Thursday, November 23, 2017

Episode 585: Buda and Pest (just Buda this time)

Budapest, Hungary. 

Where to begin? I’ve spent one short day here (I arrived into the train station at 7:30 last night, and it is 2:00 pm as I write this in a pub called Ba Bar, a place eternally blessed for their graciousness in allowing me to use the restroom {without knowing if I would grant them the boon of my custom}, for which kindness of course I decided to spend the afternoon and the remainder of my Hungarian Forints - the local lucre - under their warm roof). Be good to me, I’ll be good to you.

So, Hungary. I have been to several major cities around the world, now; I’ve not yet been to the Orient or Australia, but I’ve been to New York and New Orleans and Paris and Amsterdam and Vienna and London and Prague and San Francisco, and this is the first city with which I fell in love as soon as I entered it.

I didn’t plan for Budapest to exist in my mind; being an American Idiot, I never thought about Budapest or studied it or dreamed of it or wished I knew more about Hungary. As an American, I’m sometimes ashamed of my inherent provincialism, but I have striven mightily and consciously to overcome it and subvert it and to make it go the fuck away.

There’s a world out there, an entire world.

During my travels, I’ve had (American) friends ask me, “so what do they think of Trump?” and from what I’ve ascertained so far ... they don’t. We are so sure of our status as the center of the universe that we assume that other countries, populated by people raised in completely different cultures and morés, spend time worrying about the U.S. and its politics and problems. Here’s the rub -they are aware of us, much more than we are of them, but they don’t spend a lot of waking moments stressing over Trump’s cabinet picks. They have their own idiots in government to criticize, their own jobs to fret over, their own relatives with health issues, their own ideas of how to live their lives. We may be assholes, but we aren’t universal assholes. They think of us like toddlers in a playpen full of nuclear weapons. 

They worry about our instability, our toppling from the pillar of reason, as we appeared to the world after eight stable years of Obama; I had a conversation on the train last night with an accountant named Lukas, from Slovakia: his own country recently elected some dingbat with ties to the Nazi party. He was much more concerned about that than he was with Donald Trump and his dayglo skin and his incestuous yearnings for Ivanka. 

Newsflash for Red State voters: much of the world realizes that Donald Trump is a buffoon, and it isn’t because he’s an “outsider” or a “strong negotiator” or that he’s putting “America First;” it’s because he’s a morally-bankrupt swindler who would sell the Washington Monument to the Russians if he could get away with it, all the while blaming Democrats for making him sell the monument in the first place. And then deny that he sold it.

The entire fucking world knows this, why don’t the residents of Mississippi? I digress.

I digress again - I want to run for President, against impossible odds, for one reason: I want to face off with Donald Trump in a debate. Mano a Mano, The Donald and me. He can pick the forum, the moderator and the topic. And I’ll destroy him so thoroughly that he’d piss his pants and use Jared Kushner as a human shield from my verbal barrage while shrieking and pooping to “make the bad man stop!” I hate that mongoloid mop-fungus.

Anyway.

Budapest, it’s a great place. Let me go to my notes. There was an instantaneous urban art vibe that one has to dive into to experience; concrete and graffiti and statues and wall murals and weird furniture and goofy skinny jeans and puffy jackets and haggard faces and steamed sidewalks; cars and trams and metros and trains and bicycles and pedestrians, all fighting for their place in the hierarchy. Motion begets motion and it is all a vortex, a linear tornado, a tide that ebbs and flows and sighs and you’re moving and listening and breathing, Budapest welcomes angry, Budapest welcomes benign. Come along and change your Euros for Forints, 310 Forints to the Euro, which makes everything weirdly priced (5,000 for lunch!?!? Oh, that’s like twenty bucks), but it is immediately okay and good, you get it, because they try. 

They try to tackle English - even a beggar came up to me, and launched into a spiel in Hungarian, toothless and precise, and I shrugged and said I don’t speak Hungarian, and he said one word in English, hand outstretched: “money.” 

To which I replied, “no.”

To all travelers: if you go to major cities, learn to say “no.” It’s okay, you’re not a person, you’re a representation of a wealthy tourist, a walking leprechaun with a pot of gold for the con artists and the swindlers and the beggars and hack salesmen to exploit: they want Euros / Forints / Koruna / Dollars. They don’t care if you live or die or turn into cheese. Say “no.” It’s easy. Sometimes you have to repeat it - as I walked the Danube river sidewalk this morning, heading northbound to see the Parliament building (the largest such, in Europe) I was accosted in short order by two entrepreneurs: a woman, brash and ugly, approached me with a bag of Burberry scarves, and babbled her pitch. When I replied in English - and I confess that I paused, because my wife is a fan of scarves, and I’m always watching out for foreign bargains - she switched to broken English, and offered her wares at a price that I first assumed I misheard - 10,000 Forints for a scarf.

I always thought that the first rule of selling counterfeit / stolen / illicit or otherwise untaxed goods was the relatively inexpensive nature of the goods. I just returned from Paris, where I bought three scarves from a street vendor for 10 Euros. Granted, they weren’t Hermès or Burberry or Louis Vuitton, but the concept of giving thirty Euros - she switched to Euros after I scoffed at the notion of 10,000 Forints - thirty Euros for a scarf was so unbelievable, so antithetical to my worldview, that I wondered who she saw me as. I wouldn’t spend that much on a thin scarf in a store. During the winter! Am I just used to being poor? When she stated her desired price, I scowled and said, severely, “no.” The conversation was over, to me; if the world could only by saved by the purchase of one of her scarves, she still would not have been able to make a sale, to me. Time for talking was done. I strode away as she followed, bargaining, harassing, pleading, and my ears turned off.

Which led me directly to my next encounter, as a man (who had watched me briefly speaking with scarf-woman) approached me and asked me about an iPhone 8. I had just slid my own phone into my pocket, and I stared at him, bemused. “What the hell do I need an iPhone for, when I have one?” He gave me his pitch, lowering the price as I walked away (300 American! 250! 200!) and then I left the river and walked the blissfully noisy and Fagin-free streets.

I’ve said “no” many times today. It’s an acquired gift.

I had a splendid lunch in an eatery that I normally would dodge, for worry about cost, but since it was Budapest, I blithely entered and had the prix fixe lunch (spectacular), tipping 2/3 of what I’d spent on food. Somebody has to repair Americans in the eyes of the world. I can only do it, one establishment at a time.

Now, I sit and blog in my new favorite European pub (it looks like a classy bistro, the wait staff are amazingly gracious, the food was clever and tasty, the price is right, and the music is electric techno), waiting to ride a night train to Prague. 

Life could be worse.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Episode 584: Ghosted

I have been ghosted, in my life. 

For the uninitiated, to be “ghosted” refers to the phenomenon of a relationship ending without any form of communication about said ending. In the modern world, we are incessantly jacked-in, with smartphones and texts and email and Skype and Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook, constantly licking and liking other humans, and being licked and liked in return. We exist on a digital bridge, with tollbooths to foment small rebellions against the soul and integrity, and we jostle strangers and suffocate our intimate connections.

When one is ghosted, the spigot of dialog and query is suddenly turned off, without warning. For me, the end of a torrid intellectual and physical love affair occurred during a conversation about the baseball World Series, at 2:22 pm on October 5th, 2014 (the time and date stamp have been committed to memory, obviously). It was a seemingly innocuous conversation, the kind that one has with friends and intimate orifices without specialized thought. I have endeavored mightily not to add undue significance to the exchange, post-mortem.

I have endeavored to pretend to be mature and empathetic - after all, what qualities do I possess that entitle me to due process? I am a married, middle-aged, unemployed smoker who dropped out of high school and treats every slight as an attack by barbarians at the gate. The literary passage with which I most frequently relate is Captain Ahab’s reply to Starbuck, when cautioned against blasphemy: “Speak not to me of blasphemy, man, I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!”

I am a gonzo example of bad ideas made extant. Somehow I’ve avoided complete failure. I blame my nose. It is a good nose, and makes my face appear rugged and handsome. Attractive people, rumor has it, get away with more in life than they should, and everyone pays the price for their beauty. If only we were all as equally ugly as our faults.

I digress; back to Rose (my pseudonym for my ex-lover, a psychologist of some mild fame, and so her name shan’t be incorporated into this text. I might be annoyed and affronted by her ghosting behavior, but I won’t lash out like a Trumpian child). Rose and I met online, through a mutual friend (who is now dead from suicide, and who warned me ere he pulled the trigger on the shotgun that Rose would use me and spit me out like sour jizz from a one night stand; I didn’t heed his warning, but I recall it. Wisdom is quite visible when gazing upon the past, and much more blurry when looking forward toward the future). 

Rose was brilliant and funny and I found her massively attractive and sexy, a viewpoint with which she did not concur, and so led to many miscommunications throughout our two years together. She assumed (I assume she assumed) that I regaled her with poetry and flattery so as to gain access to the darker side of her knickers; in truth, I’ve always had the habit of informing the admired that I stand with the admirers. I tell pretty women they’re pretty, and smart people that they’re smart. It isn’t an affectation or methodology, it’s a compulsion of positivity by which I’m still trapped. 

On the other hand, I rarely inform the ugly that they’re ugly. I detest the mindset that smugly assures the unlistening and uninterested that “I’m not mean, I’m just honest,” because it is itself dishonest. If one were to vocally inform every invader of our space that they are unattractive or dumb, we’d be stoned to death by mobs of ugly dunces long before we preened our way into adulthood. The tongue is bitten more often than it is allowed to wag, and if you don’t acknowledge that about yourself, then you are a posturing nugget of self-indulgence. For every person I’ve met who claims that they “tell it like it is,” I’ve witnessed exceptions to their own rules - they hide their social media posts from family, because they don’t want to offend their mothers, or they block their employers, to giggle and pretend they live some sort of secret life of Zorro.

Everyone fears and everyone hides, and we all compartmentalize to some extent. No person is strictly unfiltered without being invited to lounge in a rubber room with a stylish straight jacket. The ability to act contextually is what grants us social structure.

Rose was (is? I presume she kept her vagina in the separation) an amazing lover, gifted and eager and emotional and intimate. She was also a brilliant, querulous mind with odd infatuations with specific knowledge heretofore outside of my wheelhouse - she was interested in politics as equally as fashion, baseball as well as psychology. She was an island where I temporarily landed, and I’m grateful for the sojourn; I still find that I’m irked that Brigadoon faded back into the mist without warning.

Wisdom is the painful tattoo we wear from life’s brandings, knowledge earned that proves to be impossible to share in advance. I can warn my children until I’m tired of my own voice about dangers and foibles, but I’ve learned to learn and keep my lessons in boxes. Hurt me again, I ask the world, I merely keep my boxes locked inside of other boxes, with a succession of keys to gain entry, and I pay no attention to the key chain.

We are racing to the finish line. I would finish last in any race, because I know what lies at the finish - death, which holds no grip on my thoughts - and so I am curious as to the people who line the route of the race; the lackadaisical voyeurs in folding chairs, the involved patrons handing out cups of water and encouragement, and even the street sweepers who follow to collect discarded cups, abandoned clothing and the vomit of fatigue.


Episode 583: Dr. Florida asks a burning question

I am now, to coin a phrase, blogging across borders. The Eurolines bus upon I which am currently ensconced has just traveled across the junction of the Czech Republic and Germany 
(Deutschland über alles! ), hence the patronizing shorthand.

My traveling companion, the brilliant and bold Dr. Florida, has  tasked me with rationalizing the self-destructive act of smoking cigarettes. To which I lay pen to paper (or the digital  equivalent). 

This month marks the 30th year anniversary of when I first deliberately began smoking cigarettes (ironically, I started smoking marijuana at a younger age). I write that not as a point of pride, but as a reference to the extent of the familiarity I have with bad habits and bad ideas.

I escaped from the state of Florida at the age of eighteen, blonde and long of hair; I landed in New York City like a lapping wave at high tide. I had chosen cigarettes as a conscious symptom of nihilism, a confirmation of my stubborn stupidity, an ill-advised path which I’ve worn smooth with the walking.

I had (at that time, in 1987) recently undergone a traumatic flirtation with death, and felt blessed with the immortality of second chances, dipped in the Marlboro estuary of the River Styx, and full of vigor, vitality and fatalism, I crawled out of the slime of saltwater beach paradise into the brick and semen neon glamour of Greenwich Village and the unlikely AIDS Artful Dodgers I admired.

I became as a brickbat, forceful and arbitrary, lobbed at an indifferent carriage chassis of a city.
I always wished I could be a shadow, an echo of a person with ideas and ideology; I’ve always admired people who had beliefs and convictions and a surety of action lost to me as a callow gremlin in the guise of a beachbum refugee. I smoked cigarettes during every phase of my development from wallflower to burgeoning artist to emotional SoHo cog to effervescent existential anarchist.

I am labels, hear me roar.

Every fiber of my fiber is based upon my identity as a smoker, every action I take or plan I make  allows for the possibility of cigarette usage. From restaurant reservations to hotel choices, I look for the nearest smoking lamp to be lit. If I plan to spend an evening in a public house, quaffing ale, I procure extra packages of cigarettes so as to not to be caught short in the crosshairs between desire and reality.

...

I began this column last Friday night on the bus, but the small folding tray table on which my iPad was resting proved to be awkward and inefficient as a writing surface. It is now Tuesday morning, and I pick up where I left off, with an entirely new series of thoughts and experiences, and I apologize for the inconsistent tone - it behooves me to attempt to finish the addiction column, before tackling Paris and inexpensive European travel (my focus this morning).

I was prodded into trying to rationalize smoking, a challenge I readily accepted (if one is to be self-destructive with eyes open, one must be prepared to elucidate one’s insouciance into nomenclature). 

I have quit smoking many times, and I have re-started the habit many times. For good or ill (likely ill, as my own father is attached to an oxygen tank due to his emphysema, brought on by 40 years of smoking), I have accepted my own method of death to be one of  my own choosing. I don’t fear heights or snakes or fast cars or disease, and have spent much of my existence in the delusion that I am at least partially immortal. More often than not, a cigarette is a companion that won’t abandon me, but will dutifully terminate my health and well-being as long as I invite it to the party.

I don’t have any interest in talking about that, any longer. I am going to start a column about Paris. Or not-Paris. It has been a strange period of days. 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Episode 582: Czech, please

It’s a Thursday, a name day which rightfully pays homage to the Norse God Thor. Thor, the God of Thunder, brought to the big screen by Marvel Comics in the person of Chris Hemsworth, has the dubious honor of having his name attached to the most unlikely of days of the week, the not-Friday of the Union-established work week; the day disdained by Arthur Dent (of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame) as a day which “he could never get the hang of;” a day in which your humble narrator find himself alone in a cabin in a village by the woods in Central Europe, waiting patiently for tomorrow.

I do believe that was an egregious run-on sentence, but the gist is: it’s not tomorrow, and I want it to be tomorrow, because in the afternoon of the aforementioned morrow, my European counterpart and I depart for Paris for the weekend.

I have indeed arrived at the raison of my d’etre. After an eye-opening and invigorating acclimation to Central Europe, our travels finally begin.

Perhaps I should rephrase that assertion. I left Louisiana on Sunday, November 5th, and I have been “traveling” ever since, and each phase of the trip - each stop and respite - has been impeccable and warm, replete with comradely good fellowship and introductions to real faces to digital myths. Every minute of the past couple of weeks has been stunning and flawless, especially my welcome to, and time spent within, the Czech Republic. Like most Americans, I knew little of the CR before my arrival, and I am glad to state that my ignorance of the land and its people is gradually being whittled into familiarity.

All that being said, the French are very French, and I love their capital city. This will be my third sojourn to Paris, and as with any world-renowned Metropolis, it offers new delights and conundrums upon every viewing. Or, new dangers (why not? I lead a charmed life, but eventually I will attract the notice of the gods, and a reckoning will be demanded). I can’t wait to not know what I don’t know, but in French.

I am not a religious or spiritual person (I was raised hardcore Catholic, excepting only that I was never molested by priest or deacon), having discarded the yoke of faith during the summer of my fourteenth year. I am not blind to the impact of organized religion, however, nor disdainful of art or architecture due merely to the influence of the Pope’s checkbook. Notre Dame Cathedral is one of my very favorite places to visit, in the city by the Seine; it was the location of my first revelatory embrace of Paris, back when I visited with the long-dead Jim (a former close compatriot and autonomic victim of suicide). Jim was a walker, very European in his sensibilities, for an American - he didn’t own a car, and walked everywhere in his Connecticut hometown, and worked for a homeless shelter, and ate kale before it was cool - and that first trip to Paris began with the scaling of the steps to the top of Montmartre, leaving me sweaty and deranged at 8 o’clock in the morning and wondering when we’d signed up for a French triathlon; since he’d been to the city many times, he insisted on showing me places that had taken on meaning for him, instead of allowing me to absorb and embrace the city on my own.

Late in the afternoon of that day, of my first trip, we went inside Notre Dame, a dark and indifferent chasm of ancient holiness, I felt some connection to the chaos, and was made well. 


I will endeavor not to repeat such mistakes, on this trip. I am almost apathetic about planning, to some extent, because every marvel I’ve ever encountered on every trip was luck, serendipity or happenstance. We have purchased bus tickets and a hotel, and otherwise: we shall discover where the road leads. If I knew already, there’d be little point in going.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Episode 581: Praha

So, Prague.

Around here, they call it “Praha,” pronounced how it looks, and when I asked my local guide why the rest of the world calls it “Prague,” she had no ready answer. Praha isn’t hard to pronounce or recall, and in fact is shorter than Prague. 

My glib summation would typically be “white people,” slathering their imperialist cultural appropriation upon the world, but the Czech Republic (formerly the communist nation of Czechoslovakia, and as of 1993, is now two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) is primarily white people. I’d call them “Caucasian,” except that the nation is closer to the Caucasian mountains of Russia than not, and so I don’t want to insult them by associating them with Russian mobsters and oligarchs and prostitutes. The European Union is trying to give them the shorthand tag of “Czechia,” since “Czech Republic” is admittedly a mouthful, but that title is close to “Chechnya” and a lot of the world is ignorant and provincial as it is, and so I vote we change the name. I don’t know if they vote accordingly, but we are trying to save the Czechs from themselves, because they might have something the Americans want, someday, and we might have to land the 82nd Airborne in Praha or Brno and dump big a heaping helping of Democracy on their beer-drinking asses, so as always, Murrica knows best.

Not really. Most of that paragraph was my impressions, based on the fact that I’m an arrogant asshole. 

I’ve been struggling with my identity, lately, balancing my intellect with my personality, which is forceful and angry (I’m learning). I tend to bristle at the slightest rebuff, to puff and blow at the smallest slight, and to challenge every challenge with another challenge of my own.

I can also be quiet and thoughtful, but only when I’m secure and safe - ironically, a state I loathe. Without constant chaotic feedback, I atrophy and engage in self-destruction. My talent and skills are almost unwanted calling cards.

Anyway. I finally have me and my mind and my tools and my equanimity, ingredients for the recipe for happiness (or at least, productivity), as I navigate these stormy squalls. I don’t know who I am - nor do I particularly care to learn - or what I can do - although, I seem to write fairly well - but, I’m alive and I have a few Korunas in my pocket (the local lucre), and I feel okay.

That’s a start. 

I wrote a book this summer, a book full of concepts and characters and terminology that was created whole cloth from my imagination, and I am in the process of editing it and seeking representation to sell it. I have been mired in a sort of post-coital depression of blockage. I have rediscovered my ability to type, and now I am practicing my ability to make concepts into words and words into sentences. I don’t know how other people can casually just say things. Like, sit down and say stuff, how does one do that? 

Language is too easy; all one has to do is to devote time and energy to master it, just like learning to make cheese or climb stacked mountains of egg crates. Practice and practice and you, too, can be a professional egg-crate climber. Is that a thing? That should be a thing.

I love cities. It’s difficult to explain to those who love trees and woods and clean air and quiet; I love the inverse of all of those things: noise and mayhem and dirt and crowds and a lack of trees. The earth needs trees, of course, for its Homo sapiens inhabitants to breathe, but I don’t have to necessarily live next to them. I feel the same about snow -it’s pretty, and I can enjoy it just as much on a postcard as I do by experiencing it.

Man is nature.