Monday, August 12, 2013

An old essay and how it's like a harbinger

In the final days of living in Portland, Oregon, I dug through old work.  I found this essay on an external hard drive that I tend to dump everything on.  This essay The Walk Home was written some time in late 1996.  It was an assignment in my Advanced Essay Writing Workshop at Metro State.  I had lived in Ansbach, Germany from late 1990 until late 1992 with a layover in the Middle East in 1991.  Incidentally, I had also gone back for a visit in August of 1996.  During my visit I felt every bit as alien as I had as a young soldier some 4 or 5 years prior.  What I find so striking about the essay now is the tone and how it really is the harbinger for my graduate school thesis.  From Ansbach to Color became my creative thesis which I began in January of 2007, some eleven years later.  I hope you enjoy the essay. 

The Walk Home

The way home was never hard to find, and I never forgot it. No matter how drunk I was or how I tried, I could never forget the way home. Funny, I could conveniently forget things to avoid work or a girlfriend, but not home or the way there. I could honestly forget other things too, my name, the name of the bar, or the girl, but I lived on Dombach Strasse in the young soldier housing at Barton Barracks on the topmost hill north of Ansbach.

One night I decided to leave the bar at a decent hour. Tired, a bit pissed off, drunk, I realized none of the girls would stoop to talk to me, much less have sex with me, so I decided to cut my loses and go home. I imagined the damply cool night air as an air pocket in a damp sponge. It smelled like plants and mold, and it rained almost everyday. Since I had grown up in a desert most of my life, be it California or Colorado, living in a damp climate like Germany was a real oddity. My German friends always thought me as the oddity, the way I acted in the foul, rainy weather.

That night was clear, it had been the first clear night in a couple of months. Clear meant that no rain fell, but the sky itself was still a dense haze. Only the stronger stars could shine through it, and here and there one did. Around each one of those strong stars a blue and purple halo appeared giving each a royal look. When the moon rose high enough, close to the zenith, its light not only produced a halo but a rainbow. Inside the lunar rainbow all the colors hatched in slightly darker hues than a day time rainbow. If more light existed that night the air all around would have been rainbows due to all the moisture in the air. In some of the high street lamps, I could see the marbling and swirling columns and mountains of mist. It looked a bit like the smoke inside the bar but considerably cleaner and healthier. The air moved only slightly, probably due to the water in it. I could see the individual balls of mist as they grew from tiny ones to the larger ones that got too heavy to cheat gravity any longer and fell to the Earth. When they fell, they made little rippling circles on the puddles in the streets. I was elated in this night time environment, the contrast it had over the desert I grew up in. A desert where the rain comes violently for a few minutes and all the moisture gets quickly absorbed into the thirsty Earth, and what the Earth can't drink the sky reclaims and the storm moves on. Yes, the Ansbach night air gave me life.

Once I was outside, I couldn't have been happier. The bar called City Limits, one drinking establishment in a large building in downtown Ansbach, was built before ventilation. The place got hot, sweaty, smelly and smokey. When I first learned about irony it was at City Limits: if a person is in a house and it is on fire, filled with smoke, what is the first thing they do? They get out! Yet people can linger on for hours, and hours in a smokey bar. What is the difference really? I suppose one can't file an insurance claim for smoke inhalation from sitting in a bar.
Fire or no fire, City Limits bulged with smoke, and it felt pretty good to walk out into the Ansbach night air, even though it did smell a bit like manure from the surrounding fields.

Little puddles stood quietly in the cobble stone streets. I walked across them heading toward the clock tower on the other side of town. I passed Round the Clock, a German "rocker" bar, impulsively I wanted to go in. First impulses pass quickly with fear of death.

Miriam and I had had a perfect relationship. It was quick, sensual and vicious. We met, got drunk, had sex, decided to go Paris where we talked, got drunk, had sex, and we returned home. The good times lasted three days, maybe four; that was the quick and sensual part. The vicious part lasted for several weeks afterward. She told me I was a cold, heartless person, perhaps, but I blamed it all on a difference in values. Other than beer and sex we had nothing in common. Paris was her favorite city, and if I could image hell, it would be just like Paris only the buses would be on time.

She tended bar at Round the Clock. Miriam, more attractive than any other woman in Ansbach, had all the men in love with her. Without question, if I even walked into Round the Clock, I would become grout between the tiles. I decided to conserve on my chip free teeth, so I walked on, toward home.

I passed Cafe Rialto, the hippest place to hang out, and as I passed happiness filled me at the thought of how people accepted me there. I wanted to go in, but the place always closed early. I craved an ice cream or a soda, a positive alternative to Cappuccino. I never had the heart to tell everyone I didn't like Cappuccino, or any other coffee for that matter. The atmosphere was good, but like everywhere else too smokey. In fact Martina, the first German friend I had, gave me a lecture there because of my abnormality of non-smoking. As convincing as she wanted to be, soliciting the whole tobacco industry, I still didn't pick cigarettes up as a habit. I didn't pick Cappuccino as a habit either.

Generally, I took a quick drink at Cafe Rialto twice a week, Tuesdays before going to Das Boat, a club in Nürnberg, and Fridays before going to Neurose in Schwach, the other two hip places to hang out. I would sit next to Martina at Cafe Rialto, or someone else who seemed interesting, but in such a smokey place healthy lungs wanted to sit next to someone who didn't smoke.

Naffia didn't smoke. I missed her greatly after she went back to Bosnia. She didn't know any English and her German was as bad as mine. We smiled constantly at one another, and we made fun of everyone else. Without certainty I suspected she didn't like coffee either.

Naffia lived on the other side of the clock tower in a small apartment above McDonalds. She probably lived in the worst place in all of Ansbach. Her place smelled forever like cooking oil and underarms, and the one window she had overlooked the taxi pickup point. I ventured into her place under an invitation after a long night of dancing. I spent the night with her once, her place was too small for the two of us. I often wondered as I walked past her old place what became of her, who moved into that nasty place and if we spoke the same language if we could have had a different relationship.

Across Maximilion Platz kitty corner from the clock tower and adjacent to McDonalds stood Cafe Central. The two things I constantly reminded myself of Cafe Central: the ten year old kid who drank me under the table when I first got to Ansbach, and the girl who took me to bed first. I would see the kid from time to time, and we always talked to one another, but I never talked to the girl when I saw her. I did see her, she lived in a house on my route home just after the train tracks where Maximilion Platz connected to the path which connected to the cemetery on Rathaus Strasse. She giggled when she met me, claimed to know English and introduced herself as Sofia. She not only gave me my first experience with sex in Germany, but my first experience with disease as well. Every day, I walked by her house, sometimes I would see her, and we ignored each other. Sometimes, I would see her older sister and mother (The two were never apart), and they would just laugh. They laughed from the time they saw me until I
walked out of sight. They were always laughing at me, it bothered me, but I had nothing to say in rebut. I think they must have known what went on between Sofia and me.

The cemetery lay between Sofia's house and my Barracks. A deep colored brick wall separated the cemetery from the street. When I first got to Ansbach I would walk on the wall. The wall-walking ended late one night when I saw ghosts moving around in there. There seemed to be several of them, and they stood in a little group as if they were mourning over something, or pontificating the passing of someone. At that point I leaped from the wall and ran all the way home too afraid to look back at all the specters following me. In retrospect, if I hadn't drank so much tequila and eaten too many worms there probably wouldn't have been ghosts lurking about in the cemetery.

At the end of the cemetery wall, Rathaus Strasse ended. Rathaus in German means courthouse, that word became my second lesson in irony, because in English it sounds like "Rat House". I crossed the street and walked up the hill on a foot path. The ability to walk out of a city infatuated me about Europe. Granted Ansbach, a smaller city than Nürnberg or München, took less time to walk out of, but countryside surrounded them all. This particular foot path had trees on each side, and beyond those trees some landmarks of Ansbach. The Tücher brewery on one side overlooked the town she supplied beer with and fields that supplied the brewery with grain on the other.

After a dark walk on the foot path ending by the television tower, the final stretch home last no more than two minutes. I always enjoyed the darkness on the foot path, and then coming out of the trees on the hill to see the lights of Ansbach below. I typically stopped and looked at the view, mostly to catch my breath or vomit. Thinking about the whole situation now, living in Ansbach and the walk home, it was that moment at the top of the hill, looking down on the city that made it all worthwhile. At least my memory amplifies those moments. It amplifies the walk home making it worthwhile, no matter how tired, or how drunk, or forgetful. It even made the walk up memory lane worthwhile, it made the moments with Miriam, Martina, Naffia and Sofia worthwhile. The loneliness didn't seem so horrible there, probably because no one stood there with me, ridiculing my expressions or lack of understanding. It made all of life worthwhile, two minutes before going home, standing at the top of Ansbach, alone.

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