A Little Here and Now

Hidey ho and how do you do. I’m stepping out of my stories of the past. I’m here with a little bit of recent news. I am mere single digit days away from finishing my first year as a professional teacher. I’ll take your applause now. To this day there’s a modicum of surprise I still feel about where I am in my life. I’m in Europe, and I’m getting paid to do a job that I had no prior experience in, a job that I wasn’t confident about my own capacity to do for the longest time.

Release the balloons and confetti, pop the champagne, I’ve made it. A few bumps and bruises later, but I can count on one hand the number of times I need to come into work and see those little buggers again. Then, then it happens, that fabled time of childhood. It’s the wondrous three month hiatus not just from school, the holiest and best remembered of youth’s stretches. That time when all the rules that you live by change. Beholden no longer to the bus and bell, summer is unbridled. It is the time of swimming holes and ice cream cones, the time for road trips and camps. There are bikes to be ridden down impossibly steep hills. Friends’ porches provide perfect places for lazy jesting. There are tree houses on high to be built and then scaled. There is too long grass losing its green in need of a trim. There are endless cricket songs to be sung as the sun makes its lonely sojourn from East to West.

There’s a sort of magic to it. The days linger in sunlit gold. Time seems to hold its breath in those moments, and just for that brief span your life holds with it. A parallel, reimagined state of being that you can embody for a scant few months. There’s adventure in those days. Seemingly more adventure than you’ve ever seen before. Those days of summer vacation carry greater weight and meaning than plentiful before. Maybe those days hold secret loves won and lost and left to times remembrance. It’s a collection of moments dearly held in youthful hearts. It withers though as life expands out of adolescence. I have held deep in my heart a fondness for this mythical stretch of time. It is the part of my childhood most lamented in its loss. This year though, that changes.

Being a teacher comes with its fair share of particular problems. Not an easy profession, fraught with headaches. Not a means to especially enrich yourself with monetary gains could it be considered. It makes me feel like I’m gaining back my childhood, something thought lost to the march of time. I am immeasurably excited to fall back into the wonderment.

My today is a few days late because I’ve fallen into a strange malaise waiting for the job to wrap up. Everyone I interact with is carrying this barely concealed burning anticipation. Freedom lies on the horizon, moments from grasp! Because of this, I’ve foolishly convinced myself that it has been a job well done and I deserve a break from everything that isn’t hardcore vegetating. I’m currently running a deficit on all of my constructive behaviors. If I’ve been letting actual responsibilities like cleaning the house and daily showers fall behind, it does not bode well for my self prescribed duties.

The students are exhausted and the merest mention of work books produces anguished cries of persecution. They don’t want to learn. I can’t blame them. As their instructor, I barely wish to be there myself. Strong faces are assumed. We go about our business because it is what is expected. It’s a cleverly acted charade of the usual.

Not a single man, woman, or child can state that they are not fed up and through with lessons. This is not hyperbole; I have not had a conversation with anyone that has not begun with their adamant desires for the cessation of schooling. The strange thing is that I wasn’t at the end of my patience before everyone else made it their goal to tell me I should be. Suggestion is a force of power though because I too am counting the moments to freedom. In the immortal words of A. Cooper, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.”

So, that’s me today, as of this moment in time. As snapshot of attitudes briefly possessed and then wordily expressed. I’ve got a lot to look forward to; it’s going to be an exciting summer. Hopefully I can keep up my creative habits in the face of my lazy ones. If anything fun happens, you can bet it’ll end up here. Here I sit, wistfully optimistic wishing everyone out there a good day, good night, and good reading.

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The Naked Mole Rat Offensive of November 2016

The little monsters were at it again. I thought that I had hit a high point in my teaching career when sixteen children simultaneously compared me to President Snow from The Hunger Games. Three fingers in the air and a whistle on their lips, mockingjaying was swift merciless, and easily crushed. Little faith did I place in the infinite creativity of the youthful mind. It was only a few days later when an enterprising group of hoodlums decided that they could top the scholastic disobedience record.

To fully explain this incident I am going to unpack a few truths.

In my job as English teacher, my instructional goals are first and foremost speaking and writing. As such, when I can get them to stop speaking it becomes time for them to do some writing, hopefully bettering their English skills in the process.

There are troublemakers in schools. Hard hitting journalism for you folks, the story broke here first. Most classes have one or two children who for some reason or another require extra attention. If they do not receive that extra attention, they will act out, usually capturing them negative attention. Some of my more difficult classes have around six students all vying for to be the top attention grabber.

The sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” contains every letter in English.

Writing isn’t easy, it takes work to do in the first place, and even more work to get better at.

There are students who do not wish to do any work. Those students really hate working.

Grade schoolers would much rather play games than be in school.

With this list of information cycling through the brain, I can commence the story. Restlessness was the word from the outset of the class. To worsen matters, their ire was being stoked by one of their more spirited dissidents. Through the use of some kind of hive mind telepathy, the student body had come to a unanimous decision that learning in my class was just something they were not willing to do. They were in a mood to test my resolve. It was time to push and prod Mr. English Teacher to see how much he can bend before breaking.

I assigned a single simple writing exercise they had done a dozen times before. So, out came the complaints. There were stalling tactics of each and every schoolroom kind. Notes were passed, I was berated with inconsequential questions, friends gaily chatted away, they picked each other’s’ hair for nits or whatever it is the lower primates do for fun. Anything was preferable to the cruel and unusual punishment I was inflicting upon their poor, poor souls. Wanting them to learn on a Tuesday morning? How could I? I warned and threatened and cajoled the very least amount of effort I could out of that class, losing bits of my own sanity every step of the way. Have you ever tried to argue with a brick wall with a Talkboy taped to it, and that Talkboy has an audio recording of fifty mimes all flipping you the bird? Neither have I, but it felt like a fitting metaphor for sixth graders. Forty minutes was spent herding a band of belligerent cats down a winding mountain trail made of mice and catnip. They faced the extent of my obstinance. Their grade school shenanigans didn’t lessen the extent of their workload, it only extended the work time.

With bare minutes left on the clock the students hatched a plot. In a move so fluid it had to have been rehearsed, the lead instigator for the day rose from her seat to proclaim, “Mr. Misc. we are finished writing.” Then the workbooks rained down. Every student tossed their books into a nice little pile in the center of the room. The mewling jackals had loudly proclaimed that all tasks were done and now it was time for anarchy to reign supreme. The time was fun and games; your order is at an end. We the carrion eaters of the Serengeti wastes now rule this classroom. Weep for your lost power, old man, for the regime change is at hand all who were no longer are. they are become undone. Shackles and bonds can no longer sway our united might for we are legion. Mob rules this day. The antiquated shall be disassembled and a glorious will of the masses shall be our only true governor. At least that was my interpretation.

Throughout the class I had been climbing the scale of wrath as I fought the sixteen headed hydra of turds. This new act of open rebellion should have pushed me into a fit of rage which would see me bodily transporting children out of open windows. In that moment though, I found a strange serenity. Negative emotions had fled, for I knew the only true path to salvation. With calm demeanor I said in quiet, even speech that the class was to stand up, we were going for a walk. The principal was on the other side of the school and she would be happy to see us all.

The students had been riding a wave of naked bravado; they had glimpsed power and were vigorous with its presence. That sensation died though as they realized that their bid for power was collapsing upon them. The wicked joy in their eyes ebbed. Their open rebellion had merited a forceful reproach. Then the pleading began. They had obviously had meant nothing by their actions. All was misunderstanding. They surely had done nothing wrong, and deserved no recourse. Please oh please, they were always such good children, why oh why would this be necessary.

I opened the door wide and conducted them all out the door before taking my place at the head of the procession. The pleading continued. Then the tears began. Surely this could not be happening to them, sweet cherubic beings they were. What had happened to their dreams of utopia? How could their coup have not managed to dethrone the teacher and set up a democratic republic where all students would be equal and no man, woman, or child would be leashed so heinously to the ploughshare.

The gallows procession ended at the door where I heard their final pleas for mercy. I knocked on the door and entered the principal’s office. I apologized that I had to interrupt her work, but I had an entire class outside that she needed to yell at.

She heartily agreed.

The door opened and the rapscallion brigade was left to dance on air in the midday sun. The principal proceeded to lash the revolutionaries to within an inch of their emotional lives. Again were the tears and the pleas for mercy. She proceeded to rebuke the class in Hungarian for a solid five minutes it was a holy and righteous rebuke that she laid upon them too. Silence followed and they were allowed to drag their casualties back sniveling to the holes from which they had emerged. As they slunk away the principal and I discussed methods to proceed with punishing the students in the future. The battle had subsided and the toll had been tallied. The war had tipped rather favorably in my direction from that day forward.

Thus is the story of my quelling the Rat Fiend Revolution. It is a story that I feel every teacher has similar experiences to. So much of the day to day of this job is just making small humanoids listen to reason for hour long increments. It does make one look back into their youth to see what horrible things we put our teachers through. I will leave you to contemplate those lovely thoughts of transgressions past, but for the moment I wish you  good day, good night, and good reading.

 

For those of you unfamiliar, this is a mole rat. Enjoy the nightmares.

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White House Blues

Hello, my viewing public, as I have ever so cleverly hinted in the title of this post, there is going to be a certain amount of political nature during this essay. If the infinite stream of news pervading that world has left you a withered husk of the person you once thought you were, it is understandable to desire a small amount of respite. If you are fed up with governmental discussions, do note that I will do my best to remain impartial. This will be a retelling of the events which happened around me and hopefully I can keep my rants to myself. If you haven’t checked out completely at this point, I invite you to read on and enjoy the show.

It began like most other days, toast and a glass of tea then down to the bus stop to catch my ride to school. The U.S. presidential race had cut its warpath across the countryside for nearly a year, but finally the side show was nearing its well deserved demise. The calliope had sung its last notes and the tents were being drawn down for their four year rest. I had done my civic duty to the country I was not currently residing in and mailed my ballot. I know who I voted for, and reasonably my vote could not be swayed in either direction past this point. I dismounted the news cycle and let it trundle down the road without me as a passenger.

I was busy juggling cats or whatever metaphor for difficulty best describes teaching children. In the process of living my own life, I forgot what day that the election was to close. To me, it was a day like any other day. International news, however, has its own way of becoming, international. I soon learned that I was far from the only one with an interest in my homeland’s choice of leadership. Due to my current geographic location, time zones can be a funny thing. Being a full nine hours ahead of the United States meant that election night became our election morning. The political scuttlebutt kicked into full swing right around the time that the first bells rang.

There was a tension in the air that morning. Something feeling taught to the edge of snapping. My students nervously interrogated me about the outcome of the election. This confused me, to start with. I had no idea what they were talking about. All recollection of what day it was had slipped my senses. They had rudely awoken me to the importance of the day though. To pacify the students I looked up the results as they were. At that point neither side had taken a distinct advantage. So, I taught my first class enforcing as much normalcy into the lesson as I could.

I opened the door and ushered them on with their busy day of scholastics. Oddly enough, one child was running the opposite direction towards me. Because the universe has a sense of humor, I was first told about the outcome of my country’s political election, by a twelve year old Hungarian. I moved to my desk to validate his claims, and so it was. The president had been elected and concessions were being made. I’m not going to tell what my political affiliations are, but I’m a college educated artist who is living and working in Europe. Draw whatever conclusions you will.

Not just the Americans, but all of the teachers seemed to be dazed in amazement once the votes were tabulated. They were baffled by how things had turned out. Children are amazing at attuning to the attitudes of nearby adults. Once information turned from rumors to facts, the entire school took on a dour and oppressive feel. The lights actually seemed to dim and the skies darken. I guess that’s the power of suggestion.

In my day to day, I actually don’t have much interaction with people outside of actually teaching. That changed this day. It seemed that the entire school was in a state of persistent shock, and everyone who spoke English was looking to us Americans to answer the most important question. Why? Why was this now the state of the world? Were all of the things they have heard about the new president elect true? I answered to the best of my abilities and speculated towards what I didn’t know. I don’t feel like I have ever been a political expert, but that was the role I was destined to fulfill on that hectic morning.

On a few occasions I had to explain the Electoral College system to inquisitive colleagues. They were very concerned about the popular vote, were very confused about why it didn’t decide the outcome. I cannot recall or attempt to recount all of the times that I found myself explaining the intricacies of the United States political system.

It was more than just my co teachers who were looking for some insight into recent developments. I spent nearly the first fifteen minutes of each class talking to students about what had happened and answering their inquiries about my country’s electoral process. I didn’t even have to leave my classroom for the inquiries to find me as the Hungarians were roaming the halls with pressing questions that needed answers.

I soldiered on and imparted knowledge both on and off the clock. I too was in a slight state of disbelief. I was quite convinced about my own predictions, which did not reflect reality. Either way, all of us American teachers decided that the end of school was the perfect time to head down the local pub to grab a pint. There was much consoling and again doubt as to the validity of the news. We began and ended the night by toasting each other and the world. I have always known that the U.S. is a global power. I’ve never experienced this phenomenon from an outsider’s perspective though. It was fascinating seeing how events have ramifications the world over. The globe got a little smaller in my eyes on that day.

Again I apologize for today’s political lean, but the events of that day really did play out with all the embellishing melodrama. Don’t worry folks. I’ll get back to my regular ways of dissing children and feeling wanderlust next time; but until then, good day, good night, and good reading.

Student Situations: Early November 2016

Welcome back viewers, in the time before this became a Halloween party blog, I was an English teacher. My job was teaching 5th and 6th graders in a lovely primary school in Budapest. I had had self realizations, and I was working through all sorts of new experiences and difficulties presented by a life change and a change in professions. In the several months I had been teaching, I had struggled with my natural dislike of children. It was a struggle. I had to learn how to interact with my students as an authority figure, when previously my experience with being an authority figure had been telling waiters when to stop grating cheese on my spaghetti.

The fall break was the first time in three months that I had taken an extended break from being surrounded by children every day. More than that, the break had felt like such a long span of time. After all of the hijinks and havoc involved in our adventure I wasn’t sure how I was going to drag myself back to work the very next day. I had been struggling pre-holiday with numerous aspects of the job. I had fallen off rhythm. I had barely developed the rhythm in the first place. It wouldn’t be implausible to assume I was experiencing apprehension over coming back to school.

To my great surprise, everything ran smoothly. The students were attentive and my lesson plans flowed smoothly. Even those classes and students which had been troubling me lately found the strength within to be quiet and listen. I guess the students had spent enough time in their true forms as demons that they had expended their hostility. Ok, that was a little mean. Some of the students were vampires and they must have spent their vacation draining someone else of life energy. Things ran suspiciously well until some enterprising individuals resolved to introduce entropy into the system.

I would like to put this blog on hold for a moment to insert this disclaimer. I wish to be entirely clear that all the following events are “purely fictional”. I most certainly not referencing real life events that I lived through. Any resemblances to classes or students that I may or may not teach are entirely coincidental. Because children could be likened to a Biblical plague of locusts stripping bare the metaphorical landscape of its sanity reserves to perpetuate their hive, any accounts of children acting like predatory pack animals may remind readers of real life children. No students were murdered by me during the making of this blog.

With that out of the way, I have these two buddy boy chucklenuts whose main hobbies seem to be slapping each other and avoiding effort. As an English teacher the school specifically wishes for me to focus on two particular disciplines, speaking and writing. In order to better my students’ abilities, I quite often give writing assignments to the sounds of pained exclamations. To keep them on their toes I will inform them at random intervals that their writing efforts will be graded this time. On one such of these occasions, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Stupid decided that the best way to avoid doing anything was to turn in the exact same writing assignment, right down to the grammatical and spelling errors. It was an easy catch and I made sure to follow up on it by talking with their form teacher and respective parents. Then it was my happy privilege to give them the dreaded black 1 mark, equivalent to the American grade of F.

In the time at this school, I learned that most kids really care about their grades. Whenever they receive less than full marks for an assignment, there are tears, weeping, gnashing of teeth, the works. With this in the forefront of my mind, it was ultimately satisfying to fail the little cheatmongers on their assignments. I enjoyed it to the point that I had to contemplate my attitude towards students, especially the less than ideal ones. It is easy to express positivity towards the responsive pupils, but when one seems intent on testing patience that is an altogether more difficult story. Something told me that taking joy in their failure was likely not the mark of a great teacher. I decided I there should be a change of self.

This was a small event, but one that I had in mind when the next test of my authority was challenged.

How do I put this? A band of mewling jackals that somehow possessed the necessary paperwork to enroll in an English class mockingjayed me. What is mockingjaying? You ask about a verb that should not be. You see, the Hunger Games is a three part allegory for reality shows sucking. The teens love it because of its weird named relatable teen protagonists. At a certain point Catnip Evergreen uses a hand signal as a gesture of rebellion.

Back to my story, I had just finished informing the students that they would be writing during class time. A particular student, let’s call him “Dave” decided that he was going to lead the charge of this literary farce. Raising the first three fingers on his right hand touching the thumb and pinky together in a gesture of salute his four note whistle was meant to inspire the fires of resistance against the capital. The rest of the children took up the call too, hesitantly at first but soon finding the boldness deep in their hearts to stand up against the despotic regime. That last sentence was both figurative and literal because every student gained their feet and raised their hands high and defiantly. It was either the worlds shortest book report or I think they were attempting to throw me off my game.

I’m not sure what their overall goal for this little coup de ta was. I may be giving too much credit to these thirteen year olds by assuming hidden motives though. More than anything, I was impressed with the students for attempting to disrupt my class cleverly, and most importantly as a group. They had all forgotten their petty schoolroom dramas to come together. It was a touching moment of unity. All directed against me. Whatever their intent, I crushed their dreams by not getting angry about it. “You ‘Dave’ are no Katniss Everdeen.” I quipped with vicious sarcasm to my young songbird. “Now sit down.” Their rebel leader’s wings had been clipped. With no figurehead for their movement, the passion for the revolt waned. The rebellion relentlessly crushed beneath iron heel. Seats were taken and assignments returned to with not a command more.

It began to click in my head. Nothing disappoints or deflates a class of ne’er-do-wells faster or more efficiently than an even, rational response. Indifferent action in the face of their taunting and goading means that instead of being drawn into their game of reactionary anger, you flip their board of emotionally manipulative Monopoly and start playing checkers. Ah, their disappointment fuels me better than a three course meal.

I’m back in action and proceeding with the flow of time yet again. I’m also back to talking about school, ain’t that a blast. There’s plenty of interesting stuff yet to come, and I hope you, my readers decided to join me for the ride. I’m done for now, and in the spirit of hospitality, I wish you a good day, good night, and good reading.

 

 

Rejected Titles for today’s blog:

Yelling at children: Or this is how I feel my power

I’m Going to Kill my Feelings With Starch

DMX Rhymes in Dog Years

Teaching English: Or How I learned to start worrying and learned to hate children

Sixth Graders: Or How Did a Roving Pack of Hyenas Learn to Put on Clothing?

 

 

 

 

She’s Got a Ticket to Ride for Fifteen Hours to a Different Country: Welcome to Hell Train Part III

Welcome back one and all to me making a month long description out of one week in October. How are you? I am currently well myself. I am feeling quite giddy in fact. Spring break is coming to my school in less than a week, and during spring break my romantically entangled person and I will be making an excursion to Lisbon Portugal. During this excursion there will be much seeing of sights and relaxing in seaside cafes or whatever it is that people actually do in Lisbon. It being a vacation to a lovely and entirely new locale I am going to do my best to explore and live life to the fullest. This does not translate into lugging around a laptop and tapping out records of the past. I am hoping to get both this post and the next one published this week, before I go yet another week without hitting my self imposed deadlines. Wish me luck. Anyway, with current events out of the way, now it is time to delve deep into the thirteen days of Halloween.

Towards the beginning of October or maybe even a little earlier, word had filtered down to us from the top that fall break was going to begin right on the orange and blackest of days. This gave us ample time plan a vacation of suitable spooktastic entertainment. Our final plan was to get together with one of our American coworkers and then travel the great land of Romania seeking sights suitable to sustain our substantial searches for strangeness. We were psyched to get on with the first leg of our adventure. Little did we know that our first bounding steps into the wild would bring us face to face with what has since lovingly been monikered as Hell Train.

Freed from our scholastic bonds, we packed up our things and made our way for the international train station in the center of Budapest. The common misconception in our group was that unlike an airport, with its myriad security measures and other delays, there would be no need to arrive early to a train station. The issue with that line of thought was that buying tickets turned out to be a greater test than anticipated. We were generally unprepared for the amount of difficulty that would arise from our attempts to give money for services. The big issue was that the international ticket salespersons were not anywhere near the domestic ticket vendors. Instead they were at the opposite end of the building with a line spanning the time of two network sitcom broadcasts. Needless to say we missed the train we had planned on taking, but there was no need to begin worrying. The next train would be along in oh say four hours. Unfortunately, all of us travelers live far enough away from the center of the city to make it impractical to regroup at home and wait out the deadline. In addition, missing the first train had made us paranoid, so rather than straying in search of entertainment, we spent the entire time lounging about in the station with a bottle of wine.

Let me make special note here if I have not made this point clear in the past. The European approach to open bottles of alcohol is a beautiful thing.

Several hours and a few bottles of wine later, the general consensus was that it would behoove us to ascertain from where our means of exfiltration would depart. The optimist in me assumed that this would only require a short perusal of the arrivals/departures board. In true keeping with the adventurers’ curse, the letters and numbers on our tickets didn’t seem to coincide with anything going on across the board. Bear in mind, none of the three of us spoke more than fifteen words in Hungarian, and we likely understood fewer. Keep this in the back of your thoughts as this little linguistic fumbling point will come into play more than a few times over the course of this trip. We experienced a sarcastically joyous shift in situation from having all of the time in the world to having precious few minutes to settle the hectic confusion. The time of our departure was crawling ever closer and panic was beginning to set in for if we missed this train the party was threatening mutiny. Attempting to salvage events, we went to talk to the woman at the information desk. She was unsurprisingly somewhat less than informative. We asked what we assumed was a simple question, “What track is our train going to be on?” I believe she understood the concept of our queries, but refused to answer them in practice.  Essentially being shooed away from our last source of assistance, we proceeded to run up to every train which arrived and ask what its destination would be. Eventually we received a half hearted and mostly Hungarian answer from a tired looking porter. We boarded the locomotive and began our voyage in earnest. Having planned to leave in the afternoon, no one was more surprised than us when we actually left closer to midnight.

Next Stop, Brasov!

Fifteen hours on any means of transportation is never what you would call a comfortable experience. However, when you combine more than half a day in cramped quarters with external extenuating circumstances, the experience can turn downright heinous in nature. In an attempt to negate as many negatives as possible we did acquire comfort of a cabin. Said cabins seated six which left us sharing accommodations with two Hungarian travelers. Us Americans were in high spirits once we finally confirmed that we had boarded the correct train, and we laughed and joked with each other for the next few hours. It became apparent from the smirks on the Hungarian’s faces that they understood more than a few words of English. Conversations were struck up and wine was shared. While we didn’t exactly strike up lifelong friendships with them, it was our great fortune to pass the time with pleasant company.

As I continue to set the stage for the grand descent into suffertown, I would like to elaborate on some lovely extenuating circumstance. In our great hubris we brought something like three bottles of wine to ease the pains of travel. Water? No thank you, fish make love in it. With the foresight of a fruit fly we neglected any other form of sustenance whether solid or liquid. Either reasoning that we could purchase goods on the train or just failing to contemplate that problem at all. Autumn was upon us, and we were on track towards some pretty hefty mountains. Because of the falling temperatures some unknown hero at the train company decided that the best way to keep passengers nice and comfortable would be to lock up every single window to keep the encroaching chill out of everyone’s tootsies. Locked them up nice and tight with weird square bolts that I could in no way interact with for good measure. Don’t want any of that cold air getting into anyone’s cabins. Then just to make extra special sure that no one could even contemplate the visage of that old scamp Jack Frost the heaters were placed at our disposal. Those heaters really worked too. So prodigious were these heating apparatuses they produced a surplus of heat, so much they were just giving it away. Buy one ticket get a free case of heatstroke absolutely free. These deals are absolutely crazy and we’re just giving them away! We’re even giving you the illusion of choice by giving you a climate control knob. Try not to touch it though, because the only settings are heat and oh sweet Vishnu why is it getting hotter. Don’t sweat it, unless you have working sweat glands, in which case you are probably going to sweat over everything; just uncontrollably sweat. Sweat for your life quite literally! The evaporating skin moisture is all that prevents your body from becoming a pressure cooker and slow roasting your innards to a golden brown. You see, the name for Hell Train originated less from the minor inconveniences that arose during our journey but more from the train’s uncanny ability to replicate conditions present on most white dwarf stars. As evening pressed its sweating heaving mass into night, events took a turn for the feverish. A mixture of dehydration, the ingestion of wine, exhaustion, and the inexplicably inescapable heat sent me on a winding flight through, around, and over consciousness with nary a hint of personal control.

I finally fully returned to a state resembling sentience a little after dawn, feeling as though the Sahara had taken up residence in my throat. With spirit reuniting with body I sought refuge from the oven that had mistakenly been labeled as a passenger car. It seemed the gremlins who see to the security of all portholes peering out of Romanian locomotives did actually make a mistake and allowed the mobility of one such edifice. There seemed to be only one window in the entire car that wasn’t locked. Situated in the narrow hallway, it opened inward to allow for a total of three inches of heaven granted respite. In my best defense against boiled brain soup, I spent every hour I could stand huddled up next to the source of refreshing oxygen.

From that flaunted vantage point I made my survey of the world passing by. It may just have been my life flashing before my eyes, who knows. The flatlands gained a sway, decorated with villages no greater than farms every few kilometers. The villages grow in size to small towns radiating outwards from the white church spires reaching heavenward along verdant backgrounds. The farther east we travel the more the hills roll and rise to meet then overtake the train on either side. The land became more generous with its hues. The fall crisp of air has cut into the trees that populate this land. At speed the dead and dying leaves blend to blood red and vibrant orange waves moving as the tides.  We are being flanked by nature’s splendor. The hills crest into mountains before we spill out into the waiting valley. The land is tall and grand. We have breached the Carpathian Mountains.

Carpathians.jpg

I have one last episode of note before we leave the train behind. A few hours after we had arisen from our broiling slumber, so did a man of mythical anger. He was a soul of such constant agitation that his angered cries were clearly perceptible from the end of the train car to the other. We were nearly five cabins away from him, but his voice managed to sound as though it emanated from inside my own head. To be fair to this man, he did seem to have legitimate grievances to air. A bellowing voice, howling out at the world in Romanian, he alternatively yelled at his phone, at his cabinmate, or at the uncaring fates in the air about how he needed to get a lawyer. The Hungarian in our cabin was relatively versed in the language which filled the air, and she was kind enough to inform us of the madness which would have otherwise passed us by. It seems that the angry Romanian had been arrested for some offense. It is hard to think how a man who could be heard clearly from twenty meters away at five in the morning could possibly run into issues with the law, but stranger things have happened. To add a cherry of madness to the unending cacophony that this interloper presented, he kept going on and on about how he was either beaten or bitten and so he had some kind of legal case to be argued. Yes, bitten or beaten, our impromptu translator was at a loss as to which, and really at this point the mystique is too great for me to choose. To really belabor the point, this man began screaming about his many troubles as the sun graced us with its loving presence and finally decided that he had adequately made his point when the train arrived at Brasov no less than six hours later.

There weren’t really any surprises that Hell Train had left for us. We had but to endure the tests that had been pressed upon us. Beset through all senses, we awaited our salvation. Time alternately slowed or quickened in an attempt to greater disorient me. But, like that we were released. We had reached the promised land of not being on a train. As the train slowed to a rest at our destination the cabins emptied of their weary wards. We were released from the sauna and everyone who stepped down from the train breathed many an audible sigh of relief at their liberation.

Thanks for sticking with me; these posts seem to be dragging longer and longer each week. There’s a lot to say, but I am also populating these posts with extraneous chaff. I’ll see what can be done about this as I move forward with this blog. Tune in next week folks to bear witness to how Halloween happens in Transylvania. Until we digitally meet again, good day, good night, and good reading.

Spookiness in Schools: Halloween Part Dos

Welcome back to a visual record of me slowly coalescing a cohesive style from a variety of bad writing habits, let’s slow things down for a moment as I shoehorn in a stupid joke…. Scooby Doo reference, meddling kids, cue the laughs. Give me your adoration; my words of forced introspection surely deserve it.

I said last week that I wasn’t done obsessing about the holiday of Halloween, and guess what? I’m not done obsessing about the holiday. I believe it deserves a special mention that this Halloween was the first holiday that I spent away from my family in my entire life. I know, there’s a big family component to sexy demons handing out candy. There is a deeper meaning than just the holiday itself sans familial relations though; small milestones like holidays abroad serve to highlight the ways in which my life continues to change from what it once was. It denotes a sense of growth into a new person. We all live in a constant state of flux, but it is something to be noted when you can so encapsulate such moments of change. The second that never have becomes the first time provides a recognizable milestone to examine far into your personal future. It also makes great fodder for those with journalistic intentions like me.

I do have a little more to say about the lead up to the annual gathering of ghouls. We still held onto the desire to wear costumes for the season. However we did want to do so without returning to that strange fever dream of a costume shop that ejected us so abruptly. With the full scope of time and experience in me, I do recognize that there were other places where we could have conceivable gone to outright purchase a costume. The rough ejection gave me the impetus I needed to pursue that creative spark I had wanted to express through action. It was decided, we would create our costumes from disparate parts.

Beginning with the conceptualization, we each came up with a few moderately reasonable ideas to in turn ultimately choose from. Somewhat early on in the month she was able to decide on a direction for her costume. Her costume was to be a skeleton/undead pirate. Utilizing some clothing which she already possessed, she started with a poufy purple blouse, over the top of which she would wear a black corset. She purchased some black boots with flared tops to really accentuate the pirate angle. Lastly she found a wide brimmed purple felt hat which she pinned together into a convincing looking tricorner hat. This wardrobing was finished halfway through the month which allowed her nearly two weeks in which to plan out and then practice her makeup to fully complete her look. In the end she painted what looked like half of a skull across her face. The look was quite impressive and effective.

I on the other hand have a brain made of scattered marbles. Consequently I found it impossible to make up my mind on what I was going to do. I had many possibilities rolling around with the only constant being that I wanted to use paper mache. I knew that I wanted to put my creativity to use and involve a buildable aspect to my costume. The big reason, besides the readily available nature of the materials, was that I had always desired but never had the drive to experiment with it. There was one issue that arose though. I had never even attempted to build anything with paper mache before. For anyone who is of the arty or the crafty persuasion it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that problems arose from my lack of experience. So, as I was attempting to discover both the benefits and limitations of the material, I also was unable to fully decide on what I was making. I chose a mask in an attempt to keep the scope of the build somewhat under control. By the end of October I had built the prototypes of three separate models. There were two geometric skulls designs, one of which covered only from the nose up while the other was meant to be a whole head helmet design. What I eventually chose to finish was an angular vampire inspired masquerade half mask with two long fang like projections which flank the mouth. It is painted a dark blood red. I worked on these masks almost the entire month, and in the end I am quite happy with how they turned out. I finished the costume with a pair of black slacks a white button up shirt and a black vest. I think that the red worked well with the monochromatic nature of the rest of my costume.

I did do more with the entire month than just working on a costume. There was school work to be done as well. As usual I was getting better at the job by slow increments, becoming more comfortable with being in front of students every day. Because Halloween isn’t a big event in Hungary I decided that a fun way to give my lessons a sense of timeliness would be to talk about all things spooky. What this translated to in practice was me playing Monster Mash on repeat while I had the students draw ghosts and skeletons. Towards the end of the month I figured that I would step my efforts up a bit and give the students an injection of American culture by showing each of my classes the fourteen minute epic that is Michel Jackson’s Thriller. I’m not sure how much they learned from the whole experience, but what I learned was that musical tastes have changed dramatically from when I was a child, and what I think is great sounds horribly bland to fifth and sixth graders. It brought down my holiday cheer to see this campy masterpiece of pop culture glory that I love be barely tolerated by children who would otherwise be practicing grammar if not for me. I feel like this is something that I should have anticipated, but as I have tried to express in the past, I am highly disconnected with the youth of today and I feel fine about that.

Since the school I teach at is bilingual with a heavy emphasis placed on English culture, the school itself was going out of its way to get into the spirit too. The American teachers were told early on in the month that some kind of big Halloween event would be held the last day of class before fall break. Students and faculty were encouraged to get dressed and good fun would be had by all. Important of note was that me and my girlfriend, being the new teachers, would have an important role in the whole affair.

The festivities would be split into a few events. The first was that there would be a gathering of the whole school so that the new English teachers could come up to tell a few stories and get everyone into the spooky mood. Then there would be teacher led events in the classrooms of each grade. I’m a pretty talkative guy, and I’ve given a few public speaking speeches in the past. When I was approached with the opportunity to warm up the whole school with stories from America, I was confident that I would be able to carry the whole presentation myself. I was so confident that I informed the other English teachers that I had so much to say that they wouldn’t need to say anything. I was so confident that I didn’t prepare a single word for the talk I was to give.

The day of the event came round. A good number of the students were in costume the whole day through which provided a fun starting atmosphere for the classes. I and my girlfriend also wore our costumes to school to show our spirit. Because the mask I had made for my costume was limiting in its peripheral vision I decided that I would save it for the party. So when my students asked me what I was dressed up as or going to dress as I told them to just wait, I had something fun in store. Walking through the halls in between classes everyone had an immediate reaction to my girlfriend’s costume, deservedly so. It was a striking costume. The smaller children cowered in terror at her skeleton face, and the older students were in general awe of how cool it was.

For the first half of the day we had to teach classes, but they were shortened so that everyone could proceed to the party that much faster. The teaching managed to kill all of the holiday spirit that I had built up to that point, because truly the greatest terrors are children. With fall break just hours away, the students were jostling with unrest. There was great difficulty in getting them to perform even the most basic of tasks. Just as with the Thriller video, I attempted to share and explain the things that I love about Halloween. To the same result, the students were obviously disinterested.

The time of the gathering was upon us, and I had worked myself into a funk. Once all my classes were finished I donned my mask and strolled the halls with my girlfriend. Everyone was just love, love, loving the undead pirate look. Either screaming in terror of her or running up to her amazing countenance. My costume was met with what could be described as lukewarm indifference. Then we got called up on stage in front of the massed student body. We had one of the oldest students being a translator for us so that the little kids could understand. I was given the mike first because, if you remember, I had been telling everyone that this was going to be my show. It was going to be a tale of mystery and terror that I would spin, somehow, even though I had prepared not in the slightest.

Stage mounted and the attention of several hundred people focused squarely on me, the crowd was hushed in anticipation of my grand speech. My soured mood and lack of preparation came together with jolly cooperation to Voltron style combine into complete and total brain shutdown. Beads of sweat forming and a hushed expectant crowd before me I had to say something though. So I began to speak and I can only hope the things I said have been lost to the annals of history. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I am currently blocking every moment of that from memory as hard as I can. I can make a good guess though. It went something like this. “In the States you buy or make a costume. Younger kids go trick or treating, while older kids might go to parties. You can get candy, it’s pretty delicious. Alright I covered a lot of ground, don’t want to overwhelm you, any questions?” The response was glacial which is to say frigid and slow coming.

With the most silence I have ever heard in the school the students laid their glazed over gaze of indifference on me. I looked to my lifeless pirate love with pleading eyes for her to take the mark of shame away from me. Consummately professional, she took my place and addressed the whole crowd. With the aplomb of an actor assuming a role, she switched tenor into her best oratory voice.

Launching into the true stories of Halloween past, she told about the time several years ago in the states that me, her, and a bunch of friends went to a full contact haunted house. In the middle of the scares, one of our group was singled out by Mad Max reject psychos. The unlucky member of our party then got bodily lifted and placed into a refrigerator, from whence we never saw her again. Actually she was just taken out of a hidden panel in the back of the fridge and sent on the long path for the house. My bonny lass glossed over that last part though and spun a fun little tale. This story took up the rest of the speech time and won the adoration of the crowd. As we were stepping down from the platform, kids kept coming up to her and asking if the story was true, or how scared she was.

So, disappointed with myself, the English teachers all split off to take part in the Halloween events we were meant to do with our respective grades. My corsair cutie and the other teachers as it turned out, held little dance parties in their rooms. There was food and drink, and they were only required to stay for a few minutes before they were released from their responsibilities. Unfortunately for me, I had, in a continued stretch of misgiven self confidence, signed up to do a choose your own adventure card game to entertain my classroom. Then I guess I planned to entertain the students with how cool I was. Fittingly with the theme of the day, this did not go exactly to plan.

From the start, no one told me what I was to do or for how long to do it, or even when to do so. All that I did know was which room I was to go to. There was unfortunately no one in charge who was able to answer my simple questions like when I could leave. So I wandered towards my assigned room, and luckily for me all the students in attendance were my least cooperative pupils. I set about doing my part though and handed out the card game supplies. The game was a fun diversion, and it lasted five minutes. Then, again, I heard the familiar sound of silence. That vacuous absence of joy or entertainment, the room was however exuded an aura of discontent. It was me, sitting there next to a bunch of very bored students. I had finished the game, but I had no idea if I was done with them. Could I leave? Should I keep talking? None of the students were privy to that knowledge either. Through some misguided instinct to go on with the show, I put on some Halloween jams which I had already determined that the children would not enjoy. My bag of tricks had been expended hours ago, but a clown I still was to be. Minutes turned into a half hour turned into what I think was eventually an hour of rabid disappointment. My mind had essentially frozen. Whenever you are up in front of a crowd, there’s this sense that can be felt under your skin. A tingling sensation that tells you that your audience is just not feeling it and they were in no way feeling my lack of interesting things to do.

As a last ditch effort to do something, anything to make the mortification abate even slightly, I pulled up Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I began to read the stories in my best ghoulish accent. I hammed it up for those kids, and for a brief moment, I saw the faintest glimmer of interest drift across their dead beady lifeless fish eyes.

To rub final salt and lemon into my wounds like some kind of injury margarita, the door opened and all the other English teachers poked their heads in. With only the most pure and true cosmic hilarity, I was informed that I had not had to stay there so long and flounder so greatly. The other English teachers had gone to their rooms for ten or so minutes, given ghoulish greetings to their students and grabbed some snacks while walking away. Only once and not at all before the knowledge that I was a fool was imparted to me by my colleagues, a person in charge of the whole event came into the room to reiterate the point to me that I had far exceeded what was expected of me. Words do not describe my how incredibly, totally, and fully finished I was with Halloween.

Join me for the next installment when I was in actuality not finished with Halloween in the slightest. The week following the party was fall break, a week of freedom. We were slightly disappointed by the lack of holiday spirit present in Central Europe. Thus we decided that we should go somewhere more appropriately suited to the season. With that little teaser, I leave you for now. Good Day, good night, and good reading.

 

Doing the Time Warp Again: Part 1

Jo reggelt, or good morning as it is said in Hungarian. I hope you all slept well, we do so love it when you come over, entertaining is just so much fun, don’t you think. Do remember, Russel, you and Sheila are always welcome to stop by if you are in town. Would you care for a cup of bean tea? We have a pot on at the moment. I don’t feel fully human without a little bit of pick me up. Well, I have no idea where this intro is going. It seems to be highly pointless and not terribly entertaining. Nuts to me for deciding to leave it in anyway. Let me begin again.

Welcome back to the back in time, where I talk about events that have long past into the softening glow of memory. Right now I am wishing everyone a happy near end of to March everybody, spring is in the air and so are the birds. Their songs carry across the gentle breezes. There is a bloom budding across the hitherto barren trees casting the world in verdant tones. At least that is how it is in Hungary at the moment. Whenever I contemplate the annual revival of nature that is this summer prelude, I am filled with an appreciation of its beauty. In that spirit, there is naught that reminds me more of the renewal of life that is this sunlight embrace of spring like October.

As I continue to make note of, at this point in my blog I have begun to work through the backlog of information and shortened the gap between long ago and this moment. Brought down from seven months to six, as usual I am highly impressed with myself. At the going rate, this will mean that sometime around summer solstice will I likely be getting to my Christmas. Anyway, time threatens to march on without me and re-inflate the chronological deficit that I find myself in. This way to the futurepast fellow chronographers!

Throughout much of the month of October there really wasn’t much in the way of big notable events. It was just a slow progression of previously established themes. Work as a teacher continued to present its own brand of trials and tribulations; tribulations which I made slow concerted efforts to overcome. I had already accrued a small band of interesting persons I will hitherto regard as friends, and I was on occasion strengthening ties with these companionable cohorts with the liberal application of alcohol. However, for all intents, during the slowly growing chill of October life began to recede into a comforting customs. As a person who traversed the globe in search of the novel it may seem a little odd to say, but by this I imply no negativity. I do greatly appreciate those times of simple sanity and routine. In the solemn seconds you see the simple serenity. It is those days that make up the major share of a human life. It is the minor joys in those easily forgotten days that give life its worth, the meeting of needs, pleasant and unassuming companionship. These are the moments that truly make up the vocabulary and grammar of man’s life. The spaces between the grandiose exclamations and the poignant questions, less important than the inexorable declarations it is the intervening letters between capital and cessation which tells the tale of life. Without which there are but dots on a page.

For the purpose of this blog though, I don’t see fit to regale the audience with thirty separate stories of me catching the morning bus to work. Maybe for a different time I will delve into the minutia of existence, but for now I think there is one thread running through the month of October that I feel would make a fascinating topic for exposition. That topic is Halloween. On this subject may I begin by presenting this disclaimer, I and my girlfriend both absolutely cherish the Halloween season. With her penchant for the dramatic and my obsession with fiction of the variety of creepiness it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that we find ways to extend the day of All Hallows into a month long event. Usually we celebrate the season by visiting all attractions haunted and by putting near obsessive levels of effort into costuming. A damper on our festivities was something that we did not account for in the grand land of Hungary. There was this natural assumption I possessed born from a life of absorbing grand melodramatic horrors of literature and film. Hungary is a country directly bordering on the territory of Transylvania, the mountainous land which captures the imaginations of anyone who has ever heard the name Bram Stoker. The issue with this assumption was that Halloween isn’t really an affair of note in Hungary. It is a small holiday with minor celebrations not dissimilar in nature to Labor Day. In fact it seemed that only those of English speaking nature possessed an interest in the festival of fright. So, with matters taken firmly in hand we had a mountain of work if we wished to manufacture the spirit for ourselves.

Back in the United States our Halloween truly began with the planning of costumes, something we usually started in late September. We would ask each other what costumes would be interesting or particularly fun to do. Once a consensus was reached about a costume idea, the next step would be to surf the net in an attempt to work out the costumes feasibility. During the first few weeks of October, you could witness the inevitable flocking of the majestic Halloween seasonal stores. In any town of sufficient size you could find a good 52,000 of which to peruse through. When the goods in these stores inevitably proved too expensive we would then go to Goodwill and hardware stores to begin the actual process of cobbling together a second hand monstrosity of a costume.

Living in Budapest offers difficulties in this plan. First and foremost, a point which I have already touched on is that Halloween isn’t exactly the reason for the season in these parts. My girlfriend and I don’t have many traditions that we stick to on a yearly basis and we were unwilling to let this one pass without expending the effort. We resolved to bring this little bit of home with us. Secondly is the fact that shipping and handling is an expensive process when directed towards Central Europe as opposed to the Western United States. It soon became apparent that what we wanted would take greater effort.A brief exploratory probe of the internet informed us that the number of costume shops which lacked the adjective of “adult” was quite limited. There was one promising prospect that stood out due to its description and location. Identified as the place to go to get what we needed and conveniently located downtown we made the plan to scout the store one day after work.

On the day of the exploratory expedition we were wary upon reaching the supposed location of this store. Unlike in the states where there is a Halloween billboard every square mile and the storefronts are decorated two story tall images of ghost, Budapest does not exactly feel the need to be so obvious. Following the address on the map led us off the main street down a back alley. As we journeyed down these lesser walked avenues the bustling sounds of the metropolis died down in our ears. In the middle of this secluded alley was situated a massive baroque iron gate. It was imposing to say the least. Through the spaces between sturdy bars could be seen another internal pathway which in turn had three separate formidable gateways that led to even more alleys. It was a sight that led us to stand by in contemplation of whether we should test our resolve by venturing into so mysterious a locale. The number on the building was correct, but we didn’t see any other markings that could reassure us that we were not about to enter a portal into a labyrinthine Sub-Europe where everything is backwards and all questions are spoken in riddles.

Hailing from a land of grand open spaces, this claustrophobic atmosphere made its impression in my mind as a might unsettling. I feel as though we would have given up on the whole venture at that point if a pair of women did not brush by us to blaze a trail through the hidden paths. They had the air of people in the mood to purchase costumes and refreshingly they didn’t have the look of murderers. A creak of the hinges squealed out as the door began to swing back closed. Our decision was made for us. With native guides in view we sallied forth. Once in the inner courtyard the leftmost path was chosen and another iron doorway passed through, this time into an interior space. Following blindly those before us with ever waning confidence we gained ingress. The iron portal gave way to a long hallway with what looked to be seldom utilized doorways to the left and a railing barring off a great descent into the earth. The dimly lit hallway led to a single staircase which descended. The soot of many years obstructed the few windows not pasted over with papers. Cavelike and sinister we descended. Faded posters with fantastic garbs were the first signs we had wandered in the correct direction. All was the stairway at every floor were fewer closed and locked doors to the sides. Meandering downward into the strange new land I was sure we would be inevitable trapped in and forced to cobble shoes for its wizard mayor. One flight down, the faded postings engulfed every wall. Second flight down, masks of varying designs hung off the walls in random display. Third flight down, and sinister apparitions reached low from the rafters. Fourth flight down we reached the farthest extent of our cavernous excursion. No doubts now, this was the location we were determined to find. It was a square floor with only two directions to proceed. Ascend the stairwell or test your fate at the singular doorway overgrown with webs, the visages of the damned, and draped fabrics. A desk with a monitor and a mouse rested opposite.

As we absorbed our surroundings the two women in front of us had approached the technology and then printed off a number before being swiftly ushered through the door. Mimicry to this point had been our means of reaching this place so we continued to follow suit. On the screen was a rather large selection of moderately to greatly expensive costumes. We printed off a number to await our admission.  As we browsed the catalogue of goods the door disgorged several of its inhabitants and we were granted entry to this land of mystery. I had never seen such a densely populated display of various attires. Garb of differing nation and age were visible over every inch of the small room.

As we presented our ticket for admission to the sight some information that we did not know about subterranean back alley costume dealerships was made known to us. The most surprising of these discoveries being that subterranean back alley costume dealerships exist. More prescient to our position as potential clients at this merchant was that the employees expected all of its entrants to have a costume picked out by the time of entry. With minimal fitting and fuss you are expected to make a purchase and depart. One last little morsel of knowledge that soon came to our attention was that the employees get very angry and will kick you out if your mind is not sufficiently made up by the time you gain admission into their little hidden society of costuming. Deciding we didn’t wish to pay exorbitant quantities of cash to people who shooed us away with vehemence, we departed post haste from the surreal existence we had lived some few short minutes.  It was then that we chose to get crafty and produce our own disguises.

In the process of writing this story I had actually planned on incorporating the prior event as a minor part of my coverage of Halloween. What I have discovered is that I more to say about the tales of Halloween than I originally anticipated. I hope you enjoy hearing about said time of year because I have a lot more material to get through. Join me next week as I explore how my school decided to undertake their celebrations of a mostly American holiday. Until the next installment, I say good day, good night, and good reading.