Bleary-eyed and half-conscious in a taxi at 6:00 in the morning, all I can think is that itís too weird to be here in London. Maybe itís a product of the sleep deprivation, too much coffee, or some kind of pheromonal reaction to the sudden change in time zones. Or perhaps, alternatively, Iím simply freaking out because people here are have names like Simon and drive on the wrong side of the road in cars that could probably fit in the trunk of my dadís totally unnecessary Suburban. But, intellectual being that I am, Iíve got to come clean and admit that this is probably a feeling of weirdness more closely associated with internal stimuli, a nerve ending firing in the brain somewhere causing me to be afraid of the unknown, of the next three months that could or could not turn out to be lame and disastrous.
The non-English speaking cab driver dropped me off at the hotel, collected his 75 pound toll, and drove off as I stumbled out onto the curb with my two meager pieces of luggage. Inside, the management gave me a chilly once-over, informing me that check-in regularly doesnít begin at 7 am but kindly pointed me in the direction of the lounge where, they said, I was welcome to deposit my burden. I did so, pushing through the door and finding myself in a disaster area, but one that I could totally subscribe to. Beer bottles strewn everywhere, smoked joints lying all over the empty fruit crate turned coffee table, and four sprawling bodies covering the futon. Unfazed by the chaos, I threw down all of my junk, which woke the unappreciative slumbering corpses with a resounding thud, and proceeded to slouch about for a few hours, feeling vaguely like someone whoís been hit by a truck. Gradually the rest of the group straggled in twos and threes through the door and there was the typical flush of excitement at arrival; lame stories about the vagaries of travel, exclamatory remarks regarding lack of sleep on overnight flights across the Atlantic, and soon it was time for us to make our first appearance at the British Museum. I remember a test, some lectures on Roman art, and seeing a statue of Mithras, but the recollections are all rather unclear, even now at this proximate date, though my notes on the day belie that I was paying some degree of attention. An overdose of caffeine was still wreaking its havoc on my brain, making the sparks fly out of my eyes, inducing twitches and negatively affecting my already stunted ability to be patient and focused. When we finally finished, I beat a hasty, desperate retreat from the marbled rotunda of the museum, in need of some serious down-time, some opportunity for some real comatose horizontal perspective.
After some half-dozen hours of hazy sleep, I woke up blinking hard against the abrasive sunshine, as usual with the headphones from last night still on my ears. Battling a relentless coffee hangover, I pulled on my shoes and scrambled out the door for some exercise. Back in the hotel and circulating properly again, it seemed less jarring to be in another country, far from acquaintances and Taco Bell. After all, one sees the same smog-enhanced sunrises, the endless futility of the human race, the empty diet-coke bottles and ignorance no matter where one drops oneís luggage. People are, depressingly, the same everywhere; one is never likely to feel far from home or terribly uncomfortable. The only thing that has changed is that here, the nightly search for something to pour down the collective gullet is most stylishly culminated with a tall, cold Budweiser. Weird Europeans. After another long day at the museum I indulged in much-needed, much-thirsted-for malt beverages while doing homework in the stairwell with Mike and Chris. We bonded thanks to the Jiffy-Lube effect of alcohol, the great equalizer, and a heated Elgin Marbles debate. Soon, bleary-eyed with the haze of drink and a late night, we gave up the world of the conscious and skittered into our sub-par dwarf-sized accommodations.
Greece: The vistas of reality here, the mountains and valleys, oceans and streams are too beautiful, back-breaking in their degree of natural grandeur and Discovery Channel-esque panning landscape shots. Bright green and blue seethe out of the landscape, slapping me in the face and forcing me to wake up to the nearness and immediate emergency of life that can no longer be ignored or avoided by means of illicit drugs and giant carafes of wine. In Greece, I am like a child. My entertainment here consists wholly of climbing up walls, clambering up mountains, sprinting down rocky, thorny hillsides, falling from steep embankments, running around in the gigantic playground that is the Mediterranean. I eat junk food with reckless impunity, slouch about in persistent goofy indolence, and smile with the teeth of a toddler. I liken the country and this FSP to something out of a poorly cast science fiction movie from an era with primitive special effects, but good lighting and costumes. The troubles and worries of teenhood melt away in Greece, dissolving me down to the core, to a happy joker who finds greatest joy in the strategic positioning of ketchup packets beneath unsuspecting automobile tires. My only responsibilities here involve looking and writing about prehistoric rubble, a small price to pay for the hours of toothsome grinning that I reap as compensation.
Major concern: This, like all tenuous, awkward pirouettes in the general direction of joy and hope, will soon end, sooner than I would wish or think. Sometimes Iím angry that life seems to involve nothing but constant transition, perpetual hopping from one slippery stone to the next. Every three months I pick up my meager belongings and head off to mope in a locale heretofore only dimly familiar to me, meanwhile lopping off callously all relationships with people and places I may have cultivated in the interim. All in order to persist in this paramount term-by-term exploration of the globe and my flailing human soul. Good or bad, I know upstairs that the immediate situation is transient, the faces around me will soon again rotate in a nauseating carousel of relationships, that the landscape of the world will burp and roll over, exposing a new fleshy surface to my hungry and impatient sensual probes. I appreciate change, want to explore and experience everything and meet all of the people in the world who have the potential to entertain and maybe even inspire me. But at the same time, I find myself just sitting around and twitching, weighted down by an address book full of names and numbers and people I once knew, addresses at which I used to feel at home, and am overcome by the weight of a world that is just really really big. As Readerís Digesty as that all sounds.
End: Rebel with a cancer stick.
"We're all serving a life sentence in the dungeon that we call the self."
It all started out innocently enough. Finished with my ISP, having diligently worked in my room at Hotel George Rent-a-Moto for the past five days and sent the 174 page monster to Athens with Evan for submission, I was ready for some relaxation, a little substance abuse, and Far Eastern deep breathing exercises. I think I deserved that at least, having put up with the constant stressed out anal prattle of Evan, the relentless flirtation of Mike and Leslie, and the inane fact-spouting background singer that is Chris for the better part of a week. My plan mostly included long runs, hard liquor, hikes along the spiny ridge of the island and maybe some internet surfing, but soon things took a decidedly unsavory and ugly turn for the worse. At dinner one night, I made the claim, caught up in the euphoria of school being out for summer, that I could smoke an entire pack of cigarettes during a single night of Boozing, no questions asked. In matters like this Iím almost always all talk, and Iím generally OK with that, unabashedly squirreling my way out of claims and promises, granting myself complete moral absolution. But somehow it seemed to me that I shouldnít let this one go, and that this was a promise to myself, for me, that I ought to keep. It was time to take a stand. It was time to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in three hours.
Dinner came to a close with thunderous meekness and we snuck into the mini market only a sliver shy of closing time to load the shopping cart with foul lager beers and bargain-basement bottles of ouzo. At the hour of 11 pm, I, fist raised in determination, requested a package of Camel Lights (not based on any innate understanding of their relative advantages or disadvantages or their status in the underbelly subculture that is the European cigarette market, but mostly because the box is pretty.) and a child-proof lighter, readying myself to enter the Thunderdome of clenched, collapsing lungs. I hefted the first cancer stick, my body thirsting for the bomb, the explosion of unsavory filth that would destroy the harmony of my inner organs. The drag plowed its way through my respiratory system like an hasty rhinocerous, wreaking havoc on tiny, helpless alveoli, mercilessly ripping apart my carefully cultivated cardiopulmonary fitness levels. So it began, puffing and ashing, sputtering and coughing my way through the cursed box, little tobacco stuffed tube by little tobacco stuffed tube. The nicotine made quick work of any muscular coordination I once had, as my nerves and hand shook violently every time I made an effort to lift the sweet nectar of Mythos to my thirsty dry lips. The second hand wrenched its way slowly forward. Time was working with me, as the gathering plumes of smoke about my head signaled my progression. Nine, eight, only seven cigarettes to go. Success was a carrot dangling, wholesome and full of vitamins, in front of my vice besmirched face. Nothing could stop me now Ė ouzo, tar, and cancer were my weapons, harnessed for good instead of evil, my goal so near, so palpable.
But so close to sweet victory, suddenly disaster strikes this tragic hero. Leslie and Liz run out of Lucky Strikes, and turn their faun-like, wet eyes to me, begging desperately to bum one of mine, feverish in their addictive cravings, which have been so finely honed over time, to suck in the poisonous fumes with practiced ecstasy. My morals overcome me, and generosity strikes me down, as I concede and dejectedly hand over the third to last and second to last ones, my heart breaking. O cruel world, to come so close and fail so miserably - nineteen out of twenty. So it ends, and Iím left lying splayed out, face down, eyes frying like eggs on the sidewalk, sizzling in the brilliant harsh sun of reality, wondering what happened and why I was so excited in the first place. Overly enthused, and easily confused.
All of that aside, Siros turned out to be a hidden jewel. We lived in a tiny seaside village for a week, with just enough restaurants and mini-markets to fulfill our carnal needs, but not enough people to crowd them, or necessitate fluorescent ďPizza SpaghettiĒ signs. Iím pretty sure that life has gotten palpably more delicious during the last week of this trip - good friends, amazing scenery, free pancakes, perfect lighting, the right outfits have all been in plentiful abundance. The synapses in my brain are firing rapidly, releasing all of the correct, mysterious fluids and pheromones that say ďbe happy and laugh for several hours every day.Ē Iím sorry to be saying goodbye to Greece, to close the book just when the plot is getting interesting, sorry to be leaving the friends Iíve made, who Iíve only begun to get to know. But maybe itís not as great as I think it is, and Iím just being sucked into the vortex of emotions that comes when the weather turns nice, how everyone goes kind of crazy and you think for a fleeting moment that you will connect with everyone, because it's all about anticipation, the promise of a friendship that might be, a let-down that might not come this time. I'd like to think that I have developed real connections with others, based on some assessment of their and my innate understandings of each other, that it won't turn out to be just an illusory effect, some pheromonal reaction to the needy sweat that people produce in the springtime. But maybe it is all just weather, maybe itís all just lighting and the right outfits and the mis-firing synapse in the brain which spills tiny droplets of that fluid into your spine which gives things a plot, which seems like it makes life linear and well-thought out, if only for a minute. It all seems so arbitrary, so disempowering, but I guess itís useless to think about such nonsense now, on the cusp of a summer full of adventures. I'm ready to go, ready to at least make some kind of effort, tempted to hide out on Siros and forget about solving the indelible mysteries of my own psyche while lying on the beach developing heart disease, but knowing, as I think Iíve known all along, that thereís no end to the desert Iíll cross, and no exit stage left or quick out from difficulty. Because, as Jason Molina so wisely says, the real, true thing about it is that no one ever gets it right. But that doesnít mean weíre not all supposed to keep trying.
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