Saturday, January 19, 2008

Your Royal Pragueness

I very often think back to my time spent and Prague and what it meant for me as a person and how I grew from it. Sometimes I check back on my old travel blog and read up on the life of a guy who was much cooler than I am. The following is a repost of my thoughts five days after New Year's Eve. It's just about the best writing I've ever done.

It's been almost a week since New Year's Eve. I guess I should post about it before the statute of limitations runs out on the interest anyone might have in it. Before I get to this New Year's, though, let me share a little about my general feelings about this holiday.

First of all, screw resolutions–I don't keep them; I don't care about them. And the older I get, the more inevitable it seems that I'll soon be calling them New Year's disillusions. I have no more pithy remarks to make about the subject. Shake the magic eight ball of good fortune and self-betterment if you like; maybe your outlook will turn up a little better than mine.

Allow me now to disrobe the garb of pessimism like a dog shakes off water after a bath.

New Year's Eve (NYE) in general has been a somewhat discouraging annual event for me. I generally spend the night screwing up the courage to kiss a girl at midnight only to find that the only thing that I've managed to screw up is the part where I actually kiss the girl at midnight. Now I'm aware that NYE is about far more than this. All I'm saying, though, is that it would be nice for this to happen at least once so I can have some holiday closure from years gone by of capre dream.

This isn't to say that NYE has always been a total loss. There have been a few good moments.

Exhibit A: NYE 97/98 This is definitely the best first half of NYE I've ever had. Griffin had a band which included a few of our friends, and they were playing at Tom Gathright's house. All of my friends (well, almost all–but we'll get to that) were there. The atmosphere was great, and we were having a blast. I was sitting on the floor actually enjoying the music and the company. The world was right and I was at peace. Then Donna Poston came over to me and sat on my knees (they were bent in the sitting position) and asked me to dance with her.

Now Donna was an amazing girl. I always felt bad for her, though. You see, she had a fraternal twin who was a lot hotter than she was. Don't get me wrong; Donna was a very pretty girl. She just had the misfortune of being constantly outshined by the looks of her twin sister, Stacy. Add to that a tall, beautiful girl who happened to be Donna's older sister, divide by three, and you get an unfortunate reamainder of a constant perception of mediocrity from the male species. That is unless you knew Donna–like I did–and were friends with her–like I was. So needles to say, I was simultaneously thrilled and distraught when she made a chair out of my legs and asked me to dole out heaping portions of white-boy dance moves on an ususpecting crowd of innocent bystanders. So I did what any other guy in my position would do when faced with the option of satisfying the whim of a pretty girl with a winning personality. That is to say that I did what any other idiot with no brain and even less balls would have done–I laughed and continued sitting.

You know, people have always been fascinated by the idea of a time machine. Human kind has spent ages imagining the good they could do for humanity were they only able to hop in a DeLorean, crank out 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, and then do something like give an art scholarship to a young Austrian painter aspiring to a turbulent political career or take the smallpox vaccine to 17th-century America. If I had a time machine, I'd drive back to Tom Gathright's house and use the 1.21 gigawatts to zap my ass for not getting up and dancing with Donna.

That was the beginning of the end for New Years for me. Consequently, the worst second half of NYE I've ever had happened that same night. You see, instead of sticking around and boogy woogyin' all night long, I escaped to my friend's house to play Magic the Gathering ™ as I had promised them. If I had two time machines, I'd drive to that guy's house and use the 1.21. gigawatts… well, you get the picture.

There have been other NYEs since then that have been decent and others that have sucked, but those two are the real extremes. This year in Prague, though, the annual celebration gained some points in the Gallup poll of my life.

There's not a lot to say about it other than it was simply an enjoyable, spectacular evening. Prague had been covered in snow for a week, but we nevertheless set off and warily ambled our way across the frozen streets, avoiding illegal firecrackers being hurled at passersby from the mitts of drunken tourists attired in holiday regalia, Spiderman costumes, and leather "outfits" reminiscent of the uniforms from the world's oldest profession. And being thus surrounded, we made our wintry waltz to the top of Letna Hill, from which we had a view of the entire city. We must have watched fireworks exploding for nearly an hour, the likes of which I've never seen before in my life. It was like watching every Fourth of July celebration I'd ever seen, strung back to back and mulitplied by 10. For fifty minutes, Prague was exploding. I've never been in a war before, but I can only guess that an air raid must have a bizarrly aesthetic appeal to it. It reminded me of Carwood Lipton's descriptions in Band of Brothers.

And so I stood, a man five-thousand miles from home, gazing out over a pyrotechnic panorama of Prague. I didn't kiss any girls, but what with the tear gas someone released and the two Czech girls offering me a massage (which I turned down), I'd say there was enough to make for what I'd say was the best overall NYE I've ever had.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Case for Public Transit

Living in Europe had many pros and cons. Obviously I felt like living in the US had a better pro/con ratio than living in Prague or I woudn't have moved back. However, tonight I'm not so sure I made the right choice.

I think what I miss the most about living in Praha is not having to drive a car. I tell people all the time how much I hate driving. I mean the biggest reason why I won't spend a lot of money to buy a new car is that from the moment I get in a car, my main thought is how quickly I can be back out of that car. Driving just annoys me. I'm not even a fan of passengering. I know that sounds crazy to most of my friends, but I just don't like the whole car part of my existence.

Life in Prague eliminated that concern for me. I could get anywhere I needed in that city without a car. If it was close enough, I walked. If it were farther I'd either take the tram, the metro (that's subway for you Yanks) or occasionally I'd slum it on the bus.

I loved the year I spent in Europe if for no other reason than it offered me a car-free existence. The benefits even trickled down. I had no car payments, no insurance bills, no deductibles, and no outrageous gas prices to deal with. And best of all, the extra walking I had to do helped me drop about thirty pounds in about nine months. It was win-win for me, and I loved every minute of it.

Why bring this up now? First of all, I must confess that I was in an accident about ten days ago. I rear-ended a Nissan Sentra that seemed to manifest out of nowhere at a traffic light where it decided to sit still when the light was green. Still, the law says my bad because I didn't exercise due caution by stopping in time. C'est la vie. My driver discount disappears from my insurance. My bill goes up about $24 a month. I'm totally bummed.

Fast forward to tonight. I go to my friend Graham's house in Nashville for some casual hangout time. I go to my to car to leave at about midnight only to discover that I was the recipient of a nice hit and run. I was parked on the street across from a driveway, so I'm sure they backed into my car and drove off. By the time the police showed up at about 2 a.m., the car in their driveway had a tarp draped completely over it. Oh well... nothing they can do. Now I just sit back and hope that the insurance company doesn't stick it to me royally because someone backed up into my car without my permission.

I can't wait to move back to a place with comprehensive public transportation. Anyone want to buy my house?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Maybe it's just me. Probably not. But maybe.

I might be the only one, but I cannot understand why so many people engage in bumper-sticker evangelism. Don't get me wrong; I believe in bumper stickers.

I think bumper stickers are great. When my brother and I were younger, we saw a bumper sticker that said "Don't tailgate me, or I'll flip a booger on your windshield." We still laugh about that bumper sticker regularly, and I could kick myself for not buying him one when I happened to see it in one of those cheesy tourist shops the last time I was in Manhattan.

I mean I've seen some phenomenal bumper stickers in my day. There's the classic "I brew the beer I drink" sticker that a teacher sported on his Caprice when I was in middle school. There's the "Rugby girls make the best hookers" one. I'm also a fan of the "my kids aren't smart, so I'll come up with some quasi-witty remark about beating up your nerd-ass kid" series. Seriously, there's no shortage of classics when it comes to bumper stickers.

Why some Christians feel the need to ruin the fun with their no-maintenance, preaching propaganda is something that I might never understand. Don't get me wrong; I believe in propaganda.

I know that people will believe just about anything. The money is out there. It just takes the write message to get someone to hand it to you. Propaganda serves that job well. It's also provided for some great laughs over the years. Seriously, you've got to love a media culture in which a product like Alpha Hydrox can successfully market itself as a cosmetic breakthrough when its moniker actually refers to the chemical name of portions of the animal fat used in creating the lotion. It's genius. I saw an old lady at Wal-Mart not too long ago who was hocking her wares of yogurt by reassuring the customers that it contained twenty-five different antioxidants. I'll bet you that woman couldn't even proffer a simple definition for antioxidants. In fact, I'll bet she doesn't even know what they are good for. Nevertheless, in Redneck Central, she's got a million-dollar catchphrase. So propaganda has earned its due respect.

What I still can't get behind, though, is the idea that I'm sharing the message of Christ on the bumper of my car. Don't get me wrong; I believe in sharing the message of Christ.

But is someone actually going to make a real change in his or her life because they drove by your car and were warned with this:

"If you die tonight, do you know where you will spend eternity?"

I guess I just think that there are better ways to spread the Gospel than through a sticky piece of plastic on the back of a Cutlass. I guess I wouldn't have such a problem with it if I actually saw more spreading of the message of Christ. But mostly I see only spiritual terrorism. Do people actually think that it does any good to attempt to scare someone into salvation? How many strong convictions does anyone have that are born of fear? And it's not just salvation matters either.

Case in point. I spotted a bumper sticker about a year ago that made my stomach turn.

"Abortion doesn't make you unpregnant. It makes you the mother of a dead baby."


What kind of backwards logic allows someone to think that this makes a strong case for the sanctity of life? These people certainly didn't have in mind the sanctity of life of the young woman who regrets her decision to abort her child ten years ago. A decision she may have felt was right at the time but that she now carries with her as unbearable guilt. Does her sanctity of life not matter? Do we risk the hurt to these people, perhaps a hurt that will further repel them from the too often hateful glares of Christians looking down their noses, because it's all worth it if just one person changes their mind? Can we think of no better way to combat abortion?

It might take a little more effort, but perhaps actually spreading God's love instead of posting ridiculous paraphrasings of his words would serve better. Why do we think that we can change the world from the bumper of our car? How about using the driver's seat to take you to a planned parenthood clinic to work the phone lines for a while? How about using the steering wheel to turn your truck into the parking lot of a young single mother's apartment where you plan to drop off the baby crib and supplies you bought her to help with the enormous costs of having a baby? Perhaps you could use the dashboard of your car as a hard surface for writing out the check to the young couple at work who just don't think they can afford the baby? How about using the passenger seat to take them out to dinner or to Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a warm conversation with an attentive ear?

Don't get me wrong. I have no problems with using your car for evangelism. Obviously your six-cylinder can mobilize the advancement of God's Kingdom in many ways. Just be more creative than using your bumper.

Oh yeah, and stop complaining about the Darwin fish. That thing is hilarious!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I do this all the time...

I have a $400 Gary Fisher hybrid bike in my garage. It's really great. It sits there, taunting the garage door all day long in an on-going staring contest. The bike always wins. Invariably I come home in the afternoon, push the button and play Frogger as I attempt to cross my busy street while the garage door leaps to a senseless defeat. And that ends the day for my Tiburon. In truth, the wheels on my gas grill see more mileage than my bike does.

But I had great intentions when I bought it. You see, the theory works like this. I don't do something. I decide I want to do that something. I buy expensive pieces of equipment that can be used to do said something. I rest assured, knowing that because I dropped so much money on this something that I will in fact do it. Otherwise, I'll be an idiot.

So here I am. Resting assured. Resting assured that I am an idiot.

I wish I could say the bike fiasco was an isolated incident. I wish I could say that I play my $3600 bass a lot. I wish I could say that I regularly dominate my friends in paintball. I wish... well, I think you get the point.

I obviously haven't. So here I sit tip tip typing away on my brand new Apple keyboard. Here I sit resting assured that now that I'm typing on the beautiful piece of QWERTYUtopia, I'll be writing every day, working on a new blog, forging away on my new never-to-be released novel, even freelancing for the local paper.

Secretly I know the truth, sense the futility of every keystroke. It's all wasted effort. Delaying the inevitable–byte by byte.

Then again... this keyboard is luscious.