BLOGasides: Spring Sneezin’

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BLOGasides

Spring Sneezin’

Never do people not sound like themselves more than when they’re lying…or sneezing. Everyone’s sneeze is different – individual, like a facial feature or nervous tick. Most politely cover up in order to mask the God-awful, deafening blast about to be unleashed from the depths within… 
And some prefer to just let it out – akin to shouting, “I just peed my pants!” in public – much to the chagrin of anyone within a one mile radius of your muzzle. It’s the worst tip-off that would give away your position in war; or make your presence known in a sold-out performance of Swan Lake. It’s one of those things that makes us human, like uncontrollable hiccups, helpless laughter at a good joke, or subconsciously being judgemental of others – except we’re unapologetic about it. 
Sneezing acts almost like a natural stress-release; the louder the sneeze, the more negative energy your body rids of. It’s never pleasant when the man sitting next to you on the bus causes you to have a heart attack; or when your snotty child sneezes all over your freshly pressed blouse. And it’s certainly never attractive to watch as your husband’s face scrunches up and contorts into the hideous countenance of an unrecognizable beast; like witnessing someone who’s just hallucinated their long-dead father. 
Sneezing may be an unexpected, and often embarrassing, bodily function. But it’s one of life’s little pleasures; Something we can be unapologetic about: Something that makes each of us unique. So scream it – or should I say sneeze it – loud and proud! Gesundheit, and God bless you.
Next: “From Dusk Till Yawn”
Cameron is a freelance writer
cambrtnik.wordpress.com 

Travelogue: How To Get Fired From A Cruise Ship

Travel-ogue: How To Get Fired From A Cruise Ship
by Cameron Brtnik
     The year was 2009, and I was freshly back from Hollywood. I didn’t make it of course – I didn’t have the drive; to sleep in a car, to live off macaroni and cheese for two years, to go to five auditions a week only to get a call back to a tooth paste commercial – I didn’t get that either. I had been working on my magic – practicing daily, I even enrolled in the world famous Magic Castle Hollywood and partook in a master class with my childhood magical hero Mark Wilson (The Complete Course In Magic was the first magic book I studied). And I wanted to do something with it. I filmed a demo video, sent it off to Carnival Cruise Lines – the world’s foremost pleasure vessel and self-acclaimed party boat – and whadaya know, I was hired!
     It was a 200,000 ton (fifty times bigger than the Titanic), 2000 passenger occupancy vessel. Simply put, it was a huge. She was a magnificent beast. And it was all mine: The Carnival Glory.
 
But let me backtrack a bit here….
     That summer I was at Sorcerer’s Safari Magic Camp (I know what you’re thinking, and yes they do manufacture real life Harry Potters there) and one of the special guests – a world famous magician cruise ship by the name of Sean Farquhar – regaled us with stories of magic on the big seas…I was hooked. I approached him later that day to ask him more details. He told us the story of a a cruise that involved certain Playboy Bunny guests, and an onboard magician who woke up one day at the ungodly hour of five o’clock a.m. to a knock at the door to find one of the ship’s officers just stopping by to say hello. He admired the photos taped on his wall, mainly noticing the X-rated material of said rabbit ear-wearing guests. He also recognized who they accompanied, and more specifically, the location of where the photos were taken: in that very bedroom.
     Now this all seems fine and well, even a good story perhaps if it weren’t for one G-darned rule: There’s NO frolicking with the guests – even if they are Playboy Bunnies. So this lucky, damned SOB was fired on the spot. No one heard from him again…or so I say. Foreshadowing anyone???…..
I excelled at my job. it was a perfect fit; magic, entertainment, customer experience, and….women. No shortage of them. It was like a haven, a floating forbidden island, an open buffet, a melting pot of American, Asian, African, Mexican, you name it you got it, it was….Paradise. And I? Zero willpower. I met a smart man early on – the wisest of men and the absolute manslut of the cruise: The Pianist. He knew things no other man did – or should – and more importantly, he knew how to manipulate the rules of a pleasure boat. He gave me one simple piece of advice: If you don’t want to get caught, meet the female guests off board the ship. Book a hotel for a few hours, meet the single, university frat girl, divorce or married woman off the premises, have your fun, and return onboard as if nothing ever happened. Because in the eyes of everyone aboard (including the ignorant) husband, nothing out of the ordinary happened; just another drunk guest enjoying her time on land, probably shopping or getting drunk off three dollar martinis at some cheap local beach bar somewhere in Belize.
     Good advice – advice I should’ve taken to heart, considering that was the second unofficial warning. But me being me, never heading the advice of others, never listening to the warnings of previous perpetrators, always wanting to learn the hard way, me -stubborn, selfish, self-absorbed, egocentric, narcissistic – had to learn the hard way….
It was a warm evening – I know because I was getting a BJ on the balcony of th—wait, I’m getting “ahead” of myself now…. It was a regular night. I was working the martini bar, performing close-up magic for Carnivals guests – couples, newlyweds, singles and some curious staff – and this spicy Mexican broad was making eyes. I’d seen the look before: sultry, exotic, flirty, curious, all come-ons, and I knew i could have her that night. It was all part of the process: Girl goes on cruise for first time with friends, girl gets drunk, girl hunts for boys, girl finds no boys, girl goes in search of something more attractive, more charming, more dangerous: the staff. Not just any staff – no, sadly the housekeepers, chefs and servers are not allowed in the guest area – for entertainers. And if the piano man got laid the most, the magicians (and even comedians believe it or not) were a close second. I just happened to be on her radar, or more fittingly, menu that night.
     Here was my problem: I thought I had out-smarted security – I had not. To rub this obvious truth in even more, a friend co-worker who sold paintings at a gallery onboard warned me not a week earlier: “Be careful: they have their eyes on you.” I scoffed at the thought. Around midnight, the time I usually wrapped up my show, I met her at the ship’s nightclub. We drank. We danced. We left about 2am and hurried back to her door. I had been here many times before; “Should I or shouldn’t I?” were always the thoughts that repeated through my mind. On one hand, I’m sacrificing my job and career (and an exciting one full of future possibilities at that!) On the other hand, this chick is hot and horny and that’s also, in it’s own way, full of future possibilities. Many times in the previous few months I had turned this enticing offer down; this time I overruled my silly worries, and discreetly stepped into her room…
     Fast forward to getting a glorious BJ on the deck off her room, under a full moon, the night sea breeze filling my nostrils full of optimism…then a loud knock at the door. Security: “We know you’re in there and we’re coming in.” Me: (Thinking) “I could totally Spiderman down the side of the ship onto the balcony below and not get caught…” The gig was up – I was caught. Now, the thing is I was friends with these security guys – really nice dudes from India who I said hi to and conversed with daily – so it felt surreal as they handcuffed me and led me into a small, windowless room to interrogate me. I was forced into admitting my actions (and a couple others) and writing an apology, promising that I would never commit such an unspeakable atrocity again. (The rules are in place to prevent the cruise line from being sued by guests. Think “unwanted pregnancy” or “mysterious std”.) I was then freed to go with the ominous warning: “One day you may hear a knock at five o’clock in the morning.” So it was true….
     Four days past without incident; I thought I was in the clear! Day 5: Port stop, Miami. 5am: Knock at the door. I thought I was dreaming. An officer standing at the door; it was told to pack my bags. I was escorted off the ship by the sympathetic officer. It was like doing the ultimate “walk of shame” in front of my fellow shipmates whom I had become close with over the six months I had been aboard. I was met by a local Miami officer – a pleasant, religious woman who gave me sound advice on the way to the airport (something about not drinking too much) and waited with me until my plane home arrived. I learned an important lesson that day: The “Five O’clock Knock” is a real thing.
-Written by Cameron Brtnik
cambrtnik.wordpress.com 

BLOG-Bits: Depression

BLOG-Bits

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9.2.15 – Depression

I ate a whole box of O’s in bed last night and passed out. I effectively both avoided Skyping home, as was my plan (every time I want to Skype home I have guilty feelings of all the times I never Skyped home, and therefore avoid it again to rid myself of those negative feelings, therefore causing the cycle to continue) and all responsibility – I had planned to accomplish a few things before bed. WTF is wrong with me! I’m afraid I haven’t improved since I was a teenager, and I’m not sure if I ever will… I’m scared, and feeling more depressed than ever. I have a prescription for Ritalin, which helps me focus for long periods without getting tired or eating, and gives me feelings of inspiration, motivation and happiness… but those do not last. I feel worse the next day. It must be what a cocaine hangover feels like. I should probably change my prescription to antidepressants.

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Travelogue: Penghu – Taiwan’s Beautiful and Boring Island

Penghu

Penghu

Taiwan’s Beautiful and Boring Island

by Cameron Brtnik

Penghu, September 8, 2014 – My thirty-third birthday. I’m currently sitting seaside at a port in a small city on a tiny island off the coast of Taiwan, enjoying a glass of “The distinctive flavor lager beer,” also known as Taiwan Beer, and gorging on delicious freshly caught oysters and imported salmon. I feel at peace.

    I needed a vacation – Not from work overload, but because in the three years I’ve been living in Taiwan, I’ve never left the island (except for my trip back home to Canada). So I decided to take a trip, alone, to a pretty neighboring island to the west of Taiwan called Penghu (actually a cluster of islets). Warning: This is a couples’ trip, so only go alone if you want to experience cabin fever…without the cabin. Albeit a beautiful island, there’s not much to do besides visit the gorgeous local beaches – I suppose everything’s “local” in Penghu – to surf, dive, or (like me) finally get through that worn paperback you’ve been schlepping around everywhere. And that’s about it. “No matter, I’ll meet people!” I thought. Unfortunately, I came to this isle toward the end of the Moon Festival holiday when people were already returning home. Oh, not to mention the plane crash that killed 48 people (including two foreign exchange students from France) just two weeks prior to my arrival. That never helps an already flailing tourism industry.

    Undeterred (I had caught wind of this news the night before, but I was drunk enough at the time that I accepted my destined, likely watery fate), I took the first flight out of Taipei – which, by the way, I caught the same night of my birthday celebrations, or should I say following morning after leaving Halo, the club we were partying at, bottle service in tow – still inebriated, but somehow functional. I had smartly packed that evening and took my luggage straight to the nightclub. The plane ride was short, just an hour, and I felt safe (which I can’t say for those unfortunate souls who got caught in the typhoon), perhaps because I was passed out the whole way.

    I arrived at the small airport, where I passed out for another three hours on the uncomfortable, yet somehow comfortable seats. When I awoke it was only 10:30am, and I asked about cheap hostels. Soon a van arrived to escort me, and a lovely girl named Julia, whose family owned a local hostel called “Big Fish House,” drove me straight there. It was a very cute inn, more of a Bed and Breakfast, and wasn’t very cheap – $1500nt for the night. But it was well worth the stay, with a bright, spacious room to myself, breakfast, and a scooter (for an extra $300nt) included. I spent the next two hours sleeping (still working off that hangover, or tequila, or both) then hopped on my scooter and hit Shanshui aka “Mountain Water Beach.”

    The first thing I noticed along the way was that sea smell; the salty air hitting your nostrils like it was the first fresh breath of air you’ve taken in years. I was told there’d be “lots of foreigners there.” I was optimistic, as I wanted to meet some new friends to share my adventure with. There was one – he and his Taiwanese girlfriend – and he didn’t look the sort I was interested in meeting (or vice versa). So I kept to myself and got into my book – Freakonomics, a former yet still-popular bestseller I always intended to read, but never got around to till I found myself on a lonely island.

    At dusk, I jumped on my scooter and headed into town; if I were to find any action, it would be in the heart and centre of Penghu! I was wrong. I found one bar that I recognized from the Taiwan Lonely Planet called Freud. It was modelled after a fishing boat, with the same charm and décor as any Canadian seafood tavern, but it was missing that one asset I was looking for: people. I ate the mediocre “Thai-style shrimp” and enjoyed the choice Heineken beer. The mood was dark and depressing, so I left soon before it “got busy.” I went back to my commodious, Japanese-style room, and passed out for the fourth time that day..

    I woke up too late for breakfast, but it was still available: dried up bread loaf and two choices of spread: Nutella and peanut butter. If you know me, you know I enjoyed the shit out of it, more so because it was included (although not served in a bed). Julia, the friendly hotel manager – she and her mother manage two locations of Big Fish House, and she plans to leave in three weeks to study English in Australia for six months – drove me in her Big Fish van to the north end of the island to catch a ferry to a smaller islet fifteen minutes away. Exotically called Chikan (or “chicken island” as I preferred to call it), it’s a little paradise get-away, punctuated by stone weirs – oddly-shaped stone walls in the water originally built as fish traps – and small beaches. I visited Aimen Beach, famous for its jet skiing and banana boating. I did neither, and instead collected coral fragments that had washed ashore, and that’s what the sand was mostly composed of. A nice way to spend the day, but I was sunburnt and happy to catch the last boat back to “civilization.”

    Walking along the beach I noticed one thing: I love long walks on the beach (not a cheesy dating site description). This goes back to my cottage days of walking the shore of Georgian Bay all the way to Balm Beach, over an hour’s walk, and feeling happy as a sand boy (an expression my mother often used, but I never understood. I had to look up the etymology and discovered sand boys were actually “men who drove donkeys selling sand,” and were reportedly always happy). I also noticed something else: I felt utterly alone. It wasn’t a good feeling. I realized right there and then that life is better with friends, or family, or a significant other. That feeling faded though as I thought about how lucky I was, and started plotting world domination.

    I took the ferry back across the straight, caught a cab back into town, and checked into a shitty cheap hotel. I put a generous helping of aloe on that inexorable “Brtnik Burn,” grabbed my laptop, and headed down to the port where I’m currently sitting, two tall beers in, writing this diary entry. It’s my birthday, and I’m surrounded by drunken fishermen and the feeling of loneliness. I think I’ll try and bump my return ticket to tomorrow, as another day on this beautiful and boring island may make Jack a dull boy. As of right now, I feel content, but I wish my friends were here… My friends from Taiwan. My friends from China. My friends from Toronto. My brother and sister. A stranger. But all is well, and let’s all feel lucky we’re alive and not on a plane destined for doom (God bless their souls). I’ll see everyone soon. Oh, and happy Moon Festival!

-Written by Cameron Brtnik, September 8, 2014 on his 33rd birthday

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Cameron is a freelance writer living in Taiwan and part-time explorer cbrtnik.com

Memories of Germany: Remembering Edith & Wolfgang

Memories of Germany

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Remembering Edith & Wolfgang

by Cameron Brtnik

June, 2014 – We’ve lost someone dearly beloved to us. Edith Herzog, 1932-2014. She lived a long, full life, then lost a battle with cancer. Otto, her brother, and my dad, spoke with her on the phone in the weeks prior to her death and said she sounded well, in good spirits. He was able to talk to his only sister before her passing, and I am grateful for that.

    I always wished we – my younger brother, sister, and I – were closer with our family in Germany: Aunt Edith and Uncle Wolfgang, cousins Roby and Bepsi, her husband Helmut and their kids, our dear cousins Eva and Kati, and of course, our Omi. Not close in the sense of family, but in terms of distance – we saw them very infrequently as kids, but made trips whenever we could visit. Sometimes Otto would take all three of us. I went alone once, and Adam and Meghan went on other occasions. They were all memorable trips, in no small part due to the generosity and hospitality we felt as soon as we arrived.

    Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visiting my wonderful family in Stuttgart, Germany. Our Aunt Edith – sweating and slaving in the kitchen, our uncle Wolfgang – yelling Edith’s name from another floor high above, perhaps about the laundry or maybe looking for his glasses. Taking a short car ride into town to pick up some sparkling water (which I hated. They never drank spring water so I just had to get used to the unpleasant fizzy taste) in Wolfgang’s Mercedes Benz – never the “top of the line model with leather interior,” but a beautiful automobile nonetheless (as a retired engineer at Mercedes he would receive a new Benz every two years, not a bad retirement package!) or to pick up fresh pretzels in the morning (I still have an unhealthy love of those warm, squishy pretzels). And watching Walker: Texas Ranger (which was unusually popular in Germany) starring, yep, Chuck Noris, on TV with my auntie Edith.

    Eating is a considerable part of German culture and I can remember Edith working in the kitchen all morning to prepare lunch (in American culture dinner is the biggest meal whereas in Germany lunch is – In Taiwan EVERY meal is the big meal), which was always hearty and delicious. We would then make our way into town to shop, or travel outside of Holzeim (the quaint, hillside town where they lived) to go sightseeing, visit picturesque towns, gothic churches and modern museums (my favourite was always the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart).

    They generally made sure we were always busy during our visit. There were also neighbours who had kids our age, so we were never bored, even if there was a language barrier – isn’t it funny that these things don’t matter as a kid? My favourite way to pass the time would be to wander beyond their backyard, cross over the train tracks, pass through the poison ivy, and into the rolling green hills just beyond their home. It was a beautiful, picturesque landscape, and I can remember feeling quite at peace, riding a bike or just hiking through the hills.

    One of my fondest memories of my aunt Edith was when I was about 15, and had met a German girl at the local gym. This girl had particularly long fangs that masqueraded as teeth. We went on a date and I ended up with a painfully visible hickey on my neck. Edith nicknamed her “Vampire Girl” from then on. We never had a second date. (If you’re reading this, add me to Facebook! Or should I say Fangbook?)

    I’ll really miss Edith and Wolfgang – I never got to say bye to them, and I haven’t visited in almost ten years. But every visit I had was so momentous it never felt that long between visits. I wish I could sit down and have a chat with them now…. Edith’s laugh filling the room (she always did have a great sense of humour), Wolfgang, serious, stern, but generous and always joining in on the joke. They were more than just great but amazing people that I’ll always hold close to my heart.

    I remember always looking up to my cousin Roby as a mentor – a fashion expert, music buff, and ladies man (though he’s now engaged with children), he had a big impact on me as a kid. We still have lots of great family in Germany, and we should all make efforts to see each other whenever possible. In fact, Meghan and JP will travel to Germany next week. I wish I could join you guys! I know you’ll have an incredible trip, and make even more lasting memories. And if you happen to see Vampire Girl, tell her…that she left a “lasting impression” on me.

Dedicated to Omi, Edith & Wolfgang

Written by Cameron, September 10, 2014