I’m starting to get it.

It’s wasn’t War and Peace or even My Dinner With Andre, but I just had a real honest-to-god conversation in Czech. I cheated, but that doesn’t matter.

Here is the full text, translated to English for your convenience:

W: Here’s your beer
J: Thanks
W: No Prob. So, you writing a novel over here or something?
J: Yes
W: Really? You’re writing a novel?
J: Yes
W: A novel?
J: Yes
W: You’re a writer?
J: Yes
W: No shit?
J: Yes

Skeptics among you may note that I only used two different words in this conversation. But he used several, and each repetition was different, and I picked up enough of the words to know what he was asking me, and say “Ano” with confidence. Some of the repetition on his part is easily explained as a natural assumption that I didn’t know what he was saying. Finally, “No shit?” was actually “Fact?”, but I took the liberty of some cultural adjustment.

Just Checking In

(Edited out an opening sentence that made no sense after I changed the abstract.) The other day I wrote a long rambling episode about why I’d be a horrible boyfriend right now, as it all relates to why there hasn’t been as much popping up here. No need to go into detail but it boiled down to the fact I spend almost every waking moment working and I have no income. Just what every girl dreams of.

Case in point: Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 and my mind was fizzing with new ideas for margin notes in Jer’s Novel Writer. I’ve got a big release coming up and it’s great to see the software moving along every day. I worked, stopping briefly for tea and snacks, until I called it a night about 11:30 pm. That’s all I did yesterday. Nineteen hours with breaks, writing software. Good thing it’s only a hobby. I got up early this morning because I thought of the best way to handle loading old files that don’t have all the necessary data.

Today I got the software to the point I can write without worrying about losing my work, so that’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon. It’s been tougher than usual to switch from the programmer head to the writer head. Programmer head is in the the wide-open leaps-and-bounds part of development, while writer head is mired in the nitty-gritty of finishing novels. At least the product of the programmer head is making things easier for the writer head.

Of that there can be no doubt. One of the things driving programmer head is that the new margin note system will make things easier for writer head. I started using it for the first time this afternoon and while the old margin notes were sweet as honey, the new ones just plain ‘ol rock. Today’s “writing” has been going through the story and flagging areas with different types of margin notes, so when my writer head is feeling a little more creative it can follow along and smooth things out.

I’m at Crazy Daisy now; I’ll head over to fuego’s in a bit and blast this into the blogosphere. The Anti-Amy is here but not working, so I can’t try to overcome the final smile barrier, but I came damn close to flirting with the blonde I mentioned in passing in a previous episode. (The episode where the New Yorkers came in. I hope a few more New Yorkers read that.) I got a big hello from her when I came in, but later I noticed that everyone gets a larger-than-czech-median greeting from her. Still I think mine was better. It was once again my attempts to pronounce “chicken” that really got us started. She was willing to let me slide with my first attempt but I kept at it – I knew the first shot was not good at all. Laughter and joy was shared by all.

In the She-Who-Smiles-Rerely episode I also mentioned the tipping custom. Here you add on to you bill more to make things round off than to reward service. A few nights ago this was really brought home to me. I was in the cheap beer place with fuego, and we had enjoyed a cheap beer or two. The bartender/waitress, a very pretty blonde woman, came by to close up our tab. it came to 148. The way you tip is to give a higher number when they give you change. I struggled, and she helped me. “Fifty,” she said, meaning 150. That’s what a czech would have done – tipped two lousy crowns. Really not tipping at all. And she expected nothing more, to the point she assumed that’s what I was trying to say. I then managed to say 160 correctly and come out looking like a big tipper. Which I was. I would have been embarrassed to leave a tip like that in the US, but here I’m a crazy-ass tipping maniac.

Now it’s back to the novels. A lot of people start things, many people have good midgames, but the finishers are few. I’m striving to be a finisher.

She Who Smiles Rarely smiled often

It started a couple of weeks ago with New York Guy. Man, what an asshole. We rolled our eyes together and I got a smile. When I came in tonight she was behind the bar and she gave a ghost of a smile as we exchanged the briefest of pleasantries before I headed for a table in the back.

It was She Who Smiles Rarely who took my order. “Steak zhuh kurzhitschkafrig,” I said.

“Steak z ku?ecího?”

“Ano, Steak z kurzhetsho”

That went back and forth a couple of times. She knew exactly what I wanted, and she was helping me learn to say it. Steak from chicken thing, A local delicacy. Finally I punted on the pronunciation and just said “Dvah nahtct awesome”. They write down the order by number anyway. With a smile she drilled me on the correct pronunciation of 28. We worked out that I also wanted rice and she was gone.

It was her next visit I really scored. My beer was perilously close to empty and she came by and asked “One more beer?” In English. I mentioned in a previous episode that if they spoke english here I didn’t want to know about it. I waved my hands in the negative while I said, “Je

Roma. Roma, Roma

As I sat Marek looked over at me and reached for a beer glass. I shook my head slowly. “Černý čaj.” Black tea. “Ooooh,” he said, nodding knowingly.

Marianna had recommended a nice tea place down on Winceslas square. I started that direction but I decided I wasn’t up for trying a new place today. Today is a day for the quiet and familiar. And tea.

Yesterday was the Day of Pretty Bartenders. DoPB started in the afternoon in a bar with cheap beer and electric darts. I enjoyed a brief moment in the Zone as we played, but that didn’t last. The bartender had Brigitte Bardot’s lips, which is good because the actress hasn’t been using them lately that I’ve seen.

Last night fuego and I decided to go find a bar with the NFL playoffs. It was a bit of a hike, with us stopping at a couple of places on the way to check if those bars could get the games. The first bar we tried had three cute bartenders lined up in a cute little row when we walked in, and some of the cheapest beer I’ve seen in town. Alas, they didn’t have the channel that showed the games. No fear–I will be going back there when I’m able to contemplate beer again. We stopped long enough to have a beer at El Paso, but once we figured out that they didn’t have the right channel either we bid yet another pretty waitress goodbye and moved on.

Finally fuego and I were down at a bar filled to the gills with Americans watching the Big Game. We wedged into a corner and enjoyed the action. When that game was over we decided to stay and catch the next game. When that game was over we walked most of the way home before stopping off at El Paso for a couple of beers. We came up with a really tight opening sequence for a techno-thriller. Sheer brilliance. I hear Will Smith is interested, but I’m not sure he’s right for the role.

Marek wanted to converse when he brought my tea over, but I’m just not up for that right now. “I like your Web site,” he said. “Amy… nice.” (He didn’t use exactly that word. It was more the raised-eyebrows nod.) He’s a photographer. “Is she girlfriend?” I’m not up for complicated answers right now. “No, just a friend.” Marek asked about fuego but soon realized today was not the Day of Sparkling Conversation. I think it may be, however, the Day of Pizza with Ridiculous Amounts of Garlic. It’ll cure what ails you, no doubt about that.

Halloween

I went out with Jesse to Joe and Jo’s last night. We sat in the cool, misty night air under the awning on the front patio and enjoyed the smoke-free atmosphere. We talked about a lot of stuff, like being happy and liking beer, about the perfect buzz, about the past and about the future. There was no table service out there, but Kelly brought us one round after I reminded her that we were her favorite customers. How that fact had up until then escaped her I’m not sure. It was a fine evening, and most congenial.

After a while a large group of kids (they seemed like kids to me anyway) gathered on the patio, all in costume. It was a birthday party. I remembered why I like Halloween so much. I’m not into getting all dressed up myself (the time I went as a ho to a Pimp ‘n’ Ho party notwithstanding), but I do enjoy seeing other people all dressed up. Especially people younger and more attractive than I am.

“That girl in the black angel costume is really cute,” Jesse said. “You should hit on her.” I just laughed. Jesse perhaps had been misled by my easy banter with Kelly the waitress and thought I could use that ability to cut a particular woman out of her party and strike up a conversation. I bet you could train a sheepdog to help with something like that. It would make a good beer comercial anyway – you could start with footage from a real sheepdog competition where the dog is separating the indicated sheep from the rest of the herd and cut to some jolly happy outdoor party scene and have a guy indicate which girl he’s interested in. The dog would run off and be cute and adorable and all that, and slowly pull her out of the party so the guy could strike up a happy jolly conversation with her. It has nothing to do with beer, but not many beer commercials do.

But I digress. Something about the beers last night is making it hard for me to stay on one subject this morning. I had no specially trained border collie, and really no urge to even try. Anyway, there is a crucial difference between chatting with a waitress and striking up a conversation with a stranger. The hired help has to laugh at my jokes and at least stay close long enough to see if I need anything. They’re a captive audience. That gives me the time I need to wear them down to the point where someday they actually are happy to see me. I estimate that takes about three and a half weeks of regular exposure.

In fact, this is a measure of just how successful I was with Kelly. I had the camera with me last night, so I decided to take her picture. She was bussing tables on the patio and I held up the camera and said, “Hold still.” She held still and smiled dutifully, but it was gloomy outside and my first attempt didn’t come out well. “Can I move yet?” she asked. “Hold on one more sec,” I said. “Because it’s raining out here,” she finished. I made some big points then. (In my own defense she did come in under the awning and give me another chance to take her picture.)

It will be interesting to see how much the process is further slowed when I’m unable to flash my rapier wit in Czech. (When I put it that way, maybe it’ll help if they can’t understand what I’m saying.) I should be working harder to learn the tongue of my soon-to-be-adopted home. They conjugate nouns there, those wacky czechs.

I wonder if American Culture Poisoning has grown in the Czech Republic to the extent that people dress up for halloween. I hope so. That’s something I’ll miss.

See? I got back to the original topic eventually.

I’ve noticed a lot of people here in the coffee shop with buck teeth this morning.

Odds and Ends

Shreveport to Chattanooga was mostly freeway. I saw the white stripe flash past in a hypnotic rhythm mile after mile, and wrote stuff in my head. I’m still working on getting the chapter of The Fish written as I felt it within my skull, but it could turn out to be really cool. The rest of the stuff I thought up I can’t start writing until November 1, but my 30-day novel is starting to take shape in my head, and I’m pretty stoked about it. More and more I feel confident that when people ask me what I do I can say, “I’m a writer.” That’s true enough, anyway, even if it does imply that I get paid to write.

Meanwhile, I crossed the 15,000-mile mark outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Safety Dance was playing on the radio. During the day I had been searching for a decent radio station as I moved along from state to state. I heard Turn the Page twice—once as a cover and twice the original version. Here I am, on the road again…

Speaking of radio stations, the best one I know of on this continent is 91 1/2 in Chattanooga. It’s a college station. “We guarantee sixty minutes every hour!” They played some good, good stuff, and quite a variety. I was sorry to pass out of range as I passed through the Appalachians this morning.

Lots of other things happened, the kind of mindless details I do my best not to burden you with. Raccoons should learn to look both ways. I didn’t hit any, but I think I was the exception.

It’s getting harder and harder to keep my hair from blowing in my eyes as I drive. Perhaps a mullet is in order.

On the way over to Asheville today the storage thingie on my fancy camera filled up. I guess that means I really do have to do something about processing all those pictures you guys have been moaning about not seeing. I’ll see what I can do in the morning. I think I got some pretty nice ones today. Highway 64 in Western North Carolina has to go on the list as one of the best drives ever. Honestly, though, I’d recommend driving it on a weekday. Once the camera was maxed out, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the sinuous asphalt as it wound through the late October headless horseman forest, sending leaves flying in my wake.

Alas, much of the time I crept along behind people doing well under the conservative speed limit. These drivers had no clue whatsoever that they should pull to the side, even when they saw other drivers doing the same thing. I relaxed and enjoyed the drive anyway, but the rare taste of real driving left me yearning for more.

Reading over the last episode I posted, I see a serious omission. The sleeipes caught up with me before I finished, I supposed. I was in the lounge at the hotel, which almost had wireless Internet. No matter, really, I could post when I got back to the room. The bartender was Shelly, who was back after a month and the regulars were all very happy to see her. Slender with long straight dark hair, she had a ready smile and a sense of humor. I sat at the bar where I was advised the signal was strongest with my laptop open and lamented the intermittent, weak signal. There were a couple of other friendly regulars and overall the quiet bar was most congenial. Eventually I was the only customer, and after I talked to Shelly for a while I headed back the room with one last beer. I was enjoying the chat, but I’m in love with enough bartenders already. I decided to get out while the getting was good.

Now I’m at Jesse’s house, and it’s nice. I’m in the nursery, so I better be ready to get the hell out of here if the baby arrives.

My good fellow, I tell you what

After Lil’ J’s Sports Bar, I headed back over to the Lone Wolf Pub, known forevermore as Shae’s bar. Shae was behind the bar rather than waiting tables, but she recognized me and welcomed me back. It didn’t strike me right away, but tonight she wasn’t as touchy-feely as she had been. First thought: she’d read my blog. She wasn’t as physical with anyone else either. Second thought: she was sweet on someone in the bar (besides me). Probably none of the above. Maybe she was just too tired, or too busy, or she just approaches bartending differently than she approaches waitressing. I didn’t ask. After writing a little bit at a table I packed up and moved over to the bar. Most of the stools were taken, but there was an empty stool between a tall, slender elderly woman and a snow-bearded man.

Shae was pretty busy, so I was not basking in her radiance the way Bill and I had the night before. No matter, there was Marjorie. She sat with ramrod posture, and when she spoke it was with a patrician English accent. Patrician because along with her excellent diction and hard-to-pinpoint accent there was a world-weary tone, as if she had seen damn near all there was to see. She asked me how I was, and whether I had been in the bar before. I answered, but after that I was struck by some random thought or other and I missed the point when I should have asked the polite counter-question. Silence ensued. By the time I realized my faux pas it was too late. Silence stretched.

Eventually, of course, an opportunity came to hit the reset button and strike up a conversation. She has been in Texas for forty years, and I had to laugh when she said, “I tell you what.” She likes the old songs. Something came up that started her singing one, and I helped her finish the verse. She slapped me on the back with surprising vigor—the point of impact tingled for several minutes. “I love those old songs,” she said again, and I knew she was drunk.

Snowbeard came back from the bathroom and wanted a part of the conversation. He had a way to measure age that he needed to share with me. “I remember when I could pee ten feet,” he said. “Now I just hope I don’t hit my shoes.” We discussed the technical details for a while. I liked the measure; I can still pee for distance.

Marjorie had been waiting for a friend, who finally showed up. Where Marjorie was regal, her friend was overpainted. Where Marjorie was poised, her friend was sloppy. She had just come from another bar. Marjorie introduced me. “You can call me Foxy Roxie,” the friend said. “Hello, Roxie,” I said. She turned out to be all right, but I knew the gentlemen would all be going for Marjorie.

It was soon time to go home, a point where staying will just lead to trouble, and cab rides, and who knows what else. I don’t cross that line without a safety net, and there was none that night. Shae was gone (I caught a shitty picture of her; I’ll try to fix it up and put it here), so there was no longer any reason to stay. Out the door I went.

Bars are full of people like that. For all the ones I’ve met, I’ve missed ten. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.