The Gay Toronto House Party

Image result for karen mean girls

I am at a house party in Cabbagetown, Toronto, hosted by a delightful young gay couple I met at my gym on Yonge & Something. I am wearing jeans, a black tank top, and a paddy cap.

A red-haired woman asks me the second question everyone always asks in Toronto. The first question is what’s your name. Then they pretend you don’t have an accent and avoid asking you where you come from because they once read an op-ed written by a frothy thought-policemaperson about how you’re a cryptofascist for othering others by questioning their origin.

And they go straight to asking you what you do for a living because Canadians are the greatest people in the world, but they still need to know where you rank in the grand scheme of things.

So I tell her the truth — that I am the Editor in Chief of Arthritis Monthly magazine. I say it like that, capitalizing Editor and Chief because job titles should always be capitalized in Toronto.

To this she oohs and aahs and how-interestings. Yes, it is quite interesting, but also very challenging, I say. It’s not easy to fill up an entire magazine with fresh arthritis-related content every single month plus the special summer issue.

The red-haired woman is single and middle-aged and gorgeous and wants to tell me about all the boys she’s slept with in the past three months. I pretend to listen but my mind is elsewhere, thinking as I am of the next Arthritis Monthly centerfold spread — two blank pages with an old lady crumpled into a tiny twisted heap in the bottom right corner.

One of the hosts is snorting coke off the abs of a shirtless Portuguese waiter. He turns to me and says, “you can’t smoke in the house”.

Then I wake up.



In between bouts of frenzied copy editing I read a blog post that Julie Sheridan wrote, which contains an interview with a Scottish homeless man in Barcelona. Julie herself is a fellow copywriter and used to be my colleague in a previous workplace and she writes like a dream, but this one post has made me sad and introspective

Because here’s a man who, you know, lives in a foreign country as an expat and has a good job and savings and an apartment with a dog, all of which applies to me except for the dog (still working on it), and then he loses his job and nobody calls him back for job interviews and his savings run out and next thing he knows, he is living on the streets of Barcelona.

I have the usual questions — why doesn’t he go back to Britain where they don’t have 21 percent unemployment, couldn’t anyone help, did none of his friends have a spare room, etc — but that’s sort of beside the point. I know myself and I know what my answers to those questions would be if I ever should find myself in that situation: because I’m proud, because I’ll never ask for help, they do but I’ll never ask for help.

I don’t know.

If you want to see the real face of homelessness in Prague, you can do no better than to come with me every morning on my walk from my home to the Hlavni Nadrazi metro station. I used to save myself five minutes by cutting across the railway tracks from Winston Churchill square like most people do, but I almost got fined twice by the police and I don’t know how long my clueless smiley expat schtick is going to last.

So now I walk all the way around the tracks, up the park and into the central station like you’re supposed to, and I pass by many, many, many homeless men and women on my way there and back.

Homeless and many clearly alcoholized and many clearly dependent on some sort of chemical I’m not even going to try to speculate on.

I try not to look too closely because I did once, when I noticed a tall, very blond, very young, extremely drunk guy trying to fight his way out of — or was it into — an alcoholic stupor, and I could find no reason why that couldn’t have possibly been me. And then I felt fragile.

Because I am not special, and I won’t be spared. I am just holding on to a civilized life by the skin of my teeth, and so are we all. One bad recession and a few lapsed paychecks away from our alcoholic stupor in the park.

Tip Your Dealer

On Saturday morning I am having iced coffee with Maltese Mario, the freelance urban psychopharmacologist. He looks like shit.

“I need a holiday”, he says, and takes a swig of terrible coffee chain espresso.

Maltese Mario is exhausted because it’s music festival season, and he is the freelance urban psychopharmacologist of choice for all kinds of Dutch and German ravers who come to Prague, Ostrava, Slovakia and Hungary and prefer their fun to be chemically contingent.

He is also an amateur BDSM dungeon master, which I didn’t know about until just now.

“It’s out of control. It used to be fun, I remember, having fun. But now all I hear is oh please yes cover my mouth with tape, like-a dis”, he mimics covering his own mouth with an invisible strap of tape, “and gag me like-a dis and give me pain, more pain, more more pain. But what about fuck? Nobody wants to fuck!”

I nod.

“Seriously. They come for the pain. I give them the pain. For hours and hours and hours, and then I want to get off but they don’t care about sex. They just want the pain”.

Underneath all that amateur BDSM dungeon master facade, Maltese Mario is just a boy, standing in front of another boy — or possibly hovering over him with some sort of whip —  asking him to fuck.

“But if they are masochists, perhaps you could just refuse to keep hurting them? Presumably that would hurt their feelings, which they actually love”, I venture to suggest.

There’s an enormously obese man sitting across the table from a burka. The man is thumbing through a tourist guide to Prague.

Maltese Mario announces that he’s going on a holiday back to Malta, where he will see his mom, veg out by the beach, and not fist anyone.

And I would drive one hundred more

I wake up with Cruel Summer in my head, the Bananarama version, not the Ace of Base one (although they are exactly the same).

I think it’s on my mind because the city may not be very crowded at all with it being a Friday between two days off and a weekend, but H is in Iceland and the Foxes are in Ireland and I don’t really have any other friends so they’re all away and I’m on my own.

On my way to work I find this little fella parked outside a row of panelák:

It’s a very old and very well kept Fiat 600, which is essentially a tumefied Fiat 500 with a little extra ass and one hundred more — what? One hundred more cylinders? Horses? I don’t know anything about cars that matters. I only like about six different cars ever built, which are all European and old, and mostly italian, and all of them tiny.

But we used to have thousands and thousands of these back home, only there they were called Seat 600 (seiscientos) and they were made in Barcelona and they were the first and only car Spaniards could afford so everyone had one, or memories of one. We didn’t — we had a Mercedes and an imported Mini because we were so precious, a family trait I have certainly perfected — but the seiscientos is engraved in the collective memory of every Spaniard regardless of your papi’s tax bracket. 

So I know it’s going to be a good day.

Because everyone is off work the office building is practically deserted. We have also been told that the cafeteria will be closed, so no free food today. When I arrive I see the cafeteria staff have barricaded the entrance with a bunch of trolleys, so I head down to my desk.

Your flying crew today consists of me, Other Copywriter (henceforth known as Other) and SEO Guy. No designers. No UX team.

Other is feisty and dark and lovely and looks a bit like Jennifer Lopez if Jennifer Lopez sang lead vocals in your cousin’s garage rock band. A bit.

SEO Guy is a very friendly American who sometimes destroys my copy with excel sheets of stupid shit people are entering into Google which needs to be added to whatever content I’m working on so that our employer won’t plummet to page 16 in people’s search results.

Since there is no free food today, I leave our office tower and cross the street to the Arkady mall and into the food court, past the crowded fast-food outlets, and into the nearly empty salad place. There I attempt to construct a salad order from scratch in Czech in my head, give up and head to Nordsee where I ask for a plate of seafood paella and pretend this fits my eating disorder diet.

I take my tray and choose a table next to a businessman and his very young daughter who starts jumping up and down in her seat and then pisses herself.

I crank up the volume of the Jessie Ware track I’m listening to and pretend this isn’t happening. 

Life is pain and ridicule, is what Other says to me when I get back, although I forget the context. I think it’s because she doesn’t like her new haircut.

Then I go to the work gym and back to my desk where I write some more promotional copy and just like that, it’s Friday evening and everyone is gone except me and SEO Guy and they’re literally vacuuming under my feet so I finish typing this and go home.

Not a target demographic for God’s creative power

Three million years ago, two Byzantine monks arrived in the Czech lands bringing the wrong alphabet and Christianity. Only one of those things stuck, but now we get two days off in the middle of the week.

And what I do with my two free days is go hunting for breakfast, which ends up being a spinach mango protein shake which looks like this:

Then H and I go to the gym, where I try very hard to move really heavy stuff with my legs. Then we go to Delmart where they ask me what ingredients I want in my salad and because of my astonishing ability to restrain myself I order spinach, chickpeas, smoked salmon, avocado, artichoke, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, boiled goat, deep-fried hedgehog, aircraft bolts, plutonium and olive oil.

Then we go to EMA which is a hipster/preppy coffee house next to the Hilton and the plot by Masarykovo Nadrazi where they claim they’re building a building by Zaha Hadid but we don’t believe them. And I ask for an iced coffee with no sugar and H begins reading to me out of a book someone has left behind, and he says out loud

“In Jesus’ name and on the authority of His Holy Word, I call these debts PAID IN FULL!”

so I grab the book to see what it is, and it is called God’s Creative Power and it has a chapter about literally praying your mortgage away.

H has a mortgage but isn’t baptized. I am baptized but I don’t have a mortgage. We are not a target demographic for God’s creative power.

Then H goes singing and I come home to watch Trainspotting for the first time in my life, because we’re going to Aero later in the night to watch Trainspotting 2 and I want to know what happens in the first one (what happens is drugs and poo).

And then we go out in Žižkov and take pictures on our way to a restaurant where I order a chicken burger. H eats all of my fries but none of his own, so that when the waitress comes to collect the plates he looks like the one with all the self-control.

Today I go back to the gym where I try very hard to move really heavy stuff with my hands, and then I come home and lay in bed with the fan on reading a novel by Chuck Palahniuk while H packs for his trip to Iceland tonight.

And that’s how I spent my two free days in the middle of the week.




Little Red Tripping Hoodie

I take five stops on the Prague red metro line to work every morning. It’s nice and clean and fast and it takes me to my ultra modern office tower in Pankrác, Prague’s skyscraper city, and the metro is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and I always get a seat in the morning and I get to read something or listen to music or just look at people from within my generous dose of personal space.

The collapse of modern civilization will probably look a lot like the closure of the red metro line this week, to the point that I am still not quite clear on how I manage to jam myself into the absolutely packed replacement bus this morning. I think I step on a baby.

The bus reeks of armpit sweat and salami. At nine in the morning.

How is this possible, I ask you? People having salami breath in the morning. Is that what normal people have for breakfast? Am I the freak with my cup of coffee and my greek yogurt and my apples?

And this is what the red metro line replacement bus looks like this morning as it departs Hlavni Nadrazi.

And about ten seconds into the red metro line replacement bus’ journey across the Magistrala (which is a highway built by the communists literally across the center of Prague like an asphalt middle finger), Salami Breath here in the red hoodie starts twitching and tweaking.

And about a minute later he is ranting.

And a little later he is screaming and scratching the window, because he is tripping balls.

And by the time we’re approaching Vysehrad, he has begun to take his clothes off.

And because the bus is full of Czechs, everybody pretends that none of this is happening.

And then I get a text from Jen in the UK with a link to a BBC article about a Japanese policeman who has the largest collection of Hello Kitty memorabilia in the world and I think that’s nice. How nice it must be to be a Japanese policeman and spend your days collecting Hello Kitty, and not inhaling predigested salami fumes on your way to work, and just as Little Red Tripping Hoodie begins reaching for his belt the bus pulls into Prazskeho Postavni and that’s my stop so I leave.

Later on I try the office gym for the first time, which looks like this:

And as I am working out I get another text from Jen who’s on her way to choose a puppy, and the text says “I just peed in the bushes and got stuck by nettles fml”.

So I guess it could be worse.