Tag Archives: United States

Tiny Dancer

Ira Glass is diminutive, so small I can squeeze him between my thumb and my forefinger. His face has become entirely his trademark glasses. “Sorry about the seats,” I whisper to Sam. We’re in the very last row of the Royal Festival Hall, which seats 2,500. The show begins in darkness and with words, as a male and a female voice discuss whether to begin with talk or dance. Talk has obviously won out, following, it seems, a trend begun in ancient texts with ‘Let there be light.’ And then there is light; mid-stage sits a tiny red velvet curtain, self-suspended within an arch; show business made a prop within the actual thing.

We love proximity to show business– even nosebleed proximity– and we’ve come to see what sort this is, what Ira Glass has cooked up with Monica Bill Barnes, who also directed and choreographed, and Anna Bass in “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host”. Sam and I are big fans of Glass’s radio show, This American Life, which is a major reason we have so many internet radios in our one-bedroom flat.

“You’re very English,” Sam will say to me, thick with surprise, every so often. I think he does it just to elicit my response, preordained: “Because I am!” I have an American passport, a British one, and an accent that’s somewhere in between (“Are you from Singapore?” I was once asked in a meeting, “It’s just that you sound… international.”) I’ve spent half my life in the US and I still don’t understand Stand Your Ground laws, American football or what “quarter of” means when telling time, but then there are a heap of American things that make perfect sense: peanut butter, and The New Yorker, and NPR.

I’ll meet you at Yo! Sushi, Sam WhatsApps me before the show. We’re both cycling to the South Bank, albeit from opposite directions. When I get there Sam already has a seat at the counter, and a beer. “There was a family on the Cycle Superhighway,” he says, exasperated. “A four year-old in rush hour traffic! No one could get by!”

Towards the end of the show, Glass turns his attention to marriage. “You take their hand and walk towards a future you hope is just going to appear out of the mist,” he says, describing the decision to spend the rest of your life with one person, when you don’t know what the rest of your life is going to be. Recordings of Alain de Botton on the subject follow, filling the theatre with tips like ‘lower your expectations,’ or, that’s how we remember it. “It’s ok,” I say later, as we stalk around the flat, trying to sneak up on one another, which culminates in Sam striking an elaborate pose and my pretending to commit his likeness to canvas, “I don’t have expectations anyway.”


Flying South


The first time Sam came to Charlotte, N.C. with me we had been dating for six weeks. It was June last year, and it was a crazy idea, and not because we were in that first, uncertain phase of a relationship. “I want to come with you,” he told me, without blinking. “To Charlotte?” I replied, incredulously. I had to check several times. “You know it’s the south, right?”

Now, just under a year later, we have been to Charlotte together a total of three times. A month ago I woke up to several missed calls from my mother and a Whatsapp message that read: call me. My dad, 59, had suffered a heart attack and no one could tell my mom definitively whether or not he was dying. We booked flights for the following day; my dad survived.

This last time, we are flying in to Charlotte, then driving up to Virginia where Vanessa is getting married. It’s a five hour drive, which is nothing in the U.S. but if we were to spend that long in a car in England we could choose to go north and get to Newcastle or south to Newquay and span the entire country. We don’t have a car in England, though, only a motorcycle, and I have an annoying (Sam might say dangerous) habit of falling asleep as the pillion passenger, so there is no way we’d attempt such a distance. We don’t care much for leaving London anyway, where we can get everywhere by bicycle.

“What is a mason jar?” Sam asks at the rehearsal dinner, as Vanessa is having her bridesmaids write a final to-do list. The next day, he is not wearing the cowboy boots he bought when we were in Las Vegas, in January, because they do not fit underneath his British-made suit. He has found some mason jars and is pouring Woodford Reserve into two, straight, which we sip on as everyone helps themselves to barbecue and mac’n’cheese. “We’re having an aperitif,” I announce to the table.

Later, a couple from Napa discount the claim that the Shenandoah Valley wines are out to rival theirs. “The grapes don’t get ripe enough,” I’m told by a breezy Californian, in the business. “Meaning they’re too tart?” I enquire, making a sour face for effect. He nods in agreement. “You got it.”