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.
It’s a rainy Saturday and the three of us (PJ, Collin, and I) are heading to a roller derby match in Žižkov between the Prague City roller Derby and the visiting Holy Wheels Menace.
None of us has seen a roller derby match in the last thirty or so years. The last time was probably when I fell asleep watching Saturday morning cartoons and woke up to helmeted women skating in circles and knocking each other over rails.
Nevertheless, we are excited. There will be beer and women in shorts bashing into each other on roller skates. Moreover, we get to watch a sport. A contact sport.
The neighborhood is quiet and residential, not the sort of place one would expect to stumble upon a roller derby. But as we near the arena, we hear the unmistakable echoes of stadium rock. They are the same tunes that we’ve heard before (American) football games and hockey matches. Our hairs bristle, we know what this means:
A sporting event is about to take place.
We get into the gym and make our way to a good standing spot along the sidelines. The music is booming, the crowd is chanting, some beating drums in a rhythm which suggests the prelude to a ritual sacrifice.
Then the women come out. And it’s better than we imagined.
As you may or may not have noticed, this past Sunday was National Sibling Day. The Facebook was flooded with heartwarming pictures of brothers and sisters. I did not post anything about my siblings, partially because I forgot, but mostly because I was stuck out in the world forced to deal with people face to face.
While none of my siblings gave a rat’s colon that I didn’t honor them on this auspicious Facebook holiday steeped in nearly 20 years of tradition (1998), a few people did mention it to me. And if you are one of them, you frankly need a hobby.
At first I felt guilty, but then my local pub and Becherovka entered the scenario and that guilt was replaced by a warm feeling coated in cinnamon and herbs that will likely kill me before medical science has a chance to harvest organs.
Still, as I sipped away on Christmas in a glass, a little sore from catching flak for my non-observance of a non-holiday, I resolved to not miss a non-holiday for the next week in penance. And then I was dangerous, because not only was I drinking Becherovka, I was drinking Becherovka while surfing the internet.
It was with great disappointment that I found that I’d already missed so many great non-holidays this month. I didn’t tell my neighbors I love them on Tell a Lie Day (April 4) or eat a breakfast of Gambrinus, sauerkraut, and chillli-con-carne on Big Wind Day (April 12).
But there are so many more non-holidays I’ll be observing over the next week.
It’s in my afternoon class that I begin my campaign to annoy the Czechs today. It’s purely a retaliatory response, as I’ve recently been on the unhappy end of a lot of jokes involving Donald Trump and Republicans. Not to mention taking flak for a long list of Americana, including, but not limited to, morbid obesity, Walmart customers, guns, nipple obsession, and Santa Claus.
Today it’s their turn. And what they often forget is that after 11 years living in the epicenter of Czech everything, I know just how to flick their mouth ulcers for maximum aggravation.
And just to get things rolling, I mention in an offhanded way that Leonard Cohen sucks.
I don’t know what Leonard Cohen has to do with the Czech Republic, but he is adored in this country. So after the initial horror over my comment, I outline a list of adjectives and statements which convey the opinion that Mr. Cohen is one of the most overrated musicians in the history of purposeful sound.
The students glare at me, not daring me to continue. Which is smart, because I have an entirely fabricated story about the time I went to his concert and he forgot the words to “I’m Your Man.”
Moreover, it’s time for Phase 2.
I say that the Czech Republic is in Eastern Europe.
I can’t get a strong wifi signal in this café is not so urgent when compared to I can’t get food to feed my children.
As aware of this as many of us are, we sometimes need a reminder of just how lucky we really are. Usually, I get this while reading the news on the internet. I find myself saying, Hey, at least I [and what comes next really depends on the news that day]
…didn’t set my chest hair on fire, didn’t get my face eaten by a bear, didn’t get herpes from my cat.
Here are some news bits to help you get a perspective reality check. So, repeat after me:
Hey, at least I…
…don’t have to deal with radioactive wild boars.
I’m free! All I have to do now is meet a friend at 3 pm at our favorite pub. Not bad. I recline on the couch with my kindle and get into a Murakami story. A little later there’s a faint whisper coming from my kitchen. I look up and around, nothing there. I hear it again, a distinct whisper calling me to the kitchen.
I pique my ears. Maybe it’s the Murakami influence, as there are often unknown elements luring his characters to abnormal action. When I hear the whisper again, I get up and investigate. It turn out that a flask of Irish whiskey is calling my name.
“Top o’ the mornin’,” he says in a tinny lilt.
“Oh, hello,” I say. “It’s not morning anymore.”
“Moot point. I’m in your head.”
“Fair enough,” I say.
“Wouldn’t a shot of me taste so good in a mug of coffee right about now?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Hold on there, laddy, have you or have you not finished working for the day?”
“Well then. I am of the opinion that it would be rude not to have a drink.”
I have no immediate argument for or against this, so I start brewing a small pot of coffee and go over my options.
Student X: “I’m going to Mumford and Sons concert in July.”
Student Y: “I’m jealous. Tickets are too expensive.”
Me: “What are you talking about?”
X: “A band…”
Me: “Yeah? Which one?”
Y: “Mumford and Sons…?”
This was phrased as a question with rising intonation, accompanied by a head shake and frown. Telltale signs you think the person you’re giving information to won’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Imagine you’ve asked someone the name of their hometown and they come back with Bagakhangai?
Me: (confused) “I know them.”
X: (amazed) “You do?”
I realize the problem now. They are forgetting that I wasn’t born 41 years old. They are forgetting that I too had a youth, got wild, had a drink or two, enjoyed shenanigans.
They don’t know that I used to be cool.
And I was. I used to be cool. Used to be. As in, was in the past but not anymore.
I think I used to be, anyway. It might be an age problem. Roger Kahn wrote that “baseball skill relates inversely to age. The older a man gets, the better a ball player he was when young…” Is it the same with past coolness? Is it possible that my memory is skewing a cooler young me that never was?
But who cares.
Early morning. I am trying to get a handle on world news via Facebook. I go there first because it’s easier to scroll through some pics of kids, cats, and chocolate bunnies than it is to deal with the real world.
At least this way, I don’t have to think so hard until later.
Oh, it’s a friend’s birthday. A guy I haven’t seen in 14 years, so as I try to decide whether wishing him a happy birthday is appropriate or transparently silly, I notice his other birthday wishes. They degrade:
Happy birthday, Jack!
Happy bday, Jack!
Because nothings says “I care about your birthday than the 2.6 nanoseconds it took you to type three letters (in caps, though), on a Facebook page.
Things get weirder.