Middlebury, Vermont: Good Night Sweet Prince

Friday, April 16, 2021. Middlebury, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Here Come the Mummies – Ra Ra Ra

We touched down on an active farm deep in the heart of Clarendon, where we would be staying for the weekend while she conducted whatever dark and uncatholic dealings she had lined up. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, so no one could hear screaming, should there have been any screaming. I wasn’t afraid. Remember in the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the actor who played Kenan’s dad just boots Leatherface square in the gut, side-kick style? I knew karate once. I’d go high, Beefy’d go low, the witch could nuke from the backline.

Assuming Leatherface was the concern, of course, and I didn’t get turned into a donkey and ridden all over the countryside like in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That series gave me a powerful childhood fear of agriculture. I maintain the fear, but now it’s because of comparative studies of hunter gatherer societies, and knowledge of what grain does to the human body.

The farm itself was populated by aloof female farm dogs, and a single male Australian Shepherd named Cody with a mutation that caused his right pupil to split, like the eye of a goat. He would not stop humping my attorney.

Beefton is a gentleman of culture and refinement. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t want to kill the vibe, so he never fights other dogs unless it’s clear that they’re just wrasslin’. He kept running away. Cody was single-minded, obsessive, and not actually too into it, since he was whining on the approach every time. I figured he was trying to assert his dominance over the larger, younger male dog invading his territory, but halfheartedly. Beefton had no idea what was going on and just kept fleeing.

“You’re gonna have to flip him,” I told him. “You’ve got to set boundaries.”

Beefton gazed at me with his doofy Baby Yoda face, awaiting intervention as Cody set up to sort of hump at his left hip. I imagined Cody didn’t get off the farm much.

“It’s a microcosm of life,” I said. “You’ve got to stand up for yourself. They’ll try to fuck you if you let them. Or… do whatever that is.”

“Cody!” yelled the farmers. “Get off him!”

Cody would not be dissuaded. Beefton looked at my beseechingly. I shrugged.

“You outweigh him by like 30 pounds. Put him on his ass and this will never happen again.”

“I am a man of peace,” Beefton told me. “We’re better than this.”

“Just throw one of the left hooks you use to flip the scrappy little German Shepherd madchens at the dog park.”

“But that’s for funsies and this feels like it’s for serious,” he said, apprehensively. Beefy took a few steps away from Cody, glancing back over his own rippling, overdeveloped deltoids. Undeterred, Cody wandered over to get back to what he perceived as his task.

“It might be funsies, but they respect your torque! An armed society is a polite society, lil mans.”

“Cody!” the farmers were still yelling. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Leave him alone!”

Beefton nodded, considering my words. He turned toward Cody, who was crookedly humping the air in the vicinity of Beefton’s side. They made eye contact. Beefy growled a little, then let loose one of his bassy sonic boom barks that have proven so effective at scaring teens off my front stoop back in Philly.

Cody dismounted and drifted away.

For the time being.

We loaded back up into the wagon and made our way across the state so the witch could scout locations for a thaumaturgist’s hut. Beefton and I secured the perimeter, burning the pent up anxiety from his protracted assault by lunging at squirrels and peeing on everything. He did most of the lunging and peeing.

And once in Middlebury, we stopped in to pay our respects to the late Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef.

You’re gonna love this one.

In the late 1800s, deep in the social oasis of Middlebury (relative to the utter backwoods desolation that is the rest of Vermont), there lived a collector of expensive, weird things by the name of Henry Sheldon.

He looks around his curio collection and decides, “You know what this could really use? A mummy.” So he puts in an order for a mummified Egyptian prince, a two-year-old called Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef. This was before Craigslist, so there were really no pictures of the mummy available. Caveat emptor and all that.

The mummy arrives, and Sheldon is inconsolable. It was apparently “in such a degraded condition that Sheldon never put it out on display”.

“This mummy sucks!” Sheldon probably said, jabbing a finger at the withered corpse of Egyptian royalty dating back to 2000 BC. “This mummy is bullshit!”

Disgraced and ashamed, Sheldon stashed the little body up in his attic, where it remained until decades after Sheldon himself died.

Lil Amum is then happened upon by the curator of the Henry Sheldon museum, a good-hearted fella called George Mead. Mead recognizes that this isn’t what this two-year-old Egyptian prince would have wanted, to be so far from home, from the land of his forefathers, boxed up in some Vermontian attic because he’s too ugly to be displayed, like a leisure suit or home movies on VHS.

Mead sets things right by having the mummy cremated and buried in a Judeo-Christian cemetery across the street from the Middlebury Art College.

I like to think Amum was just booling out in the Egyptian afterlife with all his slaves and gold, all the things that mummification was required to insure, and then abruptly vaporizes a la “I don’t feel so good Mr. Stark” and reappears in the middle of Sunday mass in Heaven, seated in the pew and looking up at the actual, actively writhing body of Jesus, since you’ve got to assume in Heaven they don’t need to do carved representations.

Probably frigged up his whole day.

“Rest in power, little king,” I said to Amum.

At that moment, probably coincidentally, the sky opened up and it started pouring. We ran back to the car where Beefy was waiting to make sure the campus police didn’t ticket us.

Love,

BT

An Open Letter to ID Software

Dear fellas,

My name is BT and I celebrate your entire catalogue. I’ve been a diehard Doom stan since my father brought home the first massive, beige Packard Bell monstrosity, circa Y2K. I’ve gotten through every incarnation of the game on Nightmare, from Classic to Brutal, Ultimate and Final, TNT and Plutonia, and I reveled in it. If I were a different, sadder type of man, I would probably have a Doom tattoo that I would have to avoid explaining to women.

Doom 2016 was a whole new world. The plot was getting sort of anime and increasingly indecipherable, but that’s fine. The plot I grew up with was a single barely legible page of red text once a campaign, written in second person, ending with “You grab your plasma gun and go forth into Hell to find further ass to kick!!!” And that was enough. We were thankful.

I beat that game on Ultra-Violence twice, then Nightmare over a dozen times. It was a religious experience, and not just because of Doomguy’s excessive, canon Catholicism.

I preordered Doom Eternal. The Authorities at Youtube were very upset about Doom Eternal. The marauder was the scourge of pissbaby game journalists the world over, because he has a shield. You couldn’t just shoot him a bunch. You needed to strafe around, keep the other demons at bay, strategically prioritize the marauder by keeping your distance and wiping out the distractions until you could isolate him for an old West style showdown. It was challenging, satisfying, excellent gameplay. The platforming added a fun new element, and increased Doomguy’s mobility. On some level, I think I preferred 2016, but I still loved Eternal. I cleared it once on Ultra Violence, then three more times on Nightmare.

By this point, I am a man grown. I have many jobs, and responsibilities. I have a world-renown travel blog, multivariate financial holdings, and a burgeoning gorilla-themed athleticwear empire. I have a demanding gym schedule, many fulfilling hobbies, and my very own dog whom I walk twice a day. There aren’t enough hours in the day for video games anymore. When my desktop PC broke, I didn’t bother fixing it. I replaced my computer desk with a fish tank because the industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

My gamer friends, they say to me, “BT, fix your fucking computer! It’s like a 30 minute job!” to which I respond, “Never! I have thrown off the ergonomic, rainbow-glowing shackles of gamerdom. My fingers are clean of Cheetoh dust, my bloodstream finally clear of 20 years accumulated Mountain Dew Code Red. I am a free man.”

And even still, I bought the Ancient Gods DLC. I took some issue with it being called DLC, as I’m of the belief DLC should be free shit you add to a finished game. The implication of “content” is the game contains it, and if it is contained in the game, it is part of the base game. Ancient Gods extends the story line and adds new enemies, which makes it an expansion of Eternal, and thus, an “expansion pack”. But this isn’t the hill I’m here to die on. Let’s keep going.

I skipped Ultra-Violence this time and went right for Nightmare. This was hubris. The Ancient Gods expansion is harder than college.

This made sense to me. You start the game fully upgraded with everything you had in Doom Eternal (because it’s an expansion pack). The challenge would need to scale accordingly, and does.

The story continued to career around incomprehensibly, VEGA has always been God, Samuel Hayden has DBZ-melded with God’s best friend and closest confidant, there’s an actual Devil that Vega-née-God buried in a hole in Makyrville and Doomguy has decided that he’s going to kill God (though not Vega) and incarnate the Devil to kill the Devil so all the demons have to go home. Whatever, dude. I’m here to chew ass and collect heavy metal vinyls… and I left my record player on my Hot Topic-themed space ship.

ID software. Fellas. I’m not mad. Life’s too short to be mad about video games, rest in fucking piss Overwatch. I’m just disappointed. By forcing Doomguy to take out enemies in a specific order and immediately respawning the annoying “deprioritized” demons like Hell Knights, Pinkies, and those douchebags with the shields, you’ve disincentivized killing demons in the game about killing demons. It’s like, what are we even ripping and tearing for?

The arena design suffered a little compared to previous games, but the environmental design was awe-inspiring. A lot of people seem to be bitching about the Spirits, but that has the same vibe as the issue with the Marauders. I think they were well done, and they add a level of difficulty and shifted priority that would make for a very engaging and fulfilling experience if I wasn’t spending so much time running for my life from the perpetually respawning throngs of shit-tier demons that can still absolutely one-shot you on Nightmare.

The Turrets were a fun idea, if lazy in their design. The invisible Whiplashes that you can’t meathook were the truest manifestation of Hell I can imagine.

I don’t know whose nephew suggested the Blood Maykrs, but they certainly only came onto the team in the past six months, and you’ve got to get rid of them. I’m not a big fan of aiming in general which is why I’m playing Doom, but the invulnerability, the weird timing, the reuse of the chime sound from the Marauder, and the sad little squirt of ammo you get for killing it… there’s just no reason to bother with it. It’s difficult, and annoying, but not especially fun, especially when it winds up behind waves of trash enemies that respawn as soon as you kill them.

And then, after the first appearance, the Blood Maykrs are relegated to the role of ambient trash demons themselves, and if you put in the time and effort to pinata pop them in the skull, they’re right back on the playing field while you continue dealing with the arbitrarily defined “true threat” of whatever demon is tallest.

I didn’t care for all the special demons that could only be killed by special guns, and I especially disliked how many of them were the plasma gun. Don’t make me use the plasma gun. I shouldn’t be punished for not liking an inferior gun.

In Eternal, you were rewarded for switching through guns, but if you were good enough with your preferred guns, you didn’t have to. That’s no longer available to you. You’re required to use the microwave gun, and strafe around in stupid little crisscross patterns while you wait for the target to pop. Hopefully the Blood Maykr or Pinkie you killed five seconds ago hasn’t respawned nearby, or you won’t get the microwave off, and you’re dead again. You better have enjoyed the first six waves of this arena, because you’re going to be doing them again, and again, and again.

I don’t mean to bitch, in general, or about my favorite video game series specifically. It’s a recreational activity and if I didn’t like it, I could have just stopped. But by virtue of being not mad, just disappointed, the issue is further highlighted because Doom is a game about rage. Doomguy is a fury elemental, that’s his whole deal. We’re out here to rip and tear until it is done. So why am I spending so much of this game shooting wildly over my shoulder, fleeing from demons that I’ve either already killed or demons that I have to kite out to a special segment of the map so I can use the goddamn microwave gun on?

Doomguy shouldn’t be running in the opposite direction for the majority of these battles. There’s a difference between strategic withdrawal and shrieking, tears-running-down-your-cheeks retreat, and playing Eternal then playing Ancient Gods really underscores that in a way that I wish could be avoided.

But I bought it, and beat it, and sprung for the combo pack, so I’m going to be beating Part II when it comes out. No matter the cost. By any means necessary. Fighting the Devil who is Doomguy with red eyes for some reason. I’m sure they’re going to have a better final exposition that’s going to really just blow the lid off the whole big bastard. They’ll pull it together in the last innings. They have to. Doom is good. I love ID software. You can do it, fellas.

We’ve got something beautiful here. You gotta… you gotta do it.

Love,

BT

Book Review: The Forever Peace

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


It was a decent enough throwaway sci fi book, but it didn’t even approach capturing the spirit of the original. The characters were not especially interesting, and neither was their plight. The plot held enough weight to support the narrative, but just barely, and I spent much of the book waiting for it to be over.

Not all of it, though. It spiked back into readability right at the end with the introduction of the unrepentantly repentant sociopath assassin Gabriella, and Julian’s transformation into the sort of sin eater surrogate who retains the ability to pull the trigger while the rest of the world undergoes mandatory indoctrination into pacifist libleftdom.

You could tell the book wanted to play around with the philosophical implications of declawing the human race, but it never quite got around to it.




View all my reviews

Barcelona: The Gothic Quarter and Other Medieval Crap

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Blind Guardian – The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight

An Australian joined us for tapas the night before. Over mojitos, he and I commiserated on the ennui that first drove us overseas.

“I’m a month into it now, so I’ve got about two months left.”

“That’s a long haul.”

“Fuckin’ right,” he said. “I miss it back home, but I just gotta power through it.”

“When you’re here you wanna be there, and when you’re there you wanna be here,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Ladygirl sipped at her oversugared mojito.

She and I dropped off to resolve our sleep debts; Australia also hadn’t slept in a few days, but said he was going to head out for a few beers before turning it.

The next morning I was tickatackin on the terrace and he bodily dragged himself out in a demonstration of top-of-the-line ragdoll physics.

“Did I wake you two coming in?” he asked.

“Naw,” I said. “I was out by midnight, so it must’ve been after that.”

“I just got in at 7, mate.”

I looked at my watch.

“You’re talking like, fifteen minutes ago?”

“Yeh. I went on the pub crawl, then we wound up at this club. Somebody gave me a pill. I only took half, figured I’d be good. I wasn’t good.”

“What kind of pill?”

He looked around, visibly insane, but I would look visibly insane if I had his week too.

“Ecstasy,” he said.

“So much for a couple beers.”

He exploded with manic laughter, then announced he was going to bed and disappeared. I encountered him again when I went to get my stuff from the locker. He was snoring like a backfiring chainsaw. I’m glad he found peace.

We would have liked to stick around Gracia, but the hostel was full up. We booked one next to the Arco de Triunfo, gathered all our stuff, and made our way across the city of dreams.

The city of dreams was drowsy this morning. The demographic had changed. A lot more oldos were puttering around, wearing more clothing than the established average. The oldos in Barcelona have no sense of spatial awareness whatsoever, and will attempt to hip check you off the sidewalk or drive a baby carriage into your leg.

I was sad to see Gracia go. The tapas were all $2, and it was far enough removed from the tourist sites that you were only occasionally swarmed by teenagers screaming in English. Still, I wasn’t disappointed for long.

You know you’ve hit the Gothic Quarter because evil wizard castles start growing out of nowhere, but the deal is really sealed in the twisting, labyrinthine side-streets that make up the medieval district. You never know what’s around the next corner, but “weird tourist shops” would be a fair bet.

Who is this handsome gentlemen, to be placed in the pantheon alongside Einstein and Obama? Could this be the Christmas Lad of Iceland, prior to his scientific gelding?

The Caganer is a popular figure in Catalonian culture, associated with the Nativity. Yeah, the Christmas one. With Jesus in it. His name translates to “the shitter”, and most families will pop his figurine somewhere clandestine in the nativity scene, whereupon the children will try to find it. It’s like a little Where’s Waldo, but with shit.

“Why?” you may be asking. “Isn’t it kind of blasphemous to have a dwarf shitting next to Jesus?”

That’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, but nobody knows. There are a bunch of possible explanations for the Caganer’s presence and symbolism, but it’s empty conjecture. I’m partial to the Jungian representation of Caganer as “the Other” myself, but I’m also certain it’s a load of psychobabble cagada and 17th century peasants just thought poop was funny.

I know you’re wondering. No, I didn’t buy it. But only because his little red cap clashes with my office.

We scrounged up some beer and bocadillos at a cafe not far from the Cathedral. While there, we had to move to another table because a waiter had to open an honest-to-yog trapdoor and descend into the cellar for more wine.

There was a sign over the door that I managed to noodle out despite my at-best halting Spanish. It said:

Bienaventurados los borrachos, porque ellos verán a dios dos veces.

Blessed are the drunks, because they’re going to see God twice.

Love,

B.

 

Budapest: Saints and Heroes, Rain and Ruin

November 29, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

It’s hard to look at the weirdly rounded mountains and omnipresent crumbling limestone deposits and not imagine that it’s all still underwater, especially at night. It’s hard to take a picture that neatly isolates what I’m talking about, but the overall impression is that Budapest was probably where the original Castlevania games were set.

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In one of the endlessly sprawling parks, I found this little summary of how Budapest happened. Buda is the mountainous side, Pest the one with all the buildings leaning backward for some reason. Around the corner was Philosophy Park, which didn’t feature any of my favorites but I was still honorbound to check out.

Can you name them? Probably not, because the artist took a hell of a lot of creative liberties. Let’s make it a matching game. Above we got Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus the Christ, St. Francis Assisi, and Bodhidharma. The dude skipping legs is Gandhi.

He was the easiest to guess. Also present was Abraham, groveling in the dirt, as is the typical requisite demand of his horrifying god.

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There was also allegedly a statue of Ankhenaten, alias Amenhotep IV, an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who died around 1334 BC. He was the one who dragged ancient Egypt toward monotheism through worship of Aten, a kind of catch-all solar superdeity.

I say allegedly because I defy you to look at this sculpture and tell me this isn’t a fuckin annunaki.

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annunakum?

Philosophy Park’s little plaque alleges that it was sculpted to pay homage to the great minds who increased understanding and compassion throughout the world and helped shape culture, but I’m pretty sure it was just dude’s hamfisted attempt to Leo da Vinci some Ancient Aliens lip service.

After that I headed up to Castle Hill proper and peeped the palace, the decorative statuary, and the associated vistas.

Further down through the Castle District is the Matthias Cathedral and Fisherman’s Bastion.

The cathedral is done up in a Gothic Revivalist style, which makes it look sort of like a Batman coloring book. Fisherman’s Bastion got its name from the fact that it was always manned by fishermen, who were rarely effective fighters, but did well enough that Buda Castle never fell in the middle ages.

They were charging admission to walk the 20 foot ramp to the top of Fisherman’s Bastion, then walk back down it again. I passed.

Across the bridge was Budapest’s oldest castle, Vajdahunyad Vara. It shared a lake with Heroes’ Square, which was a sort of Parthenon for Hungarian culture heroes like King Matthias and St. Stephen.

Among them is a bust of Bela Lugosi.

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This wasn’t an approved statue. There was an empty alcove on the castle’s exterior, so a German artist named Hartmut Zech took a trip to Budapest and he and his friends hid it there in the middle of the night.

Zech has done this kind of thing before. He made a bust of Jim Morrison and used a baby stroller to push it into the cemetery where Morrison is buried. That was removed before the week was out. But the Budapest authorities came to the castle, saw the bust, shrugged, and just kind of left it. So there it remains.

 

 

 

 

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i activated this hedge and learned double jump

Across the river from my hostel, in Gellért Hill, there’s a church in a cave. It once belonged to yet another local saint, St. Ivan, who used thermal water to heal the sick. The same pools he used now flow into the Gellért Thermal Baths, which I’m going to go check out and get healed by when I get around to it.

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It sure was a church in a cave. They gave me a headset for an audio tour. It was not optional.

I can’t stand audio tours. Just give me a plaque or a reference booklet. It’s like opening an article, then learning that it’s only a youtube video, so you immediately close the article. I can read exponentially faster than your voice actor can talk, I don’t care if they’re auctioneering. Let me learn shit on my own and get on with my life.

Not only was I subjected to an absolutely draaaaaagging audio presentation about what turned out to be a panoply of Roman Catholic wood carvings, it veered off into explaining chunks of Catholic dogma like the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What’s unusual is, it wasn’t explaining it informatively. It was explaining it sort of like an affirmation, because it was clearly operating under the assumption that you wouldn’t be in this saint’s cave church unless you, yourself, were Catholic, and Jesus is our Lord, and the Sacred Heart represents our need not to just acknowledge Jesus’ actions but also his inner thoughts and motivations that led him to being such a fuckin’ bang-up messiah and all this other culty shit I learned in childhood and repressed.

For a reason!

There was a projector running upstairs. The movie showed slow-motion videos of happy children running while piano-led Hungarian covers of Imagine Dragons songs played in the background. Then it shifted to a cabal of priests, all decked out in clerical vestments, telling the appropriated Native American “two wolves live within us” story next to a waterfall.

Have you ever seen a clergyman in full finery hanging out on a hiking trail, let alone seven of them? It’s incredibly bizarre. There’s something viscerally wrong about seeing them all gussied up outside of a church, just prowlin’ around in the woods with God’s ballroom gown dragging behind them.

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For dinner, I opted to try the For Sale ruin pub. It’s covered in papers, and you can add to them if the spirit moves you.

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I got a menu from a waitress and sat at a table for five minutes, but no one came near me. This was just as well, since all the food was a minimum of 4000FT ($15), and the place was crawling with bugs. If you looked at a light, you could see dozens of little gnats and flies buzzing around like dust motes.

I left the menu and approached the bar, whereupon the bartender disappeared into the back room and never returned. I gave her a few minutes, then decided an overpriced lager full of spiders didn’t sound ideal and left.

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fuckin viennese

I eventually scavenged a porter and some Hungarian ratatouille at an underground hipster bar. I know it was a hipster bar because of the Transformers decals on the wall, and the waiter’s preposterous waxed mustache.

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The vegetables were a godsend. I’m a carnivorous dude, but I’m also fairly in tune with my flesh prison, and three days of nothing but sausage fat and fried potatoes leaves you feeling lethargic, ponderous, and sort of undead.

I’d been staving off scurvy with supermarket fruit juice, but even that proves to be a challenge when you’re functionally illiterate. I’ve been flagging down locals and saying, “Excuse me, this giant word next to 100%, is it ‘juice’?”

They think it’s funny, but it’s not. It’s very serious.

hohes

All right, I’ve written so much that WordPress’s shitty word processor is starting to arbitrarily reformat and delete what I’ve already put down, so that’s my cue. See you soon.

Love,

The Bastard

Budapest: Budapest (Budapest)

 

November 27, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

The bus itself was a trial. FlixBus is a European bus company that goes from major city to major city, one of the cheapest ways to travel internationally across the continent. Big ugly green buses, say ‘FLIXBUS’ on the side, you can’t miss them. If it’s more than five hours a way, it would probably cost the same to just grab a plane, but for that to work you need to book the tickets in advance. With FlixBus, you walk in and throw a handful of peanuts at them and they’ll take you to Budapest.

That was the working theory, anyway. According to the ticket that I got on this stupid app I downloaded to streamline their awful online purchase process, my ride was the 901, departing for Vienna at 11:40. An hour transfer onto the 902 at the good ol’ desolate Erdberg station and I’m in Budapest. Not bad for $20.

The 901 showed up to the station at 11:45. The bus driver didn’t speak English, but he did speak angrily. I showed him my ticket and he said, “Not Budapest. Table.”

“What?”

“Table,” he said, pointing.

“Yeah, still not getting it.”

“Table! Table!” he yelled, jerking a finger at the windshield.

“Oh, table! Of course!” I said, then leaned in close enough that he wouldn’t yell at me like I was a fucking child and said, “Still not getting it. I’m going to Vienna.”

“I come from Vienna,” he said.

“Awesome. 901? Like my ticket says?” I show him my ticket again, then point at the giant 901 on his windshield.

He points to a red coach bus in front of his. “They go Vienna.”

“The plain red bus. That’s a FlixBus?”

“Yes,” he said irritably. “FlixBus.”

“Grand.”

I board the sketchy unmarked bus. The driver of this one was a kindly old Austrian with a ridiculous walrus mustache.

“We going to Vienna?” I asked, showing my ticket.

Ja! Ja, Wien! Vienna!” He was merry about it. It was infectious.

Unlike most FlixBuses, this one had no Wi-Fi. Probably because it wasn’t a FlixBus. How did anyone else know? How did the other six passengers just guess at the correct giant red bus in the station full of giant red buses?

At the Erdberg station, rather than kill an hour standing in the filth and shivering, I took a walk to try to find something to eat. Realistically, it would come from a kebab stand. Everything in Vienna costs 4x as much as it does in the real world. I need to try Wiener schnitzel, but I don’t need it $15 bad. It’s just lightly fried meat. I would have been charged a nickel for that in Turkey.

There was no food near Erdberg station. People in that part of the city didn’t eat. I wandered back into what looked like an abandoned shopping complex to discover it was only semi-abandoned. There were bathrooms that you didn’t need to pay 50 cents for, which was a refreshing change of pace (I don’t use bus station bathrooms on principle. Half a dollar to take a piss, get outta here), and a sketchy textile store called Kik that sold discernibly rough-looking clothing for next to nothing. I considered an ugly $4 hoodie but ultimately decided on an ugly $4 beanie to help me weather eastern Europe’s winter and to fill the void in my heart left by the tragic loss of my Wanderhut.

Four hours, beautiful reader.

Four hours is how long I owned the new hat before my stupid ass left it behind on the bus.

Two days. Two hats. Two buses. Perfect score.

The realization of my own staggering incompetence launched me into a depressive spiral. I’d been laboring under the delusion that I was a smart dude, for most of my life. A pillar of my self-concept had fallen like a free-standing 2×4 whacked with a claw hammer and I didn’t know who I was any more.

Look at this! Lumber analogies! I should get a fucking trucker cap and do freelance deckbuilding frm the ’93 pickup I live in by the river.

I had such potential. Once.

In Budapest I learned they used yet another different kind of money, which means adding another layer of useless paper to my wallet. I’m still carrying Turkish lira, Czech koruna, and a fat stack of Euros, not to mention the $10 American taking up space in my backpack. You can rob me if you want, but if you want it to be worth your while you better be ready for the hike.

Hungarian forints, they’re called, and 310 of them makes a Euro. 260 makes a dollar, which is a far starker contrast than 1 Euro = $1.21. Armed with this new knowledge, I started peeking through windows for something to eat.

Most of outer Budapest seems to be if Fallout 3 had been utopian, instead. Every kind of disorganized junk shop you can imagine. Battery shops, camera shops, tire shops, light bulb shops. The whole 3 km walk from the Kelenföld was like tracking a wounded Radio Shack to the Danube.

I spotted a restaurant full of old, fat Hungarian men. The window menu was indecipherable except for the word Heineken, which was 100 forints.

That’s like 35 cents European. Couldn’t be more than 50 cents in real money. I’m a grown man so I’m obviously not about to drink a Heineken, but I’d just picked up the economic lay of the land.

I went into a restaurant and a moonlighting supermodel said something to me in rapid-fire Hungarian. I try to make a point of learning ten or fifteen words in every country I visit so I’m not that meme about the cultured frat boy, but it had been impossible to steal Wi-Fi since I got off the bus, so I opted for a half-wattage winning smile and a dopey “Hi!”

“English menu,” she said. It didn’t sound like a question.

“Oh god please.”

It was a ruin pub, which is a beautiful Hungarian concept that red tape would forbid in America. It works like this: Budapest is overburdened with abandoned buildings as a result of ambitious Nazi and Soviet infrastructure plans. The proprietor-to-be will rent out one of these worthless buildings, give it a quick clean, and call over a bunch of local artists and designers to distract from the crumbling walls and safety code violations. This renders it a rom kocsm, literally “pub-in-a-ruin”, the preferred social hotspots in Budapest. This one looked more well-established, and the menu was pricey by comparison to the 30-cent beer I saw on the way. Still, each of the “Main Dishes” were like 5 Euros. I hadn’t eaten that day, and expected them to be small. I ordered two.

The waitress seemed baffled by my decision.

“Two? Are you… sure?”

“Please.”

“At the same time?”

“Sure. Naw, actually, let’s do the dumplings first.”

She doubted my powers. Honey, I’m an American. Overeating is our national pastime. We have a holiday devoted specifically to it, and I wasn’t there. I’m making up for lost time.

Still, I came to understand her hesitation. They were not small.

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The Sztrapacska was supposed to be “Hungarian dumplinks” with ewe’s cheese and bacon. I thought it meant dumplings. Apparently, dumplinks is some sort of code word for mac and cheese. It was phenomenal, which was appropriate, because delicious is finom in Hungarian. After housing that, the waitress returned, cautiously.

“You want the other?”

“Let’s do it,” I said. I’d rationed my stout out, I had another half liter to go. I could do this. I’d been training for this moment my entire life.

“Hungarian cured sausage”, they said.

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I was awed by the tenacity of this people. They just have a mountain of sauerkraut and pickled peppers for dinner? You just set four sausages afloat in a sea of spicy mustard? And BREAD? How can that bread even enter this equation?

I dug deep and cleaned the… well, it wasn’t a plate. It was more of a wooden circle. Which I cleaned.

The dinner for two and half-liter of craft beer came to like $12. I decided I was going to enjoy my time in Budapest.

I took the scenic route to my hostel in an effort to walk off some of the trillions of calories of pigfat I’d just put down.

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Scenic it was. Budapest is a beautiful city, except for all the damn cops. Everywhere I went, more cops were sitting outside their squad cars, holding assault rifles and wearing those adorable Russian hats you see in cartoons.

I tried to cross the bridge nearest my hostel and they stopped me. Everyone was speaking Hungarian, but with the gestures it was pretty obvious that nobody was allowed on the bridge. A girl on a bicycle was much more dismayed than me, which seemed silly. You’ve got a bicycle.

I started walking toward another bridge, recalculated the distances, then about-faced and headed toward a third bridge that might have been slightly closer, as the crow flies. As I was about to pass the off-limits bridge, I saw the armed guards part to let a bicyclist through.

I pointed at myself, then at the bridge, raised my eyebrows inquisitively. The guard nodded and waved me through.

Huh.

I asked the girl at the hostel desk what the hell was up with all the cops. She looked baffled for a moment.

“What cups?”

“The police,” I said. “They stopped me on the bridge.”

The bafflement turned to alarm. “Why?”

“I was hoping you’d know. They wouldn’t let me cross.”

She processed this for a moment, then her eyes lit up.

“Oh, I know!” she said. “I know, I know! One… one second.”

She was obviously ordering the words in her head. I do it in Spanish pretty much every time I need to say a sentence with more than six words.

“He is the Chinese president, is visiting Budapest,” she said. “So they are doing everything to keep him safe. They are shutting down bridges and roads because if he is on them, no one else can be on them.”

“Okay, good. I was thinking, ‘it can’t be like this every night’. It’s a Monday.”

“Noooo. Budapest is very safe.”

I thanked her and checked in, then headed up to my room to phonetically learn some phrases and maybe watch a documentary, get a little background on the place. She gave me a pamphlet as I walked away..

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Truly, something for everyone.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Bratislava: Enter the Labyrinth

November 26, 2017. Bratislava, Slovakia.

What you must understand about Bratislava is it is a machine powered by ghosts and built by the devil. You know will-o-the-wisps? Those lights that appear in swamps and lead men to their doom? They keep those in the streetlamps.

The city is a 4-dimensional M.C. Escher tesseract clusterfuck. Stairs lead to nowhere, walls barricade nothing, tunnels lead to dead-ends, sidewalks dissolve without warning. Every road is five lanes, there are no traffic lights, and there might be one crosswalk in the city, somewhere. God knows I couldn’t find it.

I got off the bus into a rogue arctic storm and made my way along the side of the highway until there stopped being a sidewalk. A sign with a pedestrian on it was posted on the bridge, but there were no sidewalks, no walkways, and about two feet of space between the active lanes and the 60-foot drop into the ice river.

“That can’t… there’s no way,” I said to the cars that blew past me. “What if there’s someone with children? Or in a wheelchair? Or both?”

I hopped the guardrail and climbed down a steep, grassy hill that would also prove challenging for a wheelchair, then found my way to a bike track that wound around another bus stop and to the strange concrete underwalks of the highway bridge.

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It was passing this bus stop that I froze and yelled “FUCK!”, startling the bejesus out of everybody waiting in line.

My hat. My Wanderhut. I left it in the luggage rack on the FlixBus.

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My skull was cold, but at least I didn’t look like a communist any more. I called up Epictetus’ cup speech. For those who don’t know it by heart:

“With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind, or contribute to use, or are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles: if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond, – for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child, or your wife, that you embrace a mortal, – and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.”

Or, more digestibly:

I popped my collar like a Dracula to get some of the wind off my exposed, delicate skin, then tried to navigate my way back onto the bridge again. And that’s about when I noticed the UFO.

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The hell?

I got closer.

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Yeah, no, there’s just a whole H.G. Wells situation up on the bridge.

After careful consideration, I decided to day drink in it.

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It’s called the UFO Tower bar and restaurant for reasons that should be obvious. You cough up 7 Euro and a terrifyingly fast elevator shoots you like in the Jetsons almost 300 feet (85m) into the air, whereupon you have three options:

  1. Go to the roof deck and die in the wind
  2. Go to the slightly overpriced bar that’s still cheaper than anything in Vienna
  3. Go to the “fine dining” restaurant and get like three mouthfuls of burnt exotic cheese or whatever

Two outta three ain’t bad.

They had exactly one beer on tap, so that’s what I got. It was their national beer, as is standard in Europe, but Slovakia broke the mold by having beer that was kind of good. It was like a lager that had been hanging out with a lot of Weißbier.

I took the rocket tube back to the ground and fought my way over the highway and into the endless, horrible maze that was Bratislava. At first, I had grand aspirations about hiking up to the ruins of Devin Castle, about 5 miles outside of town. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday though, and the cold was starting to set in. It wouldn’t be a hike so much as fives miles of attempting to navigate the Hogwarts-ass shifting walkways that line a major highway. I tossed it into the “maybe tomorrow” column and went looking for food.

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the duality of man

Instead, I found a surly Russian girl who was just as baffled by the “infrastructure” as I was. She was reticent, undoubtedly due to the beautiful weather, so it was only begrudgingly that we joined forces and found our way to Bratislava Castle. A mountain she insisted on climbing in boots with 6-inch heels. We all suffer for our art, I suppose.

That, and iterations of that, was my view for around 45 minutes of uphill climbing. I understand completely how Bratislava Castle has been standing for so long. It’s utterly impregnable. Assuming you somehow bread-crumb your way through the disastrous snarl of a city, you have to untangle the snarl of dead-end paths and unnecessary staircases that loop around Castle Hill, which was, mercifully, open.

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called the Vienna Gate. guess why

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The castle itself now serves as a museum, which was closed, but I wouldn’t have gone in anyway. The courtyard was nothing but high white walls and a well. I tried to take a panorama of it but it turns out panoramas don’t work great with perfectly square vistas.

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calm down Dali, nothing is round

I thought about eating at the Hraz Restaurant (hraz means Castle in every language I don’t speak), but a 15 Euro foie gras didn’t even sound appealing. I just wanted some carbohydrates, man. I’d been running all day on a half-boxtle of Munter und Aktiv.

I climbed down the mountain and dropped back into Bratislava Centrum, aka Behind Lucifer’s TV, and tried like hell to find anything. Food. An open store. A beer. My way. Anything. It wasn’t meant to be. I meandered aimlessly for another frozen half-hour before finding the city’s only crosswalk, crossing, backtracking to Old Town and discovering it was not, in fact, a commercial hub like every other Old Town in every other city in the world, but rather, some weird sculptures and a Subway restaurant.

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the hell are you winkin at

I couldn’t find a single restaurant. I found a minimart, but I wasn’t about to eat Pop Keks for Meal. After orienting myself, I charged through this aerial view circuit diagram directly to my hostel.

The girl behind the desk was as tall as me. My fury dissipated like Bratislava’s sidewalks. I’d heard tales of this, but I’d never actually encountered such a thing in the wild. But she wasn’t built like an Amazon, she was reedy and thin. How could this occur? Isn’t this a natural impossibility, like bumblebee flight or whatever?

“And if there’s anything else you need, we are open 24 hours.”

“I need food,” I said. “So badly.”

She scribbled on a map, alternating between Slovak words I had no chance in hell of reading, let alone pronouncing, and misspelled English words. Turns out, hidden in the catacombs of Centrum, there was a traditional Slovak restaurant (that looked like an abandoned factory) and a craft brewery (that was actually built into the basement of a hotel). I thanked her, dumped my backpack, and scurried back into the night.

Traditional Slovak food saved this trip for me. I got a booth to myself. For some reason, they were playing Alien Ant Farm. I ordered sauerkraut soup and something that was described as “chicken leg and vegetables (served in pan)”.

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The soup was incredible. The sauerkraut took a backseat to the barbecue taste, and I was almost through the bowl by the time I realized it tasted like liquid kielbasa. The fact that disks of kielbasa were floating in it only amplified this effect.

Then came the alleged chicken leg.

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All right, first of all, that’s not veggies, that’s cheesy potatoes and bacon. The chicken was in there, but so were huge cubes of ham, and more kielbasa. How you gonna use kielbasa as a seasoning?

I barely finished it all. Nearly weeping, I requested the bill.

6 euros.

In Vienna, 6 euros won’t even buy you air.

I paid, wrote at the hostel for a while, then opted to check out this microbrewery. The stout was too many colors, and tasted too fruity, but the price was right.

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I staggered back to the hostel and slept with only mild interruption from solipsist mouth-breathers turning on the overhead light. I waited until they started rooting around in their little lockers then climbed down and shut the lights off.

It’s 3 AM. There are other people, you prick. Use your bed lamp or phone light like a human being.

I woke at the crack of dawn, stealthed into the hallway bathroom, and spent a half hour skinning my face with a disposable razor. It was an absolute bloodbath. More blood in the sink than water. But hey, I don’t look like Davos Seaworth anymore. Now I look like a teenage knife fighter who isn’t particularly adept at knife fighting.

I saw the rest of Centrum on my way to the bus station. It was like all other tourist traps. The food was price-gouged and for some reason the t-shirts were 15 Euros. Do they know the beer is 3 Euros? Do they know how many beers equal a t-shirt? In America, it’s a 2 or 3 beer to 1 t-shirt equivalency exchange. Ridiculous. I didn’t want to commemorate my half a day that badly. It’d be like spending 90 chicken nuggets on a souvenir for the Deep Freeze in Mario 64.

 

 

deepfreeze

i went to Bratislava and all i got was lost and pneumonia

So long, Slovakia. Thanks for all the cholesterol. Next stop…

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Love,

The Bastard

Vienna: Phallic Fixations

November 25, 2017. Vienna, Austria.

There’s really no missing the Pestsäule. The 60-foot baroque monstrosity juts up out of the center of the Graben like an ornate middle finger to God. It’s actually emperor Leopold I delivering on his side of one of those pleading prayer bargains we’ve all done. Leo’s was “Please, let the plague stop. I swear I’ll build you a really dope art phallus right in the middle of the city, just stop killing everyone.”

The Plague Column is also called the Trinity Column due to its three sides, each one presumably representing some aspect of the tripartite God.

About a block away is the Stock im Eisen, or staff in iron. That’s misleading, it’s not a staff, it’s a tree trunk full of nails, kept in a tube that makes it totally immune to photography.

I did what I could. Now, you might be asking, “Why is there a protected chunk of tree, full of nails, on a street corner in Vienna?” Good question. I’d love to answer it, but it doesn’t seem like anyone can. Every website has a different interpretation of the Stock im Eisen‘s history, and the locals who were attempting to explain its significance to their visiting friends were telling conflicting stories.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together. In the Middle Ages, nail trees (Nagelbäume) were used by craftsmen, or anyone else with nails, for good luck. This particular nail tree had something to do with the Devil. There’s a ballet about it by Pasquale Borri, so if anyone more sophisticated than me can check that out and report back, I’d appreciate it.

There was a locksmith who wanted to marry his master’s daughter, or maybe he just wanted to be the greatest locksmith who ever lived. Dude shot for the stars. So he calls Mephistopheles out of Prague, who shows up on a FlixBus a few hours later. The locksmith sells his soul in exchange for just a really, fuckin’, top-notch padlock. It’s amazing. He puts that on the tree and issues challenges to either his master in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage, or to all the locksmiths of the world in exchange for World Locksmithing Supremacy. Since the Devil made the lock, nobody could crack it, and he lived happily ever after until he burnt in Hell. The tree remains with a lock on it to this day, and also full of nails, for some reason.

This is confirmed bullshit. They looked into the padlock and it’s empty, there’s no tumblers or anything in there. It would pop right open. Maybe that’s why the whole thing’s behind the bulletproof glass.

Well, that was most of center city, barring museums and palaces. I sidled all the way across town to the Freud Museum.

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they only serve sausages

I thought it was interesting, but Freud was what got me through college. I’d read the bulk of his debunked wackadoo theories long before I got “higher educated”, and since every class in undergrad wanted to beat both Freudian and Pavlovian dead horses as much as possible, I got to recycle the same paper, with subtle stylistic changes, something like ten times.

My favorite, bar none, was a History and Systems project where we were required to adopt the persona of our chosen theorist and have an open debate with the rest of the class. We got extra credit for accents, props, and convincing portrayal. I shaved my scruff into an approximation of his beard and showed up to class with a grape White Owl in my mouth and a baggie full of flour smeared around my nose. The only Austrian accent I’d ever heard at that point was the Terminator’s, so that was how Freud talked. I sat next to B.F. Skinner, as portrayed by a gorgeous little ghoul with dichromatic eyes, and we became a vitriolic tempest of condescending reductionism, laying waste to anyone fool enough to have chosen a humanistic or positive psychologist. The Carl Rogers surrogate got the worst flaying. I think he might still be institutionalized.

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speaking of my college

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hoo i heard that

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Siggy’s personal necromancy cabinet. easily puts mine to shame, but the museum did keep repeating that his three great passions were “traveling, smoking, and collecting”

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I laughed so hard and so inappropriately at that adorable picture of Carl Jung. Look at him go! With his little hat, and his little disapproving frown!

I love Jung, I think his work is interesting, if convoluted, arcanist rambling, but I wasn’t prepared for this. From here on out, I’m never gonna be able to think of Freud and Jung as anything but Germanic Rick and Morty.

On my way back to the hostel, I located the only grocery store in Vienna (I’d been looking) and picked up a box of juice brand named “Munter und Aktiv”. Well, I got half of that. I asked Google Translate and it said Munter means “blithely”. I recognized this as impossible. I activated my German field agent and she told me it’s a mixture between happy and awake and active. Well, we already have active. I asked the lady at the hostel desk, planning on averaging all these translations into one definitive Munter.

“It is like waking up with coffee in the morning,” she said. “Like chipper.”

“All right, thank you.”

She asked me if I still had my key card. I said I did.

“Good work,” she told me. She seemed serious, but she may have just been possessed of the Wiener Grant.

“Do people lose them a lot? Is that a big problem here?” I asked, blithely. Munterly.

“No, no problem. We don’t have problems here,” she said, then she honest to God slapped the table and shouted in the thickest, most Germanic accent I’ve ever heard, “VE HAVE ZOLUTIONS!”

She laughed after and clarified that she was just kidding, but I was deer-in-the-headlights frozen. One of those disbelieving grins, you know? When what’s going on… can’t be what’s actually going on.

I know we have a sad little Nazi party movement in America, but realistically that’s like 40 lonely dudes with bad haircuts who get way too much media coverage. In much of Europe, they seem mighty sorry for World War II. The Mahnmal in the heart of Vienna is a good indicator, but there’s more going on than monuments, culturally. The aforementioned German girl is currently crossing eastern Europe and self-inflicting a sort of guilt tour (or Schuldtour). Warsaw and Auschwitz, that I’m aware of. Die Madchen ist haunted.

(As a quick aside, I looked up the German word for ‘haunted’, and, unbelievably, it is spukt. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Spukt. This fuckin’ language, man.)

In the Athens flea market, after divulging her nationality to an antique dealer for reasons I will never understand, he rolled out a bunch of old Nazi medals.

“You want?”

She literally backpedaled, shielding her face like a tall, rigid vampire from an iron cross. But she went on to tell me that there are people back in Germany — in America, we’d call them hicks — that love that kind of thing.

The modern nationalism necessary to breed either sentiment is lost on me, but I don’t think that’s because I’m an American. I’m just not much of a joiner.

A final, weird note, and the last Hitler point I plan on making: the Indian guy told me that Hitler is sort of fondly remembered in India and China. In the course of the war, Germany did a lot of damage to Great Britain, and India is still carrying a pretty understandable grudge against their former imperial taskmasters.

I sat down and collected myself until my chronic and intractable antsiness returned, then I figured I’d go check out the craft beer bar half a mile away. I hadn’t eaten in six or seven hours, so that seemed like the ideal time. They had a Bier dem Wochen flight for the cost of a regular half-pint, so I got that. They brought me 4 beers, all from Anchor Brewing, which I learned from a hipster’s t-shirt is in San Francisco.

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welp

The Steam beer must be called that because that’s what it tasted like. The stout was palatable, in a cream soda kind of way. I downed it and ordered a local imperial stout called Der Schnittenfahrt from a company called Brauwork. Hilarious though that may sound, it means “cut drive”, and washing down a flight with it on an empty stomach was perhaps ill advised.

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“schnittenfahrt” tho

The bar was very excited about rugby. Ireland vs Argentina. I didn’t know who they were rooting for, but they were rooting for them with all their heart. I went to the bathroom and laughed so hard I scared a dude.

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now that’s opulence

That was enough for one night. I had a bus to catch the next morning. I stumbled back to my hostel and passed out. I slept like a rock, except for at around 3 AM when I was awake just long enough to see the dude in the opposing bunk sit up like a mummy, slam his face into the wood support of the bunk over him, and release a long, low-pitched, closed-mouthed moan. It was sort of like a cow mooing, but in slow motion. Absolutely fantastic.

The next morning I threw all my stuff into my bag and wrote in the kitchen until my Brazilian DJ friend rejoined me, looking much worse for wear.

“Bunch of bastards,” he told me out of nowhere.

“Huh?”

“The club I played at,” he spat. “Didn’t pay me a DIME. Bastards. Didn’t even give me free drinks. I had four beers, and they charged me.”

I shook my head. “Animals. Well, chalk it up to experience, I guess.”

He made a vague allusion to being all about peace and love. I shook his hand, wished him well, and headed for the door.

Oh, right. The bus was to Bratislava, and hoo boy, do I got some stories for tomorrow.

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heard yo mama in the movies

Love,

The Bastard

You Won’t Believe These Top 3 Ways to Cope with the Wrath of a Vengeful Goddess

November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.

I had this master plan to do a day trip to Delphi, see where the Oracle was. She’s a major player in the Grecian narrative. Socrates, Oedipus, the ruling council and occasional tyrant of Athens all held her in high esteem. She was even in 300, although I imagine she was less naked and surrounded by fewer lepers.

 

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“sOcRaTeS iS rEaL sMaRt”

Unfortunately, everything that could have prevented this from happening, did. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Athena is my patron deity; I reckon she heard my plans to skip Athens, however temporarily, and sought terrible revenge.

1. Flee

I packed all my stuff and staggered into the streets of Athens. It’s 9:20 now. The bus leaves at 10:30. It’s a 45 minute walk to the bus station. It’s possible. It could be done. Hauling all my earthly possessions on my back, I double-time it out of tourist/academic Athens and into sketchy metropolitan Athens. I nearly got hit by only 3 cars, which is low.

When I got to the bus station, my headphones imploded for no reason, but I didn’t have time to fix that. I had to find this bus. The bu sport is enormous and filthy, everything’s written in Greek, it’s got a real cyberpunk defunct space station feel to it. I track down the information desk with 10 minutes to spare and the woman says, “It is at other bus station. Here is address.”

She hands me an address in primarily Greek, although it says 260 Liossion on it. I start toward the direction she pointed, fighting with Google Maps, which is insistent that address doesn’t exist.

Half a mile later it is revealed that the phantom bus station is at 216 Liosion, which was a mile away from where the Greek bus service website initially sent me.

And then the sky opened.

2. Cower

Since I obviously missed the 10:30 bus, I had to catch the next one, at 3. Only 4 hours to kill! Maybe I could write! Unfortunately, all I’d seen in the past hour were weird, specialized blanket stores, auto repair shops, and one supermarket.

Since all my worldly possessions are on my back and the tiny, sad umbrella is jammed about halfway down. I needed cover and I needed it fast.

An entire nursing home worth of old men were gathered on the porch of what looked like a coffee shop. I dodged into there, ordered a coffee (the old men are all drinking hard liquor) and reevaluated my situation.

The thunderstorm lasts most of the afternoon, from what I can tell. I can still catch the 3 PM to Delphi, but it would cost about $15 either way. There are no hostels in Delphi right now, only seedy hotels. Nearly all of them are sold out. I could reserve a $45 room for the night, if I acted right then and there.

I did the math. $75 total for about 8 waking hours in the city during a thunderstorm, since I’d have to get back to Athens the next day. I’m not spending another $45 on a room. $100 is like, a full week of Bastard Travel, depending on the locale.

3. Weep

All right. Delphi’s a no-go. I’ll spend another day in Athens. Not a big deal, I love Athens, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the traditional Greek food that is so good I almost cry. Last night, I discovered that they make pies out of spinach and cheese. Pies! Out of spinach dip! This is why they authored civilization.

The Olds point at me forebodingly, shaking their grey, drunk heads and saying things in Greek. The woman behind the counter translates, or possibly just offers her own advice.

“You shouldn’t go out yet,” she said, gesturing at Athena’s soggy wrath. “It is too heavy.”

“Yeah,” I said, “It’s kind of looking that way.”

“Maybe it will stop soon?” she said with a shrug. “You stay, sit.”

I stayed. I sat.

It’s dying down now, so I might start the 2-mile charge back to the hostel. Guess I’m booking another night. At least they have a rooftop bar, though I’m pretty sure they’re watering the beer. Fortunately, last night, I found a hidden alley liquor shop, and an old man sold me a sketchy 6 Euro bottle of homemade moonshine ouzo, and I barely survived two shots of it.

Tonight, maybe we’ll go for broke. Wish me luck.

Love,

The Bastard

Vatican City: Narrative Conflict: Man vs God

November 6, 2017. Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

Christendom loomed ahead, sacred and caked with bird shit. The sacrosanct vendors on the street waved selfie-sticks at me in perfect beatitude. My shins hurt, but that’s an important aspect of pilgrimage.

I’m a reformed Catholic. I ran the catechism gauntlet right on up to first holy communion, where I ate the blessed cardboard Necco of Christ and sat in a closet where I told a priest everything bad that a 12-year-old did. Although, even at the time, I remember not telling him about the masturbation. Older now, and wiser, I realize it was for the best. Statistically safest to keep that manner of imagery out of that population’s mind. After I stammered something about “uhh I lied and did other bad things”, the priest said “All right, 3 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers”, to which I responded “You too!” and left. Turns out, in order to get that good absolution, you needed to recite the aforementioned prayers.

You know Locke’s concept of tabula rasa? I’m the opposite of that. I was never forgiven. I’m dragging every sin since day one, including the original one which I really had nothing to do with. That’s probably why my skin started to crackle and smolder when I set foot in Vatican City proper, but that was only the first of several tricks that perfidious scumbag Yahweh had up his sparkling omniscent sleeve.

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bird finna poop on an angel

You know the Sistine Chapel? I know you know it, because it’s the most famous church in the world. That’s the reason I went into the Vatican. I’m past redemption, I just want to see what Michelangelo did to the roof of the most famous extant church.

As an aside, Michelangelo is my second favorite Renaissance painter as well as my second favorite Renaissance ninja turtle. Leonardo is my first of both. Raphael comes in third, and I think we can all agree Donatello can be done without.

I digress. Remember the ultimate church, in God City, Italy?

Closed on Sundays.

Take all the time you need with that.

“Fuck you, buddy,” I hissed skyward, as I have many times before and no doubt will again. “I didn’t come here for nothing. I’ll see the museum. See some of the indulgences or whatever.”

“Museum’s closed too,” God said in a voice like thunder. “Eat a dick, bro.”

I believe I articulated something to the affect of “graaaAAAAAAAHHH” then pointed at the sky and bellowed, “Fine! Then I’ll wait in line for your lame-ass basilica! See if I don’t!”

It was at that point the sky parted and it rained for forty days and forty nights, directly on me while I stood in line to get into the 2nd runner up consolation site. All the good Christians looked at me from under their umbrellas. None offered, which was good. I wouldn’t have accepted. At least it stopped my skin from emitting black, sulfurous smoke.

“My friend!” a grifter said. “Rain slicker! Oombrella! Five euro!”

“Never!” I said, thrusting a sodden finger at him. “This is between me and God!”

“What?” he said, fairly.

“He’s gonna break before I do!”

I don’t need to describe his expression of discomfort as he sidled away, it’s already in your head.

God stopped the line, of course. As soon as I got into line, it stopped moving, because that was the only way He could get me to stand in the rain. Driven by pride. For is it not written in Proverbs that “Pride goeth before torrential rainfall”?

It is. And it did. Once I was soaked to the bone and convulsing in the first cold weather I’d experienced in the Mediterranean, I pointed to the sky, shouted “THIS ISN’T OVER YOU FUCK” and retreated into the comforting arms of science in the form of the Da Vinci Museum Experience.

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pic marginally related

Turns out, Leonardo da Vinci built a whole bunch of stuff out of wood. Who knew? The nice Roman mom let me wring out my shirt in the bathroom and blow-dry my hair on the hand dryer, deeply amused by what I’m sure she internally termed as however the hell you say “my shenanigans” in Italian. She even gave me a discount on entry to the museum because I was so soggy and charming.

Once that was squared away, the storm had broken, I presume because God is a coward at the end of his power. I returned to the basilica. No line now. Why would there need to be? There’s no rain for me to stand in. I walked into the big ol’ church, though not the big ol’ church I wanted to go into, because it’s closed on Sundays.

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it was a big ol’ church all right

 

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pretty sure this was God, dipping thru to taunt me

 

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some sort of sacred butthole, I guess. also pictured: a dude who definitely watched the Ring video

I asked if I could sit in a pew and pray. The guy looked puzzled and offered to let me sit in on mass, but I told him my best mass days are behind me, and I was hoping for a more private conversation. He waved me through because, realistically, they don’t pay him enough to deal with me.

I sat in the chair, folded my hands, and really let that big bastard have it. The kind of stuff that would guarantee we’d have to fight at the flagpole after school. I even threw in a “Richard Dawkins rules”, even though everyone knows that’s not true.

My peace said, I squelched out of the Vatican, pausing to be judgmental of statuary on the way out.

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see, this is why we shouldn’t have let them get away from the Greco-Roman style of sculpture. you think tits look like that? they don’t. you obviously just sculpted a dude and stuck vaguely spherical chunks of rock onto his chest. and like, not even where they go. did Picasso sculpt this?

I got back to the hostel quicker than I expected and grabbed a nap. My dreams were eldritch, and I woke up with images of a glowing underwater cave where siren voices warped in the water, somewhere between ecstatic and terrifying. It turned out that’s because a pair of Brazilian girls were in the common room playing acoustics and wailing. I went down and sat next to the wise old buck who told me to slow down. The proprietor handed me a guitar, and for the rest of the night he, the girls, and I drank $1 boxed wine and played acoustic covers of grunge songs while old Herb tapped his foot and occasionally said, “I don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, but I like this.”

Love,

The Bastard