It’s past two in the morning and Bailey is barking his head off downstairs.

So I’m told by Kim, who shoves my shoulder to wake me. Otherwise I never would have heard the dog, having learned to sleep through anything during all those years at the intersection of Drunken Shouting Way and Car Alarm Alley in Greenwich Village.

I shake my head to clear it. Sure enough, the mutt is making a frantic racket, a solitary suburban sound that’s truly chilling.

“Someone’s in the house!” Kim says.

“Aww, I doubt that.”

“Charlie, you have to go down and check it out!”

I grab my stepson’s cricket bat, which we keep by the bed for emergencies like this.

cricket bat.jpg

A baseball bat would feel much more appropriate, and it occurs to me that if I go downstairs and get killed by an intruder, I’ll be greeted at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter with the words:

“Hey, what’s a New York guy like you doing with a friggin’ cricket bat?”

Kim is getting impatient.

“Charlie, hurry up!”

“I’m putting my pants on. That’s important to you, isn’t it?”

She knows what I mean. A few years ago we were asleep in our New York apartment when suddenly a lunatic began bashing on the door at two a.m. - a drunken, drugged-out neighbor who’d miscounted the floors as he climbed the stairs, and thought we were in his place!

I jumped from bed stark naked and braced my hands against the door to keep him out. Kim called 911, then ran to my side - not to help me, but to dress me.

“Come on, get your knickers on!” she urged, holding my underwear open for me to step into.

If the worst happened she wanted the New York Post headline to read WRITER SLAIN, not NAKED WRITER SLAIN.  That’s class.  

And after the cops arrived and cuffed the guy Kim offered them tea and biscuits - certainly the first time New York’s Finest had ever been served by a blonde Brit wearing little more than rings, an over-sized t-shirt and toenail polish.

But this is a whole other scenario. I don’t even know if London has a “Make My Day” policy. For all I know I could get in trouble for wounding an intruder, on the grounds of First-degree Impoliteness.

I creep down the stairs and flick on the light in the kitchen, where Bailey is not only barking but running in circles. He charges past me to the front door, slamming his substantial weight against it.

Gripping the cricket bat, I look through the door’s little window and see something that makes my stomach drop - a pair of glowing yellow eyes, peering right at me.

Jesus. This is a creature straight from the pages of Stephen King. He bares his needle-like teeth, and then my eyes adjust to the moonlight and I can make out what he is.

A fox. They’re all over this neighborhood, and they’re nocturnal. This one was probably eating out of our garbage can.

I tap the cricket bat against the door, and the fox takes off. Then I turn to Bailey, who’s switched from barking to gasping.

“Good boy,” I tell him, stroking his head. “Don’t have a heart attack, the after-midnight veterinarian rates are a killer.”  

I calm him down and put him to bed. Then I go back upstairs.

“What was it?” Kim asks.

“A burglar.” I slap the bat.  “Got him right in the head, two good shots.”


“It was a fox. He ran away. Are you going to make me a cup of tea? Isn’t that standard procedure in these situations?”

“Come to bed, Charlie.”

As soon as I settle in, Bailey starts barking again. Kim wants me to go and calm him down. Instead, I start humming a song and point at the digital clock, which reads 2:45 a.m.

“What song is that?” Kim wants to know.

I was hoping she’d ask. Just the excuse I need to start singing.

“It’s quarter to three....there’s no one in the place, except you and me...”




We’re eating in a Mexican restaurant on the River Thames in Central London and I’m munching on corn chips when suddenly, I feel it - a sharpness in one of my molars.

I’ve broken a tooth.  God damn!

Before leaving New York I made sure I had a clean dental bill of health while I was covered by insurance from my job.

So what happens? Soon after kissing the insurance goodbye, my molar loses a one-on-one battle to a corn chip in London.

Go ahead and insert the British dentistry joke of your choice here.  But the way this thing shakes out is going to surprise you....

“I should sue this restaurant!” I say to Kim, only half-kiddingly. She just laughs.

“This isn’t America,” she reminds me. “We don’t walk around suing each other.”

True that.  When it comes to teeth, the Brits are especially tough. There's an old lady in our neighborhood who considers dentists a luxury.  When she has a bad tooth, she gets out the pliers and pulls it herself.  (Needless to say, she doesn't spend on cosmetics, either.)

So I quickly give up on the notion of suing the restaurant. Even if the case got to court I’m not sure I could keep a straight face before a judge wearing one of those ridiculous wigs.

Besides, I’ve swallowed the evidence.

I jam my tongue into the broken tooth, feeling the tingle of the raw nerve and the size of the gap. I figure this is going to cost me big-time.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a new scenario for me. A few years earlier, same deal - I was enjoying a meal during a visit to London when suddenly, I felt a tooth break.

It was actually a crown over a molar that had undergone an unbelievably costly and time-consuming root canal procedure in New York.

Lousy thing split right down the middle. So I went to the local London dentist, fearful of the whopping bill to come.

The diagnosis was amazingly simple. The dentist examined the expensive wreckage, shrugged and said:

“Well, that’s the last tooth in the row. You really don’t need it.”

She grabbed a pair of pliers, braced her foot against my jaw, yanked out the broken crown and tossed it on the sawdust floor.

I’m kidding about the foot against my jaw and the sawdust floor, but the rest of the story is true. She pulled the tooth, charged me a few bucks, and that was that. I’m down to 31 choppers, and it’s no big deal.

Now, as I approach that same dental clinic with my latest problem, I figure my luck has run out, and I’m braced to drop a fortune on a crown.

They can’t just pull this tooth. It’s not the last one in the row.

This time, the British receptionist sends me to a room with a Polish dentist and a Latvian hygienist - both women, both as intense as Olympic bobsledders.

“Let’s have a look!” the dentist declares.

Two injections numb up half my head, and then the drilling starts. And I mean drilling.

“Lift your hand it it’s too much for you!” the dentist says.

I don’t lift my hand, because she’s good at what she does.  Also, I'm afraid of her.  She’s going to get me through this with a huge filling, but no crown.

They work for the better part of an hour to patch up that tooth.  Drooling down my shirt, I thank them both and go to the receptionist to pay, braced for the worst.

“That’s fifty-one pounds, please,” she says in a chirpy voice.

I almost laugh out loud. That’s less than $80, for all that work. Eighty bucks! I once went to a doctor in New York who glanced at a growth on my eyelid, said I needed to see a specialist and charged me $150.

I gleefully pay the fifty-one pounds and head home. For the first time since my tooth broke, I can eat without pain. As soon as the numbness passes I’ll be ready to dig into a Shepherd’s pie.

Nothing crunchy in a Shepherd’s pie. Don’t want to press my luck.