Dear Dane,

Zelený Raoul

Wow! A letter to me on your blog – that’s pretty cool, thanks.

I don’t think it’s wrong that you took the Silly Putty, it certainly sounds like you deserved it. I too remember enjoying Silly Putty, but – ježíšmaria – that seems eons ago. And by the way, I think you are incredibly brave for coordinating and participating in birthday party activities for 11-year olds. I find children in large numbers far too creepy. Were you ever on a tram in Prague when a whole school class got on, on their way to a museum or something?

It’s funny that your first example of “zoning” has to do with supermarkets. The first time I went back to LA, which was in 1993 after my first full year of Peace Corps in Ústí nad Labem (North Bohemia), I cried in the supermarket. My mom thought I had gone insane, but it was completely the opposite. Here’s the story…

First, back in Ústí, there was no such thing as orange juice in the shops. Maybe there was some sort of orange drink, I don’t remember, but not the 100% real orange juice, from concentrate or otherwise, that so many Americans would expect to be able to get anywhere they might be. And then suddenly one day there was – in one really basic German supermarket chain there were suddenly 1-litre tetra pak boxes of orange juice. The news spread like wildfire amongst the small ex-pat community and we all went to buy orange juice. And then the next week it was gone. It reappeared again 3 or 4 weeks later, but it had taught us a lesson about the necessity of hoarding.

So then I went over to The Amerika in 1993 because my sister was getting married. I went to the supermarket with my mom and I counted how many different kinds of orange juice there were. Just pure 100% orange juice in the refrigerated section. Not counting the frozen juice or the less than 100% juice or the orange-and-some-other-fruit mixtures, but just ready-to-drink orange juice – there were 19 different kinds. But that’s not what made me cry.

Towards the other end of the supermarket, when I had already been following my mom round for 20 or 30 minutes, in awe as if I had never before been in an American supermarket, we got to the toothpaste. My mom innocently said, “Max, pick out some toothpaste for yourself to take back with you.” That’s when I lost it.

In the shops in newly post-communist Czechoslovakia, you were lucky if they had a selection of two or three toothpastes. And suddenly, I was faced with an aisle of a gargantuan size, practically a whole side of it nothing but toothpastes, and I wondered, “How can I decide? How can I possibly know which is the right toothpaste? How can anyone need this much choice?” That is what made me cry.

My mom tried, but I don’t think she understood what was going on in my head. She just stroked my hair and picked up a tube of something, probably whatever was on special that day, and threw it in the gargantuan American-sized shopping trolley. My mom’s all right.

Zoning on the government. No kidding, Dane. It’s like a bad comic book most days. I hope you can preserve the ability to take a step back and observe things from an outsider’s perspective.

I don’t know if you know the Czech magazine Reflex. It’s a news weekly on acid, and one of the most widely read magazines in the Czech Republic. It’s the one that has the Cannabis Cup photo contest every year and included a joint tube with this year’s cannabis issue. There is a comic that appears on page 4 of every issue. The comic is called “Zelený Raoul: nekonečný příběh České republiky očima ufona” – “Green Raoul: a never-ending tale of the Czech Republic through the eyes of an alien”. It is brilliant and surreal and irreverent and basically Dane-style “zones” on the government and politics and society. It’s a great thing to read every week – reminds you how absolutely absurd our world is.

Stay connected, Dane. The world is not that big of a place, and you’ll find yourself back in Prague someday.

Love

Max

Zelený Raoul

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