Natural Habitat

It’s an unusually sunny and warm afternoon in October. The leaves are changing and are in that perfect zone of yellow and light brown. The sunlight comes through them, making the ground almost golden. I am watching the world go by my window. Though there are three parks with a five minutes’ walk from my flat, I have decided to eschew nature today. Both of my living room windows are cracked open. A ladybug is walking on the tip of one of them…both of them.

I sigh. Nature is wonderful. I go to my kitchen for a sandwich.

I am rereading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a book that I have consistently recommended since reading it for the first time in 2004. The book is about Bryson’s 1996 hike of the Appalachian Trail, though, as some readers will immediately point out, not all of it. These are the same people who tell you that pineapple belongs on pizza.

Reading A Walk in the Woods has had the same effect on me as it did the first time I read it. Namely, it makes me want to up and walk somewhere through nature. I have done my days in nature. A camping and fishing trip in the west. A yearly canoeing trip in southern Bohemia. Countless days fishing as a kid. A Boy Scout camping trip. I can, as Bryson so desires, look into a set of mountains and woods, and say with a far-ff stare, “I have shit in the woods.”

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Zero Tolerance

I am looking into my computer, trying to get some proofreading done. I am having trouble concentrating, finding just about any reason possible to stop looking at my computer. This is perhaps because the average sentence length in the academic paper I’m proofreading comes in around 89 words.

There’s an outside chance that my trouble concentrating is due to the fact that my work email, my personal email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are all open in my browser. The Office is playing on the TV behind me and the cat has decided that she wants to sit on my shoulder so that we can pretend to be Greybeard the pirate and his cat, Smithers. Again.   

I get up from my computer to check my phone and while I’m there I check my email inbox, which I have been staring at in a tab on my computer for the last ninety minutes. It’s then I realize that I might have a problem.

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The Loophole

I arrive at the pub a few minutes after my friend. It’s a Saturday night in mid-September and we’re taking advantage of the last days of reasonable warmth to sit outside in the garden. The garden itself, however, is showing the sad signs of being prepared for autumn and winter. Several of the tables towards the back are rendered unusable under the burden of RESERVED signs, their benches bent forward to disallow sitting for those who haven’t mastered Yoga. Two storage containers are sitting in the back right corner, and will no doubt store extra produce and perishables through the autumn and more perishable perishables through the winter. The place is a bit depressing, and I can’t unremember drinkers in summery T shirts and dresses sitting on those benches having loud conversations just a month ago.

I sit. The big bald waiter drops my beer as my ass hits the bench. I think him and he grumbles a complaint. With another waiter, I would appreciate this and see it as a comfortable familiarity. But with this guy I attribute it more to the fact that he wants to save himself a trip and has gambled on my order. If I told him I didn’t want a beer, there would be a major problem.

My friend is drinking a glass of wine, a carafe sits next to his glass. We chat about the fun things we always talk about: language, teaching, books, writing, nipple-size, life. A far-off goal for our evening is for him to help navigate me through the treacherous waters of a Czech bureaucratic application. I have to register a freelance working license for some writing and editing and I have to go to the building with the form accurately filled out to be sure to fulfill my goal of getting the license. Somewhat accurately, that is, because they are notoriously tricky. And somewhat sure to fulfill my goal, because bureaucratic offices are notoriously capable of finding problems. In this case it could be a problem with the application’s information, the adjoining documents, my visa, the clerk’s current mood, or the way my hair looks. When I was registering my new address a few months ago, there was a problem three times I went. It took my five times to get my new address registered. I once heard that five times is the average. It’s pretty accurate.

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Report: Thirteen Minutes Offline

cats: owners of the internet

Introduction

This report outlines the events of September 20, 2019, in which the internet went down and the manners by which the residents [two adult(ish) humans, one cat] of [redacted address] were forced to find entertainment. The report suggests possible measures to be taken in future, both preemptive and during said situation.  

Overview

Male adult A [codename Count Wolfenstein] was relaxing on his couch watching Netflix and scrolling through Reddit when the internet went down. The remote control seemed as well to be on the fritz, so the subject was forced to find entertainment in the things he could find around the couch.

Chubby-Cubby-Master ™

The chubby-cubby-master is a side-riding cloth and Velcro cubby that attached to the side of the couch (and is evidently unremovable). Within, Count Wolfenstein found a very thin and tall book with various colored and glossy pictures throughout. This was verified to be a “magazine” and while various articles were inside the Count was troubled by their length, their lack of listing sections, and the complete void of Wikipedia links. Ultimately the “magazine” was put back into the chubby cubby for reserve use.

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Report on Problematic People

This report focuses on the problematic activity of three employees within the university system. This report gives suitable background, outlines transgressions in as much detail as possible, and recommends measures that may be taken to bring about the cessation of such actions. The actions here within took place during the week of September 9-13.  

Terence Beckley

Terence is a teacher of French literature and has been with the university for five (5) years. He has a masters degree in French, is CEFR certified as a French speaker at the C2 (proficient) level, and sometimes wears a beret (on Halloween). Terence has had many run-ins with the university for his continued refusal to get a PhD. Numerous meetings have been held with Terence by various university management staff in which were outlined (intricately) the benefits his PhD would have for the university. Sometimes with charts. Despite this intervention, Terence has maintained that he “doesn’t want to.” On September 10, Terence was overheard to say “Man, I’m not much for this academia stuff.” In English.

Possible recommended actions include the university placing a required daily quota of French language on Beckley, perhaps 2,000 words. Further intervention could involve a “baguetting,” which is a form of punishment championed by Steven Seagal, but banned by the EU in 1999.  

Jim Tooms

Jim Tooms is a bachelor-degree holding ESL teacher at the university. He is an editor for the university political science journal and a “big fan of Jeopardy.” Jim’s infraction is having a bachelor’s degree as he did on September 12, the day in question. On September 12, Jim was seen in the Foreign Language Department meeting having a bachelor’s degree. He ate two (2) prewrapped biscuits at the meeting (cinnamon and hazelnut) and had one and a half (1 ½) coffees with artificial sweetener (AS). It is suggested that Tooms has taken more than he has contributed to the university.

Recommended actions are to monitor Tooms’ intake up through and including the Christmas party. At the Christmas party if he takes more than the bachelor degree provisional quotient (2 16 oz beers or 4 oz glasses of wine, four cookies, two slices of ham or one pork neck, a 10 oz bowl of vegetable salad, and one pocket diary as per the university’s Christmas gift) then his pay should be docked and he should be sent to the salt mines.

  • This recommended action requires the purchase/development of salt mines.

Numerous

Numerous other employees within the university system have been observed expressing antisocial, anti-university, and anti-academic sentiments. These actions and sentiments include correcting another professor, answering a student with “sure, no problem” as opposed to the more acceptable “it shall be decreed.” Others were observed watching a gangsta rap video on the “YouTube” and sitting back and closing one’s eyes.

Recommended actions are to scold them, dock pay, or send for rehabilitation. If none of these actions work, the university may want to consider burning this fucker down.     

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MasterClass Online Classes

Learn from masters (some of whom you’ve never heard of) who didn’t take the missteps in life that you did and who also need to make a quick buck.

Jeff Sessions teaches being thrown under a bus after destroying a democratic republic.

CNN teaches obsessing over your biggest fear. But you know, it’s cool.

Justin Trudeau teaches not being so bad in comparison (four guest lectures by George W. Bush)

Masterclass.com teaches saturating a market until you’re a meta joke in a humor article.

Jonah Hill teaches abandoning comedy to discover art. I guess.

JK Rowling teaches developing after-the-fact backstory.

McSweeney’s teaches writing articles whose humor hipsters everywhere are too scared to admit they don’t understand.

Donald Trump teaches constructing matryoshka dolls.

Tom Brady teaches the art of he has to have sold his soul to the devil, right?

George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut teach telling you so (special twofer from beyond the grave rate).

Robert Downey Junior teaches being unrecognizable to your former self.

Keanu Reeves teaches being internet memed to the successor of the incarnation of Avalokiteśvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion to the Dalai Lama.

John Legend teaches getting other people laid.

Jaden Smith teaches being a philosophical prodigy, a comic genius, or certifiably insane.

Barack Obama teaches being a weekend dad to 200 million exhausted people.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teaches being right while infuriating the other 100 million.

Steve King teaches evolution not necessarily leading to a more developed species. In Iowa.

Melania Trump teaches ineffectively blinking a distress signal on television. Because she speaks four languages, but one of them apparently isn’t Morse code.

Noam Chomsky teaches being the number one most misunderstood person referenced around kegs in college apartments.

Anderson Cooper teaches being too good-looking to distrust.

Netflix teaches making comedy instantly available to almost everyone and enjoyed by almost no one.

Joe Rogan teaches being a podcasting demigod to men ages 20-45.

Marc Maron teaches being a podcasting demigod to pessimistic men ages 20-45.

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A Reason to Believe

Courtesy of Getty Images

I’m about to get on my flight from Philadelphia to Prague. Besides the fact that I’m leaving my family, everything is grand. I have had two beers which totaled $23. But the bartender was a nice guy and I got to watch football before being shipped back to a place where football is played by a bunch of guys kicking a ball and falling down in tears at a nearby gnat.

I’m used to being annoyed at the airport. People seem to leave a great deal of their IQ points in the car that dropped them off. But today, everything is smooth. The lines are curiously short, nobody has tried to cut in front of me in said lines, and everyone has been very nice. Hm.

As they begin boarding, I decide I would like to see if a change to my seat is possible. I am a middle seat and boy am I ticked about that. I am the only person in line. I approach the woman. I smile. The two beers I’ve had were made exponentially stronger by their price.  

“Any chance I can be moved to an aisle?”

She looks.

While she looks I explain that I don’t really mind if they can’t move me, it’s not a big deal. I am lying.

“Well sir, they’re going to charge you to change seats…”

“Ah.” I am already shrugging and raising my eyebrows to show her how cool I am with that news.

“But,” she says, casting a glance hither and yon, “it’s not a full flight. The aisle seat next to you is empty, so just sit there.”

“Oh, thank you.”

One can see instantly that the plane will not be full. The groups are tiny. The man boarding the flight has to double up groups 3 and 4. He looks a little embarrassed, as if he’s having a party nobody has shown up to. The guy in front of me is roughly sixteen feet tall. He turns to me.

“Man, am I missing something? Nobody’s here.”

“I know.”

We are on the plane in a matter of minutes. I am so relaxed I forget to do my flying ritual wherein I kiss the plane and say a little poem to her. I take one step backwards off the plane and do that. But it’s a bit forced.

The sixteen foot tall guy is sitting directly in front of the aisle seat in which I’d like to switch. He’s already got his seat leaned as far back as it can go. If I sit in the seat behind him I’ll be able to braid his hair on the way to Prague. Aha! Something to be annoyed about! The flight attendant sees this conundrum and stops.

“Oh…” she scans a tablet. “Sir, why don’t you go up to seat 12C. It’s an aisle and it’s free.”

“Thank you.”

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The Boardwalk

courtesy of Tripsavvy.com

In the mornings, Burke and I ride our bikes down the boardwalk. It’s early, after she’s done teaching (online) and I decide to abandon work for the brisk salty air and the feel.

It’s going to be hot later, really hot, and so I want to enjoy the boardwalk in the cool morning. The sun will have come up an hour or two before, so the air is warming up when we hop our bikes. A lady in a hoodie and a pair of shorts is walking a grumpy dog, and we pedal up the road.

People drive slowly at the Jersey shore. This is probably because of bikes and kids and people crossing the street. It’s also due to the feel at the shore, which forces you whether you like it or not, to slow down, enjoy, and be passively nice to those around you.

When stand up to pedal our way up the ramp to the boardwalk and once that minor exertion is done, we are on the flat boards. Everything else is gravy. The bikes people rent or buy down the shore, and the bikes by far most often seen are called ‘cruisers.’ No gears, no handbrakes. Many of them have a basket. Some of them have a Ken doll attached to the back as a passenger.

There’s nothing like the Jersey boardwalk in the morning. The heat and cold are sautéing a mist off the ocean. The beach is vast and cool and quiet. The boards rock under our bikes. There are people doing the same no matter if we go at 6 or 7 or 8 am. We pass all of the places that will be packed later. Morey’s Pier, Hot Spot, Ed’s, dozens of shops, water parks, amusement parks, stands for every junk food one can imagine, Hot Spot #4 (haven’t seen 2 or 3). The only places doing business are the Dunkin’ Donuts and the diners. Otherwise, the gates are down, the places recouping and recharging.

We make it to the end of the boardwalk and our bikes hit the pavement. Grassy hills and dunes keep the ocean out of sight now. We lock the bikes up and walk up a light hill. We hit the ocean fast and the dolphins are out in droves. Some kids are torturing a dead horseshoe crab.

On the way back after our breakfast burritos, the boardwalk is a little more awake. The gates are halfway up, there are more people. Kids are pointing at the water rides, their parents are looking at the coffee shop. We enjoy the relative quiet. In the afternoon we go to the beach and drink our Orange Julius just like everyone else. In the late afternoon, we sleep.   

In the evening we head back to meet my mom, my sister, and her kids. This time we walk.

I read a haiku once that I have never been able to find again. It’s about a boardwalk at the Jersey shore (or maybe it was Coney island) in April. While I don’t remember the exact words, I do remember that the haiku perfectly conveyed the lonely, empty, beautiful feeling the boardwalk has in the office season. A place where there are no people, but where there are thousands of people on another day. Like a baseball park in It blew me away. I wish I had had it tattooed backwards on my ass, the body’s Moleskine.  

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Cape May Journal

Saturday, August 10, 10:18

(in the car)

Fred (nephew, 9 years old) enjoying an audience of three that has no escape for the next 93 minutes, begins one of his peculiar queries.

“Raise your hand if…”

It trails off. Not sure if this is because he jumps off without a place to land or because his eyeballs are glued to an iPad. Everything is secondary to the screen. Always. Still, he is curious and adventurous, our future archaeologist. He meanders through a valley of mismatched clauses. “…have you ever, what do you think is the…my favorite, do you know how which dinosaur has blue legs?”

Mom puts in a valiant attempt, but she is told that she is wrong.

He explains. “Pokémon has two legs because…”

I put in earphones and, like many men, seek solace with a Joe Rogan podcast. Chuck Palahniuk.

Saturday, August 10, 13:29

Cape May is nearly perfect.

Quiet, coolish in the shade, hottish in the sun.

Aunt’s house is in a neighborhood off the main drag and is a perfect beach house. Homey, a well-used porch with pockets of sand here and there, a creaky screen door, wide open windows in lieu of air conditioning. Kitchen is a bit tight, cozy with food. Baseball is always on.

Mom, aunt, sister, niece, and nephew embroiled in discussion concerning the events surrounding a dropped birthday cake two years previous. I have heard four versions of the event and not one of them fully corroborates another. Fascinating.  

Decide to walk to the beach rather than hear 4 different climaxes of the same story. It’s like living in a Faulkner novel.

Personal opinion: it was Mom’s fault.

Saturday, August 10, 14:50

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Country Life

Not Chauncy the Great Black Wasp, but a Cousin of Chauncy the Great Black Wasp

This morning I am busy, like all of my mornings home in the small town where my parents live. I wake up early, spend a half hour on the porch drinking coffee and enjoying the prehumid time of the day. I then write for two hours in the kitchen.

A huge wasp has spent every day at the screen window of the kitchen trying to get to me. After day 4 I looked it up online to find that it’s a Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) and that it’s mostly disinterested in people. But this doesn’t mesh with the fact that Chauncy (his name) is interested enough in me to try to get to me every day. I read that the Great Black Wasp’s sting can ruin your day, so I say hello to him in the morning, but I do not let him in. The basement is filled with spiders. I don’t go there.  

After writing I eat on the porch in a rocking chair and watch cars go by. And in the afternoon, I proofread academic journals and research articles. By 2 or so, I am free to read and lounge and exercise. I am eating a mostly carbohydrates and sugar diet, so I don’t skip exercise. I have slowly tricked my sister’s cat into loving me. Well, not me as much as the addictive probably slightly narcotic treats I am using to entice her out from under various furniture. She has weird legs that are a completely different color from the rest of her, but I don’t mention it as I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She’s also really long, sort of like a ferret. Her meow is like a lady’s scream in a 1940s movie, but from really far away.    

Today my mom has enlisted me for a task. I am to go to the store and buy (a notably specific) five cases of water. It’s been specified more than once.

“Can you get five cases of water today?” she asked me yesterday.

For the last sixteen years, a stack of water cases has stood as high as an elf in the mudroom. It has been depleted, and my mom is worried and muttering about dehydration and zombie apocalypses.

“Can you get five cases of water tomorrow?” she asked last night.  

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