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Break Thy Fast

The morning after I arrived in the U.S., my sister arrived for our yearly hang out day. This day involves massages, a heavy intake of beverages with mind altering qualities, and Broadway singalongs. I love it, she loves it, the bartenders love it, her husband tolerates it. We sing loudly in the drunken avatars of Jesus and Judas Iscariot and Aaron (A-A Ron) Burr and Jean Valjean. It. Is. Awesome.

The morning after, not so much.

This year the combination of a 10 hour flight and twenty shots of Jägermeister have rendered me a ball of lightly weeping flesh on the bed in her guestroom. And my sister looks in, sadly, holding her head and holding out two Advil. I groan. She groans. And there’s nothing she can say that’ll budge me. Nothing. I am lying here until I can muster the strength to ooze onto her couch and pry open my right eye to watch a lighthearted comedy that makes me forget the beating I have put my liver through. There’s nothing she can say.  

“Want to go to my diner for breakfast?”

Except that.

We’re in the car for about 4 minutes, which is about 3 minutes longer than either of us can stand. And when we arrive, we are the only people in the diner. It’s 6 am and the waitress seats us with a chipper attitude that might literally kill us.

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The Hill God Does Lisbon

Praça do Comércio on the Tagus River

Our first morning in Lisbon I go out for coffee and the famous Portuguese pastries pastéis de nata, which is a custard tart wet dream. The Rua Augusta, silent when we arrived the night before, is bustling this morning. The broad pedestrian way has several outdoor restaurants where tourists eat and locals serve them. Everyone else sets up shop for the day: pharmacies, souvenir shops, markets, gelaterias, restaurants. Workers wash off their patch of cobbles with hoses and buckets of water. It’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade. A breeze comes from the direction of the Praça do Comércio which is the square a couple of hundred yards off that sits on the Tagus. Perfect.

There are a number of pastry cafes and I dip into one and order two coffees, two pastéis de nata, and a large donut coated in sugar and filled with custard and which I have to eat over a trashcan because of the amount of sugar that drops off with each bite.

Oh fish cakes, where hath ye been all my life?
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Cat Man

Cat Man in Box

Pet owners who go on holiday always pay a collateral price for their trip. A friend of mine has to put all of her shoes in cabinets or her German Shepherd will destroy them for being left alone. Another will come across little secret stockpiles of cat poop in shoes, closets, Tupperware in retribution for his little jaunt. A lot of animals don’t like to be left home alone, and they show it in different ways.

My cat has a pattern when it comes to doling out neglect-inspired revenge. When I return from holiday she meows me into the flat with the gusto and volume of a failed expeditionary general. She then pulls little passive aggressive moves like tripping me up and shouting at me about it, Whoa, dude, watch where you’re going! But when I turn on the bathroom tap for her and rub her head as she drinks, the meows slowly dissipate. She is back in her comfort zone, relief and gratitude take over the anger. While she drinks I pour a packet of top shelf kitty grub in her bowl and lure her to dinner. By the time she eats, her purrs could motor a boat across the English Channel.

It’s the period after this that worries me. See, she seems lovably grateful and happy that Dad has returned, but she will always get me once. With one bite, that is. My cat has the revenge memory, the plotting abilities, and the hand accessories of Freddy Krueger. She lays in wait, bides her time, and then she gets me with one good bite. When this will come, I genuinely don’t know. It could be in a day or a month or as I leave for Christmas holiday. I just have to be on my toes.

Making matters more difficult is the fact that she spends roughly eight hours a day sitting on me. My cat expresses neediness by sitting on me: my neck, my back, my stomach between me and my book, my hip, and by sitting on my feet when I am making coffee. This might be seen as charming by an ignorant observer. After all, she’s fluffy and sleepy-eyed, relaxed and reclined. But I know that at the drop of a hat this sleepy-eyed furball can turn into a lawnmower. And one that’s pissed off to boot. Sometimes there’s a warning, a growl, a mohawked ridge of fur, splayed claws. Sometimes there’s not.

Today there’s not. The cat moseys to the back of the couch on which I am lying and reading a book. My phone buzzes and like a good little mindless follower, I reach out for it. And that’s when it happens. The cat goes from 0 to 100 in a split second, literally pouncing on my arm. She grips my arm and plunges those vampire fangs deep into my wrist. I yelp in the manner of a truly surprised person (like a small child) and wrest the cat off by her scruff.

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Motivational Speech

Why thank you hair brush, I am amazing!

When I travel, I use the excuse to completely detox my body of fruits and vegetables. I revel in fried foods, eat every single piece of bread that I can find, and become one with the candy aisle of any store I walk into. I drink beer and wine and make merry. If I am offered something that looks like it’ll take a month or so off my life – fried, fatty, in oil – I accept it with an eagerness that suggests it’s an antidote to whatever poison I have just had.

It’s holiday, I reason, this is no time to worry about one’s waistline. I do this via a series of burps and angry stomach growls. I might be bummed that my holiday only lasts a week, but my body definitely isn’t.   

And so my week in Portugal is no different. There was not a fried ball of shrimp or cod persuasion that I turned down. Seafood! Nor did I balk at any pork sandwich, glass of port, shot of cherry liqueur, beer, barnacle, olive platter, bread, roll, candy bar, or pastry oozing custard. There is a solid possibility that in the last week I have eaten more sweets that I have in the last three years combined.

It’s been awesome. It’s also why I am persona non grata in our little area of the departure waiting lounge at the Lisbon Airport. It seems that a week of consumption as I have had produces a peculiar constitution within my body’s ecosystem that renders me impossible to be near.

Read: my gas could drop a Kodiak bear in full sprint.

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Reformed Travel Slut

Guess which one I chose.

My first trip to Europe was exactly (almost to the day) twenty years ago. I was 24 years old, had just graduated college with one of the more spectacularly forgettable academic careers ever witnessed in Pittsburgh. It was my first trip alone and it was to be a learning experience. I carried a massive, teetering backpack filled with things I would barely touch over the next month and a lot of things I would discard. Hiking boots would be purposefully left in a youth hostel in Amsterdam, an umbrella would be dropped in Edinburgh, one of two sweaters would be left in Doolin, Ireland. I had a printed ticket which had a carbon copy and a huge book called Europe on a Shoestring.

I was so excited. It occurred to me in London that I had no idea how to get from the airport to the city itself. I finally found a train and handed over an exorbitant amount of money with a worrying lump in my throat. Money. Oh yeah. I met my friend Tara at Paddington Station, the train wheezed and decompressed and people bustled around me wielding British accents that I wanted to bottle and listen to at home in the bathtub. I was delirious with excitement and novelty.

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Accidental Makeover

Nestor the Oft-Used

I tiptoed down the flat escalator into the Kaufland shopping center near my work. It’s not huge, but the Kaufland is a supermarket whose hallways are lined with shops. A tobacco shop, a butcher and a bakery with two tables between them so people can eat there if they’d like. There’s also a pharmacy, a betting shop, a flower shop, and, in true Czech fashion, a  wine room.

Today I do a quick lunchtime shop, and while walking past the most recent addition to the center, a barber’s carrying the clear yet not-so-clear name of Kadeřnictví 100 CZH (100 Koruna Haircuts), I see that a man is paying and the chair is free. My heart speeds up and I move faster, afraid that someone will jump in front of me.   

My relationship with haircuts is extraordinarily on a need, get, and proceed basis. That is, one day I look at my head in the mirror and say, “Oh yeah that hair’s pretty long.” And then I make sure I always carry my emergency baseball cap (just in case things go wrong. His name is Nestor) and I start walking by barber shops. When I get to the barber, I want to be in and out as quickly as possible. I look for free spots and go for it. If there isn’t a free spot, I move on.

Today, I can’t believe my luck. The excitement of knowing I will accomplish a task. While you in the customer-service-happy U.S. might not understand this glee, it’s something to celebrate in ye olde Czech Republic. Anything can keep you from fulfilling simple tasks as a customer or in general. I have run up to the barber to see closed early signs due to illness, holiday, and general discontent. I have been told by a yawning girl reading her phone that she couldn’t do my hair because she had a client in 20 minutes. When I suggested that my haircut would take about 10 minutes, she looked at me with an oh-you-don’t-know-what’s-happening-here kind of a look.

I open the door for the man who has just paid. He looks sort of military, with a serious-almost-dour expression that goes along both his olive drab clothing and his new flattop. I have a moment of nostalgia about the flattop, as it was my doo of choice from age nine to thirteen, when I decided that I liked girls and they didn’t like boys who looked like a cantaloupe with eyeballs.

The woman gestures to the chair and I sit with an adrenalin rush of knowing that this is genuinely going to happen. Soon my hair will be out of my eyes, my head won’t be so itchy in the heat, and drying my hair after a shower will take 30 seconds. Also, depending on how good the girl was, I might soon have the hair on my ear lobes shaved off. I am happy.

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Continued Watching for Dr. Doolittle

There’s no doubt that I am a Netflix cliché in that with the thousands (OK, I’m in the Czech Republic) the hundreds of options I’m given, I choose to watch things I’ve seen two hundred times. These appear in my Watch it Again section. Jaws. Lord of the Rings. Ghostbusters. Every Indiana Jones installment. Friends (I know, shut up). Brooklyn 99. Buster Scruggs. The War.

Tonight we go for a light-hearted comedy mystery, one of my favorite genres, and we watch Murder Mystery. This is the one starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston as a married couple on a European tour who end up in the middle of a real life murder mystery. Since his big hit films in the 90s, Sandler has been hit or miss. Aniston is usually just fecken funny and she’s usually in fecken funny flicks. The movie totals in at 1:39 minutes. We’ll give it a chance.  

We last 31 minutes.

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The Return of Jethroe the Fitbit

Welcome back, Jethroe!

It’s getting hotter by the minute in old Praha and this means casting aside jeans for some light khakis or linen pants. And so I dug around a drawer that hasn’t been touched since I moved into my new place, and I found a pair. After a trip-up with the cat that almost certainly had to be purposeful, I pulled them on.  

Well, mostly. See, they were tight. Really tight. Oh I could button them, but children and midgets walking against me would possess the very real danger of being plugged in the eye with my button, which could spring out like artillery. Plus the visual result of the pants on me was something akin to an overpacked sausage.

My God. I’d gained weight!

Like any real man, I ran to my mirror in tears. I removed the infracting pants and turned to the left and the right, admiring (uh, I mean, analyzing) my rear end and my belly. There wasn’t a hugely noticeable difference, maybe a little on the belly and it seemed it was business as usual for my butt, on which some naught kids could land a drone helicopter. Otherwise, it wasn’t terrible.

I hate scales. Hate. From what I gather, scales are devices that collect dust under a bed or bathroom sink until its owner either feels there is a good or a bad reason to employ it. They pull it out from its sleeping place like it’s the Kraken, step on it, and then, I can only guess, the majority of humanity lets out a curse word so loud that the scale bitterly weeps. It is a device whose sole purpose is to put its owner into a bad mood. And, no less, it is a thing they paid for. Who exactly talked us into actually spending money on this?

This is why I mostly use pants to gauge my weight losses and gains. If pants are loose and sitting down doesn’t result in the loss of feeling below my waist, then things are OK. If they’re tight and a month ago they weren’t, well then, pants do not lie. And it’s time to act.

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On Writing with a Cat

The cat wouldn’t leave me alone at this desk until I wanted to take her picture.

I don’t really like kids. I know that seems like an odd way to start off a post about cats and writing. But oh well.

Oh, I understand that kids are necessary. The way a fire engine is necessary. They are both super loud and nobody is happy when they’re around, but we admit that both are probably needed. Every person I know and like used to be a kid. I even concede, in my most honest moments, that I too was at one point in the past, a kid. And, as my mom likes to remind me every time I say that I don’t like kids, I was a very bad kid. But despite all of that and despite the fact that I strive for reason and balance in my life, I just don’t like ‘em.

Surely one of three things has now occurred if you have read the last two paragraphs. One, you have grown disgusted by me, snapped off my webpage, and promised that you will not talk to me until I see you at Christmas. Two, you are nodding your head and saying, hells yeah, or some variation. Three, you are wondering why.

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Birds at the Gate

The B Monster is standing up at the kitchen window, paws pressed against it, she is looking out and chirping. I peek out to see two magpies sitting on our outside window sill. The cat is beside herself with excitement. So close. The magpies seem to be conversing and the cat’s chirps seem to play in counterpoint with the birds’ chatter.

One of the magpies nods his head and the cat steps away from the window. She saunters to her food bowl and sits down to a midday snack. The birds fly away. Strange, I think, that all seemed oddly coordinated.

I’ve always loved birds. But seriously, what’s not to love about animals that fly around, build houses with their faces, and sing for you as you walk by? Nothing. They’re also neatly patterned and pretty smart. Some birds have been proven to employ tools to construct homes or to open things like nuts. I could not and cannot accurately wrap my head around the complexity of these beings’ social order, their signaling system, or their abilities to fly in patterns with a hundred other birds. To varying extents, explanations for these things still elude scientists. But I can observe and enjoy.   

Though I am in no way an ornithologist, I have enjoyed observation of our flying buddies. This mostly occurred in my last flat, where I would watch with fascination the interactions within the magpie community from my porch. This interaction included what were almost certainly battles, as groups and couples of magpies would chase around other groups aggressively chirping and shouting at each other. I would stand on the porch holding the B Monster as still as possible as she stared with impossible intensity. When we moved in March, there was the sadness of leaving behind a neighborhood of animals and sounds and trees and things we were used to.  

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