Archive for January, 2017
I only realize that I have a mustache when I scratch my cheek. Though I don’t see them, my eyes pop open as I take the trip from my kitchen to my bathroom. That short walk involves both horror and recollection.
First of all, the recollection. It was after a few Becherovkas. Burke and I were talking about Marc Maron, a comedian we both like. We looked at his picture. Mustache and flavor saver.
“I can pull that look off,” I said.
“I like the beard,” Burke diplomatically countered.
“Should I do that?” I obviously had a bee in my bonnet about doing a stache.
“I like the beard,” she said again.
By the time she could just come out and say, “please don’t do it,” I am doing it. You know how it goes. I start by clipping the chops, cut away the chin hair so as to remove the possibility of a safe haven goatee. Two minutes after it started, it’s done.
It is the testing period at the university, and though I’m enjoying the (Disney-esque) orgasmic joy of extra sleep and no teaching, there are drawbacks. One is that I am saddled with tasks: BS administration, syllabus design, planning, testing, and making tests.
In my case, that is a listening test for students who want to study abroad. Not only do I have to come up with the questions, I also have to provide (read: create) the content. So I often bribe my British colleague Jack by promising to sit in as his assessor during oral exams in June. It’s a trade-off that is deemed equal in terms of effort and painful awkwardness.
So earlier, Jack and I headed up to the recording studio in our school’s media department and recorded a mock interview of two people who want to study abroad. From that recording I will now create a listening test.
During the process of recording we are both awkward and uncomfortable. We sigh and roll our eyes. The only difference between his discomfort and mine is that he can walk away and drink a cup of tea and I have to listen to our interview and create the task questions.
And to do that I have to listen to my own, stupid voice through earphones so as to magnify each horrible, Northeast-accented syllable, each of my stuttered “uhs,” every lip smack, and on top of it all, my voice.
Over, and over, and over again.
Any other brand of torture has been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
As momentary relief, I go to the internet and type in the first words I think of into a Google search engine.
Who hates hearing their own voice on tape
The answer: British People. Bigtime. And, what’s more, there’s a list about other stuff that British people hate! Oh goodie. So I read and procrastinate. However, I also spend the next twenty minutes in dawning horror, realizing just how British I have become.
Now, like many Americans, I spent years in naïve awe of the British. I loved the accents, the turns of phrase, the reserved behavior, the perceived intelligence.
And like most Americans who have come into contact with a great deal of Brits, I realized that awe was a giant sack of horse tits. The Brits are indirect, awkward, and touchy. To have a cross interaction with a Brit (which, by the by, will go completely unnoticed by any other nationality) means a years-long slow-cooking build-up of one-sided loathing and detest. This, of course, is all done with an outwardly (though reserved) pleasant demeanor until the Brit finally explodes one day and leaves the room with a huff. Then the Brit apologizes. And the American has no idea what has happened.
I was comfortable with this mindset, until I recently learned how British I was. Before seeing this list, I knew there was a problem. Sort of the way you know there’s a problem long before going to the doctor. This issue manifested itself in a number of ways. First off, for a long while I have been watching, understanding, and laughing at British television. Scenes in British TV shows or movies that I would have squinted at before, now make me belly laugh.
As a result of or because of that, I am, while not fluent in British English, sitting at a comfortable B2 level (upper intermediate). This is more in terms of my understanding as opposed to my spoken language. I now have a solid handle on what British people really mean when they say the things they say. Examples include the following:
British: You should stop by for dinner sometime. Translation: Don’t come near me or my house.
British: We shouldn’t worry about coordinating every aspect of our courses. Translation: Get on with your own course and leave me the fuck alone!
British: Yes, well, I’ll try and find time when I can do that. Translation: I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of doing that or anything that minutely resembles that.
British: Well, I could possibly, I suppose. Translation: No.
Third, I am a longtime user of the Oxford Comma.
I know. I know. I’m in trouble.
Here are some things that make me fundamentally British.
When I wake up on this particular Saturday morning, I realize with dawning awareness that I don’t feel terrible.
The winter can be a brutal time of year in Prague. It’s been ten below (Celsius) for the last week. In the last two weeks there’s been an alternating cycle of snow, rain, sleet, hail, and slush, this all leads to a road/tundra that adds time to any walk or commute.
And this is at the tail end of three months of unrelenting dark and short days that advocate a daily quota of anxiety. There are times in the long nights of December and the bleak, joyless days of January when an otherwise content, responsible adult can feel twinges of despair and pity.
Despite it all, I don’t feel bad. The days aren’t turning into night at 4 p.m. anymore, now it’s a more respectable 5ish. Also, things are looking up.
Now that the semester is over, it’s the testing period, which means a month of administration and very little teaching. More importantly, I am now looking back at a productive (though exhausting) semester that is both over, and allow me to enjoy a deserved period of relative relaxation.
This reward for hard work is something I have come to cherish as I’ve grown older. For yeas at university I did very little schoolwork, preferring instead to spend my nights out partying rather than in studying. So when Friday rolled around and my classmates were enjoying a well-earned night of R&R, I was (not really) enjoying just another night out.
I feel today like, as Burke puts it, a ‘put together guy.’ I suppose this means that in most areas of my life I am responsible and together. Though I am a man in his forties who lives alone, my flat is clean (yep, even the bathroom and shower). I enjoy creative cooking, healthy eating, and I keep myself fit with a good exercise regimen. I am a professional with professional friends, write and publish things. Hell, I even defrost my freezer and clean my oven.
So as I wander into my kitchen and start coffee, I realize with a horror-stricken gasp that I have no eggs. I nearly weep. While I normally eat a grapefruit and oatmeal for breakfast, this is Saturday, the day I splurge and have a cheese omelette, sausage, and rolls. And I scan through my fridge to see that I have bought everything for my Saturday breakfast but eggs. There is cheese, sausage, butter, and rolls. No eggs.
It is clear: I have to go to the grocery store. I put on my shoes and hat, and I sigh.
Oh man. Remember when the teacher showed a film? It was like getting an extra year of your life, finding an Oreo cookie, a snow day.
It was glorious.
So when I tell the students we’re watching a film, I’m surprised at the nods and eye rolls.
I gamble on a misunderstanding, so I reiterate that we’re watching a film in class.
No, we got it. Drawn out sighs. Polite smiles.
Oh, I get it. You think by “film” I mean a documentary on the history of the English language, don’t you?
Oh goodie, really!?
No! It’s a film called Scotland, PA. It’s a retelling of Macbeth.
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Stares into phones.
Come on! It’s a great movie. Here are some questions for you to think about while we watch.
I put on the film and sit at the back of the classroom.
And that’s when the terror begins.
First, the bad news: today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.
Not for any particular reason, but rather many reasons. Today is sort of the perfect storm of misery. As a matter of fact, there’s an equation:
[W + (D – d) x TQ
M x Na
(W) Weather plus your (D) debt subtracting your (d) salary multiplied by the (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failing your New Year’s resolutions, divided by (M) low motivation levels multiplied by (Na) the feeling of the need to do something.
The good news is that this concept of Blue Monday is commonly regarded in the science community as pseudoscience. But, you know as well as I, all of the factors in that equation mean something to you.
The weather is bad, it’s been cold for months and will be for months. The nights are long and pitch black. Not only are we suffering the harsh withdrawal of post holiday revelry, but the holidays emptied your wallet and expanded your waist. You are low on physical motivation, and chances are any resolutions you had for the New Year never made it out of the Higgins boat.
Sorry folks, but it’s going to get worse before it gets any better. Other factors are making this year’s Blue Monday a bit bluer, such as the stress surrounding Brexit and Donald Trump’s inauguration in 4 days.
Breathe in, breathe out.
If Captain James T. Kirk has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a way out of any cage.
So how can we get out of the Blue Monday cage?
If you’re like me, you’re wondering how you can get through the Trump presidency until he’s impeached in a few months. Fortunately, there are apps and technology to the rescue. Make America Kittens Again is a Google extension that masks all pictures of Donald Trump with pictures of kittens.
And if you’re desperately missing the wise words and soothing voice of our soon-to-be former president, there’s iSpeech Obama, which turns out all text in President Obama’s voice. When Trump’s inane bombast is getting you down, you can listen to President Obama read your to-do list, and tell you to pick up milk and eggs, remind you about a Friday meeting. As well as, probably, spank him good or take off your panties. Because come on, who wouldn’t sext the president just once?
“Oh man, you are sooo lucky to live overseas.”
I’ve heard this before, but I’ve heard it more often recently. “Ah yeah. Trump?”
He looks at me sideways. “No, I mean, living in Europe must be awesome.”
“Oh yeah. It’s pretty cool.”
He cocks his head. “It must be much better than living over here.”
If you are an American expatriate (living in a non-combat zone) then you have had some version of this conversation. In the first place, yes, living abroad absolu-frickin-lutely rocks…at times. No matter where you are living, there are some aspects of living there that are “better” than living in the U.S.
However, you know that your friend is romanticizing the expatriate life. And that is because they are basing their mental picture of your life on movies (and other intake) they have seen about expatriates. You do not judge this person, because before you moved abroad your mental picture was based on the same movies.
But you learned.
A Day in the Life: Expatriate the Movie
It was December 23rd and the mall was packed. The shops were overflowing with deranged shoppers. The food courts were like Valhalla without the booze or war hammers, and mall staff looked as though someone had just set their readiness alert to DEFCON 3.
The walkways of the mall were jammed with people trying desperately to get last minute gifts to bolster Christmas piles. And it was all happening to a soundtrack of Christmas music, store announcements, and screeching children.
I didn’t mind, as it was all part of the atmosphere. Moreover, it was one of my favorite days of the year. I have always enjoyed the build up to an event more than the event itself, so the day before the day before Christmas holds a special place in my heart.
My mom and I made a morning of it. We are early morning people: up at 6 am, caffeinated, organized, and out the door by 8:30 to the mall. We stopped for a bagel and a coffee. We had goals. Goal number one was to get me a coat. The second was for me to buy 90% of my Christmas gifts.
We started at Boscov’s. If you don’t know Boscov’s, sit back and picture every Christmas movie scene that takes place at a mall department store and you have Boscov’s. The clothing floor (ground level) is immense, aisles cut through uncountable racks of clothing and accessories sectioned off in age-old classifications: ladies, misses, juniors, men’s, young men’s, intimate apparel, active, LL Bean. Upstairs is kitchen and dining room, downstairs is living room and bedroom.
After Boscov’s I ran off to Barnes and Noble to buy books. My mother went off to accomplish her own tasks. We agreed to meet at 11 am at the junior miss department at Boscov’s, since that is nearby the east exit and where we parked.
After I left the bookstore I stopped in a sweets shop and picked us up a couple of coconut chocolates. And as I made my way back to the department store to meet my mom is when I processed what I had agreed to. I was going to meet my mom in a massive department store on December 23rd. This was not going to work.
I have watched a few more movies than usual recently. In the first place, I always enjoy a good Christmas tale or two. And secondly, when flying to the U.S. I spend 8 hours trying to convince myself I’m not 8 miles above the world. This calls for mindless action movies and stupid comedies.
In that time, I’ve become a bit perturbed at movie bad guys. For the most part I wish they would just take better care of themselves.
In all of the action shoot-up flicks I watched as I bumped 35,000 feet above Terra firma, I realized that the only people who care for their personal safety during a gun fight are the good guys. Or at the very least, the protagonist. They carefully hide behind pillars, walls, door jambs. They tediously time their gunfire to thwart return fire. They even use tactics to draw attention away from themselves and towards nearby dumpsters, stairwells, and cars.
But the bad guys? Nah.
The bad guys run carelessly through doorways, the other side of which house their heavily armed enemies. They run recklessly out in the open even after a bunch of their friends have just been shot dead from a balcony. They don’t hide, duck, or try out any tricky stratagems in order to avoid being shot and killed. They just run willy nilly into the open as if they know it should be this way. Very Zen. But still, I really wish they’d take better care of themselves.
Another sort of bad guy that really threw me was the evil witch. Now, the evil witch in the show we watched really really wanted to use a really really terrible spell. Really bad. So bad that even her evil witch friends warned her against using it. “Don’t do it,” they shrieked. “You’ll end up in an eternal pit of despair from which you’ll never be able to climb.”
The evil witch’s response: “Meh.”
I am sleeping in the library on an air mattress that takes up the entire core of room. Every spare inch of the room is otherwise occupied with books, luggage, or boxes. I think there’s a chair in the corner, but it’s beneath a pile of clothes that could clothe the residents of Manchester.
This library has obviously doubled as a storage room. I guess it still does, only the stores kept here now include a 42-year-old English teacher and his bag.
I lie in the bed and stare up at long shelves of paperback spy thrillers, National Geographics, classic novels, yellow DIY books. Occasionally, I reach out and pluck one from the shelf, give it a quick perusal or read it to the end.
I’d get up, but getting out of the air mattress is more arduous than it should be. It’s sort of like trying to get out of a bowl of Jell-O without using your arms. Also, every time I manage to get out of the bed, I stub my toe. Every. Time. By the weekend my toes are bloodied and bruised stumps that once were utilized in helping me walk. Now they are slightly hairy pain sticks that jut out of my feet.
It doesn’t matter if I get up or not, I am on holiday, so my routine has been shattered, it no longer exists. I keep up my workout, read a lot, do some writing. But otherwise, my days are long and short, dark and light, and filled with family or very few people.
By the following week, I realize that my handle on reality has become slightly, well, tentative.
This failing grasp is not strengthened by the fact that I wear pajamas all the time and have eaten so many carbs that I would die of bread poisoning if that was a thing. I can’t remember what fruit tastes like. I reach greedily for a vegetable in the fridge, but it turns out to be a green bag of Christmas fudge.
Since my dad has a famous sweet tooth and his patients and colleagues love him, the house is overflowing with cookies, chocolates, and sweets. The quantity and variety are such that each room in the house could have a theme: the living room is nutted chocolates, the dining room is pralines and caramels, the kitchen is caramelized figs and pound cakes. I walk throughout the house simply dipping my hands into baskets of sweets and pushing them into my face.
I don’t want to say that I start to go a little insane, but I start to go a little insane. No routine, no days, no structure, no goals. It’s as though without the parameters of my routine and schedule I allow everything to slip away. I always thought it would take something rather monumental to drive a person nuts, but in my case it only took seven days without a routine. I can now fully understand the men I knew who became pitiful alcoholics or recluses after retirement.