Archive for July, 2009

Presidential Intervention

I’m glad that Obama has stepped into the controversy surrounding Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s arrest.

It would have been easy to stay on the sidelines, and let it be a local issue. Having them both over for a White House picnic on Thursday makes it seem as though everyone is friends.

It’s good to have a president who’s willing to do the right thing, after he waded in with his opinion last week (saying the Cambridge Police Department acted “stupidly.”).

There’s no better way to backtrack than to throw a picnic.

Fancy a boot camp?

Lamb and Flag, St. Christopher's Place, London
Bypassing the pub after work is a feat in London. Crowds spill out onto the streets, sipping pints of beer, smoking cigarettes, chatting and laughing.

This standing-outside-and-drinking phenomenon is most prominent in warm weather, but is still evident in the winter. I have stood outside pubs that were too crowded to offer seats in the dead of winter, clustered around a lit cigarette for warmth.

At a TV company where I worked in London, the pub culture was so ingrained in the work life that the pub across the street was called “Edit 3” (edit rooms 1-2 were inside the building. Chances were that you could find most employees in “Edit 3” after work, during lunch, and at other intervals during the day).

I thought that the Edit 3 code was invented to fool the boss. But no — he too spent many afternoons and evenings in the pub, which one had to walk by in order to leave the office. Usually, it too tempting to pass by: your friends/colleagues sitting (or standing), laughing and drinking their pints.

So I have missed the old beckoning to the pub that I would hear almost every day: “Fancy a pint?” Here in Atlanta, the local custom seems to be catching up over a beating at the gym.

This morning, while enjoying a leisurely workout on an exercise bike, a woman from my book club told me she was headed to a class called “Boot Camp.”

She asked me to join her. “You’ll like it,” she said. “It’s hard.”

Boy was it. It was more than an hour long (the instructor actually moved the hands back on the clock to allow more excruciating minutes of class time), and included sprints, squats, arm curls, lunges, and minutes of pressing against the wall in a sitting position without a chair (but with arm curls, and weights!).

I am now so stiff that I will have to miss my rendez-vous with a preschool mom at 6 tomorrow morning. In my effort to meet people, I told her the prospect of an early morning gym class sounded like great fun. Getting up at 5:30 AM, however, sounds like less fun.

My friends and colleagues in Edit 3 back in London would have been appalled by the suggestion of a dawn class at the gym. In fact, if the pub were still open at 5:30, that’s where they were probably be. And they may not be as fit as my new Atlanta chums, but they’re having a bit more fun.

Arrested for coming home

Henry Louis Gates’ arrest for “breaking in” to his own house doesn’t surprise me at all.

Almost every day, people in our neighborhood call 911 whenever they see someone they don’t recognize on their street. These people include a young man with a lawn mower, asking residents if they need their lawns mowed; a car driving slowly, with people inside it looking at houses on the street (my husband and I did exactly that when we were house hunting); and anyone deemed “suspicious” by the overly alert self-appointed neighborhood watch teams.

So I can see why any man, hurling himself against a door, trying to gain entry, would arouse suspicions. I’m mildly surprised that the neighbor who presumably called the police to report him didn’t recognize Gates. He’s a high profile professor at the world’s most famous university.

But it seems as though anything at all out of the ordinary would prompt a neighborly call to emergency services.

This evening, when I went to pick up a Pottery Barn Kids Critter Chair that a neighbor no longer wanted, I was on my guard. People were staring as I sized up the floppy eared stuffed chair. A woman walking her dog on the other side of the street stared.

I carried the blue puppy shaped chair quickly, waiting for a voice to come through a megaphone, saying: “Drop the critter!”

The neighborhood has gone to the dogs

Over the past few days, I have had some ugly encounters with local dogs.

First, I was growled and barked at by a pit bull, which had been rescued from a shelter by a woman in my book club. Thankfully, he was trapped behind a dog gate, as he snarled, barked and clawed, or I too would have needed to be rescued.

This evening, I watched as a dog relieved himself outside our house (his owner cleaned up after him, but still. Yeesh).

And this morning, yet another angry dog barked and bared his (sharp!) lower teeth at me when I climbed into our car, which was parked outside his owner’s house (the owner — and his leash — were not in sight).

The free roaming angry dog belongs to our friendly neighbors, who had welcomed us to the street by delivering us a casserole in person when we moved in. I wouldn’t feel right bitching about their dog. But that was an unpleasant start to the day.

I wonder what suburban etiquette is when it comes to loose dogs…

Neighborhood Fear Monger

Almost every day, our local parents’ group email blast contains a report from a worried mom who has just called 911 about a “suspicious character.”

Today’s subject of alarm was a man with a lawn mower, walking door to door, asking if people wanted their lawns mowed.

A few days ago, a mother reported a man sitting in a car outside a playground. It didn’t seem as though he was doing anything, but the fact that he didn’t have kids with him prompted the mom to alert the police.

I suppose this level of vigilance should make me feel more comfortable in our new suburban home. But instead, it makes me feel like we’re living in some sort of police state. What if the man with the lawn mower was just a gentleman who was down on his luck, and legitimately wanted to cut grass?

Anyone who looks a bit out of place seems to frighten the locals here. But if you called the police every time you saw someone suspicious in London, you’d be on the phone with them all the time.

When we were living in West London, I regularly saw homeless people in the park, on the street, and outside our building. It never occurred to me to alert the authorities.

If I had, I’m sure they would have demanded why I was wasting their time. I once noticed a homeless person lying down on the sidewalk against the wall on the Strand, not far from the Savoy. I called 999, because I was afraid he was dead.

It turned out he was drunk, and had passed out. No one seemed very pleased with me for my phone call.

So unless someone is actively threatening violence, or has stopped breathing, I wonder why someone would involve the police. Since we’re new in town, I hope no one calls the police, reporting us as strangers they don’t recognize.

With great space comes great responsibility

Now that we have a house, we have a whole new host of worries. In our garage, there is an angry hissing sound from the pipe that carries the main water supply (I know that this is the function it serves because there is a note explaining this fact that is attached to it with a string — otherwise, I would never have guessed).

Who do we call? A plumber? The City of Atlanta water department official? An air conditioner/heating repair person? Will it explode during the night? Or is this hissing sound completely normal?

Strange sounds aren’t our only concern in our second month as house owners. A visit from an exterminator two weeks ago brought up some disturbing revelations.

As I type, my husband is in our garage, cleaning up what may or may not be rat droppings, while wearing several layers of protective clothing (per the suggestion of the exterminator. No one wants another plague).

Apartment life was far simpler. No lawn to mow; weeds to pull; air conditioner to service; rodents to worry about; or dining room to furnish.

The amount of space you have seems to be directly proportional to the number of home-related worries you have.

An ode to our internet radio

Internet RadioI do love our Sangean WiFi Internet Radio. I am listening to President Obama speak in Ghana on the BBC’s World Service. We listen to the BBC’s Five Live football call in show; even obscure local radio stations in the UK.

And we’ve only scratched the surface. We impressed a friend who had just been to Brazil by playing a Brazilian radio station. I can brush up on my French by listening to stations out of Paris.

While it’s not perfect — it goes quiet occasionally, with the signal on the front panel displaying the annoying word: “Buffering.”

But it’s a great connection to the outside world.


A neighbor emailed the local parents’ association recently that her stroller had been stolen. She explained that she immediately called 911. While they arrived on the scene quickly, they missed the thief.

I know from personal experience that it’s rotten to have your stroller stolen (I mean, really. Do these thieves sell them on eBay? Put a puppy in them for a joy ride?) But when I walked out of my daughter’s preschool in London, and I saw an empty space where that stroller had stood just five minutes before, the thought of calling 999 (the British equivalent of 911) never occurred to me.

I assumed that the emergency services would be too busy arresting terrorists; perhaps apprehending drug traffickers; maybe even administering CPR to someone who had had a heart attack.

Calling them about a crime that had already been completed seemed silly.

My assumption proved correct when I called the local police number about an hour after the stroller’s disappearance. An officer gave me a record number for insurance purposes, then said I would hear from someone within the next two days.

Of course, the stroller thief would be long gone by then. A man hunt would be futile. But the prospect of catching anyone wasn’t on the radar of my local West London police officer.

Thefts in London seemed to prompt a big, “Oh well” from cops. During my eight years in London, revelations of my stolen bike; bike wheel; wallet; phone; and stroller met the same sigh and eye roll. I wasn’t sure if the reaction meant, “Ugh, another theft” or “Ugh, another form to fill out.”

Certainly, I was never asked why I hadn’t called 999. In fact, a big sign hanging in our local doctor’s office explained exactly when and why one should call the emergency number (if your car gets stolen — NO! If someone has a heart attack — YES!).

So as unpleasant as my neighbor’s experience was, having her stroller stolen, at least the folks at 911 responded with empathy, an investigation, and even a hope of finding the thief. In London, the police seemed to think it wasn’t worth the effort.

A Taste of Americana

For my first Fourth of July back in the US since 2000, we decided to shop for a grill. Now that we have a backyard, we are told that we will need a gas burning grill — the bigger the better — that we should expect to use three or four times a week.

During a trip to Home Depot, we discovered a dizzying range of prices. We also realized just how seriously people take their grills. When we asked the friendly sales representative whether we should get gas or charcoal, he replied: “Ideally, both!”

When we look surprised, he explained: “No one ever won a cooking contest with a gas grill.”

That might be true, but we hardly aspire to win any contests. Our only goal is to cook outside without burning down the house. The propane tank makes me nervous. All it takes is a wayward match to end our grilling days — and perhaps our house owning days.

I was drawn to the Weber — the Mercedes of grills, according to our sales rep. The cheapest one they stocked cost $400, which was more than we had planned to spend.

But after doing a bit more research, I discovered that many suburbanites, regardless of the size of their house, yard, or income, regularly spend upwards of $500 on grills.

The Weber, apparently, would last for ten years, and beyond. When we explained that we might not last ten years in Atlanta, our sales associate told us we might be find with a Brinkmann, on sale for less than $200.

But the Weber, apparently, is the easiest to use. For two barbeque novices, that might be our best bet.


One positive aspect of the relentless coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is the revival of the moonwalk.
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I can’t imagine how anyone could do that. What a fantastic dancer.