I had to come home to remember how to feel out of place.
I’m at home in the souk of El Jadida, talking to bouncers in Riga, and arriving in Yangon without a clue. I was comfortable on the streets of a city 99% said is too dangerous to visit, and felt harmony in the sandpaper air of a frozen Neptune landscape.
But in my home town, among the crowd I hope to join (travel writers), I sweat and stammer, useless and misaligned. I am more wallflower, wallpaper, than I ever was in adolescence, and I cling to ego masturbation, remembering South African townships, gazing over the Syrian Plain, and Guatemalan border towns where drugs outweighed human meat and that’s all you are.
Pretty faces I cannot talk to drift around. What would I say? Did I ever tell you about wandering Hong Kong until I was sure I’d escaped the English language, then going for food, my consternation at the waiter’s rudimentary vocabulary soothed since it allowed him to tell me I could have pig heart instead of chicken?
Why does this place, this event, disassemble me so efficiently? Is it just that the room is too small and too hot, no seats and no oxygen, leaving me standing/sweating by the door? Or that a single half-glass of wine costs ten frickin dollars? More likely, it’s because these gods of an intimidating industry, conquerors of a world that hasn’t even stamped my passport yet, are just so damn….NICE! I want them to be pricks, so much easier to scorn, but they seem so damn welcoming. President, Prime Minister, and King, and I’d gleefully go to lunch with any of them. I should be able to talk to them. I would tell them they should move to a larger space. With windows.
Last time, leaving this interpersonal constipation made me dance, but tonight I’m astounded that the glass walls aren’t shattering behind me as I walk through Versailles, where bvlgari, Jimmy Choo, and other names I know from stories not written for my demographic, sell shit made in the same damn sweatshops for $(I have no idea) instead of the relatively honest $10 at Ross.
Models three times a human’s height and half the width speak with anorexic irony as they say “let them eat cake” down to the mentally disturbed man with a semi-circle spine pushing a shopping cart full of garbage.
I transfer trains in West Oakland, where freeway overpasses allow the affluent to pass right over the graffiti’d streets paved with broken glass and angry fear, where the only constellations are on their way to San Francisco International Airport.
I make the mistake of trying to talk to strangers as I get on my next train. I can’t help it. “Welcome to West Oakland” slips out of my mouth as I wait for disembarking passengers to alight; I’m such a nice young man. I’m met only by stony unresponsiveness, most people pretending I never spoke, while those too close for that act look prepared to fight.
I’m 20% inclined to cooperate with that, right now. I’ve become curious what it would feel like with flesh instead of the heavy bag.
“Oh, right, Americans don’t talk to each other” I mumble as I board. Great, now I AM the crazy guy. I manage not to add “I forgot, I have to leave the damn country if I want to meet anyone.”
What’s the best medicine for a grumpus? That’s right: a burrito. I had carnitas yesterday (just kidding, it was today at lunch, I’m being coy) so I opt for pollo asado, black beans (as if there’s any other valid option) and take it home to the house I am happy to live in, with the roommate I like, the dogs I adore, and a computer to hammer out a cathartic blog. I try not to swear, since my mother and her priest read this. Hi Mom. Hi Father Jeff.
Consoled by rice and beans, soothed by sour cream and avocado, I can take stock. Tonight wasn’t so bad. I went for a walk, nodded to some people I know, and the forecast looks promising for a lunch I’d enjoy, with one of the monarchs of the enticing realm of writers.
I still might feel more at home on the alleys, calles, mitaani, sadaka, (and other words for “street” that I’d have to google first) of foreign countries, but I’m pretty happy on my little Avenue tonight, overly grandiose as that title is.
PS. I know, Neptune’s surface is gas, but Mars is almost a cliché now, and Iceland ain’t red.
PPS. The pig heart was good. The oysters were the gross part of that bowl of slimy congee.
PPPS. “Bvlgari”? Whoever decided to spell it that way gets a prominent place in line for the guillotine.
PPPPS. No offense to those of you who prefer pinto beans. Luckily, there’s room enough in the world for all of us, even those of you with poor taste in beans.
I’ve got more pretty pictures of Iceland for next time.