The Morning that Tea Forgot

I woke up yesterday feeling chipper, but as the day wore on I felt worse and worse. I had to pass on a train ride last night; some folks I know are in Brno today touring a hot-air balloon factory, and then they are going to Slovakia for the first-ever Slovak Balloon Fiesta. I might try to catch up with them. At least I have an appetite again; we’ll see how lunch treats me.

And tea. This has been a Morning of No Tea. More exactly, a morning of no electricity, but the tea angle is the one I feel the most. I knew that this morning was coming; I had two sheets of paper waiting for me on the stairs last week. The first said the electricity would be off today starting at 8 am, to be restored in the evening. The second notice said the electricity would be off tomorrow, and the time estimates were blacked out with a felt pen.

I awoke this morning to a banging sound downstairs, and after determining that I was up for the task I got up and checked my computer. 8:02 am. I knew my time was limited, so I decided to… poof. It doesn’t matter what I was going to do, because there was going to be no doing of it.

No hot water (even my gas water heater requires electricity to run), no computers (and therefore no morning Web comics, no checking for bug reports for Jer’s Novel Writer, or any of that), and no electric kettle. I could have made tea on the stove, but instead I just went back to bed. I thought I’d snooze for a while, then go catch the American breakfast at Café Fuzzy. Suddenly it was 11 am and there was no more breakfast to be caught. I lounged around for a bit longer but I’d been in bed so long my back was complaining. Man, can’t catch a break some days. I decided to get out of the house.

It was nice to get out, despite the light rain; the wind was fresh enough to carry the petals off the fruit trees, adding a festive feel to the day, and the little park was quiet. Definitely a spring rain, no need for a jacket, and shorts were the obvious choice. I made my way to U Kormidla, where I write this, sipping my second cup of tea and now with the lunch special (chicken steak with cheese and bacon) negotiating with my stomach. The outcome, I’m sorry to say, is still uncertain. From here I will walk back up the hill to find a spot at Little Café Near Home, where they have electricity in abundance, and lately some very good tea.

Capr, Dlouhý Den

Here is part two of the epic video chronicling my attempts to turn carp into something to eat. I really didn’t feel very sharp as I was shooting this, so the humor is even more sparse than in the first one. In true Hollywood fashion I tried to make up for a lack of substance by increasing production values.


Exchange Rate Blues

I charge $30 for a license that allows a person to use Jer’s Novel Writer without being nagged occasionally. When I first came to visit the Czech Republic, that money could buy me more than 120 beers at one of the cheaper places. Now, just a few years later, thirty bucks buys about 22 beers in the same bars.

Acerbia in Space

I woke up through a dream this morning, which gave me a chuckle that lasted all day. I think I called him Cassius in a previous episode, but that doesn’t matter; those who know this character get an extra bonus chuckle. The dream unfolded like this:

A buddy and I were visiting Cassius, who was looking after an orbital space habitat while the owners were away. It turns out there’s not much to do when you’re just revolving around the Earth like that, but we were hanging out, having a beer or two, and generally enjoying ourselves. We were playing some game that involved throwing things when the garbage lady showed up.

The garbage lady was a hillbilly-looking girl in stained overalls, her blonde hair was long and unwashed. A grubby baseball cap was pulled down over her eyes. She didn’t say much, just went about performing a perfunctory garbage-collection job. I felt a cold draft. I looked, and sure enough she hadn’t closed the hatch all the way, and our air was escaping out into space.

“Um… hello?” Cassius said to the garbage lady, “Yeah, I’m going to be here for another eight months, and that oxygen is going to come in real handy. Thanks.”


Left Behind

A while ago I sat down to write a story that takes place in the TinCaniverse, the setting for what has become a growing series of short stories that Piker Press has been kind enough to publish. The story I was writing had a lot of history behind it, and finally I had to recognize that even if all the stories are designed to be readable on their own, I needed to record that history in a different story, to give it a human focus.

So, a different story, with the same main character, but earlier in time, to take us through that tumultuous period.

Well, two previous stories, actually — the period in question, once I gave it the space to blossom, turns out to be pretty darn tumultuous indeed. The second of the two, the one I set aside to write this blog entry, takes place in such a turbulent period that the story even has… action! If it goes as planned in my head, there will be people running, and people chasing them, and raised voices and everything.

But don’t too excited yet, “Left Behind” is about people drinking in bars and pondering man’s relationship to a vast, uncaring universe (and a few other things). When I read it with a critical eye today I thought it was still a bit “facty”, but it has some petty good moments in it as well.

For those keeping score at home, it’s worth remembering that the first three of the stories were told by Captain Ed Smith, enigmatic and philosophical space explorer. Later stories have shown that Ed’s memory isn’t all that great, however, and this story is no exception. It seems he even had trouble remembering the gender of his lawyer. He has other things on his mind.

A Night I Won’t Soon Remember

“You still up for Andy’s party?” fuego asks via text message. I consider. It’s raining out; I’m tempted to just stay in and work. That Girl would be waking up soon, and I haven’t chatted with her in a while; my Internet has been down again. But there’s no food in the place, so sooner or later I’ll have to go get some in any case. Plus, I know I’ll regret not saying goodbye to Andy.

Andy and I have a history, of sorts. I met him at fuego’s wedding reception, a fateful No Pants Day when Andy got very drunk and then wanted to dive home. I, on the other hand, thought maybe he shouldn’t. What ensued was a rather comical series of events that included me chasing him through the park. Fun was had by all. (I was going to put a link to the episode where I described that night, but it seems I never wrote about it.)

With that in mind, I decide to don my armor and go be social for an evening.

Not on an empty stomach, however; fuego and I agree to meet at Pizzeria Roma for some fortification before we dive into the party. As we eat our pizzas fuego gestured to the TV playing behind me. “That girl was in the very first movie I ever worked on over here.” I turn to see a face I don’t recognize, but that doesn’t mean much — I would have been more surprised if I had recognized her. “She’s a real cutie,” fuego says, which means she was also pleasant to work with, or that would have been what fuego remembered.

Another problem emerges — neither of us know where the party is. fuego has a general idea, but he’s been trying to contact Andy for more specific details. We chat, order another round of beers, and finally decide to hop the trams and at least get into the right neighborhood. We hop off tram 16 near the Yacht club, in the shadow of Vyšehrad. The rain has stopped. The streets are quiet on Saturday night. fuego gets instructions from Andy; we’ve still got two tram stops to go, but we decide to walk. We pass the water works and the fancy swimming complex with its 10-meter diving platforms. To our right the river is silent in the darkness.

We arrived at last to find the party well under way. I don’t recognize many faces, but that’s expected. At one point I’m standing with fuego, Andy, and two others, laughing at a story about one of them being detained in Britain for attempting to work without due authorization. (The film fuego had just wrapped had gone to England to shoot some beach scenes.) “Here we are,” fuego says (or something like that). “The four of us all worked on my very first film here in the Czech Republic, nine years ago.” “Is that the one that what’s-her-name was in?” I ask. It turns out it was, and all four of them agreed that she had been very attractive — especially Andy, who had walked into her trailer when she was topless.

So I hang out, drinking free beer, talking to movie people about movie stuff. There is a large spread of food that no one is touching, and a pig turning on a spit outside. A band sets up, two fiddles, a string bass, and a hammer dulcimer. It’s difficult to describe the music; primarily gypsy but with a dose of dixieland mixed in. It’s fun, anyway. There is talk, and more drinking, and even a little dancing. I am labeled as “guy who will dance with girls whose boyfriends don’t want to dance.” In this capacity I am given a crash course in the waltz. Things get better when I give up on 1-2-3, 1-2-3… and just go with 1.., 1.., 1… When the song is over she compliments me on my dancing prowess, but I think she is just being kind. At least I didn’t injure her.

Andy gives a farewell speech, inviting all of us to visit him in Australia, and also to feel free to use his summer house in France. Woo hoo!

Some time later come the flavored vodka shots. The band finally calls it a night, but Andy isn’t finished, and although the crowd has dwindled there are still plenty of people ready to rally in support. Andy’s wife leaves, taking the car keys with her.

Around sunrise, the party collapses. The last of us stagger into the new day. Andy wants to find a bar to keep drinking. Some think this is a good idea, but others point out that Andy just might have had enough already. After a few minutes of indecision and dissension in the ranks I grow weary of the vibe and turn up the road, thinking that I’ll walk a bit before I get on a tram.

Under gray skies I tromp up the hill to my house, kick off my shoes, and try to compose a note to That Girl. Even such a simple task is too much; I turn and flop onto the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch and am asleep before I even close my eyes.


New Faces

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but this spring has been a prodigious one as far as pregnancies go around here. You can’t swing a cat in this neighborhood without hitting a pregnant lady. Knowing what was going on, I wasn’t terribly surprised to see that the (now-literally) mom and pop palačink


Capr, Prvni Den

Here is the extended version of the previous video, giving you the entire day’s exploits. The story is not finished – oh, no. Not by a long shot.

I learned a few things – first, give the camera plenty of time to get rolling and dont hit stop until long after I’m finished. But overall I really didn’t learn much about cooking carp.


Sneak Preview!

Here we go…

Production for the rest of this documentary might be tricky, as I won’t be able to film while I’m actually doing things. It will be more like a montage. I certainly don’t have the skills to make a stop-action animation out of it – but that would be cool.


Scarred for Life

This (somewhat dated) image of a NASCAR fan is disturbing on so many levels that all I can say is, “Hell yeah!” Don’t click that link if you’re happy with your life the way it is.


Blue Monday

I walked into Little Café Near Home Monday afternoon to discover a jam session going on. Some kids I more-or-less recognized were playing guitar, singing, and improvising percussion instruments. “It’s a blue Monday” Martin said. The music came out sounding pretty good, so I settled in and popped open a book. (I was too far from the electricity to work, and really not that sorry to have an excuse to leave the computer in the bag.)

I’m reasonably sure it was just coincidence that the harmonica player happened by; he didn’t seem to know any of the others, and he didn’t bring his own harmonica. So, in one of those delightful convergences that the universe likes to offer up now and then, my ears, a harmonica, and a very good harmonica player all followed different vectors to arrive at the Little Café Near Home at the same time.

Good singing’, good playin’. The guy playing bar stool was pretty good as well, but his performance degraded steadily (and increased in volume) as he drank. That notwithstanding, there are a lot of worse ways to spend an afternoon.


A Load of Carp

Yesterday Otakar, my landlord, asked me “do you have carp?” Not whether I wanted carp, because how could anyone not? He was concerned, however, that somehow I might have found myself in the unfortunate position of not having any. He then went on a fairly long discourse which I think was cooking instructions.

So now I have a rather large, not very tasty fish in my freezer. The recipe that appeals to me most so far is for pickled carp, but of course that one has the longest list of ingredients I don’t have. Most of the recipes I’ve seen involve vinegar; obviously that’s the key to reducing the carpiness of the fish.

Any suggestions?

Mars! Hell Yeah!

The following is a script for a video I plan to enter in the Virgle contest to become a crew member on a Mars expedition.

Yeah, I know, the announcement came out in an April first-ish timeframe, and if the boosters were really under construction already I think I would have heard of it, and I don’t think robotics are up to the tasks expected of them in the plan, but you know what? I don’t care about any of that. Why not? Because I’m going to Mars, buddy.

Anyway, here’s the first draft of the script for my application, which will be posted on YouTube:

Mars! Hell yeah! Gas up the boosters and fasten your seatbelts, because we’ve been stuck on this rock way too long already. However, the mission to Mars is doomed without me.

Sure, I know a Higgs boson from a flux capacitor, and I know my way around computers, and I’ve succeeded in leadership positions in the past, but that’s not why Mars needs me. Virgle needs a writer, and I am the man for the job.

Whether on the back roads of America or the twisting cobbled alleys of Prague, I have spent the last several years wandering, exploring the mysteries of our planet and reporting them back to an eager public. It is more than journalism; the words must carry with them the mystery and wonder of forgotten places and the people who inhabit them. Facts are abundant these days, information ubiquitous; what is required of the writer on the Virgle mission is to convey understanding, following the progress of the first pioneers, watching as the true Martian culture develops. That is what I do.

I haven’t timed the above yet; the video is supposed to be 30 seconds. I think mine is a bit too long, and I never even got to my value as a defender of the arts in a culture that will by necessity be run by engineers at first. I never even got to say “I was born to live in lava tubes.” Oh, well; some cutting will be required, and other parts are probably awkward (hard to tell seconds after writing it). Any suggestions are welcome. Meanwhile, wish me luck!

The Importance of Being Paranoid

I realized last night (OK, someone whacked me upside the head for not figuring it out sooner) that I’m on the cover over at Piker Press this week. It’s a story lacking in any sort of nutritive value (to borrow the Piker’s tagline), but I like it. It makes a good April Fool’s sort of story. Check it out!


Happy Road Trip Day


My Road Trip Eve Celebration

It really wasn’t that long ago, as the crow flies, that I wedged as much as I could into the Miata and headed out for “about three weeks” to see a bit of the United States before moving to Prague. Probably two months later as I was tooling through the pacific northwest I thought, “man, if I could get someone to pay me to do this I’d never stop.” I did not find anyone to pay me, and eventually I stopped.

But there remains here at Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas an echo of that desire, the love of the wind and the sun on the open road, the long stretches wondering if there’s enough gas in the tank, or skidding sideways in a hailstorm, or seeing a ruin at the side of the road with “burgers” still legible on its sloping roof. The occasional glimpse of the Great Unknown. The road still holds a certain magic for me, an american in-between nowhereness, the place where all our dreams are stored.

So please join me in this celebration, and if the first words you utter this muddled year are “elevator ocelot rutabaga,” then good fortune will follow you for the next 365.2422 days.