THE ICE OF THE DANUBE RIVER HAD THAWED A LITTLE and flat chunks flowed along the bank. I walked from the Chain Bridge into the Pest half of Budapest, shielding my face against biting wind.
I figured I couldn't make it the ten blocks to my hostel without my body freezing. I backtracked a block. I looked for warmth and booze and a tavern sign. A man emptying his bladder onto the sidewalk was sign enough. I approached him and mounted the steps that led from his urine puddle to a door. Angry guttural Hungarian rose from the pissing man; his vocalized rage was clipped off by the door that closed behind me.
Inside the bar stares met me. The locals muttered to each other and pointed at me. The bartender was nice enough. She was an Eastern European beauty with the golden hair and gauzy blouse that turns a tiny neighborhood bar into a hotspot. Local men had spent dozens of iron winters under the worn glove of foreign rule, communist rations, and oppression. The bargirl's cleavage drew the oldsters in and kept them in their seats longer than the local housewives would prefer. Here I was, stealing her from them.
I undid my coat, pulled off sweaters, and unwrapped my scarf, piling my stinking woolens on the barstool in front of me. After a series of gestures passed between me and the curvaceous, curly-haired tender of the bar, a pint of beer materialized before me. The locals nudged each other with thick elbows and nudged me with furled brows.
I finished my beer and ordered another, trying to keep my attention away from the regulars and on the TV over the bar. The hand on the remote control kept thumbing the channel button. Conferences broke out within the gray mob every time a new selection was made. Click. Grumble. Click. Grumble.
The TV flashed a blue and red infrared outline of a man. Three hoary heads from the far side of the bar cocked sideways, trying to make sense of the image. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger, in cammo fatigues, forged his way through an on-screen jungle.
"Ah. Stallone. Cobra," one of the patrons said.
"Nope," I said catching the collective gaze of the crowd and pointing to the screen. "That's Arnold."
"Ah. Arnold," another said in agreement.
I held my finger aimed at the screen, "and that's Predator."
"Ah. Prrraahdahtoor," they repeated. "Prraahdahtoor. Prahdahtor. Arnold."
"Exactly," I said, having gained the group's confidence. The girl thumped down a fresh mug of beer in front of me. When I tried to hand her money, she refused, jabbing her right thumb at the regulars to say, It's on them.
WHAT I WILL AND WON'T WATCH THIS WEEK
Thursday, April 7
SD 4, 7:00 p.m.
Looks like it's baseball season again. In this particular event, our Millionaires (Padres) face off against Pittsburgh's Millionaires (Pirates) and challenge each other in a complicated game of tag to see who can score the most points. Pay attention, folks. This is important stuff.
New, uncomfortable Burger King commercials
Every Channel, Airing Constantly
The BK commercial with Hootie and the porn stars is over the top but not nearly as disturbing as the commercial in which a man awakens to find a plastic-headed King of Burgers in his bed. Sure, you always expected Mayor McCheese to force his way into your home and chase you around with a sharpened screwdriver, but the King?
8 Mile (2002)
VH1, 8:00 p.m.
Brittany Murphy's raunchy, palm-licking sex scenes are well worth suffering through the formulaic emotional-triggers that make up the rest of this film. Sure, Eminem's a paper tiger who couldn't fight his way out from under a heavy quilt, but he got to unroll Murphy's drawers from beneath her skirt. Say what you will.
Friday, April 8
What the #$*! Do We Know!? (2004)
I convinced some friends to rent this DVD because I thought it would be about Quantum Theory and how we're affected by it. We made it halfway through before our bullshit meters went to 11. I was surprised to see the cast of characters includes an excommunicated priest, Marlee Matlin, and Ramtha the 35,000-year-old warrior spirit from -- hold onto your socks, folks -- the lost city of Atlantis. Whoa-ho!
Saturday, April 9
Krippendorf's Tribe (1998)
WB, 8:00 p.m.
Jenna Elfman has commented in the Scientology magazine, Celebrity, that her goal in life is to clear the planet. By "clear the planet," she means to rid the world of "body thetans" -- aliens who have inhabited the Earth since an evil dictator, Xenu, brought them here 75 million years ago. I can't top that. I can't come up with a joke that's better than that.
TOON, 10:00 p.m.
I'll tell you what kind of kids watch Dragonball GT at 10:00 on a Saturday night: the kids in my neighborhood. There's a bright-red neon sign down the street from my house that touts its beef to be "Black Angus." Not a single kid has thought to fire a rock up at that "g" and turn the sign into something worth looking at; something that brings mirth to those who view it. I'm not mad at the kids for choosing cartoons over mischief. I'm just disappointed.
Sunday, April 10
Southern California Poker Tour
FOX, 11:00 a.m.
A dozen friends and I are going to Las Vegas for my birthday in a couple of months. Rather than play out the clichéd scenes from Fear and Loathing, I'd rather recreate Andy Warhol's cross-country trip and wire myself out on amphetamines and acid.
Monday, April 11
Miss USA 2005
NBC, 9:00 p.m.
Not to be confused with Miss America, Miss Universe, Miss Teen USA, or Miss Latin America. With the myriad categories each of these pageants holds, we now have a rank and title for every man, woman, and child over the age of 12. I am Miss Photogenic in the tattooed, 270-pound-plus category -- three years running. You should see the bikini contest.
Tuesday, April 12
We just got this in the mail. It's a "Julia Roberts is pissed off about something" movie, but we haven't watched that. My roommates and I have worn away the section of the disc where Natalie Portman strips, but the rest of the movie is a mystery to us. We're going to burn that strip-club section to a new DVD and send the original back.
Wednesday, April 13
Switching Sexes: The Aftermath
Discovery Health Channel, 7:00 p.m.
In my little hillbilly hometown, if you are arrested and cannot afford an attorney, a six-foot-tall, pre-op transsexual with a five-o'clock shadow and a Dolly Parton wig is appointed to your case. The inmates lovingly refer to her as "The Gender-Bender Public Defender." I'm not making that up.