Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It's impossible not to notice that America is split in two these days. Usually the New York Times just adds fuel to the fire, but every once in a while they print an article that brings Republicans and Democrats together to agree in one voice, "What kind of shit is this?"


Dorm Essentials You Shouldn’t Forget (and Some You Should Skip)
By HAILEY NUTHALS

Everyone in your life will have advice on what you absolutely need to take to college. Multicolored sticky notes? Crucial. A rug by your bed? You’ll die without one!

HAILEY: Grandma, I'm going away to college tomorrow. I'll be back in a few months but I just wanted you to know I love you and I'll miss you.

GRANDMA: Is that you, Hailey? Remember to put it by your bed or YOU'LL DIE.

Needless to say, when I left for college it was somewhat different:

ROMAN: Hey, folks! I'm going away to college tomorrow. I'll miss you all but I'll see you in a year or two.

DAD: Okay, have a good time. [PAUSE] And Roman, if you ever need anything, remember this: LOTS OF PEOPLE NEED SHIT.

But from my experience dorming for the past four years, I’ve learned that smaller, sometimes forgotten items can sometimes have the biggest impact.

Sure, I was grateful I had a hanging shoe organizer...

ROMAN: Holy shit, that was a fucked-up day! I spent six hours in line to get my financial aid forms, three hours in line to sign up for classes, and ate nothing but a Cup O´ Noodles for lunch because I only had eighty cents.

HAILEY: I nearly couldn't find my yellow pumps. I pity the poor kids who aren't organized and have to wear, like, espadrilles. [SHE GLANCES OVER AT MY FEET, THEN SAYS TO HERSELF:] Look first, then talk, Hailey. Look first then talk.

...but it’s little things like pot holders or specialized kitchenware that made my dorm life a little more comfortable.

HAILEY: Goddammit Mom, how many times do I have to tell you? COLLEGE. STUDENTS. LIKE. CREPES.

Everyone knows to bring a good pair of noise-reducing headphones and a bathroom caddy for dorm living...

DAD: Roman, what do you mean, "What are testicles?" You're shitting me. One of your friends must have told you, right? You gotta be shitting me. [PAUSE] Anyway, I'm glad we had this talk. Remind me to tell you tomorrow about bathroom caddies.

...so here are a few items that will lighten your load in small but frequent ways....

Not saying anything here other than maybe Hailey was buying potholders while I was learning English.

...plus a few things you’re better off leaving at home.

What You’ll Want to Have

Whiteboard

There are plenty of ways to put them to use: Hang it on the door to leave messages and doodles for roommates and use it as a conversation starter for making friends on the hall.

ON WHITEBOARD: HEY, RADDISON, LOOK! I DREW A BIG RAINBOW AROUND A CHUBBY CAT! AND NEW NEIGHBORS, KNOCK ANY TIME! MY CREPE MAKER IS ALWAYS WARM.

Better yet, use it to draft texts to the cute member of your writing seminar who gave you a phone number without worrying about hitting “send” before you’re ready.

Hey Brad. I met you today and just wanted to say hi. Hi. ;) Wait, no -- :) No, that looks stupid. ;> OH GOD THAT IS THE WORST ONE YET WHY NOT JUST TYPE "MY NAME'S HAILEY AND I'M AN IDIOT!"? Well, at least I didn't accidentally send it, but WHY THE FUCK IS THIS ON MY DOOR?

Ministapler

Staplers are useful! Breaking news, I know. Staplers in printing centers are often either woefully absent or empty. (Alternately, use it to make it that much harder for your roommates to eat your leftovers.)

ON WHITEBOARD IN DIFFERENT HANDWRITING: Is anybody's mom or dad a therapist? I don't wanna point fingers but somebody's stapling her food shut now.

Portable phone charger

Inevitably, there will be free food being given out somewhere on campus. Don’t be the person who misses out just because your phone is dead.

HAILEY: Are those sandwiches? Hi, my name's Hailey. What is this "Scientology" anyway?

Beach towel

Grab this watermelon print towel from Target during one of those last-minute supply runs — it’s nice and big for extra space (or throwing impact for those disagreements with your roommate).

HAILEY: I'm sorry, Raddison, really sorry. I won't do it again if you promise not to report me. [PAUSE] Really, it can still be assault if the towel has watermelons on it?

What You’re Better Off Without

Rugs sound like a good idea. They keep your feet from hitting the cold linoleum floor in the morning, add some color to your room and make your tiny box look a little less institutional. But the harsh truth is this: Rugs are a bad idea.

No. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Wait: you mean in a dorm room or in the world as it stands today?

In all my years of dorm life, I never met someone who vacuumed or washed a rug regularly enough that it wasn’t just a patch of dirt and germs.

I can top that: in all my years of dorm life, I NEVER MET ANYONE WHO OWNED A RUG. Here's a question that never came up:

ROMAN: Should we make a midnight run to Jack In The Box, buy an ounce of sinsemilla from the Hawaiian guy down the hall, or get a kicky little cotton throw that will brighten up our dreary surroundings?

That (decorative) glass decanter? It will be broken.

HAILEY: Ohmigosh, it's a text from Brad! What's this? He doesn't see a future between us? He doesn't like my whiteboard doodles and either sweet or savory crepes. [THROWS DECANTER AT GROUND, WHERE IT SHATTERS INTO A MILLION PIECES] Shit. That's why grandma said, "Bring a rug."

That limited-edition Lana Del Rey vinyl that you never play because you paid so much money and elbowed so many other hipsters to get? Snapped in half, or at the very least scratched.

Hailey, you have a shoe organizer and watermelon-patterned beach towels. Those weren't "other" hipsters.

That stuff can wait until you have a trustworthy group of friends or your own apartment (or until dorm parties in your room are a thing of the past).

Got all that? Good. Now I've got to go draw a unicorn on my whiteboard, and these crepes aren't going to eat themselves.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Considering how much everybody raves about Germans, it's a shock to discover they're actually pretty fucked up. The trains are always late, the whole country lives on sausage, and there are drunks stretched out on just about every horizontal surface here.

Particularly irritating, though, is just how messed up the language is.

Now, there's a correct way and an incorrect way to order words, with no subjectivity about it. You put the important words towards the front of a sentence and the unimportant words later on. The English language is pretty good at this. For example, here's a common English sentence that you frequently hear:

I want to strangle you in the park with a fluffy blanket on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

This is an example of a good word order. The important stuff is up front. Somebody expressing this sentiment says the word "strangle" pretty early on, which gives you time to process his sentiments and start running. If you're anything like me, you're frantically trying to disappear into a passing crowd by the time they get around to the weather.

But here's the German translation (and feel free to pass it through Google translate if you don't believe me):

Ich möchte dich im Park mit einer flauschigen Decke an einem sonnigen Sonntagnachmittag erwürgen.

Let's go over that word for word. I, want, you, in the, park, with a, fluffy, blanket, on, a, sunny, Sunday afternoon --

Weird, right? We're already talking about fabrics and sunshine and everything is sounding swell when an alarm should have been raised by now. Remember, if this guy was speaking English about fifteen minutes ago you'd have found a hiding place under somebody's skirt. Instead, he's speaking German so all the way up to the bitter end you're picturing the sun on your face and wondering which outfit of yours is particularly picnic-appropriate. You may even be flirting: rubbing his hairy forearm and tossing your hair back, daydreaming about what a handsome couple you'll make. Let's see, you think: I'll bring potato salad, dill pickles, toothpaste, and a jar of lube. But wait: here comes the verb.

strangle.

Strangle. Okay. One second: I was expecting "kiss," "caress," or "make love." To be honest, I wasn't expecting any variation on the word "choke."

The reality hits you in stages. "Okay, buddy," comes your first thought. "I am definitely not bringing pickles."

Then the realization of your stupidity whacks you. You were actually picturing having children with this guy. And while you're trying to figure out where you went so terribly wrong, the guy's made a noose out of his shoelace. He's lunging at you while you're still processing thoughts about the picnic. In your last mental picture, you see your gravestone: "HE WAS STILL THINKING ABOUT POTATO SALAD AT THE END."

It doesn't help that all of this comes at you with a horrifying accent. With every syllable there's so much baggage involved. If a guy is French, everything sounds sexy. If a guy is British, everything sounds proper. But when a guy is German everything sounds like a threat.

Imagine all the words that your boy- or girlfriend says to you, but coming at you in Hitler's voice. If Jacques says to you, "Who's got a cute little toe?" you giggle and say, "I do!" But if Dieter says the same thing your natural inclination is to say, "I DON'T KNOW SIR BUT I WILL FIND OUT AND I WILL FETCH THEM FOR YOU."

I spent the first months of our relationship on edge, because everything the German Boyfriend said made me defensive. If your grandma asks, "Did you do the dishes?" there wouldn't be any unease. It would sound almost sweet, since this is the lady who frequently asks, "Who wants cookies?" You say no, you didn't do the dishes, and she'll say, "Okay, I'll do them. Now do you want a Maple Bar or an Oatmeal Spunky?"

When the words are shot at you with a German accent, though, your body reacts even faster than your brain. You freeze up, and shout the first thing that comes to your mind. "NO!" you scream. "I SWEAR TO GOD I DIDN'T TOUCH THEM!"

Slowly you realize it was a question, not an attack. Your boyfriend looks at you like you're crazy. "Then I will do them," he says as he walks away.

Aside from the accent, the words can be a problem. We actually argued for two hours about ice. At least, I thought it was about ice, because I was using the word "ice." However, he thought I was using the word eis, which means "ice cream." Which explains why he stared at me like I was crazy when I said that I liked a whole bunch of it in my gin and tonic, that I always have a twenty-pound bag of it in my fridge, and that I used to go outside and slide around on it when I was a kid.

We're at a Berlin drug store when I notice pickle cream. "What's this for?" I ask him.

"Pickles," he says. "It's for pickles."

"I know that," I said. "But, like the dill-cucumber things?"

He laughs and points to my face. "No," he says, "you know. These little bump things."

"Pimples," I correct, and I laugh until the thought hits me: Wait, did he just point at MY face?

After that I Google for other problematic words. There are a lot: kittchen means "prison," mist means "manure," and fahrt means "journey." I mentally invent sentences to avoid, like "I love spending time in the kittchen" and "My favorite thing about the British countryside is feeling the thick mist on my face."

I'm not convinced that fahrt would cause any confusion. I could have asked any of my boyfriends, "You enjoy a good fahrt now and then, don't you?" and the answer would have been yes either way.

I can't predict the problem we'll have with the word "eventually." GBF lives in Berlin and I live in New York and we're getting tired of flying back and forth. Finally on the telephone we confront the situation.

"We'll figure it out eventually," I say, and the line goes silent on his end.

"Are we breaking up?" he finally asks. "Are you dumping me?"

"No," I say. "I mean, we'll figure it out eventually. Like, some time, hopefully soon."

"Oh," he says with audible relief. "In German the word eventuell means 'possibly.' Usually never. It's what you say when you don't have the nerve to tell the truth."

"That's not what I meant," I say, but from the other end I still hear trembling. "Don't worry; we'll work it out. We'll figure out something at some point, and everything will be okay."

"Really?" he says, and I assure him that it's true.

"You have to know," he says, "if it ever sounds like I am being mean to you, it's not me. It's a problem with the words. I would never ever say anything mean to you, because I love you with all my heart. You will tell me if it sounds like I am being mean to you. You will promise?"

"I promise," I say, tears welling up in my eyes.

"I promise too," he says, his German accent disappearing in the softness. "But now it's very late for me and I have to go to bed."

"Good night, honey," I say.

"Sleep well, sweaty," he replies.

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