Filed under: conspiracies
I don’t recall enjoying The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
when they were forced upon me at the ripe old age of 14. I don’t remember laughing out loud or even thinking that Twain was a particularly funny guy. Actually, I don’t recall ever reading them at all, though I know that I must have what with the 12 years of American school and the degree in English literature.
Rewind one year. A friend gives me A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. I attempt to read it. I fail. I attempt again. I make it almost to the end of the first chapter. Fast forward back to now. Someone offers to pay me to read it, and I manage it in a few long and grueling weeks.
Painful first chapter and grueling epic satirical nonsense aside, I’d recommend A Tramp Abroad for one important reason: after the first few chapters it’s brimming with the kind of mean-hearted, cynical humor that only a chain-smoking nihilist could love. It’s morbid, and sarcastic, and includes heaps of jokes about the sudden and satisfyingly painful death of tourists and small children.
Read my (edited, eHEM) review on Brave New Traveler.
This just in: The Agency would like to notify all citizens that on the night before moving yourself six hours across the country, you should at all costs avoid drinking a half a liter of vodka with your ex-boyfriend. You will feel sad, and hungover. Thank you for your time.
There are two lesser known ways to make a city look more beautiful. Most people would just redecorate. A new building here, a new paint job there. I leave.
Of course, as soon as you’ve decided to leave, the whole bothering with wanting to make the place more appealing becomes rather silly, but life is just one big monkey barrel full of paradoxes now isn’t it?
The day I decided to leave Dresden rays of sunshine descended from the heavens like choirs of angels, drab buildings did their make-up and put up their hair, and everyone I passed on the street started smiling at me shyly like we were about to become friends, or lovers. Potential started bubbling up between the cracks in the pavement and quickly hardened into missed opportunities.
Moving away is almost as good as first arriving. I highly recommend it, though the moving costs tend to add up after a few tries.
In the last weeks before a move, everything teams suddenly with heightened significance. This isn’t just a shower or breakfast. This is my LAST shower in this apartment, and my LAST breakfast in this kitchen. This is the last sentence in a chapter, and the first sentence in a new one. Banal daily events become Transitions, New Beginnings, and New Ends.
The day I decided to leave I went down to visit the Altstadt skyline to refill her glass of wine and see if she wouldn’t let me give her a little kiss. How many dates does it take to get a girl in bed these days? I smiled at her dumbly across the river, and she sipped her wine slowly smiling at me contemplatively with a look that said ‘I knew you’d leave me for that grimy little bitch but you can give me a little kiss all the same.’
My last weeks were a blur of new-crush butterflies and energy and excitement. I ran around trying to finish the Dresden section of my guidebook. I stayed up late typing chapters of the novel, racing my calendar to happily ever after. I drank too much coffee and wandered around Neustadt over and over again, sipping in all the details that I would inevitably miss.
On my last night Markus came over to say goodbye, and we went out for One Last Neustadt Beer. Which turned into Quite a Few Last Neustadt Beers and an almost-pub crawl to say goodbye to all the nooks and crannies I’d become smitten with over the past six months. This is where the two-ton hangover, the five paracetamol, and the gallon of coffee entered the scene. I had only slept for a few hours when my headache woke me up, and I twitched over to the train station to pick up the rental van (which turned out to be more like a big huge metal box), threw everything I own into the back, headed in the direction of the train station again, and clipped another van’s side mirror right fucking off.
The word “clipped” may be something of an understatement. “Crushed,” “obliterated,” or “completely annihilated” might be more appropriate terms. The angry owners of the damaged van did not grasp the irony of the situation—they were driving the exact van that I had hoped to rent, and the only reason I was on that street in the first place was because of an ill-fated wrong turn—and were standing in the middle of the street and watching me do one of the worst parking jobs of all time with mouths trout-wide open in shock and anger.
Then I slid out of the high driver’s seat, and they both laughed.
“A tiny girl like you in a big car like that? Well, that doesn’t match at all.”
“Tell me about it,” I replied, hoping their jovial good mood would inspire them to forget all about the smashed mirror, pay me, and drive off into the sunset laughing and waving. But as they weren’t even sitting in the car and their mirror was still lying in pieces in plain view, we filled out the accident report form from the rental company and made a few phone calls. I finally managed to battle the “I think I may, in fact, burst into tears at any moment” look off of my face when they fixed my own bent mirror for me so that the van would still be safe to drive on the autobahn.
“Don’t worry,” the fat one told me, “It happens. No big deal.”
Is this how car accidents usually go? I sure hope so, but somehow I think I got lucky.
I was a half an hour late to pick up my ride share passenger from the train station where she was waiting with her husband in the cold.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I told them. “I umm, had a little trouble with the mirror.”
I had been hoping for someone with a head full of interesting tales, old hitch hiking adventures or strange family histories, or maybe even ghosts, yeah a head full of creepy ghost stories and a knack for spooky voices. That would keep me awake.
“I lived in America for 20 years,” she told me after a few minutes of banal small talk. “I lived in Alabama and Kentucky. I miss it so much. Especially the weather. Oh give me an Alabama winter anytime.” She spoke English with a bizarre combination of deep-south twang and we-learned-Brittish-English-in-school twug. It had just started to snow. “What I miss the most though is being able to shop 24 hours a day. You ever miss that?”
“Well, it took a while to get used to the shops’ hours here, yeah, but I don’t mind it anymore,” I told her, making awkward slow turns and hesistant lane changes with the van.
“Oo-wee. Just being able to go over to Walmart after work to go grocery shopping. And the spicy sausages! You ever had a spicy sausage?”
“No, I haven’t actually,” I told her, “But then again, I don’t eat meat.” I also didn’t and don’t have any idea what spicy sausage she could possibly have been talking about. The only sausages I had ever seen in America had either been German or Italian. Unless you count hot dogs, and considering the fact that hot can mean both spicy or a high temperature, maybe that is what she was talking about.
She was quiet for a while, Walmart-hot-dog-stand franks smothered in ketchup and mustard sparkling in her eyes. “Well, the next time you get back to the states you’ve got to try you one of them spicy sausages.”
This time I answered in German. “Ja, klingt gut. Aber ich esse kein Fleisch.” (Sounds good, but I don’t eat meat.)
“Oh and you should probably heat them up in the microwave,” she went on, oblivious that I had done more than nod. “They’re even spicier when they’re hot. Or chicken wings,” (relentless bitch) “Nobody here makes chicken wings like in America. You should have some of those too.”
That was the end of our conversation and my cue to turn up the music. She quickly fell asleep, and I quietly rasped along to Tom Waits, the rhythm of the highway getting back into my fingers and toes.