An Engagement (Ormond Beach to the Ancient City via AIA) Part 1 of 3

We are about 3/4ths of the way there when we take a random turn off the highway into a town called Ormond Beach. The town doesn’t have much going for it judging by the road in, but just north of an institution entitled Hanky Panky’s Lounge there stands a strip mall of shoebox-like dimensions with a salon in it, a realtor who shares my last name and a hot dog joint with good reviews. We go in the hot dog joint and order a couple of Chicago dogs and a Coke to share. I am too cheap to buy my own Coke. I have a bottle of water in the car. We sit at a lacquered wooden table that’s shaped like a surfboard and notice how everything in the place seems to be from another decade. Something has failed to evolve. Where are the paper straws? Where are the cow-free items or vegan dogs in all their barf-colored varieties? A TV playing the local news manifests itself over the counter and we listen to their middle-Florida talk and eat our Chicago dogs and look out the window at the passing cars. The day is wash of fish-gluey gray. We finish eating and get back on the road, heading north on A1A through sea-cloud and low mists and blowing sands, the beach and dim ocean tides visible to our right, wild palms, shaggy shrubs, the scenery growing stranger and more barren the further we travel.

What is this place? What year is it? Are we on the wrong side of Mars during the Clinton Administration? Everything looks alien. The neglected country diners, the low-slung houses of worship, fruit stands withering in cruel consuming light, fleabag motels and biker bars, everything burning in soft melancholy and a feeling of having been abandoned long ago, left behind like shells on the beach with nothing in them but the echo.

One town disappears, another one takes its place. The ocean growing battleship-gray and wild. Dead grass-heads and roads leading nowhere, three-tiered houses with uneven sand dunes for backyards and the occasional chinch bug or Trump 2020 sign poking up in a front lawn. The fading echoes of gulls. Wasted beach shacks with salt-film on the windows and termites chewing the sills, doorways of limescale and painted salamander dreams, the crumbling stretch of sun-faded iguana blacktop and the village idiot perched on the outpost, lobster-red and humpbacked, his mind eaten by honeysuckle and gin-soaked mists. We pass him and headlights spill out of the gloom, a jacked-up pickup truck, diesel exhaust spewing from its big mindless tailpipes, the sad little rice burners and buckets of bolts, motorcycles, a nebulae of pinkish taillights, crusty old men with loose jowls and neat snow-white goatees stubborn against the face of time, their hearts hardened and longing for songs of some distant past, their bodies eroding like the sands. The crematorium hungering for them.

In Flagler Beach, we drive past a pier which seems to be the main attraction of the town and pull to the side of the road. We get out, walk in gray light along the dock, but then it starts to drizzle and there’s nothing to see anyway. We get back in the car and keep going north, looking at all the strange buildings and houses, how they look so pale and sick in the gray light of day.

Abandoned shells abandoned even by the echo.

This is a place that hasn’t been since the Indians were here. This is a nothing place. Locked in some spiritless limbo state, nothing here was meant to remain, yet everything seems to be hunkering in the wasted sand, holding on, waiting for a Second Coming.

I have a vision of a beautiful green parakeet woman banging repeatedly her tender head on the ceiling of some dark local room. She’s trying to escape and she could escape because the window is thrown open, but she would rather bang her head in self-pity and be afraid.

We drive.
Something is north of here.

We part the gauze of mist and sea-clouds, the drizzle lets up, the sun becomes a white floating disk. It pales and wobbles in the sky. A sour beam pours down, alighting on the rooftops, setting fire to the trees, glimmering in a glaze of wet streets.
We follow it all the way to Saint Augustine.

(Part 1 of 3)

An Engagement (Saint Augustine) Part 2 of 3

It is to be a short trip. One night in the Ancient City and then back to South Florida. We are staying at a 2-star hotel that’s a short walk over the bridge to the historic district. We get to the hotel about an hour before check-in time. We are hoping to be let into our room early, but the maids are still cleaning. We get a map from the clerk and traverse zu Füß downtown.

The sun has now wrestled itself through the clouds, its reflection gleaming in the calm waters of the Mantanzas River, or what the French had dubbed the River of Dolphins.

We stop for a moment on the bridge to look at the sailboats down below and notice a rainbow on the horizon, curving from the blue liquid clouds and into the waters. I take this to be a good omen, relating it to another rainbow I had seen earlier in the week which had come with a thought and disappeared the moment I pointed it out. The bridge we are on is called the Bridge of Lions, and that is also a good omen and fitting too, if you believe in astrology. Erica is a water sign.

Saint Augustine is called the Ancient City because it was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers and is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the continental United States. There’s not much to the old part of the city though. Just a few square blocks, a fort made out of coquina shell, a cathedral, a museum, a jail, a light tower and the Fountain of Youth.

We come down off the bridge and walk along St. George Street looking in the windows of the tourist shops and killing time before check-in.

An hour later we are in our room. It’s an end-of-the-building unit looking out onto a residential side-street, clean and modern with a high-standing bed and mirrors in the wrong place. We tear off all our clothes and we take care of that part of it for rite of passage purposes. Then we lounge in bed until 5 o’ clock Happy Hour which takes place in the dining room of the hotel. Free snacks and white wine until 6. We hurry down there at a quarter after 5 and fill our glasses and sit at the table by the window. It faces the River of Dolphins upon which the sun is setting, the waters crimson and glittering with the outline of the historic district on the other side. At the table behind us there is a middle-aged couple speaking to the elderly hostess about somethingorother, and I hear mention of the Boynton Beach.

“You’re from Boynton?” I ask.
“We are,” says the man. “We live in Sun Valley.”

I tell him about my connection to the town, noticing all the while the way the light of the room gives an almost phosphorescent gleam to the blue-tinted raven-black toupee standing on his head. The toupee is in poor taste to be sure, but there’s no accounting for people’s tastes as they say, and maybe it’s what his wife wants. I don’t ask. We bond over Boynton Beach. Then they start telling us about how they’ve stayed in this same hotel for the past five years, and how they love it, and how they love Saint Augustine. We ask them if they have any restaurant recommendations and they mention a few including Harry’s, a Creole seafood bar and grill in the historic district.

Two large glasses of wine later we head down there, going over the Bridge of Lions again. It’s now dark out, and the sky is clear. The moon is an upside-down smile and above it Venus blazes. The river is full of city lights, red-gold, pink, lemon-yellow and shimmering. At the top of the bridge there are two towers with walking platforms around them, better to see the river from. I direct Erica onto the first one and she goes in front of me and when we’re halfway around it I take her hand and descend to a knee, succumbing to that strange golden fruit force of my Socratic daimonion.

Wait, what?
Yes, she says, her pretty bluebird eyes wet with tears.
But why here? Why like this? Was it the three glasses of wine? Did you know before? I didn’t think you’d ever…
I don’t explain.
I point to the upside-down horn of the moon and Venus sitting above it.
I point to the marble Medici lions guarding the bridge when we come off it.
I escort her to Harry’s.

(Part 2 of 3)

An Engagement (Ghost Story in Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille) Part 3 of 3

“Whoever at the present time doubts the facts of animal magnetism and its clairvoyance should be called not a skeptic but an ignoramous.” Schopenhauer (Essay on Spirit Seeing)

It’s jam-packed when we get there, but we knew it would be. Every decent restaurant in that part of town is slammed in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I put my name in with the hostess and am told the wait will be an hour-and-a-half, but there are two bars inside. She gives me a beeper. We take a look at the bars. One is downstairs, the other is upstairs, both are mobbed. I squeeze into the downstairs bar and order a couple of white wines, pay for them. Five minutes later which was only about ten minutes after I put on my name my beeper goes off. I hand it into the hostess and follow another one upstairs. We are expecting to get some shitty table up there, but she brings us out onto the balcony and sits us at a table for two at the very end. From the table we have a beautiful view of the waterfront and the traffic and trolleys in the street below. The trolleys are mad tonight, full of whistling crackajabloking drunks, celebrating… New Year’s already? It’s only the 29th. Us? We pretend it is.

Erica is still in a state of shock it seems, but quickly plants her feet in the ground with talk about the practical aspects our future. We don’t even know what country it’ll happen in. We have three to choose from. We order our dinners and more drinks and sometime during our drinking and eating and talk what we think is a jet of water hits Erica just below the eye. She wipes it off and we try to figure out where it came from. There is a sidewalk below the balcony that’s crowded with passersby. Someone must’ve lofted it up, but how could a small bit of water have looped over the balcony rail and across the table and hit her square below the eye without going anywhere else? I run my hand along the top of the balcony rail and feel a puddle of water, but the angle from the sidewalk to the rail to Erica on the other side of the table defies physics which means the water on the rail is unrelated. It did rain earlier. It must’ve dripped down from the roof. Either that or a ghost leaned down and threw it at her, spilling a little on the rail. I make a joke about ghosts, only because the city is reputed to be haunted and we had almost signed up for a ghost tour earlier that night. “Nothing else explains it,” I say, and when the waitress comes back to our table I mention it to her, and ask if any supernatural events have ever happened there before. She says many have, the building has long been known to be haunted, the second-floor bathroom especially which she refuses to go in. The ghost haunting is, she says, is Catalina Depores, a Spanish girl who died in the house in 1795. She says Catalina sometimes appears in the mirror in there, and she has been seen by some going through walls and doors. There’s also girl named Bridget who has been seen in fleeting moments wearing a wedding dress, and a man in an old-fashioned black suit.

The next day, I did some research on the history of the building and found several blogs and articles about ghosts there, one from the Orlando Weekly on September 30, 2004.

“Today, the guests, wait staff and owners of Harry’s say Catalina’s temperamental and haughty spirit still wanders the restaurant. According to the staff, there have been numerous reports of both male and female guests running terrified from the bathrooms after seeing a woman in period dress staring at them in the mirror. When they turn around, there’s no one there. She’s also been known to throw things.”

Another article also mentioned her penchant for throwing things, but unfortunately our little mystery becomes a little less mysterious just after the waitress leaves the table. Erica saw it sitting on the floor next to her foot. A small set of purple Mardi Gras beads. It isn’t water after all that hit her, it is the beads which explains why it hurt a little where she got hit. The beads must’ve been wet and flung up by some drunk that was passing under the balcony.

Very disappointing.

I had hoped it was a ghost, preferably the one in the wedding dress, making a little engagement joke. The ghosts in Harry’s are said to be friendly ones.

Part 3 of 3 (written in Ft. Lauderdale Airport)

A Family Bar (Part 1 of 3)

I was never what you’d call a regular there, but I knew all the regulars, and all the regular bartenders knew what I drank. On one visit there, I was sitting in the corner of the bar with Justin who had a crush on the owner of the place. To show it, he took the coaster from under his beer and lay it flat on the bar molding. He then pressed his forehead against the coaster, and another guy and I grabbed his trouser cuffs and lifted him up while he did a headstand on it. We had been drinking Jägerbombs that night, by the way. Lots of them. Free ones. A few weeks later, Justin was dating the owner, and later they got married and had children, two daughters. But I get ahead of myself.

The reason I went to this bar at first was because it was only a five minute drive from my house. The drive was easy. All I had to do was take a few quick turns out of my neighborhood and head straight down Seacrest Blvd, which was never busy and had no traffic lights. This was back when I was a believer in drinking and driving. I can’t tell you how many times I barnstormed that road with my hand over one eye to keep the yellow lines from swerving off road. It’s a miracle I never drove into a ditch or took out someone’s mailbox, let alone kill someone.

I remember one night I had arrived at the bar just before Happy Hour was to end. I pulled out a stool next to Justin, and he bought me a Jägerbomb, but left soon after that, leaving me with three guys I didn’t know. One of them introduced himself to me as Taz. He was about 55, 5’5, with silvery balding hair pulled back into a little rat’s tail, struggling mustachios and parrot shirt. “C’mon over here,” he said to me, pointing to the table in the corner. “C’mon, we’re like family in here.”

I went over, sat down, and for the rest of the night mostly just listened to him jaw. At first it was about his business. “I move dirt for a living,” he was saying. “I’m a heavy equipment operator. Dozers, rollers, backhoes… I was running Cats when they were still green. Do you remember when they were green? Course you don’t. You’re too young. This was back in the 70s. I used to move grass in the 70s too. Marijuana I mean. I used to smuggle the shit in the blackwaters just south of the Bahamas. Yup, that’s right. I went from moving grass to moving dirt. Still self-employed. I don’t got employees. I don’t need help. I know loaders like it’s another limb. I moved enough dirt in my day to fill in Lake Okeechobee. Twice. Hey Bartender, get this guy a Jägerbomb! Bartender! Jägerbomb for him! On me. See Punk Ass? (Don’t worry, I call everyone younger than me Punk Ass). You see? I take care of my people. We’re all family here. It’s a family bar. It’s one big happy family we are.”

Later that night, he showed me his gun. “It’s a .380,” he was saying. “I keep here in my cowboy boot. Right here. Ostrichskin. Here’s where. I never go anywhere without it. You gotta be protected. You ever been in the Mug?”
“No.”
“Got in an argument with a guy in the Mug. He pulls his knife out on me. I pull out my .380. I say, ‘Don’t you EVER… EVER… take a KNIFE to a GUNFIGHT! You understand me, Frogface?’ Stoopid fucker was just shittin himself. Hey Bartender, get this guy another Jägerbomb!”

After that, only bits and pieces of the night remain in my memory. I remember when his wife came in. “That’s my wife there,” he proclaimed. “Come here, Wifey.” He gave her a kiss. “Look how pretty she is. Yeah, that’s right. I got a pretty wife. She’s the first woman I’ve ever had who’s free. All the others I had to buy. Know what I mean? You don’t? Think about it. Think about it.”

The night ended something like this:

“You like stone crab, Punk Ass?”
“I do.”
“I get the best stone crab known to man. I get it from a guy down at the docks. What I do is I go home from here and fuck my wife. After that, I put back on my parrot shirt and go down to the docks and meet my connection. We’re supposed to meet at three a.m. this morning. Stone crab. You like it? Hell, yeah. Everyone likes it. Here, take my card… You want some, you call me. I’ll give you it well below market. See I take care of my people. Ah, what’s your name again? That’s right, that’s right. Now I remember. Now I remember that name. How could I forget? Hey Bartender, two more Jägerbombs. What’s that you say? Huh? It’s noisy in here. I thought you said scared. Hell, I ain’t scared of nutn. LOOK into MY EYES. Yup. That’s right. I AM the truth. What? Aw, hell no, I never thought about suicide. No need. This is the real shit right HERE baby! This. And these are my people. Would you like to
join
the family?

Huh,
Punk Ass?

Would you?

(Coughcoughcough)

I don’t think you got
the guts…”

(Part 1 of 3)

A Family Bar (The Fall) Part 2 of 3

Two years later I moved to Berlin, but my connection to the pub wasn’t totally lost. A few of the regulars occasionally would rent tools from my shop in Boynton Beach. One of them was Mssr. Higgins., who on one of my trips back told me that Taz had been identified as a fraud and banished for life from the pub. No surprise. I have no idea what’s happened to him since. If he’s alive, he’s about 65 now. Probably still scared and a Trump supporter. The other regular was Justin, the owner’s wife, who for years had been renting our trailer for their Saint Patrick’s Day float. We finally sold the trailer and didn’t see him for a while. Then he came in looking for a job. This was about two years ago, and his timing was perfect. It was right after the former Hollywood stuntman who was working for us had quit because I wasn’t dumb enough to believe one of his lies. Here was his quitting text:

Screenshot_2020-01-16 M P Powers ( mppowers1132) • Instagram-Fotos und -Videos

Justin had put on some weight since the last time I saw him, and his complexion was more ruddy than I remembered it, but it was nothing shocking. Still, his personality seemed somehow dampened by something. It was as though a wet towel had been thrown over it. He used to be cheerful and often joking, now he seemed almost ashamed of himself. My impression was that he was simply drinking too much. That being married to the owner of a bar had turned him into a full-blown alcoholic. Then I found out (in a roundabout way) that he had gotten a divorce from her, and that there was some kind of problem with his two daughters and visitation.

I didn’t ask.

We hired him as a driver, and two days later I went back to Berlin for the Spring.

In the meantime, Justin proved to be the honest and dependable employee we thought he’d be, but only lasted about three months before giving us his two weeks, saying he was moving back to Michigan. This was in April of 2018. In August of 2019, he called the shop and said he’d moved back, and was wondering if we would rehire him. We didn’t need him at the time, but a month later, when we were having problems with one of our drivers, we called him to come in. I wasn’t there when it happened. I only heard about it. I heard he came in looking like he’d aged about 20 years, which everyone attributed to too much booze.

Was he drinking so much because he was being kept from seeing his daughters? Was he being kept from seeing his daughters because he was drinking too much? Was it both? No one asked, and the problems we were having with our driver quickly resolved themselves, so we didn’t end up rehiring him. But the question remained. What was going on with Justin?

Never, in all the years I’d known him, did I think of him as anything other than a good man. I was sure he was a loving father too. Had the alcohol simply gotten the better of him?

I thought about the night I held his legs up while he did the headstand on the bar. That’s pretty much what started his relationship with the owner, and it was all really funny at the time. It was his mating call and it worked, for good or for bad.

That we’ll never know.

We only know it couldn’t have been different. Nothing’s as unchangable and impermeable as Fate.

(Part 2 of 3)

A Family Bar (Part 3 of 3)

The pub was fairly empty when we got there, but it was still early for New Year’s. I didn’t recognize a soul. I ordered two gin and tonics at the bar and sat down with Erica at one of the picnic tables out front. At the one next to us, there was a crew of sloppy drunks, probably all regulars. What happened to all the ten-years-ago regulars? I felt like a stranger there. We drank our gin and tonics while eavesdropping on the drunks, but they had nothing in the way of wit. They knew they were dull, but couldn’t do anything about it except be loud and volume wouldn’t save them. They knew that too. And now I knew why I never became a full-on regular at that bar. It was a magnet for dullards, wet-a-beds, bloviating dillweeds.

When we finished our drinks and did a long circuitous peregrination from pillar to post and from post to the beach. On our way back, we stopped at The Blue Anchor (which I have written about here), and it was around 11 p.m. when we returned. The pub was now jammed with people. I squeezed into the bar, ordered two more gin and tonics, and we stood just outside the front door watching the New Year’s Eve passers-by. While we were standing there, a guy with beard and longish ginger combed-back hair greeted me with a friendly hello, and sat down at one of the picnic tables. The greeting came as a surprise because I didn’t recognize him. I studied his face for moment to make sure. Nope. Never seen him in my life. Erica and I sat down at the picnic table near him and waited for the hour to drum itself down. Meanwhile, the bloviating wet-a-beds who were circumscribing the table-end three hours earlier were still circumstribing, but one was added to their party. This one I recognized, though I didn’t know where from and he looked much older than how I remembered him. He looked tragically older, probably because we were both about the same age, and his aging spoke for my aging. It wasn’t good. We were plants someone left out years ago and forgot to water.

One buzzword I keep seeing nowadays on social media and in marketing campaigns and elsewhere is authentic. Everyone seems to be pushing the idea that the best and most noble thing a person can be is authentic, but I remain suspicious. I would much rather a person be sincere than authentic, given that authenticity more often than not is determined by what’s on the outside.

What was on the outside of the unwatered fellow I recognized gave the impression he was the victim or casualty of a bad marketing campaign for a-u-t-h-e-n-t-i-c-i-t-y. He was wearing (donned or clad in would probably be better terms) a banana-yellow button-down shirt with a long Chinese violet scarf hanging over it. The scarf looked long enough to reach to Miami and back, looping several times around his neck and falling limply to the sad copious trousers which were partially tucked into a pair of elephantskin cowboy boots. But saddest of all was his hairdo. It was done up in thin braided pigtails. Erica said in England they are called ‘plaits,’ so for the rest of the evening, we referred to him as ‘Plaitman.’

At midnight, I was expecting to hear fireworks and raucous shouting and laughter, but strangely, it came and went very quietly. Even Plaitman and his crew seemed relatively subdued. Did the silence forebode something about the coming decade? We started talking to the people sitting beside us, a brother and sister in their fifties.

“Do you guys know Justin? I asked, thinking they were regulars.
They didn’t know him.
“Well, I started coming here fifteen years ago,” I said, and began telling them about the time Justin did the headstand on the bar, but the story was a flop and soon I let it trail off and die. I didn’t want to come off like one of those guys who never lets you forget that he was HERE BEFORE YOU. I told them I was now living in Germany, which got us talking about Germans and the German language and the friendly ginger guy who said hello to me earlier joined the conversation, proving to be just as friendly and genuine as I’d expected. He reminded me of Lucian or Menander, those noble old Greeks you imagined had suffered greatly, but nevertheless were always cheerful, open-minded, and friendly and hospitable to any stranger or fellow-sufferer, the spirit of xenia being alive in all their words and actions. It was this very spirit I wanted to bear with me into the new decade, but unfortunately before I could absorb any more from that hospitable ginger-haired demigod, the UBER we had called had arrived.
Guten Rutsch,” I told him.
Guten Rutsch?”
“That means Happy New Year in German,” I said “Literally, good slide… Don’t ask me why.” We laughed and hugged and gave a friendly handshake.
Then Erica and I were off, and I’m not even going to mention the price of the UBER.

Two days ago, when I sat down to begin the first part of this story, I kept getting distracted, first by the news, then by YouTube, the by this that and the other damn thing. Finally, I was ready to get something down, but first (because I was yet completely done with procrastinating) I did a Google search on Justin, thinking maybe I’d find something I could add to my story, or something that would explain his recent deterioration. As I said, the last time he came into our shop was in September, and it was told he looked about 20 years older than how anyone remembered him.

What I found was this: Justin was dead. He died two months ago, on November 16th, age 46.

Here’s a review a friend of his left on the pub’s Facebook page.

In my belief, Owner H— is toxic. Wouldn’t let her ex husband see or speak to his own kids on his deathbed. This is true. He Just died recently of a heart attack I believe due to her ruthlessness and keeping his kids from him. Yet it’s still all about her. Make no mistake. Never was about the kids . Pure evil. She cheated on him with mike and then hated justin lol. Her disgusting texts while he was sick WILL be posted and distributed and you can see for yourself. You want to go to this place? There’s a million better bar owners that could use your support.good people that are kind.

But
it’s
a family
bar,
see?

Don’t want to join
the
f
A
m
I
l
Y
?

Huh,
Punk
Ass?

(Part 3 of 3)

The Blue Anchor

The Blue Anchor

is an English Pub in Delray Beach,
Florida. The last time I was here,
about 20 years ago, Old Panface,
the drummer from a famous
British heavy metal group was playing
in the coverband. Tonight, the coverband
is a trio of gruff Poles
singing early Beatles songs in butchered
English. The dancefloor is packed
with senior citizens in New Year’s
party hats. We work our way through
the crowd, belly up to the bar and order
a couple gin and tonics. Sadly,
they come in small plastic cups.
I take a sip. It’s weak. Much weaker
than the one I got at the previous
bar and twice as expensive.
I feel violated.
We walk along the bar looking
for an open space to stand.
On the way, we observe the old model
sailboats and dusty oil
paintings on the walls.
Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II,
Horatio Nelson, some obscure
figure who was beheaded
in the 16th century. We stand
in the throes of the latter’s profile.
A few minutes later, a woman approaches
to tell me I have great hair.
I thank her. She tells her husband
about my hair.
He refuses to look at me. We
already looked at each other once.
It was enough.
A group of ultra-fashionably-dressed
seniors then emerges
from behind a curtain.
They are like rabbits
pouring out of a hat, the wives first,
then the husbands who strangely
are no taller than wives.
Everyone in the group is
five-foot-three. It’s as though there
is an unwritten law
stating you must be that height
to participate
in their merry gang of six,
and as they circle
round my hip I feel like a cross
between Gogmagog
and the Pied Piper
of Hamelin.
We watch them form a congoline
and assail the dancefloor,
a shower of tinsel raining on them.
The band is now covering
a song by The Waterboys.
I sip my gin and tonic.
The ice has melted. It’s even weaker
than before. I drain it, crush the cup
and hurl it
into the trash. Erica finishes hers.
We talk about staying
for another drink,
but it doesn’t seem worth it.
Nothing in here, not the music,
not the comedy
of the desperate-to-be-British
wall décor, nor the oompah
loompa congoline,
not even another hair compliment
is worth the cost
of getting violated again.

Transmigrations

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When I am in Florida, I am in the business of getting people high.

I rent out scissor lifts and boom lifts, among other things. The business is my brother’s now, but I founded it in 1995. Back then I didn’t get people high. I rented out small equipment like paint sprayers and plumbing snakes and chainsaws. It took ten years and three hurricanes to get into the bigger stuff. Hurricanes or any natural disaster are a boon for the equipment rental business, and by the time the third one hit (Hurricane Wilma) I was making enough money to change my business plan (via the purchase of several lifts) and bring my brother on board. Soon after that, Captain Kirk, our goodhearted crackhead mechanic who was living and hoarding and playing the role of junkyard dog on the premises lost his morale for the job and I was obliged to fire him and move his Winnebago and piles of detritus off the property. In one of those piles was a generator a customer had brought in for repair, but couldn’t be fixed, at least in the allotted time. Captain Kirk later fixed it on his own time and a customer of mine offered him some work painting a house that he had built in Port Saint Lucie. The house had no electricity so Captain Kirk took the generator up there so he could watch TV while working and after work and one night after work he ran the generator in the garage with the garage door shut and all the windows closed. He had run the cord from the generator to a bathroom down the hall so he could watch TV without hearing the generator running and was subsequently asphyxiated by the fumes. He was 50. It happened on the 11th of December of 2006. I had fired him the previous August and went many years before hiring another mechanic. In the meantime, the business kept expanding and we kept buying more items that would get people high. I was looking for an out though. I had started the business when I was 24 and had never in my adult life known anything but that business which had in many ways institutionalized me. At first I thought about handing the keys over to my brother and moving to San Francisco or Chicago, but that wasn’t extreme enough. I wanted my system and whole way of thinking to be jarred. I wanted something that would make up for all the years of my life that had been wasted in a shop. It had to be a place where the culture and language was foreign to me, and I started fantasizing about Germany, das Land der Dichter und Denker (the land of poets and thinkers). How could you go wrong with a country that had produced the likes of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Goethe, Bach, Beethoven, Dürer, etc.?

When a loggerhead turtle is hatched on shore, the first thing it does after punching through its shell is walk straight into the ocean. How does it know to go into the ocean and not in any of the other three directions? How do birds know to fly south for the winter and not in another direction? It’s as though these animals have a compass inside them that orients them in the direction they need to go, and in the same way there seemed to be a compass in me orienting me from the very beginning toward Germany. My original plan was to stay there for just a year or two, but the greater cosmic Orphic-egg plan was for me to have a child over there, and raise him there, and divide my time transmigratory between there and here, coming back whenever the money runs out, which is a few times a year.

Let it be known that if I had never gone over there in the first place, I would be rich by now.
If I lived here full-time, I would be rich too.

Instead, my brother is rich, and deservedly so. He keeps the business afloat, bears all the responsibilities, and deals year-round with all the problemed customers and employees. How he does it without being struck down by Fernweh (the longing for distant, never-before-seen places), or wanderlust, I have no idea, but I guess that’s the difference between us. He has the ability to live in reality, and my only ability is to live for the ghostmusic in my head and follow wherever it takes me.

 

Sunday Afternoon at the Internationales Berliner Bierfestival (2019)

Yesterday, Erica and I and our friends Gregor Gregorov and L. went to the 23. Internationales Berliner Bierfestival to see what it was all about.

The first thing you do when you go there is you buy a beer mug for €3.50. To fill up the mug it costs anywhere from €2.50-4.00 depending on the kind of beer you get, and there is a mile-long avenue of tents to choose from with beers from all over the world. The first beer I got was a brown ale from Scotland, which I quite liked. In fact, it was probably the best tasting beer I had all day because I made the mistake of choosing beers for their high alcohol percentage rather than for their prospective palette-pleasing qualities. My second was some kind of Kellerbier (cellar beer) which I liked not so much because of the way it tasted (not enough hops), but rather because it was served at a lower temperature than the others, and I was sweating in the afternoon sun. My third beer was Cannabis-ginger flavored. It didn’t get me high. Nor did it’s taste appeal to me. It was too sickly sweet, but I forced it down and afterwards stood in line at a little stand that was advertising Schwarzbier aus Böhmen (Trans: dark beer from Bohemia, i.e., the western part of the Czech Republic). Now when I got in line, I had only mentally absorbed the word Schwarzbier. Then I looked up at the sign again and read Schwarzbier aus Böhmen as Schwarzbier aus Bohnen. Now bohnen, in German, means beans, and suddenly it struck me that I was standing in line for a beer that was made from beans. I supposed it was possible since I’d just had a beer made with Cannabis, but bean beer wasn’t for me. I stepped out of line and said to Erica and the others, “I’m not buying a beer made from beans.” They all laughed.It’s Böhmen, not Bohnen, you idiot! Hahahah-bahah-hahha.” And they razzed me about it for the next half hour or so, bringing it up again and again.“I can see I’m never going to live this down,” I said. They laughed.

But then later something magical happened.

We were sitting at some picnic tables listening to a live cover band and drinking our beers when Gregor scurried off to the Porto-john. A few minutes later, on his way back, Erica spotted him beelining through the crowd, dodging, high-stepping, practically throwing people aside. He then reached our picnic table and as he was sliding into his seat he revealed the reason for his haste. There were two glorious wet puddles sopping the front of his trousers, due, apparently, to an accident or malfunction of some sort in the Porto-john. We all laughed, and as he hid his lower half under the table he tried to clarify, and philosophize, which only made us laugh more. I probably laughed the longest and the loudest of everyone. I actually feel ashamed about now. It’s not like I haven’t had my own bathroom malfunctions. True, they don’t often happen in public, at international beer festivals, and don’t often inspire me to bolt through a crowd of howling drunks, but I was trying to raise something to a higher pedestal of idiocy than my bean gaffe, and in the end I failed. I turned out to be the day’s crowned fool when the votes were cast.

The moral: humiliation is the greatest teacher of all. I will never again mistake the western part of the Czech Republic for beans.

Iguana Days

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I am back in Berlin after a three-week trip I took with my six-year-old son A. to Florida. I worked most of the time I was there, tending the equipment rental shop, but the first weekend I managed to get out for a little trip-within-a-trip to the Keys. I went down there with my son, my brother, his wife and their son, who is only a year older than mine. A. and I stayed in a little iguana infested hotel in Key Largo, but spent most of our time at my brother’s much nicer hotel and pool in Islamorada. We actually spent too much in his pool, but our kids loved it, and we didn’t feel like doing anything else. The July sun was too brutal and blazing. Besides, we had tumblers filled with lime and iced tequila. We’d brought our own booze so as not to get ripped off at the tiki bar and sat along the edge of the pool imbibing, watching the crowd of rednecks on the other side. There was about twenty of them I think, and from what I’d gathered they had come down for the weekend from somewhere between Vernon and Hell’s Half-Acre. The men were all very large, much larger than the tiny women they were with. They were built like potbellied air compressors, and sat most of the time bulky and stoic in the corner in their ten-gallon straw hats, and their blue-lensed sunglasses, drinking cans of light beer from a Yeti cooler someone had dragged in.

God bless America, and God bless you all!” shouted the singer of the one-man coverband. He then started playing a Toby Keith song, and the rednecks got both proud and boisterous. I watched them and thought about how similar they looked to each other, and how their thoughts, their range of emotions, their relationship to themselves, their surroundings and the culture were probably very similar too. The common denominator was practicality. Anything they deemed impractical, or weird, or foreign to their masculine sensibilities, was so far beneath contempt it was laughable.

There was one redneck in the pool who all the others seemed to crowd around and admire. He was about six-foot-two of hulking flesh, the obligatory broadbrimmed straw hat shading him, blue-tinted sunglasses, stubbly goatee. He had his big hairy sunburnt arms propped up on the ledge of the pool and was kind of leaning his head back while all around him the others formed a ring, hanging on his words as if he were The Floating Godhead of the Dry Tortugas.

I swam a little closer to hear what important statement he was imparting, imagining it to be some wise aphorism, a haiku or a Kierkegaardian soliloquy about the tongue-tied spirit.

Instead, I heard, “I sold that lot for two and a half.” That’s all.

He belched.

Then he reached into his Yeti cooler, cracked another light beer and poured it down his throat.