Thoughts at the Store

It’s 4 pm on a Thursday. Busy. People are rushing around the grocery store at the corner. It’s old people day, so they’re everywhere, clogging up the aisles and keeping me from the bread and coffee.

In the aisle there are four or five massive pallets that are taller than me and wider than a refrigerator. The guy is stocking things on the shelves. Another two men are bringing out another wide pallet and they’re grumbling and shouting at people who get in the way. It must be sad that the pallet is about four feet wide, which leaves about three inches on either side to squeeze past. When a little girl drops a mag of M&Ms in front of the pallet, the man shouts at her so hard that his neck tattoo reddens.

My local store has some interesting tendencies. While there are four teams of men stocking goods onto shelves, they are doing so at the busiest time of day. They also stock around 12 or so – obviously, lunch rush. And as they are doing that, two people are working the checkout. Last week when all of the self-service checkout stations crashed and 130 people instantly needed a cashier, they added another one woman.

Additionally, when something is good you can almost guarantee that they will change it. Cheese pizza, fish sticks, ricotta cheese, and cookies. All very good. All changed within a year. I think once they figure out that something is good and people like it, they get rid of it out of some kind of schadenfreude. For this reason I am buying every bag of these hash browns that I can find. For these too shall disappear.

I buy my potatoes and pay at the self checkout. My bill is 502 Koruna, which means that I have to enter my PIN code. Anything under 500 Koruna and I don’t need to enter my PIN. I have paranoid fantasies about some guy stealing my ATM card and hitting the town, 499 Koruna at a time.

I don’t know if these things are “Czech” or if they are universal or if I’m just paranoid and weird. Maybe I have a weird persecution complex. But probably not. Besides, when everyone’s out to get you paranoia’s just good thinking.

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That Guy

In my never-ending quest to remain out of a motorized scooter until they become chic, I went for a jog this Saturday afternoon. Normally I am a bit hesitant to run as I typically prefer working out at home. I have found that 30 minutes of running can aggravate the joints in the lower part of my body for a week. Part of the joys of getting old, I guess.

Anyway, part of the plan was to take in the last hurrah of the fall colors as it was November 2nd, October was in the books, and in a week or so the weather will be cold. So I wanted to enjoy the autumn while it was still here. 

My local park did not disappoint. The leaves were golden and everywhere. And so were the children. As there was some local Halloween festival happening in the park, the place was jammed with kids and their parents. They were dressed up and carrying around pumpkins that I knew were to be filled with candy and, I really hoped, not fruit. In any event, the paths were clogged up, so I took to the forest trails.

I’ll admit that this was my first time running a forest trail. As I did my ten-minute jog followed by a one minute walk break I realized something interesting. One, I wasn’t exhausted, and two, my knees and back didn’t hurt. My minute of walking over I embarked upon another ten-minute jog. Halfway through that one I realized that I wasn’t praying for death as I usually was at this point.

My joy was mixed with mild consternation.

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Stories for a Walk in the Woods

No better inspiration for spooky stories than a walk in the woods in the fall

I went for a walk yesterday morning in a park nearby my house. It’s a pleasant little park, long lanes up to a small castle (there are zillions in the CR) and crooked paths through the woods. The ground was padded with golden, yellow, and red leaves. What was left on the trees was still colorful as well, so the place was eerily inviting.  

Given the choice of walking on a patted-down lane or a forest path, I chose the forest path. Again, really just a meandering lane that doesn’t get too far from the main road. I walked for a while and just took in the crisp air, the blue sky. I am thinking about stories today. More specifically, the stories I want to read at Halloween.  

I am a very moody reader. Around Christmas time I want funny stories about dysfunctional families. It’s the time of year I deal with the joys and stresses of family, so that’s what I feel I can relate to then. In the spring and summer I want a good adventure novel. It’s because this time of year is when I want to go on an adventure myself. So the idea of Huck pushing off on a raft or Frodo and Sam stepping off towards Mordor have real appeal to me.

In autumn, it’s mystery and spookiness. It’s getting darker daily, the air is crisper and the warm comforting time of year is at an end. I want stories that poke at my anxieties and which force me to leave my comfort zone. I want to read about places called Sleepy Hollow and Godric’s Hollow and Haddonfield.

Not only does it dictate what I want to read, but also what I want to write. As I wander these leafy back paths with swaying trees I see visions of quaint cottages with a secret and potential stories of adventurers, ghosts, and rogues. It’s these stories that first attracted me to writing when I was young and I constructed fairylands in closets and had some boys’ forest tree fort under attack by legless forest ghouls.

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Columbo Day

Every year in October, millions of children praise the good, wholesome and unsoiled name of Christopher Columbus. They sing their Columbus songs about syphilis, buy Columbus Day boat decorations, and eat the (obvious) famous meal. We had Columbus Day leftovers for a week when I was a kid. Joyous times.

Now, I’ve well grown out of Columbus Day. My dad sat me down and had a talk with me on a blue October afternoon when I was ten. So now I spend my weekends in October praising a different Italian who came to America. Columbo.

Lieutenant (Frank) Columbo. If you don’t know Columbo, he’s a detective who arrived in the early seventies and he was different from all of the others America had seen. He works on the LAPD and he’s a famously rumpled, messy-haired and constantly smoking a pretty mauled cigar. His raincoat is one big wrinkle. This is in contrast to his suspect (and eventual victim) who are almost always part of the LA upper crust. Part of the pleasure of a Columbo episode is their often condescending attitude towards Columbo, for his humble demeanor tricks them into thinking he’s a nit. And then they are taken down by him, because Columbo always always catches the bad guy (or girl). Each episode saw him driving forward relentlessly, but at a slow pace, observing everything. He often became close to his suspect, sometimes they tried to endear themselves to him because they wanted to trick him or it gave them a sense of security, sometimes they did actually like him, sometimes they pretended to like him, sometimes they were openly aggravated by his pestering, sometimes they tried to pull rank or threaten. But it never worked, he always got them.

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Natural Habitat

It’s an unusually sunny and warm afternoon in October. The leaves are changing and are in that perfect zone of yellow and light brown. The sunlight comes through them, making the ground almost golden. I am watching the world go by my window. Though there are three parks with a five minutes’ walk from my flat, I have decided to eschew nature today. Both of my living room windows are cracked open. A ladybug is walking on the tip of one of them…both of them.

I sigh. Nature is wonderful. I go to my kitchen for a sandwich.

I am rereading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a book that I have consistently recommended since reading it for the first time in 2004. The book is about Bryson’s 1996 hike of the Appalachian Trail, though, as some readers will immediately point out, not all of it. These are the same people who tell you that pineapple belongs on pizza.

Reading A Walk in the Woods has had the same effect on me as it did the first time I read it. Namely, it makes me want to up and walk somewhere through nature. I have done my days in nature. A camping and fishing trip in the west. A yearly canoeing trip in southern Bohemia. Countless days fishing as a kid. A Boy Scout camping trip. I can, as Bryson so desires, look into a set of mountains and woods, and say with a far-ff stare, “I have shit in the woods.”

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Zero Tolerance

I am looking into my computer, trying to get some proofreading done. I am having trouble concentrating, finding just about any reason possible to stop looking at my computer. This is perhaps because the average sentence length in the academic paper I’m proofreading comes in around 89 words.

There’s an outside chance that my trouble concentrating is due to the fact that my work email, my personal email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are all open in my browser. The Office is playing on the TV behind me and the cat has decided that she wants to sit on my shoulder so that we can pretend to be Greybeard the pirate and his cat, Smithers. Again.   

I get up from my computer to check my phone and while I’m there I check my email inbox, which I have been staring at in a tab on my computer for the last ninety minutes. It’s then I realize that I might have a problem.

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The Loophole

I arrive at the pub a few minutes after my friend. It’s a Saturday night in mid-September and we’re taking advantage of the last days of reasonable warmth to sit outside in the garden. The garden itself, however, is showing the sad signs of being prepared for autumn and winter. Several of the tables towards the back are rendered unusable under the burden of RESERVED signs, their benches bent forward to disallow sitting for those who haven’t mastered Yoga. Two storage containers are sitting in the back right corner, and will no doubt store extra produce and perishables through the autumn and more perishable perishables through the winter. The place is a bit depressing, and I can’t unremember drinkers in summery T shirts and dresses sitting on those benches having loud conversations just a month ago.

I sit. The big bald waiter drops my beer as my ass hits the bench. I think him and he grumbles a complaint. With another waiter, I would appreciate this and see it as a comfortable familiarity. But with this guy I attribute it more to the fact that he wants to save himself a trip and has gambled on my order. If I told him I didn’t want a beer, there would be a major problem.

My friend is drinking a glass of wine, a carafe sits next to his glass. We chat about the fun things we always talk about: language, teaching, books, writing, nipple-size, life. A far-off goal for our evening is for him to help navigate me through the treacherous waters of a Czech bureaucratic application. I have to register a freelance working license for some writing and editing and I have to go to the building with the form accurately filled out to be sure to fulfill my goal of getting the license. Somewhat accurately, that is, because they are notoriously tricky. And somewhat sure to fulfill my goal, because bureaucratic offices are notoriously capable of finding problems. In this case it could be a problem with the application’s information, the adjoining documents, my visa, the clerk’s current mood, or the way my hair looks. When I was registering my new address a few months ago, there was a problem three times I went. It took my five times to get my new address registered. I once heard that five times is the average. It’s pretty accurate.

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Report: Thirteen Minutes Offline

cats: owners of the internet


This report outlines the events of September 20, 2019, in which the internet went down and the manners by which the residents [two adult(ish) humans, one cat] of [redacted address] were forced to find entertainment. The report suggests possible measures to be taken in future, both preemptive and during said situation.  


Male adult A [codename Count Wolfenstein] was relaxing on his couch watching Netflix and scrolling through Reddit when the internet went down. The remote control seemed as well to be on the fritz, so the subject was forced to find entertainment in the things he could find around the couch.

Chubby-Cubby-Master ™

The chubby-cubby-master is a side-riding cloth and Velcro cubby that attached to the side of the couch (and is evidently unremovable). Within, Count Wolfenstein found a very thin and tall book with various colored and glossy pictures throughout. This was verified to be a “magazine” and while various articles were inside the Count was troubled by their length, their lack of listing sections, and the complete void of Wikipedia links. Ultimately the “magazine” was put back into the chubby cubby for reserve use.

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Report on Problematic People

This report focuses on the problematic activity of three employees within the university system. This report gives suitable background, outlines transgressions in as much detail as possible, and recommends measures that may be taken to bring about the cessation of such actions. The actions here within took place during the week of September 9-13.  

Terence Beckley

Terence is a teacher of French literature and has been with the university for five (5) years. He has a masters degree in French, is CEFR certified as a French speaker at the C2 (proficient) level, and sometimes wears a beret (on Halloween). Terence has had many run-ins with the university for his continued refusal to get a PhD. Numerous meetings have been held with Terence by various university management staff in which were outlined (intricately) the benefits his PhD would have for the university. Sometimes with charts. Despite this intervention, Terence has maintained that he “doesn’t want to.” On September 10, Terence was overheard to say “Man, I’m not much for this academia stuff.” In English.

Possible recommended actions include the university placing a required daily quota of French language on Beckley, perhaps 2,000 words. Further intervention could involve a “baguetting,” which is a form of punishment championed by Steven Seagal, but banned by the EU in 1999.  

Jim Tooms

Jim Tooms is a bachelor-degree holding ESL teacher at the university. He is an editor for the university political science journal and a “big fan of Jeopardy.” Jim’s infraction is having a bachelor’s degree as he did on September 12, the day in question. On September 12, Jim was seen in the Foreign Language Department meeting having a bachelor’s degree. He ate two (2) prewrapped biscuits at the meeting (cinnamon and hazelnut) and had one and a half (1 ½) coffees with artificial sweetener (AS). It is suggested that Tooms has taken more than he has contributed to the university.

Recommended actions are to monitor Tooms’ intake up through and including the Christmas party. At the Christmas party if he takes more than the bachelor degree provisional quotient (2 16 oz beers or 4 oz glasses of wine, four cookies, two slices of ham or one pork neck, a 10 oz bowl of vegetable salad, and one pocket diary as per the university’s Christmas gift) then his pay should be docked and he should be sent to the salt mines.

  • This recommended action requires the purchase/development of salt mines.


Numerous other employees within the university system have been observed expressing antisocial, anti-university, and anti-academic sentiments. These actions and sentiments include correcting another professor, answering a student with “sure, no problem” as opposed to the more acceptable “it shall be decreed.” Others were observed watching a gangsta rap video on the “YouTube” and sitting back and closing one’s eyes.

Recommended actions are to scold them, dock pay, or send for rehabilitation. If none of these actions work, the university may want to consider burning this fucker down.     

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MasterClass Online Classes

Learn from masters (some of whom you’ve never heard of) who didn’t take the missteps in life that you did and who also need to make a quick buck.

Jeff Sessions teaches being thrown under a bus after destroying a democratic republic.

CNN teaches obsessing over your biggest fear. But you know, it’s cool.

Justin Trudeau teaches not being so bad in comparison (four guest lectures by George W. Bush) teaches saturating a market until you’re a meta joke in a humor article.

Jonah Hill teaches abandoning comedy to discover art. I guess.

JK Rowling teaches developing after-the-fact backstory.

McSweeney’s teaches writing articles whose humor hipsters everywhere are too scared to admit they don’t understand.

Donald Trump teaches constructing matryoshka dolls.

Tom Brady teaches the art of he has to have sold his soul to the devil, right?

George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut teach telling you so (special twofer from beyond the grave rate).

Robert Downey Junior teaches being unrecognizable to your former self.

Keanu Reeves teaches being internet memed to the successor of the incarnation of Avalokiteśvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion to the Dalai Lama.

John Legend teaches getting other people laid.

Jaden Smith teaches being a philosophical prodigy, a comic genius, or certifiably insane.

Barack Obama teaches being a weekend dad to 200 million exhausted people.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teaches being right while infuriating the other 100 million.

Steve King teaches evolution not necessarily leading to a more developed species. In Iowa.

Melania Trump teaches ineffectively blinking a distress signal on television. Because she speaks four languages, but one of them apparently isn’t Morse code.

Noam Chomsky teaches being the number one most misunderstood person referenced around kegs in college apartments.

Anderson Cooper teaches being too good-looking to distrust.

Netflix teaches making comedy instantly available to almost everyone and enjoyed by almost no one.

Joe Rogan teaches being a podcasting demigod to men ages 20-45.

Marc Maron teaches being a podcasting demigod to pessimistic men ages 20-45.