Saturday, October 18, 2003

And here, folks, is my purple filing cabinet:
In my Media Writing class, I've been trying to drill into my students' heads the importance of active construction versus passive construction. Here's a rather egregious example of passive construction: "Alas, in the early-morning hours, the wrong computer file was sent to The Post's Bronx printing plant. "

Uh, no, the computer file was not sent. Somebody sent it.

(It's the NY Post apologizing for their Dewey-Defeats-Truman editorial about the Red Sox beating the Yankees. Ha ha. Looks like the thing's not online anymore. Damn.)

Thanks for that to Theo, who tried to explain the Latin ablative case to me at a bar called "Blind Eye" last night. After reading Wikipedia's definition, I still don't understand.

Last night we ate at this great Slovak restaurant on Nitranska Street in Vinohrady. I highly recommend it. I think it's called U Krbu. Basically, it's like stepping through a transporter and suddenly finding yourself in Slovakia. Everything's sort of the same, just a little bit different. Ain't nothing smazany here -- it's vyprazany all the way. The weird thing is, the menu's in Czech, so you order something in Czech and then the owner says it back to you in Slovak. If you're Czech or completely fluent in Czech, this isn't a problem because of the mutual intelligibility thing. But for the rest of us, it's kind of disconcerting because you're not sure if he's saying something important like "Yeah, I can bring you that salad, but it'll have sand and pebbles in it" or if he's just repeating your order.

And then you go outside and you're back in Prague.

Also checked out this place called Blind Eye, owned by a guy named Noah with a bald head and a little goatee who used to work at Video Express here in Prague. It's a nice place, considering -- considering he just took an old abandoned space (hole in the wall? why there's one right there!), installed a bar, and called it a bar. Mostly spillover from the Clown and Bard hostel, more semester-abroad students, and expat slackers. We played "spot the Czech." I saw one Czech girl playing fussball.

Must be that trendy new Zizkov I was reading about.

We talked for a while with a guy named Brian. In the middle of the conversation he blurted out, "I suppose I should tell you guys I grew up in Saudi Arabia." There was no particular reason he should tell us that, but I'm glad he did. I learned a Very New and Interesting Thing: When the oil company set up the gated foreigners' compounds in the 1970s, they gave everybody a still. Yes, that's right, the expats in Saudi Arabia all make their own alcohol. Fascinating stuff.

Then there was this girl Mindy, a semester abroad student who looks a bit like Janeane Garofalo. I keep running into her. Twice last night, once outside Akropolis and again at Blind Eye. Mindy introduced me to Andrea from eastern Germany who -- get this -- knows actual Sorbs. About 20 of them, in fact. They're just like regular German people except sometimes they talk to each other in a language nobody else understand, she said.

In other news, I inched closer to discovering the identity of Bloopy, the writer of this blog. Last night I found out his first name. He once wrote that we've met before, which is possible, but given the information I have, I honestly don't remember. (That happens a lot. It's not Bloopy, it's me.)

By the way, Bloopy's gonna give me nightmares with this link. Basically it's one of those old optical illusions where there's something wrong with the picture, and you gotta figure out what it is. Thing is you really have to examine the picture for while before you notice it. Make sure you have the sound turned up, because after a while the audio will start giving you hints. Very creepy once you finally notice it.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Here are those two guys I was telling you about (read the post below):

Here's the bar at 2 a.m.:

Here's the bar at 6:15 a.m.:

The crowd watching the Yankees-Red Sox game at Zlata Hvezda Sport Bar consisted mostly of study-abroad students, probably the most horrifying element among the foreigners "living" (I'm not sure if a semester-long frat party qualifies as living) in Prague. But you've got to hand it to them: They all stuck around to the bitter end at 6:15 a.m. We all did.

I myself camped out in the back with a pair of old timers, one of whom didn't have a strand of hair on his skull that wasn't white. Busibrness in Prague for 10 years or so. Something about health care products distribution. And something else. Don't remember.

"Is this seat taken?" I asked at 2 a.m.

"Who are you rooting for?"

"Red Sox," I said.

They smiled and spread out their hands welcoming me to the table.

These guys were the real thing. I think they knew what was going to happen from the very beginning. The man with the white hair must have downed a glass of wine and a single beer during the course of four hours. In that time I'd guess they exchanged maybe 50 words with each other, total.

Round about 4:30 a.m., in the sixth or seventh inning, with not much going on and the Red Sox up three, I noticed something funny: Most of the people in the room had stopped watching the game.

"You're going to Amsterdam on the 30th? Dude! I'm gonna be in Amsterdam then! Party in Amsterdam!"

Not the old timers. They just sat there, arms crossed, glued to the screen. They knew what was going on. They'd been through this before.

The room definitely leaned Red Sox -- about 65% for, I'd guess. That was nice.

The game, the game. OK, I haven't followed baseball since puberty, so if you're a big fan, me describing this game is going to sound a little bit like a Martian's anthropological notes from the Senior Prom.

Pedro Martinez is amazing. I've truly never seen anything quite like it. He kept throwing the ball, and those people in the funny stripes kept swinging that wooden stick, and they kept missing. Over and over and over again. Wow, wow, wow.

And then. Uh oh. The end's in sight, but there's trouble. They tell me this guy's only got about 100 or so good tosses in him, and he's running out. Something's happening. Some sort of authority figure has come out to that little hill in the middle of the field. There's some sort of discussion.

To my right, opposite the old timers, sat two incredible geeky (in a good way) English teachers. "Leave him in! Leave him in! YOU'VE GOT TO LEAVE HIM IN!!!!"

The authority figure pats Martinez on the shoulder and goes back to his hole in the ground. It feels good. Should it? I don't know. I like it.

And Roger Clemens! Oh man. Let's go back to 1986, when he pitched for the Red Sox in that ill-fated World Series against the Mets. This guy was my hero then. My mom met him and get him to sign a baseball for me. "To Scott. Roger Clemens." It's somewhere in a warehouse on Long Island now.

But here's the thing: He was scared this time. You could tell. Scared of the Red Sox batters. Like he didn't want to throw the ball to the plate, lest they do something nasty to it. So he kept doing weird stuff like throwing it at the ground in front of the plate or way over to the side. Chickenshit little punk.

It's actually a funny thing, a showdown between two great baseball pitchers, because they never confront each other directly, at least not in the American League. And yet even a complete ignoramus (say, a British person) could feel the conflict -- and tell that Martinez was kicking old man Clemens's sorry tush.

But Martinez didn't have enough pitches in him. I soon learned the meaning of the word "Rivera." The Yankees grim reaper, Mr. Cerny calls him. Ouch. Still kinda smarts.

And now, ladies and gentleman, the World Series -- the New York Yankees versus Florida Marlins. Oh Jesus, could anyone possibly give a rat's ass? The Marlins? Excuse me? They don't exist! Ask your grandfather! It's a fictitious team.

It's like Chuck D. says: "God takes care of old folks and fools, while the the devil takes care of making all the rules." Except wait. That can't be true, because the old folks and fools were all rooting for the Red Sox and Cubs this time.

Like I said, the old guys to my left knew all along. What, you didn't expect the Red Sox to choke? Of course they choked! Death. Taxes. Red Sox choke. Duh.

Sic biscuitus disintegrat.

That's the way the cookie crumbles.

Have a nice weekend.
"Tomorrow" morning -- meaning today, since it's well into tomorrow morning here in Prague, so in other words, after I sleep off this beer -- I'm going to TRY to post a few photos of what REAL baseball fans look like. I don't mean the ones that go "Wooooo!! Woooooooo!!" when their team wins. I'm talking about the ones I was with tonight, who start watching a game at 2 a.m. -- and yes the bar was packed -- and who stay until after 6 a.m. -- and yes the bar was STILL just as packed when I left. As a non-sports-fan sports fan, I never knew a game could be so riveting. And since I stoppd at my local herna for a recovery beer after the Red Sox lost, I'm afraid that, until then, gnight....

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Since I find it difficult to do any actual work with tonight's (or tomorrow morning's) Game 7 looming in such a foreboding fashion, I took to reading this Slate diary about Seth Stevenson's Japan adventure. It's quite funny. No, it's really, really funny.

As I have argued before on this blog, there are traditionally two jokes in America that never stop being funny. Anything involving a) cops in donut shops -- face it, always funny -- and b) French people, especially if the French person in question is wearing a beret and hopping along with a baguette over his shoulder singing, "Alouette, gentille Alouette." Funny, funny.

But wait. The French are no longer funny. Today they're the enemy. So I therefore nominate the Japanese as a replacement in the always-funny nationality category.

Tell me, was not one of the truly redeeming scenes in Kill Bill that Japanese tea room sequence, in which the sword master yells things in violent-sounding Japanese to his friend about getting the tea?

It reminded me of a wordy 8,000-word travelogue I wrote of my adventure zig-zagging across the Balkans by train, from Turkey to Prague, starting on Sept. 18, 2001. I met a very special Japanese man named Hoshino on this trip. I've posted some excepts of the travelogue here.

This is me crossing the border between Turkey and Bulgaria:

I am convinced that one day somebody should write a horror story that involves Eastern European train stations. Like about some guy that wakes up in the middle of the night and doesn't know where he is, the train is stopped at some abandoned border junction, the entire wagon is deserted and all the passport controllers are phantoms or zombies who say things you don't understand in a threatening or ominous way, and everything's written in Cyrillic.

I shared the ride with a shy Japanese guy who barely spoke English, but made a good effort. He was nice. I never learned his name. It seems wherever you go, there's always that sole Japanese male traveler.

The train was loud and rocked back and forth pretty hard, and we left the window cracked open in case some bandits tried to pump poison gas into the cabin, which is what you always hear about. At some point (in Bulgaria or Turkey, I'm not sure) a horrendous industrial-strength smell came into the cabin. I wondered if it was the sleeping gas. I would have closed the window but I wanted to air out the cabin -- still, the smell kept getting worse and worse. It was almost unbearable, yet there was no escaping it. It was smelled like a cross between industrial sulfur, rotting food, and something that had been dead for two weeks. The stench was truly horrendous.
Eventually the smell went away. That guy wasn't Hoshino, but for some reason I wanted to share the part about that awful smell. Plus, that guy foreshadowed Hoshino's appearance. He was the proto-Hoshino.

About a week later, while attempting to cross the Romanian-Yugoslav border by taking the local train from Timisoara to Jimbolia (a small town on the Romanian side of the border) I met the real Hoshino.

So I boarded the train to Jimbolia, and there, while sitting across from yet another smiling peasant type woman, I first saw Hoshino. He stood near the door reading an outdated copy of my very same Lonely Planet Eastern Europe guide. I tried waving a few times to him so I could hold up my own newer copy of the same book. He didn't notice. Finally I went down to the door and said, "Excuse me, I have the same book" and the look on his face was one of surprise and relief. He was Japanese -- yes, funny, it's always the lonesome Japanese guy traveling on his own -- and had some odd obsession with tennis. When I told him I was from the USA he immediately whipped out his "World Of Tennis" book and showed me that the top Boys Tennis champion in the world was in fact American. This of course made me proud of our fine country. I think he must have been the only foreigner on the trip that didn't want to ask me vague questions about the WTC attacks, in fact, so talking about the boys tennis champion was fine. He didn't know Hana's sister but he seemed to know everything else about tennis. He was traveling around Eastern Europe watching various tournaments. Hours and hours later I figured out that he was in fact a sports journalist.

Hoshino was 42 and prone to sudden unexpected exaggerated laughs and Japanese style "Ahh!" Like the other lonesome Japanese guy I cabined with on the train to Sofia, Hoshino spoke very little English.

So there we were. I'd found the only other person in the world who was crazy enough to try to cross the border in the same way I was, on this local train.

When we got off at Jimbolia, Romanian border guards immediately accosted us and demanded our passports. They told us to wait in the fly-infested waiting room for four four hours until the next train came. The head border guard spoke only Romanian and German, so we got by in mein halting Deutsche.

A lesser Romanian border guard sat right next to Hoshino on the fly-infested bench during the wait. He stared at him like he was some strange animal. After a minute Hoshino looked back and laughed loudly. They other guy didn't laugh back. I sat outside and read my Ghost Stories and clipped my nails, thinking how nice it was that I wasn't bored in the slightest. (Really, I wasn't.) Some locals threw chestnuts at me across the pavement platz fronting the train station. I took a picture of Hoshino. He pointed at the camera and said, "Made in Japan!"

Shortly after 6pm the train finally left for Kikinda, after numerous passport formalities. We'd made friends with the guards by then -- again the head guy wanting to know something about the WTC attacks, this time asking, in German, if my house in New York was hit. Hoshino presented them with origami swans.
Maybe one day I'll post other parts of the story. That's enough for now.

Hoshino and I eventually made it to Belgrade in the weirdest manner possible. On the Serbian side of the border, we again befriended a border guard ("You are from Japan. Chwhat are you doing in this part of the hworlld? Are you llost?") who sent us to Srenjadin in the back car of his colleague. His colleague found that all buses and trains had left and sent us to Belgrade in a taxi with a driver who listened to B.B. King.

Hoshino ended up spending the night with me in my friend's apartment in Belgrade. He left the next morning looking for a hostel. I didn't see him again.

On Jan. 3, 2002, I received the following email from Hoshino. I am not making any of this up. This is the email, cut-and-pasted, nothing changed.

SUBJECT: I`m Lituania President Hoshino !! SAMURAI


I'm Japanese Hoshino who is Backpacker around East Europe.

I travel around the Baltic states,specially,Kaliningrd & Lituania.Now,I came back Lituania which is my second country.

& I make myself Y.H worker.About 2 months stay with work in Y.H. If you have trip around Baltic,coming in!!

2002,very good start of beginning. Some good Drama'll be waiting me.How is miracle my Backpack trip in east Europe.

When I stayed in Kaliningrad Russia Region,I made the girl friend who is Russia beauty.It's dream of all Japanese.

from Hoshino who prof, or derector of Lituania. bye !! SAYOUNARA

Y.H is Old Town Y.H in vilunius Lituania.
Hoshino, wherever you are, bless you one hundred times. You are The Man, Hoshino!! SAMURAI.
Check this out. Zlata Hvezda says they'll keep the doors open if a minimum of 20 people show up for Red Sox-Yankees Game 7 tonight at 2 a.m. (80 K� cover). Who's in?
Hello, here are some blogs written by people who know somebody that I know.

Harry Rubenstein. American journalist living in Israel, where people keep blowing themselves up. Might add that to my Middle Eastern blogrole, whenever I get around to changing it (and add Czech-American Baltimorite George Cerny, too, while I'm at it).

Jed Davis. Sings in a NYC pop-punk band called Collider.

Agendacide, who rightly points out that "The fact that 'Jenny from the [Bronx] Block' is a sitting in Ben's Boston box seats is 'wicked retahded.'"

Mike Dawson, the co-author of the Gabagool! comic, which my g-fry read and said was really funny. I'm waiting for them to send me the hard copy. Mike, like me, is a reluctant convert to yoga.
Uh oh. I actually didn't want this to happen, because the Red Sox are going to lose tonight, I know it I know it I know it and it will all be for nothing. Now that the Cubs are out, it seems everything's taking a tragic spin. There's nowhere -- not Legends, not Jama -- that's showing Game 7 tonight as far as I can tell. But I might just buy the MLB.com web case, kick back in my apartment with some beer and stay up.... I don't have any early appointments tomorrow. Hell, if anybody wants to join me (Bloopy, you're usually up until the wee hours, and who are you anyway?) feel free to drop by. Of course I haven't yet run this by the other person that sleeps in my bedroom...

Hey, read this:

As for that Cubs' fan who "interfered" with the foul ball Tuesday night, don't worry about him. It's not like his life is ruined. He doesn't have a life: He's a Cubs fan.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Go read PragueBlog's hilarious dissection of the picture of the kid with the Walkman possibly costing the Chicago Cubs a shot at the World Series....

See the Fan Dude? Red stocking cap and Cubs jersey? Here's the sequence of thoughts that went through Dude's head: "Uh, oh. Like, man, I ain't sure but.... Bad program, man! Don't...oh, shit."

How about Pete (lawyer) and Marsha (personal finance adviser), the yuppie couple right there with ringside seats? Pete seems unsure of who he actually wants to catch the ball. Marsha seems more concerned for her personal safety while still maintaining that thin, arch smile that's plastered on her face all day and every day.

As for the rest of the souls in this picture frozen on film and in pixels in this strange moment in time, they are suspended at the top of a parabola, yet weightless (excepting a certain person in the background)...
Yep, it's all right there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I just saw a Vodafone ad featuring this song by Ronnie Wood ("Ooh La La"), perhaps best known as the song that plays during the credits of Rushmore, the best movie ever. (OK, one of the best movies...) That company has a very good ad agency with access to a smashing rights catalog.
If the Red Sox win one more game, I'm going to have to stay up reeeeal late one of these nights.

This is hilarious: Red Sox or Cubs? - Only one may be relieved of its misery. But which one?

Now, assuming my Boston Red Sox make the World Series (reverse double unjinx rejinx unjinx mojo activated), and face the Chicago Cubs, which team does the unaffiliated fan decide to root for? The lovable losers? Or the heart-ripping, operatic, bitter-bile-of-history losers?

Allow me to make the case for my Sox.
And he does:

I have previously suggested that I feel toward the Yankees as I would toward someone who'd shot and killed my dog. Given this, what would it feel like if the Cubs beat us in the big one? It would feel as though some pleasant, absent-minded guy had accidentally run over my dog in the street and not really noticed, and then clumsily reversed back over the dog as it yelped in its death throes. Then he started whooping and guzzling beer with friends, while still standing over the dog corpse. And all the while he still seems like a really nice guy who was hard to blame or dislike.

Here's an interview with one of my best friends from high school, Chris Radtke, and his partner in crime Mike Dawson. They write a nationally distributed (in the U.S.) self-published comic book Gabagool!. They talk about the comic, their opinions about the comic book industry, and all sorts of geeky stuff that I don't know anything about. (They've also been published in this anthology.)

Here's what jumped out at me:

Three of Cups is a bar near Dawson's apartment that has three-dollar beers and that's where we write our scripts.
Three dollars for a beer? Jesus, that's like 80 crowns! How do these guys afford to publish their own comic books? The sticker shock gets me every time.

And then:

Q: Geeks are much better than nerds. Would you agree?

RADTKE: I think the two are synonymous. When nerds try to be cool, they refer to themselves as "geeks". I got no problem with that, if it makes somebody feel better about their nerdiness, then go for it.

It's socially acceptable to be a nerd / geek these days. I think the widespread proliferation of the Internet has something to do with that. Everybody's online; frat boys, cheerleaders, my mom, as well as the dorks. It's been like a great equalizer.
Anyway, if just one person who reads my blog clicks on the link and finds the topic vaguely interesting, I've done my job. If you've come here looking for photos of Valerie Plame, go there instead, you pervert.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Seeking Support at U.N., Bush Offers Concession on Iraq: "A new American draft resolution for the United Nations Security Council would give the Iraqi Governing Council until Dec. 15 to make the first step toward restoring Iraq's sovereignty by developing a timetable for writing a constitution and for holding elections."

Google Search: Valerie Plame Photo. Check it out! I'm #10.

Speaking of which, congrats to bloopy of thatnotsofreshfeeling.com for reaching #2 and #3 on the "bloopy" search.

Hours of fun.
Over the weekend I had a whole lotta little things to do. So I procrastinated by painting. First I varnished my new desk from Ikea. Two coats. Then I painted my file cabinet purple, because the file cabinet was hideously ugly and I had some purple paint I needed to do something with. So here I am in my home office with a big purple filing cabinet in the room. It's really, really purple.
I just read this gargantuan article, Unclear Danger: Inside the Lackawanna Terror Case. It's too big to summarize, but next time somebody refers to the guys arrested last year near Buffalo, N.Y., as an Al Qaeda cell, take it with a huge bucket of salt.