Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Stalk the Stalker

The next day was terrible. I appreciate that most of you reading this have had a hangover before. You may think that you have had a terrible hangover. One of the ages, shall we say? But I say: You don’t know shit.
I woke up the next afternoon at two o’clock with very little recollection of the previous night and that special achiness that can only come from a prolonged vomit. My throat felt like I had put it through boot camp, and my shoulders felt like I pitched a no-hitter and lasted nine innings. I was, in other words, in a bad condition.
However, I did manage to get up from my bed and stretch, which I consider a tremendous achievement. I blinked, peeked out the curtains and immediately withdrew my head from the searing pain of daylight, only to let out a high-pitched, terrified scream. Covering the sheets on my bed were deep red stains. To this day, I do not know what those stains were. I checked over my whole body and saw that nothing was bleeding. I saw all of my flatmates that day, so I know that I didn’t kill any of them. I’m fairly sure that, after the episode with the robot in the courtyard, I went straight to bed. This, I feel, is a mystery for the ages—right up there with what’s really in Area 51.
At any rate, you will all know that, when you are hung over, it is nearly impossible to get through the day. It is a challenge to do even the most basic of things, but, at the same time, we must keep up some semblance of being civilized, lest we fall back on something or so forth and—well, to be honest, I see no reason why, when hung over, we shouldn’t say “fuck it” and collapse back into bed.
Which is why, after wandering into my kitchen, seeing all of my flatmates and hearing them talk, I did just that.

When I woke up, it was Tuesday morning and I felt fantastic. Sure, I may have slept through a seminar on Monday, but it was about Joseph Conrad, and I couldn’t care less about that guy—I was in Imperial Literature for Kipling. I showered and decided, completely on a whim, that today was the day that I was going to follow The Stalker.
Fromthe first week all of us moved in to campus, I wondered how this man spent his time. It was obvious that he enjoyed a good cider, but a man could only drink so much cider before growing bored and doing something else. I figured that the man had to have some hobbies. (By this time, The Student had told me about seeing The Stalker walking out of nude model classes in the art building, but I chalked that up to The Stalker trying to better himself through artistic endeavors.) I put on my jacket, threw on my baseball cap, and walked back outside.
I took up a position behind the trash bins, across from The Stalker’s building, and waited. After five minutes, I grew antsy. After ten minutes, I started feeling exhilarated, like I was a secret agent, or a cop, and this was an important stake-out. No longer was this The Stalker, but a Columbian drug lord in his safe house, about to arrange for the goods to arrive in the hands of his distributor—and I was going to be the man to stop him.
After twenty minutes, I grew bored again and was about to leave, when out of the front door walked The Stalker. I didn’t recognize him at first, for he had foregone his usual outfit and looked like a normal human being. He wore a deep red button-up tucked into dark blue jeans and dress shoes. His usually greasy hair was washed, he wore thin-rimmed glasses, and carried himself entirely differently than his usual slouched-over-serial-killer way of walking.
He passed me by and I heard him whistling a tune I couldn’t quite place (later, I figured out that it was “L.O.V.E.” by Nat King Cole). Really starting to see the appeal of hunching over and following someone, I stayed about fifteen yards behind The Stalker, managed to hide myself amongst Turkish postgrads, and followed him to the campus café next to the Computer Science building. He walked inside, I followed, he ordered, and I stood behind a column.
Everything was going well until my cover was almost blown by a bunch of Greeks shouting at me to join them. I headed their way, quieted them down, and kept The Stalker in my sights. The Greeks here have been some of the nicest people I’ve met, but I really don’t understand why they waved me over, as they continued their conversation in Greek. (Greek, if you haven’t heard it, sounds like one continuous tongue twister.)
The Stalker sat at a small table with two chairs next to the windows about thirty feet away from where I was. He sat with his chin in his hand, looking out the window. A steaming cup of something sat ignored in front of him. Judging by his slow swaying motion, he was still humming the song he had been on the way over. I looked around me to see if anyone was turning into a lizard—which would have been a sign that I was on an acid trip; at that moment, it was the only logical explanation for what I was seeing. Sadly, no one was turning into a lizard, the clocks weren’t melting, and no bats flung out of the air vents, so I was left with the realization that I was experiencing reality.
And then, from the library-side entrance to the café, a tall, slender, brunette with a very posh English accent walked in the door, waved at The Stalker, and sat down opposite him, working her way out of her jacket and putting her gloves in her purse. I had to keep my jaw from detaching itself and smacking on the top of the table. What was this? Could The Stalker be some sort of charming Casanova to everyone but our group? If that was the case, was he really The Stalker? If not, then what did that mean for us? Were we just jerks for assuming that he was the most disturbing man on the face of the Earth, not bothering to look deeper, and try to pick out the human beneath him?
But no, I thought, the guy skinned a rabbit. Charming Casanovas do not skin rabbits, as a rule. For the first time since watching health care get neutered on CNN, CNBC, and C-SPAN, I was seeing everything I understood about the world shatter before my eyes.
“Hey man,” Zaf said from across the table. “Is okay? Your face, it’s white.”
I’d gone to great lengths to help Zaf with his grammar, but he stubbornly refused to improve. (According to a mutual friend, though, his Greek was just as bad as his English.) “Yeah,” I said. “Everything’s fine. World’s shattering, but everything’s fine.”
He laughed and went back to smacking the table with his hands and launching into tirades about God-Knows-What in Greek.
From The Stalker’s table, I heard a delighted laugh. I looked over, and The Stalker grinned at the girl, who played with her hair and continued talking.
They stayed there for thirty minutes—my table showed no signs of leaving. I’d learned that Greeks could be in a burning building, but if there was coffee in front of them, they would continue relaxing and chatting until they caught fire. Eventually, after almost giving up hope of overhearing what the two were discussing, I caught the boyfriend bomb.
You see—and The Student can attest to this—when a guy initially approaches a woman, it is nearly all of the time because the guy finds the woman attractive. Women have evolved a counter to this known as ‘the boyfriend bomb.’ When this bomb is deployed, usually in a perfectly innocent and not malign fashion, it usually goes like, “Well I’m moving in with my boyfriend,” or “Just the other day, my boyfriend…” It has the psychological equivalent of a hydrogen bomb exploding in the center of Manhattan. The male brain shuts down, and we’re left with a stupid grin on our faces and something like, “Oh, no kidding? That’s nice,” streaming out of our mouths. (That is, if the male has a modicum of honor—if not, then they are likely to shout, “fuck you!”)
As I heard the boyfriend bomb being deployed, I watched The Stalker for his reaction. I expected a knife to appear out of nowhere and bury itself in a vital spot on his date’s body. Barring that, I expected to see his mouth barely move and then for her to drop dead onto the table, a victim of some unheard-of voodoo spell. However, The Stalker once again surprised me by taking the approach favored by most men in his situation: resigned faux-happiness.
Soon after, the woman checked her cell phone, said something, and got up to leave. They hugged, she left, and the Stalker sat back down in his chair, looking like a wet rag. There was the typical blank stare—in my mind, it always looked like the starer was fully embracing nihilism—and, eventually, the sigh that said, in effect, “Nuts.” The Stalker, then, further surprised me by not glaring out at the world with anger in his eyes—as I tended to do in his situation—or reacting by looking like he desperately needed a drink—as The Student did about once a week—but shrugging, plopping some money on the table, and standing up.
Now, it was here that I realized my position. I couldn’t very well show myself to the man. In the first place, it would make further interactions incredibly awkward between the two of us—more than they already were. In the second place, what kind of stalker would I be if The Stalker saw that I was stalking him? So, I pulled my baseball cap down virtually over my eyes and started babbling in what I thought sounded like Greek.
My table fell silent and stared at me as if I had suddenly gone completely and utterly mad.  The Stalker walked past my table, glanced down at me, and walked out the door, heading back to Dickens College. I wasn’t sure, right then, if The Stalker had seen me. That would become clear later on. I did, though, have to face my table and explain what the hell just happened. “Er,” I began—which is always a terrible way to begin an explanation.
They remained staring at me.
“You see,” I continued—which is a terrible way to continue an explanation. “I’m a jackass.”
“Crazy American!” a couple of them shouted. They returned to their conversation.
I sat back, wondering if “I’m a jackass” could be used to get out of every situation like this. I made a note to use it later on.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I came up with a costume idea on the spot. I had a suit already, and because of my physique, I went as Jake Blues last year, and was perfectly willing to do so again. However, I felt that I should do something a bit more unique, something that would simply confuse everyone around me at wherever I wound up that night. I would go as the Spirit of Hanukkah, and all I would need is a cheap trilby hat and a ton of pencils and pens to give out as gifts to anyone who asked what I was.
After buying the necessary goods, I called The Drunkard to see what his plan was. Apparently, and I was just as shocked as anyone else would have been, the French were having a party. “Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, I know, right?” responded The Drunkard. “Fuckers bought three cases of wine. Surprised the hell out of me when I saw them stacked in the corner.”
So that covered where I would be that night. I decided that, since my usual bedtime was midnight or so, I would take a nap before the party, and so I did.

The party wasn’t what I expected. I assumed that it would be a typical student party: rap or R&B (or, this being Europe, techno) blaring from speakers and mixed drinks consumed from red plastic cups. However, I arrived and found that the French existentialists—in their true ineffable fashion—had created a masquerade ball. In that cramped kitchen, there were over two dozen people in flowing ball gowns and the most absurd, antiquated masks I’ve seen outside of period dramas. I stood in the door to the kitchen, staring in awe, until The Drunkard came up to me with an almost equally frazzled look on his face. “Hey,” he said.
“This is Halloween?” I asked.
He nodded. “Apparently.”
He wore a pink polo shirt and some flannel shorts. “Frat boy?”
He nodded and looked at me. “Er. Jew?”
I gave him a pencil and a pen from my jacket pocket. “Happy Hanukkah,” I said.
We stood in further awe for a while more until one of The Drunkard’s flatmates—judging from the corset and accentuated bust, I’d have to guess it was Julie—came over and started speaking at us in rapid-fire French with a huge grin on her face. Her teeth were a deep, dark red and, I guessed that she was quite drunk.
The Drunkard responded in equally rapid-fire French. To pass the time, I looked down at my bottle of kosher red wine (stuff almost the same as Manischewitz, if you know that taste) and decided that it was now or never. I opened the cap, took a swig, and went around giving out pens and pencils. The men got them placed in their masks, the women in their corsets. I got a few slaps, but it was worth it.
Over my time in England, I found that there were a few things that happened when I was at a party consisting of mostly non-English speakers. The most common thing to happen was that I’d be lost in a sea of Greek, German, French, or whatever language formed the majority that night, and, because I couldn’t add to the conversation, I’d start drinking very, very heavily. Tonight, the surreal atmosphere led to me drinking faster than normal. I believe that, over the course of an hour and a half, I finished three bottles of wine. In any case, I was terribly, terribly drunk and passed out in the middle of the floor a few times.
The third time, The Drunkard helped me up, slapped me in the face and said, “Hey man, you think it’s about time you should leave? Maybe get some sleep?”
I gurgled something to the effect that he wasn’t my mother and, furthermore, he could kiss my ass because I was having a fantastic time and everyone loved me—why shouldn’t they?
He slapped me in my face again and, suddenly, I found the light in his argument. “Rigid times I had, Drunky McDrunkerton,” I said. “Splendidly rigid.” I leaned in and whispered (actually screamed) in his ear, “That girl—Jenny—the one from Belgium—she has the hots for me. I mean scathing hots for me. Think I’m gonna have to go kill her boyfriend, but damn son, she does have a sweet ass, yeah?”
The Drunkard patted me on the head and maneuvered me outside the kitchen, then outside the flat, then closed the door on me. This marked the first time I had been kicked out of a party in my life, and, while it was for a thoroughly good reason, I still felt a little miffed. However, I ignored my pride telling me to march back in there—after breaking down the door—and tell them what for. Instead, I walked outside.
It was cold out there. Even through the alcohol coat I wore, I could feel that. I shivered, shouted out a couple obscenities, and walked back towards my block. Standing outside, smoking a cigarette, there stood Zaf. “Zaf!” I shouted. “Malacka!” I burst into laughter and gave him a great big hug.
He looked at me as if I were insane. This, clearly, was a man who had not been thoroughly and completely drunk in a while. I was about to tell him how we needed to get a couple bottles of whiskey and hit the town when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a robot. I of course understand that this was a man dressed as a robot for Halloween, but at that time, I doubt convinced that this was a robot who had come to the planet Earth for the sole purpose of raping our houses and pillaging our women. I ran over to the robot, dropped down on my knees and burst into tears. “Don’t do it, man!” I shouted.
“Er,” said the man in the robot outfit.
“Earth is your friend! Freakin Day the Earth Stood Still was just a movie! Don’t go all klatu barata niku on us, okay, man? Dude, I got some Jack upstairs, let’s go talk it out!” By this time, I was clutching onto the legs of the suit.
“Get the Hell off me, mate,” said the robot.
This made me burst into louder screams. “No, why do you want to destroy Earth? We’re a peace-loving people, we don’t have any weapons, we’re not a target, not a military target. Grand Moff Tarkin, please—”
“Get the fuck off me, man. Jesus! Fine, I’m from the planet Earth,” he said, moving around in jerky movements. “I’m a party robot. Beep beep boop. Where the bitches at.”
“Hey!” I said, leaping up. “Party robots are awesome!” I gave the robot a high five, walked back to Zaf and said, “I love party robots.” Then, I walked upstairs, went into my room, and passed out.

The Epilogue to The Narrator's Tale

I’m not sure what sort of reaction I was looking for. I thought the tale was good, and I certainly enjoyed telling it. The Stalker had no response save slurping from his cider (that was expected). The Drunkard nodded and said, “All that from the ‘Vengeance’ paintings, eh?” The Student said roughly the same thing. The Traveler leaned forward and asked, “Exactly what part of London were you guys in?” And The Writer grunted. It was this last reaction that interested me. “What does that mean?” I asked.
“Hmm?” The Writer responded.
“That. The grunt. What does that mean.”
“I’m intrigued,” he said. “With that, ah, interesting idea of what the result of being sucked into a painting would be… what do you think would be the consequence of, say, getting sucked into ‘Starry Night?’”
“Pants-shitting terror,” I responded. And that was the truth. If I suddenly found myself in the world as envisioned by Vincent Van Gogh, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with the way colors bled into each other. Same with Dali. Appearing in a Dali painting would have been equated with instant madness in my eyes.
“Well,” said The Traveler, “I’d say that’s a pretty decent premise for a story, wouldn’t you guys?”
The Student stroked his chin. “Not bad, I’ll give it that. Seemed like The Twilight Zone would have had a crack at that sort of story at some point.”
“Given the length of time that show was on the air,” said The Traveler, “it wouldn’t surprise me if they had two episodes that had a crack at that.”
“Premise was good,” said The Drunkard. “Execution wasn’t bad, and I liked the narrative style with its touch of Lovecraft over-explaininess of something alien to the day-to-day world.” He sat back and took a drink from his whisky. “Endings are a bitch, aren’t they?”
“Oh I don’t know,” said The Student. “I think it ended fairly well. We established—well, The Hunter and the country gent established—that any attempt to kill The Ravener and The Hunter would be ultimately futile, as they’d essentially, er,” The Student paused. “Huh. What’s the word I’m looking for?”
“Respawn,” said The Stalker.
“Yeah, that’ll work. And it’s not like the narrator of the story could have done anything to The Ravener anyway. You know, what with its spine-ripping-out strength.”
“Maybe so,” said The Drunkard, “but I do like a nice fight in a story. All told? Not bad.”
That seemed to be the consensus of the rest of my companions. The story didn’t inspire rage or hatred, so I was happy with the outcome.
The Traveler knocked on the table and grinned. “Gents, I believe that makes the end of the first round. Time sure does fly, doesn’t it?”
Crazy as it sounded, it was the end of the first round of stories. That meant it was—I checked my watch. It was the end of October already! “Holy shit!” I said.
“What?” asked The Traveler.
“Tomorrow’s Halloween.”
A resounding silence hit the table. “Do they even have that holiday over here?” asked The Writer.
“It’s an excuse to get drunk. My gut says yes,” said The Drunkard.
“Okay,” said The Traveler. “Here’s what I’m thinking. Everyone think back to the tales we’ve had so far and decide on which you think is the best. We will reconvene on Wednesday to cast votes and the winner shall, of course, win this round. Necessarily, this does not mean that he wins all around.”
“Then what does it mean?” asked The Stalker.
The Traveler shuffled in his seat. “Er.”
“Bragging rights,” put forward The Drunkard.
We all agreed that this was a more than honorable reward for winning the first round of our contest, clinked our glasses, and said, “To bragging rights!”