Notes From My Second Week In London (Pt. II)



The next morning we were lying in bed and I asked Mark if he remembered me telling him that I’d found out the beagle’s name the night before. He said “No” and I tried to make him guess it.
        “Spice,” he said, and then: “Hypie.”


The next morning we sat in front of our bedroom door quietly murmuring the word “Pearl” to peak Pearl’s interest. Pearl ran upstairs. She was crying tears of black gunk. “Why are you crying this… disgusting shit?” I asked her and then apologized for calling her disgusting by burying my head into her velvet neck. It’s a couple days later and I just saw her a few minutes ago. The streaks of black tears were still stained on her fur because her good-for-nothing owner doesn’t take any pride in her dog not having its face stained with gothic-looking bodily fluids. Pearl’s owner is my enemy. My first London enemy.
        I got dressed and ready and commuted to Stoke-Newington. I felt like hot shit because I had a job interview and trial shift at cool-seeming restaurants. I wasn’t going to Stokie for any reason that related to my trial shifts; sorry I just called it Stokie; it wouldn’t have flowed naturally from me if I’d said it out loud. I was going back to our airbnb to drop off a cream knit iPhone case belonging to our host that Mark had accidentally packed into my suitcase. It was not really the most thrilling escapade of my life. While I was there I packed all of our food we’d forgotten to into a plastic grocery bag and left swinging it back and forth listening to Shakey Dog on headphones and feeling like the first guy someone ever looked at and thought “What a very important person!” about. For no real reason (except that other peoples' lives are interesting), here is a list of the contents of the bag:

-bottle of cheap white wine (mine)
-bag of mixed nuts (mine)
-asparagus (Mark’s)
-brioche (Mark’s)
-shaker of turmeric (Mark’s)
-bag of Lavazza espresso (both of ours)
-coconut oil (both of ours, but mostly Mark’s)

I took the tube to Sloane Square, where I had a job interview. I bailed on the job interview. I hadn’t realized how posh Sloane Square is, as it wasn’t directly called out in the lyric to A Well-Respected Man or Play With Fire, in combination my field guide to Londony poshness. The lady on the phone had mentioned that the place was quite “elite,” but I assumed she was lying. She mentioned that Hugh Grant was a regular. I assumed that Hugh Grant is chill and liked to chill at chill places.
        But he isn’t, doesn’t; not this time at least. The vibe of the neighbourhood made me want the neighbourhood to not exist. I took out my notebook and, using my knee propped up on a low gate as a desk, wrote Nothing about walking past a Bottega Veneta store DOES IT FOR ME. I looked up from my scrawling and noticed that the doorman standing outside of the Bottega Veneta store had been watching me. He looked indifferent. I wanted to tell him, “This is the best thing you will ever see in your life,” but of course didn’t, because I am sane.
        I walked past the restaurant, snooping, peeking. It didn’t look like a place I would even want to walk past let alone drink at let alone eat at let alone work at let alone general manage. Most of the diners were posh older women with dyed-blond bobs wearing floral-print or -hued shift dresses and jewelry more expensive than everything my whole family owns combined. And my family is decently well-off! But these were real rich people, like the Archibalds and van der Woodsens. The servers, still called waiters here, wore mint green ties and white collared shirts and floor-length aprons and waistcoats. “The kind of restaurant I want to work at exists in direct opposition to this place,” I told Mark, and then remembered a pact I’d made with myself after quitting Starbucks three years ago: “I will never work at a place that has a uniform again.” Never, again, and I’m a Clash fan: them’s fighting words. So that settled it. Mark and I sat down on a little bench right in the middle of Sloane Square and I phoned up the restaurant, which was only maybe fifty feet away from where we sat but I’m cowardly and, in such circumstances, who wouldn’t be?
        I asked to speak to the manager and then said “Wait, no, actually- it’s fine,” and I told whoever answered that my name was Laura and I wouldn’t be able to attend my test shift. I lied and said I’d found employment elsewhere.


SILVER OTTER SOPHIE, or, Notes From My Second Week In London (Pt. I)


Hi! Welcome to the second-to-last instalment of Moving to London journals. After my second week in London I made the probably rational decision to stop obsessively documenting every movement I made in writing and also got a job, which is really boring to write about compared to not having a job. The picture seen above is my amazing photographer of a boyfriend Mark Rothen


I walked to the Overground under an early evening sky greying attractively like a hot person in his or her mid-forties. Around the temples.
        It was cool out. I was on my way to go work a trial shift at a restaurant in Brixton. I hate the ugly words “trial shift” and wish that I didn’t have to use them in a thing I’m writing but the only alternative is “test shift,” which is slightly uglier. The houses were looking, as usual, nice, and I had a revelatory Oh my god I’m not on holiday I live here I don’t have to leave here moment, “And that was the moment it hit me,” someone who cared less about not writing down sentences that other people have already written down might say.
        The coolness was like being next to an ocean but I wasn’t next to an ocean. I was in England in the summer on a night. In Toronto the outrageous heat would still be oozing out from between the clouds in spots, trickling water-spills or river, lake shapes, of hot orange and pink. In Toronto in the summer you can look up at the sunset and imagine it’s hot as lava in the sky.

On the train I listened to Guns Of Brixton by the Clash. I’d already been to Brixton once that day. Guns Of Brixton is by Paul Simonon, the bass player, and it goes When they kick at your front door How you gonna come? With your hands on your head Or on the trigger of your gun?
        (The correct answer to that question is “On the trigger of my gun, Paul! The trigger of my gun!”)
        Brixton in 2014 doesn’t look like a place where any cops are going to bang down your front door and break into your house and behave unethically though it doesn’t look gorgeous or anything either. When you get off the tube there’s a budget grocery store called Icleand and an H&M and, to your left, a little street called Electric Avenue. I wonder how long you’d have to work or live in Brixton before you could look at the Electric Avenue street sign without singing I wanna rock down to Electric Avenue in your head. I don’t know. Maybe no human has ever lived that long.
        I walked down Electric Avenue and turned left. I am going to use the real names of some of the people I worked with at the trial shift but I am going to use a fake name for the general manager because there is no his-real-name-related-anecdote that it feels imperative for me to tell you. I have no real desire to protect his or this restaurant’s identity but want to do whatever I can to make sure all the people who work there don’t find this and then read it aloud to each other, mocking my narrative voice.
        I am going to call him Teddy. He was a handsome in a way that made him less appealing than if he were average or even ugly. If he was an actor, and he could have been, he would have been well-cast as one of Chuck Bass’ cronies on an episode of Gossip Girl. He wore a white short-sleeved button-up spotted with royal blue polka-dots made of thread and Carhartt khakis and teal Vans lace-ups. His skin looked like it was made of creamed honey.
        Teddy seemed deeply inconvenienced by his having ears that functioned properly every time my lips parted and vocal cords vibrated or whatever it is vocal cords or a voicebox actually do. If I could describe his general demeanor in one word it would be, so easily and without competition, “humorless.” At my interview he quizzed me on what’s in a Negroni and Manhattan and Old-Fashioned and what is a Sour and what’s my favorite wine and how would I describe it and what wine would I pair with garlic butter prawns and what wine would I pair with salt-and-pepper squid. I told him a dry Riesling for the squid and he raised his eyebrows like I had just said “Me no know!” and squashed my chin into my neck and then made a farting noise with my armpit.
        I said “I don’t know, sorry, it’s just my thing, I really love pairing Rieslings with Asian food” and I regret saying that because a) I think it’s ignorant to say “Asian food” and b) it’s not even really my thing and c) I’m NOT sorry that I think it’s cool to think outside the box wine-wise, and d) I’m NOT sorry I’m confident enough to express my semi-outside of the box wine opinions in a situation where I know I’m meant to just say the right answer. Which was the Vinho Verde.


My First Week In London: Journals, Part II


The photograph of Stoke-Newington in the rain seen above was taken by my amazing boyfriend Mark Rothen; I stole it from his Instagram, which you can and should look at by clicking on his name. Mark is a genius photographer and I am in love with him. We have now lived in London for three weeks and three days. For Part I click HERE

Day 5 (Friday, July 25th, 2014)

I set my iPhone alarm to wake me up with Baby You’re A Rich Man which is pretty motivational I guess. We walked across the street to a little coffee shop called Bodega 50. The barista was a child, a beautiful fat-cheeked pink-cheeked blonde in a white t-shirt and jean shorts and off-white Converse All-Stars. She looked so cool in her Converse All-Stars that while we waited for our iced Americanos I wondered if maybe I should buy some Converse All-Stars even though I don’t really like Converse All-Stars. She shook up our iced Americanos in cocktail shakers and then poured them into paper cups. They were frothy and lukewarm. We ate vegetarian sandwiches prepared for us by her co-worker, a different child. The bread was gummy and yeasty. Mine was avocado and red pepper spread and something they call rocket here, which I think might be arugula.
        It wasn’t enough coffee but it was too much sandwich. It was hot out and we walked through the still yellow heat to go look at a disgusting shithole piece of shit flat. The realtor was short and muscular and had trad-style tattoos of things like anchors and pompadoured Veronica Lodgey ladies kneeling in red bikinis and the suits of all the playing cards inked up his arms. His name was Mike in a way that confused me into thinking every other realtor we met and saw that day was named Mike. He showed us a room and in the corner of the room was a dish crusted-over with baked beans and macaroni noodles. I looked at the dish and zoned out of whatever two-bit hustle he was trying to use on us and thought about the part of The Beatles Anthology where the Beatles go to Rishikesh and Ringo brings a suitcase full of Heinz baked beans with him and then leaves after two weeks.
        Mike led us down to the poorly-maintained backyard garden the room was affiliated with and I looked at all the faraway-feeling Heinzy English trash in the trashcan and thought about how when I was young whenever I felt sad or scared I would ask John Lennon what to do in my head and my head would answer back as John Lennon and I would fully take my head/John Lennon’s word for it. And I thought, the Beatles when they were Beatles were little kids so much younger than I am now and they wouldn’t have known anything about anything when it comes to being a real person shit like what is the appropriate reaction to finding yourself under-caffeinated and full of sandwich in a gnarly shithole a tattooed stranger is asking you to pay two grand a month to live in.


My First Week In London: Journals, Part I


The photograph seen above was taken by my amazing boyfriend Mark Rothen; I stole it from his Instagram, which you can and should look at by clicking on his name. Mark is a genius photographer and I am in love with him. We have lived in London for three weeks now. I feel like I wrote these words a very long time ago, but I only wrote them three weeks ago. 

Day 1 (Monday, July 21st, 2014)

Mark waltzed through customs before I was even a quarter through my line I mean queue. He has a British passport. The British passport has a little microchip built into the page with the picture of your face on it. You wave it in front of a machine and the machine’s like “Yeah, okay, you’re cool,” and then you coolly walk away from it like the calm, breezy British person you are. I was so jealous of him for not having to talk to a person even though my person was fine. He was a cool, breezy Irish guy who looked like the stereotype of what an Irish person would look like. He asked me if I had a Visa and I said Yeah and he said “Well that makes it easy then!” and in my head I was like “Does it?!?!?!” because I had very earnestly assumed that the full one hundred percent of this process would be the worst and most boring and inconvenient hassle I’d ever endured.
        I pressed my fingers against a piece of computery glass and my fingers confirmed that they were a part of me and then the Irish guy said “Have a great adventure!” because I’d told him I was on an adventure five minutes ago. I was groggy. I thought about how people who work at airports talk to groggy people so much more than any other faction of society and they must think people are so silly and cute because of it. They must like people.
        (I doubt most groggy people are silly or cute. Airport employees probably hate us.) I bought us coffees at the Gatwick airport Costa and ordered myself an iced latte because the last time I was at that exact airport-Costa I’d ordered myself an iced Americano and they’d given me an iced latte anyway. But somehow this new iced latte had even more milk in it than the kind of iced latte you’d get in North America AKA a normal iced latte that I don’t know why Great Britain feels it has to fuck with. It was an iced latte hovering atop an extra float of white milk at the bottom. I drank a couple sips while eating a cup of boogery blueberry yogurt and then threw it in the garbage, because it was garbage. I liked the boogery yogurt though.

When we arrived at our airbnb in Stoke-Newington the cab driver insisted on getting out of the cab and physically watching me make sure that we were where we were supposed to be which couldn’t have been as well-intentioned as it was annoying. I rang both the house’s buzzers and a very flabby set of shoulders protruded from the first floor window. The owner of the shoulders had a fat pointy nose poking out from the number one mop-top I’ve ever seen that was most reminiscent of an actual mop. He looked like the cartoon version of Ringo from the Beatles cartoon. He asked me what we were looking for and I strung a bunch of words including multiple instances of the non-word “airbnb” together in a whiny, high-pitched tone that I feel did a huge disservice to all North American accents everywhere. Thanks to me, that Ringoey guy will probably think all North Americans are desperate idiots for the rest of his life.
        The girl who owns our airbnb let us into our airbnb and then I napped the afternoon away. I am writing this two days later but it feels like a thousand years have passed in a way that two days ago has never previously felt like. Obviously it is an exaggeration to say that two days ago feels like it was a thousand years ago because I am a human and can’t perceive a thousand years like that. But when I think about what was going on in my head then versus what is going on in my head now, honestly, I feel like I’ve made eight to fourteen days’ worth of progress. It’s amazing what can happen to the inside of your brain when you rip yourself away from everything you like and know and fly across the ocean in a heavy machine and then wake up in another country. And the sun says it’s the afternoon when your blood and body know it’s actually the morning.
         I have had worse jet lag than Mark which comes as no surprise to anybody since it’s a sleep-related ailment and I can’t even sleep properly through a night in the city I’m from after having lived a non-stressful day with no pressing issues on the horizon. Thinking of the way the jet lag is still a part of me is the only thing that binds me to two days ago being two days ago.


70,000 Reasons Why Your Life Is Really Weird Right Now


If you are reading this it means I moved to London and as you read this I am busy doing whatever Londony thing I happen to be doing and didn’t die on the plane to London, unless I did die. In which case I am sorry for your loss. And mine.
        I am sitting at my kitchen table in Toronto. It’s Thursday. I only have three entire days left to live here and I’m already halfway through one of them so that isn’t even a true sentence. I have two and a half days left to live here, plus another half of a day on Sunday. Then we- my boyfriend Mark and I- will go to the airport, where we'll interact with a machine that prints out our boarding passes and can never read my passport because it got bent up in my wallet and then we'll check our luggage. They'll put our luggage in the belly of the plane with all the coffins and sedated dogs and we'll trust they won’t lose it and then we'll go drink Canadian beer and eat stale french fries in a "lounge" and nothing we could look at each other and say would express the enormity of it. And then we'll get on a plane and the plane will fly us away. The ocean will sit still and ferocious beneath us. It doesn’t need us.
        The plane will land in the morning. We'll get off the plane and hey now we’re in LONDON in ENGLAND and everything is different except for the language people speak and that we’re still Laura and Mark. But even then, even right away, we’ll be a different Laura and Mark. We’ll be Laura and Mark who moved instead of Laura and Mark who are moving.
        I wanted to write about moving because I only have two and a half days left to live here and if I don’t write about moving now I know I’ll never write about moving. And I wanted to write about moving.
        I spent the first three weeks of July moving, doing all the moving things. I thought it was going to be a non-time but it was a big time, big the way you’ll say a certain wine is big, big like “I’m kind of a big deal.” It was a big old jerk animal who showed up at the end of June and plopped himself (he is a boy) down on his big fat butt in front of me and in lieu of a formal introduction yelled his name- “Packing All Your Shit Up And Moving To London And Like Calling The Phone Company And Whatever,” that’s his name- right up in my face so close I could smell his breath which smelled okay but still. It was rude. Packing All Your Shit Up And Moving To London And Like Calling The Phone Company And Whatever chained his hands to my hands and his feet to my feet and together we thumped across the first three weeks of July as one clumsy, blundering idiot in an idiot costume who hated each other. Who hated itself.


My Perfect Weekend of The Clash & Bananas


I'm home in Massachusetts right now; it's perfect. On Friday night I took the train into the city and got off near Fenway Park and stopped at Nuggets, in hopes of finding some weird treasure you could only find in Boston, and guess what was right by the door? Earwig, by Blake Babies, on vinyl. It was $55.99, which made sense to me on some levels but also seemed potentially impossible, since nearly every other record around it cost about 12 bucks. So I brought Earwig up to the counter and pointed to the price tag and said to the counter guy, "It's $55.99, really?" - which I understand was an annoying question: I'm self-employed, and it's super-exasperating when someone questions the value of whatever good/service you're providing. So the counter guy was rightfully annoyed, and made an annoyed face and spoke to me in a scolding tone, saying "It's rare - and really hard to find!" If I'd been more on-the-ball I might've sassed him back and told him, "That's a redundant statement - and it makes the same point twice!" But instead I just sighed and said "Well, yeah, I know," and shrugged and smiled and put the record back. Hopefully it'll find a good home soon, with somebody who'll love it intensely forever. Everyone knows Blake Babies fans are generally a moneyed and powerful lot.

I left Nuggets without buying anything, and I walked all the way from Kenmore Square to Porter Square to meet Laura (not Laura Jane! She lives in London now!) and her brother Todd for cocktails at The Abbey. I got a drink called The Fearless King (muddled basil, whiskey, grapefruit juice) and a pint of Rapscallion Honey beer and both were lovely, and then Sarah and Rich met up with us and we went over to Redbones to eat dinner at the bar. Sarah and I split a pulled pork sandwich plus about 5,000 sides, including hushpuppies, which were extra-oily and hot and heaven and so beautifully Munchkin-like in their sphericalness. Pretty sure I hogged most of the hushpuppies, but the experience of dunking them in the little paper cup and let the vinegar soak through the crispy-crackly batter was so satisfying and addictive, I just couldn't stop. 

Saturday morning I took the train home and listened to Blake Babies and The Clash, who are my #1 at the moment. I used my parents' copy of The Story of The Clash as the backdrop for a bunch of pictures for this post, mostly because I just want to look at Mick Jones all the time. I first fell in love with him in ninth grade: I remember sitting in Western Civ and staring at the back of Marissa Vanesse's hair and hearing "Rush" in my head and being hung up on the sweetness/snottiness of Mick's voice, and ever since then I've gone through a thing of being obsessed with him at least once every few years. And on Saturday night I watched Westway to the World, which is a Clash documentary you can watch in its entirety on YouTube. It rules because it's basically just The Clash talking about themselves for 80 minutes, plus lots of really great footage of them playing live. My fave moment's when they tell the story of going to an ice cream parlor and taking their cones outside and writing "I'M SO BORED WITH THE U.S.A." on the windows with their ice cream. I also loved when Paul Simonon did his impression of Mick Jones's hair:


The I Live In The City I Was Born In Blues


Hi. I was born on Dundas Street in the city of Toronto when I was zero years old and lived in a town forty-five minutes outside of the city for the first eighteen years of my life. I came back to Toronto six years ago and have lived here all the way up until today. I am moving to London, England in about five hours. Here is the story of the past six years of my life.  

I moved back home the summer I turned twenty-three. A couple months earlier my boyfriend and I had broken up in Montreal. We went to go see a movie about nothing called Last Night At Marienbad. I didn’t like it because it was boring and I knew I was supposed to pretend I was too smart to think it was boring which made me want to make an even bigger deal out of how boring I thought it was. My boyfriend loved it because he loved everything I thought was boring and I hated everything that he loved. If we were two overlapping circles the ellipse between us would only have been big enough to hold: Tomorrow Never Knows by the Beatles, a couple Faust albums, Thai food, Ulysses and- kind of- each other. A few years later I asked him if we could collaborate on a blog post about the night of our break-up and call it Last Night Of Our Relationship At Marienbad and he said no because it hit too close to home. But now a thousand years have passed and he’s thirty and I may as well be. He’s marrying a girl in New York City and I’m moving to England in a week and I can say whatever the hell I want. I thought I already could but I didn’t realize how much I actually could. There’s always another level of truth sitting around and waiting for you to move to another country.
        I was sick that summer. Not as sick as I had been, and not as sick as I would be, but when I look back on the diaries I kept of everything I ate then I’m horrified. A lot of garlic salt, fruit salad, and steamed broccoli.
        I was staying at my parents’ house in a suburb forty minutes west of the city. They were in the process of splitting up and I told people that I was only staying in Oakville to help them sell the house but I’m pretty sure that the entire five months I lived there I didn’t life one single finger to help them once. I just sat around and freaked out about what I was going to do with my life and in the evenings made them drive me to Whole Foods. I’d take the commuter train into Toronto on weekday mornings and walk up to Kensington Market, to Urban Herbivore, where I’d buy a sweet potato date muffin and walk it over to the Tibet CafĂ© where I’d order a strawberry-pineapple smoothie and eat them together while doing a crossword. When I was sick I could only eat if I was doing a crossword at the same time.
        In August I got a job downtown, at a store called Lavish & Squalor, which does not make any sense. It should be either Lavishness & Squalor or Lavish & Squalid. I haven’t been in there since the day I quit five and a half years ago. They sold Cheap Monday jeans and all my co-workers made a big deal out of how skinny I was. Most of the women who worked there were older than me and they all made a point of telling me “I used to be a twig like you”— a twig, like, “You are literally nothing more than a small branch. A piece of a tree that fell off it.” I hoped it meant that they used to have eating disorders but then grew up and got over them. But I knew in my heart that they’d never been as skinny as I was. They only meant to say that they were once skinnier than they were now, and lying to the anorexic girl about their past levels of skinniness aligned them with me and my body and somehow made them feel skinnier to themselves in the present. No one who was ever as skinny as I was then would ever say “I used to be a twig like you” to a girl as skinny as I was then.
         I moved in with two of my co-workers. Let’s not get too deep into this. One of them stole a thousand dollars cash out of my file cabinet and I didn’t pretend it didn’t happen so he turned on me. He put his hand on my leg and told me to calm down and that was it- the only appropriate response to “Calm down” is “I will not calm down!” or, in extreme cases, “I will never calm down.” He and his friends left signs around the house calling me an anorexic bitch or occasionally a [sic] “bulemic” bitch. The thief wiped his ass with my towel. I dried my hair with it and smelled his shit and looked at it and gagged and then washed my hair again and dried it with a different towel. What else can you do?
        I drank a lot. I ate very little. My eating disorder was my eating disorder, as tiny and specific as an advent calendar chocolate, belonging to that day and the way that that day was my day. And it was as big as the world. It was bigger than my whole world. It was an evil little aura surrounding every moment of every day, a tiny black halo hanging over every letter of every word like an accent grave or aigou or an umlaut. Every day was defined by a hunger that felt like a hundred thousand stomach crunches layered on top of one another and the only way to get through it was by drinking a bottle of wine per night to distract myself. My face went puffy from all the drinking. I’d fondle my ribcage and found it more amazingly there than ever but I’d press my finger into my fat face two seconds later and it was even fatter than it was when I was fat although I never was. I quit drinking for a couple weeks and then went back to drinking again. A bottle of Diet Coke exploded in my purse and broke my phone. I broke the lease on my apartment. I bought a new phone.