Saturday, December 14, 2013


After visiting a friend one evening in the East Village, I stopped by a restaurant and sat at the bar to order a solo meal and read my book. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an attractive young lad looking at me intently. Eventually, I glanced in his direction and he came over to talk. Immediately, I noticed his very strong London accent, and I thought what I thought about that.

"Are you enjoying the music?" he asked, smiling.

"I guess," I replied. "Mostly just trying to read."

"How," he asked, "can you read while the Beatles are playing?"

"Oh, I'm not a tremendous fan of the Beatles, although I do like 'Paperback Writer.'"

"What?!" He seemed incredulous. "Well, can you at least admit that British music is the best? British everything is the best. I mean, the Beatles! The Rolling Stones!"

"Well," I replied sensibly, "there would have been no Rollings Stones without Muddy Waters, and there would have been no Beatles without Chuck Berry. I can appreciate that the Rolling Stones mixed elements of American blues music with elements of American rock 'n' roll and got some interesting songs out of it, but I'd say that their music was a synthesis of what other people had already created."

The cute London man glared at me with great pathos.

"Why," he asked, "are you so anti-British?"

"I'm from Antigua," I replied.

"Oh!" He brightened. "Do you know who the greatest Antiguan ever was?"

"J. Rowan Henry," I said.


I began to describe some of my late father's activism as head of the Labour movement in Antigua, activism that eventually led to Antigua's independence from Britain and would have meant he would have been overwhelmingly elected as its first President. Until, of course, his untimely demise ...

"Oh, no," he said, dismissively. "The greatest Antiguan is Viv Richards," and then he walked back over to chat with his friend.

I sort of smiled at this exchange, but I gamely googled Viv Richards and saw that he was a cricket player. Immediately realizing that the London fellow was insane, I literally picked up my plate and walked to the other end of the bar, completely out of sight of the young man. But about five minutes later, he found me.

"Did you google Viv Richards?"

"Yes. That's why I moved over here."

"Oh, why, because he was an athlete?"

"I suppose."

He snorted with disgust and left me again. I hurriedly paid for my dinner and left the restaurant. Unfortunately, he was outside smoking with his friend.

"You," he said. "What do you have against the British?"

"Um, because they're usually people like you. People who have never even visited Antigua, but who try to tell me who the greatest Antiguan was. I was born there. My family lives there. I've read dozens of books about the island. And I'm certainly..." (here's where I jumped the shark!) "...not going to stand here and listen to some youth of a country that oppressed my ancestors..."

"You know what?" he said. "Fuck you! Just ... just fuck you!"

I was going to say, Ah, some of that legendary British wit! But I wisely kept my own counsel, especially since his friend had at that point had to restrain him from physically attacking me. I walked home, burning with the shame of letting some drunkard get me angry.

In my adulthood, I've had to do serious work around my prejudice against British people, along with people of other ... groups. A sane person shouldn't be prejudiced against anyone - or, at least, they should not reveal their own stupidity by discussing it in public. Two of my own authors, the amazing Caitlin Moran and Simon Van Booy, have taught me that British people can be cool, and kind, and down-to-earth, and incredibly smart. (Smarter - shocker! - than even me). It's a wonder it took me so long to learn such an obvious, elementary lesson: all people from a country do not act the same. Why did I spew such vitriol against this dolt?

In my adulthood, my anger towards the British led me to eschew certain fashion labels. I turned up my nose at Penguin, at Paul Smith, at Burton. I made an exception for Burberry in the 90s because I was highly amused by how American rappers had appropriated the brand as a symbol of excess. They lampooned it, even though the joke quickly became real and now, I think, that joke is on the young people of today, who listen to this materialistic music and grow angry that they do not have Louboutins and Cristal. I love the semiotics of clothing choices.

Long story short: I saw these briefs on a model on L'Internet. They're from Lonsdale, a British sporting goods company. So I ordered them and they arrived looking, ahem, a little skimpier than they were depicted on the site. No matter! I made my 30 euro purchase, and now that night, that unfortunate blip on my evolution towards enlightenment, has been absolved. Observe! The power of fashion. 

Toggle coat

I went to 192 Books to hear a reading by Hilton Als, one of my new favorite writers. I had interviewed him over the phone a few weeks before for, and I had asked him some pretty semi-intense questions and was satisfied with the outcome. His collection White Girls is a book of essays - supposedly non-fiction - but it was clear to me that he bent the truth a little bit in some of them, quite purposefully. I was fascinated to read these essays, and they made me wonder why my own non-fiction is so rigidly literal. The questions I asked him in the interview were meant to explore the idea of fiction/non-fiction - and they were also meant to provoke Hilton a little bit, just as his essays are meant to provoke the reader. I think I succeeded.

I used to bend the truth quite a bit, as a child. My lying to my family got so bad that they eventually learned to assume everything I said was a lie. There was, I found, a certain joyless freedom in that. And then there was my experiment with telling only the truth, somewhere between my senior year in high school and my first year of college. Needless to say, neither phase won me many admirers. Even today, certain people see me as being a little too blunt at times, mostly people at work. Ah, but, certain people, I am merely a harmless eccentric ...

I predict that my next few non-fiction pieces will stretch the truth a bit. Okay, my next two pieces. Here I am with Hilton, wearing some sort of toggle coat from Cole Haan and a button up shirt from Shirts by AG. What a glassy, somewhat sinister look my eyes have in this photo. I am going to assume that's because of the flash. Hilton is looking askance in the picture, as if to imply a sense of wariness with me standing a little behind him. You have nothing to fear from me, Hilton Als! I am merely a harmless eccentric ...