Archive for May, 2017

The Ticked Off Locavore

Gone Shopping in 1957

Whoever put a Tesco Express at the metro station was a genius. It’s got to be the most convenient placement of a shop in my neighborhood. I take the metro everyday and being able to walk upstairs and into a shop right on my way home from work is enormous simple and easy.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. I should go to the other, local shops. I should support local businesses in lieu of a big megastore like Tesco. You’re right, but so do you. A lot of us have foregone patronizing local shops, and for pragmatic reasons, too.

Convenience is a big one. You can get everything on your shopping list at a big local shop – meat, dairy, veggies, kitchen utensils, prophylactics. To get these things at local shops, you probably (hopefully) have to visit five different shops. And if your butcher has condoms in his window, do not buy meat from him.

In the Czech Republic, there are other factors that lead to choosing a chain store over a local one. Tesco takes credit cards and has set opening hours. This isn’t always so with local Czech places. Many don’t accept credit cards. And anyone who has tried to buy a loaf of bread from a local shop on a Saturday afternoon (or a Thursday, Tuesday, or Monday afternoon or evening) has been frustrated by the rhymeless and reasonless operating times. A Czech shop’s Saturday hours may be from 10:30-13:45. That is, if they want. You might show up at 12:15 to find that they are ‘closed for repairs.’ So it’s also about some level of reliability.

A Czech cashier is the human barometer by which misery is measured. They are some of the grumbliest, more unpleasant people in the city. I understand to some degree. Their job might not offer huge satisfaction or personal reward, the money probably isn’t great, and people can be rude. So I get it. Nevertheless, I smile, I speak Czech as well as I can, and I am always polite.

If you are a non-fluent speaker of Czech (or any language really) you know that you are sometimes treated well by your interlocutor and sometimes not. Czechs are often seriously chuffed that a foreigner is stumbling through the hačeks and declensions of their particular linguistic minefield. This Czech interlocutor often tries to help said foreigner by speaking slower, offering correction, being patient.

Others are not so kind. They speak very quickly, build complex backwards constructions meant to confuse, and lace their discourse with insults. This frustrates the hell out of me for three reasons. 1. I am fluent enough to know I am being mocked, 2. I possess the language to call his mother a dog-fucking slut, but 3. I don’t have the lexical range, the nuance, or the eloquence of language to be able to justify doing 2 with examples from 1. So I grit my teeth and leave with my linguistic tail between my legs.

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The Possum

In the middle of the room of testing students, a hand goes up. I approach. I know the guy from my Tuesday morning class. He’s is a friendly guy, but my brain rolls its eyes.

Two years ago, he took it upon himself to place himself in a higher level of English class. This would be fine is he was determined and hard working, but he’s not. So instead of studying in a class for intermediate students, which is the level he tested into, he demanded that he go to an advanced class. And for the last two years, he has mumbled a hybrid of proto-Swedish and Khuzdul into his phone screen.

When he forgoes this linguistic mix, we engage in a chess match of possum: he stares at me or the book, I wait. We do this until someone else gets bored enough to answer.

In tests is his time to come to life in the form of questions.

“Yes, hello,” I say to him.

“How long we have for the test?”

“What does it say on the board?” I point to the only 15 symbols in the middle of the board:

Test 15:30-16:30

Possum.

“Can you see?” I ask this genuinely.

Possum.

“How long did you have in the tests in the other three semesters?”

Possum.

“An hour. You have an hour.”

“Thank you.”

Every student has a testing strategy. For many this entails doing homework, studying, several days of review. Others try to cram the entire language into their hippocampus the night before the exam. Others try out their spy licks by trying to cheat their way through the exam. And some ask questions.

I don’t understand the strategy fully, but it seems halfway between trying to trick an invigilator into giving up an answer or trying to annoy them into giving up an answer. I do know that the strategy starts with an innocuous query, such as asking about the length of time for the test.

I am on alert.

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What Have you Done for me Lately?

If there is one thing activity that academia excels at, it’s making things more complex. Nothing can be done simply when it comes to universities. Additionally, things that are done simply are often changed to include more complications and complexity.

In this slant, I am undertaking one of the zillions of aggravating administrative tasks that have been bestowed upon me. It’s part of the re-accreditation process to prove the width and breadth of the genius of the faculty’s publication history. This means writing out a detailed bibliography of your most recent publications, including papers, essays, chapters, and books and sending it to our department head for his perusal. It’s essentially a lot of jumping through hoops in the academia version of what have you done for me lately?

In my case, the glaring problem is that the answer to that question is not much at all. I get published from time to time, but the publications are mostly “non-academic.” I have been co-writer on one paper in the field of phonetics. Otherwise, I have been the sole writer of an ESL-focused newspaper articles and a series of humor-based essays, the focus ranging from travel, dating and relationships, to memoir. In any case, none of these categories fall under what the university considers “academic.” I don’t think a memoir of how I was a twelve-year-old Peeping Tom is going to garner the institution any academic integrity.

In the interests of saving time and my sanity, I have attempted to circumvent the situation by telling this to my head of department, but he’s asked for a list of my publications anyway. Everything, he suggested. When re-accreditation is on the line, academics get rabid. I maintain that it will all be a waste of time, but nevertheless I tidy my list, attach it to an email in horrendous Czech, hit send, and make lunch. When I return to my computer I find that the head of department has answered my email. If he is impressed at all by my literary accomplishments, he hides it well. In the first place the format is all wrong, so I have to redo that. Secondly, for something to be considered an “academic” publication it has to fall into one of the subjects at the university.

I wonder if I can readjust the description of a memoir on being a Peeping Tom to fit into Psychology of Pedagogy. Or maybe I can propose that a humor essay on difficulty readjusting to my native country after being abroad into International Relations. I don’t think the university will go for it. And, at my joking suggestion that we try, this position is vociferously supported.

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Stages of a Prd

Truth

I am in class. Presently, my legs are twisted into a corkscrew, my hands pressing down on the back of a chair with enough pressure to snap it. I was speaking a second ago, but I have since stopped so that I could focus every molecule of my being into one act. Or non-act.

All eyes are on me, which just exacerbates my discomfort. They are eyeing me as if I’d done something odd, like suspiciously and abruptly stop speaking in the mid-sentence.

As each teacher understands, your body sometimes has to perform a function when you are in class. Sometimes this is as easily solvable as setting a long task and stepping off to the John. Other times you understand that what has to happen is going to take longer, but it’s OK because it’s not urgent. Other, more unfortunate, times you understand that what has to happen is desperately trying to happen right at that moment.

That’s when you enter DEFCON.

DEFCON 5 marks the lowest level of readiness for these scenarios. But I started out at DEFCON 4, which was my own fault. This past weekend, though it was the first week of May, Prague refused to respect that fact. It had decided instead to stubbornly hold onto winter. Instead of a warm blue weekend, it was gray, rainy, and cold. So I stayed home and made soup. Friday it was a pot of dark beer chili that I could enter into a county fair. Sunday it was a ham and bean stew and Monday it was a small pot of cabbage soup. It provided the comfort that my stormy soul needed in an extended winter weekend.

Like most people in their forties, I understand my body pretty well. Nine minutes after my morning coffee I am going to be in the bathroom with reading material. Two slices of pepperoni pizza will generate enough heartburn to run the electric in my flat. If I enjoy too many carbohydrates, my intestinal system lays concrete in itself, puts up a Road Closed sign, and is completely shut down for a day or two.

I had spent the weekend ingesting lots of beans, processed meat, beef, cabbage, and beer. Do the math. I prepared for the fallout by taking Alka-Seltzer on Tuesday morning and carrying Tums with me as though they were an Epipen.

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Back to the 90s!

It’s Saturday, I am on Facebook. I have put myself on a strict time limit after I found myself moseying to Facebook anytime my writing got the mildest bit tough or the urge to procrastinate set in. So in order to accomplish things in my life, I only allow myself to Facebook for thirty minutes on Saturday and Sunday. During the week I only post a witticism or a blog, entities without which most of you would quite frankly lose the will to live.

Today as I scan through the pictures and posts of the last week, Burke points out pictures that obviously took place in the 1990s. No doubt the remnants of Throwback Thursday. There are sweatshirts mocking the presidential hopes of (the first) Clinton and tuxedo fashions that won’t be popular again until they appear in vintage shops. There are no mobiles in the photos and not one person is snapping a selfie. The mood is post-pogs and pre-George W. Bush. It is oozing nostalgia for the both of us.

Burke loves all things nineties. Movies (Forest Gump, Cool Runnings), music (Gin Blossoms, Weezer), soundtracks, (Empire Records, Singles), television (Seinfeld, Dawson’s Creek). For her the nineties meant high school, and high school meant a time when she was cool.

“Where are these pictures from?” she asks.

“These are some guys from my high school.”

“Why aren’t you in them?”

I shake my head; I don’t understand the question.

She asks again.

I shrug, physically asking for more input.

These are pictures of the cool kids, an invite list I didn’t exactly make. When it dawns on me that she is under the impression that I was cool in high school, I let out one serious laugh.

One great aspect of Facebook’s Throwback Thursday is that now, 25 years later, I can see what the cool kids were doing on Saturday nights back in high school. My Saturdays were typically spent in my friend Eddie’s basement eating popcorn and watching cable horror flicks or one of those 80s teen comedy flicks. We played a lot of pool and talked about girls as if they were as mysterious and terrifying as the creature stepping out of the black lagoon on the TV.

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Stations of the Poop

 

Sing it Sign

Though everyone on earth poops (though I have had questions about Mick Jagger), carrying around fifteen rolls of toilet paper tells the world that not only are you going to poop, but you have the resources to poop all day long.

Yet it’s also a labor. People know you have fifteen rolls of toilet paper because there’s virtually no way to hide it on your person. You can’t shove fifteen rolls of toilet paper in your pockets or reasonably work them in among the other things you have in your backpack. It’s also bulky and awkward. There seems no way to carry it around so that it doesn’t get in your way.

The fifteen roll pack of toilet paper becomes something of a mytho-religious burden represented by its own stations and container of its own sorrowful mysteries.

I was condemned to carry my lot because I can’t turn down a good deal on toilet paper. I am no slave to bulk discounts; I can walk by barrel-sized jars of capers and bags of apples at just about fertilizer prices without batting an eye. But toilet paper is both something I need every day and something I don’t like buying. It doesn’t provide the same enjoyment as picking out a good steak or a non-dented can of chick peas. I just want to get it over with for as long as possible.

Of course it won’t fit in my backpack or the shopping bag. I tried stuffing it in an empty shopping bag, but it stuck out ludicrously, as if I was carrying a French baguette in a condom. And so, I begin the slow walk home. I drop the 15 roll pack of toilet paper a couple of times, both while attempting to get a better purchase on it. Some huge rolls of toilet paper come with a handle built into them; this is not of those. There’s lots of shifting and contorting.

The only way my toilet paper chore can be worse is if I am seen by a student or an acquaintance. Though this is an irrational worry, would you like to be seen carrying a fifteen roll pack of toilet paper? They know where that toilet paper is going and what it’s going to do once it gets there.

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Labor of Love

It’s May 1st. I am at home, sitting in front of the computer writing this post. I am off from work today, as are many in the Czech Republic. Though I hope not the bartenders at my local.

It’s Labor Day.

Today (only today) I am dressed to fit the mood of Labor Day. If I don’t have to do work, then neither should my body. My level of physical comfort should matched my level of mental comfort. I am in my very best pajamas (most comfortable Phillies shirt, loosest anti-laborious lounge pants). I am showing my body love, for while today is Labor Day, it is also Love Day.

Yeah, Love Day.

On this day in May, it is customary for young couples to smooch beneath a cherry blossom. Tradition has it that a young girl kissed beneath a cherry blossom will stay young all year round. Though I can’t remember whether it also boosts her fertility, I say why not, since almost every holiday custom includes something about increased fertility. Today, Petřín Hill is rife with those making out under blossoms. But since this is Prague and not Kyoto, cherry blossoms aren’t on every corner, so an amendment clause extends the benefit of kissing to any tree in bloom as well as in front of the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, the Czech romantic poet.

Mácha’s poem “Máj” (May) is often cited as the inspirational base for Love Day. (I am not doing any labor today or I would research and cite that claim). It should be mentioned that Mácha died at the age of 25, so if he had lived a little longer he might have rounded out his poem about love with some other poems about the dread of a fakakta relationship, his couch, a good slice of pizza, enjoying prostitution, and the onset of hemorrhoids.

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