It took The Student, The Germans, and I a couple of hours to work our way through the jambalaya. The Traveler and The Drunkard, who were long finished, watched us like we were dinner theater. After, we decided that the remains would be kept for the next day—in case anyone was brave enough to have it for lunch—and the girls said that they had a bar they wanted to show us.
The Drunkard’s eyes lit up and he sat upright. “About time.”
“It’s in an old Greek Orthodox church,” Dee said. “Great start for a night out.”
“My life,” I said, wiping off the last of the sweat, “is made up entirely of Greeks and Jews. How did this happen?”
“What,” said The Drunkard, leaning in, “you want we should be goyim? No offense girls.”
Lena and Dee shrugged and talked in German for a second.
“Well,” I said, “no. I wasn’t saying anything. Just—”
“You were saying something.”
“I agree with The Drunkard,” said The Student. He leaned forward. “Sounded like you wish we weren’t around. Tell me, why would you say such a thing?”
“I didn’t say such a thing.”
The Traveler, getting into the spirit, leaned forward. “I think you said such a thing.”
“I did not say such a thing!”
Lena cleared her throat. “I’m going to take a shower. Loverman, you might want one too, considering you look like a marathon runner.”
“I could take one with you, but that would just be forward of me,” I said. “Holy shit,” I thought, “I said that out loud.”
Lena smiled and walked to her room.
The Drunkard said, “Finally, you manage to say something instead of squeaking.”
“Too bad she’s got a boyfriend,” said Dee.
“Fuck,” I remarked.
“Ha!” said The Student. “Now you feel my pain.”
I turned to The Student and said, “Vindictiveness, my spectacled friend, is not a quality to be admired.”
He sat back and scratched at the puff of hair on his chin.
“Hey,” said The Traveler, “think of it this way: it’s a milestone.”
I viewed this as being patronized, and, as such, I sulked.
We got ready: The Drunkard cracked his knuckles and put on his jacket and hat; The Traveler took a comb to his hair and put on a grey flat cap; The Student put on his corduroy and sat patiently for everyone else; I took a quick shower to wash away the smell of jambalaya-sweat; and Lena and Dee took an hour to, as far as I could tell, put on jeans and t-shirts—we headed out to the car, piled in, and Lena navigated us to the bar.
The bar was near a very remarkable part of the University.
Anyone who has picked up a literary classic has probably run into the Oxford World’s Classics collection. The white-spined books fill more space in a university bookstore than Norton anthologies. They come from the Oxford University Press, a building which, up until my trip, I expected to be a giant warehouse deep in some dark realm. Turns out that, like everything else in Oxford, the Press looks like the British Museum.
We passed by it in the car. The Student, with a quick eye, spotted the building, asked what it was, was told, and flung himself out of the car. Luckily, we weren’t moving that fast, and, even if we had been, The Student executed a flawless tuck-and-roll. (Another thing in his favor was that there was, yet again, no traffic. For a city as big and prestigious as Oxford, I was surprised that there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but hey, whatever.) The Traveler slammed on the brakes, the car skidded to a halt, and The Student leapt up from his ball and ran to the gates.
There weren’t a lot of lights around the building. I could barely make out The Student clutching what I took to be iron bars of a gate. The words “Oxford University Press,” etched into the stone of the columned entranceway were barely illuminated by soft lighting. I said, “I’ll get him, go get a parking space.”
“You tell him,” said The Traveler, “that if he does this shit again he is never coming on a trip again. That was completely insane. He could’ve—”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll tell him.”
I stepped out of the car, shut the door, jogged across the street and went up to the Student on his right. I looked around. Some light from the grounds—a few lamps were sprinkled around the lawn—lit him up, and I saw that his eyes were moist. “Er,” I said. “You okay?”
He gulped. “These bastards are responsible for making me read Lord Jim. You hear me?” He shouted. (His voice was extraordinarily loud. Enough to make me wince for a moment.) “You hear me, you cocksuckers? You will pay for unleashing new edition after new edition of Joseph Fucking Conrad on the bright-eyed, idealistic new members of academia! Do you realize how may souls you’ve crushed with your World’s Classics? Do you?”
As much as screaming at an empty building was probably therapeutic, it was drawing us very unwelcome looks. An older couple across the street stared at us with their mouths agape. A woman our age rushed out of a door to a building a few doors down with an easel, a canvas, and a paint-covered palette and scratched madly at the canvas with what I assumed was a pencil. A car slowed to a gradual stop and idled in the street, the driver poking his head above the roof.
The Student shook the iron bars. He abandoned all pretenses of coherency and gave himself over to some primordial rage, shouting in everything ranging from a low growl, to high-pitched squeals, to gurgles. Frankly, I feared that, if I stayed much longer, I would be caught up in the man’s apoplectic rage and would find that I too had to shout and wail.
Thankfully, before such a thing happened, The Student’s fit suddenly stopped. One second he was shaking and banging away at the gates, screaming so hard I imagined that his throat would stop working all together. The next, he was straightening his shirt and his jacket. He took off his glasses, cleaned them with a handkerchief, and said, “Ah, Narrator. Whe—” He looked around him. “Where are we? This isn’t the bar.”
I cocked an eyebrow and took a step back. “No. No it isn’t. We’re at the gates to the Oxford University Press.” I shielded my head, sure that, in a second, he’d be flailing out his arms in anger.
Instead, he looked up at the building, said, “Ah, so it is. Fancy that. I was just reading a Cather novel pubished by these guys.” He took a black digital camera out from his pocket, turned it on, took a picture, and put it back in his pocket. “Funny how these things all tie together, isn’t it?”
I blinked. It was the only reaction I could muster. “Er,” I remarked. “Yes. Downright hilarious. Don’t you remember anything of what just happened?”
The Student shook his head. “I was in the car, I looked out the window, and then I was standing here. So where’s this bar? I’d be interested to see a Greek Orthodox church—you see, I’m reading this Dostoevsky novel right now for a module and—”
Someone ran at us from the right. I turned, prepared to see a police officer wielding a nightstick, blowing away at his whistle and preparing to unleash cold, British justice on us, but instead saw The Traveler. He was nearly out of breath, his jacket was waving out behind him like a sail. “What the Hell were you doing, Student?” he asked when he skidded to a halt next to us.
The Student shrugged. “Standing in front of the OUP, apparently. Funny thing is, I don’t remember getting here.”
“Bull,” said The Traveler. “What was that screaming shit you were doing? You looked completely insane.”
The Student cocked his head to one side. He looked at me. “Er,” I said. “Nothing happened.”
“Nope. Nothing happened.” I mouthed, “I’ll tell you later,” facing away from The Student.
The Traveler shook his head. “I’m considering never taking you guys on a trip again. Between this shit and The Drunkard, I seriously have no idea how we haven’t been arrested or kicked out of somewhere yet.”
“Oh,” I said, “we’ve still got a full day here. Plenty of time to get kicked out of all sorts of fine establishments.”
“Nope,” said The Traveler. He turned and started walking back the way from whence he ran. We followed.
“What do you mean?” asked The Student.
“I mean that tomorrow we’re taking the girls out to a retail village about half an hour away.”
“Retail village?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“Think of a giant mall spread out to look like a high street. From what they said, it seems like the embodiment of capitalism. Jeans that cost a few bucks to make, selling for £89.99, and that’s on sale.”
“Woah!” I said. I stopped in my tracks and coughed. “Ninety quid for a pair of jeans?”
The Traveler turned around. The look on his face was one I would expect to see at a funeral. “On sale. Remember that. Disgusting, isn’t it?”
We continued walking some more, this time in silence. The Student looked around, unfazed by the discussion of prices—I reckoned that he was apathetic when it came to petty matters of financial transactions. The Traveler looking straight on until we got to the car. “Okay,” said The Traveler to The Drunkard and the Germans. “Shall we go?”
“Is he okay?” asked Lena.
“Hmm?” asked The Student. “Me? Peachy. Why?”
Lena and The Traveler exchanged looks that said The Student was a cause for concern.
We crossed the street and walked up the stairs of a building that looked like a church. I’d always assumed that Greek Orthodox churches were supposed to look vastly different than other buildings, but then I remembered that, after all, we were in England, and this building may very well have been a tea house before. (Or, the ultimate irony, a synagogue. This isn’t impossible—though it is definitely strange. In a place called Ramsgate, the reform synagogue used to be a Methodist church.)