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X Marks the Spot

There are not too many people in the park today. A few runners, a distressing number of pregnant people (counting back, November was a hell of a month for some of you). And of course that guy sunbathing on the grass in the starfish position and a wanna-see-my-circumcision-scar swimsuit.  

It’s perfect.

After three months of not moving at all, I am finding that a simple walk can elicit a variety of utter and ecstatic joys. First and foremost, there’s the joy of moving my legs and propelling myself forward on a path and not towards my couch. This joy is in a tight race with not being near people. Then there’s a bunch of other crap about fresh air and exercise.

The away time and casual exercise is incredibly fortifying. By “away” I mean that I am not tempted to check my email or answer the phone if it rings. Sometimes I leave the phone at home and just walk in absolutely glorious quiet (unless I’m verbalizing an argument). If I do this, I can feel a sense of disassociation with assholes, who are, by the way, in abundance in the places I tend to visit online and usually wear red hats.

If I do have my phone I listen to a podcast. My perennial favorites remain Lore, Ologies, and Marc Maron, but The Darkest Timeline, The Sporkful, and The Allusionist have made their way into the rotation.

Perhaps the best part about a walk is that there’s no goal. I don’t have to get to a metro or a class. I am not meeting anyone. At the most, I can stop at the pub directly across the street from the park’s gate. But even that is up to me. I can walk for 90 minutes or 3 hours. Goal-based thinking makes up such a large part of my day. I have a daily word count with writing (1500 words), a daily page count for editing/proofreading (5), minimum number of pages read per day (20), and a minimum number of workouts per week (4). So for this sort of an obsessive nit, a walk with no goal is bliss.

Yesterday I was on my way through the woods when I came across something I had seen twice before, but failed to really pay attention to – an X. On the ground was a man-sculpted stone and on that stone was a noticeable yet not large X. Hm, I thought, and as I meandered through the woods I made several jokes to myself. None of them are funny enough to put here. But I won’t lie – the X was in my head.

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The Return to Clothes

So, I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention but there’s been a global deadly pandemic and it seems to have ushered in utter social chaos. In the first place, this is exactly what millions of people had in mind the moment they learned that Donald Trump had become president. So we haven’t been disappointed. Secondly, it has proven to us that, without a fraction of a doubt, we are surrounded by major cunts who can’t be bothered to wear masks. And most of those cunts worship an incompetent fuckwit who can’t drink water correctly.

In the good ole Czech Republic, we were told in mid-March that we had to wear masks anytime we stepped outside. We did that. I learned to flirt with the checkout person just using a series of blinks and eyebrow formations. I stopped after she asked me if I needed her to call 112 (911). Now, after three months, we are basically back to normal(ish).

There was a period of social readjustment wherein people had to relearn to speak to people they don’t live with. Waiters had to relearn the arts of passive aggressive customer service. We had to learn how to discern normal people from ninjas. Now, most people have mostly stopped staring at others in confusion. Men prance around in socks and sandals, women sit nearby wondering how they ended up with men who prance around in socks under sandals. All is well. For the most part.

However, there is a downside. Yesterday, I went to a beer garden in the center to meet a friend. As I was about to walk out the door, I realized that for essentially the first time in three months I had to put on actual pants and shoes. As we’re most certainly the only group of humans to ever gain weight during an apocalypse, this is a multilayered issue.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Had I to choose between a civilization-changing, globally-disruptive pandemic and not having one, I’d definitely go for not having one. Obvs. But, I won’t lie that it’s had some benefits for my extreme distaste for wardrobe entities that I don’t like wearing: belted pants, socks, and shoes.

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Viewer Beware

Santa Stand & Museum of obsolete technology

Sunday. A day for domestic chores. It’s rainy outside, so there’s little temptation to go out. I begin the laundry and Burke decides to venture into and organizing the No Man’s Land underneath the bed.

She has a worse job. Laundry is relatively simple. The most aggravating part of laundry is finding errant socks on the floor or trying to understand how women’s clothing works (Seriously. No idea). But ‘under’ things doesn’t get cleaned for the same reason ‘behind’ things or ‘closets’ don’t. Out of sight, out of mind.

These places are used as storage when we’re cleaning up the visible areas of the flat or house. And it works, too. As long as our living room is clear, our dishes are done, the bed is made and clothing is in its preordained drawers, I am usually content. I don’t sit around thinking – man, it’s dirty under this bed. What’s more, when was the last time you visited a friend’s house and said, “So, your bedroom is nice and tidy, but what’s it look like under the bed?” I hope not recently, or ever; in fact, if you have ever said that and you’re not a marine drill sergeant, you are a monster.  

A domestic duty day is always good for a number of reasons. First, things get done. Second, it means a free viewing day.

The daily question: “What are we watching tonight?”

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Dumped by Travel

It’s Friday and I am willing myself a day off. We’ve had about two weeks of rain and thunderstorms. We’re sometimes offered a half an hour of blue and it’s then that we run outside to walk around the park or to bask in the sun.

But today it’s just blue. A few fluffy clouds, warm in the sun, cool in the shade. I close my laptop, a thing which draws gasps from those in my flat, and we venture out.

I prepare. Daypack. Hand sanitizer. Tissues. Hat. Mask. Sunglasses. Sweater and windbreaker. I clip my nails and adjust my sandals. I do some stretches at the door. I tell the cat not to wait up.

While I seem to exist in my normal life as a kind of human turtle who enjoys beer, the summer usually means travel. We’ll venture to another country, spend out days walking around a city or towns, learning about a culture and comparing them to the Czechs. Sometimes it’ll be a little more adventurous: Asia, Africa, a few thrilling encounters which – if I stretch them and add some quasi-fictitious details – almost become a brush with death. It’s enough to sustain me until the next summer and I typically get back in my shell and sip a pilsner.

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The Side Hustle Tussle

Om…Ribbet

I went through 45 years without knowing that the black mamba snake was fast. I was comfortable with that lack of knowledge, probably because I didn’t know it. For that matter, I was also quite comfortable not knowing that a thumbnail sized jellyfish called the Irukandji could with a sting deliver me to days of extreme pain, kidney pain, vomiting, and psychological issues such as a “sense of impending doom.”

I don’t know if I’m more frightened of a snake that can make me dead in less than 20 minutes or a jellyfish that can make me relive the 2016 presidential election. Either way, I am not comfortable with any of this.

In general I have found that my side hustle as an ESL coursebook writer is an ideal job. I pitch ideas for articles that I think kids or teens would be interested in and the editors seem to give me the go ahead most of the time. In reality I simply pitch ideas I am interested in reading and it works for the kids too. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that I think like a 13 year old, but have slightly more advanced writing skills and no enforced bedtime.

This month’s articles were inspired by stumbling across a picture of an Irukandji jellyfish, a tiny sea creature which can cause so much misery. I thought “My gosh! The world is filled with monsters!” and then, for some reason, the next thought was “the kids need to hear about these.” So now I am knee deep in scary animal facts and, unsurprisingly, mentally scratching off countries that I will ever visit.  

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The Tainted Veil

After more than two and a half months of being trapped in the house, we’re allowed outside without masks on. I think I was ready to make the leap anyway, as I’ve been having a series of distressing dreams in which the cat is holding a can of lighter fluid and a lit match above my pajama collection. I took it as a sign.

We celebrated with a long walk. “Long” is by relative standards and here actually means “past the local shop.” Later that day I noticed that despite a 5X a week HIIT workout schedule, my legs hurt. Surely they were getting used to the movement of traveling on foot, moving forward and stopping me before I could plummet to the ground. Or perhaps it was the speed walking I did to avoid contact with other humans. (NB: “contact” in this case means coming within seven feet of someone else and then washing myself down with sanitizer).

We’d been out before, but it was on little field trips. Two or three times we went for a short walk and then Burke grabbed up one of the benches across the street from our building while I went off to the local shop for bottled beers. I came back, we wiped them down with sanitizer wipes, we set them in the sun, and then we gobbled them up while staring in a paranoid way at others. But, in our defense, they were staring at us. Subsequent walks have ended at a pub with an outdoor drinking quotient. Sometimes that bar is within eye shot of my flat. And the bench.

Being out with no masks is wonderful, but no doubt the experience is tainted with a bit of worry. On this Friday we take a nice long walk which ends at our local pub. The pub has six long tables outside to accommodate drinkers and eaters. We sit at the last table and decide that since we are outside we are probably fine. It’s unlikely that more than two people could join our table, but we certainly exude a bit of concern. We prep. If joined by someone other than our friends or my cat, our game plan is to allow them of course and then move to the far end of the bench while muttering politely. Should those people cough once, we’ll squirt hand sanitizer at them while screeching “the power of Fauci compels you!” If they cough twice, we’ll run home and go through our self-developed four part disinfecting process involving a toilet brush, a bottle of white tequila, and Band-Aids. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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Day Off

Sunday morning. Coffee and a little chocolate bread. Right after breakfast – scrambled egg and bacon pizza – the computer does what it always does by shooting me suggestive winks and come hither glances from across the room. Don’t you need to send some emails, big boy? How about you and me do a little light editing? You look like a guy who hasn’t graded a test in a while?  

Perhaps it’s the scrambled egg pizza or the downright stormy weather (it’s dark out at 11 am), but I make the decision actively (I pounded my fist and freaked out the cat sleeping on my lap, so very active) to take the day off. You might be saying: Hey, it’s Sunday! Of course you took the day off, that’s a no brainer! You might also be saying: Who cares, asshole? If you’re in that second category, then well shush. If you’re in the first, yes, you are right that it’s Sunday, but Sunday is very rarely a complete day off for me, what with articles and book and editing work that doesn’t seem capable of discerning a Sunday from a Tuesday.

It’s not that I am always productive, but I sometimes exist in a frustrating half-at-work/half-at-ease world which goes straight against the sage advice of a former king fu instructor. “Totally work or totally relax. Don’t do something in between.”  

Which is exactly what I do sometimes on a weekend. Something in between. But not today. Today I decide to take the day off. I make it official (after the first pounding) by writing it in my journal. According to the entry at 24-5-20 11:09, I have three simple points on my to do list.  

  1. Watch movies
  2. Eat junk food
  3. No work & No Pants  

Movies. This is not easy for Burke and me, as we have very different ideas of what a “fun and relaxing movie” entails. I prefer comedy, she prefers movies in which the characters’ lives are ruined in the first ten minutes and are only punctuated throughout the movie by their lives somehow becoming worse until everyone dies in misery at the end. Fortunately, today Burke suggests that we keep it light and funny and so, after a brief game of dueling Netflix accounts, we settle on a movie.

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Sunday Call: Quarantine Edition

Ring.

“Hey Dad.”

“Damo!”

I breathe a sigh of relief. My dad has been calling on Sundays for so long that it’s a clear tradition at this point. When my phone rings on a Sunday, Burke doesn’t blink anymore, she just says: tell your dad I say hi. I then take the call in my room or some other place in my house that has whiskey.

But in these stressful and scary times there’s a ringing phone can mean unpleasant things. Bad news? Did something happen?  

Damo has been my dad’s nickname for me since probably before I breached a uterine canal of any sort. I can only guess this because I would never name a child before considering all varieties of nickname. This is why I am baffled by those who have chosen to name a child Kevin. It seems as if they’re simply stuck with Kev, some more adventurous people might venture into Vin, but it would be greatly breaking the initial structure of Kevin. Some might go for K-Man, but that sounds more like something Kevin’s friends would call him because they felt bad for his name being Kevin or because he was really good at basketball. I suppose Kevey is an option, but only if Kevin’s parents are the kind of people who want their child to be on a first name basis with their therapist.

But long ago, Damo became far more than a nickname and much more a simple barometer of my dad’s current mood. My dad’s mood can’t be gauged physically until he clenches his jaw and sticks it out like he’s Marlon Brando in The Godfather and by that point you’re done for like one of those National Geographic photographers who forgot to notice the lions behind him. Up until that moment, one has to rely on linguistic hints and utterances. The worst case scenario (besides the jaw thing) to the greeting “Hey Dad” is a sigh or “What?” The tone of “what?” isn’t to clarify and it isn’t that he hadn’t heard. It was a clear, monosyllabic question stating “what in the colorful expletive do you need from me and it better not be money?” This reaction is most common after he spends twenty minutes at the kitchen table paying bills and muttering a string of curses and epithets towards someone he simply referred to as “you” followed by a series of disturbingly specific queries. “What in the fuck did you think when … and you can’t even be bothered to answer the motherfucking phone on a Tuesday and now you have the shit-laced gall to send me a cocksu..?”

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Four Weeks of the Coursebook

George, Jerry, Elaine, and Cosmo are going fishing south of the Azores. They have taken a boat and caught the following fish – a swordfish, a white marlin, a blue marlin, a yellow fin tuna, and a mako shark. Answer the questions to find out which fish each person caught.

One of the people with two syllables in their name caught a fish with a color in its name.

One of the people with more than two vowels in their name caught a fish which could be used to stab someone you don’t like very much.

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Work

I sit at my desk. It’s 6:30 am. I open the computer and it makes one of those tired sounds that people in their mid-50s make when they sit on or stand up from a couch. Aside from groaning, it sort of talks to me. Today it says: not again, man. I think it’s a bad sign. I put on my headphones. Easy 90s on Spotify (don’t judge). I start writing.

I have been writing a series of ESL coursebooks over the last month. And while it is something I have wanted to move my career into for the last few years, I have never been busier. I have taken a job that requires putting out an enormous amount of pages in a very short amount of time. Because I am a schmuck.

When I took the job I rationalized: can’t go anywhere anyway, might a well make some cash, just a month of work, then I can relax. These are all well and good, but in the throes of the work I can’t even see straight and I am not thinking about money and I also can’t remember the last time I cleaned my body in water.

At around 10:30 am the cat is standing sideways on my lap looking into the crook of my arm. She’s sort of like a statue only she growls a little if I backspace too fast. There is nothing on the Earth that will keep a cat from doing an action it has learned that it can do. About six years ago the cat realized that loud meows got me to turn on my sink faucet and so it is what I have done first thing every morning for, well, six years. And every day since she realized that she can get up on the desk from the floor, she has done just that. But it doesn’t matter, I am writing.

At noon, Burke brings a sandwich. I eat it but I can’t remember what it was and I asked for something to eat about an hour later. When I was reminded that I had just eaten a sandwich, I squinted and recalled the faint taste of mustard and chicken ham. There’s a weird mesmerized state of being one can get into when working on writing. Though I have approached this state with other work, it seems more intense with writing. It’s a small world that is quiet but for David Gray kazooing on in some distant background.

I get rather into the teacher’s book description of the lesson plan. I write it like a robot but I know exactly what’s happening and what will happen. I try to liven things up with jokes that only I will get, but I’m afraid of getting fired or, worse, being told I am not funny by someone who has to pay me. Still, things get intense. When I reach the closing section of each lesson, I feel as though we have been on a journey together, of verb noun collocations and pre-intermediate grammar boxes. When I end the lesson with the closer, I break into tears. The cat, uncomfortable with this show of emotion, barks at me. David Gray doesn’t say anything.

I wrote a book in a weekend once. Sadly, I am fairly certain that it’s the best book I have ever written and I wrote it in 70 hours. I have been working on another book for six years and it sucks the sweat off a dead wildebeast. Life isn’t fair. But it’s the only other time I have reached this level of meditative writing. I hope that when the coursebook is done and I have handed in my work I can continue working like this for myself.

By 13:30 pm, I have to teach and I speak to my students as if I am speaking through bog water. I make little sense. The cat leaves my lap, I think she’s lost interest when I’m not writing. David Gray is nowhere to be found. I have made my way to a new level of something, but I am not sure what it is. I just wish I had a sandwich.

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