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.

Ride Around

I spent 3 short days in Chicago, drinking and going to restaurants, listening to what David and Dylan said about the restaurant business. Things like the different computer programs they use, they likened the most popular software to Monsanto, a comparison I never could have imagined but I liked the comparison as I thought it over, drinking some cocktail called “The Bees Knees” and seeing the curly haired waitress put my order into the computer, I wondered if anything I was going to eat started as a Monsanto seed.

I had meant to take a bus up to Chicago but, in having lunch with my mother and sister, stopping to buy my sister liquor, I missed my bus. I was excited to go up so I reasoned myself into driving, an activity I thoroughly hate. Why spend six hours with your mind stuck primarily on staying between two lines, on going fast enough to make good time but not so fast you get ticketed, on background music and dangerous texts? There’s a net gain in giving up the freedom of making whatever turns or stops wanted for the freedom to inhabit a small space with a book and a computer, maybe even a wifi connection, and doing whatever you want with that. I like public transportations, to allow some bus driver to whisk you wherever you wish to go and maybe me a strange or interesting stranger on the way. So which method grants greater freedom?

Chicago was good and great. A mixture of Boarding School nostalgia (David was my roommate and inside jokes abound) and the pleasure and scorn of new people. Some woman seemed to hate me just for being there, I repeatedly catch the eye of another girl from two booths over but the eye contact isn’t enough to rouse my from listing old nicknames.

We drink and drink more and talk to their friends who tend bar and find price reductions. We go back to David’s apartment and stay up until there are people running on the track at the East Bank Club and at that point in the night you aren’t even tired, you reason with yourself to go to sleep and try to watch the smoke rising around skyscrapers, hoping that that will somehow make you tired. It had become Friday by that point, though I think the date should change at daylight rather than midnight because that’s what really feels like a day.

We eat at a butcher and watch House of Cards and play video games, repeat the last night, sleep more and wake up with food on all our minds. We have sushi at a wonderful Japanese place called Friends with friendly waitresses and round furniture, off of Dylan’s extensive list of Chicago’s best restaurants (based off of several yelp reviews apiece). Fresh fish and hangovers are an uncommon combination but the cleanliness of the meal gives me a feeling of the same and as we walked the cold air and a single inhale of a cigarette deadened the rest of the pounding in my head. A few more sedentary hours of basking in enjoyable presences and I go to my car, let it thaw and make my way home through a light gray snow, making a stop in Indianapolis to say hello to some of the boys I spent my first (and only) year of college with and one of my best friends. They live with school, beer and Mario kart and it’s a life I very nearly fit in to, if I could have only done my work as I was told to. I still have nostalgia and what if fantasies of how I would have fit into and changed that life. I think even if I got past that first year, I would have inevitably wanted to take off. Even now, after being home for 200 days, I am already struck by wanderlust as if it’s a genetic disease in me.

I got home from Chicago and Indianapolis, slept a few hours, woke up, drove to the airport and eventually found myself in Las Vegas, a queer city with some pretty parts. I doubt I’ve ever drank so much champagne and would be hard pressed to drink so much again. I’m home a week then head to New York.

 

Greetings from another intermediary.

-Maxwell

Intermittent interims

The daydream planning of a possible trip is in many ways more fun than any trip’s reality. It is an exercise in possibility, the way you hope travel can be, but daydreams are infinite and our actions are, sadly and presently, singular. I like to scour websites like workaway and think about what might happen if I spent a month or more living and working with this or that person. I like thinking about all the places you might go when you leave your given place in your hometown to see what else exists. Something about all the possibilities of living with no ties, against the consigned monotony of class and work everyday and a year long lease on an apartment or the commitment of your dorm room or Greek house.  

I am in my apartment now. Note; I am a poor interior decorator. It’s not really something I care about. I have some old paintings and a “don’t tread on me” flag that I’ve put up. I’ve got liquor bottles on various shelves and counters, clothing all over the floors and furniture. I suppose if you have no reason to care about mess and no one to force you into caring for them, well there’s no real reason to do anything about it. I can’t explain why I’ve always found clutter to be so reassuring, it’s as if there’s mystery in mess.

Anyways, a hometown and an apartment, I can’t stay here long. I can never stay anywhere too long, or if I can I never have. I’m called in three directions and held down in none. I’m trying to quit my habit of calling things double-edged swords; there’s good and bad to everything and habit. I have fun going out where I only know a few people but end up talking to many.

I have an itinerary for December that segues to January. I have plans big plans for February through summer, to go and stay in France and Spain through the summer. Now I’ve done one sort of “round the world” trip and I do it all in stages or chapters, I’ll start off visiting friends in the states (I have stories from visiting New York a month ago) and then I’ll buy a ticket out of the country after I’m used to bouncing around and debating beds. I’m going to Chicago on Thursday. I’m going to Las Vegas on Saturday. I’ll be home a few days after Vegas then will go to New York for my third time this year. New York is splendid and wonderful and I couldn’t be more excited for that. I nearly had plans to stay in New York until New Year’s but somehow I’ll be flying to Cincinnati the day after Christmas and flying to Florida the day after that. Oh, the struggle. I suppose it will be nice to see some sun. I want to ride a jet ski over a wave with a crest like a sharp hill. An ephemeral hill. Or intermittent ephemeral ones. A constant influx of ephemeral hills that I totter over at 30 miles per hour. This is how I day dream.

That is my mental preparation. And this is my verbal preparation. I have an internal struggle, a recurring debate with myself over the fact that I have this website-the fact that I enjoy writing about my life much more than I like talking about it. Things are so complicated when you talk but if you can properly lay a story then it’s all linear. I don’t know how much I should write in here or how truthful I should be. I suppose I’ll have to decide as I go, though it could be a lovely thing to share with you, my dear persistent reader, to share all that I go through.  So do stay tuned, or perhaps I can remind you if I decide to write again.

 

 

Greetings at 3 a.m.

-Maxwell

Observations on a Train

We will have to jump to this point in the story of my life, and I hope it can be a prelude to a coming piece. 

I had spent too much time in Paris. I arrived, met a friend and another, left quickly to celebrate Queen’s Day in Amsterdam, then returned to bid my friends farewell and get to know the Romantic Capital on my own. I believe I spent 3 weekends there, but time got to all sides of me and I’m not really sure how long that particular dream lasted. I remember one great night, right after I arrived back from Amsterdam.

I’m at my hostel bar alone. People make me nervous, but I know the workers and they give me specials on drinks, which lends me intrigue. Tip: Always befriend the workers.

There is a blonde girl talking to an older australian boy behind me. I interject and introduce myself. We all drink for half an hour or so and then somehow the Australian is ousted and this lovely Swedish girl who had just spent 3 months working at a hostel in Barcelona, is asking me to take her out that night, me in my black t-shirt with a pocket, tight grey pants and black flip-flops. Her in a green dress that clashed against her blue eyes and a small coat. We go to my favorite bar area, Bastille, and it is uneventful. A bar tender pours liquor all over the bar and sets it on fire. We warm ourselves beside it and head back out. A French man comes up and introduces himself to us, and he is outraged to find me wearing flip flops. Such disrespect! And with such a pretty woman. If there was one conversation I wish I could have recorded, it was this one. I try to explain, “I must wear them, I have an infected wound on my foot from a skating accident in Thailand (great to say) and shoes pain me so!” But he can only reply, “no, no, no, I don’t know how you do in your country but this is Paris! You must respect the city, you must respect your female friend. Why would she want to go out with someone disgusting like you!? It is pitiful. I do not understand.”

He repeats himself, in nicer language than I credit to him, for around 10 minutes. We excuse ourselves. It is 2 a.m. and we are low on money and we want to go out in a better area. We get in a cab and go home and then I see my friend, a Hostel worker, and he tells me the absolute place to be is an Irish bar in Montmartre. My swedish friend wants to get drunk. We get in another cab at 2:30 and go all the way to the north of the city, find the bar, stumble in, and we find all of my friends who work at the hostel.

I buy a drink, a long island without any coke in it. I spend 15 minutes quaffing this, sharing with the swedish girl, and reveling in the unexpected appearance of almost everyone I know in Paris.
The bar has to close, and the dreadlocked hostel worker tells us to follow him, he knows a place where we can keep drinking. While we are walking, the little French bartender from my hostel steals me from my Swedish friend. I always smile at her at breakfast but she always looks away quickly, I had surmised that she didn’t notice me. Someone told me earlier that she is unofficially dating the muscular Romanian bartender. He’s intimidating but for some reason seemed to be the most likely to sell me a cheap drink.

So she comes up and grabs me, I never knew her name, and she takes me in an alleyway and begins kissing me. She kisses me for a two minute eternity. Then she shushes me and pushes me back out to find my friend.

So we end up at an apartment building, and the dreadlocked boy climbs a fence, lets us in. Breaks open a door, lets us in. Shushes us as we walk up two flights of stairs, and then he pushes open a door to a barren and unfurnished three bedroom apartment, disappears in the kitchen, and comes back with two bottles of vodka. I take several swigs while eying the cute french girl, while failing to realize that a beautiful swedish girl would like to be kissing me as well. How terrible the clarity of hindsight is. 

We all stay up drinking and talking until the sun comes up. I, happily, can not recall a single word that was said. Two girls from Alabama took it upon themselves to bring me home, and I decide the pinnacle of a good night is not having to take a cab home. We hop on the metro, I tell them about how I must be in love, and they assure me they’ve gotten me out of trouble. Romania no longer sells me cheap drinks, and the french girls’ stare lingers at breakfast.

Paris was good to me, but I had to go. I packed my bag, walked the 10 minutes to the metro, and took it to Gare du Nord. I bought a train ticket for 80 euro and in moments I was seated on the train, nothing in my stomach but some pan du chocolate and an orangina. I dreamily watched the other passengers-Observations on a Train.

 

Every time the boy rides the train, his chair will be just a bit smaller, his view out the window a bit better. He’s too caught up in the excitement of the world and his new ability to speak and to count and to perceive to notice. His mother is too caught up in trying to make him eat and nap. She exasperatingly fails to notice. But I am listlessly observing, book on my lap, remembering the days when, at half my current size, my house was a cavern and adults were odd-intentioned giants. Savor childhood. It may not last.

Loved and Lost (fiction)

I coughed. It’s hard to think when coughing. The only thing worse than the coughing fits was when the fat nurse would come in and close my blinds, then I couldn’t not think. It’s better to look out the window at the traffic and see cars reflecting the overcast sky as they’re stuck in traffic. If there aren’t any semi-trucks then I have a clear view of the tree across the road. The tree and the window are my weather service, my connection to the outside world. The television gives me headaches, so I just look out to see if the branches are swaying with a breeze or bouncing with raindrops. I miss the days when Selma and I would sit cross-legged across from each other, under the big oak which was even then older than I am now. The summer rain would come but fail to bother us; the air was warm and so was her smile, and you knew it never rained for long and all the flowers cropping the path home would open up, shake off and face the sunlight. Now when the rain comes no one smiles at me, I have nothing but achy joints and fear that the fat nurse would come in and close my blinds, make me eat some pasty sandwich.

When you’re young, you can run and escape things, you have freedom with your health and your legs and a whole world full of things to hate and things to fall in love with, after the war, at least. Now I’m stuck in the same damn room with the same damn memories of the same dead woman who will never seem to fully leave me, the same damn aches in a body that doesn’t look the same as it did in the memories. That’s why I like to see the tree, growing old peacefully, shedding its leaves every year and growing them back. I like to imagine it sheds all its memories of the year and gets to start again every spring. My leaves just fall off of me to reveal a barren stump, only a few swirling memories off in the wind and the rest, left.

The nurse comes back in-I yell at her, throw my sandwich, accuse her of eating all the decent food. The same old song and dance.

Now I survived a real war and I survived a colder one and those I’m fine with, but why I had to survive a death, why my Selma couldn’t survive her personal war, well that plagues me, has plagued me for 20 years, and damn it if cruelty hasn’t made me a bit cruel. No wonder my children don’t visit. No wonder that fat cow of a nurse stares at me with fire in her eyes. Even death seems to shun me, when I’m calling out to the bastard with open arms. I’m tired. At least when I sleep I don’t dream.

And the old bastard fell asleep, and the cow of a nurse came in and put a pillow on his face and pressed down, one tear in her eye falling like a warm raindrop.