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Saturday, August 29, 2009

the freedoms of land animals

JK rolled his Brontosaurus across his living room most of last night – I think he rides it – consequence is that I hardly slept. Instead I kept watch for tomfoolery on my block: Turks, junkies, riffraff and other land animals. Bigman didn’t show. I suspect he was in town resting against walls again, scratching his arms, kicking up his foot and dusting sand off his large body – the usual. He does this at different locations at different times of the night. We all have to keep busy one way or the other.

Then – very late; like at three – two Japanese girls strolled by. I was squatted in my doorway with a box of cookies. They giggled and walked bowlegged in an arc around me. Why the giggles, I thought, what is it? My “reptile” slippers? My y-fronts? or was it just the shadow of JKs prehistoric beast as it swayed past us on the sidewalk. Anyway, I gestured hello and they greeted back – like they do out east – nodding. Between us, on the ground, a pair of critters-with-teeth picked at the crumbs from the cookies I was eating earlier on. And across the street two Turks showed up from the Grillroom; older, mustachioed Turks with tea in tiny glasses, and cigarette smoke coming out of their nostrils almost non-stop. So there we were, the eight of us: the toothy critters, the girls, the turks, the roving bronto, and me. Land animals all. I made a mental note of this zoo, thankful to JK for keeping me up to bear witness.

Yeah, I was glad for all you land animals – glad to see you, I mean. I scratched my ribs like bigman and smiled. I was glad because my mind has been a watery thing of late, a vast, shifting sea: dark rolling waves; gale winds whipping up froth, salt-sting and wetness.

My work at the Plasma Center has been – mmmm… well.... the square of Delft in the window, the L-shaped desks bolted to the walls, the paper squiggles of Plasma Physics, the fire(meat)balls for lunch (one more fireball for Mr. Labas?) Enough! I’m done. I'm really done.

Crunching another cookie, I thought the obvious to myself, what are two Japanese girls doing here in the middle of the night? Kindly land animals from the East. The Turks too were puzzled I could tell. But then instantly in response I though, what the heck Lui, what about you? Caught in moon beams in the middle of the North Sea, salty spray on your Balkan nose, and sea stars in abundance overhead. Pretty unlikely too, but pretty soon that’s where you’re going be. You, land animal extraodinaire, hoarder-of-gravity and taker-of-ground-oaths. You... Lui... at sea.

Friday, August 21, 2009

practical mathematics

1) A swimming pool lies 10m off the foot of a high rise downtown Zagreb. On the roof, 100m* up, a desperate man stands in suit and tie, trembling, crying, shouting abuse in Serbo-Croatian, the foam of death on his lips. In his hands is a picture of a woman with blond hair, (probably peroxide) and breasts that look – how shall I say – well, fake. Anyway - irrelevant – the point is – the question is: what is the maximum speed he must stay under when leaping off the high rise to ensure his safe passage to the underworld i.e. the guy wants to die, not go for a swim. Note1: assume a perfect parabola and no air friction. Note2: We’re on Earth, so gravity – except around Labas’ meteorite – is approximately constant. Hints:

a) Drago Stanic – that’s his name; remember him? he called me from his yacht on the Aegean – is not a stuntman, nor does he wish to be one.

b) Drago and I used to play Mikado and number games in my yard after school. He was always good with numbers, then he got really good and turned criminal. Casinos and whatnot. He loved puzzles and food. Was he fat? Yes. But this is of no practical significance since air friction is zero.

2) Once desperate, now disembodied and strangely lighthearted, Drago must travel from the concrete at the foot of the high rise to a giant rock belt on the rim of the galaxy 300 light-years away. His punishment for whacking Serbs, beating Tania and stealing money is mild: he will run a hotdog stand for the Americans he so disliked on Earth, i.e. he will languish for the rest of eternity outside a football stadium, i.e. American football. Now, if Drago can travel at 30 times the speed of light (he's disembodied, immaterial, ectoplasmic – call it what you want – so he can do this now) how long will it take Drago to get there? Note1: disregard Special Relativity. Note2: ...and General Relativity. Note3: in fact, ignore all physics post 1916. Note4: Assume a straight line and no pit stops. Note5 Assume Drago hits no obstruction and has a working knowledge of blackholes. Note6: Even though Drago – as I remember him – is notoriously “distractable”, assume that for once in his godforsaken, fucked-up life he is going to concentrate on the task at hand and not wander around full of schemes to make a quick Dinar. No dollars or dinars in space Drago! Hints:

a.Drago and Tania – lady Peroxide – enjoyed a short but intense relationship. Tania cheated, but this is just for your information and of no practical significance.

b A light-year – like a relationship is a distance traveled, not a duration.

3) This is a two part question. If regret is a wave that spreads out through space like a ripple in water, lighting up the disembodied as it encounters them (1) how fast would this wave have to travel if it left the bosom of the regreter downtown Rotterdam to touch Drago just before he reaches the rock-belt stadium? And (2) how long would it take for Drago to appear as a shooting star for this Earthlings to behold. Note1: light must travel back the distance before it can be perceived. Note2: When he called me from his yacht - despite the jokes and tomfoolery - underneath it was a plea for help. Come to Zagreb, my friend, please come! But this is just for your information and of no practical significance

Extra credit (for smart asses and cookies): What hemisphere would see Drago if he jumped…now!

Note: Use pen & pad. You may test waves of your own and look at the sky at any time. That’s not cheating, it’s encouraged.

(RIP Drago!)

*source: Snezana Eugenia Birckenwald-Lekic IV (Snezi)


Friday, August 14, 2009

back in Amsterdam

It was time to go to Amsterdam again. I hadn’t been back since before Buenos Aires. I missed the junkies, the tourists and the trip-me cobbles. And – truth be told – I missed Brendan a whole lot too.

First I went to see Julien near Westerpark. I smelled weed and heard Jacques Brel. First thing he did when I arrived was hand me one of his freshly printed business cards: Juste Julien – legal counsel with a French touche (typo or style?). I was curious what “French touch” meant in legal terms. He has a law degree – I think – but the only law Julien has ever known was being busted at the Belgian border with a pound of weed . With confidence he pronounced: I weel bee lawyur for expat wis mush monay. He seemed determined so we left it at that. Then we moved to the balcony with some Pastise to discuss his latest attempts to exercise his French touche on the opposite sex. In the background, Jacques Brel thundered Je t’aime, oui, je t’aaaaime. The sun shined down upon us. It was a fine day.

After that it was off to Brendan's. He came back from the gym when I arrived. In the kitchen he beat an eggy protein drink with a fork and downed it, keeping me laser-locked in the corner of his eye. Clearly, he had something in mind.

Lui, you look pale. You need to get laid.

This worried me.

You need action, Lui. Pronto!

Bren, you have egg on your lip.

It worried me because this guy doesn’t understand strategy. Bren knows only trial and error. He's the Thomas Edison of womanizers – he'll try every damn bulb filament known to man, every trick in the book, and one will light up. He’s about statistics, not stealth. Needless to say, I knew ahead of time that in my case the accent would be overwhelmingly on error.

Give me your hand, he said.

Wha - ?

Give me your hand! I handed it to him and he grabed it like a doorknob.

You and me, right here, we make a pact, a fucking covenant, yeah. You don’t leave ‘til we get you some action. We shake on it.

Bren, that’s bad idea. That’s a baaaaa – ouw, OOOOUW!.. ok ok ok!

It’s a deal then.

The American touch. A little coercion never hurt anyone.

An hour later I was at the Waldorf café with a drink in my injured hand. The humiliation began. Six drunk Brits from Sheffield shuffled in (every alloy known to man), enough fat on them for six more. A hen night. All morals left at the chicken coop.

Ladies, ladies, introductions, introductions. Meet my friend Lui. A lightweight, yes, but quality equipment. A Bang & Olufsen for your Samsungs ladies, he said pointing to the guys, right and left. With Bang he winked and nudged. I cringed.

Then two polish girls,

Polish!? that’s a amazing, what a coincidence, my friend here is also Balkan

(Oh god)

Lui, speak Balkan, go on. Speak it.

I cringed.

And so on and so forth…

Finally, near closing time, Sofia von Spitzenwald showed up with her Brazilian friend. Remember them from the Switcheroo. Bren suddenly simmered down. Turns out he and Sofia “know” each other; “benchpressed” her many a time, but still this Autro-Hungarian blue-blood has a hold on him it seems.

Sofia, good to see you, ravishing. What brings you here? Have a seat. And your friend too. Drink?

Brazil sat next to me. Chats went smooth: You’re pretty tall, aren’t you? I opened. This is relative, she said, you are a small man. And so on, but good. Smart cookie, Brazil. I bought her a drink for free and we drank from our respective altitudes knowing there was no danger here; we would never “know” each other.

In the morning I snuck out like a thief, in contravention of the pact, the fucking covenant. Still pale and unlaid, but sated nevertheless. Amsterdam had delivered! My headache and gut testified. It was all good, the trialing – even the erroring so good that on the train back a haiku emerged unannounced:

Canal ladies in tights

Street-vomit on cobbles

Drunk dog barking at dawn

I was inspired.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

government

"Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions."


We like Machiavelli where I come from – Niccolo Machiavelli – we like him because he’s smart, because he can screw you, bamboozle you, rip you off and smile all the while. He’s an artist in the manner of the great illusionists. With sleight of hand and deflection, Lookee-here, this bird in my hand, he says and then he cleans you out. He can do this because he never actually does it himself. The best scam artists in Serbia (the best are Serbian not Croatian) have someone else do it for them. Once robbed and stripped down to your underpants, Niccolo sidles up (fully clothed of course) my friend, he says, you have been robbed, I will help you. So you follow Nico to his home – what else can you do? – and you live under his roof, under his care. He serves you plum schnapps and lets you watch cable. Soon you forget that you once had your own house, your own land, and clothes on your back. And soon it becomes normal to walk in underpants – everyone should be in underpants! For years you do little else but drink schnapps and watch cable. But one day Nico tells you you must earn your keep. You see that man over there with the jacket and the hat, he says. Here’s a bird, go! Take everything he’s got and bring it back.

Now you are working for Nico, and soon there are more and more people in underpants and fewer and fewer hats and garments. There are hand-birds all over the place, and all you can find is schnapps and cable.

Then one day you start to think to yourself, shits, holy mother of god, I’m in my underpants, my liver is busted, my eyes shot, winter lies in wait, all I have is this hand-bird. How can this be? So you talk to other people in underpants and you find that they think the same.

What the heck! You say to the men in hats, this didn’t pan out, did it? This didn't work.

My friend, things are better, don’t worry. Things are better.

Stop calling me friend. All I see is hand-birds and underpants. What’s better, tell me?

Now Belgrade is astir. More and more people in underpants speak up. Hand-birds are let free into the skies. Thousands are on the streets. Thousands.

Three are home sick.

But that is enough. A few men in hats address the assembled underpants :

People! Listen all. You have let your hand-birds free. Now there is an illness in our airs and lungs. Soon Belgrade will be like Genova during the black plague. Listen carefully. Stay inside. Your life depends on it. We will help you!

Friday, August 7, 2009

pairs make wholes

First day at the Plasma-Center, Antun and I got on famously: chitchat; news of Zagreb; pork and sarma; the evils of the Ottoman empire. On the same page, right across the board. Oh, fellow countryman, what a delight. Then off he went to his fireballs, and left me a pile of papers with squiggles and footnotes, but no instructions.

He had hired me for what purpose exactly? My Croat tongue alone? The firm clasp of my handshake? My pyrotechnic heart?

I sit in a bunker of filing cabinets on the third floor, five by five by three, on a plastic-swivel, on oatmeal-colored carpet squares. There’s a window in the corner and a piece of Delft sky. I can smell cow and printer-breath from the machines in the hall.

Across from me sits Karla Sliedrecht. Dutch down to her fingernails. Her blood is the blood of the Dutch who ruled the high seas and worked the land with oxen. Blond, bovine, butter thighs – think Vermeer, ladies in petticoats, milk cans and frosty horizons. Even her soul that glimpses past the geraniums in her eyes is Dutch, Dutch, Dutch : you’re not really from here are you?

I am Lui, I volunteered. (Ik ben Lui).

Lewie?

No, l’wee. One syllable. L’WEE LA-BA.

Then in rapid succession she cross-examined: sister, brother, mother, father, hobbies and so forth. But my concentration was shot. I couldn’t get my eyes off the fuzz on her face, a film of hair beyond velvet, down her neck, across her collar bone. My mind raced - raced: I saw creatures scaling mountain fronts, large footprints, long hairs in the snow, I saw –

I think we should move our desks, Lui.

wha - why?

So we don’t stare at each other, she said in Dutch

I’m not staring.

You’re staring.

I’m not.

I was, but I was thinking too. I was thinking of bigman - lonely bigman - my subterranean friend. He too is fuzzy. YES! Put two and two together. Karla and bigman, romantic comedies and light drinks under the brickwork. There is order in this chaos Earth. There are pairs that make wholes. Bring all these pairs together, all of them, and this chaos consumes itself - wooooooooshshshshshshshshsh – until there is nothing but a hole -

Lewie!

Yes.

Help me move the tables.

Yes. Of course. Yes.

And so we slid tables over carpet squares in silence, our eyes inside our heads. Hers in hers; mine in mine.