I was having trouble concentrating. My nerves felt bundled. Marco and I were sitting in the far corner of Feste’s. The bar was rapidly filling up. The travelers came in waves. The arrival of Easter meant Spring break for foreign students. The holiday wasn’t here yet, but the students and vacationers were. We were sitting in the corner discussing who was going to buy the first round when a man named Ron had approached us. He sat down next to me on the velvet love seat and introduced himself with a firm handshake. Ron’s hair was clean and cut short on the sides but long and shaggy at the top with a musky smelling hair product that helped it have a stylish shaggy coif. His beard was dark brown like his hair, and it was well groomed. He was dressed from head to toe in kaki, and he wore practical comfortable shoes. He wore his passport and money wallet on a string around his neck. It was clearly visible through his v-neck khaki tee. I never felt like it was a good idea to wear the money necklace. It seems like a good idea to keep all of your stuff on you, until you fall asleep on the train or get too drunk. A single snip on that string and that entire wallet could be gone. It was astonishing how good the pickpockets were. Once on a crowded tram someone had managed to unzip my jacket without my noticing. The only reason they didn’t get my passport was because they ran out of time. It was a short ride for me. When I stepped on the tram my jacket had been zipped shut when I stepped off, my jacket was completely open. That was when I first arrived in Europe. I wasn’t sure why Ron chose to sit with us or tried to befriend us since we both looked like a couple of street hustlers that were about as likely to rob him as to befriend him. We certainly didn’t smell as well as he did. He was not one for two-way conversation. He jumped into a feverish tribute to himself and who he was exactly. I didn’t care all that much and Marco was completely disinterested.
Marco had been sitting across the coffee table with his foot propped up and his head back on the top edge of his chair blowing raspberries at the ceiling. He started to make a move to buy a beer and to leave me with Ron. I was familiar with his escape plans.
“Yeah so I just rushed through college. Got right into a $60,000 a year job, which was really good at the time.”
Marco sat back down with a look of interest.
“Yeah, so I’m from Minneapolis, well some small place outside of Minneapolis, but I just say Minneapolis because it’s easier for people to get.” Ron went on and squeezed my knee like we were on a date. The kind of date where the guy didn’t get the signals that it wasn’t going well, and he shouldn’t be touching my knee.
I was blocking the sound of Ron’s staccato voice as though I had horse blinders over my ears. I caught another whiff of his hair product, and suddenly I felt dirty, like there was this layer of dirt and crust embedded on my face. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the water heater and had avoided taking a shower or that we were out of soap and toothpaste, it wasn’t like I hadn’t showered for weeks; I did shower, very carefully squatted in a little ball praying that the water heater didn’t blow up when I turned the wrench for the hot water. It was that I didn’t feel like I was getting very clean, and I hadn’t been able to dress nice in years. Moving your life around on your back didn’t lend itself to high fashion; of course I wasn’t supposed to care about how I looked. That was just material, but I did care sometimes. I wanted to look attractive, feel attractive; I didn’t want to look like a gutter punk. I wasn’t cool or tough enough to be a gutter punk.
“I mean I worked sixty-plus hours a week devoting my life to my money.” Said Ron still yammering away.
“What?” I asked.
“I said I devoted sixty-plus hours a week devoting my life to my job.”
“Oh. I thought you said money.”
“No, I said job.”
He was beginning to annoy me.
“But I mean I had a total nervous breakdown and I’m only 33, but I knew there had to be a lot more to life than working in a corporate office. I mean I was a killer. I was good at my job, no I was great.”
I looked at my hands and then turned my palms up, curling my fingers in to look at my nails. Dirt. Black dirt packed under each and every nail. God, I thought, gross. Why am I so dirty? Maybe I needed to get my priorities straight on spending, like maybe buying soap over beer.
“I left that materialistic world behind me, you know? I mean America; it’s corporate evil. You know what I’m saying? I’ve been traveling in Europe for about two weeks now and it has just opened my eyes to the amazing culture the world has to offer. I mean everything is so old here.”
I hated Ron. “It’s so old” was his enlightening moment. That was the lightening bolt that struck him with his new found wisdom: It’s so old. I looked around the dark room. I thought it had to be the air or something, dirt hanging in the air. I looked over at Marco who was cleaning his fingernails with a toothpick.
“See before I was living for money, but now, now it’s like I’ve been enlightened like I’ve seen the light, you know, a glow. See, before I just didn’t get it, I mean I figured that — what I mean is, some people have to struggle, you know, for money. I mean I never had to, thank God, because I’m smart you know, but you know other people. And well I mean there’s more to money. I mean I’m glad I have some, but there’s more to life you know. I mean I’m just happy to be alive.”
I was jealous of Marco’s toothpick. I looked around for something to clean my nails with, what I wouldn’t do for some floss.
“I mean I’m really opening up you know, to strangers, I mean I’ve never been able to open up to my friends before, and I’m just, I mean I understand bohemia you know? I mean you guys’ know right? You’re here. I mean I might even be bi; I don’t know if I am but I’m open to experimentation. I’m just happy. Deliriously happy. Life is just cool and groovy, you know.”
“That’s great.” Marco said placing his attention on Ron. “So, can you buy us some drinks?”
Ron looked at me like I was the one that just asked for a beer. I just shrugged like he should be so surprised.
A shuffling sound came from the corner of our little alcove. Endres appeared leaning into the archway near the love-seat where Ron and I sat. He was standing straight and his skin looked lighter and fresh, like he just got back from a day spa that scrubbed the toxicants out of his body.
“Hello Annnnna.” He said with a smile. “I’m taking it easy tonight. I would like to see the city, during the day.”
“Oh, but why don’t you have at least one drink. Ron here is buying us all a drink.” I gave Ron’s knee a little squeeze.
“Oh that’s nice of you.” Said Endres as he nestled in beside us on the couch.
“Uh. Sure.” Said Ron, “More than happy to.” He perked up. “What would you like?”
“I’d like a beer,” Marco said, going back to cleaning his nails. “Number 14 beer please.”
“Sure, and for you two?”
“I’ll have a glass of red wine,” I said as I filled up the space where Ron was sitting.
“I’ll have a glass of red wine as well, please.” Said Endres who moved in closer to me.
“Sure. I’ll be right back. Save my space.” He headed off to the bar.
Marco snorted and shook his head. “Somebody’s rollin’. Sheeeet.”
“What do you mean?” asked Endres.
“Oh, nothing just some ex-corporate with lots of money. He’s seen the light. The ecstasy light.”
“I’m confused.” Said Endres.
“It’s nothing. Said Marco, “Just smile, say, ‘Oh yes I agree. Can you buy me a drink?’ and ‘Yes I know where you can go to buy some X.’”
“Oh no, not me tonight,” Endres said looking at Marco. “I do like some X, but I want to take it easy tonight.”
“Never mind.” Mumbled Marco as he returned to his nails.
“Do you feel dirty?” I ask.
“Excuse me?” Endres said with a smile.
“Here you go.” Ron returned with two drinks. “A beer for you,” he said, handing it to Marco, “and a wine for you,” he said to me. “I’ll be back.” He headed back to the bar.
“Oh good.” Mumbled Marco taking a drink.
“I mean, I feel grimy like I have a layer of dirt on my body.” I said to Endres.
Endres continued to smile at me, his ice-blue eyes sparkling with an intense flash.
Ron returned with Endres’ wine, and a beer for himself. He squeezed in beside me, pushing Endres and I closer together.