Saturday, July 31, 2004

Black tea, tusks, and ketchup: Impressions of the DNC

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On Thursday, America stuck the proverbial fork into 2004 Democratic National Convention, the very large pep rally held all week for the Democratic Party and presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards. You can now have your TV back.

Except, even though we stuck the fork in it, the DNC's juices are still coming out pink -- and this after four days of broiling it on high heat. Apologies for the unpleasant metaphor.

What I mean is that people in the media like me have to fill the gaping five-week chasm between now and the Republican National Convention somehow. So we'll probably be analyzing every detail completely out of proportion, from the speeches to the poofiness of Wolf Blitzer's hair to the colorfulness of the confetti.

I monitored the entire shebang either from this paper's newsroom or from my secure bunker located deep in the recesses of my Fall River living room, my feet up and a bowl of Triscuits at the ready.

I'd like to get all that detail work out of the way in one shot, thanks. Enclosed are 10 thoughts on the convention, individually wrapped, and afterward I'll return you to your regularly scheduled lives, already in progress:

1. The people in charge promised us an economic rose garden in Boston. All those hungry delegates and candidates and media people would spend millions of dollars, the organizers said. It never happened -- with all the worries of terrorist threats and the free parties and the traffic hassles, Boston's darkened restaurants took a pretty big financial hit, according to preliminary reports.

Which can only mean one thing: A lot of extra food is going to go bad really soon. I may take a quick trip up there to see if anybody's offering 60 percent off lobster, or buy-one-get-one-free filet mignons.

2. Incidentally, they also said the DNC's golden touch would extend outside of Boston -- that delegates in town for four extremely busy days might be willing to pause in their schmoozing and boozing and nobbing of celebrity hobs to travel to places like Fall River.

I drove by the waterfront, and I didn't see a crush of humanity taking advantage of the Battleship Massachusetts' special $2 off deal for DNC delegates. Not that it was a bad idea to offer it. I'm just glad this city didn't do something drastic, like install extra horses on the carousel.

3. Am I the only person who was gravely disturbed by CNN's "news ticker" running on the bottom of the screen during their convention coverage and containing news unrelated to the DNC? On Day 2, I was watching former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean give his excellent speech when my eyes flicked to the ticker.

I caught the tail end of one news item crawling by: "...had 9-inch tusks."

Suddenly, I lost the thread of Dean's speech and never retrieved it. And for the past few days, the image of Dean with a mouthful of 9-inch tusks has been burned into my brain with no end in sight. Somebody, please help.

4. I dig Ilana Wexler, the red-headed founder of Kids for Kerry. She told DNC delegates that we should give Vice President Dick Cheney "a time-out" for giving that potty-mouthed command to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the Senate floor recently.

Let me be the first: Wexler for president in 2028.

5. It turns out that former Vice President Al Gore can be quite sassy when the mood strikes him. I remember when everyone thought he was a graceless, stuffed-shirt prig. Then when Bush took the presidency in 2000, he grew that beard and was curled in a fetal position in the bathroom for, like, two years.

Now that he doesn't have to worry about earning votes, he re-emerged at the DNC as the second coming of Don Rickles. "By the way," he said, "I know about the bad economy. I was the first one laid off." Yowza yowza yowza!

6. DNC protests were small and peaceful, which was nice. One group was the anti-authoritarian, anti-government and anarchist group the Bl(A)ck Tea Society. They were protesting the DNC because they suspected the DNC had something to do with both authority and government.

I keep meaning to find some anti-government activists and ask them if they used any federal Stafford Loans to go to college. Or if they'll send back their Social Security checks when they get older. Or if they badmouth the fire department when they're trying to save burning houses. Or if they attended public schools.

7. I visited the Bl(A)ck Tea Society's Web site to get the answers to some questions about this anarchist group. Like, what's up with the fucking parentheses? But when the Web page was loading, my computer crashed. I immediately became scared, like I'd stumbled into some sort of anti-Internet demonstration.

8. Also, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society spread its message at the DNC. They make some sense. Vivisecting isn't nice. In fact, if you're vivisecting something right now, you cut it out. This instant.

9. I can't stop. I just looked up "9-inch tusks" and "Dean" on Google.com and found just two results. When I opened the pages, I found no stories about tusks. I remain puzzled.

10. Oh yes -- the speeches. I thought former President Bill Clinton accepted the nomination rather gracefully. Teresa Heinz Kerry didn't push her ketchup even once. And Edwards turned on his famous charm and did a splendid job of drawing people to the Edwards-Kerry ticket.

As for Kerry's speech, I was glad he reclaimed the American flag for Democrats who've been reluctant to fly it, for fear of being lumped in with ardent supporters of Bush and his war. He reminded America that patriotism doesn't mean blindly following the president, but believing in the country's ideals and promise. And he turned up the heat on Bush and the veil of secrecy that clouds his administration.

Also, Kerry seems to have gained some mobility in his face, even smiling a few times. Nice touch.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

"My Life" imitates art

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[Note: The following column was one of two to gain notice by the New England Press Association's 2004 Better Newspaper Awards, a second-place award for Best Humor Columnist. --Dan]

Our recent spell of warm, clear weather has put me in the mood to indulge in my favorite pastime on summer days: hiding for weeks in some dusky crevice of my apartment with the shades drawn, plenty of books on hand, reading in the dark and periodically hissing at splashes of sunlight that accidentally land nearby while my legs bow from rickets and my skin curdles to a moldy white from lack of fresh air exposure.

Yes, and who indeed among us doesn’t like a good book during the summer? Now that I think about it, lots of people don’t. Which explains why in the summer it’s easier parking the car at the library than at beach, for instance, or at Disneyland. And some people hate reading any time of the year. Some people can’t read. And then there’s the blind. I’ll move along now and let’s forget I said anything, shall we?

So anyway, everybody loves to read during the summer. It’s fun, educational and the page-turning is good aerobic exercise for people with porky fingers.

This summer’s hottest beach read is shaping up to be the autobiography of former President Clinton, "My Life." People are buying the 957-page phone-book-sized epic by the bushel. Empty bushels are available at your local bookstore, usually stacked near the registers.

I’ve only thumbed through "My Life," but it seems like a snoozer.

All the reviews I’ve read slam Clinton for not describing his intimate encounters with intern Monica Lewinsky in more graphic, Penthouse-style detail. The thinking is that, if you pay 30 bucks for a book, it better have some hotcha in it. Of course, people who are old enough to tackle a 957-page book can remember when we went through all that crap dominating the news every day from, like, 1995 to 2000.

From what I gather from paging through it, Clinton’s book is pretty short on interesting bombshells. Once again, everyone old enough already knows the story: becomes president, jogs over to McDonald’s, economic boom, plays saxophone, enjoys a fine cigar with a friend, Republicans twirl their mustaches and scheme to throw him in jail, later becomes a best-selling author.

Clinton may be a Rhodes scholar, and may have led the country through some good times, but he knows bupkes about churning out a thrilling summer plot. He sets the tone in his prologue, writing, "My life in politics was a joy. I loved campaigns and I loved governing." Way to build the tension, Bill. Wait until you get to the part where he expresses fondness for his mother, wife and daughter.

It seems that Clinton misses opportunity after opportunity to rev things up — specifically, he could have spiced up the 1996 election scenes by having Bob Dole kidnap Chelsea with a live grenade in exchange for a few swing states. Instead, Clinton describes simply winning more votes. How dull!

In fact, I flipped to the end of "My Life" and found its most shocking plot twist, on a page marked "A Note on the Type":

"This book was set in Janson, a typeface long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson, who was a practicing typefounder in Leipzig during the years 1608-1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated [italics mine] that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650-1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from the master Dutch typefounder Dirk Voskens."

In the interest of giving the book a little zing, I’m offering this excerpt. Clip it and staple it inside your own copy of "My Life," maybe on one of the pages where he’s yakking to Yasser Arafat about something or other:

--

Monica and I had been working late that night, as usual, putting the final touches on a stack of one-dollar bills that had to ship the next morning. Monica sat across my lap in a skin-tight black leather catsuit that held the curves like a well-maintained Ford on a NASCAR track. She held up her green Sharpie.

"Billy-boo-boo," she said, "I ran out of ink again. Let’s go into the closet and make out."

"Please leave me alone," I said, turning away with a blush. "I love my mother, my wife and my daughter, Chelsea."

"You were much more fun in your first term." Monica stood up and sashayed over to the window, drawing the curtains shut. "Now the Washington press corps can’t see us," she cooed.

I glanced up from my work and bit my knuckle, so captivated was I by a sliver of pure white moonlight spurtled across her zaftig, smiling derriere like a lick of fresh paint. In that instant, she perfectly resembled my wife, whom I love very much, along with my mother and my daughter, and I found welling within me a passion I had previously only felt for cutting budget deficits.

I flung my shirt away to reveal a gleaming chest perfectly sculpted and heaving as the fell deeds I would commit raced through my mind. She pressed herself close to my bestirred loins, the wind chilling her shoulders as the catsuit slipped to the carpet.

"I feel your pain," I said, and we kissed with the vigor of lampreys.

Just then, the door burst open. In flew master Dutch typefounder Dirk Voskens, a revolver at the ready.

"Les jeux sont faits, Clinton," Voskens said. As he strode toward us, his wooden shoes clacked with ghastly finality. "Hand over the Janson typeface and you might live to see a third term."

I shielded most of Monica with my body. "Not a chance, Voskens. I’ve been on the bum end of a roscoe more than once — and you don’t look like you have the guts to use it."

"Try me," he said.

As he fired I sprang forward, knocking the gun askew. The bullet tore through a photo of my wife, whom I love, along with my mother and my daughter. We grappled desperately for the weapon as Monica’s shrieks of terror pierced the room. But Voskens, having died in the 17th century, was no match for my brute strength.

I knocked him to the floor and saw his baneful eyes widen as he found himself held under the gun.

"This will hurt your approval ratings," he spat.

I considered it. He was right, of course. But I cared not.

"See you in hell, Voskens," I said, and fired.

Just then, flashes of light flooded the room — camera flashbulbs. I recoiled and caught a glimpse of the gaggle of Republicans hiding behind the sofa where Monica and I had whiled away so many pleasant afternoons. I knew then that I would have to wake the press secretary early.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

John Edwards and I walk into a bar

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There's no use denying it. We all have a teensy little crush on Dick Cheney, don't we? You can admit it. The heat you're feeling now is called blushing, and it's perfectly natural. Dick Cheney's boyish grin and thick, luxurious tresses of brown hair have bewitched us all--little wonder in 2000 Dick Cheney was named America's Sexiest Politician by People magazine.

Wait--have I been saying "Dick Cheney" all this time? I meant "John Edwards."

So like I was saying, I'm ecstatic that Edwards was picked as Sen. John Kerry's running mate in the Democratic presidential race. Mostly, I think, because Edwards seems like a genuine kind of guy. He looks approachable, like he has impeccable hygiene.

And I'm grateful Kerry didn't pick Dick Gephardt, the Missouri congressman who in personality and appearance resembles nothing so much as a wax figure of Conan O'Brien left out in the sun.

In short, Edwards seems like the kind of person I could have a beer and a decent conversation with, but without checking my watch every five minutes, and then I could order a side of nachos to go with the beer without worrying if Edwards is going to think it's gross that I'm eating finger foods, and then I'd probably also offer him a nacho. He'd take one--but just one, leaving me the rest like a good guy.

I'd offer Kerry a nacho, too. He'd politely decline, then stare at them for a while we're talking. I'd notice his eyes constantly flicking down at the gooey plate of cheese and salsa--not indecisively, but just thinking it all over, considering the options. I'd tilt the plate at him and say, "Hey. Kerry. You sure you don't want a nacho? They're wicked good." Kerry would say, "Now that you mention it, maybe I'll have one of those," and then take two. But I won't mind. The poor guy could use something to eat.

I can't have a beer with President Bush, lest we forget his hard-drinking, coke-hoovering past. I couldn't be responsible for booting him off the wagon. Also, Bush would want notice before we even got to the bar that nobody from the NAACP would be there.

I wouldn't offer Cheney any nachos, or any beer. He's had four heart attacks. I'd wave the bartender over and say, "Guinness draught for myself and a tepid soymilk for my friend here."

Most Democrats I've spoken to are excited about Dick Cheney being on the ticket, citing his enthusiasm and popularity. Besides that, Dick Cheney has youth on his side, friends. Idealism! Charisma! Gumption! Stick-to-it-iveness! It also doesn't hurt Kerry to know that Dick Cheney's in perfect health, has no blemishes on his political record to speak of, no shady insider deals to ignore.

Did I do it again? Sorry--I meant to say Edwards.

I'm not making this part up: A guy I know has a friend who volunteered on Edwards' Iowa primary campaign. It turns out, he says, Edwards is truly a nice guy who doesn't have anything to hide. That's nice for a change, eh?

Contrast that with his Republican counterpart. Cheney continually has to remind people that he won't give Bush permission to drop him from the GOP ticket. For most of his term as VP, he was missing, and for all we know may have died and been replaced by two smaller Republicans standing inside one big Cheney suit. He preaches family values and supports a knee-jerk anti-gay marriage amendment when he's got a daughter, Mary, who's a lesbian activist. He may have ties to no-bid military contracts for Halliburton. People who ask him about these ties to no-bid military contracts for Halliburton, are told, on the Senate floor, to go fuck themselves. Which also doesn't fit with the family values talk. Then he's not enough of a grown-up to apologize, telling Fox News he "felt better after I had done it."

Incidentally, this is another reason why I wouldn't want to have a beer and nachos with Cheney. He'll totally swear at me.

For the record: I went online to the Google search engine, and looked up John Edwards cross-referenced with the f-bomb. I checked a few hundred pages, but could find no instance in which John Edwards told anybody to fuck him- or herself.

I did find a few other things about Edwards, though.

He loves his wife and is a romantic, but not crazy about spending the dough. According to Reuters, even though he's worth millions, "The Edwardses have made a romantic ritual out of toasting their [anniversary] at fast-food chain Wendy's." We need that kind of fiscal discipline in the White House.

Also, I discovered an AP story about Edwards' interview on Don Imus's radio show. Imus asked if he knew the price of milk in Albuquerque.

"I think a half-gallon of milk costs about $2.30, $2.40," Edwards said.

Which is a little over: "It's $2.09 at Smith's Food & Drug Centers in Albuquerque," according to the story. But dig this: "A half-gallon of non-name brand whole milk sells for $2.29 at the Safeway" in Edwards' neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Right on target.

So when we're in the bar, we're having beer and nachos and watching "The Price Is Right." Yes, I know it comes on before noon.

Lastly, Edwards is psychic. He's got a TV show called "Crossing Over," where he communicates with dead relatives.

Methinks I shouldn't have to connect the dots too closely to illustrate how this might be handy in a vice president. He could conjure up dead jihad attackers, ask them how things are going in hell, then use this information to deter live jihad attackers.

Did I say John Edwards just now? I meant John Edward. Sorry.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Not-so-great Britain, Part II: Just bumbershoot me

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In our last episode, I described the prelude to the boring trip my wife and I took to London. This week, things go from mediocre to mediocre-er.

A tip to remember about walking around London is that it's not a good idea to walk around London.

It's an enormous city, for one thing, with more than 25 different neighborhoods. Around the second time we headed for Notting Hill but realized after 75 minutes of slogging through a steady, soaking drizzle that we were still in Kensington, for Chrissake, or we missed it and ended up in Bayswater or God forbid Knightsbridge, we realized that we didn't have to see Notting Hill that badly to get the gist of it: stores closed during prime shopping time, wet sidewalks, impassive and overdressed British people hiking briskly by with a better umbrella than ours.

Also, in England vehicles have right-of-way over pedestrians. British drivers heave their Fiats and Peugeots through the streets with the speed of hummingbirds and the precision of apprentice bricklayers. Compared to London, crossing a Manhattan street is like ambling across a rural Nebraska cow path.

The best way to see London is by subway, or Underground. To get around, simply decipher the system of 13 overlapping train lines using a map that looks like a picture of two octopi in flagrante delicto, or perhaps a rumble between two rival gangs of assorted Crayolas.

Most Underground stations are located across the street from fun places like Westminster Abbey and Speaker's Corner and the Tower of London. Once again, do not attempt to cross any streets. Stay on the sidewalk outside the subway stop and take pictures from there.

One morning, as my wife bandaged her foot blisters, news anchors on the telly were saying that a study showed London's streets were not as "pedestrian-friendly" as they could be.

I looked at my wife. She looked at me. We looked at the telly. The news anchors looked at us.

"Well, duh!" we said in unison.


Drool, Britannia

On page 130 of the Frommer's "England 2004" travel guide is this sentence, written without irony: "London is one of the great food capitals of the world."

Later on, the guide also says, "Pigs' nose with parsley-and-onion sauce may not be your idea of cutting-edge cuisine, but Simpson's-in-the-Strand is serving it for breakfast."

"We can get pigs' nose breakfasts at home," my wife said. "Let's eat interesting food."

London has many restaurants, all of which are open from noon to 2 p.m. and then from 6 p.m. to 6:05 p.m. And you need reservations. If you don't eat during these times because you're busy seeing the sights, fuck you.

The few times we did eat, it was usually cold meat.

"Please, no more cold meat," my wife said more than once as we sat down in a cafe for lunch.

I checked the menu. "We have our choice between cold mutton and cold lamb on white bread."

Once, we had British food at a pub in Stratford, birthplace of William Shakespeare. I ate a lamb shank lathered in gravy and served on mashed potatoes. My wife ordered something called a Ploughman's lunch.

"Sounds warm!" she said, shivering under a fleece sweater we bought to shield her from the rain outside. She would discover that a Ploughman's lunch is cold ham, boiled potatoes, and a chilled slab of pie made from several organs.

After our dinners, we found nothing to do anywhere in England, except visit pubs to drink ourselves to incontinence, which explains more than a few things about the British.

Everything else closes at 6 p.m. We splashed through the rain, passing darkened stores, headed to the hotel to turn in early. We watched fascinating British TV, like the original "Big Brother." The 10 or so housemates were mystified that they'd run out of toilet paper. "Where's it fockin' goin'?" one person shouted. Spoiler alert! Turns out they were just using a lot of toilet paper.


Manic-depressives

On TV, the British are hilarious. In real life, the accent gets annoying real fast. Also, actual Brits are mopey to the point where I was constantly shoving mirrors under people's noses to see if they were breathing. I'd be mopey, too, if I were always moist.

The only thing that makes British people animated is soccer. Then they turn scary and mean--sort of like zombies that way.

One day, on the Underground, we heard an announcement that a person was caught under the train. Five minutes later, there was another announcement: a second person was caught under a train. There would be "slight delays."

We didn't hear a word about it on the news--but we learned all about the Euro 2004 tournament and British star Wayne Rooney, who scored twice against Croatia.

A member of Parliament was on TV to discuss the health care system--so the anchors asked him about the upcoming game against Portugal.

"I hope Rooney scores three goals!" he said.

"Roo-mania" (that's what they called it, not I) swept England that week. On another station, one anchor asked another: "I think Rooney's a very good player. Do you think he's very good?"

"I do, actually," the guy replied.

England ended up losing to Portugal, Rooney be damned. The next day, our last full day in England, everyone was more glum than usual--except our beefeater guide at the Tower of London.

At the start of the tour, he bared his teeth and shouted, "I hope nobody here's from Portugal!"

I glanced at my wife, who snickered and threatened to turn me in. I had visions of the beefeater locking me inside the tower and swinging an ax at my neck. So I bit my tongue--I still have the scars to prove it.


Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

A few more so-so sights and two broken umbrellas later, we left for home. London may have been three-fourths boring, but my wife and I did have some fun. We compared notes on the flight back.

"The museums were great," she said. "It was nice and dry in there."

"Buckingham Palace is a very large house," I said cheerfully. "And Big Ben's clock was more or less accurate, I thought."

"Those guards who don't move sure didn't move," she said, "except to give us dirty looks."

"It's my beard," I said. "It looks Portuguese."

We were served cold meat on the flight. Instead, we broke out a colossal bar of duty-free Toblerone.

We arrived at our Fall River apartment in the late afternoon, picked up our dog and cat, then stared into our empty fridge.

"China Star, dearest?" I said.

"Order me anything that comes hot," she said.

I hopped in my car to pick up our warm spare ribs and fried rice, and somewhere on President Avenue, where a couple of kids were kicking a soccer ball around North Park, the rain began to fall. I was home.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Not-so-great Britain, Part I: London calling and nobody's home

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It'll be 228 years tomorrow since America broke from England and declared the 13 original colonies free and independent of the British monarch's rule.

England in 1776 was what America is today--a big, powerful, can-do kind of country. England, buddy, got shit done. Like America today, England in 1776 was a pro-active self-starter, and worked well either in teams or individually. Both examples are also ruled by cracked guys named George, which makes me wonder if the universe has a sense of humor.

Since England's pre-eminence in the 18th century was obvious, as a kid I always wondered what it was that made the American colonists want to leave.

"The Stamp Act," was the usual answer I got. Other motives for U.S. independence I remember from elementary school are "no taxation without representation," "Boston Tea Party" and "Crispus Attucks."

I have new information. My wife and I just came from vacation, and after six days and seven nights in London, I've gotten closer to the truth of why the colonists wanted independence:

England's kind of dull.

I wouldn't want to be part of it, either.

No offense to any Britons. It's just my unshakeable opinion formed by snap judgments and a superficial understanding of your culture. Nothing personal.

My wife and I are not people who carve out a chunk of beach in an impoverished Caribbean country for seven days while the natives attend to our beverage needs. Our ideal vacation is visiting a city rich with culture and wandering around to look at interesting, nerdy stuff. That's London.

So before we left, we read a travel guide, "Frommer's England 2004."

"Look!" I told my wife. "It says here, 'Wander around to look at interesting, nerdy stuff.' It doesn't say that literally, but it's the gist."

"Palaces!" she raved. "Parks! Architecture!"

I looked at her with tears in my eyes. "The museums," I sobbed, "are free!"

I sidled up to her. She sidled up to me. We both sidled up to the travel guide. The travel guide sidled up to our closet and began picking out our clothes--it was a comprehensive guide.

"I don't want to oversell it," I said, "but it seems like we'll be having the best vacation in the history of mankind."


Getting there is half the fun

I'm usually a heavy packer, because I'm a paranoid, insane person. On even the shortest weekend trips, I bring whatever I can fit into a piano crate. This time, I kept my head. I only brought three tins of breath mints.

"Should we take our jackets?" my wife asked as we finished packing the night before we left. "In case it rains?"

I looked at her, twirling a finger around my temple. "In England? Besides, it's summer. It doesn't rain in the summer."

When she got her jacket ready I found mine, too.

"Whatever," I said.

We checked our bags for anything that might hold up a security check--nail clippers, Swiss Army knives, pointy mascara wands, jars of sulfuric acid, fireplace pokers.

We were still red-flagged at the airport. It was my sinister beard and my wife's cute face.

"Take off your shoes, and jackets, please," a security guard asked us. He leered at me. "And, sir, if you could remove your belt."

Another security guard nearby with a trombone began playing sexy music while I stripped. First I teased them with one shoe, showing a little ankle here, a little sock there. Then the other shoe came off. Somebody whistled. I fluttered a pink ostrich-feather fan while--in the middle of a crowded airport, grandmothers and young children all around--I, Dan Medeiros, undid my pants. Finally, I spun the belt around my head and flung it at the guard, who sniffed it and handed me a single with his number written on it.


Dazed and confused

After five or six days in flight, cruising in a bright blue, clear sky, our plane dove through the blanket of clouds to a gloomy, green landscape carved into sheep pastures as far as we could see. We touched down at Gatwick Airport, about 30 miles south of London.

Punchy from the flight and the airline food--I'd ordered beef and gotten lasagna that tasted like fish--we shuffled into the airport and found the currency exchange.

I handed a teller $400 in cash. The teller--our first speaking encounter with an actual British person!--forked over a few pounds.

"That's it?" my wife whispered.

The next teller over explained the lousy exchange rate to another befuddled American: "Go have a chat with Mr. Alan Greenspan!"

Our teller added a few coins and handed over a receipt.

"Cheers!" he said.

When we breathed fresh air, we both noticed it smelled funny, like England had gone stale. We couldn't tell if it was really the air or us.

Our driver navigated us through the twisty, narrow London streets, passing the same landmarks sometimes three, four times--St. James's Square, a statue of some guy, a lingerie store called the Knickerbox. We saw a lot of buildings that looked exactly alike.

When he brought us to our hotel, over by Hyde Park, it was 9 a.m. Check-in time was at 2 p.m. My wife and I decided to take a stroll to soak up the stale British air. To us, it was really 4 a.m.

Everything in London looked eerily familiar. The style of all the buildings reminded us of Boston, or the East Side of Providence.

"Now I know who put the England in New England," I said.

"We see houses like this all the time in Newport," she said. "I guess they don't keep the interesting houses in this neighborhood."

"I can't figure this out," I said, studying a street map that resembled a plate of spaghetti. "Is the hotel on Kensington Church Street, Kensington High Street, Kensington Court, Kensington Place, Kensington Court Place, or Kensington Road?"

That's when then the rain began to fall.
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