Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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Too short for the Star Wars universe

Well, I always knew I was too short for a storm trooper, but I’m apparently too short to talk STAR WARS with French nerds too.

Star Wars hostess job

First “qualification”: must be over 1,68 m tall (5 foot, 6 inches).

This is kind of a bummer because I’d actually really like to see what a bunch of French sci-fi fans are like but would only attend such a gathering if I was working.

On not actually being a nerd

My parents didn’t love me so I never had any STAR WARS toys growing up. I am a child of the 80s though, so I love me some Degobah system references and was one of those people who saw THE PHANTOM MENACE multiple times in the theater because I couldn’t believe that what I’d seen the first time was the actual movie.

UNA!

UNA!

In college, I met whole communities of nerds while working at a video store and learned that they’re generally very nice, socially awkward guys with whom I share a lot of interests. But I am missing that elusive characteristic (obsession? total immersion? loneliness?) that makes a true nerd, so I have to content myself with just being really, really into stuff (like ASOIAF).

I am the right size to be Salacious Crumb though, so that’s something.


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The Postman Rang Twice (with the loot)

Because I am an experienced traveler and have developed a keen sense of when a suitcase is overweight, I took the precaution of sending myself some things from the US. As usual in such cases, I chose wisely as the package in question weighed 13.25 lbs. (6k) and my luggage allowance was 50 lbs. (23 k).

Here’s what the mailman came twice to deliver (really! He left a note the first time and the package the second):

2013 Loot from USA

→ Envelopes filled with the few actual photographs I still have. Many of them will be scanned and then shredded because I don’t believe in keeping lots of stuff.

→ The only love letter I probably won’t ever throw out. In keeping with my own twisted logic, it’s not from anyone I actually dated, nor does it contain any declaration of love but that’s why it’s my favorite.

→ A whole stack of my original Super López comics, including my favorite issue! You can tell they’re the real deal because they cost 395 pesetas! (That was just over 3 bucks back in the day.) These books have traveled more than many people.

→ An Italian phrasebook I bought in 2003 as my one defense against the rudest people on earth. It didn’t make them any nicer to me, but at least I knew I was being polite to their asshole faces.

→ On Writing Well, William Zinnser. I’m gonna master this whole expressing-with-words-on-pages thing.

→ The Big Screen, David Thomson. Books about movies are two of my favorite things in one! The only way to make them better was if they were edible.

→ Mythologies, Roland Barthes (2012 translation). I will most likely not understand anything, but I’ll try.

→ Complete Works, William Shakespeare. It is possible I have three different versions of this but I won’t know for sure until I finally unpack all my belongings and take stock.

→ My name tag from college when the locally owned video store I worked for got bought out by a chain. A friend of mine called me Brain and that’s his crappy writing on the tag.

One night, a young guy and his girlfriend came up to the counter and he looked at me, then my name tag, then to his companion and finally back at me and smirked, “Hi, ‘Brian.’ Do you have [some stupid movie I didn’t bother to register in my memory]?” To which I had to say, “Actually, it’s Brain,” and I very condescendingly ran my finger under each letter so that he could see how un-Brain he was. “And we currently have multiple copies of [whatever Hollywood crap fest] on the New Release wall. It’s that huge wall that runs the length of the store. With a neon sign. That says ‘New Releases.'” And then I smirked right back at him. God, that was the best job.


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My complaint department

Even though I have a way more relaxed take on life than I used to, some things still piss me off. A lot. Enough to make me yell at inanimate objects and grind my teeth. Here are some of the recent offenders.

→ Apple. I don’t think I could count how many ways Apple has pissed me off in the last decade. The first one was when they changed the keyboard of the original clamshell iBook to one that was less responsive and comfortable for the second-gen G3 iBooks. More recently was when they updated iTunes, completely overriding years’ (YEARS’!!) of metadata and preference settings that I had already rebuilt twice in the last half decade. And, of course, there’s iOS7 which is a total nightmare.

SOLUTION: All this anger has led me to imagine a perfect machine which is basically a typewriter with a better keyboard and an email client. That’s it. No crazy apps that have dynamic swiping or tweetdecks or constant alerts or other unnecessary crap. Someone please make this happen.

These are just a few of the idiots in question.

These are just a few of the idiots in question.

→ Flies. I supercrazydoublehate flies, not just because they’re dirty (which they 100% are) but because they are insanely stupid. When confronted with a wall of windows, they bounce and bump along one section, not bothering to use the hairs that cover their whole bodies to feel where the breeze is coming from and going towards the most logical point of egress. Also, they love to swarm in cool spaces just out of direct sunlight, meaning there’s always a big gang of them right by the main entrance to my building and in my living room if I leave the windows open.

SOLUTION: I bought fly tape but then they just got stuck and buzzed and buzzed until they died which was equally annoying to them just existing. Second attempt at eliminating them was this amazing Raid product that you stick on windows and, through some kind of sorcery (or possibly nuclear radiation), it absolutely positively kills all the flies in the area so that there is actually a pile of dead flies on the floor when you come home after a few hours. It’s the best thing I’ve come across in ages.

→ Don’t complain to me: I used to be a shift manager at a video store in college* and one of my great pleasures was addressing surly customers. Usually, they’d come in and start complaining about late fees and they’d demand to see the manager and I’d sigh and turn around and come right back to them and say, “Hhhhello, my name is Hhhhh______. I’m the manager hhhhere. Hhhhhow can I hhhhhelp you?” At this point the customer would usually wither and die because I had used my secret weapon: fricative sounds (all those H‘s) combined with a garlic bagel with garlic cream cheese which I would have consumed earlier in my shift. No one could withstand my cool detachment and killer breath.

Go out on some notes

Lykke Li’s “Complaint Department”

*Possibly the best job in the world, RIP the entire industry.


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My invisible tattoo

“You should get that tattooed on your forehead,” my BFF said.

What she was suggesting I get inked on my person was “Fuck. Off.” since, by her estimation, I was saying that a lot.

Some 15 years later, I still remember the particular morning I was telling her about when she made that offhand comment. It had been an incredibly hot and sunny summer morning in Boston, just before 10. I was walking to work and was suffering from what a friend called Infantile Head*. I’d run out of cigarettes during the night, so I stopped by the convenience store that was on my way and they were out of my brand. This increased my bad-temper tenfold. Some guy approached me as I was leaving the store and started to say something to me and I just yelled, “Fuck! Off!” and stormed across the T tracks to the video store where I worked.

Strangers approaching me for reasons other than directions totally puts me off. My basic feelings about dealing with other people are

  1. I’m not interested in meeting you unless I already know you**.
  2. If I wanted to be talking to you, I would be.

I’m kinda like Audrey Hepburn in CHARADE (although totally unstylish). (How she pulls off sunglasses over her scarf and hat I’ll never know.)

Sometime after college, I stopped actually saying “Fuck. Off” out loud when guys approached me, deciding to go with a simple “No.” This went over even less well than my original approach but was decidedly less aggressive.

Guy: Hi.

Me: No.

Guy: I just said “hi.”

Me: No.

Guy: What’s your problem?

Me: No.

[repeat ad nauseam until he goes away]

After doing this for a few years, I decided to use a Leave Me Alone face all the time when I wasn’t with friends. Basically, this is a neutral expression that doesn’t invite any advance. One must practice to get it right as it involves relaxed face muscles and distant eyes to send subtle body language cues that the wearer does not have time for you.

Most of the time, this works. Sometimes, people react poorly, thinking that I’m being a bitch or intentionally ignoring them or think I’m too good for them. What people don’t realize is that none of these things are true. I just genuinely have no interest in strangers and want them all to leave me alone. Again, if I’m not already talking to you, I can assure you that I don’t want to be.

Further thoughts

→ Despite having written most of this post in July 2012, Elizabeth’s comment that she has a City Face she wears so that people don’t bother her finally pushed this story up the queue.

→ “Queue” is the only word (in English, I think) that, if you remove all but one of its letters, is pronounced the same as the whole word. Thank you to the French language for making this possible (and really annoying).

→ I’ve gotten a lot of angry responses to my LMA face, but no one has ever found it funny, unlike this video which details the plight of women who suffer silently from Bitchy Resting Face.

→ The second season of Jerry Seinfeld‘s webseries is much better than the first. Sarah Silverman, a comedian whose brash style is usually too much for me, has a funny bit in a recent episode where she notices a teen girl’s unpleasant expression and says, “I’m going to change your life forever. That’s your default face? Put a smile on there.” It’s good advice, especially if your resting face is unpleasant.

Bringing this post full circle, Dame Helen Mirren, one of the more imposing ladies currently in existence, thinks that all girls should learn to say “fuck off” early and say it frequently. All hail the Queen!

* Infantile Head — like a baby’s head i.e. when you feel that any jostling, loud noise or bright light could cause permanent brain damage.

** Yes, I realize that this is impossible. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT.