Would they have ever been written at all? Bill Bryson: No, I probably wouldn't have written them any differently. Even though they were written for a British audience in the first instance, I think the observations I make apply universally. Obviously, I was writing about American things, because that was the assignment, but I could have made the same points about any modern culture. Does [Stephen] Katz understand your sense of humor?
Why doesn't anyone understand my sense of humor? Please come visit "behind the Zion curtain" that's Utah, for you Gentiles! Bill Bryson: Yes, the British do seem to understand my sense of humor, bless them. And Stephen Katz not his real name, but very much a real person seemed to appreciate the humor very much as well. Are there any other places here in the U. Thank you. Bill Bryson: I would love to write about lots of places in America. There are still many places I haven't been to. But my big project this year is writing a book about Australia, so I am afraid America will have to wait.
But have you ever considered or attempted writing a novel? Do you think you ever will? Bill Bryson: The main thing that appeals to me about a novel would be not having to leave home. But I have never thought seriously about writing one -- at least not yet. Laura from Indiana: Hi, Mr. Has your friend Simon talked you into any more projects? By the way, I know where a Burma Shave sign is! Bill Bryson: I've given Simon an agreement in principle to write some more stuff for him next year.
Where's the Burma Shave sign? I'd love to see it. Joy Mansinha from jmansinha nypl. I can't wait to read it. More than that, I would love to be your traveling companion on this trip! That book helped me to survive a very lonely Christmas in Ottawa. If you are planning to be in NYC, I would love to meet you to have a coffee!
By the way, I have been in Hanover; it reminded very much of the country I grew up in, Canada. Bill Bryson: I'm afraid I have no plans, at this stage, to be in India any time soon, but I would love very much to go one day. Thank you very much for the kind words. I'm glad you found my book useful. Patti from Cobb County, GA: For all the writing you do about folks you meet during trips, has it become a problem that these people you now meet know you and your writing and sort of "ham it up" for you?
Bill Bryson: No, thank goodness. The only times I've been recognized were a couple of occasions recently in Australia by British vacationers. I made a television series in the UK last year, and they recognized me from that. But otherwise, I've never been recognized by anyone, anywhere, while gathering material for a book. Laura from varnavis bellatlantic. Bill Bryson: It made it much, much busier! Prion8 from Los Angeles: Hi, Bill. How are you? Keep them coming.
Bill Bryson: Thank you very much. I can't afford to stop -- I've got two kids in college! Bill Bryson: In a lot of ways. Also, I've mellowed considerably! Tim from Hartford, CT: What are your three favorite cities in the world? Just a curious fan Bubba from Vermont: You grew up in America, so I imagine your early writing style originated here.
But having spent so much time abroad, would you say your writing style has become British? Now that you're back here, how would you describe it? Bill Bryson: I'm not consciously aware of any particular geographical leanings in my writing, but obviously I must have been influenced by the fact that I've spent roughly one half of my life in America and one half in Britain. Moderator: Do you have any books you've been saving up to read this summer? I haven't even looked at it yet, but somebody told me it's really, really good. Stan from New York: Hi, Mr.
Bryson, I'm a big fan of your work and would like to ask if you feel that you've ever gone too far with your humor -- if you think you've ever crossed the line from humorous to hurtful. I have to admit that I found that passage a bit over the top and even a bit malicious, compared to most of your work, and I wonder if that passage or anything else you've written ever caused you any regret. Bill Bryson: The danger with humor is that you always run the risk of pushing it too far. I'm sure I've done that lots of times, possibly even with the family you refer to but they did take the last dessert.
Bill Bryson: As a matter of fact, I do. Sometimes when things aren't going well, I'll go for a walk in the woods near where we live, and that always helps. Keith Lawson from Cyprus: Bill, thanks for excellent reads, but where do you get your route directions from? I may be living in Cyprus, but I'm from another small island. Bill Bryson: [ laughs ] Can you repeat that in much more detail? Laura from Indiana: Hi again. The Burma Shave sign is by a little town in Indiana.
I thought it was funny, so I took some pictures. Bill Bryson: Thank you, but I could do with a tiny bit more guidance. American contemporaries?
I'm a Stranger Here Myself (Mark Nadler) - yorktheatrecompany
How do our current tastes differ? Bill Bryson: I don't get to read a lot for pleasure, because so much of the reading I do is connected with work. But my favorite of all these days is the Irishman Patrick O'Brian. Philip from Denver, CO: Why do you think so many Americans believe they have been abducted by aliens? And more importantly, do you believe these accounts to be true? Bill Bryson: [ laughs ] I have no idea, and no. Ty Pennington from Indiana: When you were returning to America, did you consider settling anywhere other than where you live right now?
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Bill Bryson: Yes, we thought about lots of possibilities and decided more or less arbitrarily on New England, because it's a nice region, it's a beautiful area, it has a good choice of attractive communities, and because we decided that we wanted four seasons. Moderator: Thank you, Bill Bryson! Before you leave, do you have any closing comments for the online audience? Bill Bryson: Thank you very much for tuning in and for reading my books.
It's been a pleasure. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. About the Author. Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Hometown: Hanover, New Hampshire. Date of Birth: Place of Birth: Des Moines, Iowa. Education: B.
Read an Excerpt Mail Call One of the pleasures of living in a small, old-fashioned New England town is that it generally includes a small, old-fashioned post office. Show More. Table of Contents Introduction xi 1. Coming Home 1 2. Mail Call 5 3. Drug Culture 9 4. What's Cooking? Rule Number 1: Follow All Rules 20 7. Take Mc Out to the Ballpark 24 8. A Visit to the Barbershop 31 On the Hotline 35 Design Flaws 39 Room Service 43 Consuming Pleasures 47 The Numbers Game 51 Junk-Food Heaven 55 How to Have Fun at Home 59 Tales of the North Woods 63 The Cupholder Revolution 69 Number, Please 73 Friendly People 77 Why Everyone Is Worried 81 The Risk Factor 85 The War on Drugs 89 Dying Accents 93 Inefficiency Report 97 Why No One Walks Wide-Open Spaces I know them as rawl plugs.
All this was a shock to me. Although I was always very happy in Britain, I never stopped thinking of America as home, in the fundamental sense of the term. It was where I came from, what I really understood, the base against which all else was measured. In a funny way nothing makes you feel more like a native of your own country than to live where nearly everyone is not. For twenty years, being an American was my defining quality. It was how I was identified, differentiated. I even got a job on the strength of it once when, in a moment of youthful audacity, I asserted to a managing editor of the London Times that I would be the only person on his staff who could reliably spell Cincinnati.
And it was so. Happily, there is a flipside to this. The many good things about America also took on a bewitching air of novelty. I was as dazzled as any newcomer by the famous ease and convenience of daily life, the giddying abundance of absolutely everything, the boundless friendliness of strangers, the wondrous unfillable vastness of an American basement, the delight of encountering waitresses and other service providers who actually seemed to enjoy their work, the curiously giddy-ing notion that ice is not a luxury item and that rooms can have more than one electrical socket.
As well, there has been the constant, unexpected joy of reencountering all those things I grew up with but had largely forgotten: baseball on the radio, the deeply satisfying whoing-bang slam of a screen door in summer, insects that glow, sudden run-for-your-life thunderstorms, really big snowfalls, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, the smell of a skunk from just the distance that you have to sniff the air quizzically and say: "Is that a skunk? All that counts for a lot, in a strange way.
So, on balance, I was wrong. You can go home again. Just bring extra money for road maps and remember to ask for spackle. Ours is particularly agreeable. It's in an attractive Federal-style brick building, confident but not flashy, that looks like a post office ought to.
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It even smells nice-a combination of gum adhesive and old central heating turned up a little too high. The counter employees are always cheerful, helpful and efficient, and pleased to give you an extra piece of tape if it looks as if your envelope flap might peel open. Moreover, post offices here by and large deal only with postal matters. They don't concern themselves with pension payments, car tax, TV licenses, lottery tickets, savings accounts, or any of the hundred and one other things that make a visit to any British post office such a popular, all-day event and provide a fulfilling and reliable diversion for chatty people who enjoy nothing so much as a good long hunt in their purses and handbags for exact change.
Here there are never any long lines and you are in and out in minutes. Ours was yesterday. I had never heard of this engaging custom, but I was taken with it immediately. The employees had hung up banners, put out a long table with a nice checkered cloth, and laid on a generous spread of doughnuts, pastries, and hot coffee-all of it free.
After twenty years in Britain, this seemed a delightfully improbable notion, the idea of a faceless government bureaucracy thanking me and my fellow townspeople for our patronage, but I was impressed and grateful-and, I must say, it was good to be reminded that postal employees are not just mindless automatons who spend their days mangling letters and whimsically sending my royalty checks to a guy in 3 Vermont named Bill Bubba but rather are dedicated, highly trained individuals who spend their days mangling letters and sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba.
Anyway, I was won over utterly. Now I would hate for you to think that my loyalty with respect to postal delivery systems can be cheaply bought with a chocolate twirl doughnut and a Styrofoam cup of coffee, but in fact it can. Much as I admire Britain's Royal Mail, it has never once offered me a morning snack, so I have to tell you that as I strolled home from my errand, wiping crumbs from my. Postal Service in particular were pretty incomparably favorable. But, as nearly always with government services, it couldn't last.
When I got home, the day's mail was on the mat. There among the usual copious invitations to acquire new credit cards, save a rain forest, become a life member of the National Incontinence Foundation, add my name for a small fee to the Who's Who of People Named Bill in New England, help the National Rifle Association with its Arm-a-Toddler campaign, and the scores of other unsought inducements, special offers, and solicitations that arrive each day at every American home-well, there among this mass was a forlorn and mangled letter that I had sent forty-one days earlier to a friend in California care of his place of employment and that was now being returned to me marked "Insufficient Address-Get Real and Try Again" or words to that effect.
At the sight of this I issued a small, despairing sigh, and not merely because I had just sold the U. Postal Service my soul for a doughnut. It happens that I had recently read an article on wordplay in the Smithsonian magazine in which the author asserted that some puckish soul had once sent a letter addressed, with playful ambiguity, to HILL JOHN MASS and it had gotten there after the postal authorities had worked out that it was to be read as "John Underbill, Andover, Mass.
It's a nice story, and I would truly like to believe it, but the fate of my letter to California seemed to suggest a need for caution with regard to the postal service and its sleuthing abilities. I appreciate that that is not a complete address, but it is a lot more explicit than "Hill John Mass" and anyway Black Oak Books is a Berkeley institution. Anyone who knows the city-and I had assumed in my quaintly naive way that that would include Berkeley postal authorities-would know Black Oak Books. But 5. Goodness knows, incidentally, what my letter had been doing'm California for nearly six weeks, though it came back with a nice tan and an urge to get in touch with its inner feelings.
Now just to give this plaintive tale a little heartwarming perspective, let me tell you that not long before I departed from England, the Royal Mail had brought me, within forty-eight hours of its posting in London, a letter addressed to "Bill Bryson, Writer, Yorkshire Dales," which is a pretty impressive bit of sleuthing. And never mind that the correspondent was a trifle off his head. So here I am, my affections torn between a postal service that never feeds me but can tackle a challenge and one that gives me free tape and prompt service but won't help me out when I can't remember a street name.
The lesson to draw from this, of course, is that when you move from one country to another you have to accept that there are some things that are better and some things that are worse, and there is nothing you can do about it. That may not be the profoundest of insights to take away from a morning's outing, but I did get a free doughnut as well, so on balance I guess I'm happy. Now if you will excuse me I have to drive to Vermont and collect some mail from a Mr.
Some months after this piece was written, I received a letter from England addressed to "Mr. My congratulations to the U. Postal Service for an unassailable triumph. I miss coming in from the pub about midnight in a blurry frame of mind and watching Open University on TV. Now Open University, I should perhaps explain, is a wonderful, wholly commendable institution the British set up some years ago to provide the chance of a college education to anyone who wants it. Coursework is done partly at home, partly on campuses, and partly through lectures broadcast on televi-sion, mostly at odd hours like very early on a Sunday morning or late at night when normal programming has finished.
The television lectures, which nearly all appear to have been filmed in the early s, typically involve a geeky-looking academic with lively hair and a curiously misguided dress sense even by the accommodating standards of that hallucinogenic age standing before a blackboard, with perhaps a large plastic model of a molecule on a table in front of him, saying something totally incomprehensible like: "However, according to Mersault's theorem, if we apply a small positive charge to the neutrino, the two free isotopes will be thrown into a reverse gradient orbit, while the captive positive becomes a negative positron, and vice versa, as we can see in this formula.
The reason that Open University lectures traditionally are so popular with postpub crowds is not because they are interesting, which patently they are not, but because for a long time they were the only thing on British TV after midnight. H episodes, and a small selection of movies on the premium movie channels mainly involving nubile actresses disporting in the altogether. All of which is diverting enough in its way, I grant you, but it doesn't begin to compare with the hypnotic fascination of Open University after six pints of beer.
I am quite serious about this. I'm not at all sure why, but I always found it strangely com pelling to turn on the TV late at night and find a guy who looked as if he had bought all the clothes he would ever need during one shopping trip in so that, presumably, he would be free to spend the rest of his waking hours around oscilloscopes saying in an oddly characterless voice, "And so we can see, adding two fixed-end solutions gives us another fixed-end solution.
I'm thinking of an unexpectedly diverting lecture I chanced upon some years ago for people working toward a degree in marketing. The lecture compared the selling of proprietary healthcare products in Britain and the United States. The gist of the program was that the same product had to be sold in entirely different ways in the two markets.
An advertisement in Britain for a cold relief capsule, for instance, would promise no more than that it might make you feel a little better. You would still have a red nose and be in your pajamas, but you would be smiling again, if wanly. A commercial for the selfsame product in America, however, would guarantee total, instantaneous relief.
A person on the American side of the Atlantic who took this miracle compound would not only throw off his pj's and get back to work at once, he would feel better than he had for years and finish the day having the time of his life at a bowling alley. The drift of all this was that the British don't expect over-the-counter drugs to change their lives, whereas we Americans will settle for nothing less. The passing of the years has not, it appears, dulled the notion. Even our household shampoo, I notice, promises to "change the way you feel.
We expend huge efforts exhorting ourselves to "Say No to Drugs," then go to the drugstore and buy them by the armloads. In one commercial running on television at the moment, a pleasant-looking middle-aged lady turns to the camera and says in a candid tone: "When I get diarrhea I like a little com fort" to which I always say: "Why wait for diarrhea?
In another, a man at a bowling alley men are pretty generally at bowling alleys in these things grimaces after a poor shot and mutters to his partner, "It's these hemorrhoids again. The buddy has some hemor-rhoid cream in his pocket! Not in his gym bag, you understand, not in the glove compartment of his car, but in his shirt pocket, where he can whip it out at a moment's notice and call the gang around. But the really amazing change that occurred while I was away is that now even prescription drugs are advertised. I have before me a popular magazine called Health that is chock full of ads with bold headlines saying things like "Why take two tablets when you can take one?
Prempro is the only prescription tablet that combines Premarin and a progestin in one tablet. A third goes straight to the economic heart of the matter and declares, "The doctor told me I'd probably be taking blood pressure pills for the rest of my life. It seems a curious concept to me, the idea of magazine readers deciding what medications are best for them, but then Americans appear to know a great deal about drugs. Nearly all the advertisements assume an impressively high level of biochemical familiarity.
The vaginal yeast ad confidently assures the reader that Diflucan is "comparable to seven days of Monistat. I don't know whether this national obsession with health is actually worth it. What I do know is that there is a much more agreeable way to achieve perfect inner harmony. Drink six pints of beer and watch Open University for ninety minutes before retiring. It has never failed me. Going to a restaurant is generally a discouraging experience for me because I always manage somehow to antagonize the waitress. This, of course, is something you never want to do because waitresses are among the relatively small group of people who have the opportunity to sabotage items that you will shortly be putting into your mouth.
My particular problem is being unable to take in all the food options that are presented to me. If you order, say, a salad, the waitress reels off sixteen dressings, and I am not quick enough to take in that many concepts at once. This time I listen with the greatest gravity and attentiveness, nodding at each, and then unfailingly I choose one that she didn't mention. I can't possibly ask her to recite the list again, so I ask for the only one I can remember, which I am able to remember only because it sounded so awful-Gruyere and goat's milk vinaigrette or something.
Find a copy in the library
Lately I have hit on the expedient of saying: "I'll have whichever one is pink and doesn't smell like the bottom of a gym bag. In fancy restaurants it is even worse because the server has to take you through the evening's specials, which are described with a sumptuousness and panache that are seldom less than breathtaking and always incomprehensible. My wife and I went to a fancy restaurant in Vermont for our anniversary the other week and I swear I didn't understand a single thing the waiter described to us. This is baked in an inverted Prussian helmet for seventeen minutes and four seconds precisely, then layered with steamed wattle and woozle leaves.
Very delicious; very audacious. We are also offering this evening a double rack of Rio Rocho cutlets, tenderized at your table by our own flamenco dancers, then baked in a clay dong for twenty-seven minutes under a lattice of guava peel and sun-ripened stucco.
For vegetarians this evening we have a medley of forest floor sweetmeats gathered from our very own woodland dell My wife, who is more sophisticated than I, is not fazed by the ornate terminology. Her problem is trying to keep straight the bewilderment of options. She will listen carefully, then say: "I'm sorry, is it the squib that's pan-seared and presented on a bed of organic spoletto? Now all this is of particular moment to me because I have just been reading the excellent Diversity of Life by the eminent Harvard naturalist Edward O. Wilson, in which he makes the startling and discordant assertion that the foods we in the Western world eat actually are not very adventurous at all.
Wilson notes that of the thirty thousand species of edible plants on earth, only about twenty are eaten in any quantity. Of these, three species alone-wheat, corn, and rice-account for over half of what the temperate world shovels into its collective gullet. Of the three thousand fruits known to botany, all but about two dozen are essentially ignored. The situation with vegetables is a little better, but only a little. And why do we eat the few meager foods we do? Because, according to Wilson, those were the foods that were cultivated by our neolithic ancestors ten thousand or so years ago when they first got the hang of agriculture.
The very same is true of husbandry. The animals we raise for food today are not eaten because they are especially nutritious or delectable but because they were the ones first domesticated in the Stone Age. In other words, in dietary terms we are veritable troglodytes which, speaking personally, is all right 9. I think this explains a lot, not least my expanding sense of dismay as the waiter bombarded us with ecstatic descriptions of roulades, ratatouilles, empanadas, langostinos, tagliolinis, con-fits, filos, quenelles, and goodness knows what else.
He gave a stiff nod. We can offer you a ounce supreme de boeuf, incised by our own butcher from the fore flank of a corn-fed Holstein raised on our own Montana ranch, then slow-grilled over palmetto and buffalo chips at a temperature of It was all becoming clear now. There was real food to be had here if you just knew the lingo. He clicked his heels and withdrew. I may not know much about food, but I am certain of this: If there is one thing you.
Here's a fact for you: According to the latest Statistical Abstract of the United States, every year more than , Americans suffer injuries involving beds, mattresses, or pillows. Think about that for a minute. That is almost 2, bed, mattress, or pillow injuries a day. In the time it takes you to read this article, four of my fellow citizens will somehow manage to be wounded by their bedding. My point in raising this is not to suggest that we are somehow more inept than the rest of the world when it comes to lying down for the night though clearly there are thousands of us who could do with additional practice , but rather to observe that there is scarcely a statistic to do with this vast and scattered nation that doesn't in some way give one pause.
I had this brought home to me the other day when I was in the local library looking up something else altogether in the aforesaid Abstract and happened across "Table No. Consider this intriguing fact: Almost 50, people in the United States are injured each year by pencils, pens, and other desk accessories. How do they do it? I have spent many long hours seated at desks where I would have greeted almost any kind of injury as a welcome diversion, but never once have I come close to achieving actual bodily harm.
So I ask again: How do they do it? These are, bear in mind, injuries severe enough to warrant a trip to an emergency room. Putting a staple in the tip of your index finger which I have done quite a lot, sometimes only semi-accidentally doesn't count. I am looking around my desk now and unless I put my head in the laser printer or stab myself with the scissors I cannot see a single source of potential harm within ten feet. But then that's the thing about household injuries if Table No. Consider this one. In the latest year for which figures are available more than 8 , people in the United States were injured by chairs, sofas, and sofa beds.
What are we to make of this? Does it tell us something trenchant about the design of modern furniture or merely that we have be-come exceptionally careless sitters? What is certain is that the problem is worsening. The number of chair, sofa, and sofa bed. That may, of course, be the nub of the problem-overconfidence.
Predictably, "stairs, ramps, and landings" was the most lively category, with almost two million startled victims, but in other respects dangerous objects were far more benign than their reputations might lead you to predict. More people were injured by sound-recording equipment 46, than by skateboards 44, , trampolines 43, , or even razors and razor blades 43, A mere 16, overexuberant choppers ended up injured by hatchets and axes, and even saws and chainsaws claimed a relatively modest 38, victims.
Paper money and coins 30, claimed nearly as many victims as did scissors 34, I can just about conceive of how you might swallow a dime and then wish you hadn't " You guys want to see a neat trick? It would be interesting to meet some of these people. I would also welcome a meeting with almost any of the , people injured by ceilings, walls, and inside panels. I can't imagine being hurt by a ceiling and not having a story worth hearing.
Likewise, I could find time for any of the 31, people injured by their "grooming devices. What can they be suffering from? Compound pajama fracture? Sweatpants hematoma? I am powerless to speculate. I have a friend who is an orthopedic surgeon, and he told me the other day that one of the incidental occupational hazards of his job is that you get a skewed sense of everyday risks since you are constantly repairing people who have come a cropper in unlikely and unpredictable ways. Only that day he had treated a man who had had a moose come through the windshield of his car, to the consternation of both.
Suddenly, thanks to Table No. I had heard that it is one of the safest places in America, and indeed the Abstract bore this out. There were just four murders in the state in the latest reporting year-compared with over 23, for the country as a whole-and very little serious crime. All that this means, of course, is that statistically in New Hampshire I am far more likely to be hurt by my ceiling or underpants-to cite just two potentially lethal examples-than by a stranger, and, frankly, I don't find that comforting at all.
I went into one of our local cafes and seated myself without permission. You don't do this in America, but I had just had what seemed like a salient and important thought namely, "There is always a little more, toothpaste in the tube-always. Think about it" and I wanted to jot it down before it left my head. Anyway, the place was practically empty, so I just took a table near the door. After a couple of minutes, the hostess-the Customer Seating Manager-came up to me and said in a level tone, "I see you've seated yourself.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself [From One Touch of Venus]
I have seen the sign from every angle but supine. The point was that I had disregarded a posted notice and would have to serve a small sentence in purgatory in consequence. It would be entirely wrong to say that Americans love rules any more than it would be correct to say that the British love queuing.
These things are done not with enthusiasm or affection but out of a more or less instinctive recognition that these are useful ways of helping to achieve and maintain a civilized and orderly society. Generally this is a very good thing. There are times, I have to say, when a little Teutonic order wouldn't go amiss in England-for instance, when people take two spaces in a parking lot because they can't be bothered to park correctly the one offense for which, if I may speak freely here, I would support capital punishment.
Sometimes, however, the American devotion to order goes too far. Our local public swimming pool, for example, has twenty-seven written rules-twenty-seven! What is frustrating is that it seldom matters whether these rules make any sense or not. A year or so ago, as a way of dealing with the increased threat of terrorism, America's airlines began requiring The first I heard of this was when I showed up to catch a plane at an airport miles from my home.
I don't think I have any," I said and began patting my pockets, as if that would make a difference, and then pulling cards from my wallet. I had all kinds of identification-library card, credit cards, social security card, health insurance card, airline ticket-all with my name on them, but nothing with a picture.
Finally, at the back of the wallet I found an old Iowa driver's license that I had forgotten I even had. I need something more up to date. Finally it occurred to me that I was carrying one of my books with my picture on the jacket. I handed it to him proudly and with some relief. He looked at the book and then hard at me and then at a printed list. It couldn't be more me. They conferred and summoned a third party. Eventually we ended up with a crowd scene involving three check-in clerks, their 10 supervisor, the supervisor's surpervisor, two baggage handlers, several inquisitive bystanders straining to get a better view, and a guy selling jewelry out of an aluminum case.
My flight was due to take off in minutes and froth was starting to form at the corners of my mouth. Do you honestly believe that you are going to thwart a terrorist by requiring him to show you a laminated photograph of himself? Do you think a person who could plan and execute a sophisticated hijacking or other illegal airborne event would be unable to contrive some form of convincing artificial identification? Has it occurred to you that it might be more productive, vis-a-vis terrorism, if you employed someone who was actually awake, and perhaps with an IQ above that of a small mollusk, to monitor the TV screens on your X-ray machines?
But the requirement, you see, is not simply to identify yourself but to identify yourself in a way that precisely matches a written instruction. Anyway, I changed tack and begged. I promised never again to turn up at an airport without adequate ID. I took on an attitude of complete contrition. I don't suppose anyone has ever shown such earnest, remorseful desire to be allowed to proceed to Buffalo. The check-in clerk issued me a boarding pass and I started toward the gate, then turned back, and in a low, confidential tone shared with him a helpful afterthought.
Both are games of great skill involving balls and bats but with this crucial difference: Baseball is. I'm joking, of course. Cricket is a wonderful sport, full of deliciously scattered micromoments of real action. If a doctor ever instructs me to take a complete rest and not get overexcited, I shall become a fan at once.
In the meantime, my heart belongs to baseball. It's what I grew up with, what I played as a boy, and that of course is vital to any meangingful appreciation of a sport. I had this brought home to me many years ago in England when I went out on a soccer ground with a couple of English friends to knock a ball around. I had watched soccer on television and thought I had a fair idea of what was required, so when one of them lofted a ball in my direction, I decided to flick it casually into the net with my head, the way I had seen Kevin Keegan do it on TV.
I thought that it would be like heading a beachball-that there would be a gentle, airy ponk sound and that the ball would lightly leave my brow and drift in a pleasing arc into the net. But of course it was like heading a bowling ball. I have never felt anything so startlingly not like I expected it to feel. I walked around for four hours on wobbly legs with a big red circle and the word "MITRE" imprinted on my forehead and vowed never again to do anything so foolish and painful. I bring this up here because the World Series has just started, and I want you to know why I am very excited about it.
The World Series, I should perhaps explain, is the annual baseball contest between the champion of the American League and the champion of the National League. The trouble with the old way of doing things was that it involved only two teams. Now, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to work out that if you could somehow contrive to include more teams there would be a lot more money in the thing. So each league divided itself into three divisions of four or five teams each.
So now the World Series is not a contest between the two best teams in baseball-at least not necessarily-but rather between the winners of a series of play off games involving the Western, Eastern, and Central divisional champions of each league, plus and this was particuarly inspired, I think a pair of "wild card" teams that didn't win anything at all. It is all immensely complicated, but essentially it means that practically every team in baseball except the Chicago Cubs gets a chance to go to the World Series.
The Chicago Cubs don't get to go because they never manage to qualify even under a system as Often they almost qualify, and sometimes they are in such a commanding position that you cannot believe they won't qualify, but always in the end they doggedly manage to come up short. Whatever it takes-losing seventeen games in a row, letting easy balls go through their legs, crashing comically into each other in the outfield-you can be certain the Cubs will manage it.
They have been doing this, reliably and efficiently, for over half a century. They haven't been in a World Series since Stalin had good years more recently than that. This heartwarming annual failure by the Cubs is almost the only thing in baseball that hasn't changed in my lifetime, and I appreciate that very much. It's not easy being a baseball fan because baseball fans are a hopelessly sentimental bunch, and there is no room for sentiment in something as wildly lucrative as an American sport.
For anyone from outside America, one of the most remarkable aspects of American sports is how casually franchises abandon their loyal fans and move to a new city. In English soccer, it would be unthinkable for, say, Manchester United to move to London or Everton to find a new home in Portsmouth, or anyone to go anywhere really, but here that sort of thing happens all the time, sometimes more than once.
The Braves began life in Boston, then moved to Milwaukee, then moved to Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Major Leagues have repeatedly expanded to where they have reached the point where it is deucedly hard, for me at any rate, to keep track of it all. Of the thirty teams in Major League baseball, just eleven are where they were when I was a kid. There are teams out there now that I know nothing about. Without looking at the standings, I couldn't tell you whether the Arizona Diamondbacks are in the National League or the American League. That's a terrifying confession for someone who loves the game.
Even when teams stay put, they don't actually stay put.
York Theatre Production History
I mean by this that they are constantly tearing down old stadiums to build new ones. Call me eccentric, call me fastidious, but I truly believe that baseball should only be watched in an old stadium. It used to be that every big American city had a venerable ballpark. Generally these were dank and creaky, but they had character. You would get splinters from the seats, the soles of your shoes would congeal to the floor from all the years of sticky stuff that had been spilled during exciting moments, and your view would inevitably be obscured by a cast-iron column supporting the roof.
But that was all part of the glory. I won't say that Fenway's relative nearness was the decisive consideration in our settling in New Hampshire, but it was certainly a factor. Now the owners want to tear it down and build a new stadium. In fairness it must be said that the new ballparks of the s, as opposed to the multipurpose arenas built in the previous thirty years, do strive to keep the character and intimacy of the old ballparks-sometimes even improve on them-but they have one inescapable, irremediable flaw. They are new. They have no history, no connection with a glorious and continuous past.
No matter how scrupulous a new Fenway they 12 build, it won't be the place where Ted Williams batted. It won't make your feet stick. It won't echo in the same way. It won't smell funny. It won't be Fenway. I keep saying that I won't go to the new park when they finally raze Fenway, but I know I'm lying All of which increases my almost boundless respect and admiration for the hapless Chicago Cubs. To their credit, the Cubs have never threatened to leave Chicago and continue to play at Wrigley Field. They even still play mostly day games-the way God intended baseball to be played.
A day game at Wrigley Field is one of the great American experiences. And here's the problem. Nobody deserves to go to the World Series more than the Chicago Cubs. But they can't go because that would spoil their custom of never going. It is an irreconcilable paradox. You see what I mean when I say that it is not easy being a baseball fan?
The other day I called my computer helpline, because I needed to be made to feel ignorant by someone much younger than me, and the boyish-sounding person who answered told me he required the serial number on my com-. This, you see, is why I don't call my computer helpline very often. We haven't been talking four seconds and already I can feel a riptide of ignorance and shame pulling me out into the icy depths of Humiliation Bay.
The upshot is that the serial number for my computer is engraved on a little metal plate on the bottom of the main control box-the one with the CD drawer that is kind of fun to open and shut. Now call me an idealistic fool, but if I were going to put an identifying number on every computer I sold and then require people to regurgitate that number each time they wanted to communicate with me, I don't believe I would put it in a place that required the user to move furniture and get the help of a neighbor each time he wished to consult it.
However, that is not my point. So here is my point: W. If every neutrino in the universe, every particle of matter between here and the farthest wisp of receding Big Bang gas somehow acquired a computer from this company there would still be plenty of spare numbers under such a system.
Intrigued, I began to look at all the numbers in my life, and nearly every one of them was absurdly excessive. My Visa card number, for instance, has thirteen digits. That's enough for almost two trillion potential customers. Who are they trying to kid?
My Budget Rent-a-Car card has no fewer than seventeen digits. Even my local video store appears to have 1. Confidential 'is always out. YGH 00 but also as a member of Group Presumably, then, each group has a person in it with the same number as mine. You can almost imagine us having reunions. Now all this is a long way of getting around to the main point of this discussion, which is that one of the 13 great, great improvements in American life in the last twenty years is the advent of phone numbers that any fool can remember.
A long time ago people realized that you could remember numbers more easily if you relied on the letters rather than the numbers. In my hometown of Des Moines, for instance, if you wanted to call time, the official number was , which of course no one could handily recall. But if you dialed BIG JOHN you got the same number, and everybody could remember BIG JOHN except, curiously, my mother, who was a bit hazy on the Christian name part, and so generally ended up asking the time of complete strangers whom she had just woken, but that's another story.
Not many changes in the past two decades have made life immeasurably better for simple folk like me, but this unquestionably has. Now here is my big idea. I think we should all have one number for everything. Mine naturally would be BILL. This number would do for everything-it would make my phone ring, it would appear on my checks and credit cards, it would adorn my passport, it would get me a video. Of course, it would mean rewriting a lot of computer programs, but I'm sure it could be done. I intend to take it up with my own computer company, just as soon as I can get at that serial number again.
No matter how serene and composed the rest of me is, no matter how grave and formal the situation, my hair is always having a party. In any group photograph you can spot me at once because I am the person at the back whose hair seems to be listening, in some private way, to a disco album called "Dance Graze ' I don't know why, but going to the barber always brings out the wimp in me. There is something about being enshrouded in a cape and having my glasses taken away, then being set about the head with sharp cutting tools, that leaves me feeling helpless and insecure.
I mean, there you are, armless and squinting, and some guy you don't know is doing serious, almost certainly regrettable, things to the top of your head. I must have had haircuts in my life by now, and if there is one thing I have learned it is that a barber will give you the haircut he wants to give you and there is not a thing you can do about it.
So the whole experience is filled with trauma for me. This is particularly so as I always get the barber I was hoping not to get-usually the new guy they call "Thumbs. His hairstyle brings to mind an air-craft carrier advancing through choppy seas, or 14 perhaps an extravagant piece of topiary. He nods thoughtfully, in a way that makes me realize we are not even in the same universe taste-in-hairwise, and says in a sudden, decisive tone: "I know just what you want.
We call it the Wayne Newton. And so I sit for a small, tortured eternity, staring at my lap, under strict instructions not to move, listening to terrifying cutting machinery trundling across my scalp. Out of the corner of my eye I can see large quantities of shorn hair tumbling onto my shoulders. Let me ask you this then: Do you have a big hat? They talk in whispers and look at me the way you might look at a road-accident victim. One of the colleagues comes up for a closer look and decides it's not as disastrous as it looks.
They leave Thumbs to do what he can. After another ten minutes, he hands me my glasses and lets me raise my head. In the mirror I am confronted with an image that brings to mind a lemon meringue pie with ears. Over my shoulder, Thumbs is smiling proudly.
I am unable to speak. I hand him a large sum of money and stumble from the shop. I walk home with my collar up and my head sunk into my shoulders. At the house, my wife takes one look at me. I shrug helplessly. It was a little dispenser of dental floss.