To Bee in Dawlish

My friends Monty and Claire have been exiled to England. Monty is participating in a theater program at Exeter College, learning how to direct Shakespeare. (Shakespeare plays, I mean. Shakespeare himself is probably very unresponsive to direction.) Claire, meanwhile, stays at home with their two little boys — her and Monty’s, I mean, not her and Shakespeare’s — trying to keep them from being run over by the tiny Matchbox cars the Brits drive.

The young lads, Miles and Owen, are 4 and 2, respectively. Miles is inquisitive and smart. Owen, meanwhile, is a force of nature. He toddles around ferociously, raging and hollering like a madman. He appears to be speaking, but the words are not from any discernible language. If he weren’t so adorable, I’d assume he was evil. My best guess: He has bees in his head, and the bees are crazy.

Claire always insisted she would not be one of those mothers who put harnesses on their kids in public, but that was before she tried to navigate the tiny sidewalks of Dawlish, England, with mild-mannered Miles holding one hand and bee-headed Owen tugging at the other. And so Owen has a leash. He doesn’t mind it, but he does walk at a 45-degree angle, constantly pulling against the harness as hard as he can. Dawlish is a quaint sea-side town designed by elves for use in their postcards. Everything is small and picturesque. There is a fish-and-chips shop on every corner. And the place is CRAWLING with English people, most of whom are too reserved to be entertained by Owen the unmedicated lunatic toddler.

With Monty off at school, Claire and I took the boys for a walk to the center of town, where one finds a pond infested with ducks, two of which Miles has named Table and Singlepot. (You might wonder why, but you should remember that Miles is 4, and “Why?” is not a question he can answer with any degree of accuracy.) We fed the ducks and tried to kick the seagulls, because they are belligerent and demanding.

Claire and Monty find England amusing, but they are fed up with certain aspects of it. For example, over there, ugly people are allowed on television. This bothers Claire and Monty, who believe, as Americans, that only attractive people should be televised. (“If I wanted to see ugly people, I’d go outside!” Claire says.)

Also, there’s no real peanut butter in England. (Even if they did have it, they’d spell it peanut buttre.) Claire had me smuggle them a few jars from the States, along with some other American treats like Fruit Roll-ups, cinnamon candy and Ecstasy. I worried about getting it all through customs. This being my first visit to a foreign country, I didn’t realize customs works on the honor system: They ask if you have any food items, and you say no, regardless of what the true answer is. (Actually, in England, they put the people with the thickest, most unreasonable accents at the customs checkpoint as a means of frightening off foreigners. So what the woman said was, “D’yer ‘ave innithin t’ diclah?” And I said, “No,” as in, “No, that can’t really be how you talk.” But she took it to mean, “No, I don’t have anything to declare.”)

We found store signs confusing, too. One at a grocery store said, “Reduced to clear,” instead of the more common American terminology, “Cra-ZEE Sale!!!!!!” And the Dawlish post office — located in the back of the grocery store, I might add — had a sign reading, “Please note: As from Saturday 2nd March, we will be closing at 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays.” Why wasn’t it hand-written? Why didn’t it get the date wrong? Why were all the words spelled correctly? I missed America.

It was certainly good to see Monty, Claire and the kids in their elfin village of Dawlish. As Shakespeare would say, “I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a soul remembering my good friends” (Richard II). And as he might add, “That kid is nuts, yo” (Bill’s Party Mixx III).

It's from "Richard II," act II, scene iii, lines 49-50, to be exact. (No, I didn't happen to know it. I found a Shakespeare search engine online and looked for lines containing the word "friends.") The title "Bill's Party Mixx III" delights me to no end, especially the fact that there are two x's.

Monty and Claire are Chris and Lisa, whom I've mentioned before. (I didn't change the kids' names.) Chris' standard pseudonym is Monty, and I called Lisa "Claire" because in the one Garrens sketch we ever did that required her to do a British accent, that was her character's name. It turns out Lisa couldn't do the accent without sounding severely Chinese, and the incident became legendary. (She does a much better accent now, having lived among the Brits for several months.)

A picture ran with this column, taken by Lisa at the Dawlish train station. It was reproduced too tiny to show much detail on the Web, though.

It was while I was visiting the family that I first described Owen has having crazy bees in his head. Everyone thinks it's funny, but if you met Owen, you'd realize it's merely a statement of the obvious. People hear it, and they think, "Oh, yeah, of course. Crazy bees in his head. Why didn't I think of that?"