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Back in Deutschland, week 3

August 25th, 2013 No comments

My last week in Germany was even less “eventful” than the first two, but that’s absolutely fine by me. It was nice to just be back in Ichenheim and spending time with all these people again.

Things here are the same as ever, except that Ralf and Myriam have a baby now. Savio is 21-months old and super cute. He was a bit shy at first but warmed up to me pretty quickly and I’ve had fun playing with him. He’s just starting to talk but it’s all pretty much incomprehensible to me with the baby-dialect on top of the Ichener-dialect which is already hard enough to understand. I was able to get him to say a few Japanese words, but I’m sure they won’t stick, and it’s very unlikely he’ll remember me at all the next time I see him. Such is the case with babies.

I spent the days hanging around, going jogging, bicycling around, and (of course) drinking lots of beer. Dieter and Frederick were working on a house they’re building where my grandmother’s old house used to be. Frederick will live in the downstairs part when it’s finished and rent the upstairs to someone. Ursula had to leave on Thursday to go to a rehabilitation clinic in Davos to treat her psoriasis, so I only got to see her for two days. Myriam and Ralf took holidays on Thursday and Friday so I got to spend a bit of extra time with them. And on Saturday night I went to the birthday party of Dietmar and got to see a whole bunch of people including my Aunt Fannie, Gabi, Marius, Melanie and her new husband Timo.

And there’s not much else to say. It may not have been the most interesting vacation of all time, but I certainly enjoyed it. Last year’s vacation was much more “interesting” due to the visa situation, and because of that I had a hard time just enjoying it. I definitely prefer this kind of holiday.

Tomorrow I fly back to Japan. It was nice to get away from that world for awhile, but I’m definitely looking forward to going back.

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Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

New York to California

August 10th, 2012 No comments

It’s Friday morning in Santa Barbara and I’ve got some down-time, so I might as well get the blog caught up to where I’m currently at.

Last Saturday, I went with my parents to see the new batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, at a dine-in theater, eating dinner afterwards at a very good Italian restaurant. I’d heard nothing but great things about the movie, so I was surprised to find that it wasn’t very good. At least no one shot up the theater.

On Sunday I drove up to Red Hook, New York to visit my grandparents for a couple of days. It was nice to see them again, and I also got to hang out briefly with my Aunt Marleen and her daughter Casey whom I haven’t seen in at least five years. My grandpa and I somehow managed to get through the two days surprisingly few political shouting matches (though some are of course inevitable).

I was back home for dinner with my parents on Tuesday evening, and the next morning I had to get up extremely early to catch my 7:20 a.m. flight to California. I flew from Newark to Dallas Fort Worth, where I had a two hour stopover which could easily be the only two hours I’ll ever spend in Texas, and from there to Ontario, CA where Krissi picked me up and took me on the two-hour drive from there to Santa Barbara.

It felt strange to be back here again, but not nearly as strange as last year. This time the cultural gap just feels a bit wider, as Japan is as rigid and conservative as it gets while the people here could not be more loose and laid-back.

We stopped at Kevin’s place (other friend from Voorhees High School) and hung out, with him and Krissi’s current boyfriend for a little while, then proceeded to get everything we needed to carry out our plan for the night, to go camping in the mountains like we did last time. We’ll actually be going camping again this weekend with a bunch of people for Krissi’s friend Diana’s birthday, but we wanted to have one night just to ourselves to get all caught up and reconnected. Like last year, it was a wonderful night filled with excellent conversation

We got out of there very early in the morning as soon as the sun started baking us alive in the tent, and drove back into town for some breakfast before heading back to Krissi’s place to take naps and replenish some of the energy our early wake-up had cost. When we got up in the afternoon we headed to a Mexican restaurant for some dinner, then Krissi had to go into her Irish bar Dargan’s to work.

I took a bike downtown to Kevin’s place and went with him and Natalya—the girl who brought us on last year’s beach bonfire adventure—to a free concert in a park across from the beach. The concert was a bunch of local youth bands, with all the musicians between 13 and 16 years old and the audience almost exclusively made up of families with young children. The bands were pretty good considering their ages, but the pop-punk/ska sort of music they played didn’t really appeal to any of us. We stayed until the last band was finished though, mostly amusing ourselves by watching the ever-increasing crowd of lame white people in front of the stage engaging in the lamest white-people-dancing imaginable. The last band was a group of three 16-year-old boys, and while they were impressive enough with their instruments, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of contempt for the over-privileged white kids getting to indulge their rock n’ roll fantasies at such a young age. It wasn’t so much their ages as the fact that they were clearly just mimicking everything they’ve seen adult rock stars do, including taking off their shirts on stage and basking in the screaming of the girls in the audience (rather disturbing in this situation, as all the girls were either under 12 or over 40). At the very least, it was an interesting experience.

Natalya and a guy we met up with there went off to eat at a restaurant on State Street while Kevin and I hung out on the beach for awhile, then we went to join them at the restaurant and had a little to eat and drink. After that, I biked back to Kevin’s place and watched a little TV, then biked back into town to head into Dargan’s as Krissi closed down her bar.

When she was done we drove back uptown to her place, then biked over to the nearest bar for one last drink. While we were there my exhaustion finally caught up to me, and while we were having a nice conversation with another guy there, I kept dozing off. We biked back to Krissi’s place, indulged in an awesome midnight snack of Trader Joe’s pita and hummus, then had a nice long sleep.

And that takes us to right now. When all is said and done, I’ve been having an excellent vacation. It’s nice to think it’s not even half over.

As for the visa situation, there’s apparently no way to know whether whoever handles the processing of Certificates of Eligibility will be able to get that done in time for me to return to Japan on a valid work visa by my scheduled departure date of August 29th. I got an e-mail from Interac yesterday laying it out nice and clearly for me. Either they get the piece of paper by the 15th, in which case they can mail it to me and I can get the visa processed in time, or they don’t and we have to start thinking about other options. Either I wait here in America until I get the work visa processed, in which case I might not be able to get back to Japan until as late as September 28th, or I could return to Japan as scheduled on a tourist visa, and just fly to an overseas embassy like in Korea or China once I get the Certificate of Eligibility. It might cost less to do that than to buy a whole other cross-Pacific plane ticket, but while in Japan I wouldn’t be able to work, whereas if I stay here I could make some money by delivering pizza or something.

I wrote back explaining that my main concern is the obligation I have to my school and my students, especially those in the Speech Contest. I said if there was any way I could go back to work unofficially, to do the same job and just not get paid for a month, I’d be willing to do that. I highly doubt that’s possible, but it might be the case that I could at least go in after school to help the Speech Contest students prepare. I asked them to look into that, and if they’d at least let me volunteer to help with the Speech Contest, then I would without a doubt choose to come back on a tourist visa and just fly overseas again to get the work visa processed as soon as possible. You never know, but I suspect that’s what will end up happening. We’ll see.

At least we’ll know for sure by the 15th what will have to happen. I’ll probably end up taking a substantial financial hit, but nothing I can’t recover from. In any case, I’ll just be relieved when the uncertainty-phase is over.

Tourists of the Caribbean

May 29th, 2012 No comments

This upcoming Saturday is Sports Day at my school, which means the entire week is nothing but preparation for the event. That means for most of the time I have nothing to do but watch the students prepare, but it at least provides plenty of time to take care of things like writing my much-procrastinated blog entry about the recent sailing trip. So I might as well get that out of the way.

Sunsail Marina, Tortola

Saturday

With a twelve-hour flight the previous day, the four-hour flight from Newark to St. Thomas felt like nothing. After a night of drinking with both my parents and getting to sleep around 11:00, I woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t fall back asleep due to jet-lag. I attempted to sleep on the plane-ride down but wasn’t very successful. Still, the excitement of finally getting back to the Virgin Islands for the first time in ten years was enough to keep me wide awake when we got down there.

St. Thomas, USVI

The travelling wasn’t finished when we got to St. Thomas. We first had to get from the airport to the ferry dock, take an hour-and-a-half ferry ride to Road Town Harbour in Tortola, go through customs there, then get from there to the Sunsail Marina a few miles away. Dad and I were both anxious to finally get to the boat, but the ferry ride was enjoyable enough.

At the ferry dock. Nearby water-landing.

After the long and slow-moving customs line, we decided to walk to the marina, stopping for a beer along the way. Dad eventually regretted the decision not to take a taxi, but I was glad for the opportunity to take in some of the Road Town atmosphere. It’s a completely different world on these islands than it is in the tourist-driven harbors around them.

Streets of road-town. The natives playing baseball.

We eventually got to the boat and I said hello to Dad’s brothers Gerry and Ted, and their friend Rob. I hadn’t seen Gerry or Rob since the Antigua trip four years ago and I can’t remember the last time I’d seen Ted. The last member of our crew, John, wouldn’t be getting in until around 11:00.

Our boat, above deck. Below deck.

We spent the evening drinking on the boat, then took a taxi to a nearby restaurant for a delicious first meal. By the time we got back to the boat I was already struggling to stay awake, so I crashed early around 9:00.

Sunday

Left to right: John, Gerry, Rob, Ted.

The first morning consisted of a boat-briefing and a chart-briefing, the latter of which took place in a large air-conditioned room. A British guy named Alan took us through the map of the BVI and told us a little about all of the harbors and important information like where you can or can’t sail. Some of the harbors are privately owned of just very upscale, so they don’t welcome the common rabble on charter boats.

The weather was overcast but still very nice when we were finally freed from the dock and under way, ours being one of the first boats out of there around 11:00.

 

Once we were free of the harbor we put up the sails and I got to experience the joy of pure sailing for the first time in four years. My Dad even let me take the wheel, something I didn’t get to do last time, so I enjoyed the experience even more.

 Captain Dad                 Hoisting the mainsail.        At the wheel.

We stopped at an outcropping of rocks called “The Indians” and took a mooring for a lunch of sandwiches, and taking a little swim in the absurdly refreshing Caribbean water as well.

The Indians

From there it was a quick motor-ride into “The Bight”, home of the infamous Willy T floating bar which is a tradition for them to go to every first night of sailing. We took a mooring there and after a few drinks on board headed onto shore for a few drinks there. We ordered some Painkillers, the signature cocktail of the British Virgin Islands, and sat at a picnic table on the gorgeous beach.

Notorious Willy T On an island.

First round of Painkillers.

We ate dinner on board, and took the dinghy over to Willy T shortly after it became dark. After ordering some more painkillers there I started socializing with a group of people my age there, feeling loose and happy and not particularly more drunk than I usually get at parties.

But as the night went on, shots were ordered and at one point my conscious mind just shut off completely and put me on drunken-autopilot for the rest of the night. I have no recollection whatsoever of anything after that first shot, but I found out the next morning that on the dinghy ride back to the boat I’d decided to go for a little swim, a pretty awful idea considering I still had my camera in my pocket. That camera is now dead, and I was only able to recover the above pictures after purchasing a new one after getting back to Japan. Luckily the memory card survived, but it was still a disastrously expensive mistake.  To add insult to injury, none of the pictures I actually took that night are any good.

At Willy T's. My last photo.

I asked Gerry and Rob to send me the pictures they took from the rest of the week but I haven’t gotten them and don’t know when I will if ever. So there are no more pictures to post on this blog entry, though it’s not so tragic when you consider all the islands and harbors look more or less the same.

Monday

The only hangover I had the whole trip lasted most of Monday for me. I’d apparently been puking a lot the night before, and that continued through Monday morning as my stomach refused to keep anything down including water.

We motored over to Tortola’s west end harbor for supplies, then motored up to a place called White Bay on the island of Jost Van Dyke. This was an absolutely gorgeous little bay with a beautiful beach, which the others say they now consider to be the nicest spot in the BVI. I laid out in a hammock for awhile trying to nap off the rest of the hangover, and being back on solid ground seemed to do the trick.

We had lunch and cocktails at a place called One Love, which the guidebook said makes the best Bushwakers in the BVI, a Bushwacker being a ridiculously delicious cocktail consisting of several different kinds of rum and Bailey’s Irish Cream, giving it the texture and flavor of a milkshake. I declined to participate in the first round, but after tasting some of my Dad’s drink I couldn’t turn down taking part in the second and third.

That was a really pleasant afternoon. We sat around drinking and occasionally going into the water for a swim. After we’d gotten tired of One Love we headed over the Soggy Dollar, the place where the Painkiller was invented but which ironically makes the worst Painkillers I’ve probably ever tasted. We met a group of people from Australia and chatted with them for awhile, they having just sailed up from Antigua and and on their way to Miami.

We ate dinner on the boat again and it was a nice mellow evening, though I took it very easy with the drinking because I still hadn’t fully recovered from the previous night and wanted to feel relatively refreshed the next day.

Tuesday

We started the day off by motoring over to another harbor in Jost Van Dyke to a place called Sydney’s Peace & Love which apparently has the best selection of T-shirts on the island. I didn’t get any but it was fun to look around.

After that we headed over to another little bay on Jost Van Dyke which had a particularly good lunch restaurant. Unfortunately, John was having back problems and dinghy riding was painful for him, so he didn’t join us.

After eating the best fish sandwich I may have ever had, I took with a walk with Dad and Rob to a secluded little area of the island with a tidal pool. It was just as cool to walk through the natural-scenery of the island was it was to dip in the pool.

When we got back to the boat we freed ourselves from the mooring and took a quick hour-long motor-ride back to Tortola to a place called Cane Garden Bay. Some of us went to shore to re-stock on things like ice, beer, and whiskey, and after getting back to the boat and showering most of us went back to shore for a nice dinner at one of the many restaurants there.

Wednesday

With the exception of Monday, it rained for at least a little while every day of the trip, but Wednesday was by far the worst. It rained on and off the whole time we were motoring up to Trellis Bay on Beef Island, a small island connected to Tortola where they also have the BVI’s only airport.

By this time John’s back was really killing him, so Dad and Gerry took him to shore to find out about getting him to a doctor. I stayed on board with Ted and Rob, and we had lunch and basically just laid around and tried to stay out of the rain. When Dad and Gerry came back and finished their lunch we all went to shore, where John had already come back from Road Town having seen a doctor and picked up some subscriptions for painkillers (the pill kind) and muscle-relaxers. He had to decline to join us for Bushwackers though because the doctors were adamant about not mixing the pills with liquor.

It was raining nearly the whole time we were on shore, and everything was pretty subdued without much conversation going on whatsoever. John is the most lively guy out of all of us so without him in an up-beat mood it’s a different atmosphere altogether.

When the rain let up a little we went back to the boat for showers and more drinking, and eventually came back to shore for a dinner at 7:30 which was decent but nothing special.

Thursday

It was nice and clear the next morning, and we sailed up to a group of three small uninhabited islands called The Dogs where Rob went diving and I did my first and only snorkeling of the trip. That was nice, but the coral was mostly dead and there weren’t too many fish around, so it didn’t live up to my memories of particularly awesome snorkeling from the trips ten and fourteen years ago.

I got to do some more sailing in the afternoon as we head up to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, the second-biggest island in the BVI. For whatever reason, sailing up to that harbor is the nicest memory of the trip for me. I was taking in the beauty of the scenery and appreciating the wonderful feeling of sailing more than at any other point.

We took a mooring near a restaurant called The Fat Virgin that Alan at the chart-briefing had said offered “good food at reasonable prices” but when a couple of people came back from shore with a menu and it looked like there was nothing but lunch-food anyway we decided to eat on the boat. It was a pretty good dinner anyway, and afterwards we spent the evening playing a surprisingly fun dice game that Gerry had brought along. Somehow, miraculously, none of the dice ended up in the sea.

While the day had been one of the best of the trip for me, the night turned out to be the worst. Our boat was moored in such a way that the particularly strong winds had us swaying back and forth with the mooring rope rubbing along the booey and making a disastrously annoying sound that Ted and I in the front bunks could hear as though it was right next to our heads. I tried to go up and sleep on the deck but it was too windy and I felt like I’d be blown right off the boat, though I did have a nice time listening to some music on my I-pod and looking up at the brilliant starry sky. I eventually was able to fall asleep in the main room below deck, only moving back to my cabin in the morning and somehow managing to get another hour or two before the noisiness kept me up completely.

Friday

After docking at another North Sound marina to fill our water tanks in the morning, we sailed down back past Virgin Gorda and into a place called Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island, one of the three small islands to the south of Tortola. Manchioneel Bay is a particularly lovely spot, almost as nice as White Bay. It’s also a very popular spot, so we made sure to get there early enough to take a mooring ball. We were among the first to arrive around 11:00 but the rest were taken up within the next two hours.

We had lunch on board and then did our typical routine of going to shore for cocktails (Painkillers again), back to the boat for showers and more beer, and then back to shore again for dinner at the restaurant there. They remember it being one of the best restaurants in the BVI and I would not disagree. The meal we ate there was easily the best of the trip.

Saturday

We had to have the boat back at Sunsail by 3:00 p.m., but that gave us plenty of time from when we all got up around 8:00. The first order of business was to head over to the wreck of the Rhone, the BVI’s most popular diving spot, where Rob—the only active scuba-diver among us—had been wanting to dive.

But when we got there, the swells were enormous and there was nobody else diving. After waiting a good 40-minutes and contemplating whether to go for it or not, Rob ultimately decided not to take the risk. Diving without a buddy in waters with such an extremely strong current is not a good idea, so the rest of the air in the scuba tank he’d rented had to go to waste. Still, it was the smart decision.

The plan was then to head over to a place called Maya Cove on Tortola where we’d stock up on some much-needed beer, have lunch, then sail around a little before heading back to the Sunsail Marina. Maya Cove turned out to have no moorings available, so we motored over to Fat Hog’s Bay which had plenty of moorings and a grocery store on shore to fulfill our beer needs.

John, whose back was thankfully now feeling mostly better, cooked up the rest of the food our boat had been supplied with for lunch, and after that delicious meal we did our last sailing of the trip.

I put on a CD I’d burned of the second half of Dave Gilmour’s live On And Island concert, hoping I’d get to have another one of those Comfortably Numb moments I remembered so well from the last stretch of sailing on the Antigua trip. I managed to have that song playing and me at the wheel for the last eight minutes of actual sailing, and while I certainly enjoyed the hell out of it I’d spent too much time worrying about making the moment perfect to just relax and appreciate it as much as I should have. Still, it was the best possible way to finish sailing.

We docked at the Sunsail Marina and spent the afternoon in the pool area there, drinking Bushwackers and occasionally going swimming.

Dad, Gerry, and I each had a glass of scotch on the boat before heading off to dinner, and during that time we got into a discussion about the first trip I’d gone on back in 1998 which was Gerry’s daughter Melissa’s graduation present. Dad and Gerry were talking about who’d gone on that trip—them, me, Melissa, her friend Jody, and Melissa’s mother Jenny with whom she did not get along. I reminded them that Ed, my Grandpa, was also on the trip, but they didn’t believe me. My dad said he hadn’t been in a position to invite anyone on that trip and Gerry said there’s no way Ed had been there. But I was completely sure of myself, and told Gerry that I bet him $100 that he’d been there. Gerry was apparently so sure of himself that he immediately took my hand and shook on it, and told me to leave the money with my Dad before flying back to Japan. Both he and I were sure we’d just made $100.

In the evening we took a cab to a Pusser’s—a chain restaurant they have down there—the same place where Dad and I stopped for a beer on our walk to the marina that first day. We had a very delicious meal of pub-food there and chatted with a newlywed couple on their honeymoon one table over from us. It was a very pleasant evening and a perfectly nice note on which to end the trip.

Departure

Gerry, Ted, and Rob were all gone by the time I woke up Saturday morning at 7:00. I showered and had a quick breakfast before we had to catch a cab to the ferry dock at 8:00. While sitting there on the boat I considered what a long distance I had to go from there to my apartment in Togane.

After saying goodbye to John and taking the cab to the ferry dock, there was a bit of annoyance there because the ferry company we’d paid round-trip tickets for a week earlier wasn’t running the return-ferry we’d bought the ticket for, so we had to buy a whole new ticket from a different company (though they eventually refunded half the price of our original ticket).

We took the ferry back to St. Thomas and from there a cab back to the airport. It was a three-hour wait there before the four-hour flight back to Newark, but when we finally landed my Dad got a text from Gerry informing us that he’d talked to Melissa and she told him that Ed was definitely on the 1998 trip. So at least I got $100 to off-set the cost of my broken camera.

At the end of the thirteen-hour flight back to Japan the next day I was astonished to make it through immigration, baggage-claim, and customs all in under 20 minutes. Before I knew it I was sitting on the train, looking around me and feeling a strangely comfortably sensation that once again I was now the only American in sight.

All in all, the trip was as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. It didn’t feel like as significant an experience as the last one did, probably because the Antigua trip happened during a particularly significant period of transition in my life, having just moved back to New Jersey from Santa Barbara and still months away from getting the job in Hannover. Back then I still felt like a child, just insanely lucky to be able to have an experience like that. This time, though I was still the youngest guy there by a long-shot, I felt like an adult, and it wasn’t luck that brought me there but my own hard-earned money.

But when all is said and done and you consider how rare the opportunity for an experience like that comes along, especially to share it with my Dad and other rarely-seen friends and family members, I’d consider it money well spent.

Sunset at The Bight.

My Gay Wedding Experience

July 27th, 2011 No comments

Historic Gay Wedding Photo

You never know when life will suddenly land you right in the middle of a semi-historic event, but when it does it helps to be equipped with a camera and your own blog.

I haven’t had much time to write lately as I just recently returned from Germany after teaching English there for three years, and I’m currently back in the USA for about a month before starting work in Japan. During that time I’ll be criss-crossing the country and visiting every old friend and family member who might want to see me. One of those visits took place this past Saturday evening, and it led to something completely unexpected.

I have an aunt and uncle with three kids who live on Long Island in Glen Cove, NY, and I went there Saturday expecting merely an afternoon and evening of chatting with the parents and playing with the kids. During an epic 5-hour session in their swimming pool (the heat was still pretty unbearable on Saturday) my aunt got a phone call from one of her friends from their church. Apparently, two fellow church members—a gay couple by the names of Gaitley and Jim—were having a small ceremony at the town hall at midnight just as the new gay marriage legislation was going into effect in order to be among the first gay couples in the state of New York to have their marriage officially recognized.

My aunt asked me if I wouldn’t mind going, and of course I said “of course!” Just a few weeks ago I’d been cheering the state legislature’s decision from across the ocean in Germany, and now I had an opportunity to be right at the epicenter of the historic occasion. I wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity for the world.

So at 11:15 I went with my aunt, uncle, and two of their kids (the third will, I expect, eventually regret his decision not to go) to Glen Cove’s town hall and were greeted at the back entrance by the mayor himself, Ralph Suozzi, and his wife. The front door was closed and locked, and there were no formal announcements made regarding the ceremony. They wanted to be extra cautious in case there were any nuts out there who might be inclined to make some kind of bloody political statement.

It was a relatively small gathering, about 30 people altogether, and the first thing the happy couple did was get everyone in attendance together for a few photographs downstairs. The actual ceremony would take place upstairs where the clerk could print out the marriage license and have them sign it, but this wouldn’t be able to happen until 12:01.

It was hot and crowded upstairs, but the anticipation of the moment to come was enough to keep the attendees from complaining. Someone had brought a case of bottled water to hand out to anyone who wanted one, which was a nice gesture.

The happy couple. Jim in front, Gaitlee behind.

Because of the timing issue, they had to separate the ceremony into two parts. At about quarter to eleven, Mayor Suozzi started things off by saying a few words to the effect that this was one of the proudest moments of his political career and he didn’t care if it lost him a few votes in the next election. I think it’ll actually help him, as just about every gay person and supporter of gay rights in Glen Cove will now be much more likely to show up to the polls than they might have been before—a political calculation I think it would be wise of the current President of the United States to make as well.

Religion and gay marriage CAN mix.

After the “I do”s, they paused to let the remaining time before midnight pass, and that’s when Gaitley addressed the crowd to make his emotional speech about what this meant to him. He said that while they’d actually been “married” twice before (once as an unofficial ceremony and once in a different state where gay marriage was legal) this meant the most to him because now his partnership with Jim would be officially recognized by his home state as 100% equal to the marriages that all other couples enjoy. He compared the feeling of being in a gay relationship to being a Jew during Christmas, watching everyone else enjoying the whole Santa Claus thing but knowing that it wasn’t for you. He said, “But today it feels like not only is it Christmas but Santa is real and he’s coming!”

The crowd was mostly made up of middle-aged and older people, not exactly the stereotypical image of gay rights enthusiasts, but they were all visibly happy for their friends, applauding frequently throughout Gaitley’s speech.

Gaitley remarked on how he’d never expected this to happen in his lifetime, but here they were. Jim was a lot more shy than his partner, first declining to say anything but then remarking on how happy he was to have found such a wonderful circle of friends in Glen Cove. One thing that was apparent to everyone was just how overjoyed the two of them were. Gaitley was positively beaming.

Making it official.

At midnight, the clerk printed out the marriage license and the two of them got to filling out the paperwork. The number on their marriage license was 10, so it appeared that 9 other couples in New York had beaten them to the punch, but it was still cool enough to witness the 10th gay marriage in the history of the state of New York, as that number will probably balloon to tens of thousands very shortly.

Once everything was signed and notarized, Mayor Suozzi stepped up to complete the ceremony. The rings were exchanged and the pronouncement was made: “By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you married!”

Mayor Suozzi at the big moment.

Big kiss, thunderous applause, champagne corks popping…just like any other wedding only with one additional element: this was not only a marriage but also a victory. This was the culmination of decades upon decades of fighting relentlessly in pursuit of equality on the part of the gay community, and in New York state they’ve now triumphed. It should only be a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit.

Two nights later I was visiting another set of relatives whom I don’t want to besmirch by identifying in any way, but suffice it to say they’re from an older generation and spend a good deal of time watching Fox News. I had to hear their reaction when I mentioned that I’d been to a gay wedding, and it was a combination of amusement and mild disdain.

We launched into the standard arguments for and against gay marriage, and I poked holes in every case they laid out. “The purpose of marriage is for procreation,” they said. “Then what about a barren woman? Should the state ban her from getting married? What about a very old couple that can no longer produce children? No marriage for them either?”

“If gays can get married, what’s to stop a man from marrying a cow?” My reply: “There’s no slippery-slope argument. As long as there’s consent from both parties, the marriage should be legal. Cows, children, and inanimate objects can’t consent, so the slope ends at gay couples (and possibly polygamy, which I also don’t have a problem with)”.

Of course it all boils down to religion. “The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman.” “Or a man and many women,” I said, “the Bible says that too.” “The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination.” My reply: “If God hates gay people, why did he create so many of them? Either he made a mistake or he meant to create them.” They insisted that God doesn’t make mistakes, so I insisted it had to be part of his intention. Their only response was that it might be some kind of test. I decided not to say that if God intends to test people by making them fall in love with members of the same sex and then demanding that they never act on this love, he’s a cruel sort of God indeed.

Love, after all, is really what it’s really all about. I wished my relatives could have been at this ceremony, as the love between Gaitley and Jim was powerful, their joy at having this love now deemed equal to the love of everyone else was palpable. I don’t think anyone could have been at this ceremony and not seen it as a good thing.

“They just want to be treated like everybody else,” I said. In unison they replied, “They’re not like everybody else!” Resisting my urge to start singing my favorite Kinks song, I summed up their feelings by saying, “So you believe that your heterosexual love should be legally superior to their homosexual love?” They said yes.

And that’s really all there is to it. People who are opposed to gay marriage don’t necessarily hate gay people—they just see them as inferior, and don’t believe their love is as valuable as the love between a man and a woman.

The solution is clear, and luckily the gay community has already been carrying it out with great success for some time now: come out. Come out of the closet and let everyone see your love, let them see how happy it makes you and how the only difference between it and the love they feel is that it’s directed at someone who happens to share the same anatomy.

If everyone in the country could attend a gay wedding and experience that kind of joy first-hand, there’s no doubt in my mind that gay marriage would be legal nationwide within a couple of years. Here’s hoping it will be anyway.

Crossroads

July 18th, 2011 No comments

Backyard at my parents' house in NJ.

Well, I’ve been back in the states for three days now and already feel like I never left. The entire life I had in Germany is already starting to feel like one big dream that I just woke up from.

After finishing my last blog entry from Hannover, I spent the next several hours packing up, throwing stuff away, and taking care of a few last-minute tasks like closing my bank account. I had to leave a lot of stuff in my apartment that my landlord is going to have to deal with, but it’s his fault for never getting back to me all those times I called to let his receptionist know I was moving out. I was always told he’d contact me shortly but he never did, and on the last week I sent him a fax just letting him know the situation and that he’d probably have to throw some of my stuff away because I didn’t have time to dispose of it properly. In any case, he has most of my security deposit money and the number where I can be reached here in case it costs him more than that, so as weird as it feels to leave all that there I feel like I did all I could do.

Goodbye to my building.

Oliver came by while I was doing that and helped me finish up, then I bid a fond farewell to the flat and we drove to his friend Peda’s apartment in a town called Witten, which is on the outskirts of Dortmund and only a 40-minute drive to the Düsseldorf airport. There we had a pleasant evening, staying up late reminiscing and joking around like old times, and in the morning he drove me to the airport and we said our final farewell.

About 10 hours later I was landing in JFK and my Dad picked me up and drove me back here. The first evening was quite enjoyable, drinking and talking to my parents and my brother Billy, who is now 18 years old and on his way to college at the end of next month.

House of the Blue Men.

Saturday was mostly uneventful, but Sunday we all drove into the city (that’s what “New York City” is called around here) to see Blue Man Group, which I’ve been wanting to see for many years and was not disappointed. The music was as great as I knew it would be from the albums I have, but the show was also much more comedic than I’d expected. One of the coolest things was that before the show, one of the stage-hands asked Billy if he’d like to be a My brother, honorary Blue Man.part of the show, then took him to the back and told him what to expect. At the end of the show the blue men brought him up on stage, put a little blue mark on his face, then put him in a costume and a helmet and brought him backstage. On the screen it showed him getting splashed with blue paint, tied up by the heals and then smashed against a canvas to make an imprint of his body in blue paint, then the blue men came out on stage rolling a box with some gelatin on the top and it was revealed that his head was actually inside the gelatin. We found out later that it wasn’t actually him getting smashed against the canvas.

Misogyny bar. After the show we walked to a nearby tavern called McSorley’s, which my Dad says is the oldest continuously-operating tavern in NYC, which didn’t used to allow women up until a couple decades ago, and when they were finally forced to they just didn’t put in a ladies’ room. We each drank some beer there but it wasn’t that great and the place smelled pretty funky so we left after just fifteen minutes or so.

We then drove most of the way back home and stopped at an Irish bar/restaurant for dinner and more drinks, and had a very pleasant evening there before finally coming home.

I contacted a bunch of people when I got back to try and figure out who I can visit and when, but most of them haven’t gotten back to me yet. I’ll almost definitely be going to Brooklyn this weekend and possibly up to Red Hook to see my grandparents next weekend, but it all depends on a lot of things.

As for my overall feelings, it’s actually hard to say. I’m simultaneously glad to be back and sad to be away from Germany, but thanks to Skype I’m able to keep in touch with my closest Germany friends (I’m actually chatting with Oliver as I write this) but it’s still weird to think I won’t be seeing them in person for many years. I’m also extremely excited to be going to Japan next month, but a little nervous that I still haven’t gotten any definite information from them regarding my city-placement or date of arrival. I just sent them an e-mail to inform them of my change of address and phone number, as well as a little “wtf?” (though much more professional) to express my concern over it being only a month before I’m expected to go there and I still don’t have any of the details.

But overall, I really don’t have anything to complain about. My life right now is actually pretty frickin’ awesome when you think about it. I’ve got at least a month of little more to do than hang around, visit people I love, and kick my Japanese-studying into overdrive. I might also do a little driving for Domino’s like old times, as one of Billy’s friends works there now and he said he might be able to get something worked out for me whereby I’m not actually a full-time employee but just on-call for busy evenings. And then next month (assuming all goes smoothly) I’ll actually be starting a new life in JAPAN!!! It’s quite a major crossroads I’m at now, and it’s impossible not to appreciate how monumental it is.

I don’t know how frequently I’ll be posting over the next few weeks, but I assume it’ll remain about as frequent as before. If you’re one of my American friends and you’re reading this and I haven’t contacted you, feel free to contact me if you want to meet up sometime and I’d be happy to. I only contacted the people I saw last time but there are plenty of others I’d like to see that I’m just not sure would be interested.

See you soon?

Outside The Wall

June 4th, 2011 No comments

When I heard last year that Roger Waters was going on tour to perform The Wall again for the first time in my lifetime, I immediately went and bought tickets for the first show he’d be doing in Germany, which was yesterday in Mannheim. It later occurred to me that it would be even cooler to see the show in Berlin—I can think of fewer cities in the world in which “the wall” concept would have more significance within the people’s living memory—so I bought tickets for that as well.

Official Roger Waters website.

I had no idea that the concert would happen to fall right on the day after the last day of Rheinfest, and I would have stayed in Ichenheim at least another day if it hadn’t. But I had to alter my plans and buy a ticket to Mannheim for Friday afternoon and another from Mannheim back to Hannover this morning.

Yesterday morning I was relieved to find that I wasn’t too hung over—no headache or throwing up—but I was significantly out of it to the point where going to see a concert I’ve been wanting to see for my entire life seemed like too much too fast, especially considering the emotional significance of what had transpired the previous night.

I also want to correct the record and say that contrary to what I’d been thinking when I wrote the first paragraph of the previous entry, that was absolutely not the most drunk I’ve ever been in Germany. After writing that and posting it I began to remember all kinds of wilder nights, from all-night-long parties during my exchange student year in Frankfurt to the madness of the Berlin pub-crawl, I have in fact been significantly more hammered in this country than I was that night—though that at least made the Top 10.

Anyway, back to the story. It was a fond farewell to my family in Ichenheim, something I hadn’t been looking forward to but which went well enough. I hate goodbyes, and I know it could be quite a number of years before I see any of those people again, but at least I’m fairly confident I’ll make it back before too long. By then, Myriam will have had her first child (I found out this visit that she’d gotten pregnant—something she’d always wanted but didn’t think she could) and things will be much different.

[At this point I want to warn readers that unless you are a Pink Floyd fan I can’t imagine anything other than severe boredom being your reaction to the rest of this entry, so you might consider skipping it.]

After being dropped off at the Offenburg station I took the 50-minute train ride to Mannheim while listening to Wish You Were Here, then took a cab from the station to my hotel because I was carrying a bag that weighs almost half as much as I do. I checked into my single room (as I get older I find the extra price of privacy while travelling to be well worth the cost) and attempted to take a little nap before going to the concert, as I was still dead tired. But it was too noisy outside and I had too much on my mind, so I just lied there for about an hour until 7:00, one hour before the concert.

“Man, I do not feel like going to a Pink Floyd show right now,” I said to myself before leaving. “Maybe I’ll just stay here.” Haha.

At least by then I was feeling better physically, although mentally I was still very out-of-it and not sure that my emotional state would be conducive at all to the special meaning The Wall holds for me personally. I’d just spent the last week doing battle with my wall, smashing away some of those bricks to what I certainly consider great success. The Wall is a very depressing piece of music, and I was rather happy. Still, I would just have to go and do my best to get into it, and the whole time I could take comfort in the fact that if I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I should, I’d have another chance in a couple of weeks in Berlin.

I reached the SAP-arena with about ten minutes to go before 8:00, but I needed a drink of water so I waited at the first service stand I came to. Beer and bratwurst were being served like at all German concerts, but much to the credit of the crowd, no one seemed to by buying the wurst. Seriously—bratwurst and The Wall just do not go together.

But lots of people were buying lots of beer and the line was taking forever. I was so worried that I was going to miss the beginning of the show that I asked the guys standing in front of me if they could order a water for me if I paid them for it, and they agreed but the water dispenser ran out of water just as mine was getting poured so it took another five minutes to get it. I hurried off to find my seat and discovered—naturally—another service stand just a bit further down the hall with no line whatsoever. Live and learn.

Luckily though, the show hadn’t started yet. I found my seat and was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Disappointed because it was way off to the side and in the very back row, The cheap seats.and relieved because there was nobody directly in front of me to block my view like back at the Australian Pink Floyd show. The people around me also seemed to be okay, the guy on my left just quietly enjoying the show and the couple on my right drinking and singing along a bit but not obnoxiously so. The arena was apparently not completely sold out because there were a few open seats to the right of the couple on my right and the row in front of them, but other than a few scattered seats at the very back it was completely full.

I’d apparently just got there in the nick of time, because less than five minutes after I sat down the show began. When the first notes of “Outside the Wall” began playing softly I got all Enigmal, and again when the first notes of “In the Flesh?” blasted suddenly forth to interrupt the quieter music. And then there was Roger Waters literally in the flesh, walking triumphantly out on stage to the massive cheering of the crowd. This was the fourth time I’ve actually seen him in the flesh, the first being at Live 8 with the rest of Pink Floyd (best concert experience I’ve ever had or ever will have) and the other two times as solo concerts of his with Corey (the second of which was the second-best concert experience I’ve ever had or will have). Roger waved up in my direction as he entered, so perhaps he saw me and remembered me from the other three times…

What to say about the show? Of course it was fantastic, musically perfect and visually stunning, a concert experience leaving absolutely nothing to be desired. Watching them gradually build that wall across the entire stage during the first half of the show is certainly a sight worth seeing, and of course the music is some of the best music ever made.

There was a heavy political element to the show with quite a few projections containing anti-war messages and things of the sort, but I’ll be much better able to comment on them after seeing the show a second time. For now I’ll just keep the description mostly limited to my own personal experience. Regarding that, I certainly enjoyed it thoroughly and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but I can’t help attaching a “but” to the whole thing.

Actually, I have to attach two “but”s to it. The first was the fact that I have a camera now and had to deal with the whole annoying mental struggle of should I or should I not attempt to take pictures or videos of the show? I always looked at people who take their shitty little cameras to rock concerts with contempt as they take their blurry photos and the poor-sound-quality videos, but now I was one of them. I figured I should take a few to see how they would come out, but every time I did it would mitigate my enjoyment of the song somewhat because I was more focused on the photo than the music. I also decided to try the video during “The Happiest Days or Our Lives” and the first verse of “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” because that was about as iconic Wall as it gets (and I’ve already seen it live several times), but nothing particularly visually interesting happened until the second verse, when a chorus of kids came out to sing the verse and then do some excellent dancing during the guitar solos. As much as I was enjoying it I was also thinking, “damn me, I should have taken the video now.”Not blurry but still not worth it.

Now that I’ve checked the photos and videos it’s clear that it’s probably not worth it to make a  second attempt at the next concert and that I should just enjoy the music, but while most of the photos were just a useless blur I did get a few nice ones, and the video I took—when the camera wasn’t shaking—actually came out much better than I’d thought it would, allowing me to see more detail in Roger’s face that I could with my naked eyes from where I was sitting.

I really should have taken a video just before “Mother”, as this is apparently when Roger takes a moment to talk to the audience, and what he says is probably different for every show. He mentioned a couple of dates and nearby cities to the audience, saying, “Does anyone here remember such-and-suchadate in Dortmund? I was there. I remember it well.” No idea what he was referring to, but had I taken a video I would have been able to look it up. At least I’ll definitely get a video during that part of the show in Berlin.

One thing of note is that during one of the songs, a bunch of highly recognizable brand logos are projected falling down the wall, and one of the first to show up was the Mercedes logo. Apparently a lot of people in Mannheim work at the Mercedes plant because the logo got a very loud and ironic applause. There were also a few German phrases projected on the wall at random points like when he sang “Mother, should I trust the government?” there was “No Fucking Way” written on the right side of the wall and “Auf Keinen Fall” on the left, which also got a big applause.

The other “but” regarding the enjoyment of the experience is the more important “but” and it had to do with my emotional state.  During "The Last Few Bricks"As I said, The Wall is very depressing and I was feeling good, too good to really get into a lot of the songs the way I used to. The Wall meant so much to me in my youth because it was the first album I ever heard that really spoke to me deeply and made me feel like some of what was in my soul was also apparently in the souls of the writers of this music, and it greatly influenced how I look at life. I’ve since bought every single Pink Floyd album ever made and now listen to The Wall with probably the least frequency out of all of them (except perhaps the Ummagumma studio album). The fact is I’ve grown up a lot since those angst-ridden days of my youth, I’m not as stuck behind my own private wall as I used to be (though it certainly still exists—as last Sunday’s journal entry made clear), and the music was more of a nostalgia-trip than a genuine emotional experience.  Had I been able to see the show as a teenager, it would easily have been the experience of a lifetime.

Ironically, had things gone worse for me on that last day in Ichenheim I probably would have appreciated the show more as well. If I’d had terrible failure with the girls-of-interest, been too scared to try and talk to them and just ridden the emotional downward spiral all the way down like I had on Sunday, I would probably have been more into it. But a lot of the lyrics which would have really touched me had that been the case just kind of bounced off of me as I realized I don’t actually feel that way anymore—that I can no longer stretch the metaphor to identify with the character Pink the way I used to.

Although I suppose, in the end, that’s a good thing.

I switched seats during the intermission to get a slightly improved view, and took a picture of the completely-built wall which had projections of pictures of people who’d been killed by violence in the Middle East that had been sent in by family members. The pictures would change every few minutes, and at one point I looked over and noticed a face and name I actually recognized: Neda Agha-Soltan, the Iranian woman whom I’d written about during the Green Revolution in Iran a couple of years ago, the one whose gruesome death from a bullet-wound was caught on film and spread across the internet like wild-fire. That had a profound effect on me when I saw it, and it touched me to see her face among all those others.

In Memoriam The one in fifty-million who can help us to be free.

For the second half of the show I’d resolved not to take any more pictures, but there were some I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, most are just blurs anyway.

The highlight of the show, naturally, is Comfortably Numb, and while it was certainly awesome and certainly affected me deeply like it always does when I hear it live, there was just something that detracted from it because the guitarist was behind the wall while he played the solo. Snowy White did such a damn fine job of it that I wanted to be able to see him, but instead it was just Roger banging at the wall while the lights and projections provide all the fodder for the eyes. Still, those projections got increasingly awesome until an amazing climax where it looks like the wall opens up and the sun shines through it. When it was over the crowd went wild—I assume most of them haven’t heard the song live before—and the applause lasted for a solid five minutes if not longer. I heard the couple next to me say, “Das ist richtig gut Pink Floyd Musik.”

After the lovely “The Show Must Go On” interlude (at which point they brought some of the band members and their instruments back in front of the wall again) came the full-length “In The Flesh” and after Roger sings “if I had my way, I’d have all of you shot!” he points to a few people in the audience, then takes out a fake gun and fires at them. He pointed and fired directly at me, probably because—as I said—he recognized me from the other shows I’ve been to.

After “The Trial” came the big finale when they actually knock down this whole gigantic wall they spent the first half of the show building, and I took a video of it which I won’t make the mistake of trying again because the light was low and it barely came out.

With all the rubble on the stage now it was clear there would be no encore. Only the whole “Outside the Wall” song and then final bows. He gave the audience a lot of Most of the photos came out worse than this.heart-felt thank yous, and I’m sure he really felt it too because the audience had been wonderful. Now that I’ve been to a few concerts in Germany and compared them to the concerts I’ve been to in America I think I can safely generalize that audiences here are just better. They were all really into it, all really loving it, clapping along whenever there was clap-conducive music, and remaining pretty silent during all the more subdued emotional parts. They gave him a standing ovation which lasted about five minutes even after his final exit.

And just before he left he pointed again to a few sections of audience with special thank yous. “Thank you in the back” he said, then turned to me and said, “And thank you up there!” just before leaving. Yeah, he definitely recognized me. For sure.

So that was that. It was a great experience but I’m really glad I’ll get another shot at it because I feel like I could have appreciated it more than I did. Next time I’ll be sure not to get drunk the night before. And maybe I’ll deliberately put myself in a bad mood….

The rest of the night consisted of me taking the tram back to the station and walking from there to the hotel, getting some water and something to eat along the way. It was a lovely night and if I hadn’t been so tired and out of it I might have considered going out and seeing what the Mannheim night-life had to offer, but after the heavy ordeals of the previous night and the show I’d just seen, I just went back to my room and went to bed.

Just a word of warning—if you ever go to Mannheim, especially on a Friday night, do not stay at the Hotel Luxa. The hotel itself is fine enough, but it’s on the loudest street I’ve ever slept at, and that’s no exaggeration. You could hear drunk people “woo-woo”ing all night long. Every couple of minutes you’d hear loud “woo-woo”s from people, though I have no fucking clue what there was to “woo-woo” about. Just “woo-woo”ing the fact they were drunk I suppose. I don’t remember “woo-woo”ing when I was drunk on Thursday night, at least not after the music ended.

For the first couple of hours I drowned it out by listening to The Wall and some other Pink Floyd on my headphones, but even when I finally turned to try and pass out at around 2:30 it was still going and indeed continued until the sun started rising at 5:00 a.m. Every few minutes: “woo-wooooo!!!” as if done for the sole purpose of keeping everyone on that street awake. I wished I had Darth Vader powers and could choke them from far away. If I hadn’t been in such a good mood in the first place I might have seriously lost it and gone out there to try and find these people and shove my socks down their throats.

But at least I was able to get some sleep between 5:00 and 8:30, before getting up and taking the train back to Hannover. And now I’m back and still awful tired but still with a few things to get done before I can relax, writing this journal entry being one of them. I really hadn’t expected it to be this long but that’s how it typically goes with me. Apologies if you read this entry and found it painfully boring—at least I warned you.

So that was the end of a pretty incredible week for me. My last visit to Ichenheim, an unexpectedly awesome epilogue to a significant event from seven years ago, and the fulfillment of a near 11-year-fantasy of being able to see The Wall performed live. Regarding both the girls of Ichenheim and The Wall concert: here’s to things that happen that I never thought would happen!

End of an Epilogue

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

On my first night at Rheinfest seven years ago I got ridiculously drunk. I brought things full-circle yesterday by getting even more drunk. I’m not sure how it happened—it must have been around the 50th or 60th beer or so—but I probably got more drunk last night than I ever have in my entire time in Germany. Writing this entry is going to be somewhat challenging, as it’s only 11:45 on the morning after and there’s still a substantial amount of alcohol swimming around my brain.

I’d thought I drank too much the night before. At Ralf’s birthday party I had five hefeweizens and a Schnapps, and I was still feeling the effects when we rode our bikes to the festival grounds at two in the afternoon. Frederick had arrived the night earlier and was already there with Dieter when Ursula, Myriam, Ralf and I got there. I took a bunch of photos as well as a video to get that out of the way, not realizing just how many more photos I’d end up taking.

A lot more people today. The dead guy hut.

Germans in their natural habitat.Elke, Myriam, Ursula, Ralf

We found Frederick and Dieter at a table outside, pretty much the same location we were at on Sunday, and ordered food and beer when the waitress came. Ursula had brought a few Geflügelwursts (turkey sausages) with her so I could order currywurst—the first I’ve eaten in about six years—because I don’t eat beef or pork. There were a lot more people there than on Sunday so it took awhile to get what we ordered, and for that first hour and a half I only had one beer.

I had no plans or expectations going in with regard to the female-situation. I figured it was likely that nothing of any significance would happen and I’d travel down the emotional spiral just like Sunday, only this time I’d accept my fate and just appreciate the feeling. On our way into the tent I spotted a blonde waitress in a blue tank-top standing outside smoking and talking to her friend, and she was clearly hotter than any of the girls I’ve mentioned in this journal. Easily the hottest girl in Ichenheim, but I could tell from her facial expressions as she talked to her friend that inside she was probably a raging bitch. I figured all those girls probably had shitty personalities anyway so it was no big deal that I couldn’t talk to or flirt with them.

But it turned out that this day would have even more significance as an epilogue to the Musik Club Offenburg night than I could have ever imagined.

First of all, as we were waiting for our food I spotted Tanja walking into the tent. The real Tanja. The fat girl I’d seen on Saturday (and at the Christmas concert several months ago) was apparently just a decoy, maybe a cousin or younger sister. The actual Tanja was still looking pretty good, so all the schadenfreude I’d allowed myself to feel over the decline in her appearance relative to the improvement in mine was instantly dissolved.

She came out and stood in clear view of our table while talking to three of her friends, and Dieter turned to me and remarked “vier leckeres Mädchen”—the direct translation being “four delicious girls” which might not sound as dirty in German as it does in English, but Myriam still told him that he’s too old to say things like that. He asked me if I knew any of them and I told him that I remember Tanja but I wouldn’t say I “know” her. He informed me that she’d recently spent six months in India, which I filed away in my brain under “useless information”.

I spotted Simone sitting inside the tent and talking to her friend, but if she also saw me she gave no indication. I figured the whole day would go by without my talking to her, which I wouldn’t have a problem with at all.

Then as I was finishing my meal things suddenly started to happen. Tanja and a couple of her friends came over to say hello to everyone, and she sat down at our table across from Frederick a couple of places down from me. “You know what?” I thought to myself, “I’m going to go ahead and speak to her. Just so I can say I did.” The information Dieter had given me before might not be so useless after all.

I waited for a break in the conversation to say, “Tanja, I heard you were in India. Did you like it?” In German of course. She politely replied that she did, and the next thing I knew both Dieter and Ursula got up so I could scooch over and sit next to her. Apparently they figured I was now going to work my irresistible charm on her and end up with a girlfriend in Ichenheim, which I know would please them.

Of course my charm is nonexistent, but I handled myself pretty well. I told her I was going to Japan later this year, that my plan was to travel the world teaching English, and that India is one of the countries I was considering. I asked her what she did there (she was a Project Manager at a German firm), what the people were like (mostly nice), and what her living arrangements were like (pretty much just like Western accommodations). She answered all of my questions but didn’t ask me anything, thus confirming what I already knew: she doesn’t like me. Never has.

Our chat died a natural death but we continued sitting next to each other for a few more moments as the others around us talked, and she eventually excused herself and went away. It had literally gone as well as it possibly could have, and I mean “literally” in the most literal sense of the word—because she doesn’t like me, that’s as good as it could have gone.

No sooner had she left than I turned to my right to see none other than Elena sitting on the bench on the other side of Ursula. Perhaps I ought to make it two-for-two and speak to her as well, although I really have nothing to say. I listened to her chatting with Ursula to see if maybe I could contribute something to the conversation, but they were in full-dialect mode and I barely understood anything. Eventually I asked Ursula if Elena was her cousin, also looking at Elena in case she maybe wanted to answer me, but Ursula just informed me that Elena was her niece and explained how they were related. Elena might have said something during the explanation, but the only word I might have exchanged with her was “ja”.

Nice shot with Elena.

Dieter’s band began to play as I returned from my first bathroom-break, and I took a couple of pictures before returning to my seat. Whenever they finished a song I’d turn my head around to look at them and clap, and as Simone was sitting in my line-of-sight between me and the stage I’d see her every time. At one point I figured “what the hell” and waved to her, pleased to find that she waved back.

What I didn’t expect was that she and her friend would then get up and come over to sit at our table, but that’s what happened. At least this time there was no pressure to say anything as Ursula, Frederick, and Simone’s friend did most of the talking. The only thing I could think to say to her was to ask her if she’d been there the day before and how many people were there. Apparently there were even less people there than Sunday, probably on account of the bad weather (the weather today, incidentally, was much better).

Simone left shortly thereafter, giving me a friendly “Tschüss” as she left, and that was the last I saw of her and maybe the last I’ll ever see. That also went literally as well as it possibly could.

You might find the attractiveness of these girls rather underwhelming, and I wouldn’t blame you. The only reason I’m so emotionally invested is because of their significance from many years ago. There were far more beautiful girls there but I wasn’t as interested. There was, however, one girl from the band that had played previously who was sitting directly in my line of sight and she was absolutely gorgeous. Brown hair, brown eyes, short but slim, and a Jessi-like face (Jessi being the last girl I ever fell in love with in case you weren’t aware). I did a great deal of glancing in her direction, always smiling in case she looked back. At one point she did look back, and while I can’t be certain she was looking at me I’m fairly positive she was. I held her gaze with determination that I wasn’t going to be the one to look away first, and this lasted for an absurd length of time—about ten full seconds maybe—before she finally looked away. About fifteen minutes later while she was sitting across from a guy who might have been her boyfriend our eyes met again and I went ahead and winked at her. She immediately turned away and grinned widely, which might have been at something her boyfriend said but I’ll just go ahead and assume it had to do with me. Sadly, she left shortly thereafter, but it was still a pleasant little distraction.

Another nice distraction (though I’m not sure what I was being distracted from) was Analena, the 8-ish year old daughter of Stephan and [forgotten wife’s name here] whom I’ve mentioned in a couple of my Christmas entries before. Not that I’m attracted to her—I most certainly am not—but I just find little girls pleasant in general and it’s not often that I get to interact with them. Analena was pressing Myriam to play patty-cakes with her and Myriam didn’t feel like it so she told her she should play with me. She was a bit shy at first but I was now pretty buzzed and I put her at ease. I haven’t played patty-cakes in about twenty years, so that was kind of surreal, but it was still fun. I even taught them a game we used to play in elementary school (“Down by the banks…”) where you slap each others’ hands and have to pull away at the last moment. Somehow I still remember the words.

Frederick arm-wrestling Analena.

We also arm-wrestled and I intended to let her win but I didn’t have to because she cheated anyway. And for awhile I taught her how to write some Japanese. She’d ask me how to write a simple sentence like “I like horses” and I’d write the Japanese characters and she’d copy them perfectly. She also wrote “I like Japan” on my arm, which I might have forgotten if I couldn’t still see faint traces of it now.

That was Happy Hour, the last hour of which I have significantly clear memory. You could buy two beers for the price of one, but since only Frederick, Ralf and I were drinking beer we’d just order six and each drink two at a time.VERY happy hour

Elena’s parents were sitting by us for awhile and Elena came over for a bit. I asked them if I could buy one of the “Musikverein Ichenheim” shirts they were wearing as a souvenir, so that also counted as kinda sorta talking to Elena. But unfortunately those shirts were ten years old and not for sale.

I also went up and bought a round of six beers for us before Happy Hour ended, and because Tanja was working the cash register I got another chance to say a few words to her as well.

As I said, things started to get a lot more blurry at that point and the rest of the day went by in a flash. But thanks to the minor successes I’d been having with the various girls throughout the afternoon, I was feeling unexpectedly good and enjoying myself substantially.

Eventually the band finished playing and most of the people went home, but we stuck around for quite awhile and [apparently] drank more.

When I was hungry I went up to the kitchen to ask for that last Geflügelwurst Ursula had brought, and at that point Elena was the only one there so I finally got to speak directly to her. She knew all about the wurst and told me she’d bring it out to me when it was done, which she did and it was a damn good wurst. I also asked her if she works every single day of every single Rheinfest and she laughed that yes she does, and I asked her if she earns any money and she laughed harder that she doesn’t. We exchanged a few more words then, so that clearly counts as a genuine full-on “chat” with Elena. That was the last I’d see of her, but I’m quite glad I got to talk to her before the end.

One of the un-anticipated advantages of having a camera is that it remembers things your brain might not, so when I examined the pictures from last night I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of images of things I have no recollection of. I know that a bunch of young people including Tanja were sitting at a table and I went over and sat and talked to them, but God knows what the hell I actually said. Probably talking about Japan or something. But I think they liked me because apparently they bought me beer and took pictures of me with them. I’d thought that the picture I snuck of Tanja way earlier would be the only image I’d get of her, but I was shocked this morning to discover that I have a bunch more, including some of me with her!

Beer being drunk. Me being social.

Tanja looking lovely. Me being drunk.

Frederick being drunker.Tanja being funny. I really like this one. My favorite. 

Oh Tanja, I can only wonder what you might think of me. You certainly seemed to dislike me on that Musik Club Offenburg night so many lifetimes ago, but I’m sure I changed your impression somewhat yesterday, just as I changed Simone’s impression as well. I might have been embarrassingly drunk but when I’m drunk I’m even more me than normal (if that makes any sense), and since I’m so frickin awesome I must have been super-duper-über-frickin awesome last night. How’s that for an epilogue?

But it wasn’t even over yet. The next matter was actually getting home, and let me tell you that riding a bicycle while completely hammered out of your mind is actually not quite as easy as you might think. I had an incredibly difficult time maintaining my balance and I was swerving all over the road. I even toppled over a couple of times and smashed up my cellphone (I discovered this morning that the display is completely busted), but I just thought it was hilarious and I laughed every time I fell.

Somehow, miraculously, I made it back to the house to find much to my great surprise that Tanja and her maybe-boyfriend were also there! I hadn’t realized they were such close friends of the family, but I suppose they were having a good time and recognized that we were having a good time and figured they could join us for the good times to continue.

MORE beer! Lovely Tanja

Tanja and her maybe-boyfriend

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t have the pictures to prove it, but there was apparently even more drinking when we got back. We were sitting around their basement bar and I remember struggling with the stereo to put on some music and failing miserably. It’s a wonder I didn’t break it. But I eventually just gave up and brought out my I-pod and speakers (and apparently the mouse from my computer as well for some inexplicable reason) and played Dark Side of the Moon.

The next thing I remember was waking up in the morning, so if I said goodbye to Tanja that memory is lost. I probably did. I was a bit worried about how I might have acted around her (lord knows what kind of shit came pouring out of my mouth last night but no one’s said anything) but when I looked at the pictures and realized she and everybody else were probably just as drunk as I was, I was no longer worried. The epilogue to the Musik Club Offenburg night thus ends with a climactic bang the likes of which I could never have anticipated.

All in all, it was a great way to spend my last night in Ichenheim and I couldn’t be more pleased with the experience. I’ll have to wait for the alcohol to wear off completely before I start drawing any conclusions about life-lessons-learned, but I can already tell how much I’ve grown since seven years ago. I’m still getting blackout drunk from time to time, but that’s something plenty of adults do anyway. At least I’m far more outgoing and self-confident, which is the most important thing.

I’m really going to miss you, Ichenheim. I know I’ll be back one day. We’ll just have to wait and see what fate has in store for me then.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,

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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