My Kato Kaelin period

Since Thanksgiving weekend just passed, I feel it's appropriate to wrap up a post I have had sitting in draft form for a long time, ever since I moved out of my house in Seattle. It's one part travelogue, three parts thank-you note to those who opened their doors to me while I was homeless this summer. So let's hop into the George Michael Time Machine (okay, so he has a sports machine, but it looks like an old science fiction time machine, and it's conceivable that his hairdo is from an older time) and pretend I just arrived in NYC...
Now that I've finally arrived at a home base, and especially since today my sofa finally arrived and I no longer have to sit on the floor, it's time to reflect on my past months as a houseguest. It's an unsettling feeling, to wander the earth like Kane or Bruce Banner, living out of a suitcase and wearing the same clothes week after week, but my transition has been eased by the hospitality of friends. If you find yourself in the same situation and wander through some of the same towns I've passed through, I recommend all my friend's homes as places to crash. Tell them I sent you.
A quick summary:

Peter and Klara's flat in Marylebone, London

Amenities: massive living room with tall ceilings and magnificent floor to ceiling windows that overlook a park. A huge sofa (we're talking Alice in Wonderland proportions) to crash on. Easy access to the Tube (Marylebone Station just 1 block away). Notify Peter and Klara ahead of time and they'll book you tickets to the latest and greatest in theater. Owner Peter is a former actor and will entertain you for hours with lines from Shakespeare.
My experience: In London, I first stayed with Peter at his flat in Marylebone. Peter has learned how to manage expectations, as they are so fond of saying in the business world. He apologized to me many times before I arrived about the modest living room where he'd have to put me.
This modest living room turned out to be larger in and of itself than most apartments in NYC, with high ceilings and three massive windows to welcome the sunlight from outside. The sofa I slept on, left behind by the previous tenants, was perhaps the largest sofa I've ever sat on; leaning back in the sofa, my knees didn't reach the edge of the sofa, leaving the ends of my shins and my feet to jut out in the air. In fact, everything in the living room was so massive that I felt like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the scene where he's back in his mother's kitchen from his childhood and he has shrunk down to a child-like size relative to his environment.
Whenever Peter and I hang out, we spend all our time discussing movies (few people see as many movies as I do, but Peter may actually have surpassed me these past few months in London, a great cinema town. We tried to find a movie that neither of us had seen and were left with the Garfield movie and 16 Years of Alcohol; we opted for the latter) and theatre. We discuss Shakespeare, of whom we're both huge groupies, and recite some of his soliloquys. Peter knows many more by heart, and he certainly can deliver them with more verve than I can.
Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chop'fallen.
Of course, we caught a play. Peter bought us tickets to see Hamlet at the Old Vic theatre (Kevin Spacey is artistic director there) in the last weekend of the much-acclaimed production by Trevor Nunn (who is now producing the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, The Lady in White.
The most controversial decision Nunn made was to cast very young actors to play Hamlet and his peers. He had noted that the word "youth" occurs again and again in Hamlet and felt that other productions had cast actors much too old. Nunn's other surprising choice, and the real revelation of the show, was to cast Ben Whishaw, a young and unknown actor who had only done one show previously, as Hamlet.
Whishaw offered one of the most memorable Hamlets I’ve seen, and it will be difficult in the future to accept middle-aged Hamlets. Nunn noted that the word “youth” appears in Hamlet over and over, and he thought previous Hamlets had been much too old. After all, Hamlet is still in school when his father dies. Whishaw’s Hamlet is a frail rail of a young man, pale, awkward, preternaturally intelligent and introspective. A mopey, sensitive youth dressed in black, hiding and muttering beneath a dark skull cap.
It works, for the most part, though I had a hard time buying that from this self-tortured and physically fragile intellectual would emerge the ruthless judge and executioner that is Hamlet. After all, Hamlet is a man who excoriates his mother, abandons his girlfriend, murders Polonius and two of his childhood friends, and ultimately assassinates the king of Denmark. In between, he draws intellectual moustaches on everyone around him. He is one of the most dangerous protagonists in Western fiction.
But Whishaw is otherwise brilliant, tapping into the humor and wit of Hamlet with an appealing glee, and some of his movements on stage lent the part a physical humor that I’d not seen in the role before.
The rest of the production was interesting, if uneven. It was cast in modern times, with machine guns, music by The Strokes, and electronic A/V equipment on stage, yet the play within a play had male actors playing female parts. Ophelia was played as a bubblehead, not someone one would imagine Hamlet doting upon. Imogen Stubbs, Nunn’s wife, played Gertrude as a middle-aged sexpot socialite, bringing more camp to the role than I’d seen before. Nicolas Jones was excellent as Polonius.
What the play reminded me of was how difficult and challenging a work Hamlet is. For one thing, it’s long: a full production would last four hours, but Nunn’s reductions brought it in just over three hours. The sequencing is odd. In the most widely used version of Hamlet, the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy occurs just before a staged encounter with Ophelia with Polonius and Claudius eavesdropping. Nunn chose to move the speech way up in the play, at a moment when Hamlet is alone, deciding whether or not to commit suicide with a bottle of pills in his hand.
Trevor Nunn stood nearby us during the play, surveying the proceedings with wistfulness? Oddly, at one point during the play he spent several moments tearing open a candy wrapper, causing Peter to miss several lines of dialogue. Later I'd read a Kevin Spacey diatribe against noisy audience members and chuckle at the irony.
Peter and Klara both have close ties to the theatre world, Peter as a former actor, Klara as a leading set designer. Spending time with Peter in London, then, means rubbing shoulders with actor Cillian Murphy, star of 28 Days Later, and soon to be most well-known for playing Scarecrow in the upcoming Batman movie Batman Begins (goofy title, even worse than Batman: Year One, the classic comic on which it's based) opposite Christian Bale as Batman, directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento). It means visiting acclaimed Irish playwright Enda Walsh (Disco Pigs) at his flat and then taking a walk across half of London, ending with a Lebanese dinner.
I didn't spend much time frequenting tourist sights in London, but Peter and I did walk just about every street in that town. One day we must have logged nearly eight miles on foot. I suspect someday Peter and I may reunite in New York City, where Klara still keeps a flat...err, apartment.

Hart to Hart in Notting Hill

Amenities: Huge, modern flat. Guests get their own bedroom down one level. Owners Greg and Kristin have a cute baby named Jenson. Kristin has been taking cooking classes and will often treat you to a home-cooked meal. High speed Internet access via Ethernet. Nearest Tube station just a few blocks away.
My experience: The second half of my stay in London, I crashed with Kristin and Greg at their flat in Notting Hill. Let me tell you, expats live large. Their flat had two bedrooms, three bathrooms, and another room down a set of stairs that acted as a basement/third bedroom where I stayed. The kitchen was gorgeous. I was stunned.
I met 9 month old Jenson for the first time. He has a sly grin; perhaps he looks around and contemplates inheriting the flat someday. We took several walks around London, Jenson in his pram (I guess that's English for stroller). That's most of what I did in London, just stroll around the city.

Chateau Kilar

Amenities: a Frasier like view of the city from the deck. Personal parking space. Separate guest bedroom with deck. High speed internet access via Ethernet. Gym in the basement with treadmill and ellipticycle.
My experience: Fresh off a jaunt through Europe, I returned to the States in style by checking in at Chateau Kilar, as Eric dubbed it. I'd wake up, don a bathrobe, and go out on my own balcony overlooking the city and pretend as if I owned the house and everything that fell beneath my gaze. "Do you like what I've done with the place?" I'd ask the neighbors, and they'd run into their houses to call the police.
Of course I spent a lot of time with Sadie and Jamie, and Jamie's brother Jared was in town as well. Yes, that meant Jamie had three kids to watch over. Sadie was just in the early phases of walking, and she'd motor around with her arms held up for balance (held up higher than Frankenstein used to do in old black and whites; more a "boo" pose than a sleepwalk pose).
She also had begun speaking her own language. She's just a bit younger than Ryan, and what's useful is how so many kids share the same childhood curriculum. They all can point at the appropriate part of themselves when you ask them where their nose is, or ears, or head. What a little cutie! I'll miss being able to keep track of her development in person.
I began my marathon training here. My first time out running with Jason we ran 3 miles around the crown of Queen Anne in the rain. At the end, I thought I was going to throw up.

1739 Bradner

Amenities: Deck with view of Seattle from the Southeast and a grill the size of hatchback. Sweet modern kitchen with all those shiny, modern appliances. Garage parking spot. Wireless internet. Home theater in the basement.
My experience: Ah, old familiar 1739 Bradner. With Sang having bought my sofa and TV from me, it's like I never left that basement. How appropriate that my last days in Seattle were spent in the place I spent the most time. All things come full circle.
How many times I rode out of that driveway on my bike on my way to loop around Mercer Island or Lake Washington? Countless. I wasn't on my bike this time, though I did jog down to Lake Washington to run along side the water. I'll miss eating burgers off the grill, especially since I can't have a grill of my own here in Manhattan.
Seeing some of my artifacts still in the basement gives me the feeling that I did leave my imprint on one small space in Seattle.

Nob Hill peak

Amenities: Step outside for great views of the city in all directions, and what a beautiful city it is. Walking distance to a whole slew of neighborhood eats. A short jog takes you to the water for a scenic run to the base of Golden Gate Bridge. Strangely addictive electronic Trivial Pursuit handheld game. Nice, homey, young-couple-lived-in feel.
My experience: Justin and Betina rent this sweet little pad at the top of Nob Hill. Rent prices in SF are so low relative to NYC, I almost wept. I walked out one morning down to a local cafe and read the paper while having breakfast, and it was like being home again back in the Bay Area. Another day, Betina charted out a marathon training run for me, and I followed it one day out to the base of Golden Gate Bridge and back. The familiar San Francisco gales were in my face on the way out, but on my return, with the wind at my back, I floated over 3 miles like wing-footed Mercury. Those hills on the way back up nearly killed me.

L'il Jon

Amenities: Internet access. Sweet view back on the SF skyline. Walking distance to SBC Park. Leather sofas, big tv, personal guest bathroom.
My experience: I've stayed with Jon in SF before. Last time was when I was down visiting Gap headquarters. Jon's still in the same sweet bachelor pad. No need to change a good thing. We'd been plotting a visit to SBC (formerly Pac Bell) for some time, and he came through big-time, scoring a block of tickets from some co-worker. Awesome seats, right on top of the field. We spent half the game trying food from just about every concession eatery in the place. Awesome ballpark.

Polly and Ed's: a true home office

Amenities: A guest bedroom, wireless Internet, dozens of eateries just a few blocks south on Castro St. A heavy dose of nostalgia for Stanford alums. In-house exercise equipment.
My experience: I finally got to meet little Emily, the tiniest of newborns. Polly and Ed were worried that she looked like a little boy, but seriously, that's way too much pressure for a girl in her first four months in this world. What's really cool is that Polly and Ed started their own business and run it out of their home, using a separate garage building as headquarters. Seeing packages piled up inside, waiting for twice-a-day pickups from the local UPS truck, reminded me of stories of early Amazon, run out of Jeff's garage.

Karen's new pad in Manhattan Beach

Amenities: My little sis. Wireless internet, walking distance to Manhattan Beach and all its restaurants and stores. Los Angeles weather. Skinny, beautiful people everywhere.
My experience: My time with my car was at an end here, and if we had to leave each other, I'm glad my baby was passing on to family. Karen was in Hermosa Beach last time I visited, and she'd moved to Manhattan Beach. Cleaning out the car was like cleaning out an office in the movies: everything you need to take with you inevitably fits inside one cardboard box.
I went for my first 12 or 13 mile run while down here, leaving the apartment one night at around 6:45pm. I ran along a soft trail for a few miles but found that it was causing a lot of arch pain, so I migrated to the boardwalk on the beach, and hit my stride. For about seven miles, I felt like I had finally achieved some form of runner's high. I ran to the south end of the beach, and beyond. At around mile 11, my legs turned to lead, and the last few miles were a slog. Karen called me once because it was past 9pm and she was worried I'd run to Mexico. At the time, that marathon seemed a long, long ways away.
Karen put up with me one afternoon when I had to borrow her computer to join in on my fantasy football draft for a few hours. We also drove down to Temecula one day to help our parents unpack some of their furniture and to preview their new house. They kept driving me by the Indian casino nearby, asking if I wanted to go in. For some reason, I felt like a recovering alcoholic being driven past the local pub over and over, even though I'm not yet guilty of being a gambling addict.

James and Angela's: A preview of coming attractions

Amenities: Physical manifestation of what a well-furnished, spacious NY apartment can be. Samsung DLP-LCD Projection HDTV. Internet access. Occasional home-cooked meals by Angela.
My experience: James and Angela were kind enough to put up with my presence for nearly two weeks while I apartment-hunted in NYC. Sharon came with me two days to look at places. Apartment hunting in NYC is just as bad as everyone says it is. Truly miserable.
James and Angela have a great apartment, though, in a great location, and ultimately spending time near their place convinced me to try and live near Union Square as well. Many of my early impressions of Manhattan came through them; I saw the city through their eyes. And talking with Angela about her first years in Manhattan (everyone here has a story of first year tribulation) helped to convince me that things would only get better once the apartment hunt was behind me.
Through Angela, I was introduced to the corn fries at Mandler's Sausage, Shake Shack, and brunch at Pain. Through James, I found several local poker rooms. Illegal, of course, which makes them all the more irresistible. Once through the front door, it's tough not to feel like Mike McDermott, especially since Rounders screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman frequented many of these places.
Ultimately, I ended up with an apartment just a few blocks from Union Square and James and Angela's apartment. One long trip behind me, and another one just beginning.