Don’t Get Me Wrong

I was once sitting in the movie Happy Gilmore. If you have seen this it features Adam Sandler as a fragile tempered wannabe hockey player turned golfer who makes headway into golfing tourneys despite an unorthodox swing. As he is a hockey player, he doesn’t do the traditional static golf swing, but rather dances forward in a crow hop of sorts, winds up the golf club, and takes a huge slapshot.

It’s the quintessential mid-90s Sandler movie. A high volume comedy that was ridiculous, but not I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry ridiculous. We happily suspended our disbelief at the door. I can’t say the same for the guy who was sitting behind us who spent the majority of the golfing scenes critiquing and commenting to his date on the main character’s absurd slapshot and slapstick swing. “There’s so much more to golf than just driving, you know,” he said. “This is ridiculous, you can’t drive like that. What about his short game, huh?” He asked the screen.

I didn’t hazard a glance at his date, but I can only hope that he was single less than five minutes after the film’s end.

I couldn’t understand the man’s motivation. Why not simply sit back and enjoy the movie? It’s a movie, we willingly suspend our disbelief so that we don’t spend the whole time asking stupid effing questions and driving people nearby insane with those stupid effing questions. And also, did he think the absurdity of the movie’s details were lost on the rest of us? Did he think we didn’t know that usually a gold swing doesn’t work out like that?

Two things have happened recently. The first happened while watching my all-time favorite sleuth, Lt. Columbo, take down a dastardly chess player who killed a fellow chess player. The dead chess player was from some unnamed Eastern European country and the guy in charge of his security detail manager was no doubt upset that the man he was to protect had ended up in the bottom of a trash compactor in thousands of little pieces. It was during this scene of stress that he erupts in anger, spewing the following(ish) in an accent so “Eastern European” that is was made of borscht.

“Why is it so impossible for you to figure out what’s going on, Lieutenant? How can you be so in the dark about what’s happened? He would never have stolen off into the night on his own. He would have …. (searching for word, asks his colleague) notified one of us.”

And then, between handfuls of popcorn, laid out an argument to invalidate the language being used. “There’s no way he would be using that phrase or that other phrase or that grammar. No way. Figure out. What’s going on. Be in the dark about. What has happened. Steal off into the night. On his own. Never would have. And then ‘notify’ is what trips him up? Nah. Nope.”

Burke kept her thoughts to herself, but I read in the sardonic (and a little sad) look over a handful of popcorn a loud and clear statement: shut up, man, can’t you just enjoy the show?

I could. I did. I set all subsequent notes to mental and quelled my distaste with popcorn.

As a language teacher, I spend a lot of time looking at, working with, and thinking about language. Since I teach English and am a non-native Czech speaker, these are the two languages that mostly occupy my brain’s time. And while I have actively and definitively avoided the ideology of Grammatical Nazism, my pet peeve has become misrepresented non-native English speakers in films and shows.

Everyone would have a guess as to what a non-native speaker of your language might have trouble understanding or using. Big words. Complicated grammatical points. Hard to pronounce words. But there’s a good chance you’d forget about the words and phrases that we use each day without even a moment’s thought. Take off your pants. Change off to any other preposition and it’s a radically different meaning. Take in your pants. Take out your pants. Take away your pants. Each of these phrasal verbs have vastly different meanings. So it’s no wonder that a film or TV director would misrepresent the language difficulties that a non-native speaker of English might have.

Another example from one of my favorite shows of all time. The West Wing was written by probably the greatest living screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin. In one scene, one of the president’s aides played by Rob Lowe is telling his colleagues about a meeting that he had with two aides to the Russian president. One of the meeting’s goals was to reschedule the meeting between the Russian and the American presidents. Lowe comments that the Russian aides spoke “conversational” English, but not “idiomatic” English. We then see the conversation that occurred:

Rob Lowe: Can you pass this along to President Shogurn?

Russian Aide 1: ‘Pass along’? Is this not bad?

Rob Lowe: No, it means give ‘go’. I think you’re confusing it with ‘pass over.’

The two Russian aides speak in Russian for a moment and then thank him for the language lesson.

Rob Lowe: We need to talk about the time of the meeting.

Aide 2: Is not the time OK?

Rob Lowe: It needs to be an hour later.

Aide 1: Why?

Rob Lowe: The president will be getting in too late the night before. Don’t get me wrong, this president can do two shows a night, but you’d be hard pressed to find a person with a worse reaction to jet lag.

The Russian consider the point, agree to it, and then, moving on, hand Rob Lowe a paper with suggested additions to the American president’s speech. Lowe reads it aloud and is surprised when he hits the phrase ‘stem the tide.’ He asks the aides who had written the edits and the first aide claims that he had. At this point, Rob Lowe, because of the trip up with ‘pass along’ and ‘pass by’ knows that someone else besides this aide had written the addition.

So, the Russian aides didn’t understand idiomatic English, but Rob Lowe uses three highly nuanced phrases “don’t get me wrong,” “he can do two shows a night,” and “hard-pressed?” These would almost certainly be understood by high-level English speakers and fall, by the way, directly in the category of “idiomatic” English. The inconsistency has driven me nuts for years.

I have been jokingly toying with a niche company in which I offer editing services for scripts which feature non-native English speakers. Until then, I’ll keep my mouth shut so Burke doesn’t smother me to death with popcorn while I sleep. Maybe I’ll track down that golf guy and we can put together a joint company of language editing and golfing skills.

I’ll be sure to….notify the lot of you once it comes to fruition.

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The Move


Last time, coming or going

It’s Friday, about 2 pm. I am on my way home on a tram filled with young teens and kids, who, while in various stages of personal and physical development, share in common a momentary ecstasy that is born of the beginning of the weekend. I am immensely jealous.

Since I was a kid, there has never been anything quite as euphoric as a Friday afternoon. I have always loved the “look ahead” stage. More a fan of Christmas Eve than Christmas, a fan of the last weeks of school rather than the beginning of the summer holiday. It’s when I have everything ahead of me that I am happiest. And Friday is just that – everything is ahead of me and the possibilities are endless. Pizza and a movie, a nice walk on Saturday, a nice walk on Saturday that ends conveniently at a pub. So on any other Friday I would be sitting on this tram, outwardly a middle-aged dude listening to podcasts, inwardly a twelve year old with a peach-fuzz mustache throwing the devil’s ears at passing motorists.

But this weekend is the weekend in which I will move. After two weeks’ prep, planning, organizing, boxing, bagging, and throwing away huge portions of the collected booty of thirteen years, it will happen. Without touching the obvious horrors of tragedy or medical crises, there is nothing worse to look forward to on a weekend.

Friday night is spent standing in various rooms in my house having meltdown moments. “Has someone fed these things after midnight!?” I scream to the ceiling, wondering how our bags and boxes are multiplying. “What is this? I don’t own a toaster! Where has this thing been, just waiting for me to move it!?” I occasionally center myself (read: avoid prison) by sitting on my soon-to-be-disassembled bouch (bed + couch, you get it) and eat some form of carbohydrate while watching a sitcom and purposefully not looking at the room beyond my laptop.  

The misery that comes with moving isn’t the carrying and lifting, but the fact that every single thing has to be reckoned with. Whether that means it gets thrown away, put in a bag and brought to the new house, or set on fire and thrown out the window. Everything from the deep, darkest caverns of the last thirteen years must be dealt with. Every single item. Everything.

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On the Move

Phone Museum in my Closet

As a card-carrying resident of my own personal comfort zone, I’ve found that there’s an awful lot that can rattle me. The upstairs neighbors renovating their flat for five months. A wonky lock on the front door. Friends or relatives staying at the flat.

But there’s not much worse for this Comfort Zone Guy than moving flats. If you’re an adherent to a comfort zone, then you understand.  

Moving is terrible. No matter who you are or what your philosophy is towards being settled, you probably have a bad memory of being surrounded by hundreds of boxes, bags, crates, and furniture that you had to bring somewhere else. Moving means you have to move everything in your house. Everything. Soap. Each shoe. Every notebook, pen, and bottle of hot sauce. And so, everything is disrupted.

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On Paperfeet the Cat and Hoarding Books

Paperfeet the Cat Stands Proudly Among his Depleted Shelves

After twelve years in one flat, I am preparing to move in two weeks. Everyone knows that moving sucks. Though I am not an extravagant person, It’s the only time in my life that I wish I was loaded. I’d hand a few guys a wad of cash, give them instructions and two addresses, go on holiday, and just come back to a new flat all ready for me to live in.

Moving makes you realize just how much shit you have accumulated in your little hovel. This, of course, is because you are now forced to look through the backs of those cabinets, closets, mudrooms that you have gleefully avoided for so long. And so you dig out books, DVDs, mugs, clothes, old calendars, and cat figurines that you got from someone else who was moving and didn’t want to deal with it, and so now I’m standing in a room holding the cat and making a dubious look, all purse-lipped and furrow-browed, like the bad guy who realizes he’s been duped at the end of a movie in which he thought he had won. But you can’t get rid of him now; you’ve named him Paperfeet.

And if you are in your late twenties and lived on your own more than once, then you totally know what I’m saying.

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The Life and Times of Fausto Carro

Ah, Fausto Carro

Last week, after doing some work for an online magazine, I was asked to send along the details of my online payment account. I won’t say the name of that payment company, but Scooby Doo would probably call it RayRal.

I didn’t have an account there, so I began to set one up. And that of course is when I found out I had an account there.

Memberships to websites, online magazines, and services are as forgettable to me now as the magazine subscriptions I signed up for in college in our quad. I’d use a false name – Larry D’Urberville – with my sights set on a free T shirt. Free T shirts were gold when the alternative was washing your other 75 T shirts. Ah, the carefree and extremely dirty days of yore.

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Keep Calm and Stay Home

So you’re in your 40s? 28 Things I Learned in my 40s. Why I became So Much Happier in my 30s. If My 40 Year Old Self Could Tell My 20 Year Old Self a Few Things at a Bar, the first would be to stop drinking. 

We’ve all seen the advice, the philosophical, logical and sensible points that people in the 40s have pocketfuls of. Close your eyes (uh, but not if you’re driving) and just call to mind some of the uber-enlightened, sagacious advice and commentary. Own your flaws, they make you who you are. Laugh lines are worth the laughs. So laugh! In your 40s you have let go of the toxic people and you much happier.

OK, are there some truth nuggets in there? Absolutely. But it still comes off as theoretical and frou-frou. I feel as though I am listening to the wispy mantra of a holy guy in a Nepalese cave.

There are so many benefits and occasional downsides to being in your 40s that you just can’t list them all. Mostly this is because you have forgotten them moments after you are gifted the epiphany of them. Irony.

But let’s get real. If you’re in your 40s you know that there are more concrete ways of defining that age decade than the little insights and theoretical developments. There are real, day to day applications that you notice. Here are a few everyday realities about life in my 40s.

I plan hangovers, not nights out. A friend who is a great pool player once told me. “If you want to be a good pool player, don’t think about the shot you’re making, think about the one after that.” And man does that make sense in the world of being 40. I can still bring down a number of drinks with little problem. But it’s the reality of the next day that rules whether or not I will go out.

I weigh the headache, the arsenal of medicine that my body will require to simply go through the motions without ending up in a hospital, and the lack of productivity up against what I need to do that next day and the evening as well. Depending on the findings of those measurements, that’s how I decide to go out. Can I be a mess tomorrow morning? Do I want to be? This is why younger people think we fortysomethings are boring. We can still drink. But we don’t know if you are worth the payoff. Also we don’t mind what you think. PS: It should be mentioned that I still suck at pool. Bigtime.

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Random Creepy Things

Creepy

The building where I teach is a monument to communist era architecture. It’s tall, blocky, gray, concrete, mundane, and removes the will to live from whomever casts their eyes upon it. It fits right in with a lot of the other monstrosities that popped up in the Czech Republic in the second half of the twentieth century. The buildings that ain’t ending up on a postcard anytime soon.

But mostly I have found it to be a reasonably innocuous building. It’s got good Wi-Fi, the static electricity is pretty low, and you’ve got a killer view of the car dealership across the street. I mean, the toilet lights are set to shut off every nine seconds, so you end up looking as though you’re in a one-person synchronized pooping competition. But overall, what else could you ask for?

Well the building does take on a more sinister feel after dark as I have done for five years each Tuesday after my evening class in the winter. When I leave the building at 7:15 pm in spring the sun is still out and, depending on how my class went, my mood is not at its most morose. In the winter, though, it’s been pitch black since 4:30 and by 7:15 there’s not a soul in the building. The students want to get home, so they run out of the place like it’s on fire. By the time I drop my books in my office and head down the stairs, the only people in the building are me and the night guard who works reception.

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To Wake up the Most Despised Person in America


Lincoln Memorial Washington DC

Did you ever get caught doing something really stupid when you were a kid? If you are anything like me then you have so many that you have had to construct another memory room in your brain to hold them all. If you anything like me, then you completely ignore this room. If you are anything like me, then you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think to yourself: yeah, I should write to that guy and apologize.

When I was in the eighth grade, I think, I got called out for not only telling a bunch of people a secret that had been given to me, but also for lying about it. That is, not only had I handed over a friend’s secret, I had decided that it wasn’t jazzy enough, so I edited in some embellishments that I found really spicy, and then I told people that.

Yeah, I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Yes, I am aware of my verb tense.

Well, you can imagine what happened next was something out of a bad 80s teen movie. I got caught, of course, and when I got caught everyone decided to share notes and so not only was I disloyal and not to be trusted, I was also a liar.

The Sunday night before having to face my class I remember thinking how crazy it was that my mother was so cheery at dinner. Didn’t she know the world was coming to an end? But everyone did normal things all day; my dad watched an Eagles game, my siblings played in the woods and talked about Halloween costumery. My life was over. Everyone at school, i.e. my whole world, hated me, and I was going to have to deal with it the next day. I slept about 4 minutes that night.

Now, social trends and tendencies of late grade school being what they are, I was humiliated, outcast, mocked, and made a pariah. For a while. It passed. People forgot. People forgave. By Thanksgiving, most people didn’t remember anything happening.

Times have changed.

Today I woke up to nineteen million different sources showing the same picture: the smug face of a white teen in a MAGA hat mocking Native American activist Nathan Phillips while a bunch of smug white faces cheer him on. The subtext is all there. Hate. Racially motivated aggression. A massive amount of disrespect. Trump’s America. The divide. A face of white privilege smugly taunting a native American Vietnam veteran.  

The boy, whoever he is, has become one of the most reviled people in America. His face has been visually likened to those of the aggressors in the lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s. Overnight, he has captured the attention of the country (and world) and is being bashed by hundreds of thousands, politicians, athletes, and celebrities. I imagine that some of these celebrities he loves. If I woke up tomorrow and learned on Twitter that Nick Offerman or Neil Gaiman hated me, I would honestly cry.

This kid has woken up today the most despised person in America.

Does he deserve it? Arguable. There are a couple of different sides to this story, and both of them on video, but he’ll likely be the pariah at someone’s hands. He could be the visual link to the bad guys of this time period, not to mention the bad guys of other time periods (cue 1960s lunch counters comparisons). He might be expelled as his school tries to play damage control for their image. Already on Facebook the pictures of these kids are up with a public message for those who know them to hand over their names so we can (ironically) “make them famous.”

But what are we doing? He’s an asshole kid in a MAGA hat, so we’re going to crucify him for it? Did he do something wrong beyond that and are we going to ruin a kid’s life because he was an asshole as a teenager?

Come on, people. We’re the adults, which means two things. First, as adults we should be conveying the message that these actions have consequences – unpleasant, sometimes damaging consequences. But we should not be vindictive towards a teenager. Why? Because it doesn’t work. And you know how we all know that? Because we’ve been there!

Who reading this didn’t do something terribly regretful as a teenager? If you got caught and if it wasn’t a felony, then you probably suffered for it, either within your family and community, legally, or all of the above. And you know what? Life went on. You learned a lesson. People forgot and people forgave. You grew as a person. The rest of your life wasn’t dictated by a foolish action. It is part of growing up.

I am not suggesting that we forgive this sort of ignorance to the world of “oh he’s just a kid” but let’s be honest, openly trying to destroy young lives is something we never had to deal with until recently. If it had been a possibility to do such grand damage when we were younger and stupider, do you think we’d be a little more forgiving in our social sentencing? Maybe.

For all we know this kid would be stuffing a bong in a tie-dyed T-shirt at Boneroo in a few years telling people how he used to wear a MAGA hat and how much he was an asshole. For all we know he may still do that. For all we know, this will be the reason he does go on to do that. Take away the MAGA hat and made Boneroo a Phish show, then you have me. How many times we look back at our young selves and wince. But we are more fortunate, as we don’t have permanent reminders captured for the world to see. 

We, the adults of the world, have a responsibility to dole out punishment in a reasonable fashion. We need to be more compassionate. We have to allow the possibility of redemption. Because if we keep going in the direction we’re going in, then what kind of world and society are we looking forward to.        

Also, I really hope Neil Gaiman still likes me even after my story of eighth grade intrigue.

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Things to Watch and Read

Strange Weather (photo courtesy of Keizertimes)

There is nothing I love more than rewatching things. Series, movies, YouTube videos. Squirrels pretending to be people. My happy place is coming home in the early evening, putting on the most amorphous clothing I can find and cooking dinner while an episode of Parks and Recreation that I have seen 127 times plays in the background.

Due to the fact that I now often watch things with someone else and the fact that my cat has been complaining about my viewing choices, I have been intaking new things. And so I can now enjoy another great joy – being the last person on earth to discover something and acting as though I am the first.  

Watership Down

This is a Netflix series based on Richard Adams’ novel. If you have read the novel you have probably said aloud “I can’t believe I’m reading a novel about rabbits” just before shrieking “Please don’t die, rabbits!” through streams of masculine tears. The only thing more disturbing than reading that previous sentence is the 1978 miniseries which is a tripped out interpretation which resembles what would come out of a weekend collaboration of Salvatore Dali, Hunter Thompson, and four hundred tabs of Yellow Sunshine. I watched the version in the early 1980s and didn’t get over it until last weekend.  

Netflix got it right. The story is fantastic, the characters so unbelievably and lapinely lovable  and if you can find something more endearing than rabbits speaking in British accents then I will buy you a house.   

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Things I Learned from TV in 11 Days in America

Michael Who? (photo courtesy of Businessinsider.com)

My goals this holiday break were simple.

Do

Nothing

I’ve had a terribly busy four months. I have added two jobs to my life, editor/proofreader for a translation company and writer for a literary humor website. This, on top of teaching, research, writing a novel, and blogging, has made me one swamped dude throughout the autumn and winter. So when late December finally reared its white-topped head, I stood in my window bellowing “take me, take me, take me.”

There’s a chance that was misinterpreted by my downstairs neighbor, who now looks at me with a look at once disturbed and hopeful.

My rules for home were to be almost completely free of responsibility. I told the translation company I wasn’t available until January and I told my university that I wouldn’t have my computer. I didn’t look at my university email once. I vowed to do only my blog and otherwise not to do any serious writing. I allowed myself only to make notes and jot in a journal.

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