Linda

My beard is getting longer. I’m almost 34. In nine days I’ll be 34. It sounds so old. Thirty-four. Thirty. Four. Four plus thirty. Ten three times plus four. Who knows how many days, how many seconds, how many moments lived, and how many moments to be lived. Hopefully the best of my life is in front of me. You always hope this. How could you hope for anything different?

I submitted a piece today about Cuba to a magazine called Odyssa. I think it’s a magazine geared toward women. The piece is OK, it’s about the Danish girl I met in Cuba and traveling around with her. Her name was Linda and we met at the bus station for foreigners in Havana. I think I asked her for a light, or maybe just sat down next to her and started talking to her. We sat on the bus together and talked most of the way. Then when we got to Viñales we stayed in the same place, shared a beautiful room with two beds with a brand-new air conditioning unit that looked like a scud missile.

“Don’t use it during a lightning storm,” the lady told us who rented the place. “It could short out.”

The air conditioning unit cost them something like $1,000 dollars. Her husband, Pedro, kept wanting to show me his tobacco leaves. And for me to smoke cigars. He didn’t want to charge me, he just wanted me to smoke cigars.

On the second day Linda and I went to the pool and got fried to a crisp. I don’t think either of us used sunscreen. I remember Linda’s chest, it looked red before we even left, which of course meant the next day she looked like a cherry tomato. But she didn’t want to get out of the sun. I swam a bit, and then we had sandwiches, and then we lay in the sun some more. I felt comfortable around Linda. She was like a sister. She was also attractive, though, and later that night, or maybe the next day, we went out together, first we watched live music, then we went to a tiny place where we drank tray after tray of mojito. It was hot and we were drunk. There was a French guy next to us and Linda seemed interested in him, but then he floated away with his family. Eventually we went home and opened the door to our apartment, which was like opening the door to an ice cave. And then we lay in bed, not talking, just enjoying the cool air and the murmur of the machine.

The next day we traveled back to Havana and the car smelled like gas — there was a leaky gas tank in the back — and Linda was terrified we were going to hydroplane. We drove right into the heart of a storm. In Havana we shared another apartment, had dinner together at a Persian place, had cocktails at a bar I’d wanted to check out, walked down to the malecón and sat next to each other, watching the waves.

It was dark and the black expanse in front of us felt infinite.

This is the moment when you kiss her, I thought.

I looked over at her and then straight ahead. She was looking into the distance. A car drove by behind us and it’s whir mingled with the sound of the ocean.

This is where you kiss her, you jackass.

The silence became longer. Time felt momentarily slowed, looking out over The Strait of Florida, seeing the black clouds, the spray of the waves dancing at our feet.

This is where you kiss her.

****

The next morning David and Elizabeth, the Air Bnb hosts, picked me up at 4:45am to take me to the airport. I don’t remember if I said bye to Linda or not. If I did it was brief and perfunctory and then I left Cuba.

August 2nd: New York

Day four of no caffeine. I don’t miss it. Don’t have any intention of having coffee. My adrenal glands are reset. My cortisol levels are regulated. I feel less desperate. Things are fine right here right now, on this train in New Jersey, listening to the guy behind me speaking in an East Coast accent. We’re by the airport, traversing industrial yards. The train is cool and air conditioned. I have nothing to do but sit here and enjoy the scenery.

Yesterday I got into New York and went straight to Manhattan. I never want to live in New York. I would rather live in a cabin in the woods, or a small town in  Washington or British Colombia. People say things are happening in New York, but things are happening everywhere. Everything is happening where you are. Right now, this Jersey train is my world. Nothing else exists. What difference between sleeping in a New York penthouse or sleeping on the ground outside a church?

After visiting my friend I had brunch with Ellen, who’s still wildly attractive and who I’m still wildly attracted to. It was a nice brunch. A greasy spoon diner and everyone spoke Spanish. There were some great moments in the conversation and some so so ones, but mostly great. I’ve dated Ellen. I’ve traveled with her. I’ve been her friend in a platonic context, as I am now. And to be honest I don’t think we’ll be together again, and that’s fine. She’s happy. She seems happy.

When we were paying I was a bit dismayed by the price. If the breakfasts cost six and seven dollars each, how did the total come to $22.50? But of course I wanted to look cool in front of her so I just shut my mouth and paid.

After brunch with Ellen I walked to Central Park and it was hot out. I stopped to get a coconut water at the Fairway Market and then killed time by the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel before hanging out with Sarah. Sarah’s a photographer. She lives in Brooklyn. We chilled in the park. She bought me a salad and I ate most of hers and then we watched classical music. “When do you feel happy?” she asked me, and I told her some times I’d been happy, like the times I worked in Alaska or the study abroad programs, when I have camaraderie with people, but then while we were watching the classical music I had one of these moments, nothing else mattered or existed, just lying there on that blanket in Central Park, feeling the summer evening air which seemed to mute but also accentuate everything, hearing the violins and also hearing birds chirping. As were walking to the subway station there were fireflies and it reminded me of being a little kid in Ohio, catching fireflies or just watching them from my grandparents’ porch.

Finally I went to hang out with my friend Jack. He’s a lawyer. I met him at McDonald’s, then we took the subway to Brooklyn where he and his girlfriend and I talked. I felt comfortable. Then they went to bed and I showered and it was glorious, washing the grime off me, washing my hair, and I lay in bed and read Siddhartha and listened to them talk, a thin wall separating us, them talking about what couples who live together talk about at night when they’re lying in bed and not going to have sex. The air conditioning was splendid. The blankets splendid. Everything splendid and I slept well and then went back to sleep after Jack woke me up in the morning then talked to his girlfriend and then left. And now it’s today and I’m on the train. I haven’t eaten anything all day.

I’m starving.

Dirty Watermelons

I’ve been in Seattle for over three months since I got back from my last trip, in which I was studying German in Hamburg and recovering from some kind of illness on the Cote d’Azure. The Cote d’Azure is a good place to recover from illness. There’s something about Monaco that says, “It’s time you kicked that cold.” I went to Monaco just so I could say I’d been to Monaco, I walked the hilly streets where every parked car is the size of a roller skate, sat on the end of a concrete dock looking at big, slow-moving fish, got a baguette-style sandwich at a cafe, and then got the bus back into Nice. I didn’t particularly like Nice. My bed and breakfast hostess was a woman from Scotland who would curse when talking about Donald Trump and I wanted to say, “Listen, lady, with all due respect, I didn’t come here to talk about Donald Trump. I came here to turn off my phone and recover from mild sinusitis.” And I did recover. I recovered and went south to San Remo, Italy, and from there to Cinque Terre. But at some point after enough cigarettes had been smoked and enough espressos drunk and after talking to a girl from Argentina next to an old church that looked out over the ocean and had castle walls trailing down from the rocky outcrop upon which it sat, I decided enough was enough, enough of Europe, enough of being on my own, time to go home and figure out what was important.

Fast forward three months. I’m sitting around a patio table at a friend of a friend’s house in Squamish, BC. The sun is setting and it’s taking forever to do so because it’s just after summer solstice and I’m in Canada. Canada! Earlier we went hiking and saw a black bear in the parking lot. It was a small black bear. The park ranger ran after it with her hands above her head screaming, “Get outta here! Get outta here!” and we snickered, not because it was ridiculous, we knew that was what you were supposed to do, but because the way she did it was ridiculous, she looked so unnatural, like she’d never been outside a day in her life and had now been tasked with scaring away juvenile black bears. Around the table my friend Jenny and her friend Kelsey are talking about who knows what, I’m not paying attention because I’m trying to figure out how I can trick them into thinking we have some weird lingo in the US that we actually don’t. Like how we call beanies or simply hats what they call toques. They say the word cantaloupe and I latch onto it thinking, Cantaloupe. Cantaloupe. What could we call cantaloupe?

I interrupt.

“What’s cantaloupe?” I say.

They don’t hear me.

“Guys,” I say again, getting their attention, “what’s cantaloupe?”

“What do you mean, ‘what’s cantaloupe’? The fruit.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never heard that word before.”

They look incredulous but yesterday they were talking about a “lane house” or something to that effect and I legitimately didn’t know what they were talking about and at first Kelsey thought I was lying or an idiot or both but finally took pity on me and explained it.

Finally one of them bites.

“Um, it’s a big, round fruit. Orange inside. Melon.”

I look confused. They stare at me. Then I pretend the lightbulb comes on.

“Ohhhhhh, you mean dirty watermelons!”

They look at each other.

“Shut up. You do not call them that,” Jenny says.

I can feel the sides of my mouth curling into a wretched smile and hope I won’t laugh.

“Yeah. Dirty watermelons. You know, you have normal watermelons with the smooth skin and then you have the darker ones with the rough skin called dirty watermelons.”

They look at each other again as if to say “is he messing with us” but I keep going, keep explaining it, and finally they say, “Wow, that is so weird,” and then I start laughing and they say you jerk and I’m gleeful with deception and that moment, that was what I was referring to when I said I came back home to figure out “what was important.”

Polish Truck Stop

Originally posted two years ago. My tune has changed since writing this. I still think Poland is cheap but realize Germany is cheap too, especially Berlin. Thanks, F. 

If I stand outside the truck stop I can see Germany in the distance. Frankfurt. But not Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt (Oder), a small town east of Berlin that sits across a river from Poland and has parentheses in its name.

I am no longer in Germany.

I cannot stress enough how strongly I believe in following your instinct or gut or whatever you want to call it. When I was in northern Poland I was considering going to Poznan, a town situated in West Central Poland. It felt right. But I bailed because the train connections were annoying and I thought it would be nice to go to Berlin and not travel anymore. And now the adventures of the last 24 hours have made me realize I’m SUPPOSED to go to Poznan, that I was always supposed to go, and that no matter what I would’ve somehow found my way to this Slavic metropolis.

And so Berlin will have to wait. As soon as I got on the train this morning, or rather as soon as I left my hotel, I could smell in the air that the decision was right. That I was getting back on track. And as soon the train left Berlin I spotted two wild boars with their heads down trotting through the woods. A few days ago I was talking with someone and told them how I’d never seen boar in the wild, and that I hoped I’d see some before the trip was over. And now I have. Which must’ve been a sign. Then I got off the train in Frankfurt (Oder), my hands pointed to the sky in bliss, and everything feeling right. I walked across the bridge to the Polish town of Slubice, traded 20 euros for 80 zloty, and now I’m waiting at a truck stop where the second (third) nicest waitress in all of West Central Poland works, a woman who speaks no English but  understands my very soul, and the meal was delicious, some kind of hearty soup, fish, potatoes, bread and cabbage salad. With a coffee and a large bottle of mineral water the total came to 25 zloty ($6.76 USD). Not Ukrainian prices, but try getting that same deal in Germany. They’ll laugh at you (that is, if Germans laughed).

Which brings me to another critical reason I had to make a hasty retreat from Germany: money. The only way I can afford Berlin is if I plan ahead and find something cheap on Air Bnb, which is something I patently did not do. Because I won’t stay in a hostel. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. I’ll pay 50 euros and beg on the street for a private room rather than stay in a dorm bed to be woken up by drunken Portuguese men coming in from a night on the town, snickering to each other as they fall asleep. At this point if I want to buy a plane ticket home from New York and actually come out of this trip not destitute, I need to live cheaply in Poland and work hard. So I’m not just going where the wind takes me, even though (coincidentally) it’s blowing towards former Bloc countries. This decision is purely practical, which is significant since I can count the number of practical decisions I’ve made in my life on one (several-fingered) hand.

For now, it’s sunny outside but I have to work another hour before I can get on the train. For whatever reason the WIFI in Berlin was terrible but the WIFI in Poland is excellent. Like I said, eventually I’ll go to Berlin, and it will be great. It’s a beautiful city with wonderful people, including my cousin and also a kindred spirit I met traveling in Hawaii. But for now, I’m headed east.