Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sex, Death and the Fear Inbetween 29/5/14

Pelvic mesh. 

What’s that all about? 

When I first moved to the US five years ago, I was struck by how many cures there were advertised on TV for conditions I never knew I potentially had. What fun I had trawling the aisles devoted to female hygiene in my local Rite Aid, as opposed to the 12 inch shelf in my local Boots Pharmacy back in the UK. Now, though, it seems to me, there has been a sea change: forget the cures, it’s all about drawing your attention to something not only you never knew you had, but for which there is no cure.
Take this pelvic mesh scare. I have no idea what pelvic mesh is, because every time I hear the word “vagina”, I tend to put my hands over my ears. Unlike a lot of women, I am a much bigger fan of the C word than the V word. The V word sounds like you’re offering a nice little boat trip around the coves of a Greek Island; the C word actually sounds like what it is: a whacking great cavernous hole whose main job is to trap unsuspecting penises and never let them out until the alimony cheque comes through.
The States is far more graphic than the UK on BTW (Below The Waist) problems both for men and women. In the UK, women’s monthly cycles on TV are still represented by somebody pouring coloured ink on an all too absorbable material, as opposed to the advertised product, which could, according to the pictures, absorb a Hewlett Packard ocean of ink before you can say “Replace this cartridge now”.
Durex has come a small way (geddit?) to change the nature of TV commercials, but they are still on the tame side. Among the most recent, a man and a woman are in bed, both in rather nice nightwear, and then . . . To be honest, I’m not sure what happens then, because I’m always distracted by the glamorous nightie (do people still wear clothes to bed? Heck, I don’t wear underwear in the daytime, having worked out you could save eight years of your life by not buying and donning unnecessary clothing – but that’s another story). I’m also distracted by the mystery of how anyone, without eight pints of Stella, would end up in bed with either of these people.
I have managed to glean  that the commercial is for a gel that will get women excited in a way they have apparently never been before (again – what’s wrong with Stella?). Trust me on this: the price of said gels when you look at your receipt will quickly diminish any excitement you might have anticipated before you reached the other side of the cash register.
By far the biggest BTW problem in the US appears to be an erection lasting over four hours (or is it six? Or eight? I forget; when you’re used to the UK average of 40 minutes - or 40 seconds, in some cases), including tea and biscuits, I’m hardly going to call 911 for a couple of extra hours.
These commercials are quite terrifying in their graphic descriptions, but apparently there are even greater horrors out there on the BTW front. Aaron Spelling’s widow, Candy, has just published a new book, Candy at Last, in which she describes dating a man called Larry who, owing to his “penile implant” (I believe the correct word is penial; penile is about slavery . . . actually, on second thoughts . . .) could keep at it for five or six hours. No one, she says, wants to have sex for that long. Speak for yourself, love. I would imagine that having been married to Aaron Spelling, she would have been well used to non-stop serial drama (or should that be penial?).
The reality is that all these commercials represent an inherent fear of growing older, especially for men. In the UK, when men start to lose their sexual prowess, they just shrug their shoulders and spend more time in the pub, ogling women they couldn’t even get the first time around, let alone with the melting wax candle between their legs in these later years. But in the US, the ability to keep going is what makes not only men, but women, keep popping pills, because hey, if you’re still having sex, you must still be young. Right? 

Sex is the cross we hold to the vampire of death to keep it at bay for as long as we can.
Never mind about the warnings – do stop taking X, if you suffer blurred vision, cramps, muscle weakness, forgetfulness, numbness, or have an erection lasting until Christmas – we all want to believe that we will live forever; and, whether it be good or bad, sex is the one thing that makes us momentarily forget that we won’t.

Another pint of Stella, please.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Make Friends and Sack People 28/5/14

Miss Jaci. 

It has a certain ring to it. 

Memorial Day saw me acquire two new friends in Doreen and Lenny, who live in New Jersey. Doreen, originally from Georgia, is a very friendly soul who insisted on high-fiving me at the end of every sentence. I joined in because that's what I've seen them do in the movies, even though I could understand very little of what she said outside of "Miss Jaci".
This much I managed: married for 32 years to her husband, whom she adores, she is a Virgo (he's a Gemini) and they have a 39 year old daughter. They clearly have a very active sex life, but she is not averse to the DIY method if a man is not available (major high five!). At least, I think that was the gist of it, because when I said "Thank god for batteries!" she all but sliced my right arm off in what was more of a high five hundred, accompanied by cries of "I like you, Miss Jaci!"
Doreen and Lenny were in town for Fleet week, although as Doreen got into the frozen Margaritas at Mr Biggs bar in Hell's Kitchen, thoughts of the open-air museum on the banks of the Hudson seemed to fade. We did, however, talk a great deal about war and the sacrifice of young lives for what is, invariably, "just a piece of land". "Why can't we all just get on, Miss Jaci?" sighed Doreen, before launching another high five attack on the only limb I had left in working order.
The number of fresh-faced men in uniform in the area this week has reminded me just how young these people are: mere kids who risk their own lives to keep the rest of us safe. I used to be a pacifist who was against war of every kind; I am still a pacifist, but am also a realist who knows that the world has to be protected from lunatics for whom killing is a sport, and now, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the young men and women who do what I, sitting on my arse with a curry, a bottle of Rioja, and Suits on the telly, would never have the guts to do.
Doreen spoke to me movingly about the death of her mother and brother, both within a short space of time, and said that she is known as "Auntie Love" in the family, quite simply because she loves and cares for everyone.
As a parting shot – literally, in the guise of another frozen Margarita, and metaphorically - she warned me to stay safe. "Don't tell anyone about yourself," she warned. "Get everything you can about them, but give nothing away."
It's advice my grandmother once gave me - "Keep your own counsel" - and would have benefited me hugely, had I ever had the inclination to heed it.
But then maybe, if I had, I wouldn't be here, in another strange city, living amongst strangers and picking up aliens in bars.
It’s always the morning after the night before I dread when, flipping through the business cards I have acquired the night before, I discover exactly what I have been dealing with. Those people who seemed so lovely - so much so, that you decided to pay their bill - turn out to be everything you can’t abide: invariably, enthusiastic proponents of God, fairies, or things that go bump in the night.
It’s very easy to meet people in NYC; it really is the most friendly place I have ever been. But it’s also the place where, within a few hours, you want to get rid of the very people who, just hours ago, you were swearing undying love to.
That’s because one gets through so much in a very short space of time. Births, marriages, deaths, affairs, worries, mortgages, war, guns – there is absolutely nothing that people in this city will not open up about after their first sip of the many alcohol beverages they consume.
And yes, they do. I tell you, after LA, it’s like landing head first into a distillery with nothing but a very large straw for comfort. My building began its movie summer season last night with an open bar for residents. And I mean open. There may have been just a couple of choices of wine, but every spirit was freely available the entire night, along with boxes of sweets and four different kinds of popcorn. Heck, it was so open, a few of us forgot to watch the movie.
So, Fleet Week has come to an end and I am looking to the next million things it is possible to do here in any one day. The Guggenheim is hosting an Italian meal, for example, to coincide with an exhibition of Futuristic Italian art. 

My head is already full of the dozens of new friends I will have to sack following the pasta course.


You must be flamin’ joking.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Getting My Kit Off for the Lads 24/5/14

I am allowed to run topless through New York City. 

This is possibly the single, most valuable piece of information I have gleaned after living just one week in Manhattan.
As someone who has never been averse to getting their tits out for the lads (okay, that was in my younger days – I found the lads became considerably less encouraging when I hit 50), I find the legal right to immodesty rather appealing.
The leniency in relation to body parts is, however, a smokescreen to hide a ton load of other things that you can’t do here. George, the very handsome maintenance man in my building, looked at me aghast when I asked for instructions about turning the heating on. I had left LA in temperatures of over 100 degrees, so the East Coast might as well have been Iceland. He politely explained that if the temperature rose above 55 degrees outside, it was illegal to have the boiler on; I had missed The Big Switch Off by just one day.
Seriously? I can’t have heating when I am cold? So much for being able to get anything you want, day or night, in the city that never sleeps.
The ramifications of this law, however, are as nothing compared to the alcohol laws. In California, bar staff will chop off your arm if you so much as try to touch your glass a millisecond after 2am. While the drinking laws are a lot more flexible in NWC (basically, one person will tilt your head back while the other force feeds you liquor), establishments that have a “drink in” licence can’t sell you anything to take out. How thrilled was the sales assistant in Brooklyn Kitchen at the bottom of my building filling me in on that law.
Everyone takes great delight in telling me what I can and cannot do; but the thing that dominates life more than anything else is the city’s emphasis on GREEN. Heaven forbid that you do something non-PC that threatens the future of mankind.
Now, I’m no environmentalist, but I do my bit. I contribute wine bottles for recycling and I no longer empty my bladder in public swimming pools (oh, come on – I was only four). But the obsession with saving the planet that is not going to combust for several million years after I have gone is ridiculous. I care far more about saving myself. The planet can go eff itself. It’s like that safety announcement they make on planes – “Fit your own mask before helping others”. 

Trust me. I’ll be fitting my own and diving onto that slide without a second thought for the suffocating two year old next to me.
I have no idea when or why NYC went so green, but I don’t like it. Take my Bosch dryer. It takes three hours to dry one sheet; in fact, given the heat, my washing dries more quickly sitting on a door handle in under an hour. When I complained, I was told that nothing can be done because it is an eco-friendly dryer. Quite when the Germans became so caring about saving anyone but themselves is beyond me.
Jaywalking is accepted, although discouraged, and everything comes with a warning, even more so than in LA, where people have a pathological terror of being sued.
Take El Colmado, the very nice tapas bar next to Brooklyn Kitchen (with so much in one spot, don’t expect to see me in civilisation ever again). I quite fancied a couple of oysters and a glass of Prosecco, but then noticed, on the menu: “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” Just the vegan Prosecco for me, then, thanks.
What the heck is a “foodborne” illness, anyway? And why, as a customer, do I have to take responsibility for undercooked food? Train your chefs in the art of handling the control panel on a griddle, that’ll do the trick.
I have, nevertheless, been doing my bit for law enforcement, with the CTC (Call The Cops) policy that fared me so well in LA. When one cab driver started to lose it with me when my card wouldn’t swipe in his machine, I threatened to CTC, and, enlisting the support of the front desk staff, saw him off.

I should tell you, by the way, that the name of my building is Gotham West, which, as a tribute to Batman’s home town, I refer to as Gotham City. Expect to see me in Gotham City prison when, inevitably, I breach one of the laws here. 

In the meantime, I’m heading for downtown Manhattan to get my kit off for the lads.

To the Batmobile, Robin!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cops and Robbers 4/5/14

My predilection for being robbed or losing valuables every time I take a trip has been well documented in my blogs. After a month away, first in the UK and then in New York, I can this time report that my travels were almost incident free.
I was parted from my iPhone just once, after leaving it on the subway, but it was picked up and, thanks to Find My iPhone on my computer, I was able to trace it and retrieve it.
For the first time ever, baggage security staff resisted going through my bags and rifling anything they could sell on eBay, and I made it back to my LA apartment with everything I had taken away, apart from my iPhone earphones.
In fact, this trip started to bring me closer to items stolen in the past. Suddenly, the messages “Jaci Stephen’s iPad has been found” and “Jaci Stephen’s Airbook has been found” appeared on my computer. These related to the items I had in my hand baggage that was stolen from LAX when I returned from Miami in January. The messages show up when the items are connected to the internet, and would also have flashed up a message from me, saying that they have been lost and giving a number to reach me on. No one has.
Trying to get anyone to do something about this is as stressful as losing the valuables. When the same thing happened in Miami, the Miami police were on it in an instant, racing to the house within half an hour, where, alas, they were still unable to locate the thief. Los Angeles’ Burbank police are showing no such enthusiasm. They say it’s not their case and I have to go back to the airport police, who will then pass it on to them.
I have decided against going to the house myself. While never having had so much as a parking ticket (I was brought up to be terrified of the law, which may explain my obsession with that profession), I am unlucky when it comes to law enforcement, having a propensity to over-react.
When in Paris for Six Nations France vs Wales rugby match last year, I saved an entire bar from almost certain attack when I yelled at everyone to get down on the floor when a sinister figure in a motorcycle helmet tore in, brandishing what appeared to be a gun. When I, the only person lying prostrate on the ground, finally stood up, it was to be greeted with howls of laughter – the man was a friend of the owner and had been “joking”. Ha bloody ha.
A similar incident, also in Paris, took place several years before, when I saved the city from almost certain terrorist annihilation. On that occasion, it had been prompted by a man reading an Arab newspaper, refusing to move his bag from his seat because he said it was a bomb.
One emergency cord, one halted train and a dozen armed men later, the centre of Paris was at a standstill. As I sat in a cafĂ© with my glass of wine, watching the gendarmerie tear down the steps of the rue de Bac metro (naturally, I had waited until my stop before pulling the cord), I pondered whether the “terrorist” had actually said that his bag was on the seat. I only hope that the poodle, yanked at breakneck speed from the train by its screaming owner, survived.
I have been just as much a law-abiding liability in my own country. When I lived in Bath, women’s greatest fear was a rapist who had been on the loose for over a decade. Finally, though, it seemed as if the police were moving in, and there were posters all over town of a possible suspect, whose hunting ground was local night clubs.
I was having lunch at the Garrick’s Head, a city pub in which one side of the bar was largely occupied by gay men. On the other side, as the afternoon wore on, the man who had joined us from out of town began to look suspiciously like the man on the poster. When he asked me and my friend if we would like to go to a night-club later, that was it: I was sure I had my man. I went round to the gay side of the bar and asked the guys if they thought the interloper looked anything like the man on the poster. 

Asking a gay man not to dramatise a situation is like expecting the Pope to give you directions to a sperm bank: it ain’t gonna happen. Yes, they insisted, the man was the spitting image of the poster suspect.
I called 999, which gave the event an air of urgency it did not perhaps warrant, but asked the police to tread lightly and just question the man. Too late. Within seconds, three armed cops were in the bar, frogmarching the bloke out onto the street for questioning. I really hope he made it to the Verdi concert he was in town for, in which he was going to be a starring tenor.
So, no, I don’t think I will be heading to Burbank to rescue my items, and I only hope that the LAPD start to act a bit more like they do on the telly, or, at the very least, like the cops do in Miami.
In the meantime, it’s back to the Apple Store to replace my earphones. 

The inevitability of that journey after every trip back home is something I have learned to live with.