The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #4

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #4
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

The little outpost sat upon a large asteroid. The large asteroid hung listlessly in a sea of smaller asteroids. The sea of asteroids was minding its own business on the fringes of the Outer Rim of The Galaxy. In contrast, the Outer Rim of The Galaxy scarcely had any business to mind. So, thought Colonel Starrkin as he and his three wingmen approached the lonely outpost sitting upon the large asteroid, this is where they’ve sent us. Not even a proper bloody planet. Not even a moon. Just a lonely little outpost in some forgotten asteroid field. He shook his head forlornly. Well, that’s politics for you.

The four spacecraft formed up to land. The Colonel’s TIE Advanced was in the lead position. The three Interceptors followed close behind. Starrkin switched on his intercom.

“Colonel Starrkin to Imperial Outpost number 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango, requesting permission to land. Over.” For a moment there was nothing but silence; then a click as a rather bored sounding voice filled his earpiece.

“Lonely Outpost to Starrkin. Bring ‘em in, chief.” The com clicked off. Colonel Starrkin waited in awkward silence. The bored voice spoke again, this time with a hint of annoyance. “Do you copy, Colonel? I said, bring ‘em in.” Underneath his flight helmet, Colonel Starrkin raised his left eyebrow.1

“Err, yes, I copied.” He paused awkwardly. “But you didn’t say ‘over,’ so I wasn’t sure you were done speaking. Over.”

“Well, you heard me click off, didn’t you?” There was no longer any boredom in the voice, just annoyance.

“I suppose I did, yes,” said the Colonel. No answer. “I’m sorry,” he said with a hint of confusion. “This is Imperial Outpost 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango, is it not? Over.”

“Well it’s certainly not Jabba the Hut’s Pleasure Palace, is it? Check your coordinates, chief. You’re in the right place.” The com clicked off again. The Colonel waited in awkward silence once more. The com clicked back on. “Ugh. OVER.”

“This guy’s a regular Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep,2” came Reg’s voice over the ship-to-ship. Starrkin ignored this remark.

“Indeed,” replied the Colonel to the space-traffic controller. “It’s just that you identified yourself as ‘Lonely Outpost.’ Over.” As he clicked off, he could swear he heard laughter in the background.

“Oh, that,” said the space-traffic controller. “Well it’s a lot easier to say ‘Lonely Outpost’ than ‘Imperial Outpost number 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango,’ innit?” This time the Colonel sighed audibly into his mouthpiece. Hearing this, the controller spoke again. “Look mate, out here we don’t say ‘over’ every time we’re done speaking. You’d best get used to it.” The Colonel noticed that the controller had yet to call him ‘sir.’ He was about to say something about this, but then thought better of it.

“Very well, Lonely Outpost,” answered the Colonel. “Beginning our approach. Over.” Colonel Starrkin considered himself to be a highly adaptable sort of fellow. But old habits die hard, as they say, and he wasn’t ready to give up his ‘over’s just yet. He waited a moment for confirmation. But when it didn’t come after a few seconds, he decided it never would. He switched on his ship-to-ship.

“Alright, gentlemen, let’s form up for landing.” He checked his scope and found that his wingmen had already anticipated his order.

“They’re a silly lot, ain’t they,” said Micky.

“I’ll say,” agreed Nick.

“Bloody provincials,” added Reg for good measure.

Colonel Starrkin would have reprimanded this sort of chatter. At least, he would have done, were he not already thinking the same thing. As the four little fighters began their approach, the sight that greeted them was something altogether new. On the asteroid was a little ramshackle structure which they took to be the Outpost proper. Beside it, scratched into the rocky surface, was a small landing strip. And lining the landing strip were two-dozen spacecraft. Nothing about this was unusual. Except, that is, for the fact that none of the ships were of Imperial make, save a single Lambda class shuttle.

“Colonel, you sure this is the right place, sir?” asked Reg.

“You heard my communication with flight control, pilot.” The Colonel didn’t want to make any definitive answers, mostly because he had no definitive answers to give at the moment. “Alright, gentlemen,” he added. “Let’s make this look good. Let’s show them how it’s done.” With that, the four little fighters executed a textbook landing that would have impressed even the most seasoned of pilots. Once safely on the ground, they hopped out of their ships and looked around. Only, the thing they were looking around for was nowhere to be seen. Specifically, nobody was there to greet them. They all four looked at each other. And though their faces were all hidden behind their flight helmets, the three wingmen knew instinctively that the Colonel was arching an eyebrow. Though which eyebrow he was arching was a matter of not a little interest to them. For they had lately begun to place bets on this matter.

With a wave his hand, the Colonel began to make his way towards the ramshackle structure. The others shrugged collectively and followed. In a moment, they were standing before the door. Nothing happened. The Colonel looked around for a buzzer or a bell. Finally, he spotted something buzzer-sized. This buzzer-sized object was, honestly, shaped exactly like Darth Vader’s helmet. Hesitantly, he pushed on it. Nothing happened. He pushed on it again. Nothing happened again. Then, after a long pause, a little video screen located just beside it lit up. In the center of the screen was an image of a man, sitting behind a desk. The right half of another man could be seen to the left the center man.

“Whozit?” asked the center man.

“Who do you bloody think it is?” asked the other man, leaning further into the picture.

“How in the salt mines of Kessel should I know?” said the first.

“Well it’s obviously the bloody Colonel what just landed,” said the second. “Who else would it be?” he added rhetorically.

“Could be the postman,” answered the first, missing the fact that the question had been rhetorical.

“The postman?!” screeched the second. “Four fighters show up requesting permission to land and you think it’s the bleedin’ postman?”

“Well, it’s just that I ordered a few videos for rental last month, and I was hoping maybe they’d finally shown up is all.”

“Nobody gives a Hut’s left tit about your bloody video rentals, Roger,” said a voice off-screen.

“Nobody bloody asked you, Tony,” yelled Roger over his shoulder. Then he turned back to face the video screen. “So are you the postman or the Colonel then?”

“Colonel Starrkin, reporting for duty,” said the Colonel as professionally as he could. The man in the screen looked disappointed.

“That’s just the way, innit?” said Roger. “You order a video and it never bloody comes, does it? I mean, what good is all this bureaucracy if you can’t even get your soddin’ videos on time? What am I even paying taxes for? Coruscant is more than happy to garnish your wages for Imperial dues, but when it comes time to serve the little guy – “ he was cut off by the second man leaning into the screen and speaking into the monitor.

“Don’t mind ‘im, mate,” said the man. “’Is girl left ‘im for a Corellian smuggler, she did, and now all ‘e’s got to look forward to are his blasted video rentals.” At this, Reg elbowed Nick in the ribs. “But what am I saying? Do come in. Come in!” And reaching over Roger, the second man pushed a button which simultaneously opened the door and shut off the video screen. The four men entered through the door and into an airlock.

The four men stood and looked at each other awkwardly as they waited for the airlock to decompress. When a large indicator light finally flashed green, they removed their flight helmets and held them in the crook of their arms liked the seasoned veterans they were. Micky was the first to speak.

“I’ve seen womprats with more sense than this lot,” he said.

“They’re like bloody jawas without the hoods,” added Nick.

“Or like tall, skinny Ewoks,” offered Reg.

Colonel Starrkin facepalmed. At that moment, the inner door shshed open. The second man from the video screen stood before them. He was wearing khaki shorts and a cotton T-shirt with his rank insignia printed near the v-neck collar.

“Sorry ‘bout all that,” he offered apologetically. “Right this way, please. The General will want to see you right away, Colonel. As for your men,” he said, gesturing in their general direction, “they’re welcome to relax in the video lounge. I’m afraid we don’t have anything current. But we do have Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep’s comedy special from the Emperor’s Silver Jubilee.” He paused. “And a couple o’ skin flicks, if that’s your fancy.” He winked at the pilots in a way that made each of them slightly uncomfortable. “Follow me.” And he walked off, not bothering to see if his new charges were actually following him. And for a moment they didn’t. But soon enough they were hurrying to catch up. After a left turn, then a right turn, and then a bit of straight, they found themselves in the space-traffic control center. Their docent gestured towards a man sitting dejectedly at a desk. “You’ve already met Roger,” he said with a roll of his eyes. Roger looked up and nodded at them, unaware, apparently, that he should have been at least somewhat embarrassed. “And that’s Tony,” he said pointing to a man in the back of the room. Tony waved, but didn’t look up.

“And who are you, corporal?” asked Colonel Starrkin.

“Oh, how thoughtless of me,” said the man. “I’m Spliff, begging your pardon, Colonel.”

“Spliff?” belched Reg. “What, were your parents hippies then?”

“Reg!” hissed Colonel Starrkin.

“Oh, it’s quite alright, sir,” said Spliff. “I get that all the time. But no, it’s short for Spliffander. Me old dad’s name was Spander, you see. And me granddad’s name was Liffim.3 So they just mashed up ‘em up for me, my parents did, and here I am. Spliffander, at your service. Bit of a portmanteau, if you will.”

“Port-man-what?” asked Micky.

“Tony, will you show the new pilots to the video lounge?” called Spliff, ignoring the question. For a moment, Tony seemed not to move. Then, grudgingly, he got out of his chair and hobbled over.

“Right this way, lads,” he said, waving them on to follow him out of the room. With that, he hobbled slowly away. Reg, Micky and Nick looked at each other before following, walking at half speed to keep pace with their lame leader. Colonel Starrkin looked after them, arching his right eyebrow briefly before self-consciously switching to his left. Noting this, Spliff offered an explanation.

“’E wasn’t always like that, you know.”

“How’s that again?” said the Colonel, trying to sound nonchalant.

“’Is leg, sir. I saw you lookin’ at ‘im,” said Spliff deferentially. “What ‘appened was, ‘e was stationed at the base what the rebels stole the first Death Star plans from. ‘Ad his leg shot out from under ‘im, ‘e did. Tell ya what, though. ‘E killed many Bothans on that day. A real hero of the Empire, ‘e is, and there’ ain’t no mistake.”

“Indeed,” was all Colonel Starrkin could think to say.

“Yes, well.” Spliff was overtly disappointed that the Colonel was not more impressed by this. “Right then. The General will be wantin’ to see you, sir.” He turned and started to walk out of the room. “If you’ll follow me, sir,” he called over his shoulder. And so, Colonel Starrkin followed him out of the room, off to meet The General.

Tune in to the next installment of The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)
Wherein the Colonel meets The General…

  1. He’d been practicing with his left lately. The reason for this being that he had begun to feel his right eyebrow was outpacing the left in strength, due to all the recent archings he’d put it through, and he’d begun to feel a tad bit worried that it was giving his face a bit of a lopsided look. []
  2. Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep was a well known Imperial stand-up comedian. In fact, his videos were the most highly rented throughout the galaxy. []
  3. Spander and Liffim: Two very Star Warsy sounding names, if I do say so myself. [Author’s note] []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #3

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #3
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

Colonel Starrkin was trying to keep his composure as he stood before his men in Break Room 24 of the Forward Starboard Quarter1 of the Imperial Star Destroyer Triplicate. He had just got done explaining his promotion and their re-assignment to the Outer Rim. The men were staring at him with a collective look that stood somewhere between confusion as to why their “reward” was to be shipped out to the Great Galactic Backwater and annoyance as to why they should be having this meeting in Break Room 24, when everybody knew that Break Room 17 had the better view and the only frozen yogurt machine that could be relied upon to function with anything approaching regularity.

Reg was the first to speak. “Sir, now that you’re a Colonel and all – and congratulations on that, by the way, sir – well, the men and I were wondering, sir. Can’t you pull some strings and get us some time in Break Room 17, sir? It’s just that, well, sir, Mick and I, we was really wanting some frozen yogurt. And I know the timing is terrible, sir, what with the death of the Emperor and the Death Star going all up in ashes. But, you see, sir, a bit of fro-yo would soften the blow, so to speak.” Colonel Starrkin returned an icy stare. Reg frowned, but soldiered on. “Sir, if it’s about Nick being lactose intolerant, well, ‘e already said ‘e didn’t mind, sir. Says ‘e wouldn’t feel left out. Says ‘e’s watching his weight, ‘e is.”

“That’s right, sir,” chimed in Nick. “It don’t bother me none. Way I see it, I reckon Reg and Micky deserve a bit of comfort food, sir. After all, sir, we may not find any frozen yogurt once we get out to the Rim, sir. And as for me, sir. Well, it’s just as Reg says. I’m watching me weight.” He patted his belly. “Or, at least, I’s trying to, sir.” Colonel Starrkin pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed sharply.

“Gentlemen, I fear that you fail to perceive the gravity of the situation.”

“Or was that the captain of the Executor, who parked his ship in the gravity well of the Death Star!?” Micky slapped his knee as he guffawed at his own joke. Reg and Nick registered their approval slappingly upon his shoulders. Colonel Starrkin, however, was not laughing. Micky looked up, slightly embarrassed. “Too soon?” he asked meekly? The Colonel shook his head in silent disapproval. The three pilots shook off their laughter and sat at attention.

“Now then,” said Colonel Starrkin. “As pilots, your service has been exemplary. In this most recent battle, my five kills earned me a promotion. Thus, since as a wing, we produced nine kills, it seems to me that you all deserve promotions as well. It is with great pleasure, then, that I raise you three men to the rank of Lieutenant.” There was stunned silence. “Are there any questions?” Micky tentatively raised his hand. “Yes, Micky?”

“Sir, does this mean we’re now eligible for vision, sir?”

“Excuse me?” The Colonel was a bit confused.

“Insurance, sir,” clarified Micky. “Now that we’re Lieutenants, are we eligible for vision insurance? Glasses and all that, I mean, sir.”

“What a ridiculous question!” cried out Reg. “You’re a pilot. You’ve got bloody 20/20, haven’t you? What on Coruscant do you need vision insurance for?”

“Well, sure, I’ve got 20/20 now,” said Micky defiantly. “But what about down the line? Your eyes get worse with age, don’t they? I mean, maybe I’ll need glasses ten years from now.”

“Not bloody likely, that,” came back Reg. “You’re genetically engineered, mate.”

“You want to put your stock in Imperial engineering then?” asked Nick. “I mean, just look at the bloody Death Star. Or should I say, Death Stars?”

“You mean Dead Stars,” called out Micky.

“Too soon!” cried Reg. “Too soon, mate.” And Reg shook his head in disapproval.

“Gentlemen, please,” moaned Colonel Starrkin, thinking that if he had an Imperial nickel for every time he’d had to say ‘gentlemen, please’ he could have retired to a small Bespinian cloud-farm years ago.

“Sorry, sir,” groaned the three men in unison.

“Thank you. Now, are there any other questions?” asked Colonel Starrkin. And just as a Mon Calamari admiral almost immediately regrets bringing his fleet out of hyperspace, when the enemy is nowhere to be seen and an unfinished Death Star hangs over an idyllic forest moon in the springtime when the flies swarm around the Ewok dung-heaps, so too did the Colonel almost immediately regret bringing those interrogative words out of his mouth, in the stillness of the Break Room when not even the hum of a working frozen-yogurt machine may be heard. Nick raised his hand. The Colonel braced himself. “Yes, Nick?”

“Sir, what about dental, sir?” He seemed, for the moment, a bit chastened. “Do we get dental insurance with our new ranks, sir?” Colonel Starrkin tried to look out of the window, but found his view blocked by turbo-laser battery. And so he stared at the battery for long moment, studying its features. He wondered what his life would have been like if he were just a simple anti-spacecraft gunner’s mate. But deep down in his soul, he knew the truth. Anti-spacecraft gunners’ mates weren’t eligible for vision or dental, and they certainly weren’t eligible for riding pants. No, he concluded. He could never have been anything other than what he was. And what he was was a –

“Well, sir?” Nick’s question brought him abruptly back to Break Room 24. Colonel Starrkin looked at his three men and smiled.

“Yes,” he said pleasantly. “Vision and dental both.”

“Bullocks,” muttered Nick.

“Bullocks?” repeated Reg. “Why in a bantha’s balls did you ask, if you don’t even want it?” Reg was astounded.

“It’s to do with the Mrs., I expect,” whispered Micky.

“The ex-Mrs.,” corrected Nick. “She’s still on my plan, mate. If I get dental, that means she’s covered too. And I’d just as soon see her rotten teeth fall out of her stupid whore mouth.” With reddening cheeks, he looked up at his commanding officer. “Begging your pardon, sir,” he added softly. The Colonel, who was not accustomed to meddling in the personal affairs of his men, looked thoroughly confused. Reg, upon seeing this, offered an explanation.

“Left ‘im for a Corellian smuggler, she did,” he said gently. “And after all ‘e’s done for ‘er, too.” He sighed. “It ain’t right, sir.” Colonel Starrkin caught himself playing with the flares of his riding pants, trying to hide his embarrassment. He tried to gather his thoughts.

“Well,” he said slowly. “I don’t want to give you wrong information, Nick. But I believe you don’t have to accept the dental plan. Still, I suggest you see HR2 about it.” At this answer, Micky whistled in dismay.

“You’d better get down there right now, mate,” said Reg. “It’ll take weeks to get through all the paperwork. And by then, she could have all new teeth. And a spare set too.” Nick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he raised his hand again. Colonel Starrkin nodded to him.

“Sir, may I please be excused, sir?” The Colonel nodded again. And with that, Nick bolted out of the room and headed straight for HR.3 The Colonel threw one last longing glance at the turbo-laser battery. Turning once more to his two remaining men, he spoke.

“Now then. Are there any other questions?” Reg and Micky both raised their hands. “That don’t have to do with your benefit packages?” Reg lowered his hand. “Or Break Room privileges?” Micky lowered his hand. “Very good.” The Colonel was just about to adjourn the meeting when the Break Room door shshed open. In walked the Secretary carrying a pizza box, which he placed fastidiously in the very center of the Break Room table. The Colonel arched an eyebrow while Reg and Micky looked on with a mixture of disdain and hunger.

Ceremoniously, the Secretary opened the box. Instead of one little, round plastic table in the center of the pie, each slice had its very own little, round plastic table nestled just in front of the crust. “Gentlemen,” said the Secretary regally, “the Admiral sends his compliments.” Colonel Starrkin arched his other eyebrow, giving his usual eyebrow a bit of a much-needed break.

“Thank you, Secretary,” he said with a hint of disdain. “But what’s with all the little, round plastic tables. Seems a very un-Admiral-like waste of resources.”

“Oh, that?” The Secretary smiled proudly, glad that anyone had noticed. “The Admiral fancies that they make each slice look like little Star Destroyers.”

  1. This Star Destroyer was fitted with 30 Break Rooms per Quarter. There were, counterintuitively, 16 Quarters on the ship; four quarters per Quarter, as it were. Thus were there a grand total of 480 break rooms on the IS Triplicate. The name, of course, was an homage to the Imperial bureaucracy which the Admiral loved so well. []
  2. HR took up the entire Port-Aft-Quarter of the ship. From the Admiral’s point of view, no amount of space was too much space to dedicate to the glorious bureaucratic machinery of his ship’s HR department. []
  3. He arrived 2.5 hours later. It was only a matter of minutes by turbo-lift. Unfortunately, the turbo-lift was down at the moment. Fortunately, the Secretary had filed the paperwork for repairs as soon as he learned of the malfunction. This meant that repairs would begin as early as next month. []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #2

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #2
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

Major Starrkin sat in the anteroom of the Admiral’s Secretary’s office, which was itself an anteroom to the Admiral’s own office, which was itself little more than an anteroom to the Admiral’s private squash courts. The fact that the Admiral had a private squash court1 aboard his active duty battleship, some felt, spoke to the decadence and deterioration of the Empire. None of the people who felt this way, it is worth noting, happened to hold positions of power within the Empire. Thus were their critiques rounded down to sour grapes and tiny violins.

For his part, Major Starrkin reserved judgment. The critiques were not without merit, he reasoned. But on the other hand, what good was having a Galactic Empire if it didn’t come with perks such as private squash courts, Twi’lek masseuses and free video rental privileges. Against this last indulgence, Rebel propaganda asked why, if the Empire was so great, were they still using an outdated video rental system? Should they not just make streaming video freely available to all citizens? Surely the burdensome2 tax structure imposed by the Empire would more than cover the cost of such a simple service. As it happened, however, Major Starrkin didn’t read Rebel propaganda. Though had he done so, he likely would have reasoned that you can’t have private squash courts on Star Destroyers and free galaxy-wide streaming video and still have enough left over to crush a nattering rebellion. Some people, he would have thought, always want to have their cake and eat it too.

“The Secretary will see you now,” said the Secretarial Ante-Room Matron in a rather nasal and condescending tone of voice. Major Starrkin stood up and pressed the pleats of his uniform, accentuating the flairs of his riding pants. He was very proud of those pants, actually. Throughout the Empire, riding pants were seen as a sign of respect. Horses, on the other hand, were rarely seen. Form, in this case, had apparently outlived function.3

The Major strode proudly into the Secretary’s office. Although he had borne personal witness to the destruction of the Second Death Star,4 he still carried himself as an officer and a gentleman. It was a bad day for the Empire, to be sure. But Major Starrkin was ready for the next battle.

“Please have a seat,” said the Secretary without looking up from his video display. Major Starrkin took a seat. As he waited patiently, he heard a soft whirring sound emanating from the Secretary’s desk. The Secretary himself was still staring intently at his monitor. “Sorry, Major,” he said vaguely. “I’ll just be a moment.” More whirring. The Major sat ramrod straight. At last, the whirring stopped. A smile of simple satisfaction passed over the Secretary’s face. “At last,” he said, almost to himself. Then he pressed a button on his desk, which ejected a videocassette into his waiting hand. Gently, he placed the cassette squarely and neatly on top of a pile of other videocassettes. Finally, the Secretary stood and turned to face Major Starrkin. He wore a slightly apologetic smile.

“Sorry about that, Major. But the Admiral insists that all of his videos be rewound before being returned to Central Library. ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a red Imperial cent in rewind fees,’ he always says. ‘I run a tight ship,’ he always says. And you’d do well to take note of that, Major. That sort of attention to detail may well land you a command of your own one day.” It was clear that the Secretary considered himself quite lucky to be working under one of the more clever commanders in the fleet.

“I shall keep that in mind, sir.” Major Starrkin tried to sound both impressed and grateful, or gratepressed as it was called in OCS. The Secretary seemed pleased by this.

“Now then,” said the Secretary, picking up the Major’s after-action report. “Someone had a good day yesterday, didn’t they?” He was smiling. Major Starrkin was trying to figure out why.

“With all due respect sir, I don’t think anything about yesterday was particularly good.” This time he tried to sound grateful with a tinge of deferential confusion, or gratedefcon as it was called in OCS. As the words left his mouth, the Major briefly wondered at the resources that must have gone in to creating such a byzantine system of nuanced interlocution. And as the words reached the Secretary’s ears, he himself was awed by the attention to detail that went in to crafting such a nuanced system of Byzantine interlocution.

“Hmm? No, no of course not. Death of the Emperor and all that. Tragic, really. Still though, he had a good run. And between you and me, Major, the Old Man wasn’t going to live forever, was he?”

“No, sir. He did sir. I don’t imagine he would have sir.” Major Starrkin tried to sound as deferentially polite as he could, though the Secretary found his tone not nearly obsequious enough. The Major was quick to pick up on this, however, and quickly added an afterthought. “Still though, sir. Terrible about the Death Star. Tragic loss of life, sir, if I do say so.”

“Hmm?” The Secretary arched an eyebrow. “Ah, yes. Tragic loss of life. Quite right, Major. And yet, I’ve said all along these Death Stars are a waste of resources. Force willing, we’ve seen the last of them.” Now it was the Major who arched an eyebrow.

“But surely, sir, they provided an element of fear throughout the Empire. And is it not fear that keeps that local systems in line?” The Major was arguing from doctrine while sounding deferentially confused,5 which was the only permissible way to question a superior.

“I see you’ve studied your Moff Tarkin…Major Starrkin.” The Secretary grinned at his play on words. The Major coughed, slightly. “Yes, well. The truth is, Major, that way of thinking has simply gone out of style. Unlike our fine riding pants, which I pray never will.” He looked at the Major for approval. The Major nodded. “No, it is not fear that keeps the local systems in line,” continued the Secretary. “It is bureaucracy. Ponderous, opaque, world-crushing bureaucracy, plain and simple. There is no greater…force…in the universe.” He smiled proudly at his pun. The Major twitched the left corner of his mouth slightly upwards. The Secretary walked out from behind his desk and stood face to face with his subordinate.

“You’re a pilot. And a damned fine one,” said the Secretary. “Tell me something, Major. How long does it take to bring an Imperial Star Destroyer, traveling at full impulse speed, to a dead stop?” The Major looked momentarily confused by this line of inquiry.

“Well, sir,” he said slowly. “That depends on a number of variables, from gravimetric anomalies, atmospheric conditions (if applicable), state of overall repair of said ship, spatial density – “

“A perfectly tuned Star Destroyer in a total vacuum. How long, Major?”

“Twenty-seven minutes, sir.”

“Twenty-seven minutes. Very good, Major. And that’s just for one ship. A single Star Destroyer. Now imagine that that Star Destroyer is a galaxy-wide, barely competently run, Byzantine bureaucracy. How long would it take to bring it to a total standstill?”

“I’m sure I have no idea, sir.”

“Generations, Major. Generations.” At this last word, the Secretary stomped his foot smartly against the plushly carpeted deck-plating. “You see, the very incompetence for which the Rebels incessantly lambast us is, in actuality, our single greatest strength. It doesn’t know how to stop. It couldn’t stop if it wanted to. To put it in terms you, as a pilot, will understand, Major, it is inertia, pure and simple. Emperors come and go. Death Stars are built and destroyed. But bureaucracy, Major. That is forever.”

“Yes, sir,” defconned Major Starrkin. “I suppose I never thought of it that way, sir.”

“No, I don’t suppose you have, Major,” said the Secretary with a tinge of pity. “They teach you a lot of things in flight school, and still more in OCS. But if you want to have a future in this Empire, Major, you’d do well to take a course in political theory.”

“I shall make every effort, sir,” said Major Starrkin defingenuously.6

“See that you do, Major. See that you do.” Before he could say anything else, the Secretary was distracted by a flashing red light on his desk. “Ah! The Admiral will see you now.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the Major as he made his way to the Admiral’s office.

The Admiral’s office was full of all sorts of treasures from all sorts of worlds. Every inch of countertop was covered with some or other trinket, no doubt pillaged in the course of his Imperial duties. A full catalog of these could be found in the ShipLibrary. But the most conspicuous of all was a stuffed Ewok sitting atop a beanbag chair in the shape of the Sith Lord Darth Anakin Skywalker Vader’s helmet.7 The Admiral’s office was, however, conspicuously lacking in one very important detail. And that was the Admiral himself. With nothing else to do, Major Starrkin stood at attention and waited in the uncomfortable stare of that freshly stuffed Ewok.

After a few minutes, the back door to the office shshed open, through which the Admiral made a grand entrance from his private squash courts. The Major snapped off a salute. The Admiral looked momentarily confused before returning the salute. Major Starrkin had never personally met the Admiral before, and so had no idea what to expect. The sight which greeted him was breathtaking.

The Admiral stood there, glorying in his squash shorts8 and polo tunic, sweat dripping from his luxuriously quaffed hair. He eyed the Major, and smiled.

“Major Thtarrkin, I prethume?” The Admiral had a pronounced lisp. It was impossible to know, however, if this lisp was a natural defect or a polished affectation. Lisps had become quite fashionable of late in the Imperial Court, and it was not uncommon to find high-ranking officers with political aspirations developing finely crafted lisps of their own these days.

“Yes, sir.” Major Starrkin had no political aspirations.

“Very good. Do pleathe have a theat.” The Admiral gestured to a luxurious chair, draped with a Wookie hide, before his desk.

“Thank you, sir,” said the Major with utter deference as he sat himself down. The Admiral, however, remained standing, arms akimbo.

“What do you think of my thquath thortth?” asked the Admiral with a slight twist of his hips. “I had them thpethially made, you know.”

“I have never seen their equal, sir,” defconned the Major. This, at least, was true.

“Are you a thquath man, Major? I could have a pair made up for you, you know.”

“I’m afraid I’ve never squashed myself, sir, no. But thank you, sir.”

“Pity, that.” The Admiral paused, as though he were in deep thought. “Now. What wath it you wanted to thee me about?”

“Sir?” Major Starrkin was confused. “I was told to report to you, sir.”

“Tho you were! Tho you were.” It was all coming back to him. “You had quite a day yesterday, Major. Quite a day!”

“I suppose, sir.” The Major was in full defcon mode now. “Still though, sir. Dark day for the Empire.”

“How’th that again, Major?” The Admiral seemed not at all to understand.

“With all due respect, sir, we lost his Majesty the Emperor, Lord Vader and the Death Star yesterday.”

“Yeth, pity, that.” The Admiral tugged at the flares of his squash shorts. “Thtill though, Major, you mutht admit. It didn’t put a dent into the bureaucrathy. And bureaucrathy ith the thing, Major! The very thing! We shall live to fight another day!”

“Indeed, sir.” This time Major Starrkin hit a higher note of obsequiousness, if only to avoid the need for further comment.

“Yeth, well. That ith the very thing I wished to talk with you about, Major. The very thing.” The Admiral tugged at the belt of his polo tunic. “But firtht, tell me thomething, Major. Do you watch videoth?”

“I’m afraid I hardly have the time, sir.”

“No, I thuppothe not. But maybe you will one day. And if you do, Major, a word to the withe. Alwayth rewind. We here at the Empire have the motht advancthed bureaucrathy in the hithtory of the galacthy. And if you don’t rewind, Major, they will find you. And trutht me, Major. That ith a late fee you do not want to pay.”

“I shall keep that in mind, sir. Thank you, sir.” So pleased was the Admiral at the Major’s display of obsequiousness that he gave the flares of his squash shorts an outright tug. The Major blinked the longest blink he dared blink. “Sir, what was it you wished to see me about, sir?”

“Ah, yeth.” The Admiral sat down behind his desk, satisfied that he had thoroughly impressed his audience with the magnificence of his wardrobe. “I have rethently had the pleasure of having had your after-action report read to me.”

“Read to you, sir?” This day was testing Major Starrkin’s defconning abilities.

“Oh yeth, Major. I alwayth have them read to me thethe dayth.” The Admiral seemed oddly proud of this fact. The reason for his pride was soon made clear. “I uthed to read them mythelf, you know. But they’re jutht too depreththing.” He smiled in a way that seemed wholly inappropriate. “But now, I have them read to me while I thqauth. Much eathier to take bad newth on the courtth, you know.”

“I suppose it would be, sir.”

“Anyway, Major, your report was tho ecthraordinary, I nearly miththed my shot!”

“Thank you, sir.”

“For what?” The Admiral was entirely confused.

“Nothing, sir. Sorry, sir. Please go on, sir,” said the Major.

“About what?” Too many videos, thought the Major, were not good for one’s attention span.

“My after-action report, sir.”

“Your after action report?” The Admiral stood up and fiddled with his belt buckle in an effort to hide his confusion. “Do you know thith belt buckle wath a gift from the Emperor’th thecond couthin’th third wife’th daughter? We uthed to date, actually. It theemed like a good political move at the time. Thadly, she never quite mathtered her lithp, tho I had to break it off. But she wath a thweet girl, tho I kept the buckle. Nithe, don’t you think, Major?”

“Very, sir.” Major Starrkin coughed slightly. “Sir, I was told you wanted to see me about my after-action report?”

“Tho I did! Tho I did.” The Admiral rummaged around his desk and pulled out a copy of the report. He handed it across to Major Starrkin and asked him to read the kill-summary. The Major had a sneaking suspicion that the Admiral could not, in fact, read.

“Five kills, sir.”

“Five killth,” repeated the Admiral. “Very good! Very good indeed.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Well, that’th jutht the thing, Major.” The Admiral was frowning now. In fact, his displeasure was getting the best of him. So much so, in fact, that he forgot his lisp. “You see, it’s almost too good. With all the losses we suffered yesterday, your success stands out like a sore thumb. Indeed, one might even think you were enjoying yourself out there; on the very day during which we lost not only the Death Star, not only Lord Vader, not only the Executor, but His Majesty the Emperor himself already.”

“I assure you, sir,” cut in the Major in a gross breech of etiquette, “I did not enjoy it in the least.”

“No,” frowned the Admiral. “I’m sure you didn’t. Still, we must keep up appearances. Do you realize what it looks like for you to score five whole kills on a day of such tragic loss for the Empire? Do you know what that does to morale?”

“But, sir.” Major Starrkin could not believe what he was hearing. “With all due respect, sir. I scored all five of my kills before we lost the Executor, let alone the Death Star or His Majesty the Emperor.”

“And that’s lucky for you, Major.” And then, inexplicably, the Admiral smiled. He was in control again, of his emotions and his lisp. “Or should I thay…Colonel?”

“Sir?” This time there was no deference. Just confusion.

“For your actth of valor, for your conthpicuouth bravery, and for your thervithe to the Empire, I hereby promote you to the rank of Colonel, with all rank and privilegeth pertaining thereto.” Major Starrkin was speechless. The Admiral continued. “Of courthe, it won’t do any good to have you here, around the troopth. And more to the point, Colonel, I can’t have you around me. I’m on the fatht track to the Imperial Court, you know. And thuctheth thuch ath yourth would dim my thtar, tho to thpeak. That ith why I mutht, I’m afraid, tranthfer you and your wing, to the Outer Rim.”

“But, sir!” interjected the newly minted Colonel, after an appropriately long pause which he used to parse the Admiral’s lisp.

“Now, now, Colonel. No need to thank me. Indeed, it ith I who thankth you!” The Admiral tugged at the flares of his squash shorts again. “The Thecretary will have your orderth for you on the way out.” The Colonel stood for a moment in stunned silence. He had no more words for the Admiral.9 Whereupon did Major Starrkin salute and turn sharply on his heels to go. But as the door shshed open before him, the Admiral called to him one last time. “Oh, and Colonel! Do let me know if you would like a pair of thquath shortth! It’th the leatht I can do…for a hero of the Empire.”

Colonel Starrkin nodded, his back still turned to the Admrial, and left. The Secretary was waiting for him as he entered the room. “Your orders, Colenel,” he said with a smile as he handed him a sheaf of papers. Starrkin took them silently in his hand, hoping to leave without any further discussion. But the Secretary didn’t let go of them, and he met the Colonel’s eye.

“Can I ask you something, sir?” The Secretary hung on the word sir. “I suppose I have to call you sir now, don’t I, sir.” Starrkin nodded. “Sir, I was just wondering.” He seemed to hesitate.

“Yes, Secretary?”

“Did the Admiral offer you a pair of squash shorts?”

Colonel Starrkin sighed loudly, no longer needing to genuflect before a subordinate officer. With that, he wrenched his orders from the Secretary’s hand and left the office without another word. As the doors shshed closed behind him, the Secretary muttered to himself. “Bloody upstarts.”

  1. Two, actually. []
  2. “Crushing” was actually the word used in Rebel e-leaflets. []
  3. This was another criticism lobbed at the Empire by Rebel propaganda. “The Empire: As Useless as Riding Pants” went the slogan. Where one stood on (or perhaps in) riding pants often determined one’s politics. []
  4. Already being referred to by the lower ranks as “the Dead Star.” []
  5. Defconargudoct being the official term for this. []
  6. With deferential disingenuousness. []
  7. The fact that Ewoks had only just lately triumphed over Lord Vader was an irony not entirely lost on Major Starrkin. []
  8. These squash shorts were little more than riding pants which had been cut off at the knee. []
  9. In the Imperial fleet, this was known as the Quiet Insult, or the quietsult. []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #1

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish1 Kinda Thing23
Mostly for Dale

The mottled space-Snuggy of blue and white receded into a quilt of shining stars as the almost farcically large Imperial Star Destroyer dropped out of hyperspace. If the crew stationed on the port side of the ship had been permitted the luxury of looking out of their windows, they would have seen the nearly completed Second Death Star hanging ominously in space, like the ruins of some ancient spherical, and let’s be honest, really quite evil and nefarious, temple, upon which the savages of time seemed to be working in reverse.

In the event, they were not actually allowed to look out of their windows. For had they done so, they might have felt a twinge of awe. And awe, in the Empire, was an emotion specifically and legally reserved only for His Majesty the Emperor; and to a legally prescribed slightly lesser extent, His Lordship and Second Sith Darth Anakin Skywalker Vader. That was his official title, anyway. Among the troops, he was lately being referred to – albeit rather furtively – as Black Daddy Sith. This epithet had only lately replaced the now little used Force Lord Robo-Pop.4

As the massive ship took up its position, a wing of TIE Interceptors emerged from its starboard launch bay. The little ships buzzed and whizzed and zoomed their way into formation, despite the fact that such onomatopoetic sounds should hardly be possible in space, above the forest moon of Endor.

Major Starrkin, the group leader, clicked on his intercom:
“Here we are, gentlemen. The forest moon of Endor.”
“Forest Moon of Endor. Does nobody else have a problem with that?” came the reply.
“How do you mean?” came a third voice.
“Well, just, what is it with all of these worlds of homogeneous geography? Forest Moon of Endor; Swamp World of Dagobah; Desert Planet of Tatooine; Ice World of – “
Major Starrkin cut in. “This is hardly the time, gentlemen.”
“But Major,” came the third voice. “I reckon Reg has a point here. I mean, surely it goes against everything we know about astrogeography, to say nothing of the laws of physics.”
“Thank you, Nick.” Reg again. “I mean, of course you would expect to find jungles and forests in the more temperate regions of Kashyyk, but all the way up to the poles? It strains credulity.”
“To say nothing of the Cloud Planet of Bespin,” came a fourth voice. “I mean, what’s even under all those clouds? Is it just clouds all the way down?”
“I never even thought of that one, Micky,” answered Reg. “That’s a right good question.”
“Tell you one planet that was normal, was Alderaan,” said Nick. “But we eighty-sixed that one, didn’t we? I mean, makes you wonder doesn’t it? Was that really a political move, or were they snuffed out merely for their conformity to the laws of astrogeography?”
“Ooh, that’s a bit conspiratorial, even for me,” said Reg. “Still though, I wouldn’t put it past Force Lord Robo-pop.”
“I thought we were calling him Black Daddy Sith now,” added Micky.
“Gentlemen, please!” Major Starrkin was getting annoyed. It wasn’t that he minded his men’s idle chatter. Indeed he thought it was good for morale. But Space Traffic Control would be monitoring their frequency, and this sort of discourse would make for an uncomfortable debriefing. If they survived the battle.

Major Starrkin waited. Static greeted him over the intercom. “Thank you.” He checked his instruments. “Right. Now the rebel fleet is expected to show up in twelve minutes time, just above the Forest Mo-…just above Endor. Let’s look sharp!”

The fighter wing joined up with two others and now presented themselves as a mean little ensemble, ready to tango. Or at least salsa. And this they did with aplomb. In the course of the ensuing battle, our band of fighter pilots accounted for nine rebel kills, five of which went to Major Starrkin himself.

It happened, however, that there was an unfortunate inverse relationship between fuel-supply and battle-duration. And so it was that the Major gathered up his merry band of wingmen and headed for the mother-ship, there to top-up their tanks. It was then that the unthinkable happened. Reg was the first to notice.

“Major,” he called. “I think the Executor is on fire.” Starrkin looked for himself. Sure enough, the Executor – Super Star Destroyer, flagship of the fleet – was definitely on fire. What’s more, it seemed to be caught in the gravity well of the Death Star, it’s nose sinking precipitously towards the surface of the space station. Stunned static reigned over the intercom.

The men watched as the actually farcically large battleship descended slowly to its doom. As the craft made contact with the killer orb, one explosion after another cascaded up its hull, engulfing it in flame as the oxygen of its life support systems burned itself out in a blaze of glory. In less than a minute, there was nothing to see but a giant crater on the surface of the Glory of The Empire.

Micky was the first to speak. “It’s all so…senseless.”
“This bloody war,” answered Major Starrkin. “The loss of life. Yes, so senseless.”
“Well, yeah, that,” replied Micky.
“I don’t think that’s what he meant, Major,” said Reg. “Go on, Mick.” Micky was only too happy to oblige.
“Well, it’s just bad tactics, innit? I mean, a ship that size. And the flagship of the fleet, no less. What’s it doing anywhere near the Death Star’s gravity well?”
“I reckon you’re right, Mick.” Reg was working it out as he spoke. “I mean, the damage to the ship was hardly fatal, even if the engines had been knocked out, which, I think we can assume was the case, based on what we’ve just seen.”
“Exactly my point, Reg,” said Micky triumphantly. “Way I see it, had she been outside the gravity well – i.e. where she should have been – she would have been dead in the water, sure. But we could have formed up several star destroyers around her in a protective convoy. Then we would have had a chance at saving her.”
“It’s all down to politics.” This was Nick. “It’s a well known fact that Lord Vader has purged the best officers, and usually for no better reason than they didn’t take The Force seriously. So now you’ve got a bunch of mediocrities in charge, and they clearly don’t know the first thing about spatial dynamics. And now look where it’s got us.”
“There he goes again,” called Reg. “Nick and his conspiracy theories.”
“Well how else do you explain it?” Asked Nick plaintively.
“It’s very simple,” said Reg professorially. “After the first Death Star debacle – and I think we can all agree that’s exactly what that was – High Command didn’t want to take any chances. They knew the Rebs would be looking for a way in with their little sports cars all over again. They simply wanted to cover the new Death Star with as much firepower as possible, so as to prevent a repeat of last – “
“Umm, you guys,” cut in Mick.

They all looked up. Small fires were breaking out all over the Death Star. The space station seemed to shudder and heave in its orbit. The battle stood still around them. You could have heard a pin drop. Or at least, you could have had the Empire kept up its intercom contract with Sprint. As it was, all you could hear was cold static. And then, the Voice of Reason. The Voice of Reason was called Reg.

“Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Probably just a coincidental occurrence of crashing ships, isolated fire-control failures, and a tactical adjustment of the inertial dampeners.” He paused. “The only other explanation, of course, would be a complete failure of the reactor core. But the odds of that – “

Nobody heard the end of that sentence. For just at that moment, the intercoms went dead it the wake of a massive electro-magnetic pulse. This however, was secondary to the blinding flash of light which accompanied said EM pulse. And this blinding flash of light was itself secondary to the mammoth, titanic, gargantuan explosion which was the cause of said blinding flash. It hardly needs to be said that said explosion was Death Star II doing its best impersonation of Death Star I. As impersonations go, this was somewhere between Dana Carvey as George Bush and Larry David as Bernie Sanders. Which is to say, quite good, but not nearly as funny as it could have been.

“Umm, you guys.” The intercom system had been reset. Mick’s brain, not so much.
“Wasn’t the Emperor in there?” called Reg. They all knew that he was.
“And wasn’t Black Daddy Sith on there too?” asked Mick after a pause.
“No, he was on Endor, I think,” answered Reg.
“No, he was definitely on there,” declared Nick.
“And how do you know?” asked Reg.
“My cousin Ralph is mates with Vader’s shuttle pilot,” said Nick coolly. “He texted me just after we launched that he was taking “BDS and that Skywalker punk” up to see “The Old Man.”
“Well I’m just glad Skywalker went with it,” added Micky, sounding still a bit stunned.
“Is that the same cousin Ralph who caught the clap from that Twi’lek dancer on Ord Mantell?” needled Reg.
“He’s a damn fine pilot!” shot back Nick.
“Not if the way he treats his joy-stick is any indication,” chided Reg.
“That’s enough!” cut in Major Starrkin. “This is a dark day for the Empire. And that’s to say nothing of how many brave men have just lost their lives to this senseless rebellion. I’m ordering you to cut the chatter.” He glanced down at his display. “I’ve just received orders from Base-ship. We’re to dock immediately. And then we’re getting the hell out of here.”

“Aye-eye, Major,” answered the three wingmen professionally. But as they made their way home, the sound of two hands slowly clapping drifted over the intercom. Reg, apparently, did not feel that this last insult constituted “chatter.”

Tune in next time for the continued adventures of
Col. Starrkin (ret.)

  1. Star Wars fans tend to take these things quite seriously. However, I can’t be bothered to do even the least bit of “research” for this project – hence, the “-ish.” [Author’s note] []
  2. I’m hoping to do at least a few serialized posts. We’ll see what happens. [Author’s note] []
  3. All footnotes should be read as if supplied by the narrator, unless otherwise noted thusly – Author’s note. []
  4. This epithet had a short but popular lifespan in the wake of a viral video in which an old Daft Punk video was Photoshopped to include a dancing – and somehow smiling – version of the Sith Lord. The video was, of course, quickly banned. But the name hung on for quite a while. And there were many who thought – though fewer who dared to say – that the popularity of such a video spoke volumes for the state of the Empire, and not at all in a good way. []

De Dracula

De Dracula1

So, thanks to hurricane whatever-the-fuck-we’re-calling-this-one, I’m stuck inside trying to write this post without my trusty pipe. On the other hand, this weather allows to me say honestly, if not well-writtenly, that it was a dark and stormy night. In any case, trying to write this post pipeless, as it were, may be somewhat fitting. After all, did Professor Van Helsing smoke a pipe? Did Jonathan Harker? Or Dr. Seward? Or any of the other characters who kept a journal in Bram Stoker’s vampirepic?2

But let me take a step back. What the hell am I on about anyway? If the title of this piece is any indication, I mean to talk about Dracula. But which Dracula? Stoker’s book, yes. And also the Lugosi picture. OK, actually, just those two. And really mostly the former.

Another step back. Years ago, when I was but a boy, I read some sort of abridged version of Dracula, meant for children.3 It scared the hell out of me. Didn’t sleep for days. Or rather nights, as, not being a vampire, I generally didn’t sleep days.4 The point is, I didn’t exactly take to horror-fiction as a young’n. And I didn’t much go in for horror films as I got older.

That all changed, however, when last fall, while in a used book shop in Philadelphia, I picked up a copy of Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes.5 Now, mind you, it wasn’t properly horror or gothic; nothing supernatural. It’s JV, after all. There’s a scientific reason for everything. However, it was dark. And it took place in the mountains of Transylvania. And I was hooked.

All of a sudden, I wanted more “darkness,” whatever that meant. So next I grabbed a copy of Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. After that, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. While in Santa Fe last month, I picked up an H.P. Lovecraft paperback, though I haven’t started it yet. Because, at the moment, I’m working through Bram Stoker’s Dracula.6

Funny thing about Dracula though, I can put it down.7 By that I mean, the prose is just stilted enough, just 19th century enough, just affected enough, that it can be a bit tiring at times. And yet this very thing that so often makes the book feel like a chore – the language – is that which I found most interesting about it.

You see, the English that Stoker uses is hanging out in a really interesting place-time. It straddles the border of Victorian and modern. You can see our language in transition here, and it’s downright fascinating. I’ve been noticing this all along, but somewhere around chapter 19, it occurred to me that I might want to knock this post together, and so I started taking notes. Now, obviously, the bulk of my notes are going to come from chapter 19 and onwards. But I hope there’s enough meat there to make my points.

I’m going to pass over the “old,” that is to say, the Victorian. There’s no point in putting any of that down. If you’ve read Dickens or, gods help you, Austen, there will be no surprises there. What I want to focus on for the moment is the “new” English; the English that’s ready to break out into the 20th century.

For example, I’ve run across a number of idioms that would be nearly familiar to anybody reading today. And yet, they’re not quite the same. A few examples:

  • “Dog’s-eared” (of a book; opp. “dog-eared”; ch.19)
  • “Of the first water” (of magnitude; opp. “of the first order”; ch.20)
  • “Keep touch of” (to stay current with; opp. “keep a hold of”; ch.20)
  • “These times” (of current affairs; opp. “these days”; ch.20)
  • “At all events” (resumptive; opp. “in any event”; ch.21)

Now to be fair, Stoker is an Irishman writing (for these phrases, at least) English characters. Still, to see these idioms developing is quite interesting.

Then there are the “Americanisms.” I found two turns of phrase which the author, through his various narrators, identifies as being uniquely American. Yet, these two phrases are well known to us all today. I think we should expect to find them in any part of the English speaking world:

  • To “take no chances” (ch.19 & earlier)
  • “A story”, as in a news story (ch.20)

The former is interesting to me in that it is so commonplace nowadays, that needing to mark it out as American caught me off guard. The need to do so would seem to indicate that in 1897, the year of publication, the phrase was hardly known in England. As for the latter, well, the same is mostly true. Except, I remember using the term “story” to describe a news piece with a non-native speaker and being surprised when the word caught her by surprise. Though she was able to understand it from context easily enough, she’d never heard it before. And so perhaps on some level, even now, that word could fairly be marked out for extra explanation.

So much for idiom. But Stoker also plays with dialect. There are four dialects in particular which I think warrant at least a look-see. One is of course Van Helsing’s speech; but this I shall leave to the last. Then there is the working-class cockney; the mariner’s lingo; and the (I think bucolic?) dialect of the zookeeper.

The latter three are fascinating insofar as I take them to be fairly faithful renderings of the actual speech of real people (or a real class of people, at any rate) with which Stoker must have had at least some first-hand experience.

Tackling the most difficult of these first, the old mariner’s dialect was barely decipherable. To give but one example, what the hell can this possibly mean?

“I must gang ageenwards home now, miss. My granddaughter doesn’t like to be kept waitin’ when the tea is ready, for it takes me time to crammle aboon the grees, for there be a many of ‘em; an’, miss, I lack belly-timbers sairly by the clock.” (ch.6)

Well, the first sentence isn’t too bad. “Gang” is obviously some version of “go” and “ageenwards” seems to be an adverbial use of ‘again’; though ‘again’ is itself an adverb. Obviously, the granddaughter has made tea and doesn’t like to be kept waiting; clear enough. But “crammle aboon the grees?” No idea. Presumably this refers to physical obstacles he must pass on his way home. I take “crammle” to be some sort of verb of moving; “aboon” as a variant of “upon” and “the grees” as perhaps “the grass” or “the green.” And yet, noting that “there be many of ‘em” throws some shadow of doubt over those conclusions. “Belly-timbers” I take to mean strength, whether physical or spiritual. “Sairly” I wager is adverbial both by the ‘-ly’ ending and its placement in the sentence. “By the clock” must also be adverbial, though I can only guess at its meaning. Taking them together (and with context), I gather that at this late hour, he is weakened by drunkenness, and so expects his journey home to be arduous due in part to the landscape.

I may have got that mostly right or mostly wrong. In the grand scheme of reading the book, it doesn’t really matter. But that’s the amount of thought I needed to put in to try and make sense of just those two sentences. My other choice would have been to simply disregard it. So now, perhaps, you can see what I mean when I say it can be, at times, a tiring text. And yet fascinating.

But the fascination works on two levels here. The first is simply to a reader who is interested in language. Working though that in the way that I have outlined above is, for me, fun; no matter how tiring. But it is also meta-fascinating. By which I mean, it is fascinating outside of the context of the story. It is fascinating as a representation of the way in which a certain group of people at a certain time actually spoke; and, I suspect, no longer speak. What a window into a world that was!8

Likewise for the speech of the Zookeeper, which occurs in the context of a newspaper “story” in chapter 11. Here now, the language is much easier to follow. But I excerpt a more challenging passage:

“My opinion is this: that ‘ere wolf is a-‘idin’ of, somewheres. The gard’ner wot didn’t remember said he was a-gallpoin’ northward faster than a horse could go; but I don’t believe him, for, yer see, sir, wolves don’t gallop, no more nor dogs does; they not bein’ built that way. Wolves is fine things in a story-book, and I dessay when they gets in packs and does be chivyin’ somethin’ that’s more afeared than they is they can make a devil of a noise and chop it up, whatever it is.”

So as I said, this bit is much easier to understand. And yet there’s all sorts of neat things going on here which are meant to represent a certain style of speech. Some of it is accent, as with the elision of initial “h” (e.g. ‘idin’) or the contraction of “dare say” into “dessay.” Some of it is grammatical construction, as with “no more nor dogs does” for “no more than dogs do.” As a guide for all this, I took an example of “rustic” British English from Monty Python; the Flying Sheep sketch. I don’t know if this is a good, or even remotely close, guide, but it served well enough. In any case, the point is, it is one more representation of a certain style of speech. And though it can be tiring to read it at length, it is nevertheless highly interesting on its own merits.

Next we come to the working-class cockney of late 19th century London. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on cockney, not by any stretch. But I’m familiar enough with it to at least be able to read it with far less difficulty than the two foregoing dialects. An example, from chapter 20:

“Well, guv’nor, I forgits the nubmer, but it was only a few doors from a big white church or somethink of the kind, not long built. It was a dusty old ‘ouse, too, though nothin’ to the dustiness of the ‘ouse we tooked the bloomin’ boxes from.”

As I said, easy enough. One can easily read through the misconjugated “forgits” or “tooked,” just as easily as one can read through the mispronounced “’ouse” and “somethink.” What really caught my attention here is, for all the effort Stoker puts into capturing the ‘sound’ of these dialects, is how “th” does not become “f.” What I mean is, in modern cockney, we would expect words like “somethink” and “nothin’” to be pronounced as “somefin’” and “nofin’”. Do Stoker’s spellings mean that the “th” to “f” transition hadn’t happened as of 1897? If so, what an unexpected look into the street-talk of a bygone era!9

Having thus dealt with the mariner, the zookeeper and Mr. Cockney, I have only to treat with the speech of the revered Dr. Van Helsing. But as his speech is, I find, of a different order, and as I have now exhausted the e-cigarette, which I purchased as a substitute for my much-beloved pipe, I think I must here pause and take up again when I have the means to write further…

…And now I have the means. It’s a bit colder out than I’d have liked, but at least the storm has passed and I can work outside again with my pipe (and some main10 fine tobacco wot I purchased not long ago in Colorado). And so, whither Van Helsing?

Stoker has Van Helsing speak in a sort of broken “non-native” English for lack of a better word. This seems to manifest itself almost entirely by means of odd grammatical constructions and wrong idioms, but never by accent. In reading this, I did not take it as an accurate representation of the way an actual Dutchman might speak the language but simply as a way to mark his speech out as “other.” My suspicion is that as opposed to cockney, for example, Stoker perhaps didn’t have an actual Dutchman to model the speech on. That said, his rendering is not without linguistic intelligence.

For example, he often has VH assign male gender to inanimate objects; something that we do not regularly do in English. I don’t know much about Dutch, other than that it is Germanic and fairly close to today’s High German. But if you’ve ever spoken to speakers of gendered languages whose English is far from perfect, you will probably have noticed this phenomenon. So in that regard, I think it was a clever device on Stoker’s part. And yet perhaps not clever enough. For he only ever has VH assign the masculine gender, at least as far as I noticed. And so one example which stood out to me was when VH refers to blood as ‘he.’ I noticed this in particular,11 because in Greek as well as German, blood is neutral, not masculine.12

I’ll move on from this bit rather quickly. I don’t think there’s much to be gained here from putting down examples of his odd turns of phrase or grammatical mistakes other than to say that they are constant. And while interesting on some level, and even fun at times, it is also tiring at length. And as Van Helsing has quite a bit of dialogue, it is tiring often.

One last thought on VH’s speech. All of his dialogue is recorded in the journal entries of other characters, save for his memoranda in the last chapter or two. And here, I think it is an interesting conceit to suggest that the other characters went to the trouble of putting down VH’s language exactly as they heard it, rather than paraphrasing it into their own English; and that furthermore each character – Seward and both Harkers – interpreted his speech identically. But, that is, apparently, what they did.

A couple of other things regarding the language were of interest to me. One is the use of foreign language in set phrases. This is done primarily (if not exclusively) by VH, who throws around the odd bit of French and Latin, and even one (really rather wrong) Greek quote of Archimedes.13 But I thought this was kind of cool, as it shows the breadth of Stoker’s learning. He even shows he knows a bit of German in the first couple of chapters.

Another point of interest was hyphenation. It is fairly common in English that when new compound words are introduced, they often start out hyphenated, before the hyphen is eventually lost. And so, here, in 1897 we see “To-morrow” as the preferred spelling. And yet, in chapter 20, he refers to “chopsticks.” I was first of all surprised to see this word in so comparatively old a text (though that may simply speak to my ignorance); but doubly so to see it compounded without hyphen.

Next, there were some old words and phrases which were not unfamiliar per se, but which, by their usage seemed strange to me. In chapter 19, I came across the phrases, “in an indexy sort of way” and “helping his fads.” From context I could glean the sense of them, but these were usages which I had not seen before, and which, presumably have since died out.

Another example was the apparent use of “earnest” as a noun. I give here a portion of the sentence: “…when I had promised to pay for his information and given him an earnest.”14 I considered whether this was perhaps a typographical error15 and should have read “in earnest,” which of course is a common collocation. But reading it over two or three times, I took it as it was16 and interpreted it as something like “a substantial enough offering to demonstrate one’s sincerity.”

Finally, there was the note written by the barely literate laborer. This was cool, as it showcased in microcosm Stoker’s attention to phonetics. The little note simply read: “Sam Bloxam, Korkrans, 4, Poters Cort, Bartel Street, Walworth. Arsk for the depite.”17 I didn’t feel too bad when I read down the page and saw that good Jonathan Harker had as much trouble with this as I did. It should have read: “Sam Bloxam, Corcoran’s [a lodging-house (another hyphenation!)], 4 Potter’s Court, Bartel Street, Walworth. Ask for the deputy.”

So much for the language. Two other observations and I shall wrap this up. It occurred to me that Stoker’s Renfield and Tolkien’s Gollum are of a type. Both are misshapen creatures – Renfield mentally, Gollum physically and mentally. Both ostensibly serve higher masters. Renfield with Dracula, Gollum with the Ring. Both have a taste for live animals – Renfield for flies and spiders, Gollum for fish. Both spend most of the story as ostensible bad guys, but both end up serving the heroes in the end (though in fairness, Renfield less integrally than Gollum). And both, for all their misdeeds, ultimately show themselves to have a shred of decency in them that makes them worth saving; or at least, worth trying to save. For both end up dead in the end. Not being an English Lit major, I was left wondering if these two are mere manifestations of a larger trope in our collective literary history. But the parallels were striking to me. And as a “so great fan of Tolkien,” as Van Helsing might say, it was an interesting way to read the character.

The last point of interest I will mention in this post concerns class. I found a striking similarity in the way Stoker writes the London working class and the way Orwell writes the Proles in 1984. Both seem to be below the radar of respectability, so to speak. Neither class seems worth writing about as “real people,” if I can say that. They both seem to operate outside the vision or understanding of the main characters, in whose worldview we the readers exist. Their entire function seems to be to drink when they are not working and to pay next to no attention to the dangers of the “real world,” whether that be the political machine of Orwell’s book or the threats of the Transylvanian Count in Stoker’s. And, for that matter, the world in which they inhabit seems as foreign a land to Harker and his band, as the inner city of the Proles seems to Winston, however much he might be intrigued by it. I may be off base with this, but I’ve always felt that a bit strange and un-American, if I can say. As if it is in someway a reflection of the striated class society that we as Americans rejected in the 18th century.18 That’s how they both read to me, in any case.

Well, it’s nearly 3:30 and I am cold. So I think I shall end here. All this to say, in the end, that I found Dracula to be a fun read, though not an easy one. Yet, it is the difficulties that made the text far more interesting to me than it otherwise might have been. You can find many flaws with this book, if you’re so inclined. But one if its virtues, to me at least, is as a window into the English language of 1897.

Oh, but I did mention in the beginning of this post that I would say something about the famous movie too, didn’t I? Well, I guess I lost track of that. But I’ll close with this. The absolute best line of the movie comes when Renfield19 first meets Dracula in his castle. There is an awkward silence as both men hear the howling of wolves outside. And then Lugosi/Dracula says, in the most badass way imaginable, and with that killer accent, “Listen to them. Children of the Night. What music they make.” And, you guys, it’s in the book! That actual amazing kick-ass line is in the freakin’ book! And when I read that, I nearly jumped out of my chair and did finger-pistols in the air.

But the second most badass line in the movie? Well. To be honest, I might screw it up. A while back, I was trying to locate a free streaming version of the film online. But the only one I could find was a German overdub. But, needing to practice my German, and figuring that this movie could only be more evil and badass in that language, that’s what I watched. And re-watched. And watched again. Anyway, in the caste, Dracula offers Renfield some wine. And Renfield is all, “aren’t you gonna have any?” To which the Count replies, “Ich trinke keinen Tropf…Wein.”20 Oh man, so fucking evil! Gives you chills, I swear. But alas. That one’s not in the book.

  1. “De” takes the ablative, so you know the last “a” is long. #Latin Dracula, btw, means “little dragon” in Latin.  Also, this is as good a place as any to note that, to the handful of people that actually read this blog, you will probably find this post quite boring. #fairwarning []
  2. That portmanteau seemed cooler in my head. []
  3. Or, more likely, “young adults.” Because I’m pretty sure children should not be reading about vampires. I mean, even German fairy tales don’t deal with vampires. And there you can find a happy ending wherein the wicked stepmother is executed by being sealed into a barrel of boiling oil…which also has poisonous vipers in it. I’m not even kidding. (And if you prefer an English rendering, you can find one here). []
  4. Naps notwithstanding. []
  5. The Carpathian Castle []
  6. At the moment at which I started this post, anyway. I actually finished the book this afternoon. []
  7. Yup, you read that right. []
  8. And if it be, in any way, a window into a world that still exists, how much more fascinating!? []
  9. Pity my children, if I ever have them, that they might one day have to endure reading books with me in this way… []
  10. In several of the cockney passages, I noticed the use of the word “main” to mean “very” or “rather” (ch.20). []
  11. Though before I started taking notes, and so I cannot cite an example. []
  12. αἷμα in Greek (haima, whence hemoglobin, for example) and Blut in German. []
  13. And yet, there is some further indication that Stoker was at least peripherally familiar with Greek. In chapter 20, he uses the word aërial, spelled thusly with the umlaut. This is indeed reflective of the word’s Greek origin (ἀήρ aer, whence our air). The umlaut shows that in Greek the ae were not blended into a diphthong but that the letters were distinct vowels. We probably wouldn’t spell the word this way today, and indeed my spellchecker here tried to remove the umlaut.  This conclusion is also furthered by his invention (which Seward claims as his own, at any rate) of the adjective “zoöphageous” to describe the “life devouring” Renfield; the umlaut again signifying the difference (lost in English) between the Greek omega and omicron. []
  14. Ch.20 []
  15. It is here worth noting that all references and quotations are taken from the 2007 Sigent Classics edition. []
  16. We should always prefer the lectio difficilior. #nerdspeak []
  17. Ch.20 []
  18. And indeed, Lord Godalming frequently uses his rank and privilege to get away with things that “regular” folks could never do. In contrast, I kinda love how the one American in the book – Quincey Morris – routinely refers to His Lordship not just by his first name, but even by a nickname: simply “Art.” Because Americans think titles are bullshit. []
  19. Though in the book it is Harker. []
  20. I don’t drink…wine. []

You Can’t Take Me Anywhere

You Can’t Take me Anywhere

If you’ve read the title of this piece as though it were being shouted by an angry protester who had just been politely handcuffed by understanding police officer who, despite any personal misgivings, must, in the course of his duty to the city which he serves, lead the aforementioned protester away from the scene of the aforementioned protest to the cozy surrounds of an only-now-mentioned police station, well, I’m afraid you’ve read it all wrong.

For you see, “You can’t take me anywhere” is something that I say after I’ve said something rude, foolish, offensive, salacious or e) all of the above. I say it, you see, to save my friends the trouble. That would be: The trouble of shaking their heads and saying apologetically to the person I’ve just offended or hit on or, more likely, offended while hitting on, “I’m so sorry. We can’t take him anywhere.”1

Last night I was at a birthday party for a friend. Patrick Stewart – the Patrick Stewart – was also there. But more on that later. By way of Introduction,2 I should like to make clear my purpose for this post. Namely, I wish to commit to writing an impression of last night’s party. And the reason that I say ‘impression’ and not ‘recounting’ is that among many truths, I will also write several untruths which I think will make for a better, albeit less accurate, story. And I do not mean to make clear which is which.3

I’ve been friends with L for something like six years now.4 In the course of those six years, I’ve always enjoyed going to her birthday parties, which are generally set in Brooklyn beer gardens. And because I don’t know how to talk to people my own age, I tend to spend the better part of these parties shamelessly hitting on one or other of her very pretty friends. Not coincidentally, these parties tend to provide me with ample opportunities to say, “I’m so sorry. They can’t take me anywhere.”

This year, however, was slightly different. For this year, every one of L’s very pretty friends was of the beboyfriended variety, of which Berlin was such a blasted cornucopia. And so it was that I had to find other ways to amuse myself, and in the process, offend others. I give here an example.

We were all seated at a long wooden bench in this particular and peculiar5 beer garden. And at the end of the bench nearest me there sat a blonde girl. Now, as I am about to describe her in somewhat unflattering terms, and as she is a friend of L, I daren’t give her name. In fact, I leave it to you the reader to decide if she was even blonde.6 In any case, let’s say she was blonde. She was not, however, fat. Yet neither was she skinny. She was just sort of stout and not particularly beshaped of womanhood. Not that she was man-shaped, for she was not. She was just sort of shape-less.

Normally I would not mention these things as they have no bearing on who she is as a person. But as I found that I didn’t particularly care for who she was as a person, I have allowed Honesty to be a bit brutal as opposed for the silence so strongly argued for by Tact. But of course I didn’t know this when she first sat down. What I did notice was that her face was somewhat pleasant; or at least could be if she could be bothered to smile. And so I was deciding if this was something I could work with – and indeed, how many drinks ‘working with it’ would require – when I noticed her necklace.

From her necklace was strung a golden coin, which from where I was sitting looked for all the world like a gold-plated quarter. “I like your necklace,” I said. R, another friend of 6+ years and a seasoned veteran of L’s birthday parties was sitting beside her and cringed, expecting the worst. “Thanks,” said the blonde girl, withholding anything like a smile and therefore anything like a pleasant face. Well, I thought, this isn’t going to end well. Nevertheless, I shall have to blunder on, never considering the alternative, which would had have been simply to shut up. “Yeah, I think that’s really clever how you carry around an emergency quarter in case you run out of change at the Laundromat.” To which she anti-smiled, further depleasanting her face. R closed her eyes and shook her head.

“I’m so sorry. They can’t take me anywhere,” I would have said if she had so much as up-turned one corner of one lip. “Hi, I’m Dave,” I said instead. “Nice to meet you,” I definitely did not add. Whereupon I allowed Awkward Silence to have its say. Then, when Awkward Silence had done its bit: “Sooo, I’m gonna go talk to other people now,” which is exactly what I did, leaving poor R to either clean up that mess or pretend she didn’t know me.

L and I have an awkward relationship. It’s not that we don’t like each other. In fact, we’re quite fond of each other. It’s just that we’re both sort of awkward people. And rather than simply accepting that and moving past it, we tend to get caught up in it, often remarking how awkward we are together. However, these days, we tend to remark how less awkward we are now than we used to be. And having thusly remarked, her boyfriend asked if we thought we would ever stop talking about how awkward we are. To which we responded in unison, “But we’re doing so well!.”

And so it was that I apologized once more. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’d go talk to those people,” I said gesturing towards the end of the table whereat sat the blonde girl, “but the blonde girl already hates me.” L wasn’t so much puzzled by this as curious. “Uh-oh, Dave. What did you do?” “Me?” I asked plaintively, summoning my most earnest of Earnest Faces. “I didn’t do anything. She just doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

“I absolutely have a sense of humor,” argued the blonde girl, summoning her most indignant of Indignant Faces, which I nearly confused for her resting unpleasant face. “Then may I suggest,” I offered helpfully, “that you take it in for a tune-up. It’s clearly faulty.” It was only then that I realized that the previous indignant face was not her Most Indignant Face, but rather the one with which I was now confronted. Awkward Silence had something to say about this as well, and he said it rather loudly. So loudly, in fact, that he had the last word on the matter.

There was another girl at the party, however, who did have a sense of humor.7 I shall refer to her as J1, as there happened to be two J’s there that night. In any case, the reason I know she had a sense of humor is because she would smile quietly to herself at some or other of the ridiculous things I would say. Not because they were terribly funny, mind you, but because she seemed to understand that I was just being silly. She was in on the joke, so to speak.

Now, J1 did not have a particularly pleasant resting face either. However, her face was quite pleasant when she could be bothered to smile. No, I shouldn’t say that. It was no bother at all for her to smile, which is, I think, the point. Neither was she shapeless. She was, in point of fact, perfectly woman-shaped. Though not so woman-shaped that the words “child bearing” came easily to mind. None of this matters, however, as she was there with her boyfriend. Let’s call him J1+1. And it was to J1+1 that I got stuck talking about Japan.

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. J1+1 was a perfectly lovely fellow. He was nice, travelled and curious about the world. It’s just that, from where I was sitting, he was really quite boring. And as I was sitting directly across from him, I feel like I was in a good position to make that assessment.

And as we talked about Japan, which he had visited four years ago, he told me nothing about that country’s creepy youth-fetish or their advanced toilet technology. He did tell me that his cousin was stationed there with the Marines, that Tokyo is spotless and that it’s hard to score drugs because of the Yakuza, who control the drugs.

I thought it was going to be an interesting conversation, but it just wasn’t. And I really wanted to get out of it. But I couldn’t find a way out. He was just so bloody nice, you understand. So I just had to smile and pretend to be interested. And yet, so boring was this conversation that even Awkward Silence – whom I can usually count on – stood well clear of it. However, they say that all good things must come to an end. And while this conversation clearly was not a good thing, it at least had the decency to finally act like one.

There was another girl at the party. This was L’s boyfriend’s roommate, or LBfR. LBfR was a very petite, very pretty South American girl sporting a pixie cut, a vibrant personality and a fully functioning sense of humor. She was also sitting at the next table over. This geography allowed me to speak quietly with L’s boyfriend on the subject. “So,” I said in a way that I can only imagine looked sketchy to anybody happened to observe it. “I was thinking of trying out the other table. But before I do…your roommate…she has a boyfriend?” His response came in the form not of words but of laughter. Then he turned to L and repeated my query. Whereupon she also laughed. “Yes,” he said with actual words. “She has a boyfriend.”

“Then she’s dead to me,” I said, slumping my shoulders. “And I don’t care if she lives or dies.” But realizing that that might have sounded a bit cruel, I added the following, “And considering that she’s probably going to do both of those things, why get worked up about it.” And rather than be offended by this, L’s boyfriend laughed and remarked that he appreciated my ‘philosophy.’ He’s a good lad, that L’s boyfriend. And I decided that I was quite comfortable where I was.8

Now, I realize that the better part of this post has been taken up with complaints. But in fact, there were plenty of good things that passed in the course of the party. For instance, did I mention that Patrick Stewart – the Patrick Stewart – was there? At first we weren’t sure, because we could only see the back of his head. But LBfR got suspicious when she glimpsed his profile. Whereupon did somebody light upon the idea of googling his wife, as we could see his companion’s face well enough. And sure enough it was him; it were they. So first we got all excited. Then we decided to mind our own business. Because New Yorkers respect other people’s privacy; and we definitely don’t get star struck. But between getting excited and minding our own business I obviously had to tweet about it.9

Fast forward to later in the evening when I decided that I’d just about had enough of this no-smoking-in-the-garden nonsense. And so I decided to go out front have a pipe on the sidewalk, like the social outcast I was being made felt to be. Believe it or not, I was quite literally the only person having a smoke. I was, in point of fact, the only person out there at all. Which was fine. A few moments of silence would do me well. Except, that’s exactly when Patrick Stewart and his wife decided to leave. And they walked right past me. Be cool, I bethought myself. The man moved to Brooklyn not to be bothered, so don’t bloody bother him!

But Fate had something else in mind. Because just as they stepped through the door, I exhaled a cloud of fragrant pipe tobacco smoke. His wife kept walking, but Patrick Stewart stopped, and he sniffed the air. He turned and looked at me. I froze. I mean, I wasn’t moving in the first place, so you couldn’t really tell that I had just now frozen. But I had. He looked at me.

“That smells wonderful,” he said in a voice that was usually quoting Shakespeare when it wasn’t busy commanding the starship godsdamned Enterprise. “Thanks,” I said confidently as I pulled the pipe from my lips and held it as coolly as James Dean ever held a cigarette; a move which I knew this arch-thespian would respect. Then he squinted his eyes and began to speak in the same dulcet tones that made even the omnipotent Q go weak in the knees.

“You know,” he said in that way that only Patrick fucking Stewart can say you know. “You know,” he said. “My grandfather used to smoke a pipe.” And he drew out the first syllable of ‘grandfather’ with Hamletion pondarence. “When I was a boy, in England, my grandfather used to sit me on his knee and tell me stories. And all the while, he’d smoke a pipe.” And he smile a smile so bright it was nothing short of an endorsement for solar power. “A pipe much as you are smoking now, I dare say.” I nodded. But I didn’t say anything. What words could be worthy of such a moment? So I took another puff of my pipe and graced him with a fragrant cloud of Proustian reminiscence. And as the scent of it reached his mighty Roman nose, he smiled once more. “I don’t have any grandchildren,” I nearly said.

But I didn’t say anything at all. I never know what to say when people say such things to me. And they do indeed say such things to me. More times than I can count, I’ve stood out front of a bar, smoking my pipe, only to have some girl come up to me and remark, “Oh, my grandfather smoked a pipe!” To which I normally respond, “Yes, but nobody wants to sleep with their grandfather.” At which point such girls have demonstrated a marked tendency to back slowly away from me.

Look, I’m not saying it’s a good response. But at least it’s something. Yet, clearly, this was not something I could say to SirPatStew. Instead, I smiled and nodded. Then, against all my better judgment, I spoke. “What a lovely story. And you tell it so well.” I could see that he was beginning to regret having ever spoken to me. I began to look about for a shovel. Had I found one, I would have dug myself a whole, climbed into it and died forthwith for shame. But there weren’t any shovels, and so I had to keep going. “I don’t mean to keep you,” I said politely. “And your wife looks more than ready to be on her way. So. Umm. Make it so!” Damn the shovels, this is America! Surely there must be a gun nearby with which to mercifully shoot myself.

But his wife was a real doll. Taking in equal measures his confusion and my desperate embarrassment, she linked her arm in his and led him mercifully away. For his part, he was thankful for the rescue. As for her, she nodded pleasantly at me, surely being used to this sort of thing. “Nice to meet you,” she nearly said. “Good luck with Blunt Talk,” I nearly called after them. And then he was gone. At warp speed, as it were.10

Now, I want you to go back six paragraphs and find the sentence that ends with “…fragrant pipe tobacco smoke.” Have you found it? Good. Here I must report that not a single thing after that sentence is true. It didn’t happen. None of it. But. OMG, you guys, how cool would it be if it did?? Here’s what really happened.

As I was out smoking my pipe, being entirely alone on that sidewalk, Patrick Stewart and his wife left the bar. They walked right past me. And they kept on walking. They walked a few doors down, presumably so as not to be hanging out outside the bar where weirdoes like me might bother them. There they paused and stood for a moment, in silence.

Then his wife spoke. “I think I hear [live] music. Want to go check it out?” And then I heard him. “Noo,” he said thoughtfully, though perhaps a bit fatigued, in that beautiful voice. “But you go on.” And she did. She went on. She popped back inside to check it out. And so for what was probably a whole actual minute, for every one of those immutable sixty seconds, Patrick Stewart and David Starr were the only two people on Douglas Street between 3rd and 4th in Brooklyn, New York. And there we stood, separated by a mere fifty or so feet.

And I puffed my pipe, desperately hoping that he would saunter over and tell me how nice it smelled and how when he was a boy in England his grandfather used to sit him on his knee and tell him stories, all the while smoking a pipe, much like mine. Of course he didn’t do any such thing. He stayed exactly where he was, minding his own business, not wishing to be bothered. And in his solitude, he was probably balancing the dual thoughts of wishing his wife would just be ready to go home because he was tired, but also loving the shit out of her for her joie de vivre. In short, he was being a human fucking being; a man, just like anybody else.

And yet, I noticed that there were only three of us out there now. There was me, Patrick Stewart, and Awkward Silence. So I had to think fast. “Hey, Mister Stewart! Good luck with Blunt Talk,” is what I absolutely did not say. And I was so proud of myself for all the other things I did not say besides. It was then that his wife reemerged from the bar, unsatisfied with the musical offerings. And so it was that they walked off into the warm, muggy, disgusting, humid, but quite literally benighted11 Brooklyn night.

Alone now on the sidewalk,12 I finished what was left of my pipe. And I was proud of myself. The man had come out for a nice night and nobody had bothered him. And when we were alone together on the sidewalk, I didn’t bother him either. And maybe that’s why he moved to Brooklyn. So he could be somewhere where people would respect his privacy. Because say what you will about New Yorkers, we definitely do not get star struck.

Right. Back to the party. It was a lovely time. I haven’t seen L & R since well before I left for Berlin and I was absolutely delighted to see them again. What’s more, I quite like L’s boyfriend. He works in theatre, does lighting. I used to do that. We both love bad puns and history and deadpan humor. So we get on great and always have some good laughs.

Then there’s R’s boyfriend. Also a lovely guy. And he too has a beard. Except I could have sworn his beard was much bigger the last time I saw him. But I didn’t want to say anything about it. You see, I was quite literally terrified. I was afraid that if I said, “Hey, wasn’t your beard much bigger last time?” R would cringe and say, “Dave…that was not this guy…that was the last guy…also, you ruin everything.” But it was the same guy, he had just had a trim. And what’s more, he bought me a beer.13

Another thing that made the night great was that A was down from Connecticut. A, along with L & R is somebody I’ve known for more than six years now. And more than the other two, there’s history between us. What I mean is, there are things which could have – and still could – complicate our present friendship. And yet, our friendship is entirely uncomplicated, and I can not express how much I love her for that. Anyway, she was there, and I was just so happy to see her and catch up with her.

I also want to say this about A. She is deceptively brilliant. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I don’t mean it so. I’ll try again. A has got a very colloquial way of speaking. It’s very down to earth and extraordinarily unpretentious. And it’s not that you don’t think she’s a bright kid when you talk to her. You very quickly realize that the lights are on. It’s just that you would never think, “Wow, this dame has a brain on her.”

Then the other day, she writes this email. It was part of a chain between me and her and L & R, and also K. And, my friends, what an email. It was beautifully written. It was insightful. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it was brilliant. And she always does this, A does. She always says or does something that makes you go, “Oh, right. A is fucking brilliant. How do I ever forget that?” And that is something I really admire about her. She is entirely confident. She has zero fucks to give, whether you think she’s smart or not. I wish I had that. I can’t seem to not tell people how I was reading Jules Verne, in French, because you should always read things in the original. Or how I did my Master’s in Ancient Greek. Or how Kafka is really great, but man, that is some difficult German, and did I mention I know some German? I can learn a lot from that girl, is what I’m trying to say.

I realize, as I’m trying to wrap this up, that I’ve said a bit about L and about A, but very little about R, even though she’s been a presence through this post. And as I’m coming to the end of this, I’m beginning to realize that this as much a tribute to my friends as anything else. So I beg your indulgence as I take the time to say something about her as well.

R is an interesting character. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she didn’t much like me when we first met. Indeed, she didn’t much like me for the first few years that we knew each other. But somewhere along the line, she “figured me out;” and those would be her words for it, I think. But she’s smart and funny, to say nothing of pretty, and she did “figure me out.” And now we really are friends.

Which is quite a thing, really. Because, for reasons that I won’t get into, it would have been very easy for her to walk away from me at one point and forget she ever met me. (The same is true for L, by the way). But she never did. And that speaks to the kind of person she is. And now I count her among my true friends; and her me, I think. And that is something of which I am always conscious, and for which I am always thankful.

And so here, finally, at long last, enfin, endlich, I must close. I can’t pretend that I’m happy to be back here and not still in Berlin. But I am very happy that I got to spend L’s birthday with her, that I got to see L…and R, and A.   I’m happy that I got to hang out in the same beer garden as Patrick Stewart and pretend to meet him when we were the only two people on the street. But most of all, I’m happy for the friends I have.   As I sit here unemployed, in a place I don’t particularly wish to be, I’m proud to say that I have people such as these to call my friends. Happy birthday, L.

  1. Having re-read these first two paragraphs, I can’t help but feel that there are a lot of commas – and a lot of words between those commas – that are just not terribly important. And so I’m considering color-coding the important clauses for ease of reading. German might consider trying this as well. []
  2. As opposed to the first two paragraphs, which were by way of Prologue. []
  3. Except for one. []
  4. I am going to call her L to protect her privacy. And also because I’m currently fighting my way through Kafka’s Das Schloß (The Castle), wherein the protagonist is known only as “K.” And since, as it seems to me, we are both dealing in the absurd, it seems like a good example to follow. []
  5. Peculiar because it was a non-smoking beer garden, despite being, as beer gardens tend to be, entirely out-of-doors. #ThanksBloomberg. []
  6. She was. #orwasshe []
  7. Or a sense of humor which was not faulty, if you’re inclined to take the blonde girl’s side. []
  8. Or as comfortable as I could be in that wretched humidity and deprived of the pleasures of tobacco. []
  9. For the record, the tweet read: “You guys, I am in the same garden as Patrick Stewart and I am being so cool about it. #nerdboner” []
  10. Really, David? []
  11. Sir Patrick Stewart, after all. []
  12. For presumably Awkward Silence had by now gone back inside. []
  13. I realize this doesn’t add much to the story. But it was a part of the night. And more importantly, I’m a big fan of R, so I wanted to make sure I said something nice about her boo. And what’s nicer than buying me a beer? []

Two of the Best Things

Two of the Best Things
(Part I of II)

When I was in Berlin, people would sometimes ask me what I missed about New York. To which I would usually respond, “Bridges and hockey.” Because New York has the best bridges. Everybody knows that. The Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, 59th Street1, Triboro2, GW, Verrazano and so on. And it’s not just the bridges themselves, which are majestic and wonderful and powerful. It’s the ridiculous views you get when you stand on them. It’s the peace and quiet you get when you’re stumbling home over one at five in the morning.

One of my favorite sunrises ever was when I was coming home over the Williamsburg after a long night out in Brooklyn. I met these two fellows who were out doing some photography. I asked them if they had gotten up early just to shoot the sunrise from the bridge. They said they had. We chatted for a bit, making friends in that way you can only do at that time of day. Or night. Then we went our separate ways. “Good night,” I said. “Good morning,” they said. Beautiful.

So much for bridges.3 But hockey. Now that’s not really a New York City thing per se. I’ve never actually even played in the city. I mean, how do you trek your goalie gear anywhere without a car? And more to the point, where do you keep that stinky stuff in a tiny apartment? So I only ever played on the Island. But close enough. And when people asked me what I missed, well, I missed playing hockey.

I played tonight. What a beautiful game. First, just the sounds. Skates cutting the ice, stick on puck, puck on glass. And best of all, puck on pads. I say that because I am a goalie. And man, that position will do your head in.

–Interpolation: I started this post last Thursday, after that night’s game. But I only got this far. Partly because it was very late. And partly because I was too sober to get anything flowing, which was far the more powerful of the two reasons. When I was doing my Berlin Diary posts, I would typically go through a bottle of wine per post. Which was easy to do, not only because they took several hours from start to finish, but because you could just pop down to the Späti for a four-Euro bottle. Anyway, all to say I’m struggling to get this done on one-to-two beers. It may not be my best work.

Anyway, goaltending. It’ll do your head in. It’s a pretty lonely position. You’re not really afforded the luxury of making mistakes. Anybody else makes a mistake, and the game carries on. You fuck up and the puck’s in the back of your net. Or Lady Luck bailed you out. So there’s that pressure.

But there’s another pressure as well. In many ways, the quality of the game hinges on your play. What I mean is, if you suck and pucks are going past you left and right, you’ll notice that the guys begin to feel like the game isn’t very serious. And when they start to feel that way, they start to play that way. There’s a loss of intensity and a loss of effort. Conversely, if you’re standing on your head, you’ll see guys on the other team busting their asses to try and beat you any way they can. And you’ll see the guys on your own team giving everything they’ve got to support you.

So you always want to give the guys a good game. Perhaps even more-so under the circumstances in which I play. The circumstance being this: I play for free with a group of guys who pay to play. I play for free because they need a netminder. And so while I get on well with them, they’re not my ‘friends’ per se. I don’t hang out with them outside of hockey. At most, I’ll have a beer in the locker room after a game. But that’s really it. So my one function is to show up, stand between the pipes and stop the puck. If I can’t do that, I’m not much use to them.

If I’m lucky, I get to play once a week. I don’t get to practice in between. As a result, I tend to get better as the session (usually about three months long) goes on. The games are my practice. Which means I’m usually more of a head-case in the early weeks.

Playing goal requires a certain degree of mental discipline and even-keel-edness that I realistically probably don’t have in great abundance. I played my first game back from Berlin two weeks ago, after a three month hiatus, and I was a nervous wreck. I spent most of the game praying that the puck would stay in the other end and basically being terrified anytime it came near me. As you can guess, I didn’t play very well. And as my parents will tell you, I came home in a very sour mood.

Last week, however, I played quite well, for whatever reason. And it’s a totally different feeling. Instead of dreading the puck, I wanted it. And I didn’t just want it, I wanted it off the stick of the best player on the ice. I wanted the best shots and the most challenging plays. I felt like I could stop anything and I wanted to prove it. It’s godsdamned exhilarating. And whereas two weeks ago I was counting down the minutes until the game would be over, last week I left wondering why we couldn’t play a fourth period.

It’s hard to figure out why you can play well one night and shit the next, or vice-versa. Best I can tell, it comes down to two things. One is just dumb luck. Last week, very early in the game I made a nifty stop on a bang-bang play. That sort of thing ups your confidence in a hurry. You make a save like that and you realize, “Oh yeah, I fucking know how to play this game. Bring it on!” Whereas had I failed to make that stop, it’s very easy to start thinking, “Ugh, it’s gonna be one of those nights.”4

The other thing it comes down to, for me at least, is technique. As with any position in any sport, there is a science and an art to goaltending. On the science side, we’re talking about skating, positioning, how you hold your body, reading the play, situational awareness, and other such things. These things are more or less constant for any goaltender. By which I mean, we all need to know how to do them correctly and skillfully.

As for art, that is a question of style. And one of the things that is difficult for me is that my personal style is a bit old-fashioned and no longer particularly in vogue. In and of itself, that would be fine. What makes it difficult is that I can’t turn on the TV and watch others play as an aide to myself. These days, most goalies play what’s known as a “butterfly” style. This means that on almost all shots, they will drop to their knees and splay their legs to take away the low ice, where most shots are likely to come. Many goalies have great success with this style, and when you’re over six-feet tall, you still have plenty of body left to cover the upper part of the net.

I, however, am five-foot-six. When I butterfly, my legs aren’t long enough to take away a great deal of low ice, and I don’t have much upper body left to cover the high parts of the net. So I play a sort of standup-butterfly hybrid. Now, Martin Brodeur played this way, and he was one of the best ever. So there’s precedent for its success. But everywhere you look, you see butterfly goalies. And when that’s all you see, it’s an easy trap to fall into, to start playing that way too.

Well, two weeks ago, I was butterflying all over the place. And what happened? Low shots were sneaking past me into the corners and high shots were sailing over my shoulders. Last week, however, I was able to play my game, my style. And that’s what I need to do to be successful. And I was successful. I stood up for the high shots and I was catching them in the shoulder. I stayed on my feet for the low shots that were coming square to me and only went down when I had to.

When I’m playing, I somehow need to keep all this in my mind. And at the same time, it needs to be subconscious. Or unconscious. You don’t have time to think to yourself, “OK, this shot is high, so stay on your feet.” All you can do is react. But after the play, you need to be your own coach. You need to be aware of why you were able to make a save or why you failed to. You need to tell yourself what adjustments you need to make next time. But then you have to be able to push all that out of your mind when the play comes near you again and just trust your reflexes and your instincts and hope you’ve internalized your own lessons.

And then sometimes luck and technique converge. Some of my favorite saves come when I never even see the puck. For example, I know a guy has the puck up by the blue line. But I can’t see it, because there are a couple of bodies between us; maybe guys from my team or my opponents’. You see him wind up to take a slap shot, but you still don’t see the puck itself. Then it hits you in the leg or the arm and bounces safely to the corner. And you never saw it. Well, that’s luck to some extent. But it also means that your positioning was spot on. You did everything right based on your read of the play and you made the save. That’s not about reflexes or skill, that’s just being technically sound. It means your doing the little things right. And that is somehow very gratifying.

OK, so I got a bit into the weeds there. But I wanted to give some sort of accurate impression of what it’s like for me to be out there. In any case, playing goal can be nerve-wracking and mentally taxing. But when I play well, it’s just so much damned fun. And after last week’s game, I floated home on Cloud 9. I’m supposed to play again on Thursday, and I can’t fucking wait. But you’re only as good as the game your presently playing. So come Thursday, last week’s game is out the window and it starts all over again. And no matter how nerve-wracking that’s going to be, I know one thing for certain. Whenever I get back to Berlin, I am going to miss playing hockey.

  1. With all due respect to hizzonner, Mr. Koch. []
  2. ‘Triboro’ is such a uniquely New York name, and I’ll never call it by any other. []
  3. Not really. I mean, I could go on for a while about the bridges. []
  4. This is where the mental discipline and even-keel-edness comes in. The best goalies will be able to give up an early goal and then forget about it. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. At least for me. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
29 July, 2015
Closing Time

Well this is fucking weird. Here I am, sitting in my parents’ backyard again. It brings back memories of last summer, when I would sit out here with a drink and listen to Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. But being here now is surreal. Especially when I realize that my goal this evening is to pick up the Berlin story where it left off. It left off last Thursday, which now feels like another life. Surely it’s not a mere five or six days that separates me from that evening in my beloved Tempelhofer Feld?

That was a lovely night. The German class Lisa teaches is part of a series she started called Deutch für Dich.1 And so it was that at the end of the session, her and her fellow teachers organized a picnic in THF for all the students. I got there a bit late, as I had come from meeting Alice for a coffee, which migrated into a beer. Grand old time, that. Anyway, I show up and the party is well underway. But Oz is there, so at least I have somebody to talk to. He’s a good lad.

But there were lots of good people as it turned out. I chatted for a while with an older gentleman from Finland.2 He was very soft spoken and had a rather strong accent, so that he could be hard to understand at times. But we got on well enough and he was a fascinating guy. A photographer, he travelled on a moped from the very North to the very South of Finland, taking pictures the whole way. And in the end, he made a book of his journey; though the text was German and he didn’t himself write it. Still though, pretty amazing.

Later, I had a chat with a Greek dude who I actually had shared one class with. Really interesting guy. We even talked about Ancient Greek and Homer for a bit. Later on, he and I, as well as Oz and an English fellow got into a very interesting discussion about European politics, all the more so as we weren’t all of the same mind. Nevertheless, it remained respectful throughout. These are the sorts of political discussions I love, and of which there aren’t nearly enough these days.

When the park closed for the evening, our group moved on to a local Ecke Kneipe – or corner pub3 – to continue the festivities. A couple of nice things worth mentioning about this portion of the evening. First, whiskey cost 2€ a glass. Fantastic. Second, I found myself engaged in conversation with a beautiful Dutch cellist. We talked for quite a while about how awesome Bach is. Which, I mean, isn’t he just?

We talked about not just how gorgeous the music is, but how you learn something new every time you play it, how Bach is a life-long journey. It’s a bit strange, actually, to have this conversation with a proper professional musician. Because when she says it, you know she really means it. Me? I was just bad enough at the piano, am just bad enough at the guitar, to understand how this can be true. I’m nowhere near good enough to experience it.

Where I can properly relate, however, is Homer. Because Homer is to…well actually, what do you even say? – poetry, literature, Greek, epic, life? – Homer is the Bach of his world, is the point. And there, I know the feeling of learning something new every time, of the life-long journey. And also of that being the thing you reach for when you just want the best feeling. Which is a dreadful paraphrase of what The Dutchess said about playing Bach for pleasure.

Well, anyway, nothing beyond a really lovely conversation happened. She was in town visiting her sister (who was also there), and said sister wasn’t going to let anything happen. Also, I’m sure she had a boyfriend anyway. Not because of anything she said, mind you. But because I don’t believe I live in a world where beautiful Dutch cellists don’t have boyfriends. Still, chalk that experience up to a win. It was probably one of the best conversations I had in all my time in Berlin. And I’m not just saying that because she was a beautiful Dutch cellist.4

I also had a nice little chat/goodbye with Lisa. It was bittersweet, I’ll admit. But that’s life. Hopefully we’ll stay in touch while I’m here. Certainly, if all goes according to plan and I get back to Berlin, we’ll pick up where we left off. Of all the awesome people I met there, she became my best and closest friend. She’s a good lass, that girl.

Friday night was the Shabbat dinner. I was late for that too. I was reading my book as I stepped onto the S-Bahn, and so didn’t realize that I had caught the wrong train. Slightly embarrassing, that. But I got there in time for sundown, and all was well. We had a nice little group. It was me and the Israeli girl, as well as four others.5

Israeli Girl asked me to start things off by explaining a little bit about the history and traditions. This I did as best I could6 while sprinkling in plenty of self-deprecating Jewish jokes for effect. Then IG did the whole candles-eye covering routine along with the appropriate blessing. Then I did the bruchas for the wine and bread.7 Then we ate and drank and had a grand old time. One of the other girls was a German teacher, and those who didn’t have an overriding interest in language had an interest in travel. So there was plenty to talk about in a room full of strangers.

This last point is not insignificant. Going to a party – even an ostensibly Shabbat party – where you don’t know anybody, well, it gives you the feeling that you’re finally starting to figure things out a little bit. I somehow didn’t feel awkward or out of place at all.8 I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’d definitively made new friends, but certainly these were people I could see hanging out with again. And of course, this was happening three days before I had to leave. But lemme not complain. It was a really cool night, and I’m glad I went.

Oh, and one funny story. At one point, we had got to talking about cockroaches.9 It seems you just don’t get New York sized roaches in Berlin. They do have these small roaches, apparently, that they simply call Berlin Cockroaches.10 Well, after hearing the phrase ‘Berlin Roaches’ a few times, I turned to Israeli Girl and said, “You know, it’s nice to know that when they say ‘Berlin Roaches,’ they’re not talking about us for a change!” Well, she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. As for the Germans in the room, I don’t think they knew whether to laugh or cringe.

At the end of the night, I took the train home with the Australian dude and his German girlfriend. They were both very nice and it was very pleasant ride. Turns out they live two blocks away from me, so that was convenient. As for IG, I’m not sure we’ll stay in touch while I’m home, but she’s definitely someone I’ll look when I’m back there.

Saturday night was dinner with Joschka and Lus. We went to a proper German restaurant for a change. The food was very good, although I think we were literally the only people there. I had a Blutwurst, which was really quite good. And it was good to get some time with them. I don’t think I’d seen Joschka since the festival, and I hadn’t seen Lus since she was here in May. Classic good times.

Sunday night was my last open-mic. Alice, Zibs and Jan came down, which was grand. And Annett came as well, this time with her boyfriend (also called Jan). Annett even performed some of her own poetry, which was very cool. It was funny meeting her boyfriend. I think he definitely showed up feeling like, ‘who is this asshole?’ But once we got to talking, we actually got on quite well. And the three of us spoke quite a bit in German, which was great for me. And also a bit unusual. You see, Annett’s English is so good that that’s how we normally communicate. To the point where I almost forget that she’s actually German. But it was great to be able to chat with them in their language and not feel hopefully lost. Actually, I think I did rather well, keeping in mind that I’m not very good.

My performance was alright. Definitely better than last time, so that’s not nothing. And it was nice to have some people there to support me. Afterwards, Alice even complimented me on my French accent,11 which pleased me greatly. And it was nice to get a last night in with her and Zibs. I will miss those two. In any case, to put a bow on the whole open-mic thing: It was a good experience. I’m glad I did it. But I’ve got a long way to go, and a long way to grow.

And then on to Monday night, where I cooked dinner for Anja, Mischa and Blondey. Anja is such a sweetheart. During the day, she texted me to ask what they should bring. I told her wine, and maybe a dessert. Well, when she came home, she had wine and said that Blondey would be bringing dessert. Perfect. But then, she said she had something else for me, a little going away present. She had got for me a can of AC/DC beer and a bag of gummy bears. What a doll.

Dinner was great. I mean, the night was great. Dinner was fine. I made a shepherds pie and an apple walnut salad. Which would have been even better had not Blondey been allergic to walnuts.12 Still though, everybody seemed to like it all, and Blodney was able to eat around the walnuts. For her part, she made some sort of coconut cake balls, which were delicious.

In any case, they’re all lovely people and we just had good time together. Mischa, as always, didn’t ever let my glass stay empty for long. This despite the fact that I told him I couldn’t drink too much as I still had to pack. It was for this reason that he added some water to my wine. It did not, however, stop him from breaking out a bottle of whiskey in my honor and seeing to it that I drank more thereof than I ought to have. Well, I paid for that Monday morning, but that’s as will be.

At the end of the night, it was a bit sad to say goodbye. I really enjoyed living with them for two months, and you could tell they liked having me around as well. And it’s a very nice dynamic with the four of us. It’s just very comfortable and easy and fun. I don’t know if I’ll do the whole AirBnB thing next time around, but I certainly hope there are more dinners like that in my future.

I wish I could say the trip to the airport was uneventful. But it wasn’t. I felt fine when I woke up. I felt fine when I got on the train. And then three stops before my destination, I felt an overpowering nausea and dizziness. So I staggered off the train with all of my bags and proceeded to throw up in a U-Bahn trash can. Ein bisschen peinlich.13 But it had to be done. Still, the same thing happened on the way back from France. So if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: don’t celebrate so hard the night before you fly. Time will tell if I ever actually learn this lesson.

Then the airport. Well, I knew my main bag was overweight and that I’d have to pay extra for it. However, on the way to Berlin I was able to bring my guitar as a carry-on, and so I was hopeful I’d be able to do so again. Unfortunately, the lady at the counter told me that this was impossible, and that furthermore they never should have let me do that in the first place. It would be another 160€ to check the instrument. However, the lady felt sufficiently bad about this that, given the circumstances, she allowed me to check it free of charge.

But then, she wanted to weight my carry-on backpack. What? No? I didn’t know those were subject to weight restrictions. I thought it was just size. It was with that in mind that I had stuffed it full of heavy books, hoping to lighten the load in my checked suitcase. Well, my backpack was three kilos overweight. Oh god. So she asked me if I could get rid of anything. I politely told her I couldn’t possibly just throw books away. So I asked how much to check it, and again it was 160€. But you could tell she just felt bad. So she said she’d see what she could do. “Ich mach für dich einen schwere Tag, oder?” (I’m making your day hard, eh?) “Ja, wirklich.” (Yes, really). Then she said something in German about how I shouldn’t have to pay so much money for this. In the end, she allowed me to check my backpack free of charge as well. To which I responded, after saying ‘thank you’ about 64 times, “Du bist eine Lebensgeretterin (You’re a lifesaver). This may or may not be a real word, but she understood.14 So I say here again, Thank you, Air Berlin Check-In Lady.

The flight itself was fine. I was seated next to a very nice Jewish girl who was pretty and not at all fat; always a plus when flying. Anyway, she was an interesting cat and we had some nice conversations along the way and just generally got on well. Probably not someone I’d be friends with in real-life, but certainly above-par as a cross-Atlantic seatmate. Anytime you’re able to talk about languages and literature, you can’t really complain.

Anyway, here I am back in New York. Or, Long Island at any rate. Hot, sticky Long Island. Where you can’t walk down the street with a half-liter of beer. But, where air conditioning is (thankfully) a thing. I don’t know definitively what comes next. I can’t got back to Europe for three months. But my plan is to get right back to Berlin in November and make a real go of it. Will that actually happen? Time will tell…

Previous Post: July 23, 2015

  1. German for You []
  2. Who, it must be said, was in possession of fantastic and snow-white beard. []
  3. The sort of pub, it must be said, me and Kelvin were often in search of, but never managed to find. []
  4. But it didn’t hoit! []
  5. I was also hoping Joschka and Lus would show up, but they were coming back from out of town and didn’t arrive in time. []
  6. Probably sufficient for the goyem, but hardly befitting my behebrewschooled education. []
  7. IG did up a homemade challah from scratch, which was quite good, I hasten to add. []
  8. And I didn’t even drink that much!  No, seriously, I think there were two – maybe three – bottles of wine for the six of us. Oh, and here would be a nice time to mention that IG got hold of an aluminum camping cup to use as the Kiddish Cup. I thought that was quite clever and really a very nice touch. []
  9. Don’t ask. []
  10. We spoke mostly English, as one of the dudes was from Australia and speaks little-to-no German. []
  11. One of my songs is in French. []
  12. #davefail []
  13. Slightly embarrassing. []
  14. I just looked it up. There is a word, and it’s Lebensretter (or at least, that’s the masculine form). Still though, not bad for trying to make it up on the spot. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
23 July, 2015

Getting a bit of a late start on this one, so I’ll try to keep it short. By now I’ve basically resigned myself to the idea that I’ll be flying home next Tuesday. Lisa seems to think I can still make a mad dash and get it all sorted in time. Maybe she’s right. But at the moment, it feels more stressful than anything. And, honestly, part of me won’t mind going home – as long as it’s not for too long.

While I’ve been here, two of my friends have had babies. I’d like to meet them. It’ll be nice to see the family. And it will be nice to see some friends as well. And Berlin ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Berlin. I like this town very much. Do I love it? I don’t know. I certainly don’t feel like this is where I want to spend my life. But then again, I don’t really think I want to spend my life in any one place at this point. And maybe three months just isn’t long enough to get a feel for a city.

It’s a funny city, at least from a New York point of view. The population is about 3.5 million, I believe. Not even half the size of the Big Apple. And geographically, it’s quite spread out. So it has the advantage of never feeling very crowded, even at rush hour.

Taking the subway during rush hour is a piece of cake. You always have room to stand, and often you can even find a seat. But it’s a great metro system. It’s composed of two major parts – the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn. The U-Bahn is the subway; U for Untergrund. The S-Bahn goes aboveground; S for Straßen. Complementing these is a series of buses and trams. There are also a ton of bike lanes, many built into the sidewalk rather than the street. People really love their bikes here. Anja and Lisa are always telling me to just get a Fahrrad – a bicycle. But you know me, I walk everywhere.

Back to mass transit, there are a few key differences between here and New York. One is, there are no turnstiles. Instead, transit cops make periodic spot inspections of riders’ tickets. It seems to work. I’ve gotten inspected two or three times; my train, I mean. The last time, I was reading my book and I had my headphones on, so I didn’t notice what was happening. Then this guy waves his fingers between me and my book. And my first reaction was to be annoyed. And I thought, come on man, fuck off. And no, I don’t have any change. Because my experience in New York is, anybody who will so rudely interrupt you while reading with headphones on is probably panhandling. Needless to say, I was surprised to find Mr. Transit Cop when I looked up. I was, however, still annoyed.

Another difference here is, the doors don’t open automatically. You have to press a button on the door to open it. Obviously, the button only functions when the train has stopped moving. But this has bred an interesting difference in Subway habits, I think. Back home, I always wait for the train to stop moving and for the doors to open before I get up or relinquish my standing space. I have no interest in being knocked around as the train lurches to a halt. Many people take this approach, though obviously, in NYC somebody is always in a rush. But here, whoever is nearest the door always seems to be in a contest to see how fast they can get those doors open. Very often, somebody is jamming on the button when the train is still slowing down. And I don’t think these people are in any particular rush. They just seem always to want to hit that sweet spot of getting those doors open as soon as possible. For my part, I have not adopted this custom. I’ll get up and leave when I’m good and ready, thank you very much.

This week, I’ve been trying to do the things I love about this place. I’ve spent a couple of afternoons reading outside with a beer; once in my secret garden (which is apparently called Körner Park) and once by the canal. And I’ve gone on some long walks, trying to see parts of the city I haven’t seen before (also, obviously, with a beer). Today, I made sure my walk took me through Tempelhofer Feld, one of my favorite spots in the whole city. And tomorrow, I’ll be going to a picnic there.

I’m also trying to make sure I get to the food I love here; the falafels, the schwarmas, the döners. Today I stopped by the falafel stand where the Egyptian guy once accosted me about Obama. But this time there was some kid behind counter, and he didn’t make nearly as nice a sandwich. Still, it was pretty damn good.

Meanwhile, my friends are doing the old London Bus Routine. That is, they’re either not around at all, or else they all want to do stuff on the same day. Joschka and Lisa are both out of town and Zibs has been busy all week. And then, all of a sudden, the school gang wants to do something, but they want to do it when I’m supposed to go to the picnic at THF or when I’m supposed to have the Shabbat dinner with that beboyfriended Israeli girl. But I invited the school gang to the picnic and I invited Joschka and Lus to Shabbat. So we’ll see how that all shakes out.

On the other hand, nobody being around has afforded me some time to (finally!) sit down and read some Homer. I’ve been working through book XIV of the Iliad. What a joy. I once had a professor who insisted it was imperative that you read at least ten lines of Homer every day. Mind you, ten lines isn’t very much at all. But doing it everyday keeps it in your blood, as it were. And I think he was right about that.

Back when I was reading with Daitz, I’d set aside one night a week to do the reading. And then we’d have our meeting on Saturdays. So basically, I only read Homer twice a week. It’s not enough. But when you get to spend a couple of hours with The Master, it all sort of works out. But now I’m on my own. So I’ve got to stay on top of it. And man, it’s good to be back. During the whole month of school, I think I got to read Homer once, maybe twice. That was the hardest part, believe it or not.

But absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Not having the time to read, it reminded me how much I love Greek. It also reminded me that however much I enjoy teaching English, my mother tongue – and I definitely do – the dream job is to one day teach Greek. I remember one day in school – it must have been the day after I actually got to read a bit – Alice asked if she could borrow my laptop. The last webpage I had up was about Greek participles. “Greek participles, eh?” she asked. And I was like, “Omg, Alice, you have no idea! Greek participles are bad-ass! They can do so many things! They can be temporal, concessive, causative…” I trailed off when I noticed she was looking at me funny.

The thing about Greek is, it’s just the fucking best. And nobody knows it. All the people that I’ve met who are fascinated by languages – they would love Greek! But it never gets taught. It’s rarely even offered. And what a shame. Honestly. I mean, in English class – I mean English Lit – what do you read from antiquity? Sophocles (Oedipus), Homer (Odyssey), Euripides (Medea). It’s the foundation of Western Lit. Nobody teaches Virgil or Seneca or Cicero in English class. Why? Because it’s second rate.1 And yet, we insist on teaching Latin. Let’s get it together, people!

Apart from Homer, I’ve got two books going at the moment. The first, Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers (20k Leagues Under the Sea), I think I’ve mentioned. It’s important to me that I keep my French up. And also, Jules Verne is just awesome. It’s sci-fi, it’s adventure, it’s really smart2 and best of all, it’s just fucking fun. The other is a book called Der, Die, Was?, which Blondey upstairs has lent to me. It’s a real challenge, but it’s funny, and it’s very very good. It’s about an American and his struggle to learn German. So, I can relate. But the vocabulary is a bitch. I can slog through it, but it’s real work. And I need the practice. My German isn’t going to improve itself.

That’s also one of the nice things about being back in this apartment. With Lisa, because we were proper friends, it was way too easy to speak English. But here, that just doesn’t fly. Anja and Mischa – who is out of town this week – they really help my German, just by everyday household chatter. It’s not always easy, and I still miss plenty of what is said. But I get so much more now than when I first got here three months ago. Well, that’s as should be.

Right, well, I said I’d keep this short, and I will. That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow is the picnic. Friday is Shabbat dinner. Saturday I have a mind to check out the Love Parade, on Anja’s advice. And after that, Joschka invited me to some dinner where I think there will be a roasted boar. Then Sunday is open-mic again.

Oh right, open-mic. I went again last Sunday. Alone, this time. I don’t think it went as well. All in all, it was a positive experience, to be sure. Even if you go up there and suck, it helps build you up. But it could have been better. And it was harder to do it alone. Hopefully next time will be better. But even if it’s not, I will still have done it. And that’s not nothing…

Next Post: July 29, 2015
Previous Post: July 19, 2015

  1. Let the hate-mail commence. []
  2. The dude really did his homework. And some of his ideas were quite prophetic. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
19 July, 2015

So, sometimes life gets in the way. Thankfully, not in the I-knocked-that-girl-up-and-now-I’m-a-dad kind of way. But more in the my-house-is-on-fire-while-I-try-to-finish-this-course-afterwhich-I’m-immediately-off-to-France-afterwhich-I’m-immediately-off-to-a-5-day-metal-festival sort of way. Which is enough, let me tell you. Will you let me tell you? Ok, I’ll tell you.

If I had to choose, I’d almost certainly say that Flick of the Switch is the most underrated AC/DC album of the Brian Johnson era. I bring this up a) because, holy shit, go listen to that album and b) because the second track is called “This House is on Fire.” Which is relevant because, you know, my house was on fire.

No, seriously. Ok, so I’m sitting in the kitchen working on either some bullshit paper or a lesson plan; both of which were due the next day. It’s around ten at night. I’m smoking my pipe, drinking some wine.1 And I smell something burning. Umm, ok. I start looking around. Did some ash somehow fall from my pipe onto something (in)flammable?2 Had perhaps some electrical device overheated? In the end, I couldn’t find anything in the kitchen. In fact, I determined that the smell must be coming from outside. Naturally, I assumed people were barbecuing in the Hinterhof.3

Maybe an hour or so later, I hear people shouting outside. I hear this through my headphones, so I’m not particularly paying attention. In fact, I’m thinking, “Fools, shut the F up, I’m trying to work here.”4 But then, a funny thing happened.5 One word seems to be busting its way through my headphones. “Feuer!” Umm, was? So I look outside, and I see there are a bunch of people gathered in the Hinterhof. Yeah…I’m not feeling this.

So I go around to the living room window, which looks out on the courtyard from the other direction. And I see something I’ve never really seen before. One of the brick walls lining the courtyard is colored bright orange. And the reason it’s colored bright orange is because it’s reflecting the light from a giant-ass fire that’s sprung up on the other side of the Hinterhof.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have had the experience of hearing people yell “Fire!” and then looking out the window to find an actual-as-fuck fire. But let me tell you, it is very surreal.

So I go down to the Hinterhof, where I find a bunch of neighbors gathered. And they’re all sort of just standing and watching. Here’s what we see. Up on the opposite left corner of the courtyard, there is this huge fire dancing on the roof. It’s definitely not supposed to be there. But, it’s also far enough away that it doesn’t appear to be an immediate threat. And in fact, we can see water coming over the top. So we know the Feuerwehr – the fire department – are already on the job. So we sort of just stand and watch.

Little by little, the fire dies down. It was more surreal than scary, I have to say. I also have to say, it was weird not to be able to talk to the neighbors about it. I mean, my German is definitely functional at this point. But I don’t have the vocabulary to chat with strangers about our building being on fire. And Lisa’s not even home. So I’m just sorta standing there no better than deaf-and-dumb.

Finally, the fire dies down. I mean, maybe – probably even – it’s still going on inside. But the smoke has gone, the flames have gone and even the sparks have gone. And then – only then! – the fire department comes and tells us we have to go. Like, for hours. Technically, they evacuated us until like two-thirty in the morning.

I say ‘technically’ because I had a paper to write, and so I hid out in the apartment – in the dark, away from the windows – working on my bullshit paper. I mean, my reasoning was, the fire is clearly out, so why do I need to leave? I’d learn later that the reason was, they were afraid that the fire might have weakened some of the walls, making the building unsafe. Bah.

Anyway, to keep this short, everything was fine in the end.6 The fire was on the other end of the building. And the walls were sound in any case. But I didn’t get to bed until after four-thirty, and even then, I didn’t sleep well. That was Tuesday of the last week of my course. Things went downhill from there, school-wise, but more on that later.

I also found out later that the actual fire was not technically in our residential building, but in the adjacent Old People’s Home. And those poor old fuckers had to be evacuated in their wheelchairs to the sidewalk in the middle of the night. You’d think that would be a real trial for them. Except, this. They were all generally old enough to be able to say, “Ah, hey. We remember the war. This is nothing.”

When Lisa told me that, I made some snide comment along the lines of, “Nothing like old people talking about Nazi Times to make you feel a whole lot less bad for them.” Lisa didn’t appreciate that. And fair enough. I mean, you can’t go making blanket judgments about people simply based on their age; no matter how annoying old people are, what with their doddering gates, failing memories, and weird mouth noises, to say nothing of constantly reminding us of our own mortality. Still though, you can’t just assume every old person you see was a Nazi.7

Oh, and for anybody interested in casualties, one person died. Apparently it was the guy who started the fire. Apparently by falling asleep with a lit cigarette. He was 90. A little late to be Darwining yourself out of the game, but OK.

So that was The Fire.

As for school, remember that post where I was all “I’m so good at this, I hope I didn’t just jinx it by saying that”? Welp, I jinxed it. The short version is, I sucked the last week.

I had a higher grade in my hands and I threw it away. I just never got it together. Yeah, the fire didn’t help. But that’s no excuse. On some level, I think I tried to do too much. I could have played it safe and gotten my grade. But instead, I tried to do things I knew I needed to work on. Well, I still need to work on them.

Basically, I run a good classroom. My classes are fun. My students get to where they need to be by the end. But, ironically, I somehow don’t teach grammar very well yet. Ironic, because I’m a grammar nerd. Ugh, I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this. The point is, I’m not pleased with myself. I had set a goal for myself of achieving a certain grade in this course, and I failed. Yeah, I passed the course; and easily. But I could have done better. And I was on the cusp of doing better. And I frittered it away. Nice one, Davey.

If I want to find a positive to take away, it’s this. I know my students liked my classes. I know I can get them engaged. I know I can hold their interest. I think, at the risk of giving myself too much credit, I think these are things you can’t teach. It’s the things that can be taught where I still need work.

And, I got to play the part of Linguistic Master in my last class. In the last few minutes I showed them how seven different languages are actually related. I showed them how the verb “to stand” has a common stem in English, German, Latin, Greek, Polish, Russian and Farsi.8

And man, you should have seen their eyes go wide! That was so fucking cool.9

But in the short term, #davefail. So, moving on.

Class ended Friday, July 3rd. So of course we went out for dinner and drinks after. But I also had to leave mad early the next morning for France. And I also had to pack up my room because the new girl was moving in the next day. So I got about two hours of drunken sleep before popping off to Biarritz to visit chez Morgenstern.

Biarritz was a blast. But as I covered that in my last post, I’ll keep it short here. Just like the trip itself, which was too short. All to say, before I knew it, it was time to leave. Which was rough. Yeah, it was rough to say goodbye and to get back to reality. But also, it was physically rough. You see, I drank rather a lot of pastis the night before. So I wasn’t exactly in the greatest shape to travel.10 And it seemed like every one of my flights was delayed. So I didn’t get back to Berlin ‘til around ten.

At that point, I had to swing by Lisa’s and pick up my computer. Everything else I’d grab the next day. Then it was back to Anja and Mischa. I got there around eleven. At which point they let me know they had a(n American) guest who also needed to practice her German. Turns out it was Anja’s niece from Colorado; roughly my age. Her German was much better than mine. But we all had fun.

There was lots of wine and pastis.11 So, exhausted as I was, that turned into a late night. But, I have to say, it was really nice to be back here. A&M welcomed me back very warmly. And even though I’d only lived here a month – and a month ago, at that – it somehow felt very much like home. Also, Anja’s niece was really cool. So it was a good night. And at the end of it, I passed right the fuck out.

But something about ‘no rest for the weary’ because the next day was ‘shopping day.’ I had to meet Joschka and Vinny to buy what we needed for the festival. That was a pain in the ass, partly because Vinny apparently sent me a bunch of messages via Whatsapp that I never received. So I’m sitting their thinking, “Odd that I haven’t heard from those guys.” Meanwhile, they’re thinking, “Why isn’t Dave answering? What an asshole!”

Eventually, we got it sorted and performed the ritual Pre-Festival-Shopping. In other words, we stocked up on booze, sausages, chips, juice, ramen and canned ravioli. Oh, and this year, also boxed wine.12

The festival I also covered in my last post, so I’ll say no more about it here.13

I also mentioned the concert/festival at Lisa’s place. What I didn’t mention is how odd it was to be back there now that I don’t live there. Like, it feels like home and I know where everything is, and yet, I need to respect the place as a visitor. Just odd. Still great though. And great to see Lisa and Oz.

It’s also fascinating to me how much of a relationship Lisa and I managed to build in just a month. I remember the first day I moved in, she found out that her neighbor had just died. And as we sat there in the kitchen, her telling me about it all, she started to cry. Mind you, this was our first day living together. And I don’t know how to handle this at all. So I’m like, “Do you…want a…hug?” And she’s like, “Nope.” And then we had a long conversation about death and started bonding from day one.

In contrast, when I said goodbye at the end of the night of the party, she just gave me a big old hug. It’s funny how things go, sometimes. In the end, it was really great living with her. We definitely don’t see eye-to-eye on more than a few things. And yet we just got on so easily. And as I’ve said countless times by now, we drank a lot. Not everything about my time here has worked out, but that month of living there, that definitely worked out fantastically.

Last night, my plan was to stay in and read some Homer. I haven’t had a chance to read Homer since the end of the second week of school, which is a crying shame. And yet, I was also feeling a bit down. I mean, Lisa was out of town with the Oz-man. Joschka was in Portugal with Lus for her birthday. Kelvin has moved back to Australia. So I was kinda feeling like I have no fucking friends here.

And then Ziba14 messages me. “Wanna get a drink tonight?” Well, hell yeah, Zibs! It’s gonna be me, her, Elf-Princess15 and Zibs’ husband. And yet, I’m thinking, OK, I can go for a few beers, and still be home before midnight; plenty of time to read some Homer before bed. Not an unreasonable plan, or so I thought. And yet, next thing I know, I’m throwing the wrapper from my Dönner in the trash and stumbling up the stairs to my apartment to find that it had somehow become 3am. Needless to say, it was a fun night.

First of all, I got on quite well with Jan, Zibs’ husband. We talked metal and politics. So that’s a win right there. As a group, we also discussed making a round trip to Köln (Cologne). Whether or not we can get it together before I might have to leave is another story. But it sure sounds like fun, if we can pull it off. We also batted around the idea of getting our shit together and starting our very own language school right here in Berlin. Well, it’s surprisingly plausible actually. But I’m not holding my breath. Still though, how cool would that be?

Today I went for a long walk. My goal was to go East-ish, and see some things I’d never seen before. Mission accomplished. I was out for about 4.5 hours, so it was a healthy little promenade.   One of the highlights was the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. What a weird place. I mean, it’s absolutely lovely. Tree lined and peaceful and monumental af.

But it’s also kinda creepy. You see, it’s not just a memorial, but actually a cemetery. There are about 5,000 Red Army soldiers interred there. And all the language is about liberating Berlin. Which, I mean, is true. They did liberate Berlin. But by the end of the battle,16 there wasn’t a whole lot left standing. And the aftermath left the east side of the city – and East Germay – under Soviet control. I mean, that’s sort of out of the fire, but right back into the frying pan, right?

I don’t know. I need to talk to some actual Berliners about this. I’m really curious as to how they feel about it. I mean, on the victory arch which marks the entrance is the following inscription, carved in Russian and German, given here in English: “Everlasting glory for the heroes, who have fallen for Freedom and Independence of The Socialist Homeland.”17 Umm, yeah. And then there are all the inscriptions inside the actual memorial park. The inscriptions are all direct quotes from Stalin, again in Russian and German. So, my initial conclusion is this: It’s an absolutely beautiful and wonderfully peaceful place to visit. Just don’t look too closely. But again, I’m dying to get a Berliner’s take on all this.

Tomorrow is open-mic night. I have to go. I say this for personal accountability reasons. If it’s on record, then I can’t back out. It’ll be the first one I’ll have been able to attend since the last one I did, right before school started. Once school had begun, it was out of the question. And the next two Sundays, I was in France and then the festival. So I need to get back on it. Personal development and all that. Also, I need to play some rock’n’roll.

To this last point, I just taught myself “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” Ok, ‘taught myself’ is a bit extreme. It’s all 12-bar blues. But I still needed to figure out how I would play them, solo on the guitar.   Work out what I would do for guitar leads and so on. Anyway, point is, fun as hell. And now, finally, I’ve got all the major players covered: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino.18 Slowly but surely, I’m building up my rock’n’roll repertoire; even if I still can’t play a single Beatles song.

Next thing I need to work on is French. I can do a fair rendition of one Edith Piaf song, but that’s not nearly enough. There’s at least four Jaques Brel songs I need to work up, and other stuff besides. But that’s ok. It’s good to have projects. And I’ve got two new songs in the works as well. One just needs lyrics; always my least favorite part. The other needs a lot more, but, “it’s got legs,” as Jared likes to say.

I also need to learn more German songs. I’ve got a good five or six now, but more are in order. Not least of which is “Lili Marlene.” But one thing that caught me off guard during my little session at Rock Harz was when Marcus asked me if I knew anything from Die Toten Hosen or Die Ärzte. Now, these are two bedrock German punk bands that Anja had put me on to during my first month here. So I excitedly responded to his query with, “Oh! Do you know Hier Kommt Alex?!”19 Of course he did, and he started to sing the first line. To which I had to lamely respond that I didn’t actually know it. So that’s a project for next year.

So that’s more or less where things stand as I get ready for what may well be my last full week in Berlin. There are, actually, quite a few job leads. But the red tape is copious. And frankly, I don’t know if I will have enough time to get everything sorted before my three months are up.20 And if I have to leave, it won’t be the end of the world. I can always come back. Or go somewhere else entirely. My focus now is, simply to get the most out of Berlin in the time remaining. And as to that, you’ll be reading about it soon enough…

Next Post: July 23, 2015
Previous Post: July 17, 2015

  1. And possibly munching on some chips, which I felt much less bad about buying when I discovered that it was really easy for Lisa and I to sit down and eat chips together. []
  2. “Inflammable means flammable? What a country!” – Dr. Nick, The Simpsons. []
  3. Hinterhof = Courtyard. []
  4. Or, in New Yorkese: “Hey! I’m woikin’ ‘ere!” []
  5. And by “funny,” I mean, “not at all funny.” []
  6. Well, fine for me and Lisa and our flat and our immediate neighbors anyway. []
  7. All that said, If I’m honest, I have to admit the following: I often have to fight the impulse to go all Second Coming of Atticus Finch vis-à-vis old Germans. The devil on my shoulder is all, “Come on, aren’t you curious as to just what they were doing during The War?” Whereas the Angel on my other shoulder, “Nothing gained by this kind of thinking, David. Let it go.” []
  8. The common stem is sta-

    English German Latin Greek Polish Russian Farsi
    To Stand Standen Starē ἱϲτάναι(histanai) Stać(Statch) Стоять(Stoyat’) Istadan


  9. In fact, I was having drinks with a couple of classmates last night. One of them was quite close with two of our most advanced students. And they both told her that they loved my linguistics stuff; they found it really fascinating. And one of them isn’t even normally interested in that kind of stuff. Very gratifying to hear that, honestly. []
  10. By which I mean I threw up in two different airports. But not any planes! []
  11. Yay! []
  12. This was utilitarian, to be sure. It was not, however, “good.” []
  13. What an odd sentence structure (“The festival I also covered…”). More inflected languages like German or Greek have no problem sticking the object out front. But it just feels weird in English, doesn’t it? []
  14. Ziba, you will remember, is the Iranian girl from school. []
  15. Another girl from school. Her name is actually Maria. But she’s like thirty feet tall, slim, super long hair and for the first few days of school she’d wear these long flowy dresses. So I nicknamed her Elf-Princess. []
  16. And all the Allied bombing raids, to be sure. []
  18. OK, I still need to learn at least one Elvis song. But these guys are the most important, surely. []
  19. A song by Die Toten Hosen that I’m quite fond of. []
  20. As a U.S. citizen, you can come for three months without a visa. After that, you need to leave for three months, before you can come back for another three. []