Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Meme Magicalis Mysteriosa, var. "litbrit"

I'd been laying low in my sparkly Christmas bunker, hoping to be overlooked. But no.

It appears silas216 of Outpost of the Empty Head has thrown the Magical Mystery Meme gauntlet down in my general direction.

So: five litbrit stories, one of which is either partially or completely untrue. Wherein resides the lie? Leave your guesses in comments!

Story Number One

It is December, in the late 1970's, and I'm in my sophomore year at the University of Florida. My last final exam that quarter is International Relations, and I'm going into the home stretch of a challenging course with a wobbly B average, so it's an important grade. I stay up all night studying--or, at least, I try to. Somewhere between four and five in the morning, my fatigue gets the better of me: I set my alarm clock for six and my head hits the pillow like a ton of bricks. Of course I sleep through the alarm, but all is not lost, since I awaken a full twenty minutes before the exam is to begin. We are having one of those sub-freezing cold fronts in Gainesville, but there is no time to choose clothes and dress myself, so I grab my maxi-length wool coat--one with a huge faux-fur collar and cuffs--and put it on over my undies and camisole as I run out the door, wriggling my feet into my sneakers as I went. I run across several blocks of the UF campus and arrive at my International Relations class just in time to see the professor handing out the exam papers.

The only empty desk is situated next to the radiator--which, like so many radiators in old, old buildings, worked on HIGH or not at all--and I am already quite hot, having run about a mile in what seemed to be no time flat. But I have no choice, so I sit down and set to work. As the hour wears on, I become soaked in sweat. The window next to me is painted shut. And I can hardly take the professor up on his repeated offers to take my coat, lest I be known forever after as the student who led not a Boxer Rebellion, but an Undies Uprising.

Story Number Two

It is fall, early eighties, and I am flying from New York to Tampa. About thirty minutes before we're due to arrive, the aircraft makes a sudden, steep descent. We land, and the pilot throws on the retros almost immediately; the plane practically screeches to a halt. A voice comes on the P.A.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you've probably noticed that we've landed a little early. We're actually in Jacksonville, and there has been a threat to the aircraft. Please leave all your belongings on board and exit as quickly as possible."

That's it. Exit as quickly as possible. My heart sinks and then begins to race. I'm not frightened, not exactly; instead, I feel an overwhelming and supernaturally potent urge to get away from whatever is about to explode. Somehow, we all remain calm and oddly silent as we skitter toward the emergency exit and jump onto the blow-up slide, which is as much fun to whip down as it looks, only you're so busy concentrating on not being blown up, you forget to enjoy yourself. There are flashing lights everywhere and a wide circle of police and firefighting vehicles is forming around the plane. As soon as my bare feet hit the ground, I run as fast as I can, bursting through the line of uniforms and cruisers and dogs and sirens.

Within moments, an officer grasps my arm and takes me indoors where other passengers are queuing up to use the pay phone (no-one has cell phones back then). After the bomb-sniffing dogs have done their thing, we board the same plane and continue home to Tampa. No-one ever tells us what the threat had been or why it was leveled against a routine New York-to-Florida flight. We are, however, offered a single cocktail "on the house". The elegantly-dressed retired man who is my seatmate is bent over, re-tying his shoes, when the flight attendant comes by; he looks up at her and says Courvoisier, please. A double, if possible.

Story Number Three

It is the early 1980's and I am in Nassau, Bahamas, for what is essentially a day-trip errand. It is my job to take a packet of legal papers and contracts to an attorney in this city, present them to him for his review and signatures, and bring them back to my boss in Florida later that day. I've already carried out my duties, and there are three hours to kill before my return flight leaves. I walk around a little, browsing the souvenier stands and t-shirt shops; eventually, I find a little grocery store that carries English sweets and teas, so I go inside and buy enough chocolate-covered Digestive Biscuits and boxes of TyPhoo to fill three bags. Then I continue my walk and head over to the harbor where all the cruise ships dock. I sit on a bench and am daydreaming away, enjoying the warm breezes. Suddenly, there is a throat-clearning noise behing me. I twist my torso and look over my shoulder: a tall, African man in a military uniform stands there.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Miss?" he says. His voice is basso profundo and heavily accented.

I tell him, "Yes, thank you, the Bahamas is a beautiful place to be today."

"Where are you on other days, then?"

"Florida," I reply. "I have to fly back in a couple of hours."

"Ah. So you don't live here," he said, gesturing toward my grocery bags.

"These are English, um, cookies and teas...things that are hard to find in the States."

The man turned and pointed to a black 7-series BMW. "You will come and have lunch with me, then, before you take your English cookies back to America."

And that is how I came to share conch salad and a couple of Kalik beers with exiled Ugandan president Idi Amin Dada.

Story Number Four

It is the early 1980's and I work as an assistant to a rock concert promoter. Our next show is a big one: The Rolling Stones, with Van Halen as the opening act. I am reviewing the concert riders, those attachments that specify things like what sort of food and beverages must be offered backstage and so forth. One odd request from Mr. Roth sends me to my boss for clarification: All brown M&Ms removed?

"Yes," says Boss. "Go to Albertsons, buy a dozen or so bags each of plain and peanut M&Ms, come back here, pour them into a couple of salad bowls, and pick out all the brown ones, please, Deborah. You can be sure the fucking caterers won't do it."

I go to Albertsons, and when I return, I set to work on the M&M-sorting while Boss fields call after call. He summons me again.

"Get Jeff (a PR guy and our contact at Disney World) on the phone. One of Mick's kids is having a birthday, and he wants to rent the Magic Kingdom for a night. Close the place to the public, but have all the main rides operational. Think they'll do it?" he said, knowing full well that anything, pretty much, is available for a price.

We secure the private Disney evening for Mick and his entourage, and since I'm finished taking care of the M&Ms, I start reading the Stones' rider. Among the requests is this: "One large bowl M&Ms; Mick will gladly accept any brown ones that David Lee Roth doesn't want."

Story Number Five

It is the late 1960's. My little brother and I attend a catholic convent in Barbados. Normally, the only adults we see are nuns who float around in head-to-toe white habits and the occasional priest, also in full garb. But one day, my history class is interrupted by a black-leather-bedecked and British-accented film crew and director: they are walking up and down the rows of desks, snapping photographs of my classmates and me and telling us to try to be natural. A few days later, half of us are called to the Headmistress' office and informed that we will be helping to make a television advertisement.

We spend the next week at the beach and on board a pirate ship called the Jolly Roger. Ashore, we dig up fake treasure chests, over and over, and feign excitement over what we find inside, which is the product for which we're making this advert: Birdseye Fish Fingers. The "captain" is a hilariously funny and foul-mouthed British actor who, every day, starts out sober but proceeds to get increasingly more drunk as the shoot wears on. When I mention that I don't think I can do another scene because I can't eat another bite of fish finger, he digs a little pit in the sand and whispers to me to spit into it between takes--it will be our secret.

None of us will see a penny of pay for our work; apparently, the ad agency paid a lump sum to the convent in exchange for the use of their little (Catholic) savages. And to this day, I cannot eat fish fingers, or fish sticks, or food that in any way whatsoever resembles a breaded piece of seafood product.

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