Providence: Big Bear Boss Battle and Lovecraft’s Grave

May 26, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

The narrow escape from Dystopia Beach left a bad taste in my mouth, and my only recourse was to cleanse it with some of Providence’s world-famous Greek food.

I ordered moussaka and they gave me a hot pocket with chili powder in it for some reason. Whatever. We got beef, we got eggplant, there aren’t any dandelion sprouts on it, I’ll be okay.

My olive oil levels once again stabilized, we ranged out to Brown University campus to see what Atlas Obscura vaguely described as a “colossal, untitled bear”.

We just so happened to show up on graduation weekend, because of course we did. The campus was overflowing with humans and absolutely filthy with pigs, setting up their little flashy-light campus cruisers on every corner, blocking intersections, leering at college girls from beneath their sad faux-military haircuts like the hundred palette-swapped bastards of Hoggish Greedly.

The Girl was slower to shake Dystopia Beach’s malaise. The whole drive and for most of the walk she was grumbling and gnashing her teeth with a formless misanthropy about to Brown being ritzy ivy-league digs. It was surreal. Like looking in a pretty, red-haireded mirror.

“There’s just an arrogance to it,” she told me as we passed the sixth or seventh lax bro in salmon chino shorts and sandals. “Like it carries all this weight just because it’s an ivy league school. There’s this grand implication to it, like they pity anyone who didn’t have the few hundred grand lying around to avoid a state school. It’s pretentious.”

“I didn’t know Brown was ivy league.”

“Yeah!” she said. “Brown is like, a big deal art school.”

I shrugged. “Can’t be too big a deal. I never heard of it before I found out about the bear.”

Let’s talk about the bear.

According to Atlas Obscura,

“This strange bear slumps in the corner of a university quad. There’s nothing cuddly about the oversized creature, or the abnormally large lamp slicing into its head.

Untitled (Lamp/Bear) by Swiss artist Urs Fischer is a unique addition to Brown University’s campus. It certainly keeps with the school’s reputation as the most free-spirited member of the Ivy League.”

Oof. Okay, I could see how the ivy league thing could get grating.

It’s supposed to be made of bronze, but the pictures on the site made it look like a perspective trick done with a beanie baby. Although, this beanie baby has a lamp jammed in its head, with sort of a Sid’s room Toy Story aesthetic. How could I resist?

We left the car by a park and climbed up a ridiculous hill toward the campus proper for what had to be the better part of a mile.

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Yeah, that’s an understatement.

Halfway up, Google Maps told me we were approaching “Lovecraft Square”. We swung a block wide to check out what was undoubtedly a grand monument to Providence’s weirdest son.

Not so much with the “grand”. I figured, they’re so free and easy with bronze in this town, the least they could do is throw together a bust of his grimacing elongated mug. No such luck. This plaque was the entire memorial.

“They did my mans dirty,” I said with a mournful shake of my head.

When we finally crested Mount Brown, we walked into what appeared to be an active graduation ceremony. Real frying pan-fire scenario. We had to push against the flow of bodies, functionally swimming upstream to get onto one of the several quads and begin the hunt.

For a gargantuan sky-blue bear sculpture, it proved surprisingly difficult to find. We did two laps of the block before turning the correct corner and facing the monster down.

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It was truly huge, and deceptively made of metal. I knocked on its huge foot and it did, in fact, make a ting sound. A local approached me, sensing my awe of the size of this lad, and asked if I’d take her picture with it.

“Sure. You here for the festivities too?”

“Oh, I just graduated,” she said with commendable nonchalance, leaning on the bear. “I just didn’t want to walk. The ceremony is a waste of time, and it’s not like I’m done.”

“Yeah? Congratulations! What was your major?”

“Evolutionary biology,” she said. “But it’s just a Master’s. I’m going for the doctorate, this is barely even a thing.”

“You did the work!” I said, taking the picture. “You can be proud of the work. A lot of people never make it to Master’s, even if it is just a pit stop for you. Congratulations, really.”

She looked down and smiled and said thanks. It was a humble, charming gesture, but obviously too close to a compliment. I broke even by telling her I didn’t walk either.

“The ceremony itself is absolutely bullshit.”

Staring up into Untitled Bear/Lamp’s cold, vacant eyes, I finally knew fear.

The Girl and I swam back downstream and tumbled down Mount Brown, then got into the car and made our getaway. We had already settled affairs at the hotel. There was only one stop left to make.

Howie P had an understated plot in the center of a sprawling cemetery complex, differentiated from its fellows only by the worn grass, the stacks of pennies, and the small Cthulhu statue.

“Rise, H.P.,” I said with an appropriately necromantic gesticulation. “Wise fwom youw gwave! Get your bony ass up, we got things to do!”

He remained reluctant.

“Up and at ’em!” I said. “Come on. You gotta see the state of the place. Cthulhu’s a household name! Heads up, don’t say the N-word, though. That’s… pretty important.”

The lazy bastard stayed down. I frowned over at the Girl.

“Maybe it has to be dark,” I said.

“This is ghoulish,” she said.

“It’s what he would have wanted.”

I left an incantation hanging, hoping it would take once night fell. We didn’t stick around to find out. If you see a lanky skeleton with social anxiety jangling around Rhode Island, that’s my bad.

And so ends the Providence chronicle. We headed back to Philly to prepare for the next week’s jaunt to a beach, distinct from the Rhode Island beach trip in that it was planned and consensual.

Love,

The Bastard

The Perfect Chimera

September 19, 2018. Bastard HQ.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution that apparently reaches up the academic ladder to professional anatomists using research grants to stitch together ideal Frankensteins in their own image out of discarded Australian animal parts.

Evolution, beautiful readers, is not what Pokemon promised. It’s not an upward process culminating in an intelligently-designed paragon amalgam. It’s gradual adaptation to the present environment.

Here are the improvements presented by this stupid video, and brief yet tasteful rebuttals about why they’re wrong and I hate them.

1) Chimp Back

It was not a “flawed transition to standing upright”. We’re the best existing species for standing upright. Pursuit predation is how we became apex predators, and why we conquered the world despite our myriad physical failings.

“Pursuit predation”, for those who don’t follow the stuffy animal behavior jargon, is our ability to walk down any other animal due to the efficient design of our lungs. Most are faster than us, sure, but human beings were the Michael Meyers of the prehistoric savanna. A quadrupedal construction is clutch for bursts of speed, as in the majority of predators, and grazing animals benefit from always being about a foot from their food source, but a horse’s lungs will fill with blood if they try to outpace us for more than a couple hours.

Google it. Even the crazy horse girls say companion horses can’t go more than about 35 miles a day. An optimistic estimate would double that for unencumbered ancient horses, 70 miles, which is about how far the average Roman legionnaire would jog every day with a third of his body weight in supplies on his back.

That’s how we won.

A chimp was not designed for pursuit predation. Giving us a thick lower back would increase lower back pain. That’s it.

2) Emu legs

Emu legs are designed to move giant, heavy, stupid birds long distances quickly. Why would we need that? We don’t go quickly! We’re almost uniformly overweight and the fastest man on earth runs at about a quarter the speed of the average cheetah.

That’s evolutionary perfection, folks. We made it.

3) Thigh pumps

We already have that, it’s called the femural artery. They’re huge, man. They’re the main source of blood to the legs, and since we’ve already discussed that we have been shaped by circumstance to walk 50 miles a day waiting for a larger, more effectively defensible animal to doze off, our circulation is just fine.

4) Breastless chest

Breast size is probably a false indicator of fertility, sexually selected, sort of like a peacock’s tail. Breastlessness would require modification of the human mating that led to the runaway Fisherian miracle of prominent breasts. I wouldn’t presume to guess what that would do to us sexually, but it certainly wouldn’t maintain our present status quo. Maybe harems? Maybe serial polygyny? Any way you roll the dice, it’s hard to see how the shift would qualify as “perfect”.

5) Reliable heart of a dog

What? Why?

They’re the same hearts, aside from dog hearts beating faster (due to the size differential). Humans are more prone to heart disease because we won’t stop shoving Big Macs down our moist, fleshy gullets. Dogs are more prone to heartworms because they’re stupid and eat poop.

6) Graceful lungs of a swan

What

possible

reason

7) Marsupial pouch

Okay. All right. Our giant skulls, powerhouse brains, and rampant neotony did cause a big spike in death rate during childbirth, as compared to other species. A pouch might reduce that, and make the child more manageable during its lengthy and helpless childhood.

Except for the massive size and growth rate of human infants as compared to kangaroo joeys. Not to mention how utterly and thoroughly the construction clashes with the rest of the Greek myth monstrosity we’re building here.

8) Sensory transformation

Better hearing and vision could have helped us in prehistory, although light sensitivity would suggest that we’d be more nocturnal and there is absolutely no reason for that. We’re still small and weak. What rankles me is “this could be a human fit for the future”.

How? Justify your statement. We’re surrounded by light stimuli and noise pollution at all times, we spend our days looking at glowing screens, and we’re dying off at incredible rates from lack of exercise and inundation with calorically dense food-substitutes like sugared corn syrup that wreak absolute havoc on our suitably efficient organ systems.

How would increased  light sensitivity help a species that actively suffers from visual impairment and chronic migraines thrive in our burgeoning neon cyberpunk dystopia?

How would more efficient lungs and bony, shock-absorbing knees increase the survivability of animals that are rotting away from inactivity and overnutrition?

You funneled a bunch of grant money into designing a clickbait homunculus. It’s the academic equivalent of a selfie with one of those SnapChat dog filters that makes your eyes all freaky and big. The vanity of pushing your Catelyn Stark elf-fursona as though it were legitimate evolutionary science is misinforming the populace and cheapening the field.

And considering the present political climate, evolutionary biology can’t survive too much more cheapening. Although, it can be argued this, itself, is a form of evolution.

But I wouldn’t argue that because it’s a self-congratulatory intellectual exercise. Sort of like slapping your own face on a CGI BuzzFeed list of “Top 10 Animal Parts That Are Kind of Cool!”

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

 

Haunted Meatloaf

August 11, 2018. Nashua, New Hampshire.

The serrated jaws of madness snapped shut at our heels as we hauled ass from the cultist outpost of Portsmouth and shot down the length of the admittedly non-lengthy state, exhausting my little Korean engine in battle with New Hampshire’s rollicking hills, owing to my stubborn refusal to switch my car out of eco-mode. This is because I’m vegan.

ecofriendly

Wait, don’t stop reading yet. I’m vegan in the way that most people quit smoking. They say, “All right, that’s my last cigarette” and it continues to be true right up until their next cigarette, after which they quit again. Transpose that to ethically motivated dietary restrictions, and replace “cigarette” with “an entire chicken”. So far my record stands at 16 consecutive hours of high-octane additive-free veganism, thanks to intermittent fasting.

The rain had slowed when we arrived at the Country Tavern, alleged by Atlas Obscura to be a brazenly haunted farmhouse turned restaurant and devoting a full page of menu to the legend of the genius locii, Elizabeth Ford. I was hoping to burn enough time that night would have fallen. It was looking like I was going to have to settle for overcast, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost.

There was a brewery across the street called White Birch. A shamanic state of consciousness enhancement could only help my chances of lifting the veil. It was one of the prettier breweries I’d run across on this trip, with an open floor plan, lacquered marble tabletops, and a huge plasma screen TV mounted behind the bar. It was also as cold as meat locker.

Everyone was dressed like they had been phase-shifted in from a ski lodge. I realized I was the only human on the premises in shorts and a t-shirt. It was 80 degrees outside.

The decor spoke to me. The walls were hung with slabs of wood with delightfully redundant carvings of birch trees and Hobbit quotes. Hobbit quotes were a popular ornamentation in New England breweries, for some reason. Between these plaques were $35 White Birch sweatshirts and hoodies. They did not sell t-shirts. That explained the temperature.

I grinned widely in appreciation of their aesthetic sense and their cunning, and ordered a flight of the most heavily liquored beers they had available.

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They just flung bourbon and tequila into all kinds of shit. The bartender was an obvious dad who looked like he played linebacker in college and kept in shape. He surreptitiously warned me that they have to put “4 oz” on the menu for legal reasons, but each flight cup was actually 5 oz. I told him the secret was safe with me.

The Girl returned from the bathroom and ordered a 16 oz draft, since it was “the same price as a flight anyway”. I clucked my tongue and did not call her a rube, but I felt quietly superior.

It would be revealed that we were both, in fact, rubes. The combination of an empty stomach and 20 oz of tequila-beer would result in both of us hurling vitriol at the television during a news story about some girl with terrible squat form. It turns out the point of the story was not that the girl’s squat form was terrible, but that she had survived some debilitating disease and now squatted (poorly). Oops.

Fortunately, I choose to believe our innate charisma helped us break even with the pleasant staff vis-a-vis this high-decibel faux pas. And if I was drunk enough to Bro Out at a quaint, frozen little Tolkeinesque brewery, I was drunk enough to eat with a ghost.

The Country Tavern was a cozy converted farmhouse with old-world sensibilities, decorated like your grandma’s house, if your grandma lived in a massive 3-story restaurant. It was full of Olds, none of whom seemed to mind the advertised aura of death. We sat at the table, demolishing haunted bread. The waitress was a perky blonde woman who became very excited when I asked about the spirit-in-residence, and gave us a punctuated Midnight Society retelling, then gave us a misspelled placemat that filled in the blanks.

Elizabeth Ford lived in the farmhouse in the 1700s. She was married to an alcoholic sea captain with poor impulse control. She had a baby while he was at sea, and when he returned he was… displeased. The jury is out as to whether he thought she cheated on him, or if he was mad she churned out his baby in his absence, or if he just wasn’t ready for fatherhood. What he was ready for was serial murder. He killed his wife and chucked her down a well, then killed the baby and buried it under a tree.

“Have you had any sightings?” the Girl asked. “Like, you personally?”

The waitress frowned, then nodded. “Well, nothing big. Sometimes the cups will fall for no reason, or there will be moving shadows where there shouldn’t be. One time, I was closing, and I almost walked away without taking my tips out of my envelope. I was just about to go out the door when all of a sudden I heard a noise, and I turned around and my envelope had fallen off the table for no reason. I was like, “Oh! Thanks, Elizabeth!””

I snuck off to the bathroom. While in there, I turned the lights off and said “Bloody Mary” into the mirror three times. No spookings occurred. I clicked the light switch back on. The lights didn’t work.

I stood alone in the dark, staring into the mirror and weighing the severity of my miscalculation for three beats. The lights flickered back on.

I wasn’t alone anymore.

Naw, just kidding, I was. That’d be wild though.

I returned to the table, only crying a little, and we put in our orders.

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The Girl put in an order for the ghost’s personal chicken. I strongly considered the haunted meatloaf, but eventually went in for the haunted prime rib. It had been years and I didn’t remember if I liked prime rib. (It turns out I do.)

reset the ol’ vegan counter

It was the first really substantial meal we had eaten all trip. I was rejuvenated. I finished the Girl’s ghost’s pasta and almost ate the decorative plastic flowers by accident.

Before we hit the road, I snuck off to the bathroom again.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” I said aloud. “Liz. Can I call you Liz? Listen, that Bloody Mary thing was in poor taste, and might have been racist, and I’m sorry for it. You’ve been hanging out here for a few hundred years, and I’m just worried you’re dwelling on the past. Why don’t you come with? I’m not tryna sound all psychopompous but my place back in Philly is pretty sick, it’s got all sorts of skulls and candles and witchy shit, good ghost ambiance. Plenty of room! Give city unlife a try. It’s got to beat watching these Olds eat for the rest of eternity.”

I turned off the lights, winked at the mirror, and went out to rejoin the Girl. She had cornered an elderly server, who was pointing out the window to where the baby was alleged to be buried.

“Used to be an old elm tree there,” he said in that distinctive elderly New England man way, with the gravitas that makes Stephen King’s tertiary characters so disturbing. “Tore it up, but they never moved the body. Still lyin’ under there. Ayuh.”

The Girl and I returned to my car. I opened the back door and made a demonstrative ushering gesture.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Getting the door for Liz.”

“You invited a ghost back to the hotel?”

“Her name is Liz. And I invited her back to the house. What, you’ve never thought about a third?”

The resultant skull eye undoubtedly made Liz feel more comfortable.

“Come on,” I said, closing the door and getting behind the wheel. “She’s in the prime of her afterlife.”

“Stoooooop,” the Girl said. It was more of a drawn-out groan. “Stop talking.”

I did.

The three of us headed back toward Manchester. We had one day left in New Hampshire, and while we had originally had grand designs about going to an art gallery, fate would intervene. We were not destined to look at art. We were destined to live it.

Or peer unblinking at it from the great beyond.

spookywoman

hey boo

Love,

The Bastard

 

Those Cheeky Devils

August 17, 2018. Bastard HQ.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled venomous travelogue to catch you up on recent events in Little Rock, Arkansas, where representatives of the Satanic Temple are presently boolin outta control.

Arkansas has been struggling with controversy surrounding the separation of church and state for a while now, if by “struggling with controversy surrounding” you mean “baffled by”. It came to a head in 2017 when they constructed a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Capitol Building in Little Rock. A gorgeous 6-foot marble dealie.

This didn’t sit too good with a dude named Michael Tate Reed, who drove his car into the monument that night.

That’s already funny enough, but it turns out Mikey wasn’t a radicalized atheist! You can tell because radicalized atheists do nothing but smoke pot and have lengthy debates in the comments on Chris Hitchens youtube videos. No, this is better; dude is a staunch Christian who believed that God called on him to destroy the monument.

The Little Rock gubmint decided this is the hill they’re gonna die on. Give up now and the devil wins, right? So they build another monument, another gorgeous 6-foot marble dealie. They’re getting criticism from all sides, but they remain strong in their conviction. This is rapidly become a crusade!

Well, you need the polarity for a good narrative conflict, especially on matters as grandiose as good versus evil. Enter the Satanic Temple, looking to be your heretic, yeaaaah.

These witchpunk son of a bitches load up their eight-and-a-half-foot Baphomet statue, ordinarily located in their cute little art gallery in Salem, Massachusetts, and cruise down to Little Rock to parade it around the Capitol and generally cause a fuss.

And what a fuss it has caused.

Here’s a couple tweets I stole:

twitter

boolin

Sure, there’s a legitimate realpolitik interplay at work here, but I’ve met the Satanic Temple. Two years ago, I took pictures at their podium (which was forbidden, but I figured if anyone would appreciate transgressing arbitrary demonstrative propriety rules, it would be the Satanic temple). I got pictures sitting on the Baphomet statue, which will show up one day in a #tbt post.

The political aspect is theater, because, in their devotion to discord, they see politics as  cheap theater. These kids are just out there having a good time.

baphomet

Baphy represents the dichotomous nature of everything. Animal and man, male and female, above and below, you get the picture. It’s almost too appropriate to wheel him out next to the 10 Commandments monument, especially since you know these obnoxious little neo-goths are telling the religious right counterprotesters, “our monolith is bigger than yours”.

The Satanic Temple gets a bad rap because of edgy teenagers in facepaint who kill sacrifice cats or whatever, but what you’re talking about there is a perversion of Christianity. See, acknowledging a “Mr. Satan” as a spiritual entity means you’re playing the God game. To have a real Satan means you have a real Sky Dad that he’s in rebellion against, and believing in one necessarily predicates believing in the other.

If your grandma believes in angels, she must also believe in demons, but it’s best not to mention that to her.

Satanists actually believe in a sequence of decidedly libertarian (or maybe libertine) anti-commandments called the Seven Tenets. They look a little something like this:

  1. “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”
  2. “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”
  3. “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”
  4. “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.”
  5. “Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.”
  6. “People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and remediate any harm that may have been caused.”
  7. “Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.”

Pretty close to Buddhism, but with spookier statuary.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s kind of nice to see headlines about a “religious conflict” in the news without a bunch of explosions and corpses. And if nothing else, you got to give them points for the aesthetic.

podium

forbidden. what’re they gonna do, hex me?

All right, kids. Vaya con Dios, or Hail Satan, or Hail Eris, or namaste, or whatever the hell it is you do. Juju is juju. However you handle it, keep your mana bar full.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

New Jersey: The Hatelands

February 2nd, 2018. Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

You want horror? I’ll give you horror.

New Jersey is a real place, though I don’t know why. No one benefits from it. A Canadian philosopher once told me, “Pennsylvania is just New Jersey but brown and rusty.” I would agree, but with a slight modification: “Pennsylvania is New Jersey but brown, rusty, and not an above-ground sewer that eats the life force of any who wander into it like a rancid, 4th-generation Italian will-o’-the-wisp.”

Do not mistake me. Pennsylvania is incredibly brown and rusty. I’ve lived in this coal crater my entire life, and I didn’t learn about the color “green” until I was a man (which, in the Frozen North, occurs when you bite your first coyote to death, around age 7 or 8). But if you ever enter New Jersey at night – god forbid – you’ll see everything has a faint yellow cast to it. I privately think of it as “piss smog”, though I don’t share that with anyone unfortunate enough to be in the car with me when caught in New Jersey’s event horizon.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu delineates nine types of ground you’ll happen upon in battle and the strategic applications of each. The final, and most severe, is “desperate or deadly ground”, where no tactics can save you. You burn your possessions, you tell your troops to abandon all hope, you put your backs to the wall, and you fight. As interpreted by the enormous herbalist and military advisor Li Ching:

The country is wild, destitute of water and plants; the army is lacking in the necessaries of life, the horses are jaded and the men worn-out, all the resources of strength and skill unavailing, the pass so narrow that a single man defending it can check the onset of ten thousand; all means of offense in the hands of the enemy, all points of vantage already forfeited by ourselves:—in this terrible plight, even though we had the most valiant soldiers and the keenest of weapons, how could they be employed with the slightest effect?”

It’s like Sun Tzu penned their tourism pamphlet.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be a chronicle of tourism. I was in New Jersey once by choice, five years ago. It was because of a redhead, as are all of my lasting life mistakes. I went to the Jersey Shore, not yet realizing that beaches are a waste of time, and I did what I could to ignore the fact it was basically a salty, wet landfill. Here are a couple of action shots featuring my chunky yet funky youthful incarnation making the best of it.

This was shortly after a carnie solicited that I “throw a free dart at the balloons!” I did, and popped two.

“Oh snap,” I said (it was a different time), “What do I win?”

“You have to pop at least three balloons to get a prize,” he said. “$5 to play.”

I decided I didn’t need a bootleg stuffed Garfield that bad and started on my way. The dude came roaring around the side of his booth, flailing his arms like an early Jim Carey and j’accuseing me of “NOT EVEN CARING ABOUT THE SHORE!”

“Correct,” I assured him. He seemed to get more upset, even despite my validation.

I did get a fetal shark there, though. His name is Formaldehoward and he has been the best roommate a dude could ask for.

wrinklyboi

he’s gotten wrinklier, but who among us hasn’t?

When I escaped Jersey, I solemnly vowed to never return. I was doing well for half a decade.

I’m newly transplanted to Philadelphia, where I’ve burrowed into a seaside cave to ride out the coldest parts of the winter. Never fear, beautiful readers, I’ll run up the Rocky steps, look at statues of Benny Frank’s fat ass, and lambast the local beer as soon as I can go outside without the mucous membranes around my eyes freezing solid. If it were up to me, I’d hunker down and hibernate until I could bang through a long run without my sweat turning to shards of frost before fully escaping my pores. It’s like being stabbed by hundreds of tiny icicles.

Sadly, it’s not up to me. Enter another redhead, this one with $150 in Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift cards. The nearest Bed, Bath, and Beyond is in Cherry Hill which, for the record, featured neither cherries nor hills. It should be called Garbage Crater.

It takes a while to cross the Ben Franklin Bridge, but you can tell when you hit New Jersey because this potent ennui settles around you like a dark cloud of piss smog. Your phone will also chime, and Google Maps will tell you, “You’ve just entered New Jersey. Jeez.” and then autosuggest Suicide Hotline numbers.

The third surefire way to tell whether you’ve crossed the border is how the people around you are driving.

Are they driving like stupid assholes? Odds are good that you’re still in Philly.

Are they driving like stupid assholes who have a personal vendetta against you, and  their genitals are being mauled by wolverines, and also everyone involved is rabid, and on fire? Got some bad news for you, my friend.

After narrowly surviving some merges that would qualify as American tragedies if they’d happened in a NASCAR arena, we pulled into Bed, Bath, and Beyond in search of, apparently, a multitude of wooden cutting boards, each about an inch bigger than the last.

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i’ve got about a dozen punchlines for this one, but they’re beneath us both

If you want a pictorial summary of the Jerseygrant, it’s right here. Don’t look at it too long or you might think about it.

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We narrowly escaped with our lives (and a George Foreman Lean Mean Grillin’ Machine, which was my prime motivation for braving this outdoor dungeon). On the way back, I stopped for gas and discovered most of the t-shirts advertised Philadelphia. At the time, I wrote it off with “Well, I could understand why”.

Then, back across the Ben Franklin Bridge. Entering New Jersey is free. There are signs all over the bridge that say, “NO TOLL THIS WAY”.

But escaping costs $5.

It was a eureka moment for me, the slow-dawning realization that the only reason this enormous seaside diaper-pile can afford what it so courageously calls its infrastructure is by tithing the dumb suckers from Philly, out to visit the only nearby beach.

I slammed my mouth full of the worst chocolate covered peanuts I’ve ever had (how do you even fuck those up?) and vowed, once again, to never return to these blighted hatelands.

But I didn’t leave empty-handed.

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precioussss

Contrary to what deceitful boxes may tell you, the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Grillin’ Machine does not, in fact, remove 42% of the fat. It’s closer to 0% of the fat. It’s just a sloped panini press. If losing the juices from a burger removed the fat, wouldn’t every burger cooked on an open-grate grill be fat free?

However, it DOES cook hamburgers indoors in the dead of winter, providing me valuable iron so I’m not constantly covered in bruises trying to navigate my giant, stupid body through the trappings of civilization. One could say this trip was my paying the iron price, and one wouldn’t be wrong.

But what a price it was.

reek

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin, Germany: The Voyage Home

December 6, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It was an hour bus ride to the airport. A British redhead sitting across the aisle was reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, which I’d slogged through last year. I asked her what she thought. She said it was interesting, but Oliver Sacks couldn’t write worth a damn. That might sound like an opinion, but it was actually objective fact. May he rip in peace.

I slithered through security easily enough, conscious as always of the pound of Turkish Delight I had in my backpack. I expected someone to confiscate it every time I went through a turnstile. If I were airport security, I’d think they were drugs. The German airport didn’t seem to care.

I will say this of the Schoenefeld airport: it was by far the least efficient I’d ever flown from, and I started this trip from Philadelphia. Desk-workers and security personnel alike acted like they were working the night shift at Wawa. The security check lines were so long that I had to join a small exodus that took us outside into the snow, for some reason, then into a different building where we waited for a different disaffected German twentysomething to glance disinterestedly at our passports than dismissal-wave us through.

I knew they wouldn’t let me convert my small change Euros back stateside so I blew as much of my jingle as I could on a grim airport ciabatta roll sandwich, which I grazed on as I saw the sights offered by Berlin’s cheapest, worst airport.

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I, too, liebe Büüüücher. They had Sapiens, which is my favorite nonfiction book, but nothing else really noteworthy and certainly nothing I was willing to spend the asking 30 Euro on.

I kept wandering and found the liebe didn’t stop there.

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“Colorful mascot,” I said out loud in the restroom. Even if everybody speaks English in Germany, no one’s going to talk to the American murmuring to himself at the condom machine. “We could learn a lot from the Billy Boy company, I think.”

Truly, the Berlin airport provided all amenities.

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i knew i forgot to pack something

Something for everyone.

I left the bathroom and my eye was forgivably caught by this:

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This is an ad for sunglasses. Germans. Go figure.

Here’s a recurrent problem in my life. I equate “survivable” with “favorable”. The short-notice plane ticket from Germany’s worst airport back to the piss-stinking ’90s underground sci-fi dystopia of PHL only cost me $300, but that was because of all the extra stops and layovers. All told, I would be spending 48 consecutive hours either on planes or in airports. I looked at that and said, “That’s only like two nights of sleeping on benches. And indoors, too! I’ll take it.”

It was highly survivable, but I don’t recommend it for your next vacation.

I flew out of the weird, sexy, lazy airport to the north, where the cold lives, landing in the frozen but beautiful taint of Norway via the Oslo Airport.

Friends, mark me well. If you ever plan on going to Scandinavia, don’t. You can’t afford it. A meal is like $25 and it’s impossible to go anywhere without hiring a driver. Instead, just go see the Oslo Aiport. Athena, it was dazzling.

It was warm, clean, well lit. Everyone looked uncomfortable, but that’s just Scandinavia. Everyone I met from the Nordic countries was reticent and awkward right up until you fed them liquor, at which point they became… I think the best word for it is raunchy. Suggestive, but not necessarily following through. More like a bunch of middle-school boys at the cafeteria table, making dick jokes.

They didn’t seem to be imbibing at the airport. They mostly seemed to be pacing around and frowning. I thought about buying something to eat, but I’d need to convert my money to Norwegian kroners, and I had no desire whatsoever to deal with a fifth type of currency that would become useless to me within an hour. I decided I’d starve.

I wandered around the fish-smelling airport, admiring the Home Alone 2 christmas displays and the strange tourist traps. One of them had a taxidermied polar bear in front. I don’t know why.

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certainly a different sentiment than in Berlin

It was only a couple hours at Oslo before I got jettisonned back to good ol’ LIS in Lisbon, Portugal. I’d had a layover here earlier on in my quest, and I was starting to feel a little guilty for passing over the Portuguese twice in a row. A German friend told me that it the Portuguese were almost American in their passion for deep fried meats covered in cheese then deep fried again on top of other meats. That artery halter might be worth the price of admission alone, but I didn’t take advantage of my 12 hour layover to go investigate.

For one thing, it was the middle of the goddamn night. I’d arrived around 9 PM local time, and everything in the airport was closing down. In theory I could have tried to catch a bus into Lisbon proper, maybe found a bar that kept serving food until late on a Monday night, but that sounded expensive, time-consuming, and kind of risky since I had to be ready to run the security gauntlet at 6 or 7 AM.

Instead, I ate a bocadillo, drank some kind of porter, then fell asleep on one of the three benches that existed in the airport, right next to the McDonalds.

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our scruffy and weatherbeaten hero on a tiny Portuguese airport couch

I managed a solid eight hours, which is a rare occurrence for someone of my temperament even with a real bed. Maybe I was designed to sleep in corners. Maybe I should give up this ridiculous charade and ride the rails, sleeping under bridges and eating out of coffee can stew pots, a gentleman hobo at long last.

When I woke up, I had the exact same meal as last night, only this time it was breakfast.

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breakfast of champions

I finally recrossed the Atlantic and returned to the purple mountains majesty.

Perhaps an exaggeration. I flew into Miami. There were no mountains, and there was certainly no majesty. It was 80 degrees outside. At long last, customs took me aside to rifle through my belongings and investigate my Turkish Delight.

I had waited for this moment, but I still didn’t know how to play it out. The box was sealed in plastic. Would they cut it open? Would they bring drug-sniffing dogs through? Would they be good boys?

A series of security guards on a sliding scale of surliness squinted suspiciously at my supplies. They interrogated me on the countries I’d been through, how long I’d stayed in each, and how many drugs and guns I brought back. After writing my answers (“a bunch”, “a while”, and “not too many”) on a notepad, they dumped out my backpack, rifled through my dirty laundry (literally speaking), then told me I was good to go. I unfucked everything they fucked up in my pack and wandered into the Miami airport proper.

It was as close to the opposite of the Oslo airport as you can get. Small, cramped, smelly, absolutely hideous, and hot. This was my new home for the next 15 hours.

I wasn’t as tired, and I had Real Money now, so the world was my oyster. Unfortunately, the world as of now was in Florida. I did a search of anything worth doing in the vicinity, and the only hit that even remotely struck my fancy was a reverse zoo called the Monkey Jungle. The premise was that the monkeys and apes got a whole reservation to frolic and play and do whatever they wanted (some would call it monkeying around but that is way beneath me), and the human customers remained in a long, caged tunnel. I don’t like zoos because, as both a big dumb animal and a tired, poor, huddled mass yearning to be free, the concept of captivity pisses me right off. But this sounded close enough to a “natural habitat” situation that I wouldn’t get a bad taste in my mouth.

Unfortunately, it was a 7 hour walk.

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So much for that. I did a lot of writing that day, instead.

I had a grand design to sleep on the couches outside the Margaritaville, but that fell apart when I discovered those couches were a special lounge reserved for the people staying in the ritzy-ass hotel built into the airport. There were no other couches or benches, of course — if there were, why would anyone stay in the airport hotel? — so I wound up sleeping on horrible, vaguely triangular benches next to the door, which was next to some highway or the other.

They were shaped like the Mercedes logo, a foot and a half wide at the broadest point and tapering toward the ends. An old man was curled up on a different one, but even with all the weight I’d lost in Europe, I still had at least sixty pounds on him. I managed to balance my tremendous corpus on the giant, three-legged starfish, one leg running down either point, torso on the other. I folded my arms across my chest like a Dracula and slept until a couple of security guards started shouting at one another in Spanish for no reason aside from to be dicks. At least, that was the best I could surmise.

I’d gotten four hours. I could get four more.

I gathered my stuff and wandered toward the bathrooms, which I discovered, had become a sort of hobo jungle. See, the hallway leading up to the bathrooms were carpeted, so even though it was very loud (due primarily to the other obnoxious security guards, also shouting in Spanish), everyone had decided to sleep on the floor here. I found an empty space and joined them for my remaining four hours, then boarded the plane for home, where some motherfucker would not stop touching me with his elbow. There’s an unspoken rule about even division of space on airports, and he had no intention of observing it, no matter how any times I elbowed him. We’re not talking subtly, either. I was throwin’ some serious ‘bos. If I’d been on WWE, they would be accompanied by an announcer screaming “OHHHHHHHHHHH” or maybe “FROM THE TURNBUCKLE!” My seatmate was not phased.

The crew lied about our arrival four or five times in different directions. They didn’t know what they were talking about, but hoo lordy, did they love to talk. Every six minutes or so the shrillest, most obnoxious voice you can imagine screeched through the cabin to pepper us with “VERY friendly reminders” and other nauseating, unnecessary pleasantries. The pilot had never landed a plane before, and took his time to fuck that up. I was considering walking up there and doing it myself.

When we were finally on the ground, I threw one last elbow for good luck, collected my contraband, and officially returned to Pennsylvania.

Now, onto the next great adventure.

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin: Outsider Art of the Anne Frank Zentrum and East Side Gallery

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

After the Panoptikum, I tried to head into the nearby Monsterkabinett for reasons that I feel should be self-evident. I’d later find out it was a little more Muppety than I’d have liked, but I still didn’t get the chance to investigate thoroughly since it’s open like 3 hours a day starting at 8pm and I wasn’t about to stand in the rain for six hours.

In order to get turned away from the Monsterkabinett entrance, you need to go down a sketchy alley full of hipsters and white dreadlocks, the walls themselves cacophonous with unrelated graffiti and half-finished or sabotaged murals. The centerpiece is a slightly cockeyed reimagining of Anne Frank.

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man, you can almost hear “Oh Comely”

She was flanked by a couple of anatomically correctish statues.

Nearby is a door that neatly encapsulates whatever the hell is going on here.

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An appreciable warning, considering.

They got sort of a thing for cyclopes.

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no idea what was going on here, but i instinctively hated it. “entfuhrt” means kidnapped. unhelpful

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here either, but i hated it less

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“keep the buttons open”

I took this sage advice from the terrible minion and faded out of the alley, into a sort of plywood tunnel that led past several different construction areas on the road to East Berlin. The inside was also decorated, though less imaginatively.

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it was here i discovered Guaranteed Value Flight of the Conchords. at the time and based on the posters i thought they were advertising for a community college, but it turns out they’re refugees fleeing a war. whoops

The delineation between West and East Berlin is just as clear now as it was before the fall of the wall. Stop on a corner and look around. Do you see any Indian restaurants? Do you see any restaurants or stores at all? If the answer to these questions are “no”, you’re in East Berlin, where the specter of communism is spanging at the stoplight because there are no businesses for it to hang out in front of.

The exception being a single depressing Subway restaurant built into the bottom of a brutalist office building. I tried to take a picture of it, but my camera started weeping.

After walking for entirely too goddamn long in the rain (as discussed, Berlin is impossibly huge and I really should’ve made more of an effort at figuring out public transit), I arrived at the crumbling remnants of the Berlin wall, alias the East Side Gallery.

There were tons of pieces along this ridiculously long wall, but most of them didn’t warrant documentation. I photographed the best ones whenever I could get the relentless selfie patrol out of my way. You’d think they would be dissuaded by the rain, the cold, the lack of available nutrition, and my low, guttural snarling, but they didn’t even care, man. They’re like the fuckin’ mail. Rain, sleet, or snow, their IG posts must go through.

I slipped through and checked out the other side as well. It was less ornate.

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haha gottem

Well, that was enough for me. I hadn’t eaten in a day or two, and it was starting to get to me. All this slightly hunched rainwalking was killing my back, too. I made my way back toward West Berlin.

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you and me both, bud

It was pretty easy to tell once I’d crossed back into West Berlin.

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even if your German’s not real strong you can noodle this one out

I didn’t get a Salat though. Instead, I found my way to what looked like a traditional German restaurant, named something like Grunstein’s Essen. I was cracking my spine in the warmth and relative dryness when the grinning Indian man behind the bar told me “anywhere you like, my friend.” Must’ve been Grunstein. He served me Leberkäse, which can be most accurately described as “spam loaf”. At the time, it was mana from heaven.

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I turned the corner from this sweet castle bridge and saw a mural that blew most of the approved pieces in the East Side Gallery clean out of the water.

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For all the surrealist nightmare art I’d come across in Berlin, nothing did more to my psyche than this terrifying poster.

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who are they even marketing to with this

I hobbled back to the hostel and spent my final night in a room full of obnoxiously snoring strangers. The next day would begin my long voyage home. And long it was. 48 combined hours between planes and airport layovers. But that’s a grim tale for another day.

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin: The Designpanoptikum

December 5, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

In the heart of Berlin, there’s a dungeon scrapyard exhibition overseen by a delightful and charismatic Russian who’s definitely a serial killer. Google assured me that it would be a “surreal museum”, but neglected to mention how similar it would be to that awful J.Lo movie The Cell. The similarities were only emphasized by the fact that I, too, am a thicc bilingual headshrinker, though she is admittedly a better dancer.

Panoptikum is a German word, meaning Panopticon. Helpful, right? Well, the Panopticon was a decidedly Lawful Evil brainchild of social theorist, philosopher, and institutional bastard Jeremy Bentham. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a big round building made of glass, with a spot for a guard in the middle, enclosed by one-way mirrors. The inhabitants of the glass cells have no privacy. They can see each other, but they can’t see the guard, who obviously can’t be watching all of them at once… but you never know where he is looking, behind that smoked glass.

Bentham, sweetheart that he is, suggested the Panopticon could work equally well for a prison or a school. He described it as “a mill for grinding rogues honest”. As reasonable as it might be to want to flying dropkick the dude off a rope bridge, his figuring isn’t wrong. It’s been common knowledge that social expectation and the old “what will people think” instinct is a deep-rooted and effective behavioral modulator, but it’s on such a hair trigger that even the suggestion of being watched can promote a sort of bastardized honesty. A Newcastle study put coffee and tea out for their department with an honesty box next to it with a little note, “Please pay for what you take!”. On the rear wall behind the box was a poster, rotated weekly; either a bunch of flowers, or a pair of eyes. On the eye weeks, the researchers found a lot more honor-system money than on the flower weeks.

Of course, that might not generalize to all people, it might just be that college students are more inclined to feel anxious about being stared at, or eye contact in general. You ever met college students? They love to feel anxious.

When Bentham named the Panopticon, he was making an allusion to Argus Panoptes, a giant from Greek mythology with a hundred eyes. Panoptes translates to “all-seeing”, and that he did, right up until Hera assigned him to guard Io to make sure Zeus didn’t knock her up while she was a cow. Long story. Ultimately ending with Hermes getting recruited by Zeus to sneak up on Panoptes (how that happened is unclear), cast a god-tier Sleep spell, then brain the poor doofus with a rock.

None of those things gave me any inkling of what Berlin’s Panoptikum was gonna be about, but I’m a sucker for anything surreal, probably as compensation for all the ADHD and disdain for sleep.

All alone, with nobody holding my hand through it, I figured out how buses worked. Turns out, they’ll take you in different directions depending on what side of the street you board. The bus numbers will be the same regardless! You just need to know the incredibly German name of an area near wherever you’re going.

Well, I didn’t, so I took the first bus a half mile in the wrong direction, then leaped off and grumbled my way back to the bus stop. It started to rain, because of course it did.

The correct bus eventually dropped me off in central Berlin, a little more than a block from the Panoptikum. I was greeted by an enthusiastic Russian in flawless, German-accented English, who then explained to me that a heavy Russian accent was part of his shtick until 6 pm. He lapsed into it and started giving an overview on the Panoptikum as I marveled at his terrifying sculptures.

25371171_1149915838478054_937305132_o “Form and function,” he said. “Once, they are the same thing. Once, form was secondary consideration. The product of the function. Now everything is so artistically designed and… and… ergonomic, so all of these things must be beautiful as well as functional, but they don’t look like anything. Certainly they don’t look like what they are for. But we have come so far from that, that we no longer recognize things by their functional form. Take this, for example.”

He held up an odd looking metal clamp, sort of like two L-shaped pieces of steel with a long bolt running between them. The steel slid freely, if noisily, along the threads.

“Do you know what this is?”

I shrugged. “Metal?”

“A good guess,” he said, “And technically correct. But this is something specific. This has a function. I ask everyone this question, no one has ever gotten it right. Take time, look around, think about it. I will ask again before you leave, after you see museum.”

I looked at it again. It wasn’t a clamp. There was no way to tighten it. Still looked like giant metal pincers, about a foot and a half long.

“You use it every day,” he assured me. “You have to. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”

Then he set me loose in the grown up version of Sid’s room from Toy Story.

The basement had that cloying, stale grease smell of a disused garage.

“Do not go to the museums,” he warned me. “Not if you want to see art. You want art, go to the junkyard. Art everywhere. Costs much less.”

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“Form and function. Do you know what this is?”

I looked it over as he crouched down and slapped the thing. A low-pitched BONG sound echoed through the eerie silence of his subterranean trophy case.

“Well, I was gonna say a land mine, but I guess not.”

“Close!” he said, opening the hatch. “Washing machine. Back when they were first invented, only rich people had them. You put the clothes in, the motor shakes them up, cleans them. No motor now, of course, so now it’s just… this thing.”

He was insistent I take selfies with his zany assortment of hats from the dump. I didn’t want to wear the deflated punching bag on my head, although he was really pulling for it. 25383075_1149915881811383_2081062368_o

We compromised on the World War I helmet. I’ve since learned it’s called a Stahlhelm.

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“Do you know why the helmets had those little horns?”

I did not.

“It is not like a viking thing, and it is not like they came to terms with being the bad guys, dressing up like devils. It is an example of… German overengineering. Germans are a very efficient people, and sometimes they get too focused on it, and they lose sight of what’s practical.”

“I know,” I said. “I used to have a Jetta.”

“See, the steel helmets were good for protecting against shrapnel, but back in the trenches, you would just poke your head up and shoot. The metal was not thick enough to stop a direct hit from a bullet. But the scientists at the time, they thought, what if we installed a plate that was thick enough to stop a bullet? Their trench fighters would be almost impervious to gunfire, then! So they manufactured these heavy steel plates that click into the little buttons on the side of the helmet, protecting the head. This did not work for three reasons.

One, it was very, very expensive. That’s a lot of steel, and you need to give one to everyone in the army. Germany ran out of steel.

Two, it was too heavy. People running around with 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of steel on their head, it interfered with their balance. The helmets would also slip down over their eyes because it’s so much heavier in the front.

Three, in the instances when the plate did actually stop a direct hit of a bullet? The force of the impact would break the soldier’s neck in 80% of cases anyway. So for all that money, and all that effort, and all that steel, they’re only saving one out of five direct hits, which are rare enough to begin with.”

It hearkened back to something he’d said earlier when we were looking at an old iron lung.

“See, in America, life is precious. In Russia, Asia, the Middle East, life is cheap. I get Chinese tourists in here, I tell them this woman lived sixty years in this iron lung, and they are incredulous, they ask me ‘why not just die’? Well, because she was an American. They had the resources, so she lived in that iron lung, she did university from her hospital room, and she eventually became a depression counselor. Helped a lot of people. But not everyone could have done that, I don’t think. Most people would rather just die.”

I was reflecting on all this when I turned the corner, caught sight of this little number.

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“Don’t worry, it’s not a sex doll,” he assured me.

“That’s not what worried me.”

“That is part of typewriter,” he said. “Sort of a duality thing, you know? Because of the mouth, and the typewriter, and both of them use words, both of them are for words.”

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“That’s Yuri Gagarin,” he said. “You know who that is?”

I laughed. What a Russian thing! “Yeah,” I said.

“First man in space,” he told me, even though I just said yeah.

“So is that how they did it? Dr. Strangelove style?”

He grinned. “More or less.”

We made our way back to the front door and he picked up the weird metal clamp thing again.

“So! Any guesses?”

I squinted at it, then nodded.

“Is it a doorknob?”

“It is!” he said. “It is a doorknob! And hopefully, your time here at the Panoptikum opened some doors to some new ways of looking at things for you. Thank you much for coming.”

“Thank you,” I said. “This was incredible.”

“You got it right, here,” he said, “Take one of postcards, for free. Whichever one you want. Go ahead.”

I decided on the one that he had explained in the gallery as representing the German spirit.

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Refreshed and disturbed, I walked back out into Berlin’s perpetual rain to find the lauded East Side Gallery.

Next time.

(If you liked the crazy bullshit you saw here, there’s plenty more where that came from. If that site is too hard to navigate [and it fuckin’ is], there’s also a Facebook page. It’s in German, so if you like it, everyone will think you’re cultured.)

Above board, the guy who owns it and gave me the tour is an artist and photographer named Vladimir Korneev. I’d love to link to his gallery or something, but he shares a name with a Russian songwriter so there’s way too much foreign-language smokescreen for me to find anything.

I strongly encourage you to hit up this headtrip if you’re ever in Berlin. He’s probably not a serial killer. He didn’t serial kill me! But they never really seem to.

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Berlin: Ich Bin Ein

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The first thing I learned was my normal strategy of walking everywhere is of no use here. Berlin is too big. It’s because there used to be too many Berlins, and once Reagan hulk-punched that wall down it became a single, titanic Berlin.

Hostels were in short supply, but I managed to get my hands on a nice $13 a night dealie right off of the Landwehr canal, called the Grand Hostel Berlin. Their delusions of grandeur didn’t stop at the name. They were under the mistaken impression they were a party hostel, and wanted this party to center around what they called the Gin Library.

Now, ordinarily, those would be great things better together, right? Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter and whatever arbitrary nutritional asceticism I’m inflicting on myself at present.

No such luck, beautiful reader. It was most assuredly a library a la Ron Burgundy, leatherbound books and rich mahogany, but it also had bar no one ever wanted to tend, obnoxious techno music that kind of disrupted the whole “library” mystique, and a fucking disco ball.

Do you know why most libraries don’t have disco balls? It’s because you need light to read.

When I entered the Gin Library, there were four people sitting around a coffee table, talking over the bad music in various accents about what their favorite types of alcohol are. Pretty standard cultured frat-boy hostel fare. The girls were middling attractive, the boys were “traveler chic” with whiteboy dreadlocks and dated facial piercings.

Laboring under the mistaken impression I could get some reading done in the library, I stood at the bar and tried to order a beer during happy hour. It didn’t work for a few minutes. I went to reception and said, “Hey, think I could get a beer?” The receptionist smiled, nodded, and shouted rapid German at no one in particular.

I went back to the bar and waited for another couple minutes, then decided the hell with it, I didn’t need one that bad, and started back to the corner seat to chip away at a reread of Stephen King’s It.

It wasn’t until then that one of the girls at the table, still squawking something about how Oh she LUVES tequila, deigned to stand up, approach the bar, and say, “Did you want a beer?”

“You work here?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”

She smiled, thinking I was flirting. I corrected this misconception by deliberately stiffing a service worker on a tip for the first time in my life.

Sorry baby. West Berlin’s always been a capitalism.

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I started at the Brandenburg gate, one of Germany’s most famous monuments despite its relative youth, at least by European standards. Berlin had been a defensible fort with a sequence of unpronounceable names since Germany was Prussia, but the Brandenburg gate didn’t show up until around 1790. For America, that’s all of relevant history, but for countries like Italy or England, that’s basically yesterday.

I hadn’t done a lot of Nazi-centric sightseeing because the weather is depressing enough and I like to have fun, but considering the Germanic bent my recent journeys have taken, it’s not avoidable. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is about a block from the Brandenburg gate, rising from a concrete lot like a time-lapse cemetery. Catchy name too, huh? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it.

Concrete slabs of varying heights shoot haphazardly from the ground with no inscription, pattern, or real rhyme or reason. Some look like tombstones, some like coffins, some like tiny Brutalist skyscrapers. The architect, a dude named Eisenman, claims that the blocks are supposed to create a confusing atmosphere indicative of a highly ordered system gone wrong, then in the same breath says that the memorial has no symbolic significance. Sounds like your confusing atmosphere worked better than planned.

The designer’s contradictory Zen-koan babbling doesn’t stop visitors from their interpretations, though. Popular opinion is that entering the monument proper was isolating. The concrete absorbed the sounds of traffic and life coming from Berlin, leaving you in this cold, spooky hallway. The alienation, the echoes, and the imposing bleakness of the corridors reminded me of a slaughterhouse, but I’m not the best central tendency metric for this kind of thing.

Some people call that vague feeling of visceral unease the heebie-jeebies, or something comparably cute. I call it draggin’ ghosts, and I felt them like a physical weight on my shoulders as I walked out of that bleak little grid. At the same time, I was reining in an almost irresistible urge to jump from block to block. That was something I liked to do in graveyards when I was young, until someone saw me. Never met anyone who was thrilled about that.

I turned the corner and a giant brain-blimp shone down from a wall.

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“Oh, good,” I said aloud. Berlin’s got a reputation for art, and a lot of what I saw was pretty cool, but we’ll save that for its own post.

I turned another corner.

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agreed

I doubled back to the hostel and sat down for a while since I’d somehow managed to walk four or five miles, thanks to Berlin’s comical immensity. Der Hunger was setting in. I asked a spindly blonde receptionist where I could get some food, and she helpfully said she’d tell me in ten minutes.

She didn’t get the chance. A dude who sounded Ukrainian was scribbling a sort of city-overview to the stoner kid I mentioned yesterday and a middle-aged Japanese couple, and I eavesdropped on that until he circled the areas where “all the best restaurants are”. I leaned in, snapped a picture, and disappeared into Germany’s perpetual freezing rain.

What he meant by “all the best restaurants” was “places you could conceivably locate food”. This walk was only a mile, though, so that was… better? The street was called Bergmannstraße, it was itself about a mile long, and it had nothing but Asian food, one italian restaurant, one Mexican restaurant, and a kebab shop. I didn’t come to Germany for any of those things, but my choices rapidly became branch out or starve. I ate Indian two days in a row, from two different restaurants right next to each other. The first, called India, was bad. The second was incredible. I don’t remember the name.

There were a smattering of tourist shops along Bergmann, and one of them stopped me dead.

Now, my German is not what you would call spectacular. Any doubt about that, ask any of the Austrians or Germans I’ve befriended in my travels; they invariably mock my awful accent and I demand they answer for “feuerzeug“.

I delight in the German language because of the kindergarten way they just staple short, existing words into monstrous yet inexplicably precise Frankenwords.

You’re sick? Du bist krank. Welp, if you’re sick enough, we gotta get you to the hospital. That’s the krankhaus. How we gonna get you there? We’re gonna load you into the krankenwagen.

Absolute poetry.

In my Duolingings, I ran across the suffix –zeug, which essentially just means “stuff”. Your toy? That’s spieltzeug, literally play-stuff. How about a tool? Werkzeug. You can noodle that one out.

Then you got Fahrenzeug which means “driving stuff” and refers to a car. Uh, okay, I guess. But Feuerzeug is exactly what it sounds like, fire-stuff, and it means “a lighter”, and that makes me absolutely furious. You go TOO FAR.

German grammar is a disaster rivaled only by English grammar and their idioms are, as one would expect, deeply nonsensical and often sausage-themed. Every German I’ve encountered has argued they don’t have that many sausage-themed idioms, forcing me to point it out to them when they invariably use one within the following two hours.

These magnets, for those of you who didn’t quite catch up with the bus somehow, are word-for-word English translations of German turns of phrase. I reveled in them, grinning like an idiot in the rain for five minutes, then made the first and last legitimate souvenir purchase of my trip.

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I also encountered this gem.

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Trump halts maul. Well, it didn’t sound complimentary, but it did sound like home. The last I’d heard of the German opinion on Donnie was when the Morgenpost referred to him as… well, as thus:

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“please not the Horror-Clown!”

Well, I had to wait until I got back to the rad library party hostel to solve this particular mystery, but I giggled when I did.

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It reminded me of one’a my favorite twitter threads.

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Although, in fairness, the t-shirt’s not wrong.

That’s all I can do for today, if I type for too long WordPress’s busted-ass text editor starts flinching away from me every time I hit the enter key like a beaten puppy. Talk to you tomorrow, boys and girls.

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin: German “Cuisine”

December 3, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

I arrived in the arctic Prussian wasteland of Berlin, mapless due to both the brutality and consistency of FlixBus’s cold-blooded infidelity.

Don’t just avoid them. That’s not enough. Molotov them in the streets. I will not rest until nothing remains of those lying transit bastards but twisted wreckage and burnt-out husks in lime green and, apparently, sometimes, unmarked red.

Berlin is mighty stingy with its free Wi-Fi too, and it was only by chance that I snatched a handful of internet from one of FlixBus’s competitors (yeah eat a dick bud Eurolines RULES) and discovered that there was, in fact, a difference between Berlin Central Station and Berlin Central Bus Station.

That distance is four miles. You know, for a people with such a reputation for linguistic and engineering precision, that’s a pretty loose definition of “central”.

Obviously, I couldn’t try to navigate across this new city in the sudden dead of winter without a Google map. First of all, it’s current year. Paper maps are relics for nerds and pirates. You hang them on the wall to look cultured, you don’t actually try to utilize them. What, you have a compass watch too? Keep your money in your sock? Shut up.

Secondly, I have no sense of direction, whatsoever. I rationalize it away with cute, pithy, middle-aged-woman yard sale sign aphorisms like “Wherever you go, there you are” and “Not all who wander are lost” but make no mistake, I’m always wandering and it’s always because I’m lost. If it weren’t for GPS, I definitely would have kept wandering south in Turkey and wound up on the other side of the country, dodging active gunfire. And even then, my doofy blithe ass would be like, “They shoot their guns in open fields all the time too! Just like home!”

I snarled a bunch, hissed swears in a colorful assortment of unrelated languages, then slipped into a skeevy American-style diner that had the worst pinup drawing I’d ever seen next to the second worst motorcycle drawing I’d ever seen. The menu was endless. I ordered a currywurst.

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a little intimidating

Take a good look, beautiful reader, because this is the last German food you’re going to see for the duration of the trip. Currywurst is a delightful little concoction accredited to the most German sounding woman I’ve ever heard of, Herta Heuwer, in 1949. Up until this point, I’m pretty sure Germany had been subsisting entirely on boiled sausage and fried potatoes. The British troops gave Herta ketchup, worchesterhsiehchihriehshcishire sauce, and curry powder, and she just kind of chucked them all on top of a bratwurst and changed the face of central European cuisine as we know it.

The Germans were flabbergasted. “Heinrich! Zis powder, it TASTES!”

“Was, like sausage?”

“Nein! Well, ja, but like other things as well!”

Heinrich furrows his brow in confusion.

“Was meanst du, ‘other things’? Like… weak beer?”

“Nein, Heinrich. Halt maul und smeckst das.”

Heinrich put the ketchup-sodden powdered hot dog in his maul and gesmeckt. His Augen bulged. Lars had been telling the truth. It tasted neither like sausage nor like weak beer, and he spent the next half hour in a fetal position, screaming, in a state of catatonic sensory overload.

When Heinrich calmed down, he and Lars immediately dialed India long-distance and demanded answers. India shrugged, explained that they’ve been doing this for as long as they can remember, my friend. Heinrich and Lars tapped the impressive German national coffers, presumably swollen as they are from how much Volkswagen parts cost from the manufacturer, and imported thousands of Indians.

And that, boys and girls, is why it’s a physical fucking impossibility to find any German food in Berlin. Every restaurant is an Indian restaurant, broken up with occasional Japanese, Vietnamese, and Shisha places. And kebab stands, of course, but you can’t get away from kebab stands in Europe, they’re like roaches in New York.

Listen to me. This isn’t comic exaggeration. I walked a total of fifteen miles over three days, all through different parts of town, looking for authentic German cuisine. It’s gone, man. They globalized it away. Alex Jones was right all along. The Germans realized cooking wasn’t their strong suit – DESPITE sauerkraut! – and handed the keys to India, then shifted their focus to more traditional pursuits, like talking quietly accented but grammatically perfect English in every hostel I’ve ever been in, or being tall.

I asked other travelers.

“Did you find any German places to eat?”

“Naw, dude!” the stoner kid said, throwing up his arms. “There weren’t any!”

“You either, huh?”

“I’ve been all over town! There are no German restaurants, unless you count the currywurst stands!”

“I don’t,” I said. Stands are not restaurants.

“Neither do I!” he continued yelling and flailing. He was a very excitable boy. “Yo, do you mind if I roll a spliff in here?”

“Follow your heart.”

I did find a bar/restaurant that alleged to serve traditional German food, but the dude running it was most assuredly Indian. Go figure. I still had the Leberkäse, which, as far as I could tell, was some sort of… bologna loaf. I know how that sounds. It was described as a meatloaf, but while you or I would imagine meatloaf to be hamburger with bread crumbs in it, the Bavarians conceptualized a ground pulp of pork, beef, and liver rendered into a pudding then poured into a loaf pan and baked. It tasted like what Spam aspires to be, but still good because it was served over (surprise!) fried potatoes.

In parting, let me show you what happens when you ask for the menu “dark beer” in Berlin.

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Love,

The Bastard