Archive for December, 2017

A Very Bigfoot Christmas

This Christmas I decided to stay in Prague. While I normally go home for Christmas, I had already headed back in September for a wedding and decided that I needed to relax this holiday season.

Still, there were both advantages and disadvantages. Primary amongst the disadvantages was that I wouldn’t be with family. Though my family is rather nutty, they are my kind of nutty and therefore we have a blast during the holiday, clips of which could be shown on the Charles Manson Yuletide Jamboree.

Other disadvantages were no feasts and no tapping into the stateside Christmas spirit. The feasts were a big downside. My grandmother, mother, and aunts provide meals of such epic proportions that it leaves me with the mobility of Jabba the Hutt and renders my system in shock for days. It also takes me a month to relearn how to live on a non-carb, non-booze diet and typically leaves me bloated and with a number of minor digestive conditions that have sprung themselves upon me in my middle years. Missing out on all of it was a bit depressing.

Not being able to tap into the stateside Christmas spirit was a downer too. Surely it’s superficial and kitschy, but I love the sights and sounds of Christmas in the U.S. The lights on the houses, the music in the shops, even the bustling malls. I’d miss my pre-Christmas Barnes and Noble visit, watching bad Christmas flicks with my sister, and a night out with my siblings at the local pub. All traditions in our family.

Additionally, not going home for Christmas meant avoiding combat in this awful war on Christmas. I am one of the lucky ones who has never come to harm in this terrible conflict. Growing up, my mother answered the phone during the holidays with “Merry Happy!” thus covering our demographic’s bases. While I grew up with a great deal of Jewish people, Christians, and Orthodox Greeks and Russians, nobody really seemed to have a problem with delivering an appropriate holiday greeting. You see, it turns out that if you just put a wee bit of thought into something and then wish someone a pleasant holiday season, then everyone is happy. But shh, don’t tell anyone. It seems to me that anyone exploiting Christmas to make it a religious or social issue should be flogged, sort of like if someone claimed the president was from another country in order to damage his….oh, nevermind. Anyway, I wish some people had gotten (five) heel spur deferments for this particular war.

In any event, if Christmas is in trouble, well damn it, it needs my help. I decided to save Christmas by making my own Christmas! I started by buying all the fixings to make Christmas Eve meatballs ala Grandmom, about five different alcohols, and enough cookies to give Oregon diabetes. Then I cooked all day while Burke and I watched a number of Christmas classics. When the classics were done, we moved on to the mediocre and decent inhabitants of the Christmas movie genre. And when they were done, we watched the worst Christmas movies in history. This sentence is still accurate if you take out the word Christmas.

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The Christmas Look

Having spent the previous three days watching every Christmas movie that television offers, I am becoming something of an expert on Christmas films. In particular, I’m becoming an expert on bad cable Christmas movies.

It becomes clear very quickly that these movies are formulaic. The protagonist is often an overworked professional who has lost touch with their roots, an optimistic, yet single and perhaps lonely young woman, or royalty. Any number of plot points can befall them. Sometimes they’ll need to go undercover to fulfill a Christmassy goal and other times they might need to save a local landmark or mom and pop shop in a small country town.

Though the variables are many, one thing that happens in all of these Christmas (and all Christmas movies, for that matter) is that the main character gives The Christmas Look. I think you know what I mean. From George Bailey to Clark Griswold to the Prince of Snow Falls (ugh). Everyone gives The Christmas Look at some point.

Below is a story called The Christmas Look and is about one dude’s Christmas wishes during one particular holiday season. This story is in my most e-book recent collection of stories Christmitzvah and Other Stories of Holiday Angst. So if you like it, please feel free to follow the link on my homepage and buy a copy on Amazon for $2.99. It’s also available on Smashwords and Lulu. If you don’t like it, well I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy holidays anyway. Jerk.

The Christmas Look

On Christmas Eve my family follows a very routine routine. In the morning we visit a place called Peddler’s Village for shopping and breakfast, then we go to my grandmother’s house. There, we feast, drink, talk to family, or, in actuality, we feast, drink because of family, and talk about other family. Then we go to a party of some old family friends. Certainly there have been some variations in this schedule at times, but this is how it usually goes. It’s all very Christmassy, like something you’d expect to see in a heartwarming Christmas movie. The feel good Christmas flick depicts many of these holiday routines.

The evening before this Christmas Eve, my sister and I held something of a makeshift holiday movie festival in our parents’ living room. We wrapped gifts, drank wine, and ran these movies in the background. Each time one ended, we went back to Lord Netflix and started another. It’s not hard to see that Christmas movies are largely the same. The way action movies and romantic comedies follow a set scheme, so do Christmas movies. We watched Christmas movies about family, about how giving is better than getting, about how it’s Christmas and someone is really, really sad, but would end up really, really happy, about how love blooms at Christmas, about how the true meaning of Christmas is [enter abstract noun, e.g. love, faith, generosity here], about how Christmas led to salvation, dogs make Christmas better because, I gathered, they are angels, and, depending on the religious-political tone of the movie you’ve stumbled upon, Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. So we watched young actress after young actor after grizzled old wretch engage in some holiday hijinkery until they gave the Christmas Look and then become very happy. It made us very sentimental and nostalgic for something that we had only experienced vicariously in the movies.

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December Stuff

Here’s some stuff I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to.

The last three books I’ve read were nonfiction. Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of speeches, forwards to books, and dedications to other writers, artists, and musicians. If you are an artist and need a serious boost to your morale, buy this book. Gaiman is so dedicated to stories and writing that he makes me want to run to my desk.

Ota Pavel’s book How I Came to Know Fish is a charming, very sad, memoir of growing up in a small town in Czechoslovakia. Read this book if you need to cry, but just can’t get there. It should be mentioned that he wrote this book in an insane asylum. The Best American Travel Writing (2015) is hit or miss. There are some serious page turners in this book,super interesting travelogues. And then there are some that make you cringe for the state of American travel writing if these represent the best and others that made me long for the excitement of shoe shopping.

I have been watching Master of None, Wolf Hall, and stuff about spies. Master of None is a Netflix series that is about a single struggling actor. It is very real in the way that the romantic comedy Enough Said was real. The dialogue does not represent the wittiest words ever spoken, but they are as real as they can get. Very understated, believable, and relatable. You get the feeling that these are normal people in normal situations. And I would like to go out drinking with them all. Wolf Hall is a miniseries about Henry VIII and the rise of Thomas Cromwell. It makes you realize how dark it was all the time in the mid-1500s. Mark Rylance is a badass. I read the spy novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the summer and a friend gave me the BBC miniseries featuring Alec Guinness for my birthday. Do yourself a favor: stay in one Friday night and watch this from beginning to end. Awesome.

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People Who Don’t Give a Shit

On Friday I went for a haircut. About 98% of my Prague haircuts have taken place at this location. Though it’s just a dinky little place in the metro station, it’s cheap and good. The hairdresser always speaks to me in Czech, but slowly, and she deals patiently with my backwards Yoda-like syntax and my pronunciation assaults on her language. Unbelievably, she remembers right where we left off with our last conversation.

Still, aside from all of these very positive things, they ensured my everlasting loyalty a few years ago during a heatwave in Prague. As I am in possession of a system that overheats as fast as a cheap computer, heatwaves are miserable for me. When I went to get my haircut, the hairdresser not only didn’t complain about how much I was sweating, but also used the cold setting on their hairdryer to cool me down. When she offered and gave me a free cold head bath I decided that this place was always going to have me as a patron and that this person was going into my will. She would have been enraptured by this had I been able to explain that in Czech, along with the importance of a Steve Carlton rookie card.

There was one man waiting when I arrived this Friday. He was large and had a great big mop of gray hair. He looked a bit nuts and he stared at me angrily, and offered an incongruously pleasant “Dobry den.” I responded and sat down with my book. My hairdresser swept up the previous client’s remaining protein filaments and this dude sat.

The Hippocratic Oath requires doctors to always pursue health and, I gather, adopt an illegible scrawl. Politicians, ambassadors, and presidents take an oath before taking office. Though I am pretty sure that the whole part about upholding the constitution blew right over the eight-second attention span of the Pol Pot wannabe who currently naps in the Oval Office, but still, there’s an oath. Even we English teachers take an oath before we are allowed to wield verbs and nouns to the general public. I’d tell you, but it’s secret and the grammar is too confusing, and, ironically, there’s a typo in it.

I have no idea what kind of a credo barbers have to take before being allowed to cut another person’s hair, but it’s clear they have one. I’m guessing the oath involves always having a jar of blue sanitation water on hand, as well as a stack of magazines from the 1980s. It must outline having to follow a strict line of ethics, disallowing the barber from taking out personal revenge on a person’s head. Now I know that you are remembering a hideous haircut, perhaps a woman with spiked cobalt blue highlights and you’re wondering “Wait. If there’s an oath, that means this person requested that on purpose?”

The answer is yes. Let it sink in. OK, let’s go on.

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Podcast Workout Guy

I have been working out regularly (at least 4 times a week) for three years now. And as much as I never thought I would, I have become a Workout Guy.

OK, not really. From what I gather, real Workout Guys (and Girls) are far larger or more cut than I am. They speak in terminology that leaves me more confused than the jargon I suffered at a recent phonetics conference. But mostly, real Workout People have the ability to do a gazillion pull-ups and smash beer cans with a minor selection of fingers.

No, I mean that I have gotten into working out. I used to say that I was into working out, but I wasn’t. It was just a reaction to justify the five hours a week I spent doing it. Yeah, I love working out. No I didn’t. That was a lie. The same lie I would occasionally tell about meditation and Avante-garde jazz. Oh I am into meditation. No. I closed my eyes three times a week and fantasized about slipping certain students onto the rack, I don’t think the Dalai Lama is handing me any awards anytime soon.

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Christmitzvah and other Stories of Holiday Angst

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Captain Specific

Last week, I was walking into my local metro station when a guy in front of me came to my attention. He wasn’t physically extraordinary in any way. But he is evidently one of those people who believe that listening to music in public without the aid of earphones was an acceptable approach to personal entertainment. This, of course, made his entertainment far more public than personal, and, as it were, his taste in music was not unlike that of a fourteen year old club enthusiast.

Naturally, I disliked him, or what I knew about it. I glared into his back as we both headed down the steps into the metro. His pop music ricocheted into the metro hall. And while I stared at him and processed unpleasant thoughts, he tripped and fell down the last few steps.

Let me just say for the record that I did not want this man to fall down the steps. I only stared at his back with intense irritation until he did so, in an eerily timely manner. It should also be mentioned that I did not touch this man. What I did do was jog down the steps and ask him if he was all right. He was. His phone was in pieces and I helped him gather them.

I was trying to figure out if I had somehow caused this man to fall down the steps. I would never want someone to get hurt. Well, to be fair, I do have a mental list of people I wish bad things for, but that list is extraordinarily specific, amounting to one person. And anyway, this person doesn’t live anywhere near me. But I had been looking at the guy when he took a tumble. It was creepy.

When the train came I ran a few dozen yards down the platform so I wouldn’t be on the same car as this man. I had no idea what was going on, but I wasn’t taking any chances. If I’d sent the guy down some steps with some bad thoughts, who knew what could happen if I got on a train with him? I was mildly freaked out until I got to school, at which time my job, students, and stresses took over my brain and I forgot about him.

Two days later, a teen cut me off heading into another metro. I grumbled a bit, which intensified when I realized he was on a scooter. When he reached the edge of the steps, he swung it up into his hands, narrowly missing an old man. I stared at the back of this guy, his low-crotched sweatpants, and I thought: “what a dick.” It’s then, of course, that he spilled down the remaining steps and sprawled out on the floor. Again, I was stunned. Again, the old man and I rushed down the steps to ensure his preservation.

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The Christmas Tram

Last night after planning a lesson, I walked out of the school around 5:30 p.m. into the pitch black. As the building and tram depot are a bit off the main drag, it can be rather dark there on a mid-December evening. So when something caught my eye as bright and incandescent, I instantly took notice.

Now, it would be fair to say that my mood fit the season. It’s dark and it’s cold, the stresses at the university are so that they peak around this time of year. It’s probably the same as your work. It’s as though our companies want to squeeze every last drop of hope out of us before we have a chance to relax at Christmas, as if they were vacation days that didn’t roll over.

Long hours combined with a recent weekend conference and trying to finalize an e-book have made the last couple of weeks so stressful that I strive for irritability. I think my last good mood was when I watched two old ladies fight over a loaf of bread at the market. (Hell hath no fury like an old woman who thinks she’s getting jilted out of bread…)

So I have been holding on until Christmas. I suppose I have done so since I was young, even though it used to be in tense anticipation of Santa’s arrival and subsequent spoiling of me with GI Joes and chemical experiments that would dye the library desk blue. Though the excitement of Christmas is obviously not the same as it was when I was a kid, it’s still pretty sweet. There’s a day in the middle of the harsh winter where your responsibilities are put by the wayside and you are required to not do anything but eat, drink, and forget about work. This is a holiday I can get behind.

Enter the Christmas tram. The Christmas tram is one of the newer trams, long and sleek; the interior is lifeless, cold, the transportational manifestation of bureaucracy. But today the tram’s entire length is topped with a wave of Christmas lights. They’re the white kind, I guess so as not to cause other drivers to go into epileptic fits. I wait at the stop with the others, who are all as gray-faced and glum as I am. After the driver dusts off his seat and wiggles into his ass-groove, he sits. The Christmas tram pulls up and we get on.

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The Posts of Christmas Past

I was bored one day a couple of months ago. OK, I had a million things to do and I was doing my best to avoid starting. So I found myself on my blog. The first thing I noticed was that I sound like a wannabe sociopath who tries to learn life’s little lessons along the way.

Instead of bemoaning this alarming development, I instead reveled in the probable fact that the FBI knows who I am, which I consider a win. Lemons into lemonade, my friends.

Then I noticed was that I was most sociopathic during the holiday season. That may initially sound incongruous, but I think you all understand.

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year. It’s the winding down of the year, at the end of which there’s a short break to catch your breath. If you’re lucky, you get to experience the joy of giving and getting gifts. You might get to spend time with your family, something which can be very conducive to nostalgia.

Oh, but there’s another side to this all, is there not?

The year is winding down, so work is uber-stressful. It’s almost as if your company tries to completely exploit your stress quotient before you can get a chance to relax, as if they are holiday days that need to be used up before year’s end. The joy of giving gifts also includes the aggravation of buying gifts. This can mean visiting a mall at peak season with a zillion other toboggan-wearing fools. Or it may mean heated arguments with an Amazon customer service representative to reach an agreed-upon definition of “overnight shipping.”

The holidays often mean family. Whenever I am frustrated or stressed by my family, I try to remember that there are thousands for whom the holidays are the loneliest time of the year, and who would kill for the gift of stress from a family. But this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

I am here to help! Normally, I would “help” by sitting in a bar with you and buying you shots. I would do this until you sentimentally sang along with me to a selection of Jukebox music that abruptly ends around 1974. Then I’d bring you home and leave you on your doorstep.

But I can’t do that. So here’s the next best thing. This week I am putting out a short e-book of Christmas stories and essays. They involve the holiday season at airports, on airplanes, with your family, and at malls. There are Christmas sex talks, Christmas food, and the inevitable post-Christmas crash. So instead of drinking with you, I can provide reading material while you drink on your own, which is better. You might even get my voice stuck in your head. In fact, you may never get it out! mwahahahaha.

Anyway, folks. If you are a subscriber to my blog, I will send you this book for free this week. If you like it, I would be beyond thrilled if you would review it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s website. If you are not a subscriber, well then I hate you and we are no longer friends. Nah, actually, you can buy it on Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com for $2.99. Let’s bring in the holiday season together…and with booze.

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