Archive for March, 2017

The Saboteur

The Saboteur Strikes Again

Contestant #1 and I gave each other the once over, the way you do when comparing a person in reality to their dating profile pictures. She appeared roughly as she did in her photo, but neglected to add a photo which accentuated her rear end, which could be used to evacuate refugees during a natural disaster. This was no problem for me, as I’ve long agreed with the Czech motto “Holka bez prdele je jak týden bez neděle,” or “a woman without an ass is like a week without a Sunday.”

We arranged to meet in Palackého náměstí, and greeted each other at the statue of František Palacký, father of the nation, and whose likeness in concrete above us resembles Frankenstein’s monster. I gazed wistfully across the square, wondering if it would be rude to run away and hole up at my local pub. I quelled my panic button and we headed to a nearby café.

She was fine. She was fine. She. Was. Fine. We chatted about the innocuous things that you chat about on a first date with a virtual stranger (work sucks, hobbies, of course I cook!). After the basics are done, we struggled to maintain conversational altitude. I think just for something to say, I ordered a second glass of wine and noted the hint of judgment on her face.

Online, she was lovely, funny, witty. I looked forward to reading her emails and I put creative thought into my responses. I wanted to be funny and interesting, and maybe that’s the whole problem: our online interactions were timed, planned, and well-worded.

In person she wasn’t as witty as I had thought she’d be. She was sweet, but it was in that darling way you might imagine a mouse to be if it could order drinks. Despite all that she offered as a potential partner (sense of humor, obvious intelligence) she just didn’t do it for me.

Anyone who has entered the exciting world of online dating can tell you that no matter the sparks that fly in your emails and IMs, and no matter the seemingly high level of compatibility, after about 5 minutes of meeting face to face, you categorize the date as a yes, a we’ll see, a no, or a not if I were starving and you had a can of tuna in your underpants. I didn’t see anything romantic happening between Contestant #1 and I, but what if she didn’t agree. Paranoia took hold of me as did a hypothetical and lengthy breakup process.

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The Stolen Hour

I wake up on this bright Sunday morning. I am mildly hungover, the cat has made a bed of my throat. I look at my alarm clock: 8 a.m. Not bad. It’s Sunday, after all. I remember that I set my alarm for 9 a.m. I’ll doze back off under my feline afghan.

When my tablet alarm goes off two milliseconds later, the cat sleeping on my throat is sent into a frenzy of claws and teeth. I turn off the alarm, the tablet clock reads 9 a.m. I realize with dawning horror what’s going on.

There is nothing quite so miserable as getting an hour of your Sunday torn away from you like a beloved limb. And learning that what you thought was 8 o’clock is actually 9 o’clock is an unpleasantness up there with getting garroted awake by a cat.

There has been a lot of debate regarding daylight savings time. Some think it’s an absolute joke, unnecessary, and that people who don’t share these opinions are, in parlance of the Facebook Scholars, “sheep.” Most of the rest of us just grumble when it happens and remind everyone in sight to remember to do something to their clocks.

I could care less. Well, normally I could care less.

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Every month or so, the screw that holds together the three pieces that make up the filter on my beloved French press becomes loose, which causes them to disband. The first time this happened I thought my French press was dead and subsequently moped for hours.

Before I could fully despair, my friend Lee put it back together with a very simple procedure which involved spinning the screw to the right and the nut to the left. Astounding.

The second time it happened, I felt prepared. I knew how to fix it. But though I tried, I could not get the screw to tighten. Finally, through pure luck, I got the three parts to stay together as a team.

The third time, I watched a video, which looked as simple as Lee had made it look, but only succeeded in making me feel incredibly dumb. Then, having studied in my father’s school of dealing with things that don’t work immediately, I boiled to a near tantrum of illegal proportions. So many times growing up I saw my dad try to put together something (a ceiling fan, a coat rack, toys) which inevitably propelled him into a fury that would cause the neighbors to fear lives had been lost.

Similarly, I embarked upon a frustration that danced along the treeline of meltdown temper tantrum. I believe that my vision blurred with anger, or extremely dangerously high blood pressure.

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Two by Two by You

Sometimes, when the students want to avoid work, they’ll ask me questions they know to be my catnip. Tell us a funny story about your cat? What is your new book about? What drives you crazy about Czech people?

I often take the bait and comply, knowing full well what I am doing. Though my loquaciousness sometimes gets on my own nerves, I enjoy breaking ranks and telling a story. Sometimes a funny story eases a tense mood in the room or relaxes stressed and nervous students before a late afternoon exam. There are times when a travel tale is a better plan than obsessive adherence to a lesson plan.

It’s when I tell a story in class that I remember some of my favorite old teachers who were great story tellers. Mr. Feighan used to regale us with hilarious tales of his “idiot son, Keith.” Mr. Scott knew hundreds of fascinating anecdotes, and a catalog of details about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In particular, though, there was Jerome J. Bennett. Mr. Bennett was a freshman English teacher at St. Joe’s Prep, known in anecdotes as “GI Jerry” but always referred to as Mr. Bennett whenever there was the slightest chance he was nearby. A former demolitions expert in the U.S. army, Mr. Bennett commanded a great deal of respect. He was a real man’s man, tough, straightforward, and took exactly no nonsense from the boys in his class. If you pissed him off, he let you know immediately, aggressively, and terrifyingly, which he’d been doing since the mid-1960s, when he’d taught my dad freshman English.

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Tech Issues

My laptop is running high (emitting a loud machine sound, not jogging after smoking a spliff) so I carry it into the office and embark upon my original plan, which involves sitting on the couch with a good book.

As I sink into Remains of the Day (read it!), my tablet blings. Like you, I have become an interpreter of the blings, beeps, bongs, and buzzes that come from my devices. This one means a Facebook message.

For a few moments, I am successful at ignoring its lusty call and remain in the story of Stevens and Miss Kenton. However, I eventually do what we all knew I’d do and check it. Before I can, my phone buzzes, delivering the same message.

The message is from a friend who wants to know if I can come to an event she is putting on. At once, I realize I have forgotten to respond and wince under this new, acute pressure to be socially responsible. And then I groan, for I have made the classic (in this case, ‘classic’ is defined as going back as far as four years) mistake of clicking on her message rather than previewing it. Subsequently, I have rendered her message as seen, which means she now knows I have seen the message, in turn I now have to deal with this sooner rather than later. I kick myself. I could have just gone back to my book, but now I have to craft a response, one that not only says ‘no,’ but one that conveys an element of sadness or frustration with my inability to attend.

I cast a forlorn look at my book.

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A wonderful weekly custom I have taken up is my Friday night swim. I meet one of my best friends at the pool, we swim for half an hour, steam room for ten minutes, and then wander the hundred yards to the nearest bar, which happens to be my local. We while away a Friday night with loose muscles and a growing buzz.

Tonight, I am a bit less mellow. A woman is telling me that I do not have enough points on my card to get into the pool. The card is a “three month” card, which might lead one to think that it gains one entrance to a pool (or a gym or a club) for three months, but it’s not. This “three month” card only means it’s valid for three months. Each three month card has 283 points, and during each visit one is charged 52 points for 40 minutes and 63 points for 50 minutes. Since I am never there longer than 45 minutes or so, the point system above that does not apply.

Now, if you are prone to doing math in your head, go ahead and start working 52 and 63 into 283 and see how well it fits. If I visit five times and stay beneath the 40 minutes, I am charged 260 points out of a possible 283. If I visit four times at under 50 minutes, I get charged 252 points out of a possible 283. If the five visits break down into three visits of 40 minutes and two visits of 50 minutes, then it’s 282 points.

But the real problem is that tonight I have 37 remaining points that I am not allowed to use. I make the mistake of asking if I can just pay the remaining 15 points in Koruna, but if you have ever been in the Czech Republic, you know that this sensible manner of handling this situation is not only out of the question, it is frankly laughable.

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The Catfather

Do Not Displease the Catfather

I’ve decided to write at the kitchen table today. I read once that artists and writers are supposed to change things up like that to give a different perspective. Also, I’m almost hungry, and don’t want to be too far from my fridge when the pangs come. Those are my ostensible reasons.

The real reason is that my cat has fallen asleep on my office chair and she’s been in a grumpy mood this morning. If you have a cat who leans towards the moody, you know the ramifications of waking it up.

In my house, waking the B Monster results in a loud argument right off the bat. Then I pretend to concentrate on writing but really I unsuccessfully try to keep her in my periphery, because payback is coming. She circles beneath my chair toying with me the way a reef shark might a plane crash survivor floating on an inner tube. Then, after perhaps I’ve drifted into a false sense of security and started looking at the Internet, she strikes, leaving me with a couple of puncture holes in my arm or calf. Then she scurries off under the couch, dropping into a long nap brought on by exacting vengeance.

Today, as quiet as I try to be, an alarm I set and forgot to turn off begins bleeping away from my tablet. By the time I get to it, the cat is looking at me with sleepy eyes and a pissed off look. I decide to act that everything is normal, so I get back to work and keep at bay thoughts of my future chicken salad sandwich. A while later the cat leaps up onto the kitchen table and stands on my notes. I gently pick her up and release her to the wilds of my flat, a place she goes with a chirp.

It’s the chirp I don’t like. It’s ominous.

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President Snape

I’m watching Harry Potter and I can’t help thinking of Donald Trump. Severus Snape. We know him and love him. Correction: We know him and ended up loving him. Mean-spirited bastard, jealous, petty, and carrier of a chip on his shoulder that should have made him a hunchback.

Oh, he had small moments of kindness. He helped Harry when it the sly Professor Quirrell tried to harm him during the Quidditch match. And when he did, I raised an eyebrow and went “Hm…OK.”

But the thing about Snape is that I wanted to like him. He was a flawed character with baggage, pain, and lots of issues. A past of mockery, unrequited love, mistakes. If you take away the wizardry school and the ability to see memories, lots of us could kind of relate. But we want characters to do good, to redeem themselves, and come out on the positive side.

But boy did he blow it. When Snape killed Dumbledore, I thought: oh you son-of-a-bitch; you’re going down hard. And, like most of you, I suffered through the dark period of a Snape Hogwarts. We only end up really loving Snape when we realize that all along he was a good guy. He was not only on the good side, but taking a huge brunt of hate from the wizard world for killing Dumbledore and being Voldemort’s puppet. As Harry himself said it, “he was the bravest man I ever knew.”

I know it’s a reach to compare Donald Trump to Severus Snape, but I’m going to do it anyway. President Trump has consistently drawn ire and hatred from an enormous variety of the people he ostensibly claims to lead and represent. In many people’s view, he has made move after move to incite hate, fear, and disbelief. He’s mocked disabled people, veterans, he’s made massively disrespectful comments towards women, Mexicans, and Muslims. Every time he speaks, I think that there’s no way he actually feels this way! It’s impossible. The first month and a half of his presidency has been marked by one Draconian executive order after the other, attempts to gag governmental agencies and news outlets that disagree with him, and ordering the ban of refugees from essentially Muslim countries

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Development of a Selfie Face

I am in class. Since I have just given out a task to fulfill, I am naturally running around the room and begging people to put their phones away. In the middle of the room, one girl who resides at 9.5 or 10 on a physically attractiveness scale is looking into her phone. I guess that she is using it as a mirror, since that is one of the dozens of functions a phone can perform these days.

She, evidently spurred on by the intoxicating effects of her own unfathomable beauty, is unable to resist putting on a set of duck lips, cocking her head slightly to the side, and raising an eyebrow in practiced (and undeniable) sexiness. And then it occurs to me: she is preparing to take a selfie (future title on Instagram: Class is SO Boring!).

I catch her eye and make a face which instantly causes her to deflate her duck lips, relevel her eyebrows, and stare at the task in baffled horror.

She put on her Selfie Face. I’m on the tram when the significance of that occurs to me. I lean back and look into my increasingly declining memory. I have seen a lot of Selfie Faces. We all have. Go on Facebook, Tinder, or Instagram and you see a lot of people who have not only just put on their Selfie Face, but have been working on it for years.

Women seem to slightly cock their head and smirk, or take a full on shot of piercing eyes. Men seem intent on conveying the image of a rugged tough guy or a hipstery intellectual. Both sexes have a tendency to make the picture appear as casual or whimsical as possible. The photographic equivalent of ‘oops, didn’t hear you come in.’

I have also seen people put on Selfie Faces. At a park with a friend last weekend, I watched her snap a few selfies. Before each one she put on her Selfie Face, which consisted of a big smile, a 25 degree head-cock, a sharpening of the eyes. Another friend enacts a sideways head turn and a bright smile in the roughly 102,938 pictures she appears in each week on Facebook.

And this all makes sense! A selfie face allows you, as both the photographed and the photographer, to have much more control over what people see in a picture of you. Obviously you are going to take advantage of that by accentuating what you consider to be your best facial feature(s) and masking what you believe to be your worst feature(s), all while perpetuating whatever image you want to go along with it.

So, you can replace that dork with the long chin, the bad patch of skin, the too-close eyes you got from your mom with a sexily-bespectacled brainy hot girl replete with full duck lips and cute arched eyebrow, and while accentuating the naturally curly hair that plagues you in the morning, but looks hot when twirled the right way and conveying just how laid-back and low maintenance you are. We can be the brooding artist, the coquettish cutie, the brawny reader.

It’s a while new world of imagery.

I have always hated cameras and the photographic evidence suggests that the feeling is absolutely mutual. Each photographic carnation of my face silently scream get that fucking camera off of me! That is not to say that I don’t try to portray my ideal physical self in photographs, as limited as those possibilities are. I raise the eyebrow to convey relaxed and easygoing, I smile halfway to avoid giving my famous sun-in-the-eyes squint that has plagued me since my very first school picture.

But I have never been one for the selfies.

Until today, when, in the interests of experimentation, I devote my morning to developing my Selfie Face.

I decide to start with how I normally take selfies and just go from there depending on analysis.

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