Archive for February, 2018

The Real Adventures of Flat Stanley

Stanley doing what Stanley liked to do most

About three months ago, a friend from the Old Country wrote me:

Hey, Kid B is doing this thing called Flat Stanley. Could you help out?

Me: Sure. What does it entail?

FFOC: You take him around to places of interests and you take some pictures. Then you write a little story and send that along some pictures about his “adventures.”

Me: Yeah, sure! Sounds interesting. (I’d been drinking a little) Send him along.

Stanley arrived two weeks later in an envelope. A letter stowed with Stanley informed me of his traumatic past. Stanley was crushed during a horrendous industrial accidental and has henceforth been known as Flat Stanley. I thought it cruel to openly mock a person for his physical impairments; I endeavored to be as hospitable as possible.

My hospitality for some weeks entailed keeping Stanley in his envelope on my bookshelf and periodically casting a guilty glance in his direction and saying: “Aw fucker. I gotta get to that.”

My procrastination was such that I was forced to face the music at one point and write a message to my friend (from the old country).

Me: Hey man, I’ve been busy. Do you mind if I keep Flat Stanley for a few more weeks?

FFOC: No rush and no problem! Take your time!

I breathed a sigh of relief and, like most people who have been granted amnesty after intense procrastination, I procrastinated some more.

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Daily Notes

Date: February 22, 2017 18

Time: 6:21 a.m.

Emotional & Mental Stability (1-10 scale)


3 Positive Affirmations

  1. Most people consistently compliment your hair
  2. Nobody can read your mind
  3. You are not a Republican


3 MITs (most important tasks)

  • Go to meeting
  • Pretend to listen at meeting
  • Don’t kill yourself in/after meeting

3 Daily Goals  

  1. Be nice to people
  2. Show an interest in others (for realz)
  3. Don’t accidentally poke out eyes

Rewards for Goals attained and Tasks Fulfilled

A hotdog

Crib Notes for Navigating Today’s Shit Storm of Human Interaction

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One More

If you are traveling home after midnight on trams, there’s a 97% chance you’ll be at Lazarská at some point. On the night tram schedule, Lazarská seems to be the center of the tram universe. It is also home to a pub that is hidden in plain sight. It’s right on the main road, it even has a sign. And though I have been there a few hundred times, my eyes still scroll past it a couple of times before locking in on it. It’s like trying to see the hidden image in one of those hologram paintings. We call it the Lazarská Joint.

I find myself at the Lazarská Joint in the same situation. It’s always late (often after midnight), so all of the other pubs in the city of Prague have been shut down under the time-obsessive tyranny of dictatorial waiters. I am usually with my buddy L. And despite the fact that the pub I’d been at has closed, we have decided that instead of going home, we just need one more. The Lazarská Joint is the “one more” place.

It’s Tuesday. Heading to the Lazarská Joint ensures that the next day will be awful. I know it. L knows it. But we are too engaged in conversation or having too much fun, or we are simply not willing to give up the ghost of the night to turn it in quite yet. This is around the time L comes out with proverbs like “in for a penny in for a pound” or “might as well be hanged as a sheep for a lamb.” And this is all it takes to talk me into one more, thus rendering my next day an achy period of vast confusion.

But at about 12ish a.m. when we find a table at the Lazarská Joint none of that matters yet.

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Your Various Valentines

There are many people in your life who put up with you and your crap a whole lot. And what better way to show your appreciation than by giving them a gift on the day that truly celebrates love? I’m not talking candy and flowers. They only go so far. What people really want is some actual life currency.

Here are some gift ideas for your various Valentines.

Your favorite hypochondriac – an STD. OK, not really. There’s a hotline through which you can anonymously send a message to a person you may have infected with an STD. It informs them that they should get tested. Though it sounds cruel, just think about how relieved that hypochondriac will be after they realize it’s a prank.

Your Boss – coupons for days and periods during which you will perform tasks you are already being paid to perform. I do this every year. Coupons have included thirty-eight minutes of uninterrupted work, a Facebook-free hour of work, a three-hour period during which I will pretend to be the positive driving force of the office. If she redeems two at once, then I won’t steal any office supplies for ten hours. She loves it. I don’t know how I still have a job.

Your Mom – an ultrasound of her uterus with the title “My First Apartment.” Moms get sentimental on Valentine’s Day.

Your Dad – dinner. This isn’t the gift. The gift is that you will have paid the waiter $50 to nonchalantly ask your dad various questions on his favorite topics, to encourage him to explain points more deeply, and to be massively impressed with his knowledge. Some waiter in Langhorne is going to hear a lot about 20th century genocide this weekend.

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Beware of Dog

My little part of Prague is like a hidden gem. It’s out of the center but close to it, it’s quiet, green, and dotted with places which offer beer to weary travelers. What might be considered drawbacks of my location is that I am in between two hills. One that goes up and one that goes down. Also I have to walk to get anywhere. While some of my friends live (literally) upstairs from a market or a(n again, literal) stone’s throw to a tram stop, I have to walk at least six or seven minutes to get anywhere. I have learned to spin this into a positive direction and look at it as something that has helped me stay fit, heart healthy, and out of motorized scooters and Walmart memes.

The walk to the metro is about twelve minutes. It was during this walk that about a month ago, along a little row of houses across from a nearby cemetery, that I first met the dog. It is a large German shepherd. I also know that he is bad-tempered and that his bark is terrifying. And, while I can’t be certain, I would say that his goal in life is to one day literally scare the shit out of me.

The fence sits on the edge of the sidewalk and because the yard is raised, the dog barked at me the first time from inches away from my face and at a terrible consistency and volume. I made a sound that I will never relate to another human and jumped and reacted in a way that isn’t getting me into war dispatches anytime soon.

The second time he got me I was coming the other direction a few days later. This time he erupted into the left side of my face. I jumped and my heart went into worrying palpitations. I then, admittedly, ran away.

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Their’s an Alpha Linguist

I have long since come to the realization that engaging in a Facebook political debate leads to nothing more than frustrated grumblings and the deletion of former friends.

That said, I couldn’t help myself yesterday. Someone made a disparaging remark about academics and I had to leap to the defense of my friends and colleagues. I laid out a decent thrashing and I felt satisfied. I then worked offline. An hour later I checked Facebook to see how my comment had resonated. And then I saw it.

Their are a number of reasons why this line of reasoning is damaging.

I literally gasped! My trembling fingers fumbled with the keys until I had put my comment into Edit mode, where I fixed it, checked it, rechecked it, and then re-rechecked it before posting it again. I went into my living room to deal with the consequences of my mistake and have cookies.

I work in language as a teacher, writer, and editor. I am fascinated by how language can convey humor, a nuanced joke, a twist or make a rhetorical point. I excitedly draw students’ attention to natural phraseology and ignore their (their!) eye rolls. When a writer uses language to make me laugh, I shake my head in amazed reverence, the way someone might when David Blaine pulls a turducken out of their (their!) purse. Just like lots of people, I get excited by root words and idioms and where they all come from. Language is the material I work with and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have never seen this as something that puts me above others. Not everyone is so concerned with language, and when my mechanic is fixing my brakes or my electrician is rewiring my kitchen, I could give less than the hairy crack of a rat’s ass if they know the difference between they’re, their, and there. As a matter of fact, in life’s daily practicalities being a skilled mechanic or electrician is probably far more useful than being a linguist. Additionally, I think those who lord language above others do so to make themselves feel superior. And I despise Grammatical Nazism.

But I will not lie to you. If your Facebook post has a grammatical mistake, whether it’s between your and you’re, or they’re, their, and there, or some other crime against language, I am putting together a dossier on you.

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Modern Afflictions

I am forty-three years old and therefore in a phase of life when one of my pastimes is noticing how things are different for me now. There are the gray hairs, the mystery aches, the grunts I make when sitting down on or standing up from the couch. There are the thoughts that unwittingly go through my head, which include a whole lot of “when I was young” and the occasional “in my day.” There are more, I won’t bore you with them. That is for another day when I can’t think of anything else to write.

However, of all the “you know you’re getting old” observations, knowing full well that if I’d lived at another time in history I would be on my way out or dead is a pretty big one. If I were born in, say, the year 1000, I would have probably died a few years ago of some sort of pox and been mourned at my funeral by my wife, my six children, and twenty three grandchildren. I’d have probably welcomed death after a lifetime of working in fields, suffering invasions, and dealing with pestilence and tyrannical feudal lords, all while my witty one-liners flew over the heads of the peasant family next door.

While that may have been the lot for one of my (underappreciated comic genius) ancestors, it’s not mine. And while I am very grateful to live in a time and a place where that is not a reality, it’s not like we don’t have physical troubles to suffer. Here are some.

Text Neck

Yes, text neck is exactly what you think it is. You spend all day looking down into a phone and pretty soon your neck and spine decide they’re going to treat you to this generation’s Carpal Tunnel.

Fitbit Wrist

If you are of the Fitbit Brethren, then you understand. One of the features of a Fitbit is that it’s also a watch, but the drawback is that you can’t see the clock unless it’s been activated. You can do this by pushing a button, but if you’re walking (because if you wear a Fitbit, you usually are walking to ensure not disappointing the Lord of 10,000) then you have to turn your wrist towards yourself and hope that it activates from the motion. It sometimes does, it sometimes doesn’t. If it doesn’t then you keep turning your wrist towards yourself in a snapping motion.

Or not. Maybe it’s just me.

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My Second Language Personality

I’m in a pub, having a slivovice in tea to clear out some the head cold demons. I am writing in my notebook and enjoying a quiet night alone. My level of bliss might be higher if the man at the table across from me weren’t constantly engaging me in conversation.

As a second language Czech speaker, chatty strangers are a serious X factor in my content. As a non-fluent speaker, any interaction sets me on edge. I move into a mental space hinged on comprehension and appropriate response. If the speaker picks that up, they may grade their language and patiently give me time to respond. They may correct my mistakes. These are features of a pleasant interaction.

On the other hand, people might speak quickly, and largely ignore my responses. They shake their heads in confusion after I respond, leaving me in a panic about what I’ve just said. This is in part no doubt a byproduct of too many occasions on which I’ve tried to say “shoe” and ended up saying “god, I’d love to see you in my grandmother’s bikini.”

There are also urinal chatters, for whom I believe there is a special place in linguistic etiquette hell. When one is holding their genitals, they should be free of all pressures to communicate reasonably.

Recently I have had two extended conversations with strangers with whom I was sharing a table. One guy shared a table with us at a pub and we spent about ninety minutes chatting about history, books, family, travel, and even tiptoed through the minefield of politics. He was polite, spoke so we could understand, and helped us root out some vocabulary when we needed. The experience was wholly positive and I left feeling both appreciative and good about my Czech.

I met the next guys were – oddly enough – at the same pub. These guys were more challenging as one of them not only wanted to talk politics, but we were not in agreement and he spoke very quickly and demanded responses as such. His friend had a better understanding of what two low-level language speakers can handle and decided that supranational decision making biases within the European Union on the topic of slow migration might be out of our zone of intelligently discussable topics. He spoke more reasonably, and when we moved away from politics, things were pleasant. Again, mostly positive, but exhausting.

Tonight’s conversation goes like this:

Him: “Piss. Haha.” Some more words. “Piss again. I piss.” I think something about trees. “Do you piss?”

Me: “Hm. Interesting.”

Him: (nods head at my response) “Once I pissed on…(says clearly) bad idea. (laughs) I knew one doctor from Egypt.” More exposition. “Hahah. Piss. Whore. Understand?”

Me: “I understand.”

Him: (nods thoughtfully) “Piss. I am learning….” A word I’d have to dislocate my jaw to pronounce. “Shit.”

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