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.

Lapsang Souchong

Hello friends,

What a beautiful day. I want some tea, but it’s still a nice day.

Yesterday I went to Whole Foods to write. I didn’t do very well. I’m going to enter a literature contest, short stories specifically, so I’ve been writing a short story about a man living in Alaska. The problem is the story has no plot. There’s this man in the woods, watching the snowflakes fall, walking around to check the traps he puts out for rabbits. One day he goes to Sitka and makes a scene in a cafe. He meets a woman who claims to recognize him. And that’s it. Nothing happens. The thing is I like to write fantastic things, I like to imagine weird scenarios, but I’m not very good at interlacing a plot. I wish I was. I have discovered that it’s much easier to write a short story when you know exactly how things will end. For example, I’m working on a story about a man walking through his house at night. His wife’s asleep, his children are asleep. It’s a sinister tale. The man talks about something inside him, a hidden desire he has to release that night. He is afraid his wife will judge him. He fears the world will judge him. But in the end it turns out what he wanted to do was not sinister in the slightest, but actually something quite common, but I wanted the story to be a kind of “fuck you” to “literature,” or to people who believe they create “literature,” since literature is something you either create or don’t create. But if you talk about creating literature, if you talk about how you create literature, you’re an asshole.

Anyway.

Maybe today is a coffee day. Later I have to work in my friend’s mom’s yard. There’s nothing in the world I less rather do. But hey, I need the money. Everything about this world revolves around money. At least everything in our culture, ie Western culture, ie the United States, ie Seattle. Seattleites are obsessed with money. It’s a disease. They like to spend money on Eleno’s Greek Yoghurt. They like to spend money on everything. In Seattle is where you most see the following concept: If it’s not expensive, it’s not useful.

Fuck.

My desire to drink tea is getting stronger. I would love to have a good lapsang souchong, possibly the best tea there is, but I will have to settle for the free sachets in the staff kitchen. Then I’ll go to my office to plan the class for today. I really want it to be a good class. Today we’ll cover important topics like the verb “to like”. Actually, it’s the only important topic we’re going to cover today.

I’m writing this in Spanish, but if you’re reading it, you’re probably reading it in English. It’s a new technique I’m trying out. I write in Spanish and then translate it to English. It’s just that in Spanish I feel more free. I don’t feel anyone is going to judge me. I can say whatever the fuck I want. But in English, in English I’m like a turtle who doesn’t want to poke its head out. I’m like a child clinging to his mother’s skirt. In Spanish I’m a lion.

For several days now I’ve wanted to write a post about Instagram and how lame people are on Instagram. But I find it very silly. After all there’s only one thing I want to say, well, I don’t want to say it but rather mention it. Mention it in passing, as if it didn’t matter. But now I’m not even going to mention it, it seems too dumb. Now what I want is tea and a good breakfast.

I’m going to go and see if I can get them.

 

Speaking German

Most people don’t know this about me, but the height of my German speaking was probably sometime in February of 2017. I was 33 years old. I’d gone to Germany because of a girl and that had failed spectacularly. So I decided to stay in Hamburg and take an intensive German course.

My teacher’s name was Lydia and at first I thought she was terrible. She wasn’t terrible, she was a gifted teacher, she was just a bit lazy. She made up for her laziness, however, with extreme wit and good humor and an amazing ability to explain the intricacies of German grammar to our fragile minds, and I grew to love her.

She was also a lesbian. I was surprised when I found this out. I never would’ve thought it. One night she brought her partner with her to dinner with all of us, and I introduced myself in Spanish — her partner was from Puerto Rico — and told her I was from the US.  Me, too, she said, smiling. You could tell she liked playing this little “joke,” introducing herself to Americans and then reminding them that yes, Puerto Rico is part of the States. Oh, right, I said, I forget that. Inside I was fuming. I don’t know exactly why, but I was fuming.

I was in love with a girl in my class named Kara. I wasn’t actually in love with her, but she was attractive and somewhat intelligent and for me that usually constitutes love. However, she was there for her boyfriend, or actually, her husband. Almost everyone was there for a significant other, except me, though that had originally been the plan. There was a girl from Nicaragua who had a cute smile and wore three inch thick sweaters. There was a guy from Spain named Fred, short for Federico, who spoke perfect French, perfect Spanish and perfect English. And now he was learning German. He was tremendously vulgar. He would use the “f” word with Lydia, in a joking way, and every time he’d do it I’d cringe. But underneath his somewhat bulky and abrasive exterior was a pool of insecurity which expressed itself in these verbal lashings. There was also some tenderness. On my last day in class he hugged me and said, “Good luck, mate.”

Anyway, the height of my German speaking came when I took a short trip up to Sankt Peter in Ording, on the North Sea. The idea was to do some surfing. Germany actually has some decent surf spots, though decent only in that they’re surfable. Sankt Peter in Ording was one of the worst places I’d ever surfed, but I had a ball. The local shop owner, Timothy, let me borrow a longboard for free. He gave me some gloves. Not rented them to me or let me borrow them, but simply gave them to me. I stayed in the water for at least an hour, which is long for me and long in the North Sea, and there were actually two other guys out there paddle boarding. The waves were pure wind swell. It felt like surfing on the moon. Or surfing in Norway. Or surfing in Germany.

That night, after surfing, I went to a restaurant in the town. I was terrified about how much it would cost, and my fears were founded. I got a bowl of soup, it was paltry and cost 8 euros. And as I came into the restaurant a man started talking to me. He was sitting at the bar drinking a Weiss Bier and had a ruddy face. His face looked sun burnt even though there was no sun in Sankt Peter.

“From where…..” He said in English, or rather yelled. “From where, you!” He said, pointing this time.

“Ich komme aus den USA,” I said.

The bartender laughed. “His German is better than your English.”

And then we proceeded to have a conversation. It was one of the more broken conversations two humans can have short of hand signals and grunts. I expressed that I lived in Hamburg and was studying German. I expressed that I had come to Sankt Peter to surf. I expressed that the soup was good even though it was too salty and tasted like feet.

The next day I got on the bus back to Hamburg, and the driver was Croatian and didn’t speak English. This allowed for more German conversation. I sat at the front of the bus and was the only one there for the first half hour or so. It was satisfying to speak German, satisfying to feel like I spoke it, satisfying to feel like I could say to people, “Yeah, my German is decent.” But then I left Germany, and it’s slowly drifted away from me like kelp on the ocean, and now I fear it’s mostly gone. Now I can’t imagine having those conversations with those two random guys in a tiny town next to the North Sea in Germany. I can’t really even imagine I was even in Germany. I didn’t have friends there. I didn’t talk to anyone. All I did was go to class, listen to my lazy but well-intentioned and intelligent teacher, and then afterward ride home, eat yogurt with muesli, take long walks, and read. Except, of course, for the weekend I went surfing.