For the last week I’ve been avoiding my office as though it inhabits walkers. This is because my desk looks like Chernobyl shortly after their “unplanned radiation experiment.” A few days ago, I peeked in and appraised the disaster area. Clothes. Papers. Books. Pens. Wires. Coffee mugs. You name it, it was cluttering my desk. So, like anyone else, I ran back into the living room, downloaded an episode of Morse and made a frozen pizza.
But then, finally, when I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer, I rolled up my sleeves and Googled: How to organize your desk.
As a composition teacher, I spend a lot of time helping students manage time, outline, or organize their work. But this post is about getting things done, not preparing. So as I sit here writing this post, instead of organizing my desk, I don’t feel like a composition teacher. In fact, my advice is going to come off as counterintuitive to almost anything I teach.
I wasn’t completely surprised when my sister asked, “Do you want to go parasailing?” I was surprised when I answered, “Yes.”
But then again, Ernie made the decision.
There are two advisers living in my head. We’ll call them Bert and Ernie, mainly because naming voices in my head after lovable Muppets makes me sound a little more quirky and a little less schizophrenic.
Bert is the safe guy. Bert wants to be home every night by 5 p.m. Bert loves reading on the couch, enjoys eating a couple of cookies and heads to bed by eleven. Bert suggests healthy cuisine, taking vitamins, and being early. Bert is boring. Bert’s favorite word is “No.”
Ernie is the wild, spontaneous guy. Ernie is the go getter. Ernie is the one who pipes up occasionally and says, “Let’s go out drinking until 4 a.m.” or “Let’s see if that bar really is a brothel.” Or, “Fuck it. Let’s do this thing.”
Ernie’s favorite word is “Yes.”
I listen to Bert far more often. I am 39 years old, after all. I like vitamins, eating healthy (lettuce is just green cookie dough), and I like my quiet nights, reading on the couch. Moreover, a wild night of drinking means a three-day hangover and doing home liver biopsies.
But every once in a while, Ernie takes over. He just blurts out a “yes” and then Bert and I have no choice but to follow along. And thank (enter preferred deity here) that Ernie does this, because if he didn’t, my life would enjoy no fun or spontaneity. So Ernie said yes to parasailing and I had to go.
We were brought out into the Atlantic Ocean with seven others who’d listened to their Ernies. Then, a 20-year-old wearing a ZBT Jungle Party T-shirt harnessed us in pairs to a parachute attached to the back of the boat. Then the driver gunned it and we popped into the air while desperately trying to keep on a calm face because there’s nothing worse than being the urine-soaked coward in a stranger’s story. And then the boat drove around and we sailed behind it, 450 feet in the air, above the ocean.
The problem with Ernie is that he usually doesn’t think things through before saying “yes.” Therefore, there’s a moment of clarity when the reality of a situation is upon me. It’s the moment I realize exactly what Ernie has sold my ass into. It comes at 3 a.m. on the drinking Tuesday. It comes at the moment a harness is being slipped over my head. Or as heartburn settles into my chest.
And it comes now.
‘Ah, 31F, can I ask where that is exactly?’
‘Middle seat.’ She attempts a smile, but looks like she’s trying not to poop.
I don’t know about you, but being told you are in the middle seat on an airplane is sort of like being told you have armpit fungus. You know it’s not the end of the world, but you have a lot of discomfort ahead of you. That discomfort largely exists inside your head.
My brain is particularly ingenious at creating this discomfort and conjuring dreadful images. Eight hours of being flanked by fat men, so that we look like the Three Stooges in our seat. Eight hours of a woman and her two kids. Eight hours of armrest hogging Sumo wrestlers. Eight hours of asking people if I can get up to pee. Eight hours of hell.
So when the woman checking me in winks at me and says, ‘I can give you an aisle, do you mind sitting in the back?’ I respond with, ‘No! That’s great!’
I am seat 40D.
I was watching the Facebook on the desktop in my parents’ house. When nature called I grabbed my tablet to bring along because, you know, I can’t miss a minute of the Facebook. Someone might like a video with a cat fighting linoleum or a person pouring ice water over their heads.
And I didn’t want to miss it.
I came back, sat down and looked right into almost the exact same screen with the exact same information as had just been on the tablet. And then I reached out and tried to scroll the desktop screen with my thumb. It didn’t work and I tried again. Only after a moment did I realize I couldn’t do it.
Embarrassment was afoot, nothing new, but I was a little concerned. For this was not a singular occurrence in my life as of recent. It’s occurred to me that I am forgetting how things work without technological privileges. My brain and muscles are forgetting how to do things on their own.
This is most obvious with the introduction of a tablet to my life. Since the tablet finishes words for me as I type, I am forgetting how to spell. But that’s not all. It finishes my words, so I am getting used to typing two letters of a word and then waiting for the rest to be presented on a linguistic platter. This is the same with phrases, so this morning while writing on the desktop, I typed:
and then waited in a huff for the computer to finish my phrase with der to
And did it work? No su
Oops, I mean, no such luck.
Once, when I was thirteen years old, I snuck downstairs to watch a softcore Cinemax flick. They had recently gained my attention and drew me downstairs most nights, and I would sit and ogle boobs and imagine all the things I could do to get them near me once I got to college. This night, however, I stumbled upon Robin Williams: A Night at the Met.
I didn’t know anything about cocaine, marijuana or alcohol. President Reagan was some distant guy who spoke like he was constipated and talked to us about the Challenger disaster. Dr. Roof made a little sense to me as I had begun listening to her radio show in search of sexual tidbits. All I knew was that this random manic guy in a Hawaiian shirt had stymied my obsessive search for boobs. And I could not stop laughing.
Thus began my fascination with comedy.
Like most people, I was stunned and upset to hear of his death. More horrified still as the details became known. And then, like many people, I remembered my admiration for the man and felt sadness at his early departure from Earth. And right after that I thought: Shit, I’ll never meet him for a Frappuccino.
I have developed a series of highly unlikely and disturbingly detailed fantasies about meeting famous people. To be clear, there is never sex involved and they will never happen outside of an astronomically improbable airport meeting or a kidnapping. But there are beers with George Clooney, badminton games with Christopher Moore, and a midnight ghost story session with Cormac McCarthy. There is also a drinking session with Tina Fey and an inexplicable rafting trip with Anna Kendrick.
And there is a Frappuccino with Robin Williams. Well, there was.
If you think I’m being flippant or silly, I am not. I am terribly upset by his death and by the fact that he killed himself. I guess I’m just being a little selfish.
But then, so are a lot of people.
It happens every time I walk into a shop, a bar, or just down the street. It happens whenever I see another person in my hometown. They look at me in that way you do when you recognize someone who you owe money.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“You been busy?”
And then I know it for sure, it’s not me they’re talking to, it’s my brother. Now, my brother’s not a bad-looking guy and there are certainly similarities. We both have a habit of stripping off our pants in public, often together. We have a raspy voice, love Miller High Life, do not suffer fools, and have a relationship with the spoken curse that borders on narcotic dependency. Moreover, we have dark hair, dark eyes, and a Cro-Magnon brow inhabited by bushy eyebrows.
But, and I cannot stress this enough, I am not him. In Langhorne, Pennsylvania, I do something I never have to do anywhere else: assert my individuality! I suppose all of us want to be physically individual. Do you like being told that you remind someone of someone else? If you do this to someone in bed they are legally allowed to pee on your toilet seat.
I lose diplomas the way other people lose car keys or hairbrushes. Just to be clear we are talking about the physical diploma and not something that would require an educational ethics committee. To date I have owned five diplomas from the University of Pittsburgh. I fear they might think I’m selling them out of the trunk of a Camry in Brno. But at the moment I have bigger worries.
I can’t find my last diploma now.
Diploma #5 is gone.
If you live in the Czech Republic, you have to present your diploma for various reasons throughout an otherwise normal year. More so if you work in the education field. And I suppose the university where I teach feels better if they occasionally prove that I didn’t study at a place called Gary’s Tacos and Degrees.
But I am often forced to present my diploma when managing tasks which don’t traditionally require a diploma. Can I deposit this money into my account? Of course, we’ll just need your visa, passport, two photos, and a notarized copy of your university diploma. Are these waffles on special? Yes, we’ll just need your visa, passport, two photos, and a notarized copy of your university diploma.
And so, at least twice a year (or whenever I crave waffles) I dig through my closets and cabinets, sweat, and curse profusely. I root through credit card statements, phone bills, checkbooks, cat immunization papers, and hundreds of other papers a teacher accrues. I curse my disorganization. I open the Becherovka. I curse my ability to think I’d remember where I put things. This place. I’ll never forget this place. And with cat ass in my face and temperature and blood pressure rising, my entire life becomes a search for one phrase on a flat box envelope.
Diploma: Do Not Bend
My grandmother – tiny, slouched, Sicilian, old-aged mellow, a woman who would fit perfectly as Friend #2 on The Golden Girls – looked at her and said, “You want fact or tact?”
Contrary to most of my family, my grandmother is level-headed and cool. She doesn’t get bent out of shape as quickly as the rest of us, and doesn’t have the same instant overreaction that the rest of us do (read: panic and/or rage). If a tornado ripped the roof off the house she would turn to one of us and say, “Pass the phone, please.”
Maybe it’s because she has seen it all. She raised seven kids, has dealt with forty years of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and kept her cool throughout. Like many of your grandparents she has seen ten decades of drama. She’s lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the 60s, the film Xanadu, Parachute pants, and Lady Gaga.
But while World War II and the Great Depression might be a chapter from a history book for you and me, for her it’s context. It’s a barometer to which daily stresses and struggles are measured. So when someone whines that they’re hungry (aka: me), she smiles and thinks, I remember that summer in 1936 when we had to eat wood chips, but sure I’ll make you a snack between your first and second lunches.
And then she does.
We all inherit characteristics from our parents, both physical and personal. Some people get hairy knuckles, others get chunky thighs. In terms of personal characteristics, you get your parents’ tendencies just as you get their double chin or their unibrow.
When you realize this, you may be thrilled, indifferent or destroyed. But at some point you realize that you are exactly like your parents. And because that exact moment happens in almost everyone’s life, bar owners drive Porsches and psychologists send their kids to private schools.
I have inherited some redeeming qualities and habits from my parents. I love reading and being creative. I put a lot of stock in honesty and integrity. I try to treat others with respect. And I would climb over a nun to get to a good pizza.
Yes, as usual, there’s a but.
But now that I have been visiting home for a few weeks, I don’t see the pleasant traits as much as I see the ones that drive me a little crazy. And I watch it all happen in a state of recognition horror.
Day 1: Dublin
Jake: “Hi, yeah, can we get two pints of Guinness please.”
Me: “And two shots of Black Bush too, please.”
Barman: “In less than two jiffs. From where do ye hale, lads?”
Barman: “Ah yes. Lovely, it is.”
There are things one expects when traveling in Ireland: Guinness, quaint pubs, green, red hair, and the Irish brogue. As we are in a quaint pub drinking Guinness and the barman has on a green vest and shock of red hair, we are fulfilling those expectations. Moreover, his brogue pours out of his mouth like cool bubbles. It causes no distress.
Of all the variants of English, I find Irish to be the most pleasant. Not that it’s got a lot of competition in the world of English accents. Just watch an episode of The Young Ones, any American reality show, or listen to an Australian speak. We are all chewing gravel compared to the Irish. It is a delicious accent.
Part of what makes the Irish accent so appealing is that it so often comes along with a pleasant temperament.In my time in Ireland, I have heard very few words spoken in anger. I know it happens, of course, but in my personal interactions with Irish people they have been extremely warm, open, and friendly. Their brogue seems specially constructed to convey that personality.
Also, it’s addictive.