Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vipers, Space and the CIA

This week's blog is a hodge podge since I don't have anything in particular that I wanted to muse about.

I've been checking my sitemeter lately to find a lot of hits on my blog from folks in England. I thought it had to do with my recent trip to London but, no, they're finding my blog by typing in phrases like "why men need their space." Some time ago I did a blog on "Why Men Need Their Space." Apparently, this is an issue in Britain too.

One web surfer found my blog by typing "why do men need their space and for how long." Whoa. Men always need their space. It never ends. Heck, I even want my own space when I'm buried. Nobody's sharing my coffin.

Then another web surfer from Romania found my 'space blog' by Googling the phrase "Why do women need a separate room and money to write?" Well, he didn't find the answer on my blog. I have no clue. Maybe women are writing checks and need a separate room to keep track of all their financial paperwork.

I don't think I mentioned yet how I met a Central Intelligence Agency operative while I was in England. It's true. He was a bartender in central London, though I won't give his real name or where he worked. I don't want to end up on trial like Scooter Libby for outing a CIA agent.

"Harry" had a raft of pictures on the wall of his pub. One of them, from Hillary Clinton, said "Harry, Thanks for Everything, Hillary Clinton." My son Scott who was with me at the time disputes my recollection however. He said the sign said "Harry, Best Wishes, Hillary Clinton."

But Harry told me that he regularly briefed former CIA chief Robert Gates, who is now the Secretary of Defense. Harry told me about the DIA too, as well as the CIA. DIA stands for Defense Intelligence Agency and according to Harry was over the CIA. I don't think Harry has anything to do with the CIA any longer. He's just a bartender. But you never know, right?

Speaking of travel adventures, my nephew Gabe is headed to Costa Rica with his wife. Costa Rica is becoming a popular eco-tourist destination because of its variety of plant and wildlife. But that includes a variety of poisonous snakes as well, something that concerned my nephew somewhat.

He wrote to me "There are also a couple of snakes that are very lethal. The Fer de Land and the Eyelid Viper. If you are bitten by one of those, you're pretty much a goner."

So I looked up those snakes on the internet but had a hard time finding any information. Turns out that Gabe misspelled both snakes. It's the Fer De Lance and the Eyelash Viper. Gabe should be more careful. If he gets bitten by one, he wants to make sure he gets the name right so they give him the right antidote. The para-medics might think he got bitten by Ferdinand the bull instead of Fer-De-Lance the snake. Big difference.

I understand Gabe's concern. I detest snakes. During my bit of research I found out that there are no snakes in Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland and Greenland. I know where I'm going next on vacation. Definitely not Australia. They're home to the most toxic snakes anywhere.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Confess

Confession is good for the soul. So here goes. It's tax season and, well, I've been cheating on my taxes. Simple oversights they were. I just forgot to claim a large portion of my income, the part that comes from my job. I shouldn't worry. Look at President Obama's cabinet appointees. A few of them made the same kind of oversights and their pay grade is much higher than mine. And unpaid taxes didn't stop Timothy Geithner from becoming Secretary of the Treasury, thus becoming head of the Internal Revenue Service. So I'll do what they all did, just 'fess up. It'll be okay.

I hope I'm not audited because my bank, USB, has been hiding lots of my money in a Swiss bank account. Hea, I thought it was on the up and up. I mean, you can trust banks like USB, right? Now I just have to trust that the Swiss will do the right thing and keep it all secret. Nobody told them to 'fess up.

Boy, this feels good. By the way, some of that money in my Swiss bank account I earned as part of a Ponzi scheme. I'm not even sure what that is, but you've probably heard how Bernie Madoff cheated people out of millions, maybe even billions of dollars with a Ponzi scheme. Heck, he's not even in jail. Why? Because he's coming clean and cooperating, according to the judge in his case. I'll just 'fess up like ole Bernie too if it keeps me out of the slammer.

Also, I've got to admit that I've taken performance-enhancing drugs. Hea, it helped me to get promotions and make more money. A-Rod just confessed to doing the same in baseball this past week. I don't see any effort to fire him or dock his pay. Just confess and it's okay. Fine, just add it to my list of sins.

One of those promotions I earned I actually had to buy. Well, I tried to raise some money to buy it anyway, something I didn't reveal till now, but confession is good for the soul and I don't think I really did anything wrong. If Illinois Senator Roland Burris can keep his senatorial seat under similar circumstances, who can deprive me of the position I earned through nefarious connections and weasel-wording.

Man, I'm on a roll now. Let me confess too that I need help on my mortgage. I'm deeply in debt (London is way more expensive than I thought it would be). I bought one of those big, new mansions with an adjustable rate and now I can't afford the payments. I confess I can't refuse money when the banks are practically throwing it at me. But I hear Obama has a plan to help guys like me. Great. Where do I go to tell my story of woe and collect some government dole?

Ah yes, confession is good for the soul. And then some.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

London Vignettes

A sample of pictures from our trip to London:

--myself on the south wall of the Tower of London
--A Yeoman Warder tour there with London's iconic Tower Bridge in the background
--Parliament and Big Ben
--Guard at Buckingham Palace
--Inside the Globe Pub
--My oldest son Greg waiting at the subway (2 pictures)
--My son Scott riding the double decker bus (2 pictures--we spent an hour and a half on this bus because we got on at the wrong stop. It should have been a ten-minute ride to our destination had we boarded correctly)
--From the chamber of horrors at Madame Tussaud's
--My breakfast, the traditional English fry-up
--The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, a discovery which allowed archeologists to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I fell in love with London even in just the short time I was over there: the historic sites, the vibrant energy of its people, the intimacy of its pubs and always something big happening nearby. But I had to adjust some to its language and customs.

I even had trouble grasping their system of coinage. They apparently do not have any bills smaller than the equivalent of a $5 bill here in the U.S., so you always have a pocket heavy with change. And they have a wide variety of coins. At a Pret-A-Manger, their very popular equivalent of a fast food eatery here, I saw a handmade "Love" nut and candy bar that I wanted to bring back for Wendy. I dropped a large coin in the palm of the clerk, which the boys and I thought should cover it.

"That's two pence," the clerk deadpanned. Two pence (pennies)?? Can anyone explain to me the logic of having a coin the value of two pennies? The British have coins worth one pence, two pence, ten pence, twenty pence, one pound and two pounds. Eventually I just borrowed an idea from my dad's own European travels--I just held out a palm full of coins and let the clerk pick out what he needed.

At least two pence covered part of the bill. I heard the manager there hold up a 20-pound note to the light and say, "This bill is fake." The clerk hurried out to try to track down the person who paid with it, but he was unsuccessful.

Ah yes. Scofflaws in Ole Blighty exist. When visiting the pubs, I remember seeing a sign that said beware of thieves. "They're sneaky little vermin," the sign warned. And in that same pub a rather attractive young lady came up to me and said, "May I pinch your seat." While I blushingly pondered the consequences of allowing such a trivial infidelity, she started taking the stool that Greg was sitting in before he went up to the bar to order another drink. The cad! Sneaky little vermin they are.

So I learned the subtleties of King's English. "Biscuits" are cookies. It's the "way out" not an exit. But I was puzzled at the green signs I often saw of a white figure running at a white block of some type. Finally I asked this young lady. "It's a fire exit," she explained.

What? C'mon now. That's a very poor universal symbol for a fire exit, isn't it? Shouldn't it be red, not green, with maybe flames licking up at the stick figure's heels? Perhaps I would have to start setting the English right on their use of communication and the English language.

I stopped at a restaurant to order some fish and chips for the boys. In England, they don't call it take-out. It's "take-away." Take-away sounds too much like shoplifting to me. Right? When the clerk asked if my fish and chips were "eat in or take-away", I said, "Take-out." A teachable moment, I thought.

The clerk, looking me directly in the eyes and unsmiling, firmly corrected, "Take-away."

Okay, whatever. Have it your way then.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Friendly Game Of Soccer

I'm back after our short stay in London. My son Greg, soon to be married in May, is a huge fan of the English soccer team Arsenal. So for one last father-son adventure before he ties the knot, I got tickets for all of us to see their contest against arch-rival the Tottenham Hotspurs, a game called the north London derby because both teams are located in the north London boroughs. It climaxed our brief trip across the pond.

Now I thought I've always had some animosity for the rivals of my beloved University of Michigan but the Arsenal and Spurs fans take this to a whole 'nother level, as evidenced by the heavy police presence in and around the stadium.

What also surprised me was the atmosphere before and during the game. I had expected somewhat the excitement that precedes a big college football game--lots of cheers, chanting, singing, laughter, camaraderie and anticipatory celebration. Good god no. The thousands of Spurs fans wearing their team's color black stood sullenly and deadly serious around the perimeter of White Hart Lane Stadium in Tottenham.

"It looks like they're going to war," Greg said.

Underneath Greg's grey sweats, he wore an Arsenal shirt. We would be sitting with the Spurs fans however because we got our tickets through their promotion. I had warned Greg not to show his colors or cheer for Arsenal lest we incite the hometown fans. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary. He wised up quickly to the atmosphere.

Even the visiting Arsenal fans, who were segregated in one corner of the stadium, their section surrounded by police and stadium security guards (I counted 50 police just there) mostly wore black to blend in, rather than their usual red. You can just see a sprinkling of red clad fans in the picture here, along the corner section where the Arsenal faithful sat. Notice all the bright yellow, green and orange vests. Those are the police and security people.

A stadium security guard said police would be guarding the Arsenal fans because, "They smell." Wow, even the stadium's security gets into this animosity. I have GOT to bring this kind of spirit back to Ann Arbor for my hometown Wolverines.

When the game started, I was astonished also at how quiet the hometown fans were. I had learned some Spurs chants from the internet but hardly got the chance to use them. But the Arsenal supporters kept up a loud string of cheer, taunts and insults, all directed against the home team, their supporters, even their city. Most often I heard, "It's so quiet, it's so dead, it's so quiet, why so quiet, at the lane." The jeer being directed at the Spurs faithful whose lack of outward enthusiasm may have come from the fact that they're almost last in the premier league standings and in danger of being sent down to the minor leagues, which happens in English soccer.

And the Spurs didn't have much to cheer about this day because they didn't score a goal, despite having a man advantage because an Arsenal player was ejected for flagrant fouls. The game ended 0-0, a result that seemed to mollify the Spurs fans somewhat afterwards. At least I didn't see any trouble as were leaving the stadium area other than a few blokes hassling a policeman on horseback, possibly trying to get the horse to rear up and throw its rider. The cop responded by grabbing the coat of one of them, but then he let go. I was less than ten feet away from all this.

I think Scott wanted to hang out and see if any more trouble ensued but I was in a hurry to get the heck out of Dodge, mindful of a few comments on my blog predicting that Scott would end up in a British jail. That wouldn't do. His mother would never forgive me if I didn't return him safe and sound.