Juvenile most of the time, reviled some of the time, but never banal, the Urban Dictionary provides an alternative take on the everyday, and the night-time in-between.

It is dressed downwards of mature sometimes, maybe most of the time, but that is why it is the “urban” dictionary—just like a city, you do not visit this place with your mother:

You do know what LOL means right? OMG!!1! Lol, Mum pls stop using teh internets!1!!

Clearly, the Urban Dictionary is by and for the “Google Generation,” the generation which, to quote from the horse’s acne spotted mouth, was:

brought up by doing their homework using Google, as in ’damn, all these kids in the google generation get A’s’.

You’ll note that being educated by a search engine has not necessarily been a step forward for grammar. Likewise, in this dictionary, proof-reading and spelling are out of step, lagging far behind.

Did somebody say spelling? On this topic, the juvenile consensus of the Urban Dictionary is remarkably mature:


  1. A lost art.
  2. What people are incapable of doing on the Internet.
  3. Absent from the internet.Spelling, O Spelling, where art thou? Along with grammar, punctuation…?

The internet may still be predominantly American, but in matters of pronunciation, the Urban Dictionary is at times refreshingly international, waving the global flag for the Queen’s English as the rest of the world, with stiff upper lip or otherwise, correctly enunciates it:


How the entire world (except the Americans) say aluminium. Why? Because that’s how it’s spelled.

Brit: Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust.
American: You mean Aluminum?
Brit: No, I mean Aluminium. Moron.

Everything is not as it seems in the Urban Dictionary. Words do not just mean what they mean, or even what they have evolved to mean, for on these mean, new, lexicographical streets, words are melded into new and wonderful shapes, twisted, turned and bent in a manner that would give Samuel Johnson, author of the first dictionary, a meltdown. You could say that in the Urban Dictionary, words become like plastic:


A materialistic, fake man or woman. In particular, someone who is attractive yet lacks any sort of depth whatsoever.

Everyone in this club is plastic.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is no entry in the Urban Dictionary for the author of 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language, for his child, now generations removed, has been herein defined to door-stopping, fly-swatting irrelevancy:


A very large book full of information about how words are spelled, pronounced, used in a sentence etc. Although originally intended for reading, the dictionary serves many functions: it can be used as…

  1. a stepstool
  2. a flyswatter
  3. a paperweight
  4. a doorstop
  5. firewood
  6. etc. etc. etc.

Likewise books are deemed no longer relevant by the precocious Urban Dictionary, and without search field and ability to instantaneously edit or copy and paste, depressingly one dimensional and linear. Which to paraphrase your English teacher is a shame, because despite their page turning, stitched and bound irrelevancy, books will never cease to have hidden dimensions of imagination and mind, dimensions not always apparent in their noisier, brasher successor:

1. Book

an object used as a coaster, increase the hight of small children, or increase the stability of poorly built furniture.

where do you want me to put your drink?
oh, just leave it on top of that book.

But every rule and just coined and spun at home homily admits an exception—who would have thought of the just consigned to paperweight and wastebasket book becoming a synonym for “cool”?

2. Book


In the T9 predictive text on cell phones, the numbers 2665 spell both “book” and “cool,” but “book” is the first word to display. To save time, it is left and understood to mean “cool.”

be there in 20
book. see ya then.

Every generation adopts and adapts words to make a language all their own; if you didn’t grow up watching nursery rhymes on DVD, the Urban Dictionary is your looking glass to a wonderland of language you have probably never heard:


One of the best words ever.. can be multi-purposeful… basically it’s a cat noise.. and implies confusion/question…

Billy: OMG I went and got a trichi today…
Sally: Meew?

While much in the Urban Dictionary can be classed as new and unfamiliar, one can not always assume all that is from beyond the horizon of right now is even a twisted path to making sense—clicking on the dictionary’s random button serves up words and phrases so nonsensical that a team of untrained monkeys could not have typed their way to a place of less sense:


rapper from the Nasti Nati

it’s a new craze going into a new phase merk out and do the down da way -tocka

In the Urban Dictionary, sense and meaning is often found in a popular culture context. The respective 1970s and 1980s martial arts and ninja crazes give the following contemporary stereotype its brick-breaking cultural pin-point:

Basement Ninja

A person, usually male aged 13-35, who practices inferior self-taught fighting, killing, or stealth techniques in the basement of his/her parents’ home or in a basement apartment. Typical hobbies include collection of decorative ‘ninja’ weapons for the purposes of practice and display. Typical behaviours include exhibition of martial arts proficiency, provision of stealth tips, and demonstration of human pressure points.

Anybody who carries nunchucks to a 7-11 is a basement ninja.

Are you spending too much time online to avoid doing work offline? You’re a procrastinator, and the Urban Dictionary has got you coined:


One who will do anything, including spending an entire day looking up random words on urban dictionary, to get out of doing work. This habit often has a terrible effect on that person’s relationships, work, or grades.

I am a procrastinator

Yes, this internet age dictionary is broad and multi-participational—anyone can submit a definition or word, anyone else can vote it up or down—but no matter which dictionary you use, the rest of the world just does not understand Canada:

Canadian Heritage Moments

Commercials made by the Historica association of Canada, outlining Canada’s “achievements” in 60-second shorts. Considered by Canadians to be hilarious, people of any other nationality just don’t get them.

Serious and overbearing from a distance, Germans are a people also often misunderstood, but not by the all-embracing, always glib Urban Dictionary:

1. Germany

A country that is ambitious and misunderstood.

Everyone wants to be like Germany but do we really have the pure strength of will?

2. Germany

The country Hitler wasn’t born in.

Guy 1: Hey, do you know where Hitler was born?
Guy 2: Not Germany.
Guy 1: k.

Oh the youth of the today, they are so shallow, so infatuated with the temporal and passing, can we find any wisdom in any of what they say? Of course we can, but first we must understand the contemporary parlance within, the internet age idiom of cynicism and heavy sarcasm. Translated so, the following are as cutting and subversive as the polemic of any time:

Illegal Immigrant

Anyone who is Mexican and anyone who is mowing your lawn.
Anyone who runs across the U.S. border with Mexico

Mommy, look at that guy mowing the lawn.
Look away, George. He’s Mexican and he’s an illegal immigrant, and he’ll steal your ice cream if you keep looking at him.


The early 21st century drug of choice. A shared illusion, making its addicts think they have friends, a life, access to good information, and the critical thinking skills to form valid opinions. Fatal in large doses.

Paul spent the day eating Cheetos and watching Television, then had a light heart attack in the evening.


A place where people eat alot, get fat, and then sue to get money.

I ate at McDonalds everyday for 7 years and now I weigh 500 pounds, so I’m gonna sue them to make some cash.

No matter the culture, no matter the time or clime, the feeling and spirit of the human heart will always beat and breathe to the one timeless tune. Once upon a time and century distant, love-lorn haiku poets wrote of these same sentiments, under the very same half-clouded moon that shines today:

Ear Synch

If you miss someone a lot and are away from them, you can both listen to the same song at the same time, and you will feel a deep connection to the other person, you will imagine what they are doing and feeling. It is different than talking on the phone. Both people get a strange feeling of bittersweetness and connection while the song is playing.

There is something soothing, reassuring about such moments of zen-like connectedness occurring in the most nontraditional of situations, and it is a reassurance that no matter how far we as human beings run, with iPod on and iPhone charged, from our cultural and social roots, we will never be able to SMS or Wikipedia ourselves away from the basic human condition:


Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

Q: Does a cow have Buddha Nature?
A: Moo

The final word on the Urban Dictionary to a seer-poet and library vast of his work, Sri Chinmoy Library, in haiku form:

E-mail is man-connection,
And not God-communication—
No, never!

Sri Chinmoy

“Go to the French cafe by the departure gate. It’s got really good coffee, and sandwiches too.”

Dressed like a character from a Jack Kerouac novel, a connoisseur of places subterranean, my friend knows his coffee, and the city he lives in does too. Forget paired and halved slices of bread, I have been in Melbourne three days, Australia’s second city and first city of art, culture and coffee—soon to be largest city by upwards trend of statistical metric—and sandwiched in an airport coffee lounge queue, post check-in and pre board-on, I am going to steam it, pour it, drink it one last time, order it extra strength in a double sized cup.

I should have known better when I saw the queue. I should have called it quits then, turned around and walked away. I should have seen past hope and expectation for reality’s cold, half empty glass.

Not the size of the queue but the position, the opposite side of the food cabinet, the opposite side of common sense. Till and people queuing to the right; food, barista and people waiting for coffee to the left—this café expected people to queue, order and pay for food that they could not see, and such little touches nay blindly splayed brush strokes on the canvas of life suggest a business run without a clue. What hope then a decent brew?

“Hi, do you have any sandwiches that are vegetarian?”

At the head of the queue, face to face with girl taking my order, I had to ask for a recital of the food cabinet contents that could not be sighted.

I had left the carry-on bag to briefcase packed queue to inspect the uninspiring, un-kosher selection of ham and cheese condiments earlier, losing my place in doing so to a pair of airline pilots, accustomed on ground as in air to being in front of everybody else, but hope against hope, thought it worth asking if something, anything solid might be joining my liquid, caffeinated must.

In life hope is a welcome, cheerful friend, but disappointment a more consistent companion. Preferred company unavailable, the girl behind the counter answered my question with a lack of understanding bordering confusion, and with no small effort, shifted sideways to double check what comprehension could not. Unwillingness, written on face in letters larger than the blackboard behind, remained firmly in place.

“Um… no, they’ve all got meat in them.”

And then silence. No other suggestions forthcoming, even half-consideration a cup drained bare. She shifted back, impatience joined us for company.

“Then could I have a croissant?”

Although chalked in white and capitals on the menu one row below “obvious”, this request may have been confusing too, because the girl, furrowed brow, tangled thinking as apparent as gaudy lipstick, queried that which common sense and opening question had already answered.

“Did you want the ham croissant?”

Something other than the croissant in this cafe appeared to be served plain.

“No, plain, thank you.”

I am well used to this sort of treatment. I have been swimming vegetarian in a stream of meat-eaters for fifteen years, and am not the kind of person who paints the entire world white just because it is the colour I’ve chosen to wear. Callousness and deliberate unwillingness though are harder to swallow.

Perhaps the “croissant toasted with butter and jam” description of the menu was optional, perhaps for me only imaginary, for I was handed a “plain”, room-temperature croissant, sans condiments and toasting in a white paper bag. The only thing toasted about this croissant was my starting to burn at the edges temper.

“I’ll have a mocha too” I added in measured, deliberate tone as total was added, note proffered, change returned, no recognition of my request shown other than correct price charged.

Taking croissant in hand, taking bad with bad, I moved to the opposite side of queue and counter willingly, with relief, to the barista and coffee machine, where two shots of heart-palpitating happiness would be made. Things were looking up, my welcome, cheerful friend returned, hope a half full growing fuller coffee cup.

About eighteen, about eighteen years away from mastering his trade, the barista emptied coffee grind from the previous shot with a rushed, hasty jolt, then returned handle to head without cleaning it.

Live long enough, pay attention to memory and intuition close enough, practise meditation well enough, you get a foretaste, premonition of the outcome of every action before you act. I could taste the coffee being made as though already drinking it, and it tasted dirty, gritty, acidic, as though drinking from the bottom of a used, uncleaned mug.

My cup grew fuller quickly with a dark, brooding, dirty brew, hope drained quickly away, cup half empty, now gone.

On second thought, but thought too late, my well-meaning, well-discerning friend had said to go to the French cafe by the departure gate, and the only thing French about this café were the stale croissants, baked so long ago that they could have been shipped from Paris.

The clock struck boarding time, the airport announcer chimed, I made my way past duty free stores and just free, just arrived passengers to Gate 24. With a queue for coffee almost as long as passengers boarding the plane, the café I should have gone to was literally next door.

My stories often have their origin in something that actually happened – an incident, a memory, something heard. (In this case it was the leap out of a plane at 12000 feet – one of the scariest things I’ve ever done). It’s then a case of finding a voice, letting characters take shape, coalesce round the incident. Then I see how they deal with it, where it leads, and in the process I figure out what the story’s really about. (Usually it’s mortality, that great resounding bass note that’s always present in our lives).

So writes Alan Spence, award winning poet, playwright and author about his short story Long White Cloud, and what a story it is, a sketch descending at terminal velocity from personal experience, a death-defying, fear-facing leap from a plane evoking cloud covered memories of other lives lived, lake surface below reflections on mortality and what may lie beyond.

Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen, Spence clearly knows from cover to cover the topic he teaches. He takes the stuff of personal experience—a trip to New Zealand, a leap from a moving plane—and gives it voice, clothing, personality; characters and narrative germinated from the seeds of emotion and memory, a flower beautiful to behold, story compelling to read the final, blossoming result.

“The kind of thing that had happened to him before. Memories that were not his own. Once in Japan, he’d looked at himself in the mirror, seen someone else entirely looking back at him,  a Japanese man with the intense gaze of a warrior.  Someone else, and yet.”

Reincarnation, memories of past lives, visions of samurai warriors encountered in a 12,000 foot plunge into nothingness and empty space? Not so far-fetched when your next life is getting closer at 200 kph, and not so far-fetched when the airbourne author runs a meditation centre—the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Edinburgh—where presumably he practises daily the cross-legged, back upright and breath relaxed equivalent of descending from the heavens at a rate of knots. “All paths lead to Rome”, as Sri Chinmoy himself once said, “but one may get us there a little quicker or easier.”

In his mid 50s, Spence writes as if he is the same age as the students he teaches every day, as if 50 is the new 30 as his opening lines muse, energetically merging lyrics from a song by Blur and prostrate checks with meditations on mortality and the vapid thrill-seeking of youth, as if the author’s practise of meditation has infused his writing then spilled beyond, branched out from the meditation cushion and taken root in every life and situation met.

His most recent long player, The Pure Land, “a modern epic, at once a rattling good adventure, a heart-wrenching love story and a journey of the spirit”, was translated into 19 languages and his most successful book, but if this recently written short story is any indication, Spence is warming up, building momentum for an even greater work.

Read the short story: Long White Cloud by Alan Spence.

The following story has sentimental value for me far beyond whatever worth it may possess of its own right and writing.

Not only was it written in Japan, penned during the final hours of first visit to a land that has always had a mysterious, wasabi-strong pull, but it was more or less my first ever attempt at writing—first attempt at composing words just for the sake of writing, just for the sake of telling a story.

Yes, I had written before this point—tens of thousands of words and nearly sanity as well unburdened in the course of an Arts degree; public relations and journalism also attempted to varying degrees of success; even published and paid for doing so once by a glossy nationwide magazine; but here marks the point and starting line crossed of daring to call myself a “writer”, even if doing so was prefaced and footnoted with self-effacing, pride-protecting excuses.

To completely frank, reading this piece now makes me cringe—it is self-indulgent, unfocused, of unclear voice, metre and metres wide of aim and intent—but then it should be—you don’t get to here without starting from there, and with hundreds of stories now behind me, if I can’t see progress made and ability progressed, it would be time to admit that I never will.

So I will resist the urge to tinker and rewrite, edit and rework, and present story and bared soul just as I wrote it: Airport Anxiety—energetic, coffee fueled prose composed in a Tokyo airport coffee shop, with considerable debt and mention owed to Waiter Rant.

Airport Anxiety

Almost home.

Not that I without regret to be leaving Japan—in fact quite the opposite, for this country has just made the top of my “All time favourite places that I have visited and would like to be born in next lifetime” list. Not a long list to be honest, but a list probably in need of a shorter title.

There is always an end to everything in life, and responsibilities’ voice tells me that I have a job and numerous commitments to return to. And a pocket fast running out of money.

I get off the free hotel bus at Terminal 2, Narita Airport, Tokyo. Or should I say “de-bus”, for I am at an international airport, and here only Japanese and American English are understood. Call me a crank, but one of these days I will refuse to leave my seat when I am asked to “de-plane”…

But returning to the topic of poverty’s pinch. I have just spent three nights at the Narita Hilton, and am now seriously out of pocket. At this point you may question the wisdom of staying in a four star hotel when one is on a budget. While I do occasionally suffer from delusions of aristocratic grandeur, delusions that I have yet to precisely place, in my defence I got a very good price via the internet, after failing to secure a reservation at six cheaper locations.

Also in my defence, neither the website, nor the barely comprehensible American call-centre operator named Chuck, who processed my credit card, said a thing about the fact that breakfast, gym use and internet would be additional. Thank goodness for hotel room push-ups.

I have timed poverty’s approach to approximately the door of airplane. Once on board I will no longer need coin or currency, and I am almost there. A quick check of the entrance-way terminal map, and I head straight for the Air New Zealand check-in desk.

And then back again to the map.

“Yes, Air New Zealand, Aisle D” I confirm mentally—it says so right here in English. Again I traverse the Great Wall-like queue at the Air China desk in vain.

“Um, excuse me, this is Aisle D, but there is no Air New Zealand counter in sight” my internal monologue continues unbidden, and completely rhetorically. And then out loud to a semi-articulate but genuinely helpful lady at the information counter near-by.

“Air New Zealand-da, Flight-ta 90-a, check-in-na at-ta 4.45pm”, is her answer, but not the solution to my problem. And no I can’t enter my frequent flyer airline lounge without checking in, and besides that particular lounge is in Terminal 1—this is Terminal 2.

“American-Express-a lounge-a 2nd-da floor. Pay at door to enter-a?” she offers helpfully.

It is only 11.30am and I am near broke in the airport of the most expensive city in the world. Too broke to even eat the wax food effigies that double as menus in the restaurant windows.

With a full five hours to kill my first thought is getting rid of my bag, seeing as it doubles as a portable film studio and is ridiculously heavy. After all I’ve already had my hotel-room work-out this morning.

Conveniently placed behind the check-in counter where I can’t yet check-in is a bag storage service, slightly more expensive than the lockers, but the only option when one is travelling jumbo size. I hand, or rather bodily lift my bag to the attendant, and fill in the proffered baggage check form, noting the charge of ¥500 per day (about US$5) with the practised nonchalance that only having a well-paying job can bring.

“Do you take credit cards?” I ask blithely, for only in hindsight will I remember that this is Japan, possibly the most technologically advanced nation in the world in all regards except it’s banking system—the use of foreign issued credit cards is everywhere a lottery.

“Yen only” he replies. “Pay-a on pick-up-u.”

I mumble near incoherently something resembling “thank-you” and “I’ll find some cash”—not that clarity is a top priority when people don’t speak more than 10 words of your language—for it has just occurred to me that I spent my last ¥-flavoured coinage of note on an iced-coffee from the hotel lobby store. The attendant smiles politely, as everyone in Japan does.

It’s not that Japan doesn’t have ATMs, for it has almost as many as the ubiquitous roadside coffee and soft drink vending machines, but ATMs that work with foreign cards are another matter. As are foreign issued cards that are over their limit and then some.

I am wander around the terminal in a financially motivated panic-induced daze, clarity of thought deserted, wondering how on earth I am going to retrieve my bags with neither coin nor linguistics. Call me hopelessly attached, but I am quite keen to leave the country with everything with which I came.

The world changes when you are poor—mentally if not substantially. Suddenly, to my eyes, everyone I see possesses a security which having money brings, a security which I now lack. It may be only a perception, and the wiser part of me knows that perceptions are just that—changeable, relative and often mistaken, and on these terms easy to dismiss—but this perception is gripping me tight, like the sense of fear gripping my throat. Childhood memories of losing a parent in a public place are revisited, and a similar almost uncontrollable fear and sense of helplessness is pressing strongly against the poise and detachment that I normally practise if not embody.

Then an event happens which is hardly conducive to my slightly shaken and stirred state of mind—I am stopped by two policemen and asked for my passport. Polite and friendly in a very sincere way you will almost never find in other countries, none the less I still have to swallow a new feeling: slowly rising, angry indignation.

The officer who asked for my passport begins examining the finer details of my nationality, copying them to a piece of paper which already contains several names, while the other asks my occupation. “Designer” I say quickly, making a mental calculation as to which of my various job descriptions will most easily be understood. He looks slightly confused, so I move to what is the universally understood occupation of our time: “website developer” (“film star” wouldn’t have been true).

“Ohhhh, website-u designer-ah” he nods approvingly, repeating phonetically the same in Japanese to his colleague, whom to my relief has so far politely avoided making any comment upon my more than unflattering passport photo. “This is YOU?” or “Sir, are you on medication?” the unspoken commentary that springs to mind.

So it seems that I do not pose a high enough risk to airport security to warrant further action, action which, although it may have helped pass the remaining time in hand is, I suspect, best avoided. Perhaps they were after another “handsome, European male of average height and powerful physique.” Or completely short-sighted.

I walk past people in café windows laughing and drinking coffees. Something which, financially thirsty, I cannot do. Laughter may still be affordable, but I am not in the mood.

In the process of simultaneously looking for a working ATM and considering ever more fantastic outcomes to what common sense tells me is really a minor predicament, a brief moment of clarity intrudes, and I remember to check the change pocket of my wallet, currently heavy enough to be a bodily appendage in it’s own right.

In one of those fortuitous moments of cosmic synchronicity which can never be planned, yet occur daily in even the smallest details of a seeker’s life, I have precisely ¥500 in change—not a “go-en” less or more. My deposited bag is secured; so is my poise.

Jolted from the self-sustaining feedback loop of fear and worry, worry and fear, confidence re-emerges like the sun from behind a cloud, and in its’ secure warmth I find my way to a more than tiny Post Office in the shadows of the Terminal basement—the one dependable place in Japan for securing currency with international cards. With ¥500 already in my pocket, and like a gambler drunk on sudden success, I am going for broke—I may yet strike a coffee and cake jackpot with which to pass the time.

In the end I was a winner—¥2000 yen remaining on an assortment of magnetically stripped plastic cards whose balances I dared not read. Enough to buy, against my waistline’s better judgment, a white chocolate latte and cinnamon danish from “Starbucku”, and to my further delight, access to a wireless internet connection in same. Glazed with minor fortune and fueled with caffeine, the first draft of this post was the result, a giddy stream of infectiously confident prose written in a single take in a Narita coffee shop.

It was all a minor predicament of course, made larger than lifelike through my thoroughly fanciful imagination, but in final judgment, another valuable lesson in the meditative prerequisites of calm and poise—core subjects in a life-long course I intend to master.