Saturday, 21 March 2009

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LETTER FROM VIETNAM is a personal account of a voyage of both memory and discovery. It is a tableau of first impressions of a country which rightly or wrongly, is indelibly etched on our collective consciousmess. Click on image to go to Chapter

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

THE MUSIC IN MY HEART Chapter 13

WHEN THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
Monday 21 January 2008
We have one more task to do before I leave: buy Tobes a desk. We ask some people's advice, but the best we get is Staples or Target. I look online for USED DESKS, USED OFFICE furniture, ANTIQUE DESKS, HOME OFFICES etc. I quickly find that most of modern office furniture (at least in the States) is big, cubicle-like, ugly, designed for computers, prefab, and probably short-lived. No point in buying cheap junk, and limited by the size, I finally come upon Wertz Brothers, a big warehouse which buys all sorts of furniture from estates. It has been around for a long time, and has that distinct made-it-through-many-economic-cycles look about it. It is also located on Santa Monica Boulevard, on which we have spent a bit of time. Decided then. We arrive to a large two story warehouse. They have been there since 1920 something, confirming my Depression Era Business suspicion. We head upstairs to look at desks, tables, drafting tables, and writing desks. We are limited again by Toby's size, realising quickly that desks, especially antique desks, were made for people with short pegs. Toby needs at least 30" clearance, which immediately eliminates most desks. Most of the eligible tables are stacked on each other, and we begin taking them down to try them out....until we drop one. The guy who has been helping us comes running over. No harm done, but he implores us to cease and desist, in a nice way though. What he meant to say was: cut that shit out, or I'll lose my job.
Finally we find a medium sized writing table, antique oak, for $200. Brilliant. We let him carry it down and go. While we are paying, we hear a parrot squawking HELLO! We walk over to the loading bay, and sure enough there are not one but two parrots, and not in cages either. They are huge, perched on a bar, motionless. The bigger one looks at me with a cynical and practiced eye. For some reason, its reptilian eyes remind me of that smoky quarter girl in the Burger King in New Mexico. Both ignore our requests to speak, even when we call Steens in London to describe the scene. We fit the table in the CM...barely. We then drive home to Toby's; unload it and voila, that is it then. We call Joel, meet him at an Italian restaurant on Sunset, where we recount our voyage and a bit of Toby's new life and reminisce about our long distant past. Time is now hurtling forward, and in what seems a matter of minutes we have gone to Joel's flat, picked up my stuff, and then we are gone. We decide to go shopping before going to the airport, and find a supermarket nearby.
Suddenly it hits us both. I am not sure who it hits harder. Being a parent is a strange journey, a long trip which marries your own journey of self-discovery with that of your son. You start off with little idea of where you will go, how you will cope. You are at the same time preoccupied with your own battles, your own career. You are pretty much making it up as you go along. Your guidepost or map as a parent is how you were raised by your own parents, and if you are a male, it is how your Dad raised you. Even so, we are all different, and how you were raised is only a guide, an internal compass. The journey is one's own, and no matter how close you are (and Toby and I are very close) you must each make it on your own.
I always tell the story of how my Dad shook my hand at my college graduation and told me: "Er-bear (his name for me), this is the $25,000 handshake. It has cost me $25,000 to educate you. Now goodbye, and good luck."
When I tell some people this, they wince. Perhaps they don't believe that he meant it (he did). Perhaps they think he was cruel (he wasn't). He was from a generation that had it tough, real tough. Depression. War. No safety net. His Dad was a junkyard dealer and he was the only person in his family to go to college.
But that, even to me, was ancient history. Just as my life is of interest, but of no more relevance to Toby. As I said before, how well can you ever know someone, even someone you love?
So anyway, you muddle through, raising your children (or child) trying to give them the tools (but not the ready-made construction) to get through life. If you are extremely lucky, as I have been, the lecturing, the cajoling, in some cases the ass-kicking, will be minimal. If you are lucky the laughs will have more than balanced out the tears; the stories... the lectures; the victories... the defeats; and the ups.... the downs and the great in-betweens. And when your offspring is ready to fly the roost, you will have succeeded in raising what must be the greatest accolade: someone you can count on.
And that moment when they finally take wing, when all that you have given them is now going to be used practically.....well...that is one hell of a moment.
And the realisation that THIS was that moment came on us like a freight train in that supermarket.
Forget the handshake speech. All I wanted to do was to outfit Tobes with all the basics and the things, lightbulbs, washing up liquid, condiments, and household goods...anything to string this moment out as long as possible.
I was busy distracting myself from the end of our trip when all of a sudden he asked me: "Do you you have diarrhea, Dad?" "No," I said. He said: "Gotta go," and sped off.
But I knew what he felt, and why. All of a sudden I felt that surge of nervousness that grabs at the gut. It was like being in a play, in the moment just before the curtain goes up, when you suddenly realise that this is no dress rehearsal, this is not something you can walk away from, or interrupt to start over. This is life, without any second chances, and it is happening right now.
Toby returned, and after paying we got silently in the car.
"You know, Dad. I'll miss us tomorrow."
"I know, Bud. Me too."
My head was swimming and I concentrated on the distraction of navigating to the airport.
Toby was quiet.
At one point I looked over. I said nothing but reached over and wiped the track of a tear off his cheek, his eyes hidden behind the sunglasses he and Steens had bought for the LA sun.
Then, as now writing this, I found it difficult to breathe, and mumbled inanities until we reached the airport.
There are moments that perhaps should not be written about, and perhaps I am wrong for doing so, for the mere fact of writing cannot capture their essence. We sleepwalk through much of our lives, and there are truly very few moments that will live with us forever. These very few are so intense that even thinking about them can trigger the same feelings, perhaps not as fresh as the first time, but equally real.
We got out of the car at the airport at Departures, and I fumbled around with my knapsack trying to take stock of the requisite possessions ( I tend to leave stuff behind). Passport. Camera. Glasses.
"Bud." I said.
Then we hugged each other. "I am glad you are my Dad."
I heard his disembodied voice, coming from on high. It was too much for me. "I am very proud of you, son." I tried to get it out, but the emotion rose up from deep in my gut and choked me off. "I love you, Bud."
"Luv ya, Da." Then we hugged, a real hug, not a man hug if you know what I mean. Strong, firm, like a handshake. "Go get 'em, tiger," I said.
I stepped back as he got in the car to drive away, and snapped a photo as I gave him the thumbs up.
And that was it.
There I was, he heading off into the traffic and a whole new adventure, and me back to London and a life far away.
I wondered what he was thinking, in his new car....a new life, a new job...lots of mountains to climb in a strange city.
I thought of hugging him and of how big his arms are. He calls me Little Dad and next to him, I am. But I still remember that moment when he came into the world. The first words he ever heard were mine, through the tears of pure pure joy. "My little bud. My little pal." And two nights later I fretted listening to his desperate crying, from hunger and thirst as he lay on my chest. (The au naturel nazi mid-wife insisted that he only be fed breastmilk whereas it was obvious he was hungry, born 4.7 kilos, already a strapping lad). Exhausted and desperate, Steens and I finally gave him two bottles of glucose which he sucked down in seconds flat. Who ever knows what is the right thing to do? Who ever knows?
Where does all the time go? One day you are a youth, and then suddenly you are an old man. One day he is a baby, and the next day a bearded behemoth. Oh, what a journey!
I get on the plane, and the flight is half empty, I have four clear seats to lie out on. I am exhausted, and after a quick dinner, I wrap a blanket around my head like a bedouin and get under another. There is an asian kid at the end of my row, but he makes no move to take any of the seats (the 777 has five across) and so I am stretched out, and I fall asleep with my iPod on.
A plane is a noisy place, the constant throb of the engines acting as a cocoon in which you can envelope yourself, especially if there is no one sitting next to you. You can sneeze, fart, burp.. and no one can hear you. In the dark, you can also sob. I wake up crying. I am listening to one of Tobe's songs: Ascent to Paradise. The blanket is over my head, and the tears are running down my face as if the snow is melting in the springtime sun: cold, then warm. When I breathe, the tightness in my chest slowly unravels in shudders. These are elemental feelings, uncontrollable.
I let them flow, a mixture of sadness, joy, memories, loss, hope... The last time I cried like this was about my Pops.
This goes on for a while. Finally, I get up and go to the bathroom, and wash my face. No one is any the wiser, and I am alone with my feelings.
I go back to my seat. I say a little prayer for Tobes, for his new life. I say a little thanks to my Mom and Dad and for Steens, who brought this all about.
The trip is over.
I write down these words in the dark, the whoosh of the engines all around me.

I am lying in the dark 
I am flying through space 
And I am falling, falling 
I hear his voice 
I am glad you are my Dad 
I am in his arms and I am falling, falling 
I hear his voice  
I am glad you are my Dad 
I am crying 
I am crying 
I am crying 
I am falling 
I hear his voice  
Again and again 
I listen to his song 
And I am falling 
I listen to his song 
And I am listening to the music in my heart.

Monday, 16 March 2009

THE MUSIC IN MY HEART Chapter 12

BIG CARS, SMALL DOGS
Sunday 20th January, 2008
I await Toby below at Joel's building, eyes peeled for the distinctive grille of the CM coming up Sunset, as Tobes and I have been invited to Charlotte's for brunch. The sky is brilliant, and I am chatting away in Spanish to the doorman, who remarks upoon the Castilian twist to my pronunciation. I am flattered. At least there is a twist. There is a steady procession of big cars (4x4s, but only the big ones-Escalades, Land Rovers, Porsche Cayennes, Volvos) into which step an equally steady stream of big sunglassed 50-something big haired women. "Hi, I yam Nicole Feldman, how are yah?" says one. Transplanted New Yorkers, only tanned. There are three of them accompanied by little dogs. You know the kind I mean....really little. A good sized boot laid along the back would pretty much go from head to tail. One comes up to me and seems to considering whether or not to use my leg as a lamppost. He's named Jock....a little Scotty. How do I know? "Oh, Jock.", says the women. No apologies or even acknowledgement of the owner of the leg/lampost. She has dressed him in both a little earmuff warmer and a fetching little gilet, both in a green and red tartan. It is 50 degrees for chrissakes. You want cold? Knock off the zero and see if the little thing could fly across the Grand Canyon in that bitter air, I think uncharitably.
I am saved from these murderous thoughts by Tobes, who drives up majestically in the CM. I'd take that over an Escalade any day.
Yes, I think I would have trouble with the LA scene, but no matter.
Tobes is in fine form. He went out to some rathole club with his housemates. Probably not going to do that too often (not his scene and also expensive), but he is already sampling the sights.
We arrive at Miles and Charlotte's where she has laid out a table outside with a log fire, and is in the midst of whisking eggs whites for unbelievably light waffles, fresh pear compote, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed OJ, fresh coffee....you catch my drift? I play with the kids. Juliette is very smart and mature for a five year old. Miles has some terrific songs from a Melanesian choir who sang in The Thin Red Line. We have a sumptuous breakfast outside in the middle of January, and suddenly LA is looking more attractive again.
After breakfast Tobes and I decide to go to Venice Beach. As it happens, mapless, we actually go to Santa Monica, where there is all sorts of activity; a huge ultimate frisbee tournament, volleyball, biking, rollerblading, outdoor gymnastics (some incredibly muscled Chinese guy is swinging and twisting on the rings with one arm, which no doubt would have twisted mine cleanly off at the shoulder.)
We rent bikes for an hour and pedal up and down the beach. Then we go to yet another pedestrian street where there are street performers, including a Mexican three cup and ball guy who was brilliant at both sleight of hand and banter. To wit:
"Here we have two up and one down..PAUSE ..just like prison..PAUSE..no I never really was in prison...PAUSE.....the charges were dropped.... All with exquisite timing.
He picks people out of the crowd and then gently deals on them. We escape.
Everyone is pleased to give him money at the end.
Down the street a 12 year old black girl is doing a serviceable impression of Beyoncé, and a totally ignored guitarist who I thought pretty good is ignored by all. Toby says dismissively: That's how I played the guitar... Obviously going to Berklee upped the ante.
We eat at a sushi bar owned by a Korean...terrific, especially the soft shelled crab chumaki (newly acquired knowledge!).
Then it is back to Joel's as it gets dark and we watch the Giants-Packers game before going out to the churrasceria mentioned before.
A speactacular LA day, with a bit of everything, the good, the bad, and if not the ugly, the ridiculous (see Jock).

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

THE BEST INTERVIEW ANSWER OF ALL TIME

My friend Fredrik Persson had a buddy (another Swede, Mikael I can't remember his last name), who was due to be interviewed initially over the phone by Goldman Sachs. The phone call was scheduled for 1PM. One of the first questions the Goldman guy asked Mikael was: "What articles have you read in today's Financial Times?" To which Mikael replied: "I haven't read today's Financial Times. I just got up 15 minutes ago." Now that's quality. Needless to say, Mikael did not get the job, or even a sniff at a second interview. The world, no doubt, is better for it. Good luck in whatever you do, Mikael. I don't know you but I wish I did.