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.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Christmas with the Folks (Part 2)

As my bus pulled up to Terminal 1, I got a text. It was my father asking where I was. This set me more on edge. I wanted to greet my folks as they came out the gate and not have them standing around waiting for me. I got off the bus and went to “Arrivals.” My parents were nowhere to be seen. I feared they might’ve wandered off and gotten lost. I ran to “Departures” and back. Then I checked the shitters. As I walked out of the Men’s, I spotted them. They were standing at a vending machine, fiddling with their bags. I whistled to get their attention. My mom looked up first. When she saw me, her face broke into a big red smile. She ran up and threw her tiny arms around me.

“Goosy, we made it!” she said.

She squeezed me till my kidneys ached. I buried my nose in her mound of black hair and breathed in her sweat and apple shampoo. We broke apart and I looked down at her. She was still smiling.

“See?” she said. “And I didn’t even get scared on the plane!”

I chuckled and hugged her again. Then I heard the sound of bags shuffling. I looked up and saw my father trying to strap his laptop to his rolly-pack. When he couldn’t get it on there, he slung it around his shoulder and scoffed.

“What a fucking pile of shit, this is!” he yelled.

I unclasped myself from my mother and walked over to him.

“Great to see you, Dad!” I said.

His face softened a little. He dropped his massive shoulders and smiled thinly behind his beard.

“Hey, hey, buddy. How are ya?”

“Doin’ good.”

We hugged each other with one arm. Then I felt him tighten up again.

“So where the hell did they put the ATMs in this joint?” he asked.

I raised my eyebrows at the adjacent corner. He followed my gaze till he spotted them.

“Oh,” he said.

We walked over there together. My dad pulled his card out and shoved it in the first ATM. It quickly spit it back out at him. He tried the second and the third and got the same result.

“These things blow!” he yelled. “Let’s try your card, Maria.”

My mother dug it up from her cavernous purse and handed it to him. All three ATMs coughed the card out like a hairball.

“Guess I’ll hafta get butt-fucked at the exchange place,” my dad said.

“Gerald!” my mother cried.

My dad and I laughed. We walked over to the kiosk and I did the transaction in Czech. The lady still reamed us good. Forty bucks from three fifty and everything was in big bills. My dad swiped the fan of money up with one hand and shoved it in his pocket.

“Let’s get the hell outta this shithole,” he said.


We skipped the bus and took a Benz to the hotel. The driver got us there in twenty minutes but charged a fifty for it. My father settled the bill indifferently. We went into the lobby, got the keycard and went up to the room. It wasn’t enormous but it looked alright. It had a full bath, a big screen and a king-sized; there was even a foldout off to the side. I flopped across the thing and waited as my folks did theirs. My mother produced a beehive-sized brush from her purse and started combing her mane. And my father dropped his jeans and wandered into the bathroom in his skivvies. From the still-open door, I heard him fold over massively and grunt. Then the plopping began.

“Ya know, son,” he said, between plops. “You’re more than welcome to stay the night here.”

“Yeah, we’ll see how it goes,” I said, holding my nose.

Forty minutes of primping, washing, farting and hacking later, they were finally ready. I herded them down through the hotel and out into the street. Once there, I gave them the “Chop! Chop!” routine. My mom went with it but my dad stumbled along angrily.

“What’s the big rush?!” he asked.

“We have a 9:30 reservation at a place five minutes from here. It’s already 9:27!”

I heard him mumble something about the hotel restaurant being “a friggin’ option.” And he was right about that, but the place I’d picked for us, "U Tří Prasátek," or “The Three Little Pigs’,” had special significance …

At M.I.T. my father and his buddies “Stiffy” and “Beau” had had serious reputations. And not just for doing shit like crafting impossible molecules on their lunchbreaks. When their supervisors had gone home and they had the lab to themselves they used to use the equipment to make booze. I’m an ignoramus when it comes to this stuff, so I have no idea of their methods, but what I do know is that those three long-haired, frizzy-bearded wizards of chemistry would dump a bunch of super pure, super flammable clear liquids into a vat, along with fresh berries, nuts and spices, and what would drip out the silver spigot some ten hours later was nothing shy of demon tears. The guys lovingly named the spirit “Old Mick,” and it was THEE SHIZZ at every shindig on campus. After a while, it even earned their trio a little nickname. You can guess what that was …

As we approached the restaurant, I felt a nervous burn in my chest. I was hoping my dad would look up from his aching feet and see the three enormous hogs hanging their snouts over the front door. My mother was the one who noticed them first.

“Awww Gerry, look at that!” she said, pointing.

He looked up from his feet. He crinkled his nose and exposed his front teeth like an irked woodchuck.

“Look at what?” he said.

“The pigs! There’s three of ‘em!”

“Yeah, well that makes five of us.”

“No, dang it! Over the door.”

“Oh hey …”  

I watched the old man’s face soften. I saw the memories flood into his eyes. He held them for a moment. Then he crusted over again.

“Anyways, let’s get in there and eat. I’m freezing my balls off out here!”


We went in and got a table in back. The place was packed with Czechs, and they were smoking and drinking and clinking and laughing. A cute little waitress came by and took our orders. My dad and I got Pilsners and pork ribs and my mom got sparkling water and a pesto chicken breast. While we waited for our food, I asked how the flight was. My dad shrugged indifferently but my mom smiled and pulled out a little booklet.

“I studied my Czech the whole way with this!” she said to me.

“Really? That’s awesome! What have you learned so far?”

She pursed her lips and opened the phrasebook. After a moment, she looked over at me with a sly eyeball.

“Promise you won’t laugh?” she said.


“It’s the word for ‘Thank you.’”

“OK, let’s hear it.”

“Thank you” in Czech is “Děkuji,” (pronounced dye-quee). I watched as my mother quaveringly formed an “O” with her mouth and tried to harness the word’s slippery edges. Just then our waitress came over with the food.  She placed all our meals in front of us then clasped her hands. I kept my eyes on my mother and winked. She smiled up at our waitress and nodded.

“Jacky,” she said.

“Prosím?” the waitress asked.

My mother dipped her chin and blinked. Then she cocked her head and raised an unsure eyebrow.

“Jooky?” she said.

“Já Vám nerozumím.”

“Jicky, then.”


My mother kept at the word. She mangled it worse every time, like a blind butcher hacking at the same spot on the same neck bone, over and over and over again. It was obvious our waitress was growing impatient. My father finally threw up his hand and broke in.

“Yeah, beef jerky!” he said.

My mother scowled and slapped him in the shoulder. I pitched my head forward and laughed. Our waitress raised her eyebrows with a big “OK”. Then she nodded and walked away. Once she was gone, we turned our attention to our meals. They were lightly steaming and looked homemade. We grabbed our utensils and dug in. As I took my first meaty bite of rib, I heard my phone vibrate. I picked it up and saw I had a text from Tim. I opened it lazily.

“Have you told them yet?” it read.

My face dropped. My food spread to ash over my tongue. An image of horror crept up through my head. It was of my best friend Hawk, crooked, pale-faced and dead in a cheap motel room.

“Is something wrong, sweetie?” my mother asked.

I quickly bunched my fist up and coughed into it.

“Ermph, no nothing,” I said. “Just swallowed a piece of meat wrong.”

She eyed me suspiciously then went back to her meal. I breathed in deep then brought up the flight again. We talked about the layover, the weather and the crappy American Airlines service. I asked my folks if they’d gotten any sleep and my father shook his head.

“Not a wink,” he said.

“Well, then after this we should turn in,” I said. “We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”


I woke up the next morning with no hangover; a small miracle for me as I binge drink on Fridays and greet most Saturdays like a zombie greets a bowl of brains. Despite my clear head and veins, I was depressed. The thought of telling my folks about Hawk’s death weighed heavily on my mind, not just because the guy had been my best buddy when we were kids, but because he’d basically grown up at our house. This meant my folks had a close relationship with him as well. Especially my mother, as she was the one who’d cooked, cared for and cleaned up after the both of us. After a long, scalding shower, I decided I’d break the sad news at the end of the day. I wanted my folks to have a full twenty four hours of seeing and enjoying Prague before I jabbed a switchblade in their bellybuttons and twisted it.

I was outta the flat in one piece by ten. I took the tram to Flora then walked down to my folks’ swanky hotel. I found them waiting for me in the lobby. They were cleaned and combed, though looking a little tired. I gave them both hugs. Then I trumped up a big, cheap smile.

“You guys ready to see some cool shit?!” I said.

“Sure are,” they replied.

I knew right where I wanted to take them first. I led them across the zebra and down the hill. At the bottom, I stopped at a huge black-iron gate.

“This,” I said, pushing it open. “Is Olšany Cemetery!”

I ushered my folks in and followed behind. When I got inside I looked up at the grounds. They were blanketed with a mosaic of yellow leaves and green ivy. And the tombstones, with their crying angels and steel crosses and busts of forgotten heroes, were all splotched in black from the recent rain. The hard blue sky above was torn to cracks by the branches of the olše (alder) trees. In their leafless state, the trees looked like a mass of giant, subterranean creatures, that’d been electrocuted and then quickly frozen as their ungodly tentacles ripped from the earth in agony and twisted upwards.

We moved up the grey-brick lane that split the cemetery in two. Every so often, we passed a bin of the dead that was brimming with broken candles, rotting flowers, dirt clumps, knickknacks, rain-wilted letters, etc. My mother was enthralled with all this. She bombed around in circles like a coke beetle, snapping photos of every pretty leaf, every hidden statue. My father took it more casual. He strolled up the path with his hands behind his back, drawing in the scene with one lazy eye after another.

After a bit, we came to spot I’d been waiting to show them. It was a bench I’d discovered a few years back while exploring the cemetery one afternoon. I enjoyed telling people that this was the bench I visited when my brains and fingers were in knots. I liked the idea that I was the type of writer who needed morbid silence, tombstones and lost ghosts to beat his block. The truth of the matter is though, I get more inspiration sitting on a tram during rush-hour with the bums and the drunks and the little old ladies with canes. In fact, as far as drawing inspiration from that bench goes, I’d only done it that one time, and to mediocre effect. Nevertheless, when the ugly black thing came into view, I ran in front of it and fanned my hands.

“So guys,” I said. “This is the bench where the magic happens!”

My mother raised her chin and smiled in patience. My father crinkled his eyebrows and sniffed.

“You really wanna tell this story in front of your mother?” he asked.

“Jesus, Dad,” I said. “Not like that! I mean this is the bench where I sometimes come when I have writer’s block.”


I looked at him expectantly.

“Why?” my mother asked.

“Well, if you must know, it’s because the trees and the tombs and the spirits of the dead give me inspiration. I guess it’s a writer thing.”

“I guess,” my dad said.

My mother told me to pose in front of the bench for a photo. My father walked off down the lane as she snapped it. We caught up with him and toured the cemetery a bit more. Then I cut in and said:

“Why don’t we head to my place now? I want you guys to see it before lunch.”


We left the cemetery and took a tram to upper Žižkov. As we neared my neighborhood the buildings got progressively greyer and the passengers entering, progressively more haggard. After a few minutes, we arrived at my stop. The tram doors pushed open and we were greeted by a fresh blossom of kebab-puke and a pit bull scratching his asshole against a metal post.

“Nice area,” my dad said.

I chuckled and got off the tram. My folks followed and I led them off the platform and down my street. On the way to my place, I showed them what few sights there were: the little potraviny (minimarts) I shop at, the crappy bars I frequent, the windows and the trees I admire, the bright piles of dog shit. As we neared my building, we came upon my favorite of all local phenomena: a motley crew of perpetual day-drinkers, half of whom have snow-white beards down to their nipples. I pointed at the hammered cadre and grinned.

“This,” I said, proudly. “Is our very own group of derelicts!”

As I said this, one of the crew tipped his brew back and spilled it all down his beard. His zit-faced companion cackled and collapsed to the ground with a fart.

“Bet you fit right in,” my Dad said, laughing.

“Indeed,” I replied.

We arrived at my building and I keyed the door. It was blocked by a loaded trashcan and a pile of mildewed boxes. I forced everything outta the way and let my folks in first. I followed them to the stairwell, where my father stopped.

“How many flights is it?” he asked.

“Oh only three,” I said, grinning privately.

He put his head down and scowled. I stepped in front of him and led the way. We hammered it up the three flights. As we approached my door, a dog in a nearby flat started yipping.

“Is that the little dog you wrote about in your last blog post?” my mother asked.

“Nah,” I said, chuckling. “That dog’s dead.”

My mother slapped me on the shoulder. I smiled at her and readied my keys. My father made it up the last step with a huff. I looked at him and stuck the key in the hole.

“Prepare thyselves for Chez Hans,” I said, twisting.

I pushed my door open with grandiose flare. I knew that compared to my folks’ lakeside mansion, my flat was scarcely more than the matchbox Speedy Gonzalez kept his rubbers in. I still took pride in the little rathole. Before my folks had arrived, I’d spot-cleaned its every dip and corner with a soft toothbrush. I walked inside and turned around.

“Well,” I said. “Whaddaya think?”

They entered like two spooked minors entering the black mouth of a cave. My dad almost whacked his noggin on the door-head and my mom scanned the area as if looking for bats. I maintained a smile and started the tour. I showed them my dinky kitchen and bathroom, my storage area, and my hall-closet of a toilet. The whole thing took less than a minute. And it was executed in no more than ten steps, collectively.

“So that’s pretty much it,” I said, stopping in front of my bedroom. “The only thing left is behind this door.”

My mother smiled in anticipation. My father looked like he was about he was about to pull slowly into a carwash. I opened my door and stepped aside. My mother looked in first. The cleanliness of my room jolted the wrinkles from her face. I could almost hear her little brain say:

“Oh dear, Goosy really needs a girlfriend.”

My father, on the other hand, seemed consummately unimpressed. As he poked over my spotless desk and pressed bedding and my neat little shrine of choice artifacts from abroad, he looked like a monocle-fixed aristocrat who’d just been offered a Ring Pop from a vending machine.

Once the two of them got their fill, I offered them seats. I gave my mother a rickety old chair that had been rotting in my storage closet, and my father, the bed.  He took off his tennis shoes and descended across it like an enormous storm cloud. I could hear the wooden frame squealing and sweating to support him. After a full minute of readjustments, he was in a position he could stand. He looked up at me with his knees in his gut and his arm wrapped around his head.

“Boy this is comfy,” he said.

I smirked and went to the kitchen. I brought back three shot glasses and a bottle of marhulovica (Slovakian apricot schnapps) that a student had given me. I put the glasses on my desk and poured up the shots.

“What’s that?” my mom asked.

“Something delicious made from apricots,” I said, still pouring.

Her eyes burst like two match heads.

“I love apricots!” she said.

“Well, then you’re gonna love this.”

I handed out the shots. My mother sunk her nostrils into hers and my father quickly sniffed at his, curling his face in disgust like he’d just been forced to sniff a cat’s vinegary anus. I smelled my own then raised my glass.

“To us,” I said. “And to a kickass Christmas in Český Krumlov!”

“Hear, hear!” my folks said.

I gulped my shot. My dad sipped his and handed it back to me. My mom tried to drink hers down. About halfway in, one of her eyes shrunk and the other bulged and her lips puckered to a dot and went sailing off towards her earlobe.

“That’s really strong,” she said, hoarsely. “Are you sure there’s apricots in there?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

I took the glass from her and finished off the shot. Then I strummed up another cheap smile.

“Whaddaya say we grab lunch guys? I’m starving!”


The rest of the day was a whole lotta really boring shit, the finer details of which I wouldn’t even inflict on that little ass-eating maggot of a dog that lives next door to me. Suffice it to say we ate hamburgers and walked around Prague a lot. We saw the castle and the bridge and the monuments and the stupid fucking birds at Malá Strana that the idiot tourists just LOVE to throw breadcrumbs at. We also saw Nový Svět and Loreta and the house where some-such-someone-or-other fucked their grandpa in the shower. We topped everything off by going to the bar where I read my shitty poems, only to find that the bitch was closed for a children’s birthday party.

After all that, we went to dinner at this place that only served duck. We got a seat right next to the piano, amidst all the quacky kitsch, and straight up gorged ourselves on foie gras and cabbage and dumplings and crispy-roasted fowl parts. At about our third bottle of Rioja, it dawned on me that I still hadn’t broken the news about Hawk’s death. And seeing my folks’ drunk and smiling faces in the wash of piano music and candlelight just made me feel plumb sick to my toes.

At around 10:30 we finished dinner. My father, bless his sour but unbelievably generous heart, paid the four hundred dollar bill without blinking. We then left and went out onto the street. I could tell my folks were still looking to party but I had to drop the snuffer.

“We got another big day tomorrow, guys,” I said. “Why don’t we head back to your hotel and chill."

They both nodded at the reasonableness of my suggestion. We got a cab to the hotel and went up to the room. Once my folks were all settled in, I stood in front of them. My face was on the verge of cracking.

“Now that we’ve had a full day together in Prague,” I said. “I need you guys to sit down so I can tell you something.”

The calm was sucked outta the room. Silence hung in the air like a lynched criminal. I gave my folks a minute to sit down. Then I started in again.

“I want you to prepare yourselves for some really sad news,” I said.

“Well, what is it?” my dad asked.

I took a deep breath. I pulled a knife out and cut the rope.

 “Hawk passed away last night …”

My mother reacted first. Her eyes burst into running water and her mouth made the most agonized “O.” She slapped her hands up to her face and the tears poured through her fingers. When she pulled her palms away, she looked like a trample victim.

“Nooo! Nooo! Nooo!” she cried. “Tell me what happened to him! Tell me that poor, sweet boy didn’t die alone!”

I couldn’t answer because I knew he had. I looked over at my father and he was staring blankly at the coffee table. His mouth was moving but I couldn’t make the words. I inched closer to him and heard him saying:

“Such a tragedy … Such a tragedy …”

It took about an hour of sobbing and hugging for things to calm down. I managed to keep my shit mostly together. When the rottenness fell away we were able to remember the good stuff about Hawk. We spent the rest of the night telling those stories and sending his spirit off peacefully. At 1:00 am, I decided it was time to call it a night. I left my folks with one last hug and a promise to keep things light.


Over the next two days, I kept my promise. I sliced my itinerary for Prague down to the naked bone, only keeping the things that were fun and undemanding. We had good meals with some of my students and visited Bert and Tim. We rested a lot and took walks during the day. Then in the evenings, I showed my folks the big lit-up tree and the Christmas markets in Old Town Square, where we had trdelník (Czech cinnamon rolls) and svařák (hot, spiced wine). We didn’t see a bunch of sights as the streets were clogged with tourists. But the weather was nice and the slow pace allowed us to heal from the shock of Hawk’s death.

When Tuesday rolled around, we were in fairly good spirits. We packed and settled everything at the hotel. Then my father and I made for the car rental place. We took a taxi there as it was in kind of a weird spot. We went in the building and did the paperwork then the guy took us around back to see the car. I was hoping the Škoda Octavia was as big and roomy as it looked in the pictures. And it was, by George, just so long as you were of average size. But for a man like my father, a man who’s taller and wider and bushier than a roided sequoia tree, well, let’s just say when he saw the thing his face pinched inwards like a giant anus being fucked by an invisible dick.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” I said, reaching up and putting my hand on his shoulder.

He mumbled something about trains and walked around to the driver’s side. He opened his door and climbed in gingerly. I did my absolute darnedest not to laugh. But watching the man whoof and spit and wheel himself around like a grizzly bear trying to fit himself into a baby stroller just kicked me square in the clown-balls and in two seconds I was on the asphalt, howling up the dead. My father ignored me bitterly. When he finally got himself plugged in there, I was up and by his side, ready to tackle the ride.

“You get your fill?” he asked me.

“You bet,” I said.

“Good. Now let’s see what we’re workin’ with here.”

He looked down at his feet and around the console. When he saw the gear-shift and the clutch, he flipped.

“It’s a goddamned stick shift!” he said.

“Well, yeah Dad, it’s Europe. Anyways, don’t you know how to drive stick?”

He sniffed sharply.

“Yeah like two decades ago. Anyways, fuck it.”

He slammed his foot against the clutch and fired up the engine. The car jerked forward and stalled.

“Wonderful!” he said.

He repeated the process and put the car in first. As he inched slowly forward, I popped open the GPS. It took me a second to get it working. When I saw the welcome words, I smiled.

“At least our GPS is in Portuguese!” I said.

“There’s a fuckin’ relief.”

We pulled out of the parking lot to the GPS mechanically commanding:

Vire à direita! Vire à direita!”

We switched the language, picked my shit up, grabbed my mother and split.


It took us a bit to get outta the city. My dad threw a few fits, calling rogue drivers “Ass Hairs!” and “Cock rings!” but eventually we peeled up outta the tumult and onto the straightaway. As we left, the traffic and the smog and the spires of Prague dissolved into rolling brown hills and patches of stick-forest. Every so often a little village would sprout up like a cluster of red-capped mushrooms, or hidden chapel would reveal its gold-lined face from behind the trees. I played country and folk music to cool my dad’s nerves and keep his temper in check. The songs that worked best were “Take it Easy,” “Moon River,” and “I am a Pilgrim,” to name a few. As the clean twangs and gentle bumps filled the cabin, we whistled and sang and tapped our feet. The old metal plates of time and distance loosened around our chests, and for a few precious moments we were a family again.

Then my dad took a wrong turn just outside of Tábor. The GPS said the dirt road we were on would connect us to the highway. As we drove deeper and deeper into the woods, it became less certain. We ended up on a thin trail of gravel just below a red cottage. My dad looked at the stack of logs and the wheelbarrow in front of us and threw up his hands.

“This is someone’s fucking driveway!” he said.

We made a U-y and went back the way we came. Three roundabouts and a three hundred cusswords later, we were back on the road, southbound.

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.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Christmas with the Folks (Part 1)

I zipped up my pants and walked inside the “Visas R Us” building. My shoulders were aching from my pack. I had everything in there: old tax returns, application forms, current and expired work permits, insurance slips, etc. I’d been in country five years almost to the day. This made me eligible to apply for my permanent residency, or ten-year visa.

I got in line and got a number. I shuffled into a waiting room with sallow walls and flickering lights. Everyone in there was slack-jawed and bloody-eyed. I took my seat and cracked a book. After about an hour, my number was called. I grabbed my heavy pack and walked over to the booth. The guy behind the desk was a slight, perspiring man. He wore a periwinkle V-neck and had an Adam’s apple the size of a baby fist.

“Sit,” he spat.

I sat down and opened my pack. I was having trouble finding the right folder. Homeboy flicked his eyes at me to hurry up. I finally found the thing and lobbed it on his desk.

“I’m applying for my permanent residency today,” I said. “But I’d also like to apply for a one-year visa to cover me while I wait.”

The guy uncurled his praying mantis hands and clicked something up on his computer. Then he leered at me.

“It says here your appointment today is only for a permanent residency application. I can’t allow you to apply for the one-year.”

My face went flush.

“Are you kidding me? My current visa expires in a month. If I don’t get that one-year, there’ll be a break in my visa record. Then I’ll have to wait another five years before I get a chance to apply for permanent residency!”

Mantis Hands unhinged his bony jaw and yawned. His disgusting Adam’s apple dandled up and down. I wished I’d had a scalpel in my pocket. I stared him pointedly till he spoke.

“This really isn’t my problem,” he said, exhaling. “But … I guess if you have all the paperwork ready I can make an exception just this once.”

I smiled obsequiously and clasped my hands together.

“Thank you so much!” I said.

Mantis Hands spiked his lip at me and unpicked my folder. He splayed everything out across his desk and started fluttering through it. He inspected papers top to bottom, back to front. Then he clicked at his computer again.

“I’m sorry sir, but it says here you’re not allowed to apply for permanent residency until mid-December. You’ll have to come back then.”

“What?! But half my documents will be invalid by then. Not to mention I have plans to go home for Christmas. I can’t be tied up renewing stuff and coming here during that time. It’s the holidays, for God’s sake!”

He sniffed laughingly at me.

“Again,” he said. “Not my problem.”

My blood shrieked. I almost lifted both my hands and shoved that mountain of bureaucracy right into the fucker’s lap. I took a few deep breaths. Then I looked up at him.

“Well, could you please at least put my one-year application through and give me a bridging visa so I don’t get deported?”

“I suppose,” he said.


I got my shitty, shitty bridging visa and stormed outta the building. I lifelessly taught my two lessons for the day then went home. I nuked a bowl of noodles and got on the computer. I emailed my folks with something to the tune of:

Hey guys,

Guess what? “Visas R Us” just fucked the chaps off me again. Now, I hafta stick around here during Christmas, renewing documents and whatnot, so they don’t filch me of my shot at permanent residency. I won’t bore you with the finer details. Suffice it to say, I won’t be coming home for the holidays.

Yours truly,


I got an email from my mother a nanosecond later. It went something like:

Oh Goosy, that’s terrible! What happened? How could they do this?! The darn jerks! Oh my God, Goosy, I’m so sorry. I know how much you were looking forward to being done with all this. Be patient and have hope. And don’t worry, I just talked to Dad about it. We’re looking into flights to Prague now :)

Then she wrote at length about how some neighbor’s cat had just died, going into great detail about the little service they’d had for it, and telling stories she remembered of it; how it farted when it purred too hard, how licked its asshole with one leg straight up in the air, how it once crapped in my dad’s garden slipper, and on and on and on. I nodded off while reading it. Then I heard a loud, mechanical American voice say, “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!”

I jittered awake and clicked my box. It was an email from my dad. Its contents were two words:

“Flights booked.”


My folks would be arriving on December 18th. This gave me a three full months to plan. I set to building an itinerary in earnest. I was eager to wow them because the last time they’d visited (in June of 2011), I was still a rookie in this bitch and knew next to nothing about how to be a tour guide. I’d taken them to a bunch of lame sights and overpriced restaurants all along the tourist trail. I doubt they remember much more than squid-induced indigestion while standing in line at Prague castle. I was determined not to repeat this. I based my new itinerary not around big sights and bullshit, but around five concrete goals that I felt would really give my folks an authentic experience of both Prague and the greater Czech Republic during the holidays. These goals in brief were the following:

1. Show folks Žižkov (my hood), including my flat, my favorite restaurants, and one cool, unique  spot.

2. Take folks to beautiful but lesser known parts of Prague, both in and around the center.

3. Cook a traditional Czech Christmas dinner of smažený kapr s bramborovým salátem (fried carp with potato salad) in Český Krumlov.

4. Have a kick-ass spa experience in the spa town of Karlovy Vary.

5. Top the whole thing off with a New Year’s dinner party on a steam boat back in Prague.

To get around, I told my folks we’d have to rent a car. My Dad resisted this at first on the grounds that it would be “a pain in the cookies parking the thing.” I kept pushing for it. Not just because I wanted us to enjoy our familial privacy on the road, but because there was no way in Little Richard’s tutti-frutti hell I was gonna travel around the entire country by train, acting as translator, tour guide and pack mule extraordinaire for two cranky sexagenarians with bad knees and gout. To convince my father that my way was better, I knew I had to find the perfect automobile; one that was not only roomy and reliable, but reasonably priced as well. In the end, I settled on a slick, new Škoda Octavia. It possessed all of the aforementioned qualities, and hey, it was Czech.

As the arrival date neared, I took to booking accommodation. I was very discerning during the selection process because my folks (especially my father) are huge creatures of comfort. The hotels I picked in Prague were equidistant from my hood and the center, with five-star ratings and big, comfy rooms. The flats I picked in Český Krumlov and Karlovy Vary were situated just outside the center – ensuring both privacy and minimal walking – and were equipped with all the necessary goodies.

When all was sliced and styled, I sent the booking info to my father. He responded with his usual, “Thanks,” then paid the bill in full.


Eight days before my folks flew in I had my second appointment for permanent residency. Same as last time, I showed up at “Visas R Us” with a tower of shit in my pack. When I finally got up to the booth, I saw that I had a new case-handler. She couldn’t have been more than twenty but was uglier than a sack of rat puke. I sat down in front of her and opened my pack. Her beady eyes crawled all over me like night spiders. I pulled out my folder and handed it to her. She picked it open, glanced at a few documents then clicked something up on her computer.

“You’re here to apply for your permanent residency?” she asked.


“Well, you’ll have to come back in a month.”

“What?! But your colleague Mantis Hands told me I could apply now!”

“Yes, but he’s new here. He made a mistake. Come back in a month, please.”

My heart shrunk to a raisin. My fists balled into little white knots. I could feel the rage boiling behind my eyeballs. I’d have given ten years of my life to have ten hours alone with that slimy cunt strapped to a steel slab in an underground morgue. I collected my papers and slowly slipped them into my folder. Rat Cunt cocked her head and gave me an awkward smile. I nearly retched when I saw her teeth. She looked like she’d been gnashing licorice and boogers for the past half hour. I stuffed everything in my pack and zipped it up.

“Thanks so much for everything,” I said.


I spent the next four nights getting tremendously drunk and stoned. When Monday rolled around I was a ragged, wisp of a man. I got a text from my mother reminding me it was my 34th birthday. I celebrated by vomiting in the men’s room at the Ministry of Agriculture then dining on a “Be Smart Box” from KFC.

When my day finally ended, I climbed on a bus to Žižkov. It was filled with bundled and screaming brats, geriatrics with crutches, reeking bums, snoozing alcoholics, etc. I stuffed plugs in my ears and looked out the window. The dirty streets were lit up with cheap Christmas lights and there was a tree in every cracked window. I started thinking on my parents’ visit. I was a mess to beat hell, but I knew that seeing their spry faces and getting their warm hugs and telling funny stories and eating good food and drinking good booze and road-tripping and celebrating and doing all that hot jazz would pump a whole bunch’a life back into my fried-out veins. My mood started to perk up a little. The bus chugged to a stop and I got off. I walked back to my pad with a half-smile on my face. I even stopped at the store and dropped some coin on a little birthday gift to myself.

When I got up to my tiny flat, I stuck the frozen pizza in the oven. Then I slipped into my comfies and got on the computer. I noticed I had an email from my old friend Mason back in Livermore. This was strange because the guy hardly ever emails. I opened the thing and started reading. I got half a sentence in and broke out crying. My childhood best friend had OD’d. He was in a coma on life support at some bunk hospital. Mason didn’t have much more information than that. He told me he’d keep me updated as things developed. I closed the email and walked over to the oven. I took my birthday pizza out and dumped it in the trash. I walked back to my room and belly-flopped on my bed. I cried until my eyes turned red and my blinds turned black and the night pulled me kicking and screaming to sleep.

The rest of the week was a horror. I spent it in an agitated state, worrying and pining and praying my friend (Hawk) would miraculously wake from his coma. Fortunately, I had my buddy Tim to condole with. He was also from Livermore and had recently moved to Prague. He and I called each other incessantly. And when we spoke of Hawk, we did so in the present tense to keep him alive and with us. In the end, it did no good. The day my folks flew out, I got the word from Mason that Hawk’s brain scan had come up flat and they were pulling the plug. I told him not to mention anything to my folks. I wanted to break it to them myself.


When the 18th came I was hollow with grief. I felt less like a man and more like a shell of glass being blown along the sidewalk with the plastic bags. I mustered the cheapest smile I could and taught my few classes. Then I went home, cried in the shower and got on a bus to the airport. As I rode along, I felt a cold brewing inside me. It was hot and green and nasty and it mixed like benzene with the embers of hurt that were already smoldering in my guts. To add to it, I was in knots about my parents’ impending visit. I hadn’t let myself think about it much up to that point, what with all the planning and worrying and mourning going on, but deep in my spirit I wanted to show them (especially my father) that I wasn’t just fucking around out here, that I hadn’t skipped across the world simply to get drunk and screw cheap women, that I actually had a method to my madness, that I really did come to Prague to pound my dreams into shape, to become, dare I say it, a real writer.

I thought back on the day I’d broken it to my father. We were in Almaty, Kazakhstan, at the end of a trip across Central Asia he and my mother had taken with me in the summer of 2008 during my Peace Corps service in Turkmenistan. It was a furiously hot day. The sun was belting down in visible waves that burnt the streets white. My dad and I were walking along, hands forming awnings over our eyes as we searched for a soda stand. I’m not sure how or why we got on the topic. Maybe it was because my service would be ending that December, or because that same month I’d be turning a ripe twenty seven. Whatever the reason, we started talking about the future. At first it was just a casual chat about all the great wine and steaks we were gonna share when I got back home. But then the conversation sailed right over the grassy green cliff and fell screaming into the razor-toothed maw of reality. And it was that dreaded question, that miserable liver spot of an inquiry that all art-folk loathe to hear from their parents:

“What’s your plan?”

When the words left the old man’s mouth, my insides turned to soup. Not because I didn’t have an answer, but because after two solid years of sweating and bleeding and toiling in the desert, living off bowls of boiled goat guts and dodging the KNB, braving busted taxi rides to hell, necrotic spider bites, giardia, seeing dead children mangled and twisted in the streets then coming home to a circus of farmyard horrors and locking myself in a tiny, scorching room and scouring the wings of my haunted-mansion-heart for even a shred of who I was, I finally, by the limbs of God, had an answer.

“I want to write,” I said.

My father stopped still in his tracks. He looked down at me from his giant perch through glinting, tortoise-shell glasses. I could see his left cheek twitching. I could hear his thoughts churning my answer like filthy laundry in his vast skull. My father is an M.I.T. graduate whose 350-page thesis on organometallic chemistry arguably served as the springboard for his supervisor’s sharing the Nobel Prize in 2005. You can imagine what he thought of his only son rejecting science so he could pursue a half-baked career as a writer. His response was simple but devastating.

“It’s your life,” he said.
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.