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Thursday, December 25, 2008

signing off

I’ve been absent my friends, but mostly in spirit, though. I’ve been here packing boxes, sorting cassettes, spoons, postcards… filling out forms, running errands and vacating from this place – my home! – all remnants of me. It has been an exercise both existential and physical (to be avoided if melancholy or faint of heart). What’s more, Brendan has been highly distraught ever since I told him. Believe it or not, but it pains me to leave this guy. As beefy, brutish and brash as he may seem, he’s the biggest kid of us all, and I’m sure he will double his bench-presses over the next few weeks to push back the emotion that is already visible in his face and manifest in his regular outbursts – Goddam you, Lui, Goddam you!

But here we are. December 25th. X-mas day. And as this strange, invertebrate year crawls slowly to a close, I’m on the point of departure, my life whittled down to its bare bones, the chaff out on the curb ready for collection. I have a few more phone calls to make and a dinner at a Chinese restaurant tonight, but to be honest, my heart isn't in it, I'm fizzing with anticipation, and my mind may be partly on its way already. Besides Goni’s extraordinary abruptness cutting me adrift, my head is clear and my heart unencumbered. I'm ready.

One final thing, though. You'll think me odd, maybe even pubescent – and you'd be right on that one, I’ve been sixteen for as long as I can remember – but the fact is, I would really, terribly like to see Anna just one last time before I go; my dangly-armed, deer-eyed Anna. After the Chinese tonight I will go look for her. I will put on my best shirt, spray my teeth with Vicks, gather my courage and - who knows - ask her out, buy her a drink, hold her hand, touch her arm, kiss her ears, feel her –

Cool it, Lui! Find her first; speak to her in your many tongues, amuse her with you body language, and whatever you do, stand straight and do not roll your eyes, that’s what old Croat’s do and you’re not an old Croat, you’re a young vigorous European on the cusp of a great adventure, a journey that will change you, and perhaps – if you are fully invested –change others too.

That's it!

I am Lui Labas, signing off for 2008, wishing you – and you know who you are, don’t make me call your name – wishing you THE year.

The year in which everything comes together. The year in which – even magically, if that’s what it takes – all the pieces fly effortlessly into place like a crashing vase played in reverse.

I wish it for you.
Your fondest admirer, your adventurer,

Lui Labas

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lui's list

What are you moping around for, Lui? Get off your butt, get out, get some action. You’re a free man, don’t you get it? You’re free! What more do you want?

I had no answer to this question. I was stumped. I drew a blank as I watched Brendan finish his protein drink.

Does this mean I have everything? Does this mean I am complete, whole and consummate? But I’m a Croat, that’s impossible! Everything comes to me riddled. Freedom especially. I love my problems – this is a matter of national pride – my barricades and my heads-of-state. Wall me in, throw me a clash or a confrontation. I’m alive only when embattled. Chaos tickles me. And freedom is a slippery product anyway. It’s colorless, it doesn’t talk to you, it doesn’t move until agitated. It’s like water: no one necessarily likes to drink it... until it’s taken away and then you think of NOTHING else.

But back to Brendan: You’re a free man, don’t you get it? You’re free! What more do you want?

I’m a roving engine of curiosity. My actions are stopgaps and my thoughts are scarcely within my control. Far from the flowing dress of the Buddhist monk, my life is an ill-fitting jumpsuit. So I am truly flabbergasted, and grateful too, that it can feel so comfortable at times. HAHAHAHA!

But anyway, things can be better, of course... so with Christmas in mind, I made a small list:

1. a svelte redhead with freckles and pink gums

2. a skinny cat with a tail-kink and a haughty eye

3. a live grizzly you can scratch and pat on the back

4. the legs of a sprinter

5. the eyes of lynx

6. the swiftness of a lizard

7. a houseboat moored off Dubrovnik

8. a small Balkan province in the Benelux

9. a rucksack full of gold bouillon

10. and lastly - as a matter of course - a carte blanche for this and adjacent galaxies

(this list is not exhaustive... feel free to add liberally).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Switch

Whining and moaning is un-Croatlike and unbecoming a man of your heritage. Snap out of it! He said. I wanted to ask, what heritage are you talking about, thinking he must have it confused with his own Ottoman lineage, but seeing as his name was Switchblade I thought it best to keep quiet and not interrupt. He assured me "Switchblade" is not an epithet, but his real name. I suppose it must be a common name in Turkey; there must be many young Switchblades in Istanbul; perhaps there are Turkish ministers and heads of state called Switchblade – how else do you explain this. And perhaps it is not written, Switchblade, but şviçblüd, or some such Turkish script. I nearly asked him to write it on a beer coaster, but his eyes sent out darts to let me know I had belabored the subject long enough . He concluded by saying that once we are friends I could call him Switch, but the suggestion was clear: do not do so until I tell you to.

Switchblade trades in fanciful, near-imaginary financial products meant to bamboozle and – in his words – throw sand in the eyes of the competition. He owns a loft in Soho, a bar in Amsterdam and sixty thousand head of livestock somewhere on a Turkish plain. He is an imposing figure. He drinks cognac and speaks his mind. We met last last night in what turned out to be his own bar, called – you will not believe it – The Ol’ Switcheroo.

Lui, what were you doing in a bar on your own, without Goni or Brendan? You ask.

I will not beat around the bush, I will not shrink from the truth – that too is un-Croatlike Goni broke up with me. That's it. Full stop. That’s how fast it went. She called me from the airport on her way back from Haifa – at the f*!$@ airport– evidently keen, to finalize this little “procedure”. I asked her: Why? Why now? Why so sudden? Is it 'cause I’m broke? 'cause I’m unemployed? 'cause I’m too young? Her answer was unequivocal,

Yes.

But then I thought about it and I got confused. “Yes” what? What are you saying “yes” to? All of them? And then she was really unequivocal,

Yes

In an act of savage spitefulness I retracted the two line of verse I wrote for her last week and I told her she wasn’t the worth the credit on my cell phone. But an hour later I got weak at the knees and I called her at home hoping to convince her to change her mind and to tell her I could get a job easypeasy and that I’m not as young as she thinks (I was prepared to lie and forge documents). Alas, I got no further than her personal firewall, her pesky eighteen year old daughter Geraldine, who snapped at me in Hebrew and told me to take a hike.

This is unconventional. This is not a break up worthy of the Western World. This is an eviction. I feel kinship with the Palestinians. And do not tell me things could be worse. DO NOT! Of course they could be worse! I could be thirsting in the deserts of Yemen; I could contract a disfiguring disease; I could be trampled by hooligans or crippled by polio. So what! Let me feel like shit. I was outmaneuvered, outflanked, emotionally gutted and I came down to The Ol’ Switcheroo to drown my sorrows. I will not apologize for that.

Anyway, after the whole heritage thing, Switchblade swirled his cognac, looked me dead in the eye and said: Fight back you chump! and then he lay his free hand on a lush thigh to the right of him. I’m not sure what he meant, but it conjured up images of Brad Pitt in a dark corridor beating a man to a pulp. I’m sure he meant this figuratively (please God!). Switchblade is not a bad person, but I’m thankful for the civilizing effect of his entourage. The “lush thigh” I mentioned belonged to a mysterious, dark-eyed, raven-haired nymph by the name of Sofia von Spitzenwald – blue-blooded, maybe German, maybe Austro-Hungarian; germanophone in any case. And on the other side of him, a chocolate-colored splendor stroked a Mojito and on occasion voiced her dismay in Portuguese as she was forced to lift, again and again, Switch’s heavy hand from her thigh.

The next day I woke up in my own bed with cognac on my breath... And truly, that is all I remember.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

teckels and pizza

I walked Goni’s teckel, picked up his turds, did the wash, split a pizza with Bren, and thought positive thoughts. I thought about light years and how many miles that makes, and I watched Chuck Norris fight the enemy in Delta Force. Zombie, enthusiast, geek, buff, introvert... a strand of each coiled into a hairball: that’s me these days. Kicked around and wind-blown. From introspection to Chinese cookery to being sleepy and lovelorn for my beautiful Goni. She left to Haifa this week to see her mother. I wrote her a poem: Your toes, islets / Your fingers, ridges/ Your arms a bay around my beating heart... then I got stuck rhyming Adriatic for my Balkan-theme (ecstatic? aromatic?).... and thinking of home I decided to call my mother in Zagreb. We talked about me, about Bee in LA, and then she let me rail against the new prince-elect across the Atlantic –

I’m restless!
Have you noticed? I started jogging today. I got tights and a timer. I did laps and checked my pulse. Bren said to stick to one sixty to burn fat. Bren, I’m skinny as a rake. But he insisted. He’s the only guy I know who can talk and do push ups at the same time. He's the only guy I know who can use "triceps" and "Patriot Act" in the same sentence. I laughed like a crazy man, and then I stopped!

Get serious. We are on the cusp of something. The world is on a razor’s edge. Every day is momentous. Every day is the day. I could do a hundred things. I could save the downtrodden in Brazil like my friend Jeru. I could fight the Japanese whalers on the Pacific. Or I could go dark, break rank, conspire and sabotage the Machine. It can’t be about teckels and pizza. It can’t be about Chuck Norris. And if it’s about light years, then show me how!

Friday, November 7, 2008

“Change”

Ever heard of Zbigniew Brzezinski? Most people haven’t. He was the guy in charge of national security under president Carter back in the seventies when the US was fighting Russia in Afghanistan and funding the mujihadeen (today’s Al Qaida) to do their dirty work. A less known fact is that he is the co-founder of the Trilateral Commission together with David Rockefeller (who’s name seems to pop up everywhere, except in mainstream news). I wish I could tell you more about the Commission, Lui, but its handpicked members are sworn to secrecy so I guess we’ll have to take Zbigniew’s word for it that its aims are peace on Earth and goodwill toward Man. Why shouldn’t we, he’s done so many wonderful things already. Let’s see what light breeze of change he will blow into US foreign policy. I can’t wait.

Are you serious?

Yes, I’m serious. And what about Paul Volcker? remember him? No, he’s not dead, he’s 81 years old; young, energetic, the picture of hope and vitality in this new age of “change”. He was Federal Reserve chairman under – guess who? – president Carter. Ha, ha, ha this is so much fun, I wish I could cast this movie myself. And guess what, he’s also a Trilateralist. And guess what he did when the US was plunged into a major economic crisis after the oil spike in the late seventies.. Everyone was strapped for cash, no one could get a lone to save their life, and guess what mister chairman did? (Such foresight, so much common sense!!) Did he increase the money supply, did he try to stimulate the economy? No, that would be boring. He ratcheted up interest rate up to 20%! The economy imploded. And now it looks like Mr.Volcker is set to become Treasury Secretary! Why, you ask? Especially now at this time of economic crisis? Because he did such a friggin’ good job as fed chairman?

Brendan, who came up with this plan? Are they stupid, or this intentional?

Wait, wait, there’s more... Rahm Emanuel. Sweet, gentle Rahm. Chief of Staff under President Clinton. The image of composure and poise? Forget it! Not only is he known for his flighty temper, he’s also heavily, heavily pro-Israel. His father was a member of Irgun, a Zionist group that even the New York Times has labeled as a terrorist organization. Like father like son? No, I don’t believe that – look at me – but for God’s sake, Lui, to set this man up as chief of staff – that’s a very, very important position, he’s virtually co-president, he structures the president’s agenda, he essentially frames the issues for him – to set this guy up as chief of staff at a time when tensions with the Arab world are at an absolute boiling point, and when the question of Palestine is indisputably at the heart of this conflict, that, my friend is plain and simple provocation! Nothing short! And Lui, these are just some of the upstanding gentlemen that are suppose to represent a "breath of fresh air" in US politics. So forgive me if I don't drop to knees before the savior just yet.

Again, are they stupid or this intentional?

Well, one guy said – I forgot who – he said, “consistency has never been the mark of stupidity. If they were merely stupid, they would occasionally make a mistake in our favor.”

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Delta Romeo Unicorn

Lui Labas, where are you going with your life, where are you steering this vehicle, you haven’t thought things through, you’re not in Zagreb anymore.... you don’t have a clue? Are you on drugs?

What!?

Delta Romeo Unicorn –

No, no, I got it, of course I’m not on drugs.

Well, you sure act like you are. The world isn’t arranged to suit your little whims, Lui Labas, you have to start taking things seriously. You have to start facing reality.

I am serious. I’m dead serious. I look people in the eye. I tell them straight when I don’t like something. I’ve been serious since I was five, my friend. Five. I was going to be a tennis star – Bjorn Borg, James McEnroe – nothing could stop me, I played like my life depended on it. Me and the wall. Grit and determination. Sweat on my brow. All of that. I am serious. I’m too serious. That’s my problem.

It’s John. It’s John McEnroe. Common, Lui. And what about Goni?

Yeah, what about her?

You should get married. You can’t keep roaming around like a gypsy. Buy a house, get settled, have some kids? You’re great with kids.

How do you know? Man, who the hell are you?

My name is Louis.

Well Louis, if you don’t mind, fuck off!

What!?

Foxtrot Unicorn Charlie …

Friday, October 24, 2008

whale-man and the Emilians

This week was not a week. It was a series of hours strung together, a loose-knit thing full of holes I slumped into like a hammock. No work, no ideas, no conversation except Brendan’s odd outbursts on the state of the economy and my state of inactivity (you’re a friggin' sloth, Lui, he said working his dumbbells).

I did have one conversation. I went out for coffee around the corner on tuesday and a huge man – four hundred pounds of burgers and sweat – a whale of a man, an American with a big t-shirt - we are not alone, it read - struck up a conversation. What’s going on, how’ya doin’? Where ya from? and so on, but quickly he began in earnest:.. we're on an asteroid my friend, we’re on an asteroid barreling through space, a clump of sediment and water and plants and microbes and–

Ok, ok… we're barreling through space, go on…

that's right, and every couple of millennia, he said shifting his paunch from one knee to the other, a planet comes within our “reach” quoting with this fingers, an unknown, an unacknowledged planet nested in gravitational fields. That's right my friend, and this planet but then he stopped – what’s your name?

Lui.

Gluey?

No, LUI.

…this planet, Lui, this planet is not uninhabited, repeat, NOT uninhabited. A donut disappeared into his mouth as he waited for a reaction.

None came. This guy’s a nut, I thought. But he continued and every time he said Earth he poked my arm as if I was partly responsible for our asteroid's trajectory, always adding, barreling through space, keen to remind me that even though he could barely move himself, he was still “moving” on a galactic level.

Back in my hammock I couldn’t help but think of whale-man and his planet of humanoids. Millions, he kept saying, millions of ‘em. I thought of them so much that gave them a name. They're called Emilians, they’re about 4 feet tall and they’re a pesky, irascible bunch of backbiters. And I suspect they are walking among us as I speak. Emilians are avid collectors of EVERYTHING. They collect, they jar, they categorize and they store everything this side of the galaxy, and then they meet somewhere on vast open plains, hundreds of thousands of them, and they trade like a bunch interplanetary geeks gone awry.

You really have too much time on your hands, Lui, Goni said when I told her on the phone. Go do something, for God's sake, please go do something!.

... my hammock swayed.

I couldn't stop thinking about what I would collect if were Emilian. What would be my specialty, how would I stand out as a four-footer.


Friday, October 17, 2008

I quit

as bluntly as that, without preparation or preamble...

I went for coffee and ended up veering left and then left again into my boss’ office. I stood there for a moment wondering what it was I came to do, but when Branson looked up from his desk, when I saw his goatee twist into an expression of irritation, when I heard the words, Labas, wat wil je - what do you want – it was beyond my control. I don’t think I said I quit – or the Dutch equivalent – I said something else, but I can’t remember, the shock in Branson’s face was overwhelming. He remained silent but his eyeballs spoke to me in unmistakable terms: how the hell, HOW THE HELL, will a miserable Croat with no qualifications to speak of survive in this world that is all tooth and claw, that is all Darwinian and that is now on the brink of economic collapse; how the hell do you expect to manage Labas? And this is when I wished to remind him that if the world collapsed on itself and darkness descended on man and all his machines there would be no need for office supplies, and thus no need for a chump such as him to order them and keep inventory. I think I laughed – I must have, what else could have provoked his arm to spasm as it did, and the coffee to flow across his desk and the obscenities from his hairy lips. I left him mopping his keyboard, soggy Kleenex in hand.

Since I have no desk of my own I had none to clear, and I guess could have left the building promptly, but I wished to say farewell to my beloved colleague Ratface, the undisputed, week-on-week winner of most-intensely-annoying-co-worker. I have been unkind to him in the past, calling him a Nazi genetic experiment, and I thought I might make him happy by telling him I quit, but when I did he lapsed into a state verging panic: but… but what are you going to do? he asked, as though my announcement shot a beam of light into a dark chasm in his soul. I don’t know, I said, and left him gazing blankly at his empty Outlook calendar. Adieu Ratface, Adieu.

And of course I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to my trusted friend Fer Ruiz at payroll, the soft-spoken subversive, the armchair Che. He was sad and I let him plead with me in earnest: where was he going to find “a receptive ear and vociferous heart in this house of cards” (his words, he’s Argentinean) . I gave him a big bear hug and I said, I’ll see you in Buenos Aires my friend. And that was that.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Luigi Gonzaga



















That was me in the mid 1500’s. I was a good looking lad then. A bit effeminate, but good haircut...
what happened? you might ask.

My name (and this is sheer coincidence) was Luigi Gonzaga. I died young and was made a saint posthumously – or beatified, as they say – but I run ahead of myself. First – against my father’s wishes, who preferred I become a soldier or a marquis in a long line of fat and opulent noblemen– I entered the Jesuit order. I worked tirelessly for the poor. I gave up every penny and it is said that at the height of my selflessness I carried a moribund man twenty miles into Rome, a plague-ridden man, a dead man. I died two weeks later of the same disease.

You will ask, how the hell do I know this? You will ask, how does a man who xeroxes for a living – a Croatian national who xeroxes for a living in a business park on the outskirts of Amsterdam, how can such a man have this kind of profound historical “memory” – that is, if you got past the first hurdle that it could be me at all. In any case, you will pronounce me a fool, or at least you will think it, and you will laugh nervously. But I will laugh too. I will laugh louder than you and longer, and then I will laugh again, and at that moment you will be silent and you’ll think fuck, is this guy serious?

I’m dead serious Brendan, that’s me. Ok, I’ve changed a bit. I don’t carry dead guys to Rome on my back anymore, but that was me. I swear.

Lui, dude, the only thing you got in common with this guy is that you're dating a Jewish girl.

He’s a Jesuit, Brendan, JESUIT, not Jewish.

Then you're really talking out of your ass. Stop being crazy, you’re scaring me.

Then why are you laughing?

I just know. I know in my bones. And you want to know how I know? You want me to tell you how? I’m going to tell you, but expect no hocus-pocus, expect no mysticism, expect no illumination, no smoke-breathed apparition with a message of "information"…Simply, I recognized him. That’s all. Like you recognize a man on the street, like you recognize a friend in a crowd. I recognized him because we were friends – what I mean is, I liked who I was, and I don't just mean the good guy in sandals, I liked my whole attitude, my game plan, my set of principles, I liked the calluses under my feet, I liked the chunk of cheese and bread in my satchel, I liked travelling light, I liked my haircut, and especially, I liked pissing off my dad. In short, I liked ME under the Gonzaga rule. It is much later, in subsequent centuries - especially recently - that I developed my cynicism and miniaturized self-esteem. I had no such issues at the time.

But now you raise your eyebrows, and you ask, but how did you find him then? On Facebook? And you smirk. And I tell you it straight.

In a book, Goni, at the library. He was on a postcard in a book.

What? Come on Lui, you have to do better than that…

That's where I found him. A random book. I opened it and there he was.

What book?

What difference does it make? It was random.

It makes a difference. If everything in your account can be random except him, it doesn’t work. What book?

Don’t get smart Gon, I just know, alright.

You’re telling me you were a 16th century blue-blooded, Italian saint. Excuse me for being sceptical... Luigi… tell me what book!

No… find your own book.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

panic

This whole bail-out is a goddam fraud. We’re being conned, Lui. We’re being taken for a fucking ride. We’re getting screwed with our hands tied. This is a country-wide gang rape. We’re getting butt f-

I got it Brendan, I got it. But then he went on about the consolidation of finance, about the tri-lateral commission, about the banking elite engineering bubbles and panics so they can swoop down like vultures and pick out the juiciest bits while the assembled dumbasses of the world are corralled in a pen of bewilderment. That would be us, the supposed dumbasses, the guys who don’t know a security from an interest rate, who think Goldman Sachs is a department store and Ben Bernanke a brand of ice cream. When I mentioned that all this smacks of conspiracy theory, every muscle in his body spasmed and he retorted, they sold fucking "krokets" to the entire world and called them t-bone steaks, Lui, don’t tell me about conspiracy theory. (A kroket is Dutch, it's all the ugliest pork and beef offal –innards, eyeballs, brain, spine – ground up into a revolting goulash and then packaged in a neat little schnitzel that costs practically nothing).

I had to give it to him, you got a point Bren.

Then he went on: And now I have to watch the secretary of the treasury and the chairman of the federal reserve prostrate on the floor of the congress, begging nakedly for 700 billion dollars to "fix" (with his fingers) the friggin mess their own friends engineered. That’s 700 thousand MILLION, Lui, that’s ASTRONOMICAL, that’s like Alaska in dollar bills.

Ok, ok, Bren I got it... just cool it with the all homo-erotic stuff.

But it wasn't just Brendan. Yesterday Goni showed me a small coffer filled with gold coins, and in her closet a piece of luggage, packed, ready to go. Just in case. Just in case what? I asked her, where are you gonna go? but she couldn’t answer. She had no idea, she just mumbled... the economic crisis... it’ll cripple us... send us back to the stone age... remember recent history. She’s Jewish, it’s understandable. But I xerox for a living, I staple stacks of papers together, I file and plastify, I follow orders, bring coffee and eat sandwiches for lunch. Hurtle me back to the stone age and I may be better off. I’ll till the land, eat cabbage and red beet, and love women with wide hips.

I'm an optimist.

I end in verse,

Beam me to Belaruse,
Give me an ox and a plow
And let those vulture loose.

Friday, September 19, 2008

on the moon

The world is fantastical. A torture-strained septuagenarian and the Governor of Grizzlies are rising to the pinnacle of power. The global economy is a pyramid scheme about to collapse. And the weather, once predictable, has become a dysfunctional family of poltergeists. This world makes even a Croat blush. Opportunism, cronyism, staged wars, backroom deals and fat oligarchs sheltering millions in pickled sharks and other installations, artistic or otherwise. I laugh at this world, HA HA HA HA, I sit on the moon in a crater and I laugh HA HA HA HA until reflux reminds me of the moonburger I ate at noon, and then I stop, but I’m lovin’ it, so I’m laughin’ anyway HA HA HA HA. This is giant. This is comedy of the greatest, grandest order! And then I think of the Dark Knight, what he would have done in this riddled, counter-riddled, convoluted story of spiritual doom, meteorological cataclysm and economic meltdown; would he have been honorable and hyper-complex, would he’ve died, then resurged with bigger guns, would he’ve struck at the core of this maze-of-a-plot, at the control centre where heads of state and financial shadow-men pull strings and sip on $100 espressos. And that’s when I remembered that the Dark Knight netted the equivalent of Kenya’s GDP, and that it kept whole nations in its moronic, bullet-strewn trance and I roll with laughter until moon-dust covers me head to toe.

But do you not grieve for the downtrodden, Lui? Do you not feel for them?

"The downtrodden”!!! HA HA HA HA. “The downtrodden” laugh and play cards on the curbs of Port-au-Prince, too poor to buy toxic baby milk from China, too busted up to worry about THE PLOT. And the one dollar they hold in their hand will be, as one guy said, “birdcage lining” sooner rather than later. So no, I don’t. They can trade chickens for bread. We can’t.
And no, Mrs. Palin, I will not write Lui is an impertinent little spoilsport a thousand times. You’ll have to come and make me, but since you only got your passport last year, the moon may be too exotic for a first destination. And to Barack I say, you are a well-spoken man, and intelligent beyond your years. But tell me, tell me really.. who do you love Barack?? And then he looks at me intelligently and he says, it's WHOM do you love, Lui, WHOM . And I laugh a big laugh from deep inside my gut until moon dust rises up all around me in a haze like the teleportation-halo that brought me here in the first place. And then I settle down again in my crater and take a big slurp from my gallon of Coke and look down to watch the advancing hurricane… Gustave, Ike, Jeronimo… tell me, I lost track.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bee Labas

Bee’s here!! I scarcely believe it. It’s been more than 5 years! My sister Bee! She flew in from LA this morning. Long hoped for. Then half expected. But definitely last minute. This is great. This is doubly great. This is greater than great.
I picked her up at Schiphol this morning. She skipped into the arrivals hall, trolley case in tow, with her halo of frizzy hair and her golden league jacket wrapped around her waist. LUI, she shouted like a skinny space-bird and then she skipped onward to greet her glowing brother. This is great. This is doubly great. She’s great. . Lui and Bee. Brother and sister. Once inseparable. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. The bald spot on the back of my head is from a rake she combed my hair with when I was ten. But her greatness is galactic, so I forgave her.
She’s staying in the guest room. It’s small, but so is she. Brendan’s still injured, stretched out on his back from his carnal experiments with Katrina. Note: I take this as a gesture from God. There is no doubt he would have hit on my sister one way or the other - feel this tricep, go ‘head , go ‘head – and then there is no doubt that that would be the last muscle he flexed for the rest of his life. Quiet Croat turns vengeful, knife-wielding Sicilian.
But in truth, Bee needs no assistance at all. She’s all tap-dance, waffles and feta-cheese, when all’s well, but if you cross the line (the lion, as she says) that’s it. It’s over. First the eye-venom (figurative as yet, but who knows how that will evolve.. ) then the projectile-to-crotch: flip-flop, sandal, clog, wristwatch – and her aim is frightening. You stand no chance.
Bee’s galactic– intergalactic – she’s on loan from a better place, a place gold-laced and light-footed. I would take ten more bald spots to the head just to have her here a little longer.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ratface

Zere weel always be rat in ze wurld, Julien said.

To Julien, rat - like fish - is plural. He was talking about Ratface, my detested co-worker. I call him Ratface because he looks like a rat... but tell me, is it a coincidence that he also acts like a one? Or is character genetically prescribed preordained blah blah blah. Bullshit. He’s a rat because he likes being a rat. You come in five minutes late – bang! – not the early bird are we Labas. You forget to do something – bang! – hello, are we awake in there? You’re just doing your job, just minding your own business, –bang! Ratface has an angle – gee, we aren’t very ambitious are we? Always WE. Never you. And always unoriginal. Ratface never improvises. To my face he calls me Labas, but sloppily and strangely and he knows it. To others he refers to me as onze Balkan vriend (our Balkan friend), but do not be deceived, he’s a multi-layered rat, a rat with depth, a cunning, loose-boned little creature liable to slink under your monitor to check if your “doing work” (gmail, huh?). He has a pen he always plays with, prodding the wax in his ear, and he takes eon-long breaks. God knows where, doing God knows what. I suspect him. I suspect this man. The other day I begged Fer Ruiz from payroll to give me some dirt. Anything. He refused, calling me out on my Pinochettian tactics. He was right. So I dropped it. Then last night, after a long rant, Goni said to me,

If he upsets you so much just stick some stuff in his soup.
What’d you mean, Gon, like poison?
No, not poison. Of course not.
Well what are you talking about then, cheese?

She meant poison. She totally meant rat poison (go Goni!). Imagine shaking a box of that stuff into his minestrone.


Gee Ratface, are we having a nice lunch?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Brendan's Back

The first thing Brendan said to me when he called from the airport,

You won’t believe it.
Tell me.
I fucked up my back.
Serious. What'd you do?
What do you think?
I don’t know, lifting weights or something.
No, think man!!

How do you pull a muscle in bed? How do you pull a muscle so bad you can't carry your own bags? Just how athletically do you need to go about it? And who could accommodate such athleticism?

What’s her name?

What’s it matter.

I don’t know, what’s her name?

Katrina.

She German?
No man, like the hurricane, dude.

And then he explained.
And I understood... in theory.

I hate him, but boy I’m happy he’s back!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm crazy about moving objects...

It leaps, gnaws, yelps, salivates and scatters urine all in a matter of second as if DOG’s mind is a ball of conjoined wormholes that can shift it from licking its scrotum to pawing MASTER GREAT AND BOUNTIFUL in a single wag of the tail. And just as quickly it returns to the world, the WORLDINFINITE, infinitely sniffable, infinitely distracting, everything in it filled with the potential of play, a ball, a stick, a bum, a turd, a blade of grass, a buzzer-bee, WHAT’S THAT- WHAT? A MOVING OBJECT? I’M CRAZY ABOUT MOVING OBJECTS I AM A MOVING OBJECT. The wagging stops. The mind is suspended. Hind quarters bounding, thorax thrust out like a canon ball. DOG is a moving object. It lunges and goes. Suddenly out of nowhere something small but sharp like a tack shakes DOG to the ground and a force beyond it presses its nose deep into its crotch. Gnaw. Growl. Gnaw... and then it bounds back up, buoyant, again a vehicle of fascination with WORLDINFINITE, especially everything that belongs to, is thrown by, or extends from MASTER GREAT AND BOUNTIFUL HOLDER OF BISCUITS AND THE LIKE...

I sat in the grass in the Vondel park a couple of days ago and I looked at this dog with incredible envy. I don’t have the intellect for calculus. I don’t have the patience for history. I don’t care about economics. So I can add up 12 and 12. So I speak Serbo-Croatian. So what? I'd like my mouth to water too from time to time, and I'd also like to behold with the same unbreachable wonderment a bouncing ball, a blade of grass, a buzzer-bee... like DOG.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lee the Palestinian

Ten thousand dead, he said, and he pulled me by the sleeve, pulled me so close his face was like A Fistful of Dollars, like Lee van Cleef, pocked and greasy, and his breath a barrel of old herring. A hundred thousdand dead, he said – the numbers rose by order of magnitude – What are you talking about man, but I knew what he was talking about. I was waiting for Goni outside the Israeli embassy. I knew he was a palestinian, with his scarf and his placard, I knew he was fighting the impossible fight, the fight he would loose, the fight that has shamed us all for over half a century. Gimme a cigarette, he said, and I gave.

Since tuesday I’ve been purging evil from my heart. On tuesday I killed. With the wheel of my bike I rode across a pigeon's back. The little rat didn’t get out of the way! Its job is to get the out of the way. A life-long training prepares it to GET OUT OF THE WAY. My wheel tore across him. I heard a shreak and a violent flutter of wings. My heart stopped and then... then evil descended.

Gimme your life, Lee said. I balked. You can borrow it... and then he showed me his teeth and laughed a laugh full of herring. Evil was waning in me I could feel it. When Goni appeared we were still laughing, but she saw his scarf and his face and immediately, with her eyes, she sentenced him and scolded me (la mère Goni!). Then later in the car she said,

“You know he’s crazy, right?”

“He’s not crazy.”

“He’s crazy, Lui.”

“Gon, he’s not crazy. That’s too easy. Maybe he’s just tired that his mom has to sleep in a tent. Maybe they bulldozed his whole village while he was out with his brother. Maybe his brother was bulldozed too because he didn’t have the reflex, because he didn’t have the fucking reflex to get out of the way.”

What are you talking about?

“Nothing. Just drive.... and watch the birds.”

Friday, August 8, 2008

the me of me

This week was existential. I nearly caved-in…and then I didn’t.

Everyone’s gone: Goni’s in Haifa with Sal and Gerry, Brendan’s in Portland, Julien in Briançon, Bee’s unreachable in Southern California, the rich are in Juan-les-Pins, the poor in buses to the Costa del Sol. Only the Serbs are in Serbia and the Gazans in Gaza. The office too was deserted, a barren showroom of desks and printers. The xerox hummed sullenly and I stood by with nothing to do. I even missed Branson’s “helpful advice”, his goatee and his gleaming white teeth. This was a wasted, useless week. A dangling-chad on the calendar. I missed people. I just missed them. So I turned inward. I turned to the me of me. The I’s I. The moi en moi. I turned and I turned and then I saw something that cheered me up. I saw a kid who needs a haircut, a broke kid with funny teeth and a goofy smile. I saw a kid who likes Frankfurters and toast, Croats and Jewish girls, a kid who’s mostly sympathetic, except with snobs and “worldly” types. I saw this in a flash, faster than you can say “kid”, faster than the cyclotron in Geneva. It came to me like a rapid dispatch from within the me of me. It came so fast I almost missed it (the moi of moi is an impatient, flashy thing, not to be toyed with). And when I saw him, I liked him immediately. I liked him like I like secret tunnels, trap doors and distant cousins. And then, without further ado, in another flash I turned outward, fully outward: I grabbed my empty wallet, I grabbed my sunglasses and I went out. I went out onto the streets of Amsterdam, the sun on my back, like a crazy, disheveled cat looking for something to do.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

in praise of women

The intestine is three kilometers long, coiled in your stomach is three kilometers of tubing (I exaggerate. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know, look it up). Food has to worm its way out past a dozen “car wash” stations where it is sprayed and “secreted” upon. And it must undergo various metamorphoses – metamorfeces before it can be expelled. So, it is no wonder that somewhere along the way things can go horribly wrong. Usually, I’m what you call a “Bangladesh-type” (flash-floods and landslides), but since Belgrade

but this is not what I want to talk to you about. Yesterday was 27 degrees. It has been upwards of 25 for the past week. In Holland this means something. Women – previously unseen, undetected women – have been coming out by the thousands. Dressed down, legs bare, open back, tanned shoulders, cleavage and toes. It’s a banquet! I start in the train in the morning with the same book, the same page, the same paragraph – When the world was a forest of pines... – and then SHE sits across from me, crosses her legs, squishes her flip-flop between her toes and avoids my eye studiously. Quickly an I-pod, book or magazine emerges and she is no longer “available for questions”. It doesn’t matter, though, it doesn’t matter who’s sitting across from me and whether she’s nice to me or not, because they all have something. Even when they don’t, they have something. They have fine fingers, funny fiddly fingers, pearlish nails, freckles on their hands and arms, baby fat around their shoulders, a collarbone like a sandy ridge, or a long beautiful neck strung with beads, or they talk funny, in little fruity tidbits, or they run their hands through their hair like they’re on boat off Capri, or they just breathe nicely, softly, regularly, the same air I breathe, or, or, or (Holy mother of God!) it is simply their smell not cosmetic, but human – that is completely inebriating! Serbian, Italian, Dutch, German alike, it is an endless lexicon of detail, as long as this damn book I will never finish – when the world was a forest of pines...

One day they will recognize me. Not as the Apollo they all seek, but as their greatest, their most devoted fan... all of them, these women of the world!

Friday, July 25, 2008

beautiful Belgrade

Snezana Eugenia Birckenwald-Lekic IV – I call her Snezi – is my friend in Belgrade. She’s lovely. They do not come lovelier. She would have been a duchess, a marquise or some such nobility in the great Austro-Hungarian line, but the Turks impaled most of them and the communist locked up the few that remained. And that was that. So instead, she’s an architect. Everyone in Belgrade is an architect.... an architect, an aspiring architect, or a livestock veterinarian. This makes sense: there is nothing more important to a Serb than his home (especially the size of his home) and the pork on his plate. You think I jest? I do not. However, my list is incomplete, I forgot one: there is his home, there’s the pork on his plate and there is his homeland. Nothing is more important... and more ambiguous. It has been cut up so often (cut-up, reshuffled, redrawn, divided, seceded, returned, usurped and bombed beyond recognition) that the Serb is rather confused about his “homeland” and his fellow “homelanders”. Snezana Eugenia, for instance, is of Montenegrin origin, but were she to go there now she would find mostly Russians. Smalltime oligarchs are buying up the coastline one plot at a time. Once the young Montenegrin has sold the waterfront cottage he inherited from his parents, he packs off to Belgrade to live the “good life”, which in Serbian means acting like the Russians he left behind, i.e. sitting out whole days in the cafés of “Silicon Valley”, downtown Belgrade, where flesh-and-blood blow-up dolls show their curves and wares to prospective sugar daddies. I missed the trip to Silicon Valley. I arrived a day too late. What a terrible shame. I am no sugar daddy myself, but I can still spot a good deal when I see one.

Snezi also had three friends over. There was Sarah, the buoyant, the wonderful Sarah Bananas, a recent émigré to Belgrade; and there was Penelope P, a nurse from south London who struck up much speculation about the hydrology of urine through the human body in these insane temperatures (it was 39 degrees Celsius!!!); I proposed that it must in part evaporate through the skin since none of it was coming out of the usual channels (in my case at least); Pen contested vigorously. And then there was a guy who went by the name of Francis M. An American. A man of few words, probably the only one of us who could bear the scorching heat. When I asked him about it he said he worked for the Chinese in southern Sudan. I said. What do you do? He said, What’s it to you. And we spoke of it no more. But we got along, and the next day, on a cruise down the Sava he offered to go into business with me, importing Davidoff Slims into Austria over the Danube. I have a man in Vienna with a warehouse he said. I told him I had to think about it, but when I asked him, why slims why not regular cigarettes, he looked at me like I was complete ignoramus and we spoke of it no more.


On Saturday night we had dinner on the river Sava on a splav – a floating bar, restaurant, entertainment platform and sanitary hazard (according to Sarah). We ate like Ottomans and sang Balkan classics from the repertoires of Lepa Brena and the more recent Turbo Folk. Arms flailing, foot a’stompin’, Great God I felt Balkan again!!! Sarah B proved a true siren, with middle eastern tremolo and all. We were fit for the Eurovision, I swear. Only Francis stayed quiet, preferring to practice his Cyrillic script on the back of beer coasters (maybe working out the Slims “business” model), but I could tell he was enjoying every minute, sipping on his peach schnapps with an unmistakable grin. Like a cat I took a liking to him.


At three in the morning Snezi’s friend Ivana showed up – a practicing architect and Slims smoker. I’ve met her before. She’s usually a fireball of Serbian verve, but this night she was more subdued, wracked by internal conflict over the events of the preceding hours: do you DO and then THINK; or do you THINK and then DO. The classic quandary that has defined
Balkan history for the last six hundred years. But in true Serbian style she opted for the former and got down with the us til the sun rose over the Sava.

On Sunday morning, with only a few hours of sleep, I took the bus to Zagreb to visit my mom. Driving through Croatia on a Serbian bus felt like an incursion into enemy territory. I sat next to a war veteran, a chain-smoking Croat and self-proclaimed Knight of the Order of Holy Templar. He would not stop talking. The trip took almost 24 hours. It was an odyssey. I will tell you about it another time. Suffice to say that I was sad to leave Belgrade and especially the people of Belgrade. They say you either love them or you hate them – being a Croat, strictly speaking I cannot love them, so I hate them… but I love them – In any case, you have to give them one thing: they have an extraordinary sense of humor. Even their war criminals . By the time I got back to Amsterdam, Radovan Karadzic had finally been arrested by the Serbian secret service, having “evaded” them for thirteen years by masquerading as a long-haired, bearded practitioner of magnetism and alternative medicine… IN BELGRADE!! Psychiatrist turned psychopath turned homeopath. I couldn’t stop laughing. If I’d invented it myself and posted it as truth in this highly factual blog, no one would have believed it.


Back at work on Monday, at the xerox machine I had much time to dwell on my trip and on Francis M and his Davidoff Slims. It’s true that I like the word contraband and I guess I like the idea of saying, I deal in contraband, but that’s the problem, I like the idea and that’s about it. So for now I will leave it in southern Sudan with its originator. But who knows, maybe one day I will get a note from him written in Cyrillic with an offer I simply cannot refuse.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt

Human beings can be beautiful beings. This week is the week of Ingrid Betancourt, the almost saintly, the beautiful, the spirited Ingrid Betancourt, six years captive in the Colombian jungle, whisked from hide out to hide out, shackled down with neck chains – punishment for her five escape attempts – a magnificent, courageous woman. She brings tears to my eyes. I’ve been dreaming of Ingrid Betancourt. At work I mouthed her name over the xerox machine. I sat with Fer Ruiz from payroll and gaped with him at her photo on his desk. For half an hour we sat in silence. I am awestruck, possibly in love, certainly in the thrall of Ingrid Betancourt. A hundred times I say her name and still it warms my heart. Tomorrow, on the bus to Belgrade, I will think of her and I will wonder, as I have been wondering all week, why we are not all like Ingrid Betancourt, beautiful and spirited human beings.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Goni's children

Goni’s oldest is 17, but he looks barely barmitzwa-eligible. He makes up for it in smarts though. The first thing he did when I came into the living room is put down his Torah-sized Sudoku anthology and quiz me on Balkan history: wasn’t montenegro part of greater serbia, why is kosovo not a legitimate nation-state and so on and so forth. Salomon, leave Lui alone, Goni said like to a four year old. I said, bring it on Sal and we did some more Balkan-back-and-forth until he was satisfied, NOT that I'm an ok guy, NOT that I'm unlikely to pull a Burt Reynolds on his mom and start slapping her around for fun, but until he was satisfied that I am indeed a Croat, a real Croat and not a crank. That was Sal. Then came Geraldine. A 19 year old doorslammer, a beautiful, mouthwatering doorslammer: black curls, black eyes, teeth like the inside of a coconut and her feisty tongue, a raspberry popsicle. I fell for her like a lead balloon.

Geraldine: Who are YOU?

Me: Lui, my name is Lui,

Geraldine to mother: Mom, he’s like three!!

Me: TWENTY three, I’m twenty three years old.

And that was that. She slammed the door on her way out. Sal looked up from his numbers and told me not to mind his sister, that she was just flirting. Goni’s bosom heaved. This was more than she could bear I could tell. So I left it at this. In the hall I kissed her and touched her gold pendant that spelled the four letters of her name, Goni, oh Goni, and I became intensely warm and excited. Then I heard a door slam upstairs and I left.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

new horizons

Today I heard on the radio that somewhere out in some faraway galaxy a whole sun collapsed on itself like a souflé. It was getting too heavy for its own good, taking in more and more sun-particles and space dust and suchlike, sucking it up from everywhere until its own gravity was so overwhelming and its density so extreme that it just collapsed. Bang. And you know how much energy it released? More that the sun – our own little sun – ever will in its lifetime. But where does that stuff go? Does it go up in smoke? Does it go through cosmic stomachs, like a cow, from one to the other, from one universe to the next. Does it get filed somewhere as “spent”, boxed or pdfed? Or does it just sit out the rest of its days in darkness doing funny curvy things with space and time and light. Yeah, I’ve been thinking about stuff these days, broadening my horizons and such. Too much concentration during the Euro threatened my wellbeing. For two weeks my head was crowded with nothing else. There was only Arshivim’s cannonballs to goal, Luka Toni’s fakester tumbles in the penalty area and Ribéry’s tragic oh so tragic fall. I even fell for the only football player who looks like a woman, i.e. Emanuel Torres – i don’t know if it’s Emanuel, but that’s what I call him because it makes me think of Emanuelle with two Ls – a bullfighter a head taller than the rest, but with soft feminine features. It all really got started when the Dutch – the most powerful, the most explosive team of the tournament –were knocked out by eleven cheeky teenagers from Russia. It tore me apart. It was an affront!!!!! I became obsessed and from then on I could think of nothing else. And I mean nothing else, not even the message Goni left me on my voicemail Lui, it said, I may be forty years old. I may have two kids nearly your age, but I’m THEIR mother. Don’t treat me like I’m YOURS. Call me. I called her a week later, but mostly out of despair because I’d just finished watching Turkey fall against the Germans (ten blond falcons swooped down on their dark-skinned adversaries. It chilled my blood. Bastiaan Schweinsteiger is a weapon of war). I called Goni. I called her and hung up almost immediately. Why? It was a fair question, and I thought about it, and then I thought about Anna. I thought about Anna for a long time, like ten minutes, maybe more. I thought about her arms flicking up and her jangling bracelets and her deer-eyes. I got warm inside. And then I went out to find her. I left Brendan at home (since Italy’s disgraceful exit, Brendan has been conscpicuously quiet, pumping iron in his room. I like him this way: deflated). I went to the Waldorf hoping to see my stray deer. I showed up at twelve. There was just me and that black girl from Queen’s night– remember her: statuesque, amazonian. She was sipping a girl-drink with a guy at the bar. He looked like a posh deck hand from some millionaire’s marina. Blond, heavy diver's watch and a Macramé bracelet. I felt stupid so I left and went straight to Goni’s. I met her kids. I’ll tell you about it. Gotta go. Going to Goni’s. Gotta run. Oh, one more thing, guess what... Glendale S-pin won the counties. Bee kicked derriere big time. the Christel Verstraeten delivered. Oh, and one more thing, guess where I’m going next week. Guess.. BELGRADE!!! Gotta run.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Franck Ribéry

No man w­­­ith such scars on his face deserves to suffer ever again, but Franck Ribéry fell in the 12th minute of the game and was carted off on a stretcher. After that, I watched in silence. I ate a bag of potato chips on my own, and at each Italian goal some of it came back up into my mouth as a cheesy soup. It is not because I am part French on my mother’s side. It is not because – as Julien says – there are only two truly European countries, England and France, and because England did not even qualify and France is now out, this is no longer a European cup. No, it is much simpler than all of that. Simply, I cannot stand – repeat – CANNOT STAND the Italian team. I loathe them, I detest, hate, despise... I…I… give me synonyms…language cannot translate the iron ball in my gut and the soup of chips in my mouth. It is a dangerous thought. It is with such thoughts that the Serbs and Bosnians fell out, put knifes to each others throats and called NATO bombers upon themselves. It is irrational… I accept that. And I accept that I have been harsh on Italians before, maybe unduly – I accept that they have made some worthy contributions: the tortellini has an interesting shape and indeed feels funny on the tongue; and the Olivetti typewriter was once a useful and widely used machine. All of this I accept, but in international football they are rodents, and they have now reached round two of Euro 2008, not gloriously like the Dutch lions, not courageously like the great checkered Croats, but through the cracks, with their front teeth, and their bellies to the ground where they play victim and plead for penalties. I hate, detest, loathe despise…. oh, and to make matters worse, I’ve got a live one in my house now. Brendan has suddenly come out as an Italian – his great great great grandfather, he claims – and he has been wearing his Matterazzi shirt at almost every game. You are just stupeed littul provocateur, Julian said to him the other night. His response: Bite me! What do you do? And what do you do when a guy who has seen no more football matches than there are fingers on his hands, who can’t tell the Czechs from the Swedes, when this guy fancies himself the expert and insists that the offside rule doesn’t count in extra time. What do you do? I said to him, when I need to know how to work out my triceps I’ll come to you, IN THE MEANTIME, do not volunteer any information. EVER! He threatened a head-butt and laughed like a fool. I nearly punched him because I am in a state of heightened alert. I watch every game. My phone is switched off – Goni hasn’t heard from me in over a week – and I am beginning to resort to rituals: I dumped two bags of macaroni, yesterday, and flushed a pot of pesto down the toilet, perfectly good pesto. And for the first time in a long long time, I prayed. I said, dear God, please dear God give SPAIN the strength to eradicate from this tournament, and possibly for good, the metrosexual, penalty-craving crawlers that have befouled the beautiful game.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Crystal Verstraeten

Ask me where I went, it’s Saturday, ask me, you’ll never guess. I went to Luik. You heard of it? Probably not. If you’re into child-molesters and micro-breweries it’s really cool, otherwise... Just kidding. Kind of. Remember Marc Dutroux. He’s from there – or was it Charlesroy? Anyway, whatever, this whole place’s a ratnest. And when the locals catch one guess what happens – you didn’t hear about that? The biggest police botch-up in the history of Belgian criminal justice. Steve McQueen escapes. James Caan escapes, these sorts of people escape, even Serbian war criminals , but Pdfs they don’t escape. They’re too dumb. Only in Luik they escape. You know what luik means, the word luik, it means trap-door or escape hatch. I’m serious. So ask me why came here on a Saturday morning, why after a week of hard work, taking shit from Branson for the Turkishbath thing, why I got up at 6 to take the train to go to Luik, why I didn’t stay in bed with Goni. I’ll tell you. My sister lives in Glendale, that’s in LA; she hooked up with a vibraphonist on tour in Belgrade back before the bombing. I hear nothing from her for months, for months, and then two days ago she calls and she says I need this favor, Lui. Can you pick up something for me in Belgium. Her name is Bee – my sis – she’s in a bowling league called Glendale S-pin. I said, no way. She said, I need this ball, Lui, the county finals are coming up. I need it. I said, Forget it. She said, darn it little brother! I said, it’s just a ball Bee. Don’t you have balls in LA? She said, It’s not just a ball. It’s THE ball. It’s a Crystal Verstraeten. So it turns out that beside brewers and felons they have special craftsmen down in Luik. You can’t mail order from De Gebroeders Verstraeten, you have to pick up in person. So I walk up to the counter to this old dude. The name tag reads Coen Verstraeten, but think John McCain, think shoulder pads and this kind of man-corset thing. I say to him, the Crystal Verstraeten for Labas, Bee Labas. He says Kryst’lverstraet’n, like a single word, almost Hebrew, which kind of freaked me out and he hands me a box and I hand him a small fortune and I’m thinking show me this friggin’ ball, show me, so I look in the box, and I can’t believe my eyeballs: it’s big like a bowling ball, it glistens, it’s round, but it’s golden, it’s all gold colored, so I say, sir, I asked for the CRYSTAL Verstraeten, this one’s gold. And then I got funny, I said, look under Bee, sir, Bee Labas, not R-Kelly. Hahahaha and I had to laugh thinking of R knocking down pins with his crew. But then Coen kept calling me Mr.Kelly – Mr.Kelly this, Mr.Kelly that, and I figured out that his daughter’s called Christel - so it’s Christel not crystal - and I got the whole deal, but I could barely understand him, and he freak me out ‘cause he spoke a strange tongue, like ancient Luik, the tongue of child molesters and micro-brewers, and I thought, get me the fuck out of here, so I just took off and left the box on the counter. I schlepped this golden cannon ball all the way across Luik to the station and when I got home Goni was gone. So Bee, you better kick some county butt next month.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

provoke and pursue

Balkan people are expert at getting involved, getting in the middle of things, things that don’t concern them, shit-storms and squabbles alike. We’ve done it for centuries. We invented the world-class scrape. It should be in my blood, but these days – fuck-a-duck – I’ve been languishing, spectating and generally feeling sorry for myself. First Anna, always at arm’s length, then in Rome Francesca’s cold shoulder, and now Brendan and his friggin’ fraulein. I’ve been playing all these in the back of my brain like little youtubes. It’s pathetic. But there’s only so much of this shit I can take lying down. The worst thing that can happen to you is nothing. This is a fact. Get slapped, kicked, scratched, jilted anything and you’re ahead, you’re in business. Nothing is worse than nothing. So I tell you, get your foot in the door, stand your ground, piss on it if stays shut. For the past week I’ve been hitting all fronts, like a swivel gun, all sides take a hit. I call it provoke and pursue. Ask me the time and I’ll tell you my life story, step on my toe and I’ll get in your face. I’m Balkan again, I’m everywhere and constantly changing, I’m kaleidoscopic. Branson - pdf-man - wanted his reports bound and ready by two – bang!– No can do, sir. So he says (goatee agape) excuse me? And I say, I’m going to the turkish bath (you have to come up with that shit on the spot, though, there’s no time to think.) He says, Ben je helemaal gek geworden! So things escalate, so what! you roll with it, and you stick to the plan, you drop everything and you go to the sauna. Because it’s monday and mixed-gender there’s just you and a Jewess named Goni, plump, Sephardic, bejewelled, and as you throw eucalyptus water on the coals, she says, my, my, you’re a skinny young man, you must eat more – swivel and strike– skinny? maybe, but multilingual and able-bodied. And you wink at her. You wink so she can see you right through the steam in the turkish bath. That’s how you do it, kaleidoscopic, always adapting. And the next day you don’t wait, you call Goni first thing. You say, Shalom, and she says, hi there, and you say, ok, Goni, let’s go eat!

Friday, May 23, 2008

mind and body

I’m going crazy. They come home after midnight, they have a snack and a drink in the kitchen. They think they’re being quiet because they whisper, but they only whisper half the time and then they forget the sleeping Croat next door, and they forget that I can hear them when she says stuff like not zuh pepper grinder Brandon, followed by bursts of laughter leaving me baffled as to what the hell is going on. And then, just as I’m about to fade, when there is a chance I may fall asleep again, it begins in earnest: a fifteen minute crescendo, a spiraling Germanic moan – jaaaa, ach Brandon nicht so schnell.... I told Brendan about this, I said I need my sleep, Brendan I work now, I’m a working man but he said, dude it’s a sign she’s getting more comfortable with you, it’s a good thing. This would be true if she were a wild beast and we shared a cage together. She’s not getting more comfortable Brendan, she’s just getting more cocky. After that no more seriousness was possible for days. Hahaha, she sure as hell is, man. Hahahaha! What a stupid sack of muscles. Nevertheless, I am deeply envious. If I do not sleep it is not only because the noise disturbs me, it is also because such noise sets in motion things which set other things in motions, some mechanical, some mental, until mind and body are in alliance, one reinforcing the other, and my hands become mere puppets. I ended up at my computer on a dating site looking at a girl from StPetersburg - most of them are Russian or Ukrainian, which is quite acceptable - but when I tried to read her description (the result of instant internet translation) my mind and body disengaged and I was left completely limp. Oxana writes: It is pleasant to me when hands, mind and an eye estimation (needlework, work on a computer, minigolf, or simultaneously two employment) are involved.

Monday, May 12, 2008

ze gurls and ze smoke

I’m broke. They were suppose to give me a one week advance, but they didn’t. So I went down to payroll and met Fernando Ruiz. He’s the payroll guy. He’s also argentine – or is it argentinian – anyway he’s from argentina. He’s been with this company for over thirty years. “Can you believe it,” he said. No. I could not. Thirty years in that cramped little office doing pay roll shit. “I cannot Mr. Ruiz”. “Call me Fer,” he said. And then he got started, he said he escaped persecution from the military Junta in his country back in the seventies and he pointed to a picture in a frame on his desk. He talked about torture chambers and hyperinflation. Thousands disappeared, he said. But Fer, what about my advance. “Be patient; it will come. I worked my way up from the mailroom.” My advance, Fer, not my advancement. So I got that sorted out. They paid me, and last night I went out with Julien – we go for find ze gurls and ze smoke a French guy from Briançon. I call him plan B ‘cause he’s never plan A. Brendan had a date with that German girl from queen’s night. I hate him. I hate his muscles. I hate the fact that his legs are too skinny for the rest of his body cause he's too busy loving his pecs (I have two words: Michael Douglas), I hate that when he goes out the whole friggin’ apartment smells like Armani Attitude. And I especially hate the fact that he’s from Portland and gets all these European “chicks”. My chicks. Whatever happened to that good old anti-american sentiment in the early days of Iraq. Hello! They’re still there with guns. Where'd it all go? I’m a full-breed European and when I go for find ze gurls I never do. I see a problem there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

my queen's day

A couple of days ago was Queen’s day. I’m a republican through and through, but this was a wonder. I spent two days in bed recovering. Croats, Serbs, Bosnians look to the north and weep! I saw a whole nation united in revelry, yokels and aristocrats alike. A whole nation, not just the north or the south, a whole nation draped in a single color. Orange socks, orange pants, orange leggings, orange sweaters, orange hats. You name it. Orange orange orange. A whole nation chanting – it is said – in honor of their queen. This is a wonder. Never mind that she was up north in Friesland where they speak a strange patois and want statehood; never mind that she was completely dressed in pink, marzipan pink (who advises this woman!), it is nevertheless a wonder. And when I am awestruck, when I am fascinated with the world and its peoples, when my amazement cannot be contained, I drink. I drink like a fucking crazy-man. So very fortunate was it, therefore, that everyone around me was drinking too. Huge quantities. These Dutch guys – I swear – are like Albanians. And at two fifty a beer I was robbed in broad daylight of all my hard-earned xerox-money and potential future-xerox-money too (if Branson will have me back; I worked exactly 1 day, then came this). But my amazement did not stop here, because out onto the streets people poured out their belongings on blankets and tarpaulins, a whole bunch of crap sold at throw-away prices, a sea of bric-a-brac, nick-nacks, stuff-no-one-wants, old toasters, yin-yang balls, The Human League on VHS. And children too, hundreds of them flogging their junk, their skills and their tricks, some legitimate, some highly questionable: I stuck my hand in a black box full of fuzz in the Vondel park and this ten year old charged me a Euro (I swear, these friggin’ kids you give ‘em an inch... I’m not gonna say it... I’m just gonna say: Lord of the Flies). To be fair though, there were some wonders among them too, a young Britney-lookalike banging out the Goldberg Variations on her Clavinova like she was MSNing her girlfriends. Amazing, wondrous stuff this day. The marzipan queen should have been on her knees.

By noon I was coming down, though. And by evening I was fighting all out to stay on my feet. Brendan managed to drag what was left of me to the Waldorf in the Jordaan – not the hotel, but the thirty square meters of hip & hype, congregation point of Amsterdam fashionistas, stylists, typographers, streetologists and suchlike (where are the friggin’ doctors in this city!!!) . I obliged ‘cause I know Anna goes there with Fred and some her friends. She showed up after midnight and I practically fell over myself trying to get a shot of her outside. Big sad eyes, arms flicking – the usual. Not a blob of orange like the rest, though, just a couple of armbands jangling and charm, so much fucking charm it kills. But drunk as a rut, no way was I gonna show myself un-enhanced. So I went and enhanced myself as best I could. Brendan was sweet-talking a German “chick” and I slinked (slunk??) up to her friend by the door, a stupendous beauty – dark-caramel, Amazonian in stature, a killer – she says, “are you going already?”(Full accents!). I was stunned. “In fact I am not.” I said. But she wasn’t talking to me. I didn’t see the blond giant ahead, but being a head taller than everyone else I don’t think she noticed that I slipped my arm practically around her to wave at Anna outside, fully enhanced. And this was my last move before I retreated and slumped irretrievably. All I recall, with Brendan standing nearby, are the words (spoken with a slight German accent) “but you are so muscular”.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

pdf

I’m back. I’ve put it behind me. Francesca. Rome. And when I was back all I could think was give me something!! Give me something flat. Give me a plastic bag. Give me something dull. Something without taste and smell. No tango. No machiatos. Give me a coffee in a paper cup. Something zero, something without culture and style, without "penetrating eyes" and foreign accent. And damn it! you know what, I got it.Yesterday was my first day on the job. I work in a office now. None of this shuffling around with plates and cutlery anymore. And I discovered what kind of assistant I am too. I’m everyone’s assist. I assist people’s assistants. I spent the morning manning the xerox machine, and then I filed a man’s files. His name is Douwke. That’s a name. He asked me where I was from, I said, Croatia, he said, Sarajevo? I said Croatia without blinking an eye and he got it. A Richard Branson type with white teeth, a goatee and kind of constant half smile. He was quick to observe that in Dutch “Lui” (pronounced as single syllable) means lazy. Je zult twee keer zo hard moeten werken fucker– you’ll have to work twice as hard. Ha, ha, ha, that’s funny, ‘cause Douwke in Slovenian means dagger, but it also the fuzz on a man’s scrotum. I didn’t tell him that because it’s not true, but I would have. When I was done with his files he said, do you know data entry? I said tell me and I’ll do it. He talked about pdf files. He said, you take these pdf files and you print out these pdf files and with these pdf files you gotta do this and that with these pdf files. He said it so much I was loosing it, I was straying, I was hearing something else and I got this terrible, this totally horrible disturbing image, Richard Branson in a cellar with a bunch of kids all scared and scratched, which is the most horrendous shit you can possibly think of. Pdf files he kept saying. It’s a highest order of magnitude of evil. If murder is 1, ethnic cleansing 7 – and I know ethnic cleansing, I'm Balkan – this shit is easily 10, 15, maybe 20. It’s down there with shit that’s so evil just thinking about it is criminal. Just thinking! Lui! Yes, sir! Get with the program, he said, (or the Dutch equivalent). Richard Branson scratched his goatee and looked at me funny, and I said, give me the files sir and I’ll do it. And he said, I can’t give you the files they’re pdf files.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

love and conjunctivitis in Rome

Pink-eye. You haveknow it! It sucks. It's the worst. For three days Rome reached me through a watery lens, and always from behind a bunker-sack of puss in my eye. But on this foreign soil, ancient center of the universe, I was doubly afflicted: I fell in love, or I should say – in the spirit of Italian football – I was down and then kicked in the groin. I’m still in love now. It’s a scientific fact. I deny it, but my stomach insists that I am, and my mind was been screening her, back to back, twiddling her hair, sipping Chianti at the bar at Cascabelito. What did I see? I saw nothing. Pink eye or not: Rome was neither Colosseum nor Pantheon, neither pasta nor pizza, Rome was wholly and entirely Francesca. I’m a sucker, a Balkan sucker and I hate it.

Quaker Oats put us up in a dump near the main station, Termini, concourse of Roman riffraff. Night one – under the pretext of meeting “chicks" "ASAP” – Brendan insisted we go to a tango salon . What? That’s right, that’s his embarrassing hobby, not mine. I have no part in it. No part in flowy pants and wing-tips. It’s a lot of fiddly footwork and sissy cross-steps and such. The women lean against you (this I appreciate), and then you glide them around while they appear – if all goes well– entranced. Francesca only just started. She was there with her friend Rosangela, a decent dancer. Francesca danced once, struggled and was never asked again. The men in all their swarthy elegance and facial landscaping are brutish and wasteful: all these beautiful, beautiful girls just sidelined. I was disgusted. I would have danced the “Bulgarian squat” with these angels. I’d, I’d... it kills you!

Anyway, the upside is that I got to talk to her, i.e. I got to speak words to her – she speaks no French, no English, no Dutch, no Serbo-Croatian. Mi deo!. Language was barred. My main asset frozen. What to do? I touched her hand, she withdrew. I touched her arm, she recoiled, but on Brendan’s advice I stayed steady, operating under the assumption that “no” in Italy comes – like gelati in a vast array of flavors, and this “no” was no plain vanilla, no rich chocolate, this “no” was all pistachio. It said, “I’m not sweet, not at first, but just you wait.”

I didn’t wait. I fell while it was still salty. And so it remained.

Day two we had scooters: Brendan and Rosangela ahead on theirs, her arms clasped around his American build. Francesca on the back on mine, and Rome spread out like a fan of postcards in her hand, pointing right, pointing left – destra, sinistra – but never touching me. Not once. My loins ached; my Balkan heart quivered. Ruins, aqueducts and statues shorn of genitals, all mere props in this tragedy.

Brendan wore his linen pants, said ciao all the time, and abandoned his Starbuck latés for machiatos. A fool. He’s from Portland, he works at K-Swiss in Spaarnwoude. By Sunday I hated him like you hate a Serb; I hated his whole Quaker Oats coupon scheme, I hated this place and I hated the food, the endless permutations of pasta: rolled, cupped, stuffed, tricked, spun. What does that do to the taste? Answer me! What? What did you say? Italian food is so much more than pasta and pizza??? Show me! And no cold tomato soup in a glass, and none of those turds of white putty they swear by lunch and dinner. Show me! I’m open. I’m from Zagreb. We eat porc. We it straight and on a stick, but we don’t have a culinary high horse. I’m ready to accept. Make me believe. Make me something. Dazzle me with basil and Parma ham. Do it. I’ll even allow pesto. But please, not another feat of geometry. What’s next, the double helix tortellini?!

I left early on Sunday. I was done. Quaker Oats was cheap and flew us Ryan Air out of Ciampino, the hooligan hub. I sat in the lounge watching Richard Quest... before he got caught with meth in Central Park, his balls in a Roman sling (haven’t your heard? this is not a joke This is dead serious. The new Airbus will never be the same). I sat there trying not to think of her, my beautiful Francesca. I sat on the ground, gutted, like discarded cannoli.