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We take the Sudetenland

08/04/13 - 7:08

Following in the footsteps of Hitler, our family kicked off its European Vacation invasion with a trip to the Sudetenland. Why not? We had an affordable place to stay, some cool people to visit and it was close to home, only a five-hour drive by car. Unfortunately, we don't own a car, we own a Hybrid. With both the electric and combustion motors whining in protest, our little green machine guzzled up gas and nibbled up autobahn at the blitzkrieg pace of 79 miles per hour — getting us to the Czech border in just under six hours.

We drove past the outskirts of beautiful Prague on the way to our destination city. Much of Prague was left unscathed by WWII bombs, it was however, severely scathed by communist architecture. Wide swaths of beautiful pre-communist buildings were interrupted by big grey blocks of what would strike you as very practical architecture if it wasn't so mind-numbingly ugly.

We spent the majority of our time in the beautiful southwest region of the country, more specifically in Moravia, or even more, more specifically, in Moravian wine cellars.

Here we are in a wine cellar that is over three hundred years old.

Normally I don't drink but this wine was free of charge. It was also free of preservatives and consequently, hangovers. Or so they said. I am not a seasoned drinker so just to be safe, I dowsed my entire frame with anti-hangover deodorant body spray by Axe:

(Anti-Hangover Body Spray by Axe- yes it is a real product.)

I'll never really know why I didn't feel bad in the morning but I didn't feel bad (unless you count the immense guilt that comes with being raised devout Mormon in Utah and drinking great wine in Moravia).

All the wine cellars we visited were dark, damp and rampant with mold and the Mormon in me couldn't help thinking, "These wine cellars would be bad places to store dry goods." The basement at the Capuchin Monastery in Brno however, struck me immediately as an excellent food storage room. It was cool, dark and arid! It was the perfect place for the preservation of grain or canned goods and, as it turns out — dead bodies. The basement at the Capuchin Monastary is not, however, the perfect place to take your four-year old son.

When I asked the woman at the Monastary ticket booth, "How much for the childs ticket?" she gave me the stink-eye and said, "No charge!" while pointing at the appropriate place on the price list hanging in plain sight. A thick accent made her English difficult to understand, but the implied meaning of her abrupt tone was crystal clear —'you must be a dumb-ass'. I assumed she was cranky because some 'Ugly American' idiot had made her lift an arm and point at a price list five inches from his face but in hindsight I realize she was cranky because some American idiot was taking his small child into a room full of human remains.*

According to experts, repeating an action and expecting a different result is a symptom of insanity, but if you are a good parent, it is a description of your job, so before entering the sacred catacombs I performed a ritual of futility by giving my son the standard "proper behavior in public places" speech. It is the same talk I always give him, the one he always ignores like a pre-flight safety video, and I rattled it off with all the enthusiasm of a flight attendant, customizing it a bit for the current situation by carefully replacing the words 'restaurant' with 'tomb'; 'diners' with 'bodies'; and 'eating' with 'sleeping'. My customized speech was something like this: "Listen kiddo, you have to be quiet in the 'tomb' because the 'bodies' are 'sleeping'."

Being clueless, or as my wife says — "of little situational awareness"- I was two, maybe two and a half corpses into the tour before I noticed the eerie silence of my son being quiet. He wasn't fidgeting or trying to touch everything the way he does at the store. He actually asked me to 'hold him', something he had never done in a space where running around and making noise were highly inappropriate. He wasn't even showing off for the monks like he does when we visit other people's houses or have company over for dinner. In fact he was behaving much better for these dead people than he does for live people. For the first time in his life, he was an angel.

At first I was proud of his behavior. And I was proud of myself. My persistence had paid off. The lecture on 'proper social conduct' had finally sunk in. All it took was the added impact of a few corpses, and not overly grotesque corpses at that. The first bunch of monk-mummies really weren't that bad. They were all peacefully posed, carefully clothed and safe behind glass. All of them had eyelids, cheeks and lips that were fully intact and closed, covering completely what would have been some scary-as-hell holes for a four-year old to behold. In all honesty these dead bodies were no more disturbing than the mannequins at the local thrift store and much less disturbing than Michael Jackson was for the last decade of his life.

But then we flowed with a small crowd around the corner and stumbled onto this:

Several teenage girls failed at muffling their screams. My 'little angel,' concerned by the noise, whispered, "Are they going to wake them up!?"

I sure as hell hoped not. This was already creepy stuff. If they 'woke up' it would warrant immediate evacuation of body and bowel. These corpses were out in the open, raw and in a creepy way they were choreographed and costumed- lying side by side in neat rows, their skulls propped up gently on stone pillows, their desiccated flesh and skin blending in with their perfectly matched 'Gap-Khaki' rags. All of their mouths were frozen wide open, as if by order of a dentist. Their heads were tilted, but no two were tilted the same, giving them a frozen, yet animated quality. It was as if they had all died simultaneously in mid chorus or conversation. I imagined a slumber party in Pompeii.

I finally 'came-to' when my son made no attempt at the deep, carefully groomed sand on the floor. After living on the beach in Monterey for two years, the sight of pristine sand normally makes my son go bananas with glee.

"Whoa, this isn't right!" I thought, "He should be squirming like a puppy. Begging me to bury him in that sand. Something is wrong!"

I then realized that the calming effect of the corpses was not reverence born of a new found maturity. It was terror. So we bolted. We really only saw about six of the more than hundred or so Capuchin monk skeletons. But no biggie. My son got in for free and my ticket was only three dollars. We saw six dead monks for three bucks which comes out to fifty cents a corpse, half the price of your average exotic dancer. In my book thats a bargain.

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