Archive for May, 2011

Not So Dramatic

May 31st, 2011 No comments

My last entry was kind of an old-school throwback to the over-emotional, super angry journal entries I used to write all the time. At least I admitted at the end that I was closer to apathy than despair, but the rest of the entry probably gave the impression that I was ready to go jump off a bridge somewhere.

So I just want to set the record straight and say to anyone who might care that I’m fine, that when the morning came and a full night’s sleep had washed away the mix of alcohol and anger I was back to my normal state of not caring.

The truth is that while I tend to blame everything from the circumstances of my childhood to the physical structure of the universe for my problems with women, deep down I do admit that I could probably find one if I really tried. The biggest reason I’m still alone is that I’m perfectly content to be alone.

That wasn’t always the reason—and I can legitimately blame my childhood circumstances and the laws of the universe (certainly with regards to the evolution of the brain as it pertains to sexual attraction) for my 100% failure rate with women in my youth—but these days I’m sane enough and mature enough to know what it would take to get a girlfriend and I simply don’t want to do it. All those games you have to play don’t appeal to me at all.

So I hope that clears that up. There’s really nothing to report from yesterday, but I have to correct something I wrote before and explain that while the next day of Rheinfest is Wednesday we won’t actually be going. It’s Ralf’s birthday and we’re celebrating here. So it’s a near-certainty that nothing of emotional significance is going to happen until Thursday.

But now that I’m an amateur photographer, I don’t actually need an actual story to crank out a journal entry. I can just post the pictures I took yesterday.

Where the rain-water from Ichenheim goes.

I went for a bike-ride with Dieter in the afternoon through the spectacular weather.  The first two pictures are of a nice area near a little hut by the woods.  The third is of a little lake nearby where apparently my grandmother used to go swimming when she was a kid.

 The hut is barely visible behind the hedge. The "Müllbach"

These pictures speak for themselves—just a couple I took along the way to the Rheinfest grounds.

 The Swansons Nice day.

We stopped at the festival grounds, now completely empty, and Dieter opened up the hut where he had couple of beers waiting for us.  I learned that the wooden hut is named for Wilhelm Schwärzler, who was born in 1901 and died at Rheinfest in 1979 on that very spot.  As you might imagine, that festival ended pretty quickly thereafter.

Hut / Memorial Slightly fewer people than Sunday.

Here’s a picture for the ages, as it’s where I spend the bulk of my days here in Ichenheim.  Just about every single journal entry from Ichenheim has been written from this spot, including this one right now.

The view from right here.

My grandma’s sister Fannie came to visit us after dinner in the evening, and I snapped a few casual shots.

 Fannie and family. Ein bisschen Gemütlichkeit...

...und noch mehr.

The view from the house at sunset, about 9:30 p.m. at this latitude.  The house has a great location at the edge of the village, so most of the view is of fields and farmland.

Fields to the southwest.The patio, facing west.  

So now you’ve got a better idea of what a nice place this is.  I’m going to miss coming here.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Epilogue to a Premature Epilogue

May 29th, 2011 No comments

Oh life, I know you too well. Brain, I know YOU all too well.

Things went about exactly as I anticipated on the second day of Rheinfest. Simone was there but she never even made eye-contact with me. For the first hour or so we (me and Dieter, Ursela, Myriam and Ralf) were sitting at one of the tables outside the tent and Simone was sitting a couple of tables down with her back to me, but even when she turned around she never looked directly at me—at least not while I was looking directly at her, which was often.

Hey, there we are.

It’s funny how that works. If there had been no history at all with me and her, I wouldn’t have given her in her present form much thought at all. There were younger, more beautiful girls there that also served to distract, frustrate, and depress the hell out of me, but because I’d made such a big deal out of the Simone situation most of my emotions revolved around her.

I spent the bulk of the morning and early afternoon yesterday composing that over-the-top journal entry, which I ended with a premonition that turned out to be as true as I’d feared. Anything less than a full-on conversation with Simone would have been a let-down, and a let-down it was. A big old “schwang wang wang” as Cenk Uygur would say.

For most of the day she was working the hefeweizen stand, and while it would have been easy to go up and chat with her while I ordered one, the others kept ordering beer for me so there was no real opportunity to go up to her.

Photo snapped on the way.As for the festival itself, the situation was rather bizarre. Last year there weren’t very many people there because—we’d thought at the time—the weather wasn’t very good. But today the weather couldn’t have been more perfect—the sun was shining and the temperature was neither too cool nor too warm—but somehow there were even less people there than last year.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that one of the only two bands scheduled for the day had cancelled, and the only band that came played relatively boring music. Dieter certainly complained about it, explaining that last night the music had been very lively and fun while this band was only playing old classical music that nobody could dance to. It was a band from another nearby town, but it was mostly younger people and reminded me of a high school marching band. There were a lot of young girls playing, many of whom were rather lovely but whom I didn’t spend much time focused on because my mind was too full of Simone-related thoughts and feelings. Not that their presence didn’t affect me—young girls that I’ll never get close to let alone speak to always have a depressing effect on my mind.

Also there were a few other girls I’ve mentioned before in this journal. Elena was of course there but her lack of conscious contact with me is something I’m quite used to. But the fact that her boring, über-normal boyfriend was also working at the time and I’d get to occasionally see them cuddling up to one another in loving-relationship lovey-doveyness didn’t help at all. It’s not that I’ve ever thought that I might ever have a chance with Elena, but seeing her hugging and kissing another man couldn’t realistically not affect me.

There was also that girl I mentioned in one of last year’s Rheinfest entries—the girlfriend of the scrawny acne-ridden kid who is apparently still going out with him (I got to see them kissing a few times as well). Apparently in Ichenheim nobody ever breaks up with anybody.

I sat outside with the others for hours, eating a salad for lunch and smoking a cigarette every two beers until I was so bored from sitting around that I had to just get up and move around a bit. I rode my bicycle to the Rhein and south to a nearby quarry, which was full of sand and very difficult and strenuous to maneuver around in so it wasn’t quite the relaxing, contemplative experience I’d been hoping for.

Lovely lake by the quarry (left).Lovely lake by the quarry (right). 

I’d had it in my mind that when I got back I’d go up to the hefeweizen stand and order a few for whoever wanted one with Simone, thus giving me a chance to at least say a few words to her and hopefully get a better impression of how she felt about me now, but Ralf also wanted a hefeweizen so we just ordered one from the waitress who got it from Simone and the girl who was at the stand with her.

It was a lovely evening in terms of weather and temperature, so it’s not as though it was a terrible experience. It’s just that I couldn’t keep my mind off the fact that I’m so fucking alone and always have been and always will be, and that I’m fucked up for feeling such strong desire for all the very young girls who were there as well and whom I have no business feeling any amount of desire for. Such is my life.

Man, I can’t wait to go to Japan and get cancer.

A bit later in the evening I smelled an opportunity, as both Ralf and I were out of beer and it didn’t seem like the waitresses were waitressing any longer. Almost everyone else had gone home and Dead festival.those of us who were there were among the only non-workers left at the festival. I asked Ralf if he wanted another and after a moment of consideration he decided that would be okay.

I took our two empty beer-glasses to the hefeweizen-stand and finally made contact with Simone in the most anti-climactic way imaginable. “Would you like two more?” she asked me in German—no ‘hallo’ or ‘wie geht’s?’—and I just said, ‘ja, bitte.’

The other girl there asked to confirm my order and Simone said, “zwei ‘ja bitte’” as though mocking me for some reason.

My fucking god are women strange creatures. One day they’re extremely warm and welcoming and the next they’re cold as ice for no comprehensible reason.

When she brought me the two full beers I said a few chat-conducive words, asking her why she thought there were so few people there today, but she just said she didn’t know. I said hopefully there would be more on Wednesday and Thursday and she agreed, and that was obviously that. I said goodbye to her and brought the beers back with me, now in a state of full ironic-amusement that my premonition had in fact proved correct and that anything less than full-on friendliness with her would flush me down one of my all-too-familiar emotional downward spirals.

But I’ve gotten much better at hiding such things than I used to be and continued to talk and laugh with Dieter and the others, the whole time uncomfortably conscious of Simone’s presence and always feeling like her judging eyes might be on me at any moment. Unbelievable how much I suddenly cared about what a totally-less-than-spectacular-looking-woman might think of me.

Irresistably pretty picture. We were the last non-working-people left at the festival as the sun was setting, and everyone else was stacking the chairs on the table-tops and whatnot while we finished our beers and prepared to leave. When it was finally time to go I found myself following them up to the counter and the hefeweizen-stand as they all said goodbye.

Just before we left, Simone did make eye-contact with me and clearly say “Tschüss” to me which I returned in a friendly and casual manner that I’m sure completely concealed any other emotions I was feeling. The fact that she actually said goodbye directly to me somewhat mitigated the negative feelings I was feeling, although at that point I’d already slid so far down the downward spiral that it made little difference. Although it did make some difference, I must confess.

The bike-ride back to Ichenheim was actually unbelievably pleasant—the sun splashing all kinds of wonderful colors across the landscape. I had to stop a couple of times to take pictures, which Dieter was more than happy to accommodate. When we got home we watched the end of a “Freundschaft” soccer match between Germany and Uruguay (Germany won 2-1) and I smoked one last cigarette outside before coming down to my room and banging out this journal entry so I don’t have to do it tomorrow.

Ichenheim at sunset. It really is a lovely place.

The next two days are non-festival days, so I may not write again until Wednesday or Thursday, and those two days will ultimately determine how I ultimately feel about what went down this week.

As for how I feel at this exact moment, it’s somewhere between apathy and despair, though probably a bit closer to apathy. Certainly I was reminded of that fact that in spite of how far I’ve come in the last seven years, I’m still a million light-years away from the kind of person who can attract women and it seems as obvious as ever that I’ll just never have one. The conclusion I reached as far back as nine years ago—that There Is No Hope and I’ll always be alone—holds firm.

In spite of the new light that last night’s conversation shed on the infamous night of the Musik Club Offenburg, what I felt that night remains valid: I am not desirable. I never have been. And while sometimes, occasionally, some women might look at my physical appearance alone and think that perhaps I might be somewhat attractive, the more time that goes on the more time they have to realize that below the surface there’s actually nothing that interests them.

At one point today, Myriam’s grandmother (from whom I’ve consistently felt vibes of dislike since the moment I met her) asked me if I’d found a girlfriend yet in Germany. I just laughed and shook my head, and Myriam suggested that I should just say “two.”

For all the massive amounts of thinking and contemplating I do, I still just can’t grasp how it is that normal people find each other and enter into long-term relationships with one another. Not only does one person have to be interested in the other, but the other person must actually return those feelings. It boggles my mind that this seems to work for most people, as it has never, ever, never ever, not one single goddamn motherfucking time in my entire time on this god-forsaken planet, EVER happened to me. And I just can’t imagine that it ever will.

So all I can do is continue doing what I’m doing and do my best to live my life in such a way that the love of another human being is not necessary for fulfillment. And the only thing that suffices to fill that void is travel. Seeing the world. Experiencing as much as I can possibly experience in the time that I’m here. Everything except sex and romantic love.

I suppose in the end, life can be worth living without those things. But when confronted so directly with my lack of them, it’s hard not to desire an early death.

The downward spiral goes down very deep, and my anticipation of riding it today apparently failed to prevent it. As I said, I know life too well and I know my brain too well. This is how it is and how it always will be.

“Now I’m in Ichenheim and preparing for something of an emotional roller-coaster which always seems to happen while I’m here, especially during Rheinfest.” –Me, 5/28/11 (two days ago).

“Simone will be working there today and…the odds of another pleasant chat are very slim. And I’m worried that anything less than what happened last night will feel like a let-down. I just hope that being mentally prepared for that will prevent it from happening, but I know how my mind works.” –Me, 5/29/11 (this morning).

“It all points in one direction. It has all along, the Publius Faction leading me to formulate my one and final Conclusion: There Is No Hope.” –Me, 4/23/02 (nine years ago).

An Ichenheim Epilogue: 7 Years Later

May 29th, 2011 No comments

Almost every trip to Ichenheim seems to bring with it events of personal significance, and what happened last night felt monumental. Not because it was life-changing in any major way, but because of the time-scale involved. Have you ever had a story in your life—a particularly memorable one—that happened a long time ago and you thought was over and done with forever, only to have some new event come along much later in your life and completely alter the meaning of it? That’s what happened to me.

I still find it strange that some people actually enjoy reading my personal journal, but for those who do I strongly recommend you follow this link and read the story of my night at the Musik Club Offenburg. It took place near the very beginning of my exchange-student year in Frankfurt, and it was one of the most awful-yet-memorable nights of my life. But my written account—an e-mail to Corey later incorporated into my journal—turned out to be one of my favorite entries of all time. Although the writing quality is noticeably worse, you’ll probably enjoy it more than this entry, but you won’t be able to appreciate this one unless you’ve read the other one first.

So most of the day yesterday was spent taking care of various business on the computer, with a brief jogging interlude in mid-afternoon. Dieter went to the festival before the rest of us because the band he’s in would be playing music for awhile, and the rest of us rode our bikes there around 6 p.m. Ursela, Myriam, and Ralf went directly to the festival ground but I rode about 500 meters further down the road to make the very first picture I took with my new camera a picture of the Rhein. It’s a spot I try to come to every time I’m in Ichenheim, and I’ve done much thinking/brooding/pondering there:

The historic first photo.

After riding along the river for a little bit I headed to the festival ground myself where I found that the others hadn’t even made it inside. They’d run into some people they know outside and got sucked into a chatting session. It would probably be awhile before we found a place to sit down and commence drinking.

Rheinfest from the outside.

As we were walked into the tent, I spotted Gabi and Dietmar—they lived at the house I stayed on my first Ichenheim trip—sitting at one of the plastic tables outside the tent (barely visible on the left in the picture above). I chatted with Gabi for awhile as she explained to everyone she was with who I was and what I did. They suggested I stay in Ichenheim and teach the whole village how to speak English. It’s not the least tempting idea in the world, but I’d rather stick with Japan. Gabi also made sure to tell everyone an embarrassing story about how when I came back from my first night in Rheinfest back in 2004 (kind of a prologue to the Musik Club Offenburg night) I was so drunk that I stumbled up the stairs and grabbed hold of the dresser at the top thinking it was attached to the wall and I pulled on it, it toppled over and all the contents fell all over me. Apparently this is what she remembers most about me.

When I glanced inside the tent I noticed my grandmother’s sister Fannie sitting at a nearby table and I politely said goodbye to Gabi and made my way to say hello to her. We exchanged a few words, which was difficult because the brass music was so loud and her dialect so strong, but we somehow managed. I made sure to get a picture of us to send to my grandmother, which I think she’ll appreciate. It also gives you a good sense of what the atmosphere inside was like.

Rheinfest from the inside.

We eventually got outside and sat by Ursela’s sister and her husband, whom those of you who’ve been reading for awhile might remember from the Easter story a couple of years ago. It was amazing to see their little baby daughter now at age 3 (and apparently no longer afraid of me). It really gives me a sense of how long I’ve actually been living here.

I apologized to them from the start for not remembering their names, and they told me they remembered mine but it was okay. Petra and Friedhelm—now stored forever in my memory bank. Friedhelm asked me a few questions about English because he’s been trying to help his 12-year-old son with his English homework and having some difficulty, so I had to slip into teacher-mode for a moment and explain the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect, which is the most difficult grammar for Germans to grasp because they pretty much only use Present Perfect. Explaining that to him was pretty much the only time I used English the whole night.

Of course my going to Japan always comes up in conversation, and Petra expressed serious concern because of the radiation. I suppose it’s nice that she’d be concerned, but the whole Fukushima thing is just so annoying. Before when I told people I planned to go to Japan they’d think it was great and exciting, but now all anyone brings up is Fukushima and the fact that I must be crazy if I want to go there now. I try to explain that Japan is very big and most of it wasn’t affected by the disaster, and that even if levels of radiation are hundreds of times the normal level it’s still not very dangerous to human health, but nobody is convinced. All I can say is that I’ve been dreaming about going to Japan my whole life and if I were to let this disaster change my plans…well that’s just not who I am.

What I can’t explain to most people (but which I’m perfectly comfortable mentioning in a public journal entry—go figure) is that I’d be more than happy to get cancer and die an early death anyway. I’ve still got a bit more of my youth left to enjoy, but growing old and alone isn’t the most appealing idea in the world to me.

They left and took their kids shortly thereafter, and as they walked away I called out “Petra und Friedhelm” to let them know I wasn’t going to forget their names again, and Friedhelm gave me a smile and a thumbs-up.

Dieter’s band, “The Old-Timers”, finished up and he came out to join us, at which point the beer-drinking started to accelerate. I got a photo of everyone there at that point. The empty chair between the two tables was where I was sitting, Ursela and Dieter were across from me and Myriam and Ralf are to the right of them.

Wir sind hier und trinken bier.

Can you believe I’ve made it this far without getting into the whole attractive-female aspect of things? Well, the rest of this entry will be all about that.

Elena was not one of the girls from the Musik Club Offenburg night (I’m not 100% certain but I just don’t think I’d be able to forget a face like hers) but she’s related to Ursela somehow and is a close friend of the family so she would frequently come around to chat. I’ve never been introduced to her and for some reason nobody did it this time either, so I couldn’t really say anything to her without it being awkward and weird not to mention in front of half-a-dozen people who are aware of my attraction because I told them on my first Christmas visit after I first saw her. So all I could do was admire her incredible face without being too blatant about it.

There was also the matter of getting a picture of her without being too blatant about it, something I’m now going to have to sort out in my mind now that I’m living a picture-taking lifestyle. It’s already a slight sort of violation to write about people in my journal when they don’t know what I’m saying about them, but after much consideration of the moral issues involved I’ve decided that it’s really not so bad as long as I leave out last-names and any information which might identify them.

But posting pictures is another matter entirely. I know the people who read my journal really want to see what these girls look like but it just feels wrong to post them in public entries. But it’s not like I have a million readers—it’s mostly only family and close friends who read this—and I wouldn’t consider it wrong to show friends a photo of a girl I think is beautiful. And if I were in their position and one day found out that some girl I barely know had snapped a photo of me and posted it on her blog to show everyone how attractive she thought I was—I would just feel flattered.

Please let me know what you think of this. In the mean-time I think a good compromise is to post those kinds of photos in private entries that can only be viewed specifically by people to whom I’ve given permission. If you want permission, just register for the blog and send me an e-mail with a request.

Back to the story. As Elena came and went there were a couple of other girls walking around taking orders and bringing beer and food to people, none of whom were particularly gorgeous so my shallow self did not focus on them. But at one point when one of the girls walked by Dieter he called her name to grab her attention so he could order another round: “Simone.”

Ho Lee Shit. That’s Simone?! Damn. Wow.

When she came to the door on the infamous Musik Club night, she’d struck me as the most gorgeous German girl I’d ever seen. She was a slender brunette, and now she was blonde and substantially heavier—though still far from anything I’d describe as “fat”. I’d only seen her once since that night (or so I’ve assumed) at last years’ Rheinfest when she was serving beer at the Hefeweizen stand so I could only see her face. She looked different then too, but someone had mentioned it was her so I noticed. And back then she still had brown hair and because she was behind a counter I couldn’t see her body. But she looked so different now that I hadn’t even realized it was her.

Incidentally, Tanja (spelled “Tanya” in the 2004 entry) was also there but seeing her wasn’t a big deal because I somehow seem to spot her at least once every single time I come to Ichenheim. But just this past year she’s inflated like a balloon and got her long blonde hair cut short and died brown, so she looks completely different too. She was kind of a bitch to me that night and never acknowledged my existence ever since, so I don’t feel too bad writing that I derived some amount of schadenfreude from the fact that her appearance has declined so dramatically while mine—I now admit to myself—seems to have improved with age.

At one point when we were still outside and the sun was setting, I happened to be looking off in a direction from which Simone was coming and when her eyes met mine I reflexively smiled. What’s this? Did she just smile back at me? I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, but it felt nice anyhow.

I should explain that after my behavior that night, especially after refusing to go back in the club and making her drive me home, I assumed that she had formed a pretty negative opinion of me. Back then she’d actually volunteered to take me out with her friends, so the fact that such a thing never happened again was enough to confirm my impression.

So when the same thing happened about 20 minutes later—us reflexively exchanging smiles as she walked by—it felt rather bizarre. For seven years she’s just been a character in a journal entry to me, a symbol of my eternal difficulty handling myself in front of attractive members of the opposite sex, and now she was there in the flesh and smiling at me. Bizarre.

When it started to get cold we all relocated inside the tent and sat at one of the benches nearest the counter. I was “lucky” enough to be sitting facing the counter where not just Elena but Lara too (from two of the last three New Years’ Days) were working. I experimented with the video feature of my camera to capture a bit of the atmosphere as well as perhaps capture some images of said girls, but the camera’s memory card filled up almost instantly so the video was only two seconds long.

By now everyone was pretty drunk and the band from the nearby village of Altenheim was really pleasing the crowd with their variations of hits like “Tequila” and “La Bomba”. Whenever they finished the people would cheer loudly for an encore so they kept going. At one point a bunch of the musicians got out and started standing on the tables, calling on everyone to stand up and follow along with them, clapping at the appropriate time. I hastily deleted a couple of photos in the camera to make room for a snapshot of this.

The small but loud late-night crowd.

So now we’re finally getting to the important part. On my next trip to the toilet I was walking out of the tent while Simone was walking in. I smiled at her again but this time I didn’t see her smile back. Suddenly the nice feeling I had evaporated and I wondered if that tiny little virtually insignificant bit of nothingness was about to lead to some kind of wildly overreactionary emotional downward spiral that happens all-too-frequently when I’m drunk and feeling even the slightest twinge of rejection or inadequacy.

Luckily I was far from drunk and my mind was operating with clarity. My first thought as I emptied my bladder was that I’d just missed a perfect opportunity to actually say something to her, and that I had a perfectly appropriate thing to say because I could just ask her if she remembered me from seven years ago. But I quickly decided—and rightly so—that the opportunity was actually not that perfect because I really did have to pee at the moment.

When I got back inside there was someone sitting in my seat, which was quite fortuitous because now I had an objective—I was going to talk to Simone if I got any hint of another opportunity—and if none came I’d make it happen. Dieter offered to scooch over and let me sit down but I declined and said I felt like standing now.

So I sipped on my beer while standing up and continuously glancing behind the counter where Simone was engaged in conversation first with another girl there for about five minutes and then to Marius (the son of Gabi and Dietmar) for another five. Because I kinda know Marius I thought about approaching both of them at the same time but decided against it. In any case, when they were done talking she came back out from behind the counter alone, not carrying any drinks or anything, and it was clear that The Perfect Opportunity had now arrived.

Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the fact that she was no longer stunningly gorgeous, but I felt not the slightest trace of nervousness as I walked up to her and opened with, “You’re Simone, aren’t you?” Actually, I said this in German and continued in German the whole time but for the sake of this journal entry I’m just going to translate everything into English.

She confirmed that she was, and I asked her if she remembered me. “Yes I do,” she said. “I was asking about you.”

I thought: Really? We both laughed for a second, and I said, “I believe it was seven years ago.”

“Yeah, I drove you home from the Musik Club Offenburg.”

“Right, I’m sorry. I was pretty bad that night.”

“Eh, it’s okay. I don’t hold any hard feelings against you.”

So that was musik to my ears, and now that the seven-year-old ice was broken and we were back on speaking terms I proceeded to enter advanced-German-chatting mode. I asked her where she was living now and she said a nearby village called Dundenheim with her boyfriend. The word is actually “Freund” which very annoyingly can mean both “friend” and “boyfriend” depending on the context. I assume she meant boyfriend because she’s living with him.

I found out she’s working as a nurse at a hospital in Offenburg, and apparently has no long-term plans other than that. She told me that she heard I was moving to Japan—apparently she really had been asking about me—and I told her a little about that. Thankfully she didn’t give me any shit about radiation, though of course it had to be mentioned.

When I talked about learning Japanese I explained that it was actually a much more simple language than German, which I still haven’t mastered. She told me that my German was actually much better, and I agreed that it was probably a lot better than it was seven years ago. Back then my lack of German-speaking ability had been the most major obstacle to actually talking to the girls, so I guess I’ve finally progressed beyond that.

Still, the conversation was jam-packed with awkward pauses and nervous laughter and I expected her to break away from me any moment, but she miraculously remained by me for what I think ultimately added up to a good 15-20 minutes. I kept thinking of things to ask her about and occasionally she’d think of something to ask me to break the silence. She’d worked as an Oper for my relatives Sue and Lance on Long Island and I asked her what she thought of the kids, although that was five years ago and they’re all much older now. I could also ask her if she visited New York City often while she was there, as the city is a pretty good topic of conversation for me and I always like hearing other people’s impressions of it.

As we talked and I got a good close-up look at her face it was clear to me why she’d struck me as so beautiful seven years ago. She’s still very attractive in spite of the extra weight, and I was happy to get the impression that she was also attracted to me. I could almost imagine myself asking, “So if you wouldn’t mind cheating on your boyfriend a little, we could go out behind the tent and passionately make out for awhile” which I would have greatly enjoyed. But of course I said no such thing.

At any rate, the others decided to leave at just the right time as Simone and I were pretty much completely tapped out of things to say to each other and it provided a very nice natural end to our chat. I said goodnight to her and I rode my bike back into town with the others, just absolutely flabbergasted at what had just gone down.

I listened to music for about an hour before going to sleep last night just to derive as much joy as possible from the experience. It felt like this giant weight in the shape of the Musik Club Offenburg was now lifted off my shoulders, and that all of the negative lessons I’d learned about myself that night were now reversed. Most of the personal flaws that caused me to have such a horrible time that night I seem to have overcome. In spite of what she said, Simone has no doubt remembered me less-than-fondly all these years but now I’ve completely altered that impression. Whatever Tanja and the now-forgotten others may think, at least Simone now knows that I’m not who I was back then and that I have in fact gotten better as I’ve got older.

But I write this with a little bit of trepidation, as I know it’s not over yet. Simone will be working there today and she’ll just be there in the audience on Wednesday and Thursday, and I highly doubt that things are going to go even a fraction as well as they went last night. As I said, I think we ran out of conversation topics so the odds of another pleasant chat are very slim. And I’m worried that anything less than what happened last night will feel like a let-down. I just hope that being mentally prepared for that will prevent it from happening, but I know how my mind works.

Of course I’m also considering the possibility of trying to talk to some of the other girls I’ve had my eyes on for so long, just for the sake of doing it, but I really can’t hold myself to that because The Perfect Opportunity might never come with them, and with them I can’t even envision what “The Perfect Opportunity” would be like.

So I’ll just go into it with the same attitude I had yesterday: just relax, take it easy, and try to enjoy myself. Try not to fall into any of the downward emotional spirals I know I’m capable of falling into and which Rheinfest has brought me down in the past. But if I do find myself sliding down the hole, I might as well enjoy that too.

But whatever happens, the story of my night at the Musik Club Offenburg—which I’ve always thought back to nearly every single time I think about my difficulties with women—has now been altered forever thanks to an epilogue seven years later.

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New York’s 26th: Is Hope Still Alive?

May 28th, 2011 No comments

As someone who believes that the democratic process in America is pretty much dead and buried, election results that go against the establishment always surprise me. Even with all the talk leading up to the special election in New York’s 26th district about how the seat might go to a Democrat even though it’s one of the country’s reddest districts and has been held by Republicans since the Civil War, I still assumed the Republicans would hold on to it.

douchebag But I underestimated just how bi-partisan the opposition to Paul Ryan’s budget plan would be. He proposed that Medicare be replaced with a voucher program, basically giving senior-citizens a coupon to go buy insurance on the private market. Naturally, senior-citizens aren’t too optimistic about putting their lives in the hands of private insurance companies (most non-senior-citizens aren’t too happy about it either but that’s another matter) so when the Republican candidate Jane Corwin announced her support for the plan, her poll numbers started dropping and she wound up losing the election, much to my great surprise.Corwin (R), Hochul (D)

I figured that Republicans wouldn’t have made such a radical proposal if they hadn’t believed they could survive it politically. Medicare is an extremely popular government program that even die-hard conservatives want protected. The same goes for Social Security, and you can ask George W. Bush just how popular the idea of privatizing that is with the American people.

The truth is that as much as they may rail against it, Americans love their socialism. Talking about getting rid of these programs has always been akin to political suicide. This seems completely obvious, pretty much Politics 101. If you want to keep your seat in Congress, keep your hands off Social Security and Medicare.

But the oligarchs have had their eyes on these programs for a long time and they’ve been dying to kill them for decades in order to free up room in the national budget for more tax-cuts for corporations and the wealthy. To finally pull the plug on the last bit of national wealth being distributed to the middle-class and make sure it now all goes to the very top. Once the top 1% have more money than everyone else combined, it’s check-mate and game over.

This moment in American politics seemed to be the right time to finally make their move. All the pieces were in place. Fox News has had plenty of time to sufficiently brainwash a large portion of the population that all social spending is evil and that trickle-down economics is the only fiscal policy that works (even though it’s been obvious for at least 20 years that it doesn’t). The Koch Brothers and other wealthy elites have been financing and pulling the strings of this Tea Party movement which their pals in the media have helpfully inflated out of proportion and created the impression of a sweeping grassroots rebellion among middle-class Americans who are apparently demanding that the rich take more of their money. And most importantly, their pawns on the Supreme Court have ruled that Corporations can spend as much money as they want in elections.

The thinking was that it no longer matters what most Americans think. As long as your proposals are perceived to have public support—and the media makes sure they are—you can safely do the bidding of the oligarchs without concern for what the majority actually thinks. Enough money will be spent on negative ads against your opponent that your seat will be safe and you can go on doing your corporate masters’ bidding in perpetuity.

But apparently we’re not at that point just yet. In spite of the massive amount of money spent to defeat the Democrat Kathy Hochul in the special election in New York’s 26th, she still emerged victorious. And while Fox News and other media outlets are trying to downplay the importance of the Medicare issue (lest the American people find out that they’re pretty much in agreement on it) it’s clear that the result was due to people’s fear of losing Medicare.

The oligarchs overreached this time, and they’ll presumably put their plans to gut Medicare back on the shelf for awhile. Democracy, in this case, seems to have worked. Despite all the media-spin and big money donations to keep one of their puppets in that seat, the American people spoke and definitively rejected their plan. We believe the government should take care of the elderly, and we let our leaders know it.

But the fight is by no means over—not by any stretch of the imagination. This only demonstrates that we are in fact still capable of winning if we actually choose to fight. The oligarchs have put us in check but they haven’t check-mated us just yet. That doesn’t mean that in just a few more moves we’ll find ourselves trapped in the scenario I described above in which corporations can force through whatever legislation they want regardless of how unpopular it is.

If the Democrats were smart and/or not bought by the same corporate interests as the entire Republican Party, they’d take this cue to go on the offensive. Instead of merely running their 2012 campaigns on the promise of defending Medicare from the Republicans who want to kill it, they could (and should) vow to expand Medicare: to re-ignite the push for a public healthcare option by proposing that anyone can buy-in to Medicare regardless of age. The contrast between the parties this year would be sharper than ever: one party wants to kill Medicare, the other wants to make it available to everybody. If New York’s 26th is any indication, we’d probably see a massive Democratic sweep the likes of which we haven’t seen in modern history.

Unfortunately, Democrats don’t seem to have any desire to be so bold. They’re not going to take the lesson that New York’s 26th could teach them—that popular support still counts for more than Big Money donations. They apparently still believe that democracy is as dead as I thought it was and the only way to hold on to political power is to cater to the wealthy and corporate elite.

I would not be shocked if President Obama announces that in the spirit of bi-partisan compromise he will make a few modest cuts to Medicare and Social Security, thus securing a great deal of campaign money for himself at the expense of a few more progressive voters. He’s banking on the fact that the Republican primary will weed out any serious candidate who might stand a chance against him, so his only opponent will be so far to the right-wing fringe that he can win as a center-right candidate.

True democracy is dying, gasping for air under the weight of corporate power and income inequality, but the fact that a Democrat can win in one of the country’s most Republican districts because a majority of voters agreed on an important issue is proof that it’s not dead yet. It can be resuscitated, but only if we remain active and not expect our politicians to do it for us.

Last Time in Ichenheim

May 28th, 2011 No comments

I’m once again visiting part of my large German family in the little village of Ichenheim where my grandmother is from. Later today we’ll be going to the first day of Rheinfest, the little music festival they hold every Spring in a big tent near the Rhine, about a fifteen-minute bike ride from the village. The first time I ever came to Ichenheim was with my mother and grandmother in 2004, and Rheinfest was going on then as well. It’s appropriate that it should mark the occasion of my last visit as well.

Of course I imagine I’ll come back eventually, but probably not for quite some time—a few years at least. So for now I’ll be thinking of this as the final chapter in the book of my visits to Ichenheim that started in 2004 and have continued sporadically until now. It’s got the same primary cast of characters including Dieter and Ursela whose house is where I’m staying, their daughter Myriam and her husband Ralf who live upstairs, and their son Frederick who lives in Nuremburg and will be coming later this week. There are also the peripheral characters including my grandmother’s sister Fannie whom I try to visit every time I come as well as other distant relatives like Hans and Gerlinda. Finally, of perhaps the most personally-emotional significance are the lovely young ladies of Ichenheim whom I’ve been admiring from afar since first meeting them at the first Rheinfest and falling out of favor with them during the infamous night of the Musik Club Offenburg in which I learned the devastating lesson that being foreign doesn’t improve your chances at all with girls—at least not German ones.

This time I’ll have a camera, so anyone who has actually read the accounts of my previous Ichenheim trips can finally see what these people and places look like. I assume I’ll have some pictures up as early as tomorrow, but as of yet I haven’t taken any.

There are a couple of minor things I feel would be worth recording for posterity’s sake. Thursday, the day before I came here, was one of the busiest and most productive days in recent memory and I just want to jot down everything I did. At 6:00 I pried myself out of bed to get the jogging out of the way, and did a nice 50-minute run in the crisp morning air—my favorite time to go but also the hardest to make myself do. After getting home I shaved, showered, had breakfast, and still managed to read a couple of blog entries before going to work. I had an English lesson from 8:30-10:00 and another from 10:00-11:30, after which I was technically finished with my obligations but the work was just getting started. I came home and had lunch, wrote up my monthly bill for Planeo and rode my bike to their office at about 13:00 to drop that off. The next thing I did was optional but I wanted to do it before coming to Ichenheim—I rode to Linden to get another hair-cut (only my 3rd in the three years I’ve been living in Germany). I like having longer hair but it was getting wild and unruly and it’ll have to go before I go to Japan anyway so I figured I might as well get one now to look a bit more presentable in Ichenheim—both for my family and perhaps the ladies as well. That took almost two hours because the girl there was so slow, but she was very attractive and spoke decent English so it wasn’t too bad. After that I had to go home and completely clean my apartment because I hate coming home from a holiday to a dirty flat. When I was finished at about 16:00 I squeezed in a bit of Japanese-studying followed by a 20-minute nap which was essential for maintaining energy. At 16:45 I headed out to the U-Bahn to ride some distance north to the Media Markt where Oliver recommended I buy a camera. I picked a medium-priced Fuji camera because Oliver recommended it and I think having a “Fuji” camera would be appropriate for Japan. After that I went to KFC for a quick dinner because it’s one of the only KFCs in Germany and it was in the area, but I was disappointed to find that they no longer had the “Zinger Tower” which was the best sandwich by far and which only seemed to be available in Germany but apparently not anymore. After dinner I headed home, took care of one last personal matter, and then at 19:00 it was finally time to pour myself a glass of whiskey and slip into extreme-relaxation-mode. More than any other day so far this year, it really felt like I’d earned it.

Friday was significantly less stressful, though for some reason I still found myself having to rush to get packed and ready to catch my 12:40 train. There’s something worth noting about the train ride, as when I boarded and found my reserved seat there was an attractive young woman sitting next to me who spoke to me to make sure I didn’t have that seat reserved as well. I said no and we exchanged a smile as I took my seat, but before I knew it I had my I-pod on and she’d put on hers as well. Realizing I’d just passed up a perfect opportunity to strike up a chat with a good-looking woman which is exactly my problem because I do it all the time, I began thinking of how I might somehow rectify the situation. It didn’t seem possible with her I-pod on and I thought I’d blown my only chance until I noticed her take her ear-buds out as we approached the next station. I took mine off as well and turned to her and just casually asked where she was going.

Man, it’s easy to talk to other people—even attractive women. I can’t believe I’ve had such a hard time with it for my entire life, but there it is. Our conversation was by no means fascinating—it wouldn’t even qualify as mildly interesting—but at least we had one. We’d chat on and off for the whole first half of the train ride until she reached her stop in Frankfurt, and I told her a bit about myself (her English was bad so I stuck with German the whole time) and learned that she’s moving to Bayern to try and get a job in “confectionery” as apparently such bakery-jobs are almost impossible to come by in Northern Germany. I was quite surprised that her career is making pastries, as her body was perfectly fit. She had a pretty massive overbite but that was her only physical flaw, and if circumstances were different (i.e. if we spoke the same language and lived in the same place) I might have even pursued something with her, but my only objective was to just prove to myself than I can handle talking to women I’m attracted to, and I did. Just to seal the deal I got her name before she left: “Wiebke”, a name I’d never heard before, and we parted on very friendly terms. I could even imagine that she found me attractive as well, perhaps thanks in part to my new haircut.

But now I’m in Ichenheim and preparing for something of an emotional roller-coaster which always seems to happen while I’m here, especially during Rheinfest. I’m pretty much guaranteed to see all the girls who’ve been mentioned so often in these journal entries and who have grown to become virtual icons of un-attainability in my mind. Elena with the perfect face, whom I first noticed at the Christmas concert two and a half years ago and didn’t see again until last year’s Rheinfest—I’ve never actually spoken to but she’s with a long-term boyfriend and they’ll be married soon if they’re not already. Lara with the perfect body and lovely smile, whom I first met on New Years’ Day 2009 and saw again the following New Years’ and at the last Rheinfest—also with a long-term boyfriend. Tanja with her lovely eyes, whom I first saw at my very first Rheinfest and who was a significant part of the Musik Club Offenburg experience and who either doesn’t remember me or just deliberately acts like she doesn’t. Simone with her classic good-looks, who was the star of the Musik Club Offenburg night and whom I didn’t see again until last year’s Rheinfest and who also didn’t seem to recognize me. And a few other girls whose names I never got but who have caught my eye at some point during previous visits to Ichenheim. For some reason these girls seem more significant to me because I only see them sporadically.

At any rate, I’m in good spirits now but I expect that soon enough I’ll start to get into that mind-set that results from being around normal people living normal lives of normalcy and looking at myself in contrast. It’s not that I’m desperate for things like a special-someone or to be surrounded all the time by good friends and family—those things would be nice but there’s a lot to be said for my kind of lifestyle as well. And at least mine is far more unique.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I’ll just take it easy, try to enjoy myself, do my best to avoid letting my mind go off in the direction it always wants to go when I’m around families, and see if there’s anything left for me to learn about myself here.

Bring on the Rapture!

May 20th, 2011 No comments

According to televangelist and radio-host Harold Camping, the rapture will take place tomorrow, the 21st of May 2011 at 6 p.m. Eastern time. I may be a stubbornly skeptical secular humanist, but I really hope he’s right.

Painted by Michelangelo for this blog post.

If all of the fundamentalist Christians are suddenly whisked away to Heaven tomorrow, that’ll free up the rest of us to finally get serious about some things we really need to get serious about but which the religious right has been obstructing us from tackling for a long time. Granted only the true believers will be raptured up—so all of the congressional Republicans will still be around—but a great deal of their constituents will be gone. They’ll have to face reality and stop legislating Christian morality, as not only would it be politically pointless to pander to a group no longer dwelling on Earth but the Salvation Game will be over and the chance to earn brownie-points with The Man Upstairs will have officially passed.

So we can stop with all the silly anti-abortion legislation and get to work on protecting the environment. Assuming Armageddon doesn’t follow shortly thereafter, those of us remaining on Planet Earth will now know with certainty that this planet is all we’ve got so we’d better take care of it. And if Armageddon is coming, I can just imagine all those children born due to abortion-restrictions looking at the legislators who passed them and saying, “Gee, thanks a lot.”

One can assume that if the rapture does take place it will only have a really strong impact in the United States, as the Far East and Muslim World don’t have quite as many devout Christians in key positions within their societies. A few Europeans may vanish too, but only a very small amount because while Europeans may hold steadfast to their Christian traditions—including baptism, confirmation, and closing everything down on Sundays—most of them don’t really take that stuff seriously.

I would like to see what happens in Uganda, where a strong faction within the government (prompted by American religious conservatives, of course) has been pushing to enact legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by death. If the rapture happens they’ll have to acknowledge that it really doesn’t matter anymore—the doors to Heaven will be closed and the straight people left behind will be just as damned as the gays.

We might as well let them get married—if it weren’t for the fact that Holy Matrimony will no longer have any meaning either.

The best result of the rapture will undoubtedly be peace in the Middle East. Once God lets the cat out of the bag that he actually does exist and that the Christians had it right all along, there will no longer be much reason for the Muslims to fight the Jews, will there? They can at long last sit down together, have a few beers, grill up a few pork sausages, and laugh about all those silly rules they’ve spent their whole lives following.

But I must confess that what I’m most looking forward to are the post-rapture interviews with all the high-profile Christians who didn’t make the list. I can’t wait to see Pat Robertson try to explain his continuing presence on this plane of existence. He’ll probably try to chalk it up to the fact that he didn’t hate the gays enough.

Of course no post-rapture interview will be quite as deliciously ironic as those given by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the Left Behind series.

But when I come to think of it, I don’t think there are any high-profile Christians who are holy enough to make the cut. In all likelihood, if God were to carry out the rapture tomorrow there will just be a few scattered disappearances of old ladies throughout the Midwest, nobody really noticing except for their astonished families.

Armageddon will continue as scheduled, brought about purely by humans with no help from God—as was the plan all along.

Is the Universe Worth It?

May 18th, 2011 No comments

My recently-renewed interest in Roman history led to a philosophical rumination the other day that I think might be worth writing down.

A lot of profoundly horrifying things happen in the world today, but these horrors sometimes seem small in comparison to the kinds of things that used to happen on a regular basis—people being tortured, children being sacrificed to the gods, chattle slaves being worked to death by brutal masters, and so on. Ancient history is littered with gruesome, sickening tales that will keep you up at night if you ever stop to ponder them.


Few things are more disturbing to think about than the sacking of ancient cities. Tens of thousands of armed soldiers rampaging through your streets, slaughtering all the men and raping every woman, girl, and young boy they can get their hands on before either enslaving or murdering them as well. It’s almost impossible to really wrap your mind around it and imagine what that must have been like from the perspective of those victims. Imagine being the father watching his wife and daughters raped in front of him as he’s beaten to death. Imagine being the little girl who had no concept of war, violence, or sex and is now suddenly subject to a brutal rape and killing. Imagine being that girl’s mother or brother looking on but powerless to do anything about it, knowing you’ll be next. Imagine the despair of knowing that you are not only about to endure such a painful end but that your entire city is being destroyed, everyone you’ve ever known or cared about is suffering the same fate and everything you or your ancestors have ever accomplished is being wiped away forever.

This is by no means a rare scenario. It’s happened tens of thousands of times in human history throughout the entire world. Hundreds of millions of human lives have ended in such a way.

I find myself contemplating such things, getting absolutely sick about them, and then pausing to ask myself why I’m doing this. Why not just accept that it happened and that I’m lucky to live at a time when this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore? What use is there in dwelling on it?

And I realize that the reason I’m trying so hard to picture what it must have been like for these people is because I’m asking myself a very deep question—a much broader version of a question I’m always asking regarding only my own life: is it worth it?

We all have moments of great despair when we look at our lives and wonder whether we’d rather have never been born. We weigh all the negative experiences against the positive, the pains against the pleasures, the joys against the horrors, and try to determine whether the whole experience is really worthwhile.

When it comes to my own individual life, there was a time when I didn’t think the good outweighed the bad and I wanted to end it, but many good years filled with many great experiences in the mean-time have completely reversed my assessment. Not that I still don’t have moments when I wish I’d never been born, but if I were to die tomorrow I know I’d feel as though my life had been worth living.

Certainly compared to the lives of most ancient people, I’d have to consider myself extremely privileged. Even as an obscure individual with relatively tight financial constraints on my freedom, I’d have to admit that the quality of my life as compared to most ancients is like the quality of the lives of today’s super-rich as compared to mine. If you could take a simple pleasure/pain ratio of the lives of every human being who has ever lived and put them on a spectrum from most pleasurable to most painful I know mine would certainly be close to the high end.

But when I consider the nasty, brutish, and short lives of the masses throughout history and all of the horrors that so many of them had to endure, I’m not making an assessment of my own life but of human life in general. Given all the misery and suffering wrapped up in human existence, would it be better if humanity had never existed at all?

Most people would dismiss this as a pointless question to ask, but my metaphysical leanings actually render it the most important question of all. I am by no means certain what the basic nature of reality is, but I think there’s a strong possibility that the phenomenon of awareness or consciousness is fundamental to the universe, and that despite the appearance of separateness and individuality everything is actually connected. The implication is that there are not billions of individual conscious minds on Earth but one singular ‘Universal Consciousness’ looking out from behind all eyes simultaneously. Conscious minds are merely the window through which the universe becomes aware of itself.

Every experience you have is an experience the universe is having. As the Universal Consciousness you don’t just live your own life but every other life as well. You have been both the victim and the perpetrator of city-sackings, the rape-victim and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer.

Every thought in your mind is a thought the universe is thinking. When you ponder the universe, it’s the universe reflecting on itself. When I consider the suffering involved in human existence, it’s the universe considering whether humanity is a phenomenon it’s glad to have given rise to or whether it would have preferred that the species had never come into being—whether all of the human lives it’s lived have been worth it or whether it would rather have never lived a single human life at all.

Of course the universe is immense and homo sapiens are likely just one among billions or trillions of similar species, and the laws of physics being the same everywhere it’s likely that most species have similarly violent histories full of pain and suffering as well. So when I try to imagine what the worst of the worst kinds of experiences might be like, it’s actually the universe judging whether or not it’s worth it to exist in the first place.


But here I have to stop, because I run into a wall of unanswerable questions. The fact is that not only can I not know what the horrific experiences of the ancients were really like for them, but I also can’t know whether they, when looking back on their whole lives, would consider them worth it in spite of the often-brutal end anyhow. Perhaps the poor raped and murdered girl was happy almost every day of her short life, and only had to endure extreme panic and horror for a few brief minutes at the end. I know that if I had to suffer a violent death I would still probably consider my own life to have been worth it, as the sheer volume of good experiences would certainly outweigh even the most painful experience at the end. Who is to say the same wouldn’t go for victims of torture or city-sackings?

And even if I could actually look at the pleasure/pain ratio of every human being who has ever lived and see clearly that the bad outweighs the good, I’d have no way of knowing that humanity won’t continue its slow moral progress and eventually reach a state of existence in which virtually all suffering is a thing of the past. Perhaps these past few thousand years were just the rough beginning to what will eventually become a multi-million year history of peaceful, enjoyable, worthwhile existence?

Finally, there’s the most important question of all—the question that determines whether or not the universe reflecting on the value of its own existence even matters at all: does the universe have a will?

As individual beings we all seem to have a conscious will of our own. We can make decisions and as long as they don’t violate the basic laws of physics or whatever man-made restraints may apply, we can implement them. But does the Universal Consciousness work the same way? Is there in fact a state of being in which the entire universe can be conscious of its whole eternal self, or can it only awaken through certain structures—brains—that over billions of years slowly evolve the ability to process thought?

To put it simply, can the universe decide not to exist? Most philosophers agree that the most fundamental question is “why is there something rather than nothing?” and many believe that the answer is existential necessity. Non-existence can’t exist. There can be no such thing as nothing. Existence will go on eternally and infinitely, everything that can possibly exist will exist and everything that can ever be experienced will be experienced.

If that is in fact the case, and the universe has no choice but to experience existence in all of its infinite possible forms, it would be akin to saying there is no God, as any truly omnipotent being would have to have the power to not create. If it has no choice but to create and go on creating for all eternity, it would mean pondering the experiences of the ancients for the purpose of judging whether existence is worthwhile is a useless activity after all. It would in fact render all of our activities useless.

I don’t know what’s more depressing—the idea that so many people have had to endure so much suffering throughout history, or the idea that these things only happened because they had to happen and not even God could have stopped them.

At least we know it’s not all bad. There is plenty of joy in the universe to balance out the sorrow, and on our level of existence we are capable of appreciating both—even if on the deepest level both are ultimately pointless.

Obama—Not Torture—Deserves Credit for Bin Laden’s Death

May 11th, 2011 No comments

I know I’m rather late posting this, but I went to Rome a couple of weeks ago and my head remained there long after my body returned. Even now I’m still not in much of a political mood but this story is too big not to comment on.


When I write about President Obama in my blog it’s usually to criticize him, but one thing he clearly deserves credit for is authorizing the operation that finally brought Osama Bin Laden—murderer of thousands of innocent men, women, and children—to justice. It was Obama’s national security policies that allowed us to piece together the information which led to Bin Laden’s location, it was Obama’s foreign policy that made capturing Bin Laden a top priority, and it was Barack Obama himself who ultimately made the decision to perform a surgical strike on the compound where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding rather than blow the whole place to smithereens.

It’s for this last part that I offer President Obama complete and un-tempered praise. The politically safer move would have been to send drones in to blow the whole place up, as doing so would have prevented any risk of harm to American soldiers. Had the ground operation gone wrong, Republicans would have wasted no time in spinning it as Obama’s own personal Bay of Pigs. But the president took the risk, and not only did we get confirmation of Bin Laden’s death as a result—something we could never have gotten with an air-strike—but we also spared the lives of all of the women and children Bin Laden had living at the compound with him. This is how the “war on terror” should have been fought all along—by going after the individuals guilty of terrorism and only those individuals. I am firmly in favor of any approach that enhances our national security without killing children.

The correctness of Obama’s actions in this case was in fact so abundantly clear that at first Republicans didn’t know what to do with it. It’s been their modus operandi for the last two years to simply criticize Obama for every single thing he does no matter what: blame him for not fixing the economy even though your party is obstructing all his efforts to do so, blame him for the health-care mandate even though it was originally your proposal, blame him for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even though your president started them, and on and on. How could they possibly spin this to make Obama look bad?

It wasn’t long before some Republicans discovered a neat way around it. Since they couldn’t blame Obama for doing something they were all in favor of (although some actually did start to argue that perhaps killing Bin Laden was the wrong move), they decided instead to simply put most of the credit elsewhere—namely with the Bush administration, and specifically with regards to torture.

Now giving Bush credit for capturing Bin Laden seems, on the surface, rather laughable. This is the guy who famously said in a press briefing that he was “truly not that concerned” about Bin Laden and that he honestly didn’t “spend much time on him”. Bush argued that Bin Laden was just “one person”, and the war on terror was much bigger than that. It’s exactly this vision that’s brought America to the disastrous point we’re at now. Rather than go after the individuals responsible for 9/11, Bush played right into the terrorists’ hands by spreading our retaliation across the Middle East in the form of two massive ground wars that have not only drained our economy to the point of bankruptcy (as Bin Laden himself explained was his exact objective), but destroyed our international reputation for at least a generation.

And part of what destroyed our international reputation is the use of torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques” as the Bush apologists like to call it. Regardless of what euphemisms they used, things like water-boarding are banned by the Geneva conventions and have been prosecuted as war crimes in the past. People outside the American bubble, not subject to Fox News and talk-radio propaganda, clearly see it for what it is and those already predisposed to hate the United States were provided with more than enough justification for their hatred. It’s not only been testified to by many actual intelligence officials such as Matthew Alexander, but it’s just plain common sense that the use of torture has created far more terrorists than it’s eliminated.

And yet many right-wingers are still so hell-bent on justifying their support for torture that they now trumpet the claim that Bin Laden would not have been captured had it not been for the use of torture. They make this claim not after examining the evidence but before they know anything about it—then grasping at whatever straws they can to justify their claims such as the testimony of former CIA head Jose Rodriguez in TIME magazine that some of the information gained by water-boarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed ultimately led to Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The White House rejects this claim and points out that it took years and many various pieces of information to find Bin Laden. You don’t have to trust the White House to recognize that logic—if torturing KSM in 2003 really led us directly to Bin Laden, why wasn’t he caught until 2011?

Not only that, but we know that KSM was water-boarded 183 times, and multiples sources report that he continuously gave out false or misleading information time after time. He apparently knew of the courier who ultimately led us to Bin Laden but even after being subjected to the water-board one hundred and eighty-three times, he didn’t give him up.

Conservatives act as though the only reason anyone could possibly be opposed to the use of torture is if we’re pacifists, hippies, or terrorist-sympathizers. As though our only objection to torture is that it’s painful for the terrorists and inflicting pain is wrong. Personally, I don’t have any qualms whatsoever about men who murder children getting tortured, and in fact I wouldn’t mind if we used actual forms of torture and cut off their fingers one by one.

The reason I’m opposed to torture is that it doesn’t work and that it’s counter-productive. It sends our intelligence officials off on wild-goose-chases, and when the fact that we torture people leaks out it damages our international reputation and provokes more violence against us. This is so obvious that it hurts, yet the media still treats this like it’s an actual debate and the war-criminals in the Bush administration have a legitimate point of view.

I understand why people like the idea of terrorists getting tortured, but because they don’t want to believe their support is rooted in pure vindictiveness they desperately cling to the claim that torture works—which simply isn’t true and won’t be true no matter how often they insist that it is.

It’s a shame that so many are so blinded by ideology and identity politics that they are incapable of giving credit to political enemies or accepting blame for those on their side. I am not a fan of Barack Obama by any stretch of the imagination but for succeeding where his predecessor failed in the effort to catch Bin Laden—and by preventing the deaths of innocent civilians in the process—he deserves as much praise as I can give him.

Those who refuse to acknowledge that Barack Obama could possibly ever do anything right under any circumstances and instead cling to the belief that torture was the reason we got Bin Laden are living lives of cognitive dissonance where facts don’t matter and beliefs are simply a matter of what feels good to them.

It’s our responsibility to not let these people control the debate, or the next conservative president won’t hesitate to use torture as well. It would have been best if we’d prosecuted the Bush administration war criminals as soon as we’d had the chance, but since that will never happen the best we can do is try to ensure that it never happens again, and that means making judgments based on what the facts tell us is true, rather than merely what we’d like to be true.

When in Rome X – Veni, Vidi, Vici

May 6th, 2011 No comments

April 26, 22:00 – April 27, 16:00

I was now on the final stretch of my Rome trip, it was getting late and I still hadn’t really met anyone. Not wanting to interrupt the Floyd-playing street musician as he talked to the restaurant owner, I went off in search of somewhere to buy beer, and found a “Bar” towards the south end of the square that allowed me to buy a bottle of beer and take it out with me into the square—just so long as I stayed in the square. Unfortunately, Italy is not like Germany where public drinking is not only acceptable but expected.

I took my bottle of beer to the fountain near the street musician and waited for him to be done talking to the restaurant owner. Because he’d been smoking a cigarette while playing, I knew I could try my lighter strategy with him. I went up and said, “Scusi, do you have a lighter?” making the standard cigarette-lighting-motion in case he didn’t understand me. “Lighter!” he said. “Ah yes, it’s called ‘lighter’!” I asked him what it was “in Italiano” and he told me but I once again forgot. He asked me in broken English if I was a musician. I told him I wasn’t but I loved Pink Floyd and he said I look like a musician. I said lots of people tell me that and I wish I could play. [Unfortunately, my only talent seems to be writing, the least sexy talent on earth].

It would have been nice if I could have had a conversation with him, but the language barrier was too great and we just wished each other a pleasant evening. I turned and sat down on the rail on the edge of the fountain, finishing my smoke and keeping my ears open for English.

Where I was sitting. I should have taken a picture.

The Piazza Navona at night was lovely but unfortunately the atmosphere was somewhat tainted by all the kids around. As I mentioned before, there were swarms of middle-school or high-school students all over the city, and a whole lot of them were now concentrated in the square, running around and laughing loudly and clearly not appreciating a damned thing about where they were. I wasn’t about to try and strike up a chat with any of them whether they spoke English or not.

But I had a little bit of luck as before I finished the cigarette a young couple with American accents came up right next to me and talked to each other. I waited awhile for a good chance to turn and speak to them, but whenever they stopped talking and I turned I saw that the reason for the pause was they were making out. When they finally paused without making out I turned and said, “Are you guys from the states?”

My worry that they might not have wanted someone to interrupt their romantic moment turned out to be completely unfounded. They were quite friendly and more than happy to have a chat, especially when I told them what I did for a living. They were travelling for a month before having to go back and take exams in England where they were studying. But they’d heard about English teaching as a way to keep travelling and they were excited to hear more details about it from me. The guy said he would definitely look into it and it’s possible I might have had a serious influence on his life. Maybe.

After about a thirty-minute chat involving all the standard “where have you traveled so far?” and “what were your favorite places?”-kind of questions, they decided to go off in search of their friend whom they had apparently just lost. They said he was drunk but they didn’t think he would have left the square, and they kept thinking they spotted him but never did. I joined them on the walk to the other end of the square, as they said he might like to talk to me because he was interested in Germany, but their friend was nowhere to be found. They decided he’d probably just gone back to the hostel, and now they were just going to head to the Pantheon and then go back home. I was welcome to join them, but I said I’d rather stick around and try to meet some more people. They were really nice but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the night with them. I’m still glad to have met them, Hannah and her boyfriend (the other one of the two people whose names I forgot).

I went back to the “Bar” but the guy told me they were closing and he couldn’t sell me another beer, so I just asked if I could use the toilet and when I was done I decided to leave the square and try my luck at the last night-life location that had been circled on my map: the Campo de Fiori.

View Larger Map

This square is a bit smaller than the Piazza Navona but just as densely packed with restaurants for sitting outside and drinking beer, wine, or cocktails. A lot of young people go there, but I was hoping to talk to people a bit older. I settled on one of the restaurants to sit outside in, partly because there was a couple there who struck me as perhaps being interesting to talk to, and I sat at a table near them and ordered a beer.

The girl was still finishing her pizza when I sat down, so I waited for her to be done and for a pause in their conversation before I turned and asked them if they were from the states. They were—they were from Wisconsin—and I later learned their names were Ira and Sara [I don’t know if it had an ‘h’ or not but I’ll omit it to distinguish her from hippie-chick Sarah, whose name might not have had an ‘h’ either].

Someone else's picture of the Campo de FioriIt wasn't as crowded when I was there.

I’d definitely found some good conversationalists in Ira and Sara, as we were able to talk about more than just the standard traveler’s questions. Telling them about teaching led to a conversation about education in general, and I was even able to get somewhat political with them. One of Ira’s relatives was a teacher and she’d recommended a documentary called “Waiting for Superman” done by an actual teacher who explained everything that was wrong with the public education system including teachers’ unions, and which they both insisted was one of the best documentaries they’d ever seen. They told me a bit about how poorly the schools are doing where they’re from, and I said that surprised me “because the government just keeps throwing all this money at education” at which they laughed quite a bit.

One question I’d been asking people whenever I thought of it is whether they’d seen HBO’s Rome. I wanted to know if anyone there had been looking at the city through the same HBO-tinted lenses as I’d been, but nobody had. I’d even asked Cristiano the night before because I wondered whether the series was well-known in Rome itself, but he hadn’t heard of it. Ira and Sara had heard it was really good but they hadn’t seen it. I told them it was one of the best things ever made for television, and Sara said she’s heard the same thing about the show Lost. I explained that this was high quality writing with extremely well-developed characters and she said, “Oh, so not like Lost?” and I insisted that on the spectrum of TV-entertainment, Lost is as one end and Rome is at the other.

They said they wished they’d brushed up a little on Roman history themselves before coming here, as they probably would have appreciated the ruins and monuments on a much deeper level than, “ooh, think about how old this is.” I agreed that knowing about the history of a place before you travel there is probably the best way to amplify your appreciation of it.

At around 1:00 we all agreed that we should probably get going, and after making sure to get a picture of myself with Ira and Sara I wished them a fond farewell and headed back towards my hostel.

Ira, Sara, and some guy they met in Rome.

This time I took the scenic route because I knew the next day I was just going to go straight to the train station as soon as I got up and this would be my last chance to see the Colosseum and the Forum ruins. I took those sights in one last time, injecting one last dose of Enigmality into my soul before bidding Ancient Rome farewell and heading back to the modern part of town.

It had been a pretty successful night. It wasn’t as climactic as a pub-crawl might have made it (I actually found out from Ira and Sara who’d checked online that the pub-crawl only met on Mondays and Wednesdays), and I’ll forever remain a little disappointed that I hadn’t offered to escort those Asians to the Trevi Fountain, but I did get to hear Comfortably Numb because of that, and I think I did well enough for myself with the two nice couples I’d met.

Goodbye, Colosseum. Ciao, Forum.

Just before I reached my hostel there was one final bit of amusement as I found myself walking behind a couple of Japanese girls (real ones—they were speaking Japanese) who were walking at a slower pace than me. As they heard my footstep getting closer and closer they started walking closer together and the one girl put her arm around the other. One of them nervously glanced behind her, and I smiled and waved which made them both start giggling. “Don’t be afraid!” I told them, and their giggling increased in intensity as they walked off in a direction I wasn’t going.

Sleep came very easily as I was now thoroughly drained of energy, and although I was woken up at 7:00 I let myself lie in bed and recover a bit more energy until 9:00. I considered going for a walk among the ruins one more time but I figured I’d already had an appropriate enough farewell the night before.

I’ll spare you and my future-self from the details of the voyage home, but there’s one last anecdote that needs mentioning. I knew I’d probably be seeing the German couple with the Sara-look-a-like at the airport, and I did spot them on the check-in line but they were far ahead of me. I didn’t spot them at the terminal or on the plane, but after the very pleasant flight home I knew I’d have an opportunity to talk to them at the baggage claim.Remember them?

Unfortunately I wasn’t actually in the mood to chat with anyone, let alone in German because my brain was now operating more slowly and it would be a lot more difficult than it had the first couple of times. Furthermore, I was pretty sure they spotted me at the baggage claim but they didn’t acknowledge it so I figured they had no interest in another encounter with me either.

And yet I knew that I should talk to them one more time simply for the sake of the story, so I went up to them at the baggage claim and we exchanged a few words. I was correct in thinking that my German-skills had been reduced, and I felt a little embarrassed with some of the mistakes I made. Of course they’d had no way of knowing until then that I wasn’t actually German, so it felt especially awkward after our brief exchange during which we only spoke about being exhausted and having crammed so much into the space of three days.

When I wished them goodbye and headed down towards the S-Bahn platform I realized I’d forgotten to ask them for their names, which bothered me for reasons I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone who’s read this far. I’d made it a point to get the names of everyone I’d met, and if I wanted theirs I’d have to approach them again.

But when I spotted them on the S-Bahn platform and they seemed to be pretending not to see me, I became even more wary of doing this. The guy even walked right in front of me at one point without turning his head. To them I must have been this creepy weird guy that kept popping up during their trip to Rome.

Hannover Hauptbahnhof, 1180 km from Rome Still, I knew that if I didn’t get their names it would leave a sour taste in my mouth and that was the last way I wanted this trip to end. Yet when I got off the S-Bahn and waited at the bottom of the stairs in the Hannover main station for them, they’d somehow separated and the girl walked by me with no acknowledgment. Clearly she had no interest in another exchange of words with me.

But knowing how I’d feel walking out of that station without having got their names vs. how I’d feel if I did, I forced myself to catch up to them and “Entschulding” them before they could get away. I apologized for interrupting them but they laughed and smiled, thus relieving all the tension. I explained that I was too tired to speak German very well right now, but I’d forgotten to ask them for their names. They happily gave them: Christian and Inge.

Now that the cat was out of the bag that I’m not actually German, we had a brief exchange in which I explained what I was doing in Hannover, that I’d lived there for three years but my Hannover Opera House, 1.2 km from the HauptbahnhofGerman still wasn’t perfect, and Christian assured me it was better than his English. Before finally saying goodbye one last time, they remarked how Hannover was a small town and we’d probably spot each other again, just like in Rome. Hwaatacoeenzedenze that would be.

And so I left the station and headed to the Opera House, where I sat and went through all the photos I’d taken before Lena came to meet me so I could give her back the camera. The rest is history.

And that concludes the story of my trip to Rome, which I hope you’ve enjoyed reading half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing. Not only was it a wonderful experience in terms of the fulfillment of a lifelong goal, but I had a genuinely good time for nearly every part of it and I feel like I can be proud of myself for having gone about it so well. I learned a lot more about Rome but I also learned a lot more about myself.

I’ve come a long way since my first solo traveling adventure in Europe when I went to Paris and London in April of 2005 during my exchange-student year. Back then I saw only the most famous sights in each city, while this time I managed to check out a few lesser-known points of interest as well. Then, I’d been too nervous about eating alone at a restaurant and ate only fast-food the whole time, but this time I ate at actual restaurants and while the food wasn’t spectacular it was a much better way to go about it. Most significantly, back then I’d avoided the night-life altogether and failed to approach anyone in an attempt to meet people. This time I made it a point to go out at night and to meet as many people as I realistically could. Whenever I approach others I worry that I might be imposing my presence on people who would rather be left alone, but I think I realized that I’m actually a pretty interesting person and that most people enjoy talking to me.

I can now leave Europe feeling like I’ve seen everything I’ve really wanted to see here. I may not have been everywhere but I feel like I’ve experienced enough to have a much better impression of life here than most people from elsewhere. It’s a great continent with a hell of a lot going for it in terms of culture, history, and people, but I know there’s a lot more to learn in other parts of the world. It’s helped me grow tremendously as a person—far more than I would have had I remained in the states—and I can be sure that spending the next part of my life in Asia will help me grow even more.

And so I leave Rome and prepare to leave Europe behind with the same sentiment on my mind that Julius Caesar had over two thousand years ago: I came, I saw, I conquered.


When in Rome IX – The Sun Sets on This Former Empire

May 5th, 2011 No comments

April 26, 17:00-22:00

The final bit of sight-seeing I had to do in Rome was to head back across the river and visit the church that Cristiano had taken me to the previous night—the Santa Maria in Trastevere. I could have walked there from the Vatican but I had plenty of time to kill and that walking tour had completely exhausted me. So I got back on the tour bus and let it drive me all the way around Rome again, even remaining on-board during their 30-minute break at Termini station, giving me ample time for more reading.

My final departure from the bus was at the bridge leading to the Isola Tiberina, the only island in the Tiber river located within Rome. The bus tour had informed me that the two bridges connecting the island to each respective side of the river were the oldest in Rome.

Oldest bridge in Rome #1 (looks just like Bridge #2)

I walked across the island and back into the maze of streets leading to the church. It took a few checks and double-checks of the map, but it wasn’t long before I found it. I went inside and I have to honestly admit that my first impression was disappointment. This was perfectly understandable—I’d just come from St. Peter’s Basilica which would blow just about any other church out of the water. This place was not without its charm, but I’d hardly consider it the nicest church in Rome.

Photo from internet of the Church from outside. Maybe A nicest church, but not THE nicest church.

But one thing this church had going for it that none of the others did was the music. They were playing this soft, spiritual music at a low volume—some songs with what sounded like Gregorian chants and some with female voice choirs singing hymns. Gradually this music started to seep into my soul, and by the time I found a little room in the back with some incredibly lovely artwork adorning the walls and ceiling, I was sold. I sat in that little room and just soaked up the atmosphere for about twenty minutes, knowing this would be the last new place I’d visit in Rome. The trip was coming to a close, and this seemed like a perfect way to end it.


Other tourists held the door to the church open for me with a smile, the only time that happened during the trip. I suppose the atmosphere of this place had touched their souls as well, and I warmly smiled back.

The next item on my agenda, however, was not quite so holy. I intended to find the pizzeria that Cristiano had recommended to me the night before, but this was no easy task as I remembered neither the name nor the exact location and there were about twelve different restaurants serving pizza in the vicinity. I wandered around for at least a half an hour, passing by a few places that I thought might be it but wasn’t sure. The one I ultimately decided was most likely to be the one wouldn’t let me sit outside, so I decided I’d just go somewhere else. The atmosphere is half the point of eating out, and the atmosphere is always much better outside even on a cloudy evening.

I finally settled on a place and sat down, the waiter offering me a table right next to a couple that I heard speaking some German dialect as I read more of my book and waited for my food. I got a mushroom pizza, which was a slight improvement over the pizza I’d had the first night A mushroom pizza, not THE mushroom pizza.but still far short of the awesome flavor experience I’d been hoping for. I decided that after having tried two different pizzas in Italy I have more than enough evidence to leap to this conclusion: the best pizza in the world is in New York and New Jersey—not in Italy. Congratulations, Italian-Americans. Sorry, genuine Italians.

When I was finished with my meal I took out a cigarette, and here’s where my non-lighter-having really came in handy. The woman at the table next to me had smoked a cigarette earlier so I knew she had one, and I turned to her and said, “Entschuldigung, haben Sie feuer?” which is how you ask for a light in German. Cristiano had taught me how to ask in Italian the night before but I’d already forgotten.

Of course having heard me speak only English to the waiter the couple was surprised that I knew German, and we got into a nice little conversation. They were from Austria so their dialect was different, but the man had apparently lived in Berlin for some time and his High German was flawless. The waiters at this restaurant, like the one from the night before, never seemed to want to bring the check so we had plenty of time to chat while we waited, during which I once again surprised myself with how easily I was able to carry on a conversation completely in German.

There was something about being surrounded by Italian the whole time that made me far less self-conscious about speaking German. Knowing next-to-no Italian it was clearer to me than ever before just how much German I actually do know. I was able to speak quite easily about my job and my life situation as well as ask them questions about their time in Rome—how long they were staying, what they’d seen, and so on. When they got their check and were ready to leave I asked for their names. The guy was Wolfgang, but the woman was one of the only two people on the entire trip whose name I got but don’t remember.

My plan for the evening was to try the pub crawl from the advertisement on my map, which said they meet every night at 9:15 in front of Trajan’s Column. It had taken me far longer to find a place to eat than I’d though it would, so I was a bit worried that I’d miss it when I finally got my check at 8:45. I asked the waiter to point me in the direction of the “Tevere” and he gave me excellent directions which spared me the hardship of once again navigating the labyrinth.

View Larger Map

On the map it looked like Trajan’s Column was extremely far away, but as I progressed I realized that it was perfectly reachable within my time-frame. I walked quickly and with a purpose, and in spite of the swarms of middle-school students all there on class trips and clogging up the sidewalks, I managed to make it to the column with ten minutes to spare.

The only problem was there was nobody there who looked like they had anything to do with a pub crawl. I re-checked the ad on my map and saw that the meeting time was actually listed as 9:15-10:15, so I hadn’t had to hurry at all. But when 9:15 came and then 9:20 and finally 9:25 with nary a sign of pub-crawlification in sight, I began to think the ad had it wrong altogether and they either didn’t meet here anymore or didn’t meet here every night.

But I wasn’t going to be disappointed—I was actually a little afraid of what a pub-crawl might do to me in terms of making the next day’s journey home a lot more painful, so this meant I was off the hook. My back-up plan was to check out the Piazza Navona at night and hope there would be opportunities for drinking and meeting people there.

Where the pub-crawl didn't meet. Just as I was getting underway I noticed a couple of Asian girls asking people for directions to the Trevi Fountain. When the woman near me whom they asked couldn’t give them clear directions I told them I knew exactly how to get there and pulled out my map to show them the way. They looked Japanese but spoke with American accents so I assume they were from the states but I didn’t ask. I was happy to be of help to them and I wished them a pleasant evening as they went on their way.

On the way to the Piazza Navona I stopped at one of the pubs I’d seen the night before but hadn’t gone inside, and because it looked decent enough I figured I’d check it out. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer, scanning the room for approachable people but everyone there seemed kind of lame. I tried to get into the soccer game they were showing but like most soccer games it was quite boring. I checked outside to see who was smoking so I could maybe use my lighter-strategy, but the only people out there were clearly not the kind of people I had any interest in meeting.

Half-way through my beer I realized I should have offered to escort those Asian girls to the Trevi Fountain. As soon as this thought occurred to me I started beating myself up in my brain Where I didn't take the Asian girls.about not having thought of it at the time. “You idiot! Why didn’t you offer to take them there yourself?” But I knew why. Subconsciously I was afraid they would decline my offer and spoil the good spirits I was in. My brain had decided not to take the risk without even telling me it had been making a risk-calculation. Had I been conscious of this I probably would have overruled my subconscious mind’s decision, but alas it had just happened too quickly. In any case, there was no use beating myself up over it.

But I had to finish this beer as quickly as possible and get the hell out of the crappy place. I did that, and headed back out in an attempt to once again find my way to the elusive Piazza Navona. I had to ask a waiter for directions, but it was right down the alley from there and I reached it without much trouble. The square did indeed look much more beautiful at night.

“Is that music I hear?” I thought to myself when I got there. Indeed, there was a street musician playing somewhere nearby and I began walking towards the sound. “Oh my god, is that Pink Floyd music I hear?” As I walked closer it was unmistakable. “Oh my motherloving lord is that Comfortably Numb I hear?!”

Yes, it couldn’t have happened in a more perfect way. An incredibly awesome street musician was sitting on a stool in front of the outside area of one of the restaurants near the north end of the square and just beginning to play “Comfortably Numb” without the words. I went up and got ready to enjoy the song, but not before snapping a quick picture because I knew I’d want an image to remember this by.

You are only coming through in waves.

I tossed him a €2 coin as soon as my hands were free and he looked up to give me a smile and a “Grazi”. His guitar-strap had Dark Side of the Moon prisms on it so he must have been playing Floyd the whole time, and clearly I wasn’t the only one who was appreciating it. The restaurant tables were all full and there were at least a dozen other people gathered around him. His guitar case was more full of money than that of any street musician I’ve ever seen—not just coins but paper money too. I even saw a $10 bill.

Of course I just wanted to enjoy and appreciate this moment, and I got ready to slip into the zone once he began the solo. But as I was closing my eyes and getting ready to rock out, someone tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that there was a police car behind me on the little road between the musician and the restaurant. I got out of the way and the police car pulled up to him, the officer at the wheel pointing to his watch and saying something in Italian. You’ve got to be effing kidding me—not right now. Just give him three more minutes, please!

Luckily, the musician promised to be done in just a few minutes, and he picked up the song again at the end of the last verse. When he launched into the solo it quickly became clear why his guitar case was so full. He played the Comfortably Numb instrumental perfectly, just like on the album, and it put me right in that spiritual place that only that song can.

Picture I didn't take of the Piazza Navona at night.

When he was done I loudly applauded and said, “That was brilliant! Brilliant!” and he thanked me again in Italian. I wanted to go up and talk to him and see if he knew English, but he was quickly accosted by a guy who might have been the owner of the restaurant, who clearly appreciated having him there to play.

Of course I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten there earlier to hear him play even more Floyd, but I felt incredibly lucky to have got there no later than I did. That was one of those moments you can’t plan for, and I knew as it was happening that it would be one of the most memorable of the trip.