|Two "Number Two" Stories |
I would like to acknowledge my thanks to my daughter, who taught me the meaning of "number two" as a more classy reference to "shitty" things, as will be covered in the next two stories.
My First "Number Two Story" is about some "Ferry, Ferry dangerous" things I've done some time ago.
A little bit of history may put things in context. In the mid 90s a very ill-conceived, advertising campaign about the Canadian economic, social, political and natural paradise, become the irresistible "Fata Morgana" to Czech and Slovak Gypsies, who started arriving in droves to Canada, with legitimate Czech Passports. Even before their promotion to the status of "Roma", they started demonstrating to the Canadians how generous their society really was, applied en mass for political asylum and put the Welfare system in overdrive as a moderate supplemental income. The main income was coming from massive fraud and criminal activities, to an extent that even the slow and shy to react, Canadian Government, had to do something to stave off the massive arrivals. So they imposed Entry Visas for all Czech and Slovak citizens that all had the same passport color, but not necessarily the same skin color. The political correctness of the time, did not allow discrimination based on skin color or ethnic origin for passport holders of the same country. Naturally, some less dark Czechs, who only wanted to visit their relatives or friends and then go home, had to pay hefty visa fees or just postponed their trip.
The furious Czech government, even under the open minded and progressive president Vaclav Havel, retaliated harshly and imposed visas on all Canadians travelling to or even transiting through the Czech Republic. Moreover, in the hype of this unprecedented snub of anybody and anything Canadian, the Czech border guards were allowed to be rude and boorish with the tourists already annoyed by being charged unreasonably high Entry or Transit Visa fees, right there, on the spot.
This temporary political clowning was still in full swing when we were considering a spring break in Europe. My wife's vacation opportunity in February overlapped with her nostalgia to visit her mother in Croatia, so she decided to go and was eagerly awaiting my reaction to her great plans. I was also able to arrange for over two weeks away from work. It just so happened that the best and cheapest connection to Split, Croatia was through Prague. I quickly realized that I would have to pass a love and loyalty test for my extended family in its ideal form of joining my wife and spending all my time there and staying at my mother-in- law’s house.
Fortunately, things in life are not ideal, nor should they be in the peak of the European Alpine Ski season. The only thing that had to be ideal, was my ability to sell an acceptable compromise package to my wife and keep all three parties somewhat happy.
To my greatest surprise, the value of my joining the trip was rated high enough to warrant good negotiations with a truly great outcome. The deal ended up with us flying together to Prague, my wife changing flights and continuing to Croatia. Me, getting off the plane, renting a car and driving to Austria for some top-notch alpine skiing, then driving back to Prague, hopefully in one piece, boarding a flight to Croatia and joining the "Croatians" for a few days, without talking too much about my skiing interruption, making the best of that leg of the trip and then nicely returning home with my wife. That was the plan.
So let's see what actually happened.
After we landed at Ruzyne, the Prague Airport, my wife Lori went to the Croatian Airlines terminal for her connecting flight, and I went straight to the passport control line-up for admission into the Czech Republic. The line moved relatively fast, until my turn came to shove my Canadian passport into the passport control wicket. First I noticed a pair of small white hands with short fat fingers fumbling with my document. Then I looked-up to a round face, with blue scrutinizing eyes, staring at me. The border officer asked me in Czech: "Do you speak Czech?" "Yes", I proudly replied. Then his thin lips contorted into a condescending grin, and he said: "Your last name is not Kun, is it?" "Actually it is, unchanged from birth" I said. He went on: "No, no, no,... your name is not Kun, it is Kuna, right? Wasn't that your name when you escaped from Czechoslovakia?" I tried to keep calm and added: "I did not escape from Czechoslovakia, I left legally from Romania". He said: "You are very lucky, times have changed, now you can tell me anything you want, but I know the truth". At that point, even though he was clearly in power and still could have harassed me if he chose to do so, I felt sorry for him, the way you feel sorry for someone mentally retarded. I risked saying: "Yes, times have changed, don't you think for the better?" He gave me a "bugger-off" look and pointed to my next stop-over, another window where I was supposed to pay my transit visa fee, before being allowed to enter the country. It turned out to be the equivalent of $75, just for a twenty-four-hour transit. Fortunately my wife did not have to enter the country.
The car rental experience was not too bad, except for the fact that they did not accept my credit card insurance coverage and forced me to buy the one offered by the local AVIS office.
By then it was already 11:00 am, and I had to cross the Czech-Austrian border and make it hopefully to a ski resort, in day light, if possible.
I rented a two door VW Golf and hit the road. That was of course in the pre-GPS era, and I covered the pilot seat with nice Michelin maps with main roads already highlighted during my flight. I also head a large magnifying glass with a handle that was slipping off the seat at every turn, so I secured that one too, by hanging it off the pilot seat's head rest.
I did not realize that there was no real highway till close to the Austrian border towards Linz, so it took me almost three hours to get there for a distance that I hoped would be covered in half that time.
Crossing the border was uneventful but the driving become finally exciting and liberating, like going for a run after you finished touring the park with your grandpa in a wheel chair.
After passing Linz and driving really fast, suddenly I got an extraordinarily powerful urge for a "Number Two". I realized that I’d been sitting in the car for four hours since I left Prague, and did not stop at all, other than slowing down at the border crossing.
I started panicking, and feeling sick, but still strongly determined to take any relieving action only outside the car. I started looking desperately for the next exit and I noticed a very remote green sign that I was not able yet to read but it looked like it might be an exit.
A new wave of urge and sickness hit me in a way that felt like an imminent fainting would follow. Not a good thing when you are driving and equally bad if you stop on a highway.
And then, all of a sudden God showed his mercy and I noticed on my right hand side a large half circle paved road lane that was accessible straight from the highway's right line by entering it "one way" counter clock wise. In the middle of the road was a small white building; unmistakably a toilet.
The devil's works are never too far from God's blessings, and my speed was too high to slow down and enter the one way road the proper way. In fact, I was barely able to slow down to enter the semi-circle by its exit, and drive clockwise, the wrong way, but I managed to do that.
While driving the next few second towards the toilet, I noticed a large white Mercedes entering the proper way and heading towards the toilet, as well. For a moment, I imagined that there may be only one toilet, and there was no way I was going to let those Mercedes bastards beat me at it, so I stopped, jumped out of the car, ran like a madman to what really turned out to be the only toilet, pushed the door with both hands and conquered the toilet with abandon and skill, because I managed to hit the seat with my pants down.
Happiness and joy are relative, but what happened inside that room was absolute. It was also a very appropriate moment to reconsider my occasional atheistic rebellion, and acknowledge once and for all, that GOD does exist, and he's just proven it.
When I finally walked out, still with a euphoric smile on my face, I noticed that the white Mercedes was still there. I thought that if those people had urges even remotely close to the ones I had, seeing me now coming out, they would jump out of the car any moment.
They did jump out, indeed; two of them. Both very tall and slim in sharp Austrian police uniforms. I said to myself, well, policemen are people too ; they have needs just like anybody else.
They did not seem to have any of those needs I was suspecting, because they were walking quickly and menacingly towards me, not towards the toilet. I quickly realized that their real need was to talk to me and I got scared, as they say "shitless" a term quite appropriate given my successful venture just a few minutes before.
The one who looked "in charge" addressed me in a firm and authoritative voice: "Do you know zet wass you did is ferry, ferry, dangerous?" At first, I thought that he was referring to the dangers of going to roadside public toilets, but then I realized how silly that assumption was and I recomposed myself and said , "I am very sorry, I had an urgent need, I missed the entrance and had to enter by the exit, but I had full visibility and was really careful, and nobody was in the exit lane"
The policeman was clearly annoyed by that long and totally useless explanation and repeated: "Do you know zet wass you did is ferry, ferry, dangerous?" With hard to explain stubbornness, I tried again: "You are absolutely right officer, I am very sorry, please understand and ..." That how far I got. Then, with a condescending look and impatient attitude, demanded to see my passport and my driver's licence, and I quickly obliged.
What followed felt like an eternity. The two officers disappeared into their spacious Mercedes with my most important documents. I had no idea what would follow but I felt very uneasy.
Finally, in about 40 minutes, they both re-emerged from their unmarked car and handed over to me a four page full size document, with densely spaced bi-lingual (German and English) headings, and hand written notice of offence in German, explaining in minute detail all the "ferry, ferry dangerous" things I’d done. The handing over of my copy of the paper come with a brief verbal notification: "You must pay 200 DM (Deutsch Marks) immediately. My knees got soft, my jaw dropped, my mind got clouded and I asked: "Don't you use Schillings in Austria?” This time the junior officer replied: "Do you have Schillings?" I said, "No I don't think so. Can I pay in Canadian dollars or with a credit card?" That was the first time I’d noticed something close to a human smirk, accompanied with a "No". After an awkward moment, the officer "in charge" said , “ If you don't have 200 DM, you will have to accompany us to the Police Head Office in Linz, tonight or tomorrow to explain the situation.
My knees did not get any firmer, but my memory got sharper and all of a sudden I remembered that I actually had exactly 200 DM in a hidden pocket in my wallet, money that was stashed there for my later trip to Croatia, to impress my mother-in-law with a gift or a treat of some kind, to offset the unpopularity of my Austrian escapade on my way to Croatia.
I said to the officer, that I think I had the money and I'll bring it from the car. They looked at me suspiciously, and followed me with their looks all the way, but I returned quickly with the money and handed it to them. Then they disappeared again into the car, and at that point I was still without my passport, driver's license, and cash. I never felt that bad, humiliated, and helpless.
I waited another 20 minutes, which I used to comfort myself with humorous thoughts such as: "This was the most expensive crap I've ever taken in my life, and I am proud that I was able to afford it!”
Then the dark side of my fury kicked-in and I started mentally cursing those bloody Nazi Austrians, who were not any better than the savage lowest of the lowest German SS officers, and what a pity that such a beautiful country like Austria was run by such mean, heartless, square headed, ugly people.
By the time my fantasy run out of imagery of hatred and revenge, the two officers popped-up again from their car, this time with another elaborate receipt for my 200 DM fine.
My first impulse was to rip-up the receipt and spit in their, faces but before even contemplating further such a stupid and counterproductive gesture, I noticed that both of them were smiling, I mean really smiling, smiling at me not laughing at me...with friendly looks and gestures.
I was really puzzled, and the more senior officer said: " the traffic business is finished now, how can we help you?"
I looked at them and said: "You already helped me beating the record for paying the highest cost per dump". The officer looked a little puzzled and asked: "what does pedump mean?" I felt that teaching the officer English slang may not be a good idea under the circumstances, so I said: "I meant that I would like to be more pedant"
To my disbelief they started laughing and showing ability to handle humor. One of them said: "You are funny. What brings you to Austria?" I said: "Actually, I came here to relax a few days and do some quality downhill skiing"
The faces of the officers changed visibly, showing interest and pride . One of them asked: "Do you know where you want to go? I said, "I am heading towards Salzburg, lots of good skiing areas there, I was told".
The officers spent the next twenty minutes making phone calls, checking maps, listening to snow reports, and then handed me a neatly hand written summary of resorts, inns, snow conditions and optimal access roads . Then they shook my hand, wished me safe driving and a great holiday in Austria and buggered off, back to their core duties of keeping Austria a neat, civilized, orderly, and disciplined country, unspoiled by unruly foreigners.
I found their tips to be extremely helpful and useful. It was already 7:00 pm and dark when I made it to Hüttau, a small picturesque mountain village, and I easily found the family-run Inn on the police list.
Unfortunately, the owner and their friends, were having a party right in the lobby, were singing loud and swaying by holding each other around the shoulders and were inebriated out of their minds. The only thing they were receptive to was having me join them in the boozing and talk business later, something I was absolutely not interested in.
So I quickly realized, that unless you have a reservation made during the day, no point in showing-up as a total stranger after 6:00 pm...
I went quickly back to my car and kept driving to Altenmarkt im Pongau, a lovely small mountain village, where I arrived close to 8:00pm. I asked around and stopped by a few places, but there was no accommodation available. I got out of the car, to breathe some fresh air, because it was such a lovely quiet night and starting to snow with large flakes; a paradise to look at, a nightmare to drive during the night.
All of a sudden, an older couple emerged from "nowhere", crossing the road on cross country skis and stopped in front of the chalet where I parked my car. They started slowly removing their skis after their daily "after dinner" walk and acknowledged my presence with a smile and a light nod.
I made a few remarks about the beauty and health of this great outdoors activity, and they appeared to appreciate my comments, even though their English was very limited. My very poor German filled in some gaps, and to my surprise, they were able to understand some Italian and even Croatian, because they learned some from their regular Croatian guest.
It turned out that their lovely chalet was actually set-up as a family inn with seven rooms, one being free, because the Croatian family that was supposed to check in the night before, just cancelled.
After a brief chat, a few smiles and some pats on the back, the bond and trust between real mountain life lovers was created and I ended-up staying there for a week, enjoying a very cosy room, superbly rich and varied breakfasts and the good company of the lovely hosts, all at what we would call, by North American standards, "budget priced".
All my following days were sunny except the first one, a Sunday, so foggy I could not even see my car from the chalet window. My hosts suggested that it may not be wise to head for the slopes before the fog cleared; maybe later in the morning. Spontaneously, I said , "It might be ferry, ferry dangerous, but not illegal, right?". Clearly they had no idea what I was talking about, but smiled anyway, assuming that I probably knew what I was talking about.
Fortunately, on Sundays, Altenmarkt was hosting the weekly flea market, a colorful event that even the out-of-town guests knew about and enjoyed going to. My hosts were just about leaving to the Flea Market and suggested that if I was interested, I might follow them by car from behind, just a short drive. I happily took on their offer.
I spent a couple of hours there, going from stand to stand, looking at lovely painted wooden crafts, toys, tools, paintings, furniture, clothing, musical instruments, and nondescript junk.
The food stands were very enticing too, with on the spot grilled spicy sausages served with sauerkraut, bean soup, nice breads, cakes, nuts, and sweets. Hot, spicy mulled wine, served in locally crafted mugs, was everywhere and could be smelled from a distance.
Just when I was about to leave, I noticed a neat book stand with tons of fashion and gossip magazines, and many old and newer books lying randomly on the main counter. A full book cover size picture of Anne Frank caught my attention, and yes, it was an older edition of the "Diary of Anne Frank". As I was glancing further, I saw another book with a red cover and a black swastika inside a white circle, overlapping the large title in faded gray gothic letters: "Mein Kampf". All fitting nicely into the traditions of this lovely, politically "neutral" country, with the right and freedom to select what is and was isn't "ferry, ferry dangerous".
I was wondering if the availability of this book was indicative of a high demand for it, or perhaps it was there for decades, just ignored.
After that, I noticed that the fog was clearing and the bright sun was shyly but surely re-emerging from the clouds. I quickly abandoned my fog-time philosophical contemplations in favor of heading for the slopes and engaging in my favorite "ferry, ferry dangerous" winter sport. And I lived happily ever after.
My 2nd "Number Two Story" is also crap related, and it was another divine intervention in my life to substantiate the universal principle of:
"You lose some, you win some"
This second story, being entirely non-fiction, same as the previous one, requires some historical, cultural and psychological background. It never stops amazing me how deep and lasting impressions and perceptions we form in the early stages of our life, and how they find a quiet and undisturbed corner in our minds...and just stay there, forever.
I, like many other people my age, have acquired a very substantial and relevant life experience, knowledge, wisdom and the maturity that goes with it. If we add to these natural processes the social engineering and conditioning the we are all subject to in the form of lectures, courses and media influencing in political correctness, cultural sensitivity, and historical revisionism, we get a full picture of:
a) who we really are;
b) who we are often expected to be and
c) who we choose to appear to be like.
My mother, who had only limited formal education, was an extraordinarily wise and intelligent woman, who enriched our souls and accelerated our awareness with many witty sayings of her own, or quoted. The one that stayed vividly in my mind is:
"One cannot force a stupid idea into a smart man's head, and equally one cannot remove a stupid idea from a stupid man's head"
Essentially, there is no effective substitute to our own experience, whatever it is. The difference is that a modern, democratic, multicultural society gives and uses on us the tool that enables us to maintain social harmony and peace, minimize offending the people that we depend on or have to live with,keep our jobs and get promotions, and sometimes even stay more reliably alive. Most of the people who do and say the appropriate things in the appropriate circumstances, just learned a very useful skill, but their thinking and feelings have not changed much in time.
Years ago, my Polish boss, faced a forcibly induced challenge to publicly disclose an example of his early life prejudices during a "Cultural Sensitivity" course. With an embarrassed grin he mumbled that his parents when returning from the market complained that they had to "Jew down" the cheese farmer, to get a better price. Then he quickly added; "I did not really know exactly what they meant. I was too young". Then, the course moderator asked something that I too, was itching to ask: "So how do you feel about it now?" As expected, my intelligent, politically correct and cowardly boss replied: Well, it's clearly inappropriate and offensive and wrong to say things like that". I did not take my eyes off his face and enjoyed every moment of his very transparent effort to lie.
Now, back to me. As a school boy, I liked history and the colorful stories that went with that subject. Only much later I found out that the best valued historian in a totalitarian regime was the one who was able to "predict the past" and re-write history to the pleasing of the "Dictateur de Jour".
One thing did not change though, and that was the Turkish Ottoman rule of Romanian principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia, and other neighboring territories, for over four centuries. With that come the image of the savage, ruthless, oppressive Turks, barging in immense numbers with huge armies over tiny, peaceful but resilient and heroic Christian nations. The cruelty inflicted on anyone resisting militarily or for not paying heavy tributes, was unimaginable. The Romanian folklore reacted to this hatred against the Turkish invaders with a number of clichés, that outlived the centuries of oppression. "Are you a Turk?" still means today; "Are you stupid? Don't you understand?" A particularly unsavoury lore was about the presumed Turkish historical and cultural conditioning for homosexual preferences among men and for anal intercourse with women. Interestingly enough, the Romanian Black Seaside resorts were swarming with Turkish tourists who were looking openly for that specific preference with the local prostitutes. At that time, Romania was still a fairly rigid, conservative society, which ridiculed and legally prosecuted sexual diversity.
On a wider political spectrum, Europe managed to stave off the Turkish invasion of Europe by defeating them in Vienna in 1683, and are still opposing Turkey's joining the European Union, even today.
Our hostility or prejudice against individuals or even groups of people is often a reflection of political or cultural manipulation by those in power and the media.
I remember a temporary but strong anti-Turkish sentiment was stirred simply by a very popular and successful 1978 American movie called " Midnight Express" were the Turkish judicial system and its executors, were portrayed in a very negative light.
A young American tourist tried to smuggle some drugs out of Turkey, and was caught and jailed. Nothing too exciting or unusual about this, but what rubbed the viewers the wrong way, was the cruelty and brutality of the prison guards, as portrayed in the movie. At its most dramatic point, the chief Turkish prison guard savagely beat the young imprisoned offender and tried to brutally sodomize him, but the desperate young man managed not only to defend himself, but also kill the attacker and hang him on a hook, like a piece of meat and escape both the prison and the country in the guard's uniform.
While the movie was controversial, the face of the sadistic Turkish guard Hamidou, played superbly by the American actor Paul Smith, a veteran in unsavoury roles, remained hauntingly unforgettable in my memory.
Not long after I saw this old movie, I was traveling through Europe, returning to Canada from Vienna.
My stopover in Schwechat, the small and cosy airport of the Austrian capital, was supposed to be a pleasant break for some excellent coffee and pastries and the usual stroll through the vast and colorful Duty Free Shopping mall. On my way towards the Food Court, I stopped for a Number One call of nature and entered the first facility with the "Gentlemen" sign on it. To my annoyance, all urinals were faced by men holding a brief case in their left hand and justifying their presence with the right hand. I wished I could have taken a picture of this grotesque line-up and I took it with my eyes, not a camera, of course. I had my own urges too, and the first door of the Number Two stalls was half open, so I entered quickly sat down and made myself comfortable in that miniature but very private place. I rested my elbows on my thighs and my chin on my fists, and was staring blankly on the floor. Not for very long though, because I saw right at my feet a thick black leather wallet. First I moved it gently with the tip of my shoe, as in trying to see if it was real, or just painted on the floor or some other form of a hoax. Well, very clearly it was real and then I dignified it with bending over enough to pick-it up by hand.
Again, I looked around in the small toilet cubicle, as if someone could see me or watch me or attack me...But no, it looked and felt safe, so I opened the wallet and saw in the first transparent plastic pocket the black and white picture of Hamidou! Yes, the ferocious, sadistic Turkish prison guard, who tried to sodomize the young American drug smuggler, and ended-up dead, hanging on a meat hook. Same bulging dark eyes, wild menacing bone-chilling look, that ugly thick moustache, that wide mouth with smoked yellow crooked teeth. For sure it was him. With disgust and some curiosity I flipped the plastic pocket and on the other side I saw an identity card, with the same but much smaller picture of Hamidou in the top right corner and the rest of the card had all the credentials of a Turkish Police Officer from the Police Headquarters in Istanbul.
As I opened the wallet wider, a large wad of strange looking bills fell on the floor. I quickly stepped on them so they would not start flying away from the draft, then I picked them up. In total disbelief and shock, I counted € 3, 325, an enormous amount of cash to be carried around loosely and negligently .
Then I realized that this must have been the bribe the young American paid to Hamidou, to let him escape from prison. But Hamidou was dead (at least in the movie), and the real guy who looked like him was the American actor Paul Smith...So I said to myself: "George, stop this crazy hallucination and mixing fantasy with reality... just do something useful and practical).
I made a quick summary of the situation: Hamidou was not Hamidou, and the Ottoman rule of my country of birth should not influence at all any decision I might take. And maybe the poor bastard who is dropping on toilet floors his identity card and his ill gotten money, deserves a second chance. I was still wondering on how long can such a stash of money could stay unnoticed on the floor of the most frequented toilet stall, the first and closest to the men's washroom entrance. Probably not very long, so the man could still be in the Airport building.
I walked out of the washroom and headed straight to the Airport Guest Service. I was greeted by a polite, short, plump, round faced woman with very heavy make-up, that was not helping her beautiful green eyes. When I looked at her name badge, I could read a long, tongue twisting name, ending in "oglu". Clearly a Turkish name. Well, not everybody returned back to Turkey in 1683.
I quickly handed over to her the "Hamidou" Police ID Card, explained that I found it on the toilet floor. The woman thanked me and I left. I still had about 45 minutes of free time before I had to board my plane. I walked to a nearby coffee shop, where I ordered a superb cappuccino and some fancy Viennese pastry. I had a perfect vantage point from where I could see the Guest Service Desk, without being seen. For the next half hour, the lady was paging my "Hamidou" every 5 minutes, both in perfect German and I assume in perfect Turkish too, but nobody showed-up. Then, I saw the lady handing over the document to a uniformed official and that was the end of it for me. I had mixed feelings, because I really wanted to see the face of this air head or rather loose pocket ass, and I was even toying with the idea of completing a high end "mitzvah" with returning the document and the cash.
Fortunately, God remembered what happened to me years before in the some lovely country of Austria, and returned to me that loss, the "hefty fine on crap" with extremely high interest.
This concludes my long version of documenting how in life "You lose some, you win some"
by George Kun 12/30/2013