The Grey Pen Goings

Navigation through a World that's Wild at Heart and Weird on Top.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Books I’ve Read on My Journey, Volume Two

If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino

An enjoyable, rollicking tale that hops from chapter one to chapter one of many imagined books, Calvino’s novel is a wonderful treatise on the expectations and interweaving of readers, but done so in a way that you—as the actual reader—are sent on interesting journeys the whole way through. The range of stories segmented here shows just how masterful Calvino is with style and storymaking. 8.85 on the recommendation scale.

Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee

A very interesting book about growing up Korean-American. The style’s fairly strong, and Lee clearly thought long and hard about what he wanted to say on the subject. But…a lot of Lee’s answers are too easy, sometimes—not in solutions to the story’s problems persay, but in the actual construction of the novel. The jobs people have, for example, or his description thereof, seem like the easiest option, not always the best. Still, as Generation 2.5 as opposed to second generation, I connected with a lot of what he had to say. It was a first novel after all, and I think you can hear the MFA program in it kind of, but not bad at all. 7.1 on the scale.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

I’d been going on sort of a heavy kick of books so I pulled this collection from the Caledonian library. Very good for commuter reading, if anyone eles possibly spends more work time in transport than actually teaching. Sedaris’ style is pretty firmly established at this point, and my general problem with collections like this is more the length and repetition: twenty-five essays with the same shape, the same feeling at the end, etc., is a bit much. Sedaris can be pretty damn funny though, no denying, and for a quick read its fine. Also it did have this amazing piece of dialogue in it:

“This coffee’s like sex in a canoe!”
“It’s fucking near water.”

Oh, 6.4 on the scale, and 4 of it was for that quote. Zing!

Rock ‘n Roll by Tom Stoppard

A hearty thanks to James Loehlin for gifting me Stoppard’s latest play. As Stoppard mentions in his intro, the play borrows heavily from Vaclav Havel’s writings, and it’s interesting to see the “other” side of the resistance from Milan Kundera’s disenchanted view. The play moves fast, spans over twenty years, but each scene is so exquisitely constructed: Stoppard is a master of these things by now. A very good luck at time’s effect on one’s views. 8.1 on the rec-o-scale.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

I’m not sure if I’ve read a book where magical realism was used so effectively—in Bulgakov’s satire on disappearances occurring under Stalinist Moscow, the devil and his miscreants come to town under the guise of black magicians. Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues. The devil’s stay is also wound around a novel written about Pontius Pilate by one of the character’s in the book. I think—for a book to be absolutely special, above and beyond—it has to be kick-ass and heartfelt. Or by the end we need to have felt that it was both (meaning it doesn’t have to be heartfelt the whole way). The Master and Margarita is super close to that, and I can only think of two books and one graphic novel that have achieved both for me. Maybe if I was Russian, or Christian, it might have hit home harder. Still, an absolute kick-ass novel, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for madcap fun, and Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is based on this book’s model, if anyone’s interested. 9.75 on the recommendation scale.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

The title alone was very intriguing, and I’d heard some good things, so I checked out this tight little tale about a Ukranian lady disrupting an English family of Ukranian heritage. Think Cold Sassy Tree except British, and with Ukranians, and funnier. While the book was enjoyable, it’s quite obviously written by and for middle-aged women, which was kind of weird for me. I mean, looking down at my body, I’m neither middle-aged nor a woman. In a certain sense it seemed like really well-done Chick Lit, something a mom might nod to and chuckle and say, “That’s so true!” It’s be a very good airplane book, for example. 5.37 on the Avimaan Syam Rating Chart.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

My roommate found this on the floor of a hostel in Finland and passed it on to me, and how could I turn down a book of such controversy? I can understand why the book was so popular—though it’s 500 pages you just fly through it and it’s gritty style. Some scenes are chilling and others just mind-boggling and his style is punchy, raw in the way Eggers’ could be sometimes. But after I read the reports on what’s falsified…it’s as stunning as anything in the purported memoir itself. Nearly everything in the book is fake—he said he went to jail when he didn’t, he overblows every incident, he saws he got a double root canal without anesthetic when he didn’t, etc. Look, I believe any book, nonfiction or fiction, requires the reader to put a great deal of trust in the author. When that trust is broken, the reader doesn’t know who to believe, or maybe why they should keep reading, or how valid this world they’re entering is. As good as James Frey’s book seems, I can’t recommend it to anyone, because just like a memoir a recommendation is steeped in trust. ; You’re trusting me to tell you which book is good. That’s why A Million Little Pieces is the first book to be UNSCORABLE on the Avimaan Recommendation Scale. Read the stunning amount of lies here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Tim and I weren't going to miss it. No stinking way. And if the only way was for us to do it, though we'd never, ever been in charge of the situation, so be it.

Thanksgiving. It's a make-or-break holiday; reputations are born in November kitchens.

From the beginning their were problems, the ridiculous, cliched type of problems people encounter on their first foray into the Feast. The turkey wasn't defrosted enough. The power kept going out. Alyssa's pie fell over as she was pulling it out of the oven. And we're doing this all in the fucking Czech Republic, where people think of holidays as a day of rest. Bloody hell.

But we got through it. I rocked the mashed potatoes, made the stuffing, set up the veggie sampler. Tim concentrated on the bird and the gravy. Friends started filtering in and though we were late, we got it done.

I'm not sure what age most people change from Thanksgiving attendee to Thanksgiving preparer, but it's nice to know that we're capable of such adversities, and we can in fact flourish. Well, maybe not flourish exactly, but get drunk and eat a lot of food we made. At least we can do that.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Bedbug Platform

I have two small purplish dots on my right cheek. The first is a remnant of my battles with bedbugs: I got bit three times on the face, and the most prominent one stayed on as a relic of my insectian war.

But then I got a little zit under the bite, and this bump is lingering too (Apparently the bed bugs have struck deeper than I thought!). Now it looks like I have two zits. I was OK when people thought I had one, cause I knew it was a bite. Two, though, is displeasing. I would rather people did not think I had two zits.

This is why I'm running on the platform to eradicate all bedbugs from the face of the planet forever. I know it's a controversial issue, but I'm ignoring smaller issues such as the war in Iraq, human rights, social security, and taxes to take on an issue that counts: Kicking Some Bedbug ASS!

And yes, Will Smith will be my running mate, since I need someone to both kick the tires and light the fires. Harry Connick Jr. will be the head of Homeland Security. Syam-Smith '08!

Monday, November 20, 2006


I think it’s a common discovery for most people going abroad: the friends you make in places new are nothing like friends you had in places old. It’s strange at first, since those past friendships established track roads in your minds to the way budding relationships were supposed to go—what it’s understood to ask about, inside jokes, activities partaken in, etc. And these new friendships, well, they rarely stay on the tracks we know.

Tim is one of my few good friends over here, and we certainly contrast in certain areas: he’s a marketing major from Buffalo, loves hockey, not interested in literature or drama, might have been in a frat if he had gone to UT. And it’s easy to find these differences first, if you want to. But he’s very trustworthy, we can tell stories to each other and laugh about the right people together, and drink and watch baseball/football together—I think our common background growing up in houses full of boys and sports is what brought us together.

When you need to, you can be very selective about what type of person becomes your friend. When you need friends, you’re more open. And I’m really glad I’m friends with Tim, and that I decided to journey to Krakow with him. This is contrasted all the more by the fact that we bought group tickets with people from the Caledonian School, who were numbering 20 in total. Why anyone would want to travel in a horde of people is beyond me: you see less, you argue more, you connect less with each of the people you're with. I say 5 should be the limit for traveling parties, 2 and 4 the most ideal numbers.

The train ride to Krakow initially seemed like it would be a disaster. Steve, the Scotsman who had bought are group tickets at a reduced rate, managed not to reserve them. There was a chance we’d be sleeping in the aisle. Eight hours loomed in front of us terribly, but they passed rather drunkenly, and the seats sorted themselves out more or less—we split a coach with some seedy Polish guys who wouldn’t let us sleep as we didn’t let them sleep. I met a swell new teacher at the Caledonian School (one of our hundreds), and we passed the times rather amicably together with some vodka.

When we pulled into Krakow at 5:45 in the morning Tim and I bolted from the group. He had a few hours of passed-out sleep under his belt and I had none but we wanted nothing to do with the group. They were a slow-turning, massy wheel and we were a pair of skates speeding off in the distance. Most everything in the town was closed so early on a Friday so we wandered to our hostel, to reenergize before tackling Auschwitz.

Auschwitz is…Auschwitz does what it’s supposed to. I think the best term to describe how I felt afterwards is punchdrunk. You’re just so mentally battered, and there’s so, so much of it, this death and pain and cruelty is constructed into and over everything and…afterwards your mind is numb save for this depressing, inconceivable truth that humanity is quite capable of such evil. Tim was almost angry at them, the Nazis, for what they did. We both felt physically ill at the end.

One of the most disturbing things about Auschwitz and its mammoth sister extermination camp, Birkenau, is that they’re really quite beautiful. From the right angles Auschwitz looks like the main green of a quaint college campus, and the woods surrounding Birkenau are quite stunning. Only then there’s the electrified barbed wire, and the crematoriums, and “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

One last thing on Auschwitz: though the museums incorporated into the cellblocks are quite modern, the whole place is unheated. It was literally five degrees cooler in the buildings than outside, as if they wanted you to be chilled to the bone by what you saw.

The bus back to Krakow was similarly unheated, and a thick fog had descended over Krakow by the time we returned. We took deserved showers then went next door to Chlopskie Jadlo, what Time referred to as “The Outback Steakhouse of Poland.” Well, it wasn’t so kitschy, but the food was great and a guitar-violin duo serenaded us with hot jazz and folk tunes. By eleven, with more than a few drinks and no sleep in me, I was more than ready to pass out.

The next day we took at a more leisurely pace. We walked around Wawel Castle, which guidebooks describe as “eclectic” but Avimaan defines as “piecemeal.” Tim was gifted a Rick Steves’ Guidebook by his parents last year and used it faithfully throughout our journey, and it was actually a very handy guide for what’s worthwhile and what you can see on your own versus using a tour.

Over the course of the next two days we also wandered around:

(A) The Jewish quarter and its fantastic market.
(B) A “Milk bar,” the name for government subsidized cafeterias. Mmm.
(C) The church John Paul the Second used to preach at and the street he lived on.
(D) The main square, large enough to rival Mexico City’s zocalo.
(E) Café Camelot, where we were served hot beer spiced with vanilla and ginger.
(F) Around KL Cracowia’s stadium, looking for free entrance into the game.
(G) The old Jewish ghetto, where parts of the wall are still left standing.
(H) The university, with as many students as UT.

The other parts of the weekend were filled with American indulgences we can’t get in Prague: a Pizza HUT serving pan pizza and replete with a salad bar (If you’ve never had European pizza, let’s just say it’s a flat disappointment). We watched some football games and drank beer till our heads hurt and our pillows brought sweet, sweet sleep.

All in all Krakow and Poland were great. It’s funny, but I felt far more at home in Krakow than Prague: it’s more inviting, smaller and super-easy to walk around, got a great nightlife, etc. It’s much less seedy. It might get boring after a little while, something that’ll never happen in Prague. But all in all, I give the Poles and their perogis two hearty thumbs up.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dead Weight

Our golden retrievers died within a year of each other. Goldie after Christmas one year, Penny the next Thanksgiving. It was my first taste of death’s iron-blood flavor, and I reacted to it then as I have since—dumbly, unsure of what to do or say or think. Unsure when I can go back to acting like normal.

Penny in particular was a hefty dog, solidly over seventy despite how much we tried to run her in the Texas heat. She was a big dog, even as the lymphomas sucked the life away from her body.

The next summer was the culmination of our brief cycle of deaths. In Kolkata this time, for Thama, my grandmother.

The whole trip was beastly. Escaping the stifling heat of a Houston summer for the muggy purgatory of Kolkata. Jetlag that kept me up past dawn. A dearth of toilet paper. And our eyes—all of our eyes—tinged with the yellowing knowledge of death. I was fifteen then, and any discomfort was like oil flashing out of the pan.

She did not leave her shadowy room much during our two-week stay. She didn’t leave her bed. I’m not sure I saw her anywhere else that trip. She was week, tiny, fragile: the cancer weighted in her stomach left her rooted to the spot, incapable of extended movement.

One of those nights in Kolkata, when I was the only one awake and couldn’t stand reading any more John Grisham (the only books in English on the shelf), I strayed out to the veranda and watched packs of dogs trolling for scraps. They were nothing, these dogs, these curs, they were beyond waste. They were dying machines trapped in a dying world.

The only noise in the house was the persistent hum from the humidifier in Thama’s room. I walked down the wall and peaked into her room. It had been painted darker than all the others, a chestnut brown, making visibility all but impossible at that hour. I knew her bed was to the right and her servant slept on a cotton mat by its side. Under the humidifier’s band of sound you could hear my grandmother’s breath, stunted, painful intakes that seemed like she was shocked by a ghost every ten seconds.

Eventually I could make out the insignificant form of my grandmother. She was never anything close to large, but age and death had pulled her down with disease till she couldn’t weigh more than eighty pounds. That weight on the dogs was massive, overbearing, pushing hard at your thighs for pets-to-the-head or treats. On my grandmother this weight was nothing.

I closed the door. I stayed away. I slept till three P.M. everyday. There were many difficult things on that trip, and I was one of the most difficult. Now—now that I have a chance to go back—I’m not sure what to expect, how to act. I want my relatives to believe that I want to see them, that I don’t see their country and their relations and their heritage as some dead weight ascribed to my identity without me asking. It’s not. It’s not but I don’t know how to prove that. If all it took was me carrying seventy-five pound bags from Prague to Kolkata, I would do it. One on each shoulder.

But I’m traveling for a wedding this time. Celebrations and dancing, hugs and kisses, and the weight of souls gently, gently lifting up and away from our beings.

I can’t wait.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Application Drain

With the payment to Brown’ and Johns Hopkins’ online application forms, I’ve officially washed my hands of my M.F.A. applications. They are in other people’s hands: in Joe’s, who will match file and ship them off; in my professor’s who has yet to finish recs; in ETS, who must send my GRE scores to several more schools; and most importantly, to the admissions boards of these schools.

Applying is such a numbing drag. I’d forgotten. There are the endless forms to fill out, almost exactly the same yet uncopiable, and the same goes for the essays. Most of them are fairly similar, yet have some extra twist or variation that mean you can’t just duplicate them. You’ve just got to do them.

This is made all the more exasperating by the fact that MFA programs base their selection almost completely on your writing sample (short stories, or a short story and a novel excerpt). To quote my thesis advisor, who sits on the board of a top 5 MFA program: “The writing sample is 99% of the criteria used in making these decisions.”

So, you’ve got all these apps and essays and forms and GREs and checklists and envelopes and it all really boils down to the writing sample. Wouldn’t it be easier if we just sent that in, and went from there?

Ok, bitching done. But since I hate, hate, hate dwelling on things, I took the first two weeks after Internet was established in our flat and just ground my way through these. If you get past the fact that it’s a tremendous hassle to update your resume, it only really takes three to five minutes.

I’m applying to nine schools, which may seem like a lot, but of these nine the highest admission rate might be 10% at most. So no guarantees for sure, particularly because admission is based in something so subjective as whether they like your stories or not. But the same professor said this about my chances (paraphrased this time): “If a reader gets 500 essays, he can throw 400 out on the first read. On a second read he’s down to 30, and another read winnows it down to 15. Most admissions board readers will get to the same 15. From that 15 to five or ten, though, it’s a bit of a crapshoot.”

He said I should be in that 15. So, what I’m hoping for, I guess, is being on the top of that crapshoot. $500 for apps, $150 for GRE and sending scores, $50 for books and shipping, and essentially I’ve paid $700 for nine tickets to land on the top of the crapshoot. Hope my number gets called.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Random Facts about the Czech Republic, Volume Two

--You can buy a roll of toilet paper for about a nickel.

--You can buy a pack of Kleenex for about a penny.

--Toilet paper and Kleenex have the same texture as paper towels.

--Road signs with a directional arrow for highways often indicate that motorists can get to the major cities to the East, West, North, and South by taking the next exit. I have yet to be on one of these magical highways, but look forward to their splendor.

--In the elegant words of Jeff, a veteran teacher: “Say goodbye to shitting solid for a year, boys, cause it ain’t happening.”

--I’ve got nothing against old folks, but hot damn if they aren’t out in force here! Even on a 6 A.M. bus there’ll be a seventy-year-old woman struggling with her cane to get up and down the steps. They love to go out and sit in the parks and chat. But the important thing about the elderly in the Czech Republic is that they are EVERYWHERE—they will soon over take us, they will eradicate the Iranian government, and pigeons, and then roaches. Fear the old Czechs, my friends, who have been battle-tested by Nazis and Soviets and Communists, and give up your seat on the tram lest they turn their feeble wrath on you.

--On the topic, there are an inordinate amount of people on crutches (well, European crutches). And Europe ain’t exactly accommodating to the handicapped—they’ve got to struggle up masses of steps and the like on canes and crutches.

--Czech elections are held on Fridays and Saturdays, which unsurprisingly causes low voter turnout since a lot of Prague leaves for their weekend cottages. They say whenever the weather forecast is good for the weekend then the number of voters plummets.

--Man, I consider myself far from a pervert, but let me say this about Prague: Sisqo must be Czech, because this town is full of thong-the-thong-thong-thongs. You don’t even have to look for them. They protrude from jeans riding low. They are everywhere. I think eventually control of the Czech Republic will come down to old people versus thongs.

--On a related note, PDA. I mean, if two people love each other or attracted to each other, sure, whatever right? But teenage couple fucking go at it here, everywhere—these kids are just mauling each others’ mouths in train stations, on the street, wherever.

--Most everyone in Prague owns a cottage somewhere else in the country, and most every weekend they go out there to pick mushrooms, or pick apples, or just relax.

--The amount of graffiti is just shocking. It’s everywhere, on buildings centuries old, on new buildings, on churches and porno stores. What’s worse, none of this graffiti is well executed—it’s pointless, crudely-crafted tagging. No one seems to care. One of my students, Libor, said that Czechs have been so desensitized to crime, corruption, and bad things happening to them that it’ll take generations before their country is corrected socially. A grim proclamation. Come to think of it, graffiti might eradicate both old people and thongs. Let’s just hope they don’t form a coalition—that might get ugly.

--November is called Listopad. I just wish it was called Launchpad and December was McQuack.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Harlem Gospel Choir in North Bohemia

"How you doin' OSEK!" Sister Bea yelled to minimal reponse. "I said, 'How ya feelin OSEK!"

What Sister Bea did not understand is that--though we were in the town of Osek--calling out for Osek was like Aerosmith coming to Houston, performing at The Woodlands Pavilion, and saying "How ya feeling THE WOODLANDS! We are so happy to be rockin THE WOODLANDS!" Osek is a small berg twenty kilometers from Teplice, an hour or two from Prague, and of the 700 or so in attendance, maybe 20 were from Osek.

The main reasons I decided to go to this concert were (A) It was in a part of the country I hadn't seen before, and (B) My student Richard invited me. To call Richard a student sounds funny because he's my parents' age, with children a little younger than me, but he likes a lot of different music and we got to talking and I was very flattered he invited me along.

Richard, his wife Jana, their friend Vira, and I drove from north of Prague to Osek, which is quite close to the German border. Though the landscape was beautiful, it could have been far more astounding if the weather wasn't awful. It was a cold, constant rain, the kind that doesn't smack at you but comes in soft, ceaseless swarms. It was one of those oil and water skies in front of us, and I figured once we passed into it we would be in the clear. But then we were just in water.

On the walk from the parking lot to the church, the wind was so hard that Richard's umbrella was snapped and destroyed, hanging limply like a kite.

We had to get there early to get seats (as opposed to standing the whole concert), so we sat waiting for the show for an hour. The church is not heated. It was below 40 outside. It was below 40 inside. We drank hot tea from a thermos at the beginning, but by the end its effects were long gone.

The Harlem Gospel Choir is a pretty talented group: astounding vocals, of course, and pretty cool arrangements. They played a Stevie Wonder medley that was the bomb-diggity. The thing, though, is that a gospel choir is supposed to be a show more than a music performance. The Choir wanted to get the audience on their feet, singing, dancing, interacting.

The Czechs were not having it.

"How many of you speak English?" Sister Bea called. About ten people raised their hands, none of which included the people in my row, all of whom spoke English. "Oh dear. How many of you speak Czech?" Slightly fewer raised their hands, and the whole church laughed. I would guess that 500 of the 700 spoke some passing form of English.

The Czechs are pretty restrained when it comes to outside displays of religious or political views, though: most don't like talking about it. And the Harlem Gospel Choir had quite an uphill battle to get the Czechs clapping their hands through the whole show (Oh, I'll mention this too: Czechs--pretty bad rhythm).

But the "show" aspect of things grated on me too. Sister Olivia said to the crowd, "Y'all are beautiful. go on, clap for yourselves, give yourselves a hand." Wait: what? I'm clapping for myself because you think I'm pretty? I do not need to clap for something like that.

Also of note was a particular song selection. I can only imagine the director breaking it down like this: "Alright, Brother Lawrence and Sister Maya are doing the Stevie medley and Sister Olivia's got Amazing Grace. Sister Theresa, though, we got something special for you--you're doing R. Kelly all by yourself." That's right. Sister Theresa believed she could fly.

It was a good time, and by the end of the show my feet and hands were frozen. We marched off into the blackness and they drove me back to Prague, listening to Czech bluegrass bands cover Johnny Cash.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Three months

It's been three months. I wake up early, around 6:20, though I don't need to be up for an hour. My sleep cycle is finally back on track to American standards, so I don't need more than 7 hours max. A half hour later the dawn spills the first sparks of light onto the day and I look out my window: it's snowed overnight.

My roommates are up and I look out Emily's room, for she has a better view of the urban sprawl's first dusting of white. I make a cup of coffee with my French press, take it with a couple of biscuits and a banana. Back in my room I push open the double windows and stand barefoot on the ledge to take a photo.

It's been three months. I put on my boots over wool socks, button up the winter coat I found on my old flat's balcony. I hop on the number 10 tram, surprisingly uncrowded by the morning rush. I try to read my book but there's not enough sunlight. Snow files slowly around the tram and the riders watch, absently transfixed.

My first lesson of the day is with, a company somewhat akin to AOL or Google. A "portal," they call it. We read through some advice requests I pulled off Slate, discuss them, then Patrick and Lenka write responses. We then run through some advanced conjunction exercises. I leave them at 10 to go to the Caledonian School to lessonplan for my 12 o'clock lesson.

Jake's been here three months too. He pours over a few of his own papers, his sideburns and wayward hair and military physique perhaps more Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. Three months and he still hasn't found a flat. He's been couchsurfing for the past two. I order an espresso and a piece of apple cake for 35 crowns. We talk about literature lazily, and I agree to poke my nose about for a room for him.

Get on the Yellow Line to Hloubetin. I stand the whole metro ride, reading You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers. Look up and I've missed my stop: I'll have to circle around, making me 10 minutes late. Damn Eggers. Hana and I read over some pre-intermediate crime stories, discuss the difference between pickpockets, burglars, and robbers, then I leave.

It's been three months. Walking back to the metro station I am caught in a flurry. It's the first snowstorm I've personally been in, and the wind changes directions frequently, angrily, restlessly, undecided on who should feel its wrath. I scroll through my iPod, put on the Beatles' White Album and try to decide which song is my favorite.

Damn, it's gotta be Dear Prudence. For an hour I am an itinerant citizen of Prague's underground, not seeing the light of the day as I am crowded in one train then move to one that's more crowded. Nevermind. Definitely While My Guitar Gently Weeps. People read a lot on the metros and trams here, but now--weary of Eggers and his pitfalls--I sink into Happiness is a Warm Gun.

I've been here precisely three months. November 3rd. And I now have a plane ticket to leave in precisely three months. February 3rd. Prague to London to Kolkata for an Indian wedding.

6 exact months is a coincidence. The wedding's shortly thereafter. Still, here I am, at the peak after a long trek, ready for the downstretch. Shit, I forgot about Blackbird.

I've been here three months. I've lived in three different flats. I've put down an uncountable number of beers, toasted with strangers and strangers masquerading as friends, with friends, with the lost and the nervous. I've taught hundreds of hours of English. I've been sick in various parts of the town, I've seen its beautiful architecture, walked over its bridges. And in three months I will slough off my heavy winter coat like a cicada coming out of its shell, ready for new climes. I will walk away from Prague as home forever.

I come out of the metro--it isn't snowing around the Flora station. The same old man who was drawing the street corner yesterday is doing it today, sans gloves. Will I miss it? Sure. Will I regret leaving after six months? Maybe, bur probably not. Three months is long enough to be unable to see the beginning correctly, to trust your memory of what you left and why. It really isn't enough time to make good friends or really sink your teeth into a town, to feel like you've got your hooks into it and vice versa.

Am I glad I came? Definitely. Absolutely. Oh man, it's definitely Rocky Raccoon, ever since the time my friend Delaney played it on her guitar in that unique, slightly squeaky voice of hers. But I think I know America is more home for me than here. Maybe it's my own fault for never expecting to make a home out of Prague: I brought a spartan amount of stuff compared to my comrades. Did I want to set up shop? Did I ever? Or did I just want to unroot myself from somewhere else?

I let Julia beautifully haunt my ears before entering my apartment. I take the money for Internet up to Kveta, our landlady, and then explain how my contract allows for me to leave early as long as I give her three months' notice. I hand her a signed piece of paper detailing my departure, along with a bogus story of how my father wants me to help him start a cafe (and I am a good son after all). This may seem lame, but Kveta looks on my roommates and I as her children, particularly me since I'm most helpful to her: I've pruned our backyard and carried a broken washer for her. She'll understand better this way.

I've been here three months. When I meet my father and brother in Heathrow Airport perhaps they'll be surprised by the hair that's grown back beyond my ears, by the ten pounds of fat and muscle that have been shed from my frame. Perhaps they will see the same boy, always the youngest, challenging. Perhaps they will see someone different, someone slightly hardened, slightly weary. Perhaps they will they see someone so, so damned happy to touch anyone of the same blood as he. Perhaps he will be that wizened, experienced man he hoped the trip would make him. It's only been three months, and yet a whole cavernous three months stands between him and that date. Who can tell which Avimaan will show up?

I make homemade soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for my roommates: I'm grateful that my chameleonic nature can attach to two such homebodies. I mix a bastardized version of warm Orchata for my sick roommate, Emily. For today, at least, it's Dear Prudence. The snow once more spills lazily from the sky. Yeah, Dear Prudence. Tomorrow, though, who knows what choices tomorrow will bring?

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