Journal entry: March 17, 1990 (age 20) – Water BombsNote: This is the first in a two-part series.
Before arriving in London for my semester abroad, I read an admonition on SUNY Oswego letterhead that read something like: “While overseas, you are an ambassador representing this college and this nation. Don’t be an embarrassador.”
Proving the power of reverse psychology, I soon found my vocation as an embarrassador. Like many careers in embarrassment, mine began on St. Patrick’s Day. Although I’m only 20, the drinking age in Britain is 18. So, on the feast day of the patron saint of my ancestral people, I worshiped in my own way, at the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street. It’s the favorite pub of the students in my program, and our flats are just a stumble up the road.
At the Churchill, I made my usual request for “a wimpy American lager.” My very first visit to the pub had disabused me of the notion that I would ever like dark beer, particularly when it’s served at room temperature. If all beer tasted like Extra Special Bitter (ESB) ale, brimming with rubbery foam and weighed down with river-quality sediment, then I would be a lifelong teetotaler. Happily, the K2 lager the proprietor handed me was wimpy and Bud-like enough to suit my prudish, Yankee sensibilities.
Some hours later, I made my way home in the company of a friend and fellow student named Stephanie. Soon after we arrived, my two flatmates appeared noisily on the scene. Mark and Rod lumbered into the room carrying plastic bags from the NISA grocery store in our Notting Hill neighborhood. They were carrying the bags, which appeared to be quite heavy, with a great deal of care. Grinning at Stephanie and me, Mark handed his bag to Rod and opened the lone window in our flat. Giggling, Rod handed one of the bags back to Mark, who then dangled it out the window as he checked the view below. I had just gotten out the words “What’s in it?” when Mark released the bag and slammed the window shut. There was a muffled explosion below, followed by much hilarity on the part of my two roomies. “Water!” said Rod, between paroxysms of laughter.
“Was anyone down there?” asked a worried Stephanie. Mark replied with a smile, “No, we didn’t want to hurt anybody – we just wanted to scare the fancy-pantses at Kensington Place.” The restaurant at the base of our building was indeed swanky, and its street-level, floor-to-ceiling windows made it a popular destination for celebrities looking to “be seen.” (Weeks before, I made two silly walks around the block just to confirm that I had spotted one of my comedic heroes, John Cleese.)
Our flat is only on the third floor, but even from that height, a bag o’ H2O makes for a very startling distraction from a gourmet meal. Picturing the chaotic scene below, Stephanie and I joined in on the laughing. We laughed more as Rod opened the window and dropped another bag of watery ordinance. Then the twin pranksters left as quickly as they had arrived. As the sound of sirens approached, Stephanie shot me a look of emergent terror. “Are we in trouble?” she asked. “Nah,” I said, “Mark and Rod might be, but what did we do?” Like a whispered prophecy, she said, “We didn’t stop them.”
(To be continued…)