Sunday, April 24, 2016

I'll Huff And I'll Puff and I'll Slightly Blow My Fringe

This week I watched a very serious, ex-military man as he warned a room full of people about gangs of wild pigs. That willfully attack people.

Several years ago I was lying in the basement of my new house when I swore I could hear a helicopter. I say "new" house. There wasn't anything remotely new about it. But it was new in the sense that I had just bought it. Technically speaking if you pick this story up a few months later then all of it became new. But at that point -  after breaking in and climbing over the mountains of shit I had found in it - it was new to me. That's when the floor gave way. And I ended up lying in the basement. At which point I realized that one entire wall of the house was riddled with bees. Hence the helicopter sound. After an immensely frustrating time of finding huge hive after hive of honey bees in every fucking wall I had to make a decision. Especially after getting rid of them and them continuously showing up and trying to move back. So I ripped all the walls off the house. All of them. And the roof. And the floors.

I hit the window ledge and they spilled out like a demented horror movie.
When my daughter was around three months old I was living in a house in Brislington on the outskirts of Bristol. And every morning I'd bound out to the back garden to see if a hedgehog that would sometimes show up was there. And if it was I'd take her out to have a look. Inevitably my two cats and the dog would wobble off outside and gently give it a sniff as well. The hedgehog would curl up into a ball. Then it would make a decision as to when it was best to make a run for it. And rocket off towards the bushes and disappear. So then I'd strap my daughter to me and take the dog for a walk down by the river and watch the ducks.

Yes. Rowing and horse riding in one actual, real photo.

I didn't shop around for my first apartment in Arizona. I mean - how bad could it be really? I'm not too delicate to live in a cheaper place in a more working class area of town. But I really should have twigged that the price of $450 a month and the incessant buzzing of police helicopters overhead was an indication of the value of that neighborhood. But some days it wasn't so bad. I knew a few of my neighbors and they were nice people. Except the guy who looked exactly like his dog. And his dog looked like it had been burned in a bleach accident. One day I came hom from work and saw a beetle on the wall. Except it wasn't a beetle. It was a cockroach. And when I went to get a closer look it jumped. The bastard tried to blind me and then make a run for it. So I immediately drove to Home Depot and bought a five gallon jug of deltamethrin and sprayed every inch of that fucking apartment. Good lord was I smug. I knew from my battle with the bees that I will win. I could not be bested. Two days later I walked into my bathroom and there was a bug in my bathtub. A few hours after that I'd piled everything I owned into the center of my living room - covered everything in tarps - and set off four bug bombs in my apartment. According to the instructions for the square footage in my place I'd likely only need two at best. But I opted for the Israeli option - one minor transgression and I was going to go well overboard and make sure anything in the adjoining three apartments was going to be brutally massacred as well. After the fogger had cleared everything in my place a sheen on it like it had been rubbed with deli ham. I didn't let my kids sleep in there for a fortnight just to be careful. But I had won. Three weeks later I found a bug on inside of the balcony door. And I seriously considered burning down the entire apartment complex.

So as I sat in that room and that ex-military man revealed to this ignorant fool that there are parading mobs of demented, feral skunk-pigs (called javelinas) that chase people they can tell are on there own, I once again decided that Arizona is fucking bananas. I haven't heard any stories from friends here about how they were hiking and they were alarmed by an absurdly cuddly kitten. Or sat at home marveling at how it's April and the pool is already open - but on arrival they found a guinea pig next to it. No. All of the stories I hear involve "...but luckily I got to the hospital quickly enough for them to save my foot." The first time I hiked Camelback someone playfully told me there was a mountain lion somewhere on it. That mountain is entirely surrounded by swanky suburbs. The local Game and Fishing Department even have a handy pamphlet you can take home to help in case you spot one. There are creatures that live here that are of a Hieronymus Bosch level of demented. I've seen an emo bee. Seriously. A gargantuan, black bee the size of a Mini Cooper (that might be a slight exaggeration). And I've seen a tarantula wasp that I momentarily thought must be some sort of hairy pterodactyl. And this weekend I saw my first scorpion. Not in my apartment - thank God. This place would be dust already. But I was getting my mail when the perpetrator was witnessed tampering with my apartment mailboxes (a Federal crime, by the way). Obviously I dealt with the situation calmly and bravely. By yelling, "UNACCEPTABLE" and throwing a bill feebly at someone else also getting their mail. 

I don't like creatures that hand around gangs. Beasts are supposed to be territorial. Not want others about. But ones that work together clearly have a plan. And must be treated with utmost suspicion. Hence my healthy suspicion of bees, ants and roaches. And now javelinas. All of which don't remotely hold a candle to the epitome of Borg-like satanic evil that are penguins. Those fuckers are clearly up to something. Hanging around in secret far from everyone. All aware that they have a job to do. Which is clearly to wait for the moment to strike. The sad thing is that people think I'm joking about penguins. Think about whatever creature you are irrationally afraid of. That's me with penguins. Except it isn't irrational. After all - you don't get an article in The Guardian about how the were witnessed wantonly violating their own dead for no reason. 

After I'd rebuilt the house I bought in New York - with bee proof walls, floors and a roof - I set to digging up my backyard. I had grand ideas about landscaping. And despite getting deeply suspicious warnings from more than one of the prior occupants about digging in the backyard, I carried on with it. And dear God I ended up with a beautiful yard. But I can admit that during that damn, hard work that a fleeting terror bothered me for the months it took me. And that was that during the digging I'd uncover an almost exact replica of the terrocotta army uncovered in Shaanxi province in China.

This is what my local Starbucks is like if I go on a Saturday lunchtime.
But that instead of uncovering 10,000 oddly massive terrocatta Chinese soldiers I'd uncover something far more nefarious. Yes. Ten thousand terrocotta penguins. Shudder.

Instead thought I didn't find anything remotely as awful Just a bunch of dead animals and a disturbing number of what might have been human bones. Not kidding. But no penguins. Thank fuck. And whilst I am aware that my behavior at that time to any intrusive bug that dared come anywhere near my home was probably very Netanyahu-esque - it isn't remembered that way. No. Because this past week I've had a mosquito in my apartment and I've had fits of apocalyptic rage trying to catch the bastard. Whereas my memory of my family and bugs in New York is very much like this,

If that was Arizona that would look very different. It wouldn't be green for a start. And learly everyone is far too overdressed. And instead of a harmless bug on the wall that would be one of my kids clinging to it for dear life as they were surrounded by a marauding gang of Mormon (statistically speaking it's probably likely around here) death-pigs.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

El Pastel de Queso Blanco

Thought I might write something. Got some changes coming up. So a fresh start and all that. Besides - I promised someone I would.

For any people in Britain reading, this is called "sunshine."
I've come to like living in Arizona. And I think it's fair that it takes awhile to come to that conclusion. It's really like no other place. And I've never lived anywhere in my near-forty years that quite clearly tells it's residents that people shouldn't really be living here. For almost a year it was if the surrounding geography came to life and snarkily said, "Hey Gav. Jesus, how are you still so white? Seriously, it's like your body is making a political statement to show support for the ghosts of dead white power people who happened to work in a Tippex factory. Honestly - they should use you in lighthouses to guide ships at night. Anyway, thought I'd pop in and mention - have you noticed how everything is dead? I mean pretty much everything? And things that aren't are either weirdly lethal or is the very symbolism of almost dead. I mean - you've seen the strangely, leathery old people knocking about right? They look like they're made of English toffee. Anyway thought I'd remind you. I mean come on - the few plants that do have evolved to stab anything that comes near them. Purely because for millennia those things would kill anything that came near them."

To which I would reply, "aren't you noticing the massive irony of a dead desert landscape coming to life just to remind me how everything here is dead?"

It did rain last week though. For the first time this year. I thing I was one of only a few people wandering about utterly aware that we were 100 days into the year with nary a raindrop. Which in itself is messing with my memory of back home. I haven't been back to the UK since March 2008. My daughter was six months old when I was last in England. She's nine this year. My memories of Bristol all involve rain. Moving house in a torrential downpour. Walking the dog by the River Avon and it being so flooded the swans were swimming around the leaves on the oak trees. Catching a buss from Clifton back to Brislington because I was so soaked already that my clothes made a sort of rubbery, squeezing noise every time I moved. A few weeks a go a friend posted a very pretty picture of the Houses of Parliament. All I could see was this.

British people's hair has evolved into an umbrella shape.

A year and a half in as an Arizona resident and I see the beauty. I hugely appreciated getting to wander around mountains in deepest winter. I love that I could take my kids to playgrounds and parks whilst knowing that when we last did that in New York we all had snow clothes on. And that was in April. And yes I'm acutely aware that in August when it's 115 degrees I will bitch about that. And somehow still not have a tan.

Yet despite coming to enjoy it here I still have some irrational reservations. For example, I'm worried that I'll be sat harmlessly on my couch eating tortilla chips with slices of cheese - whilst licking taco sauce off a spoon (don't you judge me) when I'll inadvertently drop a chip. And when I reach down to pick it up a scorpion the size of a babies' foot will grab the chip and run off. And no matter where I look I can't find it. But I'll be able to hear can it. Munching. All night.

I'm worried that I'll be hiking up a mountain half-naked (no doubt local news reports will be choc-a-bloc with sightings of the rare Albino Mountain Hippo) when I'll be stopped by Park Police and accused of some sort of hate crime. Purely from the fact that despite having ponced about in the constant, unforgiving, never-ending sun for fourteen months that I still some how have skin so white it looks like canned chicken. More to the point - I don't even wear t-shirts very often. MY body has voluntarily decided to alter it's pigment to evoke a t-shirt tan.

I'm concerned that on the 173rd day straight of it being over 100 degrees that I'll go to the store for drinking water and they'll be out of it completely. And every store I go to will be out of it. And i'll be forced to go home and drink water right from the tap. And if you want to replicate that then simply wrap a dead pigeon in tramps sock and drop it in a bowl of cat piss for twenty four hours. Then drink it. Bear Grylls wouldn't drink that. Actually he would - which is precisely the indication that it's rank.

More than anything though moving to Arizona has coincided with me being happy. First and foremost my kids are here. Secondly - I managed to figure myself out in the year before moving from New York. I was still very much mired in problematic circumstances. My kids had moved 2500 miles away. I was living in periphery of a poorly chosen relationship that involved one of the most callous, astonishing, emotional head-fucks I am ever likely to experience. But I had just got to that point of taking a damn good look at myself. I liked me. And moving did that symbolic thing of making everything new. And almost to a tee it's been 18 months of happy. More pointedly - since moving here I've met some of the most loving, kind, piss-taking, wonderful people. Saying they make me happy is not a big enough word at all. It's a truly bizarre feeling to have people in my life I'm that close to that just seeing them happy means the world to me.

Those who know me know that every weekend I don't have my kids I go hiking. I love it. Not just the physical aspect of it. But I'm an over-thinker. Excessively so. Often I can make sense of it either by just bloody well sitting there until I've thought about it long enough. Or writing it out. Or best of all - talking to someone who has the exact same issue of over thinking everything. But for some reason when I sweat my tits off on a hike I can make linear sense of things. Or at least come to terms with a thought or an idea. And by God does that make me happy.

The only photo I'll ever share of me working the pole.
So I'll take the scorpions. I'll keep the t-shirt tan. I'll deal with worrying about living in place tterly devoid of water (besides - I can always drink a peach bellini or a margarita). Because if someone told me that guaranteed - in among the usual ebb and flow of life's ups and downs - they could promise that for the next eighteen months I'd be as happy as I have been for the last eighteen months, then I'd take that in a heartbeat.

"Although you will be whiter than Taye Diggs teeth."

They'll undoubtedly say.