The kids in the halls and the pipes in the walls// Make me noises for company// Long distance callers make long distance calls// And the silence makes me lonely
Lost in the Supermarket (Strummer/Jones)
The night in Tel Aviv is like the night in any big city, and Rulo walks close to the walls keeping an eye on speeding cars, drunken soldiers, cops, fights, anything that could mean trouble. Stays on the dark side of the sidewalk when possible, hands in pockets, a brisk pace towards the phone booths, the calling center. He still wears the work boots from the kibbutz and his old army jacket, looks skinnier than before and frowns a lot.
He’s been taking all kinds of jobs lately, and has cuts and bruises all over his hands and arms from hard construction gigs. He has a bad nick between his eyes, from crashing one of his occasional bosses’ pickup truck and hitting the steering wheel hard with his forehead. Fired on the spot, of course, blood trickling down his face, cursing his unlucky stars. Has had a close encounter with a scorpion while laying astroturf artificial carpet for a wedding outdoors, been on the losing end of a couple of brawls, left ear like a cauliflower and a loose front tooth from a large Kiwi fellow’s attentions, has fallen from a 40 foot container while unloading bicycles at a warehouse; but has also had glimmers and starts of his old good fortune: a silly discotheque job picking up empties that involves his having the keys to a large room full of liquor, a good looking woman, some kind of older actress at the shooting of a commercial he’s been working at, inviting him over for blow and boring tales of the 70’s, never being caught at the supermarket across the hostel where he shoplifts for dinner every night: cashews, sardines, Swiss cheese. The other misfits at the hostel call it ‘freestyling’, and he likes the word. “Hey, I’m hungry, anyone wants to go freestyle something downstairs?”
Could his good luck be coming back? He’d smile at the notion, no doubt, but here’s something that would mean just that to a lot of folks: there’s a woman, a fantastically good-looking, very wealthy, extremely intelligent woman he’s known for a number of years who’s dying to go meet him anywhere in the world he cares to mention, drop her classes at a moment’s notice – she’s in the last year of psychology – and just be there for him, lick his wounds and anything else he can think of, buy rooms at the best hotels or sleep under a bridge, absolutely anything and everything for the privilege of being around him. Lucky, lucky fellow…
The attendant at the phone booths points to an open one and Rulo walks in. He pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and enters 15 or so numbers, then waits.
– Hola, Pat.
– Rulo! So great to hear you! Good morning! Such a nice way to start my day! Have you thought about it? I have the ticket already.
– What do you mean, you have the ticket already? I thought you said we’d think about it…
– I thought about it, and I wanna go.
– But I told you about this woman and all! I’m in a foul mood, Pat! Foul!
– No matter, I’ll go.
– Fuck, Christ… I wasn’t gonna say yes, you know, I was gonna say, I’ll see you in a few months, back in BA… what about college?
– Fuck college, R. We go back a long ways, classes can wait.
– Aaarrrrrghhh, fucking shit, Pat, I don’t think this is a good idea…
– Listen. Look. I know I can help. I just know it. I know you so well, I know you better than you know yourself.
– Don’t do this, Patricia. That’s all I can say right now. You have no idea. Just don’t.
– I’ll meet you in Athens, Rulo.
– You’re really gonna do this, aren’t you.
– Yes I am, my dear.
– Fucking bleeding cock of Jesus… OK, then, in that case, I want you to do me a favor.
– Anything, my love. Talk to me.
– Go see Larry. You remember that place, right, the joint I used to take you sometimes, the one on Salta, near Hipolito Yrigoyen…
– I remember it very well. Great tortillas.
– Their food is rotten and sucks, Pat, what are you talking about, it always has. It’s the other stuff I go there for, the food is an excuse to not look so obvious… Jeez…
– You’re right, it’s terrible food. I once found a dead roach in my salad.
– Then why do you say great tortillas?
– I thought you liked them.
– You know… forget it… listen, you go there and see Larry, he had these Hoffmans a few months ago, you know what I’m talking about right…
– Fuck, I need to spell it out on the phone, right… whatever, who cares… go get me some acids from him, he had the little cardboard squares with Hoffman on a bike that were unbelievable when I left, but take anything he has if he’s out of those… take the Mickey Mouse, the Buddhas, anything… get me 5, allright, that should be about a hundred, I’ll pay you back…
– Money is not a problem
– Get me 10, then
– Isn’t it dangerous, traveling with drugs?
– Depends on which drugs. Nobody will ever, ever, ever find acids on you, allright. They are tiny squares of paper, no smell, nothing. Just put them in your wallet, you’ll be fine.
– I’ll do it for you, love
– FUCKING STOP CALLING ME LOVE, WOMAN
– OK, Rulo… listen, take it easy… this, too, will come to pass, and…
– OK, OK, I got you. One more time: don’t do this. Don’t.
– I’ll see you in Athens on the 20th. You better be at the airport, it’s Iberia, arrives at 8 am.
– Ay Dios… ay, ay Dios, coño… OK, Pat, OK, I’ll see you there. Ciao.
– Ciao, love… oooops, I didn’t mean to…
Rulo’s friend Xavier had left a while ago and must be in Turkey with his girlfriend by now. Rulo’s hatred of religion, all religions, had only gotten worse after taking a trip to Jerusalem with the only acquaintance from the Young Pioneers left in Christiansands, a dull as lead Swiss guy that had seriously tempted him to murder on a couple of occasions, with his ridiculous optimism, obscenely naive comments and constant picture-taking. He had ditched the smiling dim-witted Swiss and gone back to Tel Aviv in a hurry, to try and make a few more shekels before leaving this accursed country forever.
And leave it is what he did soon after his phone call with Pat, only he was alone on the ferry this time looking at the coastline disappear in the distance. To remember the fun and laughs with his friend on the same ferry, just a few months ago, was torture, so he tried to focus on smoking as many cigarettes as he could and take swigs of vodka from a water bottle.
A lot of American backpackers look and sound the same, and when this blond girl in a Georgia Tech sweatshirt approached him with a smile and asked him the classic ‘where are you from?’ line, he thought he’d try a little experiment for a change, answering ‘do you wanna fuck?’, figuring maybe he could speed to the end result that was sure to follow if he’d put the time and effort required, only without the time and effort. Didn’t work, though, and the bird flew away without any further comments.
Whatever Rulo had become, he was sure he wasn’t a backpacker anymore. He would still travel much in his life, but he never considered himself a backpacker again. The whole carefree innocence was gone forever. “Where are you froms” irritated him to no end now, and he felt he’d freak out and lose it if he met one more tye-dyed t-shirt wearing, granola-munching, frisbee-tossing German who was into Goa trance and looked to score pot and learn the language.
He still had the “On the road” Lily had given him, but craved darker stuff – he had a hunger now for stuff that he felt he had to read or reread, looking at it in the new light of his having become someone in many ways new, someone jaded he didn’t really know before: Burroughs, Cioran, Onetti, the heavy metal men. He also had a huge appetite for anything that would dull his mind or take him away from a couple of moments that kept coming back, and in the next few months and years would have ample opportunity to sate this craving. He started by finishing that vodka off. Looking sideways to the group of blondes, cigarette dangling from cracked lips, he could clearly see the one who had approached him before silently mouthing the word “asshole” at him, and he distractedly wondered if the prices at the bar below deck would be affordable.
see in black and white// Feel in slow motion// I drown myself in sorrow// Until I wake up tomorrow
There’s a side trip on Rulo’s return to Athens, a few days spent in a forgotten corner in the interior of the island of Samothraki, well off the beaten path, in fact several kilometers from running water, paved roads, electricity or phone lines. A pair of truly fucked up Germans who have somehow obtained some land there, Dieter who looks like a hog, and The Freak who looks like a balding giraffe with filthy blond dreadlocks down to his ass, if that makes any sense. Let’s just call them Hog and Giraffe, then, but let’s not stay too long with them. Hog and Giraffe are following the European male time-honored tradition of fleeing Hamburg, Oslo, Newcastle or Bologna to a sunny location in order to kick junk. So the smack-deprived pair has some vague plans to start some kind of ashram or tourist attraction or something similar on a plot bought in Deutschmarks, many boxes full of canned food, several bars of hash and vast quantities of booze.
Just a few random vistas of those lovely days: a beautiful cool stream shaded by hundred year old Platana trees, with a little pool on a bend where there’s always a few dozen of the beer bottles the Germans drink incessantly, cooling; a wicked, scheming, thieving Greek helper who has been a sailor centuries ago and communicates in a patois of at least 4 or 5 languages, the worthy Kosta, who is very concerned that Rulo will displace him in the sympathies of the German pair, given that he seems happy to work for booze and smoke only; a herd of goats owned by a neighboring farmer that constantly breaks into the property and starts eating stuff they are not supposed to eat, until the two Germans, the Greek and the Argie cast their plotting and bickering and hating aside a few moments to focus on putting an end to the raids of the katziki. Katziki is Greek for goat, and Rulo was part of a brutal and unusual way to put an end to a particularly daring katziki, by working under Kosta’s direction to bait a metal hook tied to a length of rope with a head of cabbage, then waiting patiently hidden in the bushes, until the bait was taken, the rope jerked hard, and the damn thing got the hook firmly stuck across the cheek and jawbone.
Rulo could do without the mental image of Giraffe, Hog, and the cunning Greek, finishing and hacking the katziki with long knives and a hoe. But then again, he could do without other mental images as well, and at least the animal provided a meal. A feast.
– This will teach the motherfucker a lesson! Let him come crying about his fucking lost katziki now! Come on, get the fire ready! I’ll show you how this shit is skinned and gutted in less than a minute, and nobody will ever find out about it!
Kosta looked at Rulo as he said the last bit, and Rulo had no doubt whatsoever that there was a message for him there. He grinned at the Greek and touched his front tooth: yeah, still loose. Bummer. Well, since he wasn’t a backpacker anymore, he didn’t give a fuck about the veiled threat. He felt quite capable of giving the Greek a run for his money, too.
It is the most dreadful cliche, but cliches are true sometimes: he would have been grateful to Kosta if he’d put him out of his misery. Maybe that’s the tactical advantage that Lily bestowed upon Rulo forever, when she dumped him unceremoniously and left him cursing and bleeding: that he came to value his own survival, his own precious life and limb, a lot less than before. That bit proved useful on many occasions, in ways too complicated to describe here.
A bottle of something called Lacrima appeared, some sort of very strong firewater, as the katziki roasted on a cross by an open fire, a lesson to the other katziki who would, had they not been animals and not very smart animals at that, no doubt think twice before raiding that particular larder.
Like another night some months before, this one ended badly, with broken glass and upturned tables, and a massive blackout. The only surviving image Rulo has kept of the night is of Kosta’s wrinkled face and bald head, wiry frame and huge mustache, very close to him, looking him in the eye and saying, “tonight, I will kill you, and fuck you, in that order, and nobody will ever know because nobody knows you’re here in the first place, if you don’t pick up your things and leave right now”, and Rulo responding “Fuck you” before falling asleep on his sleeping bag, not because he was brave or wanted to prove any points, but because, as good as he can remember his reasons, he truly was very drunk and didn’t give a fuck, and if he was going to be dead anyway, someone might as well fuck him if that would give him any pleasure, what does a stiff care.
Could have been a dream, or a nightmare, but wasn’t; it really happened.
The irony, Rulo thought as he left the place the next morning suffering from a blinding hangover, as he walked the many kilometers to the port to catch a ferry to the mainland, the joke of being in such an interesting place, him, a lifelong student of Classical Greek lore and history and mythology, and mixing with these lowly characters and their three ring circus, instead of trekking the ancient sites and taking careful notes and sketches and breathing in the magic of the place and trying to be the learned, gentle, rational person and scholar his beloved Gramps had always wanted him to be. Self esteem: never lower, and still sinking. Hooray. So long, Samothraki. Hello again, Athens!
I am she// Mistakes of men// Gritty teeth, fists are clutching, breast stroke, thoughts of touching// see you in the sun// there’ll be big fun, at my hotel, motel, hotel, motel// I’ll fuck you in the ass, just for a laugh// with the quickspeed I’ll make your nose-bleed
Abbaon Fat Tracks (Tricky)
‘There she is, making heads turn as usual, tall and… wow, a lot skinnier, where’s the hips? Where’s the fucking tits? Oh no. Oh fucking miserable piece of shit baby Jesus, don’t tell me she’s dyed her hair red. Yes she has. Yes she has. She’s not a brunette anymore, she’s a redhead now, that’s cute. I’m about to upchuck my breakfast now, this minute, and she has seen me and is smiling and walking towards me and I’m sick. O, this is not good. Not good at all.’
Arms open wide, she walks towards Rulo, big smile on her face, a small small backpack, leather jacket in the Greek heat, tall and so beautiful, the sweet green eyes, the freckles…
Fast forward to a hotel, a nice one this time, not too posh but a palace compared to the seedy one of happier times, and duty free liquor has been consumed, acids are firmly placed under tongue, and Rothmans keep getting lighted, puffed upon once and forgotten in an ashtray – there must be 4 or 5 of the things there, sending thin plumes of smoke to the ceiling, as Rulo pounds Patricia violently from every angle he can think of.
Every time he pulls out his cock to change positions, he looks down at it with hatred: there it is, hard as a rock, pulsating and throbbing, bent towards the left (Rulo’s cock always agreed with his owner’s politics), a nice, respectable, dependable erect cock, goddammit, ready to rock and roll on a moment’s notice, a faithful companion until only very recently. Rulo truly hates it now, can hardly bear to look at it without frowning, and besides, the damn thing is not giving him any pleasure, he’s been going at it for an hour now, the skin is getting raw and there’s no signs of a climax anytime soon. Pat is starting to look at him with some fear, and Raúl turns her around to avoid the look. He’s about to enter her from behind when something in him short circuits, he pauses a second to spit on his hand and cock, and goes straight for her ass. The fact that she doesn’t like it a bit makes him at least start thinking of coming and finishing the whole pointless exercise, finally. She puts a brave face to the whole ordeal, good trooper that she is, and finally the grotesque thing ends somehow. She manages to get to the bathroom, locks herself in and sits on the toilet, weeping, for a long time.
Rulo has never felt worse in his whole life. Every time he thinks he’s hit bottom, bottom gives and he keeps falling to a new bottom. No pun intended, this is too sad.
So much has been taken away in such a short time, and he can’t figure out how it happened, but it’s happened and he has become a miserable resentful prick with a grudge against life.
This poor girl has been foolish enough to come to him, thinking he’s still the easygoing fellow with the long conversations over coffee at 3 am, the warm kisses, the odd gifts from the secondhand bookstores and flea markets he loves, and has found out, doublequick, that that Rulo is gone, has taken a long vacation, and is not sure to ever come back.
She will take it for a while, then she won’t anymore. The sooner, the better – Rulo is really hoping she’ll see her mistake and run away ASAP, and makes every effort to hurt her, in order to save her from him, to make her see she needs to go. 16 days, as it turns out, is what “a while” would mean in this particular case, 16 days of twisted fucks, broken bottles and blackouts galore.
Then, he’ll bolt again, towards the old Yugoslavia, and Eastern Europe, as he finds even the chaos and smog of Athens too civilized and mellow for his taste. Eventually, of course, he’ll find some big chunks of ice for his fires, time will do its thing, smiles will return, even ‘hellos’ will be exchanged with both Lily and Pat. Memory will start playing her tricks, making the nice seem nicer, and trying to block the ugly, but the fact will remain that for some months back then, a young man experienced life at its rawest and most intense.
Through no fault of anybody’s, he was hurt and in turn he hurt others, and there was no malice involved. Malice is something else, malice is catching a katziki with a hook and hacking it to pieces to spite a neighbor. Human emotions and passions are complicated critters, and can cause a lot of damage, but the damage comes from walking in the dark, or blindfolded, without really knowing what’s going on, being afraid of either putting too many limits to the depth our feelings are allowed to reach, and thus not living life to the fullest, or not putting limits enough, and risking utter disaster and massive pain.
In any case, it’s always better to have tried, and to have experienced, to have lived, to have taken the leap of faith and said what our heart wanted to say, and the hell with the consequences.