Friday, May 1, 2009

A Dispatch from Overseas

The following is a dispatch from brother Will, who is living in a kitchen in Prague.

Here’s how to go about getting your fucked-up ear fixed in the Czech Republic.

First you get yourself a fucked up ear. I accomplished this with one cataclysmic sneeze. I developed a classic sinus infection after being here about a week. I couldn’t breathe, I oozed neon snot, I couldn’t sleep. It was an absolute disaster. People talk about being betrayed by their bodies. Here I am, trying to give something a go, and I’m just this snot sewer. About ten of the twenty people on the course have had to have moments where, barely knowing me, they have to be like, “Hey Will” and then they mime wiping their own nose. The message is: “Will, you are a horror to behold.” The guy who invented atomic bombs--didn’t he quote some old Hindu thing and say “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds”? Well, I am become Booger.

It really was just one sneeze. I suddenly felt like my right ear was ruined, just like you’d feel like after a long swim or during a flight's takeoff. But normally with those situations you can shake your head or get rugged with a q-tip or yawn. None of those solutions was working. I soldiered on through the week, but my life seemed to be falling apart. I couldn’t hear right, I was constantly sticking my finger in my ear (it's my right ear). Every time I swallowed it felt weird. By Friday I was losing it. Dizziness, vertigo, nausea. I stumbled out of class thinking I was about to faint. I had to teach a private lesson to a young Czech woman in the afternoon and I was a zombie. This morning (Sunday morning) I decided I’d solve this.

I had noticed an odd looking hospital about ten minutes away from my place. I walk down there with my passport and some cash and a bum ear. I go up to the reception desk and say “Nemluvim Cesky dobre” (I don’t speak Czech very well). I then point at my ear and say “bad ear.” She says who knows what but it is clear I’m in the wrong place. I end up with a post it note that says “Hospital Bulovka.” Alright. Let's do this. I walk outside into the hazy concrete drear of outer Prague, walk up to some mean looking son of a bitch and point at my little hospital name. I hear him say tram decet (which I know enough to realize means tram ten). I find the tram stop nearby. I wait for the tram. I get on. I walk up to a young girl and she points to the little map on the train. I gather I need to get off at Palmovka. I get off at Palmovka. I walk up to the first lady I see. I hold up my little card. This one takes a while, but I end up understanding that I need to catch another tram, number twenty five this time (dvacet something or other). I understand I need to get off at Smer Sublivy or something. I get on the tram, I ride, I get off. I walk up to a guy with my note, and he points at a tram that has just pulled in, one that is going exactly the opposite direction of the one I just came on. Seriously? I give him this look like, that one, are you sure? He points and points and says all this shit, presumably like, there it is dude, you’re about to miss it. I run up and literally leap on as the doors are shutting. I’m on the tram getting weird looks for having jumped on and everything. I hold out my note to a rider. Another stop is indicated. I get off the tram and walk up to a very sharply dressed man. He nods knowingly and I know I must be close. He points me off to the west (?) and I walk. I eventually find myself in kind of a medical campus. There are buildings all over the place, all very old, some very beautiful, some very ugly. None suggest medical expertise in the way I’m used to, but what choice do I have. I finally find an employee type patrolling one of the roads. I hold up my card and he gives me this look, like, no shit, you’re here. I point to my ear. He points to a building. I point to the building then point to my ear. We nod at each other.

One famous Czech author is Franz Kafka. Those familiar with Kafka’s The Castle will know how I’m beginning to feel. The Castle is all about a man being desperate to get somewhere, and doing everything everyone tells him to do to get somewhere, but he still can never seem to get there. I always thought his novels were symbolic, stylized critiques of bureaucracy and so forth. I now realize it was realism.

I walk up to what is apparently the ear building. The front door is locked. I peer inside and see only a couple of decaying wheel chairs. I’m sweating at this stage. I begin to feel stress. I walk around the building and find these unmarked sunken double doors. What the fuck have I got to lose? I walk through. It’s just a stairwell. Down or up? I walk up to the 2nd floor. I see double doors with no markings. Leave or continue? I walk up to the third floor. The doors are unmarked. Where am I? What am I? What’s wrong with my right ear?

I walk through the double doors and find I’m in a long, long hallway. There are many people on the right side of the hallway, many looking sick. I see a large old poster with photos of the diseased insides of people’s mouths. A man walks by me (a patient or a doctor?) in slippers and a robe holding a plastic cup of beer. I walk down the hall and see various doors, each with a crude glyph of a human body with a blue dot on one part of the body. I find the door with the dot on the ear.

Locked! I walk back towards the crowds and see a nurse type. Again I point to my ear. She blasts me with Czech and I interrupt with my sorry refrain. Nerzumim. Nerozumin. Nemluvim Cesky. (I don’t understand . . . I don’t speak Czech.”) I am guided to sit. Everyone around me seems to be holding a card of some type. A kind old woman points at her card and points down the hall. I walk down the hall and find the doctor’s appointment vending machine. I do some sweating and some squinting and eventually manage to buy an appointment.

My number is called and I quickly make it clear that I can’t speak Czech. I point to my ear. I mime that I sneezed about a week ago and it’s been a living hell ever since. The young woman doctor gets one of those things and looks in my ear and says it looks okay. Then she had me do a bunch of weird eye and ear and walking calisthenics and says, “You have an inner ear problem. You will take my drugs and come back tomorrow.” Christ.

I leave with my scrip, find a pharmacy and hand over the paper. The woman disappears into the medicine vault and comes back shaking her head. We confirm that I understand English and she says, “There has been a problem at the medicine factory. Take this instead, but don’t take it once three times, take it twice three times.” Enough of this. I’m so tired at this point. “Medice a pivo, dobre? Spatne?” “What if I have a beer while taking this medicine? Good? Bad?” At this point I feel as though I could use a cold pilsner, and am heartened to hear that that’s okay. I navigate the trams home, eat my pills, and hope to god they can sort this thing out.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Culinary Quandary: Or, the Chicken with the Egg

One thing I like to ask people in public--preferably when people have had one/more beers--is "What is the difference between cheese and butter, exactly?" Everyone knows, but no one can give me an articulate answer. If they say, "Oh, well, cheese is just aged longer," I like to reply, "So I've had butter in my fridge for seven months now--that's cheese?" And then they reconsider. Which isn't totally sound--my logic, I mean--but still.

= ?

I posed this query to an acquaintance the other day. This acquaintance's immediate response was, "What's the difference between falafel and hummus?"


In part because, you know, what is the difference between falafel and hummus?, but also because how often do you top a food with itself in a form that is different in both taste and texture? All I could think of were omelets with chicken folded inside, though I know there must be more.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

In the News

From the Times:

Otherwise, “what’s the point in getting [customized bar mitzvah sweatshirts if you can't wear them]?” asked Jess Calamari*, 13, an eighth grader who gave out blue hooded sweatshirts to more than 150 guests at her bat mitzvah last year. “I don’t want to offend people, but I like sweatshirts.”

I don't want to offend you guys either, but I like sweatshirts too.

*Her last name is Calamari.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Some words culled from Thomas Morton's New English Canaan:

sleech, n.
1. Mud deposited by the sea or a river; soil composed of this.

2. A stretch of mud on a shore.

Hence sleechy a., slimy, muddy.

clunch, n.
1. A lump, a heavy and unshapely mass.
(Known only in mod. dialect, but prob. of considerable age.) [So EFris. klunt.]

2. A lumpish fellow, a clown, boor, lout. Cf. CLOD, CLOT. Obs. exc. dial. [So EFris. klunt.]

3. A (clumsy) hand, ‘fist’. Obs. [? Influenced by CLUTCH, or by CLENCH (see CLUNCH v.); but cf. EFris. klunt a clumsy, clodhopping foot.]

[ed. note: lumpish!]

cark, v.
trans. To load, burden; also, to charge or impose as a charge upon. Obs.

2. To burden with care, burden as care does; to worry, harass, vex, trouble. (Mostly in pa. pple.) Obs. or arch.; but see CARKING ppl. a.

3. intr. To be anxious, be full of anxious thought, fret oneself; to labour anxiously, to toil and moil. Obs. or arch.

4. In weakened sense (cf. CARE v.): To take thought or care, busy oneself. Obs.

A sentence: "Don't cark me with that sleechy clunch."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pun News

Around the city--and on tv--are a bunch of pun-themed Snickers ads. Here's one:

Which is great. Patrick Chewing! It combines two of my favorite things, namely basketball and puns. I also saw ones about enrolling at "Chewniversity" (which gets docked a couple points for re-using "chew") and something about "Putting your hunger in a nougaplex," which is a bit of a stretch. (I think they're going for suplex? Or maybe megaplex? possibly also duplex?)

However, all these puns are well and good, except for the fact that they are coming from a brand that is decidedly ANTI-PUN! The punk band NOFX once put out a t-shirt with this logo:

Snickers--if I remember correctly--sued the band and made them take the shirts of the shelf. And now! Now they turn around and use the exact same joke to line their nougat- and caramel- and peanut-filled money bags made of chocolate with even more money!

Don't be fooled, friends. Snickers is no friend of puns.

Is a cow intelligent?

In Pokhara, a small lakeside city in Nepal, I walked around the road that circles the lake, and found a piece of dirtied, crumpled, wide-ruled paper with kid handwriting on it.

It read:

1) What he like?
Is he intelligent?
When does he sleep?
Does he sleep at night?

2) What a cow like?
Is a cow intelligent?

[Cow drawing by Claire Bryan]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Modern Bridge: An origin myth

Not a modern bride.

Months back, before the economy crumbled, Sam and I were discussing, via gmail-chat, employment possibilities because I was thinking of leaving my job. Sam suggested I look into Conde Nast and meant to reference Modern Bride, the blue-ribbon steed in Mrs. Nast's publication stable. A typo occurred. An idea was born. Below, a transcript of our dialogue.

Sam: Conde Nast needs feature editors, associate editors, and managing editors.
Nina: Really?
Sam: Yeah. It never tells you what magazine it is though. Next thing you know, you'll be an editor at the New Yorker instead of Modern Bridge.
Nina: I love Modern Bridge.
Sam: Me too. Me too.
Nina: Do you think Mrs. Nast keeps it secret what jobs are for what because they'd be inundated with apps for the New Yorker and stuff?
Sam: Or all the bridge-enthusiasts applying to Modern Bridge.
Nina: I thought that went without saying.

Modern Bridge. It's not about brides. It's not about bridges.

Not a modern bridge.