Midnight in Oberkampf

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Originally posted 23 September 2014. 

Night falls in Paris and I’m exhausted. Jet lagged. I slept about an hour on the whole flight from Miami to Charles de Gaulle, alternating between reading 2666, taking sips of red wine, and talking to the semi-aggressive American lady next to me who was resting her head on a partially inflated beach ball and listening to terrible jazz music. But now I’m in Paris.  I’ve never spent much time here but I’m ready to fall in love with it. The highlight of tonight was renting a city bike with my friend Darren and pedaling down the Paris streets, next to canals and freshly fallen leaves, reveling in the crisp evening air. The freedom that comes with riding a bicycle is easily underestimated. We bought Heinekins and drank them next to the canal, next to groups of Parisian youth. Then we went to a hookah bar and smoked hookah and drank cafe de creme until the jet lag finally kicked in full force and I thought I might have to crawl home. Air travel is incredible. Yesterday I was strolling the streets of Parque Mexico and today I’m bicycling the streets of France. And I’m now lying on the floor of an apartment in Paris waiting to be overtaken by sleep’s sweet embrace.

My mind is reeling and I’m slightly anxious.

Ana and Me

Written 2014. Edited 2017. 

Ana’s words to me were, “I had feelings for you in Finland.  I don’t have them anymore.”  This was after I visited her in Prague, after I tried to put my arm around her and she froze, after she embraced me while we were waiting for the tram, after she leaned her head against my shoulder in the plaza overlooking the Charles river with the perfect skateboarding ledges, and after we were out at a bar giving each other ballpoint pen tattoos and I pulled up my shirt and she said, “That will have to wait until we get home.”

We met in Finland.  She thought I  was popular because my friend Bo and I did fun things like organize barbecues, paddle across lakes to jump off cliffs, and try to sneak into Russia. One day our group went to a lake and Ana and I swam across on a tiny raft and lay on a sun-baked rock and she taught me how to say “rock”, “sky,” and “lake” in Czech. I taught her the same words in Spanish; we laughed at each other’s pronunciation and at one point I might’ve touched her stomach.  A few days later, while making pizza from scratch together courtesy of the Italian group leader who showed me how to make my own dough, we kissed.

At first I avoided kissing her on the lips.  I had this idea that being intimate with a girl changed me and turned me into some kind of useless, groveling slug, so I avoided kissing her on the lips until she became offended. “Why won’t you kiss me?” she asked, at which point I of course did.

We became a couple of sorts our last week in Savonlinna. We hung out in my little Finnish dorm room, made pizza, went on walks, and went to the island where our group hung out, always with the understanding that at some point in the night, when the Scandinavian afternoon had finally melted into dusk, we’d be alone, holding hands on a quiet country road.

Eventually the program ended and she went back to the Czech Republic. I stayed in Finland a few more days and then took a bus to Russia where I get horribly sick and met a guy named Alexei whose non-English speaking parents shared hard-boiled eggs with me and took me to a monastery.  Ana and I kept in touch. After Russia I went home to the US, started studying Czech at the University of Washington, and a year later, after graduating, found myself in Prague.

She welcomed me into her apartment and that night we watched some kind of terrible movie (Zoolander, I think) and things seemed weird but I thought maybe it was because we hadn’t seen each other in awhile and the physical contact barrier needed to be broken. I put my arm around her and her body turned the temperature of liquid nitrogen. My arm dangled there, as if detached from my body.  Finally I asked her what was wrong, and she said she didn’t want to talk about it.

The next day I broached the subject again and she told me something had happened recently that had “changed everything.” I wondered what on earth that could be. Was she pregnant? Was she married? Was she a javelin finalist in the Summer Olympics?  “That’s fine,” I said, “Thank you for telling me. I hope everything’s OK.”

We continued to hang out and after this everything was great. With no romantic potential between us we could finally be as two humans are supposed to be, enjoying each other’s company with no expectations or pre-requisites. We explored Prague and lay in a park in the sun where she read to me from a Czech children’s book to model correct pronunciation. We walked up to Letna Park, above the city, so I could watch the skateboarders.  She took me to her school and showed me where she was studying Finnish. And at night we watched another movie, though this time, despite our shoulders touching, there were no theatrics.

What I didn’t understand was that after I stopped trying to be affectionate with her she began to be affectionate with me. While she was reading to me in the park she began rubbing my back, then a few minutes later while we were waiting for the train she inexplicably embraced me. And then of course there was the night in the bar where I spent much of the time talking to her friend who spoke better English and had a great interest in going to the States and Ana made the comment about “waiting until we got home.”  I didn’t understand it at the time but understand it now. There’s nothing to understand. It doesn’t matter. We both simply acted how it was natural for us to act, and for her that involved hugging me from time to time and making cute comments.

The next day I left for a small Czech country town. Ana and I didn’t stay in touch but the visit ended on good terms. Ultimately, I realized we weren’t right for each other. She liked the band Nickleback, for starters, and seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with a Finnish ski-jumper.  I don’t regret going to Prague and I certainly don’t regret trying to be affectionate.  Sometimes it’s good to go out on a limb and even if that limb comes crashing to the ground. There are a slough of aphorisms for this, but probably the most applicable is, “It’s better to have bloodied your nose on the field of battle than to not have fought at all.” Though I didn’t go to Prague to fight, of course. I went for an elementary lesson in love.

Khublai Khan (Kublai Kan)

originally published on travelparty.wordress.com, 23 june 2012

To give you an idea of how bored I am, I was just sitting on the floor of my room Shazam’ing songs I was playing myself.

It’s raining outside.  It’s dismal.  I’m bored.  Should I start drinking the beers in my parents’ fridge?  Should I make a tomato salad with oil and vinegar and honey so when they get back they think “My, what a good son we have”?  Or should I sit in my room listening to Tego Calderon on my low-end smartphone, alternating between reading The Picture of Dorian Grey and wondering what it would be like to fall off the roof.

These are rhetorical questions.  I’m not looking for an answer.  Plus, only five people read this blog so I know I won’t get an answer.  The only thing I want from my friends is to tell me how jacked I’m getting and how when you’re 28 and don’t have a career job it’s because you’re “taking the path less trodden” or because “you’re destined for something great.”  When obviously it’s really just because I’m lazy and because….OK more importantly: is “trodden” a word?

The rain has stopped.  Maybe it’s getting sunny.  It’s 5:32pm which means we have about another four hours of light until it gets dark.  This is monumental.  Of course now the days are only getting shorter, but you’d have to be a real pessimist to let that ruin your July in Seattle.

My friend Natalie is drinking tequila.  I wish I was drinking tequila but mostly I wish I wasn’t hanging out by myself.  I didn’t work today.  Hopefully I will work Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and pretty much every day for the rest of my life until I get married and go on my honeymoon to Kauai.  Because I like Hawaii now.  I used to think it sucked.  But that was before I had ever been there…

10 Writing Hacks for 2017

1) Use the word “hack” as much as possible. Top 10 Basketball Free Throw Hacks. Top 10 Who’s Got the Right of Way at this Intersection Hacks. Top 10 Computer Hack Hacks.

2) Read what you’ve written aloud in an Isle of Man accent.

3) Alternate hands when writing to activate both sides of your brain.

4) Drink coffee and smoke cigarettes to be a “real” writer.

5) Write longhand and keep a Shakespeare dictionary close at hand. Every 20 minutes or so crumple up the paper, throw it on the floor and yell one randomly, pre-selected insult. “Geminy of baboons!” “Giantlike oxbeef!” “Gorbellied knaves!”

6) To catch errors, read what you’ve written backwards, then vertically, then diagonally. Finally, erase all errors by burning it and throwing it in the trash.

7) “Kill your darlings,” but also kill your sweethearts and apples of eye. In other words, if it’s remotely good, toss it.

8) Being a writer means learning how to handle rejection. Being a real writer, however, means dogged persistence. Form rejection letter? Call the publication and leave threatening voicemails or put a flaming bag of poop on their doorstep. Keep at it until they see the light and give your story the recognition it deserves.

9) Ingest mind-altering substances, like mold from vegetables left in the fridge or bleach mixture. Real writers work on a different plane of consciousness; how do you think they get there?

10) Above all, be conflicted, be an alcoholic, be dark and brooding, be anti-social, keep strange hours, and engage in the mystifying activities that separate the real writers from the (ahem) hacks.