Wastelander UK, Part III
(As promised, sorry for the delay!)

[Note: as mentioned a few weeks ago, this last chapter of the “Wastelander’s Notebook U.K.” vanished when our computers melted down this last summer. Though this entry is far out of time—the first two ran around August—you can look ‘em up if you’d like to—they’re in the archive—I finally got it back and found myself laughing as I read it. So I thought I’d give it to you. These are NOT poems, by the way. I don’t know what this writing is—sketches. Flashes. Writing-on-the-run, caught like a butterfly in a net of seeing. Fast, Bruce Lee style jeet-kun-do writings. If something here begins to rise to the level of a poem, it must be because God is kind and the fates felt giddy that day. Anyway, here it ends. See you in 2008. –L]


Later, that same day…

We go to renew our bus tickets.
The man in the ticket booth asks where we’re from.
His eyes light up. He
expresses profound enthusiasm
for Chicago.

Are you kidding?

“But you’re HERE,” I reason. “London!”

“Yes, but you’re THERE!”
he counters.

“How can you love Chicago so much?
You have London!”

“London! Blah!”


“Ah, Chicago!”

“But you have the Tower of London!”

“The Tower! Bah! You have Maxwell Street!”

“But, but, but--history!”

“You have the Blues!”

He mutters:
“Chicago is clean, man. London’s
a filthy city.”

We had just been marveling at how clean
London is—every street swept spotless
by gnomes with weird little sidewalk-tractors that no doubt
house sly cameras with face recognition

“Yeah,” I say. “The Blues. There is that.
They sang a different kind of Blues
in the Tower, eh?”

“The Tower. Bah.”

We fetch up on a friendly impasse.
As we leave, I say, “See you in Chicago.”
And he sighs:

“Please, God.”


It’s different here. We speak the same language,
sort of.
When I tell people we’re going on the
Queen Mary II, they express folksy sayings
I can’t for the life of me understand.
Sounds like:

“Gorr, it’s the QM izzit! I’ll flibber a right
gallon of skinless pickles, eh? You’re woggling
the frumsey wicket, innit, then?
I were spooling the bliggett, weren’t I!”


I’m getting sick—too many miles and too little sleep.
Drizzle now a constant on the top deck of the buses.
We ride till the end of the line and disembark near Marble Arch—
we’re total locals now, real regulars. Piccadilly Circus,
Oxford St. It’s like home.
Rain. Pelting rain. We dash
from awning to awning, soaked.
A woman on the street is hit by a truck, and we
gasp as the many emergency vehicles come, and the coppers
try to get her onto a back board. All of us standing
in the rain, aghast.

We buy a bag of pink jelly hog head candies called
Percy Pigs.
The kids don’t get that every day in Naperville.


Morning. Cindy grabs a big (tea) cup
instead of a small (coffee) cup for her cuppa joe.
A snooty American Anglophile
elaborately prepares tea in the proper cup in front of her
so she can see the err of her ways. Looking like he just
smelled an untended cat box. Joins his family with a sneer.
In my mind, the Yeoman Warder explodes from the floor and screams:

I take Caroline-of-the-Arran a Hummingbird’s Daughter and say,
“I brought you a gift.”
“It’s my new book.”
She looks at it. Says,
“Is it any good?”
Have you read it?”
READ IT, I bellow,
“Wot. You’re an author?”
She says,

Out the door.

The endless rattling noise of London.
It’s like a perpetual Slade concert:
Cum on Feel the Noyze!
Buses! Lorries! Jackhammers!
Drunken yobs! Traffic. The dragonfly anti-terror
helicopters! The ten million restless.
spirits! Horns! Music! Feet. Feet. I have never
heard so many feet.

Coughing, sneezing. Rumpled and frumpled.
I drag my bag o’ bones behind my wife, Sheena of the Jungle,
the unstoppable
vacation machine. And she’s right—how could you let a cold
keep you from London?
We hustle to Buckingham Palace and peer through the gates.
We stagger to the royal queen’s shoppe and look at
Buckingham Palace dish towels.

We see Peter Pan’s house.

Today’s small dose of eternity: Westminster Abbey.


How can you not feel awe and dread walking into Westminster?
Did they not call it Terrible in medieval days? Awful?
As in Awe-Full. Fear of God stuff.
Westminster: the West Church.

Edward the Confessor, king and miracle worker,
founded it. And here we are—pondering angry Darfur
picketers across the street and workmen
applying gold leaf to the fences.
Into the gothic vastness, the arches wrenching you
off the floor and dragging you unwilling and unready
into Heaven itself.
The high points of the soaring ceiling
hide God’s very eye in the shadows.
Yow! What a minster that there west minster be!

We rent the walking tour earpieces, and are soothed
by the measured tones of Jeremy Irons
mumbling about dead kings and choirs.
I say to Cinderella, with our kids in mind,
“Nice to hear Scar talking again!”
Hakuna matata.

We pause and gaze at The Confessor’s corner. We pause at the
Many many graves. There’s mean old Longshanks. There’s Richard.
I am thrilled to see Elizabeth, but not that happy to see Mary.
After all, she chopped off the head of my prom date,
Lady Jane Grey.

Poets and kings interred.
Byron, that bad bad boy. How did he get into the church?
Dickens. The tiny tomb
of our friend, Chaucer.
A touching sight: Shakespeare’s statue gazes fondly
upon the grave of Olivier.
Could any actor ask for more?

We are astonished by the coronation chair. So ancient.
So scarred. Just a wooden chair,
old as three or four

German bomb damage in the corners.

Diana lay here, before the altar.

Though Ozzy Osbourne probably won’t.


In the inevitable gift shop, I buy green men—
oddly delighted and disturbed that such pagan mystery figures
seem to live at British cathedrals, knowing their
Dionysian secrets, breathing leaves and vines, grinning like horny Pan
among the saints and stained glass, the Druid marshes
of old west minster not relenting in their psychic whispers,
somehow the green man and Jesus at peace here…
overlooked by tireless gargoyles.
The hosts of Heaven and Hell presiding
over the ghostly alleys of the city.

Whoa. Way too cosmic.
We beat it into a pub near Parliament,
where Parliamentarians gulp pints and laugh.
So many Americans have come in
that they are out of fish and chips. This struck both
the waitress and Cinderella as hilarious. Is this,
I thought, like the taco-maker in Tijuana muttering,
not without affection, “Gringos cabrones”?

Steak pie, then! Pints!



Experts Baffled!

Dateline, London:

Luis Urrea’s gringo side is represented by the Woodward family,
the old Virginian, Washington DC, and New York family
of his mother. But they had roots in England.
And at Westminster, the semi-obscure author
happened upon the Woodward family crest—
on a refrigerator magnet!

Both the writer and his bride, Zsa Zsa, were amazed to find
a small yellow card attached to said magnet
that explained the history and meaning of the name,

It seems an incredible bit of synchronicity,
when one considers the author’s predilections, enthusiasms, and general
tree-hugging nature.

Quoth said fridge-magnet card:

‘The name Woodward is official, “the woodward,” meaning a forest officer who looked after a wood.

The word comes from the Old English “wuduweard,” meaning forester.

Early records of the time find an Aylward le Woodward living in Essex in 1273; a William Wodewarde is recorded in Somerset in 1318.

The ancient family motto was VIRTUS SEMPER VALET (Latin), meaning “virtue always avails.”’

Good ol’ Uncle Al in Essex!


Sicker by the minute.
Finally, by nightfall, I don’t even eat supper—
just pass out in the bed.


Morning coughing, rashers an’ eggs, hauling the 500 pounds
ollf luggage back down the Arran’s narrow stairs.
We sit in the little lobby with Caroline-of-Arran and the owner
of the hotel, enjoying a lively chat about the city and the journey
and writing books. Caroline-of-Cunard has sent a driver.
“He has a Kia,” we are reassured. A Kia? Will our stuff fit?
But Martin, our ace pilot appears, in an SUV. Aha!
Adieus and cheek kisses and hearty promises of returning and
cheerios and Martin loads the bags and we pile in and we speed off
out of the amazing city, to Southampton.

When you realize that London is only, really, a square mile surrounded
by villages and farms and towns and markets that became London,
and when you read that London was always smoky and dusty and foggy
and shadowed, Talking Heads burst into the mind, and what I thought
was faux-paranoid David Byrne humorous bluster
turns out to be antiquarian London history:
“London. Small city. It’s dark. Dark in the daytime.”
You could be looking at page 100
of any history book.

Good-bye, Boudicca, pagan queen! Good-bye, Lady Jane Grey!
Good-bye John the Conquerer! Good-bye Samuel Pepys! Good-bye,
Shakespeare! Good-bye, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Longshanks, Chaucer,
Jack the Ripper, John Lennon, Maggie Thatcher, Thomas More,
St. Anne, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, Richard III, Cromwell,
Blodwyn Pig! Good-bye, Queen Mary, Elton John, Princess Diana,
Sweeney Todd, Johnny Rotten, Winston Churchill, Posh Spice, tour guides,
hoteliers, pub crawlers, beggars, bag pipers, palace guards, buskers,
pigeon feeders, bobbies, and Yeoman Warders! YES! Good-bye.


Countryside: green. Martin: pleasant. I don’t remember, though
because I can’t keep my eyes open. I am suddenly transformed
into the snoozing grandpa, head dropping, then SNORT! Hum,
SNARFFLE! “Ahem, huh, hack, yeah, right!” as if
I had been conversing the whole time,
And witty, too. Ha ha! My good man!
Though I have no idea what we’re talking about.
I go from psychedelic dreams to English cows whipping by.
“That’s the turn-off for Stonehenge,” Martin says.
I probably dream about Druids.
I know I dream about talking to Martin
Instead of actually talking to Martin,
though I do know at some point
I say: “We gave you
cowboys, and you gave us

And into Titanic-haunted Southampton.
Beat blocks of working buildings and vast rusting
cranes along the bayside, yet here, too, an ancient-looking
fortress wall, and in a small triangular park
cool wet green in the rim of the city, pigeons and sparrows
among the trees; an old man and an old woman
leaning against each other on a small bench, white heads
tipped close against time,

Docks and boats and smokestacks and ships
and towers and more docks and suddenly
Good God,
there is the Queen Mary II.
It takes up the near horizon
like a tsunami.
“How do you like that little boat?” Martin asks.
That’s not a ship,
it’s an entire city block.
(When you look in the ocean-going trivia books,
you see that the QMII is as long as
the Empire State Building is tall.)

As soon was we see her, we know
there won’t be a guy dressed in a felt
ships’ funnel-suit running around with rum drinks
and calling himself “Freddy.”
The QMII looks like it eats Carnival cruise ships
for breakfast; however, it says “Excuse me,”
and when it’s done, it says, “Thank you.”
No line-dancing waiters.
But this is a proud British ship: there will be plenty
of grog!

Sweltering heat.
Martin pulls into line and unloads our bags onto the curb.
We shake hands and he’s off for home—a 60 mile drive.
But look where he gets to drive.
Cunard’s gentlemen porters in jackets and ties
produce tags for Cinderella, and we fill them out and tie them on
and muscle a cart full of our tonnage down to stevedores who
heave the bags on the luggage treadmill that feeds the bags
into the side of the ship. We face the many long queues, baffled.
Cinderella tells a helpful lady that I’m one of the authors
because Caroline-of-Cunard has told us to announce ourselves and be
taken care of. The lady shows a deep-fried skepticism and tells us, basically,
“There’s the queue, Dear. Get in it.” I’m not a diva (a Devo?), but
I don’t know where I’m supposed to line up—do we speakers go over here, or over there? Fans try to turn the turgid air. Bods bubble and fume.
We step over to the question booth, and they helpfully toss us into a shorter line.
I get out my passport. “Where’s yours?” I ask.
“Isn’t it with yours,” she says.
“No,” I say.
The knell of catastrophe sounding in a small syllable.
“Don’t you have it?”
“Oh no.”
Her face goes white. Red.
She digs in her purse.
“It has to be here!”
It’s not.
“Oh no.
Oh my God.
I packed it.”

I keep our place in the line. She rushes to the stevedores,
but they have already sent the bags aboard.
Exhausted anyway, this is one of those snapping threads
that make you want to weep. I say, “We’ll handle it.”
Sounding bold. Thinking: well, the ship will sail
without us, and I’ll stay behind with you and go to the American
consulate and try to get a new passport while we stay
in a cheap hotel.
But hell no, I don’t say it.

We step up the the check-in desk, and I hand over my passport
to the lovely woman who looks like she stepped out of a
Mary Poppins production, or, in her uniform, could actually be
Lovely Rita Meter maid. “I say,” I begin,
“we have a small problem. Nothing, really!” I seem to think
I am Graham Chapman from Ponty Python.
“What kind of problem” she growls, gently.
“My wife,” I say,
throwing out my manful chest as if my very noble pose
could best British Customs, “has misplaced her passport!”
I smile! I chuckle! Behold, a small trifle!
The woman glowers at Cinderella, then raises her hands,
forms a rifle with them
and says,

This could be a small inconvenience.

“I’m sorry,” Cindy says.
The woman nods.
“You will be,”
she promises.


A uniformed QMII female officer of some sort stares at me
in concerned disbelief.
“We packed my wife’s passport, and it’s on the ship.”
“Can I go get it?” C asks.
“Can we board without it?”
“What can we do?”
“Stand aside. Perhaps someone can find your bags.”
“But then they’ll have to go through them.”
“Can my husband board?”
“He may—without you.”
“Then what?”
“Hope he finds your passport before we sail. If not, we sail without you.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll go. I’ll find it.”
“You may not leave the ship once you get aboard, Sir.”
But, but—“
“You must go to the purser’s desk on the first deck
and have someone bring it to us.”
Lovely Rita reminds me that time is of the essence.
What a travel nightmare.
I get my ticket and try to bid C a bold farewell, but the
Crew member says to me, “Sir, really,
You’re holding up the queue.”
Off I go!

My room is ED27. The greeters, all in tuxes, stare at my ticket.
ED? Another steps forward and looks. “Ah, yes, the ED deck!”
Deck five, all the way into the bow. He says,
“It’s NARROW.”
What does that mean?

I hustle madly, lost in the labyrinth of the ship, when
A saint in a tux steps forward and asks if everything’s all right.
Wife! Lost bpassport! Must save her! Out there waiting!
Sailing without her! Imperative! ED27!
“Yes, Sir,” he says.
He leads me to an elevator, and takes me up. He points me in the right direction,
And says, “Go toward the bow, Sir. My pleasure, Sir.” I go.
ED—must stand for the entertainer’s deck, or something like that.
I walk up there to a spot where the frouy-frou of the ship ends
and the halls become bright but plain. Me and the dancers.
And our bags are in the room, waiting. I find the passport on
the first try. Arten, our ED steward, comes to the door and nods when I blurt
the story, then directs me to the purser’s office. They stare at me,
then send a kind young woman charging toward the dock with the
passport. They say, “Until she gets aboard,
stay in your room so she can find you.”

[Later, Cinderella will report that, while she waited
on the dock, amid the crowds, a snooty fellow of the upper class—
one of those Brit gents who had seating in the restaurants
to which we are not invited, pitched a fit over the lines and the heat.
Outraged, he bellowed and shrieked at the blank-faced dock workers.
It was one of those I WANT YOUR NAME kinds of fits. One of those
YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO I AM melt-downs. He apparently
reported to anyone who would listen that this was NOT Cundard quality
service! He demanded that one fellow give him a name, so he could go
to his SUPERIOR at Cunard and report him forthwith! “Sir,” the man said,
“I don’t have a superior at Cunard.” Now, in full John Cleese / Basil Fawlty mode,
the aggrieved snootimus maximus snapped, “No superior! What, are you the President
of Cunard? Is that who I have before me!” The man noted:
“I don’t work for Cunard.”
Cinderella was sitting on a bench beside a female tennis pro
who had perhaps also packed her passport, and they watched this scene.
The tennis pro turned to Cinderella and commented:
“What a dick.”]

I stagger back to the fifth deck, thinking: ED, ED.
Economy Drudge?
Erectile Dysfunction?
Elysian Druid?

In spite of my general paranoia, I note that the room is bigger
than our expensive Carnival stateroom. The bathroom
is huge. And we have a porthole.
Elephantine Dimwit?
Exclusive Dracula?
Excreted Dung-heap?

I stretch out on the bed and switch on the TV.
We apparently get Crew TV in the ED section. I am delighted
To watch Cunard’s White Star Service
video loop.
“Let us examine today’s service question,” the benignly terrifying
TV hostess says with a smile that suggests
Black Arts training from MI-6. A grouchy
Filipino crewman on the tape plops down
on a guest’s bed and says the ship
and the other staff stink. Our hostess
comes back on and asks, “Which of the Cunard`s White Star credos
has Raoul violated?”
Why, recalcitrant ol’ Raoul has violated credo #9—we at Cunard never
speak negatively of the crew, the ship, or the line itself.
I take #9 as a sign from God that I am to be an ambassador
of White Star Service when I venture forth
from ED27!
I also learn that the ship is not a boat, or worse, a CRUISE SHIP.
It is an Ocean Liner.
This is not a cruise,
but a Voyage.
There are no passengers,
there are only Guests.

Estrogen Delivery.
Edwardian Dandy.
Edible Doughnuts.

My bride finally arrives.
We gather ourselves.
We look sharp.
We don our life preservers and join the rest of the Guests
for the life saving drill.
Our lifeboat coach is one of the singers. Eric woulod be in love with her.
The Atlantic is calling us.
We will be passing over the Titanic somewhere out there.

We go out to the decks and watch England
slip away as we begin our

At dinner, our lovely table-mates include the dashing
ne’er-do-well, George,
and our beloved new friends, David and Jenny.
I am so giddy with all thing English, that it all
sounds like scenes from some great comedicstage play.
George: “D’you know what the Yanks say?”
David: “No, what?”
George: “Aluminum!”
David: “Aluminum! What’s that!”
George: “Aluminium!”

We all drink a toast as we sail into the night.

West, across the sea.
Going home, wherever that is.


End…July, 2007

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