Friday, December 30, 2011

2011

2011 was good to me. It was also my strangest year to date, which is how I measure success. I believe that if I'm living my life the way I should, the best year of my life will always be the last one that I lived. "Best year" doesn't mean that all of my hopes and dreams have come true. And a year where all of my hopes and dreams have come true wouldn't necessarily be my best, but perhaps just be my most unexpected one. Best year for me doesn't mean that everything was peachy. And in fact, for a best year to happen, things probably can't be all peachy. That's because a best year is one full of personal growth and change, variety, accomplishment on both a macro and micro-level, and an endless string of bizarre experiences to relay to you. And by that standard, 2011 has easily been my best year to date.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Character Defense

This morning I received the following text from my mother: 

"Dear Eli, [Cathie always addresses me in her texts by name in case I'm not sure who she's speaking to] I read the comments some people have said about you online and I don't think you should be concerned because these people look weird. And your family loves you."

This was followed by an equally bothersome, "I won't be reading them anymore! Icky!"

Cathie has earned her "Tellin' It Like It Is" award many times over, which is one of the qualities we love most about her.

Wondering exactly what monstrosities about her precious boy she could have possibly encountered electronically, I ventured onto the www to discover what I feared might exist:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Snuggie Texts Part II

The response to last week's Snuggie Texts post has been very entertaining and unexpected, getting near 100,000 views in the last six days. Many of us wondered whether Jane would eventually see the post. Yesterday morning while attending a family Christmas breakfast party I received a text from the same unknown number. Below is our text exchange, which took place throughout the day. Please share it via Facebook or otherwise and feel free to like our facebook page. I love you Jane. Keep being you.

Enjoy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Snuggie Texts

Perhaps because I've been in a particularly snarky mood lately, I couldn't resist last night when I got an accidental text from an unknown number. The following is our text exchange over the next 24 hours in its entirety. [For follow up, see Snuggie Texts Part II]. Please LIKE us on Facebook or FOLLOW Stranger on Twitter. Enjoy:

Unknown:

Hey Amanda! This is Jane. I was thinking for Beth's wedding gift we could go halfsies on one of those blocks of wood that says words like faith and hope that they could put on a mantle or hang on the wall. What do you think?

Eli:

Hmmm . . . I saw couples snuggies at K-Mart the other day on sale for 9.99 and I think this is probably more of what she's looking for. It's more practical.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Emails From Craigslist Part II

If you missed yesterday's post, you'll want to go back and read it before you read the continuation of my back-and-forth email communication with a stranger from Craigslist who goes by the name of "Ray."
Yesterday he responded with the following email:
______________________________________
Knick knack Paddy Matt,


Although this email is hard for me to write, I fear this is something that must be done. You have provided your number now multiple times, and my fingers ache to delicately pick up my receiver and gently spin the wheel of numbers until I have dialed the magnificent combination of 8-0-1-X-X-X-X-X-X-X. My heart cannot deny the yearning I feel to hear the voice that answers the phone (what type of phone it is, I know not, though I particularly fancy the idea of it being a Cricket Wireless or, dare I let my mind go wild, an I Phone.). Alas, I cannot allow myself to call because mother has returned.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Emails From Craigslist

My roommate Matt is moving out of our apartment at the end of the month (artistic differences) and so is desperately trying to sell his lease. He recently posted it on Craigslist and yesterday got a very interesting email from someone named Ray:


_______________________________
-Matt


This apartment sounds great, and the move in time sounds ideal for my situation. I was so relieved to see that the rent was so affordable, much better than what I have been paying for the past ten years (my mother has charged astronomical amounts, but I've stayed to tend her cats). Please let me know more about the apartment and roommate. Regards,


Ray
_______________________________
 
 
Matt responded:
 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Technology

I belong in 1950. And not a minute later. This is because of technology. I'll explain.


Technology and I have a hard time together (I imagine the feelings are one way. But I'm not totally sure that techology is sans feelings, or that it is apathetic about me if it has them). Already at age 27 I'm that bewildered old man who gets lost in conversations that use words that start with "I" and end with another word that by itself doesn't greatly confuse me, but seems to mean something entirely different in the context I'm discussing here. Normally when people use these words, I nod thoughtfully and respond with something vague like, "communication and entertainment really do drive innovation, don't they . . ." assuming that whatever they're discussing has something to do with either communication or entertainment. I then change the subject to something I'm very knowledgeable on, such as the benefits of having a Snuggy (I'm wearing one right now, and I love it with all of my heart).

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Lost Journal Series: Part VI

I'm back with some more entries from 1996. Everything in [brackets] is tonight's commentary.


May 20, 1996 (age 12):


We are practicing for Romeo and Juliet. In the play I 'm Benvolio and Sam is Romeo. I think we are pretty good. I'm sure that we are probably the best of all of the sixth grade classes. I'm in soccer with all of my friends. We always lose. But I think we will win in a couple of weeks. [I had no plausible basis for believing this. Part of our losing streak was due to my teammates and I occasionally sitting down on the field mid-game].

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Lost Journal Series: Part V

Welcome back. Enjoy Part V tonight. Again, anything in [brackets] is tonight's commentary.


February 19, 1996 (age 11):


Today was President's day so we didn't have school so we could celebrate all of the presidents. Except my dad said that we don't celebrate the bad ones like Bil Klinton. [Bob has never been one to hide his feelings about politics]. I was going to play football today but it kept raining and I didn't want to get hurt because Jr. Jazz.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Lost Journal Series: Part IV

Tonight I bring you Part IV in my ongoing series. Tonight's entries take you through the end of 1995 and into 1996 with additional commentary in [brackets].


[Before I start on the journal entries tonight, I would like to first mention that at the top of every single page up through page 49, the word "dog" is written in pencil. The reason for this is that sometime in early 1996 I imagined that the best way to get Bob and Cathie to allow a dog in the house was to convince them that I longed for one so badly that it was on my mind literally every single day of my young life. This, I believed, would tug at the heart strings of any loving parent (and I believed Bob and Cathie fit the bill) and would encourage, nay, force them to grant me my wishes. I also operated under the delusion that my parents would likely pick up my journal at one point and read it (because, as you have seen, I was writing some pretty important things at this time that they undoubtedly would have been dying to read) and so I assumed that they would see that "dog" had been written at the top of every page and this would necessarily cause them to believe that the only humane thing to do was to get a dog to appease the wishes of the boy who wanted it badly enough that he actually took the effort to note it briefly on a regular basis in the same place he shared his most intimate thoughts. The problem(s) with this? While I hoped it would appear to be the case, I did not actually write "dog" at the top of the page each time I wrote an entry. Rather, I took a pencil, went back to page one, and flipped through the journal, writing the word on each page, well beyond any entry up to that point (I thought it would be more efficient to do it this way). So, while each entry is done in a different pen color and with ever rapidly evolving child-handwriting, the word "dog" is consistently written in the same rushed sloppy manner, (getting ever so sloppier as my hand started to hurt during the later pages) and with the same faint pencil. And it was written beyond the pages I had actually used up to that point].


November 28, 1995 (age 11):


Christmas is coming and I'm really excited!!! Christmas comes every single year. [Glad we cleared that up]. A little while ago I was on an airplane ride with my uncle, Jared, and another kid my uncle took. [My uncle is a pilot, fyi]. First we learned about planes, then we went flying and Jared almost threw up. [I'm positive this isn't true but it's clear that in 1995 I was looking for any reason to criticize Jared in my journal]. I will probably be a pilot when I'm older unless I decide to be a lawyer, like in the court rooms instead. I think I could get the judge to do whatever I tell him because I could just explain to him what is right all the time and he would have to listen. And I would ask people questions and they would all say the right things. [I have since learned that things don't exactly work this way]. We're going on a field trip tomorrow and my mom gets to go. I hope she doesn't try to kiss me on the cheek! [For the record, this was a valid concern. Cathie's cheek-kissing only happened in public, was done solely for embarrassment purposes, and continued to take place with some regularity through at least 2007]. I started Jr. Jazz today! This is my second year! I can tell that I'm going to be a lot better this year. [Sadly, still no, kid].


December 15, 1995 (age 11):


I went to school today. It was o.k. I'm really excited for Christmas. We have a train and a vilige [village] under the Christmas tree. It hasn't snowed yet and I want it to. [That's it. This journal does not belong to me]. I went to piano lessons today also. I didn't do very good. [Is it because you didn't practice? Yes]. I [and the journal entry ends here after that one lone word. Although there is a drawing at the bottom of the page that appears to be a bed that has been scribbled out. No explanation for this].


January 10, 1996 (age 11):


Last week it was Utah's birthday! It turned 100. We had a big assembly at school and we sang a song about Utah. [My close friends know that if you catch me on a good day, I am usually willing to perform this song with the hand actions in their entirety. Most people who were children in Utah in 1996 still seem to remember at least fragments of the song which has since become the official state song). As a preview to hold you over until you next see me in person, I'll just tell you that it involves marching, enthusiastic swaying, big hand gestures, and contains lines such as: "Utah! People working together! Utah! What a great place to be!" and "This is the PLACE!" I remember spending an embarrassing amount of time in school learning the choreography to this. (Ours didn't look exactly like this, but you get the idea)]. I'm reading a book called "My Brother Sam is Dead." It's a really good book. I have over 350 rubber bands tied together. [This thing went everywhere with me for the better part of one year until it was mysteriously lost. I still have my suspicions that Bob and Cathie had something to do with its disappearance. Maybe it ended up "running away" like Gigi (my baby blanket) did in 1991. I'm not sure whether I should be more embarrassed that I believed that story or that Bob and Cathie actually had to make it up because I was still carrying my baby blanket around at age 7]. I'm almost done with my life. [I read this several times before figuring out what I was talking about. And no, this isn't a suicide note. Life was a goal/level/state-of-being(?) in Boy Scouts and apparently in 1996, I had almost achieved it].




That's all for tonight folks. Tune in next time for more insights into my 11 year old mind, including the continuation of the dog story.


~It Just Gets Stranger

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Lost Journal Series: Part III

Tonight I bring you part III of my childhood journal entries, full of adventure and enlightenment. Everything in [brackets] is commentary from tonight.


August 15, 1995 (age 11):


School started yesterday and I am in sixth grade. I have a nice teacher named Mrs. Southwick and she has to take care of her new baby. [Again with the babies . . .]. I hope her baby behaves itself soon so she can come back.


August 31, 1995 (age 11):


Today I played with Sam and we played in his backyard. I can ride my bike without using my hands. I think I'm pretty good at riding my bike but I have to be careful because I'm also really good at soccer [false] and basketball [even more false] and if I get hurt it will be really hard for me to continue to compete how I know I should. [Getting hurt and removing me from these sports might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and my reputation for competency]. Paul [not totally sure who this is] grabbed a 5th graders arm and started pinching and scratching it. [No further explanation about this or why it made it into the journal]. We had a firedrill at school today while my class was in COMPUTER!!! [No?!? That's crazy!]. Doug has been soo bad that Mrs. [illegible] kicked him out of the class and made him go to Mr. Pullin's room for ONE WEEK!!!


September 5, 1995 (age 11):


Mrs. Southwick came back today. She moved people and I'm not even sitting by Sam or Tim anymore! She gives more homework than the substitute!!! And I thought she was a nice lady at first! I guess I was wrong!


September 6, 1995 (age 11):


Today I got so much homework. I did a maze with chalk on the sidewalk. My sister went to a dance. I walk home from school with my friends. Some people said mean things when we were walking home today but we didn't listen to them and I bet they stopped because I bet they felt really gilty [guilty] for the things they said when they saw they weren't listening to us. I bet they are all thinking about what they said and wishing that they were better. [I'm sure that's exactly what was happening. My 11 year apathy to the "mean" comments, whatever they were, led immediately to regret and self-reflection].


November 6, 1995 (age 11):


For Halloween my friends and I went Trick or Treating. We got more candy than you would even believe. Me, Sam, Tim, and Jared got a jar and we each wrote a note and we didn't tell what we wrote then we stuck it in the jar and burried it in the jar [wait, so was it in the jar?] and burried it on the side of Jared's house. From the big rock its 2 steps and there's a stick. Seven more steps and then there's the jar! We will probably dig it up in like 20 years. Or maybe sooner. [Update: we dug it up less than 6 months later. It was a miracle we found it using the directions I provided. I have no idea why we thought measuring steps from an unspecified rock and a stick lying on the ground would be helpful in 20 years. Fortunately I drew a very detailed map of the location on this page of my journal, marking the exact spot. Unfortunately when we did dig it up, the jar was full of ridiculously useless notes that had nothing to do with anything that could ever matter to anyone. If my memory is correct, the notes talked about how old we were and what we had done that day, including fragments of knock-knock jokes we had made up on the spot. We also each chose to bury an object in the jar but the objects were mostly just small broken toys we had found 10 minutes before in Jared's garage. So all-in-all, not an incredibly successful time capsule experience]. I axadentally broke the back of Sam's little car but he can glue it back on, I hope.


~It Just Gets Stranger

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Lost Journal Series: Part II

I now present for you part II of The Lost Journal Series. Again, these are exact passages from my childhood journal. Anything in [brackets] is my current commentary and explanation. Enjoy.


December 20, 1994 (age 10):


Yo. I'm Eli W. McCann. I'm in Jr. Jazz and my team is cooooooooooooool. Sometimes I get the ball [unfortunately for the rest of the team. Jr. Jazz was not my calling in life. Even after playing for 4 or so years]. I think if I keep shooting, I'm going to score points for the team [nope]. I bet I will be on the Jazz one day. I will never play for another team because the other teams are mean. But I heard that the Jazz are nice. I was sick today.


[Below this entry is a picture of a garbage can with two feet sticking out of the top. There is a caption bubble coming out of the garbage can that says, "Help. It's me. Jared." Clearly my relationship with my next door neighbor and close friend was waning at this time.]


January 5, 1995 (age 10):


Kebacboleda! [???]. Yesterday was Micalyne's birthday! [Nope. Her birthday is January 3rd].


February 10, 1995 (age 10):


Tim J. is my best friend. Jared is NOT my best friend. Jared probably thinks he is my best friend but he is not! Maybe some other time Jared can be my best friend again [I so wish I had taken the time to actually explain what was happening between us. I'm positive that it had something to do with my jealousy that he had recently turned 11 and I was still 10. Because when you are a kid, your age is about the only thing you have to be proud of]. I have brocatous [bronchitis]. I like to talk about things that are important [still true today]. Some kids don't like to talk about important stuff but they just talk about stuff that isn't important like pickles and stuff [because, you know, kids are always talking about pickles]. I talk about things like electistry [electricity. I talked about it, but apparently couldn't spell it. I would really like to know what I had to say on the subject] and like how many people there are in the world [both very important topics].


May 21, 1995 (age 11):


School is almost out and I am excited. My sister made up a dome club [dumb club] called the Safety Kids Club. So you can always remember your helmets. [To her credit, she was only 8 at the time and was already making up much more practical clubs than I was. Just off the top of my head, by this date I had formed the following clubs with my friends: a club that looked for alien artifacts, a pretend fight club with daily performances in front yards that always came with a special after-school-special-like message, multiple bike gangs, and one club that took place on the front porch of a very elderly woman down the street who took off her prosthetic leg for us if we sang her a number of songs (this was very similar to every episode of Barney and Friends you've ever seen except it got really freaky when the leg came off)]. I passed off my swimming merrit badge yesterday [this must be a sham because I still can't swim for the life of me]. 


[Below this entry I wrote my name 7 times.]


~It Just Gets Stranger 

The Lost Journal Series: Part I

Recently I rediscovered my childhood after finding a very entertaining pile of journals. After staying up late for a couple of nights in a row to read entry after entry, occasionally looking over my shoulder to make sure nobody was around because of how mortified I was about some of the things I wrote in said journals, I knew there were only two things I could do: 1) bury/burn/hide the journals and desperately attempt to forget about them, or 2) share them with the world. The second option sounded more exciting. So I now present for you the first of a series that will take place over the next several days called "The Lost Journal Series." I will type these exactly as written, mistakes and all. Anything found in [brackets] is my contemporary commentary and explanation. Enjoy.


September 8, 1994 (age 10):


Today I woke up at 5:30 in the morning. I got ready for school and Jamie and Easten came to walk to school with us. They walk to school with us everday. We walk so fast. We are friends. I like summer. Math time is not fun. What is that? [???] My teachers name is Ms. Daniels. We have a prymantis [Praying Mantis] at home and she layed eggs. We found another one and put them in the same box. They started to fight. One of them ate the other. [This may be the source of my fear of all living things]. I would never eat one, especially if I was one. [I still feel this way, btw]. I bet that prymantis we put in the box with the mom doesn't even have any friends. [Because he keeps eating them?]. On our street we always play games. Now we are having races on our bikes. My sister has a job. Micalyne did something to her elbow. She has a cast. I want a cast [for attention].


September 19, 1994 (age 10):


Today when we went to school there was grafity everywhere. There were no swearwords but there were mean things. At school Tyler told me some [here I proceed, nonsensically, to write the entire alphabet in cursive]. I used to think Tyler was mean but now he's really nice. [This observation would fluctuate throughout the remainder of my childhood. But in retrospect, he was mean]. We went to a park today.


September 23, 1994 (age 10):


All of my friends like me. I think they like me the most. [This part of my personality has remained mostly unchanged in the last 17 years]. But I'm not sure. Maybe they like other friends a lot. There should be a test to find out who is best friends. But I can jump really far. [Relevant?]. We made stuff for our teacher at school because she had a baby or something. [Or something? Like, she had something and it might have been a baby?]. I hope she comes back soon but I do think she should raise her baby right now. [Opinionated, already at age 10. And here comes the very strange insight into child-rearing]. Unless there is a daddy at home to raise it. Then she should come back to school and the dad should be responsible for it. Because he is a parent to not just the mom. They just need to decide what they are going to do with there baby. But they shoudnt give it to an orfinage. Unless it's a nice one and they can live there to and keep raising there baby. Because they could help take care of other babies to that got lost and have to live there right now. I'm 10. I heard that when babies are small, they need to be held like all day or else they will probably grow up to be mean. On my baptism my friends were all there. [My baptism took place more than 2 years before this entry. I think this was in response to a recent lesson in church about writing down details about important events]. Most of my relatives came. I should eat a snack.


[Below the entry is a drawing of a person sliding down a water slide. There is absolutely no explanation for this. And the drawing is terrible].


September 27, 1994 (age 10):


Today at school we started SAT tests. There really easy tests that take about one hour. At lunch my friend Sam always spills his drink all over me. [I'm positive this never happened more than one time]. Today he spilt MY drink all over me. After school me and Jared played. We can't figure out if aliens visited our backyards. [Is 10 too old for this? Please tell me this is normal 10 year old behavior]. But we found this metal piece and we are pretty sure it came from a UFO. [This was based on absolutely nothing logical, if I remember correctly. I believe we found it when we were about 7 years old and we held onto it for years]. But we are going to keep looking for more pieces. [Strangely we never found any]. My aunt Barbara played a board game with me. She is really nice. For Halloween I'm going to be a neard. Jared keeps changing his mind first he said he was going to be a skelatin then half man half woman then an old lady then a Tales from the cript Keeper. I don't know what he will say next. I'm 10.


September 28, 1994 (age 10):


Today I decided I don't want to be a neard for Halloween. Torie kept going daaaaaaa[the "a's" continue for the remainder of the page] all day! [This was a game we played well into middle school where we each took turns yelling in class until one of us got into trouble. My friendship with Torie was responsible for the vast majority of days I had to spend sitting at Ms. Painter's desk in the third grade].


~It Just Gets Stranger

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Apartment Hunting

It’s been an interesting few weeks of change here in SLC since I’ve returned and recovered from Euro-trip 2011 (screenplay coming). Since returning home I have moved into a new apartment downtown (where all the hipsters live) in which I have started setting up life, because I’m a grown-up now (they should change the voting age to 27). The apartment search didn’t last too long but it was full of enough terrifying glimpses into a potential lifeless future to scare me into the place my friend and I ultimately found. As it turns out, finding an apartment in SLC can be a bit daunting, especially at the end of the summer when all 6 million students move back into the city for the new school year. Our search began on one end of town in a place that I think I’ve seen on the news and then eventually made it to the other end of town with bird-house lady. Bird-house lady was nice enough, but the 30-40 pastel-colored bird-houses draped with 1985 lace and fake twigs strewn decoratively about her apartment and common-stairwell were already enough for me to want to high-tail it out of there. But being the polite boys that we were (or should I say “men” now), we went with her to the potential living-quarters and graciously thanked her and laughed when she pointed out that the entire apartment was Pepto-Bismol pink. I thought this was a bit of an inaccurate description because there were several places that were colors other than pink. For example, many spots on the walls, counter-tops, and carpets were suspiciously stained brown or blood-red. Also the bath-tub and bathroom tile were a nice light greenish-bluish-barfish. So there was that. While walking around the place she lectured us about how no parties were allowed and that she expected us to quietly respect the neighbors (who I think were all geriatrics, ages 75 and older). During this escapade, I had the distinct impression that I may never be happy again. It wasn’t even a temporary or potential feeling, like “oh I just need to get out of here” or “I would not be happy living here.” It was more like, “walking into this apartment may forever prevent me from feeling happiness again no matter what happens with the rest of my life.” This by itself was a good enough indicator that we hadn’t found the right place, so we told her we would think about it and got the heck out of there.

Finally we came across an incredible place just two blocks away from where both of us work. Perhaps we liked it better than we would have on a normal day due to our new perspective thanks to a depressing morning of apartment shopping in Shadyville, but it’s a great place nonetheless. Of course when I told Bob and Cathie where I was moving, Cathie immediately informed me that that is the building “where all the shootings happen.” (Cathie is one of the persons from whom I inherited the worrying gene. It’s dominant but manifests itself a bit differently in each possessor. One way it manifests itself for her is that it provokes an automatic chemical reaction in her brain that causes her to envision a bad gang scene from West Side Story any time one of her children mentions the word “downtown.” Bob’s worrying gene makes him think that any time one of his children leaves the country, there is a 200% chance they will be killed in a terrorist attack (this, ironically, is up from 150% since Osama was killed). Mine caused me to drive back to Uncle Will’s house three times last night to make sure I had turned the stove off and shut the garage. I have wondered whether two of my sisters are adopted because they seem to have escaped the effects of bad genetics. But Krisanda and I beautifully carry on the family tradition of curiously-optimistic expectation of certain death at every corner). Fortunately Cathie warmed up to the place when she came to visit and saw that it most definitely is not the “shootings” place (which may or may not actually exist) she has seen on the news.


I don’t begin my job until next Monday so I’ve been living the life of a stay-at-home-single-guy (which I think is less rewarding than being a stay-at-home-parent or spouse). While I have become quite domestic over the last 10 days, I am pretty ready to head on to work and do something lawyerly for the first time in several months. But until then, I’ll keep decorating, cooking, and “gabbing” with all of my friends on the phone all day. Fortunately the domesticism and decorating have been greatly aided by so many wonderful friends who have come out of the wood-work with incredible furniture for our entire previously unfurnished apartment. Biggest thanks goes to Uncle Will and our good friend Andrea from whom I feel that I just won the show-case showdown on The Price is Right thanks to their basements full of great tables, chairs, lamps, and art. After moving things in and hanging all of my art that I’ve collected from foreign countries over the years and never done anything with, Krishelle glanced around and informed me that “it looks like a grown-up’s apartment.” So there’s that.

Well I better go. Nothing awaits me.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Monday, August 29, 2011

Finale

It is my last night in Europe, which is probably a good thing as I smell terribly, the entire continent has almost completely run out of kebabs, and I seem to be forgetting English as is evidenced by my very natural use of the word "brang" earlier today (past tense for "brought"). This would be more excusable had I actually been learning other languages along the way but sadly I can't really claim that that's true. Although I have basically learned 5 or 6 new keyboards, which seem to change with the borders. So there's that.

We made it safely out of Slovenia several days ago, catching a 6:30 AM bus to do so. We were much more considerate than our hostelmates of the night before who got up earlier than sin and stomped around the room for several hours speaking something that I'm pretty sure was a made up language consisting entirely of the most obnoxious sounds the human voice can create. But the noise didn't bother us quite as much as the smell, as they were most definitely the stinkiest backpackers we have encountered. And we have encouterned stinky backpackers from everywhere. (For those who were wondering, I am probably about average to slightly-above-average backpacker-stinky right now). We spent a few hours in Venice waiting for our next train, which took us all the way to Florence that evening. We found a great little hotel in Florence where a very elderly man walked us to our room and then proceeded to give us a 10 minute speech about how to use the AC. Unfortunately we only understood about .2% of this speech because it was all in Italian (The .2% comes from the use of some sounds that sound like Spanish words we were probably supposed to learn in the 8th grade had we been listening in school). We think the speech was probably unnecessary, however, because the AC seemed pretty basic and we were able to use it without problems after he left the room. We are hoping, however, that his speech wasn't about how the AC leaked poisonous gases and we should avoid using it all costs. I think we're probably ok, but it's hard to tell which of my diseases have come from which place right now, so the jury is still out.

Florence was wonderful. We saw the David statue and wandered through several beautiful streets and churches. We also bought some clothes in hopes that someone will later ask us where we got them so that we can respond, "let's see . . . oh, you know what--I got this at that shop on Via Del Fabio. You know, the one in Florence." (We have practiced this several times, saying it in a voice like everyone should know where that street is). The most exciting part about Florence (other than the great art and blah blah blah) was that for the first time since before the war, we actually stopped sweating because it was quite cool out. Due to the sudden decrease in perspiration, my entire body immediately dried up and cracked from head to toe. But it was so worth it. This also helped me not want gellatto quite as much, which is definitely a good thing right now as I calculated today that I have probably had somewhere around 70 scoops in the last month (mostly in the last 3 weeks). 50 year old Eli will curse 27 year old Eli later for the things he did in 2011.

We made it back into Rome yesterday (for the 1,000th time) to say goodbye to all of our favorite sites and get ready to fly out tomorrow morning. It's been another great couple of days in Rome and we'll be sad to say goodbye.

I can't believe the trip is finally coming to end. Part of me feels like I've been away for decades (the part that desperately wants a shower and actual clean clothes as opposed to "sink washed" clothes which I'm still not sure does anything). But the time has also flown despite the days and days of adventure-packed experiences that have worn me out over the past 5 weeks. I am so thankful that I have been able to come out and do all of this. It's been a wonderful experience of making great new friends, eating my weight in terribly unhealthy foods, and experiencing cultures in unique and exciting ways. I've slept in a stranger's bed, ridden halfway across the country on a dirty train floor, and been pooped on by diseased birds. I've also played with hilarious children, ridden bikes around one of the most gorgeous cities in the world, and swam in a clear blue lake in the mountains. I've learned about cheeses and schnitzel. I've learned about art and religion. I made time to read some great books amid many naps in parks in gorgeous cities. I've been through the tourist end of town and the not so tourist end of town. I've tried juice from fruits that I didn't even know existed. I've jammed on the guitar with new friends in multiple countries. I've done a lot and seen a lot and I've loved almost every minute of it. And the minutes that I didn't quite love, I at least appreciate for the stories.


It Just Gets Stranger

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Exodus to Slovenia

Since I last left you, I have spent somewhere around 1200 hours on trains. No wait, that can't be right. However many hours it is, it feels like somewhere around 1200. We bought tickets in Rome to Venice several days ago after being told that all of the trains were full until 2075 but that we were welcome to buy "standing" tickets, which train-station-man seemed to think would be a perfectly fine option for us. We didn't like the sound of "the train is full but here are some standing tickets" but we also didn't think we had much of a choice, so off we went to find out what "standing" really meant.

Krishelle later pointed out that she was impressed that the train station was able to sell 4,000 tickets for only 400 seats. This was probably very little of an exaggeration as we boarded the train and were immediately forced to stand with our bulky backpacks and luggage in the incredibly narrow corridor outside of many six-seat compartments that lined the train. And we were not alone. The entire corridor from end to end was totally packed with panicked looking people who each had a minimum of 17 bags and had apparently also encountered the same greasy salesman in the train station who made the standing option sound like a pleasant stay in a 5 star hotel. The packed corridor somehow did not stop cart-man who miraculously pushed his way through, back and forth, for the entire day selling warm drinks and stale cookies, making us suck in our stomachs, stand on our luggage, and guard our appendages from being run over. This was like a very tricky game of twister most of the time. But I had bigger troubles to worry about than cart-man because Heather and Jonathan asked several times how long the train ride would be and I repeatedly lied to them and then had to engage in some very tricky mind-games and manipulation to keep them from finding out the truth. I told them it would just be a few short hours. Truth: we were scheduled to arrive in Venice no sooner than 6 and a half hours after take-off. I'm sure they were strong enough to handle the truth but I figured that after the Naples experience, I shouldn't risk it.

And so we rode. And we rode. Through the hot Italian deserts while hairy, sweaty, stinky, Europeans walked the length of the cabin back and forth, for no apparent reason, occasionally stopping to rest on top of us and in our laps. This misery continued until we finally arrived in Ferrara. Never heard of it? That's because the place is a dump. And we know that it is because that is where our train practically exploded. Well, we think it probably practically exploded because we can't understand what else could have caused a scheduled 2 minute stop to take 2 and a half hours. This is no exaggeration. Every 20 minutes or so the conductor would announce that we would be leaving in another 30 minutes, which we optimistically believed, over and over, like the abused in an abusive relationship (and believe me, we were the abused in a very abusive relationship with the entire train system of Italy by this point). Unfortunately for all of us, the tiny bit of air conditioning that had been coming from a couple of unclogged vents completely ceased for the duration of the break, leaving us to continue to bake in the 100 or so degree conditions.

The train finally moved on and arrived in Venice several hours later, pulling in about 9 or 10 hours after we had initially sat on the corridor floor in Rome. We think that we can relate to the pioneers now. Or some other group that has suffered. We will likely share this experience in a church lesson later mid tears (while also making up a few facts so that it actually relates to the lesson).

When we got to Venice we never wanted to climb aboard any transportation again. So we found a great apartment in the center of the city for a good deal and camped out for a couple of days. Venice was wonderful and we all felt it was well worth the trauma above mentioned to get there. We wandered from end to end of the city, visited St. Marks, ate our weight in gellato, and explored many incredible churches.

Yesterday we put our brave faces on (for the kids) and decided to make our way to Slovenia. While Venice and Ljubljana, our desired destination in Slovenia, look to be within walking distance on a world map, one finds that the train from one to the other takes literally 9 hours. This is because the train goes through Arizona to get to Ljubljana (ok, so Arizona is an exaggeration, but it actually does go all the way through Vienna, which is nowhere near either city at all. For comparison, imagine taking a train from San Diego to L.A. and having it go through Phoenix. This is actually a pretty accurate comparison). So we instead took a train to Trieste Italy for a little over one hour and then found 2 hour bus tickets to take us the rest of the way. When our bus tickets were sold to us, the four of us stood in shock, staring at one another, waiting for the catch, because we were positive that something had to go wrong since we hadn't had a seamless travel experience up to that point yet. But alas, the trip to Ljubljana went very well and we arrived safely.

We found a hostel near center that seemed like a good choice. The four of us were immediately placed in a room with 6 other strangers. We welcomed the adventure. Until night came. Four Indian men came into the room around 3:00 AM and marched around, taking things out of their bags loudly for about one hour as they prepared to go to bed. None of us can figure out why on Earth it took them so long to get ready for bed, or why they needed to be so loud about it, but they did. We sighed a major sigh of relief when they finally climbed into bed at 4:00. But the peace did not last as all of their alarm clocks began to go off in 4 minute increments starting at 6:00, which they each responded to by pressing snooze over and over again until Heather finally sat up and screamed "SHUT UP!" at 7:00. This is a true story. Any of you who know Heather are probably very shocked right now because she is so mild-mannered and typically very patient. But we found her limit this morning at exactly 7:00 AM. In her defense, it took an awful lot to get to that point. And to her credit, it worked like a charm because the whole room immediately fell silent at her request and stayed that way until she was ready to get up.

Ljubljana is gorgeous and clean and sans tourists. We love it here. Today we took a bus to Bled and swam in a gorgeous lake that sits in the mountains. Unfortunately we didn't think to bring anything to swim in, but the water was so clear and beautiful that we couldn't help ourselves so we made make-shift bathing suits with whatever clothes we brought (which may or may not have involved extensive amounts of forest nudity to get to something workable) and just hoped that we would dry off in time to climb aboard our bus back to Ljubljana at the end of the day. It all worked out very well. We swam and hiked and never wanted to leave. It truly was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Tomorrow we'll head back into Italy. Not totally sure where to just yet. Probably Verona or Florence or wherever we can go that doesn't require "standing" only tickets.

~It Just Gets Stranger 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

More Wandering in Italy

Just a quick update tonight since I don't have a lot of time.

Matt flew out a few days ago and it was sad to see him go. But he was quickly replaced (not that you could ever be replaced, Matt) by Krishelle, Heather, and Jonathan who flew into Rome to join me on a frantic few days of Italy wandering (and in some sketch neighborhoods. Welcome to the world of international travel, Heather).

We had a great couple of days in Rome, checking out the Vatican and several incredible churches and ruins. All of this amid drinking from every fountain and puddle of water in sight, including some that looked like they were meant for human consumption, and others . . . not so much. I think questionable water and even more questionable 4 weeks of kababs are having a huge fight somewhere inside of me right now. If I'm picking sides, I hope the kababs win so that I'll feel justified in consuming so many. (I'm making little sense).

Then we thought, "hey, let's go to Naples City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty!" (Reference for you rock stars out there). The pictures we saw online looked great (although we think most of them were actually of Naples Florida, which probably is nice). So we boarded a train that must have just arrived from hell because it was hot enough to roast a kabab in there. This was likely most miserable for Heather, who, for reasons I still don't understand, was dressed like we were heading to Siberia in the winter for the entire day. So we arrived in Naples hot and sweaty. After about 35 minutes of wandering Naples looking for our hotel, which happened to actually only be about 2 minutes away, Heather informed us that "this place must be the Harlem of Italy." And she was right. Or the landfill of Italy. Or the Harlem landfill of Italy. But we dropped our things off at the hotel and asked hotel lady where the beach was, who then told us mid-cackles that there are no beaches in Naples but then pointed to a green spot on our terrible map and said that we could find something there that "looks kind of like a beach." And so we walked for another 2 or 3 hours until we reached that place and found that her description was actually pretty generous. Let me help you imagine this place. Think of a beach. Now make it the size of your bedroom. Now take away the sand and add mud and cigarette butts. Turn the water brown and put garbage in it. Now add 200,000 naked Europeans.
The next day we took a train to Sorrento where the beaches were supposed to be lovely. Sorrento was a cool little town and really pretty. the beaches were about one step above the "beach" of Naples, but the town and area was really fun to see.

We decided to head back north since it was too difficult to find ferries out to Croatia on such short notice. We made it back into Rome this afternoon and wandered a bit more and recovered from yet another train that had just come from hell (where it's summer right now so it's even hotter than just normal hell). Tomorrow we'll train up to Venice and stay for a night or two and figure out where to go from there.

We're having a great time, although I'm getting tired and hope to sleep for about 15 months when we get home.
 
~It Just Gets Stranger 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Padova (Venice), Pisa, and Rome

It's been a nice and busy few days since I last wrote. We made it successfully into Padova, as promised, but not without some hilarity on the way. Our train from Salzburg into Padova was a night train. Another night train like the last we took where dozens of strangers were piled on top of one another in a dense layer of human bodies while the conductor turned the heat to full-blast for the entirety of the night. Our cabin had six people in it, like last time. We were the two middle bunks, sandwiched by two British guys below us and two Japanese girls above us, who sat up in their beds for the majority of the night, with the light on, saying over and over in high-pitched voices the only English word we ever heard them speak, "whaaaaaaaaaat?!?" followed by the occasional ghostly yet worried sounding "oooooooooh." This all started after Matt attempted to have a very confusing conversation with them about why he was moving their luggage around to make room for ours.

We arrived in Padova at 5:51 AM, which was 30 minutes before the Venice station where the vast majority of the people would be getting off. The train person woke us up a bit before our stop so we could get our things and get ready to jump off. This woke up the entire cabin however at which point confusing conversation part II took place where the girls on the top bunk attempted to feed their luggage down to us in a frantic daze, prepared to jump off with us at Padova, where they undoubtedly would have been incredibly confused as Padova looks as much like Venice as Kearns Utah. Eventually we resorted to crude caveman like gestures and sentence structures (You Venice. We Padova. This NO Venice.) while they continued the "whaaaaats?!" and "ooooooohs?!" Sometime during this mess the British became alert and also started frantically asking if they were supposed to get off the train now. One of us finally yelled a final, "everybody just stay!" as we hopped off and left them to fend for themselves. We had our own problems and most of the time hardly know where are ourselves. I've wondered many times since whether any of them made it to Venice.

Then Padova. We had a couchsurfing couple in Padova who are some of my favorite people I have ever met. They actually lived just outside of Padova in a town called Sarmeola. We stayed with them for a couple of nights. One of the nights we had a great Italian dinner with more cheeses than I knew existed and some drink (the non-alcoholic option) that tasted worse than any mixture of liquids I could ever come up with on my own. I did a lot of pouring my can into Matt's cup while he wasn't looking, ultimately getting to the point where I was sure I was going to upchuck cheese you've never even heard of all over the table if I had to even pretend to take one more sip. Somehow we got out of drinking more of it (although there seemed to be an unlimited supply and possibly an expectation that we would completely deplete that supply (don't try to make sense of that)). This was because they whipped out the guitar and for the rest of the night we jammed together and sang and laughed and had one of the most fun nights I've had in a long time. We loved spending time with them and were so sad to leave.

During one of our Padova days we took a train into Venice and wandered for the day. The city was incredible. I didn't try to drink any of the canal water (I have a goal to drink water from every lake, river, and stream in the world before I die . . . or until I die . . . I don't remember the goal exactly) because the water was a new color that I don't think I've ever seen before (and here I thought I had seen them all). But other than that, Venice was clean and beautiful and bustling with tourists, which brought us back to not-so-happening Padova, which we thought we could take an entire day to explore, only to find that 27 minutes was actually sufficient. Nonetheless we filled our time doing the usual: eating everything in sight and taking naps in parks.

We left Padova a couple of days ago and trained to Pisa where we stayed for the night. We hadn't planned on going to Pisa at all but we found a couchsurfing host there and thought it might be interesting to check out. This was partly because this was suggested by two guys we met in Venice who were from St. George and who were also travelling through Central and Eastern Europe but having a much different experience than we were. They have been literally sleeping on the streets for several weeks (and they looked and smelled like it too) and had also been robbed in Rome, badly; one of their backpacks with all that they had had been swiped at a train station. I felt badly for them, but then less so when I realized they had some bad karma following them after they explained to us how they had cheated the system to get free train rides in addition to some other perks by falsifying various documentation throughout Europe. In any event, they gave us great advice, and also unintentionally convinced us that sleeping on the street, which we were pretty willing to try up to that point, was actually not a good idea.

Pisa was nice. We had a couchsurfer there who, through some miscommunication on both of our parts, didn't get home until pretty late. We hung out under the pillars of some old church playing poker (with devil cards) while we waited for him to come home, wondering if sleeping on the street would actually happen after all. But he made it home and let us into our room after explaining to us that he has several roommates who are currently out of town, which is why he had so many free beds. We wondered once or twice whether his roommates had any idea that he was letting the strangers of the world inhabit their personal space whenever they skipped town but then figured we would probably be gone long before they ever found out. In any event, mystery roommates probably got the last laughs as their beds and sheets were not so clean and may have given me bedbugs (I'm mostly kidding--but I do have about 300 mosquito-looking bites on my legs right now from that night, despite Matt's crusade against them where he stood and killed somewhere in the hundreds before finally declaring the place "sleepable" and climbing into his bed. I'm now referring to it as "The Great Battle of the Bugs of 2011." Screenplay coming.).

The Pisa tower was incredible. And actually really leaning. More than you would think. There's really nothing else to see in Pisa except for graffiti and kabab stands, all of which we visited in the 24 hours we were in town.


Yesterday we rolled into Rome and wandered the city for the afternoon and evening, looking at the beautiful churches and ruins. Rome is wonderful. Hot and crowded, but wonderful. Today we made it over to the Vatican and did some more city exploring. Rome is the first and only city on this trip where we did not find couchsurfers so we found a hostel near the train station, which has worked out nicely, even though we have serious communication problems with all of the employees (but we're getting used to that).

Matt is flying out in the morning and I'll go with him to the airport to see him off and pick up Krishelle, Heather, and Jonathan so we can continue our adventure for a bit longer. I can't believe it's already time for him to take off. He's been a lot of fun to travel with, plus he doesn't smell that bad, as far as backpackers go.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Austria

We have travelled quite a bit since I last wrote you. First we had a couple of great days in Prague (or "Praha" as we natives like to call it). For two and a half days we wandered the city, ate some amazing food and lounged around reading books. Mostly my attention span only allowed me to read for about 12 minutes at a time between long naps. The city was gorgeous and our couch surfing host there was awesome. She made us some great Czek food and wandered the city for a while with us. Prague feels like a step back in time, except for the 12 and a half million obnoxious tourists standing in front of the clock in the center square all day with cameras waiting for it to chime on the hour, every hour, so they can essentially ooo and aaah at absolutely nothing at all. (Ok, so I wasn't super impressed with the clock, and I'm finding out that I'm not ultra crazy about crowds). We also spent part of this day taking classic "girl study abroad in Europe" pictures that we've seen from several of our friends over the years. So far we have great shots of: pretending to open a castle door, emphatic jumping on an old street, making a scandalous face while putting arm around old statue, and many many more. If any of you can think of pictures we've left out, please let us know ASAP.

We hopped on a train from Prague to Vienna a couple of days ago and had a gorgeous ride through Austria. We had a couch surfing couple host us in Vienna and we loved them. We loved the city too but the saddest part about leaving Vienna for me was saying goodbye to them. We hung out with them the two nights we were there and swapped funny travel stories, laughing and eating amazing Austrian food. Vienna was fun. The city was less busy with tourists and so a bit more pleasant to wander. We visited a million more churches and ate food from street vendors that looked suspicious but apparently weren't too bad because neither of us has upchucked yet.

Yesterday we hopped a train out to Salzburg (western Austria). This is one of the most amazing cities I've ever seen. It sits in the middle of and on top of several green mountains and cliffs. The city is really old and really clean. We didn't have a place to stay when we were planning to head to Salzburg and thought we would have to search for some hostels when we got here but fortunately a girl invited us over very last minute. We're staying in this really cool house burried in the forest on the edge of town. They have several bikes sitting out front to ride into town so we've been biking and hiking all over Salzburg for the last 24 hours, looking at castles and churches and eating even more questionable food from street vendors (fingers crossed). The biking has been interesting, primarily because neither of us has ridden a bike since 1992 but also because we have a difficult time reading the signs and understanding the very complex bike traffic laws in this city. We may end up on a later episode of locked up abroad, which is fine with me if they serve schnitzel in their prisons. As for the not riding a bike since 1992, as it turns out, "it's just like riding a bike" has earned its status as the ultimate proverbial phrase for never forgetting how to do something, except for as pertains to the hind parts, which apparently have LONG since forgotten how to ride a bike. But enough about me.

Tonight we'll head out to Italy via train. We're going to a town called Padova which is near Venice (it's sort of a long story how we ended up getting tickets to Padova, but in the end, being the travel snobs that we are, we are excited to go to a less well known place so that we can later tell others that we went there in a tone that sounds like we think everyone should know where Padova is). It will be a little sad to leave Austria just when we've gotten so good at speaking German (and by speaking German, I mean saying English words in German accents over and over and then laughing like it's the first time we've done it. Our current favorite is saying the the word "people" but replacing the L with and R).

~It Just Gets Stranger 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Krakow: Put Your Hand to the Up

When we last left you we were just beginning our "homeless day" in L'viv. We planned to head out of L'viv for Krakow on Wednesday morning but after a very dramatic train/bus ticket buying experience where the lady who finally sold us our tickets told us with a roll of her eyes, "I don't know why on Earth you boys are trying to go to Krakow. It's the exact same thing as L'viv." But we were skeptical so we bought bus tickets anyway, the earliest ones available, which were for 10:00 PM. So off we wandered into L'viv for the day to lounge on benches in the city to read books and eat ridiculous amounts of juice (we've each had at least on liter per day since arriving in Europe), vafly and borsch. And surprisingly, this may go down as the best day of our lives.

For those who are wondering about Serhey since you heard from me last, you might be interested to hear his side of the story, which I have for you as he left a comment about me on couchsurfers that we have been laughing about nonstop for three days: "Eli is man of a nice surprise) One won't regret to meet him: positive, open minded, democratic and with good sence of humor =)." We haven't quite pinned down what my "nice surprise" was but I'm ecstatic that he thinks of me as democratic. Gosh I miss Serhey.

We boarded the Krakow-bound bus that evening after being told that we would arrive in Krakow the following morning around 6:00AM. Why on Earth does it take eight hours to drive from L'viv to Krakow when it looks only this big (holding fingers close together) on the map, you ask? I'll tell you. Because after 1 hour of driving to the border, the bus stopped and we engaged in what I'm finding to be a pretty typical land-border crossing experience throughout the world. For the next 3 or 4 hours, we were moved in and out of the bus (which would pull forward about 35 feet every time we got back into it, only to be ushered back out again) while various armed guards took and gave back our passports repeatedly in a near never ending cycle of unproductive nonsense. Fortunately during all of this we were able to meet multiple entertaining people including one Russian kid who was willing to tell us how to buy cocaine in about 15 different countries if we were interested. While I wasn't quite to that point, this was probably about the closest he was ever going to come to finding me willing. There was also a group of Spaniards aboard the bus who were trekking back home after completing some pilgrimage. Matt was fortunately listening and able to translate their conversation when they first boarded the bus only to find that they couldn't sit together, to which an older woman announced to the group with a big smile, "we are separate, but we are happy." And then immediately holding up a sack of something unidentified, she enthusiastically continued, "I have onions! Who wants an onion?!" We later saw some of this group eating these onions like apples. Fortunately for the border crossing people the onion mastication occurred after this group was specifically sequestered for what we found out was apparently a very intrusive frisking, as was evident in the wide eyes, odd walking, and panicked hand gestures meant to demonstrate to each of us that they had been given some special treatment in the back room at about 3:00AM when they were returned to the group.

But we finally made it into Krakow without eating any onions or buying any cocaine. We then met our new couch surfing hosts, Marta and Tomasz. I will never be able to adequately describe Marta and Tomasz. All I can do is later send you pictures we took of their wedding photo album. Marta and Tomasz didn't really speak much English and they wouldn't ever really look us straight in the eye. But they love climbing and followed us around the apartment here and there insisting on talking about it as much as possible, saying over and over again things like, "you haven't pictures climbing?", "you climb?", "we climb, zis is good", and occasionally "have you see cat?" The cat comments came up particularly frequently whenever we attempted to ask a question about how to get out of their gate, which apparently sounds an awful lot like "cat" to them. But Marta and Tomasz were incredibly nice and great hosts. They let us wander around and do what we needed to while they carried on with their lives (which included a lot of what we think was intense argument in Polish about the weather. But we can't be sure).

Krakow was incredible. As the bus lady in L'viv told us, it did look quite a bit like L'viv, which was fine with us. The city was gorgeous and the people were very friendly. Just after we got into the city I started talking to a girl named Eliza on the tram who looked like she knew her way around only to find out that she was from Poland and currently living in London and that she had brought over a group of friends to show them around Krakow. She helped us buy some train tickets and gave us some great advice. We ended up meeting up with their group later to take a tour of the salt mines just outside of the city, which were incredibly interesting. Unfortunately the tour of the mines was about 13 days too long and by the end I felt like the whole thing was going to turn out like The Dissent. But we survived. Our favorite thing that happened here was when Matt and I split from the group and asked a girl on the way out how to get back to Krakow, to which she responded (and this quote is exact): "Zis is best idea. You must take bus. First you must be looking good. Zen you must put your hand to the up." (Translation: Take the bus. Look carefully to find the right one and then raise your hand to get it to stop). For two days now we have been inserting her directions into every song and rap we can think of. We're adding "hand to the up girl" to our long list of people we want to take home with us.

Yesterday we headed out to Auschwitz, which is about an hour away from Krakow. As you can imagine, it was incredibly depressing and horrific. We wandered the camp for several hours, which has been left pretty untouched since the end of WWII. Even some of the buildings (gas chamber buildings), which were blown up, still lay untouched since the 40s. It was incredibly bizarre to be there and a really good experience, although uncomfortable and sad (uncomfortable both because the history is so tragic and because it's just a miserably hot un-shaded place in the summer, much like I think it probably was when it was actually in use).
We hopped a train last night in Prague. This was a sleeper train and each small compartment had SIX people in it, with three beds going up each side. It felt like I was living in the dorms again with about 500 rowdy 20-something year old travelers from all over the world.
There is about a 65% chance we both contracted bacterial meningitis. But we made it to Prague this morning. Fortunately we had a last minute couch surfer contact us last night, offering her place. Her name is Ivana and she met us this morning and took us to her apartment and then went with us into the city for a 3 hour walking tour. The city is gorgeous but unfortunately overrun with tourists. In any event, it's fun to walk the winding streets and see so much incredible architecture. The city looks a lot like L'viv and Krakow, but bigger and taller. We'll stay here until Monday afternoon when we'll hop a train to Vienna.

Having an incredibly great time and laughing constantly (except for at Auschwitz, of course). Thanks for all the messages.


~It Just Gets Stranger

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sleeping With Sergei, L'viv

When we last left you we were in Kyiv having a great time with Max and Natalia. We spent a lot of time with both of them and toured a lot of the city (and I mean a LOT--Max may be the fastest walker I've ever met in my entire life. There were several moments where we actually had to break out into a run to keep up with him, which was strange because he looked like he was going at a leisurely pace). On our last night there we thought it would be nice to make them some Mexican food (because, you know, we're from Mexico). This did not go without turning into sort of a mess where at the grocery store I sent Matt to weigh peppers (you have to weigh produce and get a label on it before checkout).

When he brought it up to the checkout lady she freaked out because he had come back having labeled his two red peppers "apples" and something that we still can't identify. To his credit, when I took them back to give it a try I found that even an understanding of the language wasn't that helpful because the label machine was like a very stressful identification game with black and white "pictures" of about 2,000 different items of produce that all looked exactly the same. I got about four or five different labels for each and took it back to let the lady choose whichever one she thought would work. We finally made it home and cooked (chimichangas, or something we called chimichanges--very Mexican, I know). We think they liked it. In any event, it all worked out very nicely and we were very sad to leave them and the kids and we miss them quite a bit already.

Then we boarded our first of what will probably be many many trains over the next week. Things that happened on the train: homegirl from below tickled Matt's feet (he was on the top bunk) every hour, on the hour, all night long; the train seemed to hop the tracks and just go off-roading for most of the night; Matt came back from the bathroom and only had one thing to say--"well, it was pretty wet in there"; and it was well over 200 degrees for the vast majority of the trip. All of the usual really.


We rolled into L'viv early yesterday morning and wandered my favorite parts of the city, including every church that I wish I could live in permanently. We attended a great Orthodox service in the middle of all of that. Then lunch happened where we had some of the greatest borsch of all time. Part way through lunch we both started talking about how we wished we were wearing shorts instead of pants.


We then remembered that we are currently packing our entire lives around with us at all times so changing is usually an option. Matt stepped inside the restaurant to ask where the bathroom was so he could change and then came out about 5 minutes later looking very confused. I then went in to look for myself, going down the basement of the place because we thought that looked like a place where one might keep the bathroom. I didn't find a bathroom however down there but did find an empty dining room, so naturally I just changed in there.

This seemed like a good idea until I came back up there stairs and passed every single person who worked there who were now each staring at me and my handful of clothes that they had just seen me in, probably wondering why I just got undressed in the basement of their restaurant where there is no bathroom. We got out of there in a hurry thinking that we would never have to see those people again. Wrong. About four hours later we went back for borsch (you have to believe me--this stuff was really good).

We still desperately tried to hide from anyone who we recognized which was effective until we ran into one girl on our way out who actually laughed in our faces. We're positive they've been thinking all day about the Americans that took their clothes off in their restaurant. And who came twice in one day to eat borsch. And who don't smell so great. And who look incredibly sleep deprived.

But our real concern throughout the day had to do with where we were going to stay last night.


We had set up something through couchsurfing with a guy named Sergei who looked nice enough on his profile to trust with our lives. Right before we were supposed to meet him at his place, Matt happened to look at his profile again, in time to read a message I seemed to have missed when I initially searched for people in L'viv and sent him a request: "I have one room where i'm living, so i can share with it! There can be placed 2 people on my bed!" This was in the middle of several other things he wrote about how "L'viv is fan place!" and "come stay! 3 days is too many!"

We got to Sergei's apartment at 9:00PM wondering all day whether "there can be placed 2 people on my bed" meant what it sounded like (and optimistically coming up with thousands of other possible interpretations, none of which actually made any sense at all. But we were hopeful).

Our hopes were in vain as we entered Sergei's apartment and he showed us his room with the worlds smallest bed and optimistically told us, "I think we can all three fit there tonight!" He then pointed to Matt and explained, "it is good thing you are big zis way and not big zis way" (using hand gestures to explain that he is relieved to see that Matt is just tall and not fat). We enthusiastically agreed, trying desperately not to make eye contact because we knew we would lose it the second we did. We had a good conversation with him for a while before he told us we were welcome to go to bed if we wanted to.

I'm not sure that we really wanted to go to bed but we were incredibly tired from train off-roading the night before so off to bed we went. Sergei stayed up for a while in the kitchen while Matt and I lay in bed trying with all our might to gain composure, more freaked out that we were going to start laughing when he came to climb in with us than we were about sleeping with a stranger in the first place. There were a lot of jokes exchanged during this time that did not help us in our pursuit to either fall asleep or get really good at being stone-faced (there were suggestions that I should have told Sergei that Matt wets the bed every night).

The anticipation almost killed us and unfortunately neither of us were even close to being asleep when Sergei climbed in. Although we pretended to be. We pretended to be all night. Including every 45 minutes or so when Sergei attempted to cuddle with me in his sleep. He took up about half of the tiny bed, and we took the other half--although Matt had one arm on the ground the whole night, holding himself up in a half pushup as I inched closer and closer to him each time Sergei put his arm or leg around me.

We got up incredibly early and high-tailed it out of there after Sergei made me hold some rodent he had bought that day. Despite all of the strangess of the situation, I do have to say that he was incredibly nice and actually pretty normal to talk to. And we learned something new about what to look for on couchsurfing profiles.

We hoped to take a bus early today out of L'viv to Krakow but we couldn't get one until 10:00 tonight so we are lounging in L'viv for the day before another inevitably sleepless night.


Ok, we're off to the next adventure. Thanks for all your email responses. Sorry I don't have to time to write back individually--but it's good to hear from you anyway.


~It Just Gets Stranger 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finally in Kyiv

We made it to Kyiv a couple of days ago after the most miserable day of travel I've ever had in my life (and this is saying something because I've had some pretty miserable travel days in the last few years, including a 24 hour surprise layover in Russia where I wasn't allowed to leave the smoke filled airport due to visa restrictions and also the infamous Jordan/Israel "take to nearest police station" border crossing episode, which grandma recently referred to mid shudders as "that aweful aweful day"). It all started in SLC where a flight delay got me freaked out that I was going to miss my connecting flight in NYC where I was supposed to meet up with Matt to fly on to Paris and the from there, to Kyiv. The flight made it to NYC in time, however, not that it mattered because when I arrived I was told by Air France (aka, the WORST airline in the history of aviation) that I was nowhere in their records but not to worry because "we'll totally put you on standby for flights over the next day until we find you something suitable. Totally." After lots of panicked yelling (not the mean kind of yelling, but the productive kind), I was passed off to Delta (I think because it was Delta who I made the reseravations with in the first place) who was much more responsive to my productive yelling when I told them that I didn't care if they had to hire me as a flight attendant to put me on a flight that went through Iraq on an airline that came into existance that morning, I had to be in Kyiv by Saturday afternoon. This panic was because Matt had made the flight out of NYC and the thought of him rolling into totally unfamiliar and (let's be honest) not super friendly Kyiv airport (which is actually a good half hour drive outside of the city) was a little worrisome, particularly because I had no way to communicate with him to let him know that a) I was alive, b) I was coming to Kyiv at a later time, and c) when that later time was. Eventually the Delta people worked something out with a Russian airline (Aeroflot) where surprisingly nobody speaks any English at all, including the pilot who, to his credit, desperately tried to translate all of his messages throughout the flight until some point toward the end of it where he finally gave up. I think this didn't matter, however, because most of his translations ended up being an incomprehensible attempt at interpretation of about 2% of his original message. At one point he came on and spoke in Russian for about 4 minutes and then followed it in English with something that sounded like, "Hello. I'm pilot. I fly plane. Plane, he flying. Fly. All you need is love. Heppy birsday" followed by fragments of what I think was the pledge of allegiance. But it have also been lyrics to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." (This is actually almost no exaggeration).

Of course the flight out of NYC left about 2 hours late (because when has a flight from JFK ever been on time). But I barely made my connecting flight in Moscow anyway (yes, I woke up in SLC and somehow ended up in Russia, never intending any of this). I rolled into Kyiv about 5 hours after Matt and frantically searched the airport until I found him, totally relaxed and, according to him, prepared to just make the Kyiv airport his permanent home until someone he knew showed up. I think Matt has never been stressed out in his life, which is probably something I should try to pick up from him because between the bar a few days ago and a few days without sleep mixed in with that travel day, I aged exactly 37 years and have started experiencing some bizzare hallucinations (which always happen at night and strangely always have to do with really large spiders above my head).

Anyway, we eventually got into the city a couple of days ago and met up with our first couch surfing friends Max and Natallia who live on the edge of Kyiv. They are probably the nicest people I have ever met in my life and I'm considering moving in with them permanently. They have two little boys (ages 2 and 3) and if I can figure out a way, I'm going to try to take one of them with us when we leave. I don't really care much which one but the older one is a little bit quieter so I think it will take them a few minutes longer to notice that he's missing. Max is a bishop in one of the Kyiv wards (he's a couple of years older than me and was called to be a bishop at age 24). We've mostly hung out with them over the last couple of days and it's been a lot of fun. Tonight we're going to try to make them Mexican food if we can remember how to make tortillas, which is iffy at best.

Yesterday we visited the temple site, which is really close to where we are staying, and then wandered the city for most of the afternoon and evening. We spent some time wandering around Big Mama, cautious of course because I'm still conviced that that thing is within minutes of coming to life and terrorizing the world with her giant mammoth head and sword (when I brought Krishelle, Will, Megan, Matthew, Andrea, and Stacee to see her 2 years ago, they had to undergo several months of therapy just to overcome the initial shock of seeing her. Big Mama is sort of the statue of liberty equivalent for Ukraine but she sits on top of the highest hill in the middle of the city and she is quite a bit bigger, plus somewhere around 600% scarier).

We'll go check out some great churches, including the catacombs and the Lavra today before hopping a train tonight to L'viv. We plan to stay in L'viv for probably just one day before heading off to Krakow.

Things are going really well so far. I'll probably touch base again in a few days. Hope everyone is doing well.


~It Just Gets Stranger

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bar

The bar exam happened yesterday and the day before that. While full of entertaining procedures, I have to say that the test seemed to be run very well. We started early on Tuesday morning as all 500 or so of us spread out on plastic tables in a giant room while proctors wandered up and down the aisles checking on whether any of us had brought things into the room from the long list of prohibited items, which included anything not necessary to stay alive for up to 7 hours. Interestingly, the list of prohibited items seemed pretty unnecessary as the examiners provided an exhaustive list of acceptable items (which, I think, literally included only four things) that could cross the sacred threshold into test-haven. Nonetheless, the list of prohibited items included a range of things that I can only imagine somehow have the potential of concealing cheating, creating chaos, or aiding violence. I mention violence because "weapons" were actually on this list, which was unfortunate for anyone who had hoped to bring with them their lucky machete. Based on the 3,000 stern warnings we had received via email prior to the first exam day, I sort of expected to see TSA at the doors with full friskings and "nude" machines. Instead we were all mostly on the honor system, but a much more bizarre version of the honor system than any that I have ever experienced. Rather than try to explain to you the rules of this honor system, I'll provide an example of it: one friend of mine was asked to pat herself down in front of the doorman before entering the room, presumably because he wasn't comfortable patting her down himself. I never was quite sure what he expected from the self-pat down, however, and I also didn't hear whether he asked afterward if she discovered any prohibited items on herself during the quick investigation. But I wished that she had told him that during the course of her protective frisk she discovered that she was attempting to smuggle a shotgun into the testing area and thus should be immediately apprehended (this while simultaneously running away screaming, "you'll never catch me!").

The exam went without any real drama on Tuesday, although I did hear from multiple sources that someone had thrown up into a sink in the men's bathroom during the morning. Nobody knew who had done it but the talk of the lunch break was that the puke was bright orange, which I unfortunately heard about from half a dozen or so people who all seemed to be completely mesmerized by the abnormal color.


Perhaps the only entertainment of the day that wasn't disgusting was listening to the 30 minutes of instructions from Ms. Thang, explaining to us many things in painstaking detail that people should just be required to know in order to be alive. For example, she told us more than once that the top left corner of the test booklet is the one closest to the staple. We were also informed on multiple occasions that we were not allowed to take our test materials into the bathroom with us (presumably so they wouldn't get orange throw up on them). She repeatedly explained how to do tasks that each of us came out of the womb performing as she instructed us to fill out our personal information on the test materials. After each instruction she asked us to look up at her when we had completed the task so she would know when everyone was ready to move on. This seemed impractical, however, as all 500 of us were spread out so broadly across the room that there was absolutely no way whatsoever this woman could possibly have known when or if all of us were looking up at her. Fortunately we were given half of an eternity to finish each part of this process even though the most time consuming of any of the tasks constituted nothing more than filling in a couple of bubbles on a scantron bubble sheet.

Wednesday was more of the same only instead of typing essays for seven hours, we answered a couple hundred multiple choice questions. And just like that, it was over. There was some awkward clapping when we were finally released before the parking lot cleared out about 4 minutes later. There was no real intense feeling of relief when it all ended. A new sort of panic called "nothing-I-can-do-about-it panic" was immediately born, which perfectly replaced the old panic called "oh-shoot-the-test-is-in-blank-days-and-I-still-don't-understand-the-way-the-world-works panic." Neither is preferable to the other. Although the latter necessarily comes with embarrassment while the former, only the potential for it.

And now the last 24 hours have been a blur as I've attempted to get my affairs in order for a 5-week backpacking trip through eastern and central Europe with a friend (and a few family members, toward the end of it). Due to the bar (and general laziness) absolutely no plans have been made for this trip (stay tuned for some likely enlightening posts). My flight leaves five hours from now (at 8:30AM) and I just started packing. Obviously I'm feeling a great amount of urgency, as is evidenced by a much undeserved blogging break. My time management discipline has been a bit off since the test ended and I don't seem to have direction anymore. What's that saying? Idle hands are something about the devil? A penny saved is a penny earned? It takes one to know one? Don't look a gift horse in the mouth? As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Whatever it is, it applies here.

I'm very tired.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spam in the Final Hours

Well we're in the final days of battle preparation before we stampede into the great unknown. Three years of rigorous academic competition has now led us to the final hurdle for becoming whatever it is we've been trying to become for however long it's been since we started trying to become it. The bar exam starts on Tuesday this week. The bar exam is a magical mechanism by which a bunch of grumpy attorneys test and then grade hundreds of state applicants on their knowledge of 20 or so complicated legal topics, 3 of which may actually be applicable to their future careers. Some have compared it to fraternity hazing. I think though that the analogy fails because the "hazers" standing on the other end can't possibly enjoy watching any of this take place, especially having to waste the rest of their summers away grading garbled nonsense spewn out in 7 hours or so of essay typing as panicked and exhausted career beggars dump all 400,000 things they've crammed or attempted to cram into their brains, in no particular order.

My friends and I are spread broadly across the nation this evening, celebrating Pioneer Day in unison by closing up the books and calling it an early night. Annette Thacker's pony-tail has become permanently affixed to the top of her head by now (a true sign of panic) and Corey Boyd's apartment looks like a den of schizophrenics with papers strewn about containing diagrams and phrases written in giant squiggly handwriting as Boyd walks through it speaking somehow even faster than she normally speaks. I've seen or communicated with both of these super-humans and wondered if I could possibly have any claim in passing the bar exam if these two seem at all concerned. In any event I feel the bond in the air as 150 of my closest friends, once again, feel the same thing at the same time, the same way we have all felt the same things so many times before. Gosh I love my battalion.

This week as I began to study one morning I noticed that an old friend was logged onto Facebook. I clicked on his picture and attempted to instant message him, starting out by calling him an offensive-in-some-circles word that had sort of a special meaning to us over the years. Instantly I realized that I had in fact clicked on the wrong picture and instead had clicked on a person who is older, conservative, professional, and absolutely would not think what I had said was funny. In my 3 seconds of absolute panic, I immediately began typing: "heeeey, :) I just won a free ipod!!! This is ToToAlLy LEGIT man!!!! :)-"

Yup. That's right. I pretended to be spam. It apparently worked as I got a message from him a little later saying: "Eli, I think your facebook got hacked! I'm so sorry! I just got a really weird message from you. You may need to change you password." Deception, successful. Soul, less.

Ironically this was the day I visited the prison and subsequently vowed to never ever do anything wrong ever again, including parading myself as spam online to avoid consequences of my carelessness.

Anyway, off to the bar. Please send all positive vibes my way. I would also appreciate sacrificing firstborns if you've got one to spare.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Monday, June 27, 2011

Snake Infestation

Recently my well-meaning sister Krisanda sent me a link to an article that I never should have read. The article was about a snake infestation in a house in southern Idaho. There are about 300 reasons I never should have read this article. Topping the list are: it involves snakes, Idaho is too close for me to feel apathy, I have enough other terrible stuff to lose sleep over, and I'm so behind on my bar study right now that I should be strapped to an uncomfortable chair and have my eyelids removed with nothing but the giant stack of bar prep books strewn about in front of for the next month if I expect to ever catch up (also meth would help).


But I read it. Not initially, but I read it after about a week of letting it take up space in my inbox. The pressure mounted and finally I popped the sucker open and read all of the horrific details until I lay curled up in the fetal position on top of the highest, flattest, clearest surface I could find while humming songs from my childhood that I thought might bring me back to my "happy place" (which is a tropical beach with no animals). And I know what you're saying to your computer right now as though I can hear you: "Oh jeez. I've read that article and they are just garter snakes. Calm the heck down." To you, antagonizer and unsympathetic close-minded electronic heckler, I respond: "I wouldn't care if it was even just one garter snake that was four inches long and died while saving a family of puppies from a fire. Once even that snake is discovered within reach of a person's property, that person should have a Constitutional right (and I don't hand those out often) to prompt the president to declare a national state of emergency and have the whole town evacuated. Also, I hope you're doing well. I'm sure we haven't seen each other for a while (and maybe we've never met). I love what you've done with your hair."


But once the shock of the possibility of the thought of a snake infestation subsided and I began to see color again in the world (several days later), I was left with one lingering concern. During this snake infestation, the man of the house took the initiative to sweep the property and collect the snakes in buckets in order to protect his family, one time going so far as climbing through the crawl space under the house through a man-covered snake den to survey the extent of the problem. While conceding immediately that if ever I'm on any kind of committee that has a say in this, I will absolutely and without reservation support this man going straight to heaven no matter what he does for the rest of his life, I was left wondering if this kind of gall is a prerequisite for manhood. I've always seen men do things of this nature without flinching simply because (and say this next part in a gruff man voice) "it needed doin'!" Case in point, the dead bird massacre of three years ago where Bob scooped a rotting, once-flying beaked animal off the ground while I lay inside with a warm washcloth over my forehead. And I don't mean to assign this special bravery to men alone. In fact one of the biggest "it needed doin'!" people I know happens to be my younger sister Micalyne who I once saw eat a sandwich made out of cookies, bbq sauce, ranch dressing, lemons, lunch meat, mayo, brownies, and a number of other unidentified substances, just to win a game (she also spent about four years changing adult diapers and showering biting geriatrics in the Alzheimer's wing (another straight-to-heaven candidate)).


So the real concern is whether I can never be a man unless I'm at least theoretically willing to do the snake sweep in order to protect my family and property. If this is a requirement for manhood, I, without a doubt, am at least one requirement short of achievement. If I hypothetically had a home, wife, and children (hypothetically, because hypotheticals are all I have) and I became aware that a snake could possibly be somewhere on the property, I would immediately call the house from a long-distance number (because I would have caught the first flight out of town before doing anything else), tell my wife to leave everything but the children and get as far away from the town as possible, and then pay someone to set the entire property on fire. Twice. Then I would send a tractor to dig up the whole property and this would be followed by a duster plane that would cover the land 12 times with anthrax. The property would be re-burned every six-months for the next decade. Once the ten years were up, I would sell the property (from a remote location) to bad people. Note that never during that explanation did I ever say I would have anything to do with weaseling my way around in a crawl space under the house to survey the problem.


My friend told me over the phone the other day (I've been talking about this with a lot of people) that I just need to wait to buy a home until I can afford to pay people to take care of all of the snake-type situations and then I will never have to worry about having to do it myself or feeling like less of a man for letting the problem fester. In this way, he claimed, I could effectively buy my manhood. If this is true, it may be my only way. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated.


And I'm really not kidding about the cookie sandwich. I even have pictures.
 
~It Just Gets Stranger