On Blaming Mike Tyson and Pants

I should have stuck to sweats

My arms are little limp noodles at this moment. My elbows hurt, I mean the actual bone. One is never more keenly aware of their shoulders then when the simple act of opening a door sends searing pains along them. I have spent the last hour trying to pick my nose.

A couple of things led to my current state.

Saturday. I was sitting quite happily on my couch in a pair of sweats and a T shirt that I could use to safely parachute off my roof. Modern Family was on the Netflix. Saturday is Cheat Day, so for four hours my hand was engaged with sandwiches of differing meats, cheeses, and fillers. Namely, I was in heaven.

And then I had what could only have been a severe stroke, because I decided it was a great idea to get up from this paradise of carbs and comfy clothes and try on pants. Six pairs. I stacked the pants on the bed and I stood in front of the full-length mirror I was somehow convinced into including in our bedroom. If you want a word of advice, don’t have a full-length mirror in the room where you crawl out of bed in the morning with no pants on. It does nothing to offer one hope enough to get into the shower. A room, by the way, with another mirror and where we stand naked. (beginning to think there’s a conspiracy afoot).

I took off my sweats, sucked in my gut in lots of ways until it was acceptable, and took in a deep breath.

OK, here’s the thing. Like many of you, I gained a bit of weight that we can all blame on the pending end of days. I wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere, so my daily step count went from the high thousands to about 16. We didn’t eat too well during the worst period of self-isolation. Since things have let up in June, I have made sure that my day includes a long walk. We have improved our diet and we are back to one Cheat Day a week as opposed to six. Despite a lingering foot injury sidelined me from walking a few weeks ago, I kept up working out, and I have noticed miniature gains in terms of shrinkage. I still have a butt that one could land a toy helicopter on, but it’s OK, because I felt good. Yes, I was going to try on pants!

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Mindfucků

The first mindfuck of the week was the word mindfuck. Of course, we know this term in a common use in English, but this was being used in a Czech article.

Téma: 10 filmových mindfucků, které možná neznáte

(theme: 10 mindfuck films you might not know)

Languages are absolutely filled with “loanwords,” which are words and phrases that we simply take from other languages and use as our own. We all (languages, that is) do it. So there’s no real penalty for appropriating language. We nabbed yoga from Sanskrit, klutz from Yiddish, and woodchuck from the Cree. It would take the rest of the year to list them all. We are linguistic thieves and it’s great.

Alongside content words, we have also snagged metaphors that we don’t change from the original. We use schadenfreude for pricks who like others’ misfortunate and je ne sais quoi to comment on someone who’s hot in a way that we can’t quite explain (ahem).

Some etymological sources put mindfuck in use back in the fifties and linked to brainwashing during the Korean War. But for most of us, the phrase gained meaning in the 2000s with the rise of the listicle and the new, surprising information about old things that can be conveyed. Now our minds are fucked by unusual history, film, and animal facts.

What makes the Czech use of mindfuck such a mindfuck is that mindfuck is a loan idiom. Sure, they have lots of loanwords as the internet, Facebook, globalization, western influence, and Quentin Tarantino  make “international” words far more in use here. Sorry, Paj, Komin (come in), are all seen now around Prague. Last month I walked past a restaurant which boasted Apel Paj and Snickers Paj spelled out in phonetic Czenglish. But mindfuck is the first idiom loanword I have really noticed. Perhaps in twenty years Czech will be a vastly different language.  

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Story Thief

Every storyteller is a complete, unabashed thief. They nab a character description here, a quip there, a lunatic aunt over there.

I steal all the time. I’ve nabbed lines, pets, locations. I don’t care. If they are better than something I’ve got, I grab it and implant the hell out of it. Why not? It’s all in the pursuit of a better story.

It’s been happening since I was a kid. I come from a family of storytellers and I have always considered myself lucky. In my family, we spent hours around the table telling stories and interrupting each other harshly. It was an education.

My mother has spent a lifetime putting herself into stories. She talks to random people in the mall or while finding the right sized shirt for an old man in a JC Penny. On one of our mall jaunts I found her in front of a dressing room.

“Hey, what—”

And that’s when a woman came out of the dressing room. “So, what do you think?”

“I like the pink one more,” said my mother.  

“Knew it, Mrs. G,” she said. “Thank you.” The girl twirled.  

“Good luck and have fun at the prom.”

“Thanks, Mrs. G.”

“Who is that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Let’s go to TJ Maxx. I hate those shoes.”

It’s a minor point to say that her stories are usually devoid of plot. They will always be descriptions of either completely enhancing or ruining a total stranger’s day.

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The Day of Not Doing Shit

From left to right: Phil, Larry, Alex, Nora, Tom and Susan. Not pictured: Scooter

It’s one of those days where everything fascinates me but the manuscript on Microsoft Word. I play with the cat, water my plants, talk to my plants, and then name my plants. Phil, Larry, Alex, Nora, Tom, and Susan. I then text a friend to tell him how I cleverly named my plants in the acronym PLANTS. He does not find this as astounding as I do. I carry the cat around and try to get her into a forced impromptu fight with a spider who’s been edging his way closer to my bed.

The cat doesn’t take the bait and the spider runs away from us into my bedroom. They both kind of seem embarrassed for me. I am failing at not doing things.

I’m procrastinating today. Big time.

And while it’s something we all do, especially if we work from home, I take it hard. The thing is, I fling a lot of ‘don’t procrastinate’ rhetoric at students, so when I fall victim to the calliope of fucking off, I feel like a fraud. My particular rhetoric: get things done early and it’s like a vacation from work for the rest of the day.

Now, I truly believe and usually put this advice into practice. I get up early, have a nice routine of reading, stretching, journaling, and sitting quietly. I make coffee, tidy up, water my plant guys and girls, and then I get to work.

But sometimes, things go horribly wrong. I have diagnosed the mistakes which lead to the procrastination. Among them are drinking the day before and starting late, reading too much and finding it hard to motivate myself under the watchful gaze of the crushing talent of Louis de Bernières, Sarah Vowell, or James Clavell. But the most common mistake is allowing myself to check the internet before I start writing.

The internet is a temptress. Come on, sailor, don’t you want to confirm your political bias with a traipse through CNN? Don’t you want to see what makes Trump the world’s biggest cunt today? (Because there’s a brand new reason literally every day). Don’t you need to go look at the rating scores and commentary for Modern Family and Breaking Bad and do a crossover comparison that will be sure to take up hours?  

Yep.

It’s infuriating.  

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Cheat Day and Jogging Pants

Chugger: jogging pants

In June I was forced to once again don pants. This was both a personal choice and one thrust upon me by the sneer of judgment. Lee met me for a beer one day in late June and said, “dude, are you still in pjs? Corona’s over.” As it turns out he was both right and wrong.

In the beginning of the Corona we were all in it together and nobody judged anybody. Our weekly trips to the store found neighbors in robes, muumuus, and hazmat suits and nobody blinked (the only part we could see). I went everywhere in what we will liberally describe as “jogging pants” and slip-on shoes. Nobody judged. Recently, however, I tired of being looked at on the metro like a guy wearing a thong to a museum of art.

At first, I looked right back at them thinking Who are you to judge, what with your fanny packs and socks under sandals? Still, I finally decided to come back to the world of the be-pantalooned.

I imagined that re-panting might bring about a transformation. Like suddenly I might feel more clearheaded and ready to take on the world with vigor, ready to be a productive member of society again. I imagined myself in a perpetual state of just showered state, wherein my hair and skin was clear and warm and soft but not pruned.

This – and I can’t stress this enough – did not happen.  

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What’s up, Doc?

Before going to my doctor, I reminisce fondly about the time before. I went to him about 16 months ago for a lump on my back that was bugging me out. Of course I don’t reminisce about the examination, I reminisce about the good news, the clean bill of health, the note to watch my salt intake in an offhand casual way that translated as “I had to find something to say. You’re fine!”

To paraphrase Bart Simpson’s views on church, leaving a reasonably successful doctor’s appointment is the best feeling in the world, because it’s the longest period of time before more doctor’s office.  

Preach, Bart.

I casually mentioned my success at the doctor’s for a while. I’ve just been to the doctor and he says I’m fit as a fiddle. As with many time-sensitive references, I am eventually betrayed by grammar. If I’m being honest, I’ve just been … becomes I was just at my doctor’s and eventually falls into I was just there a couple of months ago… and then, for grammatical accuracy, the just has to be removed. I was at my doctor’s a few months and he said….

What will happen is that my memory of his words become slightly distorted. “Your bloodwork is all good” becomes “Your bloodwork is perfect” and then “Your blood could be used to fuel an F-16 Falcon and lubricate Walk Disney back from the dead.”

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Walk in the Woods to a Brewery

It’s mid-summer and we have grown weary of many things. The COVID news is perpetually bad. The numbers in Prague and the Czech Republic are growing daily. And somehow, as if we live in one of Stephen King’s dystopian novels, not only are we forced to hear Donald Trump’s voice every day, what he says has bearing on the world’s events. What hell is this?

Anyway, we decide to escape it for the day by walking through nature. I love nature. I mean, sure, I don’t really like wasps or hills or the sun or cows who have a bit too much attitude for future steak or rocks or not being able to have pizza at a moment’s notice, but nature’s great. What makes it better is that we are enjoying nature in the Czech Republic, which means that all along the places where people enjoy nature there are pubs filled with pickled cheese and tank beer. And best of all, we’re not only hiking through nature, we’re hiking through nature to a brewery.

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Overhearing the Neighbors

Jethroe – aka: Satan

My corona-routine has been a bright spot in an otherwise stressful and depressing situation. I spend the morning writing and reading, making notes and plans, setting goals and then wondering how I can obfuscate them while still feeling like I accomplished something. I work in the living room which faces another building and a courtyard of sorts. It faces directly away from the sun and the street, so it’s cool and quiet. When I’ve organized, I put on my writing kufi, now needed to keep my long corona-locks out of my eyes, and start actively procrastinating.  

It has, however, allowed me to unwittingly listen in on the lives of my neighbors. At 6 am there is only a little life rousing back there. People converse with the dogs they’re walking in the yard.  Converse, not give orders. When I hear the whispers of conversation I peep out to see who it is and what their dog looks like. There’s an older woman who has a full conversation with her Corgi about the day ahead, or, a hopeful longshot depending on my understanding of her Czech phraseology, in which she outlines her plans to kill and eat her downstairs neighbor. A child in the building has a habit of whooping like a fire engine for very long periods of time. I’m guessing his parents drink. There’s a baby-toddler in one of the flats who throws a tantrum each morning of proportions that can only be described as epic, hellish, and otherworldly. I haven’t seen the parents in person yet (I look for eyes of extreme exhaustion above a mask), but when I do I will hug them and whisper words of comfort. And then send them alcohol.

I often wonder what the neighbors think of us here. We are mostly quiet and stick to ourselves. We watch TV late sometimes and argue sometimes, but overall they probably think of us as those weird people who talk to their cat and watch carpool karaoke sometimes late at night. Not too bad, I figure. I smile at people outside, say hello, hold the door for neighbors, am always polite at the shop. They should mostly get the idea that I am a reasonable adult human male.        

After my morning work, I go for a 4 or 5 mile walk or I work out. On walk days I go to my local park and listen to a podcast and/or just walk and make notes about the story I’m currently working on. I pack a messenger bag with a bottle of water, a book, earphones, and a notebook. As a long dedicated notebooker, this last one is a no-brainer. I walk through the park and occasionally stop in the woods or on the path and jot some notes. It’s a fine system.

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Unmitigated Optimism

Pictured: Johnny 5 is REALLY alive!

I saw Short Circuit in the movie theater when I was 12. For a week afterwards my sister and I screaming “number 5 is alive!” and embroiled ourselves in an excitement that culminated in the “construction” of a robot by painting a face on an easy bake oven and placing it on top of the washing machine. Of all the people unimpressed by our technological creation, my mother tops the list as she wasn’t able to get to a load of whites.

Two years later Short Circuit 2 came out and our enthusiasm was not what it once had been. Perhaps the sea of troubles that presented itself in the 8th grade and 6th grade respectively had led us to seek solace in Faith no More lyrics and M*A*S*H reruns. Nevertheless, it was this movie that Burke chose to follow up Three Men and a Baby in our Saturday night double feature.

Mine has been a decidedly 80s household in the last three weeks. We have been watching 80s movies and TV shows. Murder She Wrote and Magnum PI (and their gloriously enjoyable crossover episodes). We don’t really breach the 90s; we sort of stand on the edge and look warily across the way like Moonlight Graham on a magic field in Iowa. We have decided that 80s shows that “look like the 90s” are not as fun to watch. And Saturday we have a double feature of happy 80s movies.

There are bad guys in these movies, to be sure. Who could forget the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern drug dealers in Three Men and a Baby? Or the wannabe bank robbers in Short Circuit 2? Sure, they’re bad guys, but they’re not terrible guys. The drug dealers are taken down by Steve Guttenberg’s video recorder and Ted Danson in drag playing with elevator switches. The bank robbers are jostled around by Home Alone-like booby traps but set by a robot who likes to read. The big bad guy is captured and dropped into the East River. Everything is redeemable.

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Jessica Fletcher on the Case

Photograph: CBS Photograph Archive via Getty Images

“So who was the killer?”

It’s the first question I get when I arrive at the beer garden on late Sunday afternoon. Burke left before the denouement. She wants to know how it went down.

“The brother-in-law.”

“The little guy with the nice smile?”

“No, the big one with the flannel shirt.”

“Oh. How?”

“Poisoned the guy’s bourbon.”

“Why?”

“Said he was screwing up the family business with his drug problem.”

“How did Jessica figure it out?”

“The drinking glass. It wasn’t a rocks glass, just a water glass. He put some drugs in the clam chowder so they would all be drugged, not just him.”

“Ah clever.”

“Clever enough to throw Jess off the scent for a bit, but she got him in the end.”

“Obvs.”

Murder She Wrote has become one of two constants in my household and Jessica Fletcher a third member of our household. She is endearing, maintains perfect social etiquette, balancing a brilliant forthrightness with tact. How she always ends up being around when there’s a murder is another story. We decide that Cabot Cove, Maine is a dangerous place. As are, evidently, London, Woolford Vermont, Portland, Oregon, the archaeological dig in New Mexico, the rodeo in Saskatchewan, the convent.

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