Tuesday, February 13, 2018

how he became señor valentine

I met Ian this August in the doctor's mess (for those non-Brits, “the mess” is the appropriately dubbed equivalent of the on-call room which basically means a trashed area of the hospital where junior doctors can sleep at random hours, eat their food, and generally talk bollocks about the shit day they’ve been having. It resembles a fraternity the morning after a party - crumbs and excretion stains on the sofas, rumpled up sheets, a flipped over lamp (that has literally been on its side for two and half months), food wrappers thrown amok, curtains that don't actually open, a paper bag of stale donuts that someone will eventually eat, a free (!) vending machine that delivers watered down coffees and hot chocolate, and a big-screen television that displays a continuous feed of news articles about Brexit or Trump or accusations of some new American film producer/ British parliament member having been lascivious in the workplace). Anyway, I was in this mess place with some colleagues having lunch when I spotted Ian sitting there alone looking generally unenthusiastic and otherwise doing fuck all. He was just staring blankly into space with his arms folded. So I said HI. He did not seem much impressed by my exotic accent nor perky attitude. So I pulled up a chair and badgered him with questions in effort to make him cave to my charm in any capacity I could.

Nothing. This guy was impenetrable.

He tells me now that he had been having a particularly bad day between work and some rando girl he met on the internet having dumped him out of the blue after their second date. It doesn't really matter anyway, in that moment I failed every attempt to entertain him  and eventually surrendered, leaving him on that sofa statically depraved, just the way I’d found him, much like this:

Ian is the personification of my favorite emoticon innit: 😑

I decided this boy was probably a miserable loser and then really didn't think of him again. I didn't even think of him again when we apparently had a twenty minute convo at a bar party organized by the mess committee a few weeks later, one that I cannot recall. This was surprising to me as according to Ian it was a funny and interesting discourse about North Korea which happens  to be one of my very favorite topics! Whatever. I was barely even drunk. I call it payback for him having sloughed me off earlier that month. 

THEN. Then in late October I was referred to review a patient on the general medical ward where he (unbeknownst to me) worked. I walked into the ward and started talking with a colleague about the patient, when Ian suddenly emerged from an isolation room fully gowned in head to toe infection control yellow plastic. Like, a proper polycarbon trashbag dress with long sleeves and blue gloves. The way he looked at me in that moment was unforgettable- some wild mix of tender meets predatory. It was confusing but arousing and completely disarmed me. British people are in my experience terrible at making eye contact, let alone letting their gaze linger. But this particular lad was strategic, and after capturing my attention, asked his colleague to kindly fetch him a cannula, conveniently leaving the two of us alone separated only by empty and awkward space. He asked what my plans were for the weekend and then called me to task by requesting I write the date on his cannulation sticker. My pen wasn’t working and I definitely didn’t know the date. So he grabbed at the air for any other random cheap topic that could protract our conversation. He was flirtatious. Brave but wholesome. And then our time was up.

That evening I got a message from Ian via Facebook saying "it was lovely to see you on the ward today". Whenever I tell British people this story they invariably ask "WOT? Is he even  ACTUALLY British?" Apparently this is far too forward an advance for a bearer of the union jack over his heart- had he been true blue he'd have orchestrated his next move when he was drunk in the pub, saying something stupid or mildly perverted , hoping i too was drunk enough not to notice, or at least drunk enough to ignore it, and then we’d snog, and then maybe shag, and then after that perhaps he’d have asked me out for a cocktail weeks later. But this boy was different. He waited no time to ask me to join him at Shakespeare’s Globe theater for an evening of the arts.  

…but that never happened.

We got to talking about an imminent castle fireworks display in his hometown and decided instead to go with the risk and romance of having a first date as a weekend away together at Kenilworth Castle to see the Guy Fawkes Day celebration. It was unconventional and risky which I liked because either way I’d have a story to tell over brunch with my budding group of girlfriends. I got used to fishing for stories having dated half of London via various dating apps for the first six months of my time in the UK. At some point it began to appear as if I were hunting natural dating disasters. 

The build up was exciting and intense, we talked regularly on the phone and engaged often in random acts of romance .. I brought him a chocolate croissant to the ward one morning, he left a coffee in my department the morning after. I brought him home-made dinner to the ward on one of his long days, he brought me flowers and a card the following afternoon. We also got together for a cheeky 15 minute coffee date at work, just days after we had  bumped into each other in the pub when I was dressed as a yellowjacket for Halloween and he drunkenly whispered to me that I was the most beautiful bee he’d ever seen. Intoxicated, stupid, and slightly perverted indeed. But he ran out before the snog.

Our high stakes weekend finally arrived.  We took Friday off and left early in the morning, embarking on our 3 hour roadtrip out of London. In the first half an hour I almost lost my shit when a hairy brown spider dangled down from the windowsill over my left ear. Then I almost lost my shit again when we had not even made it as far as Chelsea before Ian shamelessly started singing along to some teenage pop garbage tune on the radio.

We stopped first at Stratford Upon Avon to see the home where Shakespeare allegedly grew up. It was all remarkably cheesy and hardly historical (placated by the bag of lemon sherbets I bought myself). But then Ian kissed my face for the first time in a tiny alcove of Shakespeare's garden. And I felt all those butterflies. And later in the day when we arrived at our AirBnb, there were two bottles of champagne in the room- one that I had organized to surprise Ian, and a second that Ian had organized to surprise me. He won because he also ordered flowers and chocolate. I mean...

And then there was Kenilworth. It was one of the dreamiest days of my life. Drama in the sky. A full moon rise. A castle in decay. And a good English boy. 


And of course, the intensity of a three day first date getaway would not have been complete without having met Ian's family. So on day three of date one I received formal and incredibly warm introductions to mom, gran, aunt, cousin, godson, niece, and in -laws. And when they asked us how long we’d been together, we smiled and said “well, we met in August”.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

one foot in front of the other

Do you ever oscillate between manic productivity and then days where you barely manage to do more than change the batteries in your vibrator? 

Neither do I. Because I am never lazy. At all. Like, ever. Nor do I own a vibrator that is battery operated. Double A's are so 1989 and not even environmentally friendly.   

Basically I have been quiet not because I'm lazy but because I changed jobs a few months ago and have been trembling at a frequency too rapid to effectively type as I focus all energies toward trying not to fuck up my life or someone else's. 

I thought I was doing ok in this respect until yesterday I tripped over the bathtub and probably broke my toe. I knew immediately the damage was going to be bad so I rapidly washed my important bits, grabbed a pack of peas from the freezer and plopped down on the bed with my right leg raised, not initially realizing that the pea pack was open to one corner and consequently dumped half the bag's contents all over my duvet, which then split between smashing into the white sheets and rolling down into the cracks of the bedframe as I jumped up to try and contain them. Mission aborted, the morning therein dedicated to hunting for rogue vegetable matter rather than nursing my limb.  I hobbled to work. At the end of the day I unwrapped my (very cute designer) shoes to reveal this beaut: 

Reminds me of the last time I walked straight into the wall whilst sober, which is  basically unforgivable for someone who identifies with being an adult, not that I claim access to this exclusive cohort. Double annoying that my gel pedicure from two days had also chipped off in one full piece from my pinky toe, unrelated to the injury but adding insult in any case. 

Tis the season where after a period unwavering myopic focus trying to survive (in a way that interrupts sleep), that herpetic gift that keeps on giving reappeared in my  right nostril, impeding my ability to breathe from one of my only three air holes, painfully crusting up my nares, and outfitting me with a massive and painful retroauricular lymph node just for the sake of reminding me that I have one. A retroauricular lymph node and herpes. Forever! But this is old news.  Just try typing "herpes" into the search bar of this blog and at least 7 hits will come up that all pertain to me. 

But otherwise, living in London is great! Tonight I am going to see the Ferryman in the West End. Theater and live music and art are regular parts of my life here and I'm grateful for that. I am also grateful to be able to afford ramen and kebabs, toilet paper, the massive electricity bill, that monumentally priced public transportation, and have a roof over my head. I am still in that same crap apartment which now has an industrial sized trash bin in the kitchen, which from its nascency has had a broken spring in the lid and therefore has to be kept closed by a lime green broken salt and pepper shaker. It's impressive how your muscle memory develops in response to these sorts of things. For instance, I know that to  simply toss away my used tea bag I have to reach out, remove the salt and pepper weight from the bin lid, physically lift the lid, THEN pick out my teabag from the mug THAT I HAVE LEFT ON THE COUNTER while I hold the lid open with my other hand.  It sounds easy but if you're standing over the bin with the mug in your right hand and the teabag in your left hand, you need an extra hand to take the salt/pepper shaker off. You have to plan ahead to throw your shit away in my house! It is good that I love to formulate lists and plan things. I have gotten used to this routine to the degree that when I'm in the presence of a normally functioning bin I get all disoriented the way you do when you usually drive a manual transmission vehicle and then switch to automatic. Your feet start tapping the ground like an overeager dancer with metal plates on their soles and sometimes you hit the gas like you would a stiff clutch and things go from copacetic to scary real quick. 

I have noticed some things about British people. Or maybe it's just Londoners I don't know. But I can't sort out why so many people in these parts go for runs with a backpack on. Can somebody please explain this to me? I have never seen a phenomenon quite like it. They are definitely not running contextually for something like the bus. I know because they have all their sporty gear on.  What exactly is in that backpack they all have? Its not thin like a camelback that supplies hands-free water. Its humped like a ninja turtle, full of unknown goods! I wonder, what could be in there, as well as where they are running from, or to?  I have also noticed that while I am admittedly charmed by the british accent, as a wretched stereotype, they are famous for being snobby when it comes to matters of proper etiquette, grammar, and lexicon. But then you pour some lager into their face holes and they start shouting obscenities, jumping out of the queue, and unabashedly peeing in public places. The city has even installed  outdoor, open public urinals in places like Soho. Basically just a wall where people can pee against so at least the act appears intentional and well conceived. Oh! and then when they speak they all almost invariably say things like "samwich" instead of sandwich, and "free" instead of three and "everyfing" instead of everything. I just don't know what to do about this heuristic break. I came here to become more like the Queen and instead am just finding it more and more acceptable to eat a Burger King on the underground after a night out on the lash. 

Thats enough for now, Im late for a 5pm gin and tonic in Picadilly and likely a tiny cucumber samwich. Had I planned ahead and not been temporarily equipped with a degenerate toe I'd stay a little longer and run there with my backpack. Maybe then I will start calling myself a Londoner. 


Sunday, October 29, 2017

good as gold

The week began as follows:






My last post did not go over well. I was chided by friends and family for making careless decisions, mother going so far as to deposit twenty times the cost of a bike helmet into my account on the condition that I buy and wear a bike helmet.  I am poor and also happen to be absolutely terrified of her so...


Things are going pretty well apart from the hair that has been stuck in the back of my throat since Monday. It has done my head in to the degree that I can't tell anymore whether it's actually there or just a psychological response to having found a pube in my lunch earlier this week.

I have ventured on a multidisciplinary approach to get my bad attitude in check. I started a mindfulness meditation course which appears to be taking effect quite fast. After session one I came back to find my laptop bathing in the contents of a spilled water bottle. It doesn't work anymore. The day after my iphone went skating across the hospital, rendering my voice in future conversation akin to "speaking from the inside of a packet of potato crisps". social demands obligated me to buy two new electronic devices on the same day.  but in spite of spending a months salary and consequently having eaten beans on toast for the last three meals, I remain remarkably calm, a controlled reaction I attribute to having spent two hours touching, observing, tasting, and LISTENING to a raisin. Yes. I was obliged to listen to a raisin as part of my meditation course. And you know what? It worked better than xanax. you should try it. 

I also started seeing a therapist. he is cute and my age and that is definitely weird, although he wears a gold necklace which renders him unattractive enough to be objective according to me. On session 1 I ugly cried for an hour. He recommended I download an app called Breathing Zone. I have followed his advice and paid the 3.99 to hire a robot lady to tell me to "breath in, breath out" according to the number of breaths/minute i exhort her to exhort me to take.

I have also started reading for the second time The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. It's zen buddhism marketed into a cute westernized package. My kind of self help, particularly given my penchant for expletives:

“Giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health. The key to a good life is 
not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, 
giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.” 

This kind of spirited text along with such activities as listening to raisins has really helped me chill out lately.  

I have been spending time with my cousin Matthew. I managed to convince him to come live with me. He lets me boss him around, frequently succumbing to my demands that he stop his studying and watch louis c.k./eat ben and jerry's/meditate with me. We have realized that we share not only a last name but some mild psychological disorders including OCD. OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts mitigated by compulsive behaviors that are rationally unrelated. For instance, when I was a kid I used to resolve my obsessive thought that I might become suddenly orphaned by tapping on the sofa a specific number of times. I never told anyone. Last week Matthew was eating hobnobs while we were watching a film. He ate one then appeared unsettled, looked at me, fidgeted a bit, looked back at the package, then reached for another cookie and said:  

"I have to eat everything in even numbers."

and what happens if you don't?  I asked.

"someone might die."   

Safe to say we are bonding quite quickly.

Morgan my belgian bestie was in town this weekend. He kindly commented that my flat isn't as shit as he'd expected, although pointed out that my floors are "bouncy" (they are) and my landlord is "really chill but missing a lot of teeth." We demolished london a la Mr and Ms. Pac-man. I think every one of our photos together has a fork in it. Always nice to have friends around. 

And with that, I am finally starting to feel settled in my new habitat, even managed to find a new prized mani pedi salon which is a luxury I enjoy second to an oversized bowl of lucky charms. (the only thing is that they use a cheese grater to remove my calluses which I find terribly strange, but I suppose adaptability is a gift for your synapses). So there she is, north London from the view of my favorite spot on earth, pot of gold tucked somewhere into those side streets not too far down the horizon.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

head gear

i have a certain solidarity for London cyclists, particularly the ones who run red lights and refuse helmets. this is because I belong to this category of people. We get pegged for stupidity but it's misunderstood; the choice driven instead by the bleak self awareness that my brain isn't valuable enough to risk messing up my hair to protect. In the event I were struck by black cab and the built-in helmet that is my skull proved an unworthy safeguard for preventing my central nervous system from turning into a creamed potato, I can assure you that London would not stutter nor blink nor slow. "Keep calm and carry on" they'd say, toot the horn then feed me to the worms. 

People are sooo bloody rules-oriented in this country. obedient until the cows come home and ostensibly personally offended when someone else does not abide. to give an example whilst on the topic of cycling, the other morning i was riding home from the gym on an empty road at 7am. There was a traffic light built in for pedestrians, the subtext here being that IT WAS NOT A REAL INTERSECTION. like, no cross street.The traffic light turned red. there were no cars, no possibility for turns, and no people crossing the road- only me on a highly sinkable single speed olive rossignoli that really chaps my ass when it comes to matters of reversing inertia. So I blew through the light, ignoring the four or five sheep on wheels traveling in the opposite direction, in that moment mind-numbingly compliant as they waited for the universe's most pointless traffic light to turn green and reallocate the right of passage. Call me the prodigal daughter. My actions so uncouth that I was verbally assaulted by a middle aged man from across the road who shouted: "you are a BAD biker " with all the tones of the devil possessed in his viscera reflected toward me for all to witness. He genuinely hated me. obviously I erupted into laughter. not a coincidence he belonged to that group of smug turds who wear helmets. 

It has been ages since I sat down to write something non work-related that wasn't predicated on emojis. That's basically because I have spent the last three months trying so desperately to keep my shit together and not royally fuck up my life that the creative process was squashed.  Last week I think I cried two, no probably three times at work. The fact that you are reading this means I have found a moment of serenity in the eye of the hurricane. no, actually it's because I am procrastinating for an exam I have next week. but also, tomorrow my therapist will call me at 9:45am to check in. 

Oh, I hate my apartment! it's got brown short haired carpet that has been devastated by moths.  Everytime someone uses the kitchen sink my room smells catastrophically of rotten eggs.  the kitchen floor is literally made of paper and has a tear in it that flaps in the draft.  there is a blue flashing light that illuminates my bedroom so pervasively at night like the sun that never sets in iceland during the summertime, such that I cannot sleep even with pills, but also can't extinguish for it's the ultrasonic machine that keeps the rats away. the walls are so thin you can hear the neighbors THINK while they scratch their arses, and the refrigerator is too small to carry the burden of even a gallon of milk. the water is also so hard my hair has turned into one giant crust. but you know what? I bloody love it here. I am in love with this city. There is a never ending supply of things to do to help distract you from the emptiness of your soul. Theatre in the West End on Thursday, spilling champagne on a diplomat at the US Embassy on Friday, standing alone in front of a Mondrian on Saturday, and gobbling down a seven course fixe prix of fried insects on Sunday.   

UPDATE: my pap smear came back clean last week! This is particularly handy given that I found out after the fact that my GP sends all the lab samples to the hospital where i fucking work. 

Anyway, I've been thinking, you know what makes London so special other than the stuff to do? it's the people. the brilliant, beautiful, weird, cultivated, original, fearless people. Where everyone has a story. Where 300 different languages are spoken in schools, and diversity and mutual respect are so celebrated that even in this village of approximately 65 billion people, citizens can coexist with propriety- obediently following the golden cultural rules of standing on the right and passing on the left, or apologizing to the person who steps on YOUR foot. 

Just stay away from the assholes in helmets who stop at red lights. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

the crowned jewels

On Wednesday I cauterized the last major arterial supply to Italy, loading the few possessions I have into another dodgy white van screaming toward london (too soon?). I think any painful conscious uncoupling as Ms Paltrow would have put it (same woman who admits to taking her eggs not scrambled nor poached but up her cooter) had already been done because it was business as usual rather than wistful emotion for me. 36 hours were just enough to load up the goods, take a quick spin around the city on a two wheeler, have my favorite salty pistachio gelato, and indulge in the delight of the bidet. I'm really going to miss the bidet, and should I ever manage to get on the property ladder in london it's going to become the focal point of my studio apartment. 

On Saturday I will move into my very own living space in London. Since April I have been shacking up with dad which started out kind of awkward but has evolved into something pretty symbiotic. He delivers tea to me on my air mattress every morning, gives me random pocket money to get a mani pedi or bar of chocolate, listens and even cheerleads while I bitch about bureaucracy, cooks me curries, and generally contributes to an endless supply of banter and malarkey. He is not only effectively setting a high bar for any prospective boyfriend, but beginning to make me consider whether I would actually even ever need or want one. We do get into fights sometimes though, the most recent of which because he insisted that chicken katsu was the same phonetically or otherwise as chicken cazzo. If you're italian or Japenese or even if you're not you know that chicken cazzo is NOT the same as chicken katsu. Just google it. But he is too stubborn to admit defeat by his progeny. It's counter evolutionary or something. 

Dad and I have also had a musical meeting of the minds. He is righteously into all things jazz, me not so much. I find that particular genre of music kind of chaotic and lacking a coherent rhythm to which I can swivel my hips or nod my head. Still, I have joined him on an occasional Saturday night at the local jazz club, and he just a few days ago surprised me by blasting Future's Mask Off (Molly Percocet) across all the Sonos in the house before 9am, exclaiming that "there was a decided jazz melody reminiscent of John Coltrane with that little flute diddy in the background. Just listen!"  *turns up the volume*. 

See? same same. 

I have found that I'm integrating nicely into my new culture. My google search history includes queries such as "how do you pronounce scone" and my autocorrect has already started changing "program" to "programme" and "while" to "whilst". "Bloody" has become an essential part of my lexicon, "shag" not so much. I even made a friend, although I think my dad may have paid her off. She is the local barista from Poland. A mega babe, my age, fun, and makes a bitchin' cortado. I have also gotten my national insurance number (equivalent to social security or codice fiscale), a bank account, a contracted cell phone, found a flat and moved my crap, gotten a start date on my new job, applied for Irish citizenship, registered with the national health service, voted (liberal democrat) at the national election, and read more pleasure books than I probably have in the last 10 years. 

After a painful 3 month process I was also finally granted full registration and license to practice in the UK! The governing body made me jump through all kinds of hoops up to and including taking the IELTS exam to affirm that I have appropriate command over the english language. The fact that all my written and verbal communication with them had been in English was not sufficient, and I had to shell out 200 bones and tremble in anxiety about whether this would have been THE thing to take me down the deepest sewer of self loathing. It is intense, lasts several hours, and tests not only your reading, writing, listening, and speaking capabilities, but also your time management, ability to work efficiently under pressure, and in the environment of a fucking antarctic ice box. The aircon was turned up so high that my fingers turned blue and became arthritic, nearly precluding me from writing my essay on the current political conundrum regarding climate change (particularly ironic given the circumstance). I failed in my attempts to stay warm by fidgeting in my seat and picking the black lint off my white pants in between exam sections. And then once it was all done, I had to wait with bated breath for two weeks, considering the possibility that my listening skills (admittedly poor when it comes to banal everyday convos) might have been THE thing to interrupt my progression toward functioning adult member of society. The eventual humiliation of not passing an english language test was too much to bear and in those weeks I repeatedly picked off all my nail polish, split ends, and loose fibers on all my clothes. But rejoice was had when in the end the results came out and I had effected a perfect score, the certificate of which will join the pile of papers awaiting to be framed.

As for the concerns regarding safety, thank you to everyone who has called or texted to check up on me during recent extremist acts of violence. It's true the city hasn't gotten much gleaming publicity lately, but I will say that Londoners appear decidedly more concerned about Brexit than they do terrorism. Keep calm and carry on, as they say. And they really do. 

My dad used to tell me that he's not in favo(u)r of returning to the same places twice because they're never the same as you remember it. That always stuck with me. But on the morning of my final hours in Milan, I went back to the same coffee shop where I had had my first ever cappuccino on Christmas Eve 2010. At the time, my eyes were bright and it was the sweetest, most perfectly blended velvety drink of my life. The brioche was warm and crispy. The space was filled with fresh flowers and promise. This Wednesday morning though, the drink was watery, the brioche cold and soggy, and the plants lacking their usual vibrance. I couldn't help but be reminded of something someone once said to me- I'm not looking for something better, just something different. And in that moment I finally felt exactly the same. So off I went Wednesday evening to my new home, not gentle into that good night, but on a new kind of mission. One that trades coffee for tea, brioche for porridge, and hails a crowned matriarch. 

bye bitch!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

the chicken kitchen clerk

Lately I can't help but boil this magnanimous miracle of Life down to a continued sequence of isolated and annoying parts, seemingly aimed at validating the aphorism that it always gets worse before it gets better.

Just for fun, the other day I decided to self administer a Holmes and Rahe Stress Test which effectively lists 43 major life stressors and attaches a "life change units" score to each point. A score above 150 puts you at moderate risk for illness and a score above 300 puts you at high risk for illness. 

I scored 450. 

(scoring low always stressed me out anyway). 

All this extra systemic excitement probably explains why I have had another visit by that herpetic gift that has kept on giving for 10 years in the depths of my right nostril (so close it could reach out and touch my brain). I have also had a sore throat, fever, and over the course of three weeks broken out in hives almost every day on various parts of my body.

One of the points on the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale is "changing residence" which accounts for a minuscule 20 life change points; I would have expected more. I genuinely thought that moving to an english speaking country would have been cake compared to moving to Italy when I didn't speak Italian. Nope. Same same. I am once again the frequent recipient of the unsettling blank stare for what I can only understand to be consequence of the bad jokes I tell and/or the incomprehensible accent I possess. I am also perpetually confused about what time I'm supposed to be anywhere because Brits say things like "see you at half eleven" and I don't know if that means 10:30, 11:30, or 5:30. (If your logic also brought you to 5:30 then I love you and we should be mates.) 

Construction is still going on here at my father's residence where I'm indefinitely on the very comfortable air mattress. The electricity and plumbing shuts off spontaneously and the convos between dad and me tend to go like this:

Dad: "No pooping or flushing the loo for the next 2 hours!!!!!!!!!!!"

Me: Can I shower?

Dad: "Yes that's fine"

Me: Can I poop in the shower?

In effort to have some social interaction and calm the fuck down, I succumbed to the Tinder machine, only to wake up the morning after a late afternoon date with angioedema of my lip, without even having had physical contact with the stranger. So 72 hours after having very publicly marketed myself desperate for a man who could make me laugh, I deleted the app and am back to spending time with my dad, mostly in the kitchen, requesting his assistance to document the hives on my bare ass. Dad happens to be a semi professional photographer and quite fussy about capturing the f-stop and aperture on my welts in the correct way, staging these certifiably awkward photo shoots in the kitchen while the blinds are open. I'm pretty sure the brick layers in the back have some strong opinions about what kind of deviant household we comprise. 

My dad has actually been very helpful in assisting me on the path to legitimacy in this country. Yesterday he picked up some paperwork and a pee cup for me to register with the National Health Service as well as a local general practitioner. Naturally I urinated all over my hand and then presented to the doctor's office with the relevant forms, only to discover that I'd been trudging along the streets of Hertfordshire with body fluids in my purse unnecessarily. I'll have my first appointment next week. Hopefully the GP will be able to present me a toolbox by which I can try to lower my Holmes & Rahe score so that I can stop catastrophizing my life and get a hold on myself. I have been so exhausted that my emotions have become embarrassingly unrestrained. Yesterday I cried three times: the first was around 8am while watching the instagram video of blogger Chiara Ferragni and Italian rapper Fedez get engaged at his concert in Verona. The second was at 3:00pm when I re-watched the instagram video of blogger Chiara Ferragni and Italian rapper Fedez get engaged at his concert in Verona. And the third was at 3:30pm when my dad came home with a desk from the charity shop for me so that I could have a proper place to write. I cried more in secret as he polished it up for me. And I may or may not be crying right now as I sit here typing.

Meanwhile I sort through my woes, dad complains about the fact that his impending 1 week vacation is not long enough because it takes him that much just for his reading speed to amass enough momentum to reach its maximum velocity. At which point I yell "first world problems" and he launches into a monologue about how he invented that phrase 10 years ago. Seems like we're back to the same mutual parent-adolescent eye rolling dynamic we once had.

Finally, in the dizzying holding pattern that is waiting to receive a national insurance number granting me the right to work in the UK, I have somehow been subscribed to a site that posts job openings. This Orwellian style advertising doesn't even surprise or scare me anymore. Last night I got an email from Snagajob exhorting me to apply for various food service positions in Wilmington, North Carolina, the most compelling of which was as a "Chicken Kitchen Clerk". I can't say what kind of websites I have been frequenting to fall into this algorithm of relevant marketing, but as the photographs of the wheals of my butt would corroborate, it's true that I am literally itching to work.

But London, you beautiful creature, I trust you'll soon be worth it. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

on starting over

My spiritually minded friends would protest that I'm not starting over, rather, piling new life experience on top of a continuous process of growth that knows no continental limits. It's a lovely thought, but this free spirited kumbaya hand-holding attitude does little more than reveal that they've never moved countries while mercury is in retrograde.

I identify more with Bukowski at this particular moment:

"what makes a man a writer?"

"well, it's simple. You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge."

or Kafka:

"every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."

The fact that I am a UK citizen with alleged rights has done little by way of sheltering me from being made to feel like everything I attempt to do is a criminal act. As a result, until my affairs are in order, I have accepted the generous invitation by my father to stay with him in the suburbs outside London until I am more than 50% sure Her Royal Highness isn't going to bulldoze my life with her Range Rover (love her!) and send me back to wherever I came from. 

There is not much to do in this small town beyond the nail salon, gym and funeral home. The house is under construction so I'm indefinitely on a very comfortable air mattress and presently listening to the builders listen to "No Scrubs" by TLC while I scheme how and where I might find a friend outside of a book. 

Last week while attempting to buy an avocado and a pack of "not too hot not too mild" green peppers, the cashier stopped me to make a comparative analysis of the signature on my credit card receipt with that of my driver's license. She analyzed my appearance with much suspicion, to which I responded by gently reminding her that:

1. The photo on my ID is obviously me and the name matches the name on the credit card 


2. I had signed the document digitally with my finger which is not the same as signing a paper document with a pen 


and finally, as a humiliating last ditch effort to be left alone with my not too hot not too mild green peppers:

3. I am a doctor and my signature has become more sloppy over the years

[fail fail fail.]

At this point the ninety-something cashier was so riddled with disbelief over my identity and quite possibly feeling bullied both by my vulgar American accent and pink hair, that she paged the store manager to provide reinforcement. Anyway, in the end I got my avocados, but not without a fight. 

I'm off to open a bank account. The bank of England requires proof of my address at:

Air Mattress
United Kingdom

But only a predetermined official document will suffice as proof:

-Utility bill with my name on it


-Bank account with my address attached

[fail. i mean, are you effing kidding me? the employees don't even seem to understand the irony behind requiring proof of a bank account in order to open a bank account]

-Voter Registration Card


The final bullet point seemed to be my only hope, so I log onto the voter website and begin the registration process. Initially it seems pretty straightforward, until the final portion of the application where I am asked to enter my national insurance number- the equivalent of the American social security number or codice fiscale in Italy.


So I google:

"h-o-w  t-o   g-e-t   N-a-t-i-o-n-a-l   I-n-s-u-r-a-n-c-e   N-u-m-b-e-r"

I book an appointment by phone for the following week and am required to bring proof of identity and "acceptable" proof of address:

-utility bill with my name and address on it (here we go again).


-bank statement with my name and address on it


-Voter Registration Card

[fail fail fail.] How is this even possible? I need a voter registration card for a bank account, but need NI number for voter registration card. But need bank account for NI number. 

I plead with the woman over the phone who agrees to allow me to bring in a letter from my father confirming that I have residency on his air mattress until further notice.

I attend the interview for the national insurance number accompanied by my father who is immediately asked to wait outside the building because inside there is a "no wait policy". Right. 

I present with a portfolio of all the documents that make me ME, all my passports even the expired ones, birth certificates from America, UK, Hungary. Letters. All the letters that exist for anything. My official documents. Dad's official documents. University Diplomas. Transcripts. Pap Smear Results. I am extremely and overly prepared. I am called for my interview and despite my right to work in the UK, I am nervous as if I were being prosecuted:

[Woman stares at me suspiciously.]

"So, why do you want a national insurance number?"

So I can work in this country.

"You have never worked in this country?"

I have never lived nor worked in this country.

"Are you married?"


[Looks at me verrrryy suspiciously]. "Have you ever been married?"

No. [Suspicion heightens]

"Are you single?" 

[She upward inflects 'single' forcing me to wonder whether these were official questions or just manifestations of her own curiosity.


[This sends her into a frantic assault of her computer keyboard for about 45 seconds, after which she looks back up at me.]

"So you're single and you've never been married?" 

That is correct

[Returns to frantically typing on computer keyboard.]

"Ok, please sign here."

[I sign. She looks at my passport and then at my signature.] 

"Your signatures don't match."

[AGAIN? Really?! I am too exasperated to try a different tactic so I recite the same script from the supermarket the week before]:

The photo on my ID is obviously me and the name matches the name on the passport. 


I had signed the document digitally with my finger which is not the same as signing a paper document with pen 


and finally, as a humiliating last ditch effort to be left alone with my not too hot not too mild green peppers national insurance number:

I am a doctor and my signature has become more sloppy over the years.


"Why of course it has! I will put a note in your file attesting that your signature has changed over the years and that you cannot replicate it. You will get a response from us within 3-4 weeks as to whether or not we have approved you for a national insurance number."

Wait so I am a British Citizen and a doctor with an offer to work at a major London Hospital, no felonies no arrests no work or marriage or adoption issues that could complicate my application, but you might deny me of the right to work

"Well not me, specifically, but, yes. If we are not in touch with you by May 22 please call this number. Here is your reference number. Bye." 

It was almost as warm a welcome to the country as the fifty-something drunk chap at the corner pub who watched me roll by with my suitcase on the way home from the train station:

"OY! OYYYY!! LUV! Whee ya frum?!!" [spills beer over railing]


"Oh I've bin theh! It's shhhhite!" [Laughs, spills pint over railing]

Anyway, as much as I hate to use it, sometimes the "I'm a doctor" thing works. People have this perception that if you're a doctor you're rich and trustworthy and really got your life together. The reality is that I'm in my 30's and technically jobless and homeless. My pants have been on backwards for 17 hours and I've got so much dry shampoo in my hair that fruit flies keep getting stuck in it. 

It was time to have a shower and head into London. I made plans with an Italian friend who arranged "tickets" for us for Friday night. She is a generally vague person but also highly cultured so I took it to mean she arranged after-dinner theater or art or music tickets. 


I arrive. We grab some Asian food in Bethnal Green which is famously Jack the Ripper territory, and where Martina casually mentions that the last time she was there, there was a murder in the park across the street. She walks me into a dark, empty alley while I launch into a monologue on twisted Italian literature and she listens intently while finishing her cigarette.  We walk up to an anonymous black door against a graffitied brick wall and she knocks. A skinny, shaved headed guy answers.

"are you on the list?"


"there is no list. Come in"

The doorman then draws a penis on each of our hands with thick permanent black marker and lets us in. 

There is loud cheering and a wrestling ring. It's Lucha Britannia. I'm pushed right up to the front just in time to watch the previous match end and the next act begin.

A voluptuous woman comes out in a bear suit and does a strip tease to the tune of Ludacris' "What's your Fantasy". Very different from the week I'd spent reading books and watching the builders stack cinder blocks (who by the way are now listening to Will Smith's "Gettin Jiggy Wit It"). 

I spent Saturday at the Wellcome Trust Museum and on Saturday night had dinner with my Italian friends at a pizza place in Southwark called "O'ver" which in dialect means "REALLY?!" or "WTF?!". It reminded me about my feelings on the fact that there are no bloody electrical sockets permitted in bathrooms in this country.

On Sunday I embarked upon a social experiment of sorts in search of a new friend. Somebody. Anybody. I walked down to Pop Brixton, ordered a big bloody mary and sat by myself with a book in hopes that a stranger might come and talk to me. It never happened. Well, twice I had a near success when someone tapped me on the shoulder asking if I could slide down on the bench to make space for them and their burger. 

I have been in England for a week. This may be the country of royalty, the beloved Prince Harry and cream tea, but in the more appropriately revised words of Ed Sheeran- the bar isn't a good place to find love, so the buffet is where I go. 

For now, I'll stick to my books, my bureaucracy, and my air mattress. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ciao ciao italia

On my final morning as a resident of Milan, I watched the moon rise over Torre Velasca, and everything felt decidedly symbolic. This building has been voted again and again one of the world's ugliest structures, but when it was propositioned to be bulldozed, the people of Milan revolted. It is an icon, one of the city's greatest treasures.

One of the things I have so desperately loved about this city is how little it gives away for free. It is a place that has to be worked for.  It is raw. Harsh but in its hidden compartments so delicate, ugly yet strikingly beautiful, grungy but so impeccably chic.

In a country that inherently possesses an exaggerated richness of landscape, architecture, art, culture, and cuisine, Milan stands alone as the easily overlooked and frequently misunderstood black swan of the boot.  There is nothing obvious about it. It is not a city that attracts people in search of an easy life or a dreamy weekend getaway. It is driven by hunger and perhaps a bit of madness.  It is possessed by those in pursuit of a dream, meanwhile equivalently dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, in that way only Italians really know how.

I passed both the most difficult and most beautiful years of my life in Italy. The greatness it and its inhabitants possess petitioned my humility, the cultural richness and rigidity forced me to adapt. This city does not accept anything but the best version of yourself. I have never known a community to be so vested in helping, supporting, loving, and generally enjoying the company of its members. What Italians lose in nationalism they gain in altruism and culture. 

People ask me all the time why I moved to Italy and now I tell them I moved for love but stayed for the tagliatelle.  If you have ever dreamed of living in this country, I could not encourage you more to do it. Or at least for a bit. Whether for the love of food or art or lifestyle, Italians will teach you how to live simply but with passion. And you will no doubt emerge a better human having spent your time in their company, with those who through and through really do do it better. 

I have taken the initiative to procure a brief cheat sheet to your transition in the event you decide to pack up and go: 

1. The bureaucracy and general life maintenance procedures are riddled with kafkaesque catch 22's. Most people think there are no rules in italy, that anything goes, but this couldn't be further from the truth. There are instead so many rules and regulations (many of which are laughably draconian) that they actually compete with each other, forcing you to break one just so you can adhere to another. Cheating and cutting corners is basically built into your survival code. 

2. Do not order a cappuccino after 11am. This is social suicide. 

3. Forget about paying for things with your credit card. You need cash. And you need exact change. Tellers, cashiers, and store clerks will deliberately and audibly sigh of exhaustion and scorn you if you are not prepared with the precise amount of coins. 

4. 15 minutes late is officially still considered on time. This is not a joke. In universities it is called a "15 minute academic delay" and you are still within your rights whether you are a student or professor. 

5. There is no snacking so stop randomly eating and do not dream about eating on a public train or bus.

6. Lunchtime is at 1pm. You stop what you do and you go there. And by there, I mean some designated place devoted specifically to dining. There is no chow permitted at your desk. And if you are eating at home YOU MUST SET THE TABLE.

7. There is no life before 7am. so plan your gym session for after work. 

8. If shit appears to be hitting the fan, everyone will panic and complain for a few hours/days/weeks, and then spontaneously all will be magically resolved because someone important somewhere made a phone call. Go ahead and join the catastrophe club but remember it ALWAYS works out even where the possibility seems impossible. 

9. Do not wear open toed shoes until sandal season. It doesn't matter how hot it is. Ladies, that means May. Gentleman, you wear socks with your dress shoes until late June and there is no exception unless you're ok appearing really smug.

10. When driving your car, do not make the mistake of parking in front of a driveway or inside the lines deemed for residents or on the curb on a night when there is street sweeping. Simply park your car on the sidewalk and all is good. 

11. People still smoke. Get over it. You may actually start yourself and LIKE IT. 

12. When your gym says it closes at 10pm it actually means 9:30pm. 10pm is when the employees get to go home and now they need to spray off your elliptical. 

13. There is no fettuccine alfredo, garlic bread, or spaghetti with meatballs. This was all a hoax. Also, there is no salt in the bread in Tuscany so stay away from it, not worth it. 

14. Nobody here appreciates a snitch. Ever. So mind your business and keep your mouth shut.

15. If you forget your wallet, come back and pay later. It's never a problem.

Italy, you have been a dream, and while my heart breaks to leave you behind, the fact that there are seemingly more Italians under the Queen Mother mends my achy heart. And besides, now that I'm in your system, we will always be tied by that inescapable bureaucracy. 

Arrivederci ai miei amici piu cari, vi porto sempre con me.