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Collections – Let the Vltava Rise Up

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Prague, Stockholm – 23

While renting a movie I realize that I’ve been in Prague long enough to see a full life cycle of Czech films: The movie posters on billboards several weeks before they opened in theaters, the same poster plastered on the walls of DVD rental shops months later, and finally those posters taken down and replaced with newer releases.  Realizing this is the first time I can fully grasp the amount of time I’ve spent here.

We see a group of kids with fair complexions, and different natural hair colors, get on the tram. I would guess Norwegian, but when they start speaking it’s unbelievable.

“Where do you think they’re from?” the girl asks.

“I have no idea.”

“Look at their noses,” she says, and I notice they all have the same small, thin, pointed nose. A dozen boys and girls with the exact same nose.

I continue to listen, and then ask the cute pop-puck redhead sitting next to me where they’re from.

“We’re from Finland,” she says in perfect English.

A look of realization comes over us. I talk with the redheaded Fin until the next stop. The American girl I’m with touches my hand to let me know it’s her stop.

Outside the Chateau in Old Town, we are looking for a cab to my place. She stops to call one. The guys next to me are speaking English; they’re American or Canadian.

“I just finished the sixty day shoot,” one cheers, “I’m off to Romania next.”

Maybe they are actors? Neither is good-looking, but the one who said it looks likes he could be one, the other doesn’t. “Is that Erica’s puke?” the other asks, motioning at watery vomit on the corner.

“Yeah, she is down the street right now.”

I look down the street. A tall blonde chick is swaying dramatically, and walking with help of another girl. Someone comes out of the bar in a hurry, and wipes out on the puke.

“You just slipped in barf,” the non-actor says. “Not mine, one of my friend’s. Yeah. Better things have happened.”

Douche. It is funny, but something about the way he says it, his voice, his face, bothers the hell out of me. Down the street someone is fiercely beaten, and I see him collapse to the ground. He is punched in the face while he is on the ground. It’s a brutal fight.

In the cab I see the guy who hit the ground being held against the wall. He is skinny and has curly hair. His face is completely bloody, and the area around his left eye is noticeably swollen even from the car. He is out of it, and I can’t tell if he is drunk or punch-drunk. I’ve never seen someone so bad. It is right outside one of the bar’s exits, and I’m amazed that no bouncers have helped.

I bump into my ex-girlfriend on a narrow street in old town. After we exchange some pleasantries, I walk far enough to be out of sight, and stop because I think I’m going to lose it against the wall.

In February, the day after my 3-year relationship with my Czech girlfriend ended, I stayed up late and had a conversation with a group I hardly knew, in a flat I didn’t know. It started out well enough, and led to a discussion, which fell apart into an argument. We were a strange mix: me, the young, drunk, wild-eyed American, a British man with a beard as long as my forearm, and all the paranoia about governments and the rich that go along with it, a Czech girl who was pretty at the same time that she was plain, and a quiet and proud African. Normally, I would avoid any serious conversations, but I was too fucked up in every conceivable way to care.

I had thrown-up earlier in the night so I was able to drink more than usual without blacking out. Even while throwing-up, I was drunk enough that I wasn’t really disgusted by the fact that some had gotten on my sleeve.

In the late morning I fell asleep on a mattress without covers. When I woke up I was freezing, and I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering. I think my teeth are what woke me up. Some guy was in the next bed, wrapped in what looked like a sleeping bag. That greedy son of a bitch.

When I left the flat it was past noon, and the one fucking day in February with sun. I was almost blind from my hangover. I walked slowly so as not to puke on my way home. My head could have split apart. At home I fell asleep, and woke up when it was dark, and realized that I was going to be sick for the next couple days. Yet none of it helped get her out of my head.

 

The public transportation in Prague is extensive, well-developed, and timely. The metro and trams are relatively quick and run throughout the city, occasionally you have to take a bus. The buses suck dick.

On the bus I have the taste of vomit in the back of my throat. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s from the bumps in the road, maybe the fumes, although nothing is in my nostrils. The bus moves slowly through the suburbs, stopping at every light. When the doors open fresh air sweeps in for a few seconds. I sweat in my seat, and spin my phone in my hand.

I have a long weekend, and decide to take a quick trip to Stockholm. Here are my thoughts:

To prevent disappointment I convinced myself before coming to Sweden that there wouldn’t actually be that many blonde girls. But the truth is there are a lot of blondes in Sweden. More than I expected. Of which, how many are real, I can’t say.

The girls are very pretty, but I have the feeling that what you see is their realized potential. They wear a lot of makeup, which is like painting the lily. In Prague, you often see beautiful girls with bad style and poor haircuts, and as a result you can punch pretty far above your weight. Swedish girls are beautiful, but they’re as beautiful as they’re going to get, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’re the type of Europeans you can bring home to your parents without too much of a stir.

In many ways Stockholm reminds me of Minnesota: a stoic attitude that can come off as a quiet arrogance. Friendly, but it takes time to make friends. There is however one obvious difference. I’m sure over time it will continue to erode, but in Minnesota there is an undercurrent of humility in regards to wealth. A feeling of guilt that comes from having more than others. Growing up I watched as my older relatives died in old, rundown farmhouses. Taking to their graves invisible multi-million dollar estates.

I expected this type of hidden wealth in Stockholm. Of course it’s not as bad as say Miami, but still going out in Blasieholmen is alienating. So many over-dressed people, so many Porsches, the posh district is overwhelming. What happened to Scandinavian Socialism? In reality there is more hidden wealth in Prague. The older people who own several buildings of flats dress in flannel, and are difficult to distinguish from the homeless that carry plastic bags from Hypernova. The Russians and Germans drive the Beemers in Prague.

 

Notes from a cell phone (chronological order):

He was big and blonde and had a dumb look on his face like the farm kids I went to school with.

It would be easy and simple. I could work and make a good living and go out with the Swedish girls and just be happy and sit down by the water or in the parks. It’s beautiful and quiet.

The Swiss sing along to a song about a swan. The singer sounds like he is spitting out a lung.

As I’m walking back I realize I’m not going to get that much sleep. Where am I going to find sleep tomorrow? I was hoping to find a bed tonight.

When she says she doesn’t believe in evolution I know I’m in trouble.

Japan was expensive if you were stupid, or wanted to make it that way. Stockholm is just flat out expensive.

Older women invite me to follow them to Village in the center. It seems to be the most popular club in the city. I can tell because the bouncers are dicks and the girls go in without me. It doesn’t bother me though, that’s the way these things work.

I hear an Elliot smith song that I play again as soon as it finishes and ignore the girl as she continues talking.

On Saturday I wake and take a collection of Hemmingway short stories to the waterfront in Gamla Stan – Old Town. The smell of the air reminds me of my hometown. It gets on everything, and stays in the air, but is never stale like the lakes can be. I meet the girl around two; she looks like an American, blue eyes and dirty blonde hair. We buy alcohol at a Systembolaget, one of the State run liquor-stores. We go back to her place; she showers, and with the towel on we make-out on the bed, before her friends, Anton and Victor, come over.

The bars are full of people watching Eurovision. I try to maintain my buzz on wine that is too expensive for me. Her and I leave the bar and drink cocktails that she buys for me. She leaves me when a friend calls. I’m pissed off, and I wait until Anton and Victor pick me up. They take me to a heavy metal bar. The music sucks, people have long hair, and I’m out of place, but we meet up with three girls. One is attractive but older, and another has a cute face and blonde hair, but a body like an elephant. I step outside and eat hotdogs from a street-vendor. They meet me at the curb, and we decide to go back to the older one’s flat. The cute girl with big legs tries to convince Victor to leave with her.

We take two separate cabs to her place. I get stuck paying a fifty-dollar taxi ride. I have no cash, and it’s just my luck the taxis in Sweden take credit cards. At her apartment the older girl makes blueberry smoothies with a strong vodka taste. I’m worked after half. Everyone takes turns playing CDs and showing YouTube videos. By four, people are falling asleep and I follow the big-boned blonde into a loft bed above the stereo. We talk, and she has me climb down and change the music several times. She won’t let me kiss her, but sleeps close to me with her head on my chest, and her leg wrapped around me. In the morning I tell her she is a ‘good girl’, and playfully and lightly slap her ass. She is too tired to understand what I’m saying and falls back asleep. I get a nosebleed waiting for the metro and swallow a lot of blood.

My twelve year old, single-malt, Scottish whiskey, gets thrown out at the security checkpoint in the airport. I’m tired and fall asleep in a chair, which is good, but like a drunk Swedish teenager told me on my first night, ‘The Swedish girls aren’t sluts, but if you come to Sweden and don’t get laid, you’ve failed.’ And as I’m leaving, I feel that’s true.

 

Lovers and the smell of weed line the way along the Vltava late at night. I get drunk, and find the ruins of an old church. Something they haven’t reconstructed or urbanized. The arch has sunk several feet into the ground so that it only comes up to my chin. On the outside, the disintegrating red brick and plaster is exposed. My feet sink into the ground. The construction site has been set, but the work has not begun. It looks like one part of the building is being used as a school. It’s a school as old as my country.

I walk around the outside, pace back and forth. But a building can only entertain you for so long, even one as old and beautiful as this.

The girls in Bohemia Bagel are talking about finding billions of dollars of oil off the coast in Brazil, sugarcane ethanol, and US corn subsidies: all this bullshit that I don’t need to hear this early. ‘The US is fucked up,’ she says. That’s a nice vest you’re wearing. How are you enjoying Prague? Some guys are talking about McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, and how filling the egg part is. ‘It’s powder, no egg,’ I mumble to myself.

I’ve been daydreaming for so long in this city that when English breaks through it just puts me in a bad mood. Normally, you don’t have to listen to the conversations on the bus, on the street, or on television; for all you know there is brilliance in what is being said. Not knowing is all you need.

We have a poor reputation. There are the Americans that come abroad, and don’t shut up about the States, they compare everything, and never miss a chance to mention how great it is back home. Then there are the Americans that come abroad, shit all over the country, and sow Canadian flags on their backpacks. Everything is wrong back home, while they occupy their days travelling through Europe, spending money they never earned.

It takes me hours before I realize I’m legitimately ill. You drink enough absinth and wine, smoke enough cigarettes, and you become accustomed to a constant sore throat.

I’m thankful when the following day is cloudy with slight rain. I couldn’t take being sick for another sunny day.

 

At a party a friend hands me a sheet of paper. It’d s photocopy of the dictionary listing for the word fuck.

“I brought it for my student today. Do you want the copy for yours?”

“Sure, some might like it.”

It’s two pages long and I skim over it. The word fuckable catches my eye. As it’s synonyms it lists: “approachable, bedworthy, punchable, rompworth, and shaftable.”

Punchable makes me laugh out loud.

 

The city of Prague is a township divided into parts, and when people come to visit Prague they mostly stay in Prague 1, Prague 7 by the castle, or parts of Prague 2. In these areas you can find all of the things that have made Prague famous: Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square, the National Theatre, the Jewish Quarter and its Cemetery, the Dancing House, the gardens, and the parks. But these are only parts of Prague, and rather boring ones at that.

If Brooklyn is the beating heart of New York, than Žižkov is the beating heart of this city. It’s in Prague 3, east of the city centre, and is something of an enigma for being so close to the centre. It doesn’t really have historic buildings, unless you count the Prague TV Tower, which is famous for overwhelming the Prague skyline, and having giant babies crawling up the side. The modern development is minimal, and most of the area’s flats are before reconstruction: communist cement apartment blocks, and dumpy houses. It won’t always be this way, but for the time being it’s unique in its utilitarianism.

I read once that Žižkov has more bars per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. I don’t know if it’s true, or if it was true, but I can say that the amount of bars is irrational. Not only one on every street corner, but one or two in between, and up the side streets, in the parks, and even in the bottom floors of houses. When I lived there, it was full of graffiti, dirty, conventionally ugly, populated by students and blue-collar workers, and far from suburban. When I tell Czechs that I lived in Žižkov they usually respond with, “It is full of very many Gypsies,” which is only partially true. I don’t think I’ve ever loved living anywhere, as much as I loved living in Žižkov.

This place is a disease, Hllavani Nadrazi, the main train station, Ali Baba and his den of forty thieves, the Czech hell-hole. Nothing really terrible has happened to me today, but I still hate this bitch. A pigeon is hopping close enough to me that I could kick it. What the fuck are these birds doing indoors? I’m suddenly overcome with fear that a bird will shit on me. I search the ceiling. That would happen here.

They have been trying to fix the station by putting in a trashy little shopping center, but that won’t help. They need to eat the loss, place dynamite, and blow it up. The train station in Berlin looks like a modern airport. It puts Prague to shame. The one in Paris isn’t nice, but it’s large, somewhat clean, and safe. The safety in Paris was from the army presence. Men walking around with machine guns would probably also scare the Czechs into behaving.

I watch as two girls tear up a McDonald’s bag and set it on the ground so they can sit down. My father had his wallet stolen the first time he was in Prague, but he’s an easy mark, an obvious American with his billfold in his back-pocket. The small police station that was planted in the train station was boarded up like a bunker. Inside was full of smoke, mountains of ash in the ashtrays, and pornography on the computer screens. The one proactive thing I have seen the Hllavani Nadrazi police do is beat the shit out of a homeless person with billy-clubs. It was late at night, and I was returning to the city, when I saw the police descend on him. Literally, throwing him out the glass doors. I then noticed another homeless person slumped against a support column with blood running down his bald head and his eyes closed. The police didn’t do that one.

Collections – MSG’s Are My Everything

Posted on 11 min read 32 views

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 107 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.

 

Collections – Grimy Mornings

Posted on 12 min read 44 views

A cross-eyed woman in a furry hat says something to me in Czech motioning at my table. I try smiling at her, which doesn’t get her to stop.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Czech,” I say in English, of course.

She continues to jabber away and I start to stand and pick up my things from off the table, which makes her say “Ne, ne, ne,” and walk away.

 

2/5/08

As I’m getting off the last daytime tram, before they switch to their night schedule and car numbers become fifties, I walk straight into a large group of young people. Literally a dozen wait their turn to file out of one door on an otherwise empty back car. I wait until they have all cleared out. As I cut across a street and a park, I notice the group is taking the long way to the same traffic light. Two girls walk far in front of the rest of the group.

“How’s it going,” I say when they get close.

“Good,” one says quickly, as if she were scared. Or maybe the girl just has bug eyes.

When the light changes I follow across the street, but slowly so the larger group will catch up. They are all speaking English.

“Hey are you guys from England?” I ask, and feel like a fucking idiot because I know my mistake as soon as I say it.

“No, Ireland,” one of the girls corrects me, but in a nice way.

We talk, and I find out they’re visiting a friend that is living here.

“What do you do?” she asks.

“I’m a drug dealer,” I say.

“Did I hear the D word?” someone in the back says, pushing forward.

They get excited and ask questions until I can explain to them that I was only joking. I’m not a drug dealer, just an English teacher, like everyone else. I learn that the boy who pushed forward is the friend they’re visiting. He’s a nice guy, and talkative, and only in the friendly way that isn’t confrontational. I keep talking with them as we walk down the street towards my flat. They stop about a block before mine, and I realize they are going to a flat party. We exchange some words as they wait to be let up, and as I expect they invite me to the party. I considering sleeping since I’m so close to home, but it’s an ERASMUS party so what choice do I have?

I do my best to blend into the group, which is difficult because I’m tall and have a different accent. But I keep the talking to a minimum and act like I belong. I get a few looks, but I do my best to ignore them.

I drink wine and talk about Chicago with a tall Irish guy.

“I had the best time of my life in Chicago,” he says.

“It’s a great city. I could live there again,” I say.

I realize as we finish the bottle of cheap white wine that, for the first time in a long time, I’m the only American. It’s fine and enjoyable, and really better than fine because the people are fun, and I laugh with them when they make fun of me. They seem to like that.

“My sister visited Canada and she would tell them she was from France and they wouldn’t say anything, and then when she started to say she was from Paris. ‘Oh Paris, I love Paris, isn’t France a city in Paris.’”

“No, you’re kidding,” I say, and try to be cute. “Maybe they thought she was French Canadian?”

I’m not even making sense, and thankfully her English isn’t strong enough to understand. After most of the people leave for Karlovy Lázně, the five story black hole of a club, we make out in a bedroom.

“I live just a block away,” I say.

She stops touching me when I say this. “I don’t go home with people on the first night,” she says, and starts to make for the door.

“Ok, ok,” I say, stopping her from leaving. “How about we go out this weekend?”

She seems happy at this, and we start kissing again. I sit on the bed and she straddles me. We make out hard with a lot of middle-school style above the clothes touching. It’s still enjoyable in that house party, drunk, boys getting their hands slapped away sort of way.

Eventually, the boy whose room it is interrupts us, and I’m thankful because I’m tired. She stays on top of my lap even with him in the room, and he starts to take pictures.

“Not on Facebook,” she says.

“Give me a kissing picture,” he says.

I pull her towards me. “Not on Facebook,” she says again. The boy nods and we kiss. He shows me the picture and I like it. It looks like those black and white photos of people kissing that were always taken in the 30s in Paris and New York.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “You can’t even see our faces.”

“Don’t put it on Facebook.”

“Your being bad,” the boy says to her.

She shrugs him away.

“She has a boyfriend,” he says.

“You have a boyfriend?”

“We have an open relationship,” she says.

 

2/8/2008

The difference between Czech girls and Slovak girls on paper would appear to be marginal, but in reality almost all those cute girls you see walking down the street are Slovak. That’s not true, Czech girls are cute, but as far as striking, you can’t go wrong by assuming they’re Slovakian.

“Are you from Slovakia?” Followed by something like, “all the cute girls are from there,” is usually enough. The one thing to watch out for is their sense of style. It’s not that Czech girls have a great sense of style, but you will see some skater fashion mixed with tomboy low cut Chucks, which can be adorable enough. The Slovak girls tend to dress much more gender specific, which sounds like a good thing, but in reality doesn’t fit, because they’re not sexy like the Mediterranean women, or tall and elegantly beautiful like the Scando-Germans. They are just pure and simply- cute.

The plus with gender roles is that they all know how to cook, and their food is better than the Czechs.

 

2/12/2008

I’m giving up drinking for a week. Well 5 days. The weekdays.

It’s not so hard except in the wine aisle at Tesco. I can partially rationalize only buying a small bottle of wine to have with dinner. ‘It’s better than buying a normal bottle.’ But I’m strong enough to resist it for the time being. I try to hit on two girls giving away Coke Zero. They don’t speak any English, and I’m just an embarrassment when I try to speak Czech.

The Coke makes me want wine again so I leave the store in a hurry. Outside I avoid what must be the most persistent beggar in Prague as I walk to the tram stop.

 

2/15/2008

I hear banging coming from the next room. I make a mad dash for the bathroom. The washer must be on the spin cycle. I jump on top of the thing, using my weight to hold the bastard in place. Even with me trying to hold it the thing makes a terrific amount of noise, and I think about how the neighbors must love me.

With my feet resting on the rim of the tub I wait it out, and look around for something to do within arms length. The front of the washer, where the dials are, is mostly rubbed off so the first several times I did laundry it was trial and error: no, this one is boiling hot water; ok, no water now; forty minutes of spin cycle, perfect. I now for the most part have it memorized, so the whole experience really isn’t that bad except I can’t leave the house during the wash because the machine will literally run forward and crash itself into the plaster wall.

Once in awhile the door on the thing will open and I will have a nice little lake where my bathroom used to be. But if I kick the door shut hard enough it usually doesn’t give me any problems.

 

2/19/08

There’s an overwhelming smell of piss in the air. At first I thought it was the smell of the homeless, but it has gotten worse as I’ve left the coffee shop and moved into the metro. What the hell is that? Because of the wind the air is not as stagnant as usual, but the smell is foul, and much worse than the usual stale smell the train pushes toward you as it nears your station.

I board the metro and leave the smell behind after half a minute. I get off at Vyšehrad and breath deeply on the hill that looks over the city. But even here the air isn’t right. It doesn’t have the stench, but it doesn’t feel clean, not even recycled, just thick with something. Pollution maybe? My imagination?

 

2/22/08

Eventually she stopped me from calling him, her ‘boyfriend’.

“Don’t call him my boyfriend,” she said, as we were lying in bed naked.

“Sorry, sorry, former ERASMUS lover.” She wasn’t really upset, and she continued to stay close to me under the covers. I was getting sleepy, but she was wide-awake so I tried to continue talking with her. She must have noticed because she told me it was ok if I went to sleep, which I did almost instantly.

 

2/26/08

Roxy has no cover on Monday nights. I’ve never been there, even though an ex-girlfriend went all the time while we were dating. Several times I had been out front when literal clouds of smoke coming up the stairs and rolling into the street had made me reconsider. The place is bigger than it looks from the outside, and when I lead a group of fresh study-abroad students to the club I’m surprised. They have only been here for a week so they are amazed by everything, and more importantly do everything wrong. I don’t blame them, I was there, but I lose them quickly because they take forever.

In a corridor I notice three girls sitting alone. They don’t really look Czech, it’s not so much their faces, but more their clothes. I try to get one of the students to come talk to them with me, but he gets embarrassed and leaves me when I get close. I talk to one that has short hair like a boy, she is cute though, and I like her grey dress. She tells me they’re from Denmark, and all from the same school.

“Hootie?” I say, when she tells me her name. That can’t be right.

“Well…” she tells me her real Danish name, which I don’t even catch a fraction of, “but yeah, everyone just calls me Hootie.”

“That’s cute.”

While we talk she smiles a lot and she is easy to talk with. One of the girls sitting with her is a cute blonde that reminds me of someone. More of her friends come by.

“There’s a lot of you here, you‘re all in the same university?”

“Yeah, there is about twenty of us from my high school.”

“What?” I say immediately. I’m shocked that she’s in high school, and also by the fact that she actually used the phrase “high school”. She must be the first European to call it that.

“How old are you?” I ask without any subtly. I can tell my head is tilted to the side and my eyebrows raised.

“Eighteen,” she answers without any questions of her own. She has to know why I’m asking, and seems not to mind.

She explains to me how high school works in Denmark: they have an extra year compared to us, thirteen grades. ‘Ok,’ I tell myself, ‘so she’s like a freshman in college.’ That makes me feel better.

 

2/27/08

Hootie excuses herself for the bathrooms and I find some of the abroad students. They’re wasted. One of the girls is touching me, asking the same questions over and over again. ‘Wait, so you’re Simon?’ I slip away from her, and get a drink. The Danish girls find me close to the bar. The blonde girl from the bench is named Katherine, and she’s acidly funny. I tell them I’m part Danish, which is true, and then lie for no reason about having been to Copenhagen.

We walk to the club floor and a tall, pretty, Danish redhead starts to talk to me. We all dance in a circle, spread apart from each other, because that’s how they dance on the continent. The redhead continues to talk to me as we dance, and after about a half hour we are making out. I’m still trying to dance, but it doesn’t really work, and I’m stepping on her feet and tripping on strangers. She asks me if I want to leave and we run out of the club without saying goodbyes. We take a taxi to my flat, which she has to pay for because I realize I’m out of money.

In the morning I walk her back to the hostel she’s staying at. Hootie and Katherine are downstairs with bottles of water getting ready to go explore the city. I say ‘hi’, talk to them for awhile, and then exchange numbers with the redhead and kiss goodbye. I stop on the way home for a coffee and a bagel, and watch the people in the cafe plan their days on maps of the city.

 

2/29/08

I’m waiting in front of the KFC at I. P. Pavlova for an Italian girl I met at Vagon. I’m surprised because I haven’t received a text from the Danish girl from Roxy.

Vagon is a bar close to Nardoni Trida. It’s big, has no cover, cheap beer, and a lot of students. The negatives are that it’s disgusting, standing water in the bathroom, everything sticks, and ugly shirtless people make out on the dance floor. But you come to expect that and it doesn’t detract.

I made my attraction obvious when I met the little Italian, picking up a chair and setting it beside her. Earlier in the night I had crashed and burned when I hit on a Czech girl who had a cute face but fat legs. She wanted nothing to do with me, and turned to talk with her Czech friends who had horrible haircuts. As I was walking away, I did manage to snag a hundred Korunas sitting in a glass at the edge of the table. But with the Italian it went better. We got along well, and when the bar closed I walked her to the metro, and we kissed for awhile before saying goodbye.

As I stand here the thought goes through my mind, maybe she will be late? Aren’t Italians supposed to be late? Did I just generalize an entire people? So what, I do it all the time.

I step inside the KFC to get out of the cold. A few minutes later I see her walk by.

“Hi,” I say as I step outside. I surprise her a little.

“Were you eating in there?” She asks, and I can tell she would be disgusted if I had.

“No, no, just waiting.” I tell her how I was unsure if she would be late, and she finds it funny.

“It’s true, we can be late. I try really hard to be on time.”

We walk to a bar that’s close by. They have Stella on tap, which is refreshing because I’m sick of Czech beer. We talk there for a few hours, and it’s easy and there aren’t any breaks. I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket and I go to the restroom. It’s the Danish girl telling me that this is her last night in the city and that they are getting ready to go out. At the end she puts her name- ‘Sina.’ The entire night I thought she was saying ‘Xena’. I had avoided saying her name, because I couldn’t bring myself to call someone ‘Xena.’

I write her that I will meet her at whatever club they decide to go to, but shortly after it becomes clear that I won’t meet Sina tonight.