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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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?

 

 

 

 

Halloween V: Hell Train II: Redemption

We had achieved what we had set out to do, spend Halloween night in a “vampire” castle. The grand experience was over though and as we groggily got to our feet the next morning; we still had five days left in Romania. We had blown our Romanian load. How do you fill the better part of the week, when you have no idea of what to do? Well, if at first you don’t succeed, drink, drink again.

Because we are Americans, and thus perpetual eat monsters, our move was to grab some traditional Romanian cuisine. Down a narrow alley and up several flights of stairs to an establishment that promised food and drink we went. It was a lovely pub that delivered on its promise with delectable eats. The wait staff was fun and excited to talk to us foreign devils. There was still some holiday spirit left lying about the place so they decided to inject it into their serving staff, who went about their activities in costume. It was great fun getting our order taken by a skeleton, having the drinks served by a zombie, and bussing our tables was a lovely young man decked out in Rastafarian blackface. Wait what? What the what, with the blackface? Yes I’ll have the fries, but can you hold the racism? As an American who is mostly white but doesn’t think the South should rise again,

I found it infinitely perturbing watching this guy go about his business in full minstrel show attire. Not for the first time was I reminded that Central Europe just does not have a firm grasp race relations with black people. Unsurprisingly there’s not a lot of variation in melanin levels in this part of the globe, and as such they find it hard to wrap their head around racism being seen as a negative my non black people. They go about race relations like black people are from fantasy novels, somewhere between elves and cave trolls. But my friends did describe it as having the best schnitzel in the world, so at least there’s that going for it.

We took our time just exploring all that the bohemian shopping district carefully crafted to relieve wealthy foreigners of their money had to offer. We toured, funnily enough, the Black Church so named for the grand fire which blackened the walls and roof of the religious structure. Crepes of delectable nature were consumed at frightful speed. I bought a Swiss Army knife because I had very little faith in the Romanian transportation authority not trying to slow cook me again. My girlfriend purchased a beret, it’s stylish. As the day went on, the wind chill kicked up and the air went from being crisp to being almost frozen. Everyone is in winter coats and here I am wearing a button up and a t-shirt. Not to be deterred, we braved the cold to quest for liquid refreshment. We purchased a much alcohol and retired to our flat to watch 1930s Dracula in Transylvania and playing drinking games. To complete the theme, we decided that we needed to drink Bloody Marys. The cans of tomato sauce that I believed that I purchased turned out to be cans of shriveled tomatoes floating in red goo. Not to be deterred by a little thing like edibility, we mixed up cocktails that could be described as Bloody Mary adjacent. The night ended as well as expected.

The next day we had one more stop at the crepe place and went souvenir shopping for friends and family. Our time in Brasov was at an end, and it was time to get to our next location. We got on the train, and picked the first cabin that had room. After the train moved on some girls come by and said we needed to move because we had taken their seats, they then proceeded to unhelpfully block our exit thus making it more difficult to vacate their cabin. We meandered up the train to procure a new cabin. When the ticket taker comes by, he takes our tickets and mumbles in Romanian how we’re in the wrong place, however he must have decided that attempting to make us understand how foolish we were was high above his pay grade. He shrugs off the inconvenience and walks away. At speed the scenery is gorgeous. Once we pass the city limits, hills and mountains jut into the sky. The autumn colors decorate as far as the eye can see making the hills appear on fire as they pass by our window. The tall hills turn grey and then disappear into a white cap of snow which then blends into the clouded sky.

We achieved Bucharest and to save money we walked to our Airbnb. Bucharest is a city of interesting atmosphere. The majority of the buildings are of old communist design, geometric to a fault, seemingly designed to discourage individuality or excitement. Oppressively dour is a way I would describe parts of it, and what a lovely hue of depression they invented to go along with it. It felt like a place where boiled cabbage would be considered too spicy for native tastes. Perhaps it was the oppressive sensation radiating off of every concrete surface or perhaps it was the activity of the last few days but we ended up crashing hard at our flat. It was a strange sort of vacation away from our vacation, Bucharest. We would get up in the morning and like infant birds wearily clamor for sustenance. Sluggishly we ventured forth to what remained of old town where the most expensive food and drink could be obtained in tourist friendly themed establishments, being careful to avoid the strip clubs and “massage parlors” every five meters. We would consume meats, potatoes, starches, and all things fried in amounts suitable to power our languid ramblings through the few square kilometers of old town that we could muster the energy enough to peruse. The walking served only a momentary diversion for our minds and bellies, entertaining us so that a few hours hence we could devour and drink again. We didn’t so much eat, as we became one with the gorge. Three full days, this was our existence, with me leading the party out in the mornings and back to the flat ever so much heavier in the evenings.

There was this statue of a naked man holding up a dog though, so that’s nothing to scoff at.

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The next day we left bright and early for Sibiu to see if we could get a little bit more historical before we had to return home. We only spent six or so hours in Sibiu, but it had an amazing old town. All signs point to Sibiu being the tourist capital of the entire country of Romania, and a city with a great deal of history behind it. We went to a Scottish Pub and later a Romanian one because food perpetuates our very existence. We took many pictures.

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Our grand adventure was for all intents and purposes supposed to be over as we boarded the ten hour night train home. However, the spirits of transportation past weren’t willing to let us go without a final struggle. With long journey ahead we had made sure to get assigned beds in a sleeper car. Once boarded, we discovered we had a travelling companion who I shall henceforth refer to as Lord Bed Thief. You see, Sir Bed Thief had deprived me of my sleeping location and was rather asleep for me to make a fuss over. Ascending to the less comfortable top bunk I proceeded to become unconscious with both rapidity and efficiency for what should have been a long and enjoyable rest. What actually happened at 4:00 A.M. was commotion in the car and a conspicuous absence of motion that one would expect from a train. Over the better part of an hour commotion evolved into utter confusion, culminating in all of the passengers being told to vacate the train. Into the blistering pre-dawn frigidity we were herded to a farm cottage labeled a train station. It was very much not Budapest. We were on the Hungarian/Romanian border and replacement busses were on the way to send us on our way. Still confusing but a plan of action it was.

A large luxury liner shows up, and becomes filled with miserable people immediately, filled into the aisles with standing passengers. The bus doors close and then the bus proceeds to very quickly do nothing but wait for the next hour. Continuing the theme, we have no clue as to why. By 7:00 in the morning a second bus arrives and this time my travel companion and I rush the bus to get actual seats for this journey of unspecified length. The second bus fills up quickly too, but runs into some unforeseen snags. A woman named Mustard Pants is one of the last to board the second and presumable last bus. For room reasons, she had to have her bag in the other bus which caused her to experience a luggage meltdown, a fact which she loudly and Americanly made known to the bus. Seeing the necessity for compliance and being yelled at by her friends convinced her to take the path of least resistance.

Then, lastly, to cap off this particular leg of the journey, right as the busses were readying to trundle on a louder and more wrathful yelling erupted from the front of the bus. Who decided that their needs were not being properly met in this whole bargain, why it was none other than Monseigneur Bed Thief himself. The treatment shown to him was unusual and horrifying to his refined palate. To this point, there had been two Hungarian police officers groggily looking over the proceedings, and his wrath was not to be ignored by these simpletons, a fact he made known first to the bus driver and then rather wisely to the two police officers. Proclaiming the illegality of cramming this many people onto a bus, he held on to that point like a token to ward off common sense, demanding to see managers, highers up, or any who should know that Grand Vizier Bed Thief felt such inconveniences. Around the shrieks of blind malice was the missive that if the bus did not leave in five minutes we would miss our connection and the next train to Budapest would leave in six hours. The cranky huddled masses we not willing to extend leniency towards His Excellence during his one man crusade against injustice. Cries of sit down or get out were flung, and Great Chief Bed Thief knew his mutiny had failed. He made sure to stop and take pictures of the police officers and the bus license plates, all the while promising to rain hellfire upon his persecutors. And with that he disappeared into the misty morning, presumably to kick an orphan out of bed before complaining that the comforter wasn’t down. As a nice change of pace though, it was fun to hear a disgruntled Romanian on public transportation yelling in English.

The “illegal” busses took us passengers to the first of two separate train transfers. Inconvenient, maybe, but for the first time in five hours physical progress was being made towards our final destination, I was not about to complain out loud. Seeing its other plots fail to defeat, us the vengeance demon that controls all Central European transportation returned to its old tricks. The heat was cranked to levels that would make magma ask for a fan, and windows locked tight to preserve our essences as they left our bodies. However, I held a talisman of light in this infinite darkness. Swiss army knife in hand, I opened the windows to the literal applause of my fellow travellers. Thus defeated once and for all was the Spirit of Helltrain.

A bus ride and two separate trains later, we finally arrived home at the station a mere six hours late. I complain, but later we discovered that we had actually been the lucky train. The ordeal was caused because the train ahead of us had derailed. All in all, could have been worse.

Well, that was a hell of a saga. I promise that I am finally finished and you my readers are finally free from the month of October 2016. I can proceed yet again closer towards the present. Thank you everyone for seeing this holiday recounting through to its end. Join me next week for something, anything not this. Until then, good day, good night, and good reading.

Interlude

Welcome back listeners, please come inside and take a seat. Rest a moment and perhaps listen to some friendly conversation while you remain. As may be obvious from the rather plain title, I plan on conducting business in a slightly different way than I have up till recently. I am taking a break from talking about the past to ruminate on current events in my life and how they are going to affect this blog for the next few weeks.

First and of foremost importance, my female companionship and I are now officially on Spring Break time. This means that we have a little over a week of freedom to be secluded from reality as we know it. As mentioned last week, this will be accomplished by travelling to and lounging about in the grand locale of Lisbon, Portugal. Before I continue, I want to contemplate that sentence, that preceding sentence. I have a job sponsored week free from responsibility and I am going to spend it crossing a continent and experiencing a completely different culture. When did this become reality? How did I end up in such a inconceivable place in my life? Try not to get the wrong idea, I am not attempting to inflate my ego or inspire jealousy. It is one of those sentences that I never contemplated me being able to say casually. It serves to show just how different my life has become in just eight months. Back in small town Oregon I was a homebody who held on to vague notions of nebulous futures exploring a wider array of experiences. In a shorter time than I would have thought possible, I am here and will soon be there. I guess it is difficult to see your life altering as the seconds go by. You don’t experience the curvature of the earth below your tread. It takes a moment to get out of your own experiences to really reflect on the direction of life. Me, the person who lived his whole life watching, reading, and listening to tales of adventure, I get to have some of my own. That’s cool. Ok, I may be bragging just a little bit.

However, to complicate matters more than they needed to be, procrastination intensifies. Due to my powers of chronic procrastination, I have created a convergence of events, essentially a nexus point of due dates all coming together right before I make my date with the Atlantic coast. Without going into too great of detail…

You know that old and tired joke where everyone forgets to do their taxes until the last minute? Well then, call me an overused punch line. Because I am some kind of machine specially designed to do things later than it should, I managed to wait until the night of April 13th before even beginning the filing process. It’s a good thing that I am a very organized person who wouldn’t dream of moving thousands of miles away from home without having all of my important paperwork on hand. It must be strange being the kind of person who has to do paperwork until 1:00 A.M. and have an hour long phone call with their mother in an effort to find one piece of paper hidden in the depths of a filing cabinet. Definitely wouldn’t want to be that kind of person.

In addition to that little bundle of shenanigans there was packing left to be done in the morning, Airbnb hosts to be contacted, and boarding passes to be found. It has been slightly hectic. Now, luckily that is all finished and behind me. The only thing that I have left to do before I am free to go is this post. With zero words written and only a few hours until liftoff this post is going to be more than a little bit rushed. It will also be somewhat shorter than the example I have been setting with my last few posts.

That does bring me to a point that I wished to touch on briefly. This blog is a personal passion project, albeit one on a public stage. Despite the amateur nature of the work, I do wish to present the best product I can. Each week I have been dedicating a fair amount of time to writing and editing these posts into a form suitable for human consumption. Recently, I may have become a little overenthusiastic about inflating my word count. As I try to produce one of these a week I feel like this increase in quantity has left me with very little time to dedicate towards the editing and revision of my writing. I am interested in conducting a little experiment. I wish to challenge myself to reverse trajectory and shorter entries with a higher level of polish. Will it work, who knows? I began this venture in an effort to achieve self improvement. In this spirit I hope to continue onwards into the future. If this alteration goes well, there may be more changes to the formula. Yes, I do realize the irony in expressing my concerns over lack of quality assurance in an essay that was by its very nature rushed and barely edited.

Well, this appears to be all the time I have to work with today, and Portugal awaits. Wish me luck in my travels and as I expand mental horizons. The skies await me, and they do so with a pleasant countenance. Adventure abounds, and I intend to seize it. For those of you seated on your couches or at coffee shops, commuting or cohabitation all of you coming to the web seeking literary fulfillment, I wish you good day, good night, and good reading.

 

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.