Archive for October, 2021

On the Road Again

It’s on the tram on Monday morning that I realize I’m having something of a lowkey panic attack. To be fair, I’m not hyperventilating and my heart isn’t racing. It’s more that I am sweating and wishing everyone around me would magically rush off the tram at the next stop.

It occurs to me that it’s because I am doing something for the first time in two years. I am going to work. In pants. Oh, like many, I’ve worked solidly throughout the pandemic. I’ve taught, edited, given workshops, and written coursebooks and magazine articles consistently over the last 19 months. All online. All in loungewear. There is very little traffic between my bed and my computer in the living room twenty feet away. I have to contest with a grumpy cat and a permanently hungry dog, but that’s all.

This is the first time I’ve been on public transport, surrounded by commuters, early in the morning in almost 18 months. And I don’t like it.

OK, I like it a little. I’m out of the house, I’ll see other people today in person. This means I can pat a friend’s shoulder or, theoretically at least, pummel into oblivion a student who refuses to do their homework. My lunch is in my bag, my shoes are tied, I am reading. I feel almost like I’ve been removed from the workforce and this is my first day back, which it sort of is. I decide to enjoy it.

I do. But I don’t. Did you know that when students are sitting in front of you in the same room, they can see when you scratch yourself? They can also hear the aggravated asides you make even if you hit the ‘mute’ button. There’s no escape. There are no breakout rooms. You can’t put students into breakout rooms to talk while you go get a drink of water. And there’s very little chance of a cat walking across the screen and cheering everyone up.

By afternoon, I am exhausted. I’ve only taught two classes, but I’ve been on my feet all day, a thing I’ve only just remembered. I tuck myself in the corner of my office and plan for Tuesday. My colleagues and I chat while I do it. I am taken away from my work by a couple of questions and by the time I get back I have to fully work my way back into what I was doing. I cut my tomatoes and eat my lunch without the benefit of a sitcom I normally watch while eating. And at the end of the day, very tired, I head down the steps towards the tram stop and home.

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A Night in Paris

In the back of the Parisian pharmacist I am struck by how much it looks like the cluttered back of a pharmacist. The somehow gritty beauty of Paris has been left on the street and replaced with stacks of nasal decongestants and a computer. The Parisians and their disaffected cool have been replaced by two guys in white coats.  

One of the guys calls my sister’s name and then jabs a long stick into her nose. I feel as though we are in a movie being worked over by the cronies of some guy he double-crossed. His name would be The Gouche, le Prick, or Ted. Something in me wants to scream out “get your hands off my sister!” as a joke, but as we need these men to administer and relay the results of our COVID tests, I decide that messing with them and then not being able to explain it in their language isn’t my best interests. I keep quiet. When she’s done, he gestures to me. He is well dressed beneath his short white coat. The stick goes up my nose and stays for a time just long enough to feel medical. He tells us we will get an email in 5 minutes.

That damn le Prick.

One of the major benefits to living in Central Europe is the ease with which I can visit another country. Paris is less than a 90 minute flight. My sister has been on a holiday in Provence and will finish out her trip with two days in Paris and I can meet her on Friday afternoon and be back in Prague Sunday morning. I told Burke, “I will get croissants for Sunday breakfast,” which may be the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to say and mean.   

I reaped these benefits as my bus from the airport came into the center. Heading up the streets of Paris’ city center was a treat after two years of lockdown. Walking to the hotel at lunchtime was more so. The people crowded the tightly-packed street tables at cafes and they chatted and smoked and wore scarves and didn’t wear bras and argued and gestured and somehow managed to look cool eating quiche. It was glorious.

But anyone traveling these days knows that there are now extra steps and headaches with traveling. You need new documents and tests. You pay for men in white coats in the backs of pharmacies to put sticks up your nose and you await results.

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In my outlandish attempts to stay out of a motorized scooter, I work out a lot. This sounds more impressive than it might initially seem. This basically means that six days a week I cry, sweat, and shout obscenities at a deity I don’t believe in for 26-32 minutes. It’s basically the same as going to the bathroom and eating, but the time is shorter and longer, respectively.

After a year of working out four times a week and gaining a steady pound a month, I decided something more needed to be done. I realized of course that battling for control of my waistline is food and beer and the fact that I love them more than oxygen or my mother. Was I going to give up food and beer? No. Never. At most I was able to move them to two days a week, Friday and Saturday, at which time I did as much damage as I could on the other five days. I did this guilt free, unless I thought about it, which is why I didn’t. And I successfully replaced thinking with carbohydrates. It was a foolproof plan.

By February my pants no longer fit and I was beginning to breathe heavily while doing math in my head. The two sacred days were untouchable, but what I could do was add more workouts.

I added two days, which made it six days a week. Two days of home cardio, two days of dumbbells, and two days of running. Running was a throwback for me as I used to be a runner because I realized the efficacy of home HIIT workouts. Also, I decided that running sucked the sweat off a dead giraffe’s nether regions. But I added it because HIIT workouts and dumbbell routines involve many parts and keeping track of time.

Running is easy. You go to a park, choose a route 3.3 miles long and a finish line, run until you get there, and then stop. Easy. All you have to do is not collapse and die on the route and you’re golden. No time keeping, no specific exercises to remember and execute while trying to not aggravate your downstairs neighbor. Just run. Simple.

This worked fine for a while. My pants were buttonable without losing consciousness from oxygen loss. I could do math in my head without alerting a nearby paramedic corps. I had figured out the secret. Eat reasonable five days a week, two days a week eat like Babe Ruth at his neighbor’s Bar Mitzvah, and exercise six days a week. Brilliant.

But then autumn came. Autumn is my favorite time of year – cool, crisp, cobalt blue skies, changing leaves, dark nights. Autumn signals me to watch spooky shows, read ghost stories, and to take long walks and think of adventures, past and future. Unfortunately autumn also signals me to eat and drink carbs in the form of comfort food and dark beer until I explode. Not too many adventures this year, but I did that part about the carb thing.

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Pee Games and Friday Night with Bigfoot

It’s a Friday night. Besides me, everyone is in the living room and asleep. Bela the cat is on the pillow behind me and Maisy the Shih Tzu is splayed out on the rug surrounded by toys and the remnants of a smoked pig foot that has made her happier than money or success ever will for me. Burke is asleep on the couch. Seinfeld – newly arrived on the Flix – plays unhindered on a very low volume.

Many things these days happen at a low volume or with genuine attention to keeping quiet. This is because the canine hand grenade sleeping on the rug currently dictates the mood of the house, which, though in a state of soporific warmth and coziness, can change on a dime. One wrong move, one misstep can turn this sleepy living room into a barking hissing maelstrom of activity that I will almost certainly be relating to a therapist someday soon.

It’s for this reason that I don’t venture into the kitchen for the chocolate chip cookies I so greatly desire. Maisy the Shih Tzu has a nose for food (any: human, cat, dog, probably duck). So the number one way to become a beacon for a tail-wagging, barking Shih Tzu is to put anything near your mouth. The number two way to attract the attention of this pup is to walk out of the room. Maisy the Shih Tzu has evidently been gifted with the instincts of a green beret. Walking out of the room even with her completely zonked out will result in her raising her head, following me, and then peeing. So I go nowhere and I read.

I’m reading Devotion by Max Brooks. If you haven’t heard of this book, it’s worth looking into if you like eco-horror, Bigfoot, or really bad things happening to quasi-annoying people. The story is about a small eco-centric community of five smart homes set remotely in the foothills or slopes of Mt. Rainier. The community has one access road and the homes are powered by waste and sunlight. Their supplies are delivered by drones. The people who live there are in no way outdoors enthusiasts, nor are they the survivalists who might have with them arsenals that could have carried the U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima. They are well-off city slickers. So when Mt. Rainier erupts, cutting off their one link to humanity, they decide to shelter in place. This would probably work were it not for the fact that a tribe of Sasquatch has been forced to find new sources of food. lar power.  and , consisting of six smart homes and a central Community House. They come across these pragmatically useless people, mayhem ensues, and we get a very non-Discovery Channel version of Finding Bigfoot(‘s Arm in my Ass).

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