It's been a while, hasn't it? I don't know if any of you out there rely on regular posts from yours truly for any part of your daily entertainment/information/inspiration quotient, but if by any chance that's the case, I apologize.
I've been playing host and tour guide to my 12-year-old nephew Jackson, and while theoretically it should still have been possible to do a bit of blogging after he went to bed, the fact of the matter is that he was usually up as late as if not later than me, and also that after a full day of trying to keep up with a 12-year-old, I didn't have a whole lot of energy left over.
I promised him this trip last year as a combined Christmas/birthday present, before, I note, I was aware of what rising fuel costs and exchange rates were going to do to the cost of it. But you don't take back a promise to a 12-year-old on economic grounds, do you? Well, I wasn't about to, and I'm glad I didn't.
We spent five days in New York - Jackson's first time ever on the East Coast - and then flew over to London for eight days. While we were there, I idly noted that the Eurostar/Channel Tunnel now made it possible to do day trips to Paris, and the next thing I knew we were getting up at 5 am to do just that. I warned him that there wasn't much to see there but old buildings and French people, but he was all right with that, and assiduously practiced three phrases of French for his trip: je m'appelle Jackson, je ne parle pas français, and mon oncle est un imbécile.
The kid is part water rat, I suspect, because in every town we visited his first impulse was to head for the nearest river, lake, ocean or drainage ditch and wistfully ponder it. As a result, we spent much of our few hours in Paris meandering along the Seine and seeing little to nothing of the buildings and street life above. Eventually I sprung for a boat ride that took us up and down the river so he could at least say he'd seen the Eiffel Tower. His mother, who's a very gifted chef, will no doubt be pleased to learn that the sum total of our experience with French cuisine consisted of a croissant on the Eurostar, a sandwich in the Gare du Nord, and a visit to a Paris branch of le Subway, where we were waited on by a very cheerful girl who helped us with our halting French and gave us coupons that gave us our order for half price. "So not all French people are mean and rude, are they?" he said, and I barely had the heart to tell him that she was actually a North African immigrant.
Seriously, I've never had the problems that some people claim to have with the French, even the Parisians. They seem perfectly nice to me, but then so do New Yorkers (except for the extremely aggressive one who rammed a shopping cart loaded with a television set that he'd no doubt recently stolen into Jackson yesterday and told him to "Get the #$*%^% out of my #$&&% way"). Even the Londoners, who are generally the rudest of the bunch, were pleasant, and that, combined with castles, funny accents, and San Francisco-style weather, caused Jackson to like London best of all. In fact I almost thought he was going to cry when we boarded the plane to leave, though being 12-almost-13, it came out a bit more like an angry scowl.
He got to attend his first Premier League match ever, and I got to my first one since November 2006, and we both had the enormous pleasure of seeing Fulham defeat Arsenal (ironically, the last two matches I've seen both involved Fulham beating Arsenal, something which otherwise hadn't happened in more than 40 years. There was also a reunion of the West Country Walking Society up in Gloucestershire that saw us tramping over some slightly muddy hillsides and then lolling about in the ancient town of Cirencester. We took a double-decker bus to Greenwich and a river boat back to Westminster, crossed the Thames about a dozen times via various bridges, and hung out in Soho and the Portobello Road Market, the latter causing me to wonder why I'd ever left the old neighborhood.
In New York, apart from the usual Empire State Building/Circle Line/Times Square/Staten Island Ferry tourist route, we also took several midnight bicycle rides (until my extra bicycle got stolen the night before we left for London) and attended Jackson's first punk rock concert ever, which happened to be Rancid at Irving Plaza (now, for reasons I don't understand, known as the Fillmore). We got to go backstage and meet the band, and Tim and Matt, who grew up about a mile from where Jackson lives, traded stories with him about middle school and other East Bay stuff. We had excellent seats in the "VIP" section looking right down on the stage, but about midway through the set Jackson pointed at the roiling mass of bodies below us and said "I want to go down there." "I don't know, Jackson, it can get pretty rough in a Rancid pit," I told him. "I know," he said, and headed for the stairs.
Well, I didn't want to tell him that I had never been in a Rancid pit, at least not since the days when they were playing living rooms and coffee houses, but I also wasn't going to let him go down there on his own and then have to explain to his parents about the missing teeth and/or stitches, so I dutifully followed. As it turned out, it wasn't nearly as violent as it had looked from above, though of course there was the usual sprinkling of obese morons who could only show their appreciation for the band by flinging their fists wildly around and trying to trample anyone smaller than themselves into the ground.
I tried to stay close to Jackson and if necessary protect him, but it quickly became obvious that it wouldn't be necessary. The kid was going crazy, like he'd been born to jump and down in a punk rock pit, and was seemingly oblivious and/or impervious to any and all mayhem transpiring around him. In fact, I came closer to getting clocked than he did, and that was probably at a moment when I stopped momentarily to laugh at the incongruous continuity of it all: 60-year-old granddad and 12-year-old neophyte bonding in what by now has become an almost timeless (well, punk rock's been around for more than 30 years, hasn't it? that's gotta be pretty timeless to someone who's 12) ritual. Like Rancid sing in Journey To The East Bay, "No premonition could have seen this."
We also had a couple chances to catch up with Jackson's cousin (and my niece) Gabrielle Bell, who was just back from the Japanese premiere of Tokyo!, a third of which was based on one of her comics, and which she co-wrote with director Michel Gondry. But then it was time for Jackson to go back to California and start 7th grade, which, I'm suspecting, might feel just a bit anticlimactic after the past couple weeks. We took the subway to JFK yesterday (which was when he had the unpleasant encounter with the shopping-cart wielding thug, the only such experience he had in his whole time in New York), and while I was busy trying to instruct him in every rudiment of going through security, boarding the plane, stowing his luggage, etc., he casually strolled away and we didn't even get to say a proper goodbye.
Now the house seems awfully quiet and empty, all except for the refrigerator, which has strangely remained full for an entire day, and any mess and clutter is strictly my own. I guess I never fully understood why people have children - well, not exactly why they have them, but why they're so willing to sacrifice for them, and put their own lives on hold for them, and to put up with all the petty and not-so-petty aggravations that come with them, but now I think I do. Not that Jackson was particularly aggravating; in fact, he was just about as perfect a child as you could ask for. But I suspect his parents have, in the course of the past 12 and a half years put up with the occasional inconvenience in order to raise him and his sister, and yet I've never in all that time heard a word of complaint out of them. Nothing, in fact, except for how proud and happy they were with their children. Now, thanks to my time with young Jackson, I can see why.