I am sitting in my local pub. No surprise there, they have a table dedicated to me. We are at a table near an open window which looks out from below ground level onto a walking path. The weather is still almost summer-like, so the Czechs don’t mind a draft of warm air invading their drinking environment. In four days, this will not be the case.
The first kid peers in from the window with curiosity. He stares wide-eyed at us as we sip our beers. I try to say the things you say to a kid who is openly staring at you: Hey buddy. Hello. How are you? I run out of things pretty quick and the kid bursts into tears. Fortunately the mother comes to take him away moments after the kid’s screeching wails interrupted her phone call.
The meme that has been going around is to post three pictures of fictional characters who describe your personality. I spent a day thinking about it, but soon realized that I was putting a lot of thought into who I wanted to describe me as opposed to actually described me.
I desperately wanted to choose my favorite characters, which I guess is sort of the point. So I tried to finagle Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove. A lovable goofball who happens to be a badass former Texas Ranger and explorer. Perhaps I fit into the goofball part, but “badass” is only used to describe my Scrabble skills.
After more deliberation I scratched more names off of the list. Some of them were based on physical appearance but didn’t make the personality grade (i.e. Inish Scull, Samwise Gamgee), others were downright ridiculous and impossible to support (i.e. Indiana Jones, Inigo Montoya, Batman).
I had to think about my character’s strengths and flaws, and not just the things I wanted people to think. The truth, the somewhat truth. These were the three I chose.
“I want to see some Japanese tourists cry,” says my sister.
We’re in Paris. Now, like most grown adults, I yearn to see Japanese people weep, but this is just one of those utterances you are completely unprepared for.
What would you like for dinner? The head of a human boy stuffed in a gopher’s kidney. Will you be home tomorrow? No I’m going to the moon tomorrow. What do you want to do in Paris? I want to see some Japanese tourists cry.
We’re walking towards the Eiffel Tower along Avenue Marceau when my sister relates this goal. We have just enjoyed a baguette on a bench across from the Arc de Triomphe, which I suppose was pretty Triomphe but for the traffic, the fender bender, and subsequent shouting match in French, which is just hilarious to behold.
The baguette was stale.
In the moment before I ask what the hell she’s talking about, I recall that she also expressed an intense desire to punt a pigeon across Trafalgar Square. And the day before, she bet me how many times the American girl at the table next to us would use the word “like” as a comma.
It was 29.
So there’s a precedent for her odd choice in holiday leisure activities.
Kick a pigeon.
Wager on an American’s discourse marker ineptitude.
See Japanese tourists cry.
“OK,” I say, “Why…exactly?”
Look austere. Don’t fall down.
Look austere. Don’t fall down.
Look austere. Don’t fall down.
Graduation robes are not made for short people. They are long and awkward. So while my hands are folded in front of me in a pose of academic integrity, they are really holding the robe up above my shoes. I am wearing a huge beret-like cap that belongs on Venetian merchant travelers who have water sports named after them.
Looking austere is not difficult. To look austere, one must appear to be unaffected, unimpressed, and intensely meditating a crime against humanity. Or math. Whatever the face, smiles don’t seem to be accepted academic fashion, and so I consider the plight of the Hopi Indians and step slowly.
It’s graduation day. I have been asked to represent the foreign languages department. It’s raining. I would bite the head off a live block of tofu to be in bed reading, but instead I dress as Dumbledore and tell myself not to fall down and to look austere.
“I’ll be down in 7 and a half minutes.”
When my mom asks about the seemingly random time, I explain that I was finishing a Pomodoro. She nods and hands me a bowl of asparagus. She doesn’t want to hear about this again, and is suggesting that I fill my mouth with food.
I have been quoting time in Pomodoros the last few days to the point where I may sound like the Count from Sesame Street.
“I have done three, three Pomodoros! Mwahahahaha!”
But you see, it’s necessary.
I have been in the U.S, or as I like to call it, Utopia, for two weeks now. I have spent some hectic days lounging on a rocking chair, reading, and greeting my dad’s patients as they arrive for teeth cleaning and root canals. When my mom gets home, she makes dinner and I bother her with questions about her day as she huffs around the kitchen cooking me things. Tis a grand life.
When I am visiting home my schedule is that of a retired beach bum. I am on vacation, I am treated like royalty by my parents, and it is as hot as hell’s space heater. Ideally, my mornings involve a good workout and writing, leaving my afternoons free to read and watch the Phillies get killed. However, I am sometimes carried away on the wings of lackadaisical slovenliness inherent to the summer vacation.
It’s on those lackadaisical days I speak in vague, lazy terms. I did a little writing. I did some work. I tried to get a bit done. It’s also these days whose events I can’t remember or whether they involved a shower.
Something needed to change. And it was on one lucky day in the middle of August that I stumbled upon Pomodoro, which is a time management system that entails focusing on one task for specific periods of time.
I arrived at Philadelphia International Airport in the late afternoon. I had just stepped off of an airplane, and I was elated for that and other reasons. I was about to have a cheesesteak and see my family.
And, most importantly, I was looking ahead at an entire month of being home.
As I approached my parents in the arrivals lounge, I knew that how much time I had at home was going to be mentioned by my dad within a minute of greeting me.
Mom: “How was your flight?”
Me: “It’s over. That’s all that matters.”
All of us laughed nervously.
Dad: “Mom will order the cheesesteaks on the way home.”
Angels sang from Heaven.
Dad: “OK, I’ll say it. You have more than four weeks before you go back.”
My dad and I laughed, my mother rolled her eyes.
I knew he would say this, because, aside from reading and watching baseball, my dad’s favorite pastimes are keeping track of how much time is between now and some activity in the future, and casually dropping the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, or his hatred of Donald Trump into any conversation, despite the topic.
In terms of obsessive time management, my dad is the tree and I am the apple that did not fall very far from it. It’s sort of an inherited obsession. Imagine an old man handing his proud son a cherished pocket watch. Now imagine them obsessing on what time they’ll go for dinner at J.B. Dawson’s.
I spent the month of August in my parents’ house, living like a twenty-something college graduate in the room in the attic. My summer visits are often quiet, a time when I can recharge my battery to get through another school year.
My parents live in the country, head birds in an empty nest, my brother and sisters having long since moved out.
But this summer it was a full house.
My sister is transitioning between houses, so she and her two kids had been living there for about six months and were still living there when I visited. The second floor was occupied by my parents and the kids. My sister slept on the first floor.
It was the first time my sister and I had lived under the same roof in more than two decades. So I don’t know when she become obsessed with India, but a portion of my parents’ home is like stumbling into a Jaipurian Mahārāja’s den. Her bed sheets are a horoscope tapestry done up in sari stripes, two mobiles hang above the bed in which elephants dance in permanent repose under purple umbrellas. The bureau holds Mendhi candles and sandalwood representations of both Ganesha and an elephant.
I have never really cared about fashion. Neither did my family. I grew up in a house of short Hobbit-like creatures whose wardrobes consisted of sweatpants ranked in ascending order of formality. “Eatin’ pants” were a soundly logical dress requirement.
Additionally, the males in my household wore shirts with condiment stains with such ubiquity that they were like inherited brooches.
Moreover, fashion is not exactly aimed at the short and stocky, anything being marketed towards my ilk typically offer a “straight out of the Shire” look. So I never really bothered all that much. And no doubt, for those of us not model-thin, “fashion sense” can mean an attempt to hide doughy parts of our anatomy, which often involves wearing dark, baggy, or large items of clothing in hopes of pulling off a smoke and mirrors sort of act.
In the past year or so through adherence to diet and rigorous exercise I have gotten into better shape, so I have gone from stocky to stocky. More specifically, I’ve gone from stocky (as a euphemism for fat) to stocky (broad and sturdily built – aka: its real meaning). There’s nothing like working hard for two years in order to make it out of euphemism.
Still, the clothes I owned were now so large and baggy that I looked like a little boy who had sneaked into his daddy’s closet and played a game of I’m Going to Work. These were not unpleasant realities, but the fact remained that I needed some new clothes.
I am writing this letter to apply for a position on your Deportation Force, which, I assume, will be promptly put together after your inauguration in January. I have a number of skills and qualifications for a position in this Brute Squad, oh, sorry, Deportation Force. I always get you mixed up with the Princess Bride. You see, you have a lot in common with that movie, only it’s funny on purpose.
The main factors which make me a highly attractive candidate for this Force are that I am an expatriate, a language specialist, and poassess a lot of motivation. I am seriously motivated because I once lived in Mexico cleaning parks and teaching English as part of a good-will gesture between the U.S. and Mexico. I was sixteen at the time and found the Mexican people to be embarrassingly generous and unwaveringly friendly and good-natured. You can imagine how disappointed I was to learn that all those Mexicans grew up to become rapists, criminals, and drug dealers. I realize the error of my ways now, and want to set that straight.
My experience as an expatriate will only help you out. See, the Czech people have adopted me (and about 6,000 other American expats) into their country and culture. Their chosen methods of punishment are bureaucracy and Moravian cheese, but if you can deal with those and speak some Czech, they’ll let you, and even encourage you to stay. Most of us then become constructive and productive members of society. As part of your DP, I plan on contributing to nothing of the sort. No, those illegal immigrants are in trouble because I know where to look for them. It takes an immigrant to think like an immigrant. Thus, as an expat I know where they are hiding.
Where, you ask?
Simple – at work. Your demographic of illegal immigrants will be found hiding and slaving in kitchens or picking grapes in blistering fields or hidden in plain sight on the side of the road selling oranges (or heroin!). They’ll be hiding in toilets and offices for ten hours a day cleaning them for a pittance. Or we can find them hiding outside a Walmart at 5 a.m. praying to get picked for a back-breaking day of labor and then thanking one of their weird foreign deities (there’s one called Hayzoos! Can you believe it?) to be chosen. What a laugh.