Testy Time

Do you have a pen?

Testing time at the university is a fascinating week. In the first place, as a teacher, you get to meet a whole new group of students you never knew. On each register there are names that are nothing more than curios, a couple of eastern or central European words whose attendance blocks are unsullied by a pen marking them present. During testing week these people climb out of the woodwork to introduce themselves and to offer explanations as to why they haven’t seen you in three months. Almost always there has been a visa problem, an illness, a dead relative. All of which, naturally, somehow denies them use of their fingers and the email on the phone they have attached to their hands 23 hours a day.

In the midst of this, you have to then administer the test. Now, one would think that when you are walking into a written examination you might have on your person a pen. However, you would be terribly incorrect in this assumption. I have searched my inner slouch to figure out why a student would walk into a (and this is a key word) written test without a pen. I have come up with the three possible answers. One, their dedication to English is such that they were going to tear open a finger and write in blood. Two, they were hoping that not having a pen would result in an automatic pass. Three, they are missing a chromosome.

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The Zany Hours

Crazy Christmas 3D Glasses Claim Two Victims

My phone conversations with my dad are a kaleidoscope of patchwork information. He has at least nine cylinders burning at once, including ones for food, sports, and a category of questions so random and rapid fired that it’s like being on the phone with Alex Trebek on meth. The first order of business is the obituary section, wherein my dad tells me about that week’s death roll. Next might be the successes and failures of our local sporting teams. I can always tell when my dad has a game on in the background. Not because he’s mildly distracted (which he is) but because he interjects his commentary aimed at the happenings on the screen into the phone, infixing points into other unrelated points.

“So anyway when we visit do you think we could check out what the fuck is your problem, moron! Throw the fucking ball! You know, to that monastery with the good beer. You think?”

“Um what?”

“The monastery can we go there?”

“Sure.”

“The Eagles suck.”

Today my family is happening in the background. This means that my dad is downstairs instead of in the fortress of solitude he calls his bedroom. Today his backup group is my mom, my sister, and her daughter. Her son is almost certainly there as well, but he’s transfixed at some cartoon animals doing something in his iPad.

My mom and sister are arguing and, from what I can gather, today’s bitter dispute concerns the location of “that fucking pan” or maybe “a God damned bag of other God damned bags.”

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Sick Movies

Yes I know. And no I’m not suggesting that.

Christmas is a time of tradition. For what would Christmas be without opening gifts under the tree, a holiday Christmas party, or watching Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

For me (and probably you) Christmas has become a series of other traditions that are outside the usual. But are rather more minuscule and almost seemingly insignificant. So opening gifts and a family party brings along a cheesesteak and a visit and a night of drinking to my brother and sister’s house. Having saved all of my shopping for the consumerist haven of Langhorne, my mother and I will go shopping on the 23rd. I will feign exhaustion in the mall at some point, but will be overall enamored with it, knowing that I have no engagements other than wearing pajamas, eating a homecooked meal, and watching football with my dad. Our $10-20 bets on the holiday time college football explosion is another major tradition and is, outside of familial gossip, probably the number one topic of our conversations over Christmas.  

We watch in the living room, the kitchen, or his bedroom. Sit there doing trivia games and making lists of movies and books and countries we’d like to visit. When the game was getting too good or too bad, Dad always loses interest and suggests a few minutes of a movie or a show. I normally say no because the movies he suggests he is enormously familiar with and I am not. Nevertheless, I would come back from getting a bottle of water or from using the bathroom and come in as Alan Alda is flirting with Ellen Burstyn with a piece of steak or as Judy Dench is mired in the middle of a mindbogglingly boring conversation in As Time Goes By. A number of choices were made that I couldn’t understand. Who on earth would choose the original The Thing from Another World over John Carpenter’s 1982 remake? Insanity. I chalked it up to nostalgia and the need for comfort movies when you’re sick.   

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19E

With an annoying neighbor, there’s no place to go

There’s always anticipation when it comes to your neighbors on a flight. Will they be a manspreader, a talker, a complainer, a model? You never know. I am aware that I – a short, stocky, hairy, cat enthusiast with itchy elbows – am not exactly a gold medal for my flight neighbor. But we lie to ourselves to get us through, do we not.

It’s after a preflight pee that I see my neighbor for the first time. He is stocky, tall, and overall large. He is standing in my spot and sorting through his carryon bag, which is on my seat. I stand across the aisle and wait until his wife says something to him, I suppose along the lines of “you’re in that guy’s seat.”

Neighbor looks at me and I say a gentle, “it’s OK, man, take your time.

And that’s exactly what he does.

When finally I sit I find that my neighbor is a manspreader and an armspreader. Our elbows begin what will be a seven hour spooning session. Before takeoff I put in my earphones and start a movie. My neighbor taps me on the shoulder.

“Yes?”

“Where you get?”

“These?”

“Yes.”

“They’re mine. I brought them.”

“Where you live?”

“Prague.”

Obviously not registering.

“It’s…Germany.”

“Why go Philadelphia?”

“My family lives there.”

“We go Atlantic City. You help us go there?”

“I mean, I can point to where you should go for buses and trains.”

“Yes. Good. What your name?”

“Damien.” Regret over giving real name palpable.  

“I am Hoopoo. It means Hope.”

We shake hands. Red flag. Whenever someone explains the meaning of their name a little part of me curls up and weeps openly. This is far from over.

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The Christmas Spirit Intensification

It’s as if the proper noun of Christmas itself has exploded and had a million babies that rent forth into the world to spread the merry word of yuletide cheer in a frankly almost horrific fashion

It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? The hustle and bustle. The Christmas specials. The music in the public spaces. The obnoxious people who feel the need to tell us that Christmas is about consumerism and that Jesus was born in the summertime (he’s such a Leo). Thank you for your trenchant observations. Captain Obvious.

But the fact is, I haven’t been much in the mood this year. I don’t know if it’s the dark sapping my energy like a seasonal vampire or the late year workload crushing what is left of my spirit, but it has taken me a while to get into the Christmas spirit. It’s been coming in increments.  

Last Friday I bought a Christmas bush in the flower shop in the lobby at school. It sat on my bookshelf looking rather sad and bushy. On Saturday I woke up and watched Love Actually, but I really only had it on for background noise while I worked on some last articles before break. I only came to when Hugh Grant and his bodyguard sang a Christmas carol (Good King Wenceslas? oof) and by then it was too late.

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Recipient: Mr. Santa Claus Re: Yearly Assessment

Dear Santa Christmas letter in envelope with stamp. Holiday child wish list for Santa Claus. Blank postcard. Flat vector illustration

I hope you are well. I know the cold weather nips at your butt eczema; I hope you are taking your medicine. Cream is your friend. I am well. Naturally, I am reaching out for our yearly assessment. Within this letter I offer my own assessment of the year’s positive occurrences and interactions (i.e. nice), the personal developmental negative growth I have seen (i.e. naughtiness), and what I expect to gain in remuneration (gifts), assuming your performance assessment is on the relative same page.

As for the positives I hope to call attention to the good I have done this year. Or perhaps the “not bad” I have done to people. As per our feedback face-to-face last December, I was less vocal to detractors on social media. Your specific term that I “keep my big yap shut” proved particularly helpful and I use it as a mantra with the breathing techniques. If that doesn’t work, then I go for booze.

On social media and in small talk conversations on public transport and at while relating symptoms to my doctor, I mostly kept commentary to subjects like my cat, the weather, and varieties of complex carbohydrates. I tried to be more empathetic towards others. When hearing a particularly absurd excuse to get out of school work, I employed the technique you suggested wherein I quietly sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer until the spasms had passed. It worked. For the most part.

In terms of the negative growth, I admit to some transgressions. You no doubt have heard all of the language-chunks and verbal explosive device nuggets measuring between 3 and 5 words that I have used. For these, I sincerely apologize. By way of requesting sympathy for my slipups, I offer rational explanatory points, which attempt to outreach my finger at those more to blame. In the first place, my city’s sports teams sort of suck. This has been frustrating. Have you been to Philadelphia? Remember getting pelted by snowballs on a firetruck on Christmas Eve? Right. That’s the level of empathy and patience you’re dealing with here. Additionally, have you met the President of the United States? I mean, come on! I can only imagine you’re feedback assessment with that cocksu…., I mean assho…, I mean person. Keep my big yap shut. Keep my big yap shut. Keep my big yap shut. Ahh.

One last point. I live in the Czech Republic. You know this of course as you have tracked me down with the help of Christmas spirit colleague Ježíšek. But I have had two bureaucratic tidbits to get through this year and not even Ježíšek could do this without taking his Father’s name in vain. And maybe even laying out a few well-placed fucks.

Overall I have to believe that our growth this year over four quarters has been largely positive with a few slips in the negative sector. I do hope your feedback assessment states roughly the same informatics (I hope I used that right). As far as remuneration, I was hoping for nine hours of uninterrupted sleep and some of your eczema cream.

Sincerely,

You Know Who I Am

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Report on the Obnoxious Persistence of Czech Culture in Prague

The aim of this report is to outline and call attention to the troubling occurrences of the unfortunate eruption of Czech culture in the capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague.

Shops and Establishments

This one is relatively amazing. Over the past twelve years, there has been an extremely aggressive campaign to completely squash Czech culture by saturating the city center with shops and restaurants that are either of completely differing culture or are completely void of flavor or culture. Waffle houses, rib, wings or burger joints, furniture shops for rich people, Moleskine shops, fried fish houses. And yet, despite this, there are still some Czech establishments poking through. Contributors to our research counted as many of four (4) Czech restaurants in the city center and were horrified to find that three of those didn’t even have a burger on the menu.

Our recommended action here is scorched earth. Find these places and bring them down.

The Gentrification Campaign of the Pub

Our campaign to remove every pub with even a drop of character that might not appeal to upper-class white people from New York has been enormously successful. In their wake, we have left a hundred pubs with brass and dark wood interiors, tables, and chairs; patrons enjoy sleek menus (a burger features on each one), Wi-Fi, and absolutely no discerning characteristics from one another.

Research shows that people could not tell one center pub from another in a blindfold test (blindfolds were removed when they were brought out of the toilets). Feedback shows that patrons like this sort of bland anonymity. The only problem in this area is the occasional classic Czech pub, but these exist mostly on the periphery of the city.

Recommendation: keep pounding away and do not relent.

Ježíšek

Attempts to bludgeon the Czech people to death with Santa Claus have been absolute. He is in Coca Cola ads on the square, he is winking at people with Rudolph-the-bloody-rednosed-bloody-rein-bloody-deer in Old Town, and he is in the chocolate ads in every British, German, and Dutch shop in the city. But still the Czechs maintain an annoying dedication to their Christmas spirit, Ježíšek (baby Jesus).

This is more remarkable when considering the fact that Jesus in baby form has little to no marketability power in the modern world. He can’t bring presents into a house, he isn’t comforting (no baby is), and his ability to grant wishes (Christmas or otherwise) seems mostly based on the proxy power of his father. More confusingly distressing is that, unlike Santa and Rudolph, Ježíšek has no real physical representation. So Czech people are forced to use their “imagination” to conjure the image of a small baby whose father grants them wishes and who can’t carry a gift without the help of an adult, but who somehow comes to their living rooms when kids ring a little bell. Insanity.

We may make some headway in a few years if we keep up deployment of Christmas movies to Netflix and to international theaters. If the occurrences of Santa can be raised (an estimated) 19%, then we may see a slow decline in Ježíšek’s popularity. Might consider cameoing both in the next Die Hard film.

Nota Bene: pass this by Bruce. Would he feel comfortable shooting a “baby Jesus” with a Glock 20?

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The Joy of Discomfort

On Friday we bought snacks at the train station, ate a fast food meal that I treat myself to whenever I travel, and got on the train. It left at 15:30 and by the time we were in the country the sky was darkening. An hour into our trip, the sky was pitch black.

Prague. Four hours of zooming through the country. Nipping a flask of whiskey. Four waters. Pistachios, lots of pistachios, more pistachios than a person should eat. Short spurts of reading punctuated by shifting and trying to make my well-padded ass more comfortable. Two long delays in the dark country somewhere in central Czech. Some complaining. Bratislava.   

I have a peculiar devotion to my weekend comfort zone. It’s decorated in televisions and lined with flannel cushions. My cat is there. Burke is there. A couch with a sign above it: Home is where the pants aren’t. In my comfort zone there is no place for stress or anxiety or the possibility of a curve ball or a chance I might not get what I want. There’s a strict No English Instruction rule. The Saturday a month I have to teach nearly kills me.  

But once I’m out of the comfort zone, I make the most of it. Whenever I complain that I have to go out on a weekend night when I’d far prefer to sit in my pjs and read, Burke always says: you’ll be happy once you’re there. And she’s always right. It’s the getting out of the comfort zone that seems to be the hardest part.

So this weekend I cast fate to the wind. I stayed out until 3 am on Friday, slept until 10:30 on Saturday, woke up and dined on bread and cheese. I did not comb my hair.   

We went to a Christmas market which was fully committed to food and hot alcohol drinks. There were virtually no kiosks selling the knick-knacks and tchotchkes rampant in Czechs markets. The scene was a classic. Cold air. Blue skies. An ancient town square. Little kiosks decked out in traditional and charming Christmas decorations.

My first drink is a hot mulled wine. Simple and delicious and on a relatively strict time schedule of tastiness. The very moment mulled wine passes from a steaming beverage into no-longer-hot it also passes into no-longer-good and you’re soon holding a cool-ish cup of grape juice and tart oranges.  

In any event, this is my rationale for pounding it.    

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Be Basic

I was walking up the steps to the metro yesterday humming. Whenever I walk up steps I hum. Humming is my way of tricking myself into believing that I do not hate steps. I realized I was humming Jingle Bells.

Ha, I thought. Merry Christmas.

Shortly after I realized that I was humming Jingle Bells, I realized that some other guy had realized it too. And then he rolled his eyes at me.

And to that man, I say, merry Christmas, asshole. Ho ho ho and get bent.

There’s nothing you disgruntled hipsters like to do more than judge others. And your favorite subject are the holidays. And tis indeed the season for Thanksgiving and for Christmas and for you pedantic assholes to start warming up your windpipes to didact upon us your intimate knowledge with all things outrage-worthy. Plus it gives you the chance to judge the rest of us.

Yes, we know. Pilgrims bad. Yes, we know. Black Friday boo. Yes, we know. Genocide. Yes, we know. Turkey murder. We know. Christmas and consumerism. Yes, we know. Columbus was a prick.  

We know. Despite the fact that you wait all year long to spread your knowledge in your nasally little hipster voices, let me just tell you: we already know. Whenever someone feels the need to educate the rest of us on why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas too early or why we should hate Thanksgiving, we assume you are a frustrated little hipster who writes bad poetry on a typewriter and kills cats in your mom’s basement.

To the rest of you, my fellow basic people, celebrate and get excited for the holidays on your own schedule. If you want to hang your stockings on October 1st, then do it. If you want to wear a sweater with a turkey on it, then do it. If you want to buy scented candles and have an ankle tattoo and surround yourself with inspirational quotes, then do it. Be basic. And merry f***ing Christmas and happy Arbor Day.

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Mother Goose Says Goodbye

On Monday afternoon, I got a Facebook call from my sister at 1 pm. A call from the U.S. on a non-preassigned call day (Sun and Thurs) instantly sends red flags flying through my mind. It was 7 am in Philadelphia. It was a Facebook call. It was someone who usually doesn’t call me. Something was wrong. I didn’t want to pick it up. But I did.

I was right. And a minute later I was hearing that my grandmom had died. The news wasn’t a complete shock. In our weekly conversations my dad had been laying down small comments, she’s getting pretty frail, she’s not doing too great, she was a bit out of it, I think it’s getting close. She wasn’t bedridden, but getting around the house, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, was a two person affair. Travel anywhere was hinged majorly on factors that most of us take for granted. Every day was an operation involving oxygen, medicine, taking vitals, shots. My aunt is a registered nurse and provided care 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, without which she may quite well have gone a number of years ago.

So when my sister said the words, it wasn’t a massive shock, but it was a punch to the gut anyway. There’s a difference between a theoretical bad condition and the very real fact that you’re never going to see someone again. I got on the tram, sat down, opened my Murakami book and propped it on my lap. It and I sat just like that for the 43 minutes to my stop. I was dazed and unable to speak.

I decided to deal with this like a man’s man, a hard man, and so I popped into the grocery store and bought 450 Koruna (20ish bucks) worth of candy, junk food, and carbohydrates, and I made a B line for my pajamas.

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