Finding My Way – part 3

Youth … it’s a funny thing. Some people yearn for those days of old when life was much less complicated and when the brows were less furrowed from the stress of responsibility and the need to exist in a money-hungry world. Other folks recall their glory days and the way it “used to be”. On the other side of the coin, there are also those that are more than happy to have seen the arse-end of their decade or two of trying to discover who they were to be, whether that be due to morally incompetent decisions or from the tortures of not fitting in with the “it” crowd in school. For the most part, I am a potpourri of all of the above. I do wholeheartedly wish I shouldered a backpack much earlier in life, but the lessons learned through the choices I made in lieu of going abroad have had their place. Some days I miss a handful of friends from the high school days and their impact on my life (may you rest in peace, Susan), but there is no chance in hell I would ever wish to repeat my teen years. I had some fun then, no doubt … but once was enough! There is one aspect I do miss, though … I’d hock a liver to the black market organ trade to have a spine that didn’t crackle like a bag of corn chips every time I stretch or bend down to pick something up. Getting older truly is a pain!

To claim that I am in the peak of physical condition would be a stretch, but I have aged relatively well, if I do say so myself. Being blessed with a decent metabolism that didn’t really start slowing until I was 35 has kept me from the curse of many others in proximity to my age that also enjoy the magical brew of combining hops and grains into liquid goodness … the dreaded beer gut. I do have to make a bit more of an effort these days to keep the love handles at bay, but most days I would not be ashamed to shed my shirt in public … at least physique wise … though when it comes to my pasty white (nay, alabaster) complexion, you best avert your eyes in bright sunlight as the glare may just burn your retinas out. So, even though my gut doesn’t stretch to the point where I would only be able to see my willy via a complex arrangement of funhouse mirrors and strategic positioning, there are other issues: The down side of becoming more learned at certain technical trades or any other profession that requires you to be parked for hours in front of a desk is that you have to really be mindful of your back and posture.

After moving to Czech Republic, teaching became my bread-making activity for a few years, and one thing that teaching requires you to do is move about. It’s a theatre stage up there in front of your captive audience when disseminating the virtues of grammatically correct English, and you have to keep up a certain momentum … back and forth to the blackboard … through the students to hear them better or see what they have written (or to sneak in that subtle glance down the low-cut top of the busty brunette three seats back as you stand over her desk to ensure she understands the assignment in the workbook) … and you must also animate yourself by using as much body language as humanly possible to get your point across. I didn’t speak the slightest hint of Czech in those first few months, so how else was I supposed to explain things? There are moments when you must howl like a monkey, gesture like an angry New York Italian or contort your frame and hands into unholy forms that the Cirque du Soleil would be jealous of just to make yourself understood.

What I am trying to say here is that teaching English never offered me the chance to sit that much in the five years I could, literally, stand it. After what seemed like an eternity of attempting to remove myself from that life of repetition, boredom and the punishment of being stuck with the inevitable class of non-caring teens who constantly sat texting on their phones more and more often, as the mobile phone rose in accessibility and lowered in price, instead of giving the slightest of shits about being taught English by a native, I took a stab at proofreading and correcting texts. It was a natural progression, and from my English composition background and the constant harassment by students to give them a hand (for free, of course) with something they were working on, I felt I already had enough talent in this field … and I also felt I should just as well get paid for it! This wasn’t any more exciting or fulfilling, but it did get me away from the vacant-eyed zombie audience who only seemed to take the course because their parents required them to be, in all essence, babysat for another hour or so till they returned home from work. This could also be said for the business clients I was instructing, too. It was at this phase of my existence that my once over-active metabolism decided to bail on me. Life was now in a chair in front of a computer screen, and I was no longer on-stage executing live-action performance art. I was definitely ecstatic to no longer have to stare into to a sea of lifeless, non-caring eyes, but honestly, I believe I have shrunk about three centimetres over the years sitting before that four-legged particleboard beast of burden created solely to support a screen of flickering LEDs and a slab of plastic squares imprinted with numbers, archaic symbols and the letters of multi-lingual alphabets. Where once I had stood proud, a giver of language with my head in the air, there now hunched a creature twisted into something akin to Igor perching over the monstrous cadaver lying upon his master’s table. Ok, ok … I exaggerate, but it sure as hell feels that way some days. It is almost to the point where if I don’t take a few moments before bed each night stretching, downward dogging, cat-cowing or hiring the Spanish Inquisition to strap me to a rack, then the next morning more-or-less means I need to be rolled out from under the sheets and gently propped upright by a system of ropes and pulleys. Remember the scene in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises after Bruce gets the ever-loving crap kicked out of him by Bane? That entire prison / back therapy segment is based on my true life story, don’t you know? But I do twist and stretch when I have the correct mindset, and that does help a lot.

The newest curse of time came about just recently, much to my dismay. In preparation for the upcoming hike, a few of the local lads and I made the effort to get out on a gorgeous Saturday and do a leisurely 25 km walk from Olomouc to the town of Litovel (aka the Venice of Czech Republic … or more importantly for my friends and I, the home of the Litovel brewery … yes, one of the goals was to do a healthy walk concluded with drinking beer … eh, we are only human). The landscape was flat, the paths paved in many parts and the speed comfortable. For some reason, I chose not to wear the boots I would be taking to Turkey, but instead donned my standard, worn out trekking trainers with the rapidly diminishing sole. Hey, I never said I was a glimmering beacon of unwavering intelligence. The journey was made in just over 4.5 hours as we were in no rush and a few happy snaps from the digital lens took place, but a creeping, growing, gnawing pang of “hey, that’s not right” began to rise from the middle arch of my right foot as we entered Litovel. Rapidly, the sharp pain increased, and within a span of 15 minutes went from “Ok, this I can just walk out, because my feet aren’t used to the distance” to “Cut it off!! Give me a hacksaw now, just make the pain go away! Anyone with a piranha? Please! Just let me stick my foot into a piranha tank and let them make quick work of it!” I went from jolly hiker to hobbling old fart in a span of 300 metres. “What the holy fuck-nuggets just happened?” I thought (really … that’s how I speak to myself when stunned by a situation). It couldn’t have been a fracture or bruise from stamping down hard on a particularly pointy stone, because I recalled no such occurrence that day or any day previously. And I hadn’t been round tap dancing elephants nor been afflicted with the stigmata either. Luckily we were at our destination, and the rest, food and beer would be well enjoyed … but … after our lunch break (hosted by a lovely woman who seemed extremely giddy with having non-locals back in her restaurant and town after a long winter), we stood to leave, and I nearly needed my other four travelling companions to carry me to the brewery, the pain was so bad. No matter the torture, I was determined to see it through, so stumble along I did to our final objective, where it turned out we were 15 minutes earlier than opening time for the brewery’s on-site pub. Drat!!

A bit of a side note: A few in our motley crew, including myself, had been to the Litovel brewery before; once in the summer for two of us, and then to their open brewery yearly celebrations for the remainder of us. Each of those time, Litovel has blessed us with either unique batches of beer goodness available only at their headquarters or at least a variety of their brands within the pub. This is what we were questing for on our excursion there that day. But doomed to disappointment we were, for not a single, flavourful variant of liquid bread was to be found aside from the standard available at any bar or shop throughout the country. After perching in front of the gates to the facilities and appearing as desperate as heroin junkies outside a clinic, we soon discovered it had all been for naught. Double drat!!

The day was still sunny and warm, and we made the best out of our situation by settling upon the lawn before the pub clinking our glasses together in celebration for a splendid time and drinking our nice, cool, though standard, pints, and we enjoyed a humorous conversation of past deeds and perverse jokes as we waited for the bus to return to Olomouc, but we all, in our own way, came to realise something, though most only admitted it in the days to come: After a winter of being relatively idle, we may have overdone it just a smidgeon. We all pretended to put on a brave face, and though my abused feet suffered more that the others and was a source of amusement as I was forced to stumble along accompanying every step with verbal outcries of “ow, ow, ow”, everyone else eventually dropped a slight hint making reference to their aching hips or knees or feet. Three of the five in our gang have youth on their side and were only affected by the past few months of cold and lack of impetus to do too much physically. Myself and one other had the years behind us. Three years ago, I was hiking paths in Petra, Jordan, hopping castle stones in Syria and zigzagging along trails in the Caucasus without the slightest of aches … but that was three years ago, and my ageing limbs just don’t automatically function in that “get up and go” manner like they used to before. All in all, I know I need some training before this walk through Turkey, and that was the main reasoning behind our outing from Olomouc to Litovel, but my youthful thoughts (and failed judgement call on wearing better shoes) forgot to take into consideration the maturity of my body, and we pushed it further than what it was accustomed to. My actions at times portray me as the immortal Peter Pan, but I am learning the painful way that this is far from the truth. I refuse to give up, slow to a crawl or don a tweed blazer and spend my afternoons in the park feeding the pigeons and playing draughts, but I do need to respect my increasing number of years and realise that there are certain adjustments to my life that have to be accounted for. This discovery is along the same shelf of realisation as how my many moons have altered the way alcohol affects me presently: I can still drink like a rockstar … I just sure as hell don’t recover the next day like one!

To be continued …