All Posts By Owen Sader

Like Prague in it’s Heyday

Posted on 1 min read 52 views

I come home alone, by choice. We kissed as we said goodbye in the parking lot. She asked me to come back with her. Her brother watched from the window of her car as we stood out in the cold.

I sit in the driver’s seat for a long pause, watch her car drive away, and then finally check my phone. There’s a line of text messages that I scroll through. A multitude of people, mostly women, had written. I had resisted the urge to check my phone during the concert. But she stood pressed against me, and felt the texts vibrate in my pocket with the same frequency that I did.

My sex life is like Prague in it’s heyday. Except that in Prague, I had an existence that was tailored for that kind of lifestyle. This, I don’t remember signing up for. It crept up on me. And a sense of dread persists, because I’m old enough to know how rapidly it can go from feast to famine. Each of the connections that I’ve made, that I rely on to keep some semblance of composure, instead becomes a liability.

And so I wade deeper into the ridiculousness, and the debauchery, and the self-destruction. With a caution from experience that can only check me temporarily, but never stops me.

Realization on a Saturday

Posted on 1 min read 49 views

The early mornings on a Saturday. This is the time when I should be able to concentrate. Instead, I feel the creeping of my approaching birthday, and the lingering effects of a five day bender that lead up to New Years. The radio doesn’t help either, it’s playing music that I can’t recognize, but is eerily similar to the Omaha based record labels I used to listen to in the early 2000’s.

I need to dry out for a month. It’s not a New Year’s resolution, but an actual need. What will dating be like without alcohol? When was the last time I spent the night with someone, without at least two drinks in me?

Day of a Younger Me

Posted on 1 min read 50 views

Two wine glasses. An empty bottle. Clothes all over the floor. A sock missing. I drink what’s left of an open bottle of San Pellegrino, as I limp through my morning preparations. This is a day of a younger me.

The calls and tasks begin coming in at 8 am. A normal day, but a normal day is unremitting.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I ask, as I answer the phone.

“What?” she calls from the bedroom.

“Did you get the email I forwarded?” a voice on the other end of the line answers.

“I skimmed it,” I respond. I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“They’re pushing the launch until late 2016,” the voice tells me.

“What did you say?” she asks, bursting out of the bathroom, trying to fasten her bra as she walks.

“Hold on a sec…” I say, to the voice. I turn to her, “Nothing. Sorry, work call, didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Oh, you didn’t wake me.”

“Do you want breakfast or anything? Or a shower?”

“Some breakfast would be good,” she says.

“Help yourself to anything in the kitchen. I’m just going to take this real quick…” I walk downstairs where it’s eerily silent, where I can concentrate.

“Sorry about that. Ok, here’s what we need to respond back with…”

Collections – Nowhere

Posted on 8 min read 57 views

Germany, Iceland, Denver, Boulder – 30

What magic there once was in Europe seems lost to me forever. Even Iceland is gray, miserable and suffocating. Physically, I’m depressed and grimy. My laptop was stolen in Amsterdam, but that happened a week ago, and I quickly moved passed it. An expensive mistake on my part, that’s all it seems like now. Instead, the malaise is a spread of realization. The time to play, and be happy, has passed. Now it’s seriousness in life, career, and the care for those around me. However, Europe had seemed to escape these symptoms of growing older.

But now, practicality has made short work of the memories I had of Prague, Madrid, Istanbul, Berlin, and the other dozen or so cities I used to “know”. Europe has become a place like any other. My pulse doesn’t quicken with anticipation when the plane lands. Instead, I think of how long it will be until I can fall asleep in an uncomfortable bed.

No single factor is to blame. Working in Prague brought me joy. But the thought of taking a job in Germany is suffocating. I’ve spent too long being the boss, even if a middling one. I have a taste for it now. So I’m trapped in a situation with more closing doors than opening ones. And for the first time ever, both age and circumstances, have turned against me. And then there’s that guilt, the guilt about being happy that I’ve carried with me ever since I was little. If I did manage to kick it for part of my 20s, then today it’s back in full effect. I feel it in every action, and the repercussions those actions have upon the people in my life.

On the plane, everyone is covered in blankets and sleeping, even though it’s early where we came from. I fill out an immigration form, and visualize the small international terminal of the Denver airport: a scarcity of passport control stands, two baggage carousels, and a waiting area with Russians huddled outside, watching for their arrivals.

How did I end up back in this city? I left college, and Denver, behind with Clorox still on my hands from cleaning at 4 am. I drove 12 hours to a new life in Chicago, and never missed it here. College was brutal, beautiful, and monumental. But Denver was never home. Now I consider spending the rest of my life 30 minutes away, in Boulder, which I used to detest. I’ve become docile, and I find this place comfortable and pleasant.

I dream of made up memories.

I’m in a pretentious bakery and delicatessen, and become furious because they tore down the restaurant that was there before. They ask me to leave. I sit outside and remember detailed scenes: taking girls on dates here, calling lost loves from the tables. I feel as if I’ve lost a part of my youth. And as I wake up, I realize that all the elaborate and detailed memories have never existed.

My eyes are always bloodshot. I don’t know if it’s the computer screen, the dry air, the restless sleep, but they never have the clear quality they used to.  Maybe it’s another effect of age? But I refuse to buy that yet.

At least the days are distracting. I work late and read HP Lovecraft, Poe, and Bierce to fall asleep. When I spend time with friends, we watch movies and regurgitate the Economist. All things designed to distract. Because I know what will come out if I don’t keep busy.

When I wake up on the plane, I think we’re in the middle of think clouds. As I come to, I realize they’re not clouds, but that the ground is completely lost in opaque snow. It reminds me exactly of the opening to a short story I had written nearly a decade ago called, Coming Home. Except that had taken place in Minnesota in the dead of winter, and this is Denver. It had been 60 degrees when I flew out 3 days ago.

Somehow despite the complete blanket and continuing snow, it’s the most on-time flight I’ve had in years.

If someone could freeze this moment: 30 years old, standing in an HM with blaring music, a sweatshirt in one hand that’s 10 years too young for me, and a latte in the other, it might be the definition of a mid-life crisis.

It’s not a question of how I got here; even if the years are muddy, the days are very clear. I’ve become what I wanted to be, and if I’m being honest with myself I expected it to feel like this when I got here. But there’s much less quiet dignity in loneliness, and instead just a general dullness and confusion. I would say things have become less bright, but my eyes have taken on a new sensitivity that has me wearing sunglasses all the time.

The girl at the counter stares me in the eyes when I check out. Young, very young, and light blue. I’m unsure how to feel. I’m unsure what the eye contact means. I don’t even have an idea of what I look like in her eyes.

Ironically, I’m sitting in a bar, when for the first time in a week my mind comes into focus. I look at my fingers. The cuticles have been chewed off. On the fingers are cuts that have reopened and bled through the Band-Aids. My clothes are noticeably stained with what I think is coffee. My lips are broken, and I can feel the bags under my eyes. I run my hand through my hair, it, at least, feels kept.

I’m two drinks, into the first drinks, I’ve had this week. I wonder what the rest will feel like. I can’t place the events of the past week. There are some moments: resting my head against a medicine cabinet, the public urinal between speaking engagements. But most of what I’m left with is a feeling- complete exhaustion.

I remember at that moment that my daughter has the flu, and I feel guilt. Guilt for where I am now, and guilt for how little I’ve been there for her.

I try not to cry when I’m saying goodbye to my daughter. It tastes like blood in my mouth.

I’m at a hole in the wall coffee shop on Blake Street in Downtown Denver. There are two sharply dressed Europeans, with small carry on bags for a flight. They move between English and what I think is Russian. I realize that I still miss Europe, and it seems strange that two people sitting at an espresso bar would bring that out in me.

My mind quickly goes to thoughts of ex-girlfriends. Nothing sordid, in most cases it’s a struggle to even try and remember their faces. I think more of the locations, the music, the smells and sometimes the touch of sleeping next to someone in an oddly shaped bed. There’s not much left for me there, but it’s good for these rare moments where I find myself with nothing to concentrate on.

She used to hate my apartment; she called it the ivory tower, which is sort of apt. The thought of that never depressed me until recently. Now, I can only return late at night, when the Denver skyline looks beautiful, and hides the shit tan, red, sand, rock, gray, dirt, brown, mixed with whatever the fuck garish color palette they used in the 70’s, during the city’s previous boom.

Nothing in New York is ever as it seems to me. I doubt I will ever love this city, because the fanatical love that most people have for it makes the task overwhelming. I’ll never know it as well as everyone else; it will never reveal its secrets to me. Yet, I come here, and a little of the onion is peeled off every time. It’s a softer city than I ever knew it to be. People live in such close proximity that everyone is always in a mild state of annoyance, yet most people are willing and open to making connections with others. It’s unlike Minneapolis today, or the Denver of my college years.

This bar has taken a turn for the worst. It was a nice bar when we entered, nicer than the average Chicago bar, and seedier than the average Manhattan bar. But the night’s descended into orderly nothingness. Is this what it means to be waspy? Is this white trash? People pair off into disgusting twosomes. Someone in the group next to me keeps screaming the word ‘goy’. As I reach for my drink, a couple falls on top of me. An indistinguishable hand traces its path up my jeans. Did I ever like this shit? And if I did, what the fuck is wrong with me now? I’m fully aware that the problem could be me. Everyone is descending into hell, and it’s stupid to assume I’m the odd one out.

Out of the blue, an old girlfriend from Prague calls me. She was always very happy. And again, she tells me that she’s happy. But she doesn’t sound happy. She only mentions that she feels older, that she’s looking at new jobs, that she moved to apartment by a large lake. Berlin would be a tough city to get older in.

She’s going on a holiday to New York, and invites me to come join her. I tell her I will. I don’t really have much else to say. It seems like ground that’s been tread many times before. There were so many years when I would have loved to have had that call. I thought about that call every day, sometimes every hour. And then when it finally comes, you’re not sure why, and there’s nothing left to feel. Afterwards I eat a sandwich, and then go to a friend’s birthday party. It isn’t until late the next day that I even remember that the call happened.

I leave my grandmother’s house in Fort Collins. As I leave, the conversation ends with my family discussing if she should move to assisted living. I’m the only who appears to feel strongly that she should stay in her home. It’s not an old house, or the one from my childhood, but she keeps it immaculate, and it’s comfortable, and it’s close to the church where she volunteers.

There’s a hole in me that seems to be growing larger. I haven’t unconditionally loved anyone for a very long time, but now it’s returned in the form of my daughter. However, it’s not fair to put something so important onto someone so young. So it ends up pouring into work, into friends, and it’s just like learning to walk, or to speak, or some other skill that’s needed to exist. You’re trying to learn how to survive, by learning how to live without them.

Collections – If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now

Posted on 12 min read 45 views

Prague, Dresden, Boulder, Kansas City, St. Petersburg – 23

As I’m cleaning my apartment I find a small notebook that was left by the person before me. The first thing I notice when I open it are the pages full of numbers. Some have names beside them, others have countries. The hand writing is small, neat, and clean.

In the front of the notebook there is a poem about 9-11, a rant to a newspaper, and a laundry list of neo-conservative national actions, including withdrawing from the UN and NATO and reinstating the Monroe Doctrine. This little number is also in the front:

“As an American who has lived in Europe for more than half of my 45 years. For those who ask if Americans should identify the problems which cause the widespread hatred of America in the Muslim world I can say this: I, and I think most Americans, can not be bothered. I would only say that America does what it dreams is in its interest. America’s interests are freedom, democracy, peace and wealth. Those who hate us for them can go to hell and we should help them.”

Apparently people like this do exist. And if I knew they existed, I would never have guessed we would have shared this flat.

—-

As a result of applying for a Czech Visa, I have been to Dresden three times in the past five months. Each time I’ve had only a couple of hours so I can’t say I understand the city, but you can feel it there: the people are nicer than in Prague, but I wouldn’t call them friendly, simply tolerant, which is all you can ever hope for in Prague.

There is a little bit of woe. They’ve been unlucky in the way things broke apart, but the city has been rebuilt well. Certain parts show the history of Communism, others the War, but it’s clean except for the graffiti. Many of the buildings in the center are constructions of new and scorched black bricks. I was told the black bricks are originals from the firebombing. It looks like patchwork. The blackened bricks being picked up and placed wherever, with new white stones interwoven when needed. The people, on the whole, don’t seem to be attractive. Many are overweight with plain faces, their t-shirts too tight so that it shows their stomach stretching out in front of them. They dress better than the Czechs, but only marginally.

I go to bed around midnight; my alarm goes off two and a half hours later. There is that moment of indecision before I pull myself up, eat a muesli bar, and drink a red bull. The Czech foreign police- my visa finally came through, now it’s my turn to stand in line to have it validated. I’ve only heard horror stories. Even a good visit wipes out an entire day. I feel nervous; I have something that borders on a fear of lines.

The first tram comes a minute early and speeds off as I’m an arm’s length away. At the Florenc metro stop I can’t find the correct bus and take a taxi. I’m in line behind a circle of Mormons by four a.m. They ask me to join them. I hesitate. They have on the traditional Mormon missionary dress, sans bike helmet: black slacks, white button ups, ties, and name tags; some have back-packs. I accept, it will be another three and half-hours before the doors even open.

“Where are you from?” they ask.

“Minnesota.”

“I’m from Minnesota too,” one of the kids with glasses says.

There is pushing at the front of the line that is already several hundred thick.

“A woman came around with a list before and we put our names down. I don’t think it really matters; they didn’t work here or anything. The police aren’t going to come and put everyone in order.”

“Honza, is there a Honza here?”

There is more pushing from the front. The whole confrontation is being orchestrated by some big, greasy Ukrainians/Russians. It’s easier to call them Russians, more slang names.

“It looks like they are trying to put people in order from the list.”

“No one’s going to care about that list,” I say.

The crowd surges backwards. The Ruskos are driving into the crowd with their shoulders down. The Mormons are big Midwesterners, and put up a good fight, but there aren’t enough of us. A Russian steps out of the crowd and pushes me. I smack his hands away and he backs up. I raise my hands, palms out in defeat, and say ‘I’m going.’ I move out of the line and he doesn’t try to continue pushing me. I watch as the Vietnamese people next to me are being literally shoved down the small flight of stairs behind us.

From outside the line, the Mormons and I watch the same fights over and over again as the Reds find everyone on their list and put them in order. They look out for their own, and the front is full of Russians. Most show up while the line is being formed.

“If they do ever get to us, you can say that you’re with the church and join us.”

I don’t have the right dress, but amazingly after an hour of pushing the Russians actually find our spot in line. We are hundreds of people away from the door, but there is relief in finding a place. At six, the police come and put everyone into files of two. The line stretches for a hundred meters around the corner. We start moving at seven-thirty, and are inside the building by nine-thirty. I’m number 597; visa registration starts at 500, after two hours of being open they are on number 520.

The waiting room is over-crowded and muggy. There aren’t enough chairs so I stand. I take numerous walks, usually joined by members of the Church. They are required to travel with another missionary at all times so there are always three of us. The numbers move slowly, but the missionaries are good company. They speak Czech well, and have a number of entertaining stories. Their Czech Republic is very different from mine. They never try to convert me; instead they have a genuine curiosity about how I live.

“Is the night life very good here? I feel it’s really quiet in the Czech Republic.”

“It’s very good, but it starts late, and you have to know where to go. There is a party every night of the week if you are looking for one,” I say. I offer to show them some of the bars, but they explain that they have to wake up at six-thirty, and go to bed at ten-thirty while on the mission.

“Do you have a lot of one night stands?” the boy from Minnesota asks.

“No, not really. I mean some, but usually it’s not one night.”

“Two-or-three night stands?” He asks. In different lives we could have both found happiness, had our situations been reversed.

There is a fear that usually comes when you’re leaving a place. A fear of spending those last days alone. The last night can be low-key, but it’s horrible to go quietly in the days before. There will be a period of peace when you are home, and you have to be tired to enjoy that.

I spend the last days with a twenty-two year-old former student who is small, sweet, and cute. She likes me, perhaps too much, but we tell the other that we are glad for the time that we spent together, and we take conciliation in the possibilities of the future.

We walk around the City during the day. From the top of Petrin Hill, I can look down on the City. Prague is a red city. The roofs of the buildings create a sea of red, dotted with green from iodized bronze, which stretches until the communist housing projects sitting just below the horizon line.

When it rains outside her hair curls into blonde waves. They frame her dark steel-blue eyes, making her look young, innocent, and Czech. Spending time with her is a very nice way to leave a city.

On Sunday morning I left Prague; I don’t know how long I will be gone. Before leaving I wrote messages to myself in a beer garden in Vyšehrad:

Tomorrow I will leave for the States. For a long time now I’ve been jealous of the people that can continue to call Prague their home. I will miss this place very much, but it’s not the first time I’ve left. The foreigners in Prague are transient; it’s a stop on the way to somewhere else. But I felt that Prague was home the first time I moved here three years ago. And I felt it again when I returned to it in September. Each time after, stepping off the plane whispering to myself, ‘welcome home.’

Everyone comes here hoping to find something. This is what I know as I leave: I’m 23 and my hands shake, I enjoy teaching, I have several minor addictions, I like to read and I like finance, I like some drugs and I don’t like others, I sleep best in the middle of the day and I like the sunset but hate the sunrise, I drink coffee with cream and no sugar, I fuck up every relationship but it’s not so simple, I have an almost constant feeling of nausea, and in the mornings if I’m not too hung-over I feel euphoric.

When I come back it will probably be under different circumstances. This may be the end of my life as a teacher. It felt like child’s play, a year of vacation, something fun every night. It’s probably for the best, that borrowed time was starting to catch up with me.

I’ve felt in transit these past weeks. I spent time at home in Minnesota. I was in a mood to be left alone, and was. In Denver I visited with relatives and college friends. It was also quiet, and I wanted that less.

I picked up a truck in Colby, Kansas, and drove it across the state to Kansas City for work training. Next week I begin a sales job in Illinois.

The Western part of Kansas is flat and empty, even more flat than Southern Minnesota. The East gets greener, and I drove in peace underneath the wind farms that cluster along I-70. Many of the turbines are built on the base of hills next to the road so that all you can see are the blades spinning level with the car.

To live out of a bag is pretty natural, but it’s frustrating carrying it from the car. I pass time in my hotel room watching too much television, and eating at nearby chain restaurants with a book. I drive now, when I would have walked in Prague. But even if I wanted to walk, I couldn’t. The streets are too busy with traffic to move across.

“The girls here are pretty, but something is not right,” I tell my friend, as we walk through a farmer’s market in Boulder. “They’re in good shape,” I pause and scan the crowd, “but I remember them being more attractive.”

“Like in Europe?” Sarcasm. He is sick of hearing about it.

“Uh yeah, but I meant Minnesota. It was a nice surprise how many cute girls I saw. These girls have better bodies though.”

“Minnesota pretty.”

“What’s that?”

“Pretty face, big body.”

“Hm… yeah, that might be true. I’ve known a few.”

I look again at the girls. They’re dressed casually, sun-dresses or high shorts with a t-shirt, clothes that show thin legs, tanned red instead of brown from the high altitude and dry climate.

“They are pretty though,” I say.

The way I remember Kansas City is as a physically dry city. The City of Fountains, and the first time I visited the City there was a draught and the fountains sat empty. I thought the City was ugly, hot, and brown. Now it’s green, with better bars, and girls that are prettier than I remember.

The air in the farm fields outside Kansas City is wet. I feel like I’m suffocating. I try to stay up-right; it would be bad for the youngest guy to go to his knees. Despite the moisture in the air the ground is dusty, and kicks up light brown dirt onto my Levi’s and Tiger shoes. I’m inappropriately dressed. Not well enough for one half, and not farmer enough for the other. A pair of Dockers and brown shoes would help.

As we were driving to the farm plots, they tell me about Chiggers. Tiny bugs, too small to see, that burrow into the skin and suck blood until they’re full and drop out. I spray Off! along my beltline and ankles to prevent chiggers from getting into my boxers and up my legs.

“You itch until you bleed,” they tell me.

 

I’m forced to exit on highway US-36.

“There is water on the road,” a tan and skinny construction worker with a sun-blister on his lip, tells me in Macon. “Go south, and then take 24 east.”

In a small town called Monroe City I stop for gas.

“Hi, does 24 eventually meet up with 36?” I ask the middle-aged woman working behind the counter in BP.

She pauses for a moment. “It joins up ahead.” She motions to the left. “I’m not too good with directions. I’ve never been anywhere besides St. Louis. People have been asking for help all day because they’re routing them through here.”

I thank her and go out to the car. I follow her directions and become lost in the countryside. I stumble dumbly for nearly an hour until US-36 appears out of nowhere like a mirage.

I’m being taken through the farmland of Illinois. In the acres of corn, sometimes beans, you get used to your reflection and color in the side-view mirror. When I drive I’m stirred from caffeine. Too much and the caffeine makes me sick enough that I can’t sleep until the early hours of the morning. The hotels all have the constant hum of an air conditioner. This one has a white bedspread. It’s the same room, different town, same breakfast, but a different television set.

From a Cruise through the Baltic:

In Russia, without a Visa, we can’t stay in St. Petersburg at night. We’re given ‘shore passes’ in the morning for our tour, and we return with the group in the afternoon.

It’s foggy in St. Petersburg, and makes the city seem small as the buildings disappear next to each other. There is a smell in the air like boiled vegetables and dirty rain. The outside of the buildings are streaked black. Our tour guide is sweet and talks quickly. When we cross the street she stands in front of our group and says, ‘I’ll take the hit,’ as we force traffic to stop at the crosswalk.

My allergies are acting up and I take a Zyrtec. In the Winter Palace Hermitage, I fall asleep while standing. I stare at Rembrandts, Davids, Van Goghs, and Davincis, and all I can think about is sleeping. The Palace is beautiful in an opulent way, with green and gold, instead of the traditional yellow, coated walls. I drift in and out for the tour, and recover at lunch with espresso and vodka shots, in a former embassy where angels in chariots ride across the ceiling.

During the day I read Palahniuk’s Rant in the ship’s library. At night I play craps in the casino, and get drunk on the vodka-sodas they bring me. In the computer lab I can’t log onto the wifi, and I kick the desk until I fall over backwards. A server from the next room comes in, and tells me she has called security. I threaten to give her rabies.

My father grabs my arm. “Look out the window,” he says. “You could make this trip a hundred times and not have a clear day.” I stand up and move to the right side of the plane.

Below is Greenland. The mountains are white, with brown roots trailing out from the center and into the ocean. Icebergs surround the shore in the water.

I take my seat, but people continue to stand and look outside. After another ten minutes I stand up again. I only see clouds now, until I realize that I’m staring at an ice sheet so white that the only way to recognize it is from the slits of translucent ice that occasionally cut through the opaque white. It looks clean and alive, but there’s nothing living down there.

 

 

Collections – Let the Vltava Rise Up

Posted on 13 min read 46 views

Prague, Stockholm – 23

While renting a movie I realize that I’ve been in Prague long enough to see a full life cycle of Czech films: The movie posters on billboards several weeks before they opened in theaters, the same poster plastered on the walls of DVD rental shops months later, and finally those posters taken down and replaced with newer releases.  Realizing this is the first time I can fully grasp the amount of time I’ve spent here.

We see a group of kids with fair complexions, and different natural hair colors, get on the tram. I would guess Norwegian, but when they start speaking it’s unbelievable.

“Where do you think they’re from?” the girl asks.

“I have no idea.”

“Look at their noses,” she says, and I notice they all have the same small, thin, pointed nose. A dozen boys and girls with the exact same nose.

I continue to listen, and then ask the cute pop-puck redhead sitting next to me where they’re from.

“We’re from Finland,” she says in perfect English.

A look of realization comes over us. I talk with the redheaded Fin until the next stop. The American girl I’m with touches my hand to let me know it’s her stop.

Outside the Chateau in Old Town, we are looking for a cab to my place. She stops to call one. The guys next to me are speaking English; they’re American or Canadian.

“I just finished the sixty day shoot,” one cheers, “I’m off to Romania next.”

Maybe they are actors? Neither is good-looking, but the one who said it looks likes he could be one, the other doesn’t. “Is that Erica’s puke?” the other asks, motioning at watery vomit on the corner.

“Yeah, she is down the street right now.”

I look down the street. A tall blonde chick is swaying dramatically, and walking with help of another girl. Someone comes out of the bar in a hurry, and wipes out on the puke.

“You just slipped in barf,” the non-actor says. “Not mine, one of my friend’s. Yeah. Better things have happened.”

Douche. It is funny, but something about the way he says it, his voice, his face, bothers the hell out of me. Down the street someone is fiercely beaten, and I see him collapse to the ground. He is punched in the face while he is on the ground. It’s a brutal fight.

In the cab I see the guy who hit the ground being held against the wall. He is skinny and has curly hair. His face is completely bloody, and the area around his left eye is noticeably swollen even from the car. He is out of it, and I can’t tell if he is drunk or punch-drunk. I’ve never seen someone so bad. It is right outside one of the bar’s exits, and I’m amazed that no bouncers have helped.

I bump into my ex-girlfriend on a narrow street in old town. After we exchange some pleasantries, I walk far enough to be out of sight, and stop because I think I’m going to lose it against the wall.

In February, the day after my 3-year relationship with my Czech girlfriend ended, I stayed up late and had a conversation with a group I hardly knew, in a flat I didn’t know. It started out well enough, and led to a discussion, which fell apart into an argument. We were a strange mix: me, the young, drunk, wild-eyed American, a British man with a beard as long as my forearm, and all the paranoia about governments and the rich that go along with it, a Czech girl who was pretty at the same time that she was plain, and a quiet and proud African. Normally, I would avoid any serious conversations, but I was too fucked up in every conceivable way to care.

I had thrown-up earlier in the night so I was able to drink more than usual without blacking out. Even while throwing-up, I was drunk enough that I wasn’t really disgusted by the fact that some had gotten on my sleeve.

In the late morning I fell asleep on a mattress without covers. When I woke up I was freezing, and I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering. I think my teeth are what woke me up. Some guy was in the next bed, wrapped in what looked like a sleeping bag. That greedy son of a bitch.

When I left the flat it was past noon, and the one fucking day in February with sun. I was almost blind from my hangover. I walked slowly so as not to puke on my way home. My head could have split apart. At home I fell asleep, and woke up when it was dark, and realized that I was going to be sick for the next couple days. Yet none of it helped get her out of my head.

 

The public transportation in Prague is extensive, well-developed, and timely. The metro and trams are relatively quick and run throughout the city, occasionally you have to take a bus. The buses suck dick.

On the bus I have the taste of vomit in the back of my throat. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s from the bumps in the road, maybe the fumes, although nothing is in my nostrils. The bus moves slowly through the suburbs, stopping at every light. When the doors open fresh air sweeps in for a few seconds. I sweat in my seat, and spin my phone in my hand.

I have a long weekend, and decide to take a quick trip to Stockholm. Here are my thoughts:

To prevent disappointment I convinced myself before coming to Sweden that there wouldn’t actually be that many blonde girls. But the truth is there are a lot of blondes in Sweden. More than I expected. Of which, how many are real, I can’t say.

The girls are very pretty, but I have the feeling that what you see is their realized potential. They wear a lot of makeup, which is like painting the lily. In Prague, you often see beautiful girls with bad style and poor haircuts, and as a result you can punch pretty far above your weight. Swedish girls are beautiful, but they’re as beautiful as they’re going to get, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’re the type of Europeans you can bring home to your parents without too much of a stir.

In many ways Stockholm reminds me of Minnesota: a stoic attitude that can come off as a quiet arrogance. Friendly, but it takes time to make friends. There is however one obvious difference. I’m sure over time it will continue to erode, but in Minnesota there is an undercurrent of humility in regards to wealth. A feeling of guilt that comes from having more than others. Growing up I watched as my older relatives died in old, rundown farmhouses. Taking to their graves invisible multi-million dollar estates.

I expected this type of hidden wealth in Stockholm. Of course it’s not as bad as say Miami, but still going out in Blasieholmen is alienating. So many over-dressed people, so many Porsches, the posh district is overwhelming. What happened to Scandinavian Socialism? In reality there is more hidden wealth in Prague. The older people who own several buildings of flats dress in flannel, and are difficult to distinguish from the homeless that carry plastic bags from Hypernova. The Russians and Germans drive the Beemers in Prague.

 

Notes from a cell phone (chronological order):

He was big and blonde and had a dumb look on his face like the farm kids I went to school with.

It would be easy and simple. I could work and make a good living and go out with the Swedish girls and just be happy and sit down by the water or in the parks. It’s beautiful and quiet.

The Swiss sing along to a song about a swan. The singer sounds like he is spitting out a lung.

As I’m walking back I realize I’m not going to get that much sleep. Where am I going to find sleep tomorrow? I was hoping to find a bed tonight.

When she says she doesn’t believe in evolution I know I’m in trouble.

Japan was expensive if you were stupid, or wanted to make it that way. Stockholm is just flat out expensive.

Older women invite me to follow them to Village in the center. It seems to be the most popular club in the city. I can tell because the bouncers are dicks and the girls go in without me. It doesn’t bother me though, that’s the way these things work.

I hear an Elliot smith song that I play again as soon as it finishes and ignore the girl as she continues talking.

On Saturday I wake and take a collection of Hemmingway short stories to the waterfront in Gamla Stan – Old Town. The smell of the air reminds me of my hometown. It gets on everything, and stays in the air, but is never stale like the lakes can be. I meet the girl around two; she looks like an American, blue eyes and dirty blonde hair. We buy alcohol at a Systembolaget, one of the State run liquor-stores. We go back to her place; she showers, and with the towel on we make-out on the bed, before her friends, Anton and Victor, come over.

The bars are full of people watching Eurovision. I try to maintain my buzz on wine that is too expensive for me. Her and I leave the bar and drink cocktails that she buys for me. She leaves me when a friend calls. I’m pissed off, and I wait until Anton and Victor pick me up. They take me to a heavy metal bar. The music sucks, people have long hair, and I’m out of place, but we meet up with three girls. One is attractive but older, and another has a cute face and blonde hair, but a body like an elephant. I step outside and eat hotdogs from a street-vendor. They meet me at the curb, and we decide to go back to the older one’s flat. The cute girl with big legs tries to convince Victor to leave with her.

We take two separate cabs to her place. I get stuck paying a fifty-dollar taxi ride. I have no cash, and it’s just my luck the taxis in Sweden take credit cards. At her apartment the older girl makes blueberry smoothies with a strong vodka taste. I’m worked after half. Everyone takes turns playing CDs and showing YouTube videos. By four, people are falling asleep and I follow the big-boned blonde into a loft bed above the stereo. We talk, and she has me climb down and change the music several times. She won’t let me kiss her, but sleeps close to me with her head on my chest, and her leg wrapped around me. In the morning I tell her she is a ‘good girl’, and playfully and lightly slap her ass. She is too tired to understand what I’m saying and falls back asleep. I get a nosebleed waiting for the metro and swallow a lot of blood.

My twelve year old, single-malt, Scottish whiskey, gets thrown out at the security checkpoint in the airport. I’m tired and fall asleep in a chair, which is good, but like a drunk Swedish teenager told me on my first night, ‘The Swedish girls aren’t sluts, but if you come to Sweden and don’t get laid, you’ve failed.’ And as I’m leaving, I feel that’s true.

 

Lovers and the smell of weed line the way along the Vltava late at night. I get drunk, and find the ruins of an old church. Something they haven’t reconstructed or urbanized. The arch has sunk several feet into the ground so that it only comes up to my chin. On the outside, the disintegrating red brick and plaster is exposed. My feet sink into the ground. The construction site has been set, but the work has not begun. It looks like one part of the building is being used as a school. It’s a school as old as my country.

I walk around the outside, pace back and forth. But a building can only entertain you for so long, even one as old and beautiful as this.

The girls in Bohemia Bagel are talking about finding billions of dollars of oil off the coast in Brazil, sugarcane ethanol, and US corn subsidies: all this bullshit that I don’t need to hear this early. ‘The US is fucked up,’ she says. That’s a nice vest you’re wearing. How are you enjoying Prague? Some guys are talking about McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, and how filling the egg part is. ‘It’s powder, no egg,’ I mumble to myself.

I’ve been daydreaming for so long in this city that when English breaks through it just puts me in a bad mood. Normally, you don’t have to listen to the conversations on the bus, on the street, or on television; for all you know there is brilliance in what is being said. Not knowing is all you need.

We have a poor reputation. There are the Americans that come abroad, and don’t shut up about the States, they compare everything, and never miss a chance to mention how great it is back home. Then there are the Americans that come abroad, shit all over the country, and sow Canadian flags on their backpacks. Everything is wrong back home, while they occupy their days travelling through Europe, spending money they never earned.

It takes me hours before I realize I’m legitimately ill. You drink enough absinth and wine, smoke enough cigarettes, and you become accustomed to a constant sore throat.

I’m thankful when the following day is cloudy with slight rain. I couldn’t take being sick for another sunny day.

 

At a party a friend hands me a sheet of paper. It’d s photocopy of the dictionary listing for the word fuck.

“I brought it for my student today. Do you want the copy for yours?”

“Sure, some might like it.”

It’s two pages long and I skim over it. The word fuckable catches my eye. As it’s synonyms it lists: “approachable, bedworthy, punchable, rompworth, and shaftable.”

Punchable makes me laugh out loud.

 

The city of Prague is a township divided into parts, and when people come to visit Prague they mostly stay in Prague 1, Prague 7 by the castle, or parts of Prague 2. In these areas you can find all of the things that have made Prague famous: Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square, the National Theatre, the Jewish Quarter and its Cemetery, the Dancing House, the gardens, and the parks. But these are only parts of Prague, and rather boring ones at that.

If Brooklyn is the beating heart of New York, than Žižkov is the beating heart of this city. It’s in Prague 3, east of the city centre, and is something of an enigma for being so close to the centre. It doesn’t really have historic buildings, unless you count the Prague TV Tower, which is famous for overwhelming the Prague skyline, and having giant babies crawling up the side. The modern development is minimal, and most of the area’s flats are before reconstruction: communist cement apartment blocks, and dumpy houses. It won’t always be this way, but for the time being it’s unique in its utilitarianism.

I read once that Žižkov has more bars per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. I don’t know if it’s true, or if it was true, but I can say that the amount of bars is irrational. Not only one on every street corner, but one or two in between, and up the side streets, in the parks, and even in the bottom floors of houses. When I lived there, it was full of graffiti, dirty, conventionally ugly, populated by students and blue-collar workers, and far from suburban. When I tell Czechs that I lived in Žižkov they usually respond with, “It is full of very many Gypsies,” which is only partially true. I don’t think I’ve ever loved living anywhere, as much as I loved living in Žižkov.

This place is a disease, Hllavani Nadrazi, the main train station, Ali Baba and his den of forty thieves, the Czech hell-hole. Nothing really terrible has happened to me today, but I still hate this bitch. A pigeon is hopping close enough to me that I could kick it. What the fuck are these birds doing indoors? I’m suddenly overcome with fear that a bird will shit on me. I search the ceiling. That would happen here.

They have been trying to fix the station by putting in a trashy little shopping center, but that won’t help. They need to eat the loss, place dynamite, and blow it up. The train station in Berlin looks like a modern airport. It puts Prague to shame. The one in Paris isn’t nice, but it’s large, somewhat clean, and safe. The safety in Paris was from the army presence. Men walking around with machine guns would probably also scare the Czechs into behaving.

I watch as two girls tear up a McDonald’s bag and set it on the ground so they can sit down. My father had his wallet stolen the first time he was in Prague, but he’s an easy mark, an obvious American with his billfold in his back-pocket. The small police station that was planted in the train station was boarded up like a bunker. Inside was full of smoke, mountains of ash in the ashtrays, and pornography on the computer screens. The one proactive thing I have seen the Hllavani Nadrazi police do is beat the shit out of a homeless person with billy-clubs. It was late at night, and I was returning to the city, when I saw the police descend on him. Literally, throwing him out the glass doors. I then noticed another homeless person slumped against a support column with blood running down his bald head and his eyes closed. The police didn’t do that one.

Collections – MSG’s Are My Everything

Posted on 11 min read 46 views

For the last twelve days I have been out of Prague. I spent ten days in Japan, one day in transit, and one day in Paris. This first entry is about my time in Paris:

On my way to Japan I decide to return to Paris for a night, because of a standing invitation from a British girl to stay at her place.

When I land I take three trains into the center of Paris. It startles me to hear French, and my natural reaction is to respond in Czech. Which complicates things, because by then they’ve realized I’m not French, and have started speaking to me in English. Everyone is pre-drinking in a small, very Parisian flat, which is in full view of the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is lit up, and has a spotlight on top circling in the night sky.

I drink a lot of Cognac and 1664, and then we go to an Erasmus party. The girl I know gets drunk, and grabs me a lot on the dance floor. We leave with her friends, she lives in the suburbs of Paris, and it’s a long expensive drive that I have to pay for because she is too drunk to look for her money.

Even at night I can tell that I like the buildings in this suburb: simple brick and white walls. France often looks to me how I imagined Europe would look when I was young. Their flat is big and located in a grade school. She has set up a bed for me in the main room, but we go to her room. In her bed, she tells me doesn’t want to do anything. That pisses me off. I fall asleep before I can try to change her mind.

We wake up late, and I half-heartedly try again, and she says the bed is too loud. We dress, walk around the small cute town, eat some quiche, drink espresso and then go into Paris. We meet her friend, hang out around the Arc de Triomphe, eat again and take some pictures by a pond. I take pictures of the Louis Vuitton flagship, because it’s ridiculous, but without shame. At the top of the store they fly the Louis Vuitton flag, which is a bold and hilarious move in the Champs-Elysées.

The girl tells me that they never check tickets so the whole time in Paris I sneak into the metro with her pass. Of course, on the way to the airport I get stopped by metro security and have to pay a twenty-five euro fine. I don’t blame the girl though, I should have known better than to not buy a ticket while carrying luggage. On the train we say goodbye and kiss awkwardly. I’m two and a half hours early at Charles de Gaulle, but I almost miss my flight because the monorail to my terminal breaks down. A German girl who can speak French saves me, and I get to my gate as my flight is starting to board.

 

04/15/08

Somewhere in the thirteen hours between Paris and Tokyo I get sick, really fucking sick. It’s not food poisoning, but flu sick, and it starts with me thinking there is a chill in the plane. Then the blanket isn’t enough; I’m asking for more and sweating at the same time. I can’t sleep because my stomach is a mess. I go to the bathroom constantly, and the whole time I’m just trying not to throw up on the well-mannered, and terrified, elderly Japanese couple sitting next to me.

They take me to a nurse’s station immediately after the flight. A young nurse takes my temperature, and a look of shock comes over her face. She shows me the thermometer- “39.6”. The fuck if I know what that means. I motion high with my hand, and she nods her head. She goes into the back room, and I creep out of the room. At immigration, they scan my eyes and fingerprints. I pretend I’m fine, and try to smile. Once I’m through I find a chair and collapse. I stumble and sleep on floors until my flight to Osaka. My original plan was to sleep in the train station at Kobe, but I’m not in any shape to do that, so I pay a hundred dollars for a tiny hotel room in downtown Osaka. The room is clean. I shower, and in the morning my sheets are soaked through with sweat. My fever has broken.

I drag myself to the Kobe Harbor to meet my sister. The Japanese are wonderful, and make up for their lack of English with a genuine desire to be helpful. I’m still in rough shape, but hopped up on medication I bought through sign language, so I feel all right. Our original plan was to go Tokyo, but I’m exhausted, and my sister is sympathetic, so we decide to spend the night in Osaka. We have dinner with her friends, hosted by John, an acquaintance through the Semester at Sea program. He lives in Tokyo, and tells me that I can crash at his place next week, because his roommate is gone. Something is slightly off about the whole thing, I have momentary visions of Hostel, but he seems cool enough. I tell him ‘I would appreciate that’.

 

04/18/08

The next day we go to Tokyo. We have slight delays due to misunderstandings in English, but everyone continues to be amazingly considerate. Tokyo is massive, but it clicks, and I have the feeling of being at home. A feeling I’ve not felt since the first time I came to Prague, years ago. Our hotel is in the Shinjuku district. I sleep, and when my sister wakes me my eyes go wide, and I sit straight up in the bed. The fever is gone, but my stomach is still fucked. There is an arcade close by, and we play guitar video games.

Seven hundred students are on my sister’s cruise ship so when they descend on a country, even one as large as Japan, they take over, and everyone ends up concentrated in a few places. Tonight it’s Roppongi: the club district. Most stay at TGIFriday’s and karaoke bars, but I see them on the streets. My sister and I go to a few places recommended by John, and then head back somewhat early.

The Park Hyatt Hotel, the hotel where they filmed Lost in Translation, is close to where we’re staying. It’s gorgeous, and we have lunch looking out into the courtyard with affluent Japanese families. The lobby is on the 48th floor, the view is impressive, and we take pictures staring at the endless metropolis. We travel the city looking for a FedEx to overnight our signed tax returns. Before leaving for Kobe we go to the Harajuku district; famous for oddly dressed teenagers, and despite the weirdoes, it’s some of the best shopping I’ve ever seen. That night we have sushi in Kobe, tuna so good that it melts on the tongue.

I see my sister off at the ship the next day. At night I go out into the Osaka bar district. I lie, and tell people I’m writing an article for Vice magazine. I meet two Russian women in their early thirties, one is half Korean and speaks English well, and the other is white with red hair. In the morning I exchange emails with the redhead. I tell her I have nowhere to stay until Wednesday; she tells me I can stay with her. I drop my stuff off at her studio apartment, which she shares with her Korean friend. Usually they sleep together on a mattress on the floor, but her friend has found somewhere else to stay for the night, and leaves for work. She makes dinner, and after I take a nap. We watch baseball when I wake up. She is more affectionate and talkative than when we first met. Around ten we leave to go to her work, and as we’re walking she tells me she’s a pole dancer. I had assumed. We agree to meet at two when she’s finished.

I get drunk on 7-11 cocktails that come in a can. I waste time in Tower Records listening to bands that sound like Radiohead, and try to sober up at Starbucks. When I go to meet her she is eating a hamburger at the bar. I say ‘hi’, and she stands up to leave. It’s immediately apparent something is wrong. Normally I would assume it’s because I’m drunk, but it’s too quick, too definite. We meet her friends on the other side of town and then go home. She showers and I brush my teeth, we lay down into bed, and I try to ask questions, but any trace of the girl from before is gone. We sleep a foot apart; in the morning I pack my bag and take an umbrella as I walk out.

 

04/21/08

The rest of the week I crash with John in Tokyo. He has a gorgeous and large flat close to Tokyo Tower. It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not his roommate that is gone, but his live-in boyfriend. It’s never a problem though; John’s a friendly and generous host. He has a bed set up for me in his media room, and the amount of times he hits on me is tolerable. During the day I wander the streets of the city, buying video games, shopping for clothes, and visiting temples. John usually has to work, but occasionally he joins me. At night I get drunk with his friends, most of whom are European, and we talk, and watch it rain on the skyscrapers from his balcony.

We spend a lot of time discussing Japanese culture. I say I like the people, that they’re wonderful, and the girls are very pretty. I ask about the men; I wonder how they had become so quiet, so passive.

“After World War Two they took away their samurai swords, and gave them teddy bears,” he quotes.

He explains to me: how his boss spends his time in his office reading samurai stories, how Japan has the highest teen suicide rate in the world, how you can never totally be accepted as a foreigner, their fetish for pre-pubescent girls, and the resentment for a life spent working that they carry hidden below the surface. I don’t doubt any of it.

“I think it’s a wonderful place,” I say. “As long as you can stay above that. Live here, but not become entrenched in the culture. Stay an American in Japan.”

I feel guilty for saying it, but I know it’s true. As much as I love it here, I could never, and would never want to be Japanese.

 

04/22/08

My last night in Tokyo is a Saturday. I thank John by spending a couple hundred bucks on dinner at a French restaurant. We drink another bottle of wine at a bar close by. I tell him we should go scam on girls.

“I can’t, I’m tired, but if you find one, you’re welcome to bring her back,” he says. “Do you have a condom with you?” He hands me one. “Japanese girls don’t use them…”

In Roppongi I try to talk to girls on the street. Mostly they look wide-eyed and scared, and pretend that they can’t hear me. I get some looks from the American/European girls on the street, pickings are pretty slim for them here, but I’m looking for a Japanese girl.

I was told by John, ‘They have no concept of bases. If you can kiss them, you can fuck them.’ This was the tame part of his conversation, there was more, the sort of stuff that makes you squeamish. Still it has my curiosity; I can’t imagine that it’s true.

I have a lot of luck on the street in Prague, but it’s no good here. I give up, and go to a bar called Heartland. Spatially it’s an open bar, with no walls on one side, allowing people to move in and out. At the bar in the corner I see a cute Japanese girl by herself. She’s eating olives out of the garnish tray. I move next to her.

“Hi, did you come with anyone?” I ask.

“Hi!” she says. I realize she didn’t understand me, but she seems happy.

“Hi,” I say again with a big smile. “Did you come here with anyone?” I motion around the bar with my hand.

“No, from work, for beer.”

“I like very much,” I say, pointing at my beer. “Very good beer.”

We laugh together about nothing. She’s fun, and even with her terribly broken English it’s easy to keep it moving. She’s from the South of Japan and moved to Tokyo for work. She understands that I’m American, but has a hard time understanding that I live in Europe.

“I’m an English teacher in Prague,” I say.

“You’re an English teacher? My English teacher!” We laugh and she grabs onto my forearm.

I like her style: a cream and dark purple-stripped sweater, we laugh again because her purple matches mine, and a long slim cut feminine blazer. She is tall for a Japanese girl, probably 5’6”. She makes a few comments about my height, but she is more amazed by my hands. Her feet are tiny, and I comment on how cute they look next to mine. Cliché things, but they seem right in the moment.

Often when she laughs she claps her hands and jumps up and down, which is adorable. She continues to touch my arm, and doesn’t mind when I put my hand on her waist, as I lean in close to talk.

With my hand on her hip, and my lips close to her neck, I try to kiss her. There is a pause, and she moves her head away slightly. Weird. She says she has never kissed a foreign boy, and I tell her that it’s ‘ok’, and lean over and kiss her. After the first kiss she moves closer to me, and when we kiss she kisses back passionately. We talk for another hour and drink several more beers.

“Do you want to leave?” I ask.

“Where should we go?”

“Let’s go to Tokyo Tower.”

During the night, I’m worried that she will wake John; but in the morning when he wakes me he is surprised to find her sleeping next to me. In broken English I explain why she has to leave at six-thirty in the morning, she writes her email address on a sticky-note, and I walk her downstairs.

“That was easy,” I say to John.

“What?”

“Just that, the whole goodbye thing. No guilt. She was all smiles.”

“They’re like that. Did she even give you her number?”

“Uh, I asked for her email.”

John agrees to mail a Hello Kitty poster that I stole from the wall of a metro station to my sister. I say my goodbyes, and meet my taxi. In my pocket I have about ten-thousand Yen, and a chapstick called Gatsby, that smells sweet, like nothing I can place.

 

Collections – We Get Murdered

Posted on 11 min read 212 views

Three friends and I took a weekend trip to Berlin. I was the only boy in the group. This is the summary:

We leave on Friday and take the 18:00 train departing from Prague to Berlin. Two guys from London join us on the train. They give us beer and wine. They call Prague an embarrassment and then try to put a line of coke on my jeans. They do bumps for the next hour until they’re smashed and stumble away.

Our hostel is brand new and smells like paint. I walk under the Brandenburg Gate, through the Jewish Memorial which is haunting in its simplicity, eat a chili dog, see museums, see concert halls, walk across Hitler’s Bunker which is now a gravel parking lot, take a nap. When I wake we drink vodka, shitty rum, Red Bull and Coke. We go to club Tresor, a gigantic factory that stays open for days. Eat two hot dogs on the way and drink beer that is better than in Prague.

In the club they play house and deep house and it’s filled with smoke and dudes. We dance and drink cocktails. There is a strobe light and I make chopping motions in the air. Hit on a girl dancing, she walks away, hit on a bartender, she ignores me, hit on a girl on the stairs, she laughs, and then walks away. Spend all my money and walk around looking for drinks to steal. A German guy follows me and I sprint through the dance floor to lose him. We leave in the morning and I’m not tired when I lay down.

We wake in two hours to pack. I’m hung-over and gag in the bathroom. We see the line for the Reichstag and say ‘fuck it.’ The girls are cynical. We visit a museum, which is full of ancient ruins. They’re massive, and I wonder how they got here. Try to buy lunch with a credit card but no one accepts them. I eat peanuts out of a vending machine instead.

Ride the metro to the main Berlin train station, which is much nicer than Prague’s. We eat Burger King, find a nice train car, and make ourselves comfortable. The girls are no longer cynical, and I’m glad I came, because I’m happy to be home.

 

3/7/08

“Oh, fuck,” I say, as I get off the tram. I have been coincidentally following this girl for the last fifteen minutes. It started on the metro when I was sitting next to her: we exited at the same stop, I followed behind her to the next tram stop, boarded the same car, and now we’re both getting off at my final stop. I’m tempted to just turn around and explain to her that I’m only going home. But she has her headphones in, and I can only imagine how that could go wrong.

I’m relieved when I look behind me and see that she is gone. She is on the other side of the street. That wasn’t so creepy. I’m thinking about getting something to eat in the little Korean corner store. No, it’s late. A few steps past the store I change my mind. When I turn around the girl is right behind me. I could pull her hair. She almost jumps backwards with surprise. How the fuck did you get over here? She walks fast, so much for not looking like a creep.

 

3/11/08

There’s something of a mall at the Budejovica metro stop, which isn’t interesting because there are malls everywhere in Prague. But in the food court at this mall they serve Mexican food, and while never great, it has become easy to be satisfied after being away for so long.

Budejovica also contains what could be called Prague’s skyscrapers. I use the term loosely, as it’s always relative to the city. The two largest are close to the metro, the Raiffeisen bank and Česká spořitelna Towers. Everywhere there’s construction, and by the end of the year there will be more.

Further down the road is the BB Centrum, which openly claims that they are ‘the choice of multi-nationals.’ That’s bold. There are offices for Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, CEZ the partially state-owned Czech energy conglomerate, and others. Sometimes a company has their own building on the campus, other times they share it, but always it is a mass of glass and modernism, which is depressing for what it is, but not extremely distasteful once you’re inside.

On the walk to BB Centrum there is a billboard with drawings of small faceless soldiers herding small faceless people in Middle-Eastern garb. There’s a tank, and a fire raging, in what looks like a mosque. Its presentation is cartoonish: black and white, macro with few details. What strikes me is the lack of any language. Someone, or some organization, paid to have this put up here. And did so without any recognition.

 

03/18/08
I left Prague for two weeks to go home to the States for Easter. This writing and the next three are about this time:

I have a four-hour layover in Amsterdam. I took all my perishable food with me, which is really just tortillas and candy. But I’ve eaten enough tortillas I could puke so I buy overpriced pizza in the food court. When I empty my tray I meet a very cute, very small, German girl. She speaks almost no English, which surprises me, but for the next few hours we walk around, talk, listen to music, drink coffee, and take pictures.

Asking to kiss someone seems childish, but I still ask to kiss her because it’s the middle of the day and neither of us has any alcohol in our systems. It scares her, and she tells me she has a boyfriend, and then tries to communicate that she is faithful without knowing the word ‘faithful’.

“You don’t have a girlfriend?” she says with a surprised look. I go on teach her the difference between ‘faithful’ and ‘unfaithful’.

“So you would kiss girls?” she asks.

“Uh yeah, but a little bit more than kiss.”

We say goodbye at my gate and I stand for over an hour to board the plane. On the plane, when the dining carts are in the aisles, I have to go to the bathroom so bad I almost piss my pants.

A cliché in movies today is the mid-air collision. The next time I see a mid-air catastrophe with the top flying off and the seats being ripped out I will laugh uncontrollably.

“Wow, you’ve really confronted man’s innate fear of flying in this scene.”

 

03/21/08

The days are longer in Minnesota than in Prague, because the latitude here is about the same as Paris’s. But there’s snow on the ground, and as the snow melts everything turns to mud, and the garbage that was buried in the snow can be found everywhere.

In the Twin Cities there is a phenomenal public radio station called The Current, but in my small hometown all I can get is: Christian, Country, and radio so safe and generic that it’s blessed by Clear Channel. ‘Hey this sounds like Maroon 5. You like Maroon 5, right? Right?!’ They also have DJs that enjoy listening to themselves talk, but never have anything funny to say.

On St. Paddy’s day I’m still stuck at home and the town is quiet. There’s only one liquor store, but when I go I’m the only one in the store. I buy good vodka for myself, and shitty vodka for my brother, both of which are pretty cheap, and some beer, which is not cheap.

The woman working the register asks to see my ID. I go blank and stare at her until I realize she wants to see my license.

“Sorry,” I say and hand her the license with two fingers. She smiles and doesn’t seem to mind. Not used to that either.

The next night I’m in Minneapolis to meet a friend. On the street we meet a couple that lead us to the Gay 90s for a drag show. Instead of a couple, the two turn out to only be friends so I take the girl’s number. She’s at the apartment in St. Paul a few days later when I wake up, and find half a foot of fresh snow. I have to drive through it for several hours to get back to my brother home for tennis practice.

 

03/25/08

It’s snowing again on Easter Sunday, but this time the flakes are light and without wind. I was told this is the earliest Easter can be. It won’t be this early again for another two hundred years.

Three days ago, I heard a Tegan and Sara song called Seventeen that rocked my world so hard I haven’t been able to think straight since.

The church parking lot is filled so I park down the street in the dying downtown. Everyone comes out of the woodwork on Christmas and Easter. The same with me. I’m out of place without dress pants and a tie, but people don’t seem to mind.

Most of the friends I grew up with don’t make it home for Easter anymore. They’re stuck in their respective cities: Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, New York. Everyone has to be at work on Monday, so I watch television with my brother and fall asleep early.

 

03/28/08

The last couple of days in the States were a blur of packing and tying up loose ends. The weather was nice for one day.

My final night in town I went out with the girl I had met at the Gay 90’s. There was nowhere to go, so we spent time in the back seat of her car, which felt like high school. The whole night we said to each other, ‘at least we’re not in high school.’

In the airport I felt nauseous and took Dramamine, which knocked me out for most of the flight to Amsterdam. When I was boarding my second flight the buzzer went off on the metal detector. The guard was friendly enough while he molested me.

I took public transit home: bus, metro, and then a long walk. It was a mistake, and I noticed that my big blue bag clattering across the cobblestones annoyed everyone. When I got home I had a surprising amount of energy, and I texted many people. An hour later I crashed for a long time, and woke up in the middle of the night.

———-

The next day I went for a walk in Vyšehrad. The weather was beautiful, a real Spring day, and nicer than when I had left.

Sometimes you forget how beautiful this city is. Sitting in the park, looking over the parapets, it was so perfect that even the disgusting pickled sausage I was eating tasted good.

 

04/04/08

I stare at a glass case holding awards. Somehow the Chodov mall has won awards for its design. This is shocking to me because this thing is the most sprawling ugly monstrosity of a mall in the country. The sort of thing you would see thrown up with red painted plaster walls, P.F. Chang’s, and a Macy’s, if this were the States. So many coffee shops, but I really just want to sit down for a while. I order an espresso with milk.

“Voda?” she asks me.

“Ne Děkuji.”

“Voda?” she asks me again if I want water. She can’t seem to grasp the fact that I’m going to drink coffee without water. Yes, I would like some water but it costs more than the coffee so I think I’ll survive.

“Ne Děkuji,” I say again.

Sitting down, it’s nice, and I can write a little. But more importantly I can watch the people walk by. That is easily the best part about malls, the people watching. The women in this mall are in their late twenties, early thirties, and beautiful. When I’m finished I walk around until I find a bathroom.

Holy shit, there’s a woman in this bathroom! I should be used to cleaning ladies walking around the men’s bathroom, but it still surprises me. Especially when she’s just standing there, the first face you see as you open the door. The other men keep going in and out, not even noticing her with her brush and spray bottle, but I’m patient and I wait until she finishes cleaning the urinals.

 

04/08/08

Sometimes you go out and you know you’re going to get wasted.

We buy whiskey before going to Nebe, an underground bar between Old Town and Nardoni Trida. I drink a lot; it’s been awhile since I had hard alcohol. At the club I drink white wine, dance, fall down the steps, and hit on the girls that laugh at me. Then things get ugly.

I get the hick-ups so hard they shake my body. I try holding my breath, swallowing, everything. Finally I go into the bathroom and put my head under the faucet and drink. There is blood around the other sink.

“Sorry I can’t get rid of these motherfuckers,” I say to the boy standing next to me.

I take two steps out of the bathroom and realize I’m going to vomit. I push open the toilet door and spray vomit all over the bowl, the rim, the walls, my shoes, and even my jeans a little. It’s all liquid, and I wipe the seat clean. Someone is standing outside waiting to use the bathroom.

“I have no idea who did that,” I say. “Fucking disgusting.”

Round two: I resist the urge to spit on the floor, and drink a beer to get the taste out of my mouth. I hit on an older skinny Czech woman; she leads me to the dance floor. She falls and digs her nails into my hand. It draws blood. She walks past me, and doesn’t turn when I call to her. She’s pissed, but fuck her that hurt like a bitch. I put my fingers in my mouth. Someone is dancing by the coat check. Yeah right, right, right, right. For real I need a drink. There is an apple sitting on the bar. There is no one for the apple, its squishy and over ripe. But I know someone tonight wants to remember this apple.

My friends find me and ask me to dance. Jamiroquai comes on. The dance floor is mostly empty, but I go crazy. I meet an Iraqi boy, and we hit on two girls at the bar. I take the one that speaks better English. She is a bar-slut that is a little older than me, somewhat cute, but with a boyish haircut. We talk for a while, and then make-out. When I look around my friends are gone.

In the morning I remember when we came back to my place, but I don’t remember falling asleep. I’m happy to find that she has smooth skin and looks nice naked. I’m still drunk enough that I can’t feel anything for most of the morning.

 

Collections – Grimy Mornings

Posted on 12 min read 60 views

A cross-eyed woman in a furry hat says something to me in Czech motioning at my table. I try smiling at her, which doesn’t get her to stop.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Czech,” I say in English, of course.

She continues to jabber away and I start to stand and pick up my things from off the table, which makes her say “Ne, ne, ne,” and walk away.

 

2/5/08

As I’m getting off the last daytime tram, before they switch to their night schedule and car numbers become fifties, I walk straight into a large group of young people. Literally a dozen wait their turn to file out of one door on an otherwise empty back car. I wait until they have all cleared out. As I cut across a street and a park, I notice the group is taking the long way to the same traffic light. Two girls walk far in front of the rest of the group.

“How’s it going,” I say when they get close.

“Good,” one says quickly, as if she were scared. Or maybe the girl just has bug eyes.

When the light changes I follow across the street, but slowly so the larger group will catch up. They are all speaking English.

“Hey are you guys from England?” I ask, and feel like a fucking idiot because I know my mistake as soon as I say it.

“No, Ireland,” one of the girls corrects me, but in a nice way.

We talk, and I find out they’re visiting a friend that is living here.

“What do you do?” she asks.

“I’m a drug dealer,” I say.

“Did I hear the D word?” someone in the back says, pushing forward.

They get excited and ask questions until I can explain to them that I was only joking. I’m not a drug dealer, just an English teacher, like everyone else. I learn that the boy who pushed forward is the friend they’re visiting. He’s a nice guy, and talkative, and only in the friendly way that isn’t confrontational. I keep talking with them as we walk down the street towards my flat. They stop about a block before mine, and I realize they are going to a flat party. We exchange some words as they wait to be let up, and as I expect they invite me to the party. I considering sleeping since I’m so close to home, but it’s an ERASMUS party so what choice do I have?

I do my best to blend into the group, which is difficult because I’m tall and have a different accent. But I keep the talking to a minimum and act like I belong. I get a few looks, but I do my best to ignore them.

I drink wine and talk about Chicago with a tall Irish guy.

“I had the best time of my life in Chicago,” he says.

“It’s a great city. I could live there again,” I say.

I realize as we finish the bottle of cheap white wine that, for the first time in a long time, I’m the only American. It’s fine and enjoyable, and really better than fine because the people are fun, and I laugh with them when they make fun of me. They seem to like that.

“My sister visited Canada and she would tell them she was from France and they wouldn’t say anything, and then when she started to say she was from Paris. ‘Oh Paris, I love Paris, isn’t France a city in Paris.’”

“No, you’re kidding,” I say, and try to be cute. “Maybe they thought she was French Canadian?”

I’m not even making sense, and thankfully her English isn’t strong enough to understand. After most of the people leave for Karlovy Lázně, the five story black hole of a club, we make out in a bedroom.

“I live just a block away,” I say.

She stops touching me when I say this. “I don’t go home with people on the first night,” she says, and starts to make for the door.

“Ok, ok,” I say, stopping her from leaving. “How about we go out this weekend?”

She seems happy at this, and we start kissing again. I sit on the bed and she straddles me. We make out hard with a lot of middle-school style above the clothes touching. It’s still enjoyable in that house party, drunk, boys getting their hands slapped away sort of way.

Eventually, the boy whose room it is interrupts us, and I’m thankful because I’m tired. She stays on top of my lap even with him in the room, and he starts to take pictures.

“Not on Facebook,” she says.

“Give me a kissing picture,” he says.

I pull her towards me. “Not on Facebook,” she says again. The boy nods and we kiss. He shows me the picture and I like it. It looks like those black and white photos of people kissing that were always taken in the 30s in Paris and New York.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “You can’t even see our faces.”

“Don’t put it on Facebook.”

“Your being bad,” the boy says to her.

She shrugs him away.

“She has a boyfriend,” he says.

“You have a boyfriend?”

“We have an open relationship,” she says.

 

2/8/2008

The difference between Czech girls and Slovak girls on paper would appear to be marginal, but in reality almost all those cute girls you see walking down the street are Slovak. That’s not true, Czech girls are cute, but as far as striking, you can’t go wrong by assuming they’re Slovakian.

“Are you from Slovakia?” Followed by something like, “all the cute girls are from there,” is usually enough. The one thing to watch out for is their sense of style. It’s not that Czech girls have a great sense of style, but you will see some skater fashion mixed with tomboy low cut Chucks, which can be adorable enough. The Slovak girls tend to dress much more gender specific, which sounds like a good thing, but in reality doesn’t fit, because they’re not sexy like the Mediterranean women, or tall and elegantly beautiful like the Scando-Germans. They are just pure and simply- cute.

The plus with gender roles is that they all know how to cook, and their food is better than the Czechs.

 

2/12/2008

I’m giving up drinking for a week. Well 5 days. The weekdays.

It’s not so hard except in the wine aisle at Tesco. I can partially rationalize only buying a small bottle of wine to have with dinner. ‘It’s better than buying a normal bottle.’ But I’m strong enough to resist it for the time being. I try to hit on two girls giving away Coke Zero. They don’t speak any English, and I’m just an embarrassment when I try to speak Czech.

The Coke makes me want wine again so I leave the store in a hurry. Outside I avoid what must be the most persistent beggar in Prague as I walk to the tram stop.

 

2/15/2008

I hear banging coming from the next room. I make a mad dash for the bathroom. The washer must be on the spin cycle. I jump on top of the thing, using my weight to hold the bastard in place. Even with me trying to hold it the thing makes a terrific amount of noise, and I think about how the neighbors must love me.

With my feet resting on the rim of the tub I wait it out, and look around for something to do within arms length. The front of the washer, where the dials are, is mostly rubbed off so the first several times I did laundry it was trial and error: no, this one is boiling hot water; ok, no water now; forty minutes of spin cycle, perfect. I now for the most part have it memorized, so the whole experience really isn’t that bad except I can’t leave the house during the wash because the machine will literally run forward and crash itself into the plaster wall.

Once in awhile the door on the thing will open and I will have a nice little lake where my bathroom used to be. But if I kick the door shut hard enough it usually doesn’t give me any problems.

 

2/19/08

There’s an overwhelming smell of piss in the air. At first I thought it was the smell of the homeless, but it has gotten worse as I’ve left the coffee shop and moved into the metro. What the hell is that? Because of the wind the air is not as stagnant as usual, but the smell is foul, and much worse than the usual stale smell the train pushes toward you as it nears your station.

I board the metro and leave the smell behind after half a minute. I get off at Vyšehrad and breath deeply on the hill that looks over the city. But even here the air isn’t right. It doesn’t have the stench, but it doesn’t feel clean, not even recycled, just thick with something. Pollution maybe? My imagination?

 

2/22/08

Eventually she stopped me from calling him, her ‘boyfriend’.

“Don’t call him my boyfriend,” she said, as we were lying in bed naked.

“Sorry, sorry, former ERASMUS lover.” She wasn’t really upset, and she continued to stay close to me under the covers. I was getting sleepy, but she was wide-awake so I tried to continue talking with her. She must have noticed because she told me it was ok if I went to sleep, which I did almost instantly.

 

2/26/08

Roxy has no cover on Monday nights. I’ve never been there, even though an ex-girlfriend went all the time while we were dating. Several times I had been out front when literal clouds of smoke coming up the stairs and rolling into the street had made me reconsider. The place is bigger than it looks from the outside, and when I lead a group of fresh study-abroad students to the club I’m surprised. They have only been here for a week so they are amazed by everything, and more importantly do everything wrong. I don’t blame them, I was there, but I lose them quickly because they take forever.

In a corridor I notice three girls sitting alone. They don’t really look Czech, it’s not so much their faces, but more their clothes. I try to get one of the students to come talk to them with me, but he gets embarrassed and leaves me when I get close. I talk to one that has short hair like a boy, she is cute though, and I like her grey dress. She tells me they’re from Denmark, and all from the same school.

“Hootie?” I say, when she tells me her name. That can’t be right.

“Well…” she tells me her real Danish name, which I don’t even catch a fraction of, “but yeah, everyone just calls me Hootie.”

“That’s cute.”

While we talk she smiles a lot and she is easy to talk with. One of the girls sitting with her is a cute blonde that reminds me of someone. More of her friends come by.

“There’s a lot of you here, you‘re all in the same university?”

“Yeah, there is about twenty of us from my high school.”

“What?” I say immediately. I’m shocked that she’s in high school, and also by the fact that she actually used the phrase “high school”. She must be the first European to call it that.

“How old are you?” I ask without any subtly. I can tell my head is tilted to the side and my eyebrows raised.

“Eighteen,” she answers without any questions of her own. She has to know why I’m asking, and seems not to mind.

She explains to me how high school works in Denmark: they have an extra year compared to us, thirteen grades. ‘Ok,’ I tell myself, ‘so she’s like a freshman in college.’ That makes me feel better.

 

2/27/08

Hootie excuses herself for the bathrooms and I find some of the abroad students. They’re wasted. One of the girls is touching me, asking the same questions over and over again. ‘Wait, so you’re Simon?’ I slip away from her, and get a drink. The Danish girls find me close to the bar. The blonde girl from the bench is named Katherine, and she’s acidly funny. I tell them I’m part Danish, which is true, and then lie for no reason about having been to Copenhagen.

We walk to the club floor and a tall, pretty, Danish redhead starts to talk to me. We all dance in a circle, spread apart from each other, because that’s how they dance on the continent. The redhead continues to talk to me as we dance, and after about a half hour we are making out. I’m still trying to dance, but it doesn’t really work, and I’m stepping on her feet and tripping on strangers. She asks me if I want to leave and we run out of the club without saying goodbyes. We take a taxi to my flat, which she has to pay for because I realize I’m out of money.

In the morning I walk her back to the hostel she’s staying at. Hootie and Katherine are downstairs with bottles of water getting ready to go explore the city. I say ‘hi’, talk to them for awhile, and then exchange numbers with the redhead and kiss goodbye. I stop on the way home for a coffee and a bagel, and watch the people in the cafe plan their days on maps of the city.

 

2/29/08

I’m waiting in front of the KFC at I. P. Pavlova for an Italian girl I met at Vagon. I’m surprised because I haven’t received a text from the Danish girl from Roxy.

Vagon is a bar close to Nardoni Trida. It’s big, has no cover, cheap beer, and a lot of students. The negatives are that it’s disgusting, standing water in the bathroom, everything sticks, and ugly shirtless people make out on the dance floor. But you come to expect that and it doesn’t detract.

I made my attraction obvious when I met the little Italian, picking up a chair and setting it beside her. Earlier in the night I had crashed and burned when I hit on a Czech girl who had a cute face but fat legs. She wanted nothing to do with me, and turned to talk with her Czech friends who had horrible haircuts. As I was walking away, I did manage to snag a hundred Korunas sitting in a glass at the edge of the table. But with the Italian it went better. We got along well, and when the bar closed I walked her to the metro, and we kissed for awhile before saying goodbye.

As I stand here the thought goes through my mind, maybe she will be late? Aren’t Italians supposed to be late? Did I just generalize an entire people? So what, I do it all the time.

I step inside the KFC to get out of the cold. A few minutes later I see her walk by.

“Hi,” I say as I step outside. I surprise her a little.

“Were you eating in there?” She asks, and I can tell she would be disgusted if I had.

“No, no, just waiting.” I tell her how I was unsure if she would be late, and she finds it funny.

“It’s true, we can be late. I try really hard to be on time.”

We walk to a bar that’s close by. They have Stella on tap, which is refreshing because I’m sick of Czech beer. We talk there for a few hours, and it’s easy and there aren’t any breaks. I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket and I go to the restroom. It’s the Danish girl telling me that this is her last night in the city and that they are getting ready to go out. At the end she puts her name- ‘Sina.’ The entire night I thought she was saying ‘Xena’. I had avoided saying her name, because I couldn’t bring myself to call someone ‘Xena.’

I write her that I will meet her at whatever club they decide to go to, but shortly after it becomes clear that I won’t meet Sina tonight.