01.06
Shoulder length ears

When I was fourteen, my forty-four year old father used to tell me to watch my language. Now that I’m nearly forty-four, my fourteen-year old son is telling me to cut the swearing.

What the fuck is going on?

I’m caught in some kind of generational black hole.

Apparently 36% of Americans have never said, “fuck”.

They probably said “joder” instead.

To make this joke I had to ask our well-mannered Equadorian Au-Pair what ‘fuck’ was in Spanish. This may not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done…

Meester Gravatt! You wanna do what?”

I haven’t yet determined how best to explain this little misunderstanding to Ros.

There was uproar here last month over a recording of the National Anthem in Spanish. Everything else offers a choice between Spanish and English, so why not the ‘Star Spangled Banner’? I don’t know what all the fuss was about. It is itself derived from an old eighteenth century English drinking song and not half as good as Irving Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’. And, anyway, in a few years we’ll all be singing ‘Yiyongjun Jinxingqu’ and marching to the beat in our smart blue overalls.

It’s interesting to note that while we Brits are singing for divine deliverance for our Monarch, and the Chinese are embarking on a suicidal chorus ‘Brave the enemy’s gunfire, March on! March On!’ in their National Anthem, the Americans are paying homage to a piece of fabric.

My dentist is currently doing to my teeth what Tito El Bambino and his band of Latin musos are doing to the American National Anthem. He’s tampering with them. Teeth-whitening is little short of a full-frontal assault on my identity. He might as well tinker with my voice-box and give me an American accent. How will people know where I’m from if those identifying yellow stains are bleached away? And, anyway, you’ve got to be suspicious when your dentist offers free teeth whitening. I’m happy to be a loyal customer of Apple, Starbucks and Borders, but qualifying for special benefits at Always There Dental Care is somewhat discontenting. Perhaps the free whitening is because I’m bad for business walking out of there with my urine coloured molars, rather than that my frequent visits have earned the dental equivalent of enough air-miles to fly to Jupiter and back.

They’re into reconstruction, Americans. Well maybe not in Iraq, but they’re certainly trying to make me over. I bravely chose to get trimmed in a men only hair salon in the heart of Chicago’s Gay Community. I entered with a certain degree of trepidation, having passed a brutal Sado-Masochistic shop, a transvestite in full regalia and blatant man-on-man hand holding to get there. Not that I’m homophobic or anything, I’ve paid to see Brokebank Mountain, it’s just that I didn’t know what to expect from a place called ‘Halo for Men’ that offers, among it’s services, a chest and back wax with two different prices depending on whether you are a ‘Persian Cat’ or a ‘Hairy Gorilla’. And I wasn’t at all sure what the ‘Complete Package’, the ‘Buff’’ and the ‘Paraffin Wax Hand Massage’ might involve and whether they could scar me for life. I reasoned that I should give it a go if only for the experience (which is after all why we’re here, a potentially dangerous way of thinking), but more because I wasn’t prepared to give my custom to places that call themselves ‘Hair Cuttist’ or ‘The Hair Cuttery’ (if they butcher the Queens English like that, God alone knows what they might do to the precious little hair I have left).

I needn’t have worried. ‘Halo for Men’ was full of girls as good looking as can be found in any dental surgery. It’s the kind of place that makes me regret not having more and faster growing hair.

“Are you taking anything for this”. She was very nice about it, and quite frankly could have insulted me however she wanted, but she clearly felt that my head needed fertilising. Sparkling white teeth are one thing, but if I returned home with a full head of hair I’d be the laughing stock of all my friends, so I told her that I wasn’t and that was all she had to work with.

Teeth whitening, hair transplants, face lifts, breast enhancements… for Americans it’s like a simple lick of paint to freshen the living room up a little. Perhaps we’re just more accustomed to decay, but when I was told that the teeth whitening procedure involved giving up coffee for two weeks I told them in no uncertain terms to stop being so ridiculous. “I thought you said it was free”, I spluttered, “two weeks without caffeine is not free. Why would anyone want to whiter teeth if it involved such sacrifice?” They thought I was being rather quaint. Only when I made it clear that I was deadly serious did they suggest that I could drink coffee through a straw. Then it was my turn to think they were joking.

Have you ever tried drinking a hot cappuccino through a rapidly melting piece of plastic? Well I have, but only because I can’t say no to dental assistants.

At least my ears don’t get wet when I’m drinking. I can’t conceive what it must be like to have ears, as our new Cavalier King Charles puppy has, that dangle in your drink ever time you need to sate your thirst. Just imagine supping a pint of Guinness with both earlobes draped in its creamy head. It wouldn’t just be the wetness of it, but the amplification of the slurping and gulping that would get to me.

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The biggest argument against shoulder-length ears, though, is an aesthetic one. They just wouldn’t go with my nose (not that much, to be honest, goes with my nose). I take great care over my appearance these days. I’m finding that a crumpled urban exterior requires more thought than the feminine Connecticut look. I couldn’t, for example, decide whether to grow a beard, retain a thin layer of stubble or not let any facial hair get in the way of those wrinkles, until, in one of those light-bulb moments that Thomas Edison so used to crave, I realised I could have all three. I now shave on Saturdays only. This has the unexpected side benefit of making it easy to work out which day of the week it is simply by stroking my chin. The girls at Always There Dental Care seem to quite like my unshaven look and so I try to schedule my appointments towards the end of the week.

Sadly there’s been another death in the family. Brighty the Goldfish was found floating motionless inside his underwater castle, appearing to have suffered a heart attack. Whitey, Brighty’s mate, was devastated, but then forgot about it all three seconds later. Brighty wasn’t even a distant memory for Whitey. Goldfish don’t do distant memories.

A few days later, Honey the Hamster shuffled off his exercise wheel to join the Great Rat in the sky, leaving me very worried indeed.

Not six months after our famous Road Trip and half the intrepid band that made the incredible journey are now pushing up daisies. (Well, they would have been had Brighty not been dug up and presented as having risen again in the dog’s drinking bowl.) Splodge the Guinea-Pig, Brighty the Goldfish and Honey the Hamster, brave soldiers each of them, have fallen. Bronte the Yorkshire Terrier is going blind, Whitey the sole surviving Goldfish is an amnesiac, and my teeth are falling out. The six of us may have completed the eight hundred and fifty mile trek into deepest darkest America, but our subsequent occupation of Chicago is now beginning to look cursed.

To help stave off the inevitable I’ve started exercising again. In Darien my daily ten-mile cycle ride was perfectly planned with a Starbucks stop in New Canaan, one of Connecticut’s most picturesque towns, marking the half-way point. Interestingly five miles exactly, due South on a beautiful ride along the edge of Lake Michigan, and I’m pulling up outside another Starbucks. This one has the added benefit of being just across the road (and not just any road, but Michigan Avenue, otherwise known as the Magnificant Mile) from a state-of-the-art Apple Computer store. The first time I completed this ride I returned one thousand, eight hundred and fifty nine pounds lighter.

Many more rides like that and I’ll have to talk to Ros about her taking on an evening bar job to help finance her husband’s exercise regime.

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