Another Year Goes By

January 14, 2024
Confidence: certain

Some things, like getting a job, can be put off indefinitely. Others, like paying taxes, cannot. Writing a yearly review turns out to be in this second category; not only did I promise myself I’d have this post out in the first two weeks of the year, I also promised my wife the same. And so here we are, on the 14th, which is about as late as possible as one might be able to pretend such a thing is timely.

The theme of 2023 was to not have a theme of 2023, and to instead partition the traditional yearly resolution into three semester-ly resolutions. In the wisdom of my advancing age, I’ve realized that I can maintain focus for on multi-month projects, but larger time-scales are hard. And often neurosis-inducing if I push through anyway. More on that later.

My first theme, spanning January to April (inclusive), was to be a man of action. At some point last year, I was inspired by my now-brother-in-law, who zooms around and just gets shit done. He’s not a man to sit idle, and around this time last year I felt like I could use a boost of not sitting idle. The goal was simple: whenever an action was presented to me, I had to move on it. This is not the sort of goal you can fail, but it does remind you to strive in the direction you want. By the end of April, our house had no more maintenance tasks to do, and my backlog of funny projects was empty. I even got around to paying my taxes. Much more on THAT later.

The second theme, May to August, was to be a man of discipline. Not like, a discipline daddy with a wardrobe of leather, mind you, merely, a man who does what he says and who lives according to his principles. This one didn’t go so well, much in part to these being the same months immediately before my wedding, which took up a lot of mental space.

The third theme, September to December, was to be a man of learning. Kind of. I didn’t actually write this down or tell anyone about it. I started grad school in September and that was my focus for the remainder of the year, for better or for worse.

To do things a little differently this year, let’s quickly discuss the METRICS. Last year I did 768 hours of productive, nose-to-the-grindstone work, which doesn’t include time spent thinking or reading about problems. 390 hours of those were spent writing Certainty by Construction, and another 120 hours making video games. I did 120 hours of gainful employment, and another 39 hours of marking assignments. For 47 hours, I thought about MUSIC. In 2023, I made 1550 commits on Github.

Also last year, I read 34 books. Most of them were shit (average rating 3.3/5 stars), but there were a few bangers. Sandy’s top book recommendations from 2023 are, in no particular order:

  1. Denotational Semantics by J. E. Stoy
  2. Structures by J. E. Gordon
  3. L. A. Confidential by James Ellroy
  4. An Introduction to Tonal Theory by Peter Westergaard
  5. A Pattern Language by Christoper Alexander

Rather notably, three of these books are on the topic of prescriptive utopia, albeit from completely different lenses. Denotational Semantics is the direction computer science should have gone, but didn’t. Tonal Theory successfully makes the argument that harmony is a cursed way to think about music, and really what we should be considering is counterpoint instead. And A Pattern Language is a delightful account of how amazing our civilization and cities could be if we could be fucked to make it happen.

To the casual audience, I would strongly recommend Structures, L. A. Confidential and A Pattern Language. Two will dramatically change how you look at the city around you, and the third is just an excellent read.

On the topic of books, I wrote a new one this year. More on that later, but while we’re discussing metrics, I sold 433 books last year, which works out to about $12,000. It’s not an impressive amount of money, but it’s not chump change either, and (almost) pays the rent. If you’ve ever wondered whether you too should write a book, these numbers are above the 90% percentile for authors. The numbers are somewhat arbitrarily deflated, however, since this doesn’t count sales of my new book, which due to some weird math are already sold but I don’t see until February.

Last year was nothing to write home about, musically speaking. I didn’t find any new amazing bands, but I have really been enjoying Fela Kuti and Jerry Reed lately. Very different styles, but both excellent in their own way.

Also, I spent a LOT of time (and money) at parkour last year! I went for 86 classes, which works out to about 110 hours of running and jumping over stuff. Pretty cool! I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m not aggressively embarrassed to do it in public, which helps make it a lot more fun in the real world.

OK, with the administrata out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Last year came into bloom at a New Years Party. As part of being a MAN OF ACTION, I had decided it was finally time to get my corporate taxes sorted out. I’d been putting them off for slightly longer than was wise. So what luck that I should meet an accountant at the NYE party! We exchanged pleasantries and details, and made a loose plan for him to help sort out my taxes. Great! My new resolution was off to a resounding start!

If you haven’t noticed yet, taxes make up a big chunk of the 2023 narrative.

A few hours later, we were ringing in the new year at a nondescript bar, around an awkward table with a giant lamp shade glued into the middle. With the lamp shade, we couldn’t see across the table, and without the lamp shade, the lamp was far too bright to see anything else. Dan-the-Engineer and I came up with a brilliant plan of wrapping the light bulb with some random piece of fabric we had on our persons. The waitress was NOT very pleased about our ingenuity, and reamed us out for the fire hazard we had inadvertently created. Or would, have, if the light bulb were not an LED. But she didn’t know that, and she certainly didn’t care.

After one Amaro Montenegro too many, Erin and I said our goodbyes and made our exit. The traditional new years hangover ensued, as did our new tradition (est. 2022) to nurse it with home-steamed dim sum.

Much of 2023 was spent fighting. It began by fighting with Skills Matter, the organizers of Haskell Exchange, a conference where I had given an invited talk in December 2022. It was not my first time talking at Haskell Exchange, and it was not the first time they had tried to stiff me. After not being paid for months and subsequently threatening to be much more public about how disappointed I was about it, they I immediately put me in touch with their CEO. He tried his best to give me the shake, but eventually I got my money. I think they’ve gone bankrupt since, which doesn’t dishearten me in the least.

Also in late 2022, I had switched banks, from one of the Big Five to a local credit union. While I like them very much, they set me up with a USD account, but were completely incapable of receiving USD from abroad—you know, the currency that isn’t available locally, the one explicitly on the name of the account? Apparently nobody had ever wanted to do this before! Weird!! After five very embarrassing emails to clients asking them to “please try again,” and an intimate phone-booth experience with my banker, I eventually came to the conclusion that they simply couldn’t help me. So I set up an account with Wise and that has solved all of my banking issues.

But, it didn’t solve all of my money issues. Because there was still the eldrich horror that is the Canadian Revenue Agency.

It began, as many things do, with a phone call. On some day in early January, I got a call from a man with a very thick African-sounding accent, asking whether I was “Alexander Magooer.”

Close enough, I thought. “Sure, what’s up?”

“Hello, my name is Asazabad Mafusasteb. I am from the Canada Revenue Agency. Can you confirm your identity by giving me your birthday and social insurance number, please?”

The oldest phishing scam in the book. I hung up on him. Not today, buster. You have to get up pretty early to pull one over on ol’ Alexander Magooer.

But our man Asazabad called back a few days later, asking for the same information. More politely than last time, I told him that I don’t divulge personal information to strangers over the phone. Thank you, and have a good day.

Asazabad called back several times over the next few days. “Listen, Alexander, I am from the CRA. My Please confirm your identity by giving me your birthday and social insurance number.” I continued to be obstinate. “If you really are from the CRA, please give me your extension number, and I’ll call you right back, and then we can chat.”

“Because of the pandemic, I am working from home. I do not have an extension.”

Sure thing, Asazabad. I told him I’d be happy to confirm my identity with him as soon as he could confirm his to me. He gave me his “agent ID” for the CRA, claiming it was sufficient. I told him that even if this was a real ID number, nothing about quoting it to me meant that it was his ID number.

I did a quick Google search for his phone number. It came up as a known scam caller. I hung up again.

Asazabad continued to call me every few days. Over time, he grew more desperate. “I am from collections. You owe us a lot of money. You can log into your CRA account and see.”

As it happens, I couldn’t log in to my CRA account. As far as I knew, I didn’t have a CRA account. Although occasionally I received emails telling me I had a new message in my CRA account. Those emails frustratingly never included the text of the new messages. I’d tried half-heartedly a few times over the last few years to log in and check out these mysterious messages, but it’s not something they make easy.

In order to log in to your CRA account, you need to provide your social insurance number, your mailing address, and some random-each-time number from some random-each-time year that you filed taxes. Sometimes I had the documents they asked for, often I did not. Regardless of that, it never let me into the system.

But that was OK, because as far as I looked at it, if the CRA really needed to get in touch with me, they’d find a way to do it. It’s not my responsibility to figure out what’s wrong with their stupid website.

Asazabad continued calling, and we kept coming to the same impasse. He couldn’t identify himself to me, and I wouldn’t identify myself to him until he did. Classic Mexican standoff. He kept insisting that I could just log into my CRA account and see that collections did indeed want to speak with me.

In a moment of weakness, I momentarily considered the idea that Asazabad really might be from the CRA. And, if that was the case, maybe he’d be incentivized to help me log into my account. So I unwisely gave him my mailing address, thinking that maybe the issue was that the CRA had the wrong address on file, and that was why I could never log in. Big mistake.

On February 7th, I call the CRA for an unrelated reason (trying to pay taxes) and spend 41 minutes on hold. Since I’m talking with them anyway, I ask about getting into my online account. That’s a different department, and they put me on hold for another half hour before I get through to Tommy. Turns out they do have the wrong address on file; they’ve got some address that I haven’t lived at since 2010; despite having filed taxes with correct addresses every year. They manage to get my address updated, but tell me they have been mailing letters to me at that address for a long time.

I ask Tommy if he can confirm whether Asazabad is a real agent of the CRA. He transfers me. It takes another twenty minutes. Jimmy tells me he can’t find any record of Asazabad being a real agent, but, and I quote “that doesn’t mean he isn’t.” What the hell.

Even though my mailing address has been updated, I still can’t log into the damn website. It seems I’ve locked myself out of the account by failing to log in too many times. You would think they wouldn’t make it so hard to pay them taxes.

Asazabad thankfully has given up calling me. But on February 14th—Valentines Day—I receive a letter in the mail alleging to be from the CRA. “You owe us $20,000. Please pay us within 10 days, or we will begin seizing your assets.” The letter is dated February 5th. Uh oh. I’m pretty certain I don’t owe them anything. I’m an honest person who begrudgingly pays his taxes every year. I haven’t hidden any income or property or anything, and I’ve never done even a little bit of fraud.

Rather than focusing on romantic things with my then-fiancee, I spend most of Valentines day on hold with the CRA, trying to confirm whether or not any of this is real, and whether or not my assets are about to be seized on the morrow. Because I’m missing some returns that they want, I’m unable to adequately verify myself to any agents, and so they bounce me around for a few hours. All I really want to know is whether Asazabad is a scam artist or not, and nobody will give me that information until I’ve given them the right numbers from the right tax returns.

What the hell is this bureaucracy? Has the planet gone mad?

Eventually I manage to get through to an actual person who seems to care. Edward tells me that the CRA has been hiring aggressively as of late, and so most people I talk to are completely green, know nothing, and play it entirely by the book, refusing to see the humanity in anyone they speak to. His words vindicate my experience.

Edward pulls up my file, and although he can’t give me any information about it, he does confirm that Asazabad is a real agent and is in fact trying to contact me.


Oh no.

Oh shit.

Maybe that $20,000 bill thing is real.

So I call Asazabad back, and say I’m ready to talk. I confirm my identity, and he says “you owe us $20,000. Please pay us. You can pay us through your online account.”

I would say that the joke was on him, and that I still can’t log into my online account, but the joke it seems, is on me.

Of course, Asazabad can’t tell me why exactly I owe the CRA $20,000. He handwaves something about over-contributions to my Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), but he doesn’t know anything more than that. That information hasn’t been provided to him. He’s just the collections guy, and he wants his money.

The TFSA thing seems suspicious. I had a TFSA briefly from 2009 to 2014, but it was completely by the book, and I’d closed the account before I left Canada in 2015. So what the hell was going on?

I called the bank branch in my small hometown where I had my TFSA. They were sympathetic, and I asked them to pull up any records they might have on it. They didn’t have any. Turns out by law they’re only allowed to keep those records for 7 years, which meant they had destroyed any relevant evidence that might be helpful for me to sort this obvious mistake out.

The CRA, it seems, is not beholden to this law restricting their records of my TFSA. Cool.

After a few more hours on hold, Edward manages to get me logged into my online account. Or so he says. Foolishly, I hang up. It doesn’t work. I call back. I spend another hour on hold before Mandeep actually gets me into my online account.

Sure enough, in my account there is a backlog of eight years worth of unread messages. The interesting stuff happens in 2020, when my TFSA from a decade earlier was reassessed, and determined to be illegally held. Therefore, any money I had in that account accrued penalties for every month it was there. Add that all up, round to the nearest ten thousand for interest penalties for the three years they were unable to contact me because they were sending mail to my childhood home, and you’ve got yourself one hell of an expensive bill.

The question of course is why did the CRA determine my TFSA to be held illegally? Having spent the entirety of that penalty period dating a lawyer, I’ve learned that the best case of action in cases like these is to go read the law. And sure enough, I’m in the right. All Canadians who live in Canada are eligible for a TFSA, with a total cap that increases every year you have it open. I am in fact a Canadian, who was living in Canada, and I was well below the cap. Therefore, my TFSA was not illegal, and the CRA is in the wrong.

But unfortunately the onus is on me to show that.

The notices of reassessment state that I have 90 days during which I can file a dispute. A salient question is “90 days from when?” From when they issued the document and sent it somewhere I haven’t lived for over a decade? Or from when I receive the notice? Knowing the government, it’s probably the former.

On February 15th I call the CRA again, and after the usual hour-long wait, I speak with Tammy. I explain the situation. She tells me that I never informed the CRA that I left Canada in 2015. Then, when I came back to Canada from Thailand in 2020 and filed my taxes, I said “yes” when asked if I had “moved to Canada.” Which was true; I was not living in Canada earlier that year, and was when I filed my taxes. The idiot CRA however interprets this as asking “did you immigrate to Canada?”

Even though I was born in Canada and had well-established financial ties in the country for nearly 25 years that the CRA all knew about, it automatically assumed my “immigration” to Canada meant that I was not a citizen, and therefore, retroactively, that my old TFSA was illegal.

Tammy advised me to write a letter and send it by post to the “special tax services unit” in the middle of nowhere Canada. I rattled off such a letter, explaining the mistake, and swallowed my pride to grovel for forgiveness, even though I didn’t feel to be in the wrong. But pride is cheap when you’ve got $20,000 on the line. I paid the exorbitant $60 fee to have my letter delivered by courier to the specialty tax services unit, and figured that would be the end of it.

That was not, in fact, the end of it.

I called Asazabad back, explaining the situation to him. He listened quietly and then said “you owe us $20,000. Please pay through the online portal.” Thinking maybe that he’d had a brain aneurysm, I explained it all to him again. “That may be,” he said, “but I do not know whether your dispute will be successful, and in the meantime, you owe us a lot of money.” Asazabad patiently explained to me, as if I were a child, that the best course of action would be for me to pay the CRA $20,000. And if my dispute were successful, they would pay it back to me.

I’m sure the CRA is good for it, but $20,000 is a big chunk of change, and being in the middle of the bureaucracy, it seems unlikely that I’d see that money again any time soon. I told Asazabad I’d get back to him.

So I went back to the statute, which says that all taxpayers have a right to not pay anything while their case is in dispute, except in cases of “jeopardy.” I called Asazabad back, stating I wouldn’t be paying the money, and cited the relevant paragraph to him. If the powers that be considered my account to be in jeopardy, I told him to give me that in writing, and wouldn’t consider the matter further until then.

A week later, Asazabad calls me back, stating my cited clause doesn’t apply, because my dispute window closed way back in 2020. And so he wants his money. But since I’ve been so cooperative, he’s willing to cut me a deal. We can work together to make a year-long repayment plan in monthly installments. I forget about my resolve to not talk to him any further unless I get jeopardy in writing. We make a payment plan.

I call the CRA to confirm that they received my letter. They did; and say it will take 90 days to get everything resolved.

When the day to pay Asazabad part of the penalty comes, I instead pay my taxes. It all goes to the same account, and if push comes to shove, I plan to make an argument that part of that money is for taxes, and part of it is repayment on the TFSA charges. My ruse works, because Asazabad doesn’t call back.

The next month rolls around, with blessedly little contact from the CRA. I’d like to keep it that way, and since I paid my taxes in full, I can’t play the same trick again this time. Instead, I actually send real money as part of the payment plan. Asazabad thankfully continues to not be in touch.

Keep in mind that this is all happening while I’m fighting with the bank to receive money, and with Skills Matter to get reimbursed for my travel costs, and with my accountant (more on that soon!) Despite having a lot of money, it all seems to have dried up, and it turns out that old adage is true—it’s much easier to be carefree and fancy free when you can bankroll it.

Finally, 90 days from the date I sent my letter to the CRA comes around. I don’t hear anything. I call them back. I spend an hour and a half on hold. Kamal can’t help me. He forwards me to Jimmy (from all those months ago!), who makes me go through the security questions AGAIN. Jimmy says he also can’t help me, but he’s put a tag on my file to help speed things up. Maybe I’ll get a call in the next 3 business days.

I don’t.

Nine more calls to the CRA over the next few weeks. At one point, after two hours of being on hold, I was greeted with the message “All our agents are busy and the queue is now full, so we are disconnecting you. Have a nice day.” Finally I get in touch with Jordan who is the first human I have encountered at the CRA in these six long months. Jordan immediately sees that the whole situation is a mistake, apologizes on behalf of the CRA, and says he will personally sort it out.


It takes two hours on the phone, but finally the thing is done. Two weeks later, I get a flurry of emails from the CRA, telling me to sign into my account (which I somehow get locked out of again, and need to reset via, you guessed it, the phone system.) But, all is well, the flurry is to tell me that they have reassessed everything, and now it’s they who owe ME $1000.

They still haven’t paid it to me. Or the other $2500 they said they would cut me a check for. But at this point, I’m too tired to fight about it. All in all, the ordeal took 171 days from first being told about the problem to it being sorted out. None of which was delay on my part. Only stress. A great deal of stress.

Did I mention throughout any of this story that I did eventually line up an accountant? That guy from New Years came through, who put me in touch with one of his friends, who told me that I shouldn’t corporation because I don’t have enough money. He did his part to help by charging me a huge bill for this information, ensuring I had even less money. His bill ended up being the same amount as my taxes were for the year, which is a double scam because it’s the same number that TurboTax told me to pay.

Stupidly, the accountant and I never discussed fees. When he eventually sent me his bill, his hourly wage was above what the internet claimed a very expensive accountant cost. I grumbled, but paid it.

But this is not the end of his malevolence presence on my year. Not by a long shot.

Sometime in the middle of the CRA saga, I made another stupid decision. I asked my accountant if he could help get everything sorted out. He estimated it would cost about $10,000 to fix. He didn’t manage to fix it, but instead charged me $8,000 and fucked things up worse by providing the CRA with a bunch of incorrect information. Which is how I got locked out of my account again.

Worse, when he was filing my corporate taxes, he registered me as a GST taxpayer, because I sell books, and had made enough to turn that a thing the government cares about. GST is fucking stupid. I don’t handle the books, I’ve got a Canadian storefront who handles that sort of thing on my behalf. They collect and remit GST to the government. But idiot accountant man figured that should be me who sent the GST to the government. So he registered me to “voluntarily” send GST to the government. While I wasn’t on their radar before, now I was, and they wanted their blood money.

The idea behind GST remittance is some sort of mickey mouse daisy chain thing. The storefront collects it from the customer, and then they pay it to me, and then I pay it to the government. If the supply chain is longer than this, then everybody hands it to the next guy. I told my accountant this is a cockamamie idea, since the storefront is already giving the tax to the government. But no, he insisted, and signed me up for the program.

All is well and dandy in principle here, until you try to get the GST from the storefront. In their accounting, they’re already handling the tax on my behalf, and so they sure as hell aren’t going to just send me more $$$ because I claim I will give it to the government instead. But since I have “voluntarily” registered as a GST payer, the government is now insisting that I pay them.

The end result is that my books are being double taxed, with the goods and services tax coming directly out of my pocket. It seems like they just let anyone be an accountant.

I suppose the life lesson to be learned from all of this is to not trust some guy you met at a New Years Eve party with your livelihood. You can pay someone to do a job (and how!), but you can’t pay them to give a shit. Funny, I ended up saying that last year too…

Sorry. I’ve had this story pent up for a full year, and apparently just couldn’t stop myself once the ball got rolling. A lot of really excellent things did happen this year, even though I’ve now spent nearly 5000 words complaining.

Anyway, the year began by spending a week and a half with Andrew, working our way through Ludum Dare 52—a semiregular weekend game jam. We hung out and spent 36 hours making Where’s My Chicken, Man? which happened to be a surprise platformer hit. Andrew and I put on the Kraak and Smaak and hacked away deep through the nights. I did the programming and Andrew did the character and level design. All in all, it was a total blast, and a few people spent a few months speedrunning it. What the hell kind of world do we live in?

February came, and with it, Erin and I, as well as two of our good friends all headed down to Seattle on a roadtrip. We were stopped at the border due to Lazar being Serbian, which meant he got to see the back of the interrogation room while the rest of us got mildly detained just for knowing a Serb. Ostensibly the trip was for the women to go wedding dress shopping, but we also went to Magic Dick’s Harmonica Blow Out, which was a surprise sleeper hit—especially in the 80+ female demographic. Old ladies be lovin’ that Magic Dick.

At the end of 2022 I had applied to go to grad school, and got accepted everywhere around February. Which meant I had to go about picking one. There were a lot of skype calls and a few in person coffees, and a lot of going out for beers with students at prospective labs. Eventually I ended up choosing UBC because I wasn’t entirely sold on the whole grad school idea, and I didn’t want to accidentally tank someone’s career if I ended up being a bad candidate. Prescient. Also the UBC lab seemed super cool, and a big chunk of what I was looking for was a community.

In March, Erin and I threw our official unmarried spouses party—our official three year being together event, which indicated us being (unmarried) spouses in the eyes of the law. We invited over 60 people had threw a rager of an event, even though it was mostly lawyers and engineers who stayed mostly segregated throughout the night. But a raucous time was had by all, and our place felt sufficiently warmed after a whole year of putting off any parties.

Immediately afterwards, I set jets for Berlin, where my boss had (gently) bullied me into giving a talk at a conference. The conference itself was fine, but I got to meet all of my German coworkers for the first time in person, which was a stellar vibe. I managed to get covid sometime between leaving my house and arriving at my first flight, which made for an awful trip across the Pacific. Thankfully my German roommate in Berlin, Leif, was a great sport, and took me out to all sorts of cool music venues. He happened to know all of the musicians playing at all of them, despite having not lived in Berlin for a decade. Great trip all around, punctuated by a few cheeky 5am kebabs.

Erin and I had a weird idea at some point that we wanted to be more like Ben Franklin, and so we setup a system of necessary virtues. We took his list, and decided to each pick a virtue, and spend a week at a time focusing on it. Of course, we permuted the cycle of the list with two coprime numbers first, so that we could get through all 169 combinations without any repeats. We did this crazy thing for like three months before getting tired of it. While industry is certainly a nice thing to strive for, why is chastity a necessary virtue anyway?

It was the spring time, and Erin wanted to get into biking. Except that her bike was in DESPERATE NEED of a tune up. Thankfully her brother is a bit of a bike wiz, so she asked him to do the usual 100k maintenance check-up. We expected to get the bike back within a few days, but two months later we still hadn’t heard anything. So, being a good husband, I suggested maybe she just buy another bike, assuming it was unlikely she’d ever see the original again. She did (from an estate sale), and being an especially good husband, I spent ten hours learning how to do bike maintenance in our kitchen. I made many scuffs in the floor doing so (sorry George!) Taking the thing out for the spin, I realized it was only a little bit of a DEATH BIKE. The breaks were no good. The chains kept derailing. The switcher wasn’t indexed. It was a scary thing to take down the mountain that we happen to live on.

Anyway, the DAY AFTER, her brother got back in touch saying the bike was ready for her, apologizing for the delay. I want to say we all learned something about clear communication that day, but I’m not sure that was the real takeaway.

May came, and a mysterious man got in touch with me, saying he had a cool job I’d be a good fit for, but for legal reasons he couldn’t tell me more. We played the NDA dance for a few weeks, and once all the lawyers were satisfied (my lawyer happened to be a bluff) the job did in fact seem to be cool and a good fit. So I started contracting for another company, which was nice because things with Wire were winding down and I felt like it was a good time for a change.

This whole time, Erin and I were prepping for our wedding. We had finally set a date for September, and it was time to get down to business. Of utmost priority was to find a photographer. Erin and I lined up a few interviews, but we ended up being late—and aggressively hungover—for our first one. Borja thought this was a great sign in potential clients, presumably because it meant we were not overly anal about our wedding, and we liked each others vibe. We left the meeting feeling good thinking that this was going to be the guy. But we forgot to talk $$$.

And then we flew to Serbia.

Some backstory—Halloween previous, we were at a party with some new friends that we’d hung out with three or four times. During the party, they looked at one another, nodded, and then asked “do you want to come to our wedding? It’s in Serbia.” Never ones to turn down an excuse to go somewhere weird, Erin and I jumped on the idea. It’s certainly one strategy for solidifying a friendship!

So anyway. Serbia. We landed in Beograd the day before Hali and Lazar’s wedding. Bad idea. After an INTERMINABLE BUS RIDE from the airport, we stumbled into our rental place and unpacked. We went out for a quick cevape and a beer, before meeting up with the wedding out-of-towners for a cheeky spot of Nikola Tesla lecture. We went to bed that night, and managed to sleep for sixteen hours. That jetlag is nothing to sneeze at!

We awakened sometime in the afternoon of the wedding. OH SHIT. Did we miss it?? Thankfully no, but it was in 45 minutes, on top of a hike-it-yourself mountain. And we still had bedhead, to say nothing of being sufficiently well-groomed for a wedding. We THREW things together, and RAN up the mountain. We got lost, but figured following the men in tuxes was probably a good idea. It was, and wasn’t. They were indeed there for the wedding, but were just as lost as we were.

Thankfully, we arrived before the bride and groom. In fact, it seemed like only the out-of-towners made it before the bride and groom. Were we in the wrong place? Unclear! But NO! There they were! The wedding was in the orthodox style, which none of us really understood what it meant. What happened is all the out-of-towners gathered solemnly around the edge of the church (standing room only) while the head priest guy sing-shouted for 45 minutes in Latin (probably, but it might have been Serbian I guess?) The Serbs knew better than we did, and they just kinda showed up sometime before the ceremony was over, and chatted amongst themselves paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to the couple.

After the ceremony, Ebi took charge of the group, and proceeded to hike us aggressively the wrong way down the mountain. Not only did we get lost, but we did so with gusto, somehow on the exact wrong side of the mountain, and eventually ending on the damn highway. We reconvened for a quick beer and small bag of peanuts before being picked up by the minibus. Did I mention the minibus? No? We needed it because the wedding reception was to take place in a gorgeous greenhouse/atrium in the middle of the damn forest on the top of a damn Serbian mountain.

Gorgeous place, but we got there like two hours before anyone else. There was booze available, but no food. And we hadn’t eaten anything (minus a small bag of peanuts) all day due to the whole late wakeup situation. Erin and I were understandably cautious around the aggressively-freely-flowing alcohol. But we took the opportunity to solidify our (very) new friendship with Matt and Zoey. By inviting them to our wedding. They gracefully declined for some reason or another, AND WE HAVEN’T SPOKEN SINCE. LET THAT BE A LESSON TO YOU!

I’m not sure what lesson, but I’m sure there’s one there anyway.

Anyway. Once the reception got going, it was a total hoot, complete with all several hundred people lining up to get a selfie with the bride and groom, a tight brass band that kept playing as long as people kept stuffing money in their horns, an uncomfortably-solemn singalong about taking back Kosovo, a runaway bride, way, way too many shots of rakija, and becoming fast (and drunken) friends with Mel, with whom we did eventually solidify our friendship. By inviting her to our wedding. To which she came.