The message came in much earlier, sometime around 22:00 last night but I was somewhere else, maybe watching LOST in Spanish or at a bar, or something. Yeah, that’s it – when her message came in I was at a bar in the casco viejo of Madrid.
The bar was all dark wood, carved by the hands of artists. And I don’t mean just the bar either, like, just a plank of hand-sculpted wood on which to serve drinks. No. The whole establishment was one large cave of mahogany or something. If you farted or your cell phone vibrated, I’m sure the whole place would feel it. I didn’t really realize it until my eyes got used to the dim lights and the Buena Vista Social Club started playing loud Cuban music out of the jukebox. The rusty metal signs were hand-made for sure, bent with pliers and cut with hack saws. Sangria and olive oil was kept consistently within arm’s reach of everybody, probably for good measure, and a smoked leg of ham stood propped on the bar on some home-made stand with its hoof out, like a dog ready to shake paws. It was almost carved to the bone but there were still another couple of hours worth of raw meat from that pork.
But the rafters of the place; they really did me in. I like old rafters the way older men like Buicks and Cadillacs and, in some cases, Volkswagens. The beam was supported by a strange thing indeed, a shape which both terrified me and captivated my eyes and my fantasies. My attention was ensnared and I couldn’t look away. It was, on closer inspection, a wooden sculpture of a sinewy human form, deathless for eons and sickly thin. Like a slave sailor on an old Spanish Galleon, it was positioned hunched over with its feet on the wall about 2 meters up, with the rafter over its shoulders, as if supporting the falling mast of a ship. If the wall had been the floor instead and the ceiling, the figure might have been sitting against a tree trunk with its knees bent, its arms grabbing the tree behind its head. Dark visions clouded my thoughts and it called into being all kinds of pictures of angel and images of vampires, pale mariners in the dark and the punished souls of demons. And in a place that full of sangria, it scared the ever-loving shit right out of me.
On the hand-painted walls, poor stucco jobs half-covered images of pistol-toting Mexican mermaids with conch shells covering their tits and dangling from their ears. The stucco was spattered, which had the effect of muffling the shouts of “cerveza” or “sangria: aqui.” On the walls where there weren’t images of flamenco-dancing beauties, lonely Guernikan nights, ancient masts for rafters or Bauhaus-twisted iron you saw things like rusting knights’ helmets, tastefully chosen warm Spanish colors and lots, and lots of vino.
…and I got mixed up in that Basque wine, half French, half Spanish with no identity to speak of and barely an identifiable language with which to associate. But I was under control, which is rare these days. I knew where I was, as I recognized that place from a few months earlier when I had spent a grand total of 16 hours in this city, 4 of which were spent on finding the hotel, 8 of which were spent on much needed sleep after careening around Europe for the last 2 weeks, 2 of them were spent in a movie, leaving another 2 to walk the streets of Madrid. And I recognized it immediately: Plaza Santa Ana. That was where we’d walked, had a Spanish tortilla, where it had all ended for them and started for me.
That’s also where, this time around, I decided that I was done with Madrid, at least for the time being. Having come to Madrid two weeks before, I’d already had my share of adventures and women and drink here. From the bar explosions to the distant clients, from the large city and its smog to the German Mädchen of fresh scents in the Tarifa adventure, I’d had too many fast times in that place. I needed rest.
So long, sucker – I have no more use for you. And all that.
It was off to the hotel in a fast cab, straight past the flirtatious reception girls that I would later take out on a few dates. But not tonight. Tonight was smack into my unfamiliar bed. FLOP! SLAM! Buenas noches.
Right. And here I am again, the sheets tossed around like an angry badger had it’s way with the place, and I’m no closer to sleep than Arnold is to the presidency. It worries me a little, by the way, that he’s even mentioned it, and a lot more that imbeciles talk about it like there was any fact or depth to that story at all. But that’s not what is troubling me tonight. No.
She had sent me a text message, a flirty kind of quick poke, a soft hello. An “I’m here, come and get me” scheme that rolled me out of bed and kept me there for far too long, reminiscing of kisses stolen on narrow streets in the dark, of windy lands far from here, of fast times since past.
It was Jana, the temptress from Tarifa, the sweet-smelling German girl who couldn’t stop saying my name in that weekend that I managed to escape from Madrid to Morocco. In her German accent, I would’ve been fine with hearing it until the sun came up. Now, in the silence of my hotel room, all I had of her was a little SMS icon blinking on my phone screen.
Granted, she was thinking of me, or at least that she had thought of me long enough to invest in some coordinated thumb-punching activities for a few minutes to let me know about it. That’s a sign kids; write it down.
And don’t get me wrong; I’m all for German babes with hot smiles and fast kisses thinking of me when I’m not around, and I was really into this chick. But she hadn’t responded to a message I’d left her 4 days earlier and I’d written her off as another great story and a memory that, while it would take longer to fade than others, would still fade nonetheless. Then that message went unanswered for 5 hours on a train ride through southwestern Spain. Then a day. Then 2. I’d been focused on obtuse clients and maddeningly bureaucratic business processes for the last two days -and now this
Where was the discipline? Where was the commitment to the dour principles of self-discovery, preservation and improvement? Where was the notion that I resent the very concept of girlfriends while my trek is underway? Where was the “Nooosssssssir, no anchors for me, thanks” – and all that?
Well. It almost went to pieces.
Yeah, I responded, and even proofread before I sent the thing. Yes, I sent an SMS back because the girl made me that jittery. I did almost lose my nerve and suggest that we meet up again since Germany isn’t all that far away from The Netherlands and I did have an episode of insomnia over the whole thing and yes, that’s why my sheets looked like a family of possums just had a lot of fun wrestling on my bed.
But I said “almost”. Did you forget who you’re dealing with here? I’m better now, and when I get done writing this, I’ll actually go to sleep, I think.
And why not? I loved it, babe, and you were special in those series of moments. That I was anything at all to you is sunshine on my heart; I never expected even that much. It was all for me at the time, and it was all I could get; there were no calculated risks, no saving anything for later. It was all out there – the way I roll. There was no pacing myself, giving some and taking a sustainable amount. What I saw was for the taking was pillaged and plundered, and I never looked back.
And don’t forget the rum, eh?
But I suspect that you too know something of fleeting moments. In that way we’re both folk of the road; we’ve both shared intimacy with others for extended, almost obscene amounts of time (in many senses of the word) and know that the term “one size fits all” never applied to us anyway. It’s not our bag, kid.
So I feel revived now. I’m glad this has all happened as it has and I think I’ll get a nap in before the next round of storms clears the horizon, or at least enough sleep to hold me off until my flight out of here tomorrow. But rest assured that “honey, I’m home” is far from anything I’ll ever say again without bursting into either gut-wrenching heaves, side-splitting laughter or desperate sobs of woe and fear of what I’ve allowed myself to become.
I’ve still got it.
_**Madrid, Spain — November, 2007
Alberto Aguilera NH, Room 403**_