Category Archives: Community

X marks the what?

I remember being very excited about the fact that I was about to get the vote. Admittedly I hadn’t had to chain myself to some railings, get hit by a racehorse or even burn my bra in an attempt to get it, but nonetheless I somehow felt that my eighteen years of life had given me the necessary experience to shape the future of my country.

That my first general election was a showdown between John Major and Neil Kinnock was possibly a disappointment. It was like waiting forty years to lose your virginity, only to be told that the only two living females left in the world were Margaret Thatcher and the octogenarian from across the road who would never give you your football back if you happened to kick it into her garden.*

Still, I proudly marched into the polling booth that day and placed my cross against a candidate’s name with all the solemnity of a Death Row jailer pressing a button to release poisonous gases into the chamber. A little harsh to compare some of the 1992 MPs to poisonous gases perhaps, but given that their number included Michael Portillo, John Redwood and Michael Howard, not entirely unfair.

Since then I’ve voted whenever and wherever I’ve been required to, before cruelly being robbed of my electoral franchise by emigration to the US.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bleat on yet again about taxation without representation, tempting though it is. Because the fact is, there seems to be so many elections over here that half the time I’d have no idea what I’m voting for in the first place.

For a start, you’ve got the primaries, which appear to be like the early audition rounds of The X-Factor or American Idol – mildly irrelevant to the main event, and of little interest but for the freakshow candidates. Come on, I understand that we need to exercise our democratic right, but do we really have to have semi-finals?

And then there’s some of the things that Americans seem to be asked to vote for. Right now in New York, there’s an election for the roles of comptroller and public advocate. I mean, do we really have to choose who is going to look after the finances – isn’t that why you select a governor in the first place, to make decisions about the best person for the job? And is American politics so far up its own posterior that we need somebody whose role it is to make sure that they listen to the public? Isn’t fear of being voted out at the next election enough for these people?

Next thing you know, there will be a run-off to choose who should make coffee at the Senate on a Tuesday, mark my words. With maybe a subsequent vote to determine whether they brew decaf or regular.

* Bless you, Mrs Lester. May your afterlife consist of watching on in horror as a succession of boys kick balls into your pristine garden for all eternity.

A man walks into a bar (and other clichés)

I love a good cliché. With my unrivalled ability to roll out a casual inanity for every occasion, I could probably have been a football managercoach were it not for a terrifying lack of ability and an underlying loathing of anyone whose ego is so large that it can’t even be carried on to an airplane as hand baggage.

Nonetheless, I consider it a personal failure if I don’t manage to crank out at least one over-used phrase per day. You’ll simply not see me happier than the moments after I’ve just managed to slip a cliché into an otherwise normal conversation. Well, unless you happen to catch my pumped-fist salute coming out of the toiletbathroom, after a painful four day bout of constipation has triumphantly been brought to an end, that is.

Personal favourites include ” actions speak louder than words”, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” or “no pain, no gain”, although try as I might, I’m yet to find a way to fit “there’s a thin line between love and hate” into a meeting without being given the look generally reserved for the moment when you realise that the falafel you just bit into was actually a breadcrumbed sheep’s testicle.

The fact is though that most clichés are borne of the truth. And none more so than “it’s a small world.”

Last night I walked into a perfectly everyday American bar just around the corner from where I live in the depths of Brooklyn. Faced with the choice of American beers that look and taste like water (or, worse still, look and taste like urine), I opted for a taste of Britain, in the shape of a ‘pint’ of Bass.

Bass is a strange thing. I’m not even sure that there still is a beer sold under the Bass name in the UK, and if there is, I probably wouldn’t order it (although to be fair, drinking canned Shandy Bass as a kid was one of my great not-as-illicit-as-it-seemed pleasures). But here, Bass seems to have a connotation of high quality – a seemingly safe bet when faced with mountains of six packs of Coors Light, Bud Light, and that weird lime tasting beer that I’ve never quite understood the point of.

Reader, I digress. Having downed my first beer with a speed that would make Usain Bolt’s face blanch, I walked to the bar to buy my second libation.

“Where in the UK are you from?” asked Woman Who I Would Call A Barmaid In The UK.

In the United States, being asked this question fills a Brit with joy and unabandoned glee because it means three things . Firstly, it means they’ve heard of the UK (not a given, trust me). Secondly, they haven’t confused you with an Australian, a Swede or a Canadian. And thirdly, there’s a vague chance that they’ve heard of some British city that’s not London.

“I come from a place called Chester,” I said meekly, readying myself to give directions from London or – at best – Manchester.

“Oh right. I spent my first day in the UK in Chester. My husband’s from Liverpool. I like Chester, although it’s a bit strange.”

I laughed at the thought of an American being confused by a city that has anything older than 500 years in it, and walked back to my seat.

A few moments later, a completely unrelated guy came over to our table.

“Excuse me, mate. Did I hear you say you’re from Chester? I’m from Wrexham actually. Nice to see you,” he said, before wandering out of the door.

Wrexham’s probably eight miles from Chester. I used to date a girl from Wrexham, and one night drove all the way home without realising I didn’t have my headlights on. I rarely came across someone from Wrexham when I was living in London though, let alone in suburban Brooklyn.

I’m now on eager alert for the random appearance of somebody who lived on my street as a kid, or who used to drink in the pub I used to work in and remembers the low cut Hawaiian style shirt I was forced to wear. After all, don’t these things come in threes?

Or would that just be a cliché?

Three unacceptable faces of New York (or ‘Am I becoming a grumpy old man?’)

The majority of people in New York are wonderful people who are nice to their mothers, who wash behind their ears, and who open doors for strangers. Those people, however, were not part of my day. Instead I found myself surrounded by the kind of folk who got picked last for school sports, driving me crazy at every street corner. In particular, three stood out from the crowd for their ability to irritate at ten paces:

Sloppy Slurpy Subway Man
If you are a middle aged man with an ability to wear a jacket and trousers in shades of green that are similarly redolent of rotting algae but not quite the same as each other, it’s fair to say that you almost certainly don’t care what other people think. What is less clear is why – given that you plainly didn’t spend much time infront of the mirror in the morning – you were unable to eat breakfast in the comfort of your own home. I was prepared to forgive you when you pulled out a granola bar and ate it open-mouthed while you sat next to me, even though the chewing and grinding were enough to drown out the dubiously mellifluous tones of Hillary Duff coming from the iPod of the woman on the other side of me. But when you reached into your bag, pulled out a second bar and probably allowed the people opposite to see the texture of the half chewed bar in your mouth, I’d had enough. The cheese stick that came out next, and which made you sound like a pasturing cow, was a step too far. As was the second one. And the third, if I’m being honest. By the time you sat slurping on your bottle of water, each glug being amplified by your copious gob, I was ready to take the plastic bottle and ram it somewhere that would almost certainly have rendered the need for recycling completely unnecessary.

Irate Rebel Without A Clue
When you walked into the doctor’s surgery ranting at the husband who was old enough to be your dad, I had a feeling that you were going to get on my nerves. But little could I have realised quite how annoying you would be. It’s one thing to be annoyed at ‘the bitch’ who wasn’t able to help you get an appointment, but maybe I’m old fashioned enough not to be so vocal when ‘the bitch’ in question is sitting behind a desk approximately ten yards from where you’re sitting. Perhaps you’re just angry to be sitting at all, given that you responded to the receptionist’s polite suggestion that you take a seat while she completes your paperwork with the line “I much prefer standing, actually.” You think you’re a rebel who flies in the face of authority, and stands up for the people. You’re not. You’re just an irritating woman who actually lives in one of the poshest parts of Brooklyn, and isn’t afraid who hears you admit it.

The Rotund Narcoleptic
Look, I know it’s actually your glands, and that you’re unfortunate enough to have a slow metabolism. But when you fall asleep on the subway with crumbs around your mouth, people are probably going to start looking at you. And when you start snoring loudly enough for people in Chicago to hear you, you’re not exactly helping yourself out. I wouldn’t mind if it was 11.45pm and you were catching a late train after a long and arduous day in the office. But doing your best Rip Van Winkle impression at 6.30pm seems excessive if you ask me. Oh, and by the way, if in the future your subway sleeping causes you to drop your trashy magazine from your hand and it falls on the subway floor, and somebody picks it up for you, you might want to say thank you instead of grunting in such a way that suggests it was the good samaritan’s fault in the first place.

New York is packed full of characters, and like a dung magnet, it appears I attract them all. If I end up doing a ten stretch at some point during my time in this city, you’ll know why.

And next on the agenda…

I have a new obsession. Some people get caught up with endless musing on Heidi Klum or Brad Pitt. Others take to hobbies from skateboarding to knitting like ducks to water, and spend many an hour boring friends on their latest jump or – erm – stitch. And some become couch potatoes, frantically racing home from the office in order to tune into the latest crime scene or cop show (I could just save you the bother – the culprit’s always the nice friend who you saw briefly in the third scene).

But none of those are for me. After all, I’m all about the TV box sets these days, and it’d probably take me four years to knit a scarf that went around Action ManGI Joe’s neck. Instead, I’ve discovered community meetings.

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of meeting. There’s the community gathering around to take decisive action for the improvement of all, and those meetings and collectives can can be pretty inspiring. Indeed, I’m (relatively) active in one such group, to bring a food coop to the part of Brooklyn in which I live.

In terms of real entertainment value though, you have to go to the events where the people who don’t otherwise get to talk much in life get let off their leash. These gatherings generally have a vague theme, whether it’s security in the neighbourhood or environmental concerns. But essentially they turn into an ill-disguised competition in which the participants attempt to make the most tangential leap between the topic at hand, and the subject that they want to talk about. In other words, if you go to some kind of forum on improving public transport, you will almost certainly end up listening to a 30 minute diatribe on how the penne arrabbiata at the local Italian has gone downhill since Giuseppe left. To be fair, he left on a bus, but that’s hardly the point.

Then there’s the person who is prepared to stick to the topic, but wants to dissect the most trivial point in enough depth to write a thesis. The effectiveness of the subway system is an important topic to most New Yorkers; whether the word “Metro Card” appears in blue or green on your weekly pass, not so much.

And don’t forget the person who speaks with incredible authority but actually doesn’t know a single thing that he or she is talking about. I can listen to those people for hours, as they make outlandish claims after outlandish claim, as if they’ve taken a bet to see who can make the most ridiculous suggestion in a public setting. As a result, I’m now well-versed in concealing my laughter/anger/astonishment* (*delete as appropriate) behind literature collected at the door, as if I’m paying particularly close attention or taking notes.

It’s an obsession I need to get under control before it gets out of hand. If I’m not careful, I’ll find myself infiltrating young Republican gatherings, just to hear their views on climate change. And no amount of paper infront of my mouth will save me then.

Perhaps it’s time to take up knitting after all?