Thursday, April 29, 2010

We Depart

The next day, we awoke and prepared everything for our departure.
Back home, my friends and I would go camping once a year. And, every year, I would borrow a sleeping bag from one of them, and spend an hour and a half trying to force the thing back into its sleeve at the end of the trip.
As I stood in the middle of the room, looking at everyone else’s neatly-packed-away bag, and then at my own still-splayed-out-and-torn heap of blue fabric, I had flashbacks to about seven camping trips, wrestling with sleeping bags while my friends trekked down to the cliffs to hurl rocks into the lake. (We were easily amused.)
It seemed that I had improved since the last camping trip, as it only took me twenty minutes of swearing and sweating profusely to pack away the bag. It didn’t look pretty at all—a quarter of the bag still hung out of the sleeve like a limp noodle—but the damn thing was packed away. I walked into the living room, took the tea that was offered to me, and sat down with a sigh.
The Traveler, always the charming and pleasant one out of the group, thanked the Germans for having us around. He said that our flats were open to them any time—Canterbury, he further said, may not have been the most metropolitan of places, but some times, people need a bit of country to soothe the soul.
I stared at him, wondering how a person could be so talkative and so damn eloquent in the morning. It wasn’t fair.
Anyway, we all stood up and hugged. Nothing makes friends faster than crashing in someone’s house, going drinking with them, and then somehow traipsing out to Wales on accident.
I hugged Dee. She said, “Bye, loverman.”
“You’re not going to tell me what happened, are you?”
She smiled and said, “Nope.”
I nodded and shrugged. It’s fairly easy to resign oneself to ignorance.
We picked up all our stuff (which was quite minimal), said goodbye again, and walked out of the flat down to the car. The Traveler unlocked it, we put our bags in the boot, and got in.
“Son of a bitch,” said The Drunkard, getting into the back. “I forgot that you can actually spread yourself out back here.”
I followed suit. “No kidding.”
The Student popped the front seat into place, sat down, and said, “Honestly, I just want to get back to Canterbury, head to the Sub-Pope’s Flock, and have a pint.”
“First thing after getting back from a trip?” asked The Traveler as he got into the driver’s seat. “You’re turning British on us, aren’t you?”
The Student shrugged. “It’s a relaxing place, isn’t it?”
“What,” said The Drunkard, “this wasn’t a relaxing trip?”
“We did get attacked by Welsh nationalists.”
The Drunkard snorted. “You kidding me? We could’ve taken them.”
The Traveler started up the car and drove out onto the road. “How do you figure?”
“Dunno,” said The Drunkard. “But we could’ve.”
“Huh?” asked The Student. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Americans,” said The Drunkard, putting on a gruff voice, “love a fight. We love to win. Frankly, I feel sorry fo—”
“Shut up,” said The Student. He grabbed a CD from the sleeve of our mixes, tossed it in the player, and the opening bars of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Suite played out of the speakers in the car. The Traveler drove us out onto the main road and towards the M-2.
“Oh come on,” said The Drunkard. He flung his head back on the headrest. “You’re wanting to play Vi-fucking-valdi on a car trip? Have you no knowledge of how these things go?”
“Oh,” said The Student, “God forbid that we have something pleasant to listen to on the trip instead of trash.”
“My music isn’t trash, you plebian,” responded The Drunkard. “It is as much of a musical entity than your precious Spring suite.”
“How? How is that possible? One of your songs is thirty seconds of cacophony brutalizing blues scales in such a way that makes any sane person yearn for the sweet embrace of death.”
“Melodramatic, much?”
“Punchbug green!” I shouted, bashing The Drunkard in the shoulder as a green VW Beetle drove past.
The Drunkard winced, glared at me, and said, “It is on, motherfucker. You shall rue the day.”
The Traveler looked at us through the rearview mirror as we pulled onto the M-2. “You are aware that Beetles are much less common over here than they are in the States.”
“Yes,” The Drunkard and I said in unison.
“Thus,” said The Traveler, “you will be vainly staring out of your windows for the two and a half hours we’re on the road.”
“Yup,” we responded, turning to our windows and peeling our eyes open.
“Just making sure,” he said. He turned the volume up and skipped to the last part of the Summer suite.
Alas, for the rest of the trip, we only saw one other Beetle. And, of course, it was on The Drunkard’s side of the car. He yelled, “Punchbug red!” cackled maniacally, and hit me so hard that my right shoulder was numb for three days. I learned right then never to play a car trip game with a grown man. But, aside from being semi-injured, the trip was pleasant and relaxing—no doubt because of The Student’s collection of classical music. There is, you see, something about listening to Vivaldi and Dvořák that squelches the urge to annoy people. (Also, we found that it is entirely possible to headbang to the last movement of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony—which is always handy information.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Sermon in The Pub

“Yep,” I thought, “this is a chain pub.” Chain pubs try to be relaxing, but somehow keep failing. I’m not exactly sure what it is. It’s just that, whenever I walk into a Wetherspoon’s or their equivalents, I shiver violently for a second, noticing that everything is slightly off.
The second thing I noticed was, in a red booth to the left of the front door, The Drunkard perched on top of a high chair. Around him, sitting on the leather couch and the red-and-green checkered carpet and in wooden chairs, patrons of the pub gazed upon him in expressions ranging from awe to rage. In his brown windbreaker, The Drunkard spoke and gestured outlandishly with his hands and arms. “No,” said The Drunkard, “Americans do not like to see their fellow countrymen trod upon and murdered in the streets.” A vein throbbed in his forehead and I walked forward.
“Not what I heard,” said a large man sitting on the floor with a buzz-cut, camo pants, and a black shirt.
“Oh?” asked The Drunkard, whirling around and facing him. “And what, pray tell, did you hear?”
“I heard that you don’t give two damns about each other. Why else would you not have the NHS.”
“For—” The Drunkard spotted me. He looked up at the ceiling and said, “Thank you, God.” He looked back at me and said, “Narrator, come over here. They think that Americans are a lot of NASCAR-watching megalomaniacs with a permanent bloodlust.”
I said, “Wait a minute.”
I went up to the bar, up to the bartender—a girl with auburn hair, slender, killer brown eyes—and asked for a Guinness. I watched it settle and heard The Drunakrd rant about the Iraq war. I thought about how to explain the absurdity of American government. It would be hard—especially since these people had probably only paid attention to Clinton and Bush—and would probably require a series of at least ten lectures, seminars, and about ninety books’ worth of required reading.
The Guinness finished settling, the barender gave me the pint glass and said, “You his friend?”
“Yeah,” I said.
She nodded. “On the house—you’ll need it. They’ve been grilling him since he walked in.”
I thanked her by buying her a round and walked back to the Sermon in the Pub.
“Are you kidding me?” The Drunkard asked, his hands in the air in disbelief. “No, the United States is not led by the KKK.”
“Seems like it to me,” said an old man sipping from a pint of cider.
A rumble of agreement passed through the rest of the group.
“Wh—” started The Drunkard.
I interrupted. He was about to snap whereas I had at least thirty minutes before I reached that point. “The thing about United States government is that, when it actually does something, everyone is completely surprised.”
A few people laughed.
“See, it’s designed to have such a regular turnaround that every six years, there’s a completely new government. So, the administration in power right now—Obama’s—who, I should add, is African-American and thus ineligible for membership in the KKK, is completely different—at least in name—from the Bush administration.”
“But,” said a woman with blonde hair, glasses, and a black sweater, “the current administration has failed to follow through with closing the prison at Guantanamo, initiate massive infrastructure reforms, and bring a significant change in health care to the United States.”[1]
I nodded. “A valid point, but you’re not taking into consideration the veto powers of every branch. Honestly, it’s a miracle something like the stimulus package was passed so early on in the administration’s time in power. Closing Guantanamo is going to take a while simply because there are people in the United States who dislike the President on principle.”
“And,” said The Drunkard, “because they think he wants to create death panels and eliminate the elderly.”
I nodded. “That too.”
“Why,” said a man whose face looked as if he had seen eons pass by like clouds, “do you calls crisps ‘chips?’ They aren’t bloody chips. Chips are chips, not crisps. The sooner you—” he clutched at his chest, his face turned purple, and then someone passed a glass of port to him. He sipped it and his color returned to the sickly pale it was before. “Apologies. I used to work in linguistics.”
“Oi,” said a man in a white and black track suit in the back. His teeth were in disarray, but his bling was shiny beyond all measure. “I eard from my mate Lil Steve that you is gonna invade us like well good. Fuck you.”
I blinked and turned to The Drunkard. He shrugged. “I can understand your concern, and I assure you that, when the time comes, your question will be addressed by the proper authorities.”
“Oi, fuck off,” said the man, rolling up his sleeves. Two of his friends held him back. Another went to the bar and brought a Stella Artois to the man, who suckled it as a baby does a bottle.
The Drunkard poked me in the arm. I leaned over and he whispered, “We need to get out of here before this escalates. There is not one intelligent person in this place, and I’m pretty sure they’re about to rise up and slay us for not knowing ‘God Save the Queen.’”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “They’re harmless. Just a little, ah, excitable.” I looked at the crowd and saw that they were murmuring to themselves. A few people in the back left and moved to some free tables.
A tall, thin man with red hair, thick glasses, and wearing a disgusting green suit stood up. “Why,” he said, in the accent of the Royal Counties, “are Americans fat, stupid, and lazy?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s funny you mention that, because—”
The Drunkard bolted up from his chair, looked the man in the eye, and shouted, “Why are all English spineless faggots who’d rather drink tea than shoot hard liquor?”
The pub went silent, and I felt my life was endangered.
“Huh?” asked The Drunkard. “I ask you because you seem to be a prime example of your race of cowards.”
To my simultaneous surprise and glee, no one responded.
Until someone threw a bottle at The Drunkard’s head. Instantly, the pub was transformed from silent place of cross-cultural discussion to a redneck bar, and we were the band. The only thing missing from the raucous chaos was chicken wire. And that, my friends, would have been quite handy. “Run!” I said.
“No!” shouted The Drunkard, dodging a couple green bottles. “We stand and fight!” He picked up a bottle that had not shattered on the wall behind him and flung it back at the crowd. “AMURIKA!” he shouted.
I jumped up a bit to get leverage, flung my arm around his neck, and pulled him out of the pub. The crowd, thankfully, did not pursue us out of the pub, and we managed to get across the street—all the while, The Drunkard cursed me for a coward.
We retreated to the car park, where I released him. It was dark by this point, and we stood under a tall light. Rain piddled down from the sky. He whirled on me, veins in his forehead throbbing, and shoved me at a car. “What the fuck?” he said.
Now, this sort of thing has happened to me before. I’ve had a history of enraging people with short fuses, and I’ve learned that the way you have to deal with the situation is—
The Drunkard punched me in the stomach. The air left my lungs. I doubled over and coughed. That was not how you dealt with the situation.
“Huh?” reiterated The Drunkard.  “What the fuck?”
“It,” I said, coughing, “is hard to respond to a question when one is coughing and in pain. Please don’t hit me again.” Those two sentences took roughly a minute to get out.
The Drunkard backed away and leaned against the light. He was still breathing quickly, but the veins in his forehead were no longer standing out.
“Okay,” I said, straightening up. “Did you really want to take on thirty drunk Englishmen? Cause that’s what seemed to be your plan.”
“I said what I said to prove a point.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “You ever think that bolting out of your chair and shouting at the top of your lungs might not be the best way to make that point?”
“I—” The Drunkard stopped, scratched his chin. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
“Maybe?” I said. “You’re goddamn right I’m right. Look, man, you just can’t—”
“Get in the fucking car now!” shouted The Traveler.
I looked up and saw he and the Student running at us, laden with shopping bags. A thick sheet of rain followed close behind. This being the first time I’d ever seen rain come at anyone in a perceptible sheet, I thought we had suddenly been thrown into a disaster movie. “I don’t have the keys!” I shouted back.
“Fuck!” The Traveler shouted. He reached the car, threw down some of the bags, pulled out the keys, unlocked the car door, and opened the trunk in a quick, fluid movement. “Don’t just stand there,” he said, picking the bags back up. “Get in before—”
The sheet of rain hit us and, in the space of two seconds, we were drenched.
“—the rain gets here,” he said.
We put the bags in the car, piled in in record time, and closed the doors. “Wait,” I said. “Where are the girls?”
“The Traveler,” said The Student, taking off the wet rag he used to call a jacket, “decided that he’d be a gentleman and take the bags while they waited at the café near the other end.” He glared at The Traveler.
“Look,” said The Traveler, “if you want to deal with wet, sullen women, then be my guest.”
Judging by the look on The Drunkard’s face, it seemed he wouldn’t mind this one bit.
“And no, Drunkard,” said the Traveler, “it’s not fun. I had to deal with it when my ex and I went to Paris. They’re like cats.” He shuddered. “Yowling, scratching. Definitely not fun.” He turned the key in the ignition, backed out of the space, and drove us to the café.
It was situated on the far side of the retail village. The building was white with a blue roof. Some white tables with blue umbrellas were set up outside. As it stood, the girls were huddled under an awning close to the road. The ferocity of the rain only increased and the few trees in the area were bending perilously close to a forty-five degree angle.
We pulled up, The Traveler leaned over, opened the passenger door, and the girls joined our sardine can. “Didn’t outrun the rain, huh?” asked Dee.
We scowled in response.
“Okay, let’s head out,” said The Traveler. He brought us back onto the road leading out of the retail village and back to the sad excuse for a highway.
I can’t say much of the rest of the trip—mainly because I fell asleep a few minutes after we got on the road. However, judging by the time we arrived back at the flat—half eleven—and the general looks of dismay and pain on everyone’s faces, we got lost again. The Drunkard mentioned something about being glad he got to see Hadrian’s Wall, but I hope to God he was joking.

[1] This was, of course, before health care reforms were passed in Congress. Hooray!