People Who Don’t Give a Shit

On Friday I went for a haircut. About 98% of my Prague haircuts have taken place at this location. Though it’s just a dinky little place in the metro station, it’s cheap and good. The hairdresser always speaks to me in Czech, but slowly, and she deals patiently with my backwards Yoda-like syntax and my pronunciation assaults on her language. Unbelievably, she remembers right where we left off with our last conversation.

Still, aside from all of these very positive things, they ensured my everlasting loyalty a few years ago during a heatwave in Prague. As I am in possession of a system that overheats as fast as a cheap computer, heatwaves are miserable for me. When I went to get my haircut, the hairdresser not only didn’t complain about how much I was sweating, but also used the cold setting on their hairdryer to cool me down. When she offered and gave me a free cold head bath I decided that this place was always going to have me as a patron and that this person was going into my will. She would have been enraptured by this had I been able to explain that in Czech, along with the importance of a Steve Carlton rookie card.

There was one man waiting when I arrived this Friday. He was large and had a great big mop of gray hair. He looked a bit nuts and he stared at me angrily, and offered an incongruously pleasant “Dobry den.” I responded and sat down with my book. My hairdresser swept up the previous client’s remaining protein filaments and this dude sat.

The Hippocratic Oath requires doctors to always pursue health and, I gather, adopt an illegible scrawl. Politicians, ambassadors, and presidents take an oath before taking office. Though I am pretty sure that the whole part about upholding the constitution blew right over the eight-second attention span of the Pol Pot wannabe who currently naps in the Oval Office, but still, there’s an oath. Even we English teachers take an oath before we are allowed to wield verbs and nouns to the general public. I’d tell you, but it’s secret and the grammar is too confusing, and, ironically, there’s a typo in it.

I have no idea what kind of a credo barbers have to take before being allowed to cut another person’s hair, but it’s clear they have one. I’m guessing the oath involves always having a jar of blue sanitation water on hand, as well as a stack of magazines from the 1980s. It must outline having to follow a strict line of ethics, disallowing the barber from taking out personal revenge on a person’s head. Now I know that you are remembering a hideous haircut, perhaps a woman with spiked cobalt blue highlights and you’re wondering “Wait. If there’s an oath, that means this person requested that on purpose?”

The answer is yes. Let it sink in. OK, let’s go on.

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Podcast Workout Guy

I have been working out regularly (at least 4 times a week) for three years now. And as much as I never thought I would, I have become a Workout Guy.

OK, not really. From what I gather, real Workout Guys (and Girls) are far larger or more cut than I am. They speak in terminology that leaves me more confused than the jargon I suffered at a recent phonetics conference. But mostly, real Workout People have the ability to do a gazillion pull-ups and smash beer cans with a minor selection of fingers.

No, I mean that I have gotten into working out. I used to say that I was into working out, but I wasn’t. It was just a reaction to justify the five hours a week I spent doing it. Yeah, I love working out. No I didn’t. That was a lie. The same lie I would occasionally tell about meditation and Avante-garde jazz. Oh I am into meditation. No. I closed my eyes three times a week and fantasized about slipping certain students onto the rack, I don’t think the Dalai Lama is handing me any awards anytime soon.

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Christmitzvah and other Stories of Holiday Angst

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Captain Specific

Last week, I was walking into my local metro station when a guy in front of me came to my attention. He wasn’t physically extraordinary in any way. But he is evidently one of those people who believe that listening to music in public without the aid of earphones was an acceptable approach to personal entertainment. This, of course, made his entertainment far more public than personal, and, as it were, his taste in music was not unlike that of a fourteen year old club enthusiast.

Naturally, I disliked him, or what I knew about it. I glared into his back as we both headed down the steps into the metro. His pop music ricocheted into the metro hall. And while I stared at him and processed unpleasant thoughts, he tripped and fell down the last few steps.

Let me just say for the record that I did not want this man to fall down the steps. I only stared at his back with intense irritation until he did so, in an eerily timely manner. It should also be mentioned that I did not touch this man. What I did do was jog down the steps and ask him if he was all right. He was. His phone was in pieces and I helped him gather them.

I was trying to figure out if I had somehow caused this man to fall down the steps. I would never want someone to get hurt. Well, to be fair, I do have a mental list of people I wish bad things for, but that list is extraordinarily specific, amounting to one person. And anyway, this person doesn’t live anywhere near me. But I had been looking at the guy when he took a tumble. It was creepy.

When the train came I ran a few dozen yards down the platform so I wouldn’t be on the same car as this man. I had no idea what was going on, but I wasn’t taking any chances. If I’d sent the guy down some steps with some bad thoughts, who knew what could happen if I got on a train with him? I was mildly freaked out until I got to school, at which time my job, students, and stresses took over my brain and I forgot about him.

Two days later, a teen cut me off heading into another metro. I grumbled a bit, which intensified when I realized he was on a scooter. When he reached the edge of the steps, he swung it up into his hands, narrowly missing an old man. I stared at the back of this guy, his low-crotched sweatpants, and I thought: “what a dick.” It’s then, of course, that he spilled down the remaining steps and sprawled out on the floor. Again, I was stunned. Again, the old man and I rushed down the steps to ensure his preservation.

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The Christmas Tram

Last night after planning a lesson, I walked out of the school around 5:30 p.m. into the pitch black. As the building and tram depot are a bit off the main drag, it can be rather dark there on a mid-December evening. So when something caught my eye as bright and incandescent, I instantly took notice.

Now, it would be fair to say that my mood fit the season. It’s dark and it’s cold, the stresses at the university are so that they peak around this time of year. It’s probably the same as your work. It’s as though our companies want to squeeze every last drop of hope out of us before we have a chance to relax at Christmas, as if they were vacation days that didn’t roll over.

Long hours combined with a recent weekend conference and trying to finalize an e-book have made the last couple of weeks so stressful that I strive for irritability. I think my last good mood was when I watched two old ladies fight over a loaf of bread at the market. (Hell hath no fury like an old woman who thinks she’s getting jilted out of bread…)

So I have been holding on until Christmas. I suppose I have done so since I was young, even though it used to be in tense anticipation of Santa’s arrival and subsequent spoiling of me with GI Joes and chemical experiments that would dye the library desk blue. Though the excitement of Christmas is obviously not the same as it was when I was a kid, it’s still pretty sweet. There’s a day in the middle of the harsh winter where your responsibilities are put by the wayside and you are required to not do anything but eat, drink, and forget about work. This is a holiday I can get behind.

Enter the Christmas tram. The Christmas tram is one of the newer trams, long and sleek; the interior is lifeless, cold, the transportational manifestation of bureaucracy. But today the tram’s entire length is topped with a wave of Christmas lights. They’re the white kind, I guess so as not to cause other drivers to go into epileptic fits. I wait at the stop with the others, who are all as gray-faced and glum as I am. After the driver dusts off his seat and wiggles into his ass-groove, he sits. The Christmas tram pulls up and we get on.

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The Posts of Christmas Past

I was bored one day a couple of months ago. OK, I had a million things to do and I was doing my best to avoid starting. So I found myself on my blog. The first thing I noticed was that I sound like a wannabe sociopath who tries to learn life’s little lessons along the way.

Instead of bemoaning this alarming development, I instead reveled in the probable fact that the FBI knows who I am, which I consider a win. Lemons into lemonade, my friends.

Then I noticed was that I was most sociopathic during the holiday season. That may initially sound incongruous, but I think you all understand.

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year. It’s the winding down of the year, at the end of which there’s a short break to catch your breath. If you’re lucky, you get to experience the joy of giving and getting gifts. You might get to spend time with your family, something which can be very conducive to nostalgia.

Oh, but there’s another side to this all, is there not?

The year is winding down, so work is uber-stressful. It’s almost as if your company tries to completely exploit your stress quotient before you can get a chance to relax, as if they are holiday days that need to be used up before year’s end. The joy of giving gifts also includes the aggravation of buying gifts. This can mean visiting a mall at peak season with a zillion other toboggan-wearing fools. Or it may mean heated arguments with an Amazon customer service representative to reach an agreed-upon definition of “overnight shipping.”

The holidays often mean family. Whenever I am frustrated or stressed by my family, I try to remember that there are thousands for whom the holidays are the loneliest time of the year, and who would kill for the gift of stress from a family. But this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

I am here to help! Normally, I would “help” by sitting in a bar with you and buying you shots. I would do this until you sentimentally sang along with me to a selection of Jukebox music that abruptly ends around 1974. Then I’d bring you home and leave you on your doorstep.

But I can’t do that. So here’s the next best thing. This week I am putting out a short e-book of Christmas stories and essays. They involve the holiday season at airports, on airplanes, with your family, and at malls. There are Christmas sex talks, Christmas food, and the inevitable post-Christmas crash. So instead of drinking with you, I can provide reading material while you drink on your own, which is better. You might even get my voice stuck in your head. In fact, you may never get it out! mwahahahaha.

Anyway, folks. If you are a subscriber to my blog, I will send you this book for free this week. If you like it, I would be beyond thrilled if you would review it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s website. If you are not a subscriber, well then I hate you and we are no longer friends. Nah, actually, you can buy it on or for $2.99. Let’s bring in the holiday season together…and with booze.

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Field Trip

It’s morning, it’s Prague, and it’s late November, all of which put together means that it’s dark, it’s cold and it’s bleak. While I’d normally be getting ready for work, I am heading off to a conference today in Poland. So instead of staring at my ceiling and being immensely jealous of those who work with computers, I am packing.

We are taking a bus which will take more than seven hours. The professor who pitched this mode of transport did so in the same way that my dad once pitched driving to Disney World. Oh it’s fun. Getting there’s half the fun.

OK, these weren’t the exact words the professor used. I mean, it is a conference on accents, how could anything be half of the fun of that? Unlike my childhood self, seven hours on a bus isn’t the end of the world. I am looking forward to reading and writing, I have a lot of work to do and this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on some of it. My child self would be gravely disappointed in the work aspect, but would also be packing a couple R.L Stines for the trip.

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Separation Anxiety

I was on Facebook Friday afternoon, taking a break from work. I was scrolling mindlessly, playing a couple of games I like to play to calm my mind and soul. One of them was to see if I could scroll to a spot in between two videos that start themselves automatically. This is a tough and frustrating game. The second game was called Who do I know in this Picture?

There were zillions of pictures today, as it’s the day after Thanksgiving. So there were lots of friends wearing sensible button downs in pictures with family, drink, and feasts. It was all very cozy and warming. Like an overwhelming supply of virtual comfort food. Still, this game isn’t easy either. First, I’m just bad at identifying people in pictures. Additionally, Facebook for me is probably not unlike Facebook for many of you. I have several hundred friends from several different periods of my life: elementary school, high school, college, first few jobs, vacations, current job, neighbors. There is a huge mix. Some of these friends I only physically knew for a month or two, sometimes even less.

One of my friends, a guy I knew twenty-some years ago and haven’t seen in twenty-some years, was angry. Always appreciating a good rant, I read his post. It was about how parents should not let their kids listen to “disgusting” and “disgraceful” gansta rap. He made some other pretty extreme comments about the unethical nature of this genre of music.

I shut off my tablet and went back to work in my office. But sitting in my backroom I was unable to get a splinter out of my mind. I couldn’t figure out what it was so it drove me mad, but I finally got at it. It was this: I knew that guy when he was younger and he was a prick. He was a prick to other kids, he was a disrespectful prick to adults, he was a prick to people on the street. He was a malicious bully with a turbulent temper. Given the option to hang out with him for an afternoon or with gangsta rap, I’d choose gangsta rap.

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Just like you, I am aware that each year the powers that be seem to inch the holiday season just a wee bit closer to September. They’re a bit sneaky about it too. In Prague, the buses and trams are half-decorated, as though preparing for a Christmas ad sneak attack. Weeks ago my local Tesco put up a holiday display of Santa chocolates. Santa! If the local store was interested in providing anything at all by way of food or drink, I am sure they’d be doing the same.

I have never been one to complain about Christmas decorations coming early. Oh I notice, and I do wonder when we’re going to start celebrating Christmas in August, but there are people out there who just can’t wait to whine about it. It’s almost as if it’s not Christmas season that’s inching earlier each year, but bitching about Christmas season coming earlier season that comes earlier each year. (whoa)

I like the Christmas season. It’s the only time during the winter in which my environment actively discourages suicide rather than encouraging it. In the U.S. Christmas is lovingly shoved down your throat everywhere. Television is one perpetual Christmas advertisement separated by the Christmas episodes of sitcoms and shows. Telling any doctor that you are going to a mall in December is grounds for immediate sedation.

Prague is different in that lots of charming Christmas markets pop up in town squares. These markets are an excuse to sell gingerbread and to drink alcohol outside. Additionally, it is a good venue in which to watch large men beat carp to death and then dismember them. Come December 26th, it’s all a memory and we only have the miserable months of January and February to look forward to.

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Misery Loves Netflix

“So can you handle that?”

“Just run it by me one more time.”

“You’ll have to mark the breaks between words, like before…”


“Right, but it’ll just be your voice.”

I have been doing research for a phonetician at the university. For the most part I have found the research very interesting and the professor is extremely open and helpful. This is a great deal different from professors many of us have experience with, who not only have trouble bridging the gap between their content and the students, but cannot conceive how everyone in his class is not fully fluent with their course material. There have been some dry articles that made me want to build a bridge just so I could jump off of it, but that’s all part of the joys of academia.

Part of that research has been listening closely to people speaking and marking where they take breaths. This more current task is to mark where they pause. These can be virtually imperceptible and rather difficult to pick ups, so a close focus on the speakers is necessary.

Until today, it has been speakers I did not know. Nameless and faceless men and women whose only important features as far as I was concerned were how much they said in between breaths. But now it’s me. Two hours of listening closely to my own voice and trying to mark borders instead of gouging my ears with a pencil.

I asked the professor if listening to his own voice drove him mad. He nodded in a commiserative way and said, “Not anymore. I’m used to it by now.”

I came home and did what I often do when trying to get through my daily trials: I found someone who has it worse. In this case it was a bunch of Vikings.

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