Left

It’s Saturday, and I have made a momentous decision. I am going to go left. I tell my dad and I tell Collin. I almost put it on Facebook until the cat gives me a sideways glance at this suggestion.

Typically a Saturday afternoon means a huge breakfast, a walk into Prague, lunch, beers in the evening. Correction: a walk into areas of Prague I always go to, lunch at a place I have been to a thousand times, and beers at a pub where the waiters know my bank details by heart. In any event, Prague is to the right and I am going left. To the left is Braník. A part of the city less than a three minute tram ride and which I have visited possibly three times in the eleven years I have lived in Podolí.

This, if you haven’t guessed, is big. If you are like me, then you are not a creature of habit as much as a Kool-Aid guzzling disciple of the glory of routine. I love my routine. I adore my routine. I am my routine.

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Bowtie

It’s about a half hour before my brother’s wedding and the wedding party is going through its last pictures and rehearsals before the big show. I was in a musical once in high school and opening night was a lot like this, retouching makeup, shouting orders, tears.

This wedding is set outside in a wooded cove on an early Friday evening. Late September, the sun was still out, the air was a friendly warmish coolish. The wedding party is dressed to the nines and covered in clammy shrubbery going undercover as corteges. Though I have never been one to extol the aesthetic values of a wedding (ooh it was soooo beautiful), I must say that this setting is as ideal as it can be without aid of a bourbon fountain surrounded by HoHos.

Also, we are ebullient. This might be due to the fact that we are about to celebrate a wedding. But for me, and I suspect a few others, it’s due to the fact that we are about to celebrate a short wedding.

Any dragged out church ceremony makes me want to join a cult of Lefty Communist Satanists out of spite. I would consider this, but I’m sure they’d be just as bad. Once any religious organization grabs the stage and the ears of the (a, any) congregation, there seems to be a whole lot of yapping that goes nowhere. The Satanists would be the same. Lefty Communist Satan is good, Lefty Communist Satan is not great, but he’s as good as you, the people, who are all the same. Please turn to Lucifer, 6:66 in your daily missal. Blah blah blah. In any event, this one is to be short. So I am happy.

My dad is also happy. I know this because I can hear his running catalogue of one-liners and puns coming from somewhere behind me as a man I have never met staples a large bush to my jacket. My dad possesses a humor no doubt specific to the fact that for forty years he has had most of his conversations wrist deep in people’s mouths. One might think my dad is happy because his son is about to get married, but, like me, there’s an ulterior reason for his joy. See, we spent two hours today learning how to and then tying bowties.

I won’t lie, we were both annoyed. My brother has a way of throwing in a last-minute demand whose entire goal seems to be to make life more difficult. No, we’re not having pizza delivered, we’re baking them underground like at a luau. Have you ever hand-kneaded low moisture squirrel mozzarella? Oh, well it’s your lucky day…

And so it was that my brother dropped in the bowtie thing. This is on top of me flying back to the U.S. to be at the wedding. If you’ve got no experience with these things, tying a bowtie is the polar opposite of clipping on a bowtie in that one of these is literally the easiest thing in the world to do and the other is literally the hardest. As a result, my dad and I spent the day watching YouTube videos, cursing at the men on them, and having a conversation that I never thought we’d be having.

Oh! I thought I had it that time! It’s that last part that screws me up! The loop. It’s the last push through I can’t get. Did you throw it over your shoulder? You’re not throwing it over your shoulder like the guy tells us to. Why? I don’t know, but he seems to know what he’s doing. Hey, I found a gay guy who’s much better, come on, the video is queued up.   

When we at last managed it, we both recognized that we had jumped at least one notch in our level of classiness, if a bit subdued. We weren’t wearing box-like bowties, we had tied them. At the end of the night, as we left the reception, we could loosen them and wear them around our necks as if we were stubby members of the Rat Pack after a show at The Sands.

We rewarded our listing success with a couple of hefty Maker’s Marks in the Monet Room, a room at the venue so cool and filled with smooth wood that it felt as though we (and our tied bowties) belonged there. Our success was thus magnified. I scoffed at the boxy atrocity mocking the bartender’s collar. At least he poured heavy.

You’ve been at a wedding before (if it was yours, then I am heartily sorry) so I don’t have to describe it. There are vows featuring a Dallas Cowboys reference, murmured comments and giggles from among the groomsmen. There are lots of smiles and tears. Like many of you, I daydream about the hors doeuvres after.

And then, of course, I am overcome by the stimulant of weddings and marriage. I begin to wonder where it came from, whether it’s still a vital union, the philosophical idea of doing it for love, why we wear, and some of us tie, a bowtie. The whole shebang. Fortunately, the ceremony is short so I don’t get too far down the rabbit hole.

I do have time to confirm that it’s not for me. But if it were, you would all be invited to a very short ceremony presided over by the Lefty Communist Satanists of Greater Pennsylvania. Bowtie optional.

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What Would Mr. Rogers Do?

The other night, I found myself enjoying the not so random mix list offered by nostalgia and YouTube. When it stumbled upon Mr. Rogers, I clicked. If you weren’t a child in America between 1970 and 2000, Mr. Rogers was a TV host for the children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and he basically raised us.

Every day after school we met Mr. Rogers in his neighborhood. He walked into his house singing “Please won’t you be, my neighbor?” while chucking his shoes over his shoulder and slipping off his other oppressive outside clothes for a cardigan and sneakers. I was 100% ready to move to wherever he was, which, in fact, was Pittsburgh, and which, in fact, I did.

Mr. Rogers is like a modern day god. He was loving and gentle. He loved everyone, no matter who they were. He taught us to share and he taught us to be nice to one another. He taught us the joys of exploration and curiosity. And he told each of us that we were special and that we all mattered. He wanted nothing more than to be our friend and neighbor and, if you were like me, you wanted nothing more than the same.

In these stressful times, these ideal ideas might fall away or be subject to conditions. Be friends, you say? Sure, as long as you look like me, screw who I want you to screw, and live where I live legally. We surely put similar conditions on love they neighbor, do unto others, and turn the other cheek. It doesn’t work like that, we say. It’s more complex.

Well, maybe. But couldn’t it be the base we work from? Instead of where we work from now, which seems to be – unless you agree with me then you are my enemy. In the video Mr. Rogers was trying to garner funding to children’s television programs. In a famous moment he told the gruff head of the senate committee that he trusted him to read a letter and that he trusted that he would put thought into his decision. Trust a politician!? Laughable. You must be kidding. Yeah, maybe, but it worked and he was successful.

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Happy Extraction Day!

43 years ago I was minding my own business, quietly soaking up digested nutrients and kicking away at my mother’s bladder, when I sensed something was amiss. It was late at night, sometime after 11, a theme that would follow me throughout my life.

I don’t remember things too clearly, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that I was a bit shocked at the whole ordeal. I was in a warm and comfy room that would be rented out three more times to my siblings. But it was mine for now and someone was pulling me out of it? Insanity. So unfair. Leave me alone, I probably thought.

But whoever that doctor at Einstein Medical Center was back on October 11, 1974 around 11ish, he didn’t leave me alone. All of a sudden I was sliding south in an experience I would later relive in horror while on the Jumpin’ Jack Splash waterslide at Dorney Park’s Wild Water Kingdom. And then I was out. I didn’t have a name, a beard, a driver’s license. After a spank, I was screaming. I was covered in goo and maybe vernix, who the hell knows? My mother was probably too thrilled to be rid of the parasitic being who had spent 9 months and 13 days kicking her spleen and giving her weird hunger cravings and hemorrhoids. My dad was probably thinking something like: “Wait, I have to pay for this thing to go to college?”

I don’t know exactly what I was thinking at that time, but I would imagine it was something similar to when I went out the door during skydiving: “Holy shit. What have I gotten myself into?”

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Wait on Me

The Barnes and Noble at the Neshaminy Mall has become my Happy Place. My backup Happy Place is the Barnes and Noble at the Oxford Valley Mall. Upon entering this day, I instantly melt into a relaxed coma of joy fortified with themed end caps, discount display racks of former bestsellers, and alphabetically organized fiction.

After clearly breaching a $50 birthday book fund, I drop two books on my dad’s lap and ask him to choose. He is aware that I am taking advantage of the fact that the only person who loves book shopping more than me is him. The $50 budget miraculously is raised to $75. In thanks, I offer to buy us burgers at a nearby restaurant.

We are seated by the hostess and then peruse menus while waiting for our waitress. We’d been in this restaurant over the summer, where we were attended to by a James Franco double named Cody. Cody spoke to us in a low smooth almost whisper that was frighteningly appealing. He called us “gentlemen,” he squatted on his heels and gently placed his hands on the table while taking our orders, paying close attention to our needs, and offering exceptionally reassuring answers to our queries. Could I please get extra pickles? Well of course you can, sir. I will gladly take care of that for you today. I felt that Cody was more of our new age holistic aura therapist than our waiter.

The experience was not unpleasant, but I live in the Czech Republic, where waiters initially treat customers as one might a drunken cousin who wants to talk about their bad marriage at a family wedding. Many Czech waiters put the customer off in lieu of literally any other task. I have watched waiters clean tables and restock glasses, and then look around the room for other tasks before begrudgingly stepping over to my table. Once you’re there and settled and they get to know you, Czech waiters are efficient and pleasant, and often deliver new beers before you order another round. Czech waiters do not suffer fools and may the ghost of Jaroslav Hašek have mercy on those who wave or snap their fingers.

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23 Hours and a Marker

Summa Familia

It’s Wednesday at 5:40 a.m. I am being wrenched from the warm embraces of my bed and Comfort Zone. I’m attending a wedding and I have to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. I have to fly over it again in five days.

It’s my brother, one of six people on Earth for whom I would suffer two transatlantic flights in five days. Plus, in order to avoid four decades of guilt, I suck it up and go. To paraphrase and reinterpret Stein, a wedding is a wedding is a wedding.

Though a wedding is very positive, I am daunted by what is sure to be four majorly hectic days. I have three full days in the U.S, one of which is filled with familial nuptials. Two days lead up to those nuptials. My entire family is going to be present. Crying happy Galeones holding, well, not hands, but drinks…and probably pot stickers.

Aka: it’s going to be intense.

This is especially true because it is my brother’s wedding. My brother is the most intense of my siblings. Sort of an energetic mix of Teddy Ruxpin, Michael Corleone, and Seth Rogan. He takes things very seriously and he is very demanding of those in his life. In return, he is one of the most loyal people I know and if these roles were reversed, he’d be on the flight with a smile, joyfully coercing extra bottles of vodka from the attendant and belly laughing at Ladybugs through a throatful of gravel.

But it’s going to be intense, and it will begin immediately. My dad will pick me up from the airport and we’ll go directly to the rehearsal dinner. It starts with a ninety minute drive. This particular Comfort Zone breach is no joke.

My mantra: weddings are fun.

My dad and I hug in the arrivals lounge, in which nobody actually lounges. He says, “Listen, you need to try on your tux tomorrow morning.”

“I know.”

“Because if it’s too big or something you have to get it back to them asap so it’s ready for the wedding.”

“I understand.”

“Do you know we have to tie our bowties?”

“I do. Chris told me.”

“Do you know how to tie a bowtie?”

“No.”

“I watched a YouTube video.” (Stress on Tube: youTUBE)

For the first twelve minutes of our trip the conversation centers on how confusing the roads from Newark Airport to the New Jersey Turnpike are. The following sixteen minutes are a mix of how bad Jersey drivers are, Bill Bryson’s insights, and a begrudging admittance that the Jersey turnpike is far superior to the P.A. turnpike. My dad mentions the importance of trying on the tux two or three more times and then we discuss the menu at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. We then spend twelve minutes discussing our plan to visit a bookstore the following day and then have lunch; six of those minutes are allocated to what time we should leave and the other six to what restaurant we should eat at afterwards. Ninety-one minutes and thirty eight short seconds after leaving Newark Airport we pull into the strip mall for the dinner, cutting off his list of the recently dead at the P’s.

Just when I think I might succumb to exhaustion, I see a sign that saves me. In this case that sign is Harry’s Taproom. We go in. A Stone IPA and a Maker’s Mark later, I am ready for the rehearsal dinner.

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Who’s that Guy?

I was recently at a wedding as the plus one of an invited guest. The bride was American, the Groom Czech. It was held at a little villa outside of Prague, far off into the Bohemian countryside. The villa consisted of a few quaint buildings and grassy grounds that went for a few hundred yards.

By every measure, the wedding was lovely. The people were friendly and welcoming. The hospitality was overwhelming, beer flowing like wine, enough food to almost satisfy a Galeone. The locale was idyllic.

Though there were some seats open, I stood in the far back during the short ceremony. I think I was having a little Plus One Anxiety. That is, I was afraid of overstepping my bounds or being too familiar. Aside from my date, I had only met the bride and groom once, and one of her bridesmaids once. Otherwise, I didn’t know anyone. If you have experienced POA, you know that it is in no way a reflection on the hosts, who in this case were extremely welcoming and generous.

The ceremony was very pleasant, very formal. If you have ever been to a Czech wedding, you know what I’m talking about. The language at a Czech wedding is worded as though a contract is being drawn up at city hall, which is exactly what’s happening. While we Americans get all gooey (love love love!) and religious (don’t you dare even think of fucking someone else!), the Czechs are very technical and formal.

I, as minister and overseer of the proceedings, verify that both applicants are of sound mind and that they are hitherto entering into this agreement under their own volition. Further, I have weighed and considered your application for the confluence of your properties and have decided that it is acceptable.

It’s awesome.

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Look it Up

Harvey and Sam

Since knocking over two drinks into my computer one (sober, I swear) night a year ago, he has been on a slow decline. Multiple keys have stopped working. The space bar went first, followed by the 3, 9, and 7 keys, then the direction keys went. The battery lasts almost an entire 40 seconds,. It was a sad day when I had to outsource his work to an external keyboard.

I had to face facts, Lester was on his way out.

About a month ago, I was at work in my home office when I realized that I was not picking up the Wifi signal. I had to send an email and the signal was spotty at best, in and out. I was wholly frustrated.

“What the F**k!” I screamed maturely. And then I wove together a quilt of vulgarities that made my cat shake her head. Since Lester’s battery is so weak these days he’s less of a laptop and more of a stationary desktop computer. To unplug it is a race against time to another outlet; I have about 40 seconds until it dies. That day I lost the race, and wove another friendship bracelet of vulgarity. My blood pressure was so high that I think I almost lost consciousness.

It doesn’t seem like a problem, does it? The Wifi signal doesn’t reach the shitty laptop in the office, but it works in the living room and kitchen. Um. Easy solution.

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Tale of a Tantrum

Veruca Salt After Daddy Ate All of her Halloween Candy

When I was seven or eight, I made a stand against injustice. It was a Sunday evening in autumn, maybe 4ish. I had spent the previous hour ignoring my mom, who had made several entreaties via phone and voice for my return.

Why I ignored her I do not know. It was Sunday night, the black hole of the week, mockingly part of the weekend, yet not, its minutes and hours dissipating like steam. Sunday night dinner set off a chain reaction of events that meant the start of the week: a command to bathe, a query about homework, a glance at the watch and the mention of bed. The return to reality.

As a seven (or eight) year old, it was melodramatically significant. It was the end of the best part of the week marked by friends, games, Saturday morning cartoons, multiple bowls of cereal. An additional blow to my weekend serenity on this Sunday was the waning autumnal light. A summer of long long carefree days was long long gone and they were replaced with the graying light on a Sunday. I was depressed.

So I took a stand against it all. No, I would not come home. My weekend wasn’t finished yet. I was holding a basketball. I would not come have dinner, screw that bath, shove my homework you know where. No.

These days I admittedly laugh at my young self for eschewing an evening bath, dinner, and reading.

I might be laughing now, but I was not laughing then. I was seven (or eight) and I was upset and fed up with the rules. I knew that to disobey my mother was an executable offense, especially if she brought in Dad, Pontius Pilot of the house.

My mom wasn’t laughing either. She had four kids, I was the oldest and my brother was the youngest at one or two. She was exhausted and after a weekend of dealing with us, probably daydreamed about shipping us off in boxes to combat zones around the world. El Salvador. Beirut.

She stalked across the street to retrieve me from the half basketball court in my best friend’s yard, and she was not pleased. I was either defiant or injured, so she was either going to be upset or angry, but which one she did not yet know. I was, however, sure about my stance. I didn’t want to go in yet. I wouldn’t.

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Stationery Man

I am about to release a group of high school students at the end of an hour-long class on American history. Many of them enjoyed the lesson. We laughed a lot.

And yet, they prime for release. I don’t know if it’s the general antsy nature of teens or the fact that I told them about the cakes awaiting them, but they can’t wait to escape. I ignore any possible reflection this might be on me or my lesson. I can be self aware tomorrow.

The stampede for the door is laced with murmured goodbyes. In a matter of a few seconds I am alone.

Correction: I am alone with the notebooks and pens the university has provided for each student, many of whom eschewed their utility or ignored them altogether.

I got into teaching for the stationery. Sure, there’s the joy of collaboration and communication, the pleasure and reward found in assisting learner development and helping a student be their best selves.

But mostly it’s the stationery. For I am Stationery Man.

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