Pedro Ávila

Normally I wouldn’t do this; I’m sure I’m going to regret having told you all my secret weakness for hooking me into a professional assignment. But it’s a story and it was too blatant to ignore. Someone must know so, well, ok, then. I’ll tell you.

When I hear my boss talking crazy like this, it grabs my attention savagely:

“I need you to go to Barcelona. Now, I know this is really last notice, but a client needs asolutionarchitectblahblahblah whateverwhateverwhatever. But it’s in Barcelona. Would you be able to be there next week?”

Oh people.

Oh grown-ups.

Oh major software company with giant appetite for revenue.

When will you learn?

You had me at “Barcelona”. I mean, I know that this is probably just the begging and that a year from now I’ll be choosing which European capitals are good enough for me and which are not…but are you kidding? At this point I’d staple my tongue to an alligator for 5 bucks – you think I won’t go to Barcelona on your dime? Who cares who the client is? And who the hell needs more than a week to prepare? Who the hell needs more than a couple hours to pack and get to the airport?

Just buy me the tickets and pay for everything and you’ve got yourself a consultant.

The football game in the corporate Hilton that the company had paid for was playing as if it were on fast forward. Barcelona was up 1-0 on Leon by the time I looked up. I was literally sitting under the TV, which explained finally and once and for all why everyone had been staring at me for the last 30 minutes. I knew it wasn’t the client’s spreadsheets they were cheering on, but I work hard and I play hard and, dammit, I was focused.

But looking up changed that. Touches came and went as if the ball were on fire. I had never seen anything like this: and Ronaldinho was on the bench. It would’ve been madness to hear, but to see it was something else entirely. I’d never seen so many white people without English accents cheering for a futbol game in my life. American businessmen and women, old people on vacation from Arizona, all creeds and breeds of white westerners were taken with the speed of this game, the velocity and the control with which these Spaniards controlled la pelota, and for a moment there, Brazil had nothing on them.

For a moment. Let’s not get crazy with this.

The passing was precise and the dribbling was fanatic. No goals were scored except the one majestic scissor-kick from the far post. This was evidence of jedi-play at work if I’ve ever seen it. But the handling, and like I say, the speed, it left nothing to the imagination. Barco had stripped _futball_naked and I stared at it with excitement, like a 13 year-old seeing the faint outline of a nipple through a bikini for the first time, excited for the moment but somewhere in his mind worried that it will never be quite the same after this.

Oh well. Live hard. Die young. Go Barca!

I wandered the old Quarter of Barcelona for an hour or so after I’d found a hotel for the night. There was a festival in town and somehow I’d missed the memo that every European and his neighbor’s hot Polish sister comes to Barcelona for this thing called La Merce. Consequently, it’s naar impossible to find a hotel in the city. But you know me, readers — I’m unstoppable…

The truth is that we don’t know what we will find around the corner. We don’t know what clouds will look down at us, what skies will peer. We don’t know what door will be unlocked or what walls we’ll face and have to climb or turn back. What we do know is that the sun will always smile down on us, will always be a step ahead, even if we’re below the clouds and can’t see it. We know that we choose, either to turn left or right, or else do what the man from that other hostel says, which is to turn around and head out of town where the challenges are few and the rewards even fewer. And maybe there you’ll find a place to stay for the night.

But I’m a man of rewards, great and plentiful, and I don’t do out of town.

With two bags and a leather jacket in the heat and humidity of a Barcelona night I follow the streets, then, the sweat beading at my temple — my thin Mediterranean shirt soaked with rogue streamers. I follow it all to where it runs and then I follow that: the cobblestones, the trickle of European waters down the central gutters on narrow gothic streets of ancient roman cities. They have no end but the sea, and neither does the will of the mind. And where there is no end there is bound to be an answer… at least statistically.

Let’s see what this city has for me… and what else I can take…

_**Barcelona, Spain — September, 2007

Diagonal Hilton, lobby**_

Pedro Ávila

I am constantly being nagged about not sleeping enough. My parents and grandparents are constantly hinting, sending me articles on the dangers of sleep deprivation and lecturing me on the short life-span of those who do not get a healthy 8 hours of sleep every night. I know. When I was a kid I was the last to fall asleep and the first to get up. In college it was quite the hangover that would keep me in bed past 9 on a Saturday. 10 on a Sunday.

My flatmates must have a suspicion that I actually don’t sleep. At all. Consistently, it happens that I’m writing when they go to bed and then writing again when they wake up. It’s especially bad since my brother gives siesta lessons to Spaniards as a hobby, and has been mistaken on several occasions for a hibernating animal. I’m not sure if it’s always the same kind of animal. Something furry though, I’m sure.

I don’t really know why I don’t sleep.

What little sleep I get is satisfying enough, I suppose. I don’t have regular nightmares or anything traumatizing.

Noise levels are acceptable where I live.

I guess the morning light is a bit much, but this is more about sleeping late than getting up early.

I guess I just fight it. Sleep is time wasted. You’re going to sleep your entire death away, may as well not waste time now. There are things to do, words to write, music and pictures to sort through and organize…whatever.

But mostly it’s the allure of the possibility of privacy, of solitude…utter, desperate solitude. Independence can be had within a community — but it must be actively sought out, and it should be noted that it’s no light matter. For the mind to explore the fantasy within there is no silence like the night, no muse like the dark. In it, dew forms on the blades of grass outside, and a billion others around the planet. In it, the clocks tick away a little slower, the toxins penetrate a little deeper. The thoughts race a little faster. Memories seep, in and out of my face and skin. Feelings are replaced with words and still, the dust never does stop falling.

In it, the house settles.

I like it.

Pedro Ávila

Ataque sent me this beautiful <a title=“Doing his thing“ onclick=“return top.js.OpenExtLink(window,event,this)“ href=““ target=“_blank“>thing</a>.

Yeah, that’s hot.

I once asked a priest at my grandparent’s anniversary parties if it was ok to idolize rock stars.

Emphatically, he said, “No“. I expected him to say that, so I wasn’t shocked or anything. But I kept proding with the topic and said that I was aware of the whole ‘no idolizing false idols’ thing and the yellow cow and all that but, “what if the guy’s technique is amazing?”

“No,” he said, sternly, “you may not idolize rock stars just because their technique is amazing.”

“What if he plays the organs?” I semi-interrupted.

“Like, the big sounding ones in churches?” He asked me.

“Yeah. What if he sounds like that?”

“Would he play an actual organ or would he still use an electric guitar and make some kind of volume knob adjustment that makes it sound like a pipe organ?”

“The guitar one.”

He thought about it for a second.

“That’s pretty fu-freaking cool, I guess. Yeah, that’d be ok, I think. God’s not made of stone, you know.”

“Oh, I know.”

And I thought he was making up the whole volume knob technique shit but I had no idea that it was even <span style=“font-style: italic;“>possible. Jesus Christ.

Dylan Cormack

How anyone in America can travel anywhere in the world without being laughed out of town must be some kind of testament either to the pity of foreigners or to the charm of the Yankees. I mean, seriously.

Did President Bush really come out and say that he talks to god and cries at night, and will, in fact, go cry a little more later? Does he really think that drinking is bad because it affects your decision-making? I’m so glad that captain cuckoo banans didn’t make any decisions concerning Iraq while drinking, eh? That could’ve impaired his judgment and wouldn’t that have been disastrous?

Seriously, why are people not storming into the White House to drag that muffy little prick by the cuffs of his slacks to the cold and wet banks of the Potomac to be cleansed of his lies. I’d wonder if it was too bad that the Potomac is heavily polluted but it works well enough as a literary tool that even such polluted water could wash some filth off of this douchebag.

Fortunately, I maintain a constant-enough level of distance from what you people do these days that I’m able to scoff and ridicule without later transitioning to soft whimpering tears in the corner of a public library as I consider that what you asses vote for affects me too.

Whatever. Buy the ticket, take the ride. You people dug your own graves letting these creepy little baboon asses run the show that feeds them their spankings and I left because I want no part of that. That the quarters these evil ass-bags spend on vibrating beds in expensive hotel rooms for which we pay $800,000.00 a pop and is actually justified as a serious line item on a budget somewhere that no one with scruples or a sense of humor ever laid eyes on only makes the whole situation that much more pathetic for you.

It comes down to this: I truly and miserably hate you all. I cannot sum up enough the disappointment that this place has become, mostly because I had so much pride in the potential of what it could’ve been.

Damn. What a downer, eh?

But there’s no sense in sinking into despair over the shame of the whole affair. At the end of the day, the villains will get away and who cares? Why shouldn’t they? They did what they should, their capitalist hands grabbed what they could and will make for Belize when they see what a breeze it is to dupe the fools that stay mute when you distract on the left with words shiny and bright, only to pillage and plunder what’s on the right.

Yeah. So where do we go from here? Do we search for answers?

Whoa, whoa, easy tiger. Too big a step. In the state most of you are in, I think first you’d do well to figure out what questions to ask first. So start with that.

Me? I’m going to go start being famous. I recently received something from one of my good 2-day friends I met at Wildflower ‘07 who’s had the impression that I’m just a bit pissed about the whole situation with these United States of America, amongst other things and…well – here:

…you seem angry in some and deliriously entertained in others … you seem to be under the impression that no one reads, or cares about the more serious things you so eloquently weave a story of for our eyes. Simply not true my 2 day old friend. Some of us care greatly and do pay attention.

So it’s official. I have an audience; this is good. Somebody put that down in the record, eh?

This doesn’t make any sense. I thought it was enough that I became that kid that Willy Wonka told Charlie about at the end of the Gene Wilder version of the movie:

“But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the kid who suddenly got everything he ever wanted…he lived happily ever after.”

aaaaannnd scene.

But no. Not enough, friends (enemies too. My audience, judging from my comments, is probably too small to be excluding people at this point). It’s never enough.

Perhaps I need the literary equivalent of oompa-loompa’s in my life…

There’s a metaphor that makes a lot of sense somehow, if only I knew what it meant.

Oscar Bjørne

Recently the discussion has come up around why I’m so nonchalant towards the idea of a girlfriend (to put it mildly). It’s a question I hate to even have to address in this place but even the people closest to me seem to be unable to stand the curiosity. So let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Katie walked into the living room one evening as I was working on a piece to frighten the love right out of one of the editors at the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Oscar, how come you haven’t met any girls here yet?”

“Hang on a sec. I’m almost done telling this editor in San Francisco why he must run my article in the Chronicle… ‘ and if you don’t address this issue then the terrorists, sir, have WON. Period.

“Ok, sorry. What did you say? I wasn’t listening.”

“I asked you how come you haven’t met any girls here since you’ve moved?”

“What are you talking about? I’ve met plenty of girls since I’ve moved here.”

“None that don’t serve you your breakfast or make your martinis in the strange places you frequent. Oscar, waitresses and bartenders don’t count.”

“Why the hell not? Is there a better kind of woman? Because I’m this close to giving up on smart and engaging girls entirely and just making sure that I hook up with girls who know how to make a good martini and a well-buttered piece of toast in the morning. God, are those that low-enough standards or what?”

“You know what I mean. You’re a good-looking guy with a solid job and a steady paycheck. You cook. You play the guitar. You use napkins. You floss.”

“I think you made up the napkins one.”

“See? You’re funny too. And athletic. You speak three languages…”



“I speak four languages.”

“Are you counting Dutch?”


“You can’t count Dutch! You speak it like a chimp with a stutter.”

“But I do speak it, yes?”

“Fine. Three-and-a-half languages.”

“And… ? Ok, so I’m great on paper – my CV is a glowing beacon of the American Dream. So what?”

“Don’t pretend to be modest. You think you’re fantastic.”

“I am fantastic.”

“Yeah, I know. You actually said that last week. I heard you.”

“No I didn’t…wait, what did I say? There’s context to be considered if I’m going to be accused.”

“You said: ‘if there were more of me, we’d have fewer problems. God, I’m fantastic.’”

“Hmmm. Yeah, there’s very little room for context there. Ok. But I AM pretty freaking sweet. A pretty good deal, as they say.”

“So, ok. Why no girl then?”

“First of all, what’s so great about ‘having a girl’ anyway? Why do people define themselves based on whether they can depend on someone else for happiness? That’s horse shit. Besides, fuck if I know. You’re the one with a habitual cling to Sex in the City reading the goop that the British tabloids slide into our mail slot. YOU tell me why I haven’t met someone yet.”

“Well, you’re obviously not trying. Probably at all.”

“Whatever. I sang for that girl at the cafe the other night and she wouldn’t even look at me. Why the hell doesn’t that count?”

“You mean that time when you got up from the table, ran across the street to the canal and joined a platoon full of Irish boys hollering football chants at the passing boat of freshman girls?”


“Wait. You’re asking me why chanting football slogans with Irish hooligans at other, younger women doesn’t count as singing to a girl, right?”

“Well, when you put it like that anything sounds bad. Besides, she had a boyfriend.”

“You’re missing the point.”

“No, I’m avoiding it very successfully.”

“Is it really that hard to find a nice girl?”

“Without a boyfriend?”


“Then yes.”

“But you go out all the time. What do you do, snarl at them?”

“Look, I’m not looking _for a _girlfriend when I go out. I’m just looking around, sometimes hoping to be looked at right back. It’s validation and a hope of an off-chance encounter with someone who’s as adventurous as me, if not more so. I always want to learn new shit, know what I mean?

“Women are creatures of the sirens who cost a lot of time. I have plans – plans more important to me than having another person on speed-dial, than having one more person who wants me to call when I’m traveling. I have plans bigger than weekends of dreamy-eyed mornings wasted on my bed. Time is precious. I have cities to check off my list, guitar rifts to learn and kilometers and kilometers of road to put under my feet.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’ll happily make out with the first pretty thing that crosses me with eye-contact. I’ll smooch all night and even bring her home if she’s up for it. The trouble is, so far it’s been either Dutch girls (who don’t flirt), or a bad case of the boyfriends. I hate boyfriends.

“No eye contact at all?”

“Seriously? Two girls have looked at me at bars since I’ve been here, and I’m confident one of them may have been a leper. The lighting wasn’t that good, but still. I’m not that good with bacterial diseases.”



“…where did you learn to sing Irish Drinking Songs like that?”

“Vallejo Pirate Fest 2007.”


Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the Morning Star? Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far…

Oscar Bjørne

We were hanging out one night in the upper west side of Manhattan after a big storm had just hit the northeast. I’d been in New York for a week, teaching some classes for a Massachusetts-based company I worked for at the time. I had only recently acquired the confidence and ease of those who travel frequently for work, and to have New York be the place where I’d get to show off my new road-warrior powers to an old friend was a priviledge.

The company had paid for dinner and the cabs and we’d enjoyed ourselves on the dime of others, as is the pleasure of those who travel for a living. I was chilling at her place before deciding it was too late to go across town to the lower east side, where my Best Western was situated next to all of those fish markets under the Brooklyn Bridge. We’d watched some stupid movie we’d both seen before, sharing the couch with each other’s feet on our laps.

“I have a question,” she said.

“Abraham Lincoln, 1861.”


“Never mind,” I said. “It was a long shot anyway.”

“Oh, Ok…” she said, confounded. “Hey, why have we never hooked up?”


The question caught me by total surprise. Scarlet* was the kind of girl that you loved because there was no way to NOT love her – every boy in the world loved her, had always loved her, and knew no moment in their lives when they had not loved her. But I’m just cool like that.

“Because,” I told her, “you’re taller than me and you have a complex about shorter boys, even though I’m 6 feet even on a good hair day.”

“C’mon. Seriously,” she insisted. “Why have we never hooked up?”

“Since when would want to hook up with me?”

“Now, why should I answer your question when you haven’t seriously considered mine?”

“Fair enough,” I told her. “I guess you’re right. The logic’s all there: we’re perfect hook-ups for each other. We’re friends, we know each other well enough to know that we could never date, so a relationship is out of the question. I mean, frankly, Scarlet, I’m not sure who would kill who but one of us would be put underground.” She curled her lip at this and squinted her eyes just slightly.

“I’d end you so fast.”

“Baby, please,” I brushed her off. “I laugh at kittens like you. You can’t handle me.” She tossed her hair and laughed a beautiful laugh that made boys around the world cry at not being the cause of said laughter.

“But as far as approaching you from THAT angle…why have we not hooked up, indeed… well, let’s see. You’re so beautiful your name often comes up on star charts. Your sexiness and your swagger require more adjectives than I have in my lexicon and you’re so popular you beat boys away with a stick or else put them in the ground. You have to bury your phone under 4 sweaters in order for us to have a conversation.

“In contrast, I’m a bumbling traveler who can’t commit to either side of the extremes who wishes he could write like you and admires your zazz and creative drive to the point of fan-dom and if we weren’t friends I’d consider asking you for your autograph. And I hate asking for autographs.”


“Yeah. Really. Now my question.”

She sat up on the couch, leaned over to the coffee table and grabbed the remote control. She turned off the TV as the credits were ending, and then backhanded the remote onto the other couch as if it were her last hookup, disposable and now used. It was buried by other pillows only to be remembered and found the next Wednesday. Then she turned her shoulders to face me. My eyes dropped to her breasts behind that soft and thin-strapped stay-at-home top of hers; obviously no bra. My gaze floated back up to her pale blue eyes.

I’d always thought they lacked a depth I’d seen in other blue eyes. But right then, in that light, it occurred to me that it wasn’t that the depth wasn’t there; it’s that her eyes, windows into her soul, were closed off from the world and only showed the blue on the surface. And she controlled that.

“Yeah, I’d hook-up with you if we didn’t have anything better to do.”

“Scarlet, that’s the nicest mean-thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“What do you have to do tonight?” She said to me, slightly biting her lower lip. My lips curled too, and I was speechless.

She pulled herself down onto me by the shirt collar. As she gripped my shirt a button went flying somewhere by her brick wall under the tension she was releasing. The cold bricks of her apartment softened, their edges blurred as if by industrial sandpaper. The friction filled the apartment with a new kind of heat and inside it there was no telling who was in control of this situation.

After she finished with me, I only got one more glimpse of her eyes before she shoo-ed me out into the snow to fetch a cab.

Her eyes were a deep blue.

Pedro Ávila

It’s hit me. Finally. It hadn’t yet, until now.

I was in Brussels for the weekend with the Katies. We’d planned on going to the south of Holland for the weekend to see the deltas of Zeeland and stay at a town we had been told was “really nice.” Middelburg, we saw on the map, was way down there, so we got up early on Saturday and started driving south in my new company rental Ford Fiesta.

We though it was weird when stopped in Delft for a quick coffee stop and realized we were already halfway there.

“Wow,” Katie said, “this place is deceptively tiny.”

“No, no, it must be as the crow flies,” said other Katie. “It can’t be that small!”

We sipped our breakfast casually on that boat in the Delft canal, reasoning that we were ahead of schedule and could afford to take it easy. But even after driving through Gouda and about a dozen other little Dutch towns in that early September breeze, we had no idea what kind of strange we were dealing with. By 11 in the morning we’d already driven into Middelurg and seen it’s “nice” squares and churches and had been wholly underwhelmed by the dijks we’d seen along the drive.

“Are we sure we drove the right way to see the dijks?” Katie asked.

“There was low-lying land to our left and ocean to our right,” I said. “I don’t know where we could possibly have gone wrong.”

“Well, at least it’s really nice, isn’t it guys?” said other Katie. Which was true. But we couldn’t have been less interested in staying the entire afternoon there, let alone spending the night. We looked at each other for a bit while standing by the center square.

“We’re can’t be too far from Antwerp, right?” Katie offered.

“Yeah,” I said, considering the plan. “Or Bruge.”

“I’ve heard Bruge is nice,” Katie said.

“Yeah, but I wonder what Antwerp looks like,” said Katie. So we went to Antwerp.

But Belgium is a small place too and an hour later we had crossed the border without much ceremony. Once in Antwerp we exited the freeway following signs for “centrum” but landed in a nasty-looking part of town that reminded me of some ghetto in Moscow, even though I’ve never been there.

“I think it looks more like a ghetto in Warsaw,” Katie said, “but with more Turks.” Which was true. There were a shitload of Turks in that neighborhood.

When we found the center of Antwerp and sat for a beer it was still early. We gazed out at the grey facades, the trickling fountains and the scores of old people. The soft rain that was starting to come down didn’t help make the dreary main square of Antwerp any cheerier, even though it was “really nice.” But the beer was good.

After an hour Katie looked at me with a coy smile and said, “I wonder what Brussels looks like?” Other Katie tightened her lips and giggled and I knew I must’ve smiled too. So we continued to Brussels and after a fast night of Belgian beer and chocolate fondue pouring from fountains in the windows of chocolateries, we still managed to find a hostel in Brussels. Properly intoxicated and laughing our asses off constantly, we collapsed onto a couple of mattresses.

I had woken up with a Katie on either side of me, fully clothed and all limbs accounted for.  With no imminent scandal and a ravenous hunger actively collapsing the structure of my stomach, I went downstairs to the free breakfast that that hostel offers. Also, I felt like reading some Ken Kesey, but having recently finished Sometimes a Great Notion I was willing to settle for The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test.

At the breakfast in the youth hostel the next morning a tall kid with darkish skin and long dreadlocks approached my seat by the corner window, wanting to know where I was from.

“Brazil,” I answered instinctively, a response I’d memorized and trained to come out seamlessly such as to offer no hint of American-ness. A traveler’s answer. No American here, Mr. Traveling-man. Don’t hate me just because I speak English.

Sad, but true these days.

“Are you traveling around Belgium?” He inquired with a Mediterranean tan and a traveler’s beard. Greek, from the sound of it, except for the dark skin and the dreadlocks. I paused and gave my answer some thought because I felt it coming out before I had actually said it:

“No, I live in Amsterdam.” The words hit me much harder than they hit him. I didn’t pay much attention to the typical discussion that must’ve followed.

I live in Amsterdam.

Sweet Jesus, life is good. So many languages. So much desire. So much love to have and to give. An education to be envied. Opportunity at every door and they are either unlocked or smashed open, but always available. An iron will to succeed that is unrivaled. Developed talent coming out my ears. And then…

A travel bug in Paris.

An infection in New Zealand, spread by southeast Asia and Australia.

A full blown epidemic in London and Geneva that lead straight to freedom and then Amsterdam.

And now: Europe at my fingertips.

How did I ever get this far?

Oscar Bjørne

All I ate that night were the four figs I bought in the Roman market of Barcelona known as La Bocaderia. That, along with the bottle of scotch I later carried in my back pocket, would be my sole sustenance as I walked up and down La Rambla looking for trouble and direction. One of these is easy but direction can be complicated in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. The streets are so narrow most get no direct sunlight, even on the last floors. The space between buildings where people dry laundry usually fits one towel at a time and on plants that are strung between houses, the flowers spread their stamens an extra millimeter for that much more exposure.

It was still early when I met them. The five ladies were in the most unremarkable of places: a Pakistani convenience store outside of the post office building by the ribeira. They were trying to buy boxes of wine when I became impatient with their indecision and poor Spanish. I sneaked in line in front of them to get my scotch. They thought I was a local, and when I asked them where they got their delicious-looking shoarmas, a string was plucked and they asked me to join them. We were a handful of twenty-somethings with nowhere to be in Barcelona so I had no idea where the night would take us.

“DeWar’s?” said a sexy Tennessee voice next to me. Meg’s accent so bewitched my attention that I almost dropped my liquor. We were walking along the docks by the old port headed towards a street carnival with rides and colors and plenty of noise. “Disappointing,” she flirted, “I thought you’d have gone with the Jack Daniels.” My kind of girl to be disappointed in a thing like that.

Kat, the short blond with an English accent looked away from Meg and me at the other girls and made a case for where we should go. She wanted little more than to lay on the beach and drink all night long.

Classy, I thought. The other blond, LeAnn, turned at this and whined something about wanting to get drunk and find a club. She was pretty in a classical sense, bland and uninspiring. The kind of girl anyone would hit on without much intimidation. Her squawking, overdone and relentless, annoyed the piss out of me, though, and I was ready to bolt if they decided to go to a club with the squeaky wheel.

“I’m down for whatever,” said Amanda, a plump Jersey girl with a perfect Bronx accent. She was very pretty nonetheless and looked the most comfortable in her black tank top, which was sort of sexy, and managed to mostly hide her more boisterous rolls. What to me seemed like a superficial confidence was probably a defense mechanism from growing up around boys who seldom forgot to let her know that she could stand to lose 15 or 20 pounds. “I just think we need to start putting fun things in our bodies soon,” she said. I liked her immediately.

Veronica, the tall brunette from Ontario never really participated in the discussion, her eyes constantly wandering from the tops of the buildings on the avenue to the tips of the masts on the harbor. She was fun; boys we ran into that night were all over her and she had no idea what to do about it. She had a radiant smile and the kind of hair that you love to have brushed over you face by accident when she turns around too suddenly. She asked me if I had a preference and I opened my scotch, passing it around to Meg and Amanda.

“Clubs bore me,” I told her. “Barcelona is a city of movement, and I like to be on the street to see it unfold.” Kat’s eyes lit up at this and we stayed on the steps by the marina for a bit, watching the people go by and taking turns at the box wine and my scotch.

Hours seemed to pass and we all became more and more light-headed. The people that walked by those steps barely noticed us. So accustomed to a life on the business road, alone on the trail of corporate death, I forget that there are connections to be made, people to meet along the way. I’d become numb to the soft presence of female company, even if it was sipping scotch on the concrete steps of urban Spain, discussing the intricacies of Brazilian Barbecues.

“It’s all about the rock salt,” I explained to Meg, whose stare was fixed on my words. I didn’t care what we talked about, so long as the night went on. From Kat I learned that they had all just met each other a few days before through their school programs and were all teaching English for a few months. In that sense and for the first time in many months, I didn’t feel so far removed; so alone.

“Where can we get some cocaine?” I heard Amanda ask Veronica as casually as if she were asking for the time. At first I looked at Meg to see if she was a part of that scene but she seemed uninterested.

This is good, I thought — that means they don’t have any right now. I think they noticed my apprehension and interpreted it as judgment. The truth is that I was pretty much up for any kind of trouble we could stir up that night — I just wanted to steer clear of ugly turns, like being arrested on narcotics charges and that kind of thing.

“It’s not that big a deal,” LeAnn offered.

“No, it’s an awesome feeling,” Amanda said. “For about 30 minutes you’re the absolute coolest, most interesting, creative and fascinating gift to humanity on the scene. You can do anything, and you get this ‘thing’, where you can feel it in your teeth…”

“You’ve never done coke before?” Kat interrupted. I realized suddenly that I couldn’t really explain why.

“Nah,” I said, making something up as I leaned back on the stairs. “I’m kind of a hubris-filled asshole without any drugs at all, and turn into sac of dangerous thoughts on just a couple of martinis. Too scared what would happen to me on cocaine.” The truth is I’d once asked my flat mates about doing coke.


Wait a minute, they’d said. No… No. NO.

You, Oscar, cannot do cocaine. Sorry, but it’s out of the question. Absolutely no way. There are some people that just cannot do cocaine, opined one of them.

You’re one of them, said the other. Don’t even think about it. I asked them why not.

Listen, she’d said, too many people become violently certain of how absolutely great they are on cocaine, and you don’t need the help.


There’d been fear and certainty in their eyes and they know me pretty well, so I’d lain off the topic. But I was curious now in that marina in Barcelona, where I was sitting with the five English teachers, telling Meg about Brazilian rock salt, listening to Veronica and Amanda go on about finding cocaine, putting up with LeAnn whine about a finding a club scene and watching Kat’s body groove indifferently to a reggae beat in the distance.

As if summoned by the conversation, three scummy white guys approached our group, their wife-beater tank tops stained with the sweat of many Barcelona nights, their jeans hanging off their boxers like their ridiculous dreadlocks. Fabricated Spanish accents dragged their greasy tongues and their swaggers were so pronounced that I thought at any moment at least one of them would lose their footing and collapse on the pavement.

“Uh-oh,” I heard Meg start, “hold on to your purses!”

“Hey baby,” one of them coo-ed, “you want fire?” I looked at Veronica, who’d been struggling with Kat’s lighter.

“You make fire?” She asked, mocking him with a caveman voice. But the dude was so into himself that it backfired.

“I am fire,” he replied quickly and very seriously, deepening his voice with the aura of a man who has too many buttons undone on his shirt and too much hair dancing on his chest. His face erupted in a disgustingly entrancing smile that infected some of the girls enough to keep him around for a bit. He took from his pocket a few small paper packets and showed them the white powder inside.

“Hold on to your purses!” Meg shouted in between the sentences of our conversation.

I took a swig of my scotch as a sort of toast to my non-involvement in that scene and peered out onto the harbor over the discussion of the girls and the cheesy pickup lines of the idiot cocaine peddlers. The boats swaying gently on the harbor were so much more interesting to me at that moment. I had nothing to do with their mess. The tall sloops and the wide catamarans helped my thoughts drift toward my reasons for having come to Europe in the first place. There was, of course, the five weeks of vacation and the more reasonable approach to the question of work-life balance. It was all part of the master plan that there was also something to chase here, some ideal that America could no longer hold for me, and I’d known that I would find it in a more ancient place, with more history and less memory.

Partially, I’d come to escape the stifling feelings of despair that I’d sunken into after a bitter divorce, but mostly I’d come to escape a connection with the attitudes I was beginning to find so aggravating in the social order, in the mores of people’s lives. The things people around me were starting to collect, to covet, it was something I couldn’t wrap my mind around. I was constantly feeling like I was in the wrong place and in order to escape the tedium of a blank personality I didn’t recognize, a life indistinguishable from anyone with a similar-looking apartment and an easily-labeled career, I would have to find an environment with which I wasn’t in constant opposition. I needed a new rhythm. And it had to be more than the corporate equivalent of a semester abroad – I needed to become one of these people; learn their language, eat their food and breath their air. I needed to see myself in their faces.

I feel at home when I see the villages surrounding European towns. Familiar to me is the sound of horseshoes on cobblestone, the sight of snow on ancient stones, the feel of moss on wood. I feel rejuvenated by the green of the grass in the north of Europe, and by the black dirt in the south. I feel invited by the narrow streets to explore the winding Roman ways and the bike paths that lead out of a city, seemingly into nowhere. I am attracted to the well-kept autobahns, the many languages and the attitude of dour insistence that some things do not have to be replaced by a more efficient technology or system; they are ends, not means to be run over on the way to the next errand.

I had come to find a new path, since you can only walk one. I’d realized that I’d gone astray after years of being surrounded by notions and traditions that I found disgustingly convenient in America. I’d grown to see Europe as my Virgil to find my way out of the Hell towards which I was rapidly headed. What I’d been through had left me feeling abandoned from myself, but I thought that if I stayed afloat on this new wave, if I could stay high enough on the crest I was riding to feel the wind pass through my hair, I might just sight the port I was looking for in a direction away from the high water mark of the flood that almost drowned me before.

Eventually the douche bags left; something to do with crushed aspirin and $108 a gram. Nobody was really torn over the loss, though some of them were starting to feel restless, like there was more to do that night.

We ran into Fred, one of their other friends. Fred was a Spaniard — a local — and had already, it seemed, taken a liking to all of these gals. He wore a red shirt that closely hugged his torso, which was not as toned as it may have been in the recent past. Probably from a combination of beer and whiskey, he’d developed a gut deserving of politicians and publicity agents, and he smelled of sand and cheap French cologne. He was, however, the type that knows the scene, that knows the schedule. He is the type that knows the people and knows the lines. I could tell right away that Fred was a natural catalyst. If our pack had been a movie, he’d be the producer. And he was good at it too.

“Veronica!” he yelled towards us across two lanes of traffic, “Como estás?!!” He greeted her with an enviable hug and she pressed her beautifully supple breasts against him, shouting hellos to the other girls who hugged and sharply greeted some of the other boys in Fred’s entourage.

It wasn’t so much that I felt threatened by those boys, but their presence and the reactions of my newly-made acquaintances reminded me that for all my efforts, I was alone in that sleepless city, in that warm country, in that large continent.

“Good to meet you, tio,” he said to me, introducing himself. I shook his hand and then stepped back as he continued his greetings. I thought of reaching for my whisky. Who does this guy think he is? I thought. LeAnn whined again about cocaine and clubbing or something equally dull and Fred snapped his neck in her direction, almost fast enough to break it himself.

“That is ridiculous, kiddo, especially on a night like this.” I liked the way he said, ‘kiddo’. “There are concerts on every plaza and every corner tonight, and there’s madness on the streets. You want to pay cover charges and waste your time to dance with foreign dudes, cool…don’t take it out on us.”

My eyes gleamed and my lips curled a soft smile. Well now, let’s not be hasty, I thought. He and I made small talk as we walked a couple of blocks, past a falafel place towards the Plaza Catalunia, slightly ahead of the others. Fred spoke of his time in Barcelona as an extension of his clubbing experience in Paris. He’d been raised speaking French but his native tongue had always been Spanish, especially when he’d noticed that the smiles were warmer, the beer was colder and the nights were longer.

“I am a creature of the night,” he told me. “People criticize the French but no one fucks with Spaniards.” He paused, then added: “especially in Catalunia!” He fist-punched the air in front of him as if there were a gathered crowd that was going to go absolutely NUTS.

“The four red stripes on the Catalan flag,” he explained, “are the blood-stained fingers of a dying patriot running down his friends’ golden shield as he pleaded for glory.” I looked at him in reverence, wondering if he was for real. I started realizing how drunk or possibly tripped out he was when he saluted the flag three times in ten minutes.

But he kept on it, rambling into furies of incoherent rants about life in Catalonia and I tired of it. Soon I was back in Veronica’s arms. The evening had taken a steep turn, now following Fred and his friends around town. They were pretty cool cats though, and everybody was enjoying themselves.

We hung out and lost a few people on the long walk towards the concert areas. But the conversations were varied and many, and much like marching troops, if a group is too large and a few go missing, you don’t really notice until you’re looking for specifics. Eventually, we even lost Fred.

Somehow we ended up just the girls and me again. Meg had dropped when the effects of the whisky turned to moaping about her boyfriend, which was a shame. She’d called him in between swiging Dewar’s with me and taking hits of a joint the other girls had rolled. They’d had an argument over what I’m sure was something stupid and then she started crying about bad intentions and wanting closure and it ruined her spirits for the night.

It’s a rookie mistake and I hated to see it happen but by the time it hit there was just nothing that could be done for the poor girl. She left us near a metro stop and I never saw her again.

So, for the ones who remained, I bought them a drink, thanked them for the wonderful evening and watched a couple more disperse into the thick Catalunian crowd. The tighter you grip things as slippery as grains of sand or drunken girls, the more they will slip through your fingers, so I rolled with it. The remaining ones, Amanda and Kat, wanted to go dance in the calle. So we went.


As the night wound down I found myself with Kat, the only one left. We hadn’t planned it, but there we were on the edge of Port Vell, smooching like teenagers, impossibly drunk, the DeWar’s long gone. Kat had a tight little body, short and petite like a back row volleyball player. There was no reason not to — there were no more fireworks and we no longer knew what to do with ourselves. Kat had gotten very stoned at some point in the night and more recently I had seen her eat a variety of pills — a sort of bite-size fun pack of drugs — and she was starting to show the signs. She was agitated and becoming more so with every car that zoomed past the street behind us, and Barcelona is a city of traffic. She was in for a fast night.

At some point after two in the morning I was leaning against a dim lamp post in the dark by the harbor. She was pressed against me, occasionally kissing me and letting me run my eager hands over her tight waist and stomach, but mostly pushing herself off of me and singing unheard of off-key tunes into the night. Something about rocking the boats to sleep.

“They’re yachts,” I tried to correct her, but that was deemed irrelevant. Whenever she left to sing to the boats, my heavy eyes tended to wander over the darkness, through the tight streets of the Gothic Quarter, piercing the blackness that covers the Mediterranean, and glossing over the people that still roamed thinly all about us. Barcelona never sleeps completely.

Then I saw Fred coming at us from the street. From the way he was running I knew something was wrong. He was storming at us without his shirt like a mad bull set loose. When he got close enough I saw that on his face he wore eyes different to the ones I had seen earlier that night. The in-control producer, the knower of places, names and lines was completely gone. He’d been replaced instead by a hurricane of ego and looked like a violent maniac who was so into the rich and complex nature of his personality that he was about to fly over the old port fueled by the steam in his ears and the coke in his head.

Kat was oblivious to the imminent problem. I considered warning her but there would’ve been no point; she had moved on to being preoccupied with the frog she claimed sat on the lamp post, calling her ‘dark things with a frown on its face’. Nonsense, of course, but how could I explain it to her in time? She had stopped listening to me and was delirious, and I could see I was about to have a mess on my hands.

Fred, meanwhile, was showing no signs of slowing down. He was out of his mind, too much cheap coke in his blood, too much weak beer; too many dames to chase and none that were going home with him. He ran, throwing his thighs up and lunging them forward like a desperate beast. I had time to duck, which I did, and just in time to see him grab Kat’s arm and jerk her into the water with him. She yelped like a stepped-on bath toy and took a sudden short breath before she hit the water 8 feet below like a floppy pancake. She didn’t even know why it was happening.

As out of his head as he was, Fred knew exactly why he was there – he couldn’t have told you with any sense or coherency but he knew. He wanted the third boat on the 2nd pier; a yellow-hulled catamaran. He wanted to commandeer it, as it were. The Marnette, out of Genoa, I think, and docked in Barcelona. He wanted to untie every line on the hull and raise every sheet, make fast the rudder and ride the currents out to Majorca like one of the ancients.

The Marnette, by the way, was a 32 ft. catamaran that had no sail, no lines and had been stripped of every instrument on board. She wasn’t carrying a drop of gas and was essentially a fiberglass shell. The owner — a short French-man by the name of Pierre de Curr, who had a BO problem — had put into Barcelona for a repaint on his way to Morocco and the Marnette was a sitting duck.

But Fred never learned these facts since he couldn’t even climb aboard — he’d splashed into the water with Kat and then tried to swim out to his object only to find his legs could barely keep him afloat, to say nothing of being able to climb aboard a catamaran. Kat had to go fetch him where he was hanging from the unpainted hull of the Marnette like a wasted barnacle. After wretching him from the ship she dragged him back to the dim lamp post and pushed on his butt from below while I fished him out of the water.

“Marnella!” he shouted, almost crying, clinging to the pole for support and slurring the bubbles on his voice with resolve, indifferent and unaware that he didn’t even have the right name. “My love! My Roman Mother! You are my urn, on your deck I sit. My soul, it burns, Marbella! To Rome I’d turn, but no winds blow, so to Majorca I shall go!”

“Quiet down, you animal.” I snapped at him, thinking about the panic that place would turn into if the cops were to descend on us now. Two drunk gringos, one of them stoned and delirious from a bag of fun pills, dragging out of the harbor a small, French-looking Spaniard who was completely out of his head on coke and bad beer. Even in that late hour a crowd had started to gather, and there were now some twenty to thirty middle-aged Nordic-looking tourists staring on while the sloppy Spaniard danced to his own poetry. Which was actually quite good, I thought. Those tourists must’ve been feeling so far from home at that moment. They may even have seen a drug stupor before, here it was just so romantic.

But it would become chaos, I decided. I didn’t want him to be in this state and belligerent, so I tried to calm him down with some sense. “The Marnette was stripped down, mate. There was nothing there for you.”

“There’ll never be one quite like her,” he whimpered. It was pathetic. “She had so much to give.”

“She had nothing, kid. She was a dud. A bonafide carcass and if you keep on acting like a noisy ape you may end up looking like a similar shell in a Catalunian prison,” I told him.

“Don’t you be talking about my Marla that way. I know capabeta, man. I’ll kick you upside down.”

Sigh. “You don’t know capoeira, Fred.” I tried to say it without sounding condescending, but I tire of that.

“The hell you say — let me go! I’m going to show you the shinga.”

“Dammit,” I muttered under my breath to no one in particular and I started to worry. Spain, and the Catalonia region in particular, is not a good place to be caught with your pants down, filled to the brim with alcohol and cheap drugs and in the company of boat thieves who can’t stand up, let alone performing some aborted version of a strange Brazilian dance. My consolation was that the stoned pill repository I had made out with, the one dripping by the dock grinning about frogs no one else could see, was not my problem. What worried me was Fred, this looming bin of craziness, a bomb about to click. He was fast becoming an issue and I could only guess at what he’d put into his body to do a 180 like he had.

Fred started to ginga. Well, I thought, at least we look like clowns, not vandals.

“Let’s go steal gas station pump handles!” opined one of Fred’s friends who had been watching the act the way normal people stand in line at a grocery store.

Kat, still soggy from her unexpected plunge in the harbor blurted out, “we’ll be like the vandals that took the handles from that Bob Dylan song!”What? I thought. This girl is losing control and fast. And right there it hit me — the answer: how to get out of this whole mess of drugs and jackass gingas. I was leaning against another light post and now stood up straight to face the music.

“Kat!” I called, “come ‘ere and show Fred how to ginga. He doesn’t move right.”

“Hee-hee.” She giggled as she made her way over to where he was; the dancing equivalent of a stutter. She watched him for three seconds or so and then she took the bait.

“Fred, you suck. You don’t move right.” And she started to move around like a lazy octopus, crouching low to the ground and waving her arms slowly in front of her loopy body. It might have been hilarious somewhere else, in another time. But I knew what was coming and I knew I had to get out of there very soon. People gathered and Fred was really into it now, having turned it more into something resembling a Native American rain dance than anything I’d ever seen in a roda and Kat was starting to follow suit. What I’d created was shameful, but what could I do?

The crowd was starting to really thicken and I stepped back into it. Someone had already called the Policía. I heard sirens approaching, but I wasn’t interested. Already that situation had nothing to do with me anymore. I was alone again, losing myself between the narrow streets, deeper and deeper into the old Roman structures of some European city. Alone, where I feel so at home.

Hotel Cuatro Naciones, room 119 — Barcelona, Spain

Dylan Cormack

When the desert sands come a pounding on your door like a roommate who needs to use the bathroom, to whom will you look back and finally raise a finger? Will you blame Dick Cheney? George W.? Karl Rove? Reagan, maybe?

Will you look to Congress, who didn’t stand and fight — ever — even when the fight came to them and they were, for a second there, winning?

Will you look to the CEO’s of Halliburton, Blackwater, Sony, Walmart and others?

Will you wonder why then? Will you ask something? Will you go back and look at the mistakes, find out where they were made, why you didn’t see it or why it was kept from you? Will you fear it could happen again and want to prevent it? Will you hate, and will that change anything?

Or will you pause and turn around, look behind you and point at the stockholders, the board of directors, the voters…yourself, maybe?

Will you blame yourself? Could you?

Because this mess we’re all in – this budget deficit, this piss-poor educational system, this social security debacle, this health care nightmare, this 6-year “search” in Afghanistan, this shame in Iraq – this outrage in Iraq, this criminal behavior in all aspects of our very presence in Iraq – this scandal in the Justice department, this dark shadow on the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, FEMA and NASA…

It’s your fault.

It’s not George Tenet’s fault, it’s not Karl Rove’s, Alberto Gonzales’s, Scooter Libby’s, Michael Brown’s, Dennis Hastert’s, Mark Foley’s, Bill Clinton’s, Hillary Clinton’s, George H. W. Bush’s, George McGovern’s or Richard Nixon’s fault. It’s yours.

And it’s not just because you voted for this scum (not once but twice), or else didn’t vote all. It wouldn’t have made a difference; most people worth a damn know the 2000 election was flat-out stolen by greedy fingers with contempt for the country and a glimmer in their eyes that resembled dollar signs. And it’s not because you have a John Kerry or an Al Gore sticker on your car, or because you watched “An Inconvenient Truth” or “11th Hour”, or because you watch the Daily Show or the Colbert Report or have a subscription to the LA or NY Times, the SF Chronicle, the Boston Globe or the International Herald Tribune that you’re exempt from this rant.

You’re not. I’m talking to YOU, America.

Because you haven’t said anything. You’ve toted your dogs in your purses, you’ve wasted your nights watching horrible TV because it’s easy, and you’ve given the world more shit and despair than was your right because you could afford it. Land of the free, indeed. What a sham.

How long will you let it go unchallenged? For how long will the jugglers and the clowns have to fumble around doing tricks for you while they swipe your wallet, rape your sister and flood your house? How hard must they tickle you before you laugh? How long before the tickles become scratches and how long before the scratches bleed? How long before you hate? How long before you say something?

Figure it out, America. We are running out of time.

Dylan Cormack

Dear America,

I hope this finds you well, but from the sound of things reaching my ears this is not the case. The noise is relentless, it seems: cabinet members and loyal bushies resigning like there was a bonus in store for them (or maybe a private sector job with 6 times the salary), international blunders from foreign policy to economics to French cuisine when president Sarkozy visited Main only to get a hot dog or a hamburger, his choice.

Everywhere I go, people seem to hate you. And it’s not a mild dislike either — they really hate you.

I met a man in Paris on the metro recently. He was nice enough, willing to speak English though my guess is that his first language was something else, like Arabic or Farsi or something. He had a strange hat made of a long piece of cloth and he wouldn’t take it off, and he wore a vest, sort of like the one my father does when we go on vacation except that this guy’s vest was covered in string what what looked like red silly putty and candles. Weird. You should’ve seen his beard!

Anyway, he said he was going to the airport to do…something to the Americans there (the bus went over a bump just then and I didn’t catch what he said). I wonder if he meant that he was going to help people get cabs since he speaks a similar language to taxi drivers, but I doubt it. He said he was going to go meet someone named Ala. I don’t know if he found his friend…the airport there is crowded with Americans and that could make finding someone very difficult. I guess his friend would probably be wearing the same strange hat and would probably not look like most of the Americans there.

In any case, you should’ve heard this guy go off – he was really pissed-off at a lot of things about you. He kept going on about Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and a few other countries I don’t think you’ve heard of. I remember you had said that you don’t read or watch the news because it’s so unpleasant so you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but you might want to pay attention to this round. Just change the channel next time 24 is on and watch anything else. I think you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.

He said you had been there, in this country he was talking about, or perhaps that you were there now. I can’t remember. Now, I know that doesn’t make sense since you’re still cushed up between Mexico and the scummier part of Canada, where you’ve always been. I must’ve misunderstood him over his friends who were chanting something I didn’t grasp. One of them was filming it though, so I might have made it onto a home video somewhere – in which case, hi Mom!

Ok, for now. You probably stopped reading many paragraphs ago. There’s more though, and you should look into it. Tell captain cuckoo bananas over there to wisen up and pay attention to the world, for your sake. You’ve been a good friend and I’d hate to see you worse than you are. Look around to Russia, to India, China, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. Look to your friends also, and don’t try to screw them over because of some oil in some very harsh and terrible places. Or because of things like French fires. I mean, really. Listen and work with them. Grow up.

Most importantly, look in yourself and see what needs fixing, what needs replacing and what needs a good spring cleaning. Pay attention.

Foolishly hoping for the best, I remain,

Disillusioned Few

_PS. You know that home video I mentioned earlier? They put it on TV! I didn’t catch the news segment it was on but I’m told it was on a network called Al-something. I was on TV! I’m famous!