Archive for January, 2024

Life in London

I have been writing recently about the Victorian Era and drinking, Charles Dickens and making fun of religion via booze vessels. A temperance movement was afoot in Dickens’ time. And though religion was an aspect of that movement, there had to be something else. And what that something was, was keeping me up at night.

It took longer than one would hope for me to look back from the Victorian Era. This landed me in the Georgian Era. Cities grew, urbanized, industrialized. And when that happened, people needed entertainment and excitement. They found sports and they found booze. The sporting man’s culture was born in England.

Now, more than just sitting in dank homey pubs, young men went out about town and lived it up. Sports were a big part of this night out on the town and on weekends. But to be sure, it wasn’t sports that they could get hurt doing or that they did themselves. Hunting foxes, dog fighting, and boxing were among those things that sporting men loved to enjoy. Namely, things they could bet on. The goal wasn’t just gambling on sports, it was drinking and gambling on sports and having camaraderie.

Perhaps the most glorious example of this is the book Life in London published in 1821. Corinthian Tom – man about town and dandy hosts his rube of a cousin Jerry in the city. The two engage in various hijinks and shenanigans, running afoul of police officers, zookeepers, nuns (i.e. prostitutes). Corinthian Tom treats his cousin to a winding of a night. They chase flashes of Lightning (gin) with other nails in the coffin (spirits and shots) and then have a damper (lighter drink) to pull the nails out of the coffin.

Men drank, bet on horses, met at taverns and clubs. But this era has its fingers in many current aspects of our leisure society. Though we may think of these lads about town as the old society men at their clubs and batmen and paying people poorer than them to beat the crap out of each other, this is a big step in the evolution of the pub. A large leap up the ladder in bar games and the development of sports. Gambling had its thrusters boosted during this era.

So when you throw a dart or hear the winner of the Kentucky Derby or shoot a game of pool, just know that you are taking part in this old tradition. So have a drink or four, call up a nun, put a few nails in your coffin, then dampen it the next day.    

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Titbits to Terrify

As part of the joys of writing tests for young adults is the information I pick up merely out of occupational hazard. Some of these things are intriguing, some are scary, and all of them make me look around the room I’m in and say something like: really!?

Here are a few such titbits of information

Most Ancient Romans lived in something like apartment buildings that got up to twelve stories high. They would collapse occasionally, killing everyone inside, and someone would buy the plot at a cheaper price (all those bodies to deal with) and then build another of the same building. This was something of a racket for rich Romans.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes. He thought that the sleuth upstaged him by being so smart and cool. He put up with him only because of the money he brought in. Of course, Doyle could have made him a nitwit, but that probably wouldn’t have made him so rich. Ah, the irony.

An average person wastes 55 days a year procrastinating. Ironically enough, I learned this while reading an article to put off writing the article on procrastination. So meta.

Bread was once a form of currency. Yeast-made bread was likely beer before it was bread and it probably involved yeast in grains getting wet and then being ingested. Bread was seen as the same as beer – mostly because the nutrition and calories were the same. If you were going to die of a spear to the head, I’m glad these guys were at least buzzed up.

There’s a thing called leap seconds, but they don’t amount to enough to get you out of class or something annoying. Also, if we didn’t do leap years in about 700 years Christmas would come in June and what fun would that be? Santa would have to revamp his outfit.

Ice cream cones were invented because a vendor at the 1904 World’s Fair ran out of cups. The guy next door was having trouble selling hot waffles in the summer (go figure) and offered up his waffles as holders. For some, this is considered the day the world started.

Giraffes are much more likely to get struck by lightening than we are. So the next time a lightening storm comes, head to the zoo.

A chicken once lived for 18 months without a head. This was because most of its brainstem and aorta were left intact. More amazingly, in 2016 that chicken got elected president of the United States. Also, the oldest cat on earth lived to be more than 38 years old and I will guarantee you my cat (the B Monster) will live that long if only to keep fucking with me. Then she’s going to haunt me.

Ah life is a dream.

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At the Ministry

My appointment is at 10 am, so I am up at six. I set my wallet, passport, and forms out on the kitchen table. I then go through them holding my breath. Everything seems fine.

Burke rumbles to life and asks if I can take the dog out. I explain that I have a meeting in four hours and will not be able to perform such a task in the meantime. I then go to the shower where I scrub myself and practice Czech.   

It’s that time again, kids – renewal of my permanent residency. I have to do this once every ten years, so it’s not bad. What it is, is nerve wracking. And the fact that it only occurs once every ten years means that I can focus 9.8 years’ worth of bureaucratic anxiety on this one event. So it’s a win-win for a sadist who doesn’t like governmental buildings.

Like me.

A trip to the Ministry – or in the old days, to Foreign Police – was the thing of horror lore in the Prague immigrant community. I was there ten hours yesterday! The woman turned me down because the corner of my application was folded a bit. Telling stories about the Ministry was like how older men tell sports stories from their past. The more you told the stories, the worse they got, the fiercer the opposition, the more at stake, the bleaker the outlook, the calmer our response, the last-minute win in the face of almost certain defeat.

And they are true, too. We had to go early in the morning, the misery was palpable in the nine languages representing the miserable. We all waited for the doors to open. The Russians in the front held spots for their friends – a right they’d defend viciously unless some other group tried to pull the same stunt. The doors were opened at 6 am, elbows thrown, a crush for the number machine. I never got anything good and I knew I was there for the better part of the day. I’d open a book, eat a sandwich, every time the next number came up we all looked at it hopefully, knowing we had too much time left. When my time came it was a new level of hell, one in which I was interviewed by a person in a language I didn’t speak. I was the fortieth person she’d seen that day and it made her not-so-rosy personality somehow less rosy. I’d utter a few lines in Czech, hoping beyond all hope that she’d find me charming and helpless in a puppy-trying-to-drive-a-van kind of way, which never worked. She’d flip through my file and I always knew or expected that something would go wrong. If she took out my visa and slid it into my passport, I reached an elation unknown to those who’ve never faced down a bureaucrat who hasn’t had lunch.

It is this evolutionary memory I carry with me as I head towards the Ministry today. I am sweating and panicky. I try to remember the accusative. I get to the appointment 20 minutes early. The place is half-full with unhappy people. I don’t blame them and I inch my way inconspicuously towards the machine. I click ‘appointments on phone call’ and my name is first up. I sit. On the TV is a ring of adverts all about the bad things that can happen to you should you screw up your paperwork, not report your new housing, or tick a box wrong. I inch my backpack closer to my chest and resist the urge to check my form or the second form I half-filled out in case there was a problem with my first one (you live, you learn). The people on the TV telling us the powerful consequences are all cartoons, which does not have the calming effect whoever made it thought it would. Or, conversely, it’s having the exact eerily upsetting effect whoever made it thought it would.

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Undead as a Dodo

I made the mistake yesterday of reading the news. See, I was desperately hoping to procrastinate a task and was clinging at any straw necessary. I typically avoid the news, as these days it always seems to involve bad news, worse, news, and something asinine that Trump said (seriously, stop trying to decipher his ramble, he’s lost it). I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I scrolled until I stumbled upon it: De-extinction Plan to Reintroduce Dodo to Mauritius

There was a lot to unpack here, so I poured another coffee, portioned out a leftover enchilada from the night before (unpacking requires calories), and I clicked. The gist is, geneticists have found a way to engineer a dodo bird by artificially inseminating a pigeon. They will then reintroduce the dodo to Mauritius, but how and where they are not sure.

My one experience with a dodo was enough to set me on a course of interest in the bird. I was visiting the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh in the late 1990s. He was stuffed, looking rather surprised. He stood about 2 ½ feet tall, he was stout, and he was covered in hair. I naturally believed him to be one of my relatives, so I read up on him.

The dodo was endemic to Mauritius and was reported to the West by Dutch and Portuguese sailors. They found it to be a fully fearless and friendly chap and since they approached humans they were so easy to catch. More, when other dodos heard one of their friends in distress, they all ran to the place where he was to help him out. And since the dodo couldn’t fly away once they realized how much humans sucked, they were all rounded up and killed. They were then eaten because they were so large, though the record is torn on whether or not the meat was worthwhile.     

The human population on Mauritius was tiny (never exceeding 50 people in the 17th century) so the dodo wasn’t eaten to death, but rather starved to death by the competition brought on by the animals the humans introduced, such as dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and macaques.

So, it would seem that we owe the dodo a de-evolution effort. I only hope that the dodo is influenced by the pigeon DNA that will surely mix itself as its host. I hope the dodo keeps its historical friendliness, but gets just a drop of pigeon shiftiness and cynicism. We’d never be able to round up pigeons, not even with a gallery of public statues to poop upon. Let’s hope the dodo is born with that gene.

I am also a little concerned about English idiomatic tradition. Given its propensity to walk up to the most dangerous animal on earth and get hacked to death, I get why we call the unintelligent and trusting dodos. But now that they are being brought back and crossed with pigeons, will this idiom still carry the same weight? Surely we’ll have to allow for the addition of the pigeon DNA and we’ll likely see it come to linguistic fruition at the end of our lifetimes. She’s a dodo – really good at avoiding traffic at the last second and poops on low-lying cement structures. Ah, I hate dodos! They’re giant rats with useless wings that are confined to Mauritius – seems you’d have to go out of your way to complaint about these days. The only idiom I know with pigeons is the uncannily British idiom to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, which means to throw an undesirable outsider among an otherwise content group. Can throw a cat amongst the crossbred-pigeon-dodo work as well? How about to throw a Dutch sailor amongst the dodos.

The other idiom is more troubling. To go the way of the dodo means of course to be obsolete, extinct. Well, I need not explain the problem. Will we allow for the updated meaning. Looks like the perm has gone the way of the dodo, came and went and then came back again. No, I don’t like this. Almost as much as I dislike the very thought of the de-extinction of the perm. We’ll just have to see.

I am happy to see the dodo come back to the world stage, if only in our hearts and consciences. I only hope that there’s some evolutionary memory to help them avoid a similar fate. Also, I hope we just leave them the hell alone. We’re also de-extincting the woolly mammoth. I give it a decade or so before we have teamed the dodo and the mammoth up so as to delight zoo-visitors across the globe.

Part of the reason humanity is undertaking these efforts is to make up for past crimes against nature and to inject a little optimism into conservation. Every day we hear about the sixth extinction and the devastation that dwindling habitat and resources are having on global flora and fauna. And I won’t lie – that has been part of the effect on me. But de-extincting two animals surely sounds like a premise being pitched in a Hollywood producer’s office after lunchtime. I wonder if it’s a horror movie. In any event, unless we make humans a lot less stupid, these efforts are bound to go the way of the dodo-pigeon.  

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Microresolutions 2024

Sometime in the last few weeks, between trying to bring the work year to a close and force myself into the Christmas spirit as Cinderella’s sisters might a glass slipper, I found that I was right on schedule. There were hints, you see. I’d open my notebook only to be greeted with a self-interrogation from the night before.

Will Damien December 2024 (hereafter DD24) be in the same place in 365 days as Damien December 2023 (hereafter DD23)? Will DD24 be OK with that?

DD23 did not know the answer. Assumingly, neither would DD24. But they both found more clues. My notebook – sort of unbeknownst to me, as those who write in notebooks will understand – became strewn with esoteric phrases and sentences. Routine needs a tweak. Hey asshole, dogs sense mood. There’s grass everywhere! It was clear that I needed to address some of these things.

My brain needed a New Year’s Resolution. But what?

Every year I do what I swear I won’t do by making a new year’s resolution. I justify these by pointing out to myself that the resolutions I pick are always an extension of something I already do rather than a complete overhaul or a radical direction shift. And even these sometimes – read, always – flop. I am mostly satisfied with the way I run my life. I work out regularly, I write, I eat my vegetables, I walk, I am rarely nude in public. And the last time I bit a stranger was just ages ago. So, the big pieces of the puzzle are in place.

And as I am careening with ever knobbly knees and back pain towards the age of 50, I have to be self-aware enough to know that undertaking an enormous change in personality is just unlikely. So, when putting some things together for how to approach 2024, I made sure that I avoided useless resolution like ‘live in the present moment’ or ‘smile at strangers’ or ‘try to see things from others’ perspectives’, mostly because these resolutions make me want to vomit. Yes, vomit while reminiscing about a time in the past when I wasn’t vomiting, on a stranger who is unlikely to consider a smile from me as anything less than the finishing touches of a sociopath. No, I needed real acts of forward movement and development. Things that will have immediate results, rather than things which promise change or development over time. Because that’s just stupid. I needed a microresolution.

A microresolution by definition (created seconds ago in my kitchen) is a very small resolution. This is in large part due to its prefix, which does the same when affixed to -penis, thus making us very sad and -aggression, thus making us very confused. A microresolution therefore is meant to be a thing that can be done in one go and whose successful completion in itself will provide me with the instant gratification most of us only get from stating a resolution. Not the delayed gratification we rarely attain. It is a perfect thing. Here is my list.

  1. Floss tomorrow.
  2. Watch Citizen Kane all the way through without saying ‘I don’t fucking get it’ more than six eight times.
  3. Watch an entire episode of a 22-minute show without looking at my phone once.
  4. Find a better lightbulb for my living room lamp (the light is too white now, it’s like hanging out in a dental office).
  5. Buy stamps.
  6. Buy a better bedspread on June 1st.  
  7. Read a Wikipedia page all the way through without jumping to another Wiki link.
  8. Spend one day speaking in quotes from Brooklyn 99’s Captain Holt. (RIP AB ☹ #BINGPOT4ever!)
  9. In July, ask someone if they like mushrooms and not berate them when they say ‘yes’.  
  10. Buy floss.   
  11. The next two times someone speaks highly of soccer, I will not talk at length about how boring soccer is and make fun of them for liking a sport in which nothing happens and in which the players are all complaining toddlers. After those two times, all bets are off. Soccer sucks.  
  12. Three times this year I will get on a bus without saying ‘God, I hate the fucking bus’.
  13. Six times this year I will not say ‘man I need to lose weight’ when putting on pants.
  14. Three times this year I will not say ‘man, I need to lose weight’ after eating an entire pizza on my own in a metro station.
  15. On September 24th, I will floss.  

There you have it. My list of microresolutions for 2024. Hopefully, DD24 will report a series of grand and glorious successes with his dental health, bedding, and his abilities to not be an overt asshole to someone’s face. Who knows, maybe DD25 will even be able to withhold his opinions on soccer three times. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

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