I refuse to feel bad about stealing toilet paper

This is what you can get for two Euros and fifty cents:

A cup of coffee, three hours of internet and four rolls of toilet paper.

Joanna Hudson, I want you to know that the reason I don't feel bad about sitting for hours at this cafe and only buying a cup of coffee AND stealing their property is because the people who work there are dicks.

They are cool, so cool that smiling might crack their image into a million little pieces. I know from bartending that when you're slammed, smiling is a frill. Something really great had to happen to make me smile when I was making nine cocktails while also changing a keg and fielding stupid comments from drunks.

But if business is slow and the person behind the counter is stony and dismissive, they aren't worth the paper they meant to wipe with. My ass earned it.

I also want you to know that there's another cafe I go to in Berlin where the man working behind the counter is totally quirky and nice and carries his kid in his arms when he delivers food and when the baby goes, "GAGAGA!" the dad imitates him, "GAGAGA!" and it's cute.

Here I order more than coffee and leave a big tip and I wouldn't DREAM of touching their toilet paper.


Drinking beer off my foot

Hm, there's something fishy about this photo. I wonder if it's related to the fact that I'm standing on a beer crate without one of my shoes and socks.

And maybe it's the guy sitting on a toilet and looking at my foot. With a beer bong on his head. Not that I know anything about beer bongs - this might not even be one.

The closest I got to a beer bong was the one fraternity party I went to my freshman year of college, the same party that, in conjunction with a homecoming parade outside my dorm, made me take a 19-hour Greyhound bus trip from Minneapolis to Cincinnati to sob on the couch to my parents about how I don't want to go to school anymore.

I'd already been called into the hash circle twice. Once for being new and once for POINTING WITH MY FINGER.

I'd forgotten the hash rule that you can only point with your elbow. I'm sure there's a fine reason for the elbow rule but, oddly enough, pointing with my elbow is not an intuitive move of mine.

During the run, my roommate asked me something and when I pointed like a normal human being, I got yelled at by the hasher with the bugle, Lame One.

"No pointing with your finger!" he bellowed.

I shrieked and yanked my elbow up. Not that it mattered since I forgot so immediately that I pointed with my right finger while my left elbow was still up.

Lame One repeated himself at the top of his lungs and then blew the bugle so loud that I almost dropped to the ground and went fetal.

"I'm in trouble," I said to my roommate under my breath, "I'm gonna get called into the circle."

Sure enough, I was. After I'd been in the circle twice I thought I was safe. I'd resumed my position on the outside and was nursing a Berliner Kindl and laughing at this guy. Yesterday was his last hash before he leaves for India so he got special treatment. They don't make people drink beer from a toilet any old day.

So when Lame One said to me, "You! Take off your shoe and sock! In the circle!" I was surprised.

I took off my shoe and sock and stood on the crate. The hasher in the yellow shirt, Stiff Nipples, looked at my foot.

"Your toes are black," he said, "Do you have mushrooms growing on them?" WHICH IS ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE TRANSLATIONS. I giggled for a week in Ecuador when someone got a yeast infection and the doctor diagnosed mushrooms. It just makes fungus sound so adorable.

"It's nail polish!" I told Stiff Nipples.

Stiffi touched my foot and I started screaming. People, I am ticklish. I get antsy when my feet get LOOKED AT. I've kicked people in the head when they thought they were being funny.

When I was little, my dad teased me by hovering his hands close to my feet. How amusing to watch me go into convulsions when all my nerves pricked up. So this little situation right here? Let's just say it didn't improve when Lame One started pouring beer down my calf and beer bong started drinking it off my foot. The reason it looks like I'm trying to escape is because I am.

But let's look at it from beer bong's perspective for a moment. He is sucking on the foot of someone who just went running in tube socks and basketball sneakers. Who may or may not have mushrooms.


Urban society...Berlin!

The day I broke up with Tom Clancy, I went for a walk. I was tired but figured it was nothing that an unlimited quantity of caffeine couldn't fix. Also, it was sunny and bright out and I'm a sucker for that.

This walk was through a totally unknown area of the city to me, southwest Kreuzberg. Wow. If I had a crush on Berlin before, I'm now, as Carl would say, IN DEEP SMIT.

If I were on the playground and said, "I love Berlin," and someone replied, "Well, why don't you marry it?" I'd say, "Fine, I will." Or I'd say, "Shut up," because everyone knows that's the best playground comeback.

My infatuation with the city snuck up on me in many ways. When I was here in December, it took a few days to start. The freezing temperatures, the darkness, the kids throwing fireworks at my head, all of it muted the city's effect. Eventually, though, I bonded with the bleakness.

The city in December felt like it was throbbing deeply, darkly. I'd walk past lit storefronts at night and see people bent over drafting tables, art all over the walls. "That wasn't there two weeks ago," Charlie told me. "Places appear and go away."

I left with the impression of a city of artists, musicians, squatters, migrants, seekers. Not a lot of money. A lot of character.

"You have to see it in the Spring," Charlie said. "It's a different city."

During my first two April weeks here, I didn't go out without a wool hat, scarf, and coat. I wore them at some point every day, usually as soon as I left the building. Again, so glad I bought those tube tops in California. What a handy purchase that's turned out to be. Not.

Then, suddenly, it changed. The clouds floated away, the temperatures rose, and the Germans woke up and said, "Oh my god, ICE CREAM."

The lines outside the Eis stores snake down the sidewalk, blocking foot traffic. I couldn't walk through the ice cream traffic jam one day and had to squeeze myself between a woman and a parked car. The woman didn't budge to help me; She was busy positioning three kids with cones in their hands on the crossbar of her bike.

This didn't surprise me. Bicycles rule in Berlin. If you don't drive and you don't feel like taking the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn, the tram, or the bus, you bike. I'm dizzy with options.

Kids, when they aren't strapped into a baby seat or balancing on their parents' crossbar, ride their own bikes. And they start young, too. Toddlers have tiny wooden cycles, a tricycle alternative, low enough for their feet to reach the sidewalk and scoot themselves along.

Almost all streets and sidewalks have a bike lane and outdoor space is full of walkers and cyclists. But however full it gets, it never bears the frenetic pace of New York.

Oh, that. I cannot stop comparing Berlin to New York and it's bugging me. I want to let each place be itself, reveal its uniqueness. I don't want to think, "It's LIKE this." I want to think, "It IS this."

The similarities, however, are there. The beauty of the old buildings, the sidewalk cafes, the accessibility. Everything within reach.

Yesterday I needed to do laundry. Simone's clothes were drying on the balcony off my room so I went to the laundromat across the street. After blindly pushing every button on the automatic vending machine on the wall, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a measuring cup of detergent.

I poured it into what I hoped was the correct well on top of the washer and pushed what I hoped was the correct button for a hot wash. Then I walked to the post office and sipped a milchkaffee on the opposite corner.

I put my clothes in a dryer and went back to my house for a bath. After I was clean and my clothes were clean and folded, Simone and I walked to the market where I bought Japanese rice crackers and wasabi peanuts and stared at salamis and fresh round loaves of bread. The market wrapped around Kollwitzplatz, a small plaza park with a playground and benches and trees like you'd see in New York, like Tompkins Square Park.

I'm not the only one comparing the two cities. Passing through Mitte last week, I saw a large billboard proclaiming: UPPER EAST SIDE BERLIN. Ha! See? If my original impression of Berlin, Kreuzberg in the winter, was the gritty Lower East Side, I'm now, in Prenzlauer Berg, inhabiting the Upper West.

People are a little older here, more 30s than 20s, have a little more money, and everything is a little more polished. You know they're still artists and musicians but some of them are also web designers. More families, less punks. Lots of fathers out with children. Young dads with babies strapped to their chests, pushing strollers, or trailed by kids on bikes. I saw one dad with a tiny baby in a stroller. Every few feet he bounced the stroller because it made THE INFANT CRACK UP. I heard this baby's belly laugh from ten feet back and started smiling. When I got closer, I noticed that the bottom rack of the stroller was filled with beer bottles.


My recent insomniac walk through southwest Kreuzberg passed through Chamissoplatz, where many buildings survived the WWII bombs. I'd read that movies about "old Berlin" are often shot there and as I wandered through I felt my love affair deepen. By the time I hit the main road, Bergmannstrasse, and had ordered a bowl of Thai soup and sat in the window and watched people, like the man eating Pad Thai on the sidewalk who looked like Michael Douglas if Michael Douglas were homeless with an ACID WASHED TURQUOISE LEATHER JACKET, I was saying to myself,

"This is my favorite place in the world! This is my favorite city!"

It's not as cheap as I thought it was in December but it's not as expensive as New York. And it's slower, with more green space. (Over 416,000 trees. Someone has done her research.)

I ended up that night in Charlie's kitchen. We sat at the table and, between screaming with laughter over New York memories, talked about what it's like for him as a foreigner living in Berlin. I compared it to my impressions as a traveler: I don't have to worry about visas and work and the economy, I'm living off savings.

I only trifle with the German character, silly exchanges and misunderstandings with shopkeepers, baristas, and bouncers. I'm not confronted with real cultural difference. I don't have a boss or a schedule and I'm not trying to have close relationships; this trip is more about me. Stress level zero. I can laugh everything off.

I told Charlie that this is my favorite city. His is still New York. Which may come down to our different preferences and sensibilities but may also be related to the difference between permanent and temporary states.

I looked at the clock, "Is it one o'clock already? I can't believe I'm awake, I was falling asleep this afternoon. We've been talking for five hours?"

"Do you want a coffee?" he asked.

"No," I said. "I've had nine already. Well, four. But they were big."


Okay, I know ragging on German is getting old. But.


Because this is how you say it: harnröhrenentzündung.

I'd rather deal with the sensation of having to piss every waking minute, hobbling to the toilet, squeezing out one little teardrop of urine and then searching madly for the extinguisher because I've got a fire to put out than say THAT WORD.

The stress of saying that word on top of the discomfort that comes with having a brush fire in my pants would make me spontaneously combust.


Breaking up with Tom Clancy

Yesterday I woke up too early, my first Berlin insomniac attack.

I'd gone to see Miss Kittin the night before, got home at 3am, and thought I'd read a gripping tale of hate-crime-happy neo-Nazis and the international agents out to stop them - a Tom Clancy's Games of State - before falling asleep.

I've since stopped because that book sucked. I'm giving this whole crime novel phase one more try and then it's time to move on.

The point at which I threw Tom Clancy across the room was when the agent in a wheelchair, after escaping a high speed chase driven solely with his hands since he has no feet (love it), turns around and pursues the neo-Nazis into the woods of Wunstorf, Germany.

He's pissed that they tried to kill him, and fine, fair enough, but the whole wheelchair through the stream and mud and logs and up the rocky trail so steep that he has to drag it behind him while he presumably crawls with his arms was starting to make me go, "Really, Tom Clancy? Really?"

I wanted to believe it - I didn't want to TAKE HIS POWER AWAY - but I was gritting my teeth. Oh yeah, and a girl who the neo-Nazis had also tried to kill earlier dropped out of a tree WHERE SHE'D FALLEN ASLEEP and landed on the wheelchair agent's would-be assassin.

And THEN? She said in breathless chunks, "It's not...the first time...I've fallen for a guy." Oh God, make it stop.

How very witty for a 20-year-old college student who was innocently interning on a movie set when she got caught in Nazi crossfire and almost blown up in the wardrobe trailer. I would think she'd be shitting her pants just a little bit more than that. I wanted them all to be blown away, just get it over with.

I don't know how long it took for me to give up, I just know that at 7:30 AM I woke up, the sun streaming into my room, and I felt both completely sick from lack of sleep and totally wide awake. I hate starting days like that. I blame Tom Clancy.

Toilet paper thief

The only thing I steal is toilet paper.

I got most of my stealing - things besides toilet paper- out of my system between 5-7 years old. My thefts back then included a pack of gum from Kroger and a Hello Kitty diary from a gift shop in Hyde Park Square. I remember coming home with the diary and my mom asking me where I got it.

"At the square," I said.

She looked at me for a long minute. My allowance was a few quarters a week so she wondered how I pulled it off but gave me the benefit of the doubt. I was a GOOD KID who spent most of my free time writing essays on world peace and she let it go.

In college, when I worked at a halfway house in Minnesota, I started stealing toilet paper. Part of my job was doing rounds of the building, checking on the residents in their bedrooms and activity rooms and changing the toilet paper rolls in the bathrooms. And whenever I was getting low on supplies at my apartment, I'd grab a few rolls and stuff them in my backpack. Because it's just irritating to buy toilet paper.

I hate how they're sold in packs of twelve, that giant rectangle, so awkward to carry. And buying individual rolls? Even more annoying. Especially if you're me and you compulsively wrap so much around your hand for a simple wipe that it looks like a baseball mitt. Buying one roll is useless. I barely even knew it was there before I need to buy another.

Last week I went to a cafe that I'd read was "a friendly atmosphere that attracts the cream of Kreuzberg's 20- and 30-somethings. Join them!" Oh, that's so me. See and be seen.

It was alright, a little too cool.

The BATHROOM, however, pleased me very much. The loose rolls that you see on top are the ones that I'd already marked for my backpack.

Shortly after my happy swiping, my housemate gave me a rundown on house rules. I was starting to feel indignant because she told me I need to help in taking out the trash and compost - which I'd already done - and she said she bought the last pack of toilet paper so I need to get the next one.

I wanted to interrupt her, "I just stole a few rolls for the house the other day," but thought maybe we didn't know each other well enough for that to help the conversation. She also said I need to clean either the bathroom or kitchen so two days ago, I got to work on the bathroom.

"I'm going to clean the HELL out of this bathroom," I thought.

"This toilet is going to be so awesome I'd eat my lunch off it."

I hate cleaning toilets. Shitspecks.

But I threw myself into the task and found it strangely fun. Even though I noticed midway through that I'd been singing IT'S A HARD KNOCK LIFE in my head for awhile. You know, identifying with little orphan Annie.

And when I got down to dusting and polishing the cabinet under the sink, I found something: a big twelve-pack of toilet paper. "Oh good," I thought, "I don't need to go back to that cafe for awhile."


Perfect day to shoot some hoops

Berlin has finally decided to play along with the whole concept of Spring.


Wanna b-girl

Today my Roncker DNA forced me to acknowledge that my Converse are not working out. I'm walking too many miles on hard German pavement and the Converse footbed is no good if you're not a sedentary hipster.

I haven't found any good insoles - well, I haven't looked but none have flung themselves out of the store and under my feet - so I was basically forced to go out and buy more shoes. Either the universe was telling me to go shoe shopping or I just like to manipulate the universe but either way I now own BASKETBALL SNEAKERS.

This morning me and my blisters limped down to the fashion street in Mitte and I hooked myself up with the cushiest shoes I could find. They just happened to be made for basketball but I'm thinking they're perfect because

a) The extra ankle support may come in handy during the four-square championship tournament that me, Jocardo, and the librarian are going to have when we're all back in Kentucky

b) They may increase the chances that someone challenges me to a breakdancing duel.

U2 3D

U2 3D is playing at the Berlin IMAX theater and it is totally rubbing in one of the sad truths of my life, that I've never seen U2 live.

I saw the Rattle and Hum film in eighth grade and left the theater changed. I bought the movie on VHS the next day and proceeded to torture my family for the next several years. "Dad," I'd yell from the basement, "You have to come down and watch the funniest part!"

The funniest part would be Larry Mullen, Jr. mumbling and then shrugging and looking off into the distance. I'd swoon and grab the couch pillow and my dad would drop hints, "If that was the FUNNIEST part..."

I taught my disabled brother to recognize Bono's voice and to this day, when he hears it on the radio he yells, "Bono! Bono! Two! Two!"


I don't even want to admit the number of weekend nights I spent at Andrea Harrison's house suffering through a 2-hour video tape of songs she'd recorded from MTV of her bands - Tesla, Warrant, Skid Row. My payoff, the one teeny tiny little bone she threw me was U2's Pride (In the Name of Love) video AT THE VERY END OF THE TAPE.

My heart would start pounding and I'd leap around the room, copying Bono's moves. The splayed legs, one knee rocking furiously. The dramatic crouch at the end of stage. Now picture me doing that wearing rolled up cutoffs, a deeply v-necked sweater and big blue glasses.

The day I read in the Cincinnati Enquirer that Adam Clayton had been busted for marajuana possession, I was shocked. Crushed, even. My mom comforted me, "Sometimes the people we look up to do things we don't like." I stared at his photo in the paper, "How could he DO that?"

I now know a better question. How much do I love that little eighth grade version of me?

Yesterday I stumbled through the German IMAX website and reserved a ticket to U2 3D. I wasn't going to chance showing up at the theater with it sold out. That would destroy me as much as finding out that sometimes bass players like to get high and I couldn't go through that again.

For a minute, in my seat, I felt silly in the 3D glasses. I looked around a couple of times to make sure everyone else had theirs on, too, and weren't pointing and laughing at me. As soon as the show started, though, I forgot about the glasses.

Holy f**k, was it good.

After getting used to 3D and the initial surprise that there were screaming fans jumping up in the row in front of me - oh, wait, that's how 3D works, it only looks like they're doing that, I GET IT - and after Bono turned to me and reached his hand out five centimeters in front of my face - a dream come true - I got nostalgic.

I haven't been foaming at the mouth over U2 for a long time but they are the band that's had the biggest effect on me. A lot of people think that Bono is an annoying egomaniac and that may actually be true but watching him on stage last night, I decided that I just don't care. He's my favorite egomaniac.

Even when he's rolling around blindfolded and stalking around like a caged tiger, I still just want him to hold me and whisper the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in my ear. This is the only pop star who inspired me to draw hearts around his head in photos.

It was a long time ago. Don't judge.

He also inspired me to join Amnesty International in high school, whereby I'd go to my French classroom after school, most likely wearing my beret, to write letters beseeching governments to free their political prisoners.

I remembered a few years ago when Jimmy knew someone on the U2 tour and went to their show in New York. Jimmy hung out on the side of stage and sent me text messages. I happened to be sitting on a bench in Newport, KY watching a U2 cover band, literally on the verge of tears.

That same year, our merchandiser on Idol knew people with U2. I confessed my historic devotion and sadness at never having seen them live. He said he might be able to get me good tickets. I must have reacted strongly because he looked at me with an evil smirk and said, "What would you do for them?"

I looked him squarely in the eye and said, "Anything. I'd do anything." We stared each other down and I said, "I'm not kidding." Which is definitely the closest I've ever come to being a hooker. Luckily it didn't happen because I just don't think Bono would have approved of that.


Prague faces

Photos: Kelly Hoten


Czech is not a romance language

At the Hauptbahnhof train station, I waited for the train to Prague and bought breakfast, a big plastic cup of yogurt. Kelly asked me if I needed silverware and I said, "No thanks, I have a schpoon."

"Did you hear that?" I said, "I just said schpoon! That was Germany GETTING INTO MY BRAIN!"

Not that schpoon is a word - it isn't - but I didn't pronounce an "s" like that two weeks ago. Kelly looked at me like it was kind of early in the morning to be using so many exclamation points. We dug into our cups of yogurt and were quiet for a minute until she couldn't take it anymore.

"I'm not complaining," she said, "But this isn't like any yogurt I've had before."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

She scooped out a spoonful and held it upside down. The yogurt didn't move.

"That's not yogurt," I said, "That's caulking. That's rough."

She asked me how mine was. It was pink and runny and was mixed with what I thought were leaves until I diagnosed them as chocolate shavings. She suggested combining our yogurts and plopped a chunk of caulking, the weight of which almost sprained my wrist, into my cup. A spoonful of yogurt should not weigh twelve pounds.

"Good lord," I said, "Don't eat that stuff. It could caulk your throat up and kill you."

A few hours later, the train crossed the border into the Czech Republic and Kelly suggested we learn some Czech words. She pulled out her book, started reading aloud, and I knew I was in trouble. I've been hollering a lot about German but once you get a few pronunciation tips, what you see is largely what you get. Yes, the words are as LONG AS HELL but if you can manage to not fall asleep in the middle of them, there is something familiar about them.

Czech, though? Ouch. Maybe if I'd taken more than five minutes to prepare for the trip, I'd feel differently. As it is, street signs like this elicited long sighs.

Sometimes context clues tipped me off and I'd be fairly certain that the sign in front of the big hole on the sidewalk said something about not falling into the big hole on the sidewalk.

Usually, though, the Czech language just slapped me around and I'd eventually give up, defeated.

This is me looking at a map in Prague. It appears that I'm gathering information about my whereabouts but I easily could have just been free-associating. How'd the Bengals do last season? Should I try a bacon and cabbage potato pancake? Is grilled pork knee tasty?

Because after scouring this map, I looked up, "Well, that didn't help at all." The lack of a You Are Here plus the fact that I can't pronounce anything makes my brain go on strike. The upside of this is that there is something about Czech that is damn cute. Doesn't calling a laptop computer a notebooky make you want to snuggle?

Prague, maybe not the best market for rollerblades

I'm guessing that when King Wenceslas ordered his minions to lay cobblestones all over Prague, he didn't foresee the difficulties that this would cause for future generations of rollerbladers.

Still, this kid is giving it a REALLY GOOD SHOT.


because you asked for it

The OTHER senior photo I should have taken. But only if there were a huge white 93 in the background, partially hidden by the trees. The same huge white 93 that I refused to lean on in real life, back when I was grumpy.



I've found my spiritual home in Berlin.

INTERSOUP: Lounge, dive bar, music venue, and soup seller. I'm in love.

I recently had a conversation with Sunny about what I'd do with myself if I lived somewhere and stayed put for a minute. If I toured less or wanted to add another element to my status as a professional wandering shit shooter manager etc.

I mentioned Dee Dee, who I work with on American Idol, and who lives in Austin and has a business. I think it's a coffeeshop laundromat and her business partner handles things when Dee Dee's on the road. A lot of roadies I know get antsy when they're home for more than a few weeks because they get bored. This isn't the case with me because a quadrant of my brain creates projects to fixate on after I've caught up on sleep and watched every available episode of the The Office, but still.

We thought about what kind of business I would have, what I'm interested in. And came up with a coffeehouse specializing in soup because soup is the best most comforting food in the world. And alcohol. And good coffee.

I never understood the concept of comfort food until recently. I usually just obsess on the food of wherever I am, a prime example being that I dreamed regularly about shrimp when I lived in Ecuador. But for me, soup is different. It crosses international borders and I want to eat it every day. I miss it when I don't and I clap my hands when I see it. On tour people know me well enough to report to my office daily to let me know what kind of soup is in catering.

The day after the Spice tour ended, I was in the airport business lounge with Michele, our ticketer, experiencing extreme levels of hangover. When I saw the tureen of broccoli and cheese soup, it was all I could do to keep myself from sticking my entire face in it and inhaling. I needed so much comfort. Instead, I just kept filling up my little bowl and bringing it back to my chair where I'd half eat it and half splatter it all over my shirt, the moral of this story being don't let people order rounds of shots the night before that have HAIRY, FUZZY, OR SLIPPERY in the names.

"You and your soup," Michele said. "You need to join a soup of the month club."

"Yes, I do" I said. "Or soup of the day."

Until then I'll just go to Intersoup in Berlin and ingratiate myself on the people there and then steal their recipes.


Not a backdrop

The Olan Mills senior photo I should have taken.
Tiergarten, Berlin

Steve Martini

Sunny was reading a crime novel when she and I were in Austin.

The book was large with a hardback yellow cover and looked like it'd weigh about 25 pounds. When I actually picked it up, it almost flew out of my hands; It was as heavy as a butterfly. A big butterfly.

"How many people were killed while we were in there?" I asked Sunny as we left Austin Java after spending a few hours, her reading and me writing.

"Do you mean how many people were RUBBED OUT?" she replied.

The novel was old-timey noir, full of men in trench coats and porkpie hats smoking cigars and drinking whiskey straight up, grifters and double-crossers and detectives. The women were dames and broads and dishes in fire engine red lipstick and cuban stockings, telling the guys to scram.

I loved making fun of crime novel but Sunny defended herself, "IT'S A REAL PAGE TURNER."

I get it, I told her, I went through the Tom Clancy novels in my parents' attic in high school. I loved spies and assassins and adventure. Oh, and snipers. I dug snipers.

I just haven't gotten into it in awhile. I've been reading more nonfiction.

One of the books I brought with me to Berlin was on a favored subject of mine: brain mechanics and consciousness and their implications for human nature AKA Cognitive Science. This subject, in the wrong hands, can be a real snoozer but given the right author (Antonio Damasio, Steven Pinker, Rita Carter), it's fascinating.

A page turner, even.

Sadly, book I brought with me is not. I think the author tried to make his subject accessible to the non-scientist by keeping his essays short but they were abrupt and incomplete. Worse, he tried to make his messages seem cool by using lots of slang and contractions. But you can't stick a flower in a pile of dog crap and convince people it smells good. Sorry.

I tried to read this book a few times but it wasn't going to work. I decided to go in the other direction.

"I need a bedtime book," I decided, "Something fluffy."

I put the offending book in my backpack and took off on one of my walks, thinking I'd figure out what to do with it on the way. This particular walk started in the north of Mitte, a touristy area in the center of Berlin.

The coffeeshop I chose to do my walking notes in was attached to a hostel, a hostel with a book exchange. OH, HELLO.

I put my book on the shelf and checked out the other titles, landing finally on The Arraignment by Steve Martini.

I may owe an apology to Sunny.

I devoured this book. I mean, I was laughing at my favorite terrible lines -

"Metz was dynamite on a stick with a short fuse up his ass"


"Hey, fuckin' Tolt, he's your friend. I don't care they cut his ears, hose his balls off, hang 'em on a charm bracelet. But this man upstairs, this Pablo Eyebarra, far as you and I are concerned, he be the fuckin' Wizard of Oz"

- but I was riveted and happily let Steve Martini lull me to sleep with his suspense-filled legal thriller.

UNTIL. Right at the end, he went too far. I closed the book this morning and quit with three pages to go because I could not handle a couple of rich, white-collar San Diego lawyers grappling on top of a Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

National bestselling author Steve Martini, come the f**k on. Gah!

Next up: Snipers. Lots of 'em.

Hash House Harriers

I may have found my running group.

The last time I ran was in a hotel gym in Los Angeles. After that I sent my running shoes back to my parents house in Cincinnati and considered those laces officially tied. Why? Because running is boring.

I ran track in high school because I liked the girls on the team (What's up, Ali Schu?) and I was way more concerned with cracking jokes than how fast I ran or with winning. Being competitive took all the fun out of hanging out in the bleachers.

One of girls in my house in Berlin, Kelly, told me about the Hash House Harriers, the drinking group with a running problem, and talked me into going to a hash yesterday.

And in all of my years of seeing people milling around parking lots in running tights - which is to say my ENTIRE life - never have they smoked cigarettes and drank beer to prepare for the run.

Stretching? Sure. Smoking? Not much.

Each hasher has a hash name but as a "virgin" hasher I had to introduce myself as Just Jessica. My housemate, know to other hashers as Rotten Cherry, did her best to fill me in on protocol but there is a lot to remember for a first-timer.

We got off the U-Bahn and looked for a parking lot by the Heidefriedhof cemetery where the hashers were meeting. There were four people standing behind a car and I figured we'd walk up and say something like, "Pardon me, are you the hash house harriers of Berlin?"

Yeah, no. As soon as Cherry saw them, she hollered at the top of her lungs, "Are you?!" and all four heads turned our way.

"That's them," she said.

The hashers introduced themselves - Stiff Nipples, Super Kraut, Fister - and offered us beer from the pony keg while we waited for more runners to show up.

Bob Roncker, if you're reading, I want you to know that I was thinking about you at this point. Not only was I drinking beer before a run but I was wearing Converse. I was committing one of the greatest sins a Roncker can, that of improper footwear. I thought about my arches and how unsupported they were about to be. And I'm sorry dad, but it made me drink more.

The hare, a man wearing blue sweatpants from around 1987, had laid the trail through the neighborhood with little piles of flour and chalk marks. We put our beer glasses in someone's trunk and about fifteen of us, plus one dog named Tiger Fucker, started running.

The flour and chalk told us if we were on trail or not. Sometimes we'd lose trail and a scout AKA someone in good shape would run ahead to find more flour. We ran through a park and twisted through neighborhoods, stopping to regroup at corners when we were lost.

"Are you?!" The hashers yelled out to each other, the unspoken half of that sentence being, "On trail?" When the flour was spotted they blew a whistle twice or yelled back "On! On!" and we all picked up again, this time in the right direction.

One outstanding feature of the hash was the no shame policy towards walking OR CATCHING A BUS. The hare announced at one point that people could bus back to the start from there. I'd probably still be giggling over that except I got a stitch in my side from trying to sprint while laughing. Where was this policy when I was running high school track?

Back at the cemetery we had circle.

The beermeister passed out bottles of Pilsener and I asked him for a bottle opener. He cracked my beer with the opener hanging from his neck, the one shaped like a wooden dick. Um.

People were called into the middle of the circle for offenses like not wearing hash-themed gear, for wearing new shoes, and for being new to hashing. Inside the circle, you drank a mug of beer and poured the last drop over your head while they sang songs promoting bad words with sexual overtones.

"Who are you?" they asked me. "Just Jessica?"

"And who made you come?"

"Rotten Cherry," I said.

See you crazy fuckers next week.

omg, pocket coffee

What you don't see in this photo is my other hand wiping away tears of joy.


Wo ist?

I'm sick of ordering milchkaffees and being totally stumped when asked for here or to go.

"For here" is easy - für hier - but I have yet to see "to go" written and therefore can't get a handle on it. My phrasebook has a few blind spots in it, "To go" being one, followed by "Another, please".

Has the Langenscheidt writer never gone drinking? Please.

I've been smiling and pointing a lot.

Yesterday I sat in a cafe and went through the phrase book, writing down everything I need to learn first. I wish I could say that I skipped the shopping section since my official line is that my backpack is full and I'm therefore not buying anything but the sad truth is that I PORED OVER THAT BITCH.

Do you have these in other colors?

Do you have size 8?

Where is the mirror?

And, finally, where is the dressing room? Which I will never ever say because it has 19 extra syllables in it.

Last night I went to dinner and to a Tango club with my housemate, Simone, who owns the room I'm renting and other temporary housemates who are staying in her room as couchsurfers.

I heard of the couchsurfers at the New Year's Eve party I went to this year but didn't jump on it because I was leery:

a) I don't have a place to offer and that seems like part of the deal and b) I've been thinking too much about serial killers.

I had a conversation in the kitchen with Simone my first morning in Berlin and she told me about her couchsurfing experiences in India, the people she's met and close friends she's made. She made a comment about how trusting people is a nice way to live.

For the next few days the apartment is full of girls, a real international pillow fight. The party is, however, largely contained to the other bedroom since I keep my own room and keys as the paying Craigslist tenant.

Last night we ate Thai food and watched Tango and it was beautiful and hot but really, really technical and every time a man walked within a ten foot radius of me, I prayed he'd keep his distance. My salsa skillz would NOT get me through a tango. I left with one of the couchsurfers after a few hours and immediately took a wrong turn. We were lost within minutes.

We were walking up the middle of a cobblestone street, her boots going click, click, click in the middle of the night darkness and we saw a man loading a carpet into the back of a van. "Will you ask him how to get to Schönhauser Allee?" She asked me, "Can you manage that?"

Emboldened by my studies earlier in the day, I busted out the question seamlessly. I rule. Until he started answering using words that fall into the 99 percent of the language that I'm not familiar with.

Fortunately he used his hands a lot so when he asked me what I think was, "Did you get that?" I nodded and mimicked what he'd just done with his hands, making little cartoon noises for emphasis. Then he laughed in my face and said what I think was, "Good luck."

Note to self: Learn some potential responses to the questions you ask. Just a few. You'll seem a lot less dumb.

jocardo, all grownzd up

Does Jocardo look happy or what?


And the day before yesterday, his fifth graders performed the musical they've been rehearsing and working on with Jocardo.

When I stayed at Jocardo's house a few weeks ago, little topics like what we're doing with our lives came up and he'd say, 'I'll think about that after April 11th,' or 'Like I care until after April 11th.'

Welcome to April 12th, mi amor! And congratulations.

ps It's also possible that Jocardo looked happy in these photos because at the Apple store we learned it was the very last day of his iPod warranty and he was handed a brand new one free on the spot by a cute boy who Jocardo got to flirt with shame-less-ly.

'Do you think he could tell I was flirting with him?' he asked me. And my eyes rolled back in my head so far that I practically needed outpatient surgery to get them back in place.

fresh paint or burning electrical wires


(Every time I say newsflash - and I do try to keep it to a minimum - I'm reminded of the emotional explosion I had at my mom a few years ago when in the throes of my early-mid-life crisis. She asked me, calmly, what I think I'm passionate about and I screamed, 'Newsflash! Maybe I'm not passionate about ANYTHING!'

What a baby. And a little liar.

Thanks for trying to help, mom. I'm better now.)


Cathy was at Nicole's house when Garrett called from space. You know, just to check in and say hey.

Excuse me for a minute while I go pass out from how cool that is.

The astronauts only really get a whiff of space when they open and close the airlocks which I guess is good since they might otherwise be high on paint fumes.

Sorry, Zan, it doesn't smell like a new car or cinnamon toast up there. But me and the other space groupies appreciate your input.


weißwein and Top Gun

I'm getting good at laughing at myself when I pronounce German words extra wrong. There's a wine shop next to my apartment and I went in yesterday in the mood for a dry Riesling.

This is how you say dry in German: trocken. Great, I can do that.

I figured I'd stand in front of all the white wines (weißwein or "vicevine"; I'm liking that word, too) and say "Trocken? Trocken?" and the wine seller would get the picture.

Our exchange ended up even more awesomely Neanderthal than I imagined. "Trocken?" I asked, holding up the Riesling. In lieu of saying "Very?" I made a face like I'd bitten into a lemon.

He answered, "Ja," and took A BITE OUT OF THE AIR. I get it, sir, it has a bite. But do you have any idea how happy you've made me by performing my favorite Val Kilmer/Tom Cruise exchange from Top Gun?

Danke, a million times danke.



The Berlin Wall evolved between 1961 and 1989. What began as one wire fence and then a parallel fence on the East German side - creating the "death strip" between the two - grew to the final wall of reinforced concrete, barbed wire, bunkers and watchtowers.

To build the second wall inside Eastern territory, houses were torn down. The death strip was carpeted with raked gravel, making footprints easy to spot. It was planted with landmines and there was no cover from watching guards' eyes. People attempting to breach the walls were shot on sight and, if wounded in the death strip, often left by the guards to bleed to death.

Here's the old death strip at Bernauer Straße, now a memorial and, perhaps just as significant, the site of new construction.

Part of the former border strip was made into a park, Mauerpark or Wall Park, and I snooped on this kid while he sat silently in a swing. FOR A LONG TIME. So long that I was curious; What the heck he was thinking about? I wasn't nosy enough to intrude and actually ask, but enough to make up stories in my head.

Part of me thought this kid was getting all existential on himself, digging into the whys and wherefores of strife and human division. Another part thought he was thinking about how much it would cost to buy poppers and pills for the club that night. Or maybe about the cute little puppy he's going to buy and take for walks around Mauerpark.


Doris Salcedo

There is a 548-foot-long crack in the floor of the Tate Modern Museum and for six months it has been pissing people off.

When I went to the Tate last January, I glanced at the crack from the atrium and thought, "Oh, a crack. It's big. Moving on."

When I went back last week, there wasn't much else for me to see since I'm not on friendly terms with Marcel Duchamp, the main exhibit, and I'd seen most of the rest. The crack it would be!

The crack is called Shibboleth and was made by a Colombian woman named Doris Salcedo. It starts small before it grows and splits into jagged sections like bolts of lightning.

I had a moment while staring into one of the bigger chasms where I felt like I was in a plane and looking into canyon and I wondered how Doris did that. Just as quickly I decided I didn't care, that it was more interesting to see its effect on people than understand the mechanics.

Most people were walking slowly, peering in, or zigzagging so that they had to keep stepping over the crack. Kids were by far the most enthusiastic zigzaggers.

Do you remember being engrossed by walking down a sidewalk, avoiding all the cracks so as not to break your mother's back?

For kids this crack, at places three feet deep and ten inches wide, would be the HOLY JACKPOT of making sure you were careful. Not only would you eff your mother up if you stepped on it but you'd hurt yourself.

Which, apparently, an old lady did shortly after the opening of Shibboleth. Her tumble prompted the flyers posted about which essentially said PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THERE IS A HUGE CRACK ALL OVER THE FLOOR - WATCH YOUR STEP and editorial comments from people like, "I can't believe people who went to look at a crack in the floor, and presumably therefore knew it was there, went on to fall into it."

All I can say is that once I went to an art opening with Lukas in Brooklyn and SOMEONE who may have been a little tipsy almost spilled red wine on one of the pieces. Accidents happen.

The controversy over the crack is predictable. That's not art. How many taxpayer dollars did this cost us? My kid knows how to dig a hole, too.

Yeah, but can your kid enter into a discourse on how the hole is an expression of a poor migrant's experience in a rich western capital? Has your kid tried to symbolize racial division and segregation lately? I DIDN'T THINK SO.

Yes, once you start talking about art you enter the danger zone of pretension. The language surrounding art can sometimes be too much to handle. Sometimes I hang onto every word and sometimes I plug my ears and say la-la-la and just use my eyes because I can't take the attitude. But I liked the crack; It was causing a reaction. It was performance art, the performances being given by those who went to see it and who wrote letters to the Guardian and the Times and the Telegraph about how they felt about it.

As for taxpaying dollars, it cost 23,000 pounds to ship the crack to London from Colombia. That is a lot of money. But I bet that if people looked closely at any national budget there would be a LOT more to get upset about than 23,000 pounds spent on something that might be making you think.

It's not like, killing you or an innocent person in, I don't know, the Middle East.

Maybe budgets for art should be respected anywhere that values spirit and invention and tolerance and the kind of disagreement that happens when people do something unexpected. Or should art just be about making pretty stuff?

One negative comment made about the crack that I did relate to was from a man named Bob in Manchester who saw people were on the other side of the room looking at normal little cracks in the floor, going, "ooh", "wow", "amazing". Ha!

Yeah, people, you don't have to prove how much you get something. Don't shit yourself in the process of being amazed. Just let it sink in.

Imagining the Berlin Wall

Mapping it out in Berlin

Since I arrived in Berlin, I've been exploring on foot. The first time I was here, I stayed with Charlie and had an instant informant and partner in evildoing. Unlike that visit, I haven't yet been swallowed by prolonged sessions of jabberjawing and clubbing, surprised by daylight when I finally stop dancing or talking.

This trip is starting more slowly, more of an endurance race than a sprint, since I have more than a week. Also, Charlie's hands are currently full with his mom and aunt visiting from Australia. I'm living in a different part of the city and until I discover the best route walking from Prenzlauer Berg to Kreuzberg, it takes me approximately until the end of time to get there.

The map acts like it's about two miles away but I've been relying on my internal compass and the needle on that thing is spinning wildly in circles.

My first morning I walked out of Simone's building and took a left thinking that I'd just see where left goes. I had a map that she thoughtfully gave me and it is comprehensive. So comprehensive, in fact, that I'm instantly more confused about my whereabouts when looking at it.

BERLIN IS NOT BUILT ON A GRID. It's more like the opposite of a grid. It's dense and curvy and diagonal and the street names are long and, unless I'm imagining things, change often. My map is also a TANGO MAP, pointing out the best places to get my milonga on. Berlin is the tango capital of Europe! But I don't really know how to do that. I didn't bring the tango shoes I bought last year in Buenos Aires because I don't tango so that part of the map isn't helpful.

Eventually I made it to Friedrichshain and familiar surroundings. That first night I decided to take a different way home. This was fine until two hours had passed and I had to admit to myself that my usually good sense of direction was making me cut wide swathes all around where I wanted to be. As if I wanted to see how close I could get to getting it right while actually still being wrong. I hailed a cab.

Yesterday, humility drove me to a book I bought in London called 100% Berlin which outlines walks in the city. I went to a restaurant and ordered the only thing on the menu I could say, omelette, and wrote down in my journal where I was going and what I wanted to see. This is so much more planning than I usually do but I have been humbled by the streets of Berlin.

I carried my journal in my hand and peeked inside every so often and it was satisfying as hell. I figured out where I'd gotten mixed up the night before and found all kinds of places I might not have wandered to on my own. I was feeling all proud of myself, like I'd invented something instead of I'd JUST FOLLOWED DIRECTIONS FOR ONCE.

It also occurred to me that it's a good thing to have these open-ended solitary hours because it's not something I've been tapping into. I've been off work for over a month and it's been almost all social time. I've run around with friends I don't see enough of, which is priceless. And there have been bonus surprises like discovering that Gail was in New York when I was; I usually only get to see Gail in Minnesota or Alaska.

But part of my goal for this Spring has been to get into my head, way in there, into the curvy little back roads of my brain (speaking of not being built on a grid) and make some order of it. I want to examine what I write about and think about and what I want to write about. I want to MAP IT OUT. Ah-ha.

I finished yesterday's walk and went back to a cafe I passed earlier. I wrote down something I was thinking that day and let it simmer for awhile. I flipped back in my journal and remembered thoughts I'd been been sitting with a few months ago. I wondered how random or related they are.

"I'm gonna go all stream of consciousness on my ass," I thought, "And then see if I can pull it together."

I woke today and set out after my three-hour minimum of puttering around. I have the afternoon free before meeting Charlie after work. I turned a corner and was struck by the thought: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THAT TV SHOW DOUBLE TROUBLE? Followed immediately by, "I let the gates down and this is what comes streaming in?"


Cafe Bla Bla

If I were to open a cafe in Germany, this is what I'd name it.



I've been really bad about learning German. As in I haven't tried at all.

I asked Charlie questions when I was here before but not very useful things. I'd see a word I thought was funny, "What does frühstuck mean?" and he'd say, "Breakfast," and then I'd forget.

In preparation for this trip, I stopped short of a dictionary and bought a phrase book. I imagined myself putting in hours of studies before my arrival but ignored the situation so severely that when Joanna asked me how to say thank you in German on our way to the airport, I had to say I didn't know.

Which is PATHETIC. Joanna pointed that out in case I didn't realize. A few minutes later, I remembered and practically screamed, "DANKE!!" Everyone knows how to say thank you in German.

I know how to order a coffee with milk, please. I just don't know give thanks for it. Rude!

At the airport, I faced the fact that after deplaning, I needed to get my neighborhood, go to the restaurant next to the apartment I'm renting, tell them who I am and pick up an envelope with the key since my roommate would be out tango dancing.

I have a great desire not to be the ugly American tourist which usually manifests in my speaking to people so softly that they have to lean in and ask me to repeat myself. I also don't want to rely on expecting others to speak English. I'd read in my guidebook that English is widely known in former West Berlin but less so in former East Berlin and my hood is East so, really, what was I waiting for?

I got out the phrasebook and started writing things down.

On the plane I read that Berliners are known for being curt and unfriendly which actually made me feel BETTER. I'm used to traveling in Latin America where perfect strangers call you their love and their life and offer you Godly blessings over minor exchanges and if you don't reciprocate, you're kind of a jer.

"I might fit in here," I thought, "Being blank might not work against me."

I made a piece a paper on which I'd written my address and the following words for myself:

1. Good Evening - Guten Abend
2. My name is - Ich Heise
3. Envelope - Briefumschlag
4. Sorry - Entschuldigung

The one I was really focusing on, however, was the last - SORRY - figuring I might need to say that a few times. While practicing, I noticed that my brain is so trained to associate foreign language with Spanish that it's hard to even call Germany Deutschland, I keep saying Alemania. This is not helpful.

After messing with the ticket machines at the airport and buying tickets for the airport express train and the S-Bahn, I realized that the trains weren't running. My first clue should have been that I was the only one on the track and there were no trains in sight but sometimes I'm slow like that. I'm pretty sure someone tried to tell me that in German and I smiled at them like an idiot and continued waiting for my imaginary train.

I don't know how long I stood on that platform but it was getting late. I wasn't trying to figure out the bus at this point so paid a taxi to bring me to the restaurant where I was to pick up my key. It was closed. My UK cell was out of money so I put a new SIM card in and tried to call Simone who I'm renting the room from. The phone wouldn't work. Dang it! I put my bags in the shadows so as to attract less robbers and sat on the stoop to think. I guess I'll have to walk to a payphone.

Then I had a brilliant thought. I'LL RING THE DOORBELL.

Honestly, how have I made it through the world this long in one piece?

Simone answered. She hadn't gone out dancing after all.

Naomi Campbell throws a hissy fit

Oh, Naomi.

I agree that it would be super annoying to check into a flight and take my seat only to find out that my bags had already been lost. That's why you should have done what I did: DON'T GET ON THE FLIGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Instead of doing what you did: throw a temper tantrum, spit on a police officer, get arrested, and get possibly banned from British Airways. BA is currently deciding whether to ban Naomi Campbell for life or just take away her VIP card, which I find funny. You are rich and will give us lots of money but we think you're bitchy and therefore not Very Important anymore.

Heathrow Airport opened new British Airways Terminal 5 the day I arrived in London and immediately began haplessly f'ing over flyers. The baggage system melted down and at last count 28,000 bags have been misplaced. Hundreds of flights have been canceled.

A few days before I flew to Berlin, I checked my flight info and realized I was on a flight out of you guess which terminal. Oh, hell. I checked the website and it said that less flights were being canceled every day but travelers should know that it may take baggage several extra days to make it to the destination.

I did not find this heartwarming considering I'm not flying to a place where I have other things to use while I wait for my luggage. That North Face bag is all I've got and it's full of things I carefully chose because I want them WITH ME, not wandering all over the rest of Europe while I sit in Berlin turning my panties inside out.

I immediately started looking for a new flight. Joanna thought I was being excessive and couldn't believe I was that afraid of losing my things. She said she'd send the pack to me if I wanted. But I was resolute: I have one backpack and it's staying on my back.

Ryan Air flies out of Stansted Airport so cheaply that it barely hurt to throw money at the potential problem to make it go away. You hear that, Naomi?


No Country for Old Men

If you've spent the day reflecting on how scary killers are (like I have), No Country for Old Men might not be the best film to see that night.

Regardless, it was PHENOMENAL. And Javier Bardem? Veeeery convincing as a psychopath. Everything about him: the cattle gun, the red-rimmed eyes, the claggy face, the voice that sounded as if he'd just scraped it off the bottom of his cowboy boot, the hair.

The goddamn hair.

I spent two hours with a tingling spine, willing myself to watch scenes that were KILLING ME, because I didn't want to miss how the Coen brothers would direct them. More than story, it was mood and detail.

Surely it helped to exit the cinema to surroundings as different from West Texas as could be: dark, damp, narrow London streets full of black cabs and club music and drunk people getting pushed out of pub doors.

Which doesn't mean I didn't still square my shoulders and walk to the tube quicker than usual.

We are very happy to hear Godzilla

On Wednesday, March 12, space shuttle Endeavour's crew awoke to the battle scene song from Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla.

"Take on today like a monster," said a shuttle spacecraft communicator at Mission Control in Houston to Japanese astronaut Takao Doi.

"We are very happy to hear Godzilla," said Doi.

That night the shuttle docked at the International Space Station and Garrett became the 150th visitor to haul his ass to that special place in space where one is a) 217 miles from the surface of the Earth and b) traveling at around 17,000 miles per hour.


Let's take a little break to let that sink in.


I was online yesterday watching another video when I noticed a clip of Endeavour's docking. I clicked on it and saw Garrett and the other Endeavour astronauts come swimming through a tunnel into the ISS. He grabbed Peggy Whitson in a hug and they floated through the air together, a happy, careening, weightless hug.

And for a second, JUST A SECOND, I got kinda choked up.

Which is maybe not shocking considering I've admitted to tearing up on behalf of subjects as varied as old people on the street, American Idols Live! performances (Lakisha Jones, I Will Always Love You), and episodes of Little House on the Prairie, BUT STILL.


Finding a housemate who isn't a killer

I've finally found a place to stay in Berlin.

Charlie has family guests in his room for my first month in the city, so two weeks ago I started scouring Craigslist for a place of my own. It has been a process. I've realized something about myself: I'm totally afraid of people being psychotic. Or rapists. Or vaguely creepy in any way. I really didn't know I was so wary of people.

I thought I was used to expecting the best and giving the benefit of the doubt, of trusting until I have a reason not to. I've gotten lots of apartments through newspapers and online before but I guess I've always been able to meet people face to face before deciding to live with them and taking the chance that they have some sort of borderline personality disorder.

I knew that I can make myself comfortable anywhere and can call a different place home every night of the week without a worry. I use the term "home" loosely. I'm carrying two things in my backpack that I'm putting out wherever I stay on this trip to signify that I'm home, however temporary that home may be:

1. The small resin-covered photograph that Sunny gave me of Lulu and Hugo sitting on the Chicago front porch. 2. The blue and orange fish and waves fabric that Sara gave me. When these two items come out of the backpack and I've "decorated", I'll know I'm home. This is my new ritual and I like this.

There were several times on Craigslist when I thought I was emailing a woman because the name wasn't gender-specific. And when I found out it was a guy, I'd start feeling suspicious. Why is his price so good? Is that part of his plan to lure me in and do something scary? I'M ONTO HIM.

Charlie wrote to ask how the search was going. I told him that the only person who wanted me to stay with him was a 40-year-old man who probably wanted to assault me and I'm not in the mood to cut off anyone's balls, so I said no thanks. I wonder how much I'm overreacting.

I should mention that people were equally wary of me. We'd strike an agreement and I'd be set to give them money to hold the room but when I told them I wasn't in Berlin yet and would have to wire the cash if they needed it immediately, they'd back out. I suppose I sound like a scam, another fictional prince of Nigeria.

Two days ago, I found Simone, a native Berliner in her 30s, a German language teacher and dancer. Her apartment isn't in Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, the neighborhoods I was targeting, but it's not far, in Prenzlauer Berg. And she has an extra bicycle that I can borrow. Score.

I hope Columbus, OH police have extra forces on the street tonight

I can't take credit for remembering that Michael Bova's birthday is today, Friendster told me. But in an unprecedented move, I'm going to publicly make a big deal about it.


I'm almost sure that this photo is from a New Year's Eve party at my apartment in New York but we're going to pretend that it's for Bova's birthday.

That I wore a corsage and made out with a bottle of bourbon because that's how I like to celebrate birthdays even when I don't know how old someone is turning.

I do remember that when Bova was my roommate in Olympia, there was a page from a coloring book torn out and stuck to the wall in the kitchen and he had colored in the picture and filled in his name and age at the bottom - 24 - and I went, 'Wow, He's OLD. 24!'


Eyes on the corner in the East End

London, England

Quiet London times

I've been thinking how great it's been to have this family time in London before I hit Berlin where almost no one knows me. Except for time spent with Spice friends and time wandering the city, I've been a homebody. I catch the train from Liverpool Street and 15 minutes later I'm back in Walthamstow. I drink white wine and talk to Joanna and watch American Idol for research purposes and fall asleep on the couch. I wake early.

Last Sunday Joanna, Jon, Alfie and I walked to Tottenham to have Sunday roast at a pub. We walked along a trail and a canal and there were people on bikes and dogs and families and the sun was shining. Alfie fell asleep in the buggy - sorry, stroller - and we sat in a beer garden and drank Guinness and lager before going inside for Yorkshire pudding and roast beef.

Another night I babysat so that Joanna and Jon could have a night out. They hovered by the baby monitor while I typed away on the computer and told them to get out, I could handle it. I've been taking care of children for a million years.

"It's just that he might wake up in a minute and if you're the only one here, he'll have a row," Joanna said.

"GO," I said.

Ten minutes later Alfie woke up and had a row.

I heard him come out of his room and I called up the stairs, "Go to sleep, Alfie." When he heard my voice, he screamed what my mom would call bloody murder. I went up, scooped him up, and held him through a few futile hush little babies and you are my sunshines. He was terrified and shaking and I knew exactly how he felt. For years, I was the kid who couldn't get to sleep without my parents in the house, who had to come downstairs and curl up in the beanbag chair and sob and shudder while some babysitter rubbed my back. So I gave in quickly, "Do you want to come downstairs with me?"

"You can," I said. "You can lie down on the couch, but it's quiet time, not play time. And we're not gonna put on Nemo, we're watching Rockstar Daughters on E."

Alfie was compliant and silently listened to Calico Cooper and Liv Tyler's stories before shutting his eyes. When Joanna and Jon got home, we were both curled up on the couch, asleep.


I'd tap the ho

There's something excellent about meandering through the Tate Britain gallery with your iPod on Spank Rock and not even realizing that you're whispering I'D TAP THE HO out loud.

OH LOOK, it's Vinnie

I took the train to Brighton yesterday to have lunch with Vinnie. I know Vinnie for his drumming, his disturbing likeness to Stewie from Family Guy, and the fake voice he does of a sneering bastard with a chip on his shoulder. The fake voice always starts with "OH LOOK AT ME," and it's highly addictive.

When I'd walk into the band dressing room with day sheets, Vinnie would say, "OH LOOK AT ME carrying papers around, telling people what they have to do tomorrow."

When Vinnie came off stage after a Spice show, I'd say, "OH LOOK AT ME banging on things with sticks, making lots of noise." Being a DRUMMER.

When he invited me to Brighton, he was all, "OH LOOK at me telling you how cool Brighton is," and "OH LOOK at me being nice and saying it will be nice to see you."

And, seriously, it pretty much never gets old.

This photo was hard to take because something about walking on the Brighton Pier made me giddy and I kept having to stop to laugh and cross my legs. I was watching a little girl in pink on a ride that I remember from Kings Island. It's called The Spider or something like that and you're closed into a booth that's attached to a long arm. It spins you in circles and up and down and it's shocking and hilarious and I used to laugh through the whole ride.

I'd laugh until I was gasping and drooling and, sometimes, peeing my pants.

"If I were on that ride right now," I said to Vinnie, "I'd laugh and pee my pants."

"You do that often, then?" he asked.

"No," I said, "Only sometimes."

I was laughing too much to take these photos but after a few tries at composing serious faces, Vinnie went "Go go go go GO!" I bent over, did a few more kegels and we managed to pull it off.

Computers promote antisocial behavior

I found a coffeehouse on the corner of Brick Lane and Bacon Street. It has free wireless and all kinds of sofas and chairs to lounge in so I did this for hours after buying my large white americano.

When I told Joanna how long I sat there, she practically beat me with the end of her umbrella for being such a terrible customer.

But! I tried to defend myself. It's a huge place and it was busy and people were in and out all day and there were a million other people camped out with computers.

"They're doing great business!" I said, defensive.

Joanna shot back something Englishy and aghast like, "Harumph! No thanks to you lot."

I took this opportunity to deal a semi-low blow, considering the fact that she's raising a 2-year-old and not able to spend entire afternoons staring out coffeeshop windows, picking scuz out of her bellybutton and writing about it on the internet.

"When is the last time you even WENT to a coffeeshop? That is what you DO."

She wasn't having it and said if she were the owner she'd give me dirty looks and whisper behind my back.

I don't think those are especially powerful deterrents but I concede that owners could demand more from customers or at least offer more expensive food or alcohol that has a higher markup than a two pound cup of coffee.

But I said to her that it's true, no one wants to hang out somewhere where the people working are rude. There's too many other places to go. I also reminded her that we used to do the same thing when we were high school seniors.

"Don't you remember going to Kaldi and Highland in Cincinnati?"

I returned to the corner of Brick and Bacon today and saw this graffiti in the bathroom. It reminded me of a few things. When I was draining cup after cup of coffee in those Cincinnati coffeeshops, I was never on a computer. That was before I even knew what email was so unless I was writing a paper or studying flashcards for an AP exam, I was talking to people.

Maybe I didn't drop a lot of money but I was more sociable. With people in my ACTUAL, not virtual, presence.

And I don't really feel bad about this but I did read a blurb in the free daily London newspaper about internet addiction, written dramatically with references to studies and authorities and REHAB.

Yeah, there are a couple of other issues in my life I'd address before looking into cyber rehab.

So what if I have to tell myself as a house guest, "Do not get your computer out right now. Wait until they go to sleep. They will think you are a jerk"?

So what if Alfie walked into the room yesterday and said in gibbery baby talk, "Jess 'puter"?

"Did he just say Jess's computer?" I asked.

"Yes," Joanna said.

"I don't like that," I said.