Archive for June, 2024

Out Late in Lazarska

It is a rainy night, so we are sitting in a garden pub in the center. Nobody really seems to know about this place, despite the fact that it’s near the main throughways. The front of the place looks like it was decorated by a guy who flips crack houses. But the garden is nice and usually quiet. We had a few things to talk about, so we sit, get drinks, and begin a low conversation in earnest.

When I look up an hour later, the place is packed. Nobody is over the age of 18 or so. They are drinking and smoking and looking fantastic, ticking all the requirements of 18-year-olds. They start out a little tentatively, but a growing buzz comes from their impossible young energy. My friend and I continue our discussion but as the kids’ shenanigans increase, so must our volume.

‘So, I don’t think she ever really loved me!’ my friend screams at me from 10 inches away.

‘Do we ever really love anybody?’ I scream back.

We nod gravely.

I sort of remember having this kind of energy. There were 25 cent draft nights, guzzling enough plastic cups of urine-warm beer to understand immortality, a perception which was heartily slaughtered four hours later while I was heaving my soul into a trapper keeper in my dorm room and then drinking a poorly placed bottle of Mobsession for Men ™.

Our conversation is interrupted by an old friend of mine. A lovely chap, he’s fully welcome, but it does take a moment for us to snap out of serious and land in drunkenly whimsical and chatty. He’s gregarious as ever. He is the teacher of these students. He has not skipped the festive 1.5 ouncers that have been afoot.

The gravity at our table takes another, admittedly curious, hit when a 10-inch dildo with a suction-cup bottom is slapped onto the end of it and careens back and forth in a proud and faintly reminiscent manner. A girl with dreadlocks introduces herself. She has so many hickeys that her neck is a political map of Central Europe. Her eyes don’t so much focus as they count the number of us sitting at the table. She sits.

The next hour I am embroiled in the description of ‘dildo throw’ an extracurricular sport at their school; possible scholarships or recruitment opportunities were not discussed. The sport has a serious set of rules and guidelines. The dildo is thrown as one would an axe, in a way that would hopefully result in an end-over-end trajectory and it should end up against a wall. No axes mean no eyes are put out. And should you unluckily lose an eye to ‘dildo throw’ well you’d have lost an eye, but you’d have been gifted for the remainder of your two-dimensional life the best conversational ice breaker anyone man has ever known. The size of the dildo – as it were – does not matter. One may heave a wee willy or a dong. The only size rule is attached to the suction cup. It must be small enough to suction to one’s forehead – a point made more kinetically when the girl pointed out that the dildo she had was not regulation and then tried in, uh, vain to stick it to her forehead. No go.

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Don’t Tell Me

Every month, the editors of the kids’ magazines write to me and ask for pitches. I go through my mental rolodex of neato things I’d like to write about. And, since I am essentially a twelve-year-old in a slightly taller, defiantly chubbier, and a vastly achier body, this is great fun. Weird history, horror, our cool and scary planet, and the unbelievably cool things scientists are doing.

It’s a great job.

And so it is that I am writing about vampires and zombies. Research takes me deep into the topic, as it should. The facts have to be straight, correct, and relevant. This means digging deep, finding several sources for a single fact, and oftentimes being frustrated when something really cool ends up being fake or apocryphal. It also brings me down a rabbit hole of interesting and – sometimes – terrifying facts.

In my research on vampires this week, I have found that many vampire scares throughout history have been a result of bad verification of death, or misunderstanding illnesses and the process of decomposition. The third one wasn’t so bad. I mean, sure, witnessing the exhumation of your recently deceased sister by a band of literally-pitchfork-wielding locals, then watching her heart getting torn out of her chest, burned, and then fed to you, is probably something you’d be working out with a therapist the rest of your life (if the heart ashes didn’t kill you). But at least you could always go back to the fact that 1. she was (hopefully) already dead, 2. at least she wasn’t an actual vampire, and 3. this gives you a pretty solid excuse for rampant alcoholism.  

But it’s more brutal in the first and second cases. The two leading illnesses confused for vampirism were porphyria and tuberculosis. Porphyria is a blood disease that makes your gums shrink, your body sensitive to light, and thus your skin pale. Not only does this make it clear why these poor people were confused for vampires, but drinking blood relieved the symptoms of this illness. So, try to explain your way out of that one to a band of crazed and terrified locals who drink alcohol all day because it’s healthier than your water system. Tough gig.

Tuberculosis was another. This joyful little attack on your body involved coughing out your lungs so hard that it scarred your ribs. This coupled with the vast amounts of weight you lost and the attending withdrawn features procured as you coughed your way to a harrowing death. On top of this, people were kicking in your door and claiming you were a son of the devil. And the third manner was a little nightmare known as being buried alive. Since the methodology for checking whether a person was alive or dead was to shout insults about your mother at you and seeing if you reacted, it happened sometimes that a person was put in the ground before he had had a chance to actually perish. Villagers would later dig them up and note the desperate scratches on the inside of the coffin and movement of the corpse and determine that they couldn’t have been wrong – the person had been dead, but had sprung back to life in the coffin. Sure. Thus, they were besmirched throughout the village as vampires. This, my dear readers, is the clearest case of insult to injury that I have heard today.

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So Long Bouch

Like many of you, I am a very busy person. I have a job, then another job, and most months two other jobs that allow me to go out and see other people. Most of the time I can juggle these things and retain my sanity. However, sometimes I get caught up in a perfect storm of work and life and it makes me want to climb out onto my balcony, cover myself in bird seed, and just let the pigeons take me alive.

This perfect storm was brought to me by a bimonthly test writing job, a number of edits, and then a spontaneous decision I made when I may or may not have been mildly intoxicated (read: shitfaced). It seems that there’s this little Swedish place in town that sells furniture (I retract all names as I don’t want the poor devils’ overrun with curious furniture lovers). Burke noted the price of a couch and the fact that the price was such that I wouldn’t have to sell one of my kidneys to procure it. This, naturally, garnered my attention and in a moment of haste marked by being done with my day’s work and holding an Oreo cookie at the same time, I said yes. Burke went and tested out this couch and reported back favorably. We had a decision to make. And I made it when I was slightly tipsier than Keith Richards in 1974.

Thought excited, I almost immediately began experiencing doubt. First of all, a lot of money had just sprinted from my account. Second, this decision meant an immediate response, not a delayed one like I love so much. As there is nothing better than putting into play something that won’t affect you for a while. But no, a couch wasn’t coming next month or in September, it was coming Saturday and it was Wednesday. This meant plans had to be made and things organized. There was not a blank spot in our living room, but an existing couch. This meant moving that couch (aka the bouch) out of the house before new couch (Joanna) could be brought in. I had to do this, but more significantly, it meant saying goodbye to the bouch.      

For the past six years, our living room life has revolved around the bouch. So-called because of its ability to transform from a couch into a bed, he acted for us as both over the last years. He graced our living room like a beloved uncle who had seen better days. His left arm was teetering, it was crusted over in cat hair, and to lie on the bouch for a day watching TV meant incurring spina bifida. He was big and old and clunky, too hard to move to sweep beneath, so there were colonies of papers, dust, and titbits under his belly.    

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The Cheap Place

The sun is up and Burke and I head out to the park near our house. Maisy is in fine fettle, running and stopping short. She stops to smell urine wherever we go. I’d like to talk to her about this, but she ignores me. We cross the road to the other side of the tracks. The part of our neighborhood that we wouldn’t let the dog go smell pee on her own. The rundown shacks and the boarded-up shops.

We tried to go to a pub there once and were greeted with the same welcoming attitude as Clint Eastwood does in ever Western he’s ever been in. Hands went to holsters. Bartenders gasped. But today we walk past those dim locales, for we are on a pilgrimage. The goal: 2006.

If you are Czech or have been around el Praha for a couple of decades, then you have probably noticed that beer has risen about 125%. Oh, there are some things which have made life easier. Peanut butter is everywhere. Pizza is edible. They deliver food now, even though you can tell it kills them to make things more accessible and convenient.

But with great convenience and change comes gentrification and culture-killing uniformity. You can’t swing a dead cat around without hitting a sushi hut or a Vietnamese place where one can not only get Pho, but have your pronunciation of said meal denigrated outside the place by a white guy wearing a skull cap in August. Yes. Civilization.

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Adventures in Czenglish

In the last year or so, I have made some headway into the world of speaking Czech. Oh, I have ‘spoken’ Czech for years, but recently I have been studying the actual language, and, you know, the words and grammar that make it sensible to other people who speak that language. So, while I am still about as fluent as a pineapple melting in the sun, now that pineapple can use the right case to speak of its misery.

We meet at the university once a week. My teacher is an extraordinarily patient woman who balances that patience along with a strictness that is appreciated and yet not terrifying. If awards were given for things such as ‘she resists the urge to beat the student with the coursebook even though he forgot the dative again’ then her wall would be littered with their corresponding ribbons. She is tough and nice, she is as obsessive as I am. So I genuinely feel bad about the weekly torture to which I subject her as I mangle her language right there in front of her, as if we’re in the end stages of a Korean game show.

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