# Topology in Bars

I’m in a bar right now, and it’s not crowded. Nearby a group of maybe ten people has collected. They are clustered around a table, wedging in new arrivals rather than annex nearby unoccupied tables and pull them into the party.

Why not spread out? Why not bring in tables so that all involved have a place to set their glass? Let me tell you a little more about the group.

This is a gathering of geeks. ebay, if clothing is an indicator. (This group is indirectly responsible, then, for the recent debt I incurred. I forgive them.) Tech workers of varied ethnicity, having drinks and appetizers.

Two of them are female. The other nine (I’ve counted now) are all working to minimize the distance between themselves and the the non-Y-bearing nucleus of the group.

Only it’s not so simple. Allow me to expand on that theorem. The males (hereafter referred to as ‘dudes’) are actually competing for the closest eye contact with the females (or, ‘chicks’). Dudes don’t just want proximity, they want attention. This leads to a kidney-bean shaped cluster, as the value of space drops dramatically once out of the peripheral vision of the two chicks. Good thing, too; otherwise my little island of tranquility, directly behind the chicks, would be impinged upon by careless geek elbows.

One of the two chicks just shifted her posture inward, slicing off a section of the kidney bean. The isolated bunch immediately began talking about football.

# The Science of Fishnet Stockings

This discussion will be hampered without diagrams, but I’m not about to draw anything right now. Let’s all appreciate the fundamental property of the fishnet: when viewed straight-on, they are practically invisible, and when viewed from the side, they are practically opaque.

What this does is make the fishnet-encased leg look not just more slender, but more well-defined. The subtleties of the muscles are amplified. The curves and contours of the calf and thigh are enhanced, making the resulting skinniness a healthy, athletic sort of skinny. I am, as I write this, comparing fishnets with dark stockings (all in the name of science, of course), and the difference in leg enhancement is striking.

# Mad Dog’s Dog House, Last Observations

As I released urine back to the wilds (Andy Williams singing “Born Free” in my head throughout), I discovered that I had the opportunity to purchase “the ONLY glow-in-the-dark condom certified to prevent unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of sexually communicated disease”. That quote is, I afraid, only approximate, but the word “prevent” was definitely there. I cringed a bit at that; I suppose it’s already been argued in court just what reduction in statistical probability qualifies as “prevent”. Foe me, prevent is absolute; condoms are not. So somewhere, I imagine, “reduce the probability by 99%” has been legally defined as “prevent”. Meanwhile people in the real world read that word and believe prevent means prevent.

I’m just sayin’, is all. I’m not arguing against condoms, far from it. 99% protection is massive. Maybe it’s better than 99%, but they are imperfect, and lives are at risk. Not a time to be harboring unrealistic expectations.

And… crap. When I started this episode I had the serious thing to discuss and then the light thing. Start serious, go light. Journalistic gold. The light thing has long since wandered off to the sunny meadows where happy thoughts romp, and unfortunately I forgot to put a radio collar on the idea so now my chance of tracking it is negligible. It’s a funny thing (in the not-funny sense of the word); I set out on this episode absolutely confident that there was no possible way I could forget the second point. Whatever is was. It probably wasn’t that good anyway, or I would remember. That’s what mom used to say, but maybe that was before she realized what a rockethead I am.

Cyberpunk theme: You get an idea, and you say “tag that”, and the machine that is part of your brain applies a verbal recall code to your thought. The machine then remembers the idea for you, and you can recall it by invoking the tag. The crisis: most people decide to tag everything, which leads to hopeless clutter, and civilization teeters. The moral: there’s a reason you forget stuff. Most of it is crap anyway. I see a sit-com…

# Live From Osaka

I’m at the Budvar Bar Near Home (for those who care, the actual name is U Kmotra, which means “at the godfather’s”), and some sort of international track and field event is on the tube. They just had a heat in the 200m women’s running-fast contest. I’m not sure who won; I only had eyes for the Ukrainian in lane 8. She came in near the back of the pack, but damn, she has great cheekbones.

# The Morning After

It is a grey Sunday afternoon here in the Haunted City, a wind that can’t make up its mind which way to blow is shaking the trees and tossing a light rain this way and that. The weather fits my current condition, but this story begins about 48 hours ago, on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon, in the garden of a place I call the Pink Gambrinus Pub.

The Pink Gambrinus Pub has four things going for it: a very pleasant garden, low prices, and two very pretty waitresses. I settled in under the awning, opened up the ol’ laptop, and set to work. Before too long my phone rang. I decided to answer. “What’s up, big daddy?” came the cheerful voice. Angelo is many things, but quiet and subtle are not on the list. I had agreed to help him set up his Web site, so he agreed to come join me later. I turned back to the task at hand.

A text message came in. Another friend, wanting to get together for beers later. I sent messages of my own, trying to set up a meeting over beers to discuss a project. That didn’t work out, but Jose said he would come join me in a while. I turned back to my work, while the waitresses did their best to bring me beers faster than I could drink them. You have to admire that go-getter spirit.

Angelo arrived and was pleased when one of the waitresses remembered him (I was not surprised). I put away the laptop and we had a very pleasant conversation, his exuberant American loudness reverberating in the garden while he contemplated how to hit on the waitress that hadn’t met him before. We even talked about business briefly. Eventually it was time for him to go. As he was leaving I got a message from Jose that he was on the way. I pulled out the laptop and tried to get a little bit done, but by then it was not the interruptions holding me back, but the beers.

Jose and Adam showed up, taking Angelo’s spot, and more conversation ensued, along with the required beer. Fun was had by all.

Eventually we paid up and went our separate ways. I strolled back up the hill toward home, a route that takes me right past the Little Café Near Home. It was getting a little late, but I decided to pop in and see who might be there on a Friday night.

As it turns out, the joint was jumping (as much as a place that small can jump), and I decided to sit down and have a beer. I mean, why not? As I sipped my suds I was rewarded by the arrival of Iva (rhymes with feevah). I believe I’ve mentioned in these pages before a pretty girl who surprised the hell out of me by striking up a conversation with me a while back. It was good to see her again.

This time, however, she didn’t seem terribly interested in my presence. Oh, well, I thought. She paid and left, and I was lamenting to one of the Martins that she seemed to have written me off when she stuck her head back in the door and said, “Jerry, we’re going to another pub, you want to come?” In retrospect I expect it was another of the Martins who suggested she ask me along, but at the time I just knew that a pretty girl was inviting me for drinks. So four of us — Iva, her sister, Martin 2, and I — went to another place for a while. In this group I was very much the old man.

I’m rather proud of myself, actually. I realized that I was being pretty boring, but I also realized that I was drunk, and that anything I might do to not be boring was likely to be obnoxious instead. Somehow I retained the judgement to merely be boring.

Strašnice is a quiet town, and the pubs close early. Sometimes that’s a good thing. When the barman wouldn’t give us a second round I gave Iva the remainder of my beer. The chivalry! Then it was time to go, and I walked back to my pad, dropped my backpack, flopped onto the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch, and was instantly asleep.

That is part one of the story. The fun part. The experienced among you might recognize the crucial mistake I made. When drinking with friends, drink with them all at once, not one at a time. I had a big meal with the beers, and I’ve certainly had more alcohol than that on other occasions, but on this night I had definitely crossed over to the “too much” side of the line.

It was still dark when I first woke. I was still drunk, but the headache had already begun. Nothing too bad yet, but I could tell there was much worse to come. I went into the kitchen and filled my belly with as much water as it would hold and then a little more, but I knew I was closing the barn door after the horse had got out. I was going to have a hangover. I don’t like hangovers. It seems, however, that until Saturday morning I had no idea what a hangover was.

The next time I woke my headache was in full bloom. A full-bodied, multiphase headache, sharp in back, throbbing and explosive in front. On occasion there would be a feeling that can’t really be described as pain behind my eyeballs and I would throw open my eyelids and bug out the orbs just to make more space in there. That never worked, and so seconds later I would slam the lids shut again and use my hands to keep my head from exploding.

It was not just a headache, though, oh, no. This hangover was remarkable in its completeness. Everything hurt. All my muscles were stiff and sore, as if I had the flu. Then the stomach cramps set in, strong enough to double me over. I thought maybe throwing up might relieve them, but when that finally happened there was no reduction in the severity of the cramps. There was nothing in my stomach anyway; all the water I had drunk was now running down my skin in rivulets.

It was about then I got my first muscle cramp. My left calf knotted up like a baseball, flinging me out of bed to try to walk it off, all other discomforts temporarily eclipsed. I worked out that cramp and slid back between my sweat-soaked sheets when I felt the arch of my right foot getting ready to clinch as well. I managed to preempt that one.

I lay, breathing with care, hours dragging by while I tried to find a position, any position, that might take the pressure off my gut without increasing the chances of a muscle cramp. I needed electrolytes, I decided. I needed to eat, and by mid-afternoon I was ready to try. I knew that would be a dicey proposition, but in fact it was my first step on the road to recovery.

By evening I was repaired enough to manage a trip to the Little Café Near Home for a bottle of Coca-Cola (oh, sweet nectar — the girl there was the same one who had been working the night before; she gave me a knowing look) then back home to watch a bootleg baseball broadcast on the Internet. Then I went to sleep.

Now it is Sunday afternoon. I am still getting stomach cramps, though they are not as bad anymore. My head hurts, but it’s only meaningfully painful when I cough or try to think. I am generally sore all over, and my calf hurts in particular; I suspect the muscle was damaged when it cramped up. I’m still sweating more than is natural.

I wonder, in retrospect, whether a hangover is sufficient to explain the depths of my misery yesterday, and the lingering effects today. Food poisoning? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: I don’t want to go through that again.

# The Hap-Happiest time of the year.

Ah, summer. It is Sunday, the quietest days Strašnice has to offer. I’m sitting on the patio at Café Vinice, the shade under the big awning sufficient to allow me to see the screen while the sun shines brightly on the purple-leaved trees in the little landscaped square.

I have only just settled in; my resolution: Get Serious. Before I do that, however, it is worth noting a couple of things — things I’ve said before and will certainly be saying again. I should probably give these principles a name, a shorthand to allow me to repeat myself without sounding repetitions. With the right code word the repetitions become a pleasure in themselves, a secret shared among the initiated.

First, beer is better when consumed outdoors. This principle extends to other beverages as well, but a chilly beer shares a special relationship with the sun and the breeze, a kinship that no other beverage can match. The lager I am drinking now was invented in the chilly caves around Plzn, and it is that residual chill and shadow that mixes so perfectly with a warm day.

Second, there is nothing a girl can wear (including nothing) that is sexier than a miniskirt. I get angry just imagining the day fickle fashion steals from me the simple pleasure of appreciating a graceful form shrouded in exactly the right amount of mystery. (That could also describe my favorite writers, and is the goal I set for myself.)

I’ve mentioned all of that before. One other thing — insignificant compared to those two — that is contributing to my current sanguinity: A nice, breathable wicker chair. Sometimes the things you barely notice at all (not because they are functioning poorly but because they are functioning especially well) are the ones that make the difference between a nice afternoon and an exceptional one. For instance, if I was wearaig sandals right now, I probably wouldn’t notice, but I’m not wearing sandals and I do know my feet are hot. Perhaps the imperfection (hot feet) makes the rest of the goodness graspable.

Shade, sun, trees, breeze, miniskirts, the arrival of my second beer (service oddly friendly today), finishing a thought-provoking book and settling in to see where those thoughts lead. I’ve been over all that stuff before. What’s the word, then, I can use as a shorthand, the sign I can use to wrap up all those feelings into a complete idea?

Maybe this one: Summer. Summer spoken in a reverent, Tom Sawyer voice, when the livin’ is easy — a time when it’s OK to be happy, to appreciate the good life and the wicker chair.

# I’ll always remember What’s Her Name.

The guy who runs the little café near home is, by all accounts, a jerk. There’s been some turnover in the staff lately, but when I came back from the mini road trip I found the owner’s girlfriend long gone and in her place there was What’s Her Name. I’ve mentioned her before. I have, in my day, exchanged words with more than a couple of bartenders, and often the connection is an illusion constructed to enhance tips, but around here there are no tips.

She looked over my shoulder as I practiced my Czech, something I was awkward with at first, but I quickly got used to. She was practicing her English at the same time, and her advice and expansions were welcome. Somewhere around the time I managed to pronounce Kristina and Kristyna differently, I knew we had become friends. Apparently most people who share What’s Her Name’s name have given up on the distinction. She’s Moravian, though, and they like to get things right. Apparently her speech was a little too formal for the crowd here. That’s the way she tells it, anyway; she never felt welcome.

Under the incandescent light of the bar she was not what you might term a classic beauty. Whatever that means. There is the beauty her boyfriend has captured with his camera, and let me just tell you, hoo-dang somewhere between the eyes and the lips, with a side order of wild hair, I’m sold on the photographs. Wow.

But my What’s-Her-Name is not the beautiful, passionate woman in the photos. Those photos remind me of just how much I’m not an artist. I see them and I know I’m just a hack, some guy spewing words, and I’ll never be able to match that expression in that photograph, the one when she’s looking straight into the camera and there’s only one word (the other 999 unnecessary) and that word is yes.

She is leaving now. She’s worried that her boss is going to rip her off on the way out the door, but overall glad she won’t be working for him anymore. It’s a pity. She had an almost American-style friendliness, and she responded well to my American-style humor. Now, she will join the legion of bartenders I’ve met, connected with, only to have one of us (usually me, given my wandering ways) move on.

Will I see her again? That’s a tricky thing, isn’t it?