Monday, August 28, 2006

A Tale of Two Uncles

A true story, as told to me yesterday by my uncles over dinner in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The heroes of our story are my uncles Kit and Jimbo. Kit is a clean-shaven, silver-haired doctor with a rather wild past (it’s possible he has a rather wild present, but if so I’d rather not hear about it). Back in the mid-80’s, when we lay our scene, he used to look a tiny bit like Dan Quayle. His brother, my uncle Jimbo, is a Russian military history scholar with a big belly and a big red beard. He enjoys drinking heavily, laughing loudly, arguing vehemently, and listening to Elton John. The last part is the most important; Jimbo loves EJ with a passion unswerved by his stern disapproval of gay gay gayness.

In the late 80’s, during Bush the Elder’s first presidential campaign, Jimbo, Kit, and their childhood friend Kyle flew into Dallas for an Elton John concert. Kit and Jimbo did this sort of thing so frequently that they had developed a pre-EJ-concert tradition, which unsurprisingly involved drinking. They were picked up at the airport by a limo, and drank a bottle of vodka en route to Trader Vic’s. At Trader Vic’s they drank as many Scorpions as time would allow, then bought a case of champagne and drove a nearby lake. By the time they reached the lake they were “feeling pretty good.” Jimbo wandered down to the water, speaking loudly to himself in Russian and drinking vodka out of the bottle, and Kit followed swigging champagne and singing Elton John at the top of his lungs.

At this point, the limo driver approaches their friend Kyle. “Excuse me, sir,” the driver says timidly, “those are important people, aren’t they?” Kyle, who has a reputation as a trickster, remains stone-faced. “That’s right. Do you know who they are?” “Well,” ventures the driver, pointing at Kit, “That one’s Senator Quayle.” “Yes,” Kyle confides, “And that red-haired man is the Executive Assistant to the Russian Ambassador.” The driver can hardly contain himself: “I knew it!” “You’ve got to keep this quiet,” warns Kyle, “The secret service doesn’t know they’re out tonight. The Senator is incognito. He loves Elton John.” The limo driver stares in awe at Kit, who at this point is braying “Yellow Brick Road” to the great dark vastness of the lake. “I can see that,” the driver respectfully agrees.

Elton John is playing at the state fairgrounds outside Dallas, which are Texas-sized. The driver takes a wrong turn and drives them to a remote part of the fairgrounds. The most direct road leading back to the stadium has been blocked off for purposes of EJ traffic control. The driver rolls down the window separating the front and back seats. “I’m sorry, Senator, but it’s going to take us a half-hour or more to get back over to the concert. We’ve got to take the long way round.” Kyle leans forward with a superior air. “You see those state troopers by the barricades over there? You just tell them you’ve got Senator Quayle and the Russian Ambassador”—by that time Jimbo had been promoted to Ambassador—“and ask them to step aside.” The driver is reluctant, but gets out of the car and walks over to the barricade. For five minutes, they watch him talking to the state troopers. The state troopers go get a superior. The superior speaks with the driver. The superior disappears and comes back with another superior. The two superiors consult for an eternity, then turn, walk over to the limo in slow motion, and tap lightly on the window. “Senator Quayle? We’ll get you right over to that concert, sir.” The barricades move aside, and my uncles get a motorcycle escort to the concert gates. The state troopers gamely agree not to breathe a word to the secret service, scouts’ honor.

On their way out of the concert, drunker than ever, my uncles discover the limo waiting for them right outside the stadium doors, surrounded by state troopers. They climb back into the limo, dimly aware that drunk luck can only last so long. The troopers fire up their motorcycles and prepare to escort the VIPs all the way back to their hotel. On the way out of the crowded concert parking lot, Kit gets cocky, pops out of the limo’s sunroof, and waves to the voters. “Look!” cries a woman in the crowd, “It’s Senator Quayle!”

I promise I’m really not making this up—this is straight from the uncles’ mouths.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Burn in the Hungarian Metal Hell

Garth just posted Rick's carefully transcribed list of English band names for Hungarian metal bands that played at Budapest's Sziget Festival, a week-long extravaganza that takes over a huge island in the Danube. Check it out:

Sorry but I don't know how to do links yet. Because I am lame.

By the way: The English name of the festival's metal stage, gleefully splashed across all English promotional materials? HAMMERWORLD: BURN IN THE HUNGARIAN METAL HELL!!!!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

St Stephen's Revenge

Under the heading of starting your blog with a bang...

I'll skip the details of our arrival in Budapest, our apartment search, our new place, and various adventures to begin with the Hideous Revenge of St Stephen, as experienced by Rick and I and the entire drunk population of Budapest on Sunday last. (If you start hanging out with british expatriates enough, you start to think in phrases like "Sunday last" without trying to be cute. I can't decide if this is a problem with or fringe benefit of our move.)

St. Stephen's Day is the Hungarian equivalent of the Fourth of July, St. Stephen being, apparently, the Patron Saint of Hungary. Rick and I learned all about his life by watching a psychedelic hungarian cartoon on MTV (that's Magyar TV) in honor of the holiday. Apparently St. Stephen was the leader of a pack of merry bad-ass tribal warriors who looted and pillaged their way across a gigantic medieval map of central europe, clashing frequently with (potentially Turkish?) barbarians adversaries. He enjoyed wild pagan ceremonies such as feasting on graves and watching men dance in gigantic masks made out of hair. At some point he converted to Christianity; we know this because he grew a halo, and because one of Stephen's fellow bad asses killed a barbarian warrior by imapling him through the eye with a cross. (Now that's gangsta.)

The climax of the story comes when St. Stephen, out hunting one day, has a vision of a giant golden stag. The stag's horns turn into candles, and then the face of the stag transforms into Jesus. The horns turn into wings, and when the stag speaks, the words (all gibberish to us) stream out of its mouth like climbing flower tendrils, which blossom and drift gently back to earth. St. Stephen decides to try to shoot the stag (!) and chases after it. The stag becomes a constellation, and St. Stephen and his buddies, chasing after it, also float up into the night sky, and their bodies become constellations too. For about three minutes they chases Antler-Candelabra-Jesus over hill and dale, across a huge river where they have to jump from ice floe to ice floe, until finally the stag turns into a sun-cross on top of a hill. This hill becomes (we think) the future site of the city of Buda. After the cartoon, Rick remembered that the Grateful Dead had written a song about St. Stephen, and I realized that this legend must be the source of the Jaegermeister logo.

At any rate, here's what happens on St. Stephen's day:
1. Catholics parade through the city with the withered hand of St. Stephen
2. There is an olden-timey air race with quaint daredevil airplanes, sponsoroed by Red Bull

3. Fireworks!

It was a beautiful day:

As night fell, the entire population of the city walked down to the Danube to get a good view of the fireworks. We found a grassy seat with Ben and Elizabeth and a bunch of Swedish tourists, and prepared to watch the show. But about two minutes before the fireworks were slated to begin, we saw lighting over the Buda hills, and felt a cold breeze rushing towards us. About a minute into the fireworks, the wind started blowing water up the embankment into the streets. A few seconds later, the hardest, most driving rain I've ever felt. The entire crowd ran as fast as it could for shelter. The fireworks didn't stop (Rick tells me they'll go off even in water); they sounded like bombs. The wind blew the sparks through the streets. Branches flew off trees, cafe chairs hurdled through the air, Rick was hit in the head by a flying beer can. Within thirty seconds we were completely soaked, and the rain just didn't stop. "WHERE'S MY HAND???" Rick intoned.

It took about a half-hour to get home through streets flooded with water and people--everyone completely soaked, and disoriented, and trying to get home. Nice little tourist girls taking shelter in strip clubs, and families trying to stay together, and every intersection underpass packed to the gills with people. A disaster movie. We drank green tea and watched folkloric dancing and baton twirlers on TV, with breaks for trying to decipher St Stephen documentaries.

Saturday, August 19, 2006