Me so horny…

German slang is just a bit different than American slang. In general, it isn’t nearly as flexible and rich. It also tends towards the scatalogical.

Here, you don’t say, “kiss my ass”. You say, “lick my ass”.

And although you won’t hear it in church, sweet little old ladies, small children, priests and pastors and nuns all say, “scheisse!” Which means, “shit!” This expression is so common that it hardly means more than “shucks” or “darn”.

But they don’t usually use the German equivalent of the word “fuck”. This makes dubbing Hollywood films not only difficult, but sometimes hilarious. Lately, they have given up and started translating a bit more literally—which is also funny in its own way. A friend of mine told me his wife walked out of the theater when watching the most recent Scorcese film. She had never in her life heard such vulgar language. There’s a whole generation of people who have never heard the German F-word in a movie before.

Sometimes they make up their own F-word expressions—they’ve got to keep up with the Americans, afterall. But the expressions don’t always make sense. A common one (not that using the F-word is at all common) is, “Go fuck yourself in the knee!”

What in the world does that mean?

But the expressions I hate the most have nothing to do with cussing. Rather, they are the expressions for something being really cool. The first word of choice is probably the word “cool” itself. This should be okay, I suppose, but it offends my ears because of how they pronounce it. They say, “Koo-uhl”. Yes, cool has two syllables.

A lesser-used variant is the word “krass”, which means…well…”crass”. Which is of course a good thing. Unless it isn’t. I guess we have the same problem in English.

Sometimes an expression doesn’t last. Two summers ago I heard some of my softball players using the expression “porno”. Also meaning a good thing. As in, “That catch you just made was porno”. This was a stupid expression, and as far as I know it has disappeared.

But the big winner for words which irritate me, in fact the most used word to mean “cool” other than the word “koo-uhl”, is “geil”. This is pronounced with a hard G and a long I sound, as in “ghile”. So one might say, “Oh, your shoes are geil!”

Why does this irritate me? Well, it is not only vulgar, it is grammatical nonsense. The word originally meant something like in heat—as in the birds and the bees during the mating season. Of course, it came to be used for humans as well, so in its most literal sense the word means “horny”. So one might say, “Oh, your shoes are horny!” Again, this is not only vulgar, it is ridiculous. How can shoes be horny? But then again, how can one copulate with one’s knee? It doesn’t have to make sense.

As is the case with “scheisse” (pronounced with a long I and with the last E also pronounced, as in “shissuh”), “geil” has become so wide spread that one hears it everywhere but in church. And this irritates me. Lately, I’ve even caught my wife and son using the term. Apparently the word is not to be stopped. Someday we’ll hear the pope used the term in some speech.

Well, maybe not. Someone must have standards.

jj

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Shortages

I live in Germany. Last I checked, Germany has the third largest economy in the world. Germany is rich, technologically advanced, and people here like to spend money.

But they can’t keep popular products on the shelves.

This winter, in particular, has been particularly irritating. My local supermarket just can’t seem to keep the shelves stocked with the items I buy. It can be anything, from toothpaste to toilet paper to toast.

Today it started with one of my favorite snacks: Snyders of Hannover pretzel pieces, Jalopeno flavored. I was hoping to stock up, since I hadn’t seen any on the shelves for at least six weeks. I figured six weeks was time enough to restock. I was wrong.

On a roll, I decided to see if they had my favorite chicken wings—spicy honey-barbecue Canadian style. I found them the last time I looked for them, so I thought maybe they were restocking them again on a regular basis. You see, I had gone from October through January without seeing them, so I thought—apparently wrongly—that they had simply discontinued and then recontinued them. But no, they weren’t there.

So I went to buy some ramen, which was the main reason for going shopping this afternoon. I usually get duck flavored ramen from Thailand. But the shelf where they used to keep them was filled with some kind of cookies or something. So I roamed the store until I found the new location for the noodles. They had shrimp and chicken flavor (which I bought) but no duck. (By the way: they did have honey mustard flavored pretzel pieces, just not jalapeno.)

The last thing on my personal shopping list was a lemon cake.

Out of stock.

Of course, the stuff on my list for my wife and son was dutifully there, which meant I spent money on them but not on myself.

I once talked about this to a professor of business to whom I give private English lessons. He just laughed and agreed it was a mystery which could not be explained. We also talked about how bakeries run out of bread and bread rolls, especially on Sunday mornings. Why does this happen? Are the people not doing the math? If I turn away 20 customers who would have spent five euros each at bakery A, I lose 100 Euros in sales. If I throw away (or give to a local food bank or some other charity) five Euros worth of bread and bread rolls to make sure I have enough to sell to those 20 customers, I am 95 Euros ahead of the game. If I own fifteen bakeries in a chain serving this fine town, I have earned an extra 1,425 Euros. If I do this every Sunday, I earn an extra 74,100 Euros per year. All I have to do is take the risk of throwing away a few bucks’ worth of unsold bread and bread rolls.

But back to the supermarket: what I do not—what I cannot—understand is why it should take several weeks to restock a certain item. I can imagine a Walmart not having the Stan and Ollie chocolate frog buttermilk mint ripple ice cream I like on a single occasion, but I bet there will be some in the freezer in a day or two. Okay, it’s a weird flavor: it might even take three or four days.

Here in the Democratic Republic of Germany, however, it might take two or three months before I see the product again.

And let’s not even begin to discuss the absence of Hostess fruit pies.

I am an unhappy consumer.

jj

Funerals

They buried Simone yesterday. (Well, they buried her ashes. In Germany, ashes must be “officially” buried or scattered, but cannot be taken home and put on the mantle or in the garage.)

The funeral itself—the second one I’ve been to in just over three weeks—was…well…not to my liking. It was a religious ceremony, and religious funerals leave me cold. It’s all “God’s ways are not our ways” and “God” this and “Jesus” that, and the person who has died—well, say a few sentences about the person and then move on to talk about the Book of Revelation and the resurrection and a new heaven and a new earth. The person being mourned is lost in a cloud of preaching and phrases of comfort that could be repeated an hour later for the next person on the waiting list. Religious funerals are like Las Vegas weddings, but for the dead. It’s “Insert Name Here” amidst the reading of Psalms and self-serving platitudes of faith and sorrow. The only truly touching part of the service for Simone was the playing of a song by a well-known German singer. The world is off-kilter when God is outdone by a pop-star.

But the problem begins not with religion. Rather, the problem is a common misconception about funerals. Today, in our post-Freud, therapy-infused, self-as-the-center-of-the-universe society, funerals are to console the bereaved. We must have “closure” and find comfort and give each other hugs and say goodbye to the departed. Funerals are for us, not for the dead.

Bullshit!

I mean, it’s not 100% bullshit, but 80% bullshit still leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

The ancient Greeks and Romans, the ancient Chinese, the ancient Africans—hell, all the ancient peoples of the world knew better. Double hell—probably everyone outside the western world STILL knows better. Funerals are partly about us and our need to put a death behind us and move on with our lives. Mostly, however, funerals are about remembering and honoring the dead.

I will repeat this, dear readers, so that next time you go to a funeral you might have a chance of knowing why you are there: funerals are about remembering and honoring the dead.

The only gift we can give the dead is to remember them.

When I die, I don’t want some priest or pastor standing behind a pulpit saying things about everyone getting to see me again at the resurrection, or that Jesus will remove all sorrows, or—should I die early—that God’s ways are not our ways. What I want is for someone to remember me. I want someone to say something like this:

Here’s Jeff. A bit unhinged. A Beta alcoholic but not a gamma one. A mediocre musician. His father’s son with his father’s temper. But a good man. A kind man. A loving man. He hated physical work but could read something as boring as Aristotle for 20 hours straight. And he loved dogs. He loved his wife and son, though he should have shown it a lot more. He had a few secrets. We found more than a small portion of pornography on his hard drive. We found an empty whiskey bottle hidden in his sock drawer—though, knowing him well, we know that he never cheated during his February alcohol fast. We found at least ten pounds of various candy bars and gummy bears and other sweets hidden around his bedroom. Irrationally, he didn’t take good care of his teeth. He’s here—not his ashes—because he wanted y’all to take one last look at him. He wants you to feel sorry for him having not had any tobacco in some time. He wants you to understand that’s why he has a roll around his waist. We know from at least once source [that would be this blog] that he was frustrated in his attempt to find out whether some women have truly blond pubic hair: since the rise of the internet coincided with the rise of pubic hair removal, his research went nowhere. Jeff’s favorite song was Red River Valley. He always believed that when his friend Simone died, they should have played Red River Valley instead of letting some pastor speak. He loved the old TV show “Kung Fu”, and watched it on DVD almost every night. He was unnaturally obssessed with playing cards. He should have been a Mormon or a Jew, but his agnosticism kept him from converting to either faith. Mostly, he was a philosopher without students, which tended to make him strange. He was okay, I guess. He hoped some of you would cry today. But he also hoped some of you would smile or even laugh. Mostly, he hoped you would always remember him for the rest of your lives.

Or something like that. I think you get the idea.

Again, the ancients knew this. It is no accident that ALL ancient religions—and most current religions—involved ancestor worship. Ancestor worship is actually just the rememberance of the dead raised to the level of superstition and then orthodox belief .

The desire to be remembered is strong, for it is essentially a desire for immortality. When we say funerals are to console the bereaved, what are we doing? We are denying immortality.

But we need immortality, so we bring God into it and speak of the resurrection. And then, having put all of the responsibilty onto God, we shirk our responsibility to honor and remember the dead. We do it, but not enough, and thus there is a void of rememberance. Thus we find strange distortions in modern society. We find humans who want FAME, who want to be honored and remembered before they are dead. But this desire is pathological. It gives immediate gratification, but to what end? Does anyone really want to live like Madonna? Even Madonna? Or consider the younger victims of this distortion, like Britney Spears. Is her fame anything other than a personal tragedy?

My friends, here is what you should do: make a shrine. Get photos of your family, of your brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents, and put them somewhere. My sister has such a shrine on her refrigerator. When you go to the fridge to get a cold beer, you see a picture of our grandmother (among others). THAT is rememberance.

And next time you go to a funeral, don’t be so damned selfish. Don’t think about yourself; think about the dead, and what they meant to you, and what they did, and who they really were. Celebrate their life.

And if you have the courage, boo the pastor.

jj

Simone

Where to begin?

The first time I met Simone, the first thing that struck me was her hair: short and car-stopping red. And she used cheap dye. Sometimes, during a practice or a game on a hot August day, she would sweat red streaks across her temples.

The color suited her. Simone was someone who radiated. She radiated life, fun, friendship, joy and especially energy. Even the last time I saw her—with a bad complexion, an extra ten pounds on her, and obviously weak (all side effects of chemotherapy)—she managed to be sexy. It was in her eyes and her smile. She betrayed little or none of the sadness and fear that she must have felt.

Simone was a hell of a ball player. She had started handball at the age of 7 (not the slap a ball against a wall American kind, but the throw a ball into a soccer-style net European kind), so she threw hard and accurately. Her handball experience left her with a slight tic in her throw: before throwing the ball she rolled it around with her wrist for a split second—presumably to throw off the goal-keeper’s timing. I told her that she didn’t need to throw off the first baseman’s timing, so that she could just throw the ball without doing the wrist jiggle. It took her two seasons, but she did manage to get rid of the tic.

She could hit, too. And steal. I’m tempted to call up some of her statistics. But that would be cheap. Simone wasn’t her statistics.

Simone and I had a strange relationship. She was a flirtatious sort, even with me (I was her coach, for cryin’ out loud!); but after a while I just enjoyed it and even flirted back. She thought nothing of using my lap for a pillow last summer while we sat in the shade at the ball field and she talked on her cell phone for 20 minutes. I thought nothing of holding hands with her while walking in the dark to our bungalow in Holland last Easter. We always hugged and kissed when we hadn’t seen each other for a while. Unfortunately, during the last year it happened quite often that we didn’t see each other for weeks at a time. As her sickness progressed, I saw her less and less.

Nevertheless, she was unbelievably dependable. She usually had a round of chemo on Tuesday morning. Wednesday to Friday she was basically bed-ridden. But on Saturday or Sunday she usually played in games, and played well—with surprising energy, elan and remarkable skill. Even after I put her at shortstop, which she had never played before.

Other than Anika, she was the only one of my softball players with whom I have had any kind of relationship away from the ball field. We had several private conversations at the field and on the phone. We had coffee a few times. I even took her out to dinner once. When she began her chemotherapy, I started sending her text messages of support and encouragement each week—a practice I kept up for well over a year. But when the prognosis got to the point that there was no realistic hope for a cure, she subtly let me know that my messages weren’t helpful to her. I realised then that my concern had become a burden: I was just one more person regularly reminding her that she was critically ill.

So I stopped writing messages or calling, except for a brief note at Christmas and a brief birthday message a week ago Monday.

It was her 30th birthday.

Simone died the following Saturday, on the 10th of February.

What else can I say? I can say that I loved her and that I miss her—but that would be about me. I would rather say something about her, something here on my blog for people to read to get a glimpse of a very special woman whom the world has now lost. And somehow it is not enough to say that she wiggled her wrist when she threw a ball and that her hair dye ran when she perspired. I could say that she was beautiful—but then, I think most of us are when seen deeply.

All I can really say about her, the one truth about her that explains most explicitly how I saw her and knew her, is that she was radiant.

Simone was radiant.

May her soul rest in peace.

jj

alcohol free…for almost two weeks

Just to remind my faithful readers:  I do not drink alcohol in February.  I’m not sure what the point is, unless it’s to prove I’m not a Gamma alcoholic.  (Though I’m probably a Beta alcoholic instead.)  But I do it, and I have survived for nearly two weeks so far without DTs or any other noticable side effects.  I’ll probably do a countdown again this year for all those who are fasting with me.

What?

You’re not fasting with me?

Bastards.

jj

DSL Problems…resolved!

I have—I think—at least temporarily solved my DSL problem.  There is some bad telephone wiring in my house.  How long my re-wiring will last I don’t know.  Perhaps I will have to go wireless sometime in the future.

At least I can blog again.

jj