Archive for May, 2010
Went out to a comedy club called Yuk Yuk’s last night, to see the wonderful Marc Maron. Funny man. Drank beer, got hungry, thus, had some poutine on the way home. For those of you who’ve not seen poutine before, I thought I’d take a photo for you.
The box is about 4 x 4 inches, and about 2 inches deep, packed full of chips covered in beef gravy and cheese curds. I really have no idea what a cheese curd actually is, but it kinda tastes like a more cheddar-y, squeakier version of mozzarella. It’s really really tasty, very filling, and apparently my local place, Smoke’s Poutinerie is one of the good places to buy it. As comfort food goes, I’m fairly sure this is pretty close to the top of the heap.
Last night, I made a wonderful sandwich. So wonderful, in fact, that I made it again for lunch. Some of you are going to find this a disgusting idea, but, y’know, some of you might be salivating thinking about. First, you take the bread. Then put peanut butter on one slice, and strawberry jam on the other slice.
You’ve pretty much got a PB & J going on there. But then, you make it a PB & J & J by adding… jalapeño.
Slap ’em together, and get eatin’.
Burp. Clean plate.
I know what you’re thinking: I am as good a chef as Gordon Ramsay. Seriously, it may sound disgusting to add jalapeño, but it’s really nice having something hot in there combined with the nutty and fruity flavours.
I just Googled “PB & J jalapeño” and found this place in Seattle called The Shelter Lounge that serves – my oh my – PB & J jalapeño poppers. Drool. I wish I’d know about this place when I was there last year.
I like Douglas Coupland. I like most of his books, he seems like an incredibly interesting fellow, and I think he comes across as a nice guy. So when I arrived in Toronto, one of things I wanted to see the most was Toronto Park, a park that he recently designed that opened in September last year. Before I got there, though, and just a five minute walk away, there’s a Coupland sculpture, “Monument to the War of 1812.” I know nothing about the War of 1812, but apparently the Brits won. So, y’know, yay! Here’s the Wikipedia article about that war, should you give a monkeys.
The first thing I noticed about Toronto Park was the canoe. You can see the canoe on top of a raised bit of land from the big road that runs along one side of the park.
These things are pretty, too. I assume they are fishing floats. Or maybe I’m wrong. I dunno…
But the best and most interesting thing about the park is the route around the edge with big pictures and plaques all about
After getting up early, doing some work on my book, going downtown to do some research, I felt justified in having a few afternoon beers. So that’s what I did. And I drew the Toronto Blue Jays’ stadium, Skydome, from memory while I was at it. There’s a couple of errors and omissions, but not bad considering.
So, Toronto. Getting here began by dragging a rucksack, backpack, and big-ass suitcase from Barnet (at the northern edge of London), to Gatwick airport (south of London). A fairly harmless journey apart from the bit where I had to change from the Northern Line to the Victoria Line on the Tube. Trains came and went and were uniformly packed full of people. People who were waiting to get on the trains avoided my gaze; the gaze that was trying to say, “C’mon chaps, gimme a break, I know I’m gonna take up the space of three people but I kinda do need to get somewhere just like you do.” Eventually, I just did what the other people did: thought about myself. Positioned myself right in front of where a door would be and launched myself on there.
Here’s a piece of advice, which I wish I’d looked into before choosing to fly with Air Transat: check the baggage allowance before booking what seems like a reasonably-priced flight. My excess baggage more-or-less doubled the price of the flight. But it left on time, arrived on time, and I had an aisle seat to stretch out in.
Getting into Canada, though, was a piece of piss compared to the nation to its south. Just a couple of questions about why I was visiting and if I had any meat or vegetables with me, and I was in. A cab ride later and I’m opening the door to my friend Scott’s place, my home for the next three months. And within two hours of that, I was doing what I’d been looking forward to for quite some time: sitting, drinking a beer at a baseball game.
The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers 16-10, Scott, his (and my) house mate Kevin, and I went for a couple of beers in a local bar, then ate the food that has made my saliva glands overproduce ever since Scott described it to me. I’d not heard of poutine before, but it’s essentially chips and gravy with cheese curds in it. Mag. Nif. I. Cent. I’m glad I went for the small, though. It’s very, very filling.
Saturday, I was up early, out to get coffee, and for a walk. About ten minutes away is a wonderful area called Kensington Market. Good fruit and veg, grocery stores, some clothes shops, plenty of cafes and bars of many nationalities. I’ve been back there most days so far, partly because there’s a pleasant bar with a not-unattractive waitress working there and I’ve been enjoying an afternoon pint now and then, but mostly because there’s all these enticing looking places to eat that need to be tried out.
Another baseball game on Saturday afternoon (this time a 6-0 win for the Jays), followed in the evening by going to hang out with a bunch of Scott’s pals who get together now and then to draw. Essentially, it’s friends hanging out, having a beer, but with everyone doodling away at the same time. Naturally, after forgetting everyone’s name within moments of shaking their hands, I sat down and stared at a blank page for a good half hour. I’m not used to this public drawing. And even if I do draw in public, like in a cafe or something, I tend to hunch over my notebook so nobody can see what I’m doing. Mostly because I spend my time drawing giant flaming swastikas.
Sunday – oh yes, we’re going day by day – and I tag along with Kevin when he goes out to do a bit of shopping. A “quick pint” at lunch time turns into a good eight hour long crawl, which I justified quite easily: I’m getting to know Toronto. Something I repeated, mostly alone, on Tuesday. I’d been at another Blue Jays game (an 11-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins). I’d intended not to drink at all. It was a 12.30pm start, so I imagined it’d be easy to stay away from the booze. When I arrived at the Skydome (it’s current name is Rogers Centre, but that’s a horrible corporate name compared to the lovely futuristic Skydome), there was that unmistakable sound of thousands of children. Understandable, really, that on a midweek afternoon game, the Blue Jays should do some sort of deal with schools to get a ton of kids to come out and buy fizzy drinks and popcorn, but for the adult customer, well, it very literally drove me to drink. I went to the same beer stand each time I bought one, and the first time, had a little chat with the two ladies serving. They asked about my accent, I told them I’d lived in Germany, one of them told me her best friend was studying in Mönchengladbach. Very pleasant interaction. Next time I went back, they said hello in that way that acknowledges we’ve spoken before, and one of the women asks for my ID again. Each of the four times I went to buy a beer she asked to see my ID. I began to think she was stood underneath a security camera, a bit like a casino worker, constantly being watched by the Blue Jays’ Beer Police. Those four afternoon pints ended up being a good, solid twelve hours of drinking. I need to slow down a bit, really.
The last couple of days, I’ve been trying to do a bit of work on the book, but it’s not really been that easy. There’s a big, wonderful-seeming city out there to be explored. Today, though, I’m determined not to explore; to sit in front of my computer and try and have a normal day. Even typing those words, I can feel my willpower draining away.
Finally, in Tic Tac news, not only do Canadian fresh mint flavour (menthe fraîcheur, if you must) have “More Enjoyable Freshness”; they also have an interesting lid flap that I’ve not seen in Tic Tacs elsewhere. It’s got a kinda plug thing. I’m guessing that helps keep the Tic Tacs’ freshness intact.
Title of this blog post translates as “toasted flakes of corn.” It’s what’s written on the pack of Corn Flakes on the table.
Aaaah, it feels fantastic to see live baseball again. Went to see two games within my first 24 hours here, the Blue Jays winning both of them, and another one tomorrow. And it’s sunny too. Sweet!
I’m not a religious man in any way. I believe in God as whole heartedly as I believe in the Tooth Fairy. I find it all rather ridiculous. (I’m not gonna get all militant atheist on you, don’t worry.) I don’t think we need any holy texts to guide us to be moral, partly because if you accept that premise, then we must also accept that slavery, amongst other things, is an acceptable thing to be involved in. Without doing any research, I’d say if you asked people about morals in the Bible, at some point, most of them would mention those things mentioned in God’s hit parade, the Ten Commandments. I’m quite sure most of you can name several of them off the top of your head.
Off the top of my head: don’t murder anyone, don’t adulter, something about false idols, don’t work on the Sabbath, don’t covet your neighbours stuff, or look down your neighbour’s wife’s top.
Oh yes, there’s also one about not stealing. Which brings me to the Harper Collins edition of the Good News Bible. Now, depending on how you define stealing, it might be interesting to compare my Lollipops drawings to the cover of the Harper Collins Good News Bible.
While it’s not stealing as such, I would say the “influence” is fairly obvious. Having experienced this sort of stuff before, because the work isn’t directly stolen, it’d be actually quite difficult to sue God or Rupert Murdoch (Harper Collins is owned by News Corporation). But I am very cross at both of those people and whoever did the illustrations. Surely two thousand years ago, I’d have at least been allowed to chuck a few rocks at their heads, right? I’m sure somewhere in the Bible it would say that’s okay.
Thanks to Mark for letting me know about this.
Saw a couple of things within a moment of each other yesterday on Barnet High Street.
First, an old fella – I’m guessing in his late seventies – with a big, friendly, moon face stood leaning on a walking stick like his centre of gravity was somewhere in his chest. I looked at him, he looked back at me with a slightly apologetic face; while we exchanged glances, his wife was knelt on the ground in front of him tying his shoelace.
Shortly afterwards, another male pensioner, stood at the bus stop. I saw him slyly dropping a scrunched up scrap of paper onto the pavement. One doesn’t normally see older people littering, but that wasn’t the most unusual thing; he saw that I’d seen him do it and stared at me with the same confrontational stare you’d expect from a teenager.
It’s been a while since I wrote anything about my day-to-day life. There’s been plenty of other stuff to take care of, and I’ve not really had the inclination to write much at all. But long story short, I took five boxes, filled them with books, photographs, a handful of cherished CDs and DVDs, notebooks, and things of sentimental value, and got rid of the rest of my stuff. Sold my collection of books to a book store, and gave away everything else to friends. My compact discs: gone. My digital versatile discs: gone. Furniture: gone. Apartment: someone else lives there now. Those five boxes are in a friend’s cellar until I find the place where I want to live. Right now, I’m in London, but only for a week. Moving back to Berlin was the best option last summer. My life in the States came to an end, and my stuff was stored in a warehouse in Berlin. It seemed like the best option. But after the initial joy to be back, to be in a new apartment, to see old friends; after that had settled down into regular life, the reasons that I left Berlin in 2007 quickly came bubbling up to the surface: I just wasn’t happy there. And the shelves full of stuff felt oppressive. It was time to get rid of them. So I did. All gone, apart from those five boxes, and the backpack and suitcase I have with me. It feels very liberating. Of course, I’m lucky. The work that I do is done on my laptop, and I can do it anywhere. Other people stuck in a rut aren’t so lucky. It’s not other peoples’ ruts that I’m stuck in, though, so next week I’m flying to another country to spend the summer there, and beyond that… well, I have a vague plan, but there’s no point in talking about it until I’m there. My immediate future, though, isn’t in Germany, Great Britain, or the United States. In a way, it was the United States that was the catalyst that kicked me into leaving Berlin.
I will explain. When I got married last year, I was in the US on a regular I-94 visa waiver thing. After the marriage, we set about filling in the paperwork needed for me to get a residency visa. We had a meeting with an immigration lawyer in Seattle. He made us aware that it is a lot of paperwork, and can take some time to fill that paperwork in. I had just two weeks left on my I-94 at the point, but he told us that a few weeks overstaying my tourist visa wouldn’t be a problem if I was applying for residency because of marriage. Fast forward past my wife and I splitting up, and the withdrawal of my residency application, and my return to Europe, and we arrive at a point where I would like to return to the States for the summer so I can see some baseball and do some research for the book about the sport. When I left the States last time, I contacted the same lawyer, filled him in on the details, and he advised me to apply for a visa this time, rather than using the Visa Waiver Program, just to be upfront about it, because of those few weeks of technically being there illegally. Fine. So, on a Tuesday morning in March, I had an interview at the US consulate.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll undoubtedly have guessed what the end of this story looks like. Because of the cluster headaches I was having at the time, I was worried the night before. If they were on schedule I was due to have one around 2.30am on Tuesday morning. My appointment was at 8.30am, meaning I’d have to get up around 6.30am. I’ve found that a way to head the headaches off it to stay awake. If I’m asleep at half-past-two, I will more likely get one. If I’m awake, I can feel one coming on earlier, and head it off with the various methods I’ve detailed before (Red Bull, pure oxygen, masturbation). As it happens, I didn’t get one. But, it still meant I was awake at 3am. Fear of a headache, and nerves about the interview mixed together into an insomnia cocktail, and when I last looked at the clock it was nigh on five o’clock. No sooner had my eyes closed than they were opening again to the sound of my alarm clock.
The US consulate is a big compound, and there’s a sign outside telling visa applicants to queue next to steps up to the entrance. Outside. There was only a few other people around, and we were shepherded in through the airport-style security five at a time. We were told to go through the next door and through another. Then we were buzzed in. A security guy looked at my passport, checked it against a list of names, and drew a line through my name and told me to go over there. Another woman checked my passport, and that I have the other items needed, then told me to join the queue over there. I was called over and a very pleasant woman behind a glass window asked me a couple of questions, took my passport and paperwork, and told me to sit and wait for my name to be called.
There were two people doing the interviews. Both of them behind glass. One was a pretty, young-ish, blonde woman who’s window was open to the room. We could hear everything being said by her and the applicants she interviewed. She seemed to be flying through applicants. Every one of them had their application approved. The other person doing interviews was a guy. I couldn’t see him, cos his window was mostly concealed by a three-and-a-half sided wall. It was like a doorless-cabin. The applicants that he was dealing with seemed to talk more, and take longer. My assumption at that point was the the young woman was given the no-brainer applicants. The thought never really formulated in my head, but it was there that I wanted to be interviewed, by the woman.
“Craig Robinson.” said the man.
I walked into the cabin, we exchanged hellos, and I sat down.
“It says here you overstayed your visa; why did you do that?”
I explained. He typed.
“What’s the reason for your trip to the States?”
I told him. He glanced at my cap and asked if I was a Mets fan. I was wearing my Montreal Expos cap. You have no idea how long it took me the previous evening to decide which cap to wear. I didn’t want to wear something too obscure (no Homestead Grays, no St. Louis Browns, or Kansas City Athletics), I didn’t want to wear a Yankees cap (too obvious, and off-putting to fans of 29 other teams). So I went for the Montreal cap. It’s Canadian, thus not too needy. Plus whenever I’ve worn it in the States, it has often brought a smile from someone nostalgic for a defunct team with a groovy logo.
“No, I’m a Yankees fan,” I said.
He kinda mumbled that he meant Expos not Mets and after a pause said, “They’re in… Washington… the Nationals now.”
My eyes stayed un-rolled, but the sentiment went through my head.
“Are you going to the All-Star Game?”
“I’d love to, but it’ll be tough to get a ticket.”
“Where is it this year?”
My mind went blank. How can something so obvious slip from my head. C’mon Craig, find the name of the city, it’s in your head somewhere.
“Phoenix.” But as soon as the words came out, I knew that was wrong. I knew that Phoenix is where the 2011 All-Star Game will be held.
He continued typing, then returned to the main topic: “Why didn’t you apply for a visa extension?”
I told him the truth, that I didn’t know it was possible, that the immigration lawyer didn’t tell me I could or should do so, and that if I’d have known that was the case, I would most definitely have done so. He continued typing.
Then he said one word. I don’t know if it was followed by a verbal ellipsis, but it felt like it was. “Unfortunately…”
He went on to tell me that due to previous violations of US immigration law blah blah blah blah blah.
Bad news is often easiest expressed by cliches. I felt like I’d been winded. Is that true? I’m not sure. But something physical did happen in my stomach. A sudden hollow feeling there. “Oh.” He gave me my passport and a piece of paper. I thanked him, got out of the seat, and the piece of paper slipped out of my hand. I bent down to pick it up, then caught the eye of another applicant waiting to be seen. I looked away, and stuffed my stuff back into my bag, and walked out of the building. I got a cigarette out of my pocket, but my matches had been confiscated on the way into the building. I put the cigarette back. It felt unreal.
Did that just happen?
I bought a lighter at the kiosk at the subway station and went back outside to smoke. I spent the journey back to my apartment staring into the middle distance.
I love the United States, but they don’t want me there. I’m writing a book about their national pastime, but they don’t want me there. I’m technically still married to a citizen, but they don’t want me there. I’m not being melodramatic when I say that I was slightly heartbroken. But, with a couple of months’ distance between that day in early March and where I am now, it’s not that bad. It still makes me sad, and the effect it will have on the book is frustrating (no longer will there be written passages about each of the ballparks in the major leagues), but I am over it and determined – even more so – to create a fucking awesome book about a sport primarily played in a country that won’t allow me in for an undefined amount of time.
The idea of working on a book about baseball, and specifically watching baseball games on the Internet in the early hours of the European morning was not appealing. I’ve flipped my schedule before for baseball and you miss so much of the summer if you are up until 4 or 5am every night and sleeping until noon or so. So the plan to sublet my apartment for the summer evolved into a bigger plan; a plan to get rid of my apartment and try and do something new.
Age is something that has been on my mind recently. I guess it’s something to do with this being my last year in my thirties. I had a similar thing when I was 29; back then I managed to bypass too many annoying thoughts about the odometer clicking into two new digits because I’d just started doing freelance illustration work, just started feeling that I could leave my office job behind, which by June 2000 I had done. Three months later I moved to Berlin. As I entered my thirties life felt fresh. As I approach my forties, though, life feels the opposite. This tediously long blog post is hopefully just a way to remind myself to keep my pecker up. I look at the facts and really I should be feeling better about things than I am. I’ve just had an exhibition, and Bloomsbury are paying me to work on my Flip Flop Fly Ball book. I absolutely realise that getting up at midday, having no boss, and spending my work days researching baseball and making infographics about baseball is a charmed life. I should really be very grateful. But my general mood since returning to Berlin has been one of flapping around. But the problem isn’t Berlin. The problem is me. But I’m not sure the foundation of being in Berlin is a foundation that can be built upon. There are lots of things I like about being there, but my fundamental feeling for Berlin is a negative one. I’m in the same mental place I was at the end of 2007. That needs to change cos I’m four months away from my fortieth birthday. Just a number, but no matter how much I tell myself that, I don’t really fully believe it.
I recently spent some time doing an entirely unhelpful thing, and something I’d never suggest you do: looking at other peoples’ ages. John Cleese was my age when he was doing The Life of Brian. I’m just a few months younger than Paul Thomas Anderson. And Bill Watterson had already done his ten years of Calvin and Hobbes by the age of 37. Now I’m not ridiculous enough to be comparing my life with some of the most creative people alive, but the thing that I can’t get my head around is how rounded their work seems. I wonder how that much cleverness can come out of the heads of people my age. I am happy with what I’m doing, and as I’ve said, I’m incredibly lucky to be doing this sort of stuff for a living, but it all feels a bit insignificant comparatively.
Enough of my introspection. I’m going to enjoy this next week in London; hanging out with friends and seeing stuff (I went to see two wonderful things yesterday: the Céleste Boursier-Mougenot zebra finch thing at the Barbican, and the Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library). I’m going to hope that somehow I don’t wake up tomorrow to find that the UK has David Cameron as its Prime Minister, and I’m going to continue researching my book. Life could be a hell of a lot worse.