Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Czech 104

For those of you who don't know, I've been taking Czech as my foreign language requirement.

For those of you who don't know, Czech is the language of the Czech Republic, formerly part of Czechoslovakia.

If you can't figure it out at this point, check Wikipedia or Google or even those dusty encyclopedias at your parents' place.

Czech class is hard for me because you're supposed to talk about your life: your work, your education, your family.

My work history involves having sex on deli counters, getting drunk at six in the morning after a night shift at a factory, spending time in a record label office drinking on the job, handling perverted library patrons. I've worked a lot of jobs, each place more ridiculous than the next. At this rate I'm going to end up giving hand jobs to Charlie Sheen for Wal-Mart gift cards.

My education involves writing disturbing stories and discovering bizarre mythology. Just the other day my medieval literature instructor showed the class five-hundred year old parchment made of fetal lamb skin. More recently she showed us vulgar illustrations, one of the tamer ones involving a nun pulling penises from some kind of penis tree. My writing involves alcohol abuse and abortions and anonymous sex and sexual domination.

My family consists of wild rednecks and wealthy socialites and a wide variety of people who aren't even related to me that my direct family has never met. My direct family has difficulty understanding that I have another family that doesn't involve blood, and even more difficulty understanding that even though it's an additional family, it doesn't change the way I feel about them.

It's hard to explain these things in a foreign language when you can barely explain them in English, especially when you don't even know the Czech word for "dominatrix," the word for "record," the word for "fuck."

I don't know how I'm supposed to talk about my life in a foreign language when I don't even know how to translate, "So last summer I got wasted in the office with my boss and we went to the bar and she told me about all the nitrous she used to do and then I went to a different bar with some friends and this guy tried to sleep with me but I just wasn't feeling it so I went home and then my lesbian ex-girlfriend came over and we split a bottle of wine and then she left to fuck a sorority girl and I jerked off and went to bed."

The other day my teacher asked us to talk about who we call on the telephone, who helps us, who we help.

And all I could think of was a phone call I had made earlier that day, asking a dominatrix for career advice.

So when I'm called on in class, I blank out and blabber like an idiot, trying to figure out how to say something normal, something that won't result in a room full of horrified faces and the social ostracism I've been so terrified of since middle school. And I wish I could figure out how to tell my instructor why I'm having such difficulty.

But I don't know how to say it in Czech, so I can't.

So I handle it the only way I know how.

Studuju, píšu, pracuju a piju.

Sometimes all at the same time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bench

My friend Chris is a nurse. He works long shifts at inconvenient times. He misses dinners and parties and concerts. While other people are out drinking and fornicating like animals, he's cleaning up body fluid and pushing needles through skin. When other people are watching football and dancing to pop music, he's changing bandages and watching people die.

I don't know how he does it. He says smoking helps. But there has to be more to it than that.

A few months ago while on a run I stopped by his apartment to see if he was around. His roommate answered the door and told me Chris was in his room. I found Chris on the floor in front of his mirror in his underwear. He was on his knees, his left hand resting on his lower back and his right hand stretched out in front of him, his palm facing the floor. It looked like a yoga position. He saw me in the mirror and gave me a nod.

"What the hell are you doing?" I asked.

"Trying to figure out what sex position I look best in, what the hell does it look like I'm doing?"

This is the kind of person Chris is.

Last summer Chris attempted to kill himself. He swallowed a bottle of pain killers. It would have worked, but Chris had to be dramatic and chase it with half a bottle of whiskey. It ended with him waking up at four in the afternoon the next day in a puddle of vomit, feeling like a dumb ass. He doesn't even like whiskey, and a week later he regretted getting rid all the porn he didn't want his family to find after he was dead. Thankfully I'm a good friend and copied some of mine onto his computer. In return he gave me half a bottle of whiskey.

This is the kind of person Chris is.

I don't see Chris very often. Our schedules conflict and we have different groups of friends. We used to share a mutual group of friends that bordered on family, but after an unfortunate death and some lesbian infidelity the group sort of fell apart, with the few gatherings we have being tense and unsatisfying, an almost forced ritual of togetherness, the way families are supposed to be I guess. But Chris and I try to get together occasionally to grab a few beers or get dinner or work out.

The other week we were lifting at the gym, which has always been intimidating to me because of the massive behemoths that roam the floor. But going with Chris made me comfortable, because he's confident and strong and has that similar tinge of craziness that I have.

There's something about the environment of the gym, about the way it leaves me insecure and neurotic, that makes me more open to talking, especially with Chris. We shared our insecurities about our educations and our jobs and our friends and families. Somehow exposing these other aspects of myself makes me forget about the beautiful girls on treadmills and muscled giants on weight benches.

Chris and I were closing our workout with the bench press, which is always the piece of equipment that I find the most intimidating. People don't ask how much you can lift with your biceps, how much weight you can pull with a triceps curl. They ask how much you can bench. Being on my back, legs separated, padding beneath me and a heavy weight above me, my exhausted body covered in sweat, it makes me feel vulnerable and exposed. It's practically sex... well, sex without the alcohol and performance anxiety.

"I hate the bench," I told Chris as I stretched myself across the black padding. I glanced over to see how much weight Chris was putting on the bar and he gently slapped my cheek to move my line of vision.

"Don't look," he said. I heard the smooth slide and clink of him putting the weight on the bar as I stared straight at the ceiling far above me. Slide, clink. Slide, clink. Slide, clink.

"Let's do it," Chris said, helping me lift the bar over the rack before letting go, "I've got you covered, don't worry."

Of course I still worried. I expected the bar the crush me, but it was surprisingly comfortable. It was heavy and challenging, but I wasn't concerned about it falling onto my neck and choking me to death and being on the news as that scrawny dumb ass who died at the gym.

"Breathe," Chris would say when he noticed me struggling, "Relax. You're fine."

As I finished my fourth set, Chris steadying the bar on my last lift as I placed it back on the rack, he patted me on the shoulder.

"You're up thirty pounds this week," he said.

"What?" I asked, contorting my face to show my obvious disbelief.

"You can do more when you don't worry so fucking much about it."

I haven't told Chris how much that single statement has seeped into other aspects of my life, how it's changed my feelings about my education and work, how it's made me realize that I've been handling everything fine and carrying the full weight of my life to damn near the best of my potential, that it's made me see that despite being crazy and prone to ludicrous behavior, I'm still doing much better than the majority of my peers, but I'll get around to saying something.

Because there's plenty of time, and for once, I don't have to worry about it.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I've always avoided having pictures taken. There always seemed to be something fake about collecting as a group and pasting on smiles for a series of shots of whatever event you were enjoying (or not enjoying) at the time.

Hey guys, remember that time we dressed up and went to the photo studio as a family?

Oh look, a picture from that time we all sat around a table at Olive Garden and smiled. That was so memorable compared to all the other times we went to Olive Garden.

But more than that, I wasn't exactly comfortable with documenting what was going on in my life. When you spend years fueled by alcohol and pheromones, swayed by hormones and bourbon and the opinions of others, the decisions you make aren't exactly the type of events you want on the record.

Did anybody get a picture of me busting Billy's nose open? We could edit it so the picture is all black and white except for the blood! That would make a sweet profile picture.

Home burglary? More like Kodak moment, am I right? Fuck... was the camera stolen?

Somebody get a camera! I'm about to experiment with drugs normally reserved for cancer patients.

I should totally send this picture of me spending the night in jail to my parents!

Guys look, I'm about to take six shots of Jim Beam and sleep with a stranger, I sure hope somebody takes a picture of me missing work tomorrow.

It just seemed irrational to want photographs of myself during a point in my life that served as a terrible reflection of me as a person.

I'd also lay some of the blame on that Nickelback song about photographs. I would have lost all of my cool credibility if I participated in anything that could possibly be construed as related to Nickelback (but my techno jam sessions were and still are totally acceptable, I don't make the rules).

But now, I'm starting to wonder if maybe a picture or two would have been nice. Perhaps a picture would help me explain certain aspects of myself. Maybe it would be easier to explain that when dating a Latina veterinary student I didn't love her, but knowing that I couldn't made me feel safe. Or the way it felt when I realized I was losing Paul to Denver. Or that while I felt justified beating a knife-wielding mugger senseless with two gallons of milk, a nagging guilt still scratches at my stomach from time to time, berating me for leaving him on the parking garage floor. Maybe a photograph would show the way the blood and milk splashed into peppermint swirls on the pavement.

And a few naked pictures of exes would be cool, not for blackmailing or because I want them back or anything, but for bragging rights. I mean, the lesbian was crazy hot and the Pakistani guitarist, well, he was a Pakistani guitarist, you'd be crazy to think that's not sexy. How are people supposed to know I managed to score out-of-my-league lays if I don't have photographic evidence?

There's still a chance for a recovery of the missed photographs. They say a picture says a thousand words.

Too bad I can't draw for shit.

It looks like I have a lot of writing to do.