SILVER OTTER SOPHIE, or, Notes From My Second Week In London (Pt. I)


Hi! Welcome to the second-to-last instalment of Moving to London journals. After my second week in London I made the probably rational decision to stop obsessively documenting every movement I made in writing and also got a job, which is really boring to write about compared to not having a job. The picture seen above is my amazing photographer of a boyfriend Mark Rothen


I walked to the Overground under an early evening sky greying attractively like a hot person in his or her mid-forties. Around the temples.
        It was cool out. I was on my way to go work a trial shift at a restaurant in Brixton. I hate the ugly words “trial shift” and wish that I didn’t have to use them in a thing I’m writing but the only alternative is “test shift,” which is slightly uglier. The houses were looking, as usual, nice, and I had a revelatory Oh my god I’m not on holiday I live here I don’t have to leave here moment, “And that was the moment it hit me,” someone who cared less about not writing down sentences that other people have already written down might say.
        The coolness was like being next to an ocean but I wasn’t next to an ocean. I was in England in the summer on a night. In Toronto the outrageous heat would still be oozing out from between the clouds in spots, trickling water-spills or river, lake shapes, of hot orange and pink. In Toronto in the summer you can look up at the sunset and imagine it’s hot as lava in the sky.

On the train I listened to Guns Of Brixton by the Clash. I’d already been to Brixton once that day. Guns Of Brixton is by Paul Simonon, the bass player, and it goes When they kick at your front door How you gonna come? With your hands on your head Or on the trigger of your gun?
        (The correct answer to that question is “On the trigger of my gun, Paul! The trigger of my gun!”)
        Brixton in 2014 doesn’t look like a place where any cops are going to bang down your front door and break into your house and behave unethically though it doesn’t look gorgeous or anything either. When you get off the tube there’s a budget grocery store called Icleand and an H&M and, to your left, a little street called Electric Avenue. I wonder how long you’d have to work or live in Brixton before you could look at the Electric Avenue street sign without singing I wanna rock down to Electric Avenue in your head. I don’t know. Maybe no human has ever lived that long.
        I walked down Electric Avenue and turned left. I am going to use the real names of some of the people I worked with at the trial shift but I am going to use a fake name for the general manager because there is no his-real-name-related-anecdote that it feels imperative for me to tell you. I have no real desire to protect his or this restaurant’s identity but want to do whatever I can to make sure all the people who work there don’t find this and then read it aloud to each other, mocking my narrative voice.
        I am going to call him Teddy. He was a handsome in a way that made him less appealing than if he were average or even ugly. If he was an actor, and he could have been, he would have been well-cast as one of Chuck Bass’ cronies on an episode of Gossip Girl. He wore a white short-sleeved button-up spotted with royal blue polka-dots made of thread and Carhartt khakis and teal Vans lace-ups. His skin looked like it was made of creamed honey.
        Teddy seemed deeply inconvenienced by his having ears that functioned properly every time my lips parted and vocal cords vibrated or whatever it is vocal cords or a voicebox actually do. If I could describe his general demeanor in one word it would be, so easily and without competition, “humorless.” At my interview he quizzed me on what’s in a Negroni and Manhattan and Old-Fashioned and what is a Sour and what’s my favorite wine and how would I describe it and what wine would I pair with garlic butter prawns and what wine would I pair with salt-and-pepper squid. I told him a dry Riesling for the squid and he raised his eyebrows like I had just said “Me no know!” and squashed my chin into my neck and then made a farting noise with my armpit.
        I said “I don’t know, sorry, it’s just my thing, I really love pairing Rieslings with Asian food” and I regret saying that because a) I think it’s ignorant to say “Asian food” and b) it’s not even really my thing and c) I’m NOT sorry that I think it’s cool to think outside the box wine-wise, and d) I’m NOT sorry I’m confident enough to express my semi-outside of the box wine opinions in a situation where I know I’m meant to just say the right answer. Which was the Vinho Verde.

I walked in the front door and Teddy looked at me like he had never seen me before in his life. “It’s me, Laura!” I said, “Remember?!?! From 2:30??!???”-
        I didn’t say that. But I was genuinely concerned as to whether or not he remembered me from 2:30 (it was 6:45) so I said “Hi! Good to see you again! How were the past four hours of your life?” (I really said that.)
        He didn’t answer me. He asked me if I found the place okay which was redundant since it was not my first time there. I thought oh okay cool you dead-inside phony, I see how it is. He led me down to the basement and said, “The code to open up the door is CXLN5200X341029855QRA” and I laughed because of course it would be impossible for a human who wasn’t Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man to memorize that long of a code on the spot and I thought maybe that was Teddy’s attempt at a joke but in retrospect, no, it wasn’t.
        He gave me a very-unflattering-to-my-puppy-tummy beige apron to wear and introduced me to his assistant manager, Gish. Gish was a boy. He looked like an uglier version of the actor Ben Whishaw and had a twitch in his eyebrow. I hate writing about twitches or meeting people with twitches because I am a naturally twitchy person myself and even just hearing the word “twitch” makes my face want to twitch the shit out of itself. Gish and I stood next to the popcorn popper and he showed me how to make popcorn. It was called either margarita popcorn or margherita popcorn.
        “Every table gets popcorn,” he told me, very seriously. He took his job, and probably himself, too seriously. He showed me how to fill up a shaker with popcorn and then add a squeeze of lime and two dashes of Tabasco sauce and a sprinkling of salt and then shake it up. It was a very easy skill to learn. He leaned against a counter and stared down the clipboard he was holding. He wrote some checkmarks and numbers onto a computer print-out of a spreadsheet. I asked him how long he’d worked there and he said “Well, we’ve only been open a week,” and snorted to himself in lieu of laughing at me and my dumb weird life that didn’t revolve around the goings-on of a restaurant I didn’t work at, “But I guess you’re asking me how long I’ve been with the company,” and then he told me about how he’d started as a bartender and then climbed the ranks to head bartender to assistant manager or whatever. I said “Oh” and he went back to his clipboard. I asked him some other question, I forget now, and he looked at me like I’d just unzipped and unbuttoned his jeans and he cried, “I don’t feel at ease!” and I said “What?” and he said “I don’t feel at ease.” And I said “What?” and he said “I don’t feel at ease!” and I said “Oh.” He walked away, and I folded my arms across my chest even though I know you’re not supposed to do that in a restaurant because it sends out the vibes of hostility but I couldn’t help myself. I felt hostile towards Gish.
        A girl named Bea came back from break and Teddy told me I was meant to shadow her. She was young and fat and looked like Pooh Bear. I got the impression that she probably wouldn’t have known what went into a Salty Dog or Rob Roy if you asked her and I knew, in my heart, that she wouldn’t have been able to think of a more creative wine to pair with salt and pepper squid than I did. I doubted she’d heard of Aperol.
        For the next three hours of my life I was Bea's bitch. Bea was a shitty server— she was, as we say, not on top of her tables. By we I mean me and the staff of my old restaurant. And another thing we say that could have described Bea’s performance is “fucking the dog.” Did you ever hear that one? The first time I ever heard it was from an old Irish lady named Maureen I used to work with at the Gap. She reminded me of a ship; a big old tanker with barnacles growing up the sides. She’d seen the Rolling Stones play something like fifty times and a significant chunk of that fifty were from before they were famous, from when she was an Irish teenager sneaking off to London in pigtails and knee-highs. On my last day of working at the Gap I told her she was the salt of the Earth and it touched her. She cried. She taught me what “fucking the dog” means.
        Bea fucked the dog and I thought about her name Bea. Beatrice. No young person in Canada would ever be named Beatrice unless it was a family tradition to name your kid after your great-grandmother. Paul McCartney’s little daughter is named Beatrice. BEATrice. I wonder if he named her after his band the BEATles.
        They had some interesting cocktails. One was called a Bombay Paradise or something or other. Bea said, “We don’t tell people this, but it’s supposed to taste like Indian food.” I liked how she thought I was a big enough idiot that I was going to run around the restaurant yelling “HEY HI THE DRINK TASTES LIKE INDIAN FOOD” and, worse yet, that if I did none of the customers would be brave enough to try it. Either way the drink came with a poppadum and ramekin of mango chutney on the side so I think people probably figured out that it was supposed to taste like Indian food on their own.
        I stood next to the popcorn machine making shakers of margarita popcorn and talking to the head bartender. He had one nose piercing in each nostril. His nose rings were fat and silver and shaped like pencil tips or stabbing weapons. Next to the popcorn popper he flambĂ©ed peaches in a pan. I asked him what they were for even though it was obvious that they were for a cocktail. He said “For our most expensive cocktail,” and I unfunnily said “I guess they’re paying for labor.” I asked him if he muddled them and he said “Yeh” in his accent and then mimed the action of muddling them to make it official. I nodded.
        Gish was rude to me and Kenny or Piercy or Bunny or Benny or whatever the fuck I named him (Teddy) stayed in the kitchen. He had me run a ceviche, which was plated on a wooden paddleboard. I accidentally tilted the paddleboard a hair downward and watched as all the marinade dripped off one side and landed on a square of my bare foot exposed by the thatching of my shoe. I asked Bea if I could borrow her cloth to wipe the drip spill line off the paddleboard and she looked askance at my request. She sighed, had had it up to here with my antics, and handed me a paper cocktail napkin. At my old restaurant we weren’t allowed to use the cocktail napkins to mop up spills because they are expensive. I looked at Bea like I was shocked. She didn’t care.
        I am about seventy percent sure I didn’t get the job because Bea, knowing I was a superior server, gave me a bad review. The other thirty percent was thanks to Gish, who is mentally ill. The bartenders and kitchen staff loved me; they always do. I could tell they thought I was hot.


When you order a glass of wine here they will always ask you if you want a small or a large. The correct answer, of course, is large, and continues to be, until the correct answer, sadly, becomes small. Then you drink your small. Then you go home.


On Wednesday night I drank half a bottle of cheap Prosecco on my roof and then dumped the end of a bottle of sparkling water into the Prosecco bottle to make it last longer and we walked outside and Mark drank a squat can of Heineken that reminded me of one of those barrels a St. Bernard would have carried around his neck on a mountain in Heidi. I carried my bottle of Prosecco-water in one hand because here it’s legal to. Walking down the street while swigging from a bottle of Prosecco or Prosecco-water is such a lovely thing to not have be illegal. It’s pretty crazy to think that back home (I love saying “back home” like that! Back home! Like it’s the gold rush and I’m on the run!) some meathead in a cop uniform, a cop, could get mad at me or yell at me or worse yet speak sternly to me about the myriad evils of drinking Prosecco on the street in summertime (it’s a gateway drug), then decide that the most effective way to impart that lesson upon me is to make me pay him some money! But it’s not like my money goes to that cop. Actually I have no idea where that money goes. Probably to install a fluorescent light fixture in a prison so infallible that a buff criminal wouldn’t be able to rip it out of the ceiling and use to murder his cellmate or himself.
        We stopped into The Constitution, our local. I dumped my Prosecco-water into a sewer grate. We sat out in the Biergarten, which looks out over the Regent’s Park Canal, and drank a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc and pint of Guinness respectively. Guess who had which.
        It felt like the kind of place where you could run into Ray Davies with his old man face looking like dripping candle wax drinking a pint of something. Drinking at the Constitution makes me feel like I am living in the London Ray Davies made me fall in love with. For the first week I lived here the only time I thought about Ray Davies was when we asked our landlord for his bank’s address so we could wire him our rent and his bank was in Muswell Hill. I punched Mark harder in the arm than was necessary and yelped “Muswell Hill! That’s where the Kinks are from!”- But now things have settled down a little and I think about Ray Davies a lot.
        The thing about Ray Davies is he could be anywhere. He’s not like Sir Paul McCartney, who you know only hangs out in restaurants in hotels and eats risotto and fava bean and tomato salads and later relaxes in a suite with a bowlful of popcorn drizzled with truffle oil sitting in his gorgeous fucking lap. He probably knows more about wine than I do, really casually, and also wrote Eleanor Rigby.
        Mark and I sat on one side of a picnic table with our knees pressing against each other and I felt like I was a glass of prosecco, all the bubbles scrambling to get to the top. We smelled pot smoke wafting up from the canal and I felt brazen and fearless because my life was taking place inside a Kinks-song-themed snow globe and my job interview from that morning had gone well. My life looked more like what I’ve always known my life is supposed to look like than it had ever looked before and I didn’t feel empowered so much as I felt free. We ran down a spiral stone staircase and I asked the gang of people smoking pot for some pot. They let us hit the joint a couple times and then a red-faced blond guy with a rectangle-shaped head and body passed me a big bag of weed and I put it in my pocket. He said “Noi, don’t take th’ oll bag!” and then mimed like he was me taking just a tiny chunk of bud out of the baggie and I mimicked him. I put the bud in my pocket and passed him the baggie back. Then he gave me his phone number. He was really excited to become our drug dealer.
        Mark and I went for a long walk alongside the canal. I was stoned for the first time in half a year and behaving like a goof. A boat called the Silver Otter was parked next to a boat called the Sophie. I don’t care about boats but I love words so much and my champagne bubble head just exploded with word nerd pleasure over SILVER OTTER SOPHIE SILVER OTTER SOPHIE SILVER OTTER SOPHIE!!! I took a photograph of Silver Otter Sophie with my iPhone camera but it just came out looking like a boring grainy picture of two boats.


As soon as we got home Mark decided that instead of walking in the front door he would prefer to walk to the store and go buy bread and peanut butter so he could be stoned and eat peanut butter sandwiches which made a lot of sense to me as it would to any person who has ever smoked pot even once in their entire life.
        I opened the front door and was bummed when the beagle wasn’t there to jump all over me and make aaaoooo-style whimpering noises. I turned the corner into a thin hallway called the “living area” where nobody lives. There is a small bookshelf set against one wall whose collection boasts every volume of Shades of Grey novel, I had no idea, there are like ten of them. The living area fades into a long, narrow kitchen. A door on the righthand side of the wall between them acts as a boundary. It leads to a rough, overgrown yard that the beagle likes to hang out in. I noticed the door was askew and stood in the white space it created. I heard some rustling of leaves followed by a sharp yelp followed by the insane, desperate shw-shw-shw of paws against pavement. Next thing I knew the beagle was in my arms and we were kissing each other. I looked at her chest; I’ve never had a girl dog before. She had like a thousand nipples. It’s funny how when you find out a dog’s a girl her features suddenly become so delicate, so feminine. She is graceful and plentifully-eyelashed like Bambi’s girlfriend Fellina. Boy dogs look like Tramp or the one that Billy Joel voiced from Oliver And Company. Boy whippets are Bambi.
        I hung out with the beagle in the living area. I played rough with her because I was high and I thought “We are women and we together will show the Universe that we are not weak” and then her owner came out of her bedroom and she looked very well taken care of. I peered into her room and saw a giant silver make-up box and a backlit mirror. Make-up,  evidently, is her thing.
        I felt a little foolish for being in the middle of sharing this really soulful, like, feminist moment with her beagle but she was the real fool for not researching the traits of the dog breed beagle before buying herself a beagle and subsequently neglecting her beagle. I knew my eyes were red as the devil is in the words of Kanye West and I was wearing an outfit that Mark had described as being “very Gap” earlier- black ballet slippers, faded skinny jeans that were literally from the Gap, a men’s white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up- but it had fallen apart over the course of my night. My jeans were sagging down below my ass like I was Justin Bieber and all my hair was falling out of my topknot. I was like “Hi I’m Laura, I love your dog” and she was like “Yeah, she’s got a lovely temperament” which isn’t true and then I asked her “What’s her name?” and she told me what her name was (I forget; Mark thinks it might be Sharlene) and then I (so charmingly) asked “No, what’s the dog’s name?” and she told me “Pearl.”
        Isn’t that the cutest piece of information? The beagle’s name is Pearl! This morning Mark went out for a run and while he was gone I sat on the lip of ground extending from our bedroom door and forced out a cough, just to make a noise, any noise, so that Pearl would hear me and she ran up to me and I kissed her velvet ear and whisper-sang the Syd Barrett song that goes I know a sweet girl, she done went out and paid for me, she was a sweet girl, after five we went out for tea, and then I skipped the verse that goes She seen a dolly rocker, she want a girl, she got her, I wanna see her I know I do, I love you darling; all for you and went straight into the verse that goes You want to meet Pearl? She’s as cute as a squirrel’s nut, and I told her “That’s you! That’s you, Pearl!” and she got really excited and licked the hell out of my face because it was so cool to her that her name was in a Syd Barrett song and like duh I understood. She licked her chops and considered her next move and chose: resting her paws against my shoulders. Her eyes looked so blank I couldn’t take it. In my head I concocted a plan to steal her.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who loves salt-and-pepper-squid to an embarrassing level, I can tell you I would for sure drink a Riesling with it. *armpit fart*