Thursday, October 10, 2019

Random Thoughts

I may be American, but I'm not an Ugly American. I try to be pleasant to everyone I encounter in my travels, whether it's a pretentious Italian mom or a filthy Spanish backpacker. Whenever somebody sitting near me tries to strike up a conversation, I take the time to reply, "Sorry, I don't speak whatever the hell that is."



Americans differ sharply by region. Their distinct personalities are hinted at by the answers they gave to a simple question from a TV journalist.

Q: Would you rather listen to Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins?

L.A. RESIDENT: Peter Gabriel, I think.

MID-AMERICA RESIDENT: Definitely Phil Collins.

N.Y. RESIDENT: Well, it depends. Do I want to be entertained or vomit?



ME: I am making a movie about skinny people who live in a lighthouse pushing logs off the world's highest waterfall.

IMOVIE: Make sure you turn your camera HORIZONTAL to film it!



When you are buying something and want to pay with exact change, don't ask me if I have a penny, nickel, dime or quarter, because I will lose more than that fishing all the crap out of my pocket.



Why I Like Sheep Better Than People

When you shave sheep all over you get sweaters. When you shave people all over you get New Jersey.



FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE
WIFE: I sure do like that necklace.
HUSBAND: Do you? Let me buy it for you, my dear.

SECOND YEAR OF MARRIAGE
WIFE: I sure do like that necklace.
HUSBAND: It is nice, isn’t it?

THIRD YEAR OF MARRIAGE
WIFE: I sure do like that necklace.
HUSBAND: Yeah, well, you like a lot of stuff.



Two men — one American and one German — are driving through Manhattan when an asteroid hits the car, crushing the American, setting his clothes on fire and vaporizing his hair.

AMERICAN: I ... I think I need a hospital.

GERMAN: Put it on the list for the next time we are here.



Hamburg is a fun little coastal town with a lot of tourist attractions, so I visit at least once or twice a year. There are several fun hipster neighborhoods, the Elbphilharmonie is wonderful, there's a world-class attraction in the rooms full of tiny, dazzling scenes at Miniatur Wunderland, and all along the short coast are excellent fish restaurants mixed with stylish modern buildings that will appeal to any architecture fan.

The Reeperbahn has to be Germany's best adult neighborhood, with blocks and blocks of every sort of entertainment from restaurants to nightclubs to drag bars to just flat-out sex clubs of every persuasion.


Nearby Herbertstraße is so crowded with prostitutes that female tourists are warned against visiting for fear of starting a "turf war."

My husband Dieter, our friend Evelyn and I drove up one Friday last July to weekend at the Arcotel Rubin Hamburg. It's an okay hotel a few blocks from St. Georg, the city's rather small gay neighborhood. The first words the desk clerk said to us were, "We're sorry, but the air conditioning doesn't work."

Instantly my mood flipped from carefree tourist to cross-examining inquisitor. It was ninety-five degrees outside. Why would they wait until check-in to tell us this? Were they afraid -- rightly -- that if we'd been warned, we'd have stayed somewhere else? My blood pressure skyrocketed while my two German companions decided to share their thoughts.

Evelyn is a tall, ice-cold blonde with aquiline features. "That is fine," she snapped. "We are strong German stock."

Dieter is six foot nine and about a yard across. "That is not a problem," he agreed. "Germans are used to hardship."

I stared at them in disbelief before turning to the clerk. "I'm American," I said. "I need to speak to the manager."

Monday, October 7, 2019

Are some people thinking this could be, like, a diet cookie? Because I've got it narrowed down to either a tapeworm or strychnine.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

If there was one thing wrong with Audrey Hepburn it's that she didn't, know where to, put commas.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Here in Germany they sell peppermint schnappes in mouthwash bottles. It’s such a great idea! This way when people see you drinking it they’ll say, “Good for you!” instead of, “Hey, you know it’s eight in the morning, right?”


Monday, September 16, 2019

It is literally impossible for an American to get a German driver's license. Oh, they'll let you sign up with a driving school and download the app and buy the book and study for months and take the test, but there's no way in hell you'll pass. The test is thirty questions selected from a pool of one thousand, and while they will happily give you all one thousand questions in advance, even with months of deliberation and conceptualization and rationalization you'll never make sense out of them.

One problem is that the "English translation" of the book is into Great British. Trailers are "caravans," people have "behaviour," and your car has "tyres" and does "manoeuvres." Sentences actually start, "You must reckon with....", which sounds more Wild West to me. I want to answer, "Do I, pardner?"


I like this passage because it's so totally true. Is "muzziness" a word? Nowhere in the world. But I like picturing a German motor vehicles official sitting back and imagining, "So, when I take an Ambien, how do I feel? Tired? Relaxed? No.... Muzzy! That's it! Medications can cause muzziness."


Even ignoring the odd comma here doesn't help, since "reeve" means "the chief magistrate of a town or district in Anglo-Saxon England."

Google doesn't even help with words it agrees are real. For weeks I read about the proper behaviour in regards to "walking paths" and "footpaths." Don't park on them. Don't drive across them. I kept picturing Mercedeses zipping through forests when it hit me: they meant those cement walking footpaths we have in America. You know, we call them "sidewalks."

"Sunken kerbstones" also baffled me. I wondered about a country whose driving rules so heavily featured flooding. Don't give priority to cars at sunken kerbstones. Ignore cars at sunken kerbstones. Weeks dragged by before it hit me:

Driveway. Don't stop for cars coming out of driveways.

Every day I'd study more, and fume more about it. In America I'd regarded Germany as Valhalla, where everybody was smart and logical. And then I came here and realized the reason Germany was so highly regarded was because it was being graded on an EU curve. Not a genius? Less than brilliant? No problem. Just go stand next to Italy and Greece.

My irritation magnified over months of study, as the examples of their idiocy piled up. A few weeks were spent on something called "dipped headlights." References were everywhere. In a tunnel, you must dip your headlights. When you see a deer by the road, dip your headlights. I started to think, are German headlights controlled by a joystick or something? And I'm a smart guy: an idiot would have assumed there was onion soup mix and sour cream involved.

I still don't understand the reasoning but I can repeat the facts: their "dipped" headlights are what Americans call "headlights," and their "main beams" are our brights. Dipping your headlights bizarrely just means turning them on.

Here's a life-or-death instruction about markings on the road:


I can't even understand who this is talking to. Will British people read this and think, "Righty-O, Guv'nah!"? Because Americans look it and go, "Whaaa?"

Americans might also take exception with the word "recommends." We'll be tempted to stop in the middle of the intersection, and when a policeman pulls up we'll say, "Well, the book RECOMMENDS stopping back there, but I disagreed. You know, it's like going for the fish when the waiter recommends the veal."

Of course, if getting a driver's license is torture here, I'm pretty sure jail is worse.

Naturally you need to know the rules about driving past buses, so I knew it was important to memorize this:


Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? And then you come to this passage:


Here's something else the book never explicitly tells you. "Passing" is what you do to a stopped vehicle. "Overtaking" is what you do to a MOVING vehicle  So, you can pass a parked bus, but you can't OVERTAKE it. EVER. Because, you know, it's NOT MOVING. Which seems to me less a rule than, like, a law of physics, which renders the first quote as useful as, "Make sure your car doesn't float away." But remember it! Pass the test and you spend a year driving through Europe. Fail and welcome to the hell that is FlixBus.

Let's learn a bit about parking:


When I first read "up to 10 m" I assumed it was the "up to" from supermarket advertisements which means "definitely less than, all the way down to zero." You see the sign in the window saying "Save up to 90%," so you run inside and see everything is 1% off, but there's one dusty can of Spam that's 90% off and that makes the whole thing legal. At the St. Andrew's Cross I pictured somebody standing there when you pull up saying, "Today you can't stop ... FOUR METERS AWAY!"

No, in this case "up to" means "at least." You can't stop within ten meters. Now turn the page.




Yes, you got it. You can park five meters in front of a diagonal cross, but you can't stop there.

Here's a simple instruction from the book: "Parking is not allowed on a priority road outside built-up areas." Translated, this means "Don't park on the road in the country." And then I took a sample test which asked, "Are you allowed to park at the side of a priority road outside built-up areas?" My answer: absolutely not! The correct answer: of course!

It sent me running back to my translation. Apparently when they say "Don't park on the road in the country" they mean "Don't park IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD in the country." What, did you assume they meant "Don't park on the SIDE"?

I sat there staring at the book, struggling to process what I'd been dealing with. I'd spent six months deciphering their pronouncements only to discover they were facts any idiot knows. It's weird: everybody in Berlin speaks perfect English. I get two German words out of my mouth and they say, "Look, buddy, let's make this easy. Let's go for English, okay?" But then I decide I want to get a driver's license and suddenly they're all, "You want go putt-putt in motorcar?"

Whether they're incompetent and don't care or they're actively trying to keep Americans off their roads, the end result is that it's impossible for us to pass the driving test. It's a Catch-22: if you're stupid, you'll never figure out what they're talking about. But if you're smart, you could waste weeks trying to unravel things that are obvious to idiots.

One last example bolsters the incompetence explanation. Let's start with a paragraph from the official book.


And here's a question from the official quiz.


As you can see, I got it wrong. Apparently you need to "reckon" with taxis and beware of taxis and watch out for taxis and keep away from taxis but you don't need to show them "particular care." Like don't send them flowers or chocolate? Think twice about that shoulder massage?

Anyway, I hope you learned something. You can pass someone without overtaking them, you can park somewhere without stopping, and you can totally ignore people that you need to pay very serious attention to. It makes me think of relativity, and that Einstein himself would probably fail this test.

I'd like to say that frustration makes me more determined, but in truth I gave up. I stop trying to understand it and instead just memorized the one thousand mostly-useless questions and their corresponding nonsensical answers. And I passed the test. Now I just have to pass the driving test and I get to drive all over Europe.

I've got to say, I'm feeling really muzzy now.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Insider Secrets to the Top Amusement Parks

You spent eight hundred dollars on plane fare, hotels and admission tickets, and finally the day is here. How are you going to maximize the fun you get for all that amusement park cash? I'm a veteran of some of the most exciting theme parks in the world and I'm going to share with you some of my secret tips.

1. Wait for lousy weather

Let's face it: nobody likes bad weather, especially when they're visiting a theme park. I hate getting my hair mussed and PeePaw doesn't like how the wind blows his fat around. For whatever reason, bad weather means no crowds, which means extra fun for you. Just make sure you're prepared: bring a poncho and a sturdy umbrella -- and maybe stop at the barbershop on Main Street to get a sensible hairdo.

2. Go during an unpopular time of year

Everybody knows that theme parks are mobbed over Spring Break, Easter, or Christmastime. The smart mom, then, books the family trip when they know kids won't be there: like, right before exams. Since there's no chance Wally-Bob and Florabelle are getting into good schools, I figured we'd might as well enjoy ourselves.

Another secret is that most parks have gay nights, which aren't hugely popular in red states like mine. Evangelicals make up a large part of the theme park crowd, and needless to say they don't like rubbing against hunky, shirtless men -- at least when their spouses are around! Take advantage of their absence: tie a rainbow bandana around your neck and you'll blend right in with the crowd.

We had terrible weather during Gay Night this year, which means the place was deserted and extra fun. The 'Allo Guvnor! Alfred the Butler's Spinning Derbies ride was transformed into a disco, and I must have danced with Doreen, a single woman from Maine, for three hours while PeePaw napped on a bench shaped like a library book and two sweet guys named Nate and Andy watched the kids.

3. Avoid overpriced costumed-character meals

Every theme park has some elaborate party banquet where all the costumed characters show up, and all the kids go nuts. Count me out! I do not need some zit-faced high-schooler dressed as Ariel squeaking to me about undersea life when there's a table full of generic Chicken McNuggets nearby.

Sure, maybe the kids will whine, but tell them you're preparing them for real life. Every girl dreams of marrying that prince, but we all grow up to make pudding from a box for husky guys in backward baseball caps. Sure, that harsh reality might scare them, but if it means dodging a meal that costs more than their education, it's definitely worthwhile.

You’d be surprised how much time you can save by eating somewhere unpopular. In fact, it's the worse the better for me! Is it sizzling hot outside? See if the park has somewhere that serves fish. Has their taco truck been shut down for food poisoning? Three bean burritos, please! Or better yet — here's a real expert tip — go on TripAdvisor, search for your theme park, and sort the listing so the worst appears on top. There’s your place! Maybe the sensible folks steer clear of Grandma's Sweet N' Savory Snack Shack but with nobody else in the building PeePaw and I enjoyed a relaxed meal with Doreen. We were in line for Super Space Wahoo! while all the "cool kids" were still going, "Are you weally Ariel? Weally? [PAUSE] I wuv you."

(Doreen was such a sweet girl. She loved my short hair and didn't believe I had a mullet just six hours earlier. As a joke she started calling me "Butch," and she let PeePaw finish her Peaches N' Cream Chicken Wings.)

4. Go on the rides nobody likes

Everybody knows the cliche: go early and stay late. The problem is, everybody knows this and everybody DOES this. Unless you're Tom Cruise, by the time you scurry your fat ass over to Harry Potter's Oh Look Ta-Dah! ride the line will be so long you can use your $80 wand to wave goodbye to the rest of your day.

Instead -- insider tip alert! -- go to the attractions nobody likes. Maybe rides sponsored by chemical companies aren't quite as much fun as flying elephants and fairies, but when there's no line you take what you can get. And how else will you learn how weed killer is made? I personally didn't find it interesting but it got Wally-Bob to stop drinking it.

You'll also be surprised how much you enjoy a country dance jamboree led by muskrats who look like the Jonas Brothers. PeePaw loved it when Doreen and I danced together. And sure, the Half-Baked Hotel isn't anybody's all-time favorite attraction, but my kids really liked trying to get all that luggage up the circular stairs.

So, do your homework. Is there a roller coaster that couldn't scare a cat? Maybe a boring old carousel? They can be surprisingly fun, though my kids could have died every time PeePaw yelled, "Look, Doreen, I'm riding on an ostrich!" Is there a slow boat ride that goes past portable toilets? Head for that. The line is probably short, and it can come in handy when your stomach finally decides what to do with that Mango Maple Churro.

You’ll also win bragging rights: really, your neighbor only went on four rides? You went on fourteen, and you got a coupon for fifty cents off weed killer.

5. Go to a cheaper park and lie about it

Knott's Berry Farm is -- let's face it -- a dismal turd of an afternoon, but it’s half the price of Disneyland so that was our next theme park trip. The kids' downturned faces perked up after Doreen told them it was actually Harry Potter World, but Voldemort had magically changed all the signs and then turned Harry into a chicken!

Of course, nobody could have guessed that Wally-Bob would catch a chicken and then try to make it change back. PeePaw and I could barely hide our guffaws! I swear, we had the best time ever until some mean stranger spilled the beans. Our beer breakfast came to an end pretty much when the chicken did.

Anyway, I hope these tips help you. it's almost bedtime so I've got to go. Doreen and PeePaw say they want to ask me something, and then Florabelle needs my help. I told her if she said, "God bless Nate and Andy" just one more time in her bedtime prayers, I'd make her go live with them. Now I've got to make her unpack.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A German driver's license is fiendishly difficult to get. People study for years and still fail to pass the tests. Having to use the English translation of the official government app renders it nearly impossible, as you can see from my difficulty here. See if you agree with the correct answers (the checkmarks on the left) or my "incorrect" choices (on the right).



"Be aware ... that you only detect oncoming vehicles after it is too late." It's a real danger! I didn't even notice that giant white splash of headlights pointed straight at us.



Never assume a bus will pull away from a bus stop! This is Germany, so there's paperwork to fill out first.



This makes sense. If you see a blind guy, don't toot your horn. He's got to learn about electric cars somehow.



I'm not sure why, after a long drive, I'm too close to the vehicle in front. Do Germans usually have snacks or a bathroom?



I don't know why I got this wrong, since it seems straightforward. When you see this sign and then notice cars careening towards you, you should be, like, "No, you go first."



Got it: don't use the merging procedure when merging. Just randomly, out of the blue, have you guys ever won a war?



I don't know why I got the last one wrong. In Germany everybody's like "Fuck my rear-view mirrors."



This makes perfect sense. Feel free to drive in the bike lane BUT NOT IF YOU'RE TRYING TO PARK.



How do I determine my car's maximum speed? Accelerate until it disintegrates and then subtract two?



Quick question about option #1. Aren't I the traffic turning left?



Just slide right into him and he'll get the hint.



Those special bus lanes? They ain't that special.



If the cyclist stays parked there for over an hour, can I leave my car to get snacks?



Once you're across the road, though, fuck those weather conditions.



Because in Germany trucks are like sharks: if they stop they will die.



Don't drive to the right to let people pass! That's admitting you are weak. Instead, drive slowly in the goddamn center of the road while repeating, "I AM somebody."



Also when you're on a two-lane road and there aren't any vehicles within miles, be aware that botulism kills 18 people per year.



So, drive faster than you can see, and remember there's no stopping! If your car catches fire, put on oven mitts and push it towards the next exit.



"The rear parcel shelf"? Is this a Mercedes or a UPS truck? Do we have to make things look like parcels if we want to leave them on the rear parcel shelf? Can we put a sweater on it if we wrap it in brown paper and tie in with string?



Fuck those taxi drivers.



Got that? Don't bother your mechanic, just hit the road with fingers crossed.



This makes a little more sense in English: "When you start your car, keep your foot on the brake."



A cul-de-sac! Not a road closed to traffic. Got it! My mistake.






Those "special areas" in #1? They ain't that special.



Okay, I will definitely not overtake the moped before the rail crossing.

Quick question: If I ask, "What rail crossing?" can I get a driver's license anyway?



I don't know why I got this wrong. I just assumed the right answer for "What is a towed load?" wouldn't be, "You know, it's that load you're towing."



Fuck the flowing traffic on the road.



I heard Einstein once took this test, and after he read this question he threw himself off a bridge.



If I promise not to say anything bad about currywurst can I go back to America now?

Friday, July 12, 2019

I'm not crazy about music these days. The pomposity and braggadocio alienate me. Do people really want posture and bluster rather than humbler words about life that they can relate to? See if you can tell from the list below which are popular songs and which are slightly more realistic sentiments that I for one would rather hear on Spotify.
  1. Legendary 
  2. I'm the Best 
  3. I'm Studying Now So I Can Contribute To The World Later 
  4. I Want It All 
  5. Number One 
  6. I Don't Enjoy My Job But It Puts Food On The Table 
  7. I'm Too Sexy
  8. Heroes 
  9. I Wrote Up A Ten Year Plan And I'm Sticking to It 
  10. I'm Gonna Be Somebody 
  11. Ima Boss
  12. If You Watch My Kids I Can Take A Piss In Peace 
  13. All I Do Is Win
  14. Supermodel 
  15. "Difficult" Is In My Vocabulary Since I Took An English Class Last Year 
  16. Can't Be Tamed 
  17. Hello, Destiny! Can I Put You On Hold While I Talk to Student Loans?
  18. We Are The Champions
  19. Last Year I Planted A Tree, and Today I'm Sitting Under Shitting Birds
  20. I Believe I Can Fly
  21. I Wrestled With Fame and Now I Can't Feel My Feet






    Answer: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18 and 20 are popular songs.
    3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19 and 21 are more realistic sentiments.

    Thursday, July 11, 2019

    I can't ever leave my husband. No matter what happens. I have no choice but to spend the rest of my life with him.

    It's not that I want to leave him: no, he's a great guy and I'm crazy about him. What bothers me is that I have no choice in the event things go south.

    It's not the marriage vows: they're easily reversible. You send a few thousand dollars to a lawyer and a week later you're downing martinis at The Tipsy Turnip again. When we got married, though, a well-meaning friend gave us a bond I hadn't anticipated and now there's absolutely no turning back.

    He named a star after us.

    You know the bit: the International Star Registry has a list of the billions and billions of stars, and if you send them upwards of $54 they'll let you name one. Any name you want, as long as it's not vulgar or derogatory. I'm not sure how that would happen, but maybe there are people in the world who'd fork over cash just to have something in space called I'm A Little Asshole.

    Of course I was excited. Their website has photos of famous folks with stars named after them, though I'm guessing these were freebies given for publicity. There's a photo of Princess Di and a copy of a thank-you note from her secretary. It's gracious rather than grateful: "The princess was most interested" seems like the opposite end of "the princess shit her ballgown" scale.

    As part of the package, we got a framable parchment with the star's coordinates, though I'm not quite sure what to do with them. I typed them into Google and they're clueless. There's no walk to a bus to a train to a plane to a rocket ship. There's no "A taxi would be faster, ya cheapskate!" Of course there's no street diagram with that constantly-spinning arrow saying, "Your star is in front of you. No, it's behind you! No, it's in front of you again!"

    Our star wasn't in any of the big constellations, but that didn't bother me. The constellations are just gimmicky things created by ordinary people, like astronomical connect-the-dots. Some bored soul staring upwards said, "Hey, that string of stars looks like a topless chick. I think I'll call them 'Virgo.'" Though I'm not bored or astronomical, I decided to make a constellation too, and now our star is in the Bowlegged Toad. Modestly, I didn't make it the centerpiece of the Toad, instead just sticking it on the side of his glasses. I still haven't written up the characteristics of people born under this sign though "soporific" and "oleaginous" are safe bets.

    Over the months, though, my glee at having a place in eternity turned into unease. There was a responsibility that came with the star that went unmentioned on the website. They don't let you rename your star so your choice is as permanent as a tattoo. Sure, maybe I Love Britney is a cool name right now, but how about in a hundred years? Spaceships are going to fly by and passengers are going to think, "I wonder if this 'Britney' was an important statesman, or at least danced in her own music videos." What was once flattering is suddenly going to be sad.

    While we're together, then, everything is terrific. People can look up and go, "Wow, Roman & Dieter 4Eva looks really good tonight. Its luminosity and magnitude are impressive for a red dwarf. They must be one amazing couple to have a giant exploding ball of gas named after them." But what happens when it's not happily ever after? People criticize heterosexuals for having kids and then getting divorced: how would they feel about two guys with a billion-megaton ball of gas? We'd be that bad role model, with the star that forever blared, "You know those gays just can't commit."

    And how about all those wonderful people who believe in eternal love? Picture NASA sending a rocket to Mars:

    SCIENTIST: Okay, guys, I want you to turn right at Alpha Centauri, then make a hard left when you get to Roman & Dieter 4Eva -- shit, they broke up, didn't they? [SNIFFLES] I knew this was gonna happen. Can somebody else take over please?

    Or imagine a college Astronomy class:

    PROFESSOR: Here, just left of Roman & Dieter 4Eva, is a nascent black hole that --

    STUDENT: Professor, did you know that Roman and Dieter aren't together any more?

    PROFESSOR: No, I did not know that. [PAUSE] Sorry, kids, I got something in my eye. Class is dismissed.

    I picture jets full of students seeing our star on their way to Spring Break on Jupiter. "Did you know Roman and Dieter separated?" someone will announce.

    "NO!" someone else will gasp. "Nuh-uh. NUH-UH! Nuh-uh, nuh-uh, NUH-UH!!! [PAUSE] Are there any chips left?"

    Of course, I have to look on the bright side. We're still a happy couple, and if we knew how Star Coordinates worked we'd probably gaze up at our star with pride. And besides, there are far worse gifts. For instance, at the zoo they let you adopt animals, and you can even adopt an animal for a friend. It's one thing to stay together for an astronomical body but another to find room for an ocelot.

    Thursday, July 4, 2019

    Game booth at a festival in Hanover, Germany yesterday. Did you know German toilets have a shelf in them so you can look before you flush? Weird, but still better than an Adam Sandler movie.

    Wednesday, June 19, 2019

    Sitting in Front of a Guy Who Looked Exactly Like John Landis (repost from 1999)

    On a flight from L. A. to New York I recently sat in front of a man who looked EXACTLY like John Landis, but as I have a horrible fear of lawsuits it DEFINITELY POSITIVELY was not John Landis.

    Ordinarily I don't eavesdrop on conversations -- especially on flights from L. A., since I really don't need any more information on either Pottery Barn or plastic surgery -- but the Non-Landis had his mouth approximately two feet from my ears and he was SCREAMING. I tried the subtle hint of clamping my hands over my ears and he wouldn't quiet down. I turned up my headset so loud that people in KANSAS were looking up and going, "Hey, do you hear Ratt?" and he wouldn't quiet down.

    I spent half an hour trying to convince people sitting next to a screaming baby to change seats with me. Because at least the baby wasn't SMACKING F*CKING CHEWING GUM two feet from my head while discussing DAN ACKROYD. At least the baby wouldn't pound on the back of my chair every time he wanted to emphasize a point. Like an ATOM BOMB needs emphasis.

    And so for the remainder of the flight, like people who are trapped in car wrecks, buried under forty feet of snow or entombed in collapsed buildings, I got through it the only way I knew how: by repeating to myself over and over, WHEN I GET OUT OF HERE -- AND I KNOW I WILL -- I'M GOING TO POST ALL ABOUT THIS ON THE INTERNET.

    So here are some highlights.

    He's 48, has a wife named Leslie, a 16-year-old daughter, and a son who's in that "unconditional love phase," which if I know men means either the kid is less than four or his dad has huge honking breasts. He's got a half-brother, two sisters and a stepsister, all of whom "feel much closer to me than I do to them." His parents were "very reformed" Jews and his wife is atheist.

    Commenting on a magazine: "Those are great tits. Real tits." As opposed to, I imagine, reproductions.

    On "Antz": "It's a Woody Allen movie. Because it's animated you don't have to look at him. [Ed. note: D-uh!] He's old."

    On Woody Allen's "Celebrity": "Hated it. Hated it. I hated it. Hated it. Hated it."

    On the in-flight movie "Practical Magic": "Ugh. It's unwatchable. Just unwatchable."

    Said there's going to be a re-release of the movie "Blood Simple" to promote it's video release. He said they recut it because they didn't have the rights to some of the music used.

    Said Eddie Murphy got $20,000 to appear in "Trading Places."

    Said he's happy with his latest project, but it was a very frustrating experience. "It's a small movie, very unambitious."

    On how difficult some actors are to work with: "Like Danny Ackroyd I have some close friends that are out of control."

    "We're No Angels": "It's terrible. Horrible."

    Meg Ryan: "She's very overrated."

    On airplanes: "I still can't believe we're 37 thousand feet in the air. It's like science fiction."

    On the internet: "I hate the internet. Do I go on it? No. I'm astounded by how stupid everything is."

    On the ocean: "The ocean is big."

    And for our finale, I must caution sensitive and/or thoughtful readers that they might want to skip ahead to the next posting. I post this only because I am futilely hopeful that in the future people like Mr. Non-Landis will think twice about screaming and pounding on the backs of chairs because they just might hold IRRITATED PEOPLE WITH INTERNET ACCESS.

    "'Shakespeare in Love' is a great movie, not for the acting but the writing. If you know Shakespeare it's just brilliant. My daughter is interested in the theater, which is too bad, but as I said to my wife: thank God she has no talent."

    Monday, June 17, 2019

    I'm trying to get a German drivers' license and am dumbfounded by the government's official study app. We all know Germans are overprotective and borderline paranoid, but can't they pretend to be normal here? I mean, how do you study for a question like this?

    "Before turning right at an intersection, you should:
    1. Activate your turn signal.
    2. Move into the right lane.
    3. Be aware that goose attacks injure 27 people every year."

    I am aware of goose attacks. I also know about asteroids, climate change, and that groundhogs are neither ground nor hogs. But maybe, just for this test, we can ignore everything that human beings should be aware of all the time? When you're frying chicken, you should know that there's a vaccine that eradicates polio in children. This is a true statement. That knowledge isn't specific to frying chicken, though, which is why most cookbooks leave it out.

    Likewise, German drivers' license bureau, maybe your education should stick to driving tips. It's a fair compromise: When I'm stopped behind a school bus I can look out for wayward children or cars in my blindspot, but for a blissful minute or two please let me stop worrying about circus performers who've been temporarily blinded by talcum powder.

    Saturday, June 15, 2019

    Random Thoughts

    You know how Asian restaurants are named after ingredients, like Papaya, Lemongrass or Wasabi? If German restaurants did the same thing, they’d be called Catsup or Potato.

    DID YOU KNOW? The incredible honeybee uses radar, expert eyesight, and tiny vibrating hairs on his thorax to spot flowers as far as eight miles away, but when he's buzzing around your living room he can't even find the goddamn door.

    My ankles are so thin skinny jeans look like bellbottoms on me.

    I know exactly what those ultra-marathoners feel like. Yesterday I walked to the store and bought a gallon of water.

    One day soon I'm going to match up all my keys with the doors I open and the padlocks I own, and Jesus is going to suddenly appear and say, "You have done well, my child," and then take me to heaven along with all the folks who eat quinoa.

    MINISTER: "The ring shows that your husband owns you. Your white dress symbolizes your purity. When your husband pushes your veil away, he is exposing your womanhood. And when he smashes the glass beneath his feet, it is like --"

    BRIDE: "CAN WE JUST SAY 'I DO' ALREADY?"

    If I ever have kids and they love Disney characters, I'll be fine as long as it's ironically. Like, "Oh, great, there’s Cinderella. What are bitchy women and handsome men doing to her today?"

    Crows are the only birds to use tools. So yes, sparrows are still the idiots you thought they were.

    Friday, June 7, 2019

    Stripping Grammar Naked

    Once in a while, somebody will ask me where I learned to write. Sometimes I tell them about the year I spent under John Rechy at Princeton. Sometimes I tell them about the short-story classes I took with Edmund White, or the sabbatical at that writer's colony off the woodsy coast of Nantucket.

    And sometimes I tell them the truth: that I learned everything I know from sitting naked in front of my computer and reading lots and lots of godawful porn.

    Experts know the best way to learn what's good is to study what's bad. For instance, I learned how not to cook Mexican food from Taco Bell, what not to wear from Wal-Mart, and how not to have sex with ex-husbands 1, 2 and 4. Desperate to find the very worst in writing, I cruised the sleaziest internet porn sites, searched Google for every four-letter word, and scrutinized every fan-fiction site where Spock and Sulu ever touched.

    To save you time, though, and from discovering your belongings heaped on the doorstep by an intolerant boyfriend who knows about Google's History tab, I've compiled the most miserable writing I've found in many hard years of study. If we take a moment to examine these examples and see what mistakes were made, we can use that knowledge to write up some rules that we can use to improve our own work.

    (1) He had nice thick chest hair that covered his entire body.

    The first thing we learn is, never eat breakfast while surfing porn sites. Because while chest hair can be reasonably fetching on, say, a chest, when it creeps over to the forehead or the elbows it can make David Lynch spew up his Sugar Pops. It doesn't take an expert to realize chest hair is best confined to the upper torso, in much the same manner that toenails should remain in the vicinity of the feet.

    (2) Jim grabbed his ass through his tight shorts and said, "I want you bad."

    From this awkward construction we learn that if there are two or more males in your story, avoid using the word "his." Your dramatic scene will turn farcical if the reader thinks your hero is grabbing his own body parts and expressing his feelings of desire. Similar examples include the following:

    -- The stranger wrapped his hungry mouth around his mushroom head.
    -- Standing at the side of the bed, Gustavo grabbed his ankles and lifted them high into the air.
    -- Slowly Maury worked his lips down to his stomach.

    (3) All night long Carl slept, sprawled naked across the bed, and Max approached with anticipation.

    What we learn here is, modifiers in the first half of your sentence also apply to the second. We’ve got a scene that’s probably eight hours long, which means Max moves about as slowly as gay rights.

    (4) Brad's endowment was throbbing so hard Joshua thought it'd explode.

    The problem here is painfully obvious: Don't frighten your reader with images from Japanese horror movies. You've spent hours conjuring up the perfect picture, then you go and spoil the mood:

    -- Chuck's erection grew so hard it could have knocked over Hitler.
    -- I'd never seen an ass pounded so relentlessly, and I watch Bill O'Reilly.
    -- His equipment, trapped in those thin white shorts, looked like my grandma in her bra.

    (5) Max took out Walter's penis and played with it.

    Watch out for phrases with multiple meanings like “took out.” While you may assume it’s equivalent to “bared" or "uncovered,” the reader may opt for another meaning, like “to remove from a box.”

    (6) I really wanted to have sex with him. After I finished my french toast, I slid over next to him and brought it up.

    Here we've got a confusing pronoun -- in this case, the word "it." The writer is hoping he can refer all the way back to his previous sentence, but instead the reader stops at the closest noun, which just happens to be "french toast."

    Other regrettable examples are:

    -- My wife and I made love on the deck of our pristine white yacht, then I tied her to the pier and went home.

    -- Cooper and I took the dog for a walk. I couldn't resist the way his ass swayed back and forth, so I dragged him behind a bush and took him from behind.

    (7) He grabbed hold of his meat and pulled out a condom.

    This sentence shows that sometimes there's a weird synergy between different parts of your sentence. Either half of this line is fine by itself, but put the two together and it sounds like a magic trick.

    Similar missteps include:

    -- I squeezed the bartender's nipple and he refilled my empty glass.
    -- Wayne rubbed Raoul's butt until Barbara Eden appeared.

    (8) On my knees, Stephen grabbed my head and guided it toward his groin.

    This is what's called a "dangling modifier," because the writer has misplaced a clause. Rather than being turned on, the reader pictures a Cirque du Soleil-style attraction. Re-read your articles searching for sentences like:

    -- Covered with mayonnaise, Roger took a bite of his sandwich.
    -- Engrossed in the newspaper, his penis lay there quietly.
    -- Nearly at orgasm, Puddles the dog trotted in.

    Well, we've just barely scratched the surface, but today's lesson has to come to an end. Remember, there are serious side effects to reading too much porn. You start to feel inadequate by constantly comparing yourself to these perfect, unreal images, and your self esteem can suffer as a result.

    Honestly, though, I swear to you: usually I can go on for hours.

    Tuesday, May 28, 2019

    I pride myself on my honesty. I've always hated reading newspaper articles that say something like, "I had the worst experience the other day at a restaurant that shall remain nameless." I think, why shall it remain nameless? Aren't newspapers supposed to be informative? You don't see the front page saying, "There was a fire in a building downtown but we aren't ones to gossip." What's the problem? How can newspapers print photos of dudes arrested for drunkenness or women arrested for prostitution but spare the reputations of restaurants that let rats poo in their food?

    So, I've always named names. I've talked about the desk clerk at the Chicago Hilton who, seeing two men checking into a room with a single bed, laughed and said, "Oh, that's got to be wrong! AWKWARD! I'll fix that right away!" Because, you, know, I really love going on vacation and getting to explain to new people that MEN CAN FUCK EACH OTHER TOO. Yes, I jump at the chance to detail, complete with line drawings, exactly what my husband and I do in bed while all the heteros standing behind us wonder what the hand gestures are for. Afterwards my face burns for days but in the back of my mind I think I could have gotten a little bit louder when I said, "AND THEN MY PENIS GOES THERE."

    For this story, though, I'm not naming names. I'm not German so I don't actually know the celebrity involved, but her power and popularity are all over the internet. She is an actress and model, speaks four languages, has numerous college degrees, runs several charities, and has shelves full of trophies for all of the above. I picture her as a cross between Lady Di, Oprah, and Posh Spice. Her husband is famous for similar reasons but another one that maybe I should mention is that HE'S A BILLIONAIRE.

    So you'll forgive the big gray blotch at the center of this story? Thanks.

    We open with my boyfriend Dieter and I meeting on a street in New York. When you're 6'8" tall, you talk to other tall people you meet. We ask each other things like, "Did you ever eat eighteen meals daily for a year and a half to try to gain a pound?", or "Have you become convinced over the decades that short people really think the weather is different up here?", or "Have you ever gone outside with a short person and had curious people ask you to draw a diagram showing precisely how the two of you have sex?" I spotted Dieter, started with "Are you actually taller than me?" and then we were off.

    He was tall and stocky and had more colors in his socks than I had in my closet. I was tall and thin and dressed entirely black. One common question we avoided was, "Where do you buy your clothes?"

    We were so engrossed in chatting, though, that we didn't notice the crowd we attracted, the slowing cars, the curious birds circling overhead. We ignored the repeated clang of looky-loos walking into lampposts. We glanced over when we heard a car crash, but just for a second. We knew this was something special. Dieter also made it clear from the start: he was in New York on a business trip, and was going back to Germany in a week.

    I've never had goals, aims, focus or concentration, but I had a tentative direction for my life. I was born in Los Angeles, then moved to San Francisco, and from there went to New York. After 15 years in New York -- and reading the menu at my local coffee house and seeing a ham-and-cheese sandwich was $18 -- I knew it was time to move on. But where do you go after New York? You can't exactly point the Subaru toward Bag O' Pretzels, Wyoming.

    No, the answer was clear. You go to the tawdry, raw-edged, ungentrified, crazy gay Berlin.

    Dieter and I met three more times that week. We ate five meals, caused two more accidents, and met eight hundred people who were neither meteorologists nor able to differentiate between a tall old white guy and a professional basketball player. I told Dieter about my tentative direction and he said he had friends who could rent me an apartment for 500 euros a month. It was as simple as that: no creative visualization, no praying, no writing my goal on a helium balloon and then watching it float off into the power lines. I booked three months for a trial run.

    Of course, Dieter had to work in Germany, so I had plenty of time to myself. One day I'd just gotten a piece of cake and a cappuccino at Café Kalwil when a very handsome man approached my table. He was dark and swarthy, olive-toned with 5 o'clock shadow that could scrub lasagna pans clean. "I am going to Tom's Sauna across the street to have afternoon sex," he announced. "Would you like to join me?"

    I glanced down at my cake to see if I could shove it in my mouth all at once, but then I remembered Dieter. I thanked the man and said no, adding a five-hundredth entry to my Why I Love Germany list. In puritanical America, gay sexual desire is tortured drama: this man would be sitting paralyzed at home, thinking, "Why do I have these needs? Why has God given me this burden?" Six months later he'd walk quickly past a gay bar thinking, "Okay, that was a good start. Next year I'll try to go inside."

    In Germany? "I've got an erection and it's almost noon so I thought, hey, I've got a whole lunchtime to fuck."

    He asked if I minded if he joined me. I announced that I was in love with a German man. He said eating cake doesn't involve nudity, even in Berlin, so I said okay.

    He introduced himself as -- is it getting fuzzy in here? -- Wojo, and said he was in the entertainment business, though with his effusive personality he could have been onstage. Smart opinions alternated with outrageous stories, all punctuated by effusive hand gestures that made dogs nearby bark in surprise. We talked through two more pieces of cake. Sure, he might have reminded me a few times that Tom's was just across the street, but I stuck to my guns. He asked what I was doing that night and I said I was going to Prinzknecht, a popular leather/Levi's bar. He said maybe I'd see him there.

    Wojo was at Prinzknecht when I got there, prompting pangs of unease in my head. I'd been in the country literally 96 hours so it was a little early to be getting drunk with strange men. Before I could say anything, though, he said, "Let me introduce you to my friends," and then he grabbed my hand and pulled. "This is Roman," he announced to the first bunch. "I met him this afternoon. He's moving here to be with his new boyfriend, so DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT HITTING ON HIM."

    He repeated this conversation word for word with almost everyone in the bar. I've always been a softie for thoughtfulness so I was pretty much swooning here. Nobody was going to replace Dieter but it was nice to know I had a possibility for second place.

    We drank and talked until the wee hours of the morning, when Wojo gave me his card and told me to call him sometime. I said goodbye knowing that I couldn't: I had no idea how to use a phone, and asking my boyfriend to call another man seemed weird, yes, even for Berlin.

    The next Saturday, Dieter and I waited in line for tiramisu at the Winterfeldplatz market. I was looking at the produce stands, the flower stalls, and the Syrian ladies with copper pans full of bubbling vegetables when a loud voice shouted, "DON'T PRETEND YOU DON'T SEE ME!" Of course it was Wojo. We hugged and I introduced him to Dieter, who was visibly struggling to understand how I could have a very close, very handsome friend days after arriving in Berlin. When we ran into him two more times in the next two weeks, Dieter dubbed him my "other" boyfriend.

    Dieter was playing it cool but I saw right through it. I know how men are: my last husband always maintained that he didn't have a jealous bone in his body. Then I found myself in London alone, in line to buy tickets for the opera, and a rather distinguished older gentleman struck up a conversation with me. Half an hour later I was on the phone with my husband.

    "I've just met a Lord," I said. "He has a castle and a convertible Alfa and he wants to take me for a drive through the Cotswolds. You aren't jealous so that's cool, right?"

    It took fourteen minutes before my husband could speak again. To succinctly summarize, (1) no, I couldn't go, (2) why on EARTH would I think I could go?, (3) it was absolutely preposterous to think I could go, (4) did I really think for even a MINUTE that it would be okay to go? and (5) sure, he said he didn't have a jealous bone in his body, but clearly everybody knows that's a lie, because -- duh?

    Other-boyfriend tension still hung in the air when Dieter went to Hamburg for a week for work. We texted constantly but on the day of his return the messages abruptly stopped. There was nothing but a massive silence. I sat and ate cake with neither boyfriend as the distance between the world and me widened to the breaking point. My texts stopped going through, Face Time refused to connect, and when I punched numbers into my phone a recording snapped at me in German before I'd hear the dial tone again.

    Germany transformed from my wonderful new home into a foreign country, as I faced the insecurity inherent in a new relationship. Part of me worried about Dieter, but part of me thought I'd been played and it was time to go back to my real home. I'd take a bite of cake then hit the buttons for FaceTime again. Tip tip tap, tip tip tap. Connecting, still connecting, clearly this is taking too long, connection failed.

    Four hours later, when I was numb from sugar and fear, my telephone finally buzzed. It was Face Time, and in big letters it said DIETER's name. Thank God, I thought. He's okay. He's coming back. I hit the button to accept the call and a picture appeared, distorted by sharp lines of noise. It didn't look like him, I thought. In the days since I'd last seen him was it possible that he'd changed? I watched as the figure solidified and my confusion was replaced by disbelief.

    It wasn't possible. In fact, it was entirely impossible.

    But then I heard the loud voice and saw the hands flying and I knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt. "ROMAN," Wojo yelled. "DON'T WORRY! I TOLD DIETER WE DIDN'T HAVE SEX!"

    My eyes moved back to the type over the tiny picture on the screen. Yes, it was my boyfriend's name. I glanced back at the image. Yes, it was definitely my other boyfriend.

    Random images flashed through my head, all involving face masks, chloroform, handcuffs, chains encircling radiators, and words like, "IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU THEN NOBODY CAN!" And then in the tiny picture another hand grabbed the phone and I saw Dieter at the wheel of a car. "Hi Sweetie!" he said, without a care in the world. "Your other boyfriend is here with me. We'll be back in Berlin in two hours."

    I stared at the two smiling faces before noticing a third in between them. In the back seat, a beautiful, well-dressed woman was staring at me with lines of worry forming on her face. She glanced from one smiling gay man to the other, then slowly slid forward in her seat and stared directly at me. "What the fuck is going on?" she asked.

    I was the last person who could explain, so after getting Dieter's reassurance that everything was okay I hung up. That night he filled me in.

    Germany is a wonderfully green country, but every time somebody exhales sharply, trees fall across railroad tracks and the whole place shuts down. In this case, a storm caused the TV, radio and internet to cease functioning, and also shut down the trains just as Dieter's was about to leave. He ran for a car rental stand and got the last car in Hamburg. While he was walking to the car, though, he heard somebody shout his name.

    "It was your other boyfriend," he announced. "He was stranded too and needed to get back to Berlin. I said I'd take him if we split the bill, and he said okay. Then he said his friend had to come along too, and that's when he introduced me to [Lady Di/Oprah/Posh Spice]."

    At this point, picture Dieter doing a little dance. Balance it with a little German masculinity and you can throw in some squealing, and maybe some shaking from the excitement of spending half a day in a car with a national icon. The story went on for hours as I realized this was the trial run for something he'd tell everyone he met for the rest of his life. "We agreed to split the cost three ways," he said, "and we got in the car and started off. Everywhere trees were down, blocking roads and.... "

    In the end, the story took longer than the journey, but I felt nothing but relief. Life here was clearly going to be special, so once again I said yes to Germany. A week or two later the story got a postscript: the total bill for the car was 300 euros, he'd sent bills to the other two passengers, and everybody had paid up.

    Thursday, April 25, 2019

    Guten Morgen and Other Words I Never Want To Hear Again

    Every morning I wake up in Germany starts in exactly the same way. The bed shakes, my husband stands up, the curtains part, and the morning light pours in. I slowly open my eyes and my husband says, “Guten morgen!”

    And I think to myself, “Oh, holy God: not this shit again.”

    Because another day in Germany means another struggle with language: to watch TV, to read a newspaper, to buy a ticket for the subway, to talk to a clerk in a grocery store. I study, I memorize, and I get a little more confident. And then I pick up a German copy of Harry Potter and realize I can't make it through a paragraph. It's a little damaging to the ego when you realize you can't compete intellectually with people whose primary medical complaint is inextricable M&Ms.

    It doesn't help that the Germans pretend that this is entirely my problem, because they do everything perfectly. They pride themselves on being amazing, a rumor I actually believed when I lived in America. The thing is, we're grading them on an EU curve. Yes, Germany is the most productive, most accomplished country in the EU, an organization that includes Italy and Greece. But it's easy to look intelligent next to a country that decides criminal trials with a dance-off.

    Maybe at some point in the past Germans were perfect, but there are cracks in the pavement now.

    The language has quite a few inexplicable rules, but the worst has to be this: sometimes words randomly divide, with one part running somewhere else in the sentence. "Anrufen," for instance, means "to call on the phone." "Ich kann sie anrufen" means "I can call them on the phone."

    If you actually make the call, though, the "rufen" breaks off and moves forward. "Ich rufen sie an" means "I am calling them on the phone." There's really no equivalent in English: you won't really try to understand somebody and then, when the time comes, really stand under them.

    "Umfahren" is an odd German word that has two opposite meanings. Originally it meant "to drive around," but then somebody decided that was too limiting so they added "to run over" too. I guess sometimes the thoughts merge in German heads. If you're still in the planning stages, it's "Ich kann sie umfahren." When the times comes, naturally the "fahren" scurries forward and it's "Ich fahre ihn um."

    I'll admit this vagueness could actually be helpful. The policeman questioning you about the body on the sidewalk might glance off into the distance for a few seconds. He might shrug his shoulders and write something in his notebook. Regardless, you can drive off to fahre another ihn.

    Desexing language also hasn't come to Germany yet. While we banished "actress" and "waitress" as being separatist and sexist, they still have "Schauspielerin" and "Kellnerin." In fact, they still have the word "Chefin," whereas in English I don't think anyone ever used the phrase "Lady Boss."

    Germans randomly swap the order of nouns and verbs, while English-speakers like the noun first. I'm not sure if there's a rule, but it unnecessarily complicates things. I guess it's technically the same in English but nobody's actually going to say, "That's an unruly dog, think I."

    I patted myself on the back for memorizing everything there is to know about baking: "In einer Bäckerei, sie backt im Backofen mit Backpulver." ("In a bakery, you bake in the oven with baking powder.") And then I went to a farmer's market, confidently ordered the Backfisch, and watched as the chef lowered it into the fryer. Apparently German logic was asleep at the wheel when somebody decided, "What's the difference? Hey, cooked is cooked!"

    In some ways, though, German actually makes more sense than English. For example, German has a different "There is" depending on if you're saying "There is a dog" or "There is an overriding gender-based privilege inherent in the patriarchal paradigm." This makes sense, because in the latter example people shouldn't shoot quick glances around the neighborhood while asking, "Where?"

    In Germany, as in America, animals and humans are made of the same stuff. In Germany it's "fleisch," while in America it's commonly "meat." Since Germans combine existing words instead of inventing new ones, they don't have random-letter sequences like "pork" or "venison" or "veal." They tacked "fleisch" onto the animal's name to get "schweinefleisch," "rehfleisch," and "kalbfleisch." They similarly dodged our rather odd "gums," too, by adding the suffix onto "tooth." Though it's easy to applaud their logic and it makes their language easier to learn, it can frighten visitors to hear someone say, "Ow! My tooth meat hurts."

    A friend tried to further my education by warning that the German word for "birds" also means "to fuck." While "Er ist gut mit Vögeln" ("He is good with birds") might commonly be heard in a forest, you're more likely to hear "Er ist gut zu vögeln" in the trees by the truck stop. Sure, it's weird, but weird slang isn't exclusive to Germany. In America, if someone comes up to you in a bar and says they want to bang, it's up to you whether you have sex with them or stick a firecracker up their ass.

    Still, the more I learn German, the more ridiculous it seems. For example, "kleid" is a woman's frock. The word "kleidung," though, means clothing for both sexes. Again they created a new word by reusing an old one, but this time they screwed up.

    Now, every time I heard "kleidung" I hear "kleid," and I start picturing men in women's clothes. I start wondering why a word that includes men's clothing was built around a word for female stuff. And I imagine exactly how this stupidity came to pass.

    GERMAN LANGUAGE EXPERT: We need a word for "clothing." Everything for both sexes, male and female.

    ASSISTANT: Hmm. Okay, how about bra-lettes?

    GLE: Hmm. Well, it’s not particularly great, but thanks for throwing it out there.

    ASSISTANT: Better: how about girdle-ectable?

    GLE: How about we think of a word that isn't derived from women's clothes?

    ASSISTANT: Fine. You're right. (PAUSE) How about frilly-panty-tocious?

    Yup, they went with kleidung. And this is a smart country? I'm actually supposed to learn this shit?

    Not today. Not this guten morgen. And now, I’ve got to get dressed.

    Himmelfahrt

    I didn’t realize it before I moved to Germany, but the English language has some words that are kind of holy. They're words you almost whisper when you say them, because they're frought with so much meaning.

    Like one day in March there’s a holiday for when Mary, Jesus’ mother, rose up to heaven. It’s called Anunciation Day, or the Feast of the Annunciation. Repeat that in your head a few times: Annunciation Day. Feast of the Annunciation. You kind of whisper it, right? It's soft, like cotton candy. It's so cool you're kind of in awe. Imagine it: picture a radiant Mary floating up to heaven as her flaxen robe swirls around her in slow motion, as chubby angels gaze in wonder and silvery stars glitter like they know that this is a special day.

    In Germany, the Annunciation has a slightly different name: Himmelfahrt.

    Like most German words, this train wreck breaks down into separate bits: “himmel” means sky, and “fahrt” means trip. So instead of that glorious Annunciation, the Mother of God takes a sky trip.

    All of a sudden it doesn’t seem so majestic, right? It's kind of lost that "sacred" feel. In fact, now it sounds like an amusement park ride. Now you see Mary holding onto a roll bar and screaming, "Oh SHIT!" while a cherub sitting next to her throws up.

    If there are holy words in German, I haven't found them. And I’m not even going to touch on the fact that “himmelfahrt” sounds like a painful bodily function, because you will definitely go to hell if you picture Mary flying around that way.

    Friday, April 12, 2019

    Germany for Vegetarians

    I’m not sure if my boyfriend understands vegetarians. There aren’t many in Germany so it’s possible word hasn’t gotten out. In America every restaurant has a vegetarian option, so we can go out to eat anywhere, but with vegetarian food -- along with fashion, capitalism, and smizing -- Germany is a few years behind. You have to call a restaurant in advance and ask, "Do you have any vegetables there?"

    Dieter had to go to a small German town for business, so I tagged along. Because he was so busy we ate in the hotel restaurant every night. Every entree on the menu had meat in it. The first night I was horrified to eat beef, the second night I was disgusted to eat pork, and on the third night I was fed up.

    The menu listed something called "fleisch salad,“ so I desperately leapt at it. The word "fleisch," of course, meant there'd be meat in it, but I figured I could push it to the side and just eat the salad. When the waiter dropped it off, though, I discovered it's the "potato salad“ style of salad. You chop up a pile of something, add a gallon of mayonnaise, and ta-dah! "Salad" is done.

    I took exactly one bite before turning to the parsley garnish. "You don't like it?" Dieter asked.

    If there's anything I hate, it's being needy. I pride myself on being low-maintenance, but then what was I doing here? I felt guilty. We’d gone to a place that served salad and I STILL wasn’t happy. "I didn’t think it would be so meaty,“ I replied.

    He looked at me the way you’d look at somebody who ordered potato salad but didn’t want potatoes. "You can take out the meat and just eat the mayonnaise,“ he suggested.

    "Oh," I said, but I didn't eat it. I got a piece of cake.

    The next time we discussed dining options I made the situation clear. "Anywhere is fine,“ I said. "Except I don’t eat meat. I. Don’t. Eat. Meat.“

    "I know just the place,“ he said. With excitement and anticipation we drove a few miles, and then he pulled up in front of a cake shop.

    "Okay," I said, "this is technically vegetarian, but I have some dietary needs that aren't met by cake."

    "I thought you liked cake. Every time we eat out you get a piece of cake."

    "Because I don't want to die of starvation in the center of Berlin."

    Just in case I wasn't clear, I repeated these instructions the next time we went out for dinner. "No meat," I said, "but also no cake. Can we go to a restaurant that has meat-free dishes but something other than cake?“ He drove to another little cafe, we got a table, inspected menus, and I searched every line in vain.

    "There’s something in here that isn’t meat or cake?“ I asked.

    My boyfriend proudly jabbed a finger at a page. "Waffles!“ he announced.

    After another cake dinner -- waffles say "breakfast" to me -- I figured I had to do something drastic. Surely I'd be better off eating fleisch than shaking like maracas from low blood sugar. The next time my boyfriend and I went out for dinner I had the word "huhn“ — chicken — memorized. I flipped through the menu, came up blank, and when the waiter appeared I asked, "Haben sie etwas huhn?“ ("Do you have any chicken?“)

    He and my boyfriend had a nice chuckle. "‘Huhn‘ is an animal,“ my boyfriend explained. "‘Hähnchen‘ is food.“

    Oh, I thought. That’s nice. Something else about Germany that’s inexplicably difficult. In English it’s simple. "Look, there’s a chicken!“ "There’s a whole field of chickens.“ "Look, there’s a chicken eating chicken!“ But in Germany the name changes when something is dead.

    The waiter said something and my boyfriend turned to me. "It doesn’t matter,“ he said. "They don’t have any.“ I ordered my usual cake and when the waiter left I asked my boyfriend to explain.

    "‘Hähnchen’ is food,“ he repeated. "It is not an animal. A female chicken is a huhn. Two female chickens are hühner. One male chicken is a hahn, two male chickens are hähne.“

    "Okay,“ I said. "I got it.“ And then a minute later. "Could you run through those again?“

    I’m not sure if it’s the language or my boyfriend, but it seemed like the words were different this time around. They were very similar, but with slight differences in spelling and pronunciation. Some meant animals, some meant food, some meant boys, some meant girls. As the words swirled around in my head I pictured a scene at a butcher shop:

    "Four hundred grams of hahn,“ I’d say to the clerk.

    He’d shoot me the curious look I’d gotten from everybody else in Germany. "Do you mean ‘huhn?‘“ he’d ask.

    Honestly, what could I reply here? Once again I’d have to abandon my feeble German and fall back into English. "Look,“ I’d say, "I want some chicken. What its genitals look like are completely up to you.“

    So, maybe I was delirious from starvation when I saw the mirage. It seemed almost real: in front of a hardware store there was a stand selling vegetable soup. I saw a folding table, folding chairs, and a kind of makeshift kitchen with a big grill holding two giant kettles. I even thought I smelled the soup.

    I looked at Dieter. He looked at me. "Do you want soup?“ he asked.

    I ran like a starving rat. In America I might have balked if anybody asked me, "Would you like to have lunch at the hardware store?“ But this was Germany. "Absolutely,‘ I said.

    This exchange shows exactly how far I’d fallen. If I’d announced in New York that I wanted hardware-store soup any sensible boyfriend would have said, "Sweetie, are you sure? At a hardware store?“ Or even, "Honey, there are people we can talk to about this.“ But my German boyfriend had no problem with it. "It is probably delicious," he said. "The sign says it’s grandma’s recipe.“

    That clinched it. Dieter spoke with the chef behind the counter, then translated for me. "What kind of soup would you like: lentil or pea?“ he asked.

    "Definitely split pea,“ I said.

    Dieter's forehead furrowed. "It is pea soup. It is made from whole peas.“

    That made two of us who were confused. "Can you even do that?" I wondered. It's called split pea soup. Why they split them, I don't know -- I just know it's split pea soup. "They’re whole peas?" I asked. "They’re not cut in half?“

    He spoke for a minute to the chef in German and now he was confused too. "They are whole peas,“ Dieter confirmed.

    "Oh,“ I said. This was an unexpected quandary, but after a second I realized it didn’t make any difference. "I’ll have the pea soup.“

    "Wait,“ Dieter said. "They cut peas in half in America?“

    I shrugged my shoulders. "Always,“ I said.

    “Do you buy them from the store cut in half, or do you do it after you get home?“

    Another man walked up and looked like he wanted to order but the chef said something to him in German and suddenly I was talking to a crowd. "In America you buy a bag of dried peas and they are already cut in half. I assume it has something to do with them cooking faster. It’s like cutting a squash in half.“

    Dieter summarized my words to the assembled multitude and now they looked even more confused than ever. "It takes fifteen minutes to cook a whole pea," the chef said. Everybody in Germany speaks English: you just have to get them really annoyed before they'll start. "Americans would rather cut two hundred peas in half than wait for fifteen minutes?“

    Newcomer thought that standing there gave him the right to cut in. Germans are a friendly bunch. "So someone cuts the peas in half?" he asked. "Someone with a knife?“

    I didn't have a clue, but the knife seemed so stupid I couldn't let it go. "No,“ I said. "It’s done by machine.“

    There was a short conference, and then the three men laughed. "So," Dieter said, "because fifteen minutes is too long to wait, someone built a machine that cuts peas in half?"

    When laughing resumed, that was it for me. Split peas are the correct peas, as far as I’m concerned, even if some goddamned old lady with a wire loop has to sit in a warehouse and garrote the fuckers in half. I wasn't going to put up with any more of this America-bashing, particularly in the country with the worst food in the world.

    Naturally, thinking about lousy food made me think about currywurst. It sounds great. It looks terrific. But fork over your money with fingers crossed and ... it's the culinary equivalent of a Tim Burton film.

    I'd heard so much hype in America about currywurst that after I got here I stopped by a stand to see what was up. A man grabbed a grilled sausage and stuck it in a machine. When he turned a crank, the machine sucked in the sausage and spat out chunks. He squirted catsup on the chunks and sprinkled curry powder on top.

    I stared at it, thinking it had to be wrong. I watched the process repeat. Curry sauce, I discovered, is just catsup with curry powder. Bottled catsup, which has so much fructose it's actually closer to candy than food. And even worse: Germans are too lazy to cut up a sausage?

    I looked at the soup crowd and knew my argument. "You know how currywurst is a cut-up sausage with catsup and curry powder on it? How does the sausage get cut up? Is it done by a guy with a knife? No. Somebody sticks a sausage in a machine, turns the crank, and it spits out sausage chunks.“

    Dieter exchanged looks with the others, who shrugged and nodded. "A machine,“ I repeated. "Germans actually built something out of metal because it’s too tough to go chop-chop-chop.“

    The crowd hemmed and hawed and visually deflated. Gone was the arrogance, replaced by sheepish looks. "You’re saying Americans are strange for cutting peas in half," I continued, "but you need heavy machinery to cut a sausage into chunks.“

    That was it; the crowd was defeated. Nobody said a word. The chef finally picked up a bowl, filled it, and brought me my soup. He still feigned attitude. "Whole peas!“ he told me. "I didn’t cut them in half!“ There was a laugh, but half-hearted.

    As much as it annoyed me to admit it, the soup was delicious. It was thick and rich and salty and sweet and -- meaty, I hate to say. It had that hint of smoky sausage that’s in every German food except cake. I wasn't going to admit it but the peas were better for being more substantial.

    All eyes turned to me. "It's good," I announced. Everybody smiled. I was happy too. If it's possible, I think Germany has made me even more low-maintenance. Now I'm fine with fleisch. I'm fine with humiliation. In fact, I'm fine with just about anything, as long as I don't have to ask whether it has a penis or not.

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