Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Horrors of Moving to London

I just found this on my computer. It was a post I put on MySpace in 2008, just after moving to London's East End. I had forgotten all about it, and I think it is damn charming. I'm not sure what the original title was. If I can find the other installments I will post them. By the way, as painful as this was, I had forgotten much of it, which shows why everyone should keep a journal. Unless you're angsty and prone to revenge fantasies, in which case it is best to forget...

What happens when you play a Mike Payne blog backwards? You get your wife and kids back.

Despite a plague of last minute complications, I managed to move to London. After a sleepless overnight flight, I hopped off the plane early on the morning of June 21st, smelling like American teen spirit. I had to grapple with a strange case of mistaken identity when picking up the keys (too hard to explain), but eventually made my way to the front door.

I walk in, and notice my “furnished” apartment has no mattress. Also, the refrigerator doesn’t work. The light inside the fridge is on, but the cold wind ain’t a blowin’. And to complete the disrepair trifecta, the shower has no hot water. Cheerio, mate!

I moved in on a Saturday, so I couldn’t get a hold of the landlady until Monday. Fine. Two days of indoor camping. I can survive this. I used to be a Cub Scout.

So Monday rears its ugly mug. I get the landlady on the phone, and she seems somewhat sympathetic. “Oooo, surry!” she exclaims. She promises to stop by that evening and check the hot water and fridge. She apologizes about the water, but implies that I just don’t know how to turn the fridge on. I admit I’m not handy, but “on” and “off” buttons don’t usually require intense electrical training.   

She shows up that night. After examining the apartment, she acknowledges that indeed, the fridge is not producing cold air, and in sharp contrast to its intended function, the shower is not producing hot water. I explain to her that in America, we have hot showers and cold fridges, and prefer them to hot fridges and cold showers. She shakes off the culture shock and assures me that a tradesman will swing by the next day to mend all my troubles.

We’ve now reached Tuesday. While at work, I get a call from the landlady telling me the refrigerator is now fixed, but unfortunately, the shower needs a whole new tap, and the repair guy arrived so late that by the time he realized what was needed, the supply store was closed. I will have to take another cold shower Wednesday morning; my fifth in a row. “Oooo, surry!”

I’m fuming but controlled. I tell myself that at least now I have a fridge, so progress is being made. I rush home that night eager to throw some groceries in Ye Olde Icebox. I yank open the fridge door and wait for the Arctic rush. To my dismay, I discover that just as before, the fridge light is on, but there is no cold air. None whatsoever. I begin to wonder if the tradesman actually came by.

I walk in the bathroom, and it becomes clear that a tradesman had shown up. How could I tell?  Because he had managed to track mud all over my bathroom, including all over my new bathmat.
I call the landlady.  “Oooo, surry!”

She assures me again that a team of professional repairmen will be by tomorrow, and this time, they’ll have all the right moves. I’ll have a fridge and a hot shower by Thursday evening. Early 20th Century, here I come!

Thursday morning I take my sixth cold shower in a row. The thing with cold showers is that they don’t get easier. Once you’ve had two or three in a row, you start developing Battered Bather’s Syndrome. You begin to fear the dawn, knowing you’re just a few hours away from more abuse.  By day six, before I could bring myself to turn the water on, I had to stand in the tub and give myself a pep talk about the hardships my forefathers faced in the untamed swamps of Virginia. Then again, at least with malaria, every shower feels like a hot shower.

If you read the second paragraph carefully, you’ll know that during all this time, I didn’t have a mattress either. Yes, the mattress in my “furnished” flat was as absent as the hot water and fridge. In the interim, I had a half sofa-half chair-all uncomfortable furniture abortion to sleep on. It was so skimpy that even at 5’ 5,” I couldn’t find a position where my legs didn’t flop over the side. Ever tried sleeping in a plus sized barber’s chair? No, you haven’t. There’s a reason.

Thursday afternoon the landlady rings. She’s SURRY again. Turns out the tradesmen couldn’t fix the water, because the tap they ordered won’t arrive until Friday. As for the fridge, it’s a “special” model. Not special as in the Olympics--though it’s defective enough to compete in those games and inspire us all--but special as in hard to find. She gives me another “Oooo, surry” before informing me that when she had a problem with her own special fridge, it took four months to replace. She then tells me in her best problem-solving voice that not having a fridge shouldn’t be a problem, because I can always “eat fresh.” 

I waited for the laughtrack to start rolling. Nothing happened. Once I realized she wasn’t playing to the back of the room, I replied that yes, I could eat fresh. I could also grow my own food. Anorexia would be another option. But all of those alternatives would defeat the purpose of paying extra for a furnished flat with a refrigerator.

On a more serious note, as I’m stepping in all these booby-traps, I’m doing it alone. And without diversion.  In addition to having no friends in London, I was without the Internet. Or a TV. Or a stereo. I won’t bore you with the details, but a conspiracy of mini-crises befell me as I was getting ready to move, so I didn’t have adequate time to settle my affairs before skipping town. So with the clock ticking and the cost of international shipping so punitive, I wound up dumping most of my possessions on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. And contrary to what you may have heard from your friendly neighborhood blues singer, leaving it all behind isn’t as liberating as it’s cracked up to be. I left behind all of my comforts for an unfamiliar and so far, inhospitable place. Having a few more of my possessions around might have made things a little less dislocating.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress.

Have I mentioned that my heaters weren’t working? Well, they weren’t. And even in summer, London can get cold in the morning and at night, especially when it rains. This is doubly uncomfortable when you’ve just stepped out of a cold shower. 

Appropriately, on July 4th, my new fridge shows up. I have to let the gas settle, so I’m not allowed to turn it on until the following day. When I do, it actually works. So on the two week anniversary of moving into my “furnished flat,” I can finally store food.
Around the same time, my mattress also shows up. Only it’s too small for the bedframe. Of course it is. My landlady also has a new couch delivered (admittedly, a very nice one), and hires someone to remove the sofa thing I’d been sleeping on (which you’ll recall was uncomfortable enough to fund the coke habit of a thousand chiropractors). However, when Delivery Guy removes the thing, he takes my blanket with it. So I come home that night to a cold apartment, and find that I don’t have even have a blanket to warm up with. I wound up sleeping on my new undersized mattress while wearing my winter coat for warmth. So there I was with no blanket no CDs to play, and no one to talk to, and all I could think was…I uprooted myself for this?


Social media has made it easier for the man on the street to weigh in on headline-grabbing tragedies. But instead of using their own language, it seems most people end up mimicking the pundits we've watched on TV all these years.

Some typical examples:

As a mother of three, I think we should...

As a father with a child in kindergarten, I want to see...

It seems many have decided that being a parent makes their sadness more acute, and that this increases the validity of their opinion.

Not so. If a space shuttle explodes, and my brother is an astronaut, thinking of him exploding may make me feel worse about the explosion than the average Joe. But it doesn't mean my knowledge of physics is greater than the average Joe's, and the fact my brother could have been the one in that shuttle certainly doesn't automatically make me qualified to opine on future shuttle launches.

Forget my hypothetical and just look at how juries are selected. People are screened out of juries all the time for having circumstances that make them "too close" to the facts of the case they would potentially be voting on. The thinking is that we don't want jurors who are likely to offer a clouded, purely emotional assessment.

If I were a parent who wanted to be interpreted as a measured observer as a opposed to an enraged vigilante, I would leave out the part about being a parent so that the sole focus would be on the opinions and prescriptions I was espousing.

And if someone were to ask me personally, I would open by saying: As an adult who doesn't own a gun, doesn't have kids, and doesn't remember kindergarten, I don't have a horse in this race and therefore...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Actions speak louder than calls to action

The much discussed climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, and with it, the image of NYC underwater due to climate change made its way into the global warming discussion.

That was almost seven years ago, and in this era of property market depression, NYC property prices have still at least managed some ebbs and flows (as opposed to just a straight drop).

One might ask: If people truly believed that NYC was due to be underwater in the near term, wouldn't you expect them to rent, or to perhaps buy in less flood-likely areas like Westchester or White Plains?

The US did not sign onto programs like the Kyoto Protocol, so there has been a perception that the rest of the world is working on climate change while Americans continue to plunge their heads in the sand. Strange then that there continue to be so many foreign (presumably climate change aware) buyers of NYC real estate.

And these sales are not due to crazy bargain prices. NYC real estate remains among the highest priced real estate in the country. If we assume everyone really believes in a potentially waterlogged Manhattan in the near future, why haven't property prices fallen like a broken elevator?

Perhaps the public's level of belief in the consequences of climate change aren't as deep as the headlines would have us think. Actions speak louder than calls to action. What you do is what you believe.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Office parties are more painful than actual work

If you haven't already had your office holiday party, chances are it is right around the corner.

Company holiday parties are designed to boost company morale. Yet what do people say when they tell you about their upcoming office holiday party? "Awww man, I've got to go to my company holiday party this's gonna be a nightmare!"

So much for building camaraderie.

Nobody talks about their office holiday party with a dreamy twinkle in their eye. When they bring it up, their eyes go glassy and their bottom lip droops like a baby who just realized his pacifier is laced with arsenic.

Why do corporate higher-ups think these parties are a good idea? No one looks forward to them. They don't improve the office vibe and they cost money (which higher-ups are always going to crazy lengths to save). The kind of boilerplate imagination it takes to believe in these things is the same kind that drives so many companies into the ground.

Here's a message to the higher-ups from all us employees: holiday parties achieve the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. They do not lift anyone's spirits. They do not reinforce the mission statement. Think of it this way: We can't stand the sight of you when you're wearing a three piece suit. What makes you think we're going to hate you any less when you're wearing a Santa suit? A plate of red and green cupcakes doesn't make your jokes any funnier.

If you want to lift our spirits, just let us leave early that day.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Proper Format for a Suicide Note

Dear Mr. Payne,

I have been thinking of offing myself for years, but can't go through with it until I figure out my suicide note. I keep searching Google, but can't find the proper formatting for such a document. What are the grammar and etiquette standards for a suicide note?


Crying for help about my cry for help

Well CFHAMCFH, this isn't really a Miss Manners column, but I'm always happy to help those in need. Let's go through your note step-by-step.

Remember, a suicide note is intended to add some theater to your death, so it is important to strike a balance between high drama and making others feel guilty about your miserable life. After all, the point of a suicide note is to make people sorry you're gone. A haphazard note that sounds like an outtake from American Beauty is just going to make everyone happy you offed yourself (as opposed to just your exes). I think we can all agree that there is nothing worse than a suicide dilettante.

The Salutation:

Do not address the note to a specific person. We live in the era of Twitter and Facebook, so if your note goes viral, you want to make sure everyone reads it all the way through. A specific greeting at the top will alienate most of your audience right off the bat. My suggestion: go with something like "To whom it may concern (OR NOT, HENCE THE NOTE!)."

The Body (Three paragraphs only. Suicide is show biz, and you always want to leave them wanting more):

Paragraph 1

Explain how you got here. If substance abuse is your problem, cite the specific drugs or drinks. Vague terms like "Mr. Brownstone" or "the monkey on my back" are hacky and make you sound like a common, dollar-store drunk. Instead, say something like, "I'm being slowly lynched by a man from Tennessee named Jack Daniels." It will make you sound poetic and reflective in death. It may even get you a few retweets from MADD.

If it is a string of artistic failures that has driven you to suicide, allude to a dumb society that doesn't get what you do. Remember, everyone thinks their taste in art is the correct taste in art, and that any person who disagrees with it only disagrees because they are too dumb to get it. This works in your favor if you word things vaguely enough. Say something like, "In a world full of Dogs Playing Pool, I am a Van Gogh playing cornfields." Van Gogh was a tragic artist who was universally respected, while dogs playing pool is  pretty much universally reviled. This will score major points with the back and front of the room. In fact, that line is so good I'm trademarking it as we speak. Don't cash it in until I've cashed your check.

Paragraph 2

Be sure to separate your exes into two distinct categories. Believe me, it is every person's dream to drive someone to suicide. I think it was Cleopatra who said: "Wow, you mean you killed yourself because you couldn't live without me? Flattery will get you everywhere!"

Announce that the people you dumped were precious jewels. And stupid you, you dumped them so you could focus on the losers who needed someone in their life, you know, because you're charitable and stuff.

And who are those losers you wasted your time trying to save? Why, the people who dumped you, of course! This approach will redeem you two ways: the people you dumped will suddenly like you again, and will no longer bash you for dumping them. In fact, they will forever go around saying that in hindsight, you were actually pretty great. Lucky you, you may even become their "one that got away."

And the ones who dumped you will not only be insulted one last time, but will also think to themselves, "Ohhh, so that's why he kept doing [insert annoying trait]. Because he wasn't really into me in the first place." Suddenly all of your obnoxious traits will be seen through the prism of "That wasn't the real him," which gets you off the hook and makes you look far better.

Their next horrible thought will be "Wait, so does that mean I'm a loser?"

C'mon, who doesn't love the thought of leaving an ex with that maddening internal monologue?

And even if the people who dumped you try to turn it around and say that you're the one who sucked, the fact that you got them first will make everyone else suspicious of their insults. Everyone will say, "Oh, they're just saying that because they were losers who needed pity sex."

Ingenious, isn't it? If you were this brilliant you probably wouldn't be killing yourself right now. But I digress...

Paragraph 3

List only two family members. Be sure to single out one relative who was helpful, so as to create tension among those still alive (it is no small feat to ruin Thanksgiving from the grave). Also reference one distant relative in an ambiguous way, so that for the rest of his life he and the rest of your kin are left confused about what kind of impact he could have had on you. This mystery (everyone loves a riddle!) will ensure that the family doesn't try to sweep your memory under the rug like they so often do with relatives who commit harakiri.

By the way, don't say things like harakiri, or else some suicide snob will read your note and say, "Well actually, harakiri is a ritualistic form of suicide. Worst note ever!"

The Closing

Just stick with Goodbye. No "Goodbye cruel world" or "See you on the other side." Those sound like bad teen poems and will cancel out all the suicide street cred you have built up to this point.

And remember, you've got all the time in the world to be dead, so by all means, take a few seconds for spell check. Unless your name is Lazarus, chances are you won't be able to return from the dead to change that "your" into a "you're."

Happy hanging!

Read my Tweets before you permanently turn off the lights:

Monday, December 3, 2012

The less intelligent of two evils

One of the major tactical blunders conservatives have made is focusing on individual politicians rather than on ideas. This seems to have started with Clinton (maybe because by then the Cold War was over and that had defined much of their platform?). When Clinton took office, the primary criticisms we heard from conservatives related to his personal life; his eating habits, his marital pitfalls, etc. Very, very little discussion of his actual policies. The conservatism "opposition" to Clinton was more like a roast than a movement.

That's the problem. When you make the opposition all about individual politicians, what happens when that politician leaves? The foundation of your movement is suddenly gone. It is like the difference between spending and investing. While conservatives have been spending political capital focusing on the short term quirks of individual politicians, Democrats have been investing in the long term by making their opposition mostly about ideas that transcend individual politicians (climate change, "affordable healthcare,").

Yes, when Bush II was in office, there was plenty of focus on his accent, his speech pattern, his wild youth. But there was also constant discussion of his tax policies, social policies, and towards the end, his warmongering. Contrast that with the conservative obsession with Obama's birth certificate and alleged allegiance to Islam. Even the bashing of Obamacare largely came down to the idea-free slogan: "Obama's a socialist!"

The conservative focus on individual politicians isn't isolated to individual Democrats. They make their own campaigns about individual Republicans. Every campaign speech from a conservative mentions "Reagan Republicanism." No discussion of anything Reagan did; just a constant repetition of his name. Again, this is totally ineffective. An 18-year-old potential Republican voter doesn't care about Reagan. He could be made to care about a Reagan-related conservative idea...if one were actually presented to him.

In order to win a War of Ideas, you have to have some actual ideas. The closest thing Republicans have had to an idea is the War on Terror. And as voters have tired of it, all Republicans have done is double down (especially in '08).

Once more: climate change is a spreadable idea. Obsessing about Al Gore's personal carbon footprint isn't.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What would it take to make comedy feel exclusive again?

Before the 1980s, stand-up comedy wasn't speckled all over the airwaves. Apart from outlets like Carson, stand-up was mostly a sport that could only be seen live. When people talked about going to the Catskills to see comedy, it was kinda literal.

Then in the 80s we got HBO and all kinds of stand-up shows. Suddenly it was everywhere. You didn't have to go to a club to see a wacky take on marriage. You didn't really even need a cablebox. It was everywhere.

Cut to today. Now not only do you have specific comedy channels and tons of talk shows featuring comedians, you have YouTube*, which gives you access to more stand-up than you can shake Charlie Chaplin's stick at.  

All the things that usually mesmerize people; comedy impressionists, for example, you can now see instantly and without payment. I just typed "Sarah Palin impression" into YouTube. 498 hits. In the old days, if you wanted to see your favorite impression, you had to go to a comedy club. Now every conceivable Sarah Palin impression is just a few clicks away.

If anything, this should devalue Sarah Palin impressions. You don't need to stay up late to watch The Tonight Show or drive to a comedy club to see someone do Sarah Palin.

So does that mean there is more funny out there? I just think there is more volume. Everywhere you go, you get the same three opinions, only now they are truly everywhere. Those same three opinions barrage you each day on Twitter, Facebook, your smartphone, your tablet, your television. Everywhere. The brain can only handle so much, so literal cognitive overload is bound to kick in. Eventually you're just worn down into accepting those same three opinions as fact. Perhaps without even knowing it, you come to expect them to be the template for all the comedy you watch.

If I want to escape the tidal wave of sameness, if I want to hear angles outside of those three acceptable opinions, there are probably around twenty people I can listen to. There are obvious names like Louis CK, and lesser known names like my friends Andy Kline and Dan Goodman.

With technology being where it is, there really is no reason to go to a comedy club unless one of the twenty or so distinct thinkers is on the bill. Otherwise, I'm bound to sit there frustrated while someone regurgitates the same point-of-view I could read in the New York Times seven days a week. Why should I shave, apply cologne, safety-pin a smile on my face, and pay a two drink minimum to sit through 60 minutes of the same three opinions that have been buzzing on my smartphone all day?

In order to get a break from the tidal wave of consensus thinking, I really have to sift through the noise to find my way to the comics who aren't regurgitators, which in a way, kind of makes the search for comedy feel exclusive again; maybe a little like it felt going to a comedy club in 1975.

It is as though this small league of comics with distinct angles is an accidental aristocracy. Maybe that should make me optimistic; aristocracies have a tendency to produce great art.

*Speaking of YouTube, you can use it to hear hours of unacceptable opinions from the late, great philosopher Patrice Oneal.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Multiverse Chorus Multiverse

"How can life have any meaning in such a giant universe?"
This is a public domain opinion held by most Bad Deep Guys, ages 17-23. It is often accompanied by American Spirit smoke, a scarf fatter than a boa constrictor, and a Nintendo shirt (because even in a giant universe, it is still important to romanticize Mike Tyson's Punch-Out).
Here's the thing, Son of Sartre; once you decide that existence has no meaning, why would the size of the universe matter? Big or small, the universe is still chaotic, random, and amoral (at least when viewed through the human prism).
If the universe were the size of Delaware, your existence would still be an impersonal accident. And something tells me you would still find a way to be a Bad Deep Guy: "How can life any meaning in such a cramped universe?"
If you decide that scale does matter, it would be easier to argue that given how enormous the universe is, and how rarely the necessary infrastructure for life seems to occur, the strange fact that Earth has life at least makes us unusual. You know, limited edition.
So, Bad Deep Guy, why are you here?
I ask myself the same thing each time you open your mouth.