You're Leaving on a Jet Plane...She's Not.

Continuing with thinking about the trip, there are a lot of good bits to remember.

I found myself running through the best stories from the trip with a friend on the phone last night - most of them involved airport travel or Americans abroad - and other than running into my old undergrad adviser unexpectedly - the best story happened on the flight back, as I was making a plane change in Shannon, Ireland.

In front of me, stood two American recent college grads - a boy and a girl - and they were chatting each other up in the way that American college kids do (you know, with the assumption on at least one of their parts that if the conversation goes well it equates to them likely hooking up later). And so I hear them swapping travel stories, trying to one-up each other with where they've been or how much they've spent or how long they've stayed. And then flight begins to board.

They call for the first round of regular boarding, and the two kids begin to head towards the ramp, with the girl remarking she's not in this boarding group (evidently the conversation is going well). Neither is particularly bothered by this, no doubt assured by their recent college graduate status and certain sense of entitlement that might come from age or from being American or from having been through so many airports. The boarding guard, an Irish gentleman in his middle years, balding, takes the boy's ticket. Then the girl's. Then he hands it back.

"It's not your time to board."

The boy, feeling his victory close at hand, goes for the kill, no doubt wanting to show both his entitlement and the level of cool control, "Oh, it's okay. She's with me."

The boarding guard looks him over for just a second, sizes up the situation, and says with just enough sense of sarcasm and finality that every young male in the room would've winced and cupped themselves, "Not any more she's not. Get aboard, please."

And with that, head hung in defeat, our young protagonist was left to head alone down the jetway, his dreams of summer fling put coolly to bed. And I must say, seeing it, and hearing the Irish accent and the sarcasm saying it, made the many walks through security well worth the trip.

Reading While Traveling

I read a bit while I was abroad, and thought I'd mention here, by way of catching up a bit, what I ran into and what I enjoyed. So here's the list:
  • One Day - David Nicholls
  • Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann
  • Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby
  • Cultural Consumption and Everyday Life - John Storey
Of them, I'd recommend the first three, with strongest marks going to Let the Great World Spin (I'm sure, not surprisingly), though One Day reminded me a bit of what would happen if you mixed the drama of The Time Traveler's Wife with a Nick Hornby book, and the Nick Hornby book saw him finally returning to the other thing that made High Fidelity such a great book (not the angst of a male lead his both something of a fuck up and a success, though that's there, too): music as a center piece.

As for Storey, it's intended as a history of the idea of cultural consumption, but the history itself feels a bit light. Entire areas are set up as straw men, based on one or two citations, and dismissed in a couple of paragraphs. It made for interesting "in the shade at a conference" reading, but overall, it was a bit disappointing, I thought.

I should probably also note that I'm about 120 pages into A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. I like it, though I do think sometimes an editor could stand to weigh in a little more.

And then, a reminder

I was, more or less, a fuck-up as an undergrad, trying to manage more than I was capable of: a girlfriend I wasn't happy with, two or three jobs, money home to the family (sometimes from student loans), being young and away from home for the first time, and, oh yea, school.

That I made it out of my undergrad career with a degree is perhaps not a miracle, but certainly a testament to will and patience - some of it, even mine.

One of the good bits, though, was that my undergrad adviser actually saw something in the mess that I was, and pointed it out when he could. I wouldn't have imagined being able to go to grad school - a time I'm not ashamed to admit will probably be the glory days I compare other things to for the rest of my life - without that. And for all the things that keep me up at night - fucked-up family, approaching 40 with the potential of looming genetic time bombs, a mountain of student loan debt - I've got a pretty good life that's come out of it.

I say this because, by happenstance, as I was wandering to get a drink of water between sessions in the conference I'm attending overseas, my undergrad adviser spotted me out of the crowd and came over to say hello.

It was nice to be able to say a quick thank you, and to be reminded of one of the things I have to live up to in my own interactions with students.

On Being Abroad

"It struck me that distant cities were designed precisely so you can know where you came from."
- C. McCann, Let the Great World Spin

I Write Like...

And while I'm killing time in the hotel room, waiting for the rain to stop...

I write like
Ray Bradbury

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Overheard at the Museum

Don't worry - I'm not going to do nothing but strange, semi-sarcastic guides. I've got other tricks of banal humor to use while on vacation.

For example, today at a museum, I overheard an exchange between a man and a woman (both American, judging by their accents) while looking at an Andy Warhol. It went like this:
He: So this is Warhol, huh?
She: Yes! Awesome isn't it?
He: Uh, I guess. I don't get it - what's with all copying of labels and stuff?
She: It's a statement.
He: Of what?
She: Just let me take your picture by the stupid thing.
Already hurt by this irony of the exchange, it was then that I saw - as he turned to have his picture taken by it - he was wearing a Superman "S" t-shirt.

Guide for Americans Abroad on the Day of a World Cup Victory

  1. Recognize that there are some things bigger and more popular than anything your country produces.
  2. Decide whether this makes you want to get on the bandwagon and/or expand your horizons or whether you want to try uncharacteristic anti-establishment thinking and/or passively grumbling that you don't get it.
  3. Take comfort in the fact that people from your own country aren't the only ones who lose any sense of public shame or consideration when their team wins. But only a little comfort. And cold.
  4. If forced into conversation, to minimize lack of knowledge (due to being at conference, lack of interest, etc.) simply mumble "Some refs, eh?".
  5. Wear earphones - the honking, cheering, and singing might go well into the night.
  6. Day after, claim blisters that are making you hobble developed somehow while you were running victory laps long into the night. Don't admit they were from getting lost and finding yourself in the meatpacking district.
  7. Buy a drink or accept a drink when offered. It's the right thing to do.

Guide to Conference Attendees Who Have Already Presented

  1. It's never too late to mention your research.
  2. Always wait at least two hours after presenting your research before savaging another presenter. This lessens the likelihood they'll remember the flaws in your presentation.
  3. Interrupting signals not just how much you care but how important your own work is.
  4. Don't worry if they can hear you talking in the hallway.
  5. Your cell phone ring is endearing and witty. Please, please, do let it ring a little longer.
  6. Feel free to generalize about the academic work of people from other schools, genders, or countries. The bigger the generalization, the more insightful.
  7. Always wait two hours after savaging another presenter before going swimming. You'll get cramps.

Guide to Travelers with Cameras

  1. Be prepared to wait for the shot. It will be worth it.
  2. Remember what it feels like to wait for the next kiss after the first one. That's what shooting with film is like.
  3. If there is a fee to climb on top of something, it is almost always worth it.
  4. Bring band-aids to aid with the blisters.
  5. Expect a ratio of one good photo per roll. This is a better ratio than you will manage in almost any other aspect of your life, so don't bitch about it.

Like All the Great Airplane Disaster Movies

Somewhere just before we over the truly deep open water, the five year old across the aisle from me began to experience the joys of a tender stomach. Funny how well the sound of a five year old retching fills an airplane at 11:12 at night. He probably had the fish.

It was then that I realized I'd left my journal at home.

The trip was not going particularly well so far. On the way to the airport, someone wasn't thinking about how public transport tends to lurch and, so, grabbed the pull handle on my luggage to steady themselves. They broke it. There's not really an easy way to address this on the way to an airport: you can start to have the argument, but everyone knows you're on a deadline. And worse, they can always jump off with a shrug and a sorry at the next stop. What're you going to do? Miss your transatlantic flight?

Because of the drama at home, I was already operating from behind. I have two conferences to hit, and two presentations to give, plus a panel to moderate, and I've got very little done on most of that (okay, I've got a PowerPoint mostly put together for one of them).

Still, I'm here now, and it's much cooler than being back in my apartment, plus my family can't reach me except by e-mail (which I'll only have sporadically) for the better part of two weeks. It is, as they say, sweet bliss. Except of course for having forgotten my journal, being unable to actually pull my giant piece of luggage through one of the largest airports in the world, and having to listen to four hours of a five year old hollowing himself out into a bag at 37,000 feet.

Reading in the Terminal

"[he] lay stretched out on a bench as above his head three yellow butterflies danced. Angels, I thought, willing for a moment to give the world the benefit of the doubt."

- C. Smith, Three Delays