Monday, April 4, 2011

I'm not looking for a new England.

On the day I arrived in Amherst I was warned, "if you don't like the weather in New England, wait 10 minutes and it will change". "Whatever" I thought, I'd spent a week in Malaysia where it went from blistering hot all day, to a daily one hour drenching back to blistering heat. On top of that I'd lived in Scotland over winter. My skin turned blue as my watch tan receded and the kilograms poured on from a pint-fueled indoor lifestyle. I felt adequately prepared for whatever New England could offer.

I was very wrong. The cold dragged on, and in some moments of forced indoor refuge it did begin to effect me. Still, I was positive a change was never far away.

It was over two months ago when Sam and I bought cigars in New York City. We were more like schoolboys sneaking into their grandfather's collection than grown men vying for the next level of maturity, but we stocked up and had big plans for when the sun decided to reappear.

Though it was later than a Sydney train, on Wednesday at 5:30PM, following a brief kick around of a ball on the lawn, we finally got to reenact that Jewish hobby, and cut the tip off a cigar. Making up for lost time, the sun didn't want to go down, and for the next hour we did our best to stink out our clothing, philosophize, and celebrate the victory that comes with a well intentioned, though poorly timed plan.
It was a short-lived victory, and as the welcoming quote reminded, the weather here changes rapidly. The cold set in, the sun retreated back to Australia and the weather service had put out what I believed to be an April Fools alert about a snowstorm.

That night I had to forego a night with excellent company at The Pub for a journalism assignment in South Hadley. Inside the town hall was the kind of flooring more akin to a 1960s kitchen and a town meeting vibe straight from episodes of the Simpsons. A sign for the ensuing event was missing the letter 'o', and before anything kicked-off everyone in attendance was given a warning to avoid the town's stray cats as they may be rabid.

The meeting, though not the scene I envisioned when I applied to study journalism, was an excellent experience. The nerves of interviewing people and asking uncomfortable questions were there, and to the person being interrogated, those nerves were more than likely extremely apparent. My accent got in the way too often, as when I was repeating questions the direction of the interview shifted to my own background. The attention about the way I pronounce words like 'tomato' has been flattering in certain contexts, but was unwelcome when I was trying to demonstrate a modicum of authority.

Sigh. I survived, and when the lights of the town hall were turned out, the weather outside greeted us with falling snow. I was flabbergasted, it seemed like only yesterday (and was, boom!) everyone was enjoying the sun and frolicking about on the grass.

I got back to my room, and for the next 4 hours went through 2 hours of recordings and notes and tried to churn out a story as quickly as possible. I knew my friends were having a grand time out in town - their text messages told me as much, but I had to put on a professional face and try to get this work done. I emailed in my story at 3 in the morning, with snow still falling and my eyes fighting a losing battle against gravity. I was shattered, and my 9AM class the next day was the victim of the story.

Though I missed out on a night of fun, I was going to attempt to make up for it the next day. Despite the hitch of being refused service because of my identification, (I'm almost 25! I may be immature, but I'm the owner of enough grey hairs to consider myself a poor man's George Clooney), Dicky Peach and his passport stepped up to the plate and delivered.

That old American past-time of pregaming began at Chateau Peach et Jones, and before a can had been opened we (me) were dancing around the room like idiots and throwing stuff out the window. Peach's johnny collection was blown up and exploded in a variety of manners, while I received a pen-ink tattoo in a tribute to his.
new meaning of Dicky Peach

We headed to Hobart for a party, and Sam and I enjoyed another smaller cigar each as we lost the pack on one of Amherst's few actual streets. Once inside the party, the recollection of the night turned smokier than the smell of my hoodies and jeans. There are all sorts of rumours and hear-say, but I've been told I poured beer on an undeserving Elle.When dancing on a couch the curtains behind me came down. I'm not saying it's my fault, but everyone else who saw it say it is. There was also the issue of the mysterious red stains on the shirt my brother made for me, which turned out to be jello shots...on my back. After leading a singalong to some Oasis, and their poorer, but somehow earlier clones, The Beatles, it was time to walk back. Max had tried to call a cab, but for some reason, the company, based in the UK's Leeds, his adopted town, had no idea what Amherst was. As if things couldn't get stupider, a policeman had pulled up Dicky Peach for public drinking not long after a few of us had jettisoned a random hubcap (possibly stolen, maybe found).

To say I felt rough the next day is an understatement. The clothes on the floor around my bed from the previous night were the easiest to put on once I got up, and in a tramp like manner, I again sat outside my building and smoked a cigar with Sam. This time, we had decided to add some class, and a Sinatra soundtrack accompanied each puff of New York City's finest $4 cigar.
Hipster vicar

The desire for more had become insatiable, to the point where we stocked up on little ones for the day with big plans on returning for more in the night. We achieved that goal, and the girl that served us earlier in the day in a more state of greater dishevelment remarked that just because we were foreign and smoking cigars it didn't make us classy. I disagreed, being foreign has nothing to do with not having class, I can achieve that at home just as well.

When Stackers wasn't turning down tunes (CHOON!) by The Clash and The Cure, they were offering up all sorts of goodies. First there was promoters from an upcoming Mixed Martial Arts fight, who despite their best effort to get me to a buy a ticket to, ended up giving Max and I one for free in exchange for moonwalking. I have no fascination with the sport at all, but the crowd members should provide the same laughs the ending of 'Bruno' gave us. It got better too, as my friend was working for Bacardi that night, through her generosity and courtesy gave out a number of free t-shirts among my friends and I. Bonza.

No matter how hard we try, how bad we sing, or how drunk we let Alex get, we never seem to get turfed from Stackers, and it's absolutely brilliant.

Max, Dicky Peach, Ian and I walked off in search of a party until Ian left the group upon realising his card was still behind the bar.Through some of Amherst's back streets, Peach and I puffed our way through more cigars as Max asked for, and was ignored protection while he drained his lizard. A cop car drove by as Dicky Peach and I just laughed at what great friends we aren't. Alex was off somewhere in our vicinity, but had passed out in a random house.

We visited sunset to find a group of fluorescent painted people and a girl already passed out on the couch. After a few more cigars it was time to call it a night, and end what was another shady and shaky weekend in Amherst. They're running down, but we're doing our best to make them memorable enough that we can't remember how much fun we actually had.

Billy Bragg - A New England
The bard from Barking is an exemplary Essex gentleman. With all the talk of New England I couldn't help but think of this choon. Also, there's a bonus one underneath because I love him that much.

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