Can we have a show of hands?

The air in northern Crete, in the week of Easter, has a grainer scent to it than springtime air in Vienna. Cretan spring air is herbal and smells of land, and sea, while that in Vienna is floral and urban.

At least where Odin works it is.

How many of you removed a tick from a teenaged girl’s navel today? Can we have a show of hands? Because Odin has.

Odin wonders if he leads a charmed life.

Also, whenever he hears the word TICK his skin crawls and he has to exert effort to not scratch himself from head to toe and shake his hair like a dog emerging from a lake.

Odin had a thing recently. It must have been Tuesday because on Monday it was raining and on Tuesday he needed to go to the tobacco shop to get back on schedule with his lottery tickets – Odin is in the habit of buying tickets for two different games, and if he buys them on the wrong days they are more expensive because the optional drawing options (which are obviously a scheme to get customers to pay additional marginal fees, but OTOH are also the only thing Odin ever wins) are for two drawings instead of just a single drawing. So he has to synchronize his purchases and when he is on schedule buys only on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

We shall not dwell on this because a full explanation would be even more confusing than the above.

Odin had a thing recently. On his way to catch a streetcar after work, the grey crow followed him up the street, and Odin felt badly about being empty-handed. On his way to get the lottery tickets on Tuesday on his lunch break, the crow followed him down the sidewalk again, this time not flying but walking, sort of waddling like a casual little penguin, while Odin spoke to it.

Sorry, little dude. I’m fasting today.

But Odin bought a ciabatta-looking roll with cheese baked over it at the bakery next to the tobacconist and stood on his corner waiting for the crow, nibbling his cheese roll. The crow arrived at the moment Odin gave up on it.


Odin tossed it the remains of the roll, about 80%, and the crow hesitated only briefly before flying away with it.

With the flat, rectangular roll in its beak, it looked like a flying hammerhead shark.

Odin’s conscience was assuaged.

No, wait: this was on Monday (Monday is also an okay day to buy lottery tickets) because on Tuesday the rest of the thing happened: returning from a walk, Odin saw his crow on the sidewalk by the corner, eating.

Odin was fascinated to realize that he is not the only human trained by the crow.

The man was sharply dressed, in an expensive blue suit, Ascot tie, nice watch and shoes. Somewhat younger than Odin, let’s say in his forties. When he noticed Odin, he concealed the roll in his hand (Odin had half a mind to tell the man corvids like meat, too, man) and examined the display of a mobile phone. Odin greeted him and the man greeted back.

Odin disappeared around the corner. A blackbird watched Odin from a gate and Odin watched it back. It looked birdlike and mechanical, like the robot robin in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and just like that he remembered Laura Dern’s grimace in Blue Velvet when Isabella Rossellini showed up naked on the porch – a facial expression like the sum total of all silent movie face acting in history.

And he imagined Second Crow Man inhaling nitrous oxide thru a plastic mask.

And singing.

Odin’s wife recently said to him that he sometimes says things that seem more the result of his bizarre trains of thought than what immediate company is saying or doing. She seems convinced that his mode of thought is exotic.

Isn’t everyone like this? Odin tells himself. Everyone thinks this way, right?

Or are some people really just baked potatoes all the way through?

The science of evil

Odin is not hungry so he goes to a park because it’s such a nice day. He sits on a bench and reads a book.

He is careful not to sit on a bench by the playground near the park entrance, because Odin is a middle-aged man in a suit and the book is The Science of Evil and that might not go over well in a playground, although Odin himself finds it a charming image.

Odin sits on white bench under a giant Blood Beech tree (so they are called in German) and reads a black book about zero negative empathy and the neurological origins of evil.

He borrowed the book from his kid, sort of half-trading it for The Wisdom of Psychopaths, a book of his.

Move along, nothing to see here.

People jog past. People walk past. People sit on the grass and sun themselves.

Sit in the park reading a book about evil: isn’t this what a Bond villain might do? Am I a potential Bond villain? wonders Odin.

What is a Bond villain anyhow, nowadays?

Someone with more than a certain quantity of money, he thinks. Above a certain amount of money, the evil ensues automatically.

Once you have more than what could be defined, by any stretch of the imagination, as ‘enough’ you are a Bond villain, because someone who is not a Bond villain would have paid their taxes, or given away the excess.

Nowadays, you don’t need a ray gun pointed at the moon. Nowadays, you are the Koch Brothers, fracking. You are Dick Cheney, running a fake real war from a hidden location.

Odin goes back to his reading.

I know these people, he thinks, reading case studies.

Better than, I am these people, he thinks.

Am I these people?

Am I?

A black crow, a stranger with a crooked wing feather, watches Odin from beneath a car when he walks back to the office.

Odin watches it back.

Am I?

Culturally sensitive

Man: So, hey, you guys.

Man: So, you guys, have you guys like noticed, the Greeks, Greek women, have you noticed how they make eye contact? Have you noticed how they really hold eye contact?

Man: Like, make eye contact, and hold it?

Man: [Makes corresponding illustrative hand gestures]

Man: Greek women. Holding eye contact. And maybe sort of smiling?

Non-Greek woman 1: [Peers at man over glasses]

Non-Greek woman 2: Dad, dad, dad.

Man: Oh.

Man: Ah.

Colder than it looks

Odin eats the generic Oreos for lunch with the gusto of a starving man who had been sucking bark post-apocalypse and had just found a box of generic Oreos in the back pocket of a mail carrier slaughtered by a rampaging mob back before the zombies killed all the mobs.

Walking is a little complicated. He has to pin a box of Greek salad (getting in the mood for a pre-Easter week in Crete) under one arm, hold the box of cookies in one hand and simultaneously twist cookies apart, eat the halves without frosting, press the frosting-halves together to make whole cookies with double frosting and eat them, without getting hit by a car or spotted by a crow. If his mobile phone rang he’d fall apart.

The day is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Colder than it looks, sunny, and Friday before a week of vacation. Family doing well, hobbies doing okay, sort of a general feeling of… despairlessness that is really delicious, in contrast to the cookies which are, seriously, how did our society evolve to such a point, where a grown man eats something like this? And not just any man: Odin, god of the North?


But Odin is without despair. At this very moment, he can feel a new universe pressing in on this one, like a pig at a trough, like a pervert in a subway, like a deaf man in a mosh pit, like a ray of light reflected from a hospital window, like wind on an otherwise still day like those bugs that hop around on the beach like a bird high up like

On manners at the opera

My wife and I went to see Madame Butterfly at the Vienna State Opera on the weekend. We had pretty good seats. We got some champagne beforehand, as we usually do at the opera, except she was more in the mood for a white wine spritzer and had that, and I had a whiskey (no brand given) because I was feeling macho.

The people behind us were loud, rude, stupid and very excited about the cruise they were booked on, apparently, because they could not STFU about it. One encounters such people at most public performances, including the movies, but this was a first for me at the opera.

Srsly, WTH?

They must have gotten free tickets from someone.

The lights went down, the warning to turn off your phone played, etc etc and still they jabbered on. I knew I had to do something.

The musicians finished tuning. The conductor came out, to warm applause.

Yeah, yeah, Cruise This and Cruise That!

Peace settled over my mind as I made a decision. I felt like a Jason Statham character right before a big action scene, you know, like, where he’s surrounded by all these bruisers in an auto mechanic’s garage — except I was surrounded by old people with canes, and younger people, and improperly-dressed tourists. Even the standing area way up at the top was full.

They were still talking — unbelieveable — when the music started playing, and they showed no intention of stopping. That’s when – right after the first note – I turned and said it:


Boy, did that do it. They didn’t say a peep until intermission. Sometimes you just have to take a stand.

We went outside in the intermission. On the way there, I found a big, fat pearl earring and gave it to an usher. If you’re looking for your pearl earring, it’s probably in a pawn shop in downtown Vienna by now.

We did not stay outside for long, because it turns out that’s where everyone goes to smoke.

So the air was better back inside. Good people watching night.

Great performance, too. Downer though, sheesh.


Der Traumpolizist

You are whining in your sleep. I pat your head and you stop.

At breakfast I ask you about the dream.

You tell me: powerlessness and loss, violation and theft, paralysis and loss of voice. Weakness, hopelessness and fear. Exhaustion and failure.

Every living thing must have dreams like this. Especially after a week like the one we just had. Fear of this disease or that, fear of going broke, fear of getting old and having nothing. Fear of cancer in me, or — a thousand times worse — fear of cancer in a 16 year old boy.

But then yesterday the reprieve: alles okay. Everybody healthy for now. Sometimes the universe just wants to give you a good scare.

Tonight I will be the dream police. I will find the robbers and get back your purse.