We are sitting in the Sokol on a Tuesday night. Beer. Becherovka. It’s a way to celebrate a good day or forget a bad day while handicapping the next day. Somehow we get onto the subject of our awkward teen years. The things we did.
My friend confides that were I to visit his neighborhood a few decades before, I might see him wandering around, running errands, doing garden work, and even working his part-time job at a video store in a full gi (aka: karate uniform).
Not to be outdone in the awkward area, a space in which I can confidently and comfortably assert myself, I tell him that from the age of ten(ish) to fourteen(ish) I desperately wanted to be in the army. I dressed in fatigues, boots, marched everywhere in close order drill, and nicknamed my bedroom The Swamp, after the surgeon’s tent from M*A*S*H.
We laugh hard. But the speed with which we order another round of shots is no coincidence.
Oh there’s more, too. So much more. Read the rest of this entry »
The Toblerone is on the keyboard on my desk. It sits perfectly in line with the keys, suggesting that it’s been placed there and not, for example, dropped accidentally out of someone’s pocket.
This is a surprise. It’s also the moment my day starts to look up. Til now it’s been a bitch. There have been articles to write, tests to make, workouts to suffer through, and courses to plan.
I’m downright pissy.
The only thing that can quell my rising pissiness is bourbon or chocolate. And since I have just walked into work, chocolate will have to suffice.
I immediately break it open and shamelessly begin chomping on one end of it. I don’t care who’s watching. This is a Vishnu-send.
It occurs to me a short while later that if I were in a British detective series, I’d be dead. Or rather I’d die later in front of a class while extolling the virtues of the Oxford comma. The second thing that becomes clear is that I don’t care. Well, I sort of don’t. Well, I tell myself I don’t. I do things which tell myself and everyone around me I don’t care. I post a joke on Facebook about the ease with which an enemy could assassinate me with cyanide.
Shortly after making that joke on facebook – and to anyone within a thirty foot radius of me – its truth begins to fester like my brain after a batch of hemlock-laced chocolate chip cookies.
I’ve just missed a tram, turning a corner in time to see its tail-lights blacken as the driver released the breaks and took off into the night. I let out a groan.
I stand at the empty tram stop and try to hold on until the next one comes. I’m unbalanced and my right eye has heroically taken it upon itself to see double of everything, a visual overachievement resulting from too many Becherovkas at a party.
More than anything I’ve ever wanted, I want to be home.
I wait about thirty-seven years, or in non-drunk time about five more minutes. But then unpleasant clues begin to take shape. In the first place, there is nobody at the stop with me. Only a few people waiting for the tram going in the opposite direction. Not good. And then I notice the yellow sign. An unsettling prescience creeps over me. When there’s a yellow sign hung up at a tram stop, it means there is some detour in the route or a change in service due to work on the lines. And when you see one of these devil signs, you can only hope that the timing of that change isn’t going to completely screw you.
But to be honest, I don’t even hope anymore.
I walk (stumble) (in)to the sign. Close my right eye again.
New Tinder Match!
Oh that’s nice. I take a quick look at the match. It’s a pretty-ish woman in her early 30s. A nurse. Traveler. Before I can put my phone back into my pocket, she sends me a message. It reads:
I groan. An acronym. Oh goodie.
I guess I will be communicating with this person in letters and signs. I am 41, not young enough to be fluent in textspeak, netspeak, Tindercode or whatever the hell is going on here. Can’t she just write me in a language I understand, like English, Czech, or sarcasm? And what the hell does dtf mean?
Before I can put any thought into deciphering it, class begins.
It’s mid May, so my head is elsewhere. It’s everywhere. Or anywhere. It’s sort of like the Matrix if the Matrix was tired and desperately holding onto its sanity until summer holiday. This is not uncommon at this time of the summer semester. I am tired. They are tired. Everyone is tired.
While the students are on a task in the middle of class, I take the opportunity to look up one or two collocations on my tablet. I note them down and it comes to mind again. dtf? I look it up.
Down to Fuck?
Maria and I saunter up to the bar and take a seat. I don’t normally sit at the bar in pubs or restaurants anymore, as it’s very much against Czech custom. So this is a bit of a novelty; but it’s a novelty befitting the pub itself.
We are in a hamburger joint in Vinohrady, so in effect we’re in an American place in little America. Burger joints are a major American influence on Czech gastronomy and Vinohrady is a section of Prague jokingly referred to as the “American Sector” since it’s home to so many American expats.
The staff all speak fluent English and the menu features not only burgers, but a variety of cocktails not normally encountered in Czech pubs.
We might as well have stumbled into a burger place in Maple Point, New Jersey.
The American accent is ubiquitous here, flying around the room like flak. Maria gives me a flat look and instantly “does her American.”
I am sitting in front of two students and I am holding a pen above a class register and I am not moving. I am squinting into the recesses of my brain, past what I want for lunch, beyond the reason I was irritated with my boss this morning, through the frustrations of finding a plot hole in a book I’ve been writing for two years.
And then I find it: the date. “Oh yeah,” I say to the students. And then I write down May 4 on the sheet.
And then I say: “Oh my God! It’s May. How in the world did that happen?”
I have taken up lots of hobbies as I spiral into happy old age. One of those things is searching my brain for why I walked into a room or what I was about to say. I have now attached sounds and groans to simple acts like standing up and sitting down. Moreover, I can easily while away an afternoon talking about how much time flies.
Cause it does.
Obviously because he has no shame. In no way does he subterfuge his activity. His right hand holds the phone above his willy, which is pictured grandly (or as grandly as nature allows) in his viewfinder. The phone loudly clicks the shutter sound effects of a camera.
I peer over. There is nothing in his left hand worth taking a picture of, let alone sending to another person. It occurs to me that he might be sending it to his urologist.
He doesn’t react in any way to my crashing his photo shoot. He’s a normal enough looking guy who is sitting with a woman at a table nearby ours.
Boy, there is a bunch of talk these days about who should be using what bathroom. And it all fits perfectly in the good old American tradition of worrying a whole lot about other people’s genitals. Moreover, I really don’t know who’s going to police bathroom use. Sir, may I see your penis please? Who knows?
As long as you don’t talk politics to me while I’m holding my penis I could care less which bathroom you use.
But let’s talk about the real bathroom threat: idiots with phones.
The woman in front of the class points to me and tells me to come up in front of the class. She tells me in Czech to stand a few feet from her and then explains to the class the technique she is about to demonstrate. On me.
She tells me to attack.
Aikido practice is two hours long. Twenty minutes of warm up, when we shake the day away and focus on readying the body and mind. Then a series of falling, rolling, or positioning techniques. And then an hour or so of practicing a particular fighting move or technique.
When that happens, the instructor demonstrates each step of the move on a helper student, one who has been around for a while and knows how to attack, move, and fall. The other students watch, take note, and then we break into pairs to practice as the instructor moves around the room helping out.
It’s extremely effective.
Those helper students are men or women that PJ and I recognize as veteran students. They know what they doing. But recently, the instructors have begun asking PJ and I to help in their demonstrations.
I have trouble with Sundays in general. I can’t relax. I just think about the coming week. So it’s a glum day on which I avoid the real world by spending it alone in my flat watching bad TV and eating carbs.
I know. I know.
It’s still the weekend. Enjoy all of the moments of your life. Blah. Blah. And blah.
So the fact that I am on a train going to Germany is nothing short of a miracle. And if we’re talking about the miraculous, the fact that I am drinking at 11 a.m. is sort of the face of the Virgin Mary in the taco of my life.
But I am. We are. Lee, Collin, and I.
It’s all part of the plan.
John wrote to me a month ago. The basic story is that he and his wife Anja and son Emil live in Dresden, Kristian and Jen are visiting them from Lyon and John thought it would be a great idea if we surprised them by showing up from Prague. These four people were all in Prague in 2004, so we were expats and colleagues together. Life was a little wilder and freer then. Furthermore, we have similar experiences and lives and I have known them for 11 years. And like so many others who move overseas and teach, they moved on to another place.
So this is a great chance for a surprise reunion.
And it totally works.
Now that the bathroom, shower, sink, and toilet are all clean, I move on to the living room. Yes, those tabletops can be wiped down with disinfectant. I dig in my closet and come up with a bottle of cleaner whose purpose must be verified.
The windowsills are next, and then the doors are dusted, and the corners freed from cobwebs. And then, well, it would be rude not to vacuum. Once the floors have been vacuumed I can see how awful the linoleum in the kitchen looks, so I get the mop. And then I prep dinner – marinate the chicken, cut vegetables, gather spices.
Sounds like a damn productive Sunday afternoon, but I am doing this in the shorts and sneakers I work out in. It is my current procrastination strategy.
I am one of the billions of people who procrastinate. So I don’t need to tell you what it’s like. The number of things I can find to do before tackling a task is remarkable and a testament to the creative capabilities of the human mind. No doubt you have organized your desk, cleaned your room, gone shopping, masturbated (maybe twice), before doing something you don’t want to do. The thousands of websites whose continued existence is thanks to people avoiding doing shit would blow your mind.
I also don’t have to tell you how shitty procrastinating makes you feel. Like slowly pulling off a band-aid, it adds stress, anxiety, unpleasant anticipation, and an overall feeling of dread to a task that usually wouldn’t be so bad if we just up and got it done with.