Motivational Speech

Why thank you hair brush, I am amazing!

When I travel, I use the excuse to completely detox my body of fruits and vegetables. I revel in fried foods, eat every single piece of bread that I can find, and become one with the candy aisle of any store I walk into. I drink beer and wine and make merry. If I am offered something that looks like it’ll take a month or so off my life – fried, fatty, in oil – I accept it with an eagerness that suggests it’s an antidote to whatever poison I have just had.

It’s holiday, I reason, this is no time to worry about one’s waistline. I do this via a series of burps and angry stomach growls. I might be bummed that my holiday only lasts a week, but my body definitely isn’t.   

And so my week in Portugal is no different. There was not a fried ball of shrimp or cod persuasion that I turned down. Seafood! Nor did I balk at any pork sandwich, glass of port, shot of cherry liqueur, beer, barnacle, olive platter, bread, roll, candy bar, or pastry oozing custard. There is a solid possibility that in the last week I have eaten more sweets that I have in the last three years combined.

It’s been awesome. It’s also why I am persona non grata in our little area of the departure waiting lounge at the Lisbon Airport. It seems that a week of consumption as I have had produces a peculiar constitution within my body’s ecosystem that renders me impossible to be near.

Read: my gas could drop a Kodiak bear in full sprint.

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Reformed Travel Slut

Guess which one I chose.

My first trip to Europe was exactly (almost to the day) twenty years ago. I was 24 years old, had just graduated college with one of the more spectacularly forgettable academic careers ever witnessed in Pittsburgh. It was my first trip alone and it was to be a learning experience. I carried a massive, teetering backpack filled with things I would barely touch over the next month and a lot of things I would discard. Hiking boots would be purposefully left in a youth hostel in Amsterdam, an umbrella would be dropped in Edinburgh, one of two sweaters would be left in Doolin, Ireland. I had a printed ticket which had a carbon copy and a huge book called Europe on a Shoestring.

I was so excited. It occurred to me in London that I had no idea how to get from the airport to the city itself. I finally found a train and handed over an exorbitant amount of money with a worrying lump in my throat. Money. Oh yeah. I met my friend Tara at Paddington Station, the train wheezed and decompressed and people bustled around me wielding British accents that I wanted to bottle and listen to at home in the bathtub. I was delirious with excitement and novelty.

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Accidental Makeover

Nestor the Oft-Used

I tiptoed down the flat escalator into the Kaufland shopping center near my work. It’s not huge, but the Kaufland is a supermarket whose hallways are lined with shops. A tobacco shop, a butcher and a bakery with two tables between them so people can eat there if they’d like. There’s also a pharmacy, a betting shop, a flower shop, and, in true Czech fashion, a  wine room.

Today I do a quick lunchtime shop, and while walking past the most recent addition to the center, a barber’s carrying the clear yet not-so-clear name of Kadeřnictví 100 CZH (100 Koruna Haircuts), I see that a man is paying and the chair is free. My heart speeds up and I move faster, afraid that someone will jump in front of me.   

My relationship with haircuts is extraordinarily on a need, get, and proceed basis. That is, one day I look at my head in the mirror and say, “Oh yeah that hair’s pretty long.” And then I make sure I always carry my emergency baseball cap (just in case things go wrong. His name is Nestor) and I start walking by barber shops. When I get to the barber, I want to be in and out as quickly as possible. I look for free spots and go for it. If there isn’t a free spot, I move on.

Today, I can’t believe my luck. The excitement of knowing I will accomplish a task. While you in the customer-service-happy U.S. might not understand this glee, it’s something to celebrate in ye olde Czech Republic. Anything can keep you from fulfilling simple tasks as a customer or in general. I have run up to the barber to see closed early signs due to illness, holiday, and general discontent. I have been told by a yawning girl reading her phone that she couldn’t do my hair because she had a client in 20 minutes. When I suggested that my haircut would take about 10 minutes, she looked at me with an oh-you-don’t-know-what’s-happening-here kind of a look.

I open the door for the man who has just paid. He looks sort of military, with a serious-almost-dour expression that goes along both his olive drab clothing and his new flattop. I have a moment of nostalgia about the flattop, as it was my doo of choice from age nine to thirteen, when I decided that I liked girls and they didn’t like boys who looked like a cantaloupe with eyeballs.

The woman gestures to the chair and I sit with an adrenalin rush of knowing that this is genuinely going to happen. Soon my hair will be out of my eyes, my head won’t be so itchy in the heat, and drying my hair after a shower will take 30 seconds. Also, depending on how good the girl was, I might soon have the hair on my ear lobes shaved off. I am happy.

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Continued Watching for Dr. Doolittle

There’s no doubt that I am a Netflix cliché in that with the thousands (OK, I’m in the Czech Republic) the hundreds of options I’m given, I choose to watch things I’ve seen two hundred times. These appear in my Watch it Again section. Jaws. Lord of the Rings. Ghostbusters. Every Indiana Jones installment. Friends (I know, shut up). Brooklyn 99. Buster Scruggs. The War.

Tonight we go for a light-hearted comedy mystery, one of my favorite genres, and we watch Murder Mystery. This is the one starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston as a married couple on a European tour who end up in the middle of a real life murder mystery. Since his big hit films in the 90s, Sandler has been hit or miss. Aniston is usually just fecken funny and she’s usually in fecken funny flicks. The movie totals in at 1:39 minutes. We’ll give it a chance.  

We last 31 minutes.

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Local Run Spot

My local park. Life could be worse

Despite the fact that my recent move to a flat place with convenient shops and metro stop has led to a bit of sedentary laziness, I am spoiled as regards good local parks. This isn’t uncommon in Prague, as this city was ranked last year as the world’s greenest city. Much of my area is covered in trees and parks, so finding a place to jog isn’t hard. Where I choose to do my red-faced huffing and puffing is a few minutes’ walk away at a wonderful park called Hvězda (star).

Like most other things in Prague, it’s got a history. In the late 900s (i.e. Bob Hope’s 5th birthday), the forest was donated to the Břevnov Monastery’s grounds. About 500 years later it became a walled in game reserve for Ferdinand II. And part of the grounds were involved in the historic Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Now it’s a park noted for its birds and other animals. Visitors can enjoy sightings of the Middle spotted woodpecker, the narrow-mouthed whorl snail, and, today, the short-legged North American red-faced cry-jogger.     

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The Return of Jethroe the Fitbit

Welcome back, Jethroe!

It’s getting hotter by the minute in old Praha and this means casting aside jeans for some light khakis or linen pants. And so I dug around a drawer that hasn’t been touched since I moved into my new place, and I found a pair. After a trip-up with the cat that almost certainly had to be purposeful, I pulled them on.  

Well, mostly. See, they were tight. Really tight. Oh I could button them, but children and midgets walking against me would possess the very real danger of being plugged in the eye with my button, which could spring out like artillery. Plus the visual result of the pants on me was something akin to an overpacked sausage.

My God. I’d gained weight!

Like any real man, I ran to my mirror in tears. I removed the infracting pants and turned to the left and the right, admiring (uh, I mean, analyzing) my rear end and my belly. There wasn’t a hugely noticeable difference, maybe a little on the belly and it seemed it was business as usual for my butt, on which some naught kids could land a drone helicopter. Otherwise, it wasn’t terrible.

I hate scales. Hate. From what I gather, scales are devices that collect dust under a bed or bathroom sink until its owner either feels there is a good or a bad reason to employ it. They pull it out from its sleeping place like it’s the Kraken, step on it, and then, I can only guess, the majority of humanity lets out a curse word so loud that the scale bitterly weeps. It is a device whose sole purpose is to put its owner into a bad mood. And, no less, it is a thing they paid for. Who exactly talked us into actually spending money on this?

This is why I mostly use pants to gauge my weight losses and gains. If pants are loose and sitting down doesn’t result in the loss of feeling below my waist, then things are OK. If they’re tight and a month ago they weren’t, well then, pants do not lie. And it’s time to act.

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On Writing with a Cat

The cat wouldn’t leave me alone at this desk until I wanted to take her picture.

I don’t really like kids. I know that seems like an odd way to start off a post about cats and writing. But oh well.

Oh, I understand that kids are necessary. The way a fire engine is necessary. They are both super loud and nobody is happy when they’re around, but we admit that both are probably needed. Every person I know and like used to be a kid. I even concede, in my most honest moments, that I too was at one point in the past, a kid. And, as my mom likes to remind me every time I say that I don’t like kids, I was a very bad kid. But despite all of that and despite the fact that I strive for reason and balance in my life, I just don’t like ‘em.

Surely one of three things has now occurred if you have read the last two paragraphs. One, you have grown disgusted by me, snapped off my webpage, and promised that you will not talk to me until I see you at Christmas. Two, you are nodding your head and saying, hells yeah, or some variation. Three, you are wondering why.

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Birds at the Gate

The B Monster is standing up at the kitchen window, paws pressed against it, she is looking out and chirping. I peek out to see two magpies sitting on our outside window sill. The cat is beside herself with excitement. So close. The magpies seem to be conversing and the cat’s chirps seem to play in counterpoint with the birds’ chatter.

One of the magpies nods his head and the cat steps away from the window. She saunters to her food bowl and sits down to a midday snack. The birds fly away. Strange, I think, that all seemed oddly coordinated.

I’ve always loved birds. But seriously, what’s not to love about animals that fly around, build houses with their faces, and sing for you as you walk by? Nothing. They’re also neatly patterned and pretty smart. Some birds have been proven to employ tools to construct homes or to open things like nuts. I could not and cannot accurately wrap my head around the complexity of these beings’ social order, their signaling system, or their abilities to fly in patterns with a hundred other birds. To varying extents, explanations for these things still elude scientists. But I can observe and enjoy.   

Though I am in no way an ornithologist, I have enjoyed observation of our flying buddies. This mostly occurred in my last flat, where I would watch with fascination the interactions within the magpie community from my porch. This interaction included what were almost certainly battles, as groups and couples of magpies would chase around other groups aggressively chirping and shouting at each other. I would stand on the porch holding the B Monster as still as possible as she stared with impossible intensity. When we moved in March, there was the sadness of leaving behind a neighborhood of animals and sounds and trees and things we were used to.  

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The Formal Online Education of Spiderman

photo courtesy of

I am in the kitchen working on an article. It’s a pleasant Sunday afternoon, rotating from rainy to raining to storming. The B Monster has recently learned how easily she can jump from the floor to the kitchen table, so she is providing a buffer between me and my computer screen. Now and then she gauges and then makes a ninjaesque leap to the counter from the table. Other than the cat distraction, I look out at the stormy weather and enjoy the occasional Schadenfreudian giggle at someone running through the rain with a bag held over their heads.

Since it’s Sunday I alternate work with Netflix, today it’s The Walking Dead. And I also eat freely. It’s one of the major benefits to working in the kitchen. It’s a pretty nice Sunday.

Burke is in the living room teaching online. She teaches kids in China short English lessons. It’s all done through a company so the lesson is highly regimented to the point that there’s almost a script to follow. She starts out each lesson saying hello and introducing herself in loud clear English (as required by the company, not a version of the American English Tourist Dialect).

And then she says, “What’s your name?”

Since she wears headset, I can’t hear the child’s response, I only hear Burke say “Nice to meet you, Student’s Name.”

The names are mostly Anglicized names; I am not sure if they are given them at birth or allowed to choose them. In the last three weeks I have heard lots of names. Carl. Brad. Vivian. Denise. Torie. Robert. There was a Tiger last week. Of course when I hear the name I wonder about its origin. Vivian? Sort of old fashioned, maybe it’s making a comeback? Brad? Parents love Brad Pitt? Wonder how they felt about Brangelina breaking up. Who knows?

I hear the name used repeatedly for 25 straight minutes (Brad, what color is this? Brad, can you circle the dog? Good job, Brad! Nice job, Brad! Brad, come back!) it’s natural that it preys on my mind a bit.

So today, over the sound of a beloved Walking Dead character screeching as they become living sustenance to the zombies, I hear it. “Nice to meet you, Spiderman!”

I pause Netflix.

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Kitchen Dweller

Morning work station. Pen. Notebook. Coffee. Cookies within reach. Check.

I’m in the kitchen writing. It’s a rainy Sunday morning, I’m sipping coffee and clicking away at the keyboard. From ground level, I hear a short growl and then I feel a paw on my thigh. That cat wants up. I lift my left arm and she vaults onto my thigh and sits there as though it’s December in a mall and she’s about to tell me about the Chewbacca Lego kit she wants me to bring her.

She tentatively makes the leap to the table, where she roams around before settling behind my computer. She comes back to my side, stares at the screen and offers small editing advice in disgruntled chirps. When she’s had enough, she splits off into the living room, where she does some facsimile of the same thing to Burke.

My new flat has three main rooms in which one doesn’t poop or shower. Living room, bedroom, and kitchen. They are all pleasant in their own way. The living room windows look onto the backyard and so it’s peacefully quiet. It gets no direct light in the morning, so it’s mellow and cool and it gets a nice breeze. The bedroom gets that nice morning light and the room is usually warm and comfy. It’s also about .0007 seconds closer to the bathroom than the living room, which can be important to men in their advancing years. The kitchen is cozy, cool, and bright. Plus, it’s where my cookies and coffee live.

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