Saturday, April 24, 2010

Concentrated Capitalism

We arrived around three o’clock—about an hour and a half later. Dark clouds largely blocked out the rapidly lessening daylight.
In my time in England, I had forgotten just how big parking lots could be. Opry Mills in Nashville, for example, has a parking lot that, when seen along with the mall itself, is the size of an amusement park—which made sense, since the mall took the place of an amusement park. The last thing I expected to see was a parking lot that size in the country I had come to think of as a modest place. It was a mammoth field of black asphalt and white paint. I flashed back to a trip to Opry Mills, when a friend and I spent longer looking for a spot than we did outside.
As we approached I noticed that “village” wasn’t a misnomer. The place had been built to resemble a small English country village. “At least, it looks pleasant,” I thought.
We finally found a spot after ten minutes of circling—the Germans basically frothing at the mouth the full time. In a split second, the girls were out of the car, running towards the village like they were in a marathon. Confused, we men stayed put, overwhelmed by the speed of their mad dash. Other women dashed likewise through the parking lot. Occasionally, we’d see a shellshocked man stumbling around, looking at parked cars as if they were the mutilated bodies of fellow soldiers on a gruesome battlefield. “Okay,” said The Traveler, after a few minutes of staring at the spectacle. “Okay.”
“Okay,” said The Student.
“Welp,” The Drunkard said. He cracked his knuckles. “I’m going to the pub.”
I looked around. Though the area was set out to look like an English village, I saw no signs that there was a pub—which, really, was an atrocious oversight on the part of whoever planned this place. (I don’t mean to seem to be clinging desperately to ages-old stereotypes, but it is quite true that women shop more than men, and a man facing neverending racks of dresses, shoes, and stores that sell the same things would rather be drinking. Honestly, it just makes business sense for there to be a watering hole in every mall, strip mall, and—the term is starting to grate on me—retail village.) “I don’t see a pub,” I said.
The Drunkard jerked his thumb to my left. I looked and, across the street, there was a large stand-alone pub called The Green Elk. It was the size of two houses put together, brick red with a green roof. “Ah,” I said. “Good call.”
“Told ya: my pubdar is second to none.”
The Traveler and The Student opened their doors and stepped out of the car. The Drunkard and I followed, stretching and cracking our backs. “I think,” said The Traveler, “that at least two of us should go supervise the girls. Lena was saying that she had a couple of grand in her bank account, and someone needs to remind her that we don’t have that much room in the car.”
“Good call,” said The Student. “I’ll come with you.”
“I’ll go,” I said.
The Drunkard snorted. “What? Why? You’re not getting any.”
“Fuck off,” I said.
The Drunkard shrugged. “Whatever.” Then The Drunkard turned, made his way across the parking lot, sauntered across the street and walked into the pub. (This maneuver caused at least ten cars to slam on their brakes and blare their horns—from where I stood, I could hear The Drunkard shout back, “I’m walkin here!”)
“Let’s go,” said The Traveler. He turned and walked towards the retail village.
The Student shook his head, still looking at the piled-up cars on the street. “How’d he live?”
“The sheer will to drink, my friend. Sheer fucking willpower.”
The two of us followed The Traveler.

I do not consider myself an overtly political man. Of course, I have ideas about politics. However, I’ve made sure that I don’t turn into a person whose life is run by them. (My grandmothe, for example, was one of those people. In Tennessee, we had four TVs downstairs. For twelve hours—from nine to nine—every one of those TVs would be turned, full blast, to CNN. When I was downstairs, I’d hear the eighty year-old woman screaming abuse at whatever Republican happened to be talking on-air.)
I believe that it is a citizen’s duty to stay informed about the politics of his or her country, and, as such, I read news aggregate websites from time to time. And, by virtue of having a working brain, I have developed opinions. Some are more informed than others, but they are all opinions. From time to time, my ideas cause friction between myself and others (such as my idea about running for office on a platform called “Culling The Herd”), but, for the most part, they have always been valuable assets and have never really intruded in on my life.
And then I saw this retail village and saw red. Not the red of rage, but the red of Communism. The Traveler, The Student, and I went through the entrance, past the map detailing where every outlet store was placed in its own especial building—yet intrinsically linked together, as if holding hands and mocking the poor of the world—past the coffee shop that peddled a shot of espresso for £2.30, and then got a full look at the retail village. It looked like a sterilized and homogonized version of Canterbury’s High Street. The buildings were a uniform light blue, with white trimmings and black shingle roofs. Occasionally, there would be a few benches, maybe a sculpture in a roped-off grass area. (One of these was a sculpture of two black bears. These were supposedly the mascots of the place, but I saw them as Humanity mocking Nature. “Yes,” we said, “you once had a place of beauty, but now, where your den was, there is now a GAP. Read em and weep.”)
This place of concentrated capitalism, this testament to the free market system, was where a pair of jeans on sale for £90 was seen as a bargain. I fumed. I sputtered. Beside me, The Student twitched. The Traveler gave a little sigh and briefly shook his head. “Oh well,” he said, “no worse than a mall in the States.”
A few people turned to look, but, judging from the shouts of “Where?” and “Buy them! Buy them now!”, a lot of people just assumed that I had found a great deal. “Woah,” said The Traveler. “Calm down, man.”
I spun on him, my jacket flying behind me. In my imagination, I saw it to be a giant red flag, and I was waving it at the head of a vast mob. “Are you mad, man? We are in the den of the beast. These things cost two pounds to make, and they are marketing them at ninety pounds. How can you remain calm in the face of such a thing?”
The Traveler grinned. “You’ve never been in Brookstone, have you?”
“Why would I go to that disgusting hive of the bourgeoisie, where cheap electronics are sold at extre—”
“You own a Mac, don’t you?”
“Er,” I said. In my head, the mob dissipated, muttering among themselves. “Yeah. Well. Kind of.”
“Do you have a Mac in your possession?” The Traveler asked.
“Well. Yes. But my dad bought it for me. A while ago.”
“You’re still guilty by virtue of owning the thing. If you were really serious about taking down the capitalist pig-dogs, then you’d be looking for a responsible computer company, and not one that works with sweatshops in China. Look,” he said. (I remembered a recent conversation I had where someone tried to say that maybe sweatshops weren’t so bad, and I despaired.) The Traveler’s face took on a sympathetic appearance, instead of a cross-examiner’s. “I’m not saying that you should abandon all your principles. You should never do that.” He took a leaflet from a roving person. It announced the latest sale at the Levi Jeans outlet—two pairs of relaxed fit jeans for £145.99.
“It’s just,” he said, “well, you have to realize that you have to act like you give a damn. Parading around shouting about the injustices of the free market while wearing Nikes and clothes made in Indonesia is a bit hypocritical.”
“Okay,” said The Student, gesturing with his finger. “What would you have us do?”
“If you believe something, then act on it. Buy fair trade.”
“But it’s expensive,” I said.
The Traveler slapped his face with his hand and dragged it down, leaving a red imprint on his skin. “Are you serious? You can’t be that stupid.”
I stared at him.
“That’s the cost of actually acting on your beliefs. He held his hands palm up, as if begging, “Look, you can do other things: Campaign for increased goods production in the United States. Buy from farmer’s markets. Do something other than continue on shopping in the supermarket where your food comes from God-Knows-Where.” He checked his watch. “I’m going to go wander around. Narrator, I like you, but you gotta think about self-awareness some more, man.” He walked off along the High Street.
“Well,” said The Student.
“I just got owned, didn’t I?” I asked.
The Student nodded. “Along with what remains of the middle class in America. Now, I think there’s a book store somewhere along here. You want to come with?”
“Nah,” I said. “I’m going to have a think.”
The Student put a hand on my shoulder and put on a very concerned face. “Don’t strain yourself,” he said.
I didn’t take offense. Being told that you’ve lived your life as a hypocrite is a pretty humbling thing, especially when you realize that it’s true. I had my own little stroll through the retail village, dodging running children, their running parents, and masses of shoppers laden with bags. Eventually, I got tired of looking into shops and thinking about the inherent guilt of profiting off of others’ suffering and decided to go to the pub.
I’ve told some people about my solution to problems—i.e., going to the pub—and the reaction has been varied. Some have viewed me as an alcoholic. Some see me as a person who likes to have a good time. I, however, like to cite a recent Woody Allen movie, where the protagonist delievers a spiel to the audience. Part of it goes like this: “My father commited suicide because the headlines were depressing. Can you blame him? What can do you do?” The answer is whatever works. “Whatever joy or grace you can squeeze or filch. Whatever works.” For me, a pint of Guinness works.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Welsh Nationalists

The next morning, we were woken up by the most heinous, despicable method possible. As we lay sleeping, Lena crept in holding two tops to pots as if they were cymbals. She clanged them together at the early hour of eight, and the only one of us who did not leap up from their chair howling as if the devil were approaching was The Traveler.
“Wake up!” Lena shouted. “It’s shopping day!”
My brain raced. Blood rushed through my veins. The Student, The Drunkard, and I looked at each other, wide-eyed and terrified as Lena and Dee—standing in the doorway—laughed uproariously and The Traveler slowly sat up and yawned.
“What the hell?” shouted The Drunkard
“Uncalled for!” shouted The Student.
“That shit just ain’t kosher,” I said.
The Traveler continued to yawn.
Lena, after finally ceasing her laughter, said, “I just wanted to make sure you guys woke up early enough. Seriously, if you think this is bad, then you don’t have loud enough alarm clocks.”
“Amen,” said The Traveler, unzipping his sleeping bag as he sat up and then rubbing his hair. “You’d think y’all don’t have jet engines waking you up in the morning.”
“No,” said The Student. “What kind of person would have that?”
The Traveler raised his hand and grinned. “I’m a deep sleeper.”
We decided who would go first in terms of showering and, luckily, it was me.
I showered, walked out, and promptly went back to sleep. When I woke up (again), The Traveler sat at the dining room table and stared at a spread-out map of Oxfordshire with two Post-It Notes on it. The Drunkard sat next to Lena, who sat next to Dee, who sat next to The Traveler. The Traveler said, “Kay, we’re good.”
“Really?” asked The Drunkard. “Cause that’s what we thought about coming up here, and you managed to get us pretty damn lost.”
“It was an off day,” said The Traveler.
The Drunkard, in a green flannel shirt and jeans, shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
The Traveler shot him a look that would have escalated the situation, had The Student not been there to interfere with a hearty, “You know, the thing I like about these sorts of journeys is that—”
“Dear God,” said The Drunkard. “Please, do not equate going to a retail mall—village, sorry—with some literary trope.”
The Traveler cleared his throat. “Okay everyone ready to go?”
“Please,” said The Drunkard, leaning back in his chair, “can we bicker some more?”

We packed in the car. The Drunkard, flattened himself against the window. Dee sat next to him, relatively comfortable (at the heart of each of us was a gentleman perfectly willing to make life miserable for himself so that a woman could be better off). The Student angled himself so that he wasn’t quite making complete contact with the seat. And I, like the Drunkard, was doing my best to collapse my skeleton so I could become a thin layer of fabric against the window.
“You cannot be comfortable,” said Dee, looking at each of us. “Here, let me—”
“Nope,” I said. “We’re fine. Kosher. Hunky-dory.” The left side of my body went numb.
“But—” she said.
“Nope,” said The Traveler, moving the front seat back and getting in. “If they say they’re fine, then they’re fine. These guys wouldn’t lie, would ya?”
“Nope,” we said in chorus.
The car started up and started on the road. We rode in silence for a little ways—mostly because those of us in the back tried, in very small stages, to make the journey bearable for ourselves by making tiny, tiny movements. Eventually, I got in such a position that feeling returned in my left side. The Student was now sitting partially on me, but, damn it, I could feel my whole body again. “This doesn’t change our relationship, Narrator,” he said.
“Dee,” said The Drunkard, shifting slightly. “Does this change ours?”
Dee laughed. “We’ll see.”
“A black year on your head!” I thought to The Drunkard. “May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground!” I thought to The Drunkard again. Outwardly, I grumbled. “Traveler,” I said. “Music. None of The Drunkard’s trash. Actual, good music.”
“Trash? Trash?” asked The Drunkard. “I’m sorry, but you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. Bands like Occam’s Razor and I’ll Razor Your Occam are brilliant examples of the indie-backlash going on in the punk scene. But, hey, maybe we should just go raid the local Goodwill, throw on some thick glasses, and not move at concerts. Does that fit your Goddamn perception of music better, you schmuck?”
“Drunkard,” Dee said, “please. You’re flailing on me.”
I thought about how many traffic and motoring laws we were breaking by riding in the back like this, and I hoped that The Traveler wouldn’t give a cop any reason to notice us. We passed the ring road out of town, hit one of the spindly two-lane highways that led out of Oxford and parallel to the M2—or 5, or whatever number it was—and to my great joy, the opening notes of Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” streamed out of the speakers.
I closed my eyes and started bobbing my head in time with the music.
“Narrator,” said The Student. “Please stop moving. This is making me very, very uncomfortable.”
I stopped moving, leaned my head back, and thought, “This is what Hell must be like: not being able to even bob your head to ‘Mustang Sally.’”
“Mustaaaaaaang Sally-oh-oh-oh, now,” said a whispering, almost mute voice.
I looked around. Whoever was singing had just the right amount of chutzpah to pull off a good soul vibe.
“You better turn your Mustang round, now,” sang the voice again. I looked over and, sure enough, it was The Student.
“Holy shit,” I said.
He turned and said, “What?”
“You’re fuckin good, man. Belt it! Belt that shit!”
“Don’t belt it,” said the Traveler.
“Ignore him! He’s trying to keep the brother down! He’s The Man! Belt it!”
And, sure enough, The Student belted it. Then The Drunkard joined in. Soon, the whole car, even the Traveler, was singing along to some good soul music
We were so wrapped up in it all that we must have missed the sign welcoming us to Wales.
The soul music completely negated any conception of time we had. Someone finally noticed something was wrong when the green signs started showing a language that seemed to have fallen in love with the letters l and f. “Dear sweet God,” said The Drunkard. “Traveler, what have you done?”
“What?” asked The Traveler, turning down “I’m So Tired of Being Alone.”
“Did you see that road sign?”
“Look,” said The Student, “here’s another one.” The one he was talking about didn’t look official. It was big, white with red lettering, and looked like it had been painted in a hurry.
“What the hell?” I asked. “Are we in C’thulu territory? ‘Cymru am byth?’”
“Hell,” said The Traveler. “Jesus fuck shit,” he pounded the wheel. “We’re in Wales.”
“What?” asked Lena.
“You’re kidding,” said Dee. “There’s no retail in Wales until you get to Cardiff!”
“Good going, putz,” said The Drunkard.
“See? This is why you shouldn’t belt things around me. I lose concentration.”
“I thought you were supposed to be Mr. Internal-GPS-Traveler-Man,” said The Drunkard.
“I never said anything about having an internal GPS. I know where train stations and bus depots are. I fucking hate driving.”
“Then how come you’re driving?” I asked.
“Cause none of you idiots ever learned how to drive stick. Fuck,” he said. We continued on the way, The Traveler drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. “Okay. Okay, easy way out. We ask someone where we need to go in order to get to this place. We can’t be that far off, right? Look, here’s a petrol station. Narrator, you’re coming with me.”
I looked at my current seating arrangement and laughed. “You’re kidding. How?”
“Dee, Student,” said The Traveler, “Lena, you mind moving for him?”
The three people grumbled. The Traveler pulled into the station’s car park, turned off the car, and we began the nearly impossible maneuver of getting me out of the back seat. Lena got out of the car and moved the seat. The Student, apologizing constantly, hoisted himself up by using Dee’s leg and the back of the seat as a base. I slipped out, tripped over the bottom of the door, and faceplanted on the pavement. “Ow,” I said.
“You’re fine,” said The Traveler. “Come on.”
I didn’t want to leave the pavement. The pavement wouldn’t scream at me an alien language. Lena helped me up. I nodded and said thanks. I looked up at the sky and saw the clouds had turned a dark, threatening color. The birds were quiet, and it all pointed to a massive rainstorm. The Traveler, though, was undeterred by such a minor concern as weather and soldiered on into the petrol station.
Convenience stores are one of the unchanging constants in the first world, along with airports. They will all look the same, and, if ever one finds oneself in dire need of remembering that there is a spark of home, one only needs to look for a convenience store and, hark!, there shall be Mountain Dew. Do the Dew, indeed.
Inside, a man stood behind a white-and-red counter with a cash register with a green display. Cigarette packets were arranged in rows behind him. Candies in front of him, on the customer’s side. To the side, there was a microwave with pre-programmed options for heating up pasties, paninis, and other things. The small aisles were filled with electronics and nick-nacks supposedly designed to increase miles per gallon, fool-proof rain-repellant to be sprayed onto the windshield of a car, radar detectors, all sorts of other things.
The Traveler and I went up to the man behind the counter. “Hello,” he said. He spoke in an accent nearly unfathomable to my ears. Try as I might, I don’t think I could replicate it, and, as such, I will not even make the attempt. “Help you?”
“Well,” said The Traveler, scratching the back of his neck and smiling bashfully. “We’re lost. Meant to be going to this retail village ou—”
The man sneered and he spat something out in a language that sounded similar to God-Knows-What.
“Er,” I said.
He repeated his statement and laughed.
The Traveler turned to look at me. I shrugged. It didn’t sound like the man was angry, more like he was testing waters.
He picked up the phone on the counter, dialed a number, and spat some more words into it. He waited, did it again, and hung up. He looked at us with a grin, muttered something Welsh under his breath and said, in a Southern accent—I shit you not—that could have passed in Georgia, “Y’all ain’t from around here, is ya?” He then burst into laughter again.
I poked The Traveler in his arm and said, “We should go.”
“Nonsense. It’s just the, er, Welsh sense of humor,” he attempted one of his confidence-inspiring grins, but failed. “Look,” he said to the cashier, “we just want to know how to get back into England.”
“Oh, I bet you do. Where you’re safe.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said. “I can hear the banjo. Traveler,” I said, taking him by his shoulders and shaking him, “I can hear the banjo!”
“What are—”
The cashier laughed again as the door to the store burst open and The Student, wide-eyed, panting, and sweating profusely, stumbled in. He said, “We have to get out of here. Now. This is turning into a scene from Easy Rider.”
I forced The Traveler away, pushed him past The Student, and back outside. The skies had opened up and rain poured down. Three other cars—an old and green Peugeot, a black Toyota pickup, and a blue Opel with peeling paint—were parked around the lot. Their drivers—tall, lanky, and grinning wolfishly—leaned against the vehicles and stared at us. “Yeah,” I said, “we’re out of here.”
“Nonsense,” said The Traveler, still desperately clinging onto the hope that he could get us directions even as he was being forced to the Fiesta. “They’re just locals. Locals are friendly.”
The man leaning against the Toyota bent down, picked up a small rock, and hurled it at the hood of our car. It made a good-sized dent and chipped off some paint, leaving a large white spot. “Nope, fight or flight’s out of the question,” I said. “The only option is flight, now. Flee, flee like the wind!”
The passenger’s side door opened and Lena, wisely using the door as cover in a crouch, stood aside as I shoved The Traveler towards the driver’s side. I dashed into the back, nearly crushing Dee. The Drunkard had his eyes closed and was shaking his head. Dee sat still, drumming her fingers on her thigh. The Student barreled in, Lena moved the passenger’s seat again, dashed in, closed the door, and The Traveler started the car just as a cascade of rocks hit the frame. Outside, I heard the men chanting, “Cymru am byth.”
We peeled out of the lot, spewing gravel. “Well, well,” said The Drunkard. “Maybe we should change your name to something else.”
“Fuck off, Drunkard,” said The Traveler.
“Something a bit more reflective of your inability to find—”
“Drunkard,” I said. “Stop. Now isn’t the time. We nearly escaped getting attacked, so let’s not exacerbate the situation by turning it into a pissing match.”
The Drunkard shot me a look. “Growing some balls, eh?”
“Drunkard,” said The Student, still sweating and bug-eyed from the encounter, “shut it.”
“We’re fine,” said The Traveler. “Back on the road, heading back towards Oxford.”
I snapped my fingers. “Got it,” I said. I pulled out my phone and called Giggles, who was, generally, always near his computer. My instincts didn’t fail me, and I got him to give us a rough estimate of how to get to the retail village from the Welsh border.
“What the hell are you doing in Wales?” asked Giggles. I could almost see him in his room, an eyebrow arched up nearly to his hairline.
“Almost getting killed by Welsh nationalists. What else?”
Anyway, we got the directions and, thankfully, we were on the right path. All we had done was missed a turnoff at a roundabout (big surprise there). So, The Drunkard cowed—I expected him to sulk, but he shrugged it off and just stared out the window—we continued on the way to the retail village.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Bar in a Church

We went through the glass doors and walked into the bar. Even if there weren’t a gigantic Christ painted on the back wall—hovering over a few tables and smiling down, like he was going to offer to buy the next round—it would have been obivious that the place used to be a church. Religious buildings take on a holy air that remains even after they stop functioning as places of worship. (In Canterbury, there is an old synagogue that now functions as a music hall for the King’s School; but, if you go inside, you can almost hear the Sh’ma.)
The bar’s lounge/black marble dance floor was where pews would have been. The raised bit at the back was, I figured, the Orthodox version of a bimah. The tables were black-finished wood, same with the chairs, and there were a couple of black sofas near the entrance. The bar was at our right. It was painted black and behind it, liquor bottles perched on dark wooden shelves. Underneath, a long line of refrigerators contained juice and bottled beer. There was a mirror in the center, and the two bartenders stood in front of it, having a chat.
The Drunkard squeaked, contorted his face into gleeful expression, and dashed to the bar. The predominant liquor was whiskey. Unwillingly, the girls had brought us to The Drunkard’s heaven. “Shit,” said The Traveler.
“Now,” I said, “there’s no reason to assume that this means he’s going to lose control. After all—”
The Traveler looked at me, raised his eyebrows, and tilted his head down. If he had glasses, he’d be looking over the frames and the expression of incredulity would have been complete. “Really? You’re going to try to say that he will not go overboard.”
I looked over, saw The Drunkard returning with a glass of whiskey and ice. “Well,” I said. “Maybe you’re right.”
The Drunkard rejoined us and, tears in his eyes, said, “Truly, this is a place of holiness.”
The Student looked around the walls, at the purple velvet reading Freud—the name of the bar—and the various saints’ portraits leading to the Christ at the back. “Drunkard, you may have found your church.”
“Fuck that,” responded The Drunkard. “You get free l’chaims just for wandering around North London.” He dropped his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “I know when the Lubavitchers unleash the Mitzvah Tanks.”
Lena turned to The Traveler and said, “Was coming here a mistake?”
“Nah,” he said, “it’ll be great.”
The girls, The Traveler, and The Student walked over to the bar. I was about to order a drink, and then my stomach did a somersault. The Drunkard and I walked towards the back where there was a large, empty table. Across the room, there was a table filled with Greeks. But besides them and a couple gazing into each other’s eyes under the Christ, the place was empty.
The Drunkard and I scooted a couple chairs out from the table—yielding the horrible screeching sound of metal on marble—and sat down. The Drunkard, facing the mural at the back, stared at Jesus. “How come he never looks Jewish?”
I scratched my chin. “Dunno. Maybe—”
“Narrator!” shouted someone from the table across the room. I looked up and, sure enough, there was Zaf—resplendent in his gelled-hair, jeans, and black jacket that, inexplicably, had a patch for the University of Alabama on the arm. He walked over, grinning madly and said, “And Drunkard! How are you making tonight, huh?”
The Drunkard’s left eye twitched. “My beloved language. She weeps.” He sipped his drink.
Zaf laughed his confused chuckle and said, “What are you doing here?”
I pointed at the chair next to me and he sat down. I said, “The Traveler arranged for us to stay with some friends of one of his flatmates. The hell are you doing here?”
“O, my friend of Santorini studies biology here. I, Natalya, and Lynn are staying with her to Monday.”
“Cool, man.”
“Hey,” said The Drunkard. “You’re Greek. What’s up with your man Jesus? How come he doesn’t look like a Jew? You got something against Jews?”
“Drunkard,” I said. “Contain yourself.”
“No, fuck off. I don’t get this.”
Zaf looked confused and, as such, didn’t answer.
“Drunkard, please. Don’t make me get The Traveler to unleash capoeira on you in front of the Germans. That would be most unfortunate.”
He grunted and returned to staring at the Christ.
Zaf stood and said, “So, I hope you have good time. Maybe we’ll see you out tomorrow. I maybe return.” He walked off.
“He maybe return?”
“He means he might be back. I’ve been working with him, man. He’s an engineer at heart. They’re impossible to teach unless you’re working with numbers.”
The Traveler and the others walked up and took seats. “Isn’t that Zaf?” asked The Traveler.
“Yup,” I said.
“Huh,” he said, sipping from a glass. “Small world.”
“Woah,” I said. “Hold on, what are you drinking?”
“Coke. Relax.”
The Student had a bottle of stout, and the Germans were drinking white wine. We toasted to Oxford (I held up a phantom glass in my hand) and drank.
The night was pretty tame. We talked about coursework as postgraduates (the general consensus was that the amount of time we had outside of classes was inordinate) and attempted to talk about sports, but it turned into a debate about baseball and soccer, with The Drunkard, The Student, and I on the side of baseball, and The Traveler, Lena, and Dee on the other. Turns out—not surprisingly—that everyone outside of the States feels that baseball is a complete and utter joke.
Most impressive, though, was that The Drunkard did not go his usual route and get absolutely tanked. He stopped after he finished the whiskey in front of him, and managed to be quite erudite and—even more extraordinary—reined in on the swearing. After I reminded him of the omnipresent threat of capoeira, not every other word was “fuck.” The Yiddish curses were still there, but those are funny and, thus, should not count.
We stayed until closing time and then returned to the car. The Student didn’t give another look at the OUP—which was probably good.
When we got back to the flat, people prepared for bed and the next day at the retail village. Much to my dismay, no further light was shed on my nickname—though the girls kept calling me it, probably because I twitched whenever they did.