Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shaking Down The Tooth in Prague!

Shake Down In Prague

If it was a craps table you could say I had quite a run, going two plus months without rolling a seven, or in this case, being asked to see a ticket for my use of public transport.
Today was my last day in the Czech Republic. I think of walking, but I am carrying a heavy backpack and some groceries, want to save time; one last roll of the dice. Why do I have a bad feeling about this? Nah, I’m not going to take this tram, gotta listen to instinct—whoa, check out that babe! I skedaddle on just before they close the doors.
I take a seat. Where’d she go? Oh, she’s up front now? Good number of people on, hopefully she gets off at my stop, then I’ll chat her up.
Unless the tram is empty, it’s quite difficult even to make eye contact with someone not directly beside you, much less have a conversation with them.
We get to Narodni Divadlo, my stop. She doesn’t move, okay I’ll go one more stop, Cafe Louvre  is exactly between them anyways, it won't cost me much time.
The doors close. A gruff, unfriendly voice “Ticket please!” Oh fuck.
I turn around, two unfriendly looking, surprisingly well built men on the wrong side of middle age with some sort of official badge are shaking down the tram passengers.
I feel my body tense up, an unusual event. I’ve been caught and I know it. I start looking though my bag, pretending to search for ... “I must have left my pass at home,” I explain.
“Follow us off the tram at the next stop.”
The tram stops, pretty girl exits along with us. Impeccable timing.
“You have money?” they ask.
I pull out 70 Czech Krownes in coins out of my pocket. ”You have ID?”
“No, that I left at home.”
“No money, no ID, now I have to call police. The fine is 700 krowne.” (about $42)
I'm searching for a way out of this, one of the men senses so. His words are all Czech, but the translation is written all over his face. Anger.
“Relax, relax,” I request, trying to calm him down. 
“Where are you from?” asks the other.
“The States.”
“You are allowed to walk around without ID in the states or any money? You get caught they don’t call the police. You don’t want the police to be called here, it’s way worse.”
“Actually, I only need ID when I drive.” I smile, “Let me look for something.”
I pull 1,000 Czech Krowne from a secret stash I keep hidden in my backpack. “Let’s do 300,” I negotiate, “I need the rest of the money for my train ticket tonight.”
“The minimum I can do is 400,” he states, taking my bill and reaching into his wallet for 600 to give me back. I take the change, and walk away. Guaranteed, guaran-fucking-teed they pocketed the 400 Krowne for themselves. Such is life in Prague. 

Lucie and the Taxi

Lucie, beautiful girl. 18 years of age. Born in Czech Republic, moved to the States at 4, growing up in San Fran. I meet her at a vegetarian eatery in the mall. I text her, she texts me back inviting me out with her friends to a club.
We meet there at the M-1 Lounge at 11. She looks much older dressed up. I buy her a glass of wine, (drinking age in Czech is 18) We all start dancing, fun. Good time.
An hour and a half later she's quite drunk. Her friends take her outside. She slumps to the ground, unable to stand. We hail a taxi. One of the guys pays the cabbie and instructs him where to take her. They raise her,  practically carrying her to the car. I'm shocked when they tell the taxi-driver, "Go," as I see Lucy slumped on the backseat, alone. Recalling my brother's then fiancee's late night cabbie experience in Russia, I pray that this is not the set-up to some horror movie.
As the outsider, I was not cognizant of the group dynamics, but I am kicking myself for not insisting in time that someone go with her. I would have gladly accompanied her to insure her safety. I worry for a moment, then realize it's already out of my hands. 'It all happened so quickly,' I tell myself, trying to justify my lack of alertness.
Then her friends decry Americans inability to hold their liquor. "She's 18," her friend Sonia and I echo to the others. Alcohol is likely relatively new to Lucie's life, and hopefully it will not become too familiar a friend. What concerns me is, how in the world did her amigos (me included, though with the aforementioned asterisk) send her home alone??  I'm pretty sure my friends in the States would have handled things very differently. Either these people have way more faith in cab drivers then I do, or it's just plain selfish.

The Shocking Compliment


I see Kate in the mall. A really cute haircut, short on one side, well past her ears on the other, frames a nicely shaped face too. I want to give her a gift. I walk up to her, and sincerely compliment her hair cut. She seems shocked. "Thank you so much. Oh my God. I so wish other people would say such nice things," she pauses, the realizes, "And you're sincere."
"Of course I am."
We start talking. What I meant as a gift turns into an evening with Kate. Two nights later we meet at the bridge. While we're walking to a music festival where a killer blues band is playing, she gushes, "I told my friends that you came up to me in the mall, and what you told me, and they didn't believe me. They didn't think that someone could ever do that."
"Do what?" I ask, a little surprised.
"Nobody ever comes up to people that they don't know here, much less to say something so nice. And with such sincerity. No one. When you said we should get together, I couldn't tell you no. I simply had to find out who was this person that could do such a thing. What makes him tick."

Wow, you'd think was an isolated incident, a pessimistic view of her fellow citizens, that this couldn't possibly be the reality. That there is no way, but ...

It Ain't Heart Surgery


Prearranged date. A different Lucie, a name much more common here than in America. We go out for a glass of wine. She's a doctor. She's moving from the Czech Republic on August 1st.
"Really? Where to? For what?"
"I'd rather not say."
What? I'm surprised. She already seems very comfortable with me ...  such a seemingly innocuous question. I don't push it.
A drink later, somehow the conversation steers itself back in that direction, I almost re-ask the question but catch myself. I just start laughing. I can't help it. She can't help but chuckle, her laugh carves its way into her gut before she stifles it.
A minute or so later she breaks down, and explains that she is taking her dream job, as a heart surgeon in Germany, something she was worked towards all her life.
"How exciting, that's so awesome, congratulations. It takes so much work and perseverance to gain the skill and knowledge that you have, and now you get to take your dream job. I think it's so wonderful. You realize that at some point you're going operate on a child, save their life, and be able to look the parents in the eye and tell them what their baby is going to live."

She tells me that only, maybe, at most five people know. That she keeps it a total secret.
Why?
The answer comes, and it's a refrain that I have heard from enough Czechs to know it's not random: "If you tell people here that you are doing well, they try a find a way to cut you down, to bring you back down to their level."
Misery loves company.I know examples of this exist elsewhere in the world, but I have to admit, the energy in the Czech Republic just seems a little bit more heavy in general, depressed. (but not nearly as bad as Moscow)

You Want The Tooth! You can't Handle the Tooth!
To end this on a fun note, I had a real job for the first time in my adult life. Granted I created the position, having a tooth suit mascot costume shipped here to help promote a company owned by someone I whom I would serve endlessly, then I got endorsements like I was NASCAR Tooth, dressed, and went outside the mall, dancing, yelling a bunch of gibberish in Czech, and helping to distribute fliers for laser teeth whitening,
You can see the results in the following video.

And if any of you want laser teeth whitening in Prague visit this link.

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