Once upon a time I took a family vacation to Europe and we visited Holland (because that’s where the plane landed) and the Czech Republic (because my dad wished to do family history). Because of this family history aspect to our trip, we had made plans to stay with a distant relative in the southern region known as Bohemia. This relative was an older gentleman in his late 70’s, widowed, and lived alone. Because of the language barrier, we had arranged for a young woman to act as our translator and guide as we toured. What could possibly go wrong?
We arrived late in the evening, and were picked up by the old man and his grandson. (He did seem cute! He was old and bent over and didn’t speak English so anything he said was instantly endearing.) Thanks to both of our groups having translator books at the ready, we were able to say awkwardly pronounced greetings, and then confirm that they were taking us to get dinner. All seemed well. We met his daughter who made us a very delicious, unidentifiable meal. Strange conversations in broken English and Czech peppered the entire night. It was a really nice time.
Then we went to his home.
[I should probably side track slightly and point out that I have a sort of, well, thing about where I sleep and having a clean bathroom. I purposefully look for a sleeping space that allows me to have my back against a wall so that I am better prepared for the horrors that stalk you from the front. (What I will do about wall spiders, I haven’t figured out yet.) I also cannot stand trying to get clean in a room that isn’t itself already clean. Both of these aspects were about to have a serious Moment.]
He showed us two rooms of choice for our sleeping arrangements: a bedroom and a living room next to the bedroom. You’ve heard about those times in every young hero or heroine’s life where they have to choose between the lesser of two evils or slay a dragon? This time was now for me.
The bedroom was quite spartan with only a bed and an open light fixture dangling from above. I saw danger everywhere. The windows didn’t seem like adequate fire escapes and the bed itself was an open maw of disease based on the ancient feather tick covering it. The sunken center was also a hint that this asteroid may not be entirely stable.
In contrast the living room contained a couch with its back wonderfully against one wall opposite of the door, and windows large enough to jump through in case of Balrog. I immediately annexed the couch to my realm.
The one bathroom that we were all to share became a second place of horror for me. The shower had no curtain, the shower head had to be held by hand to use, and there was ONE towel that we all had to share. I know (intellectually) that there are worse things in life (#firstworldproblems) but my reality eclipsed all reason.
I got my sleeping quarters arranged in as comfortable a fashion as one can when one is traveling, and laid down. I was now looking at a poster on the ceiling that I hadn’t noticed before. It was of an extremely naked and even more extremely buxom chick who was holding a very large member of the serpent family.
My cheerful vision of the kindly old man came crashing down. No longer was he the creature from Pixar’s “Up”. No, I clearly needed to downgrade his archetype in my mind.
I slept an uneasy sleep that night.
The next evening the old man very much desired to show us photos from his many photo albums. He also was quite enthusiastic about sharing his homemade wine with us. I was unable to extricate myself from either scenario and spent most of my energy pretending to both drink and view the photos. There was one frightful exchange where he insisting I view a particular photo album, and kept shoving it at me. I gave the photos a cursory glance and then managed to make my excuses to go to sleep. The creepy couch and breast ceiling had more to offer me than this strange scene.
This pattern continued for three days and then it was time to get back to Prague. Such relief! On the morning that we said our goodbyes, this interaction gem got exchanged between me and the old man thanks to our translator.
Him: *speaking in Czech*
Linda: He wants to know if you enjoyed the couch.
Me: Oh, yes, it was quite comfortable, thank you.
Linda: He says that’s where he normally sleeps.
Of course it was.
Later that day in Prague we were having a nice family meal when my dad burst out laughing. “I can’t believe you kept it together when we were looking at photo albums! I thought for sure you were going to explode on him!” I was completely puzzled as I didn’t remember anything strange about the photos other than his maniacal insistence I view them. I thoughtfully chewed and attempted to dredge up the images I had vaguely glanced at and then gave up when I didn’t succeed.
“What photos?” I asked, still full of naive innocence at the world. “Oh, just the ones of his last birthday party wherein the cake was in the shape of a woman’s boobs with Hershey Kiss nipples,” came the strangely not so unexpected answer, “I think he might be a dirty old man.” I laughed and said that I had figured that out when I saw the poster. “What poster?” asked my observant dad.