October 26th, 2004

me: ooh!

Day 18: They can't all be good.

I go to Trafalgar Square today to try to have lunch at the Café in the Crypt under St. Martin's Parish. The line is practically out the door and I am hungry, so I hurry down the block to a Japanese restaurant called Haruki, populated almost entirely by tourists. The sushi is decent and only seven quid for a hefty plate of assorted rolls (cucumber, yellowtail, salmon, tuna and k-rab). The service is awesome. It makes quite an impression on me after a couple of weeks of the British approach to waiting tables, which involves…as little as possible. They keep refilling my cup of green tea, and they let me sit and read (Angela Carter's Heroes and Villains) for an hour after they've closed between lunch and dinner.

I walk to Trafalgar Square to sit at the fountain's edge and write postcards. Tourists begin taking pictures of me instead of the fountain. I should really start charging. I could make a living this way.

Soho is only a few blocks north and I haven't walked around there much since I got here. I head up Great Windmill Street and, as music blasts at me from a neon-lighted doorway, I become aware that I'm walking through the adult entertainment district. I make a beeline for a larger thoroughfare, and find myself in front of a pub called The Intrepid Fox. It has a huge gargoyle hanging over the door. Of course I have to go in.

The place has been gotten up in proper goth/rocker fashion. There's a velvet-lined casket, occupied by a skeleton, hanging on one ledge and a gears-and-metal crucifix opposite. A straw witch hangs from the bar. Skulls, both shaven and totemic, abound, as do tattoos and piercings. The bartender is wearing a t-shirt that proclaims, "I'm a virgin (this is an old t-shirt)." I walk inside and gaze around for a few minutes, and this aging rocker says, "You haven't been in here before, have you." "No," I reply, and order a pint. He and his friend, who both look to be in their early forties, pull up their stools and start chatting to me. For a while, this is amusing to me. As many of the British people I've met seem to do, they immediately try to suss out my politics, presumably to determine whether or not to throw me out of the pub.

The conversation doesn't take very many beers to get personal, however. One of them complains about his wife of ten years, taking off for a Botox-and-collagen weekend with her girlfriend in Tenerife. He then marvels, rather crassly, at the young women that his son, aged eighteen, dates. I smile and ask him if he knows why his wife feels the need to have beauty treatments. He shrugs, baffled.

The other geezer claims to be a tattooist. He has eight children and is in the process of divorcing his second wife, who is nearly twenty years his junior. He shows me pictures, on his cell phone, of his daughters and son. Several times, actually, because he periodically forgets that he's shown them to me. He also shows me a picture of his current girlfriend. He boasts about the famous people he's tattooed.

Things start to turn ugly when the girl to my left gets up from her stool and decides to have a boxing match with the straw witch. The witch wins. Two large men grab her arms and toss her out of the bar. The tattooist offers me a job as a hygienist at the tattoo studio. I am amused as he continues to name and revise the terms, while the salary yo-yos up and down. He is beginning to get persistent, so I tell him I have to go and meet my boyfriend, who, by the way, I've made sure to mention much earlier in the conversation. It's amazing to me that people in London, especially men, will continue to speak to me even after I've mentioned that I have a boyfriend. Some of them are even painfully careful to avoid discomfiting me in any way.

Unfortunately, I'm not so lucky this time. First, he claims he ought to go with me to show that he's a nice guy, in case I happen to be interested in the job. Besides, he's going to Covent Garden to meet with his wife. And am I interested in the job? I tell him I'm not sure, in a "Dear God no" tone of voice. Well, he should come with me anyway, because he's going to Covent Garden to meet his twin sister. I say that I really must be going and I bolt.

I am upset. I feel violated, and I feel stupid for putting trust in people I didn't know, just because I'd gotten a false sense of security after walking around and doing so many things on my own here. I call Marco, who guides me back towards Covent Garden – I was about to repeat the Piccadilly Circus debacle. He hugs me and I cry a little bit. We buy a bottle of water and then join his workmates at a pub nearby. After about forty-five minutes, Jimmy, Ivan, Janelle, Marco and I go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. It is not terribly authentic, but it's hard to care when I'm so grateful to be comfortably ensconced in a warm restaurant with trustworthy people and food in my tummy.
me: ooh!

How to decide where you should live.

Poll #372956 London vs. L.A. nightlife: The True Test

You've just staggered out of the bar/club at closing time. You desire:

a kebab stand
a hot dog cart

Superior hangover food:

a full English (sausage, eggs, bacon, toast, baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms)
Denny's (e.g. Moons over My Hammy)

Which is better?

pubs that close at 11 pm that you can walk home from
bars that close at 2 am that you have to drive home from

Would you rather:

be able to smoke in bars/clubs/pubs and go home stinky
be unable to smoke in bars/clubs/pubs and go home clean

Would you prefer:

cheap drinks into which shots are actually measured
expensive drinks in which alcohol content is highly variable

You crave pub/bar snacks. You want:

salt and vinegar crisps, or chips drenched in malt vinegar
pretzels or peanuts

Which would you prefer, and no, you cannot have both:

not having to tip the bartender
toilets that flush