Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Vocab

So here's all the vocabulary I learned while reading the German translation of Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants." 

an den Bahnhof fiel.  (fell)

hielt. (stopped)

Knotenpunkt. (juncture)

Es ist mächtig heiß.  (mighty)

Türschwelle. (doorway)

abwenden. Sie wandte. ihren Blick ab (averted)

Das beweist gar nichts. (That doesn’t prove anything)

Der Mann rief. (called)

Bedienung! (Service please!)

Sagte das Mädchen und setzte ihr Glas hin. (Put her glass down) 

Der warme Wind blies. (blew)

Es ist herrlich. It is (lovely)

Und dann geht alles von selbst, and then. (It’s all perfectly natural)

aber Gewiß. (but certainly)

Ich will nicht, dass du es dir machen läßt, wenn dir so zumute ist. (I don't want you to go through with it if you feel that way.)

drüben. (over there)

Nein, das können wir nicht. (No, we can’t.)

Es ist fortgenommen worden. (It's been taken away.)

Wir wollen abwarten! (We’ll wait and see!)

Du musst dir klar sein, dass (You must realize that . . . )

Sie setzen sich an den Tisch. 

Liegt dir denn nichts daran? (Doesn’t it mean anything to you?)

Die Frau trat durch den Vorhang. (stepped through)

Ich trage das Gepäck. (carry)

Sie lächelte ihm zu. (She smiled at him [more seductively])

trug. (carried)

An der Theke. (at the bar)

Er musterte die Leute.  (He scanned over the people)

Jeden Tag gehe ich ins Freie. Every day I go (outside).

Sie lächelte ihn an. She (smiled at him).

Ich fühle mich glänzend.  I feel (just brilliant!)

Mir fehlt gar nichts.  (There’s nothing wrong with me.)

Happy New Year

So a couple of days ago I realized something. During December, the sun in Hamburg is very different from the sun in the U.S.

Hamburg, you should know, is often cloudy during December, so there often isn’t that much sun to speak of. However, if it is a clear day, the light at noon isn’t not like that sharp, severe kind of light that is typical of midday in New York during December.

Instead, the light in Hamburg at around noon has a very warm quality to it. Which is to say, really, on clear days in Hamburg in December, the noon sun looks like an evening sun -- there's that same tranquil orange hue going on.

I’d just thought I’d share that.

Happy New Year, everybody.
 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Brandenburg

SO THERE'S THIS German comedian and he’s got this funny song about how there’s nothing to do in the German state of Brandenburg. In a well-known line from the song (and I’m paraphrasing here), he says that, alas, in Brandenburg someone who had been driving down an “Allee” has again crashed his car into a tree.

To understand why that’s funny, you need to know two things. First, in German, an “Allee” is a tree-lined road, usually one that is in the country. Second, there are many “Alleen” in Brandenburg because there are a lot of trees in Brandenburg because Brandenburg has a lot of forest and farmland.

So, essentially, in the song, the comedian, Rainald Grebe, is saying that in Brandenburg someone has again wrapped his car around a tree because all that really exists in Brandenburg are trees: that’s the only thing one could crash into in Brandenburg.

OK, so that’s the song. But here’s the even funnier part: when you actually get to Brandenburg, you discover that, holly shit, Grebe was right, there really are a lot of “Alleen” in Brandenburg. So many of the state roads are indeed lined by trees.


WE WERE DRIVING through Brandenburg today and I couldn’t help but think how pretty the “Alleen” were. A couple of roads were lined by oaks and driving underneath the canopy that their branches formed was cool. Sometimes the trees lining the road were smaller. These smaller trees were pear and apple trees.

It was just kind of peaceful, you know? And then there was me, pulling out my notebook—far away from the world—and writing stuff like, “In the puddle I saw the reflection of the treetops.”

And then driving through the villages and wondering what those squat trees with the gnarled branches planted at intervals in front of the houses were called and learning that they are called pollard willows.

Then later, taking a walk through a village that is so dark that, even with the tall LED street lights that the residents spent a lot of money on you still can’t read the street names on the signs at the top of the posts. And then wondering as you walk what this big tree off to the side of the road is, the one that casts an inky shadow on someone's lawn, and then breaking off a piece of the tree and taking it to someone who knows the area and them telling you, “It’s a Tannenbaum, a normal Tannenbaum,” which means it’s a fir.

Monday, December 23, 2019

What Was That Tape?


Martina and I were at the cinema and had just given our tickets to the ticket taker stationed at the entrance of the theater when she began to tell me about her cousin.
“They did it to him because of a tape, just a fucking music tape,” she said
“What do you mean?” I asked. We had stopped walking just inside the entrance to the theater. There was no pressure to keep moving because we had arrived early and there was hardly anyone in the place.
“Just a tape on the border . . . just music. And forget it.”
“Wait, so what happened with your cousin?” I asked.
“Hey was arguing with a border guard about a tape.”
“You couldn’t listen to music in the DDR or something?”
“No, but on the border, when you are waiting, you better not be listening to music.”
I still didn’t fully understand, but I figured I would after I learned more, so I asked, “So what happened?”
“They told him, ‘Give me the tape,’ and he said, ‘Come on guys, you’re fucking kidding me; it’s music.’ But they don’t play any games. You don’t talk back to them.”
We started walking. Our seats were on the other side of the theater. We walked toward the screen, so we could pass in front of the first row to get to the aisle furthest from the entrance.
“So what happened to your cousin? They took the tape?”
“They took the tape?” Martina said incredulously. “They put him in jail.”
“They put him in jail? Just for a cassette tape?”
“They put him in jail for speaking back to them.”
“Wow; that’s nuts. They didn’t fuck around.”
“You don’t talk back; you never talk back, no games.”
“Wow. So what happened?” We were walking up the far aisle.
“What happened? My uncle had to come and get him out of jail; that’s what happened. Yeah, and my uncle had to pay a lot of money. And my uncle told him, ‘You never talk back. Are you fucking crazy? You never, ever, ever talk back.’”
“Wow. Wait . . . What was the tape? Which album did your cousin want to bring into the DDR? That would be awesome to know.”
“I don’t know.”
Her expression was one of regret.
“Ah, because your cousin died, right?" I remembered in that moment that she told me that her cousin, the one about whom she was speaking, had died. “But how about your uncle?” I said.
“Him, too.”
“He’s dead, too?”
“Yeah. Remember I told you that they both died within a few months of each other?”
She was right. She had always told me that her cousin who would often visit her in the German Democratic Republic had died and that she had been very close with him, but she had also told me that another relative of hers, another important one, had died just a few weeks after. But I had never realized that both of those relatives had been father and son. Now, the penny dropped.
“Oh, wait, so what was your cousin’s name?”
We took our seats. 
“Helmut.”
“And his father?”
“Walter.”
“Oh, so Walter was the one who came and got Helmut out of prison because of the tape?”
She nodded.
“Wow. How old was Helmut when he got arrested that time?”
“I don’t know, but, honestly, he felt very old to me.”
“Oh, man, so no one knows what that cassette tape was that he tried bring over the border, huh?”
“No. It’s a shame.”
“Damn, that would have been so awesome to know what tape it was.”
We continued to talk. We talked during all of the advertisements and even a bit into the trailers.

Intercom

I remember standing just outside the lobby with you and buzzing the intercom to see if she was there and waiting with bated breath to see if she was. If she was, you had to go; if she wasn’t, you could come up. Do you remember that?

And then last night in a dream, a friend, I’m not sure which one, said to me: “Chad, oh, I forgot to tell you, haha, there’s trouble in paradise because I saw her yesterday, and she was fighting with him—through an intercom! Yup, she’s had four fights with him so far where she’s standing in the lobby arguing with him over the intercom.”

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Center of Gravity


The first thing I can tell you is this: A dark field, that’s the first thing you see. And then out of the darkness, a form, heavy, and then by the street light you see exactly what that form is: a horse. Passersby sometimes feed the horses and even though it’s night, the horses are expectant of food and they walk up to you as you walk by.

Then I can tell you this: A swallow. The house is a cross-timbered house and to get into the lower-level entrance you have to go through a gate. But you have the key to the gate, don’t worry. And then a little courtyard and off of that courtyard your room and then flying around the courtyard are little birds, but you don’t care because up until that moment, they are just birds. But then you see it: this weird, mud-made little nest underneath the eaves. And what is in there but a swallow! And every time you open your room door, the swallow flies out and away. But if you are careful when opening the door and if you move gingerly, the swallow stays in the little nest, and if you are super, super careful, you can see his little head sticking out.

And then that story. Wow, that story that seemed crazy to you at the time. He and he were at her funeral. And after the ceremony was over, he and he said that they had had enough and stole away somewhere. Unless you ask the two, you’ll never know to where they stole away, only that they did, and how you always imagined what that must have looked like.

And then thinking to yourself, I know she has a new one and that’s cool but there is still some of the old one there, so let me use some of the old one, and you use some of the old one but you use too much of it only because you know that a new one is there, but then you think to yourself, "Oh, what’s the big deal? Just use the old one a little more; it has to be used anyway. And then looking at the old one, smelling it—it smells so good—and thinking how she had said, “No, I did. I used that as my travel soap,” and thinking to yourself as you stand there, “Travel fucking soap? Really? Travel fucking soap? Are you fucking kidding me? If that is fucking true, fucking travel soap?”And then going over that one again.

And then thinking about black and yellow and how those are your colors now and how you told your teammates before the last game that black and yellow were the colors of "Cobra Kai" and that was pretty cool because "Cobra Kai" was pretty badass, and then thinking back to that movie and how scary Johnny was and how scary the other ones were in their skeleton body suits. And of course there was Mike Barnes. Mike Barnes was cruel, and then dude man saying, “Desperate situations require desperate measures.” There you go, 7-year-old self, that’s something to chew on, ain’t it!

And then, yes, not one hair. Not one single hair. Not one hair in the bed or on the floor; not one hair in the soap dish or on the shampoo bottle or in the corner or on a piece of clothing or at the bottom of the sock drawer or in the shower stall or under the sink. Not one fucking hair. Crazy, right?

And looking down over the edge of the cliff, and me saying to myself, “Please, I don’t even want to see that,” just flat and lying flat, but looking down over the edge, and me thinking that that totally makes sense because that way you are closest to your center of gravity, and there’s almost no way that you will fall. You will still be able to get the thrill of looking over the edge of the cliff—was that some kind of gorge or mountain or fjord or what?—but you will also maintain the security that is inherent in being closest to your center of gravity.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

On the Way

On the way I passed a “Christmas market” that was under construction and someone had laid his cigarette down on a wooden box, one that was to be used in the construction of the market, and the cigarette was just lying there, burning down, alone.

And then I was on the phone with Martina and I was waiting to cross a street and she said, “You’re waiting at an intersection,” and I said to her, “How the hell do you know that?” and she said, “I hear the beeping.”

Some traffic lights in Hamburg beep when the walkly-man is red: a feature to aid the blind.

And looking at the reflection of myself in a mirrored light fixture suspended from the ceiling, I think, that looks like something that M.C. Escher would draw. Which makes me think of images and the images that we build in people’s heads when we write or speak, which makes me think of that joke that Martina told me last night in the car. Here is the joke:

One day, Little Red Riding Hood was walking in the woods when she walked behind a tree. There, she saw the Big Bad Wolf. His eyes were big and bulging and so she said to him, “My, Mr. Wolf, what big eyes you have,” to which the wolf replied, “Would you fucking get lost! I’m trying to shit!”

Oh, how funny that was, and all the bad, bad jokes that we told in the car yesterday, jokes that are so bad, you preface them by making the person you're telling them to swear not to repeat them. Those kind of jokes.

And, no, Mr. Neighbour’s dog, I will not give you a piece of my buttered roll. I don’t care how cute you are or how much your little brown eyes look like shiny buttons. No, no, no. OK, honestly, if your owner wasn’t here maybe I would, but she is here, so I can’t give you anything. I can just look at you and say in a silly voice, “Hello . . . Hello . . ."

Maxim on Its Head on Its Head


"Ahh, you see what’s going on here? It’s quite interesting. Look, the maxim—we call sayings that have wisdom in them 'maxims'—is usually, 'Boyfriends and girlfriends come and go, but friends are forever,' and what you’re doing is, you're standing that maxim on its head."

"Uh-huh."

"You’re saying that he had said to you that girlfriends and boyfriends come and go but friends are forever, and you said, 'Bullshit. OK, little boy, you’ll see one day how "true" that little saying of yours is. You’ll learn.'"

"Right, right."

But what I’m saying to you, and what makes this thing totally interesting, is that she said that she really doesn’t care about boyfriends, that, for her, they really do come and go, and so long as she has her friends, she is fine. You see what's going on there?"

"Yes, absolutely. But come on . . . "

"Yeah, I know."

Friday, December 20, 2019

House Rich

Keri once told me that her dad had once told her: “Keri, we’re what’s known as ‘house rich.’ That means, we may not have that much money, but we’ve got a nice house, and we own that house: it’s ours. So we’re ‘house rich.’”

At the time, I understood the statement, but I didn’t really care about it. Years later, I remember looking at Keri’s Facebook page and seeing pictures of her and her sister in the house that their father had spoken of. The house was completely empty. The father had died and Keri and her sister were in the house for I’m not exactly sure which reason. Honestly, it looked like the place was going to be sold and Keri and Kim had come to it to say “goodbye” or to remove a final piece of furniture.

Anyway, among the pictures that Keri had posted was one in which she and Kim were in the living room. Not the den, but the living room. The den was downstairs and was one of the places where Keri and I had spent time hanging out. I don’t think we ever hung out or even sat in the living room.

The picture in question, at any rate, was taken in selfie style, meaning either Keri or her sister had been holding up the camera. I remember that in the background, you could see a lot of the house. It was a background I remembered. There were the stairs in front of the front door—stairs that, depending on which way you went, led to the den or the upper story; the entrance to the kitchen; the wall that separated the dining area from the kitchen; the hallway. Yup, you could see that small hallway from which one was able to access the guest room (first door to the left), Keri’s sister’s old room (straight on), the dad’s room (straight on and to the right) and the bathroom (first door on the right).

I remember Keri and her sister were smiling in the picture. I don’t think that they were smiling because they were happy; they were smiling because there were many good memories in that house, and that had been their house. I remember thinking that that was why they were smiling. I also remember thinking, even if Keri’s really smiling, she’s not smiling. I know her. She’s not smiling.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A College Story

When I was in college, I lost my virginity to a girl named Emily. The act occurred in my dorm, and after it was over, I walked Emily back to hers. It was a snowy night in February, and right before I gave Emily a parting kiss, she said to me, “OK, now don’t get all weird on me because we did that.” I told her I wouldn’t.

The next time I saw Emily was a few weeks later in the college’s dining hall. I was sitting at one of the tables with a couple of friends and Emily sat down with four or five of her friends at an adjoining table. Emily and I said hi to each other tepidly. When I finished eating, I gave Emily a small, cold goodbye and she did to me, too. As I was disposing of my tray, my roommate at the time, Jake, said, “Well, that was awkward.”

Then, a few weeks after that, Emily IM’d me. (Back in the day, IM was the preferred method of communication among college kids.) She and I began chatting often, which ultimately led to our dating more. We went out to parties together, hung out at her dorm room and probably ate together sometimes, too. During this time, I began to fall for Emily.

In the early spring of that year—it was 2001—Emily asked me if I would like to go home with her, to a very small town in Central New York, to meet her parents. I agreed and she and I headed there. Two things stand out very much in my mind from the stay: one, there was tons of snow in her area. In fact, the banks of snow along the side of some of the roads were five, six, even seven feet high. Another thing I remember is that she and I watched her high school’s production of “The Wiz.”

In April/May, Emily and I started to drift apart. In fact, I had heard that she began dating a guy named Matt. Matt looked a lot different from me. He was a big guy, over six feet, and really strong. He might have even been one of the college's football players. I remember feeling hurt and jealous when I learned that Emily was dating someone else.

I can’t remember the exact timeline of things, but I do remember at some point having asked Emily, “What’s going on with us?” and her saying this: She said that during that visit to her parents’ house, her mother had asked her, “So what’s up with this guy Chad?” to which she had replied, “I’m not sure . . . We’re dating, I guess." Her mother then asked her if she saw a future with me, and when she said no, her mother said: “So why are you with him? You should cut him loose if you don’t see a future with him.”

During the summer, I came home from college and worked at a job in an office. I dated one or two girls, but I thought a lot about Emily. I guess I thought more about her than I am letting on here because I can remember a vivid scene, involving Emily, that occurred in the fall of 2001, when college again commenced.

It was the first or second weekend back at school and I saw Emily at a house party. She was there with Matt. I remember I didn’t say anything to her after I saw her. Instead, I left the party, walked to a side street, and in the bushes of someone’s front yard, vomited.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

It Must Be Hard for Seal

     CHAD: It must be hard for Seal.
     MARTINA: Huh?
     CHAD: It must be hard for Seal.
     MARTINA: What do you mean?
     CHAD: Well, you know, he has all those kids with Heidi Klum. I think he loved her. And then, you know, they break up, and she’s got all those boyfriends, and it’s always in the press.
     MARTINA: Huh? How did you start thinking of Seal?
     CHAD: Well, it was the song. Like, at first I was thinking how I liked this version with Katie Melua a little better because you can understand the lyrics in one part better. Then I was thinking about the song itself, how it, like, speaks of longing, and I started to think of relationships and then...Seal. For some reason I thought of Seal.
     MARTINA: Yeah, but Hedi Klum, come on...
     CHAD: I guess, but it can’t be easy for him.

In a Tunnel

Martina and I were in the car, going through a tunnel. She was driving and there was traffic.

"Why are we waiting?" I asked.

"There's a crash up ahead," she said. 

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah. You don't see the blue lights?"

"No. Oh, yeah, I see them on the wall."

Friday, December 13, 2019

What a Dream.


So last night I had a dream that I think Freud would have had a field day with.

The dream opened up with me riding in the passenger section of a carriage with my aunt and my mom. We were in Manhattan and the street we were on was made of cobblestones, which makes me think we were in SoHo.

Through an opening in the canvas covering of the passenger section, I saw that a woman had just stepped into the road, a few yards ahead of the carriage. It was clear that the woman was a prostitute. It was also clear that I was going to get out and have an appointment with her. But it was crazy because that was totally fine with my mother and my aunt. In fact, my aunt gave me 50 dollars to help pay for the rendezvous. I remember thinking that dollars was the wrong currency, even though dollars would have been perfectly correct if we had in fact been in SoHo. As I exited the carriage, my mom gave me 20 euro. “That’s more like it,” I thought.

In the street, I greeted the prostitute. I can’t remember exactly how she looked, but she was in her early 30s, she was white and she had dirty blonde hair that looked unhealthy. She was nice, though. She told me that she was going to take me to a hotel nearby and that I should prepare myself because it was not going to be a nice hotel.

She was right. As we entered the hotel, I thought, “What the heck is this place?” The reception area looked more like an area where one waits at a train station to get information. Agents sat behind glass windows and you had to be called to talk to them. I remember that groups of men as well as other prostitutes were in the reception area and deals were constantly being worked out, mostly about prices.

After a room was booked for us, the prostitute told me to follow her. At this point, I gave her the money. I remember that I thought to myself that she was going to throw the cash back to me, its not being euro and all. But she was happy to get the money. I thought that maybe she liked America or at very least knew a place where she could easily exchange the notes for euro.

After following the prostitute through the hotel, or what was presumably the hotel, we came to what looked like the engine room of a massive passenger liner ship. The walls were metal and painted white and I remember seeing a large red spigot handle attached to a heavy-duty pipe.

In front of the prostitute and me was a huge hole in the floor. In diameter, the hole was the size of a tractor tire. Looking through the hole, you saw a sublevel, which was about 50 yards below. Welded to the wall above the hole was a ladder. The ladder was painted white and continued through the hole and went down the 50 yards, to the floor of the sublevel. The prostitute got on the ladder and began to go down through the big circular opening. I watched her.

And now things got really crazy. After she climbed down about 10 yards, she looked up at me and began giving me instructions on how to “use” the ladder. She said that in order for the ladder to work properly, one must hold on to its rungs tightly—super, super tightly—and then lean back as far as one could, with all one’s weight. She proceeded to do this and as she did, the ladder, which I thought was welded to the wall, actually bent backwards with her weight, as if it were made of rubber.

“That’s how you do it,” she said. “Do you think you can manage it? It must be like that.”

I told her that I wasn’t going to do such a thing and after I said that, she leaned forward, making the ladder go back to its regular position. She then climbed up the rungs she had climbed down.

“Aww, man, that’s no fun,” she said.

I told her that I was sorry, but that attempting such a stunt wasn’t worth it.

She said that she had another idea. The next thing I can remember, I was in an interior courtyard with this woman. It was quite lush back there and to our right were a series of adjoining apartment buildings. It was dusk and the prostitute and I were able to see into many of the windows of the building, especially those that belonged to apartments whose lights were on. The prostitute and I started making out. The making out was going OK, but it wasn’t fantastic.

The next thing I remember, I was alone in the courtyard. The prostitute was gone. I was alone and I was looking at people going about their business in the apartments. Some of the people were looking at me, too.

Friday, December 06, 2019

"Click" . . . "Bang!"

I’m sitting in a café now that Germans would call “uncozy.” The café is inside a supermarket but at the same time independent from it. This means that items purchased at the supermarket may not be eaten at the café’s tables. There is a heavy glass door right in front of me. The door belongs to the café and every time someone opens it, I brace myself because it shuts with a bang that I can feel. It’s like, “click” -- that’s the sound of the door opening, and “bang!” -- the sound of the door slamming shut.

Across from me, a woman is sitting at a table. She has a reusable plastic bag next to her, one of those that are heavy duty and look like it could survive any weather. The supermarket where I currently am sells such shopping bags, but the one next to this woman bears the brand of another supermarket. The woman is looking out the window to the street. There is nothing on her table. She is just sitting there with that bag, filled with I don’t know what, looking out the window.

And always the sound, “click,” “bang!” “Click” . . . “bang!”

Even though the woman and I are the only ones in this café, many people seem to use that big glass door, mostly to come in.

The café itself isn’t ugly. It has about five tables and on each table is a vase containing a single flower. The flowers aren’t real; they’re carnations made of fabric.

The woman just got up. She picked up her bag and walked over to the door -- “click.” It looked like she was going to let the door close gradually, so it wouldn’t slam, but she didn’t -- “bang!”

I just realized why I feel that “bang” when the door closes. It’s because of the wall I’m leaning against -- it’s hollow, and the force with which the door closes causes it to shake.

I continue to write. I’ve been writing a lot from cafés recently. They’re a great place to observe people’s behavior and to get a clear idea of your reaction to it.  In about 15 minutes I have an appointment a few blocks away from here, but I’ll write until I have to leave.

Oh, the woman with the bag has just reentered the café, “click” -- not gonna hold the door to prevent it from slamming? Nope. “Bang!” She goes not back to her old seat, across from me, but to a table near the door, closer to me. She’s looking out the window to the street like the last train to God only knows where is about to pull up and she has to be on it. She’s looking out the window more intensely than ever.

A man in workman’s clothes just walked in front of me and tried to open the heavy glass door but couldn’t because two cans of beer were in each of his hands. Think about that. Think about trying to get a “pull” door open with two cans of beer in each of your hands. Can you imagine doing it? He problem solves. He puts one of the beers in his jacket pocket and then opens the door.

The woman with the shopping bag just left -- “click" . . . “bang!” -- and I’m sitting here writing. I did not order anything, either. I wanted to order something, but an espresso costs 1.50€ and I currently have 1.26€ on me.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Time to Play That Game Again

It’s time to play the game "Who Smells Like Shit?"

I look at the man to my left. He’s a working-class guy wearing Carhartt clothing and he looks like he’s got a goal, so I don’t think it’s he.

Next to him is a girl who had been on the bus when I got on, and I don’t remember having smelled a sour, rotten stink when I got on the bus, so, nope, not her.

The woman ahead of me, sitting in the single seat, she looks like a nice, hard-working woman and she’s got a scarf carefully wrapped around her neck.  People who smell like shit usually don’t take the time to lovingly wrap scarves around their necks to keep out the cold.

It must be someone behind me. But I don’t turn around. I just turn around halfway and use my peripheral vision to see if I can gather a clue, but doing so doesn’t give me any real idea as to who smells like shit.

I just bear the smell. It smells like old milk . . . plus crap.

Oh, oh, here comes a bus stop where most of the riders get off. Let’s see if the shit smell goes away after this stop . . .

It does, it does! I don’t know who smelled like shit, but I can deduce that it was one of the people who had been on the bus only moments prior, because now it no longer smells like shit.

Thank you for playing "Who Smells Like Shit?"

And now a word from our sponsors.

Female voice: Do you suffer from back pain? Does discomfort in your back keep you up long nights, nights when you should really be sleeping? Have you tried everything and nothing seems to help?

Well . . .

Sunday, December 01, 2019

You Can Count on Me Because...



Recently here in Germany I joined a basketball “Sportverein.” A “Sportverein” is like a club, but it’s a little more serious than that. If you are a member of a “Sportverein,” you are expected to practice your sport with your team two times during the workweek and play in matches on weekends.

Among the many challenges that this new endeavor has presented me with is the language. The practices are two hours long and the practices are in German. The difficulty that I have with the language varies in degrees: sometimes I’m better at it, other times not.

Yesterday, for example, before practice began, the other players and I stood in a circle around the coach at half court and listened to him speak. These little pre-practice, half-court meetings, I’ve come to learn, are something of a ritual. The coach uses them to discuss housekeeping matters and to address any concerns we might have. However, yesterday after the housekeeping matters had been discussed, the coach decided to use the rest of the time there at half-court to do a team-building exercise. He wanted us to go around the circle completing the following sentence: “Man kann mir vertrauen, weil...” (“I can be counted on, because...)

The player to the coach’s left started, “Man kann mir vertrauen, weil...”

Honestly, I didn’t hear why. I was too busy trying to figure out if I had understood the exercise correctly. Only one other person stood between the player who had just begun speaking and me, so I wanted to make sure I had everything straight.

The next player went, “Man kann...”

Again, I didn’t really listen because I was too busy saying to myself, Ah, OK, so we’re completing the sentence. Ah, it’s like that kind of an exercise. I knew the vocabulary: I knew what “vertrauen” meant -- it meant “trust,” so that was good.

It was my turn to go. Though by then I had thought I understood the exercise, my expression must have said something different because the coach started re-explaining it. Which was fine because he was explaining it in German, and I thought that I seemed more competent before the other guys, receiving the instructions in German. I nodded my head to show my understanding and had thought that everything was copacetic. But then for some reason, he decided to switch into English.

Oh, no, I thought. Now I look like I’m the American guy who needs extra help. I continued to nod my head and when the coach stopped speaking, I duly completed the sentence "I can be counted on because..."

“...weil ich wirklich ein team Player.”

I thought it was a good answer, but the moment after I gave it, I realized I had made an error: I had forgotten the verb.

See, in German, there are some situations when the verb of a sentence should be shoved to the end of it. For example, in the sentence, “Ich mag Eis, weil es so gut schmeckt,” the verb “schmeckt” (to taste) must pushed to the end of the sentence. Word for word, such a sentence would read like this in English: “I like ice-cream because it so good tastes.”

In my sentence, I had wanted to say that I could be counted on because I am a good team player. However, probably because the construction I was using required that verb to be pushed to the end of the sentence, I forgot the verb.

What I wound up saying was, “You can trust me because I really a team player.”

Honestly, my oversight was no big deal. Still, to me, I felt that it proved that I was not fully competent, at least in German. Nevertheless, the guys kept going around the circle answering, many of them with interesting answers, and the practice wound up going well.

I didn’t think too much about my language slip-up until this morning when I was on the train going to work. In my mind’s eye, I recreated that circle of players and I played over my answer. But instead of thinking about my fuck-up, I thought about what I had actually said, the content. “You can trust me because I’m really a team player. You can trust me because I’m really a team player.”

“Hmm...” I thought. “That’s actually pretty good.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Signing


When I was standing on line at the bookstore earlier this evening, waiting to pay for a few items, I noticed that two girls were sitting on the stairs that lead to the store’s second floor. I thought that this was kind of odd because here in northern Germany people don’t sit on the floor in public, nor do they sit down on staircases.

I didn’t think too much of these two girls, but then I noticed a few women standing near them. The women seemed to be just standing around doing nothing. I noticed, though, that they had books in their hands. After I noticed that, I looked back at the two girls sitting on the steps and saw that they were holding books, too. I realized: there must be a book signing about to happen.

After I paid for my items, I took a second near the cash register to put my change away. When I looked up I saw a girl in wheelchair. I thought to myself: that’s a pretty girl. She didn’t look like she was in a wheelchair because she had broken her leg, though. She looked like she was in a wheelchair because she was crippled. A man, her father probably, was with her and was pushing her in the wheelchair.

I continued to browse, even after having made my purchase -- ever do that? -- but I kept the girl in the wheelchair and her father in sight. I noticed that the girl had a brand-new copy of a book in her hands. The book looked really nice. It had a black cover with gold trimming of some sort and was wrapped in plastic, like how many brand-new books in Germany often are.

After the girl and her father had made their way past me, I walked over to the display table from which she had just taken her book. I saw that the book she was holding was written by the author who was set to do the signing. The genre of book was fantasy, stuff I would never read, but I really liked the idea that this girl was with someone who loved her and wanted to see her happy.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

My Cousin's Premonition



One winter afternoon my ex-girlfriend Maya and I hung out with my cousin Jonathan in Manhattan, and the three of us did a lot. We ate dumplings in Chinatown; we got Starbucks and walked to the Hudson River; we visited an English-goods specialty shop in Midtown.

The last thing we did was go to a cafe on Bleeker Street in the West Village. It had been a long day, and the three of us had spent a lot of time talking honestly and openly with each other. I always loved when Maya was around Jonathan because she had the courage to ask him questions I never would.

As we sat at a table in the cafe, Jonathan began to talk about my mother.  Jonathan is 13 years older than I am, so he could remember what things were like before I was born, and right there at that table he related a story I found shocking and interesting.

He said that he knew that the marriage between my mother and father was bound to fail.

As you can imagine, Maya and I were rapt with attention after he said this. What did he mean?

Well, he said that on the morning of my mom and dad’s wedding, he had been in the car with my father and a troupe of other men who were invited to or were to participate in the wedding. The ceremony was set to take place in a village in Connecticut, and the men were to drive to this village from the hotel where they were staying. He said that somewhere along the way, the vehicle they were in hit an animal, killing it. I wish I could remember what kind of animal Jonathan said it was, but I can’t. I can just tell you that I remember that it wasn’t a small animal like a squirrel; it was a bigger one, like a deer.

“And that’s how I knew that your mom and dad’s marriage was doomed, to be honest with you,” Jonathan said.

Maya and I were a little bit stunned. Only later did I learn that Maya was feigning shock. “Oh my God," she had said after we had taken our leave from Jonathan, "come on, that story about the van hitting an animal and how he knew the marriage was going to fail? Give me a break.”

I remember laughing when Maya said this, like, “Yeah, please, what hocus-pocus bullshit.” But secretly, I wasn’t as nonchalant as that. Secretly, the story sort of freaked me out.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Cheesecake Connesuir

A few minutes after I took my seat at the bar/lounge, a group of guys took a seat at the couch next to me. Right off the bat, I didn’t like one of them. He had a green woolen hat. Let’s call him green hat guy. I didn’t like green hat guy because I didn’t like how loud he was talking. He and the other guys he was with were well dressed and were talking about tech. I heard green hat guy say the names “Oracle” and “Microsoft.”

When the waitress came over to the men, she asked them what they would like to drink, and green-hat guy answered first.

“A beer,” he said.

I thought that his answer was incredibly rude because it obviously begs the question, “Well, what kind of beer?” and just makes the waitress’s life that much harder.

“What kind of beer?” the waitress asked.

I was proud of her. She did not seem fazed by the guy's stupid little “beer” answer.

“A Pils,” he said.

Again, the answer annoyed me because it begs the question, “Well, what kind of Pils?”

“What kind of Pils?” the waitress said.

“A Holsten,” came the answer.

The other guys with green hat guy gave their drink orders normally.

Then, about 30 minutes later -- the group of guys by this point had already drunk and left -- a young woman,  I think she was the waitress’s friend, put a small piece of paper down on the table in front of me. The paper read, “NY Cheesecake! Hausgemacht! -1.90 -.”

I didn’t want cheesecake, but I liked the price and I liked how the girl had actually handwritten the “ad” for it.

At some point, I decided I needed to go to the bathroom, and on my way there, I saw the girl who had put the “ad” down on my table. She was sitting at the bar. She looked at me nicely and she looked like a nice person, and as I was heading downstairs to the bathroom, I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t really want cheesecake, but she looked nice, and maybe she made that cheesecake herself.”

I even concocted a little story in which this girl asked her waitress friend if she could sell her cheesecake in the establishment. Maybe, I thought, cheesecake girl had always made cheesecakes and wanted now to share her gift for baking them with the world.

When I got back upstairs, I leaned over the bar to ask the waitress for a piece of the cheesecake. She was actually already cutting a piece for someone else. She looked at me as she was cutting.

“Exactly . . . ” I said, “Can I have a piece too?”

The cheesecake was pretty good. But, then again, I’m no cheesecake connoisseur.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Who Remembers Debbie Gibson?!

When I was very, very young, I liked the pop star Debbie Gibson. With my mom’s help, I even wrote a fan letter to her. But I had never been able to remember the first song of Gibson's that I fell in love with, the tune that got me into her, so to speak.

Then, a few days ago, I was listening to the “Hits of the 80s” channel on Spotify and I heard the opening bars to "Lost in Your Eyes." Hold on, I thought, I think this is Debbie Gibson.  I wasn’t sure who was even singing at first. Sure enough, it was Debbie Gibson, and "Lost in Your Eyes" was the first song of hers I loved . . . that was it.

You never forget, I guess.

Dream



I had a very interesting dream last night. I was walking on a city block with a bunch of people, maybe around 15 people, and my dog was there, too. My dog wasn't leashed up, though. At one point, there was a lot of confusion due to something, but I'm not sure what. All I know is that after the confusion was cleared up, all the people I had been with had crossed the street, and I was the only person left on the original side, and my fear was that my dog, thinking I was with the other people, might have crossed with them and in the process gotten hit by a car. But that wasn't the case. She had actually remained on the same side of the street. She was about 30 yards away from me, but still on the same side of the street, and I remember thinking to myself, "Smart dog . . . Smart, smart dog."

I then leashed her up, I think.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Café Thing


When I entered the café I saw that all the tables were taken accept for one. Then I noticed that the table I thought was free was actually attached to another table, which two people were sitting at. As I was standing there wondering what I should do, a waitress came up to me and greeted me. She was very friendly and asked me where I would like to sit. Now, feeling a little bit of pressure, the choice was clear: next to those two people.

I initially sat at the chair facing the window, but it was too bright so I switched to the other side of the table and sat on the bench facing the café. The two people sitting at the table seemed friendly, which made me feel at ease. All I really wanted to do was chill out and maybe drink an espresso, but when the waitress asked me what I’d be having, I told her a latte and a croissant. I didn’t really want the croissant but I ordered it because I felt as though just ordering a latte in such a nice cafe was not enough. The waitress asked me if I would like jelly or butter with my croissant and in that moment I thought, Eww, who actually orders butter with their croissant? I told her just the croissant would be fine, though after I said that I thought maybe I would like some jelly too but said nothing because I felt the moment had passed.

I took out my laptop. Earlier in the day I had been at another café where I tried to write something but couldn’t because my eyes kept shutting out of tiredness. But now I felt I had more energy. I had finally taken care of an important errand at a governmental office and that made me feel good, and the walk to the café from the office had been very pleasant. I had taken a side street and something about walking on this quieter street in the sun and cold reinvigorated me.

I began to write and I felt as though the writing was going well. I mean, it was a slow process, what I was working on was coming along slow, but it was coming along. At one point I overheard something that my seat mates were saying. The man sitting diagonally from me was saying to the woman across from him, “I never get any emails that are real emails these days. The only emails I get are advertisements.” This comment made me think to myself, Is this what people talk about? I mean, I talk about such stuff too, but is this what people talk about?

I carried on with my writing. At some point, my tablemates paid the bill and left. I now had the whole table to myself but by this point didn’t care because the man and the woman had been pleasant. After a few minutes, a young woman came into the café. She must have been in her 20s. She stood near the center of the café, not far from the entrance, and, I noticed, was in the same predicament I had been. There were no seats. Or rather, it seemed like there were no seats. There were actually three free seats by me, and after she looked around the café for a second or two, she came over to the table I was sitting at and asked if she could sit with me. I said of course. It was so cute, because she had been as timid as I was only 25 minutes earlier when I had come up to the table to sit next to those two people.

I went back to writing. I was writing a fiction story. Sometimes when I write, I think the piece that I’m writing is total crap; other times, I might think that the very same piece is great and has much potential. My state of mind was that the piece I was writing had potential. When I noticed that I only had one hour before my next appointment started, I asked the waitress if I could pay. The bill was 5.80 euros. I thought that that was expensive, but I told the waitress that I would like to give her 7 euros in total. One euro and twenty cents felt like a good tip, and when you pay five euros and eighty cents for a coffee and a croissant, it is good, I guess, it’s about 20 percent, but now looking back, it doesn’t seem that great.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Menschlich

When I got on the bus today, the bus driver didn’t really greet me when I showed him my pass. I found that strange because no other human was on the bus when I boarded. It was just he and I there at the stop, and he still didn’t say anything.

Then, a few minutes into ride, the bus came to a halt. I had been typing on my laptop but I looked up after I noticed how quite and still the bus had become. The engine had been shut off. At the front of the bus, the driver was just getting out of his seat.

“Es tut mir leid. Ich muss schnell auf die Toilette gehen.” he said, addressing the people sitting at the front.

“Das ist nur menschlich,” a woman said.

I glanced out the window.  I saw that we were at some kind of red brick house that looked like it belonged to the water authority or something. I wasn’t sure if we were at an official bus top. I figured that the driver was going to go use a bathroom in the building.

As I waited, I enjoyed the quiet. The tapping sound that the keys made as I was typing was very pleasant. It’s not every day that one can hear the sound of typing on a bus.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Just Sketch'n

Just for fun...

The bridge spanning the Elbe looks like a helix. Underneath the bridge is a barge. The barge has either just passed under the helix-looking bridge or is about to. Beyond the bridge is a factory. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a copper refinery, one of the biggest in Germany.

The train pulls into the next stop. The stop is in an area that had been flattened in the war but was rebuilt and nowadays is a commercial district where many big companies have their offices. Each week I do business in a building in this commercial district and every time I run to the store or go for lunch I smell cigarette smoke. Smokers taking their cigarette breaks often stand on the sidewalk in front of the office buildings in the area.

I arrive at the central station. After disembarking, I walk to a place where I like to eat lunch. It’s a sushi place -- “all you can eat.”  A friend of mine and I call this place “ghetto sushi” because the quality of the sushi is not the best. It’s sushi made for the masses. I order the buffet, the “all you can eat,” and when the server asks me what I would like to drink, I say, “Nothing right now.” I really would like a green tea, but I don’t want to spend the extra 3.50 or whatever it is.


The last time I was at this restaurant, a manager came over to me to tell me I had to leave. I had long finished my food and had been sitting at a table with my laptop out. I had been playing chess online. Nothing makes me loose track of time like playing chess. The manager wasn’t rude or anything. He just told me that he and the other employees wanted to close up.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Hard to Understand

Yesterday, before basketball, Max asked me about my weekend. I told him that I had been in Lüneburg. At first, he couldn’t understand me.
“Where?” he asked.
“Lüneburg,” I said.
“Ah,” he said, “Lüneburg. Can you say it again?”
“Lüneburg,” I answered.
“Ha-ha, ‘Lüneburg,’” he said, mocking my pronunciation. “Try it again, ‘Lüneburg.’”
“Lüneburg,” I said.
“Right, that’s it,” he said. “That’s funny, ‘Lüneburg.’”

Then, later, after practice, I was in the locker room getting changed and I overheard just part of a conversation that Max and Uri were having.
“It was a lot of fun,” Max said.
I butted into their conversation. Jokingly,  I said, “What? The strip club?”
“Sorry?” Max said.
“What was fun?” I repeated. “The strip club?”
“Sorry?” Max started to smile. Uri cut in; he had understood me. “No, no," Uri said, "I think you are getting a little confused. That’s a different kind of fun.”
“Oh, strip club, you said,” said Max, “Strip club . . . OK.” Max laughed.
I was smiling and Uri was too. After a moment, I said, “No, but for real, what were you guys talking about?”
“Oh, we were talking about Elsass,” Max said.
Ah, Alsace, nice.”
“It’s a place in France,” Max said.
“I know,” I said. “I’ve been there.”
“Oh, you have?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Yeah, we stayed in a ‘Mittelgebirge,’ a middle . . . I’m not sure how you call it in English.”
“We actually just call them ‘hills,’” I said.
“Oh really? OK. Yeah, so we were staying at this camping area in Elsass and we just hung out and played music, guitar and so forth.”
“Oh, the Vosges!" I said, referring to the mountain range in Alsace and other parts of eastern France. "You guy stayed in the Vosges. I know the Vosges.”
“Vosges,” Uri cut in, correcting my pronunciation. “The Vosges; that’s enough.”
I laughed. “Uh-oh, we better watch out with that English pronunciation of French!”

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Deadly Ones Are in the House






Yesterday I had breakfast with someone who was recently in Chile for a month. Here is a conversation we had.

*** 
“So check this out.”

“OK,” I said.

“So one of our cousins asked us if we wanted to go play soccer in the field. We thought it would be fun, so we said yes. But the field turned out to be this forest of eucalyptus trees that was on a mountain.  

“What?” I said. “That’s crazy. Huh?”

“I know. But wait -- there’s more. At one point, after I had gone for the ball, I saw a huge spider -- one of those that are furry.”

“A tarantula.”

“Yeah, a tarantula, it was sitting on a cement block.”

“Oh my God, are you kidding me?”

“No, and I said to the cousin, ‘What the hell is that!’ and she was like, ‘Oh, don’t worry; they live here,’ and I was like, ‘Live where?!’”

“Oh man . . . that’s crazy.”

“No, no, and then she said, ‘Don’t worry about the tarantulas, they’re not poisonous. The ones you have to worry about are the "corner spiders." 'They're poisonous.' 'And where do those live?' I asked. 'IN THE HOUSE'! Yeah, the deadly spiders live in people's houses -- in the corners or in the crack, near beds and stuff."

“You’re kidding me. ”  

“No, I was so fucking scared.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah, and if they bite you, you can die in two days. One of her uncles was actually bit, and he had to go to the hospital.”

“And they live in the houses?”

“Yeah!”

“Holy shit. You must’ve had a hard time sleeping.”

“Yeah, it was really hard for me the first night after she told me that. But, then, you know what I noticed? They keep the beds and other things away from the wall. That way, spiders can’t find places to hide that easily.”

“Wow . . .”

“Yeah, but she told me to close the window at night.”

“Why, so they can’t get in through the window?”

“Yeah.”

“So if the window is shut, they can’t get in at all? Like, there’s no other way? It’s through the window that they come in?

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So, like, if the window is perfectly shut and you're in a sealed room, so to speak, you're OK?”

"Yeah . . ."

“OK, good . . . Wow.”

“Yeah . . . You can imagine. 'Oh, don’t worry about those spidersthey’re not the deadly ones. The deadly ones live in the house.'!"

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Dream I'll Never Forget


When I was a kid, my mom and I used to live in an apartment building that was across the street from a parking lot that served a supermarket, a Laundromat and some other shops. When you looked out the windows of our living room and bedroom, you saw the parking lot and Laundromat. The parking lot had a guardrail around it, the kind you might see on a highway, and the Laundromat had a big blue awning that said, “Laundromat: Service and Self Services.” Along one of the Laundromat’s exterior walls, there were several dumpsters and a protruding, metal-grate storage shed. This storage shed was under lock and key to prevent people from accessing a staircase that led down to the Laundromat’s sub-ground level.

In a dream I’ll never forget, my aunt Iris and I walked down that staircase. When we got to the bottom of it we saw a door and entered through it. We were amazed at what we saw. It looked like we had entered some kind of private diner/club. There were a lot of people moving about in this space and the air was smoky. People were sitting on stools facing a long counter. The people were eating and smoking. People also sat at the booths that were adjacent to the counter. The milieu was such that it wouldn’t have been unusual to see someone who looked like Humphrey Bogart in the crowd. Iris and I just moved about the place, amazed at all the action. We were not seen.

For the longest time, I had thought that Iris and I had actually gone down that staircase. But my mom eventually convinced me that the entire thing was, or must have been, a dream.

My Thoughts

But is that what you really want? Do you really think that you can do it? What are you now going to write, fiction? What do you know about writing fiction? But fiction has something in it that even journalism doesn’t. In a way, it’s larger than journalism. It has in it something that can’t be captured in journalism. Yeah, but what will you be up against? You will be up against people who are going to school for fiction, who have been writing it for years. They are trained craftsman. You will be going up against the varsity team. You want that? At least with journalism you had at least been on the varsity team, or warmed up with the players, maybe played once or twice. Can you do it? I mean, you are not the youngest person out there. Is this just another of your little flights of fancy. That would be sad if it were. You’re never really going to get anywhere, then. And what’s up with your English teaching? You used to think you had it down to something of a hustle. But lately it seems like it’s been riding you. You think that you make money, but do you? I’m not fully convinced you do. I think you would need to earn double to make the kind of money that you think you are making. And lately it feels like you’re on a hamster wheel with it. It’s like, Monday morning, morning, Tuesday, go, Wednesday there, Thursday break your back and then Friday chill and make some money, but, really you’re not making money . . . you’re not making much money. And then you do you’re little writing in between. And then you get an idea and you go with it and then you take all these little breaks from it and you write all these little flights of fancy. For what? For your blog. Any real writer would tell you that writing for your own blog, for the 10 or so people who read each post, is a joke. You’re a joke. You’re letting your life pass you by. That’s what a real writer would tell you. Yeah, sure, you can write and you’re pretty good at it, but the only thing that really pushes us  to the next level, that brings out the best in us, is trying to work hard for an audience. You can shoot hoops every day all day from dawn until dusk, but unless you have competition and compete with other people, other players, you will never be that great. By writing on you’re blog, you’re just shooting hoops. And you call yourself a writer. You can read all the great fiction you want and think about all the great fiction you want and read all the good news stories that you want, but if you’re not writing and publishing and doing it in a cool and regular way, you’re not a writer. You’re just someone who writes. What do you want to be? Do you really think that you have the ability, the facility, to be a writer, a real writer, of fiction? Whenever the going gets rough with writing, any time you have to really move heavy stone blocks, you take a break. You write something else. You say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” You find a reason not to do it. That’s because you have no fire under you. You’re writing for yourself. Do you think people will actually read what fiction you have to write? You’re not the youngest. What exactly are you? You’re not as hardworking, not nearly hardworking, as you’d like to think you are. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

My Bag

Usually, when I’m on the bus, I’m very considerate. That means if I have a two-seater all to myself and am storing my backpack on the empty seat next to me, I will move my backpack if I notice that a lot of people are about to board. That way, a new-arriver doesn’t have to ask me to remove my bag from the seat. The seat is simply already free and able to be occupied easily.

Today, however, was different. Today I had both my backpack and my basketball equipment with me and decided to keep my bulky basketball stuff on the seat beside me after the bus got underway. I had been so good for so long, I reasoned.

I was on my way from a sparsely populated locale in Lower Saxony to a highly populated place, Harburg, and I knew from past experience that the closer one got to Harburg, the more people boarded the bus. But I was steadfast. Despite the growing number of people that began getting on the bus, I still kept my basketball stuff on the seat next to me. Most people, after seeing my sports bag, wouldn’t even look at me. They would just carry on to the back of the bus, hoping, I guess, to find a unencumbered seat there. Even when the bus driver got out of the bus at one point to help a wheelchair-bound woman board I remained unmoved. Instead, I thought, “Well, nothing to worry about there: she’s already got her seat!”

My conscience kicked in, I guess, at the second-to-last stop before Harburg. There, I noticed that a woman with a baby carriage was about to board. From previous experience, I knew that mothers usually like to park their strollers in front of the two-seater and then sit at the two seater's aisle seat. This allows them to sit and simultaneously keep a hand on the stroller

I moved my bag.

The woman with the stroller got on the bus, and just as I had thought parked it right in front of the two-seater. However, unlike how I had thought, she didn’t sit next to me. Instead she stood by the stroller, stabling herself by holding onto a strap above her. When I looked down at the stroller, I drew a quick breath. There were several tubes leading into the part of the carriage where the baby was. Though my angle was such that I couldn’t see the baby, I presumed that the tubes were connected to it, perhaps helping it breathe. I focused a while on the tubes. They were thick and made of non-transparent plastic and looked like tubes that one might find in a hospital or coiled in the back of an ambulance. The machine that they were attached to was stored at the bottom of the carriage and looked heavy, almost like a car battery. The tubes ran from the machine up and into the bassinet and had been carefully affixed to the stroller's handlebar so they'd be less likely to catch. Another woman was accompanying the woman with the stroller and the two ladies seemed to be in a pretty good mood. They were talking and even smiling, and I was glad that they seemed OK.

When the bus arrived in Harburg, the woman with the baby carriage and her friend disembarked. I remained on the bus for a minute or so after they had gotten off. There were a number of people in the aisle still and I had to wait for them before I could step out of the two-seater.

When I was about to get off the bus and was standing before the doors, I looked to my left and noticed that the wheelchair-bound woman was still aboard. She was the only one left on the bus except for the bus driver and me.

“Excuse me, I would like to get off the bus,” she said to the bus driver. Though it is the bus driver’s duty to aid people in wheelchairs on and off the bus, many riders often take it upon themselves to do the job. Doing so saves time, and in the past I have even helped people in wheelchairs get off and on.

The woman called to the bus driver again. I was able to see his eyes in the rearview mirror.

“Excuse me,” she said.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Rubber Hits the Road

Yesterday, when I was in a bookstore, I had wanted to order a book, so I walked over to a counter in the shop called "Bestellungen,” or “ordered books.” I understood, of course, that this was the counter where customers picked up books that hadn’t been in stock but had been ordered. I thought maybe, just maybe, one could also order a book at the “ordered books” counter. When I asked the clerk if this were possible, she looked at me, very coldly, in my opinion, and tersely said, “No. You order books at the ‘Information’ counter.” Not one hint of feeling was in her face.

Then, later in the day I was playing basketball. I play basketball every Monday with a group of guys. One of my favorite guys from this group is Christian. Christian is a happy-go-lucky person who loves doing sports, likes American culture and likes to kid around with me. He is also a very fair basketball player. In fact, one thing that I like about going head-to-head with Christian is that he hardly ever fouls, and if he does foul, he often calls it on himself.

When we began to play yesterday, everything started out as normal. We were all playing at a light to medium intensity level and my energy level seemed good. At one point, Christian, who was on the opposing team from me, was under the basket. He had just missed a shot, gotten his own rebound and was trying the shot again. Some other players on my team and I were circling him with our arms in the air, making the shot very difficult. I guess Christian felt as though I was fouling him because he gave me a hard shove before he shot the ball again.

After the play was over, I addressed the situation.

“I’m not fouling you,” I said.

“Yeah sure,” he said, sarcastically.

Sensing a bit of tension, another player cut in: “OK, OK.,” he said.  “Let’s just keep playing."

And we did. But I was a little mad. After all, Christian had just shoved me and accused me of fouling him when I hadn’t, or at least I thought I hadn’t.

At the other end of the floor I got the ball near the basket. Tensions were high. Christian was guarding me, but had misjudged the action I planned to take and I was able to spin off him and drive closer to the basket. As I was taking the layup, I felt the ball being stuffed from behind as well as part of Christian’s weight coming down on my back. The ball block was legal but coming down on my back wasn’t -- that was a foul. Christian had played over aggressively in his effort to stop me. After the play, all the players were silent for a moment. I felt anger rise up in me, anger that I wanted to take out on Christian and the players on his team. But I was able to calm myself down. Here’s where the rubber hits the road, Chad, I thought. These are the situations you should really save you patience for; here is the test. Which way are you going to go?

I continued to play in an unaggressive way and on the successive plays Christian did too.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Buzzard and Bussard and Bussard


One time when I was in a wooded preserve with Maya and the dog, we saw a large bird, one that looked like a bird of prey. We weren’t sure what kind of bird it was, but a little later on we met a woman in the preserve, who was also walking her dog, and after falling into conversation with her, she said that the bird we had seen was probably a buzzard.

Maya was very excited about having just seen a buzzard, which made me a little confused. “A buzzard?” I thought. For one, the bird we had seen sitting high in the treetops did not look like a buzzard; and two, even if it was a buzzard, why would you get excited about seeing it?

Eventually, I did some research and found out that the woman wasn’t referring to a turkey vulture, but rather a small hawk found widely in Europe, a “bussard.” She had just been pronouncing the “s’s” like “z’s.”

Then, yesterday, I was in the car with Martina, driving through the German state of Brandenburg. The state Brandenburg is very rural. In Brandenburg you see farmland and potato fields and wind turbines. As we were passing one house along the road, I saw that a big-horned buck and several doe were kept in a pen on the property.

At one point, I looked up and saw a bussard perched on the branch of a big pine tree that towered over the road.

“Holy shit,” I said. “That’s a bussard.” Martina was at the wheel and my observation didn’t even faze her.

“I know,” she said. “I told you it was country-like here.” 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Sunshine on My Shoulder

“Now I remember my dream,” Martina said. We were standing in a field playing fetch with the dog and a flock of geese had just passed overhead in a “V” formation.

“I dreamed that a bird in heaven shitted on me,” she said. “Here, on my shoulder.” She pointed to her shoulder.

"Really?" I said. Inside I was laughing a little. I loved how her sentence had started out with “I dreamed that a bird in heaven” and ended with “shit on my shoulder.”

“Yeah,” Martina said, "that was the dream . . . a bird shitted on my shoulder, and then when I woke up, I smelled the dog’s fart. Oh, that was so horrible!”

“Yeah," I said, "usually it’s the opposite way. Usually you have a bad dream and then you wake up into reality and you are relieved. With you last night it went the other way. You woke up out of a bad dream into a worse reality!”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Or a Seize-Up from Fear


The first time I saw her new mailbox, I was given a serious shock, something like a punch in the stomach or a seize-up from fear. There were two names on it. My mind raced. Who the hell is that? Is she living with a man? I wondered: had she left me with the excuse that she needed more space, that my apartment was too small, that familiarity was breeding contempt, only to go live with someone else?

After doing some research on my phone, I found out that the name on the mailbox belonged to a woman. That made me feel some relief, but the shock of initially seeing another name next to hers left me tired and made me realize the power she still had over me.

Then, a month or so later, she told me that that name that I had seen on her mailbox belonged to the previous tenant. She had just been too lazy to remove it after she moved in.

Then, some time after that, I’m not sure how much, I was again in her neighborhood. I knew that I should just stay away from her apartment. But something kindled in my imagination. Despite myself, I picked a few daisies, ones that were growing in an unkempt patch of grass in an always empty plaza near her apartment. I dropped the flowers into her mailbox. This time, only her name was on it.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Thinking


I was sitting on the toilet in the bathroom of a café, thinking. I was thinking about my mother. I realized that ever since I had gotten into a big fight with her in January, she has not said “I love you” to me at the end of our phone calls like she always had. I thought that and then I thought about how strange the thoughts we have in the bathroom are. I also thought that when I got out of the bathroom, I wanted to share this thought about my mom with Martina, who was sitting at a table in the café, waiting for me to return.

When I got back to the table, I noticed that in my absence Martina had ordered another latte macchiato with oat milk. Before going to the bathroom, I had said something to her like, “We should probably order another latte macchiato.” I had taken one too many sips of hers after finishing my espresso and I had thought it’d be a good thing to do. In response, she had said, “Yeah, it’s OK,” a sort of non-committal statement, I had thought, but now to my delight there was a brand-new latte macchiato on the table for both of us to enjoy.

“Wow, cool,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s OK, don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“No, it’s no problem,” Martina said. “I just thought it would be nice if we had another ‘Hafer’--uh, oat milk latte.” She had corrected herself because “Hafer” means “oat” in German, and I had long ago taught her the English word “oat.”

“You know what’s crazy?” I said, just after taking a sip of the latte. “Remember how I told you how I got into a big fight with my mom last January, the one where I said, ‘What is it then? Are you in love with me, am I your boyfriend?’ and all that crazy Freudian stuff?”

“No,” Martina said. “I don’t remember that; you didn’t tell me that.”

“Yeah, Martina, I told you. I said all those crazy Freudian things to my mom.”

“Oh, yes, yes,” she said. And I saw by the look in her eyes that she really did remember, so I continued.

“Yeah, since that fight, my mom hasn’t said ‘I love you’ to me when we get off the phone.”

“Really? Aww . . . ”

“Crazy, right?”

“Yes, I think that’s hard.”

“Yeah,” I continued, “it’s like, wow. I mean, I know we got into a fight, but that was a year ago, or almost a year ago, and since then she hasn’t said ‘I love you’ to me. I don’t know whether she wants me to say it first or what, but . . . ”

There was a small pause. Martina looked like she was considering something. Then she said: “I think it’s hard for your mom. I think the whole situation is hard because you can’t see your mom. When you see people, you can see in their expression that they love you, or they can touch you or give you a hug, and you can know that they love you.”

“Yeah . . . ” I said. 

“But I think in the case of your mom, it’s hard for her sometimes. I think, from what you have told me, your mother is a person who is very hard on the outside, but very soft and very gentle on the inside. When was the last time you went home?”

“2015,” I said.

“2015? OK . . . Oh . . . 2015?”

I knew that after telling Martina the year I was last home it would take a moment to register. After all, it has been four years, and often after I tell people the year of my last visit home, they need a moment to compute how many years have elapsed since that last visit and then another moment to consider what the implications of such a gap are. With Martina, it was no different.

“Oh, wow,” she said. “That’s a long time.”

“Yeah, it is. . . ”

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Moved

By this time, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor. 

We had been living as a couple in my apartment for over a year. My mattress had been too hard, the one she had had too soft, but when we put them on top of each other, the bed was just right and we even called it our “happy little cloud.”

By this time, though, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor.

I had noticed a change in Caro after I got back from a one-week vacation in Italy with my mom. Instead of coming home at normal times, Caro began coming home very late at night. She began talking of needing space and an apartment of her own. “Do you realize that I have never had an apartment of my own?” she had said.

One evening after work I came back to our apartment to find that she had taken her mattress off mine and had set it on the floor. She told me that this was where she would now sleep. She just needed more space of her own.

By this time, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor. 

One morning, not too far from the end of our relationship, I was sitting in bed reading while Caro was just waking up. She often slept later than I did. There, lying on her mattress, she rubbed her eyes and looked at me. I decided to get up and join her on her “bed.” We talked lightly and easily; there was no rush; it was a Saturday morning. At one point, I began reciting William Butler Yeats’ "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." I know the poem by heart.

"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade . . ."

When I was finished reciting the poem, Caro said, “That’s nice.” Upon hearing that, I began to recite another poem, but she immediately stopped me. “No, don’t ruin it,” she said. "Sometimes less is more." She had really liked the piece, I guess, and had wanted to let it, and only it, sink in.

By this time, though, Caro had already moved her mattress to the floor.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Safe Travels


The first thing I thought when I boarded a bus to take me home from work today was that the guy sitting closest to the door looked weird. His eyes just looked strange, and I didn’t like the way that he looked at the person who had boarded the bus prior to me. There was a seat open next to this strange looking guy, but I decided not to take it for obvious reasons. Instead, I walked to the rear of the bus and took a seat next to someone there.

When the bus began to move, I took out my phone and began reading the online Cliff’s Notes for Hemingway’s short stories. I had just begun to read the criticism for another of the stories when I was interrupted by the man sitting next to me. He had taken one of his earbuds out of his ears and was holding it toward me, like an offering. He wanted to know if I would like to listen to his music with him.

At first, what this man had just done didn’t even register; I was too busy trying to figure out whether I knew him not. He was in his early 20s, had red hair and glasses. My first thought: “Oh, no. I just want to read my Cliff Notes in peace. Did I just sit down next to someone I know?” But then I realized that in fact I did not know this person; I did not know this person and yet for some reason he had just asked me if I would like to share his earbuds with him and listen to music!

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, declining the offer.

“OK. Safe travels,” he said. He then put the one earbud that he had had held up to me back into his right ear.

Though I was shocked that a stranger had just asked me to listen to his music with him, the words that he used after I had declined his offer soothed me -- “Safe travels.” In fact, I kept repeating this phrase of his over and over to myself, almost like the recitation of some mantra, and doing so neutralized any feelings of awkwardness that the interaction had produced in me.

It wasn’t until I had gone back to my reading that I caught a whiff of alcohol. When my seatmate had asked me if I’d like to listen to music with him, I hadn’t smelled any alcohol. But now after he had opened his mouth to speak, I did, and that made things clearer for me.

I do admit that before having smelled the alcohol I had created a story in my mind about this man and why he might have asked me to listen to music with him. Perhaps he had seen me reading a text in English and was listening to music with English lyrics and for some reason, some crazy reason, thought that I, a total stranger, would like to listen to his music with him.

But now it was clear. This man had been drinking.

When I got off the bus, I made sure to say bye to my seatmate in a hearty fashion. After all, he had wished me safe travels. But he didn’t reply. He didn't even look up.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Chess Game

I'm super proud of the following chess game, maybe the most proud out of any chess game I've ever posted on my blog. Reason being . . . well, there are a few. After the game, when I analyzed my moves with a computer, the computer said that I played with 93 percent accuracy. That is really hard to attain, no matter how hard one tries. Also, I played with a lot of patience. I first dealt with and repelled many of the black threats to the queenside before turning to black's kingside. Often when one plays chess, one wants very badly to attack. However, in certain positions one first has to concentrate on defense before doing so. Also, I have studied the opening that is played in this game, the "Sicilian Defense," for many years, and I was able to apply a lot of my knowledge. Enjoy.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

"ANNA"

I can still remember how my 3rd grade classroom looked. It was a big room with desks in the center not in rows but in islands. We sat at islands made up of about five desks. Some of the desks faced the blackboard, which was in the front of the classroom, some faced the windows, but from all of the desks one had a good, clear view of the blackboard.

On the walls of the classroom there were displays featuring work that we, the students, had done. Some of the best art projects were hung up at these displays, as were top-scoring quizzes. There was a sheet of oaktag on one of the walls, the one next to the cubbies, and on this sheet of oaktag was a list of all our names, and next to our names, stars. For every “100%” we got on a spelling test, we would get a star. I had always thought how easy it would be to steal stars away from other students and put them next to my name, but never did.

The teacher we had for 3rd grade was Mrs. Bell. Mrs. Bell was nice but she was a person who could be stern. You didn’t feel like you could just do whatever you wanted in Mrs. Bell’s class. I remember one time I was with my mom near a local bank and we ran into Mrs. Bell, and I thought that perhaps I would be in trouble, but Mrs. Bell said nothing bad about me to my mom, and the whole interaction went off without a hitch.

In those days, the teachers in the elementary schools were almost religious about checking homework and Mrs. Bell was no exception. When we wouldn’t do our homework, she would write it down in her book as an “X,” and if we got enough “X’s,” it would affect our report card. The fear of getting an “X” was enough to make me think twice about not doing my homework, and to the extent that I can remember, this system of Mrs. Bell’s was mostly successful.

Nevertheless, I remember a new rule that Mrs. Bell instituted after enough students had repeatedly failed to do their homework. Instead of coming around to check to see if we had done our homework or not, Mrs. Bell said that she now wanted us to come to the front of the class, where she would have a desk set up, a desk separate from her main one. We were to come up to that desk, where she would would be sitting, and show her our homework. If we hadn’t done our homework we were still to come up to the desk, and it would be there that we would report that information.

Obviously, this new system was designed to strike fear into our little hearts. It was one thing to tell Mrs. Bell that we hadn’t done our homework as she passed around the class with her marking book. It was another thing entirely to have to stand before her and report that we had not done what we were supposed to have done. How awful that would be, I had thought many times, having to report your dereliction of duty to the teacher while the whole class listened on!

In fact, it was the fear of such embarrassment that lay behind an act of subterfuge I carried out one day in class.

You see, in order to prove to Mrs. Bell that we hadn’t done our homework while waiting for our turn to be called up to her desk, she had told us that she wanted our homework always to be signed by our parents.

Normally, this was not a problem, but on the day that I actually hadn't done my homework and needed to do it while waiting for my turn to come to her desk, it was a big one.

After finishing the homework -- I think it was a spelling assignment -- I sat at my desk and wondered what I could do. Well, there was only one thing to do. And that was forge a signature. But there was an inherent problem with this idea. My mother had a flowing signature, with curves that were graceful if not flamboyant, and I would never be able to reproduce such a thing. However, my grandma had been up in New York visiting us from Florida and I had remembered how she would often talk about her arthritis. I didn’t know what arthritis was, but I knew it was some kind of disease of the bones, and I knew that it was painful. I also knew that it could affect the way a person wrote, especially if the person had arthritis of the hands. So, on the top of my homework I wrote in all capital letters, as straightly and as neatly as I could, “ANNA.”

Finally, it was my turn to go up to the front. After handing over my paper to Mrs. Bell, I waited a few beats before explaining that the reason why my grandma had written her name in such a strange and primitive way was because she had arthritis. I remember thinking I was going to be caught. But, instead, Mrs. Bell just checked my homework and didn’t say anything, and I was able to return to my seat in due course.

It wasn’t until many, many, many years later that I realized how brilliant I actually was that day.