A Night in Paris

In the back of the Parisian pharmacist I am struck by how much it looks like the cluttered back of a pharmacist. The somehow gritty beauty of Paris has been left on the street and replaced with stacks of nasal decongestants and a computer. The Parisians and their disaffected cool have been replaced by two guys in white coats.  

One of the guys calls my sister’s name and then jabs a long stick into her nose. I feel as though we are in a movie being worked over by the cronies of some guy he double-crossed. His name would be The Gouche, le Prick, or Ted. Something in me wants to scream out “get your hands off my sister!” as a joke, but as we need these men to administer and relay the results of our COVID tests, I decide that messing with them and then not being able to explain it in their language isn’t my best interests. I keep quiet. When she’s done, he gestures to me. He is well dressed beneath his short white coat. The stick goes up my nose and stays for a time just long enough to feel medical. He tells us we will get an email in 5 minutes.

That damn le Prick.

One of the major benefits to living in Central Europe is the ease with which I can visit another country. Paris is less than a 90 minute flight. My sister has been on a holiday in Provence and will finish out her trip with two days in Paris and I can meet her on Friday afternoon and be back in Prague Sunday morning. I told Burke, “I will get croissants for Sunday breakfast,” which may be the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to say and mean.   

I reaped these benefits as my bus from the airport came into the center. Heading up the streets of Paris’ city center was a treat after two years of lockdown. Walking to the hotel at lunchtime was more so. The people crowded the tightly-packed street tables at cafes and they chatted and smoked and wore scarves and didn’t wear bras and argued and gestured and somehow managed to look cool eating quiche. It was glorious.

But anyone traveling these days knows that there are now extra steps and headaches with traveling. You need new documents and tests. You pay for men in white coats in the backs of pharmacies to put sticks up your nose and you await results.

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In my outlandish attempts to stay out of a motorized scooter, I work out a lot. This sounds more impressive than it might initially seem. This basically means that six days a week I cry, sweat, and shout obscenities at a deity I don’t believe in for 26-32 minutes. It’s basically the same as going to the bathroom and eating, but the time is shorter and longer, respectively.

After a year of working out four times a week and gaining a steady pound a month, I decided something more needed to be done. I realized of course that battling for control of my waistline is food and beer and the fact that I love them more than oxygen or my mother. Was I going to give up food and beer? No. Never. At most I was able to move them to two days a week, Friday and Saturday, at which time I did as much damage as I could on the other five days. I did this guilt free, unless I thought about it, which is why I didn’t. And I successfully replaced thinking with carbohydrates. It was a foolproof plan.

By February my pants no longer fit and I was beginning to breathe heavily while doing math in my head. The two sacred days were untouchable, but what I could do was add more workouts.

I added two days, which made it six days a week. Two days of home cardio, two days of dumbbells, and two days of running. Running was a throwback for me as I used to be a runner because I realized the efficacy of home HIIT workouts. Also, I decided that running sucked the sweat off a dead giraffe’s nether regions. But I added it because HIIT workouts and dumbbell routines involve many parts and keeping track of time.

Running is easy. You go to a park, choose a route 3.3 miles long and a finish line, run until you get there, and then stop. Easy. All you have to do is not collapse and die on the route and you’re golden. No time keeping, no specific exercises to remember and execute while trying to not aggravate your downstairs neighbor. Just run. Simple.

This worked fine for a while. My pants were buttonable without losing consciousness from oxygen loss. I could do math in my head without alerting a nearby paramedic corps. I had figured out the secret. Eat reasonable five days a week, two days a week eat like Babe Ruth at his neighbor’s Bar Mitzvah, and exercise six days a week. Brilliant.

But then autumn came. Autumn is my favorite time of year – cool, crisp, cobalt blue skies, changing leaves, dark nights. Autumn signals me to watch spooky shows, read ghost stories, and to take long walks and think of adventures, past and future. Unfortunately autumn also signals me to eat and drink carbs in the form of comfort food and dark beer until I explode. Not too many adventures this year, but I did that part about the carb thing.

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Pee Games and Friday Night with Bigfoot

It’s a Friday night. Besides me, everyone is in the living room and asleep. Bela the cat is on the pillow behind me and Maisy the Shih Tzu is splayed out on the rug surrounded by toys and the remnants of a smoked pig foot that has made her happier than money or success ever will for me. Burke is asleep on the couch. Seinfeld – newly arrived on the Flix – plays unhindered on a very low volume.

Many things these days happen at a low volume or with genuine attention to keeping quiet. This is because the canine hand grenade sleeping on the rug currently dictates the mood of the house, which, though in a state of soporific warmth and coziness, can change on a dime. One wrong move, one misstep can turn this sleepy living room into a barking hissing maelstrom of activity that I will almost certainly be relating to a therapist someday soon.

It’s for this reason that I don’t venture into the kitchen for the chocolate chip cookies I so greatly desire. Maisy the Shih Tzu has a nose for food (any: human, cat, dog, probably duck). So the number one way to become a beacon for a tail-wagging, barking Shih Tzu is to put anything near your mouth. The number two way to attract the attention of this pup is to walk out of the room. Maisy the Shih Tzu has evidently been gifted with the instincts of a green beret. Walking out of the room even with her completely zonked out will result in her raising her head, following me, and then peeing. So I go nowhere and I read.

I’m reading Devotion by Max Brooks. If you haven’t heard of this book, it’s worth looking into if you like eco-horror, Bigfoot, or really bad things happening to quasi-annoying people. The story is about a small eco-centric community of five smart homes set remotely in the foothills or slopes of Mt. Rainier. The community has one access road and the homes are powered by waste and sunlight. Their supplies are delivered by drones. The people who live there are in no way outdoors enthusiasts, nor are they the survivalists who might have with them arsenals that could have carried the U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima. They are well-off city slickers. So when Mt. Rainier erupts, cutting off their one link to humanity, they decide to shelter in place. This would probably work were it not for the fact that a tribe of Sasquatch has been forced to find new sources of food. lar power.  and , consisting of six smart homes and a central Community House. They come across these pragmatically useless people, mayhem ensues, and we get a very non-Discovery Channel version of Finding Bigfoot(‘s Arm in my Ass).

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Old People Joys

I was making a pot roast earlier today and was sitting at the kitchen table reading. I put my book down because I had had an epiphany: I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The kitchen was warm, the windows were steamy. Outside the weather was pretty autumnal – gray, rainy, chilly. The oven growled as it cooked my dinner, but otherwise all was quiet.

There’s no secret behind pot roast making a person happy. It’s pot roast, by definition a huge chunk of pork, and by design roasting with potatoes and carrots in apple-black cherry juice. Heaven.

But that wasn’t all of it. I reckoned that I was enjoying the settled feeling that I had. It was being happy like an old person. If you are happy like an old person and you have the experience to understand that that is what you are, then you might just be old. Alarming? Possibly. But no. For I have had this epiphany before. I am old because I enjoy old people things. Also, I’m feckin old.

Among these old people things are making a pot roast. There’s something about prepping a meal that takes three hours to cook that offers so much quiet pleasure. The only gastronomical better is crock pot cooking. There’s simply nothing better than working or going about your day with the knowledge that your dinner is cooking itself at home while you’re taking care of other things. It’s a joy that deserves its own adjective. Crockulant. Crocktated. Crockiful.

There’s also the joy of doing laundry, the humid comfort of having warm wet laundry hanging around the flat. After, there’s folding and putting it away and the knowledge that should President Barack Obama call me to meet for a drink, I can put on clothes and not be afraid of stinking.

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Thoughts While Waiting for a Dog to Pee

It’s in the middle of a dream that I hear a light whine. Our Shih Tzu seem to have a wheel of fortune made of up whines, squeaks, and trills at different pitches, tones, and volumes. I can now interpret each as a different signal. A really high-pitched feathery wail conveys: “You best be getting back in this room, chunky, or I’m gonna wake up this whole building.” A soft snort followed by a single whine in the nose-throat (throse) means “I’m about to bark the fuck out this room if you don’t share that thing you’re eating with me, I don’t care if I don’t know what it is.” Though I have been marginally wrong before on the meaning, I’m getting better.

So I prop open an eyelid at 3:21 am. Two clear, rough, whiney comments from the foot of the bed chime up at me and I know I’m hearing: “Yo, up and at ‘em my man or else you gonna be cleaning up some urine.”

Like a firefighter, I’m up, and with no less heroism, either. Missing a pee means taking part in activities of frustrating futility. First, you still have to take the dog out. But you’ve both missed the opportunity and now you just walk around the lawn, the dog sort of overjoyed but confused and me sort of confused and depressed.

Tonight, this morning, I groggily put on my sweats, my jacket, my crocs designated for walking around the minefield of our front lawn, I grab my equipment (bags, flashlight, two treats). I tuck the dog under my arm and we walk down the stairs. As we go, she licks my cheek, perhaps showing appreciation, more likely drawing off the night sweat that bedewed my cheek.  

Lots of things come up when you’re aiming a flashlight at a dog’s ass on a lawn at 4 am. Life decisions, the irony of status, the task, deeper implications of.

I never realized how much I was missing encouragement in my own bathroom experiences. I follow the dog and congratulate her each time she poops and pees. I wonder at the possible outcomes were I to be extended the same courtesy. Healthier. Happier.

We had started giving her a treat each time she peed, but she would look up at me with a quietly intense gaze every of the four magnanimous times she’d squat to pee as if saying: Where’s my treat, Bojumbo? I would gladly hand down a treat to her little lips, which she would take with slow reproachment. I’ve since stopped when realizing that every time she’d come up after peeing four times and unload a stream of urine onto our rug. We deduced that she’d figured out the code and would fake pee to get treats only to forget to actually pee. I was mildly annoyed by this, but not only would it be a boldfaced lie to claim that I wouldn’t do the same, I’m not altogether certain I never have.

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September 16 1620, the Mayflower Sets Sail for the New World

They had started out with two ships. The famous Mayflower and the less famous Speedwell. Their trip had been infamously difficult before even hitting the open Atlantic. The separatists had had to turn back three times due to leaking ships. They’d had to spend a week getting repairs and some pilgrims had been forced to sell their belongings to pay for those repairs and dock fees. Also, they had been swindled and conned. On a third attempt, they made it past Land’s End, but the Speedwell was found later to be overmasted and this caused weaknesses in the ship which caused the leaks. In the end, eleven (insane) passengers transferred to the Mayflower and they set sail to the New World.

Contrary to the cheery pictures many of us grew up seeing in school of pilgrims in suspiciously wide buckles beseeching God from the confines of a ship’s cozy quarters, this was not the case. The Mayflower, perhaps in a rare form of foreshadowing, had transported 200 wine barrels up the Atlantic coast of Europe. But not people. Most people, unless you happen to be related to me, are a bit taller than a wine barrel. Most of the men could not stand upright. The crew    

The passage was a difficult one that took just under two months. Seasickness was rampant and everyone – soldiers, adventurers, separatists, and crew – ate salted beef and hardtack made of flour and water. And everyone drank beer. For generations of Americans to come, the pilgrims would represent the first Americans, but they were, for the time being, English. And English people did not drink water, they drank beer. Beer, it is said, is the 17th century’s water. It was full of nutrients, vitamins, taste, alcohol. Oh and it wouldn’t kill you after putting you through a week of debilitating stomach pains and explosive diarrhea.

As they traversed the stormy horrifying Atlantic, their concerns seemed to be twofold. Their primary concern was that their rickety ship would split apart, sending them all into the frigin waters of the Atlantic. The Atlantic that many if not most of them firmly believed held sea monsters, a belief probably not thwarted by the sightings of sharks and whales. Without those beasts, however, it’s important to remember that should their ship go down, they would die. There was no beacon, no SOS, they would simply die in a horrific manner in the middle of a monstrous ocean on the way to a place which held salvation, but also, at best unknown strife, and at worst, more monsters.

Their second concern was running out of beer. In the back of the boat were large tanks of beer and as they began dwindling late in the voyage, Captain Jones became antsy. Once he began rationing the beer, the health of those on board suddenly began to turn for the worse. People came down with scurvy and other stomach ailments. Beer was not only nutrition, but it lightened the mood and steeled the spirit. A beer with its low alcohol content and high caloric content was essential and if it was running low, there was going to be a problem.

So when they spotted land at Cape Cod on November 9, they were elated. Who hasn’t longed for arrival and the beer it promises. But the problem was that Cape Cod wasn’t their destination. It’s perhaps overlooked that though the pilgrims were going to the New World, the New World wasn’t a wide open free place. It belonged to people. So the separatists were allowed to go to the New World, but only to the Virginia Colony, which ran from Virginia to the Hudson Bay Valley, which was significantly to their south. Their tactical error was due to a heavy storm that had thrown them off course early in their voyage and crude sailing tools. And let’s not forget beer. In a time when most men’s drunken aim can’t find a urinal imagine trying to hit a spot on a continent 4,000 miles away when you’re washing down every meal with beer and rum.

Captain Jones made a left and headed south. Unfortunately, the ninety miles through which they had to traverse was called Pollock Rip, a maze of dangerous shoals, hard breakers, and terrible undercurrents that had and has trashed hundreds of boats. An estimated half of all shipwrecks on the east coast lie within this stretch. If they went ahead with the plan, they faced almost certain doom. Captain Jones made the call – they turned back and landed in Cape Cod.

The implications of this are such: instead of landing where they were legally sanctioned, the pilgrims landed in a hostile, unknown area, and all because they needed a beer. In other words: the story of America.

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Cats and Dogs Living Together

Classic Stand Off

When we got a dog in July, we knew that one of the challenges would be its interaction with our cat. I have had my cat, the quasi-infamous B Monster, for thirteen years. She came to me a kitten with the disposition of a 71 year old man who had a bag of meth on him at all times. She was grumpy and very active.

Though the B Monster has chilled out with age, she is still capable of sprinting through the flat with the speed of a locomotive and the unhinged demeanor of Chris Farley in 1991.

Enter puppy. A little white mop of hair who so far has expressed inclinations towards chewing on things, peeing on things, and a separation anxiety I suffered on my first day of kindergarten.

The cat was incredibly awkward at first, but soon got her legs under her and began a campaign of figuring out exactly what had been introduced to her house. Because make no mistake, this house belongs to the cat and I pay the bills.

When the cat is not asleep, she is near the dog, observing her from under the armchair or atop the ottoman or from a bookshelf. Sometimes she sits like the Sphinx a few yards away and stares at the dog as she embarks upon her clumsy antics. Wherever she is watching from, there come a series of small quacks and meows.   

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Trinidad and Tobago Become Independent on August 31, 1962

The bill was presented in the House of Commons on July 4, entered the House of Lords on July 9, and received royal assent on August 1. The independence of Trinidad and Tobago took effect on August 31, 1962.   

Though most of the world didn’t notice, in Trinidad and Tobago, the little island country about 11 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, the people were probably ecstatic. It had been forced into history when Christopher Columbus spotted it on July 31, 1498 and wouldn’t drive its own destiny for 464 years. In that time, it changed hands as a French, Dutch, Spanish, and English colony; it spent a few years as colony of the mighty Duchy of Courland (Latvia). Like many of the Caribbean islands, it became a place of forced production and slavery. Of the 15,020 residents living in Trinidad in 1791, 14,417 were slaves, forcibly immigrated from neighboring islands and India and Africa. Over the years, slaves toiled in 37 sugar factories, 99 cotton factories, and on 40 nutmeg plantations.

It was in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean Islands where workers recognized that the byproduct of sugar refining, a gooey substance called molasses, could be fermented to make alcohol. The result was rum, which in the 17th century achieved a worldwide fame that wouldn’t be matched until someone sliced bread. It became the drink of the North American colonies and the British Navy. In the years leading up to the American Revolution every man, woman, and child drank 14 liters of rum per year, which makes you wonder how America won that revolution. It replaced French Brandy in the Triangle Trade. Rum helped four continents of people forget the fact that they had to drink rum because water would kill them.

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The Dispersal of Quiet

One night a few weeks ago, Burke and I were watching TV in the blissful quiet of our living room. The cat was dozing on the armrest of my chair. Modern Family playing background to our evening. And yet there was an unease tripping through my nether-bellies, alerting me to a disruption in this perfect period of quiet and content.

I looked to my left to see that taking up the entire left side of my living room was a robin egg blue doggy pen that came up to my waist. Underneath it, protecting my floor from future gallons of urine, was a green checkered picnic blanket. Bags of dog food lined my once tidy bookshelf. And I at once recognized the anxiety traveling through my body.

We were getting a dog.

I stood and was bitten by the equally anxious cat in a not-sure-what’s-up-but-me-no-like way. Then, edging the pen out of my way to the right and moving a pile of puppy pads off of my bar cart, I excavated my carafe of Irish Whiskey. And, taking a deep breath to provide space, I drank directly from it.

Life had become too quiet. I spent my mornings in the kitchen writing. The cat always sitting on my lap for a period of that time until my prose insulted or disgusted her in some way and she moved to the other chair and rued her lack of larynx and vocal range. My days involved a walk by myself in solitude, after a morning of work. Lunch and dinner were not disrupted at all by the discovery of urine or the recognition that a small animal was about to create some on my floor or couch or pillows. The cat had become content with running the household. She dallied when she wanted and screamed at us for salmon and chicken when she wanted. We gave in instantly and as a gift she would go off to sleep or sit contentedly on the couch or the chair. Too quiet. Blissful.

Enter Dog. A Shih Tzu. Small. Sort of like a dwarf if you catch her in the right moment. White with brown ears. One black eye, one pink (oddly same as the cat). No teeth yet (vet was a little freaked out by that, but they’re coming in). Maisy.

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Corona Book Blast

One of the bright sides of a pandemic and the world falling to pieces is the books. And the loungewear, but that’s a different blog. And the lacking need for hygiene, but that’s a different blog, and probably a doctor’s visit.

The problem with a pandemic, aside from all the, you know, illness, is that while I am reading lots of good books, there’s nobody to tell about them. Trying to bring up books on the phone is like trying to tell someone about one of your dreams. And the last time I tried to recommend a book to the nice waitress at my local pub, she told me “sorry, I have a boyfriend. Also, he’s big and a police officer.”

So, now that leaves you poor souls who still read my blog. Here are some books I’ve read over the pandemic that you might like and even read over the next, sadly inevitable, lockdown.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

A brief history of all humans everywhere and the entire world and why some people have stuff and some people don’t seem to have so much stuff. Sound intimidating? Here’s the thing, it’s not in the least. It’s just brilliant. Jared Diamond lays out the entire history of the world in an accessible way that doesn’t make you want to clean your household weapon. Not only that, it is possibly the most interesting book I have ever read. On each page, I found myself saying: wow, I didn’t know that. Wow, I didn’t know that either. This book will make you smarter. Maybe even smart enough to get the vaccine.  

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

If you love a good cozy mystery, British English, and old people, get this book now. Richard Osman spins a tale of a murder in a senior community and makes it hilarious and compelling. He creates these very real characters that extend so far beyond the common drooling cliches that often inhabit a senior community. Funny, charming, and told so well, this book is a brilliant beach book or just for when you need a break from Netflix.

Night Shift by Stephen King

OK, OK, I know, I know. Stephen King on a must read book list, how cliché. But the thing is, there’s a reason he keeps showing up on them. Night Shift is a collection of stories written in the 1970s and they are frigging awesome. There’s one thing I have learned about Stephen King is that he does not faff about. Nobody is safe in his stories – not women, children, nor main character. If you want throwback horror that doesn’t give a shit about hurt feelings or your fears, then read this. With the lights on. And with your mommy nearby.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich

OK, when you get done reading Stephen King and you need to lighten the mood with some humor, you get this book. I heard about Simon Rich because he wrote the Seth Rogan Netflix movie An American Pickle. The movie was bad, but I just chalked that up to Netflix magic. I looked him up and got this book of short stories. I was finished the next day. You will be too. It’s comforting knowing that the boyfriend of the last girl on earth, God, and magical goats all have trouble with love.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

A novel about a Jewish family whose patriarch dies and who sit shiva as part of his last request. There are a lot of “zany family comedies” out there and a whole lot of them fall pretty damn short because they try too hard to make the family comedic and zany. This book is about people, damaged and sad, but getting on with life, and it is laugh out loud hilarious. Wouldn’t you like to read a book that makes you laugh out loud so you can us lol just once and actually mean it? Also, this is a movie too with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and a busty how old is she again? Jane Fonda.     

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