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Furnishing Frustrations – Part 2

April 29th, 2009 No comments

I had three objectives in mind for the apartment today: 1- Install blinds. 2- Sweep and scrub the floors. 3- Set up air-mattress and pillows.

The first thing I had to do was go to the Baumarkt to buy screws. I went to the nearest hardware store, just a 10-minute walk, and once again found myself overwhelmed by the selection. It took me awhile to find the screws, but when I finally did I was no less overwhelmed by the ridiculously wide variety of packs of screws available. All kinds of different lengths, widths, and materials, as well as flat-head or Philips-head. I hadn’t brought the instructions for the blinds with me so I couldn’t check to see what type was needed. So I spent a good five minutes agonizing over the decision until I finally settled on a pack of 20 medium-sized flat-head screws, flat because the only tool I have is the flat-head screwdriver (also a bottle-opener) on my Swiss-army knife.

I came back to my apartment here and filled up my luggage bag with the necessary materials: mattress and bedding, broom and dustpan, bottle of cold, refrigerated water, and some speakers with which to play music from my I-pod as I worked.

When I got to the new place the first thing I did was check the width of the screws against the blinds to make sure they fit, and was almost shocked to find that they fit perfectly. With the way my luck has been going I was almost certain I’d have to take another trip back to the hardware store to exchange them for screws that work.

I got some music going, then I stood atop the radiator under one of the windows in order to reach the top of the window-frame, and found it a lot less sturdy than I’d envisioned. I had to keep a portion of my weight on the window-sill itself just to avoid feeling that I was going to tear the thing off the wall. So it wasn’t a very sturdy position I was in. I raised the blinds up to the top of the window to try and make a pencil marking where I needed to screw the thing in, but without three arms this proved rather difficult. But I made a rough marking, then took out a screw to try and dig into the wall a bit before screwing the actual thing in. To do this I had only my fingers and the Swiss-army knife, and it proved quite the frustrating task. I could only get it in a couple of millimeters before the wall became too thick for it to go any further. A power screw-driver might have done it, but certainly not my fingers.

I was now starting to worry that there was some kind of metal insulation in the wall and that it was impossible to get a screw in there. So after fucking around with that for a good 20 minutes I finally realised I had to give up. I have no idea why I thought I’d be able to pull that off on my own and without any actual tools to speak of. Life just ain’t that easy. And I’m the last person on earth to call on if you need something screwed. I really don’t have much experience screwing things.

So I shifted gears and did something that I knew I could do, and swept all the crap from the floor, then used a rag and some cleaning solution that the landlord had conveniently left there to get on my hands and knees and scrub down the wooden floor. To the naked eye it doesn’t look much cleaner than it did before—there are still what look like paint-chips embedded in the wood of the floor—but at least now it’s free of that invisible top layer of grime that comes off on your socks.

Finally, I sat down, unfolded the mattress, and proceeded to breathe air into it. It’s a big mattress so this task was about as strenuous on the lungs as you might imagine. I had to stop many times just to let my head recover from the dizziness. But at least I could see definite progress being made. As long as I kept at it, this was something I definitely would be able to do without any special tools. And after about 15 or 20 minutes it was done. I covered it with the bedding I’d also been given by Ursula and Dieter, then busted out the pillows I got from Ikea yesterday. I took out one pillow and covered it in a case. Then took out another pillow and lo and behold, the second case I bought was not for an 80 by 40 pillow like the ones I’d bought but for an 80 by 80! Even though it had been in the same exact bin as the other one. The picture on the label was of a rectangular rather than square pillow, but at second glance I saw that even on the short side of the rectangle the measurement was 80 cm. Motherfuckers.

But whatever. So one of my pillows won’t have a case for awhile. No big deal. I just hope I can exchange the pillow-case I don’t even need, otherwise that’s 3 more Euros down the drain.

When I was finally done I went back to my current apartment, taking nothing back with me but my I-pod and my landlady’s broom, then got in and tried to call my new landlord Mr. Wolter to ask him what the deal is with the walls, and whether or not it’s possible to put a screw in them. I figured I might also be able to ask him to come and help me install these fucking things, seeing as how I’m sure he’s got power-tools and whatnot. He didn’t pick up the phone, but I didn’t want to just leave it there, so I called Planeo and talked to the secretary there again, trying to explain my situation so she could perhaps talk to Mr. Wolter for me. But she reassured me that there’s no such thing as a wall you can’t put a screw in, and I just needed some power-tools. Not only that, but she has a drill and an electric screwdriver that she can bring to the office tomorrow for me to pick up and borrow. After that I called Alan to ask him if he could lend me a hand on Friday to help me install these things, and he said he could. So I can put the blinds-installation off until then.

The predominant feeling I’ve had about moving over the past couple of days has been frustration, which is probably due in no small part to the weather. When Spring came it was like Hannover immediately switched from London to Santa Barbara, going from weeks of non-stop cold weather and overcast skies to weeks of non-stop warm weather and sunny skies with practically no transition. But starting Monday the clouds have rolled back in, and we’ve even been getting some of that all-too-familiar Hannover drizzle. As pleasant as that may be sometimes, I think my frame of mind would be much more happy and hopeful if the sun were shining. It would feel more like a new beginning than the way it feels now, which is like an ending. The end to my comfortable all-things-provided stay in this completely furnished apartment.

But as long as I’ve got the bare essentials to begin with, I can just gradually work on bringing enough stuff into the new place to make it as comfortable as this one. I’ve got the bed and a refrigerator is coming, but to me the blinds are an absolute necessity. I’m only one floor off the ground and just about every corner of the apartment is visible to people walking by on the street. For someone like me who places such a high premium on privacy, I simply can’t feel comfortable with the idea that anyone could be looking at me at any time unless I’m in that one tiny corner. The basic criterion, I guess, is the ability to walk around naked with the confidence that nobody can see you. As long as I’ve got that, I can really feel like it’s my place.

But no matter what I do, it’s going to be a very weird and uncomfortable week ahead. I’m not too bothered by it though. I’ve been enjoying every moment of every day for far too long. It’ll be good for me to find myself, at least for awhile, stuck in a situation I can’t enjoy.

Categories: Personal Tags: ,

Furnishing Frustrations

April 28th, 2009 No comments

I’m really starting to feel like a big change is coming. Last year at this time I had just moved back to NJ from CA and was preparing for even bigger changes to come. But with the past couple of days of actually shopping for actual stuff for the apartment which I’ll be relocating to on Friday, the reality is finally starting to hit me.

Yesterday I wanted to take care of all the essentials right here in downtown Hannover, rather than go the super-long distance to the Ikea in a surrounding town. I first stopped in a store called “Saturn”, which sells electronics and home appliances, to look for a refrigerator. The cheapest one I could find that came with a freezer was 200 Euros, and I was able to set up an appointment for delivery on Monday. That’ll mean I won’t have a refrigerator for the first three days, but I wouldn’t have had a choice anyway as I need to wait until the beginning of May to get paid and thus be able to afford the thing in the first place. Turns out I can just pay cash when they deliver it, so that works out nicely.

Alan gave me a tip on a couple of really cheap places near the train station, and I checked those out next. The shit there was cheap, but cheap for a reason. For example, the cheapest you can find a pillow in any normal store is about 10 Euros, but at this place they had them for 2. But they were all really small or uncomfortable or brightly coloured or illustrated with children’s characters. A pillow is something very important to me, so I wasn’t going to settle for something cheap and shitty I’d have to sleep on for a year just to save a few bucks. I did pick up a couple of towels, a spaghetti strainer and ladle, a big pack of sponges, and some dish-washing soap.

Then I went to Kaufhof, the German equivalent of Macy’s, and walked around with my eyes bulging and jaws dropping as I came across plates for 20-40 Euros, 30-60 Euro pots and pans, and pillows anywhere from 50 to 100 Euros. Unfuckingbelievably ridiculous. I did find a pillow for just 10 Euros, but I didn’t buy it because fuck them.

Next I went to Karstadt, the German equivalent of JC Penny, and found that the prices were only slightly more reasonable. But I’d had enough comparison shopping for the day, so I just went and picked up a 7 Euro plate, a 6 Euro bowl, 3 Euro glass, a discounted 15 Euro pot for boiling, and a fork, knife, and spoon that were all between 3 and 4 Euros each. Absolutely insane, but I got it done. As for the pillows, all I could find was the same shitty little 10 Euro pillow from the other store. One of the women who worked there came up and asked me what I was looking for, and I said I needed a pillow like this one but a little wider, and she said they didn’t have them. For some bizarre reason you can’t find a pillow in Germany shaped like a pillow in America. They’re either really long, thin rectangles, or squares. Nothing in that comfortable in-between zone that my head has grown used to over the course of my life. The only American-shaped pillow I’ve ever found in Germany is, ironically, the one in this lady’s apartment that I’ve been sleeping on so far.

They recommended I try the Ikea, so while I hadn’t planned to go there until Amanda could take me in her car, I figured a preliminary trip down there the next day for a pillow and some curtains was called for.

I took the newly bought merchandise to my new apartment and as I put the bags down I noticed that the dish-washing soap had come open and everything in that bag was covered in green soap. So I spent the next twenty minutes scrubbing down all my shit, also taking off the stickers from the dishes and silverware, and trying to wring the soap out of the towels it had seeped into. When I thought I was done I noticed a bunch of soap-bubbles in the cabinet under the sink, suggesting that there might be some kind of leak there. So that’ll be fantastic if that’s the case.

At home, I was dealing with a different kind of frustration. The night before, my computer suddenly decided to stop letting me open things like my internet browser, some applications, and any “Help and Support” or “Troubleshooting” program that might help me figure out what the fucking problem was. I managed to get on-line via the “Update Windows” link in my control panel, so it wasn’t a terrible inconvenience, but I was worried that it was going to be doing that forever. When I got back from my lesson that evening I spent the next hour and half trying to get the shit figured out, even engaging in an on-line chat session with a Microsoft tech support guy with the screen-name A_Asadullah. He seemed like a good guy. He kept asking things like “Did you tried a virus scan?” and I had a strong urge to correct him, but I didn’t. “It’s either ‘Did you try’ or ‘Have you tried’, my friend. I was just going over this with my English student an hour ago.” I figured it might have been rude. But to come to the end of my pointless tangent, I got it figured out and much to my great relief my computer works just fine yet again.

Today I woke up super-early and tossed around for awhile. There was a lot on my mind, but it was also partly due to the dream I’d been having. Either I was with Jack Bauer from 24 or I was Jack Bauer (probably a little of both) and he was going around trying to explain to people that he’d been wrong to torture all those terrorists and that there were better ways of getting information. It’s not often that a political issue seeps so deeply into my subconscious that I start having dreams about it, but it was certainly interesting.

Anyway, I got myself out of bed when the 8 o’clock church bells rang, had some breakfast, shaved myself and showered, then went on-line to figure out how to get to the Ikea and I was on my way. It was an extremely long tram ride down to the very edge of the Hannover region, to a town called Laatzen. While waiting for the tram I took notice of the most beautiful girl in the station, a twenty-something unnatural blonde wearing a skirt and sky-blue stockings. When I got on the tram it turned out I was sitting on the opposite side but facing her, so she was right in my field of view during the entire tram-ride, which seemed to take about 136 stops. That was more than enough time to fall completely madly in love with her, as she bore a less-than-subtle resemblance to Sara, my first love, except her eyes were blue while Sara’s were a lovely brown. I kept glancing at the girl, finding every little idiosyncratic movement of hers to be the most adorable thing in the world. Look how she’s always looking up at the ceiling! Look how she’s putting her finger under her nose to scratch a little itch! Look how she’s closing her eyes for a second for no apparent reason! She’s so incredible!

When the tram finally reached the end of the line, we all got out, and I had the most powerful urge to go up to her and just tell her matter-of-factly in English that she’s one of the most beautiful women on Earth, but first I took a look at the map to try and get my bearings, although because the map didn’t have a “You Are Here” arrow it wasn’t much help. I realised I might be able to get away with going up to her in order to ask if she knew how to get to the Ikea, and I really almost did except when I got close enough to her I realised she was talking on her cell-phone. It would have been rude of me to interrupt her. Plus she might have noticed me constantly glancing at her during the tram ride and might take me for a stalker. So alas, I let her go. But her absence over these past few hours has been deeply felt. I miss her so much. I don’t think I’ll ever love anybody as much as I loved her. At least not until tomorrow on the next tram-ride.

It turned out I didn’t need her help anyway. I made a few guesses as to where I should go based on my memory of the Google map and I found it soon enough. When I walked into the store I was completely overwhelmed by the selection and the prices. I was extremely pissed off at myself for having spent so much on dishes the day before when they were so much cheaper here, and to think I actually removed the fucking stickers so I can’t even take them back! But it was probably better anyway because I was going to have to carry whatever I bought all the way back to Hannover with me.

I wandered around the store for about an hour just checking out the selection, remembering just how much shit I bought after moving in to the apartment in Santa Barbara and how I’d probably be spending almost all the money I’d be saving with the lower rent in the first month just to get it furnished. Things like lamps, little coffee tables, rugs, and whatnot. Not necessities, but without them the place will remain extremely Spartan. You can’t live in an apartment with nothing but an air-mattress for furniture for an entire year. Maybe you can, but I can’t.

I finally settled on a pillow, pissed off that I couldn’t find an American-shaped one even in this gargantuan warehouse, but I’ll just have to deal with it like I did when I lived in Frankfurt. Or maybe I can buy my landlady’s pillow when I see her again to get my security deposit back. The real head-ache, however, was curtains. I’d called my new landlord before leaving to get the window measurements, and learnt that each window was 118 cm and both of them together with the wall in between ran to 275. There wasn’t a curtain rack that long, so I had to buy two individual things. I decided to just get one set of 120 cm blinds for each window, and at that point I had my hands full and my budget was just about exhausted anyway so I went to the check-out line.

While waiting on-line I got a call back from Oliver, whom I’d been trying to reach for a few days to ask him if he could help me transport stuff to my apartment (a car would have really come in handy today). He said he definitely would, but he’s going away next week so I’ll have to wait a bit longer.

After paying the 90 Euros for my shit, including a bag in which I could carry the pillows but not the blinds, I walked out and found the nearest bus-stop, where I’d missed the last bus by 5 minutes so I had to wait another 20 for the next one. Not much of a problem, of course, as I’d brought my I-pod along. While I waited a couple of other Ikea shoppers came out but nobody said anything to me. But after the bus came, and after the short ride to the tram-station, as I got off the bus one of the women, a really fat and ugly one, saw I was having some trouble and offered to help me carry one of the blinds. How fantastically nice of her. Why is it always old or ugly women who approach and talk to me? Why is it never crazy-beautiful women like my lovely Sara look-alike from before? Man, I miss that girl. Did I mention how beautiful she was?

Anyway, I still had my I-pod going so it was just a little awkward without any conversation going, but when we got to the platform I smiled and thanked her and she smiled and “your welcomed” me and walked on.

I had to exchange trams again if I wasn’t going to walk 20 minutes, so I did that and finally made it to the new apartment to drop the shit off. When I got inside I opened one of the cases of blinds and confirmed my fear that the screws required for installation were not included. Fucking sadistic bastards selling you something that you need to buy something else in order to use. I mean, what the fuck? It’s not like everyone has a box full of screws lying around their home. Just most people.

But just outside there was a carpenter-guy with his hardware van working on something, and I figured since he was there I might as well ask him about screws. For all I knew he would have a million of them and would just let me have some. So I went out and gave him the “Entschuldigung” (excuse me), and immediately wished I’d decided against it as the look on his face just screamed “What the fuck do you want? Can’t you fucking see I’m busy!?”

But I’d already started so I proceeded to try and explain my predicament, which was a bit difficult without knowing the German words for “blinds” or “screws” but I had the instructions for the blinds in my hands so I could just point to the pictures. He told me I could get screws at a “Baumarkt” and when I started to ask him where I could find a Baumarkt he just cut me off and said, “In the city somewhere, I don’t know. I’m not from here.” I politely thanked this ginormous asshole and walked away. Seriously, was it that much of an imposition to ask you where I could find some fucking screws? Apparently it was.

At least I got the German word for “hardware store” out of him, so when I got back to my apartment I searched the Google maps for the nearest “Baumarkt” and found there are plenty in the nearby area. But I was so finished with apartment-bullshit for the day so I’ll just go tomorrow. Then I have to actually figure out how to the put the damn things up, which might be a little tricky without a ladder or high surface to stand on. I might have to drag the stove out of the kitchen or something just to get it done.

But at least now I’ve got all the most necessary things for the apartment. Ursula and Dieter supplied me with an air-mattress and bedding which I can use until getting a real mattress, and the refrigerator will come on Monday so it’ll just be a few days of eating non-refrigerator-necessary food like pasta and drinking warm beer. The worst part will be waiting 11 days before the O2 technician comes to get me hooked up for DSL. But I suppose that’s a good thing. Going without these things for awhile will just help me appreciate them more when I get them. I suppose that’s also my philosophy when it comes to women. If I got a girlfriend I’m sure I’d appreciate her a lot more than someone who didn’t wait 25 years before getting one. But I think I’ll give it a few more decades just in case I haven’t waited long enough.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Canadians from Ireland

April 25th, 2009 No comments

The last two weeks have passed without any events that I’ve felt are absolutely worth mentioning. My mind has been on politics a lot recently, especially with the issue of torture dominating all of the headlines this past week. It’s gotten me so riled up that my last two journal entries were pure political commentary. The document I started on torture takes up seven pages. I probably wrote too much, but I felt like I needed to say everything I had to say just to get it out of my head and into words. And I still feel like I haven’t said enough. Maybe if I can keep up the habit of writing political entries they’ll gradually get shorter and shorter, as once I’ve already said something I won’t need to say it again.

But before this turns into another political rant, I want to return to the world of the personal and write about the minor but still somewhat noteworthy events of Thursday night. After a pretty good day in which my advanced class went as well as ever and my class with the apprentices went way better than last week, I was in a good enough mood going into the good old Quiz Night at the Dublin Inn. Unfortunately, Amanda was sick (I haven’t hung out with her in over a month now) so it was just me and Alan again. After spending the first ten minutes blowing off all the pent-up steam I had about this torture business, I took a shot and started a beer and quickly calmed down.

Just as the quiz began a group of three girls came and sat at the table directly behind me. I didn’t turn to look at them but they sounded American so I had little interest in turning around to look at them anyway. I don’t know why, but I have this strange natural aversion to other Americans when I’m abroad. Maybe it’s because deep down the reason I’m abroad in the first place is to get away from Americans, but that makes little sense because I tend to like most people I know, and most of the people I’ve known in my life have been Americans.

But in any case, it wasn’t until round 2 of the quiz that one of the girls turned around towards us and gave us the answer to a question we didn’t know. Apparently they weren’t actually taking the quiz, so they figured they might as well help these two guys and in the process meet some new people. Good for them. I sure as shit wasn’t going to take the initiative to try and meet new people at a bar. That would just be so out-of-character for me. I like meeting and talking to new people, but whenever I envision myself opening up a dialog with someone I simultaneously envision them reacting negatively, not wanting to talk to me, and me feeling like a complete loser. So instead I skip the first two parts and go directly to feeling like a loser.

But the girls opened up the line of communication between our two tables and we spent the rest of the night chatting with them. There were three of them, one a German from Hannover that the other two knew and had been staying with for a week. The other two girls were actually Canadian, not American, so they spent a lot of time talking to Alan about stuff I knew nothing about such as where they’ve been in Canada. I was surprised that they were Canadian because they talked like every single American girl you’ve ever heard, in that same homogenous, every-other-word-is-“like” kind of tone and language. Alan has a distinctly Canadian accent, but these girls didn’t. Maybe it’s because Alan is 10 years older, and North America has become a lot more culturally homogenised even in just the last 10 years. I don’t know.

The girls were sisters, and although they sounded identical they looked nothing alike (one was a fat blonde and the other an average-sized brunette), and they had been abroad for almost a year. They’d been living in Ireland for 11 months working at a bar, and they were now taking their last month to travel around Europe, just going wherever the breeze blew them. So far they’d been through Italy and Switzerland, and this was their last night in Hannover where they’d been spending the week with their German friend before continuing on to Berlin and Prague. They had some interesting tid-bits of information about Ireland, such as the fact that tipping doesn’t exist there at all. If you leave a tip on the bar it’ll still be there at the end of the night, because apparently since nobody tips the bartenders don’t want your few cents anyway.

But most interesting was the fact that the financial crisis has hit Ireland harder than almost anywhere else in the world. Apparently Ireland had been making a killing in the last decade by investing in such rock-solid things as the U.S. housing market. When the bubble burst, Ireland took a huge hit. The girls couldn’t even stay in the country because since so many Irish are unemployed they’re not issuing work visas anymore. If you’re not Irish, you can’t currently get a job in Ireland. Most importantly, the basic cost of living is now through the roof. Apparently it’s now even more expensive than England and Switzerland. It costs the equivalent of 10 U.S. dollars for a loaf of bread. So I guess I shouldn’t go to Ireland any time soon.

Anyway, although we did poorly on most of the quiz we won the last round, which meant a free shot of Jägermeister, and we pretended those girls had been in our group so they got the free shot as well. My emotional state throughout the night was about as mixed as it could be. The sister who wasn’t fat was mildly attractive but not even close to my type, so it wasn’t like there was any desire there. It was still nice to be talking to a girl, but it was also annoyingly irritating that most of her attention was on Alan thanks to the invisible bond that Canadians seem to have with each other. Not that it bothered me in any significant sense. Overall it was quite a pleasant evening.

Yet when I got back to my apartment I fell back into the same old thought-loop of just wishing I would die. The fact that I was once again stuck in this thought-loop, and that I was fully aware it was just a stupid brain-habit but I was doing it anyway, only made it stronger. Basically, it was just like: “This shit again? I’m so sick of this wanting-to-die crap. I wish I would just die so I won’t have to go through this again.” It had nothing to do with emotional pain, it was just boredom. I’m bored with the same old stupid loneliness routine, of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing a complete fucking loser who means nothing to no one and spends all of his time in pointless enjoyment of pointless little pleasures. The universe would be a lot more at ease, it seems to me, if this particular stream of consciousness came to an end. The worst part is that the loneliness routine is that it’s one of those very pleasures that I indulge in, so I do nothing to break it. Even as I write this I have no intention of taking steps change my ways. This is just who I am, and I’ve long since accepted it. It’s only when I step outside of myself and try to imagine how others might see me that I feel like there’s something deeply wrong here.

Anyway, it’s back to the routine this weekend, and starting Monday I’ll start getting absolutely serious about moving to the new flat. I’ve got less than a week left in this box where I spend all my time, and then things should get a little more interesting for awhile as I get configured to a new box where I’ll be spending all my time.

Torture

April 24th, 2009 No comments

Watching the news this past week has been infuriating. Just when I thought I’d exhausted all of the anger I could possibly direct at the Bush administration, these memos are released, the far-right reacts by defending the indefensible, and Obama sends signals that none of these war-criminals are going to be held accountable for the harm they’ve caused. If I ever had any hope of ever being able to say once again, as I did when I was a child, that I could be proud of my country, that hope is quickly dissolving.

There are so many aspects to this issue that I’ll need to write extensively in order to cover everything. I’ll begin by stating the argument from principle, which is the only argument I feel should be relevant to this debate in the first place. For most of its history, the United States has championed its proud tradition of treating its enemies better than they treat us, which is what has allowed us to assert the moral high ground in international relations for so long. As far back as the revolutionary war, George Washington ordered his troops to take good care of the British prisoners-of-war even though the British showed no such mercy to captured Americans. His rationale was clear: the British would not be able to accuse their American enemies of cruelty and barbarism, as much as they would have liked to have done so. This was how we treated our prisoners throughout every armed conflict up to and including World War II, when German soldiers who had been captured by other nations found themselves envious of those who had been captured and treated so well by the United States. Our reputation for honor and civility was no small part of the reason we were viewed so positively by the international community, including the countries we had fought against, in the latter half of the 20th century.

Then along came the Bush administration and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 which happened on their watch. These attacks may not have been preventable, but there was intelligence that Al Quaeda operatives were planning an attack on the U.S. involving hi-jakcing planes. This intelligence had been gathered, incidentally, without the use of torture. But the attacks took place, they were hugely successful, and those at the top responded exactly the way Osama bin Laden wanted them to: they got us entangled in a costly war in Afghanistan. That alone may have been necessary—I don’t know enough about the facts to form a solid judgment. But then they took it one step further, and decided to use the 9/11 attacks to justify what the neo-conservatives had been hoping to do for years, and engage in a completely unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Six years later, our military is over-extended, our economy is crumbling, our international reputation is ruined, and Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Taliban still controls parts of Afghanistan, and terrorist groups are still recruiting new members. Even those who believe these wars were justified can’t seriously argue that we had a brilliant strategy for executing them.

A major part of our “brilliant” strategy was the use of harsh interrogation methods such as sleep deprivation, stress positions, slapping, confinement with insects, and water-boarding. The people who implemented this policy never expected anyone to find out, so when the story broke in 2004 that prisoners at Abu Ghraib were being tortured, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest of the gang reacted with shock, pointing their fingers at a few “bad apples” who had simply gone too far. Now we know for a fact that they not only knew what was going on, but they had actually devised and authorized that policy! These soldiers were doing what soldiers in every other military and C.I.A. prison were doing, which is following the recommendations handed down to them from the top. The soldiers at Abu Ghraib were scapegoated, convicted, and a few are still sitting in prison today. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld and the rest of the despicable liars who feigned shock and outrage at the soldiers who had been implementing policies they endorsed are still breathing free air. Even those who believe that torture is justified can’t seriously defend that kind of behavior. If Cheney and Rumsfeld really believe that those methods were justified they should have argued that as soon as these facts came to light, rather than let American soldiers take the fall for a policy they pushed forward.

Which brings me at last to the issue of whether this is a justifiable policy in the first place. There are more sides to this argument than it may seem, so I’ll take it one step at a time. One argument that defenders of the Bush administration continue to use is that this wasn’t torture at all. These “harsh interrogation tactics” were all fairly benign, so what are all these left-wing liberals complaining about? These terrorists are evil people who do evil things so why shouldn’t we be allowed to slap them around a little? Sleep-deprivation doesn’t cause physical pain, right? Being confined in a box with insects that won’t sting you is harmless! And water-boarding is so benign that some right-wing commentators will subject themselves to it just to prove that it’s no big deal.

And yet at the same time, these same people are the ones shouting that these tactics were absolutely necessary to prevent another terrorist attack. There are ticking time-bombs all over the place and we can’t afford to deprive our soldiers and C.I.A. operatives the ability to use whatever means necessary to get the information out of the terrorists.

It boggles my mind that they don’t notice the glaring contradiction in these two arguments! If these tactics are so benign that anyone can handle them, then how effective could they possibly be in getting terrorists to give up crucial information? How exactly is sleep-deprivation (which by definition must be done over a long period of time) supposed to prevent a ticking time-bomb from going off? A terrorist is really going to tell us everything he knows because we make him stand in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time? That’s clearly absurd.

Of all the tactics outlined in the memos, the only one that can be envisioned to work in a ticking time-bomb scenario is water-boarding. If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah had information that could prevent another imminent terrorist attack, and water-boarding was so unbearable that they gave up that information and thousands of innocent lives were thereby saved, the Bush administration might have a justification for their actions. They now want to say that information gathered from the interrogation of Mohammed led to the foiling of a terrorist plot to destroy the Liberty Tower in Los Angeles. Of course, they ignore the fact that this plot was foiled in February 2002, while these interrogation tactics were not put into practice until August 2002, a full six months later. And right now, with the release of these memos, any reasonable person who takes the time to consider the facts would understand that ticking time-bombs had nothing to do with it. These men were water-boarded 183 and 83 times respectively. How effective could water-boarding actually be if they could withstand it 3 to 6 times a day for one month? They didn’t break the first 182 times, but on the 183rd it was just too much take? And if time was such a factor, why stretch the process out? Why give them any break at all between water-boarding sessions if the country is in imminent danger?

We now know from the testimony of actual interrogators that the reason these two men were subject to such harsh treatment was not because of any imminent terrorist attack that needed foiling. Up until the water-boarding began, these prisoners had been cooperating, giving us useful information through traditional interrogation. But the administration officials wanted evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaeda, so they ordered the interrogators to use the illegal method of water-boarding to extract this information from them. In order to support the lies they were already telling (Cheney had said even before this that it was “beyond all doubt” that a link between them existed) to sell the American public on the idea that invading Iraq was necessary, they completely tossed our national honor out the proverbial window. Centuries of moral high ground flushed down the toilet for what? To extract a false confession from some terrorists so that we’d have a stronger case for an invasion that was supposedly already justified?

The fact is that these tactics are not effective for gaining useful intelligence. The tactics they used came from the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) manual, the military’s way of training their operatives in how to resist the illegal interrogation tactics used by Asian communists during the wars of the 50s and 60s in order to extract false confessions from American prisoners. False confessions. Deprive someone of sleep for weeks, keep them as uncomfortable as possible, demoralize them, and soon enough you’ll have a person ready to say anything you tell them to say. Certainly not provide any useful intelligence. Certainly not stop a ticking time-bomb.

Not only are these methods particularly ineffective, but the consensus among military officials is that torture in general does not work, even in a ticking time-bomb scenario. This is a quote from the U.S. military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency:

The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible-in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life-has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. Conceptually, proponents envision the application of torture as a means to expedite the exploitation process. In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.

The most effective method of interrogation, as has been repeated in interviews with actual military and C.I.A. interrogators time and time again, is relationship-building and deception. Make the enemy think you’re a friend, and get him to entrust you with information he would never give to an enemy. This is the method we used with Saddam Hussein, and he gave us piles of valuable information all without a single trip to the water-board.

From the JPRA report quoted above:

As noted previously, upwards of 90 percent of interrogations have been successful through the exclusive use of a direct approach, where a degree of rapport is established with the prisoner. Once any means of duress has been purposefully applied to the prisoner, the formerly cooperative relationship can not be reestablished. In addition, the prisoner’s level of resolve to resist cooperating with the interrogator will likely be increased as a result of harsh or brutal treatment.

This is the method the military and the C.I.A. had been using for decades until the politicians in the Bush administration who had been caught off-guard by 9/11 decided that the SERE methods would be more effective. This was an idiotic, brain-dead proposition, and many in the C.I.A. and the military protested. But these idiots, the same idiots who developed our brilliantly successful “I-doubt-this-will-take-6-months”-invasion-of-Iraq strategy, were higher in the chain-of-command than the military and C.I.A. officials who actually knew what they were talking about, and eventually the hotter heads prevailed by replacing the cooler heads with officials who were willing to see things the administration’s way.

All of this is completely verifiable, publicly available knowledge. Anyone who actually wants to know the truth of the matter can go on-line to any of hundreds of websites (not all of which are run by liberals) or go to the store and buy any of hundreds of books (not all of which are written by liberals) and find this stuff out. Yet millions of people still believe that these torture methods were effective and necessary for the sake of national security. Why? Two words: the media.

The media has done to this issue the same thing they do with every issue, and turned it into a right vs. left partisan political battle royale. That’s good for ratings. You have one person on the far left shouting about peace and love, and another on the far right shouting about protecting American lives. Rarely are any facts actually brought into the debate. You’ll hear each side insist that “the facts clearly indicate that my side is correct” but they don’t mention any facts. Occasionally they’ll toss out a fact such as the foiling of the Liberty Tower plot, but not give the opposition the opportunity to counter that with the fact that the information gathered about this attack was obtained through traditional interrogation tactics. Segments on these cable-news shows only last about 6 minutes, and it’s much more entertaining to fill those 6 minutes with a shouting match than with a thorough examination of the facts.

This is not a matter of right and left, but of right and wrong. Torture is wrong. It’s a very simple statement, one that I think Jesus Christ would have probably agreed with. And I think most republicans would have agreed with it before it became clear that the Bush administration used torture. Then all of a sudden it became a political issue and they had to take the side of their party. Would they have been so eager to justify torture if the policy had come from a democratic administration? Rather than see it for what it is—an assault on morality—they took it as an assault on their party, and rushed to find a justification, so they came up with this ticking time-bomb argument that makes sense on the most basic level but simply does not jive with the facts. If you really want to stop a ticking time-bomb, stress-positions and water-boarding is not going to do it. Maybe pulling fingernails, drilling teeth with no anesthetic, or electric shocks to the testicles would do the trick, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about techniques with only one known utility: to extract false confessions. If we want to have a debate about whether we should be allowed to pull fingernails in order to stop a nuclear weapon from going off on U.S. soil, let’s have that debate, but let’s not pretend that the techniques made policy by the Bush administration actually kept us safe.

The facts—the irrefutable facts—indicate that the effect was quite the opposite. Americans may have no qualms about stripping terrorists naked and pissing on their sacred texts, slapping them around and making them as uncomfortable as possible, but the rest of the world looks at this and does take issue. Not only does it strain our relations with our allies—I can tell you from personal experience that Europeans no longer see us as an honorable nation—but it provides the best possible recruitment material for terrorist and insurgent groups looking for more people to kill American soldiers. An Arab teenager who might not have otherwise had reason to believe that America is evil watches the news and sees what’s being done to his people, and that’s all the convincing he needs. Just ask Matthew Alexander, a military interrogator in Iraq who recently wrote a book on the subject called How to Break a Terrorist, and he’ll tell you that most—yes, most—of the insurgents he captured had been targeting American soldiers because they were outraged about what had been going on at Abu Ghraib. There can be no question that American soldiers have been killed as a direct result of these policies of torture.

So what is there left to defend? Most people would agree that torture is wrong, but some would say the ends justify the means. But these means produced no positive ends. We gained no useful intelligence from the hundreds of water-boarding sessions with Mohammed and Zubaydah, we prevented no ticking time-bombs from going off (despite what they’d like us to believe about the Liberty Tower), and as a result of these policies more of our soldiers were killed than would have otherwise been killed. Their blood is on the hands of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and everyone else responsible for implementing this immoral, wrong-headed, and completely counter-productive policy. And none of this is to mention the fact that these methods were being used at nearly every C.I.A. and military prison, and because it’s statistically impossible that every one of the thousands of people who passed through these prisons were guilty of something, it is undeniable that we caused needless suffering to completely innocent people. Even if only one innocent person was treated in this cruel and barbaric manner, that’s one person too many.

The plain truth is that no good whatsoever came from our use of torture. No good whatsoever.

But finally I must turn to the final argument put up by the defenders of torture, to ignore the countless interviews and reports that clearly indicate the ineffectiveness of torture, and ask the question: what if it did work? What if these top-secret memos that Cheney is asking the C.I.A. to release actually exist, and it turns out that Zubaydah actually did reveal information throughout his weeks of water-boarding that led to the foiling of a terrorist plot that we don’t yet know about (one that would have happened after August 2002, unlike the other foiled plots consistently cited by torture-defenders). Then you might have an argument against convicting the people who carried this policy out.

Notice I say that you have an argument against convicting them, but you still have no reason not to prosecute them. Because in a nation governed by the rule of law, we prosecute people who break the law, regardless of the circumstances. It can’t be denied that water-boarding is illegal. We’ve prosecuted Japanese for doing it to our soldiers—we even had some of them executed. We even court-martialed our own soldiers during the Spanish-American war for water-boarding Filipinos. So if you want to defend water-boarding you have to defend the proposition that breaking the law is acceptable as long as it keeps people safe.

If I had a family that was being threatened by a psychopath, and the only way I could protect my family was to kill this man, the police would still arrest me and put me on trial, as they should. But as long as I was given a fair trail, I doubt any jury would convict me. I’d be given the opportunity to make the case to them that I did what I had to do, and that if I hadn’t done it my family might have been killed. Defense of others is a legitimate legal defense, but one that must be proven in a court of law.

Saying that we should not prosecute those who broke the law by water-boarding because water-boarding works is like saying we should not prosecute for murder—that we should not even put people on trial for murder—because in some cases murder works. But “the ends justify the means” is not always a legitimate defense. If a father suspects his son of taking dangerous drugs but his son won’t admit to having any, is the father therefore justified in torturing his son until he confesses? He could say, “Perhaps it was a harsh method, but I got my son to give up the location of the drugs. My actions kept him safe, so I shouldn’t be punished.” We would dismiss this as a ludicrous argument and throw the father in jail for abuse. Sometimes the ends do justify the means, but often they do not. The question we as a nation have to ask is whether the ends of keeping us safer from terrorists are worth the means of violating the law, inflicting massive amounts of suffering, sacrificing our moral standing in the world, and fanning the flames of hatred towards us throughout the Muslim world, thus putting our soldiers at greater risk of attack.

Roughly one thousand Americans lost their lives in the terrorist attack of September 11. Every two days, as many Americans die of cancer. More American soldiers have died in Iraq than civilians who died on 9/11. The estimate for your chances of dying in a terrorist attack are roughly 1 in 9.3 million, about the same as your chances of winning the lottery. If you live in a rural area, you’re far more likely to die from being struck by lightning or being hit on the head with a meteor than from being killed by terrorists. The previous administration deliberately hyper-inflated the perceived threat of terrorism in order to achieve their own political ends. The president was given the powers of a medieval British monarch, who could toss anyone in prison indefinitely without ever charging them with a crime. There’s certainly nothing original about encouraging fear in the populace in order to gain more power. Kim Jong Il does it. Hitler and Stalin did it. Every totalitarian despot in history has done it.

Yet Cheney insists that the terrorist threat is so great that implementing these policies was completely justified. And even if his highly dubious assertion that these policies were successful is true (keep his “beyond all doubt” statement in mind when considering his credibility), he may have saved a few dozen, maybe even a few hundred American lives on U.S. soil. But a few dozen, maybe even a few hundred American soldiers abroad have paid the price for this, and in addition the moral authority we’ve been able to claim internationally since the time of George Washington has completely evaporated.

This is a country founded on solid moral principles, and to give up those principles for the sake of extra security is indefensible. It would be as though we stood up collectively as a nation and said, “Please, Mr. Cheney, do whatever you have to do, just keep me and my family safe! I don’t care how many innocent Arabs have to be rounded up and tortured, just as long as you get a few guilty ones.” This is a cowardly and dishonorable position to take.

The reason we are so proud of our soldiers is because they are willing to risk life and limb to defend the principles this country is based on. Even if torture did work (and it’s all but certain that the particular tactics we implemented did not), even if it reduced the risk of my being killed by a terrorist from 1 in 9.3 million to 1 in 14.7 million, if the choice were mine I would proudly increase the risk of another terrorist attack to preserve and protect the principles of my country. How am I supposed to be proud of my country if we’re willing to sink to such base and repugnant behavior out of fear? How can I be proud of a country where the leaders can behave like totalitarian despots and not be held accountable for it? I think deep down, most Americans feel the same way, and that most of us would be willing to accept a slightly greater risk of terrorist attack for the sake of our national principles. We are not a nation of cowards, and it is an insult for the Bush administration to have treated us as though we were.

This should not be a political issue. This is a question of right and wrong, and regardless of whether they fall on the left or the right side of the ideological spectrum, everyone in this country should be able to agree that what the Bush administration did by implementing these policies—destroying our national honor, knowingly breaking the law, and infuriating our enemies thus further endangering our soldiers—is completely and undeniably wrong.

The “Right-Wing Nut-job” Problem

April 19th, 2009 No comments

The tax-day tea-parties of the past week have really bothered me, enough to the point where I feel I can actually write another journal entry of pure political commentary around it. I’ll do my best to say something other than what every other liberal blogger in the world has already said millions of times.

In just about every poll regarding an issue dividing the far-right from everybody else, the percentage falls somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. That was Bush’s approval rating during the better part of his second term once it was obvious to all but the most hardcore conservative Christians that he was an incompetent fool who was doing serious damage to the country. That’s how many people agree with Dick Cheney that torture keeps Americans safe and that Obama is making us less safe by ending this policy. That’s how many people believe that Armageddon is coming within the next decade, that Obama is the Anti-Christ, that God spends all of His time up in heaven worrying about abortion and same-sex marriage, that evolution is a myth promoted by sinful scientists rebelling against God, and so on. So it would seem that 20 to 30 percent of Americans are what many of us would identify as “right-wing nut-jobs”.

And these are the nut-jobs who came out in droves this April 15th to protest Obama’s 3% tax increase on the rich. The idea that this Barack Hussein Obama, this black muslim liberal fascist socialist radical nazi non-citizen communist would have the audacity to make the rich people in this country pay the same amount of taxes they paid in the 1990s (less than they paid under Reagan in the 80s) is just too much to bear! A line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere, damn it, and these people are not going to sit idly by as their taxes get cut while the wealthiest 10% have to make up the difference. That’s spreading the wealth! That’s punishing rich people for their success! How are they supposed to become millionaires when Obama and his team of liberal communist fascists are just going to take that money away from them as soon as they start to earn it? Clearly it’s not their stupidity, incompetence, laziness, or ignorance that’s preventing them all from becoming hugely successful entrepreneurs. It’s those damned tax-and-spend liberals (who are also communists and fascists) who won’t let them!

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, and what makes it tragic is that you just can’t explain to these people how badly they’ve been duped. They think that you’re opinion is automatically wrong because you’ve been brain-washed by the liberal media while their point of view is right because their opinions come from the Church (which has never been associated with brain-washing) and from Fox News (which is the only fair-and-balanced news network on television). If you try to explain that Fox News is nothing more than a profit-driven business that consistently promotes right-wing ideology in order to boost their ratings with the sizable “right-wing nut-job” demographic, they’ll laugh at you for buying into the lies of the left-wing propaganda machine. To them, the idea of a right-wing propaganda machine is completely absurd.

The whole thing is so frustrating to me because I would like to live in a world governed by reason, where if one side of an argument is clearly right and the other is clearly wrong, that you’d be able to explain it to someone, to just present them with the clear facts of the matter, and they’d understand their mistake and change their opinion accordingly. But the hardcore right-wing nut-jobs seem to have a mental-block which renders them completely unresponsive to reason.

It’s one thing for issues like abortion and the death penalty, where there are good arguments on both sides and where you stand is just a matter of whether you’re coming from the liberal or conservative end of the ideological spectrum. If someone believes that abortion is wrong in all cases and that it’s the government’s duty to protect the lives of the unborn, you can’t make a rational argument against that. You can merely assert your position that “abortion may be wrong but women ought to have the right to make the wrong decision without the government’s involvement,” but beyond that there’s nothing you can do.

But it’s a completely different matter when it’s a question of facts and all of the facts indicate that one side of the argument is right and the other is dead wrong. The issue of torture, for instance, is the best example of a one-sided issue. The moral argument is against it—it’s simply wrong to cause suffering. But the practical argument can be made that it’s justifiable to cause suffering if by doing so you’re preventing even more suffering. But study after study, account after eyewitness account, have demonstrated quite conclusively that torture is not an effective method for gathering intelligence. Furthermore, by torturing suspected Arab terrorists we’ve enraged the Arab world and allowed the extremists to recruit far more insurgents and suicide bombers than they would have otherwise been able to. As a result of these policies of torture, not only have we most likely caused unimaginable suffering to—in at least a few cases—completely innocent people, but American soldiers have DIED as a result of bombs detonated in retaliation for our policy of torture. It’s a policy that causes ONLY suffering. By any rational interpretation of the facts, absolutely no good whatsoever has resulted from this country’s use of torture. And yet these people STILL defend it.

So let’s return to the tax-day tea parties. Every single thing the protesters are speaking out against can be refuted with cold hard logical facts. First of all, they’re against a crushing tax-burden imposed by the federal government. Well, for one thing Obama is CUTTING taxes for 95% of Americans, for another thing his tax-rates for the rich will be lower than they were under Reagan, and for the final thing the United States has one of the lowest tax-rates in the entire world. And it’s not like tax money just goes straight to Barack Obama’s personal bank account (which he no doubt uses to finance Muslim terrorist groups in their plots to destroy Christianity), but it actually goes to things like INFRASTRUCTURE. If you don’t want to pay any taxes at all, that’s fine, but then you have to give up roads, police forces, public schools, and the military.

So they’re against taxing. And they’re also against spending. When the economy is in free-fall, they now profess to believe, the right thing to do is to freeze all unnecessary spending and buckle down as a nation until the crisis is over. Never mind the fact that without government spending the hole just gets deeper and deeper, that a spending-freeze is exactly what Herbert Hoover tried at the beginning of the Great Depression and it royally fucked things up afterwards. The facts don’t matter here. If Obama wants to do it, it must be wrong. After all, he is the anti-Christ.

Which brings me to the real heart of the matter. These people are not opposed to any particular ideology. They don’t have a strong enough understanding of economics or history to make a solid argument for their case against taxing and spending. They simply hate Barack Obama because he doesn’t look like them or talk like them and it seems like the “Other” that they fear so much is now driving this precious “Christian-nation” of theirs straight down the secular-progressive path to Hell. Whatever Obama does must be wrong. Even if Bush did the same exact thing, like bailing out the banks.

Is there any route around the impenetrable wall these people have built around their beliefs? Or must we accept that there will always be nut-jobs on the far right (and to be fair, there are those on the far left as well) who will never listen to reason no matter how compelling? I don’t know the answer to that, but perhaps a change in the tone of our discourse is what’s required. It seems to be the one thing we liberals haven’t seriously tried.

It’s extremely easy to laugh at these people or get angry at them for calling the president a baby-killing Nazi or what have you, but once we perceive them as the eternal “Other” we’ve made the same mistake as they have. As difficult—indeed as impossible—as it may seem to be at times, I believe we have to approach them with sympathy and respect. To see deeper than their politically-misinformed and misdirected anger and recognise them as real human beings with hopes and fears and dreams just like everyone else.

It all boils down to a question of identity. These people have been tricked into identifying themselves with their own political beliefs. They will not listen to reason because their gut tells them what is right and they trust their gut more than they trust their brain. “I am a conservative. That means I vote republican, I’m against abortion, I support the use of torture, etc.” Today, thanks to Limbaugh, Beck, and the others from whom they get their opinions, it also means “I oppose tax increases for the wealthy, I support a spending freeze, and I believe Obama is a communist and a fascist who is trying to destroy America.”

They will not alter their beliefs because among those beliefs is the very dangerous idea that one’s own beliefs should never be altered. To change my mind about an issue, I have to recognise that my previous position was wrong. But to them it’s not just “my position on an issue” that would be wrong, but their “self”. There is no difference in their mind between saying “My opinion was wrong” and saying “I was wrong.” They make no distinction in their minds is between their true essence, the conscious awareness looking out from behind their eyes, and the neurons firing through their brains whenever a word like “taxes” or “immigration” is uttered. Someone needs to help them understand that reconnecting those neural pathways does not destroy their identity. Conscious awareness will continue to permeate their bodies and the brain will continue firing neurons just as before, and they may even feel all the wiser for having had the strength to adopt a new, more factually-harmonious perspective.

At least that’s how I’ve always felt every time I’ve changed my mind about something, which is often. I grew up as a conservative Christian republican, and didn’t start seriously re-examining my beliefs until high school.

Finally, if we want those on the right to cease identifying themselves with their political beliefs, we must stop identifying them with their beliefs as well. That means resisting the urge to laugh at or attack them, to abandon terms like “right-wing nut-job”, and to always keep in mind that had we been born and raised under the same exact circumstances as them, we would be just as tragically wrong about so many things as they are.

Up and Down and Up [parts 2 and 3]

April 18th, 2009 No comments

The events of the last three days warrant a detailed recollection, so I’ll split this entry into three parts. [the first must be kept private]

Thursday

Unfortunately, the soaring mood of Wednesday was to give way to the come-down of Thursday. I would have two classes in Helmstedt, then return to have to go to a Planeo teacher’s meeting. It would be a long day and I wouldn’t be able to have any time to myself, particularly as I knew Frank would be inviting us out for drinks after the meeting and I felt obliged to go along. And yet all I wanted to do after that time in Ichenheim was spend a nice long night alone back in the comfort of isolation.

The first class actually went very well. I had a brief article about how consciousness may affect reality and there was some interesting philosophical discussion among these advanced students, but I didn’t put them through that for long (it was something of an experiment on my part to see how philosophical I could get with them) and then I had some jokes for them which they really liked and appreciated. Finally, I ended with a few questions from a list of conversation-starters I’d found online. Some interesting discussion came out of the third question: “If you had to live in another country, which country would you choose and why?” None of them wanted to live in another country. I had to frame the question as, “If the Polizei came to your door tomorrow and said you had to leave the country by the end of the day but they’d send you wherever you wanted to go, where would you choose?” Still, there was no definitive answer. A lawyer-woman, Chritine, chose England because she’d been an exchange student their and “loves the English accent”, but neither Andreas nor Monika could pick one.

They asked me what my answer would be, and I explained that I’m currently experimenting to figure out which country I’d most like to live in. They asked me if I liked living in Germany, and I answered that I at least liked it better than living in America. They asked me why, but I found I had a hard time explaining it. It’s just the whole atmosphere. I told them it was mostly that I didn’t like American culture, which is true. That led to a discussion of differences in culture between Germans and Americans, and the biggest difference in their minds was how much more connected people are in Germany. Friends are very close and they remain friends for life. I, on the other hand, have known hundreds if not thousands of people that I’ve casually referred to as “friends” at one point in my life or another and now I have regular contact with just one or two of them. A lot of that has to do with me personally, of course, but I think the culture of competition (which even manifests often as you vs. your friends) plays a big part as well. I also asked Andreas if young men in Germany constantly make fun of each other and say mean things about each other in a light-hearted way, and he had no idea what I was talking about. I tried to explain how boys are always fucking with their friends, something I always hated about them and about being a boy, but apparently this is unique to Americans. It’s possible that Andreas just didn’t have those kinds of friends, but I think there might be something more to it as well.

After that, things started to go downhill right at the beginning of my class with the apprentices. As per a suggestion from Frank, I’ve been trying to start every class with a Youtube clip related somehow to the topic of the day. We were going to get to a chapter in their textbook about Customer Service, so I searched for funny Customer Service videos before class began, and found a couple of things that weren’t very funny but it was all I could find in that small space of time. The class didn’t find them funny either, and one of them was just a guy losing his shit and cursing at the top of his lungs to a Dell customer service guy, which while it evoked some grins from a couple of the guys there, most of the girls had a look on their faces like “what the fuck is the point of this?” and I wished I hadn’t played it at all. I need to vet these clips a bit more carefully from now on. That set the tone for a pretty shitty class for the whole rest of the time, and I left in quite a sour mood, augmented by the fact that instead of returning to my apartment I now had to go to this meeting and possibly spend the rest of the day and night socialising with my boss and other teachers. I just wanted to be alone.

The meeting lasted an hour and was less painful than I’d imagined, though most of it was spoken in German so I understood less than I probably should have, but afterwards while most of them went out to go to a Biergarten and later to the Dublin Inn Quiz Night, I slipped out of there and went back home. I really wished I had been in the mood to hang out and drink with my colleagues, as that probably would have been quite fun and interesting, but I was far from any kind of frame-of-mind where I wanted to deal with other people. I had been making a painstaking effort to hide my anguish throughout the meeting, amiably greeting those other teachers I haven’t seen in awhile and pretending I wasn’t in a totally horrible mood. So I got out of there and went home, where I let myself relax and fill my mind with politics from clips of Keith Olbermann’s and Rachel Maddow’s shows from MSNBC.com, a guilty pleasure which I’ve been indulging in nearly every night since before the election. I was quite comfortable, but still disappointed in myself for having not had it in me to stay with the party.

Friday

But having not stayed with the party, I avoided drinking Thursday night, which allowed me to wake up nice and fresh at 7:00 on Friday morning, after a very bizarre dream that not only included such random people from high school but which actually had Rachel Maddow cast as my English teacher. I might as well confess right now that I have an affinity for Rachel Maddow far beyond the level of affinity a normal person would have for a TV personality. She’s just so likable and reminds me of some friends I had, and I could so easily picture myself hanging out and shooting the shit with her (and her friend Kent Jones) all day. I thought for awhile I might be developing a lesbian-crush on her, but I’m just not physically attracted to her and it’s really just a mental thing. The fact that I live a fairly isolated life yet I see her everyday provides the illusion that she’s a friend of mine, and it’s kind of unsettling to me just how much I like her when she is completely unaware of my existence. But I can’t think of anybody else I’ve ever known from TV that I had this strong a desire to be friends with. Anyway, I digress.

One of the disadvantages of having snuck away from the Planeo people the night before was not getting the money from Frank I needed for the monthly train-ticket to Helmstedt. I’d bought a single ticket the day before and at the meeting Frank told me not to do that again because it costs the company more money then they need to spend on transportation for their teachers. But since the office opens at 8:00 and my train leaves at 8:36 there wasn’t enough time for me to get the money, buy the ticket, and get on the train before it left. So I had to take out just about all the money from my German bank account to cover the ticket, which I called Planeo to make sure I could reimburse myself for later on. I also took just about all the money left in my American bank account so I’d be able to pay the security deposit on my new apartment when I met with Herr Wolter later on.

My classes in Helmstedt were un-noteworthy, and before I knew it I was back in Hannover where I went back to the Planeo office to pick up the money, chat with the secretaries for a minute, then head home, stopping at the supermarket along the way to pick up the bare necessities I’d need for the weekend: orange juice, milk, cereal, and beer. I got home with just a few minutes before I had to hop back on the tram to ride to Wettbergen at the southern-extreme of Hannover and walk another fifteen minutes from there to the office of Herr Wolter. I filled out the contract and he explained a few things to me in German that I half-understood, and I paid him the 600 Euros deposit and thus acquired the keys (including the mailbox key!!) to my new apartment. I’ll be meeting him there on Monday at noon so he can show me a few things about the place and I can ask him any questions I need to. But if I wanted to I could move there right now.

So I walked out of there feeling really quite good, as it was now for the first time completely official that I’ll be moving next month. Instead of 600 Euros per month, I’ll be paying about 265. Even if I don’t get any additional work over the next year, I’ll be making enough to live and save up. For the first time since coming to Germany, I will be truly financially secure.

When I got back home (not “home” for much longer) I tried calling the landlady to confirm with her that I’d be moving out, but she’s apparently still on vacation because her phone was off. So I called the number she’d given me for her nephew Sorush (whom I know quite well from the pictures on the bedroom wall) and told him to give her the news, which was easier for me to explain in German than I thought it would be. And that made it feel even more official.

Following that I went out for a run, the first since returning from Ichenheim, and had a damn fine time of it. I’d noticed when I returned that everything was a lot greener than when I’d left. Springtime just exploded into Hannover while I was gone, and trees that had only been beginning to blossom the last time I went on my run were now completely covered with light-green leaves, making for what felt like an absolutely stunning change of scenery. I’d been running through these places in Winter for so long that I’d forgotten just how truly beautiful they are.

Tonight I’m going to try and go out for some drinks (in spite of my temporarily broke status there’s always enough money from some drinks) with Alan and hopefully some others. As much as I love isolation, like everything else it must be practiced in moderation.

A Sudden Stroke of Luck

April 15th, 2009 No comments

Well, my mood is a lot better today than it was yesterday morning. Last evening, after a nice jog and a little dinner, I got an e-mail from Loren, which put me in a slightly better mood just from having heard from someone. I didn’t get to finish answering her e-mail though because we began a card game that lasted the next three hours. Afterwards, when they all went to bed, I finished writing to Loren, and found, much to my pleasant surprise, an e-mail from Krissi. Among other things, she wrote that she’s changed her phone number. That’s the reason I couldn’t reach her. So I grabbed the phone, gave her a call, and had a nearly 2-hour conversation which seemed to solidify the fact that yes, she does intend to come and do some travelling with me this fall. So there’s a reason to live if there ever was one.

It’s incredibly lucky that Loren had e-mailed me, otherwise I wouldn’t have checked my e-mail then and seen Krissi’s e-mail, and by the time I got her new phone number it would have been too late. The fact that Krissi e-mailed me at that exact time is also a pretty lucky fucking coincidence. Perhaps this is yet another piece of evidence that there is some kind of psychic connection between us.

As for the last part of my Ichenheim trip, yesterday was as uneventful as I expected. I spent the day preparing my lessons for tomorrow’s classes and attempting to nap to make up for the sleep I didn’t get the night before. I went jogging late in the afternoon, and while I haven’t been listening to Pink Floyd very much at all in recent months, I somehow felt the Atom Heart Mother suite would be appropriate music for the scenery. It wasn’t until I ran past a stall in the middle of a field with a bunch of cows staring at me that I realised just how perfect it was.

I found out that Rheinfest is as early as one month from now, and as I’d hate to miss that I’m going to try and come back again then. The only thing about expecting Krissi to visit is that I now have to watch my money extra carefully, as I’d hate to have her come and have me as broke as I am now, unable to travel around with her due to my own lack of funds.

Anyway, it’s back to Hannover and back to the old routine now. I’ve got a long 6-hour train ride ahead of me, but at least I’ll be in a good mood during the journey.

Easter: Great Time, Terrible Mood

April 14th, 2009 No comments

It’s already my last full day in Ichenheim, and while it’s been a really nice trip, my overall mood has sadly not been in sync with the enjoyable experiences I’ve had. Although I’d rather just brush through what’s happened (I barely slept at all last night and my mind is still quite fuzzy as I write this) I’ll try to go through the events of the last several days in as much detail as I can until I reach the present. As such, I’ll divide this entry into different parts.

1. Der Rhein

Immediately after completing my last entry, I took a bicycle from the garage and headed off towards the spot on the Rhine where I first went five years ago and that I returned to several times over the course of my stay in Frankfurt. A lot of pleasant memories associated with that spot. I’ve been itching to go back there for…well, for years I guess.

I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, the last time being to test the bike Krissi gave me in Santa Barbara for my 23rd birthday. And while the cliché about riding a bike is certainly true—you never forget how—you can certainly get rusty. I had a hard time mounting and dismounting, I could barely take one hand off the handlebars without almost tipping over, and I couldn’t figure out the 10-speed gauge for shit. Still, it was a fantastic sensation. The weather was lovely and the bike paths were sparse, and it was nothing but fields and trees until I got to the spot. When I did encounter other riders heading in the opposite direction, they all smiled and said good morning.

I reached the spot without any problems, as apparently the knowledge of how to get there has been lying dormant in my mind all these years. When I got there I sat on a bench made of one solid log from a tree cut in half and stared at the water for awhile, watching the ducks and swans. I had a really nice moment there, thinking about the continuity in my life that this spot represents. It was actually the first place I went on my very first day in Ichenheim, on the week I was here with my mother and grandmother before beginning my year in Frankfurt a few months later. After getting to the village and sitting in the house for awhile, a few of us went for a bike ride and that’s the spot where we went. Throughout the week I returned there many times (it’s also very close to the spot where Rheinfest is held) and over the course of the next year I returned almost every time I was in Ichenheim. The last time I was there I remember thinking it might be the last time, but feeling somehow that I’d see it again. Now here I was, indeed seeing it again, having chosen the paths in my life that would lead me back. And I’m sure I’ll be going back there many times in the future.

2. Flammenkuchen

The same afternoon of the day I rode to the Rhine, we had lunch at Ursula’s mothers’ house, the same house where we ate dinner on New Years’ day. We weren’t in the same room though, and the family that had been there with Lara wasn’t there, although the obviously-gay father did pop in to say hello and grab some food. Another one of her sons was there cooking pizza in a wood-oven, made with almost completely home-made ingredients.

Unfortunately for me, all of the pies had bacon or salami, so I had to remove the meat if I wanted to eat at all. And without the meat it wasn’t all that great, so I didn’t eat much. We were finished eating after about twenty minutes, but we wouldn’t be leaving for another two hours. It was quite boring, but at least I got to watch them bake some home-made bread in the oven once the pizza had been cooked, which was mildly interesting. I also drank a beer and a glass of Apple-wine, which completely put me out and I took about a two-hour nap after we finally returned to the house.

That night after a traditional German dinner of bread and various meats and cheeses, we watched “I Am Legend”, which is one of those movies that can be enjoyed without understanding a single dubbed word. Of course the fact that I’d seen it before in English certainly helped. But that was it for the day, as afterwards we all went to bed.

3. Ostern Sonntag

Yesterday (Monday) felt more like Easter than the actual Easter Sunday. I woke up and decided to go for a jog, which turned out to be extremely nice. It was the only completely overcast day we’ve had all week, so the scenery wasn’t as nice, but it helped reduce the pollen in the air so that was good. Dieter recommended a nice route to me beforehand and it turned out to be really nice indeed, though not as long as my usual route so I had to do a little improvising at the end. But it went through woods and alongside fields and was about as nice if not a little nicer (due to the greater scarcity of other people) than my route in Hannover.

We had a lunch of rabbit and noodles, which turned out to be quite great. I was a little nervous about eating a mammal, as the last time I tried that it made me sick for a day, but they insisted that rabbit meat was as lean as bird meat so it should be okay. As for any moral qualms I might have over eating a mammal, that was more than mitigated by the fact that these rabbits were raised by someone in the village as opposed to a factory, and as such they suffered significantly less than the chickens I eat all the time. I didn’t eat much of the meat, but it turned out to have no negative side effects anyway.

I spent most of the afternoon on the couch with my computer, with two breaks to go ride bikes with Ursula and Dieter. The first time, we rode to Aunt Brunhilda’s house to drop off some bottles of wine, then through the woods to pick some plants that grow on the ground there and which apparently have a nice flavour for cooking. The second time, we were supposed to go to a woman’s 80th birthday party where Dieter would be playing some music for a half hour with the other members of the village band (the infamous Elena among them), but as it turned out that party wasn’t happening until the following day. But we did go to the cemetery and paid our respects to Opa George, then came back to the house.

It was another light dinner followed by another film, “Blood Diamond” which is really good but I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it had I not seen it before in English so I could follow the story. That afternoon they let me use their phone to call my grandmother and mother to wish them a happy Easter, and after the film I asked if I could try calling my friend in California, as it would now finally be afternoon there. So I tried calling the number Krissi sent me in an e-mail a few months ago, but there was no answer. I haven’t heard from her in about a month and I’m starting to worry again that she’s decided she no longer wants to be my friend, so I was just hoping to get some reassurance that that’s not the case, as well as to talk to her again for the first time in nearly a year. I tried three more times over the course of the next hour but she never picked up. I even tried calling Corey, but the only number I could find for him was from an e-mail many years old and whoever picked up the phone most certainly wasn’t him. So with that familiar feeling of friendlessness and isolation, I gave up and went to sleep.

4. Obama Brücke

The highlight of the vacation came yesterday, as I went with Dieter, Ursula and Frederic on a nice long 22-kilometer bike ride to a bridge where Barack Obama had apparently been just a week earlier as part of his European diplomacy tour. There was a huge buzz in this area of Germany surrounding his visit, as I suppose there was everywhere he went. Apparently even in Offenburg, which is 20 kilometers from Baden-Baden where Obama actually was, there had been 18,000 policemen on the streets. Obama crossed a little pedestrian bridge from Baden-Baden to Strasbourg, meeting Sarkozy halfway in a carefully choreographed little exchange. Since then, the locals have been calling it “Obama Bridge” and they probably will for years to come.

The weather was quite perfect. The sky was half-full of clouds (or half-empty if you’re an optimist) and the route to the bridge was spectacular. We rode through open fields, through patches of woods, and along the Rhine, and I did my best to appreciate every second. Unfortunately I was having some trouble with the 10-speed gauge on my bike and I was fucking things up with the chain so that was a little frustrating. I had to switch with Frederic to a less complicated bike half-way through, but after that I had almost no more problems.

When we finally reached the area I wasn’t disappointed by how nice it looked, with little parks on both sides and lots of trees and flowers. We rode our bikes across the bridge and then we were officially in France, and rode a little farther to see a hotel that had been burned down by the anti-NATO protesters just a week ago. The anti-NATO graffiti is still all over the place, which is kind of cool. We ate lunch on a bench on the French side of the river, then rode back to Germany to a little restaurant where we sat outside and drank a beer.

Thanks to the beer, the ride back to Ichenheim was even more enjoyable. I was finally getting the hang of the bicycle thing, shifting the speed at the appropriate times and having no trouble mounting and dismounting. Whereas at first I couldn’t even take one hand off the handlebars without almost tipping over, there were a few times going downhill that I actually took both hands off and maintained my balance like that for several seconds, which was always a nice thrill.

Once we were finally approaching the village and riding through the last few open fields with the village in the distance and the mountains of the black forest on the horizon, I made sure to really appreciate and absorb the moment, as I knew I’d take this experience with me for the rest of my life and it would soon be over. And before I knew it, it was over and we were back at the house.

5. Todeswunsch

As wonderful as that experience had been, I was still very much in a “why can’t I just die already?” frame-of-mind, and that persisted all throughout the afternoon and night and indeed to the present moment. We spent the afternoon out on the terrace, drinking beer and chatting it up with some neighbours who came by for a visit. Ursula’s mother was already there when we got back, and about a half-hour later another family came along whom I’ve met before but among many other people so I had no clear memories of them specifically. It was a young couple and their two children, a boy about 4 years old and a girl about 1 or 2.

The father is a cop, and he was talking about his experience last week when Obama was in town, which might have been interesting if I could comprehend this village dialect of theirs, but my mind was focussed mostly on the little girl. She was clearly afraid of me, which bothered me. I tried throughout the afternoon to get her not to be afraid of me, but she would always go from looking at me to hiding in her mother or father’s arms, while they tried to assure her that I was nothing to be afraid of. They said it was because of my beard and long hair, which is not very common in these parts so she’s not used to it. At one point, she was playing with a ball which Frederic threw to me, and I gave it back to her which was the only point she actually smiled at me and seemed to overcome that fear, but before I knew it she was crying into her mother’s shoulder again. Goddamn girls. Why are they all so afraid of me?

Anyway, after they left Dieter fired up the grill and we had another delicious dinner. The sun was going down when we finished and we remained outside for only a little while longer. I finished up my last beer and participated in a conversation about the end of the universe, to which I was able to contribute my expertise on the subject. The end of the universe. I can’t fucking wait.

When I went to bed they offered me the phone again to try and call Krissi, which I did a few times again to no avail before giving up and going to sleep in an extremely horrible emotional state of mind. It had been a really damned good day, but a lot of other bullshit had sunk in too deeply, and another failed attempt at reaching Krissi made me feel more isolated than I have in a good long time, which is saying quite a lot because I always feel isolated. There are a million possible reasons why I haven’t been able to reach her, but the default assumption is that something I wrote finally put her off to me completely and she doesn’t want to talk to me ever again. She sees a giant phone number appear on her caller ID, assumes it must be from overseas so it must be from me, and deliberately doesn’t pick up. I’m probably wrong but the fact that it remains a possibility is enough to really bother me.

I woke up three hours later, still in an extremely bothered state of mind and with my allergies assaulting my nose and eyes like it was some kind of war. I spent the next five hours tossing and turning, wishing to just fall back asleep or die. I managed to get another hour or so of sleep before giving up and getting up this morning, which brings me to right now.

The others are working today so I won’t be doing anything remarkable, and tomorrow I’ll be heading back to Hannover. With any luck, terrorists will blow up my train and I won’t have to spend the next twenty-five—or, god-forbid, fifty—years killing time until death finally puts a stop to this absurd stream of consciousness.

And throughout it all, as dreadful as my emotional state has been, I’ve enjoyed every moment of this trip. And if I do have to live another fifty years, I’ll enjoy those moments too. It’s just that I’d prefer not to have to live through them at all.

Back to Ichenheim

April 11th, 2009 No comments

I’m once again in Ichenheim, sitting in the same spot where I wrote all those very lengthy, detailed journal entries a few months ago over the Christmas holidays. It feels good to be back. The weather is perfect, the fields are green, and the small-town vibe is very much alive. This morning the others all have things to do, so I’ll probably go for a bike ride to the Rhine just like five years ago, which should be really nice.

The train ride yesterday was somewhat interesting. I had asked for a window seat when I made the reservation, but when I got on the train I found they had put me in one of those 6-seat cabins, and I was supposed to sit by the door and not the window. One of the window seats would be free until we reached Kassel, however, so I took that for the first hour of the journey and then switched to the seat I was supposed to have. The seats across from me were occupied by two ladies who also had reservations from Hannover to Baden-Baden where they would have to change to the train heading towards Konstanz, as would I. I noticed this because while the train arrived on time, it lost six minutes while waiting to depart and the ladies expressed concern to the ticket-checker that they might not have enough time to make the connection. I was concerned as well, as I forgot to write down the phone number here in Ichenheim just in case I had to inform them of a delay. Sitting at the opposite window seat was a lone little kid, probably about 9 or 10 years old, who had a really hard time sitting still.

The final passenger in our little cabin boarded in Kassel, after I’d switched to the seat I was supposed to have. It was a young girl, probably somewhere between 16 and 19 years old, with a really nice body but a face that was just slightly on the ugly side of the fence so I wouldn’t have to be tortured by her presence. She was carrying a big heavy suitcase and was clearly having trouble with it, so I stood up and lifted it up to place it on the rack above the seats. She said “danke schön” and I said “bitte” and that was that for the time being.

The next leg of the journey was the longest without a stop, and I was slightly pissed off to see the girl reading from a book instead of looking out the window, which is all I wanted to do. I don’t understand why not everyone in the world likes to look out the window when they’re on a train or a plane. The world outside is just so beautiful. Why don’t people want to take it in as much as they can before they die? And maybe they ride the train through the German countryside all the time, but I still don’t see how it could possibly get so old that anyone would lose interest. But whatever. Other people never made much sense to me anyway.

In Frankfurt the kid got off and I took his seat, so I got to sit by the window across from the girl for the rest of the trip, occasionally glancing at her to admire nice little details such as the sun reflecting off the visible portion of her chest. Her little hands and fingers holding the book. The place on the top of her head where the natural colour meets the blonde dye. The cute little lips situated on an otherwise unremarkable face. I wondered if I would be able to settle for someone that average. I used to be so picky, but now it seems that even if a girl isn’t drop-dead beautiful there’s still a plethora of beautiful features that excite me simply because they belong to a female.

When the train was approaching Baden-Baden, she asked me if I could take her bag down from the rack just in case she couldn’t find another strong man to help her when she got to her stop. I happily obliged and then bid her goodbye as I left the cabin to stand with all the others who were waiting to get off the train, including the two ladies who had left a few minutes before. But there was some weirdness, as the train stopped before we reached any platform and the conductor came on the speaker to say there was a problem and she’d give us more information if she could. It was at that point exactly the time that the next train was supposed to depart, and I heard the ladies talking to a random guy who seemed to know something about the German train system that the next train would probably wait an extra five minutes for the sake of all those needing to make the connection. But pretty soon the train started moving again and we passed Baden-Baden completely. The conductor came back on the loudspeaker and said that we wouldn’t be stopping in Baden-Baden (she didn’t explain why) but there would be an unscheduled stop in Offenburg. So that was quite convenient for me, as that was my final destination anyway.

I went back to the cabin and exchanged a few comments about the situation with the girl, and laughed about the messed up German-rail system. I was only feigning it, of course, as it’s been my experience that the German-rail system is actually the best and most efficient in the world, but Germans complain about everything so as long as it’s not perfect it sucks. She made a few comments I didn’t understand, so I couldn’t keep any kind of conversation going or anything, and before I knew it we were arriving in Offenburg anyway. So I wished her a pleasant journey and we said our goodbyes again, and I left with a nice feeling from having come the closest I’ve come in a long time to actually flirting with a real-live German girl. It’s nice to know that such a thing is even possible.

I got off the train and found Dieter waiting for me. We drove back to Ichenheim and I said hello to Ursula, Frederic, Myriam, and Ralf, accepted a beer, and proceeded to slip back into the comfortable vacation-mind-set I’d been waiting for. We ate outside and drank and talked until the sun was down, though I was very tired from having woken up relatively early and gone running. My mind never quite made the switch to German-mode (even with all that “practice” on the train) so I hardly participated in the conversation, most of which I couldn’t understand. But as it turned out, the others were tired too, and at around quarter to ten they all decided it was time to go to bed. And so I went to sleep at the earliest hour I’ve gone to sleep in…probably since I’ve been back in Germany…and got a good ten hours of frequently interrupted sleep before getting up at 7:30 and joining them for breakfast. Now I’ve got until noon to do whatever I want, and then we’re visiting someone for lunch at the same house where we had dinner on New Years’ day, the one in which I’d spent the whole time admiring Lara, who will almost definitely not be there this time.

Anyway, that’s enough writing. The Rhine is calling.

Walking Paradox

April 3rd, 2009 No comments

I am a walking paradox. I’ve enjoyed almost every second of this past week, up to and including right now, and yet I’m so angry and miserable I just want to die a violent death and be done with it. I don’t understand how I can live like this. Nothing about me makes sense. I’m always lonely but I prefer being alone. I desperately want the love of a beautiful girl more than anything else but I don’t think it’s worth it to try and find it. The sick and twisted shit that turns me on sexually is the stuff that most disturbs and horrifies me emotionally. And right now the sun is shining, it’s as warm as a summer day, I just got back from a furious run that felt fantastic, I’m looking forward to another fun Friday night full of light drinking and smoking and listening to music, and yet all I want is to fucking die.

Yesterday I woke up and the first thing I did was check my e-mail. Maybe Krissi wrote me back, as the last time I heard from her was the previous Thursday. Instead there’s an e-mail from my Dad saying I owe about $100 to NJ for my taxes, and an e-mail from Planeo asking me to do substitutions in Helmstedt next week on the days that I would otherwise have off. So that immediately put me in a sour mood that lasted all morning. My classes went okay, and when all that was over I was feeling just a little bit better. When I got back home the sun was setting, and I sat out on my balcony and listened to a few slow, chill Zeppelin tunes and I suddenly felt on top of the world. I have an amazing view of the sunset from this apartment, which I appropriately discovered only now that I’m only going to be here for one more month.

There was no Quiz Night yesterday as Alan and Amanda are going to Romania until Easter. Not that I would have been able to afford it, but it did put me off just a little that nobody told me. I only found out when I called Alan to ask him about the quiz and he said their plane was taking off in a half hour. Fuck, man. I would kill a few babies for the chance to go to Romania. Not really, of course. All I actually had to do was work more and not live in this overpriced apartment. I’ve been slacking for months, so as a result I don’t get to travel. That’s the trade-off. I don’t work a lot, so I spend all my free time in one place. Hopefully I’ll be changing that pretty soon.

Today I rolled out of bed and headed to my beginner lessons in Helmstedt. Only one person showed up to each class, and I was out of there at 12:15. As I waited for the train on the ride home, some ridiculously beautiful girl was standing very close to me. When I tried to steal a glance at her face I found her looking right back at me, so I did the only thing I could think to do: toss on my I-pod and ignore her while simultaneously imagining all kinds of things I could say to her but wouldn’t. How am I even supposed to feel in that situation? On the one hand if I don’t say anything I’m a pussy, but on the other hand if I do say something I might be a pedophile. She might have been 19 or 20, but she also might have been 15 or 16. It’s so hard to tell, so I think the best policy is just to not say anything. Not that anything would or could have come from it if I did. On the first leg of the ride back to Hannover she sat right across from me, thus prolonging the torture until we reached Braunschweig, and I was relieved to see that she wasn’t getting on the train to Hannover with me, so we don’t live in the same town anyway so there was nothing the least bit feasible about a possible…anything.

Back in Hannover I had to get from the train station to the supermarket to stock up on food and beer for the weekend, and I found myself assaulted on all sides by beautiful girls I couldn’t have. Everywhere I turned there was an incredible face, a sexy pair of legs, or at least a juicy ass. I didn’t even bother letting myself start with the imaginary scenarios of approaching them. I just accepted they weren’t mine, that it’s probably for the best because I sure as shit know in my heart of hearts that I don’t deserve any of them. The overall karma of the universe is best served by my being alone, so I’m just going to have to face the unquenchable desire and suck on it. All that anger and frustration…I deserve it. So I’ll suck on it.

And the ironic thing is that I enjoy sucking on it too. This über-strong longing for sex or death (not sure which I’d prefer) actually feels really good and I recognise that. The whole self-loathing thing is really just a form of self-indulgence. And oh how I loathe myself for indulging in the pleasure of self-loathing. It’s a vicious cycle, really. But the fact remains that I’ve never done one single meaningful goddamn thing for anybody else on the planet, that I’m the most self-absorbed bastard I know, and I just don’t deserve anything better. Not that I think most of the guys who have the love of a beautiful girl deserve what they have either, but I know I don’t deserve it so at least I can feel right about not having it.

After walking home along a sexy-girl-littered path from the supermarket I went ahead and engaged in the most blatantly self-indulgent activity I do, shaved myself, then tried to take a little power-nap before going jogging. Of course after five minutes the people who live in the apartment next to me decided that would be a great time to start blasting their extremely shitty pop music at top volume, which only raised the rage level even higher, to the point where lying down peacefully was just no longer possible. So I made up a running playlist on my I-pod of songs that were up-beat and fast (to match the weather) but contained an undercurrent of anger (to match my mood).

And what a run! It being the warmest day of the year so far, and a Friday to boot, every German youth in town was out there on my running path, sitting along the river and sunbathing out in the parks. Naturally, I saw more sexy girls on my run than I had all day up until that point combined, and that’s saying a lot. But the music matched my mood perfectly and all flashes of desire and frustration only made me pick up the pace. I finished the run much faster than usual, took off my drenched-in-sweat clothes, cooled down, and decided to write a journal entry documenting how I feel right now so that I can read it over and over again at various points throughout the rest of my life and remember what an angry fucking loser I used to be and in all likelihood still am. So fuck you, future me. I hope you’re enjoying your anger and misery every bit as much as you were back at the moment you wrote this, you walking fucking paradox.

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