Oscar Bjørne

The sky didn’t darken until late in the afternoon that day in Amsterdam. It’s normal for it to rain at least once every day here but I had confused the shadow of the towering thunderheads with the coming of night since their coming coincided completely.

Our trio had hurried home from a stroll around the old center of town that had culminated in our stopping by our favorite Thai food place in Amsterdam, “The Bird”. We’d ordered the usual takeaway pad thai and other miscellaneous dishes. We went back up to my flat at the Nieuwmarkt and finished the hodgepodge we’d wandered out for earlier that night. Then we filled up the glasses on the table. Each of us had a half pint of beer in front of us and it was Shane’s job to keep them full with the tall boys I’d scattered around the kitchen. He and I also had small tumblers of bourbon that I was to keep wet. Jo had a glass of wine since she was wary of the Jim Beam I was pouring, and even more afraid of the unopened Jack Daniels that stood eagerly over the fridge.

I’d recently returned from my trip to Saudi Arabia, where I did business for two weeks straight plus another two weeks after a pause. I’d suffered in their heat and their strange customs for what seems like longer. I’d spent almost two months on the road, coming home for barely six hours at one point just to do laundry during a coincidental layover in Amsterdam. I’d strolled in Rome, hopped to New York, hung out in Barcelona, slaved in Riyadh, taught in Prague and then made a sale in Zurich, with a bit of time to head back to Amsterdam and take some sailing lessons. It had taken a brutal toll on my body. And, you know, it doesn’t really end there: Edinburgh and Istanbul are next.

It wasn’t the travel, though; I’ve been doing this for far too long for my body to complain about small confined spaces like economy seating and the perils of jetlag. I’ve been doing this for long enough to have withdrawal symptoms if I stopped, come to think of it. No; what was taking a toll on my body was a combination of stiffled desires and high levels of stress induced by the rigors of social mores in Saudi Arabia and a very serious lack of fun. Never knowing what’s appropriate and what’s not, not inclined to be the jackass American and start guffawing inappropriate questions left and right and no access to good information will drive a writing traveler insane in no time at all. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Because for a moment there I was back home and there we were, drinking ourselves silly under the pretext of discussing international politics and the place of culture in business and ethics in culture.

“Is it true that they have no women there?” Shane asked, only half joking. I guess that’s because I could only be half sure, since all you have when in Riyadh is half a notion that someone is a woman covered in a black abaya, or else a ninja assassin, which is what I told him about.

“How do the women feel about how they’re treated?” Jo asked.

“You mean the ninjas.” Shane corrected her.

“Yes, Shane, the ninjas. How do the ninjas feel about how they’re ranked in society?”

“Well…” I started, already knowing it would make little sense. It never made sense to me and I had to go there just to understand why it would never make sense to me. “I asked around, because nothing I ever read made any sense to me. It still doesn’t, but I can tell you what they told me.

“I talked to these two women at the airport, foreigners, of course. A Brit and an Ozzy. They were wearing their abayas, though not covering their faces. I approached them at a coffee place at the terminal and using my charm and signature reporter’s notepad, told them I was writing a piece on women in the international marketplace. They must’ve assumed I was from the New York Times or something.” I paused, then looked up at Shane and Jo.

“Yeah. You must’ve been SOOOOO charming.” She said, breaking my silence cynically as all hell. She can do that. Shane smiled his goofy smile and waited for my comeback.

“Yeah, well. They talked to me, so, there. She didn’t retort but Shane looked disappointed, and rightfully so.

“They told me that their agency had told them to get abayas before coming and that they had to put it on before they got off the plane! Crazy, right?” I could see they agreed.

“Yeah, but how did they feel about it?” Jo asked. Obviously, her interest in the matter was more deeply rooted than Shane’s.

“Who? The foreigners or the Saudis?” I tried to clarify.


“Well, the foreigners are pretty much in accordance that they resent it and don’t understand it, but do it because it’s not their law and they don’t want to make a commotion. The locals don’t seem to love it, but that’s what they’re used to – taking it away from them would leave most of them in a distraught state of disarray. Not to mention that to them tradition is more important than history or happiness. Or at least maintaining the illusion of tradition. Understanding is not a requisite of obedience for them.”

Blank stares. I knew it. I didn’t understand it; how could I hope to explain it? I tried again.

“It’s like I heard the other day: ‘you’ve got to catch a girl without getting caught’…” I  paused, hoping they would get it because a taxi driver had told me this with a lot of confidence, and I didn’t have time to have him explain it.

But, nothing.

“Look, as an example: I asked 3 cab drivers, 3 Saudi co-workers, 3 co-workers from Dubai and then did some reading…there’s no legal or acceptable way for a boy and a girl to meet.”

“WHAT?” snapped Shane, incredulous.

“I know. Crazy.”

“Does it have to be arranged, then?” Shane followed up.

“Legally, yes. But no one does it. You can imagine kids our age these days… our generation, as spread over the globe and facebook and myspace and all that… it is knows enough about the size of the world to realize that arranged marriages are about as good an idea as moving to Kansas City… it’s bound to fail.”

Shane laughed but Joanna didn’t get it and just mumbled, “… you American boys…”

“So how do they do it?” Shane asked.

“Well, there’s chat rooms online, but most people use bluetooth technology on their phones to find people within 10 meters of them and chat that way, and if they like each other they agree to meet secretly.

“I turned my phone on once and searched for available devices… you wouldn’t believe the shit that came up, man.

“In the airport, with parents and what not all around them… all I saw were children, between 10 and 16. The older girls were already old enough to cover themselves with veils and abayas… but a list of at least 40 different phones came up, with names like ‘so good to you’, ‘lonely and looking’, ‘girl unclaimed’, and ‘what’s your mobile nmbr sexy?’ I was appalled. I’ve never heard of such sexual frustration. Not even at an airport.”

“This is nuts!” Jo proclaimed.

“Everyone knows, of course, but the important thing is not to get caught. Parents supposedly facilitate it for their kids by looking the other way and giving them some privacy, but if caught, the fines and jail sentences are steep. It’s a savage place, man.

“Do people get out?” Shane asked. “You know – like the Dutch from Holland?”

“Some do, but it’s very difficult. You have to either be unemployed or else have permission from your employer to leave. And god help you if you’re a woman. Then you need a husband’s permission or a father’s… or you can go to Bahrain like the older men do for prostitutes.

“Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s like putting too much liquid in a glass bottle. You can’t try to stuff it in there; it’s got nowhere to go. People have needs, man.”

“Why do you keep calling me, ‘man’?” Jo asked. A fair question, I thought, but I ignored it all the same.

“But that’s just HYPOCRITICAL!” Shane announced. I agreed.

“I know. But it’s no different then those Catholic priests in Boston, man. These guys get on a plane in Riyadh on Wednesday nights (their Fridays) bound for Bahrain, a plane full of men in traditional and pious clothes. Everyone knows why. They get off in Bahrain, or Dubai, or wherever they went and their first stop is the duty-free shop, where they load up on whiskey, vodka, cognac and cigarettes. I’m talking CRATES.

These rich guys disappear into the prostitution houses of Bahrain and Dubai and when they come out on Friday (Sunday) they have their traditional clothes on, their heads covered and their smiles soft, likely like other parts of their bodies at this point. They get on a plane back to Riyadh and live out the rest of the week proclaiming how bad alcohol is for the spirit and so forth.”

“That disgusts me,” Jo said. I told her I understood.

“What’s really weird is how there is a lot that is similar to Brazilian society, at least on a detailed and fundamental level. You know, things like male-dominated structures, strong sense of religious propriety and favoritism for outsiders. Actually, that’s just like anywhere that has allowed religion to dominate the society…

I paused for a second, contemplating the fact.

“But nothing quite like Riyadh. Take this time, for example, just outside my hotel on like, the 2nd night that I’m there…

“I had gone to the food court at the mall across the way for some fish & chips and spring rolls (yeah, that’s a combination they’re into) and was going to eat them sitting in the middle of the grass. It was 11:30 at night and the heat was starting to get bearable. That and there was a fantastic full moon I wanted to get familiar with.

“I didn’t know whether it would be ok for me to sit on the grass in front of the hotel… I didn’t know if there was a policy or religious rule, you know, that said that that kind of thing is or is not ok… but I went and sat anyway.”

Shane scoffed at me. “You rebel.”

“I know, right? But soon I saw a handful of kids come running out onto the grassy area where I was sitting, doing cartwheels, sommersaults and basically being boys. They fell somewhere between 12 and 16 years of age but in that kind of crowd, boys will definitely be boys.

“They were chased off of the hotel’s grass suddenly and efficiently by 6 men in black suits that came out of nowhere. 4 men in desert fatigues came after them, armed with automatic rifles and vests that looked heavy with something or other. I froze, trying to reason that I couldn’t possibly be in any real danger there, right in front of the hotel but totally unsure of that. Riyadh is not a place to dick around and kids here have to learn fast or else get their balls cut off.

“Well, on that day, 2 of them were arrested, it seemed. I guess all I know is what I saw. They were 14 or 15 years old and they were dragged off by a group of 6 to 8 armed men… who KNOWS where they’re being taken or what became of them?

“As I watched the kids go off in a dark sedan I noticed a black figure coming towards me across the lawn. Still sort of frozen, afraid to run and unsure of what to do if I stayed, I squinted until I could see that it was a thin black man in a dark suit, approaching me at a pretty committed pace. Even though his stature was small and his face was thin I was filled with a sudden panic. His stride was long, his steps, purposeful. It was definitely ME he was coming for and I didn’t know why. All I was doing was eating bad fish & spring rolls and drinking orange soda at 11:30 at night… but then, what were those kids doing?

“He walks with no swagger, but full of purpose – scrawny, unshaven, like so many of his ilk…

“My left hand shakes, ever so slightly. ‘Don’t let them see it, Pete’ I tell myself, unsure of what else to say. ‘Don’t let them smell the fear on you…’

“Another black suit approaches on my left. The air is warm. The night is fiercly dark and the dust is building in the atmosphere, but things are well-lit by the full moon. As the man on the right approaches he has a stern, slightly confused but genuine look on him of what-the-hell-do-you-think-you’re-doing? I remain silent, sure I’ve had it for good this time but still curious to know why, to know how deep this hole here goes. I must understand the obstinately obtuse resolution of these people. I say nothing. He says something in Arabic and I quiver but I don’t cower. How bad could this be?

“The man on my left approaches, smiling like he recognizes me. Must be a security guard from the hotel, I think, to kindly tell me to leave the hotel’s grass. That’s fine, I think to myself, having figured that I was pushing it anyways. But the other guy…

Uh-oh. The other guy is pretty upset, still.

“Then I hear the word ‘guest’ from the smiling man. He repeats it to the upset man, ‘hotel guest’. He smiles at me and tells me I can stay, ‘it’s ok, alright, please.’ he points to the place where I was sitting.

“‘Hot damn,’ I think. Thank God for preferential treatment for foreigners. They’re just like Brazilians in that sense. Man! I love a good string pull.”

Shane chimed in: “Yeah, I’ve heard the people there can be very angry-sounding.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Yeah,” Shane replied.

“Totally,” I said. Joanna shook her head.

“So what about this heat?” Jo asked me with an urgency that suggested her next meal selection might depend on this knowledge.

“Well, it’s serious,” I said, trying to get it across. “I mean, 45 degrees isn’t a number to be taken lightly. And it’s DRY, you know? Sometimes at lunch time I have to walk something like, 5 blocks to get to the shopping mall where there’s food. In my work shirt and pants, I walk 5 blocks in 45 degree heat and don’t sweat a DROP. It’s nuts.

“And they keep the air conditioning in the office down to like, 4 degrees. That’s like a refrigerator, dude! These people have no concept of the term “comfortable work environment”. I have to take my suit to work because it’s too cold to work without it. And then when you leave the building, if feels like you just stuck your face next to a catalytic converter.”

“Wasn’t there a sandstorm you called me about once?” Shane asked me. I remembered back to the first time I’d seen a sand storm in Riyadh.

“Was there! The sky that morning had a yellowish hue to it, as if a field of mustard had exploded in the distance and spread over the horizon. Around the time I got to work and viewed it from the 13th floor of the al Anoud tower I could tell that whatever it was, it was closer than it had been before breakfast, and coming on fast. By noon time most of the city was covered as if by a thick desert fog, cutting visibility down to less than 200 meters. Riyadh had disappeared right before my eyes in the matter of a few morning hours.

“‘What IS that haze that’s covered the city?’ I asked no one in particular as I paused my work and stared out the window for a bit. The office didn’t even have cubicles, but was one of those ‘shared workspace’ environments that are getting more popular these days: just open desks all over the place. I suspect that it has to do with making people less apt to surf facebook or other such riff-raff, but anyone who walks around any IT office environment knows that hasn’t stopped.

“‘It’s a sand storm,’ said Hiatham, a friendly and deeply religious Saudi co-worker. ‘It’s the season for these. This is the 3rd one since you were last here.

“‘Sand storm…’ I mumbled to myself, remembering seeing these in films and having no idea there were this viscous. I’d always thought it was an exaggeration of Hollywood. But this thing was consuming radio towers and football fields and beginning to pile sand high against the corners of buildings still under construction. Nothing stays young for long in that place, man.”

“I’m glad you got back with your life,” Shane said.

“Me too,” I agreed.

“COME BACK ‘ERE WIT’ MY PANTS, MATE!” we heard some dripping wet English bloke yelling outside my window on the streets. I appreciated the distractions of Amsterdam, and was, surprisingly, still getting to know them well.

Outside there stirred our own great storm, fierce and violent like ancient angry gods. Whenever we saw the flashes we’d get giddy, and when the thunder roared, we cheered. When the sky brightened we jumped, laughing like hyenas and we felt like children staying up past their bedtime. It brought back memories of those afternoons in Brasilia and of those nights in São Paulo, where all the world was in a spiral around the tower of my hotel, where it seemed the very wind wanted to whisk me out by the throat, where the lightning wanted me saved for its own prickly little fingers. That was a turbulent time for me, when my divorce was still in its early stages of conception, when the trouble was brewing slowly and the bubbles hadn’t even reached the surface yet. And that lightning and that noise grounded me, gave me focus. I remembered it well.

But what I saw now only reminded me about the good parts of those days, like the fury and the texture of the violence in the wind that was such a rush to me. It brought back none of the loneliness or guilt or regret that I struggled with then because here, there was company. Good company.

Jo changed the subject, fumbling with a bowl of M&M’s and running her fingers through them like it was a beach full of sand: “I’m glad you’re back too,” she said, “you boys need to stop and stay in this town for longer than a day or two sometime. It could be fun, you know?”

Shane and I looked at each other.

“You didn’t tell her?” I accused him. “She’s gonna be pissed!” Shane shrugged, unsure of what to say.

“Tell me what?” Joanna asked, sort of innocently.

“Jesus. Jo, Shane lost his job and has to go back home.” Shane looked at me accusingly.

“Yeah, well, HE’s decided to move back to the States and start a business with me,” Shane said, putting what I thought was a little too much emphasis on the ‘HE’, but whatever.

“Oh,” she said, after some pause. We didn’t know what to say. I knew how badly the three of us needed each other’s company in this lonely place and I was afraid that with the two of us gone, Jo would either retreat into a corner somewhere or else blow her top and go absolutely nuts. Maybe she’d find a Dutch guy to hang with, or maybe she might even move to Belgium. You never know what a person will do in the throngs of sudden desperation, right?

“We need to get drunk, immediately,” she decided. I was relieved.

And then we did.

Oscar Bjørne

It was sunny for a couple of days, and I’d taken the incentive to realize that no one would miss me if I just worked through the night, during the hours when everyone else sleeps and I don’t. So I’d spent a day or two sailing by myself in one of the absurdly man-made lakes around Amsterdam, eating Albert Heijn prepacked ham & cheese croissant sandwiches and drinking enough red bull to keep a corpse on its toes.

But there was strife in me — internal struggle — and there had been for days already. The long hours of summer sun had been on their way down and the rain was coming more frequently, and it was colder when it came. The friends I’d made over the year had either disappeared into jobdom or else moved on from that city. It was starting to occur to me that it would soon be time to leave Amsterdam.

And that’s ok. You can only follow one path and my time has afforded me a vision of all the paths spread before me. It has shown me at least that much. Amsterdam hadn’t made it easy, but that’s more of an observation than a complaint. I’d put in my hours of silent struggle with this place, with these people, and if you were to snide at me for seeming to throw in the towel then you’d snide at someone who knows better than you the woes of a lonely existence among the Dutch.

Silly reader.

But there was a question that was keeping me in agony, stirring me from sleep, and that question was where to go next from here? The work situation had degenerated with the American economy somewhat and that wasn’t helping things; in fact it was only limiting my options. Thankfully, having spent a year traveling in Europe I had fewer preferences and knew, for example, that under no circumstances did I want to live in, say, Antwerp, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Madrid or Brussels. Good weather and proximity to large bodies of water had become a much bigger priority for me than say, tall, blond women.

I had plenty of time to ponder the issue when Maryla threw a going away party for herself. I knew almost no one in my house that night. They were all her friends from grad school – various nationalities represented in my living room. I made small talk and flirted a bit with the cute German girl from Maryla’s class and had a nice laugh with the group of Greeks and Spaniards, who seemed to talk about nothing but olives and politics. I even danced a bit with the African girl from Tanzania. They talked loudly and smoked in the living room but I felt myself slipping and soon I was straddling the window sill in the kitchen, nursing a mug of vodka, wondering how it’d gotten so low.

I sat there, pretty much alone and looking towards the other rooftops, wondering things – occasionally watching the people walk past me a floor below. What is so different about this place?, was the thought that constantly found its way back into my mind. Why is it important to me, this “Europe thing”… what is it? Was it the charming and ancient streets that some towns have? That kind of architecture that makes everything feel like a village is not far off? Was it the horse-drawn carriages that woke me up on Sunday mornings? Because these were just THINGS.

Was it the people? Maybe it was the vacations, the attitude towards work that cares more about results than it does about appearances. That could be it. I mean, I went to London once for a couple of days and worked out of the Wi-Fi signal of a PUB, drinking BEER to sustain my right to be there. I went to Barcelona and worked in my brother’s attic for some time. I went to Zürich and worked on the banks of the Limmat for the cost of 7 coffees… hell, last week I went sailing and worked at night…

And no one noticed. The American working style of answering email every two minutes simply wouldn’t allow for that kind of effective productivity. But that couldn’t be it.

A drunk Lithuanian boy scurried by, unaware he was being watched. A few minutes later two Irish blokes looked up at me from the street below and asked me “you live here? Where are the hookers?”

Ahh, Europe.

I was walking up a cobblestone street today the width of a horse’s ass and I noticed that the buildings around me were stone, worn and full of history, not a trace of memory. I don’t know what that means, really, but there’s something there. Try to get past the association with subsistence farming for a second, try to get beyond the hippy-ish notion that “we can ignore the corporations, man”, and see the value, the nobility in having the things and comforts you WANT to have, and ignoring the argument that you use on yourself that you NEED these things.

I don’t know. A stable economy? Universal Health Care. Foreign Policy that makes sense? Hypocrisy and corruption in your government that you can stand against, maybe even understand?

Hmmm. Maybe it just turns out that I’m a socialist or something. Barry Hart would go to pieces if he ever found out.

It could also be the unforced linkage to a more civilized age, a connection to society that is more intimate than what I grew up around. The resistance to unnecessary technology and services, to absurd products and ideals thrown at you from the oligarchy above was something I could admire in a people. Their ability to think critically and to give a shit, to have an educated opinion that even if you didn’t agree with you could a learn a thing or two from it. The notion that the world is not black and white, despite what say the powers that be. That they understand, on this continent, the shame I feel for what America has become.

I’m not sure; none of that quite hits the mark.

My fascination with the closeness of the major cities, the proximity to such disparate cultures and languages might very well be a driving force. I love driving on a highway and having virtually every road sign you pass have the name of a major city that you’ve visited, or would like to visit. Zürich, Basel, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Lyon, Prague, Budapest, Geneva, Milan, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Munich, Stuttgart, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon… the list is virtually endless. It’s not as if you see a sign for Sacramento, and then drive 2000 miles and see one for Chicago, having been through countless Virginia City’s, Winnamucca’s, Lovelock’s, Battle Mountain’s and Elko’s. And even then… Chicago? Who cares?

That’s the familiarity talking, I’m sure, but it’s an important part that can’t be discounted. These things are now, and will always be foreign for me. The languages, the customs, the people, the street signs, the license plates, the food… no matter how used to it I get there will always be an element of strange, of different, of exciting. I thrive on that shit.

There is also the obvious inter-relatedness of things that are so close to one another is equally captivating to me, how the history of everything has common causes, and I can understand things more easily this way. History is a fascinating thing, and we don’t have enough of it in America. Here in Europe you can see it in the bending of their streets.

I thought of all of this, of course, the first time I watched the Bourne movies. It all made sense to me then. Damn you, Jason Bourne!

Ahh. Europe.

A girl dressed in a plaid shirt walked into the kitchen for, I don’t know, more cake, let’s say. She saw me by the window and thought mistakenly that I was in the mood for a bad conversation and started telling me where she was from in Canada but that she was actually born in Montana, but that she thought that people of the northwest in America were basically just misplaced Canadian hicks or some other damn thing…


I hadn’t told her where I was from, but I got the feeling it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to a girl in Amsterdam from Halifax, Nova Scotia. After a few minutes of my not engaging her conversation all that well, she decided to get political.

A mistake.

Of all the things I didn’t want to discuss in my state of flux, in my indecision about my career, in my vacillation about what to do next, the last fucking thing I wanted to be reminded of was what would happen if McCain actually wins the Presidency. Or why that was still a possibility. And Canada-Montana there, who was feasting ravenously on some kind of a biscuit chocolate cake thing sitting on the kitchen table, wanted me to explain the FISA bill to her, postmortem.


Why does it have to always be reactive with you people? Why can’t you fucking follow the important stuff while it still matters? We shouldn’t be putting these assholes in office and THEN wanting to learn more about their addiction to escort services, Cuban opium, toenail fetishes with 14 year old boys and this thing that you can do with a few star fruits if they’re ripe enough.

I don’t want to talk about that one.

I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter that SHE was asking; I don’t even know for a fact that she was still a citizen and could make a difference with her voice, except to aggravate me on my kitchen window. But it’s so much like everyone else I talk to, who wants to know if I’m an “Obama supporter”, or if I’m a “Hilary man”. What the hell does that even mean? Don’t you realize that there’s no choice? What do I think will happen if John Mc-two-face-Cain wins the Presidency? It’ll be the end of the god-damned planet, is what. It’ll be the second coming on fast-forward. And boy is Jesus going to shit his pants when he sees what we’ve done with the place, mostly in his name. The plane will crash into the mountain, and America will be the bane of the world in less than the four years it’ll take for him to get ousted out of office, and I’m not even sure you people will get the message then.


Just stop. If you don’t know, if you think all you have is what they’re giving you, you’re probably right. If you haven’t asked someone who is smarter than you about the REAL problems, if you haven’t read more than one paper in the last 3 months, just stay home. It’s the right thing to do.

Oh, and if you MUST vote republican, don’t vote for McCain. Just buy a gun and shoot yourself in the face. It’ll work out better in the end, all without violating your right to bear arms.

But the FISA thing? Ugghh…

You have no idea, do you? You don’t know that what the congress passed and the president signed, that what you will now have hanging over your head like the carcass of a dead ferret for the rest of our natural lives is THIS:

-Releases electronic communication providers from liability with regards to civil action that may be brought up in any court due to assistance provided to the government in obtaining electronic surveillance if such assistance was authorized by the President before January 17, 2007 or if such assistance was the subject of written directions from the Attorney General or heads of the intelligence community indicating that the activity was lawful (Sec. 201).

What I have to say about this is: IF?

… IF such assistance was the subject of written directions from the Attorney General or blah blah blah?

Why don’t you just say, “spying on American citizens is illegal and we’ll rip your balls off, but, this bill releases Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers, John Bolton, Karl Rove, Don Rumsfeld, George Tenet and a slew of other incompetent but evil-ass motherfuckers from any liability or criminal wrong doing… assuming they did it.”

This is, simultaneously, an admission of total and ultimate guilt followed by an assertion that “it doesn’t matter; everything we’ve done up to now has now become legal, back to the date that we did it.” It’s the most comprehensive FUCK YOU ever given to a collective audience. It’s the largest and will be the most enduring middle finger ever thrown to a captivated people. And “your man,” Obama, voted for it, just like most of everyone else.

I told her all this in between spasms of fury and frustration.

“Wow,” she said, and poured herself the last of the whiskey. Then she scampered off to find more cake.


…moments become memories very quickly on a night like that. The rage just drowns out everything else, and the loneliness is like a blanket over your face to help you forget it in the morning. The mug of vodka just doesn’t hurt…

You know?

Pedro Ávila


… nah, that’s not a good way to start from such a long absence.


That’s better.

Yes, I’m back, and just in time too, from the looks of things. For nearly 10 weeks now I’ve been gone, lost, trapped, held against my will. I throw these terms around loosely, but you can read into it to your heart’s content. The fact is that for most of this time I was in what could be described as “the wilderness,” depending on how you define “wilderness”, or “the”. Defining your terms is important.

The animals kept me there, you see, huddled in the dark, reciting English terms and asking of Brazilian futbol and the EuroCup 2008, forced to read scripture and learn the ways of their people without proper food or drink.

And don’t bother asking for things like REASONS. I don’t know WHY they didn’t like me, or WHAT they wanted me to do. They were animals, beings led by instinct and the metaphorical equivalent of a falafel, a system of beliefs held together, seemingly by nothing.

I was alone there too, as no other humans were kept anywhere near me, and my interactions were limited to the occasional cell phone signal and the shuffling of creatures past me in polished white granite hall ways and new office carpet. You know, the kind that makes you realize that those patterns had to be designed by someone. It was all I could do to mind my breathing, enter a trance and survive the ordeal using the ancient Yoga techniques that I managed to catch from working at the Rec Center back in university. The loneliness was overwhelming, but the BO of my captors was worse, and I’d often recoil into the toilet area for refuge from their stench.

Leaving was risky, and mostly not an option. I had to negotiate, whinge, cry and blasphemy in three different religions – which took effort, seeing as that I never really studied any of them – and that was just to get their attention. When I finally ditched them, though, it was based on sheer will, on desire, reasonless purpose. And it’s all thanks to the genius that you would probably refer to as “temporary” while I refer to it as “mine”.

Pot-Ay-to, Pot-Ah-to.

The details of my escape are irrelevant for now, and have to do mostly with the fact that it turns out I have WAY more frequent flier miles than I thought.

But nevermind that. We have bigger issues to wonder about. Like media. I learned, through some of the processes involved in my escape that a thing as small as my return here might be called news in some circles. Unless CNN gets wind of it, in which case, WATCH OUT! Suddenly they’ll have a story. That’s what they do over there. When that happens, remember: there’s no story to my escape, just like there’s no real story behind any of their headlines. It’s all mostly theatrics, and if you’re interested in something they’re saying, it’s probably a lie.

But I left, and that’s enough, for now. I recounted to my boss the tale of grim treatment in the hands of my captors in faraway lands with no whiskey or bourbon. When I requested something a little less medieval than my last assignment they gave me a client in Holland for which I must travel locally. Yes. I’ve been given the privilege of driving dozens of kilometers for hours in each direction in organized Dutch traffic, forced to stare at the bare and pointless scenery that is the horizon in the Netherlands as a result of my summer of sacrifice.


My employer simply doesn’t get it.

Nevertheless, I am free for now, and therefore I come to you with an explanation of what is going on, and more importantly, how it’s been affected by the US Presidential race going on across the Atlantic, since that’s all you people will pay attention to on the news…

Amsterdam Centraal was crowded and the people there seemed particularly touristy last Saturday. It had already been a sad morning, having had a particularly fun-filled week with friends, family and general social productivity, which is a luxury of the natives in this place. Then, that morning, I’d taken my best friend to the airport, the last of the group of visitors I’d had recently. And just like that I was alone again.

Returning from the airport, everything seemed smaller; the buildings looked shorter and the seats on that very yellow train felt more cramped. I struggled to get out of the station through the confounded crowd that walked steadily in my way and would suddenly stop to look up at a sign or down at a map, tripping over their shoelaces and rolly-wheel suitcases. It was like returning a punt against a football field of idiot linebackers that outnumber you 50 to 1.

The air was thick with humidity and the temperature mimicked that of southern Spain in August. It was strange to see no clouds in the sky over Holland, people at the beach and a sense of merriment about the town that probably sprang from something akin to denial. But then, it was a strange day.

The sky had become slightly hazy over the course of the day, and now looked almost overcast, with patches of blue sky here and there. The rumble had been happening for some time apparently, but suddenly I became very much aware of it.

“What’s that noise” I asked Maryla. “It sounds like either a hundred 747s criss-crossing directly above Amsterdam, or else a mad thunder indicating the approach of something horrible!”

“Well, yeah, Pedro – it’s thunder,” she said, matter of factly. “Don’t you feel the humidity? It’s going to pour any minute now.”

“But I can see the blue in the sky,” I told her. “… I think.”

But when I looked up and strained a bit, I saw a quick whisp of light arc across a cloud that was so deep grey that it looked blue against the dark backdrop of the darkening day. The rumbling continued, and then there was a large crack of lightning to prove Maryla’s point.

“See?” She said.

I saw.

What I couldn’t understand was the speed with which the storm had approached. I never saw it coming. I was so pleased with the clear sky of the previous day that I had made all kinds of fun assumptions and what I thought were safe bets of what my plans should be come the next few weeks with regard to sailing, bike riding, mushrooms and other fun things that you can do when the weather is good. It never occurred to me that a goddamn lightning storm could overtake the day in the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. And we don’t even have large mugs.

The rumbling never really stopped, and only grew louder. It was a magnificent rolling noise like large aluminum trash cans constantly smashing into each other as they fell over a giant flights of stairs, and it pretty much finished the summer that I never got to have, all because of the goddamn animals that kept me captive during May and June in their desert.

…so much for a summer in Amsterdam.

In the late afternoon, moaping and morose from the departure of so much good company, I sat at my window overlooking the Kloveniers canal next to the red light district and sipped my coffee.

The Kloveniersburgwal is a canal in Amsterdam that runs parallel to the center, just a block east of the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, better known as the red light district. The interesting thing about the Kloveniers is that it dead ends at the Nieuwmarkt, a public square surrounded by Dutch cafes, cheese shops and soft-core junkies. At the center of the square is a castle, the Waag, which today is a restaurant. I’m told it was a church at one point in time.

I live right on the canal, just north of the last bridge before the Nieuwmarkt. Consequently, my bedroom window, which I stare out of a lot, sits in a great position to watch anything that passes by on the water. What this means is that right way, I know a lot about the boats that I see out my window. Pretty much any boat that goes by my window once, will either permanently moor itself at the Nieuwmarkt, or else it will pass by my window again.

It feels like control, but I know it isn’t.

And that’s sort of what I’ve been doing since I was here last, readers. I’ve been working on a story, a manuscript that feels like it will be forever an infant, screeching and wailing and begging to be changed.

Relax, they tell me. Even Ernest Hemingway wrote for 8 years without any recognition. Hunter Thompson was broke for a decade, brewing his own beer and living like an out-of-control rodent with the pygmies of the Amazon before he did anything of note. The Rum Diary wasn’t published for well over 20 years after it was written. F. Scott Fitzgerald died soon after some kid sweeping the floors a bookstore told him he’d never heard the name…

Well – Who cares? I ask. Fuck those guys. They never had to deal with the Dutch. And besides, who said anything about writing?

Look, it’s one thing to fall horribly flat when you throw yourself at a pursuit and persist at any cost, ending up in places undreamed of, heaving overboard things you always expected would be yours forever just to stay afloat amidst the game in which you’ve managed to mix yourself up. It’s one thing to let that last for months, years, dourly insisting with an iron fist that if you fail it will not be for lack of trying. It’s one thing to never even really understand what you’re missing, so long as you know what you’re chasing.

It’s another to not have a clue where you’re going, what your immediate goals are. It’s another to know nothing for sure except that you’re tired of what you’re doing, even though every one else thinks it’s sensible, labels it fortuitous, says they’re jealous and calls it lucky. Call it the curse of someone else’s success, I suppose, but this is not a good place to be. Better than some? Perhaps, but not good enough for me.

Alone and full of whiskey is not a good time to be philosophical or deep. Especially not in public. You’re liable to notice things and write words that on any other day would make you cringe at the prospect of who you might actually be under the skin you hide behind. So you have to be extra careful. Who KNOWS who that guy is or what he’s thinking?

This may be the onset of despair. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Dylan Cormack

Rapidly we are approaching the moment, the point of no return. We are, most of us, incredulous that the voter populace could be so whacked out that John McCain might have a banana’s chance in ape-ville to continue the Bush legacy. We are, most of us, holding our breaths until January 20th, 2009 for a sudden shock wave to spread from Washington, changing these times we live in. We are, most of us, anxiously anticipating the cleansing of our worldly image and a return in the world eye to an America that isn’t mumbled or hushed or hidden.

We haven’t done much towards these ends, mind you, except to let the months and the years pass. We haven’t acted or even been aware of just how bad it’s been, but we really can’t wait for it. It’ll be righteous.


Things don’t work that way. First of all, Bush won twice, so I don’t put any bets down where American voters are concerned. Unpredictable animals, that lot. Secondly, Barack Obama is not Albus Dumbledore, and it won’t be fast and furious with a deep magic in his eyes, love in his heart and a phoenix feather wand that he changes the course of this nation. Not to mention that even though we’ve all been acting like it for the last 2 years, it’s not senioritis time for voters yet; there’s still plenty of time to make things worse.

Check it out: very soon it will evolve to be clear and public knowledge that your country is going to actively start World War III by bombing Iran. This is not exhibitionism. This is a common sense and educated conclusion from paying attention to anything beyond CNN and the Situation Room, which frankly, don’t report the news or any other kind of situation, for that matter. They are in the business of giving you something to stare at and not change the channel.

There. I said it. You knew it all along, but you can continue to pretend, if you like.

And once again, the current administration defends its position of aggression by saying it’s a last option. Note, though, that it’s McCain, who could, by all accounts be the next president, who has already rejected diplomacy, which to him means “sitting down with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them.”

This is the first problem: American leadership doesn’t understand the middle east. They have absolutely no idea what’s on the other side of the table. And here’s what’s worse: they don’t care.

“Talk some sense into them,” John McCain said.

Really, John? That’s the approach we’re taking? Do these people in Washington really think that diplomacy is John Wayne-ing them into the sand and maybe a round of noogies? Iran is a country, not a band of school-children bullies or mining town thugs. There are real people who live there, educated people, good people, successful people, and also a bunch of lunatics, just like we have here. Yes, they have some customs and traditions and laws that are kinda weird to us in the west. But who do you think makes atrocities like pancake-wrapped sausages on a stick? To assume that what they need is a lecture is either sheer arrogance or profound ignorance, or maybe both. But we don’t have time to figure out which. The clock is ticking.

Look: this is not a case of misunderstanding. This is a case of at-odds-values. No one is going to convince the Iranian government that Israel is not a “stinking corpse” any more than they’re going to convince someone who still believes the Holocaust was made up that it wasn’t. But that’s just a pretty picture for the press, and not the real issue here.

The real issue is that the Unites States has a policy to defend Israel at all costs and that policy is at odds with the lucrative oil business in the rest of the middle east. Deepening the issue, there are few people who can explain why the US defends Israel, yet they stand by it and make policies around it. It’s confusing, like not knowing why Dumbledore stands up for Professor Snape.

But while we sit and get lied to, things are brewing, and there is still plenty of time for Bush & Co. to announce that they are about to bomb Iran. Likely that they’ve already decided to, and John McCain knows about it, you can bet on that. No one in the press is asking questions, no one in the government is talking about much beyond shiny things like Scott McClellan’s “they made me do it” book, or same-sex marriages. And that, I guess, is our tradition.

Pedro Ávila

It has been several weeks since I’ve had a good night’s sleep. But this week was the bottom rung of that ladder, for sure. I was still jet lagged on Monday morning, and to make matters worse, we’ve made the jump into daylight savings time. Now it’s getting dark at around 9:30 in the fucking pm. That screws with me and makes me miss the window. Now it’s been 5 days straight of going to bed at 4:30 in the morning and having to wake up at 7:30 or 8.

I fail miserably at it, of course, hitting the alarm clock with fervor and confusion after 8 snoozes, wondering why on Earth anything would want to make noise at that time, whatever it was. Once I shower and read the papers though, I’m usually good until about 11 in the morning when I get hungry. Then I eat to ward off the pains in my stomach and after lunch I get hit by 20 or so semi-trucks and collapse in my car, away from the office for about 45 minutes. If I can, I go home for a 2 hour nap and then feel exhausted and worthless for the rest of the day. The process repeats itself when I start writing at 8 at night and only stop when I realize it’s 3 am and I didn’t see the time go by.

A week of this. My god.

What the hell ever happened to that boy that loved nothing better than to beat the alarm clock, to wake up quick and fresh 2 minutes before whatever time he set? A fast run and a quick cold shower, followed by fresh eggs, strong coffee and lots of fruit? And by the time he hit the streets it was still before anyone else, it was still that part of the morning when the day has just started drawing its first breath and seems to be holding the oxygen in for a little bit; it hasn’t even exhaled yet.

In my cold apartment in Amsterdam, I sit at my vinyl chair and remember those mornings and all the excitement they held. Every thought in my head then was part of a to-do list that I would tackle in due time. I would walk the crisp streets on my way back from exploring a new side of the city, expecting that something would happen at the next corner, or somewhere along the next street. I would breathe and imagine the coming day in my head, conquering and defeating, dodging anything in my way and firmly holding on to the notion that when all was said and done I would be leaning back in a chair sometime in the early evening, a hand resting behind my head and sipping a beer with a list covered in check marks in my back pocket.

But waves of distraction, lack of discipline, some Beatles song stuck in my head and the ever-elusive purpose of this thing always takes me straight to the early afternoon, when the dreaminess has subsided, the rain clouds have moved in over the gray city and all hope for success has been abandoned. I start a new list for tomorrow and hang on while today blows past.

This is no way to live.

And now it’s 1 the fuck 30 in the morning and after two hours of warm milk, 2 boring-ass biology text books, 130 happy bubbling sheep and enough wine and ibuprofen to give a hobo the shakes, I’m reduced to posting again. Why?


Oscar Bjørne

No fun at all, being back in the ugly gray, buried in the dull and mild bleakness of an existence that doesn’t even know enough to care. Having been – no more than 36 hours ago – on a beach in Costa Rica, sipping rum out of a coconut and shielding the sun from my salt-battered eyes, the soft lap of whitewater cooling my feet and completely covered in sunscreen… it’s, aah… well, a bit… umm, kind of dreary then to, aah…

Shit. You finish it.

Usually a trip like this sparks the mad fervor that keeps me ticking; lights the fuse that leads to somewhere, and all without ruse or effort. But not this time.

No, upon my return to the place where the pillows smell like home, the first thing I wanted to do was stare blankly at a white wall and hope for a catatonic state. I’m a patient man but I didn’t think it would take very long.

Purpleshitchrist, I still have sand in my ears! I was sitting at a wet bar a few days ago, by which I mean that the bar was INSIDE the pool. Can you COMPREHEND such a thing? To make matters worse, I’m not traveling yet this week and have, therefore, more scattered time than I would if I were, you know, on the road. That’s sort of how it goes.

Putting my feet to the pavement, tires to the asphalt or just taking off into the clouds keeps my mind away from things like career ambitions and life prospects. It makes the next step the same one that is right in front of me. It gives me focus by blurring the edges, keeping things that are off the scope off the scope.

Late in the evening, almost 9, I put on a coat and went out, looking for something that would catch my attention for a bit, make me think of something other than waves licking the body of a beautiful girl at the edge of a beach of white sand and an unreasonably unreachable horizon. I had been running earlier in the day and had passed a dodgy area of town that made me think of dimly lit pubs in London and strange little winkels selling everything from old lamps to illegal cartons of cigarettes and condoms I wouldn’t trust to safely hold jello. I walked back around that way, hoping for a closer look.

At night all the lights are mostly off, with the exception of a couple of cafes, a coffeeshop across the street and a mysterious ground floor studio with bars at the window that separated the light thrust out to the street into neat little squares of yellow. Weird.

Inside I see what I least expected to find in this place: violins and cellos of every shape and size hanging from special shelves, leaning against tables and laying on individual workbenches. The floor inside is filthy with wooden shreds and oil stains. By a desk lamp in a distant corner is a mad little foreigner, working late into the night. All his might is focused on rubbing a small cloth vigorously against a violin that is already shining. He changes cloths, rubs and wipes again. A real pro, working this late at night.

Either that or an insomniac, a voice says in my head.

And why shouldn’t I understand his plight? Sometimes sleep is elusive as hell.

I keep walking into the darkness towards another canal at the end of the street. When I turn the corner I almost run into what I initially mistake for a gentlemen, his sharply grown gray goatee slightly yellowed from decades of tobacco. He is tall, thin, maybe 55 or 60 and wears a black overcoat that drops down to his calf. In each arm is a girl, blond and brunette, not a day over 22 each. He dresses like a Frenchman but when he speaks it’s with a viscous Austrian accent, rolling his r’s and hardening his w’s:

“Caan yoo teil me vaarr ist de red light deestreect?”

I give him the simple directions and he hobbles off with his ladies, giddy as a pervert in a schoolyard. Where on Earth is he taking them, I wonder, but the question quickly fades in my mind, as such question must in a town like this. Wondering too much about pimps, perverts or punks in a town like Amsterdam will either turn you into one or drive a man straight into the canals with madness and blues.

In the dim light of a thinning moon, the damp streets already smell of scattered debris and cheap Chinese food. The violent rain from earlier in the morning scrubs the cigarette buds from the sidewalk. But you can’t wipe the soot off coal without dirtying up something else and the streets have a film of filth in their corners and ridges.

The air is thin, though, giving another sense of cleanliness and above me the space between the apartment homes along the canals seems larger than normal. Scattered lights in the windows cast large squares along the streets and throw hard shadows down into the black water.

A blue sign leaning lazily against a large glass window reads in white Gothic letters: “Christian Rationalism”. To boot, it’s in fucking-of-all-things Portuguese. I ponder the meaning of it for a moment, wondering if it’s something like the inverse of Scientology or if it’s some poor hack who actually thinks he has a grip on something that actually has – as it will surely turn out – a grip on him.

Religious Brazilians struggling in foreign lands, though – there’s little that would be more obvious. Whatever, I decide. It’s probably nothing like Scientology, and yet somehow, just as stupid.

At one point I find myself nearly giving up, standing at the edge of a canal, under one of the steel bridges that temporarily spans these waters while Amsterdam is reconstructed. I note, leaning against that cold steel in the darkness of criss-crossing I-beams that there is no guardrail, that the water, the steel, the rivets and I are all a part of the same continuous medium through which the vibrations of the rail trains above move violently. I become entrenched in the city for a moment.

Time goes by like the boats in front of me and the cars and trains overhead. Here, there is no one. The dark thoughts, the demons, they pass through me like the vibrations of the bridge that enter me via the rivet against the back of my skull. Amsterdam is also a place of energy like New York or Rio… but here, where I am, there is no music. There is no memory. There is light on the other side of the canal, where hundreds of bikes are parked with no owners in sight. But not here – here it is just dark.

I try to think of nothing but my head is crowded with distractions and I find it nearly impossible.

Think of nothing. Think of nothing. Think of nothing.

You’re thinking of thinking of nothing. How does that work?

Shhhhh. I’m trying to think of nothing.

I know, but it’s not working. Try something else.

What does that mean.

I don’t know what it means. I wonder if all those people walking around are actually thinking of nothing.

They’re thinking things.


Oh, sorry. Think of nothing… got it.

You do?

No, no, I’m just saying I’m going to try.

Oh. Ok. Shhhhh.

I wonder how those yoga people think of nothing. Are they thinking of nothing? Really?

Yep. Nothing at all. It’s tantric or something.

What does that mean? Tantric.

I don’t really know.

I know you don’t know. You’re me.


Say, this would be a weird conversation, right?

You betcha.

Wait, weren’t we supposed to be thinking of nothing?




Christ. I am so alone in this place.

Pedro Ávila

In Amsterdam people don’t just exist in the wet and cold; they live it. It’s a way of life here. The atmosphere is more liquid than gas, more water than oxygen. I find it amazing that humans can survive at all, and wondered for a while if the Dutch have some special adaptation for the environment. But the large tourist population, though in constant flux, does suggest the place is attractive to other humans. It’s just that it rains all the time, and not just precipitation. It RAINS. This is some old testament shit lately.


“you’ll never see me wear a suit of white”_

The past two days have been a freak show on which epic poems should be written. The weather goes from gloriously sunny, not a cloud in the sky to dark and furious, the wind sweeping the hail from the streets before it can melt, lifting up even the ones already fallen. It was deserving of Johnny Cash tunes coming from a radio in the corner by the kitchen turned just low enough that you can hear the music over the voices in the cafe but the lyrics are mumbled; a dark and melancholy mixtures of minor chords and baptist sayings that annoy me a bit but make the song genuine.

Yeah. In this darkness falls hail, non-stop furious hail for short bursts. Then, rain. Plenty of that.

A few minutes later it’s sunny again. No trace of the downpour. This cycle has repeated itself again and again every 10 minutes for 48 hours now. Who can put up with this kind of thing? It’s hard to plan a trip to breakfast or a mid-day coffee sneak-out like this. Hell, it’s hard to choose the music with the mood changing all the time. No wonder the Dutch are so obtuse; nobody can stay grounded when the fucking weather freaks you out. It’s like Mother Nature’s natural PMS. Imagine what their government is like…


“I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back…”_

I went out in between paragraphs and coffees to feel the gusts that I could see brushed onto the shimmering puddles outside and WHAM! – just like that, I saw the roof rip off the bus stop and fly out into traffic. I looked around and saw the obvious tourists gaping at the wreck. Women had screamed and men had startled, and everyone went into fight-or-flight mode in that kind of surprise. Everyone except the Dutch. They continued with their coffee. I turned toMerinda, who runs the cafe I like to frequent, and wailed.


“Ya, mahn. Dat is some stroang vinds, eh?” was all she said, and she went right back to cleaning up her coffee counter.

The sun took a little longer to come back that time; that’s ok, though. The sound of Johnny Cash on the radio brought me back indoors first.

“up front there ought to be a man in black…”

Speaking of flipping out, the Dutch government has completely lost it, apparently. In a couple of weeks you will be able to count the whores in the red-light district on just two sets of hands, or roughly, the number of condoms on a good hooker at any given time. After that, who knows?

Like the polar bears, they will soon be gone from their native habitats. Also like the polar bears, nobody is scurrying to put them on an endangered-species list. Strange.

The city council here bought the land and the properties and is starting to renovate and refresh, putting up fancy white displays with fake-plastic jewels and eventually restaurants of the high-end variety. They’re calling it ‘red-light fashion’ and I’d like to meet the bright spark of a marketing student that came up with that one. I’d take pleasure in doming him the favor of smacking the lame right off his face. It’s fascinating to watch, though, both in the day and at night now, with red windows next to white ones, hot girls barely dressed in straps in one window and strap-less dresses barely girl-ed in the next.

Sure there is more to Amsterdam: there’s cheese. There’s art. There’s… well – other things. But the hookers and the mushrooms and the tolerance are a big part of it all, and it’s madness to think that the city would be what it is without those girls, the flowers of the sex-trade. Without them, who the hell is going to come to Amsterdam, and why? For hail?


Pedro Ávila

The following is an internal communication leaked moments ago that I thought was worthy of sharing. Our writing traveler and international man of mystery, Oscar Bjorne has been sharing his thoughts on New York with Dylan Cormack, our own political correspondent around the globe. Dylan’s current place of residence is a secret he shares with few but from this document it stands to reason that he has his eye on Manhattan. We’ll update you as more details become known.


More trouble brews on the horizon, comrade. Things stir and I follow. You know how it is.

2008 is already proving to be what I expected it would be: a setup. This year will either give me much insight into what’s to come, or else it will be the step into whatever direction my life goes from here… what it will NOT be is indecisive.

In response to some plans of yours that I remember discussing a few weeks ago, I want to make sure you know what you’re getting into if you’re serious about this madness of moving to New York City.

The city, as you know, is dark and full of thieves and scum. You thought, my man, that SF was bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The vagrants in SF are junkies, filthy and unbathed hippies in a coffee-soaked town that left them behind in the housing market of the late seventies. Degenerates of New York are another breed – they are the vermin of shadows; they are doctorate students addicted to vodka and spritzers. Many are aspiring musicians and bartenders that dress in designer shirts by night and American Eagle by day. The dangers are many and the problems extend from battery park until the very tips of Harlem, and right through such things as the natural history museum in the middle latitudes of central park. Nothing is what it seems here, and you should keep your hands in your pockets at all times, fists curled in a death grip that could choke a camel. Do not be fooled by what the people will refer to as “the energy.” I don’t suspect you would, but it can’t hurt to warn you just the same.

Under no circumstances should you (of all people) look down the street in search of a horizon. The infinity point where the two parallel lines of buildings and skyscrapers intersect is unblocked: there are literally buildings stretching to the end. Beyond that, who knows? Perhaps they continue. But what is certain is that no matter what direction you turn to there are more people; there are more buildings, more concrete, more villainy and more confusion. Who needs it?

If you followed through with the plan we discussed you would quickly join the ranks of the productive folk of the city; this is true. Never forget, though, that in doing so you will be inextricably surrounded by freaks, pill-hungry stockbrokers and out-of-work journalists. You will not find a decent cup of coffee anywhere; I suspect because it all comes from the same machine. What you will find a lot of is curry. I hope you like curry.

Laughter will be evasive and curt. You will likely not find it at all, so don’t bother. Be content if you’re able to curtail the cursing to a minimum of 2 hours a day and if you have a moment or two of silence and solitude to write at any time. Avoid any place that has more than 5 people within a radius of 20 feet and for the love of god, stay away from the public libraries. If you see crazy-looking people (or anyone, for that matter) putting pigeons inside their socks or other articles of clothing, do not show alarm; simply turn around and walk the other way with a quick stride. Remember the fist thing I told you about in this letter.

Objectively, I’m writing you this letter because my thoughts need coherency and this helps. Also, there is a large project that needs doing and what better way to not do it than to do something else, right?

Right. And you know of these projects, or at least one about one of them, the many things we have brewing with our mutual good company from New Year’s in Portland, but looming in the file just next to this one is a story that needs my attention; naturally, I’m ignoring it completely. I seem to do that whenever something or someone worth my thoughts is at hand, and maybe that’s why I am where I am today. Step up to the corner and look down, seeing the cars below. I am not just drunk, I’m mostly tired. But I am not impaired; I am lucid. I convince myself to stay grounded only enough to put pencil to paper and give this round another whirl. Without this option it occurs to me that raising sheep in New Zealand is not so bleak an outcome, even if it is not likely a fate for this life. Perhaps we’ll come to that yet.

And so much for that, at least for now. I think you know what I’m saying, so I’ll leave you with that one. I’m too tire to stay awake, too angry to go to sleep, and to indifferent to care, at this point. Let’s let gravity decide for now. While it does, I have stories to write.



Oscar Bjørne

My shoes hit the sidewalk outside of the Regina Hotel in Barcelona that evening with a purposeful force and a rhythmic pace. It had been some time since I’d arrived in the city and for a series of reasons I had not yet ventured out much beyond the confines of the hotel. Which is understandable; I’d been here before and the week had been too real for frantic idealism and livid, giddy little moments after a day by the corporate park’s manicured lawns and still-water ponds. That kind of nonsense can make a man weak in the knees.

I felt the need to go see it again, though, the Barcelona streets, the vibrant mix of color in the dark, the smell of stucco and humid alleyways, the sounds of warm music strummed in some corner elsewhere and bouncing it’s way to me off of murals and walls. I wanted to see what was happening away from the bars one finds ads for in hotel lobbies; to get some satisfaction that I’d felt more than just the surface, that I knew, even its corridors of dripping garbage bags and lost strays. I wanted to know it, away from the corporate and tourist mass I had existed in for that week. And the only way to do it right was to walk through the thing.

For which I needed shoes in that cold and that filth; I couldn’t walk bare-footed there. Unprepared as ever, I only had with me my heeled work shoes, which were made of tight and formal raw Brazilian-leather, gel-slick and affluently upscale. In them I was fashionable as a Broadway diva on 5th Avenue. But in that soft air, in that Mediterranean breeze that was starting to blow on a March evening in Spain, shoes like that weren’t going to cut it for me; this was not the canal district of Amsterdam on a light and snowy December morning. Neither was it a blustery London afternoon at any bloody time of the year. I needed something light and casual – something that reminded me of a soft taste with an easy dinner. I don’t know; a light drink would do too – something like light rum or a thin scotch.

But I also needed light shoes. Something that didn’t clip or clop as I walked down the street, making a sound that resonated like bullets almost in harmony with the natural frequency of the narrow ways. I needed shoes that didn’t mind the wear and dust collected in meandering between the old mortar and brick facades of the old city, covered in soot from exhaust pipes and chimneys. Also, I felt like reading some Hemingway and as it happened, I had an unfinished copy of The Sun Also Rises clutched in my restless fingers. I had just blown off an evening of work to take care of these little things that I sometimes have to do in odd lands.

The fact that I was alone in a place like that is incidental, but it is still a fact. I don’t care about it as much as I’m aware of it because what’s the point, you know? Even when I walk into a bar lounge still wearing my suit and tie from work I get looked at as if I’m out of place. Which is weird because I’m fine with it all. In fact, I often feel appropriately under-dressed in that kind of environment, as if I were the only man in there not wearing a bra. Sure, you notice that you’re different, but isn’t that good? Besides, this isn’t about how comfortable I was, but rather how _un_comfortable they were.

Actually, no… I don’t much care about that either. Which is probably why I do things like this, wandering these old streets, looking aimlessly for a bar, dragging my feet along La Rambla, or any other central street in whatever town I happen to be. It’s probably why I sit and order a Jack or a Johnny, read my Hemingway and wonder why the groups of people and the couples seem to watch me stumble in as if I’m missing something they have. But, Christ, who the fuck needs that? Why not sit alone in a hotel room and do it without the stares?

And here’s what I think: it’s to avoid mullets, man. I mean, I’d try it, you know – flirting with a local, getting in on the situation… but in my defense, the Spaniards have an affinity for mullets that I just can’t stomach, and while I’m down with experimentation, there are some things I won’t even try once. Mullets are one. Mescaline is another but that’s another story with a whole different line of thought.

So let’s not stray and get lost before we even start, Pete. Mullets have nothing to do with this story.

So where was I? Alone? That sounds right.

The thing is I had to get out, had to see the streets, the city again, and while there’s no sense in wearing down my heels and the leather sole of my expensive shoes in search for a place that’s got just the right light and level of noise, there’s also no reason to give up the ghost and sit idly and alone in a hotel waiting for an answer. That’s the difference between alone and lonely.

So I put down my shot of Johnny Walker, a 20 Euro shot that my employer had paid for and elected to dirty up my shoes looking for a place, somewhere else, to bury myself in the sad tales of Ernest and disappear into a chair’s back. To order just whiskey, without the label, unpretentious and normal, becoming visible only when I needed another drink. Besides, getting drunk on that stuff at a hotel bar is expensive, even when someone else is footing the bill. But I was still in desperate need of shoes.

And as my shoes hit that scuffed asphalt I wove in and out of grimy narrow streets, passed closed boutiques and bakeries with no more pan until morning. The contrast of lights and energy between La Rambla and these narrow streets was more than just stark; it was diametrically opposed. Only a few dozen meters away from it, the winding paths of the old city were covered only in the dim glare of the faint lights that pepper La Rambla, the main pedestrian avenue off of Plaza Catalunia. There was a vibration in the air, a softening of what little sound there was. It was a mixture of merchants breathing a sigh of relief that the day was over, hushed giggling into cell phones of excited club goers scoping to see if they were going to score that night, and people that were mystified over the experience of getting lost in a place like the old Gothic City of the Catalan Capital. There were also the locals, going about their normal night-time business of hanging laundry, of mopping entrances at 10pm making noises like whish-whaash, of humming nameless tunes known only by their grandparents and keeping an eye on their boys playing futbol on the street.

I stepped into one of their shops and stared blankly at the shelves behind the register. They held most of the worthwhile liquor in the place but they didn’t have any rum. So I walked out with a banana and a small bottle of Cutty Sark.

After walking a few more of these streets I came across some Roman-style columns and the dense smell of fruit, olive oil and fish – La Boqueria – the main food market of Barcelona. I’d stumbled along the backside of it, which is adjacent to the large parking lot of trucks that lie in wait for reloading in the dark, where the real business happens.

And you should never kid yourself in a place like that: anything goes. I wandered around the market next to it as most shops were closing and bought a couple of figs and a plastic trey of cut-up mangoes and papaya. It mostly worked all right. But when I came back out on the back side of it, I saw it all the more clearly. The parking lot was large, unlit and covered – I mean covered – in small unmarked white trucks. Their license plates indicated they came from all over – Seville, Granada, Algeciras, Lleiga, Zaragoza, Fraga, Teruel, Valencia, Pamplona, Cordoba, Puertollano, Ciudad Real…

On my left were small shops made of sheet metal that sold anything edible you’ve ever wanted to buy. In front of me was a hotel that doubled as a brothel and to my right were a series of rows of trucks that would supposedly, eventually, at some point that night, be reloaded with fruit and fish. There hung around me the vague notion somewhere that at some point in the hours of darkness they would be hauled out of here to god-knew-where and the next morning they would be brought back.

A mystery.

But there were sinister signs littering the place and I felt uneasy. All manner of harsh and unforgivable transactions lurk in places like this, between micro-trucks in the darkness, deep within the seclusion of a parking lot with no specific entrance and no advertised exit. People die in places like this. A place that is nothing but a hall of mirrors where the glass is the delusion that you understand it just because you’ve seen something like it before elsewhere on planet; and that can be a dangerous thing. As I got a few steps closer to it, it almost seemed to take a breath and then I realized how wrong I was. I heard moaning about 4 rows of cars into the thing. Then, pure silence. From another direction I heard the flick of a cold metal blade against a sack of what I hoped was rope or twine. It was too horrible to ponder anything other than rope or twine at the other end of that sound. I heard a large coin fall to the floor and didn’t understand what it meant. Whispers were everywhere. Venture not into that good night, something told me.

Ok. And even as I backed out slowly, my shoes did me the favor of keeping their clipping and clopping to themselves. Thank jesus for that.

Walking along this line then, a foul stench lingered, rising from the pores of the asphalt. I noticed the breeze had stopped and as I looked up I saw a red sign. Restaurante Calypso, it read, from the 4th floor of the brick-sided building that looked like it hadn’t seen maintenance since the days of Franco. Back then it was probably possible to avoid a place like this, at least. A woman in what was clearly a red wig of curly hair was standing by the sign in red lace. Discretion was no priority there just as it isn’t in so many other cities in so many other places. Take Albany, NY, USA for example. Look it up under “current events” + “prostitution ring” + “governor”. It’ll come up. But right there, in the streets of Barcelona, there was no place for this outdated idea. And no business for you if you required it. No, Gracias, señor! And who needs it? We have anonymity by volume!

Along-side this display of a Spanish penchant for lives unfettered by sheepish desires, lining the outside walls of the market structure were bodies lying in the throngs of desperation, smack in the middle of the day’s waste and a smell of fish so strong it seems almost deadly. It’s a life I’ve never come close to living, or even understanding, for that matter. Far from the clutches of that bitch of a lady, Luck, they huddled against those Roman walls, wrapping themselves in blankets of raw cotton, handwoven material given to them by christ-knows-who but stained from years of dependency and want. They would simply be expensive blankets anywhere else, artisan cloth for rich grandchildren to give to their grandmothers. For those guys, though, they were priceless in the dead of night.

I became self-conscious and reached for my phone, aiming to turn it off lest it ring and stand me out among this crowd. Right away this plan backfired, and a man approached me when I stepped with a loud clop against the pavement.

Perdone…” he started.

I shrunk back, caught off guard.

“I’m not a thief,” he said, matter-of-factly. His black coat reached down to his ankles. His black hair was cut, not surprisingly, in a mullet. And while I won’t go as far as to say the thing was carnivorous, I’m pretty sure it has eaten small animals before. I was shocked by both his hair and his comment.

“No, no, I’m sure I don’t care,” I mumbled. He asked for some coins, and when I told him I had none, he asked to use my cell phone to make a call.

“It’s local,” he said. Thankfully, I’ve learned a thing or two in my time and I walked away without pause or discomfort. Certainly without shame, misgiving or sorrow. I’m beyond that in a place like this and simply not as trusting as I’ve been before.

Before these crowded streets.

I saw a child alone in an alley, semi-lit by the light from the square not too far off. He had something in his hands but I couldn’t see what it was in the dark.

Que es esto?” I asked him, curious to know what it was. He treated me as if I had been a talking ghost, distant and unattached. Then he walked right past me. I didn’t like it but kept walking the whole time.

Another child passed by me shortly after and speaking in French, mumbling something about bread sticks from what I gathered. She had dark blond hair down to her shoulders with perfect bangs, like a Romulan from the old Star Trek series. A pink button-down sweater covered her horizontally striped turtleneck shirt… horizontal stripes: I’m told that’s an easy thing to spot and you should put it on kids that have an easy time getting lost. She had matching red rubber rain boots up to her knees. I remembered that I use to have red boots like that. I wouldn’t take them off for anything. Or so I’m told. Who am I kidding? I remember nothing beyond 10 years ago very clearly, let alone shit from when I was 3. She can’t be older than 3. Maybe she won’t remember either.

I am amazed by children who can speak French. Or German. I kinda hate them for it, the little fuckers. Perhaps because kid-talk is not supposed to sound sophisticated to me – and French and German do. Or perhaps because these are the languages I most want to learn and here is this… ahh, kid, having to be told where she can wander off to and where she can’t, still lost beyond all reasonable measure, so tiny she’s almost falling out of her clothes and for the moment, she has an edge on me. Dammit. I felt like the equation only goes downhill from here.

Clip-clop, went my steps. I remember thinking “I have got to get some new shoes tonight… or else get out of here altogether.” It felt like trouble was brewing somewhere not far off and I wanted no part of it.

As I walked I looked up and saw stones that couldn’t have been put there less than a 1000 years ago. I thought, for a moment how there is nothing in the United States that is more than a fifth of that. It made me realize why the notion of conservatives who talk about things like ‘family values’ and ‘American Tradition’ makes me nauseous: the whole concept is an oxymoron. American Traditions? My ass. America hasn’t had time for traditions yet; we’re still working on fads.

Anyway, after I’d left the ominous fateful parking lot of ill fortune and small, white trucks, I went a few streets more. I passed many shops that sold only shoes, all of them closed beyond help. Some of the shoes were the athletic type and some were the more outdoorsy, Teva watersocks type. Still others that littered the windows of the shoes shops were the leather and velcro, “I’m European but trying not to look like it” type. But all of the shops were, as I said, closed beyond help.

As I pushed on it got darker and the noise from the La Rambla got fainter and fainter, until the clip and the clop were all I could hear aside from the occasional child that appeared in an intersection somewhere off to the side, ignoring me completely and disappearing just as abruptly.

I stepped off of a narrow street right into a small plaza, shrouded entirely by what looked like a Giant Oak in its center. The tree put the place in a humbling tone, and covered it with a very natural darkness. To boot, and it took me some time to see it, towards the back of the darkness at the other end of the small square there was a building that looked at first like a cross between an old warehouse and – unequivocally – a Spanish Church. In the darkness under the Great Oak where there were no stars, I pondered why I’d come to this place. I wanted shoes, dammit, not religion.

People ask me all the time “what’s your religion?” I’ve always thought it was a stupid questions in almost any situation.

“I don’t know, man – nothing?” I tell them. “Disinterested? Is that one?” I ask, not so innocently. They ask me if I’m an Atheist. I tell them I’m still looking.

The truth is I have yet to figure out why I ever walk into Cathedrals throughout my travels in the first place. I have little business inside these places as I’m neither religious nor a student of architecture, design, history, art or any combination thereof. Once I’m inside, though, I’m always glad I’ve come. The gestalt of the thing excites me, and I’m always thrown into a reverie of the deepest kind. Sometimes I write, sometimes I stare, but I’m always filled with a sick kind of glee from being connected to other things so ancient and gone.

Maybe it’s the way Catholicism permeates society in a way that no single rational thought ever has… as a non-religious person it’s humbling – and I guess a little educational – to realize that you must, by statistical definition, believe on some level that none of this crap is real in the slightest meaning of the word. That you must harbor some perverse little idea that over 95% of humanity has some kind of psychological anyurism or mental blockage; that they have some kind of childish and irrational delusion in thinking the way they do.

Whatever the real explanation, at least inside there is beauty and awe, and sometimes it is profound. The echoes against the pillars; the candlelight that has tossed itself throughout the space inside over the countless centuries; the not inexpensive microphones on near-invisible wires that drop down from the ceiling, scattered… the tattered stones, the hint of bones, the smell of ancient something; the surreal and macabre nature of the wooden and other carved figures and the bodies buried deep within the mysterious structure; the symbols on the walls that tell of suffering both great and weird; the people that honest-to-god believe that their salvation lies in this shit… I don’t know, man. I get some kind of fucked-up kick from seeing that displayed in such a graphic medium of dust and quaried rocks, laquered trestles rotting from inside and wet puddles throughout the building, supposedly blessed by something larger than us.

I climbed the stone steps and pushed the overly large and inconspicuous wooden door into the Catholic chamber. There were 3 people inside: Two of them were octogenarian women dressed in plaid scarves and matching skirts made of hideously outdated fabric. The third was an Indian man in a leather jacket that – sitting in that most Catholic of Churches – looked as Hindi as an Argentinian BBQ. Inside the old hall I heard my heels ominously clopping along the stone floor, loud and lonely in that vast empty chamber and it sent chills up my spine. A nun walked into the church behind me just then and kneeled by the place where the candles were on my right, 3 pews up from the back. As my shoes made those sounds of gunfire, she prayed without moving a muscle. The other two plaid hand-bags that were already there jumped where they stood with the loud resonance, and the old Hindi man in dark glasses on my left turned his head around slowly to see what was coming his way. He looked like an older James Dean but with a mustache. It did not become him well at all.

Still, I clip-clopped up to the receptacle in the middle of the nave, where the holy water was held, past the women and the shadow, past the mustache and the candles; past the statues and the madness and the ashen framed pictures of a battered man abused, shown in all the Technicolor shots that the budget could afford. There was a single fluorescent light inside, much like the kind they have in high school gymnasiums and basket ball courts across middle America. I stood at the top end of the aisle, staring down the middle and right between the eyes of St. Whatever at the other end. He stared back at me, dubious of something, it seemed. Or perhaps he stared at something just above my left shoulder. It’s hard to tell; he’s been there a long time and some things are worn beyond their years.

I didn’t know what to say or mumble. I didn’t know what to think, exactly, except that I couldn’t see the point. I couldn’t leave, either, but I didn’t know why not. I was reverent of the moment, but I was also drunk now from the Cutty Sark that was half-empty in my pocket.

I took off my shoes and held them between my fingers as I walked down the center of the aisle. I must have looked stoned, a silent agnostic drunk, accidentally lost in philosophy in the center aisle of a Spanish Church between a nun and an Indian James Dean. “This is how bad Quentin Tarantino movies end,” I thought. “If I were to get shot with a bloody bow and arrow right now it would be almost poetic, somehow.”

I let me shoes fall to the floor, and they did, with a loud BANG that reverberated and echoed all through the chamber. I didn’t look back to see the people’s reactions. I continued up to the altar, and when I had confirmed that it still meant nothing to me I turned around and walked back, right passed my shoes in the middle of the aisle, right past the Indian man and the nuns and the old bags; right out the thick and ornate doors of solid wood that keeps somethings in and other things out.

“Maybe those children will talk to me now,” I thought. “Maybe they’ll see me when I walk by silently.”


Hotel Regina Lounge — Barcelona, Spain

Pedro Ávila

How appropriate. It started when I woke up – there was no hot water and I don’t know about you but I don’t wake up right without a shower. I splashed cold water on my face and said fuck it, I will proceed. I worked frantically throughout the morning, getting stupid shit done and out of the way in anticipation that my new laptop would arrive this week. I’ll need a lot of time to get all of it configured properly and the way that best fits my needs. I have a lot of OCD-_esque_ behavior when it comes to having the task bar up top, for example, and the right shortcuts placed and everything basically within 3 clicks away.

Shut up. You can’t do what I do.

At about noon or 1 I went for my run. Pissed at the stupid apple headphones that never stay in my ears with my stride, I recalled the ones I’d bought over Christmas that turned out to be even worse. I can’t return the damn things for a variety of reasons and I am sort of stuck with $40 head phones that I neither like nor use, and they do not function properly. Ugh.

But whatever. I went for my run, and this always does me good. And it did. When I came home, expecting to take a warm shower and get started with some of the other tasks like getting a new florescent bulb for the kitchen light (which has been dark for 3 days now, since either everyone’s too busy, doesn’t know where to go around here for this bulb, or else all shops are closed at that time when we can go). But I remembered that there was no hot water. Again, fuck it. I sacked it up and took a cold one.

“Whatever,” I told myself, “these are little things. People deal with worse all the time.”

After my frozen shower, I noticed an email telling me I had a package way over at the office: could it be that my laptop has arrived? Sweetness. Tonight would be a perfect night to spend configuring this thing. Cool. Okay, fine, I’ll take the time to go out to Amstelveen and pick this up. I’ll make the time. Shit. But first I’d have to run to the hardware store around the block (in the red-light district) and get the light bulb.

As I turned the corner a street away in a swarm of red-light district tourists, a pretty female cop barred me from passing, saying that I would have to go around to the other side of the block, which is about 300 or 400 meters the other way. Ok, I thought. No big deal.

As I started around the block I saw a fire ambulance stopped right in front of the shop I needed to go to. Fuck.

You never see much from the outside, and I’ve come to expect minor things from ambulances because the codes tend to not happen on my shift… it’s relatively quiet anytime I get on a rig. At this point in the story, however, I’m just hoping I can get to the hardware store because I’m so close to getting all these little things done. All I need is this light bulb. And to mail a thing to one of the Katies.

But I went around. The fire truck was stopped literally in front of the store I needed to get into. A cop on a horse told me I’d have to wait. That was when I saw the man on the ground with his shirt ripped open. The medics were doing chest compressions and going, in my opinion, far too slowly. I didn’t see anyone bagging the guy, though he was intubated and there was an oxygen container nearby. Maybe there’s a line connected to the intubation tube thingy that I can’t see, I thought. I’m glad I did. It would would have done no good to try and cross the police barrier and have the horse cop trample me. Besides, this cop sounded like he didn’t speak English and by the time I explained that I’m an EMT (something they don’t have here), there would’ve been storms of trouble, confusion and probably a tourist or two shoved into the canal by the horse’s ass.

Horses have big, clumsy asses.

Flash forward to 10 minutes later. Everyone in the red-light district is staring, crowding – even the whores across the canal adjusting little straps on themselves that around here pass for clothing. I stand and wait, doing as I’m told and notice that the O2 tank is in fact, connected to the guy. Good.

It’s surreal to be in silence in the red-light district of Amsterdam, where it’s always bustling, even if it is with the snaggle toothed weirdos chasing cheap hookers and the coke peddlers. Today there is no bustle; instead, everyone is silent, curious, apprehensive, waiting for a shout or a cry or SOME kind of drama, release of this tension that is almost keeping the water in the canals still.

In front of me is a giant black police horse; behind and next to me are two prostitutes that have stepped out of their booths. They are wearing next to nothing but otherwise behaving very much like normal human beings: someone is down, we stop and stare. Some of us hope. Others write it off as a lost cause. Somebody prays, I’m sure, though what the hell good does that do? Somebody wonders why? Somebody wonders if they’re next.

I stand there and consider how I fit into all this.

I was disappointed in myself for two reasons: even though it wouldn’t have done any good, I realized that I wish I was brave enough to act without so much concern for myself. Consequences be damned. I want and feel an urge to do something, but I, very practically, weigh options and move towards logic. It’s a quality I recommend and admire for others but I hold a double standard for myself; I wish I was less like this. More John Wayne, less Bruce Wayne. More Captain Kirk, less Mr. Spock. More Vincent Freeman, less Jerome Morrow. More Hunter Thompson, less ordinary men.

This might not make a lot of sense to anyone but me, I realize. I’m learning to be ok with that.

More importantly and less existentially, I was disappointed that what was frustrating me at that moment was the fact that my day was being inconvenienced. That my plans were being thwarted. It didn’t occur to me until I saw the man on the ground that someone was struggling for their very life, and losing, and all I wanted was a fucking light bulb.

Eventually – and still compressing an intubated man on 100% O2 at a rate of no more than 35 beats a minute – they got him on the rig and took off. The crowd scattered and went about their normal affairs, whores being whores and degenerates being, you know, weirdos. After the scene was cleaned I proceeded to my hardware store to discover that even with a wall the size of a couple of hummers filled with light bulbs, mine was out of stock.

“I could order it,” he said in broken English, but it would only arrive Friday.

Ok. Fine.

Defeated, I went home and got my things to go across town and pick up my laptop. I put Katie’s letter into the mail slot on the way, though I might have put it into the wrong box and I hope they figure out that the UK is not anywhere inside of Holland. I’m always amazed that the postal system works, and always very wary when I drop that letter into the slot.

Really? Someone is really going to come at 4pm and take this thing to where it says to go? Wow.



A good friend invited me out to coffee as I was already on the train heading out. I had to pass it up since I was going to pick up my laptop. Another time, she said. Maybe, maybe not, I thought. People are always saying “another time”. Few of them follow through. You hang on to the ones that do.

A while later I was at the office, picking up the package. The strange little Dutch man in a gray suit and a brown tie with a 1906 mustache and a strange elongated skull handed me the box. Oh no! I thought, as soon as I touched it: too light.

You know when you pour yourself the cereal and then you pick up the milk container and realize there’s not enough milk? Just like that.

“What is this?” I asked him. He shrugged. I read the fine print. The memory card for my phone. I remembered now that it hadn’t been shipped together.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

This card was about the size of my thumbnail and just as thin. but the box he gave me could’ve fit a couple of laptop computers.

Inside the box that could’ve housed the laptop was a smaller box… easily 1/6th the size of the larger box.

Inside of that one was another box. You could’ve fit 5 of those little boxes in the larger box.

Inside that small box was a plastic envelope with a cartridge that was 4 times too small for the small box.

Inside the cartridge was the memory card.

They’d used 120 times the necessary packing for this thing, and made me think I was taking home my laptop, for which I’ve been waiting for over 12 weeks now. Meanwhile, my fateful loaner machine continues to overheat and threatens to blow up at any moment – literally, to explode. I live in constant fear and perform backups three times a day.

Further defeated, I got right back on the train and went home to finish work. No point in trying any more for the day. Time for a sip of bourbon and to imagine what I really want: the rest of the night with no thoughts whatsoever.

I think I’ll go get to that.

Bah, it’s no big deal – don’t listen to me. Nothing is injured, health abounds, except for that poor gentlemen, and I still have a full fridge and a roof over my head, as well as a working heating system, though no hot water for a shower. And no light in the kitchen. But you know, those are LITTLE things. They just bothered me at the time. But my landlord told me something yesterday that helps:

I told him I was having a problem with my mobile phone and he said: “What do you mean you’re having a problem? People have been living and dying for 1000′s of years with and without cell phones and now YOU have a problem?”

aahhh, the Dutch. Fuck ‘em. Bless them. I can’t really decide.