My favorite job

I met Belladonna on a movie set, so it’s only natural that she thought I knew something about movies. From the start she was a better conversationalist than I was, more open and sincere, but she eventually tired of trying to reach me through cinema. ‘Do you remember in…’ she would ask, only to be confronted by my apologetic shrug. The list of movies I haven’t seen is immense, and finally she got tired of saying “I can’t believe you haven’t seen…”

There was a period when I felt very comfortable with Belladonna, when there was a mutually understood vast gulf between us. In fact, even now she is one of the few members of the XX set that I can just chill with, although I haven’t seen her for quite some time.

She would be surprised, I think, to learn that once it was my job, my paid profession, to watch movies and talk to people about them.

Once upon a time there was a video store. This is not a David and Goliath story; this little video store had managed to carve out a big chunk of the Southern California market. The way they accomplished this feat was remarkable, however. Get this: they succeeded with two crazy gambits. They offered bulk discounts (if you rent a lot of movies you don’t pay as much), and they offered good customer service.

In each store, much of the time, there was an extra person on payroll whose job was to hang out and talk about movies with the customers. That was it. Much of the time customers would approach that person for recommendations, but other times the movie whisperer would simply strike up a chat with indecisive renters. Did you see X? What did you think? If you’ve got a big sound system, you’re hurting yourself if you don’t see ‘Mission’.

You hit a couple of good recommendations, people are looking for you later. You miss, people are almost apologetic that they didn’t like it, but when they explain why you can nail the next recommendation. My job, even though I ostensibly was in management, was to watch movies at home and to talk about movies at work. I did that job well.

Some of you, the ones who have bought whole-heartedly my craftily-constructed image as an antisocial recluse, capable only of communicating through grunts and belches (and when confronted with a female simply losing consciousness), might be surprised to learn that I did very well in this role. Here’s why: It was a controlled transaction. I can deal with strangers, I can even deal with surprises. It’s uncertainty that’s tough.

Log jam in my head. So many metaphors, so many moments.

Back to Video Library. It was easy work, pleasant work, and almost none of the other people there wanted floor duty. Even people who loved to talk movies with coworkers dreaded going out and talking movies with strangers. So I would do it. It was better than working. It made it easy to go into the office each day. Working with Wendy and Maryann didn’t hurt, either.

Wendy. For a long time she thought I was gay because I didn’t hit on her. I wasn’t gay, I was just afraid. When I dropped a semi-truth to establish my heterosexuality I became a curiosity to her, a science experiment. Had the stars shifted a little bit one way or the other, placing me at the top of the stairs at a party rather than at the bottom, putting me in the back seat rather than in the front seat, I would have come to know all that lay behind the promise that was Wendy. Oh, stars! Still you taunt me so!

Wendy’s friend — I’ve called her Maryann, but as I sit here and remember it seems like there’s been a awful lot of Maryann’s in my life. More than is natural; I suspect I’m painting old faces I remember affectionately with a name I also like. None of them will ever touch the real Maryann, young and poised with dark hair and fair skin and, yes, buxom — she sat at the back of the bus, her stop beyond mine. She sat three rows behind me when I told the lie to Suzie (Susie? oh, please forgive me I don’t remember), the horrible lie that would have been nothing but I repeated it, and again; there was no cock to crow but the betrayal was just as real. And three rows behind was Marianne, cool and perfect and unaware. I never felt as alone as I did at her birthday party.

Which all leads up to Michelle. Susie introduced us; I think she was relieved to divert me. Michelle liked me. I didn’t really understand that, then, and even now it mystifies me. Michelle. To me she was (and still is) some unattainable thing, and I considered myself a dalliance and treated her the same way. We did not share our dreams. We did not reveal our secrets. But now, much too late, much too late, I realize that she liked me. At night, sometimes, I wonder what might have been, even though I know the answer. There is a little echo of her in every strong, intelligent woman I write. I miss her, and hope she is well. I doubt we shall ever speak again. I don’t think I’d have anything to say, even if we did.

That was before Wendy, before this particular Maryann, before Video Library. It was all a long time ago. It was a good job, though, talking about movies.

Mind Share

I’ve been stretched lately. Not for time; I’m busy but no busier than usual. Concentration seems to be the scarce resource. There are a couple of things that are eating all that my head has to offer, so when it comes time to answer emails or preside over the message forums at the Hut, my good intentions glance off the task like an Apollo capsule bouncing off the atmosphere and condemning its occupants to being the first interstellar humans.

I know that to run a successful business I have to be there for the folks, and I know that to run a successful blog I have to be here. I haven’t the slightest idea what it takes to be a successful writer, though. Sucks that that’s what I want to be.


The phrase “since the communist era” is an overworked one when discussing the weather; it’s as if the weather patterns were affected somehow by the Velvet Revolution. My first winter here was the coldest winter since communist times. There was a period of almost a month where the temperature never got above freezing. Not even once. The mercury never so much as poked its head above the zero line, groundhog-like; it stayed in the cellar. That winter, it was a notable event when I stepped in mud one day, simply because there was mud to step in.

Last winter was the snowiest since the communist era. Memories of the flooding a few years ago had locals looking pensively at the deep snow in the mountains, and when spring rains accelerated the melting process there was a feeling of held breath. I expect there was as much water this time as last, but the powers that be managed the potential disaster much better this time. (Thanks, Austria, for not screwing us over this time!)

This winter is only two days old, so it’s hard to characterize. The temperature is finally below freezing, and I pulled out my winter coat (thanks, Mom!) last night for the first time. Somewhere in Ireland my gloves, my beloved hunters gloves lie, and I miss them right now. (They are fingerless, but with a mitten flap that can be folded over the digits when they’re not typing. MaK dethumbed them for me, making them the only harsh-weather typing gloves on the planet.) Although I am ill-equipped this year, I welcome the cold. It’s one of the things that has forged the national character of the Czechs, an active character in the story of life here.

A Little Bit of Humor for You

A regular at the Little Café Near Home told me this joke last night. I offer it to you as a lesson about the culture I am now surrounded by. (This is not a verbatim rendition, my rambling instincts are evident in the retelling.)

An American, a German, and a Czech were exploring the deepest jungles of the Amazon when they were captured by a tribe of cannibals. They were trussed up and brought before the chief. With three large pots heating over roaring fires behind him, the chief addressed the captives. “You will each be given two glass spheres,” he said, “and placed in separate huts. I will visit each of you in turn. If you can show me something with the spheres that I have never seen before, I will set you free. Otherwise, you’re on the menu tonight.”

The three captives were each given a pair of glass balls and taken to their huts.

First, the chief visited the American. When he entered, the American was sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor, with his hands in front of him. Over each hand a glass ball was hovering, in complete defiance of gravity.

“Seen it before,” said the chief.

Next he visited the German. Like the American he sat in deep concentration. He was moving his hands fluidly, and the spheres were flying about the room in a graceful dance.

“Seen it,” said the chief.

Finally, the chief visited the Czech. He entered the hut and returned almost immediately. The tribe waited for the verdict. The chief shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It’s been five minutes and the guy broke one of the balls and lost the other.”

The Metrics of Rockin’ Out

It’s a short walk from the Little Café Near Home to my place. (Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?) Not far out the door, the song ‘Heroin Girl’ came up the wires and into my ears. The wind was chill, but still lacking that true Czech winter bite. The streets were dark and quiet, and I’m pretty sure there were no witnesses to see me covering the last hundred meters to my front gate. (I looked back furtively as I worked the lock; LCNH was closing and at least one of the other patrons that was still there lives on my street. All clear. Whoo. I’ve got a reputation to maintain.

Nick Cave came on next, and I love the guy, but this was not the time for cerebral music. On the stairs up to my flat (no acceptance letters waiting on the stairs), I skipped on to The Jack Saints explaining in electrical mayhem that Gin’s A Good Man’s Brother. Shoes off, moves on, it was time to let go. The Mars Volta only added to that, followed by Gwen Mars, the culprit of my last Rocking Out Injury.

My thermostat is set for 20; cool but comfortable. Right now it is 23 in here. The heater is not going; that heat came from me. (Residual radiator heat must certainly be a factor, although the radiators are also covered with laundry right now, reducing their efficiency.) It was the Hives that put things over the top, and then when Alkaline Trio came on, that was the end. I was, in fact, the quintessential iPod commercial, holding the player in one hand (it kept falling out of my pockets, and I came to appreciate that when the headphones come out, the player automatically stops), white wires connected to my head flinging about with my body motion.

I was not, however, a vague shadow that reminds me somehow of the antishadows left by mannequins on the sides of buildings after nuclear tests. I was 3D, a little more 3D than I’m happy about being, which just increased the work required to move this body in ways that the kids can only envy. (I assume that their laughter is based on jealousy.)

Things are cooling, now, and I have a screenplay due tomorrow. Using Final Draft Pro for the last few days has really helped me appreciate just how cool Jer’s Novel Writer is.

Appropriately, the music is following the script, mellowing; Toad the Wet Sprocket is covering a Kiss tune. I want to rock and roll all night, party every day.

Dream a Little Dream

This morning as I drifted in and out of consciousness, I had a series of dreams. (I started to say strange dreams, but that would imply that there is another sort.) At one point in a dream I was getting increasingly embarrassed by a chain of events and the people responsible for them. I was starting to wake up, I suppose, because the idea that this was a dream started to make sense. I calmed myself. Only a dream. “Maybe,” I thought, “But they don’t know that!”

Random Stuff

I’m listening to Saint Low right now. Johnson City. Somehow in that narrative there is something important, something more complicated than love, and it will be lost. They are going to Johnson City, but it feels like the last time. Something’s changed; it’s heavier now. The trip is destroyed by its own significance.

The singer would probably laugh at my interpretation.

I watched hockey tonight, the electric hypnosis coming at times from different hemispheres. During the first intermission of the Sparta/Slavia (rhymes with Yankees/Mets) game, the owner of the Budvar Bar Near Home switched to Rugby. Amazingly (at least to me), one of the teams playing was one that I had seen during the calm part of new year’s eve in Ireland. The game was in its final moments, but is was close and hard-fought. I’m not sure how the players differentiated each other — they were all the color of mud.

Sport, mate. Sport.

There were times when the team with the ball was stalled, and there was a pile. Who gets the ball in such a pile is carefully regulated, but when you can’t move the ball from under the pile, you have to move the pile off the ball. It has been argued that the pads in the NFL actually increase the injury rate, and watching these guys, that’s easy to believe. When the progress of the ball is stalled and the pile is forming people will fly in, head first, smashing into the pile without regard for personal safety. We’re talking about big people, and big hits.

As far as I can tell, there are three reasons a man might fling himself at a pile like that. First, he could hope to move the pile. Second, he might take one of the other team off the pile, someone who had good leverage. Third, he might just like to crash into people, without regard for personal safety. I think to play that game there must always be a bit of reason three.

The whistle blew, the game was over, and they unpiled themselves and began shaking each other’s hands. It was an easygoing, natural sportsmanship that limits the cheap shot because you’re going to be looking those guys in the eye when the game is done, and ideally you’ll be buying each other beers down the street. That is sport.

Saint Low is now telling me that I can just walk on by, like she’s no one. I just wish I could tell her how wrong she is.

Soup Boy sent me an invitation tonight, chocolate night at some club or another. I do like chocolate, but the launch time for the festivities is about now, and I am well and truly done for the day. In fact, today is about done for the day.

Hockey. I was pulling for Slavia, the other Prague team, mainly because they weren’t Sparta, easily the Yankees (ca-ching!) of Czech hockey. It was a good game, back and forth, with both sides pulling off some of those passes that have you saying “Wha — wow!” The game went to a shootout. While I will always rail against the shootout in any team sport (reducing a contest that is supposed to be about how a group of people work together to a series of one-on-one events is a disservice to the entire sport, whether hockey, soccer, or whatever), this was an interesting one to watch. It went long, and I noticed a pattern that held. If the shooter glanced down, even for the tiniest of moments, at the puck, he missed. The shooters who never, ever took their eyes off the goalie scored and made it look easy. Nothing fancy, just smack it by the guy.

I’m pretty sure there’s not a useful life lesson there.

After that game we switched to NHL. They play on a smaller surface and at first the skaters seemed unnaturally large. In the past I’ve preferred the North American version of Hockey, but with the recent rules changes they’re caught in middle ground, no longer the hard-nosed pounding game I like, but without the room to be a game of finesse.

Johnny Cash is telling me that it’s the time of the preacher, in the year of ’01; when you think it’s all over, it’s only begun. I’m pretty sure he’s right about that.

My team, the Flames, they still play old-school hockey. (Incidentally, this means they’re doomed.) That is only secondary to why I am a Flames fan; it would be more accurate to say that I am a Flames-fan fan. I’ve already documented it in these pages, no sense in digging up old laundry and all that, but never before and never since have I seen a row of pretty girls neglecting their jobs because they simply could not tear their eyes away from the hockey game.

I wonder what apartments go for in Canmore.

I only had the one Johnny Cash song handy, now Nick Cave is singing about a woman with a dead man in her bed. I’m pretty sure she’s not referring to me. She’s never met me.

There are times, looking out at the city at night, at all the lights, the sound and the motion; it seems busy but for all that there are no people. My window is just another sparkle.