Fanta, an American Football and what Happened Next
My beautiful aunt Eva traveled often to the unattainable magnificent free-spirited West world as a member of the famed Prague Black Theatre. And she always brought me gifts. The gifts were extraordinary and added greatly to my popularity.
Once, when I was in fourth grade, I got an American football. That happiness had no end and the strange, mind-boggling shape of that ball was secondary because it showed an American flag and the letters USA below it, and THAT was all that mattered. I loved it even though I had a much more conveniently shaped ball for football: a round one. But that was to be dealt with later, now I had a bigger problem: How to display it so the whole world knows I have THIS THING, called a football, from America?
I managed. I carried it to school propped against my belly, pressing hard till my knuckles were white. The American flag, naturally, on the outside for everyone to see. I could not just walk to school, I ran with excitement. And yes, I was the hit of the day, of the week and of the month. Everyone had a soccer ball in my tiny town. But there was only one football from America: Mine. Even though a strange one.
And the first day of the grand display of my new gift I was pretending it was not a big deal, but the pretense was a bad act. I lost it quickly as my face melted into a lovely grin of excitement and I burst into happy laughter, letting everyone touch the ball.
Naturally we played soccer with it and no one mentioned how inconvenient the shape of a ball the Americans chose for a soccer ball. But, it was from America and we were ready to convince the passersby of the park that this strangely shaped hard orange ball for football may be actually better for soccer than our round one. What do you mean the ball is for throwing, my aunt said it was for football. A foot is a foot. It is a ball for your foot! And believe or not, the joy of the endless soccer games with unfortunately shaped ball became greatly popular in my town. There were matches, there were new rules, and there was one ball from America that belonged to me.
More gifts were coming, like Fanta soda in a can. A drink with bubbles in a can? In our Czech mind, a can is reserved only for sterilized peas and carrots! But here, look at it, a can with a soda inside! And a can so beautiful with orange and blue colors screaming for attention and admiration!
We did not open that can for days because we could not decide if my brother or I would keep the can. That can traveled to school several times, and as many times came back home unopened. It traveled to an overnight camping trip, and successfully made it home unopened. Then, one day my mom decided the can will serve as a penholder for both my brother and I. She said it was time to open the can. And so in a serious ceremony around a dining table my father took the round hook and with great concentration and a quick movement peeled open the can and the pluck sound of the opening made us all laugh and shake our heads at that unbelievable technology. Well, America. The bubbles escaping through the small opening made us all dizzy with that delicious scent! Our family took turns to sip that fizzy magic drink, and yes, it was heaven. A blissful heaven.
Then came a Coca-Cola calendar. Wow! Everything about that shiny calendar was perfect: Beautiful long-haired tan girls and boys are gathered on the beach, all laughing, all having perfect pearl white teeth, each wearing a different brand of jeans ( WHAT?), each having in one hand a Coca-Cola bottle (WOW) and in the other hand an unusually actually unnaturally thick sandwich that had many layers of everything possible and one impossible ingredient: A piece of lettuce! The lettuce in a sandwich is weird even though they eat it in America! But the green against the white cheese and the reddish meat made it a picture perfect. Everyone looks so happy and smart and perfect and care-free, and I know if I want to visit this very beach, I have to go somewhere where it is called Cape Cod, as it reads below the photo! And that calendar made me understand something important: There is a perfect, absolutely PERFECT world in America. Everything from THERE is different, beautiful and just, well, PERFECT: full of colors, delish food, hip fashion, people with perfect shapes and teeth, Coca-Cola at each corner, sodas in cans and a coffee you can take out! And I promised myself right then that one day I would be there on that beach, with that sandwich, running against the Cape Cod breeze, my blond hair far behind me in a perfect wave!
And even in my child's Czech mind, I knew that that dream is as beautiful as a dream can get, and I believed in it wholeheartedly as one believes in fairy tales: with understanding that fairy tales do not happen in real life.
But then, as I was growing and observing the world around me, I realized that my world is not lacking just the colors and fizzy drinks and perfect pair of jeans. I understood that I am stuck in an unappealing grey world, a far cry from all of those piles of happy gifts and magical calendars.
My frequent trips to Budapest and former Yugoslavia where I tasted a much happier and much freer world, became only a testament to my sixth sense: I am stuck on the wrong side of the world!
I wanted out.
And it so happened that I was not alone with that dream. One day, when the omens were just right and the Commies were about to lose it, I, along with thousands of others, went to the streets of Prague and screamed for freedom. Our voices shook the leaves on the trees. They shook the glass in the windows. They shook the world. Mainly then, they shook the Communists in their very shoes, and before you knew it, they bowed and hurriedly left.
The Czechs were free. I was free. And happy. The year was 1989 and I just became a college professor.
And so, I saved money by supplying my teacher's salary by cleaning the elegant cinema Lucerna, and got me a plane ticket. And off I went over the ocean to America and its glamorous New York City.
First thing first. I buy Fanta. I study English. I find an au-pair job for dogs…. at Cape Cod! And Vlasta, the lady of the house, is Czech! I clean, I polish, I sweep,I walk the poodles, I love every minute of my job. And the best is to come in the late afternoons or early mornings: I run on the beach of North Eastham at Cape Cod and cannot believe my world, my luck, my omen. It sounds like I made it up, but guess what, that is exactly what happened.
I make money. I travel. I hike. I bike. I swim in the ocean. I taste lobster. I make great friends. I find job at the University of Colorado in Denver filing sheet music. I borrow all 13 novels by Kerouac and try to read a little bit from each in English. I travel to San Francisco to see the famed Ferlinghetti 's bookstore, I follow Allen Ginsberg's and Diana di Prima’s readings, I meet Kerouac's scholar Ann Charters and spend the entire day with her. I see Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Frank Zappa, I call Gregory Corso, but he never picks up. I call Peter Sis how much I love his books and he invites me to his Manhattan's studio to meet him and his family...
And in between all of this I meet in Manhattan’s Lower East Side a wonderful guy who speaks Czech, so it is easy to find out how great he is. And before the year is up I marry this soft-spoken great guy after we cross this gorgeous land from New York to the West Coast in his Ford pick up 150.
I marry him in the most wonderful ceremony with only he and I.
Two lone but not lonely foreigners in this wild West where they know exactly no one.
And I am in heaven to hang out with this great fun Czech man in this foreign welcoming land.
And with that, a new chapter has begun.