Archive for February, 2017
I am fixing my bed post. There’s an array of tools on my bed: a screwdriver, two kinds of hammer, I think there’s something called a wedge lardener. Until eight minutes ago, I was not aware that I owned some of these tools. There’s a thing that looks like it should be used to cause discomfort in a proctologist’s office. For all I know, it is.
After fixing the post (without using any of the tools), I head into the kitchen and fidget. Nothing bemoans imminent attention, so I wander into my living room, roll up a towel, and place it on the floor. I take a few deep breaths and then remember that I can’t even remember the last time I cleaned my oven. I make a beeline for the appliance in question and open it. Sure enough, it looks like an oven that hasn’t been cleaned in a long time, and what kind of domestic manager would I be if I just left it black and sooty? What if I need to use it tonight?
After finding the oven cleaner (which I didn’t know I had) in the back of a closet I haven’t been inside in three years, I begin the process of cleaning the oven. I’ve just barely embarked upon this task when I remember that I don’t really know how to clean an oven. I suppose that I know the theory behind it (soap plus water on a rag equals cleaner stuff) but there have got to be some handy tips out there on the Internet.
I’m walking up the steps at school, from the sounds of it, towards a conversation. As I close in, I get the idea that it’s a rather intense discussion. I put my head down: get through these people, no eye contact.
I turn the corner and there’s a girl. She is clearly shocked at my appearance; she stares at me a bit wide-eyed. I think of jokingly warning her to avoid whatever conversation is happening nearby. It’s then I notice that the voices have stopped.
The girl runs away down the steps. Fast.
As I climb I no longer hear the voices. I look around, peel my ears, lean out over the railing a bit to peer up into the higher levels of the stairwell. Nothing. Nobody.
I am in my office when I realize that the girl was speaking. It takes a moment longer for me to understand that she was speaking to herself. I put all the clues together: her shock, red face, wide eyes, the terror-stricken look, her quick getaway. Then, of course, the facts that we were the only people in the stairwell and that, after she left, not only was I alone, but the voices had stopped.
I am very quick and sharp.
Here’s the thing. She needn’t have worried so much. Getting caught talking to yourself is an activity in which I am a weekly participant. In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that, besides this time, I am always the one talking to an audience of Me.
It’s a Thursday night, I am arriving at the house of a colleague and friend for dinner. This particular colleague and his wife are hosts of extraordinary measure. They love to entertain, and treat guests happily with an assortment of cocktails, wine, aperitifs, hors d’oeuvres, snacks, post dinner cheese and crackers, not to mention a main course that will make your toes curl. Tonight, we are having fish pie, a thing which I have both never had and hate myself for having never had. My excitement is palpable.
I ring the bell.
My friend greets me at the door and I hand him chocolates and Becherovka, and we go upstairs to the kitchen. His wife is taking care of their two small children, and they ask me to meet their infant daughter for the first time. I poke my head in and say hello to their three-year old son. Their daughter takes one look at me and immediately collapses into tears.
Tears are nothing new for me. As a teacher, friend, uncle, and all around asshole, I have experienced my share of firsthand tears. I have been trapped in my office with a recently failed, currently crying student. I have been on awkward dates with weepy women (not about me and not my fault. I swear). And I have sat across the table from a friend who’s been recently dumped (who hasn’t?). Even though I deal with tears from time to time, I, like many people, never know how to react. I often freeze up.
Naturally, today I run away and hide in a different part of the house. My hosts explain that this is her first reaction to new men. I explain that this is most women’s first reaction to me.
I slip into the very back corner of the tram. It is so cold outside that even I long for the days of butt sweat adhering me to the tram seat. I make decisions, since, like most daily public transport commuters, I am a travel strategist.
Today I’ll ride into the center and catch a connecting tram, instead of the metro. This means I can avoid a long walk in the freezing cold, be warm, and read my book all at the same time.
It’s about 3 p.m, so the tram is about a third populated with women, children, post-shopping elders, and cliques of young people grouped into varying degrees of social status.
Just before the doors close, I physically relax. School, students, and bosses all disappear. I bury my nose in my book and snuggle into the seat to warm up. And that’s when the doors emits an air raid warning; a shrill, piercing, metallic bell that cuts the air and disrupts any kind of peace.
If you are a daily user of public transport in Prague, then you know each tram has a personality. To be sure, some of this is due to the driver. Some drivers wait for those running for the tram, some absolutely do not. Some drivers leave the doors open until a runner reaches them and then close them in his face. Some drivers shut the door as soon as they are opened; many of us have had to free an old woman from the clutches of a shut door. Additionally, every Prague commuter knows the uneasy feeling of being on a tram with a driver with an aggressive bell finger.
Some of a tram’s personality is due to the driver, but not all of it. Some trams are more inviting. Their seats are more comfortable, their standing spaces are more accepting. Others trams seem to hate passengers, and do everything they can to make their ride uncomfortable: unreachable hand grips, seat warmers on full blast, windows that only crack an inch in the summer heat.
My phone buzzes and I let out a little curse. The old woman on the tram across from me raises an eyebrow at my quiet “feck.” If I possessed the interest, I’d lean across the few feet of empty space between us and explain that I was 98.9% certain I’ve just received a gonna be late message.
My fears are realized when I check my phone. I get off the tram, walk the three minutes to the pub. By design, I arrive at 3:59, one minute before our arranged meeting time. I planned this earlier this afternoon, factoring in the three-minute walk so as to arrive on time. Others crochet, sew, or bird watch, I plot out time plans.
I sit at a table on the raised dais in the back of the smokiest pub in Prague and order a beer and a Becherovka. Nothing should be wrong. I am at a pub on a Saturday afternoon, I have a book, a notebook, two pens (primary and backup), two forms of alcohol. There are far worse places and circumstances in which to be forced to wait for five minutes. But still, as I jot notes and sip liquid Christmas, I grumble.
It’s 7 a.m. on February 9th. I am under the covers to my chin; my face is covered with a pillow. The cat is somehow finding comfort sleeping on my neck and shoulder and I don’t have the energy to disrupt her. I know it’s 7 a.m. because my alarm is going off, but for the next few seconds I allow it to play background music to my thoughts.
In fact, there’s a lot I have to do, but lack motivation. There are essays to grade, emails to send, writing to do, cats to (wake and then) feed, a workout to suffer through, elements to brave, an office to go to, exams to invigilate, students to catch cheating, tests to grade, syllabi to make, God awful meetings to attend, and elements to brave again, all before I can come back to my house and put on my pajamas and read my book.
My defiance of the alarm is not simply motivated by task avoidance, it seems it’s also a collective case of winter exhaustion. It’s been dark in Prague for three months. On the other hand, the days are a steel endless gray that allow insight into Eliot Smith lyrics. Mother Nature has clearly been on a mission to beat us into submission with her weather. An alternating course of bitter cold, snow, rain, freezing rain, hail, sleet, and wind that burns my face makes me wonder if teachers are needed in Hawaii.
Additionally, it’s meeting season at the university, which means that I get to hear the apocalyptic doom that is befalling the university. It’s the same every year, but this year I am working in three departments, so I get to hear it three times.
The dog is Doberman in breed and standing in my doorway. He seems good-natured, but he and my cat are looking at each other in the animal kingdom’s version of Are you talking to me?
I am standing in between them in my foyer, holding a bag of trash which moments before I ducked back in to my flat to pick up after opening the door. Since I thought I only had to worry about keeping one animal in my flat, I neglected to worry about keeping another animal out of my flat. But here he is now and all I can think to say is “Hello.”
Growing up in the middle of forests and spending 84% of my childhood in those forests, I saw a lot of animals. Since I grew up in Pennsylvania I wasn’t really concerned about these animals hurting or eating me. There were lots of squirrels, deer, and birds. There was the occasional fox, and the air was often bent with the oddly-pleasant odor of a far away skunk in distress. When we went fishing we might catch a glimpse of an otter, beaver, or a snake.
But if you are not used to it, nothing really prepares you for an unexpected encounter with an animal. So while the Tapetum Lucidum of many deer has glowed in my headlights, I was totally awestruck coming face to face with a massive buck hanging out on my porch one night. Upon my arrival, he bolted and, after three huge bounds, was in the woods across the street. Bats were a common sight on a summer evening, fluttering around in their chaotic manner on the periphery of the treeline. But I will never forget the hilarious terror of the night my dad and I using couch cushion shields and broomstick jousting spears to scare one out of the house.
I am reading a humorous travel narrative about Machu Picchu. I needed something lighthearted, what with the present state of the globe. I can’t turn the news on without wanting to move to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, and even sites which used to represent fun, like Facebook and Twitter, are now rife with bitter political battles.
And indeed, the book is making me giggle. The writer has a sense of humor I relate to. And if that’s not enough, on every third page, I get to say the word “Picchu.”
You may have just said it aloud to see what all the humorous hoopla is about. But if you’re Czech, you know why this is funny.
Czechs pronounce that site in Peru like this: Mah-choo Peek-choo. If you are from my native land, you pronounce it: Mah-choo Pee-choo. And this is where the giggling starts, because if you say Pea-chew, you are saying an extremely vulgar word for a woman’s main reproductive organ or, as it happens, an extraordinarily appropriate term for the current President of the United States.
My giggles are no doubt adolescent, but they are also nostalgic.