Archive for November, 2014
Student: “What does break up mean?”
Teacher (on board): I broke up with my girlfriend because she cheated on me with the gardener.
“Teacher: “Now you use it.”
Student (on paper): I broke up with my boyfriend because he can’t cook and he is bad in bed.
As today is Thanksgiving I have planned to settle in for a long day of bitter jealousy. In just a few hours my friends and family will be sitting down to a meal dangerously high in all sorts of tasty goodness.
For the most part, I love my life in Europe. but there are a few days each year when I am 100% bummed that I don’t live in the U.S. Usually these are days that are quintessentially American, and which remind me of home. These include Halloween, July 4th, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving.
The problem is that on these days I know exactly what I’m missing out on. On July 4th it’s barbeques, burgers, and potato salad, on Halloween it’s trick-or-treating and girls dressed up in naughty (place any occupation here) costumes. I need not go into the wild times and insanity that is Columbus Day.
But I miss Thanksgiving the most.
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.