Thursday, November 17, 2016

Spontaneous Spa Town

As firmly established in my last post, my wife loves to drag my lardy ass out of the house randomly and for no purpose other than to watch me sweat, squeal, bitch and moan. Of course she says she is doing it out of love—and to make me do healthy things in nature to keep me from having a heart attack. But the very nature of these healthy things usually places me at high risk of a heart attack. So it goes.

On this particular day, the usual bribery was in place: I promised to get my ass out of the house, walk medium-to-great distances for no reason, then I get to have fried cheese and beer in a village pub as a reward for my efforts (if I'm not killed in the process). I had a brilliant plan: take a 15 minute tram ride over to Hloubětin Chateau (like we did last week), get pics from the opposite side (for better lighting), and to retire to the Old Czech Pub in the 18th century house just down the road. It was easy peasy, no major hiking, and minimum effort for maximum reward. I'm just going to cut to the chase: gray skies. Bad lighting. No photography possible. No chateau walk. No old pub possible as a bribe/reward. Fuck.

Plan B: Is This Where I Get Cheated Out of My Fried Cheese?

Then she pulled a plan out of the spontaneity hat: 'Let's go to Poděbrady! It's got spas and springs and blah blah blah.' I tuned out due to a short attention span. But since the train trip was an hour each way, there would be no chance for her to finagle her way out of the promised land of beer and fried cheese.

Poděbrady, like all Euro-towns, has a history. And it is either unintelligible or unpronounceable. The hipsters and trustafarians living near Jiřiho z Poděbrad metro station can only call it JZP. But Jiři is George and he is from Poděbrady. But he was also the King of Bohemia in the 1400s, a Hussite (Protestants Against Catholics, or PAC man, if they'd had acronyms back then). You've gotta give Prague credit for fighting the Catholic power: Jan Hus (Statue and Church in the Old Town Square) and Jan Žižka (One-eyed general and Catholic-ass-kicking patron of the whole Žižkov quarter of Prague). The Two Honzas (nickname for Jan) won many battles, but lost the war. Catholicism ended up dominating most of Europe, but the Czechs settled on good-old-fashioned Atheism as a final result. A most excellent tie breaker if I do say so myself.

Healing Waters and Horny Old Folks

Poděbrady is also a spa town. Bohemia has many of these, the more famous of which lie in the mountain range between Germany and Czech (Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, etc.). If you have the geographic blessing of spring water for drinking and soaking, some of the best beer in the world, and a history of treating heart patients—well, it was fate that I would have to go there. If I had a heart attack during the hours of walking, I would be in the right place.

As we walked down the long promenade-slash-park from the train station to the Old Town, several fountains enclosed in glass greeted our gaze. Sadly, most of the fountains were as dried up as the old ladies milling about aimlessly. Then my wife said something really frightening: 'This place is famous for old people getting laid.'

'UGH! Why would you say that? Now I can't UNHEAR that!'

Then she proceeded with the tired old 'you prude' argument, saying it was perfectly normal for crotchety old farts to chase wizened old prunes around in the sauna. Just because they 'can' do something, doesn't mean that I need to hear about it. I blame the damn Viagra. It's like Bill Maher said regarding boner pills for old folks: 'Grandpa! Leave that old bag of bones in the next room alone!'

So with the awful imagery of fragile fossils fornicating, we continued on until my first requisite stop, the old castle. To many Americans, the European castle is a fantastic remnant of a steel-and-stone history, and a reminder that America isn't old enough to have castles. So I've spent the last 20-odd years drifting around Europe catching castle pics and stomping around stone ruins. My full imagination employs itself: high stone walls with tiny windows strong against the barbaric hordes, lofty round towers seemingly made with the sole purpose of keeping the peasants out of the princess's knickers, and cold, hard halls filled with the smell of roasting meat and the sounds of heavy mugs of beers clunking together with HOORAHS and hey...

...Is that a pub over in the castle courtyard?! Yes! Maybe they'll have swarthy barmaids swinging swine clubs amid drunken lords. Or at least have a slab of sýr for me to slide down my gullet. Sadly, it was only a cafe. But still. A cafe with a view to a 12 century castle is better than a sharp lance in the eye. For some strange reason, my babe didn't like the castle. It was too square and well, too military for her. She prefers the quaint, frilly castles of the renaissance and baroque periods. In the 12 century, castles were built for function more than form. But we wouldn't get to find out what lies in the hallowed halls of Poděbrady Castle on that day. All castles close to the public at the end of October. Which is a pity. Just when the cold and wet air whips clouds into battle formation, filling the skies with castle clouds (my phrase for heavy, black/gray puffy clouds which add to the mystery of a castle picture), they close the fuckers.

A Dram of Whiskey, A Jug of Water, A Slab of Cheese

Well, at least I got a warm whiskey in the cafe to bolster my spirits. Then we finally found a working tap which dispenses the famous Poděbrady mineral water, right there in the castle courtyard below the maiden's tower. After filling up a jug with the water (which tastes of salt and iron), we slowly wended our way back through town, stopping for my (YES!!!) smaženy sýr, hranolky and tartarka, washed down with local beer.

Carrying a backpack with a tall jug of water in it can be challenging, and the jug often flopped over in my backpack, requiring my wife to get into the pack and wrestle it back into shape, muttering under her breath, “Damn thing handles like a bag of dicks.”

I am so glad I took the time to teach her my favorite redneck aphorisms.

Photos by Gabriela Sarževská

Friday, October 28, 2016

Into the Woods: Wide Man Walking

300 Pound Man. 8 km. Wet, Mossy Rocks. What Could Go Wrong?

It started as a philosophical clash which led to a reluctant compromise.  "We never do anything," she said. "And?" said I.  "You're a goddam blob in serious danger of a heart attack and you need to get out," she said.  "That old chestnut?" I said.  "We can go out to dinner," I offered. "Can't you think of anything other than food and beer?" she prodded.  "Umm. No. So, there's something else?" quipped I. Then, 3 hours later, I'm slipping and sliding over wet rocks in the rain while hovering over a 100 meter drop to certain death.  I think I'd prefer the heart attack.

The Czech Republic is just brimming with nature.  All sorts of wondrous flora and fauna that I would have no problem watching on the telly—if we had one.  In lieu of an idiot box, I'll take my chances with total fucking ignorance on this point.  You see: I'm one of those city geeks who hates all forms of exercise, weeds, bugs, weather and, well, nature.  Yes, it's beautiful.  Oh, it's stunning.  But why in the hell would I need to BE in it to appreciate it?  Lots of pics on the Google.

But She Who Must Be Obeyed is a nature lover.  She loves to scamper and bounce over rocks like a goat on crack, while I prefer the simplicity and safety of drinking beer with a goat on the label in a quiet Czech pub.  She assured me that after we do the simple, leisurely walk through lovely nature, we would go to a village pub for goat beer and goat food.  And with that bribe and that lovely image of idyllic villagery, we set off.

The Road to Hell is Paved With Wet Moss and Leaves

After an hour of screeching convincing me that walking through a soggy forest on a rainy day is a perfectly reasonable idea, we arrived at Mšeno, a village which is the gateway to Hell Cinibulkova Stezka. Stezka = trail, and Cinibulk = man who got fat from eating too many cinnamon rolls (maybe). They have a nice system of marking trails here.  Certain colors and shapes define where the trail begins, where is twists, where it turns, and naturally distracts you from the fact that you are the middle of nowhere rather than sipping beer in a pub like a proper man. This dude named Cinibulk wasn't a proper man.  He not only preferred nature to the lovely Czech pub, he set out to blaze a trail destined to be littered with the corpses of wide-bodied individuals like me.  He didn't just paint some yellow/white symbols on trees.  Nossir.  That would be EASY.  Instead, Cinibulk decided to carve steps into rocks leading up slippery slopes to views of, well, more rocks.  This was less of a trail and more of a training course for Navy Seals.  Or ninjas.  Add rain, fallen leaves, pine needles and moss to the rocky trail, and you have a perfect recipe for danger.  Or just a few hours of comical images of me flailing, grunting and falling on my ass on soggy rocks.

We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

Why do people do this? I can understand the love of nature (yuck) and the need for excercise (phooey), but why exert yourself in the woods in the middle of nowhere?  It's like that feckless fool who climbed a mountain 'because it was there.'  I'm trying to understand the philosophy of the nature lover and the sportsman.  Something about nature being a reminder of our origins, and the risk, struggle and adrenaline of the trail being a metaphor for human existance, maybe?  Bollox.  I don't need actual struggle to remind me of life's existential struggle.  That's like saying, 'I don't understand the struggle of my city life.  Let's go risk our lives climbing something to help us embrace the struggle.'    There's a word for people like this.  That word is douchebag.

About two hours into the woods and we hit some actual danger.  I was at the peak of that rat bastard Cinibulk's dream trail when I hit a wall.  I could no longer haul my considerable bulk up the slippery rocks.  There was a 100 foot drop to the left of me and large, sloping boulders ahead of me.  I could no longer stand and walk the trail without actual risk of death.  I plunked my plump posterior down on the hard, wet slime and gave up.  I had to send goat girl ahead of me to scout the trail, snap pics of it, bring those back to me, and watch me yell HELL NO! while whimpering like a little bitch. Yup.  It's official.  My wife hates me.  Why else would she drag my lardy ass out into the woods and badger me up onto slippery rocks into clear and present danger?  She insists that she had no idea that it would be this bad.  And yet she took dozens of pics of me flailing on rocks like a drunken sea lion.  One person's hell is another's entertainment.  We like seeing people in pain.  Just look at the success of America's Funniest Home Videos.  60 minutes of men getting whacked in the nuts by a kid with a bat is apparently funny (for the men: not so much).  Or just look at all the rubberneckers who slow down to view traffic accidents.  We are sick, I tell you.

Hallelujah!  Homeward!

I made it home with only a small slice on my thumb and sore joints.  I did not get the promised balm of a meal in a cozy Czech pub.  My flailing and crawling ate up all the time before the last bus out of the village.  I did not complete the full trail.  After barely getting over the evil boulders—only to see another uphill struggle remaining, I officially put my foot down. In the mud. With a splat.  I decided to avail myself of my only remaining option: get the holy hell outta these damn woods.  I followed an unmarked trail against the continuous protest of my wife, who was certain I was only going to get us lost by leaving the trail.  I saw vehicle track marks on a muddy, grassy trail which led nowhere near rocks.  After 30 minutes I heard the reassuring sound of cars up in the distance.  Civilization!  Salvation! Pub!

We ended up sampling some stale beer in the first pub I set eyes upon.  A rocker dude in gray camouflage shorts and knee-length black socks served us reluctantly, after telling my wife not to play the piano in the corridor (Then why have one, you fucking douche?). I drank the stale beer, rested my wounded knees, and quietly thanked the wooden bench I sat upon.  We were out of the damn woods.

Don't Mess With Mother Nature. She'll Cut a Bitch.


Photos by Gabriela Sarževská

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Swine Club

A Blunt Instrument Best Used in Hand-to-Hand Combat

The first rule of The Swine Club is: you tell EVERYONE on the internet about The Swine Club. You just need to know the secret code: Pečene vepřove koleno (petch-eh-nee veh-przhovee koh-leh-no). This is Czech for 'roasted pork knee.' It is a massive chunk of swine flesh served on the bone, au naturel, on a board with a knife sticking out of it. Czechs don't merely cook their piggies. They get medieval on their knees.

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská
I've had several friends ask me for the code when they were about to visit Prague for the first time. It usually went something like this: 'Where can I get that piggy-thingamajig on a piece of wood?' To which I replied, 'Oh, you mean the large, greasy piece of roasted swine that you pick up by the bone and use to club uppity vegans into submission? That would be the koleno. And you are in luck, my carnivorous friend: you can get that almost EVERYWHERE in Prague (or at least everywhere vegans fear to tread).

You might be thinking, 'Why would I want that? I'm happy with fast food chains and safe food options.' I'll tell you why. Remember the Medieval World scene from The Cable Guy? Piles of meat on the plates, scraps and bones on the floor. And jousting. And a disenfranchised chick saying 'I'm your serving wench, Julie.' You know you'd pork that.

Der Schweinenhammer

Bohemian and Bavarian cuisine (if you can call a diet based largely on beer and pork 'cuisine.' It is also known as Muslimsbane) are similar. In Bavaria (Munich und freunds) they call my dear Pork Mallet Schweinshaxe, also badly translated as 'pork knuckle.' Who the fuck puts knuckles on pigs? Anywho, I prefer the more barbaric word der schweinenhammer, or pork hammer. Don't worry. You won't have to remember that one because it's not on the menu. I just made that shit up because it sounds cool. That's what we wordsmiths do. We hammer words until they squeal. Sometimes we kneecap the bitches, and occasionally, but only rarely, we get medieval on their asses.

But whether we call it koleno or haxe, they both have the same effect on you. After you eat it you will feel like you've been pounded in the stomach by the red hot hammer of a medieval blacksmith. This feeling is what your humble culinary servant WBJ calls The Hammer of the Gods. It hurts. It hurts so good.

Baskets of Bread and Other Useless Shit

The Pig Cudgel usually comes with mustard, sauerkraut, horseradish and a huge basket of bread. Don't fill up on the bread. Trust me (think: stomach hammer). This beast is 1 kilo of meat, fat, grease and bone. Use the bread sparingly, just to absorb the greasy blow of the swine club, use the mustard and horseradish as an antiseptic balm for the roast beast, and tip the server. He/she just might know the Heimlich maneuver.

You can find koleno in most tradtional Czech hospodas (pubs) or restaurace (guess). Make sure it's served on the board with the knife. You will feel like either a viking warrior or a klingon. Unless you're a vegan. Then you'll feel about as useless as an asshole on an elbow. Or a knee. Or a knuckle...

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Czech Beer Revolution

Did They Really Need One?

For the Czech Republic, beer is king. They are the number one beer drinkers per capita in the world. Per capita is a fancy-shmancy term where they take the amount of beer sold in a year and divide it by the entire population. It's easy math wherein even babies drink. Per capita is the only way to get a decent head count, because some countries are bigger than others, and because some people can drink 10 times more beer than a baby. So it goes. You probably thought Germany would be the largest beer consumers, what with the lederhosen and that Oktoberfest thing. Well, they were. But Oktoberfest is more than half foreigners, so that shit doesn't count. That and Czechoslovakia split in half and the Czechs dropped their wine-swilling Slovak cousins into the dust while listening to Bohemian Rhapsody. When a city map is redrawn into specific districts in order to favor one political party, this is called gerrymandering. With beer consumption and countries, it is called beerymandering.

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská
Back in The Day (the day I first arrived in Prague, a fine day in 1997 to be exact), every Czech pub was pretty much the same: smokey, wall-to-wall wood paneling, small tv high on a corner shelf, and full of young and old drinkers from opening to closing. There were slight variations of course. The most notable was the type of beer offered. You could walk down a single street in working-class, punk rock, gypsy Žižkov and see at least a dozen different beer signs from an equal number of Czech towns. They had 3 things in common:

  1. they were all good
  2. they were all cheap
  3. one day a week topless bar babes served you the beer.

The reason the beer was (and still is) cheap is simple. Czechs would overturn the government if they levied a beer tax and/or raised the price of beer too much. So beer was classified as 'liquid bread' so as to be taxed as a basic foodstuff, a necessity, a staple, and a mainstay of Czech existence. Clever bastards. Topless beermaids.


So many beers back in The Day, so little sobriety. There were pubs every 50 feet and a different beer sign sticking out of each one. It was like staring down a row of colored squares on a life-sized Beer Monopoly board. There was Pilsener Place, Gambrinus Gardens, Kozel Avenue, Samson Street and Budwalk. I saw it as a challenge to try them all. At about a quarter per pint (back in The Day, nowadays about a buck fiddy), the only challenge was not to get too wasted before noon. I never used to be a daytime drinker before I lived in Prague. But you can't pay double for a soft drink. It's bad beer math. One thing hasn't changed: Czech beer is cheaper than water. And who the hell would pay 50 cents for a small glass of warm, flat Coke with no ice when you can get a tall, cold beer for a quarter? Only a MADMAN, I tell ya.


Prague survived all the major world wars intact by just giving up and being annexed by whatever bastard sons of bitches were in power at the time. This saved all the old precious buildings and even more precious breweries from being leveled. But Czech beer was in true jeopardy when all of the breweries were being bought up by foreign beverage distributors. UK's Bass company held sway for awhile, then sold off the Czech breweries it had owned to the Japanese. ABMiller bought up many of the major Czech labels, and as is always the case with corporate conglomeration, something gets diluted in favor of profit. Globalization equals Bud/Coors/Miller. Anhauser-Busch, the purveyor of the worst and most popular bilge water beer known as Budweiser, takes the And How's Your Douche Prize for stupidest legal move. They tried to sue Czech Budvar, the original Budweiser (from České Budějovice, aka Budweis in German) for use of the name Bud. Oh yeah, that went over really well. Hey, Douchebags! Czechs invented Budweiser in 1785, a hundred fuckin' years before your piss even passed the first Bowery bum's bladder. All they managed to win in the suit was the right to keep American beer fucking close to water. Again. Budvar beer is renamed 'Czechvar' when imported to the States. Wouldn't want to confuse the rednecks with actual beer.

So just like in the Monopoly game, that previously-colorful Žižkov pub street became one massive Pilsener Place, with every sign becoming Pilsener Urquell and Gambrinus (owned and brewed by Pilsener). Every pub started serving the same beer. Even the topless beermaids started to look a little tired and droopy. Pubs started closing (or worse, being sold and turned into biddie bistros where squared headed, burgundy-haired, middle-aged women met over cheap wine and squealed about how they got the house and car in the divorce).


I left the Czech Republic and lived in Berlin for 6 years. They have more breweries, and many of them are run by monks. Especially in Bavaria. Ohhhh, mighty monk beer.... A nice German guy told me the best (and probably only) German joke: 'How are sex in a canoe and American beer the same? Both are fucking close to water.' Damn right. So I dove into the monk beer and was baptized in the rheinheitsgebot (German beer purity law of 1516).

On several return visits to Prague for photo jobs, I started to notice a change. On one particular visit to my favorite pub district of Žižkov, there was a new phenomenon brewing: the Czech craft beer. One pub I stumbled into had not only the usual 3 Czech beers, but a whole line of 9 taps serving beers I had never even heard (or dreamed) of. There were even a few microbrewery mainstays like IPA, the once-staple strong ale of microbrewery fame. There were porters, stouts, ales, bitters and blondes, all foaming at the mouth and screaming for my attention. It was about. Fucking. Time. Apparently the peasants revolted. Didn't want the same 3 beers. Hated the corporate oligarchy. Missed the days of old.

Since that glorious day, I've seen a host of microbreweries, craft beer pubs and guest beer tap lists sprouting and hopping up around Prague—even in the outlying areas. My latest cheap-ass apartment in the run-down, industrial district of Praha-Libeň houses several such fine and dandy beer bases. You can sip a strong stout in the cellar bar Napalmĕ at Palmovka Metro (or sit ouside in sunny weather), or you can even go to the Kolčavka pub just up the road, where they are raking steaming malt and hops out of steel cauldrons right in front of you while you sip your ale. It's like a 3D film for the beer enthusiast. With smell-o-vision. Something fondles my nostalgia when I smell beer being brewed. It's like Mom's Malt-O-Meal or oatmeal on the stove mingled with the smell of burning coffee. If I were to ever get rich and famous and be in need of my own fragrance line, that would be it.

Today I went to the Pivovar Kolčavka brewpub up the road. As it was lunchtime and I have no compunction whatsoever about daytime drinking, I sampled 3 different beers. I also had fried smoked cheese to wash the beer down with. Cuz I am all about the smazhak. The first (and best) beer was the Summer Ale, 13 degree. Czech beers are sold by degree: 10 (most common), 11, 12 and... you get the pic. The degree is something about specific gravity or something hoppy or jumpy—I don't care about the geeky bits. I just drink the stuff. But the higher the degree, the stronger, which is all a beer mathematician needs to know. The 10 degree is about 4% alcohol, and it goes up about a point per degree. All of the beers I sampled had that fresh micro brew taste. I can't describe it without getting all nostalgic about Malt-O-Meal again, but that flavor is exactly the same in Sacramento or Praha-Libeň. Except Czech beer is 5x better. Add to that the various types of hops and malts offered in each type of beer and you get beer perfection. I also had something called Best Bitte, which I thought was German, but it was in fact a bitter beer. They also had a hořka, which is Czech for bitter. Then there was the IPA, famous for hoppy bitterness. Apparently you can't be bitter enough. There was also one called Mrtvy Kostelnik, translated something like 'dead friar.' It was the strongest beer on offer. As tempting as that was, I had to pass, as fried cheese, french fries and 3 strong ales is already enough to kill a bull moose.

I oozed home along a winding path by a creek and I stopped to listen to the water burbling off the stones. I thought about how a small country won against imperialist brewers and purveyors of cheap swill to the growing global economy. Half of the major Czech breweries and most of the minor ones are still owned by Czechs in spite of the best efforts of Big Beer. But in a country that has been brewing beer since about the year 800, that makes all the sense in the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Smažený Sýr!

One Wide Man's Comfort Food

Fried Cheese. It's the stuff of life. Or at least the stuff of my life in the Czech Republic. Everyone needs to find their vice, their relief from the pain and suffering of being mortal. Some choose heroin, meth, crack, hoes, or heroin-addicted, methed-up crack hoes. I do not judge. For me, my vices are The Beer and The Sýr. I guess I would call fried cheese my comfort food. But that's not saying enough. It doesn't 'comfort' me in the way that macaroni and cheese comforts a white trash stoner. My smažený sýr (pronounced smazheny seer) experience is more like trying to stuff a slab of greasy cheese into a hollowed out knitting needle and jam that bitch into my tongue. I'm almost ready to seek help.

Tourists and travelers alike want to know what Real Czech Food is. Yeah, you can have gulash, but the Hungrarians already had that, and sure, you can score some chunks of roasted meat and sauerkraut, but the Germans probably invented that shit as well. If you want something so real, so tasty and so gawdamn decadent that Czechs themselves swear it's the FIRST thing they eat after returning from abroad—it's the fried cheese.

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská
'But we already have that,' a skeptical American friend said. 'Au contrare, mon frer,' I corrected, you have your mozzarella sticks. In Czechia, they take 2 fuckin' SLABS of cheese, batter the beJAYzus out of 'em, then chuck 'em in the deep fryer right next to your order of fries, then throw it all on a plate with tartar sauce. Occasionally there are small strips of sad sauerkraut or shredded parsley on the side as a garnish. You can safely ignore that shit and dive right on into your hunka hunka burnin' cheese.

Fried cheese is like sex: the worst fried cheese I have EVER had...wasn't bad. It was served in a train station, lukewarm, rigid, rushed and served with no enthusiasm by an old woman who clearly hated her job. And then there was the fried cheese...

The Smažený Sýr Zine

Back before weblogs became blogs, feckless writers who couldn't be published in magazines wrote zines. These poorly crafted tomes were oftentimes the alternative mini manifestos of whatever subcultures were popular before the iphones made zombies of our chilluns. I wrote one of those things, hand printed in pen and ink, to be released in Prague in the late 90s in the height of the (sticking fingers in air in ridiculous quote signs) Prague Literati (unfingerquote). There was just a metric fuckton of American wannabe writers (and Brits as well) living in Prague, sucking up the fried cheese, cheap beer and doe-eyed babes like a whale sucks brine through baleen.

My Smažený Sýr Zine was subtitled 'A Toxic By-product of the Prague Literati.' At the time, too many poetry readings were being given by thin, twitching vegans under the banner of Beefstew. When I first arrived in Prague in '97 with 400 bux in my pocket, I was also a misguided vegetarian. My last girlfriend in the States had warped my brain and stomach into a new diet without meat. Since then I have discovered that the vegetarian diet doesn't work for large men. All the tofu in the world won't fill the protein void. And kale? Gofuckyerself.

I chose cheese. It was in a restaurant near Karlovo namesti where my cheese cherry was first heated, stretched, and broken. The joint was full of smoke and beer and just the kind of apathy that made me comfortable in my own skin. I took the unintelligible Czech menu from the unintelligible Czech waiter and pointed to the plate of the man at the next table The man was cutting into a fried, breaded pillow of something which oozed onto a pile of french fries. 'Is that vegetarian?' I asked. 'It's cheese,' he replied. Then he brought me one.

And with that, Craig Robinson was in love.

I needed to tell the people. They needed to know my love. I wanted to start cults of fried cheeseheads which would put the Green Bay Packers fans to shame. And I wanted to smear the sýr all over the local newspapers and shout cheesy yelps of joy from the rooftops.

The Smažený Sýr Zine project withered in the udder. I had hand printed one—all 4 pages of it (double sided A4, folded in half) and all I needed was the money for a copy machine. I would print HUNDREDS of these cheesy little bastards, change the global diet, and jam my middle finger up the collective noses of all those wannabe 'Prague Writers.' Maybe the project died because a good friend of mine read it and called me a fucking idiot. Or maybe it died because the world wasn't ready to embrace a radical deep fried cheese diet, one which would throw the Earth off its axis from our sheer heavy human MASS. Or maybe I didn't have fifty bux to print the damn thing. You and I will never know. Oh, the bullet we dodged.

In the meantime, I attend cheese church religiously, looking for my sacred cow. Many times I have thought about writing reviews about where to get the best fried cheese in Prague, but the lack of culinary consistency in this country makes me think the cooks are on a rotating prison work furlough. You can get a perfect fried cheese in a pub one day, and the next—total fucking hockey puck. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason.

Cheese Spotting

As mentioned before, bad fried cheese and bad sex are still better than a sharp stick in the eye, so fried cheese reviews might seem pointless with such a non-gourmet food. But after a few thousand pounds of cheesy goodness washed down with cheap, delicious Czech beer, I can offer the following fried cheese guidelines with absolute authority.

  1. The cheese must be at least 40% fat in order to melt well. Otherwise you are eating a rubber hockey puck. You can often get 3 or 4 diffferent types of fried cheese: the basic eidam, the snooty camembert, and the risky blue cheese. My staple is the eidam (eidamer in Deutsch).

  2. The fries must be cut thick and fresh on the premises and fried to a golden perfection. Anything less is just frozen fast food fries. The better joints even let you choose the style of your fries: traditional, 'American' (wedges) or boiled potatoes. But don't order the latter unless you are a starving Russian author just released from prison.

  3. The tartar sauce must come in a mini gravy boat with lots of little green herbal chunks. If they try to fob off a package of tartar sauce, you can feel free to deduct that shit from the tip. Cheap-ass-bitch tax, I call it.

  4. If a menu has fried cheese and french fries on it, but doesn't include the tartar sauce in the price, keep walking. These cheap ass Czech fucks like to charge for condiments. Hell, they even charge 50 cents for each ketchup packet in McDonald's or any other American fast food joint. The nerve.

  5. Hit the lunch menus between 11am and 2pm. It's a few bucks cheaper. Some of the more enlightened restaurants extend those golden, cheesy hours to 3 or 4pm, knowing that some of us don't get up at 5am, work in factories, and eat lunch at 11am.

  6. After all I've said, you still might be tempted to get one of the meat dishes from the lunch menu. Don't do it, I'm telling you. Unless you like eating three tiny, outdated, discount market chunks of stringy, fatty, grisly, dried out meat served in a sea of universal brown sauce and a metric fuckton of dried out dumpling paperweights. Trust me, life is too short for that shit.

The blogger is chock full of fried cheese as he posts this. But he still needs to ask you:

Where did you have your best fried cheese in Prague? 
Where can I find that tasty shit?

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Um...Let's Just Defriend

I remember in the good old days, you could just ignore someone's phone calls, knocks at the door and letters—and the sad fucks would eventually just go away. Not now. Nossir. Not with the internets and the books of faces and such. Now every god. damned. shitheel you ever tried to ditch will FIND YOU.

Yes, minding the constantly changing privacy switches on fb is like Scotty running around to save the fucking warp cores or something. So a loser gets through. Then a bitter ex girlfriend. Then Satan. Yes, the road to hell is paved with failed relationships.

What's weird is that these piles of dead wood want to somehow reconcile; blow their fetid breath on the embers of the dead relationship and rekindle the fucking corpse through social media. How very social of the sad fucks. Look, fucks: I'm generally a really nice guy. That's why I stopped all communications with you. If I were an asshole, I would have just said GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY LIFE, LOSER. But I hate confrontations, so instead I just left you wondering if I was dead or joined the Jihad (Not that anyone could possibly think the Jihad would have me).

Maybe you joined a religious cult and I am number 6 on your 12 steps. Don't care. Maybe you just missed me, wanted to re-establish contact with me, flatter me at first, then slowly degrade into tirades of Just How Fucked Up I Really Am. End result: me reminding you of What a Sad Loser You Are, then you defriending me.

Then there are the ones who are your actual friends in real life, the ones you add to your friend list because you think that somehow the drunk things you both discuss in real life will somehow translate into cyberlife. NOT. This is probably what pisses me the most. If we are BMFs (brick-and-mortar friends) and not just cyberbesties, then why in the FUCK would you be offended by me making a smartass comment on your wall at midnight? Drunk! It's the exact same thing I said to you when we were last drinking. Oh, I get it. Now it's in PRINT. In the fucking CLOUD or something. So now it's PERSONAL.

I used the damn smiley winks in my asinine comments. Every damn time.  And they still defriended me. Fuckers. So, this begs the question: are we still friends in real life? Can we exchange friendly-smiley-wink-drunken-insults over actual beers? One such loser actually called me on the phone and said he was so offended by my comment that not only did he defriend me, he had to call me to chew me out. After spewing several of my nice guy apologies (repeatedly), I wondered what this fuck's real problem was. 'OTHER PEOPLE CAN READ THAT SHIT!' he yelled. Um, yeah. So hit delete. Loser. What. You slept all day? Your 12 friends read it and now it can't be UNREAD? Damn. Sucks to be you. Ok. Defriend me. I deserve it. But I'm not gonna hit the like button on your funeral announcement. Wait. Maybe I will.

Sometimes it's easier to end a relationship with a click. That can have its appeal. But I suppose it's tougher if you were actually friends before the cyberspace thang. The good ole daze when you could insult each other, be pissed for a while, then forgive, forget, drink, forget.

Maybe I'm an asshole. I could just think I'm a nice guy. I'm sure that assholes don't wake up in the morning singing that Denis Leary song. They make up shit about what nice guys they are. But if I'm not already an asshole, maybe I need to be an asshole. Like the dude in Silicon Valley said: "Dude, you need to be an asshole. If not, there will be a huge asshole vaccum, and all these other assholes will be sucked in."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Amsterdam: Not Just Hookers and Weed

(But It's a Solid 70%)

I've read that in Amsterdam you get your fries from a vending machine, your weed from baristas and your hookers from window displays. As a serial expat, lifelong traveler and a Wide Body Jetsetter, naturally I was intrigued and titilated. I fucking LOVE fries, and I really wondered how a mere machine could possibly pull off that particular culinary coup without spraying hot oil on hapless customers or shooting mayo goo on their shoes.

As my flight started descending out of the clouds into the Netherlands, I could tell from my view out of the thick plastic window that the reason for the name of the country was clear: this spongy bog was clearly the nether regions of Europe, the waterlogged goop where Vikings feared to tread. From above it reminded me of a soggy green sponge. It also reminded me not to do dishes at 5am before an early morning flight. It was seriously fucking with my metaphor.

An airport is certainly not the best place to get first impressions of any culture. But Amsterdam tries so damn hard to be weird, so it is worthy of mention. After what seemed like an hour walking through the airport in the direction of the baggage hall (well, I stood on those floor escalators like a blob, so that might have skewed my sense of time), it became clear that the Dutchies were all completely high. At all times. At least the architects and designers are. Bizarre mutated pumpkins and squashes with hideous faces loomed out at me from metallic walls and giant, mushy-looking alien blobs were bent over backwards, leering at passersby. Just when I thought one of these alien critters was a cushy leather couch beckoning my butt, I had to slam on the knee brakes to keep from plopping down on solid metal painted and distressed to look like leather. No sooner had I got back into the cadence of the airport march than I saw a large alien hand grabbing an actual rental car. I'll wager that small Euro-cars are in huge intergallactic demand. That or the entire advertising department of Hertz is completely stoned.

A visit to the Amsterdam airport restrooms is also a unique cultural experience. Upon entry to one of the busy relief stations (WC, toiletten, the bog), a large Eastern European woman with a mop stood there staring at me. Ten years in Prague had prepared me for the experience of seeing female restroom cleaners at inappropriate times (like busily mopping behind a row of urinating men). This particular character is usually a female senior citizen, lovingly referred to by the Czechs as hajzlbaba (crapper granny). So to be greeted by a middle aged woman with a mop wasn't much of a surprise. But I wondered what kind of service was being offered when she threw open a stall door and beckoned me to enter with the sweep of her strong arm. Fortunately, the stall could barely fit my luggage and my wide body, so I didn't have to worry that she might saunter on in after me and offer me the XXL Red Light Menu.

After only 30 minutes in the Amsterdam airport, I was already giddy and paranoid. Maybe I will be skipping the weed.


19:00, Amsterdam Schipol Airport (5 days later, high as I write this):

I'm just coming down from the weed. 24 hours ago I went to my first and only Amsterdam Coffee* Shop. I told the chilled out skater dude behind the counter that I was temporarily returning to the rastafarian recreational regime after 20 years, and that I was a bit of a weed wimp.

"No problemo, Dudo Grande (no, he didn't speak Spanish)," he reassured me and asked me exactly what kind of depth, breadth and height of a high I wanted.

Photo by Gabriela Sarževská
"Glad you asked, mini dude. Y'see, it's like this: give me the mildest form of weed you've got. I'm a lightweight (ironically enough) and I have a flight to catch. I don't wanna be found in an alley sitting on my luggage playing bass notes with my own drool strings or anything like that. If you've got a scale of fuckuppery on your weed menu, like Nirvana being the highest and Diggety Dank being the middle, I want the lowest lawn. Just yer garden variety White Boy Grass. Nothing to get me noticed as I plow my way through the chips, mayo, pizza and airport snacks."

"Well," he said, "we are actually known for our strong weed."

"Ok. I'LL DO IT."

Dude had only two pre-rolled joints and a metric fuckton of various strains of weed—that you have to roll yourself. So I opted for the weaker of the two pre-rolled spliffs. One joint of 'Yellow Lolipop For Beginners' or something like that and 24 hours later, and I'm back on the ground. There were miles walked, cyclists dodged, hookers gawped at, fries, pizza and burgers eaten, and long gaps of time stretching between them. If I had opted for the OTHER joint, the stronger of the two, I might have been fished out of a canal with a smile on my face. Trust your weed barista. He knows what you need.

A brief moment of clarity at midnight as I looked up from a spicy garlic sausage and gorgonzola pizza (my 2nd in 24 hours) delivered to my botel: are they looking at me? Am I playing bass notes on cheese strings stretched from my bottom lip?" Aaawwww, the old familiar self-conscious feeling again. But no paranoia. So I resumed devouring the pizza with a face plant and serious snorfling sounds.

Something or things happened between landing and takeoff. I will try to reconstruct these experiences piecemeal from memory. Bear with me. My memory is like sieve at the best of times. Always has been, even before the decades of global pub crawling.

Ladies of the Evening (and Broad Daylight)

'Enough talk of you gorging on fries and pizza, you fat bastard. What about the hookers?!'

Glad you asked. Our first hotel was on the edge of the Red Light District, which was the inner circle, if you will, of a spider's web of canals which expands outward from the harbor to to the edge of the old town. If you'll turn to the imaginary Amsterdam history book in my head...

'Do we have to?'

Yes. The only thing I planned on this trip were the flights and the hotels. I didn't Google or Yelp a damn thing about The Dam, just like I used to do in the Daze Before The Internet. I like to just show up in a new country and dive in headfirst, experiencing and living and finding all the good stuff by sheer chance. I highly (snigger; I said highly) recommend that all of my readers do the same. Your trip will give you exactly what you need, not what previously-visiting strangers need.

Oh, the history. I'm guessing that this massive harbor leading to the North Sea trafficked just a buttload of sailors on shore leave. What do hard working sailors need? Vice, baby. Hookers, booze and weed. I don't think Amsterdam is any more liberal than any other Eurocity. When the foofy painters in poofy hats finished their run in the 1700s, the industrial age brought in the goods. On boats. None of these swarthy seadogs were buying paintings to take home. They wanted hookers, weed (or whatever drug was the predecessor to the Mary Jane), cheese and fried foods. And so that is what you get in Amsterdam to this day. I have never seen so many snackeries dealing in nothing but carbs, fat and oil in my entire life. It blows American mall food away. Deep fried sour balls? Check. Fries with dozens of dips? Check. 50 Shades of Waffle? Check. 50 kinds of cheese from the same cheese chain shops located every 200 meters? Check. The verdict: an entire city with weed munchies.

As in most Eurocities, the Euroweenies who inhabit them are in impossibly good shape for their diet. Germans live on bratwurst and beer and they are largely thin. Amsterdamers eat cheese, pizza, waffles and deep fried food (I could find no other foodstuffs in the week I was there) and mostly look like fashion models in hippie clothes. It's the goddam bikes. Both Berlin and Amsterdam are flat, marshy lands with no hills in town. This means that you don't have to be a Tour de France cycle nerd to navigate the city streets. Slide into 3rd gear and dive headlong into traffic.

Oh yeah: the hookers. Get your map (electronic or print; they all have the Red Light district highlighted in red) and dive on in. My wife and I (yes, we both wanted to gawp at hookers in windows) strolled the boisterous streets over canal bridges and into the thick of the night. Coming in from the southwest side, we saw mostly large ladies of color in windows. Once we hit another side street, the flavor changed to ladies of the Asian persuasion, then on to Slav street. If there are dozens of strains of weed in Amsterdam, there must be hundreds of flavors of tail.

All of the hookers in The Dam mostly rent tiny cubicle cubbies with glass windows and white tiles from floor to ceiling inside where they wriggle like bait on a hook (hence the historical origin of the name 'hooker'). The wife commented that it all seemed so clinical and sanitary, like standing in a hospital shower stall. I guessed that all that sends out the right message: cleanliness and godliness and all that. But there was definitely a weird vibe beyond the obvious voyeuristic one. It's hard to look at something in a window display and not want to ask about the sales and discounts. Fortunately, we didn't have to. An Asian man walking in front of me suddenly succumbed to temptation and tapped on a window. The door swung open, the lady slapped a smile on her puss and leaned out. I heard the man say 'How much?' and watched the woman stick out her hand with five fingers, which could mean almost anything.

A) No way is a hooker 5 EUR.
B) No way is that hooker worth 500 EUR.
C) Talk to the hand. No fucky-sucky with Asians (racist whore!).

Maybe he only asked for directions. That would be worth five bucks.

Being Chased By Smarmy, Swarthy Pimps (In My Mind)

The sun must rise and the ladies of the evening must retire, the white tiles are hosed down and the morning shift checks in. Amsterdam must keep up with Vegas in the 24 hour party cycle. The only thing more ubiquitous than the rows of window women are the signs that scream NO PHOTOS! everywhere nearby. We were near the end of our trip, our last day in The Dam before the airport shuffle began the next day. I remember craving only one thing in this city of vice: having a beer while looking at a canal. Previously, it was 'munching fries while watching women writhing and wriggling in windows', but every seat was taken. So I resigned myself to the daytime tourist blob leaning against wrought iron railings overlooking party boats slithering by with old rich guys dressed as sailors hosting bored women with buckets of slowly warming champagne. It was good. It was perfect.

I had read that you don't want to be caught photographing the hookers in the windows. Smarmy, swarthy pimps will chase you. I must have subconsciously wanted this type of adventure, because I found myself innocently taking pics of canals and rows of bikes and people and coffee shops and and and...suddenly the row of houses I was photographing had windows with legs and stockings and cleanliness and godliness sticking out. At this point it is wise to mention that I had had another puff of coffee. I was getting paranoid. So I high(snigger)-tailed it out there just in case. My pimp fu is not very good after a puff or two.

Avenue Anarchy and Bicycle Road Warriors

Just as in Berlin, cyclists seem to have the right of way at all times. Only worse. They seem to have the Dam Right to shoot out in front of cars, pedestrians and other cyclists alike—with impunity. I asked one of my kindly drivers about it as he was driving down a one way street with an obstinate hippy obliviously biking on the left hand side of the road directly towards him, with only a hair's breadth between the cars, the bike, the canal and mayhem. "Yeah," he smiled, "They're not supposed to bike against traffic...but if a car hits them—it's always the car driver's fault."

Meh. I HATE one group having more rights than another. It's like Apartheid or senior citizens on Prague public transport. And the hits don't stop there. The swirling mass of cyclists in Amsterdam was larger than anywhere I have ever seen; Berliners are like babes on trikes compared to the Dammers. So as I strolled through the city center snapping photos, I was constantly under threat of grievous bodily harm as bikes flew by me in all directions at all times, narrowly missing my lens, nose and other protruding appendages with only a PING! Sound as they strafed me. It was total. Fucking. Anarchy. How is it possible that there not constant accidents? It reminded me of driving in Tijuana in a giant circle of dirt and mud with cars entering the high speed vehicular tilt-a-whirl at top speed randomly. There were no traffic lanes. And there were no accidents. It defies reason.

Maybe I'll have to rethink the whole anarchy thing as a viable human political system. When bikes and cars dive pell-mell-into-the-breach-balls-out, it somehow seems to work. Maybe humans only need to be left totally alone to succeed.

I just realized: I never did get fries from a vending machine. Oh, I saw them. I was just too high to operate coins at the time.

*Coffee is Dutch for WEED.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Diving Deep into the Depths of Dumb

I finally did it.  A) Got married (Back in 2013. Yay me!), B) Boarded the bureaucratic slippery slalom slope known as European Residency.  Why not.  I've lived in Europe off-and-on for decades, never wanting to fully commit.  Always feeling daring not doing the paperwork.  Bureaucracy is for suckers, I've always said.  Sure, I knew that it would be a colossal waste of time (hence entire empires built on easy immigration for the right price, mostly for yuppie scummery and the like). The rest of us have to take our chances with the riffraff.  And by riffraff, I don't mean the unwashed hordes of Syrians pushing their way into the bowels of Europa, forcing her to slam her doors shut tighter than a frog's asshole (and that shit's watertight. Word.).  I mean the bureaucrats themselves.  It's refreshing to note that all the stereotypes about bureaucrats in the States ring true here as well: a finer class of classless idiots I have never seen. I had no idea this slalom course would be so fraught with idiocy, incompetence and downright ty-volery.

Firstly: all of your research and preparation is for naught.  They will find a problem with a semicolon in your rental contract and jam it up your actual colon.  And then you won't have enough passport photos.  And they won't be the correct size.  And in your picture, your shirt won't have a collar.  And you'll be smiling.  This is serious fucking business.  Do not smile.  I expected all of this, and as I am generally free several days a week in the winter, I just decided to dive into the depths of dumb and see how just long I could hold my breath.  I started the process before Christmas.  It is nearly Easter and  I have still not found that hidden Easter egg known as zee papers.  Jesus H. Lapdancing Christ. I shouldn't have started this process anywhere near Christian holidays in an atheist country.  I've been back several times, each time with more and more and more and...

Why won't they give me zee fucking papers?  Yes, I'm a gawd damned Yank whose ancestors fled the dark ages of Europa and finally settled into the deserts of Central California.  But I'm married to a Eurobabe!  This should be easy-peasy, right?  Nope. Apparently, there's a problem: I'm Japanese.  I know.  Who knew?  Well, THEY did.  The fine collectors of all my precious documents, upon closely inspecting all of them, decided in their infinite wisdom that I am in fact a Japanese citizen.  I even have a certified letter stating this fact clearly.  Even though they have copies of my U.S. Passport, marriage certificate, yadayadayada, they 'somehow' confused me with a person of Japanese persuasion.  I think I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so.

'Dear Mr. Robinskon.' 

RobinSKON?  Really?  Even if you started your day in typical old school Czech style with a six pack of beer and a bag of hot dogs for breakfast, you couldn't possibly think that 'Robinskon' is a Japanese name.

'There is a problem with your doorbell, so the foreigner police could not surprise you with a random visit, the aim of which was to enter your flat and ransack the dump, see if your wife is not just a cleverly-made-up blow-up doll—and to look for Syrian refugees.  Please correct this oversight immediately or we will not be able to process your application for residency.  And BTW: you're fuckin' Japanese. We really think so.

Sincerely, Your Immigration Tards.'

Well.  I beg to differ.  I have never been to Japan in my entire life and I hate sushi.  I am whiter than a yeti in a snowstorm—fighting Tilda Swinton.  Not to mention that I'm 6 foot 5 inches and 280 pounds. They don't make Japanese folks with such proportions.  Even the sumo wrestlers are short.  My Immigration Tards even gave me a deadline to correct all of my architectural and racial issues.  They must be satisfied by April 18, so I called them for the earliest appointment.  The kindly tard on the phone said that the earliest appointment was April 20.  Naturally.  Such is the nature of the tardbeast.   A late appointment would not do. So I rolled up my considerably long sleeves, grabbed the reams of zee papers issued to me thus far, and headed down to the office for the fourth time to sit in the line for a full day with the rest of the unwashed foreign hordes.  At this point, the security guard should give me a high five.

At the entrance to the Tardis, I showed my letter to the man in the booth.  I pointed out the sentence in the certified letter where it declares in no uncertain terms that I am certainly Japanese.  The man and the booth could not possibly be an actual bureaucrat, because he cracked a smile.  Then he looked me up and down, checked the letter again and declared "Well, obviously this is some kind of mistake. It even says here that they recorded your U.S. Passport number and I.D."


"So just go upstairs with the corrected information and and wait for your number to be called."

By 'corrected information' he meant my new flat and rental contract—and my honky white ass, to prove once and for all that I'm not Japanese.  I didn't have the stones to tell the man that my 'new' flat has a doorbell system from the dark ages, and that there would be no chance—yet again—for the foreigner police to ransack the dump in search of blow up dolls and Syrians.  That's ok. They would find that out soon enough.  And they'll make me come back.

Upon climbing my way out of the Depths of Dumb, I thought about something else the very non-bureaucratic sentinel at the gates of the Tardis told me:

"You're not Japanese."


"This is some kind of mistake.  You could complain."  Then he handed me a small strip of paper with an email address and a phone number.

Complain?  Ninja please.  I've got the biggest complaint form in the whole wide world.

It's called my blog.


Stayed tuned!  Will Big Sir be shipped off to Japan and forced to eat seaweed? 
Or will he finally be given the right to live in peace with his Eurobabe in their substandard, rusty-doorbell-adorned dump in the industrial suburbs of Prague?