Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Americans know exactly one thing about Germany's autobahn: you can drive as fast as you want.

Naturally all the dudes are salivating, picturing eight or nine lanes of Mercedes, Volvos and Audis traveling at the speed of light through Blade Runner cityscapes. The fact is, though, the autobahn at its widest it's three lanes wide, and it mostly snakes through fields full of Swiss chard and wind turbines. The right lane is taken up by an endless line of trucks moving home furnishings, clothing and food to and from nearby countries like the Czech Republic and Poland. The left lane is shiny new cars moving unbelievably fast. And the middle lane is everybody who doesn't fit in those two groups, and that's what fucks everything up.

See, that middle lane holds all the dirty, banged-up cars that can't get up to eighty miles per hour, all the SUVs overloaded with kids watching DVDs, and all the old people who can barely see the road ahead of them. Now, I like going three hundred miles an hour, but when the lane next to me is barely shuddering along at sixty, I have second thoughts.

In America, half of everyone on the road is also on their cellphones, checking their email or talking to friends or posting photos of their drive on Facebook. This means half of the cars are bouncing around like bumper cars, corrected only when the driver looks up or smacks into something that corrects his course. If you are also doing sixty miles per hour, he will leave a dent. But if you are going three hundred miles per hour, the slightest imbalance in aerodynamics means your shiny Mercedes becomes airborne, flips eighteen times, flies off the freeway into a field of Swiss chard and comes to a rest against the base of a wind turbine.

But the German boyfriend speeds along obliviously as I quietly freak out in the passenger seat, jamming my foot onto nonexistent brake pedals every time we pass another car.

"What is going on with you?" he finally asks.

"Aren't you worried?" I ask. "What happens when one of these drivers gets distracted by his cellphone and veers into our lane, and we go flying off the autobahn into a field of Swiss chard?"

GBF looks off the highway. "First," he says in his schoolteacher tone, "it is October, so that's corn. And second, German drivers aren't on their cellphones, because that would be stupid."

And in an instant everything I know about the universe vanishes in a puff of smoke. People ... don't ... do ... something ... because ... it ... would ... be ... STUPID? A parallel universe materializes in my head that doesn't contain Twinkies or Kardashians. My entire concept of civilization changes in a flash, replaced by questions. Does this mean I have to stop watching Say Yes To The Dress and start reading books?

GBF has to travel a lot for work, so I tag along. Usually this means a night or two in Munich, Cologne, or Bonn, but on this particular weekend we're having dinner in a cafe in Oberkassel, a quaint little village on the Rhine. Food in Germany is also seasonal: for a few months every year people holds massive celebrations for things like asparagus, strawberries, and mushrooms, and then the foods vanish completely until the next year. GBF gets ridiculously excited when these foods hit the market, which is why he orders a $170 plate of mushrooms. I don't want to burst his bubble but think about telling him New Yorkers get that shit from Peru year-round.

Me, I order the pizza because I've already tried German food. On one wall I spot a plaque engraved with the number 2017 and a lot of German words that make no sense to me accompanied by one that does:

KEGEL.

Now, I'm a big fan of Kegel exercises. Conventional wisdom points people to the pecs and biceps as the primary things to exercise, but these are equally important muscles deserving of equal time. Even if they're not ravaged by childbirth, they're slackened by age or disuse. I do the exercises as a sort of sexual empowerment, blindly hoping they'll improve my performance without plastic surgery. The practice is a bit more confusing for men, but I tighten up the back and I tighten up the front and cross my fingers it'll eventually show up in bed.

"What's that sign on the wall?" I ask the GBF.

"Kegel," he confirms. "They do Kegel here."

"Kegel," I repeat. "The exercise?"

He nods. "It seems they won the championship this year."

I probably shouldn't be surprised, since sex stores here put dildos in the windows. "You can win an award for it?" I'm vaguely interested, just out of curiosity, but I'm not ready for the championship yet.

He shrugs his shoulders. "It is a very popular sport. Many restaurants and bars have teams."

"So, once a week they all get together and practice? Doing kegels?"

He's feeling a little annoyed by all the questions but he understands this is what you get when I talk. "There must be an alley nearby."

"An alley?" I ask. "That sounds a little dirty. Why not just do it here, in the restaurant?"

He looks at me like I'm crazy while swallowing another forty dollars worth of mushrooms. "They don't have the equipment. It takes a lot of space. And then there is the noise."

I'm often impressed by Germany but here my admiration hits an all-new high. I'm picturing crowds of chubby middle-aged men in lederhosen and pale women in dirndls, all holding enormous steins of beer and squinting while they tighten up downstairs. "Okay, folks," somebody named Manfred shouts, "now two more sets of fifteen. Squeeze, and release. Everyone, repeat after me: 'NO, NO, NO. STOP THAT URINE FLOW!'"

I take another bite of bad pizza while trying to make sense of GBF's words: they need equipment? And space? And I know I've exerted myself doing kegels but I've never made the neighbors complain. Still, I'd be surprised with all those potato-powered thighs if Germans didn't make a lot of noise. I can't begin to think of what a championship would be like, and picture arm-wrestling in my head. Could the Kegel-offs be similar? Do hyped-up competitors high-five each other while shouting stuff like, "I got the womb that's gonna take down the room!" I don't even want to picture the movie Sylvester Stallone would make about this, but I know it would include headbands.

"Do you do Kegel?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "I've tried it but didn't like it."

I feel like saying nobody likes it, but the alternative is having to tell people that you ejaculated once you hit 55. "I guess somebody must like it but I'm a little surprised there are teams."

He nods. "In America there are not?"

I shake my head. "It's a solitary thing. And I think it's mostly woman, but a few guys do it too."

He shoots me an interested look. "You do it?"

I stop and think for a second but decide there's no shame in the truth. "Yup," I say. "In fact, I'm doing it right now."

He looks puzzled. He scans my top half above the table, then he pushes the tablecloth to one side and checks out the bottom half. "You are doing Kegel right now?"

"Yup," I say. "Sometimes I do it on the subway if I'm bored and it's a long train ride."

"Kegel," he repeats.

"Yup."

"Where you have a ball, and you roll it down a long -- "

He stops because he can't find the word. I know what he's talking about but I can't find the word either. Then it comes to me. "Lane," I say.

"Lane," he repeats. "And you knock over pins and keep score."

I smile for a minute before finally saying, "American Kegel is a little different."

"It is an exercise you do with your clothes on? Is this something I will see when we are naked?"

I pick up the last piece of pizza. "Maybe," I say, still on the fence. "But you might want to close your eyes, just to protect yourself."

On our drive back to the hotel I explain the whole thing to him. With the language barrier I guess I shouldn't be surprised we have these disconnects. Even worse was the time I found pickle cream in the skincare section of a drug store. I asked GBF what it was and he shrugged and said you put it on pickles. I was pretty sure there was more to the story, but if you've ever tried German food you'd understand why I had my doubts.




Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." -- Theodore Parker

"Say what?" -- Anne Frank

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CNN Explains The Lyrics From Twelve Classic Songs

Eminem verbally stomped Donald Trump at the BET Hip Hop Awards last night in a fiery, four-and-a-half minute prerecorded rap. CNN recognized that it "perhaps the fiercest and the most exhaustive attack against Donald Trump in hip-hop," then listed his "11 fiercest lines" and explained them. Thank God at least some of the media understands that regular people don't get hip-hop.

Eminem: But this is his form of distraction, plus he gets an enormous reaction when he attacks the NFL, so we focus on that instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada. All these horrible tragedies and he's bored and would rather cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.

CNN: Here, the rapper slams the President for spending days attacking NFL players who take a knee and escalating the feud as a hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico and a massacre occurred in Nevada. Trump visited both Puerto Rico and Las Vegas following each disaster.

This translation may be a little loose. I don't think Eminem was pissed about Trump visiting Puerto Rico: it's probably the fact that he flung paper towels at starving poor people that pissed him off.

Eminem: Same shit that he tormented Hillary for and he slandered then does it more. From his endorsement of Bannon, support for the Klansman, tiki torches in hand for the soldier that's black and comes home from Iraq and is still told to go back to Africa.

CNN: Here, Eminem is referring to Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who is also the executive chairman of the conservative media outlet Breitbart News.

CNN has apparently confused commas with periods here. Apparently they missed the end of that sentence, which refers to the fact Trump watches black people pretty closely while somehow missing those rallies with all the white guys in hoods.

Eminem: We better give Obama props 'cause what we got in office now is a kamikaze that will probably cause a nuclear holocaust while the drama pops, and he waits for s--- to quiet down, he'll just gas his plane up and fly around till the bombing stops.

CNN: Here, Eminem is likely referencing Trump's war of words on social media with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, whom the President referred to as "little rocket man."

Oh! I'm not sure why but I thought this verse was about something that happened at a Chili's.

Anyway, props (that means "thanks") to CNN for providing the translation. I only wish they'd been around when I was in college. I can only imagine how one of America's top media outlets would've translated these lines from classic songs.

Led Zeppelin: If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now. It's just a spring clean for the May queen.

CNN Explanation: Whether you have a flower box on your balcony or an acre in Vermont, gardening can be just plain fun.

Pink Floyd: We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teachers, leave them kids alone

CNN Explanation: 24% of American parents find home-schooling the answer in these cautionary times.

The Beatles: Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

CNN Explanation: They left out the swaying palm trees and white sand beaches! Yes, there's nowhere else quite like Barbados.

Jefferson Airplane: One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small.

CNN Explanation: With the plethora of prescription drugs available today, many people complain of unexpected side effects.

John Lennon: Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.

CNN Explanation: For an adventurous afternoon activity, smart families look to the trampoline.

The Beatles: I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me. She showed me her room; isn't it good, Norwegian wood.

CNN Explanation: When it comes to home decoration, solicit tips from creative friends.

Steve Miller: Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah. Some call me the gangster of love. Some people call me Maurice. 'Cause I speak of the pompitous of love.

CNN Explanation: It takes a real rocker to ask the hard questions: what happens when nicknames hurt?

Jimi Hendrix: Tell me, are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?

CNN Explanation: The smart job-seeker focuses on the basics at a job interview.

Phil Collins: I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord. And I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, Oh Lord.

CNN Explanation: Putting on a pretty dress is just the beginning. The well-dressed woman also wears scent.

Marvin Gaye: Mother, mother, we don't need to escalate.

CNN Explanation: Listen to your kids! Researchers know taking the stairs can burn 20% more calories.

Billie Holiday: Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

CNN Explanation: In juice or in salads, who doesn't love the pomegranate?

Billy Idol: Oh dancing with myself, dancing with myself. There's nothing to lose, and there's nothing to prove; I'll be dancing with myself.

CNN Explanation: Don't be shy -- get out there and move! It's better than staying home and masturbating.

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