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Scotland

So a couple years ago, my mom and I went to Britain. England, Wales and Scotland. The whole island. London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness. It was December, freezing cold, and nobody else was traveling. Nobody at the major tourist attractions, lots of quiet and empty museums and restaurants and theaters. Bed and breakfast inns where we were the only guests.

It was bliss. Pure bliss.

Scotland was, by far, my favorite. It’s probably my favorite place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been to almost every Krispy Kreme. So many reasons why:

1. General scowling. Everywhere. Nobody looked happy, ever. It was gloomy and gray and cold and damp and everybody’s natural face was frowny. Waiters and bartenders and shopkeepers and museum docents — no smiling all the time.

2. It was December, so it got dark around 3 p.m., and then didn’t get light again until about 9 a.m. Everyone knocked off work and got drunk at 4 in the afternoon and then was in bed asleep by 8. It’s my dream schedule.

3. Speaking of drinking, it was basically a requirement. Morning coffee had liquor in it. We skipped afternoon tea to drink again. Dinner was whatever food the pub served. The Scots do not mess around in this department.

4. It’s beautiful. You know those big sweeping mountains and valleys and rock cliffs and endless green pastures like in a “Lord of the Rings” movie? They got that. Plus castles.

5. A Scottish accent on a man makes panties evaporate. A Scottish accent on a woman sounds like a bag of cats being shaken up. Don’t believe me? Ride the night train from the Christmas market in Edinburgh back to Glasgow and listen to the shrieks that are apparently conversations. Then go watch “Thunderball.”

6. We saw a little girl who looked exactly like me at that age. Alike enough to the point my mom started to cry. But there were tons of people who looked like me. Which is reassuring when you grow up in the American south and everyone is blonde and looks like a model. Seeing people who looked like me, like, in general, that’s nice.

7. Other amazing things from Scotland: Walker’s Shortbread Cookies (I brought 12 boxes home in my suitcase), Alexander Graham Bell, adhesive stamps, hypnotism, bicycles, the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, ATMs, curling, the incandescent light bulb, golf, hypodermic syringes, Rose’s Lime Juice (which I cannot make vodka gimlets without), color photography, Highland cattle, Scottish Terriers, Border Collies and Golden Retrievers, Shetland ponies, marmalade, fingerprinting, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Irvine Welsh, J.M. Barrie, Sean Connery, Tilda Swinton, Robbie Coltrane, the Beta Band, Mogwai (the post-rock band, not the creature), the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Bay City Rollers, Belle and Sebastian, David Byrne, David Tennant and the Loch Ness Monster.

But, the best part. The inspirational part. This:

Most of the women there were not very attractive. Most of the men were very attractive. And I saw couples constantly where the woman was a 5 or a 6 but the man she was pulling was an 8 or a 9. It gave me two inspiring notions: First, I am like, a solid 6 and sometimes a 7, so if I moved to Scotland to date Scottish dudes, I’d be competitive. And second, that I can bring this trend back to the Americas.

Anyway, I’m just telling you this because Scotland is in the news lately, and it reminded me of what a great place it was. If you want to go someplace with smiling and convertibles, go to LA. If you want to drink and read and enjoy a good gloom, get yourself to Scotland as soon as possible.

Notorious

I grew up in a vacation beach town, lucky for me, because flocks of partying twentysomethings meant club music, and club music in the early 90s meant rap and hip-hop.

There was a weird split then, when the first few “rap” songs were crossing over to pop/rock stations and mainstream, most of them were pop songs anyway. “U Can’t Touch This” is definitely a pop song. Yeah, there’s rapping, but not so much. “Baby Got Back” is a novelty pop song. “Rump Shaker” is another novelty pop song built on samples from proven pop and funk songs. “Ice, Ice Baby” is the worst offender in this category.

But, they opened a curiosity, and then I heard Biggie, probably on “Yo! MTV Raps” because I was going through a long phase of turning on MTV when I got home from school at about 3 p.m. and leaving it on until the next morning when I left for school. (Yes, I had a tv in my bedroom. Yes, we had cable. Yes, I was a latch-key kid and allowed to do basically anything I wanted, and since I was 11, that meant I watched tv. I wasn’t out robbing liquor stores or running a meth lab, so chill.)

A Biggie song is like a folk song. There are characters and stories and arcs and development. Together, “Ready to Die” and “Life After Death” are a full American mythology.

Back in the early 90s, kids didn’t have the kind of access they have to things now, so the things that got blamed for our bad behavior weren’t yet violent video games or the internet. Teachers and parents went hard against rap music, mostly based on the violence, but like anything our teachers and parents united to hate, it just meant we wanted it more. We made and traded cassette tapes and hid our Walkmans in our backpacks, snaked the cords of our contraband headphones through the sleeves of our jackets and pretended to just be casually leaning our heads on our hands.

I don’t really remember the violence. I remember some of the sexuality (mostly because of 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke, mostly due to the aforementioned life in a vacation town), but what I really remember are the rags-to-riches stories, the coming-of-age stories, the working-hard-and-making-it-work stories.

Every once in a while, I watch the video for “Sky’s the Limit,” and it’s still totally inspirational. This was the golden age of MTV, for real. The height of the Spike Jonze era when they still would have premieres of videos and behind-the-scenes making-of-the-video specials. The video for “Sky’s the Limit” is incredible, even by Jonze standards. It’s every cliché hip-hop video scene (chilling at the mansion, driving the Benz, showing up at the club, mugging for the fisheye lens, watching music videos of your other friends on tv, etc.) but every famous person is replaced with a child-actor replica.

And you know that amazing thing kids can do where they can perfectly mimic someone with zero self-consciousness? Well, the kids nail it. The kid Biggie and the kid Puff Daddy somehow channel every drop of swagger possible and put it right back out. Don’t believe me? Just check where Kid Biggie says “See ya later,” at about :45 in, and Kid Puff Daddy doing the only dance I ever remember Puff Daddy doing at about 4:15.

The song is a classic example of The Notorious B.I.G. autobiographical story of the struggle. In the first verse he raps about being poor, and then later on kids respecting him at school and buying him chocolate milk. In the hook, 112 tells us “just keep pressing on.” And yeah, he talks about shooting people and selling drugs, but that’s just part of the process. Because the end, the end of the song, is some straight inspirational/aspirational heart-to-heart kind of talk:

If the game shakes me or breaks me
I hope it makes me a better man
Take a better stand
Put money in my Mom’s hand
Get my daughter this college plan so she don’t need no man
Stay far from timid
Only make moves when your heart’s in it
And live the phrase ‘Sky’s the Limit’

Believe in yourself, work hard, look forward. How is that not exactly what you want a kid to hear?

It’s easy to forget that Biggie was only 24 when he was killed. His music had this serious, deep perspective to it, like a much older man reflecting on his life. He was also such a presence, physically and ominously, in the zeitgeist of hip hop as it gradually reached out of Brooklyn and Long Beach into every part of America.

When I’m feeling down, I google image search puppies. When I’m feeling entitled or self-righteous, I read a notecard I keep on my desk for exactly that reason. When I need life advice, I watch this video.

‘Sup, Beautiful?

A couple months ago some of my friends and I went bowling. We were at a cheap bowling alley in a not-so-great part of town. I don’t understand a lot of sports, but I do enjoy throwing heavy things, especially at places where nobody will hassle you.

The bowling alley has a bar, and for some legal reasons, the bar area is demarcated with a sign declaring you must be 21 to enter. There’s no barrier, just a sign for you to read and obey. However, as soon as you purchase your drinks, you can walk all over the entire bowling alley. You can even stand in line at the snack bar to order chicken fingers and cheese fries WHILE drinking your beer. (U.S.A. U.S.A!)

So my gang has this friend Dan, and Dan works at a bar and an art gallery and like seven other places, because Dan is really likable. The bartender at this bowling alley looked like our friend Dan, but smaller, so among ourselves, we started calling him Lil’ Dan. “I’m going to see Lil’ Dan,” one of us would say, and head to the bar for another pitcher to share.

I need to take a break here and explain that most of my friends are guys, and mostly we talk about music and food we want to eat at that moment. We talk about Rush. We make extensive puns about Led Zeppelin. We eat burgers and fries and tacos and party trays of chicken nuggets. To summarize, this is not a crowd that routinely talks about each others’ looks. If I’m going to compliment one of them, I’ll say they’re funny. If they’re going to compliment me, they’ll say I’m funny. (True story, last Friday, one said I was pretty and I just said “Well, you’re probably biased, cause who wants an ugly friend?”)

At the end of the evening, when they’d turned on the lovely nighttime Cosmic Bowling accouterments, it was time to close out my bar tab, and I walked over to Lil’ Dan. There was one other guy standing there, a bowling alley employee just chatting. Lil’ Dan sees me walking up and I expect the typical Friday night routine of where a bartender is professionally courteous to me in a way that shows that he/she works for tips and I pay them and we smile and I tip 30% because I’m nice and also was probably a jerk at one point or another and need to absolve myself some for general grouchiness and I choose to absolve myself typically to bartenders. (I’m sure some of that money does good stuff eventually, and isn’t that what tithes are intended for?)

So I’m walking up, and Lil’ Dan looks at me, and instead of the routine where he feigns recognition and then prints out my bar tab, he looks right at me and says “‘Sup, beautiful?”

First response was for me to look in my immediate area to see if he was talking to someone else, maybe a very attractive person directly behind me. Second was to laugh. To laugh in a very un-beautiful guffaw-y kind of way. Third was to say, “Seriously?” out loud right there. And I did all three of these things in quick succession. Then I stood there awkwardly and paid my bar tab and probably tipped 35-40% because I had just laughed right at someone.

I can only remember being called beautiful by my own mother, and maybe my friends if/when they’re drunk, but they’re saying it more in a “Godfather” way. Pretty by maybe five or six people. Cute, maybe twenty. Aside from my mom, probably 100% of these people were trying to impress me and eventually sleep with me, or my friends trying to make me feel good, or a person trying to get me to tip them because that’s their job.

I have an inherent distrust of people commenting on my looks positively. It makes me suspicious of their motive if I don’t already know what their motive is. I have zero trust issues when someone tells me I look like the blobfish. Just, yeah, I got a round face, he got a round face. A list went around my middle school for a while of an apparent ranking of prettiness of all the girls and I was near the bottom and I was like, eh, figures, there are some really pretty girls here. And there were! I can show you my seventh grade yearbook! (Somebody even put it on Facebook!)

This isn’t about like body dysmorphia, this is more like, if I’m nice looking or terrible looking, why should I have to care? I rarely have to look at myself (really, I can even floss without a mirror), and if we’re in-real-life acquaintances, well, you gotta look at me. If I was an actor or a model or a TV news reporter, it might make a difference if I was pretty or not, but I am a teacher and adviser and writer and radio DJ. The things I want to accomplish in life have little to do with how I look. I’m just, eh, not interested in my looks beyond that I’ll wear clothes that generally fit and if I have a glaring blemish on my face I will cover it up.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m sorry, Lil’ Dan. Whether you were being actually honest and nice, or if you were just doing your best charming-bartender schtick, either way, I probably shouldn’t be so cynical. It’s not your fault I have a million crazy issues with stuff and also don’t care about my looks, so you basically just told a fish he needs a bicycle. You don’t know me well enough to tell me I’m funny, or smart or good at picking out paint colors, or parallel parking or baking carrot cake or to give me a compliment that fits the range of things I agree with and don’t think there’s motive or awkwardness.

But you don’t know about these internal valuation battles I’m dealing with, so, I’m sorry.

And, as a well-adjusted lady out in the evening should say to a gentleman who pays her a compliment, thank you.

Flying places from Atlanta

There are a lot of great businesses in Atlanta. CNN and Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, Newell Rubbermaid (who make Sharpies and Prismacolors and other stuff), Equifax, Holiday Inn, The Great American Cookie stores, Tyler Perry, Spanx and the Weather Channel.

There is also another business, which I will politely call Shmelta Schmairlines. And Shmelta Schmairlines is having a really great week right now on the public relations front.

First up, this morning I saw a charming story of a child defecating on some newspaper in a seat on a non-stop flight from Beijing to Detroit. I looked it up. It’s 13 hours and 15 minutes.

“Passengers on a [Shmelta Schmairlines] flight from Beijing to Detroit last week were horrified when a Chinese child squatted on his seat and proceeded to defecate,” the story goes.

Then, just now, I saw a story on a “terse” exchange between a Shmelta pilot and an air traffic controller. (I guess “terse” means funny-but-also-scary, because it’s nice to have some comedy in the workplace but also like, statistically this is probably how I’m going to die.)

But if you Google news search the name of this airline right now, you know what story is on top? Free in-flight streaming TV and movies will now be on every flight! Yay! You’re saying you want to give me a distraction from watching a child take a dump or possibly my air traffic controller and pilot having a verbal altercation that puts my life in danger in the form of a free episode of  “Mad About You?” Super!

Since I live here, generally, if I fly on an airplane, it belongs to Shmelta. From Atlanta, you can fly direct to any city on earth on Shmelta, and that’s worth the trade-off of general disgustingness that every Shmelta flight is. I have flown on a Shmelta plane that had propellers, in 2013. I have flown on Shmelta planes without air conditioning. I have flown internationally on Shmelta from Paris with the stomach flu next to women eating pickled lamb parts out of jars hidden in their purses. And the pilots and attendants are in on the joke. And it’s not just them, it’s everyone.

A few years ago, I was flying to D.C. and the in-flight movie was “Marley and Me” and the guy sitting next to me, right as I was putting my headphones on so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone or listen to them and I was choosing instead to listen to an insipid movie and the guy turned to me and said “Oh, in case you’re going to get upset, the dog dies at the end.”

Thank you, asshole.

However I will keep flying Shmelta because most of the flights from Atlanta are on those planes and also because of Biscoff. Those cookies are like a baked-good version of an amnesia pill. Once on a flight there weren’t a lot of people and the attendant asked if I wanted extra cookies and you would have thought I won the lottery. (And not like a scratch-off $3k lottery but like a $90 million Powerball.)

Now take this meal voucher that doesn’t work!

Sonic youth

I am in my hometown this week for my annual 1-week summer vacation. Usually I get to come here for 4th of July weekend because it’s also my stepdad’s birthday that week, but this year my mom and stepdad went to Alaska on a trip they won in a raffle.

My hometown isn’t really even my hometown, it’s just the place I lived the longest of all the places I lived so far. I lived here from age 3 to age 11, and then again in the summer when I was 17. My mom and her siblings bought my grandpa’s house here when he moved, and we share it. It’s in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the home of the TV show “Myrtle Manor,” the ficticious home of Kenny Powers, the place where this happened tonight, where thong bikinis are banned but you’re allowed to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, a place with 250 golf courses and one college, the home of the Gay Dolphin and a Nascar theme park and a pyramid-shaped Hard Rock Cafe (where I saw Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar in 8th grade).

I am not really a beach person. I can get sunburned walking to my car in a parking lot. Plus, it’s loud, it’s filthy and also there are sharks. There used to be a few record stores and a few decent, divey music venues. Now there are no stores and just a handful of country venues. I come here to sleep late, eat at restaurants, go to the outlet mall for back-to-school work clothes for the fall and read books all day.

Today my mom and I went to my favorite divey burger joint. It’s one of those places where you throw peanut shells on the floor and graffiti is encouraged and there are license plates on the walls. The beers come in bottles and the cocktails are 16 oz. and in plastic cups. There’s a roll of paper towels on the table. They’re a local chain, but only the original location, in its tiny, grimy glory,* is the one I go to. It’s also directly across the street from the condo I lived in when I was a toddler here, which is behind a Krispy Kreme.

We got a booth inside, ordered large vodka-pink-lemonade drinks and burgers with fries. The waitstaff are mostly older women who have been doing this for years (not old in general, but old to be waiting tables in divey establishments, like, they’re 40s/50s), and young guys (20s) working the bar and the line, which you can see from the restaurant.

I was wearing jeans and my 2014 Criminal Records Record Store Day t-shirt, which is an homage to the cover of “Goo” by Sonic Youth, released in 1990.

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One of the kitchen guys dropped off some burgers at a nearby table, walked past us, stopped, turned back. “That’s a great shirt,” he said. “I really like it. And Sonic Youth are just mind-blowing.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Yeah, I really like them, too.”

My mom looked surprised. Very rarely do people comment on my clothes, and if they do, it’s on my t-shirt collection. A small selection of band shirts, 80s-era basketball t-shirts, indie record label shirts, Mystery Science Theater shirts (yes, I have two or three), WFMU shirts, college radio shirts, etc.

So yeah, this town is tacky, even a little trashy. And I’ve done some trashy things here (like once I heard “Single Ladies” being played at the outdoor stage in this little bar district area and ran there from the bar I was at, quickly organized a small group of ladies and led them in the “Single Ladies” dance. When the song was over, we group-hugged and I ran back to the bar I was at with my parents and their friends. And then I think I drove my stepdad’s SUV home with the parking brake on.)

But every once in a while, somebody will say something that shows there is still some indie holdouts here. Not everyone is only listening to club beats. In every trashy tourist town, in some divey burger shack, there might be a line cook who wants to tell you your shirt is cool and they’re real into Sonic Youth. I’m glad we were there for each other today.

Plus, I got to tell my mom a 10-minute history lesson on Sonic Youth and noise rock and post-rock in the early 90s.

It’s the little things that get you through. Like for example tomorrow, I’m going to get a dip cone. That dip cone will get me through. Maybe we’ll play some skee-ball, too, and ride the new giant ferris wheel. You know, vacation type things.

 

 

*Photo from this guy’s blog, where he eats the peanut butter burger.