Archive for December, 2015

A Simple Plan

sitting at a barI really miss sitting at a bar.

I don’t mean sitting in a pub, I mean sitting at a bar. In the Czech Republic’s pubs patrons do not sit at the bar, they sit at tables. The bar is where beers and drinks are poured, split tabs are paid, and bartenders and waiters smoke and gripe about customers.

Tonight, at the Jug Handle (best wings in South Jersey!), we are sitting at the bar.

My friend Jen and I are on the left leg of the U-shaped bar end, so that we are looking across at two women, and flanked by a good-looking couple and two massive meatheads on the bottom of the U. The couple next to us is engaged in quiet conversation and eating wings, the meatheads are drinking Bud Lights with Jack Daniels backs, and the two women across from us give us smiles. Football is on television.

Life is perfect.

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Family Christmas Movie Act II: Twas the Week before Christmas

family fun nightOften in a movie in which the main character is visiting his family at Christmas, there are familial interactions in various public locales before the film culminates in the big event.

We meet the quirky residents of his hometown and see some ways in which the main character deals with being away from his normal life. Some familial tensions or issues are hinted at or foreshadowed.

In this Family Christmas Movie, the main character spends the weekdays in his pajamas and wakes up at 4 am due to jet lag.

He is there for three days before he realizes that his sister and her kids have also been there for three days. This realization coincides with other realizations, such as how much he hates the concept of forced-pants at home, how quiet his flat is, how much he loves and misses that quiet, and that he is astoundingly happy without children.

After – and as a result of – all of these realizations, he makes a mental note to find a quiet moment to vocally thank the Gods of Durable Latex and Good Timing. Now, however, a quiet moment seems unlikely.

The parts of the quirky townsfolk are played by the employees in the father’s dental office, which is attached to the house. The main character goes into the office for a teeth cleaning and he is received well by the ladies who work for his dad. And then, for unknown crimes against unknown people, his father sends him to a chair where he is set upon by the lovely Martina.

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Thoughts in a Mall

night of living deadI am on my way to the mall. It’s at the moment I get stuck in mall traffic three miles away on the highway that it dawns on me that it may have been a mistake.

Before you say “Whoa, you went to the mall three days before Christmas?” followed by several deserved comments on my mental health and intelligence, let me just say I had no choice.

Every year I come home for Christmas, I feel the pressure to get my family members “something Czech.” But after eleven years, I am plum tapped out of ideas. I have brought home all of the Old Town prints, Charles Bridge coffee mugs, and Krteček dolls that my family can handle.

And so, this Christmas, I decide to do my shopping in the U.S.

I finally get to the mall and I park at the book store. I do this because it is one of my main destinations today and because I am certain there will be free spots. I am correct. And yet, the book store is filled with people and not all of them fill me with hope for the human race.

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Family Christmas Movie: Act I

Family Christmas Insanity 1980s Style

Family Christmas Insanity 1980s Style

We’ve seen so many holiday movies, haven’t we? They all seem to blend into little sub-genres. There’s the one about the fast track guy who has lost the meaning of Christmas, and the other about the woman (or the kid or the man) who undergoes a crisis at the holidays, but who is rescued from the depths when she (or he or they) finally realizes that Christmas isn’t about gifts, but friends.

And then there’s the family Christmas movie. These usually feature an odd family, old family tensions, or a squirrel in the Christmas tree and a toupee afire.

The following movie treatment features a guy visiting his quirky family at Christmas. The issues involved, as well as the joys, stresses, food, and alcoholic coping medicine.

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Real Mensch

menschI was thirteen when I realized I wasn’t Jewish.

Sure, there were lots of hints. I went to Catholic school. I was baptised and had done my Holy Communion. I’d been forced to admit my sins at confession, during which I re-enacted for the priest and the horrified audience of parents and families how much trouble one got in at my home when they said the words “fuck it.”

Plus, I felt guilty about everything I did that felt remotely good.

On top of this, there were constant reminders that I was of Italian and Irish heritage. My mother’s maiden name was McFarland. My dad shouted curses in bastardized Neapolitan, vulgarities which would mark my first foray into second language acquisition. We ate pasta at least twice a week, a ubiquitous piece of bread in our free hands to act as sauce sponge. Moreover, my father adored everything Italian: movies, books, basketball coaches.

Still, the fact that I was not Jewish never sunk in until the age of thirteen, when I did my Confirmation and all of my friends were having Bar Mitzvahs.

Now, if you have any experience with these things, you know that there are advantages to both. As a Catholic, I didn’t have to sing in front of a huge group of friends and family, so I totally won out in the overall avoidance of public humiliation. That said, the party afterwards clearly swung in the favour of my Jewish comrades.

As far as I could tell, Bar Mitzvahs were summed up in one event: an older person smothers a yarmulke-donning twelve-year-old boy, pinches his cheeks, passes along a few tidbits of wisdom mixed with good-natured self-deprecating jabs, says one or two things in Yiddish, then hands him a substantial amount of money in an envelope.

My confirmation party was pretty sweet. We had meatballs, and I think I got a watch.

We lived in a neighbourhood primarily made up of Jewish families. There were some households with a Jewish and gentile parent, and there were surely other gentile families, but the primary demographic was Jewish. Our babysitters were Jewish, our friends, enemies, and teammates in street sports were often Jewish. Therefore we pretty much grew up Jewish.

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Designing Women

Evidence of the Decorating Talents of the Male Galeone

Evidence of the Decorating Talents of the Male Galeone

As I prepare to head home for two weeks of holiday fun, I am turning over the things we all relate with the holidays. Part of that is the feasting I will undertake, which will start upon my arrival and end as I lethargically wave a chubby hand at Newark International in early January.

But mostly I have been preparing for family time. This means I will have to dig into my bag of ‘creative truths’ to come up with new reasons for being single and not giving my mom grandchildren. It’s also a lot of Galeones in one place, which means alcohol (for me).

Part of this family craziness is the inevitable slave labor enforced by my mom upon every visit. Mom cooks and does laundry and I perform whatever task she comes up with.

But it’s the way it happens that sometimes irks me. As she’s leaving the house, she’ll stumble upon me hiding in the downstairs mud room, pressed against the wall, holding my breath, you know, just relaxing, and she’ll say my name in a pointed way.

‘Damien.’

It’s then I know that my life is about to get 9-11% more annoying.

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Terence the Christmas Spider

spideyFor about two months now, a medium-sized house spider has taken up residence in my bathroom. He’s a rather unassuming type, usually doesn’t overstep his boundaries, and has made a small home for himself in the ceiling corner to the left of the toilet.

His name is Jerry.

Our first meeting was a shock. As always with spiders, they appear out of nowhere, seemingly a part of the landscape until you notice that the landscape has lots of legs and casts a shadow. And it was such with Jerry, as he sat on my wall and watched me do my business with his four to eight beady eyes.

So when I go in there, whether my visit demands sitting or can be accomplished while standing, I make sure that Jerry is in his corner. If he is, I go about my business. If he is not, I find him and then go about my business. If he is nowhere to be found, I go about my business, but not with the usual gusto, since it’s rather hard to complete the task holding your feet off the floor and constantly checking beneath the pendulous parts of your anatomy for a spider.

Despite my occasional anxiety, aracnicide is out of the question. I don’t know why, to be honest. In the past I have always been quick with a shoe or a magazine should a spider make its way within swatting distance. But I suppose in my old age I have softened. Or, more likely, I have realized that I possess a limited supply of anger and I want to reserve it for those people and things which truly deserve it. Plus, spiders kill other stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Woods, and their Potential Invisibility from the Trees

multicultural-robert-danielsI am preparing for one of my favorite classes at the university: Academic Writing. It’s my favorite for a number of reasons.

It’s a challenge for all involved. It’s a focused development of an academic skill that the students will (Vishnu willing) see both progress in and real life application of. And it’s writing.

While I do like the course, planning for it is very time-consuming. Today’s preparation is perhaps extra challenging, because tomorrow, we are rebelling.

This is a required course for all first year students in our English department, as well as exchange students. Therefore, it’s one big mixed bag of multicultural nuts. There are Mexicans, Irish, Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Koreans, a German, and a Lithuanian. And me.

It’s like a meeting at the United Nations, but with fewer translators and more candy.

The final assessment for this course is in the form of one argumentative essay, which is assigned in the 6th week and worked on throughout the remaining 6 weeks of the course. Since there are so many different cultures represented in the class, I decided to design an essay task on culture:

What aspects of culture best represent yours?

What a masterpiece.

I patted myself on the back all the up to my epiphany. Read the rest of this entry »

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Doctor Adventures

doctor adventuresI am sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office. There are three of us, all men. We are all looking as casual as we can, even though we’re sitting thirty feet away from the guy who probes our tushies as part of his occupational duties.

I am here to get a booster shot for Hepatitis A, which I needed for my trip to Ethiopia and are the African travel gift that keeps on giving. While only here for a simple shot, I am a bit worried. But then again, I am always at least a little worried in doctor’s offices. I’m in the place where medical issues are discovered so I always feel there’s the potential of him coming into the waiting room and saying, “that eyelash looks cancerous.”

It’s the same paranoid logic that makes me feel nervous as I go through airport security (haven’t bought a bag of weed since I was in my twenties, but you never know…) or about to get checked by the ticket inspector.

In any event, I just want to get the shot and leave.

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