London dislikes me. I do mean London, the city in England, not some toddler with a bizarre New Age name. It harbors some kind of resentment that I can’t pinpoint. Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I suspect London doesn’t care for me and would prefer some other visitor. A thinner, smarter visitor with whiter teeth, not that its own residents are renowned for their dental work. See, the first time I was there I came disastrously close to being struck by a taxi. I stepped off a sidewalk, looking down the street in the direction cars would be approaching in America, when I felt an onslaught of steamy air against my backside and heard the grinding of brakes in my ears. I snapped my head around just in time to put my hands, defensively, upon the hood of an oncoming taxi.
Then there were the occasions that food nearly killed me in London. When I went to visit my cousin, who was studying there, I had my first tango with Indian food. I was young and unadventurous when it came to worldly cuisine. The korma, the saag, the naan, the paratha. It lit up my palette and made tastebuds that had never before been activated spring to attention. And it was so cheap, a multi-course meal had for a Bollywood song. Following the meal, during the first act of Les Miserables in the famed West End, my digestive system issued that first gastrointestinal warning shot. A slick of sweat covered my forehead moments later sending me fumbling frantically down a cramped aisle, praying my bowels wouldn’t release upon the knees of my fellow theatergoers. Between wondering if little Cosette could scrub her mop and bucket on over to the bathroom and hallucinations of the Beatles dancing through a rainbow of peace signs in my consciousness, I vowed to remain on the straight and narrow of ethnic cuisine for the balance of the trip.
This meant resorting to baguette sandwiches with no mayonnaise at every meal. But in the UK, there is little else more difficult than procuring something without mayonnaise. I could have more easily become the Prime Minister of England irrespective of being an American who can’t identify Simon Cowell in a lineup. After two weeks of ordering my sandwich sans mayonnaise, receiving it slathered with mayonnaise, sheepishly requesting a new sandwich again without mayonnaise but now in a British lilt with the vain hope of surmounting an accent barrier, finally scraping the mayonnaise off the bread of the new sandwich, I had exhausted my patience vis a vis condiments. I called the waiter over to bear witness to my second mayonnaise-coated sandwich. I expected him to seize the plate and offer a sincere and foppish apology, like Hugh Grant would have, but instead he groaned with irritation and said, “Is it really important to you, love?” I’ll spare you the transcript of the exchange that followed, suffice it to say that the word ‘wanker’ escaped my lips numerous times and mostly out of context until I was escorted off the premises.
After the unsubtle messages London has sent me over the years, I should not have been surprised when a terrorist attack was executed as G and I arrived across the pond. Homemade bombs packed into rucksacks detonated aboard public transit systems in staggering succession while we rode the Underground in blithe oblivion. I was utterly unaware of the tragedy that had befallen London because I was completely absorbed in the fallout of the other explosion rocking the city: Jude Law had been cheating on Sienna Miller with the nanny. Accustomed only to the invasiveness of American celebrity press, I reveled in the British no holds barred slander of their media darling. As G marveled at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, I was clucking my tongue at OK Magazine’s reporting that the home wrecking nanny was at least 3 stone heavier than Sienna Miller. G snidely pointed out that I hadn’t any clue of the unit of weight that a stone referred to, but that didn’t faze me. Nothing did as I walked, nose buried deep in a glossy, over the cobblestone. The entire city could have slid into the River Thames, and I would have been clinging to a piece of driftwood, like Kate Winslet in Titanic, gasping, “Jude told the nanny he was in love with the way she cared for his kids. No shit, she’s a nanny!”
Despite my tepid reception by London, I was bitterly envious when G announced he would be traveling there for a weeklong business trip. Any woman straining to keep her head from bobbing under the water’s surface of potty training, upper respiratory infections, and toddler Gladiatorial disputes would be itching to escape to one of the world’s great cities. Alas, it was a pipe dream since no one, family included, returns phone calls from the woman who has three children under three years of age, no matter how many plastic Harrods bags you promise in a voicemail. So G went unattended, but he checked in often. The first time to say that he was staying in the chi chi hotel The Savoy. That revelation stung, but easily enough assuaged by his promise to loot all the bathroom toiletries. Then he called again to say he’d seen Pink Floyd in the lobby. My celebrity radar registered a spike but mostly because I was impressed anyone could identify the members of Pink Floyd. I’d even thought the band members were dead so that notion served to intensify my envy since his hotel was so posh that even dead rockers were checking in. A day later, he rang to tell me Victoria Beckham had checked into The Savoy. I gritted my teeth, falsely bemused by his good fortune to run into a high-profile female celebrity who is pregnant, the Holy Grail of paparazzi objects.
But when he called at the midpoint of his trip to report that a model convention – yes, a convention of the world’s models – was underway in one of the conference halls of the hotel, I hung up the phone violently but not before telling to choke on a meat pie.