First night on my own in Barcelona and I wipe the slate by running until vision fades, slow to a trot on rubbery legs. Endogenous chemicals fogged the interior of an addled room between ears, which too, filled mistily with a muffling. I finally began to sweat. Shins splint from shock-absorbing the pavement.
Taking the vessel for a ride around the environment -- and maybe testing what it can do -- forcibly familiarizes the mind with the game, how to navigate, the size and scope of it all, and hopefully, where your little shape fits.
A whisper reached out near the end of La Rambla, it said, "something, something, coffee shop."
I don't believe in coincidence or fate, only choice.
Turning back in a casual loop, I asked the dark gentleman what the deal was, he told me, and I followed him two or twenty blocks to a rust colored door set under an unmarked archway.
Excited to write about it later but could never have predicted how trite and tired it would all eventually play out, doesn't matter now.
Last day with the girl and we paint over the grey with a morning walk, a fumble of a cafe, it's okay; eventually found a space to talk.
Mostly we just sat on the dewy grass surrounded by faraway trees and the beginnings of scattered leaves. People seeped in, threads between them, thin line connecting each, the girl and I especially. Greenwich Park carried us through space, a tiny green flea circus perched microscopically on the Earth's surface.
We took turns utilizing the nearby public toilet; one of us staying behind with the bags, alone in the middle of an expanse as the other took absence. Reconvene to whisper things.
Up the hill from the park, a sundial decided the time standard for the entire planet, said the girl, and it was a sunny day, so I left confidently, rode the correct succession of trains (five), and checked into my flight two hours before it would eventually take off, plenty of time to sit at a bar in dread.
Twelve hours in the air, met my father at LAX. We took the 405 by mistake, and long before we made it home, my grandpa was dead.
I’m really good at losing things.
Nearly everything I’d taken with me out-of-country, bought while there, went there for, and came back for -- had by now been lost.
Couches lounged along either side of the long, smoke-filled room. Crisp, sweet, and sour flavours licked the inside of my nostrils like index fingers curling come hither.
Alone I strode through the haze to the back past a counter with smoking apparatus, clutches of dudes here and there talking silent beneath the other stimulus. Temple of Doom on the wall-mount, No Problem from unseen speakers, reached the sliding door still unbelieving, and pulled it aside.
Tupperware. Stuffed with green and purple. A chalkboard list of prices and fun names hung on the back wall behind a busy counter. Enough boys were crammed in the space on my side to create a curved line, like waiting in someone's closet.
I found a space of countertop in the lounge to grind and roll alone, but a random approached.
"Interesting technique," he said, indicating the Popsicle stick I was using to tamp.
I shrugged, smiled.
He surveyed the rest of my assembly line and borrowed some papers. A Londoner in town on business, he said, and came to the coffee shop straight from the airport.
“Just dropped the wife at our hotel,” he said. “then, wpft, straight here.”
He looked my age, which made me believe this to be suddenly the past.
"She know where you went?"
"Course not," he laughed. "This is how I get my peace. It's an evolved form of cheating."
"Right,” I nodded, squinting at young Harrison Ford on the screen beyond London’s head.
“What's your line of work?" I asked with a sudden attentiveness.
"Estate agent," he sighed. "You?"
I hesitated, then told him I was a writer. But, I don't work or even deserve to partake, I'm just a glutton for peace.
"Mind'f aye harb one?" An Irish gentleman -- who had entered stage right, no introduction -- asked of the papers and I passed them, also not introducing myself.
"English?" The lad gushed at us. "Finally, such a language barrier here." He shook his head, smiling brightly.
Raised eyebrows at him and said that verbal communication is always a barrier, as it constitutes such a small spectrum of what we can say to each other and how.
“I just wanna smoke anyway,” he said.
The trio agreed, me happily, Dublin somewhat sheepishly, and London uncaringly. Then we began smoking and chatting and quoting the film on the screen before sharing, forgetting, and leaving the scene one by one via the front door to the street.
Still light out and no plans or anywhere to go (a terrible time to be smoking), walking through the winding, curving, tilting roads. Dark overlay on sun bleached alleys, the air warm with music even when quiet and still. The city park and Arc de Triomph had so much showing that I sat there tripped out for hours before I kept going.
Five or ten blocks later, my phone found itself missing. I stood there knowing.
"Crap,” was the first curse I tried, sadly. It didn't do the job.
Backtracked through the still frames and the phone pulsed from a park bench, cataloged under crimson for the intense sunset that drenched that slice of time.
But I ran back and the bench was blank.
No device meant I couldn't contact the girl at her residency out of town. But one of the skaters hailed me with a hang loose signal round his ear and I said yes. He retrieved the phone for me!
Eventually, I walked my dehydrated, tired, and stupid ass back to the hostel I’d booked and packed for the next day's walk.
The opportunity to call would have no longer been available to me, so I sat on the supposed-to-be-closed patio and used the phone for what it’s for, waited until the answering machine picked up and said, “Grandpa, it’s me,” then waited for him to answer.
Ten minutes international cost twenty-five euro, top up to continue service. Luckily, I've never had a longer phone conversation with my grandpa, so I got to say everything I needed and end with, “see you in September.”
He said, “OK,” as he always does (never ‘goodbye’ or 'I love you, too’) and hung up.
Walked into the house past the den to hug my round-faced aunt before actually hearing her, then stood standby for the third, "he passed," while my understanding caught up.
“What?” was my delayed acknowledgment, then spun and went back out.
Never looked directly in at him. There’d be no point. Instead, after sitting outside silently with my dad and the cat -- who crouched just below the window of the den --, I took my single suitcase downstairs to my room where I could cry horribly in seclusion, and rejoin the wake when finished.
Oddly the most stable environment throughout my life, that basement. The room directly beneath my grandfather's den has kept various possessions over the years and acted as a transient bedroom occasionally.
When I was a kid my grandpa would be in the den watching television all day, every day, and my grandma would be in there watching late night Carson, Conan, and David Letterman, every night.
Dumped my suitcase: three sets of clothes, three sock pairs, and two briefs in the main atrium; eleven flat seashells, eight chocolate bars, two film cameras, a folder of saved paper pieces, and plastic sandals in the zippered-off section.
Backpack: three notebooks, two novels (unread), a Puma wallet, temporary passport, iPhone 5, 50 p, incidental junk, and one USB flash drive 8G.
I added it all to the collection, on various shelves, in various drawers. The old and new possessions sat in awkward silence as I sobbed quietly on the couch.
Growing noise and laughter announced more family in the kitchen upstairs, which meant introvert time had ended and on my heads-up-display popped the next task: be sociable.
Stained timecards are fun to make, hard to read later. Wake and bake before eight, took my sweet time on brekky, and rode into town on two feet, green backpack, wheeled suitcase. Passing places corresponding to pen marks on a paper map in my bag, I found two bike stores closed for the season, shutters down.
I'm a competent bloke so I dragged my bloated wardrobe and office behind me and on my back the whole walk from north of the giant pickle skyscraper toward the beach. We took a diagonal roadway, through an open market with a mirrored ceiling conversely convex and concave concurrently. A shape-shifting arrangement of chrome sheets made the canopy over the multilevel flea market -- Encants Vells. Each tent within claimed a certain themed treasure-trove such as hardware and tools, jewelry and accessories, fabric, scrap metal, old dusty things, salvaged and possibly stolen things, plastic toys, clothing of course, and droves and droves of misc. electronics, sporting goods, antiques, and a small, astounding food court. Bizarre, and I was off with the click of plastic wheels still behind, a small film camera, leather-bound lighter, walkman-style CD player, knit purse all added to the weight.
Long stretch of hot, hot sun.
Few cars, less people, entered town at siesta time -- it's a real thing and in the summer heat you’ll damn well know why.
I can't wear hats, they make my otherwise forgettable and agreeable appearance exactly the opposite. So I baked gladly under the onslaught and again in the early shade of late afternoon, finally sitting to eat my first three-euro kebab at a random place along Carrer d' Arago.
Lamb or beef on a big rotating stick, sliced off into strips, lettuce, tomato, onion, garlic cream sauce; all in a pita or wrap (if you're a bitch). I’ve never been more in love with, “greasy spoon,” as the girl called it -- it's not even relevant to the story, but I want you to go and get one.
Walking off, belly full, my bag slipped from my right shoulder and I checked a side pocket for my phone, only just realizing that my right hand was free to check and my left hand held the bag's other strap. No hand on my plastic luggage. How long had I been walking and what day was it? Hard to tell future from past in memory all fogged together.
I flipped through colored swatches for one of my hand grasping the luggage, but flashes of my expensive laptop and recently obtained temporary passport -- both bundled inside my now missing suitcase -- came instead.
Clawed at my eyes. No visual record of my luggage being pulled, touch sense too fluid under the high sun, so I just started running back the way I’d come as best I could, sometimes going along identical stretches of storefront for multiple passes, losing track of my objective and returning to it.
I found the roller luggage outside the kebab place, miraculously unmolested.
Conceded to the underground and made it to the new hostel by early evening, crumpled into bed with fat and swollen, sausage-casing-tight feet.
The girl called, “Hi!” How are you? Good, and you? Good. And the responses matter less than the tambour, shake, and pitch of the delivery. Clear, compassionate, and attentive annunciation.
“What's it like there?” I asked of her vineyard residency. Unsure, unsteady, unrehearsed.
“It's hot,” she admitted. Her words had to pass through thicker air than my own, giving a foggy or dusty tone to the edges. “Makes it a bit hard to work in the studio during the day. Wish you were here, though.”
“You're not exactly selling it to me.”
“When you come, I want to take you to the pool in the mountains.”
“That's more like it.”
Did transient internet research on the trek I planned to undertake in just a few days, a week of sought after solitude -- except I didn't have a bike yet, the proper luggage, or a clue.
And the universe had other plans for me anyway.
The aunts and uncles in the kitchen were actually sons and daughters of my grandpa's brother, making them cousins to my dad, I guess. If your parents separate, but stay in the same place, you might spend the weekends with your pops. Mine had separated across states, so every summer growing up meant an alternate reality, with different family.
Mother's side, Irish- and English-descended American (Grandparents, Charles Coleman and Mary Bradshaw). My father's side, very Hispanic American (Humerberto Avalos and Mary Valenzuela).
“You alright, Mijo?” The round-faced aunt asked. “I brought some food, if you want. Fruit, sandwiches, and cookies.”
My eyebrows squiggled.
“Leftovers from John Jon’s birthday today,” she shrugged.
I smiled, nodded, opened the box of cookies and stood at the sink eating them one after the next. Not often would I have an excuse to stand shyly to the side at a family gathering and expect to be left alone (although that's often what I attempted) so I embraced it and observed the crammed kitchen, quietly crunching.
“It’s actually common,” an aunt was telling my father. Another agreed. “He probably didn't want you to be here when it happened.”
“He's off to be with his bride,” said Junior. “Right? What, fifty years they were together? They say one goes and the other’s close to follow.”
“I thought it was strange,” said the first aunt. “The cat wasn't in there at all day today. It's like she knew.”
“Cats know shit,” said Junior. “They're sensitive.”
“What's the cat's name?” Round-faced aunt asked me.
“Cali,” I mumbled. “We never actually named her. Grandpa just called her that, short for calico.”
Everyone left after midnight. Fruit went to the fridge. Junior gave me his number in case and I think my father went to sleep in my grandpa's bed, but finally silence seeped into the house.
Back down stairs. A lockbox in the top drawer, far right dresser, back room. Paper clips from the desk, unbent. Use one to scrape the pins and the other to turn the tumbler.
Among the mess inside lay a J, placed there by me months before in anticipation. Chemical uplift. Benign intervention.
Bikes aren't easily or cheaply obtained during August, and the Camino, apparently quite popular and social, drew farther and farther away from interest. As I worked inefficiently to carve out a plan for myself, the girl finagled a spot for me at her residency. This instantly became the new plan because of ease and good sense.
“It’s a bit silly for us to be in Spain at the same time and not be together.”
So, vacation instead of adventure. And after the rigamarole of fruitless research it seemed a pleasant and desirable alternative to lounge poolside with the girl somewhere sweltering and remote. Actually, that sounded adventure enough to the haze-encroaching day to day of aimless toking.
Checked out at noonish, burned one, and walked toward the train station. The journey would take me past two other underground stations which could connect me, but I passed them. Clicking with the wheels of my luggage until each intersection where I'd stop and click with my camera. Skyline especially fascinated, and the eyes of a high person see as if through a tunnel. Focused and insightful, the external senses bore into the environment as the body ignores other things like pain and regret. The mind starts eating it's own tail. And everything tastes more.
Barcelona sets out separate dumpsters for recycling and rubbish. Black for trash. Brown for cardboard. Yellow and red for plastic and glass, respectively. Typically, between each cube lays a tangle of overflow or sometimes items that won't fit. Emptied luggage, mattresses, and damaged electronics were common accessories to these bright and beautiful cube clusters.
Between the jagged lines of the building tops and the twisted shapes of the garbage stations, I left my bag somewhere.
Didn't realize until I was at the ticket kiosk using both of my hands.
The left one touched the screen as my right grabbed my wallet, and my luggage must’ve stayed behind at one of the countless places I'd stopped to snap photos along the way. Surge of sweat. The street outside didn't look like one at first. Too far to the other end. I ran. Flip through. All the slides were out of order, middle of the day making no discernible gradations in the lighting between each. I saw my stupid rollie bag sitting on the sidewalk of every place I stopped. No time before the next train to do more than run all the way back to the first place and ask around.
Except I didn't know any Spanish.
Not even after two weeks, so I took that and the fact that my passport, phone, and wallet were on me this time to mean that maybe I got exactly what I deserved. The bag had been taken because I'd left it and there was nothing else to be done unless I missed my train -- not that it’d get my clothes and broken laptop back anyhow, all that belonged to someone else by now. And the booklet of collages I’d made for the girl, the first panels of an obviously ill-fated comic book, fifty pages of handwritten novel, and two nearly full sketch books probably found themselves all jammed into one of those cubes on the street, emptied luggage set nicely beside.
Barely made the train to Villafranca where I barely made the bus out to wherever. Dead tired, sober, and disappointed. Rolled into camp long after dark and told the girl a lie about leaving my luggage at the hostel by accident, would get it later.
Stared at the ceiling until falling asleep.
Only the sick and pitiful make drug use a habit, but an occasional dosage doesn't damage developed adults, I decided (no medical training). Took the J and a headset with me onto the deteriorating deck, then down -- and into the stairs. Right ankle sank through causing a swift three-foot lunge to the second to last step, landing on my left heel and breaking that one, too.
The broken planks announced my attempted escape with a five-second clatter, and I hunkered in the dark for a full minute after. No doors opened and no light clicked on in any window. The walk between the house and property fence lead to the front gate.
Bring only what you don't mind losing and tie the rest down. I had an mp3 player and the J, tied the key into my laces, nothing else on me necessary for catharsis.
Sole to pavement.
Tunnelvision means focus at a cost to peripherals. Can't see it, won't. And then you lose shit, let important dates pass by, feel no pain. And pain is important.
It informs perspective more than pleasure ever does on its own. The two ends hold a spectrum between them, but pain polarizes the uninitiated more because it happens so less.
I lit up on Eastern, few street lights along the walk. Hadn't smoked since Spain, which meantwhiplash if greedy. West coast botanicals boast a GMO potency.
But the draw of smoking isn't the brain numbing psycho-activity or the quasi-philosophy, it's the feeling of stepping outside of time. The insight gained while high is not because of the high, but because you feel like you have more time with intimate thoughts -- the world outside your immediate reality no longer exists to distract you from the healing, growing, understanding.
Weed doesn't cause any situation to improve, just casts it in different light, and postpones the inevitable.
It's a stasis field. This should illustrate it's obvious downsides as well.
An orb of relativity encased me like a hamster ball as I ran headlong down Huntington Drive, middle of the street sometimes to really soak it in my surroundings. In a way I've lived here all my life and yet I know nearly nothing about it or my grandparents, either. Several consecutive summers as a child they would drive across the country in two days to pick me up and take me back with them, taking Huntington Drive from the 205 every time to get home.
Only grandson they had.
Got anxious so I smoked more which made my mind soar, body try some parkour, and my soul sighed. Ceased staring at neon signs and fucking hit the pavement, still no cars out to block my way down past the seven eleven and into the “Toys R Us” parking lot trembling, taught. Empty expanse of blacktop, sidewalk, giant concrete building. Colorful letters illuminated with a giant, cartoon giraffe popping out between them.
Archaeologists of the distant future will have a good, condescending laugh finding stores like this in the rubble of western society. But they’ll still marvel at the sheer volume of junk we made, and probably find enjoyment in it, too.
Because Star Wars. And unrecyclable plastics. Not in that order.
A few more miles to Mission and I turned right. Sweated into a drought of vision and fading recollection for the rest of the night
The morning came into focus as I stood on the patio. Tan tiles, grey grout, white walls.
Must have woken after the girl, but before she made breakfast, so I slipped out to catch the already hot sun, eight in the morning and the sky bright blue, cloudless.
Headache like a rung bell, but feeling tuned and relaxed.
Explained to the girl in order to convince myself, "It's alright that I left all my stuff," (not clarifying it was gone for good). "I'm just going to make do with what I have for now -- pencils and paper are all I really ever need."
Met all the people and paid the host for my stay, but really not much else to say that isn't a form of gloating. It's true that Spain is hot -- especially the countryside -- during the summer, but otherwise it's sprawling in sun-drenched beauty, even in the areas of disrepair and recession (of which there were plenty). I basked in the heat of my ancestral lands, rode bikes to the village pool with the girl, and I wrote all afternoon under a fig tree with cold beer, vineyards on all sides, white stucco houses in the hills.
The universe made it easy for me to let go.
The morning came into focus as I stood on the back porch. Rotten wooden planks held me eight feet in the air. Overlooking a valley.
It isn't a view you'd put on a postcard, but the mountains in the distance wait, dark green slate until the sun later gains sky superiority, casting the land in a dusty dry similar to the days in Spain. An oppressive and encouraging lamp over a drafting table.
I guess, when everything seems to be falling apart, deteriorating, and unraveling that's when we really get to see how transient those things are, and that they cannot be the threads that matter most or hold us in place. Loose your grip.
P.S. A parable: so, this guy is running from a pack of hungry wolves, and to get away, slips down a cliff, hanging by a loose vine. Below is a river of crocodiles twisting in anticipation, rapids beyond them. The wolves snap at him above and the vine won't hold long, but just then he notices a ripe, wild strawberry growing out of the rocks... and it was delicious.