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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.