Collections – MSG’s Are My Everything

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For the last twelve days I have been out of Prague. I spent ten days in Japan, one day in transit, and one day in Paris. This first entry is about my time in Paris:

On my way to Japan I decide to return to Paris for a night, because of a standing invitation from a British girl to stay at her place.

When I land I take three trains into the center of Paris. It startles me to hear French, and my natural reaction is to respond in Czech. Which complicates things, because by then they’ve realized I’m not French, and have started speaking to me in English. Everyone is pre-drinking in a small, very Parisian flat, which is in full view of the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is lit up, and has a spotlight on top circling in the night sky.

I drink a lot of Cognac and 1664, and then we go to an Erasmus party. The girl I know gets drunk, and grabs me a lot on the dance floor. We leave with her friends, she lives in the suburbs of Paris, and it’s a long expensive drive that I have to pay for because she is too drunk to look for her money.

Even at night I can tell that I like the buildings in this suburb: simple brick and white walls. France often looks to me how I imagined Europe would look when I was young. Their flat is big and located in a grade school. She has set up a bed for me in the main room, but we go to her room. In her bed, she tells me doesn’t want to do anything. That pisses me off. I fall asleep before I can try to change her mind.

We wake up late, and I half-heartedly try again, and she says the bed is too loud. We dress, walk around the small cute town, eat some quiche, drink espresso and then go into Paris. We meet her friend, hang out around the Arc de Triomphe, eat again and take some pictures by a pond. I take pictures of the Louis Vuitton flagship, because it’s ridiculous, but without shame. At the top of the store they fly the Louis Vuitton flag, which is a bold and hilarious move in the Champs-Elysées.

The girl tells me that they never check tickets so the whole time in Paris I sneak into the metro with her pass. Of course, on the way to the airport I get stopped by metro security and have to pay a twenty-five euro fine. I don’t blame the girl though, I should have known better than to not buy a ticket while carrying luggage. On the train we say goodbye and kiss awkwardly. I’m two and a half hours early at Charles de Gaulle, but I almost miss my flight because the monorail to my terminal breaks down. A German girl who can speak French saves me, and I get to my gate as my flight is starting to board.

 

04/15/08

Somewhere in the thirteen hours between Paris and Tokyo I get sick, really fucking sick. It’s not food poisoning, but flu sick, and it starts with me thinking there is a chill in the plane. Then the blanket isn’t enough; I’m asking for more and sweating at the same time. I can’t sleep because my stomach is a mess. I go to the bathroom constantly, and the whole time I’m just trying not to throw up on the well-mannered, and terrified, elderly Japanese couple sitting next to me.

They take me to a nurse’s station immediately after the flight. A young nurse takes my temperature, and a look of shock comes over her face. She shows me the thermometer- “39.6”. The fuck if I know what that means. I motion high with my hand, and she nods her head. She goes into the back room, and I creep out of the room. At immigration, they scan my eyes and fingerprints. I pretend I’m fine, and try to smile. Once I’m through I find a chair and collapse. I stumble and sleep on floors until my flight to Osaka. My original plan was to sleep in the train station at Kobe, but I’m not in any shape to do that, so I pay a hundred dollars for a tiny hotel room in downtown Osaka. The room is clean. I shower, and in the morning my sheets are soaked through with sweat. My fever has broken.

I drag myself to the Kobe Harbor to meet my sister. The Japanese are wonderful, and make up for their lack of English with a genuine desire to be helpful. I’m still in rough shape, but hopped up on medication I bought through sign language, so I feel all right. Our original plan was to go Tokyo, but I’m exhausted, and my sister is sympathetic, so we decide to spend the night in Osaka. We have dinner with her friends, hosted by John, an acquaintance through the Semester at Sea program. He lives in Tokyo, and tells me that I can crash at his place next week, because his roommate is gone. Something is slightly off about the whole thing, I have momentary visions of Hostel, but he seems cool enough. I tell him ‘I would appreciate that’.

 

04/18/08

The next day we go to Tokyo. We have slight delays due to misunderstandings in English, but everyone continues to be amazingly considerate. Tokyo is massive, but it clicks, and I have the feeling of being at home. A feeling I’ve not felt since the first time I came to Prague, years ago. Our hotel is in the Shinjuku district. I sleep, and when my sister wakes me my eyes go wide, and I sit straight up in the bed. The fever is gone, but my stomach is still fucked. There is an arcade close by, and we play guitar video games.

Seven hundred students are on my sister’s cruise ship so when they descend on a country, even one as large as Japan, they take over, and everyone ends up concentrated in a few places. Tonight it’s Roppongi: the club district. Most stay at TGIFriday’s and karaoke bars, but I see them on the streets. My sister and I go to a few places recommended by John, and then head back somewhat early.

The Park Hyatt Hotel, the hotel where they filmed Lost in Translation, is close to where we’re staying. It’s gorgeous, and we have lunch looking out into the courtyard with affluent Japanese families. The lobby is on the 48th floor, the view is impressive, and we take pictures staring at the endless metropolis. We travel the city looking for a FedEx to overnight our signed tax returns. Before leaving for Kobe we go to the Harajuku district; famous for oddly dressed teenagers, and despite the weirdoes, it’s some of the best shopping I’ve ever seen. That night we have sushi in Kobe, tuna so good that it melts on the tongue.

I see my sister off at the ship the next day. At night I go out into the Osaka bar district. I lie, and tell people I’m writing an article for Vice magazine. I meet two Russian women in their early thirties, one is half Korean and speaks English well, and the other is white with red hair. In the morning I exchange emails with the redhead. I tell her I have nowhere to stay until Wednesday; she tells me I can stay with her. I drop my stuff off at her studio apartment, which she shares with her Korean friend. Usually they sleep together on a mattress on the floor, but her friend has found somewhere else to stay for the night, and leaves for work. She makes dinner, and after I take a nap. We watch baseball when I wake up. She is more affectionate and talkative than when we first met. Around ten we leave to go to her work, and as we’re walking she tells me she’s a pole dancer. I had assumed. We agree to meet at two when she’s finished.

I get drunk on 7-11 cocktails that come in a can. I waste time in Tower Records listening to bands that sound like Radiohead, and try to sober up at Starbucks. When I go to meet her she is eating a hamburger at the bar. I say ‘hi’, and she stands up to leave. It’s immediately apparent something is wrong. Normally I would assume it’s because I’m drunk, but it’s too quick, too definite. We meet her friends on the other side of town and then go home. She showers and I brush my teeth, we lay down into bed, and I try to ask questions, but any trace of the girl from before is gone. We sleep a foot apart; in the morning I pack my bag and take an umbrella as I walk out.

 

04/21/08

The rest of the week I crash with John in Tokyo. He has a gorgeous and large flat close to Tokyo Tower. It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not his roommate that is gone, but his live-in boyfriend. It’s never a problem though; John’s a friendly and generous host. He has a bed set up for me in his media room, and the amount of times he hits on me is tolerable. During the day I wander the streets of the city, buying video games, shopping for clothes, and visiting temples. John usually has to work, but occasionally he joins me. At night I get drunk with his friends, most of whom are European, and we talk, and watch it rain on the skyscrapers from his balcony.

We spend a lot of time discussing Japanese culture. I say I like the people, that they’re wonderful, and the girls are very pretty. I ask about the men; I wonder how they had become so quiet, so passive.

“After World War Two they took away their samurai swords, and gave them teddy bears,” he quotes.

He explains to me: how his boss spends his time in his office reading samurai stories, how Japan has the highest teen suicide rate in the world, how you can never totally be accepted as a foreigner, their fetish for pre-pubescent girls, and the resentment for a life spent working that they carry hidden below the surface. I don’t doubt any of it.

“I think it’s a wonderful place,” I say. “As long as you can stay above that. Live here, but not become entrenched in the culture. Stay an American in Japan.”

I feel guilty for saying it, but I know it’s true. As much as I love it here, I could never, and would never want to be Japanese.

 

04/22/08

My last night in Tokyo is a Saturday. I thank John by spending a couple hundred bucks on dinner at a French restaurant. We drink another bottle of wine at a bar close by. I tell him we should go scam on girls.

“I can’t, I’m tired, but if you find one, you’re welcome to bring her back,” he says. “Do you have a condom with you?” He hands me one. “Japanese girls don’t use them…”

In Roppongi I try to talk to girls on the street. Mostly they look wide-eyed and scared, and pretend that they can’t hear me. I get some looks from the American/European girls on the street, pickings are pretty slim for them here, but I’m looking for a Japanese girl.

I was told by John, ‘They have no concept of bases. If you can kiss them, you can fuck them.’ This was the tame part of his conversation, there was more, the sort of stuff that makes you squeamish. Still it has my curiosity; I can’t imagine that it’s true.

I have a lot of luck on the street in Prague, but it’s no good here. I give up, and go to a bar called Heartland. Spatially it’s an open bar, with no walls on one side, allowing people to move in and out. At the bar in the corner I see a cute Japanese girl by herself. She’s eating olives out of the garnish tray. I move next to her.

“Hi, did you come with anyone?” I ask.

“Hi!” she says. I realize she didn’t understand me, but she seems happy.

“Hi,” I say again with a big smile. “Did you come here with anyone?” I motion around the bar with my hand.

“No, from work, for beer.”

“I like very much,” I say, pointing at my beer. “Very good beer.”

We laugh together about nothing. She’s fun, and even with her terribly broken English it’s easy to keep it moving. She’s from the South of Japan and moved to Tokyo for work. She understands that I’m American, but has a hard time understanding that I live in Europe.

“I’m an English teacher in Prague,” I say.

“You’re an English teacher? My English teacher!” We laugh and she grabs onto my forearm.

I like her style: a cream and dark purple-stripped sweater, we laugh again because her purple matches mine, and a long slim cut feminine blazer. She is tall for a Japanese girl, probably 5’6”. She makes a few comments about my height, but she is more amazed by my hands. Her feet are tiny, and I comment on how cute they look next to mine. Cliché things, but they seem right in the moment.

Often when she laughs she claps her hands and jumps up and down, which is adorable. She continues to touch my arm, and doesn’t mind when I put my hand on her waist, as I lean in close to talk.

With my hand on her hip, and my lips close to her neck, I try to kiss her. There is a pause, and she moves her head away slightly. Weird. She says she has never kissed a foreign boy, and I tell her that it’s ‘ok’, and lean over and kiss her. After the first kiss she moves closer to me, and when we kiss she kisses back passionately. We talk for another hour and drink several more beers.

“Do you want to leave?” I ask.

“Where should we go?”

“Let’s go to Tokyo Tower.”

During the night, I’m worried that she will wake John; but in the morning when he wakes me he is surprised to find her sleeping next to me. In broken English I explain why she has to leave at six-thirty in the morning, she writes her email address on a sticky-note, and I walk her downstairs.

“That was easy,” I say to John.

“What?”

“Just that, the whole goodbye thing. No guilt. She was all smiles.”

“They’re like that. Did she even give you her number?”

“Uh, I asked for her email.”

John agrees to mail a Hello Kitty poster that I stole from the wall of a metro station to my sister. I say my goodbyes, and meet my taxi. In my pocket I have about ten-thousand Yen, and a chapstick called Gatsby, that smells sweet, like nothing I can place.

 

Collections – We Get Murdered

Posted on 11 min read 291 views

Three friends and I took a weekend trip to Berlin. I was the only boy in the group. This is the summary:

We leave on Friday and take the 18:00 train departing from Prague to Berlin. Two guys from London join us on the train. They give us beer and wine. They call Prague an embarrassment and then try to put a line of coke on my jeans. They do bumps for the next hour until they’re smashed and stumble away.

Our hostel is brand new and smells like paint. I walk under the Brandenburg Gate, through the Jewish Memorial which is haunting in its simplicity, eat a chili dog, see museums, see concert halls, walk across Hitler’s Bunker which is now a gravel parking lot, take a nap. When I wake we drink vodka, shitty rum, Red Bull and Coke. We go to club Tresor, a gigantic factory that stays open for days. Eat two hot dogs on the way and drink beer that is better than in Prague.

In the club they play house and deep house and it’s filled with smoke and dudes. We dance and drink cocktails. There is a strobe light and I make chopping motions in the air. Hit on a girl dancing, she walks away, hit on a bartender, she ignores me, hit on a girl on the stairs, she laughs, and then walks away. Spend all my money and walk around looking for drinks to steal. A German guy follows me and I sprint through the dance floor to lose him. We leave in the morning and I’m not tired when I lay down.

We wake in two hours to pack. I’m hung-over and gag in the bathroom. We see the line for the Reichstag and say ‘fuck it.’ The girls are cynical. We visit a museum, which is full of ancient ruins. They’re massive, and I wonder how they got here. Try to buy lunch with a credit card but no one accepts them. I eat peanuts out of a vending machine instead.

Ride the metro to the main Berlin train station, which is much nicer than Prague’s. We eat Burger King, find a nice train car, and make ourselves comfortable. The girls are no longer cynical, and I’m glad I came, because I’m happy to be home.

 

3/7/08

“Oh, fuck,” I say, as I get off the tram. I have been coincidentally following this girl for the last fifteen minutes. It started on the metro when I was sitting next to her: we exited at the same stop, I followed behind her to the next tram stop, boarded the same car, and now we’re both getting off at my final stop. I’m tempted to just turn around and explain to her that I’m only going home. But she has her headphones in, and I can only imagine how that could go wrong.

I’m relieved when I look behind me and see that she is gone. She is on the other side of the street. That wasn’t so creepy. I’m thinking about getting something to eat in the little Korean corner store. No, it’s late. A few steps past the store I change my mind. When I turn around the girl is right behind me. I could pull her hair. She almost jumps backwards with surprise. How the fuck did you get over here? She walks fast, so much for not looking like a creep.

 

3/11/08

There’s something of a mall at the Budejovica metro stop, which isn’t interesting because there are malls everywhere in Prague. But in the food court at this mall they serve Mexican food, and while never great, it has become easy to be satisfied after being away for so long.

Budejovica also contains what could be called Prague’s skyscrapers. I use the term loosely, as it’s always relative to the city. The two largest are close to the metro, the Raiffeisen bank and Česká spořitelna Towers. Everywhere there’s construction, and by the end of the year there will be more.

Further down the road is the BB Centrum, which openly claims that they are ‘the choice of multi-nationals.’ That’s bold. There are offices for Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, CEZ the partially state-owned Czech energy conglomerate, and others. Sometimes a company has their own building on the campus, other times they share it, but always it is a mass of glass and modernism, which is depressing for what it is, but not extremely distasteful once you’re inside.

On the walk to BB Centrum there is a billboard with drawings of small faceless soldiers herding small faceless people in Middle-Eastern garb. There’s a tank, and a fire raging, in what looks like a mosque. Its presentation is cartoonish: black and white, macro with few details. What strikes me is the lack of any language. Someone, or some organization, paid to have this put up here. And did so without any recognition.

 

03/18/08
I left Prague for two weeks to go home to the States for Easter. This writing and the next three are about this time:

I have a four-hour layover in Amsterdam. I took all my perishable food with me, which is really just tortillas and candy. But I’ve eaten enough tortillas I could puke so I buy overpriced pizza in the food court. When I empty my tray I meet a very cute, very small, German girl. She speaks almost no English, which surprises me, but for the next few hours we walk around, talk, listen to music, drink coffee, and take pictures.

Asking to kiss someone seems childish, but I still ask to kiss her because it’s the middle of the day and neither of us has any alcohol in our systems. It scares her, and she tells me she has a boyfriend, and then tries to communicate that she is faithful without knowing the word ‘faithful’.

“You don’t have a girlfriend?” she says with a surprised look. I go on teach her the difference between ‘faithful’ and ‘unfaithful’.

“So you would kiss girls?” she asks.

“Uh yeah, but a little bit more than kiss.”

We say goodbye at my gate and I stand for over an hour to board the plane. On the plane, when the dining carts are in the aisles, I have to go to the bathroom so bad I almost piss my pants.

A cliché in movies today is the mid-air collision. The next time I see a mid-air catastrophe with the top flying off and the seats being ripped out I will laugh uncontrollably.

“Wow, you’ve really confronted man’s innate fear of flying in this scene.”

 

03/21/08

The days are longer in Minnesota than in Prague, because the latitude here is about the same as Paris’s. But there’s snow on the ground, and as the snow melts everything turns to mud, and the garbage that was buried in the snow can be found everywhere.

In the Twin Cities there is a phenomenal public radio station called The Current, but in my small hometown all I can get is: Christian, Country, and radio so safe and generic that it’s blessed by Clear Channel. ‘Hey this sounds like Maroon 5. You like Maroon 5, right? Right?!’ They also have DJs that enjoy listening to themselves talk, but never have anything funny to say.

On St. Paddy’s day I’m still stuck at home and the town is quiet. There’s only one liquor store, but when I go I’m the only one in the store. I buy good vodka for myself, and shitty vodka for my brother, both of which are pretty cheap, and some beer, which is not cheap.

The woman working the register asks to see my ID. I go blank and stare at her until I realize she wants to see my license.

“Sorry,” I say and hand her the license with two fingers. She smiles and doesn’t seem to mind. Not used to that either.

The next night I’m in Minneapolis to meet a friend. On the street we meet a couple that lead us to the Gay 90s for a drag show. Instead of a couple, the two turn out to only be friends so I take the girl’s number. She’s at the apartment in St. Paul a few days later when I wake up, and find half a foot of fresh snow. I have to drive through it for several hours to get back to my brother home for tennis practice.

 

03/25/08

It’s snowing again on Easter Sunday, but this time the flakes are light and without wind. I was told this is the earliest Easter can be. It won’t be this early again for another two hundred years.

Three days ago, I heard a Tegan and Sara song called Seventeen that rocked my world so hard I haven’t been able to think straight since.

The church parking lot is filled so I park down the street in the dying downtown. Everyone comes out of the woodwork on Christmas and Easter. The same with me. I’m out of place without dress pants and a tie, but people don’t seem to mind.

Most of the friends I grew up with don’t make it home for Easter anymore. They’re stuck in their respective cities: Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, New York. Everyone has to be at work on Monday, so I watch television with my brother and fall asleep early.

 

03/28/08

The last couple of days in the States were a blur of packing and tying up loose ends. The weather was nice for one day.

My final night in town I went out with the girl I had met at the Gay 90’s. There was nowhere to go, so we spent time in the back seat of her car, which felt like high school. The whole night we said to each other, ‘at least we’re not in high school.’

In the airport I felt nauseous and took Dramamine, which knocked me out for most of the flight to Amsterdam. When I was boarding my second flight the buzzer went off on the metal detector. The guard was friendly enough while he molested me.

I took public transit home: bus, metro, and then a long walk. It was a mistake, and I noticed that my big blue bag clattering across the cobblestones annoyed everyone. When I got home I had a surprising amount of energy, and I texted many people. An hour later I crashed for a long time, and woke up in the middle of the night.

———-

The next day I went for a walk in Vyšehrad. The weather was beautiful, a real Spring day, and nicer than when I had left.

Sometimes you forget how beautiful this city is. Sitting in the park, looking over the parapets, it was so perfect that even the disgusting pickled sausage I was eating tasted good.

 

04/04/08

I stare at a glass case holding awards. Somehow the Chodov mall has won awards for its design. This is shocking to me because this thing is the most sprawling ugly monstrosity of a mall in the country. The sort of thing you would see thrown up with red painted plaster walls, P.F. Chang’s, and a Macy’s, if this were the States. So many coffee shops, but I really just want to sit down for a while. I order an espresso with milk.

“Voda?” she asks me.

“Ne Děkuji.”

“Voda?” she asks me again if I want water. She can’t seem to grasp the fact that I’m going to drink coffee without water. Yes, I would like some water but it costs more than the coffee so I think I’ll survive.

“Ne Děkuji,” I say again.

Sitting down, it’s nice, and I can write a little. But more importantly I can watch the people walk by. That is easily the best part about malls, the people watching. The women in this mall are in their late twenties, early thirties, and beautiful. When I’m finished I walk around until I find a bathroom.

Holy shit, there’s a woman in this bathroom! I should be used to cleaning ladies walking around the men’s bathroom, but it still surprises me. Especially when she’s just standing there, the first face you see as you open the door. The other men keep going in and out, not even noticing her with her brush and spray bottle, but I’m patient and I wait until she finishes cleaning the urinals.

 

04/08/08

Sometimes you go out and you know you’re going to get wasted.

We buy whiskey before going to Nebe, an underground bar between Old Town and Nardoni Trida. I drink a lot; it’s been awhile since I had hard alcohol. At the club I drink white wine, dance, fall down the steps, and hit on the girls that laugh at me. Then things get ugly.

I get the hick-ups so hard they shake my body. I try holding my breath, swallowing, everything. Finally I go into the bathroom and put my head under the faucet and drink. There is blood around the other sink.

“Sorry I can’t get rid of these motherfuckers,” I say to the boy standing next to me.

I take two steps out of the bathroom and realize I’m going to vomit. I push open the toilet door and spray vomit all over the bowl, the rim, the walls, my shoes, and even my jeans a little. It’s all liquid, and I wipe the seat clean. Someone is standing outside waiting to use the bathroom.

“I have no idea who did that,” I say. “Fucking disgusting.”

Round two: I resist the urge to spit on the floor, and drink a beer to get the taste out of my mouth. I hit on an older skinny Czech woman; she leads me to the dance floor. She falls and digs her nails into my hand. It draws blood. She walks past me, and doesn’t turn when I call to her. She’s pissed, but fuck her that hurt like a bitch. I put my fingers in my mouth. Someone is dancing by the coat check. Yeah right, right, right, right. For real I need a drink. There is an apple sitting on the bar. There is no one for the apple, its squishy and over ripe. But I know someone tonight wants to remember this apple.

My friends find me and ask me to dance. Jamiroquai comes on. The dance floor is mostly empty, but I go crazy. I meet an Iraqi boy, and we hit on two girls at the bar. I take the one that speaks better English. She is a bar-slut that is a little older than me, somewhat cute, but with a boyish haircut. We talk for a while, and then make-out. When I look around my friends are gone.

In the morning I remember when we came back to my place, but I don’t remember falling asleep. I’m happy to find that she has smooth skin and looks nice naked. I’m still drunk enough that I can’t feel anything for most of the morning.