Monthly Archives: June 2015
I saw a guy on the train near Poznan , Poland ,with a shirt emblazoned with the name : CALIFORNIA . Poznan is a college town . Ada went to school there . The guy was , no doubt , a college kid , perhaps on his way home . Anyway : CALIFORNIA .
As he stood near me on the train I said : ” I’m from California ,” and got a wary blank look . I’d forgotton how people wear shirts but aren’t necessarily aware of what’s written on them . That’s certainly true in my case ; eg. hey , it was clean so I put it on .
Recently , in the San Bernardino mountains , a scruffy old man called something out to me from just behind my left shoulder . I didn’t get what he’d said and asked him to repeat . ” Swiss , Roquefort , or Calumbere ? ” he said ; and it made no sense . He read my expression and added : ” Your shirt . ” The back of my black T-shirt had large yellow block lettering : ” BIG CHEESE “. I try to avoid wearing that shirt out of the house , but this time I got caught .
My friend Phil , sitting next to me on the train , said to the CALIFORNIA shirt guy, ” Yeah , we’re from California .” Still a blank look from the kid . I don’t blame him . Not one old fart accosting him for some unknown reason , but now two old farts . Then I pointed at the word across the front of his shirt : CALIFORNIA . The first rule of international diplomacy , I immediately realized , I had just clumsily violated : Never point. He never looked down at the shirt , of course . Probably he didn’t want to take his eyes off of us . I didn’t blame him . But , we were getting nowhere .
What is that they say about assumptions ? I had assumed the guy would speak English , but evidently he didn’t . He kind of moved backwards to a seat further up the train . Phil and I looked at each other , surprised and defeated , and then settled back for the ride as the beast pulled out of the station .
My daughter-in-law once pointed at me ; stuck her finger out toward my chest and said firmly : ” You can’t say that ! ” She is a Polish woman with a degree in English , specializing in American English . She’s always on the lookout for idiom crimes . ” But I didn’t say anything this time , ” I protested .
” You’re shirt ! ” , she said .
I had on a heavy black t-shirt with a Guinness saying on the front . Something was grammatically wrong with the saying , apparently . ” You can’t say that ,” she said again . But , they had .
I’m wearing a “I Love New York” shirt today . My sisters and dear wife got it for me several years ago when the three of them flew across the land to Manhattan . I’m not at all sure that I do love New York , to be honest ——but it’s a great shirt . Light weight ; comfortable . Only once did I get a thumbs up-type passing comment. It emanated from an old guy with an east coast accent and a New York pace as he rushed along. He went away too fast for me to tell him that I didn’t really love New York . I don’t know New York .We’ve only had one date so far , and I’m not ready to commit. I once visited for a weekend , but that’s it .
I have a , by now fading , blue T-shirt that my youngest sister gave me when she lived in Florida . It says
Lewiston is a little place in southeast Florida . Great shirt ! Over the years I’ve confused hundreds of people , even thousands . Lewiston ? I see the looks . No one ever asks .
My old friend Fred Kail was the first one to point out to me the corporate takeover of the American psyche . Now , of course , it’s a world- wide phenomenon. I had bought a T-shirt that I thought was kind of cool . Back in 1972 , maybe .
I forget now what image the shirt had on it . Maybe a ” MIller’s ” beer can. Maybe something else . In those days men’s t-shirts were solid colors . Your real choice was , more or less : pocket or no pocket ? When I was a young kid I wore colorfully striped T-shirts , but the adult world has other demands and restrictions .Anyway , this shirt with the image cost me a few bucks more that the solid color shirts . ” You’re doing their advertising for them ,” Fred pointed out , ” and you’re paying them a fee on top of that to do it . ” I had to think that concept over for a minute ( because I’m a slow thinker ). He was right .
I met a guy in Poland about twenty years ago who had previously worked for two years in New York City for an old Jewish tailor . ” I warsht the stinkin’ shoits !” this young Polish guy said , in his finest American lingo —– I love New York .
I’m not one for the blog challenges , but Norm’s Door Challenge appeals to me . This will me my first entry.
This is a door I found wandering around Krakow, Poland . I was wandering around ; the door wasn’t . It’s made of sheet iron . I don’t think it would get far. Too heavy .
Okay , so Ada and I have been travelling around Poland . A couple of friends came over at the same time that we came to travel with us for a couple of weeks . We all just last night returned to Szczecin by train from Krakow . It was a nine -hour journey . Yeah , Poland is a big country .
Szczecin is Ada’a home city . It’s relatively close to Berlin and there seem to be loads of tourists from Germany coming here . Mostly old fogies ( I know ! I know ! Look who’s talking . ) , they come on buses that stop at the castle. Some of the adventurous travelers wander down to the old town for a beer and a meal . The buses stop at a spot overlooking the river for a short lecture . Everyone huddles around the tour guide .
Ada jokes that they’re being told ,” This was all ours once ” , and it all was . World War Two ended that . The Germans were moved out and Poles from the east were moved in . The border changed . There are photos of that man Adolph strutting along these same steps that overlook the river , surrounded by a pack of his uniformed thugs . I saw a “Hitlerplatz” drawn on an old Szczezin map . It’s not Hitlerplatz no more . Times change .
Anyway , I am constantly on the alert for the English language over here . It’s still rare to hear any English on the street in Szczecin . The young people now , though , study English in school ( instead of Russian ) , so a new generation has at least a basic command of the lingo . English is , I guess , the lingua-franca of recent time . Well , sorry Frenchies , it’s the lingo-Anglo , maybe . It’s the new Latin . But I digress .
Anyway , if I hear an English speaker in the city I courageously approach and engage . A few Brits show up from time to time . Last year I ran into two Manchester couples drinking beer at a sidewalk cafe . We talked a little Irish , English , Americano over a couple of Polish beers . They said they’d be back again this year , so I’ll keep an eye out for them in July . I’ll check the sidewalk beer places , keep a sharp watch .
Ada thinks , I guess , that it’s silly for me to begin conversations just ’cause I heard the native tongue . Sometimes , I’ll admit , I was fooled by Swedes . Swedes seem to speak American and look American — younger Swedes , anyway . I’m not easily tricked , but Swedes have done it . There are American accents , or tones of voice . American faces are more relaxed than European faces . And , my advice is to always check the shoes . Ada will say some guy is probably American . Not with those shoes , I say . I’m a pretty accurate judge of American or not. The exception is those Swedes .
I’ve never met an American in Szczecin , except for a few friends who have come to visit . Ada said the place is crawling with them — or something to that effect — but , well , in that case they must be good hiders . I did hear one probable American pass by last year , passing by too quickly for conversation . And then there was the preacher woman wearing a heavy-metal T-shirt and speaking with a thick southern accent. She placed herself at the fountain near the river . ” I’ve been in thirteen cities in the last fourteen days !” she shouted . ” I don’t even know where I am ! ” Not a tactful start to her revival preaching . I heard a group of young girls nearby say quietly , in polite mockery : ” Szczecin “. I avoided her . Didn’t want salvation that particular day .
Well , as it happens , more English speakers come to Warsaw , especially in the summer . Nevertheless , I heard American spoken at the Old Town by a small group of people and I , fearlessly , approached . Actually , Ada had been the one to hear the language first , and she wanted to know if I would go on over . Of course !
I made one of my generic intro statements : ” I hear American voices ” , and received blank stares for my trouble . Okay , a weird old bird like me approaches out of nowhere . Could be anybody . Best to be on guard . I get that .
” I’m from California ,” I said , trying to be informational , to relieve any anxiety . Spoke it in a conversational tone . Too late though ; the whole encounter had already begun to go south .
” I’m sorry , ” a woman said . The others stared . She stared . She said the two words sarcastically , hard , as if it were not the joke the words might have been meant to be . I made a gesture of beginning to walk away . My joke . Blank stares . I knew that I should have actually walked away right at that moment . It was only going to get worse . Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose . Hard stare from the ” I’m sorry ” gal . She must have been the leader of the bunch .
” We’re on a pilgrimage , ” she said . ” Following the steps of Pope John Paul . ”
” Oh , ” I said . ” That’s nice , ” I said . For pilgrims they were a cold unfriendly bunch , I thought . But , then again , I don’t know anything about pilgrims . Maybe pilgrims are all an unfriendly bunch . Wouldn’t seem like they would be . Should have some warmth , be welcoming to strangers , I would think . I’m thinking of some of those Canterbury Tales . Weren’t they pilgrims ? They all had tales to tell — seemed an interesting bunch . I know . I know : irrelevant !
But now I was caught in this awkward stare-down with the pilgrim master .. I was the uninvited intruder . I should have told her , I thought later , that I only came over to say hello , not to be insulted about my home state , and walked righteously away . Give them that to consider on their pope pilgrimage . This woman was probably an ex-nun , I thought later , with her cold didactic tone . I mean the worst stereotype of a nun . I wouldn’t be surprised . Who knows !
I went back to Ada and our two ( California ) friends . Ada was having trouble restraining her laughter . ” He always thinks he has to talk to Americans , ” she told our friends . ” Maybe you’ll learn your lesson , ” she told me . Ex- nun , I thought . Just my luck .
Language changes continuously . ( Not to say improves ; just changes ) .
Once upon a time, advertising copywriters could seize your attention with words like FREE and SALE and GUARANTEED OR YOUR MONEY BACK. Now they vie to see who can nudge closest to actual expletives without going full Tucker. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen “abso-booking-lutely” and “Look at the booking view!” from Booking.com, in which “booking” substitutes for “fucking”; “Ship my pants!” from supposedly family-friendly Kmart, in which “ship” sounds very much like “shit”; “half-fast Internet” from Verizon (“half-assed”—get it?); “Go fun yourself” from Toyota Europe; “Go fork yourself” from Bravo TV; and “I take a sheet in the pool” from Sheets Energy Strips (I think you can figure out the last three).
And the trend keeps trending. Here are some recent examples:
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I forgot my download cable and the battery re-charger for my camera when I packed to go to Poland this year . . I expected to forget something on our trip over the ocean . Maybe my toothbrush . Once , on a trip to Arizona , I forgot my underwear . I hadn’t expected to forget my camera stuff , of course . Now I’m stuck . Toothbrushes and underwear can be easy replaced .
I’m disappointed with myself for forgetting the camera stuff , Usually I’m better at packing the necessary things . At least , I think that I am . In fact , I’m obsessive about it , if the truth be known . I’ll bring along two or three toothbrushes , for example . I’ll have underwear from here ’til Christmas . I’ll bring along enough allergy pills to choke a horse , just in case .Things like that . But , the bad-penny universal rule seems , still , to always apply : You always forget something . [ bad penny reference : a bad penny always turns up —– if I’m remembering that expression correctly ].
When I was twenty I’d pack a toothbrush and a T-shirt , and take off for two weeks — no problem . But those days are long gone . Now I overpack . When I got to Poland this time I had way too much stuff already here . But I brought along extra this and some extra that , just in case . I could open a store with my inventory and make my beer money . As long as they don’t raise the price of a Polish pint . I wouldn’t make it long in Sweden , though , or Norway , or Denmark . In those Scandinavian countries you have to put down your life savings for a couple of beers . Why live in a place like that , I say ? Maybe it’s just me .
Anyway , now I have to borrow Ada’s camera . I can take pictures with mine as long as the battery holds out ; but it will give out one of these days . Then , I won’t be able to re-charge the battery . I also can’t download the photos without the cable . I’m lost . A charger ! A charger ! My kingdom for a charger ! [ Shakespeare reference ; charger = horse . Deeply literary , eh ? ]
I was glad to find a small bottle of single malt Swedish Scotch [ You may ask : Swedish Scotch ? and I’d say you were paying attention . I don’t get it either ] when I arrived . There it was waiting for me . Scott , who lives now in Sweden , gave it to me last year and I left it in Poland when I went back home . Airport security forces frown upon guys bringing bottles with any liquid aboard in carry-on . Besides , it’s too heavy to cart home to California . And , to be honest , I can buy good stuff in CA cheaper than I could here in Poland , anyway . Why bring it home ?
I also have here a good bottle of classy vodka that was a parting gift to me last year . And , I have a bottle of Buffalo vodka that I bought for myself , too . All waiting for me patiently the whole year right there on the kitchen shelf next to the shot glasses .
I could hole up in the apartment here near the river across the road from the park and go on one hell of a bender ! But that’s not my style . I like a sip of scotch in the evening sometimes . More rarely , a vodka ; maybe at Christmas and Easter [ C and E vodka drinker ] . But I’m a beer guy , really . I’m on the beer standard . I compare everything to the relative price of beer .I might as well have a reference point , I figure . Ever since the USA went off the gold standard the economy has been a mess , anyway . That’s what I’m told by people who
pretend to know about that kind of stuff . So why not have a standard , I say !
I was in Paris once with Ada , staying at her sister’s place near Montmarte . Her sister had a flat about the size of a San Quentin cell , or what I imagine to be the size of a San Quentin cell . There were four of us staying there for several days and I was getting serious cabin fever . A friend of theirs , a Polish artist , had a British guy visiting and Ada suggested I go visit them . The problem was that these two guys ” were drinking “. That phrase was a huge flashing neon warning not to go . ” Were drinking ” meant a several day drinking spree and I wanted no part of it nohow .
But , plans change and life is unpredictable . . The apartment wasn’t getting any larger day by day and tensions were rising just enough to tip the balance . Life is a balance , after all . How much of whatever will a person take ? What tips the balance ? Decisions ! Decisions ! So , after the tide turned and my tipping point came , I said that I’d go try to find these two guys .
Oh , man ! I found the place alright . The living room floor was completely covered with empty bottles — vodka , beer , whiskey . The Polish artist’s eyes were at half-mast and he was slurring his English into his French and Polish . I know some English , but the Polish -French interjections completely threw me . Something about going out to find ” the Polish bar “. The Englishman confirmed the plan . We were all going out to find the Polish bar in the middle of Paris .
” On one condition , ” I said . ” No driving . No cars . ” No , no , no . It was agreed —we wouldn’t be takin’ no car nowhere . Absolute ! And , so , we went . They could still walk . Just barely and using heavily lumbering unsteady gaits ; but they could walk .
The first bar we entered wasn’t the Polish bar . Had it been the Polish bar and recently changed hands ? The Polish artist mid-bender was interrogating the waiter . It was all a sort of slurred French and I wasn’t catching the drift of any of it . I don’t even know any sober French .
Oh , we were off to another place . ” The Polish bar ? ” , I asked .
” Na tak , oui , yes , of course !” — from the artist . Nothing much from the Brit . He was concentrating on getting one of his feet in front of the other , again and again . It was a struggle . We had all had a drink , of course , at the first bar ; and so again at the second , and then again in the third and the fourth . Probably a fifth , too. Well , actually , I’m quite sure that I was the only one of the three of us who hadn’t already polished off a fifth , or two , or three , that day already . But , hey ! , a guy needs a drink once in awhile on a long journey .
And then , suddenly , I knew I was drunk . I say this with no wavering because I got into the back seat of a small car somewhere along the way .The Polish artist who could hardly keep his eyelids up was driving . The Englishman was telling me about how he hates American suburbs and that they make him feel crazy . I’m not sure even now if we were still on our way to the elusive Polish bar in Paris or not .
When we were passing near the Sorbonne in the middle of a busy Paris street , suddenly a tiny police car rolled up against us from an angle with it’s siren blaring and a strobe light flashing . Five guys in leather gloves and crash helmets holding sub-machine guns jumped out . They ran around our vehicle two or three times .
I was suddenly wondering about conditions inside French jails . I didn’t have the phone number of Ada’s sister . My life was flashing before my eyes and i was reviewing everything . I was wondering how long I’d be moldering in jail before I might make bail or at least be allowed to make contact with the outside world . I was ignorant of the whole French legal system , I instantly realized , and I saw that the day’s lesson is that ignorance isn’t always bliss .
The Englishman told me to wave my passport in the air and shout that I was an American citizen . I’m not a guy who naturally would do such a thing , but the Englishman had his passport in the air and was shouting at the top of his lungs . Well , when in Rome , do as the Romans do , I thought . One last tiny display of freedom , I thought , before the curtain falls for good . The Polish artist , our drunken driver , was trying his best to use his faulty French to explain his way out of this predicament . His eyes were by now nearly completely shut .
And then this anxious squad of cops got back into their tiny car and sped off . We were left in the middle of a busy Paris street , two of us with our passports still in the air , and our fearless driver almost unable to stand or speak . ” I think we should park the car , ” I think I said . I hope I said . I hope somebody said . The rest of the night , by now , is kind of a blur . Somehow I survived .I can only figure that those cops were looking for terrorists . We weren’t . We were just a bunch of drunks in Paris . No big deal !
I hope to heaven , anyway , that I told Ada what a great idea it had been of hers for me to go visit the Polish guy . We never did find the Polish bar , by the way . Maybe next time .