America: The Land of Milk and Honey and Paperwork and Really Big Pizzas

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usa13599872_10205017958448416_7142705830357970127_nWhen you spend six years living in Asia, coming back to the USA becomes both an exciting and a frightening proposition. Yes, I felt amped up thinking about the things I missed. Decent live music and Applebee’s and Taco Bell. Things like that. There’s also the worry that everyone will be armed and dangerous and your Chinese fiance will get elbowed in the face by an angry Trump supporter who heard her say ‘ni hao’ and flipped. What you find is that things are pretty good here, somewhere in the middle of what you anticipated.

In other words, Applebee’s isn’t that great, and no one is threatening to shoot or elbow your girlfriend.

But a lot of my friends have asked me what adjustments I’ve had to make. So I thought I’d write a quick blog post, where I’ll briefly touch on a few things that have surprised me since I’ve come back to The States.

talkative-people1) People Like to Talk to Each Other – The other day, I was in Walmart, waiting in line, and the lady behind just started talking to me. Struck up a random conversation. It was nice, and it got me thinking about the people in South Korea and China. I started to ask myself, did I ever see people talking to each other while in line? I don’t mean to me – I didn’t speak the language – but to each other? I don’t believe I ever did. Likewise, at the bus stop here in Vegas, someone ALWAYS starts talking to me. But at the bus stops in Asia, everyone always stood in silence and waited solemnly.

Personally, I like the perception that a stranger is your friend, and I like the frequent little conversations I’m having. I’ve concluded that the USA is chatty, and it’s kind of fun.

512oyetfnpl-_sx258_bo1204203200_2) The USA is Obsessed with Sports – Man, there are sports everywhere here. The NFL, the NBA, college football, college basketball, high school sports, fantasy sports. I turn on my TV during the weekend and I’m bound to find sports on. It’s amazing how Asia isn’t like that at all. Sure, Korea had it’s baseball league and that was popular. But other than the KBO, there wasn’t really much, and I don’t recall seeing many people dressed up in the jersey of their favorite team. Not like here, where half the men I see apparently still have fantasies about playing for the Cowboys. Thinking back to China, I don’t believe anyone cared at all about sports, apart from, I guess, their rampant love for playing ping-pong. The emphasis on athletics is amazing in the USA; whereas in Asia teenage boys and adult men seem to get their excitement from video games and drinking large amounts of alcohol.

064aeb7d5bbaad36e818e90cec3c25033) Advertising is Ingrained in our Souls – Jingles. I only remember one in Asia, which was for HomePlus in Korea. Otherwise, commercials consisted mostly of attractive people using the product and looking attractive. Here, commercials are inescapable and far more sly. They play brain tricks, and people seem to love them. Hanging out with some friends, a commercial for Jeep Grand Cherokee came on and everybody started happily signing Cat Stevens’ song “Free to Be.” In my classroom at a middle school in Vegas, we were about to start watching something on YouTube when a Capital One advert starting playing; when I went to skip the ad, the students all cried “no!” like their hearts were breaking and then sat transfixed while Samuel L. Jackson talked about interest rates. Our programming is apparent and kind of sad. Whereas in Asia, you just buy what the sexy person tells you to buy.

USBULA United States Bureau of Unnecessarily Long Acronyms4) Bureaucracy Is Everywhere and Is Expensive – A few months ago, I sauntered into Lens Crafters with my glasses. I told them I wanted to buy some contacts and I handed the lady my glasses to scan. That’s how I did it in Asia. Hand over the glasses, they scan it with some machine, then they sell me contacts that match the strength of the glasses lenses. Takes five minutes. But here, not so much – I was told I needed a doctor’s perscription in order to buy my contacts. The vision test would take 2-3 hours and cost $110.

This is America. Everything needs a document, every document costs money. To get fingerprinted for my new job, I had to 1) pay a fee online 2) go to fingerprint place with receipt from the online fee and get printed 3) go to office of employer with form from fingerprint place saying I was printed in order to get another form giving the fingerprint place permission to share the fingerprints 4) go back to fingerprint place to give them the permission to share form. It took forever and, of course, cost money. But that’s the procedure. There are battles from wars that have less documentation than my fingerprinting did.

lilipizza13686597_10205087521987461_41481060401218504_n5)  The Grocery Store is Great – In Asia, about 50% of the grocery store is comprised of cheap sausages. There are sausages all over the place, and the chicken breasts sit out in the open and are as warm as urine by the time you get them home. Meanwhile, the grocery stores in America are true examples of American greatness. Want a giant pizza that will feed your entire apartment building? You got it. Want tomatoes? We’ve got six different kinds of tomatoes. Feeling in the mood for some Middle Eastern food? Well we’ve got Falafel and pita break and tahini sauce. In Asia, I couldn’t even find olives.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Need to stop writing. Got a big day ahead of me here in America: gonna watch some football, enjoy the advertisements, and eat a pizza the size of an ice skating rink.

 

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The Jesus Napkin

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jesus-main-626779There are a lot of crazy people living in Las Vegas. If you’d like to verify this, the easiest way of doing so would be to ride the public bus during the daytime. I’ve heard people say “the freaks come out at night,” and that might be true. But the real freaks come out around noon, and they’re all riding the Las Vegas public transportation system.

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The Fiance 

Back in late August, my fiance and I had a memorable run-in with one of these colorful characters. Yes, that’s right, I have a fiance now. Her name is Fang Deng and she is a little Chinese woman. I brought her over here with me, packed her in my suitcase hidden inside a Chinese lantern, and later when we got off the plane she popped out of it like an Asian version of the Trojan Horse. Actually, none of that is true. Fang Deng just came over to the States with me on a tourist visa, met an eccentric man at a bus stop, and now she’s back in China.

Anyways, I digress. Fang Deng and I had to catch the bus going north on Boulder Highway that day. We walked over to the bus stop and there was this dude sitting there wearing black sweatpants with a long-sleeve black sweat shirt. This was odd, because it was 110 degrees outside. Sometimes it’s hard to describe a person, but the guy sitting at the bus stop was very easy to describe because he looked exactly like Neil deGrasse Tyson. So just imagine that after filming an episode of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson is exhausted and disheveled and that he dresses down into a sweatsuit and sits on a bench outside in the sweltering heat, and that would pretty much paint the picture of what Fang Deng and I discovered at the bus stop.

neil-degrasse-tyson-today-151123-tease-01_3f81ad672979df8eb616d15515636051-today-inline-large“Hey,” the guy said to me. “Hey, you.”

I pretended I didn’t hear him. In my head, I started praying that the bus would just materialize out of nothing and we wouldn’t be alone with this guy anymore. But my fantasies would not come true, and the man called out to me again.

“You! Come here!”

Fine. I walked over to him. “What’s up?”

He didn’t say anything. Instead, he reached his hand out and gave me a brown napkin. It was folded up as though he’d been carrying it around for awhile.

I opened it. On the napkin, he had written the name “Jesus” maybe two billion times. I’m not exaggerating. The napkin was litterally covered in Jesus, like this:

Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus

why-did-jesus-fold-the-naptkinI wasn’t sure how to react. I nodded knowingly and handed the napkin back to him.

“I gotta catch the bus to Michigan,” he said. “Can you give me five bucks?”

“Um, let me see what I have,” I said. I opened my wallet and gave him two dollars.

“All right,” he said.

“It’s all I got,” I told him apologetically.

When we got on the bus, Fang Deng was livid. She looked at me like I was the crazy person.

“Why the hell did you give him money? What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “He had this Jesus napkin. It freaked me out.”

“That’s ridiculous! You should’ve told him you have no money!”

“But…you always say we should give money to the homeless.”

Fang Deng shook her head, her black hair bouncing against her shoulders. “Not homeless people like him. Crazy guy with a napkin.”

For the rest of the ride, we watched as the man would walk over to the other people on the bus, one by one, tap them on the shoulder, and hand them the napkin. They would all open it and stare at it for a second, and then hand it back to him. No one else gave him anything. He eventually got off at the same stop that we did, with only his napkin and my two dollars to show for it.

“God bless you,” he said to me as we parted ways.

“God bless you too,” I said.

And then he walked away into the suffocating heat.

I wondered if he thought this was Michigan.

 

 

The Passenger Seat of a Stranger’s Car

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NEW YEARS FIREWORKS OVER LAS VEGAS STRIPThe fireworks have just ended and I’m standing by the side of the road with my hand out. It’s only fifteen minutes into the new year and already I feel hopeless. Cabs zip past me without stopping, people slumped over drunk in their back seats. I’m on the Vegas Strip with literally thousands of other people, all of us trying to flee for our homes. Apparently as soon as the clock struck midnight the Strip stopped being the place to be, and everybody just wanted to go to bed.

A black truck pulls up in front of me. The window rolls down and the dude driving it sticks his head out.

“Where you going, man?”

“Twain and Arville.”

“Twain and Arville?” he repeats, as though he’s asking himself if he wants to drive there. “Okay, I’ll take you there. Forty dollars.”

nye2012-07I look around the place. There are so many people and the streets are mostly empty, only a few cabs around. My phone (Samsung G4, a total piece of shit) is dead and it wouldn’t even matter if it wasn’t, because the guy at the Uber tent (yes, there’s an Uber tent, with a bar and loud dance music and a bunch of Uber drivers parked outside) told me that T-Mobile (my carrier, totally shitty) isn’t connecting to Uber for some reason. And since they won’t drive you if you don’t request on the app, I’m out of luck. But I do have exactly forty-two dollars in my wallet, which means I can afford a ride from this random stranger.

“Forty bucks?” I say to him. “Let’s do it.”

He motions towards the passenger seat and I get in. We make a quick u-turn and almost immediately get stuck in traffic.

“Fucking New Year,” the guy says. “Everything is gonna be like this. Let’s see if we get around it.”

He drives the truck into the lane next to us – you know, the one for oncoming traffic – and bypasses about fifty cars stuck at a red light. We reach the light and he butts his way in, cuts off the car in front, and now we’re leading the pack. After a minute or two, we get stuck again.

“Forty bucks,” he says. “I should charge you two hundred.”

We start to talk. His name is Isaac and he’s from Eritrea, a small country located in Northern Africa. His hair is black and puffy; he looks middle-eastern, wears glasses and has stubble all over his face. He tells me that he’s lived in Vegas for almost twenty years. Has a wife and a three-year-old kid. He constantly mentions how English is his second language and he doesn’t speak it well, even though I think he sounds perfectly fluent.

“What about you?” he asks. “Where are you from?”

Oh, where to begin. I tell him I’ve lived in Asia the last six years. First South Korea, then in China. I tell him that I’ve just moved to Vegas to start a new life. It sounds corny, and I worry that he might see this as an opportunity – I’m new and I don’t know anybody and he could easily kill me without anyone figuring it out for at least a few days. But that doesn’t seem to occur to him. He asks me why I came back to the States.

“I don’t know, man,” I tell him. “Just felt like it was time to come back.”

web1_photoeditor-1483288501023-1-_7700234Isaac drives like a madman. He weaves in and out of traffic, cuts down back alleys, honks his horn at any cars in his way. It’s a lot like being back in China, actually. It takes a half-an-hour to get onto the highway, and from there we’re set. The drive from the Strip to my place is actually only ten minutes or so, but most of the roads are closed for the holiday, which means we have to circle around. And so Isaac and I end up taking a little tour of Vegas, talking about language and culture and what it’s like to live in a country that isn’t your own.

“Do you think you’ll ever go back to Eritrea?” I ask him.

“No, no, no,” he says. “This is where I want to be.”

He drops me off at the apartment complex where I’ve been living the past three months. I open my wallet and give him the forty-two bucks. We shake hands. It’s after one in the morning and my apartment complex is dark and quiet. Isaac turns the truck around, gets onto the road and takes off. Maybe he goes home, maybe he goes back to the Strip to make more money. I just walk through the buildings until I reach mine, and after I get inside, I go out onto the balcony and smoke a cigarette.

It turned out okay. This is what I tell myself. I’m home and I’m safe, and it’s 2017 and everything is going to be fine. I realize that a lot has worked out so far, a lot has gone right, and that’s why I’m standing here on this balcony in Vegas. Looking at the bright lights in the distance, ready to start the brand new year.

I can see the Palms Casino, the neon glow of its colorful sign. I wonder if the lights ever go out there? Something tells me they never do.

The Girl with the Flowered Underwear

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Of all the curious idiosyncrasies of the human race, people’s unique behavioral
blips, I’ve always been baffled by the decision some strange individuals make to wear underwear that has flowers on it. It’s definitely not sexy, unless one has a fetish for wallpaper, and from a strictly aesthetic perspective, a floral print can only be visually pleasing to those who think quilted Bounty paper towels are fine art. Mind you, I’m not against underwear that has personality – in fact, I own one pair of boxers with the Super Mario Brothers on it and another that retells the Little Red Riding Hood story (literary lingerie, there’s an idea, market it if you have the time). It’s just that flowers seem tacky. Grandmotherish. And flowers are also the most obvious vaginal symbol I can think of (right, Georgia O’Keefe?); a girl with flowered panties is sort of like a guy wearing tighty whities covered in bananas and The Washington Monument.

blog underwear flowersOne Sunday evening, I found myself sitting in my room, the nervous breakdown that I’d been having for the previous three weeks beginning to subside slightly. I’d been hiding all weekend, terrified at the idea of seeing another human being, wanting only to be left alone, in the dark cavern of my apartment, taking shelter in my cave like an agoraphobic bear or an early 2000s Bin Laden. I’d hear people outside in the lobby of the apartment building, talking and laughing, and my heart would pound. Why were they out there? When would they leave? Their presence was cancer, a black widow spider hanging above my bed on its string, they were there to get me, I had to stay safe. The building was full of threats. Stepping outside my apartment was Russian Roulette, spin the barrel, pull the trigger, listen for noise.

blog underwear candy caneFor over a month I hadn’t done any laundry because the laundry room was down the hallway and I was too petrified of people to force myself to go. I figured it was easier to wear the same dirty underwear, BO scented shirts, and soy sauce stained jeans than risk running into someone in the public laundry room. But on this Sunday, the hallway was quiet, and I was feeling adventurous. I threw some clothes in a bag and literally sprinted across the lobby to the laundry room. The washer was all in Chinese and I had no idea how to work it. Whatever. I tossed my clothes in, poured a bunch of detergent on top like a Canadian eating pancakes and going heavy on the maple syrup, and punched buttons until the machine started. What was the worst that could happen? I’d either end up with clean clothes or turn the apartment building into The Impossible.

Forty five minutes passed. It was time to make the transfer to the dryer. I gave myself a pep talk, pumping myself up, like someone does before walking over hot coals, and then I darted back to the laundry room. There was only one dryer not currently in use but, to my horror, someone had left clothes inside it. I cursed under my breath and ran back to my room. Twenty minutes later I repeated the process, pep talk, 15 meter dash, dryer check. The same clothes sat in the dryer, left and abandoned, shed and forgotten, the same way cats leave their fur all over the place.

blog underwear flowers two“Son of a bitch!” I shouted. I knew that I didn’t have it in me to come back again. Whoever was doing this was torturing me. I opened the dryer and started taking the clothes out, throwing them on top of the machine. To hell with it. My head ached. There’s a privacy agreement inherent in any Laundromat and I was breaking it, smashing it with each t-shirt or sock I tossed out of the dryer’s warm circular metal embrace.

And I would have kept going, had it not been for what I was unearthing. Panties. Lots and lots of panties. Whoever was responsible for this had washed a record amount of underwear, lifetimes worth. Flowered panties, tons of them, descending from the dryer, falling down onto my face, like I was an opera singer and the crowd was pelting me with roses.

blog underwear big flowers oneHow could I leave some girl’s underwear out in the open for anyone to gawk at? I only wanted to dry my clothes, not humiliate anyone. Anger filled me as I held the girl’s floral patterned panties in my hand. I imagined that if I was single, maybe one day I’d have a romantic hook up with one of my coworkers, bring her back to my apartment. Things would get heavy, bra unlatched, and I’d slide her jeans off, only to recognize this same pair of flowered panties snug around her hips. Passion would die right there. The lights would have to come on, and instead of sex, she would get a long lecture on laundry etiquette.

“Hours! You left your clothes in the dryer for hours! What kind of girl just leaves her panties in a public space like that? Have you no decency?!?”

It was no use. I put all of the mystery girl’s clothes back in the dryer, then took my soaking wet laundry and stuffed it in my bag. Returning to my apartment, I hung my drenched clothes around the place like I was redecorating, putting socks on bookshelves as if they were family photographs.

“I finally did some laundry,” I sighed. “I should feel happy.”

It was true. I was alone and safe, with wet clothes sitting in my closet, while some stranger was out and about, possibly having the time of her life, her laundry a minor detail of her day, already forgotten.

*

I’ll Take the AIDS Test when I’m Finished Studying!

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blog aids mitchThere’s nothing less fun than having to take an AIDS test. Pregnancy tests aren’t fun either, but if those turn out positive, as a guy, I can take the girl in question on Maury Povich and hope somebody else knocked her up. And if that doesn’t work out, at least I’d get to be on Maury Povich. You’ll never see Maury doing AIDS tests:

“Well, I’m holding the results of the test in my hand,” Maury would say as I sweat bullets up on the stage. “With 99.9% accuracy…you sir…are not the father!”

“What? It was supposed to be an AIDS test.”

“Oh, yeah. About that…you got it.”

It just wouldn’t be good TV. Likewise, a show about my attempts to get a Chinese work visa would make for equally bad television.

“On today’s very special episode,” the voice-over guy would say, “Bill is required to go to a Hong Kong hospital and undergo a full health exam, including an HIV test. Viewer discretion is advised: this episode contains adult themes and isn’t entertaining.”

Really though, the doctors and nurses at the hospital in Hong Kong couldn’t have been nicer. They had me in and out of that place in about an hour, as though they were the Jiffy Lube of health examinations. I was told my results would be back in a week, and I nodded, knowing I’d be spending the next seven days freaking out.

blog aids mosquitoNot that I thought I had HIV. But having the test put the thought in my head. It’s like, you never think about certain things until somebody brings them up. “Don’t you want more in-depth labels on food?” a person might say. “Aren’t you worried about what you’re eating?” Um, why? Should I be worried about what I’m eating? What’s wrong with what I’m eating? Is it going to kill me? Oh my God, it IS going to kill me, isn’t it? I’m such a fool!

So because somebody felt it was necessary that I take an HIV test, all of a sudden I became convinced that I had it. I walked around Hong Kong humming Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” song, imaging myself on the Real World, being harassed by Puck. One night I stood by VictoriaBay and got super dramatic, thinking that when the test came back positive, I would leap into the bay at night and commit suicide. No one would even know why I did it, the test results kept secret thanks to HIPPA laws. Everyone would simply assume it was due to my despair over “Gossip Girl” getting canceled or the Phillies signing of Delmon Young.

My anxiety was at an all-time high when I finally got an email from the hospital, saying I could come pick up my test results. The tone of the email was neutral, which I considered to be a good sign. After arriving, the doctor sat me down in a chair to go over everything.

“We did a blood test,” she said, “and you’re blood type A positive.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Relax,” I told myself. “She said A positive. There was no I or D or S.”

She proceeded to go over the rest of the results. I was HIV negative. I breathed a heavy sigh in relief. Then she told me my lungs had pleural thickening. “It’s not a big deal,” she said, “but it’s something to be aware of.”

“My lungs? Thickening? Is that because I smoke?”

“No,” she said, “pleural thickening is usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Smoking is very bad, though. You need to quit.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Asbestos?”

I was dumbfounded. I thought asbestos poisoning was something that went out after the New Deal. How had this happened? I told myself that if one thing doesn’t kill you, something else surely will.

“Well, thank God you can’t get AIDS from old buildings,” I thought, leaving the hospital with my chest X-ray in hand, so I could show my pleural thickening to all my friends.

“Tune in next week,” my voice over guy said, “for a very special episode, in which the happiness of being HIV negative is somewhat muted by a 30 minute coughing fit.”

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The Third Man Ferris Wheel vs. The Crazy Weird Vienna Pony Carousel

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“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

–  Harry Lime, The Third Man

The truth was goofy; I’d traveled a long way for a Ferris Wheel. But this wasn’t any damn Ferris Wheel, a city’s underwhelming version of the London Eye, which, I hear, is underwhelming itself; this was THE Ferris Wheel, the one Orson Welles made his famous cuckoo clock speech on in the classic film “The Third Man.” Welles ad-libbed the speech during filming, and as it turned out, was completely erroneous – the cuckoo clock was invented in Germany. But ask anyone who has a passion for black and white movies where the cuckoo clock comes from, and I’ll bet you a hundred bucks they say Switzerland.

So when I learned that The Third Man was shot in Vienna, Austria, I decided I had to make a pilgrimage out there. On my last day in Vienna, I went up to The Prater, Vienna’s oddball amusement park, with my heart set on riding the Ferris Wheel, which is called the Risenrad. And I did. I bought a ticket, and I rode it.

And that’s it.

There’s no story here. Nothing. I’m not sure what I expected to think or feel. What were my expectations? Did I think I’d be transported back in time a la Midnight in Paris, so I could go and have schnitzel with Joseph Cotton?

I wasn’t sure and, to be honest, I don’t even like schnitzel or Joseph Cotton all that much. After riding the Risenrad, I felt satisfied. “Okay,” I said to myself. “I can say that I did that.” I had nothing else to do all day, and I lazily walked around, looking around the Prater for nothing in particular.

It was after some time that I stumbled upon something I’d never seen before. Passing numerous amusement park rides, suddenly my nostrils flared with the strong odor of manure. “Jesus!” I thought. “Where is that coming from?” The smell led me to a carousel. A big green sign stood atop the structure. “That carousel smells like shit!” I keenly observed to myself. I walked closer, got a good look, and instantly figured out why.

Instead of wooden horses, the “Wiener Ponny-Caroussel” had real ones. About six horses stood there, harnesses on them, hooked up to a big wheel. I looked at my watch and saw that it was two o’clock, the middle of the day. There weren’t many people at the park. Luckily, a married couple and their son happened to come by while I was standing there. The boy apparently wanted to ride the Pony Carousel, and so they paid and he was put on one of the horses. The corny organ music fired up, the boy looked around confused, his parents watching him with bored looks on their faces. The horses didn’t move. A few seconds passed, and then the man working there took a whip and smacked the boy’s horse right in its ass, hard, and that got the animals to start going around and around. The horses looked miserable, and so did the boy. I left before the ride was over, wondering if the Pony Carousel actually makes any money.

“Business has been slow,” the owner might say to one of the horses. “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to keep you here. It breaks my heart to do this to you, but we’re going to have to set you free.”

And then the horse runs around joyously, because it’s the happiest day of its life.

I left Vienna the next day. I’ve told some people about how I rode the Ferris Wheel from The Third Man. Truth be told…nobody seems too impressed. I’ve also told people about the horse carousel, and how they had to whack the horse on its butt to start the thing. People typically laugh and seem interested.

For those keeping score, that’s Third Man Story 0, Horse Carousel 1.

That’s cool. The outlying details in a day are typically more interesting than the main activities anyways. Just like how riding a wooden horse, sometimes, can be more magical than riding a real one.

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An Awkward Conversation with Leo

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All day long I’d been hearing about Dicey’s – not directly as I would have liked, but instead from a distance, from the next room or from someone who would assume that I’d (of course) heard about Dicey’s already, as seemingly everyone else on the planet had.

“Going to Dicey’s tonight?” a big German guy asked me when we found ourselves brushing our teeth next to each other. “Two Euro beers, I heard.”

“Yeah,” I said, bitter that this was the second or third time I’d been sort-of-invited by someone who was invited by someone else. Never by the organizer, whoever that mystery man was, that cool-ass mofo, emphasis on ‘fo’ as opposed to ‘friend.’ “I’ll probably go. Sounds fun.”

“What time are you going to head down?”

I had no idea. I brushed my gums so hard I spit out blood, angrily. I didn’t even know where Dicey’s was located. It was the place to be, decided by someone who knew where the hell it was and what time to go. Who did the tall German guy think he was talking to? He had mistaken me for being someone in the loop, a member of the in group, someone who gets the secret notes from the President that the inconsequential masses aren’t privy to. In other words, his level of judgment was completely off.

What was I supposed to do? Confess? Say, “Actually, nobody has directly invited me yet, and thus I have no idea what’s going on. Although I’d desperately like to be invited, so if you could pass that along, it would be appreciated.”

Of course not. I said I wasn’t sure what time everyone was going, spit out more blood, and changed topics by asking the guy lots and lots of questions about Germany, nodding to indicate that I was pretending to listen to the answers.

*

On the way down to Dicey’s, I met Leo and Rachel. Leo was from Germany (it’s a coincidence; don’t think everyone backpacking in Dublin is from Germany) (they’re actually all from Brazil and cook delicious pork dinners out on the hostel balcony) and Rachel was American. There was a whole group of people from our hostel walking down the dark streets in a quest for two-Euro-beers; I still hadn’t technically been invited, but due to the enormous number of people I was able to latch on without looking too suspicious. During this long march, I learned that Leo and Rachel were close friends and were traveling together. At this point, I should probably mention something about their looks. I’m sure that’s what you’ve been wondering (if you’re male, at least). Let’s start with Leo…it isn’t that she was bad looking – she wasn’t – she was just, well, very clearly inferior to her friend Rachel, who was ridiculously good looking. And that is what would lead to the trouble later on.

Poor Leo. I could relate. I’m the type of person that knows where he stands; that won’t talk to someone of the opposite sex if she’s too good looking; that has to believe in the notion of ‘types,’ as in maybe, by the luck of the Gods, some girl will be more interested in my messy ass than a guy who is traditionally attractive and has things like muscles and a strong jaw-line and more than two pairs of jeans (we sure rely on this notion of types heavily, don’t we?; “Well, I know I’m not Pet Sounds or Revolver or Songs in the Key of Life…but maybe this person is more into Floored by Sugar Ray”) (I can be Floored by Sugar Ray); when I make a male friend, I ask myself if, should the situation occur where we’re going for the same girl, there would be any chance that she would choose me (and, if I feel she would go with my friend, I secretly start looking at him with jealous animosity). So, although it didn’t dawn on me yet, I felt for Leo. It’s never much fun to be the lesser of two friends, the buddy in the cop movie, the Supreme that isn’t Diana Ross, the Golden Girl that isn’t Blanche (y’all know what I’m saying).

When we finally got to the bar, I found myself drinking with an Irish musician named Kiernan. As I believe I mentioned earlier, a beer cost two Euro, and a deal like that can only end in chain smoking and liver damage. The night wore on and, at some point after midnight, we looked over to see a very sad scene. There was Rachel in the midst of what appeared to be a brilliant conversation with some big muscle guy, and while this happened, poor Leo stood there by herself, her back turned towards them, watching the band, swaying oddly to the music as though she wanted to dance but had forgotten how to.

“Esh,” Kiernan said, “look at that, will ya?”

“That’s really uncomfortable, isn’t it?” I said. “When you go out with your friend and he hooks up, and you have to stand there alone and pretend that you’re having a good time.”

“It’s the worst. You’re searching around the bar desperately for somebody to talk to, and you can’t get in on the conversation with your mate and the girl, because then you’d be cock blocking.”

“Exactly,” I said, shaking my head, watching Leo purposely-not-watch Rachel getting macked on. “I’m gonna go over there and talk to her. We can’t let her suffer like that.”

I suppose I did all that I could. I went over to Leo and did my best to help. Problem was, I had absolutely nothing to say to her. I racked my brain fruitlessly, searching for some possible topic of discussion. It had gone blank; I had cracked under the pressure. All I came up with was, “So, you’re from Germany…”

“Yes…”

“That’s cool…been in Dublin long…have you seen The Book of Kells?”

It was hopeless. I went back over to Kiernan and drank more. When the time came to go back to the hostel, Rachel was missing.

“Where’s Rachel?” Leo asked frantically. “Has anyone seen Rachel?”

“I think she left with some bloke,” Kiernan (unhelpfully) chimed in.

“WHAT??? Who? Where are they? We have to find her!!!”

I scratched my head and checked my gums for bleeding. “Anyone want another beer while we look for her?”

Then Rachel, the elusive one, reappeared. Not two seconds later, some new guy came walking over, offering her a drink. Kiernan shook his head.

“It must be hell being a girl,” he said to me. “They never, ever, get left alone.”

Or, when they did, like Leo, it was even worse. I nodded in agreement. We were lucky, really, that no girls came up to talk to us, and the beer was cheap.

*