The Tainted Veil

After more than two and a half months of being trapped in the house, we’re allowed outside without masks on. I think I was ready to make the leap anyway, as I’ve been having a series of distressing dreams in which the cat is holding a can of lighter fluid and a lit match above my pajama collection. I took it as a sign.

We celebrated with a long walk. “Long” is by relative standards and here actually means “past the local shop.” Later that day I noticed that despite a 5X a week HIIT workout schedule, my legs hurt. Surely they were getting used to the movement of traveling on foot, moving forward and stopping me before I could plummet to the ground. Or perhaps it was the speed walking I did to avoid contact with other humans. (NB: “contact” in this case means coming within seven feet of someone else and then washing myself down with sanitizer).

We’d been out before, but it was on little field trips. Two or three times we went for a short walk and then Burke grabbed up one of the benches across the street from our building while I went off to the local shop for bottled beers. I came back, we wiped them down with sanitizer wipes, we set them in the sun, and then we gobbled them up while staring in a paranoid way at others. But, in our defense, they were staring at us. Subsequent walks have ended at a pub with an outdoor drinking quotient. Sometimes that bar is within eye shot of my flat. And the bench.

Being out with no masks is wonderful, but no doubt the experience is tainted with a bit of worry. On this Friday we take a nice long walk which ends at our local pub. The pub has six long tables outside to accommodate drinkers and eaters. We sit at the last table and decide that since we are outside we are probably fine. It’s unlikely that more than two people could join our table, but we certainly exude a bit of concern. We prep. If joined by someone other than our friends or my cat, our game plan is to allow them of course and then move to the far end of the bench while muttering politely. Should those people cough once, we’ll squirt hand sanitizer at them while screeching “the power of Fauci compels you!” If they cough twice, we’ll run home and go through our self-developed four part disinfecting process involving a toilet brush, a bottle of white tequila, and Band-Aids. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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Day Off

Sunday morning. Coffee and a little chocolate bread. Right after breakfast – scrambled egg and bacon pizza – the computer does what it always does by shooting me suggestive winks and come hither glances from across the room. Don’t you need to send some emails, big boy? How about you and me do a little light editing? You look like a guy who hasn’t graded a test in a while?  

Perhaps it’s the scrambled egg pizza or the downright stormy weather (it’s dark out at 11 am), but I make the decision actively (I pounded my fist and freaked out the cat sleeping on my lap, so very active) to take the day off. You might be saying: Hey, it’s Sunday! Of course you took the day off, that’s a no brainer! You might also be saying: Who cares, asshole? If you’re in that second category, then well shush. If you’re in the first, yes, you are right that it’s Sunday, but Sunday is very rarely a complete day off for me, what with articles and book and editing work that doesn’t seem capable of discerning a Sunday from a Tuesday.

It’s not that I am always productive, but I sometimes exist in a frustrating half-at-work/half-at-ease world which goes straight against the sage advice of a former king fu instructor. “Totally work or totally relax. Don’t do something in between.”  

Which is exactly what I do sometimes on a weekend. Something in between. But not today. Today I decide to take the day off. I make it official (after the first pounding) by writing it in my journal. According to the entry at 24-5-20 11:09, I have three simple points on my to do list.  

  1. Watch movies
  2. Eat junk food
  3. No work & No Pants  

Movies. This is not easy for Burke and me, as we have very different ideas of what a “fun and relaxing movie” entails. I prefer comedy, she prefers movies in which the characters’ lives are ruined in the first ten minutes and are only punctuated throughout the movie by their lives somehow becoming worse until everyone dies in misery at the end. Fortunately, today Burke suggests that we keep it light and funny and so, after a brief game of dueling Netflix accounts, we settle on a movie.

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Sunday Call: Quarantine Edition

Ring.

“Hey Dad.”

“Damo!”

I breathe a sigh of relief. My dad has been calling on Sundays for so long that it’s a clear tradition at this point. When my phone rings on a Sunday, Burke doesn’t blink anymore, she just says: tell your dad I say hi. I then take the call in my room or some other place in my house that has whiskey.

But in these stressful and scary times there’s a ringing phone can mean unpleasant things. Bad news? Did something happen?  

Damo has been my dad’s nickname for me since probably before I breached a uterine canal of any sort. I can only guess this because I would never name a child before considering all varieties of nickname. This is why I am baffled by those who have chosen to name a child Kevin. It seems as if they’re simply stuck with Kev, some more adventurous people might venture into Vin, but it would be greatly breaking the initial structure of Kevin. Some might go for K-Man, but that sounds more like something Kevin’s friends would call him because they felt bad for his name being Kevin or because he was really good at basketball. I suppose Kevey is an option, but only if Kevin’s parents are the kind of people who want their child to be on a first name basis with their therapist.

But long ago, Damo became far more than a nickname and much more a simple barometer of my dad’s current mood. My dad’s mood can’t be gauged physically until he clenches his jaw and sticks it out like he’s Marlon Brando in The Godfather and by that point you’re done for like one of those National Geographic photographers who forgot to notice the lions behind him. Up until that moment, one has to rely on linguistic hints and utterances. The worst case scenario (besides the jaw thing) to the greeting “Hey Dad” is a sigh or “What?” The tone of “what?” isn’t to clarify and it isn’t that he hadn’t heard. It was a clear, monosyllabic question stating “what in the colorful expletive do you need from me and it better not be money?” This reaction is most common after he spends twenty minutes at the kitchen table paying bills and muttering a string of curses and epithets towards someone he simply referred to as “you” followed by a series of disturbingly specific queries. “What in the fuck did you think when … and you can’t even be bothered to answer the motherfucking phone on a Tuesday and now you have the shit-laced gall to send me a cocksu..?”

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Four Weeks of the Coursebook

George, Jerry, Elaine, and Cosmo are going fishing south of the Azores. They have taken a boat and caught the following fish – a swordfish, a white marlin, a blue marlin, a yellow fin tuna, and a mako shark. Answer the questions to find out which fish each person caught.

One of the people with two syllables in their name caught a fish with a color in its name.

One of the people with more than two vowels in their name caught a fish which could be used to stab someone you don’t like very much.

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Work

I sit at my desk. It’s 6:30 am. I open the computer and it makes one of those tired sounds that people in their mid-50s make when they sit on or stand up from a couch. Aside from groaning, it sort of talks to me. Today it says: not again, man. I think it’s a bad sign. I put on my headphones. Easy 90s on Spotify (don’t judge). I start writing.

I have been writing a series of ESL coursebooks over the last month. And while it is something I have wanted to move my career into for the last few years, I have never been busier. I have taken a job that requires putting out an enormous amount of pages in a very short amount of time. Because I am a schmuck.

When I took the job I rationalized: can’t go anywhere anyway, might a well make some cash, just a month of work, then I can relax. These are all well and good, but in the throes of the work I can’t even see straight and I am not thinking about money and I also can’t remember the last time I cleaned my body in water.

At around 10:30 am the cat is standing sideways on my lap looking into the crook of my arm. She’s sort of like a statue only she growls a little if I backspace too fast. There is nothing on the Earth that will keep a cat from doing an action it has learned that it can do. About six years ago the cat realized that loud meows got me to turn on my sink faucet and so it is what I have done first thing every morning for, well, six years. And every day since she realized that she can get up on the desk from the floor, she has done just that. But it doesn’t matter, I am writing.

At noon, Burke brings a sandwich. I eat it but I can’t remember what it was and I asked for something to eat about an hour later. When I was reminded that I had just eaten a sandwich, I squinted and recalled the faint taste of mustard and chicken ham. There’s a weird mesmerized state of being one can get into when working on writing. Though I have approached this state with other work, it seems more intense with writing. It’s a small world that is quiet but for David Gray kazooing on in some distant background.

I get rather into the teacher’s book description of the lesson plan. I write it like a robot but I know exactly what’s happening and what will happen. I try to liven things up with jokes that only I will get, but I’m afraid of getting fired or, worse, being told I am not funny by someone who has to pay me. Still, things get intense. When I reach the closing section of each lesson, I feel as though we have been on a journey together, of verb noun collocations and pre-intermediate grammar boxes. When I end the lesson with the closer, I break into tears. The cat, uncomfortable with this show of emotion, barks at me. David Gray doesn’t say anything.

I wrote a book in a weekend once. Sadly, I am fairly certain that it’s the best book I have ever written and I wrote it in 70 hours. I have been working on another book for six years and it sucks the sweat off a dead wildebeast. Life isn’t fair. But it’s the only other time I have reached this level of meditative writing. I hope that when the coursebook is done and I have handed in my work I can continue working like this for myself.

By 13:30 pm, I have to teach and I speak to my students as if I am speaking through bog water. I make little sense. The cat leaves my lap, I think she’s lost interest when I’m not writing. David Gray is nowhere to be found. I have made my way to a new level of something, but I am not sure what it is. I just wish I had a sandwich.

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Larry, My FBI Guy

At the beginning of class, I don my headphones, get my notebook ready, and click on the link. The link brings me to a little virtual room into which students begin aspirating with a vroom. It sounds like the magical characters in Harry Potter zooming into the ether to another location.

“Hi guys!” I say, too chipper, trying to remove the little gap of reality that sits between us all, namely the fact that we are all at home and we won’t be leaving, let alone seeing each other, for a long time. On the bright side, I think we are all wearing pajamas. After I say hello to everyone I say, “Oh, don’t forget to say hello to…”

“Hi Larry!” the group says.

Larry is our FBI guy. Well he’s my FBI guy. We are certain that he sits in on classes and listens to us discuss the unreal past, the probable future, and the unbelievably, uncannily fucked up unreal present. So, if Larry wants to sit in, why not.

Some of my students seem to be better than others. Some are quite demoralized about being cooped up in their homes for so long. Others seem fine, these are the ones usually at their family homes in the country somewhere and who, though surely a bit depressed and thrown off, have seen this as an opportunity to sit on the lawn and not do things.

When a demoralized one speaks, I just know it. There’s a voice now, a Corona voice. It has a mildly desperate plea in it that is shucking its subtly. Some might come out and say “I am not doing well.” But even if they didn’t, I’d know the Corona voice. I know because I have it. I hear it in myself when I chat with a friend or my family at home. It’s a creaky and small voice in the back of my throat that says, “Fuck man, this thing better end or I’m going to go to the zoo covered in chum and grabbing a wolf by his genitals.” I let the demoralized ones speak about being demoralized. “It’s OK,” I say, “this is only temporary.” But they can tell I’m just as demoralized as they are. They no doubt hear my Corona voice. We sort of have an unspoken support group. The Demoralized.

And who can blame them?

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Into the Miniature Mouth of Madness

The world becomes Coronafied. People have it terribly bad out there and I am fortunate to be able to be locked away in a flat in Prague 6 with only occasional trips to a grocery store or a walk around the park. Still, while I get it that I have it much better than many others, I have certainly begun to descend into a mouth of miniature madness.

I have not worn pants in a month. Not even looked at them. I wonder on occasion how they’ll fit when I go to put them back on in late-May and have thus resolved to start a diet in late April. Maybe early May. Mid-May at the latest.

Going out means wiping things down, boiling a mask, hand sanitizing in a routine my hands haven’t seen since I was twelve, and dropping my clothes into a hamper at the door before I walk like a surgeon about to enter surgery until I can turn on my sink with my elbow. Therefore outside doesn’t occur that often. I spend an awful lot of time, though, staring through the window at the reckless maniacs below.

My people skills are depleting. Not only people skills, but what to do to go outside skills. A mailman rang the buzzer yesterday and I had to check three times that I was wearing pants. (spoiler alert: I wasn’t). I’m sure it’ll get better before June. In any event, I don’t think anyone else will forget to wear pants either.

I have full on conversations with my cat, who is becoming a real dick. She knows every step of my day, so the mystery is gone from our relationship and we both know it. It’s sad. We schedule the day with two meals. Breakfast-ish and dinner-ish. There’s something in between that sort of resembles lunch, but it’s not so much food as the time when I begin to wonder if it’s OK to start drinking. It usually is.

While I drink more days during the week now I find that I am rarely intoxicated. I mean, I can push through if I need to (heroically, I must add), but it usually doesn’t happen. I hope that ability comes back too. I have accepted a writing job for a series of coursebooks that are devouring all of my time. I am up at 6 am writing and at some point in the day I stop when my back hurts too much. So while people talk about Corona free time I squint and try to remember what it was like.

I guess this is going to be talked about one day. Everyone will have a “what were you doing during Corona” story. These will probably grow and become little myths. One day Max Brooks will write an oral history of it and I will read it. As long as there are zombies in it. The thing is, I don’t know if I’ll really remember what I spent the Corona time doing. I’ll remember work and not being outside and rather staring out the window at the Prague weather getting nicer. I’ll remember a ton of work and talking to my cat and the big day every week when we go out for groceries and then the twenty minutes after we get back when we clean ourselves and all of our things.

But I really hope I can get drunk after this whole thing.

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I am the actor who has played soldiers dying in various representations of World War II assaults in six different movies and television shows. Ask me Anything!

How many beaches have you died on?

Three. Due to camera magic (as we call it, well as I call it) I died on Omaha Beach twice in Saving Private Ryan. Once I was blown in two and the other time I just fell down in the water. The third time was in The Pacific when I died on Peleliu. 

Which beach was your favorite to die on?

While I got to hold hands with Tom Hanks on Omaha Beach, Peleliu was a lot warmer and the hoagie tray was much better. Also I got to chat with that kid from Jurassic Park in between takes.

What movie makes you laugh no matter how often you see it?

Saving Private Ryan. Because of the times we had. You spend a lot of time laughing with guys while you’re laying in the sand and being gritty.

What’s the hardest thing you ever worked on?

A Vietnam flick I did called We Were Soldiers starring a little known gent called Mr. Mel Gibson. I played a Vietnamese soldier (I’m shortish). Napalm deaths are a bitch. Lots of flailing.  

Do you prefer dying on a beach or inland?

Great question! There are benefits to both, of course. The beach assault takes took twelve days, which means I was wet for and my underwear was full of sand for twelve days. To be honest, I would go more for an inland assault. In Band of Brothers, my character jumped into Normandy and had a few lines before he tripped a bouncing betty and got part of his face blown off. One of my fellow walking dead was a “hanger” which is what we call the paratroopers who died in the jump and were hanging there. That was the money shot, but those guys had it tough. Dangling around, genitals all bound up and cinched up, I mean, they were brought cakes all day, but not drinks so they didn’t have to pee.   

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Backwards TV

After counting on my fingers and toes, counting backwards, and consulting my computer’s desktop calendar, I have deduced (rather brilliantly) that it’s Sunday. Almost immediately I forget it, as it doesn’t mean a lot these days. We aren’t going to work and we don’t have a television that we use to watch television, but rather movies and series online or on DVD.

Truth be told, I have not been a “television watcher” for many years and I mean that literally and not in the uber-obnoxious way that some do. (I don’t even own a television.) But rather for fifteen years I have mostly watched things online. I can easily binge a sitcom if I am in need of a screen-time comfort zone. And I have a log of comfort shows and movies – Seinfeld, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Shaun of the Dead (though not recently). I can’t remember what it’s like to need to adhere to a TV schedule.

But I remember liking it. There was always something great about good TV nights. Seinfeld was on Thursdays along with Friends, The Single Guy, and the unmovable ER. And plus there’s always something brilliant about stumbling across a show rather than putting in a DVD of it. It’s like getting an extra rush of excitement. And I do think it’s why we love flipping through the channels so much. We are like primal hunters, with a remote in one hand and a box of Cheese Nips in the other, looking for the mother lode of TV that promises to be just around the corner. The first few minutes of Jaws. A replay of the Eagles Superbowl game. The very tipoff of a 10 hour M*A*S*H marathon. An episode of Columbo from the 70s. The non-remote holders might shout “For God’s sake, just stop here!” but we say “Nae! There’s something better yonder!” and beat our chests to clean our sweaters of Cheese Nips. Or something like that.

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The Corona Hours

Here in the Czech Republic, we’ve been under self-isolation rules for about 20 days. For some that’s not a big deal, for some it’s a nightmare. For me, well, I spend a pretty good amount of time trying to figure out how I feel and washing my hands.

I try to structure my days more or less in line with my normal life. I get up early, make coffee, and fend off the advances of my cat who has spent the night locked out of the bedroom and is thus recovering from the trauma of not being able to get her rectum as close to my face as possible. Pretty normal.

Things can be normal still when I sit at Mission Control (my desk), check my MITs list (most important tasks), and get started with my morning of work. When I am working on coursebook materials, an article, or fiction, I can mostly escape into those places and leave the stresses of the world behind, whether it’s a Corona World or not. I also find that when I am in the kitchen cooking and watching a show or listening to a podcast then I am also able to block out current stresses.

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