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Thursday, April 30, 2009

hard edges

Voice-man, Office-man... I call him Grind-man.

Grind-man is a fat man with diabetes, a pug-nose and a spirit like a sack of gravel. Grind-man sits for hours moving numbers across a screen, always fearful this task will be taken from him, fearful his life will fold up before his eyes, leaving him to stare into the abyss.

I feel for Grind-man. He drinks coffee and sucks on Werther’s Originals. He has a flat-screen tv and a leather couch at home, but now he sits in the back of a crowded, computer-strewn work-space amid a populace of youngsters who do not know his name.

When I got off the plane at Schiphol my phone rang –my Dutch phone! How could this be? I thought. But thus it transpired that Grind-man was my first connection, my first link to land, and life ahead.

Blah blah blah blah... Lui Labas?

Yes.

Meneer Labas, u heeft achterstallige betalingen...


Payments overdue – I put Grind-man on hold while I pulled my bags off the conveyor belt. I paused, then put him back on. I could hear the Werther’s Original knocking against a molar in the back his mouth, and I could see him in my mind: Grind-man at his desk, his stomach squeezed, his pen against the screen, his headset like a pincer around his fat face. Looking closely, I could practically count the open pores on his nose. Look, Mr. Grind-man, I said, I just got back from Buenos Aires. I did not sleep, sir – do you hear – eight weeks I did not sleep. I’ve come practically from another world, do you understand, I don’t even live here Mr.Grind-man, I have no address – permanent or otherwise. Comprendo? So this can’t be. There must be some kind of mistake. Payments for WHAT anyway? I don’t even exist; I own nothing. This is Kafkaesque Mr.Grind-man. For all you know I could be on a boat in international waters, beyond the reach of any bureaucracy, yours included. You understand?

It’s about your phone Meneer Labas. You do own something. The bills are for your phone.

Life has molded Grind-man out the papier-mâché of chance: man meets woman; they beget a child who fattens over fifty years and stumbles from this into that...

Meneer Labas?

Yes, Grind-man?

It’s the phone in your hand Meneer Labas! And why are you calling me Grind-man. Who is Grind-man? Who the hell do you think you are? My name is Oldenbrecht. Ronald Oldenbrecht. Exactly as I introduced myself. Do YOU understand?!

Fuck.

For a second all of Schiphol froze. And there it stood, in all its solidity, staring me in the face.

...Meneer Labas?

Hard edges, solid glass and steel, and my feet planted on the ground.

...Meneer Labas?

I would have spoken, I would have said something – I’m sorry Mr. Oldenbrecht. I’m sorry, I’m just not with it. I don’t know a thing about you. I just haven’t slept very much...

But I was speechless with shame

Sunday, April 19, 2009

lifeline

For eight weeks money had come out of a wall on Santa Fe, generously and without question, a thousand pesos at a time. But now, out of nowhere, the mouth spoketh nay.

I practically ran the twenty-two blocks south east, across slums and train tracks, to find my friend - my British friend (remember her, the bowels, the diarrhea). Just fifteen hours before my flight back I was stone broke; I couldn’t even pay for a cab. I love Buenos Aires, I love media lunas, I love the sun, the beautiful portenas, the warm nights, the bus rides through the labyrinth-grid, but to be stuck here without a cent…

I found her on Plaza Dorrego dancing folklore with the assembled gypsies and riffraff. She was drunk or exuberant, or both, on the brink of something in any case, her arms up in a fire of pride in a way thoroughly un-British. When she saw me she shouted my name and pushed aside a crew of skinny Che Guevaras. I told her about the mouth, my empty pockets and my flight back. She didn’t hesitate.Take, she said, please, take, and she pushed a wad of money into my hands. Then she dragged me onto the cobbles, into the melee of arms and legs…

What do I do?
Just dance, Lui
I don’t know this stuff
Just follow me, just dance.

So I did. I tried. I tripped. I jostled for space. I cursed my feet and apologized right and left, but no one cared. Twenty-two Argentines turned circles around me, and I danced - in my own way - with elbows and knees, my arms splayed, my head turned this way and that way, while my heels thudded a Balkan beat. This was zamba, but who cares: the stars shimmered down, there was money in my pocket and my feet did as they pleased! I was happy. I was so happy I nearly forgot everything again. I would have stayed longer with this rowdy gang, but now, in my last hours, I had one more thing to do.

As I walked back across rail and slum I spoke to myself for the first time in a while: Listen to me, Lui, listen carefully. I’m only going to say this once, and then I proceeded to repeat it a dozen times, as if to convince this man crossing rail and slum that he was finally going in the right direction – and not just tonight – that earth and stars were aligned in his favor, that life would extend to him its fruits from now on. But this man was hard to convince, and the monologue continued the twenty blocks into Villa Crespo.

When I arrived the stage was set.

The stars still shimmered and all was quiet. I threw a pebble. Then another, and a third, until a dog barked and a light went on, and the shadow of Adriana appeared in the grooves of the closed shutters.

Adriana,
Shshshshs
Adriana, is that you?
Shshshshs, be quiet.
It’s me. It's Lui. Open the shutters.
I can’t.
Why not?
They’re stuck. They don’t work.
Come down then.
I can’t.

Why not? … Adriana?

She never did come down, but I saw her shadow roam and a small light in her room go on and off in a Morse code that said everything.

Finally, I walked away, fifteen blocks down Colonel Diaz. Home.

***

Now it’s 6 AM; another time; another place. Now I’m a ghostly figure at Madrid airport. I'm a guy sprawled across two seats. I'm a guy who hasn't slept in fourty-eight hours - maybe more. I look up at the beams holding the wavy roof of the terminal, the way they break down into a spectrum of color over hundreds of meters. I’m in the reds - the oranges. The blues are far down in the distance. The whole hall is virtually empty and everywhere there are stars of light, real and artificial, fizzing and blinking... and there's a hum, a light hum, like inside a spaceship, a vast machine, alive and uncontralable, ready to go...

Friday, April 10, 2009

dangerous ties

She said she was thirty, but I didn’t buy it. To keep it real – the gap between us – I told her I was eighteen, dieciocho, but she didn’t believe me either: My unshaven cheeks, my Balkan charisma, my language skills, something gave me away. I started in Spanish, but quickly lapsed into French. She told me to take the toothpick out of my mouth, but even then she only got every fifth word, maybe less. Anyway, who cares, it wasn’t about that. At first, it wasn’t about anything at all. I told her about my father’s tie collection – his hundreds of ties – and mimed the procedure, tightening an invisible thing around my neck. I remembered E=mc2 and Einstein’s hallow of hair dangling over the mashed potatoes as my father reached for the salt across the table. He had many such prints and I began to enumerate, but she seemed uninterested or just preoccupied. She pressed her finger on the red of my sunburnt nose and made an ouw-face with her eyes and lips. Then our steaks arrived and conversation stopped. I ate like an animal. I tore at my bife de choriso and downed water like an ox. Meanwhile she cut her meat in strips and sipped wine after each bite. I don’t think she was making a point – maybe she was, but I was hungry, for several days I’d been hungry. I’ve been eating, that’s not it. Sometimes hunger is more comprehensive. Sometimes you stay hungry for a while.

I dropped her off in Villa Crespo and told moustache-man at the wheel to keep driving. Where to? he asked. Just take me for a ride senior. This he understood. The meter ticked and my eyes shot up out of the open window. The sky was clear and at ten thousand feet above the city I asked him to stop. I got out and I walked the rest of Rivadavia thinking of my father and his funny ties. I was happy that such things could be so important to him, especially after what she told me. For her father this was not possible. His ties were dangerous. He disappeared in 1981, or – as they say in this country – he was disappeared. They could do that in Argentina back then. Disappear a man. Tuck him into a space-fold. Drop him down a chute into a void. Dispatch him at the speed of light. But where to, how, why? She didn’t want to talk about it and instead she pressed the red of my sunburnt nose… once, twice… Adriana, stop!

On Rivadavia I took in large gasps of air looking down the width and breath of Buenos Aires. Dogs barked and the street stank of their offerings. I looked. I focused. I hoped. Maybe I could find this man – the man with the dangerous ties – maybe I could. Nothing would make her happier. Ten years would vanish instantly from her face. She would be thirty again and I twenty eight. There would be no more gap between us, and – this is a fact – my hunger too would disappear.

Friday, April 3, 2009

slow down Lui

I out-run buses, I out-scuttle roaches, I am a spirit on legs, my brain now at a virtual standstill. LUI LABAS SHUTTLES BODY FROM VILLA CRESPO TO SAN TELMO BACK TO RECOLETA. All is meet-you-speaky-go, quick glances and dirty pesos. I feed on media lunas noon and night – mornings now nonexistent. I do face-prints and name-swaps. I am like cat rubbing tail with other cats. And I speak like local-man, no Serbo-Croatian, no finicky French, no hammer-blow Dutch, just bare bones meet me in door, I wait you, yes. And as I wait I never stand idle, I smoke cigarettes and make face-prints with my brain.

Accelerations down Sante Fe; about-turns on Pueyrredon. This body loves Buenos Aires – the racetrack Buenos Aires – even if my heart still beats in Zagreb, and my mind still strolls down Hundertwasser Promenade. But tonight Lui sleeps. This body sleeps, do you hear. I re-inhabit Lui. I curl up paws and tail and enter private domain where I am mayor, magistrate and high priest; where I rule over cabs and passengers, friends and foes, to’s-and-fro’s. Sleep will come, Lui Labas. Believe me. Even orchestrations of dog and coughings of old man early morning will not wake you. Your realm is impenetrable – mayor, magistrate, and high priest – and, as my friend wrote to me the other day, you will sleep like big mountain on edge of stars until soon be new man...