Chuckles at the Royal Wedding

On Saturday I sat in my office in the flat watching thunderstorms threaten. A blimp was flying around Prague and I was not in the mood to work on my book or any other files I came across. Instead, I opened a blank document and started free writing. A good way to clear the head and get some ideas down.

Burke was in the living room watching the Royal Wedding. Every now and then I’d walk out to check out the famous mechanical waves and outfits which cost more than my college education. What I saw of the occasion did spur some nostalgia for my visits to England, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I sighed, recognized that I already miss Claire Foy and Matt Smith, and went back to work.

As Burke is not one to keep mum on something currently possessing the bulk of her attention, I was the recipient of constant alerts on the action. Oh the Queen doesn’t sing the song because it’s about her! I think they stuck George Clooney behind a pillar. Everyone’s trying not to laugh.

Though I didn’t watch the audience chuckling, I did wonder what would make a bunch of stiff-upper-lipped Brits laugh at a Royal Wedding. Some claim it’s because of Prince Harry, considered to be the more jovial prince. Others suggested it was the gregarious and impassioned sermon by Reverend Curry. I know and work with Brits, I’m B2-C1 in British English, and even love me some British entertainment. Through simple exposure, I have picked up enough about the people and culture to hazard some guesses as to what might make them laugh at such an auspicious occasion.

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You Think you’re a Grown up, but then…

Paperfeet the cat

Adulthood happens to most of us. And it really is one of those I just woke up one day and… situations. You don’t plan on it. Nobody I know has ever said “This year, I’m going to start being an adult.”

One day you realize that your decisions are more rational, that instead of frozen pizza and packaged ham, the majority of your groceries consists of vegetables and meat. You pay bills on time and you meet your obligations without resorting to excuses.

There is no doubt that those things carry a sense of stable, comfortable joy. However, if you’re like me, you have little moments that occasionally bring you down a notch on the respectable adult scale. Just to remind you not to get too big for your Buster Browns.

 

Some of those moments have happened to an unnamed mostly respectable author and adult in the last two weeks. He asks that you add your own moment to the comments below, so as to make him feel better about himself.

You think you’re a grown up, but then…

You spend four hours reading alternate Harry Potter theories.

You reward yourself with a cookie for making your bed.

You catch yourself saying “no, you shut up” and “FML” right in the same day.

You trick someone into smelling your fart.

You eat a bowl of cereal for dinner. And then you eat another one.

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A Day at the Races

Collin’s birthday often involves doing something we don’t normally do. We’ve jumped out of a plane and chewed on Flintstone-sized drumsticks in a prehistoric steakhouse.

This birthday we’re at the horse races. Having never attended a horse race, I mostly associate it with Bukowskiesque characters in bitter desperation, a row of red-eyed old men in pale golf shirts and checkered pants squeezing the racing program in a sweaty fist and begging Sagar-the-Horrible to make their rent. The only reason I knew there was a racing program at all was because of Bukowski. It’s important to learn from the things you read.

I have never been a big gambler, but that’s only because I don’t often find myself in places where gambling is the vice du jour. When I do find myself in a casino or at a track of some kind, I will figure out how to gamble and then I will gamble. During my Christmas visits, my father and I bet on every football game that is on TV. I adopt his phrases of rationale – Oh, I do it to make the games fun to watch. It’s fun. And then I follow his lead by staring at the television and seething and exploding over anything that goes against our team. By the end of the game we have fun-induced apoplexy.

The crowd is not at all what I expect. There are definitely the Bukowskis, old guys with binoculars around their necks and forty tickets in their pocket protectors. Their binoculars are bent at the horses during the races and the girls in between the races. Otherwise there are lots of families, more kids than one would associate with horse races. There are young couples out for the day. Some people are dressed up for the occasion (we’re among them). There are more ascots at this race than I have seen in the last thirteen years in Prague combined. I am comforted by the others, who have made the extraordinarily questionable fashion choices I’ve come to associate with Prague or, more likely, young people (bright green shorts and a slightly different bright green shirt. I will never understand).

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World Naked Gardening Day

When Facebook told me that Saturday was World Naked Gardening Day, I scoffed. Being naked out of doors has never really agreed with me. I have skinny dipped a few times, ended up on a few ill advised nude beaches (fucking France), and did my rugby Zulu warrior dance after scoring my first try. This last one has the added benefit of allowing one to enjoy nudity, the outdoors, and friends and acquaintances dumping cold beer on you. I miss college. But overall, I never warmed to the idea of being naked near other people in places where poison ivy, wasps, and the French exist.

While I was initially comfortable with my decision to abstain, by the afternoon on Friday I felt as though this prudishness was a major personal failing. What was wrong with a little nudity? Women sunbathe topless at my local pool with no shame. It’s natural and fine. By the evening’s fourth drink I was ready to sell all of my possessions and clothing and live in a raccoon commune in Moravia. But first, I was going to take part in World Naked Gardening Day.

No thanks! I said. There are three green(ish) things in my house. A defunct retired Christmas tree named Larry. A rosemary plant that Collin brought over the other day. And cat grass that my cat loves so much she can’t wait to share it in regurgitated form on wherever I am going to step first thing in the morning.

In twelve years, my neighbor and I have enjoyed a waving relationship. Her living room window is adjacent to my balcony, and we have awkwardly caught each other in underwear shaking out a rug or hanging laundry. The guy who I see on his balcony from my living room celebrates World Naked Gardening Day every day.

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To the Robot Who Gets my Job

After reading a doom and gloom article about the rise of Artificial Intelligence, I have decided to come to peace with the fact that one day a robot will take my job. It’s customary to write a brief email to our successor.

To the Robot Who Gets my Job,

Congratulations! You really deserved this, your rise from south Asian sweatshop to university English teacher is awe inspiring. And in just two days to boot! I applaud you.

Some tidbits about the job. First of all, the coffee maker’s always on the blink, so you’ll have to bring your own from home. Or you could recommend one of your friends for the position. It’s a pretty easy gig, just mornings and after lunch. The office is good enough. You have the window seat so you can wave to your buddies running the drone lot across the street. You need to chip in 200 Koruna each year for everyone’s birthday gifts. Or I guess creation day gifts.

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The Not Bad CV

As I’m hoping to take some work in a related-but-not-language teaching-field, I recently redid my CV. Now, if you’re like me, when you have a job you don’t look at your CV all that much. Oh I know there are some of you who can’t wait to achieve something so that you can alert all of LinkedIn about it. But I don’t seem to be too up on this.

In any event, for two days I thought about all the stuff I’m currently doing / have been doing / had done, much of which boiled down to being able to explain the difference between those three verb tenses. However, one of the best parts of university work is that you are always doing a bunch of stuff that, while massive time consumers and you don’t get paid for it, at least looks solid on a CV. So I start writing my CV story.

And many of you are familiar with the consequent tweaking of terms and words, “made a test” becomes “oversaw the development of the university’s entrance examinations” and “met with teachers once a month and patted their backs while they wept and wondered why they’d made such as mistake as to teach ESL in Prague” is coerced into “senior teacher was in charge of forty teachers and held monthly meetings and workshops on pedagogy and language.”

I have just become a George Carlin skit.

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Smell Them Roses

The signs of spring are here. Bees or wasps the size of hummingbirds rev near my windows. The B Monster starts shedding hair like it’s her occupation, which, I suppose, it sort of is. And Prague life slows down.

I’ve written about Prague spring and summer many times in the past and for good reason – they are truly magnificent. I am not simply talking about going from a shitty winter to a nice summer. The whole demeanor of the city changes. Things become lighter, more relaxed, more fluid.

I find that each time of year carries its comfort images. Autumn is an October day, leaves in the yard, a walk through a dying colorful landscape. Winter is always pre-Christmas, the cheery atmosphere of approaching holidays and time with family and friends; there’s a good stew on the stove, a good glass of whiskey in hand, and I’m looking out at the snow and saying “Glad I’m in here!” I’m often wearing a rollneck sweater. Summer is a collage of long days at home, very few present concerns, reading on the porch in a rocking chair, eating cheesesteaks, hanging with family, baseball on TV, blissful days at the beach.

Spring is the morning. It’s bright, spring being the time of year I always think I’m waking late. Shit it’s 9 a.m. and I’m missing class! Nope. It’s 5 a.m. and I’m missing sleep. The air spilling through my window is comfortable cool; I come out into the flat, brightening it in increments by pulling open curtains. I write in my airy office, I have a coffee. In this fantasy the cat is not the constant meowing machine begging to get to the porch that she is in reality.

It’s the time of year that means less urgency, more daytime, slower afternoons, during which I am likely to find myself in a beer garden. For me, teaching is finished for the summer, we are testing people, which any teacher will tell you may bring its own flavor of hell, but is not the same as teaching.

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1,260 Books

Every time I pick up an Umberto Eco novel, I launch into the same pep talk mantra: I am smart enough to get this book. I am smart enough to get this book.

This time the book is The Prague Cemetery.

I have had two false starts with the book, but the summary really sells it as a historical mystery set in late nineteenth century Europe. There are the Illuminati, the Jacobins, and, plus, Prague. Also, I’d like to better my record with Eco.

Me: 1

Eco: 2

By page 50 it’s clear that my mantra is wrong and I have made a mistake. I struggle through the next 17 or so pages in a valiant attempt to save some intelligent face, but it’s coming to an end. Every morning I look at the 400 plus pages I have to read in order to say that I read another Eco and I sigh.

Conversation with Lee:

Me: talk me off the cliff.

Lee: Sure.

Me: I am struggling through an Eco book. Should I put it down?

Lee: Yep.

This is unusual since Lee never puts down books before he has finished reading the last page, but before I can ask, he says:

2,400 dude.

Me: 2,400 what?

Lee: 2,400 is the number of books I have left in me to read.

Me: [enter quizzical muttering here]

Lee: I figure I have about 40 more years on the planet and about 60 books a year. So I have about 2,400 books left to read. I ain’t wasting one of them on something I don’t want to read.

Me: [enter eureka/ohm aha here]

Naturally I did the math shortly after hanging up the phone. I am guessing (read: hoping) that I have about 42 years left and average about 30 books a year. That puts me at about 1,260 books I can read before I die.

This makes me glum. To quantify my life in books and to end up at the rather unimpressive number of 1,260 is a bit disappointing. Disappointment leads to panic and panic leads to anger. How can I only have 1,260 books left in me?

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Walmart One

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s Sunday. I’m eating hummus. Things are good. And then I make the mistake of reading the news.

Two days ago an asteroid “the size of a Walmart” passed close by the Earth. What’s close? As regards asteroids and their physical approximation to Earth, “close” is anything closer than we are to the moon. This one was half our average distance to the moon. So, close.

Another alarming detail is that it was moving at 66,000 miles an hour. If it had not disintegrated in our atmosphere, a Walmart flying 66,000 miles an hour might have popped out of the sky and drilled (probably) Russia. I say Russia not with scientific proof, but partially because the two other asteroid strikes in the article both hit Russia, and partially out of better you than me wishful thinking. It’s the price you pay for covering more than an eighth of the planet.

According to the article, the asteroid, 2018 GE3, would have “caused regional, not global damage.” (Side note: call me old fashioned, but we should prioritize better naming things that almost killed us. We didn’t name the Black Widow ‘2901 SPIDHRGLS’ for a reason.) Anyway, I was slightly put at ease by the protection of our atmosphere and asteroids’ propensity to aim themselves at Russia.

But then I make the mistake of looking up more articles about asteroids. I read about their devastating effect on the environment and the fact that many scientists now recognize them as our number one threat for global disaster. Stephen Hawking (you’ve heard of him. pretty smart dude) says that any asteroid over 20 km in diameter that hits Earth will “bring an end to all complex life on Earth.” Any ease I have attained is now completely washed away.

I notice that I can’t stop looking at the sky now. It’s blue and perfect, Prague Castle is carved out in the distance against it. There is a little serenity in this, but then I imagine a Walmart hurting out of the sky at 66,000 miles an hour and hitting it, and serenity is gone. I hoist my binoculars and scan the horizon.

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Five Writers who Know How to Kill a Man

By Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Getty Images.

…and who aren’t George R.R. Martin. Let’s leave out the most contemporary and obvious one: George R.R Martin. If you have ears or eyes or know someone who has ears or eyes, then you know Martin’s imagination is epic, and he applies it to the dismantlement of the human body. If characters are cognizant, and I like to think they are, then when one realizes they have been borne into Game of Thrones they probably mutter the Westeros equivalent of “Oy vey” and wonder if they will be melted or eaten by dogs or zombies.

Here are five other writers who are enormously adept at killing a man off. And by “man” I mean anyone or anything with a face, a mother, and a heartbeat that’s on borrowed time.

Stephen King

OK, the obvious one. Stephen King’s talents lie in horror, killing people, clowns, killing people, dissuading people from making fun of the prom queen, and killing people. But because of his ubiquity in the horror genre, King is often overlooked as a writer of tremendous power and whose blood runs as cold as a snake’s fridge. In winter.

What sets him apart from other writers is that he does not care who you are. Other thriller writers might threaten children or the cuddly family pup, but then rescue them at the last moment to ensure that the reader isn’t too shocked and disturbed. But nobody is safe in a King story. Pregnant women. Little kids looking for their paper boat. Children. Family dogs. All have seen their end in Stephen King stories in ways so graphic and horrid so as to make the reader yearn for the safety of a black widow nest.

For examples of King’s cruelty check out Salem’s Lot, Cujo, and It. Cycle of the Werewolf is my favorite; it’s a novella so there’s more kill per page.

Larry McMurtry

Life in the American West was not easy and as proof, you have the books of one of the great American storytellers, Larry McMurtry. Like any great storyteller, he knows that sometimes in a story it’s time to die. Very, very brutally.

Comanche Moon and Lonesome Dove are two of the greatest westerns ever written. (NB: They’re no slouch in the literature department either, Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer in 1985). And most of the characters that die in them do so in violent and rather grisly manners. Such was life when you wandered out of a town in the nineteenth century and was especially true of those who run afoul of the Comanche, whose creed essentially was to praise Mother Nature, Father Earth and to ruin the frick out of anyone who’s ticked you off or just happened to be nearby and not Comanche at the same time.

So you have lots of creative death and dismemberment that makes you squirm in your seat and implore the literature gods. This includes such hits as skinning people alive and letting them rot in the sun, so (read: too) much emasculation, chewing off fingers, pulling intestines from a living person and tying them to a tree to serve as coyote food, or slow roasting people over fires.

It’s awful(ly wonderful).

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