Wednesday, March 3, 2010


It was a warm day when this happened. I say that because, frankly, it’s weird enough having a warm day in this country in winter—and, put on top of the events of which you’ll read below, it was a doubly weird day. Doubleweird, if Orwell had written it.
The Drunkard and I sat outside of the café near Woolf College. We watched people as they walked past—generally in groups of languages and nationalities (if you’d want to think of people as representatives of their cultures), but occasionally, you’d see the lone person, hunched over, a universe unto themselves with massive headphones blocking them off from the rest of the people on the pavement. The Drunkard looked the hardest at these people. If there was a sad enough specimen (usually the type to bury themselves in massive coats and glare at the ground as if it had wronged them in some special way), The Drunkard would grunt.
We didn’t talk for a while. I sat there, sipping from my rapidly cooling ceramic cup of Americano, watching the people and, generally, wondering if they, unlike myself, had had enough to eat for lunch. “Fuck,” said The Drunkard. The versatile word wasn’t used in pain, or anger, more like you’d expect someone to go “oy vey” after a catastrophe.
I turned and said, “What’s up?”
The Drunkard grunted and took a sip from his beer.
I checked my watch and noted that it was half past twelve. Now, I understand that England is a country in which drinking at lunch is normal, but I’d never quite gotten into drinking before one. It seemed wrong. Like I was about to hurdle over a cliff. I wondered, right then, what exactly made The Drunkard call me half an hour ago and see if I wanted to go sit in silence outside the café. “You okay?”
It was a minute or so before he answered, and I assumed he hadn’t heard me. “You know Michael Chabon?”
“I’m Jewish-American with a background in literature. Of course I know Michael Chabon.”
“You read his book of essays? Manhood Something or Other.”
“Can’t say I did.”
“There’s a bit in there that goes like—and this is paraphrasing: The art of being a man is to flood everyone around you with a great, radiant arc of bullshit. To give the appearance that you’re keeping your head, when, deep inside, the truest part of you is going ‘Oh shit!’”
We lapsed back into silence for a moment or two. “You don’t really give off the feeling of keeping your head.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
I tossed up my hands. “Hey man, you’re the one who took four flasks of absinthe to Oxford.”
The Drunkard answered with another grunt.
“You okay?”
“I tell you I’ve been going to lunches with a Chabad rabbi?”
“The fuck? Seriously?”
The Drunkard nodded, shivered, took a sip from his beer. “I miss having a community. I’m fuckin lonely man.”
“You’ve got us.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. But, really, you guys—and you’re great, all of you except for Stalker and Writer—aren’t what I’m looking for.”
“You’ve got Julie, don’t you?”
The Drunkard snorted. “You shitting me? Man, she passes herself around the flat like a communal spoon. Downside of collectivism, I guess. After I found that out before we went to Oxford, I haven’t spoken to her. Didn’t expect to have any sort of relationship—really—I just…”
“Wanted something exclusive.”
The Drunkard nodded.
A pair of undergrads—both tall, the girl with rosy cheeks and the guy with that infuriating bird-crest hair—walked by hand and hand. The Dunkard slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “Go fuck yourselves!”
The two glanced over and hurried over towards the library.
The Drunkard, pleased, grunted again. “I haven’t had a community in years. Going to fucking Eldritch for school. What the fuck is wrong with me?”
I took a sip from the frigid drink and let him rant. Sometimes that’s what people need: another person around so they’re not talking to themselves.
“You know how many Jews there were in that school?” he asked. “Five. Counting me. The other four were even more secular than I am. You try getting an über-secular Jew to meet up for Passover? Fucking impossible. Forget dates. Forget em. Three times I went out with this one girl, thinking, each time, that maybe I got her wrong. But no, every time we went out it inevitably led to her ranting about how she had Christ in her heart and yadda yadda.
“Going out with a Jewish girl? Forget that. Went out with one one time. Know what she said when I told her my mom wasn’t Jewish? ‘Well, that makes you a goy.’ Makes me a shagitz. Fuck that. I didn’t spend my entire life getting Bar Mitzvahed, confirmed, teaching Hebrew School—I tell you I did that? I did. First grade. I didn’t spend the first part of my life—before college—to get told by some Jewish-American Princess that I’m not a Jew because my Mom wasn’t brought up in shul.
“And so I get here, maybe things are gonna be different. Nope. Fucking French collectivists. You want heartache, you think about smelly fucks shtupping the person you think of as your significant other. That, my friend, is the blues.” He drank from his glass. “Kroenenburg,” he said, after watching me watch. “Sweet lager. Only kind I drink.”
“I’m not a fan of sweet stuff.”
“You need it, sometimes. Women got their ice cream fixation. Me? It’s sweet lager and kosher wine. Kosher wine’s nothing but sugar with grape juice allowed to ferment. You’re doing Fiddler. You know the lyric, ‘God would like us to be joyful/ Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.’”
“Course I do.”
“Well, it’s like that. I’m not sure about God. Don’t know if I ever will be. But, I figure, there’s wisdom in it all. There’s wisdom anywhere you want to look for it, really. I drink that Palwin stuff and think that, maybe, life has its redeeming qualities. There’s not enough bad stuff in the world to squish out the good. All the shit that happens in Israel. All the racism on both sides, all the bombings, all the warfare, and still. Some kibbutz manages to make a bottle of sweet wine that finds its way all the way to fucking Canterbury, only to be bought and consumed by yours truly.” He held up the glass to the sunlight. “I look through this glass, I take a sip,” he took a sip, “I think the same thing. For all the shit that gets shoveled your way, you gotta remember the sweet things in life. A hug. Your dog. Sitting around, getting drunk and playing Mario Kart. A glass of wine. Your job, which entails tending to grapes in a vineyard. Something. You can’t ever lose sight of what makes it worth the trouble to get out of bed in the morning. You do that, and why even bother doing anything in life?”
He stopped talking for a moment, watched people walk by. I noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and there was a vein popping out of his forehead. His left hand drummed the wooden table while his right clutched the pint glass.
I thought about a lot in that time where he sat, drumming. None of it was really joined up with a preceding thought, but it was all relevant one way or another. “All this because of a woman?” I asked.
He nodded. “All this because of a woman.”
More silence.
“All this because of one woman.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In Which The Drunkard Uses His Klingon

Dear, patient reader, I imagine that your tolerance for absurdity is running out. Perhaps it’s gone. Perhaps any microscopic amount of credence I had with you was flung out the window when I told you of my experience in a dilapidated warehouse. Maybe even before: the beginning of our long adventure together, when a bus driver hurled obscenities at us for not running off of a coach. If that is the case, I must insist that everything I have told you has happened. If that annoys you, or makes you feel cheated, then you are about to feel even more annoyed and cheated.
I’m sure that, by now, you have a mental image of a pub’s interior. Carpets, wooden tables, oak bar, brass pulls for ale—that sort of thing. Pub goers seem to be a relaxed lot—except for those who go to rough pubs. For the most part, the places I know are not where one goes out dressed to go clubbing. Now that I have said all of that, I am going to shatter your world-view.
The décor of the Eagle and Child was similar to the description I gave above—though it was less a room, more an extended hallway with some tables and chairs sprinkled around. The sounds and smells of the pub were similar to every other place I’d been: the faint scent of ale and various foods mixing, a soft murmur of conversation from the patrons. The only thing that was different was that the patrons of this pub were dressed in LARP gear.
I should explain. For those of you not acquainted with LARP, it stands for Live-Action Role Play. Take every stereotype of a Dungeons and Dragons player you know and apply it to a real person. Now, imagine that this real person is not content with having their adventures on a pen-and-paper medium; they feel compelled to take it out into the world. So they go out into the woods dressed as wizards and knights and shout things like “Lightning bolt!” and “Polymorph into a stick!” at each other. (A somewhat honorable example of the LARPer would be a Renaissance Fair performer. I say somewhat honorable, because they are getting paid.) These are, in other words, people who try to reenact Lord of the Rings.
The first thing I saw when I walked into the pub was an attractive, youngish blonde woman wearing what I can only describe as a Link from Zelda costume. “Ah,” I thought, “this must be a fancy dress night. Oh, those delightfully cheeky Brits. They cer—dear God, is that man wearing a goblin outfit?” And, indeed, he was. What’s more, he was the bartender. He responded to a cowled wizard’s order in some grumbling tongue the likes of which I’d never heard, and I turned to The Traveler. “What is this?” I asked.
The Traveler stood next to me, his face blank in comprehension, pale in color, and awed in expression. He shook his head. “I do not know.”
The Student cleared his throat. “Where’s The Drunkard?”
I looked around and saw, to my right, that The Drunkard was standing in much the same way as The Traveler. A vein throbbed in his forehead and his left eye twitched. “Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Nerds,” he said.
I snorted. “Says the man who can speak Klingon.”
The Drunkard turned on me with such speed that a fleck of blood from his nose splattered on my shirt. “Er,” I remarked. He grabbed my collar, and I saw his hands shaking in rage. I craned my neck to appeal to The Traveler for help, but he was stunned in confusion.
“There,” said the Drunkard, “is a significant difference between being able to speak a completely made-up language in which there is no cohesion between speakers and dressing up as a God. Damned. Goblin.”
“Hey!” shouted the tall, portly wizard. He shuffled a couple steps towards us, rose his hand in the air in a claw, and shouted, “Chains of Holding!” as he brought it down in a swift swoop.
The Drunkard dropped his hands from my collar and said, “Oh, hell no.” He rolled up his sleeves and advanced.
This got The Traveler’s attention, and he stepped in between the two of them. “Okay, guys. Let’s calm down.” He turned to the wizard, “my friend is a bit, ah, jumpy when it comes to certain things. He’s not going to hurt anyone.”
The wizard snorted. “Well obviously, not now. I cast Chains of Holding on him.”
“Get the fuck out,” said The Drunkard. “You’re shitting me.”
“Silence!” shouted the wizard, bringing his clawed hand down again.
“Okay,” said The Traveler again. He laid a hand on The Drunkard’s shoulder and continued to address the wizard. “What we need to do,” he said, “is just all calm down and have a drink.” He turned to The Drunkard. “How’s that sound?”
The Drunkard grunted.
Apparently, the wizard thought he had a beard, as he mimed stroking a beard to end all beards. “Sir, your diplomacy skill must be quite high.”
I detected a very low growl coming from The Drunkard, as if someone had unleashed a Doberman in the room. No one else seemed to notice.
“Very well,” continued the wizard. “I would be honored to have you join my party at my table in the back of the tavern. We are weary travelers seeking a way into the Underdark to find great hordes of treasure built up by the wicked drow, and would welcome any light-hearted conversation.” He nodded to The Student and myself, and walked to the back of the pub, tankard of ale in hand.
The Traveler turned to The Drunkard. “We’re going to meet his, er, party.”
“I cannot believe we’re doing this.”
The Traveler shrugged. “Hey, you’re the one who chose the pub.” He gave him a smug grin and walked to the bar.
“Oh, that prick,” said The Drunkard.
“Ask me,” I said, “and I’d say he deserves to be. He kicked your ass pretty hardcore.”
The Drunkard grumbled and went up to the bar.
I turned to The Student and saw he was still in frozen where he stood. “Hey,” I said. He didn’t move. “Er.” Still nothing. I poked him and he blinked. “How’s Rebecca?”
“Oh, she’s good,” he said, snapping out of his stupor. “She’s going out to Brighton this weekend and we’re getting together afterwards to trade pictures.”
“Aw,” I said, “that’s so sweet.”
His right eyebrow rocketed up the top of his face. “I can’t be sure if you’re being facetious or not. I’m going to assume that was sincere and go about the day.”
We walked up to the bar, ordered a couple of lagers, and followed The Traveler through the pub. On the walls, there were maps of Middle Earth; the Star Wars galaxy; Arrakis from Dune; and a few other places I hadn’t seen or heard of before. We passed by about ten tables, each filled with people dressed as elves, Klingons, and a couple Jedi necking over a bottle of wine. I was, briefly, reminded of a place in Houston called The Hobbit Hole. I’d never been inside the place, but now, after seeing all this, I’d imagine it must have been similar.
We finally reached the wizard and his party. There were six of them in total—four guys, two women. In such a place as this, a speck of beauty was amplified tenfold, and the elf with the long brown hair and grey eyes was the most gorgeous thing I could imagine. (Writing that, a part of me feels like I am writing a thoroughly obscene bit in a romance novel.) I waved at them all and said, “Guh,” at her in particular. “Damn,” I thought. “Enunciate!”
The Drunkard leaned in and whispered, “You want to be her elf king, don’t you?”
“Yes. We can live in Rivendell for the ages and then, in our old age, go to the Undying Lands.”
“Right,” he said, patting me on my left shoulder.
“Ah,” said the wizard, “and here are our companions. Come,” he gestured to another table, “pull up the table and join us! We shall be merry and—”
“Please,” said The Drunkard. “Please don’t say merry again.”
“Er,” responded the wizard.
I noticed that there was a small free spot on the bench next to the brunette elf, handed my drink to The Student, and with all the grace of a drunken moose, I stumbled over one of their friends—judging by the black leather get-up, he was either into riding motorcycles, S&M, or a rogue—and plopped down. I heard The Drunkard let out a sharp bark of a laugh and ignored him. “So,” I said. “You like elf ears? I’ve never worn elf ears. Don’t think I would. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just that, you know, I like my own ears and—well, yeah. Hi. I’m The Narrator.”
She said, in the most posh accent I’ve ever heard, “These are my ears; how would I ‘wear’ anything else? My name is Loth’tariel, and I am a Ranger of the nation of—”
At that point I said, “Ah, you’re just as mad as the rest of these people,” stood up, and walked to the table around which my friends sat. Now, I understand that there are some of you who would have stayed on, done some roleplaying—but, frankly, if I have to be an elf to score, then that’s just too much effort.
“What happened to the elf king?” The Drunkard asked.
I grumbled, downed the rest of my beer, and said, “The elf king is no more. Gave my fucking charm or whatever to—I don’t have the patience for being a LARPer.” I turned to the bar, shouted, “Whiskey!” and went to order it.
When I returned, The Drunkard was in a shouting match with a Klingon at one of the nearby tables, our wizard was holding him back, and Loth’tariel the Ranger pointed a toy bow and arrow at the both of them while the rest of her table started placing bets on who would win in the ensuing fight. I sat down next to The Student and said, “What just happened?”
“The Drunkard overheard what I took to be someone hacking up a bunch of phlegm, turned around, and responded to the man in kind. After that, the Klingon stood and—judging by the reaction he garnered—insulted his manhood.”
I nodded and turned to The Traveler. “Why aren’t you trying to stop this?”
He slowly shook his head. “Because, to be honest, I’m still not sure what I’m seeing.” He glanced around the bar.
I did as well. I noticed that the other patrons had fallen dead silent. A group of people wearing Starfleet uniforms had stood and walked our way. They were led by a very skinny man, and the rest of them ranged from one obscenely fat man in a red shirt, a reasonably built man in blue, and a couple tall, well-built women in yellow. (For a second, I was surprised that there were this many women in the place, but then I realized that the world was an ever-changing place, and nerds/geeks were, for the moment, not as abhorred as they once were.) “Ah,” I said, and nudged The Traveler.
He looked to them, moaned, and walked over. “Hello,” he said.
I noticed that the man in front was wearing Vulcan ears, and dearly wished that I had stayed in Canterbury where, at least, if I were seeing this stuff, it would be because I was obscenely drunk. The Vulcan nodded and said, “Greetings. We are here to address this altercation as representatives of the Federation. Please stand aside.”
“Oh dear God, if they could see this in my European Governance class,” The Traveler said—I guess it was supposed to be an interior bit that slipped out. “Look,” he continued, “there’s nothing going on here. Just a few words between a couple grown adults and—”
The two started shouting louder.
“The Klingon,” said the Vulcan, “has just laid a death threat upon your friend’s entire clan. I suggest you stand aside so that we may handle this situation. And then, for the betterment of the entire pub, I suggest that you leave.”
Starfleet Academy pushed past The Traveler and the Vulcan placed his hand on the Klingon’s throat. He collapsed to the ground in a heap and was pulled up by the two other Klingons.
The Drunkard whirled on the Vulcan and shouted, “Just who the fuck do you think you are, Spock?”
“I lent a helping hand.”
“Fuck you, I could have taken him.”
The Vulcan put his hand on The Drunkard’s throat. Instead of crumpling, The Drunkard took the man’s hand, twisted it at the wrist, creating a lovely crack. The Vulcan’s scream hit a high falsetto that should not have been possible.
That’s when all Hell broke loose in the pub. I don’t know who threw the first punch, Nerf arrow, or foam dagger, but soon enough the entire place was engaged in a massive melee. I looked around me, searching for some sort of sanity amongst the madness, and I found none. Humanity had shown its true nature, that day. People dressed as elves, goblins, Jedi, Sith, Klingon, Fremen, and a slew of other fictional groups had at each other, screaming such insults that I could never hope to recreate them here—not because of their obscene nature, but because they were so detailed and specific to the party being insulted, in order to understand the insult, one would have to have a detailed knowledge of the party’s fictional universe.
The group of LARPers we had originally joined pushed past us into the fray, the wizard shouting, “Lightning bolt!” over and over again, throwing yellow ping pong balls. Loth’tariel the hot elf let loose a battle cry that, to me, at least, meant that she was completely insane and that I really should have pretended to be her elf king.
I turned to The Drunkard, who watched it all with a pleased look on his face as he leaned against the now empty table. “There. You see what happens when you break a Vulcan’s wrist?”
On the floor at our feet, the Vulcan in question gave out a whimper. The Drunkard kicked him in the ribs and said, “Not my fault. The Trekkie was trying to do his mind-meld shit on me.”
“Well, gentlemen,” said The Traveler, “I may say, without any hesitation, that you are by far, the most dangerous group of people I’ve traveled with. I don’t know anyone else who could start a pub-wide brawl in England without a mention of football.”
The Drunkard snorted. “Bullshit girls’ game, that is.”
“Anyway,” The Traveler continued. “I think we should head on our way before they realize who started this.”
He tiptoed through the melee, dodging weak punch, after weak kick, after ping-pong balls of all colors, after assorted colors of light sabers, and we followed. “Excuse me,” I said to a Jedi who had just been clocked upside the head with a wooden sword. “Whoops,” to a tall elf struggling against some sort of cow-man thing. A knight found himself mounted by a randy goblin and screamed in an even higher falsetto than the Vulcan. I laughed and dodged his flailing sword. I bolted, ran past the Traveler, and back onto the High Street.
A crowd had gathered. None among them had any LARP gear on, and being back on the High Street with its shopfronts, street performers, and cobblestones reminded me where I was and threw me back into reality. The crowd murmured and I heard a few chuckles. I cleared my throat, steadied myself, and took on what I assumed was an oratorical position—it consisted of puffing out my chest, squaring my shoulders, and placing one foot in front of the other. “Friends, there are a bunch of nerds in there. Join me in laughing at them.”
I spun around and laughed. To my surprise, the rest of the crowd laughed as well. Furthering my surprise, the first person out of the pub’s door was The Drunkard, and he did not take kindly to ten strangers laughing at him. I saw his pupils briefly turn into nuclear explosions, he screamed, “Motherfuckers,” and ran at us. I steadied myself and took the force of his charge. Surprisingly, I didn’t topple over, but neither did he.
I’d never had to restrain an angry man before, and, having done it once, I can safely say that I have no desire to do it again. He flailed, spat, sputtered, reached, clawed, and grabbed at the air behind me, in the general direction of the crowd. He continued to scream obscenities before the crowd finally backed away. I said, “Easy. They’re not laughing at you; they’re laughing at the nerds.”
He slowly stopped his rage-fueled impression of Taz, took about twenty deep breaths, and nodded. “Fucking nerds.”
The Traveler and The Student, who had left the pub as The Drunkard began his rage-spiral, slowly approached us. “So,” said The Student, “where to now?”
The Traveler checked his watch. “We’ve got an hour and a half-ish left. I’d recommend getting sleeping bags for the weekend.”
The Drunkard whirled. “We’re not getting beds?”
“No, we’re not getting beds. We’re staying at a stranger’s apartment. Would you give them beds?”
“If I had them.”
“Then we assume that she does not have the beds. Chrissakes, think for a moment, man. She’s a student. She’s not going to have four extra beds lying around.”
The Drunkard grumbled. “I like beds.”
“Then get an air mattress.”
“Not the same.”
The Student let loose a grin. “Man up.”
The Drunkard turned to The Student and said, “Watch it.”
“No, Drunkard,” The Traveler said, “you watch it. What the Hell’s up with you, man?”
The Drunkard grunted.
A light bulb exploded inside my head. (I realize that that is a strange metaphor, and I blame years of cartoon viewing.) “French troubles?”
The Drunkard grunted again.
The Traveler started moving down the street—I just assumed that he knew where he was going—and the rest of us followed.
“Dude,” I said, “I got ninety-nine problems, but a bitch ain’t one.”
“Word,” said The Traveler. “Bitches ain’t worth shit.”
“Well,” said The Student, “that’s kind of harsh, don’t you think?”
“Sorry. Except for Rebecca. She seems nice,” I said. “Real nice. Definitely not a bitch.”
“Word. She’s kosher,” The Traveler said. He went to a police officer “Excuse me,” said The Traveler.
The officer greeted The Traveler.
“Where can we find an Argos?”
“Follow me, sir.”
We were getting a guided tour to Argos! I looked at The Drunkard and saw him scowling. “What’s up?”
“I have four flasks of absinthe on me.”
I sputtered. “What?!”
“Sh. Look,” he whispered, “act natural. I don’t know if this stuff is illegal over here, but I’m not taking the chance of getting some pig all up in my business. Also: don’t tell The Traveler, but in my bag in the car, I’ve got some mason jars of moonshine.”
This led to a coughing fit on my part. “How the hell did you get moonshine?”
“Made it.”
“Out in the woods behind the college. Look, it doesn’t matter, just act natural.”
It was hard to act natural when one of my companions was acting as a vehicle for some disgusting—not to mention potentially blinding—beverages, but, somehow I must have managed it, because not even The Student—who was usually right on top of discomfort—asked me what was wrong.
Eventually, we made it to Argos. The officer wished us well and left. The Traveler stopped before we entered the store and said, “I don’t want to know what had The Narrator sputtering like that. At least not until we get to the apartment.”
“Okay, Dad,” said The Drunkard.
The Traveler feigned towards The Drunkard, who broke into a sweat, and The Traveler entered the store.