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.”