Recently I dreamt that I had some free time on my hands and after briefly entertaining the idea of doing something productive, like exercising or housework, I decided instead to re-watch one of my all-time favourite TV series, Veronica Mars, on DVD. I headed over to a video store where I used to work called Poppin’ Video (not a real place) to see if they had the box set available to rent. When I entered the store, I saw my old colleague Corinne behind the counter. (Not someone I know IRL, although she had kind of a Joan Jett look about her.) She didn’t seem all that pleased to see me, which wasn’t surprising given that I was a bit of a slacker when we worked together, often calling in sick or showing up late and generally shirking my duties when I was there. I asked whether the Veronica Mars box set was in stock and after sighing heavily and rolling her eyes, she went and found it for me. I dug my old Poppin’ Video membership card out of my wallet and handed it to her to secure the rental. Corinne examined the card and shook her head. “This is invalid,” she said. “Look at the name and address on the front.” It read:
Natasha Orange 222 Tanning Bed Blvd. Hot Pants, Florida Telephone: 867-5309
Chapter Seven: Oh! You Pretty Things (Wherein the Author Reveals a Frankly Unsettling Obsession with Home Accessories)
I can’t walk through our downstairs living room without looking at the mirror. Not in the mirror, although I occasionally sneak a peek at the old mug in passing just to make sure I don’t have mustard in my goatee or my eyebrows haven’t fused together overnight or something. (I live in mortal fear of the unibrow.) No, at the mirror, a simple oak-framed piece of glass, the latest addition to the still-evolving décor of our flat. It’s as Scandi-minimalist as they come and possibly too plain for many tastes, but to me it is a thing of unparalleled beauty and elegance. Not only does it bounce light around a somewhat dark space, but its blond wood frame is aesthetically harmonious with furniture pieces nearby, so it ties the room together with aplomb. And when the hubby put it up, he couldn’t have positioned it more perfectly on the wall – dead centre over the sofa – so I’m proud to say that it’s very, very well-hung.
“You must own so many records,” a new friend of mine remarked the other day as we were having a discussion about whether she should buy a turntable. (Shouldn’t everyone?) It was a logical assumption on her part, for even though we’ve only known each other a relatively short time, she’s already learned what those near and dear to me have known forever: Music is my thing. My passion. The flame was lit when I fell head over heels for rock ‘n’ roll at the tender age of 13 and in the decades since I’ve remained a voracious consumer of recorded music in all its forms. I feel like I’ve bought enough LPs, singles, cassettes, CDs, and yes, 8-tracks in my time to fill the Hollywood Bowl twice over. So you’d think by now, at the gruff-and-grizzled age of [REDACTED], I’d have a collection worthy of that Guinness book of other records. Yet it pains me to admit that the quantity of albums currently on display in our guest room/media den, where the hubby and I keep the stereo and other man-cave essentials, is a tiny fraction of what it should be, given all that I’ve spent on physical music over the years. What the devil happened? Aye, ‘tis an epic saga of voyages to new lands, fickle fortunes, and reckless raids on the treasure followed inevitably by crashing waves of regret. So sit back, wee buccaneers, whiles I tells me tale of woe. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly channeling Geoffrey Rush from The Pirates of the Caribbean, but there ye go.)
Chapter Five: Better Living Through Bath Towel Symmetry (The Making of a Martha Stewart Wannabe)
[WARNING: The following post contains first-world problems that some readers may find exceptionally silly. Discretion is advised.]
I stepped back, took stock of my efforts, and let out a heavy sigh. Nope, still not quite right. The spouse and I had just bought two new John Lewis bath towels, Dusty Green™ and Dark Steel™ to match our bathroom tiles, and my mission was to get them to hang together perfectly on the radiator/drying rack. I expected nothing less than precise straight lines and crisp right angles, with the towels displayed in a fetching stair-step pattern – the dark grey towel on the top rung to the left and its green mate peeking out underneath to the right. But the several attempts I’d made thus far had failed to meet my stringent standards. This time, the one on the lower rung drooped at an unacceptable slant. Gingerly, I tried to straighten it, which only succeeded in making them both go cockeyed. What was I doing wrong? Continue reading →
The coronavirus has put the kibosh on a slew of social activities for the time being, forcing many of us to conjure stay-at-home alternatives to fill our days. Bread baking has seen a rise in interest, as has posting the hit-and-miss results on Instagram. (Sorry, @theaussiebaker, but it appears you’ve seriously singed your buns.) Some dedicated fitness buffs have created home workout routines in order to beef up or slim down. I know, it sounds cuckoo to me too. My pal Tim is learning a bit of French, which will come in handy if he’s ever again able to travel to France, or even order in a French restaurant. (This COVID-19 is merde, non?) More than a few of us have even resorted to awkward video chats with friends and family to stave off boredom. Will Aunt Karen ever get her microphone to work? Tune in next week, or the week after, or the week after, to find out! Continue reading →
Mea culpa. In a previous post on adjusting to life in the UK, I dismissed the widely held view that it is exceptionally rainy here, noting with premature smugness that the weather in the months since my arrival hadn’t been any more inclement than anywhere else I had ever lived. Well, this past winter definitely dampened that naïve notion. From mid-November through the holidays and into the new year, the forecast was persistently grim for much of Britain. In Portsmouth, the coastal city that my spouse and I call home, steady downpours occurred almost daily. And though the clouds parted for brief interludes, you could always count on one thing: At the exact moment you left the house to run an errand or whatever, the heavens would open up. The deluge didn’t subside until March – clear skies greeted us right around the time we were all ordered to stay indoors to keep the coronavirus at bay. Isn’t it ironic, Alanis?
So yeah, newsflash, the possibility of looooong soggy spells in Britain is all too real. As such, homes that have areas below street level, like the two-storey flat the hubby and I bought back in October, need extra protection against flooding. This is why there’s a sump pump on our property. Having hitherto lived my life fully and freely above terra firma, I’ve never encountered one before. In the aftermath of the stressful incident described below in vivid detail, I Googled “what is a sump pump and how does it work,” and discovered that it’s an electric pump system that propels excess water through a pipe up and away from the house and into an external drain. Whether this is done by physics or by Order of the Phoenix-approved wizardry, I’m still not sure. (Wikipedia has the full breakdown, but it’s a lengthy entry and I lost interest pretty quickly.) On a Googling roll, I then did a search for “sump etymology,” because who would name something “sump” on purpose? I learned the term is derived from a “Low German” word meaning “swamp.” Obviously, then I had to Google “Low German,” because that sounded kind of judgy and, well, things just spiraled from there. Continue reading →
Hey there! This piece is partly a commentary about growing old, a subject and a sad reality that I can’t seem to stop thinking about. And, consequently, writing about. I don’t obsess over it by any means, but as I mentioned in an article a month or two ago, I am very aware of the grains of sand that steadily and relentlessly are falling to the bottom of my hourglass. Man, I’m 71, at least 20 years older than I’d like to be. But hopefully I’ll be around for many more years, hitting the Publish button for scads more stories on this website. And if not, well, c’est la f*cking vie, as they say in Gay Paree.
Doom and gloom, however, will not dominate the present proceedings. Nah, that’s not me. Age-wise, I may be nearing lofty heights. (Nearing? Shit, I’m already there.) At heart, though, I’m still kind of a rabid 20-something.
Remember when whistling was all the rage back in the 2000s? People whistled while riding their Segways and Razor scooters, while clicking through MySpace pages, while watching the West Wing. Or maybe I just dreamed all this. But whistling did find its way into popular music, perking up this jaunty hit by Peter, Bjorn and John and pretty much every other song by Andrew Bird, including this highlight from his brilliant 2009 album, “Noble Beast.” Whistle away!
Celebrating the last truly great decade for pop music.
A pox on your aughts!
One of the great joys of shopping in a record store is being turned on to a new album that the staff is playing. I’ve heard so many great records for the first time that way, and having worked in many a record store myself, I know I’ve turned others on to new music as well. I first heard “What Makes It Go?” by the Swedish band Komeda, in Tower Records in the Around Lenox Shopping Center in Atlanta. (One of the last Towers to open, it was only there for a few years before the whole chain went kablooey.) It’s not the deepest album of the ‘90s by any means, but it’s insanely catchy and fun—check out the track at the link below—and the point is there’s a good chance I might not have heard it any other way. And that unique opportunity for discovery is being lost now, thanks to those damn millennials and their smart phones and their streaming! (Now if you need me, I’ll be mall-walking in my Velcro-strapped sneakers with my thermos full of Ensure.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQfscWVq6Bo