The College Thing

It’s football time again. Time for the new year to start, fresh beginnings. all that. Except it’s not really like that anymore. Partly because autumn doesn’t exist out here, partly because I can’t care about college football anymore, and partly…

Ten years ago, I had a long drawn-out think about college and who I was and what I could claim from my past, largely because my undergrad institution had done a thing that caused me to sever ties with them once and for all. I made the conscious decision that I was going to identify with Vanderbilt to the exclusion of where I’d gone to undergrad or Alabama for that matter (except when playing Tennessee). I bought some extra stuff from the bookstore, changed the wallpaper on all my phones (at the time I think there were four), and settled down to actually be a Vanderbilt fan in a way I hadn’t since leaving Nashville under a cloud.

I had a really bad day in Cambridge last week. Much of it was the 90 degree heat, but a lot of it was also down to the fact that walking around a 700 year old university in England was like one big taunt from God about things that I could have possibly done had I been smarter. Or more aware of my opportunities. Or something. There is another edit where there’s a junior year abroad that sends me to a place like this – maybe in Edinburgh, maybe in Dublin – but it didn’t happen in this world.  Instead, there was the worst choice of my life, leaving me with four years at the worst place for me and then three more trying to make up the difference. I’ve largely decided to punch out of Vanderbilt alumni activities here, because I’m of an age and a situation where I have nothing in common with people who went there as undergrads in the last ten years. My experience of Vanderbilt is not theirs.

And then you have the pincers I live in now. On one side of the bay is an institution that I would gladly have substituted for my undergrad experience and then been spared the need of grad school – the best public school in the world, one of those rare places that doesn’t have its academic excellence hitched to a history of elitism and general assholery. And while everyone has been very kind, I don’t have those experiences there either. I can learn eighteen fight songs (even if I’ve forgotten half of them), I can have the football tickets, but I can never be from there or claim it as my own any more than I could dress up as a Jersey cow and give milk.

Then, on the other side, there stands the sine qua non of that elitism and general assholery, the wellspring of everything wrong and bad and toxic in Silly Con Valley, a place I am catastrophically and painfully bound to and unable to escape from –  I hate it here, I will never be able to claim it as my own even if I wanted to, and I can’t fathom ever wanting to. And yet,coupled with that is the uncomfortable awareness that were I in Nashville and not an alum, I might just feel exactly the same way about Vanderbilt.

So what I’m left with is a void. So much of how we define ourselves comes from our accomplishments or our associations – and that seven-year hole in the past leaves me without the memories I wish I had. It makes me almost think that I need some sort of process with electroshock and MDMA and extreme cognitive behavioral therapy that will implant some kind of replacement memories – or else burn it all the way out of my mind and establish a permanent Somebody Else’s Problem Field around 1990-97 so I can’t think of it or care about it.

Or maybe what I really need is a fictional alma mater. Not like the two (yes, two) I invented during my undergraduate days as a distraction from the ponderous real, but something in common with other people, secure in the knowledge that because it’s fictional, nobody actually could go there, so my claim on it is as solid and respectable and valid as anyone else’s.

Maybe it’s all in on Ravenclaw.

Things I Learned On This Trip

* I really don’t need my public-facing Twitter accounts. I have a handful of Internet friends to keep up with plus actual people I know in reality, and they are all covered under my private Twitter, so the public-facing ones can go scratch esp. with the coming of football and the homestretch of the worst election ever. 

* I didn’t miss the Apple Watch once. Right now it’s so sluggish and unreliable that you’re better off with a fitness tracker that can scoop notifications – and those cost half the price. So much of what the watch was meant to do is handled by the newest phones, including lift-to-see-notifications and much MUCH more accurate text dictation and speech command. More and more the Apple Watch seems to be just an extra-posh Fitbit. 

* In the U.K., you don’t much need to have your passport on you and you can use Apple Pay off the phone at fully 75% of vendors. (Including the Tube.) And the chip card works just as fast as the swipe in the US, which proves where the problem is. 

* Half pints are brilliant. Best bitter at only 4% ABV is also brilliant. A public house around every second corner you pass is awesome. There’s always somewhere you can go and have a quick one. 

* A heat wave in the UK leaves me no less bitchy and irritable than one here in the Pacific Empire.

* I will probably never come to grips with The College Thing.

No Future 2016

In a move that should surprise precisely no one, Donald Trump is on this third showrunner of 2016. By naming the editor of a famously bigoted and wildly inaccurate website to the post of campaign manager, Trump is nailing his colors to the mast. This is not a shuck, this is not a gimmick, this is who he is and these are who his fans and supporters are. It’s the distilled essence of what the GOP has been running on and refining itself into for decades: white, rural, aging, male, uninformed, and hardly enlightened on race or gender. From Gerald Ford who supported the ERA, to Ronald Reagan who was willing to regularize the status of illegal immigrants, to George W. Bush who actively pushed for immigration reform and a GOP outreach to Latino voters, we’ve come around to “build the wall and Trump the bitch” as the whole of the Republican platform.

I have exactly zero sympathy. I’ve limned in excruciating detail before how the Republican party got itself into this situation, how they built their base in talk-radio listeners and message-board trolls, and they are hopefully getting what they deserve in November.  My problem is with what happens afterward. Michelle Cottle has already explained it, in the Atlantic, but it’s worth paying attention to:

Nothing is getting any better.

There’s not going to be any remaking of the GOP. A bad enough blowout, with Trump going his own way, will allow GOP leadership to shrug and dismiss it as a one-time fluke event – and in the meantime, they’ll gladly pull on the same ideas and memes and sloganeering for 2018 and 2020. If the money’s in the chase, then this is a golden opportunity to cash in by weaponizing twenty-five years of anti-Clinton conspiracy theory and propaganda. Get ready for at least four full years of nonstop hearings, impeachment demands, and media caterwauling that will make the entire birtherism debacle a longed-for memory.  After all, Trump won’t have anything else to do with his time other than to use his new-best-friend media outlet to keep peddling his “stabbed in the back” routine to the halfwits and race-baiters who got him to the nomination in the first place.

It may sound harsh and cruel and partisan, but at the federal level it is a fact and it is indisputable: Democrats now govern and Republicans stand back and throw shit. It has not changed in the eight years of the Obama administration, and it will not change one whit under Hillary Clinton, and it will not change until the Republican party ceases to function as currently constituted. It’s a teardown, but it’s going to do its best to tear the country down first.


A side note about packing. This time, instead of the Ecco shoes I bought for the honeymoon and repurposed in 2010, I’m wearing the Clarks loafers I bought back when Valley Fair was an interesting visit on my spring break away from DC. I would have taken them in 2005, but I couldn’t find them and thought I’d donated them. Instead, they’ll be the only shoes I take, because I’m planning on loading the suitcase with others. Not like Japan, when I brought a second pair of shoes just for the sake of a change (wearing those same Eccos for two weeks in 2010 was nightmarish down the stretch). I think a comfortable pair of slip-on shoes that don’t even necessarily require socks will cover me for a week.

No, the interesting thing to me is the phone. Like Japan, I’m only taking the iPhone and the Kindle. No Apple Watch, no Pebble, no iPad, and – surprisingly – no Moto X. I genuinely thought it would be the travel phone when I bought it, but travel didn’t work out quite like I expected, and if I’m going abroad I need the best possible camera I can have in a device. Unlike Japan, though, this time we have the opportunity to get actual SIM cards instead of a shared wireless hotspot, and we’ll each have something like 12 GB of LTE data to get through in a week for less money than most prepaid services in the US that offer less than half the data.

I’m taking the Kindle, of course – largely to see if the much-vaunted free lifetime 3G actually works the way I was promised all those years ago, but also to spare the iPhone battery on the flight over and have a reading option that doesn’t have to be flicked every 100 words the way the 4-inch iPhone SE screen does. But the daily loadout will be just the iPhone SE, the earbuds, and a lipstick charger – no Bluetooth headphones, no smart watch, nothing to require Bluetooth to stay on or prevent leaving the phone in low power mode the whole day, and we’ll see how that works out. I suspect pretty damn good.

Not only did I think I would take the Moto X on some notional future trip, I thought I would take the iPad mini – light, unlocked, data-able and virtually a full laptop replacement for me now. But in August, with no jacket, it’s too much to carry. I won’t need a bag at all during the day, I won’t want a bag at a soccer match or on the Tube or in the hustle and bustle of the CIty and the markets and just running through the streets with my sweetie the way I’ve wanted to for years. Just a phone in my pocket, and we’ve reached the point where that’s plenty.

it’s been way too long. I’m ready to go.


That number is following me lately. The old highway I grew up on, California as the 31st state, and Vandy’s Festus Ezili wearing 31 with the Warriors until they decided they could use a mop bucket at the 5 instead. And now, the games of the XXXI Olympiad, happening in Rio after years of drama and malfeasant planning and God knows what else.

It’s a marker. 12 years since I got here. I watched the Athens olympics in my sister-in-law’s house. They don’t own it anymore because they’re divorced. I saw commercials for and coveted the new 3G phones AT&T was advertising – but they got eaten by Cingular, which took their name and promptly kicked the can 2 years down the road on 3G. And I lusted after that Nokia 6620, a Symbian Series 60 smartphone from the leading manufacturer with EDGE speed…and now I have the long-desired iPhone SE, personally owned and never locked, and ready to go abroad at the end of the week…to London, ironically the last home of the summer games.

A lot of time gone by. A lot of years under the bridge. I’ve been here longer than Nashville and Arlington put together, even if I still emotionally identify at some level with the DMV – although I hear it’s changed a lot and not for the better, and that my old stomping grounds are a lot more like what I don’t like about here than what they were when I was walking from Glebe and taking the Orange Line from Virginia Square. The Vanderbilt phase that started ten years ago seems to be coming to a conclusion – I was looking for a Premier League team to call my own in 2006 and instead I wound up reclaiming Vandy just in time for baseball to become a big deal and for football to hit its highest point in decades. But now, going to Vanderbilt events in San Francisco means a bunch of folks ten or twelve years younger than me at least, without the commonality of shared experience because I was in grad school all those years ago instead of the typical undergrad Vanderbilt four years.

London will also be strange – haven’t been in six years, since before the family meltdown and before the job turned to shit and before I turned forty and watched my body and mind and soul do like the car at the end of The Blues Brothers. This isn’t a tourist excursion, we won’t be queueing for the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace or the London Eye – it’s about boots in Camden Market and a canal boat to Notting Hill and a restaurant in Covent Garden that’s 100% gluten-free everything and no one noticed for months. It’s about a Fulham match at Craven Cottage, years after I kept coming back to them as my Premier League team and years after they crashed right out of the Premier League. It’s about Costa and Pret and Sunday roast at the pub with friends. It’s about a personal Three SIM in my personal iPhone and not having to squat outside a closed shop trying to steal their open wi-fi to update my RSS.

It’s about the most bulletproof way of escaping from an industry and a politics and a place that isn’t particularly pleasant to be around right now. And seeing if it really is what I said six years ago: a place that we may as well just move to if we’re going to keep visiting.