Friday, August 27, 2004

Link of the week: The Bible as told through Lego characters. Pretty amazing stuff.

I'm off to Italy. Be back Tuesday night.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I'll take this story as a sign from the gods that I should finally tell you all about the hair-raising Tulip Cafe piss-tossing incident. For obvious reasons, I've been keeping quiet about this for a long time.

For those of you who don't know by now, I'm the owner of a delightful little eatery in Prague called Tulip Cafe. And for those of you who haven't heard, the bus driver for the Dave Matthews Band was recently caught on video dumping a septic tank filled with liquid human waste onto a boatload of tourists.

What could possibly be the connection, you ask.

Every since we opened Tulip (almost exactly two years ago) we've had problems with a resident of one of the buildings facing the courtyard throwing garbage onto the patio in the back. It started with stuff like potato peels, moldy bread... then graduated to smelly sacks of garbage and rotting meat, and finally -- sadly, I think you know where this is going -- bags of piss. Yes, little plastic sacks filled with human urine, landing in our garden, where customers are supposed to eat and drink. I know what you're thinking: Ew.

This usually happened during the afternoon when the cafe wasn't too busy, and there was never a direct hit on a customer. But the prospect of such a thing happening was a looming horror. And yet for a time -- this went on for a good three or four weeks, generally once every several days -- it seemed like there was simply nothing to be done about it. Despite our best efforts, nobody ever caught him in the act. I couldn't even be sure which window it was coming from. That many of the windows up above the patio are obscured by trees didn't help. At one point (this was actually before he graduated to Phase Pee) we did some investigating by going into the building and banging on doors. The consensus among residents was that it was almost certainly one infamously crazy man in the next building over. The staff at H20, the restaurant next door, confirmed this and even knew his name: Mrvik.

When he crossed the line from food waste to human waste, we naturally went immediately to the police. They were completely useless. Can't you do DNA testing? No, they said, we only do that in cases of murder. We called the cops no less than four times. On two of those occasions I was actually there when they came. The first pair seemed to think it was rather humorous. They poked around a bit, went into H20 and asked some questions, and then left. Nothing. Second pair told us point blank they couldn't do anything unless we had an eyewitness who actually saw him lean out the window and make the toss, or better yet, caught him on video.

So I brought in my old VHS video camera and trained it on one of the windows on the top floor, where I was pretty certain the stuff was coming from. I caught it once on video, but it was clearly coming from a different window. All you saw on the video was something flying through the frame. I was dead certain after analyzing the trajectory that it was actually coming from a particular window on the opposite wall, which unfortunately was the window to a corridor. I figured the cops would do nothing unless you could actually recognize the person's face, so I zoomed in on that window and started taping again. Every two hours, I or somebody on staff would have to rewind the video; on the wall behind the bar, I posted a log of dates and start times to remind ourselves. After several missed chances, it happened again with the tape running. And it was the wrong window again.

Now on this particular Monday it had already happened two or three times in a single day -- a record. He was really pushing it. I figured he was out of it until tomorrow, at least. Regardless, I got out the long extension cord and ran it from the kitchen to the far back corner of the garden, where I set up the tripod and trained the camera on the entire building. Even if I was unable to distinguish the features of the perpetrator, at the very least, I'd be able to identify the window.

Less than two hours later, it happened again with the film running. Wow. When I watched that video, I started shouting uncontrollably. It was truly the most bizarre, creepy, revolting and simultaneously thrilling things I'd ever seen. Naturally it came from one of the lower windows I'd never suspected; not a corridor, but somebody's apartment. All you can see is a little figure open the window, swing something back and forth three times, and then with a big lob, toss it over to our garden and quickly close the window. Splat.

Now here's where the excitement really begins, and I should also warn you this story gets a bit depressing. Normally, when we called the Prague City Police, they always sent the guys in those flimsy blue uniforms. From my skewed American perspective, these guys don't generally scream "authority." Indeed, they just look Keystone-ish, and from my limited experience, they act it too. (As you might already know, making fun of dumb cops is a Czech national pastime.)

When we called the police this time (the fifth time, for the record) there was apparently a misunderstanding. They thought we'd caught a thief, which I why I think they send two of those tougher looking fellows decked out in black SWAT-type gear with the long batons. I think this made a difference. They came in and looked and acted hardened and serious, like cops should, asking where's the thief, where's the thief. I said, well, actually, it's not that... In fact, it's worse than that.... Let me explain. Better yet, let Klara the manazerka explain.

When they watched the video, they might as well have slapped their fists into their palms and said, "Let's get him." We explained that our own freelance investigating had uncovered the likelyhood of one Mr. Mrvik being the culprit. So we (Klara, myself, and the two cops) went around and rang Mr. Mrvik's bell. "Mr. Mrvik, City Police. Please come down to the street and have a word with us."

By this time I'd already made up my mind that we'd be pressing charges and basically throwing the book at this guy regardless of the retaliatory consequences. (He could raise trouble my making noise complains, for example, or calling into question whether we have a permit for the garden. Now I'm 99% sure all our paperwork is in order there. We close the garden promptly at 10pm as required by law. Still, you never know in the Czech Republic. There's always an important stamp missing somewhere.) I'd decided that it was better to cope with unknown bureacratic hassles than to face the possibility of a customer getting splattered by the unspeakable. Besides, you can't really negotiate with somebody who tosses sacks of piss.

I'd also developed a clear picture in in my head of what this guy was like: a sour, pathetic, bitter, disgusting old persioner who probably belongs in a hospital rather than alone in his apartment. Well, guess what: It was that, and ten times worse. Mrvik came to the door in nothing but a dirty wife beater and big baggy underpants. He was a small, hunched creature with pencil thin legs who walked with a crutch. He was almost certainly over 80, perhaps even pushing 90.

At first he denied everything. The cops responded by calling him a liar. He blamed the neighbors. He started yelling at Klara about the noise from the garden. Much nonsense ensued. Finally the cops asked him to go upstairs to his window and wave to us from the garden, so they could confirm that his was the window in question. We went out to the garden, where the tripod still stood, and waited for Mr. Mrvik to wave from his window. At first he went to the window one over from the window the toss had come from. Nice try, Mrvik. Go to the next window. So he did. And the cops said OK, let's take him downtown. And oh yes, you guys are coming with us to file the formal complaint.

We filled out lots of paperwork on the spot, they radioed the info back to base, I gathered up our evidence (that is, the video camera) and we got ready to rumble.

I went back to the door of the apartment building, and there's Mrvik and the two cops, and the cops clealy have something to say to me. I understood well enough what they were saying, but I was unable to respond properly. Basically, Mrvik broke down and confessed and said he's very sorry and he'll never do it again , and please don't put me in jail. It's just me at this moment; Klara's inside. So due to my bad Czech, communication is not 100%. I'm thinking of my earlier resolution about putting an end to this, definitively, and about not negotiating with piss-tossers. At the same time I'm looking at this awful, pathetic old man in his underwear who probably hasn't left his flat in years, trying to picture him spending 24 hours in the city clink. And I'm thinking other things: We let him go, and he does it again. Then what? Back to square one? So I said no.

Klara then appeared and I brought her up to speed. Fortunately she asked the same questions floating through my mind. If this happens again, do we have to go through the whole process, trying and failing several times to catch him on video, and calling the cops unsuccessfully four times in a row? The cops said no, absolutely not. If it happens again, you've got all the evidence you need. He's already confessed, everything is on record, and one phone call is all it takes to take him away.

Importantly, they said this to Mrvik, too. It was difficult to read this guy, because you looked at him and all you saw was a crazy old man. But I had the sense that he got it in the end. My goal, after all, was not to exact vengeance but to put an end to this by whatever means necessary. In the end, we agreed to give him one chance to mend his piss-tossing ways.

This was over two weeks ago. Nothing since then. Not even a potato peel.

Now I've had many second thoughts about whether I should post this on my blog. After all, even if the danger has passed, I don't want people associating my restaurant with this sort of thing. But it's just too good a story to pass up.

A happy ending? Honestly, I'd hardly call it that. The whole thing left me feeling exhausted and a bit sad. You can be the judge.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Now I know what you're thinking: Is the Evan Rail that was quoted in a speech by the President of Tanzania the same Evan Rail that writes restaurant reviews for the Prague Post?

My sources say yes.
The Sixth International: Patience with Job

Best blog post ever, man. Or close to it.

OK, Mrs. Tilton, a challenge from a fellow fan of The Book of Job.

What exactly is the point, anyway? In modern street terms, I mean. We all know about Job. He suffer, he suffers, he suffers. Lamentation and suffering, and oh why oh why oh why.

Now as near as I can tell, the climax of the story goes something like this (in a crude nutshell): God speaks to Job from the whirlwind and said, "Dude, you don't have any idea what you're talking about. You think life sucks for you? In fact you haven't the slightest clue about the shit I'm dealing with every single fucking day. So just chill out. I've got things under control. I've got a plan. Trust me."

Am I mistaken? Seriously, it's been a bad habit of mine lately that when I get drunk, I start talking about the Bible and the Judeo-Christian conception of God, which some might consider an odd thing for an atheist.

From a purely literary point of view, does not Mr. Yahweh leave the reader with the impression that he's totally in control of the situation?

He does, I think. And yet.
Call me green, but I'm fairly certain I can honestly say that until today, I've never actually seen anybody shooting up in person. Not that I can immediately recall, at least.

Between Spalená (at the new-ish Middle Eastern counter across from Lazarská tram stop) and Opatovická (at the curve in the L, close to Velryba cafe and that wacky costume shop where you can rent a Yogi Bear costume) lies what's said to be, by those in the know, "the most interesting wormhole in Prague." It's rather difficult to find on the Spalená end, and it took me years before I figured out the ins and outs. Leaving the busy Spalená Street, you enter what appears to be an abandoned dead-end courtyard. If you turn right at the end and you find yourself in what looks to be another -- even more abandoned, even more forbidding -- courtyard. Walk past the non-descript tailor's shop out into the back of a garage of a big printing press, and finally out onto Opatovická, and there you are. (I know this route well because I take it every day on the way to Tulip Cafe.)

If you know the way, there actually nothing forbidding about it. For me, it's just a regularly trafficked way to get from one place to another. But these past few days one can't help but noticing the gaggle of kids with syringes.

I mean it's one thing to be shooting up. It's another to be shooting up with no shame in broad daylight, where any old granny on her way home from the shop can literally see you sticking a needle into your arm as though you're munching on a hot dog.

Is this an abberation, or a sign of the times? I really don't know. But very strange. Check it out.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Please join my friend Theo and me in our efforts to raise seed capital for the future Ferris Buehler Trust Fund.
The Post on WMDs%3A An Inside Story %28washingtonpost.com%29: "As violence continues in postwar Iraq and U.S. forces have yet to discover any WMDs%2C some critics say the media%2C including The Washington Post%2C failed the country by not reporting more skeptically on President Bush%27s contentions during the run-up to war. "

Whoops again.

I would like to know why my "Blog This!" app stopped working correctly.

Here's a blog from a guy in prison.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

From Reuters:: "They are cowards. They stay thousands of feet away in their airplanes. They are scared, they know we will slaughter them," he said, biting his finger for emphasis.

Biting his finger? Can somebody explain?