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Any Idiot Can Run, It Takes A Special Idiot To Run A Marathon

            Yesterday morning was the first Oakland Marathon in 25 years. I wish I could have run in it. Sadly my muscles are weary. My ankle and knee joints are lubricated by sandpaper, and I’m carrying a 17 lb beer baby, which I shall name Hoegaarden.

The sign says it all

        I have run a marathon and I can tell you it really does take a special idiot to run one. You have to really enjoy running; I mean almost like it’s an addiction. There is a good deal of physical pain and mental anguish when running for 26.2 miles without a half-time break, an intermission, or a long nap—believe me.

       I ran my first marathon 8 years ago in San Francisco (I have run 2 halves since then, and those are a piece of cake comparatively) and stupidly I didn’t train. The most I had ever run was 9 miles. Even as kids in England, my brother and I would run a lot, but we’d never done anything like 26.2 miles, and consequently, when I got to mile 16 in the S.F. Marathon, my legs crapped out and started wobbling like jelly. I had to stop for a second because my body and brain had conspired, and I had forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other. It was a little scary. I regained my sense of balance and then the cramps came, seizing up every fiber of my lower half. From my toes to my hips I was cramping up and in excruciating pain. AND I still had 10 miles to go! What the hell was I going to do? It was unbearable, but I jogged on and every twenty yards or so I would have to either stop to stretch, or just stand there and ride out the surges of pain. It sucked.

         By Mile 20 if an ambulance had pulled up alongside me I would have gingerly climbed in and begged them to drive me to the finish, pick up my medal, and then if I was still alive take me to the hospital and if I wasn’t breathing, then straight to the embalmer.

Beats putting out a fire, wouldn’t you say

          Just after Mile 24 with 2.2 miles to go I was at my lowest. I’d probably lost 15-20 lbs in sweat and was delirious. I had not only met my match, it had made me feel like a speck of dirt upon a speck of dirt. I was dust. But then something happened. I was hobbling along a quiet part of the course down near China Basin, being cheered and encouraged by other runners passing me, when a woman who was likely in her mid-to late-70’s jogged slowly past me.

It was unbelievable.

      I am nothing, I thought, and burst into tears at the sheer spirit this woman had in her old, skinny body. It was a life-changing moment. I had achieved complete and utter nothingness.

     I contemplated tackling her from behind so that she didn’t cross the finish before me. But no, I could never do that. The old woman inspired me. I had to finish the race and do it in a way I could be proud of, and so I began running. I mean really running. My body had one more sprint left in it and by God I was going to cross that finish line like I’d sprinted the whole 26.2 miles. I was a mile away and I could hear loud cheering coming from the Embarcadero. It was intense. The closer I got to the finish line, the louder the crowd’s cheering became. It drew me in and I flew past the old lady and the twenty or so other runners that had passed me earlier offering support. I crossed the line and collapsed in my Mylar cloak on the grassy area to the side. I had done it. I had run a marathon, and had the medal to prove it.

The Bay Area Brit’s Bling

                   And like everyone that ran in yesterday’s Oakland Marathon, and like my old running partner, Step, The Bay Area Brit is a special kind of idiot.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

A Daydream Is Like A Low-Budget Independent Movie

     Daydreaming is a wonderful thing because in our conscious state we take our mind where we want to go. You’re at your desk in your office and you see a Safeway bag flutter by the window in the wind. That bag is the star of that moment and you think to yourself That plastic bag is free. Free to do whatever it wants. You daydream the possibilities of such freedom. The plastic bag can pause for a break whenever it wants. It doesn’t have to report to a boss. The bag is its own boss.

      You’re not really thinking about the other roles the plastic bag may have had in its past, say as a moccasin to a homeless man, or the future it may hold: as the overburdened bulging receptacle of lukewarm dog crap scooped from the sidewalk dropped by a 90 pound Doberman Pinscher. You’re just in that moment in the gentle comfort of your daydream-like state.
A daydream might occur while in line at the supermarket. I really like this girl working the checkout. I wonder if she thinks I’m cute, you think to yourself. It’s not a stretch. Your daydreams are like a film you might see on IFC or The Sundance Channel. You know the sort of thing: a slow-paced but charming independent film. In the end it was a good story based in reality with no car chases and nary a building exploding, but it sure was real.

            Okay, so yeah, daydreams are kind of boring. Let’s put it this way: I’ve never rested my chin on my palm in a moment of quiet solitude and gazed out of a window at a beautiful spring morning and daydreamed of being in a plane crash. Nor have I daydreamed about being shot at, stabbed, or fallen from a great height only to wake up from said daydream in a startled manner. Oh sure, seconds later I’ll be comforted by an Austrian nurse whose eyebrows are made of explosive camembert cheese, but these moments are reserved for my real dreams when I’m asleep and anything (and I mean anything) can happen.
Night-time dreams are like high-budget action movies. Seriously, people, Armageddon is coming and I need to be at my best to save all you motherfuckers. This is a dream and I had better bring my A-game or you are all in big trouble. Seriously, who the hell is gonna save your sorry asses in my dream when those aliens begin dropping from the sky and start pollinating our planet with pod-people? You? You, daydreaming slacker. I don’t think so.
Now please excuse me, for The Bay Area Brit has a big weekend to prepare for. Emperor Hirohito, Edith Piaff, Johnny Weismuller and his dancing crocodiles, the remaining living performers from the original Cirque Du Soleil, Eskimo zombies, Lady Gaga, a Bolivian fruit bat, the element fire, Mexican werewolves, Ursula Andress, Godzilla’s deaf aunt, King Henry VIII, and a rubber fire hydrant are all scheduled to appear in my dreams.

Funny Cartoons

The Cheshire Cat Goes To Vegas

         The Bay Area Brit here. I just woke up inside a hotel suite at the MGM Grand wearing my trousers as a turban and my hands cuffed together inside an open microwave holding a small box of dog biscuits. I’m not sure what went on last night, but as I understand, whatever happened here is staying here, which frankly I am happy about because it smells like Don Rickles beef jerky farts in this room. I peeled off the Sunday Comics section from my waist. It had been converted into a makeshift grass skirt. I wriggled free from the cuffs and reached inside my mouth; one of my back teeth was loose.
I remember going to a special Las Vegas screening of the new “Alice In Wonderland” film.

          I was supposed to be on a flight back to the Bay Area to write my Monday blog, but I wasn’t ready for travel yet. I switched on the televison as I showered and heard what sounded like the ESPN Boxing Night theme music playing.

            “Good morning fight fans and welcome to Las Vegas. This sleepy desert town has awoken after the weekend with a case of morning breath strong enough to knock the suck out of a vacuum cleaner. Vegas prepares to host one of the strangest heavyweight fights in decades. This collosal clash of the kitty cats is brought to you by:
Friskies–what got into that cat? Friskies.

          The challenger is a spry, agile feline from across the pond weighing in at 11 lbs and 7 ounces in the pink and purple stripes. We head to the ring for the introductions.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, in the red corner: all the way from England, your challenger for this bout, THE CHESSHIIIIIIIRRE CAAAAAT!!!!’
His opponent today in this fast-and-furry feline fisticuffs is a genuine southpaw, all the way from your Sunday Funnies grass skirt, with a record of 22-1 from Muncie, Indiana. He weighed in at 16 lbs 9 ounces.
‘Ladies and gentlemen in the blue corner: You know him; you love him, the current world champion, wearing all orange with black stripes. He’s the atomic tabby with one-two punches of sarcasm and disdain… GAAAAAAAAARRRRFIIIELD!!!!’

Folks, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a champion look so unconditioned before a fight. Bookmakers had him at 7/4 favorite but that was before the weigh-in, and before the fight was rescheduled to a Monday morning. And as you know, Garfield is allergic to Mondays.
Garfield’s pre-fight diet of lasagna and apathy may not bode well. Let’s just hope those quips and sarcastic jibes still come in thick and fast from the champion, and he doesn’t lose his breath too quickly, or we could be looking at a British World Champion, that is if he can remember what happened in his Vegas suite last night.

          The Cheshire Cat is warming up with a few quick shimmies, jabs, and paw gestures.
This Brit can talk the talk but let’s see what happens in this battle of wits. Remember this fight is for the whole kit and kaboodle with the winner taking home, not only the diamond collar, but an estimated prize worth two million bags of premium kibble. No doubt about The Cheshire Cat’s potential; look at the confident grin he’s aiming at the champ in this pre-fight psyche-out. Talk about a toothpaste sponsorship deal waiting to happen. The ref calls the contestants to the middle of the ring.
‘Okay, cats, I want a good clean fight, no scratching, no hissing, no handcuffs, and definitely lots of hitting below the belt.’

Ding! Ding! And there’s the bell!

I hopped out of the shower disbelieving my ears and eyes.

             I watched in amazement while dripping precious desert water on the carpet. I called the hotel lobby to see if the fight was being held nearby, so that I might rush there and catch some of the spectacle.
“Nearby?” the desk clerk said. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“Well where then?” I asked, becoming impatient.
“It’s inside your television you stupid, British twit.”
“Well I know that…but…” I suddenly stopped talking and realized what was going on. I was in a Wonderland and I was The Cheshire Cat taking on “Garfield.”

             Garfield: the multi-billion dollar humor factory that establishes the benchmarks for cartoon and merchandising success. I felt like a fool. How could I, The Cheshire Cat win? For one thing Garfield had home litterbox advantage. I watched the end of the fight knowing the outcome full well.

                   “Well, fight fans, the bout is over and now we send it over to ringside with the results from the judges.”

I switched off the television, packed my suitcase, and headed to the airport realizing that if I planned on conquering this country, I’d better write that Monday morning blog.

© Matty Stone, Jim Davis, and Lewis Carroll 2010

Over The Hump Cartoon Day

  Since you’re all apparently nursing some sort of strange hangover, be it from too much green beer, Jameson’s, corned beef, or just from merriment, I thought I’d go easy on your eyes again today. Here are some cartoons to assist your recovery. As they say, laughter is the best medicine. Although frankly, if I had something serious wrong with me and that Patch Adams doctor came at me with a clown nose and a cold stethoscope, I’d clock him so hard he’d be sent back in time to medical school or clown college or wherever one goes for such qualifications.

Everything’s Gone Green

       If you’ve got March 17th marked on your calendar with a green shamrock you might be drunk by Noon. I’m not implying there is anything wrong with being drunk by Noon on a Monday. I mean if you’re Irish, I’m sure you have every right to reinforce the negative stereotype of your people.

         St. Patrick’s Day was originally created as a Catholic holiday, and March 17th lands in the middle of Lent. To American Catholics who are self-sacrificing during those 40 days, St. Patrick’s Day is a “spring break-like timeout.” It’s last call and you’ve got 10 minutes to get wasted before Lent resumes.

        The Irish are loved in the U.S., and Americans tend to over-romanticize and exaggerate the roots of their Irish heritage in an effort to connect with something old and stable. The traditional American celebration of the St. Patrick’s Day is to drink a lot, eat boiled cabbage and corned beef, and pinch friends, family, and co-workers if they’re not wearing green.

      I don’t like wearing green on Saint Patrick’s Day, or any other day in truth, and have been on the receiving end of a pinch or two in my life here in the Bay Area. Please don’t pinch me. I get angry when you pinch me…and in the words of David Banner, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

       Like many Brits, I barely tolerate Saint Patrick’s Day, and I know I might be inviting those annoying Riverdance folk to do their dance-kick-stepping on my balls, but I’m irritated by the amateurishness which accompanies the day.

      It isn’t anything to do with not letting Irish people have their fun; it is more to do with how Americans are SOLD what it means to be Irish. It’s the simplification and dumbing down of Saint Patrick’s Day that gets me. Stereotypical imagery of leprechauns and shamrocks accompany Guinness posters and fiddle music, as Americans swill domestic beer with green dye in it.

     It’s just all so twee and just reeks of condescension. It’s too “Darby O’Gill And The Little People” and not enough Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

      Maybe I should lighten up. Perhaps I should try and embrace all the “lah-te-tah-te-tah” of the day. Laugh with it, as opposed to be irritated by it—yeah, why not?

       So to my Irish friends, my Irish-American friends, and “others” who claim to have a sliver of Irish in them, which allows them to wear a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” hat while saying things like: “Well, I was born in America, but my family is originally from County Cork.” I say to you: “Have fun tonight, and if per chance you find yourself in a brief moment of solitude staring at a portrait of James Joyce (inevitably hanging on the wall of the Irish pub you are packed into) in the middle of the drunkenness and the loud jig music, ask yourself this, don’t you think leprechauns would be a hell of a lot cooler if they looked like this?”

Drunken leprechaun seen here marauding through San Francisco at Noon.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

And The Oscar Goes To…David Beckham For “Marley And Me 3.”

      Former Manchester United darling David Beckham returned to Manchester yesterday wearing the colors of AC Milan: their opponents in the Champions League. If you don’t know who David Beckham is, then you probably aren’t aware that there is going to be this “thing” called the World Cup, which lasts for a month in the middle of 2010. It will be watched on telly by more people all over the world than any other sporting event in the history of the world-ever. I’m just sayin’.

        I’m not having a go at you if you’ve never heard of David Beckham. It just means that you probably don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the news, sports, or popular culture. People who live in the wilderness writing the next great American novel or those who cannot read or are deficient in vision, hearing, or otherwise impaired at all could also be forgiven for not knowing who he is. All of this I’m fine with.

          The rest of us know Beckham by virtue of his talent on a football (soccer) pitch, his marriage to former Spice Girl Victoria (Posh), his good looks, his ever-changing hairdo, his tattoos, his tabloid nicknames: “Golden Balls” or “Spice Boy,” or his friendship with Tom Cruise, or the fact that his name was in the title of a successful independent movie about female soccer players.

          I know who he is because for years I rooted AGAINST him when he played for Manchester United and rooted FOR him when he put on the England shirt. It was my first Beckham related conflict. My inner conflict regarding David Beckham is something that has haunted my past, as it haunts my present, and no doubt, somehow, my future.

             Why are you conflicted now? You may ask. Well, my second conflict arose when Beckham began playing in the U.S. because he plays for the Bay Area’s arch-rivals in, well pretty much everything: Los Angeles. However, I’m happy that Beckham is drawing attention to the sport I call “football” in America, because it is a wonderful game and needs players of his ability and stature to come and play in the soccer league for it to improve. Only by raising the level of the MLS will this country’s top footballers choose to play here rather than pack their boots and shin guards and play in the more established leagues of the World: England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

            In his first few weeks in Los Angeles, he tried hard to impress his new employers, who were paying him exorbitantly. But it was at the expense of performing properly for his home country, my home country—England. Beckham played the full 90 minutes of two games on different sides of the Atlantic in the space of 36 hours (on a bum ankle.)
In the last few minutes of both games, Beckham was skipping and hobbling around on his ankle as if the cortisone painkilling injection that he may, or may not have had, wore off after 85 minutes, which of course was at least 5 minutes shy of how long it should have lasted.

If he had been a horse he’d have been sent to the glue factory.

           My future conflicted feelings over David Beckham are ones I can only imagine. The media say he’s being groomed for Hollywood. I can only assume that these same people were grooming him before they heard him speak. Beckham is a good footballer and a handsome and wealthy man, but in interviews he comes across as a slightly inarticulate, shy eight year-old boy. Hollywood has tried to make stars of lesser talents though. Maybe if they put him in a film where the lead character was a dog, or Scarlett Johansson, he might do okay. I mean, who doesn’t love ScarJo, right? I know I do. Perhaps Jude Law and Hugh Grant’s time is done. It’s time for a new good-looking Brit for Hollywood to swoon for. Oh, David, I probably won’t go to see any of your films. Unless of course there is a steamy love scene with Scarlett Johansson, and therein lies another possible future conflict.

Beckham and co-stars rehearse for “Marley and Me 3”

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

Hump Day Comic Relief

  Today’s effort from The Bay Area Brit is a smattering of my cartoons to get you through your Wednesday. Enjoy.

Saloony Toons

        The Bay Area Brit is not much of a fighter, and I’m okay with that. I have always tried my best to avoid “fisticuffs,” but have occasionally been on the receiving end of a well-aimed boot or punch to my head. Usually after trying to diffuse a volatile situation in the manner that Oscar Wilde might try to stave off an assault by the Marquess of Queensbury–by using wit and reason.
My crime for being targeted on these occasions? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a person of questionable evolutionary achievement decides to indulge in the primitive pleasure he receives when inflicting pain on another person.

        Random acts of violence have always baffled me, yet we see it on telly all the time. We’ve all seen those Westerns where the big, drunk cowboy starts a fight in a saloon; one fellow is then jostled by another guy, spills his beer and then the punches fly left, right, north, and south. Next thing you know the conflict level has gone from “skirmish” to “brouhaha.” bypassing “melee” altogether.

         I know it’s a movie, but let’s say the huge brawl destroys the interior of the only saloon in town: Furniture crashes through mirrors, men are thrown onto tables and chairs, which splinter and break under their weight. Then of course there’s the inevitable destruction of liquor inventory; as the bartender ducks below the bar, a chair is launched at the row of whisky bottles. This is all going on while the biggest, drunkest guy in the room (who started the fight) swings on a chandelier until he and the light fixture crash on top of the piano breaking its legs sending the imitation Steinway to its ignominious demise with a tuneless crunch.

         So how many times do you think the owner of the place is going to put up with these yahoos before closing his doors for good, saying, “Screw you morons. I’m opening up a deli or a piano repair shop.”

          Wouldn’t the drunken townsfolk realize the error of their ways when their only source of libation in town is closed AGAIN for weeks on end while the bar undergoes major structural repair to fix the ceiling, the piano, restock the bar, and clean the bloodstains off of the ceiling.

       Believing what we see in the movies to be true, alcohol assists life in imitating art.

      I was caught in the middle of an epic saloon fight once, but it was back in London and was scary as hell. I was working at a pub one busy night when some seven or eight guys suddenly threw their empty beer glasses to the floor and began swinging wildly at the other bar patrons. They hurled bottles and glasses at the staff, threw tables and chairs through the windows, and smashed up the jukebox. For no reason other than to trash the place.

        For five minutes the place was a riot zone. The cops were called, but by then the varmints had hopped on their horses and were halfway to Dodge (by which I mean, they’d legged it to the Bayswater tube station bound for a train to Acton or Dagenham where they would grab a late-night kebab, make lewd comments at some women, and pat each other on the back and talk about how “well ‘ard” they all were.)

            I have yet to be caught in the middle of a big bar fight in the U.S. However, whenever I enter an establishment I’ve never been in before, and know no one there, I’ve always got one eye on the big, drunk guy poised to start the fight and swing on the chandelier. Consequently, upon entering a saloon that’s a little rough around the edges, I’m usually pleasant and affable to the doorman or bartender, aware that an ally in a bar is a good thing.

           The last time someone wanted to pick a fight with me was last summer at a bar in Bolinas called Smiley’s. I only went to Bolinas because my wife was playing a show there. And from the moment we walked in, the doorman took an instant dislike to me. I couldn’t understand it, but I’ve seen it before: the less intelligent of the male American species seem to be intellectually intimidated or feel insecure upon meeting someone who speaks with an English accent. Maybe this creature was hatched in Bolinas and has never flown outside the bosom of his small town’s borders. Either way, he meant me grievous bodily harm. I worked in bars and clubs for years and the best bouncers in the business can fight, but avoid it at all costs. But not this guy.
So the Smiley’s doorman approached me while I was at the bar getting a drink and tried to provoke me into a fight. He poked at me with a swollen index finger and said: “You think you’re cool, but you’re not. You think you look and dress cool, with your retro bullshit but you don’t.” I shrugged my shoulders thinking, retro? Dude, I’ve dressed like this since forever, what are you talking about?
I looked down at his scabby knuckles and quickly realized that although he obviously enjoyed the fighting part of his job, he probably couldn’t throw the first punch at me in front of the bartender/manager who was only three yards from where I stood, and so although a part of me wanted to ask him what his problem was, I just clinked my glass to his and said, “Well, here’s to one of us not being cool.”

I could feel this moron’s adrenaline rise like raw sewage in a flood.

           Nothing further happened that night, but when the guy disappeared outside as we were packing up the instruments and equipment to leave, I felt sure he was waiting around the corner in the shadows.

          On Sunday night in a bar in Nevada City, I was talking to my friend Sasha about the incident in Bolinas and she told me I should have just put on the “tough, hardened English accent” she’d seen in films.
Oh, I suppose I could fake it for a second or two, but my lack of conviction would be quickly exposed in my eyes. I’m just not scary and intimidating like Ben Kingsley in the movie “Sexy Beast,” or Ian McShane in “Deadwood,” or Vinnie Jones in “Snatch.” I gladly play the fool and make jokes to avoid a trip to the E.R., and have done so since I was a kid in boarding school. I’m just not a fighter, and for the most part, am way better at getting out of a fight than getting into one.
And I’m really okay with that.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

Bloody stereo-Typical!

      My friend Roland joked at my expense for writing about eating fish and chips the other day. What he’s not taking into consideration is the British in me is compelled to eat things that most Americans would choose to avoid, whether it be for health reasons or otherwise. I hate to admit it but I am a stereotypical Brit.
I usually hate stereotypes. It’s not because I think that they’re far too often racist-they usually are. It’s because I really am one. I’m British. And yes, I talk differently from you. My teeth aren’t perfect; I like football and beer and pub food.

       Comments about stereotypes come in two different forms: The ones that people say to your face. Often by well meaning galoots, who spend half their day hopping around while trying to remove their other foot from the gaping maw in the lower part of their face.
“You’re English; you must like fish ‘n’ chips,” they’ll say, usually with a dreadful pretend-English accent. While this is not nearly as rude as assuming that a tall African-American is good at basketball, or telling a gay man that he’d be a fabulous florist, or joking to a little person that he’d probably make a good rodeo clown, it’s usually followed by the. “It’s meant as a compliment” defense. It’s still a bit much. Then of course there are just the genuinely mean-spirited stereotype comments, which are usually hateful and something you wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face; which there’s no need to cover here.

                 However, for the sake of this blog and for the sake of Brits everywhere,  I’m going to embrace my stereotype. To such ends, Elvis and I will continue to seek out the best pub-style Fish ‘n’ Chips in the Bay Area.

          Although I already posted the first review from Barclay’s, I thought I should go over my requirements for the perfect restaurant fish ‘n’ chips. What I’m looking for: moist, flaky, clean, white fish. In Britain you’d be expecting cod, pollock, or haddock. In the U.S., snapper works well also, but if you can find fresh cod that would be the way to go. If you’re going to use a beer-batter, the trick is not to let the oil get too hot or the batter will be too crispy and a little burned tasting. However, you do want to make sure the fish is not undercooked. I’m also a big fan of the panko style bread-crumbed fish and although less traditional, restaurants will not be penalized for serving their fish this way.
Chips: not thin cut and definitely not frozen. The chips should be thick-cut and not too crispy. A bit soggy is my personal favorite. Salt and vinegar? You’d better believe it. Thinner chips lose their temperature much quicker; the hotter the chips the better.

          Fish and chips on the go should be served in plain paper, which is THEN wrapped in newspaper. Why would you let printing chemicals near your food? Bad show.

Batter and fry this up for Montgomery Burns, but don’t try to feed it to a Brit.

            Ideally I’m looking for fish and chips that come as close to the way I remember them from home as possible. I’m obviously not a professional food critic, but I have solid taste buds and know what British fish and chips is supposed to taste like. Feel free to comment and offer varying opinions, after all aren’t we all critics?

Over to you, Roland.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010