I am on the couch jotting notes in my notebook on my lap desk. It’s Sunday, the lazy day. I sharpen the pencil as my notes full up the page and I near the bottom. It’s as though I am hesitant. When I get to the end of the page I turn it and wipe a tear from my eye.
This notebook is filled.
It’s time to crack a new one.
The changing of the guards is about to begin.
If notebooks are a part of my daily life, and I refuse to simply discard a filled one. I carry around each notebook for months. It’s gone to pubs and meetings with me, it’s been the recipient of my most embarrassing rants and crappiest tripe. But it never tells; a good notebook keeps secrets. It is my therapist, my friend, my brainstorming partner, my shopping assistant.
It takes in everything I have to get out of my system and it does it all without judgment.
If you’re American and older than, say, thirty the combination of the numbers 976 should conjure distinct images. Images like lingerie clad nymphs or cheerleaders beckoning your phone call in between reruns of The Price is Right and the People’s Court.
If you’re under thirty or not from the U.S, then in the time it took the thirty and over’s to read the above paragraph and settle into reminiscence you most probably googled “What is a 976 number?” and you should be up to speed.
Though there were many 976 numbers, many of them were adult chat hotlines which you could call for prerecorded sex-talk messages. Every fetish was represented – twins, teens, older women, mechanics, etc. It was the refuge of the forlorn, the lonely, or the curious kid who’s stayed home sick from school.
One day when I was eleven years old, I found myself with a raging temperature – 98.7°F – and milked it into a day home. Staying home from school was glorious, more so if your parents worked. I’d lie in bed, reveling in the jealousy of my siblings, and then mosey to the television. I could eat sandwiches all day and watch TV.
It hasn’t occurred to me until now how similar kid sick days were to adult Saturdays.
On this one particular day, between an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC, a woman appeared on my television. She wasn’t wearing much and what she was wearing I had only seen on women in magazines I found stashed around the house. I watched. She told me to call 976-something to talk to her, and being the impressionable young lad that I was, I followed her direct order.
I sit down in front of my computer this morning waiting for the cobwebs in my brain to be scattered by caffeine. As I click on the Guardian, I am surprised to see that the Oscar Awards happened last night. In a moment driven by nationalistic duty, I click on the link.
I only know two of the films up for best picture and I give a half-hearted “Mmm” when I see who won. Then I make oatmeal.
One fact of Expat life is that I’ve found myself, both literally and figuratively, out of touch from my native land. When I first came to Prague in 2004 this could partly be explained by simple lack of contact. There was nowhere near the internet accessibility as there is now, so I could only get online once every few days. So being out of touch was a great deal due to inaccessible information.
But now, due to wifi in every restaurant, bathroom, and shoe shop, we are uber-informed and connected. And yet, I am still kind of out of touch. I feel removed from things that used to be important parts of my life.
It has always been my opinion that baths are a much better idea than they are in reality. They look so nice on TV. Someone’s lounging in a tub full of hot bubbly water. There’s music, wine, and Courtney Cox.
Everything leading up to the bath is perfect. There’s hot water, a book, a steamy room, comfort. But then I get in and it occurs to me that I am sweating in hot water, and being ogled by a cat stricken by water overload. And I am naked.
It’s a bath day for one reason: I am having trouble being funny.
Whenever I have trouble being funny, I need to put myself in a horrifying position that evokes feelings of insecurity or self-consciousness.
In other words naked.
Years ago, I was sitting at a café telling a story to a few travelers I’d met in Rome. In the middle of the story – about a Jesuit priest who wore a shirt reading I am the Man from Nantucket – one of them pointed at me and squinted.
“That’s my story,” he said. “I told it to you a week ago.”
I will not describe the spiral of embarrassment that followed. Needless to say, the word “busted” is an understatement.
I have always loved telling stories. I’d come home from family vacations with grand exaggerations to real occurrences to wow my friends with. While others dealt with the occasional jellyfish at the Jersey shore, I had a kerfuffle with the far more rare peanut butter and jellyfish. Thousands of children meet Mickey Mouse in Disneyworld, but very few get invited into Disney Castle for sushi.
I guess early on I found the difference between telling a good story versus telling a true story. Who cares if you saw a jellyfish, I want to hear about the near miss, the danger. So I learned to enhance my stories to the fullest degree allowable before it became science fiction. They were totally exaggerated tall tales. And even though my friends knew that half of the story was completely made up, they were still hanging on my every word.
As I got older I learned and realized a few things. In the first place, I found this thing called “fiction” which quelled my daily need for tall tales. Also, I found that in creative nonfiction, I could keep the integrity of factual events while placing the exaggeration in my perspective. I am not alone. When asked how much of his stories were true, David Sedaris replied “Enough of them.” That’s because he knows how to tell a good story as opposed to a true story.
I’ve recently had a revelation. Under my printer, there’s a counter top.
A stack of papers and folders had been accumulating on top of the printer, which had ceased working three years ago. The stack has been growing less and less stable in recent weeks and each new addition required a careful balancing and centering act. Like a personal game of Jenga.
When the stack threatened to majorly tumble yesterday, I removed everything to reorganize them. At that moment, I saw that underneath the printer was a larger, flat surface.
The moment that followed was not unlike the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey when those ape-men jump around hooting at the discovery of a stick.
Still, it was a nice moment.
As I was moving the printer – aka: plastic shelf – into my TV stand, it got me thinking. What else is acting as furniture?
It’s dawned on me recently that living in Europe has changed me in a lot of ways. Oh, I am still somewhat American, I still love pizza and deli sandwiches. I still hate Florida football and New York baseball. And I still use condoms and deodorant (usually).
Moreover, I am not that pro-Europe expat you just want to headbutt in the nose. You know, the guy from your hometown who lives overseas for three months and then comes back with a bad mustache and preaches about superior European living.
But the fact is that I haven’t lived in the U.S for ten years, and we do live a bit differently on this side of the pond. As a result, I have changed. If I ever moved back, I’d have to get accustomed again to things ranging from personalities to bathroom equipment.
It’s PJ’s birthday, so an outward competition seems fitting. What better way to celebrate a birthday than to prove that you are better than your friends?
Though we are not overly competitive, we do sometimes enjoy competing with each other.
Sometimes it’s a darts tournament, with close matches and shots on the line. It might be a game of pool, and I might actually win if I play while in the zone (between 3-5.2 beers). Otherwise, I lose badly or end up with a UDI (unidentified drunken injury).
On very rare occasions there is foosball. Rare. Bigfoot sighting rare. We are so terrible that a single game lasts hours and the “winner” wins because he sucks the least. Since foosball is the national sport of the Czech Republic, things can get humiliating if there are witnesses.
In any event, our fur is bristled tonight.
I spend a few moments this morning looking through the window in my pajamas. In early February, this means staring at the snow, the freezing rain, the fog, the gray, or whatever form of unpleasant weather is rallying outside like a group of pissed off vikings.
While I gape, thoughts and scenarios go through my mind, all of which would encourage a psychologist to commit me to a local brain hatchery.
Today, I am thinking about a furry rodent who lives 4,262 miles west of Prague. It’s this rodent who is going to decide our winter fate.
Whether you know it or not, the length of winter is decided by Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog who is taken out every February 2nd and asked to prognosticate the arrival time of spring. If he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t see his shadow, spring comes early.
So, there’s a lot riding on this morning’s outcome.
I recently came across an article entitled 9 Signs You’re in a Gay Bar. The article pointed out that there is no women’s room, but there are drunken bachelorette parties and something called cruising.
It mentioned some chap named Nick Jonas and his rock hard abs, and loads of other clichéd, yet ubiquitous, features of a gay bar.
But the 10th sign that you’re in a gay bar is that I’m there and I look confused.
It’s not what you think.
Well, maybe it is what you think.
How the hell do I know what you’re thinking?