Bezirk [1] in Berlin #9:  July 21, 2011

 

THINGS NOT TO TRY

 Don’t try sewing a button onto your pants while you’re wearing them.  Just don’t.  Trust me on this one, OK?

KITTY TOOTH

 Bent over today to pick up what I thought might a toe nail clipping or maybe a sheath from a cat claw.  With 2 cats, the latter is not an unusual occurrence.  But it wasn’t.  It was a cat tooth!!!  We saved it.   (For what I don’t know – is there a veterinary dentist who will put it back?)  Just kinda would like to know what type of shenanigans these two felines got into that resulted in one of them losing a tooth!  Or, perhaps cats have baby teeth.  [Turns out that they do!!]  This raises an entirely different set of questions.  What expectations do cats have of the tooth fairy?  They don’t have pillows, so where should the tooth fairy leave the prize?  And exactly what should the prize be?  Should it be money?  On the one hand, cats typically don’t have any use for money.  But then, neither do kids who are of teeth-losing age.  Of course, they can buy something with the money.  (Oh, yeah, that’s what we ALL use money for, isn’t it?)  What’s the going rate for the kitty tooth fairy these days?  Is it a problem if the prize doesn’t show up immediately?  Maybe we could explain that the fairy didn’t have William’s most recent address, and went to the breeder instead, and it’s taken us a while to work that out.

 NOTE:  To FULLY appreciate Evie’s wonderful cartoons, please enlarge your screen so you can see the extra little tidbits she’s added!

NO, REALLY, PLEASE DON’T HELP ME!

Electra, our rat-tailed, bat-earred, bug-eyed, half-bald, piteous (yet inexplicably lovable) excuse for a Devon Rex, sometimes gives me more help that I really need.  She has no use for my laptop, other than as a warm place to lie down.  Somehow, she managed to traipse across the keyboard in such a manner that the display turned sideways.  Harvey is an Apple guy, and hates everything Windows (with good reason, of course).  Since he gets to choose his own hardware and software now, he hasn’t touched a Bill Gates piece-of-crap for almost a year and his memories of the nightmares (and the resolution thereof) have begun to fade.  I am insufficiently technically astute to do anything more than the minimal trouble-shooting on my PC.  Compound this with the fact that the display was rotated such that the top of the display was on one end of the screen, while all the plugs were at the opposite end of the screen.  So, simply turning the machine on edge to try to keep your brain properly oriented to the display means you have to disconnect from the Internet (making the option of seeking on-line help impossible).  And, of course, Mr. Gates’s perversity in constantly changing how his products work, and where to find what, doesn’t help at all, since I was formerly able to find ‘Display’ and now his demented labzoids have hidden it in a different place (requiring you to go through a minimum of 9,877,030,900.5 different menus, sub-menus, and sub-sub-menus, and more than a few menu-ettes, to find it).  Then, after we finally found it, we fixed it BUT there was a confusing direction on the screen that said something like, “If you don’t want to not keep this change, it will be voided after 3 seconds if you don’t not take any action” (and 3 seconds isn’t nearly enough time to decipher the cryptic message).  Our first reading was “Click OK if you want to keep this change.”  Well, that clearly was NOT what the inept, inarticulate, author of this command actually meant.  THEN, we had to re-find the command and, on our second try, we did nothing after we changed the setting, which finally, finally restored the orientation of my screen to its original presentation.

Amazingly, the marital (as opposed to martial) hostilities associated with this endeavor resulted in no bruises, blood, or broken bones, but were limited instead to a vigorous exchange of harsh words, the effects of which dissipated in a matter of mere hours.  However, there is one remaining issue that we must still resolve – specifically, whether or not I am in debt to my husband for his forbearance in remedying the situation.  I contend that, because it was his cat, it was only right that he bear this burden, and, indeed, he owes me an apology for the inconvenience I had to endure because of the recalcitrance of his cat.  We are deferring a final decision until we can engage the opinion of our son on this matter, forcing him to endure the emotional trauma of choosing which parent to side with.  Alas, in the past, we have found him disinclined to engage in such nonsense as, in spite of all odds, we’ve raised a fairly emotionally healthy kid.

CALL GUINESS BOOK OF WORD RECORDS!!

 

Stop the presses!  I got some GOOD news from an insurance company today!  No, really!!  I’m so used to getting bad news about insurance lately that I was totally taken aback by this.

First, we found out that, after paying into Medicare since its inception in 1966, it doesn’t cover medical care outside the US.  [Well, there is ONE exception – there’s a little part of Canada that folks sometimes go through when they’re going through one part of the US to another because that route is lots shorter.  IF something happens to you in THIS part of Canada WHILE you’re taking this shortcut, then you’re covered.  I’m not making this up; check it out.]  I guess the US Government only wants criminals in the US to profit from Medicare fraud.  (This, of course was BAD news about insurance.)

Then we found out that our Long Term Care policy (pricey as hell) doesn’t cover long term care outside the US.  We’re scared to cancel it, though, because we probably couldn’t ever qualify again, so we have to keep it for awhile in case something bad happens and we need it.  (More bad news about insurance.)

Our GOOD news has to do with our burial insurance.  We took the “Pay now, die later” plan, hoping to save our son some trouble and save some money by paying for our funeral at 1990 prices rather than whenever-we-die prices.  We were afraid it wouldn’t cover us outside the US (consoling ourselves that at least we had paid for it with our United VISA card and got some frequent flyer miles for it).  Well, glory hallelujah!  Although the burial insurance may not cover the funeral here, it does act as a regular insurance policy and Steve can collect on it.  He’ll just get a flat sum – whatever the policy is worth by then – but it’s still better than the alternative of possibly spending more money to fly our bodies back to the US to get the ‘pre-paid’ funeral than a funeral here would cost.  Yep!  There’s always a bright side to everything, if you look at it from the right angle!

 

BAD HAIR DAY?

 

Ever had one?  Want to make sure you never have another one?  All you have to do is move to Berlin.  Really!  No matter how hideous you think your hair looks, I promise you that within 15 minutes of walking down the street, you will run into someone whose hair is far, far more hideous than yours!  And apparently it’s intentional!  How about a ‘do where the hair on one side is cut short (kinda like the buzz cut all the little boys in the US used to get the right after school let out for the summer), with most of it dyed black, except, of course, for the spots that are dyed red.  And I don’t mean ‘red’ as in ‘auburn’ – I mean ‘red’ as in the primary color red.  Then, of course, the other side is just shoulder length.  Then there are other folks who apparently have their hair cut with a pair of dull nail clippers and get it styled by a bunch of deranged hummingbirds.  Dreds are also popular here (and are not limited to any particular ethnic group), as are shaved heads (all the better to see your head tattoos).  OUCH!!!  Then there are the artful combinations of shaving and dreds.  I saw one guy (at least, I think it was a guy – androgyny is really big here) with a shaved head, except for the 3‑foot‑long dred located slightly above his left ear.  He’d be in a devil of a fix if, just after the barber finished, he thought, “Damn!  I wanted it over my RIGHT ear!”  I wonder if in the winter he just ties it around his neck like a scarf.  Don’t know what he does about his actual skull – kinda hope he wears a cap (although that would cover up his tats).  Don’t you know his momma is proud!!  She can’t wait to introduce him to her bridge club!  But even that might be jumping to conclusions.  I saw a young mother with a full head of dreds down to her waist, and her toddler had already started a single dred, or I guess a dredlette.  I wonder if this child’s grandma dreds.  Maybe it’s genetic.

There’s a caveat, however.   If you want this trick for avoiding bad hair days to work, you might have to confine your daily activities to our neighborhood (Kreuzberg) or a few others, or at least stay out of Mitte, where all the career-minded folks work and where you see a lot of suits.  (We saw a guy in a suit in our neighborhood and seriously considered asking him if he were lost.)   Nonetheless, the most up-tight professionals here have bizarre hair (especially in terms of the coloring) when compared to what you might see on the streets of the US capital.

 

WHIMSEY

 

  • Katzenzungen:  Pretty much translates into English as it sounds – Cat Tongues – which would pretty much elicit a response of ‘No, thank you’ if someone offered them to you, right?  Except that it’s the name of a chocolate candy that is (notionally, at least) shaped like a cat’s tongue.  And the pieces aren’t as rough as sandpaper, either.  It’s pretty good, provided you can get past the name.

 

  • Girl on a skateboard:  OK.  Mainly it’s boys on skateboards, so a girl on a skateboard gets noticed.  Alone, this sight is not so whimsical, but you’ll have to admit the part about her having both feet on the board while holding the leash of a small dog about the size of a Jack Russell terrier who’s pulling her along the sidewalk makes this sight qualify for whimsical.

 

  • Currywurst Museum:  http://www.currywurstmuseum.de/  Currywurst is something invented by the Germans.  Two of the key ingredients were provided by the Indian Indians – curry powder and ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer).  [Columbus caused quite a bit of trouble by insisting on referring to the inhabitants of the New World as ‘Indians.’]  The German contributions include the wurst (of course) and the idea to serve it topped with ketchup and curry powder.  We are fortunate enough to live right around the corner from ‘Currywurst 36’ – the most famous currywurst stand in all of Berlin.   The last time we had guests, we took them to Checkpoint Charlie – the one thing you absolutely can NOT miss if you come to Berlin.  And right near Checkpoint Charlie, we discovered that there is a Currywurst Museum!

Reminds me of the National Museum of Mortuary History in Houston.  http://www.nmfh.org/exhibits/fantasy/index.html .  Although we’ve driven past the sign to that museum many times, we’ve not actually visited it yet.  I suppose this omission is something that we absolutely must remedy the next time we’re in the States.

 

  • Wedding Customs.  We had houseguests for a few days and one day I told them about the cute German custom of sending the bridegroom out to embarrass himself before the wedding.  (I don’t know who decides what particular horror the groom must endure, but I have seen a groom in a lovely formal dress out in public, along with his buds, who were similarly attired).  The custom might be called ‘Junggesellenabschied– ‘Junggeselle’ means ‘bachelor’ and ‘abschied’ presumably derives from ‘abschieden’, which is the verb ‘to separate.’  I say ‘might’ because the only description of this I can find sounds more like a stag party, where the groom and all his male friends go out drinking.   As fate would have it, within hours of having talked about this custom, we came upon a group of young men dressed in black-and-white striped ‘prison’ uniforms, one of whom was carrying a ball and chain.  The groom had to go up to total strangers (is there any other kind?  I mean, can you be only partly a stranger?) and ask for money.  In exchange, the stranger could take his choice of a shot of Ouzo or some candy.  Couldn’t ask for better timing than that!  As usual, Harvey gave the groom his standard advice for a happy marriage – Obey!  You’re gonna do it in the long run, so you may as well just forego all the unpleasantness between the wife’s request and your ultimate obedience.  Resistance is futile!

 

  • Jaguar Hair:  Not talking about looking down at your pants and saying, ‘Damn!  I’ve got jaguar hair all over my pants!’  Nope.  Talking about a girl with a hair coloring job that makes her head look like jaguar fur.  Really.  [If you get jaguars, cheetah, and panthersmixed up, here’s what jaguar fur looks like.  http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaguar]

CELEBRATION!

 

According to Germany.info, this year is the 30th anniversary of the Academy Award-nominated epic WWII masterpiece Das Boot by director Wolfgang Petersen.  There are going to be a number of events, to include showings at the following places:

  • July 5 – the Goethe Institut in Los Angeles
  • July 6 – the Miami Beach Cinematheque (oddly enough in Miami – presumably in Florida, not Ohio)
  • July 7 – VIZ Cinema – San Francisco
  • July 17 – 19 – Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum – Charleston, SC
  • August 28 – Avalon Theatre – Washington, DC

So why would I find this noteworthy?  Well, it turns out that my name comes from a French phrase that was in an Edith Piaf song famous during WW II– je attendre (which means “I wait”).  The first time I ever heard the song was when it was played in this movie.  If you want to know more about the film, go to this URL:

 

http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/__events/GKs/SANF/2011/07/07__Das__Boot.html

 

VEXILLOLOGIST

 

Where was this word when I really needed it?  It means someone who is an expert in flags.  Think how utterly cool it would have been to use this as your reply to all those adults who ask you want you want to be when you grow up?  Really, aren’t ‘fireman’ and ‘astronaut’ a bit tiresome by now?

ANOTHER INTERESTING CAREER CHOICE

 

Passed a place with a little brass sign on the front of the building – maybe 8 X 6 inches (the sign; not the building) – that said:  Frau Wasebber – Psychologist and Astrologist.  Nope!  Not making this up!  This is such a great place that I don’t HAVE to make stuff up!

AWWWWWWWWWWWWW………

 

Our apartment is set back from the sidewalk about 10 feet or so, but many aren’t, so the windows are directly on the sidewalk.  This morning I was walking down the sidewalk and heard a sweet little voice, just inches away from my ear.  I turned to see a curly-headed little girl (well, actually curly-haired; her head was pretty normal)—about 3 years old – giving me a greeting, accompanied by a wave and a smile.  Certainly beats the hell out of having the neighbor’s Doberman greet me with an ear-drum-shattering bark, which happened to me with great regularlity when I walked past his house in San Antonio!

WHAT I THOUGHT I SAW

Being slightly visually impaired, combined with being inclined no to pay full attention to my environment, has led me to see numerous signs that I’ve managed to misinterpret.  For instance:

  • Park and Hide:  This conjured up visions of businessmen in 3-piece suits, carrying briefcases, playing hide-and-go-seek in a parking lot.  Alas, the sign really said ‘Park and Ride.’
  • Reality Control:  This sign raised my hopes immeasurably, as there have been many instances of reality over which I had absolutely no control and I would gladly pay for a quart (or a pound, or a tall, grande, or vente – however such a product/service is measured) of reality control.  Alas, upon further inspection I found that it only said ‘Realty Central’ – much to my great disappointment!

 

Today, while scanning the bookshelves as I leisurely drank my tea, I thought I saw a book entitled Reality, and hoped it might hold the answers to my many questions about reality (e.g., Who decides the difference between fantasy and reality?  Who has control over reality?  What can we do to manipulate reality?).  But, alas, the title was actually ‘Relativity’ – a book written by some guy named ‘Einstein’ – which, by the way, literally translates into ‘One Stone’.  Wonder how much the other kids picked on poor Albert One Stone and whether or not that had anything to do with his interest in science?  My husband once worked with a guy whose last name was ‘Einhorn’ – we would have been delighted to have known that this is German for ‘Unicorn’ – a kind of Edward Gorey name if I ever heard one!!  [James Joyce ain’t the only one who can write in the ‘stream of consciousness style!]

CONSPICUOUS IN THEIR ABSENCE

I would certainly hope that most folks would realize that Germany is the home of the Volkswagen, and, in particular, that the VW Beetle (both old and new) is generally associated with this country.  I never thought about it much, but the other day a friend asked me if I had seen a lot of Beetles since we’ve been here.  Oddly enough, in the 51 weeks we’ve been here, I’ve seen exactly two Beetles (both old).  I could attribute this to any number of things:

  • I’m just not that observant.  This is definitely true, except when it comes to weird stuff.  I might really suck at playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ but I can assure you that I can beat the socks off ANYone at the game of ‘Where’s the Weird’! [Although today I explicitly looked for Beetles and didn’t see a single one.]
  • My memory just isn’t that good.  Also true, not only short term but also long term.  My old friends remember stuff about me that I don’t remember at all.  If they’re making stuff up, I’d have to reliable way of knowing.
  • It’s true.  There really aren’t that many Beetles in Berlin.

 

POWER TO THE PEE-PLE!

 

It’s not unusual to have an attendant in the washroom that you are expected to tip. [Well, actually, it’s the attendant – not the washroom itself – that you’re supposed to tip.  See how much fun you can have with misplaced relative clauses?]  Normally, you tip on your way out and how much you leave depends on your generosity and the type of change you might have on you.  It is unusual for small businesses, such as a coffee house, to have an attendant.  Well, we went into an Einstein’s today that had an attendant.  Maybe it was because it was right at Checkpoint Charlie, the most popular tourist attraction in the city, so it would generate enough traffic to warrant a washroom attendant.  This attendant was brutal, though – she demanded payment BEFORE granting access to the bathroom AND demanded 50 cents (which is on the high side – usually 30 or 40 cents is a respectable amount).  Think about this for a minute – you’ve really gotta pee and she guards the place where you most desperately need to go.  If you’re looking for a position with real power, I think this just might be the right job for you.  How about if we just take all those power-hungry corporate and government ‘leaders’ (as well as some of those folks who have become the emperors of their homeowners’ associations) and give them jobs as washroom attendants?  The more I think about this idea, the better I like it!!  At least I could easily get around their little power plays by just throwing 50 cents in their direction!

I’ve learned not to underestimate the techniques employed by these folks to optimize their income.  For example, some of them engage in psychological warfare.  In one place, I noticed 2 pennies on the dish where you’re supposed to leave your tips.  At first I thought, ‘Well, what cheap bastard would leave only 2 cents?’  This, of course, induced me to leave a larger tip than what I might otherwise have left.  However, after I thought about it later, the typical practice is to remove the tip right away.  I think there are 2 reasons for this:

  • Some dirt‑bag might steal it; or
  • Lack of change can force someone to leave more than they intended.  For example, if you only had a 50 cent piece but wanted to leave 40 cents, then you could make your own change.  However, you don’t have the guts to ask for 10 cents change and you certainly aren’t the kind of dirt-bag who would leave nothing at all.

 

So, in retrospect, I think this lady intentionally put the 2 cents in the dish.  This was in an area with lots of traffic from tourists, so there likely wouldn’t be many repeat visitors to figure out her strategy.

The other technique is to leave a single coin out, with the implication being that this is the expected tip.  One lady ever-so-cleverly glued a 50 cent coin to her dish, thereby preventing you from stealing it OR making change with it.  Wonder how many 1 Euro tips this technique gets her?

NOOOOO!!!!!!

Folks over here really like American T-shirts.  Apparently if some vendor has an excess of various T-shirts, he can just send it to Germany (or elsewhere in Europe) and they’ll just gobble them up.  Sometimes this can get you into trouble, such as when you see someone with a bright orange University of Texas T-shirt and, assuming that he’s a fellow Longhorn, give him the sign that means ‘Hook ‘em, horns.’  Well, um, holding your forefinger and little finger up and your middle and ring fingers down with your thumb just might mean something else to the guy wearing the T-shirt.  Of course, there are a lot of American students over here, or other young folks just wending their way around the planet, so it could be an American wearing the T-shirt.  You just never know.  But I saw something today that was just beyond wrong!  Germans have a strong sense of whimsy (as I often point out) and an interesting sense of humor; they think of things that even I might not think of, and generally it’s funny, even though I haven’t a clue why.  Well, I saw something today that even I couldn’t get my warped, cynical, sick head around.  A pink T-shirt with a little girl drawn on it – looked kinda like ‘Jane’ of ‘Dick and Jane.’  (Ask your grandma about this if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)  She had on a cute little dress, with a bow tied in the back, and her hair was in dog ears.  So far, so good.  She was holding her hands behind her back, but then I realized that she was seemed to be holding a butcher knife.  When I saw what she was looking at, I knew for sure it was indeed a butcher knife.  It was clearly Puff (Dick and Jane’s pet cat), who was lying in a pool of blood.  On how many levels is that just plain horrible!  Seriously thought about buying it so I could burn it!  But it was a little pricey!  (Even MORE disgusting!!)  I should hang around and wait until somebody else pays their good money for it, and then steal if from them and burn it!  So, if I don’t post on my blog for awhile, that’s where I am!


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

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