Ah, Spring

On the patio, working on fiction while the sun slides toward the horizon, sipping inoffensive Canadian whiskey and watching the doves bang..

1

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?

Monday Night at the Budvar Bar.

I wasn’t paying attention to the calendar when I happened in here tonight. I’m at the Budvar Bar (actually the name is U Kmotra, not to be confused with some big tourist trap that is actually called Budvar Bar), the bar closest to home and also a place to get a plateful of cheap, if not inspired, food. The tea costs more here than at Little Café Near Home, but the food swayed me.

Incidentally, word on the street is that the Little Café Near Home is going to get larger. What’s cool is that the plan is to grow vertically downward. Beverages are always tastier when consumed subterranealy. This probably means tripling the size of the Little Café — there would be no point in spending so much on construction just to increase the capacity from twenty (when packed to the gills) to forty. If the Little Café has fifteen tables, rather than the current six, will it still be the Little Café?

Tonight I’m at the Budvar Bar, however, and I”m feeling bloated and slow-witted after a filling meal. It is crowded tonight. I am at the table directly under the television, as there is a game on and I don’t want to take up a seat that someone interested in the game might want. The place began to fill up quickly soon after I arrived, the tables filling first on the sides facing the television. Tonight’s match is Prague Sparta (rhymes with New York Yankees) vs. Kladno (rhyme pending) in a grass-kick-hockey (rhymes with soccer or football, depending where you live) match. This game has had relatively few cases of grown men lying on the grass pretending to be hurt (apparently an integral part of this sport), so it hasn’t been too painful to have it flashing in my peripheral vision, demanding my attention.

Directly behind me is the table where the guys play cards. The man with no nose is among them, and after this much time I must assume that he is not getting a new nose, and that he is content to wear a rectangle of gauze affixed to his face with a big X of tape forever. The guy with no larynx was here earlier, sitting at the table I prefer when things aren’t crowded. Also departed are the men who like to do shots with the matronly waitress, who may or may not be related to the owner.

(One of the Spartans just had made contact with a defender, and had the sense to make a crisp pass upfield before the agony of the violence done to him was too much and he collapsed to the turf in agony.)

All these things are going on around me, and that’s just the normal vibe for this place. No distraction at all. What is distracting me is the tattoo of the leaping tiger that the waitress who recently came on is sporting. Could it be that she’s a fan of the Liberec Bily Tigri, my favorite ice hockey (rhymes with real sport) team? She’s very pretty, so the idea is enticing.

There’s also the matter of where the tattoo is. It is a large piece, right between her shoulder blades and extending down her slender back. At times it is partially concealed by her long, blonde hair. Her nose crinkles when she smiles; I think she is secretly laughing at my resolute determination to look at her eyes rather than her breasts. She has very pretty eyes.

Looks like I’ve got me a date!

I’m not used to getting hit on. Sometimes, after a conversation that in retrospect seemed flirtatious, I’ve spoken with friends and asked, “So was she…?” only to be smacked upside the head. “Yes, you moron, she was interested in you.” These conversations occur, of course, long after the fact.

So tonight I was in the Little Café Near Home, and I had an interesting conversation with another patron whom I had met once before. We talked about all kinds of stuff. It was when he paid for my drinks and waited for me to saddle up and leave that the alarm bells went off. I reviewed our previous conversation. Plenty of things that could be misinterpreted. For instance, while we were talking I got a message about a possible gathering on Thursday. I mentioned it, and he asked if he could come along. “Sure, sure, the more the merrier,” I said.

“We’ll have to think of a story for me, to explain why I’m there,” he said. Now, sitting here, it’s obvious, although maybe tomorrow it won’t be again. I did not stop to think why he would want a cover story. A friend joining me at a gathering seemed perfectly natural. I didn’t think past that, I thought it would be fun to invent a completely fictitious background for him. It was a creative writing exercise. I ran with it. My story involved prison.

There were other questions he asked, mildly personal ones, that had I caught on I could have answered with equally innocuous but meaningful answers.

So now I’m contemplating what to tell him and how. It’s my own fault; if I had a clue I would have read the signs long before and not allowed this situation to develop. On the plus side there is the fact that I carry around me an aura of remoteness carefully crafted keep people from getting too close. It should work on anyone, I figure, as long as I remember to use it. But I am classically clueless, unable to recognize even the most obvious of come-ons. Mostly I think it’s because I can’t imagine why anyone would hit on me in the first place.

Note to all and everyone. Hints don’t work on me. I can sit in the corner and watch the subtle nuances of a conversation and tell you things the participants themselves don’t know, but make me part of the interaction and whatever observational or analytical skills I have vanish in a haze of self-delusion.

* * *

Time has passed, and now I find myself in the Budvar Bar, the closest drinkery to my house. Hockey is on, Czech Republic hosting Finland, and it’s Thursday, so the waitress has no shirt on. Old men are playing cards for money, and one of them has no nose. Generally I avoid this place on Thursdays, but, well, I know that no one will talk to me here, and right now I don’t want to talk to anyone. I have a lot of work to do. I am conspicuously the one of these things that is not like the others.

I have mentioned in the past that it is a peculiar Czech talent to turn a woman serving beer with no shirt on into an oddly unsexy event. Tonight, however, if you will allow my Y-chromosome to speak for a moment, we have the exception that proves the rule. The difference: her smile. Rare enough among waitresses throughout the land, waitresses without shirts wrap themselves instead in a wall of studied disinterest, boredom, and downright disdain. I can’t blame them. Tonight, however, the waitress has a pretty smile, and that makes all the difference. (“You’re the best”, I just heard from the table next to mine. “Thank you,” she said, blushing a little, proving it. She is much more comfortable with the arrangement than I am.)

It still bothers me when she stands in front of the hockey game, though. I haven’t seen hockey for quite some time. (Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen breasts either, but somehow boobs seem subordinate to hockey in August.) And now a little more time has passed, The Czechs beat the Fins in a shootout, the crowd (and the smoke) is thinning, the Partial People (one with no nose, one with no larynx) are playing cards, and the only topless woman who has ever tweaked my imagination has gone home early. Obviously, I did not have the same affect on her. But…

It was a good night.

We all have our sad music

As I write this, it is late at night. It’s the time of what if, the time when the demons visit, poking me with their sharp sticks. It’s the time of memory and regret. I’m listening to one of my favorite singers.

This music I only allow myself occasionally. Her voice is beautiful, haunting. When I listen to her sing, I remember her passion, her pain, and her humanity. I remember watching her perform in my home, and I think of what almost happened. In this case ‘almost’ is about the same as the chance of Earth taking a nose-dive into the sun, but there was a moment, defined by a shared joke, that we were in the same place.

I wanted to kiss her, but for all the familiarity and alcohol we were still a thousand miles apart. Better, then, this perfect memory of perfect longing, uncorrupted by the ugly truth of the next day. Better to listen now to a voice that will always say something different to me than it does to anyone else. Better to remember her scent, her laugh, her smile, and her eyes, her eyes.

Her memory of the night is probably so different it’s comical.

But what if I had kissed her?

Selling Soap – This is How Stupid I Am

Apparently, the director for this commercial is slower than most. On day two of shooting, a van came and picked me up at my house and got me to the set at 7:15. At 3:30 I still had yet to be used. I sat and read near the little space heater in the room where the food was.

Sitting near me was a pretty woman, bundled up and sitting directly in front of the heater, reading a worn, cloth-bound book. It looked like literature. As other people were called onto the set occasionally, she never budged. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat, so I figured she wasn’t in the cast, but she didn’t appear to be part of the crew, either. After a while I figured out that she was the set medic. She didn’t speak much English, and she seemed a little shy when people came to ask for cold medicine or whatnot. Occasionally something amusing would happen nearby and we would exchange a chuckle. I tried to think of some way to broach a conversation with her, when we had so few words in common.

Eventually my name was called and I limped out onto the set. My shoes had given me a blister on my heel the day before. False alarm; I limped back to the waiting room. She looked up from her book and I shrugged and rolled my eyes and she smiled. I returned to my book, wondering what I could say to her. A while later the call came again, I limped back out, false alarm, and back I went. Smiles exchanged, back to the books.

Some of you, by now, may have already caught on. Let’s review the salient points:

  • There was a pretty woman sitting a few feet away from me for hours and hours
  • She reads old books
  • I wanted to talk to her
  • She was bored
  • She was a nurse
  • I was injured
  • It is her job to help injured people

You see it? The subtle opportunity I missed? To not only talk to her, but to get some relief for my heel as it bled into my sock?

Man, I’m stupid. I wonder, now, if I would have thought to ask for help if the nurse had been a toothless old man.

Hands

I’ve been sitting at the Little Cave Near Home (typo retained), and people have been coming and going. I’m not going to explain all the interconnections (I couldn’t even if I wanted to), but there was a dude, and there was a chick. She was very pretty, blonde, here to support her girlfriend who was pissed off at her boyfriend. (By the way, if that were in czech, the pronoun ambiguity would have been automatically resolved. And I would not have been able to say ‘would have been’.)

Dude paused behind the girl’s chair. He played with her hair briefly, she didn’t complain. He made vague scratching motions at the tops of her biceps, and she didn’t respond, so he moved on. The message he gave: I want to touch you, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to give pleasure. They did not leave together.

Now me writing about the Art of Love is somewhat like George Bush on the Art of Diplomacy (and I wish we were both better at each, but let’s face it, neither of us is getting much practice), but from where I was I could tell he wanted to send her one message but instead sent the opposite. Or perhaps sent an extra message he didn’t intend.

It got me to thinking about hands. Not just the deaf and hula dancers speak with them, we all do, and, with varying degrees of skill, we give pleasure with our hands as well. Sure, you’ve got some other tools in your belt that can give great pleasure but most of those parts are greedy, more eager to be stimulated. If you want to get all analytical about it, your hands are for giving (although I once had a hand massage that was mind-expanding).

There’s a misunderstanding about hands that goes back to junior high. Did you touch it? It being the next mysterious organ on the list. Neither toucher nor touchee benefitted much except on the scorecard.

Ask Jesus. Hands are for giving, and when you touch someone you’re interested in, no matter how casually, that person should subtly know, “those hands know how to give”.

I mentioned above that he played with her hair. Perhaps better to say he kind of flapped it around, never thinking about how the nerve endings are in her scalp. Lots of nerve endings there. One of life’s simple pleasures is having someone else wash your hair. Nonetheless, and all the more frustrating, she was appreciative of the attention. Then came the vague and ineffective scratching attempts. That moment defined any relationship they hight have, and it made him the simpering bitch.

Certainly she was open to his advances, but he blew it, and he blew it in a classically czech way. I actually had my ass out of my chair to correct him before I stopped myself. He was past the part that I do so horribly – first contact – and on to my strongest suit. The fingers that type this are able to please. The best part about hands as a sexual organ is that they are the givers, and they can give pure physical pleasure that is not at all sexual. So I watched a guy tonight overcome that first threshold, stumbling into my wheelhouse and collapsing.

Alternatives off the top of my head:
anatomically knowledgeable upper back rub. Message: Ain’t no if’s and why’s or buts, I can make you feel good.
moving from the vague hair mainpulation to a fleeting scalp scratch. Message: I, also, am sensual.
a very light sweeping motion that starts high on the neck and drifts across the shoulder, lingers, and departs. Maybe.

There must be a thousand other messages to give that are less lame than the one he pulled off. I’m not trying to give anyone a formula for love. Those who know me will vouch that I am the last guy for that. I’ve been married and all, but the fact I’m not married anymore is all you need to know. There is no formula. If there was, I would have derived it by now, ’cause I think way too much already.

Wait, I lied, there is a formula for love, but I can’t write it here because you have to discover you own formula for yourself. Then you have to teach your partner, because they won’t know if you don’t guide them to the promised land. The most horrible thing you can do to your partner is expect them to understand.

Up there somewhere I was talking about hands. I’m looking at my hands now. I’m pretty happy with ’em. These fingers, once my brain overcomes the almost impossibly steep first-contact threshold, they do all right. I am perhaps unjustifiably proud of my ability to rub backs, scalps, and especially feet. Oh, yeah, I do feet. Back I do well, except, oddly, with Amz. Hers is the only back I’ve ever met where my fingers cannot automatically discover the secrets that lie there in tension. Perhaps, in that case, I am the timid one. Or maybe she’s even more messed up than I am.

Nothin’ says it can’t be both.

Body Czech, Part II

I’m at the bowling alley, in my observer’s seat high above the blacklit lanes. It’s busy right now, but one foursome has caught my eye. They are two couples—a short blonde who has without a doubt earned the title hottie is with one of those tall, dark types, while her best friend the willowy brunette is with a reasonably tall, slightly pear-shaped guy.

Blondie knows how to bowl. She works with the ball the whole way down the lane. It is pleasant to watch and I suspect she knows that. When she gets back to the table, either celebrating success or mourning failure, she is welcomed by her boyfriend and much smooching and ass-grabbing ensues. That’s not unusual in these parts, and I thought little of it until I observed, high in my crow’s nest, the behavior of the other pair.

When willowy brunette comes back from the line, she will gently touch her man’s shoulders as she slips by. When he comes back from his adventure with ball and pin, he’ll put his hand on hers where it rests on the table. They are simple acts, unconscious, not meant to prove anything, secure in the simple joy of togetherness. So if you ask me which of the two are in love, the groping, smooching, rubbing-against-each-other couple, or the couple that is simply together because there’s no other way to be, you know what I’ll answer.

Cheap Beer Place

After writing that last bit I stayed in Cheap Beer Place perhaps a bit longer than I should have. I was nursing the beers and nursing the batteries, giving me plenty of staying power, but the ol’ laptop had been in my backpack quite a while when the three guys asked if they could share my table. Things were getting crowded in my section of the bar, after I had spent the afternoon as king and sole patron. Time had passed, shifts had changed, and my favorite waitress had given way to some new guy, who was obviously a rookie.

The three guys were all right. They were younger, Slovak, and there for the dancers. I’ve never been able to figure it out. Cheap Beer Place has, on seemingly random nights, girls who dance without very much on. They do this as the rest of the bar continues its normal vibe, ignoring them completely. They’re just part of the background. I think, if I was hired to be sexy (no worries there), it would suck to be completely ignored. But that’s how it goes, there.

The lads I was with actually approached the evening with much more gusto than the average customer. When the first dancer started they all moved their chairs around for a better view. They made little effort to include me in their conversation, but that was all right with me. Striped-shirt-guy even went over and talked to the dancer for a while, joking and chatting and getting nowhere with her. The dancer did her job, however; I decided to stay for one more beer. As my refreshment arrived so did three more guys, older men, also Slovak.

The mood at the table instantly soured. Striped-shirt-guy in particular was not happy to see the newcomers. One of the new three sidled up next to him and put his arm around the young guy. They left for a while. One of the other youngsters explained to me that we were the only two heterosexuals at the table. The elder batch gave off a predatory air. It gave me the creeps.

I don’t get hit on in bars. It’s just a simple fact. Well, while I was trying to flag down rookie waiter to pay and get the hell out of there (Prosim! Prosim! Zaplatim! dammit!) and the mood at the table was swirling down the crapper, I was hit on. Hard. With no subtlety whatsoever. He wasn’t vulgar (that I could tell), but he was persistent. I tried to absorb myself watching the dancers to, you know, give a hint. I’m not sure why I thought a hint would work, since “I like girls” and “NO, NEVER, EVER” (with gestures) hadn’t seemed to get the point across.

Finally rookie came by with my bill (prices have gone up at Cheap Beer Place). I stopped on the way out and told the dancer I thought she was very pretty – not a lie at all. She smiled and thanked me, also sincerely, as she slipped out of her top. What a crazy place.