Archive for July, 2012
When we step into the place, ten minutes later, we are so grateful for air conditioning that we both almost weep. The floor is covered in two inches of sawdust and country music is playing. The wall is draped in American flags and the heads of a variety of unfortunate animals. We become immediately aware that we are in the minority in three areas: we aren’t wearing cowboy hats, our belt buckles are smaller than a goat and our belts are not decorated with any sort of cutting tool (axe, knife, saw). We are seated near a wide window, which reveals a vast, rolling prairie outside darkening under the setting sun.
Everything about this steakhouse is quintessentially American. That is, except us.
The street is full of college kids, twenty-somethings and townies celebrating a festival in this small university town. Every university town demographic is represented: ex-jocks with breaching beer guts, hippies, townies, barflies, farmers, the former big man on campus who lives with his parents again and the sorority girl who is dressed like a senate candidate. Other than the three people I am with, I have never seen any of these people before in my entire life, yet I recognize them all. I organize them into social partitions in my mind as though I were walking amongst people I knew around my university town. This is because every university town is exactly the same; only the name of the town changes. Sometimes.
At the River Falls Days festival, the town celebration attracts alumni and townies, glass blowers, former residents and, well, English teachers living in the Czech Republic. For most it’s a chance to celebrate the town, but for alumni (and us) it is a chance to live like university students once again. And that is exactly what we do.
We arrive and immediately start drinking Miller High Life in cans and chilled bourbon shots. We sit on the porch and annoy the neighbors and slap at mosquitoes and tell stories about cavalier actions in times of duress that are, quite frankly, crap. Yet each story is more glorious than the last. There is tobacco in every form and Taco Bell, which quickly reminds me of why I stopped eating it in the first place about fifteen years ago.
The interstate has given way to a small country road and the sky is blocked out by the surrounding forest and trees that hang over the road like leafy umbrellas. It’s dark up in the north country, far from any city or town that might have a movie theater or, well, a dentist. As we turn off the country road onto a gravel path, the horror movie atmosphere is enhanced by an eerie mist which rises off the road and grass. We put on the Danse Macabre just to perfect the imminent feeling of doom that is now pervading the car. In an attempt to lighten the spooky mood, we make jokes and laugh, just like two kids walking past a graveyard at night.
“Did you see that?” Collin asks.
“I did. What the hell was it?”
It is quiet in the car. “There’s another!” he yells. It takes us a moment to realize what is happening on the dark and narrow road around us, but it soon becomes clear:
We are surrounded by frogs.
The announcer on the field is a round girl with a hell of a lot of charisma. Her name is Julie and she speaks like a comedian warming up a crowd with such vitality that one can’t help becoming emotionally invested in her mid-inning wares. This inning, the 6th, she calls forth two people garbed in Sumo wrestler body balloons who waddle to the sideline at her behest. She introduces them as Blue and Red, explains the rules of engagement (knock the opponent to the ground three times) and then she shouts, “ready, set, go!”
The 1,415 people at Joannes Stadium (I call it the Frog Pond) cheer as Red and Blue bang into each other until Blue hits the first base line and Red struts along the batter’s cage until the next round begins. After two more knock downs by Red, and one attempted escape by Blue, Julie announces Red the winner along with her booty of a free haircut and a hotdog at the concession stand.
We decided to come to a summer league baseball game today as it’s a nice way to spend the evening outdoors but away from spiders. The local team, the Green Bay Bullfrogs, are spanking the Lakeshore Chinooks after jumping out to an early thirteen point lead that they have had no problem clinging to. By most barometers this game could be labelled boring, but we’re having a blast. Perhaps it’s the $2 local hop ales, or the surely animal yet oddly unidentifiable mascots running around, or Julie’s mid-inning shenanigans, but everything about this game has a sense of charming ‘Small Town America’ to it.
“So you take the fork and poke it into the forehead between the eyes, then you drag it along the spine back to the tail. Strip off the skin and scales and separate the top half of the meat and pop it in your mouth.” Mr. P is stripping the meat off the fish and washing it down with black coffee. I am doing the same. “That’s how you eat a chubb,” he says. It is 8:30 a.m. “Do you like gin martinis?”
“Yep,” I say.
“We’ll have those at lunch.”
Being a Philadelphia native I have always been proud of my city’s exceptional ability to make one fat through food. We are the owner of the cheese steak, which is the filet Mignon of fatty foods. There are a thousand world-class pizza joints with some of the most-delicious, cholesterol-filled pizza and hoagies on Earth. We have scrapple, which is a hotdog-quality breakfast food for which I would kick a puppy in the nose. We have Tastykake cupcakes, soft pretzels and deli sandwiches that will end your life ten years earlier than planned.
My pig to truffle-like ability to find unhealthy cuisine led me to Prague. Gulaš, pork and dumplings, liver dumpling soup, Svíčková, cakes and, of course, beer. These two cities satisfy the gluttonous goblin that lives within me with their different varieties of fat-laden grub. I figured that I would have to look no further to quench this urge.
But then I visited Wisconsin. And what’s interesting is that in Wisconsin not only have I found a cuisine that will add to my waist size, I have found a new cuisine that will add to my waist size.
I encounter a fearful sight as I walk down the aisle to my rightful spot on the metal death tube (airplane) this morning: There’s a person in my seat. I am taken aback and let out a sigh. This is a problem for so many reasons.
First of all, 24J is a perfect seat, made just for me. It’s a mid-plane window-seat, which provides a perfect view of the wing and if you are a terrible flyer you know that you gotta watch that bastard or it’ll fly off the plane. Moreover, window seats allow you to avoid almost everyone else on the entire plane except for the person who brings you drinks, the guy next to you and the cement-kneed martial artist behind you. Second, I don’t like confrontation. I’m usually either wrong and irrationally aggressive or right and too timid to push the point. Third, the occupier of my perfect seat is a child.
I open the door to the Doghouse and take in the surroundings. Lee has set it up nicely; it is just as I have always imagined. There’s a beer cooler, an ashtray, a small TV and a book entitled ‘1001 ways to end up in the doghouse.’ He is jotting in a notebook with the words ‘What I have Learned in This Doghouse Visit’ on the cover. He is wearing a navy blue robe and listening to Jimmie Hendrix. The robe almost appears to be a membership garment.
It’s very nice, indeed. Lee spends a lot of time here.
There are several hundred ways for a man to end up in the Doghouse. Usually it involves drinking too much or missing an appointed curfew. Sometimes it involves a seemingly minor disagreement or smiling for a split second too long at the blonde cashier selling you catnip at the pet shop. Hypothetically.
The old man sitting across from me is preparing to tell a joke. He is muttering to himself, then looking up words in the dictionary. He then brutalizes the pronunciation as he jots it onto a piece of paper in front of him.
When he has all the words he needs, he goes through the list and whispers to himself, organizing the plot and characters of his joke. When he says something like, “yes, yes…,” I know he’s about ready. So I prepare myself by ordering two shots of our favorite drink – Becherovka.
I seem to have a love hate relationship with inanimate objects. I have shoes that constantly reform themselves into implements of pedal torture. I have a pillow whose three feathers tickle my nostrils every night and a schizophrenic shower head which was clearly a Gestapo torture expert in a former life.
So, as I prepare to go to the Krkonoše Mountains for a holiday/English course it promises a reprieve from these little immobile monsters. Aside from that, a week at a mountain chalet, Moravská Bouda, teaching English and hiking acts as a meditative retreat from my daily life. The air is cool and clean; it is void of cars, trams, and (most importantly) questions like this: “How can you me fail Professor Damieleone, me you never saw?”