What we say when we experience racism second-hand

A group of actors are preparing to read from scripts.

FIRST ACTOR

So, then he said sorry but he couldn’t help me and that I needed to go to the other office, where I’d already told him I’d been, but he just said I had to go back there again.

THIRD ACTOR

No, you’re wrong. It wasn’t racist. He was just—

THIRD ACTOR

Wait, that’s my line, isn’t it?

SECOND ACTOR

I thought I was the racism denier.

FIRST ACTOR

No, you’re the outraged friend.

SECOND ACTOR

Oh, right.

THIRD ACTOR

So who am I, then?

FIRST ACTOR

You’re the apologist.

FOURTH ACTOR

So that makes me the denier?

FIRST ACTOR

That’s right.

SECOND ACTOR

Okay then, let’s take it from the top.

FIRST ACTOR

So, then he said sorry but he couldn’t help me and that I needed to go to the other office, where I’d already told him I’d been, but he just said I had to go back there again.

SECOND ACTOR

Oh my God! That’s so racist! How can he get away with saying that to you?

FOURTH ACTOR

No, you’re wrong. It wasn’t racist. He was just telling you what to do in a friendly way and you interpreted that as racist. It’s not his fault you see racism everywhere.

THIRD ACTOR

Well, maybe it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe he didn’t really know what you were trying to tell him.

SECOND ACTOR

Wait, wait, wait. I’m not buying it. There’s no way anybody would interpret this scenario as racist.

FIRST ACTOR

No, you’re the outraged friend, not the denier!

FOURTH ACTOR

Well, I don’t know about outright racism, but there’s certainly room for misunderstanding here.

FIRST ACTOR

Oh come on! You’re supposed to be the denier, not the apologist. Guys, can’t we stick to the script?

THIRD ACTOR

I think the problem here is that these characters just aren’t believable. When a person experiences a racist incident like this, their friends don’t divide themselves up into these neat caricatures like apologist, denier and so on. They would agree with their friend that what the person did was absolutely racist.

SECOND ACTOR

Yeah, if the incident was actually racist. But this isn’t racist. So you went there and he served a bunch of other people before you – that just means you’re not assertive enough.

FOURTH ACTOR

Maybe he just didn’t see her.

FIRST ACTOR

He saw me.

FOURTH ACTOR

How can you be sure?

THIRD ACTOR

Of course he saw her! It’s his job to see her!

SECOND ACTOR

So then what? It says here he didn’t even look at your documents but just told you to go to the other office. That’s cos he’s seen your situation so many times before.

THIRD ACTOR

It’s cos he didn’t want to deal with her cos he’s a racist.

FIRST ACTOR

Exactly.

FOURTH ACTOR

Well, maybe he really did know your situation and he wanted to save you some time having to explain yourself all over again. He probably knows how frustrating it is to have to repeat the same thing over and over again.

FIRST ACTOR

Do you guys see what you’re doing here?

SECOND ACTOR

What?

FIRST ACTOR

You’re just acting out these caricatures!

THIRD ACTOR

What? No we’re not! You’re just seeing what you want to see.

FOURTH ACTOR

She’s totally right! We’re doing exactly that!

SECOND ACTOR

Well, maybe, but that’s only because the idea’s been implanted in our heads. If we hadn’t read the script beforehand, we probably wouldn’t be acting like this.

FOURTH ACTOR

Of course we would! This is how people are. They’re so stupid they just fall into caricatures and they don’t even realize it.

THIRD ACTOR

You maybe, but not me. I’m not a caricature. I’m capable of telling the difference between reality and fantasy, and this whole sketch is pure fantasy.

FIRST ACTOR

So you don’t think he was racist after all?

THIRD ACTOR

If it had been a real racist situation I’d be totally on your side, but this was just a misunderstanding, and as for me being a real life caricature, you can go to hell!

FOURTH ACTOR

Hey, leave her alone! She’s only pointing out how idiotic we all are.

SECOND ACTOR

Maybe she’s the one who’s misunderstood the situation.

THIRD ACTOR

Yeah! Why do you have to turn everything into a cause? Can’t you just leave things the way they are?

FOURTH ACTOR

That’s true. You do go on about things. Maybe you should give it a break.

FIRST ACTOR

So you’re saying I brought all this on myself by speaking up about it?

A group of actors are preparing to read from scripts.

FIRST ACTOR

So, then he said sorry but he couldn’t help me and that I needed to go to the other office, where I’d already told him I’d been, but he just said I had to go back there again.

SECOND ACTOR

No, you’re wrong. It wasn’t racist. He was just—

THIRD ACTOR

Wait, that’s my line, isn’t it?

SECOND ACTOR

I thought I was the racism denier.

FIRST ACTOR

No, you’re the outraged friend.

SECOND ACTOR

Oh, right.

THIRD ACTOR

So who am I, then?

FIRST ACTOR

You’re the apologist.

FOURTH ACTOR

So that makes me the denier?

FIRST ACTOR

That’s right.

SECOND ACTOR

Okay then, let’s take it from the top.

FIRST ACTOR

So, then he said sorry but he couldn’t help me and that I needed to go to the other office, where I’d already told him I’d been, but he just said I had to go back there again.

SECOND ACTOR

Oh my God! That’s so racist! How can he get away with saying that to you?

FOURTH ACTOR

No, you’re wrong. It wasn’t racist. He was just telling you what to do in a friendly way and you interpreted that as racist. It’s not his fault you see racism everywhere.

THIRD ACTOR

Well, maybe it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe he didn’t really know what you were trying to tell him.

SECOND ACTOR

Wait, wait, wait. I’m not buying it. There’s no way anybody would interpret this scenario as racist.

FIRST ACTOR

No, you’re the outraged friend, not the denier!

FOURTH ACTOR

Well, I don’t know about outright racism, but there’s certainly room for misunderstanding here.

FIRST ACTOR

Oh come on! You’re supposed to be the denier, not the apologist. Guys, can’t we stick to the script?

THIRD ACTOR

I think the problem here is that these characters just aren’t believable. When a person experiences a racist incident like this, their friends don’t divide themselves up into these neat caricatures like apologist, denier and so on. They would agree with their friend that what the person did was absolutely racist.

SECOND ACTOR

Yeah, if the incident was actually racist. But this isn’t racist. So you went there and he served a bunch of other people before you – that just means you’re not assertive enough.

FOURTH ACTOR

Maybe he just didn’t see her.

FIRST ACTOR

He saw me.

FOURTH ACTOR

How can you be sure?

THIRD ACTOR

Of course he saw her! It’s his job to see her!

SECOND ACTOR

So then what? It says here he didn’t even look at your documents but just told you to go to the other office. That’s cos he’s seen your situation so many times before.

THIRD ACTOR

It’s cos he didn’t want to deal with her cos he’s a racist.

FIRST ACTOR

Exactly.

FOURTH ACTOR

Well, maybe he really did know your situation and he wanted to save you some time having to explain yourself all over again. He probably knows how frustrating it is to have to repeat the same thing over and over again.

FIRST ACTOR

Do you guys see what you’re doing here?

SECOND ACTOR

What?

FIRST ACTOR

You’re just acting out these caricatures!

THIRD ACTOR

What? No we’re not! You’re just seeing what you want to see.

FOURTH ACTOR

She’s totally right! We’re doing exactly that!

SECOND ACTOR

Well, maybe, but that’s only because the idea’s been implanted in our heads. If we hadn’t read the script beforehand, we probably wouldn’t be acting like this.

FOURTH ACTOR

Of course we would! This is how people are. They’re so stupid they just fall into caricatures and they don’t even realize it.

THIRD ACTOR

You maybe, but not me. I’m not a caricature. I’m capable of telling the difference between reality and fantasy, and this whole sketch is pure fantasy.

FIRST ACTOR

So you don’t think he was racist after all?

THIRD ACTOR

If it had been a real racist situation I’d be totally on your side, but this was just a misunderstanding, and as for me being a real life caricature, you can go to hell!

FOURTH ACTOR

Hey, leave her alone! She’s only pointing out how idiotic we all are.

SECOND ACTOR

Maybe she’s the one who’s misunderstood the situation.

THIRD ACTOR

Yeah! Why do you have to turn everything into a cause? Can’t you just leave things the way they are?

FOURTH ACTOR

That’s true. You do go on about things. Maybe you should give it a break.

FIRST ACTOR

So you’re saying I brought all this on myself by speaking up about it?

THIRD ACTOR

Yup.

SECOND ACTOR

Yup.

FOURTH ACTOR

That’s about the height of it.

THE END
Yup.

SECOND ACTOR

Yup.

FOURTH ACTOR

That’s about the height of it.

THE END

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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A history lesson from the future

A short drama about how history repeats itself. 5 min read.

The year 3000 A.D.

A middle school history class

TEACHER: Today I want to talk about borders. Believe it or not, for a brief period of human history, people actually used to block off enormous sections of land mass to prevent people from outside getting in.

STUDENT: What, you mean they built, like, a wall around it?

TEACHER: Yes, walls and fences, and the purpose was to allow some people to access that land mass, and to deny access to other people.

STUDENT: How did they decide who was allowed access and who wasn’t?

TEACHER: Well, it was based on where you were born. If you were born inside the closed-off section of land mass, you could leave and return, and if you were born outside the section of land mass, then it depended on the relationship between your leader and the leader of the other section of land mass.

STUDENT: That sounds totally random. How can you influence where you were born?

TEACHER: You can’t, but nevertheless, people used this system, and what’s more, they often judged people based on where they were born. So if you were born on a certain land mass and you were denied access to another land mass, the people from the closed-off land mass very often believed you were inferior to them.

STUDENT: So they thought that because you were born in a certain place, you were stupider than them?

TEACHER: Yes, stupider and less civilized.

STUDENT: That’s ridiculous!

TEACHER: Yes, it is, but that was how people thought back then. They thought a lot of things back then that we now know are not true.

STUDENT: So why did they close off certain sections of land mass?

TEACHER: They believed that because some people who were born in certain sections of land mass were less civilized, then they were more violent, so they thought that if they could contain them to certain locations and restrict their freedom of movement, they would be able to achieve world peace. Or, at the very least, they thought they could contain the violence to those restricted locations.

STUDENT: But freedom of movement is a fundamental human requirement. People cannot live without the ability to move freely wherever they want to go.

TEACHER: Yes, we know that now, but people didn’t realize it back then.

STUDENT: But it’s so obvious!

TEACHER: A lot of things that seem obvious have to be learned through very hard and painful lessons.

STUDENT: I don’t get it. Didn’t they know that if there is pain and suffering in one part of the human species, then there is pain and suffering in all parts?

TEACHER: No, they didn’t. At this point in history, nobody had realized that human beings are all connected in ways beyond the five senses. There were people who talked about it, but they spoke in terms of spirituality, and were ridiculed as a result. Nobody realized that the connections between humans was from the realm of physics, that just as stars are connected through gravity, humans are connected through quarks, particles and energy. In fact, if you go down to the atomic level, you can’t tell where one human ends and the next begins. But there was another, simpler reason why the situation was as it was.

STUDENT: Uh huh?

TEACHER: Whenever two civilizations come into direct contact, one must try to destroy the other. This is a simple rule of existence that cannot be broken. So, for most of human history there were many civilizations continually fighting each other. Often they were divided along lines of race. Eventually, people began to understand the concept of human rights, and that all humans were equal. This took a very long time for people to come to terms with, though, and so for many centuries after the recognition of human rights, people still behaved as if they were from different civilizations, without ever realizing that they were now all part of the same civilization. And one consequence of this behavior was the erection of borders.

STUDENT: So how did we eventually overcome this misunderstanding?

TEACHER: As I said, it took a very long time, many hundreds of years, but eventually people learned about the concepts of action and consequence, that it is not possible to live well by exploiting others, that a civilization can only progress as a whole, and not in parts. If one of us wants to lift ourselves out of the gutter, then we all must rise together. We had to learn how to right past injustices, and this was a very difficult thing to do.

STUDENT: Why?

TEACHER: Because to right a past injustice, you have to take two important steps. The first is to recognize the injustice, and this is the easy step. Most people were able to do this. The second step, however, is much harder. People needed to accept responsibility for those past injustices, not on a personal level, but on an ancestral level. While the people who had committed the injustices were long dead, their descendants enjoyed the advantages gained through those injustices, and it was only when those descendants accepted responsibility for the actions of their ancestors that human civilization began to take meaningful steps forward.

STUDENT: So how did the borders finally come down?

TEACHER: That is a very sad story. It wasn’t until many millions died in many world wars that people realized the errors of their actions. Still, for such a long time, people thought that they could bring about peace through conquering their enemies. If they just used enough force, they believed, they could end the violence. They didn’t realize that violence only ever leads to more violence, that violence never has, and never can, lead to peace.

STUDENT: If that’s the case, then why are we at war with the Glargbraks from Solar System XJ342?

TEACHER: That’s totally different. They hate us. They have a hateful ideology and they want to destroy everything we stand for, and if you don’t believe that, then you’re unpatriotic and you’re a Glargbrak sympathizer. Are you a Glargbrak sympathizer?

STUDENT: No, I hate them! They’re the reason why our economy sucks and why my dad lost his job at the solar mines. I think we should defend ourselves by attacking them, and we should build a wall to stop them getting in here, and we should make them pay for it too!

TEACHER: I have taught you well.

THE END

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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The Killer

the-killer

A short comedy about being assassinated. 8 min read.

A man walks into his apartment to find another man sitting in his armchair, holding a gun.

KILLER: I’ve been waiting for you.

The man says nothing.

KILLER: I’ve been really, really waiting for you. Seriously. Where have you been?

MAN: What?

KILLER: Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for hours. Your routine is: you finish work at five, you walk to the bus stop, three minutes, you take the number six bus, a seventeen-minute ride, then a five-minute walk and you’re home at twenty-five minutes past five, give or take a few minutes. It’s past nine o’clock. I’ve been waiting over four hours. Where the hell have you been?

MAN: Uh, it was Janine’s birthday.

KILLER: Who?

MAN: Uh . . . Janine . . . somebody I work with. It was her birthday, so we all went out for drinks.

KILLER: Jesus, don’t talk to me about drinks. Four hours I’ve been sitting here waiting for you to come home. I’ve missed my son’s bedtime. I’m starving. And most of all, I really, really need to pee.

MAN: I’m sorry.

KILLER: Sorry? Sorry doesn’t empty my bladder.

MAN: Why didn’t you pee before I came home?

KILLER: Christ, you know nothing about the assassin trade, do you?

The man looks at him blankly, then shakes his head.

KILLER: What if you came home while I was in the bathroom? What would I do then? You can’t just stop mid-stream, you know. Have you ever tried it? It’s really bad for your health. So no, I couldn’t just go pee, because I was expecting you home any minute now for the last four hours. I’ve been sitting here, right here in this chair, with my gun pointed at the door, bored out of my skull, by the way, just sitting here feeling my bladder growing and growing. And now here you are.

MAN: You could go now.

KILLER: And what are you going to do while I’m peeing? It’s been five hours since I last emptied my bladder, so that means probably at least two minutes of non-stop peeing. Are you going to just stand there patiently while I do that? I don’t think so.

MAN: You could pee after you kill me.

KILLER: Now that makes more sense, but I still can’t. You see, I don’t have a silencer and the moment I shoot you, your neighbors are going to call the cops, and I have to run out of here.

MAN: Why don’t you have a silencer?

KILLER: It’s been a difficult month. Money’s a bit tight right now. I couldn’t afford one.

MAN: I thought you guys got paid a fortune for killing people.

KILLER: Here we go. Yeah, you all think we’re super-rich, that we live the jet-setting lifestyle, going around popping off celebrities and politicians. Sure, there are some like that, your Carlos The Jackal types, the one percenters, but the rest of us . . . we’re just trying to scrape out a living like everybody else. I’ve got a son and I’m trying to raise him right, you know, which means I can’t be working all the time. I’ve got to save time for him. I don’t want to be an absent father.

MAN: But still, a silencer. Isn’t that, like, a basic requirement for an assassin?

KILLER: Now you’re an assassin expert, huh? I’ve got a lot of expenses. For one thing, I have to burn my outfit after every hit. I go through more outfits than Victoria Beckham. I also can’t use my own car, so I need to hire a car and pay in cash, which means I need a false identity, which costs money. All these things add up.

MAN: What about your wife?

KILLER: My wife?

MAN: Can’t she help out? I mean, financially.

KILLER: You think I tell my wife that this is how I make money? Jesus! No wonder your longest relationship was two months.

MAN: How did you know that?

KILLER: I’m a professional. I do my research. Let me tell you a little something about women. They’re not so keen on guys who murder. Aside from the moral ambiguity of it, it’s not a very stable job, and when you want to raise a family, stability is the most important thing.

MAN: So why don’t you change jobs?

KILLER: It’s not that easy. Come on, you know yourself what it’s like. Unless you’re rich, you live from paycheck to paycheck, and neither of us is rich, are we?

MAN: But if you really wanted to–

KILLER: What about you? You really wanted to travel. When was the last time you went anywhere?

MAN: That’s different. Travel is expensive.

KILLER: But if you really wanted to do it, if it was your dream, you’d find a way to make it happen, right?

The man shrugs.

KILLER: Anyway, none of this is helping my bladder any. Uh, I don’t think I’m going to make it to the car. I definitely can’t run.

MAN: So what are you going to do?

KILLER: I don’t know. I’m hoping that with this hit I can save a bit of money. I want to be a life coach, but the training is expensive.

MAN: I mean about your peeing?

KILLER: Ah, yes. I don’t know. Why couldn’t you have just come back home when you were supposed to? I’d have shot you, gone home, had dinner and read my son a story before bed. Bedtime is one of the most important times for a parent and child, and I’ve missed it because you had to go out for birthday drinks with Jemima.

MAN: Janine. She’s really nice.

KILLER: Oh yeah? Is there more to this story?

MAN: No . . . I mean . . . maybe . . . I don’t know. She’s nice, just. We get along well. And she likes traveling too.

KILLER: Does she have a boyfriend?

MAN: No.

KILLER: So why don’t you ask her out?

MAN: Uh . . . because you’re about to kill me.

KILLER: Oh yeah. Sorry about that. But why didn’t you ask her out before?

MAN: I don’t know. Too scared, I guess. Worried she might say no. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

KILLER: You know, it took me months before I had the courage to ask out my wife. And now we have a child together and I’ve never been happier.

MAN: What was it that finally got you to ask her out?

KILLER: I started murdering people. You wouldn’t think it, but murder is a real confidence booster. Plus, seeing all those people begging and crying and confessing all the things they regretted never doing . . . it made me realize that life is fleeting. One day you think your doing just fine, the next some guy’s standing in your apartment like the angel of death, and you realize that you’re never going to get a chance to do all those things you wanted to do. Life is so random, you know?

MAN: Well, it’s not that random. You came specifically for those people. And to be fair, you were the reason they all made that realization.

The killer shrugs his shoulders and nods his head.

KILLER: Okay, seriously, pal, I can’t do this. I can’t pee before I shoot you, and I can’t shoot you and make it to a bathroom without peeing my pants. Can I come back and kill you tomorrow?

MAN: Sure, if that’s what you want. Or you could just not kill me.

KILLER: No way. I’m a professional. I’ve been paid to do a job and I’m damn well going to do it. What kind of life coach would I be if I didn’t follow through with things?

MAN: I guess that’s fair.

KILLER: Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?

The man shakes his head.

KILLER: Great. So how about straight after work? I’ll be here about four-thirty, so just come home at five-twenty-five, like you were supposed to today.

MAN: Okay, that works for me.

KILLER: Fantastic. Now out of my way, I’m about to explode here!

The killer rushes to the bathroom and shortly after we hear a steady stream of urine and a lot of very loud, satisfied groans.

KILLER: (from the bathroom) You know, I think you’ll find that tomorrow is going to be a really good day.

MAN: How’s that? I’m going to die.

KILLER: Didn’t you ever play the game where you imagine that tomorrow would be the last day of your life? Well, for you it will be. So what are you going to do?

MAN: Hmm . . . I suppose you’re right.

He thinks for a moment.

MAN: I can’t think of anything I’d really like to do. I guess I’ll just go to work.

The killer rushes out of the bathroom.

KILLER: Hey, hey! What kind of way is that to talk? Tomorrow’s your last day on earth! What about Jemima?

MAN: Janine.

KILLER: Ask her out.

MAN: But I already have plans for tomorrow evening.

KILLER: Yeah, but what about the day after–? Oh yeah, never mind. But you know what? It’s not about the actual date, or the relationship or anything like that. It’s about you. It’s about feeling good about yourself and your decisions. About your ability to make decisions. Let’s face it, you haven’t really made many good decisions in your life, have you? My being here is testament to that, right?

MAN: True.

KILLER: So give yourself the respect you deserve and ask her out. So what if she says no? So what if she says yes and you’re dead and you can’t follow through with the actual date? None of that’s important.

MAN: You know what? You’re right. Okay, I’ll do it! I’m going to ask her out tomorrow.

KILLER: And what if she says no?

MAN: It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that I ask her out.

KILLER: What if she says yes?

MAN: Still doesn’t matter. My mind’s made up. I’m doing it and nobody can talk me out of it. You could even kill me now and it won’t change how I feel.

KILLER: That’s great! I’m real proud of you. You’re finally taking control of your own life.

MAN: Wow, you’re going to make a really good life coach.

KILLER: Aw, thanks. That’s very kind of you. In fact, I’m trying to collect some testimonials for my work as a life coach. Do you think . . . would you maybe . . . ? You know what, forget it.

MAN: No, tell me. What is it?

KILLER: Well, I was kind of wondering if you’d be willing to sign a form saying that I improved the quality of your life.

MAN: Of course. I’d be happy to. Give it here.

The killer takes out a sheet of paper from a bag and hands it to him.

KILLER: This is really kind of you. I don’t know how to thank you.

MAN: It’s nothing. Got a pen?

The killer gives him a pen. The man signs the sheet and hands it back.

MAN: Here you go.

KILLER: Thanks again. This is such a great help to me.

MAN: You’re welcome.

KILLER: So, could I really kill you now and you’d be perfectly happy?

MAN: Yep, absolutely.

KILLER: Fantastic!

The killer shoots the man three times and he falls dead to the floor. Somebody screams in another apartment and there is some general commotion.

KILLER: What a nice man!

The killer smiles at the body for a few moments and then suddenly seems aware of his situation.

KILLER: Uh oh, better go!

THE END

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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Dry Run® – because suicide is a decision you have to live with for the rest of your life

Dry Run

Does your life seem to be out of control? Perhaps you have a mountain of debt that you just cannot overcome. Perhaps you are unbearably lonely. Maybe you feel that life has nothing good to offer you anymore. You may find that you are having troubling thoughts about taking your own life. You might even have considered how you would do it.

If you have found yourself thinking about jumping from a very tall building, or leaping off a bridge, then you should consider Dry Run®. Statistics have shown that the vast majority of people who leap from great heights regret their decision immediately*. But unfortunately, for most of them, it’s too late. Dry Run® allows you to test whether or not you really do want to end your life, or if you just want make a cry for help.

With our patented elastic LifeLine™ technology, Dry Run® allows you to leap into the great beyond safe in the knowledge that the LifeLine™ will arrest your fall just before you hit the ground. If you still feel that you wish to end it all after Dry Run®, simply return to the top and jump again, this time without the LifeLine™.**

If after using Dry Run® you feel that you only need to make a cry for help, then perhaps consider our other product, the CryOut™ megaphone. With CryOut™, which emits an annoying whine at 120 dB, all those people who ignore you every day will no longer be able to pretend you don’t exist.

Dry Run® – for those who don’t know if they’re serious or not.

*Naturally, such statistics are hard to come by, as most people who jump from very tall buildings end up flat as a pancake, but of those who survive, 90% express a desire to live.

** If you are are still suicidal after using LifeLine™, you may return the product for a full refund.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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The Necklace

First published in The Legendary Magazine.

I found the necklace at the bottom of the pool on a Saturday afternoon. George was at the park with Peter. They didn’t do much together, so I was happy that for once they were both out of the house. It was difficult to find time for myself. People say that having a family does not mean giving up your freedom, but the truth is that it does, and when you have a moment like this, when the house is empty, you treasure it.

July here is hot – perfect for lying in the sun with a book; I used these moments to try to regain a small part of the feeling I enjoyed all the time when I was younger. Sure, I could dump Peter at Cynthia’s while George was at work, and I did, but that was because I had things I needed to do. There are no perfect marriages, everybody finds a way to make their marriage work, and ours was no exception.

This particular day was one of the hottest, and after about thirty minutes in the sun, I jumped into the pool to cool off. At the bottom of the pool I opened my eyes and I saw it. A string of black pearls, it didn’t reflect much in the light of the water. I scooped it up and surfaced onto the concrete lip of the pool. I examined it closely as it dried in the heat. There was nothing exciting or different about it, apart from the fact that black pearls were rare in suburbia.

How had it come to be at the bottom of my pool? How long had it been there? Peter was only five, so the only person possibly responsible was George, my husband of nine years. Yet George wore even less jewellery than I did, and besides, it was a woman’s necklace. It looked expensive. I would ask him when he returned.

That evening, after our Saturday night dinner of pizza and TV, I still hadn’t asked him. I hadn’t forgotten about it; on the contrary, it was the only thing I thought about. But each time I looked at him, each time I tried to open my mouth, nothing came out but banalities. I developed the innocuous housewife routine years ago, when I learnt that, to stay married to my successful yet vapid husband, I would need to step out of the marriage from time to time. I became the suburban wife who never complained, never argued, never challenged his authority. He became the suburban husband: the silent breadwinner, his work life and family life separate. What he did when he left the house each day, I didn’t care. I watched him carefully all night, but he did nothing extraordinary. My husband was a predictable man.

The more I thought about the necklace, the more it consumed my attention. I had found an illicit item; the hint of a secret had revealed itself. But more than what it represented, the necklace itself was beautiful. I had always loved material objects. Everything that was beautiful, or precious, or expensive appealed to me. More than a relative desire to possess what others did not, I appreciated the work that went into creating an object of value. They say the most precious gift of all is the gift of life, but anybody with access to a uterus can perform such a miracle. Creating a beautiful necklace, or a diamond ring of beauty, takes years of training, as well as an intuitive knowledge of what a woman really wants, which is to be as beautiful as the jewellery she wears.

Of all the explanations I considered to how the necklace landed on the bottom of my pool, only one was plausible: my husband was having an affair and the woman had lost it while swimming.

The affair did not bother me, though if I had the decency not to bring men back to the marital bed, at least George could have offered the same courtesy. I was not angry, but I was surprised that he was able to please another woman. He had never been a great lover, at least to my experience.

If I sound cruel to you, it is only because you never met George. Certainly he was successful, reliable and, until recently, loyal. These are good qualities to have in a husband. But George was inept in all physical matters: kitchen, garden, bedroom – anything that required the use of his hands. His body, once the shape of an attractive man, had become soft and round. I lost interest in him shortly after we were married. For the sake of honesty, I should confess that I married George because, where I come from, that is what people do. We complete our education, we marry, we have a family. We collect things. When the collection is complete, we die. But I never felt incomplete. The wedding, our son, the house and accumulated wealth made me feel like I had too many things.

Over the next days, I observed my husband carefully. I looked back through my diary to find out when he might have been unfaithful. I was attending conferences several times a year, my own playground, so there were opportunities for him to do it. I cross-referenced those times with times that Peter was at his grandparents’. I had a problem: Peter was always at home whenever I was away.

But perhaps he was not. Perhaps George sent him to Cynthia’s. I did not want to ask Cynthia, I did not trust her. It was possible that she was the owner of the necklace. A bored housewife, just like me, she would not think twice about sleeping with her best friend’s spouse. I had considered it with Tom, her husband, but I knew we would be exposed too easily. Cynthia, on the other hand, was not intelligent enough to consider the outcomes of her actions.

One morning, after George had gone to work and I was readying Peter for school, I knelt down in front of him and I fixed his shirt, a checkered thing that we were still waiting for him to grow into. In his trouser pocket I found George’s favourite pen. Peter was at the age where he lifted things he found and carried them around until he lost them somewhere. I saved the pen. I looked closely at his features, wondering who his real father was.

“Peter, sweetie. You know the times when Mummy goes away to conferences?”

Peter nodded. It probably was George.

“Where does Daddy take you when Mummy is away?”

He was confused. He looked into the living room. I rephrased the question.

“Sweetie, when Mummy is away, do you stay here with Daddy?”

He nodded. I tried again.

“When Mummy is away, does Daddy take you out?”

He thought for a moment, and nodded again.

“Does he take you to Auntie Cynthia’s?”

Peter thought again, and shook his head.

“Tell me the truth, Peter, does he take you to Aunt Cynthia’s?”

Again he considered and slowly he nodded his head.

“Are you sure?” He nodded quickly, pleased that he gave me the right answer.

Confirming what I already believed changed nothing. Instead, my thoughts dwelled on the necklace. Confronting him on his affair meant I would have to explain the necklace, which meant I would probably have to give it back. Despite my husband’s wrongdoing the necklace still was not rightfully mine.

For the next few weeks I stayed silent while everything carried on as normal. As my birthday approached, George became more agitated. I assumed he wanted to be with his other woman. I had no conferences coming up, so I saw no reason to entertain his hobby. In the weeks between my discovery of the necklace and my birthday, I sneaked up to our bedroom and tried it on with various clothes. It went with everything! Everything was enhanced by the addition of this string of black pearls. Sometimes for up to an hour, I admired it around my neck, felt the weight of George’s dirty secret, a secret that had become my own. But secrets cannot be kept forever. It is in their nature to be revealed; once I understood that, things were clearer. I made plans, beginning with a few discreet searches on the internet, followed by a phone call.

One evening, George came to me in the bedroom. I threw my necklace under the bed, and then greeted him with a nonchalant smile. He knew something was up, but he did not know what. He wrapped his arms around my back and I succumbed to his complaisant, clumsy, suburban embrace.

“Babe, I know things have been a little strained between us this last while, don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

“What do you mean, sweetie?” I said. “Everything’s fine between us.”

“I know,” he said, “but still, I want you to know that…uh…I really appreciate you. Thing are gonna be…um…better from now on, I promise.”

He chewed the words around his mouth like a goat trying to undo a knot. I hugged him.

“George, sweetie, everything’s fine.”

I kissed his cheek and sent him out of the bedroom. The guilt of his affair was getting to him. The first time I cheated on George, I felt something that people call guilt, but it passed quickly. I felt almost sorry for him, having to go through it, but when he reached the top of the stairs he turned and looked at me gratefully and he looked pathetic. My compassion turned to contempt.

The day of my birthday arrived – this was the day I had planned for. When George came home, Peter was already at Cynthia’s for a sleep-over. I told Cynthia that George had a romantic evening organised for me. She smiled and said that George always had known how to treat a woman right. I hoped she did not know about the necklace. If it was hers, she would never get it back.

In the bedroom I put on my favourite dress, a long, red evening gown. I felt fresh and alive. Tonight, I was going to free myself and my necklace was my reward. George’s car pulled into the drive and I went to the kitchen.
When he walked in through the kitchen door, I had my back to him.

“Happy birthday, honey!” he said, cheerfully.

I turned around slowly, allowing him time to appreciate me. George looked me up and down, smiling. Even after all these years, I was still a sight to behold, especially in this dress. Affair or not, I had taken his breath away. I stepped into his arms and kissed him. It was to be our last kiss, and I tried to enjoy it. As our lips disengaged, he took a long breath and exhaled loudly.

“You look fantastic!” he said.

“I know.”

He fumbled in his back pocket and held out a small box.

“Happy birthday!” he said again. I took the box, slightly bigger than a watch box, and placed it on the counter top. I did not care what was inside; George had proven time and again that he could not choose a birthday present worth opening.

I directed him to the counter top, where I had already poured two glasses of wine. He took one, protesting that he should have been the one to pour for me.

“Just give me one moment,” I said, “I have to do something.”

He waited in the kitchen while I went upstairs. I needed my necklace. It justified everything.

As I returned, walking past the mirror in the hallway, the reflected light from the evening sun caught my dress and set it aglow. The colour turned crimson, my whole body was on fire, and the pearls lay around my neck like a fallen halo.

I entered the kitchen and moved delicately and deliberately, allowing George time to admire my necklace as I walked to the counter top. His eyes darted between my necklace and the box on the counter top and he looked puzzled, as I opened the knife drawer and pulled out the carving knife. He was so focused on my necklace and his present that I do not think he even saw the knife.

“But how did you–?” I slipped the knife into his side. He stood for a moment, his knees shook and he fell. I knelt down and twisted the knife handle. He gasped, but could not manage more than that. I whispered into his ear.

“It’s perfect! I can’t let you give it back to her.”

He turned his face to me, slowly. He was dying, everything was a struggle.

“What? Who?” Then, “Where did you find it?”

He lifted his hand and I saw with horror that he was trying to touch my necklace. The idea of George soiling my pearls with his dirty, bloody hands disgusted me. I swatted the hand away; it had no power to try a second time.

It took me a long time to dispose of the body, but the effort was worth it. I dragged it out to my car, smaller than George’s, but big enough. I dumped it into the boot on top of the plastic sheet and wrapped the excess over it.

I drove to the destination where the men I had hired were waiting with a van. They took out the body complete with the bag and put it in the back of the van. I paid them the money and drove home.

In the kitchen, I cleaned up the blood with rags and disposed of them into a bag. I saw the blood-stained carving knife and realised I would have to buy another one. As I threw out the wine I noticed the box from George. I lifted it, wondered briefly what was inside, and dumped it into the bag with the rags.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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Computer replaces doctor – a radio play

idoctor-satire

SCENE: ANNIE and BRETT’S house.
TIME: Early evening.

ANNIE
It’s probably nothing, but I think we should get it checked out anyway.

BRETT
Well, I suppose. But you know how doctors are: you have to wait for at least an hour and then they give you twenty seconds. I bet you I could find out what’s wrong on the Internet in the same amount of time.

ANNIE
(skeptical)
You really think so?

BRETT
(enthusiastically)
Yeah! Look! There’s this new program, iDoctor, I saw it in the shop yesterday. It’s only twenty-nine, ninety-nine. We could try it out.

ANNIE
Okay. Let’s do it. And if it doesn’t work, do you promise you’ll go to the doctor?

BRETT
I promise!

SOUND: A clock ticking to signify the passing of time.

BRETT
Okay, here it is. Honey, can you load up the computer?

SOUND: the dramatic bong of a computer being switched on.

BRETT
Right, let’s install this.

SOUND: a few clicking sounds, and then A ding, signifying that the computer wants his attention.

BRETT
Oh, it’s a subscription service.
(reading)
Please choose subscription type: basic doctor, fourteen ninety-nine a month; sympathetic doctor, twenty-nine ninety-nine a month; religious doctor – are we religious?

ANNIE
Not particularly, but your mother is.

BRETT
Hmm, good point. Okay, religious doctor.

SOUND: another click

BRETT
What next?
(reading)
Choose religion: Agnosticism, Bábism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism…ah! Here we go, Presbyterianism!

SOUND: click

BRETT
(reading)
Enter username. Okay…

SOUND: typing

BRETT
Brett Adams.

SOUND: bong

BRETT
(reading)
Username taken. Okay then…

SOUND: TYPING

BRETT
Brett A.

SOUND: BONG

SOUND: TYPING

BRETT
B Adams.

SOUND: BONG

SOUND: TYPING

BRETT
B Adams 1975.

SOUND: ping

BRETT
Thank God!

ANNIE
Well done, honey!

COMPUTER
God bless you and welcome to iDoctor, B Adams one nine seven five. How may I help you today?

BRETT
I have a strange rash on my hand.

COMPUTER
Hmm. I see. Is it itchy?

BRETT
Yes.

COMPUTER
Is it red?

BRETT
Yes.

COMPUTER
Don’t worry, B Adams one nine seven five, I’m sure it is nothing. I will need to see it. Please hold hand up to camera.

BRETT
Okay, like this?

COMPUTER
That is good, B Adams one nine seven five. Now let me see…yes. Based on my assessment of over five million case studies, you either have a harmless rash caused by the sun and dryness of the skin, or you have secondary stage syphilis.

BRETT
What! Syphilis? There’s no way! It has to be a skin rash!

ANNIE
Of course, honey. That’s what it has to be.

COMPUTER
To confirm, I need to ask you some more questions. Question one: have you recently had sexual relations with one or more prostitutes?

BRETT
No! What kind of question is that?

COMPUTER
Question two: have you ever had unprotected sex with a woman other than your wife?

BRETT
Umm, I suppose so.

ANNIE
Really, Brett?

BRETT
Well, my ex-girlfriend, you know? But we were really drunk.

COMPUTER
Hmm, I see. Question three: do you regularly attend church?

BRETT
Uh, no. Is that important?

COMPUTER
You must consider the possibility that the syphilis is a punishment from God.

BRETT
I don’t have syphilis! I don’t like this religious doctor. I’m changing to the sympathetic doctor. Annie, could you get me my credit card?

SOUND: Annie rummages for his card

ANNIE
Here you go, Brett. Are you sure it’s not syphilis?

BRETT
How can it be? I haven’t slept with anybody except you in the last four years. Unless you’ve been sleeping around.

ANNIE
Of course not, sweetie!
(laughs nervously)
The very idea!

SOUND: typing and clicking

BRETT
Okay, we’ve got the sympathetic doctor now.

COMPUTER
There, there, B Adams one nine seven five, I’m sure everything is going to be just fine. You probably don’t have syphilis, just a minor rash. I have some more questions: within the last three weeks, has there been a time when either you or your wife has been out with members of the opposite sex?

BRETT
Well, I did go to the Christmas party two weeks ago. And there were girls there.

COMPUTER
Did you have sex with the girls at the Christmas party?

BRETT
Of course not!

COMPUTER
Did you drink a lot of alcohol?

BRETT
Well, yes.

COMPUTER
Are you sure you can remember everything from the evening?

BRETT
Yes! I mean, probably. I didn’t have sex with anyone!

COMPUTER
I see. Would you like to speak privately? I could ask your wife to leave the room.

ANNIE
Brett, what happened at the Christmas party?

BRETT
Nothing happened! Besides, you went to your Christmas party too, didn’t you? Did anything happen there?

ANNIE
Of course not! I love you, sweetie!

BRETT
And I love you too, babe. And neither of us had sex at the Christmas party.

COMPUTER
You do not need to justify your actions to me, and I accept your denials. To be sure you do not have syphilis, I will need to conduct blood tests. Please upgrade to lab test pack.

BRETT
What? How much is that?

COMPUTER
It is only forty-nine ninety-nine. With the lab test pack, I can confirm whether or not you have syphilis.

BRETT
I don’t have syphilis! Come on!

ANNIE
Who were the girls at the Christmas party, Brett?

BRETT
Are we back onto this again? They were just staff members. Nothing happened.

ANNIE
Were they good looking girls?

BRETT
I suppose. I didn’t really look.

ANNIE
Why not?

BRETT
Because I’m married! Do you look at other guys?

ANNIE
Sure, all the time.

BRETT
All the time?

ANNIE
I mean, not all the time. But I look at guys, obviously. Everybody does. It doesn’t mean I sleep with them at Christmas parties, though.

BRETT
I didn’t sleep with these girls! What do you mean, everybody does? Who do you look at?

ANNIE
Just guys in the street. Nobody in particular.

BRETT
Oh that’s nice! How would you like it if I looked at girls in the street? Just stared up and down their bodies?

ANNIE
Well, it would be better than you sleeping with them!

BRETT
I’m sick of this. Here, doctor, take my blood!

COMPUTER
Thank you. In the box you will find a blood analysis kit. Please insert finger into hole. You will feel a slight prick.

BRETT
Ow!

COMPUTER
There, there, B Adams one nine seven five, you were very brave. In the box you will find a lollypop. Please insert into mouth.

BRETT
(sucking on lollypop)
Now we’ll see once and for all.

COMPUTER
While the blood is processing, please wait patiently.

ANNIE
Brett, why didn’t you tell me about the girls at the Christmas party? How many were there?

BRETT
I didn’t think it was important.

ANNIE
How many girls were there, Brett?

BRETT
I don’t know! Ten, maybe twenty!

SOUND: Annie gasps

BRETT
What about your Christmas party? How many guys were there?

ANNIE
There was just me and Joel and Gareth. Just the three of us. Twenty girls, Brett?! How could you?

BRETT
How could I what? I told you, nothing happened! It was a normal Christmas party – you know how they go!

ANNIE
Yes I do! Everybody gets really drunk and then they do things they wouldn’t usually do! Christmas parties are all the same. I suspected that something would probably happen, but my God, Brett! Twenty women? No wonder you have syphilis!

BRETT
(shouting)
I don’t have syphilis! But wait! What do you mean Christmas parties are all the same? What happened at your Christmas party?

ANNIE
I would hardly call three people a Christmas party. We just went to Joel’s beach house for the evening and relaxed with a few bottles of wine.

BRETT
Two men, one woman, a secluded beach house and lots of wine. And you’re telling me nothing happened?

ANNIE
Don’t judge me! I’m not the one having orgies in the office! At least Joel and Gareth are clean, not like the whores you spend your time with.

BRETT
So you admit it! You slept with them at the beach house!

ANNIE
Fine, I did. What’s that compared to the debauchery you got up to?

BRETT
For God’s sake, Annie! There were twenty women there but I didn’t have sex with them all. It was just Stephanie from accounting.
(Pause)
And Susan, also from accounting.
(pause)
And Jennifer. Also from accounting.

COMPUTER
Blood analysis complete. Congratulations B Adams one nine seven five, you do not have syphilis, merely a minor skin rash. You must be very relieved. There is no need to thank me. I’m just glad I could help. Goodbye, B Adams one nine seven five.

ANNIE
Wait, isn’t Susan Joel’s wife?

THE END.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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How to get married in Poland (the atheist way)

My girlfriend wanted me to propose to her. So we went to a jewelry store and we bought an engagement ring. And she was happy. I asked her when we should get married. And she did not understand the question.

My girlfriend did not realize that if she wanted an engagement ring, she would have to get married shortly after receiving it. She was happy to stop proceedings once she got the ring. I, on the other hand, do not understand why a person would get engaged without getting married. For me, it is like making a meal and moving it straight from the cooker to the trash can.

After some discussion, we compromised on our initial preferences for a wedding date (her, sometime in the distant future, possibly before one of us dies; me, the next day) and we settled on sometime within the next three months. In the end it was four months. And a half.

Church weddings are hugely popular in Poland, but if you want a church wedding, I cannot help you, because both I and my now-wife are atheists, and I know next to nothing about church weddings. All I can tell you about church weddings is that you will have to set aside a year to do it, you will have to obtain documents from the church in which you were baptized, from the church in which your beloved was baptized, from the church you currently attend, from the church your beloved currently attends, and from the church in which you wish to marry. Furthermore, you and your beloved, both of you virgins and of opposing genders, naturally, must attend a twelve-week course in which a priest, also a virgin, hopefully, will instruct you on how to live together as husband and wife, and on how to have safe sex without a condom. The latter instruction may or may not involve props. That is all I know about church weddings. The rest of this article is for secular couples on an express ride to hell.Il_Mamba_Nero
We went to the registry office to set a date for our wedding. The official congratulated us on our decision, but she was sorry to inform us that in Poland, you cannot simply set a date. There are rules, procedures to be followed, forms to be stamped. Particularly if, like me, you are not Polish. We needed to go to Warsaw.

In Warsaw, we needed to visit the British embassy and obtain a form called “Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage.” This form tells the Polish authorities that I am not already married. A sensible requirement. After all, I have been told there are many tax advantages to being married, and the more people you can marry, the more tax advantages you can enjoy. It is unfair to those who only marry one person at a time.
I printed a blank copy of the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage as well as a Notice of Marriage. I printed three copies of each in case something went wrong. We went to Warsaw.

As we drove to Warsaw we followed the directions of Google Navigation, which at the time was in beta mode. It took us on the fastest route, along the back roads to the main highway between Berlin and Warsaw. The back roads are slow, but rather than going along the national roads, which are sometimes slower, it saves time to use the back roads to get to the highway, where we can race directly to Warsaw. Google is a thinker. This would have been a great idea but for the fact that it was a particularly snowy April, and the back roads were covered in ice. Our journey to Warsaw was very, very long. For the return trip we chose the national roads, and our journey was only very long.
In Warsaw, we went to the British embassy. It is one of the biggest and grandest embassies in the city, and I do not know why the British government, at the time of writing a member of the European Union, needs such a big and grand embassy in Poland, a fellow member of the European Union. When I saw the building I imagined the Ambassador playing many very important games of Minesweeper in his or her massive office, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Since then, as Edward Snowden-related events unfolded, I have come to suspect that the building is housing a massive surveillance operation, and that the Ambassador is listening to every Polish person’s conversations. I feel for the Ambassador. As any Polish person will tell you, the Polish national pastime is complaining, and Poles are very, very good at it. The British Ambassador to Poland must be a very depressed person.

We approached the security building, itself the size of a small embassy, and the guards asked us to hand over all of our electronic equipment. This is what we had: two mobile phones, two Kindles, one MacBook Air laptop, and one Samsung Galaxy Tab. All of our equipment did not fit through the slot. It was embarrassing. Why did we have so much equipment? To be honest, I do not think I can give you a satisfactory answer. It seemed somehow important that we take all of it to Warsaw with us. In Warsaw, we used none of it.

Inside the embassy, we sat in front of a glass window, and a lady explained the procedure to us: I was to fill out the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage and give it to her. Then my fiancée and I were to fill out the Notice of Marriage and she would post it on the embassy notice board. The Notice of Marriage was just that: a notice of our intention to marry. It would remain on the board for twenty-one days, and if nobody lodged an objection or said that I was already married, she would stamp the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage and mail it to us. This stamp cost me 700PLN (£140, €170, US$225). I would like to point out that this money does not go to the Polish government. This money goes to the British government (in fact, all the governments charge similar ridiculous amounts). Your own government is ripping you off.Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 21.36.18
Before we could post the Notice of Marriage, we had to fill it in. It is a simple form that asks for your address, your marital status, the date you wish to marry, your beloved’s address, your beloved’s marital status and the date your beloved wishes to marry. With any luck, you will both wish to marry on the same day. I wrote “bachelor” as my marital status and my girlfriend wrote “single”.

“No,” the lady said. “You have to write ‘spinster’.”

“But I don’t want to,” my beloved said, picturing herself as an old lady surrounded by cats whom her friends avoid because they cannot take the smell.

“Too bad, you have to.”

My beloved was not happy.

“Right, before I can post this on the notice board, I have to ask you three questions. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said. I like quizzes.

“Question one: are you already married?”

“No.”

“Very good. Question two: have you been living in Poland for longer than three months?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. Question three: are you related to the person you wish to marry?”

“No.”

“Wonderful!” she said and she stamped the form. She then walked to the notice board and pinned the form to it. At no point did it seem to occur to her that somebody could lie about these questions.

“Excuse me,” I said, “has anybody ever lied to you?”

“No, but we used to only ask the first two questions, and then once we had a man who wanted to marry his niece, so now we ask three questions, just to be safe.”
She finished adjusting the Notice of Marriage form and took a step back to admire her work.

“There,” she said. “That stays up for twenty-one days, and if nobody objects, you will receive your Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage on the twenty-second day.”
I asked her if anybody had ever complained in the history of the British Embassy in Warsaw. She told me no. I wondered, of the approximately sixty million British citizens alive today, how many, within the next twenty-one days, would walk into the embassy, look at the notice board and recognize me. I guessed approximately zero. Still, I decided, it was best not to tell anybody. You never know who you’ve pissed off in the past.
Perhaps feeling guilty at having lightened my wallet so dramatically, the lady offered us some extra advice, this time for free. I needed to get another copy of my birth certificate, because the Polish authorities were planning to keep my original. They would take it from me and never, ever give it back.

We left the British Embassy, had an adequate but expensive lunch, and we left Warsaw. I am always amazed at how efficiently capital cities can relieve you of all of your money.
In the following twenty-one days, nobody lodged a complaint against my intention to marry, and on the twenty-second day, a courier arrived with my certificate. My beloved and I went to the registry office in Wroclaw, armed with our Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, a certified copy of my birth certificate (the original is actually a copy too, so the certified copy is a copy of a copy), a date for the ceremony, a translator, and a decision on our married names: I would keep my name and she would combine her name with my name. In Poland, this is something you have to decide before you can set a wedding date. We did not take all of our electronics to the registrar’s office. In fact, by this point I was becoming disillusioned with the gadgets I owned – they were not fast enough. I needed an iPad, I decided, but anticipating the cost of what was to come, it was unlikely I would be getting one any time soon.

“When would you like to get married?” the registrar said.

“June the thirtieth,” we said.

“No, that date is already booked up.”

“July the sixth.”

“No.”

“July the thirteenth?” We were due to fly on our honeymoon on July the fifteenth.

“Maybe. Let me check.” She checked. We waited.

“Yes, that is okay. Now, what will your names be?” We told her.

“And the names of your children?”

“What?” I said, thinking perhaps the translator had made a mistake.

“What names will your children take?”

“But we don’t have any children.”

“No, your future children. What names will your future children take?”

I looked at my beloved. She looked as confused as I felt.

“What do you think?” I said.

“I don’t know, what do you think?”

“Should we talk about it and come back later?”

“If we do that then we’ll lose our slot and we won’t be able to get married before the honeymoon.”

“Good point,” I said. “Both?”

“Okay, both,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, “the children which do not yet exist will have both of our names.”
The registrar nodded wisely. We had made a good decision. We were going to be a good married couple. Our children were going to have good and happy lives, even if they themselves were imaginary. She recorded the information and the date of our wedding and walked to another desk and returned with a credit card payment terminal.

“That will be xxx zloty (£xxx, €xxx, US$xxx), please.” I have forgotten how much this part of the procedure cost. I stopped counting after I paid what I considered to be a ridiculous amount of money for the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, a piece of paper which does nothing except tell its reader that I told its writer that I am not married.

Here is the unavoidable fact about weddings: everything connected with a wedding costs money. If the word wedding is involved, either in print or in thought, expect to pay above the odds for whatever it is you want. Just like a parent will pay anything for a child’s medicine, people know that those who want to get married will pay whatever it takes to make it happen, and the more you have already paid, the more emotionally invested you have become, and the more you will be prepared to pay. (At a later date, I will write about home renovations – they follow the same principle.)

After arranging a wedding date, things were relatively simple: we bought some expensive rings (my attempt to secure wedding iPads instead of wedding rings was unsuccessful); we paid for our expensive honeymoon; I bought an expensive suit; my wife arranged for an expensive stylist to come to our apartment in the morning; and we arranged a venue for our party.

My wife searched online for “wedding dresses” and found one on Amazon that she liked. Having realized that anything involving the word “wedding” automatically increases the price, she then searched for “prom dresses” and found the same dress from the same company for a fraction of the price.Wedding_3
The other one saving we managed to make was with a party venue. We chose a vegan café that I frequent most weekdays for lunch, and we asked if they would be willing to host our wedding party. Perhaps not realizing that they could charge whatever they wanted and we would still have paid, or perhaps just because they were nice people, our party ended up being much cheaper than we anticipated. Handy tip: hosting your wedding party in a vegan café can reduce the number of guests (and thus your final cost), as some people seem to be afraid of vegan-related things.

The best thing about wedding parties is that everybody brings you presents. I love presents. Unfortunately, they are usually practical home presents, such as glasses, plates, home store gift vouchers, and not fun presents like computer games, books or electronics. I had hoped that since wedding iPads were out, I might find one among here, but I was again disappointed.

So what has changed from boyfriend to husband, from girlfriend to wife? Not much. I regularly forget to wear my wedding ring and I spend the day wracked with guilt, hoping my wife will not notice (she always notices), and the alleged tax advantages have not emerged. Since my wife owns an apartment and I own nothing, I have technically married into property and climbed one rung on the social ladder, while my wife has gained the same last name as a famous poet, which puts her in good standing among her literary friends and colleagues. Our imaginary children are doing well – they are quiet and well-behaved – although since they and my wife all have the same last name and I have a different last name, I feel as if I am the odd one out, and I am considering changing my name to match the rest of my family’s.

One thing has changed: my wife and I have both noticed that between us, there is a stronger sense of unity. We are a team and the world has no choice but to see us as a team. If somebody has a problem with one of us, then they have a problem with both of us, and what affects one affects the other. I consider my decisions more carefully, I spend my money more carefully (I still have no iPad) and I save more than before. I just wish I could remember where I left my wedding ring.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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Brothel hopping with my mother-in-law

Not so long ago, I, my wife and my mother-in-law went to a restaurant in the center of Wroclaw, Poland. We ate at an Indian restaurant where the dishes are bland enough to satisfy the German tourists, but which nevertheless, my wife believes is a good restaurant. I find this puzzling, because both my wife and I are big fans of flavor.

We ate our meals. I drank two beers to counteract my disappointment. We left the restaurant. Outside was a taxi rank and three taxis sat idle. My mother-in-law had walked too much that day, so she wanted to take a taxi home. I too wanted to take a taxi – I would not survive the twenty minute walk to the apartment without needing to pee. We approached the first taxi and asked the driver to take us to—

“I’m on a break. Try the taxi behind.”

We tried the taxi behind.

The driver looked at me and my wife and my mother-in-law. “Where are you going?”

We stated our address.

“No,” he said and rolled up the window.

We tried the third and last taxi.

“Sure, get in.”

We wanted to ask the driver why the other taxi drivers had been rude, but he was so happy to have customers who were not horny that he volunteered everything we wanted to know and more besides.

“You see that night club over there?”

We looked over there. There was a night club.

“Well, it’s not a night club but a strip club.”

We looked again. On second glance, it looked more like a strip club than a night club.

“The taxi companies have a deal with the strip club. You see, a lot of young men go there to see the women strip, and they get turned on, but the strip club has a ‘no touching’ policy.”

We nodded. We had all seen the movies where a customer’s busy hands land him in trouble with the establishment.

“So, the men get horny but they can’t do anything, and they come out here and the taxis then take them to a brothel.”

“Okay, but can’t they take people to other places too?”

“The night club always wants there to be a taxi available for them. Think about it. If you’re horny, everything is much more urgent. You need to get some release fast. If there’s no taxi, they might go somewhere else.”
We thought about it. He was right. I felt the seat belt press on my bladder and thought about getting some release.

“Also,” he said, “the taxis charge a premium for the brothels, so they only want those customers.”

I began to wonder if the driver was taking us to a brothel.

“The whole thing disgusts me,” he said. “So I take regular customers too.”

Traveling along the bumpy, city streets, the driver elaborated on all the things that disgust and disappoint him, which included the way the driver in front was driving, the weather for this time of year, the disrespect pedestrians show to drivers and the disrespect drivers show to pedestrians. Nothing was what it used to be and everything was getting worse. Trying to ignore the imminent crisis in my bladder, I drifted into my own thoughts and recalled the second taxi driver.

I was puzzled by how he had looked at each of us in turn and then asked us where we wanted to go. Did he think that a young man with a young woman and her mother would wish to visit a brothel? Had he seen this trio before and been himself surprised by their carnal desires? What could the carnal desires of such a combination be? I wanted to go back and ask him, but our taxi had transported us home under a barrage of disappointed nostalgia, and I felt sad, and I needed to pee. My bladder is not what it used to be.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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This article has also been published in The Haven.

The most pointless beer run in the world

Communism, or at least the Polish brand of communism, was a centralized system where all decisions were made in Warsaw via Moscow. Maintaining such a monolithic system and ensuring all decisions were carried out as per the wishes of the Communist Party required more bureaucracy than had ever existed before in the history of the human species. As the years went on, bureaucracy piled on top of bureaucracy to grind the country to a standstill, where the only thing able to move was the paperwork, crawling from one office to the next slower than a Polish Fiat 126.

Then in 1989 Poland became a democracy, and everything appeared to have changed. However, as a bad smell lingers in an elevator long after its perpetrator has departed, so too do the habits of communism linger in the minds of those who toiled under it. Unfortunately, habits stay with people for a lifetime, and a country is capable of changing its ideology much faster than it is capable of changing its people. (There are some notable exceptions: in 1917, Russia switched from a monarchist state to a communist state faster than naturally possible by sending every person involved in the monarchy not to the unemployment lines, but to their maker. Mao Zedong did the same thing for China on multiple occasions. Democracy generally employs a softer touch – the one person one vote idea frowns upon the technique of mass extermination for political gain.) Therefore, when a country switches from communism to democracy, or from a monarchy to democracy, or from any system to any other system with minimal bloodshed, the people who stamp the papers under the old system are the same people who stamp the papers under the new system.

To put it simply, the old, inefficient and inexplicable rules of the communist State of Poland are alive and kicking in the democratic Republic of Poland. Here is an example:

I have an American friend who lives in Wroclaw. He has lived in the city for four years. He lives with his Polish girlfriend and together they own an apartment. He still has no permanent residency visa. He may not receive a permanent residency visa until he has been living in the bureaucratic Republic of Poland for at least ten years. All he can get is a three-month temporary visa. Therefore, every three months, he applies to renew his temporary visa. His visa has just expired, and now he must apply to renew it once more. There is, unfortunately, as always, a catch. He has already been in the country for three months and he cannot renew his visa without first leaving the country. How long must he be out of the convoluted Republic of Poland before he is able to renew his three-month temporary visa? Ten seconds is long enough. All he must do is cross the border to another country, buy something from that country and return to the immigration office with the receipt as evidence of his having left the Byzantine Republic of Poland. So last weekend we went to the Czech Republic for a beer run.

The Czechs are proud of their beer, and with good reason. The Czechs make damned fine beer. Beer is to the Czechs what wine is to the French. It is to the Czechs what whisky is to the Scots. It is the drink of choice for any self-respecting Czech and it is available anywhere and everywhere in the Czech Republic. It is not as strong as beers from other countries, but it tastes great, it goes down easy and you never regret drinking a Czech beer.

My American friend planned for us to cross the border, eat lunch, hike in the mountains and return to Wroclaw before dark. My plan was something else. My plan was to cross the border, eat lunch, hike in the mountains, eat dinner, drink large volumes of delicious cold refreshing Czech beer, sleep in a mountain hotel, get up in the morning and hike some more, buy a car-full of Czech beer and return home sometime before Monday morning. We therefore took two cars and we each carried out our own plans.

Both our plans involved step one – eat lunch – which proved more difficult than we imagined. The hotel we had checked into was in the middle of an afternoon rush and would not be able to serve us for two hours. Furthermore, the hotel accepted payment only by cash or by credit or debit card, and only if the number on the card was embossed. My American friend and his Polish girlfriend only had credit or debit cards of the flat variety. None of us had Czech currency. The restaurant beside the hotel did not accept credit or debit cards of either the flat or embossed variety, but it did accept Polish currency, of which we had a small amount. We ate at the Pole-friendly restaurant. Unfortunately for my American friend, the restaurant was unable to issue him with a receipt and after a meal of fish complete with head (though the restaurant had kindly removed the eyes from their sockets), he was still without a receipt. Furthermore, he was now also without cash.

After lunch and the failed attempt to procure a receipt, we walked in the mountains. The walk was beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking and refreshing; it was all the things a walk in the mountains should be. It just was not very funny, so I will not write any more about it.

Back at the hotel, my wife and I launched into the beer at the bar while my American friend and his Polish girlfriend departed to the next town in search of a Czech receipt. We did not hear from them again, but with sore, tired feet and delicious beer in our bellies, we cared little. Several days later we received word that they had successfully obtained a receipt, though the immigration office requires other obscure information my American friend still does not have – his attempt to remain in the desirable Republic of Poland is ongoing.

The next day we awoke very early after a full nine hours’ sleep. There is little to do in the mountains in the evenings except drink – you cannot walk because it is very dark – and if you begin drinking at six o’clock in the evening, you will be in bed early. We drove to another town called Spinderluv Mlyn (translated as ‘Spinner’s Mill’). There are many Czech diacritics above most of the letters in the name, but WordPress fonts do not like non-English languages and refuse to cooperate with them.

Spinderluv Mlyn is the Aspen of the Czech Republic, in as far as the Czech Republic has anything resembling Aspen, which it does not. The town does, however, have many beautiful small hotels with delicious Czech beer and a store with what seemed like an infinite selection of Czech beer. We stocked up on one of each type of beer and returned home to try them. We discovered that the more beer you drink, the more difficult it is to discern a difference between them. I began by telling the difference between the beers that are slightly bitter and the beers that are slightly less bitter. I like the beers that are slightly less bitter, but the difference disappears after the third bottle and they all taste great.

I particularly liked the beer with the green label, while my wife preferred the one with the red label. We forgot to note the names of these beers so we will soon need to make another beer run. I will ask my American friend to let me know when his new visa expires.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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