Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bonfire Night

After the meal, we walked out of the college into the bitter, cold night and made our way down Tyler Hill to see what this Bonfire Night was all about. I learned that most of the British holidays involved a low-grade pyromania—whether it involved attempting to blow each other up with low-yield explosives and inevitably failing (Christmas), making a fruitcake and setting it on fire (also Christmas), or building a gigantic fire and then setting off fireworks (Bonfire Night). I attribute this to some sort of primordial urge to be entertained in the desolation that is Britain in the winter.
The historical basis for Bonfire Night runs as follows: A while back, a few guys from the minority Christianity got fed up with being oppressed by the majority Christianity. Being English and thus obsessed with fire, they decided to blow up Parliament. Doing so, they hoped, would kill every Parliament member of the opposing sect of Christianity (as well as the King), and thus open the way for their sect to take the reins until the other sect got their shit together and did the same right back at them. Their plot was discovered, and, being the barbarians the English are, the King ordered the leader of the plot—Guy Fawkes—to be tortured and killed six ways to Sunday.
In the modern era, they mimic this brutal slaying by building a wooden effigy and tossing it in the middle of a gigantic bonfire. And then, being English, they stand around in relative silence and murmur, “My, lovely fire this year. The Council have done a smashing job of it. Let’s go queue for a potato” and so on and so forth. After the fire dies, there is a fireworks display. In some towns, where the locals are more adventurous, the custom is to chuck flaming kegs down a hill; because, hey, why not?
It was quite a schlep from campus to the bonfire field. Such a distance that we found it took us over an hour. Though, that isn’t indicative of the distance so much as it is indicative of The Writer refusing to move faster than a light saunter while complaining through the entire journey. (It is a proven, scientific fact that the rate at which one complains is identical to the rate at which a group is slowed in their travel. Thus, The Writer’s constant complaining made us walk roughly half as fast as we would have otherwise.) However, we finally made it to the Bonfire festivities after weaving through neighborhoods and side streets.
The makeup of the field was as follows: At the far side, about one hundred yards away from the entrance, there was the damndest thing I’ve ever seen. It was one of those train rides for children—you know the sort, they’re built in every state fair across the States—except it was called The Rio Grande Railway and was laden with American flags. To the left of the train, and a few yards closer to the entrance was a carousel. Across from that, to the right of the train and about seventy yards away from the entrance, were a line of food and game booths that stretched to the entrance. The main fare of these booths were potatoes and various sausages. Near the carousel, there was a place selling cotton candy.
On the other side of the field, nearer the bonfire but opposite the entrance, were a few lawn-type games. From what I could tell, it looked like there were horseshoes being thrown. I didn’t hear any screams of pain and anguish, so I assume that lawn darts were not part of the festivities. And then, as I believe I’ve covered everything but the mass of people, there was the bonfire.
The bonfire was massive. Before this, the largest one I’ve seen was about five feet tall; and the largest one I’ve built was half a foot tall. (I never had an aptitude for building things. Lego blocks eluded me in their complexity.) This flaming behemoth stood about twenty feet in the air and forty feet in diameter. By the time we arrived, it hadn’t yet been lit, but there was a palpable sense of impatience—British impatience, that is: the sense that, if something didn’t get started soon, someone might start grumbling under their breath. Carnival music, sailed through the air, making me feel perilously close to madness. I looked to my right and saw The Stalker twitching. “Hey,” I said. “It’s cool, man. It’s just music.”
“No,” The Stalker said. “That’s not it.”
“Then wh—”
He pushed me aside and into The Drunkard, who knocked over The Student.
Cotton candy!” The Stalker yelled, throwing his arms into the air like an Olympian who just broke a world record. “Cotton candy!” He bolted into the crowd and made a beeline for the cotton candy booth, knocking over elderly folk and children in the process.
“What in blue hell was that?” asked The Drunkard.
The Student groaned from the ground and said, “Would ‘the strangest thing I’ve ever seen’ suffice?”
The Traveler helped him up. “Maybe. I’d be more tempted to call it batshit insane and leave it at that—for this is England, and you may very well see stranger things before the night is out.”
Mericfully, the carnival music cut out and was replaced by a relatively melodic, high-pitched squeal from the speakers around the grounds. “Let the fire,” someone announced, “be lit.”
Four men holding torches[1] walked to the bonfire and touched their flames to the base of the construct. The fire caught and roared upwards. It was at this time that I noticed the effigy of Guy Fawkes. As the flames licked up, they caught engulfed the avatar and the fire increased threefold. My guess is that there were two things that could have caused this: The first, and this is my preferred explanation, is that the centuries of English hatred of this man made the effigy especially vulnerable to fire. The more plausible, and therefore more boring, explanation is the thing was doused in gasoline beforehand.
Regardless, the bonfire was now engulfed and, even from this distance, I felt about fifteen degrees warmer. Remember that the remaining five of us were about fifty yards from the bonfire. This meant, in my mind, that everyone within a fifteen yard radius (and the closest you were allowed to be to the fire was ten yards) had been incinerated in the blast. This, of course, was not true, but it was the first experience I had of seeing the British in their natural character: Extreme discomfort in the name of tradition. I’m not entirely sure if this is admirable or if it is an indication that they possess some protein deficiency resulting in a masochistic complex. Now better because of the warmth, I clapped my hands and said, “Okay, who’s up for some cotton candy?”
“Nope,” said The Drunkard, taking out the largest hip flask I’d ever seen and having a massive swig from it. “I’m going to get a potato.” He walked off towards the potato stands.
“I find the idea of cotton candy repugnant,” said The Writer. “Really, humanity? Sugar around a stick? That’s the best you can do? Really?” He snorted. “Go rot your teeth. You might fit in better with these barbarians.” Then he walked off. I watched him closely. Sure enough, after feinting that he was going towards the sausage stands, he went to a cotton candy booth.
“What a schmuck,” I said.
“Fuck it,” said The Traveler. “I haven’t had cotton candy since I was a kid. Wanna go, Student?”
“Nah, there’s some vin chaud over there, so I think—yeah, wine time.”
“Hey,” The Traveler said, “be careful. We can’t carry you up that hill.”
“I only brought ten quid. Chances are I won’t get smashed off of that.”
The Traveler and I walked towards the cotton candy booth to which The Stalker had bolted. That’s when I saw the train laden with American flags. “Well,” I said, “that may just barely beat The Stalker’s weirdness.”
The Traveler looked at the train and sighed. “You’ll find,” he said, “that the rest of the world knows of only three Americas. The first is New York City. Everyone there, they think, behaves like the cast of Friends.”
I wretched.
“I know,” he said, “disgusting, isn’t it? But, what are you gonna do? They don’t like Seinfeld over here. The second America—Los Angeles—is where all of the scumbags come from. That is where materialism, mindless entertainment, and Starbucks originate.”
“And the third America?”
“The third America is the Old West. Everyone not living in New York City or L.A. either does not exist or rides around on horses shooting at each other with six-guns and shouting ‘yahoo.’ That, my friend, is why you are currently staring in shock at a carnival ride called The Rio Grande Train Company.” He paused for a moment. “Honestly, I’m just surprised they got the amount of stars on the flag right. Sometimes they just have a blue square with U.S.A. in the middle.”
I started humming our national anthem and successfully ignored the ill-natured look the Traveler was shooting at me. We queued for the cotton candy and saw, at the front of the line, The Stalker.
He was bouncing. Literally. There was no figurative play of words here, the man was bouncing. His mouth moved up and down rapidly, and I’d be willing to bet that the man was saying “cotton candy” over and over again. I nudged The Traveler and pointed. His jaw dropped. The line moved forward, and The Stalker walked to the counter, and shouted “Gimme cotton candy!”
“Candy floss?” I heard the man behind the counter say.
“Sure, just give me that sugary goodness.” By now, The Stalker was yelling quite loudly—loudly enough to beat out the music from the carousel, the Hellish cacophony streaming forth from speakers around the grounds, and the shouts and screams of children. “I’ve been a good boy, just give me the candy.”
The Traveler and I turned to each other and said, “How about a potato?” at the same time.
We quit the line, stealing one last glance at The Stalker, who had by now buried his face in a giant pink lump, and fled to the potato stands. Along the way, we ran across The Student, who was leaning up against a tree and sipping from a cup. I went up to him and, without speaking, took the cup from him and drank. “Er,” he said, “what’s the idea?”
“I need this more than you do,” I said. I pulled a couple pounds out of my pocket and gave them to him. “Go buy yourself another cup. After seeing what I’ve seen—well, it’s nightmare fuel.”
The Student turned to The Traveler and said, “What, did you guys see someone get disemboweled?”
The Traveler, pale-faced, said, “No. The Narrator exaggerates a little bit, but it was, nevertheless, quite frightening. Go, my friend. Go and fetch a cup of wine for your health, and we will tell you.”
The Student shook his head, pocketed my coins, and walked off.
The wine took the edge off of my madness. I was still a shaken man, and in the recesses of my mind, I could still see The Stalker, as if in the midst of some cannibalistic ritual, revert to some primordial, barbaric state and bury his face in a sticky lump of pink goo. No doubt that you do not find this as odd as I do. You, like The Student, probably think me quite mad for behaving the way I do after seeing this, but I can only respond with that motto of the man who suffers: You weren’t there.
The Traveler, it seemed didn’t have the same sensitivities that I did, as, by now, when I had finished the cup of mulled wine, he had regained his complexion and, though he was glancing over his shoulder, he seemed normal. “I wonder if that Dutch girl’s here.”
“My good man!” I shouted. “How can you think of women at a time like this?”
The Traveler sighed. “I have a penis, and I have the urge to copulate. I know that, somewhere deep inside you, you have such urges, and once you stop going mad from seeing The Stalker and the cotton candy incident… you’ll…” he turned pale again. “Oh. Oh, God. The horror.”
“Yes. View it in your mind’s eye and know my pain.”
At this time, The Student returned to us with a couple more cups of wine and said, “Okay, so what did you see that’s got you all weird?”
“The Stalker was eating cotton candy.”
He blinked at me. “That’s it?”
“It was in an eldritch fashion! As if C’thulhu, rising from R’lyeh and yearning for the dreams of man, were feasting instead of a being with whom we are familiar.”
“Okay, Lovecraft, you know something?”
I shook my head.
“Normally, I’m not one to say, ‘go get laid and your problems will be solved,’ but you really, really, need some release. Listen to yourself,” he took a sip from the wine, smacked his lips, “this is good wine, by the way—listen to yourself go on about The Stalker eating cotton candy. Worst case, he just stuck his face in there and started eating.”
“And that is exactly what he did!”
“Then who gives a damn? He eats like a kid. Jesus, pull yourself together. Look at The Traveler: He’s kosher.”
I looked at The Traveler, and he was back to normal. I took a deep breath. Was it truly so weird that The Stalker was devouring cotton candy in such a way? Yes. Was I going to let it ruin my night? Hopefully not. I took another deep breath and nodded my head. “You’re right. I’m bored and letting it get to me. Imagination’s a powerful thing, and mine’s running amok right now.”
“Good,” said The Student. “Now, when do the fireworks start? The bonfire’s not keeping me as warm as it wa, and I’m about to start shivering. I hate shivering.”
“Think,” said The Traveler, “of all the long-winded prose you’ve had to read over your career in academia. All of the two-dimensional characters excused because they’re in Works of Literary Art. All of those damn Russian authors who can’t tell a plot from a hole in the ground. Think of all that, and your hatred will make you warm.”
“There you guys are,” shouted The Drunkard. He held a hefty baked potato in one hand and a plastic fork in the other. “You gotta get a potato. One pound per—damn good deal, I think. Hey,” he said, poking The Student in the shoulder with his fork, “why are you twitching?”
“Doestoevsky. Doestoevsky, Chekhov.” The Student raised his hands in the air, still clutching the mulled wine, and shouted, “Tolstoy!”
The Drunkard, slowly, deliberately, stared at both myself and The Traveler and said, “You need to leave this man alone, or he will, mark my words, burn down a bookstore.”
“Narrator!” shouted a voice from my right. I turned and saw Zaf walking with a couple of his other friends. At this time, he was going out (ish) with a girl from Thailand, and she flanked him on his right. On his left was one of his friends, a Greek woman whose actual name I had no chance in Hell of pronouncing, but I and everyone else just called Natalya.
I gulped and muttered, “Guh,” along with a weak wave. About ninety percent of the time, when I was around a woman I found attractive, I lost all vocal faculties and resulted to uttering monosyllabic words. Occasionally I managed an atrocious joke, but that was about it.
“What are you going up to?” asked Zaf.
“The Hell did you just say?” asked The Drunkard.
“Er, Drunkard,” I said, “Student, Traveler, this is Zaf, er, his girlfriend, and Natalya.”
“No, no no,” said The Drunkard, “you’re not getting off that easy. The hell did you just say?”
Zaf responded with a huge grin and said, “Hey, dude, it’s all okay.”
The Drunkard grunted, took out his flask and took a swig. “I’ll give you English lessons. Five pounds an hour. Best deal you’ll find here. I’m not a shyster like the damn Brits—you can’t trust the Brits with money, I say; they just go around spending it on bullshit like those bizarre haircuts they have.” A tall British guy walked by with his hair gelled and crested at the top in a bizarre mockery of a faux-hawk. “See?” asked The Drunkard. “You can’t trust a guy like that. You can’t trust a people that allow that sort of haircut to exist without mockery. Who can you trust? Me. I’m a journalist—the most honest profession in the world.”
Zaf laughed and gave me the perplexed look I had come to recognize as “I don’t understand a word of what was just said.” Natalya, who acted from time to time as an interpreter of the English-speaking world, translated. After she was finished, Zaf said, “Ah. Well, no thanks. The Narrator can help.”
The Drunkard looked at me and said, “You’d better fucking help. The guy sounds like he stepped out of the 80s.”
I shrugged. “I’m working on it. Languages are hard.”
The Drunkard spat out what sounded like a factory floor.
“Er,” I responded.
“That means ‘kiss my ass’ in Klingon.”
I burst into laughter. “You know Klingon? You fucking nerd.”
I then found myself upside down and in a temporary rubbish bin. After pushing myself out, I dusted myself off and said, “Hey, I play WarCraft. I was just saying tha—”
“Watch it,” said The Drunkard.
I held my hands up and nodded.
An explosion sounded above us and a burst of green light temporarily illuminated the grounds. We looked up and caught the fading outline of the first burst from the fireworks display. All told, it was a decent enough show. Coming from Knoxville, I wasn’t that impressed. (For those that don’t know, Knoxville created a holiday for the sole purpose of shooting off fireworks. And, because it is such a center of creativity and originality, it is called Boomsday.) Everyone else in the group, though, was. Eventually, The Writer (the traces of cotton candy still sticking to his face) and The Stalker (utterly clean faced and slurping mulled wine) joined us and we all watched the spectacle as one.
I looked around and saw that, overall, the rest of the people gathered in the field were having the same experience.
The fireworks exploded overhead, and, right after they finished, it started raining. “Well, well,” I said to no one in particular, “looks like the weather’s going to put out the fire.”
The Drunkard turned and gave me an exhausted look. “I’m sorry?”
“Er, you know. Cause the fire might spread and…” I looked at the rest of the group and cleared my throat. “Look, I never said I was a smart man.”
The Drunkard patted me on my shoulder and said, “I’m heading back to campus, anyone want to come along?”
“Yeah, I’ve got some more reading to do,” I said.
The Student and The Writer said they’d go back as well—we three, it seemed, turned in much earlier than the rest of the group—and so, under the steadily increasing rainfall, we left for campus.

[1] Note: The word ‘torch’ in England means ‘flashlight.’ This is absurd to the level of Kafka, and I shall be damned if it creeps into my vocabulary.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tex-Mex in England

The above is about half t of an essay I turned in for Ranting in Literature. One day, I was walking through the School of English building, trying to find a professor’s office, and I saw the essay printed out and displayed on a corkboard with comments like: “This kid is nuts!” and “Ha ha!” scrawled all over it. I do not expect to get a good mark in the class.
The next day, around five, our group met at one of the bars on campus for a meal before going to Bonfire Night. By this time, each of us was feeling a bit homesick and we decided to go to the bar that featured Tex-Mex cuisine—a tribute to the cheap Mexican restaurants sprinkled around the entire United States.
On the way, I asked The Student what he was doing the other day that had him disappear from the pub in such a rush. He shrugged and said, “Oh, you know, nothing important. I just had to, ah, take care of something.”
“Liar,” I said. “Your pants are aflame.”
“Fine. I had a date.”
I punched The Drunkard in his back, to which he responded by putting me in a headlock and said, “Do not do that again.”
Quickly turning purple—it appeared that The Drunkard had a terrifying natural strength—I choked out, “Okay.”
He released me and said, “Okay, what’s up?”
I wheezed, tried to respond, and coughed. I pointed to The Student and doubled over for a second. “Date,” I managed.
“You got a date?” asked The Traveler.
“Yeah,” said The Student, blushing a little.
“Hey, good for you, man. Didn’t we tell you the Law of Averages would work in your favor?”
“That’s not the best way to express congratulations,” said The Student, “but I’ll take it.”
“Next time,” said The Stalker, “don’t order red wine with a pasta dish.” He didn’t look back while talking. “It makes you look pedestrian.”
“You were following us?”
“No,” said The Stalker. “I was… in a good position.”
The Student and I looked at each other. It was one of those moments that bespoke a vast well of sympathy between comrades.
Without much more conversation, we stepped into the bar. (To be fair, it was an incredibly short distance from Dickens to the bar, and we’d already hit the entrance to the place by the time The Stalker, yet again, weirded all of us out.)
We hadn’t been in the place before, and so we expected a dimly-lit place with soft mariachi music playing in the background, a TV showing Mexican dramas over the bar, and a few murals of men in fields and women carrying baskets of God-Knows-What. It would have been an added bonus if Poncho Villa were featured on the walls somewhere, but we weren’t getting our hopes up. When we walked in, we were dismayed to see that it was a typical campus bar with the default beers (I’d worked up a craving for Negra Modelo, so this was a very strong blow) and little hint of joyful Mexican hospitality. The walls were colored in purple, green, and a strange off-dull-yellow color that I don’t believe I’d be able to see in nature.
The Student let out one of what I considered his trademarked sighs (they possessed a unique, heavy, thoroughly disappointed quality) and said, “Bienvenidos, muchachos. For table six?” in a faux-Mexican accent.
I patted him on the back and said, “There, there, Juan. There, there.”
The Traveler, unfazed by the dearth of Mexicanness, walked to a table, glanced at the menu and went to the bar. The rest of us dragged another table to the one he chose, and glared at the menu. “I bet this shit comes with black pudding,” said The Drunkard.
“Black pudding doesn’t exist,” said The Writer.
“Yes,” responded The Writer. “It’s a cultural misconception. Really, Drunkard, I thought you would have been smart enough to realize that, England being a civilized country, they wouldn’t eat fried blood.”
“Actually,” said the Student, “black pudding’s still around.”
I glanced at The Stalker, expecting to see him licking his lips at the mention of fried blood, but he merely watched the proceedings with his hands in his hoodie and an eyebrow raised.
“Lies,” responded The Writer.
The Student shook his head. “Go down to Wetherspoon’s. On their breakfast menu, you’ll see that you get a serving of black pudding with the English Breakfast. Just because a country has modern buildings and—well, semi-modern roads doesn’t mean they’re above tradition, Writer.”
“Yeah,” said the Drunkard. “You might want to lay off being a wiseass from time to time. Might be tempted to toss you in the fire tonight.”
The Writer snorted. “Oh, yes, I’m truly afraid.”
The Drunkard leaned forward and said, just above a whisper, “Crackle, crackle goes the fire, motherfucker.” He hung his jacket up on the back of his chair and went to place his order at the bar.
The Writer turned towards me, “Narrator, he wouldn’t toss me in the fire, would he?”
I shrugged.
“Damn you,” he said, “give me an answer. Shrugging isn’t an answer, shrugging is putting off an answer. It’s a ‘maybe!’ I hate maybes!”
The Stalker said, “I just might help him,” and walked to the bar.
“Et tu, Student? Will you throw me in the fire?”
“You keep on referencing Shakespeare in common conversation, I just might.” He put his jacket on the back of his chair, shook his head, said, “Utter schmuck,” and went to the bar to order.
The Writer turned back to me. “And you?”
“I’m Switzerland,” I said. Now, it was my turn to go to the bar.
I ordered a chile con carne enchilada and a Mexican-style beer called Sol. I got the beer and realized something was missing. As the rest of my group went to the table, I stood at the bar, looking confused until someone came back to me. He was a tall, built guy with his hair gelled up to the very odd hairstyle prevalent in this country that I can only describe as the crest of an exotic bird; he wore his Union polo with the collar popped, and I blame these two things for the occurrences that followed. “Hey mate, you all right?”
“Welcome back,” sang a voice in my head. “You thought it was your ticket out.” I shook it off. “Um, yeah. There’s no lime in here.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Welcome back,” sang the voice again. “There should be a lime.”
“No mate, there shouldn’t be one.”
“It’s a Mexican beer,” I reasoned, “there should be a lime.”
“Which one of us is behind the bar? I think I should know a little more than you about beer.”
“Ba-ba-ba, Bar-bar-Barino,” John Travolta sang in my head. Suddenly, I felt my head snap back. I was back in Brooklyn. Horshack was there. Epstein was there. More importantly, all sense of social decorum, kindness, love for my fellow man, and tact imploded. “Look here, motherfucker,” I said, virtually shouting for no reason. “You keep pulling this superior shit on me, and I will leap the fuck over this bar and smash your Goddamn head in, capiche?”
The man had the audacity to snort. “Mate, a guy like you, I’d be surprised if he could leap over a stick.”
Well, I had to prove him wrong. I leapt over the bar, put him in a headlock, and said, “Listen: You know anyone workin at K-Bar? Motherfucker in a neck brace?”
The man gurgled.
“Answer me, asswipe.”
“Yes,” he choked.
“That was me. I put him in that neck brace. Now, I don’t know your English customs over here, so maybe I’m out of line. Maybe you should treat your customers like shit, thinking you can handle it all cause you got some fuckin namby pamby accent. But, brother, you think your shit don’t stink? I will take that bottle of Sol, stick it up your ass, and prove to you, once and for all, that your shit stinks.
“So here’s what you’re gonna do: I’m gonna let you go, and you’re gonna write a letter. A missal, if you will. And you’ll address it to your manager, detailing what a gigantic prick you are and requesting that you get some lessons in Goddamn courtesy. After this, you’re gonna go get me a nice, sliced lime to put in my drink so I don’t get the dry fuckin heaves every time I take a sip of Mexican piss beer. You get me, pal?”
The man nodded.
I let him go, walked around to the front of the bar, cleared my throat, and said, “Thank you.”
He took out some paper and penned the most impressive confession of arrogance I had ever seen. After I read through it, I nodded, saw that he put it up on the corkboard near the back, and got a slice of lime for my beer. “Now listen,” I said, coming out of the Brooklyn accent a little bit. “I’m gonna come back later tonight, and if I don’t see that letter still up there, then we’re gonna have trouble. Understand me?”
The man nodded.
I looked around and saw that most of the bar was staring at me. I gave them a wave and what I considered a winning smile. I took the receipt for my food and beer, walked back to the table, and sat down.
The group stared at me. “What?” I asked.
“You ever consider therapy?” asked The Traveler. “That’s not the display of a sane and well-balanced man.”
“The last well-balanced man in my family,” I responded, “was run over by a horse-and-carriage three months after arriving in this country. As a rule, we try be as unbalanced and mad as humanly possible—all in an attempt to stave off death, mind you.”
“That,” said The Student, “may be the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”
“I never made any claim in regards to my intelligence.”
The food arrived much sooner than I had hoped it would—for seeing your food arrive after five minutes is always a sign that it has been sitting in a refrigerator, waiting for someone’s order to set it free. Still, the food looked fine, with one exception: They had Englished up the Tex-Mex.
Now, chances are that my readers will know what I mean by ‘Tex-Mex.’ There is the main part of the dish—enchiladas, for example—followed by some sort of side, usually rice or beans. In the case of my current whereabouts, I assumed that beans were something the British could get a handle on. (Beans for breakfast were seen as a normal thing in this country.) However, they put chips near the enchiladas. Chips, that thoroughly British food staple, that cuisine to which they clung as if it were more important than their monarch. This may seem like over exaggeration, but I issue a challenge to those doubting readers: Go to a British-supremacy website—anything run by the British National Party will do—and view the absurd amount of comments decrying the “Chinky” or the “Paki” and instead hoisting up the “good British chippy.” For example, there was one comment that read, “Sometimes, my mates want to go down to the Chinky for food. I tell them, ‘No thanks, lads. Just drop me off at the chippy.”
Anyway, they tossed chips in with the Tex-Mex. I stared, gaping-mouthed, glaring at the bizarre and eldritch concoction which lay before me. I looked around, saw that my companions were munching away on their burgers, tacos, and quesadillas without showing any signs that the chips also residing on their plates were alien. The Drunkard looked up, saw me and said, “What’s up?”
“There are chips on my Tex-Mex.”
“Yeah,” he said. He took a swig from his Sol. He had no lime.
He had no lime. I jumped up from my chair, pointed at him and said, “You’re Hellenizing! You’re assimilating! Have you no pride? Have you forgotten where you come from? You have no lime in your Sol and you are happily eating chips with your God-damned Tex-Mex! Dear Lord, Drunkard, I be—”
The Traveler stood up and pushed me down by my shoulders. “You need to shut up,” he said. “This is just Tex-Mex. It’s not a big deal. Look, take a bite.”
I did so.
“It’s not even good Tex-Mex, is it?”
I shook my head. The food was bland. The cheese was different, more—I don’t know, plasticky. The beef, while definitely beef and possessing the typical properties that beef was supposed to have, was lackluster. It was bland. It was… English. “No,” I said. “It’s not.”
“Okay,” said The Traveler. “What is it then? It’s English. This is English Tex-Mex. They’re five thousand miles away from good Tex-Mex; you can’t expect them to get it right. What you need to do is calm down, enjoy yourself, and eat.” He returned to his plate. “And get laid. You’re way too tense, man.”
I ate, but didn’t really enjoy it. The Traveler was right, though. I was tense. I was bored. The little schoolwork I had—consisting of reading a book a week for my Ranting in Literature course, and thinking in general for my Philosophy of Life course—was not exactly fulfilling. I needed something else to occupy my time. Right then, I figured it would either be a job or… well, something else. But that was for another time. Right now, I had the bland Tex-Mex in front of me.