Thursday, August 28, 2008

On antisocial behavior

From What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness by Jon Ronson.

I'm considering hiring a bookkeeper to help me manage my receipts. A bookkeeper called Eric comes over for a trial session. I leave him to it.
"Eric," I shout after a while. "I'm going out. Help yourself to coffee or whatever. OK, bye!"
I saunter down the stairs and practically gasp. Eric has got his coat on. He's walking towards the front door too. I realize to my horror that the two of us are equidistant to the door. And we are walking at an identical pace. If this continues unabated we'll be leaving the house at exactly the same time and will consequently be forced to walk along the road together.
Oh no! I think.
I look frantically around for something that might authentically slow me down. But there's nothing. I have my keys in my hand. My coat is zipped up. I'm clearly ready to leave. I catch Eric's eye and give him a pleading look to say, "One of us has to stop this madness before it spirals out of control and we end up walking down the road together with nothing to say to each other."
Think laterally, Jon, I think. I've got it!
"I'm just going to the toilet!" I say.
"Oh," says Eric. "I left something downstairs."
I hurry up to the toilet. Eric hurries down to the kitchen.
Inside the toilet I ponder Eric's demeanour as he said he'd forgotten something. It was obviously a ruse and he felt the same way I did about us leaving together, but why? I know what [my wife] Elaine would say. She'd say, "Eric just wanted to be your friend and you made him feel small, didn't you, with your antisocial behaviour. That's why he ran back downstairs. It's just like that time we had Bill round and you sat on the Internet all night. It was the rudest thing I've ever seen anyone do."
"I can't believe you're still going on about that Bill thing years after it happened," I'd reply, before adding, with a triumphant glint in my eye, "And the fact that you're always citing that single incident is proof that I'm only rarely antisocial."
Anyway, Eric's demeanour throughout the incident was equally awkward. He clearly didn't want to walk with me just as vehemently as I didn't want to walk with him.
His antisocial attitude makes him interesting, I think. I can relate to that. What an interestingly antisocial self-assured person.
Now all I need to do is wait here in the toilet until I hear him scamper away.
So I do.
I'm going to hire him! I think.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Study of English Customs. #1: The Pub Quiz

In high school, I was a member of Academic Team. Yes, I was one of those nerds who loves showing off her random knowledge of trivia and meaningless information. I believe most people who enjoy trivia are considered nerds in America. The English, on the other hand, have made trivia and general knowledge an art form. (I say English because I don't know if this extends to the rest of the UK.) If you've talked to me about my time abroad, you've probably heard me talk about QI, which stands for Quite Interesting. Basically, Stephen Fry conducts a round table of comedians to talk about random stuff for half an hour. It's fascinating, entertaining, and enlightening. The BBC also broadcasts shows like Eggheads, Battle of the Brains, and Mastermind, all of which center around knowledge. Mock the Week gets a panel of comedians to discuss/focus on news stories which broke the previous week. America's only equivalents are Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and maybe The Daily Show--though that's broadcast here and is a bit of a stretch regardless.

All this says nothing about the general population, of course. We all know that what's broadcast on television doesn't necessarily reflect the public's interest, and I'm not going to bother looking up ratings. What does indicate that trivia is a popular phenomenon is the presence of pub quizzes. Tuesday nights at a pub down the road are dedicated as quiz nights. I went with K and a few of her friends, because I'd heard about pub quizzes when I was here before, but never quite made it to one. I didn't really know what to expect.

The Pub Quiz Experience
Apparently, there's a Wikipedia entry for pub quiz. I'd say it's pretty accurate. The quiz started unusually late at this pub, at half past 9. Apparently there were complications with the mic; at one point the announcer said something like, "If this is anyone's first time to a pub quiz, they must be wondering if it's always like this. It's not." So apparently my first pub quiz was exceptional, and it cut out a round to make the game go more quickly. Usually, there are 6, including one film, one music, one picture, one connections, and two general knowledge rounds. For the picture round, each team is given a copy of a sheet with pictures of people on it--I think there were 10 on the one we got. The subjects are usually celebrities who are topical--Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes, Michael Phelps, and the latest Big Brother evictee were on it--but may be bizarre celebrites or people from the pub as well. Teams are generally formed by table, and I think almost everyone in the pub, ranging from high school-age to maybe mid-60s, participated. The connections round was quite difficult. Each question's answer connects to the next somehow, and they're all connected by one subject, which is the answer to question 10. (There are 10 questions per round.) I didn't follow it, but apparently the connection this week was Madonna, and somehow next week's will be connected to her. The music round consisted of 10 song clips played back-to-back without gaps. 1/2 point is awarded for song title, and 1/2 point for the artist. For the entire game, answers are to be written down on a sheet handed out about 10 minutes before the start, then turned in after all the questions have been asked. The film round didn't happen this week, but I think is self-explanatory. General knowledge is, as you'd expect, a catch-all. Sadly, as I was fairly useless this week, I've forgotten most of the questions that were asked. I remember the ones I was able to answer--"In what children's film do Michael and Jane live at 17 Cherry Tree Lane?"* and "What disease gets its name from the Latin word for crab?"** My team was all right, though; we tied for 11th out of approximately 25-30 teams. I was pleased, anyway. The prize was 10 pounds at the bar.

While they were calculating the results, they had 3 individuals come to the back for a chance at a different prize. When the staff passed out the answer sheets, they also brought around a jar and raffle tickets. For a pound, you could buy a ticket which would be entered into a raffle. If your number was drawn, you had a chance to go to the back and answer a question. If you answered correctly, you would win all the money in the jar. This week, it was a little over 90 pounds. If the first person answered incorrectly, a second person would get a chance, and then a third if that person failed as well. If three people failed, the money would roll over to next week. Unfortunately for me, someone won on Tuesday. I shall have to go back, though, to try my hand at more of this trivial pursuit.

* Mary Poppins


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Room of My Own

The nausea didn't begin until the descent. 7 1/2 hours of a settled stomach were lovely, and the ache between my ribs and bellybutton that began as the "Fasten seatbelt" sign lit up just did not please me. I breathed deeply, closed my eyes, and tried not to think about what was happening. I was not caving into my shy nature by not speaking to the girl seated next to me. I was not stealing the socks Virgin Atlantic provided. I was not arriving at my new home without grieving the loss of my permanent one. I was in a temporary state of queasy denial, refusing to accept the situation I had begun to get myself into months ago. Later, K, the woman I'm working for, asked if it (meaning the area, I think) was what I expected. Inveterate truth teller that I am, I had to confess that I hadn't really expected anything. I had no idea what was coming. I couldn't think about it, or I would have drowned a pool of nerves.

As it turns out, it seems there was little to be nervous about, anyway. My flight departed and arrived on time. I got through immigration with a mere cursory glance at my German passport. My luggage was waiting on Belt 2 in Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport, and as I had nothing to declare, I passed straight through to the main terminal. Just on the other side, I quickly spotted a small sign with "JENNIFER" written on it being held by K. The meeting was surprisingly painless; there were a few awkward moments, but we seem to get on well. We have similar taste in music, and found enough common ground to survive a 2-hour car ride, though she's much more outgoing than I am. The little girl I'm taking care of, M, is away on holiday with her dad, but K assures me she's excited to meet me. After getting to spend a few hours in my new house and see my new private space, I'm looking forward to it as well. I think I will be comfortable here, and that will make me much more confident with her. She still sounds like a bright girl (She just turned 7, and is reading Harry Potter by herself.), and I've seen her room now, which I feel does say something about her. I think it'll be all right. My room is lovely, too. It's on the upper floor and has a huge double bed (Actually, I think that's rather a shame, as it's such a small room.) and a wardrobe. We'll install shelves and put together a dresser; the biggest disadvantage to my room is that there's no storage space, not even an underbed. Sadly, there's no room for a desk, but I think I'll be able to use my windowsill. The view is nice--I'm overlooking the garden and from my bed see only trees. I also have my own bathroom with an amazing tub and an equally amazing view of the garden and the neighbors' gardens. I think I'll adjust to this place well. It's quiet and beautiful and feels quintessentially English. I'll put pictures of the lane we drove down on Flickr later. I've hardly seen anything more poetic. I may head to my first pub quiz tonight, as K often goes.

Monday, August 04, 2008


Sleep is quite the commodity in my world these days. Between packing, goodbyes, and internal stress, my mind is constantly wound. I've averaged around 4 hours of sleep per night this week. This is hardly a surprise, all things considered. Life is busy right now, and everything that's happening has its own energy, so it keeps building. I have now left MG, my home for the last 11 years. MG, as a place, was much easier to leave than Columbia. Despite living there for such a long time, I think the most significant part of growing up happened in Columbia and London instead of southern Missouri. Regardless, I will dearly miss the people at home. I get along with fewer of them, but the ones I do connect with are wonderful. Saying goodbye to people I've been friends with since high school is exceptionally strange. Several of them stopped by on Saturday night, and I realized that I haven't seen some of them for a year. Knowing we're still in contact is very comforting. If we've done it before, maybe we can do it again. Losing contact probably wouldn't be the end of the world, but I do love their insights and their company. It's hard to imagine them completely absent from my life.

I expect this next week will be equally strange. After a 10-hour bus ride, I'm now in the Chicago suburbs saying goodbye to the family I dearly love but hardly know. There will be drama.

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