Monday, July 5, 2010

Damn you Yul Brynner!! OR If you give a Maltese a euro, he'll want a felony to go with it

Damn you, Yul Brynner!! OR If you give a Maltese a euro, he'll want a felony to go with it.

I’m not particularly good at waking up to my alarm, certainly not the way I used to be. There was a solid decade when the *breep!* *breep!* *breep!* of the clock was enough trigger my auto-pilot: out of bed, through the bathroom routine, belt to match shoes, breakfast in mouth, and out the door toward whatever building I was obligated by law to sit and learn in. Later it was construction that called me from bed, then teaching, then surgical operating rooms. Since returning to the call of school-as-pupil, I’ve found those days of infallibly executed, semi-conscious mornings are over and I am now one of the coffee-craving, red-eyed, zombie-stumblers of the AM. An adult.

Knowing this fact about myself, the more generous of you, my audience, might think I possessed the corollary wherewithal to not schedule my departure from Malta in such a way as to involve a 4:45AM cab ride to the airport for my flight home… Alas the time taken to tack these words to this obscure corner of the internet suggests otherwise. As you’ve likely deduced, this is a story about the time I did not wake up in time for my cab. My plan- foregoing sleep entirely on the theory that one cannot oversleep if one never goes to sleep- was a disaster. I blame Yul Brynner.

We’ll skip up to the part where I’m awake and in a panic about whether I have to resign myself to a life of street-busking to save up enough money for a second transcontinental plan ticket in just a moment, but first a few key pieces of information to frame your picture of me conked out on a Maltese couch with two fingers in an open jar of nutella: I was scheduled to leave Malta the morning after the US/England game of the World Cup. I went hoarse cheering Tim Howard to his uncontested Man of the Match honors at an Irish pub that was in severe violation of its maximum occupancy limits. It was sometime just after Clint Dempsey’s lucky 25 yard left foot strike in the 40th minute, and before my third Pint, that I devised the idea of staying awake all night to ensure arrival at the airport. When I got back to the apartment to finish arranging my things, I discovered my roommate had left me a jar of nutella. Needless to say, the expression on my face whilst sleeping was one of extreme satisfaction.

Ok, so at this point, go ahead and imagine an absurd montage of efforts to keep myself awake. Go nuts, make me slap myself, take a cold shower, do jumping jacks. Whatever. Just make sure that you end it somewhere around 3:13AM. Good? Ok, so there I am, 3:13AM, and I get this idea that, in hindsight clearly wasn’t a keeper, but when your head is clouded with sleepiness, well, it’s amazing how rational and reasonable laying down to watch a movie seems.

iTunes recommended that I watch The Magnificent Seven. “Why not?” I thought, “Yul Brynner plays a great a bald sovereign of a strange and vaguely middle eastern people, I bet he plays a really compelling cowboy too!” So I rented the movie which, critical claim aside, is not exactly an attention-grabbing thriller...5:50AM is my next conscious moment.

Big yawn. Another finger scoop of nutella (What? I didn’t want to leave dishes). I looked at my watch. “Damn it’s early,” I thought. WAIT! NO IT’S NOT. I’M LATE, I’M LATE FOR A VERY IMPORTANT DATE! Like the White Rabbit of Wonderland, I clutched my clock and ran those classic tiny, speedy circles of futile self-admonishment. I said some things I can't ever repeat for sake of karma, grabbed my bags and rushed for the door, down the stairs, to the street, and up to the only two people on the street, a pair of Maltese out on either an early morning walk or making their way home, finally, from watching World Cup highlights at the bar. I stammered something maniacal and vague about my predicament, thrust out my hand and demanded a cell phone. They didn’t admit to knowing English and scurried across the street. I chose my next best option to mugging these strangers for temporary use of the phone they may or may not have to call a cab (I did not have a cab number anyway): lunging out into the street, waving my arms to stop on-coming traffic, of which there was almost none. What?! I’m desperate, half-awake, and not entirely sure if this is still part of the dream or really the ridiculous gauntlet I have to beat to get back to the Red, White, and Blue. So there I am, in a squat position, with my arms out in front of me like I’m bracing to stop a train, waiting for a car, any car, to make its lazy way down the switchbacks to where I’m standing, a luggage burdened wacko.

The car finally appears at the top of the hill, gets to me, stops, and the driver sticks his head out the window preparing to shout some angry Maltese comments at me which I assume translate into:

“For the love of Horus’ bushy-browed eye! What the hell are you doing?!”

While this Maltese man looked on in bewilderment, I wrenched open the rear door of his and start cramming my suitcases in.

“I have like 100 Euro, drive me to the airport now! It’s an emergency!!”

“What?! You can’t just go tossing your suitcases into my car and expe- did you say 100 euro?....Come On!!”

So let’s review: If you ever discover that you’ve overslept and missed your cab to the Malta airport by an hour, there is only one appropriate response: run out into the street and attempt to block on-coming traffic with your luggage and body. Someone will eventually pull over to shout insults at you, but will be brought to a flummoxed speechless state when they see you are cramming your luggage into the backseat of their car and shoving a fistful of euros in their face. This person will recognize your need and then drive you at a disturbingly high rate of speed to the airport while blaring some truly bizarre accordion-techno Euro-pop. What is it with these people and accordion techno? The driver’s sobriety will become a concern to you when you notice the several empty beer cans in the car and recall that all of Malta was in bars drinking and cheering the English to a draw against the U.S.

Speeding will become extremely concerning to you when you see a police vehicle the driver apparently does not. Malta’s lax traffic law enforcement, however, will bring your adrenaline levels back down to a “chased by bulls” level, or at least make you clear-headed enough to realize how ridiculously trusting you are being of probably the single last person on the island deserving of your trust right now. When your speeding driver somehow squeaks between an Oscarmeyermobile (recall, the buses look like domesticated versions of the hotdog-mobile) and another car on a two lane road, you will become the most devoutly religious person on the island, but your inability to make more than guttural sounds of fear will cause your prayers to be heard by the lesser-known god, Grundlemebadesh. Fortunately, unbeknownst to most, Grundlemebadesh is the god of suspending the laws of physics, and please just turn off the “one particle in a one place at a time” rule for the love of nutella hazlenut spread (You’re religious now and that’s as close to an expletive as you’re willing to get given the size of the miracle you just offered to commit all those animal sacrifices for)!

And then before I knew it, we were at the airport, the accordion techno song still playing. It's possible that I blacked out for a portion of the ride. No cop sirens behind us, no reason to suspect that I died on the road and am a ghost who just hasn’t had the Bruce Willis/M. Night Shamalamadingdong moment of realization. I hurled euros at the driver, snagged my bags from the backseat, thanked Grundlemebadesh for the miracle and charged into the airport terminal and past every person in line and up to the counter. Small children and elderly couples splayed out on the tiled floor in a wake behind me, the ones in front of me soaring cartoonishly while I used my suitcase like a cattle-guard. The woman at the counter, clearly not impressed by my American accent or frazzled bed hair or nutella smeared face told me to go to the back of the line, that my flight had been delayed, and that I should be ashamed of myself. I turned around and apologized to all the innocents I maimed in my panic. Mothers and fathers shook their heads disapprovingly as they brushed off their kids and/or kissed various booboos. The term "osteoporosis" seemed to be mumbled in pain by a few of the elderly, but since it wasn’t English, they might have been commenting about how excited they were to get past the check-in counter and to the Cinnebon inside.

Oh international travel, how you teach us about ourselves.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

All my blogs include a healthy amount of imagination- it's my little way of resisting the tyranny of reality. This blog is no different. I decided to help you our with identifying fact and fiction this time because other members of the Study Abroad group are involved and I make a few references to the Maltese police. I'd rather not find myself in a defamation lawsuit. So, while reading Mediterranean's 12 and The World is Mine, if you see bold italics, it's true. If it's regular typeface, then you know that I was spinning around in an office chair, spitting little flecks of foam and laughing hysterically to myself.

Mediterranean’s 12: The Shocking Conclusion

I had scoped out the Dubliner earlier that week from a luzza in the harbor. Disguised as an elderly and withered Maltese fisherman reading a copy of the Financial Times with discrete eyeholes cut out of it, I quickly identified the undercover Polizija (police). They’re clever, the Polizija. Disguised as a Japanese couple surrounded by luggage, in matching pastel-colored striped shorts, knee-high athletic socks, and Tommy Bahama knock-off Hawaiian shirts, the two Polizija were engaged in an “argument” meant to complete the impression that they were indeed lost tourists who just wanted to find their hotel. Very clever, Polizija, very clever indeed. When they finally left, at 2:17 exactly (the typical time for an undercover shift to end, as every international criminal knows), I rowed my little luzza closer to shore and removed my surveillance equipment from my Popeye’s Li’l Angler Tackle Box™ and pointed my Darkwing Duck Super-Duper Ear©®™ (available with 46,893 Proofs of Purchase + $3.99 shipping and handling) at the Dubliner to check for possible sleeper agents inside. Hearing no Japanese phrases that translate into “Well, what do you think? Is that sunburned fisherman in the Groucho-glasses-with-rubber-nose-and-mustache and “I HEART MALTA” T-shirt an incredibly well disguised American preparing to join Nick the Brit’s inner circle of up-to-no-good-guys-who-are-so-cool-you-can’t-help-but-wish-you-had-been-approached-to-heist-a-Maltese-Falcon?,” I removed the disguise, changed into my super-covert scuba gear and made for shore. 21 seconds later, and covered in rather gross seaweed, I emerged near a European couple each reading a copy of the New York Times with discrete little eyeholes (clearly so they could enjoy the view of the harbor). I sloughed off my gear, changed into my First-Impression clothes, and crossed the street.

I entered the Dubliner in as “I’m so totally into heisting things like the Maltese Falcon, you don’t even know” of an attitude as possible. I must say, I looked the part of a sophisticated criminal underling: a slight 5 o’clock of stubble, one eyebrow cocked mysteriously, a mustard stain on the right leg of my linen pants and a slight aroma of harbor sludge emanating from my pinkish sunburned skin. There was one bartender. He was toweling a Guinness pint glass while swearing at the Tele (British for TV, television, the boob tube). Carl.

I took a seat and waited for him to come over and “take my order” (Of course I was really waiting for the password exchange). The match or volley or trial (or whatever gaelic football games are called on the tele) ended and Carl threw the glass to the ground, smashing it to bits while he screamed some incomprehensible string of curses. After a few of those calming breaths people with high blood pressure and short fuses are told to take by all their various doctors and quacks, he came over to my end of the bar.

“Wutt’ll e’ be, eh?!”

I looked to each side of me with the sly and shifty eyes of an expert spy before I replied, “Liverpool is rubbish” and gave a solid wink.

Wull Fook! I kno’ ‘at! E’ry muffafooker kno’ ‘at. Wutt ‘ou ganna drin?!!”

“...Carl, LIVERPOOOL IS RUBBBBISH. Nick the Brit said to say so.” *Wink* *Wink*

“Kaal? Oim nought Kaal, Kaal’s dune-staars. ‘e alwuys dune-staars ‘n-da kutchin n’ ‘e ain’ kar wutt a fookin Yank ‘as-ta say 'boot Luv’rpoo. Git a fookin bier o’ git fookin ‘way frem mah’ bar!”

So I got a beer. And “Carl” (who turned out to actually be named Paul) settled down a bit once he learned I was named Paul too. Ok, so what calmed him down was the 4 euros tip I left. Clearly, the real Carl had already found a Paul for the group and couldn’t have a second Paul because that would just get too confusing, even if I had a cool nickname like “The Yank.” Oh well.

Or so I thought until I saw Carl for the first time; he's what you'd imagine the friendly neighborhood baker to look like. Short, round faced, a swirl of hair like a new-born, rides a bicycle to work, portly. Great guy, but no demolitions expert.

And so my quest for an international criminal organization continues...

Let there be Light

I sometimes have to remind myself that the Maltese are not as advanced as we are over in the USA. The light switch for every bathroom in the country is located on the wall outside of the bathroom. Clearly, children here have not yet invented the age-old and classic American prank of turning the lights off when someone is attending to a biological necessity or the Maltese would have figured out the value of keeping the light switches on the side of the wall were the vulnerably hunched and pants-in-the-down-position person is. I therefore see it as my duty to encourage every child I see to flip every bathroom switch they see until the Maltese update their country’s electrical wiring.

Some Friction Would Be Nice

If you’ve got a memory as ridiculous as mine, you remember an episode of The Magic School Bus in which they play baseball in a world without friction. Well, I’m pretty sure that episode happened in Malta. There’s a fine layer of dust covering every horizontal surface here that makes traction the sort of thing that people put on their Christmas Wish Lists.

“Somebody Poisoned the Water Hole”

Oh, and there are bugs in the tap water. Little swimmers that make me think of that terrible movie “The Faculty.” I haven’t been drinking it, but it puts the tingly feeling I get post-showers into a whole new light.

The World is Mine

The drivers of the OscarMeyers (buses) abide by their own set of rules both on the roads and within their WeinerMobiles. They’re the sheikhs of the streets, lords of the lanes, the padrones of the passageways. It’s the viceroy’s way or the vehicular highway, so to speak...ok, I’m all out of Thesaurus-izations now.

On one particular trip to school, we encountered the Ivan the Terrible of bus-drivers. His OscarMeyer had, as each of them do, a phrase painted across the top of the windshield that summarizes the particular bus driver’s mantra/life philosophy. There were three of us at the bus-stop, ready with our euros in hand to board “The World is Mine.” Classmate number one, a young lady, boarded without trouble (or a smile) from the surly driver. Classmate number two, however, was stopped by Ivan T.:

“NO! You cannot bring that coffee on this bus. It is not a cafeteria, this is a bus!”

“Wait, what?! My cappuccino? I won’t spill. Look it has a tidy little lid with an incredibly small hole in the top and even a built in spill-trap. Short of a child’s drink tumbler or an un-punctured Capri-Sun (who saw that reference coming?!), this is as secure a beverage as you’ll ever find.”


This has never happened before in all the history of Malta. I know, I checked the library. So student number two, a bit flustered and surprised, got off the steps of the bus and made a very clear movement of putting the coffee slowly onto the ground. While this was happening, I got on. The bus lurched away from the stop before I even made it to the second stair. Yes, Student number two was left in the bus exhaust and road dust by ol’ Ivan the T.

At the next stop, an older british woman boarded the bus and flashed her week-long bus pass at the driver:

“Show me the date! I must see the date!”

“Here it is, I already showed it to you.”

“NO! I cannot see it from there, come up here and show me the date.”

“Don’t shout at me.”


“Say please and I’ll show it to you. Don’t you know the word please?”


The woman put her pass away. Mien Fuhrer pulled the bus to the side of the road and turned off the engine. We sat like this for a minute or two before an Irishman from the back of the bus came forward and asked what the trouble was. Upon learning what the situation was, he very politely asked the British woman to just show her pass again so we could get moving because he had to be to work. She refused again so a few people got off the bus, cursing at her as they left. She responded to one:

“Don’t call me a c*** you ignorant dog.” which, in British English, is really a priceless thing to hear.

In the background, The Beatles’ “Let It Be” was playing. That is no exaggeration, fib, or little white lie. Sometimes life is just too perfect.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Raining in Malta

The informational pamphlet for the Malta study abroad program promised nearly perfect weather every day. Nearly perfect. So I probably shouldn’t feel lied to, but there’s something violative about waking up on a Sunday morning to wet sounds of car tires on concrete and an eerie wind like an exhausted siren. I can see the church goers from my balcony dashing up and down the slippery steps. The Mediterranean is roiling like the bathtub water of a child who hates being clean. Which makes the single luzza I see all the more toy-like, bobbing desperately against the thrashing-limb waves. It’s anchor seems to be slowly giving up ground to the sea’s forces. The sky is one big white plain of cloud. The roads are slick mirrors.

It’s cliche, but my concept of time really changes when I’m away from all the bustling-hustling of America. I’ve only been here for about 10 days now, but it seems like a month. Not in a bad way, time is just perceivably different.

Like Ramona Quimby, Age 8, I don’t know what to do with myself on rainy days. Fortunately, I have at least 3 readers, so I’m trying to be productive by throwing a few words together for the internet. From the speed of it here, I suspect the Maltese are still operating on the series of tubes, pull-strings, and whistles Al Gore rigged up back in the 90s.

You’re sure this place doesn’t sell the Royale with Cheese?

There’s something strange and appropriate about the fact that I go to the McDonald’s down the street when I want to check in with people back home in America. It’s my internet access point, the golden arches are my Stargate. Before anyone starts spouting anti-american fast food rhetoric, McD’s is pretty high class here. The McCafe serves tiramisu that’s made fresh. Really, it does not come from a pull-top sardine tin or squirt out of an aerosol can. The baristas (I never thought I’d ever call a person with the golden arches sewn into the right rump pocket of his/her jeans a barista) draw flowers and treble clefs on the cappuccino foam. AND, if you order an orange juice, the employee behind the counter bends down and gets several ACTUAL ORANGES from beneath the counter, slices them in half, and then squeezes the juice. All right in front of you! So with regard to the McCafe and internet access portions of the international McDonald’s experience, “im lovin it.”

Mediterranean’s 11?!

On the trip back from one of our many beach adventures, I was on an OscarMeyer (again, those are buses), minding my own business (which at the time was talking American-loud ((yes, I’m back to my ol’ parentheticals within parentheticals shenanigans, count the parenthesis!) an entirely different level of loud than Europeans are used to) about how the radio stations all play American music), when Nick the Brit plopped down in the seat next to me.

Nick the Brit is one of those older Brits with lots of visible capillaries on his nose, a white blazer, black shirt, and boat shoes. Clearly an Ocean’s 11-type heist mastermind. His cover was that he was just a nice old man on holiday with his wife, Marcel, and that the seat next to me was the easiest to lower his arthritic frame into. Yeah, right Nick the Brit, “holiday.” Like you can just declare a holiday any old time you want. He had heard me talking to some of the other students on my trip so he already knew I was American. Nick said I reminded him of one of his sons (code for “do you want in on this heist of the Maltese Falcon I’m planning?!”). His “wife,” Marcel, was in a seat behind us and she agreed in nearly-incomprehensible Cockney that “e’s a spi’in emige a ‘arry ow’ight” (I’m guessing [H]‘arry was arrested or otherwise decommissioned after the last heist). I replied that their son must be a scoundrel (international heist code for “I’m in for no less than 5% of the taking.”). They exchanged glances, laughed twice and Marcel nodded. Clearly, they were satisfied with my offer. I should have asked for 8%.

They told me to find a place called the Dubliner, an Irish pub owned by Nick’s “cousin,” Carl (probably the demolitions expert), and to tell him that “Liverpool is rubbish.” Yep, definitely a heist. I can’t wait for a first back-room meeting where the montage plays that introduces the other members of the team plotting to steal the Maltese Falcon.

Please submit ideas for my catch phrase. The Token American has to have a catch phrase. Clearly, I’m the Brad Pitt character in this scheme so think cool, think sexy to people from all walks of life, think Angelina Jolie totally wants to date me, DO NOT think Burn After Reading Brad. He’s hilarious, but I’d rather like to not wind up dead.

Paul, remember how bad it turned out for you when you tried to join that Rugby team in South Africa?!

Those of you who were on my mailing list when I was in SA know that I tried to join a Rugby squad. I’d rather not relive the memories or subsequent physical therapy, psychotherapy, aromatherapy, etc. BUT, I’m at it again. I went into a boxing gym a short walk from my apartment to see if I could use the facility for a month. Steve, the Australian owner, said he’d love to have me as a punching bag. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure this is my vocation- I’m destined to be a great boxer. Unlike rugby, there’s no tackling-type maneuvers, my bongo skills probably translate into some mean jabs, and I’ve seen other people play Punch Out! on original Nintendo (thanks roomie!). Qualifications? Check.

And by the way, which one’s Pink?

Malta confuses me. It’s an incredibly Catholic island. Most of the houses have a ceramic saint protruding from the wall next to the front door. Saintly statues appear every few kilometers along the roads. They have more churches than days in a year. During the summer, every church apparently has a festival celebrating its saint. So I wasn’t too surprised when I overheard some people talking about going to the feast of St. Joseph:

“Are you going to the Feast of St. Joseph tonight?”

“Of course! What else would I do on a Friday night? Dance at a nightclub?!”

“Yes, I was being very silly by asking. I hope they play Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

“Yes, and Have a Cigar”

I was under the mistaken impression that all church feasts are pious affairs involving a lot genuflecting, spritzing with holy water, some wafer-chewing, and the only rock going on is Peter himself. Not so in Malta. No. These people celebrate their saints by hosting rock concerts complete with firework pyrotechnic displays and carnival food. For the Feast of St. Joseph, the church of St. Joseph in Ghaxaq (pronounced like you’re trying to cough up a fishbone; “aaaakcha”) hired The Scandinavian Pink Floyd Project to shove the spirit of the season deep into the souls of the faithful with their renditions of The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon.

So, being the good Catholic that Momma raised me to be, I went to church Friday night.

When I got there, I discovered an outdoor plaza filled with people and loose rubble on the ground. The buildings surrounding the space looked a little like the Alamo. Their were families, elderly couples, teens with crazy haircuts, and a fair number of them sporting their favorite black Pink Floyd T-shirts.

Somewhere between Quidditch, Soccer, and Rugby is a sport called Gaelic Football

TV in Malta is D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T. An apparently crucial game of Gaelic Football is on right now. From what I gather, a herd of hulking Irishmen careen into another herd of Irishmen while a guy in a white lab-coat and floppy hat waves flags crazily. A grumpy bald guy with a Secret Service earpiece flashes yellow and red cards now and again. Apparently he’s some sort of attention-craver who just want’s the players to stop and watch his card tricks. If the ball goes between some uprights installed above a soccer net, the crowd gets loud. Other times, a guy is knocked unconscious; his body becomes an obstacle on the field for the players and the EMT squad might get a point if they can remove his behemoth unconscious carcass before another player’s cleats poke holes in him. No one wears pads so this happens more often than you’d think. There are goals and goalkeepers, but they don’t seem to be part of the game yet. In fact, they look a little confused about what’s going on. The ball can be dribbled, kicked, thrown, or completely forgotten about if it’s time for a fight. Oh, there’s one going on right now. The score is 0-13 to 2-04. 0-13 seems to be winning, but only by 3 points. The announcer’s accent is pretty grotesque, but I think he said something about a bludger going through the sticky wicket under the scrum?

Huuawe, you guys made me Ink!

We spent a portion of today on the island of Gozo, a short ferry ride away from the main island. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant situated at the bottom of what can only be accurately described as a fjord, but since I was taught in grade-school that fjords only exist in Scandinavia, I’m thinking it’s a conspiracy. Hmm... So there were are, at the base of the fjord, eating mediterranean food when some children of the village we were in got excited about something they were pulling out of the water. Being the snoop that I am, I left my goat cheese and salty sun dried tomatoes to investigate and found that they had caught a squid. Squiddy, all in a panic about being yanked from his natural habitat was inking all over the place. When he finally calmed down/ran out of ink, one of the village boys let me hold him. The PeTA in me momentarily considering hucking the spent tube of Bic filling back into the sea, but the 1L law student in me knew that whenever a person captures a whale or other wildlife, it becomes property and hurling property into the sea might amount to a trespass to chattels or a conversion warranting damages. Not wanting to get involved in the Gozoan (Gozonite? Gozoish?) courts, I returned Squiddy to the boys and, like Pontius Pilate, washed my hands of Squiddy’s inkiness.

The Return of Scuba Storm

I’m heading back to the depths in search of monsters and treasure and swimmer’s ear. Look out bottom of the deep blue sea, I’m setting up camp and I’m not leaving...until the gas tank empties out...or shortly before since I might like a sweet, sweet bit of 02 on the way to the surface

Popeye Village

I will be going to this magical place. Apparently Santa lives there. Is this section vague? Yes it is. But you’re curious enough to go on a Wiki adventure while you wait to hear about it. Aren’t you?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

MALTA! It begins.

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, various creatures smart enough to operate the internet- Bloggie is back and more Mediterranean than ever! Tom Johnson, I hope you're out there; haven't received a life-threatening fan letter in quite some time. If you're stalking some other blogger these days, I want to win you back.

Ok, so the drill goes like this: I give you titles and brief tidbits tangentially related to those titles. If it looks boring, it is. Skip it. If it looks like I went cross-eyed while writing it, I probably did (and you should too just in case I slipped one of those Magic Eye Pictures into the text.). That being said, lets' go ahead and take a look at the first days of Paul Storm's trip to Malta!

I think an Invisible Falcon just pooped on my carry on luggage

Wow, Paul. You really started with something pretty ridiculous. Yes, yes, I did. So here's the explanation that puts it into context. I had a layover in Detroit. If 8-Mile taught us anything, Detroit is a tough town. Fortunately, I suffer from the delusion that I'm highly alert and aware of my surroundings. So there I am, listening and looking and smelling and touching with all my sensory might when all of the sudden, I hear what sounds like a screeching bird-of-prey attacking (and presumably killing) what sound like tiny mammals. None of the employees of the airport seemed to find it unusual. 5 minutes later, another innocent marmot or ferret or maybe a vole squeaked it's last tiny squeak (this time I was sure I heard a vertebrae snap too.) Turns out, Detroit's airport has a set of speakers set up that play the sounds of Predatory Birds. Really, I’m not making any of this up. While I was being searched (Yes, I got picked for the “random” search) by Yolanda, the security guard, I asked about it. As Yolanda tested the pH level of my tea (yes, holding a hot tea is a potential sign of terrorism that warrants additional searching, and yes they actually tested the pH level of my tea with litmus paper), she explained that a lot of little birds found their way into the airport. As you can imagine, that means random splats of bird poo fall onto the heads and shoulders of travelers. The solution the airport came up with (aka plan to scare the birds shitless...yeah, pretty corny joke there, but I'm just getting warmed up and a few duds have to fall every now and again...baddum chhh!) was inflicting psychological warfare on the trapped birds...I can’t imagine what sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that must cause, but I’d be a pretty paranoid little sparrow dealing with some serious fears of invisible psychotic falcons if I was trapped in D-Town airport.

Shining Time Station's got nothing on poor Maltese fishermen

Right now I’m sitting on my balcony looking out at the waterfront. Yes, I have a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. Big glass windows, comfy chairs, the whole I-don’t-deserve-something-this-nice package. Luzzas are small rowboats painted like bathtub toys. The harbor is full of them. Somewhere along the way in Malta's history, someone got the idea of painting eyes on the front of his boat to scare away evil spirits. And like the LaCoste Alligator, Starter pullover half-zips, and Zoobaz, a status symbol was born. Suddenly everyone had to have eyes on his boat. With big bushy eyebrows.

We Built This City. We Built This City On Rock And...More Rock!

This city is nothing but hasty rectangles stacked on and squished between other misshapes. Like the way kids draw cities. Just row after sloppy row of rectangles getting progressively shorter the closer they get to water. The streets are European-narrow. Maybe half the width of Summit Avenue. Cars whiz by each other with inches (well, this is Europe, so I guess it’s centimeters, but you get the idea) between the rear-view mirrors. There aren’t really “lanes” on the road so much as suggestions about where to point your car. People drive down the middle of the street until they see oncoming traffic, then it’s a game of chicken. Most cars here are tiny hatchbacks. Occasionally a Ferrari or Porsche or Aston Martin shoots by blaring bad accordion-based techno music. The sidewalks, where they exist, are hardly wide enough to walk on and seem to double as parking space. There's no green space, very little of what we would call "fertile topsoil" in the midwest, and most things are carved from rock or made of rocks carved into the shape of bricks. There are a few trees, but no one's building a log cabin here anytime soon.


Yes, there is a calendar called “The Cats of Malta” in one of the shops I went searching for postage in. Not only that, the calendar features 12 feral cats. Celebrities of the gutters apparently. For whatever reason, Malta is a fan of the feral cat. People sometimes leave water dishes out for them. Not sure what the feeding policy is.

Do you have a Flag? No Flag, No Country! That's the Rule...That I just made up.

Malta has a weird history. Since prehistoric times, an army from one corner of the world or another had landed and declared itself the ruler of the Maltese as part of some sort of pyramid scheme to rule the Mediterranean. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Napolean for a week- everyone throughout the ancient/not-so-ancient-but-still-pretty-darn-long-ago world seems to have shacked up on Malta and plunged a flag between the rocks at one time or another. The Maltese weren’t too keen on the idea at first, but they eventually accepted that, like bird poop on your windshield or random acne flare-ups, there just isn’t much they can do about it. So the Maltese made lemonade of the situation by developing one hell of a fusion cuisine culture while the powers-that-be killed one another for control of Malta’s harbors and strategic location. Once everything calmed down, they made a 45-minute documentary I had to watch on a tour we took through the oldest, most important city on the island; Valleta.

There are no cars in Valleta. The streets are too narrow. Buses and cars must park outside the walls of the city. Yep, walls. Carved right out of the rock itself. 30 feet thick in some places and as tall as 60 feet (I did the metric conversions for you). Valleta was a giant military-industrial compound before it became the bustling center of Maltese social life it is today. This is where I will attend school while I’m here. The streets are always filled with people and music and street performers. Food smells are everywhere, and the plazas are littered with monuments to people I’ve never heard of but apparently did a lot more than I have at this point in my life. Lame little blogs just do not get you statue status apparently.

Goodbye iPod

Saturdays in Malta are for one thing and one thing only; beaches (which in my case means that Sundays are for aloe vera and loose clothing). Yes, now is an acceptable time to get jealous. A crew of us boarded one of the Oscar Meyers (my name for the buses because they’re painted in the same colors as the WeinerMobile) around noon and rode North to a beach recommended to us by some locals. The WeinerMobilemen (bus driver) must have watched The Transporter a few too many times. Gas pedal firmly stomped to the floor, he was taking hairpin turns all the way up and down the coast slowing down once for a goat, but otherwise trying to move fast enough to violate some basic principles of physics and pass through the oncoming traffic unharmed. The bus creaked and swayed like it wanted to get up on two wheels whenever the driver spun his steering wheel. All the Maltese were calmly reading or looking out the window while the white-knuckled Americans started picking out deities to make absurd promises to in exchange for a safe ending to t- OH MY GOD HE JUST GAVE A HIGH-5 TO THE DRIVER OF AN ONCOMING BUS! THE MANIAC DID A 100KM/HR HIGH-5?! DOES HE STILL HAVE HIS ARM?! THAT’S IT, I’M SACRIFICING THE WOMAN’S CAT IN THE 4TH ROW TO ONE OF THOSE ANIMAL-HEADED PAGAN DEMONS, I WANT OFF THIS BUS NOW! GRUNGLEMEBADESH, I SWEAR ON THE LIFE OF THIS FELINE THAT I WILL COMMIT MY LIFE TO SPREADING WORD OF YOUR COMMANDMENTS IN EXCHANGE FOR THE BEACH. PLEASE OH PLEASE JUST LET ME FEEL SOFT SAND, HOT SUN, COOL AND SALTY WATER, AND MAYBE ENJOY A KLONDIKE BAR!!!!!!

Which reminds me, have you heard the good word? No? We’ll talk later.

While some of the others splayed out on their beach towels, I decided to talk a walk down the beach; see the seeables, smell the smellables, etc. I grabbed the ol’ iPod and started strolling. I’m not the dullest crayon in the box, so I noticed right away that beach-goers in Malta avoid tan lines. Women go topless, men sport the speedo, kids rock the naked. Whatever clothes is on people gets wedged up into whatever crevice is available to hold them so that even the places meant to be covered find their way into the UV rays (You don't like the visual that paints? Well I had to look at the real thing. You're lucky I'm leaving out the guy who altered some sort of sports bra to fashion a unique little pair of skivvies for himself.).

You’re wondering about the iPod? Well, I'm an expert rock skipper (Those of you who've figured it out can quit reading now. Those of you a few feathers short of a duck, sharp as a marble, or an enchilada short of a fiesta platter may need to read on.). The Mediterranean has some pretty choice skipping stones and, being an expert skipper, I got to work hurling stones seaward. I got a few 7 and 8 skippers (and one 11 skipper! Ok, so that's a lie) before I saw something metallic skip a few times across the water before sinking out of sight. All the arm whipping I had done dislodged my iPod from my armband...yes, I wear my iPod on my throwing arm. No, this was not my proudest moment. If I were any slower in the ol' brain box, I'd need to be watered once a week and occasionally rotated. Anyway, I ran out into the water (of course there wasn’t soft sand at this part of the beach, just big, hard, uneven stones) searched around, found it, pulled it out, but, I’m sorry to say, it was too late; the iPod is no more. So it seems Malta is on a mission to strip me of all my electronics. Grunglemebadesh, I don’t suppose you can tack a new iPod onto my list of goods and services I'm trading for eternal enslavement? Please?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Empowered by the internet, shares his thoughts on reading Infinite Jest.

I once heard a story about Eric Clapton from a friend of mine who prided himself on knowing/fabricating obscure trivia about musicians. Slow Hands saw Jimi Hendrix play a show for the first time and became so depressed he put down his own guitar for a year and moped. Convinced he would never achieve the level of comprehension and agility Jimi applied to his frets, Clapton failed to see a point in trying anymore. Like you (probably), I’m skeptical of the story, but it communicates the very feeling I had after reading Infinite Jest for the first time. This is the only thing beyond basic anatomical characteristics that I share with Clapton, or at least the fictional Clapton my high school friend also claimed inspired George Harrison’s song “Savory Truffle” with his chocolate addiction (could I verify these stories on the wild and wiki web? Sure, but knowing the answers might separate me that much more from Mr. Clapton, and then I would have to buy a guitar and learn to play just to get back within Kevin Bacon Degrees of fame): after removing my bookmarks and returning IJ to the bookshelf space that seemed too small, I swore off creative writing all together. Why read anything else? Why try to write anything else?

I don’t consider myself a Writer. I’m just a guy who uses significant chunks of his free time to skate pen tips across notebook paper (I find writing on my computer rather difficult given the infinite number of ways to distract myself from Peggle on down.) because it feels good. But the book I own two copies of (and probably need a third) left me feeling inadequate in ways that do not make very good punch lines to self-deprecating jokes. I stopped leaving my stories out in places where they might be found and read by family and friends, stopped trying to be witty or some semblance of engaging in my prose, and just stopped dreaming about a day when I could call myself “Writer” and not feel that nervousness that comes with maintaining flimsy frauds like the time I told my 4th grade classmates I could pick locks and then found myself surrounded by fifteen ten year-olds semicircled around me and a locked door with two paper clips in my hands. At least the broken segment of paper clip stuck in the tumbler delayed class for a few hours.
Like the archetypal dispirited but undeniably talented artist in that genre of film that tells us to never give up, I eventually worked up the madly desperate energy to pry IJ, keystone of my bookshelf, from its place between Oscar Wao and ZAMM and put my eyes to the pages again. When I found the thick side of the book to my right again and a stack of note cards to my left and my margins filled with notes and page references and two reader’s guides stacked next to my unnecessarily large mug of Vanilla Rooibos Tea and a laptop with several windows open, each to a different IJ website, I feared with all the force that warrants a phrase like ‘howling fantods’ that IJ the book had become what IJ is to the characters in the book (You know what I mean if you’ve read it already. If not, I really haven’t spoiled much for you.). And I wondered if what I was embarking on- a second, slower reading- was really the best thing for my now cracked-eggshell psyche’s remaining integrity.

Rereading IJ revealed a lot more about the book and about the world. I learned about Sierpinski Gaskets and Burl Ives. I watched movies directed by Michael Powell that made the guy at our rental place raise an eyebrow when I also rented Short Circuit 2 and When Harry Met Sally for my parents ( parents...). I had a lot of moments my little sister refers to as “OMG” along with whatever ridiculous punctuation combination would be used to express Eureka-grade satisfaction. And at the end I was left with the question “What the hell happened?!” Perhaps on this third reading…

Many people have already claimed IJ is their favorite book of all time and have imagined all genre of isolation scenarios in which they’d like to find themselves clutching a sky blue covered copy and I’m not much different from them except that I actually lived one such chunk of time (my last job) and found myself so deeply in Writer’s Funk that I ripped open the bag of M&Ms and let my mouth start melting ‘em (I couldn’t afford the truffles at the time). Eventually Catharsis won out. IJ is my JH, but we all have to strap our instruments of choice back on or risk losing all that will be missed.

I suppose I should offer you something along the lines of advice for reading this book given my two trips down the stack of plies. Read every page with full attention, there is nothing in this book that is not intentional or necessary. As the book rainbows slowly from the “to read” to the “already read” side, you’ll start to lose more sleep trying to tie things together; it’s a vicious battle with a text that simultaneously wants to entertain you, wants to reach you. I’m excited to join you.

Oh, and pg 223 is nice, but really it's not like a magic key or anything near the level of power suggested.

“You are loved.” -DFW

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You (This one)

I almost forgot, there will be some big renovations to my Bloggle in the near future. He's in need of some cosmetic enhancements (poor guy is pretty embarrassed by the term "Plastic Surgery"...Sorry Bloggy.). As you can see, he's already has some coloring done; thanks Bayfield Elementary 4th grade art class! (NOTE: There is no such elementary school to my knowledge and if there were, I wouldn't trust them with my bloggle until I had an opportunity to sit down with each student individually and assess his or her artistic abilities.) Among the up and coming procedures: Websites PaulStorm frequents, a poll perhaps?, and photos! Be on the lookout!

This One Goes Out to the One I Love (That's, not you. Her, the Girl with the Dancing Laugh.)

Customary Introduction
It’s hard to believe, but my blog will be three years old soon. It’s an exciting time in the life of a blog. Now that it’s potty trained and the braces are finally off, little Bloggy is getting ready to take those first big steps out of the internet and into the world of grown up media. He’s got his diagonal striped tie, vintage G.I. Joe lunch pail with drink tumbler, and a very polished 15 second Elevator Speech for why he should be hired. Newspaper editorial pages. Dear Rolling Stone Letters. Junk Mail. There’s so many things my little bloggle might grow up to be.

The two of us were sitting around the house Saturday, looking through our photo albums and reminiscing about all the great times we’ve had together. The House Mouse. Several wombat references. Reginald my Muse. My father and his many jellies. We laughed, we cried, we even cuddled a bit (which is totally acceptable since bloggles are really comfortable with their personal space and not at all emasculated by being Little-Spooned). When we got to a page of photos of me with the Griswold family (NOTE: The name “Griswold” is being used here in place of the real name of the family I’ve found myself surrounded by on more than 7 occasions. Griswolds, you know who you are.), Bloggy’s pointy little pixilated ears pricked up. Somehow, he had never heard about the weekend depicted in the pictures. I think what made him the most upset was the photo of the Gingerbread House Habitat for (Gingerbread) Humanity Renovation Project (More on that later). Bloggy loves frosting.

Realizing that I’d deprived an innocent bloggle of great material, I proceeded to tell him everything. And now, here it is, reproduced, digitally remastered in all its 2.1 stereo sound grandeur! There will be thrills, chills, spills, gills, frills, very few pills, and one sliced baby dill. That’s par for the course when you're with the Griswolds.

The Griswolds are an adventure seeking bunch. No clumping around the TV for them. Not when there’s nature to be conquered! Okay, Okay so SOME clumping occurs between the hours and 7 and 10AM as well as between 7 and 10PM, BUT from 10AM to 7PM they are all action. Clark Griswold, for example, is an accomplished snowshoe stomper and an amateur tobogganer. On a crisp MLK jr. weekend day, he persuaded the other Griswolds and one Me to strap on the deluxe rental snow shoes provided by the base camp of Lars Mountain and follow him deep into its forbidding forests; a terrifying terrain filled with snow-concealed abysses, crags, yetis, and the remains of the camps of failed expeditions to the tippy top of Lars Mountain (a staggering 215 feet above sea level!). Our caravan of explorers shuffled and stomped up and down, around, under and over, through, and all other directions. We came upon the tracks of either ourselves or monsters chasing us several times but fortunately encountered no Abominables, Snow Monsters, Sasquatches (Sasquatchi? Sasqueetches? Sasquapods?), or snow leopards.

One among our party, however, was almost lost to the vicious predatory Cockleburs. These are not Grandma’s Garden Variety, the wild Cocklebur of Lars Mountain has stickers that make Acacia Trees look like Chia Pets. Not only that, they’re carnivores. Like Rabid-and-Lyme-Diseased Wood Ticks carrying tiny steak knifes and just done observing their religious fasting type carnivores. AAAHH! She was able to escape, but only because Cockleburs, being plants, are not particularly bright (No brains. It’s science.) and mistook her scarf for a very long French Bread.

Surviving the Cocklebur attack, our company of adventurers came upon an old and abandoned trapper’s cabin. Legend has it that the trapper was lured to the icy depths of Lake Superior by the haunting call of Gordon Lightfoot’s masterpiece, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. According to legend, one that lives on from the Chippewa on down/Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee/The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead/When the skies of November turn gloomy. The Griswolds and I surmise that the trapper- alone and most likely a bit eccentric given his preference to live alone trapping Cockleburs rather than, say, work in retail at one of the trendy outdoor gear outlet stores, tried to beat Gitche Gumee and find the lost members of the E. Fitz using a Cockle-skin canoe. NOT a reliable nautical vehicle.

Mrs. Griswold challenged me and one of her very fine daughters to race one another in our bathing suits to the hot tub over an obstacle course of black ice, snow tufts, and ogling oglers. Stripped to as bare as we can be without causing parents to cover the eyes of their children and the elderly to shake their canes gingerly and make hoodlum remarks, my Griswold opponent and I charged out into the negative-Celsius weather toward the now capitalized HOT TUB because Holy Hungarian Goulash! It was COLD! Not “oh, I think I’ll put a sweater on, cold” More like So Cold My Innie Belly Buttons Sucked Even Further In To Conserve Body Heat Cold. Yeah, mull over THAT mental image for a bit, a puckering belly button. Eesh, I think I grossed out myself.

You probably know that Lars Mountain has one of the most frighteningly steep luge courses in the world. If not, I recommend going to see it. Don’t ride it, however; survival rates are pretty low and I am not into endangering my readers (unless you’re my enemy, in which case, depending on your level of evil, I may short sheet your bed). The Griswolds, who truly do laugh in the face of death (good naturedly, of course), fear no luge. Not one. So when I found myself standing atop Lars Mountain’s summit with a flimsy plastic toboggan in hand, I knew there was no backing out.

If it were possible for a mountain to have a grade steeper than vertical, Lars Mountain has it. At one point on my descent, I think I was upside down. Once I reached terminal velocity, I crashed into a young sapling tree. Medics were called, one of those big fluffy dogs with the tiny medical keg around its neck came bounding up and used its warm and saliva-spewing tongue to lick me out of the snow drift I was stuck in like a tent peg. A rescue helicopter was dispatched and people’s regularly scheduled television programs were interrupted to bring them the courageous rescue. I injured my Prideous Maximus and Selfus Respectoid, but otherwise came out of the mishap unscathed.

I had a delish (Sorry beautiful Griswold daughter) fish dish. I repeat, it was delish (not sorry this time).

After my near-fatal crash, I found myself reflecting on my life. How will I be remembered? Have I made the world better? Should I stop photocopying coupons for fun and profit? Do I really know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Does tongue surface area matter? Do owls even like candy? Eventually, the string of ponderables brought me to the issue of Gingerbread people. Shrek was playing on TNT at the time; I took that as a divine sign that I was called to shelter the molasses-based Ginger-folk.

Elise…I mean, Griswold Daughter 1 and I knew that we could not build enough homes for the Gingers alone, we would need help. Short money for hiring, we chose instead to challenge the other Griswold daughter and her significant other to a good ol’ fashion Gingerbread House Raising. First prize; the love and affection of Momma and Poppa Griswold as well as rights to the front seats of automobiles for any trips taken into town for victuals and supplies.

I neglected to inform the younger Griswold of my previous career as a Lego-Architect. Truly the I.M. Pei of elementary school-aged builders, I have a real knack for assembling pre-fabricated parts. Elise and I quickly raised the walls of our home and shingled the roof, giving us plenty of time (and frosting) for landscaping and d├ęcor. Our little cottage shocked the brown sugar right out of the Ginger Family who won the bid to live there. That was pretty gross, but we understood. They were just really excited to move in. So, after cleaning up after Mr. and Mrs. Bread, we showed them around their new home. We chose to go with a NeoVictorian “Stick Style” home; the Breads were very impressed and really appreciated our decision to move away from contemporary GingerBread Trimming, opting instead for exposed trusses and soffits. I’ll pause here while you go on a Google-spree trying to figure out what all that mumbo was about.

If there’s one thing the Griswolds love (and wonder how I’ve neglected to mention until now), it’s Canasta-based card games. In particular, they are Hand and Foot Fanatics (HaFoFans). And when I say HaFoFans, I’m not exaggerating. Every Griswold has a set position at the HaFoTa (Hand and Foot Table) which is determined by a no-holds-barred, full contact, bull rushing of the HaFoTa by all HaFoFans. Failure to yield the right of way to charging HaFoFans can result in immediate incapacitation and the importance of HaFo to HaFoFans means you will be without medical attention for 4-8 hours so unless you happen to keep a Swiss-Rescue-Dog-with-Tiny-Medical-Keg Dog Whistle around your neck, you might as well dash a bit of salt and pepper on your head and wait for the Cockleburs.

After the weekend’s HaFo, Elise and I became suspicious that HaFoPerEns (Hand and Foot Performance Enhancers) might have “accidentally slipped” into some someone’s Cocoa Coffees. A few too many conveniently timed and executed plays of both the Hand and the Foot of a to-remain-nameless duo led to an enormous upset…Okay, okay, it was a totally legitimate win and I just really really really prefer winning to losing (I’d say almost 4:1) BUT, next time there will be mandatory HaFoPerEnTes (Hand and Foot Performance Enhancer Testings).

The Baby Dill
Advice: Do not order double cheeseburgers late at night from DQs in tiny towns where the pickles seem not only lacking in the Kosher-ness, but also in the whole “vegetable” quality. I’m rather certain I ate a gelatin molded to resemble a pickle in shape, but not at all in the two Ts: texture and taste.

Overall, it’s a fabulous time, staying with the WalGriswolds. I’m truly lucky and special; how else do you explain their not having relocated and continuing to answer my calls. Thanks Grisgrens, you’re wonderful people. Bloggy wishes he could come along next time.