West Norwood

So we live in a suburb called West Norwood. It is a dinky and secure suburb, full of what my roommate Caera (pronounced ‘Cara’) calls “yummy mummies”. Every other person on the street is a younger woman with a baby in a stroller. The local cafe is a “babies welcome” cafe, which means there is always one screaming toddler outside the front door, disrupting the relative quiet of the neighborhood. This place was actually the first one we looked at, and after four days of looking at homes in different parts of the city, we realized that a) every house in London was actually pretty nice b) every house in london was also hugely expensive, and c) the first place we’d looked at was simultaneously the cheapest and the nicest, and it achieved that combination by being a bit out of the city center. We’re in “Zone 3” which as I gather is basically the moon as far as London is concerned, even though it’s literally 15 minutes on the train to get to Buckingham Palace. Our place is a flatshare with three other roommates. We’ve got a massive kitchen with a gas stove with six burners, a backyard where there are (no joke) a sculpture of the clay impressions of someone’s butt, a cat named Mavis, and a huge bedroom with lots of light.

Today it was a gorgeous sunny winter’s day, no clouds, and a spectral freezing wind. I decided it was time to go for a run. After about three months of holiday binging at Dad’s house in Marblehead, Uncle Erik’s home in Boulder, and Harriet’s parents’ place in Wellington, I have reached my fattest-ever state. The uncomfortable truth of aging is watching your matter expand horizontally. Oh well. It is run day.

As I am horribly out of shape, a great deal of mucus and saliva was building up in my larynx as I ran, and I had to either position my neck in such a way that my nasal cavities and throat had more space so I wouldn’t choke, or hawk an impressive lugie every thirty seconds. Also it was way too cold to run in shorts, so I’d donned a pair of pajama pants rather than try my luck with shorts. The neighborhood looks stately, organized, well-kempt. Houses in England (or at least this part of this city in England) are well-maintained brick duplexes of two or more stories, gleaming white trim around the windows, every house boasting a modest garden. The houses even look like they have turrets, sometimes. Little castlelly things. Amidst the spindly trees, either leafless from winter or clipped to permit the power lines overhead to pass untouched, an old church steeple occasionally poked up across the skyline. Everything was beautiful and I was a dirty unshaven spitting man running in my pajama pants. I felt like a cat pee stain on an antique Persian rug.

Even though it was really nice out, I barely saw anyone walking. One guy emerged from his door with his three-year-old daughter and I opened my mouth to give a friendly “Good morning!” but instead I said “Gughhmmnthshss” because a horrible gob of mucus which had been building up behind my lips spilled out all over my shirt. The man looked at me with steely eyes, sizing me up like I was a predator. His daughter started crying. I am not a predator. I am just a mess.

I’m happy to be bringing that ol’ Ernie charm to my new home in the UK.


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