Wednesday, December 29, 2010

jamiriquai stayed here too, so, you know...

Everyone, come to Budapest! It’s pretty goddamn fantastic here. First thing’s first: let’s cut past the history and the beauty and the culture and get right to the point. We’re at a fancy hotel! And to prove it, there’s a picture of 50 Cent in the lobby. I will gladly stay at any hotel 50 Cent finds acceptable.
The folks are really rolling out the red carpet in Budapest. Our first night here, we went to dinner at this place call Gundel’s, for which we got very dressed up and were serenaded by a jazz violinist who played easy listening classics.
I walked in and said, “I feel like we’re dining on the Titanic.”
At the table next to us were three 20-something internet billionaires. I’ve decided they were internet billionaires because they were American, having dinner at Gundel’s like it was Denny’s and wearing jeans to eat $55 lamb.
I felt like a 15 year old teenager, sitting next to them and sipping Coca Cola Light out of an ice-less glass while my mom reminisced about her C-sections.
We went to the big market, which was great and really interesting, a lot like a Hungarian version of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Street food is huge here. Huge. And the absolute best thing to get is the potato pancake. It’s the size of a dinner plate and spectacular. I went shopping by myself and discovered two H&Ms, a Zara and something called New Yorker. New Yorker is a cross between H&M on meth, J-WOWW's whore line and mail order bride Wet Seal, with poorly translated ironic t-shirts. I was so happy to discover New Yorker, I almost started crying. I mean, they were selling polyester cable-knit bustiers for $12. WITH MATCHING SCARVES.
But so far, my absolute favorite thing I've seen in Budapest in the Terror Museum. I know, I know You'd think I'd been through enough. But the Terror Museum is really interesting, and designed in a way that is incredibly weird and spooky. With scary Psycho music in different exhibits.
A lot of it doesn't necessarily make sense, and you've got to get a piece of paper in every room explaining a different part of Communist history. So by the end, we had like, 50 pieces of paper...which they do not recycle. (Take a second, San Francisco. Take two.)
All of the guards at the Terror Museum are probably character actors sent there to set the mood, because every single security guard posted in every room was like a Gulag matron, silently standing there like a linebacker.
"No. You wait for elevator."
I really feel that academically, I brushed over a lot of post-war Communist Eastern European history, other than Hedwig and the Angry Inch, so it was really interesting and sad to spend a few hours surrounded by it. And unlike Auschwitz, the Terror Museum posts the photos of hundreds of "victimizers." There was a whole spooky red hallway packed with their photos, names and dates of birth. And many of them are still alive.
My mom is convinced more than a few have come through the whole museum only to get to the basement at the end of the tour and see themselves. It's a nice little exhibit on revenge. They should just call it the Hallway of Assholes, because after touring the entire museum, which is housed in the building that was home to Budapest's Nazi and then Communist headquarters, seeing standing cells and mobile gallows, we got to the bottom and were like, "Oh. Look at this Communist asshole. And this one. And this one."
I have to pack my shit up now because we're taking the train to Vienna, but I still have to tell you about the Budapest Opera, where I watched a 3 and a half hour opera alone in a private box with 4 French teenagers, all of whom promptly argued with each other and then fell asleep...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

and now, from budapest...

Curiously, the biggest television show in Hungary is "The Weakest Link." But first, getting here.After visiting Auschwitz, we had to wait around for 5 hours, kind of wandering around Krakow. Moods have been better, it's safe to say. But we had a really great Polish dinner in a fancy Polish restaurant, and then wandered around the train station.
Imagine the scariest train station in the world. Now, triple the level of shadiness and welcome to the Krakow Train Station. It looked like the beginning of a dicey, urban spy movie. The whole place felt like Eastern Promises on heroin. And we stood around there, clutching our immaculate luggage for dear life, for an hour and a half.
Finally, we made our way to Platform 3 and boarded the sleeping car of our train, bound for Hungary and then, the Czech Republic. The big, broad gentleman that checked our tickets helped my father with the bags.
"Budapest?" My father asked.
"No." He said gruffly. "This Krakow."
And then he broke into a goofy smile, throwing his head back and laughing. "Yes. Yes. We go Budapest."
Alex and I were in beds 41 and 45. Apparently, bed 43 doesn't exist anymore because there is no way three people could fit in our cabin. There was barely enough room to stand next to the beds.
It was late, the train left at 10pm, and we were all exhausted. We said goodnight to mom and dad, and Alex and I settled in. We agreed that I'd take the top bunk, and moved the provided ladder out of the way. It was much easier to just step on the sink and crawl up there. I felt like a little kid.
The percer, the joker who helped us with our bags, had a room near the communal WC at the front of the train car, where we soon discovered he slept with the door open.
It was tough to sleep, mainly because I was rocking around up there on the top bunk with this weird, blue light shining in my face. And also, I think they added a bunch of cars to the train in the middle of the night, somewhere in Slovakia. It involved bumping the entire train repeatedly for an hour.
There were no Agatha Christie mysteries. Alex woke up at one point, and made me a little curtain for the blue light, but otherwise, we read our books and slept. At 7am, I was up. Wide awake, I shimmied into my jeans up there in my bunk, threw on a sweatshirt and told Alex I was going to find him coffee.
"If I'm not back in an hour," I said, "Alert the media."
I walked into the little hallway with snowy fields whizzing by outside the window. It wasn't even dawn yet, but the sky was just started to get the littlest bit lighter. I walked towards the door, passing our percer fast asleep with his door wide open. I then got to the end of the train car, and tried the door to make my way onto the platform and onto the next car.
The door was locked, which I found weird. Usually, you can go from car to car, wandering around. Since the door was locked from my side, the precious first class sleeping car side, I just unlocked it and walked onto the boarding platform at the end of our car, connecting it to the next train car.
No sooner was I out there than the door I'd just come through swung open. It was the percer, wanting to know who the hell was touching his door.
"Hello." I said.
He stared at me, shut the door and locked it.
The percer had locked me out of the sleeping car.
I figured, it's early. I'll go find the little food section of the train, get some coffee, find a snack, check out our fellow travelers for awhile. By the time I got back, I decided, the percer would be wide awake, unlocking doors, cracking jokes.
I walked the four steps to the door to the next car, which I think was the second class sleeping car. It looked dumpier than our car, which is my only basis for that observation. Anyway, I was standing there, in between the end of MY car's platform and the start of the NEXT car's platform, which was basically a piece of accordioned rubber directly over the tracks, moving impossibly fast beneath me.
The door was locked.
Fuck. Now I had to go back to my car's boarding platform, and get the percer, no doubt back in bed, to unlock the fucking door and let me in.
I stood there on the platform for awhile, wondering what would happen if he didn't get up. I'd be stuck there, with 3 more hours of travel time, waiting for someone to use the WC and find me safe-looking enough to let in.
I peeked in the door and saw the percer, walking the little hallway looking pissed off.
I knocked on the glass door. "Hi! Hello! Can I come in?"
He ripped the door open.
"This sleeping car!" He said this as if we'd never seen each other before.
"Yeah. I know." I said, getting ticked off. "I'm in bed 41."
And he just stared at me, trying to decide whether or not to believe me.
I didn't wait for him and just kinda pushed my way through. I walked down the hall fast, fast enough, I hoped, to get my brother to let me in before the percer caught up to me.
Alex had locked our door.
"Alright, Jesus. Hang on." I heard from inside.
Alex opened the door. "Where's my coffee?"

Monday, December 27, 2010

visiting auschwitz...

For our last day in Krakow, we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Auschwitz, which I did not know, is actually the German word for the Polish town of Oswiecim. It's like, a whole town, with people still living there. And we were taken there by the Rick Steeve's recommended guide, a cheery Polish man named Andrew who brought a cooler full of vodka with us.
Andrew takes small private yours to Auschwitz all the time. It's his job. And by the time I became curious if he got sick of the sadness, I didn't really want to talk anymore.
In fact, I don't really know how to write about this.
Auschwitz is the most horrible, upsetting, angering, frustrating, heart-breaking place or thing I've ever seen in my life. We barely spoke to one another as we walked around, but eventually my father said, "You can see every movie, read every book. It's still different and harder...being here."
He's right. I can't come near describing the experience. But Poland is a long way away from most of you. So I will try.
There are two camps. Auschwitz I is smaller, and where we went last. It was built (or used, rather, as the structures already existed) first, and then Auschwitz II and Birkenau were built as the war progressed. The camp was responsible for 1,100,000 murders and 90% of the people sent there died. I think this is right. It was hard to pay attention to Andrew and his facts because I was just so overwhelmed.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau is the Auschwitz I recognized from movies and photos and history class. But it's so much bigger than I imagined. It's huge, having house 200,000 people at a time. And it's also pretty open, with many of the prisoners barracks no longer standing.
It was snowing when we were there. We walked around Birkenau for 2 hours, bundled up in high-tech cold-weather gear and as I shivered, I started to try and imagine what it would have been like to be a prisoner there.
Turns out, I can't imagine it.
I cannot imagine someone walking into my family home in Mill Valley and taking it from us. Taking our things and our clothes and our forks and our plates. I cannot imagine writing 'Spotswood' on my suitcase, carrying in it all of the photos and personal treasures and material part of my life I could grab because I'm told I'll get it all back. I cannot imagine being stripped of my job, my friends, my comforts, my freedom. And I cannot imagine spending days standing in a wooden train car with 80 other people, without food or water or toilets or comprehension of what was happening.
Because I was still stuck on someone coming into our house.
By the time I imagined myself off the train at Auschwitz, and I as standing right there, in the exact place, where I imagined my brother and father being ripped away from us and even as an adult, clutching onto my mother, it was inconceivable. None of it made sense to me.
And then I tried to imagine standing there in the cold, where I was that moment, miserable and shivering in my modern, warm clothes, but with a shaved head and itchy clothes and stolen shoes. And I just could not imagine it. I went there in my mind, I went as far as I could. And it simply does not comprehend. It makes no sense. Those things ever happening, to anyone, anywhere in the world, are insane.
Obviously, we all know the history of the Holocaust. I'm just saying, you walk around this place in silence, and stand inside barracks and toilets and underneath guard towers, with the barbed wire still there, and it's more real than anything.
Every few minutes, I'd feel a hand on my back, or a pat on my head. It was my brother, who just kept physically checking in with everyone. It was so cold and snowy and the day after Christmas, that we were maybe 4 of 20 or 30 people wandering around. It was hauntingly empty. And Alex would walk ahead for awhile, and then turn around, to make sure I was still there. Then he'd walk around a barrack, keeping an eye on my folks.
It just made my heart ache. Mainly because I could tell he wasn't doing it to make me feel better. It was making him feel better.
And then we went to Auschwitz 1.
Instead of acres and acres of flat wooden barracks of Birkenau, Auschwitz 1 is big, 3-story brick buildings that used to be a Polish military base. After the Germans invaded Poland, they took it over, along with everything else, and Auschwitz 1 was the beginning of the concentration camp.
Auschwitz 1 is much more of a museum than Birkenau, where one can just walk around. Several of the buildings are full museums, flawlessly curated. The care and reverence taken with this sacred, historic space is remarkable.
One of the first buildings we walked into held the gas chamber and ovens. There was a sign outside which basically said, "Thousands of people died here. Out of respect for their memory, please make no sounds inside this building."
One by one, we walked in. None of us looked at each other, and my folks walked in and pretty much walked out. I tried to imagine it, being naked and terrified and in that windowless, concrete room. But I couldn't. I just stopped trying and walked right into the next room, where I was faced with two ovens. You have to kind of step over the tracks where tables would slide bodies into the ovens. It was horrible obviously. It was absolutely horrible.
I walked out.
But Auschwitz 1 is just horror after horror after horror. Buildings 3, 4, 5, and 6 contain fascinating 2-story exhibits inside the former barracks. Thousands of prisoner mugshots cover every hallway before you even get to the exhibits, and each mugshot contains a name, a date of birth, a date of arrival at Auschwitz and a date of death. And I tried to look at all of them. I felt it would be wrong to walk past them, thousands and thousands of faces. Some looked lost, some were gone, some were terrified, some were defiant. Some were women my age, or Alex's age. Or men who looked like my friends. Some had occupations. One good-looking man was a 36 year old lawyer. He was murdered in 1942.
The exhibits in Buildings 3-6 are very much like the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Building 6, I think. contained an entire room of human hair. The Nazis used it for cloth, and when Auschwitz was liberated, they found 700 pounds of human hair.
There it was. Right there. Real hair. Some of them in braids. Filling a room.
The snow let up as the sun started to set. So we went to Building (or Block) 11, which was the last building we had yet to see.
Building 11 is what put me over the edge. It was emotionally exhausting being there all day, and by the time I got to Building 11, I was done. I couldn't process anymore.
Building 11 is the worst thing I've ever heard of. It's next to the Wall of Death, and even now, I can't bring myself to write about it. All four of us left shaken. My brother and I, finally finished seeing all of the exhibits, walked out of there as fast as we could. I was almost holding my breath, afraid to look up, just trying to make it to the door.
If you want to know about Building 11, ask me when I get home. I don't feel comfortable even beginning to describe what I saw in there. But again, it seems like one of those things that you know intellectually, but when faced with it, in the freezing basement of a building in Poland, the horror is overwhelming.
Anyway, I really have no idea how to appropriately share our experience yesterday. And I'm sorry that this post is so depressing. But it was part of our trip and a profoundly intense experience. We are now safe and sound in Budapest, Hungary. And I'll have loads of fun stories about that later.
What follows are photos I took of Auschwitz-Birkenau, all of which are outdoors. Taking photos inside are forbidden, but you can see them on the official website:

Friday, December 24, 2010

taking a bite out of krakow...

Things I've noticed here:
1. Many people have what American children might diagnose as a "staring problem." I began noticing this in the Munich airport and then last night, we enjoyed a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner at our hotel.
Two women dining alone watched us, all dolled up and smiling, arrive to be seated and just stared. So I stared back. Undeterred and pausing with forks midair, they seemed neither disgusted or impressed. They looked at us like a painting in a museum. An hour later, as I returned from the ladies room, I was met with the same thing from those two. So naturally, I stopped in the middle of the restaurant, extended my arms and posed.
Later, as we played games by the fire in the dark and cozy underground library/bar, who should be sitting on the other couch but the starers. After a few minutes of eavesdropping on their conversation, my mother said, "Oh, they're French. That's the problem."
2. We stereotype all Europeans. I very specifically remember being taught these prejudices in Disneyland as a child. We were constantly cut in line and every time it happened, my mother would say, "Germans." Thus, Germans are pushy cutters. The French stare (so do the Germans.) And the tall American family everyone's looking at does very rude, kind of Russian voices every time they put on their big coats. "We go in snow again for Poh-lahnd."
3. All of the food here is gigantic and hearty. And wonderful. It's all snowy and WWII-y outside, and then you all kind of barrel into a street cart or cafe or a fancy, modern restaurant and suddenly it's the best, most complex soup you've ever had in your life and perfectly fried and cheezy perogies. And Polish people are very friendly and funny. Even at dinner, which was pretty la-ti-da for San Francisco much less my stereotype of Poland, my father signed the bill and kind of nervously noted there was no place for a tip. He delicately called over the server, a big, good-looking bald guy who said, "Oh, Misteir Spahwuut. This is Poh-lahnd. We do not do!" And then he enthusiastically patted my dad on the back.
4. We are tipping anyway. It's Christmas and we like everyone so much.
5. But there really is a lot of marinated carp. As Alex pointed out at dinner last night, it wouldn't be so bad if "carp" wasn't such an ugly name. Maybe it's something different in Polish, something lovely and enticing. I'll never know as...
6. Polish is impossible to pronounce. My mother is constantly asking, "Now, how do you say thank you? How do we say Merry Christmas?" And every time, a smiling, jovial hotel clerk or gay sitting next to her on the plane will respond with a series ofcomplex consonants we don't dare even attempt to repeat.
7. Brock was desperate to know what's on TV. There were lots of weird, low-budget 1970's Polish cartoons on yesterday morning, and something called France 24, which is a panel discussion show in English. Of 35 channels in our hotel room, only 2 are in English. So we watched the Polish news a lot, and all it consisted of was reporting on Christmas activities around Poland. I watched about 15 minutes of a Gary Busey movie in Polish. And the television is connected to speakers in the bathroom, which was weird when I had the German news on and listened to German being belted over the loudspeaker while brushing my teeth.
8. Everyone does indeed wear fur!
9. Krakow is very beautiful. And me, with my general interest in morbid and depressing history has a lot to take in. Krakow was invaded by the Nazis on September 1st, 1939, and as my brother and I walked around today, we kept saying, "This all looks right out of a World War II movie." Which makes sense. This is where Schindler's List took place. We're about 90 minutes from Auschwitz, where we'll go tomorrow. And I think today I'm going to go look around the Jewish Ghetto.
Which I very much want to make sure I see, even on Christmas, because you can feel the weight of history in this city.
10. Which brings me to my gratitude that my parents have always valued travel and made it a priority for us to see the world together as much as we can. Part of me is missing my friends and my independence and finding it odd that my 27-year old brother an I are sitting on our twin hotel beds eating pillow mints and watching Polish cartoons at 6am. But then I look out the window and see snow covering the ancient alleys of Krakow in this country that has a very specific vibe. The vibe of Poland, by the way, is hard to describe. It's cheerful and warm, with a constant undertone of their sad, hard, difficult history. It's like a whole country keeps getting knocked down, keeps dusting themselves off, keeps trying again and now, they're making it and everyone's like, "Hey! I think this might be working out."
But it's hard to feel that vibe and get any sense of the Polish experience without coming to Poland. Which is where somehow I find myself, this Christmas morning...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

greetings from poland...

The above was taken at the SFO International Terminal Mexican Joint. And will be used in a soon-to-be-posted Craigslist Missed Connection.

Our flight from SFO to Munich was exhaustive, leaving San Francisco at 9:30pm and arriving in Munich at 6pm. I watched The Other Guys, which my brother described accurately as “Eh.” And a very gorgeous man-stewardess helped me board, charmingly tolerating my bizarre and superstitious ritual.

“Does it work?” He asked me, all German-accenty?

“Don’t jinx it!” I screamed at him.

I took a Tylenol PM, which turns out, I have some sort of bizarre reaction to. Stuck in my COACH window seat with my brother asleep next to me on the aisle, I started to panic. Restless leg syndrome set it, my temperature rose, I got the most severe case of ants in my pants anyone has ever had. I was twitching, unable to sit still, exhaling “Jesus Christ, help me out here” every 15 seconds into the dark cabin.

Finally, I woke my brother. “Lex, I’ve got to get up. I’m really sorry.”

Drowsy, he kinda shifted out of his seat and looked at me.

“Are you okay?”

“Not really.” I said, and walked to the back. There I found a line for the bathroom and a stewardess who looked at me and said, “Are you okay?”

“It’s really hot out there.” I said. “Like, oddly hot.”

“I go check.” She said, her little Lufthansa hat jiggling on her head.

Once I finally made it in the relatively spacious bathroom, I dunked paper towels in cold water and placed them all over my face and neck, like a crazy person. It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt. I stretched, I ran my wrists under cold water, I stood in the galleyway and chugged 4 glasses of water.

“Did you lower the heat?” I felt like a bitch, but I needed to know.

“I go check.” She said. AGAIN.

I went back to my seat, waking my poor brother again, and shimmying back in. He rubbed my arm, covering his kindness bases, and then promptly fell back asleep.

Back and forth I rocked, twitching, antsy, uncomfortable to the point where I was muttering and flailing my arms uncontrollably. It was like situational Tourett’s Syndrome.

As it was pitch black outside, I found that if I opened my window shade, it was slightly cooler, especially if I leaned against the window. No sooner had I opened it than Eva Braun came by in her little hat and outside-voiced, “Close your window shade!”

“So mean!” I said as loudly as I thought I could get away with, to no one in particular. My panic and claustrophobia only worsened.

I couldn’t take it anymore. With tears welling up in my eyes, I was starting to cause a scene while hundreds around me tried to sleep.

“Mom.” I shook her seat in front of me. She woke up.

“Do you have any, like, tranquilizers?” I asked. “I am freaking the fuck out.”

My mother’s travel carry-on contains the leftover prescriptions of her entire life. She has everything in there. She could probably perform surgery if she needed to, with like a general anesthesia kit she’s been carrying around since 1984.

“Yeah.” She said, unflustered in the least. “I have the tiniest little, practically nothing Valium.”

I prefer to avoid mood-altering drugs and prescription pain killers at all costs. I have been to rehab. I’ve seen the results of prescription addition and it’s worse than being a drunk. You’re thinner, sure. But more fucked up.

But it was either take this “practically nothing Valium” or have an air marshall come over and ask me if I’d be more comfortable in the holding tank.

I took the Valium.

My mild guilt and concern over being a recovering addict taking drugs not prescribed to me quickly subsided because that goddamn Valium was taking forever to kick in.

“Come on.” I hissed, twitching like an insane person. “Come ON.”

And then…I fell asleep. I maybe got an hour and a half, I was still uncomfortable and shifty, but the sheer panic and claustrophobia was gone. And I’m pretty sure I have no interest in effortfully obtaining Valium recreationally. I’m not proud of my actions, but circumstances required an exception.

A few hours later, and I felt much, much better. Alex was awake, which I find a general comfort, and we had 2 hours to go. My brother gets tired of me just as quickly as anyone else does, but we genuinely really like each other. And he’s so much calmer than me, so low-maintenance. That I found myself wanting to chat about things, just for the sake of chatting, and instead kept my mouth shut. We have 11 days together, I thought. I should give this man some goddamn peace and quiet. So instead, I listed to my new favorite song, which is the Glide Memorial Church Ensemble singing “He That Loveth Not.” I found it on a CD I got at the Glide Gala.

I was felling better, I was finally allowed to open my window shade, it was really pretty outside as dusk fell over Europe (Valium, folks) and this is a really fun song.

Even if you’re one of those passé God-haters, (yeah, old news. It’s now cool to be tolerant of those that practice faith. FYI.) I challenge you not to dance down the aisles of an Lufthansa Airbus to “He That Loveth Not.”

I love gospel music. And when I got this CD, I just clicked through until I found what I was looking for. It’s this song.

“What the hell are you clapping to?” My brother finally asked.

“God is love! God is love!” I sang back at him.

And with that, we landed in Germany.

Oh, but before we landed, I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, put on some make-up, etc. and I discovered that in the middle of the plane, there was a lower floor consisting of a big waiting room and 6 bathrooms!

“You go downstairs.” One of the Lufthansa hats said to me.


“Yes. We have many toilets.”

Indeed they do!

There’s snow on the ground in Munich, or Munchen as they call themselves, and this airport is huge. We had to go through customs upon arrive, and there was a big wanted poster on our customs kiosk. My mother, who lived in Germany for 2 years in the 60’s, decided that “Doppelmord” means “Double Murder.”

So she asked “Beh” the hot customs guy.

She was right.

Poland. Surprisingly populated.

Everyone is really, really tall here. My 6’5” brother blends right in. And more importantly, so do I! We’re all enjoying alone time during this 4 hour layover before our flight to Krakow, and I can see my father across this wing of the airport, fast asleep in a chair at our gate. Dads can sleep anywhere. It’s like a thing that happens as soon as a man knocks someone up. They immediately enjoy the ability to sleep in any position, under any circumstances. Unlike their spawn, who develop diagnosable mental disorders after a couple of Tylenol PM.

Also, have I made this up? Or is there some shit in Tylenol PM that can really mess your junk up. I know I’ve lost all, “I can’t exaggerate this enough” credibility, but seriously…I almost died.

UPDATE: We landed in Krakow, Poland an hour ago. It's 1am here and looks much like you'd expect. It's foggy, snowy, kinda spooky and packed with really old churches.

On our flight from Munich to Krakow, we were given the following. It's saltine crackers, and then underneath and separate is a meatball and pasta salad. The fork kinda folded together to become usable. I need like, 500 of these to bring home. Genius! And surprisingly good...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

get the hell out of town...

I clicked on the Huffington Post article entitled, "10 Airport Security Tips for the Holidays" because maybe with these body scanner things and snow fiascoes in Europe, I should bone up on any new nonsense from the TSA. Actually, I don't find security nonsense. I regard anything getting me safely to fucking Poland in a snowstorm as worth my time.
So join me in this gripping, helpful and unexpected Top 10 List from the HuffPo on Tips for Going Through Airport Security. A tip, by the way, is defined as, "A piece of confidential, advance, or inside information, A helpful hint."
Here we go:
1. Bring Proper ID.
-Oh really? They'll want to check my ID? You don't say.
2. Remember Your Boarding Pass.
-See number one. We're not going to the goddamn opera. Your ID is your boarding pass these days. And by these days, I mean since October of 2001.
3. Be nice. (They go on to elaborate, "Don't threaten the TSA agent, don't joke about bombs and don't get physical with the screener.")
-So "no bomb jokes" is now "inside information."
4. Check your liquids.
-That's what she said.
5. Put Items in Security Bin
-It is at this point in the list of "tips" that I was like, "Oh, I need to respond to this shit."
6. Wear slip-on shoes.
-Mind your goddamn business. First of all, if I need to run through burning jet fuel, I'd like my (leather-soled) shoes firmly fastened to my feet. Second of all, I wear my bulkiest shoes when flying so they don't take up valuable suitcase room. And anyway, they're the best for running through burning jet fuel. 90% of crashes have survivors. I'm betting those people weren't saving their own lives in kitten-heeled mules flopping against their heels.
7. Take your electronics out.
-They make you! This isn't an option. That's like saying, buckle your seat belt for take off and landing. Anyone who has managed to find the power button on a laptop (much less anyone reading the Huffington Post!) knows how to get a laptop through security.
8. Stash winter coats away. (More elaboration, "Put your winter coat in your carry on or in your checked bag – this saves time from having to take it off in the security line.")
-Breathe in. Then breathe out. Then breathe in again.
9. No hazardous items.
-This tip is paired with the following photo:
10.No banned items.
-Specifically mentioned: fireworks.
Anything else, folks? Should I do a cartwheel through the metal detector? At which point to I let them scan my gun? And what is so hazardous about blind people?
I thought by tips, we'd find out how to get in the first class, easy-breezy security line, how to avoid a naked photo of yourself making the rounds on Facebook, whether or not underwire bras really do set off the metal detectors.
But no. None of that. Just the vitals. Like TAKE OFF YOUR COAT...

Monday, December 20, 2010

i hope santa knows where to find me...

It's been two years since I've been blogging from a big Spotswood Family adventure abroad. But as we seem to be in a window where my parents are retired yet spry and my brother and I refuse to procreate, the four of us are once again piling onto a 747 and getting the hell out of America until 2011.
Where, oh where are we going this year?
Of all the places to travel for the holidays, we had several family discussions about where to go. Up for consideration was my mother's choice, Vietnam. But it's apparently really goddamn expensive to go to Vietnam right now, and my father has this thing about travel deals. He should have his own e-newsletter, his finger is so on the pulse of where one can fly cheap with the right collection of coupons, frequent flier miles and winning yogurt lids.
"We waited too long!" He screamed at us in June.
My father, by the way, wanted to go to Israel. Makes sense for Christmas, sure. And needless to say, my dad found several amazing deals. I think actually, they pay you to wander around Tel Aviv these days. But I'm paranoid. And as everyone else in my family is too politically correct to say so, they just waited for me to pout, "Forget it! We're not going to the Middle East."
My brother Alex was pushing for South America. But in an annoying twist, everyone except me was "just" there. This past Spring, my brother went to Manchu Pichu with his girlfriend. Because apparently he's become the kind of person that goes to Manchu Pichu with his girlfriend. He wore t-shirts and didn't shave the whole time. I don't even know how we're related.
So where are we ending up? Of all the places in the world, where we can get cheap flights and hotels, where my parents exchanged stoic looks when revealing we'd be flying 14 hours in coach, where holiday cheer and rosy Christmas cheeks abound?


We'll be in Poland for Christmas. And then we're going to Hungary. Finally, we'll ring in the New Year in Austria. Included in this adventure, in addition to the quips of a 32-year old woman traveling with her parents, will be an overnight train from Krakow to Budapest ("I hope there's a mystery!"- Alex Spotswood), Hungarian public baths and, as Brock brilliantly pointed out above, a visit to Auschwitz.
We depart in 48 hours.
Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!

he might as well be naked...

This week, Tara and I visiting the San Francisco Ballet, for what turned out to be The Nutcracker's "date night." We spent the entire ballet staring at the Sugarplum Prince's package. So, you know, the SFGate ballet aficionados are really going to appreciate this post for it's cultural significance...

Friday, December 17, 2010

necessary conversation holiday episode...

It's what you've been waiting for! Or at least what I've been waiting for. Gavin Christopher Newsom gazing at me in a wig and disco dress, tossing bon mots and giggling. The only thing missing was mistletoe.
Yep! It's the Necessary Conversation Holiday Extravaganza, wherein we attended the Mayor's City Hall Holiday Open House on Sunday.
Our crew was joined by SFist's own Andrew Dalton, so a big ho!ho!ho! to him. And included interviews with Supervisors Campos, Mirkarimi and Wiener, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Paul Henderson, Rafael Mandelman, Frank Chu and many, many more. We hope you like it, we wish you a very happy holiday and we shall see your asses in the New Year!
Love, The Griffwoods

Necessary Conversation City Hall Christmas Edition from Necessary Conversation on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

i'm sorry. what did you say was in this...

A full report on a party that featured passed glasses of cod semen! Up right now, on today's SFGate...

Monday, December 13, 2010

let the anticipation start...NOW!

If there was ever a time to get excited about an episode of Necessary Conversation, and I'm not saying there is or anything, you might start to, oh, I don't know, lose your shit now.

We will all have to wait until Friday. This will be the longest 3 and a half days of my life.

But whatever I thought was lost, was over, was played out...IS SO FUCKING BACK ON RIGHT NOW. For example...

Please see above. Give it a good 10 minute stare. Thanks.

It's our Christmas Special and includes lots of really important interviews with all kinds of fun folks. And Gavin. Melissa will probably kill me for posting this but I'm SORRY. I mean, really. Come ON. I'm putting this on mugs, t-shirts and mouse pads...

Friday, December 10, 2010

in imaginary san francisco, gavin says 'boom' a lot...

Today's episode of Necessary Conversation is hella long. But we explain, in GREAT detail, the upcoming Mayoral selection process, which is so fucking complicated we had to use puppets made out of Sharpees.
Have an awesome weekend, lovers...

Necessary Conversation 15 from Necessary Conversation on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

time to find out if fairfield jokes ever get old...

It can be a little nerve-wracking when Melissa takes a call at dinner and replies into her cell, "She's sitting right here. Why?"
Turns out, the ladies of Necessary Conversation have been asked to be the Mistresses of Ceremony at outgoing Supervisor Chris Daly's Roast.
Everyone knows unprofessional, untelevised roasts can turn into awkward, polite, half-assed, politically correct jokes about potholes and litter. But this is Chris Daly of all people. The elected official who vowed to use the word "fuck" at every Board of Supervisors meeting. So I feel like we need to bring it. And I'm confident that Chris can not only take the heat in the kitchen, he likes it.
I'm using the work of Mr. Don Rickles as my inspiration. And I encourage any and all to attend. After all, someone calling themselves DJ Mind Motion will be spinning phat beats at the after party...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

dear diary, i wish i could shut the hell up...

Five of us spent the weekend at the Brians' beach house, which still feels weird to type. I can't believe I'm old enough to have friends with a weekend house. My parents never had a weekend house. It seems so fabulously extravagant to me. It's not that glamorous, Brian would make me tell you. It's big, though. And cozy, with great wifi and you can fall asleep listening to the Pacific Ocean. We sat around the fireplace as rain pounded on the windows and somehow, got to talking about our childhood diaries.
I'd conveniently forgotten about my childhood diaries, embarrassing memoirs of all of the stupid things I've thought my entire life. The first one that I remember was a small hardcover unisex diary with a lock on it. I call it unisex because it was all in primary colors on the front and my mom kept me as early-80's androgynous as possible until I eventually revolted. This diary I had when I was five, and it was filled with forged celebrity autographs like "Mike Jackson" and loops repeated in a line, which I regarded as cursive. It was written exclusively in felt tip pen, which I'd stolen from my father's office.
The next diary I had was an explosion of femininity. The cover was a lace and pearl-clad teddy bear in a straw hat, with a White Diamonds haze over the whole thing. It too, was a hardcover, but kind of soft on top. Like a shitty pillow. I started this diary in 3rd grade and it was filled with which boys I liked (a kid named Maxamillian rolled his sleeves past his elbows. In 3rd grade!) and made it all the way to the horror of my 4th grade CYO basketball banquet. The banquet my mother was convinced required a gown. The banquet to which everyone else wore acid washed denim. The banquet to which I accepted my basketball MVP trophy to a chorus of 4th grade boys chanting "Big Bad Beth" while I was stuck with crimped hair in a drop-waist party dress. It was horrific. Even now, thinking about it I want to die a little. But it's all there. In that teddy bear diary.
When I was a teenager, my mother got me this very woman-identified, Reviving Ophelia-esque "journal" which asked me specific questions so I could let my true colors shine free or whatever. I don't really remember the specifics, but I filled the entire thing out with great precision and concentration, as if one day this "journal" would be used by the producers of a PBS documentary to explore the depths of my evolving mind.
I remember one of the questions was "What would you wear on your dream date with him?" I didn't know who he was, but I had a pretty good idea in my head and I decided on "my new purple stirrups with the purple and green knit tunic, green silk shirt and green rubber Esprits."
The greet rubber "Esprits" were shoes. I referred them by their brand name because my grandmother did shit like that and I found it very la-ti-da. On a related note, I write this to you sitting in my Old Navys.
And in each of these diaries, there was an annual holiday entry, a continued fret that would rear it's ugly head every December.
The Payne's Christmas Party.
I always looked forward to the Payne's party, friends of my folks who live in St. Francis Woods and had abstract paintings that I appreciated only for their fashion-forwardness. There were lots of children my age there, and you could make your own ham sandwiches from a buffet.
But every year, no matter how hard I tried, I'd force anyone under 15 to put on a play.
15 or 20 children, most of them sophisticated city dwellers unlike suburban, overcompensating me, would be forced into some over-the-top, nonsensical production, produced, directed by and
I actually wrote in my various diaries and journals every year, the night before the party as I tried on my taffeta Christmas dress and planned conversation topics, "Don't put on a play. Try and let other people talk. Act bored."
At least I'm self-aware enough to know I'm obnoxious. I wish I wasn't. I've been like this since birth. And if there was anything I could do to make myself shorter or more reserved, TRUST ME WHEN I TELL YOU, I would. But I can't. I know this now.
When I was eleven, however, with a boy's haircut, in a Laura Ashley pilgrim collar and as tall as our hostess, I tried to will myself to blend in with everyone else. And I could hold out for a solid hour. But then the grownups had their cocktails and sit down dinners and the children were left to our own devices. And the next thing I knew, I would feel that familiar twitch.
Addicts know what I'm talking about.
"I've got to put on a show." I would think to myself, in my Norman Bates voice. "I know I shouldn't, but I've just got to put on a play."
"Wait, wait." Melissa chimed in as I regaled my present day friends with my annual humiliation. "They agreed to it. I mean, it couldn't have been that bad."
Well, yeah. The other children agreed to it. But the older ones politely humored me because I was a guest, and the younger children had no say in the matter. Precious time was ticking away while the parents ate. I liked to present my productions during dessert!
The Payne's have this really fabulous rumpus room downstairs from their really fabulous kitchen. And that's where I'd stage my masterpieces. I don't even remember the subject matter, although I'm sure it was loosely based on the birth of Christ. All I know is that years later, as we grew into teens and the cooler kids starting finding excuses not to attend a family party, the scragglers sat down there and watched a VHS of Silence of the Lambs. We all went to the same high school at that point, and none of them were friends with me at school. I'd down sit there, watch Jame Gumb skin someone and think, "I bet right now everyone is remembering when I made them put on plays."
The whole thing was agonizing. And documented in years of diaries.
Christ. I just did it again. On my fucking blog.
"Oh Bethy." Tara said. "That's hilarious. I bet your plays were awesome."
"Yeah." Brian said, chiming in. "You were a weird kid, though."
I know this. You know what else I know? I've agreed to go to a Christmas reunion of sorts. On Saturday night. In a house in St. Francis Woods. With fashion-forward modern art on the walls. And perhaps, if they're LUCKY, a play...

watch out for those jason mraz fans...

Once again, we delve into the social networking world of those in power. This time, I take a look at the contenters to babysit Room 200. That's right! Today on SFGate's Culture Blog, it's the Facebook profiles of our potential interim Mayors...

Monday, December 06, 2010

i am thirty two going on thirty three...

Today on SFGate's Tourist Trapped, my co-worker Wilson entertains his friends from North Carolina by dragging us all to last night's Sound of Music Sing-Along. A hot captain, a naughty Nazi and a fight in the ladies room are all trumped by the line of the night, "That is one cool ass nun."
The hills are alive with blog posts...

Friday, December 03, 2010

necessary conversation, episode fourteen...

Things Willie Brown finds "absolutely brilliant" on today's NC. Also, Melissa and I are driving up to Bodega Bay for a Big Chill-type weekend with the crew, but we have to drive up late. (Because traffic frustrates me.) It's supposed to be a dark and stormy night, and my windshield wipers are kinda sketchy. So if you feel sad and weird (or delighted and relieved) at around 9pm tonight, that was the Griffwoods flying off a cliff, Thelma and Louise style. We'd like bagpipes and a heartbreaking video montage at our well-attended services.
Have an awesome weekend!

Necessary Conversation, Episode 14 from Necessary Conversation on Vimeo.

Also, our fabulous, wonderful and tolerant director, Sean Owens is staring in Coral Values' Christmas Corral at the Exit Theater. You simply MUST go see him!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

celebrity equivilent: manny from modern family...

I had to run into the Kaiser pharmacy Sunday morning (insert pre-op hormone therapy joke) and found myself in line behind the kind of people one expects to find in line at Kaiser on Geary on a Sunday morning.
Directly in front of me was the “I’m going to scream into my cell phone and not step forward even though the line is moving forward” lady. Worse, she was screaming in Spanish so I was unable to eavesdrop.
And a few folks before her stood a harried mother with two kids hanging off her clothes. They looked to be around five or six, not that I’d know. After all, I keep asking my co-worker if his 3-month old can talk yet. Anyway, the mom was completely ignoring the girl and the boy, both clinging to her shirttails. The girl was crying, whining, antsy. She wasn’t so much speaking as she was just letting out a constant groan, exasperated and exhausted to be standing in line. And the boy just stood there, silently looking out the window, with one hand solidly holding onto his mom’s outfit, ignoring everyone around him.
The boy kinda turned himself a little, and I was able to read what was written on his shirt, in spooky writing above a cartoon of a goblin:
“Who Needs Halloween When My Sister Scares Me Enough?”
I would’ve taken a photo, except I was worried someone might think I’m a pedophile. But it was so perfect, so wonderful, I really hope that kid woke up and thought to himself, “Oh man, we’re going to the pharmacy this morning? With Angela? Boy, do I have the shirt for this…”

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

cookie steve out-dressed willie brown...

Last night, I met Brock at rehab, talked to a famous weirdo, tried to get Willie Brown to like me, ran around some bar by the Transamerica Building where a guy got mad at me for not knowing we are Facebook friends, and pounded deviled ham and Americanos at Marlowe, just so I could burn the midnight oil and write you this...