the escape artist (early 2013)

The escape artist was practicing his disappearing act in his head, slightly distracted by the heat of his room, even more distracted when the fan turned to send its chill. He could relate this infrequency with the air to his own nature. In one idle state of being, usually pressed in by some warm force seeking to hold him still, until the wind came and he blew away with it. The thought gives him pleasure, never one to stick too long to any single idea, his mind moves on to a few of his favorite sayings. “Variety is the spice of life”.
He was trying to put together a better one. A combination of all his favorites boiled down to their essence and mixed together like an old mashed soup: Everything in moderation-including moderation. Fame and fortune are predestined, of what use is a guileful heart? Rather, constantly seek the truth, maintain your discipline, and preserve your dignity. Fortune favors (s)he who dares. Nothing Gold can stay.
Now the escape artist had his ideals in life all narrowed down to words spoken or penned by people he greatly admired. This brought satisfaction of a confirmed ideal; an acknowledgement of the fact that most everything worth saying has been said in some way before, but there still exists the option to rework some of those truest to you, to put your own mark to them.
And here the young scatterbrain tries to return to his initial thought of how to leave this heat. Recently he’d been trying to learn to leave without burning bridges, realizing a bit late that it only increases this hated heat. The heat has a tenacity to it, as it’s much easier to collect something than to do the Bruce Lee and work towards nothing. A favorite school lesson-cold is merely lack of heat.
Now there are a few things anchoring the escape artist to this current set. Bear in mind, most everything is a prison of sorts. Your body keeps you wanting and needing-food and water, a place to dump them. Money gives a queer sense of freedom yet brings the ever increasing desire for more. We get into relationships with others to be free from ourselves, but become slaves to their desires, needing to be ever present in their lives. The escape artist wonders; does any person really know freedom? He should like to meet them. Perhaps there’s a google search to find them.

Anthony and Me: Puerto Rico Condensed

Anthony and I met in Bangkok. We played a drinking game with a group and then piled into a cab together. We talked about A$AP Rocky and he tried to call “dibs” on the hostel worker as she climbed onto my lap and kissed me. We liked each other immediately. When I made it to Paris, he’s the one who came down from London to bring me a jacket and help me get my bearings. He was in Miami at the end of my time in Lauderdale. I invited him up for a party. He made me watch the Rum Diary and a trip to Puerto Rico planned itself. I packed and shipped my things home, spent a tired weekend partying with him in Miami, and then began.

We got to the security line at the Fort Lauderdale airport and the TSA agent gave Anthony more trouble than his hairline was giving him, as if it was crawling away from that badge authorizing daily molestation (I do not like the TSA), as if it wanted no longer to stay a part of this vile man with his purple specks blotching his white face as it grew in confusion. I had walked right through the line with barely a glance to my passport, and although Ant’s was more tattered than mine, I suspected that was not the only reason he was being stopped. The agent moved Anthony’s picture back and forth under a blacklight, complaining about a missing hologram even though he had likely never seen a British passport issued the same time as Anthony’s. He called another agent over to check, a younger black girl, nearly pretty with an angry jaw and eyes like a dying fire. She stared at the passport momentarily, flicked an angry glance at the grey haired man, waved Anthony quickly through.

We were on our way, nothing to prevent us from reaching the island but cramped seats on a nickel and dining airline with advertisements filling the few gaps on the plane.

I lived another 10 days an informal vagabond. After a discourse on which hostel to stay at we decided on The Palace Hostel in Miramar. A quaint little place filled with 6 unpaid workers who exchanged 24 hours of their time a week for a bed, a band of Norwegians and Canadians taking a break from an Atlantic sailing trip, some solitary odds and ends filling the gaps of rooms, nameless.

Our ride from the airport was easy, even after we got lost. The neighborhood felt more “third-world” than the parts of America I knew, a dirty park inhabited by neighborhood men playing dice and a few drunks squatting amidst the trash piles left around trees like auxiliary roots. We immediately met a girl with a striking resemblance to a friend of mine, who told us of how she had just been robbed and assaulted: She was sitting alone in a park —pale, tatted, conspicuous—when a man came and sat next to her. She got confused at this point in the story. She tried to move away from him but he followed. Somehow the man got a rock and tried to hit her with it, got her money off her somehow, let her go. We offered her some of the rum sitting between us and she poured herself a steep glass, asked us to accompany her to the corner store, bought a Bacardi to compliment our Don Q, leaving Ant and I confused about the safety of the island, but happy to finish the bottles in each other’s company. In the middle of our drinking a man named Omar came and introduced himself to us, we poured him a glass, and he told us the story of chasing off a thief who had attempted to steal a tire off of his rental car. Puerto Rico was presenting an interesting first impression

I awoke the next morning, the after affects of rum throbbing through my head, and we went to spend our first listlessly overlapping day at the beach, with all days after threading in and out of it like a reflection between mirrors. I went out looking for an excellent burger and 2 oz bottles of rum to emulate Rum diaries (the book/movie that led Anthony to suggest this trip). My first success.

I rubbed my face in sand while diving beneath waves and enjoyed the cool rocking of the current, emptied my lungs to lay against the ridged floor of the ocean, let my fingers crawl against the rippled ground, admiring the waves made beneath waves. I loved the dark peace of being willingly submerged, have loved it ever since I fell in my grandfather’s irregular shaped pool as a bright eyed young boy. I am never as content as I am underwater.

There is a saddening rate of obesity in parts of Puerto Rico, and an enduring poverty that may look as ugly, but if you find yourself lounging outside in a seemingly typical neighborhood, enjoying the breeze at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, you may become acquainted with the sweetness of it all (like learning how to eat durian). Neighbors talk and drunks sing, a trumpet blares from a nearby house and the whole city shifts to a new gear. There is life and there is warmth and the city erupts in the pervasive thumps of bass and bachata, inviting you to come be alive amongst smiling strangers.

We made friends. We saw Pacquiao win. We danced in a bar until 6 in the morning. I left my good friend Anthony to fly back home, to reinitiate myself to Cincinnati.

-Maxwell

Fragility

I like watching Kung Fu movies. You focus heavily on the humanity and movements of one character while everyone else-excepting a few skilled oppositional characters-are just pawns to be broken. I watched Kill Bill and thought about death, how such a nuanced art form of heavily complex movement yields to one (or one hundred) player’s immobility. A simple moment, tempered steel through a heart, leads to everlasting darkness. Stillness. Nothing. After the dance is over, all is done.

I digress. If you don’t fight in a karate movie, you live in the real world. You decay everyday. Many people do so purposefully, drink and drugs and sluggish lifestyles, as if moving slower or being less aware will keep death at bay. Maybe the huddled masses don’t think about their end. I wouldn’t know how to ask them. I just see death at all ends and find some sadness utterly senseless, sticking to you like burrs after a walk in the woods. My mind wanders but it’s all the same.

I want to go walk in the woods. In the fall, with leaves crunching underfoot. The fall is death that leads to life. Nature’s bed time, leaving only the evergreen insomniacs to watch over the rest of the forest. I want to feel the chill of fall and get lost in the trees, follow a creek for a mile then sit on a rock and watch the water carve ceaselessly all around it. I want to be water. Freezing and thawing, moving south to warmth then south to the cold again. To be a single drop and an entire ocean, to feel the life of fish wriggling through me, moving along their own chain and web. To feel the unknown depths, the mysterious contents along the crusts of the earth while reverberating the songs of lost whales against the hum of all the ocean’s freighters. Ahhh, to be water. To be all and everything, the known and the unknown. If I were water, I’d be the blood in your veins and the raindrops on foreheads. Creator of canyons, glacial companion, melted but never destroyed, burnt off to fall elsewhere. Water is life, water is earth. I want to be like water. 

Expulsion

I am a firm believer in the fact that the world has never been better than it is now, yet I’m jealous of older ages for a few large reasons. Mainly the fact that every book, movie and album I’ve ever loved is digital, immaterial, and easily lost. I’ll never have a shelf to pull nostalgia from to share, to say “this is what I listened to at this forgotten major point of my minor life”. I have to rack my mind and dredge out the innumerable old things worth to sieve out what’s worth remembering. The digital age gives a myriad of information but forces us to ask the question; what’s really worth remembering?

-Maxwell

Ultimates

Let’s say you’re in a golf cart with a drunk Floridian man with slightly grayed hair, brown leather skin, and he’s excitedly telling you about the young women who’ve regretted waking up with him. His driving doesn’t seem to be affected by the drink. He presumably does all of his driving while drinking, probably only spends a few minutes a day away from the bottle. Maybe he wakes up and admires some girl who’s sure to be hungover soon, walks to his bar and mixes a Bloody Mary, hides his valuables if he has any, then goes to walk along the beach, or maybe take his golf cart to whatever bar he frequents. You hope he’s kind enough not to make this poor girl witness him. Or maybe she should see what she gets herself into by drinking too much. Something led her there.
Anyways, now you’re riding with him. You’ve been to three bars tonight and only met one or two semi-interesting persons. All you’ve seen in Ft. Lauderdale are women paid to wear skimpy outfits in an attempt to usher you into their bar and grey-haired men flirting with them. You walk past the girl in the thing and try to shake the feeling that you’re doing this all wrong. 
You stop for pizza and your friends attempt to chat up some girls outside the place. They’re waiting to meet someone. No one seems to go out to meet new people. You guess the old man must have run off to buy another pint of vodka but the cart is still sitting there. In how many cities could a scene like this play out? You wonder how to inscribe meaning to it all. Maybe you should have drunk more to stop the wondering. 
Do you smoke cigarettes? Do you chat up ladies in bars? Do you sit at home and watch netflix every Friday? Or maybe just play video games. Or an old school board game party? 

Whatever you do, I hope it does you well. I hope you don’t find yourself in a golf cart with a drunk man yelling at young girls. I’m not saying it’s not fun. The drunk man may be unsettling but he is wild and entertaining. He’s happy as an alcoholic can be. You could claim the front seat and feel the wind in your hair, shout your own wind out to remember that you’re alive and infinite and all that living goodness. It’s a euphoria. But it’s not the ultimate. It’s just another stepping stone.

So whatever you’re doing on a Saturday night, I hope you’ve thought about it, I hope it’s taking you somewhere, and I hope it’s somewhere you want to go. 

Greetings from under the sunshine.

-Maxwell

Notes for a Friend going to Europe

Have a journal and let it be more than another weight in your backpack. Write every day so that those days may stay alive on the pages where you left them, waiting to be lived again. I’m not saying you won’t remember it if you don’t, you are doing something memorable, but you can’t share that memory the same way you can share your notebook. You may sit at a bench and admire the sunset over a building, contemplate your life as it stands, but unless you sit and dialogue with yourself, put things down, you will likely forget the enormity of the life you are currently living. By all odds, you won’t be able to live this life long; therefore you should live it to the utmost possible. Write something down every day. How you felt when a Spanish girl walked by you and made eye contact. The brutality of your hangover and how you couldn’t pay attention on the walking tour because the throb took up your whole mind. Write about a new friend or the smelly guy who finally left the hostel. Write about how you lost a day to a bad piece of chicken, or your view from the window of a bus. 

It could all happen, it probably has all happened to someone, but it has not yet happened as it will happen to you. So take a few moments every late afternoon, before you go out to dinner or to drink with whatever new friends you’ve made, sit alone with a notebook and let your hand let out what it needs to say. Just do me a favor, and don’t say it too much better than I can.

Have fun, be smart. Don’t trust everyone, but don’t be afraid to trust someone who seems trustworthy, time does not quantify how well you know someone and every stranger has the potential to be more. Let locals show you their spots. Always try to remember where you are, even when you know it’s futile. Memorize minor landmarks. You’re going to get lost in big cities but smile and ask for help and you’ll always find your way. Don’t be afraid to go out walking alone and don’t be afraid to waste your money getting drunk with people you don’t really know; it’s one of the best ways to get to know them.

Drink cheap red wine on the Seine. Bring bread.

Do a pub crawl through the red light district in Amsterdam.

Spend money you don’t have on a rooftop London bar.

Go out for tapas with a big group of people in Barcelona. Listen to conversations you don’t understand and try to guess what they’re talking about.

Go to an underground bar in Prague. Eat a shit ton of food everywhere and don’t be afraid to miss big sights for littler things with good people. People make the place, whether it’s just enjoying yourself or six drunk Australians telling competing stories.

If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before I’m excited for you. I’m probably a bit jealous of you too. Tell me something you learned there but keep some secrets for yourself. Smile, and talk to the person next to you on the plane.

Greetings from far away, sorry I can’t be there with you.

-Maxwell

Lost in Lille part I

I arrive at the train station in Lille, sober after the contemplations of aging perspective. I finish my orangina, scarf down my pain de chocolate and come to a sudden realization; I have absolutely no clue how to get to the Hostel Gastama. I step out into the drizzling rain, thankful my friend Anthony had given me a black quilted jacket, feeling representative of Cincinnati with my accompanying orange pants. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been lost in a strange city that you’re really only visiting because you met three pretty French girls told you to, but it can be quite overwhelming. Take trying to find the science building on your first day at college, enlarge your campus to fit a million people, add a language barrier and subtract almost everyone you know. You talk your first few steps. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. But you always find your way.

I had briefly checked the written directions on Gastama’s website while waiting in Gare du Nord and could only remember something about Rue Saint Anthony. I set off straight and as the road banked left I found myself in the rectangle of the Grande Place, old brick buildings surrounding a circular fountain, surrounded by Parisians spending their weekends behind their cameras.

Being lost makes me hungry, I find a small over-priced patisserie and buy a sandwich, delighted to find they heat them in a Panini press, and I go sit with it outside and let its heat combat the wind, enjoy the only 5 minutes of sunshine I will see that day.

I stand up, full-bellied and ready to continue, when I spot a woman with a green backpack, a call sign for world-wanderers. Knowing there’s only one hostel in Lille and lacking better alternatives, I decide I might as well follow her in hope of at least being led to one of the three streets I recognize. We walk at least a mile and I make a note of a sign pointing to the tourist center. We walk another eight blocks and I can’t help but realize this is now a purely residential area, nowhere suitable for a “hip” new Hostel and much too modern to be the old quarter.

So me and my backpack and my aching feet in shoes unfit for walking however many kilometers I’ve walked, we find a bench and I sit and contemplate, see skinny girls pass with rolling suitcases clinking on the brick paths.

I suppose this is the risk. They say when you get lost you can really find yourself. I only really find myself thinking, “that’s a load of crap, all you really find is that you’re bad with directions, that you should probably research or prepare or something and epiphanies don’t come every time you get lost.” I sit and chew on that and just have to say aloud “fuck that”.

I get back up and I find a small park and I find an old lady and I ask her in my pidgin French if she has heard of Hostel Gastama. She hasn’t but speaks English, and tells my best bet is the tourist center. So I make it there and I try to guess the wifi password and it is a hopeless prospect. I wait in line behind four elderly Dutch tourists. I ask my questions to a kind well-spoken French lady who gives me a map and I realize the green backpack led me in the complete wrong direction but it doesn’t matter. Traveling is mostly walking and to be lost in a city is to be intimate with it.

I follow the map north, take a street right then turn left after the opera. I end up going the wrong direction again on Rue des Canonniers, end up in Parc Henri Matisse.

I’ve been to something like 50 cities and never been so lost as this. I hide my worries from the locals lounging between the tree-lined paths. I weave through gravel and mud, erupt through the trees, and find the traveller’s oasis. McDonald’s. Free wifi and western restrooms in over 30,000 locations worldwide. What I used to consider the worst blight upon the gastronomic world has become my bastion, and I laugh as I sit on a wet bench.

8% battery on my phone, I connect to the wifi and open google maps for guidance. Three turns, 15 minutes through an antiquated shopping district and I have found my new weekend home, Gastama. I pause for a cigarette before facing whatever new possibilities may come, and hope I am no longer lost in Lille.