Americans and my main man, Dag, for the experience. After a select malt beverage, the ladies brought out a meal that I was to struggle with for the next two days. They unloaded 3 pans of chicken and onions with red pepper and rice. I estimate the quantity of meat prepared was roughly 12 pounds, with an additional 4 pounds of onions, and 9 pounds of red pepper all together. I am unsure of its proper name in Korean, so I referred to it as peener choi and later as “the afterburner,” but I will explain that in a moment. We handled the first plate without difficulty, the second slowed us a bit, but we managed to take care of business. It was at the third and spiciest round that we confronted an insurmountable task. Despite being quite full I found myself continuing to cram vast quantities of this delicacy into my facial orifice (I use the qualifier facial because I know that some of you with sick minds would have imagined otherwise). I find myself utterly merciless when confronted by the kindness of Asian women, as Hiroki can inform you of the night that I ate all of their food because of the insistence of his mother, but I digress. I assured myself out loud that I would finish all that they laid before me, and was challenged by one friend, Matt, to do so. Even Dag, the man who eats so voraciously and with such commitment that I am surprised he has managed to keep all ten digits without one falling as a casualty of mastication, surrendered to the overwhelming number of fowl that had been slaughtered for our enjoyment. I reminded myself that, though my stomach and intestines were at maximum capacity, I still had the entire length of my esophagus up to my larynx to fill until I would succumb to asphyxiation. Fortunately, David informed me that I needn’t eat anymore, as the others had already retired, and Matt retracted his former challenge, and quickly took my plate to the kitchen so that he wouldn’t have to take me to the hospital. I leaned back and breathed heavily, contracting my stomach muscles in the hopes of holding my internal organs together, that they would not burst. My relief soon turned to fear as the ladies brought out two trays of sliced fruit. I sat in helpless terror as my hand reached for several pieces of pineapple, placed said fruit into my mouth, and my jaw began working contrary to the desires of my mind…

The following day I met with David to help him install some light fixtures in his apartment. The Ikea store was some distance from his place, so we had to catch a Strassenbahn to a bus station and then a bus to the store- a total journey of about 6000 miles. As we rode on the Strassenbahn, however, I felt deep and painful cramps surging in my stomach, but I figured that it was simply gas and that it would pass with time. At the bus stop, however, I realized I was wrong in the worst kind of way... I have, therefore, termed my experience the Korean kaka katasrophe- better known as the KKK. I asked David to watch my bag and ran into the bathroom there at the stop. Now, as a disclaimer, the Germans are typically associated with cleanliness on a level that is unfamiliar to most Americans, and I have experienced their cleanliness first-hand, but it has since became quite apparent that the Germans have a dirty side, and they managed to fit all of their filth into this single restroom. I kicked open the first stall door only to see a moderately clean toilet without a seat. I slammed my shoulder into the next stall only to discover that it had been sealed shut for some unknown reason. I ran back to the first stall and decided to chance it, but after a quick glance I noticed that the stall was entirely devoid of toilet paper. The holes on the wall indicated to me that there had at one time been a toilet paper holder, but apparently this bathroom was a meeting place for pour souls with the angriest of bowels, and the last man there must have ripped it out of the wall as he grasped at the nearest object to aid him in riding out the storm. The toilet paper, however, was an absolute necessity. So, I peeked over my stall into the sealed stall to see where there had formerly been a toilet there was now a variety of liquor bottles, mostly Jägermeister, and other trash strewn about the cubicle. Apparently, it seemed prudent to some passing welder to seal the room shut, rather than install a new toilet and clean up the mess. Amongst all the refuse I noticed a grand object: Kleenex toilet paper. I climbed from my toilet into the next stall, grabbed the paper and scurried back over to my toilet in great desperation… I finished my business and found there was no sink for me to wash my hands. So, I exited the bathroom and resolved to wash my hands when I made it to Ikea, but in all honesty, it never happened."

I have no regrets.

Low Gear Emasculation

Over the past several weeks, wife and I have been sharing a single bike as our primary means of conveyance. Now that she has a temporary position, she travels a good bit further than I on a daily basis. Having realized the time that the bike saves us, however, we deemed it necessary to purchase another cycle. I spent the day working from home so that someone would be present to receive the bike from the deliveryman. As our original bike is more masculine, we decided to purchase something with a feminine flair to accentuate the baby-producing nature of wife. Having received the package, I tore off its wrappings only to realize how lady-esque it truly is. After snorting at the bike and making derogatory comments, I began the assembly process. The bicycle came together quickly enough, but I noticed that the chain dropped whenever pedal locomotion ceased. Not wanting to void any warranty, I determined to bring our new purchase to a nearby bike repair shop. Riding as hurriedly as possible to avoid potential embarrassment and then over-explaining how the bike was not mine to the shopkeeper, I left the two-wheeled contraption in more mechanically-able hands.

I had the bike home within and hour as the fix was quick and relatively inexpensive. I left wife’s bike on the back porch and settled down with the hope of accomplishing some work (I am supposed to be working on a PhD). Having lost track of time, I realized I had only thirty minutes to pick something up from the town centre before a certain shop closed. In desperation I considered how I could possibly make it in time… then I slowly peered out the back window. The bike chimed its bell at me, bade me come to her, and said, “I have a riding lesson for you!” Devoid of other options I gave the bike another looking over, not as an inspection of functionality, but attempting to determine what I might do to detract from the overwhelming femininity of this velocipede. Wearing camouflage and smearing myself in blood seemed an act of over-compensation, not to mention the fact that it would look like I had murdered a little girl and stolen her bike. Disrobing and exhibiting my masculinity would certainly have distracted attention from the bike, but our community is small, and we run into members of our church everyday… oh, and jail- both the detention and the potential of ending up naked in a cell- these things disuaded me. I decided to swallow my pride and took off in the clothes I was wearing. I gazed at the bike below me: a soft pink and gray frame. Mind you, the gray might have detracted from the womanly quality of the cycle, had not the words “estrogen” and “cuddles” been emblazoned on the sides. Every push of the pedals caused me pain. I felt like a middle-school student hoping his friends would not notice that he was riding a girl’s bike. That is when I looked up and saw actual middle-school students walking along the side of the road, having been freshly dismissed from their classes. “How embarrassing,” I thought, but then I reminded myself, “They’re only kids, they don’t care”- if only I had not read the story of Elisha that morning I could have convinced myself. As I passed successive groups of children, I noticed that none gave me more than a glance, and no one told me to “Go up, you bald head!” My fears allayed, I reassured myself, “This is alright,” when suddenly my seat cranked backwards forcing the pointed end of the saddle into a certain area that is not made to receive pointed objects. It was as though the bike was trying to force the process of evolution so that we would fit with one another. I finally managed to make it close enough to my destination that I was able to abandon this emasculating bike (on the outskirts of the town centre) and run to the shop before it closed to retrieve several photos I had had developed. I returned to the bike and could have sworn she was laughing at me, laying their on her side. She knew I needed her to get home. Not having brought a bag, I stuffed the photo envelope inside my sweater, picked up the embarrassment, and headed home. After riding a short distance, however, the pictures shifted inside my sweater and came to rest upright on my left thigh, and, because I had set the seat for wife’s height, this resulted in the restricted movement of my legs. This meant that with every elevation of the left pedal, the pictures brushed across my left nipple, and then back across with each push. I could not stop as I was in the middle of the road, nor could I stand, as that would risk losing the pictures. So, there I was: trapped, robbed of all dignity, virtually castrated, and being molested by myself. The bike had won…