GREAT, GREAT BRITAIN: MONDAY

GREAT, GREAT BRITAIN: MONDAY

BBC (The British Edition): If all I got to do on my entire trip was sit in my hotel room and watch British TV, I would’ve been happy. The week we arrived was the start of the UK’s latest season of “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, which flopped over here but is pretty much a national obsession whenever it airs over there. The “celebrities” are mostly washed-up British TV stars we’d never heard of, but that didn’t ruin the fun. Because it was still going on when we left, we’ll have to check out how it ends on the internets. (Go Sophie Anderton!)

Even better was getting to see “The X-Factor“, an obvious ripoff of American Idol/Pop Idol starring… Simon Cowell of American Idol/Pop Idol. One of the other hosts was Sharon Osbourne, darling of the British tabs. (Ozzy thwarting a jewel thief was front page news in the U.K. last week.) The big (and only) twist in “The X-Factor” appears to be that the judges each choose contestants to sponsor throughout the competition, although they still have to make the ultimate decision about who stays and who goes. In the episode we saw, Sharon got put in the tricky position of having to choose between two of her own contestants, the Diana DeGarmo-esque Joss Stone wannabe Cassie and eyeliner aficionado/goth rocker Tabby. Although Tabby was clearly the more talented of the two, Sharon flatly refused to cast a vote, vowing to quit rather than choose between her two darlings. Simon then considered voting against Tabby, whom he perceived to be the greater threat to his own contestants, but eventually decided to vote on merit, and Cassie got the boot. It was much commented on in the tabs that week, and it all had the obvious feel of a media event staged to attract attention to the show. In other words, I loved it.

Two Deckers of Fun: This being our first full day in London, we decided to take a tour bus, which would allow us to see the whole city in a few hours and decide which parts we wanted to go back to later in the week. The best part was that the bus came with not one, but two commentaries. One was provided by a live, professional guide who filled us in on fascinating bits of British trivia (i.e., Tony Blair actually lives at Eleven Downing Street) and the other was provided by a group of four sassy African-American women sitting across from us. They weren’t quite as insightful as the tour guide, but their enthusiasm was infectious. The only direct quote I can remember is “Oh, my God!”, but I’m sure Drew made a mental note of every word they said. Drew enjoyed them so much he suggested we follow them off the bus and tail them around for the rest of the day from a discrete distance. Not taking that suggestion is my biggest regret from the trip.

Our Jerry Springer Moment: Every day of our vacation, except for the first and last days, when we were traveling, we went to the theatre. Picking which shows to see was a big part of the fun of the trip, and we both agreed that “Jerry Springer, The Opera” topped our lists. My main problem with “Jerry Springer, The Opera” was that, while it knew Jerry Springer wasn’t a subject to be taken too seriously, it did in fact take opera very seriously. The show is sung through, and the score isn’t easily broken down into individual pop songs like most musicals I’m familiar with. Just when one catchy musical riff gets going (like the delightful “Mama Gimme a Smack on the Asshole”), it dissipates into something else. Act One is an operatic staging of a typical episode of the TV show, and it’s fun to hear a chorus belting out show titles like “My Mom Used To Be My Dad” and “I Was Jilted By a Lesbian Dwarf!”, even if it’s pretty much the same joke over and over. Act Two is set in Purgatory and features Satan and God fighting over Jerry’s soul. If that sounds hilarious, then maybe I’m not describing it properly. Or maybe I missed the joke. I get the feeling this is the direction a true opera would’ve gone, with all notion of character and story being sacrificed in order to explore some grand, esoteric themes, but to me it was just batty (not to mention dramatically unsatisfying). I guess I appreciated the satire of Jerry, but not of operas. I’m not necessarily proud of what that says about my tastes, but so be it.

London Got Game: Not only do they have different movies, music and TV shows in other countries, but they have different video games, too. The London Trocadero is a giant arcade near Picadilly Circus that has bumper cars in the basement. They also have slight variations on games we have here, like the Euromix of Dance Dance Revolution. But the best are the wacky games we don’t have here at all. (Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve stepped into an arcade. Maybe we do have some of these…) My favorites were “Live Action Ping-Pong!”, a Japanese import whose theme song made clear the emphasis was on “Action!” and whose controls were virtually impossible to work, and the bowling game, where you tossed mini balls down a mini alley at mini pins and somehow a video screen was involved. There’s nothing better to me than crazy video games. Tokyo, here I come!

Oh, Calcutta!: The last time I went to London, I had yet to discover Indian food. Now, Indian food is just about my favorite, and thanks to some imperialist unpleasantness in the past, London is rumored to have some of the best Indian food outside of Bombay — or rather, Mumbai. (True fact: if you pronounce “Bombay” with a mouth full of curry, it sounds kind of like “Mumbai”.) On Monday night, we went to the Red Fort, an Indian restaurant in Soho that a friend had recommended to us. She had been there fifteen years ago, and as we were searching for it, we realized how foolish it was to assume it would still be around. But it was, which we figured was a good sign of the food quality, and we were right. Yum.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: I expected when we got to London that I’d spend a lot of time apologizing to Europeans about our crappy president, but once I was there I started to wonder if they owed me an apology. Their lack of confidence in our economy has trashed the value of the dollar overseas, and as a result, I got gouged on everything I bought. (Okay, in fairness, I’ll take that apology from you-know-who instead.) CDs that seemed cheap actually cost almost as much as their import price if bought in the US. One breakfast at a bagel shop (two bagels, one orange juice, one water) cost Drew and me the equivalent of $20 US. For bagels! Bagels!!!! (The one thing I did right: if you’re going overseas anytime soon, book your hotel online and pay in dollars if you can.) I was appointed the official treasurer of our trip because Drew was strangely intimidated by handling foreign money and couldn’t quite figure out which coins or bills to fork over in any given situation. I found it so amusing that I staged this dramatization of his discomfort with British currency:

GREAT, GREAT BRITAIN: SATURDAY/SUNDAY

GREAT, GREAT BRITAIN: SATURDAY/SUNDAY

All this week, I’ll be recapping the London trip, one day at a time. This first post technically covers the first two days of the trip, but because of the eight hour time difference and ten hour travel time, they were really only one extremely long, extremely tiring day.

London Sneak Preview: The night before we left, Drew and I got ourselves in a London state of mind by seeing Regular-Sized Renee in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, figuring it would be full of beautiful panoramic shots of London. It turns out Bridget spends as much time in a Thai prison as she does in our destination city. So instead of London’s beautiful exteriors, we had to settle for close-ups of Hugh Grant’s increasingly craggy face. (In addition to the extremely fake fist fight with Colin Firth, who conversely looks better and better with age, Hugh looks like he’s been in a number of extremely real fist fights in the last few years.) But at least the movie featured a Will Young cover of “Your Love is King” by Sade, which is like the audio equivalent of crack for me. We stopped and bought the soundtrack on the way home.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn (Beckham): Drew and I tried to prep ourselves for the massive jetlag by sleeping as little as possible the night before we left. That way, we figured, we’d take a sleeping pill on the plane, catch up on sleep and be ready to go when we reached London. We limited ourselves to about four hours of rest Friday night and, once we got on the plane, we saw a video narrated by Dani Behr (host of Boy Meets Boy in the U.S. and some sort of well-known TV personality in the U.K.) telling us that in our attempts to beat jetlag, we had pretty much done everything wrong. In truth, we should’ve slept extra-long the night before. And sleeping pills, according to Ms. Behr, only leave you groggy when you reach your destination. Making things worse, we actually paid to upgrade to an exit row, thinking the extra leg room would help us sleep. What we didn’t know was that the exit row would be right by the flight attendant stand and all the passengers would congregate there looking for water and snacks. No leg room, no peace, no sleep whatsoever.

iPod, Therefore I Am: To help myself stay up late before we left, I found gargantuan, obsessive tasks to tackle, like compiling a playlist of every track on my iTunes by a British artist and then transferring it to my iPod for the journey. (I currently have 6,386 songs on my iTunes, so it was no small feat.) Adding in the time I took for internal debates (Should Irish artists be included? What about lame album tracks I don’t really want to hear?), this took me about two hours, about twice as long as I would actually spend listening to the playlist on the plane. Total number of songs on the playlist upon completion: 1,043. And given the approximately 9,000 CDs I purchased on my trip, that playlist is already woefully obsolete.

In-Flight Entertainment: If you’re going to fly Virgin Atlantic airlines, try to get yourself on one of the bigger jets, which have a bonanza of entertainment options available. Each seat has its own TV monitor and comes with about twenty movies to choose from, a dozen or so TV shows, tons of games and lots of special informational videos about the destination produced by the airline itself. Even better, they must be saved on some sort of individual hard drive, because you can stop and start them at will. There’s a trivia game you can play against the other passengers on the plane (which I spent way too much time on) and a bunch of British movies and TV shows that aren’t available in the US. There was an episode of Little Britain we never saw on BBC America, and the new Pedro Almodovar movie, a few weeks before its American release. We saved a lot of this stuff to watch on the way back, but unfortunately, we were on a smaller plane that time, and the entertainment options were much more limited. So I’ll have to catch “Bad Education” in the theaters like everyone else.

“Girls, Lisa. Boys Kiss Girls…” Although I had specifically requested a double bed when I booked the hotel on the internet, when we arrived, the desk clerk told us with a friendly smile that she had secured us a room with two twin beds. “But we want one bed,” I explained. She looked back at me, seemingly baffled as to why two grown men would want to share a bed. She tried explaining again, as if I were the one who misunderstood, that my room had two beds. Two!

First Stop: Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to learn that the first stop I wanted to make was to the Virgin Megastore. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, and everything closes early on Sunday. So as soon as we stepped in the door, we were told to leave. However, as this was the day before the new U2 album came out, the store was planning to reopen at midnight for a record release extravaganza. I’m all for extravaganzas, but after being awake for 29 hours straight, there was no way I was going to make it to midnight. So Drew and I just walked around, searched in vain for the gay area and had dinner at a place called Tiger Tiger, which had extremely tasty chips.

I did get to do some CD shopping later in the week, and I brought back a souvenir for this blog. It’s a Scissor Sisters cover of a song you probably know. To say more would ruin the fun. I’m equally afraid of the RIAA and bandwidth restrictions, so I probably won’t keep it up long. So download it fast and enjoy.

Click here. (This is my first audio post, so I apologize if it doesn’t work.)

Cheers!

LONDON CALLING

LONDON CALLING

I’m writing from London, where I only have a few minutes left on my internet cafe credit, so this is going to be a quick post. Here are some of the things Drew and I have done so far:

Jerry Springer: The Opera

The Mousetrap

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (again)

CD Shopping

Used CD Shopping

Wagamama

Indian food

Bus tour

Eavesdropped on delightful British conversations

Observed disgraceful British drunks

Carnaby Street

Tate Modern

Millennium Bridge

Naps

Reviews will follow when I return, and I promise to reveal the secret of the Mousetrap!

Cheers!

TIVO OWNERS, UNITE!

TIVO OWNERS, UNITE!

My friend Other Drew (a rare blogless Drew in my personal network) has repeatedly warned me not to anger my Tivo. Tivo knows all, Tivo sees all, and when I write bad things on my blog, Tivo gets very upset. Well, O.D., you might not want to read this post, because IT’S AWWWWWWWN!

Tivo, you have done many things to anger me in the past:

  • Harvesting my information to sell to marketers
  • Crashing and dying a few months after I bought you, which allowed me to find out about how you’re…
  • Offering abysmal customer service — and…
  • Providing the world’s worst warranty for an electronic device in that price range;

Plus, the absolute worst:

  • Neglecting to switch channels and missing my favorite shows, thereby failing to do the one task I bought you to do

But now you’ve really done it Tivo. After promising customers the ability to skip commercials, you’ve secretly struck a deal with advertisers to circumvent your own best feature. By March, every Tivo will have automatically downloaded software that causes a banner ad to appear every time the user fast-forwards. Thus, attempting to skip one ad will automatically expose you to another one.

And you know what? I couldn’t be happier about this new development. Maybe now everyone who didn’t join me on the disgruntled Tivo owners bandwagon before will finally hop on. Maybe there will be an uprising. Maybe Replay TV will offer some sweetheart rebate deal to customers who turn in their Tivos and switch over. Maybe I can finally throw off the shackles of that useless, overpriced electronic menace and be free — FREE!

I know it’s not wise to mess with Tivo, but this is WAR. So if you find my body splayed out in front of the TV tonight strangled by a cord, you’ll know who did it. It’s that stupid plastic box on top of the TV that’s wearing a smug grin and recording something other than “Lost” at 8pm this evening.

25,000

25,000

Thanks to Paul’s photoblog Orange Crush for referring me my 25,000th visitor this past weekend. In honor of the occasion, here’s a celph cam pic of Paul’s blog:

And a special thank you to Paul for keeping the search for “WHY PEOPLE LIKE J-LO’S ASS” out of that slot — just barely.

What can I say? I like my numbers like some people like their celebrity booty: big and round.

LONDON BY CAR

LONDON BY CAR

At kind of the last minute, Drew and I have decided to spend our Thanksgiving in London. We’ve been talking about taking a trip there almost since we first met each other, but we’re always too busy and too poor. We’re still too busy and too poor, but given that it’s a holiday week anyway and that we’re putting off buying a house for the near future, it seemed like a good time to take a few days off and spend some money. We bought our tickets on Friday, and we leave this Saturday.

My only previous trip to London was also last-minute, and it was fantastic. I hate to make broad generalizations, but let’s face it: British people are adorable. Only a few hours after we made our plans, Drew and I went to see “Finding Neverland”. And after watching the movie, I announced that when Drew and I have kids, I want them to be four young British boys full of imagination.

The story of the movie concerns “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie and how he was inspired to write his most famous tale by a widow and her sons (the adorable, extremely well-mannered young lads I mentioned above). It’s a good movie, but there were times watching it when I wondered if the script had been written by Michael Jackson. We all know he’s obsessed with “Peter Pan” and not growing up (i.e., his home Neverland). And it’s a movie about a grown man with no sex life who enriches the lives of young boys despite the misgivings of those around him. Hmmm… There’s even one scene where someone tells Barrie that people are gossiping about him being a little too friendly with the boys, and Barrie defends himself by saying that those people have dirty minds, and the love of grown men for young boys is the purest thing there is. Sound familiar?

Well, nobody wants to be mistaken for a pedophile, so I was definitely on guard during my previous trip to London, when I decided to go — alone — to a midweek matinee of the big West End musical adaptation of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. For some reason, until I stepped into the theatre (note the proper English spelling; I’m trying to get ready for my trip), I hadn’t really considered the extent of this show’s appeal to very young children. But finding my seat was like wading through a waist-high river, albeit a river that screeches, giggles and eats toffee. The kids were in impossibly large groups which suggested that they had been brought there with their schools or summer camps. I’d estimate children outnumbered adults roughly 85,000 to 1.

There’s something strange about being a lone adult in such a kiddie crowd. Whenever I’m in this situation, I’m constantly left wondering if other people are looking at me. I can’t help thinking that all the adults who got dragged there as unwilling chaperones and guardians are thinking what I’ll call Thought #1: “What’s that bloke doing here? Dunt he know this is a kiddie show?” Thought #1 is embarrassing enough, but it inevitably leads to Thought #2: “Maybe he do know this is a kiddie show. Better keep an eye on that tosser!”

As I walked down the aisle, there was a girl in front of me who was maybe nine years old and about three times my size. She was prehistoric in her bodily proportions, more mountain than child, and she had short red bangs and huge red freckles. I tried to keep my distance from her, but she saw me. She turned around, stared at me quizzically and said with a growl, “You sittin’ next ta me then?” Her tone suggested that she thought I was one of her classmates, and that she had just claimed me as her husband.

“Um, no, I’m not with your group.”

“All right, then,” she said, disappointed.

Whew. Crisis averted.

Instead, I found myself sitting a few rows from the back. I was right next to the lighting booth, so it was a short row, which was good because it decreased the possibility of Neanderthal British girls sitting next to me. There were five seats in the row. I was on the inside, and sitting next to me were a young British dad and his three wee lads. They hurried in just as the curtain was going up. The kids were about four, five and six years old, and the dad looked rightfully exhausted. Because the seating arrangement will be central to this story, I’ve included a handy illustration below (Fig. 1).

Upon sitting down beside me, the four-year-old gave me quite a long look. He was clearly thinking both Thought #1 and Thought #2. I got the impression this was Dad’s first solo outing with the boys in the Big City, that they had just endured a long, mischief-filled train ride, and that Dad was relieved to finally have the boys in their seats and quiet. I don’t think he gave me a second glance.

The show was a nightmare. That’s not a quality judgment at all. It was just one of those participatory shows where everyone claps along to the songs and boos when the bad guy comes on stage. I definitely didn’t want to be the kind of guy who goes to a show like that by himself and claps and boos with abandon like he’s having the time of his life. So I sat there pretty silently, until the four-year-old turned his judgmental eyes on me, as if to say, “Why aren’t you clapping and booing, you creepy weirdo?” After that, I did my part to join in the fun.

Thankfully, the four year old didn’t make it too far into the show before he fell asleep. If there’s one thing in the world cuter than a four-year-old British child, it’s a four-year-old British child who falls asleep at “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. Dad looked over at him at one point and decided it was best to let the kid snooze.

So my neighbor missed out on most of the first act. He missed the big scene when all the dogs run out on stage, and he missed the big scene when the car didn’t fly. In case you don’t know, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is a musical about a flying car, so the flying was pretty central to the story. If I remember correctly, the scene where the car fails to fly went something like this:

All the characters we like in the show are riding in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and they’re being chased in an evil car by all the characters we don’t like. It’s a very tense scene and we’re desperately hoping our heroes can escape. The orchestration becomes dark and urgent, and the clever dialogue does everything it can to ratchet up the tension:

“Oh, no! We’re headed right for a giant cliff!”

“We’re sure to die!”

“However will we get out of this one, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?”

And the audience is watching this, waiting for the inevitable set piece that brought us to the theatre, which is going to make all the kids wet their seats with glee, which we’ve been anticipating for almost an hour. And then…

Nothing.

The music stops, the lights go out, and what looks like a giant life raft inflates under the car. The audience begins to mutter in confusion, and the actors sigh in disappointment as if they’ve been through this a hundred times. Then, three or four men appear from backstage. They’re wearing dark t-shirts and jeans and have walkie-talkies clipped to their belts. They approach the car, kick the life raft away and help the actors down and off-stage. And then, the curtain comes down.

Yes, then then curtain comes down.

Someone made a brief announcement over the loudspeaker about there being some technical difficulties (duh), and we were told that the show would start up again soon. And to my amazement, the audience took it very well. There was no crying or rioting in the aisles or angry parents demanding their money back. Everyone just waited patiently for the show to resume. Those British really are polite. The kid next to me slept through the whole thing. And about five minutes later, the show started up again and the next time the car was supposed to fly, it did. And everyone cheered as if the magic hadn’t just been ruined for them. You have to love kids and their short attention spans. Hooray!

None of that is the point of this story, but I couldn’t mention my trip to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” without noting that the car didn’t fly. It’s one of those details that’s Too Good to Leave Out. The point of the story brings me back to that dad and his three sons, one of whom was sound asleep. A few minutes after the technical difficulties, one of the awake kids nudged his dad and told him that he had to use the toilets. And then, the other kid said he had to use the loo as well.

Now here’s the scary part. The dad stands the two boys up and ushers them quietly to the aisle. Then, he looks back at the third kid — his youngest son, who’s seated in a row with only one other person, the creepy older man who came to a kiddie show all by himself — and decides not to wake him up. He doesn’t say anything to me, doesn’t ask me to keep an eye on him, nothing. He leaves him in my care, without saying a word and heads for the lobby. Here’s what that seating plan looks like now (Fig. 2):

I was stunned. Don’t they have pedophiles in this country? Don’t they have kidnappings? Don’t they have TV movies of the week? In America, kids and parents alike are on constant Pervert Alert. For all this guy knew, I could’ve picked his kid up and walked right out of the theatre with him, and nobody would’ve noticed. And just as I’m contemplating how different things are in England, wondering how a parent could possibly leave a four-year-old child alone for several minutes in a crowded city, something even more disturbing happens.

The kid wakes up.

Obviously, the dad failed to anticipate this turn of events, although as soon as he stood up and left, I knew it was bound to happen. The first thing the kid notices are the three empty seats next to him. He stares at them, wondering what happened to his dad and his brothers. Naturally, the typical four-year-old train of thought would lead him to believe that he’s been abandoned — probably because he did something bad — and he’ll never, ever see them again.

And then he turns to me and looks up at me. If I were J.M. Barrie, I would’ve comforted the kid by telling some imaginative, wonderific story that would’ve kept him happy until his dad came back. But I’m not, so I just kind of sat there. I was petrified, waiting for the boy to burst into tears, at which point I’d have to usher him to the lobby to find dad, and then the dad would see me walking his son out of the theatre crying and I’d have a lot of explaining to do.

So the kid looked at me, and I just smiled. And then the next song started up, and the boy turned to the stage to watch the show. And he sat there quietly and patiently until his dad came back.

And when the dad came back, the kid barely looked over at him. “Oh, you’re awake now, are you?” the dad said, tickling the kid. “I couldn’t believe you fell asleep,” he continued in his charming British accent. “After we’ve come all this way!”

After that, the boy stayed quite awake and seemed to rather enjoy the show. He clapped when the car flew and booed when the bad guy came on stage. It just goes to show how well-mannered, trusting and gosh-darn adorable British kids are. I really do want to have one someday. And it’s hard now, thinking back on it, not to kick myself for how I handled the situation.

Because for a few minutes there, if I really wanted to, I could’ve walked out of that theatre with a British kid of my very own.

HOME INVASIONS

HOME INVASIONS

Well, several months into Home Hunt 2004, this weekend, Drew and I reached a significant milestone: We attended our one millionth open house. It was quite an exciting moment for both of us. And now that I’ve seen enough of your homes, my neighbors, I’m ready to make a generalization about you guys: Y’all are tacky!

Some of you haven’t remodeled your home since wood paneling was in style. Others seem to enjoy the bare-bones dorm room chic of not decorating at all. And confidential to Unit 209, but that lovely fireplace was a bit undermined by the tile mosaic of a fish at its base. And to the owner of Unit 104, tasteful nudes are one thing, but when the painting is of a subject whose schlong is roughly the length of the Chunnel and twice as wide, it’s possible the “artist” has more in common with Chi Chi LaRue than Renoir.

I’m not exactly a design expert myself, but it’s surprisingly easy to develop a queer eye for style when touring entry-level housing units in the West Hollywood area. You can tell an awful lot about people by taking a quick walk through their homes, even when they’re not around. Without actually meeting them, we’ve come to know people like Packrat Italian Film Director and Rebellious Korean Stoner Teenager. We’ve learned to read between the lines in listings, like the one that specified the unit was “Wheelchair Accessible”. Odd details like that aren’t tossed in for nothing, and sure enough, the unit turned out to have lowered counters and padded stools in the showers, and when we entered the bedroom, Friendly Wheelchair Lady was there to greet us.

Later that day, in another condo, we found ourselves in a little girl’s room (over)decorated in a Powerpuff Girls motif. Drew immediately turned to me and whispered, “Weekend dad!” A minute later, when going through the other bedroom, he modified his assessment: “Gay weekend dad.”

My personal favorite was the guy who had cleared out most of his condo but left behind a cabinet full of videotapes. All of them were homemade, and they were labeled with one of two things: “Benny Hill” or “Bill Clinton Inauguration”. This was in a building whose halls were lined with awful faded green patterned wallpaper with tiny lanterns on it. When settlers arrived in California during the gold rush of the 1850′s, this was the wallpaper they brought with them. These same hallways were lit with bulbs that seemed to top out at about 20 watts. “The condo board likes to conserve energy,” the realtor told us. “I’d love to see some young guys like you move in and inject some life into that board. Some of them are in their 90′s.”

Drew and I spent a lot of time trying to imagine what these same places would look like stripped of these people’s lives and filled with ours. We dreamed that someday, strangers would be poking around our homes making judgments about us.

It’s easy to see places you don’t like, but when you see something you really do like, that’s when the hard part begins. Last week, Drew and I found a townhouse in Hollywood that wasn’t perfect, but it looked like a place we could fill with our lives. We talked about it for hours, we dragged our friends over for a viewing to get their opinions, and Drew drove over early in the morning to do a commute check. We finally decided it was time to take the biggest risk of our lives. We ran the numbers in our heads, decided what our initial offer should be and made withdrawals for a downpayment.

And then the hard news came. The mortgage broker’s numbers didn’t match up with ours. She told us that we weren’t making a big enough downpayment, so we didn’t qualify for the interest rate we thought we did. All those incentives for first-time buyers weren’t enough to help us, and we decided not to make the offer after all.

No home, not now. No more open houses, at least for the near future. There’s no sense shopping around until we can answer a question which baffles us both: how did all those other people afford their homes? Home Hunt 2004 has taken us through neighborhoods we never knew existed, most of them lined with shoebox homes on tiny plots of land that are all worth over a million dollars. (Ah, the LA real estate market…) It took us months to find a place that wasn’t worth anywhere near that much, and even that proved to be out of our reach. And it’s not like either of us makes minimum wage or anything. If we can’t afford to enter the housing market, we really don’t understand who can.

It’s disappointing, and it’s frustrating, but most of all, it’s hard not to look back now at all those people whose homes we judged and denigrated and wonder how they all managed to achieve something we can’t. We want to know what it’s like to have a tacky home, dammit. Tell us, Bill Clinton/Benny Hill guy, and Schlong Guy and Fish Tile Mosaic Family, how ever did you afford to buy these places we wouldn’t be caught dead in?

If there’s one thing I am starting to understand, it’s why all of your homes are so incredibly, unbelievably tacky. After all, at these prices, who can afford to remodel?

MEMO TO THE SOUTH: PLEASE SECEDE AGAIN

MEMO TO THE SOUTH: PLEASE SECEDE AGAIN

Dear Red States,

Remember that thing you did about a hundred and forty some-odd years ago? You know, where you threw up your hands at this country and said, “Outta here!” You made up new flags, which many of you still fly on your pickup trucks and statehouses or work into the logos of your shingle installation companies today. Then you elected your own president and started making your own laws. Well, maybe it’s time we tried that again. Yeah, I know, we pesky northerners got a little upset the last time around, and it got pretty messy. But things were different then. Slavery is an issue worth going to war for. Tax cuts for the wealthy, not so much.

You don’t even need to look at the electoral college map to see how deeply divided this country is. Let’s face it, this has been going on for a while now, and it’s only becoming more pronounced. You’re concerned about things like gay marriage and abortion. We’re just as concerned about maintaining equal rights and Roe v. Wade. I’m not sure what you think about running up the deficit, but my guess is you’re either: a) in full support or b) completely oblivious to the fact that it’s even happening. That’s fine. Separate countries mean separate economies. We can split that debt in half and then you can deal with your half however you want. You can spend millions of dollars on think tanks to come up with new names for french fries. Whatever. It’s your country!

Just think: if you had your own country, you wouldn’t have to worry about what we’re doing in ours so much. You don’t want me to teach your kids because I’m gay? Fine. I’ll teach some kids whose parents are willing to let them learn about such “controversial” subjects as evolution and birth control. You’ll be able to set your own standards of indecency, program your own TV networks and build a creative community that shares your values. If you want to take that extra leap and nationalize ownership of the media, that’s your prerogative. Seriously. You get to start from scratch and write your own constitution. Have Jerry Falwell do it, that’s totally cool with us. You don’t like certain parts of the Bill of Rights? Cross ‘em off! Hang the Ten Commandments in your courtrooms and teach creationism in schools, we won’t bat an eye.

I’ll be honest. When I think of the kind of world you want to live in, it makes me sad. I look around my city, and I see a lot of things that would make many of you uncomfortable. People of one race marrying people of another race, people of one sex falling in love with people of the same sex, women postponing marriage and having kids in order to pursue their careers, Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists living next door to one another and sharing a spirit of genuine respect. And those things, which irritate and worry many of you so terribly, make me really proud. I love the country I live in and the things it represents to me, and I don’t want somebody to try to take any of that away from me because they believe in a different kind of world than I do. Sure, life here isn’t perfect, and there are plenty of people here who don’t like seeing happy gay couples and biracial babies just like many of you don’t. And some of those people make life unpleasant for the rest of us by committing hate crimes or pursuing careers in law enforcement. But maybe if you guys seceded, then those people who disagree with the way we live here would have somewhere to go. And anyone in your part of the country who didn’t like your laws could escape and come here.

So please, secede. G’head. We won’t make a big fuss this time, I promise. And it’s not like this is goodbye forever. We’ll stay the best of friends. That’s what good neighbors do, right? We can still share the same sports leagues and morning news shows. We’ll even keep you on the U.N. Security Council — if you have any interest, that is. And we’ll maintain open borders so that any of our citizens who want to live under your style of government are free to do so, and any of your citizens will still have somewhere to go if they need an abortion or affordable healthcare — or a top-notch university to attend. You’ll even be able to share in the medical advances we make from the stem cell research you find so distasteful. It’s win-win.

You’re not bad people. In my heart, I know that. We just want very different things out of our government. So let’s admit we have irreconcilable differences and go our separate ways. No hard feelings. We tried it for a few hundred years, and it just didn’t work out. We’ll keep in touch, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for you, we really will.

There’s just one thing I insist on:

We get to keep the name America.

Sincerely,

Jerry

HOW CAN I LIVE IN THE USA?

HOW CAN I LIVE IN THE USA?

I was unable to log into Blogger all day, but to be honest, that was kind of a relief. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say. Last night I came pretty close to my prediction that a Bush win would literally drive me insane. As the results came in, I pretty much shut down, curled into a ball and couldn’t think of a single thing to say about anything. I couldn’t work up the energy to get angry or depressed. I was just numb.

Since then, I’ve been trading emails and IMs with despondent friends, watching the news, checking out the coverage online, and I started to find my voice again. And then I saw an email in my bulk folder. Spam. I never read spam, but this one had a very provocative title. The subject was: “How Can I Live in the USA?” And in a lot of ways, that perfectly summed up how I’m feeling.

How can I live in a country where about a third of the electoral vote was in the red column before the race even began?

How can I live in a country where a man who mispronounces “nuclear”, who can’t admit to making a mistake, who thinks there’s more than one internet, is considered presidential material?

How can I live in a country where a draft dodger can attack a war hero for his military service – during a time of war, no less – and get away with it?

How can I live in a country where the president’s lies are taken as fact by a large percentage of the population, where people still believe there are WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam was involved in 9/11?

How can I live in a country where the president is believed to be winning the war on terror, yet Osama bin Laden is still at large?

How can I live in a country where a president can transform an unprecedented sense of national unity into an unprecedented state of divisiveness and animosity and be considered a good leader?

How can I live in a country where ballot measures banning gay marriage pass by wide margins in 11 states?

How can I live in a country where every branch of government is now controlled by right-wing extremists?

I’ve never felt more out of touch with the mainstream, more hurt and offended by the results of a national election, more of a sense of fear and dread for what my country is becoming. And I was amazed when I saw that email to think that the spammers were already tapping into Democratic frustration like mine. If there were that many people sharing my outrage, then maybe there was reason to hope after all.

As it turned out, the email was actually about how to obtain forged citizenship documents. I should’ve known.

And then all I could think about was how sorry I feel for the people that email was targeting. Sure, plenty of people around the world hate us because of who we elected, but to lots of people, America is still the land of opportunity and freedom and promise. There are scores of people who are so desperate to live in America that they’d do absolutely anything to get here.

Maybe instead of swindling them with phony green cards, someone should warn them what they’re walking into.