T for Tom

I Didn’t Miss It At All

Posted in Europe, Prose, Remember to Remember by johnsontoms on August 17, 2017

It was going to be my first time out of the country, or at least the country that was my new home. You see, in America, where I spent the first 24 years of my life, I had never crossed into a neighboring country such as Mexico or Canada. The distances were too far, the limits too great, the benefit too low. That last sentiment is surely wrong on all accounts, but it was the feeling I was given by my country – Mexico has nothing to offer, Canada is the same but colder. We never go, we never went.

But in Germany now for the first time, living and working with no end in sight, I had a grasp on the nearness of the countries, and by a large, unfilled whole in my working knowledge, I knew that each boundary meant separately unique, different, and succinct cultures and nations. I knew that each line was a defensive boundary built over hundreds and thousands of years and these simple lines meant new languages, new colors, new foods, new music, new politics, and new people. I had only been in Germany for six weeks but my appetite had grown immensely in the short time I had there. Each year in Belgium, the town of Bastogne celebrates its independence from Nazi Germany by staging a recreation of the march of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division that held during the siege of the Ardennes forest over the longest winter on earth, and pushed the Nazis back. There would be foot marches with citizens from around the continent, battle reenactments, regalia displays, parades, and booze of all kinds. I knew I had to go.

It was only a few months before while still in training in Virginia that I had purchased my first Norah Jones album, a CD of The Fall. That CD became a soundtrack to a room that I shared with the only person to understand me in the Army, and we played a long game of chess by moving a single piece at a time between our bunks. But when I got to Germany (as did my friend, although to another unit in another village nearby), I finally had access again to the internet. I decided I needed the rest of Norah Jones’s albums and went about getting them. In order, I listened to each of them in full.

So there, that month after arriving in Germany, I sat in the back of a Mercedes TMP, the kind the military purchases in lots throughout Europe to facilitate quick ease of transport for these types of events. It was a recreational event, but as one that promoted camaraderie with the local nationals, could be given a leave of absence and promoted throughout our unit. We were able to check out the TMPs and drive ourselves on the unit’s dollar. Everyone that was attending the event had been given pass to leave during the day on Friday, but there were a few of us stuck behind for the change of command ceremony to welcome the new battalion commander. As my reputation as a reporter always preceded me, I was selected to give the commencement and was among that small group leaving afterward. I didn’t know the sergeants I was leaving with well and took the entire back seat to myself, the floors stripped of any carpeting, the heater not working. And I sat there listening to all of Norah Jones while the roads passed by.

In Germany, there are no billboards or stores or gas stations on the side of the highway. There are farms and villages occasionally, but the highways were built to be out of the way of the people in the towns, and their rules regarding pollution keep it free of clutter and light and noise. The sky that day was a typical German sky, the kind I miss most; a deep grey throughout from the clouds that only just might drop rain, with small breaks of white, though the sun never shone through. The hills of Bavarian green grazed our sides for hours as first we passed Frankfurt, then Cologne, and continued west. Slowly, the hills became larger and the vastness of the forests grew in height. All the while the sky stayed green, and only occasionally a small mist might develop on the windows, but never a hard rain. The forest of oaks turned to large, upward columns of pine, and it’s the closest I ever got to a Vermont winter, all the way on the other side of the planet.

The first words were always the most important to me, from the moment I heard them: “As I sit and watch the snow fall…” It’s a feeling I always wanted since I was a child. To wake up and see the drifts of white descending to the ground, a new world unfolding over the one we walk through every day. I had never had that. But vast pieces of art, works of literature, and entire operas have been devoted to the snow. I had known it my whole life, but never seen these things other people talk about, the things that are dressed up in language to describe home, belonging, warmth. Snow always meant a sense of place to me – the idea that you could have a place to yourself under warmth of a fire while the snow fell outside. It wasn’t snowing on this day, but I knew it would soon, maybe days and weeks later, but I knew the snow was coming. I knew I would finally have the feelings I was never given during Christmas, during winter, during the times we should be alone and at peace. I sat there in the back of the van alone, listened to Norah, and stared at the pine and knew I would have my winter moment for the first time, soon.

I wasn’t talking, no one talking to me. There were no sounds of cars on the empty highway. There were no sights of people on a road miles from the nearest village. There was only the pine going by the thousands, and the sound of a piano in my ear.

I didn’t think of anything specific. I only thought of the general years and lifetime before these first few weeks abroad. And I didn’t miss it at all.

Mojave 3 – Bluebird of Happiness

Posted in Europe, Prose by johnsontoms on August 16, 2017

I have a playlist of 200 songs that remind me of the best, wildest, strangest years of my life, the sound track to my third life. This will be the first in a series chronicling just what a few of those songs means.

Rain pattered on the window as I stayed awake on the floor, eyes on the white, cantilevered ceiling. We were together on the floor unintentionally-intentionally because she was moving in two weeks and the furniture was already gone. This weekend was reserved for us to be together alone for the first time away from our friends, a chance to get closer. I drove us down to Munich that night in the dark, late on a Friday after I left work and picked her up from her home. The drive down was like the other times I’d driven to Munich on the autobahn, but a little darker and with a little more rain and with a girl I’d only just fingered the week before. It was her idea to go to Munich and I didn’t question the details, even now as I lay in a sleeping bag in an empty apartment.

The ceiling is the thing I remember most. How these types of homes in Germany and across Europe are so small, but so ample for a person. The spaces on the top floor are even worse, where we navigate the rooms that are built into the slopes of the exterior ceiling, one room drooping away from the center in this direction, the other room drooping in the opposite. It was like something out of all the black and white films I had ever seen, but I was living this one, a few minutes at time.

She was much younger than I, and I was only beginning to find out. She wanted to please me, do everything I asked, do anything I could think of and more, except for the few things she wasn’t ready to. Once we were through the door, and even while driving the two hours from Nuremberg, it was a constant series of questions about what I wanted, where I wanted to be, the things I wanted to do. I just wanted to fuck there in the apartment at some point over the weekend. After we parked my car that first night we went straight up to the apartment, dropped off our things, and out for dinner.

That night I learned that she wasn’t going to have sex with me. There on the carpet in a sleeping bag with two bottles of wine in us, I didn’t think much of it. But it was the morning I remember.

It was still raining but the clouds have a way of thinning out in Germany that provides enough high-grey light while raining and still keeping the sun from shining directly. I could see it was one of those days from the floor where I stared up at the ceiling. We were using her laptop computer for music, for the same reasons we were on the floor. It was silent as I woke up before her, dismissed myself to the bathroom and relieved myself of the night’s drinks. She had an eye open when I came back and so I turned on the computer thinking that I might get laid here.

I needed something quiet, peaceful, not overwhelming, and instantly I thought of the soundtrack to the O.C. Clicked onto youtube and started the first playlist I saw. We sat there on the floor necking and kissing and staring at each other before I moved my hands into her pants and really thought this time that she was too young and inexperienced, and I knew then why she wasn’t ready. Just never had before. She went down on me, and I knew from the way it ended that she’d never done that either.

I told her it was okay and stared back at the ceiling as she cradled into my shoulder, the rain still falling, the ceiling overhead illuminating with the rising sun and the soft words echoing over and over from the speakers: “Gotta find a way to get back home, gotta find a way back home.”

There are other things I remember. The locals in all the pubs celebrating the home team’s big victory, and the emptiness of being with a girl I knew I’d be leaving. I remember walking everywhere in the rain and sharing an umbrella that only sheltered one. I remember the weekend being like nothing I wanted, but leaving a lasting mark in my memory. And I remember, as much time as we spent in the apartment cooking food and drinking wine and laughing and not fucking, I turned the Mojave 3 on over and over again, time and time again, even though I’d just heard it for the first time during that rain-spilled Saturday morning. I remember lying there thinking of this girl and her wonderful innocence, and thinking that even as juvenile as the days had become, they were nothing less than sweet, and I remember thinking that even sweet has a place in my memory, like this day now holds. But mostly I remember lying on my back and staring up at that white ceiling, dotted with the shadows of the raindrops on the window, and I remember being hopeful.

I remember thinking that this was home. Not the girl, explicitly, nor Munich and Europe, necessarily, but the movements in my life. Movements forward had become my home and the only place I could truly be comfortable. Home for me will always be on the road.

Everywhere I go now, I take home, as a piece of mind, with me. Got to find a way back home.

Tagged with: , , , ,

Before Me Lied A New Dawn

Posted in Europe, Prose by johnsontoms on December 28, 2013

Before me lied a new dawn.  It came in the form of green, rolling hills shaded orange as a clementine from the rising sun, dotted with dark tones from the line of trees just on the horizon, a bit of brush lining the creeks at the lowest point.  I had just filled my bag with a collection of the local lagers and Trappistes, enough to make merry myself and the few soldiers that marched along.  We hadn’t made it fifty meters down the trail before I stopped in a moment of clarity seen before only in the tales of Christ and Crusoe: this would be a new way forward.

Bastogne, as the scene unfolded.

Bastogne, as the scene unfolded.

Clarity there existed in the folding iron fence taken over by the grips of time.  Only a single cemented post remained upright, a half-rolled distance of chicken-wire pulling out from one side before stopping not at its destination but upon an indeterminate length of grass, the total of which enclosed nothing.  The cemented post was adorned with the artisanal etching of a rooster, as sure as the chicken that now clucked its way down the slow hill toward the faint amount of water nestled in the crest of the valley.  The valley of which rolled back up and over again and down and around on all sides like the bubbling sheets of water that move over a creek bed of rocks, themselves smoothed over with the washing of time.   This was Bastogne, Belgium.  The scene was lifted straight from a film or a history book, and the image was modern, timeless, and iconic all at once.  It looked like the last relics of the great war.

This was my first major trip since arriving in Germany and I wasn’t prepared.  Only the night before we had arrived at the township where we would stay, LaRoche en Ardennes, a 25-kilometer jaunt through the rising hills-turned-mountains that we couldn’t see because of our nighttime drive.  What I could see when we entered the city in darkness was the white river below the only street of the town, lit from the bulbs that illuminated its presence there in the village, a way for the residents to announce and honor the heart of their little town.  It seemed necessary to light it as a warning because of the sharp cliff walls that rose on either side as we drove toward the hotel pushing travelers to the waterline, and when we parked and exited the vehicles I could hear from all sides, all angles around me the hiiisssssss of the water as it passed quickly over the rocks.  The sound echoed off the rock walls and seemed to be coming from all corners, though I learned in reality a few short minutes later that it came from a river not even 20 centimeters deep, the water clear as day and moving fast the wind.  There was not a single shrub or sandbar to stand in its way, only the multitude of rocks and stones that made for the water its tambourine to play.  I hadn’t even seen the mountains or hills yet and already I knew things were changing.

As the sun came over the hills that next morning when I stumbled onto the scene of the fence, as the world opened itself to me, I learned then that certain things were imminently more important than my own triviality.  We were there to celebrate and commemorate the liberation of the Ardennes by the Allied Forces at a place and during a time remembered in America as the Battle of the Bulge for the bulging appearance of the offensive front line drawn on a map, or by Germans as Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein, “Operation Watch on the Rhein,” or more simply as the French call it Bataille des Ardennes, “Battle of the Ardennes.”  We were told to go in uniform, to march in uniform, and (for my own purposes) to drink in uniform, that all and sundry would be doing the same.  “Everyone’s going to be in some kind of uniform and marching along,” I’d heard.  I didn’t know that it would be an entire city and valley full of persons in costume, a veritable army-sized element of patrons in the full regalia of the German SS and another half decked out in the uniforms of the Allied American forces, complete with 101st Airborne Division patches, the Screamin’ Eagles.  The tanks sat on the edge of town, the forest-green motorcycles whirred by with troops riding in sidecars, Jeeps filled the streets and all around were the sounds of joy and cheer erupting from the residents, the revelers, and the soldiers, one and each united in a reverie equal to the transmogrification of souls.  We were nearer to heaven.

Total and complete strangers were best friends meeting in the streets, the alleys, the muddied foot-trodden paths from farm to farm outside the town where the march went along.  Stories of battles, fables of relatives who fought, invitations to trade pictures and gear and patches and souvenirs and drinks, the many drinks.  And where language wasn’t enough, we’d shuffle and dance the language of our ancestors until the meaning was understood.  The language was probably better then, after all.  People came together.  I had reason to feel a part of something, rather than as a spectator.

For all the things I’ve done to this point in my life, it was as if I were watching a show unfold before me.  And taking then the memories of those events past, the end result is what? The accumulation of experiences as memories, as events I’ve witnessed to be logged, categorized, and set upon like a trophy to dignify a life deemed lived.  “Indeed, the true adventurer must come to realize, long before he has come to the end of his wanderings, that there is something stupid about the mere accumulation of wonderful experiences,” as Miller says.  This had been the way of life, the modern American living.  Justly it means predilection, predictability, soothsaying for the masses.  We are set about in a world that has been meticulously charted, categorized, and defined in such and so many delicate patters, void of embarrassment, danger, and consistent of sterility and sanitation that to row about its waters is merely to navigate the Antietam during a drought.  What then?  Is it so difficult then to obtain employment in a nation filled with employers and employees? No.  The details may change, but derivation from the mean is nil.  Think then of all the events encompassing the greater moments of your life and realize, how abstract and void of bravado we have been – graduating high school, then college, playing sports and attending concerts, getting married and having children.  All of these earmarks to our outstanding existence come hedged with no bets.

A few weeks after returning from Bastogne I was in Rome.  Roma, Italia, of Lazio.  Wine soaked.  Wine flooded.  For five days I operated in the hazy confines of swimming pool above ground, seeing things with one eye closed.  It was New Year’s and Italian wine was served 5€ to the bottle, a price for something so exquisite I got the bargain by drinking the city’s proper share.  If you had locked me up into Amontillado’s cask I’d have said good riddance.  And this was for all its good because I was not alone.  There in a city of a couple million came down a few more million, something I that surprised me but one I should’ve expected.  And in all, there were but a few recourses for the days and nights – to see and imbibe all at once and without end the beauty of the Eternal City.  Without sleep and without rest and without ceasing there as the sun rose and made way to moonlit empty villas was a city drunk on spirits, of both the fermented and mystical kind.  Where in Bastogne I had been enveloped in an era, tucked away into a time of being as if a vacuum had pulled me directly into 1945, Rome had placed me within a bubble.  For the first time I could focus on the knowledge that history as I know it is mine and mine alone.  Nothing about what the Romans built and accomplished some two- and three-thousand years before had bearing on my behavior in that moment, and it was beautiful.

The ghost town of Rome at night.

The ghost town of Rome at night.

I didn’t go there expecting any one thing.  I wasn’t trying to raise Caesar’s ghost or channel Marcus Aurelius and didn’t think to impress Constantinople.  Their histories created the city as it was in their own time, like the millions of cities around the world that have each their founders, but these cities do not persist because of these ancient heroes.  The cities persist because of the people, and for five days I was a citizen of Rome.  I did my best to be a modern Roman – morning for pasta and wine, a birra walking the stone way surrounding the Coliseum, grilled eggplant and wine for lunch, a foot tour of the Panteon and a bottle of wine by the Fontana di Trevi, and the night into the Campo de Fiori, drinks in hand, football kicked through the square, music playing in all corners, fireworks thrown up into the air, and later, late when each boy and girl have tucked away in bed or asleep on the ground and the streets are empty, there I embarked to see the city at night.  It was like seeing a ghost.  Nothing could successfully describe the effect of removing at night the millions of people present by day.  Like standing in the empty stadium lit only by moonlight – where thousands just earlier gathered now sat not even electricity.

But it was all so fluid and tangible, so very real.  I didn’t meet anyone on that voyage into the heart of Rome but I never felt disconnected.  I was for the first time a part of something, as I was in Bastogne.  I wasn’t just a fish in a sea full of sharks, but a member of a school.  Each of us independent but linked, moving in succession.  I saw the greater works of the things before me, of me, after me, the depths of the human spirit equaled by its imagination.  And for all the things we’ve done and continue to do that keep us from moving forward, the simple moments of splendor often remain as the most serene.  Getting drunk seems so naïve, but drinking with a few million of your new best friends can be metamorphic.  I’ll always remember being in a crowd so thick that I was lifted up by the weight of the people around me, thousands in the middle of the Forum Romana, a backdrop of a glowing Coliseum, a white-lit Arc di Constantinople, ahead the golden Capitale.

Each day like that was built upon the predilection that anything truly was possible.  The rest of the year for me, before being trapped in the desert for nine months of a deployment, was an experiment in time and possibility.  The experiment was where and how, the possibility as always – women.

Could never be sure when or where but in the back of my mind always is a woman.  Not one, though sometimes, but always all in general.  The savagery of such notion is absurd.  Desire for romance is just too strong to be anything less than the primal urge.

So put me then into a world unknown and leave inside me the pursuit of women, of romance, of raw sex.  I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary crossing the icy poles.  I knew what would be out there, but not how to get it, to hold it, in what its forms would be.  This made the evenings sparkle with possibilities.  Over those few months I spent three consecutive days in the sewers of the Carnival abyss, drenched in the beer and liquor and wine that seemingly fell from the sky during German Fasching, a Mardi Gras to end them all.  I discovered the beauty of the Czech laissez faire, the sheer fuck-all way of life that gripped a nation formerly torn of war and made for it the simplicity of a group of friends in a bar to be the highest nobility.  I learned that Easter Sunday was not too sacred for sex in a club bathroom stall.  I learned to dance, rather, to become absorbed by music in a club, to swing and sway and let roll my head there on the floor and become only the body moving in the crowd, high on as much ecstasy in its divine form as in its narcotic form, in only the ways a seedy underground Czech club can make it so.  I learned to care so little about the atmosphere that, placed in the middle of the woods and with no one around, I could achieve the same effect given the right music and the right woman.  And I learned that sometimes never seeing someone again isn’t always never.

Watching the women traverse Makartsteg.

Watching the women traverse Makartsteg.

I learned also that I could do all this alone and for myself.  I needed to do all this alone and for myself.  No one could tell me the right ways to fly across the planet to see about a girl, because there is no right way and I couldn’t have been wrong at all because I tried.  No one could make it easier to walk the streets of Helsinki cold and alone looking for a hotel and having, in a world and a language as foreign as fire to the Neanderthal, to speak up and ask for help.  No one opens my mouth in those moments and says for me the words that come out.  No one made for me the friends I have all over the world, no one created for me the scenarios in which I operated and drank and fucked and danced and swam and sang and drew out the sweet nectar of life by seeing just seeing that all those pictures aren’t pictures, they aren’t the real thing, the real thing is there wherever it is waiting to be seen or held like the mighty Neva river rolling through the middle of St. Petersburg because it can’t be told or written or seen in a picture how cold the wind feels off the sheet of ice covering its dark waters during the Russian Christmas.  I know what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel and I know what it feels like to stumble down the muddy hill to Gunpowder Pub and I know it feels like to wake up in the snow and I know what it looks like to see the first Christmas tree in Riga and I know what it means to die as the bulls go running by in Pamplona, but I can’t tell you these things.  These things are infinitely possible but they live in me, as I experienced them.

The history of these stories and these ideas cannot change inside me and likely have no power elsewhere.  So go the best laid plans of the lunatic.

This new way forward unfolded before me as a result of my tabula rosa – I simply didn’t know what to expect.  I greeted everything with the rosy fondness of a puppy.  The nights around were each and all unique in their ways, down even to the women and their languages and the clothes they wore.  It was beautiful to guess the way nationalities would look, the predominant hair colors, the hoppiness of the beer, the strength of the coffee, the chances that she would speak English.  It was all too much too often and every day then became a chance at something new.  When it wasn’t new anymore it broke my heart.

Coming back from nine months in the desert I tried to do it all over again.  Every day was a sensational grab at the feelings I had created.  Where I had before sat on the banks of the Gulf of Finland at 10pm and had yet to see the sun reach the horizon, watching the ice float across the water in mid-April and see the way the light bounced off the water and onto the clean white walls of Helsinki’s buildings, there I had been birthed.  Born again for a new way of seeing.  Such a magnificent moment that now in its absence sat a life unfulfilled.  As if every moment of my being had led to those moments, those moments walking the pasture hills of the south German farmland, the moments walking along the Salzach, drinking a Stiegl, dreaming of Mozart, and staring at the women walking over the Makartsteg, the moments taking shots from the beer cart in the middle of a street filled with Scooby-Doos, pilots, firefighters, pirates, Snow Whites, and fairies all at once drinking and dancing as the parade goes by, the moments getting jerked off on the outside patios of an upstairs club, the moments trying just to hold someone’s hand walking through Töömemagi, or the moments spent idly, doing nothing, just sitting and watching the sun go down over the high-rise of old buildings, half-liter of Weißen in hand.  A fool’s errand to chase these again.

A quote that has always stuck with me came from Norman Mailer – “the only faithfulness people have is toward emotion’s they’re trying to recreate.”  The world of the sights and sounds I had been before living in Kuwait became more like gold the further removed in time it sank, and like any fool I wanted to do it all over again.  What I didn’t realize, and still struggle with, is that it isn’t possible.

There have been no beginnings, new possibilities, no mistake.  But these new possibilities must be constructed in new ways.

I couldn’t go out there alone anymore.  I came back from that desert and went into a new world, but I wasn’t alone.  I went to Riga and watched the world’s oldest Christmas tree celebration, but I wasn’t alone.  I spent five days in a basement apartment drinking wine and building fires, but I wasn’t alone.  I walked along the Pilsêtas Kanal and fed the ducks who slid down the ice for a piece of bread, but I wasn’t alone.  And those moments not alone were magical.  In their own way it was possible again to get that new, infinite feeling, because I wasn’t doing it the same way as before.  The feelings of joy and serendipity were linked to newness and to difference and change.

Some weeks after being there in Latvia and finding reinvigoration I was in Slovenia.  The cold, forested, mountainous nation of Slovenia would be a winter trip for winter’s sake.  Friends of mine organized the journey to find the slopes, but I went to find the snow.  Snow, and by that I mean to walk and be there in the mountains, to hike and be alone, to think and ponder and figure out where the year would be ahead.  Slovenia became the first trip I would go on to signify how the year would go, as all the events just before had been a celebration of leaving the desert.  This now, Slovenia, would be just life as I was living.

It was beautiful, make no mistake.  Mountains as high and as steep as these I had never seen before.  Coming through the slopes in Austria I woke on the bus to a scene truly picaresque – the cliffs of the mountains nearly straight up on all sides and in all directions, a sheer rock face of grey and black too steep to hold snow at any height, high up further than the eye would allow before being blocked by clouds, for miles and miles and miles and then, finally, just finally, the clouds break and from behind pours out the bluest sky with the brightest sun, there just behind at all times and waiting to be seen.  It seemed as though the sun were always hiding this high up, or else it would not be so ready to make light with just a single break in the cloud line.  Otherwise I suppose there would be more grey, but we were as high as the airplanes that break the cloud line on takeoff.

The snow was everywhere.  It was so thick that I couldn’t venture off trail to see anything other than the city where we camped.  Our hotel was on the other side of the main lake the in town of Bled, and it became very apparent that the city existed on tourism and bypassers, a place to see with not much to offer when the timing wasn’t right.  Everywhere there pointed wooden arrows with distances indicating the paths to take to certain peaks, but with snow so deep that I’d be up to my knees it wasn’t in the cards for me to disappear, should I not want to disappear terminally.  So instead I walked the city streets and spent the days and evenings with my legs draped there over the walls of the castle that sat atop the mountain overlooking the lake and town below, the only hike made possible by the carved stone walkways on both sides.  Evenings were spent in the same bar, writing some, reading some, passing time and staring out wondering what could have been, what I could’ve done, what should’ve happened, and thinking of god knows what.  If I had put my mind together I’d have seen it for what it was, the year ahead.

Slovenia down below.

Slovenia down below.

A few weeks later it was Dresden, and a few weeks after that it was Nurnberg again.  In no time it was Wurzburg every weekend, and I couldn’t figure out where the possibilities had gone.  The more disappointment I found the harder I tried to recreate the circumstances by which I found it.  If this bar didn’t work then another might, or if this city didn’t have it then surely another would.

What I never realized was that the possibilities were in me.  They emanated from me outward and created the way forward.  The things I was looking for created by the wormholes sprung from my chest cavity and where I deviated from the path I created for myself unhappiness, depression, no possibilities.  I lost that tabula rosa – I let the things I learned about Europe, about the people, the food, the wine, the drinking and dancing and way of living dictate my behavior and at each one a dead end.  The truth was still out there, but maybe it wasn’t truth anymore that I needed.

The story of the year is that I’ve struggled to accomplish much of anything so long as it had nothing to do with finishing the book I’m writing.  In so far as that is left undone, it seems that no other thing will bring any amount of satisfaction.  And so I wandered through Europe as if it were a desert, lost and unseeking of anything.  Just theeeerrrrrrrrreeeee… just there.  Drifting.

I found it again.  A couple of times it was there.  Just as the sun had risen on that Belgian morning to tell me I was living, that feeling that shook my bones, it came back to me.

It was there on top the mountains of Sardegna, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  There in just a few moments the winter broke to spring broke to summer and from a peak of maybe 300-meters up we looked down from the centuries-old tower to see below the beaches of Porto Ferro, lapped up again and again by the icy, dark waters coming in from the west, the sun falling below the horizon, that line so straight and wide and unending that our vision could follow it to the ends of the earth of Copernicus weren’t so right.  All the colors blended perfectly from the highest deep sea blue point in the starry night sky to the bright orange dot still sitting there in the middle of sight, laid out over the now black waters with rippling white lines flowing out and past us, the low, buzzing sound of the waves moving by with the wind and nothing but a straight drop down all the way to the rocks below.

Porto Ferro and the mountain we climbed.

Porto Ferro and the mountain we climbed.

It was there again that first night in Pamplona.  We hadn’t even run from the bulls yet, had only been in the city for an hour or so, had barely put our bags in the room before the excitement became overwhelmed us and we sat out on foot for no direction particular.  In short we came across the town hall, the center of the festival, the signal of the event, picture of the city, the place that from its position outward came all the stories and images of the revelers in white running to and from and with the bulls so large and horned and carrying death and with it carrying life.  The Town Hall is a building so magnificent that it was instantly recognizable as we came across at first by accident.  There in a square foyer no larger than 70 meters by 25 meters rose the four-story building, possibly 20 meters wide, but straight out of the ground like a grand sequoia, and nearly as austere.  Each level ordained with a magnificent amount of artisanship, the middle floor lined with all the flags of the Basque Country and Spain itself, orange from the ages of dust and sand and dirt and time that have passed at its feet, black all around from the dark, still Spanish night.

Pamplona's town hall.

Pamplona’s town hall.

One week later I began a 160-kilometer foot march in the Netherlands, and there I found the feeling.  The world’s oldest and longest organized foot march, the Vierdaagse, or Four Days March.  There were over 40,000 people participating in the grueling march, 40 kilometers (25 miles) a day, and over 100,000 people each day lining the streets to cheer us on, and every one of them with a beautiful story and a more beautiful smile.  I have never in my life seen the kindness of humanity come forth so much as on the routes of that march, as thousands joined together to encourage one another to finish line.  One those days it felt good to be a human being.

After a day of the Vierdaagse.

After a day of the Vierdaagse.

These things brought the feeling back to me because of the gravity of their existence.  Either too beautiful, too important, or too alive to be neglected.  It made me feel alive.  It made me unimportant in the best way.  It made me see the earth, it made me see the planet, it made me see the other things out there than my own problems.  It made me feel like the last man, like the only one with the secret.  It made me glad to be alive and to be a human being.  It made me feel like the infinite was still possible.  It made me see the ending and the beginning.  It made me feel love, it made me feel hate.  It made me see the darkness and the light and it made me happy for both.  It made me regret nothing behind and be hopeful for everything ahead.  These moments made me feel as the traveler charting new lands, standing on the pillars of the mountains overlooking the valleys below where no man has gone before, trodden with the antelope and deer and the bear and the moose and the lizards and the owls and the ox and the parrots and the spiders and the ants and all the things that for no good reason sprang up from the muck of the fire of the rock of this universe and for no good reason persist in spite of all forces against.  Belgium in the sun, Rome at night, Helsinki by the water, Pamplona with its bulls, Sardegna over the sea, the plains of the Netherlands, these places, these places, these places at once and infinitely possessing of all the beauty and the possibilities in the world that for just a few minutes at a time I could live forever.

But there have been places that for these same reasons are empty.  There in Paris I nearly got the feeling – Paris is a city of outstanding amazement, a true achievement in human creativity.  But the people made the city in all its splendor, and they’ve since forsaken it.  It left me as it is, empty.

And that was the end of it.  I landed in Atlanta a few weeks after that.

END

** This is just disposed garbage I didn’t include at the end of that article.**

In between I went to the Christmas markets and la di da and it was all the same.  All around the world really it wasn’t that much different, everyone pays taxes, everyone gets drunk, and in the middle are the possibilities we create for ourselves.  I wanted this to be about the beauty of it all, the wonder, the merriment, but I couldn’t avoid the duality.  I would be lying if I told you that all was well there.  But at least things were different.

Atlanta, I mean fuck.  I was instantly depressed when the wheels touched down and I looked up to the supposedly largest international American airport and saw only the backside of your local Wal-Mart, or so the terminals seemed.

I’m not sure if the rest of the world has the answers, but I know this land of freedom does not.  Maybe it did, but we lost it.  It probably didn’t have high enough profit margins.  Things like quantifiable beauty and happiness don’t gain fiduciary overhead like parking lots with gross amounts of halogen lights, a neon billboard every 50-meters, crumbling concrete highways left to rot in the forests and plains, trash dumpsters left unsecure and spilling over the yard, highways larger than capacity requires, everything lit like a fucking Christmas tree for no reason in particular, cheap and fabricated homes that look less like places suitable for living than for models of despair and homes for the criminally insane, trucks everywhere trucks everywhere trucks trucks trucks everywhere because gasoline that’s why, a McDonald’s on every corner, “I don’t think this town has a library?”, be careful because we can’t trust anyone, and just being normal, yes, just being normal is good financial sense.

Tagged with: , ,

It Is About Living and Dying – Running From More Than Bulls

Posted in Europe, Prose by johnsontoms on July 12, 2013

They say Hemingway was obsessed with death.  For a man so nobly concerned with the modern toils of heroes to have killed himself after spending a lifetime conceiving the greatest of colossuses only to whither them to bones, it comes as an easy observation to make.  To have given us Frederic Henry and Robert Jordan, two of his greatest heroes manifested of his own image, and to have provided them with only loss, suffering, and ultimately death, is an indictment on the statement of the creator’s soul.  Think also of Santiago for whom we met at the end of days, nearly ridden to the ground for his failures and who for as long as we know him quarrels at the lines of a marlin only to see his fate left in the bones on the sand.  Or to have written a novel for his truest passion and to include in its title “Death.”  For this it could be construed easily for Hemingway as a life spent dying. But for those who find it, and I assure you Ernest Hemingway did, it is about living. It is about living and dying. A parallel birth of two extremes in constant dissolution yet infinitely romanced, at once warring and at peace – their cosmic values for it are then irresolutely entwined. The greatest of lives and the most rich with living often succumb to the most electric and brutal of ends.  But for sake of the former we must suffer the latter, a goal I perceive as worthy of honor.

I know this in my own way now. Not nearly as well as Mr. Hemingway but in ways recently similar. The perceived keystone change in his life came at the events that inspired his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.  I speak, of course, of the Fiestas de San Fermines.  I know now, of course, because like him I set out on foot ahead of the bulls to see their passing and get a chance to place my hands on the fury of beasts.  And where Hemingway ran with no modern records of safety during los encierros, I had the benefits of los medicos y los policias to guide the herd through a time-tested route where few among millions have ever been seriously injured, even fewer have died, and the chances of falling under those storming hooves seemed nearest to none.  I was wrong.

When it turned to look at me I knew it would be quick.  The new steps would occur in less than a half of a second and all that remains are a few mental snapshots obscured in my memory.  The animal pausing long enough for me to approach from behind, my arm extending to touch it, the eyes that met mine as it whipped around, the head lowering, and the man to my side that got dragged to the ground in the horns because he jumped in front of me instead of away.  I leaped over the head of the beast that was slamming its victim downward and didn’t look backward until I reached safety and that’s when I knew that to be alive was to be nearly dead.  It wasn’t until later that day that I learned I was dealing merely with an ox.  I hadn’t yet even seen a bull.

We woke up at 530am and in an hour started on foot.  We arrived an hour early to run.  We knew there were people everywhere but we didn’t know the control measures.  After trying two gates and being unable to even reach the fence line from the crowd we watched at a third to see the gate open only for those people leaving.  I spent the next minutes on my toes trying to see in.  At that moment I saw the most beautiful girl in the festival – amongst a sea of millions, in a crowd of typical Spaniards with their dark skin and deep brown eyes, she smiled at me with her glowing blue eyes lost behind the soft blonde hair that fell like waves tossed in the wind over her shoulders. We joined everyone that turned toward the street when the fireworks went off.  Screaming swelled. From behind the people on the fence all I could see were the faces of those on the balconies watching something pass through the street down below that I couldn’t see or hear from the mass of the audience in my way.  It was gone, I had missed it, and the girl walked away.  Without any idea, lost in confusion and mostly regret, we walked toward the ring to find a crowd outside a series of closed doors, as expected.  Only those with tickets were allowed passage, though we saw a few jump and run, and when we began to walk away, another swell of noise.  Our reaction was GO GO GO as the doors all opened.

Racing into the crowd and up the stairs was like all those scenes in the movies, the sun flooding so brightly down as we peered over the shoulders in front to reveal to us a gladiatorial landscape, the entire audience wearing white and ensconced in cheering on the tons of runners who taunted a horned animal below. It took me a few minutes to learn where to move because processing the scene required the extent of my will to focus.  The frantic swell and swarm of hundreds of runners moving around and away from the ox with the fluidity of a school of fish chased undersea, the number of rows that separated me from the ring below (seis), the possibility of the police stopping people from jumping in and the fact that I saw none doing it, the spaces in the crowd that might give chance to climb below, the black man in the ring, long dreadlocks flowing behind a hulking body of his own, staring down three times the beast with horns and holding still to grab its horns upon charging, throw his legs over and flip with the force of the oxen tossing him over its head to land, stagger to his feet with fists clinched in an outpouring of excited terror that he had survived, the rain of whistles and cheers that anointed him el rey de los toros, the red and green flags of Navarre county that alternated their way across the partitions of the ring, and the white, sweet white light that poured in like the sun must seem in the open air of outer space so deeply contrasting what can be seen and what cannot be seen that to focus on both sides of the light in the stadium simultaneously seemed impossible.  But there in the shade near to where I had raced into the front row was a boy jumping down into the ring at the objection of no one.  GO.  And I went down.

The sun so bright.

The sun so bright.

Amongst the runners I couldn’t see the animal, only the rush of people that would split to one side and then another. This happened a few times before I looked at mis hombres Micah y Artur and said with all eloquence, “fuck it, I’m going in.” I was in a half sprint immediately because I didn’t want to think about the alternatives of giving in, of having fear. The speed was meant for me to find the animal but quickly I learned that it would find me. As soon as the crowd would indicate to move in my direction the people in front of me would split and the charging beast would indicate otherwise. I couldn’t get in too close before the animal ran to the other side where it was corralled and the runners were left alone in the ring.  Panic, confusion, did I miss it again? Would this prove to be my only opportunity to run or to even be amongst the taunting runners at the end who braved to slap the beast and I miss both? Catching my breath, merely seconds after the animal ran past me, thinking of the electricity in my veins, the reserves not yet spent and gaining a feeling of remorse when the pen was opened and above the shoulders of the massed runners I could see bodies enter the air, thrown up by whatever had just come out of the gate. More cheers flooded down as the runners scattered at this new, more wild thing that was parting the masses like the Red Sea.  Whatever this thing was, it was angry.  In merely a blink I saw it now, black, taller than the last and with hideous eyes that spoke of its own terror, and I saw him again, and then again, because he ran only at full speed and in all directions.  Watching the first and getting into the ring with another I was learning and guessing that the animals would stop and in whatever direction they were facing would put their head down for a charge to that side.  It made for a sort of figure eight around the ring as the size of the crowd controlled the movements of the beast as much as the movements of the beast controlled the crowd, a delicate tango between two compelling, different bodies of fear.  And when the beasts would stop for that split second, that’s the chance to touch it. This new thing with its larger, more upright horns never gave anyone that chance and when he did finally appear to stop he would as quickly spin around, dead in place but facing the other direction before anyone could move, bucking its head in all directions so fast that to be near it seemed idiotic or fatal.  No one could get near it and it never rested.  If I were lost in the back of the crowd in the ring I would lose sight of it and be caught in its way before I could react.  To avert this I did the only I thought possible – get to a position where I could always see it.  This meant to get close to the animal and run with it, a decision I made with more intent for survival than for daring.  A chance! It finally stopped to catch its breath a few feet from my position, facing the other direction.  I and the few others around me didn’t hesitate to recognize this as our opportunity and lunged forward with arms outstretched to swat at its hind quarters.  But rather than landing squarely like a palm on a cheek I could feel the grace of the hairs with only my fingertips because the beast had swung around to face me, to see its aggressors, to exchange blows.  And while my forward momentum from reaching out had me just over its path and leaning into its glare, it glared back.

When the animals are about to strike their heads tilt downward and to the side.  The force generated at the bulk of a scared animal that weighs over 1000 pounds is more frightening when its intent to harm is aimed at you.  I got to this position in a matter of milliseconds, passing through the entire range of human excitement and terror as quickly our heart can beat once.  Reactions are impulse and mean nothing, the decisions our bodies made not concluded through reason or thought – there is no thought, just… electricity.  When I jumped to the right at that moment it may have been because my left foot was already planted or it may have been because the beast had spun counterclockwise, forcing me away to my right.  It could have been that by spinning around that direction the thing had pinned us to the wall and jumping right for me was a step forward now. Whatever the reason was that sent me that direction, it was the same for the man to my left who now passed in the bull’s path toward me.  That decision put him in between the horns, had him dragged to the ground, and left me with enough room to place a hand on the wall and leap over the combination of man and beast that tussled now on the ground at my feet.  Never looked back while running, not making a noise save for the heaves of the lungs.  Stopped to feel the sun come down and kiss my sweat-covered skin, dust-covered skin, to look up and squint through the rays and distinguish the bluest of skies above me, the ring all around, the frenzy, the noise of the lust of the crowd and the floor of the ring that had no air, all sucked out by the whimsical lot of fools that wanted to touch a pair of horns, maybe something greater.  It all slowed down and I stood there feeling alive.  I was electric and I was at peace.  And I was still in the ring with a horned animal.

After being nearly gored in the ring.

After being nearly gored in the ring.

To say that it was an ox or something other than a bull, or to mention that only 15 people have died in the past 89 years since records were taken of the bull runs, or hear that most all injuries occur from the feet of the crowd and not the bulls, these things make you think it won’t be absolutely horrifying.  There is no exaggeration meant when I say that I didn’t know I was putting my life on the line.  It all happens so quickly that there is no time to realize it could be the end of your life.  But as easily as the terror enters your path it leaves again.  In the end, the animals are as afraid as we are.

It’s a mortal dance at the heart of it all.  It’s the cosmos swaying with the pull of a cord.  That this chance at glancing certain fatality comes only with an animal partner is the assured crescendo in an already fortissimo fugue.  Falling from the sky or swimming deep in the oceans or scaling the icy cliffs can all be equally ruinous, but their waters are navigated solely on the hands of the man at sea.  He who imparts on these acts of bravery is testing his limits purposefully but stands as the only thing responsible for a doomed fate, should it arrive.  But to run from the bulls is to have the marrow of your bones tested by an outward lethal force, the marriage of chance and skill, art and circumstance.  You can run, but it can chase you.  You can jump, but it can jump for you.  You can try, but it may not be enough. So do not think that this tradition is carried out for its sole attraction or bemusement.  It is carried out because merges life and death.  It is enacted year after year as a celebration of the brutal elements of living of earth, and for those that have seen it, for those that organize it, for those that participate, there is no other answer to the charge that it is cruel or unjust – it must continue.  Everyone in play, from boys and girls to oxen and bulls, they all stand a chance at surviving the game of chess, the players all pawns moving in an en passant to escape the enemy but still claiming a victim, for the collision of such forces always has a victim.  We have not lived on this planet so long to still deny the dynamisms of conflict that are as present as the sun always shining on some half of the earth at all times.

Isn’t that just it? That sheer chance, a roll of the cosmic dice, produced for us a place so pure and bountiful that its harmony is seized only at the persistence of collision? Our fate is certain – we will all greet the grave.  The equal forces of existence and nonexistence are constantly battling over control of the universe, and in the middle men and women struggle to avoid certain fate.  A fool’s struggle.  If we exist only to come to an end, what is the point? “Life has to be given a meaning for the obvious fact that it has no meaning,” muses Henry Miller.  “Something has to be created, as a healing and goading intervention, between life and death, because the conclusion that life points to is death and to that conclusive fact man instinctively and persistently shuts his eyes… Death then has to be defeated – or disguised, or transmogrified.  But in the attempt to defeat death, man has inevitably obliged to defeat life, for the two are inextricably linked.  Life moves onto death, and to deny one is to deny the other.”  How sad then, how utterly tragic that the whole of the human race save for a few martyrs have lived then in sincere quietude to avoid a fate that is quite literally unavoidable?  It is the most powerful scripts of the tragedians to quilt together the path of the doomed hero, the Greek titan that suffered at the hands of the gods for something as simple as seeing his home just one more time.  We weep for the notion that our souls have something in common with Odysseus or Santiago, or even Raskolnikov, Thomas Sutpen and Jay Gatsby, or that possibly like the Oblonskys we too have everything in confusion.  To be like these heroes makes our insufferability and pious crawl toward death a bit more heroic.  But such a thought, that this silly, stupid, inane, useless life we lead, the kind that involves the office and the cubicle and the computer and the 24-karat diamond engagement ring and 8-cylinder, 240 horsepower fuel-injected block and the three seasons, 24 episode marathons in front of the television and the late night tacos after the bar and the stored up vacation days to hit the beach only to go back to work again, that life, that utterly vain and callous life spent doing nothing, could even be close to something heroic is confusion of the highest order. And if we are confused it is only that we serve notoriety to those that live long and those that robustly serve up caution to be as saviors and saints, these men we call sainst informed of the risks and still choose the safer path, one that is beset by the herds of men seeking to avoid the awful fate of death at the cost of an awfully robust life.  But is not more awful, not more wretched to see an entire life wane by untouched, unlit by fire, unmoved by any gravity to either side of the balances of life and death? To wilt away in the neutrality of fear? To deny life by denying death is to fall into the patterns of the wicked notions given before us.  It’s taking at face value the morals of the unbrave who gave us birth into this despicable world survived only with gallantry.  There are none yet for the recent generations who have come close to anything brave and we continue to berate those that try as outliers of a system that rewards only those who fall in with the tactics of cowardice.  It is a true spirituality to embrace only the learned life, the kind that can only be reckoned from a charge towards the gates of life by charging at the gates of death; an acquittal from denying that we will crumble to dust elicits the truest understanding of God, renders the powers of the phantasmic and supernatural real and human, and there in our hands are the reins to Hell’s chariot.  The only rigid grasp of the infinite lies in the gripping of mortality, but even that can be confusing when so many misunderstand being mortal.  Erich Gutkind offers a definition of mortality by way of explaining the Hebrew etymology of eternity*, which is that of victory rather than duration: “to die means to be cut off, it does not mean to cease.  One who is bound to others is free from the fear of death, for fear has its roots in separation. Where there is fear it is quickly followed by the flight to possessions.” But to hold onto things rather than seek the nectar of life, to be avoiding death by accumulation of mere things, that he concludes is a fate worse than any: “Far deadlier than any bodily decay is the death within our souls.”  Thus is the true spirit of the bourgeois, of which we all belong.

Throughout Pamplona existed the opportunity to reach forward at that new spirituality, to grab immortality by losing all possessions and running quite literally toward the horns of the beast, but all around me I saw orchards of reluctance springing up.  Even for those brave enough to test their mettle during the runs often did so at the patterns of culling those possessions that Gutkind says relieve our sense of being cut off.  By saying “we’ve done the impossible” we can slip back into the comfortable confines of the resting bed of the weary to erode with the sands of time knowing that we lived once.  I’m telling you once is not enough.  Doing it once is not a lifetime spent in bravery.  And in this day and age true bravery is revolution.

Txupinazo, opening ceremony with 15,000 of my best friends.

Txupinazo, opening ceremony with 15,000 of my best friends.

There in a city of a few hundred thousand existed for a day nearly millions.  The sight was incredible in the dictionary’s sense of being beyond belief.  Within every footstep and every corner of the streets that maze through the city were thousands of revelers of the festivities, there in their white shirts and white pants, the red bandanas wrung around the necks and often the red sunglasses whose lenses were plucked from the frames to be worn only as a further assortment of red on a field of white white white white, everyone wearing white.  It was beautiful, serene, majestic, almost holy.  Every person had their individual manner of making the ensemble their own.  I wore my blue flowered scarf rolled up and tied around my head, as usual, and often walked around without a shirt on.  Even on the last day when I opted also for suspenders, hung down from my waist when I removed the white shirt following the run.  For this reason I got a lot of color in my skin and learned just how curious Iberians could be about tattoos.  For the women however their first and most utilized way for individualization was the size and cut of a pair of old jeans to reveal the ass cheeks.  And I can say assuredly that there is no level of shame amongst them, many turning their jeans into shorts that rode up like damn near like a thong.  It was titillating, but then again it also was no different than the rest.

There has to be a real search for the juice of the fruit to see the smoke from the fire.  It would be easy to get lost in the rivers of sangria to miss the murky truths of the celestial battle underneath.  The festival begins with the Txupinazo, a celebration of the festival itself without any bulls.  Simply, the mayor de la ciudad pops off a firework to signal the beginning of the festivities which mostly means “let the drunk begin.”  This happens in the town hall, Plaza Consistorial, which is about 75 meters by 20 meters.  But damn near every one of the revelers wants to be present, and that means about 15,000 people jammed into the space.  The math on that breaks down to about 7 people per square meter, or, so tight you can’t breathe fresh air because the bodies are packed so heavily that the heat and stench of shit piss and sangria wells up in a cloud above the crowd.  Everyone gets by on the 1-liter bottles of sangria, all the same bottles, and drinks to excess antes de mediodia.  The girls begin to jump on the shoulders of the men and it quickly devolves into low-grade sexual assault, the game of “you can’t get up on the shoulders if you’re not taking your shirt off” becomes “we’re ripping your shirt off.”  And it doesn’t stop them, they keep jumping up there and laughing while clutching their chest to tease the masses that maybe their breasts won’t come out, an inevitable falsity.  The least that can be done in any situation is to throw sangria in all directions until the shirts fade to a soaked shade of pink, the skin dripping with the sticky sweet wine more than sweat from the collusion of bodies.  This goes on for hours before the mayor comes out, the focus of the crowd switching from one atrocity to another.  It’s more colorful still in the depths of drunkenness when, say, a woman steps out on an overlooking balcony from an apartment in the buildings but does not unveil her bosom, and soon the sangria bottles take flight.  It looks like an open bag of popcorn popping over a fire, nearly hundreds of plastic bottles flying up and down in one direction until the crowd gets what it wants.  Cheers of songs, singing, goddamned singing of that groove line “Seven Nation Army” that has so swept the European nations, and devolution of the worst kind as if lurking amongst the rats of a sewer.  The crowd is so tight that any movement creates a push so intense that it seems like being pushed into a wall by a thousand people.  The feet are so tight together that people lean over and on top of each other because there is nowhere to step.  Worse yet, my shoelaces had come undone in the scrum and every time someone else stepped on them I was at the mercy of the crowd to stay above ground level.  There were others who couldn’t.  Eventually the mayor came out to the chanting of Viva la San Fermin! Viva la San Fermin! as everyone raises their red bandanas to put them on for the first time.

That's me holding up my bandana.

That’s me holding up my bandana.

And in a flash the crowd begins to spread out to celebrate amongst the streets, to find the bars, to quench the anger of a feisty drunk in the cafes prepared to meet a mob, and the pressure of the outgoing crowd pushed me in a direction other than my choosing.  It turned out to be fortuitous as those watching on the balconies took to tossing water on the already soaked masses below who welcomed the bath like a freedom from oppression.  I was pushed into the next block where a group of onlookers on the balcony had arranged a running hose and a few buckets of water, and there we took to dancing in the shower that rained down below.  And like all previous situations, the attractive woman amongst the crowd above who wouldn’t emerge was taunted with chants of “Punta! Eh perra! Viene extiorora!” until she danced her way into the vision of the crowds, eliciting their cheers.  She too began to dump water on us with a smile and the ritual was complete.

Just before the fireworks, I'm behind the Bosque flag.

Just before the fireworks, I’m behind the Bosque flag.

In these rich waters of the murky greens floats the relics of la verdad.  There are not many chances in a lifetime to be so submerged in the presence of the people.  To be so utterly thrust into their whimsy, their phantasmagoric, principled mastication of the realms of the dire, wearied exhaustion and consumption of the soul.  The way without provocation that a mass of so many can simultaneously engage in the act of release, to the see the physical and spiritual exile from the chains of reality if only for a day.  To know that all day and everywhere there are people celebrating for celebrating’s sake, that the cause of the gathering centers around the act of one man taunting death with horns.  Others are living from the relishing that others that might die.  And for many the opportunity to do the same comes from the ability to be put in the way of the bulls also during the runs.  Or even, to create an environment where any such examination of bravado is not out of question.

Our first night in the city was spent familiarizing our way around so that we might better be prepared for the frenzy ahead and in the wanderings through the street we encountered an enthusiastic bloke from Ireland here for his second run in as many years.  The lad was our age, blonde dreads pulled up in a bun and without a shirt, speaking through a thick accent and drunk that were both appropriately Irish.  He made quickly apparent that his experience in the runs before made him somewhat of a savant, an idea that I was not quick to absorb but neither hasty to dismiss.  To learn something from a soul who had at least run once might reveal to me something necessary that cannot be learned from observation or research.  “Rule number one,” he shouted out the side of his mouth, “if ya go dow’un, stay the fuck dow’un.”  I thought he meant from the bulls but his repetition of the phrase implied that for any reason not to get up.  “Rule number two, if it’s your first run, dow’unt run the curve,” he said more somberly.  “Dow’unt run the fucking curve.  You’re not a fucking hero, dow’unt run the curve.”  As we plodded through the inquisitions and information we reached a more subtle moment in his haranguing of the festival, one of proud dissonance if someone can be so delighted to know something that seems wrong.  There is apparently something called the fountain jump amongst those who’ve heard of its existence.  It is exactly as it sounds, people jumping from a fountain.  Although it’s more of a monument than a statue.  “Something that all the locals hate is the fountain jump,” he shouted while pointing down the block.  “The Aussie’s came up with this fucking great idea of falling off this fountain into the arms of their drunk brothers, I mean a literal fucking fall off of a fountain into four guys holding their hands together,” he said.  The pantomime included slamming his hand into the ground with a loud slap.  “Literally more people get hurt on the fountain jump every year than the bull runs.  I mean you’re falling arms wide on the pavement at full speed, it’s fucking stupid.”  And so I knew where to find myself after the Txupinazo dissolved, and so coincidentally was pushed directly there in the proceeding minutes.  And what a fucking idiot to get on top of this concrete ball and do a trust fall from 20 feet up.  In the condition everyone was in it was a nigh miracle that no one died on that day.  I saw a man get lifted up, give himself a half-hearted esprit tu santé before tossing his cigarette, placing his hands across his chest and falling into the arms below.  God they caught him but he hit them with a force like a car crash. It may have been the most daring thing I saw all weekend and one fountain jump was enough.  For the day, for my day, it was nearly all the rest of organized gatherings for me on that day.  The rest was spent in a merry wandering about the town with the muse of San Fermin.  God, what a muse.

The streets were made of large, slick brick stones that made for a marble-top similar to skating on ice for the first time.  The tide of booze and excrement from the horde covered the street entire and left no space in the city the sanctity of going untouched.  It reeked of the stench of a waste treatment facility on a hot day and yet the people seemed not in the least bit phased.  The merriment continued at full speed, a raging, pulsating gush of vivacity that spread from the town hall in all directions like a wild plague picking up more victims as it sprawled outward.  There was so much white and red, not a single person daring to wear anything other.  And for everyone there was rejoicing.  It was impossible to not be elated at the massive undertaking.

It was a massive undertaking all at once, after all.  That so many could so impulsively join in a swarthy jamboree was a marvel worthy of highest praise of historical reflection.  But that too for itself is astonishing and depressing – the behavior is so coordinated, so predictive, so ostensive that it can make for anyone present enough distraction to disguise the beauty below.  We were there to put life on the precipice of judgment.  But for too many it was just another check in the list of bourgeois accomplishments that reflect on a life well lived.  If only they knew that a quiet death indicated a quiet life!

Everywhere short white shorts that carried the beautiful, tanned legs of the whores that wandered around, eyes peering out at the gathered multitudes who served back the obvious mark, the competition of each other to out do and be outdone by the best, to drink and dance and drink and drink and drink drink drink and throw the glass on the ground it was too far away to the trash can and too easy to buy a drink from the outdoor bar or the waiter walking by or the storefront next door or from the beggars and residents who pulled wheeled suitcases that dolled out una cervaza por uno euro and moved onto the next one who would be in need of the intoxicating distractions of this given modern life, unable to create for themselves the distractions that could so easily be found if we just looked.  If we just looked at the absolutely intoxicating rhythms of the local Spaniards who at the end of the night in Plaza del Castillo danced in unison to the traditional flutes and snares piping out the songs of the land, the coordinated fashion that in circles around the hundreds-old gazebo in the center of the square where the players played, the sounds sounded and the rays shone outward like a beacon to indicate to the dancers when to raise up, when to drop down, and when to circle one another like bees on the petal.  How so many could at once be drawn to the music like flies to the light was a remarkable sight to see, and how so many knew so well the movements without instruction was also a stupendous thing to behold.  To join in for a few minutes when the dance became a race, the partakers raising their bandanas as if to create a tunnel of bridges for others to pass through while the snare drum hissed like a snake, the sun downing now at half-past 10pm so late that the blue still seems deeply plush as it descends more and more over the plaza square now beaming with orange-tinted lights in a myriad of white bouncing over the golden tinted streets.  Majestic, surely.  Noble even, and in some ways of nobility.  This is the nectar of the hedonist gods.

Separating the men from the gods at San Fermin were the bull fights.  An honest to god bull fight, matador vs. toro.  On this day I was repeating ad nauseum “I will not live my life in regret for having missed the bull run,” and satiated a little bit of the remorse by attending the opening bull fight.  Even that didn’t seem real, and after having nearly been killed by what I thought was a bull in the ring, it peaked my interest what matrimony would unfold in the right on this night.  We found a scalper during the day and set about preparing our minds and bodies until the doors of the arena would open (read: drinking).  I purchased 2 1-liter bottles of local San Miguel birra and walked to the gates.

…Something here needs to be said of the casual nature of the Spanish.  I am still unsure if it is owed to the nature of the festival or to the spirit of the Spanish people entire, but I as I mentioned before I spent the festival shirtless.  It was just more comfortable and often easier to clean since, as I’ve mentioned, wine was being tossed onto everyone all day and night.  I had a cigarette burning in my mouth, large glass bottles of beer in each hand, and walked right up to the gate to hand over my ticket.  I purchased a seat cushion and made my way up the stairs to the upper level looking like a mixture of unkempt homelessness, beach hair, covered in wine and tattoos, smoking and carrying open alcohol containers, dirt head to toe, and no one said anything or gave more than a glance my direction.  It was as easy as “caul es la dirección” and “el asiento está arriba” and there I sat in waiting.  I understood this visual statement of mine to be unusual, even just slightly, but to seem as if it was completely acceptable at all times or even just during the bull fight, was quite bewildering…

We found our seats among the upper rows but were pleased to have good sight lines to the ring below and bit of shade.  Reading earlier I had learned that throughout the festival there existed cliques known as peñas in the Festival which could be described as something of a fraternity that gathers once a year to organize music and parties for its members.  The peñas battled each other throughout the day for notoriety, a battle that was always fought on the field of drunkenness.  We knew they were entering the building when the marching bands started ringing throughout the halls of the arena, soon followed by the color-coordinated groups that wore distinctive hats and carried large signs for their publicity.  Each member of a peña wore the ceremonial white, but instead of a red bandana might wear, say, blue for one whole group or green for another.  I say all this because at the bull fights, their challenge of bravado is waged in the sun.  Down on the first rows of the stadium situated on the eastern side where the sun bore down, it was there that they consumed heavy amounts of alcohol and danced to the traditional rhythms of the horn sections of their peña.  In total there were about six peñas and three bands amongst them, all playing over each other.  The beauty of it climaxed as the groups inflated balloons of their distinctive color and began to throw them into the air, creating a color wheel across the stadium sections left to right, a whole section of yellow balloons and a whole section of green balloons and a whole section of blue balloons, all dancing in the air.

But the real beauty had not yet begun.  After the groundskeepers had finished raking the sand and painting circles in the sand, the mayor took his seat at the grand stand as processional leader and in came los matadores y los banderilleros y picadores.  The suits were as fantastic as any you may have seen in film or in Bugs Bunny cartoons, and every bit as bright in the evening sun.  In turn they walked toward the mayor to take a bow, walking to one side and then another back toward their places where the matadors grabbed their capes and began to practice their veronicas.  It took only a minute and the groundskeepers again came out to rake up quickly the footprints in the sand, leaving the ring empty.  And without a sound or so much as a horn, the first bull came charging out into the ring.

The greatest art in the greatest cathedral.

The greatest art in the greatest cathedral.

He was huge.  The bull stood to the shoulders of the matador and would charge from 15 meters out, chasing after the capes that were shook from side to side.  In the early stages, the “first third” of the fight, the matadors would simply goad the bull toward their direction and against the wall, a team of three matadors working to get the bull to run from one side to the next.  Occasionally one might get within a few feet but there were no passes, no veronicas.  But as soon as we began to wonder what would happen or when the fight would start, out came the picadors.

Picadors ride on a horse.  The horse is covered in what looks like yellow leather sheets, strapped and tied from the top of the horse down its sides and wrapped under its stomach on all sides front and back.  Its eyes are blindfolded and the picador carries a long spear.  The spear is used to slice the bull’s neck when it charges, because without failure the bull would immediately charge the horse.  Worse yet, the bull would size the horse up and slowly turn its head to the side, plunging horn first into the ribcage of the horse with such a force that the horse and rider would be lifted into the air.  As the bull’s horn got stuck in the side of the horse, the picador would reach down and stab the tuft of muscle atop the bull’s neck until it would release.  This must be done a minimum five times before the picador can exit the ring or the bull will be returned to the pen to be saved and the fight is over.  But after this bull had been stabbed the requisite number of the times and finally released the horse, the picador slowly trotted the horse away that for as long as I could tell had no indication of what had happened to it, not making a noise.  I learned later that it was only in 1935 after hundreds of years of fights, that it became law to protect the horses with the shielding.  Before then the horses were blindfolded and forced to take an almost certain fatal goring from the bull, and the picadors job to survive the ensuing scrum and wound the bull the appropriate times.  But that no longer being the case the horse just walked away.  Remarkable.

Into the “middle third” as the bull was a bit slower now and the banderillos grabbed those sticks.  I don’t know what they’re called but you have an idea of what I mean.  The sticks that are about one-foot long and are stripped with color, of which I learned indicate where the banderillero is from.  Two matadors would guide the bull into the center of the ring where the banderillo stood with the hooked sticks.

It was like coordinated ballet seeing their moves.  Coordinated ballet with a bull, but a pairing of which seemed nearer to art than slaughter.  After the bull was guided into the center of the ring the banderillo would call for its attention by shouting and raising his arms at 45° angles, the hooks facing inward.  In that position the banderillero resembled a striking snake, and in that position he would stand as the bull charged him full speed.  Just as the bull approached he would begin to take just a single step or two to one side without turning, and just as the bull lowered his head to plunge forward the banderillo would jump and lean far enough over to stab the hooks deep into the open wound at the top of the bull’s neck, dancing away unharmed to the roar of the crowd.  This would happen at least three times until a total of six hooks hung from the wound atop its shoulders, its speed rapidly decreasing, its charges numbering fewer and fewer, provocation needed more and more to get the bull to charge.  At its slowest speed now the matador would emerge.

The "death third."

The “death third.”

The matador’s entrance to the ring for the “death third” was like that of a painter approaching the canvas.  His steps were smooth, the shoulders square and the object, the bull, square in his sights.  And from only a few feet away from the bull the matador would reach out the cape to his side and lower it to the ground.  When the cape just grazed the sand he would shake it violently, the bull charging head first at the moving object, the matador moving in a veronica to the side by merely rotating his hips, not taking a step in any direction.

It was as they say an art of the highest form.  Like the tides rise and the currents move underneath, the music of this nature was iridescent in the shade of the arena, a transfixing waltz between matador and bull, man and animal, life and death.  The blood flowed now along all sides of the bull, weakened to a point that even its rage seemed not enough to keep the will to survive in volatility.  ¡Olé! and to the side again, ¡olé! and again turning, the bull charging, its movements in a circle around the matador that did not budge from his spot.  The knees locked, his legs straight as trunks planted in the ground, only his shoulders whirring around and his sight changing from forward to backward as the beast circled his moves following the cape from front to back to front again until the matador would place the cape behind his legs and walk away from the bull, chest filled with air and chin pointed upward to goad from the crowd the swell of cheers that filled the space up to the sky, the bull left to pant and breathe heavily to even just remain on its feet.  Then the matador would return and this time walk right up to the horns. ¡olé! and rotate and ¡olé! and spin and then stop with the cape behind his legs, the bull directly in feet, to begin to shake his legs back and forth asking the bull “would you care to dance?”

Such life at the hands of death.  If the bull in this state just once thought to expend its energy both would be lost there in the sand, in the center for thousands to see.  But the music went on, up and down there in the ring with no noise but loud enough for all to hear and see, this was the waltz that packed the house, this was the meal that served the multitudes, this is the art that will live on to be appreciated for generations to come because only a man tilted on equal parts genius and madness could manifest such magnificence and audacity, such equilibrium of living and dying.  The barks of the matador could occasionally be heard, his calls the sirens of the living who were afraid not to die.  ¡olé! and a turn, ¡olé! and the matador was away again to taunt the bull without so much as looking back because his gallantry had no limits, his acumen no threshold, his flare for the spectacular evinced in the daring dance of the dead performed by the living.  I have never seen a man so alive before, and he was by all rights on the verge of death.  There was one who got on his knees there before the bull.  The matador got down maybe inches from the bull’s horns and placed his eyes at the bull’s level, on his knees with arms outstretched, walking on his knees back and forth.  He looked as if in a vigil with the devil, and I couldn’t tell if he was praying to survive or to be gored.  It wouldn’t have mattered either way.

The matador would eventually walk to the edge and exchange the blade by which he held the cape for a sharper sword, walking back to the bull.  This time there would be no veronica, there would be no ¡olé! as he stood right before the bull with shoulders squared at each other.  The matador raised the sword to his nose, pointing it outward at the bull, holding the cape just below and in front of his legs.  With a single shake of the cape the bull would lower his head for the charge and there the matador would take one step to the side, lowering the sword into the wound and gouging downward with all his force until all of the meter-long blade was sunk into the bull’s girth, only the handle remaining to be seen.  Standing there now, spitting out chunks of its lungs and heart, it took seconds for the bull to lose its footing and drop to the ground, dead.  The bull had been killed and the dance was over.  A team of three horses came out and dragged the bloody carcass away leaving a trail of blood in the sand that would be raked haphazardly by the groundskeepers.  And just as quickly as it ended out charged another bull and the ballet began again, this time from the top.

It went on this way for six fights, the matadors doing their part to raise the stakes each time, one banderillo making a fatal move and finding his skull under the bull’s hooves, carried away to a fate no one could be sure of.  There was never any sign or indication, no noise from the arena to indicate any kind of start or stop, any kind of grade the mayor may have made on the performance below, only the roars from the crowd for the matadors who danced with death on that day.  Each performance would last about 30 minutes in total, and each one passed the same way from stage to stage as the bulls charged full of life into the first third, and by the death third had given its body up to sacrifice.  The ritual is not unlike the Mayans who played games to determine who would live and who would die, the Egyptians sacrificing cow and lamb for rain, the Jews sacrificing lamb for eternity, the Romans sacrificing gladiators for spectacle, or any those of ancients who sacrificed their own to the gods.  The gods in this spectacle were nameless, but the wages were the same as had been for thousands of years.  Man needed death to be alive.

…We woke up at 5am the next day having retired early after the fight.  Missing the bull run was not an option, I repeat, missing the bull run was not an option.  But even without el encierro en la mañana my sentiment would have remained the same.  The sobriety of the festival, seen now through the bull fights, was beginning to sink in.  And as much as I wanted to dance my own way through the golden streets at night to be amongst the people, it was hard to feel at place with the celebrations going on, now knuckle-deep in the mire with fights each day.

Even as we walked within a few blocks of the arena by 615am we entered a running pace to get inside those fence walls.  Being on the outside of the fence was unacceptable.  I had come across the earth, flown across Europe, and driven across half of Spain to run from those damn bulls and I was going to run from those bulls dammit.  I would not live a life in regret to have come so close and done nothing, to have gone so far and changed nothing in myself.  I needed this more each minute.

When we saw the arena we saw also the fence and as Artur began looking for the gate I shouted, “just climb the fence, there, there!” and we jumped through the beams.  Standing there in between the sides of the fence brought about a sense of relief.  It was if I had arrived and in the hour-and-a-half between then and the start of the run I would let nobody remove me from the bull’s way.  We started walking down the route toward the beginning to get as much in the way as possible.

With everything we had learned and heard of the run’s, we knew we needed to be somewhere on either side of curva del muerte, Dead Man’s Curve.  Dead Man’s Curve took up the 50-meter space between two 90° turns, one left and one right, that formed an S-shape in the route starting at the town hall.  It was Dead Man’s Curve because a running formation of fighting bulls at full speed weren’t the best at taking turns, instead smashing into walls and crushing whatever got in their way.  Wisely we didn’t want to be this, but the timing of avoiding it would take a bit of play.

The bulls were released in two groups of six.  A firework would be fired to signal that the first bull of the first group was out of the pen, and a second firework would be fired to signal that the group had left the pen entirely.  The same series of fireworks would be fired for the second group, usually about 20 to 30 seconds later.  This meant that if I ran with the first group of bulls at town hall, before Dead Man’s Curve, I would have to chase those bulls and get through the group of about 1,500 runners all the way through Dead Man’s Curve and down the remaining 600 meters of road into the ring, all before the other group of bull’s could catch me.  I didn’t see that as a likelihood and we decided to start after Dead Man’s Curve.  Avoid the whole thing entirely.  I kept hearing the Irish lad saying “dow’unt run the curve” and took his advice in whole.  We would not be running the curve.

Just before El Encierro.

Just before El Encierro.

Other groups of Americans picked up on our voices, or maybe it was my suspenders and headband, or maybe it was nothing at all, but there formed a smattering of some 10 Americans all discussing the best ways to survive.  None of us then the weight of the words we chose inadvertently, words like “not dying” and “surviving” and “running away” and “jumping for safety” we callously tossed along as if we knew that those words should be taken as precisely as they are written – not to die on this day.  But the groups all reached the same conclusions, even with a few who had run before.  Monday’s running group would be the largest and to avoid all issues, we’d start ahead of the curve.

Starting ahead of the curve did a few other things for us.  It allowed us to get a chance at seeing the forces that were coming our way and allowed us to get into the ring before the second group of bulls could run us over.  Of course all of this is theoretical, but we hoped its practice would executed the same way.  But as the minutes waned we heard that the police would sweep the runners out of the road if they didn’t start before Dead Man’s Curve, to give the cleaners a chance to clear the road of any debris.  So we watched in the middle of Dead Man’s Curve as the police piled into the road and begin to take their spots along the fence.  We felt we were safe enough until the most blessed man I’ve ever met approached me, and in broken English with a Spanish accent said, “if you want to run, you must start before the curve,” and he pointed behind us.  “The police will move you out, you must start there.”  He smiled and picked his camera up again to start taking pictures and all we could do was thank him before running into the large group of thousands that had found a way to smash into the alley between Plaza Consistorial and Dead Man’s Curve.  We jammed our way maybe a few feet into the group when the police on the other side where we had just run from began to sweep the crowds out of the road.  What a blessing.

It was here that we waited to run, wondering if we would get the chance to spread out along the road once the sweeping was done, or if we would have to run the curve.  It was also here that the most hilarious thing of the whole festival took place.

It’s common throughout the festival to rent balconies for any number of the events that take place, so that tourists might get a better view of what’s going on below during the runs, the parades, the street music, any time of day.  Of course the runs are the most popular attraction, so as we stood there crammed into the mass of would-be runners, we had above us for each of about four levels up a household’s worth of onlookers.  On this morning directly above us stood a very attractive brunette woman of maybe 30-years old, turned slightly to the side as she spoke with whom I could presume was her mother.  As the crowds began to cheer and whistle at her, she only laughed and looked up to the floor above thinking that we were not taunting her for wearing a skirt and for standing above us.  Even as one man in the crowd with us began to point directly at her, blowing her kisses, as the crowd noise erupted in cheers and applause and shouts of “eh punta” she again kept looking up and laughing thinking that she was not the object of our affection.  (If you’re wondering, the panties were white, normal cut, no thong, but god she had beautiful legs).  After five minutes or so, the man to her right turned to her and whispered in her ear while laughing.  She entered the building and never came back.

With about ten minutes to go the runners were allowed to disperse along the route.  We started our walk past Dead Man’s Curve with not regrets for anyone that may call us pussies.  I may go back and run Dead Man’s Curve, but not on my first run.  And just as we began to get past I saw the police gripping people by the neck and tossing them out.  These were people holding up cameras.  Strictly forbidden it was being enforced with physically tossing people through the fence.  As Artur came up to me with his camera and say “I’m glad I’m putting this away,” he didn’t put it away fast enough and got an arm around his throat until he was shoved through the fence.  I stood there trying to goad him back, as I thought the police were not looking behind the fence to catch him if he jumped back, but did not.  That left Micah and I to wander up the road for the hands of fate.

As we got about 50 meters past Dead Man’s Curve we slowed to a stop.  The impulse to keep going had filled us as hundreds of runners went walking past us closer to the arena, some slowly, some at a trot, some running.  We were approaching three minutes to the fireworks to signal the start when people started running at full pace.  I couldn’t believe that so many people would be taking off ahead, but then, maybe I didn’t know the depths of fear.  Maybe this was only possible because I hadn’t yet tapped the true bottoms of terror to know what I was doing.  And as we moved to the side of the road that was maybe five meters wide, we watched the runners going by.  I told Micah to stay nearer the middle of the road to avoid being pinned against the wall by other runners as the bull’s passed, but a man overheard us and told us quickly, “no, get over here and let the chicken runners be the one’s in the middle of the road when they come by” and I knew he was right.  The people that were running now and the people that would freak out at the sight would be the ones to get run over, not me.  And so I stood about a meter from the wall and waited.

I began to jump up and down and laugh, slapping my legs with the rolled up newspaper I was holding.  I began to laugh and laugh and laugh more and more as the seconds ticked down and more people began to run by me.  I couldn’t help it, knowing that death in the form of horns would be running at me full speed.  I had no idea what it would look like or how fast it would be but there I was anyway.  And just then Micah remembered to watch the cameras.  We couldn’t see over the crowd of runners to know when the bulls would hit the corner, but we could see the television camera two floors up.  When it turned, the bulls were turning.

That’s when the firework went off.  There were screams and people began sprinting up the road.  The screaming went on as people shuffled by but through the noise Micah and I shouted “watch the camera! Watch the camera!”  People were running at a faster rate now, the noise swelling almost to a deafening roar.  The road was dark because the sun hadn’t risen over, and staring at the camera in the sun at the end gave me tunnel vision.  It was pointed out to the left but just then it dipped down to look just below and began to rise up in my direction.  Here they come.

In that moment there is no fear.  The time for fear has passed and I was left an alarming sensation of wonder, the kind of hyper-tensified alertness that strikes an animal in the wild.  It became thoughts of “have I done enough?” and “what will the look like?” and “where do I go?”  The thunder of noise rushed toward me and all I could see were the people, the white shirts and spots of red among it that formed a wall in the road racing my direction.  I had no idea if the people were ahead of the bulls or not. Soon enough I had all my answers.

As the mass approached within five meters or so the people split rapidly toward the walls and without great focus I could see a huge brown and white boulder barreling toward me.  The horns stuck out wide and straight from the skull of the bulls that were running down the street two wide and three rows deep.  Within less than a second they were on me and I did as I was told, as I had read, as I had heard: I hit the fucking wall.  The people along the street did the same thing, but we all reached this conclusion more out of survival than any amount of preparation could allude.  Having stood nearer to the middle of the road I was on the outside of the rows of people scratching for bricks to climb, myself nearest the bulls.  I stood with my back to the people as if a man standing on the precipice of a cliff would keep his back to the rocks.  I remember being shocked at that moment to learn that the bulls were outfitted with giant cowbells, and as they galloped by the noise became a mixture of giant hooves slamming against the ground like a thousand bass drums coupled with the booming CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG of the cowbells, and as quickly as they had appeared the horns were racing by within maybe a half of a foot of my exposed torso, and then they passed me.

Survival kicked in again as I turned into the road to take off after formation of the animals.  Though I had planned to follow them anyway, it felt in that moment, in that split second of time, that a decision had made – I could wait here for the chaos to subside, but this chaos would proceed to the second formation of bulls.  I wasn’t waiting around for that.

Neither were the other hundred or so people in my immediate area, all reaching the same conclusion at the same time, to run fucking run.  As closely as we could to the tail of the bulls we poured out into the street to give chase, and it became apparent then what the greatest danger was – other runners.  By luck and chance my position nearest to the bulls against the wall gave me the advantage of the taking the first and clearest step into the street, finding a line in the middle to book it for all hell or find out how close the second bulls were.  I hadn’t taken a single step, the tails of the bulls almost within my reach when I saw the first of the runners to be pushed into the way of the storm, a man hitting the side of the bulls and going down to the ground, rolling into the fetal position as the 1200lb animals stomped and jumped over his body.  In my peripherals I could people struggling to get released from the crowd along the wall as they too tried to join the chase and we were left to jump over the mass of bodies that began to form along the road, some tossed to the ground by the feet of the bulls and many others thrown down by the people nearest them.  Worse yet, the road was still slick from the alcohol that had rained down on the streets for two days and as we reached out with our legs to take each step it became a game of skill to stay on our feet, bystanders in our way notwithstanding.  At about twenty paces as the street turned uphill I was forced to run on my toes to avoid going down, to keep from ending up on the ground under the feet of the runners and soon after the hooves of the second animals.  It was in this moment that I knew now what the Irish man meant by “if you go dow’un, stay the fuck dow’un.”  There is no getting up in this heat.  The few brave souls that tried to get up were immediately trammeled again, and I thanked the ones who stayed down by jumping over their bodies further on toward the ring.

The route's entrance to the arena.

The route’s entrance to the arena.

At about 250 meters the route entered the intersection just before the arena, and though the fences we ran in didn’t widen, the buildings outside the fence gave way open space.  People here were able to sit along the fences that we ran inside, and it felt like celebrating a victory as the voices cheered.  The need to laugh overcame me and for whatever reason I turned around to run backwards and see for once the mess I was in.  It was beautiful.  I could only take a few steps before other people were running into me, forcing me to turn around.  But in those seconds I felt like I was in the presence of the Lord, the entire spirit of the human race unfolded before me, the universe collapsed here and started again with the fever pitch of death.  We had run.  Or were running, as we came upon the entrance to the ring.  Down the slope and I was into the arena full of spectators, the noise and ambience of which made me feel like an Olympic champion taking the platform.  Dashing off to the right I turned around and not five seconds behind me the crowd split, with a group just at the entrance to the ring all hitting the ground – the second group of bulls were jumping over these people into the ring and with as much speed as the ones I had passed were across the 100 meters of the ring within a second to be corralled in their pen at the end.  It became a sea of joy in that building.

The ritual had only just begun and soon enough the oxen were released one by one as they had been the day before, in fact it was the same oxen as before.  The brown with the lopsided pair of horns coming out first.  Attempting to give him chase I learned immediately that the number of people in the ring on this second day easily tripled the amount of the first.  On the day before when I was nearly pummeled by an ox there were spaces along the wall to jump, the crowd not so thick you couldn’t get a look at it before it speared your way.  But on this day there were no spaces.  The people were lining the walls so heavily that to get out demanded great inconsequence, and seemed nearly impossible.  And as the first ox left the ring after a few minutes, I learned that his replacement was the bastard that nearly killed me.  That big, black, hulking mass of anger was back out in the ring.  I made one attempt to get at him and very nearly got thrown to the ground by the people around me.  So many in fact that it was impossible to make a move toward the beast.  Instead people were just standing around waiting for him to approach, their only guesses of his movement the people spreading to one side and then the next and often that indication was inaccurate.  I feared then more greatly in that crowd than I had at any moment.  Panic overwhelmed me that I couldn’t see the thing that wanted me dead, nor could I escape.  I started running along the walls until I came to the matador’s exit, pushing my way through against the weight of the revelers there watching.  I found a small patch of wall to look out and made peace that I had survived.  It would be enough to watch the rest from safety.

For the next hour a few more oxen were released one by one.  The runners in the ring were a mixture of people who knew what was going on, and people who didn’t.  From the size of the crowd it were probably more of the latter.  The English speaking tourists who would stop inside the ring to take pictures with each other while the ox kept fucking raging around.  It was sport to which runners would not realize that it was coming in their direction, and the reactions they made.  Most immediately jumped for the wall, but given on this day the amount of people keeping escape closed, the runners would instead just jump in our arms.  It went on like this until el encierro had finished and the people began pouring out into the streets.

They took with them a bit of life.  At least that’s what they gave me.  The tingling that superwhelmed my body last time showed up again this morning, but it brought along with it relief.  The sun seemed a bit brighter, but only as exit music for a trio of non-heroes.  We weren’t anything spectacular.  We had merely run.

It didn’t feel real in some ways.  To swim the ether from the goddamned bottom wells of fear, fear so deep that a calm cleanses the senses, up to the very mountains of oblivion and life so rich that the feeling of immortality must be swatted from the face like flies.   I was nearly frozen in the Spanish heat.  The steps guided me home but the heart raced along as if the run had never ended.  The spirit soared to gain witness over the city entire with its millions running mad, mad they ran into the third day like the first had never ended, God had instead said that the first day will be extended first to 48 hours then to 72 hours then infinity as the streets entered the rain cycle from dry to soaked, a heavy precipitation of booze and filth poured down at interval hours when the drunks weren’t eating.  I’m sure that no one slept on these days.

To sleep would be asking too much.  The things we’d miss in sleep would deprive the barren spirit inside the bones.  How could I be expected to see around me so much life and say to it that I would not imbibe?  We were here to drink rich in the waters of life welling from the springs of death, that was the play.  The play that death could deal for us so much life.  That for the bulls, that for the runs, that for the fights, that for the brazen intoxication that could last for days, that for these things we would be rewarded with a cosmic breath lasting unto forever.  Untold wealth filled the pockets of the poorest of men in these days.  It’s a shame then that it must end, but I believe it ends because we let it.  This could go on forever if so many wanted to be so rich, if so many would give up on running from death and just jump out in front to see if it would race by or gore them with horns.  The life that does so is not without a purpose.  It is balanced.  It is about both living and dying.  To deny death is to deny life.  And so we run.

Which way do you run?

*which of course I read about in a Henry Miller essay.

The beauty of Spain.

The beauty of Spain.

Non-sequitur Thoughts

The sun continued to beat down on us as we walked to the apartment and eventually shower and pack to leave.  These are always the worst moments for me, the end of freedom’s succulent nourishment.  To return to some modicum of life that we call “normal,” and most refer to as a job.  It would be too much to ask everyone to just live and let live.  But then that would also mean to die and let die, and that’s the great paralyzing fear after all.  We have to meddle too much in the deaths of others, as if necessary to perpetuate some great sense of morality that to this day cannot be confidently defined or explained.

Heading back east from the Navarre mountains we passed into the scorched middle north of Spain that resembles a western film, complete with ghost towns and half-erected adobe buildings lining the road.  It made a five hour drive peaceful, calm, and beautiful.  It was honestly the first time I had received so much sun (apart from the absolute burnt deserts of the Middle East), and it felt like home.

For that reason and all the reasons in the 13-thousand some words before, I do want it to be home one day.  Pamplona has surpassed St. Petersburg in my list of future homes.  Though St. Petersburg is still the golden city, Pamplona had the serene combination of size, spirit, and sentiment that just felt like a comfortable place.  Though these days during San Fermin were bordering on the lunatic fringe, the rest of the city seemed congenial and welcoming.  Enough history to be rich with life, but not too much to be overrun with discontent.

It helped also that my broken Spanish actually fucking worked in this country, or at least here.  I couldn’t give a full dissertation on quantum physics, but I knew enough to easily solve my problems.  If I needed gas I could ask for directions, if I needed food I could easily order and be polite about it, if someone asked me where I was from I could answer, give my name, my friend’s names, and talk about what we do.  That also felt like home in a way that I haven’t been able to find yet in Europe.  I had been avoiding Spain for the same reasons that I’m done with Germany – it just feels like America, full of contemporary problems and stubbornness.  But I was wrong – Spain is nothing like America and for all the better.  To then be able to dive deep into its world with the foot in the door of language, the decision is all too easily.  Pamplona, you will be my home.

Spain also has the best damn food traditions I’ve run across yet.  I love you Baltic people, but your food fucking blows.  Spain is where it’s at.  It’s quite simple – take something you like, either fry it or bake it and serve it with a beer in the morning on small platters meant to be eaten like appetizers and call it tapas.  Tapas are not one particular thing, but many.  My favorite were the tortillas stuffed with cheese and tomato, rolled, and fried.  But there were also olive tapas served with cheese, churrito tapas served with sugars, and many other assortments that no two alike resembled.  The idea is to foster conversation amongst people at the bar and it was fucking awesome.  By night it would devolve into an outdoor bar where instead it was beer and pinxas (pinchas), which was simply a standard tapa served cold on bread.  And so outside everyone would just sit and eat and drink and smoke cigars and let the sun go down slowly.  It was the most wonderful way to eat I’ve ever seen.  Not behind closed doors like everyone else, but honestly meant to bring people together.  I loved it.  If you could get around how rigid the hours are, you know by living there and making it a habit, it would be the most fantastic lifestyle.  So I’m going to do it.

And because of the rich amount of sun it was common to see people anywhere, literally on any patch of grass that could be found sleeping.  Hey! There’s grass, let’s go to sleep.  Everywhere.  And then of course the girls would wear whatever they wanted, which was close to nothing, so that’s a plus.

Oh, and if you don’t like tapas, I had some of the best pizza, almost as good as Italy but not quite, so there are options.

And there’s mountains in the background and just an hour away there’s surfing in San Sebastian.

And everyone smokes.  Spain loves to smoke.  I’m trying to quit yet but there’s something comforting about a country so set its ways.  Every time I hear someone bellow “QUIT SMOKING” I just want to punch them and yell “I DON’T TELL YOU TO STOP WATCHING TELEVISION SO SHUT THE FUCK UP” because let’s face it television will kill you quicker.

But I can’t stop talking about the sun.  Goddamn it was so bright, the sky so clear and blue.  If gravity had unhinged I would have thought the sky as water and tried to jump in.

And it just felt inviting.  It looked like it was built to be beautiful.  That’s a sincere difference from the rest of Europe that was built to be either grand and powerful or safe and efficient.  Beauty is somewhere in between and Spain found it.

There It Is

Posted in Europe, poem by johnsontoms on May 30, 2013

There it is

There

It

Is

Crashing with the sound of thunderclaps to say

Here I am

Here

I

Am

Some small, some large

But all grand.

The waves topped with white on the brown, sanded cliffs

Worn down from years of clapping

It’s like shaking hands to announce to each other they’ve arrived.

The cliffs to be introduced

To the water not new

To the world

That should consider itself lucky.

Here we are, here we are.

Winding stairs for the man who sees

Not what goes on below

But what goes on in front when so much is

Underneath.

There it goes, there it goes

Back into the sea, back into the blue tides

The rising highs of water miles that keep us

Like a divider apart from our Mother Earth.

We should see her.

There she is, there she is.

She speaks most when no one is listening.

There I was.

I Never Do What I Say

Posted in Europe, poem by johnsontoms on February 19, 2013

I never do what I say.

I come up with these wonderful ideas.

Things that sound wonderful –

Hiking the Slovenian mountains,

Writing in the bars of Prague, just like Kafka,

Walking the Villa Seurat and seeing the homes of Miller,

Hemingway,

Orwell,

Picasso.

Instead I get drunk.

I get drunk and I chase women, not always to success.

And when I do, I don’t know what it means.

Does it mean anything?

I never did what I wanted.

Or did I, and I just don’t know what I want?

Sometimes I Get Tired

Posted in Europe, poem by johnsontoms on February 19, 2013

Sometimes I get tired of walking around alone.

It’s okay at first

In a new place to see new things.

Walk into restaurants, stop at shops,

Buy things.

Figure out what’s next.

I always want to get a drink, find a girl

Give it a whirl.

But damn that gets old.

So fucking old.

I don’t mind being alone.

I think.

I think while I’m alone.

Sometimes too much.

I always think I need someone, not really sure why.

No one’s ever done anything for me.

Always me to them – time, money, love.

Give it all away and the only thing left is me,

Walking around alone.

Circles, it seems.

New places, same stories.

Am I different?

Yes.

But, I hope, not so much that I’ll always keep walking alone.

From the top of a mountain it’s nice.  Peaceful even.

Sitting on top of the world, legs swinging free,

The people below carrying on their merry way.

Doing this, doing that.  Eventually dying.

It’s sad really that no one will join me.

I’m in a pizzeria in Ljubljana, Slovenia

With a hangover and a beer.

Laško, it’s not that bad.

I just want to share it with someone.

“It says lager, but it’s a pilsner.”  That’s something I’d say.

Something…

Fuck, anything.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Why does it always seem that way?

Everyone dies alone.

…But It Doesn’t Get In The Way

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on January 29, 2013

Travel – (v; int) 1. To go on or as if on a trip or tour : journey.

 

Go your own way.  Go far into the night, go until the day lights and the streets fill and the signs read languages that you cannot read back.  It doesn’t get in the way.

Travel.  Travel to places on the map you vaguely recall.  Travel to corners of countries where information is hard to find, convenience doesn’t exist, and getting around takes time.  The time it takes will give you something to learn, something to see, and each challenge can be broken up by a good meal, a hard drink, and night of sleep.  It doesn’t get in the way.

I got lost once knowing where I was.  Recently.  Walking through St. Petersburg it took me two days to learn that “туалет” was pronounced the same as “toilet.”  For all the places I’ve been so far and all the things I’ve done I’ve gotten by with a strength of English and a dirge of Spanish, Deutsche, and the occasional “hellos” in many languages.  But there, in Russia, nothing would save me.  But it didn’t get in the way.   No amount of planning could’ve prepared me for how foreign it truly would be, in the streets, in the shops, in the restaurants, in the tramcars and taxis and museums and tobacco stops and cocktail bars.  But it doesn’t get in the way.

Throughout Europe its common to speak English, the language having been taught in a majority of the schools for a generation or so now.  It’s not still uncommon to run into people who do not know English, but the running bet is safest that anyone my age can carry my conversation with ease.  It’s a bit damning, to be honest.  To have crossed the Atlantic and learned nothing of the language of these people, to eat their food, know their women, drink their beer, watch their sports, and still… only English.  But it doesn’t get in the way.  It’s never stopped me from trying, and at times I’ve sat down to learn a little bit of Deutsche and Estonian and brush up on my Spanish.  It helps when the hard looks of “you don’t know any other language?” cross their faces.  But even after six months living in Germany I get relaxed – of all the nations here in the European Union, Germany is by far the most educated in the English language.  On their street signs, on their trains, in their bars, in the voices of the people – it’s the language of their business.  Probably for American occupation until twenty years ago do we have this to thank, but idea is still: “you haven’t learned Deutsche yet?”  It never got in the way.

So I went to Russia.  I went there and was taken back like catching a bullet.  “How the fuck am I going to get anywhere?” I asked myself.  Luckily I was making friends and got to know a few good people who were willing to help me out and make the time go by in the presence of something familiar.  Because at first it was… frightening.  I had to for the first time ask myself, “what the fuck am I going to do?”  I wondered if I would find food easily, find drinks, be able to take a taxi, understand the metro system, do anything.  Here in Germany, if one had a brief grasp of the basic words and street signs, it would be easy to at least guess the way around.  But with words like “вход в музей,“ “10,00 с человека” and “Кожаное пальто” there is no guessing.  There is no fucking way to get even close to the meaning of the words.  I had to window shop for any inclination of what was inside.  But it didn’t get in my way.

Once I got used to the idea of knowing nothing, it was like starting over.  What does the letter “___” sound like?  How is this letter pronounced?  Learning the alphabet at age 26.  One by one and sound by sound until at least I could pronounce some words on the sign, regardless of whether I knew the meaning.  As the letters came together, so too did some of the words.  It became comical by the third day when I realized that certain English words were simply homonyms in Cyrillic, and that “ресторан [restaurants]” were actually everywhere.  And once I knew where the food was I could go in.  Sure, I was reduced to a madman’s folly, pointing and uttering the few words of numbers that I knew.  “один [ah-DEEN], два [dvah], три [tree], четыре [che-TYH-ree]” [one, two, three, four, respectively] and answering yes and no with “Да [da]” and “Нет [nyet].”  It was humiliating and I loved it.

Because there’s something about Russia.  It’s huge and it’s freezing, but it doesn’t get in the way.  The sidewalks and streets are so large that very easily throughout the five days I spent in St. Petersburg a team of sweepers and trucks kept everything brushed and dry.  And it was necessary because the snow never stopped.  It is true that it was January 7 through January 11 but it is also true that it snowed everyday, and sometimes never stopped.  I was expecting to see lots of snow, lots of ice, to feel chilled to the bone, but I didn’t know what it would look like and feel like until I was there.  The moment came during my visit to the Hermitage Museum, the beautiful Winter Palace of the royal family that was erected in the 18th century and sits in the middle of town just across from the fortress along the Neva River.  Inside the Hermitage I was enjoying refuge from the cold while touring the illustrious halls of royal artifacts, imperial dressings, and historical data amongst the unending flow of paintings of everything from Peter the Great to the death of Christ to a fishing market on a Saturday afternoon depicted by Peter Paul Rubens.  The halls were winding, the things inside were blinding, but in the end it was the sight unseen that had me exit.  Toward the north corner midway through the Hermitage I passed a window that looked outside.  I saw nothing but white and was startled at first, not knowing what I was looking at.  I realized in short order that the Neva, which I had not seen this far up yet, was indeed frozen thick over with blocks of ice for a stretch wider and longer than a quarter mile.  From my side of Vasileyevsky Island the water was still flowing, nearer to the delta where the water broke into the sea.  But here where the islands all met, the waters were still, callous and rocky like the surface of the moon, cold and white like the tundra.  This was tundra.  And to get out to it, to be near it, to see what such a thing looked like for the first time in my life meant to get out there into the cold once more and walk over the Trinity Bridge, the famous drawbridge in the middle town, to stand there with the wind whipping my hair and freezing my fingers, to slip in the ice on the bridge trying to lean over the ledge and see how thick the mighty water could get in temperatures below -10° C – it got real thick.  Jagged pieces of ice taller than myself were sticking up from the ice shelf, a collage of chunks that had over the previous weeks frozen up and broken free and smashed together again to form a floor that no man could easily walk.  And as I studied the ice, mesmerized by its rough palette, its exotic formations, its foreign sights, the snow began to fall.  And fall and fall and pick up and fall and fall and get stuck in my hair and stick to my neck and blow nearly sideways as the blizzard picked up.  Planning to walk to the fortress next, a half-mile away, I was undeterred by the cold because it didn’t get in the way.

With the proper coat and pair of gloves I wasn’t stopped from sloshing in the growing floor of snow in sidewalks which only caused problems on staircases that hadn’t yet been fully swept, making instead a slope better suited for sledding than walking.  First passing the Rostral Columns, then the Stock Exchange, and then again over a bridge before crossing into the tip of the Peter & Paul Fortress to see for the first time where the city started.  St. Petersburg after all had been founded to be the imperial city of Russia, the source of its beauty and wealth, the center of its attraction, the heart of Mother Russia.  And so planning, it was decreed that the city would be seen from the tops of the fortress fanning out along all sides of the Neva, tall, glorious, fantastic.  By the time I had made it to the fortress walls I had been outside in this blizzard, some -15° C with increasing snowfall, for nearly two hours.  But it didn’t get in the way.  I never even wore my hat, choosing instead to feel the wind blow through my hair and kick the ice off my head where it got stuck.  And coming now to the walls along the river I paid my 35 rubles and walked onto the roof to see the famous panoramic.  Breathtaking.  Inspiring, really.  The stretch of river here was a quarter-mile wide, but it didn’t bend either for nearly a half-mile stretch of which the fortress was situated in the middle, looking book left and right where the city faded away into the snow over the bridges that dotted the river and connected the islands.  The buildings that were five-stories high, each of them, all of them, all along the river forming a singular stretch that spanned for miles of grand palaces and picaresque storefronts, painted in various swaths of yellow and green and red according to their centuries-old tax code, but just barely a sight to be seen now through the winter, as if Manhattan were seen from across a Hudson River that had been stretched to three times its normal width.

Here for the first time I did not only see the expanse of this city, but I felt it.  It began to sink in just how large the city, the country, the people could be and was.  The largest country in the world would need an even larger city to be its beacon for the people, to be its center of attention.  And just under 300 years old, there now were some 7-million people living within its limits, scattered across the islands and throughout the channels, around the parks and into the forests that line the cities limits on the northern and western stretches, the pine woods that grow up in a place as cold and far north as St. Petersburg.  But it didn’t get in the way.  For 7-million people I never fought for space.  For 7-million people I never got locked out for space.  For 7-million people I was never overcrowded, never confined, never locked in and crunched up, anywhere, doing anything.  The metro handled the thousands of people that crossed its doors ever ten minutes, the buses were large enough and numerous enough to handle the hundreds of people waiting on the sides of the street, the lanes of the roads wide enough to handle the hundreds of cars that now dotted the landscape, the surprising majority of those cars made up of American vehicles, large trucks and cargo carrying vehicles.  The restaurants were everywhere and could handle the eating public, the sidewalks wide enough to hold the people that walked hand-in-hand up and down Nevsky Prospekt to do their shopping, casual dining, and carry on in the merry lives.  Just as easily I could stroll through the Alexander Park on the north of town and hop on the Metro at Gorkovskaya to arrive five kilometers south in the middle of Dostoevskaya just ten minutes later.  The ease with which I could get around the city of 7-million people would blow your mind, to come from such a place where trains and cabs are the only choice and even they take half an hour.  Here, the city was built to hold its occupants and serve them well.

But that’s probably the closest it comes to serving them in some way.  The largest relic of the Soviet era I experienced came in the form of the attitude of the people.  It’s hard to explain, but it is in a way a sense of defeat.  The ideas of change and combative choice seem not only irrelevant and impossible but unreal and nonexistent, a myth not to be explored.  The friends I made were great, do not be confused.  They were happy, and willing to help.  There was a spirit of comfort and cohesion that existed within them, in a way that I couldn’t see in other places.  They were readily available to help anyone out, anyone but their own selves.  This I think is the reason for their helpfulness – they know that everyone is struggling.  If I asked them what their plans were and if they were happy, the response was overwhelmingly “what am I to do?”  You couldn’t change jobs or move around?  “How am I going to do that?”  Do you feel like you’ve been thrown into a system you can’t beat?  Again, “what am I to do?”  The sense of oppression and control that existed (and may still exist) from the Soviet era pervaded their entire sense of being.  It was as if they had been through the bottom pits of hell and emerged to be thankful for the opportunity even in the smallest way to live in some way with a bit of comfort, even if it was slightly predetermined.  As if they were told at a young age what their direction would be, and having been shown an alternative much worse, they are happy to carry on in the line of their fathers before them and their fathers before them.  “What are they to do?”  I’m not sure.  But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t get in the way.  Still, it has come far enough that they are afforded to live with their own pleasures in the forms of their lives.  Bookstores are not censored, radios air freely, the newspapers present most of the news.  They have the opportunity to at least live and eat as the first world does, with comfort, not in fear of death.  Only maybe for fear of the government do they act timidly.  But now with the opportunity to at least have some discretion over the things they do, it creates a compromise.  Let the government do as it does, and leave me to do as I do.  Only when the two worlds collide, “what are they to do?”

There is a strange bit of pride that exists within it.  The have come out on the other side of the communist era, still intact, still together as a Russian people, and now living well, there is something to hold as victory within an identity.  This pride manifested itself to me in the funniest and the most obvious of places.  In each restaurant and at each Metro station and in any part of the city where I was struggling to communicate in Russian what my intentions and desires were, there was a Russian behind me that said, every time and without failure, “Welcome to Russia!”  It was both heartwarming and unwelcoming at the same time, happily warm yet sarcastic, and it happened literally every time.  I’m not sure how long that has been going for in Russia, but the presence of the phrase “Welcome to Russia” implies more and anything but “welcome.”  Or, even if I am welcome, “welcome to a country like no other,” or “welcome to the only place that matters.”  But, it doesn’t get in the way.  I never felt threatened, I never felt at danger, and I was never so severely mocked that I had to change plans or sit somewhere else.  No, it was simple that – I was in Russia.  I was somewhere I had never been.

I love going places I’ve never been. There’s no more thrilling, satisfying, fulfilling experience in the world than to travel.  To have put together a piece of life that has worked hard enough, fought hard enough, waited long enough to travel to some place of desire, some location of fancy, some town of whimsy, or even just to another part of the state.  To obtain the freedom to travel by whatever means is truly serene when in the moments of our possessed transference to another reality, which is often the feeling when in such foreign locales.  All the things that could go wrong, all the money spent, the time wasted, the flights planned, the taxis ridden, the hotels slept, the immense hours of go here and go there, all these things are nothing to the times I have when walking calmly, strolling pleasantly, finally and at once amongst a citizenry and populace that to me is new, different, exotic, enigmatic.  The experience is dogmatic, in more ways than any god ever showed me.  For all its problems, it’s the only way I could’ve learned the things I know, grown the way I have, educated myself further without the confines of lecture.

It’s the north that does it for me.  I’ve been there now in the spring and in the winter, and at both times it is equally beautiful.  By north of course I mean far north into the Baltic States.  I was going back to Estonia.  I have a good reason to go back and a good reason to stay there.  Every time I leave my heart stays back also.  Such a wonderful country with such wonderful people, and every day I spend there is a gift on earth.  Being so close to St. Petersburg there I had no choice but to exercise the chance at Russia.  Being so close to St. Petersburg also explains a large part of the Estonian experience.

The funny thing about every country, at least here in Europe, is that a great source of their pride is manufactured by reflecting it upon their neighbors.  The Estonians are, for once and hopefully finally, free of Russia.  Or free from Russia.  For the greater part of the last 150 years until the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia was in occupation by either Russian or German forces.  It’s really not fair either, being such a small country of just 1.4-million people.  There are more people than that in the city limits of Dallas, Texas, and Dallas is hardly a noteworthy city.  But take those people and spread them out over a country as large as North Carolina.  There’s a sense of victory, a sense of belonging on their own, a sense of being independent, and they strive to attain their stability through their own narrative.  It does also make you wonder if they ever thank anyone for their freedom, given that 1.4-million people would hardly be able to overthrow the Russian government on their own.  But it doesn’t matter if they did, and it doesn’t get in the way.  Similar to the helpfulness of the Russian people who see that everyone needs help, the Estonians are proud to be helpful for the sake that are free to be helpful, finally.  In spite of their own opinions of their selves, they are nice people.  Beautiful people also.  Each and every one of them glows.  It may be that irrepressible European spirit, the embodiment of living that gets Europeans outside and together, unlike the American spirit that separates and individualizes us.  And I think that’s the point I’m trying to making.

Because that’s the only thing that gets in the way.  Somehow and in spite of our freedoms we’ve chosen to separate ourselves from the rest of the world, physically, emotionally, spiritually, ideologically, and live in a shell away from all the “bad things that happen out there.”  America is not candyland.  But for some reason we think there is no better place and that each other country is filled with something subhuman, some facsimile of the modern man.  But we are wrong.

There are beautiful people out there with bodies just like ours (bodies that are often less fat than ours; Europeans don’t really know what fat people look like, though over 50% of Americans are considered “out of shape”).  There are intelligent people studying the same courses as us.  There are hardworking people plowing farms and erecting buildings just like us.  A lot of them still go to church (though not as many claim to be religious like Americans), and they still get drunk on the weekends and fuck.  They drive cars, pay taxes, and do all the things that we all do and all hate together, and it doesn’t get in the way.

Everyone drinks Coca-Cola.

But until you get out there, you won’t know it.  You won’t know if you could find love until you go looking for it, even just by leaving your own backyard.  America is a large country after all, a huge expanse of land.  From one side to the next is a different mode of living, in the same way that moving from Latvia to France would be entirely different.  But until you go, you’ll never know.  You’ll only know what you’re taught and that’s things that are entirely wrong, entirely unproven, largely mythical and typical and horribly untrue.  It gets in the way.

It gets in the way of traveling, makes you feel like it’s unnecessary to move.  It gets in the way, makes you care less for the water over the earth that feeds the soil that feeds the birds that fly in the sky that drops the rain that nourishes the grasses that feed the deer that feed the lions that sleep in the trees that shade the human beings that only until a few thousand years ago lived equally with the plants and animals within the system, this system of earth living.

You’ll just never understand anything of the world until you see it.

You’ll just never understand anything of the world until you see it.

You just have to see it.

You just have to see it.

Everyone Was Wearing Costumes – A Short Story

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on March 14, 2012

Everyone was wearing costumes.  Everyone except for me, of course.  I gave up wearing costumes a few years ago.  Just didn’t need to pretend anymore that I was someone else.

Used to I was the best dressed, the go-to master for creativity, ingenuity, and pizazz when wearing a costume.  They always had to be recognizable but unique.  Not the kind you buy from the store, not the ones that everyone is wearing, but something that everyone will know only after giving it a good look over.  There was the homemade Team Zissou outfit that rode tight blue shorts so high up my legs that I could’ve been castrated, the full-bodied black makeup ‘Lil John costume that had even my best friends thinking I was a black man only until I removed my headgear long after the party died, the Totem Pole I became for Tiki Island Day in school designed from a box unhinged on all sides and stood up to form a brown, four-layers high pole with brown wings attached to arms outstretched even while walking, and the ukulele I had to carry as my sword while posing as El Kabong, the crime-fighting western horse from the cartoons, that I made perfect with two shoeboxes combined in such a way that a horse’s head was my own.  But somewhere around the end of college I learned, already knowing, that costumes were just a way of out-dressing each other – in the same way that a black-tie affair can still have winners and losers in the fashion department even when everyone’s wearing the same damned thing.  People will judge you for your output, curse you for your sameness, and walk away lonely and without dignity – it’s hard to be a cute pink bunny rabbit when you’re piss drunk in public, stumbling down an alleyway holding the rabbit ears with one hand if you haven’t already lost them yet.

For these reasons I tried to get away without wearing a costume.  Friday was the opening of Fasching, the German version of Mardi Gras or Carnival – it makes no difference really, it’s all the same word translated to many languages.  For this reason it should’ve been no surprise to me the lechery that was taking place, and the necessity of playing the part along with everyone.  For whatever reason though I thought surely I would not be the guy without costume, the guy that could then at that moment when seen with his bright teal and purple baseball cap and easily be recognized for the American, not something always met without derision in this country.  But there I was – I was going to join Matt at the bar, he dressed like a pirate, and I had nothing.  In the waning minutes of the stores operating hours once notified of his intentions I tried desperately to locate something, anything to wear that would allow me to participate.  But even as I stood before the fake plastic Viking hats, the devil’s pitchforks, the witch’s hats, I took nothing.  As I walked out of the store just as quickly as I had come in, the line in my head read: “I don’t have the indignity for that.”

It went about as badly as I could’ve imagined.  Everyone was wearing costumes.  Everyone and all their friends, all the people serving the beer and all the people buying the beer, and there were plenty of both.  On my walk to the bar where Matt was waiting I passed groups of Mongols, 80’s B-boys, cheerleaders, fighter pilots, cats, rabbits, sailors, racecar drivers, witches, cross dressers, athletes, disco dancers, angels, devils, men, women, all dressed to the hilt in no way recognizable to everyday character, except for the beer in the hand and the slur in their voice.  As I said, Friday wasn’t even the main appropriation of the festival, but lo! did it seem immediately as such.  The bar, Sternbäck, was operated by two young males about our age – middle twenties and attending school on the side.  Matt had met them here some weeks before and befriended them, as having a friend who runs a bar can return all sorts of benefits.  Through a couple of instances mainly of chance I, too, had met Killian and Christian, and was returning now to what I remember being a calm, cozy, home-like bar; a bar for the people.  It was about an hour after Matt arrived at the bar as I was walking along that he called.  “Where the fuck are you?” he asked.  I was always late in the real world – the army never sees this part of me.

“Five minutes out,” I replied.

“I’ll just meet you outside, there’s no way to… well, you’ll see,” he said.

It seemed to me not an outright odd thing to ask, supposing that he had just gotten there and had not been inside or was about to change scenes; sure, meet me outside.  But the way he tried to say something but couldn’t find the right words had me guessing that something was up.  Something wouldn’t be the way I pictured it.  No, tonight was in my head one way but outside very much different.   I pictured getting to Sternbäck and seeing a younger crowd of twenty-somethings drinking happily, shaking hands, laughing at the costumes as they stood around chit-chatting, maybe moving onto a club but coming back to our friends’ bar, the quiet place, the place with the rock’n’roll and none of the flair.

But on this occasion, on this night and for the next few days my imaginations of the way things would be were deftly insufficient for the madness that swooped over the city like a bird of prey that merely picks the meat from the bones before killing its prey – watching it waddle and wiggle into death throws, wailing and crying as the blood spittle falls from the gaping mouth, the soul escaping out the orifice as the body consumes its final breath, its last attempt at living.  Much was the scene on these nights when the people go mad.

The music would be loud, blaring from the speakers that were sloppily hung from the walls just over the interior entrance, and the windows would be wet with the steam emanating from the hundreds of bodies that billowed and pushed against its walls, seemingly it should’ve swelled outward like a rising loaf of bread, but instead the people just found a way to climb upward like a skyscraper that has no room outward to expand but upward.  They were on the walls, in the window sills, on the chairs, stacked three people high in the corners, hanging from the rafters and stuffed into the staircase, the only movement made possible by the flow of the crowd like a drunk amoeba, bathrooms used openly by men and women because fuck it there’s no way I’m getting to the proper loo from my position against the bar and in the back, smoking indoors for the same reason, waitresses struggling mightily to do the work the people had long ago given up – move about in the bar to find a drink, dance a jig, and get a minute with someone, anyone.  As they walked they had to hold the beer in the air, but it made no difference.  It didn’t end up on our feet but instead on our heads.  Just as well – probably would’ve done it myself with or without the people around.  It seemed like scene from a circus, imagined only by the maddest of men, the kinds of Dr. Seuss scenes sketched by his nightmares, played to the soundtrack of 99 Luftballoons (I dare you here to not laugh).

Between the lack of breathing room, the music in Deutsch that I could not sing along too, and the glaring trophy of Americanism that I was wearing out tonight could not save me or reproach me – I was lost in the ether, stumbling through the woods with the ability to talk to the trees but the trees have nothing to say.  After slamming a couple of beers for fear of never getting back to the bar I made my quick exit to smoke a cigarette, promptly to gather my wits and cleanse my senses.  Outside I could be myself, cool, calm, collected, casual, and with words that people could hear and understand.  Inside I was nothing, alone, muted, and staring.  For whatever reason Matt and Killian had followed me outside.

“This is like Wilford Brimley’s version of hell,” I said aloud gaining a laugh.  I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but it gained a hearty laugh, the kind that said we were having a good time and all were welcome.

It is in fact what caught the two girls attention, the two that were now making their way over to our group.  They were dressed as cowboys, or cowgirls rather, but of the modern type, the attractive, sultry, seductive type.  One with a fake, rubber cowboy hat over her blonde, shoulder-length pigtails that fell over the shoulders draped by a blue and white plaid shirt, sleeves rolled up, and a daisy of a smile, the kind where the corners of the lips ride above the teeth but not so far back as to hide that she knows something we don’t, very well her intentions.  The other was sporting no hat, her hair slightly disheveled and undone from whatever braid or ball or tie or loop it was pulled into, the mascara now running from her eyes but only so far as to show that she had been in a very hot place, indeed not underwater, unless she was drowning in public.  It gave her the look of a seductress, almost prostitutive.  As she began to speak she pulled her fake pistol up and had it pointing skyward while touching her cheekbones, for no apparent reason than to excite our fantasies.

“Ich kann nicht glauben, es gibt so viele Menschen im Inneren,” she began.  It began this way every time, each moment and encounter that we had, I had, with anyone in this country.  Often even I was mistaken for a German on post, what with my blonde hair and blue eyes, strong cheekbones and wry smile of contempt.  But in public is a novelty to hear English spoken, particularly outright to a stranger.

It has built up in me a reaction, and has become a way of engaging strangers.  How do I casually let them know I understood not a word of what they just said, but with every fiber of my being I want desperately to satisfy their needs, fulfills their desires, make their wishes come true so that I may speak with them, engage, imbibe, and know them – even in the biblical sense.  But all of this is difficult, so it would seem, to achieve by not so much as returning the favor of language.  To not so much as attempt to fake it even, carry on.  Sometimes I even try to ignore them for a minute to act as if I heard them but it weren’t bothersome enough to illicit a proper response.   Let them believe I speak the language and care not for their attention, let them come to me, let them fall into my game and only later surprise them with my malfeasance only after they have created an appropriately enticing image of myself in their minds, so that my heritage, language, culture, stupidity might come across as endearing instead of troublesome.

On this occasion however that was not possible.  Killian immediately responded in his native tongue and Matt and I were standing by, waiting for the moment to say something important, not drift into our own English language conversation that would give us away before chancing to meet these fine young women.

The sultry one, with the pistol still skyward, looked at me and said, “Hast du eine Zigarette?”  I knew of this one to begin the game.

“Ah, she wants a cigarette,” I’d say, looking at her and then away, as if to play along and still give her the information she needed.

“So you do not speak German then?” she said, taking the cigarette.

“No, we do not,” I responded with a smile.  It was here that she immediately went back to Killian, with no immediate sensation present on her face.  The one with the hat began running around the front of the building to speak to different persons, strangers or friends I know not the difference, be it their supposed familiarity or that fact that their words were in different tongue, undecipherable by myself or my friend, and lost floating into the night with all the dreams and whimsy that I could parlay in my mind of the beautiful way they walked, the sculptured legs that carried them forth one foot in front of the other, the flesh oozing from their costumes, their clothes that were designed in a way to be festive but primarily forthright – they came with one goal, the same as anyone else to know a man with his prick out of the fly, the thing dangling between his legs should be theirs and this was their way; goddamned the way of the world and so rare few of us knew the currency, knew the language, even if it couldn’t speak you could see it and read it on the faces and in the streets and in the eyes of every woman that had a taste of prick once and would sell their soul for it again.  And sometimes the barriers that create cliffs and valleys between the common man and woman do not exist.  Sometimes the modern world does us justice and removes even the most ancient of barriers, washes away the valleys with the rising river and the flowing tide, as if standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon and seeing with the inner eye that millions of years have unfolded before us, dropped the earth to depths unseen, lowered the floors of imagination, watched the stars burn out beyond their lifespans as galaxies, collide, explode, and blast the remnants of effervescence, multitude, expanse and wonder at speeds that implode the air, and burn through the atmosphere so strongly that it doesn’t fry away into the layers of oxygen floating above our skulls and graves but lands serenely in the river waters and with the rocks and sediments gathered there continues again to create new life and new paths and new answers and new valleys where once their was a history but now stands an open door, an opportunity, a chance to write with the stone something fluid.

“So you come with us to the next bar,” she said.  Without hesitation, “yes, yes, we will,” in unison we spoke.  As we began walking she introduced herself, “My name is Suzie,” while looking back for her friend and shaking both our hands, holding onto Matt’s.  The other promptly caught up and did so the same, her name Patricia.  She danced on ahead of us in a way like a child, pointing her pistol into the air and acting as if firing it into the night, the hips leaning to the side of the hand that fired the gun, the head looking away with a smile as the legs were walking forth one foot directly in front of the other, moving such that her ass would appear as rump and tight as possible, the way only the practiced ones know how.  We didn’t even make it a block when Patricia, walking ahead of us, began speaking to a group of men in the alley.  It appeared to us that the girls were friends with this group, of course not hearing a word, and knowing nothing even if we did.

“I don’t play this game,” Matt said walking on without them.  We didn’t know where the next bar was, the place we were so designed to have been taken by these beauties, but we knew that speaking English put us at their mercy.  Every chance, every move that was made had to be made as such to prove we didn’t them, didn’t need any woman in particular and it was their privilege to purport their time with us.  It was refreshing in a way to have a partner in crime, so to speak, who understood this.  Maybe not in the direct way as relating to communication, but in a primal, animalistic way that supplemented all the benign methods I had cooked up inside my head about what people thought.  It was often what people weren’t thinking that motivated their decisions.  To believe that our communication, verbal and body, was something that was premeditated, worked up, analyzed and produced only after practice was an invention mostly of my own that I toiled with day and night.  To understand that humans were merely the animals furthest from the mud was an idea I had only recently incepted, had heretofore never believed.  It is communication that separates us, our ability to conjure text and language and use it to act, incite, approach and reproach, teach, learn, write, recite, engage, and remember, that communication should be the truest most noble way to any illicit any behavior, to garner any response.  Walking away?  It seemed absurd, but it felt right.

We hadn’t made it five steps with our backs turned when Suzie called out to us, “Oh, boys! Come back!” I caught a grin on Matt’s face and slapped him on the back as we turned around to rejoin our friends, or whatever they were.

The bar we went into was a few feet away down a separate alley.  The entire downtown was merely a network of alleyways and walkways big enough for a few people across, much as it is with all of Europe.  Americans tend to not believe or even conjure that there was a world, a world society, a civilization and large gatherings of humans, smart or otherwise, before there were vehicles.  The towns have not changed in any drastic way enough to accommodate wide lanes designed for cars and trucks.  The only changes are instead inside the walls where the stores extend for many floors upward because the housing is old, the structures ancient and packed like sardines in a tin can, stuffed side by side and rising up to the sky with each other.  It may have even been that way hundreds of years ago when a single building house many cobblers, tailors, lawyers, taxmen, priests, and anyone with a ware to sell one floor above the next.  Now the only difference was that the bottom floor was a bar with neon lights, loud music, and alcohol.  Hell, even now the only difference may be just the neon lights.

This establishment was Jietzen, translatable into godknowswhat.  To the contrary of Sternbäck I immediately gathered that it was, at all times, a club, the seedy kind you can find in the downtowns of most American cities, rife with dance and hip-hop, more liquor than beer, and dance floors in multiple directions.  So far as I could tell these were commonplace now in Germany, be it by our occupation since the war or the sheer fact of its profitability – humans after all are not too dissimilar in general as regards anything but spoken language.  Here we ordered a round of drinks and began our night of nights – Matt with Suzie, myself searching for someone who would give me a hot minute, to use a particular phrase.

Patricia by now had said nothing more than her introduction, and I was carefree to indifference.  I was not in a mind to chase one female just because she was the equivalent match from my friend’s score, and going without costume made it harder to imagine any image she may have had of myself was benevolent.  I had to find something more… comfortable with nothing, or something odd.  I was like the black man in a white church, looking for that immutable spirit that the congregation was so attuned to consume and expel with fits of music and claps, and even though knowing that its exaltation could exist within my bones but having no way to share it with those gathered beside me in the pew.  I had to naturally make my way outside, away from my jacket that had my cigarettes and began to bum them.  If I didn’t like dispelling the belief that I may speak Deutsche, it was an afterthought when I needed a cigarette.  Just give me the fire.

After finding a group of guys outside the bar I approached them and spoke in English for a cigarette.  I’ve learned often the hard way that even trying if I knew the words they could tell by my accent that I was not German, and in the least not Franconian, this part of the country we were in.  So it was that I set about to ask in English for a smoke.  One man, a taller man dressed in a white suit with Hawaiian shirt, began to speak slowly and with a smile about my needing a cigarette, while laughing that I speak English.  It was done in a way that was not uncomfortable however, as if meeting my eldest uncle while at a family reunion – as if to say, “young man, I know so much about you even though we haven’t met,” and slapping me on the back before giving me a ten-dollar to run about the town.  His name was Sebastian and he went on to explain to me that Fasching was mostly a one-day affair – Sunday, in fact.  The things I was seeing, the costumes, the consumption, of alcohol, of sin, of joy, of light and being and time and expanse and story and life and spirit and spirit, the spirit of cheer and feeling the secret of life because it is felt and words can’t explain it, the feeling that I knew everyone had but I was without, just in the same way I was without costume.  The world held a secret that in fine print said “do not share with anyone out of costume,” and even the alcohol, that most ancient of serums, could not loosen the lips of even the slipperiest of whores, the most cavernous of women that like to shake the roots of suspicion with the wag of their tails because watching the plateaus of notion and truth slide into the ocean can often be as beautiful as the rising sun.  The sun would rise in two days, and on that day, would be the celebration.  What was happening here, this was just pretext.  This was gathering of the souls who needed to hide behind mask and hat, color and face every night, who’s bodies wretched in their sleep for the feel of cunt and cock, who long ago had given up on any notion of a normal life, not because they think there is anything different, but to be a part of civilized society, to be a part of the world that the world had created for itself we must be free of sin, walking to the gates cleansed of evil, and if we want that we cannot have what the marrow of our bones feeds off – the touch of the opposite sex, the fire that ignites when the fingers slip up the gash between a woman’s legs and know that I am home.  I am home here where the souls meet with flesh, where the spirits linger and the annals of history have been written with the creation of each new being, fucked away not with any other intent than to just fuck, sometimes in the bushes, sometimes in the bed, and sometimes in the bars where we now gathered as a way to get loose, get drunk, get laid.  And here I was standing outside with a man that I increasingly wondered if he were homosexual or not, and at once racing inside for another drink.  To get away, and to get mine, if it could be found.

Inside I ran again into Matt as he walked by, without Suzie.  He pulled me in close while laughing, “She’s only 20 years old!” he said, looking skyward as if in disbelief.

“These are not the moments we live to regret,” I assured him.  “You can rest believed that she knows what to do with her legs.”

“I know that, dear god have you seen them?” He went on.  He was right.  Suzie had two very thin, very tall, but still very sculpted legs sprouting from downward from her cunt.  The kind that once undressed would have depth even though the touch of her skin would be smooth and virginal as one could hope to imagine, and possibly might even be true except that no virgin is found in the streets at night, to be sure.  If instead her hair was cleaned, her makeup not dark and running, the movements of her eyes deep in the sockets looking about the bodies of the two men that stood there talking to her, the shirt not tailored to reach just above her hips and expose the sweet, delicate hips that protruded just slightly from her joints, the heels that were worn with jeans and stepped with master precision even in the cobblestoned sidewalks of the ancients, if were not for these things Suzie once might have been a virgin.  But this girl was no girl, that girl was part woman – if only for her knowledge of how to suck a cock, but here she was and she was Matt’s, without even his trying.  That fact in the mind gave her away, and she would gladly give it away again.

Most startling was that in my absence Matt was trying to get her to pry Patricia back over on my behalf.  “I sent her to get Patricia by the way,” to which I responded by laughing and swatting the air, hitting the imaginative words with my palm and sending the message that it was unnecessary, I was capable of working on my own I wanted to believe.  I didn’t believe it anymore on this night, but knew that given another chance would pull the right strings for my plight.

I had at this moment noticed that two girls were sitting by their own selves at the edge of the bar, that kind that you could see glowing from the other end of the room, the kind that demanded silence when they entered the room.  Both dressed in black, each with long blonde hair rolling down the sides of their cheeks, one straightened and the other with curls, big brown eyes and the only sign of playing along with the world was that the straight-haired one had on a small black pair of rabbit ears.  For all other intents they had just left the Ritz and were put off by much of the scene around them.  Of course they were approached, frequently, and each time said the right words to not offend their suitor but send him away thankful that he at least said hello.  I couldn’t hear the words but knew this to be the way.  These were women, in the least of the sense, because no righteous and full woman would patronize these alleys of gloomy repetition, no they were merely women because their figures were not delicate but blossoming with the ability to ride, to fuck, and eat the sperm until procreation was no longer a mistake but necessary because the world needs more of what they have.  Even if they were a hapless hump I’d be thankful to look them in the eyes while lying over their bare body, to see their faces grimace as it slid all the way in.  There in the few seconds I could see them I felt my existential fingers slip way up into their slats, the left into one and the right into the other as they crouched down on all fours in front of me like the dogs they were, asses out and legs spread wide with the juice flowing down my fingers, more and more with each push and pull, hooking the walls of their wombs with the tips of my fingers and sliding in and out, waiting from them to blow.  This was what they wanted.  It’s what we all wanted.

Just as I had put a foot out to move closer Suzie returned, without Patricia, saying that we should leave for another bar.  Patricia would join us later.  I was walking outside with them when a tall, dark girl, attractive in the way simpletons can be without being supermodels, dressed in all black and skirt with a fedora pulled way down over the eyes, looked at me and gestured with her fingers to her eyes that she was watching me.  As our shoulders brushed past each other walking by I reached back with a hand around her hips and pulled her in for one strong lock of the lips, her tongue racing down my throat like it wouldn’t again have the chance to see my insides, and my fingers treating her crotch the same way.  In about the three seconds that he had together walking in opposite directions I got to know this woman and what she felt like.  It wasn’t on fire, and it was detached.  There are certain moments here where acting occurs before any kind of thought process, and in the end I have to catch up on the thinking by letting the mind wander while the prick is occupied.  It can lead to the most soulless of fucks, the ones where body is moving but mind is not even present, away in another galaxy gathering artifacts of a life imagined, imagined without pain and suffering and the needless search for cunt, all the while the cunt sitting tightly over my own prick and sliding up and down to produce with it the rocket of juices that make me shoot a load off inside.  We hadn’t even undressed and I felt the same way in this moment – I wasn’t there, and presently left in body as well.

We got back to Sternbäck and began drinking, singing along and hanging from the rafters of the bar in the much the way we left the people before.  The scene had not changed and the atmosphere had only become more drunk, drunk both from the alcohol and the sight that after three or four hours not less but more people had joined the party and dropped their securities at the door, picked up a mug and began to dance in the few square inches that could be owned in a place filled with people, filled with smoke, wet with sweat and beer and tears and dreams and liquid shouts that stuck to the walls where the people stood who searched for fresh air.  It was in the middle of one of these jaunts, one these tunes that I caught a glimpse of the two vixens in black, had made their way behind us to the same bar and were again sitting alone with everyone, in a bubble though squeezed tight by the bodies pressing tight to their hips and still with all the gyrating, all the commotion, excitement, fireworks, screams and yells, beer mugs shattered like the night, the had not a presence of mind for any man or woman near or far in the room around them.  This couldn’t pass any moment longer.

“Why are you two so convinced to be alone,” I asked them after moving over.  Their looks were confused, most likely from the question and that it was in English.  I had to paraphrase.  “Why is that you two move from bar to bar alone, without anyone,” I asked.

“We are just out to have a drink,” the shorter one with straight hair answered.

“But you could do that anywhere,” I answered.  “Why here, why with everyone else?  You want to be seen but not touched,” I let on.   Still confused, I went straight for it.  “You two are the most beautiful girls out tonight, but you turn away every man.  I’m not sure what you’re looking for but you know you can’t find it here,” I ended.  They said thank you, blushing, in a way that struck me as odd.  Their honesty let on that they never heard such a compliment often, at least not without half-wit attempts to say something more generous, more misguided attempts at passing their fancy.  By their expressions they could see my motive was more curiosity than sly, and it worked to earn their minute.  I introduced myself, trying as I could to exchange the favor of their impression of me with more good vibes.  “Ich ben der Tom,” I said.  It was about as far as I could go but it got back a name, and I was in.  The one who spoke first would keep speaking, providing her name first.  She was Alina, and her friend was Irina.  I know this sounds absurd, but I couldn’t make out their names too well with all the noise.  Alina, I was sure of.  The other wasn’t important – she wouldn’t rightly look at me.  The notion that she may not have spoken English was of no concern, either way, I got nothing from her even her heart was pounding from the quivers that shot up the walls of gash at the sight of me.  I wouldn’t know soon, and didn’t care to – the other, equally gorgeous frau was smiling as she spoke, and she was controlled to her feelings.  She was excited to have something different, if only in words, and words were my weapons, my bullets, my love-letters from overseas because if they were used properly seemed exotic, derivative of a kind of ancient emotion exhibited only by the poets and painters and writers and creators of divinations from the Renaissance, that period of human ubiquity so grand that even the falsest of romance took place in a fire so bright that it blinded all bodies to the senses and fried all nerves save for the ones inside the genitals, exploding like shots of lava from the mouth of the volcano, deep inside where the first bit of creation still takes place and even angels fear to tread.  These were words we used, and I believed I had them properly sheathed for this moment.

“There must be something more to this, you believe?” I asked, choosing carefully the words that could be understand and still convey the meaning I would normally say with larger and more unnecessary words, like “perspicacity” and “profligate,” and realizing now as I write this why not many understand what I have to say.  This could be my very undoing – these… words.  They haven’t a fucking weight in the world if they produce nothing, are merely just sounds and utterances, hardly even worth the same as the moans that fall from the lips of the whore as the cunt envelopes the cock like a precision tool molded for the express purpose of eating pricks alive.  If that’s the kind of thing we’re looking for why do we still talk so damned much?  Wouldn’t it be easier if just unbuttoned our flies and used the wrinkles on our balls and cunt-lips to distinguish the differences between grunts of purpose, shouts of pain, moans of pleasure, and the everyday workaday nonsense that gets put together to discuss the fluctuation of the Asian trading market, the rising price of petrol, and the advances made in cellular technology?  Maybe it is the birds that chirp with the truest of meaning: “fly, eat, survive.” No excess, no fluff, no books of information about the past do the birds write, only the pretext of what is needed to fly, fly, fly! above the lands below where other beasts congregate fastidiously with nothing to do, nothing to accomplish than to discuss their forward progress, their raison d’etre that they’ve concocted to establish a society of similar minds and similar goals, to create a family and to create a household and to create a career to cover the assets, the bills, the wages, the problems that arise when the water pipes break and the tires go flat and the phones get cut off and the roof caves in, metaphorically I hope, forcing everyone to wake up from their slumbers.  I don’t even care if they rise like zombies with rotting flesh so long as the movements are different.  Everywhere a sea of the living dead already covers the earth, unknown to their own lack of spark, the electricity running through their nerves purely a collective gear working away at nothingness, the bodies resembling nothing more than an average human being seen mostly behind the wheel of a car or seated fatly behind a desk, crunching numbers and figures and toiling toward the finality of fleshly death, when the nerves no longer fire and the brain sleeps a peaceful sleep without the drabble of the world drowning out the noise of original and inspiring thought.  The zombies that come up from the ground, with arms outstretched and pieces of skin missing and eyeballs rolled back into the skull and without clothes and oozing piss and shit from the holes in the body and lumbering along slowly, might work to shake the living dead from their somnambulist pattern, might shake up the newscasts with something exciting!  Everywhere a smattering of useless information crapping out from the televisions and radios and newspapers and magazines and books and film screens and online weekly subscriptions talking about the latest cellular devices, the newest music tracks, the hippest clothes, the hottest stocks, the fastest cars, prettiest women, cheapest furniture, best athletes, rising tensions in the Middle East and the correlating rise in petroleum, the staggering costs of humanitarian relief in war-torn third world countries, the continuing struggle for election to the White House, the five steps to a sure marriage, the ten steps to fix unemployment in suburban America, five key ways to solve the European debt crisis, all of it just words, just nonsense.  They use the word crisis to discuss any topic these days, waiting for the people to asphyxiate themselves from all the smoke that surrounds the words on the paper, in their ears, and wafting in the air so thick that I could swat it with my hand.  The real crisis is not knowing if the zombies will ever rise, if anyone will ever crawl from the mud that keeps us sitting still like flies stuck to the spider’s web, if the new way of thinking will ever force us to wage war not against ourselves but against our way of life.  And it won’t take words.

If words were anywhere useful we’d all only say the things that were really going on.  That is, that it’s all a game of fucking.  If I were any way inclined to believe that Alina’s ears were really open, I’d jump right off the cliff and tell her I’d like to fuck – this of course does not need to be said.  What does need to be said are conversations full of clouds and rainbows and silly thoughts of a better world that would lead her to believe I am a good man, a smart man, a man worth her cunt.  Isn’t it a shame that we must become someone worthy of a fuck, as if a fuck isn’t the lowest common denominator?  As if it’s a treasure to be hunted, a pot of cunts at the end of the rainbow?  But it’s all just fucking, it’s all the words lead to.  Skip the unnecessary tracks on the record and get right to the hit.  Wherever there is business there is someone saying what a wonderful partner, owner, boss, employee they have, when all that person is doing is trying to fuck the other over, cut corners and spit out poor products if the money saved can be pocketed for personal profit.  Wherever there is a church or congregation they are all saying what a wonderful god they have, church building, choir, texts, bibles, and all the while they are just trying to find their way into a better life and a chance at living forever.  Wherever there are families discussing how wonderful their children are, how beautiful their homes, how cheery their jobs are, all the while they are just searching for a place to belong, a sense that all of this wasn’t done in vain.  Wherever there are people in bars drinking away their sorrows, drinking away their loneliness, talking about the music in the radio and the programmes on the screen, they are all just trying to fuck, literally, just trying to find someone to get wet with.  If all of these people in all of these places would instead just open their mouths to get out with the truth of the matter, to discuss the fucking that’s going on, we’d all be more likely to get what we were looking for and less likely to feel like the world had it out for us, that we were alone, that we’re tired, that we’re sad and feel like the end of the world might be the best thing necessary to get rid of all the problems and rife unserendipitous grayness of the lack of living.  Let the zombies rise, infect the living, and eat the flesh.  For just a change to the fucking madness.

When the conversation with Alina drifted toward an end I offered to take them to another bar, get their number and meet again tomorrow, or later.

“Her sister’s at another bar,” she said pointing to her friend, long ago ignored by either us.  “We’re going there.  It was nice meeting you.”

And with the swiftness of a prairie breeze they turned around, grabbed their bags and headed out of the bar.  I ordered up another mug, slammed it down and retreated slowly back to the hostel alone.

______________________________________________________________

I woke up during the late morning when all of my roommates had already checked out, even for a Saturday.  It was welcomed for my privacy, but alarming for its peculiarity.  Hostels are typically reserved for travellers, yes, but often a younger crowd such as my own who are looking to spend a weekend away in a town of their choosing.  This of course was Würzburg and was not without its charm, its offers, its beauty, and to think that the other travellers were simply stopping in for a place to rest their head, leaving me alone in the hostel, seemed unfair – I always hope to meet someone here, and I felt robbed of this in a small way.  It was probably for the better though.  I wanted to spend this weekend on myself, working on my writing and seeping through the crowds unseen by the rest of humanity.  After a shower and change I was on my way to achieve this disappearing act.

From everywhere in the city you can see the Fortress Marienberg that sits on top of the hill across the river, towering nearly a thousand feet up from the water’s edge, but only a few hundred meters from the water – it rises directly up, like cliff walls on a plateau, with a castle on top.  It’s exactly how I pictured much of historical Europe, and it may be the reason I am so infatuated with this city.  Nuremberg has more of the culture, more of the political history of the country inside its walls, but every time since the first time I walked through its streets it does not feel much different from an American city.  That is, unless you walk along the walls that line the moat of the old town center, the interior is chock full of nothing but stores and malls and shops and backereis to buy pastries and restaurants to eat and bars to drink and clubs to dance.  The structures once were beautiful homes, I’m sure, and their walls still climb higher upward than most American towns, as they outgrew their land with people and started building toward the sky in a way that Americans have only seen in places like New York.  But the integrity is lost.  Its halls have been stripped open for large spaces to store clothes racks and shoe racks and tables and chairs and couches and posters and things for people to look at while they spend their money hopefully in every establish.  Never mind the Nurembergring, a golden spire at the top of an iron gate surrounding the city’s center statue, rubbed for good luck.  Never mind the Zeppelinfeld, the site of the Nazi Army’s rallies and Hitler’s most infuriating speeches, where the beginning and ending of the modern world took place.  Never mind the Dietzen Lake, a grand water hole designed to surround the Congress Halle, to serve as the beautifying and powerful statement of largesse that the Nazi Social Party strived to achieve, right next to the Groß Strasse, the monstrous white brick plaza that leads for six miles directly north to the center of the party’s congressional buildings.  Never mind all of these things.  I want my MTV.

This being my third trip to Würzburg and without any particular plans to meet anyone, as it was originally established, I wanted finally to tour the ancients of its past.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get into the major sites in this town, but it was of no concern.  I like only to see these things, feel these sights with my own eyes and only the way I can, in my time.  I had begun to do this Friday after arriving by train, walking immediately to the gorgeous Residenz Plaza, the town’s old congressional seat and currently a UNESCO World Heritage sight – as if having someone put a plaque on the walls declaring it a world heritage makes it officially significant.  It is after all a French-styled palace, large blocked corners and gothic columns draping from the top to the bottom, surrounded outside the walls by a wonderful Central Park-esque garden, lit by light poles and with numerous duck ponds, hidden in the trees from the streets and stores.  Really a good escape to sit and think away from all the shit around me.  I had been around the building a few times before but this time, with the interior being closed and my opportunity to tour the inside gone, I chose instead to walk through the garden inside the walls.  I hadn’t even done this and was waiting for whatever awaited me inside.

The first thing I noticed was the fountains still frozen, grown twice their normal size from the white ice sculptures that grew from the spouts upward and outward, transforming the entire image of the day.  The clouds were hanging overheard and the air was thick with moisture, having just come out of the frozen month before us, and the water first now starting to thaw from the ice that covered everything for weeks.  But where the water did not cling to the ground and still hung in the breeze melted slowest.  This, here, were the fountains.  Amidst all the grey, despite the doom of winter’s last edge, sitting alive like fireworks exploding in the night, was a giant piece of pure white ice, draping downward from the bowl of the fountain in the middle of the garden.  It was quite transforming, ethereal in its visage and able to transport me to somewhere else.  It really hit me like a wrecking ball, just as quick and fierce as well, as soon as I entered the garden.  These places, the scenes, they were in fact wonders! Oh, how I longed for the ideas that can be found in the soils of this world’s gardens, this world’s landscapes, this world’s entities, away from the inorganic world of the Western Hemisphere were everything is pumped full of growth hormone and bulldozed as soon as it no longer gains profit.  Here, behind the golden iron gates, behind the hundred-years-old brick walls, lining the foot trails that have scene millions of citizens walk its grassy paths, were fountains frozen from flowing, told to stop by the earth! I continued to float through the entire garden, not using my feet to move but the transmutable laws of the peace that blanketed the plaza, seeing with new eyes and a new mind the sky above through the trellises that covered the paths and were themselves covered by the vines of the bushes and flowers and trees that grew over the piping, but now for the winter not in bloom, and having their branches break in a thousand ways like the water that flies from a balloon smashed against a wall, lining the sky like a spider’s web and with every bit of glowing energy when seen in the light.  The garden was held in three tiers, each above the next until you reached the top and could sit in a bench to see the duck ponds on the outside, or look back at the golden building.

As I sat there smoking a cigarette I drifted back to this earth because I couldn’t shake the knowledge that it was all fake – only some 60 years old.  I knew this because the town of Würzburg had been completely leveled during the second war.  It took about fifteen minutes for some 200 British bombers to destroy ninety-percent of the city.  I think it was in retaliation for a Luftwaffe attack on the British Isles – it otherwise had no meaning, no necessity, served no purpose to end the lives of the citizens of this town.  They had no seat of congress, no buildings housed any activities of the Nazi party, and nothing of significance took place here during the war; except of course the total and complete death of all things living here.  Over the next twenty years the city was rebuilt to exact replication of its previous state by the remaining survivors, most of them women, and known by a German equivalent of our own Rosie the Riveter.  Walking slowly up the brick walls of the Residenz you could easily distinguish this part of the city’s past, even if you didn’t know exactly when it took place (March 17, 1945).  The square blocks that were golden in hue were without wear and age and tear and use and erosion from a hundred years of rain like many of the world’s oldest structures.  No, this place was definitely new and pristine.  Was it beautiful?  Sure.  But it wasn’t the same anymore.

This was why I wanted to get to the fortress.  I had yet to walk up the hill and see the only thing that wasn’t destroyed on that day.  I wanted to view the town from the highest rise, from the furthest point, from the bird’s eye view.  This was my goal…

And I almost threw it away.  As I drifted through the downtown streets making my way from the hostel to the fortress, I discovered a parade of sorts taking place in the middle of town.  There was a stage on which stood a dozen men dressed in full-blown costumes, all of them wearing bright orange capes and feathered hats, watching a parade of musicians and groups walk past, the final of which was a brass band playing the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army.”  It was almost too much for me to turn down.  All I had needed to do was find a beer and walk through the streets with these people, find my own mask and whisk my way along with them like a specter, a ghost of the present, here just to observe and drink and be merry.  And there I stood, thinking just now of this, and weighing it against everything I had planned.  Sebastian had been right.  The trouble of Fasching was only just getting started, and what I had seen had been nothing.  The vulture inside of me wanted to fly down to the depths of the dead and pick at the bones of the living along with everyone else!  And I stood there mounted like that vulture on the branch with the choice of flying down or up, up to the skies or down to the bottom of the streets to be kicked around like the beer bottles looking for a piece of meat.  When the moments grew longer and longer without moving, when the hunger of days hangover started to sink in, I thought of this sight now and knew that it would be worse tomorrow.  And I knew then that I was not missing anything except the chance I had provided myself to see this city, and see it from the top, from the clouds, from the sky, from the vantage that would remove me, if only for a minute, from the dredge of the sewage I knew I would be swimming in all weekend.  And I left for the hills, for the fortress, on foot.

Just a few feet to the river and I was at the bridge, across it and over, standing on the other side for the first time and seeing a sign with paths marked to climb the mountain.  There were separate colors for the paths, with the shortest being red.  I didn’t know then immediately what it meant until I embarked.  It was red because it was steep, damn steep, the hardest to climb.  But once I got inside the first wall at the foot of the hill to see a mother bracing her stroller behind her for ballast and safety as she descended the grade, probably 20%, I knew that I would be alright.  Even if I weren’t all right I wasn’t going to be undone when this woman and her child’s safety weren’t enough to say no.  And I climbed.  I climbed and climbed upward like the soldier I was, this time without the orders but with all the same conviction, my own personal mission.  It must’ve been just over a half mile of straight upward climb, like only the mountains can provide, but with a gravel path to mark the way.  Looking back I’m not sure if the gravel was safer or not, loose rocks making the path slippery when maybe the grass would’ve been better; but it too was wet like mud, worse for the wear of the climb.  In a few minutes time I was at the top, passing the overweight travelers who were struggling to breathe after their ascent, clapping for their friends who took longer as if the joke were funny, as if it weren’t sad they struggled, and made my way immediately along the walls toward the cliff that overlooked the city.  There was a possibility of going on inside, maybe taking a tour, but I had to see the landscape, had to feel the breeze blow from the plateau’s edge.  And I turned toward that front, toward that ledge and walked just as rapidly as I had up the hill.  Until I came to the end of course.  It all went into slow motion at that moment.

Standing there alone, with only a bit of music and myself to join along the end, I saw for the first time the world before me.  My eyes were new, a child’s at first birth, in the way any of us can recall our earliest memory of the earth before us.  It was like the sun was rising for the first time and my skin was new.  The wind had never blown before this day, the trees had never whistled before this day, and the ground had never been so green before this day.  It was the first time in the history of man that the river had flown from north to south, it was the only time in history that the church bells rang, and it was the only time anyone had seen this scene with a clear mind.  The biting of my hungry stomach, the itchiness from a dry, dehydrated skin, the sweat from a back that carried a bag up the hill, the feet that pounded after the multitude of steps, the hair that was unkempt, all of these things meant nothing.  Before me, down way, way below was the image of a city, a country, a people, a piece of earth that can only be seen in this way on this particular patch of planet.  The hills dropped straight down and the distance outward to the 100-meter wide river was only about as much – I feel I could’ve thrown a rock toward the banks and strike water, but only after watching it fall for upwards of half a minute.  And from the shores on the other side spread a city outward in all directions, sprawling, crawling, reaching for more space to grow and more land to cover, each building unique its shape and design but all of them sharing the same roof, creating an ocean of orange tiled squares over the surface, and when the eyes couldn’t see further from the tops of the structures the hills began to take shape, rolling into each other like a valley that brings two mountains together at the crevice created by millions of years of water flow, still green with trees and the birds that fly amongst them, those of course below me as well.  This was not America.  This land was not flat.  Its history did not reflect the same feeling, and for the first time maybe I knew I was somewhere else.  I was there alone, but dammit I was there.  An earthquake could not have shaken from the throne I sat upon.  I was above it all.  The rolling beats of the marching band in the parade down below now crossing the bride could be heard even up here, and it meant only to separate me.  It echoed low and sweet – I was glad to see the town in celebration.  But here, I found a bit of peace.  Here, where no other man to my knowledge had been, maybe in person but not in spirit, was the beginnings of mankind.  If nothing good had come from this space and time, I was here to remark of its being, was here to paint the Mona Lisa of Würzburg smiling back, was here to write the 5th Symphony that caromed through the hills, was here to tell the world like Homer in song that it was possible to be still on earth and on Mars at the same time.  That I no longer belonged to the world as men knew it, that I no longer had any interest in one particular place, that I never ever felt like I actually belonged anywhere my whole life, here, for the first time, was seen through physical eyes; this city, not thirty minutes away from where I lived, could be my home, and I was alone it, above it, soaring like an bald eagle that has no place in Europe, still with all the beauty but no friends to join in formation above the crowds that gathered along the brick walls to sing songs that every man before them had sung.  I wasn’t singing their song.  But I had one with me, my own to sing.

A woman speaking English broke me of my trance, and I made my way around the fortress, going up into its innards and seeking maybe a piece of its secret.  The thing had been there, in many forms at least, since 1200 BC.  I circled it completely before entering the main court with the silo that stretched to the top of its highest peak from right there in the center.  There were doors and signs and advertisements and lights and benches, but nothing else.  On a Saturday nothing was ever open in Germany unless it was to sell products or food, and I guess tourism was no exception.  Just a few people milling around over the brick courtyards, myself the only one seeming to be lost, but only because I thought it was open.  I was hardly lost while walking these walks through time, traversing the bridge of the present to enter the past and go beyond the furthest point of human kind, to go back to the edge of creation, to back to the big bang, to go back to the open universe with nothing in it, to go back to the nothing before nothing was even nothing, to go back to a space that was full of everything and nothing at once, to see the ends of the mankind before the rocks of the earth had even melted into stone, to know the entire future and past at once, to feel like Christ on the cross who could see all that was and would be and die for it, to know that I had something to say and know that no one would ever really listen before the world came to an end at the hands of those people, no one listen, just touring and taking photos and returning home to say they did something.  I wasn’t here to do something.  I was here, merely because I was here, in the same way I was down below before.  No, these people were having a day off and making the best of it, because that’s what the stories say.  Otherwise there’d be nothing to speak of at work the next day.  To try to grab each one of them as I walked by and shake them vigorously and let them know that we were on the edge of the world, the one that was flat and had a precipice dripping the water off its corners, to try and include them in my portal would only get me locked up.  There’s just not enough clarity left to go around.  Probably the same amount as there ever was, but so many more people to spread it around it amounts to nothing, gets lost in the mix.  I walked down past the family of six taking a group photo and took steps in leaps and bounds to get out.  I glided, almost without setting foot to the ground and made my escape back to the foxholes and trenches below where everyone was being shot at.  The hill was so steep that I gave in to its push and ran!  Like a gazelle each step was six feet long and I was in the air between left and right legs.  I reached the bottom and danced out the gate back into the streets where I would look for my own costume to wear tonight.  Don’t mention that anything had happened.  We were here to wear costumes.

When I spoke to Matt a while later he invited me to dinner.  I didn’t initially accept, but he needed someone to talk to when his girl and her friend broke off into a conversation of Deutsche.  There’s a friend? OK, I’m there.  The dinner was casual and early, much before the night would begin to saunter into something I thought might be more fiendish.  Didn’t bother to wear the costume I had prepared earlier.  My dignity was still too far intact to go out to eat looking like a man from the 80s, but not the obnoxious kind of sweatband wearing cocaine dealer most people associate with 80s costumes.  No, I was somewhere in between Sixteen Candles and the Talking Heads, what I thought and hoped was more genuine, and what I knew could be translated slightly differently at a later time to be my own wardrobe – navy slacks, blue tee under orange cardigan, rustic brown blazer, sleeves rolled up and purple wayfarer shades.  It was, at least as far as I cared perfect.  But it was for later.  I rolled down the street jamming my own tune to a restaurant I was familiar with where they were waiting.

I walked in to see Matt with his girl at the bar, my favorite place in any establishment.  A beer up from the bartender and shaking hands with my friend and his woman, the beautifully dark blonde thing standing a foot shorter than myself, her name Sandra.  Matt had done well for himself and I was wondering what then could be arriving as we waited for her friend to show.  It was only a few minutes later when I had the answer.

I was talking to Matt when I noticed Sandra had approached another female that had entered the bar and I saw a woman, as full of figure as one could be.  Dark, rolling black hair that fell to the sides of the kind of eyes that are deep, deep dark and pouring out their sockets with pupils larger than a puppy dog, weeping almost to be seen, full lips and a body that curved in and out, downward to an ass as wide and wonderful as I had known only a few times before.  Save for the extra weight she carried on her frame she had the qualities that made her true value apparent, but only if you knew how to recognize that it was somewhere inside, hidden inside the cheeks that curled with her smile and poked out with the grab of her hands that sprang upright to whittle her hair with the fingers.  Somewhere in our modern world we got too caught up the in typical state of affairs that women should be model thin, razor sharp cheeks, and a stare to turn cold the warmest hearts – she had none of these things.  I reached out to know her better.

“I’m Tom,” said with a smile.  She reached out and introduced herself.  For the music I couldn’t hear what she said, and when she repeated it I knew it was something I couldn’t hear because it was intangible to my ears.  Of a different language, of a different heritage.

“You’re going to have to spell that for me,” I laughed away.  It was then that she looked quizzically at me, and Sandra stepped in to explain that she spoke little or no English.  I laughed at the absurdity.  Absurd because I expected all along this to be like the many times before, in real or in story board, where the couples had meet and the friends kicked off like a ship set out to sea to float according to their waves.  No, this was not that.  I laughed because in less than a minute I saw a woman I would like to know, a woman I wanted to speak to, a woman I wanted to dance with, the most innocent of songs where two people just wanted to move their feet together, seeing in her something that maybe was real, and in that minute realizing I had no way to get it out of her.  …Bartender, I’d like another drink.

We sat down and began to order our drinks.  It took not much more time for my hopes of speaking across the table to disappear as it did for the girls to begin a conversation they only could understand.  Matt started by joking that Sandra always did this to him, and I knew then that when he said he needed someone there, for that or any reason, he was genuine.  In a way it was flattering, the conversation drifting from our shared occupations to the night before to the night ahead, to the women we’d known and the women we’d hope to know, ordering food in between and laughing at the people in the restaurant dressed in costume, and the few that weren’t in costume but would’ve been better off had they dressed up.

“It was nice of Killian to let me crash at his place last night,” Matt said loudly.  It took just around a second for me to connect that this didn’t happen, and that he wanted it sound as if it had.

“Oh, absolutely, what a favor he did,” I broke in.  I knew the game – he needed to corroborate his story about last night, letting Sandra think he hadn’t picked up a girl ten years his junior.  “You had way too much to drink last.  It was nice of him to take care of you,” I finished.

As we continue to speak I drifted off, my mouth uttering phrases but my mind wondering how long this had been going on, how well Matt had become at it, and how common it was for the world to behave this way.  Everyday there were marriages and relationships being put on the line by people looking for an everyday fuck, and all the while hiding it from someone.  I never understood.  Every blowjob I got made headlines in my environment.  It didn’t make sense to me to work so hard for something and have no one know about it.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m alone in that way – surely every criminal has told someone their crimes, Al Capone was a celebrity.  These things are too good to hold inside; sex was no different.  My favorite part is thinking that it’s a worldwide phenomenon.  Surely everyone everywhere is fucking someone at any given moment, be it their wife, friend, coworker, bus driver, priest, doctor, teacher, all the fantasies one could think of in a pornographic film including total and complete strangers.  Yet, here again was someone trying to hide it, from just one person.  Do you ever think more relationships would last longer if they openly said, “Baby, I slept with someone else last night?”  I’d like to think so.  Six days out of seven is a good ratio, so long as there are other ties that bind, so the phrasing goes.  I don’t want to dine with every whore I meet at the bar – I just want to rip out her insides like there was a flesh magnet on the end of my dick.  I don’t want to stroll serenely through the park with every girl that grabs my cock – I just want her to keep her hand there until the stiffness of an erection gets her wet and she gets on her knees without prompting, gurgling the thing like a popsicle until it melts in her mouth.  I don’t want to tell the secrets of this earth to the next pair of legs that walks by, the things only I know and see that I don’t believe any other man sees – the last thing I want from a whore is a lesson of the world, unless the world exists only in her crotch.  And yet, we are not allowed to make friends for just this purpose.  For just the minutes that we need a good lay and our partner isn’t around.  I’d like to believe that sooner or later we all come together and say this has been going on for so long and is so widespread that maybe we’ve got it backwards.  Maybe all along we should have been embracing plural sex partners, that maybe the whole reason we’re fucking around so often is not because we want to but because we have to, it’s what we’re supposed to do, in the same way we eat meat.  We eat the meat of the flesh, the flesh of the body, the body of the soul, the soul of the cunt, the prick, because we’re supposed to.  But we’ll believe a lot of things if it makes us feel good.  Being told we’re the only one someone could love is like being anointed a king… I suppose because we know it can’t happen.  Believe that.

As dinner wrapped we decided to reconvene at a hookah bar, to smoke hookah as it were.  I was initially rather shocked to hear this plan unfold, not believing that the innocent looks on the girls’ faces would provide for a soul that wanted to smoke hookah on a Saturday night, to get things started anyway.  Hookah was the public place for persons of the tea persuasion to imbibe in the smoke of the ethereal, to get as close to burning tea as one can amongst “normal” society.  It may be that we were going to Orient Palast, the bar, which was decidedly Turk in its environ; I suppose Sandra’s friend had gotten her into the habit and so it was that we would begin there.  What should have been surprising to me was that this locale would create for us a night of less debauch, fewer whores, but the same amount of drinks, to be sure.  The Palast was easy enough to locate, right downtown with the rest of the bars, near to the river and next to a club.  After a quick shower, change into costume, and a couple cigarettes’ walk I was present with my friends.  It is funnier even to me now that when I am not in my uniform I revert back to old habits, which is rather funny when walking to a hookah bar.  On this occasion, like all others when not wearing green, I was late, about thirty minutes this time.  They were of course engaged already in the bar and it gave me the pleasure of displaying for the first time my costume – a neon clad man from the 1980s.  The shades worn inside did the trick, though it also worked to create difficulty walking through the dark hallways of the bar.

More difficult however was finding a seat next to the group.  The bar had gone all out in their décor, full of desert sands and trees painted to the walls, Turkish drapes hanging from the ceiling, the ballast and support beams that went up the ceiling painted like an Egyptian spire from some pharaoh’s kingdom hall, the sitar music being played loudly from all corners, and the seats being padded floors raised up in certain areas forcing everyone to sit on pillows cross-legged or whichever ways they would choose.  We were in the middle of a bar next to a man and woman making out, and on the other side a younger man our age alone.  As I made my awkward way across him to find a seat it made it obvious to us that something should be said, or at least an introduction to take place.

“What’s your name man,” Matt said as I saddled into place between them.

“Andrew,” he responded.

“Here with anyone?” Matt asked.

He said no and we learned that he was on his own, that he just enjoyed smoking hookah, and that he wouldn’t be a bother.  He had a crooked smile on his face the whole time, hung below his shaggy hair that covered his dome and the simple t-shirt over jeans combination that spoke of a middle class life.  Matt made some joke about his habits, that it may have been sad that he were alone, but really I sympathized with the guy.  I’m sure he’d just come from his apartment where there were bowls among bowls of tea smoked, that he was lit like a bonfire and that he just wanted to get out of his apartment for a drink because if you’re not careful some habits will wreck you.  It told me that he was seasoned.  It told me that he was in tune.  It told me that he was the probably the smartest guy in the room, and knew more about living than anyone else in the bar, all the people with their arms around a significant other, all the people looking for a lay, all the people drinking to get drunk and hit on women, kiss the men, play the game.  It told me that he knew something I was always fighting to condone – that all we need is to know ourselves, to find our Zen, to be ourselves with ourselves.  Andrew never broke out his phone to read the internet, didn’t even have a book with him, all he had was that smile on his face.  And after an hour of ignoring our loud gestures and noisy conversation he went his way.  I took the time to remark on how he jumped up suddenly like he had springs in his feet and skipped away in a hurry.  He probably didn’t have anywhere to be.  It was probably just that he needed his space, away from everyone.

We continued to smoke from the hookah, refilling the plate with charcoals of banana and cherry and strawberry flavor, a remarkable thing to me.  I had smoke hookah a few times before, but it was never anything that I paid much attention to.  Frankly I had smoked too much tea to ever be interested in hookah and it was to me the smoke that non-smokers ingested, as a way to get in touch with the dark side.  If the coals were too dry, too burnt, whatever the case, the girls would signal the tender and have him replace them, and I was never certain how they kept track of who was buying what when were all seated there together, but what I did know was that I could order a beer and it would arrive.  In a tall glass too, properly.  It just sat there on a tray in front of us and not once did anyone kick a glass while trying to stand.  Probably the most amazing achievement of that night.

There was another achievement that I took short pride in.  After seven years of smoking… I’d say cigarettes, but really everything under the sun that lit with fire… After seven years of smoking I had never learned any significant tricks.  I had seen a few, but it was not something that I took the time to learn or master.  Much in the same way I didn’t smoke hookah while being a grass master, I just didn’t care to pick up any trait of my own.  I was too busy getting high to worry about the semantics of looking cool.  But here, smoking from a double-hosed hookah, in this bar, and having nothing better to do, I asked Matt how to blow smoke rings when I watched him do it next to me.  My interest was peaked by the Leonard Cohen record I had picked up just the week earlier, where on the inside was a photo of Cohen sitting in a hotel, wearing a dapper suit, and seen through a smoke ring he had just exhaled approaching the camera; one of the coolest photos I had seen in recent past, and seeing Matt now accomplish the same feat had me wanting to join the in-crowd of smoking tricks.  Turns out its really simple.  Fill the mouth with smoke and exhale as if talking, kind of like pushing the tongue slightly outward.  Sounds like a cunnilingus manual when you say it that way, but it’s all closely related if you really think about it.  Within minutes I had seen my own floating softly through the air before being wisped away like a genie into a bottle, breaking off into separate lines and filling the air with magic.  It felt like magic, maybe.  Just a little anyways.  It was enough to end our time at the Palast as we shortly thereafter squared away the bill and the decision was made to hit the club next door.

Its name was Odeon, and it was a club like any other, except that in downtown Würzburg it was the club.  There was a more renowned club on top of the northern hill outside of town, but this was here in the streets, with the people.  My interest to go inside was exactly that it wasn’t the club on the hill.  There was a train that went to that club and it had all the Americans in it.  If I thought I could avoid that by staying here in downtown I’d give it a shot every day.  I was wrong on this occasion though.

We walked in and immediately I saw the nearly seven-foot tall black males gathered in the first room, a couple of them wearing New Era fitted caps with baseball teams on them, and knew immediately that I could never really escape my own kind.  It wasn’t all bad though really, these were basketball players living in Germany trying to make a dime overseas.  They weren’t the soldiers that I worked with who went to the club on top of the hill.  No, these guys could at least be counted on to have spent a few in colleges, at the least; whether they actually studied there is of no consequence.  They were in this country because they were good enough at their sport to have a German team pay their way into the country, but not good enough to make it in the NBA, yet anyway.  And here they were, and here I was, and there I went into the back room where the bars and dancing and drinks and low lights and women and sin could be found.

I’m not good at all in clubs, really, not good at all.  To me I don’t understand what happens here, not because I don’t have a grip on it (really, what is to be misunderstood about businesses that exist purely to facilitate a one night stand), but because it wasn’t the way I ever went about it.  I was too used to dancing the right way, with our hands and our feet moving in the same direction, not into each other like we were fucking fucking, there on the floor with our genitals engorged inside their clothing (although it’s hilarious when some people give up no fucks and just fuck there on the floor).  I always needed a way to engage the person, speak to them and let them know that there was something going on inside of me that they couldn’t find elsewhere, that I was not like everyone else.  What I was trying to learn was that these women, today’s princess, didn’t want something original.  She wanted to be rammed hard after grabbing me by the collar in the club and taking me to the bathroom immediately where the deeds were done dirt cheap.  She didn’t want me to go on about the mystics, didn’t need to hear that there was something else, because to her the only thing that mattered was being like everyone else.  Why then would they do it over and over again?  There are a few that at least know of different ways to get a lay, but here in the club the lay was only a part of the dress the princesses wore.  The diamond studded clutch purse they carried in their hands, the designer heels and hairdresser they attended that night to get the look right, to go out and be seen by other girls, to spend money and talk about it the next day with their friends, to meet men and let them know they can have her at the cost of a drink, it was all an easily solved puzzle, but it had to be together – you couldn’t just take one of the pieces and be happy with it.  It all had to happen together.

That’s where I get lost.  I’m just not that way.  To me being alive is a celebration.  There’s a part of me that likes to get dressed up fashionably, but often I get mocked for my efforts – no one likes to wear bright colors and cardigans and “old man clothes” anymore, and they are intimidated, so I think, by the ones who do.  I do it just so that no one can recognize or know who I am just by looking at me.  I don’t ever want somebody to learn something about who I am just by seeing me walk by.  It’s probably why I’ve ruined my arm with tattoos below the elbow, because they’d never guess that I was capable of writing this now if they saw the rising sun on my arm.  All the things I see I put to paper as best I can because it’s all absurd, really.  To see the waists gyrating back and forth to me is like seeing the end of man – dancing used to be something jazzy and people used to take the time to learn the steps.  We don’t any longer need the steps, we just need the movements.  Up and down and up and down and side to side and up and down.  You get the picture.

It was the same picture before me here and I fled from our corner of the stage at the back to get a drink.  I told Matt I’d get us something strong and I brought back a double of Jim Beam with a splash of water.  He almost choked as he took the first sip, and I tried to explain to him that it was a real drink, to be drank slowly and enjoyed.  The cost was rather cheap too, and I was beginning to like this place just on that principle.  We had found our way away from Sandra and her friend as we grabbed our drinks, and it made for an opportunity.

“You fucking think too much,” Matt yelled.

“You’re not the first to say that,” I offered back.

“This place is primal,” he said.  “You just have to be more ridiculous than everyone else, and if you see something you want, just grab it.”

With that I pointed to the two girls who were giving us both the once over, standing about 20 feet away but their eyes right on us.

“You lead,” I said.

We walked straight over and I could hear him ask how they were doing.  I started laughing when they said “We don’t speak English,” and immediately we walked away.  I learned that trick the night before, to just jet on a bitch, and I say bitch because of course she spoke English.  They all do, at least enough to be in a club surrounded by Americans.  They were playing a game we refused, and it was the end.  I laughed in my mind to think that it may have been that Matt actually looked like the redneck his costume had him portraying, a trucker hat and long greasy blonde hair from a wig that flung over his white tee and jeans, tattoos spilling from all over.  A pirate and a princess wanted nothing with the eighties I suppose.

More astonishing was that it just happened without hesitation, that Matt and I approached them.  He was hungry for another score, and I was confused why he recklessly approached women with his girl just on the other side of the room, probably the sexiest one in the club, at least on this night.  She was wearing his flight suit, a subtle sign of tenderness I thought, and with the black lens aviators and pilot’s cap she was a knockout of a wench.  Something sultry about a uniform, for both women and men.  Maybe just as fate would have it she and her friend shortly approached us at the middle of the room, even though they continued to dance on their own.

“I’ve learned that Germans don’t really dance with people,” Matt said as we stood between the girls.  I hadn’t ever thought of it, but I started to notice that it was true.  No one was really engaged in dance with anyone in particular, instead their hands were in the air and their eyes were closed as they just shook their ass randomly and without any intent.  I wasn’t sure if I liked it more or less but it made the act senseless in a way.  If I wanted to dance by myself I wouldn’t be spending the money on a drink in a club.  I would just walk through the streets and dance like I always do.  Here, I danced because I was looking for someone to dance with.  To remove that seems a waste of time.

Maybe because of it Matt and I walked back into the first lounge and were seated, having given up on anything for the night.  He was stuck (ha) with his girl and I there to tag along with the one with whom I couldn’t even speak.

“I’m over tonight,” he said.

“Enjoy your drink,” I replied.  “This isn’t a club drink.”

We carried on about what the next night would for us when the woman sitting next to us with her husband interrupted us, as I presumed he was.  They were an older couple, not by much but enough to be noticeable, and they seemed to be harmless.

“You speak English,” she asked.

“Of course we do,” Matt said.  It was a rather dumb question, really.

“And you are from,” she said, leading to an answer but also because her English was broken.

“California and Texas,” he said, pointing at once to himself and myself respectively, relative to the answer.

Since they were to Matt’s left and I to his right I couldn’t really get into the conversation, not over the music anyway.  It became better when Sandra and her friend sat down between us, but what I had at this moment was the opportunity to hear things about Matt that for some reason I had yet to learn.  It wasn’t that I was for lack of caring to ask, but rather that this lifestyle we shared didn’t allow for much room in the way of asking personal questions.  I had gotten used to not providing much information to other people in uniform and I’m sure he’d done the same, years before me.  So when I heard him say he had been married before and that he had two children, I was initially shocked and then summarily satisfied.  With the way he went on with women it all of a suddenly made sense.

Recently in one of Henry Miller’s novels I had his retelling of a conversation he had had with a friend, that he was a writer through and through but would not have the well inside him to pull shit from until he “had his heart ripped out.”  That was the way it was put – that nothing would swell around in the sewers of his brain and make it to page, that nothing would rise with fire until he knew what it was to lose it all, to break it all down and find a meaning in a space where there once was something.  I knew this to be true for myself and it all made sense now for my friend Matt, that he was trying to find the meaning still, that he hadn’t yet locked onto the structure of the rest of his life, and he was swimming vastly in a sea of cunt until he find one to sink his teeth into.  If you wrote down his behavior as I have, with a more critical eye, it would be easy to say that he’s an evil man, or that he’s just like everyone else, or that he’s common, or that he’s despicable and unlikeable and treats women poorly or isn’t concerned with the world but only of himself and the next landing strip for his aircraft of a cock, because with the way it flies around it probably has wings.  It wasn’t true, and I never felt it to be true of him, and now I knew why.  The things he said to the girls he was with, and the amount of time he spent on them even for just a night, the way he laughed with them and consciously efforted from them a smile to go alongside his, these things were all tender.  When the next day would roll around he didn’t expound upon the details but casually acknowledged what happened, because it had to be obvious for anyone who saw him walk off with these girls, as I had.  But it was his coping mechanism, in a way, to see his family wash away with the sands by the tide, and then continue living in the same career and the same habits and the same routines and the same interests and wishes and desires and goals and dreams, but instead of returning home to his family they are gone and have been replaced with emptiness.  To think that it could be found again after losing it once is absurd, to be sure, and this explains his reluctance to approach it again.  That may be the driving force for why he so recklessly approaches women, even with his girlfriend nearby, because he needs to let them know that he is not exclusive – he is no longer in need of love because he thought he had it and with the rest of the world believes now that it is no longer possible, it can’t be had if it even existed.  Why try to create something that cannot be achieved, why try to act like our nature isn’t to get fucked, why try to hide the animals inside of us, beneath our costumes, and act like civilized people? The ones who considered themselves civilized were fucking around on their wives and husbands all the same, but every time they get caught they act as if were some sin, lower on the moral barometer than murder and worthy of no respect.  Yet it happens everyday.  Fucking is just like smoking, or any other bad habit – it won’t make us better people outright, but it will make us feel alive.  And if we can harness that feeling enough, if we can replicate it frequently, if we can take it and bottle it and sell it on the shelves for 5$ a case, maybe then we ignore again the problems that brought us here in the first place.  Sex, an elixir to solve all your problems, now available in individual packaging and sold to the masses.  It’s a shame that people think sex is the problem, and not the solution.

Sex is after all the only time we are truly honest with someone.  Without words even.  Everyone fucks like the person they really are and you can tell a lot about someone by the way they give or take a prick.  Shy, shameless, proud, angry, tormented, distracted, shallow, hollow, tender, sweet, caring, forgiving, god forgiving! all these things escape from the person who is having sex, all these traits seep from the pores along with the sweat of passion, if its passion to that person, though it could be rage, it could be remorse, it could be regret, it could jealousy, it could fantasy, it could be anything, but in that moment it is real.  Think of all the people you’ve fucked and their true selves become easily seen in the way their bodies move, don’t you think?  The ones you’ve been in love with, were they loving in bed?  Or did it not end because they didn’t care?  Did you roll off of her and she not give a fuck if she came at all?  We should really be more attentive to what people do in bed to understand who they are, if we want to make anything of ourselves, and ourselves with them.

So if you’ve ever lost something, you probably fuck like you won’t ever have it again.  With the energy of a supernova, and probably just as bright when you come to an end, like the supernova exploding into bursts of light as the core burns out before turning into a black hole.  When you take away the things you loved, love itself, it just becomes a sexual session of telling the truth.  And the truth with anyone was that love didn’t exist, that it couldn’t be found, and that all we had was the fucking.  Love means having something forever, it means having something in moments when you’re apart, it means feeling content in the moments that you’re seated side by side and not sliding around on each other, it means being settled with the notion of just holding a hand for awhile.  And if you can’t have that, all you have is the sex.  The sweet, sticky, slippery wet act of copulation.  Makes my mouth water to think that there could be a world of people somewhere who know this, take it as religion and proffer up texts about the Cunt goddess tamed by the Cock god, and they created the world with happiness.  If God did actually give us ten commandments one of them was not Thou Shalt Not Cheat (or was it?)I know there was the whole not coveting thing, but you’re not coveting in sex, you’re sharing.  It’s the letting go and telling the truth and seeing the truth spread across the face of the girl beneath you.  That’s a powerful moment.  And if the truth is that it must be shared, that if it is too good to keep to one’s self, then it must be given to as many people as possible, like a virus of wealth and prosperity.  Maybe Matt didn’t know yet for this to be the answer, but he was closing in on it with each and every cunt.  I now knew that he was trying to find the answer, and I could hope that he would one day.  Until then he had his girl to go home with.

I learned from Sandra that I would be walking home her friend, who to this moment and time I still hadn’t learned the name of.  I didn’t bother to care really.  As we split ways outside the club and I took the Turk home I began rambling to myself, to the girl, because I couldn’t walk in silence.  I wanted to hold her hand, to let her know that I wanted to say something with my body if I couldn’t with my mouth, but surprisingly she responded to my incoherence with a bit of understanding.  Because I thought she didn’t understand a word of what I said I was why I was talking about why I rambled – I talked about why I spoke nonsense because I didn’t think she would understand it, it being the nonsense.  When I reached the point that I couldn’t just not talk, that I was a writer, she perked up and looked at me, “Writer?” she said.  I was shocked first, for her to get it, and then said that I was a reporter.  She understood that and got out “What you do now,” and I was pissed to have wasted a whole night not talking to this girl when I knew that I could find a way if she just understood a little.  I went on about being a soldier, working with helicopters, and trying to find a place to live in this soul sucking world, talking in pigeon English with necessary stuttering and hand gestures to get across the meaning where she couldn’t understand the exact word or phrase.  She got most of it, and I attempted to get her into a bar so that we could speak more, but she would have none of it.  Put her hands together and rested her head on them to signal that she wanted to sleep, and I gave up then thinking briefly that I still had a chance.  I wouldn’t be able to explain to her that we could talk honestly if we fucked, not in words she could understand to get her to agree to do away with words.  So we continued on instead toward my hostel, and I rolled into a pattern of speech recognizable in the insane – with fists toward the heavens and tones of voice reserved for political podiums.  It was enough for her to ask, “You crazy for what?” and I understood her well enough.

“I’m only looking for answers,” I said.  “If I don’t look for the meaning in life, I’ve failed to live.”

Blank stare, quizzical look.  I walked away toward the hostel entrance and she was nice enough to grab me for a hug.  Take care, I offered, and went inside to sleep.

__________________________________________________________

I was woken just an hour or so later when my roommates returned from their night out.  They too were enlisted members and I had met them earlier during the day when they checked in.  We were after all an easy lot to spot, what with the way we cut our hair and the general fact that a white, black, and Hispanic male wouldn’t be found together in civilian Germany.  They were nice enough people, out for the weekend to get away from their wives, and I had learned that they were in the veterinarian field of the Army.  Interesting, maybe, but not really.  They had nothing to provide other than asking where the bars were, where the women would be, and a look of sheer astonishment when I explained to them the capabilities of the M239-E 30 Millimeter Canon.  That part of the army they never got to touch like I did now.  They were meatheads that got a safe job working on dogs, like themselves.

This is why I was not entirely surprised, first when they entered, and secondly when I heard the broken language coming from the mouth of a girl who had joined them into the room, or been dragged along, whichever the case.  I didn’t know exactly what it was but I knew it to be related to Russian, her accent breaking deeply at the ends of phrases, words hitting the floor along with the bottles everyone was dropping.  I had at that moment been glad that I decided to fold my clothes and place them in the windowsill, fearing that beer was now covering the whole floor.  I couldn’t see too well for the lights being out, and made out like I was asleep.  Never let on that I was awake when they kept saying, “this dude is going to be so pissed,” because really I wasn’t.  I wanted to go back to sleep but I wasn’t going to blame them for being exactly what they were – lost causes.  When I say that sex is a good thing, I mean that it must be and can be if it is genuine, to be learned from.  But this was not their way, it was not a mechanism for transcendence, it was a stage for exhibitionism, as they would surely tell their stories later about the events that unfolded.

It happens this way when you see a man throw a woman he hardly knows onto the bed, skip the foreplay and pound away while his friends crawl around on the floor to get a better look, the one in his undershirt and drawers waddling up behind them and then sticking his hand into the girl’s ass, laughing as it ingests all of his fingers, laughing harder when his friend tells him to back off because his balls are hitting the knuckles, hitting the beer bottles again and spilling again whatever was left in the bottle.  I saw all of this unfold, and briefly thought that if I needed to get laid here it was in front of me.  Pass her off like a whore and go for a ride.  But that’s not me.  I can’t surrender like that.  I need sex like the next man.  But I can pass as long as I am still intact.   Never have I jeopardized my laurels to get laid, and this wouldn’t be the first.  Soon enough he was off her, maybe ten minutes of it, and they laughed themselves to sleep.  I beat them there.

__________________________________________________________

The sun woke me up first.  Soon enough I would’ve risen with the sound of the first beer bottle being kicked around by my roommates, but I was glad to have been coherent before they jumped out of their slumber.  Each had their corner of the room and the girl, still not visible from my angle, was wrapped completely in the blanket she slept in.  Her thong was left on the floor like a greasy used Kleenex, soaked maybe from the sex, maybe from the booze on the floor.  It attracted more attention than it deserved from the soldiers rising out of bed.

“Dude, I totally fisted her ass,” the Mexican one rang out with a laugh.

“I fucking know,” his bro answered.  “I could feel your hand while I was fucking.  It was gross.”

“No, it was hilarious.”

Noticing that I was awake they started to retell the story to themselves, and to me.  Every detail from the bar they were at to walking home to getting in bed to clanking around the glass on the floor to the fisting.  Real exciting stuff.  That’s when, while walking around the room picking up the pieces, they asked if I wanted a piece of ass.  Said it was real easy, just wake her up.

“I don’t even know what she looks like,” I said.

“Fuck, neither do I,” said the one who fucked her.  “She’s Ukrainian, I think.”

For the next ten minutes he and his two friends stood over her and lightly nudged her, saying, “Whore, wake up” and “get out of bed.”  She was about as responsive as a rock, if you actually stood over a rock for ten minutes expecting it to reply.  I encouraged them to check for breathing and sure enough she was alive, but here I began to wonder what might have been involved.  Before my suspicions could dive further we started to hear a groan emerge from beneath the blanket as she slowly started to wake.  When she rolled over she blurted out something in Ukrainian and sat slowly up.  She was surprisingly attractive, short brown hair cropped around the ears, the bosom full and the hips wide enough to be womanly but the legs shapely enough to be fit.  Her eyes were tight and piercing like they come in Ukraine, but her complexion was dark.  She was very attractive.  It meant nothing though as she waddled around pantless and drunk, hair pulled in all directions from a less-than-memorable escapade with these boys.  They proceeded to help her shower and clean up, and soon enough all of them were gone.  It gave me the peace I needed to do some laundry and clean up before this night that I hoped would end not too dissimilarly from there’s, minus of course the fisting.

The morning was waning but the day was still young, noon having just passed when I noticed I had a few missed calls from Matt.  It seemed frantic and distraught, the message left saying “DUDE GET HERE NOW” and I began to wonder what I could be missing.  While I was waiting for the clothes to dry I had smoked a cigarette on the outdoor veranda and could hear the parade taking place.  It seemed to me early for such a thing, and I was getting eager to join the crowd.  I rushed out the laundry that was half dry, using only the dry pieces that I needed, got into costume and began walking in the general direction of the Sternbäck, cigarette in the hand.

The first thing I noticed when I left the hostel was the Turkish vendor setup right outside the door with a cheap, small plastic table selling small bottles of Jaegermeister, that devil drink that doesn’t seem strong at 82 proof but creeps up like the hounds of hell, sweet as cider but as unforgiving as a night in purgatory.  He was all alone on the west side of town there by the train station, a quarter-mile from where the downtown area started, but it meant to me that he was catching the crowd on their way in by selling them wares of necessity – I didn’t stop for him but it meant to me that I would need alcohol, not to lift my own spirits but simply to fit in.  It was only a little past noon and I wasn’t about to seal my fate with the licorice bitch of liquor held in that green bottle.  I was going to the bar.

I got a block down and the music kept growing and I couldn’t believe that the parade had started so near to the north part of town, up near my hostel.  I had figured that it would run from the church in the middle of downtown just a little ways to the square and further to the walking bridge by the river, as it had the day before.  No.  That wasn’t the case.  Today was the day, I thought I had known, but I was still learning.  Wearing my shades in the overcast day I covered my wide eyes that spelled on my face the look of shock at the crowds of thousands of people lining the streets where the cobblestoned roads were packed with parade float after parade float, each of them full of people throwing out bags of candy and waving flags of their city and country, playing music from the sound system that hung on the sides of the car, and driving slowly, carefully to avoid the people that were stumbling drunkly into the street to catch the free sweets tossed about in the air or just to crossover to their friends.  Wanting to stop I had to fight myself, needing to meet my own friend, but all along I thought to myself that it would be impossible to locate anyone I knew amongst this mass of costumed hooligans.  In this moment it occurred to me for the first time what Fasching was – it was fucking Mardi Gras.  Why everyone insisted on calling it Fasching like it was something different blew my mind, and maybe it was because it we liked to think that Mardi Gras was somehow ours and ours alone, and this was just some cheap replication.  But no, that was not the case.  I’d like to believe that this was somehow different, more reserved in its debauchery but equally as large in its compass.  Everyone was participating from the old to the young, the drunk to the sober (though the sober were few), the white to the black, the near to the far, and all had costumes.  How I was going to find my costumed friend, with his phone dying as I was learning after repeated calls, I had no idea.  My feet kept moving because I knew Matt would be near Sternbäck and if he weren’t, well shit, there was beer there.  The objective lay before me and as I walked I saw an unrelenting line of ghouls, ghosts, goblins, pirates, pilots, bunny rabbits, sheep, prisoners, cops, rock stars, athletes, astronauts, and everything under the sun except people.  They were hidden beneath the costumes and the booze that began to gather in the street like running water.

Before long I had reached Sternbäck, or could see it from across the street.  I was met by a buttress of citizens who were gathered on both sides of the road watching the parade go by, there by the end of the street.  Sternbäck was wonderful on most nights for its beautiful location near the river but now I was panicked to think that I wouldn’t be able to cross the street to get there.  Then as I looked I noticed there was no barrier separating the people from the floats, nor was there anyone who cared when a drunkard slipped between the short spaces between vehicles to cross the road.  To just pass quickly through the families and not piss anyone off was all I had between me and the other side and shortly I saw a break, passed through and was on the other side.  Somehow by luck there was not a crowd at the door of the bar, they were in the streets and on the sidewalk and for a minute I thought I could walk in and there would be room to meet my friend and our bartender mates inside.  I was wrong.  The bar was lit up like the two nights previous and it was a sea of sweaty bodies once again, moving like the tide if the moon was hanging only mere miles from the surface, the waves flowing rapidly with the beat of the song from left to right and the only way through made by making enemies and pushing against all will to break toward the bar.  When I got there I quickly ordered up two mugs, not because I found Matt but because I needed to slam them quickly and did so with the determination of making sure to not mess this – this day was going to be fucked, so let’s fuck it.  I dropped the mugs and saw a missed call, heading outside to find my friends.

Standing on the steps of the bar looking out toward the street I knew there was no way to find a pirate in the sea of rapscallions and scallywags so closely designed with no intention to represent each other.  But there we were amongst them all and by sheer luck Matt found me standing alone on the steps like a neon light, the penguin on my shirt glowing amongst the black and blue that gathered on the faces of the people that were bruised from drinking and dancing there in public.  We joined Killian, also a pirate, and his friend Matthew, probably the only person not in costume, there at the side of the bar.  Apparently the plan was to head off to Killian’s girlfriend’s apartment where there would be a party.

“This is a good thing,” Matt said.  “Get the in with her friends.”

He talked sense and we hung out watching the people go by.  Our heads were spinning like a wind catcher during a storm at all the legs that walked by, some in Wonder Woman costumes, some like sheep, some like pirates (there were so many pirates), some in no clothes at all, some in Lego costumes, some in pilot’s flight suits, some in tight leggings and neon shirts, some like angels, some like demons, but all of them suited for a late night pull of the cunt.  God, they were so beautiful, so youthful and wet and begging to be noticed that if you could just approach them and sink your teeth into the lips of the crotch and never mind the cunt hair they would be thankful even if they never got my name.

“I’m waiting for that dare to be great moment,” Matt broke in.

“What went wrong,” I replied.  To this moment I didn’t think him one to miss those.

“She was standing outside the bar just over in a Snow White costume.” He paused to lick his lips as he pointed at the now vacant stairway.  “And in a minute she was gone.  She was blonde, tall, ugh, perfect.  That was it and I missed it.”

“There will be more,” I assured him.

Almost as if on cue a girl in a tight white garter approached Matt and handed him a pair of angel’s wings.

“Hold onto these,” she said.  “So that I may find you again.”

She walked away before he could do anything, but we all got a good laugh from the moment.  Here Matt was holding a pair of angel’s wings given to him by a girl that no one knew, but from the sight of her walking away we would all settle to know for a few minutes, or an hour, or a nighttime.  I wanted to see something funny and got to thinking, the way I always do.

“You don’t need those for her,” I said.  “Save that for your dare to be great moment.”

“What do you mean,” Matt said.

“You find the one you want and tell her, ‘I think you dropped these’.”  Everyone got a good laugh here, repeating the phrase out loud because it was honestly hilarious, but possibly genuine and worth a shot.  While Matt mimicked out the phrase in front of us he broke the wings, and abruptly it was all over.  We were still laughing but the wings were dead.  Some angels never get their wings after all.

With that the four of us headed through the alley to the open space that separate the bar from the small road leading to the more residential area, finding a nice patch of bushes amongst which to take a piss, evacuate the bladder for the first time during a day that would surely be full of vacuous moments such as these.  I zipped up and started laughing hysterically at the murderer from Scream who was break-dancing on the ground next to a boom box.  The madness just kept going on and on and on.  We walked back to the front of the bar and Killian stopped halfway to turn around and point.

“They are arresting people for pissing in public,” he laughed.

Sure enough there was a green van with costumed people in zip-tie handcuffs getting the whatnot about flashing the privates in public.  It’s a funny proposition really, because public urination is not a crime in this country.  But I suppose if the sun is up and the streets are so full that privacy cannot exist, it crosses some kind of line, the bureaucratic kind of line that exists when the lawgivers and law keepers get bored.  As stupid as it seemed I didn’t wait to find out where we stood in this margin.

“What did you stop for,” I begged.  “They could’ve seen us, keep walking.”

Matt was on my side and we grabbed them to continue on.  It was exceptionally funny when we got back to the bar and saw a guy in a rabbit costume pissing right on the corner of the building, nowhere near to hiding himself at all, and it went on and on and on and on like he had been holding it all day, the poor guy.  It was one of those minutes long evacuations that never seems to end and maybe because it took so long his friend eventually came over to catch him and drag him away with his cock still out.  Carry on, rabbit man.

“Should we head to the party,” Matt inquired.

“Maybe one more drink and then we go,” Killian said.  “There are not many people there yet.”

That was argument enough to convince us to stay a bit longer.  The parade continued to drag on and it was made apparent to me that Sternbäck had a beer cart out near the street from which we could grab whatever drink we wanted for free, it being Killian’s own and all.  A round of Hefeweisens and shots for everyone.  I’m never the one to take advantage and paid off the beers.  Killian said I was good after that, and I felt like I had shown him one of those kind moments that humans have, and in return he provided the okay to drink freely.  Shortly after the shots we were approached by the most stunning little thing dress in black sheep’s clothing, an almost ironic choice of attire for the darling with long black hair pulled back behind her face with structured cheeks and sharp blue eyes.  She said a few things to Killian and despite Matt’s attempt to get her attention walked away to her friends.  I think it was the high-five Matt gave her.  I can never tell if he goes overboard with the high-five, or if it works despite all its pastiche.  In the end it’s an icebreaker like any other and it got her attention more than my silent ogling.  Still though, this one walked away.  The pretty ones always do.  Killian went on to tell us her name was Catherine and that she he “almost made her his girlfriend,” said with the kind of regret a man has when he misses his chance.  With the way her legs dropped from her waist to the floor I couldn’t blame him for thinking it.  We all wanted to make her something of ours, or just to make her.  With the pause in conversation though I was told there was a latrine down the stairs on the other side of the cart that would make for a better urination than risking arrest.  It was also made aware to us that there were a few girls down there handing out blowjobs like the candy being tossed from the parade floats and for this reason we agreed to go down, to the latrines in hopes of going down on someone, or some thing if such whores were not human.

Matt took off with a sprint and started climbing poles and bikes and shoulders like Batman to get down there while I stared into the crowd waiting for a gap to open up.  I ducked left and then right and before hitting the opening, standing behind a man in front of me blocking my path, I saw over his shoulder a face I recognized.  I didn’t immediately put a name to it, but neither could I look away from the sweet chubbed face under the blonde hair.  Her eyes were cheerful and they grew more bright when I heard her say, after a moments staring into mine, “It’s Tom!”  Oh, fuck, I thought.  I was beat to the punch.  And from over the other shoulder of this man that stood in front of me peered the dark, brown eyes of Sophia, colored like Madonna from the 80’s, hair in pigtails, and body draped in white like a virgin’s soul.  Oh, fuck, I thought again.

It was one part awkward and one part joy.

In the back of my mind I had been wondering if I were going to run into her, mostly because I knew she would be an easy lay if I couldn’t find anything else.  But after neglecting to so much as call her it seemed to me more rude than anything else were I to run into her unannounced as I had.  She quickly came around the obstacle and stepped in front of me.

“Oh my, how are you,” she asked with a warm tone.

“I’m trying to make sense of all of this,” I said.  “I’ve been here for three days now and am having the time of my life with it.”  I thought it rude to explain how little I cared to call her and decided that this conversation might be the trigger I needed to secure a lay if the night fell through.  “It’s a wonder running into you though, good to see you.”  Not the best, but it worked well enough.

“I know, how wonderful,” she said.  “Who are you here with?”

“Matt,” I said.  “You met him some weeks ago right before New Year’s.”  I tried to point to him but he was downstairs looking for a score.  To say it that way when talking about a sub-level bathroom sounds like a cocaine race, but upon second observation the chance for tail down there was just as likely.

“I don’t remember him,” she drabbled on.

“We were here with Killian then,” and as I tried to further explain Killian himself walked up.  The two had met between myself when I was last here and again I was in the middle of the reuniting.  They drifted off into a speech of German that I could not follow, no longer trying to learn the language that would take more time than a life’s work of studying.  I stood there wondering whether or not to beat it quickly to the latrine while they spoke but Killian walked away almost as quickly as the thought crossed my mind, and again Sophia was in front of me, up close so as to pin me like the lion she is.  She has a strong spirit, killer instincts like the king of the jungle, and I could see she was not put off that I hadn’t called her since the last time we fucked.  Genuine interest seeped from each word she spoke and the questions kept coming.

“How do you know Killian,” she asked.  They went to high school together.  “We went to high school together.”

“Yes, I remember,” I said, nearly rolling my eyes.  Am I the only one that doesn’t forget things?  “Met him through Matt here a few weeks back.  You were with me.”

“Hmmmm,” she buzzed.  Maybe it was a game.  I didn’t play games.

“We’re going to a party soon, but I’ll let you know where I’m at,” I offered.  “Maybe we can meet up later.”

It was best to end it this way.  Without having spoken to her in awhile, without having called her while I was there, and without having made once to mention what I was up to would take too much explaining, and knowing that she couldn’t stand to be left in the dark I told her that she’d find out later if she cared to ask sweetly; that is, to ask with her cunt.  After sleeping with a girl a few times over the course of a couple months with no conversation in between, the arrangement made itself obvious to both parties.  She smiled as I said those last words and I knew it was just a call away, later, maybe, when no other cunt could be had.  She wasn’t a whore, but I knew her to be human like us all – she just needed a good lay once in a while.

After making my way downstairs finally to relieve my bladder we reconvened at the beer cart, the four of us standing there with another drink in our hands and the ones not named Killian eager to join the party.  Matt, Matthew, and myself had this idea that girls begat girls begat girls and everyone would get their screw in if we could just get there.  But as we watched Killian’s behavior, and once again heard him say “one more drink” we knew he was delaying.  Really, I didn’t care much either way.  The parade had ended just minutes before and the people weren’t going anywhere – they were just occupied now with kicking around the glass bottles that filled up the streets, drinking quickly to make it rise like flood waters.  All around me, amongst the broken glass, the insistent chatter of drunks, the buildings that gathered stories for when the walls would talk, there still stood thousands of people cheering, hooting, hollering for someone or anyone to give them a minute of their time and eventually see which thing would fall between their legs.  There were too many pairs of silky smooth ones for me to choose and I didn’t care now if we were at the party, in the streets, in a club, or on the moon.  The shots, which we had had a plenty few more of, were starting to make their way into my conscious, and the beer was sipping away the sobriety.  We kept bullshitting there in the street when the snow began to fall.

For the whole month before, end of January to this week at a total of about four weeks, the weather hadn’t jumped over freezing once and sat for most of the time around 5˚ Fahrenheit for most of three weeks, a hard chill even with the lack of snow on the ground.  About seven days before it had broken the freezing threshold and again we were treated with something near 45˚ for a few days, which let me believe it was rescinding rapidly.  But here, in the overcast grey of the clouds that covered the sky and hid the sun behind a drape of water began to fall first little droplets of water and then ice and then snow that whipped about in the air like a smoke blown from a pipe.  It wasn’t immediately surprising, what with the winds so high all day, that snow should form in the clouds during the day, but surreal and fantastic in a storybook kind of way.  For all the things that could teach me that I was truly on the other side of the planet, for all the objects and streets and buildings and trains and fortresses and castles that could show me what Europe looked like, for all the languages that were spoken and the food that was eaten and for all the rivers that lined the trees that lined the roads that lined the walls of the churches that sat atop the hills that overlooked the city that could in no greater way place before me a portrait of a country that was not mine, for all the times I struggled to put together the signs in Deutsch that meant nothing to my feeble mind, for all the women that wore their dresses and high heels on a normal day and not just when they were going out but because it was the way to do things, for all the ways that people drank beer here without cessation but never with excess, for all the little cars that lined the sidewalks next to the apartments, and for all the history that punched me in the face on every corner, sticking out like Halloween on Christmas, I had yet to have that phantasmal moment where I knew once and for certain that I was not in Kansas anymore.  No, for the first time I knew I was somewhere else.  Away from everything that was predictable and repeated and cloned and sad and boring and lacking the color of life, so here I could feel it on the skin and watch it fall from the goddamned sky.  It was in the water that made the snow and the wind that sat it down quietly like a feather dropped from a soaring eagle, it was tender to the touch but carried with it the weight of a wrecking ball to the mind – goddamnit here I was in southern Germany with people I hardly knew having the best time of my life doing nothing more than drinking, drinking heavily, grabbing ass and blowing kisses while wearing costumes and thinking nothing more than of who I wanted to fuck in the corners, to be someone else behind the shades and the think not of the problems of the world or the sadness that welled beneath us all like a reservoir but to focus on the visceral actions that exist when a man meets a woman and within minutes know what lies ahead, to act upon it, and to all the while share that kind of excitement that two people have when they know they are together even just for a day, one with the other and nothing more than important the music that will make them dance, the laughs that will spill from their mouths, the drinks that will keep them warm and the night that would put them together.  The snow continued to fall and I stared up into the grey sky, not feeling at all the cold chill that enveloped us all, barely clothed in our costumes but warm from the excitement that even in the fucking air was telling us we didn’t know what was coming next.  The sun was still up, the drinks were still free, the women were still loose, and the snow continued to fall.  It must’ve looked like something out of a movie, the way no one was bothered at all by the streetcars that drove by sucking up trash into their mobile receptacles, or the glass that broke beneath their feet with each step, or the growing need for warmth as the snow melted to water that cooled with the breeze that continued to get strong.  It felt real.  It felt cold.  It pierced to the spine of the soul, it made one aware of his surroundings and our surroundings were not of this earth, were not human.  What was being conducted here in the streets said nothing for the Renaissance of man and instead spoke highly for the coming days of tribulation.  Seven years of trial! Who will come before the judge to spread your legs wide and take all elements of poking and prodding to feel real?  Who will risk your welfare to step into the never-ending snowfalls for just a minutes worth of pleasure?  Who will forsake eternity for the chance at a fuck?  We all said we would.  Sign us up.  And the bartender poured another drink.

This euphoria shrouded me for so long that I hadn’t noticed my friends eating something resembling a pizza, gnawing away frantically at a hunger that came from a whole weekend’s worth of drinking accomplished in a mere few hours.  It dawned on me that I had yet to eat, and realized that I wasn’t much hungry still; the alcohol probably had more than filled my stomach and made no room for food.  I’d get my carbs and protein from the darker beers and hope they held off the kind of drunken stupor that often follows the path I was walking down.  Killian pointed down an alleyway, suggesting we follow him to a döner stand where we could eat.  Out of spite I counter-suggested that we take a shot first.  “But of course!” he shouted, and there we all were once again holding our seventh or eighth shot of Jaegermeister, the one cold bitch I promised not to betroth ever again.  The bitches we want least always seem to find a way back, if only for one last stab of the heart.  The snow was still falling as we knocked the shots back and Matt, now catching up to my rapture, shouted out loud to no one, “This must be recorded!”  I slapped him on the back and just smiled to myself.  He continued to scream, “Only the elements of literature can properly preserve this weekend!”

“Oh, it will have its place,” I said.

“Only the history books can hold this day together forever!” he continued.

“I’m already working on it,” I said, as he looked at me, catching on now.  “It’s going to be called ‘Everyone’s Wearing Costumes’.”

“I’m counting on you for this,” he said, snapping back to the reality that I was as sure of writing it as he was of having the time of his life, and as sure as he was learning to accept that I’m as strange and odd as I sometimes can lend to be.  He knew I was thinking too much all the time, even for someone that knew me very little and for only a short time.  I never could figure out if it was as marked of me as the color of my skin or that I wanted to be known that way, but it was always obvious in just that fashion.  The things I did, the words I used, the grins on my face, the way I watched the masses move, they all added up to a man stuck between swimming in the sewage and climbing in the trees, both equally savage but only one with a vantage point by which to watch the other.  The sheer fact that I had in place the title and the elements by which it would be centered should account for some kind of madness, the story not even yet complete but the work already in place.  I guess it’s like life in that way – if we wait until it’s over to start making sense of it we’ve failed to do anything sensible.  It would be about the costumes and eventually my behavior, our behavior, the way we were all masking something from someone.  But in this moment I was masking nothing, letting him know that despite the way I looked and drank at the moment that I was still the writer underneath.  Matt here recognized that my spirit was still high, that maybe I could still be of some use in the world down below where the only one’s to find their trophies were the ones who made a mockery of themselves because they didn’t exist, just the idea of them existed.  I too often like to think that I exist in this world, and so choose to make it better with my lofty ideas, and here I wanted him to know that I was capable of both.  It’s unfortunate that sitting here now it’s been three weeks since that day, but the words always find their way to the page when the meaning is meant to be shed.

The movement of feet got the heart racing and the blood pumping and I knew the alcohol was flooding in when the next hour seemed like minutes.  We finally found that döner stand and I stepped in to eat half of one, as much as I could take, for the caverns of my body were as full as the Cask of Amontillado, ripe with enough wine and spirits to drown any man behind the bricks of the life he’s created.  Somehow in the blur of eating a döner, which I paid for with the ten euro bill that someone handed me thinking I had dropped, and trying to drink a beer on a near run’s pace in the falling snow-turned-ice-turned-rain, we ended up at the door of a club that I thought near my hostel, for whatever reason that might turn advantageous.  My memory in finding it seems pervasive as we enter into the dark inside, but I trust my internal compass when it says I’m across the street in the shopping area immediately from the train station.

Walking in I immediately recognized that this club would be the like from last night, and the one from the night before, and the one from when I was in college and the one from when I was right out of school and in high school and back in Austin and in Austin for the first time and when visiting Los Angeles or living in Hampton or like all other bars across the earth, all the same.  But finally, maybe from the drunk, maybe from the impressed acknowledgement that this would be my last night, maybe from the costume that hid the man beneath, I had nothing to fear and for the first time began to have a good time in a place that heretofore I had never once enjoyed, returned to, or wished for more.

“Primal?” I said to Matt as we entered.  The rooms were backlight with a low read light, which got even lower in my eyes behind the shades.  Something about wearing shades inside did not seem any more ridiculous than anything else that had or could happen on this Sunday.  The walkway led up to the bar, lengthways on the right with the dance floor of equal proportion to the left.  If you walked to the end of the bar and took a left to come back where you entered you’d discover a whole ‘nother room, with its own bar, but we didn’t make it that far before Killian looked back at us from the middle of the bar and waved for us to follow him, the way people do when they are walking one direction and turned facing the other.  It signaled to us, without any misinterpretation, that we needed to get back there.

Through the segregation of the bar we passed a chain and entered a draped room, long and narrow to both sides and easily recognizable as what once was a kitchen is now used to store kegs and racks of bottled beer, stacked high in the corners at both ends with the old stoves and ovens and refrigerators lining the walkway in the middle.  There were about ten other young men and women in the room, each seated or propped up against some piece of industrial cookware, most all of them smoking.  Smoking what, I’m not too certain, and not too interested.  But the idea of a cigarette to calm this madness was tantalizing and quickly the fumes were burning in my hand.  We were invited as friends of Killian to drop our coats above an old closet, where they were safer, and then handed a beer.  Turns out everyone knows Killian and its good to be one of those people.

Having no one in particular to speak to beside ourselves Matt turned to me and said, “Can you believe the sun is still up?”

“You couldn’t tell by the darkness in here,” I replied.

“And that I’m as drunk as I should be at midnight,” he said.

When the cigarettes were done we exited the room and went back into the bar.  Finally in a groove, finally no longer caring, finally saying if this were to be the place, if this were to be the day, if this were to be night, the time, the hour, this were to be it, I had to do it.  Fuck all the things I knew and didn’t know, wanted and didn’t want, needed and didn’t need, the searching for something deeper, more affable to the wandering mind and more genial to the searching soul, fuck the things that allowed me to distance myself from the rats at the bottom of the sewer and swim with them, we’re all rats, “it’s primal,” it’s the way of the people and the people hold the vote these days, they have the voice, not for the pursuit of government and economy but for culture that is windswept with the cries for more primordial ooze, the cries for more freedom that allows for no progress, consumption only of the wicked, the bile, the animalistic, the foul…  These words are so strong for something that is spread across the earth, and I wonder now, and again, why these things seem forbidden?  Why am I so contrived to believe that these things are not for me in the same way that they are not for the pure, that by searching from some enlargement of the soul in a Socratic way that I am not much different from the believers who curse the same activity for a wholly opposite reason, that our actions are different by intent?  Surely neither religion nor philosophy has saved the world from itself and the only answers that exist can be found in the world’s world, of the people’s people, if we are to know something about the way things work we have to watch the way things work.  Discussions of higher things real and unreal do not lead to the goal of the night and the prize of the hour, the pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth when two people meet in the hay, when two people fall hand over heels for each other and never learn their names but instead study the folds of the skin that rolls from the waist to the crotch and further down to the feet where they will land the next morning happily after retrieving that end.  It’s what we all want.  The animal beneath the costume knows.

It was with that feeling that I started making my rounds through the dance floor, like some maniac without a head manifesting thoughts from his cock.  The lights were low enough and the mood high enough that no one seemed to care.  The part in the movie where everyone throws their hands in the air and just begins gyrating back and forth to the pulse of the beat, not caring if the roof were set on fire and the water rained down from the sprinklers, touching bodies as I slithered through the crowd like a serpent, hearing this voice and seeing that face and finding not at the moment any particular interest of my own, mostly because everything was black as night through the shades that I never removed.  It was as if they created for me a shield by which I couldn’t even see my own self, the partition to the mind of the saint I thought was inside, I could no longer care or touch or feel like who I thought I was and became for the moment my inner self, my animal ego.  Cunning like a fox, with the movements of the paws as dancelike as the red-furred coon that jumped and hopped through the forests scavenging for a nut, with equal movements up in the air and across the land, smooth with the instinct of a lifetime of repetition.  But like the fox also I had to put my sights on all the land, capture the environ to make my plan of attack and see where the sustenance could be found, the food of life that keeps the heart pumping with blood, the lungs full with air, the bones nice and strong, the pushing out the red blood cells rich with oxygen to hydrate the muscles that put the whole skeletal body in motion, and forging ahead without stopping to think for even a second about what’s happening because the instinct has taken over, the smell of cunt was in the air and the parts moved like a specter through the air to haunt the present tense until someone screamed “YES!”

While getting my bearings straight I discovered a door that lead outside and wondered what marvels there were through the door, if I now felt comfortable in a skin and environ that wasn’t mine it surely would be a dream to take that bliss into a space I called my own.  Outside it was bright with two flood lamps lighting the patio, half of it covered with a tarp, groups of guys and girls gathered around smoking cigarettes and saying sweet nothings that I couldn’t decipher.  I propped myself up in between two groups and lit my square, sucking in the fumes to get my fix.  It wasn’t even a minute passed when I heard a voice in my ear.

“Your… costume,” I head a stuttering woman’s voice say.  The accent let me know she was struggling to communicate not for excess of alcohol for lack of English comprehension.  “It is sexy.  I… want to… fuck you.”

And there it was.

“We can make that happen,” I said as I grabbed her by the ass and slid my hand down the cheeks, inside the tight fitting leggings and under the crotch until my hands found the wet spot.  I fingered her there as we stood amongst the crowd, some noticing and others oblivious, telling her the things I wanted to do to her.

“Let’s get out of here and I’ll make you cum,” I said, pulling her behind me with my hands still sunk in between her legs.  We made it to the bar where I ordered us both drinks, making our way to the dance floor to focus less on dancing and more on the insides of all her orifices, exploring the mouth with my tongue like a tick searching for bacteria, crawling with 20 pairs legs to feel each nanometer of the gums and teeth and tonsils to the back of the throat, warm and moist enough like the cunt that was open for my hand, fingers whirling around like an egg beater and creating the same kind of moist dough in a mixing pot as I was in her gash.  She responded by going at the cock like she was drying a towel, wringing it with one hand until it was dry.  Back and forth on the erection in my pants, no one seeing anything for the darkness, for the booze colored filters we all looked through, but me and her feeling every bit of the almost-fuck that was going on.  It carried on this way and I thought myself to leave, whether by boredom or by wanting to leave her wanting more, let her on and go my way.  I was getting my jollies but I wanted something more, needed something with more promise.  This whore might provide that but the way she gave me a tug on the floor left me with the impression that that was all I would get.  I walked away immediately and went through the chain to the kitchen, not stopping to get anyone’s approval and just walking back like I owned the place.

Once back there I grabbed another beer without asking.  It felt privileged to be able to run amok this foreign land, grabbing, stealing, cahooting and cavorting about like I had done this a hundred times and was the king of the castle while all the peasants were out in the room still paying for their drinks and salivating at the chance of a hookup.  Upon making another round through the club I discovered Matt, alone in the corner with a dark, round faced woman, short a slim with all the features of a Romanian.  “This is Bianca,” he said, and I cordially shook her hand.  It was best to leave him off and went my own way again through the bar, assuring him again with a wave that I’d be all right, he needed to do his thing.  The cunty whore that I had hogtied with my fingers earlier was passing by with another man rapid-like, near the door outside, leading him on probably to the filthy bathroom stalls for a screw and as she saw me walk by she leaned up and kissed me on the lips, like it was something sensual and romantic and not coming from the mouth of a whore.  Probably just got the mouth syphilis, who knows.  I ignored it and walked outside for a cigarette, to see if the landscape had changed or the grass had grown any greener.

Not as soon as I had stepped outside had I reached into my pocket to discover that my phone had a message from Sophia, trying to figure out where I was.  By now the sun had gone down and I saw that it was only 9pm.  Actually she didn’t seem to care where I was – it read “Can you be at my place in 15 minutes?”  The point was clear, the message right and the intent was enough to guarantee me that I could get what I needed, what I wanted – a red-handed slough with a trick.  Knowing that the night was young and the need was pressing, I had the first truly nasty thought I had had in a long while – I could score Sophia for a few hours and still return to find this girl that I had thrown around like a loose piece of meat.  First I had to find her here and make sure that I could harangue her in a bit when the time was right.

She was on the dance floor by herself now and I moved right in.  Before I could speak she hopped up to seat her ass on the bar that separated the rooms and brought me into her, slipped right in between her meaty thighs that wrapped around my waist.  Losing track of what I was doing I dropped my fingers again into her cunt pulling the pants down below the waist and working up a nice stew in between her legs, letting her return by grabbing the seat of my pants and asking for the cock to drop in, but I wouldn’t do it.

“I need your number,” I said to her.  Pulled out the phone and let her key in the numbers.  “I’m going to call you later,” and turned to walk away.  Before I could out of her legs she grabbed ahold of me with them and tried to pull me back in, and when I unhooked my fingers from her slit she got the message.  At this she pushed me away and grabbed the nearest male figure and brought him in the same.  His look of surprise was priceless, expecting maybe for me to return with blows, but instead I only said in his ear, “She’s a catch, isn’t she?” and tapped him on the shoulder to reassure him he was getting exactly what came to him for standing there.

Sophia was reassured that I could be there in 15 minutes, and for all my weary headed thinking I thought I could too.  Her apartment was just across the main highway bridge less than a quarter-mile from the train station, where I thought the bar was.  I was mostly right and found my way across the street begin my walk over the river.  It was eerily quiet as I made my path along the walkway near to the few cars that drove by.  There didn’t seem to be many people out at this time and I chalked it up to the running out of a day that started way before it should’ve, if by should’ve we mean that we want to stay out until 5am and needed to better pace our alcohol intake to achieve this end.  No sounds, not many lights, few vehicles, fewer opportunities to something stupid.  I took a second to gather in the sight below me as the chunks of frozen ice continued to flow down the river from end to another, thawing slowly out of the freeze that let the river once again run like a… well, a river I suppose, making its way to the power plant.  The apartments were setup like any other modern complex where the buildings rose high with the likewise number of tenants.  Nothing special, but it was a roof over a head.  I found the building and made my way to the top where her flat was located, knocking gingerly on the door so as not to wake anyone.

She opened it, wearing only her nightclothes, and said “Hello.”  I thought it was funny and instead brought my hands to her face, clutching the back of her head and bringing her in for a kiss.  We moved together like that down the hallway and into her room where I kicked the door closed and threw on the bed.  Without any more words we moved as if we were talking the whole time.  She down on her back and I in between her open legs, running my hands up and down her sides and along the grooves of her large ass, seating them comfortably behind the cheeks and squeezing like I was juicing an orange, but instead juicing a cunt.  Juicy, juicy.  She was more than ready to receive me but I held it off, instead grabbing at the pants and ripping them down below her waist and off past her feet, not even wearing panties, and stuffed my face down in her crouch, lapping at the lips of her vagina like a dogs laps water, up and down with big huge movements getting the water to come and sucking hard to make her moan, around and around it went until she was ready to burst.  I saw her arch backward with an audible grunt that she had come and watched her make the the motion of rolling over, pulling on my hair to pull me up to her, kissing her on the lips with the stain of her orgasms still on my lips and face.  She sat up and pushed me down backwards where my legs stuck out, beginning to rip at my clothes like a thief digging through a chest of robes looking for the jewels at the bottom, finding my cock finally unveiled and sinking it deep to the back of her throat.  As I stroked her hair she moved up and down with her head to stimulate my prick, and this time I learned that she had gotten better with given head.  The last time I was here some six weeks ago I grimaced as she literally sunk her teeth into the tip of my cock, asking her to stop after just a few minutes, “I’m ready to fuck,” I had said then, but knew that something else was up.  Now she worked it like a seasoned veteran, the right amount of pull and tug, using the hand to work the balls underneath, going at it with a hunger of a thousand-year’s starvation.  She looked up, “I can’t take it anymore,” she said, and hopped on top guiding the cock with her hand into her cavity, riding on top and working the hips back and forth.  Her eyes closed as she put her hands behind her head to twirl her hair about, not because she was distracted, she was consumed by the feeling of my prick inside of her.  The bitch needed this badly and was getting exactly what she wanted.  We worked like that back and forth, sometimes her moving forward and back and other times I would lift her up by her ass so that she was squatted above me and there I would rise with my hips up and down, sliding in and out of like greased pipe in a bowl of Jell-O, the pieces fitting together too well for it to be human, romantic, on purpose, this passion was severe and severed from any kind of emotional other than the one’s relevant to getting in a fuck, the only thing on mind.

She came in that position, vibrating on top of me, shaking like a bolt of lightning, and pausing to catch her breath.  Immediately I threw her down and got on top.  The juices from the orgasm made her walls seem like the sucking wall of a whirlpool, the dense feeling of the flesh lost to the cool sensation of the water that pulled inward toward the womb, a rush of wet coolness and not the sticky warmness of a woman’s innermost cavity.  Lift up and lay over and in and out of her, I’m not even sure she was aware there was a human being on top of her, if I can be called one, she probably thought only of the touch of fireworks in her cunt, ravished by the electricity of a thousand bolts to a cadaver replenished with life, unable at first to comprehend the simplest of computations, the mildest of pain, the wonderings the knowledged man who walks the streets aware he alive and loaded with the problems of the human condition, this cadaver needing only in this moment to know that its flesh once again moves, it heart once again beats and it spirit is lifted, sucked into the flesh of the body as it emerges from the womb of the soul, the last thing to flitter the eyes because its incapable mind must square its thoughts completely on the nerves that run shock through the appendages and the torso and back to the head again, eyes closed in the rush of the to the head that swells when the nerves bolt the brain with too much to handle, too many feelings at once and the eyes shut out so that it can think only of what is going on inside.  I was inside, I was penetrating her soul, not because we connected but because she was revealing something about herself.  I could see it on her face.

She sent a few more orgasms out of her slit and, because it’s her favorite position, she got back on top.  Slowly she started to roll the hips again and there again it was – I looked down at the place where the crotches met and saw blood seeping from her, down onto my cock and spreading across my pubic region.  The surprise I got from the first time her womb dropped all over me, back three months ago, mostly prepared me this [https://allofasuddenly.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/the-horror/].  But I don’t think there’s any way to be prepared for a girl to bleed out on your cock.  In any case I met it with the biggest amount of humor I conjure.

“Sophia,” I broke the silence.  “Are you near to your period?”

“No, why do you ask?”

I could only look down at her gash, in a way that meant for her eyes to follow mine.

“Not again,” she moaned, as the terror spread across her face.

When she got off of me I just went through the motions to clean myself, and as I got up to open the door I started laughing hysterically, the comedy was just too much.  Here I was trying to get my dick wet, with a woman that I knew well and found attractive, but every time I give her another chance she bleeds all me.  I feel bad for her.  How many men has she lost because her cunt decides to split open each time they fuck?  She tried to say something to me about her roommates being home, but I wasn’t listening.  I just tore across the hallway still erect and covered in blood, laughing.  Behind me I could her shutting the door to her room, and I entered the bathroom to wash my cock and legs, dispose of the condom, and make sure I was clean.  When the red was gone from my skin I walked with a limping cock back into her room, she was standing in a robe by the window smoking a cigarette.  I started laughing again.  Her one hand with the cigarette was out the window and her other arm was hanging onto the opposite shoulder draped across her chest.  For someone to look to beaten, so defeated, and so confused, it was not the most warm welcome to be laughed at.

The whole thing unfolded so quickly that I couldn’t even think of what to do.  I wanted to leave immediately and search after that whore from before, but I was still naked and in the presence of a girl who, also nude, would suck and fuck.  I just sat down on the bed, dick going slowly limp, and chuckled to myself, still unable to make out what to do.  Sophia rolled over and spooned up next to me, her breasts lying against my skin, not saying a word.

It was unlikely that anything would come from this more, I thought, but I wasn’t in the mood to stop – not today, not on the day I didn’t think before acting.  I rolled to her side where she would be below me and started working again at her with my fingers, thinking that the bleeding wasn’t so bad and if it the plowing were soft enough, maybe it wouldn’t happen again.  As I worked the fingers inside and out of her, she started to warm from the touch, arousing the swirling motion I was making between her legs, and like a remote control pet she started purring with the touch of the right buttons, sat up and put me inside her mouth.  The game played on like this for a few minutes, she stuffing her face on my crotch while I diddled her pink lips.  I was hoping she’d warm up to the idea of another screw but her moans turned to groans and soon enough, “I just don’t think I can do it again.”

“Well, where can I go,” I said, frustrated that my cock was up and bluing with the tease.  I stood up and held her face to follow my hands, ending up at my cock, standing over her while she sat on the bed and continued gargle down.  It was the most wonderful thing, to stand over a woman like that, and have them eat away you.  I don’t want to say it’s because it’s powerful, or demands something of a woman much like a slave, but I can’t quite put words to the feeling.  In any case I hadn’t had a woman swallow me whole and take a load to the mouth in a very long time, and I was enjoying the way her tongue tickled the base of my cock.  Then…

“Don’t cum in my mouth,” she laid.

I laughed.

Laughed hysterically out loud, because at this moment it seemed like no thing could go my way, no thing could get any worse, even though it wasn’t that bad.  It was a failed attempt all weekend, in some respects most of them sexual, and to have come close and have it ruined was in no way worth anything more than laughter.

“You can leave,” she said.  The tone wasn’t demanding, more like a congenial apology on her behalf.  I supposed being laughed at after bleeding from your vagina isn’t the best feeling in the world.

“What do you want me to do, really,” I asked rhetorically.  “You alright?”

“I’m fine.  There’s no need to talk about it.  Really you can leave.”  This time it was more of a suggestion, not a release.

I started chuckling a little before speaking.  It was only 11pm and here I was being ushered out of her apartment, as I wanted originally, without having done anything.  I wouldn’t even come out of this as the bad guy.  But somewhere inside of this sack of bones emerged the soul that genuinely cares.  I wouldn’t stay, but I couldn’t leave her broken.

“Is there anything I can do for you,” I asked.  She didn’t answer.  Since the first time with her, with the first bleeding, seeing the family photos when I left then, knowing that she had lost a long-term relationship recently, that she was living now in a different life than she had ever before, I knew enough to guess something major with her was wrong.  She tried desperately to fuck it away, using the sex to distract the mind, and still her body tortured her.

“Let me tell you a story,” I said.  She tried to say something, but didn’t know where I was going with this.  Neither did I.

“The whole time I was growing up I knew I was going to the university, just knew that I would come out and make something of myself,” I started.  Oh boy.  “There lived inside me some grand determination, some indefinable spirit that told me to do whatever I wanted, and I did.”

“I’m not sure why you’re saying this,” she broke in.

“I got out, I had a girl that would become my wife, and I had my career.  And then I went and fucked it all away.”  My hands started flying through the air as I spoke, getting dressed all the while, tying my shoes, etc., with the discursive passion of a maniac.  “I had it all.  And then it was gone.  And in spite of all the things that have gone wrong, that passion inside of me to achieve great things still exists, and has only grown.  It’s as if I will impact the world in more ways than Christ on the cross!”

We started laughing together.  Myself with insanity, her at my insanity.

“You are crazy!” she shouted, as if to push me out the door with her words.

“And no matter that feeling, no matter how many days go by that I have yet to seize that ambition, I have to live with it!  I am tortured by the spirit of my self that I cannot define, but I do not want to change!  If it weren’t for that ambition and that reckless identity I would not even be here, here in Germany, and living my without abandon.”

She threw out her cigarette and began demanding there that I leave.

“Do not let whatever is torturing you,” I said, “do not let that ghost haunt you.  Or you’ll be dead for as long as you live.”

When we reached the door I turned around to grab her in my arms and kiss her deeply on the lips.  She didn’t pull away, and when it was thoroughly impressed upon her, I turned around to leave.  Down the stairs I went and back after that cunt from the club that I didn’t even have a name for.

There was frost on the cars as I walked alone down the sidewalks.  I took a different path back downtown, along the river to the footbridge instead of across and down by the businesses.  There was a quaint little walking park on this side, saddled with trees, and for only a few minutes past 11pm there was no one beside myself.  It was beginning to dawn on me that the night would be ending quickly, if it hadn’t already.  I took the time to walk casually and smoke a cigarette, mostly because it was below freezing by now and my blazer wasn’t going to cut it any longer.  The alcohol was wearing off, the hunger setting in, and I needed either a beer or a woman.

After making it across the footbridge I recognized a large pirate hat walking in my direction, and the silhouette had with it the figure of a small woman by the arm.

“You filthy whore!” I shouted.

“Who did you expect,” Matt said back, as we got closer.  “This is Bianca.  Did you already meet Bianca?”

“Yes, yes, back at the club.  You know what’s still going on anywhere?”

“No, it’s all kind of dying.”

“I can tell.  Probably going to grab a beer somewhere.  There’s a salacious whore back at that last club I’m looking for.”

“Ludwig?  Mostly busted up now.”

“Whatever, I’ll find something.  Y’all can go your way.”

“Catching a cab now.”

“If I don’t see you tomorrow you can read about it when I’m done.”

I walked over to Sternbäck since it was right up the street from the bridge and walked in, hoping for the best.  From the outside the music was still blaring, but inside remained only remnants of the day’s lot.  There were about 20-30 people dancing drunkly throughout the bar, but most of them were not single 20-to-30-somethings, the object, the desire.  Slammed a beer and began on foot looking for Ludwig, as it was apparently called.  I passed through the downtown on a mission, looking for that piece of gold that might be present.  But when I got to the approximate location of where I remembered and thought it to be, I saw no signs of life, or signs of any kind.  Not even business signs.  I remember distinctly not seeing any nomenclature outside representing a club when we first entered, but now, with most of the people gone, nearly all of the people gone, there was no way to know which unmarked door was the interest.  I heard no loud music coming from anywhere, and decided to get somewhere, anywhere with a shot.  Start over and see what happens.  I began to walk back to the hostel and started to hear loud music emanating from a glass-walled building I could see from a couple yards out.  It was located just across the street from my hostel and I thought to myself that this might be the shot I was looking for.

When I got to the door I could see that about 40 people were jammed inside of the single room that was about 20 feet by 20 feet in space, all of the drinking and talking wildly while the DJ spun Deadmau5’s “Ghoast’s ‘N Stuff,” a recognizable tune that at the moment I didn’t want to take.  It was great house electronic, but played so loudly there was no way to talk to anyone here.  And no one was dancing, so there wasn’t that do even.  As I turned from the floor back to the bar I ordered up a hefeweisen from a shirtless male about my age.  Whatever, I thought, it was hot in there, and it was Fasching.  But then, like a vulture swooping in for prey, another taller shirtless male raced in through the doorway, behind the bar, and pounced on the bartender, the two of them rolling to the floor locked at the lips, the sweat from their bodies sticking to the mixture of carpet and tile.  They rolled there for a good three minutes like a dog-pile in a football game, almost as violently, and I’m sure from the scene they were happy to finally be together, despite however long they were apart.  It was close to the most romantic thing that happened all weekend anywhere in town, but it wasn’t for me.  I slammed the mug back and walked across the street without even checking the traffic lights.  Within minutes I was in my bed, undressed, and sleeping.

At least I thought.  I was fully clothed and lying on top of the mattress sheets when I woke up.  I had a new roommate and hoped I didn’t wake her when I came in last night.  I shuffled through my memory, which didn’t work, but opened up my phone to discover I had dialed a mystery number.  Must’ve been the girl from the club.  Wished I thought of that earlier when the night was still mostly young, or right after I left Sophia’s.  I also wished that I had eaten yesterday.  Half a döner?  I think that’s all I had.  It felt like the truth in the pit of stomach anyway.  That dry, just waking up feeling that you get when you’re hung over was engulfing my entire body and mind and I didn’t even care to secure my things before taking a shower.  Just stripped right down there in the middle of the room and walked out with nothing but a towel around me.  Didn’t care who saw, I think no one did.

When the cleaning was done I checked out of the hostel and walked outside to light a cigarette.  Extreme hangovers are the only times that I can’t stomach smoking a cigarette, feelings of dizziness and dehydration sinking in until I’m close to falling over like a sack of potatoes.  It never stops me though, and I stood there smoking through the fog of smoke that filled my eyes.  Thank God I had partially filled my water bottle the day before.  Took that down like I’d been seeking water for days; in fact, I was, but I was only getting it in alcohol.

When the light of day started to break into my mind, I knew that my time in this city was over.  There’s always a feeling at this time – of regret, or remorse, of loss, of sadness.  All of these feelings were birds of various species flying around in the sky of my spirit, but all converging at once to become one flock – I didn’t want to go back.  I wanted to spend the day exactly as I had the last three, I wanted to sit down and write about the things I had done, I wanted to let the world know what it felt like to be someone else for a few days, I wanted to extract myself from the world’s ordinary shit and spend some time on myself like I had planned, I wanted to call Sophia and tell her to not hate me, I wanted to go to the club and start ordering gin and tonics, I wanted to walk through the brick-lain streets and eat bratwurst mit bröchen, I wanted to disappear and watch the world go by, I wanted to drink a thousand lakes of water, I wanted to sit under the sun and think about nothing, I wanted to feel the stroke of a woman’s hand down my backside if only to feel tenderness, I wanted to walk through the woods and climb the trees to never come down, I wanted to start over, I wanted to go back to Friday and try it all again differently and see what I could learn, learn more, I wanted again to not think like this and be the person who, for three days, wanted nothing, needed nothing, asked for nothing, and took only the things that came his way, without goal, without dreams, without anything more than two eyes that wandered away with a pair of legs and two hands that found their way up the middle.  I certainly didn’t want to go back, not to the post.  It happens this way every time, really.  But each time it gets worse, every weekend that I have away is a moment of revitalization like I’d found the fountain of youth and at once wanted both to never grow old and to return to the hinterland and declare that I had found the secret!  I returned with new vitality, new evisceration, new life that from Monday to Friday slowly died working away at the bones like a hammer until release – release to go away and travel this beautiful world, the world I’ve only seen in books and looks nothing similar in real life, has so much more to offer.  More than a book only real life can provide for us the change we need, the moments that shake us, often physically, and out the end we emerge anew.

But there’s always a repression, and that ordinary world that wants taxes and paychecks and shiny cars and debt bills and credit scores, well, it was still in control.  I’m not sure how to break free of it.  So I try to break free one step at a time, if for only a few days.

Feeling shackled I put my shades back on and walked to the train station to go home.

I Will Not Tell You That You Have To Go

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on January 4, 2012

I will not tell you that you have to go to Rome if you have never been.  I will not tell you that you need to walk through the streets and eat the pizzas which can be found five to a corner while making your way to the Colysæum, or drink the wine that comes cheaper than a sixer of the local birra, or find time to check a map at every turn because there are many turns and each one brings uncertainty when the only thing certain is the opportunity for seeing something historic, important, trivial, desecrate, languid, luminous, pontificate, or even simple in a town where gregarious is the norm.  There are no ways to be anything other than a traveller, an American, la turista, in a city where even half the Italians aren’t from Rome and everyone wants to see the Vatican, Colysæum, Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, the rolling hills of Trastevere that lead to the Santa Maria Basilica or the flowing walls that line the river and eventually lead to the Castel Saint Angelo or Testaccio or Piazza del Popolo where fireworks have flown, feet have tread, wine was poured, history was made, civilizations were born and thousands died at the hand of a belief or two.  What’s really died is human experience at the hands of human triviality under the guise of human curiosity.  Hopefully your curiosity will lead you to greater places where emotions still exist, where the world is singular and vast, where the people are harmonious and extravagant not for fashion but for living, where walking in no direction in particular and stopping for the first bottle of vino is more important than never stopping because damnit! we’re going to make it to the Saint Peter’s Basilica and see the fucking Creation of Adam inside the Sistine because I didn’t travel all the way across the world to not see the world’s greatest paintings, the world’s greatest structures, the world’s greatest history, the world’s greatest women, the world’s greatest church, the world’s greatest tragedy.  But the tragedy can only be seen if you take a second to stop and drink the wine, letting the people walk by, the time go by and the sun droop until finally around midnight the only people in the streets are drunk and they want occasionally, hopefully, want to scream so loud that it can be heard up and over the open hole at the top of the Pantheon and down into the halls inside because at that time of night no sound is heard inside because visiting hours close at 6pm.

Colysæum

There is no way to experience Rome.  Escape eludes at every turn because on every block and sidewalk and taxi cab and ristorante and fencing and park bench and lamppost is a man and possibly a woman carrying a map, a bag full of souvenirs for the family and the lost dreams that coincide with thinking that somehow “seeing” is “enriching” and nowhere in their bag or in their minds is the thought that this all means nothing and couldn’t be worth the time it took to get here just to tell their coworkers how wonderful their trip was when they didn’t even remark on the color of the bricks used in the streets (browned and black with age) or the shade of glass that holds the wine or (mostly green with a few browns, too) or the smell inside the Sistine Chapel (like the first few minutes after a rainfall) or the way that nothing in this city will ever be as big as the impression we had of it before arriving.  The Colysæum was in this way both full of awe and disappointing.  In my drunken stupor of a four day bender that I spent in Rome I couldn’t figure out what drove me to see the shrines, statues, plaques, lights, buildings, facts, things, nonsense until finally before leaving I realized that I did not feel like I was anywhere special or anywhere that I had not yet been.  There is something to be said for the history here, that it is so great and so told that nothing I was seeing was I seeing for the first time.  Sure, from the textbooks and the shows to the real thing it is certainly great, a checkmark to stage in my passport and a few photos to post on this blog, to make conversation at work and to prove to my friends in America that my time in Europe is not wasted.  But I feel like I could have been more productive.

A few blocks walk and slight downhill curve were all that separated the Colysæum from my hostel, and surely did I walk the city as best I could during my brief time there.  I’ve often learned that in my time around the world, before and after America, it can never be said that all was seen and all was done when visiting a city for just a few days during the week.  So why try?  Why burn your candle trying to walk to every artifact and edifice just to say that you’ve seen it, when all you’re doing is wasting energy that could be spent drinking with strangers who might reveal something more genuine and honest than any thing that literally millions of people are doing at that exact moment?  The Vatican had no less by my estimation than 100,000 people in it while I was there, and that’s a tall order to handle for any moment of transience I might possibly have experienced.  There I am in the Pantheon trying to figure out why I walked into the Roman “Temple of the Gods” to see only a statue of the Virgin fucking Mary staring me in the face.  There I am in the Vatican Museums walking at a pace that was determined by the flow of the crowd around me and not by my own desires, staring at Egyptian fucking hieroglyphics as if it were something I didn’t pay money to see and did expect to visit while in Italy, waiting patiently for the Sistine Chapel to finally emerge along the tour, finding finally the Sistine Chapel at the end after the inside gift stores, reading the signs that politely asked me “respect the Sistine Chapel, we’d like to remind you that it is a holy place,” and staring guffawed at the ceiling that Michelangelo spent years creating while hundreds of people jammed into the room about the size of a barroom and listening to the yells, screams, whispers, and shouts of the tourists who were at a minimum every three minutes reminded to SILENCE PLEASE by the ushers who have no sense of humor or irony, one or both, doing nothing to stop the people from using their flash cameras because it’s useless – useless because more important is the money, the tours, the profits, the glamour, the sights, because one church is the world’s third most visited site not because it is holy but because it is historic (or ancient or some better word), but let’s not blame the tourists.  You did this to yourself, Pope.  It could be stopped, but fuck it.  Millions€€€€€  There is no way to break through the masses, to grab the seagulls overhead and fly with them to the Mediterranean where I could drag with me the hostility, the vile, the darkness, the unstoppable capitalism that has painted this Eternal City green and with it fall deeply, darkly to the bottom of the sea and plunge with such a speed and weight that the oceans would rise and another race from another planet might get to experience what is left from the tidal wreckage in the way we want to experience the streets of Rome – silently, from a distance, and with introspection.  Somewhere on these streets walked Caesar, Maximus Aurelius, Bruno, Constantine, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, soldiers of Rome, believers in Romulus and Remus, and making way to the present that we are given that in no way honors these great shapers of culture by doing anything other than making an euro off their name, and in a way that is not any way particularly surprising or tactful.  Everything that was once inspiring and artful and paved at the hands of slaves and worked until the earth’s largest buildings were completed was wiped away at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, those devils who removed the great racing grounds where Ben Hur triumphed and replaced it with the Saint Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church which you can gain entry to for only 20€ (yes, I paid too damnit).  I’m not supposing that the Romans were any better than the Christians, one polytheists and the other monotheists, but at least they knew what integrity was.  In this way everything became one and the same, and no longer contained any relics of exoticism, or that is to say, nothing that I don’t feel I already knew about. When I walk through the streets of Germany or the hills of Belgium or the mountains of Austria I see things that I am not at all familiar with, have never seen in person or in books, and learn to experience them in the only way any of us can – in our own moment, in our own history, and in our own mind.  We cannot recreate the past and we cannot change the present, and in that way Rome makes its dollar – every corner with a street sign pointing to the nearest historic site that you have to see because you’ve heard about it so many times.  More treasureful to me are the little alleys in Germany where houses butt up to watch stores and book stores and shops with bier and people eat foods that I’ve never heard of and life is quiet because no one cares to visit the vast unknown, they only shop at Ralph Lauren.

Capitale Roma

By New Years night the millions converged on the Roman Forum, the ruins of the greatest halls ever conceived and used by the world’s largest empire to make their congressional decisions.  Millions, literally I mean fucking millions, of people together in the streets, not drinking, not dancing, not doing anything special – the music never played, the lights never grew, the wine was never poured and the people never laughed.  Only when someone threw another firecracker underneath the feet of a girl did anyone get a jolt of anger or joy, only when the crowd was so massive that I made my way out not by walking but by being lifted from the sheer pressure of all the bodies around me, only when the last seconds of 2011 ticked away and only when everybody thought something might happen did they make something happen.  There was still no music, there was still no dancing, just a few thousand more fireworks exploding at once, and not even the kind that the fly but the kind that sit on the group until erupting in noise and without color.  Some display, let me tell you.  It went on all throughout the night, all throughout the next day, and all throughout eternity did the halls of the homes and the streets continue to ring with the BANG of fireworks because someone didn’t use all of theirs or they bought them off the nearest peddler selling light-up glasses, roses, fireworks, cheap purses, or knock-off watches.  The peddlers were as numerous as the tourists, as numerous as the pizzerias, as numerous as the taxis, the hotels, the trashcans, the wine bars, the site maps, and the places where once great ideas prevailed but now only cameras flashed.  I saw nothing resembling industry in Rome.  Only food, hotels, places to sleep, eat, fuck, and spend money.  It’s what the tourists need after all and nowhere in the city center did anything else win, did anything else make money, did anybody have anything to say but “two for a euro” or “come and sit in our pizzeria,” of course in broken English because there was no need to use Italian when even the Italians were tourists.  This of course made it difficult to know anyone with any sincerity.  No one cared to learn from, learn with, teach, or know anybody anything significant because no one had grown up and lived their life there.  In fact, the most talking we did was at a bar in Campo dei Fieri, where the nightlife was most spectacular (but less than spectacular), at a joint called the Drunken Ship where hip-hop played and everyone spoke English.  I couldn’t avoid it because the people here spoke English, and those girls are the most loose, the most frivolous, mostly because their just touring through like myself and because the women who weren’t touring through knew that the men were.  Something about Italy I find striking is that their idea of a bar is turning a ristorante into a bar by night – nothing about the layout of the business is changed, just that the music gets louder.  It is very difficult to talk to anyone that can hardly be walked through what with all the chairs and tables everywhere situated in a stupid line leading to a wall and the music playing so loudly that I can not even my own voice.  At least the American bar, for all its stupidity and the fucking sake that people traveled all over the world to see the Colysæum and play beer pong both at the same time (MOTHER OF GOD), the music wasn’t so loud that I couldn’t speak.  The one woman who gave me even five minutes was the bartender who had the day off, who had no one to talk to, and no friends besides the Americans she worked with.  It was no different anywhere else.  Stores, shops, eateries, all run by people who flock to Rome to find something ephemeral or holy and instead learn that making money is just as easy as it is around the world but twice as dirty.  At least in the states we’re not selling an idea along with our whores.  That’s the worst kind of bargain.  It never fulfills.

What fulfills is life, grabbed vibrantly at the moment that it can be experience (every moment, but only one at a time), and creating our own history.  I like to fit in, I like to be simple, I like to drink and dine and dance and carouse and play and be and fight and breathe and drive and talk and impress and speak and do and sleep and walk and spend and read and smoke and touch and listen and feel and run wild in the streets just like a local, just like a neighbor who goes mad with the yearning for escape like us all but is trapped like us all, living the way people do where they live doing the things that they only know to do and do well and do for themselves but selfishness is the only way to happiness when nothing around us makes sense, so we drink at the smaller bars every night and the larger bars on the weekends and we walk through the streets stumbling on the curbs and laughing because it never gets old to forget the troubles, the torture, the ordinary way of thinking that comes with being human and being drunk gives us an edge to beat it for just one minute and think something grand, or sparkling, or set on fire.  I couldn’t do this in Rome.  For as much as I tried, the closest I got was drinking wine all day at one ristorante, but even there the Romanian waitress, Alina was her name, spoke English in her jaunty way.  It was cute at least when she tried to explain that a bigger bottle of wine was better only because it would get us more drunk, a motion she made not by saying drunk but by kicking back her head and rolling her eyes while smiling.  I couldn’t do anything else.  Just drink and try to forget that I was in Rome.

In that way maybe I was just like everyone else in Rome.  But I won’t tell you that you too have to go.

Pantheon

“I’m pretty sure I pissed on the Sacred Area here.”

“Your mother… fucks… horses.”