Friday, June 29, 2007

This satisfies my obligation to say something about the global war on terror

It's really easy to ignore all of the news stories about terrorist bombings in places we're at war with (Iraq and Afghanistan) or places that have never not had terrorist bombings (Israel). But every time something happens in London, I get a little freaked out by it. This makes sense, given the fact that I lived there for 6 months during my college study abroad, and I'm very defensive about the place. But it also feels like all the stuff that happens there is somehow very close to me and to people I know and care about.

When they had the big bus and subway bombings in London in July 2005, one of the buses exploded at a bus stop by Tavistock Square, right by Russell Square, both of which were about a two-minute walk from the dorm where I lived. The bus stop that was hit was one that I used from time to time. And, freakiest of all, a friend of mine from my study abroad (who still lived in that dorm at the time) was walking TO the bus stop and saw it explode.

With this latest car bomb near-incident, the car was found in Piccadilly Circus, outside of a club called Tiger Tiger. If you know me well, you might recognize that club from one of my favorite stories. The last time I was there was February 14, 2004, and it was by far the weirdest Valentine's Day of my life. The post about it from my old LiveJournal has since been locked (as have all of the posts from that era), but I'm posting it below because, under the circumstances, it seems worth retelling. I'm not trying to make light of what happened in London this week, this is just may way of coping with these things. It's easy for me to look at the news and think, "Gee, guess I better push back my planned visits to Baghdad and Kabul to never-in-a-million-years!" I hate seeing London -- a place that is more home to me than anywhere other than Southern California ever will be -- threatened.

So here's the post, from February 14, 2004. A little taste of 19 year-old Ken:

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HOLY CRAP. Valentine's Day MADNESS today! Hahahahahahahhahahaha......

All quotes are represented without embellishment to the best of my recollection from the last few hours.

So you may recall from my last post that I was on my way out to play pool with the singles from the Hall. Oh my was I mistaken.

At brunch today, my Italian friend Giuseppe asks me if I want to go "pooling" with him tonight. I assume he means play pool, as in billiards, so I say sure! 8:30 pm comes around, and I go to meet him at his room and we go off on our way. First thing as we're walking toward the station, he tells me, "Solmaz does not love me." Solmaz is an American girl here in the Hall. Giuseppe is one of the top-two skirt-chasers I've met in my time here, and he's freakin' wacky.

So I go, "You asked her to be your valentine?"

And he sort of sadly says, "Yes, but she does not love me." He then asks me to rank my preference of all the American girls in the hall, which I do, and it matches his own. I think it's funny that even as the single men are just going to play pool on this stupid love holiday, he's thinking about women in his mind.

When we're getting off the Tube, I ask him, "So what's this place we're going to like anyways?" He replies by asking, "Have you ever been to Crush?" Crush is the student club night at LSE.

"Yeah, once," I answer.

"Forget everything about it." Instantly, I'm like, ooookay, what does THAT have to do with pool.

Then he says, "We are meeting my friend Alessandro there. He specializes in 'pooling' women over 35." Then it hits me...he didn't say "pooling," he said "pulling," as in picking up women for one-night stands. He proceeds to tell me about the club we're going to, Tiger Tiger. "This club is not ranked the best for women over 35, but it is ranked the best for pulling in general, for getting women to come home. Alessandro went home with one woman over 35 to her home in Wimbledon, and he is now the new 'uncle' for her kids."

I need to change the subject at this point, so I ask, "They have rankings for these things?" He doesn't acknowledge the question.

We get there - a vaguely seedy looking place just off Piccadilly Circus with a tacky, and yet postmodern, orange sign in front - and we have to wait for Alessandro to arrive. I can hear Justin Timberlake playing inside. I'm practically ready to leave, but I figure, this is free entry to this club before 10 pm, so I might as well go and see the dynamic of this place. I feel competely out of place...unshaven for 3 days, my worst pair of jeans, a mediocre shirt, no gel in my hair, which has been matted all day. I wasn't planning on being at a club. And little do I realize the dynamic I'm being prepared for, anyways, because apparently, this place is known for mismatched age pairings, and people who are there to find someone to go home with for the night. And it's VALENTINE'S DAY. As we're waiting for Alessandro to get there, Giuseppe tells me has to start training me.

"First, don't buy any drinks for the women here. They want the younger boys, so make them buy the drinks for you." Already I'm envisioning Stiffler's mom...and I watched American Pie 3 the other day.

"If a woman tells you, 'I could be your mother,' you should answer, 'I wish you were.' You should not say, 'You could also be my grandmother,' because that would be insulting," he says in all seriousness. Later, when he tested me on this question, I answered, "I should be so lucky," which I thought was more clever sounding. He admonished me to stick to the script. I begin to wonder if this isn't just a glorified brothel with a code of simple phrases for how you get yourself laid.

"Finally, how old are you?" he asks me. I answer honestly, 19. "No," he warns me. "Tonight you are...(stops to think)...25." Now I'm beginning to worry about women who could be my mother if I were really 25.

Alessandro arrives, and introductions are made. As we're standing in line making small talk, they're already at work. Giuseppe warns Alessandro that the ratio of men to women he has seen pass is unfavorable, and that there will be stiff competition tonight, but he plans on getting some. He assesses the quality of the women who have gone through the line since we'd been waiting outside. He'd been silently watching and judging the whole time. Alessandro asks Giuseppe where his other friend from the Hall is (there was originally another guy coming with us). When Giuseppe tells him that the guy couldn't make it, Alessandro (equally Italian) says, "Oh, well now there are 3 of us instead of 4, so we need to rethink how we go about this." Giuseppe points at me and reassures him, "Don't worry, I've trained him."

As we continue the small-talk, Alessandro asks me, among other things, my age. Thinking I'm just talking to a friend of a friend here, I answer truthfully again, 19. "Really?" he asks with a conspiratorial tone and a glint in his eye. "I would think you were 24 or 25." A wink. I look at Giuseppe.

"That was a test, wasn't it?" He nods silently.

We get to the bouncer, and he asks how many of us there are in our group. When Alessandro answers 3, the bouncer seems as disappointed with that fact as Alessandro himself was. He looks at me. "How old are you?" he asks, and, on instinct, I answer 19. Giuseppe and Alessandro immediately flinch, and I realize that I wasn't only supposed to tell the women I was 25...I also had to tell the bouncer. Instantly, he tells me I'm too young and opens the velvet rope for me to leave. Later Giuseppe tells me that the bouncer would have demanded ID had I remembered to lie anyways.

The Italians try to intervene on my behalf, "Please, he's our friend from America and he's not here for too long, we wanted to show him the club." Nevertheless, the bouncer refuses to have it, and frankly, I'm kind of relieved.

As I get ready to go, I look through the windows and scan up and down the line outside. I'm at least 5 years younger than everyone there. Usually 10 or more. Basically, the club is mostly lonely 30-somethings looking for some V-Day action. The women are Monets...they look beautiful from afar, and young - almost like the girls at the college clubs and student nights I go to - but if you look closely, you can see that they are desperately trying to conceal their age. The makeup, the clothes, the age-inappropriate nose and lip and navel piercings, everything.

I get the Hell out of there. Let Giuseppe and Alessandro work out a new strategy for just the two of them. Already this will be perhaps my most memorable Valentine's Day ever.

And there it is, the TRUE STORY of London according to Giuseppe. God help me.

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