Saturday, May 30, 2015

This May Be the Biggest Mistake I've Ever Made...

And I've made a few.

Pushing the car out of the garage in neutral to save on gas.  Then realizing the driveway was just enough of a slope to send it on it's merry way down to make love with a stone wall.

Realizing that dry grass burns.  And how.

Assessing the full potential of marijuana while standing knee deep in snow with a mouth full of mouthwash.

But this may top even the scorch-fest of the summer of '75.

It's called Facebook.

I wanted to set up an account under my writer's name a few years ago.  I had had an account many years earlier under an anonymous name, set up because I really wasn't sure social media was for me.  It wasn't.  After a few evenings of staring at pictures taken by people I used to know, I shut down and left it alone.  It just wasn't that interesting to know what had been cooked the evening prior or where we had gone on vacation.  Isn't that what conversations are for?  Anyway, Facebook, because of security abuses, has gotten more sophisticated and I found out I couldn't have a page under an alias.   Makes sense, so I set up my page and then set up the subsequent page to promote a book I had written.  Then I walked away.  The book needed work.  Lots of work.  So I concentrated on making it legible to people who didn't get the inside jokes and were quickly alienated. 

A few weeks ago, after having survived the winter well enough and not once resorting to whiskey and heroin (well, certainly not heroin, anyway) I thought I'd post some sample chapters and went back onto the Facebook page.  I started with my home page.  There were three invitations from friends that I decided initially to ignore.  Then I changed my mind.  They were all nice people I was friends with and liked and admired.  I thought it would be rude to ignore them so I accepted their invitations, figuring that would be that.

And that it wasn't.  Invitations came cascading in.  Well, they came in.  Cascading, when one accepts my very limited social circle.  For normal folks, it would range from trickle to pathetic but it was a cascade for me.  I was overwhelmed.  Now I honestly don't know what to do.  I'm a Facebook user when I really just meant to be an anonymous curmudgeon.  I'm slipping down a dangerously slippery slope and I have to say it is at times, not altogether unpleasant.  I'm glad to see friends I was in a comedy troupe with years ago are alive, well and happy.  But why am I looking at what they had for dinner last night?  Am I becoming "one of them???"

I'll hang out of Fbook for a while longer and see what happens, but if I start habitually checking to see pictures of the kids, the cats, the collection of mummified bats during the day, I'm shutting down and going away.

At least I hope I will.

Bunny on.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Is That a Currywurst, Or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

I was a little worried about German Customs, since there's been some history around Germans jealously guarding their borders while playing a little fast and loose with others.  Add to that, the last time I had been there was during the kidnap, shoot 'em up and bomb their institutions we don't like seventies.  Then the reaction to guards in the airports was generally; oh my gosh, that looks like a machine gun.  Today; is that all they have, a machine gun?  Where are the tank offensive weapons?

German Customs are fast, professional and efficient and none of the officers on duty had a cocaine pinky nail like the Spanish fellow in Madrid.  This was appreciated in knowing that getting past the review desk had nothing to do with how much nose candy you were willing to share.

And if you happen to be traveling the national airline and if you happen to be connecting to a sister flight and if your flight out of the USA happens to be delayed through no fault of the airline, the airline will none the less muscle it's resources and do backflips to get you to your final destination.  In our case, this involved a bus for thirteen on a tight layover schedule, a speedy ride in the tunnels under Frankfurt International, our own private customs check through and an escort through secured corridors right to the airplane door.  Thanks for flying with us, sorry for the inconvenience.

Really?  I couldn't get that kind of whisk to the destination service if I were a spy hiding behind diplomatic credentials.  And I'd like to emphasize that I only write about spies.  I am not a spy.

For an airport meant to serve one of the largest cities in Europe and indeed, the capital city of the continent's largest economy, Berlin's Tegel is in a word:  A bus stop with a lot of pretensions.  Seriously?  I could sooner cold start a nuclear reactor than I could figure out the "check yourself in" self serve kiosks.  Signage to ground transportation might as well be in vernacular Arabic and options for food would make the Port Authority on 8th Avenue blush.  I know they're building the airport of  Berlin's future just down the road in Brandenburg now that all the MiG's have been cleared, but it's five years behind schedule.  They seem to have caught our public works development bug.  It's late, it's way over budget and it will be obsolete before it opens.  Sound familiar?

The rest of the city is in contrast, one pleasant surprise after the next.   The Brandenburg Gate, once the poster child of the Cold War, is a pedestrian mall where you can get your picture taken with ersatz American and Soviet officers, or living statues, or whatever other kind of public fruitcake fits your bill.  The subway system works and works well once you figure out the instructions on buying a weekly pass which are written in half German, half Latin and I'm convinced, a few key Klingon phrases.

There's been an awful lot of rebuilding.  We had dinner outside at the Pariserplatz, just across the street from the city opera.  An impromptu string quartet settled onto one of the benches and suddenly my pasta dish came with a soundtrack.  In 1978 this place looked like the war had ended the Tuesday before through the windows of the tour bus in a hurry to get us to a place without bullet holes.

Potsdamerplatz, a death zone beach before 1989, is now home to skyscrapers housing large international banks and brokerages.  Hasn't really changed much, in other words.

The hotels are first rate and not expensive and the locals are actually not too unfriendly save for the Volksinger we had to endure in the only restaurant open on the Feast of the Assumption, a forgotten  religious holiday dedicated to boisterous and vocal beer consumption until the early hours just outside of my hotel bedroom.  Like our hippie blowin' in the wind city plaza strummers, this Von Trapp wannabe was about as appealing.  They ought to reserve Volks to wagens.  It makes sense there, no where else.

And then there's Currywurst.  Tasty sausage smothered in a chili-curry sauce concoction that goes well with a cold beer and a stand up table facing a young woman with a delicious bust.  What more could you want?  When the bread and cheese breakfast wears off on this depraved carnivore, say around eleven or so, you can have alcohol and a delicious fleshy snack while you consider the fleshy snack that's just pulled up a chair in front of you.

We spent a lot of time in outstanding art, history and science museums but were always mindful of that mid afternoon need for beer.  In fact, as much as I abhor doing it on vacation, we set an alarm to remind us.  What we didn't do was shop or explore much of the nightlife since I don't like to buy shit and I couldn't find Club Alte Farte, the only space catering to me, on the hotel guide map.  Instead I caught up on all the German dubbed episodes of "Big Bang Theory" I had somehow missed at home.

Next up:  Donde esta en Espana




Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lost in London Again

London is a place where the present is constantly being overlaid on the past without straightening some of the strange bends.  A cart path that zig zagged it's way up the side of a rise is now a main throughfare to Notting Hill.  They'll push a motorway through the center of town but won't lay out access routes and as a result, you wind up on an ersatz bobsled run just to get on the M-25.

If you're on foot, you're even worse off.  Streets abruptly start, end and then re-start.  Palaces and government facilities all start to look alike and unless you take a constant bearing on the Gherkin as a reference point, you're going to get lost.

A companion and I went to London for a friend's wedding outside of the city some time ago.  After all the ceremonies, accosts by drunken Englishmen and lies that back home I was really a hit man for the New Jersey mob were done, we moved to a hotel in the city. 

The first evening in, we set out for a short walk in search of dinner.  We found a delightful Thai place just past a crescent somewhere in Chelsea.  As we had our first glass of an outstanding white wine, it began to rain.  A perfect moment.  We went back to London two years later and despite being in a new hotel in an adjoining neighborhood, we managed to find the telltale crescent and find the restaurant still in the same place, still with the best Thai food we ever had.

That kind of luck didn't hold a few years later when I was there on my own.  Having wrapped up some business meetings and having some challenges waiting for me at home, I took a walk on the eve of my homebound flight to sort my thoughts out and get some dinner.  I came across a promising sandwich shop just off Baker Street, or what I thought was Baker Street.  I placed my order and the woman behind the counter asked "Take away or staying?" 

Take away.

"Figures, we never seem to hold onto the good ones."

It wasn't Baker Street either.  It was some main road that I had wandered away from into a maze of streets that I hadn't noted the name of and now they all looked alike.  Add to that a knee injury and you have a clueless Yank holding a sandwich bag, limping back and forth across neighborhoods that sure as heck look familiar, but no.   Finally looked at a map on a bus shelter with the earnest expression of "the Tottenham local must stop here" so as not to attract undue attention.  Once I found a main road, I traced it back to where the shelter was, took a bearing and headed back to the hotel.  Hobbled, actually.

London's weather has given me a few moments to remember as well.  I have been there on both the coldest and hottest day of the respective year.  On the former, the idea of an open topped double decker bus tour of the city turned into something worth re-considering once icicles began to form on the handrails.  On the hottest day, that would be the day I had to haul luggage up King's road, I realized that the Brits are as hopelessly unprepared for hot weather as we might be for the metric system, say.  Air conditioning does not exist so by the time I got up to the third floor (by stairs) I needed some sort of quick cool down.  A shower, perhaps.  It was a small but functional bath with the shower head mounted on a pole that you could adjust the height of the water stream on.  Or you could just turn the thing on and watch the shower spin around the pole like a lawn sprinkler set up for the kids in the backyard.

Cooled down, I flopped on the bed to watch a German broadcast game show called "Quizfire" in which contestants sat in large, recliner sized chairs answering questions.  Right answers moved on to the next round.  Wrong answers, the entire chair dropped down into the basement of the set through a trap door.

"At least we're in England where they'd apologize politely first.  I'd hate to be there."

Next:  Germany

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