Wasted Cinders

i knew it’d be a very American day the minute i lay down in bed, mere moments before rosy-fingered dawn reached above the horizon. my lover lay down beside me, though she didn’t sleep for hours, i later found out. wiry mind, she. thankfully, she eventually did squeeze in some sleep, which we rode peacefully til the early afternoon, not long after my roommate and her mother had departed loudly out the door. when i finally gained enough consciousness, i reached for my phone and read a message from Xanthe: “Tina has a dead mouse outside your door.”

but when i rose from bed, no mouse i saw. i guess they’d cleaned it up. though i felt genuinely grateful and appreciative of their charity, a certain part of me felt slightly guilty for never missing Tina’s gift. ‘twould be like Zeus awaking a god’s length of time after a great Grecian sacrifice and feast, and all the meat already spoiled. oh well, can’t cry over spoilt bull.

back in bed, my lady and i loved. we loved to love and that–too–we loved. her eyes and my mouth and her chest and my belly and her thighs and my ankles trickled like mountain creeks down, down fingertrips. lovely it was. made hungry, we rose easy and happy to the kitchen, where the lady toasted gluten-free bread and mild cheddar cheese while i fried a couple eggs. laid upon a lawn of uncooked spinach, atop the cheese and bread, the eggs burst with the yellow-orange robustness of sundaylight. not long after, Natalie departed down Ocean Ave for dress shopping, leaving me to my literary devices in the orange gray.

i read Emily Dickinson: “To One denied to drink / To tell what Water is / Would be acuter, would it not / Than letting Him surmise? // To lead Him to the Well / And let Him hear it drip / Remind Him, would it not, somewhat / Of His condemned lip?”

in no time at all, it was time for me to leave: i had made a loose engagement with a musician friend to see free live jazz in the city. throwing on the last day’s clothes, i flew out the door to catch the KT inbound, Jack Kerouac in hand. 45 minutes later–and nearly just as many pages deep in The Dharma Bums–i strolled up to the African American Art & Culture Complex, one of those cool, inevitably underappreciated fixtures of civic life. everyone was very mild and polite, and they were serving wine. the show started shakily with nervous, unpolished speeches by the amateur organizers, but, again, everyone was very polite and well-meaning. then the band came out. it was Marcus Shelby–the bassist and bandleader–along with a bunch of kids. 20-year-old maestro on keys, pretty girl w stark bangs on electric, nervous trumpeteer, and the man of men on drums. over the course of an hour and a half, they kicked out Horace Silver, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Hart & Rodgers, Louis Armstrong, and Charles Mingus. i was enamored. such a strange, delicious power that musicians wield, to snuff out the awkward noise and feet-shuffling of everyday conversation and pomp with the undeniable rhythm, harmony, melody, and lyric of the infinite void. my, my, how do animals get by? with the show over so quickly and my friend Brendan biking and barting back to the east bay, i felt compelled to let Jack’s jazzy, deathless soul take me by the hand up Market St toward an ancient haunt of mine: It’s Tops.

inside, the pretty waitress (different face, same pink outfit) said a quick hello while tending to a chocolate shake. i sat at the bar and twirled into Kerouac instead of picking up the menu. a minute later, she picked up the menu in front of my face and laid it next to me with a soft thud. i quickly decided on some items, and then back to Kerouac. “that’s a cool cover for that book,” she said. i looked up and said, “yeah,” and then ordered a tuna melt w coffee. back to the book. she handed me a half cup of coffee and then prepared a new pot. “so what’s your favorite Pink Floyd album?” she asked, referring to my silly, faded t-shirt. “the pig should hint at it,” i said playfully. Animals, she never guessed, though she may have already been thinking it. Meddle was hers, a damn fine one too. and so the whole dinner went, chatting about nothing. then the place filled up again, so i was left to drink coffee after coffee while reading Kerouac, endlessly. to pay for the $12 bill, i gave Rachel all the cash i had ($16) and sauntered out into the street up Market toward Church Station.

down the stairs to the hazy screen to read my KT destiny: 26 minutes. my god, i couldn’t remember the last time i waited so long for a lazy metal slug. oh well, at least i had Kerouac. and so i read and read and read and read in the dirty brick tunnel, boarded the train on time, and read and read. and now, here i am, sipping red wine, listening to Caustic Window, and wondering what’s the point of it all. after all, i’m just typing, not writing. you’re just moving, not living. we’re just doing, not being.

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selections from J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf

‘Fate goeth ever as she must!’ (366)

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‘Fate oft saveth a man not doomed to die, when his valour fails not.’ (464-5)

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Manifest is this truth, that mighty God hath ruled the race of men through all the ages. (571-2)

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There stern and strong the kinsmen of Hygelac watched how that foul thief with his fell clutches would now play his part. And that the slayer was not minded to delay, not he, but swiftly at the first turn seized a sleeping man, rending him unopposed, biting the bone-joints, drinking blood from veins, great gobbets gorging down. Quickly he took all of that lifeless thing to be his food, even feet and hands. (600-6)

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Then have I heard that in the morning many a warlike knight was gathered about his patron’s hall; the chieftains of the people had come from far and near over the distant ways that marvel to behold, and the footprints of that hated one. No grief for his departure from life felt any of those men who looked upon the trail of his inglorious flight, marking how sick at heart he had dragged his footsteps, bleeding out his life, from thence away defeated and death-doomed to the water-demons’ mere. There the waters boiled with blood, and the dread turmoil of the waves was all blended with hot gore, and seethed with battle’s crimson. Therein doomed to die he plunged, and bereft of joys in his retreat amid the fens yielded up his life and heathen soul; there Hell received him. (680-92)

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At whiles a servant of the king, a man laden with proud memories who had lays in mind and recalled a host and multitude of tales of old — word followed word, each truly linked to each — this man in his turn began with skill to treat the quest of Beowulf and in flowing verse to utter his ready tale, interweaving words. (704-9)

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No easy thing is it to escape — let him strive who will; nay, he shall come at last to a place appointed by inevitable fate, made ready for all those who have life, the sons of men dwelling upon earth, where his body still upon its bed of rest shall sleep after the feast. (816-20)

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God was lord then of all the race of men, even as He yet is. Wherefore is understanding and the heart that taketh thought in every time and place the best. Much must he endure of sweet and bitter, who long time here in these days of trouble enjoyeth life in the world! (861-5)

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Up to the clouds swirled that mightiest of destroying fires, roaring before the burial mound. Consumed were their heads, their gaping wounds burst open, the cruel hurts of the body, and the blood sprang forth. Flame devoured them all, hungriest of spirits, all that in place war had taken of either people: their glory had passed away. (914-20)

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torque (n., historical)
a neck ornament consisting of a band of twisted metal, worn esp. by the ancient Gauls and Britons.
To him was the cup borne, and friendship offered in fair words; and the twisted gold was brought forth with all good will, two armlets, a mantle, and rings, and the mightiest of torques that I have heard was ever upon the neck of man on earth. (983-7)

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Grendel’s mother, ogress, fierce destroyer in the form of woman. (1045)

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minish (v., archaic)
to make less (as in size, amount, or degree).
‘That deed of war she hath avenged, that last night thou didst slay in violent wise Grendel with thy gripings hard, for that he too long had minished and destroyed my folk.’ (1113-5)

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Beowulf made answer, the son of Ecgtheow: ‘Grieve not, O wise one! Better it is for every man that he should avenge his friend than he should much lament. To each one of us shall come in time the end of life in the world; let him who may earn glory ere his death. No better thing can brave knight leave behind when he lies dead.’ (1154-9)

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The sword was wet. (1313)

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‘Wondrous ’tis to tell how the mighty God doth apportion in His purpose deep unto the race of men wisdom, lands, and noble estate: of all things He is Lord. At whiles the heart’s thought of man of famous house He suffereth in delight to walk, granteth him in his realm earthly joy ruling over men within his walléd town, maketh the regions of the earth as his to sway, a kingdom vast, so that the end thereof in his unwisdom he cannot himself conceive. He dwells in plenty; no whit do age nor sickness thwart him, nor doth black care grieve his soul, nor strife in any place bring murderous hatred forth; nay, all the world goeth to his desire. He knows nothing of worse fate, until within him a measure of arrogance doth grow and spread. Now sleeps the watchman, guardian of his soul: too sound that sleep in troubles wrapped; the slayer is very nigh who in malice shooteth arrows from his bow. Then beneath his guard he is smitten to the heart with bitter shaft, the strange and crooked biddings of the accurséd spirit; he cannot himself defend. Too little now him seem what long he hath enjoyed, his grim heart fills with greed; in no wise doth he deal gold-plated rings to earn him praise, and the doom that cometh he forgets and heeds no, because God, the Lord of glory, hath before granted him a portion of honour high. Thereafter in the final end it cometh to pass that his fleshly garb being mortal faileth, falls in death ordained. Another succeeds to all, who unrecking scattereth his precious things, the old-hoarded treasures of that man: his wrath he fears not. Defend thee from that deadly malice, dear Beowulf, best of knights, and choose for thyself the better part, counsels of everlasting worth; countenance no pride, O champion in thy renown! Now for a little while thy valour is in flower; but soon shall it be that sickness or the sword rob thee of thy might, or fire’s embrace, or water’s wave, or bite of blade, or flight of spear, or dreadful age; or the flashing of thine eyes shall fail and fade; very soon ’twill come that thee, proud knight, shall death lay low.’ (1447-81)

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gannet (n.)
1. a large seabird with mainly white plumage, known for catching fish by plunge-diving.
2. BRIT. INFORMAL. a greedy person.
‘Thou hast accomplished that between these peoples, the Geatish folk and spearmen of the Danes, a mutual peace shall be, and strife and hateful enmities shall sleep which erewhile they used, and long as I my wide realm rule, shall precious things between us pass, and many a man shall send over the water where the gannet dives greeting to another with goodly gifts, and vessels ring-adorned over the high seas shall bring offerings and tokens of our love. (1551-9)

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Thence Beowulf went, a warrior bold in golden splendour, treading the grassy sward, his heart uplifted with rich gifts. The traverser of the sea awaited its lord and master there on the anchor riding; and as they went oft was the bounty of Hrothgar praised: unrivalled king was he in all things without reproach, until age robbed him of his joyous strength — oft hath it striken many a man. (1574-80)

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portreeve (n.)
an historical official in England and Wales possessing authority (political, administrative, or fiscal) over a town.
Swiftly was the portreeve ready beside the sea, who long while now had anxious upon the shore looked out afar for those men beloved. (1605-7)

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‘Then, as is noised abroad, I sought out the grim and dreadful guardian of the whirling gulf. There awhile were our hands in duel joined. The deep swirled with blood, and in that abysmal hall I hewed the head of Grendel’s mother with the edges of a mighty sword. Thence hardly did I retrieve my life; but not yet was I doomed to die.’ (1790-5)

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This hoarded loveliness did the old despoiler wandering in the gloom find standing unprotected, even he who filled with fire seeks out mounds (of burial), the naked dragon of fell heart that flies wrapped about in flame: him do earth’s dwellers greatly dread. Treasure in the ground it is ever his wont to seize, and there wise with many years he guards the heathen gold — no whit doth it profit him. (1909-15)

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Then the serpent awoke! New strife arose. He smelt now along the rock, and grimhearted he perceived the footprint of his foe, who in his stealth had stepped right nigh, yea, close to the dragon’s head. Thus may indeed one whose fate is not to die with ease escape woe and evil lot, if he have the favour of the Lord! (1923-8)

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enow (adverb)
ARCHAIC. enough.
She trusted not in her son that he was yet wise enow to defend the seats of his fathers against alien hosts, since Hygelac was dead. (1994-5)

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Kinship may nothing set aside in virtuous mind. (2181-2)

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ewer (n.)
a large jug with a wide mouth, formerly used for carrying water for someone to wash in.
Then, passing by the seat, that young knight proudhearted, filled with the joy of victory, beheld a host of hoarded jewels, gold glistening that lay upon the ground, marvellous things upon the wall, the very lair of that old serpent in the dim light flying, and ewers standing there, vessels of men of bygone days, reft of those who cared for them, their fair adornment crumbling. (2312-8)

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Once more he began to sprinkle him with water, until speech like a sharp pang burst from the prison of his breast. (2343-5)

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disport (n.)
ARCHAIC. a pastime, game, or sport.
Never more in disport did he wander through the air at midmost night, nor proud in the possession of fair things reveal his form to men, but was cast upon the earth by the hand and deed of that leader of the host. (2376-80)

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God’s Doom was ever the master then of every man in his deeds fulfilled, even as yet now it is. (2398-9)

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‘Death is more sweet for every man of worth than life with scorn!’ (2425-6)

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fornyrðislag acid

acid asteroids astound my soul,
entity unseen, elephantine.

life they lend me, love they convey, freedom they hail,
flinging me from bed
a banshee, bound for concrete, shaking stupid,
stopping not at all.
constellation of chemicals jitter, bouncing endless,
below, above
bobbing masses of moving men and women,
asinine apes all addicted.

visions in color, verve in music,
beasts of house billow, swell out,
ricocheting richly and large
vicious, vivacious,
vaulted against the walls.
soul in thunder summoned breaks through dark clouds
deeply drowned in body,
promenading its patient power out the feeble
outer body’s shell.

waking wondrous from weeklong sleep,
anima answers: the anthem is acid.

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selections from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine. (5)

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“In traveling, a companion, in life, compassion.” (23)

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“According to Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, in the ancient world of myth there were three types of people,” Oshima says. “Have you heard about this?”

“No.”

“In ancient times people weren’t just male or female, but one of three types: male/male, male/female, or female/female. In other words, each person was made out of the components of two people. Everyone was happy with this arrangement and never really gave it much thought. But then God took a knife and cut everybody in half, right down the middle. So after that the world was divided just into male and female, the upshot being that people spend their time running around trying to locate their missing other half.”

“Why did God do that?”

“Divide people into two? You got me. God works in mysterious ways. There’s that whole wrath-of-God thing, all that excessive idealism and so on. My guess it was punishment for something. Like in the Bible. Adam and Eve and the Fall and so forth.”

“Original sin,” I say.

“That’s right, original sin.” Oshima holds his pencil between his middle and index fingers, twirling it ever so slightly as if testing the balance. “Anyway, my point is that it’s really hard for people to live their lives alone.” (39-40)

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I’m free, I think. I shut my eyes and think hard and deep about how free I am, but I can’t really understand what it means. All I know is I’m totally alone. All alone in an unfamiliar place, like some solitary explorer who’s lost his compass and his map. Is this what it means to be free? I don’t know, and I give up thinking about it. (44)

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“There are all kinds of people in the world, and all kinds of cats.” (50)

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After changing into shorts and a T-shirt in the locker room, I do some stretching exercises. As my muscles relax, so do I. I’m safe inside this container called me. With a little click, the outlines of this being—me—fit right inside and are locked neatly away. Just the way I like it. I’m where I belong. (55)

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I take a bus back to the station and have a steaming bowl of udon in the same diner as the day before. I take my time, gazing out the windows as I eat. The station’s packed with people streaming in and out, all of them dressed in their favorite clothes, bags or briefcases in hand, each one dashing off to take care of some pressing business. I stare at this ceaseless, rushing crowd and imagine a time a hundred years from now. In a hundred years everybody here—me included—will have disappeared from the face of the earth and turned into ashes or dust. A weird thought, but everything in front of me starts to seem unreal, like a gust of wind could blow it all away. (56)

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Nakata let his body relax, switched off his mind, allowing things to flow through him. This was natural for him, something he’d done ever since he was a child, without a second thought. Before long the borders of his consciousness fluttered around, just like the butterflies. Beyond these borders lay a dark abyss. Occasionally his consciousness would fly over the border and hover over that dizzying, black crevass. But Nakata wasn’t afraid of the darkness or how deep it was. And why should he be? That bottomless world of darkness, that weighty silence and chaos, was an old friend, a part of him already. Nakata understood this well. In that world there was no writing, no days of the week, no scary Governor, no opera, no BMWs. No scissors, no tall hats. On the other hand, there was also no delicious eel, no tasty bean-jam buns. Everything is there, but there are no parts. Since there are no parts, there’s no need to replace one thing with another. No need to remove anything, or add anything. You don’t have to think about difficult things, just let yourself soak it all in. For Nakata, nothing could be better. (85)

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There’re plenty of reasons why someone might get bloody, and most of the time it’s not nearly as bad as it looks. I’m a girl, so I’m used to seeing blood—I see that much every month. You know what I mean? (88)

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[A]s individuals each of us is extremely isolated, while at the same time we are all linked by a prototypical memory. (96)

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The military’s always the same, whether Japanese or American. (97)

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Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through, is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology . . . But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone. And for me, what happened in the woods that day is one of these. (98)

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“It’s like Goethe said: Everything’s a metaphor.” (107)

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“If you play Schubert’s sonatas, especially this one straight through, it’s not art. Like Schumann pointed out, it’s too long and too pastoral, and technically too simplistic. Play it through the way it is and it’s flat and tasteless, some dusty antique. Which is why every pianist who attempts it adds something of his own, something extra. Like this—hear how he articulates it there? Adding rubato. Adjusting the pace, modulation, whatever. Otherwise they can’t hold it all together. They have to be careful, though, or else all those extra devices destroy the dignity of the piece. Then it’s not Schubert’s music anymore. Every single pianist who’s played this sonata struggles with the same paradox.”

He listens to the music, humming the melody, then continues.

“That’s why I listen to Schubert while I’m driving. Like I said, it’s because all the performances are imperfect. A dense, artistic kind of imperfection stimulates your consciousness, keeps you alert. If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there.” (111-112)

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Everything sparkles in a newborn golden glow.

[...]

The morning light pours down through the tall trees onto the open space in front of the cabin, sunbeams everywhere and mist floating like freshly minted souls. (130-131)

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Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear. (138)

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“When a war starts people are forced to become soldiers. They carry guns and go to the front lines and have to kill soldiers on the other side. As many as they possibly can. Nobody cares whether you like killing other people or not. It’s just something you have to do. Otherwise you’re the one who gets killed.” Johnnie Walker pointed his index finger at Nakata’s chest. “Bang!” he said. “Human history in a nutshell.” (142)

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Johnnie Walker narrowed his eyes and gently stroked the cat’s head. He ran the tip of his index finger up and down the cat’s belly, then picked up a scalpel in his right hand and without any warning made an incision straight down the stomach. It all happened in an instant. The belly split wide open and reddish guts spilled out. The cat tried to scream but barely made any sound at all. His tongue, after all, was numb, and he could hardly open his mouth. But his eyes were contorted in terrible pain. And Nakata could well imagine how awful this pain was. A moment later blood gushed out, wetting Johnnie Walker’s hands and running down his vest. But he didn’t pay attention. Still to the accompaniment of “Heigh-Ho,” he thrust his hand inside the cat’s body and with a small scalpel skillfully cut loose the tiny heart.

He placed the gory lump on his palm and held it out for Nakata to see. “Take a peek. It’s still beating.”

Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, he popped the heart into his mouth and began chewing silently, leisurely savoring the taste. His eyes glistened like a child enjoying a pastry hot from the oven.

He wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and carefully licked his lips clean. “Fresh and warm. And still beating in my mouth.” (144-145)

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“Now that you’ve said hello, I’m afraid we move right into farewells. Hello, good-bye. Like flowers scattered in a storm, man’s life is one long farewell, as they say.” (146)

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“There’s only one kind of happiness, but misfortune comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.” (157)

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As Nakata sat there, umbrella and canvas bag in hand, office workers streamed back inside after their lunch hour. Another scene he’d never laid eyes on before in his life. As if by mutual consent, all the people were well dressed—ties, shiny briefcases, and high heels, everyone rushing off in the same direction. For the life of him Nakata couldn’t understand what so many people like this could possibly be up to. (186)

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Oshima gazes deep into my eyes. “Listen, Kafka. What you’re experiencing now is the motif of many Greek tragedies. Man doesn’t choose fate. Fate chooses man. That’s the basic worldview of Greek drama. And the sense of tragedy—according to Aristotle—comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I’m getting at? People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex being a great example. Oedipus is drawn into tragedy not because of laziness or stupidity, but because of his courage and honesty. So an inevitable irony results.” (199)

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“The world of the grotesque is the darkness within us. Well before Freud and Jung shined a light on the workings of the subconscious, this correlation between darkness and our subconscious, these two forms of darkness, was obvious to people. It wasn’t a metaphor, even. If you trace it back further, it wasn’t even a correlation. Until Edison invented the electric light, most of the world was totally covered in darkness. The physical darkness outside and the inner darkness of the soul were mixed together, with no boundary separating the two. They were directly linked. Like this.” Oshima brings his two hands together tightly. (225)

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Tales of Moonlight and Rain was written in the late Edo period by a man named Ueda Akinari. It was set, however, in the earlier Warring States period, which makes Ueda’s approach a bit nostalgic or retro. Anyway, in this particular story two samurai become fast friends and pledge themselves as blood brothers. For samurai this was very serious. Being blood brothers meant they pledged their lives to each other. They lived far away from each other, each serving a different lord. One wrote to the other saying no matter what, he would visit when the chrysanthemums were in bloom. The other said he’d wait for his arrival. But before the first one could set out on the journey, he got mixed up in some trouble in his domain, was put under confinement, and wasn’t allowed to go out or send a letter. Finally summer is over and fall is upon them, the season when the chrysanthemums blossom. At this rate he won’t be able to fulfill his promise to his friend. To a samurai, nothing’s more important than a promise. Honor’s more important than your life. So this samurai commits hara-kiri, becomes a spirit, and races across the miles to visit his friend. They sit near the chrysanthemums and talk to their heart’s content, and then the spirit vanishes from the face of the earth. It’s a beautiful tale.” (226-227)

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“Have you ever been in love?” I ask.

He stares at me, taken aback. “What do you think? I’m not a starfish or a pepper tree. I’m a living, breathing human being. Of course I’ve been in love.” (227)

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“From time immemorial, symbolism and poetry have been inseparable. Like a pirate and his rum.” (244)

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The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.” (273)

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At the same time that ‘I’ am the content of a relation, ‘I’ am also that which does the relating..”

“Hmm . . .”

“Hegel believed that a person is not merely conscious of self and object as separate entities, but through the projection of the self via the mediation of the object is volitionally able to gain a deeper understanding of the self. All of which constitutes self-consciousness.”

“I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about.”

“Well, think of what I’m doing to you right now. For me I’m the self, and you’re the object. For you, of course, it’s the exact opposite—you’re the self to you and I’m the object. And by exchanging self and object, we can project ourselves onto the other and gain self-consciousness. Volitionally.”

“I still don’t get it, but it sure feels good.”

“That’s the whole idea,” the girl said. (274)

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“You still don’t get it, do you? We’re talking about a revelation here,” Colonel Sanders said, clicking his tongue. “A revelation leaps over the borders of the everyday. A life without revelation is no life at all. What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts. That’s what’s critical. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about, you gold-plated whale of a dunce?” (275)

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“Tell me something,” Hoshino began.

“What?”

“Are you really Colonel Sanders?”

Colonel Sanders cleared his throat. “Not really. I’m just taking on his appearance for a time.”

“That’s what I figured,” Hoshino said. “So what are you really?”

“I don’t have a name.”

“How do you get along without one?”

“No problem. Originally I don’t have a name or shape.”

“So you’re kind of like a fart.” (283)

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“Listen—God only exists in people’s minds. Especially in Japan, God’s always been kind of a flexible concept. Look at what happened after the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person. So after 1946 he wasn’t God anymore. That’s what Japanese gods are like—they can be tweaked and adjusted. Some American chomping on a cheap pipe gives the order and presto change-o—God’s no longer God. A very postmodern kind of thing. If you think God’s there, He is. If you don’t, He isn’t. And if that’s what God’s like, I wouldn’t worry about it. (286-287)

—————

“Listen, every object’s in flux. The Earth, time, concepts, love, life, faith, justice, evil—they’re all fluid and in transition. They don’t stay in one form or in one place forever. The whole universe is like some big FedEx box.” (287)

—————

“Anton Chekhov put it best when he said, ‘If a pistol appears in a story, eventually it’s got to be fired.’” (287)

—————

“Yeah, but if you look at it like that we’re all pretty much empty, don’t you think? You eat, take a dump, do your crummy job for your lousy pay, and get laid occasionally, if you’re lucky. What else is there? Still, you know, interesting things do happen in life—like with us now. I’m not sure why. My grandpa used to say that things never work out like you think they will, but that’s what makes life interesting, and that makes sense. If the Chunichi Dragons won every single game, who’d ever watch baseball?” (306)

—————

“That backpack’s like your symbol of freedom,” he comments.

“Guess so,” I say.

“Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents.”

“Sometimes,” I say.

“Sometimes,” he repeats. “You know, if they had a contest for the world’s shortest replies, you’d win hands down.”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps,” Oshima says, as if fed up. “Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka. They just think they are. It’s all an illusion. If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind. You’d better remember that. People actually prefer not being free.”

“Including you?”

“Yeah. I prefer being unfree, too. Up to a point. Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined civilization as when people build fences. A very perceptive observation. And it’s true—all civilization is the product of a fenced-in lack of freedom. The Australian Aborigines are the exception, though. They managed to maintain a fenceless civilization until the seventeenth century. They’re dyed-in-the-wool free. They go where they want, when they want, doing what they want. Their lives are a literal journey. Walkabout is a perfect metaphor for their lives. When the English came and built fences to pen in their cattle, the Aborigines couldn’t fathom it. And, ignorant to the end of the principle at work, they were classified as dangerous and antisocial and were driven away, to the outback. So I want you to be careful. The people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best. You deny that reality only at the risk of being driven into the wilderness yourself.” (315-316)

—————

When I’m with the Buddha, I always feel I’m where I belong. (326)

—————

Life’s crappy, no matter how you cut it. (326)

—————

“The world would be a real mess if everybody was a genius. Somebody’s got to keep watch, take care of business.” (326)

—————

Listening to Fournier’s flowing, dignified cello, Hoshino was drawn back to his childhood. He used to go to the river every day to catch fish. Nothing to worry about back then, he reminisced. Just live each day as it came. As long as I was alive, I was something. That was just how it was. But somewhere along the line it all changed. Living turned me into nothing. Weird . . . People are born in order to live, right? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve lost what’s inside me—and ended up empty. And I bet the longer I live, the emptier, the more worthless, I’ll become. Something’s wrong with this picture. Life isn’t supposed to turn out like this! Isn’t it possible to shift direction, to change where I’m headed? (328)

—————

Oshima’s silent for a time as he gazes out at the forest, eyes narrowed. Birds are flitting from one branch to the next. His hands are clasped behind his head. “I know how you feel,” he finally says. “But this is something you have to figure out on your own. Nobody can help you. That’s what love’s all about, Kafka. You’re the one having those wonderful feelings, but you have to go it alone as you wander through the dark. Your mind and body have to bear it all. All by yourself.” (351)

—————

“Do you know where the idea of a labyrinth first came from?”

I shake my head.

“It was the ancient Mesopotamians. They pulled out animal intestines—sometimes human intestines, I expect—and used the shapes to predict the future. They admired the complex shapes of intestines. So the prototype for labyrinths is, in a word, guts. Which means that the principle for the labyrinth is inside you. And that correlates to the labyrinth outside.”

“Another metaphor,” I comment.

“That’s right. A reciprocal metaphor. Things outside you are projections of what’s inside you, and what’s inside you is a projection of what’s outside. So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you’re stepping into the labyrinth inside. Most definitely a risky business.” (352)

—————

“Good idea. Talking over things is important. Whether you’re talking with people, or things, or whatever, it’s always better to discuss things. You know, when I’m driving trucks I often talk to the engine. You can hear all kinds of things if you listen closely.” (357)

—————

“Music doesn’t bother me. To me it’s like the wind.” (358)

—————

Hoshino switched on the TV and watched the news to see if there were any developments in the murder case. But there wasn’t a word about it. Just other news—a kidnapping of an infant girl, the usual Israeli and Palestinian reprisals, a massive traffic accident on a highway in western Japan, a carjacking ring headed by foreigners, some cabinet minister’s stupid discriminatory remark, layoffs at companies in the communication industry. Not a single upbeat story. (358)

—————

“Like the saying goes, if a dog walks on, it’s bound to bump into a stick.” (363)

—————

“Mr. Hoshino,” Nakata said after a while.

“Yeah?”

“You can look at ants working for a long time and never tire of it.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Hoshino replied. (364)

—————

Yesterday, today, tomorrow—they’d all blur into one. Like an anchorless ship, time floats aimlessly across the broad sea. (366)

—————

“Without these peak experiences our lives would be pretty dull and flat. Berlioz put it this way: A life without reading Hamlet is like a life spent in a coal mine.” (379)

—————

The more you think about illusions, the more they’ll swell up and take on form. And no longer be an illusion. (384)

—————

Why do people wage war? Why do hundreds of thousands, even millions of people group together and try to annihilate each other? Do people start wars out of anger? Or fear? Or are anger and fear just two aspects of the same spirit? (386)

—————

“Listen up—there’s no war that will end all wars,” Crow tells me. “War breeds war. Lapping up the blood shed by violence, feeding on wounded flesh. War is a perfect, self-contained being. You need to know that.” (387)

—————

“Can nothingness increase?” (405)

—————

Cops, Hoshino concluded, not for the first time in his life, are just gangsters who get paid by the state. (409)

—————

“Surfing’s a more profound kind of sport than it looks. When you surf you learn not to fight the power of nature, even if it gets violent.” (459)

—————

“People are mostly a product of where they were born and raised. How you think and feel’s always linked to the lay of the land, the temperature. The prevailing winds, even.” (461)

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Bookends

1

spent the night fueling. drinking water. cooked a salmon w Xanthe’s guidance, raw segments of flesh lining the thicker bits. soft orzo mixed in w onion, garlic, and mushrooms on the side. very filling. tons of water. whiskey. laughter, a shower, and confidence.

walked to BART. into the Mission. above to the streets.

the drugged and the homeless on their wayward trips. a few blocks to Public Works and there i was, for the first time in a year, encircled by youth, liquor, and deeply throbbing bass. church.

i ordered a whiskey ginger, which i sipped while swaying to the sultry beats alongside Mark and Marie. Mark disappeared but Marie and i continued dancing; the music like a phoenix burned into grey ashes and rose again within moments to thumping New York City leftfield disco, fat w bass, happy w horns, alive w love. perfect. dance. music. so we danced.

then we stepped outside for a brief smoke, awaiting the arrival of our much beloved Norwegian prince, Todd Terje. when we reentered, “Delorean Dynamite.”

Mark and Marie edged into an unfortunate section so i ditched them for something more suitable, sonically speaking. as i pushed in from the back left corner of the crowd, a pretty girl nudged me and, when i turned, said, “you have the most incredible aura.”

and so i danced.

2

worked all day, dressed so sharp. same blue levi’s but the deer print tee had been replaced by a blue pinstripe button down. hair ain’t down, it’s all the way up. dreadbun.

Cab Calloway’s big band’s banging away in my headphones as i step onto the BART car, as the pretty girl sitting there eyes me and smiles. i smile back, standing near her. she glances up at me (or tries not to) one too many times, so i pull an earphone off and ask, “should i remember your name?”

“no.. i just like your energy.”

“ah.. i see. well, thanks, but shouldn’t you be up in the desert with all those other energy-reading folk?”

she laughs, then asks, “what are you listening to?”

i laugh too, and hand her the headphones. 1930s jazz strikes her eardrums, and from the very first moment she’s surprised, but i’m not.

“wasn’t expecting that,” she says.

“i know,” i laugh.

some silence.

“you know,” i say, “this is really funny because it’s the second time it’s happened to me in the past few days.”

i tell her something about the girl at Public Works. i proceed to pontificate about how i’m more freaked out about someone commenting on aura because it implies that they’re literally seeing colors in the air around my body like i’m the bloody virgin mary, but then i think about Meryl and realize that it might not be so farfetched. i say all of this, minus mentioning Meryl, plus all the added doubting and philosophy. i also, during this time, notice her hairy armpits.

and she never stops smiling. i got on at Montgomery, she bounces at Civic Center, and that’s that.

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the food and the abstract truth

so tonight for dinner i ate:

  • two corn tortillas
  • a can of refried pinto beans
  • a half cup of rice
  • three eggs
  • a tablespoon of soy sauce, and
  • a teaspoon of Mexican hot sauce,

amounting to about:

  • 887 calories
  • 22 g fat
  • 561 mg cholesterol
  • 2871 mg sodium
  • 129 g carbohydrates
    • 30 g dietary fiber
    • 11 g sugar
  • 49 g protein,

which, based on the standard 2,000-calorie intake, means i got:

  • 44% of my daily calories
  • 34% of my daily total fat
  • 187% of my daily cholesterol
  • 120% of my daily sodium
  • 43% of my daily carbohydrates, and
    • 120% of my daily dietary fiber,

in addition to:

  • 17% of my vitamin A
  • 25% of my calcium
  • 16% of my iron
  • 33% of my vitamin D
  • 18% of my vitamin B-6
  • 30% of my vitamin B-12, and
  • 5% of my magnesium.

in short, i’m just guilty of liking salty, eggy dinners. and sometimes science isn’t especially groundbreaking.

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walking birds in stereo

two channels of life transmitted
3000 miles across America in stereophonic sound—

two of hearts, one infinitesimal diamond
walking along the country’s deep black grooves

dreaming, “Rhythm is Rhythm—Rhythm is Life—
Music is Zen—systems, strife.” day

and night, sometimes skipping, sometimes
losing the beat but losing it together

and then finding it together on the b-side
of the very same thought, not a measure too soon.

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badass mothers

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ramblin’ ron

America. i’ve been inside you for a month. at least. what have we accomplished?

last night, Cameron blessed San Francisco with his crazy presence. balloons inflated, hot tub overflowing all over the roof, noise complaints, Mission St burritos, boys bathing each other, and general noodly mayhem. i don’t feel half-bad today in spite of having walked two miles last night and not slept until around five a.m.

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the night before, a thursday, i’d dropped off my car at my parent’s house so my dad could take it for a smog repair. (my car’s an old polluting shit so it never passes the biyearly-required smog check.) my family and i (minus big bro) dined at dim sum down the street (…in Daly City). i got down on some very non-vegetarian pork buns and shrimp dumplings. oh well.

i’ve been pretty bad about my vegetarianism the past few days (ate couple chicken sliders friday afternoon, aforementioned dim sum the night before, chicken and waffles for lunch the day before…) but overall i’m feeling good about my reduced meat diet.

i’m feeling really good about my increased yoga and pilates diet. yoga especially. i’ve so far done it twice and already love everything about it. work provides it for free in the office every thursday afternoon, bringing in this beautiful tatted lady to guide us through our breathing, movements, thinking, being. she essentially injects our stupidly stressed out selves with a little bit of peace. a little bit of kinetic energy too, with her voice lifting my awkward body to unfamiliar positions where i find myself staring down at a foamy mat, large beads of sweat collecting at my brow and then falling in droplets down, down. so, so good.

the day before, a wednesday, i arrived at the office late for work but right on time to set up Traktor. (Melanie and Holly had appointed me musicmaker for the pre-Giants game brunch.) everyone devoured chicken & waffles, which they washed down with mimosas, bellinis, and bloody marys, while i schizophrenically bounced between oldies, electronic music, and… Thelonious Monk. clearly, i was in top form, occasionally taking a break to refill my bellini with more champagne, more champagne, more champagne. Brendan joined us, and then we hit the game. the sun blazed down on our increasingly wasted bodies, we barely paying attention to the game until that late inning where the other team’s coach lost his shit on home plate screaming at the umpire, which naturally gave way to a Giants rally that brought us up 7-1. GO HOME CHICAGO. after the game, Brendan and i ditched the company crew to hit up one of his favorite bars in the city, some little nothing-special on Market St called Sutter Station. we drank and drank and talked music and reminisced and drank and drank and pulled in my little lover and hit up the jukebox with a trainful of killer tracks and drank and drank…

then i got to eat Tu Lan w my love. wonderful day, wonderful night.

two days earlier, a monday, i bid farewell to Amanda Troutslayer. she, a genius in the arts of light and magic, had had her fill of San Francisco, so she shipped her things off to the east, where she’d be delving deeper into her strange constructive arts. i love her and she loves me, but saying goodbye to her was not a thing of tears or pain but one of peace. just spinning starstuff in a swirling galaxy.

the day before, a sunday, Brendan and i did studio work. he sat at his laptop with noise-canceling headphones and a microphone while across the room i, for the first time in many years, let him record my drumming. he’s working on an album and needed some recorded rhythm, so i did my best. it was pretty fun! grueling, maddening at times playing the same song over and over and over again, trying to get the perfect take (if not the near-perfect one), attempting that same beat, those same fills, that same flourishing finale. finally, a couple whiskey gingers later, we got it down.

the day prior, a saturday, i awoke for the last morning in my foster city getaway. nobody else in the house–Natalie, Lexi, her lady friend Angela–had awoken yet. so i dressed, took Lacey for a walk around the neighborhood, fed her a few snacks, shot my car over to Lucky to pick up breakfast ingredients, cruised back over… and the ladies were arising. i found my love lounging in the backyard, so i squeezed her and planted her a few kisses, with fresh strawberries as dessert. back inside, she brewed coffee for everyone while i cooked up green eggs, refried beans, and tortillas. i also splashed out fancy fluted mimosas, doing my very best to please my lovely guests. i think i pleased them. after breakfast, the non-Natalie ladies fixed themselves up and departed, while my love and i slipped into the hot tub stark naked and happy. too much love, her lungs cried, so i laid her in bed and told her to breathe deep, which she did until she slept. i spent a few hours reading Beowulf aloud, cleaning up the house, and then whisked my love back to the city, where we melted into a lazy night of American Beauty.

american-beauty

i liked it but didn’t love it. it didn’t live up to the hype machine, disappointingly. i don’t know, it just felt more like the mad ramblings of a stoned blogger than a well-envisioned and well-executed piece of art. it felt like Office Space but less funny, it felt like Fight Club but less real (somebody wrote a great essay about this and so much more). overall, it felt lazy and lost. but it was damn entertaining!

the night prior, friday in foster city, i hosted a little adult shindig with a few close friends and their +1s. Tori (and Hannah), Dan, Mark, Lexi (and Angela), Natalie, and me–buncha weird 20-somethings spinning vinyl from across the years, drinking local beers, eating doritos, drinking mojitos made w cheap rum and basil, hopping in the hot tub, smoking, talking, arguing, feeling good. it was a damn good night.

the week leading up to that night, i’d been playing house all by my lonesome in frightened little foster city. early in the morning, Lacey would wake me up with her little paws and grumbling, so i’d rise, descend the stairs, let her out back for a wee, throw her a third of a cup of kibble (slightly dampened), then back to bed. not an hour later, i’d rise again, maybe shower, take the lady for a walk, lock her up in the kitchen, and head to burlingame. there i’d park my car in a coworker’s driveway, walk two blocks to the Caltrain station, grab a ticket, and wait for the massive steel slug to scoop and sling me and my fellow commuters north to the bay-crowned city of St Francis. in all my downtime, i’d started and barreled ahead through Kafka on the Shore, my latest love of literature, a 2002 novel by Haruki Murakami.

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precocious teenager, cooking, speaking to cats, parallel worlds, weird sex… it has already won Murakami bingo without even using the free space… and i’m not even close to done. love that man’s writing.

the friday night previous, everything was all good.

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what got people dancing?

  • “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” — McFadden and Whitehead
  • “Erotic City” — Prince
  • “Strawberry Letter 23″ — The Brothers Johnson
  • “Put Your Body In It” — Stephanie Mills
  • “Music Sounds Better With You” — Stardust
  • “It’s a War” — Kano

and a bunch of other sexy shit, surely. after my set, Nate laid down the funkiest house, blasting the party into oblivion. i got down w Natalie and Lexi, happy and in love with dance, disco, and all good everything.

the evening prior, a thursday, my marketing team (but mostly me and Eli [but mostly Eli]) hosted a fun as fuck company party at Victory Hall Parlor, just a couple blocks from the office. the man hosts some damn good trivia. ’twas a wonderful, wholesome affair truly, and my team proved victorious! yeah, that feels good. but the evening had just begun. the massive parlor check accounted for, i bounced north to Amanda’s office, where the lovely troutslayer gifted me one of the coolest fucking material items a man could have ever dreamed up:

photo

not the Daft Punk poster, silly, the perfect canvas print of the most sublime photograph ever produced (all due praise to Hubble). seriously, i just want this gift to follow me at eye level everywhere i go. because, you know, i live in a city and what are stars?

three suns earlier, on monday evening, my as-yet-unnamed band welcomed lovers and close friends into our practice studio, made more hospitable by provisions of beer, wine, snacks, and chatting. it was a private show so the band could test our music on fresh ears, ears attached to hearts that beated in unison with our own. basically, we just got all our besties to listen to our music and clap for us and boost our confidence a little bit. it was a damn fine show! i can’t wait to play an orange house party.

the night prior, sunday, i saw an actually amazing amateur band (make that two) perform at El Rio in the Mission. James Rabbit opened up followed by the Spencer Owen Timeshare. so unique and so unique, the music made it easy for Brendan, Lexi, Chris, and the whole crew to get down to white boy funkiness. earlier, my parents had come for the show but really just treated me to the best pupusas in the city. winning. funny switch from the morning earlier, when i’d invited my dad to breakfast at Brenda’s French soul food in the city, a belated father’s day present. bananas foster and pulled pork eggs benedict, so fucking delicious. godly. he talked to me a bit about his amazing motorcycle trip around the country and Canada, and we talked a bit about my ludicrous walk across the country. the last time it had come up seriously, he had seemed angry and unbelieving about it, like it was a stupid, pointless joke. this time, he treated it like no big deal… and casually recommended we bring a gun. “you should meet Natalie’s mom,” i said. after breakfast, i chilled a bit at bermuda with Chris before cruising over to crissy field to bbq with Billy for his second birthday celebration of the weekend. there he sat on a park table all by himself with the bike leaning next to him. Chris added music. Tania and Mary brought some snacks and condiments for meat and an unassembled grill. this bbq was going places. by the time my family arrived with dogs and meat, i had to bounce in Chris’ shitty, lovable acura back to Ingleside, where Brendan and i drum-brainstormed on some of his music before heading over to El Rio.

a day earlier, saturday, the morning pained my hungover brain with its bright lights and big plans. i crawled out of bed, bathed myself, and then made the trek with Traktor in my arms on the lightyear-long journey to Mars Bar in SoMa. Vanessa, Becca, and the whole Clusterf*ck crew were hosting a fundraiser birthday shindig thing, so my coworker and i had been enlisted to bestow the saturday drinkers with tunes. slowly, a couple drunks and a personal pizza later, i recovered. gig completed and wrapped in Natalie’s bug, the lady and i buzzed east to meet with her family for the little sister’s birthday. as always, it was a quiet, warm, family affair. splendid homemade sangria, fantastic homemade guacamole, and perfect homemade pizzas. Natalie’s father is quite the man.

the day earlier, friday, i bounced from work on my bike feeling happy and free. riding up the Embarcadero on a friday evening feels like morphing into a lazy bay breeze and being carried away to some fated destination. mine was the plaza in front of the ferry building, where i joined the loose and restless mass of other riders. we must’ve hung around there for over an hour until, finally, someone sharpened our spear tip and penetrated the city. off we went, Critical Mass, meandering down Market, swinging down to the baseball park, zigzagging back through Civic Center, floating up Van Ness and down the Broadway Tunnel, slicing through North Beach, bubbling up confused at North Point, swinging back through Fisherman’s Wharf, looping through Union Square, and then dropping me off a block from where i met up with Billy and his belligerent birthday crew.

even the taxi driver that jumped out of his seat to scream at my Critical companions, “DO YOU WANT TO HELP FEED MY FAMILY?!” seemed less out of line than the squawking primates locked behind the rye bar’s metal gate. once i joined them in jail, man… we drank. not sure how much whiskey and rye we had, but all i know is that Abe grabbed a glass to drink on the way to tradition down the street. out of control. looking comparatively sober, i convinced my dad to buy me a much-needed slice of pizza. the rest of the night i spent swatting away Billy’s coworker (who had apparently long-decided that she was deeply in love with me) and then kicking people’s asses at pool. kind of. eventually we got kicked out because it was long past last call, and then i biked home. i think. no, i did.

a whole week passed without my remembering anything notable, though something must’ve happened! i swear! right?

Chris and i kicked off the weekend before with two of his lady friends and a couple drinks at the Page. i wasn’t drinking, so i drank Fernet. mostly, i sipped it incredibly patiently while observing the shitstorm of judgment Chris’ lady friends sprayed over his (apparently) outdated, uncreative, and all-around lackluster wardrobe. i hardly survived it. one went home and the other walked with us to the Independent, where we met up with Mark F for a chill night caressed by the Field, composed of the main man and his drummer friend. it didn’t quite live up to other times i’ve seen Axel perform (especially at Rickshaw not that long ago and at Mezzanine years ago) in the same way that his recent album hasn’t quite lived up to previous ones. oh well. maybe he’s in a creative rut, but i still love him and the musicks he makes.

the next day–god, i’m so temporally inconsistent–Natalie and i cruised to richmond (for once, not the neighborhood) for a noodly evening at Tig’s place. i didn’t have a single intoxicating drink (unless you count that black tea i brewed) while everyone around me, including my love, got more and more fucked up… or did they? it’s a strange phenomenon: in the same way that i think everyone around me is fucked whenever i am, i felt at this party that nobody seemed particularly wasted into oblivion. i guess they’re just professionals.

two days earlier, on thursday, i had to say goodbye to yet another coworker friend. first it was Kathleen, it would later be Danielle, but this time it was Lexi. girl. friend. gone. so we went out for some silly drinks nearby, followed by a Lexi-ronny trek to the Mission to meet up with my band. because like… our band wanted to bond? first we crammed into Sycamore’s teeny backyard (oh hey Amanda!) and then we journeyed to the Makeout Room for 45s and dancing. classy.

a week before? all this time passing, my body and mind moving sometimes melded together but mostly meandering separately through various dimensions of space, time, and what have you; blue collisions in the colorless abyss. now i’m just typing words because i think they sound good. no, maybe they represent the senses-infused, eyes darting up-and-to-the-left experience of attempting to remember events not long past.

tonight? tonight i’m going to a cave party.

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Paris · Farningham · London · Amsterdam

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0

horrible traffic is the worst and i had only myself to blame.

sitting at red lights in the financial district for an hour with Natalie in the back, i felt–quite unfairly–angry and annoyed at my mom for being nice enough to offer us a ride to the airport. sheesh… what a way to start a day of traveling to the old world.

thankfully, some benevolent supreme being somewhere felt merciful because, as we pulled up to In-N-Out Burger for what we assumed would be a truly in-n-out ordering and eating experience, Natalie found out the flight was delayed. phew. i exhaled stress, inhaled rationality, quit feeling so goddamn negative, and bit into the triple-triple i had decided i so sorely needed.

supreme beings giveth… and supreme beings taketh. eventually the airline told us how long the flight would be delayed–four hours–but they wouldn’t tell us what that meant for our connection from Oslo to Paris. on paper, it very much sounded like we were missing our connection. but… it’s the same airline. maybe they’d hold the plane to Paris. they would, right? right?! nobody had answers.

“this is the worst airline ever,” proclaimed a woman waiting with the rest of us. well, if no one was going to have answers, at least someone had convictions.

to alleviate the pain of confusion, we (Natalie’s nana, cousin, dad, two sisters, the lady, and i) decided to spend our $20 food vouchers at the only real option: mother. fucking. chili’s. well, at least we could get Mexican food… and the girls just wanted salad anyway.

after we’d settled all our bags, sat at the table, and pored over the menu, the waitress came over: “just so you all know, we’re out of salad and Mexican food at the moment.”

well then.

i ended up ordering the salmon, and it wasn’t half bad. all’s well that ends well, i suppose.

after the meal but before the whole party filed out of Chili’s, i found myself exchanging small talk w the restaurant’s hostess. she told me how she hated flying while empathizing w me over our delayed flight. then she asked where we were headed.

“Oslo.”

“where’s that?”

“Norway.”

“…where’s that?”

“…Europe.”

and that was the last two-way conversation i had with a stranger before leaving the good ol’ USA. i did experience a one-way conversation at the gate, where a lady representing the airline proclaimed to our tired, weary faces that we were to take single sheets of paper spelling out our passenger “rights.” that is to say, a bunch of bullshit telling us how much we’re allowed to complain if we miss our connections in that city/country the chili’s hostess had never heard of. okay. whatever. let’s fly.

did i sleep? we left late in the evening. we had 10+ hours ahead of us. we flew northeast. we flew over Canada. we flew over icy regions. we flew over the ocean. the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. you cannot shut your window. i sat in the window seat. did i sleep? the windows use electrochromism-based smart glass. you cannot shut your window. it was night and i was asleep. i tossed and turned… if one could toss and turn in the cheapest seat screwed into the intestine of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. did i sleep? did i truly sleep? did i really awake? how many times? you cannot shut your window, even in the night. i think i slept. because if i had not slept, how could i awake? because if i had not awoken, how could i not look out the unshut window into a dreamy purple pinkish tinted sea. was it sea or snow? was it Canada or Atlantic? those were clouds. those were clouds. this was the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. this was the dream. this is the line.

flying over Norway

at some point, i became conscious. that point came at the airport in Oslo when i realized that we would actually be making our connection to Paris! what a sweet moment it was.

Paris! city of light! fluctuat nec mergitur! she is tossed by the waves but does not sink!

Sukhjit, Natalie’s dad, wrangled us a taxi in aggressive English–hey, we were all exhausted–and the annoyed cabbie cruised into the city, decorated with a decadently flashing Eiffel Tower.

after some confusion around Natalie’s family’s hotel address, we eventually found the place. right near the Tower. we all unloaded; Natalie and i decided to metro from their hotel instead of paying extra for the taxi. plus: metro rides are fun, right? we found the station alright, but it took us another 30 minutes to actually get moving since the ticket machine didn’t accept our cards nor bills. i ran up and down the street looking for what? eventually i returned to the bar above the station, which changed my bill in two seconds.

on the other side of the metro, we found our airbnb building quite easily, though the apartment find came less easily. i looked under five different door mats before finding the right one. fucking creep. we threw our luggage down and decided to venture out for food. it was nightmare on rue chaptal. there were people drinking late, weird drug deals going down, tourists exiting the Moulin Rouge, hookers, and i swear to god i saw some guy stick a needle in a women’s side. insulin or heroin, who knows? not this brain.

struggling in San Francisco traffic, struggling with a four hour delay, struggling with chili’s, struggling not sleeping over the Dreamliner’s purple pinkish tinted sea, struggling to catch the connection in Oslo, struggling to wrangle a taxi into Paristown, struggling and fumbling with money in the metro, struggling to find our apartment, struggling to exit the building, and struggling to find a place to eat…

while the blades of the Moulin Rouge windmill struggled not at all. and so we slept.

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~ 1 ~

in the morning, we walked.

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with sketchily confirmed plans to meet the girls and father at the Eiffel Tower in the morning, Natalie and i made our slow and unsure way through the streets. wrong turn after wrong turn, we realized we needed to metro if we wanted to make our meeting on time. we hopped into a big, empty coffee shop, swigged espressos, and descended underground.

La Tour Eiffel! the tallest structure in Paris! the most visited paid monument in the world! one of the most recognizable structures in the world! the epicenter of Paris Syndrome! just kidding, it’s lovely.

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we gaped and gawked as we walked up to it from the Trocadéro, we gaped and gawked as we stared up through its center, and we gaped and gawked as we took a thousand photos from the Champs de Mars. that’s five more iPhones in the world with pictures of their owners standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. one incrementally teeny tiny step closer to omnipresent peace in the universe.

even better than the Eiffel Tower was our hourlong walk along the Seine. it has always fascinated me that so many of the great European cities–Paris, London, Rome–grew their greatness on the banks of rivers. in my home country, i consider San Francisco and New York to be the two greatest cities, and they both have oceans to thank for a large part of their influence. but rivers! nothing quite like the mesmerizing aortas of legendary European cities.

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we walked east along the Seine–aiming for Notre Dame–but our stomachs ultimately decided against visiting another tourist attraction until they’d been replenished. so instead we veered away from the river into the Latin Quarter, where we eventually settled on a corner bistro. i ordered the white wine with a cream cheesy salmon salad and did not regret it.

by this point, Natalie realized that wearing new boots for a full day walking may have been a poor decision. favoring pleasure and comfort over another minute of pain and fashion, the smart girl stopped at a tourist shop (at the foot of Notre Dame) to purchase a pair of the most touristy PARIS PARIS flip flops of all time. then, finally, we went to see our lady.

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turrets, gargoyles, stained-glass windows, massive open spaces contained by medieval construction and passion, sublimity, sublimity, sublimity. after circling the length of the cathedral, we found some seats near the back and sat. i don’t remember what the girls talked about, but they talked. i sat. i sat and breathed and listened but not to the words. i listened to the everything. i tried to breathe in the voluminous cavern of sublimity. i tried to be as big a container as the cathedral. i breathed and listened and breathed and listened. i don’t how many seconds or minutes this miniature meditation actually lasted, but it was necessary. i love our lady.

in fact, that last photo might be my favorite from the trip.

outside the cathedral, we started our short walk to the Louvre. halfway, we stopped for espresso, and then we went on.

though Natalie and i had the whole next day to spend in Paris, the day i’m describing was her sisters’ first and only time there. so they perceived everything with double strength. the city of lights was on their side, for it was truly a beautiful day in Paris. just look at the Louvre!

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inside its bowels, the museum delighted no less… though it was a bit more overwhelming. is the Denon wing truly an art gallery? or is it an artistic experiment in of itself? here is a hall replete with hundreds of masterpieces, being skimmed by droves of hungry, tired tourists. and its hallmark is, of course, the Mona Lisa, commonly accepted among both art critics and the masses as the worst most famous work of art of all time. out from her underwhelming frame, the Renaissance sitter smiles slightly at the millions of crazies that come to… take photos of her? what are they capturing? themselves? the complete and utter lack of a single individual thought or emotion among the human race?

this time, my third visit to the Louvre in a little over a decade, i found myself gleefully mesmerized by the painting opposite the Mona Lisa (photo below courtesy of Eugene on Flickr). it is not just opposite in physical space, but in size, in magnitude of magnificence, and in popularity:

opposite the Mona Lisa

the Louvre’s managing team must have had a little fun hanging that one.

some bro coppin' a feel at the Louvre.

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exiting the Louvre, the first of what was to be many museum visits, with visions of classic classical art swirling in our minds and with weary feet, we made our slow way to the Jardin des Tuileries just outside of the Louvre. there, we found a little pond encircled by seats for lounging, and we obliged. and right at the pond took place one of the trip’s best events.

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the sun shone. clouds floated lazily by. two little girls played preciously on the grass. all was peaceful. the poor, dark-skinned men hawking hundreds of jingly little Eiffel Tower souvenirs had been left in the dust, and the frightened tourists could be thankful for that. sun, cloud, pond, and peace. and nobody seemed to notice the crows cawing all around us.

and was that koi carp in the pond? yes, the colorful, decorative creatures swam just deep enough in the pond that you could barely catch a glimpse of them… if you watched closely. some people around the pond seemed to have noticed because they tossed the occasional bread crumb, enjoying the sight of the crumbs being eaten away. across the pond, a seagull landed and another group of people fed it as well. eventually, the gull waded to our side of the pond, and the people to my right tossed it a bread crumb, which it ate up hastily. it waded away a bit, doing the little scared and yet hungry dance of dares that birds tend to do with their human partners. another bread crumb fell. the gull noticed it… but let it soak with pond water and sink…

SNATCH!

the gull grabbed one of the fish in its tightly shut beak! with koi in tow, the killer glided to the grass and, taking a mere moment to catch its breath, began tearing viciously into the carp’s flesh. long slabs of koi hung out its greedy beak when a few crows caught notice and came close to inspect the catch. when they came to close, the gull swallowed and took its treasure a bit further away. everyone was watching. the crows, the tourists, the half-alive prey, and… even the little girls who minutes before had been playing a game. they bravely approached the hunter and its dinner as if to chastise for eating so sloppily in front of everyone. or perhaps for not sharing with the crows.

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dinnertime indeed.

a 10 to 15 minute walk from the seagull’s pondside feast to Chez Denise, a super pretentious French restaurant with artsy placemats, chalkboard menus written entirely in illegible cursive French, and prices for entrées no lower than $25. we were in over our heads.

i’ll admit: we were dumb American tourists that didn’t speak a lick of French. i’ll also admit this: our waiter was actually pretty patient with us, even taking a few minutes to translate pretty much every item on the menu. (though he did look pissed about it the whole time.) but i’d give the place three stars because we all ordered different things and nobody seemed particularly impressed. basically, we paid around $25 per dish even though we may have done better paying half the price somewhere else.

the night was clearly ending, so we chose one more destination: the Arc de Triomphe.

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after admiring the magnificent arch, we cruised down the Champs-Élysées (god i love saying that word) and then crossed the Avenue toward Natalie’s fam’s hotel. legs. falling. off.

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eventually we parted ways, each to our different homes. France had just wrapped up an “okay” match in the World Cup (but they had already advanced passed group stage so one cared) and the bar beneath our apartment bustled with drinkers and smokers. for my own part, i had been craving cigarettes since landing in Paris, partly because it’s Europe, partly because it’s vacation, partly because nostalgia for my smoking days in Athens, and partly because i just missed smoking things. in lieu of a Parisian weed hookup, i picked up some Lucky Strikes to pair with the white wine my love and i sipped under the late setting sun.

~~ 2 ~~

’twas a good night and ’twas better sleeping in. with the sisters and father off to England, Natalie and i had Paris to ourselves.

we took our time showering, dressing, awaking. and then we headed to our morbid morning destination: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. or, as they say in English, “where Jim Morrison is buried.”

but that’s not the main reason we went. after all, everyone knows that Jim’s grave is just a hole in the ground crammed behind a bunch of prettier graves for lesser known people. no, we went because i fondly remember it being one of the more pleasant “tourist” experiences in Paris–it’s quiet, peaceful, and unique. you don’t see cemeteries like that in the Bay Area.

also, Chopin is buried there, and his grave is lovely:

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we meandered through the cemetery some more…

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^^^^^^^ crematorium selfie ^^^^^^^

we could not find Proust’s grave, but we did find Wilde’s, which was a shocker. it had always been one of my favorite memorials because so many tourists, lovers of literature, and perfect strangers had passed through, applying red lipstick and kissing the grave. it used to be covered in lipstick. now?

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apparently Wilde’s “estate” and whatever other associated authority figures didn’t like going through the trouble of “cleaning” the grave. in my opinion, Wilde is now the world’s, but apparently not everyone thinks so. no more kisses, commanded the pristine clear case. thankfully, a few rebels ignored it.

the lady and i left the cemetery feeling a little peaceful and a lotta hungry, so we started eyeing every restaurant and bistro we passed. then i remembered: Mark had recommended “the best Indian food he’d ever had in his entire life” and i had the name of the place! if only we had looked up the place before leaving our apartment’s wifi…

Natalie and i are not the best planners. we’re also not the worst. we’re like… medium good planners. we plan to go with the flow, kinda. but it was times like these that made me wish i had looked up the damn restaurant before leaving home. instead, we wandered aimlessly from mcdonald’s to cafe to cafe praying for free wifi, until finally we found a hotel that let us jump on their network. boom. right by La Chappelle station, not too far from us.

feeling giddy with excitement that we were about to eat the best Indian food on the planet and proud of ourselves for not killing each other in anger at our poor planning, we exited La Chappelle looking excitedly for muniyandi vilas (the restaurant Mark had recommended). and then the worst thing happened:

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goddamn French. leaving at the last minute for weeklong vacations whenever the hell they want. well, fuck.

amazingly, the hungry couple still didn’t kill each other. instead… we looked around. we had passed a couple Indian restaurants to get to this one. a shop across the street exhibited mannequins wearing saris. we could see a few more Indian restaurants down the street. if we wanted to eat some good Indian food, something was telling us we were in the right neighborhood.

a block or two more and we decided on a place named Dishny. and goddamn was it good. the service was typical French aloofness, but the food proved spicy and authentic. just what the doctor ordered.

time for more art! museum two of two was the Musée d’Orsay, probably my favorite museum in the world. it’s digestible and completely filled with impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. you can do it all in a couple hours, which we did minus the special exhibit, and i already want to go back again.

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probably my biggest disappointment was not being there a week prior for this impromptu (and quite unwelcome) art performance:

i love it. i love women and i love their hairy vaginas!

isn’t it funny how shocked we get when something out of the ordinary happens? what if nobody had reacted at all and simply went from canvas to canvas to canvas, as normal, or from canvas to canvas to vagina to canvas, as not normal? well… i suppose her performance would’ve been a failure and our world would look a lot different!

in reality, it was a shame because the incident led d’Orsay to take the painting down, so we never saw it. but perhaps Deborah’s message is more important than our having seen yet another impressionist masterpiece. probably.

after the museum, Natalie and i met with my old college buddy Jacob at a nearby bar. it’s a funny thing: we never once in our entire college lives made explicit plans to hang out with each other. he was one of those friends–the kind you’d see regularly because you ran in the same circles, enjoyed the same parties, lived for the same experiences. and yet… nearly five years out of college and things change. you make a point to meet up with certain people because you know they’re good people. Jacob is good people.

we bounced from the bar as quickly as we’d arrived to make for Jacob’s friend’s apartment, where we were to watch USA play Germany in the last group stage match. and that’s why, i instantly realized, you meet up with actual RESIDENTS in the cities you visit. because you get to chill in a living room with a couple cool cats, smoke spliffs, drink on the cheap, and yell “USA! USA! USA!” at the tv without feeling like a complete piece of tourist turd.

just kidding, i never chanted my country’s name at the tv, though Jacob’s French friend occasionally did a bit mockingly. it’s cool though, his bro impression was on point. and besides…

!!! USA WON 0-1 !!!

(by the way, now that the World Cup is officially over, i take it as a point of pride that we only lost to the 2014 champions by a single point. we’re not half bad!)

feeling confused by our half-victory (USA lost to the Germans but advanced past the group stage) and dismayed by the grey skies and light rain, Jacob, Natalie, and i wandered into the night in search of dinner. after the night before, Natalie and i knew not what lay ahead.

what lay ahead for me was a fancy ass fucking ave feast. that is to say, i ate a bunch of bird: duck soup and chicken breast main entrée. all spectacular and less expensive than my fish from the night before. the restaurant itself felt fantastic. eclectic, clearly hand-picked music that ranged from DJ Shadow to Fela Kuti. kind, gracious service. cool lights and cool people. large window to the drizzly street. beautiful last supper in Paris.

i captured nothing of the restaurant… except for its bathroom… which was also beautiful, industrial:

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following dinner, the three of us went for a long walk and smoke towards the Seine, where we stopped to let our feet dangle. for me, with the city lights reflecting off the dirty water, the moment was clearly a farewell. farewell to my good friend Jacob and farewell to Paris.

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we bid him adieu and boarded a metro to La Chappelle, which turned out to a poor, poor choice. that night, after the Germany-USA game, Algeria tied Russia… resulting in Algeria’s advancing past their group stage. now, my being an ignorant American, i was shocked as fucking hell to learn how many Algerians called Paris home. the city erupted. even from La Chappelle, waiting for a train to come, we could hear cars honking incessantly and people chanting in the streets “1-2-3!!! something something Algérie!!!” on our platform, fans drunkenly chanted and waved green shirts and banners. all was madness.

and our train wasn’t coming.

in fact, we’d been waiting for five minutes–a long time for the Paris metro. in the prior 48 hours we hadn’t waited more than four for a train. 10 minutes passed. 20. a train came and opened its doors, thank god. we sat down… but the train’s doors didn’t close. nothing happened. we sat for five minutes. 10. 20. a voice came over the speakers every so often to say something something in French. the lady across from Natalie and me explained to some other European tourists (from where?) that the Algerian celebration had spilled onto metro tracks, so we were being held. fuck. the lady walked, she was sick of waiting. not one minute later the voice came back and said something that got EVERYONE to exit the train. well that was that.

we journeyed into the street to start the long (not that long) walk home. the streets were exploding. people were screaming and jumping. lanes were blocked. cars that could move were carrying celebrants on their hoods, waving shirts and pride. we passed one square filled to the brim with screaming, happy fans… and we saw a wall of riot police advancing toward them. we walked on.

eventually, we reached the Moulin Rouge, meaning we were home. but first we grabbed some sweets: a pastry for me and froyo for the lady. we deserved it. oh, and i skipped the part where we bought french fries from mcdonald’s and romantically ate it in the center divide. precious.

~~~ 3 ~~~

why do i spend so much time working and visiting family and practicing in a band and making love to my girlfriend and going to shows and cleaning the house and spending money and drinking tea and watching Seinfeld and unfriending people on facefuck and studying the ants’ movements in my kitchen… when i could be writing about this trip?!

well, i’ve almost been home for two weeks now, so let’s see how my memory serves me…

smartly, Natalie and i spent our last few hours in Paris as peaceably as we could. we woke up and made our way to the metro with suitcases in tow at just the right pace to catch an easy breakfast near the train station. the lady had an omelette and i had one too… except mine was wrapped up as a crepe. poor lady couldn’t taste that.

happy and full, we crossed to Gare du Nord, a big beautiful train station in the north of Paris.

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astonished and overwhelmed by people, sounds, sights, and kinetic energy encircling us above and below, we eventually found our way to the Eurostar cars aimed at England. after several checkpoints and a bit of waiting above the trains, we slowly filed down to the boarding platform. boarding a train, one must be slightly more aware of themselves and their surroundings, as opposed to airline flying. trains will leave without you in two seconds. while i briskly marched across the platform in search of our car, Natalie lazed behind me in an omelette daze. i showed my frustration and she didn’t take an ounce of it. we bickered for just a few seconds, and then i apologized. the only fight on the trip? possibly.

comfortable in our seats, unstressed… we took our different paths. Natalie to sleep, me to National Geographic. i read about their man on an Out of Eden Walk: “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek is retracing on foot our ancestors’ migration out of Africa and across the globe. His 21,000-mile odyssey began in Ethiopia and will end seven years later at the tip of South America.” i read of his journeys through the Hejaz of Saudi Arabia. i dreamed of my own walking journey.

when i finished the article an hour later, i put on Trans Europe Express and joined Natalie in dreamland (after snapping a silly photo, of course).

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the Kraftwerk album ended in what felt like an instant and the train flew on, so i picked another musical selection and closed my eyes. then the train stopped–i realized this when Natalie tapped me on the arm. was this Ebbsfleet? this was Ebbsfleet! we scrambled to our senses, packed up our stuff, fumbled for our suitcases, and barely made it out onto the platform in time. us… and nobody else… in Ebbsfleet. middle of nowhere, England.

Natalie’s cousin Michael picked us up along with one of the bridesmaids (whose name escapes me now). they both seemed geniunely friendly, and i could understand everything they were saying because they were speaking English. mostly. after a short cruise on the highway, we arrived in the village where Michael and his love were to marry the following day. then we made our way to Tabsfield.

Kent was the county. Eynsford and Farningham were the villages. Tabsfield was the bed & breakfast. and yes, it was becoming increasingly difficult to not say everything in a British accent. and yes, Tabsfield is the best bed & breakfast of all time.

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after unloading our luggage, we were greeted by Natalie’s extended family, including nana, cousins, aunts, and uncles. and Anthea, the wonderful lady in charge of the b&b. and a deaf dalmatian. and somebody asked me if i’d like tea. and i said yes.

and so i sat on the lawn under a large parasol and capacious blue sky accented with the occasional puffy white cloud bound for London. and i drank some simple and exquisite English tea. twice.

life had just gotten a lot easier.

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with not much to do, i dug up my new copy of Tolkien’s Beowulf and read Christopher’s introduction on the lawn. all was peaceful. i felt so English drinking my English tea on the English lawn of the English bed & breakfast in the English village in the English county of England, reading an English man’s introduction to his English father’s English translation of an Old English epic poem. i felt epically English.

if only i had had more time to read the actual poem! by the time i’d finished the introduction, Natalie, her cousins, and sisters started running around getting pretty for dinner. i saw dresses and jewelry flying, so i decided to not look like a complete ape. nice dress shoes, a tucked-in button-down, all in black. the girls were in top form:

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weirdly, once we reached the pub we realized that we’d all overdressed. Michael, his groomsmen, his bride, her bridesmaids, and her family? shorts and tees. oh well… i guess i was good going with jeans.

thankfully, no one was preoccupied with fashion at the pub. was it the Pied Bull? i can’t remember their name, but the plates and pints delighted: i had tomato basil soup, cheesy cheesy mushroom quiche, and fresh strawberry creme brûlée. (you see, my mild vegetarianism had already begun.)

the rest of the night proved uneventful. Natalie, the girls, and i watched a half hour of bad hollywood, but Natalie and i gave up quick. to the cottage!

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have i talked about how amazing Tabsfield was yet? i suppose i can let it happen in bits and pieces… and now is time to describe the cottage. everything that was not the cottage–that is, the main bedrooms–were all attached to tho main house. the three bedrooms, the dining room, the studies, and the lawn in their center. off the path a bit to the side was the cottage. a little private Hobbit hole for the lady and myself. how we were granted the cottage? i don’t ask questions. we had lawn chairs and a private lawn just in front of the cottage. a teeny foyer where one might bump his or her head. a quaint little kitchen and dining area next to a living area. and then, up three teeny little stairs and under the banister placed too low, the bedroom with a bed as big as the bedroom. and a private bathroom. if only we could enjoy this thing…

~~~~ 4 ~~~~

but we weren’t to fully enjoy the cottage just yet. we slept well but woke abruptly: the wedding was looming, all was astir, and it was our turn for breakfast.

as fluffy and fantastic as the bed had been, the breakfast matched it. Henry, Anthea’s wife and business partner, guided my sleepy way to the coffee. i helped myself to fresh fruit as well. for the main meal, Anthea brought out meat and a poached egg on toast cooked especially for me. granted, it may have been her fifteenth time doing it, but she still did it once more for me.

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if i thought dressing the night before had been hectic, i was sorely mistaken. straighteners and curlers and dresses and ties and irons and ironing boards and people flew through the corridors and across the lawn and over the cobblestone paths. mayhem.

for my own part, i showered and dressed. then i made a few passing doubts about my appearance to which the wonderful lady responded with the perfect number of “it looks fine” comments as well as the occasional constructive criticism. dressed! everyone else? still mayhem, so i walked with Robert Frost on the lawn.

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maybe Natalie’s family thought me a little queer when they saw my endless hair. or maybe it was when they heard me speak to nothing and laugh at everything. but something tells me it was when they caught glances of me pacing back and forth at the Tabsfield lawn reading Frost’s poetry aloud to myself. or maybe people don’t think me as queer as i think they do.

either way, it was wedding time.

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that was the church. quaint. ass. fuck.

and the wedding itself? just the same.

and the songs we sang? joyous they rang…

[STILL WAITING FOR NATALIE TO FIND THE DAMN NAME OF THAT FIRST SONG ABOUT WALKING!!!]

definitely need to memorize that first one so i can annoy Natalie with it every single day of our walk across the country. as for the second? well, that needs to be memorized for its own merits alone, obviously. in fact, it pretty much became both a running joke and the theme song for the entire time in England. eventually Natalie’s sisters and cousins were singing it with gusto too:

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

yes. sir.

but really, the wedding was beautiful and all was full of love:

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following the fantastically humble but uplifting and love-filled wedding ceremony, we crossed the quiet village street to a large tent for the reception. the grey skies threatened rain but we lingered outside anyway, sipping champagne and scarfing down delicious appetizers that hinted at the Indian feast to come.

there were British people everywhere. perhaps a stupidly mundane statement to make, but it really struck me then. first of all, the teeth thing seems totally, weirdly accurate. secondly, the accents, obviously. thirdly… i don’t know. it was all just so… British. i wouldn’t be offended if a mediocre British writer were to say the same upon returning from an American wedding held in a quaint ass New York town far from the city.

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so they’d decided on a traditional English wedding in a wee English village, but what about the Indian groom? well, i guess he got to order the feast. from the appetizers to the spicy insane delicious curries to the chai with cake, the Indian side made itself known.

50% English, 50% Indian, 100% alcohol. over the course of the reception, i went from champagne to beer to red and white wine and back again. i don’t know how many drinks i had but i had just enough to dance my ass off with a bunch of people i didn’t know while also surviving the next day as a real, live human being. i mean, this party was truly out of control. during the groom’s speech, some little boy just pulled down his trousers and took a piss on the lawn in front of everyone. it was hilarious. and then… just look at this rave:

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to cap the evening, and our excessive drunkenness, the American party (me, Natalie, her sisters and cousins) grabbed handfuls of bottles from the reception bar before making our exit. that’s right. for some reason, when i flickered a glimpse at the bottle hidden in my coat, everyone took that as a cue to grab bottles for themselves. because we all really needed was to head straight back to the bed & breakfast and kill off at least one more bottle per person. my love in her little dress literally swung on needles in the street with two bottles at her sides–twas truly madness.

i invited everyone over to the cottage, and i made sure to be a good host. cracked open a bottle, spread out glasses, threw blankets around, and placed music in a big jar to make the most of our lack of true soundsystem. we had a grand time shaking our asses to Disclosure pouring forth out of the jar. i even heard some of the girls were twerking while Natalie’s cousin and i smoked cigs barefooted in the light rain. one of Natalie’s cousins dominated the show, at one point threatening to kill me or something if i fucked up w Natalie. i assured her over and over that my love was true.

the night got hazier and hazier. and then it must have ended.

~~~~~ 5 ~~~~~

in the morning, we ate breakfast again. except this time the pallor of the night’s drunkenness discolored the experience. well… i was fine for the most part, drinking down coffee, juice, fruit, eggs. Natalie had a harder time.

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she’s a big girl though, and we were back in the bedroom in no time, packing our things for departure. in truth, however, it takes families forever to say goodbye–even when they’re only parting to get in separate cars and meet a few miles down the road. realizing this, i started kicking around a football. then Maya joined me. Maya’s a little princess in Natalie’s family and she’s at that stage where she doesn’t quite know it yet. but she definitely knows how to pose:

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as girly as she looks, she kicked some mean football. i had fun playing with her and some of Natalie’s older cousins for a few minutes on the green, even working up a bit of a sweat.

at last, we got the show on the road. i threw sick Natalie in the back w her sisters so i could help their dad navigate. for the most part, we had no troubles.

back in the family mix but at the outskirts of London. seemed like everyone felt pretty dead tired after the night’s festivities since all anyone could do was watch glastonbury on tv and munch down on leftover Indian appetizers. Maya and i tried playing catch in front of the tv, but that annoyed a lot of people so we switched to hide and seek. it was fun trying to find her, but i felt somewhat uncomfortable when it was my time to hide. Natalie’s aunt and uncle gave me strange looks when i’d duck behind a chair or table for no apparent reason. oh well, it was either that or make the girl sad–easy choice for me.

things were getting claustrophobic, and my intermittent escapes to the backyard weren’t cutting it.

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that’s Natalie trying not to look horrendously hungover (and succeeding mightily well, if you ask me).

eventually, the OGs (Natalie, her family, and me) decided to venture into London for some touristy sightseeing. after an excessively polite introduction to the tube by one of the Brits in the family, we were on our way to…

HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL PALACE AND FORTRESS. or, the Tower of London.

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big whoop. we were all too tired and/or hungover to actually give a shit and/or read up on the history of the thing. to us, it was a big expensive pile of rocks surrounded by a bunch of fat aimless tourists. so we continued walking, aimlessly.

our collective mind took us to the River Thames. we walked on toward a bridge.

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what bridge? Tower Bridge, i guess.

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we walked on. we wandered. the rain came and the rain went. we had umbrellas. sometimes it rained hard enough for us to use them. sometimes not. sometimes it rained hard enough but we didn’t care. then it rained harder so we did. sometimes not.

at last, Abi chose a destination: St Paul’s Cathedral. we approached it from the rear, which in retrospect worked out for photography subjects.

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that elderly couple didn’t seem very pleased about being photographed. i thought about all those badass NYC photographers in Everybody Street–they don’t give a fuck, they just shoot. and so i did too. the thought didn’t die there.

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that’s what you see as you enter the cathedral. before you can be overwhelmed by the architectural complexity, the sheer sublimity, or the vast spirituality, you are neatly informed not to attempt capturing anything on film. ok. sure. whatever.

no, they’re serious.

we, tired, decided to sit near the back of the cathedral. just ahead of us, a couple ushers prevented anyone from advancing further into the church. let me restate: two old fucking egg-headed, perfectly circular black spectacle-wearing, pound-grubbing piece of shit ushers stood guard against pilgrims at the footsteps to the house of god. i wanted to meditate in the moment as i had done at Notre Dame just a couple days prior, but those ushers repeatedly broke the silence with cries of “sir, no photography!” and “no, i’m sorry, you cannot enter here.” i would try to carry on with my eyes shut but sometimes they would open to see the stern-faced fucks smiling at the pounds falling into their baskets. just disgusting.

apparently a service was set to start. we advanced toward the ushers, who promptly informed of this as well as the requirement that we stay for the service. sure, sure. we took the programs and advanced into the beautiful center of the cathedral. serene, polite, and just a little annoyed we sat down in a pew, taking everything in. on film too….

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after we’d had our fill, we exited the same way we entered, just barely dodging the shitty, judgmental looks from the guards at the gates to the house of god.

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as evening drew on, our party seemed to only grow lazier and lazier. Abi set our sights for covent garden, which sounded nice and peaceful enough. buuut it turned out to be a touristy shopping center with cheesy street performers and the classic capitalistic chaos one finds everywhere in America, from sea to shining sea.

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i hope i wasn’t acting as grumpy as i sound now. maybe it was just time to eat. it was time to eat. it was either Nando’s, some Applebees-esque fried chicken place highly HIGHLY recommended by Jacob’s Brit friend, or pho. Natalie and i had noted a pho place on the way to Covent Garden, and i think we were both curious to see how our favorite soup tasted in Europe.

it was not bad. it wasn’t great, but it was not bad! i guess it’s hard to screw up that beef broth and all the fixings–sprouts, peppers, cilantro, etc. Emilie, who happened to be knocking down another first (first flight ever, first time to Europe, first pho), didn’t seem impressed. she also didn’t seem in high spirits. at some point during the dinner, she broke down and cried out, “London. is SO. LONELY!”

i couldn’t help cracking up. she was right! maybe we were just hungover from the fun, drunk wedding. maybe the on and off and on and off rain penetrated deeper than our outer coats. maybe the gloomy faces on the tube had withered away what remained of our spirits. maybe this was Post-Paris Syndrome, as yet to be diagnosed. maybe Emilie just missed the boyfriend she’d kissed at the wedding. maybe it was everything!

but one thing i could guarantee: grey would be the color if London had a heart.

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after dinner, we found our way home, where we lazed around with the family. on the way, Natalie informed me that her aunt had informed her father that the unmarried lovers were forbidden from sleeping together. we could sleep in the same house–we could even sleep in the same room–but we could not sleep side by side. lame. everyone knew. i definitely felt like i was in Managua for a second there, as uncle after uncle and cousin after cousin came up to us to express their pity and laughter at the matter. all i could do was laugh as well!

but, of course, i thought it a very, very stupid policy, and immediately set to work on other arrangements.

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~~~~~~ 6 ~~~~~~

in the morning, i discovered the greyness of London nestled deep inside. and the lack of Natalie meant i had nothing to temper its pallor. not. good.

somebody brought me breakfast–a few small slices of bacon on a roll. it served as a simple reminder that i should feel grateful: grateful for the death of a pig, grateful for a family accepting enough to share its roof and food, and grateful for the privilege of journeying to far-off lands for weeks at a time. to nurture my nasty mood would be self-indulgence in the worst imaginable way.

this entire philosophical conversation playing out silently in my mind nearly turned me around. then i tried to take a shower. a freezing… cold… shower. gah!!!

not allowed to sleep with my love! cold shower! lonely London! there was nothing i needed more than to wander around the Tate Modern, our next destination on Abi’s itinerary. i’ll embed some photos below, but my favorite pieces from the art gallery were actually films.

the first, in the ghosts/surrealism exhibit, was basically a small pitch black room playing ominous, ethereal sounds. i held Natalie’s hand as glimmers of white figures flashed across the walls, evoking the feeling of living inside a nightmare.

the second film was an installation piece by Omer Fast examining “the conventions of media reportage, storytelling and historical representation.” here’s a description from Tate Modern:

The Casting 2007 is a four-channel video installation projected on two double-sided screens, so that only two projections can be seen at any one time. One side shows obviously edited footage of an American soldier in plain clothes telling the artist two violent stories: one about a self-harming girl he met in Germany, and another about a traumatic experience from his time in the Iraq war. On the other side, Fast presents reconstructions of these two interwoven stories and of the casting session for the role of the soldier. These scenes also appear to be heavily constructed: each sequence sees the actors holding unnatural poses, simulating the look of a still image.

basically Omer explores how the media can blur, mend, and downright distort our impressions of events taking place in the world. oh, if somebody could do this for the currently reignited Israeli–Palestinian conflict! (just kidding, there are probably an infinity of art pieces exploring that.)

the films ruled, but there was more…

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it’s actually a great museum. it’s big but not overwhelming. every floor has one or two physically opposite exhibits, and each side had a separate theme. and as far as i could tell, it progressed fairly chronologically from surrealism on the first floor to contemporary art at the top floor.

at the top, we caught fantastic views of London while sipping on espressos. at last, peace.

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back down in the madness, we meandered around the museum’s perimeter to Shakespeare’s Globe, which turned out to be a 1997 reconstruction of the famous Globe Theatre that played the Bard’s creations back around 1600. that was disappointing for me. thankfully, we didn’t quite manage to time a tour correctly, so Abi decided to go back the next day.

EAT logo_2013feeding time. we’d been seeing this sign all around London, and its commanding message finally yanked us in like a tractor beam. no regrets: the food actually turned out pretty well. and my vegetarian option (toasted caprese sandwich) actually proved to be a solid choice! things were looking up.

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refueled, we all decided to get some hardcore touristy shit done: Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey.

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once again, i had zero history complementing these wondrous sights… but this time i felt less guilty about it. the architecture spoke for itself. sure, they’re just political and religious structures, but that’s usually what they are–from the Pyramids to the Parthenon to the White House.

as we winded around a bend to the Abbey, a sign informed me that we were right on time for “Evensong.” and, as it turns out, i’m quite guilty of blindly wanting to participate in events at churches that involve “songs.” whether they really wanted to or not, Natalie and her family followed me into Westminster, where we filed into seats for a nearly hourlong church service. i learned that night what an Evensong is: basically just evening mass with more things sung than spoken.

Many people come to Westminster Abbey every year seeking God’s forgiveness, healing and wholeness, as part of their journey as followers of Jesus Christ.

down. i even recorded the whole thing on my phone because i love Jesus so much! no but really, it was stunningly beautiful. especially the part when the priest told us all to pray for the Royal Family because their life is very hard and such, and then all the little boys (eunuchs?) like little angels sung a long aaaaaaaaaaamennnnnnnnnn. truly gorgeous. truly. and then we went to the Westminster Abbey gift shop!!! and i felt like i was in time union covent garden square: the outlet all over again.

okay, let’s just say my feelings of peace and reverence and healing and wholeness were all wrapped up with hatred for a big, fat, rich church and political system. and when we left the museum shop, London poured with all her might. none of that bullshit drizzle from the day before, cats and dogs this time.

Natalie and i bolted for a station to tube us back to Upminster. we grabbed our belongings, said peace to the family, and then bounced to Whitechapel, where Mr. Andrew S., chief deliverer of solid house music and impossible dreams, greeted us with open arms.

Andrew, his roommate, his friend, Natalie, and i then hit the streets in search of a pub to watch the Algeria-Germany game. we eventually found one and proceeded to order an ungodly amount of food–so much that we couldn’t fit it on the first table we chose. scarfing down everything in sight and downing massive pints, we watched the long stalemate match roll into extra time. nobody else at the pub cared except for some old man rooting for Germany halfway across the room. i think the servers cared because they were quite ready to go home. Natalie and i cared because we had seen the hearts and souls of hundreds of Algerians spilling with incredible passion all over the streets of Paris. Andrew cared because Germany was just too good. and then they won. damnit.

~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~

i awoke with Natalie at my side, happily.

we had also happily slept in, giving the old “changing the guard” a small dose of what it so sorely needs. actually, we just felt happy to be sleeping in and together.

cleaned up, we walked toward Whitechapel station but got hooked by a full English breakfast on the way. patiently and peacefully, we sat outside in the alley, watching the passersby. we were patient, it was peaceful. it might have had something to do with the girls not being around… or maybe we had just slept well.

our fourth museum– but the first and only of science–lay before us…

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now, i’ve been to the American Museum of Natural History (in NY) a couple times, so you could naturally assume that i’d compare the two. i mean, AMNH has that big, beautiful planetarium and the timeline of the universe surrounding its entirety in a spiral.

but London’s Natural History Museum is dope too! right in the beginning, we escalated into this massive, smoldering young planet Earth and explored volcanoes, earthquakes, and other terrestrial destruction.

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holy lava suit! are you my Daft Punk?

Natalie and i walked into this little corner room dressed like a Japanese corner store, complete with beers in the fridge and noodles on the shelves. then the room started shaking and flickering and everything on the shelves rattled madly while all the museum’s patrons looked at each other smiling, bewildered. total. earthquake. simulation.

awesome. the next exhibit we wandered through probably took the cake though. minerals.

if there’s one thing StarCraft taught me about minerals, it’s that they’re very very important and you never have enough and you always need more. you’ve not enough minerals. not enough minerals. we require more minerals. and so on. there are minerals aplenty at the Natural History Museum! emeralds, diamonds, hundreds of naturally colored diamonds, gold, more emeralds, sapphires, moon rock, martian rock, whatever you want, rocks, minerals! got ‘em!

we walked and walked down the long dark hall, sprinkled with a thousand minerals on both its long sides. zigzagging through a rock collection: there’s nothing quite like it.

the rest of our time at the museum we mostly spent lazily browsing through all the animals, those once living and not. both were beautiful and wondrous:

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we also wandered though the wildlife garden just outside the museum.

green green green it was, but we were quite ready to be even lazier than all that. though already outside, we had to wind our way back through the museum to exit to the street (mad, mad London) so we could walk our way north to Kensington Gardens. on the way, we picked up a bag of chips and a bottle of wine.

Kensington Gardens is big. now, it’s not 1000 acres big like Golden Gate Park, but it’s still got 270 acres to it. and it’s not just a soggy, mangled mess of outside lands, it actually originally served as a hunting ground for Henry VIII. (oh dear, what will say they of our rich, fat kings? the rich, fat kings of 2014?) then they became the private gardens of Kensington Palace. and then?

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and then two tired Americans wandered in squeezing each other and oh-so-eager to kill a bottle of wine in public. luckily we’d saved a cup that had been for lemonade at the museum. one small plastic cup full of white wine, the shining sun, and romantic little us in the most perfect spot just north of the Round Pond.

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we swigged and splayed out, kissed and played in the grass. i took my shirt off and made the girl jealous. an Arab family picnicked wholesomely near us. couples and friends were strewn about. a little boy obnoxiously whistled incessantly in the distance. i kissed my love. the wine’s surface slowly dropped, clouds in the sky wiggled their grey fingers in front of the sun. i kissed my love.

with the chips and wine decimated and the minimum number of kisses doled out, we lifted ourselves back into our wandering way. i had to see the “Serpentine.” if i hadn’t picked Kensington Gardens because it looked so big and green in the middle of grey London, then i had picked it because it contained a sperm whale-shaped body of water named the Serpentine.

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perfect couple in the park, we purchased some ice cream to accompany us from the whale’s belly to the tail. in general, i’d probably say the whale looked cooler on the map, but its flukes did not disappoint:

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all was full of love. the fountain felt like a small village of voyeurs and gurus. and we were the lovers. i think i may have squeezed Natalie and tried to cover her in kisses. i wish i’d done it for longer. i once wondered, “if i had truly lived in the moment, wouldn’t i still be there?”

our stomachs grumbled. i guess ice cream wasn’t really cutting it. we exited the Gardens at Lancaster Gate and reignited the classic search for familiar food in a strange land. after cutting through a few streets, we found an unassuming Indian place. once we entered, however, it was assuming. at first i thought it a bad sign that not many people were already eating inside… but we excused it (foolishly) because of the early hour or whatever. also we were hungry. once we were already seated, people began filing into the place one-by-one, which i took to be a good sign (though it could have just meant that other stupid tourists were [foolishly] trusting our presence).

seriously though, this was the fanciest Indian restaurant ever. i mean, it wasn’t DOSA chic modern fancy. it was like… trying to have the flavor of an authentic Indian restaurant except all the servicemen wore white suits and walked around serving everybody really deliberately and exceedingly politely. but then… the prices were on par with a what dingy, cheap Indian place would charge. but see: if i had received dingy, cheap Indian food, that would have been fucking awesome. but i knew that wasn’t going to happen. it’s like that classic joke… cheap, fancy, good: pick two. normally i shoot for the cheap, good places–they’re not fancy. some of you might enjoy fancy and good places because you can spare the money–i do not fault you there. yet, at this particular time in London, i found myself at a cheap and fancy Indian restaurant–and my food was on the way.

well, it wasn’t that terrible. i ate it. really.

after dinner, these two lovebirds did a curious thing: they split ways. Natalie went all the way back to Upminster to meet up with her family for the USA v Belgium game. i went as far back east as the London Bridge, which i crossed with cigarette in mouth after handing £5 to a random hobo girl on the street. she said she was originally from Canada, had just arrived from Macedonia, and had plans to visit California. £5. there ya go. i smoked my cigarette, crossed London Bridge, and felt so cool.

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i reached the Old Kings Head a good while before Andrew arrived, so i grabbed a seat outside in the street. i smoked, sipped, and picked a good spot to watch the game. as USA’s outlaw bar for this game, the place overflowed with fratty retards and young Americans (the kind that scares Bowie). i just smoked and sipped, eventually striking up conversation with some chill English folks. Andrew arrived and so did the game.

it sucked. it really did. we should’ve won but we didn’t. we lost. but not all was lost!

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yeah, at least that happened.

~~~~~~~~ 8 ~~~~~~~~

thanks to the good graciousness of our most esteemed host Andrew and his (presumably extant though unseen) roommate Will, Natalie and i once again awoke lucky enough to be in the same room, in the same bed, and in each other’s arms. fantastic.

but not all was fantastic! my eye hurt. it felt irritated, like maybe some dust or hair had grasped on to my eyeball with all its might. i rubbed them but nothing. oh well, these things happen in the morning. waking up can sometimes seem pretty arduous because

1) sleep felt so fucking good,
2) the bed feels so fucking good,
3) consciousness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and
4) you know you look like shit.

yeah, i know Natalie doesn’t care, but i care. and in this instance, not only was i ugly, but being ugly hurt too. so i stood up and hit the bathroom, nearly diving into the sink’s rush of cool water, madly splashing myself in the face repeatedly with handfuls, trying trying trying to get this fucking thing out of my eye. but nothing.

i repeated the whole process… but nothing. facing the mirror, i stretched wide my eyelids with one hand while trying to pull the thing out with the other. but where was it? i couldn’t even see it. i leaned in mere inches from the mirror searching for the damn dust devil or whatever the hell else it was… but nothing. i could see nothing. i tried gently brushing my eye, in case it was an evil transparent hair or something. but nothing.

oh well, maybe time would heal it.

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Natalie and i dressed ourselves and prepared for the long pilgrimage ahead. the day began the same way the prior had started–with breakfast in the alley near Whitechapel. this time, on my new semi-vegetarian quest, i ordered a mushroom omelette. it ended up being a massive chunk of cheese and a million mushrooms wrapped in way too much egg for one person. it truly felt like American servings… plus the added bonus of English tea. Natalie and i sort of became enchanted with that place.

after breakfast and a tube ride, we met up with Sukhjit and the girls, hopped in the car, and started our slow southeastern way towards Salisbury. that is, to Stonehenge.

going to see Stonehenge is just like going to see the changing of the guards, except that it’s designed for weirdly metaphysical/historical people instead of weirdly tradition-loving/pop culture people. i knew i really wanted to visit the site–even though i assumed it would be disappointing–but i couldn’t tell how everyone else felt. Abi sounded optimistically excited… but she usually sounds that way. Emilie seemed nothing but open. Sukhjit was just chill as fuck and somewhat like a man living his life, driving the highway of fate, following destiny. Natalie took after her father and her little sister–quiet, accepting, open.

driving driving driving, and all the while that irritation in my eye. what could it be? Natalie suggested i might have scratched my eye, which i learned was an actual thing: “corneal abrasion.”

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well, fuck. what the fuck! i couldn’t tell which felt better–eyes open or eyes closed–but when i closed my eyes, i passed out, and unconsciousness certainly feels better when you’re suffering from a corneal abrasion.

when i awoke, the scratch in my eye. literally i could think of nothing else… except maybe Stonehenge. we were close. and the scratch in my eye. strange early human spirituals and the scratch in my eye. alignment with the heavenly bodies and the scratch in my eye. the universe, a scratch in my eye.

there it came. there it is… there it was. we drove so near to it and then drove right past it. that’s weird. for a second it looked like you could drive straight up to it and that would be that. but that… wasn’t that.

instead we went on to a little roundabout, turned, and took a few more minutes’ drive to a visitor center nowhere particularly near the damn thing we’d come to see. as it turned out, some self-congratulatory organization called the fucking “english heritage” decided the best thing to do was rip out the parking lot near Stonehenge (okay, fine), make everybody drive a mile to this swanky new Stonehenge visitor center (but why so far?), and charge them each £20 for the fucking privilege of riding a Disneylandmobile over to a circle of rocks that had once been free to see for all humanity for 5000 fucking years.

and i know you want to blame my mood on the scratch in my eye.

but fuck! what the fuck! twenty fucking pounds! i mean, Christ. even in spite of his blood-sucking lawyer, John Fucking Hammond was going to make Jurassic Park a place that everyone could visit–even those that didn’t have money. and here i was in the middle of fucking nowhere, England dolling out twenty fucking pounds to an unknown group of dipshits that probably have fancy committees and grand ideas just so–i repeat–i could have the distinct pleasure of walking up and encircling a few giant rocks placed by OUR ancestors five millennia ago. what. the. fuck.

okay, maybe my scratched eye was partly to blame for how mad this made me… but seriously? i could not comprehend. the ways of capitalism. UK, the old USA. these were my thoughts as i meandered around a couple reconstructions of huts that might have been used by the Stonehenge builders’ people. they looked about as cool as the indigenous Californian hut you can visit on the original SF Mission tour. except that tour only costs a few bucks (and you at least expect the Catholic Church to rob you).

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i swore i’d get over it. i filed onto a stupid fucking car shuttle with Natalie, her family, some random strangers, and my scratched eye. we bustled along the path to Stonehenge. i brought the stupid fucking electronic tour mechanism to my ear and said, “hello?” to make Natalie and her sisters burst out laughing… which made me feel somewhat better about this whole stupid experience. oh, life.

and then we–finally–experienced Stonehenge.

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maybe it was the twenty fucking pounds. maybe it was my scratched eye. maybe my expectations were too high (they weren’t). whatever it was, this didn’t turn out to be the spiritual pilgrimage i thought it might’ve been. it was no Burning Man nor Grand Prismatic Spring nor Acropolis. it was a beautiful, consciously arranged collection of concentric monoliths from the Neolithic period… ruined… less by time than by some shadowy, self-important crew of fools that believed expensive exhibits with giant LED screens matter as much as one’s simple experience of rock, air, and sky.

i wanted to feel peace, but i boiled with rage.

i wanted to feel closer to humanity, and yet i felt more distant.

i wanted to strike an inner balance, and yet i struck nothing but eye-to-scratched eye with a plastic man:

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an artificial face for a very real skeleton found near the site of Stonehenge. my plastic kin.

our party of five left the site and museum mostly speechless, except for occasional directions, finding our way to Salisbury. i mean, Stonehenge was the day and Stonehenge was gone. now there was nothing left to do but take a train back to London. our time with Sukhjit and sisters was pretty much at an end, and that was something to be sad about. but my eye still felt scratched and nothing could be sadder than what those fools had done to Stonehenge.

manic after spending so much on a Stonehenge ticket and now on a train ticket, i decided to splurge on some food. i don’t even remember what we got but it was all worthless and overpriced. an apple? some pastries Natalie couldn’t eat? i don’t know. on the train back to the city, Natalie and i napped some more. probably necessary.

Covent Garden. scratched eye. we were late.

there was my cousin David and his wife Evelyn waiting, probably hungry as hell. given that it was our last proper night for dinner in London, i did what i had to do: “what do you know about this Nando’s place?”

“Nando’s! let’s do it.” yeah, they were hungry.

we walked a couple blocks and entered the mind-blowing establishment (just kidding–remember Jacob called this place the applebee’s of the UK). down some stairs, a server brought us to a booth. it was a nice booth, but she wasn’t our server. she brought us to the booth and gave us menus, but that was it. next, we had to choose what we wanted and then go order it up front. so it’s like one of those weird places where you’re not sure if it’s fast food or not. whatever. everyone was hungry.

CHICKEN! quite the fucking vegetarian, amirite? but goddamn, that chicken was good. especially all spicy the way Natalie and i ordered ours. David and Evelyn seemed shocked that we ordered our chicken at the highest possible spiciness rating, but i mean… what else could we do at a chain restaurant serving chicken in London? i mean, come on.
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all in all, it was a chill dinner. two couples, one family, and a scratched eye. ouch.

~~~~~~~~~ 9 ~~~~~~~~~

who could be sad about leaving London? lonely London.

for the third night running, our luck felt interminable because Will’s bed was still all ours. but we didn’t have time to think about that. we had a flight to catch.

awake, dressed, packed, and out the door we went. even with the sun still trying to rise, we couldn’t spare a moment for our favorite Whitechapel breakfast joint. first to central London, where we grabbed a crappy burger king breakfast (vegetarian! not) and a fast train to heathrow. at the airport, London’s typical money-grubbing bullshit. our klm guy sounded like @comcastcares the way he gleefully informed us how he’d saved us so much money by only charging us 50 pounds instead of letting us make the foolish foolish mistake of going through security and to the gate only to find out that checking the same bag there costs three times as much! well gee golly thanks sir! please let me know when i can give you random cash anytime you’re thinking of charging me triple an hour later! take it! money! yay!

to Amsterdam we flew. thank. god.

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but we weren’t done yet. we trudged through customs (complete with a weird Russian kid blasting shitty house music from his headphones–off his head–for everyone in line to hear), confusedly found a train to central Amsterdam, and even more confusedly found a tram at Amsterdam Centraal that would take us to our hotel. or at least to where the hotel’s office was located, which would then be followed by a courtesy car ride a few blocks away to our little apartment.

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phew.

all in all, we’d walked to the tube to the heathrow express to the plane to the train to the tram to the car ride to our new home in Amsterdam. foot to train to train to plane to train to tram to wheel. christ. how were we not sick of moving, i have no idea.

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what came next is somewhat muddled in my mind, and my notes aren’t much help. i’m pretty sure we had plenty of time, so i can’t imagine we did anything immediately but pass the fuck out. but maybe not. maybe we bathed. we probably bathed at some point. but i also remember getting Mexican food. yes, for our first meal in Amsterdam, we went out for Mexican food. it was highly rated, i guess? it really wasn’t bad but it’s probably always gonna be a mistake for a couple Californians to try Mexican food in the Netherlands. oh well.

then we went grocery shopping. because that was a thing we could do. we wouldn’t just be granted the joy of sharing a bedroom and the bed included therein, but we’d also have the whole place to ourselves, including bathroom and kitchen. we could strip each other down to nothing and romp around and clean each other up and cook each other extremely non-vegetarian bacon and fucking do whatever the fuck we wanted. and so we went grocery shopping.

after shopping but before departing for the night proper, Natalie and i cleaned up good. she put on her black laceyish dress and black boots while i slipped into my day-before-the-weddding digs–black dress shirt, black dress pants, black socks, and black dress shoes.

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we stepped into the Amsterdam evening cool, love-locked, and consciously oblivious like Vinny Gambini and Mona Lisa Vito in rural Alabama. we floated down the street a lovely black heart. two Americans purifying themselves of London in a blaze of blackness doused with white wine.

our one and only official plan for the evening was to see a performance at the Royal Concertgebouw, a world-famous concert hall constructed in the late 19th century. while we killed time before the show, Natalie and i sat side by side, both in black with two glasses of white, staring out the large window of a wall at the Concertgebouw’s bar.

Amsterdam already felt different. most people (everyone?) spoke English. and they were happy to! friendly. wonderful. positive. accepting. smiling. out the window we carefully observed what we’d noticed all day: the peacefulness of the street. walkers, bikers, drivers, trams–all swirled in peace across little galactic intersections. everyone biked–elderly people, children, parents, businessmen, businesswomen, lovers, hipsters, bums, dandies, everyone! such splendor.

our blackness, full of white, rolled itself into the Concertgebouw concert hall.

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truly splendid.

mouths gaping, my love and i slowly found our seats on the left side of the center floor area. seated, we continued gaping. i personally couldn’t get enough of the names of all the great composers printed on plaques all around the room. and the incredibly massive organ, of course. a truly beautiful concert hall.

the music surpassed the architecture. while we were there to see the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, not the full Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, i was not disappointed. first, it was just the chamber orchestra performing a piece by Mozart. then Vesko Eschkenazy joined them as soloist on a Bach violin concerto. next we had Dominic Seldis on double bass soloing in Variations by Paganini, which “has a tricky solo port containing passages that from time to time are almost unplayable.” he played them. flawlessly. after the intermission, the chamber orchestra played the ‘American’ Quartet by Dvořák. (America! too bad it was the least interesting piece here). THEN Eschkenazy and Seldis came out for a bit of a solo duel in a Gran duo concertante by Bottesini. and they were both on FIRE. for nearly the entire performance, i glued my mind to their strings and vibrated divine.

giddy after the performance and already falling in love with Amsterdam, i took my beautiful woman by the hand and walked with her across the grand Museumplein green toward a large imposing building in the distance. it was the Rijksmuseum.

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we passed through its picturesque little tunnel and pressed toward the dark center of Amsterdam. all dressed in black, neither of us feared what Jacob had warned us: “Amsterdam is like Dante’s vision of hell, so the deeper you descend into its rings, the greater the sins will be.” we knew what we wanted.

if only everything didn’t look so touristy. we’d be the dumbest looking stoners in town. or would we? we were in Amsterdam, after all. but we were walking through this avenue that was like the two restaurant sides of North Beach smashed together–no street. just all fancyish people, restaurants, and hosts trying their damndest to get you to sit down. one guy loudly asked me if i were Turkish. i smirked thinking of Meryl, and of all the other people that’d imagined me Palestinian or Israeli or Arab of some sort. “nope!”

we finally settled on this place called Rookie’s. because, you know, we were rookies and had no idea how to get high in Amsterdam. lazy and confused, we ordered a pre-rolled spliff, large and conic. we sat by the window next to a trio of cute girls and lit up. the music seemed like a solidly acceptable collection of tunes for a wide variety of stoners. that is, it was tolerable but not fantastic. but whatever, we were getting high.

higher and higher. and in a place we really wanted nothing more to do with. so we left. higher and higher.

walking down the street, we both tried our best (and failed) at not looking high ass fuck. i just needed to escape all the lights, which we managed quickly. we strolled along a canal going back the way we came… until i spotted a bench. you know, just a bench on a corner. not on the bridge or near a park or bus stop or anything, just a pretty little bench nestled between some bushes and flowers at the base of an apartment building. the lovers sat on the bench. i kissed her. we feigned sobriety. we kissed. such a nice bench. such a nice city with nice people and nice weed. lovely little Amsterdam. i could get used to this. we were getting used to it.

we also got used to not knowing exactly where the hell we were or where we were going.

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bikes would’ve been nice, but we were just high and suddenly tired and hungry in a strange new city with a strange new apartment to find. plus, the canals and arrangement of Dante’s Amsterdam served to completely confuse the hell out of us. multiple times. we wandered and wandered until we found our neighborhood–a nice success–but the lady starved on.

it felt like the first night in Paris. and just like that night, we found our blind way to a mideast/Mediterranean establishment. shoarma. on the. corner. it was actually delicious as fuck, we scarfed it the fuck down like meat-eating vegetarians, and passed the fuck out.

~~~~~~~~~~ 10 ~~~~~~~~~~

we awoke in no rush.

we made breakfast and dressed ourselves for the day before sliding down the apartment’s steep stairs to a double espresso right outside. careless, easy Amsterdam. so easy to wake and dress and sip a double espresso while the masses various walked, biked, drove, and trammed by. an orderly metropolitan chaos.

up, up, up and yet quite not up enough, we found our way back to the Museumplein for a spliff on the upraised triangle of a lawn. what a strange city, with its beautiful concert hall, peaceful roads, and stoned tourists! now we were up!

crossing the Museumplein like we knew the city oh so well, we coolly wandered up to the Rijksmuseum. ART IS THERAPY, the museum proclaimed.

actually, it was incredibly talkative. while architected among the greatest galleries and museums in the world, the Rijks had something peculiar cropping up along its walls inside and out, in alcoves and plop right next to the most famous sculptures in the world. they said mostly meandering things, reciting existential questions and critical questions about itself, its way of seeing, and the things to be seen. it challenged everything, including itself and me. it was hilarious.

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but that’s not all… this museum was actually full of the dopest art! as a Netherlands national museum, its thousands of pieces were mostly dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. popular masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer shared their foundations with wartime antiques, lavish dresses, and painstaking models of ships as big as beasts.

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truly, truly splendid and well-deserving of meeting the Concertgebouw eye to eye.

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after the museum, we splashed a bit in a fun fountain, shopped a bit for souvenirs, and then headed home to recharge. how draining museums can be! my love, the greatest grocery shopper in the world, fed me little morsels of sweet and salty snacks in between kisses salty and sweet.

recharging can sometimes make a man and his lady feel quite famished, in spite of snacks, so we spied our next destination: Little Thai Prince. according to TripAdvisor, that was the Thai food to get, and it was near the red light district, the Tour Eiffel of Amsterdam. just kidding.

no but i’m serious about that Thai! and it lived up to its fame. situated on a cheesy, touristy alley, it was a bit funny to be love-struck and waiting for Thai with so many strange, uptight, and overly laidback tourists confusedly wandering by. nah… everyone was chill as fuck. it’s Amsterdam!

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after delicious dinner, we meandered our way back to the red light district. wow. it was not yet dark, so this is how i remember it:

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i don’t know what i’d been expecting. i didn’t realize there would be real live human prostitutes just standing behind glass, seductively slash playfully shaking their tits and asses around like it was nothing to stand in a window and do that kind of thing. i mean, i just turned a corner and BAM! plastic women. definitely, yes, i am programmed to stare but also wow, was that real or plastic? they looked like dolls or CGI except hella well done. i wanted to go inside to touch one and see what they felt like or to check whether they were just high-tech holograms… but Natalie wasn’t into it.

instead, we rolled our fat asses into a shitty looking dive cafe and ordered an overpriced, pre-rolled spliff. puff puff puff… and then what? once again, we were sitting high ass fuck in a shitty cafe wondering what one did while high in Amsterdam. probably not this.

when we stepped outside, it was drizzling slightly and the air felt so nice and it felt good to be high gliding down the street with my love’s hand in mine.

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stoned, stoned we wandered home. the long, winding, perplexing road home. we passed a glorious church. stopped for ice cream. ice cream, love, sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~ 11 ~~~~~~~~~~~

sleep, love, bacon.

bacon! what kind of vegetarian…

not the good kind, let me tell you that. but still, bacon! bacon, and then Blue Bird.

Blue Bird was the only cafe actually recommended by a friend (Jacob) that we ended up visiting and man, what a good one. killed the other two cafes we’d been too. i guess this one had more of a history, but that didn’t surprise me. two floors tall with big windows looking out onto the street, you don’t feel like a complete piece of shit wallowing in the darkness. and yet, not so sunshiney that paranoia might thrive. at the top of the steps, we stepped up to the bar to order some weed–this time to roll myself. oh, and a smoothie.

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back facing the window, i rolled us a little something while sipping my smoothie. Natalie pointed out some guy sleeping w his face on the bar, blitzed. i wagered he simply never stopped after last night started, and this was a mere checkpoint before bigger, better parties. or so i liked to think.

up, up, up. higher, higher, higher. kisses to my love and such.

it looked a bit rainy outside but nobody wants to stay stoned and cooped up in a cafe, so Natalie and i hit the street. we walked in no particular direction, just enjoying the high. we happened to run into Spinoza, my personal hero:

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and then it started to pour. like drizzle, light rain, rain, heavy rain, and pour had been placed on an exponential graph so that it took all day to drizzle, an hour to light rain, and a swift minute for cats and dogs to start leaping onto unsuspecting heads across the city. like little oily globules dodging the torrent, people all over the streets darted for the nearest overhangs. some strangers, Natalie, and i chose a swankyish looking hotel. i mean it had a giant overhang for a gang of not-so-dry folk, automatic sliding doors, and a couple big dudes dressed in suits. but we weren’t getting wetter and the dudes in suits didn’t seem to mind, so that’s where we all hung out.

Amsterdam stood still.

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it rained and rained; the people around us realized their conversations couldn’t be so fleeting. couples inched closer together. i kissed my love.

it rained and rained, but it appeared to be abating. at least a little bit.

i couldn’t remember how much rain i was willing to walk through, a thought i expressed to Natalie. she agreed with my confusion and so, a couple minutes later, we left the overhang. after all, it was only a little rain.

we didn’t walk long, dropping into a record store one block away and then into a corner pub a few blocks further. beer. specifically, La Chouffe.

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now, if you’re thinking i selected this Belgian strong pale ale purely on the basis of its delightful little gnome of a mascot, let me save you some trouble. yes. yes i did. and it was fucking delicious.

Myrabelle was the name of the pub and it was bartended by a more muscular and more feminine version of John Dwyer. in my eyes. and she brought me my delicious Belgian and Natalie’s delicious Strongbow and the rain cowered in the sun’s sight and we drank to the peace of Amsterdam. i had a Heineken to follow my fancy brew and Natalie had another cider. to the gods.

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this was true vacation. i mean, we’d spent the entire aftermorn eating bacon, getting high, wandering in the rain, and drinking beer, so obviously we were tired and needed to head home and recharge. you know, with gluten-free crackers, goat cheese, smoked salmon, olives dripping in oil and basil, water, and wine. and each other. wine, water, and love–the three components to a perfect evening, night, or sunrise.

which obviously made us all the more hungry. and so, obviously, being in Amsterdam, we went to another Thai restaurant to be pleasantly surprised once more. Khorat Top Thai it was called, and a Yelp reviewer had said, “However, there is one dish on the menu which keeps me craving and coming back for more!! Plaa Sjoe-sjie. OMG! It is a battered and fried red snapper in a coconut curry sauce and lemon leave. Don’t even hesitate. Order this. You’ll thank me!!”

and so i ordered it. and so i thanked her. fucking yum.

now what? eat more? just kidding… with a few hours to spare until the NED v CRC World Cup game, we walked our fat and content asses a block over to Vondelpark, the big central park in Amsterdam. not sure what we wanted to see, we truly just wandered around, eyeing the big city park. it didn’t blow me away. it was cute, but after the adorable rest of the city… i dunno. it was cool.

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gametime.

we somehow ended up deciding on the bar right across the street from our apartment, which was both strategic because we’d be very drunk at the end of the night and because we had truly embraced our new constantly high and tired ass fuck nature. it was nice to just not do shit and revel in it.

we arrived a little early and started the drinks train. everyone in the place drank Amstel, so i drank Amstel. the lady drank gluten-free Amstel, which is to say she didn’t drink Amstel. i think she drank wine? not sure, my eye was on the game. Amstel and the game.

to be honest, it was kind of difficult rooting for Holland. for a few weeks, i’d tried to amp myself up for them… but i didn’t appreciate how i’d seen two underdogs (Algeria and USA) get swiped by the big bullies (Germany and Belgium), and i feared the same would happen to Costa Rica here. also… i have family in Costa Rica. i speak Spanish! America!!!

on the other hand, i was in Amsterdam and surrounded by Dutch people orange blazoned. i even made a couple friends, especially one middle-aged woman named Michelle (Mies for short) who hailed from Haarlem. that’s right. Haarlem, Netherlands. bad. ass.

she was crazy and endlessly enthusiastic about Holland winning like everyone else in the bar. and she took a liking to my and my lover’s spirit spirit. she said she sensed something. she just knew. she could see through the slits in space-time and she liked what she saw. i thought of Xanthe, i thought of my aunt Laura, and i thought about the long walk that Natalie and i had planned for ourselves. i thought of Cameron and i thought of dissidents. i watched the game.

PKs, then orange victory. Amsterdam alive.

the streets filled with honking horns (no longer impressing Natalie and me) and smiling bicyclists. bar patrons spilled into the alley, where one of the bartenders lit a trail of powder that rapidly became a fury of fire and noise proclaiming orange victory to the entire neighborhood. and when the firecrackers stopped, the honking carried the melody, my fingers carried the flame.

Mies had encouraged me to roll and light up a victory spliff, but i got chastised because the bartenders didn’t want us smoking on their patio… so Natalie and i had to sketchily walk 20 feet away–and Mies didn’t even follow! some smoker. oh well, this is how we celebrate victories in Natalie-ronny land.

back up at the apartment, we listened to the noise in the streets. while brushing my teeth–BOOM!–i thought i’d heard a bomb go off. i raced to the window just in time to see the same bartender across the street tossing something into the alley. a few seconds of silence… BOOM!

a clockwork orange.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ 12 ~~~~~~~~~~~~

my love and i quit our jobs just as we swore we would. but as we prepared for the long journey ahead by walking through a grand, verdant forest with trees like rockets aimed at the sky, my heart told me something was amiss. when i asked Natalie what was the matter, she did not respond–but her lack of response was how i knew. and when i asked her whether she loved me anymore, her silence was again how i knew. her diverted gaze gave it away. i couldn’t believe it. i had been in love before and i had known heartbreak, but i had never been this far deep in love and–with wet eyes peering into my life that lay ahead–i realized that the heartbreak, too, would be the deepest yet.

it was all too much.

i opened my eyes and murmured, “Natalie!” lazy limbed she shifted at my side and said “huh.” i mustered up enough breath to tell her that she had fallen out of love with me and broken up with me in my dreams, and then i started sobbing uncontrollably. maybe it was because only 48 hours barred us from the same old city life. maybe it was because i had rooted my happy self into her daily bed, and felt unprepared to be half-alone again. probably i am just sickly in love.

oh well, crying feels good every once in awhile. awake, pacified, resurrected, i hopped out of bed and started packing up. it was time to go.

Natalie and i cleaned out the apartment, descended the steep stairs one last time, and strolled down the sidewalk with our wheeled suitcases in tow. the occasional cobblestone paths clicked obnoxiously under our wheels, while other times we silently skated paved roads. eventually we reached the hotel’s main office, where we checked out and left our bags. we weren’t quite done w Amsterdam yet.

walking, walking we went, though now peaceably, silent toward the Anne Frank house. across from a canal, we spied the line from blocks away. still on the opposite side of the canal, we walked past the massive line and straight to a corner pancake house. table for two, please.

yes, on the wisdom shared by a couple trusted friends and our own beating hearts, we opted for a delicious breakfast instead of the dark despair of that house across the way. fresh fruit, scrumptiously thin pancakes, my love, and the hours winding down.

walking, walking we went past our old home to the Museumplein, our home away from home. for the second time in three days, we plopped down on the green halfway between the concert hall and the Rijks for a few puffs from the spliff. then we went straight into the Van Gogh Museum.

or… that was the plan. first we had to wait. and wait. and wait and wait. and wait to pace slowly down the sidewalk, in toward the building, up the tiny flight of stairs, through the turnstile, and left to the ticket booth. “here you are, have some money, i’m sorry to have kept myself waiting, thank you.”

if you’re expecting some Stonehenge cynicism here, however, you won’t be getting any. the Van Gogh Museum did not disappoint.

i mean, the wait in line sucked and the tickets weren’t incredibly reasonably priced but the art! the art was fantastic. really digestible museum plan. you ascended floor by floor through the man’s life, through its downs and far downs. you flocked like every other tourist to the magnificent works famous and less famous. you felt yourself so lucky and tasteful when you obsessed over pieces less popular. like a million before you had done. and then the artist killed himself, which is when you decided to go shopping for some memorabilia.

Natalie and i were pooped. pooped lovers, we rolled ourselves over to Vondelpark to whittle away our final leisurely hours in the city. exhausted and feeling neutral toward the idyllic, we plopped our pooped selves down in the ever-so-slightly damp grass near a semi-trafficked pathway.

it was incredibly unromantic. it was a universe of love.

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we each reminisced about the day past, the weeks past, the year and some past, perhaps our past lives, and perhaps nothing at all. perhaps we dreaded the work days ahead. perhaps we relished in visions of the distant future. perhaps when our thoughts began slogging through dull and luckless swamps, we merely put lips to lips to lift the dread fog away.

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her hair smelled like happiness, and when i turned away to gaze straight up through the tree’s branches into the grey sky, i saw her infinite eyes surround me with the warmth of Isis, Diana’s embrace. and that’s when i remembered her hair, so i breathed in happiness.

if you’re still reading, you are either Natalie or…

in any case, here’s something amusing: my notes from this point on consist of one-word lines indicating either something i imbibed, a mode of transportation, or a location. it’s incredibly inspiring:

walk
coffee
bus
plane
tube

~ 13 ~
tube
train
plane
Oslo
plane
Oakland
home?

so now, a little over a month later, what is still worth my recounting?

well, i remember returning to the hotel office after our Vondelpark love sesh, and i remember wanting coffee. the guy manning the office appeared to be incredibly busy, but he somehow managed to fix us a fancy tray of coffee while juggling several other tasks. i felt bad but also increasingly caffeinated, and therefore grateful.

we then wandered back through the streets with suitcases in tow toward a tram that would take us to central station. instead, we found a bus that would take us straight to the airport. i mean, that kind of thing only happens in a peaceful fucking paradise like Amsterdam. i mean, god. fucking. damnit. the analogous thing in London would have been triple fares and a more depressed driver. jk luv u London.

back to London. back to the tube. wrong train. transfer at a deserted station. make out. stand around. make out. back on. hour on. Whitechapel. my man Andrew. such a good man. just man. his wonderful roommates too. smokes, talks. staying up late, talking, thinking, wondering, being. the air mattress. the twin-sized air mattress. the late hour. the cake: the floor, the air mattress, my body, her body. our love. the early hour. past the diner. Whitechapel. the tube. the train. the plane.

Oslo. the first time i went through Oslo, i fell in love because we just. barely. made our transfer to Paris. this time we were there for four hours–fucking Norwegian. best airline.

with time to spare, we read, listened to music, lazed out, and then started thinking about dinner. i don’t want to go in detail about this. let’s just say either i suck at being vegetarian or one just shouldn’t try being vegetarian for the first time at an airport in Oslo. i ordered some stir-fry that literally took an hour to cook. any one of us would have made something as edible in four minutes. oh well.

the flight back was fine because i was next to my love. i could go to Mars with her.

also, i played a lot of solitaire. i played so much fucking solitaire and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why i kept losing. swear to god, i played the shit out of that game when i was a kid and i WON. all the time! right? or maybe i just had so much free time and played so fucking much that eventually i won, like every trans-Atlantic voyage’s worth of time. oof.

also, i watched a four-hour movie:

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why? because i love classic movies. not only that, but i realized that if i watched the entire thing then i’d be less than an hour from home. something something time travel. not only that, but Elizabeth Taylor’s breasts. just being real.

on that note… i fucking love Europe. and i love my girlfriend. and i love her family. and i love this crazy fucking universe with all my heart. and you already know how i felt rolling into the San Francisco fog.

peace.

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