I try to avoid anxiety and existential angst, but it does creep up on me now and then. You know the feeling. Life is meaningless and I am hurtling in solitude through nothing towards my imminent demise which will only be noticed when the neighbors complain about the smell and only remembered for the News of the Weird headline that got 1,210 Facebook likes: Cat Eats Dead Owner’s Foot.
Who knows why they come. Now, it could be the short, gray days that end around 4 p.m. into long, dark nights. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that this is just the beginning of a long winter. Also it could be that it’s mid-semester when most of my free time is consumed with thoughts of feeding bad students to my sarlacc. Or it could just be too much time with the Becherovka Fairy. All I know is that when I feel on edge, I need to get myself as far away from my thoughts as possible.
The first two men shown on this episode of Inspector Morse are a paraplegic and a telephone repair man. Two things are immediately clear – one of these men will soon be dead and the other one will not be the murderer.
I dig in.
When I first started watching Morse, I spent a month or so in complete confusion. A few times a week, for about 103 minutes, I’d sweat, rewind, and shout things like “No! The archer was in Venice!” or “How did the cricket player do it, that’s totally against the Spirit of the Game?” or “I should have known that blind driving instructor was shady.” Though at first it was difficult to figure out how to watch an episode of Morse, I soon learned to read Morse Code.
After the paraplegic’s head is blown off in an ostensible suicide (puhlease!) I begin cataloging the characters. I use a notebook for this. So far, there’s the son-in-law who found the body, the telephone repairman, and the cleaning lady who (from our point of view) was the last person to see the paraplegic alive. Morse always quips that the last person to see the victim alive is the killer. And though I mark a tiny star next to her name on my list, I am 85-90% certain she’s not the killer.
The first time I met The Pick was in the classroom where he taught me U.S. foreign policy in a masters program. He shuffled in, as bent as a question mark, bald, and clearly in his 80s. He wore a crumpled brown suit, carried a classic leather satchel and looked as though he had just walked out of a picture taken in the 1970s.
The Pick was Czech but perfectly fluent in English, a skill that still boggles my mind when I come across it. He took a simple approach to our lessons, no PowerPoint, just talking and a few diagrams drawn in chalk. Yet he was very clear, concise and reasonable, and we appreciated him greatly. However, he was not a pushover. He once laid into a few students for their poor grammar.
“There are some great speakers of English in this country, unfortunately none of them are in this room.” And as I approached to get my graded essay, he said, “Your English is fine, but there’s too much of it. Try not to get carried away on the wings of your own glorious enthusiasm.”
When the school administration asked about him and his teaching style, they’d phrase their questions so that the underlying gist was surely this guy’s too old to be an effective teacher, right? At these times I’d tell them he was the best teacher we had. This usually ended the conversation.
The problem with The Pick is that he made me realize how dull my life was, because for a while there I was convinced it was an interesting one. I had done some cool stuff, lived abroad, gone to India, gone skydiving. I had even had bad things happen which were now good stories like getting punched in the nose, seeing a fin while swimming in the ocean, and meeting Sinbad. But The Pick dispelled this notion.
Nothing makes you feel quite so foolish as cracking a raw egg that you thought was hard-boiled. Unless you crack it against your desk. At work. With emphasis. In front of coworkers and a stunned student who was, up to that moment, hoping to gain advice from you in the field of academic writing.
There’s no going back. You have, almost literally, egg on your face.
Later, when I posted this event on the Facebook, a friend commented that my life was sort of like a sitcom. I laughed, and then went over a few events that supported this idea. I came to the conclusion that most people surely have some measure of sitcom-ness to their lives. It’s just that I am more public with my goofs – blog, Facebook, crying in a pub.
I was stunned, but even as I mentally organized my defense I knew why he’d said it. At least three times that lesson I had claimed to hate things: mornings, lateness, and mobile phones.
I stowed my defense.
I have never considered myself a hater, and that’s because I’m not a hater. I don’t genuinely hate a lot of things. I have never hated anyone based on their religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. And while there are political and social ideologies I disagree with, I don’t hate anyone simply because they think differently from me.
I might roll my eyes at the Facebook posts of friends who are politically conservative, pro-gun, or vegan, but I don’t hate them. I don’t like guns, but I have many wonderful friends who do. And vegans, well, I guess the less meat they eat, they more there is for me.
I don’t even hate spiders.
Still, this seed sprouted throughout the day and so I came up with an experiment. I decided to keep tally of my “hates” for a week. Anytime the word “hate” came out of my mouth I would note it down. Even if I managed to stifle it, I’d note it down.
I quit after two days.
I walk in the door to my local Tesco Express, and there he is. He is wearing all black, has a club of some sort attached to his belt, which he hitches up as I walk in. It’s as though he’s been waiting for me to engage in a Wild West duel.
His chest is extended as far as it will go without snapping his spine in two and he breathes audibly.
“Dobry den,” I say. In return he gives me a long glare as if to say, “You want to steal something, punk, go ahead, dobry my den.”
He is the new security guard.
I have always admired a person who takes their job seriously, no matter how menial it is perceived to be. A woman working hard behind the counter at McDonald’s has my immediate respect and admiration, as do the garbage collectors who clean the ground behind the cans, and the conscientious waiter. But a new security guard is not so much attentive to his task as he is desperately hopeful to turn his job into something he watched on late night cable the day before.
So while his veteran colleagues nod at customers and hold the door for old ladies carting around checkered bags on wheels, the new guy glares at people and searches the old ladies’ bags as he scans their receipts for anomalies. Perhaps the veteran knows that nothing really happens in a Tesco Express behind a police station in Prague 4.
The New Guy is Freud’s wet dream. While he is not allowed to carry a gun, his duty belt holds everything else in the world that a man overcompensating for his lack of position and male endowment can carry. This includes a 12 inch flashlight, a club, and dozen of nylon pouches surely filled with hair gel and power bars. His bulletproof vest is a dangle with gadgets.
He is the New Guy.
We are walking towards the pond in Stromovka. It’s 8 p.m., October 31st. It’s very dark, the only light coming from the eerie fog that has settled on the fields and among the trees. It is also quiet of humans, though there are the occasional barks of distant dogs and the guttural ribbit (Cz: kvak) of frogs in the pond.
By day, this park is markedly different. It’s green and usually filled with people jogging, walking, skating, or playing Frisbee. But on this autumn night, with the fog, the eerie quiet, the black trees outlined against the dark night, it’s a storybook setting for a Halloween ghost story.
And that’s fitting, because we are here on Halloween to see a ghost.
The ghost was a Carpathian Captain and cousin of Vlad the Impaler who is said to live in the middle of the pond at Stromovka and come out only to catch humans to eat. While he waits, however, he feeds on pond creatures and whiles away the hours organizing the fish into military formations.
Yesterday, as I brought out my Halloween-themed lessons in classes, I found that there were a lot of Halloween haters out there. Halloween involves dressing up and getting candy, so how someone could hate it is beyond me. However, I do understand that I have grown up with the holiday and don’t have it forced at my nation via Facebook and Buzzfeed. In addition, I am aware that the U.S. is the major celebrator of Halloween, spending about $6 billion a year on candy, decorations, and Kim Kardashian costumes.
Most Halloween haters aim their hate at the U.S., but the U.S. is not the country that came up with the idea of Halloween and it’s far from the only country that celebrates some form of it. So let’s get to the bottom of where this whole Halloween business started and who else celebrates it…or something like it.
I have always had a solid – obsessive – relationship with illness. For I am a Group B Hypochondriac. The Group A hypochondriac sneezes and then takes three weeks off of work. They milk minor illnesses for all they are worth. 79% of the Czech Republic falls into this category.
The Group B Hypochondriac does not waste his time with small time illnesses like cold and flu. He lurches for life threatening and deadly; the more improbable and destructive the illness, the better. Extra points if it’s tropical or transmitted by wildlife.
So when Ebola became the hottest word in the world of disease, I cracked my knuckles, went online and window shopped for hospital gowns and ventilation masks. And as I waited to get Ebola, I prepared.
First of all, I looked up Ebola charities. I try to donate to charities of diseases I am planning on getting, so I now have twenty dollars earmarked for the Pre-Undiagnosed Ebola Survivor’s Investment (or PUESI). Second, I rekindled relationships with friends who are doctors. That way, when I start coming down with Ebola I can get partial medical advice without leaving the hazmat area in my living room built out of shower curtains and shopping bags. And third, I realized that to get Ebola, I had to know how one gets it and what it looks like. So I looked up the risks and symptom list.
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It’s mid-October, which means that Prague looks like the set of a vampire film. It’s getting darker earlier and long stretches of fog hang above the Vltava in the night and early morning. The fog sits in front of the castle as well, so that Prague Castle looms creepily above the city. There are baring trees reaching out at you on windy days. It’s pretty awesome.
This time of year always brings to mind the creepy and eerie. And if you want creepy, come to Europe. Nobody does it better. Undoubtedly, this is partly due to Italian teens in furry collars, Czechs in socks and sandals, and French people. But Europe has some seriously creepy spots. Here are five.