Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Super Sensitive

Seven weeks ago, a book blogger invited me to do an online author interview. She sent me a list of questions concerning my creative process and my opinions on writing. I answered everything with unfiltered honesty. I emailed it to her, and she gave the OK and set a posting date. On the morning of that day, I received this email from her: 

Hi Hans, I have just been going through your interview and will have to ask you to clean it up a little. I appreciate that you say things how they are and your words are raw and from the heart but unfortunately some people will be offended if I publish your interview as it is. I have attached the document and highlighted the words that need amending. I hope you are not offended and I await to hear from you. 

Kind regards, 


I was surprised, but not terribly. I opened the document and looked through it. Some of her highlights were understandable. Others corrupted the narrative, and a few were so silly they made me laugh. I wrote her back saying I wouldn’t change a word. She declined to publish my interview, and stated, “These are crazy times and people are super sensitive.” 

I thought about her statement; she was right on both counts. The problem is our current situation is almost entirely the result of people lying. And, barring a bit of descriptive flair, I answered her questions honestly. For this reason, I am publishing my interview uncensored. If you bruise easily, you probably shouldn’t read it. 

Author Interview: 

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? 

There are many, but one that sticks out in my mind, happened when I was three … I was in my grandparents’ backyard sitting on the lawn; I call it this, but it was really a square of sunbaked earth ringed with tufts of grass. I pried up dirt hunks with a stick. I collected a dozen or so, then I started building. I made a door and four walls. I added a ceiling, another four walls, and a roof. The structure was rickety and lopsided. Roots and worms wriggled from every face. My uncle came outside in his Hawaiian shirt and flipflops. He looked at my creation and smirked, “Is that a house?” he asked. I thinned my eyes at him and smiled. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s a fuckin’, shittin’ bitch-house!” The laughter started at my uncle’s toes. It ran up his calves and buckled his knees and jerked his thighs from side to side. His torso shook like a tree in a hurricane. His head cracked open at the jaw and he howled at the sky. I sat there and watched his body go haywire. I knew then words had power. 

What does your family think of your writing? 

I write about my life and it’s been a crazy one. My style is candid and vulgar. Recurring topics are drug and alcohol abuse, casual sex, women, violence, love, madness, and death. I spare no detail and take great pleasure in describing the goriest. I hate political correctness and don’t give a fuck who knows it. All this makes for writing that can be very polarizing. Amongst family members, the effect is magnified. There are those who savor every letter, the dirtier the better; those who look past the filth and see my heart; those who sit in silence judging what they read; those who find my work asinine and ignore it; and those who hate it with the heat of ten bonfires and have no problem telling me to my face.   

Does your family support your career as a writer? 

If we’re talking about my immediate family, the answer is yes. My mother, father, and sister have bought and read my books, bankrolled much of their publishing, given me a place to write while recovering from disease and alcoholism, thrown parties to celebrate my literary achievements, and always tried to provide me with sound advice whenever I hit a roadblock … If we’re talking about my extended family, the answer is yes and no. Some have been pillars of support throughout the process, some have promised a lot and delivered little, and some haven’t given so much as a corn-riddled shit.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters? 

I owe my honest opinion of them, my feelings at the time of our meeting, my thoughts as I got to know them, no matter how brutal, ill-conceived, or embarrassing. 

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? 

Women have made my life a nightmare; they’ve teased my dick, drained my cash, fucked my friends, used my heart as a coaster and my balls as rearview-mirror dice. Women have also made my life worth living; they’ve given me love when I didn’t deserve it, nursed me back to health when I was near death, made me laugh when I felt like shooting myself, and been the only spots of sweetness in a year of pure hell … The hardest thing about writing women is the hardest thing about loving them: you might lose your mind. 

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

“Writer’s block” is defined as, “The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.” In my experience, this is a load of crap. I write about my life, so it’s never a question of being unable to think of what to write, and only a question of doing something worth writing about. As for how to proceed with writing, if you can’t figure that out, you’re a greater fool than words can help. 
What is the most painful part of your artistic process? 
I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life. I’ve cheated strangers, hurt loved ones, lied, stolen, maimed, killed, and everything in between. The most painful part is moving past my fuck-ups, then being forced not only to look back at them, but to curate, examine, and describe them as if they were hideous, prehistoric creatures trapped under museum glass. 

What do you think makes a good story? 

Anything can make a good story. Christ, I’ve heard toenail fungus described in a way that kept me engaged. What it takes is a good writer, one who catches the little things then spins a tale that blows your eyeballs out their sockets. You can have the most interesting material, dynamic characters, great setting, but if you’re a bumbling wordsmith, the whole thing ain’t worth spit. 
What is the biggest trap for aspiring writers? 

The biggest trap for any writer (or artist) is worrying about what other people think. If you spend your time pruning your words of their truth because you fear the wrath of a Twitter mob, then quit writing now. 

Does a big ego help or hurt writers? 

A big ego will hurt anyone for obvious reasons. However, a medium-sized ego, especially on a writer, can be quite helpful for the following reasons: it can push them to find their target audience despite great barriers; it can guard them from the terror of public opinion; it can ground them after months of imagination and insanity; and it can give them that little shot of dopamine after a job well-done. 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find? 

Yes. I fill my books with quirky facts, obscure references, plays-on-words, and names with double meanings. I do this because I want fans to discover something new every time they reread one of my books. 

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? 

Probably “The Brotherhood of the Grape” by John Fante. It’s an autobiographical novel, where the main character, Henry Molise, a successful writer in his fifties, returns home to find his crazy Italian parents in the midst of a divorce. His father Nick, who’s an alcoholic and a stonemason, has been offered a job building a smokehouse in the hills. In an effort to reconcile differences and save his folks’ marriage, Henry agrees to help his old man. What ensues is an adventure with hilarity, color, and poignance I’ve seen matched by only a handful of novels. It changed the way I read. Christ, it changed the way I write. 

What does literary success look like to you? 

For me, literary success is not having stacks of bestsellers, loads of money, and arenas full of adoring fans; it’s having a handful of well-crafted books, enough money to live comfortably, and a fanbase that is small but loyal. I don’t wanna be the guy at the party who everyone knows. I wanna be the guy at the party who one person knows, and they point to me and say, “Motherfuckers, do you know who this is?”


Note: I reserve the right to alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homie.

Friday, October 11, 2019

What it Takes

(Note: The following is a partial continuation of my previous post, “Quick and Dirty.”)

I started writing my first book on October 9th, 2009. I remember the day well. I’d spent half of it having a panic attack in the shower; I was afraid I’d contracted HIV from a night of unprotected sex the week before. I wasn’t going anywhere in life. I’d just spent 27 months in the Peace Corps and the only things I had to show for it were three stacks of dogeared journals and a severe drinking problem. Because of my language skills and special knowledge of Central Asia – the region I’d served in – I’d gotten job offers from Chevron, the State Department and the FBI. I might have taken the bait, but I knew what these assholes were after. I turned them all down flat. It felt good, but it still left the question of what I was going to do with myself. I had told everyone I wanted to be a writer. I had the journals to prove it, but who the fuck was gonna read thousands of pages of rants about suicides, sandstorms and outhouse disasters that took place in an unknown country on the other side of the planet? My Peace Corps chronicles would have to wait. I knew they’d make a good book someday, but they just weren’t ready to come out of the banker’s box. This left me with another question … What the hell do I write about then?

My childhood was out because I was still in it. Pure fiction was out because I could’ve given a hot butt-fisting about alcoholic detectives tiptoeing after serial murders, or wild blue dragons blasting green fire against the shields of muscled dwarves or whatever. I ran through a few more options. Once I’d sliced away the garbage, I was pretty much left with one thing: a trip I had taken around the world with my childhood buddies in the spring and summer of 2006. It seemed like the perfect focus. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about seven crazy dudes partying it up in 15 countries across Asia and Europe for 85 days?

After my panic attack in the shower, I sat down at my computer and started typing. I knocked off the first chapter before nightfall. I forgot about the HIV. I told my family I was gonna write a book and that was that. My father said I could stay at home rent free until I finished. I thanked him. He smiled with half his face.

“But after that,” he said. “You’re on your own.”

I hit the keys like a deranged pianist crushing an army of ants with his fingertips. The pages clicked off again and again and again. I guzzled energy drinks by the case. When my kidneys started to ache, I switched to black coffee. I kept odd hours. I slept till noon, ate breakfast at one and had lunch for dinner. Some nights I’d stare at my laptop for hours. I’d get to the point of nodding off or jamming a knife through the keyboard, then, like flowers in a cave being touched by sunlight, something inside would come alive and an explosion of letters would blow across the screen.


On July 23rd, 2010 I finished the book. I printed it out (all 700 pages) and brought it downstairs. I placed it at the center of the kitchen table. I grabbed a bottle of my Dad’s best red and popped it with an old-school corkscrew. I poured myself a huge glass. I packed my hookah with mint tobacco and went outside. It was three o’clock in the morning. The moon looked like a giant radioactive fruit hanging from a black twig. I sat down in front of it and lit my hookah. I took a slug of wine and a puff of smoke. I felt the moonlight on my body. It turned my lips into a Buddhist smile. A little creature crawled in my ear.

“You did it,” it said.

I stayed outside listening to Greek love songs till 5 am. Then I came inside and grabbed another bottle of wine. I filled my glass and sat at the head of the table. I looked at my book sitting there across from me. Suddenly I heard the snapping of wood. It sounded like a body falling from a treetop and hitting every branch on the way down. I looked up. My gigantic father materialized in his underwear at the bottom of the stairs. His eyes were creases of sleepiness. His face was a jumbled mess of parts. He clicked on the overhead light and stepped into the room.

“What the hell are you doing?” he said.

I took a hit of wine and pointed to my book. His face dropped.

“Jesus. Is that it?”

I nodded. He reached down with his gorilla hand and grabbed a hunk of pages. He ran his thumb up the side. It sounded like a drug dealer’s money counter loaded with hundreds. He puffed through his nose. Then he looked up at me.

“So, what now?” he said.

I’d already made my move. I had five flat viewings, two job interviews, and a friend to meet me at the airport. I told him all this. He raised his eyebrow.


I leaned back in my chair and laced my fingers behind my head.



Things happened quickly after that. I said my goodbyes, packed my shit and split. I hit Prague like a Mack truck. Within a week, I had a job, a place, a crew, a few bucks. I started editing my book in earnest. When I finished a draft, I switched to my Peace Corps journals and strained material from those. During my downtime, I banged out poems. Occasionally a rap or a short story slipped through. To keep the ideas flowing I inhaled literature. I read all the masters: Bukowski, Dostoevsky, Sexton, Plath, Hesse. I rubbed elbows with all the literary types. I attended their readings, meetings, parties, and festivals. I did a few readings of my own. I started a blog and even managed to make a little name for myself. 

Once my book was in a pretty state, I started submissions. I sent it out to a grip of publishers along with a synopsis and a cover letter. I waited for months. A river of booze passed through my liver. When I got my first response, I was pumped. I opened it like a sugar-high toddler opening a trainset on Christmas. I hung my tongue out and stared at the screen. I searched for the intro, the outro, the meat, the congrats. Instead what I got was a tiny sentence with one comma. It read:

“not for us, thanks”

I slid my fingers around the ass of my computer. I lifted it from its seat and took it over to the window. I held it out and looked down. Fifty feet below me a man with a shiny bald head was walking by. I wanted to release my grip. I wanted to watch that miserable little sentence fall to a dot and shatter atop that dude’s skull. I swear on my fucking beans, I almost did it. The only thing that stopped me was the promise of better luck. I took my computer back inside and set it down. I whipped a finger at its face.

“Next time, it had better be a yes,” I said.

Next time came a few days later. It was a NO so big I could have had it stuffed and mounted on my wall. Every response after that was also a NO. When I ran out of publishers, I switched to magazines. I fired out dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems. I had them in almost every state and in countries around the globe. There was a four week pause between submission bouts (during which I drank profusely). Then the heavens cracked and a shower of NOs rained down on me, bouncing off my head, shoulders, knees, and toes and collecting around my feet in jagged and hideous puddles. I felt like the most gigantic loser the world had ever known, like all the angels and all the demons and all the creatures of purgatory had scoured the earth for losers, and after centuries they’d found me and agreed that Yup! I was the greatest loser of them all.

Shit got low after that. I still wrote and did my submissions, but it took more drink to get there. My gut got fatter and my hair got thinner. My patience shriveled to the size of a booger. I trolled the bars harder than ever. I picked up strangers, most of whom were as sad and lonely as me. I contemplated ending it all. I imagined walking in front of a tram and being crushed into raspberry jam across the tracks. I was afraid to leave my flat. I thought if I did, something might snap, and the vision of my death would come true. 

Meanwhile, life was moving on. My friends were getting married and buying houses and having kids and their whole world of sunshine, barbeques and road trips was clogging up my newsfeed like gym socks in a toilet bowl. I tried to ignore it all and move on. I found solace in my work and pleasure in my isolation. I managed to get a little routine going. During the week, I was all focus and scrunched eyebrows, but on weekends I let the confetti explode from my every orifice. Life became a system of moving parts. I built it gear over wire, piston over pipe. Soon I was at the center of a mechanical labyrinth. Everything was in a harmony of sorts, until my phone rang on my 34th birthday. 

When I got the news of my best friend’s death, time froze. Minutes warped into hours and hours into years that felt like seconds as the devil yanked my toenails out one by one with his teeth. After what seemed like a century squeezed through a Cheerio, I got up and went to the bathroom. I clicked on the light and looked in the mirror. My reflection stared back at me. Its skin was clear, and I could see my insides. My mind was a carnival on fire, my soul was an empty pail, my liver was a grizzled cowboy, and my heart was a sobbing geisha being cranked feet-first through a meatgrinder. I reached for the bottle. When the whiskey became water, I reached for the pill and powder. My system went nuts. What was once a greasy but neat configuration, became a heaving mass of junk and springs. I collapsed under the weight of it. I hit the ground so hard and so fast I flew apart at the joints like a He-Man toy dropped from the needle of a skyscraper. Everything went black. I disappeared down my screaming mouth with the liquor and the blow and the smoke.


I came to on a feeding tube. There were needles in my veins and blinking lights all around. I could feel my lifeforce floating off. I could hear the cries of my loved ones in a halo above my body. I looked down and lifted my gown. My belly was streaked with purple wounds and my legs were skinny and bent like a mummy’s. The pain was unimaginable. It felt like a nest of fire ants had burst inside my guts. I wanted to give up; to hang my forearm and drop the chalice and let the wine spill all over the floor. I knew if I did my mother would come with me. She was sat in the corner of the room hugging a pillow with her watery eyes just visible above it. I willed a tiny smile. I opened my hand and she flew over and grabbed it. The warmth of her spirit braided down my arm. I knew what to do.

As soon as I could walk, I started typing. The letters popped under my fingers and the words filled the page. My hands tangoed through the agony; they brought me to a place where my mind was empty and my heart was full. Over the course of nine months I managed a small miracle. With the help of my editor, I touched up my first novel and started pruning my second. I sent the former out to a hundred and thirty agents. They all stuck a NO in a slingshot and fired it at me simultaneously. I didn’t give a handsome fuck; I’d already been rejected by a boatload of their cronies, what the hell were a few more?

I decided to self-publish. I found a woman named Dawn in Livermore who ran her own press. I sent her an email and arranged a meeting. She came over on a hot June day. I still had a tube in my face. It was long and yellow and tipped with a two-pronged spigot. I had it hooked behind my ear. When Dawn saw it, her jaw flopped off and did spinning cartwheels toward the ground. I laughed and brushed it off. We sat down at the table and started in. I gave her the lowdown on my book. I told her it was based on a trip I'd taken around the world with my childhood buddies back in 2006. I said it was edited and ready to be published. I showed her the first few pages and she smirked. 

“This ain’t nearly ready,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“First of all, I can tell it’s only been edited for content; you’ll need a line-editor.”


“Second, you don’t even have a cover; you’ll need an illustrator.”


“On top of that, you’ll need a short bio to let the reader know who you are, a blurb summarizing the plot so people don’t hafta dig through a buncha chapters to figure out what the hell your book’s about, and a photo of yourself so people know who to hug or throw darts at.”

“Anything else?”

She raised an eyebrow and twisted a red fingernail through her dirty blond hair. 

“Some critiques would be nice, but I’m guessing only friends and family have read it up to this point.”


“Well, they’re all unreliable.”

“Ah ha.”

“What you could do though is send it to some beta-readers.”


“Yeah, you know, people who get off on being the first to read new books. I know a couple you could send yours to. They’re published authors so their critiques’ll be worth a damn. Plus, if they like your book, who knows? They might even write you a nice review.”

I told her “good shit.” I took the info, cut the check and got to it. I sent my book to two beta-readers; a man and a woman. I’ll call them Biff and Mildred. Biff responded the next day. He told me he’d read the first forty pages and the last forty pages and skimmed the middle. Before I get into anything else he said, a bit about my book …

As you already know it’s about a trip I took around the world with my childhood friends in 2006. I call it a novel, but the heart of it is still true. What’s also true is the slang-based dialect the characters speak is essentially the same as the one my friends and I use to converse with each other. We developed it as kids to conceal talk about the nasty shit we used to get into. When we started travelling together, we found that speaking in a way that only we understood was useful for the same reason. We named our dialect ROAST, which is an acronym for “Result of a Small Town.”

Some of you who went to school with us in Livermore might remember a few words. Perhaps the most famous – if such a thing could be said – was the phrasal verb “chuck out.” In the book, its definition is the following:

“To chill with gusto; to unwind completely and let the stress of the day dribble from your joints.”

The verb and its definition may seem incongruous. However, “chuck” does not refer to throwing something carelessly or casually, rather to a buddy of ours (ten bucks if you can guess his name) who was, is, and always will be the Jedi master at chilling the fuck out. Since our group was pretty damn rowdy, it was nice to have a meditative counterbalance. So nice, in fact, that when we found out good ol’ Chuck was joining us on the big trip, we decided to start calling ourselves the “Chucks” and our life of world-travel intermixed with sublime relaxation, “Chuck Life.”

This is all explained in the introduction. However, I can imagine the title “Chuck Life’s a Trip” might look pretty stinkin’ odd to some random shopper at a used bookstore. Biff the beta-reader kindly let me know this in his critique. He also said the use of ROAST was a bit heavy, and that my book could use a “chapter-ectomy.” I thanked him for his honesty. I contacted Mildred (the other beta-reader) to see where she was at. She told me to give her another few weeks. She said she was in the process of critiquing a friend’s book and that she’d dig into mine once she’d finished. I said OK and went about my business. I had the tube in my face removed and the stents in my pancreas replaced. I started eating only solid foods. I gained a little weight and even managed to find an illustrator and a line-editor. 

While the two of them worked their magic, I had some free time to think about what Biff had said. I was too attached to the title and the dialogue to mess with them. And the chapter-ectomy? Well, I’d already cut the book in half over the course of a dozen or more drafts, so cutting any more for the purpose of making the book shorter seemed quite impossible. There was still the question of content; removing certain portions for fear of offending certain people was definitely on my mind. It’s not hard to guess why. My book is about seven guys in their early twenties who traverse the globe drinking, cursing, fucking, burping and chasing skirts. There are deeper themes, of course. But someone who bleeds easily might only see the thorns. 


Mildred’s critique came on a Sunday afternoon. I opened it after lunch while lying in bed with my feet up. I saw that it was addressed to me, my publisher, Dawn, and my line-editor, Claire. I wondered why that was. I scrolled down to the text. This is what it said:


Your book is good. Like most, it has problems that I have confidence that you can solve. Shall I begin with the tough stuff? 

1. The title has to go. I was considerably further than the average reader would go before I understood the title. It just looks ungrammatical on first glance. It wouldn’t merit a second glance. Remember, titles sell books

2. Worst of all, the characters are downright unlikable. Sexist, selfish, entitled, rude, crude, very crude, and a lot more. By New Delhi they are mellowing and showing some of the qualities that makes you stick by them all these years.

Nevertheless, in the age of #me too#, you ain’t gonna get away with this kind of behavior. Women are not bitches, to be chased for nookie. Is it any wonder that the lot of you failed so miserably most of the time? I know that you made this point, but it was much too subtle. 

For some reason, you like, even love, these guys. You need to show us why. You could introduce the Chucks as people you had a reason to befriend as a young person, and to follow their development into callow dudes later, then you show their attitudes during your trip. Something like that.

3. The slang, or whatever you call it don’t always work. Most sentences can be gleaned by the context, but some are too dense. If only the Chucks can understand it, but no one else, go to Kinko’s and have six copies run off and call it a day. But do you really want to do that? I think you can keep the originality and still make the rest of us get it.

4. The good stuff: each country was so beautifully and perfectly described I felt that I was there. I was surprised and pleased that you had done your homework, and knew so much of the history of each country and special site. Your description of your experiences and what you saw was worth plowing through the rest of it.

5. You owe it to your friends to show their sober selves, their background and their aspirations, before attempting the Chuck Life. 

6. This is definitely a memoir, not a novel.

I hope this helps,


When I finished reading, my eyes were smoking. I wanted to fire back with something “very crude.” My better angels took the wheel. I responded with an email thanking Mildred for her honesty. I went downstairs and into the backyard. I walked in circles for hours. My brain was like an old ship being pummeled by waves in a storm. I nearly chewed my nails to their cuticles.

When dinner came, I read Mildred’s critique to my folks. My father dropped his fork. My mother pushed her plate away and stood up.

“I feel like slapping that woman in the face!” she said.

I laughed. My father raised his eyebrows. I asked him what he was thinking. He cocked his head to one side.

“Well …” he said with half his mouth. “Have you given any thought to a pseudonym?”

“Yeah, Dad. But would it really make a difference? Everyone who knows me knows I’m a writer, and the shit I talk about is pretty unmistakable.”

He shrugged and picked up his fork. We all went back to eating. No one said a word. A few minutes went by. My mother started sawing her asparagus into tiny pieces. I took a deep breath.

Okay Mom,” I said exhaling. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

She pursed her mouth to a dot and brought it underneath her right nostril.

“Well, I hafta admit, there is a lot of profanity in your book.”


“And let’s be honest, you guys did hit on a lot of girls.”

“I understand that, Mom! But that’s what really happened. You want me to rewrite the whole fuckin’ thing and make it all pretty and nice?”

“No … but you could tone it down a little.”

I dropped my shoulders and rolled my eyes. I took my plate to the sink and went upstairs. I watched a crappy movie and read a little. Then I clicked out the lights. Sleep was jittery and illusive. I turned around and around like a lamb on a spit. I popped a few pills. They shaved away the bullshit and sent me off. I got a couple hours with my tongue out. Then a goblin stuck his dick in my ear and pissed a dream into my head …

I was in a dark room sitting Indian style. My chest was burning like a torch. The flames were lapping at my eyeballs. I wanted to burst out and cry. I just sat there shivering. Time tipped sideways and melted into a line. I almost did the same. My gut told me not to. I heard a loud click. Light poured down from above. I saw a pyramid of stairs. They led to a silver throne with curled arms and pointed ears. A woman sat on its belly. She had black hair in a flipped bob and wore a frock down to her calves. Her face was caked in white makeup. Her lips were two red anchovies. She had a nose like a little shark fin. A pair of cat-eye glasses rested on its bridge. I stood and walked towards her. She held up her hand.

“Stop right there!” she said.

Her voice was commanding yet grating; like a chihuahua barking through a megaphone. It triggered the yellowness in me. I did as I was told. She grabbed something from her lap and held it up. It was a big thick book. I thought it was the bible. I squinted at the title. She shook my eyes off it.

“This is an abomination!” she cried.

I knew what book it was. I also knew who she was.

“Hi Mildred,” I said.

She thinned her gray eyes at me. Then she licked a flake of makeup from her upper lip.

“I told you what to do with this reprehensible work,” she said. “And if you don’t obey my orders, I’ll have my posse of sirens nail you to a stake and burn you from the feet up!”

She flicked her words at me like a witch flicking a spell off her fingertips. They hit me in the chest and buried themselves into my heart. I could feel it rumbling and cracking apart. I fell to my knees and hung my head.

Okay,” I said miserably. “I’ll do it.”

Her wicked smile singed my scalp. I heard a sharp grunt then my book clattered to the ground in front of me. I picked it up and dusted it off. I stood and walked into the next room. There was a tiny desk and chair there. I sat down and got to work. I made all the changes Mildred had stated. I changed the title, the dialogue, the content; I even went back into the childhoods of all the characters and showed what wonderful little dudes we were and how it all just fell apart.

When I finished, I had a completely different book. I brought it back into the throne room with a grin on my face. I walked up the steps and handed it to Mildred with a bow. She took it and flipped through the pages. An hour later she looked up at me.

“Hans, you’ve done a fine job,” she said. “But it’s now the year 2025, and to be honest, the women in your book just don’t look bad enough.”

I crinkled my face in shock.

“The women?” I said. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Well, while you were locked in your little room writing, all the men of the world came clean about all the crappy things they’d done. There was a gigantic healing forgiveness ceremony and then we women realized we had some stuff to come clean about too.”

“What in the cock-suckin’ fuck, I mean, what in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks does this have to do with my book?”

“Well, I noticed you painted a prettier picture of your female characters than you did of your male characters, and, in this day and age, that just won’t do.”

“But I told the truth.”

“Of course, you did. And I’m not asking you to lie, just to change a few details so that the reader really gets a feel for how shitty women can be. Think of it as an enhancement of the truth.”

“An enhancement of the truth?”


I shrugged and took the book from her hand. I walked down the steps and into my little room. I closed the door and sat at the desk. I cracked the book and got to it. The clock hands spun around the nose. The pages fell from the calendar like yellow leaves from a tree. I made the women in my book look terrible. They were all snarling eyeballs and bloody fangs and snakes for hair. I added a final period. Then I rushed the book on up to Mildred. She took it from my hands with a crooked smile. She flipped through it with lightning speed. I stood there chewing my lips. When she finished, she looked up at me.

“Nicely done,” she said.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“But!” she said, raising a long finger. “It’s 2030 now. And do you know what that means?”

“No,” I said meekly.

“It means that enough time has passed for everyone to forgive everyone for everything and now we’re all working in harmony to save our planet from destruction. Do you get where I’m going with this?”


“Think hard.”

I thought hard. It came to me like a soda burp. I hung my jaw and let it out.

“You want me to really describe all the nature we saw around the world so that everyone who reads my book will really grow to appreciate Mother Earth and work that much harder to save her.”

She pursed her lips into a dainty smile.


I took my book and went to my room. I wrote until the walls crumbled and weeds twisted up from the floor. When I finished, I gave my book to Mildred. She looked at it and laughed.

“Hans, it’s 2060 now!” she said. “The world has been saved and everything is okay. Why don’t you just write children’s books … or I know, fortune cookies!”

I woke up screaming. I grabbed my computer and checked my book. It was all still there. I wiped the sweat from my brow. A new email popped up. I clicked it open. It was from my line-editor, Claire. She’d sent me her edited version of my book. I figured now was as good a time as any. I opened the file and started reading. There wasn’t much she’d changed; a word here and there, a few commas, colons and exclamation marks. The grand meat of it was intact; every ugly incident, every beautiful moment.

I finished the last chapter as the sun went down. I closed my computer and went outside. The sky was a bomb-blast of pinks and reds. The clouds were puffy little footprints leading nowhere. I walked in a circle around the grass. I thought of my book and what to do. I wondered how my family and friends would take it. I wondered if they’d hate it, or worse, if they’d hate me. I thought of all the other people who might read it. I imagined their outrage, their comments, their threats. I felt the world closing in around me; a sea of angry faces screaming at my neck. They called me all sorts of horrible things. I listened to every one of them. I was just about to cave. Then I felt a presence near my ear. It crawled inside and filled my head.

“Do it,” it said.

I smiled wryly and looked around. The faces lost their anger and faded away. I walked inside and went to my room. I wrote an email to my publisher and sent it off. It had one attachment and the following words:


There goes the fuckin’ neighborhood.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Quick and Dirty

It’s been over three years since I’ve posted on this thing. I could give you a score of excuses as to why, but the truth is, alotta heavy shit happened, and I got lazy. As far as the heavy shit’s concerned, I’m gonna give you the quick and dirty. You might wanna strap a face mask on for this one …

On December 14th, 2015 (my 34th birthday) my best friend from childhood died of a heroin overdose in a hotel room alone. I thought I was prepared for his passing cuz the signs were all there. I wasn’t. When I got the news, it split me in half like a machete through a rotted cane stalk. And what was once a bad drinking habit quickly devolved into full-blown alcohol abuse. I started trolling the nastiest bars in the nastiest parts of Prague. I tried to maintain a romantic relationship during this time, but it all fell apart like wet toilet paper because she was on the other side of the globe and neither of us wanted to move.

We broke up and never spoke again. I poured even more alcohol down that gaping hole in my chest, but after a while, it just didn’t cut it. I turned to drugs. From late 2016 to early 2018 scarcely a weekend passed where I wasn’t treating my nose with powder, socking my veins with Molly, blazing my brains with weed, or all three. Between the booze and the shit, it’s amazing I got any writing done. By the skin of my geesh, I managed to crank out my second novel and put the finishing touches on my first. I started looking for an agent. I queried over a hundred, but they all gave me a long bony middle finger. I figured I was dust. Then a friend of mine told me:

“Look, your work is good, but you need a professional editor.”

She turned me on to a friend of hers in the biz. It wasn’t a match, but it got me looking. Meanwhile I’m still partying like a Vandal in a fire-lit cave full of Roman skeletons. I’d managed to bang a lid on the drugs cuz the fuckheads that crap put me in contact with were sicker than the arms of a headless junky, but I was still suckin’ drank from a firehose because the way I saw it, I was now being “healthier.”

In June of 2018 I managed to find an editor; a sweet old dude with white hair and glasses who lived on an abandoned island with his wife in a blue house. Homeboy loved my first novel. So much so he was already sending me big fully edited chunks of it while I was on my annual summer trip. This time it was Central America. I made it a week out there with the hard drinking before my guts started going haywire on me.

When I got back to Cali, I saw a doc. He threw some antibiotics on it and I was good in a few days. I decided to celebrate. I went to a buddy’s birthday party and downed enough liquor to fill a child’s casket. The next morning, I dumped a bag of Taco Bell in my stomach. I took all that home and started pounding the wine with my pops. A few days later, my abdomen swole up like an airbag. I thought it was constipation but when it didn’t go away after a round of suppositories, I got spooked. I called my sister (who’s a doctor) and told her the deal. She asked me to have my dad press his finger into my belly and retract it as fast as he could. I was puzzled but complied. My dad did the thing and the jolt of pain it caused was so strong I thought my teeth would catch fire. My sister said I might have a burst appendix. She told my Dad to take me to the hospital, but I protested on account of her wedding rehearsal was the next day and I was her best man. My dad took me anyways. After hours of agony in the waiting room, the jagoffs finally saw me. They pumped me full of pain meds and did a CT scan. The doctor came out thirty minutes later and dropped me the news like she was dropping a newspaper into a trash bin.

“Pancreatitis,” she said.

I looked at her cockeyed. “What the hell is that?”

She rolled her eyes. “Well basically, it’s when you have a blockage in your pancreas and the digestive juices it produces can’t go to the right place, so they spill all over your innards and digest them instead.”

It must’ve been the drugs because my next question was:

“Can I still drink at the wedding tomorrow?”

She laughed and left the room.


The ensuing nine months were dominated by a hell so pure and so clean you’d think the Devil himself had a distillery for all the misery in the world and he was serving his product to me drip by drip through an IV. I was hospitalized fourteen times, lost sixty pounds, had my gallbladder removed, my pancreas run through with eight-inch stents, and had to endure more x-rays, MRIs, EUSs, ERCPs, CT and HIDA scans than I could count. Since I couldn’t eat without triggering organ-melting pain, they had to find alternative ways to feed me. The first was via something called a PICC line, where they basically cut a hole in your arm, stick a tube down your artery and feed you liquid food through it. I was on that for about five weeks, but then the hole got infected so they switched to something called an NJ feeding tube, which is similar in concept to the PICC line only the tube runs down your nose and into your bowels and the formula you’re fed is different. Anyways, I was on that shit for seven months, and only recently stopped taking it. As I write this, I still have two stents in my pancreas and a yellow tube sticking out of my face. But it ain’t about all that; it’s about what I’m working on.

Just last week I found a publisher for my first novel Chuck Life’s a Trip, which is based on a life-changing, around-the-world journey I took with my childhood buddies back in 2006. We still have a ways to go before the thing is shining like a cut ruby and ready to slip on the shelves, but we’re pickin’ away at it, and as long as my condition keeps improving and things go according to plan, we should have it hot off the press and in people’s hands by fall of this year. 

In the meantime, I’ll spit little bits on here to keep the interest up. Then when the time is right … KABOOOOM … I’ll drop my first book on that ass 😉


Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Christmas with the Folks (Part 4)

The road to Karlovy Vary was rough. Our colds had gone from lingering green phantoms to full-blown puce ghosts busting out of a kid’s closet at night like BOOGITY-OOOGITY-OOOO! My father was coughing up a wicked cloud in the driver’s seat. I was sneezing bananas in shotgun and my mother was in back honking her nose like a puffin with a kazoo. We tried to enjoy the scenery. We tried to take in the undulating hills and the syringe-needle forests and the fucking whatever bullshit fungal villages with raspberry rooves. I could barely keep my eyes open through all of it though. I dozed off half a dozen times, only to be woken up half a dozen times from my folks’ symphony of snorts. Besides irritation and sickness, all I can remember is stopping for pork and beer in a little village. Then the night dropped on our heads like an anvil and we were in Karlovy Vary.

We came upon the place from the backside. We drove through its dark forest and up into its hills until we saw the hotels. They were giant dazzling hotels bathed in champagne Christmas lights. They had high oak doors and marble columns and circular courtyards ringed with limos. My mother went ape-shit, bucket-over-the-head crazy with the camera. My dad banged away at the GPS with his fingertips between roaring coughs. We dipped down and around and into a shady residential area. Then our mechanical friend told us to stop.

“Well, where the fuck is this place?” my dad said, looking around.

I shrugged and picked up my phone. I called the lady and she told me in a thick Russian accent that she’d be down in a sec. We waited on the street, double-parked. Five minutes later, a cute little blond woman with a cherry nose came pattering out of a nearby flat-block and up to our window. She stuck her hand in and smiled.

“I am Veronika,” she said. “I vill show you to apartment.”

We unloaded our shit and dragged it in the building. There was a rickety spiral staircase there and we were three flights up. I carried most of the bags. By the time we got everything to the top, we were pissed as a gang of hornets in mud. Veronika opened the door and pleasantly showed us in. The place was almost uncomfortably clean and the hard yellow lights made me queasy. There were two bedrooms and two baths. The kitchen was pretty big, as was the common area, but its stiff gold-leaf couches and crystal chandelier reeked balls of the Salieri residence. Luckily there was a flat-screen in there. I knew we’d be using that motherfucker in spades.

Veronika gave us two sets of keys and split. My folks took the green room near the antechamber and I was left with the toilet-side pink room, much to my father’s delight. We couldn’t be bothered to do much for food. My dad and I hit a little joint around the corner and got beers and schnitzel. Then we grabbed my mom some chicken to go. The rest of the night was spent tea-nursing our colds and watching flicks. We were out by midnight.


I slept for twelve fat ones. I woke up at noon feeling a sprig better. I took a shit and washed my balls. Then I walked into the common area to see how my folks were doing. They were both wrapped in blankets and sat at the breakfast table. My mother had apparently made chicken soup, as they were slurping it up from big bowls with big spoons. I went over and sat in the empty chair next to them. My mother smiled and sat up.

“Good morning, Goosy!” she said. “Lemme get you a bowl.”

I nodded and thanked her. As she went to the kitchen, I turned to my Dad. He was staring down at his soup with a perturbed look on his face. I told him “good morning,” and in response he let off a chain of humungous coughs. It sounded like someone shoveling bullfrogs into a wood chipper. It almost made my mother drop the bowl of soup she was now returning with. My father retched and hacked and choked. My mother gave me my soup then sat back down. My father finally finished coughing. Then there was stillness.

“You OK, Gerry?” my mother asked.

He straightened his back and gave a tiny nod. He stared at the wall for a moment, letting the silence grip the room. Our eyes crawled all over him with concern. We didn’t know if he would wither into putty or explode. He dipped his chin like he had whatever it was under control. I heard a little newt burble, then …


His chest made a sound like Zeus crushing a storm to a point with his fist. He sucked in air till he no longer could, then in kind fashion, he exhaled, raking the mucus up from his lungs and blowing it into his cheeks. He delicately plucked a tissue from the box and folded it into a neat square. Then he brought it to his mouth and tongued the mucus into it. Most normal people would, at this point, pitch the tissue in the trash. But not my father, the scientist. No, he was curious about his latest expectoration. So like a giant wunderkind with a brand new book of chemical compounds, he evenly pried the tissue open and – top lip raised, full fronts exposed –examined its lumpy, green contents.

“It’s interesting the kinds of things our bodies produce under duress,” he said.

I bobbled my head and grinned.

“Yeah, well feel free to pick through my next whiskey shit,” I said.

“Ph-wans!” my mom cried, spitting up her soup.

My father remained silent. I gave him the sidelong eyeball.

“Dad?” I said.

“Huh?” he replied, still examining his phlegm.

“What do you think of my offer?”

He folded the tissue over and dropped it in his bowl.

“Fuckin’ great,” he said.

I kicked back in my seat and laughed my mouth out. My folks both got up from the table and left me to my hysteria.

The rest of the afternoon was a bust. I was able to roust my father up to come down into town with me and look around, but after half an hour of Prada and Gucci and Gumby, big tall buildings with art nouveau facades, snotty women in high heels walking little dogs, droves of shopping-bag families, four pretty white hotels and scores of riverside cafes serving thousand-crown lattes, we’d had just about enough. We walked back up the hill and stopped at a potraviny. We got some breakfast fixings – eggs, sausage, potatoes, milk, cheese – then headed back our flat. We capped the evening off with “Casino Royale.” Apparently, they’d filmed it at “The Grand Poop” or some such hotel around the corner. When the movie ended my folks crashed and I got wasted in my room off whiskey. I remember frying up potato wedges at 2 am with a sliced and bleeding thumb. Then nothing.


Aside from a little trip to nearby Loket Castle, the next two days were pretty uneventful. When we weren’t eating chicken soup or coughing our tits off, we were dead-eyed in front of the tube, watching flicks. My dad had come up with the idea to yank the mattresses off our beds and lay them out across the living room floor. This was worlds more comfortable than those ridiculous Venetian couches and it afforded us a bit of real daytime rest after a crazy holiday.

Come the final night, we had to pack. It was a slow process that involved many trips to the toilet and sink, but we got it done in decent time and without making ourselves too much sicker. At around 11 pm, we said our goodnights. I retired to my pink room and clicked out the lights. I tried my damnedest to get some early shuteye. But try as I might, I couldn’t help but think that the entire Christmas trip, save for a few jeweled moments, had been one big disaster. My reasons for thinking this were in part related to the checklist I’d made. I’d wanted to give my folks a true taste of Žižkov and of greater Prague, have a traditional Czech Christmas with them in Český Krumlov, and a kick-ass spa experience in Karlovy Vary. Instead, I’d shown them a wank bench in a cemetery and forced them to eat burnt carp. Not to mention, I’d rendered them bedridden and ill, thus making the “kick-ass spa experience” all but impossible. I felt like a complete wiener. I felt like a shithead and a bum. I also felt furious at my father. Not just because he’d complained about every bird fart and sidewalk crack that’d come his way, but because deep in the saddest part of my guts, I believed it was all my crumby fault.

As I lied there turning over and over again like a skewered lamb on a flame, I thought back to my last day in the States before moving to Prague. It was a hot August mother and I’d spent most of it packing and saying goodbye to friends and family …

Just before my folks drove me to the airport I went up to my room for a last-minute check. I made sure I had all my stuff for the trip, plus I said late to my scary masks and posters, my dusty bookcase and my trusty ol’ bed. As I smiled and ran my hand over its stained sheets, there was a soft knock at the door. I told whom I knew it was to come in and then I sat at my desk. My father turned the knob and opened the door slowly. He stepped in headfirst and peeked around my shelf.

“OK if I talk to you for a sec?” he asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

He walked over and sat down on my bed. The thing hissed and bent inwards and almost kissed the floor. I swiveled around in my chair and asked him what the deal was. He put his hands on his knees and spiked his shoulders.

“All packed?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“Got enough cash?”

“Uh huh.”

“Know your flight times and everything?”

“Sure do.”

“How about a hotel over there? You got anything booked for when you arrive?”

I lowered my chin and looked at him over my nose.

“What’s really up, Dad?” I asked.

He chewed at his lips and inhaled deeply. Then he cast his eyes on the carpet.

“Dad, what is it?!” I asked again.

“I just wanted to let you know …” he said, exhaling. “That you’re breaking my heart by leaving.”

My face froze on my skull. My chest grew heavy with ache. Before I could muster a response he got up from the bed and left. We never spoke of that moment again.


The next morning there was tension in the flat. I could smell it in the air like rotting fish scales. I got up from my bed and took a leak. Then I went into the common area where my folks were. My mother was sat at the table, drinking tea. My father was bent over his luggage, cussing. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He punched a lip of clothing into his swollen bag and zipped it up.

“Fucking Wal-Mart garbage!” he said.

My mother rolled her eyes and walked into the kitchen. A few minutes later she came out with plates of scrambled eggs and sausage. We ate in relative silence. Then Veronika (the landlady) came. We showed her the place was clean and gave her the keys.

“So vat is schedule for trip?” she asked spryly.

“Well, we’re heading back to Prague now,” I said. “Then the day after tomorrow my folks leave.”

She smiled and folded her hands.

“No funny plans?” she asked.

My father snickered. My mother smiled back and said:

“We might have a New Year’s party on a steam ship tonight. But we’re all sick as dogs, so we’ll see.”

Veronika nodded and put the keys in her pocket.

“Vell OK,” she said. “Khop you enjoy your stay.”

We thanked her and started taking down our crap. My parents grabbed a shopping bag each and I hauled the rest. The whole process took about an hour. When it finally ended, I was in a shit state like my dad. We all got in the car and drove off. The GPS led us up a bunk road which really flamed my father’s nerves. I tried to look out the window and concentrate on the scenery. But the frosty, twinkling hills and the pretty little villages and the hops fields with their rows and rows of wooden frames draped in dried out vines, did little to improve my mood.

We arrived in Prague at around 1 pm. We dropped my mom off at the hotel then my father and I went to mine. It took me three trips to get all my crap upstairs. When I came back down for the final time, my father was in a flurry. I asked him what the matter was and he motioned for me to get in the car.

“Hurry the hell up!” he said. “I just talked to the guy and he said the rental place closes at two.”

I jumped in the car and we drove off. I tried to read the navvy but kept getting us lost. We must’ve made three loops around the neighborhood. Then by sheer miracle we stumbled across the right street. I spotted the rental place first. My father asked me where it was and I popped my chin at it.

“Over there,” I said.

He furrowed his brow.

“Where?” he asked.

“There!” I said, pointing with my whole face.

He furrowed his brow deeper and scanned the scene. Then he threw up his hands.

“Where the hell are you talking about?!”

I speared my finger out at the sign.

“Right fucking there!” I yelled.

My father finally clapped eyes on it. As he slowed to park, he looked over at me.

“You know, you are really goddamned impatient with me,” he said.

I almost blew up at him right there. I almost pulled the hot stick from the flame and stuck it to the rhino’s ass and sent him charging out of the cave. It took a whole lotta teeth-clenching and averted eyes to calm me down. Thankfully, we were able to drop the car off and grab a cab to our respective places, without incident.


I had about four hours at my place to cool off and unpack. I toyed with the idea of bagging the New Year’s cruise but I wanted to see how my folks felt first. After my stuff was all put away and my bones were chilled, I split and hopped on a tram. As I rode it along, I could hear the machinegun pops of lady-fingers riddle up the sidewalks, trees and buildings. I got off at my stop and went into the hotel. It was a swanky joint with a velvet pool table and a candlelit bar and lounge. I texted my folks and told them I’d arrived. I sat on a leather couch in front of the steel elevators and waited. Twenty minutes later my folks came down. My father looked grey and drained and my mother looked even worse. Her cheeks were tinted green and her hair was scraggly. She had beads of sweat across her brow and her eyes were red as cranberries. I asked her if she was OK. She shook her head.

“I’m gonna stay in tonight, OK sweetie?” she said.

I breathed a sigh of partial relief.

“Yeah, that’s probably best,” I said. “You guys should really get some rest.”

My father raised his eyebrows and stepped in.

“Well, I’m still up for doing the cruise?” he said.

My heart sank a little.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said lightly.

“OK then. I’ll call a cab.”


We hugged my mother goodbye and took a cab into town. We ate dinner at a Vietnamese joint I like then had drinks at some smoky bar to kill time. At around 10 o’clock, we walked over to the Vltava lookout. We saw our boat at pier 16 and nearly soiled ourselves. It was a janky old slab covered in tinsel and blown-out Christmas lights. Its tiny widows were spray-painted with frost and its peeling sides were scrawled with crap like, “Go Go Boat!” and “Happy New Ear!” My dad took one look at the thing and sneered.

“What a hunk of shit,” he said.

We walked down some stairs and over to our pier. The place was flooded with cotton-headed tourists from Italy, Germany, Spain, etc. We huddled up amongst them and got in line. As we stood there in the blistering cold, some yard hog in fishnets with red lipstick smeared across her cheeks came rumbling up to us and waving her flabby arms.

“Are you viz ‘Amazingly Toorz?!” she yelled.

“’Amazingly what?’” my dad asked.

“Toorz! Are you wiz ‘Amazingly Toorz?!’”

“Amazingly not,” he said.

I whipped my neck back and laughed. Yard Hog huffed against her fat titties and walked off. My dad and I then looked out at the crowd around us. Everyone looked so stupid and joyful and red. I could feel the urge to bounce coming on us. I could feel the cold seeping into our bones and agitating the labyrinth of phlegm in our throats. We looked at each other and then at the boat.

“Should we just split?” I asked.

My father chewed his lips and looked down at his phone. The thing buzzed in his hand.

“I just got a text from Mom,” he said.

He picked it open and showed me. It read:

“Have a wonderful time, my sweet guys.”

“Aw fuck, now I guess we hafta get on that damn thing,” I said.


We walked onto the boat and to the upper cabin where the party was. When we got in there we looked around and laughed. The place was showered in confetti, balloons and ribbons. It looked like a “Dollar Tree” had just exploded. We kicked through the refuse and found our table in back. We pulled our plastic chairs out and sat down. In front of us, was our food for the evening: a plate of dried lunchmeats and a little dish of unsalted peanuts.

“Yum!” my dad said, sinking his fingers into the peanuts.

He tossed a few in his mouth then the waitress came by. She asked us what drinks we’d be having with our “meals”.

“What are our options?” my Dad asked me.

I took the drink menu from the waitress and looked.

“Well the only beer they have here is ‘Budweiser,’ so that’s out,” I said. “And I know you don’t like shots or cocktails. So why don’t we just go with a nice bottle of their 2011 Argentinean Malbec?”

My father raised his eyebrows up to his hairline.

Argentinean, is it?” he asked.


Being from Livermore – the first wine-producing region in California – my father and I share a snobby fondness for wine. This is huge because the two of us can’t agree on fucking corn nuts. But what we can agree on is that big-berried California reds with long and complex finishes are just about the finest damn things on the planet. And although this Malbec was from another place, it was still a red wine and that was something.

I told the lady to bring us a bottle of the stuff. She walked off in a hurry and brought it back to our table with two little glasses. Then she popped the cork and poured us up some grapes. As she walked off, I made a toast.

“To the trip,” I said. “And to this godforsaken boat!”

“Hear, hear,” my dad said.

We clinked our glasses and put ‘em to our lips. We sucked down a bit of wine and, as expected, it tasted like weasel piss. The boat started rumbling and moving away from the dock. Then I felt this pinching feeling in my stomach. I looked up at my Dad and he seemed OK. I mean, he looked like shit, we both did, but he was sippin’ on his garbage wine and taking in the cheap atmosphere with a smile. Still, I couldn’t avoid the words that were stinging my lips. Finally, I had to spit ‘em off.

“Dad?” I said.

“Hmm?” he replied.

“Have you even enjoyed this trip at all?”

His countenance came to a still. I could almost hear the man’s anus squeeze to a dot. He repositioned his elbows and took a tiny sip of wine. Then he breathed out.

“I have had a good time, Hans,” he said. “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. You’ve just complained a lot and it’s made me feel like you hate this place.”

“Well, I don’t.”

“Then why all the complaining? Why all the ‘fuck this’ and ‘fuck that’ and ‘fuck everything’?! I worked my ass off to make this trip a reality! And all you’ve done is bitch and moan and …”

My father coldly took the bullets to his grill. When I finished my tirade, he matched pupils with me.

“I know I’ve been difficult,” he said. “But hey, I’m here, aren’t I?”

My face softened.

“That’s true,” I said. “And I don’t know … maybe it’s not just you. Maybe I’ve been kind of a pain in the ass too.”

He took another little drink.

“Gee, ya think?” he said.

“Haha, screw you!”

Just then, the two-dude band struck up a tune. It was “Hotel California” in Czech and it sucked my ass, but it was fun enough and went well with the wine. When we finished our Argentinean Malbec, we moved on to a South African Cabernet. I’d tasted better venereal diseases but the shit got us drunk and that was OK.

When the band became insufferable, we looked for other options. We spotted some people filing out onto the deck and decided to grab our coats and join them. We took the venereal disease and a couple of cups. We checked our watches and they read 11:40.

“You sure there’s gonna be fireworks tonight?” my dad asked me.

“Oh yeah.”

To tell the truth, I wasn’t entirely sure. I’d been in Prague on New Year’s before and seen fireworks, but I’d heard from one of our cabbies that the big show would be the following day at 6 pm. I figured it didn’t really matter anyways. If Prague hadn’t blown the man’s skirt up the first two times, it wasn’t gonna whet his lizard with a bunch of pop rocks on the third.


We walked out onto the deck. There was a little crowd forming there but we were able to squeeze in and get a place between the benches. We set our cups down and poured ‘em full. We put ‘em to our lips and sipped and looked out. Prague was lit up pretty in the night. Its spires looked like the stalagmites of some unearthly cave being illuminated by flames. The Charles Bridge was overflowing with people; a rectangular sea of black ants, flashing and screaming and shooting off Roman candles. The air around us was tense and freezing. Tiny snowflakes started falling diagonally across the rippling jet skin of the Vltava. I checked my watch and it read a minute till. I started thinking the show might be nil. Then a boat horn went off. Then another and another and another, till I felt like I was in a stationary school of aquatic dinosaurs performing a pre-game mating ritual. The horns nearly blasted the drums outta my ears. They nearly blew the coat off my back. Then a single light drew my attention. It shot up from the riverbank in a flash and like a glowing-white sperm cell, it wriggled its head to the top of the night sky then exploded into an enormous umbrella of sizzling glitter. After that, all the cannons blew loose. Fireworks shot up from every corner of the city and turned the sky into a clown’s happy nightmare of jagged smoke and colors. Every burst was different. There were ones like cosmic pollywogs escaping from the chests of dying aliens, ones like mutant succulents being run through with current till their veins ignited, ones like giant squid spontaneously combusting, their suckers crackling and burning blue on the way down, and even bigger, crazier ones that looked like God after God after God, furiously popping a face full of gunpowder zits.

I looked away from the show and back at my Dad. I could see the greens and blues and yellows of it all tickling up his glasses. He was smiling bigger than I’d ever seen him. He looked like a huge, hairy child seeing the 4th of July for the first time. There were tears in his eyes and his cheeks were red. After a moment, he looked down at me and said:

“Boy, Prague really knows how’ta do it up for New Year’s!”

I smiled and sipped my wine.

“Bingo,” I whispered.

Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christmas with the Folks (Part 3)

We arrived at the outskirts of Český Krumlov at 6:00 pm. The night had already descended like a curtain of molasses, making it hard to see where we were going. We cut up a few hills and around a corner. We ended up in some gloomy residential area with one orange streetlamp. The name of the street we were looking for was Vyšehrad. I asked some old fart with a cane and a beret where it was but he only smacked his gums at me and whirled his eyes around in their sockets. I got on the phone and called our landlord, Lucka. She explained where our building was, but as I have the directional sense of a deaf bat on PCP, her directions weren’t much use. In the end, the poor girl had to walk all the way out, get in our car and direct us to the place. This wasn’t such a bad thing though because I got to sit next to her pretty bubble-butt and smell her brown ponytail and imagine little things about her glasses.

We pulled around a corner and into a gated parking lot. Our flat-block was three stories, L-shaped and dark. We parked the car in front and brought out all our shit. We followed Lucka in the building and walked three flights up to our place. Despite its location, the apartment was pretty nice. It had three big bedrooms, a giant bathroom with a sunken tub, a full kitchen, a family room with a flat-screen, and a balcony with a view of the castle. We got two sets of keys from Lucka and thanked her. She told us we could call her anytime then split. After we unpacked our crap my dad asked me what the plan was.

“Well,” I said. “I made a 7:30 reservation at ‘The Cave’?”

Despite having only been there once, “The Cave” was his absolute favorite restaurant in “Chesky” (my folks’ nickname for Český Krumlov). When he heard I’d made a reservation there his eyes swelled up like two ostrich eggs. I asked him playfully if he wanted to go. He nodded his melon like a thrilled puppy.

“Great!” I said. “Lemme snap a cable and we’re off.”


I drained my guts and we hit the road. We walked up around a hill then down a long, windy pathway through a linden grove. We arrived at the back entrance bridge. Its sad marble statues were gleaming with buttery light and its cobblestones were too. We followed them down towards the center. On our way there, we passed dozens of ancient cafes and shops with daintily cracked walls, orange-lit windows, and cigarette-tip chimneys issuing sweet-smelling smoke. We dipped and turned and came out onto the second bridge. Its wood was black from recent showers and its Jesus-on-cross was bathed in raindrops that twinkled like fireflies in the nightlight. The Vltava chugged underneath our feet like minions of melted licorice. The castle towered above our eyes like a great, rainbow-dipped spear. My mother smiled and spun around in slow circles with her arms out.

“I forgot how beautiful this place was!” she said.

She twirled around a few times. Then her arms almost knocked into a crowd of camera-necked morons. Another crowd of the fuckers came walking by. Then another and another and another, all snapping photos and cackling and scratching themselves annoyingly in the paparazzi flash. I curled my lip and turned.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” I said.

We walked up a hill lined with shops and into the main square. It was jammed to the windowsills with morons but there were still those quaint little wooden stands, selling svařák, trdelník, roasted pork leg, homemade potato chips, marionettes, frosted ornaments, etc. A big Christmas tree stood at the center of everything. It was ribbed with baby blue lights and draped in silver tinsel. A white star glowed at its crown. It made me smile.

We admired the scene for a bit. Then I led my folks down a back alley towards the restaurant. We came upon it at the end. My dad looked at the sign and furrowed his brow.

“I thought we were going to ‘The Cave’?” he said.

I’d named it “The Cave” because I knew there was no way in flaming Hades I was gonna get him to say Krčma v Šatlavské ulici. I looked over my shoulder at the man and grinned.

“Just trust me,” I said.

I pushed open the door and we entered. In front of us were the old smoky tables and the arched rock walls, the flickering candle-lamps and the medieval brass kitsch. The servers, in their traditional black and white garb, were threading up and around the place, serving people. And off to the side, the giant firewood grill was blazing and splayed at the grate with sizzling meats of all sorts. My father instantly recognized the place. He smiled goofily and bunched his fists.

“Let’s grab a seat in back,” he said, tiptoeing forward.

Alright,” I said.

I told the grill-guy we had a reservation and requested a back spot. He said we were lucky, as that’s what he’d put us down for. We followed a waiter over there. He showed us to our table under a giant coat-of-arms then asked if we’d like beers.

“Two big ones, please,” I said. “And a Coke for my mother.”

He nodded and walked off. A few minutes later he arrived with our drinks. He gave my mother hers first. Then he gave me and my dad, ours. After he left, my dad looked down at his beer and smirked.

“This is a Budweiser,” he said.

I rolled my eyes.

“I know that, Dad,” I said. “And like I said four years ago: ‘Restaurants here usually only serve one type of beer.’”

He frowned deeply and pushed out his lower lip. The thing was so big a midget could have sprung off it and dived into his beer. He looked down at his Budweiser and huffed.

“But I want a Pilsner,” he said.

My mother and I both laughed.

“Good God, Gerry,” my mom said. “You’ll survive!”

He sucked it up and drank his beer. I joined him and we all opened our menus. We browsed for a little bit. Then I leaned in and asked my dad what he was thinking of getting.

“Well, I was eyeballing the pork ribs,” he said. “But the pork schnitzel looks pretty good too.”

I slapped my hands down and snorted.

“That’s basically all you’ve eaten this whole trip! Don’t you wanna try something new?”

He eyed me with irritation. He closed his menu and nipped at his beer. The waiter came over and asked us our orders. We got smažák (fried cheese) for the table and česnečka (garlic soup) all around. As a main, I got the zander fish with mash. My mom got a simple cabbage salad. My dad opened his menu back up and pointed.

“I’ll have theeeee …”

My hand was involuntarily flattening into a spade. If the words “ribs” or “schnitzel” exited his mouth, I might not have been able to keep from smacking him. He bunched his lips up and twirled his finger around the menu in indecision. When it finally landed on something, I choked.

“Meat skewer,” he said.

“Seriously?!” I asked.

“Yeah, why not. Try something new, right?”

My heart leapt into my throat and clicked its heels. I proudly stated my father’s order in Czech. The waiter wrote it down then looked up at me again.

“And what kind of meat would your father like on his skewer?” he asked.

I turned to my dad and translated. He raised his eyebrows thoughtfully.

“Pork?” he said.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” I spat.

I reluctantly told the waiter and he chuckled. Twenty minutes later he was back with the food. We ate our meals and they were good. We drank a gang more beers then exited “The Cave,” half-drunk and stumbling. My folks were tired and ready to hit the hay. I heard people partying around the corner and decided to stay. I got a cab for my folks and told the driver where to take them. Then I said goodbye and waved them away.

After that, I remember following a group of twenty-something Kiwis to a club. I remember pounding shots with them and laughing and laughing. I can recall telling them a few lewd stories from my past. Then there were more shots and before I knew it, I was staggering out into the night with blurry eyes and a chin full of saliva. It was almost 3 am at this point. The streets were emptied of their morons and beautifully lit by the gas lamps. I took a zigzagging stroll around the little shops and the castle. I reminisced about when I’d done exactly this with my family and all my buddies from Livermore so many times before. I was terribly drunk and nostalgic. I finally made to my big bed, tear-drained and shaking, just before sunup.


The sun peeled through my blinds at 9 am. I snorted and rolled over and slipped back into unconsciousness. An hour later I heard a buzzing next to my head. I looked across my pillow with one half-open eye and saw my cell vibrating.

“Fuck,” I said.

I unknotted my arm and grabbed the phone. I picked open the screen and saw I had a text. The thing was from Tim. It read:

“Be there in twenty.”

“Shit, that’s right,” I mumbled.

Tim was gonna be spending Christmas with us in Chesky. I’d forgotten he’d be arriving so early. I pried myself outta bed and took a dump. Then I walked into the kitchen and guzzled three glasses of tap water. My father was sat on the couch, playing Spider Solitaire on his phone. He looked up at me while I stood there next to the sink in my London Underground boxers – gut distended over chicken legs – sucking down liquid.

“Off to the ballet?” he asked.

“Bite me,” I burped.

I walked to the shower and rinsed down. I threw on my ratty sweats and jeweled up. My phone rang while I was twisting my last ring on. I answered and heard Tim’s voice.

“Hey gaht,” he said. “I think I’m near your place.”

“Well, what street are you on?” I asked.

“Ummm ‘Wishy … Wash-Board-Something’?”

“I see …”

Tim is without question the most frustrating person alive when it comes to language. This is because he believes human communication should be beyond the spoken word and based primarily on telepathic messaging. He believes this so deeply, he once tried to get me to telepathically send him a word while he was in Delhi and I was in Prague.  His idea was that we’d both meditate at the same time, and that I’d repeat a single word over and over again in my mind until somehow that word was inhaled by an astral funnel and transported across the planet into his head. I reluctantly agreed to the experiment on the condition that I chose any word I wanted. We mutually meditated for half an hour with no result so I guess the word I’d sent him held water.

“Can you just spell me the name of the street, please?” I asked him.

“Uhhhh … ‘V’ and then some kind of ‘S’ and then ...”

“Is it ‘Vyšehrad’?”

“Yeah, Vichyssoise.”

“Ait, go all the way down until you see an L-shaped building. I’ll come out there and let you in.”


I grabbed my keys and went down there. I found Tim in the middle of the parking lot, hunched over his backpack. He was in an oversized grey jacket and jeans. His incredibly long hair was bundled up underneath a Jamaican flag beanie. He popped his black eyes over his shoulder and grinned at me with all his teeth. Then he unwound his wiry frame and stood up slowly.

“You blow up last night?” he asked.

“Haha, is it that obvious?”

“Well, ya kinda do look like Tom Selleck’s grungy balls.”

“Oh, fuck off. You look like a Rastafarian stick bug in a parka!”

He exposed his fronts and made a goofy laugh. Then he held up a bouquet of fingertips with a symmetrical joint balanced vertically at its center.

“Wanna loll?” he asked.

“Chea hea!”

He handed me the joint and I sparked it up. I took my usual two hits then passed it to him. He inhaled the rest like a popcorn kernel. Then he grabbed his pack and we went in the building. I took him up to the flat and showed him his room. He dropped his crap off there then we went in the common area. My father was still on the couch playing Solitaire. My mother was in the kitchen brewing tea. She greeted Tim and gave him a big fat hug. Then she smiled so hard I thought her face muscles might herniate.

“Why so chipper?” I asked.

“Oh just looking forward to going into town today,” she said.

I didn’t think much of her comment. She poured us each a cup of tea and we drank it down. After that, we got in our street clothes. We were out the door by noon.


We took the Octavia down to the main area. We parked it at the back bridge and walked in towards the center. As we strolled along, my mother got giddier and giddier. She was like a terrier being gradually fed methamphetamines in its kibble. I asked her what was up. She smiled sweetly at me and said:

“You’ll see.”

I shrugged and kept walking. I picked at my phone and shared another joint with Tim. We dipped down and rounded a corner. Then like a beebee from a greased urethra, my mother shot forward and vanished.

“What is her deal?!” I said.

We turned left and found her in front of a white building. She was red-faced and panting and smiling so widely she almost looked wicked. Above her head, hung a sign that explained everything. It was inscribed with a single word: “Blomus.”

Oh my God,” I groaned.

Blomus is a ceramic shop my mother had fallen in love with her first time in Chesky. She’d spent hours across days in the place, snailingly selecting teacups, teapots, spoons, trays, etc. I knew the death of the sun was at hand. As my mother walked in, I turned out.

“Tim and I are gonna go look at jewelry and shit,” I said to my dad. “Wanna join?”

He folded his hairy meat poles and scrunched down on a bench.

“Nah, I’m gonna wait for your mother,” he said. “You guys go ahead.”

I rolled my eyes. Tim and I cut to do our thing. We checked out a few rock shops and piddled around. We slipped into a few jewelry stores and tried some stuff on. I was in the market for a big thick silver bracelet. Tim was on the prowl for a juicy hunk of raw moldavite – a bottle-green stone formed by an ancient meteor blast in South Czech. He wanted the shit because he claimed it gave him more vivid dreams.

“I have a piece at home that I wrap in my beanie and wear around my head before bed,” he’d once said. “It tells me the future sometimes.”

We browsed for a good hour. By the end of it, I was still sans bracelet. Tim had found his moldavite though. It was the size and shape of a small stalactite. He’d dropped €300 on it. And another twenty on a leather band so he could wear the rock around his neck. It looked like an ogre’s green booger dangling there. I poked at it and exhaled.

“Think that thing’ll predict how much longer my mom’ll be in that fuckin’ shop?” I asked.

Tim snickered.

“Nah,” he said. “I’d prolly need a piece the size of a Big Mac for that.”

We laughed and continued browsing. Hours faded into centuries. We finally decided to check on my pops. We walked back up to Blomus and found him still sat on the bench outside. He was a withering shell of a man. His skin had turned grey and his eyes to stone. I nudged him with my elbow to get his attention. Then I looked at him pointedly.

“How much longer is Mom gonna be in there?” I asked.

He stared at me with pure and simple defeat in his eyes.

“Hans, your mother came to Chesky especially for this,” he said. “She’ll take however long she takes.”

“Fine,” I said. “Tim and I are gonna go do more shit.”

He waved sleepily at us and we left. We decided, since we had the time, that we’d take a little jaunt to a monastery just outside of town. On the way there, we met these two beautiful girls. We quickly fell in love with them. Then we all traveled the world together. We went to Spain and India, Bali and Greece. We scaled the mountains of Patagonia and sailed the Caspian Sea. When the world wasn’t enough for us anymore, we built a spaceship. We blasted off to distant galaxies and spent eons in cryogenic sleep. We met alien nations and explored alien worlds. We grew older and younger at the same time, had families, lost them, had more. By the time we landed back in Chesky, it had been at least twelve millennia. We were certain my mother would be finished selecting her teatime accessories by now. 

We rounded the corner and found my father still sat on that bench. His flesh had all rotted away and he was but a giant skeleton. I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder bone. He turned his skull and stared at me with two black sockets.

“Is she fucking finished?” I asked.

He inhaled air into his ribcage. Then he split his teeth.

“Hans, your muah …”

His jaw dropped off and landed in his lap. He picked it up and lazily flung it into the trash. Just then my mom came walking out. She was carrying a ginormous brown box.

“Have you guys been waiting long for me?” she asked cheerily over the box top.

I picked my father’s jaw up from the trash and clicked it back under his skull.

“Nah, not too long,” I said.

“Great!” she said, setting the box down. “I’ll just be another minute.”


When the Blomus escapade finally ended, it was time to concentrate on dinner supplies. Christmas Eve was the next day and everything would be closed so we had to buy all our shit fast. The first thing on the list was the carp. We found a little stand selling fresh specimens just around the corner. The guys who worked the joint were fat, bald and pasty. They both wore green raincoats and white rubber gloves. I asked them to pull me up a three-kilo baby. The head fish butcher nodded and reached into a big blue bucket of water by his side.  The carp he grabbed out was round and scaly. He weighed the thing and it was three kilos on the nose.

“Perfect,” I said.

He took the fish off the scale and put it on a cutting board. He picked up a wooden mallet with one hand and steadied the fish with the other. The fish flipped and flopped and flailed. It sucked at the air desperately and googled its giant eyes around. The butcher held it as firmly as he could and readied his mallet. He zeroed in and out on its forehead a couple times then WHACK! The fish bent in half with shock. The butcher lifted his mallet again.

“Oh dear,” my mom said.

WHACK! The fish stopped moving. The butcher slid it into the sink and lifted a knife. He sliced the fish’s gills open and bled it out. Then he lifted it back onto the cutting board and started gutting it. I looked over at my mom who was now sitting on a step next to her box. Her face was white as cocaine and her eyes were sad little tears. I looked back at the butcher. He lobbed the fish’s head off with an axe then put its body in a plastic bag.

“That’ll be 329 crowns,” he said.

Tim and my father argued playfully over the bill. I went over and sat down next to my mom. She was on the verge of fainting. I put my arm around her shoulder and hugged her in. She looked up at me with her sad eyes.

“That poor little fish,” she said.

I coughed away a snicker. Then I rubbed at her shoulder.

“It’s OK,” I said. “I think he was retarded anyways.”

“But how can you know that?!” she cried. “I mean, how do you know his little soul didn’t know what was happening to him?”

I crinkled my eyebrows.

“I’m not sure that even makes sense, mom.”

“Oh, you know what I mean! I just feel bad, that’s all.”

Now I was starting to feel like a piece of shit. I had to think fast.

“How bout we name him?” I said.

“Name him?”

“Yeah, like we’ll call him ‘Bill’ or ‘George’ or something.”

“But he has no head.”

“Sooo? Lots of people with no heads have names. Look at Dad!”

“Haha, OK, why not. But I like the name ‘McGillicuddy.’”

“McGillicuddy it is then.”


We stopped at a jewelry shop on the way to the car. I bought myself a honkin’ silver bracelet then we cut up to the parking lot and split. We drove to a nearby Kaufland. We were there for a good three hours and got all the ingredients to make potato salad (the classic side dish to go with the fried carp at a Czech Christmas dinner), eggs, bacon, and sausage for breakfasts, pork chops for my father who hates carp, flour and bread crumbs to fry the carp and pork with, three Italian reds, dozens of bottles of beer (mostly Pilsner, of course), a frying pan, a spatula, tea, lemons, honey, and bag after bag of really healthy candy. We rang the shit all up and it came to three hundred bucks. My dad paid the bill gracefully and we carried everything out to the car in crates and giant shopping bags.

When we got back home, we packed the fridge. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking, lounging and ball-handling.


The next morning we had our work cut out for us. Tim and I raced into town to buy a few last minute gifts then we cut back to the flat and got to making Christmas dinner. My mom was already boiling the potatoes for the salad. I went into my room to get the recipes my student and I had worked on so everything could be prepared “Czech-styly” down to the last dash of salt. I rummaged all through my pack. When I came up with the papers I’d thought were the recipes I realized that instead of them, I’d packed a bunch of old homework assignments that my students had doodled on. I went back in the kitchen with a long face. My mother asked me what was wrong.

“I forgot the recipes,” I said.

She smiled while turning the spuds with a wooden spoon.

“It’s alright,” she said. “I’ll just make my good ol’ American potato salad.”

OK … I’ll start the fish then.”

I walked over to the fridge and opened it. I looked down and saw McGillicuddy stiff as a grizzly’s dick in the vegetable drawer. I picked him up and plunked him in the sink. Then I ran warm water over him. As he soaked, I grabbed my tablet and looked up how to fillet a carp. I found a video on YouTube that made it look easy enough. The dude just sliced it down the spine with a paring knife. Then he cut away the sides from the ribs and used a sushi knife to remove the skin and fins from the meat. What he ended up with were two perfectly shaped fillets of equal size. After watching the video twice, I figured I had this bitch in the bag.

I went over to the sink and pulled McGillicuddy out. Then I placed him on our wooden cutting board.

“Grab me a sushi and a paring knife,” I told my mom.

I heard her open the drawer and pull out two instruments. She placed them on the counter next to me and I looked down.

“What the fuck are those?” I said.

“Your knives!” she replied.

My “knives” were hardly appropriate for filleting carp. The smaller one was merely a sharp butter knife and the larger was a flimsy, serrated joke more suited to “Wonder Bread” than any kind of meat. I’d have been better off with a Q-tip and a pair of beaver tweezers. But hey, it’s what we had, so I dealt.

I picked up the butter knife and started in on the spine. This prompted my father get up off the couch and walk over with his wine. He arched his neck and pocked his head over my shoulder. I could feel his breath on my ear.

“Want me to get in there and help ya?” he asked.

“No!” I barked.

Back in Livermore, my father always handles the big Christmas meats. He usually does a Butterball Turkey, and without question, the motherfucker’s got the process on lock! He knows just how to bake it and just how to baste it. He uses his knowledge of chemistry and physics so when that bird comes out the oven, it’s as juicy and crispy and golden brown as a Brazilian bikini model’s ass. I, on the other hand, can barely cut the cranberry sauce. So this time, on my fuckin’ turf, I wanted to show the old man I could hold my meat!

After a wicked bit of cutting, I finally got the sides off. They were mangled and thumb-printed to shit but they were intact. I laid one out on the board and grabbed the bread knife. I stuck the blade to the tail end of the side and sliced upwards. The going was tough, wet and slippery. I felt like I was raping a tortoise with a plunger. My father eyeballed me and sipped his wine. I could see his haughty thoughts prancing around my head like dukes in pink tutus. I worked and worked and worked. The filet came up in jagged chunks and small nubs that’d be nearly impossible to fry. I finished one side and then the other. By the end of the forty minute debacle I had a baking tray full of carp hunks even a beagle would laugh at. My father set his wine glass down and patter-clapped.

“Bravo,” he said. “Bra-vo.”

Thanks,” I replied.


An hour later, we were eating. The potato salad was tasty, as was the pork schnitzel, but my mom had burnt the carp black on one side which made it tough to consume. This hardly affected my father, however. Not because he doesn’t mind burnt carp, but because, as mentioned previously, he despises the bottom-feeding fish in all forms, thus he’d only served himself a piece the size of a mouse tit. The rest of his plate was all slabs of fried pork and mounds of American potato salad; a hearty meal to be sure, but hardly the “traditional Czech Christmas dinner” I’d envisioned for him (or any of us, for that matter).

When we finished eating, all that was left to do was drink. We broke open the beers and some more wine. Then I brought out a bottle of whiskey I’d been saving. The night ended with me and Tim out on the balcony puffing joints in our sweats. The last thing I remember after that is microwaving a plate of Christmas leftovers then stumbling towards my bed for what seemed like a decade.


I slept in fits. I vaguely recall dreaming about some woman or another. She was pretty, with blue eyes and red hair. We were kissing and I was fondling her breast. I went to go lift her dress. I reached down there and pulled it up and out popped this long, green, bushy thing. I stared at it for a moment, thinking it was a dick. Then I snapped awake.


I shot up from my sheets and ran to my parents’ room. I found them passed out on their bed in usual fashion. My mother was on her left side, snuggled up into a little ball and purring. My father was splayed out like a sunbathing walrus, snoring violently under his “American Airlines” sleeping mask. I charged up to the edge of the bed and poked them.

“Guys! Guys!” I whispered. “Wake up!”

My mother let out a tiny fart. My father choked on his snore and lifted his sleeping mask. His eyes were two red coals. For a second there, I thought he’d kick me.

“You or the flat had better be on fire,” he spat.

I chuckled nervously.

“No, no, no,” I said. “It’s not any of that. And I mean, I’m sorry to wake you up, but it’s just that we forgot the tree, and we can’t have Christmas without it!”

It goes without saying, that a Christmas tree is an essential part of Christmas. But in our family, it’s not just the tree that’s crucial, it’s the ritual around decorating it (and the rest of the house). Every year my sister and I perform this ritual. It starts with us pouring up big mugs of egg nog and brandy then heading out to the garage for the ornaments, lights and other holiday kitsch. We bring all the boxes (twenty or so) to the living room, where the tree is. Then we turn on Tchaikovsky’s, “The Nutcracker Suite” and get to it. My sister always does the lights around the tree first. This is a joy for me because I can get drunk on the sofa and make lewd comments while she bangs out all the prep work. Once that’s finished, the two of us start in on the ornaments. We do the store-bought ones first – comparing them to balls and dicks and other genitalic parts – then we do the homemade ones. Most of them are mangled beyond belief and hanging with macaroni and glitter. But some of them are still intact, with sweet little pictures and memories attached. When the tree is all dolled up, we put the angel on top and hook the stockings across the fireplace. Then comes my favorite part …

My mother is a great lover of stuffed moose. She has about two dozen of the things and every Christmas she sets them up around our giant stairwell. She usually just seats them in boring and placid positions with their legs dangling over the ledge. So I like to get in there after she’s finished and spice things up a bit. I generally wait until just before our guests arrive at our Christmas Eve party. That way when our family and friends walk into our home, they’re greeted by a parade of stuff moose, butt-fucking, sixty-nine-ing, and jerking each other off all up and down the stairwell. This year in Chesky I got none of that. Christ, I didn’t even get to make one measly moose give himself a BJ. This is why I just had to have a little tree. It’s also why I busted in on my folks at 4 am.

“Fuckin’ A!” my father said. “I’ll figure something out in the morning.”

“You promise?” I asked.

“Yes, now go to bed!”


I smiled sweetly and skipped outta the room. I went into mine and slipped into bed. Sleep came like a sugarplum fairy. I could hear her moans as I drifted off.


I woke up in the morning with the sun in my eyes. I was smiling so hard I thought I’d break my face. I kicked up from my blankets and pulled on my socks. I twisted and snapped my bling on then I grabbed my gifts for people and opened the door. As I walked down the hall, I was whistling. I could smell the hot cocoa being brewed and hear “The Nutcracker” playing softly on someone’s iPad. I envisioned the tree my father had selected. It’d most certainly be shorter, but full and proud in its stature just the same, with a rich and woody sent glowing from its branches. My father would surly have gotten up early and gone to the one open lot outside of town to pick it up. He’d have it ready and waiting for me to decorate with the ornaments that he and my mother had secretly bought in anticipation of this moment.

I pushed open the door to the common area, ready to be stunned. My father was in his sweats on the couch, picking at his phone. My mother was in her apron at the sink, washing her hands. Tim was sat Indian style in the middle of the room with red irises and a giant checkered scarf wrapped around his mouth. My eyes darted from him, to my mother, to my father. A tree was nowhere to be seen in between. I walked in further and passed the adjacent couch. Then I saw the thing. It was a potted plant my father had grabbed from the balcony. It was shaggy and ill-shapen and half dead. To call it a Christmas tree would have been an insult to all Christmas trees. I stared at it in dismay for a moment. Then I looked over at my dad. He was smiling brightly across his beard. He proffered a hand and said:

“Whaddaya think?!”

I lowered my chin and glared at him under my brow.

“It looks like some old hippie’s matted ass-hair,” I said.

He threw back his head and laughed. My mother came walking in from the kitchen.

“Here,” she said, bumping my arm with a box. “You can decorate it with these.”

I looked down and smiled. My folks had brought candy canes.


Tim and I did the decorating. We used the candy canes, plus some little cookies and ornaments my students had given me as gifts. Once the “tree” was all done up it didn’t look half bad. It didn’t look half good either, but shit.

Afterwards, my folks went and got the gifts. They set ‘em underneath our ugly, potted friend then we poured up some hot cocoa and got to it. As per usual, I was Santa. I handed each person their cards first, then started in on the presents. The first one I grabbed for myself was a softy from my mother. I knew it’d be some article of clothing or another so I wanted to get it outta the way. I unwrapped it and sure enough. It was a sweater the size of a firewood tarp that was riddled with more crap than a 50’s cartoon computer. I lifted it in front of my face and simpered.

“Thanks Mom,” I said.

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” she replied.

In the back on my mind, I was scowling. I’d explicitly told her in an October email that I didn’t want a single stitch of clothing. Clearly, she’d ignored me, which makes me think she must have this innate and insatiable need to dress her children, especially her son. As to why, I can only guess. Maybe she thinks I’m actually going to freeze to death without her help? Or maybe she just deplores my sense of fashion so greatly she can’t help herself? Whatever the case, the clothing she picks for me is always horribly and hopelessly wrong. And this blows me away cuz’ she’s seen what I wear a kagillion times, so how can she go to the mall, knowing full-well I like thin flannels, old-school hoodies and slightly baggy jeans, and think, “Alright, I’ll buy the boy a giant tasseled lama sweater.”

After the softy, I moved onto my books. I’d asked for them specifically so I knew exactly which ones they’d be. Their titles in order of least to most prized were: “Letters from Iceland” by W.H. Auden, “A Night of Serious Drinking,” by René Daumal, “The Complete Short Novels,” by Anton Chekov, “Infinite Jest,” by David Foster Wallace, “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” by Chris Hedges, “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn, “Barney French-Kisses His Mother’s Clit,” by Jean-Jacques Le Fete-Caque, and at the very tippy top, “Dago Red,” by John Fante. I know you might be wondering why I placed a book by Fante at the apex of my Christmas list. Suffice it to say, the motherfucker kicks ass beyond reality and is my literary granddaddy, who sits on a platinum throne, picking his teeth and swilling wine behind Anne Sexton and Charles Bukowski – my literary mother and father, respectively.

I blew through the first eight books, no sweat. Some were white, perfect and new, like blocks of fresh-cut marble. Others were yellow, wrinkled and old, like dear friends who’d been through a war with you. After they were all unwrapped, I put them in a neat stack next me to me. Then I lifted my jewel. I knew it was my jewel because it was wrapped different than the rest. The others were in dull blue-wreath, but this baby was swathed in Laughing-Santa red that crackled under my fingers like skillet-butter. I delicately unpeeled the tape from the folds and pulled them apart. My eyes grew bigger as each tiny inch of the book’s cover was exposed. As I slipped the paper over its shoulders and down its face, I began salivating. Then in big crimson letters appeared the words: “Dago Red.” I was beside myself with joy. I leaped up from a sitting position and squeezed my mother. She was always the one who shopped for my books at Christmas. And even if she didn’t agree with the politics of the titles or the dirty content, she still bucked up and bought me the damn things.

I unhooked my arms from her and sat back down. I lifted my jewel again and lavished its contours with my sweet black eyes. It was one of the few remaining novels I’d not yet read by Fante. And I’d heard from a bookish friend, that it was up there with “The Bandini Quartet,” and “The Brotherhood of the Grape,” two of the man’s other greats. To add to this, it was a first edition paperback my mother had found online. Its pages were olive with fingerprints and love and its corners were lightly dog-eared from resting carefully in a dozen backpacks. I could smell the laughter of the people who’d delighted over its pages across the years. I could hear their tears dripping during the sad parts; the tiny plop-plop-plops on their starchy jeans. I saw the readers of the book in various places and at various times: a woman at sunlit café in Rome in ‘76, a man in a bordello waiting room in Philadelphia in ’82, a grandfather in his dusty California study in ’88, and that same year, a little boy on the shit-pot, eating chocolate chips with one hand and flipping pages with the other.

When I came outta my reverie it was time to read. Not the whole book, not even a chapter, but the first paragraph, which I knew from experience, would be a work of art in itself. I pulled back the cover and closed my lids. I could feel the thrill of a dozen beautifully written sentences tiptoeing across my eyes. I inhaled deeply and released. Then I looked down and read:

C’era un vecchio baule nella camera da letto di mamma …

“WHAT THE FUCK?!” I yelled.

My mother nearly exploded from her seat.

“What is it?!” she asked.

I turned the open book at her and pointed at the page.

“The entire thing is written in Italian!” I cried.

Her mouth collapsed into her neck. She stared at me for a moment, blinking. Then she closed her mouth up and shrugged.

“Well maybe it’s a sign you’ll meet a nice Italian girl soon?” she said.

My father snorted.

“Yeah, or a nice Italian guy,” he said.

I scoffed and put the book down with the others. Then I reached for my smallest and final gift. I knew what it’d be too because I’d asked my dad for it. And lo and behold, it was indeed the iPod Nano. I spent the rest of the morning downloading songs onto it. Then we all got dressed and went out for the fancy Christmas dinner my dad had booked at a French place in town. Our meals were tasty but way overpriced. After we sauced them, my folks went shopping and Tim and I went for hookah. We beefed it at a little teahouse on the river. Then we made for home. It was a slow walk as I was both full in the belly and stuffed at the nose. When we finally got to the flat, we slipped into our comfies, put on our traditional end-of-Christmas movie, “National Lampoon’s: Christmas Vacation,” and vegged out. Within thirty minutes, my father was snoring. Within an hour, we were all in our beds.


The next morning, Tim left early. I’d woken up and said goodbye to him on his way out then slept till noon. When I finally got outta bed, I felt like Christ on a Pringle. My head was ringing something fierce and my nostrils were plugged with phlegm. I went to the John and hacked everything up. Then I took a long, hot shower but still felt like shit. I got dressed and went out to the common area. My folks were both sat on the couch, looking woozy. I asked them the matter and they shrugged.

“I think we’re coming down with something,” they said.

I thought back to when they’d first arrived. I remembered having had an incipient cold that’d never fully bitten. The adrenalin around the holidays must have kept it at bay. But now that the bulk was over and life was cooling down, it’d evidently picked now to strike. Bitch of it was, I seemed to have infected my folks. Good thing we were only going to a little spa town the next day.


Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.