Archive for April, 2019

The Peculiar Personalities of Trams

It’s one of those spring days which are warm or cold depending upon whether or not you’re standing in the sunlight or the shadows. I have somehow managed to secure both, with my head in the bright sun and my butt cooling in the shade. My soon-to-be fellow passengers are mature, with the average age, including me, some teenagers, and a woman with a gaggle of children, resting somewhere in the high 230s.

As the 1 tram approaches the mature passengers halt any conversations and edge towards what they know to be the spots where the doors will open. The tram gets closer and the tension is palpable. Who will get the Class A seats by the door, the ones in the shade? Wrinkly elbows begin to wield and I let them go. Last week I was clipped by a suspiciously well-placed walker to the shin. In any event, I’m still getting used to the personality of the trams out here. And I don’t want to overstep my bounds.

If you spend time riding around on Prague’s transportation system, you learn quickly enough that each tram has something of a personality. More than the metros and far more than the buses (the recognized bores of the transport world), trams have a feel, a personality, and these are fostered by their routes.  

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Story Time

On the Saturday before Easter I was determined to get my flat into order. We have been living here for about two months and there are still boxes and bags laying about. Burke went off to Dresden, and I rolled up my sleeves for a day of work.

And that’s what I did. I hoisted things organized, found cubby holes inside of cubby holes, and slid boxes and backpacks in a not-so-haphazard manner into them. I became friends with our storage unit in the basement, freaked out a little because of its direct resemblance to the setting in a Stephen King story, screamed and did a spider dance when a piece of yarn touched my wrist. Despite these setbacks, I got things done, stacked boxes, brought up a lamp, which I got a bulb for later. I cleaned and rearranged. At the end of the day I read on the bouch in the content pleasure of hard work that is also productive. My felt my more of a flat now than it had been before. I fell asleep with a book on my face at 10:30 on a Saturday night.  

And I have been telling everyone within earshot since then.  

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Alternate Working Life Fantasies

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Three occupational paths: pizza delivery frog, ninja archaeologist, and firetruck.

In today’s alternate working life fantasy, I am a standup comedian podcaster. I wake up at 9, write comedy bits over coffee for two or three hours. In the afternoon I interview big names in entertainment and comedy in the book-lined studio in the basement of my home. Every few months I do a comedy tour. In this fantasy there are no students, I am in charge of my own working destiny, and that work entails being funny and talking to other people.

By the time the fantasy ends (usually as I’m stepping off the tram at my actual job) I am so hypothetically proficient at the work that I wonder how I didn’t go into this line of work. It would have been perfect for me. The gift of gab, the friendliness, the questions, the comedic self-loathing. I have it all!

This isn’t my only alternative working life fantasy, not by a longshot. There’s the bookstore owner one. A quiet, cozy bookstore which somehow brings in huge amounts of money while I lounge in a summer bed reading novel after novel. There’s the folklorist one, in which I am paid by a university to teach about mythology and fairytales. I wear a lot of cardigans in that one. The Saturday Night Live one, the professional Sudoku player one, the wino who has it all figured out one.

I even have a dentist one. My dad is a dentist, a thing whose ramifications I understood quickly as a lad. At least three times a week someone asked me if I too was also going to be a dentist, four times a week someone who knew that my dad was a dentist asked to see my teeth, and five times a week my father would abruptly interrupt any conversation or television show simply to tell any of his spawn in the room not to be a dentist.

Spoiler alert: I did not become a dentist. But that doesn’t mean I don’t include it in my alternative work fantasies. I’m a small town dentist working in the small town practice in my reasonably-sized country home. With a hot tub. The whole part about dealing with teeth doesn’t appeal to me as much as the sitcomic hobnobbing I do with patients between appointments.

While I normally don’t sit around fantasizing about different work realities, recently these have ruled my unoccupied mind. This is almost certainly because I’m currently applying for a PhD. While many would embark upon that with excitement and confidence, I have taken the opportunity to second-guess every occupational and professional decision I have ever made in my whole entire life.

I have no idea if other people do this, but I have to guess that they do. There’s no doubt a guy sitting in a cubicle wondering what may have been had he followed his love of cubist painting rather than the reasonable and rational path of accounting, the one his parents pushed him to do. I allowed myself to be swayed out of fields by what seemed like rational logic. When I told an aunt I wanted to be an archaeologist, she said, “Most everything has been found.” This seemed reasonably discouraging to a fourteen year old, but my forty-year-old self once wondered: “How the hell would she know?”

Many of you probably have similar experiences and might even harbor some resentment about it all. Are parents really to blame for trying to encourage their kids in a direction they see as safe or reasonable? Maybe not. I am sure when I told my mom was relieved when I ended up in the teaching field. Most certainly she was thrilled when I walked away from my first career choices of frog ninja and pizza delivery toad. And when I told her that I really wanted to be a fire engine, she probably thought “Man, does that come with a 401K? Kids gonna be living in my basement for five decades.”

But even with that caring attitude, I’m sure there are others out there who were told that they could do anything if they wanted to. And in the past years, I have realized that I could have been successful in fields that seem unlikely and difficult if I had put my mind to it. I try to say that to my students now.    

When it comes down to it, I am one of the fortunate ones that loves his field and his working life in general. It complements my side hustle and I look forward to doing it. That’s a lot to say about a job.

This morning it occurred to me that I do an awful lot in my real life what I fantasize about doing in my alternate work realities. I wear cardigans, a university pays me to teach students about language and writing, I spend a lot of time surrounded by and writing books, cat sleeping in her day bed at my feet or on the chair next to me. Worse paths could have been taken.

And probably in one of those other realities, in my dentist life or my folklorist life or my standup life, I imagine this life as an applied linguist and writer, living in a small European city in a charming and quaint flat. I have great friends and play hooky from school once a week for afternoon beers and about to apply for a PhD. No teeth cleaning. So it’s not that bad after all.

But it won’t stop me from daydreaming. Today’s is the practical and totally up-my-alley occupation of ninja archaeologist.    

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The Airbnb Test

We roll into Stansted Airport and as soon as I step off the plane money begins flying out of pockets. I wink one eye closed while buying us tickets to the express into town. It’s a move I will mimic multiple times in the next two days. Once off the train, we begin eating up London. The culture. Every vertical surface is plastered with an advertisement for another cultural output, book, play, musical, movie. The language. Different and the same. One can hear the superfluous U and the ISE’s instead of IZE’s. We marvel at the ad-libbed speeches of the homeless and how their word choice makes them sound like prep school teachers.  

By the time we have reached our little corner of the massive sprawl of a city, I have something to worry about. The Airbnb guy, Burke informs me, hasn’t given us the address or written back to her last message (the day before) for the buzzer number. It’s common for Airbnb owners to give the full address after confirmation of payment, which occurred two months ago. While we arranged a time to meet (7:30) the only address we could get was from google maps. We go to it.

7:30 comes and goes and I am walking up and down the little road. Now and then I scream “Jim!” and then “Jim!” up in the general direction of an open window. No Jim appears. The street is desolate and any man who does pass gives me a crooked look when I murmur “Jim” at him.  

We go to a local restaurant to get online. We are served by a lovely Romanian girl (the first of three we will meet). She gives us the Wi-Fi code and brings us two bottles of some IPA whose name I can’t remember (something like Scrambly Doug’s or looney Luther’s). Burke gets on Airbnb and has a message.

“Oh, he says he was there and waiting for us.”


Despite our requests for the information, good old Jim has not given us the address, the buzzer, or the means of meeting (outside, at a specific spot, etc.). We only have the road and a hopeful address from father Google. So how he expected us to miraculously show up is setting off a red flag in my brain’s bullshit detector.

“Oh,” Burke continues, “he sent the address and I’m telling him you’ll come now and get the keys.”

I knew this was going to happen. It takes Burke several minutes to shed the outdoor gear she wraps up in. there’s a beer in front of her. It’s a long walk back to Jim’s. I knew I was to be enlisted, but it’s fine as I have aggravated energy to burn off. On the way I decide to be nice. The most important thing is that we get the keys, no use worrying over a little miscue. I practice my dismissive-of-an-apology act. “Oh it’s fine. These things happen.”

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Inconvenience Store

Hills. Hills. Everywhere hills!

For many years and up until very recently, I lived very far away from any shop. There were three or four shops in my neighborhood, but getting to any of them required at least a 10-15 minute walk. With the shopping and the inevitability of a person in front of me who had somehow forgotten how shops operated (present, pack, pay) the whole experience took at least 45 minutes. 45 minutes for a bottle of milk or a candy bar.  

And then there were the hills. That is, any shop I chose involved a hill. I know. I know. Really, Grandpa? Uphill. Both ways? Yep.

If I went to a shop down the hill, I had to walk back up it or if I walked uphill to another shop, my walk started uphill. There was no avoiding the hills. My flat was in the middle of a giant one.

This isn’t a complaint; I loved living there. The walks were invigorating, pleasant, they were incidental exercise. I’d listen to a podcast, music, or just think or argue with my mind gremlins. I liked it. Plus, nothing shirk off the guilt of a candy bar like a 30 minute walk. But still, I associated city living with a certain degree of locality convenience that I wasn’t privy to and it made a difference in day to day life.  

In the first place, I was paranoid about forgetting to pick something up at the store. I made lists, checked them twice. Because my local shop (12 minute walk) was hit or miss with kitty litter, I’d sometimes pick it up in the city. And so there were several days I’d go to the pub or to  an appointment lugging twenty pounds of sand in my backpack. I felt like Sisyphus or Atlas. If I weren’t able to get the litter at all, the cat would loudly push the few remaining pebbles around in her box, stand inside of it and poop on the floor, all the while giving me a look which clearly sent the signal “you asked for this, buddy.”  

Often a trip to the store was a negotiation point in our household’s domestic chores. I’ll do the dishes if you go shopping. I’ll clean the bathrooms if you go shopping. If I really felt like going to the store and not doing the dishes, I knew the tactic was to mention the hill. There’s that hill. If that didn’t seal it, I’d add: bit rainy today. It was an easy touch on Burke, whose natural enemies include precipitation over 30% and any incline whose grade is above 20%.

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