23 December 2012
Truth be known, I had been holding off making resolutions for 2013 in anticipation of the planet (ours - this one) exploding in a fireball and/or the poles shifting and everyone being crushed/drowned by the resultant earthquakes/tsunamis. Of course it is now no secret that we were all disappointed. And thus, slightly later in the month than I would have liked but none the worse for it, I present My New Year Resolutions:
1. I will update this blog more. It had seemed pointless what with the impending Doomsday and all, but now suddenly it's got potential "legs" again.
2. I will drink more water, but not before extended car journeys.
3. I will stop thinking of repeated trips to the kitchen as "exercise".
4. I will stop being annoyed when people insist on speaking Dutch to me. It's important for me to remember that here in Belgium they've been speaking Dutch for many years and habits like that are hard to break. I shall give them time.
5. I shall attempt to be more tolerant toward women who insist on wearing flowers in their hair. Even though this (along with my hatred of flying and hot weather) is the reason I have never visited Hawaii, I need to accept the fact that this practice does not necessarily inspire the same gag reflex in everyone as it does in me. These women mean no harm and are blithely unaware of how retarded they look. I shall strive to find it whimsical.
6. When I meet new people, I will try to think of at least one nice thing about them, rather than just obsessing over their creepy qualities.
7. I will try not to think of a lack of cats as a character flaw in people.
8. I will try to remember that a "conversation" means letting the other person talk sometimes too (*sigh*).
9. The next time I feel compelled to remember that old rule Coco Chanel had about removing one piece of jewellery before you leave the house, I shall remind myself that she also designed uniforms for the Nazis.
10. I will not ask anyone's opinion about anything until I am 100% certain that they agree with me.
31 October 2012
Halloween is a quintessentially American holiday. Growing up in America, you are led to believe that it goes back to Ancient Times back in Deepest Darkest England when there were witches and wizards and hobbits everywhere and no one had anything better to do with their time than dress up in scary outfits and ring each other’s door bells. Not so, apparently.
Halloween started off, as many holidays did, by being a ruse for the Catholic Church to win the hearts and minds of Pagan people (through torture, coercion and force) by hijacking their existing holiday, Samhain. Samhain, (mysteriously pronounced ”Sew’en”), was a traditional time at the end of the harvest where it was thought the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead were at their thinnest, and people would chuck bones into fires and dance about in funny outfits to scare away dead people who were determined to ruin their crops. Then the Catholic Church decided to ruin everyone’s fun by declaring the very next day to be, All Hallows Day (a.k.a. “All Saint’s Day”) so everyone could “celebrate” it by kneeling for hours in a cold church thinking about dead people who’d been turned into statues instead. Then somehow in America all of this got processed and repackaged into “Halloween”, a holiday where kids wear costumes and threaten their neighbors until they are given sugar products.
When I was 10, I moved to the UK from America and was shocked to find that they had no concept of Halloween there. They had heard of it in American films and whatnot, but no one had, as yet, taken the leap and started participating in it. I bear the proud distinction of having been at the helm of one of the earliest Trick or Treating expeditions staged in London in the last century. Under my tutelage, my friends and I set about ringing doorbells and annoying people with our Dada-esque onslaught. Lots of bewildered people got “tricks” of a colored flour and water mixture smeared on their doors because they hadn’t come forward with the “treats”. Now 30 years later, the Brits act as if they’ve always had Halloween, but I know different.
Being Brits, they are less enthused with the doorbell ringing, and a lot more delighted with the violent aspects of the holiday, and of course the rest of it has been adopted as yet another reason to get stinking drunk whilst wearing something odd.
But Belgium? They’re all confused about it. As far as I can tell, unless someone either has kids or is a kid here, they don’t really know or care about Halloween. And yet the odd group of erstwhile Trick or Treaters have been seen in our neighborhood.
One group showed up on our street in 2006 and last year I thought I heard some of them on the other side of the park. They are very bizarre, even more so because of their scarcity. Should we be ready with “Fun Size” chocolates on the .003% chance that they show up here demanding something? I imagine most of their evening consists of conversations like this:
THE DOORBELL RINGS. AN UNSUSPECTING NEIGHBOR OPENS THE DOOR TO SEE A SMALL GROUP OF CHILDREN AND PRE-TEENS WHO LOOK AS IF THEY’VE JUST COME FROM ART CLASS.
NEIGHBOR: Yes, can I help you?
KIDS: Trick or treat!!
KIDS: Trick or treat!
NEIGHBOR: I don’t understand. Are you selling cookies?
KID: No, you’re supposed to give us sweets!
NEIGHBOR: Why am I supposed to give you sweets?
KID: Because we rang your doorbell and we shouted “Trick or Treat” and we’re wearing costumes.
NEIGHBOR: If you want sweets why don’t you go to a shop?
KID: You’re supposed to give it to us!
NEIGHBOR: Who told you this?
NEIGHBOR: I think you are very rude little children.
KID: If you don’t give us sweets, we will play a trick on you.
NEIGHBOR: What trick?
THE KIDS LOOK AT EACH OTHER, REALIZING THEY’VE NEVER SEEN THAT PART PLAYED OUT IN FILMS.
NEIGHBOR: I think you’ve already played a trick by ringing my doorbell and annoying me, eh?
KIDS: We’re just trying to act like Americans.
NEIGHBOR: Well you’ve succeeded in that. If you have some political statement to make, please do it somewhere else. We are decent people here.
KIDS: OK. Sorry.
NEIGHBOR: That’s OK. Just don’t come back.
25 September 2012
Less noteworthy than accounts by your Anne Franks at al, are the stories of those people who were successful at going into hiding during WWII. Here, presented in anonymity and in its 100% unauthenticated version, are excerpts from one such publication:
September 19th, 1941
Today we went into hiding. We are in an attic above a
bra shop on Kaiserstraat. Oh. Maybe I shouldn't be
writing the location down. Oh, ha ha. I've just
realized that anyone finding this diary and reading
the location would have already deported us to Poland.
So the joke's on them, really.
October 4th, 1941
Still in hiding.
November 11th 1941
Still here. I'm really bored. Surely this can't last
too much longer.
December 23rd, 1941
Bit of excitement today. Thought we heard the Gestapo
running up the stairs but it was only Uncle Moishe
farting in his sleep.
February 2nd, 1942
Still here. No one remembered to bring toenail
June 12th, 1942
August 8th, 1943
December 1st, 1943
Still here. I'm running out of paper. Must now write
smaller if diary to be kept every day.
May 17th, 1944
Still here. still here. stillhererererere. Izaak says
it could be worse, but you should see me. "Pale" does
not even begin to describe.
January 5th, 1945
Still here. This morning I woke up in a panic: How
will we know when the War is over? But Izaak reassured
me that we'll put two and two together when the
Reinhold family stops bringing us sandwiches.
June 20th, 1945
The War is over. Apparently it's been over for a few
weeks, but Mrs. Reinhold had a lot of extra cheese slices
she didn't want going to waste. Very curious to find out
what's been going on outside since we've been here.
12 July 2012
1. "Awesome" - I've hated this since its' introduction into the vernacular ca. 2002, and I am very proud to say that I have never and will never use it in a sentence. Enough is enough, people. It needs to go.
2. "Trending" - What? I should like it because lots of other people are looking at it? What am I? A trained seal?
3. "Cosplay" - can't you just wear a costume without making it sound so creepy?
4. All the "trends" on Twitter. I realize this isn't a word per se, but I hate it and all who adhere to it, nonetheless. While we're at it, I also hate Twitter.
5. "Lady Gaga" - I realize this isn't a word per se but instead a soulless pop singer who sounds like what happens when your CD skips and you're too drunk to get up and change it, but I hate her nonetheless.
6. "Aubergine" a.k.a. "Eggplant". - I realize this is not only a word but also a squooshy malformed vegetable, but I hate it nonetheless. I wish people would stop feeling the need to feed it to me just because I'm a vegan.
7. "RIP____________" - I realize this is not a word per se, but an abbreviation followed by the Dead Celebrity Du Jour on Facebook/Twitter, but I hate it nonetheless. Unless you were a gushing fan of "___________" before his/her demise, please stop acting as if your world has ended because of the "loss".
8. "Curvy" when what you mean is "fat". Just say, "fat". Those aren't curves keeping me from fitting into my skinny jeans.
9. The Dutch "sch" blend at the beginning of a word. I can't pronounce it, never will, and therefore I refuse to ever say any word that employs it. I realize this is not a word per se, but an annoying unnecessary sound that you can't say without spitting, but I hate it nonetheless.
10. When people say "just can't" when they should say, "can't just". For instance, "You just can't barge in here like that"....No, no, no, it should be, "You CAN'T JUST barge in here like that". Why? Do I really need to explain this? And do I really need to explain it to JOURNALISTS who seem to do it all the time?.....I realize this is not a word per se, but an oft repeated mistake that makes me cringe, but I hate it nonetheless.
11. "I could care less". No, no, no, it's, "I COULDN'T care less". If you COULD care less, then you wouldn't be caring the absolute least amount, hence rendering the expression impotent. I realize this isn't a word per say, but yet another mis-ordering of words that makes people think I'M the one with the problem when I point it out, but I hate it nonetheless.
"Epic" (Thank you, Dean Bord). "Epic" is the fast-rising ugly twin of "Awesome", methinks.
"Vagina" - not as a word per se, but in the fact that you quite literally can't look at any comedy tape or sitcom coming out of America in the past few years without them saying this word AT LEAST once as if it's the funniest thing anyone ever said. In fact, I'm not sure which I hate the most: the certainty that the word will be used, or the self-satisfied smirk on the person who said it as if they've just said something incredibly edgy and original. Ugh.
OK. My work here is done.
23 November 2011
Back where I come from in The Old Country (a.k.a. the US), when you order a pizza, it is delivered to you all nicely cut into individual slices for your convenience. It is all ready for you to eat as quickly as possible. You don't even need plates, you certainly don't need silverware, and as long as you've got a few extra T-shirts handy, the scant paper napkins that get delivered with it are good enough as well. You could actually live your entire life, if you were so inclined, without any dishes or cooking utensils at all, as long as you didn't mind pizza every day at every meal.
Not so in Belgium. In Belgium, even the most dedicated delivery order enthusiast must have at least one item in their kitchen: A pizza cutter. Because pizza delivery places in Belgium don't cut the pizza into slices for you.
"What? What?!" I can hear Americans screaming, "What kind of twisted Medieval fiends are these?"
It's totally insane, but it's true. If you live in Belgium and you don't have your own pizza cutter, you are forced to eat pizza either by tearing pieces of it off with your hands like a Neanderthal, or with a knife and a fork like a freak.
"But why can't they -- wouldn't it be easier if -- why don't they just --?" - Again, I know, I know, I know.
The best I can figure is that the Pizza Cutter industry has Europe by the throat. After all, how are they going to sell more of their sinister little circular knives? By selling them to pizza delivery places, or by selling them to the customers of pizza delivery places? ...Capiche?
There's a Pizza Cutter Mafia, and no one's talking about it.
The few times that I've asked the guy on the phone if they could please cut the pizza into slices, I could have sworn I heard fear in his voice and someone in the background saying, "Don't let Luigi find out about this".
But you didn't hear this here.
21 November 2011
I have noticed an increase in the number of creepy people lately. At first, I thought I might be imagining it - I have been known to let my imagination run away with me when I've been watching too many conspiracy videos on YouTube and imagine armies of Zombies/Space Aliens/Terrorists/The Ruling Elite around every corner - but now it's just been happening too often to blame on the paranoia of an obsessive insomniac.
It's important to note that being a stand up comedian, I keep the same hours as Creepy People; and being a stand up comedian who often drives home late at night from gigs in nearby countries, I tend to end up at their hang-out spots: namely those open all night roadside gas station/convenience stores.
These places, as best as I can tell, are social clubs for the shockingly weird and the potentially criminally insane. Sometimes when I pull into these places at 2:00 in the morning and see these freaks, I wonder where they hang out during daylight hours, or indeed if they even exist in daylight hours. I swear I never see such lumpy, perspiring just-crawled-out-of-the-grave looking weirdness in the middle of the afternoon.
In the past they always seemed to keep to themselves, accepting (I assumed), that being Weird they shouldn't attempt to mingle with the Un-Weird. But lately I've noticed more of them. And I've noticed them focusing on me a lot. I've been followed into the ladies room by the female ones who loiter by the sinks as if in a quandary as to whether they should mug me or not - like the Zombies and Wraiths in horror films, they are dealt with easily enough by staring them down with Devil Eyes, or shocking them with a loud hiss (thank you, house cats)- but it is still disturbing that they are aware of me at all. I used to swear they lived in a misty parallel world where I could see them, but they couldn't see me.
So, being me, this has lead me to some uneasy self-examination. Is there some vibe I'm giving off that makes them think they can mess with me? Are there just more of them and they're taking over the world and messing with everyone? Or - worse yet - do they think I'm one of them??!!
Oh Dear God, could it be that?
Lately I've dyed my hair jet black, and when I come into contact with them, I am several hours post-gig, usually dressed in dark colors and with eye-makeup that is ghoulishly heading south. I am - if I'm being honest - pretty scary looking myself. Could they think that I'm the sort of healthier un crack damaged version of them whom they must threaten in order to establish their territory? Perhaps they think I am their Queen?
Or is it possible that I, too, am creepy? No, no, no. Surely I would know, wouldn't I? Surely if I were truly One Of Them I would skip the gigs altogether and follow an instinctual urge to stand in shadows in those places, looking at my feet with my hands in my pockets?
I mean they know, right? They know they're creepy. At some point it must have occurred to them - even if just on a subconscious level - that they weren't quite like the rest of humanity and that they belonged (if anywhere) at these late night truck stops? And I would know (Right? Right?) if I were one of them?
Oh for crying out loud.
Just to establish boundaries, the next time I'm in one of those places I'm going to shout at the top of my lungs, "I'm only here because I have the bladder of a sparrow, so back off!"
Oh, that'll show 'em.
03 November 2011
So I was awakened at the crack of dawn today with that same incomprehensible fervor I remember from camping trips as a child: "Hurry! It's almost daylight! We've got to GO!"; only this time I wasn't being jostled into the back of a car and being wedged between a cooler and a 4-man tent, this time I was being forced out of slumber by one of the most frightening phenomenons of nature: A Belgian on the quest for a rare Trappist beer.
Because, as it was explained to me while we sped through traffic on our journey to one of the chosen outlets, this beer, Westvleteren XII, is extremely rare. It's brewed by monks only in this one particular abbey in West Flanders, where they make it according to centuries long tradition solely for their own use. The monks have a secret process by which they make it, which I'm guessing involves trampling it with their tiny monk feet in huge oaken vats decorated with Masonic symbols, while the elder monks alternately whip them and chant encouragement.
The very small excess amount the monks make each year is sold only on a certain day and you have to know someone connected with the abbey, be able to perform a secret handshake, recite a magic password, and be able to hold your hand over an open flame without flinching to be allowed to purchase it. And of course, in addition to being near impossible to get, it has also been rated several times as THE BEST BEER IN THE WORLD.
So now these monks need to do repairs on their abbey, and to raise the money needed they've brewed exactly the amount of beer they'll need to sell to complete the task, had it packaged (through donations) in 6-packs that look like abbey bricks (cute, huh?), and set up a one-day-only deal with a newspaper and a chain of shops. First you had to clip a special coupon from the paper, then you had to show up at one of these shops (Colruyt) today, with your coupon, and then you were only allowed to purchase one 6-pack per person...so you see why, of course, I had to be present as well. Had I been conjoined twins I would have been even more useful.
Our local Colruyt opened at 8:30, and when we got there at 8:34 it was already a mob scene. Parking was impossible to find, so I was sent running into the shop, clutching our coupons. I had to dodge under, over and around a sea of shopping carts and finally got to the first palette of beers just as the stack was depleted. There were already people standing in line waiting to pay for their beers. 8:34. 4 minutes after the store had opened. Incredible.
By the time Mr. Jovanka was able to find parking and get inside, he was trapped behind the barricade of shopping carts, and I could see panic in his eyes. But as they brought out the second palette, I was on the case. Using my newly toned yoga arms I was able to get not just one, but both cases and carry them back to the safety of our shopping cart. It's possible some old people may have been trampled in the process, but I wasn't looking back. We'd won.
Within minutes, the precious beers were purchased and safely nestled in our car.
Each 6 pack was nicely arranged with two official Westvleteren XII glasses, because as everyone knows, Belgians can only drink beer out of a glass that says the name of that beer on it. Including 2 glasses was a kindness on the part of the monks. Had they been stingy and provided only 1 glass, it would have meant that Belgians would have had to take turns drinking their beer: one Belgian sipping while the other looked on in envy.
By the way, the "XII" stands for 12% alcohol. Because Belgian monks don't mess around, baby.