My Top 10 Lists

I’ve been meaning to get back to my friend Myron about my favorite songs from certain Brit Pop bands so I decided to turn the response into a blog post along with some other Top 10s. I did these as quickly as possible and immediately I realized I forgot some Must Haves. I didn’t change the initial list though. The 10 are not in order…

MY FAVORITE MOVIES

Donny Darko, Casablanca, Cinema Paradiso, Goodfellas, Midnight Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Trainspotting, Dazed & Confused, The Shining, The Basketball Diaries (forgot Heathers, A Clockwork Orange, and Eternal Sunshine…)

Unknown-7 MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS

Twin Peaks, Carnivale, Arrested Development, Dexter, Breaking Bad, 7-Up Series, The Simpsons, Amazing Race, Lost, The Inbetweeners (forgot Cheers, X Files and Family Guy)

images-1MY FAVORITE DEBUT ALBUMS

Smiths, Stone Roses, Adorable, Beastie Boys, Strokes, Surfer Blood, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Spiritualized, Supergrass, Pavement (forgot Oasis)

Unknown-5MY FAVORITE COVERS

Tricky (Black Steel), White Stripes (Jolene), The Vines (Ms. Jackson), Sonic Youth (Superstar), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Higher Ground), Adam Green (What a Waster), Smashing Pumpkins (Never Let me Down Again), Ian Brown (Billie Jean), Lou Reed (This Magic Moment), Oasis (I am the Walrus)

Unknown-8MY FAVORITE DIRECTORS

Kubrick, Lynch, Tarantino, Van Sant, Hitchcock, Coppola, Scorsese, Welles, Fellini, Burton

Unknown-4MY FAVORITE BLUR SONGS

Music is my Radar, Trimm Trabb, Tender, Beetlebum, Coffee & TV, Oily Water, Blue Jeans, Girls & Boys, Bang, To the End

Unknown-2MY FAVORITE SUEDE SONGS

Killing of a Flash Boy, My Insatiable One, Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate, Introducing the Band, Can’t Get Enough, By the Sea, Together, The Living Dead, My Dark Star

imagesMY FAVORITE SMITHS/MORRISSEY SONGS (12 since there’s two catalogues)

Sister I’m a Poet, Late Night Maudlin Street, Suedehead, Everyday is like Sunday,  Big Mouth Strikes Again, There is a Light that Never Goes Out, Reel around the Fountain, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me, The More you Ignore Me the Closer I Get, The Teachers are Afraid of the Pupils, We Hate it When our Friends Become Successful

Unknown-9MY FAVORITE PULP SONGS

Babies, Joyriders, Mile End, Love Love, Sorted for Es and Wizz, Like a Friend, Razzmatazz, Common People, Underwear, Something Changed or Love is Blind

Unknown-1

MY FAVORITE OASIS SONGS

Dyer Wanna be a Spaceman, The Importance of Being Idle, Supersonic, Cigarettes and Alcohol, Talk Tonight, Acquiesce, Some Might Say, Morning Glory, Whatever, Slide Away

Unknown-3MY FAVORITE MANCHESTER AREA BANDS

The Smiths, Joy Division, James, Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Oasis, Verve, Stone Roses, Chemical Brothers, The Doves

Unknown-6MY FAVORITE TEXAS BANDS

Black Angels, Tripping Daisy/Polyphonic Spree, Willie Nelson, Spoon, Butthole Surfers, 13th Floor Elevators, Neon Indian, And you will know us by the trail of dead, Reverend Horton Heat, Daniel Johnston

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Why we hate Champions

imagesAll this month it’s been fun going back and forth with the fans of other sports teams about who’s going to win what. There are heartbroken Penguin fans and excited A’s fans. There are confident Brazil fans and nervous Spurs fans.

It always starts off with everyone promoting their team but once it gets down to two teams, us versus you, it gets personal. For the last two weeks the exchanges between Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs teams have gotten more and more nasty. The word “hater” comes up almost hourly.

So why do we all hate Miami, except for those who live in Florida? How does the Dallas Cowboys go from America’s Team to America’s most hated team? Why is it impossible to be ambivalent about the Yankees or Manchester United?

For me, it’s simple. It’s the way the super power went about making their team a super power. Manchester United has an amazing youth academy and more likely than not, their studs come thru their system. Yeah, every summer they’re in the running for the most expensive, sought-after player of the off-season and they usually get said player, but the core of the team is home grown.

Their cross town rivals Manchester City are a world power for a very different reason. They had a billionaire come in, buy the team, and spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the best players on the planet. Almost overnight they went from so-so afterthoughts to perennial contenders.

The Yankees are inbetween. It’s a mixture of both with them. They buy the best free agents but they also have a great farm system and talent scouts. Teams like the Yankees and Lakers are rarely bad for long because the name alone draws big time players.

When offered $30 million a year to play in Missouri or $25 million a year to play in New York, most players will leave money on the table just to be on a bigger stage with a tradition-strong team.

How small market teams remain relevent is a mystery to me. They have to do everything right. The San Antonio Spurs do everything right. Not only do they find the diamonds in the rough (and in foreign leagues), they also find the type of player who will actually want to stay in south Texas after they’re a household name. Do you think Kobe would still be in San Antonio if they’d drafted him out of high school? Yeah right.

Amazingly there is more club loyalty in America, more so than in the European soccer leagues at least. It’s incredibly rare to find a player who spends his entire career with one team over there, unless he’s lucky enough to be with a winner from the get go like Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville with Manchester United.

There aren’t that many Reggie Millers and John Stocktons in Europe, though there are certainly exceptions. Any time a good player follows his team to the lower divisions when they get relegated is commendable, and rare.

So why do I hate Miami and why should the people of southern Florida not be completely happy with the success they’re having? Because some super star players who could’ve gone anywhere decided to team up and make a super power. The big 3 stayed in the East because it was easier than competing with the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks. They went to Miami because it’s a big market and a fun city. Yeah Wade was already there but don’t forget how close he came to leaving that summer!

That amazing team fell into the lap of the city of Miami and they could’ve gone anywhere else. We could all be whining about Sacramento right now if that’s where they decided to go.

I don’t blame the players for doing that. It’s a little unfair, but the league rules allow it to happen. At least we have a salary cap unlike European soccer where billionaires can have 15 high paid players on the side. Then again it’s pointless to have a salary cap when the players agree to work for less just to hoard talent on one bench.

On the flip side, what the Heat are doing  doesn’t always work. The Rockets didn’t win with Barkley. The Lakers didn’t win with Malone and Payton. The Heat are young though. they weren’t thinking of one last run for a title, they were thinking of not four, not five, not six, blah blah blah.

Like I said, I don’t mind the players doing that, what gets on my nerves is the Miami fans who think they deserve all this success. You don’t. You were lucky they picked your city. You should be grateful and not obnoxious. I understand that no true fan will turn their back on their team for doing making some moves you don’t agree with. You stand by your team no matter what. Trust me, my life as a Liverpool fan the last 7 years has been hell because of the moves they make and don’t make. Before then I was proud of everything about that great club.

Lastly, I just don’t like LeBron. It’s not hating great talent. I hate Kobe, but I respect him. I know who he is and what he stands for. He makes a good villain. I love beating him, but I’ll be the first to say he’s the best player in our generation, after Jordan of course.

LeBron just always says exactly the right thing at the right time and his whole life is a cliché. I think he may be a robot. The only time I have heard him say anything that truly expressed something human, was that “not seven titles” debacle. Yeah, that was obnoxious but he has never been more real in his life. I actually don’t mind him doing that at all.

These days, I would love it if showed some emotion, good or bad, at any time in his life. I would love it if he admitted he was overwhelmed, or scared, or not worried about an opponent, or that he hates an opponent. Shaq wasn’t shy about that; Cristiano Ronaldo has enemies.

I’m pretty sure LeBron’s PR person has a bug in his ear at all times. It’s sickening how far away he is from anything controversial now. Tim Duncan may be even further from controversy, but I don’t feel like there’s something weird behind the scenes with Timmy. Anyways…

Some people love dynasties. It makes them feel like everything is right with the world. Thier world makes sense if the Yankees are playing in October and the Lakers are playing in June.

Some people always root for the underdog. I’m definitely an underdog kind of guy but if there is a dominate team out there, I want to be able to like them or hate them for the right reasons. I hate Manchester United, but they run a first class organization and deserve their success. I’d much rather them win the league than a fly-by-night pet project of some Russian billionaire or Sheik. How can you really stand behind a team that you know is successful by chance rather than hard work from everyone in the organization from the top down?

Prepping for The Amazing Race

imagesIt’s always been a dream of mine to be on The Amazing Race. Out of all the reality shows I think that’s the one I could do the best on, and would enjoy the most. I would do it without the million dollar prize. I really could not care less about the money, I just want the experience.

Unknown-9Survivor would be an epic failure as far as reality shows go. Fear Factor just seems pointless. Big Brother even more so, but at least you have a chance to hook up with someone. Plus no one is watching that show in case you have to do something embarrassing. Actually American Gladiators would be alot of fun, if it were still on.

UnknownI’m a great armchair quarterback when watching The Amazing Race at home and of course I always make all the right decisions. Just like watching Wheel of Fortune at home where it’s always your turn and there are never Bankrupts, you have that same luxury with watching Race. You never get the cabbie who needs to stop for gas or ask for directions. You never get on the flight that has to divert to Botswana.

images-4Even when the less-than-ideal situations arise, I think I’d still do alright. I can cope on the fly pretty well and my experience as a flight attendant would certainly help navigating through airports and running around in weird cities.

I would help my cause beforehand for sure. I would do everything possible from the moment I found out I was on the show until we took off to meet Phil. I’m starting a list of just what those things would be.

Let’s say I get 6 weeks to prep before the race starts. Let’s also say that I don’t have to go through the audition process of picking a partner. I’ve been doing that for years. I have a few people who are potentials. Some of the ones I would perform the best with aren’t necessarily the ones I’d want to be with 24/7 for however long the race lasts.

Unknown-4Some of the ones I know I would love spending every second racing alongside aren’t necessarily the ones I’d succeed with in the competition. It’s a fine line and very few people would satisfy the criteria to make the race both fun and lucrative. Selecting your sweetie can be a brilliant or horrible idea.

Unknown-6Ultimately I would pick a partner based on my weaknesses, mainly eating anything gross or in large quantities. Partner must also speak at least one other language fluently. Not German though, I know enough of that to get by. Partner must also have to be able to tolerate me thinking I always know the right way to go. Partner must also hold their tongue when I’m wrong and we end up in a Turkish prison.

TO-DO List

1)  Clear things up with work so it’s not a situation of me having to quit to be on the show. I think that’ll be easy, my airline has had flight attendants on the show before. They didn’t fare too well, but we were proud of them all the same. Redemption!

images-22)  Start running and getting into as good of shape as possible. Take up yoga. Maybe a dance class as well. If I can’t learn rhythm, learn to fake it.

images-33)  Learn to drive stick. I have only done it once and that was for five minutes in driver’s ed. It was in a straight line in the high school football stadium parking lot. Stalling occurred.

Unknown-34)  Get Rosetta Stone for two languages not known by my partner, one being an Asian language. Have partner get the basics of one or two new languages as well, maybe sign language too. This will mainly be done while on the treadmill or on days when I’m too sore to exercise more.  Multitasking will be the key to my training.

5)  Watch every season of The Amazing Race thus far and take meticulous notes on everything imaginable, including: which legs usually have U-turns, Non-eliminations, etc etc. Note, it’s always a good thing if Phil seems extremely sad if he tells a team they’re the last to check in. Nine times out of ten it means you’re still racing, you’re not really the last team, or it’s a non-elimination. Watching all 20+ seasons can also be done while running on treadmill or stationary exercise equipment.

6)  Memorize passport number. Get global entry for when landing back in the USA.

Unknown-57)  Get into the habit of always having a large backpack with me and get to where I can run short and long distances with it on my back. Also get to where I consider the bag as an extension of myself to where I would never leave it on a funicular, gondola, in a taxi, or on the wing of a plane.

8)  Try to learn to eat new foods. Find hypnotist to help in that. Or maybe take one of those sexy classes where they teach you how to really relax your throat muscles and allow things to go in without gagging. There’s always a bingeing challenge.

9)  Get to where I can swim long distances

Unknown-110) Brush up on rock climbing, scuba diving, and canoeing skills. Maybe get somewhat proficient in synchronized swimming and basic gymnastics.

11) Get to where I can run a mile comfortably in snow, sand, and whilst carrying/dragging heavy, cumbersome objects.

Unknown-712) Learn to communicate with animals, especially notoriously stubborn ones

images-113) Get full physical and tune-up from my doctor. Find the line of legal supplements/illegal steroids and don’t cross it.

Unknown-214) Pick out wardrobe. Be prepared for all climates and possible meteorological phenomenon. Shop around for advertising deals from local stores. Let everyone know I can be bought. My team can look like a Nascar vehicle if necessary. I don’t mind having Coke on one sleeve and Pepsi on the other.

Unknown-815) Last but not least is going to couples therapy with my partner. Even if I go with my mom or childhood friend, it wouldn’t hurt to have some sessions with a professional. Maybe we could learn some tricks of the trade to bypass potential fights.

That’s a pretty good start I think. Six weeks of working on those 15 things and I bet I’d be as ready as possible to take on the race of a lifetime. My passport has been needing some new stamps. It’s feeling neglected. Now I just need to get on the damn show and everything will be perfect in my world.

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UAE/Oman Cruise

DSC_0260I like cruises and I like the Middle East but I didn’t know how the two would combine. It didn’t seem like they’d mesh well together, that you should just focus on one or the other.

DSC_0288Well I was wrong to worry. The two complemented each other perfectly. It really was the best of both worlds. Along with good food, easy accommodation, a variety of entertainment, and a good price, we got to see alot of shit as well. There was a tour of the world’s tallest building, gorgeous beaches, dolphins, Omani fiords, camels, coffee with Bedouins, 4x4s over sand dunes, many mosques, and confusing graffiti.

IMG_7618Any time I go on vacation I want to come back with some photos. Even if I have the time of my life on a trip, if I don’t have some quality pics to go along with it, I see it as a bit of a bummer.

DSC_0264It was impossible to leave the Emirates/Oman without great pictures, all you had to do was open your eyes. Even Amanda had some breathtaking pictures, all taken with her phone.

Along with a collection of photos, we had a collection of quotes. I think they work best if you read them completely out of context.

“I’d eat a snake while looking at a snake.”

“I’d rather think about ninjas than Jesus Christ. ”

“I wonder how many times you’re going to bleed on this trip.”

“Beak down, ass up…that’s the way we like to shit.”

“Why do you have to hurt me anytime you want anything?!??”

“I want to know the weight of the Burj Khalifa in Mentos.”
“Or bibles.”

“My shovel was my best friend.”

Waiter – “you want to be sexy all the time?”

“I would mourn your death, we’ve discussed this enough times.”

“I’m on a dhow/you’re going down.”

“If you didn’t want to get yelled at by strangers, you should have just stayed in your sun chair.”

I’m currently pricing Around the World cruises.

DSC_0220It really is a slippery slope though. You take a trip like this and all you can think about is where else in the world you want to hit next. It becomes an obsession. It’s like adrenaline junkies always looking for the next fix. It just keeps getting worse. The more places I go, the more I want to visit. Discovering things like how the Middle East isn’t scary and is completely bad ass doesn’t help matters.

As of now I have big trips I am positive I’ll take as soon as possible, but even if I knock them out as quickly as possible, It’ll take four years to do them all, unless I win the lottery. Southeast Asia, Nepal, Greece/Croatia, China, Machu Picchu, and Antarctica are a few. I think Nepal is the Fall is next.

world-according-to-americansSometimes I think that I’d be better off if I never left my hometown and had no idea how amazing the rest of the world is. It’d certainly save me alot of money if I bought into the propaganda and truly believed that America is the only worthwhile country in the world. That’s what we were taught growing up, maybe they were just trying to save me money.

Penn Station NYC

images-4February 20, 2013…..I love Penn Station. it’s one of the few places in the world where people of different social classes really integrate legitimately and effortlessly.

imagesOriginally built in 1910, Penn Station is the busiest train station in North America. It has twice as many passengers as its sexier neighbor Grand Central Station but everybody knows that Penn Station is where it’s at as far as interactive zoos.

I’m sitting in the back of Charlie’s Philly steak joint by the New Jersey Transit tracks waiting for a train. I sat in the back by the tv and took a look around. To the left of me is a homeless black man sipping on a free water and periodically checking the trash can for his lost “black bag.” He does this for thirty minutes.

images-1Next to him is a well dressed college kid in smart-framed glasses heading back upstate to wherever his campus is. In the corner is a homeless white lady with no teeth and slippers. Behind her is a middle-aged Jewish man in a very expensive pea coat. He’s talking to a potential business partner about how their Photo app is coming along. We’re all sitting here, eating food which I’m sure has been touched my some sort of vermin at some point today, watching SportsCenter.

Unknown-1You’d never see this collection of people sit so comfortably together anywhere else in the world. On the streets, the homeless people would be asking for food or money or, why lie, alcohol. Most of us would probably put on our blinders as we passed by and barely utter, “no, sorry” as we scurry past. I wouldn’t pay attention to the homeless guy, I wouldn’t even notice the business man with his Rolex and fancy cufflinks,not in the real world anyways.

Unknown-2Out in the terminal there are loads of Bridge and Tunnel kids making a jaunt into the city for a bit of fun and mischief. There are also droves of young professionals leaving the city for an excursion back to wherever they came from. All types are heading to the airports and then on to who knows where. Some are coming in for the big Knicks game that’ll start in a couple of hours.

Some practically live in this massive station and will never even have to venture above ground for anything. All of their needs are met underground. They can get any kind of food known to man as well as drinks, clothing, electronics, furniture, books, computers, or whatever else a person could possibly want right here in this station. There’s even a medical facility and police station down here. The people living down here would have no idea it’s freezing outside if the outsiders weren’t descending the stairs or coming off of trains all bundled up.

images-2These people I’m surrounded by have their prejudices and judgements I’m sure, but when you’re crammed into a filthy train station fast food place, everyone puts it on hold and takes a break from all of that. The homeless lady brushes past the Jewish gentlemen and knocks a cap onto the floor. The man apologizes for being in the way (which he wasn’t), smiles, picks it up, and goes back to the conversation. He treated her with complete respect.

I listen just as closely to the Jewish men discussing apps as I do to one of the homeless guys telling the other (obviously on heroin) his predictions for tonight’s college basketball triple header on ESPN. He picks Syracuse to lose, Kansas to win, and then Arizona to win the night-cap, a bold pick since Syracuse is on fire and they’re playing at home. The other guy nods and asks if they’re already up to the Sweet Sixteen. Point of fact, March Madness hasn’t started yet and the Sweet 16 is a month away. Doesn’t matter though, people are bonding over their surroundings and I love it.

images-3I used to think that I could spend a year in one of these train stations if I had to do it. I used to think that about the World Trade Center because not only did they have dozens of food options, they also had a full on mall down there. Then 9-11 happened and it wasn’t as much to think about being trapped under the World Trade Center anymore. Though in the days after the attacks I did cling to the hopes that some of the people trapped in the rubble might be able to somehow get to some food or water just because of how much of it was down there. In the end I doubt that made any difference at all but it gave some of us hope.

images-5As good as the WTC complex would’ve been for living underground, Penn Station in NYC is infinitely better. There’s an entire KMart in here! I showed up too early for my train so I happily spent the time walking around the store. I ended up buying discounted Valentine’s and a Just Dance game for my friend I’m visiting in New Jersey. his birthday is in a few days. I tried to get him an ironic Tim Tebow or Justin Bieber poster but they were sold out of both. Instead I got a supplemental gift of Children of the Corn 4 on DVD. Like I said, you can get anything underground.

Unknown-3I love the variety. I love how the place is a massive Benetton ad but not just with skin color. Some of the most destitute human beings I’ve ever seen are in this back room along side multi-millionaires and it’s like this all the time, every day. True, the rich are usually just here for an hour before their trains to Westchester or Long Island come rolling in, but it’s a major part of their lives, just as it is for the smelly junkies, rabid Rangers and Knicks super fans, and orange Jersey teenie-boppers. What else are all these people going to have in common other than Penn Station?

I could people watch here for hours. I’m shocked that no one has done a documentary on this place, there is a wealth of material.

images-6The best thing I saw was a black guy around my age with his little four-year old daughter. She saw some on duty cops and ran over to them to say Hi and get a free sticker. The dad did not approve and gave the cops the eye. She didn’t care though, she acted like she was talking to two Princes. As he dragged her away she screamed back, “Thank you policemen, have a good day!” The cops, two white guys of Irish descent, were visibly touched and blew her kisses. I don’t know what it is, but this crowded, dirty, smelly, dilapidated train station seems to bring out the best in people.

If you ever have a few hours to kill in New York City and want to examine the human experience in all of its forms and socio-economic conditions, go to Penn Station, take a stroll from one side to the other, and prepare for your education.

Straight Guy Lesson #24- What to do with a Ghost Room

imagesI’m sitting alone (sort of) in room 516 of the Arora Hotel in Manchester, not sure what to do next. It’s that awkward silence between two people you may have experienced when you were in high school and just experienced premature ejaculation. Or if you were in your upper 30s and experienced premature ejaculation. Either way, not good.

I’ve spent most of my layover in this room. This trip is sandwiched between two Caribbean/Central American trips that are and will be again, pretty draining, especially because the crew meets up every night on the trip to drink until at least 3am. Sometimes the night ends falling asleep in sandy beds in Mexico, sometimes with me accidentally entering Jose’s room in Caracas because the front desk guy swears that I don’t know what room I’m in. Sometimes it ends up with me peeing in the bidet because of lack of concentration. Actually those were all in one trip.

So on this layover I decided to take it easy. No jaunting off to Liverpool to visit my friends. No taking a train to Wales just to say I’ve been to Wales. I hooked up my iPad to the tv and have been watching Netflix while playing Words with Friends and watching status updates fly by on Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised with Hostel 3, it wasn’t bad at all. I wish I had someone to discuss it with.

I finally turned off the tv at midnight even though I knew I wasn’t tired at all. I just couldn’t watch another episode of Portlandia or Sunny. I got out a book and threw down all the pillows onto the bed to give myself a comfortable place to read.

Before I even cracked the book open, the television went back on. I instinctively checked to make sure I wasn’t lying on the remote but it was still on the nightstand. It took about seven seconds for me to remember the haunted hotel conversation I had a couple of months ago with my crew leaving this same hotel. I couldn’t remember if this hotel was one of the haunted ones or not, but I’m thinking that maybe it was.

I’m not afraid of ghosts and I’m not entirely sure they exist, but I would never say that they definitely don’t exist. I looked around the room and turned the tv back off. I opened the book and then thought better of it. I looked over at the tv and said aloud, “We can watch television if you want to, just let me know.”

I half expected it to go back on but, of course, it didn’t. I read the introduction to the book, which it seems will be about a travel writer who’s sick and tired about writing about what his publishers want him to write about, so he wrote this book to tell his best tales.

I had to reread almost every sentence though. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking about the television and why a ghost would want to watch it. Is he bored? (I assumed it was a boy ghost but I didn’t degrade him by calling him Casper) Is there something on that he wants me to see? Will this change my life? Will it be for the better? Will this get him out of this weird place between worlds?

I’m usually very aware of weird occurences like this and if I feel like there’s something to discover, I’ll try to figure it out. On the surface weirder things have happened to me and I haven’t batted an eye. It really doesn’t matter what exactly happened, it’s all about the feeling you get that you need to pay attention to. My spidey-sense was tingling and I really felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. But what?

Try as I did to continue reading, something wouldn’t let me let it go. I felt like I had just gone silent in the middle of a conversation with a friend. He wouldn’t be offended if I went quiet but it certainly wasn’t polite or what he wanted.

I put the book away, sat up in bed and said again, “I really don’t mind watching the tv if you want. Pick something.”

Of course nothing happened. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I was planning on trying to sleep.

While I was brushing I heard voices. It didn’t take me long to realize that the bathroom speaker was sending out sounds. I had been listening to music through this speaker earlier in the night when I had my shower. I had it up pretty loud. Whatever is playing on the television can be heard through that speaker in the bathroom. Because my iPad was hooked up to the tv, I was playing my music on my iPad via the tv and through the speaker in the bathroom. I love technology.

My iPad was put away. This was just the tv. It was a US crime drama. It still is a US crime drama. I think Law and Order. DUN DUN!

So this is where I’m at right now. I really do think there’s a ghost in this room and for some reason it wants me/us to watch television. I don’t know what to do at all. I feel like I’m betraying it right now by ignoring the tv and typing away on my iPad that I had to take back out of my backpack.

I’m not as freaked out as I thought I’d be, it just seems really surreal. I just don’t know the etiquette here. Am I supposed to just watch the show? Can I change the channel? Do I need to make comments? When this episode is over can I turn off the tv? Will the ghost turn it off when he’s had his fill? I really don’t want to piss him off but at some point I do need to get some sleep.

I understand that I not once, but twice vocalized that it was ok for us to watch tv so I guess I brought this upon myself. I hope it’s at least refreshing for the ghost to have me be accommodating and not freaking out and screaming like most people would. That would hurt my feelings if I were a ghost. I don’t want to make him angry or depressed. Then again, I don’t want him to think I’m his new BFF and that we can do this every time I’m in Manchester. I hope this is a one-night-stand.

An excerpt from “Straight Guy goes to Amsterdam”

imagesI’m currently working on a couple of short stories, maybe around 75 pages each. They are about trips to Amsterdam and Australia. For the most part it’s straight out of my diary, but I’ve had to change some things here and there in order for my friends to continue being my friends. I hope to do a series of these books which will be just as much traveling guidebooks as journal entries.

The Australia one is almost ready to go, but the Amsterdam one is in its early stages. I’ve been going over hundreds of pages of journals from my six visits to Holland in the last thirteen years. I’m cutting and pasting the interesting parts and trying to put it into a single story. Yeah, it’ll probably seem a bit unrealistic that all of these things happened in one trip but hey, the events really happened for the most part.

Unknown-4Here is an excerpt from one of the best days of my life that started off incredibly shitty. I was in Amsterdam for my old college roommate’s wedding. I woke up at my hostel, hungover after the reception the night before at the famous Hotel Pulitzer…

images-7“Word at the Pulitzer Hotel reception desk was that the Ajax soccer game started at 1pm on Sunday.  Word from the concierge was 2:30pm. No one seemed to know anything. If you ask anyone in Texas when the Cowboys are kicking off they can tell you before you finish asking the question and will judge you for not knowing, even if they hate the Cowboys. And I say that making fun of the Dutch, not Texans. There’s a reason why the most popular churches in Texas are the ones where the pastor/reverend/bishop/whatever lets the congregation out ten minutes early in order to make it home for kick off.

As I have every morning on this Holland adventure, I woke up early and walked around for a couple of hours, and again, you couldn’t ask for better weather.  I was half looking for that perfect photo and half looking for an ATM that will take my card.  One out of ten will take my Capital One credit card, but that’s maxed out now anyways.

Unknown-6My card from the airline credit union is what I need to work immediately if not sooner.  It’s frustrating because I have the funds in my account, I just can’t access them. I need to pay nearly 150 Euros for the hostel by the time I check out tomorrow morning (Sunday) and I simply don’t have it and can’t get it until I call them on Monday morning and have them remove the bar from my card. For some reason they think my debit card is stolen because I tried to use it in Holland. Airline credit union cards should NEVER have international bars on their cards. We’re flight attendants!! Of course we’re going to have charges in Brazil one day and Amsterdam four days later!

I’m down to 32 Euros in cash and the Ajax game will take up at least 20 not to mention 3 for the train to get there and back.

images-8I haven’t been able to call my credit union since it’s the weekend and it still won’t be open when I check out from the hostel tomorrow morning at 7am (midnight New York time).  Since it’s my last day here I need to smoke as much of the weed as possible and I have been.  That’s probably why I’m not taking this out-of-money situation as seriously as I should.

I get in from my morning walk and get the last scraps of the free breakfast before going upstairs and falling asleep until noon, the meeting time with Jim, Molly, and Becks, childhood friends of the groom from back in Dallas. We meet up and find out the game is indeed at 2:30pm so we decide to re-meet up in an hour at 1:30pm.

Unknown-8The last four days I’ve just blindly hoped I’d find a way to get money, but now I have to be realistic.  Perhaps the credit union has an emergency number, if not maybe Capital One can just raise my limit in these special circumstances.  They seem so helpful in their commercials, “when other credit card companies say ‘no’, Capital One says ‘Yes!’” I’m going to put that to the test if I can figure out how to call America.

Unknown-2I walk over to Leidseplein to a financial service center I spotted earlier. They looked eager to please. I go up to the lady and explain my situation.  She thinks and then says I can get a cash advance on any Visa.  Sweet.  I say Yes and then she says I need to give her my passport and we’ll be in business.  This is when the chaos starts. The next two hours should be my video application to Amazing Race.

Unknown-7I have just 35 minutes before I meet the gang at the hotel so I take off toward the hotel clear across town to get the passport.  I run up to my room and while I’m digging through my bags the cleaning lady comes in.  I tell her I don’t need anything and keep throwing all the contents of my backpack around the small room.  She says she’ll just take out my rubbish and I nod while I recheck my jeans pockets.  As she’s grabbing the clear plastic sack I realize with embarrassment the only items in there are two condom wrappers, two used condoms, and Ingrid’s ripped pantyhose.  Fuck it, she’s seen worse.

images-2I realize the front desk has my passport so I run down, grab that, and sprint back over to Leidseplein, pausing every other block to rest.  Somewhere along the way I sprain my ankle so I start to run gimpy, like a hunchback really.

When I get there I go back to the same girl and give her my cards and passport.  She asks how much I need and I figure 400 will easily get me through one more day in Holland plus five in Graz, Austria.  She tries the first card and says she’s not getting authorization. That’s the problem I was having. That’s what I wanted her to fix. I thought she was supposed to be able to side step that or at least get into contact with my credit union. Damn.

images-6It’s not going to happen.  I sigh and slide the maxed out Visa over to her, knowing what the outcome will be.  After she tells me what I already know, I quickly hobble back over to the hotel to meet the gang.  I’m late getting there but they’re even later because Jim and Molly are in some comic book/gaming store for half an hour.

images-1In the meantime I managed to exchange my last few American dollars and every other type of currency I could find in my suitcase. I had Pesos, Reais, Kroner, and things that are no longer used. I took the four coins I received and bought a calling card.  If I could have found a phone I would have been in business, but no such luck.  All of a sudden all the pay phones have disappeared. No calling the credit union and no calling Capital One. Damn.

Our walk to Central Station is quick and silent.  I continually scan for phones but don’t see a single one. The April sun is out and there is hardly a cloud in the sky.  If it weren’t for these money concerns, I’d be the happiest person in the world right now.

It’s 2pm when we get to the ticket counter at the train station so we should get there just in time for kick off.  The lady tells us track 7B in three minutes so off we go to 7B.  We get to the train and Molly double checks with a passenger on where the train is heading.  She nods and we jump on.

Twenty-five minutes later we jump off and get on a train going the other way.

Twenty-five more minutes and we’re back at Central Station getting on the correct train.

UnknownWe get to the stadium at half time and find out the game is sold out.  We ask about the scalper situation and the ticket-taker looks offended. He indignantly says they don’t have those in Holland. We roll our eyes and tell him to cut the charade and just tell us where the seedy types hang out with extra tickets for an exorbitant price. He again insists there is no such thing in Holland. After Molly gets tough with him, he admits that the criminal element known as “scalpers” do exist but we’re too late, they’ve all gone home. He practically broke down in tears when he admitted the truth. So weird. And such an easy man to break!

Unknown-9We’re not yet defeated though.  Americans know there’s always a way in, you just might have to pay a lot or risk getting arrested.  That’s what makes America a world power. We don’t give up, even when everyone is begging us to just leave it alone.

We walk around the entire stadium and there isn’t a single scalper in sight, which isn’t surprising since it’s already halftime.  We ask a couple of the younger ushers if they can sneak us in, but no. I think I offered them the rest of my pot and the promise of American stewardesses. They blushed, but we remained unsatisfied.

We think about asking some of these families with small children leaving the venue if we can have their tickets, but don’t act on it. For some reason that seemed like crossing the line. Even eternally-hopeful Jim is losing hope at this point.  We’ve resigned to the fact that we may have to settle for a cheap souvenir from the club store. That would be the most hated souvenir ever purchased and I knew that immediately. It’d be a sign of failure to the highest degree.

images-9We’re on the far, remote, side of the stadium, furthest away from the main street and train station.  Nobody is around us except for a young couple making out in the employee parking lot.  They stop kissing when we pass and I ask them if they have tickets to spare. They were very polite in saying No.

The exact recount on what happened next is already debatable and I suppose it always will be.  From what I remember it was Molly who noticed this single metal door slowly closing about fifteen meters from us.  She’s the one I heard yell, “Get it!”  Becks, I believe, is the one that ran over and caught the heavy door, smashing her fingers in the process.  Whatever the sequence and whoever did what, I don’t care; we had a chance!

images-3It looked like an ordinary parking garage stairwell and I figured it’d take us to all the cars parked right above us.  Nevertheless we all crept in and started heading up.  We could hear voices above us but it sounded like they were heading up as well.  I was shaking, I didn’t know what level of trespassing this entailed or what the penalty would be. If you can get stoned from spitting out your gum in some parts of the world, surely the death penalty was a viable punishment for trespassing in the sacred Ajax stadium.

Up and up we tiptoed, all heads staring up the stairs as they curved around.  We went up about five stories, always hearing the voices ahead of us, but never seeing whom they belonged to.  Finally we hear a door shut and the voices stop. I can see the next level is the top one so whatever is going to happen to us is going to happen right now.

The time for creeping is over; we now need to look like we know what we’re doing.  Once at the top we come to two metal doors.  We put our ears up to them and hear a lot of noise.  That’s a good sign.  I tell everyone that we’re going to open the door and walk in quickly and quietly and nobody act like we’re doing anything wrong.  If someone sees us come in they may let us go if we’re nonchalant about it.  None of this cracking the door and peering in bullshit.

images-4We take a deep breath and calmly push open the doors like four little Fonzies.  They open up to a roar of sound and many concession stands.  Without hesitation we get into a line and reassess our situation.  It looks like we made it in but there’s still the matter of getting past the ushers and into some seats.

I make a recon mission and decide we should try to enter near the corner of the field where there’d more likely be empty seats.  I’m not sure why I think that, but I do and no one disagrees.  To get past the ushers we need to just have our hands full of food and drink so they won’t ask to see our tickets.  At this stage of the game they are less likely to check stubs, but its better to be safe than sorry.  We should just breeze by the ushers and pick a direction right or left to go and then head up into the stands.

Left feels lucky so we head up before we even have time to think about it.  We walk right past the ushers who don’t even give us a look and then I turn to face the stands.  At first I look at the back row but that’s full.  The last few rows are all completely packed.  Without even stuttering I keep slowly heading up and then I see the row right in front of me has four open seats, but one has a jacket on it.  Chances are slim that they’re vacant but we have to try. I can easily see this turning into an international incident.

images-5As we scoot by everyone I check for looks of disapproval or confusion from anyone on either side of the vacant seats.  No one bats an eye.  Even the fourth seat with the jacket on it wasn’t a problem.  The owner grabbed it before we even asked him if the seat was open.  We took “our seats”, looked around, waited for harsh words in Dutch, and finally exhaled when none came.

Then we just kicked back, had a toast, and watched the second half of the game, which was still scoreless when we got in.  Everyone around us knew that we didn’t belong in those seats but nobody said a word.

Unknown-1We purposely went for a section right by a goal and luckily we selected the one Ajax was attacking.  We saw two goals go in but both were ruled offsides and rightfully so, despite what the home crowd thought.

In the 86th minute the sub Anastasiou had a beautiful header go into the corner of the goal to win it for mighty Ajax.  It was the perfect blag, though we never actually had to blag, we just snuck in.  Though the fries and beer set me back 5 Euros, I still had 24 left. We did the Dutch equivalent of sneaking into Yankee Stadium or the Staples Center for a big game.

Unknown-5We argued who would get to the honor of telling the story to Samuel The Groom. He’ll be so jealous. I bet he would’ve rather been with us on this adventure than alone in a fancy hotel room with his beautiful bride.

The perfect day ended with a kick ass Mexican meal, the use of a phone to call the States, $300 worth of emergency money from Capital One, and drinks at the Pulitzer bar with our soccer crew, the bride, and the groom.  We even got in a pretty good game of hacky sack in front of the Anne Frank house, out of respect of course.

Unknown-3I will never make fun of a Capital One commercial again, they really saved my ass and kept me from asking the Groom for money the day he was set to leave for his honeymoon. Thank Christ it didn’t come to that.