Scroll down, if you dare

This morning, as I waited for my toothbrush to finish updating its directory, I couldn’t help wondering if the city bus I usually take to work would have finished upgrading its registry in time. There’s nothing worse than boarding a bus that’s in the middle of a major service pack upgrade.

Having finished with the update, my toothbrush automatically restarted itself and was now buffering at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Forget that, I said to myself, and walked out of the bathroom, indignant at the way my own toothbrush was treating me.

Outside the sun was shining…no, wait, that’s what people used to say before the Sun underwent a facelift. Now our formerly shiny star looks like a spinning circle, with the words “Please wait for the Sun to finish updating” scrolling right under it. Oh, well, we were sick of sunshine anyhow.

I boarded my bus and sat in the back so that I could fully devote myself to spacing out. All of a sudden the bus came to a screeching halt and then began to move backwards. “Sorry about that, folks,” said the driver, “the update didn’t take, so we have to go back to the beginning of our morning route, which is on the other side of the city.”

Late for work only four hours, I snuck into my designated cubicle and promptly went to sleep. Office work is such a pain in the ass.

At lunch I pondered going across the street to Joe’s Digital Pancakes, but remembering that more hard sleep awaited me in the afternoon, I opted to just chow down a frozen meal in the company cafeteria.

Alas, lunch was simply not meant to be. My frozen beef stroganoff, which looked exactly like the contents of a dead cow’s rectum, couldn’t fit into the microwave. “It is, after all, called a MICROwave,” said one of my snooty coworkers. The latest update, speeding up the operating system and clearing up some minor upload/download issues, shrank the microwave to the seize of a match box. My beef stroganoff, left in the fridge overnight, underwent an important anti-malicious software upgrade, ballooning to the size of a small delivery van.

Lunchless, I spent the afternoon hard at sleep.

Post meridiem break interrupted my weekly assignment, which often baffles me with almost insurmountable challenges. This time I had a particularly difficult task of uploading short clips of impossibly cute kittens doing impossibly cute things. As I departed, seven of my colleagues began the arduous task of counting the number of views, done by hand to prevent lethal miscalculations.

Deciding to grab a byte to eat during my break, which is usually only 18% loaded by the time I have to head back to my cube, I ran out into the street to find Kilo Byte, the falafel vendor. He’s one of the best because you get exactly one kilo per byte for only 756 bitcoins.

Instead of old Kilo, I ran into the Prince of Sudan, who usually steers clear of my partition of town, preferring to roam the empty spaces of the reformatted E Drive.

The Prince really used to be a prince, but after a very unfortunate and nearly deadly incident in the Royal Penthouse #11 of the Abu Dubai Home Edition Hotel, he lost his official designation because he was unable to cover the costs incurred by his stay at this swanky location, which used to be easily accessible by rick-clicking near the exit for the Hard Drive (now the Home Edition is only available in Ubuntu, which is a country in Africa renowned for its outstanding cuisine and home-made sex toys).

Anyhow, the Prince accosted me as I attempted to cross the street, telling me some cockamamie story about how the Home Edition made him wash dishes to pay off his debt.

No sooner had I shrugged off the Prince, who (BTW) looks more pixely than ever, when widow Upsala di Youmustbeshittingme jumped right in front of me, trying to stop me as I dived for Kilo’s falafel cart.

Upsala wasn’t always a widow. She also used to be an old maid and worked numerous jokes as one of the two guys who walk into the bar (she used to be a man, duh). Her husband of more than seven battery life cycles died after a dead pixel fell on his mustache.

As I watched Kilo disappear around the corner, Upsala begged me to provide her with my bank account info. Apparently the widow had come into a large inheritance of Spanish gold, recovered after a thorough virus scan was performed on some long-forgotten external drives. The only problem for Upsala was that she couldn’t get her mouse on the gold until she withdrew all but 0.91% of my life savings from my bank account.

Glad to be able to help, not only did I give her my savings account info, but I also promptly emptied my pockets and gave her the shirt off my back.

On the way back to the office, dazed by hunger, I tripped first over a weather update popup (rain possible on the coast of Madagascar–but which coast?!), and then over a news flash informing me that Dow Jones fell down seven points. Jones used to be my neighbor, and I remember when he used to play tic-tac-toe with that nyse guy from New Amsterdam. Interestingly, they both always won, and I, though I never played with them, had to pay for the next round of drinks.

The rest of the day at work was pure hell. I couldn’t concentrate on sleeping hard, so I dozed. This upset my task manager, who ordered me to perform a quick scan and immediately head for the main menu.

Increasingly suspicious that my identity had been stolen by Amanda I. Wanttobeyourfuckbuddy, I skipped the main menu and headed straight home. But I had forgotten than in order to get home I now need to hit tab and then backspace, I tumbled down a dark corridor, where a strange man kept offering me a penis enlargement (which I accepted; who wouldn’t?!) and random people kept having sex over and over again.

Thank god I could scroll down to the Comments Section, where all of my genius friends reside.

Tour de Worst Cyclists in the World

Here I go making yet another bombshell of a statement that is sure to offend and alienate the nitpickers among you.

Serbian bicycle riders are the worst in the world.

In case you should demand some kind of material proof or desire to go on a fact-checking mission, I suggest you visit any Serbian city, town, village, or backyard. There isn’t a single rust-free bike in this country and, I suspect, the same could be said about the rest of our lovely peninsula. Sorry, Croatians, I know you’re in the EU now, but your “vozni park” fails to impress me.

My family has a long and proud history of crap bikes. I grew up riding the iconic Poni, which all Serbian children learned to ride during the last few decades of the 20th century. The Poni was domestically made and, therefore, cheap. But, it wasn’t cheaply-made. Unlike the Chinese-made bikes I see today’s children on, the Poni was sturdy and made to serve generations of riders.

And, unfortunately, many a Poni did just that.

The Poni had the distinction of being the only bike in the world that could not be classified as a mountain, road racing, or city bike. It was a little bit of everything, and yet not really any of those things. The Poni rode great from your front door all the way to your front gate, usually a distance of about twenty meters. Anywhere else…well, you didn’t really get anywhere else on your Poni.

A little more family bicycle history. My grandfather rode a bike that was about ten sizes too big for him until his dying day. This monster bike was so big and heavy grandpa always had a hard time getting on it. The only way he could get going was with a running start and a giant leap upwards. Of course, this was a crapshoot way of getting on. Grandpa often missed and took a nosedive into the puddle of water perpetually festering in the middle of the driveway. And then there were the times when the whole extended family had to push the bike as grandpa precariously sat on the wobbly seat, which was missing a screw that, apparently, could never be replaced.

I don’t own a bike at the present time. I gave up any desire to ride a bike when I started driving in Serbia. Why? Why don’t you come here and see for yourself.

Every Friday night I take a short but stressful drive from my house to my hometown’s main bus station. This is a distance of a couple of miles, but it could be a thousand for the amount of fear it causes me each and every time.

I’ll admit to being an underconfident driver. I learned to drive on automatic gear transmission, and now I’m stuck maneuvering a 13-year-old Fiat with the moodiest clutch and the world’s least reliable stick shift. As I sweat through first, second, and finally third gear (I never go past that, though I’m told fourth and fifth are a hoot), cyclists emerge out of dark side streets and hidden private drives. These people, with no regard for their personal safety (or my mental stability), ride right down the middle of the road, completely invisible until my front bumper touches their rear wheel, throwing them out of balance and down onto the pavement, face first. Hello, Serbia, ever heard of wheel reflectors?! And how ’bout riding your rusted certain-death contraptions closer to the, what are those things called, um, sidewalks, I believe. No, Serbia, I’m not asking you. I’m telling you: ride your bikes closer to the curb, or suffer me knocking you over with my third-gear-only driving skills.

Guess what…its Friday night. Here comes Johnny, Serbia! Let’s see whose old grandma riding in the dark (with six grocery bags hanging off her steering wheel) I can knock out of her granny panties tonight.

Good luck to us all, and may the third gear be with you.

 

Getting in shape (yeah, I’m a circle, what are you?)

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Once, as a child, I found an old book hidden behind the shelf in the living room. It was a weirdly-shaped soft-cover book called “Beginners Kung Fu,” and someone in the family had clearly been embarrassed about having purchased, or received it as a gift, at some strange point in his/her life. Inside was a “brief” history of Kung Fu, spread over the first twenty pages and printed in the smallest font known to humanity. Lucky I had such fresh young eyes to waste on such useful educational literature. I read it, devoured it really, and proceeded to flip through the rest of the book, spellbound by the story of the early Fu masters, who were nothing short of miracle workers, right in line with Jesus Christ and Steve Jobs. These guys were amazing. I’m being serious, this is no joking matter. They not only walked on water and were capable of surviving for days on nothing but a sip of water and a single olive (with which they often fed an entire village; after satiating themselves first, of course), but they had that supercool ability to appear out of nowhere right when they were needed to defeat a bunch of villains attempting to rape an old woman carrying a bundle of wood. Yeah, these later became known as Ninjas, and some of them mutated into Hollywood action stars beloved in all corners of the world. One thing the Ninjas never learned to do is speak proper English, of course, but they made much moola, and as everyone knows, moola make the world go ‘round and ‘round.

The rest of the book contained hundreds of black-and-white photographs of various Fu poses and moves, which the Beginner was asked to please master slowly and with great caution lest the furniture should suffer irreparable damage. I believe there was a pose called “crouching tiger,” or “crouching cat”…all I know is that there was some sort of crouching animal pose all Fu Beginners had to master before moving on to page 37, where the really serious stuff began.

I spent weeks training to become a Ninja. I realize now that failure was inevitable, as I only had that book to rely upon and a very small space in my bedroom in which to exercise the demanding moves. In those days I shared a room with my younger brother, who, despite being very small, took up a surprisingly large space in my life. I had to practice my “crouching kitten” pose in an area about the size of a large welcome mat. No wonder I never learned to appear out of nowhere like a genuine Ninja. Though, I must admit, later in life I regretfully appeared out of nowhere several times to catch co-workers, relatives, and friends in compromising “crouching” poses of their own invention.

These days I’m not mastering the art of Fu; or Kung, whatever. I’m merely trying to master my body. I’m not old or fat, but lately I’ve surely started feeling that way. There’s something about those birthday cards that say jokingly “It’s all downhill from here!”…yeah, that’s not a laughing matter, it’s the truth. After thirty it really is all downhill from here; or there, wherever you are.

A a cunning friend, probably hoping to get rid of me without getting his hands dirty and/or his prints on the weapon, presented me with a series of exercise videos a few weeks ago. These, he said, will make you fit as a fiddle in no time. Rest assured, it will push you to the limits. It may even hurt you once, twice, or three…hundred times. But you can do it, buddy, I just know you can.

I’m a sucker for compliments. Like a thirty-four-year-old fool that I am, I went into a 60-day exercise program screaming rah rah rah at the top of my lungs.

I don’t know why my body is trying to kill me. I have never treated it with anything but kindness. You want beer, have some. Popcorn, why not. Chocolate is good for you. Wanna sleep in late on Saturday rather than take a walk in the rain? But of course, stretch out, make yourself comfortable. Sit on the couch all day, feeling your ass grow into the very fabric beneath you. You, dear body, don’t have to do a thing. Hey, you don’t even have to bend down to tie your shoelaces…that’s what slip-ons are for!

And yet, after all these years of peaceful co-existence, my body and I are parting ways. Evidently, despite my belief that I am a Ninja capable of doing twenty jumping jacks without keeling over and dying in a pool of my own spit, my body thinks otherwise. I look at those people in the video, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-sexual, multi-everything…fit, smiling, doing push-ups like they’re actually having fun, showing off their picture-perfect abs. Here’s my general wonderment: what the hell are they made of?! I’m pretty sure my bones are made of silly putty, my joints out of spoiled soup, and my muscles…well, I’ll tell you what material was used to make those, as soon as I can locate at least one of them. I thought I spotted one the other day, but it ran away from me the moment I asked it to perform the extremely difficult task of lunging to the left.

They keep telling us we’re always in danger of becoming extinct through some kind of quick-spreading epidemic of flu…bird, swine, you name it. I don’t think so. I know a push-up’s gonna kill me. And if you’re anything like me, that’s the way you’re going too.

When all else fails, fear

There’s an ugly rumor going around that I don’t like to wash.

Well, guess what? It’s true.

I’m afraid of water. I don’t even like it in a glass, with floating cubes of ice on top. I don’t like it in my shoes, on rainy days like today. I don’t like it in my eyes, especially now that I’ve wrenched a good part of my life’s savings out of my bank in order to pay for laser correction of my failing sight. I don’t like it in my hair, where it produces an amazing variety of dandruff shapes, some curiously resembling the Mandelbrot set. I don’t like it on my cats. I don’t like it in my ears. I don’t like it on the floor. Let me put it this way: I don’t like it. I just don’t like it. I don’t like it and I’m afraid of it. I have an inexplicable fear of drowning. I dream terrible dreams of water engulfing me from all sides. I don’t know how to swim. In real life, I mean, I don’t know how to swim. In my dreams I’m an instinctually good swimmer, but the water is heavy and gooey, somehow, like melted chocolate, and I drown in it. And in the morning, awake and on dry land, I fear I’ll drown accidentally while brushing my teeth.

I have lots of fears. Stupidity, for example. I’m terrified of that. The lack of compassion. Ooof! Why don’t they make a pill against that? Or, at least, a pill for that, so that I too can get it and just finally blend in.

More than anything, as a child, I feared the vacuum cleaner. This explains the state of perpetual dirt I now live in. I don’t believe in cleaning up, you see. Dusting book shelves, TV stands, tops of commodes and barely accessible corners of little-used rooms…pointless, in my opinion. You can’t fight dust, any more than you can fight eventual and certain death. Mopping floors, wiping off toothpaste-splashed mirrors, and rinsing out a dish cloth…why? It’ll just get dirtier tomorrow. At best, cleaning is simply a redistribution of dirt from one spot on the floor to the next. If you can’t see it, it isn’t there to kill you. So leave it alone.

Cars. I used to be afraid of those as well. I really can’t explain that. Except that maybe I’m such a couch potato the car threatened my existence in one place and one place only, for ever and ever and ever. I don’t like to move much. Not, move as in pack up and move to another place on the map. I mean move as in from here to the kitchen. I’d like to spend my entire life parked in front of the TV. I hate television for making my brain as dull as my ass, but I can’t help wanting to sit in front of it, always and forever. I like to sit with my feet pointed straight towards the television set. On my right should be a large bucket of some kind of refreshing beverage featuring a slice of lemon, on my left a tub of freshly popped popcorn. And then just, please, leave me alone with the remote control. Thank you.

(By the way, you can keep the cell phone and the computer. I can always shout for help; unless of course, I choke on the popcorn. And, thank heavens, there’s always paper and pencil. So take the cell and the computer, fuck off, and let me be.)

Those are my fears. Small, I’d say. Insignificant, for sure. Who cares if I spend the rest of my life in front of the TV, eating junk and watching…junk.

What are your fears? Are you living in a world of mass shootings, government-controlled internet, tapped telephones, potential enemies of the state around every corner? Are you afraid of your mail? Not afraid of it exploding in your face. Are you afraid of what it may contain on paper? Bills, threatening letters from creditors, lawsuits, demands for repayment of old debts you’ve surely paid off decades ago? Are you afraid of any of that? Are you afraid of your neighbors because they look and talk unlike anyone you’re used to? Are you afraid of getting sick and having to be driven to a shit hospital where a careless doctor will prod you without once looking into your face? Are you afraid of being alone on Saturday night? Are you terrified of what tomorrow may bring?

Don’t my fears seem unbelievably small now? And oh, by the way, congratulations, Western World, for making yourself convinced you should be afraid of everything and everyone. Stop by, if you ever have a chance, over here where we, the “underdeveloped” poor souls, still live unafraid of leaving our front door unlocked.

Who inspires you? And why?

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After days of terrible heat, with a nasty haze I’ve always hated draped over the sky like an ugly old dirty curtain, the weather changes abruptly with a delicious cool wind blowing hard from the Alps, I think. Yeah, the Alps, that’s it; they must be close to where I am.

For many nights I’ve been unable to sleep. I’ve tossed and turned in my bed, sweating profusely; so profusely, in fact, that in the morning I stink like an old truck driver who rarely, if ever, bathes with soap. Which, of course, is not a problem if you really are an old sweaty truck driver who rarely, if ever bathes. But I am not, as it turns out, and I have to live with other humans who prefer the smell of clean to the stench of cheap beer.

So tonight, aroused by the sudden weather change, I leap out of my bed and fling my terrace door wide open. The night air is the best thing I’ve tasted, maybe not ever, but in at least two weeks for sure.

Nights are short now and the stars are quickly fading. But the Moon, very large and almost perfectly round, shines like a golden coin suspended over the neighborhood rooftops.

It really is a beautiful night. In fact, it may well be one of the most beautiful nights of my life.

But then, it really isn’t.

One of my neighbors, a troll whose existence I’d started seriously doubting because she never leaves her house in daylight, is watching TV. It’s muted, or at least it seems to be to my ears from this distance. Nevertheless, by the colorful pictures swiftly dancing across her screen, I know exactly what she’s chosen to stay up for.

Reality television. Worst thing since the invention of the ball point pen (which ruined everyone’s handwriting, as you may well know already).

The stupid woman, apparently alive and well after all, nearly ruins my night. People almost always disappoint me. Tomorrow I’ll have to give her a piece of my mind.

No television network should be allowed to broadcast at night. That would give people a chance to go back to watching the night sky. Back in prehistory, which ended, oh, I don’t know, seven or eight decades ago, when we watched the night sky instead of night television, we believed in something, however unlikely or fantastical it may have seemed at first. And that is how the world was built.

Instead of allowing that dope to ruin my view, I’m letting my thoughts wander across time and space. Soon I find them tumbling backwards through my life, to a place I will call “somewhere else,” where I used to live.

Growing up, “somewhere else,” I habitually read a magazine which published superficial, run-of-the-mill crime stories, much like the famous Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. This publication went by a name I’ve long forgotten. I do remember that it came out twice a month, printed on rather cheap brown paper, probably recycled. The cover, printed in bright yellow, though of better quality usually fell right off the spine of the magazine before one read through page 14. The editors chose two stories for each issue, one long, featured at the front and printed over almost two-thirds of the printed space; the other short, printed in the back where one often lost the last two pages when the wind blew from…the Alps, of course.

I so loved reading these stories. In fact, I became so infatuated with them that before I was ten I’d written my own crime novella, which I hoped the magazine would publish one day. Sadly, they went out of print before I could save up enough money for postage.

My story starred a private eye called Joshua Davidson. Good strong name, I thought. Davidson lived in Boston, drove a Cadillac, smoked Lucky Strikes, and drank bourbon instead of energy drinks. He worked alone, was ruggedly, though slightly unconventionally handsome, and solved murders with a swagger typical to his kind. I’m sure I’d given him a clever catchphrase to say every five sentences or so, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it might have been. He also had a decent-looking assistant, a secretary as they were once called, and the sexual tension between them kept the reader glued to the page for at least five or six…minutes. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. I should have been working on television.

Joshua Davidson was Sam Spade, really, only less Bogart and more Brody; Adrien Brody, that is. Less hat and more…nose, I guess.

It’s no wonder I never became a writer. When you’re inspired by pulp fiction, where can you go, really?

On the other hand…if you choose to believe the dancing pretend life of your television screen rather than the magic of a perfect summer night sky, I really don’t know where the fuck you think you’re going.

Flat out lies. Or are they?

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1. Backspace will soon replace the brake pedal in most hybrid cars in North America and parts of Europe.
2. Virgin Mobile says the company is committed to providing world-class cellular cervix to all women, regardless of their marrital status. Can you hear me now?
3. Cheat sheets will no longer be allowed in operating room, says one important doctor who would not give his name.
4. Facebook is owned by Napoleon’s cat Trixie. Trixie is on her seventh life and makes her home in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Spain.
5. Troglodytes are tiny little fish capable of changing their sex organs and growing eight-inch human fingers on their backs.
6. Neon lights are made of wax and have a rather long fuse running down the middle that can be lit by a match, or sometimes by Clint Eastwood simply snapping his fingers.
7. Jim is a man’s name, or a very large group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean made up of several small islands named after Ethel Mertz.
8. James Lipton invented green tea while interviewing Morgan Freeman at the back of a city bus.
9. Snoopie has revealed he will undergo an “identity change” operation. From now on he would like to be called Garfield.
10. Maps of the world will no longer be printed with names of countries. Instead, each blank space will be filled with small French recipes and pictures of Jerry Lewis having sex.
11. Winston Churchill’s favorite reading consisted almost entirely of phone books and licence plates.
12. Hitler often wore his right shoe on his left foot. Explains his frequent crabbiness, says one Oxford scholar.
13. FDR never bathed nude.
14. Charlemaigne’s last name was Charlatan.
15. Teddy Roosevelt wrote some of Hemingways most famius poems.
16. The Last of the Mohicans was the first person ever to make mochasins fashionable. And sometimes he wears high heels.
17. The Napoleonic Wars were powered almost entirely by AA batteries.
18. The Korean War ended with a ping pong match.
19. Bismarck signed all his treaties with a #2 pencil.
20. Hitler’s military staff often referred to him as The Kid. Behind his back they often called him Freddy because his favorite song was “Bavarian Rhapsody.”
21. Musollini painted landscapes using nothing but his penis.
22. Battle of Waterloo was fought in the 1970s, lasted exactly 3 minutes and was won by Bjorn and Benny.
23. D-Day came after C-Day, a failed attempt by the Allied Powers to implement a vitamin C-rich diet over the population of Spain.
24. Generalissimo Franco was a popular American soap actor who, among other things, once actually successfuly ran up a whole flight of stairs.
25. War of the Roses was fought with swords made of lilac branches.
26. In World War II, Germans used the Eiffel Tower to wind a very large spool of wool.
27. The 3rd Reich was a much better model than the first two, especially if you got it in blue.
28-30. Monday is everyone’s favorite day.

If only…

Growing up, there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to smoke a cigarette. Weird? Maybe. What was yours greatest wish, wiseass? Great salary, sports car, fancy house in the ‘burbs, tickets to the opera? Really? Shut up, you too wanted a secret smoke just as much as I did.

Both my parents were fairly heavy smokers. Dad eventually quit cold turkey. In fact dad was, in many ways, a cold turkey himself, so that he could quit in such a drastic fashion didn’t come as any great surprise to anyone. Mom, on the other hand, smokes to this day. But to keep up with the new European standards of living free of second and third-hand smoke (who says we Serbians never change?!), the last few years, truth be told, she only smokes outside of the house. I believe she’s trying to outsmart the European Union which, of course, is an organization invented purely for the purposes of frightening small nations like ours into giving up old (dear old!) habits.

Now then…growing up, I badly wanted a smoke (I was born in the 20th century, before Serbia gave a shit about the EU and its rules). Mom smoked a now-extinct brand called “Beograd,” which came in a simple white pack with a picture of the Statue of the Victor (a famous Belgrade landmark) printed on the front side. She never bought more than one pack at a time. This, I suppose, was her way of checking her addiction. This pack, once opened, always somehow ended up on top of the kitchen credenza, which was a very tall piece of furniture and, more importantly, one covered in the finest dust and an intricate network of spider webs. In order to reach the smokes I had to furtively sneak into the kitchen, climb a wobbly chair, stretch my arms as far up as they would go, and then blindly feel for the pack with my fingertips. Having disturbed the age-old dirt on top of the credenza I would then proceed to sneeze violently, which invariably summoned my grandmother from her downstairs lair. Once she appeared in the kitchen, my mission was cut short.

Though grandma was a middle-aged woman in terrific shape and general health, at the time I thought she was as old as Methuselah. I had come to see her in this way due to her daily laments about the passage of yet another day in her life and her unfailing announcement each day at lunch that her death was…well, simply put, imminent. She deeply believed that she would soon drop dead either from sheer exhaustion (she had borne four children some fifty years before, an achievement, apparently, unmatched by any other woman in human history) or, more probably, from stress produced by the ever-present household worry “Do we have enough bread in the house?” In Europe, and Serbia in particular, all family problems are solved by eating; and you can’t have a decent problem-solving meal without at least two loaves of bread, per person.

One day I managed to get a hold of mom’s smokes before grandma’s daily mental breakdown in the kitchen. A friend waited for me just down the street. I met up with her, stealthily showed her the pack in my pocket, and then led her to a shed in the back of our garden.

The shed was dark and cold. I remember we locked the door behind us and cranked opened a small window. A little bit of dusty light streamed in. We sat on the floor, facing each other. Who would go first? Why, I would, of course. The cigarettes were my mother’s after all. So, I pulled one out, placed it carefully between my lips, winked at my friend, and told her to light it up. Her only job had been to bring a reliable lighter, or a box of matches. She’d failed miserably at her task. She managed to muster only a single match and a piece of crumpled paper. Apparently in her house convenient fire-starting methods hadn’t been invented yet.

I don’t know why she couldn’t simply light the cigarette using the match. Instead, she lit the piece of paper first, and then as I leaned closer to her, she pushed the paper towards the cigarette in my mouth, as if to light nothing smaller than the Olympic Torch. But just at that moment my grandmother discovered there was, after all, not enough bread in the house. As I came nearer the flame, grandma leaned out of the kitchen window and let out one of her unmelodic bellows. “Is there anybody out there?! We do not have enough bread in the house! I will have to bake some, or go to the store!”

My friend was startled by grandma’s announcement, though such exhibitions of unnecessary drama concerning petty lunchtime issues were quite common in her house as well as in mine. But already afraid of being discovered in our shed with her contraband match and paper, she threw the flame at me and jumped out through the half-opened window. The front of my shirt caught fire, as did my bangs (and thank god for that; ugly haircuts, anyone?).

I put the flame out easily enough, of course. I dunked myself into a tub of dirty water sitting, for some inconceivable but very convenient reason, in the corner of the shed. And thus ended my one childhood smoking experience.

I rejoined my family for lunch (fresh bread had been baked in time, thank heavens!), and sat gloomily at the table pondering my future. If only I were older, I thought that day. If only I were older, I would smoke a hundred cigarettes a day. If only grandma wasn’t such a drama queen. If only my friend hadn’t been such a scared idiot. If only that hadn’t been my favorite shirt.

If only…

“If only” does a neat job of summing up the principle by which I’ve lived my life since that day. As a kid I thought, if only I could grow up quickly and drop these stupid parents that are holding me back with their rules. In college, I thought, if only this would end quickly enough so that I could get out into the “real” world and get a fabulous job. In my cubicle, clock watching for the magical number 5, I thought, if only I could staple my manager’s head to the wall. At home, I thought, if only my apartment was bigger. In my car, stuck in traffic, I thought, if only I lived in the south of France where, movies tell me, everything moves faster through serene landscapes hugging the sea.

Today, I’m thinking, if only I hadn’t fucked up my morning cup of coffee with too much sugar…if only my neighbor hadn’t started to mow his lawn at the crack of dawn…if only I hadn’t forgotten to close the window last night…if only I could find a job closer to home; in my living room preferably…if only the car hadn’t broken down a few weeks ago, costing me €500…if only I could make more money…if only I could live cheaper…if only I was…if only…

If only I could stop being an “if only” person.

Dinner? Over my dead body!

If I really must kick the bucket (and, I suppose I really have to, at some point), then I’d like it to be a convenient and comfortable descent into the Eternal Nothingness. I want it to be in my bed, while I’m watching something funny on YouTube and eating out of a giant tub of popcorn. I love popcorn, and I fear they might not have it over on the Dark Side.

The other day my brother and I were digging something in our mother’s garden. I was wielding a hoe like a pro when, out of sheer stupidity I decided to swing it over my head (the twelve-year-old idiot still lives and thrives inside my slightly older body). A giant clump of dirt detached itself from the back of the hoe and struck me squarely in the face. I certainly deserved that and, had it not been for the frightening monster maggots that fell out of that flying projectile piece of dirt and landed right in my hair and mouth, I would have taken it like a man…a woman, I mean. But the white monsters with black tails (where they store their venom, no doubt) scared the ever-living shit out of me, so I ran around the garden screaming like I’ve never screamed before. You may have heard me in Tokyo. Worse even than having that crap in my mouth was the suspected presence of filth and dust in my eyes. Ever since I fought off impending blindness by having a very pricey surgery performed on my oculars, I have an uncontrollable fear of some uninvited foreign object landing in my peepers. To my delight, except for several renegade lashes, the peepers were clear of UFOs.

After I calmed myself down and washed that dirt off my face, my brother and I dove headlong into a philosophical discussion about the profound distinction between worms and maggots. Worms, my brother claims, eat plants and other non-human organic life forms. Maggots, on the other hand, eat human flesh exclusively. In fact, he proceeded to tell me, the maggots we found in mom’s garden had obviously feasted on human remains. And very recently, in fact. Nothing else could explain their alarming size.

Now, my brother has lied to me numerous times over the years. His most notable lie was the one he told me when he was eleven, when I was in high school and learning to drive. Having picked up his craft from the very best (see previous post), he spun a convincing tale of my parents’ impending car purchase. Apparently, amazed by my driving skills (and my pleasant adolescent demeanor/reliability, duh!), mom and pop decided to buy me a Jeep Wrangler. I’m a girl so I don’t know Jeep from…well, a shopping cart. But for some reason this lie sounded true and I saw myself driving a very cool vintage Jeep the very next day. Suddenly bad skin, ugly eyeglasses, and crooked teeth didn’t matter. I would be driving a Jeep!

Alas, dear reader, I still have bad skin, crooked teeth and…no Jeep. I do have a bicycle with a very cool “Put the fun…between your legs” (wink, wink) sticker. That’s the same as a Jeep, isn’t it?

Having been cruelly lied to before, I should not have believed him about the maggots. But these squirmy things were so hideous and filled with what appeared to be half-digested human flesh. And, after all, my brother does wear an impressive mustache. In my opinion, one should always trust a man with a mustache, especially if he’s wearing a hat (a fedora, preferably).

This being said, in order to avoid having my body devoured by maggots (all that expensive lotion I’ve rubbed into my skin over the years!), then and there I decided to be cremated. Not right now, of course (that would be inconvenient, as I still have some delicious left-over chicken sitting in my fridge). I’m not ready to die, really, and have no plans for such an event in the near, or distant, future. Firstly, I’m young enough to have all my birthday candles fit onto one medium-sized birthday cake. Secondly, I really have nothing to wear for Death.  But once that issue is resolved and my limbs age to the point of no repair, I’ll be gladly on my way. I expect that will take place in about 3 or 4…hundred years.

I cheerfully made my cremation announcement that night at dinner. Surprisingly, my family didn’t take it as well as I’d expected. They called me a “morbid idiot” (?!) and threw bits of dry bread into my face. One disgruntled relative even told me I’m no longer allowed to open my mouth during a meal, unless it is to allow the passage of food into my system.

Strange family, mine. But, having considered the issue of cremation further, I think I might have another announcement to make tonight. You see, I’ve decided against it after all. And here’s why.

Here in Serbia we have several holidays (comparable to the All Souls’ Day elsewhere in the world) when we visit our dead relatives in their new abodes…at the cemetery. Generally speaking, grandma and grandpa don’t see a lot of traffic around their new residence on a regular weekend, but most of us make it a point to visit two or three times a year. I usually go in October and March. I don’t want to bother the old folks too much at other times of the year; god only knows what they’re up to in, say, April or September.

These holidays (we call them Zadušnice) involve not only an inconvenient trip to the most depressive place on the planet as early in the morning as it is humanly possible to drag oneself out of bed (if you’re there at Noon, you’re late, so don’t even bother!), but also a very expensive and tiresome preparation of food to be brought along to this “red carpet” event. These preparations start days in advance, as enormous pies have to be baked, puddings cooked, soups stewed, and chickens roasted. My grandparents are buried at the top of a very steep hill (so they could have a great view of the river flowing several miles away, of course). That means that loads of food must be carried to their graves on foot each time we go on one of these burial-ground picnics. One attempt to reach the cemetery in my uncle’s car nearly got us all killed one year. Days of heavy rains had washed away a good part of an already-neglected village road and our Yugo, loaded with humans (still living), roasted chickens and bottles of various refreshing beverages, nearly toppled over the edge of a dangerous ravine. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes when you think you just might die? Yeah, that’s actually true.

This food is not meant to be some kind of weird ritual sacrifice to those already gone. So why do we do this crazy thing three times a year? Because we kinda miss those old people that used to give us cash (and terrible sweaters as gifts) and we figure, if they can’t come to dinner, we’ll bring dinner to them. The food is meant for the living, of course; and, truth be told, those who make it to the top of that hill sorely need it. Some people have tables and chairs (made of concrete, marble, or some other material meant to outlast the cemetery itself) permanently installed at their loved ones’ grave sites. Others, like my family of underachievers, simply spread out a tablecloth over grandma and sit around in an ever-growing circle. How we manage to chow down any food knowing the old cat lady is resting (forever) just below our large platter of meat pies and chocolate-covered strawberries, I really can’t tell you. You just gotta be there to see it. So let that be yet another reason to visit our lovely peninsula for you potential Western tourists bored of the luxuries cruise ships (they sink!) and fancy French resorts (full of celebrities!) offer for your vacation needs.

Do you see why I simply cannot be cremated, despite my fear of monster maggots and dirt getting into my eyes? Where, I ask you, would my family dine if I had my ashes spread to the four corners of the world? But eating food off the damp ground on top a nearly-inaccessible hill…no, thank you! I’m having a Jamie Oliver restaurant built over my grave. If they want to eat over my dead body, they’d better do it in style!

The girl you wish you never went on a date with

Funny Girl wallpaper hd 2012-2013 01

(The action takes place at a fancy big city restaurant. The Guy and the Girl are meeting for the first time on a blind date, set up by mutual Facebook friends. The Guy is a decent looking, well-dressed man in his early thirties. He has been waiting for over an hour and he’s getting impatient. He keeps muttering, “If she doesn’t show in twenty minutes…I’ll give her five more.” The Girl is pretty as a picture, in her mid twenties. She’s one of those: women want to be her, men just want her. She should be perfect. She should be a dream. But, first of all, she’s dreadfully late.)

Girl (running into the very busy restaurant, hair disheveled, carrying one high-heeled shoe in her left hand): Oh my god! Am I late? I’m not late, am I? Am I late? (She sees her disgruntled date sitting uncomfortably alone, smack dab in the middle of the restaurant, where all the waiters are bumping, purposely, into his table.) Hi! Oh my god, I am so late. Sorry- (they awkwardly shake hands, as she shuffles her purse, her cell phone, and her shoe from one hand to the other.)

Guy: Hello, nice to meet you. Ah- (He realizes he’s not shaking her hand but her shoe, and ends up holding only the heel, which apparently broke off before she entered.)

Girl: Sorry! Oh, jeez, I’m really sorry. (Takes the heel back and sticks in into her purse.) It broke on the way here. (Giggles weirdly.)

Guy: That’s ok. Shall we sit down? Let’s sit down.

Girl: Yeah, let’s. What are you drinking? (She plops down noisily, and leans back in her chair, waaay too laid back, very inelegantly.) Hey, waiter! (Shouting loudly, attracting attention of other guests.) Hey, man, will you-(she grabs the arm of a passing waiter) Dude, what gives?! Come on! What does a girl have to do to get a cold brewski in this hole? Jeez!

Guy: Sorry (to the waiter, embarrassed), can we get the menus and two…beers, I guess.

Girl (still fumbling through her purse, looking for anything, it seems): Oh man oh man oh man oh man. I’m sorry I’m late. I thought we were supposed to meet on Friday, but then you called and said it’s today-

Guy: Um, today is Friday.

Girl: No! Shut up! (She takes a long moment to check something on her cell, making the Guy feel like he shouldn’t even be there. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair.) So it is…

Guy: Ahem…You look really pretty.

Girl (puts away her cell): Thank you! You look pretty too. I like a man with a little make-up.

Guy: What?! I’m not wearing any make-up.

Girl (giggles): Sure, man, your secret’s safe with me. (She winks, and then weirdly pops her eyes out at him.)

Guy: Ok…I’m not wearing any make-up, I don’t know why you’d say that to me.

Girl (looking over her shoulder for the waiter): Where is that douche? Jeez, I’m parched, man, I really need a cold one.

Guy: He’s coming. But in the meantime (he looks around uncomfortably), can you speak a little less…loudly? Everyone’s looking.

Girl (half stands up in her chair): Who, where? Why? Is there someone famous here? Dude, I luv famous people.

Guy: No, I’m talking about…never mind. Here’s the beer.

(The waiter hands them the menus and sets down two beers. The girl drinks hers in a single gulp, like water. She burps a little and then laughs, which makes a little snot come out of her nose. The Guy is flabbergasted because she wipes it off with the back of her hand.)

Girl: That was gooood. Jeez, man, drink up, it’s gonna be a long night.

Guy: That’s a lot of beer, I can’t- (But she’s pressuring him, literally forcing him to drink up by tipping back his glass, nearly knocking his teeth out; so he chokes it down, spilling a little over his shirt.)

Girl: Jeez, man, you’re an amateur!

Guy: Good god, I made a mess of myself! What the hell, can you not do that, please?

Girl: Do what now? (She’s examining the other guests, as if she’s expecting to see someone she knows.) Do you think there are any famous people here? I’d love me some famous people tonight. Maybe we can take picures (she says picures) with them. How cool would that be on your Facebook?

Guy: I don’t know if there are any famous people here. God! Can we just relax a little and talk about us for a minute.

Girl: Talk about us, huh?!  Hold on there, pilgrim, I’m not ready for all that commitment jazz. Slow down, pokey, I’m still young, I’m still jazzin’ it up.

Guy: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? (He is really confused, and annoyed.)

Girl: Ooooh, do you think that guy is famous? (She’s standing up with his beer in her hand, that beer which he unfortunately couldn’t finish, and she’s pointing straight at a man sitting on the other side of the room.)

Guy: No…Can you please sit down? (He tries, unsuccessfully, to make her sit down.)

Girl: Woah, woah, woah. Jeez, man, what’s with all the touching? Keep your fingers to yourself, pokey.

Guy: Ok, I’m sorry. I just don’t think-

Girl (stopping another waiter): Can we have more of this here beer? Yeah, and a cheeseburger…No, wait, make it a meatball sandwich for me and a corn dog for my friend here. (Looks at the Guy very seriously.) I’m on a diet, but only because of work.

Waiter: Madam, we don’t serve meatball sandwiches here.

Girl: You dooon’t? Jeez, man, what kinda dump is this?

Guy: I’m sorry (to the waiter), we just need another minute. She was just kidding. She’s- (Waiter walks away in a huff.) You didn’t have to make him mad. You know how these people treat customers who upset them.

Girl: Why? Is he famous?

Guy: What? The waiter? No, why would he be famous? God, what’s with you and famous people?

Girl: Relax, pokey, I just wants to have some fun, is all.

Guy: Ok, I feel like we started- (more beer arrives; she pours it down her throat like she’s in Sahara, dying of thirst.) My god! Listen, maybe you should slow down.

Girl: Jeez, man, it’s Thursday-

Guy: Um, it’s Friday.

Girl: Yeah, man, it’s Friday night. Young people just want to have fun, like the song says. Relax, grandma. (She drinks his beer too, again.)

Guy: Look, I was just going to say that maybe we got off on the wrong foot-

Girl: I sure did! Look what happened! (She pulls that broken heel out of her purse.) I got my foot stuck a vending machine-

Guy: What?! How in god’s name did you do that?

Girl: Jeez, man, I was in a hurry. I did it for you! So don’t act like it didn’t happen to you, ever. (At this point she’s a little drunk, so she’s struggling with her choice of words.) You’re such a…serial killer!

Guy: Maybe we should do this another day. Looks like you’ve had a busy day. I just don’t feel like-

Girl: Oh, jeez, man, don’t be such a party poorper. Party poorper. (Something’s wrong with that word, she knows it; she just doesn’t know what.) Party downer.

Guy: I just feel like this may not be the best date-

Girl: What?! Best time ever! Hands down, kill me now, best time never. (She shakes her head.) Best time ever!

Guy: Are you saying this is the best date you’ve ever been on?

Girl: Humph, better than the last guy. Hey, don’t ever date people you meet on Facebook. They’re just a bunch of…joykills.

Guy: I assume you mean killjoys. And, in case you forgot, we met on Facebook. Your sister-

Girl: She’s disgusting!

Guy: Your sister?

Girl: No, man, Helen Hunt. Duh! Remember, that movie where she had her face burned off by poisonous gas-

Guy: What the hell are you talking about?

Girl: You don’t remember that? She was like this monster that killed men in their cars, and she had this, like, face disfingerment…disfingerment…disfin…she was FUGLY!

Guy (really annoyed): Why are you telling me this?

Girl (excitedly stands up and points again): ‘Cause she’s standing right over there!

(The Guy looks at an older man she’s pointed out. He does not look like Helen Hunt; decidedly not.)

Guy: That’s a man, NOT Helen Hunt. And Helen Hunt has never been…never mind, I think we’re done here.  (He starts to stand up, but she’s suddenly cute as a kitten, and totally normal, holding him back.)

Girl: No, please, please don’t go. I’m sorry. I was late, and I was rushing, and now I’m making a fool out of myself. And I’m drinking too much, because I’m nervous-

Guy (completely smitten by her): No, not at all. Let’s start again, as if none of this…stuff, happened yet.

Girl: Great. Thank you so much. And again, I am sooooo sorry. I don’t usually behave like this. (She hiccups, violently.) Oh god! I think I farted too.

Guy: Look-

Girl: No, no, I was just kidding. Sorry, I’m nervous.

Guy: That’s ok, I know how it is. Shall we order? (He motions to the waiter, who reluctantly, and rolling his eyes, strolls to their table. The Guy orders something for both of them, before she has a chance to say anything.)

Girl: Thanks. I’ve never eaten here. I sure hope they’re good, I’m starving.

Guy: They are.

Girl: So, you look like a successful guy. What do you do for a living?

Guy: Well, I’m a vet-

Girl: Nooooooo! That’s so weird. My dad used to serve in the Sali-vation Army. So you’re both vets! How cool is that?!

Guy: No, I’m a veterinarian-

Girl (motioning for the waiter and more beer again): That’s nice, dear. Let’s go clubbin’ later, this place just ain’t happenin’ for me.

(The Guy puts down his head on the table, completely dejected. He hates Facebook and his friends who put him up to this. It’s going to be a long night.)

Fertilized by lies, I grew into a cynical plant

I’m surprised I’m still alive. I should have died…I don’t know, at least a dozen times by now. I grew up with parents who taught me an important lesson, driven into the deepest recesses of my brain every single day during that crucial morning time when I struggled to hurriedly lace up my shoes and make it to school before the first bell. That lesson was: be afraid. I don’t know why my parents chose to drill this particular motto into my psyche; they certainly did not grow up fearing anything. Heavens, I look at their photographs from decades ago and I think: fuck, I haven’t done a thing yet!

Oh, the lies they told me when I was growing up. But seriously, my people have the best imagination in the world. If imagination could be measured somehow using a ruler, say, or a scale, my tribe would win a medal every day of the year. Boy, were they good actors and storytellers. I remember the fervor with which my father told me tales of Santa Claus, a magical figure existing, apparently, solely for my pleasure. And the passion of each holiday season when my dad attempted, successfully, to make me believe such a fat jolly old man in a ridiculous red suit really did exist. Dad’s incredible imagination and dedication to the lie could only be matched by the plain speak of my grandmother, who, when I was five, blurted out the truth about the bearded fellow, though nobody asked her for it. She often spoke plainly, prompted by…nothing, really. “Yeah, kid, there’s no Santa. It’s your old dad making that noise outside in the snow.”  Yep, the next day the truth was confirmed by a little investigative work; that is, by the simple use of my eyes. I discovered Santa’s footprints matched perfectly the pattern on the soles of dad’s shoes. I’m not sure that I’ve ever truly believed anyone since then. I certainly learned to hate people who, for no reason whatsoever, always feel invited to tell you what they think. Thank you, grandma.

My family deceived me, and then threw the cold hard truth in my face when I least expected it. Wham, take that, kid! The truth is just about as pleasant as a clump of wet mud with a jagged rock stuck in the middle of it. I like to be hit by it almost as much as I like having my wisdom teeth pulled by a car mechanic.

I remember being very small, maybe four or five, at the age filled with vague memories of faces and places, and a few events that shaped me forever (yep, true story, I am shaped by vague memories). Things only got clear for me when my brother was born. I don’t know why. Time, and I mean Time with a capital T, started for me when my brother was born. But before Time started, I remember being small enough to fit into my father’s lap. He’d hold me there, sheltered from the world, as he sipped his afternoon cup of coffee. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to have a sip too. Coffee fascinated me more than the foamy, sparkly beer  (which I learned to appreciate only much later in life). I remember once fetching a very large tea cup, something taken out of a rarely-used kitschy set (but made to last forever out of unbreakable material invented by NASA, no doubt) with a strange donkey wearing a red hat and smoking a pipe painted on one side (very Freudian). I ran to dad holding out this vessel and begged him to pour me out some of his coffee. Once or twice he did exactly that. To that drop of coffee he spared me I then added a bit of warm water and lots of sugar. Nasty stuff. Coffee colored, coffee flavored, sort of, water. But I remember drinking it with a relish. Ah, for just that instant, I was an adult too (another lie: things get better when you grow up). I tried to sip the brown liquid as slowly as he did, tracing the contours of the weird donkey on my cup and wondering where in the world such a bizarre animal had to be going, and how the hell did it fill that pipe with tobacco, donkeys having no fingers, of course.

My philosophical musings were interrupted once and for all by my grandmother, whose life’s mission, evidently, was to destroy every last bit of my childhood’s innocence. She was outraged by the sight of me drinking “coffee,” snatched the cup away from me and told me (perfect poker face, grandma, congratulations) little kids grew very long flee-infested tails if they drank coffee.

After that I didn’t sleep for a month. Each night I felt my butt changing shape to allow for a nasty tail. My ass itched, either from dirt (possibly, I didn’t like to wash) or from a genuine extension of my body taking form just below my tailbone.

I waited to grow a tail for many years. Luckily, instead of it eventually I grew out a pair of boobs. Turns out I’m a girl, not a squirrel.

As far as coffee goes, I didn’t start drinking it properly until I was well into adulthood. But even now I can feel my tailbone shape-shifting whenever I smell freshly brewed coffee.

Ah, the lies they told me.

When I was growing up it was unthinkable for a Serbian family to keep pets inside their home. Dogs and cats were kept outside. Dogs and cats were dirty disease-carriers. If ever they entered the living space of humans, the entire contents of the household had to be sterilized; or burned down. Touching a dog, for example, even with just a single finger and only for a split second, meant that hands had to be washed and clothes that may have come into animal contact had to be changed and immediately washed; or burned down. Cat hair was like plutonium back then. God forbid you should find a hair on the sleeve of your shirt. That shirt could never be worn again; best to just burn it down. Accidental swallowing of cat hair, I was told, led to hospitalization and very dangerous surgical procedures using robots and the Hubble Space Telescope. One woman in the neighborhood discovered she’d lived for months unsuspectedly carrying a tapeworm a mile long inside her belly. She only knew she had one when it poked out of her left ear, looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Hello, I’m running out of room down here.” Tapeworms, of course, jumped from cats and dogs straight into human mouths. I grew up hating cats and compulsively scrubbing my hands with sandpaper every time our little dog breathed in my direction.

I live with two cats now. I rescued them from certain uncertainty of a life on the streets last summer. They’ve been living with me for about nine months now and, to my shock, I haven’t died from their hair yet. They’ve spent the entire winter sleeping on every piece of furniture large enough to accommodate them. They’ve slept in my bed, even. My mother is stupefied by it all. How I’ve managed to survive this long is beyond her. She’s already mourned me a dozen times.  If I randomly scratch a section of my sunburned skin, she says “There! It’s a disease, you’re starting to scratch.” She long ago started believing her own lies. The truth is that those cats are more likely to die of my dirt than I am of theirs. They clean themselves a hundred times a day; which is, sadly, more than can be said about my habits.

Santa, coffee, cat hair. In one way or another, these things have all tried to kill me. But I’m still standing, against all odds. Genetically superior to others, clearly, I’m a survivor. If ever I have a child (and please, God, don’t let it be a Honey Boo Boo) I’m going to lie to her too. Or, better yet, I’m going to teach her to lie unflinchingly.

Read this next: Dinner? Over my dead body!