How Flimsy is Your Basket?

My student stabbed her pen in my direction and said “The people in Egypt are crazy!”
This wasn’t a racist jibe, it was the preamble to a story. I had asked Francisca to describe the most terrifying travel experience she’d ever had, and I found her answer quite perplexing. We were on the sixth floor of her apartment. I could see the neighbouring building, where a woman was hanging out laundry on a balcony. Francisca folded one leg underneath her on her living room couch and gazed out through the sliding door, recalling the day.
“I was in Luxor, in Egypt” she said, “and I had signed up to take a hot air balloon ride.”
Francisca was well-travelled, and she mentioned Egypt a lot, almost never favorably. On this occasion, she had been obliged to wake up at 03.00 in the morning in order to take a van out into the plains of Luxor. The van ride had been three hours. Waiting for the aeronaut to appear had taken an additional two. She and the other tourists couldn’t even get out of the van to walk around because of the mosquitoes that swarmed the area.
“Oh wonderful!” I said, determined to keep positive. “So the tour guides let you take refuge indoors. Such luxury!”
But that was the least of her problems. For starters, the basket of the hot air balloon was flimsy and overburdened with tourists.
“In Luxor,” she said, “there are only five air balloons! Five!” She showed me the back of her splayed hand, indicating the number as if she were about to deliver a backhanded slap. “And they never receive maintenance!” Eyes bulging with remembered rage, my student pulled out her phone and looked up a photo on Google Images:

Luxor
“See? It’s always those same five balloons. All the time, without rest.”

My student continued, “And do you know how the aeronaut kept track of where we were going?” Here, Francisca clasped her right wrist in her left hand, as if miming being handcuffed. “A digital watch! My cousin used to wear that exact same watch more than twenty years ago.”
I pounced on the moment. “You have such remarkable deductive skills, Francisca! Obviously, since the man’s navigational tool was so old, it was a clear sign that you were in the hands of a man who knew his work – who’d been doing this job for decades. You couldn’t have been safer!”
But Francisca was not to be dissuaded. “The trip was so expensive! Do you know that they charged one hundred dollars?”
“And how long was the trip?” I enquired.
“It was only an hour, but, believe me, it felt more like ten!”
“Fabulous!” I said, “Such value for money! Ten dollars for every perceived hour!”
Francisca shook her head incredulously. Speaking in conspiratorial tones, she leaned forward and said, “Have you ever been to Cappadocia?”
“Cappadocia?”
“Cappadocia. It’s in Turkey.”
“I have not,” I confessed, “been to Cappadocia in Turkey.”
My student’s faced cleared, as if she’d suddenly remembered an actor’s name. “Now that is a place that knows how to do hot air balloon rides. Mira…” She produced her phone once more and showed me this picture:

Turkey
I asked her if this was a painting. She informed me that it is a photograph.

Francisca grew animated now. Or, more animated than she had been. Or, animated, but in a happier way.
“In Cappadocia,” she said, “you don’t have to wait two hours in a van.”
“It leaves you scorching in the sun?” I asked. “That sounds awful!”
“In Cappadocia, the aeronauts have state-of-the-art GPS equiment!”
I nodded knowingly, “Incompetent, are they? I should have known.”
“There you at least get value for money. It’s one hundred dollars and they also give you champagne. Everything is beautiful, and you can truly appreciate that hour in the sky.”
I let out a low whistle. “One hundred dollars for one perceived hour? That’s a bit expensive, don’t you think?”
Francisca pointed at the picture of her phone again. “But look how many there are? Hundreds! These balloons at least have time to be repaired. They don’t all have to be in the air at the same time. These balloons are far safer than the ones in Luxor.”
I thought about this. “I don’t think the balloons in Luxor are that dangerous. If any of them had ever caught fire and killed any tourists, I’m sure it would have made international news.”
Francisca, who was more knowledgeable about these things than I was, shook her head. “A few years ago, a balloon caught fire in Cappadocia, and six tourists died. Did you hear about that?”
I had to admit that I had not heard that story.
“But that was in Cappadocia?” I asked.
“Cappadocia,” said she, nodding sympathetically.
We sat for a few seconds in silence, Francisca thinking about the poor souls who had lost their lives, and me thinking about what she had just said. Eventually, she understood my point, and explained: “Well, with all those balloons, there’s a higher probability that there will be an accident.”
I allowed myself some time to process this. Outside, the woman across the way had finished hanging her laundry, and was retiring back inside.
“So, statistically speaking,” I said, “Luxor is safer than Cappadocia?”
Francisca wasn’t listening to me anymore. Her mind was back in Egypt, reliving a  terrifyingly wonderful moment she would never forget.
“The people in Egypt are crazy,” she whispered.

Advertisements

My Imagined Me

I’m thinking of taking up smoking, and here’s why.

I was born an introvert, too terrified to answer a phone or talk to a stranger. Interactions with unfamiliar human beings required rehearsed lines and zero eye contact. I was content to spend my evenings reading in my room, and would be struck numb with fear whenever I was tasked with returning library books or buying bread. I could visualize the conversations I wanted to have, or the way I wanted to behave, but I could never bring myself to talk or act the way I imagined I could. Gradually, I began to recognize a separation in the way I was and the way I perceived myself:

There was the Real Me – the introvert, too afraid to remain in the company of others for more than a few moments at a time. The one who was unable to sustain a conversation. The one who smiled at everyone in an attempt to avoid conflict. The one who never knew what to say or what to do with his hands.

Then, there was the Imagined Me – the extrovert, the socially confident one, the funny one. The one who moved gracefully and always looked you dead in the eye while saying exactly the right thing. The one who was unafraid to start a conversation, unafraid to linger, unafraid to put his hand on the shoulder of someone he’d just met. My Imagined Me was always better looking than me, better dressed, and more adored. He carried himself better, and had a magnetism that I wanted but was too afraid to grasp. Whenever I went out, I could always see him clearly, on the other side of the room, laughing with a group he’d just met, or flirting successfully with a gorgeous woman. A curious detail about my Imagined Me is that he is always holding a cigarette. He holds it down at waist level, or away from the people he’s talking to, but sometimes when he speaks he moves his hands, drawing pictures in smoke. Somehow, he makes it look cool.

Constantine
And not in the angry, aggressive way that John Constantine makes smoking look cool.

The frustrating thing was how perfectly attainable it was to become my Imagined Me. I did know what to say, and I could imagine how to conduct myself. My Imagined Me was right there, always a few seconds in the future, showing me what to do. All I had to do was to make the choice to become that person that existed so clearly in my mind, but I would always veer away from that choice at the last possible moment. I chose silence over charm, awkwardness over presence. I knew that I could never be as cool and natural as my Imagined Me, but at the very least I could pretend to be him.
I was seventeen years old when I first heard the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” spoken in earnest. It was said to me by a shy singer who had enchanted an entire ballroom filled with elderly holiday makers.
“Fake it ’til you make it,” she said, “and eventually you’ll learn that you’re not faking it anymore.”

I took drama in high school, and that went some way to showing me how to fake certain behaviours, but only up to a point. I was still terrified of people, and would avoid interactions when I could.
After high school I worked as a waiter, and that forced me to interact with adults. I hated every moment in which I had to meet a new guest, but with every interaction I became slightly better at faking confidence, and got closer to becoming my Imagined Me.

In university, I was still afraid, but in that new and exciting environment I put renewed energy into impersonating someone that wasn’t me. By then the idea of my Imagined Me was clearer and better defined, and I made a concerted effort to inhabit that person. I took dancing classes, and that gave me a certain control over my body that I hadn’t had before. I performed in a play, and modelled in the art department. I pushed myself to be in the public eye as much as possible, to teach myself to get comfortable in it. This gave me a certain type of confidence, but it was unbridled and lacked finesse. My charisma was explosive. It would start strong and then fizzle quickly. I became comfortable in groups but cowered in one-on-one conversations.
In my mind’s eye I could see my Imagined Me doing the things I was trying to do, but better, and always with a cigarette in his hand. At times I could engage people in conversation – total strangers even – but my enthusiasm and interest would evaporate after a minute or two, and I’d make an excuse to leave. As cool as I looked from the outside, I was still nothing like the charismatic version of myself I could envision. He had his cigarette; I just bit my nails.

Tony Stark
Pictured: Me introducing myself at a house party.

After university I went and taught English in Thailand. That helped me get over a lot of anxiety, and for long stretches I forgot that I was faking anything at all. But still, in the wings, I could always spy my Imagined Me, better looking and with better hair, and smoking.

In Chile I have been teaching adults, and that has been quite the challenge. I’ve spent my life fighting the notion that I am a grown up, and now my job involves having one-on-one conversations with other grown ups as if I am one of them. These sessions can be up to two hours long, and I spend every moment of them fearing that they can see that I’m not a grown up at all. I’m a terrified child, with hands that shake and nails that have been bitten to the quick. But I figure that as long as I pretend to be my Imagined Me, they’ll never notice.
I now feel closer to being my Imagined Me than ever before. He is right in front of me, so close I can touch him. I have learned his habits, and his turns of phrase, and I’ve learned to impersonate him for long periods at a time. But when I socialise I still see him there, cigarette in hand, and I think to myself, “Maybe I should take up smoking.”

Gatsby
Even though I compete with him, my Imagined Me always wants the best for me.

Begin Again

Photo credit: Eileen Smith

When I was quite young and unwise in the way of propriety I would often play a computer game called Soldier of Fortune. It was grimly violent, and not at all suitable for someone my age. It was an unimaginative shoot-’em-up kind of game in which I would start off with a small yet powerful pistol, and as I progressed through the levels my armory would get bigger and more explosive.
My favourite part of this game was always the beginning. I especially liked the pistol because of its precision. It would allow me to shoot enemies in the head and legs and arms, and the programming was just sophisticated enough to make these enemies wail in pain and clutch at whatever part of their body they had been shot in. The reason I loved the pistol so much wasn’t because it afforded me the pleasure of torture. Rather, it was because with the pistol I felt as if I really earned my victories. Throwing a grenade into a roomful of enemies wasn’t nearly as rewarding because it required so little effort and stealth on my part. Every time the game progressed to the point where the enemies became too tough to be affected by my pistol I would start to lose interest. Before long I would reset and start the game from the beginning.

Soldier of Fortune
Four against one? Looks like things are about to get… boring.

This habit of starting again when things get too tough or too boring is a habit that has followed me around all my life. When things get too difficult or too complicated, I tend to abandon what I’m doing completely. I think this might have something to do with my family’s habit of moving around a lot when I was a child. I have a firm memory of watching a made-for-TV movie when I was perhaps six years old, in which an older lady in a small town in the United States proudly declared to the local sheriff, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
“I want that!” I thought to myself. I wanted to become an old man and to be able to say proudly, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
My very next memory is of my Father telling me that we were moving to Botswana. My first thought at the time was sadness that my one-house streak was going to be broken so soon into my short life.

Carl
Carl. I basically wanted to be Carl.

We moved several times after that, and I guess I grew accustomed to the idea that everything was temporary: Schools, houses, friendships. I never saw much point in painting my room, or hanging up pictures. At the back of my mind I knew that stationary moments were temporary, and I stopped seeing the point in long-term investments. Drilling holes into walls to put up shelves made me uncomfortable.
When I lived in Thailand, I spent about a year in an apartment that had a perfect spot on the wall for a clock. When I woke up every morning my eyes would dart to that blank space in a quest to discover the time, and each time I sought it out I was reminded that I still had not bought a clock to put there. In the end, I never did buy a clock.
Even now, my walls are devoid of photos and decorations. What’s the point of putting up pictures if I’m just going to have to take them down again some day?

On the plus side, the constant compulsion to change my perspective has pushed me to have a wide variety of experiences and constantly try new things. But overall, I can’t pretend that this is a good trait. Simply put, I am profoundly commitment phobic. I feel like a stem cell that refuses to differentiate. Or an ant that refuses to be classified as soldier or worker. I was born with the potential to be anything, yet I fear that once I specialize there will be an infinite number of lifetimes I won’t get to experience.

The implications of this phobia are vast. I shall always be a jack of all trades and a master of none. My life is doomed to be plagued with unfinished projects and houses with barren walls. I’ll never find out what might have happened if I’d just gone the extra mile, or just stuck at something a little while longer. More recently in my life I’ve had to come to terms with fact that I don’t date.
This might be the saddest detail of my condition. After all, I am almost always in love with someone, but I have learned that the safest thing for me to do is nothing. If I pursue romance, it might blossom briefly, but I know that it will be cursed to wither and die. I have learned in some very painful ways that once I begin to feel overwhelmed by intimacy I immediately start wanting out, and the result is that other people get hurt. So I am single by choice. It’s certainly not the wisest choice, and it often leaves me clutching at my heart and wailing in pain like those characters in the computer game I used to play, but that’s far better than the alternative of hurting people farther down the line. I sincerely hope someone changes my mind one day, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Wanna Bet?

I am not what you’d call a gambling man, but when I first laid eyes on that huckster in downtown Santiago, I couldn’t help but stay awhile and regard the scene. He’d set himself up in the shade of a side street that was just busy enough to attract a crowd. His table was an upturned cardboard box on which he was demonstrating his game. He had three solid disks – very much like coasters – and stuck underneath one of them was a sticker depicting flowers. That’s the sticker that the suckers had to find.

The game was Three Card Monte, and I’d heard enough about it to know it was a swindle, yet still I couldn’t pull my eyes away from this man in his fifties with his newsboy cap and his sagging jeans with yawning pockets.
His hands were constantly at work, flipping and manipulating the three silver disks in front of him. It seemed to require a lot of focus and thought, yet the man manipulated those coasters as if he was knitting while watching a movie. He’d juggle them around a bit and then lay all three face down, and the bystanders would toss crumpled notes onto whichever disk they believed held the sticker. Not just any notes either. These were 10- and 20- Luka bills, which was about five hundred rand a pop.
Without breaking stride, the huckster would reveal the disk holding the flowers, and collect up the money that was wrongly bet. There were often winners too, and the huckster would dispense the winnings without discussion.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrel
Pictured: Accurate re-enactment of me approaching the honest gamblers.

The performance passed without drama. People won and lost without protest. Each time the disks settled it was like watching carved wooden figures in an elaborate German cuckoo clock striking the hour. People stepped forward and threw down their money. The huckster would redistribute funds as appropriate, and then they would step back to await the next round.

It was a funny thing, watching all this going on. You see, Dear Reader, I knew this was a con, and I tried to find the trick. Solid disks would be more difficult to maneuver and palm than playing cards, so I didn’t see how the huckster could be using slight of hand.
From the sidelines I was able to pick out the disk with the flowers every single time. I saw other folks throw money down on disks that were clearly blank, which was a result of their own poor eyesight, I presumed. Never once did I follow the flowers and get proved wrong. If that had been the case I would have turned around right then and walked away. Instead, I stood transfixed, playing the game by sight alone, without wagering a dime. It was a dangerous voice that crept into my mind and whispered I can win this, and it wouldn’t go away.
I supposed that it wasn’t a con. Perhaps it was just a skilled man with nimble fingers and hands fast enough to deceive most eyes. But not mine.
It occurred to me that watching without wagering was a lot easier than guessing while gambling. I thought that if I actually pulled out some money with the prospect of losing it, my adrenaline would surge and my focus would falter, so I held back. I became rational, and I began to walk on by, and as I did so I felt ethereal tendrils pulling me back, compelling me to try my luck.

I turned back to the action, and I saw a tall black fellow looming over the other spectators. He had been standing there a while, but now I noticed him for the first time. The disks settled, and with barely bridled confidence the black fellow leaned past an older lady and placed his well-worn smartphone onto the disk closest to where I was standing.
No, you fool! That’s the wrong disk! I thought.
Without breaking stride, the huckster revealed that disk to be blank, snatched up the smartphone and dropped it into his yawning back pocket before distributing money back to those who had won.

There was a collective expulsion of breath from the spectators, all of them sympathetic to the blow that the black fellow had suffered. I mention the colour of his skin only because it indicated that he was an immigrant, and being a stranger in a strange land is terrifying and isolating enough. But to lose your phone on top of that suddenly cuts you off from the loved ones you’ve left behind. I felt that this poor black fellow hadn’t just lost his phone, he’d also lost access to his community. Judging by the quality of his clothing I surmised that losing a smartphone was no minor nuisance. Losing something like that was surely a blow to him, and although the others were audibly sympathetic to his loss, they knew that the rules of the Chilean streets took precedence over the comfort of a foreigner.
The fellow was clearly embarrassed and devastated, and with a good-natured smile he beseeched the huckster to return his phone. He had to be good-natured, I suppose. Any sign of violence and the crowd would surely move to defend their compatriot over a foreigner. I was too far away to discern all that was said, but I did make out the phrase “This is how it works in Chile.”
No one was angry, they were just apologetically explaining to the fellow that rules is rules.

Forget it
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chile.”

Even before the fellow had placed his phone down I had seen that he was wrong. So as I began walking to my next class I carried with me the confidence that my eyes were sharp, and the conviction that if I had played, I would have won. The ethereal tendrils began pulling at me again, urging me to turn back and bet. Trying to shake that urge was like trying to walk out of a nylon stocking – the further I walked, the stronger it pulled back at me. I won out in the end. I got out of there without losing a cent, but before I walked away completely I took one last look at the huckster and his game.
My final glimpse was of the huckster placing the smartphone back into the hands of the foreigner, and the black fellow leaning down to give him a hug as the bystanders applauded.

Bless You

I try to see goodness in everything, but I cannot learn to love a sneeze.
“But it feels so good!” some people protest.
“It’s one eighth of an orgasm!” say others.
Well, to those who leap to the defense of sneezes, I say: You are wrong. There is nothing redeeming about a sneeze.

The most obvious thing to despise is the sound. Goodness gracious, but what a disturbance! What a disruption! Imagine, if you will, that you are in a peaceful setting. A restaurant perhaps, or a cinema. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone in the room decides to loudly and carelessly scream out the harshest curse word they know. How offended would you be? I know I’d be taken aback. Not only is it disturbing and obnoxious, but it also means you need to ask the person to whom you were speaking to repeat themselves because you were too distracted by the person shouting out the F-word at the back of the bus.

Mr Bean Sneeze
Blasphemy! – “Gesundheit”

The harshness of the sound aside, it is also an impediment. In school we are taught that in the moment in which a sneeze takes place, our entire body stops functioning. That alone is frustrating enough, but it also means you have to cease what you are doing so that the sneeze can produce itself. Conversations have to be halted, Netflix has to be paused, and the food that you are cooking needs to burn as you step aside to allow your face to explode.
It’s difficult to recover immediately. Normally one needs a moment to allow one’s senses to re-calibrate after our brains have been blown around. If you’re like me then you’ll also need an additional moment of apologetic self-loathing before you can carry on with your life.

I, for one, do not like the way the world smells after I have sneezed. To me, everything smells like the inside of a vacuum cleaner. Everything is dusty and musty and unpleasant, and it takes a good few minutes before I stop noticing it.

Then, of course, there is the physical fallout from having sneezed. Quite often a tissue needs to be sought, a nose needs to be blown, and then hands need to be washed. A sneeze sets me back at least a minute of my life, and I find that infuriating. I feel as if my nose is a spoiled pop star, and I am its mistreated butler, having to stop what I am doing in order to attend to its whim at any given moment. I am also one of those people who sneezes whenever I step into sunlight. This makes leaving my apartment in the day time a nuisance. I feel sorry for my friends who have to walk out into the world with me, and I am grateful that they are not as upset by sneezing as I am. If I had to date me, I wouldn’t.

Pollen
There is a sinister side to spring

I cannot remember when I first developed this deep-seated hatred for sneezes, but I’m fairly certain that my loathing has grown as the years have gone by. Perhaps my hatred has become reinforced by my friends showing sympathy every time they or I sneeze. But I do know that my contempt for sneezing is not a put on. Even in the solitude of my apartment I curse loudly every time my nose attacks me.

One result of moving to another country every few years is that I cross paths with more people than I normally would have if I had remained in one place. As time passes, these people move around as well, and gradually I have built up a network of friends that spans the globe. I truly love the people I have met, and I am sorry that I’ve brought the curse of sneeze-bigotry into their lives. You see, Dear Reader, I do understand that sneezing is a natural process, and no one should ever have to atone for it. But in that second and a half that follows a sneeze I go into a red rage. My fists clench and I become overwhelmingly angry, and then the moment passes and I am friendly again. But my friends have recognized my fury and they have taken to apologizing to me whenever they sneeze. Often they will hurry out of the room so that I don’t hear them. I have come to realize that when people sneeze in my vicinity they immediately look to me to see if I noticed. My friends have often admitted to me that my bias has made them so self-aware when they sneeze that they will apologize even if I am not in the same country as them.
While I am flattered that I have friends who are so concerned about my happiness that they have taken to modifying their behaviour around me, it makes me sad that my hatred has become contagious. Now, all around the globe, people are apologizing after sneezing, feeling guilty that somewhere in the world, someone hates them for what they have done.
Add this to the ever increasing list of reasons to hate sneezes.

Pollen Riots
Pictured: The infamous Pollen Riots

Job Interview

In February of 2015 I stumbled blindly into Chile with no job, no money, and a complete inability to speak the local language. Now, nearly three years later, I at least have a job.
I have learned a lot in my time here, but I think I learned the most about teaching English in Chile during my first job interview, a few days after arriving in South America.

 

As I shook Garcia’s hand I concluded that he was Chilean. It wasn’t so much his dark skin and stout stature. Rather, I surmised as much because his name was hispanic and his institute was located roughly in the center of Chile’s capital. It was also something about the way that he said “Welcome to Chile. My name is Garcia. I’m Chilean. I’m a Chilean person” that revealed something of his background.
I was meeting with him because I needed a job, and Garcia had an opening for a teacher in his institute. I wanted to nail this interview, because if he didn’t hire me I’d be out of luck. It was February, a time when the entire country shuts down for a summer vacation, and Garcia’s institute was the only place hiring. I projected confidence. I didn’t want to let on how little I knew about Chile. I flashed Garcia a winning smile and, leaning forward, said to him, “You’re a what person?”

Between Two Ferns
It was awkward from the start.

One of the first questions that Garcia asked me in that interview was, “How’s your Spanish?”
I shrugged and told him that it was alright, and then he asked me to count to ten. “Un, dos, tres, catorce, and so one,” I said, vaguely. It was not a great start. I was fresh off the plane and didn’t quite know what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to teach English, but beyond that I had no idea how the system worked.
“This is how the system works,” Garica explained. “Our clients are all adults. While sometimes you might have small group classes, you’ll mostly be teaching one adult at a time.”
I nodded sagely. “I’ll be teaching them here, yes?” I queried, nodding towards Garcia’s office, the reception nook, the broom closet, and the toilet that comprised the entirety of his institute.
Garcia paused before answering. “That’s not exactly how we do things around here,” he said. “No, you’ll be travelling to their offices, which are scattered throughout the city. But don’t worry, our students are mostly all close to the metro lines. Mostly.”
“Ah.” I said, having only just learned to negotiate the underground. “Well that’s alright, then-”
“At other times,” Garcia continued, “you will probably have to travel by metro, and then by bus, and then do a substantial amount of walking. Mostly.”
“Okay. And does the institute reimburse-?”
“No that’s your own dime,” said he.

I was starting to get the idea. “Well that’s not so bad,” I said, grasping for silver linings. “I travel to one corner of the city, teach a few classes, and then I’m done for the day. I could get used to tha-”
“No that will be just one class,” said Garcia. “For each class you’ll need to travel a while. It’s a lot of travelling. Like, at least half an hour each way. I hope you have a lot of books to read.”
“Right,” I said, trying to keep up. “So I travel, teach, travel, teach. That’s fine-”
“Well it’s more like ‘travel, teach, travel, wait around for two hours, teach. What you do between classes is your business, but you won’t have time to go home. Mostly.”
“Well that does sound quite time consuming, but I’m sure I’ll get used to the routine-”
“No, you won’t,” said Garcia. “There will be a lot of cancellations and postponements. On an almost daily basis the students will want to adjust the times of their classes. Each week is different. Your schedule can even change as the day progresses. I advise you not to plan ahead. You’ll always be disappointed.”

I tried steering the interview around to salary.
“So what’s my salary?” I probed. “Like, what do I get paid every month?”
“Oh it’s not like that,” said Garcia. “You get paid for what you teach. So if your students cancel, you get nothing.”
“Nothing?”
“Nothing.”
I considered this. “Well surely not nothing?” I posited.
“Well, no, not nothing,” agreed Garcia. “If the student cancels within 24 hours of the class then you’ll still get paid for that class.”
“Well that’s alright then,” I said. “Free money!”
“That’s right!” Said Garcia. “They mostly cancel at the last minute. Mostly.”
“Really?”
“No.”

After that, the interview became more general. “Have you made any friends here yet?” Garcia asked, kindly.
“Well not yet. But I’ve noticed that there are a few language exchanges here during the week, where I guess I could meet-”
“No, that probably won’t happen,” said my future boss.
“Come again?” said I.
“Well your classes will mostly be in the evenings, won’t they? You shouldn’t expect to get finished before 20.30 during the week.”
“Ah,” I offered. “Well I could go out after that, I suppose-”
“Well I don’t advise you stay out too late. After all, most of your classes will be early in the morning. Mostly.”
I considered this. “Well I guess that leaves my afternoons free to do my own thing.”
“Ah but don’t forget you’ll have lunchtime classes. So not a lot of wiggle room there, I’m afraid.”
I did some quick computation in my head. “Well there’s always weekends!” I said, brightly. “I could travel around on weekends. See the sights-”
“I suppose you could,” said Garcia, nodding a little too enthusiastically for my liking. “It’s just that-”
“I’m going to be too exhausted on weekends to do anything, aren’t I?”
Garcia nodded at me in a way that was not unkind. “Mostly,” he said.

Jim
Pictured: Accurate re-enactment of my first job interview.

Pi

How to Halloween

October is nearly at an end, and if you haven’t decided what you’re dressing up as for Halloween yet, then you need to take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve been wasting your time on all year. Ideally, a Halloween costume should be decided by April. End of July, tops. Otherwise, there won’t be enough time to physically prepare for the night. What if you decide on a costume that requires you to lose weight? Or gain weight? Or grow your hair out? Or grow a beard? Halloween is the Christmas of dress up parties, and if you go into it half-hearted, you’re only letting yourself down.
And Halloween.
And me. You’re also letting me down.
Now, I know that this article comes six months too late, but for those of you are struggling to decided what to wear for Halloween, I have a simple list of rules to keep in mind when choosing the ideal Halloween costume:

Pennywise
Interestingly, Pennywise conforms to several of the rules this year.

 

1.) The Costume Comes First
Sometimes the cost of looking impressive is that you are debilitatingly uncomfortable. Maybe you have to endure sub-zero temperatures, or the inability to sit down all night. Maybe your costume prevents you from eating or drinking for hours on end, or it forces you to pick up smoking as a habit. But regardless of the discomfort and the permanent physical damage a costume can do to your body, it is important to remember that the costume comes first. The moment you decide to sacrifice spectacle for comfort, then everything falls apart. Take off your shoes and you are no longer Jessica Rabbit. Now you are just a sad figure in a red dress. Take the tree branches out of your robe so you can sit down, and suddenly you are no longer a mighty Tree Ent. Now you are just a sad figure holding a stick.

Leeloo
Sure, tape will rip your skin off at the end of the night, but you need it to complete the look.

 

2.) Wear Bright Colours
Halloween night is the best time to stand out. Many people opt to dress in costumes related to horror. This means ghosts, corpses, and zombies. The convenient thing about this is that all of these looks employ the same colour scheme – black, white, and a few splashes of red. Against this grayscale background, any shot of colour will stand out marvelously, and so a colourful costume will guarantee that all eyes are on you. Red is an obvious first choice, and a personal favourite of mine, but any bright colour will work if you use it in large enough amounts.

Iron Man Light
If you feel you aren’t bright enough, just attach a light to your chest.

3a.) Dress as Something from Popular Culture
It’s not enough to paint yourself red and go out on the town. Once you’ve appealed to the eye of the viewer, you now need to appeal to their intellect. That’s why you should dress up as something that everyone will recognize. It is human nature to fear or ignore things we don’t understand, so if you go out dressed as your friend Gareth then no one will pay you a second glance. But if someone looks at you and instantly understands who you are, then they will feel an automatic kinship towards you.

Deadpool
Turns out you’ve got to be 16 or older to know who Deadpool is.

 

3b.) Topical Popular Culture
Popular culture is always being changed and redefined. What is popular today could easily be forgotten tomorrow, and if you’re not relevant, then people stop caring. Sure, everyone can identify what Willy Wonka looks like, but he is no longer at the forefront of the cultural hive mind, and therefore won’t attract too much attention these days. So pick your popular culture carefully. Choose a costume that everyone is talking about, and can be identified instantly. Requiring people to delve into the annals of their popular culture memory is a lot to ask, and in the end they just won’t bother with you.

Mad Hatter
The Mad Hatter was cool back in the day. Not so much anymore.

 

4.) Be as Naked as Possible
The problem with dressing up as something topical from popular culture is that you run the risk of sharing a costume with several other people, and this is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Halloween is about standing out and being noticed, and if everyone is dressed as the Joker you suddenly become forgettable. In order to be memorable, you need to make sure that your costume outshines the rest, and there’s no better way to cement yourself into people’s memory than by being naked.
Being naked has twin benefits: Not only does flesh catch the eye, but when you are unburdened by clothing and props, you can move about unhindered and dance with abandon. There’s no better way to enjoy Halloween that to have freedom of movement and not have to worry about hitting other people with your giant Buzz Lightyear wings.

Naked
Pictured: Average Sunday

With Halloween only a few days away, this helpful list might not have arrived in time. But it’s important to remember that it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s Halloween.