Thursday, August 22, 2019

"Once Upon a Time..."

Yesterday I saw "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and loved it. The movie was my favorite of the year so far. It was funny, dramatic, moving, thought-provoking and downright sorta fascinating. Here is something that I wrote before I saw the film, while waiting in the concession area of the cinema. Enjoy.


There are four faux Hollywood-Walk-of-Fame-styled stars on the floor in front of the cinema's concession stand. The names say, "Margot Robbie," "Al Pacino," "Brad Pitt," and "Leonardo DiCaprio," in that order, from left to right. I'm sitting in a booth across from the concession stand, eating a small popcorn. In an hour or so the movie "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" will begin. Hence, those stars. They are part of the promotional materials for the film.

On my phone, the Wikipedia page for Sharon Tate is open. Sharon Tate is portrayed in "Once Upon a Time," and I had navigated to the page because I had wanted to learn a little more about her. I was surprised to learn that Sharon Tate was active as an actress for so many years, from 1961 to 1969. I was also surprised to learn that she was said to have had range. I had always thought of her as just a bit player. I skipped the part about her death and its aftermath.

Sitting at the table next to me here in the concession area are two girls. The girls are in their very early twenties. One of them is American and the other is British. At the far end of the concession stand are two cash registers where the movie tickets are purchased. Two men who seem to be friends are talking to the girl behind one of the cash registers. She has just told them that "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is basically sold out. They can't believe it and are looking at a monitor on which the theater's seating plan is displayed. The men are wasting their time. Or, rather, they are wasting their time if they want to sit next to each other. About half an hour ago, I was standing where these men are now, looking at that same screen, and what I saw surprised me. Usually, there is a lot of green on that screen. What I mean is, the color green is used in the electronic seating chart to indicate which seats in the theater are still free. So green is the color that you look for when the cashier shows you the monitor. After you buy your tickets, the seats you have purchased turn white in the electronic system. Whenever I come to this theater, there is always green on that monitor, always. However, when I looked at the screen when I got here earlier to buy tickets for "Once Upon a Time," nearly the entire plan was white. There were only a few dabs of green. About 10 seats were still available, but none of the free seats was next to another one. If you came with a friend, you two would have to sit separately from one another. If you sat in the first row, you would only be one seat away from the person with whom you came. If you wanted to sit deeper in the theater, forget it. The free seats there were deserts apart.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Watch Out

I got a great reaction when I told the following story recently. Enjoy.

When I was about three years old, my mom took me to the house of one of her friends for the afternoon. The friend had a pool. He had a son, too, about 10 years old, and my mom thought it would be nice if she brought the son a gift. So before heading over to the house that day, we went to Toys "R" Us. There, my mom bought two battery-operated watches, one for the son and one for me.

When we got to the house, my mom gave the watch to the son. I already had mine on. At some point, this boy and I decided that we would go into the pool, in the backyard. I took off my watch before going into the pool. The boy, however, didn't. He went into the pool with his new watch--and broke it.

The boy was very upset. After all, he had just gotten a new watch, and now it was broken. In an effort to smooth things over, my mom got an idea. She figured that I, being only three, would have no clue if she exchanged the boy's broken watch with my working one. But she was wrong.  When my mom and I got into the car to leave that evening, I noticed that the watch that I was currently wearing did not work. I remembered that the boy had made a big stink about his watch no longer working and I put two and two together: My mother had exchanged the watches!

I couldn't believe it. I immediately told my mom that I wanted my watch back. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what my mom's initial reaction was. I have vague memories of her being surprised that I knew the difference between a broken watch and a working one. I remember clearly, though, the course of action that she took. She apologized but said that it would be too embarrassing for her to retrieve the working watch. I'm pretty sure that she said that she would get me a new watch. I know for certain that she took me to a nearby deli and tried to make up for her act of subterfuge by buying me candy.

Unfortunately for my mom, she has never lived this story down. To this day, I still remind her of the "broken watch" and how she tried to foist it on me to make "everyone happy.” Close, but no cigar.

Friday, August 16, 2019


As I've written probably 100 times by now on this blog, I'm rereading Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms." Below is just an awesome, Hemingwayesque passage from the book. Enjoy.
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Kristen Crying"

Here's a true story from my past. I've changed some names, but everything else is true. Enjoy.

One night in the fall of 1996, I sat with Kristen, an ex-girlfriend of mine, in a Dunkin' Donuts and held her hand as she cried. It was weird because Kristen never cried. In fact, Kristen had always told me and several other friends that she and I had in common that she hadn’t even cried when her mother died. Kristen's mother had had breast cancer and we would always ask her, “Kristen, how is it that you didn’t even cry when your mother died?” and Kristen would always answer, “I just didn’t. What do you want me to tell you?” But now here Kristen was, at a booth in a Dunkin' Donuts on Long Island, resting her head on her forearm so I couldn’t see her face, crying. I was sitting across from her holding her hand, but she wouldn’t look at me, nor would she talk with me.

A few months prior, I would have been ecstatic if Kristen would have allowed me to have such intimate contact with her. I had dated Kristen for a brief period in the winter of 1996. I had really, really liked Kristen. She had beautiful eyes, cat eyes, and I had really liked her sarcastic manner. But then only four weeks into our relationship, a mutual friend called me up to say that Kristen wanted to break up with me. This mutual friend, Jessica, said that Kristen felt compelled to end things because one of Kristen's friends, a girl I also knew, had had a crush on me for a long time and had never been comfortable with Kristen's and my relationship.

The excuse sounded like bullshit, but there was nothing I could do. I remember meeting up with Jessica and Kristen a few hours after Jessica delivered the bad news and crying into Jessica's shoulder as Kristen stood nearby.

In the months after the break up, Kristen and I remained in contact. Actually, we remained friends. But the type of friendship that developed after the split was a strange one, as it soon became evident that I was willing to do anything for Kristen. In fact, during the summer of 1996, Kristen's wish was my command. If she’d say, “Jump,” I’d said, “How high?” If she wanted a pack of cigarettes, I'd buy her two or three packs. Sometimes, she would bring me over to a group of her girlfriends and would show them -- literally show them -- the type of power that she had over me. She would say to them, “Chad, tie my shoes” and like a good, trained monkey, I would. The friends would often ask me, right in front of her, “How could you do that, Chad? How could you let her treat you that way?” I didn’t really have an answer. I wanted Kristen and only Kristen.

But then the new school year started. I was a freshman in my local high school that September, and a few weeks after classes commenced, I got to know a girl, a senior named Mona. Mona was a super popular girl who actually drove a BMW convertible to school. As luck would have it -- and, really, it must have been luck or something -- Mona had had a big crush on me. When Mona and I began dating in late September, most of my friends couldn’t believe it. (Even I couldn’t believe it.) But Mona and I were a couple.

It didn't take long, though, for Kristen to get wind of my new relationship. See, Kristen and I didn't go to the same high school -- she went to school in Queens -- but we still had many of the same friends, and it wasn’t long before she learned that I was with someone else -- and an awesome someone else.

Still, because Kristen never hinted that she still had feelings for me, I didn’t think she cared about my relationship with Mona. I was so convinced of that, in fact, that as she sat there in that Dunkin' Donuts booth that night, I was sure that she was crying about her mother. I wasn’t positive about the date of her mother's death, but I'd thought that the anniversary was soon approaching or had recently passed. I never got a word out of Kristen that night. I only got her holding, and sometimes squeezing, my hand.

Then, a couple weeks later, I was on the phone with Jess, the girl who had told me about Kristen's wish to break up, when I asked her what had been wrong with Kristen in Dunkin' Donuts that night.

"What do you mean?" Jess said.

“Well, she was crying all night the other night,” I said.

“You mean at the Dunkin' Donuts?”

“Yeah. Was it the anniversary of her mother’s death or something?”

“Chad, what are you talking about?”

“What do you mean, ‘What am I talking about?’ She was crying because of something with her mom, right?

“Chad, she was crying because of you. She was crying because you’re with Mona now; you’re gone.”

To this day I think back to this story with Kristen whenever I think about how hard it is to truly know someone.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Chess Game

I'm really proud of this chess game of mine. Reason being, it's the type of position I don't like and don't feel comfortable in, yet I still won. White (me, in this case) has to walk a tightrope throughout the duration of the middle game before he can start attacking. Luckily for me, my opponent disregarded his kingside safety, which I exploited with my 23rd move, Rxh7. After that, it was pretty much lights out. God, I love chess. Enjoy.

Friday, August 09, 2019

How Much Is That Rollie in the Window?

As I was walking through an affluent neighborhood in Hamburg called Eppendorf the other day, I noticed a store that sold antique clocks and watches. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t stop and look in the shopwindow. However, after wrapping up my phone call nearby,  I returned to the store.

In the shopwindow, I saw many watches on display that didn’t excite me. I don’t know all that much about watches, and {most of the watches just looked like timepieces from, like, an era long ago. Still, there were a few watches I did like. There were several antique Rolexes set up next to each other, and one in particular really did it for me. It was black with a leather band and it had a black face with a small crown where the notch denoting "12" would have otherwise been.

I was attracted to this black Rolex because it didn’t look like a Rolex. First of all, the band was leather and the watch itself wasn’t that chunky, which I find Rolexes usually to be. I came up with a price in my head. I thought maybe between 325 and 700 euros. I knew I couldn’t afford the watch no matter the price, but I was curious, so after working up the nerve to go in the store, I walked down the steps that led to the door.

Inside, the shopkeeper was busy rearranging a display in an adjacent room. Still, he stopped what he was doing momentarily to greet me. He was standing by the doorframe separating the two rooms of the shop, just inside the other room.

I didn’t waste any time -- I honestly felt a little awkward in there -- and said in my nicest German, “Sorry to bother you, but I’m a little bit curious about that Rolex in the window.”

To my relief, the shopkeeper immediately took out a key and opened the shopwindow display case and took out the watch. Again, I didn’t want to waste his time, so I flat out just said it: “How much is it?”

“This one,” he said, turning over the watch, “it’s 3,200 euros.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m very sorry. Wow. I didn’t think it was going to, OK. That’s all I needed to know.”

To my relief, his expression didn’t change at all, nor did he put back the watch. Instead, he told me why it was that expensive.

“Of course this watch is going to be expensive, ” he said. "It’s from the ’60s, it’s in very good condition, and you see this” -- he shook the thing -- “it’s self-winding. It’s an automatic watch. That makes it's a lot more valuable.”

He then went to the display case and took out another Rolex. “This one,” he said, “you have to wind it by hand; it’s not automatic. This one is 1,200 euros.”

“Wow,” I said. “I had no idea.”

“Yeah, when they say the word ‘perpetual’ that means they are automatic. You see this?” He came a little bit closer to me and brought the watch a little higher. He was pointing to the watch's face, just below the iconic crown. “It says Rolex Oyster Perpetual. 'Perpetual' means self-winding, which means it's always going to be more expensive.”

“Wow, thank you so much,” I said. He shrugged his shoulders and waved his hand, as if to say, "No problem at all." I told him again thank you, and as I was leaving the store told him that maybe one day I might be back. I meant it, too.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

I Can Write Like Hemingway! (Part 2)

In a 2015 blogpost, I showed how Hemingway’s style could be imitated. Hemingway has a very terse, a perhaps overly terse and rugged, style and in his writing relies sometimes on certain, well, certain gimmicks. Granted, they are gimmicks he probably invented and are still used to this day, but Hemingway's writing, though absolutely astounding and gorgeous, can be a bit gimmicky sometimes.

Nevertheless, I thought I would have a go again at trying to write in the Hemingway style. I’m currently rereading "A Farewell to Arms," or, for all my German readers, “In Einem Anderen Land,” and I thought, for giggles, I would recount a trip I recently made to the Alster and an interaction I had there in Hemingway style. Enjoy.


When I got home after my first appointment this morning, I wanted badly just to take a nap. However, the dog needed to go out. So instead of lying in my bed and closing my eyes, which I had wanted badly to do, I got the leash and the harness and fastened the harness around the dog and headed outside.

It was cooler outside and I let the dog off the leash the moment I walked off the grounds of my apartment house. Filou frolicked on the banks of the waterway that led to the Alster. There were no swans or other waterfowl eating from the hanging leaves of the trees that line the banks, so it was a peaceful walk.

At the Alster, I took Filou off the leash and allowed her to run. I had brought only my book with me and had decided to read as she ran alongside the lake. It was cloudy and slightly humid and there were not many people at the Alster. This was fine because I was more easily able to read and walk at the same time, much more easily than on days when many people are out because of the sun.

My intention initially had been to walk with Filou to a bridge about three-fourths of a mile from where I had let her off the leash, but a little bit before I arrived at the bridge, perhaps 200 feet before, I felt tired and hungry and the humidity was getting to me so I decided to turn back. I was reading and walking and walking and reading and reading and walking when I felt something hard and wet at my ankle. Filou had dropped a stick at my foot. She wanted me to play with her. I looked at her, the stick, her again and then I looked at the water. I picked up the stick and threw it in the water. Filou jumped in after it with a huge splash and I watched her. It was very peaceful watching her. It was early and it was very quiet and I was able to hear the lapping sound of the water as she swam toward the stick. It was very quiet and the water sounded very nice and it wasn’t too hot and I watched as Filou brought the stick up on land, dropped it and then shook herself off. I threw the stick in again, and again, she jumped in after it, this time jumping before the stick even left my hand.

As she was swimming, I wondered whether blue algae might be a problem. Last summer there were many cases of blue algae due to the heat and there had been warnings not to let dogs in the water but I couldn’t remember having read anything in the papers this year and no other dog owners had said anything to me so far, so I continued throwing the stick and she continued fetching it.

The book I had brought with me was very good and very interesting and I was thankful that I had brought it and I had even begun to forget about my hunger. Filou was at peace and happy getting exercise and I had begun to feel all right when a woman addressed me. I turned around to confirm that the woman was in fact talking to me.

“Ist das eine gute Idee?” she said. She was pointing to Filou, who had just come up on land with the stick. I immediately knew what she was talking about.

“Was meinen Sie?” “What exactly are you talking about?” I asked, out of respect.

“Kommen Sie aus England oder sprechen Sie Englisch?” she replied. I said yes.

“Well,” she said, “I think there is blue algae in the water. That may not be good for them.”

“Really?” I said. “Because I was thinking that. I had been thinking to myself, ‘Is it safe this year?’ and I hadn’t heard any reports about blue algae, so I just let her--”

“Yeah, there have been reports,” she said. The woman’s dog was standing right beside her. It looked like a poodle.

“Ah, OK,” I said. “’s out of the water, Filou.” Filou was looking up at me. “Sorry,” I said.

“I’m not 100 percent sure, but there have been reports on the radio. You know what you should do? The Elbe. At the Elbe they can swim.”

“Ah, OK.”

“Yeah, you know where? You know--have you ever heard of this place called ‘Strandperle’?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of it.”

“It’s at Ovel--”


“Ovelgönne,” she said. “There. It’s a great place; they can swim there and it’s very nice. You can go right there.”

“And it’s fine for them because there’s a current, right?”


“Great...well...thank you.”

The woman’s dog had climbed onto the roots of a tree whose roots were growing sideways.

“...She likes to climb.”

“What kind of breed of dog is she?”

“A Lagotoo Romagnolo,” the woman said with immense pride, almost singing the name. “An Italian water dog.”

“Great,” I said, “very pretty.”

“Yeah, she loves to climb. But yours...” she gestured toward Filou. “...Those eyes.”

“I know,” I said and then put my finger over one of my eyebrows and moved my eyebrow with it to draw attention to Filou’s cuteness and her ability to use her eyebrows to persuade.

The woman laughed. “Yes, of course,” she said.

“All right, then. No more swimming for Filou, I guess. But it’s better that way. Better safe than sorry.”

“Yes, but Ovelgö’s perfect.”

“Thank you,” I said, and after we exchanged a few more words, we took our leave from each other. Filou still had the stick she had been fetching in her mouth, but I knew that I would no longer be throwing it in the water. I didn’t know exactly what blue algae did to dogs or why it was so bad, but I knew that it was bad and in the papers they had made a big deal about not allowing dogs into the Alster when blue algae was there.


Just some thoughts here...

This morning when I was sitting in the train going to work, I saw an ad for a community event. In the ad's headline was the German word "mittendrin." Seeing this word reminded me of my ex-girlfriend. She would always make fun of how I pronounced "mittendrin." In fact, often, to show me how wrong I was pronouncing "mittendrin," she would repeat the word with an overly strong American accent. She would also mock me for how I would often say, “mitteldrin” instead of “mittendrin.” But she mocked me in the latter case more good-naturedly.

After having all these thoughts about "mittendrin," there, sitting in the train, I thought about the time I said something to my ex about her English pronunciation. She had been singing a song, and after she was through, I’d said, “You know what’s weird? Usually, when foreign people sing in English, they lose their accent. But you don’t exactly.” I was able to recall exactly what she had said in response. She said, “Do you think I like that you say that?”

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The Effect People Have on You

It's amazing the effect that people can have on you.

Today I had been sitting at a café doing some writing when an old woman with a walker approached me at my table and asked me if the chair opposite me was occupied. When I told her it wasn’t, she sat down. Initially, I had no problem sharing my table with this woman. But then she began talking to me. Yup, talking to me like it was the most normal thing in the world, even though I was in the middle of writing.

The woman spoke German without a hint of a dialect, or at least it sounded that way, but she didn’t enunciate well, and I had a hard time understanding her. I guess she was saying something about how there was too much traffic in the neighborhood and that there were always cars rumbling down the street in front of us. One thing I clearly understood was that she had just been denied access to a bathroom in a local grocery store and had returned all the items that had been in her basket in protest.

At first I tried to be polite and listen to what this woman had to say. However, I soon realized that if I kept on being polite, she would never stop. And she didn't. As I was trying to write -- I had only managed to write one sentence since she had taken her seat -- she continued to talk. After repeating the bathroom story for something like a third time, I heard her say this: "It's so expensive in this neighborhood. I swear, I get the feeling sometimes that if I moved out of my apartment and let five years go by, I wouldn't be able to afford my place if I ever tried to come back.”

I had been holding onto the hope, however tenuous, that I was still going to be able to write with her sitting there. However, once she began complaining about the price of rents, I knew that was no longer going to be a possibility.

So, after telling myself “not to force it,” I took out a book that I had brought with me and began to read. Oddly enough, it was only moments after I had begun reading the book, the thing that I thought would calm me down, that it happened -- anxiety.

I got hit with a mild wave of anxiety. The wave was not all that intense, but it was enough to get my heart beating quicker and me perspiring a little more. For a few intense and uncomfortable moments, I was reminded of times when my writing had been hindered by other anxieties that I'd had. Essentially, I was having anxiety about anxiety, and as I sat there in my seat, the world momentarily felt grim.

Thankfully, I've become something of an anxiety expert over the years, so I knew that what I was experiencing would soon pass. But for a bit of time, I was having real trouble taking in the words of my book.

The woman, meanwhile, was still talking. It was a mixture of her sort of talking with herself and sharing some comments with a few people she seemed to know on the street. She attempted to address me directly again, but when she did, I totally and unashamedly ignored her. Over the years, I've noticed this about myself -- namely, if my anxiety gets triggered, I get unfriendly. So I wasn't surprised that I continued to flat out ignore this woman even though I knew doing so was sort of rude.

Eventually, the words of my book, "A Farewell to Arms," started to make more sense, and I started to feel myself relax. Still, I was conscious of the woman and kept wishing she would leave, just leave. After about 10 minutes, she did, and even though I kept my eyes on my book when she got up, like I was lost in deep concentration, I was glad.

Soon after, I noticed that an older couple, a man and a woman, maybe in their 50s, had sat down at the table that was behind me. When I had first arrived at the cafe, two young mothers with their children had been at that table. At some point, though, the mothers had left and this older couple had taken their place. Both the man and the woman were laughing heartily about something, and as they were I made eye contact with the woman. She held my gaze and continued to laugh and smile, and in that moment, I felt relief wash over me.

It's amazing the effect that people can have on you.