5.28.2008

Where are you going?





Prospect Park Brooklyn, NY

5.24.2008

Boxing gloves, coon skin hat, and boots

There's so much that I treasure about my friendship with Cathy. Her generosity, honesty, loyalty, her memory foam mattress when I spend the night, her record collection (Carl Douglas - Kung Fu Fighting, Joan Jett, Ike & Tina - 'Nuff Said).

I like that in her Flatbush neighborhood we get free dinners at the new French restaurant because she set up the owner's lease, she shoots the shit with the cops at the train station, and when a kid pets the dog we're walking, Cathy says, "Hey man, when are you giving back the Homies that you stole from me?"

I could go on. Or I could just show you this photo from her apartment, which says a lot, too.

BOXING GLOVES, COON SKIN HAT, WICKED BOOT COLLECTION. That's my girl right there.


5.20.2008

Dear Berlin









Goodbye.

Ich werd' zum Zörbiger



Not only am I not buying this product but I'm never eating strawberry jam again.

5.17.2008

Hey baby, you wanna f*ck?

I couldn't say my old address, number 64, until Zan tipped me off. It sounds like "fear and sexy". Vier und sechzig. This, conceptually, was great to know. I moved then into a new apartment on another street, number 66, and now live at sechs und sechzig. SEX and SEXY.

"Wow," I thought, "My new address is hot. I have an extremely hot address."

Which also makes me think I should consider getting some new hobbies besides having ridiculous conversations with myself all day long.

I was walking down the stairwell yesterday when I hit one of the landings and noticed that someone had scrawled the word fuck on the windowsill.

Just that one word. Not fuck you or fuck off. Just the plain old f-word.

One more flight down were three small black letters on the wall: sex.

Someone around here is preoccupied. Or maybe not someone. Everyone! Maybe humankind is a bit preoccupied. It's caught my attention that the word fuck often doesn't get translated out of English. It has its equivalent in other languages but in the parts of the world that I've been to, I've heard people say it just like me.

And we know I don't shy away from the f-word, though my mom wishes I would quit sticking mother- on the front of it so often.

I've never, however, heard the f-word abused as much as I did in Ecuador. The Quito streets were an exercise in withstanding daily verbal assaults and I dealt with it according to my mood.

I usually ignored the dregs who hissed, "Hey baby, you wanna fuck?" as I passed them on the sidewalk. Sometimes I met their stares with the coldest, hardest, daggered eyes I possessed.

I found that rage and indignation provoked them. Sometimes I couldn't resist giving someone the finger but that usually made them laugh, "Yeah!" No, dude, NO.

And then there was the day that Taryn and I bought water guns and shot men who talked to us like that. This was incredibly satisfying for a few hours.

In Berlin I've had very few incidents of street molestation. Whatever men are thinking, they've kept it to themselves and I appreciate that. I appreciate not feeling myself brace and stiffen when passing men on the sidewalk. Sheer presence hasn't felt like an attack. Eye contact hasn't felt like murder.

There was one guy in Charlottenburg who followed me up the street, asking me questions about myself. I was about to go from politely dismissive to "Get the fuck away from me, shitspeck" when he exclaimed, "But your hair is beautiful!"

And I couldn't help it; I started laughing. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that my beautiful hair negates everything I've said to you up until now. When I recovered and again said no, he tried one more time:

"But I want you to."

This guy is a fucking idiot. What I thought was, "You have no idea how irrelevant that is to me." Clearly I can't say that in German, given that I can't say anything involving verbs, adjectives, or conjunctions. I deal strictly in nouns.

So I got my sharp-armed serial killer eyes out of wherever they've been hiding and gave him a nice long look at what it would be like if I went Chung Moo on his sensitive regions.

5.16.2008

Photographing smells

I stepped onto the sidewalk just after a downpour. The air smelled fresh and green and thick and gooey. It smelled like snails.

I associate the smell of heavy rain with snails from the day in elementary school that it poured and I stood by a stone wall next to the playground with other kids, filling our upside-down umbrellas with snails. There were hundreds of them. And they stunk.

But that's what nine-years-old is ABOUT. I couldn't keep one hermit crab or goldfish alive much less one hundred snails. I slimed my umbrella into disuse.

The smell of today's downpour hit me as I stepped outside and my immediate reaction was to reach for my camera. TO TAKE A PICTURE OF THE SMELL.

As I began to unzip my backpack, I remembered that smells don't photograph well. That I really wasn't going to be able to post this, or any, smell on a blog. And part of me thought well, why not?

You can send a song to someone six hours away. You can video chat with someone 25,000 feet above earth. Jocardo held a book over his computer's camera last week so I wouldn't see his underwear when he stood up. You really shouldn't have to worry about seeing someone's underwear in New York when you are in Europe and yet, YOU DO.

There are grounds for my instinct to photograph the air. But I'll try to keep it in check until someone comes up with some new smell-related software.

5.14.2008

Hanging with the dead



People who ride their bikes to the cemetery to talk and read and eat and nap are my kind of people. 

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

One of the best things Joanna and I did in Copenhagen besides -

1. Drink too much beer and schnapps AKA "snaps"
2. Ride our bikes home drunk
3. Picnic in the park with brie and plums

- was roam around the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum.

The museum was founded by brewer Carl Jacobsen and he named it after his beer and then tacked on Glyptotek. Glyptotek means collection of sculptures in Danish and, lordy, does the place live up to its name. Roman and Greek statues were literally STUFFED into some of the rooms, there were so many. They began to look like storage.

"Goddamn, the Romans kept busy," Joanna and I said while wandering past ANOTHER poor statue missing its nose and marble penis.

I was happy to see an old favorite, Auguste Rodin, but even happier to discover Zevs, the anonymous French street artist.

Because one is not expecting to see video of a guy with leopard-print pantyhose over his face spray painting a bullet hole on the head of a billboard model in the middle of a statue exhibit. But, hell yeah!

Zevs named himself after a train that almost ran him down when he was tagging in Paris. He inspired the term VISUAL KIDNAPPING in Germany when he cut a model's figure out of a giant poster in Berlin's Alexanderplatz.

He spray paints around shadows in city streets and makes corporate logos ooze slime and I imagine generally has a lot of fun creeping around under the cover of darkness.

This part of the Zevs exhibit is called Serial Ad Killer and is all public interventions and video documentation. The video screens are mounted on walls behind statues like Perseus Slaying Medusa, The Newly-Created Eve, and Narcissus Regarding His Reflection in the Spring.

Another room looped through a video called The Homeless & The Shadows. It was shot at 3 am in New York City and shows Zevs painting the contours of a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk and the shadows around him. On the wall next to the video hangs the 1859 portrait by Edouard Manet of a vagrant, The Absinthe Drinker.

But by far, the trippiest most epileptic seizure-inducing space in the Electroshock exhibit is the pitch black room hung with mirrored portraits of famous figures, illuminated and obscured by flashing photographic strobes.

Joanna and I stood in front of each and managed to identify some of the faces - Superman, Marilyn Monroe, James Morrison, Einstein - but were stumped by one. Maybe if we'd stood there for ten more minutes we could have figured out it was Che Guevara but I wasn't that interested in having a full-blown acid flashback so we opted to cheat and look in the museum store book.

For more videos of Zevs attacking the museum, go here.

5.13.2008

Anyone know how to sing?

The last thing I did in Berlin before catching a flight to Copenhagen was get a DRUM LESSON.

Gasp! How long have I wanted to play drums? Since high school.

After I got kicked out of piano lessons for my bad attitude (not practicing, sitting sullenly on the bench, poking keys with zero animation whatsoever), my mom gently steered me towards the guitar.

We bought a red electric guitar and amp and I proceeded to learn the most uninspiring song on the face of the universe, "Country Dance". This song that did not go well with an electric guitar.

I eventually got an acoustic guitar but for some reason that didn't make me want to play Country Dance, either. I couldn't see a light at the end of the Country Dance tunnel. I put in appearances at a few twangy recitals and was finally allowed to quit. I JUST WASN'T MUSICAL.

Except. Every time I went to a show at Bogart's, my neck and arms broke out in goosebumps at a good drum beat. I was in a constant state of shiver with the drums. Something that never happens with guitars.

I now appreciate the piano from afar and when I stay at friends' homes who play - Gail, Rem, Jon Hudson - I think a little Sunday morning piano is nice. Lovely, in fact. But when I sit on the bench, I'm instantly over it.

So I've made this joke for like 15 years now about how I'm going to be a drummer in a girl band. 80% joke, 20% sign me up.

Last week I was talking to Aidan, the drummer for Long Walk Home, and he offered to teach me some beats. I put my hands on my cheeks and opened my mouth like a caricature of someone being surprised and excited. And then covered my eyes like a little kid.

We went to his studio, a room with two kits in it. He showed me how to hold the sticks and where to put my feet and we sat across from each other.

"One ee and uh Two ee and uh Three ee and uh Four ee and uh," I counted out loud.

I tried this and I tried that and it was going pretty well. I only hit the sticks over my head or stuck them in my ears out of frustration once or twice and eventually I was working on a drum & bass beat that I managed to hold for a while while Aidan WENT CR-A-ZY playing over it.

Oh, my lord. The only reason I stopped, besides the fact that I was getting confused and had taken up a lot of Aidan's studio time, was that I broke down laughing because it was so insanely fun.

"So, uh," I asked as I was leaving, "How much does a basic kit cost?"

"About four hundred dollars," he said.

I put that into terms I understand: that's a few pairs of boots. A few pair of boots I would sacrifice to be the drummer in a middle-aged grrl band.

This weekend Joanna and I biked around and wandered into Christiania, a community within Copenhagen where people have been squatting and being communal and peaceful and not paying taxes within a cloud of pot smoke since 1971.

I'd made a few comments about how I wanted to ogle the separatists but I knew I had to be COOL about it. Christianians are down with anyone coming into their community as long as you don't take photos and act like a jackass.

We were walking along the trail when music started up behind the trees. Metal, punk, something. I would have expected more lutes or dulcimers but this was cool, too.

video

I took a quick video when no one was around and we made our way to the gravel garden where a stage was set up. Benches and tables and boulders surrounded a giant Buddha-head statue.

We sipped beers and I nodded towards Buddha and asked Joanna, "Do you think he likes this music?"

I wish I liked smoking pot because this would have been the perfect time to light it up.

And even though I'm pretty much never in the mood for metal, I looked down and noticed my leg was going off to the drum beat. I told Joanna that I want to play drums and said she wanted to learn the harmonica.

"Well, start now!" I said, "You can play harmonica in my band!"

Which is the second suggestion I had for Joanna this weekend, the other being that she develop a character based on herself called the Swedish Gardener. The gardener would be just as goofy as Swedish Chef but she'd also scrunch her face up all funny like Joanna does when she's thinking hard.

And of course would say lots of those Scandinavian vowels that only come out if you're using the muscles buried all the way in the bottom of your throat.

We begin rehearsal this time in 2009, Joanna. See you then.

And Aidan, THANK YOU.

5.12.2008

The sniff terrorist

Today Joanna went back to Sweden and I checked into a cheaper hotel. Since I'm not splitting the cost with her tonight I thought I'd find a hostel and save money.

I looked online and found a lot of hostels, some of which offered 34-BED ROOMS. Um, no.

Since I'm not a) an orphan or b) working in a refugee camp, 34 people in a room is kind of a lot. I thought it was a FEW too many until I remembered the Prague hostel and I decided it's 33 people too many.

The Prague hostel, Sir Toby's, was great, actually: bar in the basement, kickass breakfast, high ceilings, wood floors and huge windows. The last time I regularly stayed in hostels was ten years ago in South America.

Since then I've shared lots of space but usually with people I know. As a COTA volunteer in Guatemala I shared rooms - in hotels, hospitals, and army barracks - but that was work. I was just grateful that I didn't have a cleft palate or an untreated medical condition. I was glad that no one was going to hardware store to buy a saw to amputate MY limb.

There were four bunk beds in my room at Prague and it was supposed to be a female room though I couldn't help but notice that a boy snuck into some girl's bunk and that there was an AWFUL LOT OF GIGGLING going on.

I didn't care; I slept like a MF. The first night.

The second night I kept waking up because someone wrapped everything she owned in plastic bags and went on a hardcore rummaging binge. I don't know what the fuck she was looking for but she might as well have wrapped all her belongings in 747 engines, it was so loud.

Fine! Whatever! That's why it's cheap.

Until someone else, a Columbian chick who seemed nice which made me feel bad for wanting to punch her so much, kept SNIFFING. She sniffed eight thousand times between 6 and 8 am. And I know a sniff doesn't sound like a big deal but in a quiet room, it is. It really is.

I laid there, having been woken up by a fucking sniff, my stomach knotting more with each snotty inhale. If I'd had a tissue box I would have thrown it at her head. I considered going to the bathroom, grabbing some paper, wrestling her to the ground, and making her blow like she was a little kid.

In the end, I opted for passive over aggressive and simply got up and took a shower. I may have flounced out of bed but I'm not sure.

Tonight, in Copenhagen, I have a walk-in-closet-sized room ALL TO MYSELF. It reminds me a tiny bit of the hotel my mom checked us out of five minutes after checking into in 1985 when we were in DC, the Harrison Hotel: rattly elevator, graffiti walls, and bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

I remember that light bulb being the last straw for my mom. I'm sure the graffiti wasn't a nice touch, either, although I love it now, it makes me feel like we were in Breakin, but the bulb reminded my mom of the shitty places she stayed in as a student in Paris.

And showing up to a seedy hotel with her kid, who happened to be wearing a sailor suit, just wasn't going to cut it.

Opportunist duck



I wish my camera had a better zoom because this is my favorite duck in the world. Joanna and I were riding on the bike path and we noticed a toy sailboat cruising along. I made a comment about how extremely picturesque everything was and we stopped and both saw the duck approach the boat and hop on the back for ride. This is a duck that does not pass up a good opportunity.

Too short too wide Cure shirt

I just spent the weekend with Joanna Friberg. I haven't seen Joanna since I was 25. Before that, we hadn't seen each since we were teenagers.

And it was funny, hanging out with a friend with whom most of my memories are rooted in the 14-15 aged years. I realized how much bullshit my brain must regularly retain without my awareness.

Joanna and I were walking down the street and all of a sudden I remembered the Swedish word for beard.

"Skägg!" I told her. "That's how you say beard in Swedish."

She started laughing, "Yes, it is."

I remembered that skägg was the first Swedish word I learned when Joanna arrived in Cincinnati in 1989 and that I wrote it in a red and gold diary. I didn't remember WHY I needed to know the word for beard but Joanna did. She reminded me that both of our fathers shaved their beards that year. Which doesn't sound like a big deal but trust me, it was.

I'd never seen Bob Roncker without a bushy beard in my whole life so the morning I went in my parents' room and this stranger pulled the covers from his head and smiled at me like a circus clown was shocking. Dad, all those wild heaves and gasps I made while backing away from you? That's what trauma sounds like.

He shaved it on my birthday in March, which was a great present. For your 14th birthday, I'm gonna make you think your mom got you a new dad! The freaky guy with all the skin on his face! The fact that I was still talking about it when Joanna showed up that summer is an indication of how sensitive I was.

I remembered how I couldn't go into the Friberg's house in Göteborg without picking at least three handfuls of the cloudberries growing in the side yard and stuffing them in my mouth.

I remembered that Joanna was a New Kids On The Block fan and I asked her if she had a NKOTB shirt. I thought she did but was probably making that up because I really just wanted to imagine her in one and make fun of her. She said that, no, she didn't, but she DID have a Cure shirt that was way too short and way too wide and looked ridiculous and that was a good enough image for me.

I ALSO remembered that sometimes we meet people and they have an unintended and huge effect on us. For the two years before Joanna and the Swedish interchange group showed up in Cincinnati, I'd been spending a lot of time with the "cool" girls. I told Emily, another one of the girls who spent all summer at Clinton Hills Swim Club and all school year clawing her way up the social ladder, that I was doing an interchange.

"Oh," she said. "I wouldn't want to ruin my summer like that."

What? Because Sweden has a reputation for being so RUINOUS.

But before I even got the chance to be personally destroyed by the 20 hours of sunlight a day, beautiful natural environment, reindeer pizza, and blond people stripping everywhere, the Swedes came to Ohio. I took Joanna to the swim club and saw my "friends" through outsider eyes. And I made a decision, an important, simple decision. I wanted friends to be nice and if they weren't nice, I wasn't friends with them.

That summer after eighth grade, I didn't see much of those friends because I was with the Swedes and I didn't go back. If it hadn't been for Joanna, I might have later been a bulimic backstabbing soccer player. Instead I was a chubby 2-miler. A well-adjusted chubby 2-miler. The track team might not have been as cool but goddamn, it was funny. And nice. Thanks Joanna.

Waking up in Berlin

5.08.2008

German youth wearing gas mask

Today I took the train to the Olympic Stadium AKA Olympiastadion that was built for the 1936 Summer games.

My parents are going to the 2009 World Track & Field Championships in Berlin and I wanted to see how long it takes to get to the Stadium so that I can give them good advice on where to stay.

As I was walking from the train station to the Olympischer Platz, I passed two men holding hands and I thought that was nice. Then I walked behind a group of teenagers, one of whom was wearing a GAS MASK.

Um, what?

There wasn't a cloud in the sky of regular old water vapor much less a cloud of noxious gases or any obvious chemical warfare taking place.

Nope, it was a beautiful, bright, hot spring day, the kind of day that makes me fixate on beer gardens and feta salads, the kind of experience that would be completely f'ed up in a gas mask.

Oh well, I wore safety pins as earrings at one point and made up a fake band with Sunny called Jaysus and Jessica, the A in Jaysus being an anarchy symbol so I may know what that kid is going through.

After strolling down Jesse-Owens-Allee, I took the train to the beer garden. I busted out my order in German for a feta salad after rehearsing in line for ten minutes only to get a verbal slap down: they were out of feta.

Okay, I said, I'll have the salad with spargel even though for all I knew, spargel is German for dogshit. Bring it.

And they did: grilled white asparagus with the kind of lettuce English people call rocket, AND pumpkin seeds, AND strawberries. It was so good I would have spooned it through my gas mask if I'd needed.

o with a line through it

Tomorrow I go to Copenhagen, Denmark.

All I know about Copenhagen is that:

1. They do this a lot - ø - which is the most challenging letter I've faced since learning that ß is pronounced like an s.

I looked up ø and, wow, was that a mistake. I read that the ø is a monophthongal close-mid front rounded vowel and that to non-rhotic English speakers it sounds most like the vowel in "bird". At least I recognized one word in that sentence: BIRD.

ps: Am I rhotic?

Until I learn what the ø is called, and maybe after, too, I'm just going to call it o-with-a-line-through-it and avoid it at all costs. Or totally stalk it, I haven't decided.

2. Old King Christian IV's throne in Rosenborg Castle is made of solid gold and unicorn horns.

3. Joanna MF Friberg, who I haven't seen in eight years, is going to be there!

5.07.2008

fine line between funny and hate crime

I saw this on a blog and I laughed. I stole the image for National Emo Kid Beatdown Day and was going to say something funny about it yesterday.

Something about how I have no business talking since half the chicks in Berlin are sporting a variation of my hair and how some of my best friends have angular haircuts. How there's something vaguely hilarious about "expecting a punch in the face" for being emo, which almost no one I know can even define.

Except that an ACTUAL punch is not vague at all. It's very direct. And there are kids actually getting punched in the face for being emo which reads, to some, as homo.

I did some research and thought at first that the article I was reading, "Anti-Emo Riots Break Out Across Mexico" from March 27 was satire. But no, it was real news, reporting on how kids with shaggy, chunky hair and eye makeup are being attacked by other groups the reporter labeled as punks, metal heads, and gangsters.

Oh no no no.

Teenagers are notoriously insecure and some try to elevate themselves by putting others down but this isn't that. Or not JUST that. I read about the series of attacks, rampages, and police protection and then I went to a few blogs where I saw the words Anti-Emo Death Squad and Movimiento Anti Emo Sexual and I couldn't read anymore because I felt sick.

I thought about the stupid Tom Clancy book I tried to get into which was set in 1996 or something and the characters had just found out about this thing called the Internet and had these conversations, "Bill! I did not know you 'surf the web!'"

"I don't, but Jimmy's kid Billy does and hoo-boy is it interesting. Apparently neo-Nazis are spreading their vile words of hate on this newfangled thing called the Internet."

"What! Get Agent Blah-Blah on that right away!"

And I thought about how white shoelaces on combat boots means something in Germany, and I'm sure Germans get sick of this, but SORRY, IT HAPPENED AND IT WAS A BIG DEAL, I thought about Nazis and people who still believe in the same hate today and take it out on queers and anyone else who is different than them and I was sorry that I was going to make a joke about it.

a quick note on perspective

1. I really need to quit leaving my iPod in public places. This time I left it on the chair of a cafe near closing time, not in a large window on the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue where I'm sure it was snatched within five seconds of my wandering off in oblivion.

2. When I was packing up to leave the apartment today and realized what I'd done, I felt like a shithead because it's the second really nice iPod that my really nice boss Geoff has given me that I've lost.

3. I decided not to freak and walked slowly back to the cafe where I'd been the night before. I thought about my new bedtime book, The Kite Runner, and compared the loss of an iPod to rape and cowardice and cultural destruction.

4. I considered that maybe I should be less dependent on inanimate objects.

5. I wondered where I can get a new iPod. ASAP.

6. I got to the cafe and saw my iPod sitting on a shelf behind the counter. I'm gonna go read now.

5.06.2008

Getting to the Strandbad Wannsee

Berlin, you are KILLING ME.

I already think you're the greatest for all the reasons I've mentioned before. Now you're just rubbing it in. Berlin is New York without the things that drive me crazy in New York (expense, insane sense of urgency) and now I know that it's also Seattle without the things that drive me crazy in Seattle (everything besides the nature).

During Sunday's hash we stopped to scout out the trail at a small beach on a lake. I noticed that it was terribly pretty and that it reminded me of Seattle's Golden Gardens. I was distracted, though, because I was delirious from running on almost no sleep and because two boys laughed every time I wandered past their towel. I WAS drifting around in circles but that is how delirium manifests. By no means was it hilarious, boys.

This morning I woke to my alarm and jumped off the mattress that the Long Walk Home guys kindly laid out for me in their living room. I had an appointment to see the apartment that I'm renting my last week here. Right away I noticed that don't feel good. For no good reason my head was pounding and my thoughts were molasses-slow. I looked in the mirror and a puffy white balloon stared back. What the hell? This is no state in which to wander around the city or sit in a cafe and be thoughtful. Museums were out: my eyes were so swollen I would barely see the art through my fleshy slabs of eyelid. This is the kind of day I'd get hit by a tram because I was standing on the tracks for ten minutes looking at my fingernails.

I'LL GO BACK TO THAT LAKE. Yes. Just as soon as I figure out where it is and after I make an awesome impression on my future roommates.

I was early for my appointment so I went to a Turkish cafe around the corner and ordered a latte. I sat at the bar and had a nonsense-based conversation with the woman working. All we were able to establish in ten minutes of not speaking the same language was that I'm from America and she's from Turkey. I was listening to the Arabic music and concentrating on not falling off the stool when I noticed her pouring Wild Turkey for two men at the other end of the bar. They must have seen me noticing because they pitched a campaign for me to join them. In drinking Wild Turkey. In the morning.

"Nein," I said, "No puedo."

Oops, wrong language.

"Danke," I said, "Pero no puedo."

Goddamnit. I can't meet my new roommates smelling like bourbon at 11 am. I rallied and impressed even myself by my smooth chattiness at the apartment, holding it together just long enough to get back to the sidewalk where I can start crawling to the store to buy a towel for the beach.

Outside the department store in Hermannplatz, I see a punky street kid sitting on the sidewalk. Not a strange sight, all the usual punky street kid signs intact, pink hair and combat boots etc, except he and a little old lady are totally hitting it off, talking and laughing and smiling. She says bye and starts to move on and he sits there grinning to himself. Oh my god, I'm starting to feel better. I want to run over and give them both noogies. I love people much more than I hate them. Sometimes.

I have a towel, I have pecans, I have faith in humanity, I am SO READY.

I'm smiling as the train rumbles out of the city center but the hard part is still ahead because when I get off, I don't know where to go. The hash group got me to the beach after cutting through woods and trails for a half hour. Oh, lord. Am I going to have to hold up my towel and mime the backstroke for someone to point me in the right direction?

Unfortunately, no, because that would have been funny.

The Wannsee lakes are big and obvious and apparently well known. Maybe you've heard the 1951 hit Pack die Badehose ein (Pack Your Swimsuit), a "cheery tune about a group of children going swimming on a hot summer's day at the Wannsee" by Cornelia Froboess. No? Well, she won sixth place in the 1962 Eurovision Song Contest so I don't know why not.

I sit in the grass by the docks and eat my lunch and feel merry about all the sailboats nearby. I like boats a lot even though I have no idea what to do when I'm on them.

I see a bathroom and go to change into my swimsuit since I assume I can find the beach I was at before, the one with no facilities. Since I'm not Swedish I don't like to take my clothes off in front of perfect strangers.

I'm in the stall mid-change, the stall which I think I've locked, when the door swings open. I make a strangled AH-AH-AH noise and reach for the handle and make eye contact with a middle-aged man in blue pants. A facilities guy. Who has the WHOLE PICTURE on what I look like when I'm wearing nothing but a shirt and high tops. Zip.

It's not pretty. Tell me one person who looks good in just a shirt and high tops. Not that I wanted to look GOOD for the facilities guy, I'm just saying. There are naked looks that are more flattering. I'm so flustered by my flash that I forget to flush the toilet so after I've exited and am washing my hands as quickly as possible, he goes back in the stall and does it for me. Double my humiliation. I run out.

I don't see the little beach from Sunday anywhere so I hike further. Every time I try to cut down to the water, I run into a retaining wall or a rowing club or something that keeps me from making it to the shore. After awhile, the trail opens and I see a group of girls in suits going into the entrance of a brick building. This is promising so I get in line behind them and hand the woman money just to see what she'll give me in return. What she gives me is a day pass to the SWIM CLUB!

This is not what I was going for but it'll do. This is fancy, this has little cabana chairs that remind me of Beverly Hills 90210 and kiosks selling schnitzel. I was looking for the stretch of sand with a shed covered in graffiti and cigarette butts everywhere.

The best thing about this, though, is that it's in the city. It's at the end of the train line, but it's ON the line. It cost me less than three Euro to get here, to the Strandbad Wannsee, but if I didn't have three Euro I could still spend all day along the Spree and Havel rivers and by the canals in the central part of the city. There is water everywhere. I had no idea. Apparently, from Hamburg, in the north of the country, you can sail through Germany, passing Berlin on your way to the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

5.05.2008

You have small?

Today I left the room in Simone's apartment I rented for the last month and moved my bags into a living room.

When I told Charlie that I needed a place to stay for five days before I go to Copenhagen, he said I could stay with his Long Walk Home band mates.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yeah," He said, "You can stay there. And if they say you can't, I'll tell them I'm quitting the band."

WOW. Ha! Friends, that right there is LOYALTY.

To me, not to the band, sorry guys. It would suck to have your singer quit just weeks before the album comes out in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, huh?

This morning I went to the laundromat to wash my sheets for the person moving in to my old room. I approached the automated machine on the wall confident that I'd use it with ease.

This is an example of me being unreasonably optimistic since it only worked last time after I hit every single button. I didn't know which jab got me lucky, but whatever, I'd do it again.

Today there was an old man sitting on a bench next to the machine. I feigned casual and began stabbing everything in sight. Things progressed until I went to put my €10 bill in the bill slot and he started waving his hands around his head.

He said something in German and pointed to a blinking red light.

"I'm sorry," I said in German, "I don't speak German."

I'm getting tired of saying this.

He kept on. I smiled helplessly and tried to put my bill in the slot but in slow motion this time, while looking at him to gauge his reaction.

"Nein, Nein!" I got in return. Plus more hand waving. Okay. I'm getting that part. I just don't know why. I'm sure I put a bill in the last time.

An old lady comes over and shakes a handful of coins in my face. Ah. Only change today. Or the machine doesn't give change and I'll end up overpaying. Either way I'm not going to be responsible for this guy having a heart attack when I slip a bill in against his wishes.

To communicate that I don't have change, I hold my bill up and make a sad face. The lady points to a cafe. We chuckle and I run out to buy coffee and get change.

What I don't know is that change is the most coveted thing in the whole wide world and I'm about to enter a serious battle of the wills. The coffeeshop won't give me coins so I move on. At least I'm caffeinated and fueled up for the battle ahead.

At the corner store, I hold up a five and say, "You have small?"

"Nein!" The cashier barks.

Al-RIGHT, sheesh.

To the drugstore. If the drugstore doesn't work, this will begin to get old. Because the only other option on the block is an Italian goods store and it will be irritating to buy pasta in order to do my damn laundry. I don't even like pasta that much.

In the drugstore, I pick out toothpaste and an energy bar. I am calculating how much I need to spend to get the most coins and fewest bills back.

I recognize the cashier because once she pounced on me and practically put me in a headlock. That time, I was innocently paying and pulling out my change purse when she heard all the coins rattling. Little hairs sprouted on the back of her hand and she salivated on the conveyor belt and begged me to pay in coins. Which was fine, THEN.

Today I played it cool. I got out my ten and when she asked for coins I made a regretful, resigned face like, "God, I really wish I did. IF ONLY I HAD COINS."

She bought it and gave me the coins I needed. I dropped them loosely in the pocket of my backpack so I wouldn't have to get out the lie-exposing change purse.

When I got back to the laundromat, the old man was watching my bag and I shook my new coins in my hand and smiled at him like "Aw, yeah" and he looked really happy for me.

A f'ing American who writes a blog

I didn't think I'd go to hash yesterday. I'd only slept for two-and-a-half hours, from 8 am to 10:30 am, and I wanted to stay in bed.

I'm on the Berlin Hash message board now and it's been funny this week to get emails from people with hash names, "Hey Racing Lobster, thanks so much..." or "No problem, G-spot, see you then..." I was too new to hashing to get a hash name yet; Too bad they weren't there when I accidentally flashed my vagina at the janitor, that probably would really have hurried that process along.

Ten minutes before I needed to leave the house to make it the hash on time, I realized that I don't want to sever my relationship with this group. Yeah, I felt like shit but isn't that part of what hashing is all about?

I feared that going straight from a night with the MDMA-riddled brains of techno kids to an afternoon with goofballs in running tights would make my brain dissociate. Then I decided that this kind of culture clash doesn't give me an acute psychological disorder, it makes me well-rounded. So I checked the directions for this week's meeting spot and ran to the fridge to find the Nikolassee train stop on the map. I didn't see it and ran back to the computer while cussing the S-Bahn out loud, "You fucking S-train, where are you?"

I ran to the fridge again while thinking, "I'm pushing it to the limit" which naturally made me start belting out Push It To The Limit by Corbin Bleu, my favorite cast member from High School Music. I'M TIRED.

Once I transferred to the S1 and just needed to ride it out to the end of the line, I turned my iPod on and rested my forehead on the window. I left a mark not unlike the smudges that grossed me out so much on my 1980s school bus windows. Except my grease is all natural, no Jheri curl here.

The run was an hour long, through an area that I'd classify as the Beverly Hills of Berlin, through trails and fields, and right at the end, along the train platform. There is something fun about running down the train steps and next to the subway cars but not actually be in a rush and instead just be all recreational about it.

By the time we make it up the train station's last flight of stairs, I'm limping. My hip hurts. Let's just say that one of my killer dance moves the night before might have been a little too killer.

Afterward, when everyone was cracking beers and lighting cigarettes, I sank into the grass while wondering if there were any rules against sitting down. I'd been skittish the whole time. During the run I asked Lame One if there were any rules against pissing on the trail. His answer was vague enough to make me hold it.

Not that it mattered, since I still got called into the circle three times:

1. For pointing with my finger, AGAIN. It's a hard habit to let go of. I only did it once and realized right away. I whipped my hand around to my back and kept it there like I was holding a cramp, trying to pretend like my finger just HAPPENED to stick out on its way to my back. Yeah, didn't fool anyone.

2. For premature ejaculation: I accidentally knocked my beer over and when I picked it up, it overflowed with foam.

3. For being a fucking American who writes a blog.

My new approach is DON'T EVEN TRY. I'm officially caving. If others are called into the circle for putting the hood up on their convertible and giving out free CDs of African music - inexcusable! - I see that this is one battle you can't fight.

Mouth Organ was called in for having his birthday yesterday. We sang "Happy Birthday, Fuck You."

Fister was called in for being the hare and for not working any beer stops into the trail. Yeah, Fister, what the hell? All you give us are beautiful woods and lake with all those sailboats? That's messed up.

At the end, I was talking to Oral Satisfaction (apparently she talks a lot) about Ohio because it's so awesome and hard not to talk about 24 hours a day. "I'm going to piss in those bushes," I say, "Don't tell anyone." Right.

I return and Stiffi says something to me in German.

"I don't speak German," I say.

"Why not?" He and Fister ask. "It's easy. Little kids here speak German."

"Really?" I say, "Say speed limit."

Stiffi starts to say the German word for speed limit - Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung - and a half hour later, when he's done, I know my point is made.

5.04.2008

At least there's a window open before we die

Last night I went to a club that could be described as a divey deathtrap, a divey deathtrap that made me very happy.

At the beginning of the night, Charlie and I bought little bottles of Jägermeister in a corner store. Walking out, I said to him, "That just summed up my entire month here."

The man behind the counter had looked at me while ringing us up and said something. He started laughing, I started laughing, Charlie smiled, and we left. With no clue as to what we'd been laughing and smiling about.

"Honey," Charlie said, "Try my entire YEAR." I know he's exaggerating, though. I've seen him speaking in German; He can even say big numbers though he admits that they are traumatic.

I cannot say my address. I live at #64 but it's physically impossible for me to say that number. The one time I took a taxi, I tried to say it but my whole face got a cramp so I wrote it for the driver on an imaginary air chalkboard.

We got to the club - and illegal space that was unlicensed and unregulated, we literally crawled through some bushes to find it - while Mona was doing video. I stood by the mix position and stared at her images flashing against the wall. Later, I would be wedged between that video wall and a speaker.

I was careful not to hit the speaker while dancing since it was mounted on the same kind of rickety tripod I used for my High School Musical teleprompter screens, only these tripods didn't have a counterweight hanging for stability. Unless you count the guy who stood in front of the speaker with his eyes closed, hands spread across the mesh.

Ecstasy: Feel a love like you've never felt before. For whatever is right in front of you.

I kept dancing, in this style: Hi, hands? Have you met my hips? Have you guys decided to be Egyptian or Brazilian? Why don't you throw in some 80s bouncing just to keep it interesting?

My corner of the stage happened to be next to the only window in the deathtrap. High on the wall, covered in bars, people kept trying to stand on things to get some air. One couple, who'd been pawing each other on the dance floor came over for air and got distracted in my corner.

And I've got nothing against third base, I APPLAUD third base, but you should probably do that in private. No one needs to see the fur flying like that.

Sweat is pouring down my back. I've bunched my knee socks around my ankles and my arm warmers around my wrists. I really hope that my favorite wool jacket is still under a pile of coats behind the DJ booth but I definitely don't need it right now.

"The air is not working," I hear, "It's, like, kaput."

I open my eyes and see a boy in red tracksuit pants, a holey black t-shirt hanging in shreds, and a blond mohawk. He has the thickest German accent you can imagine. Think Mike Myers' Saturday Night Live character, Dieter.

I nod my head. He carries a black wooden fan and fans himself while he bounces around. He fans me for a minute, I thank him, and he disappears.

Later, the sun is starting to come up and he's back. He looks up at the window and says, "Can you feel that luft?" I nod. He fans me once more and goes, "At least there's a window open before we die." And is gone.

And I'm totally struck by that. Yes, my little mohawked friend, AT LEAST THERE'S A WINDOW OPEN BEFORE WE DIE. It could sound morbid but I think it's beautiful.

It was a perfect exchange: no stupid questions, no invasion of personal space, just a nice gesture and a little dance floor poetry. And poof.

5.03.2008

Bio-sausage snack

I feel now as if I'm living in Berlin and not just visiting. Several days this week I didn't leave the apartment until 5pm because I was writing and reading and eating whatever I had in the fridge as long as it was drenched in olive oil. Why I'm currently obsessed with olive oil I'm not sure, but I had to buy a new bottle because I drained the old one. I know that my relationship with olive oil changed on the day I walked around West Berlin. I wasn't actually turned on by most of the Charlottenburg neighborhood but I might have just been coming down from the salad I'd eaten in the Schleusenkrug beer garden.

The sun was blazing so I'd found a half-shaded table. I ordered a glass of Chianti and took in the breeze, the dappled wooden table, and thanked the lord I wasn't part of the tour group on the other side of the tree. I was so glad that I was alone and not with 45 people and a chirpy leader. I listened to chirpy leader answer questions and give instructions and wondered if I sound like that when I'm leading groups. I decided that no, even I wanted to be like that, the most I'm capable of is a sarcastic imitation of a chirp.

A waiter delivered my salad and I began eating and realizing that there's been a gaping hole in my life, a hole that needs to be stuffed with herbed feta and olives. MY GOODNESS. I haven't usually been eating like a German and I'm mostly okay with this. I'll probably have schnitzel before I leave and I'm not opposed to plum schnapps but when I'm in the grocery store, I don't buy the pork salad because I know what pork pieces and mayonnaise taste like: pink vomit, exactly what I'll turn it into.

I feel like I live here now because I have my favorite grocery (Kaiser's) and my favorite brand of salted pecans and yogurt. I've checked out so much of the city that I can walk an hour in almost any direction, take a left or right, and sooner or later I'll run into a street I recognize. My formerly broken compass is BACK.

I feel like I live here because I left the house at 5pm today in my pajamas. Granted, they're not immediately recognizable as PJs - they're not printed with images of cupcakes or teddy bears - they're yoga pants. But I couldn't be bothered to change or take a bath. I just pulled my hair back in a ponytail and kept on the Aerosmith t-shirt I slept in for the last two nights and left.

I counted up how many people I care about making an impression on in Berlin - yep, still zero - and walked west. I did, at the last minute, throw on my trench coat since the yoga pants are a little too ass-centric for my comfort in public, my only concession.

If I'd felt like I were visiting, I might have gotten more dressed up and would have planned my attack on the marrow of the city. Now, with time behind and more time ahead, I'm just as content attacking my own marrow: writing in my room and not spending every second outside.

Last weekend my roommate Simone asked me what I'd done the night before. I told her that I read on the couch until I passed out. "That's a big decision," she said, "not to go out on a Saturday night."

"Oh," I said, "I haven't had a Monday to Friday schedule in a long time so I don't really care about days of the week."

I went to the Minus party at Watergate (Thanks, Matthew Cooper) a few nights ago and feel perfectly fine geeking out until the next good thing comes along. I'm actually extremely selective about getting into antics and half the time am happier staying home. I'm not a party animal by whatever means necessary, I'm a party animal when I think there's an excellent reason to be one.

I read in one of my books that there's a sausage stand that sells organic hot dogs or BIO-SAUSAGE SNACKS. And I thought I'd put down the brick of tofu for a moment and act like a German. I would buy a bio-sausage. I don't know what made me think chomping on an organic sausage would be so vastly different from one with rat tails and mice fur in it but I'll tell you, it seems exactly the same except that you get to feel self-righteous while eating.

The guy handed me my bio-sausage, a long pencil dick of a hot dog, in a paper boat with a plop of mustard and ketchup. He also handed me a crusty dinner roll but no fork or knife. We all know I don't know how to say fork or knife so I just smiled and walked around the corner to stare at it. I didn't like the idea of dipping the pencil dick in the condiments with my fingers so I walked back to the counter to see if there was plasticware sitting out. Nope. I bought a Coke Zero as a front for my return and then found a park bench out of the vendor's sight.

I decided what I needed to do was rip open the crusty roll and stuff the bio-sausage inside. It would be a bun, it would. Crusty rolls, being crusty, are also flaky and messy and soon a few birds were pecking the ground near my feet.

When I noticed, I jumped up and shook my shirt out because all I needed to make this eating experience more awkward was to be attacked by a flock of birds. Finally, FINALLY, the bio-sausage was curled up inside the "bun" and I ate it.

Zusammengeschlagen and other German words

I saw a kid smoking a cigarette yesterday. Like a KID. Maybe eight years old, so small that he fit in the basket on the back of another (older, bad influence) kid's bicycle.

We were stopped at the corner together and I did a double take because he was so little and I had an adult moment where I wanted to snatch the cigarette from his tiny hands and say, "KID! That is so BAD for you!"

But he caught me staring and looked back with slitty, dead eyes and I got the feeling that the child could and would throw down. Something about him made me feel like he'd kick my ass ("zusammengeschlagen") even though I outweigh him by 100 pounds and have muscles that he can only dream of.

They wheeled off, smoke trailing, and I thought about how I'm all for pushing the boundaries and sometimes going too far because that's how you learn who you are but shouldn't he be like LEARNING HOW TO SPELL or something at this point?

I assume that it takes German kids a few years longer than the rest of us to master spelling. Ex: geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit), querschnittgelähmt (paraplegic), and verlängerungsschnur (extension cord). Which reminds me, I really need to find a German spelling bee to sneak into.

If a cop pulled me over and told me I was driving over the geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, I don't know what I'd do. Probably what the old man in the park did yesterday when I told him I don't speak German: laughed so hard that he snorted. This made me start laughing, snorts are always good for that, but when he wouldn't quit jabbering, the crazy vibe got kinda heavy and I stood from the bench and said the one word in German that I'm really good at: Tschuess! (Bye!)

5.02.2008

I heart robots

I passed a demonstration on Schönhauser Allee, a crowd of people walking north, followed by a police van. I wasn't really paying attention until I saw the first sign.



Robots, huh. The marchers were chanting something which I couldn't understand and someone was egging them on with a loudspeaker. Which, again, was not helpful to me since my German has reached what we will call a plateau.



Several people held robot signs, one of which read I WOULD DO IT FOR YOU. What, robot, what would you do for me?

This morning I finished a good book, Shadowland by Gordon Stevens, about 1948-1989 Germany and three families in East Berlin, West Berlin and the United States. It was all KGB and Stasi and CIA and exactly what I'd been looking for in those unbelievably lame crime novels I threw temper tantrums over before.

This book was believable because it was well-written and because its premise was true: West Berlin's occupation by American, French, and British forces after WWII and the amputation of East Berlin by Russia. Towards the end of the book, when Gorbachev has gone all perestroika on Russia, the communists are losing their grip, and East Germans start hemorrhaging through open borders in Hungary, the revolution takes off.

There had been defiant people all along getting their asses kicked and jailed for digging tunnels under the wall and for looking cross-eyed at Stasi agents but their numbers grew in the late 80s. People start meeting in churches in Berlin and Leipzig and marching in the thousands and I can imagine the scenes and streets perfectly because I've now pounded so much of Berlin's pavement: Karl-Marx-Allee, Friedrichstrasse, Unter den Linden.

This is what I was thinking when I walked down Schönhauser Allee and saw the robot protest. It occurred to me that I should get a clue as to what makes people march in the street these days so later I tried to translate these signs.



And I'm thinking I need to ask Simone when she gets back in town because the best the online translator could do was A DAY IN THE LIFE MAKE AS A GRASSHOPPER DO I. What grasshoppers have to do with robots, I have no idea.

good luck in not dying

My uncle Kevin sent this video to my mom who sent it to me who watched it and then had to lie on the couch with a compress on my head. Perhaps you've seen it, almost 650,000 people have visited the website below.  When I hit play I was thinking, "Yeah, whatever, hike up a mountain, blah blah blah, I've done that too."

Yes, the trail seemed kind of exposed and the cliff side kind of steep but that happens when you climb up mountains. See: Me and Alli Jones hiking in the Cascades, me slipping off the trail and tumbling down out of Alli's sight who starts wailing, "JESS RONCKER! JESS RONCKER!" And me, on my stomach, hanging on to branches below, getting irritated by her screaming, yelling back up, "I'm FINE!" Alli, sorry I got testy when you thought I was dead. I was in shock.

Anyway, I stuck with the El Camino del Ray video and at 1:25 went, "Oh."

And at 2:30 went, "Shit."

At 4:00 and 4:50, I grimaced and at 5:45, I was sweating and my tummy felt funny.

The El Camino del Ray hike is not just about fear of heights. It's about fear of, I don't know, not being a circus tightrope walker. It's about not really being in the mood to plunge 700 feet to your death. It's about how they should hand out diapers at the trail head. In fairness to Spain, the 1901 trail has been closed since too many people died there in 1999 and 2000 but people sneak in, which I think says something about cultural difference.

I've noticed that Germans are into safety. Germans cross streets like they do in Seattle and Salt Lake City i.e. they are freakishly well-behaved. If they do cross against the light, they run as if their lives depended on it even though the nearest car is four blocks away. When I cross on a red here, I get the feeling that someone wants to scold me. And, in fact, my German roommate told me that she's been reprimanded for illegal crossing and for walking up the left side of stairs and sidewalks.

In Ecuador, there was pretty much a total lack of concern about safety. And now I know where the Latin Americans get their attitude: from their colonizing bastard ancestors, the Spaniards. Their GOOD LUCK IN NOT DYING approach is genetically coded.

The sidewalk from my house in Quito to the neighborhood where I hung out was pitted with crevasses and ditches, some so deep that if I'd fallen in, I don't know that I could have gotten out. There were no signs and no barriers to keep you from falling in. You were just supposed to use your eyeballs. I don't know what the survival rate is for blind people in Ecuador. I woke up many mornings in Quito psyched that I hadn't lost my footing while walking home in a blackout the night before. Just kidding, mom, not really. That wasn't my most studious year.

There is also, of course, the Ecuadorian train. My friends and I took the train from Quito to Riobamba and like everyone else rode not inside the train but on top of it. We sat up there and drank beer, ducking low-hanging power lines and broken pipes pouring water in the urban stretches and holding back branches whipping our faces in the rural ones.

We arrived in Riobamba sunburnt, sooty, and feeling very alive.

5.01.2008

Your mom is cool (in case you didn't know)

I just got an email from my mom titled, "Your mom is cool (in case you didn't know)".

Oh, I know, mom. I KNOW. Any mom who can sit on the sidewalk with her 22-year-old daughter in the middle of the night in Quito, Ecuador and calmly watch her kid's favorite bar get raided by the police and busted for arms dealing is cool. I know you're not exactly down with machine guns and bags of white powder but you DEALT. You're cool.

And now apparently the checkout girl at Trader Joe's in Cincinnati thinks so, too.

The checkout girl, who my mom pegged to be about 21 years old, gushed to my mom, "I LOVE your vintage shirt. If I found that in a thrift store, I'd be SO happy!"

My mom was wearing a sweatshirt that I got in England sometime between 1986 and 1992. My English friend Elinor lived in town called Otley and the sweatshirt says FLOCK TO OTLEY and features a swarm of sheep across the front. Sheep which are slightly raised and spongy, like puffy paint.

And I'm sorry but it's not a pretty sight. Especially since the formerly white sheep were at some point washed with the color load and are now all pink. I saw this sweatshirt on one of my family members when I was home in March and thought, "Good lord, that thing is still around?" It crossed my mind that someone really needs to donate it and put all of us - me, mom, dad, Neill, the sheep - out of our misery. Okay, just my misery.

But I didn't say anything because MY PARENTS LOVE HAND ME DOWNS. Giant Limited tunics I drowned in in the early 90s, Levi's cords I gave to my dad after drowning in them in the late 90s, and faded Gap jeans from I don't know when.

In March, it was still unreasonably cold in Ohio and every day I was there, I witnessed my father strolling through the house in a thick, zip-up, grey and white snowflake sweater that I used to wear in seventh grade. I would totally not be surprised to come home to find Neill watering the front yard in my old Coca-Cola rugby shirt. And my mom coming out to bring him his seizure helmet in something Camp Beverly Hills.

Without a doubt, one of things I'm most thankful for in my life is that my old Jams escaped. I don't know HOW they got out of the house but am grateful that they did because I wouldn't be able to keep my shit together if I saw my dad in Jams. I'd start crying.

When I talk about needing to lay off the boots because I'll never get ahead if I spend all my money on (killer, satisfying, shitkicking) footwear? I didn't get that tendency from my family. When I make a note in my Berlin journal to come back to Skunkfunk at the end of my trip when I know how money I have left and then proceed blow it there? Mary Ann and Bob wouldn't do that.

(Hi Nicole, Certified Financial Planner, we'll speak about this later.)

Anyway, my mom wore the pink sheep to Trader Joe's because she'd been working on a Habitat for Humanity house that day - OR SO SHE SAYS. We all know what a big heart you have, mom, you don't need to make up excuses involving volunteer work to justify the sweatshirt. That just cheapens the sheep.