WEEKEND BRIEFING
Mortality and All That

Mar. 12 - Today we enter Week 18. The DMG continues to expand each day. It's astonishing. Just a couple of weeks ago I was worried that she wouldn't be showing by the time we got to visit my family in April. Now I'm wondering if she'll even fit on a plane.

I'm exaggerating, obviously, but she does seem noticeably bigger every day. Often she comes home from work, yanks up her top, pulls down the top of her pants, and exclaims, "Look!" (I'm hoping childbirth won't break her of this habit.) "See how much bigger I am?" she asks. And, indeed, she usually is.

Last night I almost mentioned this in the blog, but I'm glad I didn't. I had no sooner written that "the DMG always comes home from work and yadda yadda," when I heard the front door swing open and the DMG exclaim, "I think I got smaller!" Then she yanked up her top, pulled down the top of her pants, and said, "See?"

(She didn't actually look bigger than she had in the morning, but neither did she look any smaller.)

* * *

It's my birthday on Monday. I'll be turning 39. I dread this birthday the way I dreaded turning 29, way back in... oh, call it ten years ago. I lived in Chicago then. I was full of anxieties about my future. I felt I hadn't accomplished anywhere near what I'd hoped to. My life seemed to be trickling away without amounting to much. I was reading a lot of biographies, then, and remember hating Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Twain, and Balzac for what they'd accomplished by age 29.

Here I am a decade later. I live in Copenhagen. I'm full of anxieties about my future. My accomplishments still pale beside my hopes. And now I'm confronted with the prospect of responsibility for someone else's life.

On the plus side, though, I won forty crowns (about $7) at poker last night.

That's the one of three important things I've learned as I've gotten older: you've got to focus on the positive.

The second thing is that you have know how to count.

* * *

I got an email from a regular reader yesterday in response to yesterday's bloggish.

I would suggest that you are not actually fleeing Americans, but the coarse reputation they engender. Too many Americans abroad are looking to be, well, atop abroad, as it were, and are loud, rude, drunk and disorderly. When you learn the languages (I speak about six well enough to find food and lodging), customs, and dress in floor length pants and button shirts instead of shorts and 'I puked at the Eiffel Tower' T-shirts, you meet lovely persons. European and cultured American alike.

The only problem with this hypothesis is that the Americans I've encountered haven't been the stereotypical "ugly Americans" my correspondent describes. It's true that I don't want to be perceived as an ugly American myself, and I don't doubt that those villainous tourists are out there somewhere, but I haven't come across any since arriving in Europe last march.

Actually, it's astonishing how few Americans I have encountered here. They seem to be thickest on Strøget, the pedestrian shopping streets in the middle of town. (I don't spend much time there because I hate pedestrians.) Walk up and down the cobbled streets of Strøget in summer and you'll hear every dialect of American English—but you'll also hear every dialect of German, French, Swedish, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Arabic, and so on. The Americans don't look or behave any more touristy than the others. The dead giveaway, I'm told, is that the Americans are the ones drinking as they walk—whether it's coffee, cola, or beer, we seem to have acquired a reputation as the world's only ambulatory drinkers.

Not only that, but we're not the most dreaded tourists in Copenhagen—not by a longshot. It's the Germans and Swedes that drive Danes crazy. The Germans are demanding and obnoxious, the Swedes vulgar, dull, and stupid. (I speak only of their reputations in Denmark; I don't mean to insult any of my obnoxious German or Swedish readers.) Australians and Americans are practically received as honorary Danes—something about our free-wheeling, frontier spirits seems to mesh well with the Danish psyche. Want to piss off a Dane? Call their capital Copen-HAH-gen or tell them how much you love Sweden. Or apologize for not speaking Dutch.

(That's a big one, right there. Americans always seem to get Denmark and the Netherlands mixed up. Back in the states the DMG was constantly asked if she was from Amsterdam.)

There's no good reason for me to be avoiding Americans, or to try to hide my nationality, except for my neurotic desire to fit in. I'm in Denmark, so I want to be a Dane—or at least be mistaken for one.

Just so long as no one mistakes me for a German...

Borscht Boy

At the end of the second world war, America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Each bomb killed so many people so quickly and made the world so safe for peace-loving democracies that America began feeling pretty good about things and forgot all about being Depressed, etc. This caused the hula-hoop, the soda fountain, and Annette Funicello.

Not everyone could master the hula-hoop, however, and the alienation experienced by those who couldn't resulted in the development of an American counterculture.

Scoffing the traditional values of mainstream America, the counterculturalists experimented with bold new ideas. They forsook the established middle-class pleasures, such as wine, woman, and song, in favor of radical new ones, such as sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll.

Born 82 years ago today, Jack Kerouac was a child of the Depression and a veteran of the second world war. He was therefore torn between these competing value systems and roamed the country aimlessly in search of grammar and punctuation.

The adventures described in On the Road were based loosely on his real-life travels with the infamous Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, whose insatiable appetite for borscht led Kerouac to dub them "The Beet Generation."

You can read extracts from my own version of On the Road at GregNagan.com, by clicking on "Excerpts" and then selecting "On the Road."

Also

March 13 is the birthday of L. Ron Hubbard (the "L" is silent). Mr. Hubbard invented Dianetics, which eventually led to Scientology, causing Scientologists and Personality Tests. Scientologists are easily distinguished from Jehovah's Witnesses in that they don't ask you subscribe to The Watchtower and they can often be seen in major motion pictures.

Standard time was established in the United States on March 13, 1884. Standard time was not well received at first. Americans were outraged at the soul-deadening conformity imposed by this new standard, an infringement on the natural liberties of a free people, and—look! A squirrel!

Karl Marx died in London on March 14, 1883. His premature death prevented him from seeing the global impact of his progeny: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo.

Along with Jack Kerouac, March 12 is the birthday of Darryl Strawberry (1962), James Taylor (1948), Liza Minnelli (1946), Barbara Feldon (1941), Al Jarreau (1940), and Edward Albee (1928).

Sharing Mr. Hubbard's birthday of March 13 are William H. Macy (1950), Neil Sedaka (1939), William Casey (1913), and Percival Lowell (1855).

The 14th marks the birthdays of Billy Crystal (1947), Michael Caine (1933), Quincy Jones (1933), Frank Borman (1928), Hank Ketcham (1920), and Albert Einstein (1879).

March 12 is Renovation Day in Gabon, Independence Day in Mauritius, and Youth Day in Zambia.

March 13 is Revolution Day in Grenada and National Youth Day in Fiji.

March 14 is Constitution Day in Andorra.

Enjoy the weekend!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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