Home Depot (excerpt From Goat Lips)

An excerpt from Goat Lips: Tales of a Lapsed Englishman, taken from tale 8, For the Love of Art.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Home Depot. If it wasn’t for the mobile bratwurst cart out front, it would be hard for me to enter the parking lot and not feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. The fact that there is always more than one item or material that can be used for a particular job means the majority of my time in the store is spent jockeying for the attention of a dubiously qualified “specialist” clad in an orange apron.

To give the staff credit, they are nearly always friendly and try to be helpful. The problem is I can never fully grasp their rushed instructions. I feel guilty and pressured to hurry so as not to dominate the time of a person who is in such demand; a person constantly trailed by anxious customers, many of them clutching defunct pieces of hardware.

I think therapists around the world might consider recommending that anybody who is depressed, lonely, or feeling unappreciated should apply for a job at Home Depot.

Telephone Box Carpool: From Goat Lips

An excerpt from Goat Lips: Tales of a Lapsed Englishman, taken from tale 4, Carpool

After a two-minute stroll, I found myself standing in front of the telephone box. There are few things as iconic as a good old-fashioned British telephone box—painted bright Royal Mail red from top to bottom, standing at attention, rigid as a guard, with seventy-two small glass panes and an inscription of the bleeding obvious just above the door: TELEPHONE.

I pulled open the door and stepped into the familiar and unmistakable faint scent of urine and vomit. One gravitates to a phone box when extremely drunk, because once inside their cozy confines it is impossible to fall over, unless you crumple like an imploding building and collapse straight down inside yourself.

Rabbit’s Foot America

An excerpt from Goat Lips: Tales of a Lapsed Englishman, taken from tale 3, America.

Lucky for some?

As a boy in England, I distinctly remember my lucky rabbit’s foot key ring. Regularly, I pulled it out and stroked the soft fur in hopes of prolonging what I thought was my lucky streak of random decision-making. I con­fess that as a boy I always struggled to justify how an object that was reputed to bring me good luck had so obviously brought such cripplingly bad luck to the un­fortunate donor of the foot. While stroking my lucky rab­bit’s foot, it was impossible for me to block out the image of the hobbled rabbit to which the appendage once be­longed. I imagined his ears laid back and nose wrinkled up in disdain while pointing an accusatory paw directly at me and grumbling caustically, “Next time cut off your own damn foot, Motherfucker.” In retrospect, the only “luck” associated with this ill-conceived charm was that I eventually lost it and no longer had to be subjected to the guilt or the scarring images of a bitter, crippled, and foul-mouthed rabbit

An Excerpt from Goat Lips: America

Ten weeks earlier, I had flown to the United States with hundreds of fresh-faced counselors, all of us eager to teach at summer camps throughout the country. I had never visited the States before and was excited to experience the American way of life. An attractive feature of the program that lured me to sign up with Camp America was that once your camp closed for the season, you had a month to travel on your own before recon­vening at JFK to fly back to your normal life in Europe. This hot, late-September day was that day—the end of our American ad­venture and a scheduled return to normality with a long flight back to the mundane.

Phil Carroll, an athletic, fun-loving twenty-year-old Aus­tralian from Sydney, had been an exchange student with a fam­ily in Norway when he signed up for the summer escapade; whereas I, at the tender age of twenty-four, had just dissolved my partnership in an estate agency near my home village of Itchenor in the south of England. I had wanted to take some time off to relax and think before jumping into another full-time job.

We had both been assigned positions at Frenchwoods Fes­tival for the Performing Arts—a well-known and respected per­forming arts camp in upstate New York nestled in the Catskills. Philip’s assignment was camp photographer. And me? I was hired to teach the well-known performing art of sailing! French­woods has a private lake with the uninspiring name of Sand Pond, and even though the camp’s focus was exclusively on the arts, they just couldn’t resist throwing a few Sunfishes, Lasers, and windsurfers into the water. Then, all they had to do was seek out a gullible, foreign sailing instructor from a small sail­ing village in England to be present on the off chance a fifteen-year-old thespian, in between blocking her role in Annie and attending her advanced tap dance class, might suddenly be overwhelmed with the desire to learn to sail. Needless to say, my summer hadn’t been busy—although “Sunbathing on the Boat as Matthew Sailed it Around the Lake 101” did prove to be a popular course for several of the young female campers.

My only success story of the summer was a young boy called Michael. I didn’t teach him how to sail, but I did teach him how to say “ready about,” “by the lee,” and “jibe.” Michael oozed with pride when he brought his parents to the water’s edge to meet me on Visitors Day. In boisterous nautical fashion, with a distinct theatrical flair and a poorly executed pirate’s ac­cent, Michael recited his six sailing-related words. His parents looked at me incredulously, telegraphing that they had expect­ed more bang for their many bucks. I offered a slight shrug. I thought it better not to point out that they had sent their son to a prestigious performing arts camp, an unlikely breeding ground for Olympic yachtsmen.

Once the last camp session ended and the campers had been safely dispatched to their homes across the United States, we were paid our meager salaries in cash and unleashed upon America. The only rule laid out by Camp America was that we were to report to the British Airways departure desk at JFK on September the 22nd by 11:00 a.m.

Phil and I divided our month of travel between Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York City, staying with friends we’d made during our time at the camp. Our whirlwind north­east tour had been liberally punctuated with beaches, bar­beques, bars, baseball games, parties, laughter, and revelry.

At 10:55 a.m., still obscured by our German cover, Phil looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “I’m having too much fun in America. You?” I glanced at the mass of counselors who were now five minutes away from terminating their American sojourn.

“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes, I am,” I repeated more confi­dently, as if confirming to myself that I had indeed just said yes and that yes was indeed the correct answer. Phil’s brand new Boston Red Sox cap (a purchase he regretted a year later when Bill Buckner’s infamous blunder robbed the Sox of a 1986 World Series title), pulled down snugly, hid all but his unblink­ing eyes. I froze.

Everything around me seemed still and quiet. Seconds elongated. I felt as if I’d left the airport and transported to a li­brary. The threat of being aggressively hushed by a stern librar­ian was palpable. The enormity of the choice we were contem­plating yawned before us. Crouched down with our backpacks and sleeping bags next to us, without the slightest hint of fear, Phil said as evenly as if reciting a password, “Let’s jump ship.”

“Done,” I responded. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t question. I committed 100% to the idea. I grabbed my measly belongings and kept my head down as I slipped quietly away from cer­tainty, obligations, and my homeland.