"The first law: If you are ever to have a good time, you cannot plan your life to include nothing but good times. Pleasure is like beauty; it is conditioned by contrast."
It's possible to fly for under a hundred dollars sometimes with airlines that employ recycled, old, rolled-up tubes of toothpaste as planes, but if you have bags -- that'll be twenty-five extra, per. Want seats with room for your limbs? Eighteen bucks, jerk. And if you ever need to change your flight, add it all up and double it, no refunds.
The girl and I shrugged at the above because of our budget(s) and took the last train to Stansted Airport, anyway. Arrived around midnight and couldn't check in until four thirty, which meant a lot of waiting.
This turned out to be the least inconvenience we'd endure.
"We'll find a place to sleep," Fey gestured to lumps strewn about the terminal. Humans. "It's just what you do at an airport like this," she smiled.
"I've done it before," I bragged with a shine in my eyes.
We found a cold, hard corner and unpacked some towels and sweaters for a nest, but after failed attempts at rest I repacked my bags down to one, listened to Chance the Rapper until two, then opened my laptop and tapped on the keyboard until three. I sifted through my pockets for entertainment and found our boarding passes, sat there ruminating over the negative space between the black romanic and arabic characters on the paper.
"Set an alarm for half four?" the girl suggested when she found me awake, and I agreed, did it, and we slept some before movement began. At four twenty, people started queuing out of some sick, constant desire, along the counters and in the little zig-zag pens. A voice on the PA said to move through security if you had boarding passes already.
"Does that mean us?" I asked.
"I'll have to check my bag first."
We went out, got tea, had a smoke, and joined the zombies at the Ryanair check-in, where, overwhelmingly, the customer attitude bordered indigence. Everyone got to the counter in desperate need of assistance. The clerks didn't let this dissuade their own pace, however, and for us, freshly awake or whatever, we were grateful.
"Have your passport?" I patted all my pockets.
"I do," Fey cooed.
The lady behind the desk gestured for our tickets. After a pause which barely begged noting, she said: "These are for the twenty-seventh."
Fey looked at me, forehead scrunched.
"What's that?" I asked the clerk.
She may have had a German accent, or none. Either way, I didn't understand what she meant until she said it a slightly different way: "These tickets are for tomorrow, the twenty-seventh."
Moments like this are fulcrums to failure or success.
The girl and I stood on one side of a teeter-totter and this clerk, just doing her job, jumped fully onto the other side — a big, fat messenger sending us soaring.
We managed to land in a heap of laughs, lack of sleep delirium, apologized to the clerk for no reason and walked away, stunned and gay. My passport flapped precariously in one of my back pockets.
"How did we do this?" I asked.
"I don't know..."
"Why did I reschedule it again?"
"Well, we were supposed to meet the girls on the twenty-sixth," Fey explained. "But we met them on the twenty-fourth instead."
"I don't understand how this has happened..."
"We can either be upset or find it funny," she said.
We found a place to stay as a treat to our good humor and spent the morning waiting until we could check-in, our eternal fate. A bus shuttled us to the worst Hilton on the planet for three pounds each. Before noon we were napping hard and although we both woke with attitudes, and found the hotel wanting, it ended up being a nice buffer before travelling to a new country.
"I wrote about today," I told her that evening.
"Already?" She reacted. "But the story isn't even over, yet."
And she was right because that night, I planned several options for exploring Berlin, staying up again much later than advisable. Plan A meant a bus ride to this place at this time and we'd rent bikes from such-and-such a shop because the internet rated them highly, while Plan B took us to a nearer and busier intersection where we'd get doner kebabs from the falafel king on the corner. I liked plans A and B equally, documented them and began feeling sleepy.
With two or three days semi-well planned, maps drawn in the margins and phone numbers down, I realized that the last time I'd seen my passport was in my hand, at the airport, and I'd probably need to find it now.
"The second law: Pleasure is deepened and enhanced when it has survived a moment of tedium or pain."
Into our room sweating at three thirty and the girl came out of the shower to greet me warmly, with affection, steamy and wet — pushed past her, rejected, looked under this and that, patted pockets, welled up, got hotly angry and finally admitted to her after the second time she asked, "What's wrong?" that, "I think I've lost my passport..."
There I was: an overgrown twelve year old. An accidental adult, ill-equipped. Unnecessary to transcribe the cursing under my breath. Fey reassured me the whole time. It's fine, she said. Or, it will be, you're just getting flustered, you just need to settle down. So I did, or I tried and I know she had every right to be angry, but she kept her cool. I cried.
The trip hadn't ended because of terrorist activity, just careless me, so close to the exact same thing, I think I cause more pain sometimes than positivity. Which would be one thing if it were on purpose -- but it's usually because of idiocy.
After the tense bus ride, sweating, my life on the line — mostly afraid that we'd be late — not so much about my identity being stolen or compromised. It was solely the fear of doing something incongruent, and ruining something for someone else. Surely, the universe had my back here as always and I'd get away with being self-involved and careless.
The special assistance desk did not have it, nor the bus driver, or the airline counter. At lost luggage, a woman counted change into the register. The girl and I stood there and watched as each coin fell from the woman's hand one at a time and with pendulum frequency.
Clik, clik, clik, clik.
"Sorry," the woman whispered. Clik, clik. "I have to do this."
"That's fine," I shrugged. Last minute attempt at manifestation via incredible patience: my passport waits in the safe under the counter.
Except there was no safe under the counter. The lost luggage kiosk -- located at the end of the terminal next to Burger King -- had meager selection. Boxes of purses and handbags. Half a dozen suitcases stacked like crates. Counter space. Empty cubbies. No passport.
"Well, damnit." I told Fey. She sat across from at a small table beside the road, both of us smoking.
"Everyting happens for a reason," she mentioned.
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of…"
It was like six in the morning.
There are several first steps to getting a lost passport sorted — which is to say, there isn't really one first step. The best resources are actually the government sites, where you'll have some trouble finding the exact thing you're looking for, and probably have to schedule an appointment anyway, but at the directions will be correct and efficient.
Police won't take a report; nobody gives a shit that your passport was lost or stolen. Apparently, it happens a lot. A filing cabinet with pointless paperwork, wasted ink, is about to bust somewhere, so swollen. All forgot.
We only found this previous bit out by busing to the nearest station, an hour later.
Trial and error online and even splitting up physically, we only accomplished an appointment for the next day at the U.S. embassy. Got a new place off Holloway, and reserved ourselves to an elongated stay in London, no more Berlin. Clouds and rain.
Holy Chinese take-away from just downstairs and Romeo + Juliet from 1996 eased our evening.
There's a pharmacy a block north of the embassy that takes passport photos to correct specification, stores personal bags, and provides computers for internet and printing.
"A pharmacy?" I asked the lady under the tent. West-side Grosvenor Square quivered with queues and consulates.
"I send everyone there," she shrugged, as if that explained why a pharmacy was providing these services at all. "They'll store your laptop. No laptops. At least drop that off, but you're best taking your documentation into the embassy and nothing else."
"Cell phones are fine."
So, I entered the international DMV with only my pockets filled. It took two hours and I got an emergency passport valid until next July, with six pages. Pretty great, actually.
My debit card was blocked for the third time and cast another dramatic shadow on our supposed-to-be bureaucracy-fee adventure.
Also we had to buy new flights with a different airline, same type. In all, I cost myself a few hundred at least, nothing doing. Other than this, we lived a relaxed week in our Airbnb, going to extra exhibits and parks we’d have otherwise not seen.
Saw a report of terrorists bombing a train in Berlin, but didn’t look into the details.
"The third law: pleasure is a byproduct, not a goal."
Some mornings, wake up and get going even when you don't wanna, and extended vacations, nonstop sabbaticals are no different. Three miserable days had me ready to quit, stay inside and sit, but the girl didn't allow for this, instead we went walking to exhibitions, botanic gardens, museums, and for some reason I wasn't truly pleased until the Heath.
It's a giant park area in north London.
"We're going to Hampstead Heath," said she that morning.
"No," but there was laughter from one of us, or both, so it worked, I loosened and tried to let go what I felt entitled: a painless experience, no more long lines and disappoint, overspending with no enjoyment. It hadn't been the worst three days I've lived, absolutely far from it, but I was overready for my way again. She at least deserved a break, Amen?
The previous days work and tedium did not carry over and we had to catch this bus, miss that one, and walk uncertain until Highgate Cemetery.
"We're close," I said. "This cemetery was near the park on the map."
The ornate graveyard showed as a green lump next to a larger, blue-spotted green lump. Around them both were the jagged teeth of London roads and streets. The heath eventually made itself known to us just beyond a bus station, a patch of light visible through a tear in the grayness. A haven! It isn't a park like you're thinking; in fact, its emptiness had me fooled at first, almost let down, but the underdevelopment of the land lends the heath a bewitchment, sends the child out of everyone, fill the space with your wishes. Bring blankets and dishes. Imagination unhinged.
And, "dogs everywhere!" I said, mirth and faith welling up to just beneath my flesh. A dog reminds me that humans have had to work their way to the top of the food chain, and we've managed to write a better and better situation of Earth for ourselves over time, through the ages. We literally transformed a natural enemy into a friend over hundreds of years. Even if there isn't a god, at least we're exactly made in the image we imagine him to be: creators. And among our best creations is canis familiaris.
A collie passed the path ahead back and forth from the cover of this tree, that tree, playfully chasing her owner. Many other pooches without leashes ran around and waded in the first pond we came across. We kept on, through some construction. The men's watering hole lay south of a special oasis reserved for women, so we parted again to meet after swimming.
Instead, I read a book. Then, some music. We'd walked all this way, so I ate some of my lunch. Then I passed out.
"Did you get in?" she asked me later when we picnicked close-by.
"No," I shrugged. "I fell asleep."
"You should go back," she suggested. "You'll feel so much better. Trust."
I doubted her, but had just read the passage quoted at the start of this chapter, and tried my hardest to understand how it worked. The first two rules were obvious and my citing them for this story even more, but the third rule was hard to accept, because if feeling good is merely a side-effect, then what's the goal?
"I'll do it," I said.
Using her towel, I changed right there into my trunks. They covered from below the waist to above the knee and it felt skimpy, but nobody else wore more than me, so I traipsed back through the bunker beside the pond, out onto the diving board, and fell into the murky mint of a heath's puddle, a questionably deep, dark wet hole. My limbs reacted at first then went limp, contracted, and I pulled them in a succession of rigid shapes to propel my bulk. Stretching, soothing, shock and discomfort gave way to accomplishment. The water, ice on cuts. Maybe three or five minutes was all it took. A board said the water was the same temperature as the air, but it felt colder, probably because it got so much closer. We left that place after a time having fulfilled an ought of humankind: bathing. It felt great, obviously.