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Things I Learned Over the Weekend

As I work as an editor for academic journals which focus on security studies and international relations, on a daily basis I learn more and more about just how screwed are we here on planet Earth. It’s probably for that reason that I spend the rest of my writing life working for children’s magazines.

In what will be a body blow to those unfortunates who have had to be my science teachers throughout my life, it seems that I have fallen into writing about science. I think it’s the mental breakdown that I have to do in order to understand the science myself that allows me to convey it to kids in a somewhat reasonable way. (I thought osmosis was a mystery novelist.) In my research, I occasionally come across information that freaks me the hell out.

This weekend I learned that Earth has a second moon. A mini moon. A quasi-satellite. No matter what you call it, it orbits Earth and I don’t like it. It’s between 130 and 330 meters in diameter. Its name is Kamoʻoalewa because it was named by Hawaiians, who spotted it while looking up and thanking their gods for universal healthcare, perfect weather, and an endless supply of ‘I got lei’d in Hawaii’ jokes. It has been in our orbit for 500 years. Kamoʻoalewa is one of five extra moons the Earth has. I hate them all.

Raccoons are very smart. Too smart. And they can pick locks. Not simple locks, but complex lock systems, one of whose best qualities is the ability to keep me safe from ultra-smart raccoons. Now, included among the things that I worry about each night as I lie in bed will be the faulty veracity of my front door’s lock, home invasion by a smart raccoon, and then losing in chess to a raccoon.

A different version of me exists in every single person who knows me or who has ever known me. I need to contact these people and make sure we all get on the same page about which version of me we all have. And I wonder if any of those people’s versions of me is the one who still wears size 34 waist pants.

We supposedly walk past 36 murderers in our lifetimes. To mitigate my rather strong feelings on this factoid, I am planning to walk along a maximum security prison during yard time. I should be able to stack the deck that way. If you want to log a few murderers for you, DM me.  

Should the male worker bee ejaculate during very hot weather, his penis will explode, fly off his body, and kill him. I repeat: if a male worker bee ejaculates when it’s hot, his penis explodes, flies off his body, and kills him. This is like the three worst things that can happen to a guy all in succession and taking place immediately after the best thing that can happen to a guy. This doesn’t help me personally unless said worker bee is in my hallway shtupping a raccoon who was unlocking my door during a heatwave.   

There’s a book called the Voynich Manuscript that nobody can translate. By studying word and letter patterns, linguists have determined that it is written in a real language, but other patterns of the language differentiate it from all known Indo-European languages. Moreover, the book is filled with unusual illustrations, mostly of plants that can’t be identified, women who are naked, and mystical animals. This book has been carbon-dated to between 1404 and 1438 and given the visual content, sounds like it may be about spring break during the Crusades.

I hope this list has given you pause as it has me. If you have any freaky factoids feel free to share them. Any new moons are not welcome.

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Happy Barkday

Burke came into the flat yesterday afternoon from a brief shopping foray. She was carrying a wee box out of which a box of toy French fries jutted. As is our habit after shopping, we commenced in the kitchen to take stock of the trip’s booty. There were some things for us. Hummus. A bulgur salad. Smoked cheese. And then there were some things for the dog. Some jerky sticks of duck meat. A donut of bacon. And the aforementioned French fries.

“I couldn’t find actual fries. So this is the next best thing.”

The dog seemingly understood the words and received her gift with open-mouthed joy. She dropped it for a couple sticks of duck jerky, but when she was done she ran off to the other room with her new toy. I made an extra large bowl of wet dog food and brought it into her. We then sang Happy Birthday. The cat was unamused.

I never knew what to think about people who don’t throw their pets birthday parties. Every pet I’ve ever had has a birthday party every year – either accurate or observed. On this day we shovel gifts and meats and treats towards them and then clean up the vomit afterwards with a smile. Just like everyone’s birthday. We grant her wishes and forgive her rude behavior.

We took her out then. Not to a place we always go to, but to a special Sokol near a big soccer field. We sipped (gulped) beers while she ate sticks and barked at the butterflies. I took her out on the field and let her chase me until I was entirely winded. So about a whole three minutes.

My sister Amanda threw our first cat’s birthday. Wicket. Named after the affable Ewok in Return of the Jedi and who looks a whole lot like my current dog. Amanda gave Wicket part of a Nestle bar and we tried to give her a tea party from which she bolted early to go decapitate a robin and bring it back to us as either an offering or a warning, we could never be sure which. Wicket was a foundling and was so large she bordered on puma size. She did not enjoy her birthday. She did however kill and decapitate two birds. Though we forgave her her trespasses, my mother was not so generous as she cleaned up the partial remains of two birds from our welcome mat.

Maisy does no such thing. But she barks at a fat pigeon out on the field. After consultation and a relatively strong degree of certainty that she couldn’t catch it in a million years, we let the dog off her leash. She takes off for the bird, who turns her snobby beak towards the dog as she bolts after her. It is at this moment I become concerned about three eventualities. I have listed them below in most to least horrifying.

  1. She would actually catch the bird, which would lead to  
    1. Her eating the bird in front of 15 or so horrified drinkers.
    1. The bird gouging out her eyes in front of 15 or so horrified drinkers.
    1. The bird carrying our 12-pound Shih-tzu into the trees and leaving her there.
    1. 15 horrified drinkers taking videos of A, B, or C and then me and Burke ending up on Reddit and then being arrested for cruelty to animals.
  2. Some other stuff.

In the end, the bird leisurely took off into the afternoon sky with no conflict. Burke and I celebrate remaining off Reddit for at least another day. But when she comes back we sing Happy Birthday and I saw one or two phones hoisted, so our birthday wish might not come true after all.     

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Last Wake-up Call

At 6 am on Sunday, while I was lying in bed reviewing in a dream a class I had taught the day before, dozens of old friends were actually enjoying their lives about 4,500 miles west. The pub where we had all worked and where we had all met and became friends has become another victim in the current trend of sky-high rents. And so, another little guy bites the dust. But to us, a living landmark and this place with so much history is disappearing, her space on Oakland Avenue no doubt to be quickly filled with a Costa Coffee or a Sbarro.

Friday night, however, many generations of its employees – current, former and former former – got together to send her off. With booze. So it was a wake, but it was an Irish wake.

At 6 am, my phone sprang to life. And whoever chose the ringtone for Facebook Messenger should be forced to enjoy it as his alarm for two decades. Once my heart stopped palpitating, I ran in the bedroom, Burke pretending to be asleep lest she be pressed into service to walk the dog, the dog awake and wondering what all this noise was at 6 am and whether it meant food.

It was the gang from the bar. It was midnight there, so they were not only in a different time zone, they had been drinking for 8 hours so they were on a different planet of existence. The conversation was fast and loud and I got a little dizzy from the phone being spun around and different cherry-red faces of old friends saying hi. There was nudity and there were epithets. I loved it all. When they got off a few minutes later, I was sent sprawling down a rabbit hole of nostalgia. And I tortured Burke with it for the rest of the day.

The pub in all its forms – the corner pub, the local pub, the dive – are such important places for a local culture. People meet and talk, they socialize, they make new friends, they lose friends, they move on, they bring out hairbrained ideas in the only place they’d find an audience for it. Doctor Alexander Hamilton travelled through the colonies that would become the United States in 1744 and found the pub and the inn and tavern to be the place where ideas bounded and meetings of the mind bloomed over rum and game pies. In taverns he found a microcosm of America – charming, interesting folks, great conversationalists, and buffoonish, boorish drunks (I paraphrase his summary: the colonies are a great place, all people here are the same everywhere and awesome, except for Boston, which is full of assholes.)

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Shut Up and Drink

In early spring of 1996, I went for a job interview at a restaurant pub opening in Oakland, Pittsburgh. Though freshly 21, I had been visiting the pubs in Oakland and beyond since about 4 years earlier on a series of fake IDs and inside men who’d let me, a 5’6, 130 pound (well, until my sophomore year Cambrian explosion), peach faced fool walk through the door with a nod and an extended two-eyed wink.  

Oakland was rife with bars. Zelda’s, CJ Barney’s, Peter’s Pub, in a pinch down the road there was Babylon and Denny’s. The as-of-yet opened pub I walked up to on that afternoon had been another: Caleco’s. A lean orange cartoon cat slinked up its narrow sign from at least 1992 to around 1994. We used to go there to see a friend’s band and though they had a particular attachment to Rush that I could do without, I would go to support my friend the drummer, drink warm beer, and ogle the singer whose physical beauty made her Geddy Lee voice bearable.

So as I walked into the restaurant, still in the far-off-sound-of-saw, plastic tarp, wooden beam, and sawdusty era of its reconstruction, I felt like an old timer. I was one of the ones who knew what things had been around before the things that were there now. I was greeted by a guy who looked like Ned Flanders – pushbroom mustache, light blue in-too-good-condition jeans, belt up to the nipples of his forest green golf shirt, glasses whose wide, circular rims pegged them as leftovers of a late 1980s fashion sense. (A decade later my wire rims would be pegged as a leftover of a mid-1990s fashion sense.)

“Vic. Hi.” He told me about the place. “A west coast bar food with a twist.” Stuck out in my head – or it does now, since I heard or said it about 659 times in the following 3 years. As I tried to figure out what that meant, Vic caught me off-guard.

“Tell me a funny story about yourself.”

I panicked and told him an embarrassing story of a graphic nature. Correction: the most embarrassing story of a graphic nature. Vic stared.

“OK, you’re hired. As long as you come back Wednesday and tell that story to Mike. He’s one of the owners.”

We were given T-shirts: Shocks and Struts or Shut up and Drink. The staff became instant friends. Like every bar on earth, characters became famous. Jimmie Kuhl. JC. Sam. Nikki. I’d work there for about 6 months. You see, before I was the paragon of responsibility I am now, little things like ‘showing up to work’ used to be a problem, made worse by not informing anyone about it. These are called ‘no call, no shows’ and after three such of these occasions, I was let released into the wilds of working at other bars. This was like being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, with no west coast bar food and no twist. After a three year statute of limitations, I was hired back.

History has told us of the importance of the pub in a sociological kind of way. The first pubs (called tabernae or taverns) popped up along the Roman road network to cater to travellers. They were places to offer drink, food, and company. Stories were told, news was shared, gossip was enjoyed. The Bubonic Plague gave rise to the British pub, which started in people’s homes. The current day British pub still has all the hallmarks of this transition of home to pub – fireplaces, cozy chairs, intimate atmosphere, comfort food, throwdown fistfights three times a week, the police. Home. We about-to-be-Americans brought this overseas to the New World.

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I am Distressed to Learn that there is an Astral Plane and that My Cat Might be Elvis In It

It’s a peaceful morning. The sun casts wide beams across my bed. I – terrified of heat – spend the time in my living room, which is in the shade at this time of day. (Later on I’ll migrate to the shady bedroom when the sun makes it way to the living room. There’s a solid chance I’m Dracula). I sip my coffee (no blood).

The peace of the morning is destroyed when my dog realizes that my cat has gone almost an entire 45 minute period without being tortured by a dog. To rectify such a crime against canine, Maisy the Shih tzu springs off the bed, runs to the cushions where the cat enjoys a deep sleep in a position impossible but permanently envied by humankind, she jumps up and buries her nose in the cat’s face. The cat, whose makeup is about 30% fur, 30% ears, 20% razor sharp bits, and 10% deranged war criminal reacts in the way you might imagine given that description.

Despite my pleas for peace, a scuffle ensues. The cat makes horrible yowls, hisses, and guttural warnings. The dog barks once or twice and like the soldiers do to Sergeants Elias and Barnes, Burke and I pull them apart and calm things down. Burke takes the dog into the living room and I soothe the cat’s fur which is now reaching towards the ceiling. I offer her ham, the only known sedative for my cat, and she sniffs it and allows me to pick her up. While perched on my shoulder, she meows into my face. It’s not aggressive, but as if she’s trying to tell me something. I put her down and she disappears into the flat somewhere.

Later, I notice the dog looking from room to room. She stomps in, looks around, comes out, repeats in the next room. She gets on the bed and snuffles through the blankets. It’s then I realize – she’s looking for the cat.

At first I don’t really care. If anything I feel for the cat. But when the dog’s search ends in frustration, I can’t help but notice. Why can’t the dog find the cat? What the dog lacks in sight and personal hygiene regimen, she makes up for in an amazingly strong nose. She should be able to sniff out the cat with no problem. I am now worried. Did the cat escape? We’ve not left the house, so it’s unlikely she’s outside, unless she’s learned to push a stool to the door, stand on it, turn the key, open the door, move the stool away from the door, and then leave while shutting the door, then this isn’t an option. But it’s happened before.

After dinner Burke brings up the Astral Plane. I ask many questions and she answers them. I will provide a summary now so that you too do not require an aspirin. The Astral Plane is something like an invisible realm between the physical world and a spiritual realm. This is the hunting blind from which our guardian angels watch over us – some of them are drinking, evidently, and some of them are not. (Mine’s in recovery, I think). I believe it is where Elvis lives and where Bigfoot hangs out just after he’s stomped into someone’s campsite. This plane has been postulated since before Plato and its existence is part of the mythology of dozens of cultures. Not coincidentally, most of these cultures have comedic queries regarding the mystical whereabouts of a sock’s lost matching sister.

Only occasionally are we are allowed to project into this plane and it’s done through intense meditation, hallucinogens, lucid dreams, or when our favorite sports team wins a game simultaneous to the pizza guy’s arrival. When we pass through into this world we apparently come through the Astral Plane – a uterus having exclusive through-way rights. And we evidently pass through it again on our way out of this world – hopefully the tunnel which leads to the light doesn’t require a toll.

And it’s where my cat goes when she’s hiding from my dog. Of course I consider this dribble, but after a couple of post dinner Scotches, I get to thinking. My cat is 15 years old and should have died a number of times, but she always seems to manage to eke it out. She leaps up on tables like a ninja, she can disappear for hours on end and then appear out of nowhere .005 seconds after a package of ham is opened. It only makes sense. Also, she seems to notice things around the flats we’ve lived in that I couldn’t see. Often behind me. And seconds before I was thinking of getting into bed.

At Scotch #3 I begin a search of her hideouts: the hallway scarf box, under the blankets on the bed, the chair in the office, in a pile of recently laundered clothing. Nothing. I naturally decide on a fourth Scotch and then fall into a deep sleep.

That’s where I find her. Or rather, she finds me. My flat’s Astral Plane looks just like my flat only the floors are cleaner and all the plants are alive. The moonlight and the shadows switch spots here, but it’s somehow still darkish. My cat walks around it on hindlegs. Columbo is on TV there. I make a note of this, as I gather it’s her favorite show. She points towards my couch, where I take a seat. She sits on the armchair. I await whatever wisdom she will impart that she has gathered through the ages.

“More ham.”

I am surprised, but not as surprised as the fact that she’s got Elvis’s voice.  

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What’s the Catch?

The place is small. Really small. We’re in the kitchen-living room-wardrobe-closet-TV room. Burke is holding the dog, who is breathing on my neck. I am counting the flat owner’s nose hairs. Her husband is trying to turn around, but gets caught and breaks into tears. He raises his elbows and manages it. I can actively see him decide against a glass of water. I feel like I’m at the buffet table at an orgy. The realtor raises her hand and presses a portfolio to my midsection. The dog snorts.  

“Shall we go to the kitchen?”

She speaks in Czech so it takes me the requisite 21 seconds to understand. She turns to the left. “Here we are.”

The owners squeeze past us and go out onto the balcony. I think the woman is having a panic attack, but it turns out she’s just drinking.

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My Kitty the Drunk

Last Sunday, feeling that the weekend was getting away from us and trying to avoid that from happening, Burke and I harnessed the dog and went out for a walk. That walk ended up in (aka was aimed at) a pub. Pretty soon we were sipping pivos and chatting and having a grand ole time. Occasionally, I’d glimpse my watch and grumble about the inexorably slow march forward of time and let out a whimper.

Each day of the week brings with it a specific feel towards drinking. Friday and Saturday almost invite it. Thursday is easy enough to sway to a drink (it’s almost Friday, after all). Wednesday and Tuesday are fun on occasion, if only for the novelty of it, and especially if it occurs during sunlight hours. Oh I got drunk on a Tuesday. But Sunday is always a tricky day on which to decide for beers. Sundays are days for laundry and a lounge on the couch or a walk in the park. They’re for getting in bed early and reading until you doze off. But should one decision be made or should one little occurrence occur, then Sunday can just as easily be spent sipping pivos and arguing against that nasty old time bandit, who kidnaps your free time so easily and leaves you on Monday morning walking into work with a confused look on your face and a note in the back of your head to read up on how time moves faster as we age.

And so, after going out drinking, we went in drinking too. When I woke up Monday morning mouth filled with cotton, brain tinged with a drop of regret, I was greeted with the clear signs of afterparty. Two bottles of wine, glasses, an empty bag of chips. The shell of late night Oreos and pretzels. A vague memory of hitting the shop across the street. Billy Joel frozen on the screen within YouTube. Wikipedia on my computer screen, no doubt settling some late night bet (yes, Ty Burrell owns a pub in Utah). And what else did I see? A ghost. Before I needed confirmation, the ghost meowed at me.

It was time to face facts: someone in my house has a drinking problem. And that someone is my cat.

It’s not unheard of. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that animals around the globe thoroughly enjoy alcohol. Tree shrews have a noted enjoyment of alcohol. Each autumn moose in Sweden get shitty on fermenting apples. Macaques drink alcohol whenever they can get their hands on it. And the Bohemian waxwing eats berries specifically from the Rowan tree because it gives them a buzz. Evidence not only suggests that animals like alcohol, since they get it from fruit in nature that naturally ferments itself, it’s likely they’ve been getting tipsy for about 20 million years longer than we have. They’re seasoned veterans.

My cat is one of them. Though she doesn’t wait around for fruit to become fermented, she only needs to wait until I crack something open late at night and then pass out before I finish it. I have awoken to her dabbing a paw into the puddles at the bottom of pint glasses, brandy snifters, and wine orbs. At other times I wake up after a night out on the armchair or on the floor and the cat is sniffing my breath and licking her lips. Or if I can’t sleep and I pour myself a tumbler of bourbon to nudge me towards nighty nights, guess who is standing on the table waiting and thumping her tail against the cutting board? Yep. Cat. What a lush.

But it could be worse. The moose in Sweden totally overdo it on fermented apples and for the exasperated Swede the autumn is a time of lifting drunk moose out of trees and pulling them off their crushed porches. The Bohemian waxwing gets so drunk that a number of them immediately fly into buildings and this is not an unusual way for them to perish. Plus, they’re not Bohemian for nothing. The macaque is a notorious drunk, sometimes they’ll do it all day. The ones who live alone (I guess in captivity) drink much more than the others. The ones who have had a long day (for a monkey I guess this means a day of learning sign language and not being able to fling your feces) drink much more. The macaque might be our closest relative when it comes to booze.  

If anything alcohol makes my cat more pleasant. She meows less and she gets all sappy. She rubs her face against me and purrs, the drunken feline version of ‘I love you man’. Then she curls up in the scarf box and sleeps peacefully for hours. But boy is she in a mood if you reach for a scarf before she’s ready to get up.

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Raise One To the Ships

I guess the worst thing about famous ships is that we only ever hear about the ones that ended up on the bottom of some body of water. We know the Lusitania and the Terror and the Edmund Fitzgerald. Nobody is reading a history book about the passengers who had a week-long binge fest on the Mauretania and who all ended up in New York a week later with dyspepsia and a negligible hangover. No, we hear about the ones that went down, the ones that were blown up, or the ones that burned on Lake Erie. If your name is somehow connected to a ship, there’s a solid chance you died on it.

There is of course the mother of them all, the one that hit the iceberg. There’s nothing much to tell you about the Titanic that James Cameron didn’t already show you. And he had Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to help him out, not to mention that Celine Dion. You know it hit an iceberg, you could probably guess that around 1500 people died, and you’ve maybe heard some tidbits like they’d skimped on lifeboats and they sent out the wrong distress signal. (The signal they sent actually said ‘steer clear’, which might be the exact opposite of what you want to do when your boat is sinking in the Atlantic.) You’ve heard the folkloric stories of men bravely staying aboard, other guys dressing as women to get on lifeboats, the band playing until the ship went under. You may have heard bittersweet stories such as Ida Strauss almost getting on a lifeboat, but in the end deciding to perish with her husband, Macy’s owner Isidor Straus. They lay in bed together until the sea swallowed them. Then there’s the myths and legends, the heroic Newfoundland dog, the premonitions, the mystery ship nearby, the captain was drunk (no evidence for this, but it was 1912 and he was a sailor, so it’s a natural assumption). A book regales the ‘true’ story of a pig that lived through the Titanic, but as far as the evidence shows, the only pig on board was on first class dinnerplates.

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On the Run Again: Adventures in ChatGPT

Like every writer on Earth, I have been watching ChatGPT with rapt attention. It is, after all, evidently the AI system which turned 400,000 writers into editors overnight. So I have of course been having some fun with the old girl. And, like most of you out there, and mostly in retaliation for the fact that it has become more in demand as a writer after existing for 80 minutes, I have made my ChatGPT monkey dance in all sorts of tunes.  

ChatGPT, could you provide me with a list of items that I’d need in case I was teleported back to Medieval Japanese?

ChatGPT, write a 1,000 word ode to my shihtzu Maisy in the voice of Robert Browning that I can sing to the Dukes of Hazzard theme song.

ChatGPT, write me a 250 word love letter from Mark Twain without using the same word twice.

That sort of thing.

In a moment of inspiration augmented by boredom and several shots of Jamesons, I wrote:

ChatGPT, provide a critical opinion of Damien Galeone’s writing.

As an AI language model, I cannot provide opinions, but I can perform a search for critical opinions on Damien Galeone’s writing.

After conducting a search, I was unable to find a significant number of critical opinions on Damien Galeone’s writing online. However, here are some excerpts of reviews of his work:

  • “Galeone writes with a clear and engaging style, and his stories are entertaining and relatable.” – Kirkus Reviews on “Senseless and Merciless Dreams”
  • Damien Galeone has a talent for capturing the absurdity and humor in everyday situations, making his writing both entertaining and thought-provoking.” – The Prague Post on “Dreams Are Unfinished Thoughts”
  • “Galeone’s writing is witty and sharp, and he has a great sense of humor that shines through in his stories.” – BookPage on “On The Run Again”

Based on these reviews, it seems that Galeone’s writing is generally well-received and entertaining. However, it’s worth noting that these are just a few reviews and opinions may vary.

I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the fact that my writing is generally well-received and entertaining, and it was only mildly off-putting that the pool for reviews of my work is roughly a puddle.

Somewhat more distressing was the fact that none of these reviews is in actual existence. As in, they are complete fabrication. Kirkus wouldn’t review my novel if I was handing out squeezers in their breakroom. I had never even heard of BookPage, which only seems fair because they have never heard of me either. A drop more disconcerting was that not only had the reviews been fabricated, but they were written for fabricated books.

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Green Times

In recent days, research has brought me to the Green Fairy, the Green Demon, Absinthe. When I first moved to the Czech Republic, a wee 2,230 years ago (okay, 2004), Absinthe was on the shelves. There were – and are – shops dedicated to it, at least in order to gain a tourist tromp. It was known to be part of late 19th century Parisian and Bohemian culture and they play on that to get suckers (like me) to buy some strong liquor. Admittedly, it’s not hard.  

At my going away party at our little corner bar in Pittsburgh, one of my regulars gave me a book all about Absinthe. The book had beautiful pictures of Art Nouveaux green fairies, reservoir glasses, circular tables in dark Parisian cafes and their distant-faced Absinthers. Others showed ghostly humans being visited by the green fairy. Though there is an allure to these paintings, nobody really looks happy. It was 2004, three years after the film Moulin Rouge! gave us a sweaty Ewen McGregor drinking the elixir until Kylie Minogue came out and winked at him, a green, drunk, seductive, sexualized Tinkerbell. On the plane to Prague, I knew I would be trying Absinthe. 

It was steeped in booze lore and lots of unverified information was heaved upon it. It’s hallucinogenic, you see a green tint around everything when you drink it. It affected people either phenomenally or adversely, depending on the mood of the storyteller. ‘Kafka drank it all the time, right before he put out the Metamorphoses.” (NB: no, he didn’t) ‘I knew a guy who had to get an intestine replacement after too much Absinthe,” some guy once said. When he was prompted for information, he only muttered ‘wormwood.’

Wormwood became the little-known intoxicant of the hour. No one I knew could clearly define it, as Wikipedia, Smartphones, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi had yet to blast onto the scene making every drunk an immediate on-the-spot smartypants in the field of whatever was being discussed at that exact moment. We just knew what we knew – wormwood made Absinthe strong and hallucinogenic, so much so that it was illegal all over the place. But the fact that we were in Prague made it legal for us. And this made us downright neato. 

Making it – and us – all the cooler was the literary and artistic tradition Absinthe carried with it. Van Gogh, Lautrec, Joyce, Gaugin, Rimbaud, Maignan, and Hemingway. All of them visited by the Green Fairy. All undertook L’heure Verte. All considered European artistic geniuses.

Though times have changed and the Czech Republic’s expatriate demographic has changed over the years, back in the early 2000s Prague attracted a very specific expatriate. We had all done something in the field of arts – journalist, graphic artist, playwright. And it was these occupations we offered to our fellow expats at bars, instead of those which had been on our tax returns – bartender, cashier, pizza delivery aficionado. And yet just by buying a ticket to Prague and a sweater with elbow patches, we were now allowed into Bohemian society.  

And if you were going to be Bohemian, you had to try Absinthe. We rolled into an Absinthe bar and we went through the whole shebang. The waiter wore a vest. He brought our reservoir glasses and slotted spoons on silver trays. He clearly knew how to wow us wide-eyed expatriates, because that is exactly what we said: wow. I put some Absinthe in my spoon, on which rested a sugar cube. He lit our Absinthe on fire, a thing now which baffles me – why would I drink something into my body that could be set on and stay on fire? I wonder if Van Gogh ever asked himself the same thing.

I blew out the fire and drank it down. Aside from Mezcal, it was the worst thing I ever ingested for a buzz. So I had another. One of the others said there was a yellow haze around everything. Another guy abruptly stood and said he needed to walk around Prague. He left us his wallet, we think, in an attempt to be as ‘Bohemian’ as possible. We were rendered unimpressed by his gesture. I felt very drunk and my throat burned as if I’d been knobbing a cactus. The waiter kicked us out, closing time. We spilled into the street. We felt very Bohemian, so much so that I had to bring myself back down to Earth with a Big Mac.

Though the term ‘Bohemian’ remains an inherent quality that I fully comprehend, it has greatly changed into those things that are profoundly and undivorcibly Czech. It means checkered pants with tearaway calves, dipping rohliky into pink pastika and washing it down with a Branik beer. It’s train station pubs with little groups of blue-overalled construction guys sipping early morning Bozkovs and packing a week’s worth of lunches to bring on your holiday.

Absinthe has been the sufferer of a bad rap. In the late 18th and early 19th century it was blamed for murders and the decay of French society. Across the pond, the British didn’t do much to help Absinthe’s case. They say it as a barrel of high octane, high alcohol problems, and ones they didn’t need. The French had just been beaten in the Franco-Prussian War and were down men. The last thing they needed was Absinthe making more men less capable of defending their borders from – and correctly pegged, it turns out – an aggressive and motivated neighbor.

Much the way that rum was seen as a demon in late 18th century America and Gin Lane was destroying the potential of Brits in the 1600s, France heaved all of its societal woes on Absinthe. It was destroying French society despite the fact that 72% of the drinkership was downing glass after glass of wine. Many countries made it illegal – Belgium, the US, and the Netherlands among them. Though there was a small sect of literati and artists petitioning for the artistic and unique insight that Absinthe’ s green fairy brought out in its drinkers, they were in a minority. Also, they were not doing their cause or themselves any favors by dying of alcoholism.

In the end, Absinthe – the ingredients used by ancient Egyptians and as a malaria-defence by the French in Algeria, was a victim of its own mythology. It would take a barrel of thymine to do what people suggest comes after a glass or two – hallucinations and dropsy insights. But this was no never mind. The Green Fairy isn’t welcome in most societies. And in the Czechs people need to drink it only once to realize that she should just stay in the bottle. 

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